'Hester,' she said, 'does not all this mean that your own proud spirit is to have a stronger dominion over you than the experience and wisdom of all your friends?'
'Perhaps it does. But, at any rate, my proud spirit will retain its pride.'
'You will be obstinate?'
'Certainly I will. Nothing on earth shall make me leave this house till I am told by its owner to go.'
'Who is its owner? Old Mr. Caldigate is its owner.'
'I hardly know. Though John has explained it again and again, I am so bad at such things that I am not sure. But I can do what I please with it. I am the mistress here. As you say that the Grange is your house, I can say that this is mine. It is the abode appointed for me, and here I will abide.'
'Then, Hester, I can only tell you that you are sinning. It is a heavy, grievous, and most obvious sin.'
'Dear mother,—dear mamma; I knew how it would be if you came. It is useless for me to say more. Were I to go away, that to me would be the sin. Why should we discuss it any more? There comes a time to all of us when we must act on our own responsibility. My husband is in prison, and cannot personally direct me. No doubt I could go, were I so pleased. His father would not hinder me, though he is most unwilling that I should go. I must judge a little for myself. But I have his judgment to fall back upon. He told me to stay, and I shall stay.'
Then there was a pause, during which Mrs. Bolton was thinking of her burning words,—was remembering the scorn with which she had treated her husband when he told her that they had 'no power.' She had endeavoured herself not to be sleepy in doing the Lord's work. But her seed, too, had fallen upon stony places. She was powerless to do, or even to say, anything further. 'Then I may go,' she muttered.
'You will come and eat with me, mamma?'
'No, my dear,—no.'
'You do not wish that there should be a quarrel?'
'There is very much, Hester, that I do not wish. I have long ceased to trust much to any wishes. There is a great gulf between us, and I will not attempt to bridge it by the hollow pretence of sitting at table with you. I will still pray that you may be restored to me.' Then she went to the door.
'Mamma, you will kiss me before you go?'
'I will cover you with kisses when you return to your own home.' But in spite of this, Hester went down with her into the hall, holding by her raiment; and as Mrs. Bolton got into the fly, she did succeed in kissing her mother's hand.
'She has gone,' said Hester, going to her father-in-law's room. 'Though I was so glad to see her, I wish she had not come. When people think so very, very differently on a matter which is so very, very important, it is better that they should not meet, let them love each other ever so.'
As far as Hester and Mr. Caldigate were concerned the visit had in truth been made without much inconvenience. There had been no absolute violence,—no repetition of such outward quarrelling as had made those two days at the Grange so memorable. There was almost a feeling of relief in Hester's bosom when her mother was driven away after that successful grasp at the parting hand. Though they had differed much, they had not hated each other during that last half-hour. Hester had been charged with sin;—which, however, had been a matter of course. But in Mrs. Bolton's heart there was a feeling which made her return home very uncomfortable. Having twitted her husband with his lack of power, she had been altogether powerless herself; and now she was driven to confess to herself that no further step could be taken. 'She is obstinate,' she said to her husband,—'stiff-necked in her sin, as are all determined sinners. I can say no more to her. It may be that the Lord will soften her heart when her sorrows have endured yet for a time.' But she said no more of burning words, or of eloquence, or of the slackness of the work of those who work as though they were not in earnest.
Curlydown and Bagwax
There had been a sort of pledge given at the trial by Sir John Joram that the matter of the envelope should be further investigated. He had complained in his defence that the trial had been hurried on,—that time had not been allowed for full inquiries, seeing that the character of the deed by which his client had been put in jeopardy depended upon what had been done on the other side of the globe. 'This crime,' he had said, 'if it be a crime, was no doubt committed in the parish church of Utterden in the early part of last year; but all the evidence which has been used or which could be used to prove it to have been a crime, has reference to things done long ago, and far away. Time has not been allowed us for rebutting this evidence by counter-evidence.' And yet much time had been allowed. The trial had been postponed from the spring to the summer assizes; and then the offence was one which, from its very nature, required speedy notice. The Boltons, who became the instigators of the prosecution, demanded that the ill-used woman should be relieved as quickly as possible from her degradation. There had been a general feeling that the trial should not be thrown over to another year; and, as we are aware, it had been brought to judgment and the convicted criminal was in jail. But Sir John still persevered, and to this perseverance he had been instigated very much by a certain clerk in the post-office.
Two post-office clerks had been used as witnesses at the trial, of whom the elder, Mr. Curlydown, had been by no means a constant or an energetic witness. A witness, when he is brought up for the defence, should not be too scrupulous, or he will be worse than useless. In a matter of fact a man can only say what he saw, or tell what he heard, or declare what he knew. He should at least do no more. Though it be to save his father, he should not commit perjury. But when it comes to opinion, if a man allows himself to waver, he will be taken as thinking the very opposite of what he does think. Such had been the case with Mr. Curlydown. He had intended to be very correct. He had believed that the impression of the Sydney stamp was on the whole adverse to the idea that it had been obtained in the proper way; and yet he had, when cross-examined, acknowledged that it might very probably have been obtained in the proper way. It certainly had not been 'smudged' at all, and such impressions generally did become 'smudged.' But then he was made to say also that impressions very often did not become smudged. And as to the word 'Nobble' which should have been stamped upon the envelope, he thought that in such a case its absence was very suspicious; but still he was brought to acknowledge that post-masters in provincial offices far away from inspection, frequently omit that part of their duty. All this had tended to rob the envelope of those attributes of deceit and conspiracy which Sir John Joram attributed to it, and had justified the judge in his opinion that Mr. Curlydown's evidence had told them little or nothing. But even Mr. Curlydown had found more favour with the judge than Samuel Bagwax, the junior of the two post-office witnesses. Samuel Bagwax had perhaps been a little too energetic. He had made the case his own, and was quite sure that the envelope had been tampered with. I think that the counsel for the Crown pressed his witness unfairly when he asked Mr. Bagwax whether he was absolutely certain that an envelope with such an impression could not have passed through the post-office in the ordinary course of business. 'Nothing is impossible,' Mr. Bagwax had replied. 'Is it not very much within the sphere of possibility?' the learned gentleman had asked. The phrase was misleading, and Mr. Bagwax was induced to say that it might be so. But still his assurance would probably have had weight with the jury but for the overstrained honesty of his companion. The judge had admonished the jury that in reference to such a point they should use their own common-sense rather than the opinion of such a man as Mr. Bagwax. A man of ordinary common-sense would know how the mark made by a die on a letter would be affected by the sort of manipulation to which the letter bearing it would be subjected;—and so on. From all which it came to pass that the judge was understood to have declared that that special envelope might very well have passed in ordinary course through the Sydney post-office.
But Samuel Bagwax was not a man to be put down by the injustice of lawyers. He knew himself to have been ill-treated. He was confident that no man alive was more competent than himself to form an opinion on such a subject; and he was sure, quite sure,—perhaps a little too sure,—that there had been some dishonesty with that envelope. And thus he became a strong partisan of John Caldigate and of Mrs. John Caldigate. If there had been tampering with that envelope, then the whole thing was fraudulent, false, and the outcome of a base conspiracy. Many points were present to his mind which the lawyers between them would not allow him to explain properly to a jury. When had that die been cut, by which so perfect an impression had been formed? If it could be proved that it had been cut since the date it bore, then of course the envelope would be fraudulent. But it was only in Sydney that this could be ascertained. He was sure that a week's ordinary use would have made the impression less perfect. Some letters must of course be subjected to new dies, and this letter might in due course have been so subjected. But it was more probable that a new stamp should have been selected for a surreptitious purpose. All this could be ascertained by the book of daily impressions kept in the Sydney post-office;—but there had not been time to get this evidence from Sydney since this question of the impression had been ventilated. It was he who had first given importance to the envelope; and being a resolute and almost heroic man, he was determined that no injustice on the part of a Crown prosecutor, no darkness in a judge's mind, no want of intelligence in a jury, should rob him of the delight of showing how important to the world was a proper understanding of post-office details. He still thought that that envelope might be made to prove a conspiracy on the part of Crinkett and the others, and he succeeded in getting Sir John Joram to share that belief.
The envelope itself was still preserved among the sacred archives of the trial. That had not been bodily confided to Samuel Bagwax. But various photographs had been made of the document, which no doubt reproduced exactly every letter, every mark, and every line which was to be seen upon it by the closest inspection. There was the direction, which was admitted to be in Caldigate's handwriting,—the postage-stamp, with its obliterating lines,—and the impression of the Sydney postmark. That was nearly all. The paper of the envelope had no water-marks. Bagwax thought that if he could get hold of the envelope itself something might be done even with that; but here Sir John could not go along with him, as it had been fully acknowledged that the envelope had passed from the possession of Caldigate into the hands of the woman bearing the written address. If anything could be done, it must be done by the postmarks,—and those postmarks Bagwax studied morning, noon, and night.
It had now been decided that Bagwax was to be sent out to Sydney at the expense of the Caldigates. There had been difficulty as to leave of absence for such a purpose. The man having been convicted, the postmaster-general was bound to regard him as guilty, and hesitated to allow a clerk to be absent so long on behalf of a man who was already in prison. But the Secretary of State overruled this scruple, and the leave was to be given. Bagwax was elate,—first and chiefly because he trusted that he would become the means of putting right a foul and cruel wrong. For in these days Bagwax almost wept over the hardships inflicted on that poor lady at Folking. But he was elated also by the prospect of his travels, and by the godsend of a six months' leave of absence. He was a little proud, too, at having had this personal attention paid to him by the Secretary of State. All this was very gratifying. But that which gratified him was not so charming to his brother clerks. They had never enjoyed the privilege of leaving that weary office for six months. They were not allowed to occupy themselves in contemplating an envelope. They were never specially mentioned by the Secretary of State. Of course there was a little envy, and a somewhat general feeling that Bagwax, having got to the weak side of Sir John Joram, was succeeding in having himself sent out as a first-class overland passenger to Sydney, merely as a job. Paris to be seen, and the tunnel, and the railways through Italy, and the Suez Canal,—all these places, not delightful to the wives of Indian officers coming home or going out, were an Elysium to the post-office mind. His expenses to be paid for six months on the most gentleman-like footing, and his salary going on all the time! Official human nature, good as it generally is, cannot learn that such glories are to be showered on one not specially deserving head without something akin to enmity. The general idea, therefore, in the office, was that Bagwax would do no good in Sydney, that others would have been better than Bagwax,—in fact, that of all the clerks in all the departments, Bagwax was the very last man who ought to have been selected for an enterprise demanding secrecy, discretion, and some judicial severity.
