At ten o'clock on the following day he was at the Post-office, and there he found Bagwax prepared to take his seat exactly at that hour. Thereupon he resolved, with true radical impetuosity, that Bagwax was a much better public servant than Mr. Brown. 'Well, Mr. Caldigate,—so we've got it all clear at last,' said Bagwax.
There was a triumph in the tone of the clerk's voice which was not intelligible to the despondent old squire. 'It is not at all clear to me,' he said.
'Of course you've heard?'
'Heard what? I know all about the postage-stamp, of course.'
'If Secretaries of State and judges of the Court of Queen's Bench only had their wits about them, the postage-stamp ought to have been quite sufficient,' said Bagwax, sententiously.
'What more is there?'
'For the sake of letting the world know what can be done in our department, it is a pity that there should be anything more.'
'But there is something. For God's sake tell me, Mr. Bagwax.'
'You haven't heard that they caught Crinkett just as he was leaving Plymouth?'
'Not a word.'
'And the woman. They've got the lot of 'em, Mr. Caldigate. Adamson and the other woman have agreed to give evidence, and are to be let go.'
'When did you hear it?'
'Well;—it is in the "Daily Tell-tale." But I knew it last night,—from a particular source. I have been a good deal thrown in with Scotland Yard since this began, Mr. Caldigate, and, of course, I hear things.' Then it occurred to the squire that perhaps he had flown a little too high in going at once to the Home Office. They might have told him more, perhaps, in Scotland Yard. 'But it's all true. The depositions have already been made. Adamson and Young have sworn that they were present at no marriage. Crinkett they say, means to plead guilty; but the woman sticks to it like wax.'
The squire had written a letter by the day-mail to say that he would remain in London that further day. He now wrote again, at the Post-office, telling Hester all that Bagwax had told him, and declaring his purpose of going at once to Scotland Yard.
If this story were true, then certainly his son would soon be liberated.
Mr. Smirkie Is Ill-used
It was on a Tuesday that Mr. Caldigate made his visit to the Home Office, and on the Thursday he returned to Cambridge. On the platform whom should he meet but his brother-in-law Squire Babington, who had come into Cambridge that morning intent on hearing something further about his nephew. He, too, had read a paragraph in his newspaper, 'The Snapper,' as to Crinkett and Euphemia Smith.
'Thomas Crinkett, and Euphemia Smith, who gave evidence against Mr. John Caldigate in the well-known trial at the last Cambridge assizes, have been arrested at Plymouth just as they were about to leave the country for New Zealand. These are the persons to whom it was proved that Caldigate had paid the enormous sum of twenty thousand pounds a few days before the trial. It is alleged that they are to be indicted for perjury. If this be true, it implies the innocence of Mr. Caldigate, who, as our readers will remember, was convicted of bigamy. There will be much in the whole case for Mr. Caldigate to regret, but nothing so much as the loss of that very serious sum of money. It would be idle to deny that it was regarded by the jury, and the judge, and the public as a bribe to the witnesses. Why it should have been paid will now probably remain for ever a mystery.'
The squire read this over three times before he could quite understand the gist of it, and at last perceived,—or thought that he perceived,—that if this were true the innocence of his nephew was incontestable. But Julia, who seemed to prefer the paternal mansion at Babington to her own peculiar comforts and privileges at Plum-cum-Pippins, declared that she didn't believe a word of it; and aunt Polly, whose animosity to her nephew had somewhat subsided, was not quite inclined to accept the statement at once. Aunt Polly expressed an opinion that newspapers were only born to lie, but added that had she seen the news anywhere else she would not have been a bit surprised. The squire was prepared to swear by the tidings. If such a thing was not to be put into a newspaper, where was it to be put? Aunt Polly could not answer this question, but assisted in persuading her husband to go into Cambridge for further information.
'I hope this is true,' said the Suffolk squire, tendering his hand cordially to his brother-in-law. He was a man who could throw all his heart into an internecine quarrel on a Monday and forget the circumstance altogether on the Tuesday.
'Of what are you speaking?' asked the squire of Folking, with his usual placid look, partly indifferent and partly sarcastic, covering so much contempt of which the squire from Suffolk was able to read nothing at all.
'About the man and the woman, the witnesses who are to be put in prison at Plymouth, and who now say just the contrary to what they said before.'
'I do not think that can be true,' said Mr. Caldigate.
'Then you haven't seen the "Snapper"?' asked Mr. Babington, dragging the paper out of his pocket. 'Look at that.'
They were now in a cab together, going towards the town, and Mr. Caldigate did not find it convenient to read the paragraph. But of course he knew the contents. 'It is quite true,' he said, 'that the persons you allude to have been arrested, and that they are up in London. They will, I presume, be tried for perjury.'
'It is true?'
'There is no doubt of it.'
'And the party are splitting against each other?' asked Mr. Babington eagerly.
'Two of them have already sworn that what they swore before was false.'
'Then why don't they let him out?'
'Why not, indeed?' said Mr. Caldigate.
'I should have thought they wouldn't have lost a moment in such a case. They've got one of the best fellows in the world at the Home Office. His name is Brown. If you could have seen Brown I'm sure he wouldn't have let them delay a minute. The Home Office has the reputation of being so very quick.'
In answer to this the squire of Folking only shook his head. He would not even condescend to say that he had seen Brown, and certainly not to explain that Brown had seemed to him to be the most absurdly-cautious and courteously-dilatory man that he had ever met in his life. In Trumpington Street they parted, Mr. Caldigate proceeding at once to Folking, and Mr. Babington going to the office of Mr. Seely the attorney. 'He'll be out in a day or two,' said the man of Suffolk, again shaking his brother-in-law's hand; 'and do you tell him from me that I hope it won't be long before we see him at Babington. I've been true to him almost from the first, and his aunt has come over now. There is no one against him but Julia, and these are things of course which young women won't forget.'
Mr. Caldigate almost became genial as he accepted this assurance, telling himself that his brother magistrate was as honest as he was silly.
Mr. Babington, who was well known in Cambridge, asked many questions of many persons. From Mr. Seely he heard but little. Mr. Seely had heard of the arrest made at Plymouth, but did not quite know what to think about it. If it was all square, then he supposed his client must after all be innocent. But this went altogether against the grain with Mr. Seely. 'If it be so, Mr. Babington,' he said, 'I shall always think the paying away of that twenty thousand pounds the greatest miracle I ever came across.' Nevertheless, Mr. Seely did believe that the two witnesses had been arrested on a charge of perjury.
The squire then went to the governor of the jail, who had been connected with him many years as a county magistrate. The governor had heard nothing, received no information as to his prisoner from any one in authority; but quite believed the story as to Crinkett and the woman. 'Perhaps you had better not see him, Mr. Babington,' said the governor, 'as he has heard nothing as yet of all this. It would not be right to tell him till we know what it will come to.' Assenting to this, Mr. Babington took his leave with the conviction on his mind that the governor was quite prepared to receive an order for the liberation of his prisoner.
He did not dare to go to Robert Bolton's office, but he did call at the bank. 'We have heard nothing about it, Mr. Babington,' said the old clerk over the counter. But then the old clerk added in a whisper, 'None of the family take to the news, sir; but everybody else seems to think there is a great deal in it. If he didn't marry her I suppose he ought to be let out.'
'I should think he ought,' said the squire, indignantly as he left the bank.
