The Castlecourt Diamond Case, Novel Magazine, 1906/Part 3
I HAD been in Lady Castlecourt's service two years when the Castlecourt diamonds were stolen. At the time we were staying in London lor the season, where my lord and lady occupied a suite of rooms at Burridge's Hotel.
The evening of the robbery my lady was going to dinner at the Duke of Duxbury's. In the afternoon I got everything ready for her, and put the leather case containing the diamonds on the dressing-table in her bedroom.
I was talking in the sitting-room with Chawlmers (my lord's man) when I thought I heard a rustle of skirts in the bedroom. I went in at once, and seeing nothing opened the door on to the landing, but no one was about.
While I was dressing my lady she took up the leather case, but when she opened it she found the jewels were missing. Chawlmers and myself were suspected by the detectives who were called in of being concerned in the theft.
The next morning we heard of the disappearance of Sara Wight, one of the housemaids on our floor. There was every sign of a hurried flight, and from descriptions Sara Wight was supposed to be a thief well known in America as Laura the Lady. Suspicion then fell on her.
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I HAD long had my eye on the Castlecourt diamonds, and knowing that Lord and Lady Castlecourt were staying at Burridge's, I obtained a situation as housemaid of their suite. I had every opportunity of watching my lady's movements, and made friends with Sophy Jeffers, her maid.
On the day I took the jewels Jeffers had laid out Lady Castlecourt's clothes, together with the case containing the diamonds, in my lady's bedroom. I darted in and took the diamonds out of the case while Jeffers was talking with Chawlmers, my lord's man, in the sitting-room.
Jeffers heard me as I went out. She was in the room almost as I closed the door. Before she could have got on to the landing I was in a cupboard hunting for a dustpan. But she evidently suspected nothing.
I stole out of the hotel and back to Tom, my husband, at our flat in Knightsbridge.
We unmounted the diamonds, and I carried them about in a bag pinned inside my bodice.
One night Tom and I went out, with the intention of going to the theatre. I had suspicions that our cab was being followed, and under cover of the fog we slipped into the house of a Mr. and Mrs. Kennedy, Americans with great social ambitions, passing ourselves off as Major and Mrs. Thatcher.
Towards the end of the evening I took the bag of diamonds out of my dress, and leaning towards Mrs. Kennedy, asked her to give it to a mythical Amelia. Mrs. Kennedy, who I could see was unwilling to acknowledge her ignorance of “Amelia,” acquiesced. I was most relieved to be quit of the jewels, though the connection of our gang with them did not end there.
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MY wife—she was Daisy K. Fairweather, of Buncumville, Indiana—and I had been in London two years, when we were involved in a most unpleasant predicament.
One night, as we waited for dinner to be announced, a cab rattled up. A minute later the door-bell rang sharply, and Daisy and I heard a lady's voice in the hall.
Through the curtain I saw a man and woman taking off their wraps. I knew neither of them, but could tell by their appearance that they were the real thing—the kind Daisy was always cultivating.
We were expecting to dine alone, but as these people had come they must be fed.
“Major and Mrs. Thatcher.”
Now, Daisy and I had not the least idea who they were, but we put on our best smiles to greet the strangers. Even from the conversation that ensued we couldn't place them.
Just before she went Mrs. Thatcher gave Daisy a small bag for a certain unknown Amelia. After their departure we emptied the bag and out fell a handful of diamonds.
We could make nothing of this mysterious present until suddenly I remembered reading of the loss of Lady Castlecourt's diamonds. These might be they, and that woman would make it appear that we had stolen them! What were we to do?
The subsequent disposal of the jewels is a matter in which my wife is more concerned than I am.
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I BELIEVE it is not necessary for me to state how a chamois skin bag containing one hundred and sixty-two diamonds came into my hands on the evening of May 14th. That it did come into my hands was enough for me. I never before thought that the possession of diamonds could make a woman so perfectly miserable.
When I was a young girl in Necropolis City I used to think that to own a diamond—even one small one—would be just about the acme of human joy. But Necropolis City is a good way behind me now, and I have found that the owning of a handful of them can be about the most wearing form of misery.
I suppose there are fearless, upright people in the world who would have taken those diamonds straight back to the police-station and braved public opinion; It would have been better to have had your word doubted, to have been tried for a thief, put in gaol, and probably complicated the diplomatic relations between England and the United States, than to have concealed in your domicile one hundred and sixty-two precious stones that didn't belong to you.
I hope everyone understands-and I'm sure everyone does who knows me—that I did not want to keep the miserable things. What good did they do me, anyway, locked up in my jewel-box, in the upper right-hand bureau drawer?
We knew no peace from that tragic evening when Major and Mrs. Thatcher dined with us. First we tried to think of ways of getting rid of them—of the diamonds, I mean. Cassius, who's just a simple, uncomplicated man, wanted to take them right to the nearest police-station and hand them in. I soon showed him the madness of that.