Curlydown and Bagwax occupied the same room at the office in St. Martin's-le-Grand; and there it was their fate in life to arrange, inspect, and generally attend to those apparently unintelligible hieroglyphics with which the outside coverings of our correspondence are generally bedaubed. Curlydown's hair had fallen from his head, and his face had become puckered with wrinkles, through anxiety to make these markings legible and intelligible. The popular newspaper, the popular member of Parliament, and the popular novelist,—the name of Charles Dickens will of course present itself to the reader who remembers the Circumlocution office,—have had it impressed on their several minds,—and have endeavoured to impress the same idea on the minds of the public generally,—that the normal Government clerk is quite indifferent to his work. No greater mistake was ever made, or one showing less observation of human nature. It is the nature of a man to appreciate his own work. The felon who is made simply to move shot, perishes because he knows his work is without aim. The fault lies on the other side. The policeman is ambitious of arresting everybody. The lawyer would rather make your will for you gratis than let you make your own. The General can believe in nothing but in well-trained troops. Curlydown would willingly have expended the whole net revenue of the post-office,—and his own,—in improving the machinery for stamping letters. But he had hardly succeeded in life. He had done his duty, and was respected by all. He lived comfortably in a suburban cottage with a garden, having some private means, and had brought up a happy family in prosperity;—but he had done nothing new. Bagwax, who was twenty years his junior, had with manifest effects, added a happy drop of turpentine to the stamping-oil,—and in doing so had broken Curlydown's heart. The 'Bagwax Stamping Mixture' had absolutely achieved a name, which was printed on the official list of stores. Curlydown's mind was vacillating between the New River and a pension,—between death in the breach and acknowledged defeat,—when a new interest was lent to his life by the Caldigate envelope. It was he who had been first sent by the Postmaster-General to Sir John Joram's chambers. But the matter had become too large for himself alone, and in an ill-fated hour Bagwax had been consulted. Now Bagwax was to be sent to Sydney,—almost with the appointments of a lawyer!
They still occupied the same room,—a fact which infinitely increased the torments of Curlydown's position. They ought to have been moved very far asunder. Curlydown was still engaged in the routine ordinary work of the day, seeing that the proper changes were made in all the stamps used during the various hours of the day,—assuring himself that the crosses and letters and figures upon which so much of the civilisation of Europe depended, were properly altered and arranged. And it may well be that his own labours were made heavier by the devotion of his colleagues to other matters. And yet from time to time Bagwax would ask him questions, never indeed taking his advice, but still demanding his assistance. Curlydown was not naturally a man of ill-temper or an angry heart. But there were moments in which he could hardly abstain from expressing himself with animosity.
On a certain morning in August, Bagwax was seated at his table, which as usual was laden with the envelopes of many letters. There were some hundreds before him, the marks on which he was perusing with a strong magnifying-glass. It had been arranged that he was to start on his great journey in the first week in September, and he employed his time before he went in scanning all the envelopes bearing the Sydney postmark which he had been able to procure in England. He spent the entire day with a magnifying-glass in his hand;—but as Curlydown was also always armed in the same fashion, that was not peculiar. They did much of their work with such tools.
The date on the envelope,—the date conveyed by the impression, to which so much attention had been given,—was 10th May 1873. Bagwax had succeeded in getting covers bearing dates very close to that. The 7th of May had been among his treasures for some time, and now he had acquired an entire letter, envelope and all, which bore the Sydney impression of the 13th May. This was a great triumph. 'I have brought it within a week,' he said to Curlydown, bending down over his glass, and inspecting at the same time the two dates.
'What's the good of that?' asked Curlydown, as he passed rapidly under his own glass the stamps which it was his duty to inspect from day to day.
'All the good in the world,' said Bagwax, brandishing his own magnifier with energy. 'It is almost conclusive.' Now the argument with Bagwax was this,—that if he found in the Sydney postmarks of 7th May, and in those of 13th May, the same deviations or bruises in the die, those deviations must have existed also on the days between these two dates;—and as the impression before him was quite perfect, without any deviation, did it not follow that it must have been obtained in some manner outside the ordinary course of business?
'There are a dozen stamps in use at the Sydney office,' said Curlydown.
'Perhaps so; or, at any rate, three or four. But I can trace as well as possible the times at which new stamps were supplied. Look here.' Then he threw himself over the multitude of envelopes, all of which had been carefully arranged as to dates, and began to point out the periods. 'Here, you see, in 1873, there is nothing that quite tallies with the Caldigate letter. I have measured them to the twentieth part of an inch, and I am sure that early in May '73 there was not a stamp in use in the Sydney office which could have made that impression. I have eighteen Mays '73, and not one of them could have been made by the stamp that did this.' As he spoke thus, he rapped his finger down on the copy of the sacred envelope which he was using. 'Is not that conclusive?'
'If it was not conclusive to keep a man from going to prison,' said Curlydown, remembering the failure of his own examination, 'it will not be conclusive to get him out again.'
'There I differ. No doubt further evidence is necessary and therefore I must go to Sydney.'
'If it is conclusive, I don't see why you should go to Sydney at all. If your proof is so perfect, why should that fellow be kept in prison while you are running about the world?'
This idea had also occurred to Bagwax, and he had thought whether it would be possible for him to be magnanimous enough to perfect his proof in England, so as to get a pardon from the Secretary of State at once, to his own manifest injury. 'What would satisfy you and me,' said Bagwax, 'wouldn't satisfy the ignorant.' To the conductor of an omnibus on the Surrey side of the river, the man who does not know what 'The Castle' means is ignorant. The outsider who is in a mist as to the 'former question,' or 'the order of the day,' is ignorant to the member of Parliament. To have no definite date conveyed by the term 'Rogation Sunday' is to the clerical mind gross ignorance. The horsey man thinks you have been in bed all your life if the 'near side' is not as descriptive to you as 'the left hand.' To Bagwax and Curlydown, not to distinguish postmarks was to be ignorant. 'I fear it wouldn't satisfy the ignorant,' said Bagwax, thinking of his projected journey to Sydney.
'Proof is proof,' said Curlydown. 'I don't think you'll ever get him out. The time has gone by. But you may do just as much here as there.'
'I'm sure we shall get him out. I'll never rest in my bed till we have got him out.'
'Mr. Justice Bramber won't mind whether you rest in your bed or not,—nor yet the Secretary of State.'
'Sir John Joram—' began Bagwax. In these discussions Sir John Joram was always his main staff.
'Sir John Joram has got other fish to fry before this time. It's a marvel to me, Bagwax, that they should give way to all this nonsense. If anything could be done, it could be done in half the time,—and if anything could be done, it could be done here. By the time you're back from Sydney, Caldigate's time will be half out. Why don't you let Sir John see your proof? You don't want to lose your trip, I suppose.'
Caldigate was languishing in prison, and that poor, nameless lady was separated from her husband, and he had the proof lying there on the table before him,—sufficient proof, as he did in his heart believe! But how often does it fall to the lot of a post-office clerk to be taken round the world free of expense? The way Curlydown put it was ill-natured and full of envy. Bagwax was well aware that Curlydown was instigated solely by envy. But still, these were his own convictions,—and Bagwax was in truth a soft-hearted, conscientious man.
'I do think it ought to be enough for any Secretary of State,' said he, 'and I'll go to Sir John Joram to-morrow. Of course, I should like to see the world;—who wouldn't? But I'd rather be the means of restoring that fellow to his poor wife, than be sent to all the four quarters of the globe with a guinea a-day for personal expenses.' In this way he nobly made up his mind to go at once to Sir John Joram.
Sir John Joram's Chambers
Mr. Curlydown's insinuations had been very cruel, but also very powerful. Bagwax, as he considered the matter that night in his bed, did conscientiously think that a discreet and humane Secretary of State would let the unfortunate husband out of prison on the evidence which he (Bagwax) had already collected. My readers will not perhaps agree with him. The finding of a jury and the sentence of a judge must be regarded seriously by Secretaries of State, and it is probable that Bagwax's theory would not make itself clear to that great functionary. A good many 'ifs' were necessary. If the woman claiming Caldigate as her husband would swear falsely to anything in that matter, then she would swear falsely to everything. If this envelope had never passed through the Sydney post-office then she would have sworn falsely about the letter,—and therefore her evidence would have been altogether false. If this postmark had not been made in the due course of business, and on the date as now seen, then the envelope had not passed regularly through the Sydney office. So far it was all clear to the mind of Bagwax, and almost clear that the postmark could not have been made on the date it bore. The result for which he was striving with true faith had taken such a hold of his mind, he was so adverse to the Smith-Crinkett interest, and so generously anxious for John Caldigate and the poor lady at Folking, that he could not see obstacles;—he could not even clearly see the very obstacles which made his own going to Sydney seem to others to be necessary. And yet he longed to go to Sydney with all his heart. He would be almost broken-hearted if he were robbed of that delight.
In this frame of mind he packed all his envelopes carefully into a large hand-bag, and started in a cab for Sir John Joram's chambers. 'Where are you going with them now?' Curlydown asked, somewhat disdainfully, just as Bagwax was starting. Curlydown had taken upon himself of late to ridicule the envelopes, and had become almost an anti-Caldigatite. Bagwax vouchsafed to make him no reply. On the previous afternoon he had declared his purpose of going at once to Sir John, and had written, as Curlydown well knew, a letter to Sir John's clerk to make an appointment. Sir John was known to be in town though it was the end of August, being a laborious man who contented himself with a little partridge-shooting by way of holiday. It had been understood that he was to see Bagwax before his departure. All this had been known to Curlydown, and the question had been asked only to exasperate. There was a sarcasm in the 'now' which determined Bagwax to start without a word of reply.
