'Oh, mamma, do not speak of it like that!'
'My darling, my own one; would you have me pretend what I do not feel?' 'Why, yes. Even that would be better than treatment such as this.' That would have been Hester's reply could she have spoken her mind; but she could not speak it, and therefore she stood silent. 'I will not pretend. You and your father have done this thing against my wishes and against my advice.'
'It is I that have done it, mamma.'
'You would not have persevered had he been firm,—as firm as I have been. But he has vacillated, turning hither and thither, serving God and Mammon. And he has allowed himself to be ruled by his own son. I will never, never speak to Robert Bolton again.'
'Oh mamma, do not say that.'
'I do say it. I swear it. You shall not touch pitch and not be defiled. If there be pitch on earth he is pitch. If your eye offend you, pluck it out. He is my step-son, I know; but I will pluck him out like an eye that has offended. It is he that has robbed me of my child.'
'Am I not still your child?' said Hester, going down on her knees with her hands in her mother's lap and her eyes turned up to her mother's face.
'No. You are not mine any longer. You are his. You are that man's wife. When he bids you do that which is evil in the sight of the Lord, you must do it. And he will bid you. You are not my child now. As days run on and sins grow black I cannot warn you now against the wrath to come. But though you are not my child, though you are this man's wife, I will pray for you.'
'And for him?'
'I do not know. I cannot say. Who am I that I should venture to pray specially for a stranger? That His way may be shown to all sinners;—thus will I pray for him. And it will be shown. Though whether he will walk in it,—who can say that?' So much was true of John Caldigate, no doubt, and is true of all; but there was a tone in her voice which implied that in regard to this special sinner there could be very little hope indeed.
'Why should you think that he is bad, mamma?'
'We are all bad. There is no doubt about his being bad. There is not one among us fit to sweep the lowest step of God's throne. But they who are His people shall be made bright enough to sit round His feet. May the time come when you, my darling, shall be restored to the fold.' The poor young wife by this time had acknowledged to herself the mistake she had made in thus coming to her mother after her marriage. She now was of course in that ecstatic phase of existence which makes one's own self altogether subordinate to the self of another person. That her husband should be happy constituted her hope of happiness; that he should be comfortable, her comfort. If he were thought worthy, that would be her worthiness; or if he were good, that would be her goodness. And even as to those higher, more distant aspirations, amidst which her mother was always dwelling, she would take no joy for herself which did not include him. The denunciations against him which were so plainly included even in her mother's blessings and prayers for herself, did not frighten her on behalf of the man to whom she had devoted herself. She could see the fanaticism and fury of her mother's creed. But she could not escape from the curse of the moment. When that last imprecation was made by the woman, with her hands folded and her eyes turned up to heaven, Hester could only bury her face on her mother's knees and weep. 'When that time comes, and I know it will come, you shall return to me, and once more be my child,' said the mother.
'You do not mean that I shall leave my husband?'
'Who can tell? If you do, and I am living, you shall be my child. Till then we must be apart. How can it be otherwise? Can I give my cheek to a man to be kissed, and call him my son, when I think that he has robbed me of my only treasure?'
This was so terrible that the daughter could only hang around her mother's neck, sobbing and kissing her at the same time, and then go without another word. She was sure of this,—that if she must lose one or the other, her mother or her husband, then she would lose her mother. When she returned to The Nurseries, her husband, according to agreement came out to her at once. She had bidden adieu to all the others; but at the last moment her father put his hand into the carriage, so that she could take it and kiss it. 'Mamma is so sad,' she said to him; 'go home to her and comfort her.' Of course the old man did go home, but he was aware that there would for some time be little comfort there either for him or for his wife. He and his sons had been too powerful for her in arranging the marriage; but now, now that it was done, nothing could stop her reproaches. He had been made to think it wrong on one side to shut his girl up, and now from the other side he was being made to think that he had done very wrong in allowing her to escape.
It had been arranged that they should be driven out of Cambridge to the railway station at Audley End on their way to London; so that they might avoid the crowd of people who would know them at the Cambridge station. As soon as they had got away from the door of Robert Bolton's house, the husband attempted to comfort his young wife. 'At any rate it is over,' he said, alluding of course to the tedium of their wedding festivities.
'So much is over,' she replied.
'You do not regret anything?'
She shook her head slowly as she leaned lovingly against his shoulder. 'You are not sorry, Hester, that you have become my wife?'
'I had to be your wife,—because I love you.'
'Is that a sorrow?'
'I had been all my mother's;—and now I am all yours. She has thrown me off because I have disobeyed her. I hope you will never throw me off.'
'Is it likely?'
'I think not. I know that I shall never throw you off. They have tried to make me believe that you are not all that you ought to be—in religion. But now your religion shall be my religion, and your life my life. I shall be of your colour—altogether. But, John, a limb cannot be wrenched out of a socket, as I have been torn away from my mother, without pain.'
'She will forgive it all when we come back.'
'I fear—I fear. I never knew her to forgive anything yet.' This was very bad; but nevertheless it was plain to him as it had been plain to Robert and William Bolton, that not because of the violence of the woman's character should the life of her daughter have been sacrificed to her. His duty to make her new life bright for her was all the more plain and all the more sound,—and as they made their first journey together he explained to her how sacred that duty should always be to him.
As To Touching Pitch
Before the wedding old Mr. Caldigate arranged with his son that he would give up to the young married people the house at Folking, and indeed the entire management of the property. 'I have made up my mind about it,' said the squire, who at this time was living with his son on happy terms. 'I have never been adapted for the life of a country gentleman,' he continued, 'though I have endeavoured to make the best of it, and have in a certain way come to love the old place. But I don't care about wheat nor yet about bullocks;—and a country house should always have a mistress.' And so it was settled. Mr. Caldigate took for himself a house in Cambridge, whither he proposed to remove nothing but himself and his books, and promised to have Folking ready for his son and his son's bride on their return from their wedding tour. In all this Robert Bolton and the old squire acted together, the brother thinking that the position would suit his sister well. But others among the Boltons,—Mrs Daniel, the London people, and even Mrs. Robert herself,—had thought that the 'young people' had better be further away from the influences or annoyances of Puritan Grange. Robert, however, had declared that it would be absurd to yield to the temper, and prejudice, and fury—as he called it—of his father's wife. When this discussion was going on she had absolutely quarrelled with the attorney, and the attorney had made up his mind that she should be—ignored. And then, too, as Robert explained, it must be for the husband and not for the wife to choose where they would live. Folking was, or at any rate would be, his own, by right of inheritance, and it was not to be thought of that a man should be driven away from his natural duties and from the enjoyment of his natural privileges by the mad humours of a fanatic female. In all this old Mr. Bolton was hardly consulted; but there was no reason why he should express an opinion. He was giving his daughter absolutely no fortune; nor had he even vouchsafed to declare what money should be coming to her at his death. John Caldigate had positively refused to say a word on the subject;—had refused even when instigated to do so by Hester's brother. 'It shall be just as he pleases,' Caldigate had said. 'I told your father that I was not looking after his daughter with any view to money, and I will be as good as my word.' Robert had told her father that something should be arranged;—but the old man had put it off from day to day, and nothing had been arranged. And so it came to pass that he was excluded almost from having an opinion as to his daughter's future life.
It was understood that the marriage trip should be continued for some months. Caldigate was fettered by no business that required an early return. He had worked hard for five years, and felt that he had earned a holiday. And Hester naturally was well disposed to be absent for as long a time as would suit her husband. Time, and time alone, might perhaps soften her mother's heart. They went to Italy, and stayed during the winter months in Rome, and then, when the fine weather came, they returned across the Alps, and lingered about among the playgrounds of Europe, visiting Switzerland, the Tyrol, and the Pyrenees, and returning home to Cambridgeshire at the close of the following September.
And then there was a reason for the return. It would be well that the coming heir to the Folking estate should be born at Folking. Whether an heir, or only an insignificant girl, it would be well that the child should be born amidst the comforts of home; and so they came back. When they reached the station at Cambridge the squire was there to receive them, as were also Robert Bolton and his wife. 'I am already in my new house,' said the old man,—'but I mean to go out with you for to-day and to-morrow, and just stay till you are comfortably fixed.'
'I never see her myself,' said Robert, in answer to a whispered inquiry from his sister. 'Or it would be more correct to say she will never see me. But I hear from the others that she speaks of you constantly.'
