Mrs. Carbuncle and Lizzie Eustace did not, in these days, shut themselves up because there was trouble in the household. It would not have suited the creed of Mrs. Carbuncle on social matters to be shut up from the amusements of life. She had sacrificed too much in seeking them for that, and was too conscious of the price she paid for them. It was still mid-winter, but nevertheless there was generally some amusement arranged for every evening. Mrs. Carbuncle was very fond of the play, and made herself acquainted with every new piece as it came out. Every actor and actress of note on the stage was known to her, and she dealt freely in criticisms on their respective merits. The three ladies had a box at the Haymarket taken for this very evening, at which a new piece, “The Noble Jilt,” from the hand of a very eminent author, was to be produced. Mrs. Carbuncle had talked a great deal about “The Noble Jilt,” and could boast that she had discussed the merits of the two chief characters with the actor and actress who were to undertake them. Miss Talbot had assured her that the Margaret was altogether impracticable, and Mrs. Carbuncle was quite of the same opinion. And as for the hero, Steinmark, it was a part that no man could play so as to obtain the sympathy of an audience. There was a second hero, a Flemish Count, tame as rain-water, Mrs. Carbuncle said. She was very anxious for the success of the piece, which, as she said, had its merits; but she was sure that it wouldn’t do. She had talked about it a great deal, and now, when the evening came, she was not going to be deterred from seeing it by any trouble in reference to a diamond necklace. Lizzie, when she was left by Lord George, had many doubts on the subject, whether she would go or stay at home. If he would have come to her, or her cousin Frank, or if, had it been possible, Lord Fawn would have come, she would have given up the play very willingly. But to be alone, with her necklace in the desk up-stairs, or in her pocket, was terrible to her. And then, they could not search her or her boxes while she was at the theatre. She must not take the necklace with her there. He had told her to leave it in her desk when she went from home.
Lucinda, also, was quite determined that she would see the new piece. She declared to her aunt, in Lizzie’s presence, without a vestige of a smile, that it might be well to see how a jilt could behave herself, so as to do her work of jilting in any noble fashion.
“My dear,” said her aunt, “you let things weigh upon your heart a great deal too much.”
“Not upon my heart, Aunt Jane,” the young lady had answered. She also intended to go, and when she had made up her mind to anything, nothing would deter her. She had no desire to stay at home in order that she might see Sir Griffin. “I dare say the play may be very bad,” she said, “but it can hardly be so bad as real life.”
Lizzie, when Lord George had left her, crept up-stairs, and sat for a while thinking of her condition, with the key of her desk in her hand. Should there come a knock at the door, the case of diamonds would be in her pocket in a moment. Her own room door was bolted on the inside, so that she might have an instant for her preparation. She was quite resolved that she would carry out Lord George’s recommendation, and that no policeman or woman should examine her person, unless it were done by violence. There she sat, almost expecting that at every moment her cousin would be there with Bunfit and the woman. But nobody came, and at six she went down to dinner. After much consideration she then left the diamonds in the desk. Surely no one would come to search at such an hour as that. No one had come when the carriage was announced, and the three ladies went off together.
During the whole way Mrs. Carbuncle talked of the terrible situation in which poor Lord George was placed by the robbery, and of all that Lizzie owed him on account of his trouble.
“My dear,” said Mrs. Carbuncle, “the least you can do for him is to give him all that you’ve got to give.”
“I don’t know that he wants me to give him anything,” said Lizzie.
“I think that’s quite plain,” said Mrs. Carbuncle, “and I’m sure I wish it may be so. He and I have been dear friends — very dear friends, and there is nothing I wish so much as to see him properly settled. Ill-natured people like to say all manner of things because everybody does not choose to live in their own heartless, conventional form. But I can assure you there is nothing between me and Lord George which need prevent him from giving his whole heart to you.”
“I don’t suppose there is,” said Lizzie, who loved an opportunity of giving Mrs. Carbuncle a little rap.
The play, as a play, was a failure; at least so said Mrs. Carbuncle. The critics, on the next morning, were somewhat divided — not only in judgment, but as to facts. To say how a play has been received is of more moment than to speak of its own merits or of the merits of the actors. Three or four of the papers declared that the audience was not only eulogistic, but enthusiastic. One or two others averred that the piece fell very flatly. As it was not acted above four or five dozen times consecutively, it must be regarded as a failure. On their way home Mrs. Carbuncle declared that Minnie Talbot had done her very best with such a part as Margaret, but that the character afforded no scope for sympathy.
“A noble jilt, my dears,” said Mrs. Carbuncle eloquently, “is a contradiction in terms. There can be no such thing. A woman, when she has once said the word, is bound to stick to it. The delicacy of the female character should not admit of hesitation between two men. The idea is quite revolting.”
