Early on the Wednesday morning, two or three hours before the time fixed for Lizzie’s visit to Mr. Camperdown, her cousin Frank came to call upon her. She presumed him to be altogether ignorant of all that Major Mackintosh had known, and therefore endeavoured to receive him as though her heart were light.
“Oh, Frank,” said she, “you have heard of our terrible misfortune here?”
“I have heard so much,” said he gravely, “that I hardly know what to believe, and what not to believe.”
“I mean about Miss Roanoke’s marriage?”
“Oh, yes; I have been told that it is broken off.”
Then Lizzie, with affected eagerness, gave him a description of the whole affair, declaring how horrible, how tragic, the thing had been from its very commencement. “Don’t you remember, Frank, down at Portray, they never really cared for each other? They became engaged the very time you were there.”
“I have not forgotten it.”
“The truth is, Lucinda Roanoke did not understand what real love meant. She had never taught herself to comprehend what is the very essence of love, and as for Sir Griffin Tewett, though he was anxious to marry her, he never had any idea of love at all. Did not you always feel that, Frank?”
“I’m sorry you have had so much to do with them, Lizzie.”
“There’s no help for spilt milk, Frank; and, as for that, I don’t suppose that Mrs. Carbuncle can do me any harm. The man is a baronet, and the marriage would have been respectable. Miss Roanoke has been eccentric, and that has been the long and the short of it. What will be done, Frank, with all the presents that were bought?”
“I haven’t an idea. They’d better be sold to pay the bills. But I came to you, Lizzie, about another piece of business.”
“What piece of business?” she asked, looking him in the face for a moment, trying to be bold, but trembling as she did 50. She had believed him to be ignorant of her story, but she had soon perceived, from his manner to her, that he knew it all, or at least that he knew so much that she would have to tell him all the rest. There could be no longer any secret with him. Indeed there could be no longer any secret with anybody. She must be prepared to encounter a world accurately informed as to every detail of the business which, for the last three months, had been to her a burden so oppressive that, at some periods, she had sunk altogether under the weight. She had already endeavoured to realise her position, and to make clear to herself the condition of her future life. Lord George had talked to her of perjury and prison, and had tried to frighten her by making the very worst her faults. According to him, she would certainly be made to pay for the diamonds, and would be enabled to do so by saving her income during a long term of incarceration. This was a terrible prospect of things; and she had almost believed in it. Then the major had come to her. The major, she thought, was the truest gentleman she had ever seen, and her best friend. Ah — if it had not been for the wife and seven children, there might still have been comfort! That which had been perjury with Lord George, had by the major been so simply, and yet so correctly, called an incorrect version of facts! And so it was — and no more than that. Lizzie, in defending herself to herself, felt that, though cruel magistrates and hard-hearted lawyers and pig-headed jurymen might call her little fault by the name of perjury, it could not be real, wicked perjury, because the diamonds had been her own. She had defrauded nobody — had wished to defraud nobody — if the people had only left her alone. It had suited her to give — an incorrect version of facts, because people had troubled themselves about her affairs; and now all this had come upon her! The major had comforted her very greatly; but still — what would the world say? Even he, kind and comfortable as he had been, had made her understand that she must go into court and confess the incorrectness of her own version. She believed every word the major said. Ah, there was a man worthy to be believed — a man of men! They could not take away her income or her castle. They could not make her pay for the diamonds. But still — what would the world say? And what would her lovers say? What one of her lovers thought proper to say, she had already heard. Lord George had spoken out, and had made himself very disagreeable. Lord Fawn, she knew, would withdraw the renewal of his offer, let her answer to him be what it might. But what would Frank say? And now Frank was with her, looking into her face with severe eyes.
She was more than ever convinced that the life of a widow was not suited for her and that, among her several lovers, she must settle her wealth and her heart upon some special lover. Neither her wealth nor her heart would be in any way injured by the confession which she was prepared to make. But then men are so timid, so false, and so blind! In regard to Frank, whom she now believed that she had loved with all the warmth of her young affections from the first moment in which she had seen him after Sir Florian’s death — she had been at great trouble to clear the way for him. She knew of his silly engagement to Lucy Morris, and was willing to forgive him that offence. She knew that he could not marry Lucy, because of his pennilessness and his indebtedness; and therefore she had taken the trouble to see Lucy, with the view of making things straight on that side. Lucy had, of course, been rough with her, and ill-mannered, but Lizzie thought that, upon the whole, she had succeeded. Lucy was rough and ill-mannered, but was, at the same time, what the world calls good, and would hardly persevere after what had been said to her. Lizzie was sure that, a month since, her cousin would have yielded himself to her willingly, if he could only have freed himself from Lucy Morris. But now, just in this very nick of time, which was so momentous to her, the police had succeeded in unravelling her secret, and there sat Frank, looking at her with stern, ill-natured eyes, like an enemy rather than a lover.