Thus fortified by what he considered to be the general voice of Cambridge, he returned the same evening to Babington. Cambridge, including Mr. Caldigate, had been unanimous in believing the report. And if the report were true, then, certainly, was his nephew innocent. As he thought of this, some appropriate idea of the injustice of the evil done to the man and to the man's wife came upon him. If such were the treatment to which he and she had been subjected,—if he, innocent, had been torn away from her and sent to the common jail, and if she, certainly innocent, had been wrongly deprived for a time of the name which he had honestly given her,—then would it not have been right to open to her the hearts and the doors at Babington during the period of her great distress? As he thought of this he was so melted by ruth that a tear came into each of his old eyes. Then he remembered the attempt which had been made to catch this man for Julia—as to which he certainly had been innocent,—and his daughter's continued wrath. That a woman should be wrathful in such a matter was natural to him. He conceived that it behoved a woman to be weak, irascible, affectionate, irrational, and soft-hearted. When Julia would be loud in condemnation of her cousin, and would pretend to commiserate the woes of the poor wife who had been left in Australia, though he knew the source of these feelings, he could not be in the least angry with her. But that was not at all the state of his mind in reference to his son-in-law Augustus Smirkie. Sometimes, as he had heard Mr. Smirkie inveigh against the enormity of bigamy and of this bigamist in particular, he had determined that some 'odd-come-shortly,' as he would call it, he would give the vicar of Plum-cum-Pippins a moral pat on the head which should silence him for a time. At the present moment when he got into his carriage at the station to be taken home, he was not sure whether or no he should find the vicar at Babington. Since their marriage, Mr. Smirkie had spent much of his time at Babington, and seemed to like the Babington claret. He would come about the middle of the week and return on the Saturday evening, in a manner which the squire could hardly reconcile with all that he had heard as to Mr. Smirkie's exemplary conduct in his own parish. The squire was hospitality itself, and certainly would never have said a word to make his house other than pleasant to his own girl's husband. But a host expects that his corns should be respected, whereas Mr. Smirkie was always treading on Mr. Babington's toes. Hints had been given to him as to his personal conduct which he did not take altogether in good part. His absence from afternoon service had been alluded to, and it had been suggested to him that he ought sometimes to be more careful as to his language. He was not, therefore ill-disposed to resent on the part of Mr. Smirkie the spirit of persecution with which that gentleman seemed to regard his nephew. 'Is Mr. Smirkie in the house,' he asked the coachman. 'He came by the 3.40, as usual,' said the man. It was very much 'as usual,' thought the squire.
'There isn't a doubt about it,' said the squire to his wife as he was dressing. 'The poor fellow is as innocent as you.'
'He can't be,—innocent,' said aunt Polly.
'If he never married the woman whom they say he married he can't be guilty.'
'I don't know about that, my dear.'
'He either did marry her or he didn't, I suppose.'
'I don't say he married her, but,—he did worse.'
'No, he didn't,' said the squire.
'That may be your way of thinking of it. According to my idea of what is right and what is wrong, he did a great deal worse.'
'But if he didn't marry that woman he didn't commit bigamy when he married this one,' argued he, energetically.
'Still he may have deserved all he got.'
'No; he mayn't. You wouldn't punish a man for murder because he doesn't pay his debts.'
'I won't have it that he's innocent,' said Mrs. Babington.
'Who the devil is, if you come to that?'
'You are not, or you wouldn't talk in that way. I'm not saying anything now against John. If he didn't marry the woman I suppose they'll let him out of prison, and I for one shall be willing to take him by the hand; but to say he's innocent is what I won't put up with!'
'He has sown his wild oats, and he's none the worse for that. He's as good as the rest of us, I dare say.'
'Speak for yourself,' said the wife. 'I don't suppose you mean to tell me that in the eyes of the Creator he is as good a man as Augustus.'
'Augustus be ——.' The word was spoken with great energy. Mrs. Babington at the moment was employed in sewing a button on the wristband of her husband's shirt, and in the start which she gave stuck the needle into his arm.
'Humphrey!' exclaimed the agitated lady.
'I beg your pardon, but not his,' said the squire, rubbing the wound. 'If he says a word more about John Caldigate in my presence, I shall tell him what I think about it. He has got his wife, and that ought to be enough for him.'
After that they went down-stairs and dinner was at once announced. There was Mr. Smirkie to give an arm to his mother-in-law. The squire took his married daughter while the other two followed. As they crossed the hall Julia whispered her cousin's name, but her father bade her be silent for the present. 'I was sure it was not true,' said Mrs. Smirkie.
'Then you're quite wrong,' said the squire, 'for it's as true as the Gospel.' Then there was no more said about John Caldigate till the servants had left the room.
Mr. Smirkie's general appreciation of the good things provided, did not on this occasion give the owner of them that gratification which a host should feel in the pleasures of his guests. He ate a very good dinner and took his wine with a full appreciation of its merits. Such an appetite on the part of his friends was generally much esteemed by the squire of Babington, who was apt to press the bottle upon those who sat with him, in the old-fashioned manner. At the present moment he eyed his son-in-law's enjoyments with a feeling akin to disappointment. There was a habit at Babington with the ladies of sitting with the squire when he was the only man present till he had finished his wine, and, at Mrs. Smirkie's instance, this custom was continued when she and her husband were at the house. Fires had been commenced, and when the dinner-things had been taken away they clustered round the hearth. The squire himself sat silent in his place, out of humour, knowing that the peculiar subject would be introduced, and determined to make himself disagreeable.
'Papa, won't you bring your chair round?' said one of the girls who was next to him. Whereupon he did move his chair an inch or two.
'Did you hear anything about John?' said the other unmarried sister.
'Yes, I heard about him. You can't help hearing about him in Cambridge now. All the world is talking about him.'
'And what does all the world say?' asked Julia, flippantly. To this question her father at first made no answer. 'Whatever the world may say, I cannot alter my opinion,' continued Julia. 'I shall never be able to look upon John Caldigate and Hester Bolton as man and wife in the sight of God.'
'I might just as well take upon myself to say that I didn't look upon you and Smirkie as man and wife in the sight of God.'
'Papa!' screamed the married daughter.
'Sir!' ejaculated the married son-in-law.
'My dear, that is a strange thing to say of your own child,' whispered the mother.
'Most strange!' said Julia, lifting both her hands up in an agony.
'But it's true,' roared the squire. 'She says that, let the law say what it may, these people are not to be regarded as man and wife.'
'Not by me,' said Julia.
'Who are you that you are to set up a tribunal of your own? And if you judge of another couple in that way, why isn't some one to judge of you after the same fashion?'
'There is the verdict,' said Mr. Smirkie. 'No verdict has pronounced me a bigamist.'
'But it might for anything I know,' said the squire, angrily. 'Some woman might come up in Plum-cum-Pippins and say you had married her before your first wife.'
'Papa, you are very disagreeable,' said Julia.
'Why shouldn't there be a wicked lie told in one place as well as in another? There has been a wicked lie told here; and when the lie is proved to have been a lie, as plain as the nose on your face, he is to tell me that he won't believe the young folk to be man and wife because of an untrue verdict! I say they are man and wife;—as good a man and wife as you and he;—and let me see who'll refuse to meet them as such in my house?'
Mr. Smirkie had not, in truth, made the offensive remark. It had been made by Mrs. Smirkie. But it had suited the squire to attribute it to the clergyman. Mr. Smirkie was now put upon his mettle, and was obliged either to agree or to disagree. He would have preferred the former, had he not been somewhat in awe of his wife. As it was, he fell back upon the indiscreet assertion which his father-in-law had made some time back. 'I, at any rate, sir, have not had a verdict against me.'
'What does that signify?'
'A great deal, I should say. A verdict, no doubt, is human, and therefore may be wrong.'
'So is a marriage human.'
'I beg your pardon, sir;—a marriage is divine.'
'Not if it isn't a marriage. Your marriage in our church wouldn't have been divine if you'd had another wife alive.'
'Papa, I wish you wouldn't.'
'But I shall. I've got to hammer it into his head somehow.'
Mr. Smirkie drew himself up and grinned bravely. But the squire did not care for his frowns. That last backhander at the claret-jug had determined him. 'John Caldigate's marriage with his wife was not in the least interfered with by the verdict.'
'It took away the lady's name from her at once,' said the indignant clergyman.
'That's just what it didn't do,' said the squire, rising from his chair;—'of itself it didn't affect her name at all. And now that it is shown to have been a mistaken verdict, it doesn't affect her position. The long and the short of it is this, that anybody who doesn't like to meet him and his wife as honoured guests in my house had better stay away. Do you hear that, Julia?' Then without waiting for an answer he walked out before them all into the drawing-room and not another word was said that night about the matter. Mr. Smirkie, indeed, did not utter a word on any subject, till at an early hour he wished them all good-night with dignified composure.
How The Big-Wigs Doubted
It's what I call an awful shame.' Mr. Holt and parson Bromley were standing together on the causeway at Folking, and the former was speaking. The subject under discussion was, of course, the continued detention of John Caldigate in the county prison.
'I cannot at all understand it,' said Mr. Bromley.
'There's no understanding nothing about it, sir. Every man, woman, and child in the county knows as there wasn't no other marriage, and yet they won't let 'un out. It's sheer spite, because he wouldn't vote for their man last 'lection.'
'I hardly think that, Mr. Holt.'
'I'm as sure of it as I stands here,' said Mr. Holt, slapping his thigh. 'What else 'd they keep 'un in for? It's just like their ways.'
