It very nearly came to pass that Hester left her mother on the morning of her arrival. They had both determined to be cautious, reticent, and forbearing but the difference between them was so vital that reticence was impossible. At first there was a profusion of natural tears, and a profusion of embraces Each clung to the other for a while as though some feeling might be satisfied by mere contact; and then the woe of the thing, the woe of it, was acknowledged on both sides! They could agree that the wickedness of the wicked was very wicked. Wherever might lie the sin of fraud and falsehood, the unmerited misfortunes of poor Hester were palpable enough. They could weep together over the wrongs inflicted on that darling baby. But by degrees it was impossible to abstain from alluding to the cause of their sorrow;—and such allusion became absolutely necessary when an attempt was made to persuade Hester to remain at her old home with her own consent. This was done by her father on the evening of her arrival, in compliance with the plan that had been arranged. 'No, papa, no; I cannot do that,' she said, with a tone of angry determination.
'It is your duty, Hester. All your friends will tell you so.'
'My duty is to my husband,' she said, 'and in such a matter I can allow myself to listen to no other friend.' She was so firm and fixed in this that he did not even dare to go on with his expostulation.
But afterwards, when they were upstairs together, Mrs. Bolton spoke out more at length and with more energy. 'Mamma, it is of no use,' said Hester.
'It ought to be of use. Do you know the position in which you are?'
'Very well. I am my husband's wife.'
'If it be so, well. But if it be not so, and if you remain with him while there is a doubt upon the matter, then you are his mistress.'
'If I am not his wife, then I will be his mistress,' said Hester, standing up and looking as she spoke much as her mother would look in her most determined moments.
'What is the use of all this, mamma? Nothing shall make me leave him. Others may be ashamed of me; but because of this I shall never be ashamed of myself. You are ashamed of me!'
'If you could mean what you said just now I should be ashamed of you.'
'I do mean it. Though the juries and the judges should say that he was not my husband, though all the judges in England should say it, I would not believe them. They may put him in prison and so divide us; but they never shall divide my bone from his bone, and my flesh from his flesh. As you are ashamed of me, I had better go back to-morrow.'
Then Mrs. Bolton determined that early in the morning she would look to the bolts and bars; but when the morning came matters had softened themselves a little.
The Babington Wedding
It is your duty,—especially your duty,—to separate them.' This was said by Mr. Smirkie, the vicar of Plum-cum-Pippin, to Mr. Bromley, the rector of Utterden, and the words were spoken in the park at Babington where the two clergymen were taking a walk together. Mr. Smirkie's first wife had been a Miss Bromley, a sister of the clergyman at Utterden; and as Julia Babington was anxious to take to her bosom all her future husband's past belongings, Mr. Bromley had been invited to Babington. It might be that Aunt Polly was at this time well inclined to exercise her hospitality in this direction by a feeling that Mr. Bromley would be able to talk to them about this terrible affair. Mr. Bromley was intimate with John Caldigate, and of course would know all about it. There was naturally in Aunt Polly's heart a certain amount of self-congratulation at the way in which things were going. Mr. Smirkie, no doubt, had had a former wife, but no one would call him a bigamist. In what a condition might her poor Julia have been but for that interposition of Providence! For Aunt Polly regarded poor Hester Bolton as having been quite a providential incident, furnished expressly for the salvation of Julia. Hitherto Mr. Bromley had been very short in his expressions respecting the Folking tragedy, having simply declared that, judging by character, he could not conceive that a man such as Caldigate would have been guilty of such a crime. But now he was being put through his facings more closely by his brother-in-law.
'Why should I want to separate them?'
'Because the evidence of his guilt is so strong.'
'That is for a jury to judge.'
'Yes; and if a jury should decide that there had been no Australian marriage,—which I fear we can hardly hope;—but if a jury were to decide that, then of course she could go back to him. But while there is a doubt, I should have thought, Tom, you certainly would have seen it, even though you never have had a wife of your own.'
'I think I see all that there is to see,' said the other. 'If the poor lady has been deceived and betrayed, no punishment can be too heavy for the man who has so injured her. But the very enormity of the iniquity makes me doubt it. As far as I can judge, Caldigate is a high-spirited, honest gentleman, to whom the perpetration of so great a sin would hardly suggest itself.'
'But if,—but if—! Think of her condition, Tom!'
'You would have to think of your own, if you were to attempt to tell her to leave him.'
'That means that you are afraid of her.'
'It certainly means that I should be very much afraid if I thought of taking such a liberty. If I believed it to be my duty, I hope that I would do it.'
'You are her clergyman.'
'Certainly. I christened her child. I preach to her twice every Sunday. And if she were to die I should bury her.'
'Is that all?'
'Pretty nearly;—except that I generally dine at the house once a week.'
'Is there nothing further confided to you than that?'
'If she were to come to me for advice, then it would be my duty to give her what advice I thought to be best; and then—'
'Then I should have to make up my mind,—which I have not done at present,—I should have to make up my mind, not as to his guilt, for I believe him to be innocent, but as to the expediency of a separation till a jury should have acquitted him. But I am well aware that she won't come to me; and from little words which constantly drop from her, I am quite sure that nothing would induce her to leave her husband but a direct command from himself.'
'You might do it through him.'
'I am equally sure that nothing would induce him to send her away.'
But such a conviction as this was not sufficient for Mr. Smirkie. He was alive to the fact,—uncomfortably alive to the fact,—that the ordinary life of gentle-folk in England does not admit of direct clerical interference. As a country clergyman, he could bestow his admonitions upon his poorer neighbours; but upon those who were well-to-do he could not intrude himself unasked, unless, as he thought, in cases of great emergency. Here was a case of very great emergency. He was sure that he would have courage for the occasion if Folking were within the bounds of Plum-cum-Pippin. It was just the case in which counsel should be volunteered;—in which so much could be said which would be gross impertinence from others though it might be so manifest a duty to a clergyman! But Mr. Bromley could not be aroused to a sense either of his duty or of his privileges. All this was sad to Mr. Smirkie, who regretted those past days in which, as he believed, the delinquent soul had been as manifestly subject to ecclesiastical interference as the delinquent body has always been to the civil law.
But with Julia, who was to be his wife, he could be more imperative. She was taught to give thanks before the throne of grace because she had been spared the ignominy of being married to a man who could not have made her his wife, and had had an unstained clergyman of the Church of England given to her for her protection. For with that candour which is so delightful, and so common in these days, everything had been told to Mr. Smirkie,—how her young heart had for a time turned itself towards her cousin, how she had been deceived, and then how rejoiced she was that by such deceit she had been reserved for her present more glorious fate. 'And won't Mr. Bromley speak to her?' Julia asked.
'It is a very difficult question,—a very difficult question, indeed,' said Mr. Smirkie, shaking his head. He was quite sure that were Folking in his parish he would perform the duty, though Mr. Caldigate and the unfortunate lady might be as a lion and a lioness in opposition to him; but he was also of opinion that sacerdotal differences of opinion should not be discussed among laymen,—should not be discussed by a clergyman even with the wife of his bosom.
At Babington opinion was somewhat divided. Aunt Polly and Julia were of course certain that John Caldigate had married the woman in Australia. But the two other girls and their father were not at all so sure. Indeed, there had been a little misunderstanding among the Babingtons on the subject, which was perhaps strengthened by the fact that Mr. Smirkie had more endeared himself to Julia's mother than to Julia's father or sisters, and that Mr. Smirkie himself was very clear as to the criminality of the bigamist. 'I suppose you are often there,' Mr. Babington said to his guest, the parson of Utterden.
'Yes; I have seen a good deal of them.'
'Do you think it possible?'
'Not probable,' said the clergyman.
'I don't,' said the Squire. 'I suppose he was a little wild out there, but that is a very different thing from bigamy. Young men, when they get out to those places, are not quite so particular as they ought to be, I daresay. When I was young, perhaps I was not as steady as I ought to have been. But, by George! here is a man comes over and asks for a lot of money; and then the woman asks for money; and then they say that if they don't get it, they'll swear the fellow was married in Australia. I can't fancy that any jury will believe that.'
'I hope not.'
