When the Hertford Street robbery was three days old, and was still the talk of all the town, Lizzie Eustace was really ill. She had promised to go down to Scotland in compliance with the advice given to her by her cousin Frank, and at the moment of promising would have been willing enough to be transported at once to Portray, had that been possible — so as to be beyond the visits of policemen and the authority of lawyers and magistrates; but as the hours passed over her head, and as her presence of mind returned to her, she remembered that even at Portray she would not be out of danger, and that she could do nothing in furtherance of her plans if once immured there. Lord George was in London, Frank Greystock was in London, and Lord Fawn was in London. It was more than ever necessary to her that she should find a husband among them, a husband who would not be less her husband when the truth of that business at Carlisle should be known to all the world. She had, in fact, stolen nothing. She endeavoured to comfort herself by repeating to herself over and over again that assurance. She had stolen nothing; and she still thought that if she could obtain the support of some strong arm on which to lean, she might escape punishment for those false oaths which she had sworn. Her husband might take her abroad, and the whole thing would die away. If she should succeed with Lord George, of course he would take her abroad, and there would be no need for any speedy return. They might roam among islands in pleasant warm suns, and the dreams of her youth might be realised. Her income was still her own. They could not touch that. So she thought, at least, oppressed by some slight want of assurance in that respect. Were she to go at once to Scotland, she must for the present give up that game altogether. If Frank would pledge himself to become her husband in three or four, or even in six months, she would go at once. She had more confidence in Frank than even in Lord George. As for love, she would sometimes tell herself that she was violently in love; but she hardly knew with which. Lord George was certainly the best representative of that perfect Corsair which her dreams had represented to her; but, in regard to working life, she thought that she liked her cousin Frank better than she had ever yet liked any other human being. But, in truth, she was now in that condition, as she acknowledged to herself, that she was hardly entitled to choose. Lord Fawn had promised to marry her, and to him as a husband she conceived that she still had a right. Nothing had as yet been proved against her which could justify him in repudiating his engagement. She had, no doubt, asserted with all vehemence to her cousin that no consideration would now induce her to give her hand to Lord Fawn; and when making that assurance she had been, after her nature, sincere. But circumstances were changed since that. She had not much hope that Lord Fawn might be made to succumb, though evidence had reached her before the last robbery which induced her to believe that he did not consider himself to be quite secure. In these circumstances she was unwilling to leave London though she had promised, and was hardly sorry to find an excuse in her recognised illness.
And she was ill. Though her mind was again at work with schemes on which she would not have busied herself without hope, yet she had not recovered from the actual bodily prostration to which she had been compelled to give way when first told of the robbery on her return from the theatre. There had been moments then in which she thought that her heart would have broken; moments in which, but that the power of speech was wanting, she would have told everything to Lucinda Roanoke. When Mrs. Carbuncle was marching up-stairs with the policemen at her heels she would willingly have sold all her hopes, Portray Castle, her lovers, her necklace, her income, her beauty, for any assurance of the humblest security. With that quickness of intellect which was her peculiar gift, she had soon understood, in the midst of her sufferings, that her necklace had been taken by thieves whose robbery might assist her for a while in keeping her secret, rather than lead to the immediate divulging of it. Neither Camperdown nor Bunfit had been at work among the boxes. Her secret had been discovered, no doubt, by Patience Crabstick, and the diamonds were gone. But money also was taken, and the world need not know that the diamonds had been there. But Lord George knew. And then there arose to her that question: Had the diamonds been taken in consequence of that revelation to Lord George? It was not surprising that in the midst of all this Lizzie should be really ill.
She was most anxious to see Lord George; but, if what Mrs. Carbuncle said to her was true, Lord George refused to see her. She did not believe Mrs. Carbuncle, and was, therefore, quite in the dark about her Corsair. As she could communicate with him only through Mrs. Carbuncle, it might well be the case that he should have been told that he could not have access to her. Of course there were difficulties. That her cousin Frank should see her in her bedroom — her cousin Frank, with whom it was essentially necessary that she should hold counsel as to her present great difficulties — was a matter of course. There was no hesitation about that. A fresh nightcap, and a clean pocket handkerchief with a bit of lace round it, and perhaps some pretty covering to her shoulders if she were to be required to sit up in bed, and the thing was arranged. He might have spent the best part of his days in her bedroom if he could have spared the time. But the Corsair was not a cousin, nor as yet an acknowledged lover. There was difficulty even in framing a reason for her request, when she made it to Mrs. Carbuncle; and the very reason which she gave was handed back to her as the Corsair’s reason for not coming to her. She desired to see him because he had been so mixed up in the matter of these terrible robberies. But Mrs. Carbuncle declared to her that Lord George would not come to her because his name had been so frequently mentioned in connection with the diamonds. “You see, my dear,” said Mrs. Carbuncle, “there can be no real reason for his seeing you up in your bedroom. If there had been anything between you, as I once thought there would ——.” There was something in the tone of Mrs. Carbuncle’s voice which grated on Lizzie’s ear, something which seemed to imply that all that prospect was over.
