'I will never speak to you more,' said the daughter.
'My child, why will you not go to your comfortable wholesome bed?'
'I will not go; I will die here.'
'The door shall not be locked. You shall have the key with you. I will do nothing to hurt you if you will go to your bed.'
'I will not go; leave me alone. You cannot love me, mamma, or you would not treat me like this.'
'Love you! Oh, my child! If you knew! If you could understand! Why am I doing this? Is it not because I feel it to be my duty? Will you let me take you to your bed?'
'No, never. I, too, can do my duty,—my duty to my husband. It is to remain here till I can get to him, even though I should die.' Then she turned her poor limbs on the hard floor, and the mother covered her with a cloak and placed a cushion beneath her head. Then, after standing a while over her child, she returned to her chair, and did not move or speak again till the old cook came, with the first glimmer of the morning, to inquire how the night had been passed.
'I cannot allow this; I cannot allow this,' said Mr. Bolton, when he shuffled down in his slippers. The old servant had been up to him and had warned him that such sufferings as these might have a tragic end,—too probably an end fatal to the infant. If the mother's strength should altogether fail her, would it not go badly with the baby? So the cook had argued, who had been stern enough herself, anxious enough to secure 'Miss Hester' from the wickedness of John Caldigate. But she was now cowed and frightened, and had acknowledged to herself that if 'Miss Hester' would not give way, then she must be allowed to go forth, let the wickedness be what it might.
'There must be an end to this,' said the old man.
'What end?' asked his wife. 'Let her obey her parents.'
'I will obey only my husband,' said Hester.
'Of course there must be an end. Let her go to her bed, and, weary as I am, I will wait upon her as only a mother can wait upon her child. Have I not prayed for her through the watches of the night, that she might be delivered from this calamity, that she might be comforted by Him in her sorrow? What have I done these two last weary days but pray to the Lord God that He might be merciful to her?'
'Let me go,' said Hester.
'I will not let you go,' said the mother, rising from her seat. 'I too can suffer. I too can endure. I will not be conquered by my own child.' There spoke the human being. That was the utterance natural to the woman. 'In this struggle, hard as it is, I will not be beat by one who has been subject to my authority.' In all those prayers,—and she had prayed,—there had been the prayer in her heart, if not in her words, that she might be saved from the humiliation of yielding.
Early in the day Caldigate was again in front of the house, and outside there was a close carriage with a pair of horses, standing at the gardener's little gate. And at the front gate, which was still chained, there was again the crowd. At about one both William and Robert Bolton came upon the scene, and were admitted by the gardener and cook through the kitchen-door into the house. They were close to Caldigate as they entered; neither did they speak to him or he to them. At that moment Hester was standing with the baby at the window, and saw them. 'Now I shall be allowed to go,' she exclaimed. Mrs. Bolton was still seated with her back to the windows; but she had heard the steps on the gravel, and the opening of the kitchen-door; and she understood Hester's words, and was aware that her husband's sons were in the house.
They had agreed as to what should be done, and at once made their way up into the hall. 'William, you will make them let me go. You will make them let me go,' said Hester, rushing at once to the elder of the two, and holding out her baby as though for him to take. She was now in a state so excited, so nervous, so nearly hysterical, that she was hardly able to control herself. 'You will not let them kill me, William,—me and my baby.' He kissed her and said a kind word or two, and then, inquiring after his father, passed on up-stairs. Then Mrs. Bolton followed him, leaving Robert in the hall with Hester. 'I know that you have turned against me,' said Hester.
'Indeed no. I have never turned against you. I have thought that you would be better here than at Folking for the present.'
'That is being against me. A woman should be with her husband. You told them to do this. And they have nearly killed me,—me and my baby.'
In the meantime William Bolton up-stairs was very decided in his opinion that they must at once allow Caldigate to take her back to Folking. She had, as he said, proved herself to be too strong for them. The experiment had been tried and had failed. No doubt it would be better,—so he thought,—that she should remain for the present at the Grange; so much better that a certain show of force had been justified. But as things were going, no further force would be justified. She had proved her power, and must be allowed to go. Mrs. Bolton, however, would not even yet acknowledge that she was beaten. In a few more hours, she thought, Hester would allow herself to be taken to her bed, and then all might be well. But she could not stand against the combined force of her husband and his two sons; and so it was decided that the front door should be opened for the prisoner, and that the chains should be removed from the gate. 'I should be afraid of the people,' William Bolton said to his father.
It was not till this decision had been given that Mrs. Bolton felt that the struggle of the last three days had been too much for her. Now, at last, she threw herself upon her bed, weeping bitter tears, tears of a broken spirit, and there she lay prostrate with fatigue and misery. Nor would she go down to say a word of farewell. How could she say adieu to her daughter, leaving her house in such circumstances 'I will give her your love,' said William Bolton.
'Say nothing to her. She does not care for my love, nor for the love of her Father in heaven. She cares only for that adulterer.'
The door was opened from within, and the chains were taken away from the gate. 'Oh, John,—oh, my husband,' she exclaimed, as she leaped down the steps into his arms, 'never let me go again; not for a day,—not for an hour!' Then her boxes were brought down, and the nurse came with the child, whom the mother at once took and placed in his father's arms. And the carriage was brought in, and the luggage was placed on it, and the nurse and the baby were seated. 'I will go up to poor mamma for one moment,' she said. She did go to her mother's room, and throwing herself upon the wretched woman, wept over her and kissed her. But the mother, though in some sort she returned the caress, said not a word as her daughter left the room. And she went also to her father and asked his blessing. He muttered a word or two, blessing her, no doubt, with inarticulate words. He also had been thoroughly vanquished.
Then she got into the carriage, and was taken back to Folking lying in John Caldigate's arms.
Again at Folking
Thus Hester prevailed, and was taken back to the house of the man who had married her. By this time very much had been said about the matter publicly. It had been impossible to keep the question,—whether John Caldigate's recent marriage had been true or fraudulent,—out of the newspapers; and now the attempt that had been made to keep them apart by force gave an additional interest to the subject. There was an opinion, very general among elderly educated people, that Hester ought to have allowed herself to be detained at the Grange. 'We do not mean to lean heavily on the unfortunate young lady,' said the 'Isle-of-Ely-Church-Intelligencer'; 'but we think that she would have better shown a becoming sense of her position had she submitted her self to her parents till the trial is over. Then the full sympathy of all classes would have been with her; and whether the law shall restore her to a beloved husband, or shall tell her that she has become the victim of a cruel seducer, she would have been supported by the approval and generous regard of all men.' It was thus for the most part that the elderly and the wise spoke and thought about it. Of course, they pitied her; but they believed all evil of Caldigate, declaring that he too was bound by a feeling of duty to restore the unfortunate one to her father and mother until the matter should have been set at rest by the decision of a jury.
But the people,—especially the people of Utterden and Netherden, and of Chesterton, and even of Cambridge,—were all on the side of Caldigate and Hester as a married couple. They liked the persistency with which he had claimed his wife, and applauded her to the echo for her love and firmness. Of course the scene at Puritan Grange had been much exaggerated. The two nights were prolonged to intervals varying from a week to a fortnight. During that time she was said always to have been at the window holding up her baby. And Mrs. Bolton was accused of cruelties which she certainly had not committed. Some details of the affair made their way into the metropolitan Press,—so that the expected trial became one of those causes celebres by which the public is from time to time kept alive to the value and charm of newspapers.
During all this John Caldigate was specially careful not to seclude himself from public view, or to seem to be afraid of his fellow-creatures. He was constantly in Cambridge, generally riding thither on horseback, and on such occasions was always to be seen in Trumpington Street and Trinity Street. Between him and the Boltons there was, by tacit consent, no intercourse whatever after the attempted imprisonment. He never showed himself at Robert Bolton's office, nor when they met in the street did they speak to each other. Indeed at this time no gentleman or lady held any intercourse with Caldigate, except his father and Mr. Bromley the clergyman. The Babingtons were strongly of opinion that he should have surrendered the care of his wife; and Aunt Polly went so far as to write to him when she first heard of the affair at Chesterton, recommending him very strongly to leave her at the Grange. Then there was an angry correspondence, ended at last by a request from Aunt Polly that there might be no further intercourse between Babington and Folking till after the trial.
Caldigate, though he bore all this with an assured face, with but little outward sign of inward misgiving, suffered much,—much even from the estrangement of those with whom he had hitherto been familiar. To be 'cut' by any one was a pain to him. Not to be approved of, not to be courted, not to stand well in the eyes of those around him, was to him positive and immediate suffering. He was supported no doubt by the full confidence of his father, by the friendliness of the parson, and by the energetic assurances of partisans who were all on his side,—such as Mr. Ralph Holt, the farmer. While Caldigate had been in Cambridge waiting for his wife's escape, Holt and one or two others were maturing a plan for breaking into Puritan Grange, and restoring the wife to her husband. All this supported him. Without it he could hardly have carried himself as he did. But with all this, still he was very wretched. 'It is that so many people should think me guilty,' he said to Mr. Bromley.