As he went down to the Temple in the cab he turned over in his mind a great question which often troubles many of us. How far was he bound to sacrifice himself for the benefit of others? He had done his duty zealously in this matter, and now was under orders to continue the work in a manner which opened up to him a whole paradise of happiness. How grand was this opportunity of seeing something of the world beyond St. Martin's-le-Grand! And then the pecuniary gain would be so great! Hitherto he had received no pay for what he had done. He was a simple post-office clerk, and was paid for his time by the Crown,—very moderately. On this projected journey all his expenses would be paid for him, and still he would have his salary. Sir John Joram had declared the journey to be quite necessary. The Secretary of State had probably not occupied his mind much with the matter; but in the mind of Bagwax there was a fixed idea that the Secretary thought of little else, and that the Secretary had declared that his hands were tied till Bagwax should have been to Sydney. But his conscience told him that the journey was not necessary, and that the delay would be cruel. In that cab Bagwax made up his mind that he would do his duty like an honest man.
Sir John's chambers in Pump Court were gloomy without, though commodious and ample within. Bagwax was now well known to the clerk, and was received almost as a friend. 'I think I've got it all as clear as running water, Mr. Jones,' he said, feeling no doubt that Sir John's clerk, Mr. Jones, must feel that interest in the case which pervaded his own mind.
'That will be a good thing for the gentleman in prison, Mr. Bagwax.'
'And for the lady; poor lady! I don't know whether I don't think almost more of her than of him.' Mr. Jones was returning to his work, having sent in word to Sir John of this visitor's arrival. But Bagwax was too full of his subject, and of his own honesty, for that. 'I don't think that I need go out after all, Mr. Jones.'
'Of course it will be a great sell for me.'
'Will it, now?'
'Sydney, I am told, is an Elysium upon earth.'
'It's much the same as Botany Bay; isn't it?' asked Jones.
'Oh, not at all; quite a different place. I was reading a book the other day which said that Sydney harbour is the most beautiful thing God ever made on the face of the globe.'
'I know there used to be convicts there,' said Mr. Jones, very positively.
'Perhaps they had a few once, but never many. They have oranges there, and a Parliament almost as good as our own, and a beautiful new post-office. But I shan't have to go, Mr. Jones. Of course, a man has to do his duty.'
'Some do, and more don't. That's as far as I see, Mr. Bagwax.'
'I'm all for Nelson's motto, Mr. Jones,—"England expects that every man this day shall do his duty."' In repeating these memorable words Bagwax raised his voice.
'Sir John don't like to hear anything through the partition, Mr. Bagwax.'
'I beg pardon. But whenever I think of that glorious observation I am apt to become a little excited. It'll go a long way, Mr. Jones, in keeping a man straight if he'll only say it to himself often enough.'
'But not to roar it out in an eminent barrister's chambers. He didn't hear you, I daresay; only I thought I'd just caution you.'
'Quite right, Mr. Jones. Now I mean to do mine. I think we can get the party out of prison without any journey to Sydney at all; and I'm not going to stand in the way of it. I have devoted myself to this case, and I'm not going to let my own interest stand in the way. Mr. Jones, let a man be ever so humble, England does expect—that he'll do his duty.'
'By George, he'll hear you, Mr. Bagwax;—he will indeed.' But at that moment Sir John's bell was rung, and Bagwax was summoned into the great man's room. Sir John was sitting at a large office-table so completely covered with papers that a whole chaos of legal atoms seemed to have been deposited there by the fortuitous operation of ages. Bagwax, who had his large bag in his hand, looked forlornly round the room for some freer and more fitting board on which he might expose his documents. But there was none. There were bookshelves filled with books, and a large sofa which was covered also with papers, and another table laden with what seemed to be a concrete chaos,—whereas the chaos in front of Sir John was a chaos in solution. Sir John liked Bagwax, though he was generally opposed to zealous co-operators. There was in the man a mixture of intelligence and absurdity, of real feeling and affectation, of genuine humility as to himself personally and of thorough confidence in himself post-officially, which had gratified Sir John; and Sir John had been quite sure that the post-office clerk had intended to speak the absolute truth, with an honest, manly conviction in the innocence of his client, and in the guilt of the witnesses on the other side. He was therefore well disposed towards Bagwax. 'Well, Mr. Bagwax he said; 'so I understand you have got a little further in the matter since I saw you last.'
'A good deal further, Sir John.'
'As how? Perhaps you can explain it shortly.'
This was troublesome. Bagwax did not think that he could explain the matter very shortly. He could not explain the matter at all without showing his envelopes; and how was he to show them in the present condition of that room? He immediately dived into his bag and brought forth the first bundle of envelopes. 'Perhaps, Sir John, I had better put them out upon the floor,' he said.
'Must I see all those?'
There were many more bundles within which Bagwax was anxious that the barrister should examine minutely. 'It is very important, Sir John. It is indeed. It is really altogether a case of postmarks,—altogether. We have never in our branch had anything so interesting before. If we can show that that envelope certainly was not stamped with that postmark in the Sydney post-office on the 10th May 1873, then we shall get him out,—shan't we?'
'It will be very material, Mr. Bagwax,' said Sir John, cautiously.
'They will all have sworn falsely, and then somebody must have obtained the postmark surreptitiously. There must have been a regular plant. The stamp must have been made up and dated on purpose,—so as to give a false date. Some official in the Sydney post-office must have been employed.'
'That's what we want you to find out over there,' said Sir John, who was not quite so zealous, perhaps not quite so conscientious, as his more humble assistant,—whose mind was more occupied with other matters. 'You'll find out all that at Sydney.'
The temptation was very great. Sir John wanted him to go,—told him that he ought to go! Sir John was the man responsible for the whole matter. He, Bagwax, had done his best. Could it be right for him to provoke Sir John by contesting the matter,—contesting it so much to his own disadvantage? Had he not done enough for honesty?—enough to satisfy even that grand idea of duty? As he turned the bundle of documents round in his hand, he made up his mind that he had not done enough. There was a little gurgle in his throat, almost a tear in his eye, as he replied, 'I don't think I should be wanted to go if you would look at these envelopes.'
Sir John understood it all at once,—and there was much to understand. He knew how anxious the man was to go on this projected journey, and he perceived the cause which was inducing him to surrender his own interests. He remembered that the journey must be made at a great expense to his own client. He ran over the case in his mind, and acknowledged to himself that conclusive evidence,—evidence that should be quite conclusive,—of fraud as to the envelope, might possibly suffice to release his client at once from prison. He told himself also that he could not dare to express an opinion on the matter himself without a close inspection of those postmarks,—that a close inspection might probably take two hours, and that the two hours would finally have to be abstracted from the already curtailed period of his nightly slumbers. Then he thought of the state of his tables, and the difficulties as to space. Perhaps that idea was the one strongest in his mind against the examination.
But then what a hero was Bagwax! What self-abnegation was there! Should he be less ready to devote himself to his client,—he, who was paid for his work,—than this post-office clerk, who was as pure in his honesty as he was zealous in the cause? 'There are a great many of them, I suppose?' he said, almost whining.
'A good many, Sir John.'
'Have at it!' said the Queen's Counsel and late Attorney-General, springing up from his chair. Bagwax almost jumped out of the way, so startled was he by the quick and sudden movement. Sir John rang his bell; but not waiting for the clerk, began to hurl the chaos in solution on to the top of the concrete chaos. Bagwax naturally attempted to assist him. 'For G—-'s sake, don't you touch them!' said Sir John, as though avenging himself by a touch of scorn for the evil thing which was being done to him. Then Jones hurried into the room, and with more careful hands assisted his master, trying to preserve some order with the disturbed papers. In this way the large office-table was within three minutes made clear for the Bagwaxian strategy. Mr. Jones declared afterwards that it was seven years since he had seen the entire top of that table. 'Now go ahead!' said Sir John, who seemed, during the operation, to have lost something of his ordinary dignity.
Bagwax, who since that little check had been standing perfectly still, with his open bag in his hands, at once began his work. The plain before him was immense, and he was able to marshal all his forces. In the centre, and nearest to Sir John, as he sat in his usual chair, were exposed all the Mays '73. For it was thus that he denominated the envelopes with which he was so familiar. There were 71's, and 72's, and 74's, and 75's. But the 73's were all arranged in months, and then in days. He began by explaining that he had obtained all these envelopes 'promiscuously,' as he said. There had been no selection, none had been rejected. Then courteously handing his official magnifying-glass to the barrister, he invited him to inspect them all generally,—to make, as it were, a first cursory inspection,—so that he might see that there was not one perfect impression perfect as that impression on the Caldigate envelope was perfect. 'Not one,' said Bagwax, beating his bosom in triumph.
'That seems perfect,' said Sir John, pointing with the glass to a selected specimen.
'Your eyes are very good, Sir John,—very good indeed. You have found the cleanest and truest of the whole lot. But if you'll examine the tail of the Y, you'll see it's been rubbed a little. And then if you'll follow with your eye the circular line which makes up the round of the postmark, you'll find a dent on the outside bar. I go more on the dents in those bars, Sir John, than I do on the figures. All the bars are dented more or less,—particularly the Mays '73. They don't remain quite true, Sir John,—not after a day's fair use. They've taken a new stamp out of the store to do the Caldigate envelope. They couldn't get at the stamps in use. That's how it has been.'
Sir John listened in silence as he continued to examine one envelope after another through the glass. 'Now, Sir John, if we come to the Mays '73, we shall find that just about that time there has been no new stamp brought into use. There isn't one, either, that is exactly the Caldigate breadth. I've brought a rule by which you can get to the fiftieth of an inch.' Here Bagwax brought out a little ivory instrument marked all over with figures. 'Of course they're intended to be of the same pattern. But gradually, very gradually, the circle has always become smaller. Isn't that conclusive? The Caldigate impression is a little, very little—ever so little—but a little smaller than any of the Mays '73. Isn't that conclusive?'