'And yet, Madame,'—the Squire was in the habit of calling his wife Madame when he intended to insinuate anything against her,—'has got it settled in her head that this young woman isn't his wife at all. I think it's uncommon hard. A man ought to be considered innocent till he has been found guilty. I shall go over and see him one of these days, and say a kind word to her.'
There was at that moment some little difference of opinion, which was coming to a head in reference to a very delicate matter. When the conversations above related took place, the Babington wedding had been fixed to take place in a week's time. Should cousin John be invited, or should he not? Julia was decidedly against it. 'She did not think,' she said, 'that she could stand up at the altar and conduct herself on an occasion so trying if she were aware that he were standing by her.' Mr. Smirkie, of course, was not asked,—was not directly asked. But equally, of course, he was able to convey his own opinion through his future bride. Aunt Polly thought that the county would be shocked if a man charged with bigamy was allowed to be present at the marriage. But the Squire was a man who could have an opinion of his own; and after having elicited that of Mr. Bromley, insisted that the invitation should be sent.
'It will be a pollution,' said Julia, sternly, to her younger sisters.
'You will be a married woman almost before you have seen him,' said Georgiana, the second, 'and so it won't matter so much to you. We must get over it as we can.'
Julia had been thought by her sisters not to bear the Smirkie triumph with sufficient humility; and they, therefore, were sometimes a little harsh to her. 'I don't think you understand it at all,' said Julia. 'You have no conception what should be the feelings of a married woman, especially when she is going to become the wife of one of God's ministers.'
But in spite of all this, Aunt Polly wrote to her nephew as follows:—
'Dear John,—Our dearest Julia is to be married on Tuesday next. You know how anxious we all have been to maintain affectionate family relations with you, and we therefore do not like the idea of our sweet child passing from her present sphere to other duties without your presence. Will you come over on Monday evening, and stay till after the breakfast? It is astonishing how many of our friends from the two counties have expressed their wish to grace the ceremony by their company. I doubt whether there is a clergyman in the diocese of Ely more respected and thought of by all the upper classes than Augustus Smirkie.
'I do not ask Mrs. Caldigate, because, under present circumstances, she would not perhaps wish to go into company, and because Augustus has never yet had an opportunity of making her acquaintance. I will only say that it is the anxious wish of us all here that you and she together may soon see the end of these terrible troubles.—Believe me to be, your affectionate aunt,
The writing of this letter had not been effected without much difficulty. The Squire himself was not good at the writing of letters, and, though he did insist on seeing this epistle, so that he might be satisfied that Caldigate had been asked in good faith, he did not know how to propose alterations. 'That's all my eye,' he said, referring to his son-in-law that was to be. 'He's as good as another, but I don't know that he's any better.'
'That, my dear,' said Aunt Polly, 'is because you do not interest yourself about such matters. If you had heard what the Archdeacon said of him the other day, you would think differently.'
'He's another parson,' said the Squire. 'Of course they butter each other up.' Then he went on to the other paragraph. 'I wouldn't have said anything about his wife.'
'That would not have been civil,' said Aunt Polly; 'and as you insist on my asking him, I do not wish to be rude.' And so the letter was sent as it was written.
It reached Caldigate on the day which Hester was passing with her mother at Chesterton,—on the Tuesday. She had left Folking on the Monday, intending to return on the Wednesday. Caldigate was therefore alone with his father. 'They might as well have left that undone,' said he, throwing the letter over the table.
'It's about the silliest letter I ever read,' said the old Squire; 'but it is intended for civility. She means to show that she does not condemn you. There are many people who do not know when to speak and when to be silent. I shouldn't go.'
'No, I shan't go.'
'But I should take it as meant in kindness.'
Then John Caldigate wrote back as follows:—'All this that has befallen my wife and me prevents us from going anywhere. She is at the present moment with her own people at Chesterton, but when she returns I shall not leave her. Give my kindest love to Julia, and ask her from me to accept the little present which I send her.'
Julia declared that she would much rather not have accepted the brooch, and that she would never wear it. But animosity against such articles wears itself out quickly, and it may be expected that the little ornament will be seen in the houses of the Suffolk gentry among whom Mr. Smirkie is so popular.
Whether it was Mr. Smirkie's popularity, or the general estimation in which the Babington family were held, or the delight which is taken by the world at large in weddings, there was a very great gathering at Babington church, and in the Squire's house afterwards. Though it was early in March,—a time of the year which, in the eastern counties of England, is not altogether propitious to out-of-doors festivity,—though the roads were muddy, and the park sloppy, and the church abominably open to draughts, still there was a crowd. The young ladies in that part of the world had been slow in marrying lately, and it was felt that the present occasion might give a little fillip to the neighbourhood. This was the second Suffolk young lady that Mr. Smirkie had married, and he was therefore entitled to popularity. He certainly had done as much as he could, and there was probably no one around who had done more.
'I think the dear child will be happy,' said Mrs. Babington to her old friend, Mrs. Munday,—the wife of Archdeacon Munday, the clerical dignitary who had given Mr. Smirkie so good a character.
'Of course she will,' said Mrs. Munday, who had already given three daughters in marriage to three clergymen, and who had, as it were, become used to the transfer.
'And that she will do her duty in it.'
'Why not? There's nothing difficult in it if she only sees that he has his surplice and bands properly got up. He is not, on the whole, a bad-tempered man; and though the children are rough, they'll grow out of that. And she ought to make him take two, or perhaps three, glasses of port wine on Sundays. Mr. Smirkie is not as young as he used to be, and two whole duties, with the Sunday school, which must be looked into, do take a good deal out of a man. The archdeacon, of course, has a curate; but I suppose Mr. Smirkie could hardly manage that just at present?'
The views which had hitherto been taken at Babington of the bride's future life had been somewhat loftier than this. The bands and the surplice and the port wine seemed to be small after all that had been said. The mother felt that she was in some degree rebuked,—not having yet learned that nothing will so much lessen the enthusiasm one may feel for the work of a barrister, or a member of Parliament, or a clergyman, as a little domestic conversation with the wife of the one or the other. But Mrs. Munday was a lady possessing much clerical authority, and that which she said had to be endured with equanimity.
Mr. Smirkie seemed to enjoy the occasion, and held his own through the day with much dignity, The archdeacon, and the clergyman of the parish, and Mr. Bromley, all assisted, and nothing was wanting of outward ceremony which a small country church could supply. When his health was drunk at the breakfast he preached quite a little sermon as he returned thanks, holding his bride's hands in his the while, performing his part in the scene in a manner which no one else would have dared to attempt.
Then there was the parting between the mother and daughter, upstairs, before she was taken away for her ten days' wedding-tour to Brighton. 'My darling;—it is not so far but that I can come and see you very often.'
'Pray do, mamma.'
'And I think I can help you with the children.'
'I am not a bit afraid of them, mamma. I intend to have my way with them, and that will be everything. I don't mean to be weak. Of course Augustus will do what he thinks best in the parish, but he quite understands that I am to be mistress at home. As for Mrs. Munday, mamma, I don't suppose that she knows everything. I believe I can manage quite as well as Mrs. Munday.'
Then there was a parting joint congratulation that she had not yielded to the allurements of her cousin, John Caldigate. 'Oh, no, mamma; that would never have done.'
'Think where you might have been now!'
'I am sure I should have found out his character in time and have broken from him, let it have cost what it might. A man that can do such things as that is to me quite horrible. What is to become of her, and her baby;—and, perhaps, two,' she added in a whisper, holding up her hands and shaking her head. The ceremony through which she had just passed had given her courage to hint at such a possibility. 'I suppose she'll have to be called Miss Bolton again.' Of course there was some well-founded triumph in the bosom of the undoubted Mrs. Augustus Smirkie as she remembered what her own fate might have been. Then she was carried away in the family carriage amidst a deluge of rice and a shower of old shoes.
That same night Mr. Bromley gave an account of the wedding to John Caldigate at Folking, telling him how well all the personages had performed their parts. 'Poor Julia! she at any rate will be safe.'
'Safe enough, I should think,' said the clergyman.
'What I mean is that she has no dangers to fear such as my poor wife has encountered. Whomever I think of now I cannot but compare them to ourselves. No woman surely was ever so ill-used as she, and no man ever so unfortunate as myself.'
'It will be all over in August.'
'And where shall I be? My own lawyer tells me that it is too probable that I shall be in prison. And where will she be then?'
