At six o'clock the trial was adjourned till the next day, and the two Caldigates were taken in a fly to a neighbouring inn, at which rooms had been provided for them. Here they were soon joined by Mr. Seely, who explained, however, that he had come merely to make arrangements for the morrow. 'How is it going?' asked Caldigate.
The question was very natural, but it was one which Mr. Seely was not disposed to answer. 'I couldn't give an opinion,' he said. 'In such cases I never do give an opinion. The evidence is very clear, and has not been shaken; but the witnesses are people of a bad character. Character goes a long way with a jury. It will depend a good deal on the judge, I should say. But I cannot give an opinion.'
No opinion one way or the other was expressed to the father or son,—who indeed saw no one else the whole evening; but Robert Bolton, in discussing the matter with his father, expressed a strong conviction that Caldigate would be acquitted. He had heard it all, and understood the nature of such cases. 'I do not in the least doubt that they were married,' said Robert Bolton. 'All the circumstances make me sure of it. But the witnesses are just of that kind which a jury always distrusts. The jury will acquit him, not because they do not believe the marriage, but out of enmity to Crinkett and the woman.'
'What shall we do, then?' asked the old man. To this Robert Bolton could make no answer. He only shook his head and turned away.
The Second Day
The court had been very full on the first day of the trial, but on the following morning it was even more crowded, so that outsiders who had no friend connected with justice, had hardly a chance of hearing or seeing anything. Many of the circumstances of the case had long been known to the public, but matters of new and of peculiar interest had been elicited,—the distinct promise made by the woman to marry another man, so as to render her existing husband safe in his bigamy by committing bigamy herself,—the payment to these people by Caldigate of an immense sum of money,—the fact that they two had lived together in Australia whether married or not;—all this, which had now been acknowledged on both sides, added to the romance of the occasion. While it could hardly be doubted, on the one side, that Caldigate had married the woman,—so strong was the evidence,—it could not be at all doubted, on the other side, that the accusation had been planned with the view of raising money, and had been the result of a base conspiracy. And then there was the additional marvel, that though the money had been paid,—the whole sum demanded,—yet the trial was carried on. The general feeling was exactly that which Robert Bolton had attributed to the jury. People did believe that there had been a marriage, but trusted nevertheless that Caldigate might be acquitted,—so that his recent marriage might be established. No doubt there was a feeling with many that anything done in the wilds of Australia ought not 'to count' here at home in England.
Caldigate with his father was in court a little before ten, and at that hour punctually the trial was recommenced. The first business was the examination of Adamson, who was quite clear as to the marriage. He had been concerned with Crinkett in money operations for many years, and had been asked by him to be present simply as a witness. He had never been particularly intimate with Caldigate, and had had little or nothing to do with him afterwards. He was cross-examined by the second gentleman, but was not subjected to much annoyance. He had put what little money he possessed into the Polyeuka mine, and had come over to England because he had thought that, by so doing, he might perhaps get a portion of his money back. Had there been a conspiracy, and was he one of the conspirators? Well, he rather thought that there had been a conspiracy, and that he was one of the conspirators. But then he had only conspired to get what he thought to be his own. He had lost everything in the Polyeuka mine; and as the gentleman no doubt had married the lady, he thought he might as well come forward,—and that perhaps in that way he would get his money. He did not mind saying that he had received a couple of thousand pounds, which was half what he had put into Polyeuka. He hoped that, after paying all his expenses, he would be able to start again at the diggings with something above a thousand. This was all straight sailing. The purpose which he had in view was so manifest that it had hardly been worth while to ask him the questions.
Anna Young was the next, and she encountered the sweet courtesies of Sir John Joram. These sweet courtesies were prolonged for above an hour, and were not apparently very sweet to Miss Young. Of the witnesses hitherto examined she was the worst. She had been flippantly confident in her memories of the marriage ceremony when questioned on behalf of the prosecution, but had forgotten everything in reference to her friend's subsequent married life. She had forgotten even her own life, and did not quite know where she had lived. And at last she positively refused to answer questions though they were asked with the most engaging civility. She said that, 'Of course a lady had affairs which she could not tell to everybody.' 'No, she didn't mean lovers;—she didn't care for the men at all.' 'Yes; she did mean money. She had done a little mining, and hoped to do a little more.' 'She was to have a thousand pounds and her expenses, but she hadn't got the money yet,'—and so on. Probably of all the witnesses yet examined Miss Young had amused the court the most.
There were many others, no doubt necessary for the case, but hardly necessary for the telling of the story. Captain Munday was there, the captain of the Goldfinder, who spoke of Caldigate's conduct on board, and of his own belief that they two were engaged when they left the ship. 'As we are prepared to acknowledge that there was an engagement, I do not think that we need trouble you, Captain Munday,' said Sir John. 'We only deny the marriage.' Then the cheque for twenty thousand pounds was produced, and clerks from the bank to prove the payment, and the old waiter from the Jericho Coffee-house,—and others, of whom Sir John Joram refused to take any notice whatever. All that had been acknowledged. Of course the money had been paid. Of course the intimacy had existed. No doubt there had been those interviews both at Folking and up in London. But had there ever been a marriage in that tent at Ahalala? That, and that only, was the point to which Sir John Joram found it necessary to give attention.
A slight interval was allowed for lunch, and then Sir John rose to begin his speech. It was felt on all sides that his speech was to be the great affair of the trial. Would he be able so to represent these witnesses as to make a jury believe that they had sworn falsely, and that the undoubted and acknowledged conspiracy to raise money had been concocted without any basis of truth? There was a quarter of an hour during which the father remained with his son in the precincts of the prison, and then the judge and the lawyers, and all they whose places were assured to them trooped back into court. They who were less privileged had fed themselves with pocketed sandwiches, not caring to risk the loss of their seats.
Sir John Joram began by holding, extended in his fingers towards the jury, the envelope which had undoubtedly been addressed by Caldigate to 'Mrs. Caldigate, Ahalala, Nobble,' and in which a certain letter had been stated to have been sent by him to her. 'The words written on that envelope,' said he, 'are to my mind the strongest evidence I have ever met of the folly to which a man may be reduced by the softness of feminine intercourse. I acknowledge, on the part of my client, that he wrote these words. I acknowledge that if a man could make a woman his wife by so describing her on a morsel of paper, this man would have made this woman his wife. I acknowledge so much, though I do not acknowledge, though I deny, that any letter was ever sent to this woman in the envelope which I hold in my hand. His own story is that he wrote those words at a moment of soft and foolish confidence, when they two together were talking of a future marriage,—a marriage which no doubt was contemplated, and which probably had been promised. Then he wrote the address, showing the woman the name which would be hers should they ever be married;—and she has craftily kept the document. That is his story. That is my story. Now I must show you why I think it also should be your story. The woman,—I must describe her in this way lest I should do her an injustice by calling her Mrs. Smith, or do my client an injustice by calling her Mrs. Caldigate,—has told you that this envelope, with an enclosure which she produced, reached her at Nobble through the post from Sydney. To that statement I call upon you to give no credit. A letter so sent would, as you have been informed, bear two postmarks, those of Sydney and of Nobble. This envelope bears one only. But that is not all. I shall call before you two gentlemen experienced in affairs of the post-office, and they will tell you that the postmarks on this envelope, both that of the town, Sydney, and that by which the postage stamp is obliterated, are cleaner, finer, and better perceived than they would have been had it passed in ordinary course through the post-office. Letters in the post-office are hurried quickly through the operation of stamping, so that one passing over the other while the stamping ink is still moist, will to some extent blot and blur that with which it has come in contact. He will produce some dozens taken at random, and will show that with them all such has been the case. This blotting, this smudging, is very slight, but it exists; it is always there. He will tell you that this envelope has been stamped as one and alone,—by itself,—with peculiar care;—and I shall ask you to believe that the impression has been procured by fraud in the Sydney post-office. If that be so; if in such a case as this fraud be once discovered, then I say that the whole case will fall to the ground, and that I shall be justified in telling you that no word that you have heard from these four witnesses is worthy of belief.
'Nothing worthy of belief has been adduced against my client unless that envelope be so. That those four persons have conspired together for the sake of getting money is clear enough. To their evidence I shall come presently, and shall endeavour to show you why you should discredit them. At present I am concerned simply with this envelope, on which I think that the case hangs. As for the copy of the register, it is nothing. It would be odd indeed if in any conspiracy so much as that could not be brought up. Had such a register been found in the archives of any church, however humble, and had an attested copy been produced, that would have been much. But this is nothing. Nor is the alleged letter from Mr. Allan anything. Were the letter genuine it would show that such a marriage had been contemplated, not that it had been solemnised. We have, however, no evidence to make us believe that the letter is genuine. But this envelope,'—and he again stretched it out towards the jury,—'is evidence. The impression of a post-office stamp has often been accepted as evidence. But the evidence may be false evidence, and it is for us to see whether it may not probably be so now.
