Reports had, of course, reached Mr. Camperdown of the true story of the Eustace diamonds. He had learned that the Jew jeweller had made a determined set at them, having in the first place hired housebreakers to steal them at Carlisle, and having again hired the same housebreakers to steal them from the house in Hertford Street, as soon as he knew that Lady Eustace had herself secreted them. By degrees this information had reached him, but not in a manner to induce him to declare himself satisfied with the truth. But now Lady Eustace was coming to him — as he presumed, to confess everything.
When he first heard that the diamonds had been stolen at Carlisle, he was eager, with Mr. Eustace, in contending that the widow’s liability in regard to the property was not at all the less because she had managed to lose it through her own pig-headed obstinacy. He consulted his trusted friend, Mr. Dove, on the occasion, making out another case for the barrister, and Mr. Dove had opined that if it could be first proved that the diamonds were the property of the estate and not of Lady Eustace, and afterwards proved that they had been stolen through her laches, then could the Eustace estate recover the value from her estate. As she had carried the diamonds about with her in an absurd manner, her responsibility might probably be established; but the non-existence of ownership by her must be first declared by a Vice-Chancellor, with probability of appeal to the Lords Justices and to the House of Lords. A bill in Chancery must be filed, in the first place, to have the question of ownership settled; and then, should the estate be at length declared the owner, restitution of the property which had been lost through the lady’s fault must be sought at common law.
That had been the opinion of the Turtle Dove, and Mr. Camperdown had at once submitted to the law of his great legal mentor. But John Eustace had positively declared when he heard it that no more money should be thrown away in looking after property which would require two lawsuits to establish, and which when established might not be recovered. “How can we make her pay ten thousand pounds? She might die first,” said John Eustace — and Mr. Camperdown had been forced to yield. Then came the second robbery, and gradually there was spread about a report that the diamonds had been in Hertford Street all the time; that they had not been taken at Carlisle, but certainly had been stolen at last.
Mr. Camperdown was again in a fever, and again had recourse to Mr. Dove and to John Eustace. He learned from the police all that they would tell him, and now the whole truth was to be divulged to him by the chief culprit herself. For to the mind of Mr. Camperdown the two housebreakers, and Patience Crabstick, and even Mr. Benjamin himself, were white as snow compared with the blackness of Lady Eustace. In his estimation no punishment could be too great for her, and yet he began to understand that she would escape scot-free! Her evidence would be needed to convict the thieves, and she could not be prosecuted for perjury when once she had been asked for her evidence.
“After all, she has only told a fib about her own property,” said the Turtle Dove.
“About property not her own,” replied Mr. Camperdown stoutly.
“Her own till the contrary shall have been proved; her own for all purposes of defence before a jury, if she were prosecuted now. Were she tried for the perjury, your attempt to obtain possession of the diamonds would be all so much in her favour.” With infinite regrets, Mr. Camperdown began to perceive that nothing could be done to her.
But she was to come to him and let him know, from her own lips, facts of which nothing more than rumour had yet reached him. He had commenced his bill in Chancery, and had hitherto stayed proceedings simply because it had been reported — falsely, as it now appeared — that the diamonds had been stolen at Carlisle. Major Mackintosh, in his desire to use Lizzie’s evidence against the thieves, had recommended her to tell the whole truth openly to those who claimed the property on behalf of her husband’s estate; and now, for the first time in her life, this odious woman was to visit him in his own chambers.
He did not think it expedient to receive her alone. He consulted his mentor, Mr. Dove, and his client, John Eustace, and the latter consented to be present. It was suggested to Mr. Dove that he might, on so peculiar an occasion as this, venture to depart from the established rule, and visit the attorney on his own quarter-deck; but he smiled, and explained that, though he was altogether superior to any such prejudice as that, and would not object at all to call on his friend, Mr. Camperdown, could any good effect arise from his doing so, he considered that were he to be present on this occasion he would simply assist in embarrassing the poor lady.