She bore it better—though, of course, now that she was safe at Folking, she had but little to do as to outward bearing. In the first place, no doubt as to his truth ever touched her for a moment,—and not much doubt as to the result of the trial. It was to her an assured fact that John Caldigate was her husband, and she could not realise the idea that, such being the fact, a jury should say that he was not. But let all that be as it might, they two were one; and to adhere to him in every word, in every thought, in every little action, was to her the only line of conduct possible. She heard what Mr. Bromley said, she knew what her father-in-law thought, she was aware of the enthusiasm on her side of the folk at Folking. It seemed to her that this opposition to her happiness was but a continuation of that which her mother had always made to her marriage. The Boltons were all against her. It was a terrible sorrow to her. But she knew how to bear it bravely. In the tenderness of her husband, who at this time was very tender to her, she had her great consolation.
On the day of her return she had been very ill,—so ill that Caldigate and his father had been much frightened. During the journey home in the carriage, she had wept and laughed hysterically, now clutching her baby, and then embracing her husband. Before reaching Folking she had been so worn with fatigue that he had hardly been able to support her on the seat. But after rest for a day or two, she had rallied completely. And she herself had taken pleasure and great pride in the fact that through it all her baby had never really been ill. 'He is a little man,' she said, boasting to the boy's father, 'and knows how to put up with troubles. And when his mamma was so bad he didn't peak and pine and cry, so as to break her heart. Did he, my own, own brave little man?' And she could boast of her own health too. 'Thank God I am strong, John. I can bear things which would break down other women. You shall never see me give way because I am a poor creature.' Certainly she had a right to boast that she was not a poor creature.
Caldigate no doubt was subject to troubles of which she knew nothing. It was quite clear to him that Mr. Seely, his own lawyer, did in truth believe that there had been some form of marriage between him and Euphemia Smith. The attorney had never said so much,—had never accused him. It would probably have been opposed to all the proprieties in such a matter that any direct accusation should have been made against him by his own attorney. But he could understand from the man's manner that his mind was not free from a strong suspicion. Mr. Seely was eager enough as to the defence; but seemed to be eager as against opposing evidence rather than on the strength of evidence on his own side. He was not apparently desirous of making all the world know that such a marriage certainly never took place; but that, whether such a marriage had taken place or not, the jury ought not to trust the witnesses. He relied, not on the strength of his own client, but on the weakness of his client's adversaries. It might probably be capable of proof that Crinkett and Adamson and the woman had conspired together to get money from John Caldigate; and if so, then their evidence as to the marriage would be much weakened. And he showed himself not averse to any tricks of trade which might tend to get a verdict. Could it be proved that John Crinkett had been dishonest in his mining operations? Had Euphemia Smith allowed her name to be connected with that of any other man in Australia? What had been her antecedents? Was it not on the cards that Allan, the minister, had never undergone any ceremony of ordination? And, if not, might it not be shown that a marriage service performed by him would be no marriage service at all? Could not the jury be made to think,—or at least some of the jury,—that out there, in that rough lawless wilderness, marriage ceremonies were very little understood? These were the wiles to which he seemed disposed to trust; whereas Caldigate was anxious that he should instruct some eloquent indignant advocate to declare boldly that no English gentleman could have been guilty of conduct so base, so dastardly, and so cruel! 'You see, Mr. Caldigate,' the lawyer said on one occasion, 'to make the best of it, our own hands are not quite clean. You did promise the other lady marriage.'
'No doubt. No doubt I was a fool; and I paid for my folly. I bought her off. Having fallen into the common scrape,—having been pleased by her prettinesses and clevernesses and women's ways,—I did as so many other men have done. I got out of it as best I could without treachery and without dishonour. I bought her off. Had she refused to take my money, I should probably have married her,—and probably have blown my brains out afterwards. All that has to be acknowledged,—much to my shame. Most of us would have to blush if the worst of our actions were brought out before us in a court of law. But there was an end of it. Then they come over here and endeavour to enforce their demand for money by a threat.'
'That envelope is so unfortunate,' said the lawyer.
'Perhaps we shall get some one before the day comes who will tell the jury that any marriage up at Ahalala must have been a farce.'
All this was unsatisfactory, and became so more and more as the weeks went by. The confidential clerk whom the Boltons had sent out when the first threat reached them early in November,—the threat conveyed in that letter from the woman which Caldigate had shown to Robert Bolton,—returned about the end of March. The two brothers, Robert and William, decided upon sending him to Mr. Seely, so that any information obtained might be at Caldigate's command, to be used, if of any use, in his defence. But there was in truth very little of it. The clerk had been up to Nobble and Ahalala, and had found no one there who knew enough of the matter to give evidence about it. The population of mining districts in Australia is peculiarly a shifting population, so that the most of those who had known Caldigate and his mode of life there were gone. The old woman who kept Henniker's Hotel at Nobble had certainly heard that they were married; but then she had added that many people there called themselves man and wife from convenience. A woman would often like a respectable name where there was no parson near at hand to entitle her to it. Then the parsons would be dilatory and troublesome and expensive, and a good many people were apt to think that they could do very well without ceremonies. She evidently would have done no good to either side as a witness. This clerk had found Ahalala almost deserted,—occupied chiefly by a few Chinese, who were contented to search for the specks of gold which more ambitious miners had allowed to slip through their fingers. The woman had certainly called herself Mrs. Caldigate, and had been called so by many. But she had afterwards been called Mrs. Crinkett, when she and Crinkett had combined their means with the view of buying the Polyeuka mine. She was described as an enterprising, greedy woman, upon whom the love of gold had had almost more than its customary effect. And she had for a while been noted and courted for her success, having been the only female miner who was supposed to have realised money in these parts. She had been known to the banks at Nobble, also even at Sydney; and had been supposed at one time to have been worth twenty or thirty thousand pounds. Then she had joined herself with Crinkett, and all their money had been supposed to vanish in the Polyeuka mine. No doubt there had been enough in that to create animosity of the most bitter kind against Caldigate. He in his search for gold had been uniformly successful,—was spoken of among the Nobble miners as the one man who in gold- digging had never had a reverse. He had gone away just before the bad time came on Polyeuka; and then had succeeded, after he had gone, in extracting from these late unfortunate partners of his every farthing that he had left them! There was ample cause for animosity.
Allan, the minister, who certainly had been at Ahalala, was as certainly dead. He had gone out from Scotland as a Presbyterian clergyman, and no doubt had ever been felt as to his being that which he called himself;—and a letter from him was produced which had undoubtedly been written by himself. Robert Bolton had procured a photograph of the note which the woman produced as having been written by Allan to Caldigate. The handwriting did not appear to him to be the same, but an expert had given an opinion that they both might have been written by the same person. Of Dick Shand no tidings had been found. It was believed that he had gone from Queensland to some of the Islands,—probably to the Fijis; but he had sunk so low among men as to have left no trace behind him. In Australia no one cares to know whence a shepherd has come or whither he goes. A miner belongs to a higher class, and is more considered. The result of all which was, in the opinion of the Boltons, adverse to John Caldigate. And in discussing this with his client, Mr. Seely acknowledged that nothing had as yet come to light sufficient to shake the direct testimony of the woman, corroborated as it was by three persons, all of whom would swear that they had been present at the marriage.
'No doubt they endeavoured to get money from you,' said Mr. Seely; 'and I may be well assured in my own mind that money was their sole object. But then it cannot be denied that their application to you for money had a sound basis,—one which, though you might fairly refuse to allow it, takes away from the application all idea of criminality. Crinkett has never asked for money as a bribe to hold his tongue. In a matter of trade between them and you, you were very successful; they were very unfortunate. A man asking for restitution in such circumstances will hardly be regarded as dishonest.'
It was to no purpose that Caldigate declared that he would willingly have remitted a portion of the money had he known the true circumstances. He had not done so, and now the accusation was made. The jury, feeling that the application had been justifiable, would probably keep the two things distinct. That was Mr. Seely's view; and thus, in these days, Caldigate gradually came to hate Mr. Seely. There was no comfort to be had from Mr. Seely.
Mr. Bromley was much more comfortable, though, unfortunately, in such a matter less to be trusted.
'As to the minister's handwriting,' he said, 'that will go for nothing. Even if he had written the note——'
'Which he didn't,' said Caldigate.
'Exactly. But should it be believed to have been his, it would prove nothing. And as to the envelope, I cannot think that any jury would disturb the happiness of a family on such evidence as that. It all depends on the credibility of the people who swear that they were present; and I can only say that were I one of the jury, and were the case brought before me as I see it now, I certainly should not believe them. There is here one letter to you, declaring that if you will comply with her demands, she will not annoy you, and declaring also her purpose of marrying some one else. How can any juryman believe her after that?'
'Mr. Seely says that twelve men will not be less likely to think me a bigamist because she has expressed her readiness to commit bigamy; that, if alone, she would not have a leg to stand upon, but that she is amply corroborated; whereas I have not been able to find a single witness to support me. It seems to me that in this way any man might be made the victim of a conspiracy.'
Then Mr. Bromley said that all that would be too patent to a jury to leave any doubt upon the matter. But John Caldigate himself, though he took great comfort in the society of the clergyman, did in truth rely rather on the opinion of the lawyer.
The old squire never doubted his son for a moment, and in his intercourse with Hester showed her all the tenderness and trust of a loving parent. But he, too, manifestly feared the verdict of a jury. According to him, things in the world around him generally were very bad. What was to be expected from an ordinary jury such as Cambridgeshire would supply but prejudice, thick-headed stupidity, or at the best a strict obedience to the dictum of a judge. 'It is a case,' he said, 'in which no jury about here will have sense enough to understand and weigh the facts. There will be on one side the evidence of four people, all swearing the same thing. It may be that one or more of them will break down under cross-examination, and that all will then be straight. But if not, the twelve men in a box will believe them because they are four, not understanding that in such a case four may conspire as easily as two or three. There will be the Judge, no doubt; but English judges are always favourable to convictions. The Judge begins with the idea that the man before him would hardly have been brought there had he not been guilty.'
