'Your brothers will come round, I suppose. Robert has been very angry with me, I know. But he is a man of the world and a man of sense.'
'We must take it as it will come, John. Of course it would be very much to me to have my father and mother restored to me. It would be very much to know that my brothers were again my friends. But when I remember how I prayed yesterday but for one thing, and that now, to-day, that one thing has come to me;—how I have got that which, when I waked this morning, seemed to me to be all the world to me, the want of which made my heart so sick that even my baby could not make me glad, I feel that nothing ought now to make me unhappy. I have got you, John, and everything else is nothing.' As he stooped in the dark to kiss her again among the rose-bushes, he felt that it was almost worth his while to have been in prison.
After dinner there came a message to them across the ferry from Mr. Holt. Would they be so good as to walk down to the edge of the great dike, opposite to Twopenny Farm, at nine o'clock? As a part of the message, Mr. Holt sent word that at that hour the moon would be rising. Of course they went down to the dike,—Mr. Caldigate, John Caldigate, and Hester there, outside Mr. Holt's farmyard, just far enough to avoid danger to the hay-ricks and corn-stacks there was blazing an enormous bonfire. All the rotten timber about the place and two or three tar-barrels had been got together, and there were collected all the inhabitants of the two parishes. The figures of the boys and girls and of the slow rustics with their wives could be seen moving about indistinctly across the water by the fluttering flame of the bonfire. And their own figures, too, were observed in the moonlight, and John Caldigate was welcomed back to his home by a loud cheer from all his neighbours.
'I did not see much of it myself,' Mr. Holt said afterwards, 'because me and my missus was busy among the stacks all the time, looking after the sparks. The bonfire might a' been too big, you know.'
How Mrs. Bolton Was Quite Conquered
Nearly a week passed over their heads at Puritan Grange before anything further was either done or said, or even written, as to the return of John Caldigate to his own home and to his own wife. In the meantime, both Mrs. Robert and Mrs. Daniel had gone out to Folking and made visits of ceremony,—visits which were intended to signify their acknowledgment that Mrs. John Caldigate was Mrs. John Caldigate. With Mrs. Daniel the matter was quite ceremonious and short. Mrs. Robert suggested something as to a visit into Cambridge, saying that her husband would be delighted if Hester and Mr. Caldigate would come and dine and sleep. Hester immediately felt that something had been gained, but she declined the proposed visit for the present. 'We have both of us,' she said, 'gone through so much, that we are not quite fit to go out anywhere yet.' Mrs. Robert had hardly expected them to come, but she had observed her husband's behests. So far there had been a family reconciliation during the first few days after the prisoner's release; but no sign came from Mrs. Bolton; and Mr. Bolton, though he had given his orders, was not at first urgent in requiring obedience to them. Then she received a letter from Hester.
'DEAREST, DEAREST MAMMA,—Of course you know that my darling husband has come back to me. All I want now to make me quite happy is to have you once again as my own, own mother. Will you not send me a line to say that it shall all be as though these last long dreary months had never been;—so that I may go to you and show you my baby once again? And, dear mamma, say one word to me to let me know that you know that he is my husband. Tell papa to say so also.—Your most affectionate daughter,
Mrs. Bolton found this letter on the breakfast-table lying, as was usual with her letters, close to her plate, and she read it without saying a word to her husband. Then she put it in her pocket, and still did not say a word. Before the middle of the day she had almost made up her mind that she would keep the letter entirely to herself. It was well, she thought, that he had not seen it, and no good could be done by showing it to him. But he had been in the breakfast-parlour before her, had seen the envelope, and had recognised the handwriting. They were sitting together after lunch, and she was just about to open the book of sermons with which, at that time, she was regaling him, when he stopped her with a question. 'What did Hester say in her letter?'
Even those who intend to be truthful are sometimes surprised into a lie. 'What letter?' she said. But she remembered herself at once, and knew that she could not afford to be detected in a falsehood. 'That note from Hester? Yes;—I had a note this morning.'
