Before he had got up to the new buildings of St. John's a cold sweat had come out all over him. He was conscious of this, and conscious also that for a time he was so confounded by the apparition of his enemy as to be unable to bring his mind to work properly on the subject. 'Let him do his worst,' he kept on saying to himself; 'let him do his worst.' But he knew that the brave words, though spoken only to himself, were mere braggadocio No doubt the man would do his worst, and very bad it would be to him. At the moment he was so cowed by fear that he would have given half his fortune to have secured the woman's silence,—and the man's. How much better would it have been had he acceded to the man's first demand as to restitution of a portion of the sum paid for Polyeuka, before the woman's name had been brought into the matter at all?
But reflections such as these were now useless and he must do something. It was for his wife's sake,—he assured himself,—for his wife's sake that he allowed himself to be made thus miserable by the presence of this wretched creature. What would she not be called upon to suffer? The woman no doubt would be brought before magistrates and judges, and would be made to swear that she was his wife. The whole story of his life in Australia would be made public,—and there was so much that could not be made public without overwhelming her with sorrow! His own father, too, who had surrendered the estate to him, must know it all. His father hitherto had not heard the name of Mrs. Smith, and had been told only of Crinkett's dishonest successes and dishonest failures. When Caldigate had spoken of Crinkett to his father, he had done so with a triumph as of a man whom he had weighed and measured and made use of,—whose frauds and cunning he had conquered by his own honesty and better knowledge. Now he could no longer weigh and measure and make use of Crinkett. Crinkett had been a joke to him in talking with his father. But Crinkett was no joke now.
While walking through the College quad, he was half stupefied by his confusion, and was aware that such was his condition. But going out under the gate he paused for a moment and shook himself. He must at any rate summon his own powers to his aid at the moment and resolve what he would do. However bad all this might be, there was a better course and a worse. If he allowed this confusion to master him he would probably be betrayed into the worse course. Now, at this moment, in what way would it become him to act? He drew himself together, shaking his head and shoulders,—so as to shake off his weakness,—pressing his foot for a moment on the earth so as to convince himself of his own firmness, and then he resolved.
He was on the way out to see his mother-in-law, but he thought that nothing now could be gained by going to Chesterton. It was not impossible that Crinkett might have been there. If so the man would have told something of his story; and his wife's mother was the last person in the world whom, under such circumstances, he could hope to satisfy. He must tell no lie to any one; he must at least conceal nothing of the things as they occurred now. He must not allow it to be first told by Crinkett that they two had seen each other in the Gardens. But he could not declare this to Mrs. Bolton. For the present, the less he saw of Mrs. Bolton the better. She would come to the christening to-morrow,—unless indeed Crinkett had already told enough to induce her to change her mind,—but after that any intimacy with the house at Chesterton had better be postponed till this had all been settled.
But how much would have to be endured before that! Robert Bolton had almost threatened to take his wife away from him. No one could take his wife away from him,—unless, indeed, the law were to say that she was not his wife. But how would it be with him if she herself, under the influence of her family, were to wish to leave him! The law no doubt would give him the custody of his own wife, till the law had said that she was not his wife. But could he keep her if she asked him to let her go? And should she be made to doubt,—should her mind be so troubled as it would be should she once be taught to think it possible that she had been betrayed,—would she not then want to go from him? Would it not be probable that she would doubt when she should be told that this woman had been called by her husband's name in Australia, and when he should be unable to deny that he had admitted, or at least had not contradicted, the appellation?
On a sudden, when he turned away from the street leading to Chesterton as he came out of the College, he resolved that he would at once go back to Robert Bolton. The man was offensive, suspicious and self-willed; but, nevertheless, his good services, if they could be secured, would be all-important. For his wife's sake, as Caldigate said to himself,—for his wife's sake he must bear much. 'I have come to tell you something that has occurred since I was here just now,' said Caldigate, meeting his brother-in-law at the door of the office. 'Would you mind coming back?'
'I am rather in a hurry.'
'It is of importance, and you had better hear it,' said Caldigate, leading the way imperiously to the inner room. 'It is for your sister's sake. That man Crinkett is in Cambridge.'
'I saw him just now.'
'And spoke to him?' the attorney asked.
'No. I passed him; and I do not know even whether he recognised me. But he is here, in Cambridge.'
'And the woman?'
'I have told you all that I know. He has not come here for nothing.'
'Probably not,' said the attorney, with a scornful smile. 'You will hear of him before long.'
'Of course I shall. I have come to you now to ask a question. I must put my case at once into a lawyer's hands. Crinkett, no doubt, will commit perjury and I must undergo the annoyance and expense of proving him to be a perjurer. She probably is here also, and will be ready to commit perjury. Of course I must have a lawyer. Will you act for me?'
'I will act for my sister.'
'Your sister and I are one; and I am obliged, therefore, to ask again whether you will act for me? Of course I should prefer it. Though you are, I think, hard to me in this matter, I can trust you implicitly. It will be infinitely better for Hester that it should be so. But I must have some lawyer.'
'And so must she.'
'Hers and mine must be the same. As to that I will not admit any question. Can you undertake to fight this matter on my behalf,—and on hers? If you feel absolutely hostile to me you had better decline. For myself, I cannot understand why there should be such hostility.'
Caldigate had so far conquered his own feelings of abasement as to be able to say this with a determined face, looking straight into the attorney's eyes, at any rate without sign of fear.
'It wants thinking about,' said Robert Bolton.
'To-morrow the baby is to be christened, and for Hester's sake I will endeavour to put this matter aside;—but on Wednesday I must know.'
'On Wednesday morning I will answer your question. But what if this man comes to me in the meantime?'
'Listen to him or speak to him, just as seems good to you. You know everything that there is to tell, and may therefore know whether he lies or speaks the truth.'
Then Caldigate went to the inn, got his horse, and rode back to Folking.
The next day was the day of the christening. Caldigate, on his return home from Cambridge, had felt himself doomed to silence. He could not now at this moment tell his wife that the man had come,—the man who would doubtless work her such terrible misery. She was very strong. She had gone through the whole little event of her baby's birth quite as well as could be expected, and had been just what all her friends might have wished her to be. But that this blow had fallen upon her,—but that these ill news had wounded her,—she would now have been triumphant. Her mother was at last coming to her. Her husband was all that a husband should be. Her baby was, to her thinking, sweeter, brighter, more satisfactory than any other baby ever had been. But the first tidings had been told to her. She had seen the letter signed 'Euphemia Caldigate'; and of course she was ill at ease. Knowing how vexatious the matter was to her husband, she had spoken of it but seldom,—having asked but a question now and again when the matter pressed itself too severely on her mind. He understood it all, both her reticence and her sufferings. Her sufferings must of course be increased. She must know before long that Crinkett, and probably the woman also, were in her neighbourhood. But he could not tell her now when she was preparing her baby for his ceremony in the church.
The bells were rung, and the baby was prepared, and Mrs. Bolton came out to Folking according to her promise. Though Robert was not there, many of the Boltons were present, as was also Uncle Babington. He had come over on the preceding evening, making on this occasion his first journey to Folking since his wife's sister had died; and the old squire was there in very good humour, though he excused himself from going to the church by explaining that as he had no duty to perform he would only be in the way amongst them all. Daniel and Mrs. Bolton had also been at Folking that night, and had then for the first time been brought into contact with the Babington grandeur. The party had been almost gay, the old squire having taken some delight in what he thought to be the absurdities of his brother-in-law. Mr. Babington himself was a man who was joyous on most occasions and always gay on such an occasion as this. He had praised the mother, and praised the baby, and praised the house of Folking generally, graciously declaring that his wife looked forward to the pleasure of making acquaintance with her new niece, till old Mr. Caldigate had been delighted with these manifestations of condescension. 'Folking is a poor place,' said he, 'but Babington is really a country-house.'
'Yes,' replied the other squire, much gratified, 'Babington is what you may call really a good country-house.'
You had to laugh very hard at him before you could offend Uncle Babington. In all this John Caldigate was obliged to assist, knowing all the time, feeling all the time, that Crinkett was in Cambridge; and through all this the young mother had to appear happy, knowing the existence of that letter signed 'Euphemia Caldigate,'—feeling it at every moment. And they both acted their parts well. Caldigate himself,—though when he was alone the thought of what was coming would almost crush him,—could always bear himself bravely when others were present.
On the morning before they went to church, when the bells were ringing, old Mr. Bolton came in a carriage with his wife from Cambridge. She, of course, condescended to give her hand to her son-in-law but she did it with a look which was full of bitterness. She did not probably intend to be specially bitter, but bitterness of expression was common to her. She was taken, however, at once up to the baby, and then in the presence of her daughter and grandchild it may be presumed that she relaxed a little. At any rate, her presence in the house made her daughter happy for the time.
Then they all went to the church, except the squire, who, as he himself pleaded, had no duty to perform there. Mrs. Bolton, as she was taken through the hall, saw him and recognised him, but would not condescend even to bow her head to him, though she knew how intimate he had been with her husband. She still felt,—though she had yielded for this day, this day which was to make her grandchild a Christian,—that there must be, and should be, a severance between people such as the Boltons and people such as the Caldigates.
