“Lady Linlithgow,” said Frank Greystock, holding up both his hands.
“Yes, indeed,” said Miss Macnulty. “I did not speak to her, but I saw her. She has sent her —— love to Lady Eustace, and begs that she will see her.”
Lady Eustace had been so surprised by the announcement that hitherto she had not spoken a word. The quarrel between her and her aunt had been of such a nature that it had seemed to be impossible that the old countess should come to Mount Street. Lizzie had certainly behaved very badly to her aunt — about as badly as a young woman could behave to an old woman. She had accepted bread, and shelter, and the very clothes on her back from her aunt’s bounty, and had rejected even the hand of her benefactress the first moment that she had bread, and shelter, and clothes of her own. And here was Lady Linlithgow down-stairs in the parlour, and sending up her love to her niece! “I won’t see her,” said Lizzie.
“You had better see her,” said Frank.
“I can’t see her,” said Lizzie. “Good gracious, my dear, what has she come for?”
“She says it’s very important,” said Miss Macnulty.
“Of course you must see her,” said Frank. “Let me get out of the house, and then tell the servant to show her up at once. Don’t be weak now, Lizzie, and I’ll come and find out all about it tomorrow.”
“Mind you do,” said Lizzie. Then Frank took his departure, and Lizzie did as she was bidden. “You remain in here, Julia,” she said, “so as to be near if I want you. She shall come into the front room.” Then, absolutely shaking with fear of the approaching evil, she took her seat in the largest drawing-room. There was still a little delay. Time was given to Frank Greystock to get away, and to do so without meeting Lady Linlithgow in the passage. The message was conveyed by Miss Macnulty to the servant, and the same servant opened the front door for Frank before he delivered it. Lady Linlithgow, too, though very strong, was old. She was slow, or perhaps it might more properly be said she was stately in her movements. She was one of those old women who are undoubtedly old women — who in the remembrance of younger people seem always to have been old women — but on whom old age appears to have no debilitating effects. If the hand of Lady Linlithgow ever trembled, it trembled from anger. If her foot ever faltered, it faltered for effect. In her way Lady Linlithgow was a very powerful human being. She knew nothing of fear, nothing of charity, nothing of mercy, and nothing of the softness of love. She had no imagination. She was worldly, covetous, and not unfrequently cruel. But she meant to be true and honest, though she often failed in her meaning, and she had an idea of her duty in life. She was not self-indulgent. She was as hard as an oak post, but then she was also as trustworthy. No human being liked her; but she had the good word of a great many human beings. At great cost to her own comfort, she had endeavoured to do her duty to her niece, Lizzie Greystock, when Lizzie was homeless. Undoubtedly Lizzie’s bed, while it had been spread under her aunt’s roof, had not been one of roses; but such as it had been, she had endured to occupy it while it served her needs. She had constrained herself to bear her aunt; but from the moment of her escape she had chosen to reject her aunt altogether. Now her aunt’s heavy step was heard upon the stairs! Lizzie also was a brave woman after a certain fashion. She could dare to incur a great danger for an adequate object. But she was too young as yet to have become mistress of that persistent courage which was Lady Linlithgow’s peculiar possession.
When the countess entered the drawing-room Lizzie rose upon her legs, but did not come forward from her chair. The old woman was not tall; but her face was long, and at the same time large, square at the chin and square at the forehead, and gave her almost an appearance of height. Her nose was very prominent, not beaked, but straight and strong, and broad at the bridge, and of a dark-red colour. Her eyes were sharp and grey. Her mouth was large, and over it there was almost beard enough for a young man’s moustache. Her chin was firm, and large, and solid. Her hair was still brown, and was only just grizzled in parts. Nothing becomes an old woman like gray hair, but Lady Linlithgow’s hair would never be gray. Her appearance, on the whole, was not prepossessing, but it gave one an idea of honest, real strength. What one saw was not buckram, whalebone, paint, and false hair. It was all human — hardly feminine, certainly not angelic, with perhaps a hint in the other direction — but a human body, and not a thing of pads and patches. Lizzie, as she saw her aunt, made up her mind for the combat. Who is there that has lived to be a man or woman, and has not experienced a moment in which a combat has impended, and a call for such sudden courage has been necessary? Alas! sometimes the combat comes, and the courage is not there. Lady Eustace was not at her ease as she saw her aunt enter the room. “Oh, come ye in peace, or come ye in war?” she would have said had she dared. Her aunt had sent up her love, if the message had been delivered aright; but what of love could there be between those two? The countess dashed at once to the matter in hand, making no allusion to Lizzie’s ungrateful conduct to herself. “Lizzie,” she said, “I’ve been asked to come to you by Mr. Camperdown. I’ll sit down, if you please.”
“Oh, certainly, Aunt Penelope. Mr. Camperdown!”
“Yes; Mr. Camperdown. You know who he is. He has been to me because I am your nearest relation. So I am, and therefore I have come. I don’t like it, I can tell you.”
