Lady Eustace did not intend to take as much time in answering Loyd Fawn’s letter as he had taken in writing it; but even she found that the subject was one which demanded a good deal of thought. Mrs. Carbuncle had very freely recommended her to take the man, supporting her advice by arguments which Lizzie felt to be valid; but then Mrs. Carbuncle did not know all the circumstances. Mrs. Carbuncle had not actually seen his lordship’s letter; and though the great part of the letter, the formal repetition, namely, of the writer’s offer of marriage, had been truly told to her, still, as the reader will have perceived, she had been kept in the dark as to some of the details. Lizzie did sit at her desk with the object of putting a few words together in order that she might see how they looked, and she found that there was a difficulty.
“MY DEAR LORD FAWN: As we have been engaged to marry each other, and as all our friends have been told, I think that the thing had better go on.”
That, after various attempts, was, she thought, the best letter that she could send — if she should make up her mind to be Lady Fawn. But, on the morning of the 30th of March she had not sent her letter. She had told herself that she would take two days to think of her reply, and on the Friday morning the few words she had prepared were still lying in her desk.
What was she to get by marrying a man she absolutely disliked? That he also absolutely disliked her was not a matter much in her thoughts. The man would not ill-treat her because he disliked her; or it might perhaps be juster to say that the ill-treatment which she might fairly anticipate would not be of a nature which would much affect her comfort grievously. He would not beat her, nor rob her, nor lock her up, nor starve her. He would either neglect her or preach sermons to her. For the first she could console herself by the attention of others; and should he preach, perhaps she could preach too — as sharply if not as lengthily as his lordship. At any rate she was not afraid of him. But what would she gain? It is very well to have a rock, as Mrs. Carbuncle had said, but a rock is not everything. She did not know whether she cared much for living upon a rock. Even stability may be purchased at too high a price. There was not a grain of poetry in the whole composition of Lord Fawn, and poetry was what her very soul craved — poetry, together with houses, champagne, jewels, and admiration. Her income was still her own, and she did not quite see that the rock was so absolutely necessary to her. Then she wrote another note to Lord Fawn, a specimen of a note, so that she might have the opportunity of comparing the two. This note took her much longer than the one first written.
“MY LORD: I do not know how to acknowledge with sufficient humility the condescension and great kindness of your lordship’s letter. But perhaps its manly generosity is more conspicuous than either. The truth is, my lord, you want to escape from your engagement, but are too much afraid of the consequences to dare to do so by any act of your own. Therefore you throw it upon me. You are quite successful. I don’t think you ever read poetry, but perhaps you may understand the two following lines:
“‘I am constrained to say your lordship’s scullion
Should sooner be my husband than yourself.’
“I see through you, and despise you thoroughly.
She was comparing the two answers together, very much in doubt as to which should be sent, when there came a message to her by a man whom she knew to be a policeman, though he did not announce himself as such, and was dressed in plain clothes. Major Mackintosh sent his compliments to her, and would wait, upon her that afternoon at three o’clock, if she would have the kindness to receive him. At the first moment of seeing the man she felt that after all the rock was what she wanted. Mrs. Carbuncle was right. She had had troubles and might have more, and the rock was the thing. But then the more certainly did she become convinced of this by the presence of the major’s messenger, the more clearly did she see the difficulty of attaining the security which the rock offered. If this public exposure should fall upon her, Lord Fawn’s renewed offer, as she knew well, would stand for nothing. If once it were known that she had kept the necklace — her own necklace — under her pillow at Carlisle, he would want no further justification in repudiating her, were it for the tenth time. She was very uncivil to the messenger, and the more so because she found that the man bore her rudeness without turning upon her and rending her. When she declared that the police had behaved very badly, and that Major Mackintosh was inexcusable in troubling her again, and that she had ceased to care twopence about the necklace, the man made no remonstrance to her petulance. He owned that the trouble was very great, and the police very inefficient. He almost owned that the major was inexcusable. He did not care what he owned so that he achieved his object. But when Lizzie said that she could not see Major Mackintosh at three, and objected equally to two, four, or five; then the courteous messenger from Scotland Yard did say a word to make her understand that there must be a meeting — and he hinted also that the major was doing a most unusually good-natured thing in coming to Hertford Street. Of course Lizzie made the appointment. If the major chose to come, she would be at home at three.
As soon as the policeman was gone she sat alone, with a manner very much changed from that which she had worn since the arrival of Lord Fawn’s letter; with a fresh weight of care upon her, greater perhaps than she had ever hitherto borne. She had had bad moments — when, for instance, she had been taken before the magistrates at Carlisle, when she found the police in her house on her return from the theatre, and when Lord George had forced her secret from her. But at each of these periods hope had come renewed before despair had crushed her. Now it seemed to her that the thing was done and that the game was over. This chief man of the London police no doubt knew the whole story. If she could only already have climbed upon some rock, so that there might be a man bound to defend her — a man at any rate bound to put himself forward on her behalf and do whatever might be done in her defence — she might have endured it!