'She has written to me of course. But she never mentions John. In writing back I have always sent his love, and have endeavoured to show that I would not recognise any quarrel.'
'If I were you,' said Robert, 'I would not take him with me when I went.' Then the three Caldigates were taken off to Folking.
A week passed by and then arrived the day on which it had been arranged that Hester was to go to Chesterton and see her mother. There had been numerous letters, and at last the matter was settled between Caldigate and old Mr. Bolton at the bank. 'I think you had better let her come alone,' the old man had said when Caldigate asked whether he might be allowed to accompany his wife. 'Mrs. Bolton has not been well since her daughter's marriage and has felt the desolation of her position very much. She is weak and nervous, and I think you had better let Hester come alone.' Had Caldigate known his mother-in-law better he would not have suggested a visit from himself. No one who did know her would have looked forward to see her old hatred eradicated by an absence of nine months. Hester therefore went into Cambridge alone, and was taken up to the house by her father. As she entered the iron gates she felt almost as though she were going into the presence of one who was an enemy to herself. And yet when she saw her mother, she rushed at once into the poor woman's arms. 'Oh, mamma, dear mamma, dearest mamma! My own, own, own mamma!'
Mrs. Bolton was sitting by the open window of a small breakfast parlour which looked into the garden, and had before her on her little table her knitting and a volume of sermons. 'So you have come back, Hester,' she said after a short pause. She had risen at first to receive her daughter, and had returned her child's caresses, but had then reseated herself quickly, as though anxious not to evince any strong feeling on the occasion.
'Yes, mamma, I have come back. We have been so happy!'
'I am glad you have been happy. Such joys are short-lived; but, still—'
'He has been so good to me, mamma!'
Good! What was the meaning of the word good? She doubted the goodness of such goodness as his. Do not they who are tempted by the pleasures of the world always praise the good-nature and kindness of them by whom they are tempted? There are meanings to the word good which are so opposed one to another! 'A husband is, I suppose, generally kind to his wife, at any rate for a little time,' she said.
'Oh, mamma, I do so wish you knew him!' The woman turned her face round, away from her daughter, and assumed that look of hard, determined impregnable obstinacy with which Hester had been well acquainted all her life. But the young wife had come there with a purpose, not strong perhaps, in actual hope, but resolute even against hope to do her best. There must be an enduring misery to her unless she could bring her mother into some friendly relation with her husband, and she had calculated that the softness produced by her return would give a better chance for this than she might find at any more protracted time. But Mrs. Bolton had also made her calculations and had come to her determination. She turned her head away therefore, and sat quite silent, with the old stubborn look of resolved purpose.
'Mamma, you will let him come to you now?'
'Not your own Hester's husband?'
'Are we to be divided for ever?'
'Did I not tell you before,—when you were going? Shall I lie, and say that I love him? I will not touch pitch, lest I be defiled.'
'Mamma, he is my husband. You shall not call him pitch. He is my very own. Mamma, mamma!—recall the word that you have said.'
The woman felt that it had to be recalled in some degree. 'I said nothing of him, Hester. I call that pitch which I believe to be wrong, and if I swerve but a hair's-breadth wittingly towards what I believe to be evil, then I shall be touching pitch and then I shall be defiled. I did not say that he was pitch. Judge not and ye shall not be judged.' But if ever judgment was pronounced, and a verdict given, and penalties awarded, such was done now in regard to John Caldigate.
'But, mamma, why will it be doing evil to be gracious to your daughter's husband?'
The woman had an answer to this appeal very clearly set forth in her mind though she was unable to produce it clearly in words. When the marriage had been first discussed she had opposed it with all her power, because she had believed the man to be wicked. He was unregenerate;—and when she had put it to her husband and to the Nicholases and to the Daniels to see whether such was not the case, they had not contradicted her. It was acknowledged that he was such a one as Robert,—a worldly man all round. And then he was worse than Robert, having been a spendthrift, a gambler, and, if the rumours which had reached them were true, given to the company of loose women. She had striven with all her might that such a one should not be allowed to take her daughter from her, and had striven in vain. He had succeeded;—but his character was not changed by his success. Did she not know him to be chaff that must be separated by the wind from the corn and then consumed in the fire? His character was not altered because that human being whom she loved the best in all the world had fallen into his power. He was not the less chaff,—the less likely to be burned. That her daughter should become chaff also,—ah, there was the agony of it! If instead of taking the husband and wife together she could even now separate them,—would it not be her duty to do so? Of all duties would it not be the first? Let the misery here be what it might, what was that to eternal misery or to eternal bliss? When therefore she was asked whether she would be doing evil were she to be gracious to her own son-in-law, she was quite, quite sure that any such civility would be a sin. The man was pitch,—though she had been coerced by the exigencies of a worldly courtesy to deny that she had intended to say so. He was pitch to her, and she declared to herself that were she to touch him she would be denied. But she knew not in what language to explain all this. 'What you call graciousness, Hester, is an obligation of which religion knows nothing,' she said after a pause.
'I don't know why it shouldn't. Are we to be divided, mamma, because of religion?'
'If you were alone——'
'But I am not alone. Oh, mamma, mamma, do you not know that I am going to become a mother?'
'And you will not be with me, because you think that you and John differ as to religious forms.'
'Forms!' she said. 'Forms! Is the spirit there? By their fruits ye shall know them. I ask you yourself whether his life as you have seen it is such as I should think conformable with the Word of God?'
'Whose life is so?'
'But an effort may be made. Do not let us palter with each other, Hester! There are the sheep,—and there are the goats! Of which is he? According to the teaching of your early years, in which flock would he be found if account were taken now?'
There was something so terrible in this that the young wife who was thus called upon to denounce her husband separated herself by some steps from her mother, retreating back to a chair in which she seated herself. 'Do you remember, mamma, the words you said just now? Judge not and ye shall not be judged.'
'Nor do I judge.'
'And how does it go on? Forgive and ye shall be forgiven.'
'Neither do I judge, nor can I forgive.' This she said, putting all her emphasis on the pronoun, and thereby declaring her own humility. 'But the great truths of my religion are dear to me. I will not trust myself in the way of sinners, because by some worldly alliance to which I myself was no consenting party, I have been brought into worldly contact with them. I at any rate will be firm. I say to you now no more than I said, ah, so many times, when it was still possible that my words should not be vain. They were vain. But not on that account am I to be changed. I will not be wound like a skein of silk round your little finger.' That was it. Was she to give way in everything because they had been successful among them in carrying out this marriage in opposition to her judgment? Was she to assent that this man be treated as a sheep because he had prevailed against her, while she was so well aware that he would still have been a goat to them all had he not prevailed? She at any rate was sincere. She was consistent. She would be true to her principles even at the expense of all her natural yearnings. Of what use to her would be her religious convictions if she were to give them up just because her heart-strings were torn and agonised? The man was a goat though he were ten times told her child's husband. So she looked again away into the garden and resolved that she would not yield in a single point.
'Good-bye, mamma,' said Hester, rising from her chair, and coming up to her mother.
'Good-bye, Hester. God bless you, my child!'
'You will not come to me to Folking?'
'No. I will not go to Folking.'
'I may come to you here?'
'Oh yes;—as often as you will, and for as long as you will.'
'I cannot stay away from home without him, you know,' said the young wife.
'As often as you will, and for as long as you will,' the mother said again, repeating the words with emphasis. 'Would I could have you here as I used to do, so as to look after every want and administer to every wish. My fingers shall work for your baby, and my prayers shall be said for him and for you, morning and night. I am not changed, Hester. I am still and ever shall be, while I am spared, your own loving mother.' So they parted, and Hester was driven back to Folking.
