The Eustace Diamonds, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter LXXIV

Lizzie at the Police-Court

On the Wednesday and Thursday Lizzie had been triumphant; for she had certainly come out unscathed from Mr. Camperdown’s chambers, and a lady may surely be said to triumph when a gentleman lays his hand, his heart, his fortunes, and all that he has got, at her feet; but when the Friday came, though she was determined to be brave, her heart did sink within her bosom. She understood well that she would be called upon to admit in public the falseness of the oaths she had sworn upon two occasions; and that, though she would not be made amenable to any absolute punishment for her perjury, she would be subject to very damaging remarks from the magistrate, and, probably, also from some lawyers employed to defend the prisoners. She went to bed in fairly good spirits, but in the morning she was cowed and unhappy. She dressed herself from head to foot in black, and prepared for herself a heavy black veil. She had ordered from the livery-stable a brougham for the occasion, thinking it wise to avoid the display of her own carriage. She breakfasted early, and then took a large glass of wine to support her. When Frank called for her, at a quarter to ten, she was quite ready, and grasped his hand almost without a word. But she looked into his face with her eyes filled with tears.

“It will soon be over,” he said. She pressed his hand, and made him a sign, to show that she was ready to follow him to the door. “The case will come on at once,” he said, “so that you will not be kept waiting.”

“Oh, you are so good; so good to me.” She pressed his arm, and did not speak again till they reached the police-court.

There was a great crowd about the office, which was in a little by-street, and so circumstanced that Lizzie’s brougham could hardly make its way up to the door. But way was at once made for her when Frank handed her out of it, and the policemen about the place were as courteous to her as though she had been the Lord Chancellor’s wife. Evil-doing will be spoken of with bated breath and soft words even by policemen, when the evildoer comes in a carriage and with a title. Lizzie was led at once into a private room, and told that she would be kept there only a very few minutes. Frank made his way into the court and found that two magistrates had just seated themselves on the bench. One would have sufficed for the occasion; but this was a case of great interest, and even police-magistrates are human in their interests. Greystock was allowed to get round to the bench and whisper a word or two to the gentleman who was to preside. The magistrate nodded his head, and the case began.

The unfortunate Mr. Benjamin had been sent back in durance vile from Vienna, and was present in the court. With him, as joint malefactor, stood Mr. Smiler, the great housebreaker, a huge, ugly, resolute-looking scoundrel, possessed of enormous strength, who was very intimately known to the police, with whom he had had various dealings since he had been turned out upon the town to earn his bread some fifteen years before. Indeed, long before that he had known the police — as far as his memory went back he had always known them. But the sportive industry of his boyish years was not now counted up against him. In the last fifteen years his biography had been written with all the accuracy due to the achievements of a great man; and during those hundred and eighty months he had spent over one hundred in prison, and had been convicted twenty-three times. He was now growing old, as a thief, and it was thought by his friends that he would be settled for life in some quiet retreat. Mr. Benjamin was a very respectable-looking man of about fifty, with slightly grizzled hair, with excellent black clothes, and showing, by a surprised air, his astonishment at finding himself in such a position. He spoke constantly, both to his attorney and to the barrister who was to show cause why he should not be committed, and throughout the whole morning was very busy. Smiler, who was quite at home, and who understood his position, never said a word to any one. He stood, perfectly straight, looking at the magistrate, and never for a moment leaning on the rail before him during the four hours that the case consumed. Once, when his friend, Billy Cann, was brought into court to give evidence against him, dressed up to the eyes, serene and sleek, as when we saw him once before at the “Rising Sun,” in Meek Street, Smiler turned a glance upon him which, to the eyes of all present, contained a threat of most bloody revenge. But Billy knew the advantages of his situation, and nodded at his old comrade, and smiled. His old comrade was very much stronger than he, and possessed of many natural advantages; but, perhaps, upon the whole, his old comrade had been the less intelligent thief of the two. It was thus that the by-standers read the meaning of Billy’s smile.

The case was opened very shortly and very clearly by the gentleman who was employed for the prosecution. It would all, he said, have lain in a nut-shell, had it not been complicated by a previous robbery at Carlisle. Were it necessary, he said, there would be no difficulty in convicting the prisoners for that offence also, but it had been thought advisable to confine the prosecution to the act of burglary committed in Hertford Street. He stated the facts of what had happened at Carlisle, merely for explanation, but would state nothing that could not be proven. Then he told all that the reader knows about the iron box. But the diamonds were not then in the box; and he told that story also, treating Lizzie with great tenderness as he did so. Lizzie, all this time, was sitting behind her veil in the private room, and did not hear a word of what was going on. Then he came to the robbery in Hertford Street. He would prove by Lady Eustace that the diamonds were left by her in a locked desk, were so deposited, though all her friends believed them to have been taken at Carlisle; and he would, moreover, prove by accomplices that they were stolen by two men, the younger prisoner at the bar being one of them, and the witness who would be adduced, the other; that they were given up by these men to the elder prisoner, and that a certain sum had been paid by him for the execution of the two robberies. There was much more of it; but to the reader, who knows all, it would be but a thrice-told tale. He then said that he first proposed to take the evidence of Lady Eustace, the lady who had been in possession of the diamonds when they were stolen. Then Frank Greystock left the court, and returned with poor Lizzie on his arm.