'I know you had a note. What does she say?'
'She tells me that he—he has come back.'
'And what else? She was well aware that we knew that without her telling us.'
'She wants to come here.'
'Bid her come.'
'Of course she shall come.'
'And him.' To this she made no answer, except with the muscles of her face, which involuntarily showed her antagonism to the order she had received. 'Bid her bring her husband with her,' said the banker.
'He would not come,—though I were to ask him.'
'Then let it be on his own head.'
'I will not ask him,' she said at last, looking away across the room at the blank wall. 'I will not belie my own heart. I do not want to see him here. He has so far got the better of me; but I will not put my neck beneath his feet for him to tread on me.'
Then there was a pause;—not that he intended to allow her disobedience to pass, but that he was driven to bethink himself how he might best oppose her. 'Woman,' he said, 'you can neither forgive nor forget.'
'He has got my child from me,—my only child.'
'Does he persecute your child? Is she not happy in his love? Even if he have trespassed against you, who are you that you should not forgive a trespass? I say that he shall be asked to come here, that men may know that in her own father's house she is regarded as his true and honest wife.'
'Men!' she murmured. 'That men may know!' But she did not again tell him that she would not obey his command.
She sat all the remainder of the day alone in her room, hardly touching the work which she had beside her, not opening the book which lay by her hand on the table. She was thinking of the letter which she knew that she must write, but she did not rise to get pen and ink, nor did she even propose to herself that the letter should be written then. Not a word was said about it all the evening. On the next morning the banker pronounced his intention of going into town, but before he started he referred to the order he had given. 'Have you written to Hester?' he asked. She merely shook her head. 'Then write to-day.' So saying, he tottered down the steps with his stick and got into the fly.
About noon she did get her paper and ink, and very slowly wrote her letter. Though her heart was, in truth, yearning towards her daughter,—though at that moment she could have made any possible sacrifice for her child had her child been apart from the man she hated,—she could not in her sullenness force her words into a form of affection.
'DEAR HESTER,' she said. 'Of course I shall be glad to see you and your boy. On what day would it suit you to come, and how long would you like to stay? I fear you will find me and your father but dull companions after the life you are now used to. If Mr. Caldigate would like to come with you, your father bids me say that he will be glad to see him.—Your loving mother,
She endeavoured, in writing her letter, to obey the commands that had been left with her, but she could not go nearer to it than this. She could not so far belie her heart as to tell her daughter that she herself would be glad to see the man. Then it took her long to write the address. She did write it at last;
Mrs. JOHN CALDIGATE, FOLKING.
But as she wrote it she told herself that she believed it to be a lie.
When the letter reached Hester there was a consultation over it, to which old Mr. Caldigate was admitted. It was acknowledged on all sides that anything would be better than a family quarrel. The spirit in which the invitation had been written was to be found in every word of it. There was not a word to show that Mrs. Bolton had herself accepted the decision to which everyone else had come in the matter;—everything, rather, to show that she had not done so. But, as the squire said, it does not do to inquire too closely into all people's inner beliefs. 'If everybody were to say what he thinks about everybody, nobody would ever go to see anybody.' It was soon decided that Hester, with her baby, should go on an early day to Puritan Grange, and should stay there for a couple of nights. But there was a difficulty as to Caldigate himself. He was naturally enough anxious to send Hester without him, but she was as anxious to take him. 'It isn't for my own sake,' she said,—'because I shall like to have you there with me. Of course it will be very dull for you, but it will be so much better that we should all be reconciled, and that everyone should know that we are so.'
'It would only be a pretence,' said he.
'People must pretend sometimes, John,' she answered. At last it was decided that he should take her, reaching the place about the hour of lunch, so that he might again break bread in her father's house,—that he should then leave her there, and that at the end of the two days she should return to Folking.