What would she do now, at this minute? She looked at her watch and found that it was already past one. Mrs. Carbuncle, as she knew, was closeted up-stairs with Lucinda, whose wedding was fixed for the following Monday. It was now Friday. Were she to call upon Mrs. Carbuncle for aid no aid would be forthcoming unless she were to tell the whole truth. She almost thought that she would do so. But then, how great would have been her indiscretion if, after all, when the major should come, she should discover that he did not know the truth himself! That Mrs. Carbuncle would keep her secret she did not for a moment think. She longed for the comfort of some friend’s counsel, but she found at last that she could not purchase it by telling everything to a woman.
Might it not be possible that she should still run away? She did not know much of the law, but she thought that they could not punish her for breaking an appointment even with a man so high in authority as Major Mackintosh. She could leave a note saying that pressing business called her out. But whither should she go? She thought of taking a cab to the House of Commons, finding her cousin, and telling him everything. It would be so much better that he should see the major. But then again it might be that she should be mistaken as to the amount of the major’s information. After a while she almost determined to fly off at once to Scotland, leaving word that she was obliged to go instantly to her child. But there was no direct train to Scotland before eight or nine in the evening, and during the intervening hours the police would have ample time to find her. What, indeed, could she do with herself during these intervening hours? Ah, if she had but a rock now, so that she need not be dependent altogether on the exercise of her own intellect!
Gradually the minutes passed by, and she became aware that she must face the major. Well! What had she done? She had stolen nothing. She had taken no person’s property. She had, indeed, been wickedly robbed, and the police had done nothing to get back for her her property, as they were bound to have done. She would take care to tell the major what she thought about the negligence of the police. The major should not have the talk all to himself.
If it had not been for one word with which Lord George had stunned her ears, she could still have borne it well. She had told a lie; perhaps two or three lies. She knew that she had lied. But then people lie every day. She would not have minded it much if she were simply to be called a liar. But he had told her that she would be accused of perjury. There was something frightful to her in the name. And there were she knew not what dreadful penalties attached to it. Lord George had told her that she might be put in prison — whether he had said for years or for months she had forgotten. And she thought she had heard of people’s property being confiscated to the Crown when they had been made out to be guilty of certain great offences. Oh, how she wished that she had a rock!
When three o’clock came she had not started for Scotland or elsewhere, and at last she received the major. Could she have thoroughly trusted the servant she would have denied herself at the last moment, but she feared that she might be betrayed, and she thought that her position would be rendered even worse than it was at present by a futile attempt. She was sitting alone, pale, haggard, trembling, when Major Mackintosh was shown into her room. It may be as well explained at once, at this moment; the major knew, or thought that he knew, every circumstance of the two robberies, and that his surmises were, in every respect, right. Miss Crabstick and Mr. Cann were in comfortable quarters, and were prepared to tell all that they could tell. Mr. Smiler was in durance, and Mr. Benjamin was at Vienna, in the hands of the Austrian police, who were prepared to give him up to those who desired his society in England, on the completion of certain legal formalities. That Mr. Benjamin and Mr. Smiler would be prosecuted, the latter for the robbery and the former for conspiracy to rob, and for receiving stolen goods, was a matter of course. But what was to be done with Lady Eustace? That, at the present moment, was the prevailing trouble with the police. During the last three weeks every precaution had been taken to keep the matter secret, and it is hardly too much to say that Lizzie’s interests were handled not only with consideration but with tenderness.
“Lady Eustace,” said the major, “I am very sorry to trouble you. No doubt the man who called on you this morning explained to you who I am.”
“Oh yes, I know who you are — quite well.” Lizzie made a great effort to speak without betraying her consternation; but she was nearly prostrated. The major, however, hardly observed her, and was by no means at ease himself in his effort to save her from unnecessary annoyance. He was a tall, thin, gaunt man of about forty, with large, good-natured eyes — but it was not till the interview was half over that Lizzie took courage to look even into his face.
“Just so; I am come, you know, about the robbery which took place here-and the other robbery at Carlisle.”
“I have been so troubled about these horrid robberies! Sometimes I think they’ll be the death of me.”
“I think, Lady Eustace, we have found out the whole truth.”
“Oh, I daresay. I wonder why — you have been so long — finding it out.”
“We have had very clever people to deal with, Lady Eustace — and I fear that, even now, we shall never get back the property.”
“I do not care about the property, sir — although it was all my own. Nobody has lost anything but myself; and I really don’t see why the thing should not die out, as I don’t care about it. Whoever it is, they may have it now.”
“We were bound to get to the bottom of it all, if we could; and I think that we have — at last. Perhaps, as you say, we ought to have done it sooner.”
“Oh — I don’t care.”
“We have two persons in custody, Lady Eustace, whom we shall use as witnesses, and I am afraid we shall have to call upon you also — as a witness.” It occurred to Lizzie that they could not lock her up in prison and make her a witness too, but she said nothing. Then the major continued his speech — and asked her the question which was, in fact, alone material. “Of course, Lady Eustace, you are not bound to say anything to me unless you like — and you must understand that I by no means wish you to criminate yourself.”