As the service went on, and as the water was sprinkled, and as the prayers were said, Caldigate felt thankful that so much had been allowed to be done before the great trouble had disclosed itself. The doubt whether even the ceremony could be performed before the clap of thunder had been heard through all Cambridge had been in itself a distinct sorrow to him. Had Crinkett showed himself at Chesterton, neither Mrs. Bolton nor Daniel Bolton would have been standing then at the font. Had Crinkett been heard of at Babington, Uncle Babington would not now have been at Folking. All this was passing through his mind as he was standing by the font. When the ceremony of making the young Daniel Humphrey Caldigate a Christian was all but completed, he fancied that he saw old Mr. Bolton's eyes fixed on something in the church, and he turned his head suddenly, with no special purpose, but simply looking, as one is apt to look, when another looks. There he saw, on a seat divided from himself by the breadth of the little nave, Thomas Crinkett sitting with another man.
There was not a shadow of a doubt on his mind as to the identity of the Australian—nor as to that of Crinkett's companion. At the moment he did not remember the man's name, but he knew him as a miner with whom he had been familiar at Ahalala, and who had been in partnership both with himself and Crinkett at Nobble,—as one who had, alas! been in his society when Euphemia Smith had been there also. At that instant he remembered the fact that the man had called Euphemia Smith Mrs. Caldigate in his presence, and that he had let the name pass without remonstrance. The memory of that moment flashed across him now as he quickly turned back his face towards his child who was still uttering his little wail in the arms of the clergyman.
Utterden church is not a large building. The seat on which Crinkett had placed himself was one usually occupied by parish boys at the end of the row of appropriated seats and near to the door. Less than half-a-dozen yards from it, at the other side of the way leading up the church, stood the font, so that the stranger was almost close to Caldigate when he turned. They were so near that others there could not but have observed them. Even the clergyman, however absorbed he might have been in his sacred work, could not but have observed them. It was not there as it might have been in a town. Any stranger, even on a Sunday, would be observed by all in Utterden church,—how much then at a ceremony which, as a rule, none but friends attend! And Crinkett was looking on with all his eyes, leaning forward over his stick and watching closely. Caldigate had taken it all in, even in that moment. The other man was sitting back, gazing at nothing as though the matter to him were indifferent. Caldigate could understand it all. The man was there simply to act or to speak when he might be wanted.
As the ceremony was completed John Caldigate stood by and played with all proper words and actions the part of the young father. No one standing there could see by his face that he had been struck violently; that he had for a few moments been almost unable to stand. But he himself was aware that a cold sweat had broken out all over him as before. Though he leaned over the baby lying in his mother's arms and kissed it, and smiled on the young mother, he did so as some great actor will carry out his part before the public when nearly sinking to the ground from sudden suffering. What would it be right that he should do now,—now,—now? No one there had heard of Crinkett except his wife. And even she herself had no idea that the man of whom she had heard was in England. Should he speak to the man, or should he endeavour to pass out of the church as though he had not recognised him? Could he trust himself even to make the endeavour when he should have turned round and when he would find himself face to face with the man?
And then what should he say, and how should he act, if the man addressed him in the church? The man had not come out there to Utterden for nothing, and probably would so address him. He had determined on telling no lie,—no lie, at any rate, as to present circumstances. That life of his in Australia had been necessarily rough; and though successful, had not been quite as it should have been. As to that, he thought that it ought to be permitted to him to be reticent. But as to nothing since his marriage would he lie. If Crinkett spoke to him he must acknowledge the man,—but if Crinkett told his story about Euphemia Smith in the church before them all, how should he then answer? There was but a moment for him to decide it all. The decision had to be made while he was handing back his babe to its mother with his sweetest smile.
As the party at the font was broken up, the eyes of them all were fixed upon the two strangers. A christening in a public church is a public service, and open to the world at large. There was no question to be asked them, but each person as he looked at them would of course think that somebody else would recognise them. They were decently dressed,—dressed probably in such garments as gentlemen generally wear on winter mornings,—but any one would know at a glance that they were not English gentlemen. And they were of an appearance unfamiliar to any one there but Caldigate himself,—clean, but rough, not quite at home in their clothes, which had probably been bought ready-made; with rough, ignoble faces,—faces which you would suspect, but faces, nevertheless, which had in them something of courage. As the little crowd prepared to move from the font, the two men got up and stood in their places.
Caldigate took the opportunity to say a word to Mr. Bromley before he turned round, so that he might yet pause before he decided. At that moment he resolved that he would recognise his enemy, and treat him with the courtesy of old friendship. It would be bad to do at the moment, but he thought that in this way he might best prepare himself for the future. Crinkett had appealed to him for money, but Crinkett himself had said nothing to him about Euphemia Smith. The man had not as yet accused him of bigamy. The accusation had come from her, and it still might be that she had used Crinkett's name wrongfully. At any rate, he thought that when the clap of thunder should have come, it would be better for him not to have repudiated a man with whom it would then be known that his relations had once been so intimate.
He addressed himself therefore at once to his old associate. 'I am surprised to see you here, Mr. Crinkett.' This he said with a smile and a pleasant voice, putting out his hand to him. How hard it was to summon up that smile! How hard to get that tone of voice! Even those commonplace words had been so difficult of selection! 'Was it you I saw yesterday in the College gardens?'
'Yes, it was me, no doubt.'
'I turned round, and then thought that it was impossible We have just been christening my child. Will you come up to our breakfast?'
'You remember Jack Adamson,—eh?'
'Of course I do,' said Caldigate, giving his hand to the second man, who was rougher even than Crinkett. 'I hope he will come up also. This is my uncle, Mr. Babington; and this is my father-in-law, Mr. Bolton.' 'These were two of my partners at Nobble,' he said, turning to the two old gentlemen, who were looking on with astonished eyes. 'They have come over here, I suppose, with reference to the sale I made to them lately of my interests at Polyeuka.'
'That's about it,' said Adamson.
'We won't talk business just at this moment, because we have to eat our breakfast and drink our boy's health. But when that is done, I'll hear what you have to say;—or come into Cambridge to-morrow just as you please. You'll walk up to the house now, and I'll introduce you to my wife?'
'We don't mind if we do eat a bit,—do we, Jack?' said Crinkett. Jack bobbed his head, and so they walked back to Folking, the three of them together, while the two Mr. Boltons and Uncle Babington followed behind. The ladies and the baby had been taken in a carriage.
The distance from the church to the house at Folking was less than half a mile, but Caldigate thought that he would never reach his hall door. How was he to talk to the men,—with what words and after what fashion? And what should he say about them to his wife when he reached home? She had seen him speak to them, had known that he had been obliged to stay behind with them when it would have been so natural that he should have been at her side as she got into the carriage. Of that he was aware, but he could not know how far their presence would have frightened her. 'Yes,' he said, in answer to some question from Crinkett; 'the property round here is not exactly mine, but my father's.'
'They tell me as it's yours now?' said Crinkett.
'You haven't to learn to-day that in regard to other people's concerns men talk more than they know. The land is my father's estate, but I live here.'
'And him?' asked Adamson.
'He lives in Cambridge.'
'That's what we mean,—ain't it, Crinkett?' said Adamson. 'You're boss here?'
'Yes, I'm boss.'
'And a deuced good time you seem to have of it,' said Crinkett.
'I've nothing to complain of,' replied Caldigate, feeling himself at the moment to be the most miserable creature in existence.
It was fearful work,—work so cruel that his physical strength hardly enabled him to support it. He already repented his present conduct, telling himself that it would have been better to have treated the men from the first as spies and enemies;—though in truth his conduct had probably been the wisest he could have adopted. At last he had the men inside the hall door, and, introducing them hurriedly to his father, he left them that he might rush up to his wife's bedroom. The nurse was there and her mother; and, at the moment, she only looked at him. She was too wise to speak to him before them. But at last she succeeded in making an opportunity of being alone with her husband. 'You stay here, nurse; I'll be back directly, mamma,' and then she took him across the passage into his own dressing-room. 'Who are they, John? who are they?'
'They are men from the mines. As they were my partners, I have asked them to come in to breakfast.'
'And the woman?' As she spoke she held on to the back of a chair by which she stood, and only whispered her question.
'No woman is with them.'
'Is it the man,—Crinkett?'
'Yes, it is Crinkett.'
'In this house! And I am to sit at table with him?'
'It will be best so. Listen, dearest; all that I know, all that we know of Crinkett is, that he is asking money of me because the purchase he made of me has turned out badly for him.'
'But he is to marry that woman, who says that she is—' Then she stopped, looking into his face with agony. She could not bring herself to utter the words which would signify that another woman claimed to be her husband's wife.
'You are going too fast, Hester. I cannot condemn the man for what the woman has written until I know that he says the same himself. He was my partner, and I have had his money;—I fear, all his money. He as yet has said nothing about the woman. As it is so, it behoves me to be courteous to him. That I am suffering much, you must be well aware. I am sure you will not make it worse for me.'
'No, no,' she said, embracing him; 'I will not. I will be brave. I will do all that I can. But you will tell me everything?'
'Everything,' he said. Then he kissed her, and went back again to his unwelcome guests. She was not long before she followed him, bringing her baby in her arms. Then she took the child round to be kissed by all its relatives, and afterwards bowed politely to the two men, and told them that she was glad to see her husband's old friends and fellow-workmen.