On the day named they reached Puritan Grange at the hour fixed. Both Caldigate and Hester were very nervous as to their reception, and got out of the carriage almost without a word to each other. The old gardener, who had been so busy during Hester's imprisonment, was there to take the luggage; and Hester's maid carried the child as Caldigate, with his wife behind him, walked up the steps and rang the bell. There was no coming out to meet them, no greeting them even in the hall. Mr. Bolton was perhaps too old and too infirm for such running out, and it was hardly within his nature to do so. They were shown into the well-known morning sitting-room, and there they found Hester's father in his chair, and Mrs. Bolton standing up to receive them.
Hester, after kissing her father, threw herself into her mother's arms before a word had been said to Caldigate. Then the banker addressed him with a set speech, which no doubt had been prepared in the old man's mind. 'I am very glad,' he said, 'that you have brought this unhappy matter to so good a conclusion, Mr. Caldigate.'
'It has been a great trouble,—worse almost for Hester than for me.'
'Yes, it has been sad enough for Hester,—and the more so because it was natural that others should believe that which the jury and the judge declared to have been proved. How should any one know otherwise?'
'Just so, Mr. Bolton. If they will accept the truth now, I shall be satisfied.'
'It will come, but perhaps slowly to some folk. You should in justice remember that your own early follies have tended to bring this all about.'
It was a grim welcome, and the last speech was one which Caldigate found it difficult to answer. It was so absolutely true that it admitted of no answer. He thought that it might have been spared, and shrugged his shoulders as though to say that that part of the subject was one which he did not care to discuss. Hester heard it, and quivered with anger even in her mother's arms. Mrs. Bolton heard it, and in the midst of her kisses made an inward protest against the word used. Follies indeed! Why had he not spoken out the truth as he knew it, and told the man of his vices?
But it was necessary that she too should address him. 'I hope I see you quite well, Mr. Caldigate,' she said, giving him her hand.
'The prison has not disagreed with me,' he said, with an attempt at a smile, 'though it was not an agreeable residence.'
'If you used your leisure there to meditate on your soul's welfare, it may have been of service to you.'
It was very grim. But the banker having made his one severe speech, became kind in his manner, and almost genial. He asked after his son-in-law's future intentions, and when he was told that they thought of spending some months abroad so as to rid themselves in that way of the immediate record of their past misery, he was gracious enough to express his approval of the plan; and then when the lunch was announced, and the two ladies had passed out of the room, he said a word to his son-in-law in private. 'As I was convinced, Mr. Caldigate, when I first heard the evidence, that that other woman was your wife, and was therefore very anxious to separate my daughter from you, so am I satisfied now that the whole thing was a wicked plot.'
'I am very glad to hear you say that, sir.'
'Now, if you please, we will go in to lunch.'
As long as Caldigate remained in the house Mrs. Bolton was almost silent. The duties of a hostess she performed in a stiff ungainly way. She asked him whether he would have hashed mutton or cold beef, and allowed him to pour a little sherry into her wine-glass. But beyond this there was not much conversation. Mr. Bolton had said what he had to say, and sat leaning forward with his chin over his plate perfectly silent. It is to be supposed that he had some pleasure in having his daughter once more beneath his roof, especially as he had implored his wife not to deprive him of that happiness during the small remainder of his days. But he sat there with no look of joy upon his face. That she should be stern, sullen, and black-browed was to be expected. She had been compelled to entertain their guest; and was not at all the woman to bear such compulsion meekly.
The hour at last wore itself away, and the carriage which was to take Caldigate back to Folking was again at the door. It was a Tuesday. 'You will send for me on Thursday,' she said to him in a whisper.
'Early? After breakfast, you know. I suppose you will not come yourself.'
'Not here, I think. I have done all the good that I can do, and it is pleasant to no one. But you shall pick me up in the town. I shall go in and see your brother Robert.' Then he went, and Hester was left with her parents.
As she turned back from the hall-door she found her mother standing at the foot of the stairs, waiting for her. 'Shall I come with you, mamma?' she said. Holding each other's arms they went up, and so passed into Hester's room, where the nurse was sitting with the boy. 'Let her go into my room,' said the elder lady. So the nurse took the baby away, and they were alone together. 'Oh, Hester, Hester, my child!' said the mother, flinging her arms wildly round her daughter.