Mr. Holt was one of a rare class, being a liberal farmer,—a Liberal, that is, in politics; as was also Mr. Bromley, a Liberal among parsons,—rava avis. The Caldigates had always been Liberal, and Mr. Holt had been brought up to agree with his landlord. He was now beyond measure acerbated, because John Caldigate had not been as yet declared innocent on evidence which was altogether conclusive to himself. The Conservatives were now in power, and nothing seemed so natural to Mr. Holt as that the Home Secretary should keep his landlord in jail because the Caldigates were Liberals. Mr. Bromley could not quite agree to this, but he also was of opinion that a great injustice was being done. He was in the habit of seeing the young wife almost daily, and knew the havoc which hope turned into despair was making with her. Another week had now gone by since the old squire had been up in town, and nothing yet had been heard from the Secretary of State. All the world knew that Crinkett and Euphemia Smith were in custody, and still no tidings came,—yet the husband, convicted on the evidence of these perjurers, was detained in prison!
Hope deferred maketh the heart sick, and Hester's heart was very sick within her. 'Why do they not tell me something?' she said when her father-in-law vainly endeavoured to comfort her. Why not, indeed? He could only say hard things of the whole system under which the perpetration of so great a cruelty was possible, and reiterate his opinion that, in spite of that system, they must, before long, let his son go free.
The delay in truth was not at the Home Office. Judge Bramber could not as yet quite make up his mind. It is hoped that the reader has made up his, but the reader knows somewhat more than the judge knew. Crinkett had confessed nothing,—though a rumour had got abroad that he intended to plead guilty. Euphemia Smith was constant in her assertion to all those who came near her, that she had positively been married to the man at Ahalala. Adamson and Anna Young were ready now to swear that all which they had sworn before was false; but it was known to the police that they had quarrelled bitterly as to the division of the spoil ever since the money had been paid to the ring-leaders. It was known that Anna Young had succeeded in getting nothing from the other woman, and that the man had unwillingly accepted his small share, fearing that otherwise he might get nothing. They were not trustworthy witnesses, and it was very doubtful whether the other two could be convicted on their evidence. The judge, as he turned it all over in his mind, was by no means sure that the verdict was a mistaken verdict. It was at any rate a verdict. It was a decision constitutionally arrived at from a jury. This sending back of the matter to him hardly was constitutional.
It was abhorrent to his nature,—not that a guilty man should escape, which he knew to be an affair occurring every day,—but that a guilty man, who had been found to be guilty, should creep back through the meshes of the law. He knew how many chances were given by the practice of British courts to an offender on his trial, and he was quite in favour of those chances. He would be urgent in telling a jury to give the prisoner the benefit of a doubt. But when the transgressor, with all those loopholes stopped, stood before him convicted, then he felt a delight in the tightness of the grip with which he held the wretch, and would tell himself that the world in which he lived was not as yet all astray, in that a guilty man could still be made to endure the proper reward of his guilt.
It was with him as when a hunter has hunted a fox after the approved laws of venery. There have been a dozen ways of killing the animal of which he has scorned to avail himself. He has been careful to let him break from his covert, regarding all who would stop him as enemies to himself. It has been a point of honour with him that the animal should suffer no undue impediment. Any ill-treatment shown to the favoured one in his course, is an injury done to the hunter himself. Let no man head the fox, let no man strive to drive him back upon the hounds. Let all be done by hunting law,—in accordance with those laws which give so many chances of escape. But when the hounds have run into their quarry, not all the eloquence of all the gods should serve to save that doomed one's life.
So it was with Judge Bramber and a convicted prisoner. He would give the man the full benefit of every quibble of the law till he was convicted. He would be severe on witnesses, harsh to the police, apparently a very friend to the man standing at the bar,—till the time came for him to array the evidence before the jury. Then he was inexorable; and when the verdict had been once pronounced, the prisoner was but as a fox about to be thrown to the hounds.
And now there was a demand that this particular fox should be put back into his covert! The Secretary of State could put him back, if he thought fit. But in these matters there was so often a touch of cowardice. Why did not the Secretary do it without asking him? There had arisen no question of law. There was no question as to the propriety of the verdict as found upon the evidence given at the trial. The doubt which had arisen since had come from further evidence, of which the Secretary was as well able to judge as he. No doubt the case was difficult. There had been gross misdoing on both sides. But if Caldigate had not married the woman, why had he paid those twenty thousands? Why had he written those words on the envelope? There was doubt enough now, but the time for giving the prisoner the benefit of the doubt was gone. The fox had been fairly hunted, and Judge Bramber thought that he had better die.
But he hesitated;—and while he was hesitating there came to him a little reminder, a most gentle hint, in the shape of a note from the Secretary of State's private secretary. The old squire's visit to the office had not seemed to himself to be satisfactory, but he had made a friend for himself in Mr. Brown. Mr. Brown looked into the matter, and was of opinion that it would be well to pardon the young man. Even though there had been some jumping over a broomstick at Ahalala, why should things not be made comfortable here at home? What harm would a pardon do to any one?—whereas there were so many whom it would make happy. So he asked the Secretary whether that wasn't a hard case of young Caldigate. The Secretary whispered that it was in Bramber's hands, upon which Mr. Brown observed that, if so, it was certainly hard. But the conversation was not altogether thrown away, for on that afternoon the private secretary wrote his note.
Judge Bramber when he received the note immediately burned it,—and this he did with considerable energy of action. If they would send him such cases as that, what right had they to remind him of his duty? He was not going to allow any private secretary or any Secretary of State, to hurry him! There was no life or death in this matter. Of what importance was it that so manifest an evil-doer as this young Caldigate should remain in prison a day or two more,—a man who had attempted to bribe four witnesses by twenty thousand pounds? It was an additional evil that such a one should have such a sum for such a purpose. But still he felt that there was a duty thrown upon him; and he sat down with all the papers before him, determined to make up his mind before he rose from his chair.
He did make up his mind, but did so at last by referring back the responsibility to the Secretary of State. 'The question is one altogether of evidence,' he said, 'and not of law. Any clear-headed man is as able to reach a true decision as I am. It is such a question as should be left to a jury,—and would justify a trial on appeal if that were practicable. It would be well that the case should stand over till Thomas Crinkett and Euphemia Smith shall have been tried for perjury, which, as I understand, will take place at the next winter assizes. If the Secretary of State thinks that the delay would be too long, I would humbly suggest that he should take her Majesty's pleasure in accordance with his own opinion as to the evidence.'
When that document was read at the Home Office by the few who were privileged to read it, they knew that Judge Bramber had been in a very ill humour. But there was no help for that. The judge had been asked for advice and had refused to give it; or had advised,—if his remark on that subject was to be taken for advice,—that the consideration of the matter should be postponed for another three months. The case, if there was any case in favour of the prisoner, was not one for pardon but for such redress as might now be given for a most gross injustice. The man had been put to a very great expense, and had been already in prison for ten or eleven weeks, and his further detention would be held to have been very cruel if it should appear at last that the verdict had been wrong. The public press was already using strong language on the subject, and the Secretary of State was not indifferent to the public press. Judge Bramber thoroughly despised the press,—though he would have been very angry if his 'Times' had not been ready for him at breakfast every morning. And two or three questions had already been asked in the House of Commons. The Secretary of State, with that habitual strategy, without which any Secretary of State must be held to be unfit for the position which he holds, contrived to answer the questions so as to show that, while the gentlemen who asked them were the most indiscreet of individuals, he was the most discreet of Secretaries. And he did this, though he was strongly of opinion that Judge Bramber's delay was unjustifiable. But what would be thought of a Secretary of State who would impute blame in the House of Commons to one of the judges of the land before public opinion had expressed itself so strongly on the matter as to make such expression indispensable? He did not think that he was in the least untrue in throwing blame back upon the questioners, and in implying that on the side of the Crown there had been no undue delay, though, at the moment, he was inwardly provoked at the dilatoriness of the judge.