'If I understand it, Mr. Bagwax, you don't pretend to say that you have got impressions of all the stamps which may have been in use in the Sydney office at that time? But in Sydney, if I understand the matter rightly, they keep daily impressions of all the stamps in a book.'
'Just so—just so, Sir John,' said Bagwax, feeling that every word spoken to the lawyer renewed his own hopes of going out to Sydney,—but feeling also that Sir John would be wrong, very wrong, if he subjected his client to so unnecessarily prolonged a detention in the Cambridge county prison. 'They do keep a book which would be quite conclusive. I could have the pages photographed.'
'Would not that be best? and you might probably find out who it was who gave this fraudulent aid.'
'I could find out everything,' said Bagwax, energetically; 'but——'
'It is all found out there. It is indeed, Sir John. If I could get you to go along with me, you would see that that letter couldn't have gone through the Sydney post-office.'
'I think I do see it. But it is so difficult, Mr. Bagwax, to make others see things.'
'And if it didn't,—and it never did;—but if it didn't, why did they say it did? Why did they swear it did? Isn't that enough to make any Secretary let him go?'
The energy, the zeal, the true faith of the man, were admirable. Sir John was half disposed to rise from his seat to embrace the man, and hail him as his brother,—only that had he done so he would have made himself as ridiculous as Bagwax. Zeal is always ridiculous. 'I think I see it all,' he said.
'And won't they let the man go?'
'There were four persons who swore positively that they were present at the marriage, one of them being the woman who is said to have been married. That is direct evidence. With all our search, we have hitherto found no one to give us any direct evidence to rebut this. Then they brought forward, to corroborate these statements, a certain amount of circumstantial evidence,—and among other things this letter.'
'The Caldigate envelope,' said Bagwax, eagerly.
'What you call the Caldigate envelope. It was unnecessary, perhaps; and, if fraudulent, certainly foolish. They would have had their verdict without it.'
'But they did it,' said Bagwax, in a tone of triumph.
'It is a pity, Mr. Bagwax, you were not brought up to our profession. You would have made a great lawyer.'
'Oh, Sir John!'
'Yes, they did it. And if it can be proved that they have done it fraudulently, no doubt that fraud will stain their direct evidence. But we have to remember that the verdict has been already obtained. We are not struggling now with a jury, but with an impassive emblem of sovereign justice.'
'And therefore the real facts will go the further, Sir John.'
'Well argued, Mr. Bagwax,—admirably well argued. If you should ever be called, I hope I may not have you against me very often. But I will think of it all. You can take the envelopes away with you, because you have impressed me vividly with all that they can tell me. My present impression is, that you had better take the journey. But within the next few days I will give a little more thought to it, and you shall hear from me.' Then he put out his hand, which was a courtesy Mr. Bagwax had never before enjoyed 'You may believe me, Mr. Bagwax, when I say that I have come across many remarkable men in many cases which have fallen into my hands,—but that I have rarely encountered a man whom I have more thoroughly respected than I do you.'
Mr. Bagwax went away to his own lodging exulting,—but more than ever resolved that the journey to Sydney was unnecessary. As usual, he spent a large portion of that afternoon in contemplating the envelopes; and then, as he was doing so, another idea struck him,—an idea which made him tear his hairs with disgust because it had not occurred to him before. There was now opened to him a new scope of inquiry, an altogether different matter of evidence. But the idea was by far too important to be brought in and explained at the fag-end of a chapter.
All the Shands
There had been something almost approaching to exultation at Babington when the tidings of Caldigate's alleged Australian wife were first heard there. As the anger had been great that Julia should be rejected, so had the family congratulation been almost triumphant when the danger which had been escaped was appreciated. There had been something of the same feeling at Pollington among the Shands—who had no doubt allowed themselves to think that Maria had been ill-treated by John Caldigate. He ought to have married Maria,—at least such was the opinion of the ladies of the family, who were greatly impressed with the importance of the little book which had been carried away. But in regard to the Australian marriage, they had differed among themselves. That Maria should have escaped the terrible doom which had befallen Mrs. Bolton's daughter, was, of course, a source of comfort. But Maria herself would never believe the evil story. John Caldigate had not been—well, perhaps not quite true to her. So much she acknowledged gently with the germ of a tear in her eye. But she was quite sure that he would not have married Hester Bolton while another wife was living in Australia. She arose almost to enthusiasm as she vindicated his character from so base a stain. He had been, perhaps, a little unstable in his affections,—as men are so commonly. But not even when the jury found their verdict, could she be got to believe that the John Caldigate whom she had known would have betrayed a girl whom he loved as he was supposed to have betrayed Hester Bolton. The mother and sisters, who knew the softness of Maria's disposition,—and who had been more angry than their sister with the man who had been wicked enough to carry away Thomson's 'Seasons' in his portmanteau without marrying the girl who had put it there,—would not agree to this. The verdict, at any rate, was a verdict. John Caldigate was in prison. The poor young woman with her infant was a nameless, unfortunate creature. All this might have happened to their Maria. 'I should always have believed him innocent,' said Maria, wiping away the germ of the tear with her knuckle.
The matter was very often discussed in the doctor's house at Pollington,—as it was, indeed, by the public generally, and especially in the eastern counties. But in this house there a double interest attached to it. In the first place, there was Maria's escape,—which the younger girls were accustomed to talk of as having been 'almost miraculous;' and then there was Dick's absolute disappearance. It had been declared at the trial, on behalf of Caldigate, that if Dick could have been put into the witness-box, he would have been able to swear that there had been no such marriage ceremony as that which the four witnesses had elaborately described. On the other hand, the woman and Crinkett had sworn boldly that Dick Shand, though not present at the marriage, had been well aware that it had taken place, and that Dick, could his evidence have been secured, would certainly have been a witness on their side. He had been outside the tent,—so said the woman,—when the marriage was being performed, and had refused to enter, by way of showing his continued hostility to an arrangement which he had always opposed. But when the woman said this, it was known that Dick Shand would not appear, and the opinion was general that Dick had died in his poverty and distress. Men who sink to be shepherds in Australia because they are noted drunkards, generally do die. The constrained abstinence of perhaps six months in the wilderness is agonising at first, and nearly fatal. Then the poor wretch rushes to the joys of an orgy with ten or fifteen pounds in his pocket; and the stuff which is given to him as brandy soon puts an end to his sufferings. There was but little doubt that such had been the fate of Dick,—unless, perhaps, in the bosom of Maria and of his mother.
It was known too at Pollington, as well as elsewhere in the month of August, that efforts were still to be made with the view of upsetting the verdict. Something had crept out to the public as to the researches made by Bagwax, and allusions had been frequent as to the unfortunate absence of Dick Shand. The betting, had there been betting, would no doubt have been in favour of the verdict. The four witnesses had told their tale in a straightforward way; and though they were, from their characters, not entitled to perfect credit, still their evidence had in no wise been shaken. They were mean, dishonest folk, no doubt. They had taken Caldigate's money, and had still gone on with the prosecution. Even if there had been some sort of a marriage, the woman should have taken herself off when she had received her money, and left poor Hester to enjoy her happiness, her husband, and her home at Bolton. That was the general feeling. But it was hardly thought that Bagwax, with his envelope, would prevail over Judge Bramber in the mind of the Secretary of State. Probably there had been a marriage. But it was singular that the two men who could have given unimpeachable evidence on the matter should both have vanished out of the world; Allan, the minister,—and Dick Shand, the miner and shepherd.
'What will she do when he comes out?' Maria asked. Mrs. Rewble,—Harriet,—the curate's wife, was there. Mr. Rewble, as curate, found it convenient to make frequent visits to his father-in-law's house. And Mrs. Posttlethwaite,—Matilda,—was with them, as Mr. Posttlethwaite's business in the soap line caused him to live at Pollington. And there were two unmarried sisters, Fanny and Jane. Mrs. Rewble was by this time quite the matron, and Mrs. Posttlethwaite was also the happy mother of children. But Maria was still Maria. Fanny already had a string to her bow,—and Jane was expectant of many strings.
'She ought to go back to her father and mother, of course,' said Mrs. Rewble, indignantly.
'I know I wouldn't,' said Jane.
'You know nothing about it, miss, and you ought not to speak of such a thing,' said the curate's wife. Jane at this made a grimace which was intended to be seen only by her sister Fanny.
'It is very hard that two loving hearts should be divided,' said Maria.
'I never thought so much of John Caldigate as you did,' said Mrs. Posttlethwaite. 'He seems to have been able to love a good many young women all at the same time.'
'It's like tasting a lot of cheeses, till you get the one that suits you,' said Jane. This offended the elder sister so grievously that she declared she did not know what their mother was about, to allow such liberty to the girls, and then suggested that the conversation should be changed.
'I'm sure I did not say anything wrong,' said Jane, 'and I suppose it is like that. A gentleman has to find out whom he likes best. And as he liked Miss Bolton best, I think it's a thousand pities they should be parted.'
'Ten thousand pities!' said Maria enthusiastically.
'Particularly as there is a baby,' said Jane,—upon which Mrs. Rewble was again very angry.
'If Dick were to come home, he'd clear it all up at once,' said Mrs. Posttlethwaite.
'Dick will never come home,' said Matilda mournfully.
'Never!' said Mrs. Rewble. 'I am afraid that he has expiated all his indiscretions. It should make us who were born girls thankful that we have not been subjected to the same temptations.'
'I should like to be a man all the same,' said Jane.
'You do not at all know what you are saying,' replied the monitor. 'How little have you realized what poor Dick must have suffered! I wonder when they are going to let us have tea. I'm almost famished.' Mrs. Rewble was known in the family for having a good appetite. They were sitting at this moment round a table on the lawn, at which they intended to partake of their evening meal. The doctor might or might not join them. Mrs. Shand, who did not like the open air, would have hers sent to her in the drawing-room. Mr. Rewble would certainly be there. Mr. Posttlethwaite, who had been home to his dinner, had gone back to the soap-works. 'Don't you think, Jane, if you were to go in, you could hurry them?' Then Jane went in and hurried the servant.
'There's a strange man with papa,' said Jane, as she returned.