'Yes, mum,' said Jack Adamson; 'we've been fellow-workmen when the work was hard enough. 'T young squire seems to have got over his difficulties pretty tidy!' Then she smiled again, and nodded to them, and retreated back to her mother.
Mrs. Bolton scowled at them, feeling certain that they were godless persons;—in which she was right. The old banker, drawing his son Daniel out of the room, whispered an inquiry; but Daniel Bolton knew nothing. 'There's been something wrong as to the sale of that mine,' said the banker. Daniel Bolton thought it probable that there had been something wrong.
The breakfast was eaten, and the child's health was drunk, and the hour was passed. It was a bad time for them all, but for Caldigate it was a very bitter hour. To him the effort made was even more difficult than to her;—as was right;—for she at any rate had been blameless. Then the Boltons went away, as had been arranged, and also Uncle Babington while the men still remained.
'If you don't mind, squire, I'll take a turn with you,' said Crinkett at last; 'while Jack can sit anywhere about the place.'
'Certainly,' said Caldigate. And so they took their hats and went off, and Jack Adamson was left 'sitting anywhere' about the place.
Tom Crinkett at Folking
Caldigate thought that he had better take his companion where there would be the least chance of encountering many eyes. He went therefore through the garden into the farmyard and along the road leading back to the dike, and then he walked backwards and forwards between the ferry, over the Wash, and the termination of the private way by which they had come. The spot was not attractive, as far as rural prettiness was concerned. They had, on one hand or the other as they turned, the long, straight, deep dike which had been cut at right angles to the Middle Wash; and around, the fields were flat, plashy, and heavy-looking with the mud of February. But Crinkett for a while did not cease to admire everything. 'And them are all yourn?' he said, pointing to a crowd of corn-stacks standing in the haggard.
'Yes, they're mine. I wish they were not.'
'What do you mean by that?'
'As prices are at present, a man doesn't make pinch by growing corn and keeping it to this time of the year.'
'And where them chimneys is,—is that yourn?' This he said pointing along the straight line of the road to Farmer Holt's homestead, which showed itself on the other side of the Wash.
'It belongs to the estate,' said Caldigate.
'By jingo! And how I remember your a-coming and talking to me across the gate at Polyeuka Hall!'
'I remember it very well.'
'I didn't know as you were an estated gent in those days.'
'I had spent a lot of money when I was young, and the estate, as you call it, was not large enough to bear the loss. So I had to go out and work, and get back what I had squandered.'
'And you did it?'
'Yes, I did it.'
'My word, yes! What a lot of money you took out of the colony, Caldigate!'
'I'm not going to praise myself, but I worked hard for it, and when I got it I didn't run riot.'
'Not with drink.'
'Nor in any other way. I kept my money.'
'Well;—I don't know as you was very much more of a Joseph than anybody else.' Then Crinkett laughed most disagreeably; and Caldigate, turning over various ideas rapidly in his mind, thought that a good deed would be done if a man so void of feeling could be drowned beneath the waters of the black deep dike which was slowly creeping along by their side. 'Any way you was lucky,—infernally lucky.'
'You did not do badly yourself. When I first reached Nobble you had the name of more money than I ever made.'
'Who's got it now? Eh, Caldigate! who's got my money now?'
'It would take a clever man to tell that.'
'It don't take much cleverness for me to tell who has got more of it nor anybody else, and it don't take much cleverness for me to tell that I ain't got none of it left myself;—none of it, Caldigate. Not a d——- hundred pounds!' This he said with terrible energy.
'I'm sorry it's so bad as that with you, Crinkett.'
'Yes;—you is sorry, I daresay. You've acted sorry in all you said and done since I got taken in last by that —— mine;—haven't you? Well;—I have got just a few hundreds; what I could scrape together to bring me and a few others as might be wanted over to England. There's Jack Adamson with me and —— just two more. They may be wanted, squire.'
The attack now was being commenced, and how was he to repel it, or to answer it? Only on one ground had he received from Robert Bolton a decided opinion. Under no circumstances was he to give money to these persons. Were he to be guilty of that weakness he would have delivered himself over into their hands. And not only did he put implicit trust in the sagacity of Robert Bolton, but he himself knew enough of the world's opinion on such a matter to be aware that a man who has allowed himself to be frightened out of money is supposed to have acknowledged some terrible delinquency. He had been very clear in his mind when that letter came from Euphemia Smith that he would not now make any rebate. Till that attack had come, it might have been open to him to be generous;—but not now. And yet when this man spoke of his own loss, and reminded him of his wealth;—when Crinkett threw it in his teeth that by a happy chance he had feathered his nest with the spoils taken from the wretched man himself,—then he wished that it was in his power to give back something.
'Is that said as a threat?' he asked, looking round on his companion, and resolving that he would be brave.
'That's as you take it, squire. We don't want to threaten nothing.'
'Because if you do, you'd better go, and do what you have to do away from here.'
'Don't you be so rough now with an old pal. You won't do no good by being rough. I wasn't rough to you when you came to Polyeuka Hall without very much in your pocket.' This was untrue, for Crinkett had been rough, and Caldigate's pockets had been full of money; but there could be no good got by contradicting him on small trifles. 'I was a good mate to you then. You wouldn't even have got your finger into the "Old Stick-in-the-Mud," nor yet into Polyeuka, but for me. I was the making of your fortin, Caldigate. I was.'
'My fortune, such as it is, was made by my own industry.'
'Industry be blowed! I don't know that you were so much better than anybody else. Wasn't I industrious? Wasn't I thinking of it morning, noon, and night, and nothing else? You was smart. I do allow that, Caldigate. You was very smart.'
'Did you ever know me dishonest?'
'Pooh! what's honesty? There's nothing so smart as honesty. Whatever you got, you got a sure hold of. That's what you mean by honesty. You was clever enough to take care as you had really got it. Now about this Polyeuka business, I'll tell you how it is. I and Jack Adamson and another,'—as he alluded to the 'other' he winked,—'we believed in Polyeuka; we did. D——- the cussed hole! Well;—when you was gone we thought we'd try it. It was not easy to get the money as you wanted, but we got it. One of the banks down at Sydney went shares, but took all the plant as security. Then the cussed place ran out the moment the money was paid. It was just as though fortin had done it a purpose. If you don't believe what I'm a-saying, I've got the documents to show you.'
Caldigate did believe what the man said. It was a matter as to which he had, in the way of business, received intelligence of his own from the colony, and he was aware that he had been singularly lucky as to the circumstances and time of the sale. But there had been nothing 'smart' about it. Those in the colony who understood the matter thought at the time that he was making a sacrifice of his own interests by the terms proposed. He had thought so himself, but had been willing to make it in order that he might rid himself of further trouble. He had believed that the machinery and plant attached to the mine had been nearly worth the money, and he had been quite certain that Crinkett himself, when making the bargain, had considered himself to be in luck's way. But such property, as he well knew, was, by its nature, precarious and liable to sudden changes. He had been fortunate, and the purchasers had been the reverse Of that he had no doubt, though probably the man had exaggerated his own misfortune. When he had been given to understand how bad had been the fate of these old companions of his in the matter, with the feelings of a liberal gentleman he was anxious to share with them the loss. Had Crinkett come to him, explaining all that he now explained, without any interference from Euphemia Smith, he would have been anxious to do much. But now;—how could he do anything now? 'I do not at all disbelieve what you tell me about the mine,' he said.
'And yet you won't do anything for us? You ain't above taking all our money and seeing us starve; and that when you have got everything round you here like an estated gentleman, as you are?'
There was a touch of eloquence in this, a soundness of expostulation which moved him much. He could afford to give back half the price he had received for the mine and yet be a well-to-do man.
He paid over to his father the rents from Folking, but he had the house and home-farm for nothing. And the sum which he had received for Polyeuka by no means represented all his savings. He did not like to think that he had denuded this man who had been his partner of everything in order that he himself might be unnecessarily rich. It was not pleasant to him to think that the fatness of his opulence had been extracted from Jack Adamson and from—Euphemia Smith. When the application for return of the money had been first made to him from Australia, he hadn't known what he knew now. There had been no eloquence then,—no expostulation. Now he thoroughly wished that he was able to make restitution. 'A threat has been used to me,' he muttered almost anxious to explain to the man his exact position.
'A threat! I ain't threatened nothing. But I tell you there will be threats and worse than threats. Fair means first and foul means afterwards! That's about it, Caldigate.'
If he could have got this man to say that there was no threat, to be simply piteous, he thought that he might even yet have suggested some compromise. But that was impossible when he was told that worse than threats was in store for him. He was silent for some moments, thinking whether it would not be better for him to rush into that matter of Euphemia Smith himself. But up to this time he had no absolute knowledge that Crinkett was aware of the letter which had been written. No doubt that in speaking of 'another' as being joined with himself and Adamson he had intended that Euphemia Smith should be understood. But till her name had been mentioned, he could not bring himself to mention it. He could not bring himself to betray the fear which would become evident if he spoke of the woman.
'I think you had better go to my lawyer,' he said.
'We don't want no lawyering. The plunder is yours, no doubt. Whether you'll have so much law on your side in other matters,—that's the question.' Crinkett did not in the least understand the state of his companion's mind. To Crinkett it appeared that Caldigate was simply anxious to save his money.