“As for that, Aunt Penelope, you’ve done it to please yourself,” said Lizzie in a tone of insolence with which Lady Linlithgow had been familiar in former days.
“No, I haven’t, Miss. I haven’t come for my own pleasure at all. I have come for the credit of the family, if any good can be done towards saving it. You’ve got your husband’s diamonds locked up somewhere, and you must give them back.”
“My husband’s diamonds were my diamonds,” said Lizzie stoutly.
“They were family diamonds, Eustace diamonds, heirlooms — old property belonging to the Eustaces, just like their estates. Sir Florian didn’t give ’em away, and couldn’t, and wouldn’t if he could. Such things ain’t given away in that fashion. It’s all nonsense, and you must give them up.”
“Who says so?”
“I say so.”
“That’s nothing, Aunt Penelope.”
“Nothing, is it? You’ll see. Mr. Camperdown says so. All the world will say so. If you don’t take care, you’ll find yourself brought into a court of law, my dear, and a jury will say so. That’s what it will come to. What good will they do you? You can’t sell them; and, as a widow, you can’t wear ’em. If you marry again, you wouldn’t disgrace your husband by going about showing off the Eustace diamonds. But you don’t know anything about ‘proper feelings.’”
“I know every bit as much as you do, Aunt Penelope, and I don’t want you to teach me.”
“Will you give up the jewels to Mr. Camperdown?”
“No, I won’t.”
“Or to the jewellers?”
“No, I won’t. I mean to — keep them — for — my child.” Then there came forth a sob and a tear, and Lizzie’s handkerchief was held to her eyes.
“Your child! Wouldn’t they be kept properly for him, and for the family, if the jewellers had them? I don’t believe you care about your child.”
“Aunt Penelope, you had better take care.”
“I shall say just what I think, Lizzie. You can’t frighten me. The fact is, you are disgracing the family you have married into, and as you are my niece ——”
“I’m not disgracing anybody. You are disgracing everybody.”
“As you are my niece, I have undertaken to come to you and to tell you that if you don’t give ’em up within a week from this time they’ll proceed against you for — stealing ’em.” Lady Linlithgow, as she uttered this terrible threat, bobbed her head at her niece in a manner calculated to add very much to the force of her words. The words, and tone, and gesture combined were, in truth, awful.
“I didn’t steal them. My husband gave them to me with his own hands.”
“You wouldn’t answer Mr. Camperdown’s letters, you know. That alone will condemn you. After that there isn’t a word to be said about it — not a word. Mr. Camperdown is the family lawyer, and when he writes to you letter after letter you take no more notice of him than a — dog.” The old woman was certainly very powerful. The way in which she pronounced that last word did make Lady Eustace ashamed of herself. “Why didn’t you answer his letters, unless you knew you were in the wrong? Of course you knew you were in the wrong.”
“No, I didn’t. A woman isn’t obliged to answer everything that is written to her.”
“Very well! You just say that before the Judge! for you’ll have to go before a judge. I tell you, Lizzie Greystock, or Eustace, or whatever your name is, it’s downright picking and stealing. I suppose you want to sell them.”
“I won’t stand this, Aunt Penelope,” said Lizzie, rising from her seat.
“You must stand it, and you’ll have to stand worse than that. You don’t suppose Mr. Camperdown got me to come here for nothing. If you don’t want to be made out to be a thief before all the world ——”
“I won’t stand it,” shrieked Lizzie. “You have no business to come here and say such things to me. It’s my house.”
“I shall say just what I please.”
“Miss Macnulty, come in.” And Lizzie threw open the door, hardly knowing how the very weak ally whom she now invoked could help her, but driven by the stress of the combat to seek assistance somewhere. Miss Macnulty, who was seated near the door, and who had necessarily heard every word of the conversation, had no alternative but to appear. Of all human beings Lady Linlithgow was to her the most terrible, and yet, after a fashion, she loved the old woman. Miss Macnulty was humble, cowardly, and subservient; but she was not a fool, and she understood the difference between truth and falsehood.
She had endured fearful things from Lady Linlithgow; but she knew that there might be more of sound protection in Lady Linlithgow’s real wrath than in Lizzie’s pretended affection,
“So you are there, are you?” said the countess.
“Yes, I am here, Lady Linlithgow.”
“Listening, I suppose. Well, so much the better. You know well enough, and you can tell her. You ain’t a fool, though I suppose you’ll be afraid to open your mouth.”
“Julia,” said Lady Eustace, “will you have the kindness to see that my aunt is shown to her carriage? I cannot stand her violence, and I will go up-stairs.” So saying she made her way very gracefully into the back drawing-room, whence she could escape to her bedroom.
But her aunt fired a last shot at her. “Unless you do as you’re bid, Lizzie, you’ll find yourself in prison as sure as eggs.” Then, when her niece was beyond hearing, she turned to Miss Macnulty. “I suppose you’ve heard about these diamonds, Macnulty?”