'In the first place, such evidence requires peculiar sifting, which unfortunately cannot be applied to it in the present case, because it has been brought to us from a great distance. Had the envelope been in our possession from the moment in which the accusation was first made, we might have tested it, either by sending it to Sydney or by obtaining from Sydney other letters or documents bearing the same stamp, affixed undoubtedly on the date here represented. But that has not been within our power. The gentlemen whom I shall bring before you will tell you that these impressions or stamps have a knack of verifying themselves, which makes it very dangerous indeed for fraudulent persons to tamper with them. A stamp used in June will be hardly the same as it will be in July. Some little bruise will have so altered a portion of the surface as to enable detection to be made with a microscope. And the stamp used in 1870 will certainly have varied its form in 1871. Now, I maintain that time and opportunity should have been given to us to verify this impression. Copies of all impressions from day to day are kept in the Sydney post-office, and if it be found that on this day named, the 10th of May, no impression in the Sydney office is an exact facsimile of this impression then I say that this impression has been subsequently and fraudulently obtained, and that the only morsel of corroborative evidence offered to you will be shown to be false evidence. We have been unable to get impressions of this date. Opportunities have not been given to us. But I do not hesitate to tell you that you should demand such opportunities before you accept that envelope as evidence on which you can send my client to jail, and deprive that young wife, whom he has made his own, of her husband, and afford the damning evidence of your verdict towards robbing his son of his legitimacy.'
He said very much more about the envelope, clearly showing his own appreciation of its importance and declaring again and again that if he could show that a stain of perjury affected the evidence in any one point all the evidence must fall to the ground, and that if there were ground to suspect that the envelope had been tampered with, then that stain of perjury would exist. After that he went on to the four conspirators, as he called them, justifying the name by their acknowledged object of getting money from his client. 'That they came to this country as conspirators, with a fraudulent purpose, my learned friend will not deny.'
'I acknowledge nothing of the kind,' said the learned friend.
'Then my learned friend must feel that his is a case in which he cannot safely acknowledge anything. I do not doubt, gentlemen, but that you have made up your mind on that point.' He went on to show that they clearly were conspirators;—that they had confessed as much themselves. 'It is no doubt possible that my client may have married this female conspirator, and she is not the less entitled to protection from the law because she is a conspirator. Nor, because she is a conspirator, should he be less amenable to the law for the terrible injury he would then have done to that other lady. But if they be conspirators,—if it be shown to you that they came to this country,—not that the woman might claim her husband, not that the others might give honest testimony against a great delinquent,—but in order that they might frighten him out of money, then I am entitled to tell you that you should not rest on their evidence unless it be supported, and that the fact of their conspiracy gives you a right, nay, makes it your imperative duty, to suspect perjury.'
The remainder of the day was taken up with Sir John's speech, and with the witnesses which he called for the defence. He certainly succeeded in strengthening the compassion which was felt for Caldigate and for the unfortunate young mother at Folking. 'It was very well,' he said, 'for my learned friend to tell you of the protection which is due to a married woman when a husband has broken the law, and betrayed his trust by taking another wife to himself, as this man is accused of having done. But there is another aspect in which you will regard the question. Think of that second wife and of her child, and of the protection which is due to her. You well know that she does not suspect her husband, that she fears nothing but a mistaken verdict from you,—that she will be satisfied, much more than satisfied, if you will leave her in possession of her home, her husband, and the unalloyed domestic happiness she has enjoyed since she joined her lot with his. Look at the one woman, and then at the other. Remember their motives, their different lives, their different joys, and what will be the effect of your verdict upon each of them. If you are satisfied that he did marry that woman, that vile woman, the nature of whose life has been sufficiently exposed to you, of course your verdict must be against him. The law is the law, and must be vindicated. In that case it will be your duty, your terrible duty, to create misery, to destroy happiness, to ruin a dear innocent young mother and her child, and to separate a loving couple, every detail of whose life is such as to demand your sympathy. And this you must do at the bidding of four greedy, foul conspirators. Innocent, sweet, excellent in all feminine graces as is the one wife,—unlovely unfeminine, and abhorrent as is the other,—you must do your duty. God forbid that I should ask you to break an oath, even for the sake of that young mother. But in such a case, I do think, I may ask you to be very careful as to what evidence you accept. I do think that I may again point out to you that those four witnesses, bound as they are together by a bond of avarice, should be regarded but as one,—and as one to whose sworn evidence no credit is due unless it be amply corroborated. I say that there is no corroboration. This envelope would be strong corroboration if it had been itself trustworthy.' When he sat down the feeling in court was certainly in favour of John Caldigate.
Then a cloud of witnesses were brought up for the defence, each of whom, however, was soon despatched. The two clerks from the post-office gave exactly the evidence which Sir John had described, and exposed to the jury their packet of old letters. In their opinion the impression on the envelope was finer and cleaner than that generally produced in the course of business. Each of them thought it not improbable that the impression had been surreptitiously obtained. But each of them acknowledged, on cross-examination, that a stamp so clean and perfect might be given and maintained without special care; and each of them said that it was quite possible that a letter passing through the post-office might escape the stamp of one of the offices in which it would be manipulated.
Then there came the witnesses as to character, and evidence was given as to Hester's determination to remain with the man whom she believed to be her husband. As to this there was no cross-examination. That Caldigate's life had been useful and salutary since his return to Folking no one doubted,—nor that he had been a loving husband. If he had committed bigamy, it was, no doubt, for the public welfare that such a crime should be exposed and punished. But that he should have been a bigamist, would be a pity,—oh, such a pity! The pity of it; oh, the pity of it! For now there had been much talk of Hester and her home at Folking, and her former home at Chesterton; and people everywhere concerned themselves for her peace, for her happiness, for her condition of life.
The Last Day
After Sir John Joram's speech, and when the work of the second day had been brought to a close, Caldigate allowed his hopes to rise higher than they had ever mounted since he had first become aware that the accusation would in truth be brought against him. It seemed to be almost impossible that any jury should give a verdict in opposition to arguments so convincing as those Sir John had used. All those details which had appeared to himself to be so damning to his own cause now melted away, and seemed to be of no avail. And even Mr. Seely, when he came to see his client in the evening, was less oppressive than usual. He did not, indeed, venture to express hope, but in his hopelessness he was somewhat more hopeful than before. 'You must remember, Mr. Caldigate,' he said, 'that you have not yet heard the judge, and that with such a jury the Judge will go much further than any advocate. I never knew a Cambridgeshire jury refuse to be led by Judge Bramber.'
'Why a Cambridgeshire jury?' asked old Mr. Caldigate; 'and why Judge Bramber especially?'
'We are a little timid, I think, here in the eastern counties,—a little wanting in self-confidence. An advocate in the north of England has a finer scope, because the people like to move counter to authority. A Lancashire jury will generally be unwilling to do what a judge tells them. And then Judge Bramber has a peculiar way of telling a jury. If he has a strong opinion of his own he never leaves the jury in doubt about it. Some judges are—what I call flabby, Mr. Caldigate. They are a little afraid of responsibility, and leave the jury and the counsel to fight it out among them. Sir John did it very well, no doubt;—very well. He made the best he could of that postage stamp, though I don't know that it will go for much. The point most in our favour is that those Australians are a rough lot to look at. The woman has been drinking, and has lost her good looks,—so that the jurymen won't be soft about her.' Caldigate, when he heard this, thought of Euphemia Smith on board the Goldfinder, when she certainly did not drink, when her personal appearance was certainly such as might touch the heart of any juryman. Gold and drink together had so changed the woman that he could hardly persuade himself that she was that forlorn attractive female whom he had once so nearly loved.
Before he went to bed, Caldigate wrote to his wife as he had done also on the preceding evening. 'There is to be another long, tedious, terrible day, and then it may be that I shall be able to write no more. For your sake, almost more than for my own, I am longing for it to be over. It would be vain for me to attempt to tell you all that took place. I do not dare to give you hope which I know may be fallacious. And yet I feel my own heart somewhat higher than it was when I wrote last night.' Then he did tell her something of what had taken place, speaking in high praise of Sir John Joram. 'And now my own, own wife, my real wife, my beloved one, I have to call you so, perhaps for the last time for years. If these men shall choose to think that I married that woman, we shall have to be so parted that it would be better for us to be in our graves. But even then I will not give up all hope. My father has promised that the whole colony shall be ransacked till proof be found of the truth. And then, though I shall have been convicted, I shall be reinstated in my position as your husband. May God Almighty bless you, and our boy, till I may come again to claim my wife and my child without disgrace.'