In all this, and very much more that he said both to Mr. Bromley and his son, he was expressing his contempt for the world around him rather than any opinion of his own on this particular matter. 'I often think,' said he, 'that we have to bear more from the stupidity than from the wickedness of the world.'
It should be mentioned that about a week after Hester's escape from Chesterton there came to her a letter from her mother.
'DEAREST HESTER,—You do not think that I do not love you because I tried to protect you from what I believe to be sin and evil and temptation? You do not think that I am less your mother because I caused you suffering? If your eye offend you, pluck it out. Was I not plucking out my own eye when I caused pain to you? You ought to come back to me and your father. You ought to do so even now. But whether you come back or not, will you not remember that I am the mother who bore you, and have always loved you? And when further distress shall come upon you, will you not return to me?—Your unhappy but most loving Mother,
In answer to this Hester, in a long letter, acknowledged her mother's love, and said that the memory of those two days at Chesterton should lessen neither her affection nor her filial duty; but, she went on to say that, in whatever distress might come upon her, she should turn to her husband for comfort and support, whether he should be with her, or whether he should be away from her. 'But,' she added, concluding her letter, 'beyond my husband and my child, you and papa will always be the dearest to me.'
There was not much to enliven the house at Folking during these days. Caldigate would pass much of his time walking about the place, applying his mind as well as he could to the farm, and holding up his head among the tenants, with whom he was very popular. He had begun his reign over them with hands not only full but free. He had drained, and roofed, and put up gates, and repaired roads, and shown himself to be an active man, anxious to do good. And now in his trouble they were very true to him. But their sympathy could not ease the burden at his heart. Though by his words and deeds among them he seemed to occupy himself fully, there was a certain amount of pretence in every effort that he made. He was always affecting a courage in which he felt himself to be deficient. Every smile was false. Every brave word spoken was an attempt at deceit. When alone in his walks,—and he was mostly alone,—his mind would fix itself on his great trouble, and on the crushing sorrow which might only too probably fall upon that loved one whom he had called his wife. Oh, with what regret now did he think of the good advice which the captain had given him on board the Goldfinder, and of the sententious, timid wisdom of Mrs. Callender! Had she,—his Hester, ever uttered to him one word of reproach,—had she ever shuddered in his sight when he had acknowledged that the now odious woman had in that distant land been in his own hearing called by his own name,—it would have been almost better. Her absolute faith added a sting to his sufferings.
Then, as he walked alone about the estate, he would endeavour to think whether there might not yet be some mode of escape,—whether something might not be done to prevent his having to stand in the dock and abide the uncertain verdict of a jury. With Mr. Seely he was discontented. Mr. Seely seemed to be opposed to any great effort,—would simply trust to the chance of snatching little advantages in the Court. He had money at command, if fifty thousand pounds,—if double that sum,—would have freed him from this trouble, he thought that he could have raised it, and was sure that he would willingly pay it. Twenty thousand pounds two months since, when Crinkett appeared at the christening would have sent these people away. The same sum, no doubt, would send them away now. But then the arrangement might have been possible. But now,—how was it now? Could it still be done? Then the whole thing might have been hidden, buried in darkness. Now it was already in the mouths of all men. But still, if these witnesses were made to disappear,—if this woman herself by whom the charge was made would take herself away—then the trial must be abandoned. There would be a whispering of evil,—or, too probably, the saying of evil without whispering. A terrible injury would have been inflicted upon her and his boy;—but the injury would be less than that which he now feared.
And there was present to him through all this a feeling that the money ought to be paid independently of the accusation brought against him. Had he known at first all that he knew now,—how he had taken their all from these people, and how they had failed absolutely in the last great venture they had made,—he would certainly have shared their loss with them. He would have done all that Crinkett had suggested to him when he and Crinkett were walking along the dike. Crinkett had said that on receiving twenty thousand pounds he would have gone back to Australia, and would have taken a wife with him! That offer had been quite intelligible, and if carried out would have put an end to all trouble. But he had mismanaged that interview. He had been too proud, too desirous not to seem to buy off a threatening enemy. Now, as the trouble pressed itself more closely upon him,—upon him and his Hester,—he would so willingly buy off his enemy if it were possible! 'They ought to have the money,' he said to himself; 'if only I could contrive that it should be paid to them.'
One day as he was entering the house by a side door, Darvell the gardener told him that there was a gentleman waiting to see him. The gentleman was very anxious to see him, and had begged to be allowed to sit down. Darvell, when asked whether the gentleman was a gentleman, expressed an affirmative opinion. He had been driven over from Cambridge in a hired gig, which was now standing in the yard, and was dressed, as Darvell expressed it, 'quite accordingly and genteel.' So Caldigate passed into the house and found the man seated in the dining-room.
'Perhaps you will step into my study?' said Caldigate. Thus the two men were seated together in the little room which Caldigate used for his own purposes.
Caldigate, as he looked at the man, distrusted his gardener's judgment. The coat and hat and gloves, even the whiskers and head of hair, might have belonged to a gentleman; but not, as he thought, the mouth or the eyes or the hands. And when the man began to speak there was a mixture of assurance and intended complaisance, an effected familiarity and an attempt at ease, which made the master of the house quite sure that his guest was not all that Darvell had represented. The man soon told his story. His name was Bollum, Richard Bollum, and he had connections with Australia;—was largely concerned in Australian gold-mines. When Caldigate heard this, he looked round involuntarily to see whether the door was closed. 'We're tiled, of course,' said Bollum. Caldigate with a frown nodded his head, and Bollum went on. He hadn't come there, he said, to speak of some recent troubles of which he had heard. He wasn't the man to shove his nose into other people's matters. It was nothing to him who was married to whom. Caldigate shivered, but sat and listened in silence. But Mr. Bollum had had dealings,—many dealings,—with Timothy Crinkett. Indeed he was ready to say that Timothy Crinkett was his uncle. He was not particularly proud of his uncle, but nevertheless Timothy Crinkett was his uncle. Didn't Mr. Caldigate think that something ought to be done for Timothy Crinkett?
'Yes, I do,' said Caldigate, finding himself compelled to say something at the moment, and feeling that he could say so much with positive truth.
Then Bollum continued his story, showing that he knew all the circumstances of Polyeuka. 'It was hard on them, wasn't it, Mr. Caldigate?'
'I think it was.'
'Every rap they had among them, Mr. Caldigate! You left them as bare as the palm of my hand!'
'It was not my doing. I simply made him an offer, which every one at the time believed to be liberal.'
'Just so. We grants all that. But still you got all their money;—old pals of yours too, as they say out there.'
'It is a matter of most intense regret to me. As soon as I knew the circumstances, Mr. Bollum, I should have been most happy to have divided the loss with them—'
'That's it,—that's it. That's what'd be right between man and man,' said Mr. Bollum, interrupting him.
'Had no other subject been introduced.'
'I know nothing about other subjects. I haven't come here to meddle with other subjects. I'm, as it were, a partner of Crinkett's. Any way, I am acting as his agent. I'm quite above board, Mr. Caldigate, and in what I say I mean to stick to my own business and not go beyond it. Twenty thousand pounds is what we ask,—so that we and you may share the loss. You agree to that?'
'I should have agreed to it two months since,' said Caldigate, fearing that he might be caught in a trap,—anxious to do nothing mean, unfair, or contrary to the law,—craving in his heart after the bold, upright conduct of a thoroughly honourable English gentleman, and yet desirous also to use, if it might be used, the instrumentality of this man.
'And why not now? You see,' said Bollum, becoming a little more confidential, 'how difficult it is for me to speak. Things ain't altered. You've got the money. They've lost the money. There isn't any ill-will, Mr. Caldigate. As for Crinkett, he's a rough diamond, of course. What am I to say about the lady?'
'I don't see that you need say anything.'
'That's just it. Of course she's one of them. That's all. If there is to be money, she'll have her share. He's an old fool, and perhaps they'll make a match of it.' As he said this he winked. 'At any rate they'll be off to Australia together. And what I propose is this, Mr. Caldigate—' Then he paused.
'What do you propose?'
'Make the money payable in bills to their joint order at Sydney. They don't want to be wasting any more time here. They'll start at once. This is the 12th April, isn't it? Tuesday the 12th?' Caldigate assented. 'The old Goldfinder leaves Plymouth this day week.' From this he was sure that Bollum had heard all the story from Euphemia Smith herself, or he would not have talked of the 'old' Goldfinder. 'Let them have the bills handed to them on board, and they'll go. Let me have the duplicates here. You can remit the money by July to your agents,—to take up the bills when due. Just let me be with you when the order is given to your banker in London, and everything will be done. It's as easy as kiss.'
Caldigate sat silent, turning it over in his own mind, trying to determine what would be best. Here was another opportunity. But it was one as to which he must come to a decision on the spur of the moment. He must deal with the man now or never. The twenty thousand pounds were nothing. Had there been no question about his wife, he would have paid the money, moved by that argument as to his 'old pals,'—by the conviction that the result of his dealing with them had in truth been to leave them 'as bare as the palm of his hand.' They were welcome to the money; and if by giving the money he could save his Hester, how great a thing it would be! Was it not his duty to make the attempt? And yet there was in his bosom a strong aversion to have any secret dealing with such a man as this,—to have any secret dealing in such a matter. To buy off witnesses in order that his wife's name and his boy's legitimacy might be half,—only half,—established! For even though these people should be made absolutely to vanish, though the sea should swallow them, all that had been said would be known, and too probably believed for ever!