“But may not one have an idea of no man at all?” asked Lucinda. “Must that be revolting also?”
“Of course a young woman may entertain such an idea; though for my part I look upon it as unnatural. But when she has once given herself there can be no taking back without the loss of that aroma which should be the apple of a young woman’s eye.”
“If she finds that she has made a mistake —?” said Lucinda fiercely. “Why shouldn’t a young woman make a mistake as well as an old woman? Her aroma won’t prevent her from having been wrong and finding it out.”
“My dear, such mistakes, as you call them, always arise from fantastic notions. Look at this piece. Why does the lady jilt her lover? Not because she doesn’t like him. She’s just as fond of him as ever.”
“He’s a stupid sort of a fellow, and I think she was quite right,” said Lizzie. “I’d never marry a man merely because I said I would. If I found I didn’t like him, I’d leave him at the altar. I’d leave him any time I found I didn’t like him. It’s all very well to talk of aroma, but to live with a man you don’t like — is the devil.”
“My dear, those whom God has joined together shouldn’t be separated — for any mere likings or dislikings.” This Mrs. Carbuncle said in a high tone of moral feeling, just as the carriage stopped at the door in Hertford Street. They at once perceived that the hall-door was open, and Mrs. Carbuncle, as she crossed the pavement, saw that there were two policemen in the hall. The footman had been with them to the theatre, but the cook and housemaid, and Mrs. Carbuncle’s own maid, were with the policemen in the passage. She gave a little scream, and then Lizzie, who had followed her, seized her by the arm. She turned round and saw by the gas-light that Lizzie’s face was white as a sheet, and that all the lines of her countenance were rigid and almost distorted. “Then she does know all about it,” said Mrs. Carbuncle to herself. Lizzie didn’t speak, but still hung on to Mrs. Carbuncle’s arm, and Lucinda, having seen how it was, was also supporting her. A policeman stepped forward and touched his hat. He was not Bunfit — neither was he Gager. Indeed, though the ladies had not perceived the difference, he was not at all like Bunfit or Gager. This man was dressed in a policeman’s uniform, whereas Bunfit and Gager always wore plain clothes.
“My lady,” said the policeman, addressing Mrs. Carbuncle, “there’s been a robbery here.”
“A robbery!” ejaculated Mrs. Carbuncle.
“Yes, my lady. The servants all out, all to one; and she’s off. They’ve taken jewels, and, no doubt, money, if there was any. They don’t mostly come unless they know what they comes for.”
With a horrid spasm across her heart, which seemed really to kill her, so sharp was the pain, Lizzie recovered the use of her legs and followed Mrs. Carbuncle into the dining-room. She had been hardly conscious of hearing; but she had heard, and it had seemed to her that the robbery spoken of was something distinct from her own affair. The policeman did not speak of having found the diamonds. It was of something lost that they spoke. She seated herself in a chair against the wall, but did not utter a word. “We’ve been up-stairs, my lady, and they’ve been in most of the rooms. There’s a desk broke open.” Lizzie gave an involuntary little scream. “Yes, mum, a desk,” continued the policeman turning to Lizzie,” and a bureau, and a dressing-case. What’s gone your ladyship can tell when you sees. And one of the young women is off. It’s she as done it.” Then the cook explained. She and the housemaid, and Mrs. Carbuncle’s lady’s maid, had just stepped out, only round the corner, to get a little air, leaving Patience Crabstick in charge of the house; and when they came back, the area gate was locked against them, the front door was locked, and finding themselves unable to get in after many knockings, they had at last obtained the assistance of a policeman. He had got into the place over the area gate, had opened the front door from within, and then the robbery had been discovered. It was afterwards found that the servants had all gone out to what they called a tea-party, at a public-house in the neighbourhood, and that by previous agreement Patience Crabstick had remained in charge. When they came back Patience Crabstick was gone, and the desk, and bureau, and dressing-case were found to have been opened. “She had a reg’lar thief along with her, my lady,” said the policeman, still addressing himself to Mrs. Carbuncle, “‘cause of the way the things was opened.”
“I always knew that young woman was downright bad,” said Mrs. Carbuncle in her first expression of wrath.