The old man had made the promise. 'I would go myself,' said he, 'were it not that Hester will want my support here.' For there had been another promise made,—that by no entreaty, no guile, no force, should Hester be taken from Folking to Chesterton.
Early on the third day Judge Bramber began his charge, and in doing so he told the jury that it would occupy him about three hours. And in exactly three hours' time he had completed his task. In summing up the case he certainly was not 'flabby';—so little so, that he left no doubt on the minds of any who heard him of the verdict at which he had himself arrived. He went through the evidence of the four chief witnesses very carefully, and then said that the antecedents of these people, or even their guilt, if they had been guilty, had nothing to do with the case except in so far as it might affect the opinion of the jury as to their veracity. They had been called conspirators. Even though they had conspired to raise money by threats, than which nothing could be more abominable,—even though by doing so they should have subjected themselves to criminal proceedings, and to many penalties,—that would not lessen the criminality of the accused if such a marriage as that described had in truth taken place. 'This,' said the judge, 'is so much a matter of course that I should not insist upon it had it not been implied that the testimony of these four persons is worth nothing because they are conspirators. It is for you to judge what their testimony is worth, and it is for you to remember that they are four distinct witnesses, all swearing to the same thing.' Then he went into the question of the money. There could be no doubt that the four persons had come to England with the purpose of getting money out of the accused, and that they had succeeded. With their mode of doing this,—whether criminal or innocent,—the jury had nothing to do, except as it affected their credit. But they were bound to look to Caldigate's motive in paying so large a sum. It had been shown that he did not owe them a shilling, and that when the application for money reached him from Australia he had refused to give them a shilling. Then, when they had arrived here in England, accusation was made; and when they had offered to desert the case if paid the money, then the money was paid. The prisoner, when paying it, had no doubt intimated to those who received it that he made no bargain with them as to their going away. And he had taken a friend with him who had given his evidence in court, and this friend had manifestly been taken to show that the money was not secretly paid. The jury would give the prisoner the benefit of all that,—if there was benefit to be derived from it. But they were bound to remember, in coming to their verdict, that a very large sum of money had been paid to the witnesses by the prisoner, which money certainly was not due to them.
He dwelt, also, at great length on the stamp on the envelope, but contrived at last to leave a feeling on the minds of those who heard him, that Sir John had shown the weakness of his case by trusting so much to such allegations as he had made. 'It has been represented,' said Judge Bramber, 'that the impression which you have seen of the Sydney post-office stamp has been fraudulently obtained. Some stronger evidence should, I think, be shown of this before you believe it. Two clerks from the London post-office have told you that they believed the impression to be a false one; but I think they were hardly justified in their opinion. They founded it on the clearness and cleanness of the impression; but they both of them acknowledged afterwards that such clearness and cleanness is simply unusual, and by no means impossible,—not indeed improbable. But how would it have been if the envelope had been brought to you without any post-office impression, simply directed to Mrs. Caldigate, by the man who is alleged to have made the woman his wife shortly before the envelope was written? Would it not in that case have been strong evidence? If any fraud were proved,—such a fraud as would be that of getting some post-office official falsely to stamp the envelope,—then the stain of perjury would be there. But it will be for you to consider whether you can find such stain of perjury merely because the impression on the envelope is clear and clean.'
When he came to the present condition of Caldigate's wife and child at Folking, he was very tender in his speech,—but even his tenderness seemed to turn itself against the accused.
'Of that poor lady I can only speak with that unfeigned respect which I am sure you all feel. That she was happy in her marriage till this accusation reached her ears, no one can doubt. That he to whom she was given in marriage has done his duty by her, treating her with full affection and confidence, has been proved to us. Who can think that such a condition of things shall be disturbed, that happiness so perfect is to be turned to misery and misfortune, without almost an agony of regret? But not on that account can you be in any way released from your duty. In this case you are not entitled to think of the happiness or unhappiness of individuals. You have to confine yourself to the evidence, and must give your verdict in accordance with that.'
John Caldigate, as he heard the words, told himself at once that the judge had, in fact, desired the jury to find a verdict against him. Not a single point had been made in his favour, and every point had been made to tell against him. The judge had almost said that a man's promise to marry a woman should be taken as evidence of marriage. But the jury, at any rate, did not show immediate alacrity in obeying the judge's behest. They returned once or twice to ask questions; and at three o'clock Caldigate was allowed to go to his inn, with an intimation that he must hold himself in readiness to be brought back and hear the verdict at a moment's notice. 'I wish they would declare it at once,' he said to his father. 'The suspense is worse than all.'
During the afternoon the matter was discussed very freely throughout the borough. 'I thought they would have agreed almost at once,' said the mayor, at about four o'clock, to Mr. Seely, who, at this moment, had retired to his own office where the great magistrate of the borough was closeted with him. The mayor had been seated on the bench throughout the trial, and had taken much interest in the case. 'I never imagined that there could be much doubt after Judge Bramber's summing up.'
'I hear that there's one man holding out,' said the attorney in a low voice.
'Who is it?' whispered the mayor. The mayor and Mr. Seely were very intimate.
'I suppose it's Jones, the tanner at Ely. They say that the Caldigates have had dealings with his family from generation to generation. I knew all about it, and when they passed his name, I wondered that Burder hadn't been sharper.' Mr. Burder was the gentleman who had got up the prosecution on the part of the Crown.
'It must be something of that kind,' said the mayor. 'Nothing else would make a jury hesitate after such a charge as that. I suppose he did marry her.' Mr. Seely shrugged his shoulders. 'I have attended very closely to the case, and I know I should have been against him on a jury. God bless my soul! Did any man ever write to a woman as his wife without having married her?'
'It has been done, I should think.'
'And that nobody should have been got to say that they weren't man and wife.'
'I really have hardly formed an opinion,' said Mr. Seely, still whispering, 'I am inclined to think that there was probably some ceremony, and that Caldigate salved his conscience, when he married Bolton's daughter, by an idea that the ceremony wasn't valid. But they'll convict him at last. When he told me that he had been up to town and paid that money, I knew it was all up with him. How can any juryman believe that a man will pay twenty thousand pounds, which he doesn't owe, to his sworn enemy, merely on a point of conscience?'
At the same time the old banker was sitting in his room at the bank, and Robert Bolton was with him. 'There cannot be a doubt of his guilt,' said Robert Bolton.
'No, no,—not a doubt.'
'But the jury may disagree?'
'What shall we do then?' said the banker.
'There must be another trial. We must go on till we get a verdict.'
'And Hester? What can we do for Hester?'
'She is very obstinate, and I fear we have no power. Even though she is declared not to be his wife, she can choose her own place of living. If he is convicted, I think that she would come back. Of course she ought to come back.'
'Of course, of course.'
'Old Caldigate, too, is very obstinate; but it may be that we should be able to persuade him. He will know that she ought to be with her mother.'
'Her poor mother! Her poor mother! And when he comes out of prison?'
'Her very nature will have been altered by that time,' said the attorney. 'She will, I trust, have consented before that to take up her residence under your roof.'
'I shall be dead,' said the old man. 'Disgrace and years together will have killed me before that time comes.'
The Smirkies were staying at Babington, and the desire for news there was very intent. Mr. Smirkie was full of thought on the matter, but was manifestly in favour of a conviction. 'Yes; the poor young woman is very much to be pitied,' he said, in answer to the squire, who had ventured to utter a word in favour of Hester. 'A young woman who falls into the hands of an evil man must always be pitied; but it is to prevent the evil men from preying upon the weaker sex that examples such as these are needed. When we think what might have been the case here, in this house, we have all of us a peculiar reason to be thankful for the interposition of divine Providence.' Here Mr. Smirkie made a little gesture of thanksgiving, thanking Heaven for its goodness to his wife in having given her himself. 'Julia, my love, you have a very peculiar reason to be thankful, and I trust you are so. Yes,—we must pity the poor young lady; but it will be well that the offender should be made subject to the outraged laws of his country.' Mrs. Smirkie, as she listened to these eloquent words, closed her eyes and hands in token of her thankfulness for all that Providence had done for her.