Early on the Tuesday morning Hester came down into the breakfast parlour at Puritan Grange, having with difficulty persuaded herself that she would stay the appointed hours in her mother's house. On the previous evening her mother had, she thought, been very hard on her, and she had determined to go. She would not stay even with her mother, if her mother insisted upon telling her that she was not her husband's wife. But during the night she was able to persuade herself to bear what had been already said,—to let it be as though it had been forgotten. Her mother was her mother. But she would bear no more. As to herself and her own conduct her parents might say what they pleased to her. But of her husband she would endure to hear no evil word spoken. In this spirit she came down into the little parlour.
Mrs. Bolton was also up,—had been up and about for some time previous. She was a woman who never gave way to temptations of ease. A nasty dark morning at six o'clock, with just light enough to enable her to dress without a candle, with no fire and no hot water, with her husband snoring while she went through her operations, was to her thinking the proper condition of things for this world. Not to be cold, not to be uncomfortable, not to strike her toes against the furniture because she could not quite see what she was about, would to her have been to be wicked. When her daughter came into the parlour, she had been about the house for more than an hour, and had had a conference both with the cook and with the gardener. The cook was of opinion that not a word should be said, or an unusual bolt drawn, or a thing removed till the Wednesday. 'She can't carry down her big box herself, ma'am; and the likes of Miss Hester would never think of going without her things;—and then there's the baby.' A look of agony came across the mother's face as she heard her daughter called Miss Hester;—but in truth the woman had used the name from old association, and not with any reference to her late young mistress's present position. 'I should just tell her flat on Wednesday morning that she wasn't to stir out of this, but I wouldn't say nothing at all about any of it till then.' The gardener winked and nodded his head, and promised to put a stake into the ground behind the little wicket-gate which would make the opening of it impossible. 'But take my word for it, ma'am, she'll never try that. She'll be a deal too proud. She'll rampage at the front door, and 'll despise any escaping like.' That was the gardener's idea, and the gardener had long known the young lady. By these arguments Mrs. Bolton was induced to postpone her prison arrangements till the morrow.
When she found her daughter in the small parlour she had settled much in her mind. During the early morning,—that is, till Mr. Bolton should have gone into Cambridge,—not a word should be said about the marriage. Then when they two would be alone together, another attempt should be made to persuade Hester to come and live at Chesterton till after the trial. But even in making that attempt no opinion should be expressed as to John Caldigate's wickedness, and no hint should be given as to the coming incarceration. 'Did you bring baby down with you?' the grandmother asked. No; baby had been awake ever so long, and then had gone to sleep again, and the nurse was now with him to protect him from the sufferings incident to waking. 'Your papa will be down soon, and then we will have breakfast,' said Mrs. Bolton. After that there was silence between them for some time.
A bond of discord, if the phrase may be allowed, is often quite as strong as any bond coming from concord and agreement. There was to both these women a subject of such paramount importance to each that none other could furnish matter of natural conversation. The one was saying to herself ever and always, 'He is my husband. Let the outside world say what it may, he is my husband.' But the other was as constantly denying to herself this assertion and saying, 'He is not her husband. Certainly he is not her husband.' And as to the one the possession of that which she claimed was all the world, and as to the other the idea of the possession without true possession entailed upon her child pollution, crime, and ignominy, it was impossible but that the mind of each should be too full to admit of aught but forced expressions on other matters. It was in vain for them to attempt to talk of the garden, the house, the church, or of the old man's health. It was in vain even to attempt to talk of the baby. There are people who, however full their hearts may be, full of anger or full of joy, can keep the fulness in abeyance till a chosen time for exhibiting it shall come. But neither of these two was such a person. Every stiff plait in the elder woman's muslin and crape declared her conviction that John Caldigate was not legally married to her daughter. Every glance of Hester's eye, every motion made with her hands, every little shake of her head, declared her purpose of fighting for that one fact, whatever might be the odds against her.
When the banker came down to breakfast things were better for a little time. The pouring out of his tea mitigated somewhat the starchiness of his wife's severity, and Hester when cutting the loaf for him could seem to take an interest in performing an old duty. He said not a word against Caldigate; and when he went out, Hester, as had been her custom, accompanied him to the gate. 'Of course you will be here when I come,' he said.
'Oh yes; I do not go home till to-morrow.' Then she parted from him, and spent the next hour or two up-stairs with her baby.
'May I come in?' said the mother, knocking at the door.
'Oh yes, mamma. Don't you think baby is very like his father?'
'I dare say. I do not know that I am good at tracing likenesses. He certainly is like you.'
'So much more like his father!' said Hester.
After that there was a pause, and then the mother commenced her task in her most serious voice. 'Hester, my child, you can understand that a duty may become so imperious that it must be performed.'
'Yes,' said Hester, pressing her lips close together 'I can understand that.' There might be a duty very necessary for her to perform, though in the performance of it she should be driven to quarrel absolutely with her own mother.
'So it is with me. Whom do you think I love best in all the world?'
'I do love your father dearly, and I endeavour, by God's grace, to do my duty by him, though, I fear, it is done imperfectly. But, my child, our hearts, I think, yearn more to those who are younger than ourselves than to our elders. We love best those whom we have cherished and protected, and whom we may perhaps still cherish and protect. When I try to tear my heart away from the things of this vile world, it clings to you—to you—to you!'
Of course this could not be borne without an embrace 'Oh, mamma!' Hester exclaimed, throwing herself on her knees before her mother's lap.
'If you suffer, must not I suffer? If you rejoice, would I not fain rejoice with you if I could? Did I not bring you into the world, my only one, and nursed you, and prayed for you, and watched you with all a mother's care as you grew up among the troubles of the world? Have you not known that my heart has been too soft towards you even for the due performance of my duties?'
'You have always been good to me, mamma.'
'And am I altered now? Do you think that a mother's heart can be changed to her only child?'
'No, Hester. That, I think, is impossible. Though for the last twelve months I have not seen you day by day,—though I have not prepared the food which you eat and the clothes which you wear, as I used to do,—you have been as constantly in my mind. You are still my child, my only child.'
'Mamma, I know you love me.'
'I so love you as to know that I sin in so loving aught that is human. And so loving you, must I not do my duty by you? When love and duty both compel me to speak, how shall I be silent?'
'You have said it, mamma,' said Hester, slowly drawing herself up from off the ground.
'And is saying it once enough, when, as I think, the very soul, the immortal soul, of her who is of all the dearest to me depends on what I may say;—may be saved, or, oh, perhaps lost for ever by the manner in which I may say it! How am I not to speak when such thoughts as these are heavy within me?'
'What is it you would say?' This Hester asked with a low hoarse voice and a stern look, as though she could not resist her mother's prayer for the privilege of speaking; but at the same time was resolutely prepared not to be turned a hair's-breadth by anything that might be said.
'Not a word about him.'
'No, mamma; no. Unless you can tell me that you will love him as your son-in-law.'
'Not a word about him,' she repeated, in a harsher voice. She felt that that promise should have been enough, and that in the present circumstances she should not have been invited to love the man she hated. 'Your father and I wish you for the next few months to come and live with us.'
'It is quite impossible,' said Hester, standing very upright, with a face altogether unlike that she had worn when kneeling at her mother's knees.
'You should listen to me.'
'Yes, I will listen.'
'There will be a trial.'
'Undoubtedly. John, at least, seems to think so. It is possible that these wicked people may give it up, or that they may have no money to go on; but I suppose there will be a trial.'
'The woman has bound herself to prosecute him.'
'Because she wants to get money. But we need not discuss that, mamma. John thinks that there will be a trial.'
'Till that is over, will you not be better away from him? How will it be with you if it should be decided that he is not your husband?' Here Hester of course prepared herself for interruption, but her mother prayed for permission to continue.
'Listen to me for one moment, Hester.'
'Very well, mamma. Go on.'
'How would it be with you in that case? You must be separated then. As that is possible, is it not right that you should obey the ordinances of God and man, and keep yourself apart till they who are in authority shall have spoken?'
'There are no such ordinances.'
'There are indeed. If you were to ask all your friends, all the married women in Cambridgeshire, what would they say? Would they not all tell you that no woman should live with a man while there is a shadow of doubt? And as to the law of God, you know God's law, and can only defend yourself by your own certainty as to a matter respecting which all others are uncertain. You think yourself certain because such certainty is a way to yourself out of your present misery.'