Public opinion was expressing itself very strongly in the press. 'The Daily Tell-Tale' had a beautifully sensational article, written by their very best artist. The whole picture was drawn with a cunning hand. The young wife in her lonely house down in Cambridge which the artist not inaptly called The Moated Grange! The noble, innocent, high-souled husband, eating his heart out within the bars of a county prison, and with very little else to eat! The indignant father, driven almost to madness by the wrongs done to his son and heir! Had the son not been an heir this point would have been much less touching. And then the old evidence was dissected, and the new evidence against the new culprits explained. In regard to the new culprits, the writer was very loud in expressing his purpose to say not a word against persons who were still to be tried;—but immediately upon that he went on and said a great many words against them. Assuming all that was said about them to be true, he asked whether the country would for a moment endure the idea that a man in Mr. Caldigate's position should be kept in prison on the evidence of such miscreants. When he came to Bagwax and the postmarks, he explained the whole matter with almost more than accuracy. He showed that the impression could not possibly have been made till after the date it conveyed. He fell into some little error as to the fabrication of the postage-stamp in the colony, not having quite seized Bagwax's great point. But it was a most telling article. And the writer, as he turned it off at his club, and sent it down to the office of the paper, was ready to bet a five-pound note that Caldigate would be out before a week was over. The Secretary of State saw the article, and acknowledged its power. And then even the 'Slipper' turned round and cautiously expressed an opinion that the time had come for mercy.
There could be no doubt that public opinion was running very high in Caldigate's favour, and that the case had become thoroughly popular. People were again beginning to give dinner-parties in London, and at every party the matter was discussed. It was a peculiarly interesting case because the man had thrown away so large a sum of money! People like to have a nut to crack which is 'uncrackable,'—a Gordian knot to undo which cannot even be cut. Nobody could understand the twenty thousand pounds. Would any man pay such a sum with the object of buying off false witnesses,—and do it in such a manner that all the facts must be brought to light when he was tried? It was said here and there that he had paid the money because he owed it;—but then it had been shown so clearly that he had not owed any one a penny! Nevertheless the men were all certain that he was not guilty, and the ladies thought that whether he were guilty or not did not matter much. He certainly ought to be released from prison.
But yet the Secretary doubted. In that unspoken but heartfelt accusation of cowardice which the judge had made against the great officer of State there had been some truth. How would it be if it should be made to appear at the approaching trial that the two reprobates, who had turned Queen's evidence against their associates, were to break down altogether in their assertions? It might possibly then become quite apparent that Caldigate had married the woman, and had committed bigamy, when he would already have been pardoned for the last three months! The pardon in that case would not do away with the verdict,—and the pardoned man would be a convicted bigamist. What, then, would be the condition of his wife and child? If subsequent question should arise as to the boy's legitimacy, as might so probably be the case, in what light would he appear, he who had taken upon himself, on his own responsibility, to extort from her Majesty a pardon in opposition to a righteous and just verdict,—in opposition to the judge who had tried the case? He had been angry with Judge Bramber for not deciding, and was now frightened at the necessity of deciding himself.
In this emergency he sent for the gentleman who had managed the prosecution on the part of the Crown, and asked him to read up the case again, 'I never was convinced of the prisoner's guilt,' said the barrister.
'It was one of those cases in which we cannot be convinced. The strongest point against him was the payment of the money. It is possible that he paid it from a Quixotic feeling of honour.'
'To false witnesses, and that before the trial!' said the Secretary.
'And there may have been a hope that, in spite of what he said himself as to their staying, they would take themselves off when they had got the money. In that way he may have persuaded himself that, as an honest man, he ought to make the payment. Then as to the witnesses, there can be little doubt that they were willing to lie. Even if their main story were true, they were lying as to details.'
'Then you would advise a pardon?'
'I think so,' said the barrister, who was not responsible for his advice.
'Without waiting for the other trial?'
'If the perjury be then proved,—or even so nearly proved as to satisfy the outside world,—the man's detention will be thought to have been a hardship.' The Secretary of State thanked the barrister and let him go. He then went down to the House, and amidst the turmoil of a strong party conflict at last made up his mind. It was unjust that such responsibility should be thrown upon any one person. There ought to be some Court of Appeal for such cases. He was sure of that now. But at last he made up his mind. Early on the next morning the Queen should be advised to allow John Caldigate to go free.
How Mrs. Bolton Was Nearly Conquered
One morning about the middle of October, Robert Bolton walked out from Cambridge to Puritan Grange with a letter in his pocket,—a very long and a very serious letter. The day was that on which the Secretary of State was closeted with the barrister, and on the evening of which he at length determined that Caldigate should be allowed to go free. There had, therefore, been no pardon granted,—as yet. But in the letter the writer stated that such pardon would, almost certainly, be awarded.
It was from William Bolton, in London, to his brother the attorney, and was written with the view of proving to all the Boltons at Cambridge, that it was their duty to acknowledge Hester as the undoubted wife of John Caldigate; and recommended also that, for Hester's sake, they should receive him as her husband. The letter had been written with very great care, and had been powerful enough to persuade Robert Bolton of the truth of the first proposition.
It was very long, and as it repeated all the details of the evidence for and against the verdict, it shall not be repeated here at its full length. Its intention was to show that, looking at probabilities, and judging from all that was known, there was much more reason to suppose that there had been no marriage at Ahalala than that there had been one. The writer acknowledged that, while the verdict stood confirmed against the man, Hester's family were bound to regard it, and to act as though they did not doubt its justice;—but that when that verdict should be set aside,—as far as any criminal verdict can be set aside,—by the Queen's pardon, then the family would be bound to suppose that they who advised her Majesty had exercised a sound discretion.
'I am sure you will all agree with me,' he said, 'that no personal feeling in regard to Caldigate should influence your judgment. For myself, I like the man. But that, I think, has had nothing to do with my opinion. If it had been the case that, having a wife living, he had betrayed my sister into all the misery of a false marriage, and had made her the mother of a nameless child, I should have felt myself bound to punish him to every extent within my power. I do not think it unchristian to say that in such a case I could not have forgiven him. But presuming it to be otherwise,—as we all shall be bound to do if he be pardoned,—then, for Hester's sake, we should receive the man with whom her lot in life is so closely connected. She, poor dear, has suffered enough, and should not be subjected to the further trouble of our estrangement.
'Nor, if we acknowledge the charge against him to be untrue, is there any reason for a quarrel. If he has not been bad to our sister in that matter, he has been altogether good to her. She has for him that devotion which is the best evidence that a marriage has been well chosen. Presuming him to be innocent, we must confess, as to her, that she has been simply loyal to her husband,—with such loyalty as every married man would desire. For this she should be rewarded rather than punished.
'I write to you thinking that in this way I may best reach my father and Mrs. Bolton. I would go down and see them did I not know that your words would be more efficacious with them than my own. And I do it as a duty to my sister, which I feel myself bound to perform. Pray forgive me if I remind you that in this respect she has a peculiar right to a performance of your duty in the matter. You counselled and carried out the marriage,—not at all unfortunately if the man be, as I think, innocent. But you are bound at any rate to sift the evidence very closely, and not to mar her happiness by refusing to acknowledge him if there be reasonable ground for supposing the verdict to have been incorrect.'
Sift the evidence, indeed! Robert Bolton had done that already very closely. Bagwax and the stamps had not moved him, nor the direct assurance of Dick Shand. But the incarceration by Government of Crinkett and Euphemia Smith had shaken him, and the fact that they had endeavoured to escape the moment they heard of Shand's arrival. But not the less had he hated Caldigate. The feeling which had been impressed on his mind when the first facts were made known to him remained. Caldigate had been engaged to marry the woman, and had lived with her, and had addressed her as his wife! The man had in a way got the better of him. And then the twenty thousand pounds! And then, again, Caldigate's manner to himself! He could not get over his personal aversion, and therefore unconsciously wished that his brother-in-law should be guilty,—wished at any rate that he should be kept in prison. Gradually had fallen upon him the conviction that Caldigate would be pardoned. And then of course there had come much consideration as to his sister's condition. He, too, was a conscientious and an affectionate man. He was well aware of his duty to his sister. While he was able to assure himself that Caldigate was not her husband, he could satisfy himself by a conviction that it was his duty to keep them apart. Thus he could hate the man, advocate all severity against the man, and believe the while that he was doing his duty to his sister as an affectionate brother. But now there was a revulsion. It was three weeks since he and his brother had parted, not with the kindest feelings, up in London, and during that time the sifting of the evidence had been going on within his own breast from hour to hour. And now this letter had come,—a letter which he could not put away in anger, a letter which he could not ignore. To quarrel permanently with his brother William was quite out of the question. He knew the value of such a friend too well, and had been too often guided by his advice. So he sifted the evidence once again, and then walked off to Puritan Grange with the letter in his pocket.