Was there a soul in London who would have believed our story? Wouldn't the American Ambassador himself have had to bow his crested head and tame his heart of fire, and admit it was about the fishiest tale he had ever heard!
It would have ruined us for ever. Even if Cassius hadn't been deposed from his place as the head of the English branch of the Colonial Box, Tub, and Cordage Company (Ltd.), of Chicago and St. Louis, who would have known me?
The trail of the diamonds would have been over us for ever. Lady Clara Gyves would have gone round saying she always thought I had the face of a thief, and the bishop and the two lords I've collected with such care would have cut me dead in the Park. I would have received my social quietus for ever.
And, I tell you, when I've worked for a thing just as I have for that bishop and the two lords and Lady Clara Gyves, I'm not going to give them up without a struggle.
Cassius and I spent two feverish, agonised weeks trying to think what we would do with the diamonds. I never knew before I had so much inventive ability. It was wonderful the things we thought of. One of our ideas was to put a personal in the papers advertising for “Amelia.” We spent five consecutive evenings concocting different ones that would have the effect of arousing “Amelia's” curiosity and deadening that of everybody else. It did not seem capable of construction.
Twist and turn it as you would, you couldn't state that you bad something valuable in your possession for “Amelia” without making the paragraph bristle with a sort of mysterious importance. It was like a trap set and baited to catch the attention of a detective.
We did insert one—“Will Amelia kindly publish her present address, and oblige Major and Mrs; Thatcher?”—which, after all, didn't involve us. And for two weeks we read the papers with beating, hopeful hearts, but there was no reply. I thought “Amelia” never saw it. Cassius thought there was no such person.
A month dragged itself away, and there we were with those horrible gems locked in my jewel-box. I began to look pale and miserable, and Cassius told me he thought the diamonds were becoming a “fixed idea” with me, and he'd have to take me away for a change.
Once I told him I felt as if I'd never have any peace, or be my old gay self again, while they were in my possession. He said, that being the case, he'd take them out some night and throw them in the Serpentine, the pond where the despondent people commit suicide. But I dissuaded him from it.
“Perhaps they'll never be claimed,” I said. “And some day when we're old we can have them set and Elaine can wear them.”
“You might even wear them yourself,” Cassius said, trying to cheer me up.
“What would be the good?” I answered gloomily; “I'd be at least sixty before I'd dare to.”
All through June I lived under this wearing strain, and I grew thinner and more nervous day by day. The season which is always so lovely and gay was no longer an exciting and joyous time for me. I drove down Bond Street with a frowning face, and it did not cheer me up at all to see how many people I seemed to know.
Looking down the vistas of quiet, asphalted streets, where the lines of sedate house fronts are brightened by polished brasses on the doors and flower-boxes at the windows, I was no longer filled with an exhilarating determination some day to be an honoured guest in every house that was worth entering.
When I drove by the green ovals of the little parks, which you can't enter without a private key, I experienced none of my old ambition to have a key too, and go in and mingle with the aristocracy sitting on wooden benches.
Even meeting the Countess of Belsborough at a reception, and being asked by her, in a sociable, friendly way, if I knew her cousin John, who was mining somewhere in Mexico or Honduras—she wasn't sure which—did not cheer me up at all.
The change in me was extraordinary. When I first came to London, if even a curate or a clerk from the City had asked me such a question, I'd have made an effort to remember John, as if Mexico had been my front garden and I'd played all round Honduras when I was a child. Now I said to Lady Belsborough that neither Mexico nor Honduras was part of the United States quite snappishly, as if I thought she were stupid. And all because of those diamonds!
It was towards the end of June, and the days were getting warm, when the climax came.
The pressure of the season was abating; The rhododendrons were dead in the Park, and there was dust on the trees. In St. James' the grass was quite worn and patchy, and strangely-clad people lay on it, sleeping in the sun. One met a great many American tourists in white shirt-waists and long veils.
I thought of the time when I, too, innocently and unthinkingly, had worn a white shirt-waist, and it didn't seem to me such a horrible time, after all—at least, I did not then have one hundred and sixty-two stolen diamonds in my jewel-box. My heart was lighter in those days, even if my shirt-waist had only cost a few shillings at a department store in Necropolis City.
The month ended with a spell of what the English call “frightful heat.” It was quite warm weather, and we sat a good deal on the little balcony that juts out from my window over the front door.
Hanley Street is quiet and rather out of the line of general traffic, so we had chairs and a table there, and used to have tea served under the one palm, which was all there was room for. We could not have visitors there, for it opened out of my bedroom. So our tea-parties on the balcony were strictly family affairs—just Cassius, and Elaine, and I.
The last day of the month was really very warm. Every door in the house was open, and the servants went about gasping, with their faces crimson. I dined at home alone that evening, as one of the members of the Box, Tub, and Cordage Company was in London, at the Carlton, and Cassius was dining with him. I did not expect him home till late, as there would be lots to talk over.