“What piece of business?” she asked, in answer to his question. She must be bold — if she could. She must brazen it out with him, if only she could be strong enough to put on her brass in his presence. He had been so stupidly chivalrous in believing all her stories about the robbery when nobody else had quite believed them, that she felt that she had before her a task that was very disagreeable and very difficult. She looked up at him, struggling to be bold, and then her glance sank before his gaze and fell upon the floor.
“I do not at all wish to pry into your secrets,” he said.
Secrets from him! Some such exclamation was on her lips, when she remembered that her special business, at the present moment, was to acknowledge a secret which had been kept from him.
“It is unkind of you to speak to me in that way,” said she.
“I am quite in earnest. I do not wish to pry into your secrets. But I hear rumours which seem to be substantiated; and though, of course, I could stay away from you ——”
“Oh — whatever happens, pray, pray do not stay away from me. Where am I to look for advice if you stay away from me?”
“That is all very well, Lizzie.”
“Ah, Frank, if you desert me, I am undone.”
“It is of course true that some of the police have been with you lately?”
“Major Mackintosh was here, about the end of last week — a most kind man, altogether a gentleman, and I was so glad to see him.”
“What made him come?”
“What made him come?” How should she tell her story? “Oh, he came — of course, about the robbery. They have found out everything. It was the jeweller, Benjamin, who concocted it all. That horrid, sly girl I had, Patience Crabstick, put him up to it. And there were two regular housebreakers. They have found it all out at last.”
“So I hear.”
“And Major Mackintosh came to tell me about it.”
“But the diamonds are gone!”
“Oh, yes — those weary, weary diamonds. Do you know, Frank, that, though they were my own, as much as the coat you wear is your own, I am glad they are gone, then I am glad that the police have not found them. They tormented me so that I hated them. Don’t you remember that I told you how I longed to throw them into the sea, and be rid of them forever?”
“That, of course, was a joke.”
“It was no joke, Frank. It was solemn, serious truth.”
“What I want to know is — where were they stolen?”
That of course was the question which hitherto Lizzie Eustace had answered by an incorrect version of facts, and now she must give the true version. She tried to put a bold face upon it, but it was very difficult. A face bold with brass she could not assume. Perhaps a little bit of acting might serve her turn, and a face that should be tender rather than bold.
“Oh, Frank!” she exclaimed, bursting into tears.
“I always supposed that they were taken at Carlisle,” said Frank. Lizzie fell on her knees, at his feet, with her hands clasped together, and her one long lock of hair hanging down so as to touch his arm. Her eyes were bright with tears, but were not, as yet, wet and red with weeping. Was not this confession enough? Was he so hard-hearted as to make her tell her own disgrace in spoken words? Of course he knew well enough, now, when the diamonds had been stolen. If he were possessed of any tenderness, any tact, any manliness, he would go on, presuming that question to have been answered.
“I don’t quite understand it all,” he said, laying his hand softly upon her shoulder. “I have been led to make so many statements to other people which now seem to have been — incorrect! It was only the box that was taken at Carlisle?”
“Only the box.” She could answer that question.
“But the thieves thought that the diamonds were in the box?”
“I suppose so. But, oh, Frank, don’t cross-question me about it. If you could know what I have suffered, you would not punish me any more. I have got to go to Mr. Camperdown’s this very day. I offered to do that at once, and I sha’n’t have strength to go through it if you are not kind to me now. Dear, dear Frank — do be kind to me.”