The whole tenor of her face was changed at that moment. Even to Hester she had been stern, forbidding, and sullen. There had not been a gracious movement about her lips or eyes since the visitors had come. A stranger, could a stranger have seen it all, would have said that the mother did not love her child, that there was no touch of tenderness about the woman's heart. But now, when she was alone, with the one thing on earth that was dear to her, she melted at once. In a moment Hester found herself seated on the sofa, with her mother kneeling before her, sobbing, and burying her face in the loved one's lap. 'You love me, Hester,—still.'
'Love you, mamma! You know I love you.'
'Not as it used to be. I am nothing to you now. I can do nothing for you now. You turn away from me, because—because—because—'
'I have never turned away from you, mamma.'
'Because I could not bear that you should be taken away from me and given to him.'
'He is good, mamma. If you would only believe that he is good!'
'He is not good. God only is good, my child.'
'He is good to me.'
'Ah, yes;—he has taken you from me. When I thought you were coming back, in trouble, in disgrace from the world, nameless, a poor injured thing, with your nameless babe, then I comforted myself because I thought that I could be all and everything to you. I would have poured balm into the hurt wounds. I would have prayed with you, and you and I would have been as one before the Lord.'
'You are not sorry, mamma, that I have got my husband again?'
'Oh, I have tried,—I have tried not to be sorry.'
'You do not believe now that that woman was his wife?'
Then the old colour came back upon her face, and something of the old look, and the tenderness was quenched in her eyes, and the softness of her voice was gone. 'I do not know,' she said.
'Mamma, you must know. Get up and sit by me till I tell you. You must teach yourself to know this,—to be quite sure of it. You must not think that your daughter is,—is living in adultery with the husband of another woman. To me who knew him there has never been a shadow of a doubt, not a taint of fear to darken the certainty of my faith. It could not have been so, perhaps, with you who have not known his nature. But now, now, when all of them, from the Queen downwards, have declared that this charge has been a libel, when even the miscreants themselves have told against themselves, when the very judge has gone back from the word in which he was so confident, shall my mother,—and my mother only,—think that I am a wretched, miserable, nameless outcast, with a poor nameless, fatherless baby? I am John Caldigate's wife before God's throne, and my child is his child, and his lawful heir, and owns his father's name. My husband is to me before all the world,—first, best, dearest,—my king, my man, my master, and my lover. Above all things, he is my husband.' She had got up, and was standing before her mother with her arms folded before her breast, and the fire glanced from her eyes as she spoke. 'But, mamma, because I love him more, I do not love you less.'
'Oh yes, oh yes; so much less.'
'No, mamma. It is given to us, of God, so to love our husband; "For the husband is head of the wife, even as Christ is head of the Church." You would not have me forget such teaching as that?'
'No,—my child; no.'
'When I went out and had him given to me for my husband, of course I loved him best. The Lord do so to me and more also if aught but death part him and me! But shall that make my mother think that her girl's heart is turned away from her? Mamma, say that he is my husband.' The frown came back, and the woman sat silent and sullen, but there was something of vacillating indecision in her face. 'Mamma,' repeated Hester, 'say that he is my husband.'
'I suppose so,' said the woman, very slowly.
'Mamma, say that it is so, and bless your child.'
'God bless you, my child.'
'And you know that it is so?'
'Yes.' The word was hardly spoken, but the lips of the one were close to the ear of the other, and the sound was heard, and the assent was acknowledged.
The web of our story has now been woven, the piece is finished, and it is only necessary that the loose threads should be collected, so that there may be no unravelling. In such chronicles as this, something no doubt might be left to the imagination without serious injury to the story; but the reader, I think, feels a deficiency when, through tedium or coldness, the writer omits to give all the information which he possesses.