On this very morning, while Mrs. Carbuncle was abusing Lizzie in Hertford Street, John Eustace and Mr. Camperdown were in Mr. Dove’s chambers, whither they had gone to tell him of the coming interview. The Turtle Dove was sitting back in his chair, with his head leaning forward as though it were going to drop from his neck, and the two visitors were listening to his words. “Be merciful, I should say,” suggested the barrister. John Eustace was clearly of opinion that they ought to be merciful. Mr. Camperdown did not look merciful. “What can you get by harassing the poor, weak, ignorant creature?” continued Mr. Dove. “She has hankered after her bauble, and has told falsehoods in her efforts to keep it. Have you never heard of older persons, and more learned persons, and persons nearer to ourselves, who have done the same?” At that moment there was presumed to be great rivalry, not unaccompanied by intrigue, among certain leaders of the learned profession, with reference to various positions of high honour and emolument, vacant or expected to be vacant. A Lord Chancellor was about to resign, and a Lord Justice had died. Whether a somewhat unpopular Attorney-General should be forced to satisfy himself with the one place, or allowed to wait for the other, had been debated in all the newspapers. It was agreed that there was a middle course in reference to a certain second-class chief-justiceship — only that the present second-class chief-justice objected to shelving himself. There existed considerable jealousy, and some statements had been made which were not, perhaps, strictly founded on fact. It was understood both by the attorney and by the member of Parliament that the Turtle Dove was referring to these circumstances when he spoke of baubles and falsehoods, and of learned persons near to themselves. He himself had hankered after no bauble, but, as is the case with many men and women who are free from such hankerings, he was hardly free from that dash of malice which the possession of such things in the hands of others is so prone to excite. “Spare her,” said Mr. Dove. “There is no longer any material question as to the property, which seems to be gone irrecoverably. It is, upon the whole, well for the world that property so fictitious as diamonds should be subject to the risk of such annihilation. As far as we are concerned, the property is annihilated, and I would not harass the poor, ignorant young creature.”
As Eustace and the attorney walked across from the old to the new square, the former declared that he quite agreed with Mr. Dove. “In the first place, Mr. Camperdown, she is my brother’s widow.” Mr. Camperdown with sorrow admitted the fact. “And she is the mother of the head of our family. It should not be for us to degrade her; but rather to protect her from degradation, if that be possible.”
“I heartily wish she had got her merits before your poor brother ever saw her,” said Mr. Camperdown.
Lizzie, in her fears, had been very punctual; and when the two gentlemen reached the door leading up to Mr. Camperdown’s chambers, the carriage was already standing there. Lizzie had come up the stairs and had been delighted at hearing that Mr. Camperdown was out, and would be back in a moment. She instantly resolved that it did not become her to wait. She had kept her appointment, had not found Mr. Camperdown at home, and would be off as fast as her carriage wheels could take her. But, unfortunately, while with a gentle murmur she was explaining to the clerk how impossible it was that she should wait for a lawyer who did not keep his own appointment, John Eustace and Mr. Camperdown appeared upon the landing, and she was at once convoyed into the attorney’s particular room.
Lizzie, who always dressed well, was now attired as became a lady of rank, who had four thousand a year, and was the intimate friend of Lady Glencora Palliser. When last she saw Mr. Camperdown she had been arrayed for a long, dusty summer journey down to Scotland, and neither by her outside garniture nor by her manner had she then been able to exact much admiration. She had been taken by surprise in the street, and was frightened. Now, in difficulty though she was, she resolved that she would hold up her head and be very brave. She was a little taken aback when she saw her brother-inlaw, but she strove hard to carry herself with confidence.
“Ah, John,” she said, “I did not expect to find you with Mr. Camperdown.”
“I thought it best that I should be here, as a friend,” he said.
“It makes it much pleasanter for me, of course,” said Lizzie. “I am not quite sure that Mr. Camperdown will allow me to regard him as a friend.”
“You have never had any reason to regard me as your enemy, Lady Eustace,” said Mr. Camperdown. “Will you take a seat? I understand that you wish to state the circumstances under which the Eustace family diamonds were stolen while they were in your hands.”
“My own diamonds, Mr. Camperdown.”
“I cannot admit that for a moment, my lady.”
“What does it signify?” said Eustace. “The wretched stones are gone forever; and whether they were, of right, the property of my sister-inlaw or of her son, cannot matter now.”
Mr. Camperdown was irritated and shook his head. It cut him to the heart that everybody should take the part of the wicked, fraudulent woman who had caused him such infinite trouble. Lizzie saw her opportunity, and was bolder than ever. “You will never get me to acknowledge that they were not my own,” she said. “My husband gave them to me, and I know that they were my own.”
“They have been stolen, at any rate,” said the lawyer.