And then, too, he was afraid. If he did this thing alone, without counsel, would he not be putting himself into the hands of these wretches? Might he not be almost sure that when they had gotten his money they would turn upon him and demand more? Would not the payment of the money be evidence against him to any jury? Would it be possible to make judge or jury believe, to make even a friend believe, that in such an emergency he had paid away so large a sum of money because he had felt himself bound to do so by his conscience?
'Well, squire,' said Bollum, 'I think you see your way through it; don't you?'
'I don't regard the money in the least. They would be welcome to the money.'
'That's a great point, anyway.'
'Ay; but! You're afraid they wouldn't go. You come down to Plymouth, and don't put the bills into their hands or mine till the vessel is under weigh, with them aboard. Then you and I will step into the boat, and be back ashore. When they know the money's been deposited at a bank in London, they'll trust you as far as that. The Goldfinder won't put back again when she's once off. Won't that make it square?'
'I was thinking of something else.'
'Well, yes; there's that trial a-coming on; isn't there?'
'These people have conspired together to tell the basest lie.'
'I know nothing about that, Mr. Caldigate. I haven't got so much as an opinion. People tell me that all the things look very strong on their side.'
'Liars sometimes are successful.'
'You can be quit of them,—and pay no more than what you say you kind of owes. I should have thought Crinkett might have asked forty thousand; but Crinkett, though he's rough,—I do own he's rough,—but he's honest after a fashion. Crinkett wants to rob no man; but he feels it hard when he's got the better of. Lies, or no lies, can you do better?'
'I should like to see my lawyer first,' said Caldigate almost panting in his anxiety.
'What lawyer? I hate lawyers.'
'Mr. Seely. My case is in his hands, and I should have to tell him.'
'Tell him when you come back from Plymouth, and hold your peace till that's done. No good can come of lawyers in such a matter as this. You might as well tell the town-crier. Why should he want to put bread out of his own mouth? And if there is a chance of hard words being said, why should he hear them? He'll work for his money, no doubt; but what odds is it to him whether your lady is to be called Mrs. Caldigate or Miss Bolton? He won't have to go to prison. His boy won't be!—you know what.' This was terrible, but yet it was all so true! 'I'll tell you what it is, squire. We can't make it lighter by talking about it all round. I used to do a bit of hunting once; and I never knew any good come of asking what there was the other side of the fence. You've got to have it, or you've got to leave it alone. That's just where you are. Of course it isn't nice.'
'I don't mind the money.'
'Just so. But it isn't nice for a swell like you to have to hand it over to such a one as Crinkett just as the ship's starting, and then to bolt ashore along with me. The odds are, it is all talked about. Let's own all that. But then it's not nice to have to hear a woman swear that she's your wife, when you've got another,—specially when she's got three men as can swear the same. It ain't nice for you to have me sitting here. I'm well aware of that. There's the choice of evils. You know what that means. I'm a-putting it about as fair as a man can put anything. It's a pity you didn't stump up the money before. But it's not altogether quite too late yet.'
'I'll give you an answer to-morrow, Mr. Bollum.'
'I must be in town to-night.'
'I will be with you in London to-morrow if you will give me an address. All that you have said is true; but I cannot do this thing without thinking of it.'
'You'll come alone?'
'As a gentleman?'
'On my word as a gentleman I will come alone.'
Then Bollum gave him an address,—not the place at which he resided, but a certain coffee-house in the City, at which he was accustomed to make appointments. 'And don't you see any lawyer,' said Bollum, shaking his finger. 'You can't do any good that way. It stands to reason that no lawyer would let you pay twenty thousand pounds to get out of any scrape. He and you have different legs to stand upon.' Then Mr. Bollum went away, and was driven back in his gig to the Cambridge Hotel.
As soon as the front door was closed Hester hurried down to her husband, whom she found still in the hall. He took her into his own room, and told her everything that had passed,—everything, as accurately as he could. 'And remember,' he said, 'though I do not owe them money, that I feel bound by my conscience to refund them so much. I should do it, now I know the circumstances, if no charge had been brought against me.'
'They have perjured themselves, and have been so wicked.'
'Yes, they have been very wicked.'
'Let them come and speak the truth, and then let them have the money.'
'They will not do that, Hester.'
'Prove them to be liars, and then give it to them.'
'My own girl, I am thinking of you.'
'And I of you. Shall it be said of you that you bought off those who had dared to say that your wife was not your wife? I would not do that. What if the people in the Court should believe what they say?'
'It would be bad for you, then, dearest.'
'But I should still be your wife. And baby would still be your own, own honest boy. I am sometimes unhappy, but I am never afraid. Let the devil do his worst, but never speak him fair. I would scorn them till it is all over. Then, if money be due to them, let them have it.' As she said this, she had drawn herself a little apart from him,—a little away from the arm which had been round her waist, and was looking him full in the face. Never before, even during the soft happiness of their bridal tour, had she seemed to him to be so handsome.
But her faith, her courage, and her beauty did not alter the circumstances of the case. Because she trusted him, he was not the less afraid of the jury who would have to decide, or of the judge, who, with stern eyes, would probably find himself compelled to tell the jury that the evidence against the prisoner was overwhelming. In choosing what might be best to be done on her account, he could not allow himself to be guided by her spirit. The possibility that the whole gang of them might be made to vanish was present to his mind. Nor could he satisfy himself that in doing as had been proposed to him he would be speaking the devil fair. He would be paying money which he ought to pay, and would perhaps be securing his wife's happiness.
He had promised, at any rate, that he would see the man in London on the morrow, and that he would see him alone. But he had not promised not to speak on the subject to his attorney. Therefore, after much thought, he wrote to Mr. Seely to make an appointment for the next morning, and then told his wife that he would have to go to London on the following day.
'Not to buy those men off?' she said.
'Whatever is done will be done by the advice of my lawyer,' he said, peevishly. 'You may be sure that I am anxious enough to do the best. When one has to trust to a lawyer, one is bound to trust to him.' This seemed to be so true that Hester could say nothing against it.
He had still the whole night to think about it,—and throughout the whole night he was thinking about it. He had fixed a late hour in the afternoon for his appointment in London, so that he might have an hour or two in Cambridge before he started by the mid-day train. It was during his drive into the town that he at last made up his mind that he would not satisfy himself with discussing the matter with Mr. Seely, but that he would endeavour to explain it all to Robert Bolton. No doubt Robert Bolton was now his enemy, as were all the Boltons. But the brother could not but be anxious for his sister's name and his sister's happiness. If a way out of all this misery could be seen, it would be a way out of misery for the Boltons as well as for the Caldigates. If only he could make the attorney believe that Hester was in truth his wife, still, even yet, there might be assistance on that side. But he went to Mr. Seely first, the hour of his appointment requiring that it should be so.
But Mr. Seely was altogether opposed to any arrangement with Mr. Bollum. 'No good was ever done,' he said, 'by buying off witnesses. The thing itself is disreputable, and would to a certainty be known to every one.'
'I should not buy them off. I regard the money as their own. I will give Crinkett the money and let him go or stay as he pleases. When giving him the money, I will tell him that he may do as he pleases.'
'You would only throw your money away. You would do much worse than throw it away. Their absence would not prevent the trial. The Boltons will take care of that.'
'They cannot want to injure their own side, Mr. Seely.'
'They want to punish you, and to take her away. They will take care that the trial shall go on. And when it was proved, as it would be proved, that you had given these people a large sum of money, and had so secured their absence, do you think that the jury would refuse to believe their sworn depositions and whatever other evidence would remain? The fact of your having paid them money would secure a verdict against you. The thing would, in my mind, be so disreputable that I should have to throw up the case. I could not defend you.'
It was clear to him that Bollum had understood his own side of the question in deprecating any reference to an attorney. The money should have been paid and the four witnesses sent away without a word to any one,—if any attempt in that direction were made at all. Nevertheless he went to Robert Bolton's office and succeeded in obtaining an interview with his wife's brother. But here, as with the other attorney he failed to make the man understand the state of his own mind. He had failed in the same way even with his wife. If it were fit that the money should be paid, it could not be right that he should retain it because the people to whom it was due had told lies about him. And if this could be explained to the jury, surely the jury would not give a verdict against him on insufficient evidence, simply because he had done his duty in paying the money!
Robert Bolton listened to him with patience and without any quick expression of hot anger; though before the interview was over he had used some very cruel words. 'We should think ourselves bound to prevent their going, if possible.'
'Of course; I have no idea of going down to Plymouth as the man proposed, or of taking any steps to secure their absence.'
'Your money is your own, and you can do what you like with it. It certainly is not for me to advise you. If you tell me that you are going to pay it, I can only say that I shall look very sharp after them.'
'Why should you want to ruin your sister?'
'You have ruined her. That is our idea. We desire now to rescue her as far as we can from further evil. You have opposed us in every endeavour that we have made. When in the performance of a manifest duty we endeavoured to separate you till after the trial, you succeeded in thwarting us by your influence.'
'I left it to her.'
'Had you been true and honest and upright, you would have known that as long as there was a doubt she ought to have been away from you.'