If she knew how to compare her condition with that of poor Hester at this time, she had indeed cause for thankfulness. Hester was alone with her baby, and with no information but what had been conveyed to her by her husband's letters. As she read the last of the two she acknowledged to herself that too probably she would not even see his handwriting again till the period of his punishment should have expired. And then? What would come then? Sitting alone, at the open window of her bed-room, with her boy on her lap, she endeavoured to realise her own position. She would be a mother, without a husband,—with her bastard child. However innocent he might be, such would be her position under the law. It did not suffice that they too should be man and wife as thoroughly as any whom God had joined together, if twelve men assembled together in a jury-box should say otherwise. She had told him that she would be brave;—but how should she be brave in such a condition as this? What should she do? How should she look forward to the time of his release? Could anything ever again give her back her husband and make him her own in the eyes of men? Could anything make men believe that he had always been her own, and that there had been no flaw? She had been very brave when they had attempted to confine her, to hold her by force at Chesterton. Then she had been made strong, had always been comforted, by opposition. The determination of her purpose to go back had supported her. But now,—how should it be with her now? and with her boy? and with him?
The old man was very good, good and eager in her cause, and would let her live at Folking. But what would they call her? When they wrote to her from Chesterton how would they address her letters? Never, never would she soil her fingers by touching a document that called her by any other name than her own. Yes, her own;—let all the jurymen in all the counties, let all the judges on the bench, say what they would to the contrary. Though it should be for all her life,—though there should never come the day on which they,—they,—the world at large would do him justice and her, though they should call her by what hard name they would, still up there, in the courts of her God, she would be his wife. She would be a pure woman there, and there would her child be without a stain. And here, here in this world, though she could never more be a wife in all things, she would be a wife in love, a wife in care, a wife in obedience, a wife in all godly truth. And though it would never be possible for her to show her face again among mankind, never for her, surely the world would be kinder to her boy! They would not begrudge him his name! And when it should be told how it had come to pass that there was a blot upon his escutcheon, they would not remind him of his mother's misery. But, above all, there should be no shade of doubt as to her husband. 'I know,' she said, speaking aloud, but not knowing that she spoke aloud, 'I know that he is my husband.' Then there was a knock at the door. 'Well; yes;—has it come? Do you know?'
No; nothing was known there at that moment, but in another minute all would be known. The wheels of the old Squire's carriage had been heard upon the gravel. 'No, ma'am, no; you shall not leave the room,' said the nurse. 'Stay here and let him come to you.'
'Is he alone?' she asked. But the woman did not know. The wheels of the carriage had only been heard.
Alas, alas! he was alone. His heart too had been almost broken as he bore the news home to the wife who was a wife no longer.
'Father!' she said, when she saw him.
'My daughter;—O my daughter!' And then, with their hands clasped together, they sat speechless and alone, while the news was spread through the household which the old man did not dare to tell to his son's wife.
It was very slowly that the actual tidings reached her ears. Mr. Caldigate, when he tried to tell them, found that the power of words had left him. Old as he was, and prone to cynic indifference as he had shown himself, he was affected almost like a young girl. He sobbed convulsively as he hung over her, embracing her. 'My daughter!' he said, 'my daughter! my daughter!'
But at last it was all told. Caldigate had been declared guilty, and the judge had condemned him to be confined to prison for two years. Judge Bramber had told him that, in his opinion, the jury could have found no other verdict; but he went on to say that, looking for some excuse for so terrible a deed as that which had been done,—so terrible for that poor lady who was now left nameless with a nameless infant,—he could imagine that the marriage, though legally solemnised, had nevertheless been so deficient in the appearances of solemnity as to have imbued the husband with the idea that it had not meant all that a marriage would have meant if celebrated in a church and with more of the outward appurtenances of religion. On that account he refrained from inflicting a severer penalty.
After the Verdict
When the verdict was given, Caldigate was at once marched round into the dock, having hitherto been allowed to sit in front of the dock between Mr. Seely and his father. But, standing in the dock, he heard the sentence pronounced upon him. 'I never married the woman, my lord,' he said, in a loud voice. But what he said could be of no avail. And then men looked at him as he disappeared with the jailers down the steps leading to regions below, and away to his prison, and they knew that he would no more be seen or heard of for two years. He had vanished. But there was the lady who was not his wife out at Folking,—the lady whom the jury had declared not to be his wife. What would become of her?
There was an old gentleman there in the court who had known Mr. Caldigate for many years,—one Mr. Ryder, who had been himself a practising barrister but had now retired. In those days they seldom saw each other; but, nevertheless, they were friends. 'Caldigate,' he said, 'you had better let her go back to her own people.'
'She shall stay with me,' he replied.
'Better not. Believe me, she had better not. If so, how will it be with her when he is released? The two years will soon go by, and then she will be in his house. If that woman should die, he might marry her,—but till then she had better be with her own people.'
'She shall stay with me,' the old man said again, repeating the words angrily, and shaking his head. He was so stunned by the blow that he could not argue the matter, but he knew that he had made the promise, and that he was resolved to abide by it.
She had better go back to her own people! All the world was saying it. She had no husband now. Everybody would respect her misfortune. Everybody would acknowledge her innocence. All would sympathise with her. All would love her. But she must go back to her own people. There was not a dissentient voice. 'Of course she must go back to you now,' Nicholas Bolton said to her father, and Nicholas Bolton seldom interfered in anything. 'The poor lady will of course be restored to her family,' the judge had said in private to his marshal, and the marshal had of course made known what the judge had said. On the next morning there came a letter from William Bolton to Robert. 'Of course Hester must come back now. Nothing else is possible.' Everybody decided that she must come back. It was a matter which admitted of no doubt. But how was she to be brought to Chesterton?
None of them who decided with so much confidence as to her future, understood her ideas of her position as a wife. 'I am bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh,' she said to herself, 'made so by a sacrament which no jury can touch. What matters what the people say? They may make me more unhappy than I am. They may kill me by their cruelty. But they cannot make me believe myself not to be his wife. And while I am his wife, I will obey him, and him only.'
What she called 'their cruelty' manifested itself very soon. The first person who came to her was Mrs. Robert Bolton, and her visit was made on the day after the verdict. When Hester sent down word begging to be permitted in her misery to decline to see even her sister-in-law, Mrs. Robert sent her up a word or two written in pencil—'My darling, whom have you nearer? Who loves you better than I?' Then the wretched one gave way, and allowed her brother's wife to be brought to her. She was already dressed from head to foot in black, and her baby was with her.
The arguments which Mrs. Robert Bolton used need not be repeated, but it may be said that the words she used were so tender, and that they were urged with so much love, so much sympathy, and so much personal approval, that Hester's heart was touched. 'But he is my husband,' Hester said. 'The judge cannot alter it; he is my husband.'
'I will not say a word to the contrary. But the law has separated you, and you should obey the law. You should not even eat his bread now, because—because—. Oh, Hester, you understand.'
'I do understand,' she said, rising to her feet in her energy, 'and I will eat his bread though it be hard, and I will drink of his cup though it be bitter. His bread and his cup shall be mine, and none other shall be mine. I do understand. I know that these wicked people have blasted my life. I know that I can be nothing to him now. But his child shall never be made to think that his mother had condemned his father. Yes, Margaret,' she said again, 'I do love you, and I do trust you, and I know that you love me. But you do not love him; you do not believe in him. If they came to you and took Robert away, would you go and live with other people? I do love papa and mamma. But this is his house, and he bids me stay here. The very clothes which I wear are his clothes. I am his; and though they were to cut me apart from him, still I should belong to him. No,—I will not go to mamma. Of course I have forgiven her, because she meant it for the best; but I will never go back to Chesterton.'
Then there came letters from the mother, one letter hot upon the other, all appealing to those texts in Scripture by which the laws of nations are supposed to be supported. 'Give unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's.' It was for the law to declare who were and who were not man and wife, and in this matter the law had declared. After this how could she doubt? Or how could she hesitate as to tearing herself away from the belongings of the man who certainly was not her husband? And there were dreadful words in these letters which added much to the agony of her who received them,—words which were used in order that their strength might prevail. But they had no strength to convert, though they had strength to afflict. Then Mrs. Bolton, who in her anxiety was ready to submit herself to any personal discomfort, prepared to go to Folking. But Hester sent back word that, in her present condition, she would see nobody,—not even her mother.
But it was not only from the family of the Boltons that these applications and entreaties came. Even Mr. Seely took upon himself to tell Mr. Caldigate that under existing circumstances Hester should not be detained at Folking.