'I do not know that I can say anything else to you just at present. The bargain was a fair bargain, and you have no ground for any claim. You come to me with some mysterious threat———'
'You understand,' said Crinkett.
'I care nothing for your threats. I can only bid you go and do your worst.'
'That's what we intend.'
'That you should have lost money by me is a great sorrow to me.'
'You look sorry, squire.'
'But after what you have said, I can make you no offer. If you will go to my brother-in-law, Mr. Robert Bolton—'
'That's the lady's brother?'
'My wife's brother.'
'I know all about it, Caldigate. I won't go to him at all. What's he to us? It ain't likely that I am going to ask him for money to hold our tongues. Not a bit of it. You've had sixty thousand pounds out of that mine. The bank found twenty and took all the plant. There's forty gone. Will you share the loss? Give us twenty and we'll be off back to Australia by the first ship. And I'll take a wife back with me. You understand? I'll take a wife back with me. Then we shall be all square all round.'
With what delight would he have given the twenty thousand pounds, had he dared! Had there been no question about the woman, he would have given the money to satisfy his own conscience as to the injury he had involuntarily done to his old partners. But he could not do it now. He could make no suggestion towards doing it. To do so would be to own to all the Boltons that Mrs. Euphemia Smith was his wife. And were he to do so, how could he make himself secure that the man and the woman would go back to Australia and trouble him no more? All experience forbade him to hope for such a result. And then the payment of the money would be one of many damning pieces of evidence against him. They had now got back for the second time to the spot at which the way up to the house at Folking turned off from the dike. Here he paused and spoke what were intended to be his last words. 'I have nothing more to say, Crinkett. I will not promise anything myself. A threatened man should never give way. You know that yourself. But if you will go to my brother-in-law I will get him to see you.'
'D—— your brother-in-law. He ain't your brother-in-law, no more than I am.'
Now the sword had been drawn and the battle had been declared. 'After that,' said Caldigate, walking on in front, 'I shall decline to speak to you any further.' He went back through the farmyard at a quick pace, while Crinkett kept up with him, but still a few steps behind. In the front of the house they found Jack Adamson, who, in obedience to his friend's suggestion had been sitting anywhere about the place.
'I'm blowed if he don't mean to stick to every lump he's robbed us of!' said Crinkett, in a loud voice.
'He do, do he? Then we know what we've got to be after.'
'I've come across some of 'em precious mean,' continued Crinkett; 'but a meaner skunk nor this estated gent, who is a justice of the peace and a squire and all that, I never did come across, and I don't suppose I never shall.' And then they stood looking at him, jeering at him. And the gardener, who was then in the front of the house, heard it all.
'Darvell,' said the squire, 'open the gate for these gentlemen.' Darvell of course knew that they had been brought from the church to the house, and had been invited in to the christening breakfast.
'If I were Darvell I wouldn't take wages from such a skunk as you,' said Crinkett. 'A man as has robbed his partners of every shilling, and has married a young lady when he has got another wife living out in the colony. At least she was out in the colony. She ain't there now, Darvell. She's somewhere else now. That's what your master is, Darvell. You'll have to look out for a place, because your master'll be in quod before long. How much is it they gets for bigamy, Jack? Three years at the treadmill;—that's about it. But I pities the young lady and the poor little bastard.'
What was he to do? A sense of what was fitting for his wife rather than for himself forbade him to fly at the man and take him by the throat. And now, of course, the wretched story would be told through all Cambridgeshire. Nothing could prevent that now. 'Darvell,' he said, as he turned towards the hall steps, 'you must see these men off the premises. The less you say to them the better.'
'We'll only just tell him all about it as we goes along comfortable,' said Adamson. Darvell, who was a good sort of man in his way,—slow rather than stupid, weighted with the ordinary respect which a servant has for his master,—had heard it all, but showed no particular anxiety to hear more. He accompanied the men down to the Causeway, hardly opening his mouth to them, while they were loud in denouncing the meanness of the man who had deserted a wife in Australia, and had then betrayed a young lady here in England.
'What were they talking about?' said his wife to him when they were alone. 'I heard their voices even here.'
'They were threatening me;—threatening me and you.'
'About that woman?'
'Yes; about that woman. Not that they have dared yet to mention her name,—but it was about that woman.'
'I've heard nothing from her since that letter. I do not know that she is in England, but I suppose that she is with them.'
'Does it make you unhappy, John?'
'Does it frighten you?'
'Yes. It makes me fear that you for a while will be made miserable,—you whom I had thought that I could protect from all sorrow and from all care! O my darling! of course it frightens me; but it is for you.'
'What will they do first, John?'
'They have already said words before the man there which will of course be spread about the country.'
Then he paused, but after pausing he spoke very plainly. 'They said that you were not my wife.'
'But I am.'
'Indeed you are.'
'Tell me all truly. Though I were not, I would still be true to you.'
'But, Hester,—Hester, you are. Do not speak as though that were possible.'
'I know that you love me. I am sure of that. Nothing should ever make me leave you;—nothing. You are all the world to me now. Whatever you may have done I will be true to you. Only tell me everything.'
'I think I have,' he said, hoarsely. Then he remembered that he had told much to Robert Bolton which she had not heard. 'I did tell her that I would marry her.'
'Yes, I did.'
'Is not that a marriage in some countries?'
'I think nowhere,—certainly not there. And the people, hearing of it all, used to call her by my name.'
'O John!—will not that be against us?'
'It will be against me,—in the minds of persons like your mother.'
'I will care nothing for that. I know that you have repented, and are sorry. I know that you love me now.'
'I have always loved you since the first moment that I saw you.'
'Never for a moment believe that I will believe them. Let them do what they will, I will be your wife. Nothing shall take me away from you. But it is sad, is it not; on that the very day that poor baby has been christened?' Then they sat and wept together and tried to comfort each other. But nothing could comfort him. He was almost prostrated at the prospect of his coming misery,—and of hers.
'Just by Telling Me that I Am'
The thunderbolt had fallen now. Caldigate, when he left his wife that he might stroll about the place after the dusk had fallen, told himself again and again that the thunderbolt had certainly fallen now. There could be no longer a doubt but that this woman would claim him as her husband. A whole world of remorse and regrets oppressed his conscience and his heart. He looked back and remembered the wise counsels which had been given him on board the ship, when the captain and Mrs. Callender and poor Dick Shand had remonstrated with him, and called to mind his own annoyance when he had bidden them mind their own affairs. And then he remembered how he had determined to break away from the woman at Sydney, and to explain to her, as he might then have done without injustice, that they two could be of no service the one to the other, and that they had better part. It seemed now, as he looked back, to have been so easy for him then to have avoided danger, so easy to have kept a straight course! But now,—now, surely he would be overwhelmed.
And then how easy it would have been, had he been more careful at the beginning of these troubles, to have bought these wretches off! He had been, he now acknowledged, too peremptory in his first refusal to refund a portion of the money to Crinkett. The application had, indeed, been made without those proofs as to the condition of the mine which had since reached him, and he had distrusted Crinkett. Crinkett he had known to be a man not to be trusted. But yet, even after receiving the letter from Euphemia Smith, the matter might have been arranged. When he had first become assured that the new Polyeuka Company had failed, he should have made an offer, even though Euphemia Smith had then commenced her threats. With skill, might he not have done it on this very day? Might he not have made the man understand that if he would base his claim simply on his losses, and make it openly on that ground, then his claim should be considered? But now it was too late, and the thunderbolt had fallen.
What must he do first? Robert Bolton had promised to tell him on the morrow whether he would act for him as his lawyer. He felt sure now that his brother-in-law would not do so; but it would be necessary that he should have an answer, and that necessity would give him an excuse for going into Cambridge and showing himself among the Boltons. Let his sufferings or his fears be what they might, he would never confess to the world that he suffered or that he was frightened, by shutting himself up. He would be seen about Cambridge, walking openly, as though no reports, no rumours, had been spread about concerning him. He would go to the houses of his wife's relations until he should be told that he was not welcome.
'John,' his wife said to him that night, 'bear it like a man.'
'Am I not bearing it like a man?'
'It is crushing your very heart. I see it in your eyes.'
'Can you bear it?' He asked his question with a stern voice; but as he asked it he turned to her and kissed her.
'Yes,' she said, 'yes. While I have you with me, and baby, I can bear anything. While you will tell me everything that happens, I will bear everything. And, John, when you were out just now, and when I am alone and trying to pray, I told myself that I ought not to be unhappy; for I would sooner have you and baby and all these troubles, than be back at Chesterton—without you.'
'I wish you were back there. I wish you had never seen me.'
'If you say that, then I shall be crushed.'
'For your sake, my darling; for your sake,—for your sake! How shall I comfort you when all those around you are saying that you are not my wife?'
'By telling me that I am,' she said, coming and kneeling at his feet, and looking up into his face. 'If you say so, you may be sure that I shall believe no one who says the contrary.'
It was thus, and only now, that he began to know the real nature of the woman whom he had succeeded in making his own, and of whom he found now that even her own friends would attempt to rob him. 'I will bear it,' he said, as he embraced her. 'I will bear it, if I can, like a man.'