'I should have sent her away?'
'So as to create a doubt in her mind, so as to disturb her peace, so as to make her think that I, having been found out, was willing to be rid of her? It would have killed her.'
'Better so than this.'
'And yet I am as truly her husband as you are the husband of your wife. If you would only teach yourself to think that possible, then you would feel differently.'
'Not as to a temporary separation.'
'If you believed me, you would,' said Caldigate.
'But I do not believe you. In a matter like this, as you will come to me, I must be plain. I do not believe you. I think that you have betrayed and seduced my sister. Looking at all the evidence and at your own confession, I can come to no other conclusion. I have discussed the matter with my brother, who is a clear, cool-headed, most judicious man, and he is of the same opinion. In our own private court we have brought you in guilty,—guilty of an offence against us all which necessarily makes us as bitter against you as one man can be against another. You have destroyed our sister, and now you come here and ask me my advice as to buying off witnesses.'
'It is all untrue. As there is a God above me I am her loyal, loving husband. I will buy off no witness.'
'If I were you I would make no such attempt. It will do no good. I do not think that you have a chance of being acquitted,—not a chance; and then how much worse it will be for Hester when she finds herself still in your house!'
'She will remain there.'
'Even she will feel that to be impossible. Your influence will then probably be removed, and I presume that for a time you will have no home. But we need not discuss that. As you are here, I should not do my duty were I not to assure you that as far as we are concerned,—Hester's family,—nothing shall be spared either in trouble or money to insure the conviction and punishment of the man whom we believe to have brought upon us so terrible a disgrace.'
Caldigate, when he got out into the street, felt that he was driven almost to despair. At first he declared to himself, most untruly, that there was no one to believe him,—no, not one. Then he remembered how faithful was his wife; and as he did so, in his misery, he told himself that it might have been better for her had she been less faithful. Looking at it all as he now looked at it, after hearing the words of that hard man, he almost thought that it would have been so. Everybody told him that he would be condemned; and if so, what would be the fate of that poor young mother and her child? It was very well for her to declare, with her arms round his neck, that even should he be dragged away to prison, she would still be his true wife, and that she would wait,—in sorrow indeed and mourning, but still with patience,—till the cruel jailers and the harsh laws had restored him to her. If the law declared him a bigamist, she could not then be his wife. The law must decide,—whether rightly or wrongly, still must decide. And then how could they live together? An evil done must be endured, let it be ever so unendurable. But against fresh evils a man may guard. Was it not his duty, his manifest, his chief duty, to save her, as far as she could be saved, from further suffering and increased disgrace? Perhaps, after all, Robert Bolton was right when he told him that he ought to have allowed Hester to remain at Chesterton.
Whatever he might do when he got to London, he felt it to be his duty to go up and keep his appointment with Bollum. And he brought with him from home securities and certificates for stock by which he knew that he could raise the sum named at a moment's warning, should he at last decide upon paying the money. When he got into the train, and when he got out of the train, he was still in doubt. Those to whom he had gone for advice had been so hard to him, that he felt himself compelled to put on one side all that they had said. Bollum had suggested, in his graphic manner, that a lawyer and his client stood upon different legs. Caldigate acknowledged to himself that Bollum was right. His own lawyer had been almost as hard to him as his brother-in-law, who was his declared enemy. But what should he do? As to precautions to be taken in reference to the departure of the gang, all that was quite out of the question. They should go to Australia or stay behind, as they pleased. There should be no understanding that they were to go—or even that they were to hold their tongues because the money was paid to them. It should be fully explained to them that the two things were distinct. Then as he was taken to the inn at which he intended to sleep that night, he made up his mind in the cab that he would pay the money to Crinkett.
He got to London just in time to reach the bank before it was closed, and there made his arrangements. He deposited his documents and securities, and was assured that the necessary sum should be placed to his credit on the following day. Then he walked across a street or two in the City to the place indicated by Bollum for the appointment. It was at the Jericho Coffee House, in Levant Court,—a silent, secluded spot, lying between Lombard Street and Cornhill. Here he found himself ten minutes before the time, and, asking for a cup of coffee, sat down at a table fixed to the ground in a little separate box. The order was given to a young woman at a bar in the room. Then an ancient waiter hobbled up to him and explained that coffee was not quite ready. In truth, coffee was not often asked for at the Jericho Coffee House. The house, said the waiter, was celebrated for its sherry. Would he take half a pint of sherry? So he ordered the sherry, which was afterwards drunk by Bollum.
Bollum came, punctual to the moment, and seated himself at the table with good-humoured alacrity. 'Well, Mr. Caldigate, how is it to be? I think you must have seen that what I have proposed will be for the best.'
'I will tell you what I mean to do, Mr. Bollum,' said Caldigate, very gravely. 'It cannot be said that I owe Mr. Crinkett a shilling.'
'Certainly not. But it comes very near owing, doesn't it?'
'So near that I mean to pay it.'
'So near that I don't like to feel that I have got his money in my pocket. As far as money goes, I have been a fortunate man.'
'Wonderful!' said Bollum, enthusiastically.
'And as I was once in partnership with your uncle, I do not like to think that I enriched myself by a bargain which impoverished him.'
'It ain't nice, is it,—that you should have it all, and he nothing?'
'Feeling that very strongly,' continued Caldigate, merely shaking his head in token of displeasure at Bollum's interruption, 'I have determined to repay Mr. Crinkett an amount that seems to me to be fair. He shall have back twenty thousand pounds.'
'He's a lucky fellow, and he'll be off like a shot;—like a shot.'
'He and others have conspired to rob me of all my happiness, thinking that they might so most probably get this money from me. They have invented a wicked lie,—a wicked damnable lie,—a damnable lie! They are miscreants,—foul miscreants!'
'Come, come, Mr. Caldigate.'
'Foul miscreants! But they shall have their money, and you shall hear me tell them when I give it to them,—and they must both be here to take it from my hands,—that I do not at all require their absence. There is to be no bargain between us. They are free to remain and swear their false oaths against me. Whether they go or whether they stay will be no affair of mine.'
'They'll go, of course, Mr. Caldigate.'
'Not at my instance. I will take care that that shall be known. They must both come; and into their joint hands will I give the cheque, and they must come prepared with a receipt declaring that they accept the money as restitution of the loss incurred by them in purchasing the Polyeuka mine from me. Do you understand? And I shall bring a witness with me to see them take the money.' Bollum who was considerably depressed by his companion's manner, said that he did understand.
'I suppose I can have a private room here, at noon to-morrow?' asked Caldigate, turning to the woman at the bar.
When that was settled he assured Bollum that a cheque for the amount should be placed in the joint hands of Timothy Crinkett and Euphemia Smith if he, and they with him, would be there at noon on the following day. Bollum in vain attempted to manage the payment without the personal interview, but at last agreed that the man and the woman should be forthcoming.
That night Caldigate dined at his Club, one of the University Clubs, at which he had been elected just at the time of his marriage. He had seldom been there, but now walked into the dinner-room, resolving that he would not be ashamed to show himself. He fancied that everybody looked at him, and probably there were some present who knew that he was about to stand his trial for bigamy. But he got his dinner, and smoked his cigar; and before the evening was over he had met an old College friend. He was in want of a friend, and explained his wants. He told something of his immediate story, and then asked the man to be present at the scene on the morrow.
'I must have a witness, Gray,' said he, 'and you will do me a kindness if you will come.' Then Mr. Gray promised to be present on the occasion.
On the following morning he met Gray at the Club, having the cheque ready in his pocket, and together they proceeded to Levant Court. Again he was a little before his time, and the two sat together in the gloomy little room up-stairs. Bollum was the first to come, and when he saw the stranger, was silent,—thinking whether it might not be best to escape and warn Crinkett and the woman that all might not be safe. But the stranger did not look like a detective; and, as he told himself, why should there be danger? So he waited, and in a few minutes Crinkett entered the room, with the woman veiled.
'Well, Caldigate,' said Crinkett, 'how is it with you?'
'If you please, Mrs. Smith,' said Caldigate, 'I must ask you to remove your veil,—so that I may be sure that it is you.'
She removed her veil very slowly, and then stood looking him in the face,—not full in the face, for she could not quite raise her eyes to meet his. And though she made an effort to brazen it out, she could not quite succeed. She attempted to raise her head, and carry herself with pride; but every now and again there was a slight quiver,—slight, but still visible. The effort, too, was visible. But there she stood, looking at him, and to be looked at,—but without a word. During the whole interview she never once opened her lips.
She had lost all her comeliness. It was now nearly seven years since they two had been on the Goldfinder together, and then he had found her very attractive. There was no attraction now. She was much aged; and her face was coarse, as though she had taken to drinking. But there was still about her something of that look of intellect which had captivated him more, perhaps, than her beauty. Since those days she had become a slave to gold,—and such slavery is hardly compatible with good looks in a woman. There she stood,—ready to listen to him, ready to take his money, but determined not to utter a word.
Then he took the cheque out of his pocket, and holding it in his hand, spoke to them as follows: 'I have explained to Mr. Bollum, and have explained to my friend here, Mr. Gray, the reasons which induce me to pay to you, Timothy Crinkett, and to you, Euphemia Smith, the large sum of twenty thousand pounds. The nature of our transactions has been such that I feel bound in honour to repay so much of the price you paid for the Polyeuka mine.'
'All right, Caldigate; all right,' said Crinkett.