But Lizzie sat in her chair without saying a word, still pale with that almost awful look of agony in her face. Within ten minutes of their entering the house, Mrs. Carbuncle was making her way up-stairs, with the two policemen following her. That her bureau and her dressing-case should have been opened was dreadful to her, though the value that she could thus lose was very small. She also possessed diamonds, but her diamonds were paste; and whatever jewelry she had of any value, a few rings, and a brooch, and such like, had been on her person in the theatre. What little money she had by her was in the drawing-room, and the drawing-room, as it seemed, had not been entered. In truth, all Mrs. Carbuncle’s possessions in the house were not sufficient to have tempted a well-bred, well-instructed thief. But it behooved her to be indignant; and she could be indignant with grace, as the thief was discovered to be, not her maid, but Patience Crabstick. The policemen followed Mrs. Carbuncle, and the maids followed the policemen; but Lizzie Eustace kept her seat in the chair by the wall. “Do you think they have taken much of yours?” said Lucinda, coming up to her and speaking very gently. Lizzie made a motion with her two hands upon her heart, and struggled, and gasped, as though she wished to speak but could not. “I suppose it is that girl who has done it all,” said Lucinda. Lizzie nodded her head, and tried to smile. The attempt was so ghastly that Lucinda, though not timid by nature, was frightened. She sat down and took Lizzie’s hand, and tried to comfort her. “It is very hard upon you,” she said, “to be twice robbed.” Lizzie again nodded her head. “I hope it is not much now. Shall we go up and see?” The poor creature did get upon her legs, but she gasped so terribly that Lucinda feared that she was dying. “Shall I send for some one?” she said. Lizzie made an effort to speak, was shaken convulsively while the other supported her, and then burst into a flood of tears.
When that had come she was relieved, and could again act her part. “Yes,” she said, “we will go with them. It is so dreadful; is it not?”
“Very dreadful; but how much better that we weren’t at home. Shall we go now?” Then together they followed the others, and on the stairs Lizzie explained that in her desk, of which she always carried the key round her neck, there was what money she had by her — two ten-pound notes, and four five-pound notes, and three sovereigns; in all, forty-three pounds. Her other jewels, the jewels which she had possessed over and above the fatal diamond necklace, were in her dressing-case. Patience, she did not doubt, had known that the money was there, and certainly knew of her jewels. So they went up-stairs. The desk was open and the money gone. Five or six rings and a bracelet had been taken also from Lizzie’s dressing-case, which she had left open. Of Mrs. Carbuncle’s property sufficient had been stolen to make a long list in that lady’s handwriting. Lucinda Roanoke’s room had not been entered, as far as they could judge. The girl had taken the best of her own clothes, and a pair of strong boots belonging to the cook. A superintendent of police was there before they went to bed, and a list was made out. The superintendent was of opinion that the thing had been done very cleverly, but also thought that the thieves had expected to find more plunder.
“They don’t care so much about banknotes, my lady, because they fetches such a low price with them as they deal with. The three sovereigns is more to them than all the forty pounds in notes.” The superintendent had heard of the diamond necklace, and expressed an opinion that poor Lady Eustace was especially marked out for misfortune.
“It all comes of having such a girl as that about her,” said Mrs. Carbuncle. The superintendent, who intended to be consolatory to Lizzie, expressed his opinion that it was very hard to know what a young woman was.
“They looks as soft as butter, and they’re as sly as foxes, and as quick, as quick — as quick as greased lightning, my lady.” Such a piece of business as this which has just occurred will make people intimate at a very short notice.
And so the diamond necklace, known to be worth ten thousand pounds, had at last been stolen in earnest! Lizzie, when the policemen were gone, and the noise was over, and the house was closed, slunk away to her bedroom, refusing any aid in lieu of that of the wicked Patience. She herself had examined the desk beneath the eyes of her two friends and of the policemen, and had seen at once that the case was gone. The money was gone too, as she was rejoiced to find. She perceived at once that had the money been left, the very leaving of it would have gone to prove that other prize had been there. But the money was gone — money of which she had given a correct account — and she could now honestly allege that she had been robbed. But she had at last really lost her great treasure; and if the treasure should be found then would she infallibly be exposed. She had talked twice of giving away her necklace, and had seriously thought of getting rid of it by burying it deep in the sea. But now that it was in very truth gone from her, the loss of it was horrible to her. Ten thousand pounds, for which she had struggled so much and borne so many things, which had come to be the prevailing fact of her life, gone from her forever! Nevertheless it was not that sorrow, that regret, which had so nearly overpowered her in the dining-parlour. At that moment she hardly knew, had hardly thought, whether the diamonds had or had not been taken. But the feeling came upon her at once that her own disgrace was every hour being brought nearer to her. Her secret was no longer quite her own. One man knew it, and he had talked to her of perjury and of five years’ imprisonment. Patience must have known it too; and now some one else also knew it. The police, of course, would find it out, and then horrid words would be used against her. She hardly knew what perjury was. It sounded like forgery and burglary. To stand up before a judge and be tried, and then to be locked up for five years in prison! What an end would this be to all her glorious success! And what evil had she done to merit all this terrible punishment? When they came to her in her bedroom at Carlisle she had simply been too much frightened to tell them all that the necklace was at that moment under her pillow.