“Of course,” said Lizzie querulously, “I am very anxious to know what he thinks. I care more about his opinion than anybody else’s. As to his name being mixed up in it, that is all a joke.”
“It has been no joke to him, I can assure you,” said Mrs. Carbuncle. Lizzie could not press her request. Of course she knew more about it than did Mrs. Carbuncle. The secret was in her own bosom, the secret as to the midnight robbery at Carlisle, and that secret she had told to Lord George. As to the robbery in London she knew nothing, except that it had been perpetrated through the treachery of Patience Crabstick. Did Lord George know more about it than she knew? and if so, was he now deterred by that knowledge from visiting her? “You see, my dear,” said Mrs. Carbuncle, “that a gentleman visiting a lady with whom he has no connection, in her bedroom, is in itself something very peculiar.” Lizzie made a motion of impatience under the bedclothes. Any such argument was trash to her, and she knew that it was trash to Mrs. Carbuncle also. What was one man in her bedroom more than another? She could see a dozen doctors if she pleased, and if so, why not this man, whose real powers of doctoring her would be so much more efficacious? “You would want to see him alone, too,” continued Mrs. Carbuncle, “and, of course, the police would hear of it. I am not at all surprised that he should stay away.” Lizzie’s condition did not admit of much argument on her side, and she only showed her opposition to Mrs. Carbuncle by being cross and querulous.
Frank Greystock came to her with great constancy almost every day, and from him she did hear about the robbery all that he knew or heard. When three days had passed, when six days, and even when ten days were gone, nobody had been as yet arrested. The police, according to Frank, were much on the alert, but were very secret. They either would not or could not tell anything. To him the two robberies, that at Carlisle and the last affair in Hertford Street, were of course distinct. There were those who believed that the Hertford Street thieves and the Carlisle thieves were not only the same, but that they had been in quest of the same plunder, and had at last succeeded. But Frank was not one of these. He never for a moment doubted that the diamonds had been taken at Carlisle, and explained the second robbery by the supposition that Patience Crabstick had been emboldened by success. The iron box had no doubt been taken by her assistance, and her familiarity with the thieves, then established, had led to the second robbery. Lizzie’s loss in that second robbery had amounted to some hundred pounds. This was Frank Greystock’s theory, and of course it was one very comfortable to Lizzie.
“They all seem to think that the diamonds are at Paris,” he said to her one day.
“If you only knew how little I care about them! It seems as though I had almost forgotten them in these after troubles.”
“Mr. Camperdown cares about them. I’m told he says that he can make you pay for them out of your jointure.”
“That would be very terrible, of course,” said Lizzie, to whose mind there was something consolatory in the idea that the whole affair of the robbery might perhaps remain so mysterious as to remove her from the danger of other punishment than this.
“I feel sure that he couldn’t do it,” said Frank, “and I don’t think he’ll try it. John Eustace would not let him. It would be persecution.”
“Mr. Camperdown has always chosen to persecute me,” said Lizzie.
“I can understand that he shouldn’t like the loss of the diamonds. I don’t think, Lizzie, you ever realized their true value.”
“I suppose not. After all, a necklace is only a necklace. I cared nothing for it — except that I could not bear the idea that that man should dictate to me. I would have given it up at once, at the slightest word from you.” He did not care to remind her then, as she lay in bed, that he had been very urgent in his advice to her to abandon the diamonds; and not the less urgent because he had thought that the demand for them was unjust. “I told you often;” she continued, “that I was tempted to throw them among the waves. It was true, quite true. I offered to give them to you, and should have been delighted to have been relieved from them.”
“That was of course simply impossible.”
“I know it was impossible on your part; but I would have been delighted. Of what use were they to me? I wore them twice because that man”— meaning Lord Fawn —“disputed my right to them. Before that I never even looked at them. Do you think I had pleasure in wearing them, or pleasure in looking at them? Never. They were only a trouble to me. It was a point of honour with me to keep them, because I was attacked. But I am glad they are gone — thoroughly glad.” This was all very well, and was not without its effect on Frank Greystock. It is hardly expected of a woman in such a condition, with so many troubles on her mind, who had been so persecuted, that every word uttered by her should be strictly true. Lizzie with her fresh nightcap and her lace handkerchief, pale, and with her eyes just glittering with tears, was very pretty.
“Didn’t somebody once give some one a garment which scorched him up when he wore it — some woman who sent it because she loved the man so much?”
“The shirt, you mean, which Deianira sent to Hercules. Yes, Hercules was a good deal scorched.”