'Oh, ma'am! those men were saying horrid things,' her nurse said to her that night.
'Yes; very horrid things. I know it all. It is part of a wicked plot to rob Mr. Caldigate of his money. It is astonishing the wickedness that people will contrive. It is very very sad. I don't know how long it may be before Mr. Caldigate can prove it all.'
'But he can prove it all, ma'am?'
'Of course he can. The truth can always be proved at last. I trust there will be no one about the place to doubt him. If there were such a one, I would not speak to him,—though it were my own father; though it were my own mother.' Then she took the baby in her arms, as though fearing that the nurse herself might not be loyal.
'I don't think there will be any as knows master, will be wrong enough for that,' said the nurse, understanding what was expected of her. After that, but not quite readily, the baby was once more trusted to her.
On the following morning Caldigate rode into the town, and as he put his horse up at the inn, he felt that the very ostler had heard the story. As he walked along the street, it seemed to him that everyone he met knew all about it. Robert Bolton would, of course, have heard it; but nevertheless he walked boldly into the attorney's office. His fault at the time was in being too bold in manner, in carrying himself somewhat too erect, in assuming too much confidence in his eye and mouth. To act a part perfectly requires a consummate actor; and there are phases in life in which acting is absolutely demanded. A man cannot always be at his ease, but he should never seem to be discomfited. For petty troubles the amount of acting necessary is so common that habit has made it almost natural. But when great sorrows come it is hard not to show them,—and harder still not to seem to hide them.
When he entered the private room he found that the old man was there with his son. He shook hands, of course, with both of them, and then he stood a moment silent to hear how they would address him. But as they also were silent he was compelled to speak. 'I hope you got home all right, sir, yesterday; and Mrs. Bolton.'
The old man did not answer, but he turned his face round to his son. 'I hear that you had that man Crinkett out at Folking yesterday,' said Robert.
'He was there, certainly, to my sorrow.'
'And another with him?'
'Yes; and another with him, whom I had also known at Nobble.'
'And they were brought in to breakfast?'
'And they afterwards declared that you had married a wife out there in the colony?'
'That also is true.'
'They have been with my father this morning.'
'I am very, very sorry, sir,' said Caldigate, turning to the old man, 'that you should have been troubled in so disagreeable a business.'
'Now, Caldigate, I will tell you what we propose.' It was still the attorney who was speaking, for the old man had not as yet opened his mouth since his son-in-law had entered the room. 'There can, I think, be no doubt that this woman intends to bring an accusation of bigamy against you.'
'She is threatening to do it. I think it very improbable that she will be fool enough to make the attempt.'
'From what I have heard I feel sure that the attempt will be made. Depositions, in fact, will be made before the magistrates some day this week. Crinkett and the woman have been with the mayor this morning, and have been told the way in which they should proceed.' Caldigate, when he heard this, felt that he was trembling, but he looked into the speaker's face without allowing his eyes to turn to the right or left. 'I am not going to say anything now about the case itself. Indeed, as I know nothing, I can say nothing. You must provide yourself with a lawyer.'
'You will not act for me?'
'Certainly not. I must act for my sister. Now what I propose, and what her father proposes, is this,—that she shall return to her home at Puritan Grange while this question is being decided.'
'Certainly not,' said the husband.
'She must,' said the old man, speaking for the first time.
'We shall compel it,' said the attorney.
'Compel! How will you compel it? She is my wife.'
'That has to be proved. Public opinion will compel it, if nothing else. You cannot make a prisoner of her.'
'Oh, she shall go if she wishes it. You shall have free access to her. Bring her mother. Bring your carriage. She shall dispose of herself as she pleases. God forbid that I should keep her, though she be my wife, against her will.'
'I am sure she will do as her friends shall advise her when she hears the story,' said the attorney.
'She has heard the story. She knows it all. And I am sure that she will not stir a foot,' said the husband. 'You know nothing about her.' This he said turning to his wife's half-brother; and then again he turned to the old man. 'You, sir, no doubt, are well aware that she can be firm to her purpose. Nothing but death could take her away from me. If you were to carry her by force to Chesterton she would return to Folking on foot before the day was over. She knows what it is to be a wife. I am not a bit afraid of her leaving me.' This he was able to say with a high spirit and an assured voice.
'It is quite out of the question that she should stay with you while this is going on.'
'Of course she must come away,' said the banker, not looking at the man whom he now hated as thoroughly as did his wife.
'Consult your own friends, and let her consult hers. They will all tell you so. Ask Mrs. Babington. Ask your own father.'
'I shall ask no one—but her.'
'Think what her position will be! All the world will at least doubt whether she be your wife or not.'
'There is one person who will not doubt,—and that is herself.'
'Very good. If it be so, that will be a comfort to you, no doubt. But, for her sake, while other people doubt, will it not be better that she should be with her father and mother? Look at it all round.'
'I think it would be better that she should be with me,' replied Caldigate.
'Even though your former marriage with that other woman were proved?'
'I will not presume that to be possible. Though a jury should so decide, their decision would be wrong. Such an error could not effect us. I will not think of such a thing.'
'And you do not perceive that her troubles will be lighter in her father's house than in yours?'
'Certainly not. To be away from her own house would be such a trouble to her that she would not endure it unless restrained by force.'
'If you press her, she would go. Cannot you see that it would be better for her name?'
'Her name is my name,' he said, clenching his fist in his violence, 'and my name is hers. She can have no good name distinct from me,—no name at all. She is part and parcel of my very self, and under no circumstances will I consent that she shall be torn away from me. No word from any human being shall persuade me to it,—unless it should come from herself.'
'We can make her,' said the old man.
'No doubt we could get an order from the Court,' said the attorney, thinking that anything might be fairly said in such an emergency as this; 'but it will be better that she should come of her own accord, or by his direction. Are you aware how probable it is that you may be in prison within a day or two?'
To this Caldigate made no answer, but turned round to leave the room. He paused a moment at the doorway to think whether another word or two might not be said in behalf of his wife. It seemed hard to him, or hard rather upon her, that all the wide-stretching solid support of her family should be taken away from her at such a crisis as the present. He knew their enmity to himself. He could understand both the old enmity and that which had now been newly engendered. Both the one and the other were natural. He had succeeded in getting the girl away from her parents in opposition to both father and mother. And now, almost within the first year of his marriage, she had been brought to this terrible misery by means of disreputable people with whom he had been closely connected! Was it not natural that Robert Bolton should turn against him? If Hester had been his sister and there had come such an interloper what would he have felt? Was it not his duty to be gentle and to give way, if by any giving way he could lessen the evil which he had occasioned. 'I am sorry to have to leave your presence like this,' he said, turning back to Mr. Bolton.
'Why did you ever come into my presence?'
'What has been done is done. Even if I would give her back, I cannot. For better or for worse she is mine. We cannot make it otherwise now. But understand this, when you ask that she shall come back to you, I do not refuse it on my own account. Though I should be miserable indeed were she to leave me, I will not even ask her to stay. But I know she will stay. Though I should try to drive her out, she would not go. Good-bye, sir.' The old man only shook his head. 'Good-bye, Robert.'
'Good-bye. You had better get some lawyer as soon as you can. If you know any one in London you should send for him. If not, Mr. Seely here is as good a man as you can have. He is no friend of mine, but he is a careful attorney who understands his business.' Then Caldigate left the room with the intention of going at once to Mr. Seely.
But standing patiently at the door, just within the doorway of the house, he met a tall man in dark plain clothes; whom he at once knew to be a policeman. The man, who was aware that Caldigate was a county magistrate, civilly touched his hat, and then, with a few whispered words, expressed his opinion that our hero had better go with him to the mayor's office. Had he a warrant? Yes, he had a warrant, but he thought that probably it might not be necessary for him to show it. 'I will go with you, of course,' said Caldigate. 'I suppose it is on the allegation of a man named Crinkett.'
'A lady, sir, I think,' said the policeman.
'One Mrs. Smith.'
'She called herself—Caldigate, sir,' said the policeman. Then they went together without any further words to the mayor's court, and from thence, before he heard the accusation made against him, he sent both for his father and for Mr. Seely.
He was taken through to a private room, and thither came at once the mayor and another magistrate of the town with whom he was acquainted. 'This is a very sad business, Mr. Caldigate,' said the mayor.
'Very sad, indeed. I suppose I know all about it. Two men were with me yesterday threatening to indict me for bigamy if I did not give them a considerable sum of money. I can quite understand that they should have been here, as I know the nature of the evidence they can use. The policeman tells me the woman is here too.'
'Oh yes;—she is here, and has made her deposition. Indeed, there are two men and another woman who all declare that they were present at her marriage.' Then, after some further conversation, the accusers were brought into the room before him, so that their depositions might be read to him. The woman was closely veiled, so that he could not see a feature of her face; but he knew her figure well, and he remembered the other woman who had been half-companion half-servant to Euphemia Smith when she had come up to the diggings, and who had been with her both at Ahalala and at Nobble. The woman's name, as he now brought to mind, was Anna Young. Crinkett also and Adamson followed them into the room, each of whom had made a deposition on the matter. 'Is this the Mr. Caldigate,' said the mayor, 'whom you claim as your husband?'