'There are always strange men with papa,' said Fanny. 'I daresay he has come to have his tooth out.' For the doctor's practice was altogether general. From a baby to a back-tooth, he attended to everything now, as he had done forty years ago.
'But this man isn't like a patient. The door was half open, and I saw papa holding him by both hands.'
'A lunatic!' exclaimed Mrs. Rewble, thinking that Mr. Rewble ought to be sent at once to her father's assistance.
'He was quite quiet, and just for a moment I could see papa's face. It wasn't a patient at all. Oh, Maria!'
'What is it, child?' asked Mrs. Rewble.
'I do believe that Dick has come back.'
They all jumped up from their seats suddenly. Then Mrs. Rewble reseated herself. 'Jane is such a fool!' she said.
'I do believe it,' said Jane. 'He had yellow trousers on, as if he had come from a long way off. And I'm sure papa was very glad,—why should he take both his hands?'
'I feel as though my legs were sinking under me,' said Maria.
'I don't think it possible for a moment,' said Mrs. Rewble. 'Maria, you are so romantic! You would believe anything.'
'It is possible,' said Mrs. Posttlethwaite.
'If you will remain here, I will go into the house and inquire,' said Mrs. Rewble. But it did not suit the others to remain there. For a moment the suggestion had been so awful that they had not dared to stir; but when the elder sister slowly moved towards the door which led into the house from the garden, they all followed her. Then suddenly they heard a scream, which they knew to come from their mother. 'I believe it is Dick,' said Mrs. Rewble, standing in the doorway so as to detain the others. 'What ought we to do?'
'Let me go in,' said Jane, impetuously. 'He is my brother.'
Maria was already dissolved in tears. Mrs. Posttlethwaite was struck dumb by the awfulness of the occasion, and clung fast to her sister Matilda.
'It will be like one from the grave,' said Mrs. Rewble, solemnly.
'Let me go in,' repeated Jane, impetuously. Then she pushed by her sisters, and was the first to enter the house. They all followed her into the hall, and there they found their mother supported in the arms of the man who wore the yellow trousers. Dick Shand had in truth returned to his father's house.
The first thing to do with a returned prodigal is to kiss him, and the next to feed him; and therefore Dick was led away at once to the table on the lawn. But he gave no sign of requiring the immediate slaughter of a fatted calf. Though he had not exactly the appearance of a well-to-do English gentleman, he did not seem to be in want. The yellow trousers were of strong material, and in good order, made of that colour for colonial use, probably with the idea of expressing some contempt for the dingy hues which prevail among the legs of men at home. He wore a very large checked waistcoat, and a stout square coat of the same material. There was no look of poverty, and no doubt he had that day eaten a substantial dinner; but the anxious mother was desirous of feeding him immediately, and whispered to Jane some instructions as to cold beef, which was to be added to the tea and toast.
As they examined him, holding him by the arms and hands, and gazing up into his face, the same idea occurred to all of them. Though they knew him very well now, they would hardly have known him had they met him suddenly in the streets. He seemed to have grown fifteen years older during the seven years of his absence. His face had become thin and long and almost hollow. His beard went all round under his chin, and was clipped into the appearance of a stiff thick hedge—equally thick, and equally broad, and equally protrusive at all parts. And within this enclosure it was shorn. But his mouth had sunk in, and his eyes. In colour he was almost darker than brown. You would have said that his skin had been tanned black, but for the infusion of red across it here and there. He seemed to be in good present health, but certainly bore the traces of many hardships 'And here you are all just as I left you,' he said, counting up his sisters.
'Not exactly,' said Mrs. Rewble, remembering her family. 'And Matilda has got two.'
'Not husbands, I hope,' said Dick.
'Oh, Dick! that is so like you,' said Jane, getting up and kissing him again in her delight. Then Mr. Rewble came forward, and the brothers-in-law renewed their old acquaintance.
'It seems just like the other day,' said Dick, looking round upon the rose-bushes.
'Oh my boy! my darling, darling boy!' said the mother, who had hurried up-stairs for her shawl, conscious of her rheumatism even amidst the excitement of her son's return. 'Oh, Dick! This is the happiest day of all my life. Wouldn't you like something better than tea?' This she said with many memories and many thoughts; but still, with a mother's love, unable to refrain from offering what she thought her son would wish to have.
'There ain't anything better,' said Dick very solemnly.
'Nothing half so good to my thinking,' said Mrs. Rewble, imagining that by a word in season she might help the good work.
The mother's eyes were filled with tears, but she did not dare to speak a word. Then there was a silence for a few moments. 'Tell us all about it, Dick,' said the father. 'There's whisky inside if you like it.' Dick shook his head solemnly,—but, as they all thought, with a certain air of regret. Tell us what you have to say,' repeated the doctor.
'I'm sworn off these two years.'
'Touched nothing for two years?' said the mother exultingly, with her arms and shawl again round her son's neck.
'A teetotaller?' said Maria.
'Anything you like to call it. Only, what a gentleman's habits are in that respect needn't be made the subject of general remark.' It was evident he was a little sore, and Jane, therefore, offered him a dish full of gooseberries. He took the plate in his hand and ate them assiduously for a while in silence, as though unconscious of what he was doing. 'You know all about it now, don't you?'
'Oh my dearest boy!' ejaculated the mother.
'You didn't get better gooseberries than those on your travels,' said the doctor, calling him back to the condition of the world around him.
Then he told them of his adventures. For two terrible years he had been a shepherd on different sheep-runs up in Queensland. Then he had found employment on a sugar plantation, and had superintended the work of a gang of South Sea Islanders,—Canakers they are called,—men who are brought into the colony from the islands of the Pacific,—and who return thence to their homes generally every three years, much to the regret of their employers. In the transit of these men agents are employed, and to this service Dick had, after a term, found himself promoted. Then it had come to pass that he had remained for a period on one of these islands, with the view of persuading the men to emigrate and reemigrate; and had thus been resident among them for more than a couple of years. They had used him well, and he had liked the islands,—having lived in one of them without seeing another European for many months. Then the payments which had from time to time been made to him by the Queensland planters were stopped, and his business, such as it had been, came to an end. He had found himself with just sufficient money to bring him home; and here he was.
'My boy, my darling boy!' exclaimed his mother again, as though all their joint troubles were now over.
The doctor remembered the adage of the rolling stone, and felt that the return of a son at the age of thirty, without any means of maintaining himself, was hardly an unalloyed blessing. He was not the man to turn a son out of doors. He had always broadened his back to bear the full burden of his large family. But even at this moment he was a little melancholy as he thought of the difficulty of finding employment for the wearer of those yellow trousers. How was it possible that a man should continue to live an altogether idle life at Pollington and still remain a teetotaller? 'Have you any plans I can help you in now?' he asked.
'Of course he'll remain at home for a while before he thinks of anything,' said the mother.
'I suppose I must look about me,' said Dick. By-the-by, what has become of John Caldigate?'
They all at once gazed at each other. It could hardly be that he did not in truth know what had become of John Caldigate.
'Haven't you heard?' asked Maria.
'Of course he has heard,' said Mrs. Rewble.
'You must have heard,' said the mother.
'I don't in the least know what you are talking about. I have heard nothing at all.'
In very truth he had heard nothing of his old friend,—not even that he had returned to England. Then by degrees the whole story was told to him. 'I know that he was putting a lot of money together,' said Dick enviously. 'Married Hester Bolton? I thought he would! Bigamy! Euphemia Smith! Married before! Certainly not at the diggings.'
'He wasn't married up at Ahalala?' asked the doctor.
'To Euphemia Smith? I was there when they quarrelled, and when she went into partnership with Crinkett. I am sure there was no such marriage. John Caldigate in prison for bigamy? And he paid them twenty thousand pounds? The more fool he!'
'They all say that.'
'But it's an infernal plant. As sure as my name is Richard Shand, John Caldigate never married that woman.'
Again at Sir John's Chambers
And this was the man as to whom it had been acknowledged that his evidence, if it could be obtained, would be final. The return of Dick himself was to the Shands an affair so much more momentous than the release of John Caldigate from prison, that for some hours or so the latter subject was allowed to pass out of sight. The mother got him up-stairs and asked after his linen,—vain inquiry,—and arranged for his bed, turning all the little Rewbles into one small room. In the long run, grandmothers are more tender to their grand-children than their own offspring. But at this moment Dick was predominant. How grand a thing to have her son returned to her, and such a son,—a teetotaller of two years' growth, who had seen all the world of the Pacific Ocean! As he could not take whisky-and-water, would he like ginger-beer before he went to bed,—or arrowroot? Dick decided in favour of ginger-beer, and consented to be embraced again.
It was, I think, to Maria's credit that she was the first to bring back the conversation to John Caldigate's marriage. 'Was she a very horrible woman?' Maria asked, referring to Euphemia Smith.
'There were a good many of 'em out there, greedy after gold,' said Dick; 'but she beat 'em all; and she was awfully clever.'
'In what way, Dick?' asked Mrs. Rewble. Because she does not seem to me to have done very well with herself.'
'She knew more about shares than any man of them all. But I think she just drank a little. It was that which disgusted Caldigate.'
'He had been very fond of her?' suggested Maria.
'I never knew a man so taken with a woman.' Maria blushed, and Mrs. Rewble looked round at her younger sisters as though desirous that they should be sent to bed. 'All that began on board the ship. Then he was fool enough to run after her down to Sydney; and of course she followed him up to the mines.'
'I don't know why of course,' said Mrs. Posttlethwaite defending her sex generally.
'Well, she did. And he was going to marry her. He did mean to marry her;—there's no doubt of that. But it was a queer kind of life we lived up there.'
'I suppose so,' said the doctor. Mrs. Rewble again looked at the girls and then at her mother; but Mrs. Shand was older and less timid than her married daughter. Mrs. Rewble when a girl herself had never been sent away, and was now a pattern of female discretion.
'And she,' continued Dick, 'as soon as she had begun to finger the scrip, thought of nothing but gold. She did not care much for marriage just then, because she fancied the stuff wouldn't belong to herself. She became largely concerned in the "Old Stick-in-the-Mud." That was Crinkett's concern, and there were times at which I thought she would marry him. Then Caldigate got rid of her altogether. That was before I went away.'