'It is for my child,' she shouted; 'and for him.'
'As for your babe, your darling babe, whether he be yours in joy of heart or in agony of spirit, he is still yours. No one will rob you of him. If it be as we fear, would not I help you to love him, help you to care for him, help you to pray for him? If it were so, would I desert him or you because in your innocence you had been betrayed into misfortune? Do I not feel for your child? But when he grows up and is a man, and will have learned the facts of his early years, let him be able to tell himself that his mother though unfortunate was pure.'
'I am pure,' she said.
'My child, my own one, can I, your mother, think aught else of you? Do I not know your heart? Do not I know the very thoughts within you?'
'I am pure. He has become my husband, and nothing can divide us. I never gave a thought to another man. I never had the faintest liking, as do other girls. When he came and told me that he had seen me and loved me, and would take me for his wife, I felt at once that I was all his,—his to do as he liked with me, his to nourish him, his to worship him, his to obey him, his to love him let father or mother or all the world say what they would to the contrary. Then we were married. Till he was my own, I never even pressed my lips upon his. But I became his wife by a bond that nothing shall break. You tell me of God's law. By God's law I am his wife, let the people say what they will. I have but two to think of.'
'Yourself and him?' asked her mother.
'I have three to think of,—God, and him, and my child; and may God be good to me and them, as in this matter I will put myself away from myself altogether. It is for me to obey him, and I will submit myself to none other. If he bids me go, I will go; if he bids me stay here, I will stay. I have become his so entirely, that no judges—no judges can divide us. Judges! I know but one Judge, and He is there; and He has said that those whom He has joined together, man shall not put asunder. Pure! pure! No one should praise herself, but as a woman I do know that I am pure.'
Then the mother's heart yearned greatly towards her daughter; and yet she was no whit changed. She knew nothing of phrases of logic, but she felt that Hester had begged the whole question. Those whom God had joined together! True, true! If only one could know whether in this or the other case God had joined the couple. As Hester argued the matter, no woman should be taken from the man she had married, though he might have a dozen other wives all living. And she spoke of purity as though it were a virtue which could be created and consecrated simply by the action of her own heart, as though nothing outside,—no ceremony, no ordinance,—could affect it. The same argument would enable her to live with John Caldigate after he should come out of prison, even though, as would then be the case, another woman would have the legal right of calling herself Mrs. John Caldigate! On the previous day she had declared that if she could not be his wife, she would be his mistress. The mother knew what she meant,—that, let people call her by what name they might, she would still be her husband's wife in the eye of God. But she would not be so. And then she would not be pure. And, to Mrs. Bolton, the worst of it was that this cloudiness had come upon her daughter,—this incapacity to reason it out,—because the love of a human being had become so strong within her bosom as to have superseded and choked the love of heavenly things. But how should she explain all this? 'I am not asking you to drop his name.'
'Drop his name! I will never drop it. I cannot drop it. It is mine. I could not make myself anything but Mrs. John Caldigate if I would. And he,' she said, taking the baby up from its cradle and pressing it to her bosom, 'he shall be Daniel Caldigate to the day of his death. Do you think that I will take a step that shall look like robbing my child of his honest name,—that will seem to imply a doubt that he is not his own father's honest boy,—that he is not a fitting heir to the property which his forefathers have owned so long? Never! They may call me what name they will, but I will call myself John Caldigate's wife as long as I have a voice to make myself heard.'
It was the same protest over and over again, and it was vain to answer. 'You will not stay under your father's roof?'
'No; I have to live under my husband's roof.' Then Mrs. Bolton left the room, apparently in anger. Though her heart within might be melting with ruth, still it was necessary that she should assume a look of anger. On the morrow she would have to show herself angry with a vengeance, if she should then still be determined to carry out her plan. And she thought that she was determined. What had pity to do with it, or love, or moving heart-stirring words? Were not all these things temptation from the Evil One, if they were allowed to interfere with the strict line of hard duty? When she left the room, where the young mother was still standing with her baby in her arms, she doubted for some minutes,—perhaps for some half-hour,—then she wrestled with those emanations from the Evil One,—with pity, with love, and suasive tenderness,—and at last overcame them. 'I know I am pure,' the daughter had said. 'I know I am right,' said the mother.
But she spoke a word to her husband when he came home. 'I cannot bend her; I cannot turn her, in the least.'
'She will not stay?'
'Not of her own accord.'
'You have told her?'
'Oh no; not till to-morrow.'
'She ought to stay, certainly,' said the father. There had been very little intercourse between the mother and daughter during the afternoon, and while the three were sitting together, nothing was said about the morrow. The evening would have seemed to be very sad and very silent, had they not all three been used to so many silent evenings in that room. Hester, during her wedding tour and the few weeks of her happiness at Folking, before the trouble had come, had felt a new life and almost an ecstasy of joy in the thorough liveliness of her husband. But the days of her old home were not so long ago that its old manners should seem strange to her. She therefore sat out the hours patiently, stitching some baby's ornament, till her mother told her that the time for prayer had come. After worship her father called her out into the hall as he went up to his room. 'Hester,' he said, 'it is not right that you should leave us to-morrow.'
'I must, papa.'
'I tell you that it is not right. You have a home in which everybody will respect you. For the present you should remain here.'
'I cannot, papa. He told me to go back to-morrow. I would not disobey him now,—not now,—were it ever so.' Then the old man paused as though he were going on with the argument, but finding that he had said all that he had to say, he slowly made his way upstairs.
'Good-night, mamma,' said Hester, returning only to the door of the sitting-room.
'Good-night, my love.' As the words were spoken they both felt that there was something wrong,—much that was wrong. 'I do not think they will do that,' said Hester to herself, as she went up the stairs to her chamber.
It had been arranged at Folking, before Hester had started, that Caldigate himself should drive the waggonette into Cambridge to take her back on the Wednesday, but that he would bring a servant with him who should drive the carriage up to the Grange, so that he, personally, should not have to appear at the door of the house. He would remain at Mr. Seely's, and then the waggonette should pick him up. This had been explained to Mrs. Bolton. 'John will remain in town, because he has so much to do with Mr. Seely,' Hester had said; 'and Richard will call here at about twelve.' All her plans had thus been made known, and Mrs. Bolton was aware at what hour the bolts must be drawn and the things removed.
But, as the time drew nearer, her dislike to a sudden commencement of absolute hostilities became stronger,—to hostilities which would seem to have no sanction from Mr. Bolton himself, because he would then be absent. And he too, though as he lay awake through the dreary hours of the long night he said no word about the plan, felt, and felt more strongly as the dawn was breaking, that it would be mean to leave his daughter with a farewell kiss, knowing as he would do that he was leaving her within prison-bars, leaving her to the charge of jailers. The farewell kiss would be given as though he and she were to meet no more in her old home till this terrible trial should be over, and some word appropriate to such a parting would then be spoken. But any such parting word would be false, and the falsehood would be against his own child! 'Does she expect it?' he said, in a low voice, when his wife came up to him as he was dressing.
'She expects nothing. I am thinking that perhaps you would tell her that she could not go to-day.'
'I could not say "to-day." If I tell her anything, I must tell her all.'
'Will not that be best?' Then the old man thought it all over. It would be very much the best for him not to say anything about it if he could reconcile it to his conscience to leave the house without doing so. And he knew well that his wife was more powerful than he,—gifted with greater persistence, more capable of enduring a shower of tears or a storm of anger. The success of the plan would be more probable if the conduct of it were left entirely to his wife, but his conscience was sore within him.
'You will come with me to the gate,' he said to his daughter, after their silent breakfast.
'Oh yes;—to say good-bye.'
Then he took his hat, and his gloves, and his umbrella, very slowly, lingering in the hall as he did so, while his wife kept her seat firm and square at the breakfast table. Hester had her hat and shawl with her; but Mrs. Bolton did not suspect that she would endeavour to escape now without returning for her child. Therefore she sat firm and square, waiting to hear from Hester herself what her father might bring himself to communicate to her. 'Hester,' he said, as he slowly walked round the sweep in front of the house, 'Hester,' he said, 'you would do your duty best to God and man,—best to John Caldigate and to your child,—by remaining here.'