And he was kind to her. He lifted her up to the sofa and did not ask her another question about the necklace. Of course she had lied to him and to all the world. From the very commencement of his intimacy with her, he had known that she was a liar, and what else could he have expected but lies? As it happened, this particular lie had been very big, very efficacious, and the cause of boundless troubles. It had been wholly unnecessary, and from the first, though injurious to many, more injurious to her than to any other. He himself had been injured, but it seemed to him now that she had absolutely ruined herself. And all this had been done for nothing — had been done, as he thought, that Mr. Camperdown might be kept in the dark, whereas all the light in the world would have assisted Mr. Camperdown nothing. He brought to mind, as he stood over her, all those scenes which she had so successfully performed in his presence since she had come to London — scenes in which the robbery in Carlisle had been discussed between them. She had on these occasions freely expressed her opinion about the necklace, saying in a low whisper, with a pretty little shrug of her shoulders, that she presumed it to be impossible that Lord George should have been concerned in the robbery. Frank had felt, as she said so, that some suspicion was intended by her to be attached to Lord George. She had wondered whether Mr. Camperdown had known anything about it. She had hoped that Lord Fawn would now be satisfied. She had been quite convinced that Mr. Benjamin had the diamonds. She had been indignant that the police had not traced the property. She had asked in another whisper — a very low whisper indeed — whether it was possible that Mrs. Carbuncle should know more about it than she was pleased to tell? And all the while the necklace had been lying in her own desk, and she had put it there with her own hands!
It was marvellous to him that the woman could have been so false and have sustained her falsehood so well. And this was his cousin, his well-beloved; as a cousin, certainly well-beloved; and there had doubtless been times in which he had thought that he would make her his wife! He could not but smile as he stood looking at her, contemplating all the confusion which she had caused, and thinking how very little the disclosure of her iniquity seemed to confound herself.
“Oh, Frank, do not laugh at me,” she said.
“I am not laughing, Lizzie; I am only wondering.”
“And now, Frank, what had I better do?”
“Ah, that is difficult, is it not? You see I hardly know all the truth yet. I do not want to know more, but how can I advise you?”
“I thought you knew everything.”
“I don’t suppose anybody can do anything to you.”
“Major Mackintosh says that nobody can. He quite understands that they were my own property, and that I had a right to keep them in my desk if I pleased. Why was I to tell everybody where they were? Of course I was foolish, and now they are lost. It is I that have suffered. Major Mackintosh quite understands that, and says that nobody can do anything to me; only I must go to Mr. Camperdown.”
“You will have to be examined again before a magistrate.”
“Yes; I suppose I must be examined. You will go with me, Frank, won’t you?” He winced, and made no immediate reply. “I don’t mean to Mr. Camperdown, but before the magistrate. Will it be in a court?”
“I suppose so.”
“The gentleman came here before. Couldn’t he come here again?” Then he explained to her the difference of her present position, and in doing so he did say something of her iniquity. He made her understand that the magistrate had gone out of his way at the last inquiry, believing her to be a lady who had been grievously wronged, and one, therefore, to whom much consideration was due. “And I have been grievously wronged,” said Lizzie. But now she would be required to tell the truth in opposition to the false evidence which she had formerly given; and she would herself be exempted from prosecution for perjury only on the ground that she would be called on to criminate herself in giving evidence against criminals whose crimes had been deeper than her own. “I suppose they can’t quite eat me,” she said, smiling through her tears.
“No; they won’t eat you,” he replied gravely.
“And you will go with me?”
“Yes; I suppose I had better do so.”
“Ah, that will be so nice.” The idea of the scene at the police-court was not at all “nice” to Frank Greystock. “I shall not mind what they say to me as long as you are by my side. Everybody will know that they were my own, won’t they?”
“And there will be the trial afterwards.”
“Another trial?” Then he explained to her the course of affairs; that the men might not improbably be tried at Carlisle for stealing the box, and again in London for stealing the diamonds; that two distinct acts of burglary had been committed, and that her evidence would be required on both occasions. He told her also that her attendance before the magistrate on Friday would be only a preliminary ceremony, and that before the thing was over she would doubtless be doomed to bear a great deal of annoyance, and to answer very many disagreeable questions. “I shall care for nothing if you will only be at my side,” she exclaimed.
He was very urgent with her to go to Scotland as soon as her examination before the magistrates should be over, and was much astonished at the excuse she made for not doing so. Mrs. Carbuncle had borrowed all her ready money; but as she was now in Mrs. Carbuncle’s house she could repay herself a portion of the loan by remaining there and eating it out. She did not exactly say how much Mrs. Carbuncle had borrowed, but she left an impression on Frank’s mind that it was about ten times the actual sum. With this excuse he was not satisfied, and told her that she must go to Scotland, if only for the sake of escaping from the Carbuncle connection. She promised to obey him if he would be her convoy. The Easter holidays were just now at hand, and he could not refuse on the plea of time. “Oh, Frank, do not refuse me this; only think how terribly forlorn is my position!” He did not refuse, but he did not quite promise. He was still tender-hearted towards her in spite of her enormities. One iniquity, perhaps her worst iniquity, he did not yet know. He had not as yet heard of her disinterested appeal to Lucy Morris.