'And I have explained also to both of them that this payment has nothing whatever to do with the base, false, and most wicked charge which you are bringing against me. It is not because that woman, by a vile perjury, claims me as her husband, and because I wish to buy her silence or his, that I make this restitution. I restore the money of my own free will, without any base bargain. You can go on with your perjury or abstain from it, as you may think best.'
'We understand, squire,' said Crinkett, affecting to laugh. 'You hand over the money,—that's all.' Then the woman looked round at her companion, and a frown came across her face; but she said nothing, turning her face again upon Caldigate, and endeavouring to keep her eyes steadfastly fixed upon him.
'Have you brought a receipt signed by both of you?' Then Bollum handed him a receipt signed 'Timothy Crinkett, for self and partners.' But Caldigate demanded that the woman also should sign it.
'There is a difficulty about the name, you see,' said Bollum. There was a difficulty about the name, certainly. It would not be fair, he thought, that he should force her to the use of a name she disowned, and he did not wish to be hindered from what he was doing by her persistency in calling herself by his own name.
'So be it,' said he. 'There is the cheque. Mr. Gray will see that I put it into both their hands.' This he did, each of them stretching out a hand to take it. 'And now you can go where you please and act as you please. You have combined to rob me of all that I value most by the basest of lies; but not on that account have I abstained from doing what I believe to be an act of justice.' Then he left the room, and paying for the use of it to the woman at the bar, walked off with his friend Gray, leaving Crinkett, Bollum, and the woman still within the house.
Waiting For The Trial
As he returned to Cambridge Caldigate was not altogether contented with himself. He tried to persuade himself, in reference to the money which he had refunded, that in what he had done he had not at all been actuated by the charge made against him. Had there been no such accusation he would have felt himself bound to share the loss with these people as soon as he had learned the real circumstances. The money had been a burden to him. For the satisfaction of his own honour, of his own feelings, it had become necessary that the money should be refunded. And the need of doing so was not lessened by the fact that a base conspiracy had been made by a gang of villains who had thought that the money might thus be most readily extracted from him. That was his argument with himself, and his defence for what he had done. But nevertheless he was aware that he had been driven to do it now,—to pay the money at this special moment,—by an undercurrent of hope that these enemies would think it best for themselves to go as soon as they had his money in their hands. He wished to be honest, he wished to be honourable, he wished that all that he did could be what the world calls 'above board'; but still it was so essential for him and for his wife that they should go! He had been very steady in assuring these wretched ones that they might go or stay, as they pleased. He had been careful that there should be a credible witness of his assurance. He might succeed in making others believe that he had not attempted to purchase their absence; but he could not make himself believe it.
Even though a jury should not convict him, there was so much in his Australian life which would not bear the searching light of cross-examination! The same may probably be said of most of us. In such trials as this that he was anticipating, there is often a special cruelty in the exposure of matters which are for the most part happily kept in the background. A man on some occasion inadvertently takes a little more wine than is good for him. It is an accident most uncommon with him, and nobody thinks much about it. But chance brings the case to the notice of the police courts, and the poor victim is published to the world as a drunkard in the columns of all the newspapers. Some young girl fancies herself in love, and the man is unworthy. The feeling passes away, and none but herself, and perhaps her mother, are the wiser. But if by some chance, some treachery, a letter should get printed and read, the poor girl's punishment is so severe that she is driven to wish herself in the grave.
He had been foolish, very foolish, as we have seen, on board the Goldfinder,—and wicked too. There could be no doubt about that. When it would all come out in this dreaded trial he would be quite unable to defend himself. There was enough to enable Mrs. Bolton to point at him with a finger of scorn as a degraded sinner. And yet,—yet there had been nothing which he had not dared to own to his wife in the secrecy of their mutual confidence, and which, in secret, she had not been able to condone without a moment's hesitation. He had been in love with the woman,—in love after a fashion. He had promised to marry her. He had done worse than that. And then, when he had found that the passion for gold was strong upon her, he had bought his freedom from her. The story would be very bad as told in Court, and yet he had told it all to his wife! She had admitted his excuse when he had spoken of the savageness of his life, of the craving which a man would feel for some feminine society, of her undoubted cleverness, and then of her avarice. And then when he swore that through it all he had still loved her,—her, Hester Bolton,—whom he had but once seen, but whom, having seen, he had never allowed to pass out of his mind, she still believed him, and thought that the holiness of that love had purified him. She believed him;—but who else would believe him? Of course he was most anxious that those people should go.
Before he left London he wrote both to Mr. Seely and to Robert Bolton, saying what he had done. The letter to his own attorney was long and full. He gave an account in detail of the whole matter, declaring that he would not allow himself to be hindered from paying a debt which he believed to be due, by the wickedness of those to whom it was owing. 'The two things have nothing to do with each other,' he said, 'and if you choose to throw up my defence, of course you can do so. I cannot allow myself to be debarred from exercising my own judgment in another matter because you think that what I decide upon doing may not tally with your views as to my defence.' To Robert Bolton he was much shorter. 'I think you ought to know what I have done,' he said; 'at any rate, I do not choose that you should be left in ignorance.' Mr. Seely took no notice of the communication, not feeling himself bound to carry out his threat by withdrawing his assistance from his client. But Robert and William Bolton agreed to have Crinkett's movements watched by a detective policeman. They were both determined that if possible Crinkett and the woman should be kept in the country.
In these days the old Squire made many changes in his residence, vacillating between his house in Cambridge and the house at Folking. His books were at Cambridge, and he could not have them brought back; and yet he felt that he ought to evince his constancy to his son, his conviction of his son's innocence, by remaining at Folking. And he was aware, too, that his presence there was a comfort both to his son and Hester. When John Caldigate had gone up to London, his father had been in Cambridge, but on his return he found the old Squire at his old house. 'Yes,' he said, telling the story of what he had just done, 'I have paid twenty thousand pounds out of hand to those rascals, simply because I thought I owed it to them!' The Squire shook his head, not being able to approve of the act.' I don't see why I should have allowed myself to be hindered from doing what I thought to be right because they were doing what they knew to be wrong.'
'They won't go, you know.'
'I daresay not, sir. Why should they?'
'But the jury will believe that you intended to purchase their absence.'
'I think I have made all that clear.'
'I am afraid not, John. The man applied to you for the money, and was refused. That was the beginning of it. Then the application was repeated by the woman with a threat; and you again refused. Then they present themselves to the magistrates, and make the accusation; and, upon that, you pay the money. Of course it will come out at the trial that you paid it immediately after this renewed application from Bollum. It would have been better to have defied them.'
'I did defy them,' said John Caldigate. But all that his father said seemed to him to be true, so that he repented himself of what he had done.
He made no inquiry on the subject, but, early in May he heard from Mr. Seely that Crinkett and the woman were still in London, and that they had abandoned the idea of going at once to Australia. According to Mr. Seely's story,—of the truth of which he declared himself to be by no means certain,—Crinkett had wished to go, but had been retained by the woman. 'As far as I can learn,' said Mr. Seely, 'she is in communication with the Boltons, who will of course keep her if it be possible. He would get off if he could; but she, I take it, has got hold of the money. When you made the cheque payable to her order, you effectually provided for their remaining here. If he could have got the money without her name, he would have gone, and she would have gone with him.'
'But that was not my object,' said Caldigate angrily. Mr. Seely thereupon shrugged his shoulders. Early in June the man came back who had been sent out to Sydney in February on behalf of Caldigate. He also had been commissioned to seek for evidence, and to bring back with him, almost at any cost, whatever witness or witnesses he might find whose presence in England would serve Caldigate's cause. But he brought no one, and had learned very little. He too had been at Ahalala and at Nobble. At Nobble the people were now very full of the subject and were very much divided in opinion. There were Crinketters and anti-Crinketters, Caldigatites and anti-Caldigatites. A certain number of persons were ready to swear that there had been a marriage, and an equal number, perhaps, to swear that there had been none. But no new fact had been brought to light. Dick Shand had not been found,—who had been living with Caldigate when the marriage was supposed to have been solemnised. Nor had that register been discovered from which the copy of the certificate was supposed to have been taken. All through the Colony,—so said this agent,—a very great interest was felt in the matter. The newspapers from day to day contained paragraphs about it. But nobody had appeared whom it was worth while to bring home. Mrs. Henniker, of the hotel at Nobble, had offered to swear that there had been no marriage. This offer she made and repeated when she had come to understand accurately on whose behalf this last agent had come to the Colony. But then, before she had understood this, she had offered to swear the reverse; and it became known that she was very anxious to be carried back to the old country free of expense. No credible witness could be found who had heard Caldigate call the woman Mrs. Smith after the date assigned to the marriage. She no doubt had used various names, had called herself sometimes Mrs. Caldigate, sometimes Mrs. Smith, but generally, in such documents as she had to sign in reference to her mining shares, Euphemia Cettini. It was by that name that she had been known in Sydney when performing on the stage, and it was now alleged on her behalf that she had bought and sold shares in that name under the idea that she would thus best secure to herself their separate and undisturbed possession. Proof was brought home that Caldigate himself had made over to her shares in that name; but Mr. Seely did not depend much on this as proof against the marriage.