In forming our opinion as to others we are daily brought into difficulty by doubting how much we should allow to their convictions, and how far we are justified in condemning those who do not accede to our own. Mrs. Bolton believed every word that she said. There was no touch of hypocrisy about her. Could she without sting of conscience have gone off to Folking and ate of her son-in-law's bread and drank of his cup, and sat in his presence, no mother living would have enjoyed more thoroughly the delight of waiting upon and caressing and bending over her child. She denied herself all this with an agony of spirit, groaning not only over their earthly separation, thinking not only of her daughter's present dangers, but tormented also by reflections as to dangers and possible separations in another world. But she knew she was right. She knew at least that were she to act otherwise there would be upon her conscience the weight of sin. She did not know that the convictions on which she rested with such confidence had come in truth from her injured pride,—had settled themselves in her mind because she had been beaten in her endeavours to prevent her daughter's marriage. She was not aware that she regarded John Caldigate as a goat,—as one who beyond all doubt was a goat,—simply because John Caldigate had had his way, while she had been debarred from hers. Such no doubt was the case. And yet who can deny her praise for fidelity to her own convictions? When we read of those who have massacred and tortured their opponents in religion, have boiled alive the unfortunates who have differed from themselves as to the meaning of an unintelligible word or two, have vigorously torn the entrails out of those who have been pious with a piety different from their own, how shall we dare to say that they should be punished for their fidelity? Mrs. Bolton spent much of that afternoon with her knees on the hard boards,—thinking that a hassock would have taken something from the sanctity of the action,—wrestling for her child in prayer. And she told herself that her prayer had been heard. She got up more than ever assured that she must not touch pitch lest she should be defiled. Let us pray for what we will with earnestness,—though it be for the destruction of half of a world,—we are sure to think that our prayers have been heard.
The New Heir
Things went on smoothly at Folking, or with apparent smoothness, for three months, during which John Caldigate surprised both his friends and his enemies by the exemplary manner in which he fulfilled his duties as a parish squire. He was put on the commission, and was in the way to become the most active Justice of the Peace in those parts. He made himself intimate with all the tenants, and was almost worshipped by Mr. Ralph Holt, his nearest neighbour, to whose judgment he submitted himself in all agricultural matters. He shot a little, but moderately, having no inclination to foster what is called a head of game. And he went to church very regularly, having renewed his intimacy with Mr. Bromley, the parson, a gentleman who had unfortunately found it necessary to quarrel with the old squire, because the old squire had been so manifestly a pagan.
There had been unhappiness in the parish on this head, and, especially, unhappiness to Mr. Bromley, who was a good man. That Mr. Caldigate should be what he called a pagan had been represented by Mr. Bromley to his friends as a great misfortune, and especially a misfortune to the squire himself. But he would have ignored that in regard to social life,—so Mr. Bromley said when discussing the matter,—if the pagan would have desisted from arguing the subject. But when Mr. Caldigate insisted on the parson owning the unreasonableness of his own belief, and called upon him to confess himself to be either a fool or a hypocrite, then the parson found himself constrained to drop all further intercourse. 'It is the way with all priests,' said the old squire triumphantly to the first man he could get to hear him. 'The moment you disagree with them they become your enemies at once, and would straightway kill you if they had the power.' He probably did not know how very disagreeable he had made himself to the poor clergyman.
But now matters were on a much better footing, and all the parish rejoiced. The new squire was seen in his pew every Sunday morning, and often entertained the parson at the house. The rumour of this change was indeed so great that more than the truth reached the ears of some of the Boltons, and advantage was taken of it by those who desired to prove to Mrs. Bolton that the man was not a goat. What more would she have? He went regularly to morning and evening service,—here it was that rumour exaggerated our hero's virtues,—did all his duty as a country gentleman, and was kind to his wife. The Daniels, who were but lukewarm people, thought that Mrs. Bolton was bound to give way. Mrs. Robert declared among her friends that the poor woman was becoming mad from religion, and the old banker himself was driven very hard for a reply when Robert asked him whether such a son-in-law as John Caldigate ought to be kept at arms' length. The old man did in truth hate the name of John Caldigate, and regretted bitterly the indiscretion of that day when the spendthrift had been admitted within his gates. Though he had agreed to the marriage, partly from a sense of duty to his child, partly under the influences of his son, he had, since that, been subject to his wife for nine or ten months. She had not been able to prevail against him in action; but no earthly power could stop her tongue. Now when these new praises were dinned into his ears, when he did convince himself that, as far as worldly matters went, his son-in-law was likely to become a prosperous and respected gentleman, he would fain have let the question of hostility drop. There need not have been much intercourse between Puritan Grange and Folking; but then also there need be no quarrel. He was desirous that Caldigate should be allowed to come to the house, and that even visits of ceremony should be made to Folking. But Mrs. Bolton would have nothing to do with such half friendship. In the time that was coming she must be everything or nothing to her daughter. And she could not be brought to think that one who had been so manifestly a goat should cease to be a goat so suddenly. In other words, she could not soften her heart towards the man who had conquered her. Therefore when the time came for the baby to be born there had been no reconciliation between Puritan Grange and Folking.
Mrs. Babington had been somewhat less stern. Immediately on the return of the married couple to their own home she had still been full of wrath, and had predicted every kind of evil; but when she heard that all tongues were saying all good things of this nephew of hers, and when she was reminded by her husband that blood is thicker than water, and when she reflected that it is the duty of Christians to forgive injuries, she wrote to the sinner as follows:—
'BABINGTON HALL, November 187-.
'My DEAR JOHN,—We are all here desirous that bygones should be bygones, and are willing to forgive,—though we may not perhaps be able to forget. I am quite of opinion that resentments should not be lasting, let them have been ever so well justified by circumstances at first.
'Your uncle bids me say that he hopes you will come over and shoot the Puddinghall coverts with Humphry and John. They propose Thursday next but would alter the day if that does not suit.
'We have heard of your wife's condition, of course, and trust that everything may go well with her. I shall hope to make her acquaintance some day when she is able to receive visitors.
'I am particularly induced at the present moment to hold out to you once more the right hand of fellowship and family affection by the fact that dear Julia is about to settle herself most advantageously in life. She is engaged to marry the Rev. Augustus Smirkie, the rector of Plum-cum-Pippins near Woodbridge in this county. We all like Mr. Smirkie very much indeed, and think that Julia has been most fortunate in her choice.' (These words were underscored doubly by way of showing how very much superior was Mr. Augustus Smirkie to Mr. John Caldigate.) 'I may perhaps as well mention, to avoid anything disagreeable at present, that Julia is at this time staying with Mr. Smirkie's mother at Ipswich.—Your affectionate aunt,
Caldigate was at first inclined to send, in answer to this letter, a reply which would not have been agreeable to his aunt, but was talked into a better state of mind by his wife. 'Telling me that she will forgive me! The question is whether I will forgive her!' 'Let that be the question,' said his wife, 'and do forgive her. She wants to come round, and, of course, she has to make the best of it for herself. Tell her from me that I shall be delighted to see her whenever she chooses to come.'
'Poor Julia!' said Caldigate, laughing.
'Of course you think so, John. That's natural enough. Perhaps I think so too. But what has that to do with it?'
'It's rather unfortunate that I know so much about Mr. Smirkie. He is fifty years old, and has five children by his former wife.'
'I don't see why he shouldn't be a good husband for all that.'
'And Plum-cum-Pippins is less than L300 a-year. Poor dear Julia!'
'I believe you are jealous, John.'
'Well; yes. Look at the way she has underscored it. Of course I'm jealous.' Nevertheless he wrote a courteous answer promising to go over and shoot the coverts, and stay for one night.
He did go over and shoot the coverts, and stayed for one night; but the visit was not very successful. Aunt Polly would talk of the glories of the Plum-cum-Pippins rectory in a manner which implied that dear Julia's escape from a fate which once threatened her had been quite providential. When he alluded,—as he did, but should not have done,—to the young Smirkies, she spoke with almost ecstatic enthusiasm of the 'dear children,' Caldigate knowing the while that the eldest child must be at least sixteen. And then, though Aunt Polly was kind to him, she was kind in an almost insulting manner,—as though he were to be received for the sake of auld lang syne in spite of the step he had taken downwards in the world. He did his best to bear all this with no more than an inward smile, telling himself that it behoved him as a man to allow her to have her little revenge. But the smile was seen, and the more that was seen of it, the more often was he reminded that he had lost that place in the Babington elysium which might have been his, had he not been too foolish to know what was good for him. And a hint was given that the Boltons a short time since had not been aristocratic, whereas it was proved to him from Burke's Landed Gentry that the Smirkies had been established in Suffolk ever since Cromwell's time. No doubt their land had gone, but still there had been Smirkies.
'How did you get on with them?' his father asked, as he passed home through Cambridge.
'Much the same as usual. Of course in such a family a son-in-law elect is more thought of than a useless married man.'
'They snubbed you.'
'Aunt Polly snubbed me a little, and I don't think I had quite so good a place for the shooting as in the old days. But all that was to be expected. I quite agree with Aunt Polly that family quarrels are foolish things.'