I had not felt well all day. The heat had given me a headache, and after dinner I lay on the sofa in the sitting-room, feeling quite miserable. Only a few of the lamps were lit, and the house was dim and extremely quiet. Being alone that way in the half-dark got on my nerves, and I decided I'd go upstairs and get to bed early. I always did hate sitting about by myself, and now more than ever, with the diamonds on my conscience.
Our stairs are thickly carpeted, and as I had on thin satin slippers and a crêpe tea-gown I made no noise at all coming up. I always have a light burning in my room, so when I saw a yellow gleam below the door I did not think anything of it, but just softly pushed the door open and went in.
Then I stopped dead where I stood. A man with a soft felt hat on, and a handkerchief tied over the lower part of his face, was standing in front of the bureau!
He had not heard me, and for a moment I stood without making a sound, watching him. The two gas-jets on either side of the bureau were lit, and that part of the room was flooded with light. Very quickly and softly he was turning over the contents of the drawers, taking out laces, gloves, and veils, throwing them in this direction and that out of his way, and opening every box he found.
My heart gave a great leap when I saw him seize upon the jewel-box, and my mouth unfortunately emitted some kind of a sound—I think it was a sort of gasp of relief, but I'm not sure.
Whatever it was he heard. He gave a start as if he had been electrified, raised his head, and saw me. For just one second he stood staring, and then he said something—of a profane character, I think—and ran for the balcony.
And I ran too. There was something in the way—a little table, I believe—and he collided with it. That checked him for a moment, and I got to the window first. I threw myself across it with my arms spread out, in an attitude like that assumed by Sara Bernhardt when she is barring her lover's exit in Fedora. But I don't think any actress ever barred her lover's exit with as much determination and zeal as I barred the exit of that burglar.
“You can't go!” I cried wildly. “You've forgotten something!”
He paused just in front of me, and I cried again:
“You haven't got them; they're in the jewel-box.”
He moved forward and laid his hand on my arm, to push me aside. I felt quite desperate, and wailed:
“Oh, don't go without opening the jewel-box. There are some things in it I know you will like.”
He tried to push me out of the way—gently, it is true, but with force. But I clung to him, clasped him by the arm with what must have appeared quite an affectionate grip, and continued imploringly:
“Don't be in such a hurry! I'm sorry I interrupted you. If you'll promise not to go till you've looked through my things and taken what you want, I'll leave the room. It was quite by accident that I came.”
The burglar let go my arm, and looked at me over the handkerchief with a pair of eyes that seemed quite kind and pleasant.
“Really,” he said, in a deep, gentlemanly voice that seemed familiar—“really, I don't quite understand——”
“I know you don't,” I interrupted impulsively. “How could you be expected to? And I can't explain. It's a most complicated matter, and would take too long. Only don't be frightened and run away till you've taken something. You've endangered your life and risked going to prison to get in here; and wouldn't it be too foolish, after that, to go empty-handed? Now, in the jewel-box”—I indicated it, and spoke in what I hoped was a most insinuating tone—“there are some things that I think you'd like. If you'd just look at them——”
“You're the most persuasive lady,” said the burglar, “but——”
He moved again towards the window. A feeling of absolute anguish that he was going without the diamonds pierced me. I threw myself in front of him again, and in some way, I can't tell just how, caught the handkerchief that covered his face and pulled it down. There were the handsome visage and long moustache of Major Thatcher.
I backed away from him in the greatest confusion. He, too, blushed and looked uncomfortable.
“Oh, Major Thatcher,” I murmured, “I beg your pardon! I'm so sorry. I don't know how it happened. I think the end of the handkerchief caught in my bracelet.”
“Pray don't mention it,” answered the major.
Then we were both silent, standing opposite one another, not knowing what to say. It is not easy to muddle me, but it must, be admitted that the situation was unusual.
“How is Mrs. Thatcher?” I said desperately, when the silence had become unbearable. And the major replied, in his deepest voice, and with his most abrupt, military air:
“Ethel's very fit. Never was better in her life, thank you. Mr. Kennedy is quite well, I hope?”
“Cassius is enjoying the best of health,” I answered. “He's out to-night, I'm sorry to say.”
“Just fancy,” said Major Thatcher. Then there was a pause, and he added: “How tiresome!”
I could think of nothing more to say, and again we were silent. It was really the most uncomfortable position 1 ever was in. The major was a burglar beyond a doubt, but he looked and talked just like a gentleman.
Besides, he'd dined with us; That makes a great difference. When a man has broken bread at your table as a respectable fellow creature, it's hard to get your mind round to despising him as a thief. I felt that the only thing to do was to graciously ignore it all, as you do when someone spills the claret on your best table-cloth. At the same time, there were the diamonds! I could not let the chance escape.
“Oh, Major Thatcher!” I said, with an air of suddenly remembering something. “I don't know whether you are aware that your wife left a little package here that evening when you dined with us. It was for Amelia.”