'How can I unless he tells me?'
'You have your father's authority.'
'You surrendered it when you gave me to him as his wife. It is not that I would rebel against you, papa, but that I must obey him. Does not St. Paul say, "Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands as unto the Lord"?'
'Certainly; and you cannot suppose that in any ordinary case I would interfere between you and him. It is not that I am anxious to take anything from him that belongs to him.' Then, as they were approaching the gate, he stood still. 'But now, in such an emergency as this, when a question has risen as to his power of making you his wife——'
'I will not hear of that. I am his wife.'
'Then it may become my duty and your mother's to—to—to provide you with a home till the law shall have decided.'
'I cannot leave his home unless he bids me.'
'I am telling you of my duty—of my duty and your mother's.' Then he passed out through the gate, thus having saved his conscience from the shame of a false farewell; and she slowly made her way back to the house, after standing for a moment to look after him as he went. She was almost sure now that something was intended. He would not have spoken in that way of his duty unless he had meant her to suppose that he intended to perform it. 'My duty,' he had said, 'my duty and your mother's!' Of course something was intended, something was to be done or said more than had been done or said already. During the breakfast she had seen in the curves of her mother's mouth the signs of some resolute purpose. During the very prayers she had heard in her mother's voice a sound as of a settled determination She knew,—she knew that something was to be done, and with that knowledge she went back into her mother's room, and sat herself down firmly and squarely at the table. She had left her cup partly full, and began again to drink her tea. 'What did your papa say to you?' asked her mother.
'Papa bade me stay here, but I told him that most certainly I should go home to Folking.' Then Mrs. Bolton also became aware of fixed will and resolute purpose on her daughter's part.
'Does his word go for nothing?'
'How can two persons' words go for anything when obedience is concerned? It is like God and Mammon.'
'If two people tell one differently, it must be right to cling to one and leave the other. No man can serve two masters. I have got to obey my husband. Even were I to say that I would stay, he could come and take me away.'
'He could not do that.'
'I shall not be so disobedient as to make it necessary The carriage will be here at twelve, and I shall go. I had better go and help nurse to put the things up.' So saying she left the room, but Mrs. Bolton remained there a while, sitting square and firm at the table.
It was not yet ten when she slowly followed her daughter up-stairs. She first went into her own room for a moment, to collect her thoughts over again, and then she walked across the passage to her daughter's chamber. She knocked at the door, but entered as she knocked. 'Nurse,' she said, 'will you go into my room for a minute or two? I wish to speak to your mistress. May she take the baby, Hester?' The baby was taken, and then the two were alone. 'Do not pack up your things to-day, Hester.'
'You are not going to-day.'
'I am going to-day, mamma.'
'That I should seem to be cruel to you,—only seem,—cuts me to the heart. But you cannot go back to Folking to-day.'
'When am I to go?'
'Tell me what you mean, mamma. Is it that I am to be a prisoner?'
'If you would be gentle I would explain it.'
'I will not be gentle. You mean to keep me,—by violence; but I mean to go; my husband will come. I will not be kept. Oh, mamma, you would not desire me to quarrel with you openly, before the servants, before all the world! I will not be kept. I will certainly go back to Folking. Would I not go back though I had to get through the windows, to walk the whole way, to call upon the policemen even to help me?'
'No one will help you, Hester. Every one will know that for the present this should be your home.'
'It never shall be my home again,' said Hester, bursting into tears, and rushing after her baby.
Then there were two hours of intense misery in that house,—of misery to all who were concerned. The servants, down to the girl in the scullery and the boy who cleaned the boots, were made aware that master and mistress were both determined to keep their married daughter a prisoner in the house. The servants of the house sided with their mistress generally, having all of them been induced to regard John Caldigate with horror. Hester's nurse, of course, sympathised with her and her baby. During these two hours the packing was completed, but Hester found that her strong walking-boots and her bonnet had been abstracted. Did they really think that at such a time as this boots and bonnets would be anything to her? They could know nothing of her nature. They could not understand the sort of combat she would carry on if an attempt were made to take from her her liberty,—an attempt made by those who had by law no right to control her! When once she had learned what was being done she would not condescend to leave her room till the carriage should have come. That that would come punctually at twelve she was sure. Then she would go down without her bonnet and without her boots, and see whether any one would dare to stand in her way, as with her baby in her arms she would attempt to walk forth through the front door.
But it had not occurred to her that other steps might be taken. Just before twelve the gardener stationed himself on the road before the house,—a road which was half lane and half street, belonging to the suburban village of Chesterton,—and there awaited the carriage at a spot some yards away from the gate. It was well that he was early, because Richard was there a few minutes before the time appointed. 'She ain't a-going back to-day,' said the gardener, laying his hands gently on the horse's back.
'Who ain't not a-going back?' asked the coachman.
'Miss Hester ain't.'
'Mrs. John ain't a-going home?'
'No;—I was to come out and tell you, as master don't like wheels on the gravel if it can be helped. We ain't got none of our own.'
'Missus ain't a-going home? Why, master expects her for certain!'
'I was to say she ain't a-going to-day.'
The man who was driving passed the reins into his whip-hand, and raising his hat, began to scratch his head with the other. He knew at once that there was something wrong,—that this prolonged staying away from home was not merely a pleasantly lengthened visit. His master had been very urgent with him as to punctuality, and was evidently intent upon the return of his wife. All the facts of the accusation were known to the man, and the fact also that his master's present wife was entirely in accord with his master. It could not be that she should have determined to prolong her visit, and then have sent him back to her husband with such a message as this! 'If you'll hold the hosses just a minute,' he said, 'I'll go in and see my missus.'
But the Grange gardener was quite as intent on his side of the question as was the Folking coachman on the other. To him the horrors of bigamy were manifest. He was quite of opinion that 'Miss Hester,'—who never ought to have been married in that way at all,—should now be kept a prisoner in her father's house. 'It ain't no use your going in,—and you can't,' said the gardener. 'I ain't a-going to hold the horses, and there's nobody as will.'
'What's up, mate?'
'I don't know as I'm mate to you, nor yet to no one like you. And as to what's up, I've told you all as I'm bade to tell you; and I ain't a-going to tell you no more. You can't turn your horses there You'd better drive round into the village, and there you'll get the high-road back to Cambridge.' Then the gardener retreated within a little gate of his own which led from the lane into the precincts close to his own cottage. The man was an honest, loyal old fanatic, who would scruple at nothing in carrying out the orders of his mistress in so good a cause. And personally his feelings had been acerbated in that he had been called 'mate' by a man not half his age.
The coachman did as he was bid, seeing before him no other possible course. He could not leave his horses. But when he was in front of the iron gates he stopped and examined the premises. The gates were old, and were opened and closed at ordinary times by an ordinary ancient lock. But now there was a chain passed in and out with a padlock,—evidently placed there to prevent him from entering in opposition to the gardener's instructions. There was clearly no course open to him but to drive the carriage back to his master.
At a quarter before twelve Hester left her own room,—which looked backwards into the garden, as did all the pleasanter rooms of the house,—with the intention of seating herself in a spare room looking out to the front, from which she could have seen the carriage as it entered the gate. Had she so seen it she would certainly have called to the man from the window when he was standing in the road. But the door of that front room was locked against her; and when she tried the other she found that all the front rooms were locked. She knew the house, of course, as well as did her mother, and she rushed up to the attics where the servants occupied the rooms looking out to the road. But they, too, were locked against her. Then it flashed upon her that the attempt to make her a prisoner was to be carried out through every possible detail.
What should she do? Her husband would come of course; but what if he were unable to force an entrance? And how could he force it? Would the police help him? Would the magistrates help him? She knew that the law was on her side, and on his,—that the law would declare him to be her lord and owner till the law should have separated them. But would the law allow itself to be used readily for this purpose? She, too, could understand that the feeling of the community would be against her, and that in such a case the law might allow itself to become slow, lethargic, and perhaps inoperative, yielding to the popular feeling. She saw the points which were strong against her as clearly as William and Robert Bolton had seen those which were strong on their side. But——! As she stood there beating her foot angrily on the floor of the passage, she made up her mind that there should be more than one 'but' in his favour. If they kept her, they should have to lock her up as in a dungeon; they and all the neighbourhood should hear her voice. They should be driven to do such things that the feeling of the community would be no longer on their side.