“And that necklace, which my husband gave me because he loved me so well, has scorched me horribly. It has nearly killed me. It has been like the white elephant which the Eastern king gives to his subject when he means to ruin him. Only poor Florian didn’t mean to hurt me. He gave it all in love. If these people bring a lawsuit against me, Frank, you must manage it for me.”
“There will be no lawsuit. Your brother-inlaw will stop it.‘r
“I wonder who will really get the diamonds after all, Frank? They were very valuable. Only think that the ten thousand pounds should disappear in such a way!” The subject was a very dangerous one, but there was a fascination about it which made it impossible for her to refrain from it.
“A dishonest dealer in diamonds will probably realise the plunder — after some years. There would be something very alluring in the theft of articles of great value, were it not that, when got, they at once become almost valueless by the difficulty of dealing with them. Supposing I had the necklace!”
“I wish you had, Frank.”
“I could do nothing with it. Ten sovereigns would go further with me — or ten shillings. The burden of possessing it would in itself be almost more than I could bear. The knowledge that I had the thing, and might be discovered in having it, would drive me mad. By my own weakness I should be compelled to tell my secret to some one. And then I should never sleep for fear my partner in the matter should turn against me.” How well she understood it all! How probable it was that Lord George should turn against her! How exact was Frank’s description of that burden of a secret so heavy that it cannot be borne alone! “A little reflection,” continued Frank, “soon convinces a man that rough downright stealing is an awkward, foolish trade; and it therefore falls into the hands of those who want education for the higher efforts of dishonesty. To get into a bank at midnight and steal what little there may be in the till, or even an armful of banknotes, with the probability of a policeman catching you as you creep out of the chimney and through a hole, is clumsy work; but to walk in amidst the smiles and bows of admiring managers and draw out money over the counter by thousands and tens of thousands, which you have never put in and which you can never repay, and which, when all is done, you have only borrowed — that is a great feat.”
“Do you really think so?”
“The courage, the ingenuity, and the self-confidence needed are certainly admirable. And then there is a cringing and almost contemptible littleness about honesty, which hardly allows it to assert itself. The really honest man can never say a word to make those who don’t know of his honesty believe that it is there. He has one foot in the grave before his neighbours have learned that he is possessed of an article for the use of which they would so willingly have paid, could they have been made to see that it was there. The dishonest man almost doubts whether in him dishonesty is dishonest, let it be practised ever so widely. The honest man almost doubts whether his honesty be honest, unless it be kept hidden. Let two unknown men be competitors for any place, with nothing to guide the judges but their own words and their own looks, and who can doubt but the dishonest man would be chosen rather than the honest? Honesty goes about with a hang-dog look about him, as though knowing that he cannot be trusted till he be proved. Dishonesty carries his eyes high, and assumes that any question respecting him must be considered to be unnecessary.”
“Oh, Frank, what a philosopher you are.”
“Well, yes; meditating about your diamonds has brought my philosophy out. When do you think you will go to Scotland?”
“I am hardly strong enough for the journey yet. I fear the cold so much.”
“You would not find it cold there by the seaside. To tell you the truth, Lizzie, I want to get you out of this house. I don’t mean to say a word against Mrs. Carbuncle; but after all that has occurred, it would be better that you should be away. People talk about you and Lord George.”
“How can I help it, Frank?”
“By going away — that is, if I may presume one thing. I don’t want to pry into your secrets.”
“I have none from you.”
“Unless there be truth in the assertion that you are engaged to marry Lord George Carruthers.”
“There is no truth in it.”
“And you do not wish to stay here in order that there may be an engagement? I am obliged to ask you home questions, Lizzie, as I could not otherwise advise you.”
“You do, indeed, ask home questions.”
“I will desist at once, if they be disagreeable.”
“Frank, you are false to me.” As she said this she rose in her bed, and sat with her eyes fixed upon his, and her thin hands stretched out upon the bedclothes. “You know that I cannot wish to be engaged to him or to any other man. You know, better almost than I can know myself, how my heart stands. There has, at any rate, been no hypocrisy with me in regard to you. Everything has been told to you — at what cost I will not now say. The honest woman, I fear, fares worse even than the honest man of whom you spoke. I think you admitted that he would be appreciated at last. She to her dying day must pay the penalty of her transgressions. Honesty in a woman the world never forgives.” When she had done speaking, he sat silent by her bedside, but, almost unconsciously, he stretched out his left hand and took her right hand in his. For a few seconds she admitted this, and she lay there with their hands clasped. Then with a start she drew back her arm, and retreated as it were from his touch. “How dare you,” said she, “press my hand when you know that such pressure from you is treacherous and damnable?”
“Yes — damnable. I will not pick my words for you. Coming from you, what does such pressure mean?”