When he left her she was almost joyous for a few minutes, till the thought of her coming interview with Mr. Camperdown again overshadowed her. She had dreaded two things chiefly — her first interview with her cousin Frank after he should have learned the truth, and those perils in regard to perjury with which Lord George had threatened her. Both these bugbears had now vanished. That dear man, the major, had told her that there would be no such perils, and her cousin Frank had not seemed to think so very much of her lies and treachery! He had still been affectionate with her; he would support her before the magistrate, and would travel with her to Scotland. And after that who could tell what might come next? How foolish she had been to trouble herself as she had done — almost to choke herself with an agony of fear, because she had feared detection. Now she was detected, and what had come of it? That great officer of justice, Major Mackintosh, had been almost more than civil to her; and her dear cousin Frank was still a cousin, dear as ever. People, after all, did not think so very much of perjury — of perjury such as hers, committed in regard to one’s own property. It was that odious Lord George who had frightened her instead of comforting, as he would have done had there been a spark of the true Corsair poetry about him. She did not feel comfortably content as to what might be said of her by Lady Glencora and the Duke of Omnium, but she was almost inclined to think that Lady Glencora would support her. Lady Glencora was no poor, mealy-mouthed thing, but a woman of the world, who understood’ what was what. Lizzie no doubt wished that the trials and examinations were over; but her money was safe. They could not take away Portray, nor could they rob her of four thousand a year. As for the rest, she could live it down.
She had ordered the carriage to take her to Mr. Camperdown’s chambers, and now she dressed herself for the occasion. He should not be made to think, at any rate by her outside appearance, that she was ashamed of herself. But before she started she had just a word with Mrs. Carbuncle. “I think I shall go down to Scotland on Saturday,” she said, proclaiming her news not in the most gracious manner.
“That is if they let you go,” said Mrs. Carbuncle.
“What do you mean? Who is to prevent me?”
“The police. I know all about it, Lady Eustace, and you need not look like that. Lord George informs me that you will — probably be locked up today or tomorrow.”
“Lord George is a story-teller. I don’t believe he ever said so. And if he did, he knows nothing about it.”
“He ought to know, considering all that you have made him suffer. That you should have gone on with the necklace in your own box all the time, letting people think that he had taken it, and accepting his attentions all the while, is what I cannot understand! And however you were able to look those people at Carlisle in the face, passes me! Of course, Lady Eustace, you can’t stay here after what has occurred.”
“I shall stay just as long as I like.”
“Poor, dear Lucinda! I do not wonder that she should be driven beyond herself by so horrible a story. The feeling that she has been living all this time in the same house with a woman who had deceived all the police — all the police — has been too much for her. I know it has been almost too much for me.” And yet, as Lizzie at once understood, Mrs. Carbuncle knew nothing now which she had not known when she made her petition to be taken to Portray. And this was the woman, too, who had borrowed her money last week, whom she had entertained for months at Portray, and who had pretended to be her bosom-friend. “You are quite right in getting off to Scotland as soon as possible — if they will let you go,” continued Mrs. Carbuncle. “Of course you could not stay here. Up to Friday night it can be permitted; but the servants had better wait upon you in your own rooms.”
“How dare you talk to me in that way?” screamed Lizzie.
“When a woman has committed perjury,” said Mrs. Carbuncle, holding up both her hands in awe and grief, “nothing too bad can possibly be said to her. You are amenable to the outraged laws of the country, and it is my belief that they can keep you upon the treadmill and bread and water for months and months, if not for years.” Having pronounced this terrible sentence, Mrs. Carbuncle stalked out of the room. “That they can sequester your property for your creditors I know,” she said, returning for a moment and putting her head within the door.
The carriage was ready, and it was time for Lizzie to start if she intended to keep her appointment with Mr. Camperdown. She was much flustered and weakened by Mrs. Carbuncle’s ill-usage, and had difficulty in restraining herself from tears. And yet what the woman had said was false from beginning to end. The maid who was the successor of Patience Crabstick was to accompany her, and as she passed through the hall she so far recovered herself as to be able to conceal her dismay from the servants.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14