Mr. Seely seemed to depend very little on anything,—so little that Caldigate almost wished that he had carried out his threat and thrown up the case. 'Does he not believe you when you tell him?' his wife asked. Caldigate was forced to confess that apparently the lawyer did not believe him. In fact, Mr. Seely had even said as much. 'In such cases a lawyer should never believe or disbelieve; or, if he does, he should never speak of his belief. It is with your acquittal or conviction that I am concerned, in which matter I can better assist you by cool judgment than by any fervid assurance.' All this made Caldigate not only angry but unhappy, for he could not fail to perceive that the public around him were in the same mind as Mr. Seely. In his own parish they believed him, but apparently not beyond his parish. It might be possible that he should escape,—that seemed to be the general opinion; but then general opinion went on to declare that there was no reason for supposing that he had not married the woman merely because he said that he had not done so.
Then gradually there fell upon poor Hester's mind a doubt,—and, after that, almost a conviction. Not a doubt as to her husband's truth! No suspicion on that score ever troubled her for a moment. But there came upon her a fear, almost more than a fear, that these terrible enemies would be strong enough to override the truth, and to carry with them both a judge and a jury. As the summer months ran on, they all became aware that for any purpose of removing the witnesses the money had been paid in vain. Crinkett was living in all opulence at a hotel at Brighton; and the woman, calling herself Mrs. Caldigate, had taken furnished apartments in London. Rumour came that she was frequently seen at the theatres, and that she had appeared more than once in an open carriage in the parks. There was no doubt but that Caldigate's money had made them very comfortable for the present. The whole story of the money had been made public, and of course there were various opinions about it. The prevailing idea was, that an attempt had been made to buy off the first wife, but that the first wife had been clever enough to get the money without having to go. Caldigate was thought to have been very foolish; on which subject Bollum once expressed himself strongly to a friend. 'Clever!' he said; 'Caldigate clever! The greatest idiot I ever came across in my life! I'd made it quite straight for him,—so that there couldn't have been a wrinkle. But he wouldn't have it. There are men so soft that one can't understand 'em.' To do Bollum justice it should be said that he was most anxious to induce his uncle and the woman to leave the country when they had got the money.
Though very miserable, Hester was very brave. In the presence of her husband she would never allow herself to seem to doubt. She would speak of their marriage as a thing so holy that nothing within the power of man could disturb it. Of course they were man and wife, and of course the truth would at last prevail. Was not the Lord able, in His own good time, to set all these matters right? And in discussing the matter with him she would always seem to imply that the Lord's good time would be the time of the trial. She would never herself hint to him that there might be a period of separation coming. Though in secrecy she was preparing for what might befall him, turning over in her woman's mind how she might best relieve the agony of his jail, she let no sign escape her that she looked forward to such misery. She let no such sign escape her in her intercourse with him. But with his father she could speak more freely. It had, indeed, come to be understood between her and the old Squire, that it would be best that they should discuss the matter openly. Arrangements must be made for their future life, so that when the blow came they might not be unprepared. Hester declared that nothing but positive want of shelter should induce her to go back to Chesterton. 'They think him to be all that's bad,' she said. 'I know him to be all that's good. How is it possible that we should live together?' The old man had, of course, turned it over much in his mind. If it could be true that that woman had in truth become his son's wife, and that this dear, sweet, young mother had been deceived, betrayed, and cheated out of her very existence, then that house at Folking could be no proper home for her. Her grave would be best, but till that might be reached any home would be better than Folking. But he was almost sure that it was not so, and her confidence,—old as he was, and prone to be suspicious,—made him confident.
When the moment came he could not doubt how he would answer her. He could not crush her spirit by seeming for a moment to have a suspicion. 'Your home, of course, shall be here,' he said. 'It shall be your own house.'
'It shall be my house too. If it should come to that, we will be, at any rate, together. You shall not be left without a friend.'
'It is not for myself,' she said; 'but for his boy and for him;—what will be best for them. I would take a cabin at the prison-gate, so as to be nearest to him,—if it were only myself.' And so it was settled between them, that should that great misery fall upon them, she would remain at Folking and he would remain with her. Nothing that judge or jury could do would deprive her of the right to occupy her husband's house.
In this way the months of May and June and the first fortnight of July wore themselves away, and then the time for the trial had come. Up to the last it had been hoped that tidings might be heard either by letter or telegram from Dick Shand; but it seemed that he had vanished from the face of the earth. No suggestion of news as to his whereabouts was received on which it might have been possible to found an argument for the further postponement of the trial. Mr. Seely had been anxious for such postponement,—perhaps thinking that as the hotel at Brighton and the carriages in the park were expensive, Crinkett and the lady might take their departure for Australia without saying a word to the lawyer who had undertaken the prosecution. But there was no adequate ground for delay, and on Tuesday the 17th July the trial was to be commenced. On the previous day Caldigate, at his own request, was introduced to Sir John Joram, who had been brought down special to Cambridge for his defence. Mr. Seely had advised him not to see the barrister who was to defend him, leaving it, however, quite at his option to do so or not as he pleased. 'Sir John will see you, but I think he had rather not,' said Mr. Seely. But Caldigate had chosen to have the interview. 'I have thought it best to say just one word to you,' said Caldigate.
'I am quite at your service,' said Sir John.
'I want you to hear from my own lips that a falser charge than this was never made against a man.'
'I am glad to hear it,' said Sir John,—and then he paused. 'That is to say, Mr. Caldigate, I am bound in courtesy to you to make some such civil reply as I should have made had I not been employed in your case, and had circumstances then induced you to make such a statement to me. But in truth, as I am so employed, no statement from your lips ought to affect me in the least. For your own sake I will say that no statement will affect me. It is not for me to believe or disbelieve anything in this matter. If carried away by my feelings, I were to appeal to the jury for their sympathy because of my belief, I should betray your cause. It will be my duty not to make the jury believe you, who, in your position, will not be expected even to tell the truth; but to induce them, if possible, to disbelieve the witnesses against you who will be on their oath. Second-hand protestations from an advocate are never of much avail, and in many cases have been prejudicial. I can only assure you that I understand the importance of the interests confided to me, and that I will endeavour to be true to my trust.'
Caldigate, who wanted sympathy, who wanted an assurance of confidence in his word, was by no means contented with his counsellor; but he was too wise at the present moment to quarrel with him.
The First Day
Then came the morning on which Caldigate and Hester must part. Very little had been said about it, but a word or two had been absolutely necessary. The trial would probably take two days, and it would not be well that he should be brought back to Folking for the sad intervening night. And then,—should the verdict be given against him, the prison doors would be closed against her, his wife, more rigidly than against any other friend who might knock at them inquiring after his welfare. Her, at any rate, he would not be allowed to see. All the prison authorities would be bound to regard her as the victim of his crime and as the instrument of his vice. The law would have locked him up to avenge her injuries,—of her, whose only future joy could come from that distant freedom which the fraudulent law would at length allow to him. All this was not put into words between them, but it was understood. It might be that they were to be parted now for a term of years, during which she would be as a widow at Folking while he would be alone in his jail.
There are moments as to which it would be so much better that their coming should never be accomplished! It would have been better for them both had they been separated without that last embrace. He was to start from Folking at eight that he might surrender himself to the hands of justice in due time for the trial at ten. She did not come down with him to the breakfast parlour, having been requested by him not to be there among the servants when he took his departure; but standing there in her own room, with his baby in her arms, she spoke her last word, 'You will keep up your courage, John?'
'I will try, Hester.'
'I will keep up mine. I will never fail, for your sake and his,'—here she held the child a moment away from her bosom,—'I will never allow myself to droop. To be your wife and his mother shall be enough to support me even though you should be torn from both of us for a time.'
'I wish I were as brave as you,' he said.
'You will leave me here,' she continued, 'mistress of your house; and if God spares me, here you will find me. They can't move me from this. Your father says so. They may call me what they will, but they cannot move me. There is the Lord above us, and before Him they cannot make me other than your wife,—your wife,—your wife.' As she repeated the name, she put the boy out to him, and when he had taken the child, she stretched out her hands upwards, and falling on her knees at his feet, prayed to God for his deliverance. 'Let him come back to us, O my God. Deliver him from his enemies, and let him come back to us.'
'One kiss, my own,' he said, as he raised her from the ground.
'Oh yes;—and a thousand shall be in store for you when you come back to us. Yes; kiss him too. Your boy shall hear the praises of his father every day, till at last he shall understand that he may be proud of you even though he should have learned why it is that you are not with him. Now go, my darling. Go; and support yourself by remembering that I have got that within me which will support me.' Then he left her.
The old Squire had expressed his intention of being present throughout the trial, and now was ready for the journey. When counselled to remain at home, both by Mr. Seely and by his son, he had declared that only by his presence could he make the world around him understand how confident he was of his son's innocence. So it was arranged, and a place was kept for him next to the attorney. The servants all came out into the hall and shook hands with their young master; and the cook, wiping her eyes with her apron, declared that she would have dinner ready for him on the following day. At the front door Mr. Holt was standing, having come over the ferry to greet the young squire before his departure. 'They may say what they will there, squire, but they won't make none of us here believe that you've been the man to injure a lady such as she up there.' Then there was another shaking of hands, and the father and son got into the carriage.
The court was full, of course. Mr. Justice Bramber, by whom the case was to be tried, was reputed to be an excellent judge, a man of no softnesses,—able to wear the black cap without convulsive throbbings, anxious also that the law should run its course,—averse to mercy when guilt had been proved, but as clear-sighted and as just as Minos; a man whom nothing could turn one way or another,—who could hang his friend, but who would certainly not mulct his enemy because he was his enemy. It had reached Caldigate's ears that he was unfortunate in his judge; by which, they who had so said, had intended to imply that this judge's mind would not be perverted by any sentiments as to the prisoner, as to the sweet young woman who called herself his wife at home, or as to want of sweetness on the part of the other woman who claimed him.