In these latter days old Mr. Bolton did not go often into Cambridge. Men said that his daughter's misfortune had broken him very much. It was perhaps the violence of his wife's religion rather than the weight of his daughter's sufferings which cowed him. Since Hester's awful obstinacy had become hopeless to Mrs. Bolton, an atmosphere of sackcloth and ashes had made itself more than ever predominant at Puritan Grange. If any one hated papistry Mrs. Bolton did so; but from a similar action of religious fanaticism she had fallen into worse that papistical self-persecution. That men and women were all worms to be trodden under foot, and grass of the field to be thrown into the oven, was borne in so often on poor Mr. Bolton that he had not strength left to go to the bank. And they were nearer akin to worms and more like grass of the field than ever, because Hester would stay at Folking instead of returning to her own home.
She was in this frame of mind when Robert Bolton was shown into the morning sitting-room. She was sitting with the Bible before her, but with some domestic needlework in her lap. He was doing nothing,—not even having a book ready to his hand. Thus he would sit the greater part of the day, listening to her when she would read to him, but much preferring to be left alone. His life had been active and prosperous, but the evening of his days was certainly not happy.
His son Robert had been anxious to discuss the matter with him first, but found himself unable to separate them without an amount of ceremony which would have filled her with suspicion. 'I have received a letter this morning from William,' he said, addressing himself to his father.
'William Bolton is, I fear, of the world worldly,' said the step-mother. 'His words always savour to me of the huge ungodly city in which he dwells.'
But that this was not a time for such an exercise he would have endeavoured to expose the prejudice of the lady. As it was he was very gentle. 'William is a man who understands his duty well,' he said.
'Many do that, but few act up to their understanding she rejoined.
'I think, sir, I had better read his letter to you. It has been written with that intention, and I am bound to let you know the contents. Perhaps Mrs. Bolton will let me go to the end so that we may discuss it afterwards.'
But Mrs. Bolton would not let him go to the end. He had not probably expected such forbearance. At every point as to the evidence she interrupted him, striving to show that the arguments used were of no real weight. She was altogether irrational, but still she argued her case well. She withered Bagwax and Dick with her scorn; she ridiculed the quarrels of the male and female witnesses; she reviled the Secretary of State, and declared it to be a shame that the Queen should have no better advisers. But when William Bolton spoke of Hester's happiness, and of the concessions which should be made to secure that, she burst out into eloquence. What did he know of her happiness? Was it not manifest that he was alluding to this world without a thought of the next? 'Not a reflection as to her soul's welfare has once come across his mind,' she said;—'not an idea as to the sin with which her soul would be laden were she to continue to live with the man when knowing that he was not her husband.'
'She would know nothing of the kind,' said the attorney.
"She ought to know it," said Mrs. Bolton, again begging the whole question.
But he persevered, as he had resolved to do when he left his house upon this difficult mission. 'I am sure my father will acknowledge,' he said, 'that however strong our own feelings have been, we should bow to the conviction of others who—'
But he was promulgating a doctrine which her conscience required her to stop at once. 'The conviction of others shall never have weight with me when the welfare of my eternal soul is at stake.'
'I am speaking of those who have had better means of getting at the truth than have come within our reach. The Secretary of State can have no bias of his own in the matter.'
'He is, I fear, a godless man, living and dealing with the godless. Did I not hear the other day that the great Ministers of State will not even give a moment to attend to the short meaningless prayers which are read in the House of Commons?'
'No one,' continued Robert Bolton, trying to get away from sentiment into real argument,—'no one can have been more intent on separating them than William was when he thought that the evidence was against him. Now he thinks the evidence in his favour. I know no man whose head is clearer than my brother's. I am not very fond of John Caldigate.'
'Nor am I,' said the woman with an energy which betrayed much of her true feeling.
'But if it be the case that they are in truth man and wife—'
'In the sight of God they are not so,' she said.
'Then,' he continued, trying to put aside her interruption, and to go on with the assertion he had commenced, 'it must be our duty to acknowledge him for her sake. Were we not to do so, we should stand condemned in the opinion of all the world.'
'Who cares for the opinion of the world?'
'And we should destroy her happiness.'
'Her happiness here on earth! What does that matter? There is no such happiness.'
It was a very hard fight, but perhaps not harder than he had expected. He had known that she would not listen to reason,—that she would not even attempt to understand it. And he had learned before this how impregnable was that will of fanaticism in which she would entrench herself,—how improbable it was that she would capitulate under the force of any argument. But he thought it possible that he might move his father to assert himself. He was well aware that, in the midst of that apparent lethargy, his father's mind was at work with much of its old energy. He understood the physical infirmities and religious vacillation which, combined, had brought the old man into his present state of apparent submission. It was hardly two years since the same thing had been done in regard to Hester's marriage. Then Mr. Bolton had asserted himself, and declared his will in opposition to his wife. There had indeed been much change in him since that time, but still something of the old fire remained. 'I have thought it to be my duty, sir,' he said, 'to make known to you William's opinion and my own. I say nothing as to social intercourse. That must be left to yourself. But if this pardon be granted, you will, I think, be bound to acknowledge John Caldigate to be your son-in-law.'
'Your father agrees with me,' said Mrs. Bolton, rising from her chair, and speaking in an angry tone.
'I hope you both will agree with me. As soon as tidings of the pardon reach you, you should, I think, intimate to Hester that you accept her marriage as having been true and legal. I shall do so, even though I should never see him in my house again.'
'You of course will do as you please.'
'And you, sir?' he said, appealing to the old man.
'You have no right to dictate to your father,' said the wife angrily.
'He has always encouraged me to offer him my advice.' Then Mr. Bolton shuffled in his chair, as though collecting himself for an effort,—and at last sat up, with his head, however, bent forward, and with both his arms resting on the arms of his chair. Though he looked to be old, much older than he was, still there was a gleam of fire in his eye. He was thin, almost emaciated, and his head hung forward as though there were not strength left in his spine for him to sit erect. 'I hope, sir, you do not think that I have gone beyond my duty in what I have said.'
'She shall come here,' muttered the old man.
'Certainly, she shall,' said Mrs. Bolton, 'if she will. Do you suppose that I do not long to have my own child in my arms?'
'She shall come here, and be called by her name,' said the father.
'She shall be Hester,—my own Hester,' said the mother, not feeling herself as yet called upon to contradict her husband.
'And John Caldigate shall come,' he said.
'Never!' exclaimed Mrs. Bolton.
'He shall be asked to come. I say he shall. Am I to be harder on my own child than are all the others? Shall I call her a castaway, when others say that she is an honest married woman?'
'Who has called her a castaway?'
'I took the verdict of the jury, though it broke my heart,' he continued. 'It broke my heart to be told that my girl and her child were nameless,—but I believed it because the jury said so, and because the judge declared it. When they tell me the contrary, why shall I not believe that? I do believe it; and she shall come here, if she will, and he shall come.' Then he got up and slowly moved out of the room, so that there might be no further argument on the subject.
She had reseated herself with her arms crossed, and there sat perfectly mute. Robert Bolton stood up and repeated all his arguments, appealing even to her maternal love,—but she answered him never a word. She had not even yet succeeded in making the companion of her life submissive to her! That was the feeling which was now uppermost in her mind. He had said that Caldigate should be asked to the house, and should be acknowledged throughout all Cambridge as his son-in-law. And having said it, he would be as good as his word. She was sure of that. Of what avail had been all the labour of her life with such a result?
'I hope you will think that I have done no more than my duty,' said Robert Bolton, offering her his hand. But there she sat perfectly silent, with her arms still folded, and would take no notice of him. 'Good-bye,' said he, striving to put something of the softness of affection into his voice. But she would not even bend her head to him;—and thus he left her.
She remained motionless for the best part of an hour. Then she got up, and according to her daily custom walked a certain number of times round the garden. Her mind was so full that she did not as usual observe every twig, almost every leaf, as she passed. Nor, now that she was alone, was that religious bias, which had so much to do with her daily life, very strong within her. There was no taint of hypocrisy in her character; but yet, with the force of human disappointment heavy upon her, her heart was now hot with human anger, and mutinous with human resolves. She had proposed to herself to revenge herself upon the men of her husband's family,—upon the men who had contrived that marriage for her daughter,—by devoting herself to the care of that daughter and her nameless grandson, and by letting it be known to all that the misery of their condition would have been spared had her word prevailed. That they should live together a stern, dark, but still sympathetic life, secluded within the high walls of that lonely abode, and that she should thus be able to prove how right she had been, how wicked and calamitous their interference with her child,—that had been the scheme of her life. And now her scheme was knocked on the head, and Hester was to become a prosperous ordinary married woman amidst the fatness of the land at Folking! It was all wormwood to her. But still, as she walked, she acknowledged to herself, that as that old man had said so,—so it must be. With all her labour, with all her care, and with all her strength, she had not succeeded in becoming the master of that weak old man.