Among the male personages of my story, Bagwax should perhaps be allowed to stand first. It was his energy and devotion to his peculiar duties which, after the verdict, served to keep alive the idea that that verdict had been unjust. It was through his ingenuity that Judge Bramber was induced to refer the inquiry back to Scotland Yard, and in this way to prevent the escape of Crinkett and Euphemia Smith. Therefore we will first say a word as to Bagwax and his history.
It was rumoured at the time that Sir John Joram and Mr. Brown, having met each other at the club after the order for Caldigate's release had been given, and discussing the matter with great interest, united in giving praise to Bagwax. Then Sir John told the story of those broken hopes, of the man's desire to travel, and of the faith and honesty with which he sacrificed his own aspirations for the good of the poor lady whose husband had been so cruelly taken away from her. Then,—as it was said at the time,—an important letter was sent from the Home Office to the Postmaster-General, giving Mr. Bagwax much praise, and suggesting that a very good thing would be done to the colony of New South Wales if that ingenious and skilful master of postmarks could be sent out to Sydney with the view of setting matters straight in the Sydney office . There was then much correspondence with the Colonial Office, which did not at first care very much about Bagwax; but at last the order was given by the Treasury, and Bagwax went. There were many tears shed on the occasion at Apricot Villa. Jemima Curlydown thought that she also should be allowed to see Sydney, and was in favour of an immediate marriage with this object. But Bagwax felt that the boisterous ocean might be unpropitious to the delights of a honeymoon; and Mr. Curlydown reminded his daughter of all the furniture which would thus be lost. Bagwax went as a gay bachelor, and spent six happy months in the bright colony. He did not effect much, as the delinquent who had served Crinkett in his base purposes had already been detected and punished before his arrival; but he was treated with extreme courtesy by the Sydney officials, and was able to bring home with him a treasure in the shape of a newly-discovered manner of tying mail-bags. So that when the 'Sydney Intelligencer' boasted that the great English professor who had come to instruct them all had gone home instructed, there was some truth in it. He was married immediately after his return, and Jemima his wife has the advantage, in her very pretty drawing-room, of every shilling that he made by the voyage. My readers will be glad to hear that soon afterwards he was appointed Inspector-General of Post-marks, to the great satisfaction of all the post-office.
[Footnote 1: I hope my friends in the Sydney post-office will take no offence should this story ever reach their ears. I know how well the duties are done in that office, and, between ourselves, I think that Mr. Bagwax's journey was quite unnecessary.]
One of the few things which Caldigate did before he took his wife abroad was to 'look after Dick Shand.' It was manifest to all concerned that Dick could do no good in England. His yellow trousers and the manners which accompanied them were not generally acceptable in merchants' offices and suchlike places. He knew nothing about English farming, which, for those who have not learned the work early, is an expensive amusement rather than a trade by which bread can be earned. There seemed to be hardly a hope for Dick in England. But he had done some good among the South Sea Islanders. He knew their ways and could manage them. He was sent out, therefore, with a small capital to be junior partner on a sugar estate in Queensland. It need hardly be said that the small capital was lent to him by John Caldigate. There he took steadily to work, and it is hoped by his friends that he will soon begin to repay the loan.
The uncle, aunt, and cousins at Babington soon renewed their intimacy with John Caldigate, and became intimate with Hester. The old squire still turned up his nose at them, as he had done all his life, calling them Boeotians, and reminding his son that Suffolk had always been a silly county. But the Babingtons, one and all, knew this, and had no objection to be accounted thick-headed as long as they were acknowledged to be prosperous, happy, and comfortable. It had always been considered at Babington that young Caldigate was brighter and more clever than themselves; and yet he had been popular with them as a cousin of whom they ought to be proud. He was soon restored to his former favour, and after his return from the Continent spent a fortnight at the Hall, with his wife, very comfortably. Julia, indeed, was not there, nor Mr. Smirkie. Among all their neighbours and acquaintances Mr. Smirkie was the last to drop the idea that there must have been something in that story of an Australian marriage. His theory of the law on the subject was still incorrect. The Queen's pardon, he said, could not do away with the verdict, and therefore he doubted whether the couple could be regarded as man and wife. He was very anxious that they should be married again, and with great good-nature offered to perform the ceremony himself either at Plum-cum-Pippins or even in the drawing-room at Folking.