She tried to think of it all, and to form some idea in her mind of what might be the truth. Of course Patience Crabstick had known her secret, but how long had the girl known it? And how had the girl discovered it? She was almost sure, from certain circumstances, from words which the girl had spoken, and from signs which she had observed, that Patience had not even suspected that the necklace had been brought with them from Carlisle to London. Of course the coming of Bunfit and the woman would have set the girl’s mind to work in that direction; but then Bunfit and the woman had only been there on that morning. The Corsair knew the facts, and no one but the Corsair. That the Corsair was a Corsair the suspicions of the police had proved to her. She had offered the necklace to the Corsair; but when so offered he had refused to take it. She could understand that he should see the danger of accepting the diamonds from her hand, and yet should be desirous of having them. And might not he have thought that he could best relieve her from the burden of their custody in this manner? She felt no anger against the Corsair as she weighed the probability of his having taken them in this fashion. A Corsair must be a Corsair. Were he to come to her and confess the deed, she would almost like him the better for it, admiring his skill and enterprise. But how very clever he must have been, and how brave! He had known, no doubt, that the three ladies were all going to the theatre; but in how short a time had he got rid of the other women and availed himself of the services of Patience Crabstick!
But in what way would she conduct herself when the police should come to her on the following morning, the police and all the other people who would crowd to the house? How should she receive her cousin Frank? How should she look when the coincidence of the double robbery should be spoken of in her hearing? How should she bear herself when, as of course would be the case, she should again be taken before the magistrates, and made to swear as to the loss of her property? Must she commit more perjury, with the certainty that various people must know that her oath was false? All the world would suspect her. All the world would soon know the truth. Might it not be possible that the diamonds were at this moment in the hands of Messrs. Camperdown, and that they would be produced before her eyes, as soon as her second false oath had been registered against her? And yet how could she tell the truth? And what would the Corsair think of her, the Corsair who would know everything? She made one resolution during the night. She would not be taken into court. The magistrates and the people might come to her, but she would not go before them. When the morning came she said that she was ill, and refused to leave her bed. Policemen, she knew, were in the house early. At about nine Mrs. Carbuncle and Lucinda were up and in her room. The excitement of the affair had taken them from their beds, but she would not stir. If it were absolutely necessary, she said, the men must come into her room. She had been so overset by what had occurred on the previous night that she could not leave her room. She appealed to Lucinda as to the fact of her illness. The trouble of these robberies was so great upon her that her heart was almost broken. If her deposition must be taken, she would make it in bed. In the course of the day the magistrate did come into her room and the deposition was taken. Forty-three pounds had been taken from her desk, and certain jewels, which she described, from her dressing-case. As far as she was aware, no other property of hers was missing. This she said in answer to a direct question from the magistrate, which, as she thought, was asked with a stern voice and searching eye. And so, a second time, she had sworn falsely. But this at least was gained, that Lord George de Bruce Carruthers was not looking at her as she swore.
Lord George was in the house for a great part of the day, but he did not ask to be admitted to Lizzie’s room; nor did she ask to see him. Frank Greystock was there late in the afternoon, and went up at once to see his cousin. The moment that she saw him she stretched out her arms to him, and burst into tears. “My poor girl,” said he, “what is the meaning of it all?”
“I don’t know. I think they will kill me. They want to kill me. How can I bear it all? The robbers were here last night, and magistrates and policemen and people have been here all day.” Then she fell into a fit of sobbing and wailing, which was, in truth, hysterical. For, if the readers think of it, the poor woman had a great deal to bear.
Frank, into whose mind no glimmer of suspicion against his cousin had yet entered, and who firmly believed that she had been made a victim because of the value of her diamonds, and who had a theory of his own about the robbery at Carlisle, to the circumstances of which he was now at some pains to make these latter circumstances adhere, was very tender with his cousin, and remained in the house for more than an hour. “Oh, Frank, what had I better do?” she asked him.
“I would leave London, if I were you.”
“Yes; of course. I will. Oh yes, I will.”
“If you don’t fear the cold of Scotland ——”
“I fear nothing, nothing but being where these policemen can come to me. Oh!” and then she shuddered and was again hysterical. Nor was she acting the condition. As she remembered the magistrates, and the detectives, and the policemen in their uniforms, and reflected that she might probably see much more of them before the game was played out, the thoughts that crowded on her were almost more than she could bear.
“Your child is there, and it is your own house. Go there till all this passes by.” Whereupon she promised him that, as soon as she was well enough, she would at once go to Scotland.
In the mean time, the Eustace diamonds were locked up in a small safe fixed into the wall at the back of a small cellar beneath the establishment of Messrs. Harter & Benjamin, in Minto Lane, in the City. Messrs. Harter & Benjamin always kept a second place of business. Their great shop was at the West End; but they had accommodation in the City.
The chronicler states this at once, as he scorns to keep from his reader any secret that is known to himself.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01