“Yes — and of what sort? You are wicked enough to feed my love by such tokens, when you know that you do not mean to return it. Oh, Frank, Frank, will you give me back my heart? What was it that you promised me when we sat together upon the rocks at Portray?”
It is inexpressibly difficult for a man to refuse the tender of a woman’s love. We may almost say that a man should do so as a matter of course — that the thing so offered becomes absolutely valueless by the offer — that the woman who can make it has put herself out of court by her own abandonment of privileges due to her as a woman — that stern rebuke and even expressed contempt are justified by such conduct — and that the fairest beauty and most alluring charms of feminine grace should lose their attraction when thus tendered openly in the market. No doubt such is our theory as to love and lovemaking. But the action to be taken by us in matters as to which the plainest theory prevails for the guidance of our practice, depends so frequently on accompanying circumstances and correlative issues, that the theory, as often as not, falls to the ground. Frank could not despise this woman, and could not be stern to her. He could not bring himself to tell her boldly that he would have nothing to say to her in the way of love. He made excuses for her, and persuaded himself that there were peculiar circumstances in her position justifying unwomanly conduct, although, had he examined himself on the subject, he would have found it difficult to say what those circumstances were. She was rich, beautiful, clever — and he was flattered. Nevertheless he knew that he could not marry her; and he knew also that much as he liked her he did not love her. “Lizzie,” he said, “I think you hardly understand my position.”
“Yes, I do. That little girl has cozened you out of a promise.”
“If it be so, you would not have me break it?”
“Yes, I would, if you think she is not fit to be your wife. Is a man such as you are, to be tied by the leg for life, have all his ambition clipped, and his high hopes shipwrecked, because a girl has been clever enough to extract a word from him? Is it not true that you are in debt?”
“What of that? At any rate, Lizzie, I do not want help from you.”
“That is so like a man’s pride! Do we not all know that in such a career as you have marked out for yourself, wealth, or at any rate an easy income, is necessary? Do you think that I cannot put two and two together? Do you believe so meanly of me as to imagine that I should have said to you what I have said, if I did not know that I could help you? A man, I believe, cannot understand that love which induces a woman to sacrifice her pride simply for his advantage. I want to see you prosper. I want to see you a great man and a lord, and I know that you cannot become so without an income. Ah, I wish I could give you all that I have got, and save you from the encumbrance that is attached to it!”
It might be that he would then have told her of his engagement to Lucy, and of his resolution to adhere to that promise, had not Mrs. Carbuncle at that moment entered the room. Frank had been there for above an hour, and as Lizzie was still an invalid, and to some extent under the care of Mrs. Carbuncle, it was natural that that lady should interfere. “You know, my dear, you should not exhaust yourself altogether. Mr. Emilius is to come to you this afternoon.”
“Mr. Emilius!” said Greystock.
“Yes — the clergyman. Don’t you remember him at Portray? A dark man with eyes close together! You used to be very wicked, and say that he was once a Jew boy in the streets.” Lizzie, as she spoke of her spiritual guide, was evidently not desirous of doing him much honour.
“I remember him well enough. He made sheep’s eyes at Miss Macnulty, and drank a great deal of wine at dinner.”
“Poor Macnulty! I don’t believe a word about the wine; and as for Macnulty, I don’t see why she should not be converted as well as another. He is coming here to read to me. I hope you don’t object.”
“Not in the least — if you like it.”
“One does have solemn thoughts sometimes, Frank — especially when one is ill.”
“Oh, yes. Well or ill, one does have solemn thoughts — ghosts, as it were, which will appear. But is Mr. Emilius good at laying such apparitions?”
“He is a clergyman, Mr. Greystock,” said Mrs. Carbuncle, with something of rebuke in her voice.
“So they tell me. I was not present at his ordination, but I dare say it was done according to rule. When one reflects what a deal of harm a bishop may do, one wishes that there was some surer way of getting bishops.”
“Do you know anything against Mr. Emilius?” asked Lizzie.
“Nothing at all but his looks, and manners, and voice, unless it be that he preaches popular sermons, and drinks too much wine, and makes sheep’s eyes at Miss Macnulty. Look after your silver spoons, Mrs. Carbuncle, if the last thieves have left you any. You were asking after the fate of your diamonds, Lizzie. Perhaps they will endow a Protestant church in Mr. Emilius’s native land.”
Mr. Emilius did come and read to Lady Eustace that afternoon. A clergyman is as privileged to enter the bedroom of a sick lady as is a doctor or a cousin. There was another clean cap, and another laced handkerchief, and on this occasion a little shawl over Lizzie’s shoulders. Mr. Emilius first said a prayer, kneeling at Lizzie’s bedside; then he read a chapter in the Bible; and after that he read the first half of the fourth canto of Childe Harold so well, that Lizzie felt for the moment that after all poetry was life, and life was poetry.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55