'He never married her?' asked the doctor.
'He certainly hadn't married her when I left Nobble in June '73.'
'You can swear to that, Dick?'
'Certainly I can. I was with him every day. But there wasn't anyone round there who didn't know how it was. Crinkett himself knew it.'
'Crinkett is one of the gang against him.'
'And there was a man named Adamson. Adamson knew.'
'He's another of the conspirators,' said the doctor.
'They won't dare to say before me,' declared Dick, stoutly, 'that Mrs. Smith and John Caldigate had become man and wife before June '73. And they hated one another so much then that it is impossible they should have come together since. I can swear they were not married up to June '73.'
'You'll have to swear it,' said the doctor, 'and that with as little delay as possible.'
All this took place towards the end of August, about five weeks after the trial, and a day or two subsequent to the interview between Bagwax and the Attorney-General. Bagwax was now vehemently prosecuting his inquiries as to that other idea which had struck him, and was at this very moment glowing with the anticipation of success, and at the same time broken-hearted with the conviction that he never would see the pleasant things of New South Wales.
On the next morning, under the auspices of his father, Dick Shand wrote the following letter to Mr. Seely, the attorney.
'POLLINGTON, 30th August, 187-.
Sir,—I think it right to tell you that I reached my father's house in this town late yesterday evening. I have come direct from one of the South Sea Islands via Honolulu and San Francisco, and have not yet been in England forty-eight hours. I am an old friend of Mr. John Caldigate, and went with him from England to the gold diggings in New South Wales. My name will be known to you, as I am now aware that it was frequently mentioned in the course of the late trial. It will probably seem odd to you that I had never even heard of the trial till I reached my father's house last night. I did not know that Caldigate had married Miss Bolton, nor that Euphemia Smith had claimed him as her husband.
'I am able and willing to swear that they had not become man and wife up to June 1873, and that no one at Ahalala or Nobble conceived them to be man and wife. Of course, they had lived together. But everybody knew all about it. Some time before June,—early, I should say, in that autumn,—there had been a quarrel. I am sure they were at daggers drawn with each other all that April and May in respect to certain mining shares, as to which Euphemia Smith behaved very badly. I don't think it possible that they should ever have come together again; but in May '73,—which is the date I have heard named,—they certainly were not man and wife.
'I have thought it right to inform you of this immediately on my return, and am, your obedient servant,
Mr. Seely, when he received this letter, found it to be his duty to take it at once to Sir John Joram, up in London. He did not believe Dick Shand. But then he had put no trust in Bagwax, and had been from the first convinced, in his own mind, that Caldigate had married the woman. As soon as it was known to him that his client had paid twenty thousand pounds to Crinkett and the woman, he was quite sure of the guilt of his client. He had done the best for Caldigate at the trial, as he would have done for any other client; but he had never felt any of that enthusiasm which had instigated Sir John. Now that Caldigate was in prison, Mr. Seely thought that he might as well be left there quietly, trusting to the verdict, trusting to Judge Bramber, and trusting still more strongly on his own early impressions. This letter from Dick,—whom he knew to have been a ruined drunkard, a disgrace to his family, and an outcast from society,—was to his thinking just such a letter as would be got up in such a case, in the futile hope of securing the succour of a Secretary of State. He was sure that no Secretary of State would pay the slightest attention to such a letter. But still it would be necessary that he should show it to Sir John, and as a trip to London was not disagreeable to his professional mind, he started with it on the very day of its receipt.
'Of course we must have his deposition on oath,' said Sir John.
'You think it will be worth while?'
'Certainly. I am more convinced than ever that there was no marriage. That post-office clerk has been with me,—Bagwax,—and has altogether convinced me.'
'I didn't think so much of Bagwax, Sir John.'
'I dare say not, Mr. Seely;—an absurdly energetic man,—one of those who destroy by their over-zeal all the credit which their truth and energy ought to produce. But he has, I think, convinced me that that letter could not have passed through the Sydney post-office in May '73.'
'If so, Sir John, even that is not much,—towards upsetting a verdict.'
'A good deal, I think, when the characters of the persons are considered. Now comes this man, whom we all should have believed, had he been present, and tells this story. You had better get hold of him and bring him to me, Mr. Seely.'
Then Mr. Seely hung up his hat in London for three or four days, and sent to Pollington for Dick Shand. Dick Shand obeyed the order, and both of them waited together upon Sir John. 'You have come back at a very critical point of time for your friend,' said the barrister.
Dick had laid aside the coat and waistcoat with the broad checks, and the yellow trousers, and had made himself look as much like an English gentleman as the assistance of a ready-made-clothes shop at Pollington would permit. But still he did not quite look like a man who had spent three years at Cambridge. His experiences among the gold diggings, then his period of maddening desolation as a Queensland shepherd, and after that his life among the savages in a South Sea island, had done much to change him. Sir John and Mr. Seely together almost oppressed him. But still he was minded to speak up for his friend. Caldigate had, upon the whole, been very good to him, and Dick was honest. 'He has been badly used any way,' he said.
'You have had no intercourse with any of his friends since you have been home, I think?' This question Sir John asked because Mr. Seely had suggested that this appearance of the man at this special moment might not improbably be what he called a 'plant.'
'I have had no intercourse with anybody, sir. I came here last Friday, and I hadn't spoken a word to anybody before that. I didn't know that Caldigate had been in trouble at all. My people at Pollington were the first to tell me about it.'
'Then you wrote to Mr. Seely? You have heard of Mr. Seely?'
'The governor,—that's my father,—he had heard of Mr. Seely. I wrote first as he told me. They knew all about it at Pollington as well as you do.'
'You were surprised, then, when you heard the story?'
'Knocked off my pins, sir. I never was so much taken aback in my life. To be told that John Caldigate had married Euphemia Smith after all that I had seen,—and that he had been married to her in May '73! I knew of course that it was all a got-up thing. And he's in prison?'
'He is in prison, certainly.'
'Indeed he is, Mr. Shand.'
'And how about his real wife?'
'His real wife, as you call her——'
'She is, as sure as my name is Richard Shand.'
'It is on behalf of that lady that we are almost more anxious than for Mr. Caldigate himself. In this matter she has been perfectly innocent; and whoever may have been the culprit,—or culprits,—she has been cruelly ill-used.'
'She'll have her husband back again, of course,' said Dick.
'That will depend in part upon what faith the judge who tried the case may place in your story. Your deposition shall be taken, and it will be my duty to submit it to the Secretary of State. He will probably be actuated by the weight which this further evidence will have upon the judge who heard the former evidence. You will understand, Mr. Shand, that your word will be opposed to the words of four other persons.'
'Four perjured scoundrels,' said Dick, with energy.
'Just so,—if your story be true.'
'It is true, sir,' said Dick, with much anger in his tone.
'I hope so,—with all my heart. You are on the same side with us, you know. I only want to make you understand how much ground there may be for doubt. It is not easy to upset a verdict. And, I fear, many righteous verdicts would be upset if the testimony of one man could do it. Perhaps you will be able to prove that you only arrived at Liverpool on Saturday night.'
'Certainly I can.'
'You cannot prove that you had not heard of the case before.'
'Certainly I can. I can swear it.' Sir John smiled. 'They all knew that at Pollington. They told me of it. The governor told me about Mr. Seely, and made me write the letter.'
'That would not be evidence,' said Sir John.
'Heavens on earth! I tell you I was struck all on a heap when I heard it, just as much as if they had said he'd been hung for murder. You put Crinkett and me together and then you'll know. I suppose you think somebody's paying me for this,—that I've got a regular tip.'
'Not at all, Mr. Shand. And I quite understand that it should be difficult for you to understand. When a man sees a thing clearly himself he cannot always realise the fact that others do not see it also. I think I perceive what you have to tell us, and we are very much obliged to you for coming forward so immediately. Perhaps you would not mind sitting in the other room for five minutes while I say a word to Mr. Seely.'
'I can go away altogether.'
'Mr. Seely will be glad to see you again with reference to the deposition you will have to make. You shall not be kept waiting long.' Then Dick returned, with a sore heart, feeling half inclined to blaze out in wrath against the great advocate. He had come forward to tell a plain story, having nothing to gain, paying his railway fare and other expenses out of his own—or rather out of his father's pocket, and was told he would not be believed! It is always hard to make an honest witness understand that it may be the duty of others to believe him to be a liar, and Dick Shand did not understand it now.
'There was no Australian marriage,' Sir John said as soon as he was alone with Mr. Seely.
'You think not?'
'My mind is clear about it. We must get that man out, if it be only for the sake of the lady.'
'It is so very easy, Sir John, to have a story like that made up.'
'I have had to do with a good many made-up stories, Mr. Seely;—and with a good many true stories.'
'Of course, Sir John;—no man with more.'
'He might be a party to making up a story. There is nothing that I have seen in him to make me sure that he could not come forward with a determined perjury. I shouldn't think it, but it would be possible. But his father and mother and sisters wouldn't join him.' Dick had told the story of the meeting on the lawn at great length. 'And had it been a plot, he couldn't have imposed upon them. He wouldn't have brought them into it. And who would have got at him to arrange the plot?'
Sir John shook his head. 'Neither old Caldigate nor young Caldigate knew anything of that kind of work. And then his story tallies altogether with my hero Bagwax. Of Bagwax I am quite sure. And as Shand corroborates Bagwax, I am nearly sure of him also. You must take his deposition, and let me have it. It should be rather full, as it may be necessary to hear the depositions also of the doctor and his wife. We shall have to get him out.'
'You know best, Sir John.'
'We shall have to get him out, Mr. Seely, I think,' said Sir John, rising from his chair. Then Mr. Seely took his leave, as was intended.