The News Reaches Cambridge
The tidings of John Caldigate's pardon reached Cambridge on the Saturday morning, and was communicated in various shapes. Official letters from the Home Office were written to the governor of the jail and to the sub-sheriff, to Mr. Seely who was still acting as attorney on behalf of the prisoner, and to Caldigate himself. The latter was longer than the others, and contained a gracious expression of Her Majesty's regret that he as an innocent person should have been subjected to imprisonment. The Secretary of State also was described as being keenly sensible of the injustice which had been perpetrated by the unfortunate and most unusual circumstances of the case. As the Home Office had decided that the man was to be considered innocent, it decided also on the expression of its opinion without a shadow of remaining doubt. And the news reached Cambridge in other ways by the same post. William Bolton wrote both to his father and brother, and Mr. Brown the Under-Secretary sent a private letter to the old squire at Folking, of which further mention shall be made. Before church time on the Sunday morning, the fact that John Caldigate was to be released, or had been released from prison, was known to all Cambridge.
Caldigate himself had borne his imprisonment on the whole well. He had complained but little to those around him, and had at once resolved to endure the slowly passing two years with silent fortitude,—as a brave man will resolve to bear any evil for which there is no remedy. But a more wretched man than he was after the first week of bitterness could hardly be found. Fortitude has no effect in abating such misery other than what may come from an absence of fretful impatience. The man who endures all that the tormentors can do to him without a sign, simply refuses to acknowledge the agonies inflicted. So it was with Caldigate. Though he obeyed with placid readiness all the prison instructions, and composed his features and seemed almost to smile when that which was to be exacted from him was explained, he ate his heart in dismay as he counted the days, the hours, the minutes, and then calculated the amount of misery that was in store for him. And there was so much more for him to think of than his own condition. He knew of course that he was innocent of the crime imputed to him;—but would it not be the same to his wife and child as though he had been in truth guilty? Would not his boy to his dying day be regarded as illegitimate? And though he had been wrongly condemned, had not all this come in truth from his own fault? And when that eternity of misery within the prison walls should have come to an end,—if he could live through it so as to see the end of it,—what would then be his fate, and what his duty? He had perfect trust in his wife; but who could say what two years might do,—two years during which she would be subjected to the pressure of all her friends? Where should he find her when the months had passed? And if she were no longer at Folking, would she come back to him? He was sure, nearly sure, that he could not claim her as his wife. And were she still minded to share her future lot with him, in what way should he treat her? If that horrid woman was his wife in the eye of the law,—and he feared though hardly knew that it would be so,—then could not that other one, who was to him as a part of his own soul, be his wife also? What would become of his child, who, as far as he could see, would not be his child at all in the eye of the law? Even while he was still a free man, still uncondemned, an effort had been made to rob him of his wife and boy,—an effort which for a time had seemed to be successful. How would Hester be able to withstand such attempts when they would be justified by a legal decision that she was not his wife,—and could not become his wife while that other woman was alive? Such thoughts as these did not tend to relieve the weariness of his days.
The only person from the outside world whom he was allowed to see during the three months of his incarceration was Mr. Seely, and with him he had two interviews. From the time of the verdict Mr. Seely was still engaged in making those enquiries as to the evidence of which we have heard so much, and though he was altogether unsympathetic and incredulous, still he did his duty. He had told his client that these enquiries were being made, and had, on his second visit, informed him of the arrival of Dick Shand. But he had never spoken with hope, and had almost ridiculed Bagwax with his postage-stamps and postmarks. When Caldigate first heard that Dick was in England,—for a minute or two,—he allowed himself to be full of hope. But the attorney had dashed his hopes. What was Shand's evidence against the testimony of four witnesses who had borne the fire of cross-examination? Their character was not very good, but Dick's was, if possible, worse. Mr. Seely did not think that Dick's word would go for much. He could simply say that, as far as he knew, there had been no marriage. And in this Mr. Seely had been right, for Dick's word had not gone for much. Then, when Crinkett and Mrs. Smith had been arrested, no tidings had reached him of that further event. It had been thought best that nothing as to that should be communicated to him till the result should be known.
Thus it had come to pass that when the tidings reached the prison he was not in a state of expectation. The governor of the prison knew what was going on, and had for days been looking for the order of release. But he had not held himself to be justified in acquainting his prisoner with the facts. The despatches to him and to Caldigate from the Home Office were marked immediate, and by the courtesy of the postmaster were given in at the prison gates before daylight. Caldigate was still asleep when the door of the cell was opened by the governor in person and the communication was made to him as he lay for the last time stretched on his prison pallet. 'You can get up a free man, Mr. Caldigate,' said the governor, with his hand on his prisoner's shoulder. 'I have here the Queen's pardon. It has reached me this morning.' Caldigate got up and looked at the man as though he did not at first understand the words that had been spoken. 'It is true, Mr. Caldigate. Here is my authority,—and this, no doubt, is a communication of the same nature to yourself.' Then Caldigate took the letter, and, with his mind still bewildered, made himself acquainted with the gratifying fact that all the big-wigs were very sorry for the misfortune which had befallen him.
In his state of mind, as it then was, he was by no means disposed to think much of the injustice done to him. He had in store for him, for immediate use, a whole world of glorious bliss. There was his house, his property, his farm, his garden, and the free air. And there would be the knowledge of all those around him that he had not done the treacherous thing of which those wretches had accused him.
And added to all this, and above all this, there would be his wife and his child! It was odd enough that a word from the mouth of an exalted Parliamentary personage should be able to give him back one wife and release him from another,—in opposition to the decision of the law,—should avail to restore to his boy the name and birthright of which he had been practically deprived, and should, by a stroke of his pen, undo all that had been done by the combined efforts of jury, judge, and prosecutor! But he found that so it was. He was pardoned, forsooth, as though he were still a guilty man! Yet he would have back his wife and child, and no one could gainsay him.
'When can I go?' he said, jumping from his bed.
'When you please;—now, at once. But you had better come into the house and breakfast with me first.'
'If I may I would rather go instantly. Can you send for a carriage for me?' Then the governor endeavoured to explain to him that it would be better for his wife, and more comfortable for everybody concerned, that she should have been enabled to expect him, if it were only for an hour or two, before his arrival. A communication would doubtless have been made from the Home Office to some one at Folking, and as that would be sent out by the foot-postman it would not be received before nine in the morning.
But Caldigate would not allow himself to be persuaded As for eating before he had seen the dear ones at home, that he declared to be impossible. A vision of what that breakfast might be to him with his own wife at his side came before his eyes, and therefore a messenger was at once sent for the vehicle.
But the postmaster, who from the beginning had never been a believer in the Australian wife, and, being a Liberal, was staunch to the Caldigate side of the question, would not allow the letter addressed to the old squire to be retained for the slow operations of the regular messenger, but sent it off manfully by horse express, before the dawn of day, so that it reached the old squire almost as soon as the other letters reached the prison. The squire, who was an early man, was shaving himself when the despatch was brought into his room with an intimation that the boy on horseback wanted to know what he was to do next. The boy of course got his breakfast and Mr. Caldigate read his letter, which was as follows:—
'HOME OFFICE,—October, 187-.
'My DEAR SIR,—When you did me the honour of calling upon me here I was able to do no more than express my sympathy as to the misfortune which had fallen upon your family, and to explain to you, I fear not very efficiently, that at that moment the mouths of all of us here were stopped by official prudence as to the matter which was naturally so near your heart. I have now the very great pleasure of informing you that the Secretary of State has this morning received her Majesty's command to issue a pardon for your son. The official intimation will be sent to him and to the county authorities by this post, and by the time that this reaches you he will be a free man.
'In writing to you, I need hardly explain that the form of a pardon from the Throne is the only mode allowed by the laws of the country for setting aside a verdict which has been found in error upon false evidence. Unfortunately, perhaps, we have not the means of annulling a criminal conviction by a second trial; and therefore, on such occasions as this,—occasions which are very rare,—we have but this lame way of redressing a great grievance. I am happy to think that in this case the future effect will be as complete as though the verdict had been reversed. As to the suffering which has been already endured by your son, by his much-injured wife, and by yourself, I am aware that no redress can be given.