Various ideas passed through her mind. She thought for a moment that she would refuse to take any nourishment in that house. Her mother would surely not see her die; and would thus have to see her die or else send her forth to be fed. But that thought stayed with her but for a moment. It was not only for herself that she must eat and drink, but for her baby. Then, finding that she could not get to the front windows, and seeing that the time had come in which the carriage should have been there, she went down into the hall, where she found her mother seated on a high-backed old oak armchair. The windows of the hall looked out on to the sweep before the house; but she was well aware that from these lower windows the plot of shrubs in the centre of the space hindered any view of the gate. Without speaking to her mother she put her hand upon the lock of the door as though to walk forth, but found it barred. 'Am I a prisoner?' she said.
'Yes, Hester; yes. If you will use such a word as to your father's house, you are a prisoner.'
'I will not remain so. You will have to chain me, and to gag me, and to kill me. Oh, my baby,—oh, my child! Nurse, nurse, bring me my boy.' Then with her baby in her arms, she sat down in another high-backed oak armchair, looking at the hall-door. There she would sit till her husband should come. He surely would come. He would make his way up to those windows, and there she could at any rate hear his commands. If he came for her, surely she would be able to escape.
The coachman drove back to the town very quickly, and went to the inn at which his horses were generally put up, thinking it better to go to his master thence on foot. But there he found John Caldigate, who had come across from Mr. Seely's office. 'Where is Mrs. Caldigate?' he said, as the man drove the empty carriage down the entrance to the yard. The man, touching his hat, and with a motion of his hand which was intended to check his master's impetuosity, drove on; and then, when he had freed himself from the charge of his horses, told his story with many whispers.
'The gardener said she wasn't to come!'
'Just that, sir. There's something up more than you think, sir; there is indeed. He was that fractious that he wouldn't hold the hosses for me, not for a minute, till I could go in and see, and then———'
'The gates was chained, sir.'
'A chain was round the bars, and a padlock. I never see such a thing on a gentleman's gate in my life before. Chained; as nobody wasn't to go in, nor yet nobody wasn't to come out!' The man as he said this wore that air of dignity which is always imparted by the possession of great tidings the truth of which will certainly not be doubted.
The tidings were great. The very thing which his father had suggested, and which he had declared to be impossible, was being done. The old banker himself would not, he thought, have dared to propose and carry out such a project. The whole Bolton family had conspired together to keep his wife from him, and had allured her away by the false promise of a friendly visit! He knew, too, that the law was on his side; but he knew also that he might find it very difficult to make use of the law. If the world of Cambridge chose to think that Hester was not his wife, the world of Cambridge would probably support the Boltons by their opinion. But if she, if his Hester, were true to him, and she certainly would be true to him—and if she were as courageous as he believed her to be,—then, as he thought, no house in Chesterton would be able to hold her.
He stood for a moment turning in his mind what he had better do. Then he gave his orders to the man in a clear natural voice. 'Take the horses out, Richard, and feed them. You had better get your dinner here, so that I may be sure to find you here the moment I want you.
'I won't stir a step from the place,' said the man.
What should he do? John Caldigate, as he walked out of the inn-yard, had to decide for himself what he would do at once. His first impulse was to go to the mayor and ask for assistance. He had a right to the custody of his wife. Her father had no right to make her a prisoner. She was entitled to go whither she pleased, so long as she had his sanction and should she be separated from him by the action of the law, she would be entitled to go whither she pleased without sanction from any one. Whether married or unmarried she was not subject to her father. The husband was sure that he was entitled to the assistance of the police, but he doubted much whether he would be able to get it, and he was most averse to ask for it.
And yet what other step could he take? With no purpose as yet quite fixed, he went to the bank, thinking that he might best commence his work by expostulating with his wife's father. It was Mr. Bolton's habit to walk every morning into the town, unless he was deterred by heat or wet or ill health; and till lately it had been his habit also to walk back, his house being a mile and a half distant from the bank; but latterly the double walk had become too much for him, and, when the time for his return came, he would send out for a cab to take him home. His hours were very various. He would generally lunch at the bank, in his own little dingy room; but if things went badly with him, so as to disturb his mind, he would go back early in the day, and generally pass the afternoon asleep. On this occasion he was very much troubled, so that when Caldigate reached the bank, which he did before one, Mr. Bolton was already getting into his cab. 'Could I speak a few words to you, sir?' said Caldigate in the street.
'I am not very well to-day,' said the banker, hardly looking round, persevering in his effort to get into the vehicle.
'I would not keep you for a minute, sir. I must see you, as you are aware.'
There were already half-a-dozen people collected, all of whom had no doubt heard the story of John Caldigate's wife. There was, indeed, no man or woman in Cambridge whose ears it had not reached. In the hearing of these Mr. Bolton was determined not to speak of his daughter, and he was equally determined not to go back into the house. 'I have nothing to say,' he muttered—'nothing, nothing; drive on.' So the cab was driven on, and John Caldigate was left in the street.
The man's anger now produced a fixed purpose, and with a quick step he walked away from the bank to Robert Bolton's office. There he soon found himself in the attorney's room. 'Are you aware of what they are doing at the Grange?' he asked, in a voice which was not so guarded as it should have been on such an occasion. Anger and the quickness of his walk had combined to make him short of breath, and he asked the question with that flurried, hasty manner which is common to angry people who are hot rather than malicious in their angers.
'I don't think I am,' said the attorney. 'But if I were, I doubt whether I should just at present be willing to discuss their doings with you.'
'My wife has gone there on a visit.'
'I am glad to hear it. It is the best thing that my sister could do.'
'And now it seems some difficulty is made about her returning.'
That I think very likely. Her father and mother can hardly wish that she should go back to your house at present. I cannot imagine that she should wish it herself. If you have the feelings of a gentleman or the heart of a man you ought not to wish it.'
'I have not come here to be taught what is becoming either to a man or a gentleman.'
'If you will allow me to say so, while things are as they are at present, you ought not to come here at all.'
'I should not have done so but for this violence, this breach of all hospitality at your father's house! My wife went there with the understanding that she was to stay for two days.'
'And now, you say, they detain her. I am not responsible; but in doing so they have my thorough sympathy and approbation. I do not know that I can help them, or that they will want my help; but I shall help them if I can. The fact is, you had better leave her there.'
'I should not have volunteered my advice, but, as you are here, I may perhaps say a word. If you attempt to take her by violence from her father's house you will have all the town, all the county, all England against you.'
'I should;—I own it;——unless she wished to come to me. If she chooses to stay, she shall stay.'
'It must not be left to her. If she be so infatuated, she must not be allowed to judge for herself. Till this trial be over, she and you must live apart. Then, if that woman does not make good her claim,—if you can prove that the woman is lying,—then you will have back your wife. But if, as everybody I find believes at present, it should be proved that you are the husband of that woman, and that you have basely betrayed my poor sister by a mock marriage, then she must be left to the care of her father and her mother, and may Heaven help her in her misery.' All this he said with much dignity, and in a manner with which even Caldigate could not take personal offence. 'You must remember,' he added, 'that this poor injured one is their daughter and my sister.'
'I say that she has been in no wise injured but,—as I also am injured,—by a wicked plot. And I say that she shall come back to me, unless she herself elects to remain with her parents.' Then he left the office and went forth again into the streets.
He now took at once the road to Chesterton, trying as he did so to make for himself in his own mind a plan or map of the premises. It would, he thought, be impossible but that his wife would be able to get out of the house and come to him if he could only make her aware of his presence. But then there was the baby, and it would be necessary not only that she should escape herself but that she should bring her child with her. Would they attempt to hold her? Could it be that they should have already locked her up in some room up-stairs? And if she did escape out of some window, even with her baby in her arms, how would it be with them then as they made their way back into the town? Thinking of this he hurried back to the inn and told Richard to take the carriage into Chesterton and wait there at the turn of the lane, where the lane leads down from the main road to the Grange. He was to wait there, though it might be all the day, till he heard from or saw his master. The man, who was quite as keen for his master as was the old gardener for his mistress on the other side, promised accurate obedience. Then he retraced his steps and walked as fast as he could to the Grange.