“I don’t know what that means.”
“If you yourself have done anything wrong, I don’t want to ask you to confess it.”
“I have had all my diamonds stolen, if you mean that. Perhaps it was wrong to have diamonds.”
“But to come to my question — I suppose we may take it for granted that the diamonds were in your desk when the thieves made their entrance into this house, and broke the desk open, and stole the money out of it?” Lizzie breathed so hardly, that she was quite unable to speak. The man’s voice was very gentle and very kind — but then how could she admit that one fact? All depended on that one fact. “The woman Crabstick,” said the major, “has confessed, and will state on her oath that she saw the necklace in your hands in Hertford Street, and that she saw it placed in the desk. She then gave information of this to Benjamin — as she had before given information as to your journey up from Scotland — and she was introduced to the two men whom she let into the house. One of them, indeed, who will also give evidence for us, she had before met at Carlisle. She then was present when the necklace was taken out of the desk. The man who opened the desk and took it out, who also cut the door at Carlisle, will give evidence to the same effect. The man who carried the necklace out of the house, and who broke open the box at Carlisle, will be tried — as will also Benjamin, who disposed of the diamonds. I have told you the whole story, as it has been told to me by the woman Crabstick. Of course you will deny the truth of it, if it be untrue.” Lizzie sat with her eyes fixed upon the floor, but said nothing. She could not speak. “If you will allow me, Lady Eustace, to give you advice — really friendly advice ——”
“Oh, pray do.”
“You had better admit the truth of the story, if it is true.”
“They were my own,” she whispered.
“Or, at any rate, you believed that they were. There can be no doubt, I think, as to that. No one supposes that the robbery at Carlisle was arranged on your behalf.”
“But you had taken them out of the box before you went to bed at the inn?”
“But you had taken them?”
“I did it in the morning before I started from Scotland. They frightened me by saying the box would be stolen.”
“Exactly — and then you put them into your desk here, in this house?”
“Yes — sir.”
“I should tell you, Lady Eustace, that I had not a doubt about this before I came here. For some time past I have thought that it must be so; and latterly the confession of two of the accomplices has made it certain to me. One of the housebreakers and the jeweller will be tried for the felony, and I am afraid that you must undergo the annoyance of being one of the witnesses.”
“What will they do to me, Major Mackintosh?” Lizzie now for the first time looked up into his eyes, and felt that they were kind. Could he be her rock? He did not speak to her like an enemy — and then, too, he would know better than any man alive how she might best escape from her trouble.
“They will ask you to tell the truth.”
“Indeed I will do that,” said Lizzie — not aware that, after so many lies, it might be difficult to tell the truth.
“And you will probably be asked to repeat it, this way and that, in a manner that will be troublesome to you. You see that here in London, and at Carlisle, you have — given incorrect versions.”
“I know I have. But the necklace was my own. There was nothing dishonest — was there, Major Mackintosh? When they came to me at Carlisle I was so confused that I hardly knew what to tell them. And when I had once — given an incorrect version, you know, I didn’t know how to go back.”
The major was not so well acquainted with Lizzie as is the reader, and he pitied her. “I can understand all that,” he said.
How much kinder he was than Lord George had been when she confessed the truth to him. Here would be a rock! And such a handsome man as he was, too — not exactly a Corsair, as he was great in authority over the London police — but a powerful, fine fellow, who would know what to do with swords and pistols as well as any Corsair — and one, too, no doubt, who would understand poetry! Any such dream, however, was altogether unavailing, as the major had a wife at home and seven children. “If you will only tell me what to do, I will do it,” she said, looking up into his face with entreaty, and pressing her hands together in supplication.
Then at great length, and with much patience, he explained to her what he would have her do. He thought that, if she were summoned and used as a witness, there would be no attempt to prosecute her for the — incorrect versions — of which she had undoubtedly been guilty. The probability was, that she would receive assurance to this effect before she would be asked to give her evidence, preparatory to the committal of Benjamin and Smiler. He could not assure her that it would be so, but he had no doubt of it. In order, however, that things might be made to run as smooth as possible, he recommended her very strongly to go at once to Mr. Camperdown and make a clean breast of it to him. “The whole family should be told,” said the major, “and it will be better for you that they should know it from yourself than from us.” When she hesitated, he explained to her that the matter could no longer be kept as a secret, and that her evidence would certainly appear in the papers. He proposed that she should be summoned for that day week — which would be the Friday after Lucinda’s marriage — and he suggested that she should go to Mr. Camperdown’s on the morrow.
“What — tomorrow?” exclaimed Lizzie, in dismay.
“My dear Lady Eustace,” said the major, “the sooner you get back into straight running, the sooner you will be comfortable.” Then she promised that she would go on the Tuesday — the day after the marriage. “If he learns it in the mean time, you must not be surprised,” said the major.
“Tell me one thing, Major Mackintosh,” she said, as she gave him her hand at parting, “they can’t take away from me anything that is my own — can they?”
“I don’t think they can,” said the major, escaping rather quickly from the room.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01