“I know she’s got them, Lady Linlithgow.”
“She has no more right to them than you have. I suppose you’re afraid to tell her so, lest she should turn you out; but it’s well she should know it. I’ve done my duty. Never mind about the servant. I’ll find my way out of the house.” Nevertheless the bell was rung, and the countess was shown to her carriage with proper consideration.
The two ladies went to the opera, and it was not till after their return, and just as they were going to bed, that anything further was said about either the necklace or the visit. Miss Macnulty would not begin the subject, and Lizzie purposely postponed it. But not for a moment had it been off Lady Eustace’s mind. She did not care much for music, though she professed to do so, and thought that she did. But on this night, had she at other times been a slave to Saint Cecilia, she would have been free from that thraldom. The old woman’s threats had gone into her very heart’s blood. Theft, and prison, and juries, and judges had been thrown at her head so violently that she was almost stunned. Could it really be the case that they would prosecute her for stealing? She was Lady Eustace, and who but Lady Eustace should have those diamonds or be allowed to wear them? Nobody could say that Sir Florian had not given them to her. It could not, surely, be brought against her as an actual crime that she had not answered Mr. Camperdown’s letters? And yet she was not sure. Her ideas about law and judicial proceedings were very vague. Of what was wrong and what was right she had a distinct notion. She knew well enough that she was endeavouring to steal the Eustace diamonds; but she did not in the least know what power there might be in the law to prevent or to punish her for the intended theft. She knew well that the thing was not really her own; but there were, as she thought, so many points in her favour, that she felt it to be a cruelty that any one should grudge her the plunder. Was not she the only Lady Eustace living? As to these threats from Mr. Camperdown and Lady Linlithgow, she felt certain they would be used against her whether they were true or false. She would break her heart should she abandon her prey and afterwards find that Mr. Camperdown would have been wholly powerless against her had she held on to it. But then who would tell her the truth? She was sharp enough to understand, or at any rate suspicious enough to believe, that Mr. Mopus would be actuated by no other desire in the matter than that of running up a bill against her. “My dear,” she said to Miss Macnulty, as they went upstairs after the opera, “come into my room a moment. You heard all that my aunt said.”
“I could not help hearing. You told me to stay there, and the door was ajar.”
“I wanted you to hear. Of course what she said was the greatest nonsense in the world.”
“I don’t know.”
“When she talked about my being taken to prison for not answering a lawyer’s letter, that must be nonsense.”
“I suppose that was.”
“And then she is such a ferocious old termagant — such an old vulturess. Now isn’t she a ferocious old termagant?” Lizzie paused for an answer, desirous that her companion should join her in her enmity against her aunt; but Miss Macnulty was unwilling to say anything against one who had been her protectress, and might, perhaps, be her protectress again. “You don’t mean to say you don’t hate her?” said Lizzie. “If you didn’t hate her after all she has done to you, I should despise you. Don’t you hate her?”
“I think she’s a very upsetting old woman,” said Miss Macnulty.
“Oh, you poor creature! Is that all you dare say about her?”
“I’m obliged to be a poor creature,” said Miss Macnulty, with a red spot on each of her cheeks.
Lady Eustace understood this, and relented. “But you needn’t be afraid,” she said, “to tell me what you think.”
“About the diamonds, you mean.”
“Yes, about the diamonds.”
“You have enough without them. I’d give ’em up for peace and quiet.” That was Miss Macnulty’s advice.
“No, I haven’t enough, or nearly enough. I’ve had to buy ever so many things since my husband died. They’ve done all they could to be hard to me. They made me pay for the very furniture at Portray.” This wasn’t true; but it was true that Lizzie had endeavoured to palm off on the Eustace estate bills for new things which she had ordered for her own country-house. “I haven’t near enough. I am in debt already. People talked as though I were the richest woman in the world; but when it comes to be spent, I ain’t rich. Why should I give them up if they’re my own?”
“Not if they’re your own.”
“If I give you a present and then die, people can’t come and take it away afterwards because I didn’t put it into my will. There’d be no making presents like that at all.” This Lizzie said with an evident conviction in the strength of her argument.
“But this necklace is so very valuable.”
“That can’t make a difference. If a thing is a man’s own he can give it away; not a house, or a farm, or a wood, or anything like that, but a thing that he can carry about with him — of course he can give it away.”
“But perhaps Sir Florian didn’t mean to give it for always,” suggested Miss Macnulty.
“But perhaps he did. He told me that they were mine, and I shall keep them. So that’s the end of it. You can go to bed now.” And Miss Macnulty went to bed.
Lizzie, as she sat thinking of it, owned to herself that no help was to be expected in that quarter. She was not angry with Miss Macnulty, who was, almost of necessity, a poor creature. But she was convinced more strongly than ever that some friend was necessary to her who should not be a poor creature. Lord Fawn, though a peer, was a poor creature. Frank Greystock she believed to be as strong as a house.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14