Major Thatcher looked at me with the most imperturbable expression;
“To be sure,” he murmured, “for Amelia.”
“Well,” I went on, trying to impart to my words a light Society tone, “you know we can't find her. Very stupid of us, I have no doubt. But we've tried, and we can't anywhere.”
Major Thatcher stared blankly at the dressing-table.
“Strange, 'pon my word!” he said heavily.
“So, Major Thatcher, if you don't mind, I'll give it back to you. I think, all things considered, it will be best for you to give it to Amelia yourself.”
I went towards the dressing-table;
“You don't mind, do you?” I said, over my shoulder, as I opened the jewel-box.
“Not at all, not at all!” answered the major. “Anything to oblige a lady.”
I drew out the bag of chamois skin. “Here it is,” I said, holding it out to him; “You'll find it in perfect condition and quite complete. I'm so sorry that we couldn't discover Amelia. Not knowing the rest of her name was rather inconvenient. There were dozens of Amelias in the directory.”
The major took the bag, and put it in his breast-pocket.
“Dozens of Amelias,” he repeated, slapping his pocket.
“We even advertised,” I continued; “Perhaps you saw the personal; it was in the morning Herald, and was very short and non-committal, but no one answered it.”
“We saw it,” said the major. “Yes, I recollect quite distinctly seeing it. It—it—indicated to us—aw—aw——”
The major reddened and paused, pulling his moustache.
“That we hadn't found Amelia and still had the present,” I answered in a sprightly tone. “That was just it. And so you came to get it? Very kind of you, indeed, Major Thatcher.”
The major bowed; He was really a very fine-looking, well-mannered man. If he only had been the honest, respectable person we first thought him I would have liked to have added him to my collection. I'm sure if you knew him better he would have been much more interesting than the bishop and the lords.
“The kindness is on your side,” he said. “And now, Mrs. Kennedy, I think—I think perhaps”—he looked at the window that opened on to the balcony— “1 think I'd better——”
“You must be going!” I cried, just as I say it to the bishop when he puts down his cup and looks at the clock. “How unfortunate! But of course your other engagements——”
I checked myself, suddenly realising that it wasn't just the thing to say to the major. When you're talking to a burglar it doesn't seem delicate or thoughtful to allude to his “other engagements.” That I made such a mistake is due to the fact that I'd never talked to a burglar before, and was bound to be a little green;
The major did not seem to mind.
“Exactly so,” he said. “My time is just now much occupied—I—er—I——”
He looked again at the window; “I—er—entered that way,” he said; “But perhaps——”
“1 don't think I'd so out that way if I were you,” I answered hurriedly; “it would look so queer if anyone saw you.”
“Would the other and more usual exit be safe?” he asked. His eyes, as they met mine, were charged with a keener intelligence than I had seen in them before.
“It would have to be,” I answered, with sudden spirit. “What do you suppose the servants would think if they saw you coming out of here? This, Major Thatcher, is my room!”
“Dear me!” said the major, “I suppose it is. I never thought of that.”
“Wait here till I see if it is all right,” I said, “and then I'll come back and tell you.”
I went into the hall and looked over the banisters. The gas was burning faintly, and a bar of pink lamplight fell out from the half-drawn portières of the drawing-room. There was not a sound. I knew the servants were all in the back part of the house, quite safe till eleven o'clock, when, if we were not home, they turned out the lights and locked up. I stole softly back into my room. The major was standing in front of the mirror untying the handkerchief that hung round his neck.
“It's all right,” I assured him, in an unconsciously lowered voice. “You can go quite easily; I'll let you out. Only you mustn't make the least bit of noise.”
He thrust the handkerchief in his pocket and put on bis hat, pulling the brim down over his eyes. I must confess he didn't look half so distinguished this way. When the handkerchief was gone I saw he wore a flannel shirt with a turned-down collar, and with his hat shading his face he certainly did seem a strange sort of man for me to be conducting down the stairs at half-past ten at night. If Perkins, who'd come to us bristling with respectability from a distinguished, evangelical, aristocratic family, should meet us, I should never hold up my head again.
“Now, if you hear Perkins,” I whispered, “for Heaven's sake, hide somewhere. Run back to my room, if you can't go anywhere else. Perkins must not see you!”
The major growled out some reply, and we tiptoed breathlessly across the hall to the stair-head. I was much more frightened than he was. I know, as I stole from step to step, my heart kept beating faster and faster.
Such awful things might have happened: Perkins suddenly appear to put out the lights; Cassius come home early from the dinner, and open the front door just as I was about to let the major out!
When we reached the door I was quite faint, while the major seemed as cool as if he'd been paying a call.
“Very kind of you, I'm sure,” he said, trying to take off his hat. “I shan't forget it.”
“Oh, never mind being polite,” I gasped. “You've got the diamonds. That's all that matters. Good-night. Give my regards to Mrs. Thatcher.”