'I do not know that either she or I want advice in the matter,' Mr. Caldigate replied. But as a stone will be worn hollow in time by the droppings of many waters, so was it thought that if all Cambridge would continue firm in its purpose, then this stone might at last be made to yield. The world was so anxious that it resolved among itself that it would submit to any amount of snubbing in carrying out its object. Even the mayor wrote. 'Dear Mr. Caldigate, greatly as I object to all interference in families, I think myself bound to appeal to you as to the unfortunate condition of that young lady from Chesterton.' Then followed all the arguments, and some of the texts,—both of which were gradually becoming hackneyed in the matter. Mr. Caldigate's answer to this was very characteristic: 'Dear Mr. Mayor, if you have an objection to interfere in families, why do you do it?' The mayor took the rebuke with placid good-humour, feeling that his little drop might also have done something towards hollowing the stone.
But of all the counsellors, perhaps Mr. Smirkie was the most zealous and the most trusting. He felt himself to be bound in a peculiar manner to Folking,—by double ties. Was not the clergyman of the parish the brother of his dear departed one? And with whom better could he hold sweet counsel? And then that second dear one, who had just been vouchsafed to him,—had she not as it were by a miracle been rescued from the fate into which the other poor lady had fallen, and obtained her present thoroughly satisfactory position? Mr. Smirkie was a clergyman who understood it to be his duty to be urgent for the good cause, in season and out of season, and who always did his duty. So he travelled over to Utterden and discussed the matter at great length with Mr. Bromley. 'I do believe in my heart,' said Mr. Bromley, 'that the verdict is wrong.' But Mr. Smirkie, with much eloquence, averred that that had nothing to do with the question. Mr. Bromley opened his eyes very wide. 'Nothing at all,' said Mr. Smirkie. 'It is the verdict of the jury, confirmed by the judge, and the verdict itself dissolves the marriage. Whether the verdict be wrong or right, that marriage ceremony is null and void. They are not man and wife;—not now, even if they ever were. Of course you are aware of that.'
Mr. Smirkie was altogether wrong in his law. Such men generally are. Mr. Bromley in vain endeavoured to point out to him that the verdict could have no such power as was here claimed for it, and that if any claim was to be brought up hereafter as to the legitimacy of the child, the fact of the verdict could only be used as evidence, and that that evidence would or would not be regarded as true by another jury, according to the views which that other jury might take. Mr. Smirkie would only repeat his statements with increased solemnity,—'That marriage is no marriage. That poor lady is not Mrs. John Caldigate. She is Miss Hester Bolton, and, therefore, every breath of air which she draws under that roof is a sin.' As he said this out upon the dike-side he looked about him with manifest regret that he had no other audience than his brother-in-law.
And at last, after much persevering assiduity, Mr. Smirkie succeeded in reaching Mr. Caldigate himself, and expressed himself with boldness. He was a man who had at any rate the courage of his opinions. 'You have to think of her future life in this world and in the next,' he said. 'And in the next,' he repeated with emphasis, when Mr. Caldigate paused.
'As to what will affect her happiness in this world, sir,' said the old man very gravely, 'I think you can hardly be a judge.'
'Good repute,' suggested the clergyman.
'Has she done anything that ought to lessen the fair fame of a woman in the estimation of other women? And as to the next world, in the rewards and punishments of which you presume it to be your peculiar duty to deal, has she done anything which you think will subject her to the special wrath of an offended Deity?' This question he asked with a vehemence of voice which astounded his companion. 'She has loved her husband with a peculiar love,' he continued. 'She has believed herself to be joined to him by ties which you shall call romantic, if you will,—superstitious, if you will.'
'I hope not,—I hope not,' said Mr. Smirkie, holding up both his hands, not at all understanding the old man's meaning, but intending to express horror at 'superstition,' which he supposed to be a peculiar attribute of the Roman Catholic branch of the Christian Church. 'Not that I hope.'
'I cannot fathom, and you, apparently, cannot at all understand, her idea of the sanctity of the marriage vow. But if you knew anything about her, I think you would refrain from threatening her with divine wrath; and as you know nothing about her, I regard such threats, coming from you, as impertinent, unmanly, inhuman, and blasphemous.' Mr. Caldigate had commenced this conversation, though vehemently, still in so argumentative a manner, and in his allusions to the lady's romantic and superstitious ideas had seemed to yield so much, that the terrible vigour of his last words struck the poor clergyman almost to the ground. One epithet came out after another, very clearly spoken, with a pause between each of them; and the speaker, as he uttered them, looked his victim close in the face. Then he walked slowly away, leaving Mr. Smirkie fixed to the ground. What had he done? He had simply made a gentle allusion to the next world, as, surely, it was his duty to do. Whether this old pagan did or did not believe in a next world himself, he must at any rate be aware that it is the peculiar business of a clergyman to make such references. As to 'impertinent' and 'unmanly,' he would let them go by. He was, he conceived, bound by his calling to be what people called impertinent, and manliness had nothing to do with him. But 'inhuman' and blasphemous!' Why had he come all the way over from Plum-cum-Pippins, at considerable personal expense, except in furtherance of that highest humanity which concerns itself with eternity? And as for blasphemy, it might, he thought, as well be said that he was blasphemous whenever he read the Bible aloud to his flock! His first idea was to write an exhaustive letter on the subject to Mr. Caldigate, in which he would invite that gentleman to recall the offensive words. But as he drove his gig into the parsonage yard at Plum-cum-Pippins, he made up his mind that this, too, was among the things which a Christian minister should bear with patience.
But the dropping water always does hollow the stone,—hollow it a little though the impression may not be visible to the naked eye. Even when rising in his wrath, Mr. Caldigate had crushed the clergyman by the violence of his language,—having been excited to anger chiefly by the thick-headedness of the man in not having understood the rebuke intended to be conveyed by his earlier and gentler words,—even when leaving the man, with a full conviction that the man was crushed, the old Squire was aware that he, the stone, was being gradually hollowed. Hester was now very dear to him. From the first she had suited his ideas of a wife for his son. And her constancy in her misery had wound itself into his heart. He quite understood that her welfare should now be his great care. There was no one else from whom she would listen to a word of advice. From her husband, whose slightest word would have been a law to her, no word could now come. From her own family she was entirely estranged, having been taught to regard them simply as enemies in this matter. She loved her mother; but in this matter her mother was her declared enemy. His voice, and his voice alone, could now reach her ears. As to that great hereafter to which the clergyman had so flippantly alluded, he was content to leave that to herself. Much as he differed from her as to details of a creed, he felt sure that she was safe there. To his thinking, she was the purest human being that had ever come beneath his notice. Whatever portion of bliss there may be for mankind in a life after this life, the fullest portion of that bliss would be hers, whether by reason of her creed or in spite of it. Accustomed to think much of things, it was thus that he thought of her in reference to the world to come. But as to this world, he was not quite so sure. If she could die and have that other bliss at once, that would be best,—only for the child, only for the child! But he did doubt. Would it do for her to ignore that verdict altogether, when his son should be released from jail, and be to him as though there had been no verdict? Would not the finger of scorn be pointed at her;—and, as he thought of it,—possibly at future children? Might it not be better for her to bow to the cruelty of Fate, and consent to be apart from him at any rate while that woman should be alive? And again, if such would be better, then was it not clear that no time should be lost in beginning that new life? If at last it should be ruled that she must go back to her mother, it would certainly be well that she should do so now, at once, so that people might know that she had yielded to the verdict. In this way the stone was hollowed—though the hollowing had not been made visible to the naked eye of Mr. Smirkie.
He was a man whose conscience did not easily let him rest when he believed that a duty was incumbent on him. It was his duty now, he thought, not to bid her go, not to advise her to go,—but to put before her what reasons there might be for her going.
'I am telling you,' he said, 'what other people say.'
'I do not regard what other people say.'
'That might be possible for a man, Hester, but a woman has to regard what the world says. You are young, and may have a long life before you. We cannot hide from ourselves the fact that a most terrible misfortune has fallen upon you, altogether undeserved but very grievous.'
'God, when he gave me my husband,' she replied, 'did me more good than any man can do me harm by taking him away. I never cease to tell myself that the blessing is greater than the misfortune.'
'But, my dearest——'
'I know it all, father. I know what you would tell me. If I live here after he comes out of prison people will say that I am his mistress.'
'Not that, not that,' he cried, unable to bear the contumely of the word, even from her lips.