'I am not so sure. Some people doom themselves to an infinity of annoyance because they won't avoid the society of disagreeable people. I don't know that I have ever quarrelled with any one. I have never intended to do so. But when I find that a man or woman is not sympathetic I think it better to keep out of the way.' That was the squire's account of himself. Those who knew him in the neighbourhood were accustomed to say that he had quarrelled with everybody about him.
In December the baby was born, just twelve months after the marriage, and there was great demonstrations of joy, and ringing of bells in the parishes of Utterden and Netherden. The baby was a boy, and all was as it ought to be. John Caldigate himself, when he came to look at his position and to understand the feeling of those around him, was astonished to find how strong was the feeling in his own favour, and how thoroughly the tenants had been outraged by the idea that the property might be made over to a more distant member of the family. What was it to them who lived in the house at Folking? Why should they have been solicitous in the matter? They had their leases, and there was no adequate reason for supposing that one Caldigate would be more pleasant in his dealing with them than another. And yet it was evident to him now that this birth of a real heir at the squire's house, with a fair prospect that the acres would descend in a right line, was regarded by them all with almost superstitious satisfaction. The bells were rung as though the church-towers were going to be pulled down, and there was not a farmer or a farmer's wife who did not come to the door of Folking to ask how the young mother and the baby were doing.
'This is as it should be, squoire,' said Ralph Holt, who was going about in his Sunday clothes, as though it was a day much too sacred for muck and work. He had caught hold of Caldigate in the stable yard, and was now walking with him down towards the ferry.
'Yes;—she's doing very well, they tell me,' said the newly-made father.
'In course she'll do well. Why not? A healthy lass like she, if I may make so free? There ain't nothing like having them strong and young, with no town-bred airs about 'em. I never doubted as she wouldn't do well. I can tell from their very walk what sort of mothers they'll be.' Mr. Holt had long been known as the most judicious breeder of stock in that neighbourhood. 'But it ain't only that, squoire.'
'The young'un will do well too, I hope.'
'In course he will. Why not? The foals take after their dams for a time, pretty much always. But what I mean is;—we be all glad you've come back from them out-o'-the-way parts.'
'I had to go there, Holt.'
'Well;—we don't know much about that, sir, and I don't mean nothing about that.'
'To tell the truth, my friend, I should not have done very well here unless I had been able to top-dress the English acres with a little Australian gold.'
'Like enough, squoire; like enough. But I wasn't making bold to say nothing about that. For a young gentleman to go out a while and then to come back was all very well. Most of 'em does it. But when there was a talk as you wern't to come back, and that Master George was to take the place;—why then it did seem as things was very wrong.'
'Master George might have been quite as good as I.'
'It wasn't the proper thing, squoire. It wasn't straight. If you hadn't never a' been, sir, or if the Lord Almighty had taken you as he did the others, God bless 'em, nobody wouldn't have had a right to say nothing. But as you was to the fore it wouldn't have been straight, and no one wouldn't have thought it straight.' Instigated by this John Caldigate looked a good deal into the matter that day, and began to feel that, having been born Squire of Folking, he had, perhaps, no right to deal with himself otherwise. Then various thoughts passed through his mind as to other dealings which had taken place. How great had been the chance against his being Squire of Folking when he started with Dick Shand to look for Australian gold! And how little had been the chance of his calling Hester Bolton his wife when he was pledging his word to Mrs. Smith on board the Goldfinder! But now it had all come round to him just as he would have had it. There was his wife up-stairs in the big bed-room with her baby,—the wife as to whom he had made that romantic resolution when he had hardly spoken to her; and there had been the bells ringing and the tenants congratulating him, and everything had been pleasant. His father who had so scorned him,—who in the days of Davis and Newmarket had been so well justified in scorning him,—was now his closest friend. Thinking of all this, he told himself that he had certainly received better things than he had deserved.
A day or two after the birth of the baby Mrs. Robert came out to see the new prodigy, and on the following day Mrs. Daniel. Mrs. Robert was, of course, very friendly and disposed to be in all respects a good sister-in-law. Hester's great grief was in regard to her mother. She was steadfast enough in her resolution to stand in all respects by her husband if there must be a separation,—but the idea of the separation robbed her of much of her happiness. Mrs. Robert was aware that a great effort was being made with Mrs. Bolton. The young squire's respectability was so great, and his conduct so good, that not only the Boltons themselves, but neighbours around who knew aught of the Bolton affairs, were loud in denouncing the woman for turning up her nose at such a son-in-law. The great object was to induce her to say that she would allow Caldigate to enter the house at Chesterton. 'You know I never see her now,' said Mrs. Robert; 'I'm too much of a sinner to think of entering the gates.'
'Do not laugh at her, Margaret,' said Hester.
'I do not mean to laugh at her. It is simply the truth. Robert and I have made up our minds that it is better for us all that I should not put myself in her way.'
'Think how different it must be for me!'
'Of course it is. It is dreadful to think that she should be so—prejudiced. But what can I do, dear? If they will go on persevering, she will, of course, have to give way.' The 'they' spoken of were the Daniels, and old Mr. Bolton himself, and latterly the Nicholases, all of whom were of opinion that the separation of the mother from her daughter was very dreadful, especially when it came to be understood that the squire of Folking went regularly to his parish church.
On the next day Mrs. Daniel came out; and though she was much less liked by Hester than her younger sister-in-law, she brought more comfortable tidings. She had been at the Grange a day or two before, and Mrs. Bolton had almost consented to say that she would see John Caldigate. 'You shouldn't be in a hurry, you know, my dear,' said Mrs. Daniel.
'But what has John done that there should be any question about all this?'
'I suppose he was a little—just a little—what they call fast once.'
'He got into debt when he was a boy,' said the wife, 'and then paid off everything and a great deal more by his own industry. It seems to me that everybody ought to be proud of him.'
'I don't think your mother is proud of him, my dear.'
'I hope he'll go when he's told to do so.'
'John! Of course he'll go if I ask him. There's nothing he wouldn't do to make me happy. But really when I talk to him about it at all, I am ashamed of myself. Poor mamma!' The result of this visit was, however, very comforting. Mrs Daniel had seen Mrs. Bolton, and had herself been witness to the fact that Mrs. Bolton had mitigated the sternness of her denial when asked to receive her son-in-law at Puritan Grange. It was, said Mrs. Daniel, the settled opinion of the Bolton family that, in the course of another month or so, the woman would be induced to give way under the pressure put upon her by the family generally.
News from the Gold Mines
It was said at the beginning of the last chapter that things had gone on smoothly, or with apparent smoothness, at Folking since the return of the Caldigates from their wedding tour; but there had in truth been a small cloud in the Folking heavens over and beyond that Babington haze which was now vanishing, and the storm at Chesterton as to which hopes were entertained that it would clear itself away. It will perhaps be remembered that Caldigate's offer for the sale of his interest in the Polueuka mine had been suddenly accepted by certain enterprising persons in Australia, and that the money itself had been absolutely forthcoming. This had been in every way fortunate, as he had been saved from the trouble of another journey to the colony; and his money matters had been put on such a footing as to make him altogether comfortable But just when he heard that the money had been lodged to his account,—and when the money actually had been so paid,—he received a telegram from Mr. Crinkett, begging that the matter might be for a time postponed. This, of course, was out of the question. His terms had been accepted,—which might have gone for very little had not the money been forthcoming. But the cash was positively in his hands. Who ever heard of a man 'postponing' an arrangement in such circumstances? Let them do what they might with Polyeuka, he was safe! He telegraphed back to say that there could be no postponement As far as he was concerned the whole thing was settled. Then there came a multiplicity of telegrams, very costly to the Crinkett interest;—costly also and troublesome to himself; for he, though the matter was so pleasantly settled as far as he was concerned, could not altogether ignore the plaints that were made to him. Then there came very long letters, long and loud; letters not only from Crinkett, but from others, telling him that the Polyeuka gold had come to an end, the lode disappearing altogether, as lodes sometimes do disappear The fact was that the Crinkett Company asked to have back half its money, offering him the Polyeuka mine in its entirety if he chose to accept it.