And he was gone! I shut the door and crept upstairs. First I felt faint, and then I felt hysterical. When Cassius came home at eleven I was lying on the sofa in tears, and all I could say to him was to sob:
“The diamonds are gone! The diamonds are gone!”
He thought I'd gone mad at first, and then when I finally made him understand he was nearly as excited as I. He went downstairs and brought up a bottle of champagne, and we celebrated at midnight up in our room. We had to tell lies to Perkins afterwards to explain how we came to be one bottle short.
But what did lies matter, or even Perkins' opinion of us? We were no longer crushed under the weight of one hundred and sixty-two diamonds that didn't belong to us I
That is the history of my connection with the diamonds. From that night I've never seen or heard of them, nor have I seen Major or Mrs. Thatcher. The diamonds entered our possession and departed from it exactly as I have told, and though my statement may call for greater credulity on the part of my readers, all I can say is that I am willing to vouch for the truth of every word of it.
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I AM sure if anyone was ever punished for their misdeeds it was I. I suppose I ought to say sins, but it is such an unpleasant word! I cannot imagine myself committing sins, and yet that is just what I seem to have done. I couldn't have been more astonished if someone had told me I was going to commit murder.
One thing I have learnt—you do not know what you may do till you have been tempted. And then you do wrong before you realise it, and all of a sudden it comes upon you that you are a criminal quite unexpectedly, and no one is more surprised than you.
I certainly know I was the most surprised person in London when I realised that I—— But there, I am wandering all about, and I want to tell my story simply and shortly.
Everybody knows that when I married Lord Castlecourt I was poor. What everybody does not know is that I was a natural spendthrift. Extravagance was in my blood, as drinking or the love of cards is in the blood of some men. I had never had any money at all. I used to wear the same gloves for years, and always made my own frocks—not badly, either. I've made gowns that Lady Bundy said—— But that has nothing to do with it; I'm getting away from the point;
As I said before, I was poor; I didn't know how extravagant I was till I married and Lord Castlecourt gave me six hundred pounds a year to dress on. It was a fortune to me. I'd never thought one woman could have so much.
The first two years of our married life I did not exceed it, because we lived most of the time in the country, and I was unused to it, and spent it slowly and carefully. I was still unaccustomed to it when, after my second boy was born, Herbert brought me to town for my first season since our marriage.
Then I began to spend money, quantities of it, for it seemed to me that six hundred pounds a year was absolutely inexhaustible. When I saw anything pretty in a shop I bought it, and I generally forgot to ask the price. The shop people were always kind and agreeable, and seemed to have forgotten about it as completely as I.
After I had bought one thing they would urge me to look at something else, which was put away in a drawer or laid out in a cardboard box, and if I liked it I bought that too. If I ever paused to think that I was buying a great deal, I contented myself with the assurance that I had six hundred pounds a year, which was so much I would never get to the end of it.
After that first season a great many bills came in, and I was quite surprised to see I'd spent already, with the year hardly half gone, more than my six hundred pounds.
I could not understand how it had happened, and I asked Herbert about it and showed him some of my bills, and for the first time in our married life he was angry with me. He scolded me quite sharply, and told me I must keep within my allowance. I was hurt, and also rather muddled, with all these different accounts—most of which I could not remember—and I made up my mind not to consult Herbert any more, as it only vexed him and made him cross to me, and that I cannot bear. All the world must love me.
If there is a servant-maid in the house who does not like me—and I can feel it in a minute if she doesn't—I must make her, or she must go away. But my husband, the best and finest man in the world, to have him annoyed with me and scolding me over stupid bills!
Never again would that happen. I showed him no more of them; in fact, I generally tore them up as they came in, for fear I should leave them lying about and he would find them. If I could help it, nothing in the world was ever going to come between Herbert and me.
I also made good resolutions to be more careful in my expenditure. And I really tried to keep them. I don't know how it happened that they did not seem to get kept. But both in London and in Paris I certainly did spend a great deal—I'm sure I don't know how much.
I did little accounts on the back of notes, and they were so confusing, and I seemed to have spent so much more than I thought I had, that I gave up doing them.
After I'd covered the back of two or three notes with figures, I got so low-spirited that I couldn't enjoy anything for the rest of the day. I didn't see that that did anybody any good, so I ceased keeping the accounts. And what was the use of keeping them? If I had not the money to pay them with, why should I make myself miserable by thinking about them? I thought it much more sensible to try to forget them, and most of the time I did!
It went on that way for two years. When I got bills with things written across the bottom in red ink I paid part of them—never all. I never paid all of anything.
Once or twice tradesmen wrote me letters, saying they must have their money, and then I went to see them, and told them how kind it was of them to trust me, and how I would pay them everything soon, and they seemed quite pleased and satisfied. I always intended doing it; I don't know where I thought the money was coming from, but you never can tell what may happen.