It is one of those cases in which the honest and good have to endure a portion of the evil produced by the dishonesty of the wicked. I can only add to this my best wishes for your son's happiness on his return to his home, and express a hope that you will understand that I would most willingly have made your visit to the Home Office more satisfactory had it been within my power to do so.—Believe me, very faithfully yours,
He had not read this letter to the end, and had hardly washed the soap from his face, before he was in his daughter-in-law's room. She was there with her child, still in bed,—thinking, thinking, thinking whether there would ever come an end to her misery. 'It has come,' said the old man.
'What has come?' she asked, jumping up with the baby in her arms. But she knew what had come, for he had the letter open in his hands.
'They have pardoned him. The absurdity of the thing! Pardoning a man whom they know to be innocent, and to have been injured!'
But the 'absurdity of the thing,' as the old squire very naturally called it, was nothing to her now. He was to come back to her. She would be in his arms that day. On that very day she would once again hold up her boy to be kissed by his father.
'Where is he? When will he come? Of course I will go to him! You will make them have the waggonnette at once; will you not? I will be dressed in five minutes if you will go. Of course I will go to fetch him.'
But this the squire would not allow. The carriage should be sent, of course, and if it met his son on the road, as was probable, there would be no harm done. But it would not be well that the greeting between the husband and the wife should be in public. So he went out to order the carriage and to prepare himself to accompany it, leaving her to think of her happiness and to make herself ready for the meeting. But when left to herself she could hardly compose herself so as to brush her hair and give herself those little graces which should be pleasant to his eye. 'Papa is coming,' she said to her boy over and over again. 'Papa is coming back. Papa will be here; your own, own, own papa.' Then she threw aside the black gown, which she had worn since he left her, and chose for her wear one which he himself had taken pride in buying for her,—the first article of her dress in the choice of which he had been consulted as her husband; and with quick unsteady hand she pulled out some gay ribbon for her baby. Yes;—she and her boy would once again be bright for his sake;—for his sake there should again be gay ribbons and soft silks. 'Papa is coming, my own one; your own, own papa!' and then she smothered the child with kisses.
While they were sitting at breakfast at Puritan Grange, the same news reached Mr. and Mrs. Bolton. The letter to the old man from his son in town was very short, merely stating that the authorities at the Home Office had at last decided that Caldigate should be released from prison. The writer knew that his father would be prepared for this news by his brother; and all that could be said in the way of argument had been said already. The letters which came to Puritan Grange were few in number, and were generally addressed to the lady. The banker's letters were all received at the house of business in the town. 'What is it?' asked the wife, as soon as she saw the long official envelope. But he read it to the end very slowly before he vouchsafed her any reply. 'It has to do with that wretched man in prison,' she said. 'What is it?'
'He is in prison no longer.'
'They have let him escape?'
'The Queen has pardoned him because he was not guilty.'
'The Queen! As though she could know whether he be guilty or innocent. What can the Queen know of the manner of his life in foreign parts,—before he had taken my girl away from me?'
'He never married the woman. Let there be no more said about it. He never married her.'
But Mrs. Bolton, though she was not victorious, was not to be silenced by a single word. No more about it, indeed! There must be very much more about it. 'If she was not his wife, she was worse,' she said.
'He has repented of that.'
'Repented!' she said, with scorn. What very righteous person ever believed in the repentance of an enemy?
'Why should he not repent?'
'He has had leisure in jail.'
'Let us hope that he has used it. At any rate he is her husband. There are not many days left to me here. Let me at least see my daughter during the few that remain to me.'
'Do I not want to see my own child?'
'I will see her and her boy;—and I will have them called by the name which is theirs. And he shall come,—if he will. Who are you, or who am I, that we shall throw in his teeth the sins of his youth?' Then she became sullen and there was not a word more said between them that morning. But after breakfast the old gardener was sent into town for a fly, and Mr. Bolton was taken to the bank.
'And what are we to do now?' asked Mrs. Robert Bolton of her husband, when the tidings were made known to her also at her breakfast-table.
'We must take it as a fact that she is his wife.'
'Of course, my dear. If the Secretary of State were to say that I was his wife, I suppose I should have to take it as a fact.'
'If he said that you were a goose it might be nearer the mark.'
'Really! But a goose must know what she is to do.'
'You must write her a letter and call her Mrs. Caldigate. That will be an acknowledgment.'
'And what shall I say to her?'
'Ask her to come here, if you will.'
'And him, too. The fact is we have got to swallow it all. I was sure that he had married that woman, and then of course I wanted to get Hester away from him. Now I believe that he never married her, and therefore we must make the best of him as Hester's husband.'
'You used to like him.'
'Yes;—and perhaps I shall again. But why on earth did he pay twenty thousand pounds to those miscreants? That is what I could not get over. It was that which made me sure he was guilty. It is that which still puzzles me so that I can hardly make up my mind to be quite sure that he is innocent. But still we have to be sure. Perhaps the miracle will be explained some day.'
John Caldigate's Return
The carriage started with the old man in it as soon as the horses could be harnessed; but on the Folking causeway it met the fly which was bringing John Caldigate to his home,—so that the father and son greeted each other in the street amidst the eyes of the villagers. To them it did not much matter, but the squire had certainly been right in saving Hester from so public a demonstration of her feelings. The two men said hardly a word when they met, but stood there for a moment grasping each other's hands. Then the driver of the fly was paid, and the carriage was turned back to the house. 'Is she well?' asked Caldigate.
'She will be well now.'
'Has she been ill?'
'She has not been very happy, John, while you have been away from her.'
'And the boy?'
'He is all right. He has been spared the heart-breaking knowledge of the injury done to him. It has been very bad with you, I suppose.'
'I do not like being in jail, sir. It was the length of the time before me that seemed to crush me. I could not bring myself to believe that I should live to see the end of it.'
'The end has come, my boy,' said his father, again taking him by the hand, 'but the cruelty of the thing remains. Had there been another trial as soon as the other evidence was obtained, the struggle would have kept your heart up. It is damnable that a man in an office up in London should have to decide on such a matter, and should be able to take his own time about it!' The grievance was still at the old squire's heart in spite of the amenity of Mr. Brown's letter; but John Caldigate, who was approaching his house and his wife, and to whom, after his imprisonment even the flat fields and dykes were beautiful, did not at the moment much regard the anomaly of the machinery by which he had been liberated.
Hester in the meantime had donned her silk dress, and had tied the gay bow round her baby's frock, who was quite old enough to be astonished and charmed by the unusual finery in which he was apparelled. Then she sat herself at the window of a bedroom which looked out on to the gravel sweep, with her boy on her lap, and there she was determined to wait till the carriage should come.
But she had hardly seated herself before she heard the wheels. 'He is here. He is coming. There he is!' she said to the child. 'Look! look! It is papa.' But she stood back from the window that she might not be seen. She had thought it out with many fluctuations as to the very spot in which she would meet him. At one moment she had intended to go down to the gate, then to the hall-door, and again she had determined that she would wait for him in the room in which his breakfast was prepared for him. But she had ordered it otherwise at last. When she saw the carriage approaching, she retreated back from the window, so that he should not even catch a glimpse of her; but she had seen him as he sat, still holding his father's hand. Then she ran back to her own chamber and gave her orders as she passed across the passage. 'Go down, nurse, and tell him that I am here. Run quick, nurse; tell him to come at once.'
But he needed no telling. Whether he had divined her purpose, or whether it was natural to him to fly like a bird to his nest, he rushed upstairs and was in the room almost before his father had left the carriage She had the child in her hands when she heard him turn the lock of the door; but before he entered the boy had been laid in his cradle,—and then she was in his arms.
For the first few minutes she was quite collected, not saying much, but answering his questions by a word or two. Oh yes; she was well; and baby was well,—quite well. He, too, looked well, she said, though there was something of sadness in his face. 'But I will kiss that away,—so soon, so soon.' She had always expected that he would come back long, long before the time that had been named. She had been sure of it, she declared, because that it was impossible that so great injustice should be done. But the last fortnight had been very long. When those wicked people had been put in prison she had thought that then surely he would come. But now he was there, with his arms round her, safe in his own home, and everything was well. Then she lifted the baby up to be kissed again and again, and began to dance and spring in her joy. Then, suddenly, she almost threw the child into his arms, and seated herself, covered her face with her hands and began to sob with violence. When he asked her, with much embracing to compose herself, sitting close to her, kissing her again and again, she shook her head as it lay upon his shoulder, and then burst out into a fit of laughter. 'What does it matter,' she said after a while, as he knelt at her knees;—'what does it matter? My boy's father has come back to him. My boy has got his own name, and he is an honest true Caldigate; and no one again will tell me that another woman owns my husband, my own husband, the father of my boy. It almost killed me, John, when they said that you were not mine. And yet I knew that they said it falsely. I never doubted for a moment. I knew that you were my own, and that my boy had a right to his father's name. But it was hard to hear them say so, John. It was hard to bear when my mother swore that it was so!'