John Caldigate, though in England he could be and was a liberal gentleman, had been long enough in Australia to know that if he meant to hold his own among such men as Mr. Crinkett, he must make the best of such turns of fortune as chance might give him. Under no circumstances would Crinkett have been generous to him. Had Polyeuka suddenly become more prolific in the precious metal than any mine in the colony the Crinkett Company would have laughed at any claim made by him for further payment. When a bargain has been fairly made, the parties must make the best of it. He was therefore very decided in his refusal to make restitution, though he was at the same time profuse in his expressions of sorrow.
Then there came a threat,—not from Crinkett, but from Mrs. Euphemia Smith. And the letter was not signed Euphemia Smith,—but Euphemia Caldigate. And the letter was as follows:—-
'In spite of all your treachery to me I do not wish to ruin you, or to destroy your young wife, by proving myself in England to have been married to you at Ahalala. But I will do so unless you assent to the terms which Crinkett has proposed. He and I are in partnership in the matter with two or three others, and are willing to let all that has gone before be forgotten if we have means given us to make another start. You cannot feel that the money you have received is fairly yours, and I can hardly think you would wish to become rich by taking from me all that I have earned after so many hardships. If you will do as I propose, you had better send out an agent. On paying us the money he shall not only have the marriage-certificate, but shall stand by and see me married to Crinkett, who is now a widower. After that, of course, I can make no claim to you. If you will not do this, both I and Crinkett, and the other man who was present at our marriage, and Anne Young, who has been with me ever since, will go at once to England, and the law must take its course.
'I have no scruple in demanding this as you owe me so much more.
'Allan, the Wesleyan who married us, has gone out of the colony, no one knows where,—but I send you the copy of the certificate; and all the four of us who were there are still together. And there were others who were at Ahalala at the time, and who remember the marriage well. Dick Shand was not in the chapel, but Dick knew all about it. There is quite plenty of evidence.
'Send back by the wire word what you will do, and let your agent come over as soon as possible.
However true or however false the allegations made in the above letter may have been, for a time it stunned him greatly. This letter reached him about a month before the birth of his son, and for a day or two it disturbed him greatly. He did not show it to his wife, but wandered about the place alone thinking whether he would take any notice of it, and what notice. At last he resolved that he would take the letter to his brother-in-law Robert, and ask the attorney's advice. 'How much of it is true?' demanded Robert, when he read the letter twice from beginning to end.
'A good deal,' said Caldigate,—'as much as may be, with the exception that I was never married to the woman.'
'I suppose not that.' Robert Bolton as he spoke was very grave, but did not at first seem disposed to be angry. 'Had you not better tell me everything, do you think?'
'It is for that purpose that I have come and brought you the letter. You understand about the money.'
'I suppose so.'
'There can be no reason why I should return a penny of it?'
'Certainly not, now. You certainly must not return it under a threat,—even though the woman should be starving. There can be no circumstances—' and as he spoke he dashed his hand down upon the table,—'no circumstances in which a man should allow money to be extorted from him by a threat. For Hester's sake you must not do that.'
'No;—no; I must not do that, of course.'
'And now tell me what is true?' There was something of authority in the tone of his voice, something perhaps of censure, something too of doubt, which went much against the grain with Caldigate. He had determined to tell his story, feeling that counsel was necessary to him, but he wished so to tell it as to subject himself to no criticism and to admit no fault. He wanted assistance, but he wanted it on friendly and sympathetic terms. He had a great dislike to being—'blown up,' as he would probably have expressed it himself, and he already thought that he saw in his companion's eye a tendency that way. Turning all this in his mind, he paused a moment before he began to tell his tale. 'You say that a good deal in this woman's letter is true. Had you not better tell me what is true?'
'I was very intimate with her.'
'Did she ever live with you?'
'Yes, she did.'
'As your wife?'
'Well; yes. It is of course best that you should know all.' Then he gave a tolerably true account of all that had happened between himself and Mrs. Smith up to the time at which, as the reader knows, he found her performing at the Sydney theatre.
'You had made her a distinct promise of marriage on board the ship?'
'I think I had.'
'Yes. I think I did. Can you not understand that a man may be in great doubt as to the exact words that he may have spoken at such a time?'
'Then I don't think you realise the man's position. I wish to let you know the truth as exactly as I can. You had better take it for granted that I did make such a promise, though probably no such promise was absolutely uttered. But I did tell her afterwards that I would marry her.'
'Yes, when she followed me up to Ahalala.'
'Did Richard Shand know her?'
'Of course he did,—on board the ship;—and he was with me when she came to Ahalala.'
'And she lived with you?'
'And you promised to marry her?'
'And was that all?'
'I did not marry her, of course,' said Caldigate.
'Who heard the promise?'
'It was declared by her in the presence of that Wesleyan minister she speaks of. He went to her to rebuke her, and she told him of the promise. Then he asked me, and I did not deny it. At the moment when he taxed me with it I was almost minded to do as I had promised.'
'You repeated your promise, then, to him?'
'Nothing of the kind. I did not deny it, and I told him at last to mind his own business. Life up there was a little rough at that time.'
'So it seems, indeed. And then, after that?'
'I had given her money and she had some claims in a gold-mine. When she was successful for a time she became so keen about her money that I fancy she hardly wished to get herself married. Then we had some words, and so we parted.'
'Did she call herself—Mrs. Caldigate?'
'I never called her so.'
'Did she herself assume the name?'
'It was a wild kind of life up there, Robert, and this was apparent in nothing more than in the names people used. I daresay some of the people did call her Mrs. Caldigate. But they knew she was not my wife.'
'And this man Crinkett?'
'He knew all about it.'
'He had a wife. Did his wife know her?'
'He had quarrelled with his wife at that time and had sent her away from Nobble. Mrs. Smith was then living at Nobble, and Crinkett knew more about her than I did. She was mad after gold, and it was with Crinkett she was working. I gave her a lot of shares in another mine to leave me.'
'The Old Stick-in-the-Mud they called it. I had been in partnership with Crinkett and wanted to get out of the thing, and go in altogether for Polyeuka. At that time the woman cared little for husbands or lovers. She had been bitten with the fury of gold-gambling and, like so many of them, filled her mind with an idea of unlimited wealth. And she had a turn of luck. I suppose she was worth at one time eight or ten thousand pounds.'
'But she did not keep it?'
'I knew but little of her afterwards. I kept out of her way; and though I had dealings with Crinkett, I dropped them as soon as I could.' Then he paused,—but Robert Bolton held his peace with anything but a satisfied countenance. 'Now I think you know all about it.'
'It is a most distressing story.'
'All attempts at robbery and imposition are of course distressing.'
'There is so much in it that is—disgraceful.'
'I deny it altogether,—if you mean disgraceful to me.'
'If it had all been known as it is known now,—as it is known even by your own telling, do you think that I should have consented to your marriage with my sister?'
'Why not?' Robert Bolton shrugged his shoulders. 'And I think, moreover, that had you refused your consent I should have married your sister just the same.'
'Then you know very little about the matter.'
'I don't think there can be any good in going into that. It is at any rate the fact that your sister is my wife. As this demand has been made upon me it was natural that I should wish to discuss it with some one whom I can trust. I tell you all the facts, but I am not going to listen to any fault-finding as to my past life.'
'Why is she poor? She does not think herself so.'
'Because there is a world of sorrow and trouble before her; and because all that you have told to me must probably be made known to her.'
'She knows it already;—that is, she knows what you mean. I have not told her of the woman's lie, nor of this demand for money. But I shall when she is strong enough to hear it and to talk of it. You are very much mistaken if you think that there are secrets between me and Hester.'
'I don't suppose you will be pleased to hear the story of such a life told in all the public papers.'
'Certainly not;—but it will be an annoyance which I can bear. You or any one else would be very much mistaken who would suppose that life out in those places can go on in the same regular way that it does here. Gold beneath the ground is a dangerous thing to touch, and few who have had to do with it have come out much freer from misfortune than myself. As for these people, I don't suppose that I shall hear from them again. I shall send them both word that not a shilling is to be expected from me.'
There was after this a long discussion as to the nature of the messages to be sent. There was no absolute quarrel between the two men, and the attorney acknowledged to himself that it was now his duty to give the best advice in his power to his brother-in-law; but their manner to each other was changed. It was evident that Robert did not quite believe all that Caldigate told him, and evident also that Caldigate resented this want of confidence. But still each knew that he could not do without the other. Their connection was too firm and too close to be shaken off. And, therefore, though their tones were hardly friendly, still they consulted as to what should be done. It was at last decided that two messages should be sent by Caldigate, one to Crinkett and the other to Mrs. Smith, and each in the same words. 'No money will be sent you on behalf of the Polyeuka mine,' and that this should be all. Any letter, Robert Bolton thought, would be inexpedient. Then they parted, and the two messages were at once sent.