Some friends of Herbert had a place near the Scotch border, and found a coal-mine in the forest. Herbert has no lands near Scotland, but he has in other places, and he may find a coal-mine too. I simply cite this as an example of the strange ways things turn out. I didn't exactly expect that Herbert would find a coal-mine, but I did expect that money would turn up in some unexpected way and help me out of my difficulties.
The beginning of the series of really terrible events of which I am writing was the purchase of a Russian sable jacket from a furrier in Paris called Bolkonsky. It was in the early Spring of last year.
I had had no dealings with Bolkonsky before. A friend told me of the jacket, and took me there. It was a real opportunity. I knew the moment that I saw it that it was one of those chances with which one rarely meets. It fitted me like a charm, and I bought it for a thousand pounds. That miserable Bolkonsky told me the payments might be made in any way I liked and at any time.
I also bought some good turquoises that were going for a mere song from a jeweller upstairs somewhere near the Rue de La Paix, who was selling out the jewels of an actress. It was these two people who ruined me.
Not that they were my only debtors. I knew by this time that I owed a great deal. When I thought about it I was frightened, and so I tried not to think. But sometimes when I was awake at night, and everything looked dark and depressed, I wondered what I would do if something did not happen.
In these moments I thought of telling my husband, and I buried my head in the pillow and turned cold with misery. What would Herbert say when he found out that his wife was thousands of pounds in debt—the Marquis of Castlecourt, who had never owed a penny and considered it a disgrace?
Perhaps he would be so horrified and disgusted he would send me away from him—back to Ireland or to the Continent. And what would happen to me then?
That summer we went to Castlecourt Marsh Manor, and there my anxieties became almost unbearable. Bolkonsky began to dun me most cruelly. Other creditors wrote me letters, urging for payment.
The jeweller from whom I had bought the turquoises sent me a letter, telling me that if I didn't settle his account by September he would sue me. And finally Bolkonsky sent a man over, whom I saw in London, and who told me that unless the sable jacket were paid for within two months he would “lay the matter before Lord Castlecourt.”
We went across to Paris in September, and there I saw those dreadful people. My other French and English creditors I could manage, but I could do nothing with either Bolkonsky or the jeweller. They spoke harshly to me—as no one has ever spoken to me before; and Bolkonsky told me that “it was known Lord Castlecourt was honest and paid his debts, whatever his wife was.”
I prayed him for time, and finally wept—wept to that horrible Jew; and there was another man in the office, too, who saw me. But I was lost to all sense of pride or reserve. I had only one feeling left in me—terror, agony, that they would tell my husband, and he would despise me and leave me.
My misery seemed to have some effect on Bolkonsky, and he told me he would give me till the 10th of October to pay up. It was then the 18th of September.
I waited for a week in a sort of frenzy of hope that a miracle would occur, and the money come into my hands in some unexpected way. But, of course, nothing did occur.
By the 1st of October the one thousand pounds was no nearer. It was then that the desperate idea entered my head which has nearly ruined me, and caused me such suffering that the memory of it will stay with me for ever.
The Castlecourt diamonds, set in a necklace and valued at nine thousand pounds, were in my possession. I often wore them, and they were carried about by my maid, a faithful and honest creature called Sophy Jeffers.
On one of my first trips to Paris a friend of mine had taken me to the office of a well-known dealer in precious and artificial stones who, without its being generally known, did a sort of pawnbroking business among the upper classes. My friend had gone there to pawn a pearl necklace, and had told me all about it—how much she had obtained on the necklace, and how she hoped to redeem it within the year, and how she was to have it copied in imitation pearls. The idea that came to me was to go to this place and pawn the Castlecourt diamonds, having them duplicated in paste.
I went there on the second day of October. How awful it was! I wore a heavy veil, and gave a fictitious name. Several men looked at the diamonds, and I noticed that they looked at me and whispered together. Finally they told me they would give me four thousand pounds on them, at some interest—I've forgotten what it was—and that they would replace them with paste, so that only an expert could tell the difference.
The next day I went back, and they gave me the money. I do not think they had any idea who I was. At any rate, while the papers were full of speculations about the Castlecourt diamonds they made no sign.
I paid oft all my debts, both in Paris and London; I even paid a year's interest on the diamonds. For a short time I breathed again, and was gay and light-hearted. My husband would never know that I had not paid my bills for five years and had been threatened with a lawsuit.
It was delightful to get rid of this fear, and I was quite my old self. I suppose I ought to have felt myself more guilty. But when one is relieved of a great weight, one's conscience is not so sensitive as it gets when there is really nothing to be sensitive about.
It was after I had grown accustomed to feeling free and unworried that I began to realise what I had done. I had stolen the diamonds. I was a thief!
It did not comfort me much to think that no one might ever find it out; in fact, I do not think it comforted me at all, and I know in the beginning I expected it would. It was what I had done that rankled in me.
I felt that I would never be peaceful again till they were redeemed and put back in the old settings.