Mr. Seely was not at all convinced. He was quite willing that John Caldigate should be released from prison, and that the Australian marriage should be so put out of general credit in England as to allow the young people to live in comfort at Folking as man and wife. But he liked to feel that he knew better himself. He would have been quite content that Mrs. John Caldigate should be Mrs. John Caldigate to all the world,—that all the world should be imposed on,—so that he was made subject to no imposition. In this matter, Sir John appeared to him to be no wider awake than a mere layman. It was clear to Mr. Seely that Dick Shand's story was 'got up,'—and very well got up. He had no pang of conscience as to using it. But when it came to believing it, that was quite another thing. The man turning up exactly at the moment! And such a man! And then his pretending never to have heard of a case so famous! Never to have heard this story of his most intimate friend! And then his notorious poverty! Old Caldigate would of course be able to buy such a man. And then Sir John's fatuity as to Bagwax! He could hardly bring himself to believe that Sir John was quite in earnest. But he was well aware that Sir John would know,—no one better,—by what arguments such a verdict as had been given might be practically set aside. The verdict would remain. But a pardon, if a pardon could be got from the Secretary of State, would make the condition of the husband and wife the same as though there had been no verdict. The indignities which they had already suffered would simply produce for them the affectionate commendation of all England. Mr. Seely felt all that, and was not at all averse to a pardon. He was not at all disposed to be severe on Caldigate senior if, as he thought, Caldigate senior had bribed this convenient new witness. But it was too much to expect that he should believe it all himself.
'You must come with me, Mr. Shand,' he said, 'and we must take your story down in writing. Then you must swear to it before a magistrate.'
'All right, Mr. Seely.'
'We must be very particular, you know.'
'I needn't be particular at all;—and as to what Sir John Joram said, I felt half inclined to punch his head.'
'That wouldn't have helped us.'
'It was only that I thought of Caldigate in prison that I didn't do it. Because I have been roaming about the world, not always quite as well off as himself, he tells me that he doesn't believe my word.'
'I don't think he said that.'
'He didn't quite dare; but what he said was as bad. He told me that some one else wouldn't believe it. I don't quite understand what it is they're not to believe. All I say is, that they two were not married in May '73.'
'But about your never having heard of the case till you got home?'
'I never had heard a word about it. One would think that I had done something wrong in coming forward to tell what I know.' The deposition, however was drawn out in due form, at considerable length, and was properly attested before one of the London magistrates.
Dick Shand Goes To Cambridgeshire
The news of Shand's return was soon common in Cambridge. The tidings, of course, were told to Mr. Caldigate, and were then made known by him to Hester. The old man, though he turned the matter much in his mind,—doubting whether the hopes thus raised would not add to Hester's sorrow should they not ultimately be realised,—decided that he could not keep her in the dark. Her belief could not be changed by any statement which Shand might make. Her faith was so strong that no evidence could shake it,—or confirm it. But there would, no doubt, arise in her mind a hope of liberation if any new evidence against the Australian marriage were to reach her; which hope might so probably be delusive! But he knew her to be strong to endure as well as strong to hope, and therefore he told her at once. Then Mr. Seely returned to Cambridge, and all the facts of Shand's deposition were made known at Folking. 'That will get him out at once, of course,' said Hester, triumphantly, as soon as she heard it. But the Squire was older and more cautious, and still doubted. He explained that Dick Shand was not a man who by his simple word would certainly convince a Secretary of State;—that deceit might be suspected;—that a fraudulent plot would be possible; and that very much care was necessary before a convicted prisoner would be released.
'I am quite sure, from Mr. Seely's manner, that he thinks I have bribed the young man,' said Caldigate.
'Yes;—I. These are the ideas which naturally come into people's heads. I am not in the least angry with Mr. Seely, and feel that it is only too likely that the Secretary of State and the judge will think the same. If I were Secretary of State I should have to think so.'
'I couldn't suspect people like that.'
'And therefore, my dear, you are hardly fit to be Secretary of State. We must not be too sanguine. That is all.'
But Hester was very sanguine. When it was fully known that Dick had written to Mr. Seely immediately on his arrival at Pollington, and that he had shown himself to be a warm partisan in the Caldigate interests, she could not rest till she saw him herself, and persuaded Mr. Caldigate to invite him down to Folking. To Folking therefore he went, with the full intention of declaring John Caldigate's innocence, not only there, but all through Cambridgeshire. The Boltons, of whom he had now heard something, should be made to know what an honest man had to say on the subject,—an honest man, and who was really on the spot at the time. To Dick's mind it was marvellous that the Boltons should have been anxious to secure a verdict against Caldigate,—which verdict was also against their own daughter and their own sister. Being quite sure himself that Caldigate was innocent, he could not understand the condition of feeling which would be produced by an equally strong conviction of his guilt. Nor was his mind, probably, imbued with much of that religious scruple which made the idea of a feigned marriage so insupportable to all Hester's relations. Nor was he aware that when a man has taken a preconception home to himself and fastened it and fixed it, as it were, into his bosom, he cannot easily expel it,—even though personal interest should be on the side of such expulsion. It had become a settled belief with the Boltons that John Caldigate was a bigamist, which belief had certainly been strengthened by the pertinacious hostility of Hester's mother. Dick had heard something of all this, and thought that he would be able to open their eyes.
When he arrived at Folking he was received with open arms. Sir John Joram had not quite liked him, because his manner had been rough. Mr. Seely had regarded him from the first as a ruined man, and therefore a willing perjurer. Even at Pollington his 'bush' manners had been a little distasteful to all except his mother. Mr. Caldigate felt some difficulty in making conversation with him. But to Hester he was as an angel from heaven. She was never tired of hearing from him every detail as to her husband's life at Ahalala and Nobble,—particularly as to his life after Euphemia Smith had taken herself to those parts and had quarrelled with him. The fact of the early infatuation had been acknowledged on all sides. Hester was able to refer to that as a mother, boasting of her child's health, may refer to the measles,—which have been bad and are past and gone. Euphemia Smith had been her husband's measles. Men generally have the measles. That was a thing so completely acknowledged, that it was not now the source of discomfort. And the disease had been very bad with him. So bad that he had talked of marriage,—had promised marriage. Crafty women do get hold of innocent men, and drive them sometimes into perdition,—often to the brink of perdition. That was Hester's theory as to her husband. He had been on the brink, but had been wise in time. That was her creed, and as it was supported by Dick, she found no fault with Dick's manner,—not even with the yellow trousers which were brought into use at Folking.
'You were with him on that very day,' she said. This referred to the day in April on which it had been sworn that the marriage was solemnized.
'I was with him every day about that time. I can't say about particular days. The truth is,—I don't mind telling you, Mrs. Caldigate,—I was drinking a good deal just then.' His present state of abstinence had of course become known at Folking, not without the expression of much marvel on the part of the old Squire as to the quantity of tea which their visitor was able to swallow. And as this abstinence had of course been admired, Dick had fallen into a way of confessing his past backslidings to a pretty, sympathetic friendly woman, who was willing to believe all that he said, and to make much of him.
'But I suppose——' Then she hesitated; and Dick understood the hesitation.
'I was never so bad,' said he, 'but what I knew very well what was going on. I don't believe Caldigate and Mrs. Smith even so much as spoke to each other all that month. She had had a wonderful turn of luck.'
'In getting gold?'
'She had bought and sold shares till she was supposed to have made a pot of money. People up there got an idea that she was one of the lucky ones,—and it did seem so. Then she got it into her head that she didn't want Caldigate to know about her money, and he was downright sick of her. She had been good-looking at one time, Mrs. Caldigate.'
'I daresay. Most of them are so, I suppose.'
'And clever. She'd talk the hind-legs off a dog, as we used to say out there.'
'You had very odd sayings, Mr. Shand.'
'Indeed we had. But when she got in that way about her money, and then took to drinking brandy, Caldigate was only too glad to be rid of her. Crinkett believed in her because she had such a run of luck. She held a lot of his shares,—shares that used to be his. So they got together, and she left Ahalala and went to Polyeuka Hall. I remember it all as if it were yesterday. When I broke away from Caldigate in June, and went to Queensland, they hadn't seen each other for two months. And as for having been married;—you might as well tell me that I had married her!'
If Mr. Caldigate had ever allowed a shade of doubt to cross his mind as to his son's story, Dick Shand's further story removed it. The picture of the life which was led at Ahalala and Nobble was painted for him clearly, so that he could see, or fancy that he saw, what the condition of things had been. And this increased faith trickled through to others. Mr. Bromley who had always believed, believed more firmly than before, and sent tidings of his belief to Plum-cum-Pippins and thence to Babington. Mr. Holt, the farmer, became more than ever energetic, and in a loud voice at a Cambridge market ordinary, declared the ill-usage done to Caldigate and his young wife. It had been said over and over again at the trial that Dick Shand's evidence was the one thing wanted, and here was Dick Shand to give his evidence. Then the belief gained ground in Cambridge; and with the belief there arose a feeling as to the egregious wrong which was being done.
But the Boltons were still assured. None of them had as yet given any sign of yielding. Robert Bolton knew very well that Shand was at Folking, but had not asked to see him. He and Mr. Seely were on different sides, and could not discuss the matter; but their ideas were the same. It was incredible to Robert that Dick Shand should appear just at this moment, unless as part of an arranged plan. He could not read the whole plot; but was sure that there was a plot. It was held in his mind as a certain fact, that John Caldigate would not have paid away that large sum of money had he not thought that by doing so he was buying off Crinkett and the other witnesses. Of course there had been a marriage in Australia, and therefore the arrival of Dick Shand was to him only a lifting of the curtain for another act of the play. An attempt was to be made to get Caldigate out of prison, which attempt it was his duty to oppose. Caldigate had, he thought, deceived and inflicted a terrible stain on his family; and therefore Caldigate was an enemy upon whom it behoved him to be revenged. This feeling was the stronger in his bosom, because Caldigate had been brought into the family by him.
But when Dick Shand called upon him at his office, he would not deny himself. 'I have been told by some people that, as I am here in the neighbourhood, I ought to come and speak to you,' said Dick. The 'some people' had been, in the first instance, Mr. Ralph Holt, the farmer. But Dick had discussed the matter with Mr. Bromley, and Mr. Bromley had thought that Shand's story should be told direct to Hester's brother.
'If you have anything to say, Mr. Shand, I am ready to hear it.'