After a day or two Caldigate recovered his spirits. We all probably know how some trouble will come upon us and for a period seem to quell all that is joyous in our life, and that then by quick degrees the weight of the trouble will grow less, till the natural spring and vivacity of the mind will recover itself, and make little or nothing of that which a few hours ago was felt to be so grievous a burden. So it had been with John Caldigate. He had been man enough to hold up his head when telling his story to Robert Bolton, and to declare that the annoyance would be one that he could bear easily;—but still for some hours after that he had been unhappy. If by sacrificing some considerable sum of money,—even a large sum of money, say ten thousand pounds,—he could at that moment have insured the silence of Crinkett and the woman, he would have paid his money. He knew the world well enough to be aware that he could insure nothing by any such sacrifice. He must defy these claimants;—and then if they chose to come to England with their story, he must bear it as best he could. Those who saw him did not know that aught ailed him, and Robert Bolton spoke no word of the matter to any one at Cambridge.
But Robert Bolton thought very much of it,—so much that on the following day he ran up to London on purpose to discuss the matter with his brother William. How would it be with them, and what would be his duty, if the statement made by the woman should turn out to be true? What security had they after the story told by Caldigate himself that there had been no marriage? By his own showing he had lived with the woman, had promised to marry her, had acknowledged his promise in the hearing of a clergyman, and had been aware that she had called herself by his name. Then he had given her money to go away. This had been his own story. 'Do you believe him?' he said to his brother William.
'Yes; I do. In the first place, though I can understand from his antecedents and from his surroundings at the time, that he should have lived a loose sort of life when he was out there, I don't think that he is a rascal or even a liar.'
'One wouldn't wish to think so.'
'I do not think so. He doesn't look like it, or talk like it, or act like it.'
'How many cases do we know in which some abominable unexpected villainy has destroyed the happiness and respectability of a family?'
'But what would you do?' asked the barrister. 'She is married to him. You cannot separate them if you would.'
'No,—poor girl. If it be so, her misery is accomplished; but if it be so she should at once be taken away from him. What a triumph it would be to her mother!'
That is a dreadful thing to say, Robert.'
'But nevertheless true. Think of her warnings and refusals, and of my persistence! But if it be so, not the less must we all insist upon—destroying him. If it be so, he must be punished to the extent of the law.'
William Bolton, however, would not admit that it could be so, and Robert declared that though he suspected,—though in such a case he found himself bound to suspect,—he did not in truth believe that Caldigate had been guilty of so terrible a crime. All probability was against it;—but still it was possible. Then, after much deliberation, it was decided that an agent should be sent out by them to New South Wales, to learn the truth, as far as it could be learned, and to bring back whatever evidence might be collected without making too much noise in the collection of it. Then there arose the question whether Caldigate should be told of this;—but it was decided that it should be done at the joint expense of the two brothers without the knowledge of Hester's husband.
The Baby's Sponsors
'Is there anything wrong between you and Robert?' Hester asked this question of her husband, one morning in January, as he was sitting by the side of her sofa in their bedroom. The baby was in her arms, and at that moment there was a question as to the godfathers and godmother for the baby.
The letter from Mrs. Smith had arrived on the last day of October, nearly two months before the birth of the baby, and the telegrams refusing to send the money demanded had been despatched on the 1st November,—so that, at this time, Caldigate's mind was accustomed to the burden of the idea. From that day to this he had not often spoken of the matter to Robert Bolton,—nor indeed had there been much conversation between them on other matters. Robert had asked him two or three times whether he had received any reply by the wires. No such message had come; and of course he answered his brother-in-law's questions accordingly;—but he had answered them almost with a look of offence. The attorney's manner and tone seemed to him to convey reproach; and he was determined that none of the Boltons should have the liberty to find fault with him. It had been suggested, some weeks since, before the baby was born, that an effort should be made to induce Mrs. Bolton to act as godmother. And, since that, among the names of many other relatives and friends, those of uncle Babington and Robert Bolton had been proposed. Hester had been particularly anxious that her brother should be asked, because,—as she so often said to her husband,—he had always been her firm friend in the matter of her marriage. But now, when the question was to be settled, John Caldigate shook his head.
'I was afraid there was something even before baby was born,' said the wife.
'There is something, my pet.'
'What is it, John? You do not mean to keep it secret from me?'
'I have not the slightest objection to your asking him to stand;—but I think it possible that he may refuse.'
'Why should he refuse?'
'Because, as you say, there is something wrong between us. There have been applications for money about the Polyeuka mine. I would not trouble you about it while you were ill.'
'Does he think you ought to give back the money?'
'No,—not that. We are quite agreed about the money. But another question has come up;—and though we are, I believe, agreed about that too, still there has been something a little uncomfortable.'
'Would not baby make that all right?'
'I think if you were to ask your brother William it would be better.'
'May I not know what it is now, John?'
'I have meant you to know always,—from the moment when it occurred,—when you should be well enough.'
'I am well now.'
'I hardly know; and yet I cannot bear to keep it secret from you.'
There was something in his manner which made her feel at once that the subject to which he alluded was of the greatest importance. Whether weak or strong, of course she must be told now. Let the shock of the tidings be what it might, the doubt would be worse. She felt all that, and she knew that he could feel it. 'I am quite strong,' she said; 'you must tell me now.'
'Is baby asleep? Put him in the cradle.'
'Is it so bad as that?'
'I do not say that it is bad at all. There is nothing bad in it,—except a lie. Let me put him in the cradle.'
Then he took the child very gently and deposited him, fast asleep, among the blankets. He had already assumed for himself the character of being a good male nurse; and she was always delighted when she saw the baby in his arms. Then he came and seated himself close to her on the sofa, and put his arm round her waist. 'There is nothing bad—but a lie.'
'A lie may be so very bad!'
'Yes, indeed; and this lie is very bad. Do you remember my telling you—about a woman?'
'That Mrs. Smith;—the dancing woman?'
'Of course I remember.'
'She was one of those, it seems, who bought the Polyeuka mine.'
'She, with Crinkett and others. Now they want their money back again.'
'But can they make you send it? And would it be very bad—to lose it?'
'They cannot make me send it. They have no claim to a single shilling. And if they could make me pay it, that would not be very bad.'
'What is it, then? You are afraid to tell me?'
'Yes, my darling,—afraid to speak to you of what is so wicked;—afraid to shock you, to disgust you; but not afraid of any injury that can be done to you. No harm will come to you.'
'But to you?'
'Nor to me;—none to you, or to me, or to baby there.' As he said this she clutched his hand with hers. 'No harm, dearest; and yet the thing is so abominable that I can hardly bring myself to wound your ears with it.'
'You must tell now, John.'
'Yes, I must tell you. I have thought about it much, and I know that it is better that you should be told.' He had thought much about it, and had so resolved. But he had not quite known how difficult the telling would be. And now he was aware that he was adding to the horror she would feel by pausing and making much of the thing. And yet he could not tell it as though it were a light matter. If he could have declared it all at once,—at first, with a smile on his face, then expressing his disgust at the woman's falsehood,—it would have been better. 'That woman has written me a letter in which she declares herself to be—my wife!'
'Your wife! John! Your wife?' These exclamations came from her almost with a shriek as she jumped up from his arms and for a moment stood before him.
'Come back to me,' he said. Then again she seated herself. 'You did not leave me then because you doubted me?'
'Oh no,' she cried, throwing herself upon him and smothering him with kisses—'No, no! It was surprise at such horrid words,—not doubt, not doubt of you. I will never doubt you.'
'It was because I was sure of you that I have ventured to tell you this.'
'You may be sure of me,' she said, sobbing violently the while. 'You are sure of me; are you not? And now tell it me all. How did she say so? why did she say so? Is she coming to claim you? Tell me all. Oh, John, tell me everything.'
'The why is soon told. Because she wants money. She had heard no doubt of my marriage and thought to frighten me out of money. I do not think she would do it herself. The man Crinkett has put her up to it.'
'What does she say?'
'Just that,—and then she signs herself,—Euphemia Caldigate.'
'Now you know it all.'
'May I not see the letter?'