'Suffolk to the very backbone!' was the remark of the Cambridgeshire squire when he heard of this very kind offer. But even he at last came round, under his wife's persuasion, when he found that the paternal mansion was likely to be shut against him unless he yielded.
Hester's second tour with her husband was postponed for some weeks, because it was necessary that her husband should appear as a witness against Crinkett and Euphemia Smith. They were tried also at Cambridge, but not before Judge Bramber. The woman never yielded an inch. When she found how it was going with her, she made fast her money, and with infinite pluck resolved that she would endure with patience whatever might be in store for her, and wait for better times. When put into the dock she pleaded not guilty with a voice that was audible only to the jailer standing beside her, and after that did not open her mouth during the trial. Crinkett made a great effort to be admitted as an additional witness against his comrade, but, having failed in that, pleaded guilty at last. He felt that there was no hope for him with such a weight of evidence against him, and calculated that his punishment might thus be lighter, and that he would save himself the cost of an expensive defence. In the former hope he was deceived as the two were condemned to the same term of imprisonment. When the woman heard that she was to be confined for three years with hard labour her spirit was almost broken. But she made no outward sign; and as she was led away out of the dock she looked round for Caldigate, to wither him with the last glance of her reproach. But Caldigate, who had not beheld her misery without some pang at his heart, had already left the court.
Judge Bramber never opened his mouth upon the matter to a single human being. He was a man who, in the bosom of his family, did not say much about the daily work of his life, and who had but few friends sufficiently intimate to be trusted with his judicial feelings. The Secretary of State was enabled to triumph in the correctness of his decision, but it may be a question whether Judge Bramber enjoyed the triumph. The matter had gone luckily for the Secretary; but how would it have been had Crinkett and the woman been acquitted?—how would it have been had Caldigate broken down in his evidence, and been forced to admit that there had been a marriage of some kind? No doubt the accusation had been false. No doubt the verdict had been erroneous. But the man had brought it upon himself by his own egregious folly, and would have had no just cause for complaint had he been kept in prison till the second case had been tried. It was thus that Judge Bramber regarded the matter;—but he said not a word about it to any one.
When the second trial was over, Caldigate and his wife started for Paris, but stayed a few days on their way with William Bolton in London. He and his wife were quite ready to receive Hester and her husband with open arms. 'I tell you fairly,' said he to Caldigate, 'that when there was a doubt, I thought it better that you and Hester should be apart. You would have thought the same had she been your sister. Now I am only too happy to congratulate both of you that the truth has been brought to light.'
On their return Mrs. Robert Bolton was very friendly,—and Robert Bolton himself was at last brought round to acknowledge that his convictions had been wrong. But there was still much that stuck in his throat. 'Why did John Caldigate pay twenty thousand pounds to those persons when he knew that they had hatched a conspiracy against himself?' This question he asked his brother William over and over again, and never could be satisfied with any answer which his brother could give him.
Once he asked the question of Caldigate himself. 'Because I felt that, in honour, I owed it to them,' said Caldigate; 'and, perhaps, a little too because I felt that, if they took themselves off at once, your sister might be spared something of the pain which she has suffered.' But still it was unintelligible to Robert Bolton that any man in his senses should give away so large a sum of money with so slight a prospect of any substantial return.
Hester often goes to see her mother, but Mrs. Bolton has never been at Folking, and probably never will again visit that house. She is a woman whose heart is not capable of many changes, and who cannot readily give herself to new affections. But having once owned that John Caldigate is her daughter's husband, she now alleges no further doubt on the matter. She writes the words 'Mrs. John Caldigate' without a struggle, and does take delight in her daughter's visits.
When last I heard from Folking, Mrs. John Caldigate's second boy had just been born.