'He is my husband,' said the woman. 'He and I were married at Ahalala in New South Wales.' 'It is false,' said Caldigate.
'Would you wish to see her face?' asked the mayor.
'No; I know her voice well. She is the woman in whose company I went out to the Colony, and whom I knew while I was there. It is not necessary that I should see her. What does she say?'
'That I am your wife, John Caldigate.'
Then the deposition was read to him, which stated on the part of the woman, that on a certain day she was married to him by the Rev. Mr. Allan, a Wesleyan minister, at Ahalala, that the marriage took place in a tent belonging, as she believed, to Mr. Crinkett, and that Crinkett, Adamson, and Anna Young were all present at the marriage. Then the three persons thus named had taken their oaths and made their depositions to the same effect. And a document was produced, purporting to be a copy of the marriage certificate as made out by Mr. Allan,—copy which she, the woman, stated that she obtained at the time, the register itself, which consisted simply of an entry in a small book, having been carried away by Mr. Allan in his pocket. Crinkett, when asked what had become of Mr. Allan, stated that he knew nothing but that he had left Ahalala. From that day to this none of them had heard of Mr Allan.
Then the mayor gave Caldigate to understand that he must hold himself as committed to stand his trial for bigamy at the next Assizes for the County.
The Conclave at Puritan Grange
John Caldigate was committed, and liberated on bail. This occurred in Cambridge on the Wednesday after the christening; and before the Saturday night following, all the Boltons were thoroughly convinced that this wretched man, who had taken from them their daughter and their sister, was a bigamist, and that poor Hester, though a mother, was not a wife. The evidence against him, already named, was very strong, but they had been put in possession of other, and as they thought more damning evidence than any to which he had alluded in telling his version of the story to Robert Bolton. The woman had produced, and had shown to Robert Bolton, the envelope of a letter addressed in John Caldigate's handwriting to 'Mrs. Caldigate, Ahalala, Nobble,' which letter had been dated inside from Sydney, and which envelope bore the Sydney postmark. Caldigate's handwriting was peculiar, and the attorney declared that he could himself swear to it. The letter itself she also produced, but it told less than the envelope. It began as such a letter might begin, 'Dearest Feemy,' and ended 'Yours, ever and always, J.C.' As she herself had pointed out, a man such as Caldigate does not usually call his wife by that most cherished name in writing to her. The letter itself referred almost altogether to money matters, though perhaps hardly to such as a man generally discusses with his wife. Certain phrases seemed to imply a distinct action. She had better sell these shares or those, if she could, for a certain price,—and suchlike. But she explained, that they both when they married had been possessed of mining shares, represented by scrip which passed from hand to hand readily, and that each still retained his or her own property. But among the various small documents which she had treasured up for use, should they be needed for some possible occasion such as this, was a note, which had not, indeed, been posted, but which purported to have been written by the minister, Allan, to Caldigate himself, offering to perform the marriage at Ahalala, but advising him to have the ceremony performed at some more settled place, where an established church community with a permanent church or chapel admitted the proper custody of registers. Nothing could be more sensible, or written in a better spirit than this letter, though the language was not that of an educated man. This letter, Caldigate had, she said, showed to her, and she had retained it. Then she brought forward two handkerchiefs which she herself had marked with her new name, Euphemia Caldigate, and the date of the year. This had been done, she declared, immediately after her marriage, and the handkerchiefs seemed by their appearance to justify the assertion. Caldigate had admitted a promise, admitted that he had lived with the woman, admitted that she had passed by his name, admitted that there had been a conversation with the clergyman in regard to his marriage. And now there were three others, besides the woman herself, who were ready to swear,—who had sworn,—that they had witnessed the ceremony!
A clerk had been sent out early in November by Robert and William Bolton to make inquiry in the colony, and he could not well return before the end of March. And, if the accused man should ask for delay, it would hardly be possible to refuse the request as it might be necessary for his defence that he, too, should get evidence from the colony. The next assizes would be in April, and it would hardly be possible that the trial should take place so soon. And if not there would be a delay of three or four months more. Even that might hardly suffice should a plea be made on Caldigate's behalf that prolonged inquiry was indispensable. A thousand allegations might be made, as to the characters of these witnesses,—characters which doubtless were open to criticism; as to the probability of forgery; as to the necessity of producing Allan, the clergyman; as to Mrs. Smith's former position,—whether or no she was in truth a widow when she was living at Ahalala. Richard Shand had been at Ahalala, and must have known the truth. Caldigate might well declare that Richard Shand's presence was essential to his defence. There would and must be delay.
But what, in the meantime, would be the condition of Hester,—Hester Bolton, as they feared that they would be bound in duty to call her,—of Hester and her infant? The thing was so full of real tragedy,—true human nature of them all was so strongly affected, that for a time family jealousies and hatred had to give way. To father and mother and to the brothers, and to the brother's wife, it was equally a catastrophe, terrible, limitless, like an earthquake, or the falling upon them of some ruined tower. One thing was clear to them all,—that she and her child must be taken away from Folking. Her continued residence there would be a continuation of the horror. The man was not her husband. Not one of them was inspired by a feeling of mercy to allege that, in spite of all that they had heard, he still might be her husband. Even Mrs. Robert, who had been most in favour of the Caldigate marriage, did not doubt for an instant. The man had been a gambler at home on racecourses, and then had become a gambler at the gold-mines in the colony. His life then, by his own admission, had been disreputable. Who does not know that vices which may be treated with tenderness, almost with complaisance, while they are kept in the background, became monstrous, prodigious, awe-inspiring when they are made public? A gentleman shall casually let slip some profane word, and even some friendly parson standing by will think but little of it; but let the profane word, through some unfortunate accident, find its way into the newspapers, and the gentleman will be held to have disgraced himself almost for ever. Had nothing been said of a marriage between Caldigate and Mrs. Smith, little would have been thought by Robert Bolton, little perhaps by Robert Bolton's father, little even by Robert Bolton's wife, of the unfortunate alliance which he had admitted. But now, everything was added to make a pile of wickedness as big as a mountain.
From the conclave which was held on Saturday at Puritan Grange to decide what should be done, it was impossible to exclude Mrs. Bolton. She was the young mother's mother, and how should she be excluded? From the first moment in which something of the truth had reached her ears, it had become impossible to silence her or to exclude her. To her all those former faults would have been black as vice itself, even though there had been no question of a former marriage. Outside active sins, to which it may be presumed no temptation allured herself, were abominable to her. Evil thoughts, hardness of heart, suspicions, unforgivingness, hatred, being too impalpable for denunciation in the Decalogue but lying nearer to the hearts of most men than murder, theft, adultery, and perjury, were not equally abhorrent to her. She had therefore allowed herself to believe all evil of this man, and from the very first had set him down in her heart as a hopeless sinner. The others had opposed her,—because the man had money. In the midst of her shipwreck, in the midst of her misery, through all her maternal agony, there was a certain triumph to her in this. She had been right,—right from first to last, right in everything. Her poor old husband was crushed by the feeling that they had, among them, allowed this miscreant to take their darling away from them,—that he himself had assented; but she had not assented; she was not crushed. Before Monday night all Cambridge had heard something of the story, and then it had been impossible to keep her in the dark. And now, when the conclave met, of course she was one. The old man was there, and Robert Bolton, and William the barrister, who had come down from London to give his advice, and both Mr. and Mrs. Daniel. Mrs. Daniel, of all the females of the family, was the readiest to endure the severity of the step-mother, and she was now giving what comfort she could by her attendance at the Grange.
'Of course she should come home,' said the barrister. Up to this moment no one had seen Hester since the evil tidings had been made known; but a messenger had been sent out to Folking with a long letter from her mother, in which the poor nameless one had been implored to come back with her baby to her old home till this matter had been settled. The writer had endeavoured to avoid the saying of hard things against the sinner; but her feelings had been made very clear. 'Your father and brothers and all of us think that you should come away from him while this is pending. Nay; we do not hesitate to say that it is your bounden duty to leave him.'
'I will never, never leave my dearest, dearest husband. If they were to put my husband into gaol I would sit at the door till they had let him out.' That, repeated over and over again, had been the purport of her reply. And that word 'husband,' she used in almost every line, having only too clearly observed that her mother had not used it at all. 'Dearest mother,' she said, ending her letter, 'I love you as I have always done. But when I became his wife, I swore to love him best. I did not know then how strong my love could be. I have hardly known till now, when he is troubled, of what devotion I was capable. I will not leave him for a moment,—unless I have to do so at his telling.'
Such being her determination, and so great her obstinacy, it was quite clear that they could not by soft words or persuasive letters bring her to their way of thinking. She would not submit to their authority, but would claim that as a married woman she owed obedience only to her husband. And it would certainly not be within their power to make her believe that she was not Caldigate's wife. They believed it. They felt that they knew the facts. To them any continuation of the alliance between their poor girl and the false traitor was abominable. They would have hung the man without a moment's thought of mercy had it been possible. There was nothing they would not have done to rescue their Hester from his power. But how was she to be rescued till the dilatory law should have claimed its victim? 'Can't she be made to come away by the police?' asked the mother.