'Yes, father; that is what you mean. That is what they all mean. That is what mamma means, and Margaret. Let them call me what they will. It is not what they call me, but what I am. It is bad for a woman to have evil said of her, but it is worse for her to do evil. It is your house, and you, of course, can bid me go.'
'I will never do that.'
'But unless I am turned out homeless on to the roads, I will stay here where he left me. I have only one sure way of doing right, and that is to obey him as closely as I can. He cannot order me now, but he has left his orders. He has told me to remain under this roof, and to call myself by his name, and in no way to derogate from my own honour as his wife. By God's help I will do as he bids me. Nothing that any of them can say shall turn me an inch from the way he has pointed out. You are good to me.'
'I will try to be good to you.'
'You are so good to me that I can hardly understand your goodness. Trusting to that, I will wait here till he shall come again and tell me where and how I am to live.'
After that the old Squire made no further attempt in the same direction, finding that no slightest hollow had been made on that other stone.
The Boltons Are Much Troubled
The condition of the inhabitants of Puritan Grange during the six weeks immediately after the verdict was very sad indeed. I have described badly the character of the lady living there, if I have induced my readers to think that her heart was hardened against her daughter. She was a woman of strong convictions and bitter prejudices; but her heart was soft enough. When she married, circumstances had separated her widely from her own family, in which she had never known either a brother or a sister; and the burden of her marriage with an old man had been brightened to her by the possession of an only child,—of one daughter, who had been the lamp of her life, the solitary delight of her heart, the single relief to the otherwise solitary tedium of her monotonous existence. She had, indeed attended to the religious training of her girl with constant care;—but the yearnings of her maternal heart had softened even her religion, so that the laws, and dogmas, and texts, and exercises by which her husband was oppressed, and her servants afflicted, had been made lighter for Hester,—sometimes not without pangs of conscience on the part of the self-convicted parent. She had known, as well as other mothers, how to gloat over the sweet charms of the one thing which in all the world had been quite her own. She had revelled in kisses and soft touches. Her Hester's garments had been a delight to her, till she had taught herself to think that though sackcloth and ashes were the proper wear for herself and her husband, nothing was too soft, too silken, too delicate for her little girl. The roses in the garden, and the goldfish in the bowl, and the pet spaniel, had been there because such surroundings had been needed for the joyousness of her girl. And the theological hardness of the literature of the house had been somewhat mitigated as Hester grew into reading, so that Watt was occasionally relieved by Wordsworth, and Thomson's 'Seasons' was alternated with George Withers's 'Hallelujah.'
Then had come, first the idea of the marriage, and, immediately consequent upon the idea, the marriage itself. The story of that has been told, but the reader has perhaps hardly been made to understand the utter bereavement which it brought on the mother. It is natural that the adult bird should delight to leave the family nest, and that the mother bird should have its heart-strings torn by the separation. It must be so, alas! even when the divulsions are made in the happiest manner. But here the tearing away had nothing in it to reconcile the mother. She was suddenly told that her daughter was to be no longer her own. Her step-son had interfered and her husband had become powerful over her with a sudden obstinacy. She had had no hand in the choice. She would fain have postponed any choice, and would then fain have herself made the choice. But a man was brought who was distasteful to her at all points, and she was told that that man was to have her daughter! He was thoroughly distasteful He had been a spendthrift and a gambler;—then a seeker after gold in wild, godless countries, and, to her thinking, not at all the better because he had been a successful seeker. She believed the man to be an atheist. She was told that his father was an infidel, and was ready to believe the worst of the son. And yet in this terrible emergency she was powerless. The girl was allowed to see the man, and declared almost at once that she would transfer herself from her mother's keeping to the keeping of this wicked one! She was transferred, and the mother had been left alone.
Then came the blow,—very quickly, the blow which, as she now told herself morning, noon, and night, was no worse than she had expected. Another woman claimed the man as her husband, and so claimed him that the world all around her had declared that the claim would be made good. And the man himself had owned enough to make him unfit,—as she thought,—to have the custody of any honest woman. Then she acknowledged to herself the full weight of the misfortune that had fallen upon them,—the misfortune which never would have fallen upon them had they listened to her counsel,—and she had immediately put her shoulders to the wheel with the object of rescuing her child from the perils, from the sin, from the degradation of her position. And could she have rescued her, could she have induced her daughter to remain at Puritan Grange, there would even then have been consolation. It was one of the tenets of her life,—the strongest, perhaps, of all those doctrines on which she built her faith,—that this world is a world of woe; that wailing and suffering, if not gnashing of teeth, is and should be the condition of mankind preparatory to eternal bliss. For eternal bliss there could, she thought, be no other preparation She did not want to be happy here, or to have those happy around her whom she loved. She had stumbled and gone astray,—she told herself hourly now that she had stumbled and gone astray,—in preparing those roses and ribbons, and other lightnesses for her young girl. It should have been all sackcloth and ashes. Had it been all sackcloth and ashes there would not have been this terrible fall. But if the loved one would now come back to sackcloth and ashes,—if she would assent to the blackness of religious asceticism, to penitence and theological gloom, and would lead the life of the godly but comfortless here in order that she might insure the glories and joys of the future life, then there might be consolation;—then it might be felt that this tribulation had been a precious balm by which an erring soul had been brought back to its due humility.
But Wordsworth and Thomson, though upon the whole moral poets, had done their work. Or, if not done altogether by them, the work had been done by the latitude which had admitted them. So that the young wife, when she found herself breathing the free air with which her husband surrounded her, was able to burst asunder the remnants of those cords of fanaticism with which her mother had endeavoured to constrain her. She looked abroad, and soon taught herself to feel that the world was bright and merry, that this mortal life was by no means necessarily a place of gloom, and the companionship of the man to whom Providence had allotted her was to her so happy, so enjoyable, so sufficient, that she found herself to have escaped from a dark prison and to be roaming among shrubs and flowers, and running waters, which were ever green, which never faded, and the music of which was always in her ears. When the first tidings of Euphemia Smith came to Folking she was in all her thoughts and theories of life poles asunder from her mother. There might be suffering and tribulation,—suffering even to death. But her idea of the manner in which the suffering should be endured and death awaited was altogether opposed to that which was hot within her mother's bosom.
But not the less did the mother still pray, still struggle, and still hope. They, neither of them, quite understood each other, but the mother did not at all understand the daughter. She, the mother, knew what the verdict had been, and was taught to believe that by that verdict the very ceremony of her daughter's marriage had been rendered null and void. It was in vain that the truth of the matter came to her from Robert Bolton, diluted through the vague explanations of her husband. 'It does not alter the marriage, Robert says.' So it was that the old man told his tale, not perfectly understanding, not even quite believing, what his son had told him.
'How can he dare to say so?' demanded the indignant mother of the injured woman. 'Not alter the marriage when the jury have declared that the other woman is his wife! In the eyes of God she is not his wife. That cannot be imputed as sin to her,—not that,—because she did it not knowing. She, poor innocent, was betrayed. But now that she knows it, every mouthful that she eats of his bread is a sin.'
'It is the old man's bread,' said this older man, weakly.
'What matter? It is the bread of adultery.' It may certainly be said that at this time Mrs. Bolton herself would have been relieved from none of her sufferings by any new evidence which would have shown that Crinkett and the others had sworn falsely. Though she loved her daughter dearly, though her daughter's misery made her miserable, yet she did not wish to restore the husband to the wife. Any allusion to a possibility that the verdict had been a mistaken verdict was distasteful to her. Her own original opinion respecting Caldigate had been made good by the verdict. The verdict had proved her to be right, and her husband with all his sons to have been wrong. The triumph had been very dark to her; but still it had been a triumph. It was to her an established fact that John Caldigate was not her daughter's husband and therefore she was anxious, not to rehabilitate her daughter's position, but to receive her own miserable child once more beneath the shelter of her own wing. That they two might pray together, struggle together, together wear their sackcloth and ashes, and together console themselves with their hopes of eternal joys, while they shuddered, not altogether uncomfortably, at the torments prepared for others,—this was now the only outlook in which she could find a gleam of satisfaction; and she was so assured of the reasonableness of her wishes, so convinced that the house of her parents was now the only house in which Hester could live without running counter to the precepts of her own religion, and counter also to the rules of the wicked outside world, that she could not bring herself to believe but that she would succeed at last. Merely to ask her child to come, to repeat the invitation, and then to take a refusal, was by no means sufficient for her energy. She had failed grievously when she had endeavoured to make her daughter a prisoner at the Grange. After such an attempt as that, it could hardly be thought that ordinary invitations would be efficacious. But when that attempt had been made, it was possible that Hester should justify herself by the law. According to law she had then been Caldigate's wife. There had been some ground for her to stand upon as a wife, and as a wife she had stood upon it very firmly. But now there was not an inch of ground. The man had been convicted as a bigamist, and the other woman, the first woman, had been proved to be his wife. Mrs. Bolton had got it into her head that the two had been dissevered as though by some supernal power; and no explanation to the contrary, brought to her by her husband from Robert, had any power of shaking her conviction. It was manifest to all men and to all women, that she who had been seduced, betrayed, and sacrificed should now return with her innocent babe to the protection of her father's roof; and no stone must be left unturned till the unfortunate one had been made to understand her duty.