'For what good? But you shall see it if you wish it. I have determined that nothing shall be kept back from you. In all that there may ever be to trouble us the best comfort will be in perfect confidence.' He had already learned enough of her nature to be sure that in this way would he best comfort her, and most certainly ensure her trust in himself.
'Oh yes,' she cried. 'If you will tell me all, I will never doubt you.' Then she took the letter from his hand, and attempted to read it. But her excitement was so great that though the words were written very clearly, she could not bring her mind to understand them. 'Treachery! Ruin! Married to you! What is it all? Do you read it to me;—every word of it.' Then he did read it; every word of it. 'She says that she will marry the other man. How can she marry him when she says that she is—your wife?'
'Just so, my pet. But you see what she says. It does not matter much to her whether it be true or false, so that she can get my money from me. But, Hester, I would fain be just even to her. No doubt she wrote the letter.'
'Who else would have written it?'
'She wrote it. I know her hand. And these are her words,—because they are properly expressed. But it is all his doing,—the man's doing. He has got her in his power, and he is using her in this way.'
'If you sent her money—?'
'Not a shilling;—not though she were starving; not now. A man who gives money under a threat is gone. If I were to send her money, everyone would believe this tale that she tells. Your brother Robert would believe it.'
'He knows it?'
'I took the letter to him instantly, but I made up my mind that I would not show it you till baby was born. You can understand that?' She only pressed closer to him as he said this. 'I showed it to Robert, and, altogether we are not quite such friends since as we were before.'
'You do not mean that he believes it?'
'No; not that. He does not believe it. If he did, I do not see how he and I could ever speak to each other again. I don't think he believes it at all. But I had to tell him the whole story, and that, perhaps, offended him.' The 'whole story' had not been told to Hester, nor did he think it necessary that it should be told. There was no reason why these details which Robert had elicited by his questions should be repeated to her,—the promise of marriage, the interference of the Wesleyan minister, the use made of his name,—of all this he said nothing. But she had now been told that which to her had been very dreadful, and she was not surprised that her brother should have been offended when he heard the same sad story. She, of course, had at once pardoned the old offence. A young wife when she is sure of her husband, will readily forgive all offences committed before marriage, and will almost be thankful for the confidence placed in her when offences are confessed. But she could understand that a brother could not be thankful, and she would naturally exaggerate in her own mind the horror which he would feel at such a revelation. Then the husband endeavoured to lighten the effect of what he had said. 'Offence, perhaps, is the wrong word. But he was stiff and masterful, if you know what I mean.'
'You would not bear that, certainly, John?'
'No. I have to own that I do not love the assumption of authority,—except from you.'
'You do not like it from anybody, John.'
'You would not wish me to submit myself to your brother?'
'No; but I think I might ask him to be baby's godfather.'
'As you please; only you would be unhappy if he refused.'
Then there came a little wail from the cradle and the baby was taken up, and for some minutes his little necessities occupied the mother to the exclusion even of that terrible letter. But when Caldigate was about to leave the room, she asked him another question. 'Will she do anything more, John?'
'I can hardly say. I should think not.'
'What does Robert think?'
'He has not told me. I sent an immediate refusal by the telegraph wires, and have heard nothing since.'
'Is he—nervous about it?'
'I hardly know. It dwells in his mind, no doubt.'
'Are you nervous?'
'It dwells in my mind. That is all.'
'May I speak to him about it?'
'Why should you? What good would it do? I would rather you did not. Nevertheless, if you feel frightened, if you think that there is anything wrong, it will be natural that you should go to him for assistance. I will not forbid it.' As he said this he stood back away from her. It was but by a foot or two, but still there was a sign of separation which instantly made itself palpable to her.
'Wrong, how wrong?' she said, following him and clinging to him. 'You do not suppose that I would go to him because I think you wrong? Do you not know that whatever might come I should cling to you? What is he to me compared to you? No; I will never speak to him about it.'
He returned her caress with fervour, and stroked her hair, and kissed her forehead. 'My dearest! my own! my darling! But what I mean is that if some other man's opinion on this subject is necessary to your comfort, you may go to him.'
'No other man's opinion shall be necessary to me about anything. I will not speak about it to Robert, or to any one. But if more should come of it, you will tell me?'
'You shall know everything that comes. I have never for a moment had the idea of keeping it back from you. But because of baby, and because baby had to be born, I delayed it.' This was an excuse which, as the mother of her child, she could not but accept with thankfulness.
'I think I will ask him,' she said that night, referring again to the vexed question of godfathers. Uncle Babington had some weeks since very generously offered his services, and, of course, they had been generously accepted. Among the baby's relations he was the man of highest standing in the world; and then this was a mark of absolute forgiveness in reference to the wrongs of poor Julia. And a long letter had been prepared to Mrs. Bolton, written by Hester's own hand, not without much trouble, in which the baby's grandmother was urged to take upon herself the duties of godmother. All this had been discussed in the family, so that the nature of the petition was well known to Mrs. Bolton for some time before she received it. Mrs. Daniel, who had consented to act in the event of a refusal from Puritan Grange, had more than once used her influence with her step-mother-in-law. But no hint had as yet come to Folking as to what the answer might be. It had also been suggested that Robert should be the other godfather,—the proposal having been made to Mrs. Robert. But there had come upon all the Boltons a feeling that Robert was indifferent perhaps, even unwilling to undertake the task. And yet no one knew why. Mrs. Robert herself did not know why.
The reader, however, will know why, and will understand how it was that Mrs. Robert was in the dark. The attorney, though he was suspicious, though he was frightened, though he was, in truth, very angry with this new brother-in-law, through whose ante-nuptial delinquencies so much sorrow was threatened to the Bolton family, nevertheless kept the secret from all the Cambridge Boltons. It had been necessary to him to seek counsel with some one, but he had mentioned the matter only to his brother William. But he did not wish to add to the bond which now tied him to Folking. If this horror, this possible horror, should fall upon them,—if it should turn out that he had insisted on giving his sister in marriage to a man already married,—then,—then,—then——! Such possible future incidents were too terrible to be considered closely, but with such a possibility he would not add to the bonds. At Puritan Grange they would throw all the responsibility of what had been done upon him. This feeling was mingled with his love for his sister,—with the indignation he would not only feel but show if it should turn out that she had been wronged. 'I will destroy him,—I will destroy him utterly,' he would sometimes say to himself as he thought of it.
And now the godfather question had to be decided, 'No,' he said to his wife, 'I don't care about such things. I won't do it. You write and tell her that I have prejudices, or scruples, or whatever you choose to call it.'
'There is to be a little tarradiddle told, and I am to tell it?'
'I have prejudices and scruples.'
'About the religion of the thing?' She knew,—as of course, she was bound to know,'—that he had at any rate a round dozen of god-children somewhere about the country. There were the young Williams, and the young Daniels, and her own nephews and nieces, with the parents of all of whom uncle Robert had been regarded as the very man for a godfather. The silversmith in Trumpington Street knew exactly the weight of the silver cup that was to be given to the boy or to a girl. The Bible and prayer-books were equally well regulated. Mrs. Robert could not but smile at the idea of religious scruples. 'I wish I knew what it was that has come over you of late. I fancy you have quarrelled with John Caldigate.'
'If you think that, then you can understand the reason.'
'What is it about?'
'I have not quarrelled with him. It is possible that I may have to do so. But I do not mean to say what it is about.' Then he smiled. 'I don't want you to ask any more questions, but just to write to Hester as kindly as you can, saying I don't mean to be godfather any more. It will be a good excuse in regard to all future babies.' Mrs. Robert was a good wife and did as she was bid. She worded her refusal as cautiously as she could, and,—on that occasion,—asked her husband no further question.
The prayer that was addressed to the lady of Puritan Grange became the subject of much debate of great consideration, and I may say also of lengthened prayer. To Mrs. Bolton this position of godmother implied much of the old sacred responsibility which was formerly attached to it, and which Robert Bolton, like other godfathers and godmothers of the day, had altogether ignored. She had been already partly brought round, nearly persuaded, in regard to the acceptance of John Caldigate as her son-in-law. It did not occur to her to do other than hate him. How was it possible that such a woman should do other than hate the man who had altogether got the better of her as to the very marrow of her life, the very apple of her eye? But she was alive to her duty towards her daughter; and when she was told that the man was honest in his dealings, well-to-do in the world, a professing Christian who was constant in his parish church, she did not know how to maintain her opinion, that in spite of all this, he was an unregenerate castaway. Therefore, although she was determined still to hate him, she had almost made up her mind to enter his house. With these ideas she wrote a long letter to Hester, in which she promised to have herself taken out to Folking in order that she might be present as godmother at the baby's baptism. She would lunch at Folking, but must return to Chesterton before dinner. Even this was a great thing gained.