The barrister shook his head. 'Couldn't the magistrates give an order?' asked the father. Mr. Bolton had been a magistrate himself,—was one still indeed, although for some years he had not sat upon the bench,—but he had no very clear idea of a magistrate's power. The barrister again shook his head. 'You seemed to think that something of the kind could be done,' he said, turning to Robert. When he wanted advice he would always turn to Robert, especially in the presence of the barrister, intending to show that he thought the lower branch of the profession to be at any rate more accurate than the higher.
'I said something about an order from the Vice-Chancellor. But I fear we should not succeed in getting it.' The barrister again shook his head.
'Do you mean to say that nothing can be done?' exclaimed Mrs. Bolton, rising up from her seat; 'that no steps can be taken?'
'If she were once here, perhaps you could—prevent her return,' whispered the barrister.
'Persuade her not to go back,' suggested Mrs. Daniel.
'Well;—that might come after a time. But I think you would have the feeling of the community with you if you succeeded;—well, not violence, you understand.'
'No; not violence,' said the father.
'I could be violent with him,' said Mrs. Bolton.
'Just do not let her leave the house,' continued the barrister. 'Of course it would be disagreeable.'
'I should not mind that,' said Mrs. Bolton. 'In doing my duty I could bear anything. To separate her from him I could undergo any trouble.'
'But he would have the power to fetch her?' asked the father, doubtfully.
'No doubt;—by law he would have such power. But the magistrates would be very loath to assist him. The feeling of the community, as I said, would be in your favour. She would be cowed, and when once she was away from him he would probably feel averse to increase our enmity by taking strong measures for her recovery.' Mrs. Bolton seemed to declare by her face that it would be quite impossible for him to increase her enmity.
'But we can't lock her up,' said the old man.
'Practically you can. Take her bonnet away,—or whatever she came in. Don't let there be a vehicle to carry her back. Let the keys be turned if it be necessary. The servants must know of course what you are doing; but they will probably be on your side. I don't mean to say that if she be resolute to escape at any cost you can prevent her. But probably she will not be resolute like that. It requires a deal of resolution for a young woman to show herself in the streets alone in so wretched a plight as hers. It depends on her disposition.'
'She is very determined,' said Hester's mother.
'And you can be equally so.' To this assertion Mrs. Bolton assented with a little nod. 'You can only try it. It is one of those cases in which, unfortunately, publicity cannot be avoided. We have to do the best we can for her, poor dear, according to our conscience. I should induce her to come on a visit to her mother, and then I should, if possible, detain her.'
It was thus that William Bolton gave his advice; and as Robert Bolton assented, it was determined that this should be the line of action. Nor can it be said that they were either cruel or unloving in their projected scheme. Believing as they did that the man was not her husband, it must be admitted that it was their duty to take her away from him if possible. But it was not probable that Hester herself would look upon their care of her in the same light. She would beat herself against the bars of her cage; and even should she be prevented from escaping by the motives and reasons which William Bolton had suggested, she would not the less regard her father and mother as wicked tyrants. The mother understood that very well. And she, though she was hard to all the world besides, had never been hard to her girl. No tenderest female bosom that ever panted at injustice done to her offspring was more full than hers of pity, love, and desire. To save her Hester from sin and suffering she would willingly lay down her life. And she knew that in carrying out the scheme that had been proposed she must appear to her girl to be an enemy,—to be the bitterest of all enemies! I have seen a mother force open the convulsively closed jaws of her child in order that some agonising torture might be applied,—which, though agonising, would tend to save her sick infant's life. She did it though, the child shrank from her as from some torturing fiend. This mother resolved that she would do the same,—though her child, too, should learn to hate her.
William Bolton undertook to go out to Folking and give the invitation by which she was to be allured to come to Puritan Grange,—only for a day and night if longer absence was objectionable; only for a morning visit, if no more could be achieved. It was all treachery and falsehood;—a doing of certain evil that possible good might come from it. 'She will hate me for ever, but yet it ought to be done,' said William Bolton; who was a good man, an excellent husband and father, and regarded in his own profession as an honourable trustworthy man.
'She will never stay,' the old man said to his wife, when the others had gone and they two were left together.
'I don't know.'
'I am sure she will never stay.'
'I will try.'
Mrs. Robert said the same thing when the scheme was explained to her. 'Do you think anybody could keep me a prisoner against my will,—unless they locked me up in a cell? Do you think I would not scream?'
The husband endeavoured to explain that the screaming might depend on the causes which had produced the coercion. 'I think you would scream, and scream till you were let loose, if the person locking you up had nothing to justify him. But if you felt that the world would be all against you, then you would not scream and would not be let out.'
Mrs. Robert, however, seemed to think that no one could keep her in any house against her own will without positive bolts, bars, and chains.
In the meantime much had been settled out at Folking, or had been settled at Cambridge, so that the details were known at Folking. Mr. Seely had taken up the case, and had of course gone into it with much more minuteness than Robert Bolton had done. Caldigate owned to the writing of the envelope, and to the writing of the letter, but declared that that letter had not been sent in that envelope. He had written the envelope in some foolish joke while at Ahalala,—he remembered doing it well; but he was quite sure that it had never passed through the Sydney post-office. The letter itself had been written from Sydney. He remembered writing that also, and he remembered posting it at Sydney in an envelope addressed to Mrs. Smith. When Mr. Seely assured him that he himself had seen the post-office stamp of Sydney on the cover, Caldigate declared that it must have been passed through the post-office for fraudulent purposes after it had left his hands. 'Then,' said Mr. Seely, 'the fraud must have been meditated and prepared three years ago,—which is hardly probable.'
As to the letter from the clergyman, Allan, of which Mr. Seely had procured a copy, Caldigate declared that it had certainly never been addressed to him. He had never received any letter from Mr. Allan,—had never seen the man's handwriting. He was quite sure that if he were in New South Wales he could get a dozen people to swear that there had never been such a marriage at Ahalala. He did name many people, especially Dick Shand. Then Mr. Seely proposed to send out an agent to the colony, who should take the depositions of such witnesses as he could find, and who should if possible bring Dick Shand back with him. And, at whatever cost, search should be made for Mr. Allan; and Mr. Allan should, if found, be brought to England, if money could bring him. If Mr. Allan could not be found, some document written by him might perhaps be obtained with reference to his handwriting. But, through it all, Mr. Seely did believe that there had been some marriage ceremony between his client and Mrs. Euphemia Smith.
All this, down to the smallest detail, was told to Hester,—Hester Bolton or Hester Caldigate, whichever she might be. And there was no word uttered by the man she claimed as her husband which she did not believe as though it were gospel.
Hester Is Lured Back
On the Monday morning, Mr. William Bolton, the barrister, who had much to his own inconvenience remained at Cambridge for the purpose of carrying out the scheme which he had proposed, went over to Folking in a fly. He had never been at the place before, and was personally less well acquainted with the family into which his sister had married than any other Bolton. Had everything been pleasant, nothing could have been more natural than such a visit; but as things were very far from pleasant Hester was much surprised when he was shown into her room. It had been known to Robert Bolton that Caldigate now came every day into Cambridge to see either his lawyer or his father, and that therefore he would certainly not be found at home about the middle of the day. It was henceforth to be a law with all the Boltons, at any rate till after the trial, that they would not speak to, or if possible see, John Caldigate. Not without very strong cause would William Bolton have entered his house, but that strong cause existed.
'Oh, William! I am so glad to see you,' said Hester, rushing into her brother's arms.
'I too am glad to see you, Hester, though the time is so sad to us all.'
'Yes; yes. It is sad;—oh, so sad! Is it not terrible that there should be people so wicked, and that they should be able to cause so much trouble to innocent persons.'
'With all my heart I feel for you,' said the brother, caressing his young sister.
With quickest instinct she immediately perceived that a slight emphasis given to the word 'you' implied the singular number. She drew herself back a little, still feeling, however, that no offence had as yet been committed against which she could express her indignation. But it was necessary that a protest should be made at once. 'I am so sorry that my husband is not here to welcome you. He has gone into Cambridge to fetch his father. Poor Mr. Caldigate is so troubled by all this that he prefers now to come and stay with us.'
'Ah, indeed! I dare say it will be better that the father and the son should be together.'
'Father and son, or even mother and daughter, are not like husbands and wives, are they?'
'No; they are not,' said the barrister, not quite knowing how to answer so very self-evident a proposition, but understanding accurately the line of thought which had rendered it necessary for the poor creature to reassert at every moment the bond by which she would fain be bound to the father of her child.
'But Mr. Caldigate is so good,—so good and gentle to me and baby, that I am delighted that he should be here with John. You know of all this.'
'Yes, I know, of course.'
'And will feel all that John has to suffer.'
'It is very bad, very bad for everybody concerned. By his own showing, his conduct——'
'William,' said she, 'let this be settled in one word. I will not hear a syllable against my husband from you or any one else. I am delighted to see you,—I cannot tell you how delighted. Oh, if papa would come,—or mamma! Dear, dear mamma! You don't suppose but what I love you all!'
'I am sure you do.'
'But not from papa or mamma even will I hear a word against him. Would Fanny,'—Fanny was the barrister's wife—'let her people come and say things behind your back?'
'I hope not.'
'Then, believe that I can be as stout as Fanny. But we need not quarrel. You will come and see baby, and have some lunch. I am afraid they will not be here till three or four, but they will be so glad to see you if you will wait.'