That was what I continually dreamt of. It seemed to me that if I could see them once more in their own case I would be happy and care free, as I had been in those first perfect years of my married life.
The fear that at this time most haunted me and was most terrifying was that my husband might discover what I had done. His wife, that he had so loved and trusted, had become a thief! No one knows who has not gone through it how I felt. I did not know anyone could suffer so.
I went out constantly to try to forget, and when things were very cheerful and amusing I sometimes did. And then I remembered—I was a thief, I had stolen my husband's diamonds, and if he ever found it out, what would happen to me?
This was the position I was in when the false diamonds were taken. It was the last thing in the world I had thought could happen.
When, that night of the Duke of Duxbury's dinner, I saw the empty case and Jeffers' terrified face, the world reeled round me. I could not for a moment take it in. Only in my mind the diamonds had become a sort of nightmare; anything to do with them was a menace, and I followed an instinct that had possession of me when I tried to hide the empty case from my husband.
Then when my mind had cleared, and I had time to think, I saw that if they recovered the paste necklace they might find out that it was not real, and all would be lost. It was a horrible predicament. I really did not know what I wanted.
If the diamonds were found and seen to be false it would all come out, and Herbert would know I was a thief. When I thought of this I tried to divert the detectives from hunting for them, and I told that silly, sheepish Mr. Brison that I did not see how he could be so sure they were stolen, that they might have been mislaid.
Mr. Brison seemed surprised, and that made me angry because, after all, a diamond necklace is not the sort of thing that gets mislaid, and I felt I had been foolish and had not gained anything by being so.
The days passed, and nothing was heard of the necklace. I wished desperately now that it would be found. For how, unless it was, could I eventually redeem the real diamonds, and once more feel honest and respectable?
If I suddenly appeared with them, how could I explain it? Everybody would say I had stolen them, unless I invented some story about their being lost and then found, and I am not clever at inventing stories. As to where I should get the money to redeem them, I often thought of that; but I could not think of any way that was both possible and reasonable. I had always waited for “things to turn up,” and they generally did.
But in this case nothing that I wanted or expected turned up. Besides, four thousand pounds is a good deal of money to come into one's hands suddenly and unexpectedly. If it were a smaller sum it might, but four thousand pounds was too much. There was nobody to die and leave it to me, and I certainly could not steal, or make it myself.
So, as one may see, I was beset with troubles on all sides. The season wore itself away, and I was glad to be done with it.
For the first time there had been no pleasure in it. Anxieties, that no one guessed, were always with me, and always I found myself surreptitiously watching my husband to see if he suspected, to see if he showed any symptoms of growing cold to me and being indifferent.
As I drove through the Park in the carriage these dreary thoughts were always at my heart, and it was heavy as lead. I forgot the passers-by who were so amusing, and, with my head hanging, looked into my lap.
Suppose Herbert guessed? Suppose Herbert found out? These were the questions that went circling through my brain and never stopped. Sometimes, when Herbert was beside me, I suddenly wanted to cry out:
“Herbert, I took the diamonds! I was the thief! I can't hide it any more, or live in this uncertainty. All I want to know is, do you hate me and are you going to leave me?”
But I never did it. I looked at Herbert, and was afraid. What would I do if he left me? Go back to Ireland and die.
We went to Castlecourt Marsh Manor at the end of June. By this time I had begun to feel quite ill. Herbert insisted on my consulting a doctor before I left town, and the doctor said my heart was all wrong and something was the matter with my nerves. But it was only the sense of guilt that every day grew more oppressive.
I thought I might feel better in the country. I had always disliked it, and now it seemed like a harbour of refuge, where I could be quiet with my children. I had grown to hate London. It was London that had played upon my weaknesses and drawn me into all my trouble.
I had not run into debt in the country, and, after all, I had never been as happy as I was the two years after our marriage, when we had lived at Castlecourt Marsh Manor. Those were my beaux jours! How bright and beautiful they seemed now, when I looked back on them from these dark days of fear and disgrace!
It was not much better in the country. A change of scene cannot make a difference when the trouble is a guilty conscience. And that guilty conscience kept growing more guilty every day. I feared to speak of the diamonds to Herbert, and yet every letter that came for him filled me with alarm, lest it was to say either that they were found or that they were not found.
Herbert went up to London at intervals and saw Mr. Gilsey, and at night when he came home I trembled so much that I found it difficult to wait till he had told me all that Mr. Gilsey had said. Once, when he was beginning to tell me that Mr. Gilsey had some idea they had traced the diamonds to Paris, I fainted, and it was some time before they could bring me round.
July was very hot, and I gave that as the cause of my changed appearance and listless manner. I was really in wretched health, and Herbert became exceedingly worried about me. He suggested that we should go on the Continent for a trip, but I shrank from the thought of it. I felt as if the sight of Paris, where the diamonds were waiting to be redeemed, would kill me outright. I did not want to leave Castlecourt Marsh Manor to go anywhere. I only wanted to be happy again—to be as I was before I had taken the diamonds.