She was handed to a chair, and, after she was sworn, was told that she might sit down; but she was requested to remove her veil, which she had replaced as soon as she had kissed the book. The first question asked her was very easy. Did she remember the night at Carlisle? Would she tell the history of what occurred on that night? When the box was stolen, were the diamonds in it? No; she had taken the diamonds out for security, and had kept them under her pillow. Then came a bitter moment, in which she had to confess her perjury before the Carlisle bench; but even that seemed to pass off smoothly. The magistrate asked one severe question.

“Do you mean to say, Lady Eustace, that you gave false evidence on that occasion, knowing it to be false?”

“I was in such a state, sir, from fear, that I did not know what I was saying,” exclaimed Lizzie, bursting into tears, and stretching forth toward the bench her two clasped hands with the air of a suppliant.

From that moment the magistrate was altogether on her side, and so were the public. Poor, ignorant, ill-used young creature; and then so lovely! That was the general feeling. But she had not as yet come beneath the harrow of that learned gentleman on the other side, whose best talents were due to Mr. Benjamin. Then she told all she knew about the other robbery. She certainly had not said, when examined on that occasion, that the diamonds had then been taken. She had omitted to name the diamonds in her catalogue of the things stolen; but she was sure that she had never said that they were not then taken. She had said nothing about the diamonds, knowing them to be her own, and preferring to lose them, to the trouble of again referring to the night at Carlisle. Such was her evidence for the prosecution, and then she was turned over to the very learned and very acute gentleman whom Mr. Benjamin had hired for his defence, or rather, to show cause why he should not be sent for trial.

It must be owned that poor Lizzie did receive from his hands some of that punishment which she certainly deserved. This acute and learned gentleman seemed to possess for the occasion the blandest and most dulcet voice that ever was bestowed upon an English barrister. He addressed Lady Eustace with the softest words, as though he hardly dared to speak to a woman so eminent for wealth, rank, and beauty; but nevertheless he asked her some very disagreeable questions.

“Was he to understand that she went of her own will before the bench of magistrates at Carlisle, with the view of enabling the police to capture certain persons for stealing certain jewels, while she knew that the jewels were actually in her own possession?”

Lizzie, confounded by the softness of his voice as joined to the harshness of the question, could hardly understand him, and he repeated it thrice, becoming every time more and more mellifluous. “Yes,” said Lizzie at last.

“Yes?” he asked.

“Yes,” said Lizzie.

“Your ladyship did send the Cumberland police after men for stealing jewels which were in your ladyship’s own hands when you swore the information?”

“Yes,” said Lizzie.

“And your ladyship knew that the information was untrue?”

“Yes,” said Lizzie.

“And the police were pursuing the men for many weeks?”

“Yes,” said Lizzie.

“On your information?”

“Yes,” said Lizzie, through her tears.

“And your ladyship knew, all the time, that the poor men were altogether innocent of taking the jewels?”

“But they took the box,” said Lizzie, through her tears.

“Yes,” said the acute and learned gentleman, “somebody took your ladyship’s iron box out of the room, and you swore that the diamonds had been taken. Was it not the fact that legal proceedings were being taken against you for the recovery of the diamonds by persons who claimed the property?”

“Yes,” said Lizzie.

“And these persons withdrew their proceedings as soon as they heard that the diamonds had been stolen?”

Soft as he was in his manner, he nearly reduced Lizzie Eustace to fainting. It seemed to her that the questions would never end. It was in vain that the magistrate pointed out to the learned gentleman that Lady Eustace had confessed her own false swearing, both at Carlisle and in London, a dozen times, for he continued his questions over and over again, harping chiefly on the affair at Carlisle, and saying very little as to the second robbery in Hertford Street. His idea was to make it appear that Lizzie had arranged the robbery with the view of defrauding Mr. Camperdown, and that Lord George Carruthers, was her accomplice. He even asked her, almost in a whisper, and with the sweetest smile, whether she was not engaged to marry Lord George. When Lizzie denied this, he still suggested that some such alliance might be in contemplation. Upon this. Frank Greystock called upon the magistrate to defend Lady Eustace from such unnecessary vulgarity, and there was a scene in the court. Lizzie did not like the scene, but it helped to protect her from the contemplation of the public, who, of course, were much gratified by high words between two barristers. Lady Eustace was forced to remain in the private room during the examination of Patience Crabstick and Mr. Cann, and so did not hear it. Patience was a most obdurate and difficult witness — extremely averse to say evil of herself, and on that account unworthy of the good things which she had received. But Billy Cann was charming — graceful, communicative, and absolutely accurate. There was no shaking him. The learned and acute gentleman who tried to tear him in pieces could do nothing with him. He was asked whether he had not been a professional thief for ten years.

“Ten or twelve,” said he.

“Did he expect that any juryman would believe him on his oath?”

“Not unless I am fully corroborated.”

“Can you look that man in the face — that man who is at any rate so much honester than yourself?” asked the learned gentleman with pathos. Billy said that he thought he could, and the way in which he smiled upon Smiler caused a roar through the whole court.

The two men were, as a matter of course, committed for trial at the Central Criminal Court, and Lizzie Eustace was bound by certain penalties to come forward when called upon, and give her evidence again.

“I am glad that it is over,” said Frank, as he left her at Mrs. Carbuncle’s hall door.

“Oh, Frank, dearest Frank, where should I be if it were not for you?”

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01