'All this about a marriage at Ahalala between John Caldigate and Mrs. Smith is a got-up plan, Mr. Bolton.'
'The jury did not seem to think so, Mr. Shand.'
'I wasn't here then to let them know the truth.' Robert Bolton raised his eyebrows, marvelling at the simplicity of the man who could fancy that his single word would be able to weigh down the weight of evidence which had sufficed to persuade twelve men and such a judge as Judge Bramber. 'I was with Caldigate all the time, and I'm sure of what I'm saying The two weren't on speaking terms when they were said to be married.'
'Of course, Mr. Shand, as you have come to me, I will hear what you may have to say. But what is the use of it? The man has been tried and found guilty.'
'They can let him out again if he's innocent.'
'The Queen can pardon him, no doubt;—but even the Queen cannot quash the conviction. The evidence was as clear as noonday. The judge and the jury and the public were all in one mind.'
'But I wasn't here, then,' said Dick Shand, with perfect confidence. Robert Bolton could only look at him and raise his eyebrows. He could not tell him to his face that no unprejudiced person would believe the evidence of such a witness. 'He's your brother-in-law said Dick, 'and I supposed you'd be glad to know that he was innocent.'
'I can't go into that question, Mr. Shand. As I believe him to have been guilty of as wicked a crime as any man can well commit, I cannot concern myself in asking for a pardon for him. My own impression is that he should have been sent to penal servitude.'
'By George!' exclaimed Dick. 'I tell you that it is all a lie from beginning to end.'
'I fear we cannot do any good by talking about it, Mr. Shand.'
'By George!' Dick hitched up his yellow trousers as though he were preparing for a fight. He wore his yellow trousers without braces, and in all moments of energy hitched them up.
'If you please I will say good morning to you.'
'By George! when I tell you that I was there all the time, and that Caldigate never spoke to the woman, or so much as saw her all that month, and that therefore your own sister is in honest truth Caldigate's wife, you won't listen to me! Do you mean to say that I'm lying?'
'Mr. Shand, I must ask you to leave my office.'
'By George! I wish I had you, Mr. Bolton, out at Ahalala, where there are not quite so many policemen as there are here at Cambridge.'
'I shall have to send for one of them if you don't go away, Mr. Shand.'
'Here's a man who, even for the sake of his own sister, won't hear the truth, just because he hates his sister's husband! What have I got to get by lying?'
'That I cannot tell.' Bolton, as he said this, prepared himself for a sudden attack; but Shand had sense enough to know that he would injure the cause in which he was interested, as well as himself, by any exhibition of violence, and therefore left the office.
'No,' said Mr. Bromley, when all this was told him; 'he is not a cruel man, nor dishonest, nor even untrue to his sister. But having quite made up his mind that Caldigate had been married in Australia, he cannot release himself from the idea. And, as he thinks so, he feels it to be his duty to keep his sister and Caldigate apart.'
'But why does he not believe me?' demanded Dick.
'In answer to that, I can only say that I do believe you.'
Then there came a request from Babington that Dick Shand would go over to them there for a day. At Babington opinion was divided. Aunt Polly and her eldest daughter, and with them Mr. Smirkie, still thought that John Caldigate was a wicked bigamist; but the Squire and the rest of the family had gradually gone over to the other side. The Squire had never been hot against the offender, having been one of those who fancied that a marriage at a very out-of-the-way place such as Ahalala did not signify much. And now when he heard of Dick Shand's return and proffered evidence, he declared that Dick Shand having been born a gentleman, though he had been ever so much a sinner, and ever so much a drunkard, was entitled to credence before a host of Crinketts. But with Aunt Polly and Julia there remained the sense of the old injury, robbing Shand of all his attributes of birth, and endowing even Crinkett with truth. Then there had been a few words, and the Squire had asserted himself, and insisted upon asking Shand to Babington.
'Did you ever see such trousers?' said Julia to her mother. 'I would not believe him on his oath.'
'Certainly not,' said Mr. Smirkie, who of the three was by far the most vehement in his adherence to the verdict. 'The man is a notorious drunkard. And he has that look of wildness which bad characters always bring with them from the colonies.'
'He didn't drink anything but water at lunch,' said one of the younger girls.
'They never do when they're eating,' said Mr. Smirkie. For the great teetotal triumph had not as yet been made known to the family at Babington. 'These regular drunkards take it at all times by themselves in their own rooms. He has delirium tremens in his face. I don't believe a word that he says.'
'He certainly does wear the oddest trousers I ever saw,' said Aunt Polly.
At the same time Dick himself was closeted with the Squire, and was convincing him that there had been no Australian marriage at all. 'They didn't jump over a broomstick, or anything of that kind?' asked the Squire, intending to be jocose.
'They did nothing at all,' said Dick, who had worked himself up to a state of great earnestness. 'Caldigate wouldn't as much as look at her at that time;—and then to come home here and find him in prison because he had married her! How any one should have believed it!'
'They did believe it. The women here believe it now, as you perceive.'
'It's an awful shame, Mr. Babington. Think of her, Mr. Babington. It's harder on her even than him, for he was,—well, fond of the woman once.'
'It is hard. But we must do what we can to get him out. I'll write to our member. Sir George supports the Government, and I'll get him to see the Secretary. It is hard upon a young fellow just when he has got married and come into a nice property.'
'And her, Mr. Babington!'
'Very bad, indeed. I'll see Sir George myself. The odd part of it is, the Boltons are all against him. Old Bolton never quite liked the marriage, and his wife is a regular Tartar.'
Thus the Squire was gained, and the younger daughter. But Mr. Smirkie was as obdurate as ever. Something of his ground was cut from under his feet when Dick's new and peculiar habits were observed at dinner. Mr. Smirkie did indeed cling to his doctrine that your real drunkard never drinks at his meals; but when Dick, on being pressed in regard to wine, apologised by saying that he had become so used to tea in the colonies as not to be able to take anything else at dinner, the peculiarity was discussed till he was driven to own that he had drank nothing stronger for the last two years. Then it became plain that delirium tremens was not written on his face quite so plainly as Mr. Smirkie had at first thought, and there was nothing left but his trousers to condemn him. But Mr. Smirkie was still confident. 'I don't think you can go beyond the verdict,' he said. 'There may be a pardon, of course;—though I shall never believe it till I see it. But though there were twenty pardons she ought not to go back to him. The pardon does not alter the crime,—and whether he was married in Australia, or whether he was not, she ought to think that he was, because the jury has said so. If she had any feeling of feminine propriety she would shut herself up and call herself Miss Bolton.'
'I don't agree with you in the least,' said the Squire; 'and I hope I may live to see a dozen little Caldigates running about on that lawn.'
And there were a few words upstairs on the subject between Mr. Smirkie and his wife—for even Mrs. Smirkie and Aunt Polly at last submitted themselves to Dick's energy. 'Indeed, then, if he comes out,' said the wife, 'I shall be very glad to see him at Plum-cum-Pippins.' This was said in a voice which did not admit of contradiction, and was evidence at any rate that Dick's visit to Babington had been successful in spite of the yellow trousers.
The Fortunes of Bagwax
An altogether new idea had occurred to Bagwax as he sat in his office after his interview with Sir John Joram;—and it was an idea of such a nature that he thought that he saw his way quite plain to a complete manifestation of the innocence of Caldigate, to a certainty of a pardon, and to an immediate end of the whole complication. By a sudden glance at the evidence his eye had caught an object which in all his glances he had never before observed. Then at once he went to work, and finding that certain little marks were distinctly legible, he became on a sudden violently hot,—so that the sweat broke out on his forehead. Here was the whole thing disclosed at once,—disclosed to all the world if he chose to disclose it. But if he did so, then there could not be any need for that journey to Sydney, which Sir John still thought to be expedient. And this thing which he had now seen was not one within his own branch of work,—was not a matter with which he was bound to be conversant. Somebody else ought to have found it out. His own knowledge was purely accidental. There would be no disgrace to him in not finding it out. But he had found it out.
Bagwax was a man who, in his official zeal and official capacity, had exercised his intellect far beyond the matters to which he was bound to apply himself in the mere performance of his duties. Post-marks were his business; and had he given all his mind to postmarks, he would have sufficiently carried out that great doctrine of doing the duty which England expects from every man. But he had travelled beyond postmarks, and had looked into many things. Among other matters he had looked into penny stamps, twopenny stamps, and other stamps. In post-office phraseology there is sometimes a confusion because the affixed effigy of her Majesty's head, which represents the postage paid, is called a stamp, and the postmarks or impressions indicating the names of towns are also called stamps. Those postmarks or impressions had been the work of Bagwax's life; but his zeal, his joy in his office, and the general energy of his disposition, had opened up to him also all the mysteries of the queen's heads. That stamp, that effigy, that twopenny queen's-head, which by its presence on the corner of the envelope purported to have been the price of conveying the letter from Sydney to Nobble, on 10th May, 1873, had certainly been manufactured and sent out to the colony since that date!
There are signs invisible to ordinary eyes which are plain as the sun at noonday to the initiated. It is so in all arts, in all sciences. Bagwax was at once sure of his fact. To his instructed gaze the little receipt for twopence was as clearly dated as though the figures were written on it. And yet he had never looked at it before. In the absorbing interest which the postmark had created,—that fraudulent postmark as it certainly was,—he had never condescended to examine the postage-stamp. But now he saw and was certain.
If it was so,—and he had no doubt,—then would Caldigate surely be released. It is hoped that the reader will follow the mind of Bagwax, which was in this matter very clear. This envelope had been brought up at the trial as evidence that, on a certain day, Caldigate had written to the woman as his wife, and had sent the letter through the post-office. For such sending the postage-stamp was necessary. The postage-stamp had certainly been put on when the envelope was prepared for its intended purpose. But if it could be proved by the stamp itself that it had not been in existence on the date impressed on the envelope, then the fraud would be quite apparent. And if there had been such fraud, then would the testimony of all those four witnesses be crushed into arrant perjury. They had produced the fraudulent document, and by it would be thoroughly condemned. There could be no necessity for a journey to Sydney.