And I knew now that this could never be till I told my husband. I knew that to win back my peace of mind I had to tell, and hear him say he forgave me. I tried to several times, but it was impossible. As the moment that I had chosen for confession approached, my heart beat so that I could scarcely breathe, and I trembled like a person in a chill.
With Herbert looking at me so kindly, so tenderly, the words died away on my lips, or I said something quite different from what I had intended saying. It was useless. As the days went by I knew that I would never dare tell, that for the rest of my life I would be crushed under the sense of guilt that seemed too heavy to be borne.
It was late one afternoon in the middle of July that the crash came. Never, never shall I forget that day! So dark and awful at first, and then—but I must follow the story just as it happened.
Herbert and I had had tea in the library. It was warm weather, and the windows that led to the terrace were wide open. Through them I could see the beautiful landscape, rolling hills with great trees dotted over them, all the colours brighter and deeper than at midday, for the sun was getting low.
I was sitting by one of the windows looking out on this, and thinking how different had been my feelings when I had come here as a bride and loved it all, and been so full of joy. My hands hung limp over the arms of the chair; I had no desire to move or speak. It is so agonising, when you are miserable, looking back on days that were happy!
As I was sitting this way, Thomas, one of the footmen, came in with the letters. I noticed that he had quite a packet of them. Some were mine, and I laid them on the table at my elbow. Idly and without interest I noticed that in Herbert's bunch there was a small box, such as jewellery is sent about in. Thomas left the room, and I continued looking out of the window until I suddenly heard Herbert give a suppressed exclamation. I turned towards him, and saw that he had the open box in his hand.
“What does this mean?” he said. “What an extraordinary thing! Look here, Gladys.”
And he came towards me, holding out the box. It was full of cotton wool, and lying on this were a great quantity of unset diamonds of different sizes. My heart gave a leap into my throat. I sat up, clutching the arms of the chair.
“What are they?” I said, hearing my voice very high and loud. “Where did they come from?”
“I don't know anything about them! It's very queer! See what's written on this piece of paper that was inside the box.”
He held out a small piece of paper, on which the creases of several folds were plainly marked. Across it, in typing, ran two sentences. I snatched the paper and read the words:
We don't want your diamonds. You can keep them, and with them accept our kind regards.
The paper fluttered to my feet. I knew in a moment what it all meant. The thieves had discovered that the diamonds were paste, and had returned them. I was conscious of Herbert's startled face suddenly charged with an expression of sharp anxiety as he cried:
“Why, Gladys, what is it? You're as white as death!”
He came towards me, but I motioned him away and rose to my feet. I knew then that the hour had come, and though I expect I was very white, I did not feel so frightened as I had done in the past.
“Those are your diamonds, Herbert,” I said, quietly and distinctly, “or, perhaps, I ought to say those are the substitutes for them. Your diamonds are in Paris, at Barrière's, on the Rue Croix des Petits Champs.”
“Gladys,” he exclaimed, “what do you mean? What are you talking about? You look so white and strange! Sit down, darling, and tell me what you mean.”
“Oh, Herbert,” I cried, with my voice suddenly full of agony, “let me tell you. Don't stop me. If you're angry with me and hate me, wait till I've finished before you say so. I've got to confess it all.”
And then I told—I told it all. I didn't leave out a single thing. My first bills, and Bolkonsky, and the jeweller, and the pawnbroking place, and everything was in it. Once I was started, it was not so hard, and I poured it out. I didn't try to make it better, or ask to be forgiven. But when it was all finished, I said, in a voice which had become husky and trembling:
“And now I suppose you'll not like me any more! It's quite natural that you shouldn't. I ask only one thing, and I know, of course, I have no right to ask it—that is, that you won't send me away from you. I have been very wicked. I suppose I ought to be put in prison. But—oh, Herbert, no matter what I've been, I've loved you! That's something.”
I could not go any further, and there was no need; for my dear husband did not seem angry at all. He took me, all weeping and trembling, into his arms, and said the sweetest things to me—the sort of things one doesn't write down with a pen.
And I?—I turned my face against his shoulder and cried feebly, and was happy once more.
Well, that is really the end of the statement. Herbert went to Paris a few days later and redeemed the diamonds, and they are now being set in imitation of the old settings, which are lost. I would not go to Paris with him. Nor will I go to London next season. Both places are too full of horrible memories.
Perhaps some day I shall feel about them as I did before the diamonds were taken, but now I do not want to leave the country at all. Besides, we can economise here, and the four thousand pounds necessary to get back the stones were a good deal for Herbert to have to pay out just now.
This finishes my statement. I daresay it is a very bald one, for I am not clever at all. But it has the one merit of being entirely truthful, and I have told everything—just how wicked I was, and just why I was so wicked. Nothing has been held back, and nothing has been set down falsely. It is an unprejudiced and accurate account of my share in the Castlecourt Diamond Case.