He would not wait, of course; but he allowed himself to be taken away to see baby, and did eat his lunch. Then he brought forward the purport of his mission. 'Your mother is most anxious to see you, Hester. You will go and visit her?'
'Oh, yes,' said Hester, unaware of any danger. 'But I wish she would come to me.'
'My dear girl, as things are at present that is impossible. You can understand as much as that. There must be a trial.'
'I suppose so.'
'And till that has been held your mother would be wrong to come here. I express no judgment against any one.'
'I should have thought mamma would have been the first to support me,—me and baby,' she said sobbing.
'Certainly, if you were homeless—'
'But I am not. My husband gives me a house to live in, and I want none other.'
'What I wish to explain is that if you were in want of anything—'
'I am in want of nothing—but sympathy.'
'You have it from me and from all of us. But pray, listen for a moment. She cannot come to you till the trial be over. I am sure Mr. Caldigate would understand that.'
'He comes to me,' she said, alluding to her father-in-law, and not choosing to understand that her brother should have called her husband 'Mr. Caldigate.'
'But there can be no reason why you should not go to Chesterton.'
'Just to see mamma?'
'For a day or two,' he replied, blushing inwardly at his own lie. 'Could you go to-morrow?'
'Oh no;—not to stay. Of course I must ask my husband. I'm sure he'll let me go if I ask it, but not to-morrow. Why to-morrow?'
'Only that your mother longs to see you.' He had been specially instigated to induce her to come as soon as possible. 'You may imagine how anxious she is.'
'Poor mamma! Yes;—I know she suffers. I know mamma's feelings. Mamma and I must, must, must quarrel if we talk about this. Of course I will go to see her. But will you tell her this,—that if she cannot speak of my husband with affection and respect it will be better that—she should not mention him at all. I will not submit to a word even from her.'
When he took his departure it was settled that she should, with her husband's permission, go over to Chesterton for a couple of nights in the course of the next week; but that she could not fix the day till she had seen him. Then, when he was taking his departure and kissing her once again, she whispered a word to him. 'Try and be charitable, William. I sometimes think that at Chesterton we hardly knew what charity meant.'
That evening the proposed visit to Chesterton was discussed at Folking. The old man had very strongly taken up his son's side, and was of opinion that the Boltons were not only uncharitable, but perversely ill-conditioned in the view which they took. To his thinking, Crinkett, Adamson, and the woman were greedy, fraudulent scoundrels, who had brought forward this charge solely with the view of extorting money. He declared that the very fact that they had begun by asking for money should have barred their evidence before any magistrates. The oaths of the four 'scoundrels' were, according to him, worth nothing. The scrap of paper purporting to be a copy of the marriage certificate, and the clergyman's pretended letter, were mere forgeries, having about them no evidence or probability of truth. Any one could have written them. As to that envelope addressed to Mrs. Caldigate, with the Sydney postmark, he had his own theory. He thought but little of the intercourse which his son acknowledged with the woman, but was of opinion that his son 'had been an ass' in writing those words. But a man does not marry a woman by simply writing his own name with the word mistress prefixed to it on an envelope. Any other woman might have adduced the envelope as evidence of his marriage with her! It was, he said, monstrous that any one should give credence to such bundles of lies. Therefore his words were gospel, and his wishes were laws to Hester. She clung round him, and hovered over him, and patted him like a very daughter, insisting that he should nurse the baby, and talking of him to her husband as though he were manifestly the wisest man in Cambridgeshire. She forgot even that little flaw in his religious belief. To her thinking at the present moment, a man who would believe that her baby was the honest son of an honest father and mother had almost religion enough for all purposes.
'Quite right that you should go,' said the old man.
'I think so,' said the husband, 'though I am afraid they will trouble her.'
'The only question is whether they will let her come back.'
'What!' exclaimed Hester.
'Whether they won't keep you when they've got you.'
'I won't be kept. I will come back. You don't suppose I'd let them talk me over?'
'No, my dear; I don't think they'll be able to do that. But there are such things as bolts and bars.'
'Impossible!' said his son.
'Do you mean that they'll send me to prison?' asked Hester.
'No; they can't do that. They wouldn't take you in at the county jail, but they might make a prison of Puritan Grange. I don't say they will, but they might try it.'
'I should get out, of course.'
'I daresay you would; but there might be trouble.'
'Papa would not allow that,' said Hester. 'Papa understands better than that. I've a right to go where I like, just as anybody else;—that is, if John tells me.' The matter was discussed at some length, but John Caldigate was of opinion that no such attempt as the old man had suggested was probable,—or even possible. The idea that in these days any one should be kept a prisoner in a private house,—any one over whom no one in that house possessed legitimate authority,—seemed to him to be monstrous. That a husband should lock up his wife might be possible, or a father his unmarried and dependent daughter; but that any one should venture to lock up another man's wife was, he declared, out of the question. Mr. Caldigate again said that he should not be surprised if it were attempted; but acknowledged that the attempt could hardly be successful.
As Hester was anxious to make the visit, it was arranged that she should go. It was not that she expected much pleasure even in seeing her mother;—but that it was expedient at such a time to maintain what fellowship might still be possible with her own family. The trial would of course liberate them from all their trouble; and then, when the trial should be over, it would be very sad if an entire rupture between herself and her parents should have been created. She would be true to her husband; as true as a part must be to the whole, as the heart must to the brain. They two were, and ever would be, one. But if her mother could be spared to her, if she could be saved from a lasting quarrel with her mother, it would be so much to her! Tears came into the eyes even of the old man as he assented; and her husband swore to her that for her sake he would forgive every injury from any one bearing the name of Bolton when all this should be over.
A day was therefore fixed, and a note was written, and on the last day of February she and her baby and her nurse were taken over to Puritan Grange. In the meantime telegrams at a very great cost had been flying backwards and forwards between Cambridge and Sydney. William and Robert Bolton had determined among them that, at whatever expense to the family, the truth must be ascertained; and to this the old banker had assented. So far they were right, no doubt. If the daughter and sister was not in truth a wife,—if by grossest, by most cruel ill-usage she had been lured to a ruin for which there could be no remedy in this world,—it would be better that the fact should be known at once, so that her life might be pure though it could never again be bright. But it was strange that, with all these Boltons, there was a desire, an anxiety, to prove the man's guilt rather than his innocence. Mrs. Bolton had always regarded him as a guilty man,—though guilty of she knew not what. She had always predicted misery from a marriage so distasteful to her; and her husband, though he had been brought to oppose her and to sanction the marriage, had, from the moment in which the sanction was given, been induced by her influence to reject it. Robert Bolton, when the charge was first made, when the letter from the woman was first shown to him, had become aware that he had made a mistake in allowing this trouble to come upon the family; and then, as from point to point the evidence had been opened out to him, he had gradually convinced himself that the son-in-law and brother-in-law, whom he had, as it were, forced into the family, was a bigamist. There was present to them all an intense desire to prove the man's guilt, which was startling to all around who heard anything of the matter. Up to this time the Bolton telegrams and the Caldigate telegrams had elicited two facts,—that Allan the Wesleyan minister had gone to the Fiji Islands and had there died, and that they at Nobble who had last known Dick Shand's address, now knew it no longer. Caldigate had himself gone to Pollington, and had there ascertained that no tidings had been received from Dick by any of the Shand family for the last twelve months. It had been decided that the trial must be postponed at any rate till the summer assizes, which would be held in Cambridge about the last week in August; and it was thought by some that even then the case would not be ready. There was, no doubt, an opinion prevalent in Cambridge that the unfortunate young mother should be taken home to her own family till the matter should be decided; and among the ladies of the town John Caldigate himself was blamed severely for not allowing her to place herself under her father's protection; but the ladies of the town generally were not probably well acquainted with the disposition and temper of the young wife herself.
Things were in this condition when Hester and her baby went to her father's house. Though that suspicion as to some intended durance which Mr. Caldigate had expressed was not credited by her, still, as she was driven up to the house, the idea was in her mind. She looked at the door and she looked at the window, and she could not conceive it possible that such a thing should be attempted. She thought of her own knowledge of the house; how, if it were necessary, she could escape from the back of the garden into the little field running down to the river, and how she could cross the ferry. Of course she knew every outlet and inlet about the place, and was sure that confinement would be impossible. But she did not think of her bonnet nor of her boots, nor of the horror which it would be to her should she be driven to wander forth into the town, and to seek a conveyance back to Folking in the public streets.
She went on a Monday with an understanding that she was to remain there till Wednesday. Mrs. Bolton almost wished that a shorter visit had been arranged in order that she might at once commence her hostile operations without any intermediate and hypocritical pretences. She had planned her campaign thoroughly in her own mind, and had taken the cook into her confidence, the cook being the oldest and most religious servant in the house. When the day of departure should have come the cook was to lock the doors, and the gardener was to close the little gate at the bottom of the garden; and the bonnet and other things were to be removed, and then the mother would declare her purpose. But in the meantime allusions to that intended return to Folking must be accepted, and listened to with false assent. It was very grievous, but so it was arranged. As soon as Hester was in the house the mother felt how much better it would have been to declare to her daughter at once that she was a prisoner;—but it was then too late to alter their proposed plans.