At last they went down and found the old squire waiting for his breakfast. 'I should think,' said he, 'that you would be glad to see a loaf of bread on a clean board again, and to know that you may cut it as you please. Did they give you enough where you were?'
'I didn't think much about it, sir.'
'But you must think about it now,' said Hester. 'To please me you must like everything; your tea, and your fresh eggs, and the butter and the cream. You must let yourself be spoilt for a time just to compensate me for your absence.'
'You have made yourself smart to receive him at any rate,' said the squire, who had become thoroughly used to the black gown which she had worn morning, noon, and evening while her husband was away.
'Why should I not be smart,' she said, 'when my man has come to me? For whose eyes shall I put on the raiment that is his own but for his? I was much lower than a widow in the eyes of all men; but now I have got my husband back again. And my boy shall wear the very best that he has, so that his father may see him smile at his own gaudiness. Yes, father, I may be smart now. There were moments in which I thought that I might never wear more the pretty things which he had given me.' Then she rose from her seat again, and hung on his neck, and wept and sobbed till he feared that her heart-strings would break with joy.
So the morning passed away among them till about eleven o'clock, when the servant brought in word that Mr. Holt and one or two other of the tenants wanted to see the young master. The squire had been sitting alone in the back room so that the husband and wife might be left together; but he had heard voices with which he was familiar, and he now came through to ask Hester whether the visitors should be sent away for the present. But Hester would not have turned a dog from the door which had been true to her husband through his troubles. 'Let them come,' she said. 'They have been so good to me, John, through it all! They have always known that baby was a true Caldigate.'
Holt and the other farmers were shown into the room, and Holt as a matter of course became the spokesman. When Caldigate had shaken hands with them all round, each muttering his word of welcome, then Holt began: 'We wish you to know, squoire, that we, none of us, ain't been comfortable in our minds here at Folking since that crawling villain Crinkett came and showed himself at our young squire's christening.'
'That we ain't,' said Timothy Purvidge, another Netherden farmer.
'I haven't had much comfort since that day myself, Mr. Purvidge,' said Caldigate,—'not till this morning.'
'Nor yet haven't none of us,' continued Mr. Holt, very impressively. 'We knowed as you had done all right. We was as sure as the church tower. Lord love you, sir, when it was between our young missus,—who'll excuse me for noticing these bright colours, and for saying how glad I am to see her come out once again as our squire's wife should come out,—between her and that bedangled woman as I seed in the court, it didn't take no one long to know what was the truth!' The eloquence here was no doubt better than the argument, as Caldigate must have felt when he remembered how fond he had once been of that 'bedangled woman.' Hester, who, though she knew the whole story, did not at this moment join two and two together, thought that Mr. Holt put the case uncommonly well. 'No! we knew,' he continued, with a wave of his hand. 'But the jury weren't Netherden men,—nor yet Utterden, Mr. Halfacre,' he added, turning to a tenant from the other parish. 'And they couldn't tell how it all was as we could. And there was that judge, who would have believed any miscreant as could be got anywhere, to swear away a man's liberty,—or his wife and family, which is a'most worse. We saw how it was to be when he first looked out of his eye at the two post-office gents, and others who spoke up for the young squoire. It was to be guilty. We know'd it. But it didn't any way change our minds. As to Crinkett and Smith and them others, we saw that they were ruffians. We never doubted that. But we saw as there was a bad time coming to you, Mr. John. Then we was unhappy; unhappy along of you, Mr. John,—but a'most worse as to this dear lady and the boy.'
'My missus cried that you wouldn't have believed,' said Mr. Purvidge. '"If that's true," said my missus, "she ain't nobody; and it's my belief she's as true a wife as ever stretched herself aside her husband."' Then Hester bethought herself what present, of all presents, would be most acceptable to Mrs. Purvidge, who was a red-faced, red-armed, hard-working old woman, peculiarly famous for making cheeses.
'We all knew it,' said Mr. Holt, slapping his thigh with great energy. 'And now, in spite of 'em all, judge, jury, and lying witnesses,—the king has got his own again.' At this piece of triumphant rhetoric there was a cheer from all the farmers. 'And so we have come to wish you all joy, and particularly you, ma'am, with your boy. Things have been said of you, ma'am, hard to bear, no doubt. But not a word of the kind at Folking, nor yet in Netherden;—nor yet at Utterden, Mr. Halfacre. But all this is over, and we do hope that you, ma'am, and the young squoire 'll live long, and the young 'un of all long after we are gone to our rest,—and that you'll be as fond of Folking as Folking is of you. I can't say no fairer.' Then the tray was brought in with wine, and everybody drank everybody's health, and there was another shaking of hands all round. Mr. Purvidge, it was observed, drank the health of every separate member of the family in a separate bumper, pressing the edge of the glass securely to his lips, and then sending the whole contents down his throat at one throw with a chuck from his little finger.
The two Caldigates went out to see their friends as far as the gate, and while they were still within the grounds there came a merry peal from the bells of Netherden church-tower. 'I knew they'd be at it,' said Mr. Holt.
'And quite right too,' said Mr. Halfacre. 'We'd rung over at Utterden, only we've got nothing but that little tinkling thing as is more fitter to swing round a bullock's neck than on a church-top.'
'I told 'em as they should have beer,' said Mr. Brownby, whose house stood on Folking Causeway, 'and they shall have beer!' Mr. Brownby was a silent man, and added nothing to this one pertinent remark.
'As to beer,' said Mr. Halfacre, 'we'd 'ave found the beer at Utterden. There wouldn't have been no grudging the beer, Mr. Brownby, no more than there is in the lower parish; but you can't get up a peal merely on beer. You've got to have bells.'
While they were still standing at the gate, Mr. Bromley the clergyman joined them, and walked back towards the house with the two Caldigates. He, too, had come to offer his congratulations, and to assure the released prisoner that he never believed the imputed guilt. But he would not go into the house, surmising that on such a day the happy wife would not care to see many visitors. But Caldigate asked him to take a turn about the grounds, being anxious to learn something from the outside world. 'What do they say to it all at Babington?'
'I think they're a little divided.'
'My aunt has been against me, of course.'
'At first she was, I fancy. It was natural that people should believe till Shand came back.'
'Poor, dear old Dick. I must look after Dick. What about Julia?'
'Spretae injuria formae!' said Mr. Bromley. 'What were you to expect?'
'I'll forgive her. And Mr. Smirkie? I don't think Smirkie ever looked on me with favourable eyes.'
Then the clergyman was forced to own that Smirkie too had been among those who had believed the woman's story. 'But you have to remember how natural it is that a man should think a verdict to be right. In our country a wrong verdict is an uncommon occurrence. It requires close personal acquaintance and much personal confidence to justify a man in supposing that twelve jurymen should come to an erroneous decision. I thought that they were wrong. But still I knew that I could hardly defend my opinion before the outside world.'
'It is all true,' said Caldigate; 'and I have made up my mind that I will be angry with no one who will begin to believe me innocent from this day.'
His mind, however, was considerably exercised in regard to the Boltons, as to whom he feared that they would not even yet allow themselves to be convinced. For his wife's happiness their conversion was of infinitely more importance than that of all the outside world beyond. When the gloom of the evening had come, she too came out and walked with him about the garden and grounds with the professed object of showing him whatever little changes might have been made. But the conversation soon fell back upon the last great incident of their joint lives.
'But your mother cannot refuse to believe what everybody now declares to be true,' he argued.
'Mamma is so strong in her feelings.'
'She must know they would not have let me out of prison in opposition to the verdict until they were very sure of what they were doing.'
Then she told him all that had occurred between her and her mother since the trial,—how her mother had come out to Folking and had implored her to return to Chesterton, and had then taken herself away in dudgeon because she had not prevailed. 'But nothing would have made me leave the place,' she said, 'after what they tried to do when I was there before. Except to go to church, I have not once been outside the gate.'