During all this time the mother and the daughter kept their weary seats in the hall, Hester having her baby in her arms. She had quite determined that nothing should induce her again to go up-stairs,—lest the key of the room should be turned upon her. For a long time they sat in silence, and then she declared her purpose.
'I shall remain here, mamma.'
'If so, I must remain too.'
'I shall not go up to my bedroom again, you may be sure of that.'
'You will go up to-night, I hope.'
'Certainly not. Nurse shall take baby up to his cradle. I do not suppose you will be cruel enough to separate me from my child.'
'Cruel! Do you not know that I would do anything for you or your child,—that I would die for you or your child?'
'I suppose you will let them bring me food here. You would not wish him to be starved.'
'Well; what would you have me say? Are you not my jailer?'
'I am your mother. According to my conscience I am acting for you as best I know how. Do you not know that I mean to be good to you?'
'I know you are not good to me. Nobody can be good who tries to separate me from my husband. I shall remain here till he comes and tells me how I am to be taken away.' Then Mr. Bolton returned, and made his way into the house with the assistance of the gardener through the kitchen. He found the two women sitting in the hall, each in the high-backed arm-chair, and his daughter with her baby in her arms,—a most piteous sight, the two of them thus together. 'Papa,' she said, as he came up into the hall from the kitchen, 'you are treating me badly, cruelly, unjustly. You have no right to keep me here against my will. I am my husband's wife, and I must go to my husband.'
'It is for the best, Hester.'
'What is wrong cannot be for the best. Do you suppose that he will let me be kept here in prison? Of course he will come. Why do you not let me go?'
'It is right that you should be here, Hester,' he said, as he passed up-stairs to his own bedroom. It was a terrible job of work for which he had no strength whatever himself, and as to which he was beginning to doubt whether even his wife's strength would suffice. As for her, as for Hester, perhaps it would be well that she should be wearied and broken into submission. But it was fearful to think that his wife should have to sit there the whole day saying nothing, doing nothing, merely watching lest her daughter should attempt to escape through some window.
'It will kill your father, I think,' said the mother.
'Why does he not let me go then? I have to think of my husband and my child.' Then again there was silence. When they had been seated thus for two hours, all the words that had been spoken between them had not spread themselves over ten minutes, and Mrs. Bolton was looking forward to hour after hour of the same kind. It did not seem to her to be possible that Hester should be forced up into her own room. Even she, with all her hardihood, could not ask the men about the place to take her in their arms and carry her with violence up the stairs. Nor would the men have done it, if so required. Nothing but a policeman's garb will seem to justify the laying of a hand upon a woman, and even that will hardly do it unless the woman be odiously disreputable. Mrs. Bolton saw clearly what was before her. Should Hester be strong in her purpose to remain seated as at present, she also must remain seated. Weariness and solicitude for her baby might perhaps drive the young mother to bed. Then she also would go to her bed,—and would rest, with one eye ever open, with her ears always on the alert. She was somewhat sure of herself. Her life had not been so soft but that she could endure much,—and of her purpose she was quite sure. Nothing would trouble her conscience if she could succeed in keeping her daughter separated from John Caldigate.
Caldigate in his hot haste walked up to the iron gates and found them chained. It was in vain that he shook them, and in vain that he looked at them. The gates were fully twelve feet high, and spiked at the top. At each side of the gates ran a wall surmounted by iron railings,—extending to the gardener's cottage on the one side, and to the coach-house on the other. The drive up to the house, which swept round a plot of thick shrubs, lay between the various offices,—the stables and coach-house being on one side, and the laundry and gardener's cottage on the other. From the road there was no mode of ingress for him to this enclosure, unless he could get over the railings. This might perhaps have been possible, but it would have been quite impossible for him to bring his wife back by the same way. There was a bell at the gardener's little gate, which he rang loudly; but no one would come to him. At last he made his way round into the kitchen-garden by a corner where access was made by climbing a moderately high gate which gave an entrance to the fields. From thence he had no difficulty in making his way on to the lawn at the back of the house, and up by half-a-dozen stone steps to the terrace which ran along under the windows. Here he found that the lower shutters were barred on the inside throughout so that he could not look into any of the rooms. But he could rap at the windows, which he did loudly, and it was in his power to break them if he pleased. He rapped very loudly; but poor Hester, who sat at the front hall, heard nothing of the noise.
He knew that from the back-garden he could make his way to the front, with more or less of violence. Between the gardener's cottage and the laundry there was a covered passage leading to the front, the buildings above being continuous, but leaving a way through for the convenience of the servants. This, however, was guarded by a trellis-work gate. But even on this gate the gardener had managed to fix a lock. When Caldigate reached the spot the man was standing, idle and observant, at his own cottage door. 'You had better open this gate,' said Caldigate, 'or I shall kick it open.'
'You mustn't do that, Mr. Caldigate. It's master's orders as it's to be locked. It's master's orders as you ain't to be in here at all.' Then Caldigate raised his foot, and the trellis-work gate was very soon despatched. 'Very well,' said the man;—'very well, Mr. Caldigate. That'll have to come agin you when the other things come. It's my belief as it's burglorious.' Then Caldigate went up before the house windows, and the gardener followed him.
The front door was approached by half-a-dozen stone steps, which were guarded on each side by a curved iron rail. Along the whole front of the house, passing under the steps, there ran a narrow, shallow area, contrived simply to give light to the kitchen and offices in the basement storey. But this area was, again, guarded by an iron rail, which was so constructed as to make it impossible that any one less expert than a practised house-breaker should get in or out of any of the windows looking that way. From the hall there were no less than four windows looking to the front; but they were all equally unapproachable.
The moment that Caldigate appeared coming round the curve of the gravel road Hester saw him. Jumping up from her chair with her baby, she rushed to the window, and called to him aloud, tapping at the window as she did so, 'John, I am here! Come to me! come to me! Take me out! They have shut me in, and will not let me come to you.' Then she held up the baby. 'Mamma, let him in, so that he come to his own baby. You dare not keep the father away from his own child.' At this time the nurse was in the hall, as was also the cook. But the front door was locked as well as chained, and the key was in Mrs. Bolton's own pocket. She sat perfectly silent, rigid, without a motion. She had known that he would come and show himself; and she had determined that she would be rigid, silent, and motionless. She would not move or speak unless Hester should endeavour to make her way down into the kitchen. But just in the passage which led to the top of the kitchen stairs stood the cook,—strong, solid, almost twice the weight of Hester,—a pious, determined woman, on whom her mistress could depend that she would remain there impervious.
They could talk to each other now, Hester and Caldigate, each explaining or suggesting what had been done or should be done; but they could converse only so that their enemies around them should hear every word that was spoken. 'No, John, no; I will not stay,' she said, when her husband told her that he would leave the decision to her. 'Unless it be to do your bidding, I will not stay here willingly. And, John, I will not move upstairs. I will remain here; and if they choose to give me food they may bring it to me. Unless they carry me I will not go to my bedroom. And they shall tear me to pieces before I will let them carry me. Poor baby! poor baby! I know he will be ill,' she said, moaning, but still so that he, standing beyond the railings, should hear her through the window. 'I know he will be ill; but what can I do? They do not care for my baby. If he should die it will be nothing to them.' During all this Mrs. Bolton kept her resolve, and sat there rigid, with her eyes fixed on vacancy, speaking no word, apparently paying no attention to the scene around her. Her back was turned to the front door, so that she could not see John Caldigate. Nor would she attempt to look at him. He could not get in, nor could the other get out. If that were so she would endeavour to bear it all. In the meantime the old man was sitting in his arm-chair up in his bedroom, reduced almost to inanity of mind by the horror of the occasion. When he could think of it all he would tell himself that he must let her go. He could not keep the mother and her baby a prisoner in such a condition as this.
Then there came dinner. Let misfortunes be what they may, dinner will come. The old man crawled down-stairs, and Hester was invited into the dining-room. 'No,' she said. 'If you choose to send it to me here, because of baby, I will eat.' Then, neither would Mrs. Bolton go to her husband; but both of them, seated in their high-backed arm-chairs, ate their food with their plates upon their laps.
During this time Caldigate still remained outside, but in vain. As circumstances were at present, he had no means of approaching his wife. He could kick down a slight trellis-work gate; but he could bring no adequate force to bear against the stout front door. At last, when the dusk of evening came on he took his departure, assuring his wife that he would be there again on the following morning.