The old banker in these days had not a good time, nor, indeed, had the Boltons generally. Mrs. Bolton, though prone to grasp at power on every side, was apt, like some other women who are equally grasping, to expect almost omnipotence from the men around her when she was desirous that something should be done by them in accordance with her own bidding. Knowing her husband to be weak from age and sorrow, she could still jeer at him because he was not abnormally strong; and though her intercourse with his sons and their families was now scanty and infrequent, still by a word here and a line there she could make her reproaches felt by them all. Robert, who saw his father every day, heard very much of them. Daniel was often stung, and even Nicholas. And the reproaches reached as far as William, the barrister up in London.
'I am sure I don't know what we can do,' said the miserable father, sitting huddled up in his arm-chair one evening towards the end of August. It was very hot, but the windows were closed because he could not bear a draught, and he was somewhat impatiently waiting for the hour of prayers which were antecedent to bed, where he could be silent even if he could not sleep.
'There are five of you. One should be at the house every day to tell her of her duty.'
'I couldn't go.'
'They could go,—if they cared. If they cared they would go. They are her brothers.'
'Mr. Caldigate would not let them enter the house,' said the old man.
'Do you mean that he would separate her from her brother and her parents?'
'Not if she wished to see them. She is her own mistress, and he will abet her in whatever she may choose to do. That is what Robert says.'
'And what Robert says is to be law?'
'He knows what he is talking about.' Mr. Bolton as he said this shook his head angrily, because he was fatigued.
'And he is to be your guide even when your daughter's soul is in jeopardy?' This was the line of argument in reference to which Mr. Bolton always felt himself to be as weak as water before his wife. He did not dare to rebel against her religious supremacy, not simply because he was a weak old man in presence of a strong woman, but from fear of denunciation. He, too, believed her creed, though he was made miserable by her constant adherence to it. He believed, and would fain have let that suffice. She believed, and endeavoured to live up to her belief. And so it came to pass that when she spoke to him of his own soul, of the souls of those who were dear to him, or even of souls in general, he was frightened and paralysed. He had more than once attempted to reply with worldly arguments, but had suffered so much in the encounter that he had learned to abstain. 'I cannot believe that she would refuse to see us. I shall go myself; but if we all went we should surely persuade her.' In answer to this the poor man only groaned, till the coming in of the old servant to arrange the chairs and put the big Bible on the table relieved him from something of his misery.
'I certainly will not interfere,' Robert Bolton said to his father on the next morning. 'I will not go to Folking, because I am sure that I should do no good. Hester, no doubt, would be better at your house,—much better. There is nothing I would not do to get her back from the Caldigates altogether,—if there was a chance of success. But we have no power;—none whatever.'
'No power at all,' said the banker, shaking his head, and feeling some satisfaction at the possession of an intelligible word which he could quote to his wife.
'She is controller of her own actions as completely as are you and I. We have already seen how inefficacious with her are all attempts at persuasion. And she knows her position. If he were out of prison to-morrow he would be her husband.'
'But he has another wife.'
'Of that the civil law knows nothing. If money were coming to her he could claim it, and the verdict against him would only be evidence, to be taken for what it was worth. It would have been all very well had she wished to sever herself from him; but as she is determined not to do so, any interference would be useless.' The question as to the marriage or no marriage was not made quite clear to the banker's mind, but he did understand that neither he, nor his wife, nor his sons had 'any power,' and of that argument he was determined to make use.
William, the barrister in London, was induced to write a letter, a very lengthy and elaborate epistle having come from Mrs. Bolton to his wife, in which the religious duty of all the Boltons was set forth in strong language, and in which he was incited to do something. It was almost the first letter which Mrs. William Bolton had ever received from her step-mother, whatever trifling correspondence there might have been between them having been of no consequence. They, too, felt that it would be better that Hester should return to her old home, but felt also that they had no power. 'Of course, she won't,' said Mrs. William.
'She has a will of her own,' said the barrister.
'Why should she? Think of the gloom of that home at Chesterton, and her absolute independence at Folking. No doubt it would be better. The position is so frightful that even the gloom would be better. But she won't. We all know that.'
The barrister, however, feeling that it would be better, thought that he should perform his duty by expressing his opinion, and wrote a letter to Hester, which was intended to be if possible persuasive;—and this was the answer:—
'DEAR WILLIAM,—If you were carried away to prison on some horrible false accusation, would Fanny go away from you, and desert your house and your affairs, and return to her parents? You ask her, and ask her whether she would believe anything that anybody could say against you. If they told her that her children were nameless, would she agree to make them so by giving up your name? Wouldn't she cling to you the more, the more all the world was against you?' ('I would,' said Fanny, with tearful energy. 'Fanny' was, of course, Mrs. William Bolton, and was the happy mother of five nearly grown-up sons and daughters, and certainly stood in no peril as to her own or their possession of the name of Bolton. The letter was being read aloud to her by her husband, whose mind was also stirred in his sister's favour by the nature of the arguments used.) 'If so,' continued the writer, 'why shouldn't I be the same? I don't believe a word the people said. I am sure I am his wife. And as, when he was taken away from me, he left a house for his wife and child to live in, I shall continue to live in it.
'All the same, I know you mean to be good to me. Give my best love to Fanny, and believe me your affectionate sister,
In every letter and stroke of the name as she wrote it there was an assertion that she claimed it as her own, and that she was not ashamed of it.
'Upon my word,' said Mrs. William Bolton, through her tears, 'I am beginning to think that she is almost right.' There was so much of conjugal proper feeling in this that the husband could only kiss his wife and leave her without further argument on the matter.
'No power at all; none whatever,' the banker said, when he was next compelled to carry on the conversation. This was immediately upon his return home from Cambridge, for his wife never allowed the subject to be forgotten or set aside. Every afternoon and every evening it was being discussed at all hours not devoted to prayers, and every morning it was renewed at the breakfast-table.
'That comes from Robert.' Mr. Bolton was not able to deny the assertion. 'What does he mean by "no power"?'
'We can't make her do it. The magistrates can't interfere.'
'Magistrates! Has it been by the interference of magistrates that men have succeeded in doing great things? Was it by order from the magistrates that the lessons of Christ have been taught over all the world? Is there no such thing as persuasion? Has truth no power? Is she more deaf to argument and eloquence than another?'
'She is very deaf, I think,' said the father, doubting his own eloquence.
'It is because no one has endeavoured to awaken her by burning words to a true sense of her situation When she said this she must surely have forgotten much that had occurred during those weary hours which had been passed by her and her daughter outside there in the hall. 'No power!' she repeated. 'It is the answer always made by those who are too sleepy to do the Lord's work. It was because men said that they had no power that the grain fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth. It is that aversion to face difficulties which causes the broad path to be crowded with victims. I, at any rate, will go. I may have no power, but I will make the attempt.'
Soon after that she did make the attempt. Mr. Bolton, though he was assured by Robert that such an attempt would produce no result, could not interfere to prevent it. Had he been far stronger than he was in his own house, he could hardly have forbidden the mother to visit the daughter. Hester had sent word to say that she did not wish to see even her mother. But this had been immediately after the verdict, when she was crushed and almost annihilated by her misery. Some weeks had now passed by, and it could not be that she would refuse to admit the visitor, when such a visitor knocked at her door. They had loved each other as mothers and daughters do love when there is no rival in the affection,—when each has no one else to love. There never had been a more obedient child, or a more loving parent. Much, no doubt, had happened since to estrange the daughter from the mother. A husband had been given to her who was more to her than any parent,—as a husband should be. And then there had been that terrible opposition, that struggle, that battle in the hall. But the mother's love had never waned because of that. She was sure that her child would not refuse to see her.