Then it was arranged that Daniel Bolton should stand as second godfather in place of his brother Robert.
A Stranger in Cambridge
'I am sorry you will not come out to us to-morrow.' On the day before the christening, which was at last fixed for a certain Tuesday in the middle of February, John Caldigate went into Cambridge, and at once called upon the attorney at his office. This he did partly instigated by his own feelings, and partly in compliance with his wife's wishes. Before that letter had come he and his brother-in-law had been fast friends; and now, though for a day or two he had been angry with what he had thought to be unjustifiable interference, he regretted the loss of such a friend. More than three months had now passed since the letter had come, but his mind was far from being at ease, and he felt that if trouble should come it would be very well for him to have Robert Bolton on his side.
'Margaret is going,' said the attorney.
'Why do you not bring her?'
'Days are days with me, my boy. I can't afford to give up a morning for every baby that is born.'
'That of course may be true, and if that is the reason, I have nothing more to say.' As he spoke he looked in his brother-in-law's face, so as almost to prevent the possibility of continued pretence.
'Well, Caldigate, it isn't the reason altogether,' said the other. 'If you would have allowed it to pass without further explanation so would I. But if the truth must be spoken in so many words, I will confess that I would rather not go out to Folking till I am sure we shall be no more troubled by your friends in Australia.'
'Why not? Why should you not go out to Folking?'
'Simply because I may have to take an active part against you. I do not suppose it will come to that, but it is possible. I need not say that I trust there may be nothing of the kind, but I cannot be sure. It is on the cards.'
'I think that is a hard judgment. Do you mean to say that you believe that woman's statement not only against mine, but against the whole tenor of my life and character?'
'No; I do not believe the woman's statement. If I did, I should not be talking to you now. The woman has probably lied, and is probably a tool in the hands of others for raising money, as you have already suggested. But, according to your own showing there has been much in your life to authorise the statement. I do not know what does or does not constitute a marriage there.'
'The laws are the same as ours.'
'There at any rate you are wrong. Their marriage laws are not the same as ours, though how they may differ you and I probably do not accurately know. And they may be altered at any time as they may please. Let the laws be what they will, it is quite possible, after what you have told me, that they may bring up evidence which you would find it very difficult to refute. I don't think it will be so. If I did I should use all my influence to remove my sister at once.'
'You couldn't do it,' said Caldigate, very angrily.
'I tell you what I should endeavour to do. You must excuse me if I stand aloof just at present. I don't suppose you can defend such a condition of things as you described to me the other day.'
'I do not mean to be put upon my defence,—at any rate by you,' said Caldigate, very angrily. And then he left the office.
He had come into Cambridge with the intention of calling at Puritan Grange after he had left the attorney, and when he found himself in the street he walked on in the direction of Chesterton. He had wished to thank his wife's mother for her concession and had been told by Hester that if he would call, Mrs. Bolton would certainly see him now. Had there been no letter from the woman in Australia, he would probably not have obeyed his wife's behest in this matter. His heart and spirit would then have been without a flaw, and, proud in his own strength and his own rectitude, he would have declared to himself that the absurd prejudices of a fanatic woman were beneath his notice. But that letter had been a blow, and the blow, though it had not quelled him, had weakened his forces. He could conceal the injury done him even from his wife, but there was an injury. He was not quite the man that he had been before. From day to day, and from hour to hour, he was always remonstrating with himself because it was so. He was conscious that in some degree he had been cowed, and was ever fighting against the feeling. His tenderness to his wife was perhaps increased, because he knew that she still suffered from the letter; but he was almost ashamed of his own tenderness, as being a sign of weakness. He made himself very busy in these days,—busy among his brother magistrates, busy among his farming operations, busy with his tenants, busy among his books, so as to show to those around him that he was one who could perform all the duties of life, and enjoy all the pleasures, with an open brow and a clear conscience. He had been ever bold and self-asserting; but now he was perhaps a little over-bold. But through it all the Australian letter and the Australian woman were present to him day and night.
It was this resolution not to be quelled that had made him call upon the attorney at his office; and when he found himself back in the street he was very angry with the man. 'If it pleases him, let it be so,' he said to himself. 'I can do in the world without him.' And then he thought of that threat,—when the attorney had said that he would remove his sister. 'Remove her! By heavens!' He had a stick in his hand, and as he went he struck it angrily against a post. Remove his wife! All the Boltons in Cambridgeshire could not put a hand upon her, unless by his leave! For some moments his anger supported him; but after a while that gave way to the old feeling of discomfort which pervaded him always. She was his wife, and nobody should touch her. Nevertheless he might find it difficult, as Robert Bolton had said, to prove that that other woman was not his wife.
Robert Bolton's office was in a small street close to Pembroke College, and when he came out of it he had intended to walk direct through Trumpington Street and Trinity Street to Chesterton. But he found it necessary to compose himself and so to arrange his thoughts that he might be able to answer such foolish questions as Mrs. Bolton would probably ask him without being flurried. He was almost sure that she had heard nothing of the woman. He did not suspect Robert Bolton of treachery in that respect; but she would probably talk to him about the iniquity of his past life generally, and he must be prepared to answer her. It was incumbent upon him to shake off, before he reached Chesterton, that mixture of alarm and anger which at present dominated him; and with this object, instead of going straight along the street, he turned into the quadrangle of King's College, and passing through the gardens and over the bridge, wandered for a while slowly under the trees at the back of the college. He accused himself of a lack of manliness in that he allowed himself to be thus cowed. Did he not know that such threats as these were common? Was it not just what might have been expected from such a one as Crinkett, when Crinkett was driven to desperation by failing speculations? As he thought of the woman, he shook his head, looking down upon the ground. The woman had at one time been very dear to him. But it was clearly now his duty to go on as though there were no such woman as Euphemia Smith, and no such man as Thomas Crinkett. And as for Robert Bolton, he would henceforth treat him as though his anger and his suspicions were unworthy of notice. If the man should choose of his own accord to reassume the old friendly relations,—well and good. No overtures should come from him—Caldigate. And if the anger and the suspicions endured, why then, he, Caldigate, could do very well without Robert Bolton.
As he made these resolutions he turned in at a little gate opening into a corner of St. John's Gardens, with the object of passing through the college back into the streets of the town. It was not quite his nearest way, but he loved the old buildings, and the trees, and the river, even in winter. It still was winter, being now the middle of February; but, as it happened, the air was dry and mild, and the sun was shining. Still, he was surprised at such a time of the year to see an elderly man apparently asleep on one of the benches which are placed close to the path. But there he was, asleep, with his two hands on a stick, and his head bent forward over his stick. It was impossible not to look at the man sleeping there in that way; but Caldigate would hardly have looked, would hardly have dared to look, could he have anticipated what he would see. The elderly man was Thomas Crinkett. As he passed he was quite sure that the man was Thomas Crinkett. When he had gone on a dozen yards, he paused for a moment to consider what he would do. A dozen different thoughts passed through his mind in that moment of time. Why was the man there? Why, indeed, could he have come to England except with the view of prosecuting the demand which he and the woman had made? His presence even in England was sufficient to declare that this battle would have to be fought. But to Cambridge he could have come with no other object than that of beginning the attack at once. And then, had he already commenced his work? He had not at any rate been to Robert Bolton, to whom any one knowing the family would have first referred him. And why was he sleeping there? Why was he not now at work upon his project? Again, would it be better at the present moment that he should pass by the man as though he had not seen him; or should he go back and ask him his purpose? As the thought passed through his mind, he stayed his step for a moment on the pathway and looked round. The man had moved his position, and was now sitting with his head turned away but evidently not asleep. Then it occurred to Caldigate that Crinkett's slumbers had been only a pretence, that the man had seen and recognised him, and at the moment had not chosen to make himself known. And it occurred to him also that in a matter of such importance as this he should do nothing on the spur of the moment,—nothing without consideration. A word spoken to Crinkett, a word without consideration, might be fatal to him. So he passed on, having stood upon the path hardly more than a second or two.