The jury was sworn in without more than ordinary delay, and then the trial was commenced. That which had to be done for the prosecution seemed to be simple enough. The first witness called was the woman herself, who was summoned in the names of Euphemia Caldigate alias Smith. She gave her evidence very clearly, and with great composure,—saying how she had become acquainted with the man on board the ship; how she had been engaged to him at Melbourne; how he had come down to her at Sydney; how, in compliance with his orders, she had followed him up to Ahalala; and how she had there been married to him by Mr. Allan. Then she brought forth the documents which professed to be the copy of the register of the marriage, made by the minister in his own book; and the envelope,—the damning envelope,—which Caldigate was prepared to admit that he had himself addressed to Mrs. Caldigate; and the letter which purported to have been written by the minister to Caldigate, recommending him to be married in some better established township than that existing at Ahalala. She did it well. She was very correct, and at the same time very determined, giving many details of her early theatrical life, which it was thought better to get from her in the comparative ease of a direct examination than to have them extracted afterwards by an adverse advocate. During her evidence in chief, which was necessarily long, she seemed to be quite at ease; but those around her observed that she never once turned her eyes upon him whom she claimed as her husband except when she was asked whether the man there before her was the man she had married at Ahalala. Then, looking at him for a moment in silence, she replied, very steadily, 'Yes; that is my husband, John Caldigate.'
To Caldigate and his friends,—and indeed to all those collected in the court,—the most interesting person of the day was Sir John Joram. In a sensational cause the leading barrister for the defence is always the hero of the plot,—the actor from whom the best bit of acting is expected,—the person who is most likely to become a personage on the occasion. The prisoners are necessarily mute, and can only be looked at, not heard. The judge is not expected to do much till the time comes for his charge, and even then is supposed to lower the dignity of the bench if he makes his charge with any view to effect on his own behalf. The barrister who prosecutes should be tame, or he will appear to be vindictive. The witnesses, however interesting they may be in detail, are but episodes. Each comes and goes, and there is an end of them. But the part of the defending advocate requires action through the whole of the piece. And he may be impassioned. He is bound to be on the alert. Everything seems to depend on him. They who accuse can have or should have no longing for the condemnation of the accused one. But in regard to the other, an acquittal is a matter of personal prowess, of professional triumph, and possibly of well simulated feeling.
Sir John Joram was at this time a man of considerable dignity, above fifty years of age, having already served the offices of Solicitor and Attorney-General to his party. To his compeers and intimate friends it seemed to be but the other day since he was Jacky Joram, one of the jolliest little fellows ever known at an evening party, up to every kind of fun, always rather short of money, and one of whom it was thought that, because he was good-looking, he might some day achieve the success of marrying a woman with money. On a sudden he married a girl without a shilling, and men shook their heads and sighed as they spoke of poor Jacky Joram. But, again, on a sudden,—quite as suddenly,—there came tidings that Jacky had been found out by the attorneys, and that he was earning his bread. As we grow old things seem to come so quickly! His friends had hardly realised the fact that Jacky was earning his bread before he was in Parliament and had ceased to be Jacky. And the celerity with which he became Sir John was the most astonishing of all. Years no doubt had passed by. But years at fifty are no more than months at thirty,—are less than weeks in boyhood. And now while some tongues, by dint of sheer habit, were still forming themselves into Jacky, Sir John Joram had become the leading advocate of the day, and a man renowned for the dignity of his manners.
In the House,—for he had quite got the ear of the House,—a certain impressive good sense, a habit of saying nothing that was not necessary to the occasion, had chiefly made for him the high character he enjoyed; but in the law courts it was perhaps his complaisance, his peculiar courtesy, of which they who praised him talked the most. His aptitude to get verdicts was of course the cause of his success. But it was observed of him that in perverting the course of justice,—which may be said to be the special work of a successful advocate,—he never condescended to bully anybody. To his own witnesses he was simple and courteous, as are barristers generally. But to adverse witnesses he was more courteous, though no doubt less simple. Even to some perjured comrade of an habitual burglar he would be studiously civil: but to a woman such as Euphemia Caldigate, alias Smith, it was certain that he would be so smooth as to make her feel almost pleased with the amenities of her position.
He asked her very many questions, offering to provide her with the comfort of a seat if it were necessary. She said that she was not at all tired, and that she preferred to stand. As to the absolute fact of the marriage she did not hesitate at all. She was married in the tent at Ahalala in the presence of Crinkett and Adamson, and of her own female companion, Anna Young,—all of whom were there to give evidence of the fact. Whether any one else was in the tent, she could not say, but she knew that there were others at the entrance. The tent was hardly large enough for more than five or six. Dick Shand had not been there, because he had always been her enemy, and had tried to prevent the marriage. And she was quite clear about the letter. There was a great deal said about the letter. She was sure that the envelope with the letter had come to her at Ahalala by post from Sydney when her husband was at the latter place. The Sydney postmark with the date was very plain. There was much said as to the accuracy and clearness of the Sydney postmark, and something as to the absence of any postmark at Nobble. She could not account for the absence of the Nobble postmark. She was aware that letters were stamped at Nobble generally. Mr. Allan, she said, had himself handed to her the copy of the register almost immediately after the marriage, but she could not say by whom it had been copied. The letter purporting to be from Mr. Allan to her husband was no doubt, she said, in the minister's handwriting. Caldigate had showed it to her before their marriage, and she had kept it without any opposition from him. Then she was asked as to her residence after her marriage, and here she was less clear. She had lived with him first at Ahalala and then at Nobble, but she could not say for how long. It had been off and on. There had been quarrels, and after a time they had agreed to part. She had received from him a certain amount of mining shares and of money, and had undertaken in return never to bother him any more. There was a great deal said about times and dates, which left an impression upon those around her in the court that she was less sure of her facts than a woman in such circumstances naturally would have been.
Then Sir John produced the letter which she had written to Caldigate, and in which she had distinctly offered to marry Crinkett if the money demanded were paid. She must have expected the production of this letter, but still, for a few moments, it silenced her. 'Yes,' she said, at last, 'I wrote it.'
'And the money you demanded has been paid?'
'Yes, it has been paid. But not then. It was not paid till we came over.'
'But if it had been paid then you would have—married Mr. Crinkett?' Sir John's manner as he asked the question was so gentle and so soft that it was felt by all to contain an apology for intruding on so delicate a subject. But when she hesitated, he did, after a pause, renew his inquiry in another form. 'Perhaps this was only a threat, and you had no purpose of carrying it out.'
Then she plucked up her courage. 'I have not married him,' she said.
'But did you intend it?'
'I did. What were the laws to me out there? He had left me and had taken another wife. I had to do the best for myself. I did intend it. But I didn't do it. A woman can't be tried for her intentions.'
'No,' said Sir John. 'But she may be judged by her intentions.'
Then she was asked why she had not gone when she had got the money, according to her promise. 'He defied us,' she said, 'and called us bad names,—liars and perjurers. He knew that we were not liars. And then we were watched and told that we might not go. As he said that he was indifferent, I was willing enough to stay and see it out.'
'You cannot give us,' he asked again,—and this was his last question,—'any clearer record of those months which you lived with your husband?'
'No,' she said, 'I cannot. I kept no journal.' Then she was allowed to go, and though she had been under examination for three hours, it was thought she had escaped easily.
Crinkett was the next, who swore that he had been Caldigate's partner in sundry mining speculations,—that they had been in every way intimate,—that he had always recommended Caldigate to marry Mrs. Smith, thinking, as he said, 'that respectability paid in the long run,'—and that, having so advised him, he had become Caldigate's special friend at the time, to the exclusion of Dick Shand, who was generally drunk, and who, whether drunk or sober, was opposed to the marriage. He had been selected to stand by his friend at the marriage, and he, thinking that another witness would be beneficial, had taken Adamson with him. His only wonder was that any one should dispute a fact which was at the time so notorious both at Ahalala and at Nobble. He held his head high during his evidence in chief, and more than once called the prisoner 'Caldigate,'—'Caldigate knew this,'—and 'Caldigate did that.' It was past four when he was handed over for cross-examination; but when it was said that another hour would suffice for it, the judge agreed to sit for that other hour.
But it was nearly two hours before the gentleman who was with Sir John had finished his work, during which Mr. Crinkett seemed to suffer much. The gentleman was by no means so complacent as Sir John, and asked some very disagreeable questions. Had Crinkett intended to commit bigamy by marrying the last witness, knowing at the time that she was a married woman? 'I never said that I intended to marry her,' said Crinkett. 'What she wrote to Caldigate was nothing to me.' He could not be made to own, as she had done in a straightforward way, that he had intended to set the law at defiance. His courage failed him, and his presence of mind, and he was made to declare at last that he had only talked about such a marriage, with the view of keeping the woman in good humour, but that he had never intended to marry her. Then he was asked as to Bollum;—had he told Bollum that he intended to marry the woman? At last he owned that he might have done so. Of course he had been anxious to get his money, and he had thought that he might best do so by such an offer. He was reduced to much misery during his cross-examination; but on the one main statement that he had been present at the marriage he was not shaken.