So the fly was ordered to take her out to Folking, and on the morning fixed she dressed herself in her blackest black. She always wore brown or black,—brown being the colour suitable for the sober and sad domesticities of her week-days, which on ceremonies and Sabbath was changed for a more solemn black. But in her wardrobe there were two such gowns, one of which was apparently blacker than the other, nearer to a guise of widowhood,—more fit, at any rate, for general funereal obsequies. There are women who seem always to be burying someone; and Mrs. Bolton, as she went forth to visit her daughter, was fit to bury any one short of her husband.
It was a hot day in August, and the fly travelled along the dusty road very slowly. She had intended to reach Folking at twelve, so that her interview might be over and that she might return without the need of eating. There is always some idea of festivity connected with food eaten at a friend's table, and she did not wish to be festive. She was, too, most unwilling to partake of John Caldigate's bread. But she did not reach the house till one, and when she knocked at the door Hester's modest lunch was about to be put upon the table.
There was considerable confusion when the servant saw Mrs. Bolton standing in the doorway. It was quite understood by everyone at Folking that for the present there was to be no intercourse between the Boltons and the Caldigates. It was understood that there should be no visitors of any kind at Folking, and it had been thought that Mr. Smirkie had forced an entrance in an impertinent manner. But yet it was not possible to send Mrs. Bolton from her own daughter's door with a mere 'not at home.' Of course she was shown in,—and was taken to the parlour, in which the lunch was prepared, while word was taken up to Hester announcing that her mother was there.
Mr. Caldigate was in the house,—in his own book-room, as it used to be called,—and Hester went to him first. 'Mamma is here,—in the dining-room.'
'I long to see mamma.'
'Of course you do.'
'But she will want me to go away with her.'
'She cannot take you unless you choose to go.'
'But she will speak of nothing else. I know it. I wish she had not come.'
'Surely, Hester, you can make her understand that your mind is made up.'
'Yes, I shall do that. I must do that. But, father, it will be very painful. You do not know what things she can say. It nearly killed me when I was at the Grange. You will not see her, I suppose?'
'If you wish it, I will. She will not care to see me; and as things are at present, what room is there for friendship?'
'You will come if I send for you?'
'Certainly. If you send for me I will come at once.'
Then she crept slowly out of the room, and very slowly and very silently made her way to the parlour-door. Though she was of a strong nature, unusually strong of heart and fixed of purpose, now her heart misgave her. That terrible struggle, with all its incidents of weariness and agony, was present to her mind. Her mother could not turn the lock on her now; but, as she had said, it would be very dreadful. Her mother would say words to her which would go through her like swords. Then she opened the door, and for a moment there was the sweetness of an embrace. There was a prolonged tenderness in the kiss which, even to Mrs. Bolton, had a charm for the moment to soften her spirit. 'Oh, mamma; my own mamma!'
'Yes, mamma;—every day when I pray for you I tell myself that I am still your child,—I do.'
'My only one! my only one!—all that I have!' Then again they were in each other's arms. Yet, when they had last met, one had been the jailer, and the other the prisoner; and they had fought it out between them with a determined obstinacy which at moments had almost amounted to hatred. But now the very memory of these sad hours increased their tenderness. 'Hester, through it all, do you not know that my heart yearns for you day and night?—that in my prayers I am always remembering you? that my dreams are happy because you are with me? that I am ever longing for you as Ruth longed for Naomi? I am as Rachel weeping for her children, who would not be comforted because they are not. Day and night my heart-strings are torn asunder because my eyes behold you not.'
It was true,—and the daughter knew it to be true. But what could be done? There had grown up something for her, holier, greater, more absorbing even than a mother's love. Happily for most young wives, though the new tie may surmount the old one, it does not crush it or smother it. The mother retains a diminished hold, and knowing what nature has intended is content. She, too, with some subsidiary worship, kneels at the new altar, and all is well. But here, though there was abundant love, there was no sympathy. The cause of discord was ever present to them both. Unless John Caldigate was acknowledged to be a fitting husband, not even the mother could be received with a full welcome. And unless John Caldigate were repudiated, not even the daughter could be accepted as altogether pure. Parental and filial feelings sufficed for nothing between them beyond the ecstasy of a caress.
As Hester was standing mute, still holding her mother's hand, the servant came to the door, and asked whether she would have her lunch.
'You will stay and eat with me, mamma? But you will come up to my room first?'
'I will go up to your room, Hester.'
'Then we will have our lunch,' Hester said, turning to the servant. So the two went together to the upper chamber, and in a moment the mother had fetched her baby, and placed it in her mother's arms.
'I wish he were at the Grange,' said Mrs. Bolton. Then Hester shook her head; but feeling the security of her position, left the baby with its grandmother. 'I wish he were at the Grange. It is the only fitting home for him at present.'
'No, mamma; that cannot be.'
'It should be so, Hester. It should be so.'
'Pray do not speak of it, dear mamma.'
'Have I not come here on purpose that I might speak of it? Sweet as it is to me to have you in my arms, do you not know that I have come for that purpose,—for that only?'
'It cannot be so.'
'I will not take such an answer, Hester. I am not here to speak of pleasure or delights,—not to speak of sweet companionship, or even of a return to that more godly life which, I think, you would find in your father's house. Had not this ruin come, unhappy though I might have been, and distrustful, I should not have interfered. Those whom God has joined together, let not man put asunder.'
'It is what I say to myself every hour. God has joined us, and no man, no number of men, shall put us asunder.'
'But, my own darling,—God has not joined you! When he pretended to be joined to you, he had a wife then living,—still living.'
'Will you set up your own opinion against evidence which the jury has believed, which the judge has believed, which all the world has believed?'
'Yes, I will,' said Hester, the whole nature of whose face was now altered, and who looked as she did when sitting in the hall-chair at Puritan Grange,—'I will. Though I were almost to know that he had been false, I should still believe him to be true.'
'I cannot understand that, Hester.'
'But I know him to be true,—quite true,' she said, wishing to erase the feeling which her unguarded admission had made. 'Not to believe him to have been true would be death to me; and for my boy's sake, I would wish to live. But I have no doubt, and I will listen to no one,—not even to you, when you tell me that God did not join us together.'
'You cannot go behind the law, Hester. As a citizen, you must obey the law.'
'I will live here,—as a citizen,—till he has been restored to me.'
'But he will not then be your husband. People will not call you by his name. He cannot have two wives. She will be his wife. Oh, Hester, have you thought of it?'
'I have thought of it,' she said, raising her face, looking upwards through the open window, out away towards the heavens, and pressing her foot firmly upon the floor. 'I have thought of it,—very much; and I have asked—the Lord—for counsel. And He has given it me. He has told me what to believe, what to know, and how to live. I will never again lie with my head upon his bosom unless all that be altered. But I will serve him as his wife, and obey him; and if I can I will comfort him. I will never desert him. And not all the laws that were ever made, nor all the judges that ever sat in judgment shall make me call myself by another name than his.'
The mother had come there to speak burning words, and she had in some sort prepared them; but now she found herself almost silenced by the energy of her daughter. And when her girl told her that she had applied to her God for counsel, and that the Lord had answered her prayers—that the Lord had directed her as to her future life,—then the mother hardly knew how to mount to higher ground, so as to seem to speak from a more exalted eminence. And yet she was not at all convinced. That the Lord should give bad counsel she knew to be impossible. That the Lord would certainly give good counsel to such a suppliant, if asked aright, she was quite sure. But they who send others to the throne of heaven for direct advice are apt to think that the asking will not be done aright unless it be done with their spirit and their bias,—with the spirit and bias which they feel when they recommend the operation. No one has ever thought that direct advice from the Lord was sufficient authority for the doing of that of which he himself disapproved. It was Mrs. Bolton's daily custom to kneel herself and ask for such counsel, and to enjoin such asking upon all those who were subject to her influence. But had she been assured by some young lady to whom she had recommended the practice that heavenly warrant had thus been secured for balls and theatres, she would not have scrupled to declare that the Lord had certainly not been asked aright. She was equally certain of some defalcation now. She did not doubt that Hester had done as she had said. That the prayer had been put up with energetic fervour, she was sure. But energetic fervour in prayer was, she thought, of no use,—nay, was likely to be most dangerous, when used in furtherance of human prepossessions and desires. Had Hester said her prayers with a proper feeling of self-negation,—in that religious spirit which teaches the poor mortal here on earth to know that darkness and gloom are safer than mirth and comfort,—then the Lord would have told her to leave Folking, to go back to Puritan Grange, and to consent once more to be called Hester Bolton. This other counsel had not come from the Lord,—had come only from Hester's own polluted heart. But she was not at the moment armed with words sufficiently strong to explain all this.