During the whole of that night Hester kept her position in the hall, holding her baby in her arms as long as the infant would sleep in that position, and then allowing the nurse to take it to its cradle up-stairs. And during the whole night also Mrs. Bolton remained with her daughter. Tea was brought to them, which each of them took, and after that neither spoke a word to the other till the morning. Before he went to bed, Mr. Bolton came down and made an effort for their joint comfort. 'Hester,' he said, 'why should you not go to your room? You can do yourself no good by remaining there.' 'No,' she said, sullenly; 'no; I will stay.' 'You will only make yourself ill,—you and your mother.'
'She can go. Though I should die, I will stay here.'
Nor could he succeed better with his wife. 'If she is obstinate, so must I be,' said Mrs. Bolton. It was in vain that he endeavoured to prove to her that there could be no reason for such obstinacy, that her daughter would not attempt to escape during the hours of the night without her baby.
'You would not do that,' said the old man, turning to his daughter. But to this Hester would make no reply, and Mrs. Bolton simply declared her purpose of remaining. To her mind there was present an idea that she would, at any rate, endure as much actual suffering as her daughter. There they both sat, and in the morning they were objects pitiable to be seen.
Macbeth and Sancho have been equally eloquent in the praise of sleep. 'Sleep that knits up the ravelled sleave of care!' But sleep will knit up effectually no broken stitches unless it be enjoyed in bed. 'Blessings on him who invented sleep,' said Sancho. But the great inventor was he who discovered mattresses and sheets and blankets. These two unfortunates no doubt slept; but in the morning they were weary, comfortless, and exhausted. Towels and basins were brought to them, and then they prepared themselves to watch through another day. It seemed to be a trial between them, which could outwatch the other. The mother was, of course, much the older; but with poor Hester there was the baby to add to her troubles. Never was there a woman more determined to carry out her purpose than Mrs. Bolton, or one more determined to thwart the purpose of another than she who still called herself Hester Caldigate. In the morning Mrs. Bolton implored her husband to go into Cambridge as usual; but he felt that he could not leave the house with such inmates. So he sat in his bedroom dozing wretchedly in his arm-chair.
Caldigate appeared before the house at nine o'clock, no further attempt having been made to exclude his entrance by the side gate, and asked to see Mr. Bolton. 'Papa is up-stairs,' said Hester through the window. But the old man would not come down to see his visitor, nor would he send any message. Then Caldigate declared his purpose of going at once to the mayor and demanding assistance from the police. He at any rate would return with the carriage as early as he could after his visit to the magistrates' office. He went to the mayor, and inflicted much trouble on that excellent officer, who, however, at last, with the assistance of his clerk,—and of Robert Bolton, whom he saw on the sly,—came to the decision that his own authority would not suffice for the breaking open of a man's house in order that his married daughter should be taken by violence from his custody. 'No doubt,' he said; 'no doubt,' when Caldigate pleaded that Mr. Bolton's daughter was, at any rate for the present, his own wife; and that a man's right to have his wife is undoubted. Those words 'no doubt' were said very often; but no other words were said. Then the clerk expressed an opinion that the proper course would be for Mr. Caldigate to go up to London and get an order from the Vice-Chancellor; which was, of course, tantamount to saying that his wife was to remain at Chesterton till after the trial,—unless she could effect her own escape.
But not on that account was he inclined to yield. He had felt from the first, as had she also, that she would make her way out of the house, or would not make it, as she might or might not have the courage to be persistent in demanding it. This, indeed, had been felt both by William and Robert Bolton when they had given their counsel. 'She is a woman with a baby, and when in your house will be subject to your influences. She will be very angry at first, but will probably yield after a time to your instructions. She will at last give an unwilling assent to the course you propose. That is what may be expected. But if she should be firmer than we think, if there should be in her bosom a greater power of resistance than we expect, should she dash herself too violently against the cage,—then you must let her go.' That was intended to be the gist of the advice given, though it perhaps was not so accurately expressed. It was in that way understood by the old man; but Mrs. Bolton would not so understand it. She had taken the matter in hand, and as she pressed her lips together she told herself that she intended to go through with it.
And so did Hester. But as this day went on, Hester became at times almost hysterical in her efforts to communicate with her husband through the window, holding up her baby and throwing back her head, and was almost in convulsions in her efforts to get at him. He on the other side thundered at the door with the knocker, till that instrument had been unscrewed from within. But still he could knock with his stick and shout with his voice; while the people outside the iron gates stood looking on in a crowd. In the course of the day Robert Bolton endeavoured to get an order from the magistrates for the removal of Caldigate by the police. But the mayor would not assent either to that. Old Mr. Bolton was the owner of the house, and if there was a nuisance to be complained of, it was he that must complain. The mayor during these days was much tried. The steady married people of the borough,—the shopkeepers and their wives, the doctors and lawyers and clergymen,—were in favour of Mr. and Mrs. Bolton. It was held to be fitting that a poor lady in Hester's unfortunate position should be consigned to the care of her parents till the matter had been settled. But the people generally sympathised with the young husband and young wife, and were loud in denouncing the illegality of the banker's proceedings. And it was already rumoured that among the undergraduates Caldigate's side was favoured. It was generally known that Crinkett and the woman had asked for money before they had brought their accusation, and on that account sympathy ran with the Squire of Folking. The mayor, therefore, did not dare to give an order that Caldigate should be removed from off the premises at Puritan Grange, knowing that he was there in search of a wife who was only anxious to place herself in his custody.
But nothing was done all that day. About four in the afternoon, while Caldigate was still there, and at a moment in which poor Hester had been reduced by the continuance of her efforts to a state of hysterical prostration, the old man summoned his wife upstairs. She, with a motion to the cook, who still guarded the stairs, obeyed the order, and for a moment left her watch.
'You must let her go,' said the old man, with tremulous anxiety, beating with his fingers on his knees as he spoke. 'You must let her go.'
'It will kill her.'
'If I let her go, I shall kill her soul,' said the determined woman. 'Is not her soul more than her body?'
'They will say we—murdered her.'
'Who will say it? And what would that be but the breath of a man? Does not our Father who is in heaven know that I would die to do her a service, if the service accorded with His will? Does He not know that I am cruel to her here in order that she may be saved from eternal——' She was going to say, in the natural fervour of her speech, 'from eternal cruelty to come,' but she checked herself. To have admitted that such a judgment could be worse than just, worse even than merciful, would be blasphemy to her. 'Oh, He knows! He knows! And if He knows, what matters what men say that I have done to her.'
'I cannot have it go on like this,' said he, still whispering.
'She will be wearied out, and then we will take her to her bed.'
But Mr. Bolton succeeded in demanding that a telegram should be sent up to William requesting him to come down to the Grange as early as possible on the following morning. This was sent, and also a message to Robert Bolton in Cambridge, telling him that William had been summoned. During these two days he had not been seen at the Grange, though he knew much of what was being done there. Had he, however, been aware of all that his sister and step-mother were enduring, he would probably have appeared upon the scene. As it was, he had justified his absence by pleading to himself Mrs. Bolton's personal enmity, and the understanding which existed that he should not visit the house. Then, when it was dark, Caldigate with the carriage again returned to the town, where he slept as he had done on the previous night. Again their food was brought to the two women in the hall, and again each of them swallowed a cup of tea as they prepared themselves for the work of the night.
In the hall there was a gas-stove, which was kept burning, and gave a faint glimmer, so that each could see the outline of the other. Light beyond that there was none. In the weary long hours of nights such as these, nights passed on the seats of railway carriages, or rougher nights, such as some of us remember, on the outside of coaches, or sitting by the side of the sick, sleep will come early and will early go. The weariness of the past day will produce some forgetfulness for an hour or two, and then come the slow, cold, sad hours through which the dawn has to be expected. Between two and three these unfortunates were both awake, the poor baby having been but lately carried back from its mother to its cradle. Then suddenly Mrs. Bolton heard rather than saw her daughter slip down from her chair on to the ground and stretch herself along upon the hard floor. 'Hester,' she said; but Hester did not answer. 'Hester, are you hurt?' When there was still no answer, the mother got up, with limbs so stiff that she could hardly use them, and stood over her child. 'Hester, speak to me.'