“Yes; they have been stolen.”
“And now will you tell us how?”
Lizzie looked round upon her brother-inlaw and sighed. She had never yet told the story in all its nakedness, although it had been three or four times extracted from her by admission. She paused, hoping that questions might be asked her which she could answer by easy monosyllables, but not a word was uttered to help.
“I suppose you know all about it,” she said at last.
“I know nothing about it,” said Mr. Camperdown.
“We heard that your jewel-case was taken out of your room at Carlisle and broken open,” said Eustace.
“So it was. They broke into my room in the dead of night, when I was in bed and fast asleep, and took the case away. When the morning came everybody rushed into my room, and I was so frightened that I did not know what I was doing. How would your daughter bear it if two men had cut away the locks and got into her bedroom when she was asleep? You don’t think about that at all.”
“And where was the necklace?” asked Eustace.
Lizzie remembered that her friend the major had specially advised her to tell the whole truth to Mr. Camperdown, suggesting that by doing so she would go far toward saving herself from any prosecution.
“It was under my pillow,” she whispered.
“And why did you not tell the magistrate that it had been under your pillow?”
Mr. Camperdown’s voice, as he put to her this vital question, was severe, and almost justified the little burst of sobs which came forth as a prelude to Lizzie’s answer. “I did not know what I was doing. I don’t know what you expect from me. You had been persecuting me ever since Sir Florian’s death, about the diamonds, and I didn’t know what I was to do. They were my own, and I thought I was not obliged to tell everybody where I kept them. There are things which nobody tells. If I were to ask you all your secrets would you tell them? When Sir Walter Scott was asked whether he wrote the novels, he didn’t tell.”
“He was not upon his oath, Lady Eustace.”
“He did take his oath, ever so many times. I don’t know what difference an oath makes. People ain’t obliged to tell their secrets, and I wouldn’t tell mine.”
“The difference is, Lady Eustace; that if you give false evidence upon oath, you commit perjury.”
“How was I to think of that, when I was so frightened and confused that I didn’t know where I was, or what I was doing? There — now I have told you everything.”
“Not quite everything. The diamonds were not stolen at Carlisle, but they were stolen afterwards. Did you tell the police what you had lost, or the magistrate, after the robbery in Hertford Street?”
“Yes; I did. There was some money taken, and rings, and other jewelry.”
“Did you tell them that the diamonds had been really stolen on that occasion?”
“They never asked me, Mr. Camperdown.”
“It is all as clear as a pikestaff, John,” said the lawyer.
“Quite clear, I should say,” replied Mr. Eustace.
“And I suppose I may go,” said Lizzie, rising from her chair.
There was no reason why she should not go; and, indeed, now that the interview was over, there did not seem to be any reason why she should have come. Though they had heard so much from her own mouth, they knew no more than they had known before. The great mystery had been elucidated, and Lizzie Eustace had been found to be the intriguing villain; but it was quite clear, even to Mr. Camperdown, that nothing could be done to her. He had never really thought that it would be expedient that she should be prosecuted for perjury, and he now found that she must go utterly scatheless, although, by her obstinacy and dishonesty, she had inflicted so great a loss on the distinguished family which had taken her to its bosom.
“I have no reason for wishing to detain you, Lady Eustace,” he said. “If I were to talk forever, I should not, probably, make you understand the extent of the injury you have done, or teach you to look in a proper light at the position in which you have placed yourself. When your husband died, good advice was given you, and given, I think, in a very kind way. You would not listen to it, and you see the result.”
“I ain’t a bit ashamed of anything,” said Lizzie.
“I suppose not,” rejoined Mr. Camperdown.
“Good-by, John.” And Lizzie put out her hand to her brother-inlaw.
“Mr. Camperdown, I have the honour to wish you good-morning.” Lizzie made a low courtesy to the lawyer, and was then attended to her carriage by the lawyer’s clerk. She had certainly come forth from the interview without fresh wounds.
“The barrister who will have the cross-examining of her at the Central Criminal Court,” said Mr. Camperdown, as soon as the door was closed behind her, “will have a job of work on his hands. There’s nothing a pretty woman can’t do when she’s got rid of all sense of shame.”
“She is a very great woman,” said John Eustace, “a very great woman; and, if the sex could have its rights, would make an excellent lawyer.” In the mean time Lizzie Eustace returned home to Hertford Street in triumph.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14