John Caldigate, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter XLVI

Burning Words

‘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.’

‘Your mother!’

‘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!’

‘My child!’

‘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.’

‘No.’

‘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.

‘Hester,’ she said, ‘does not all this mean that your own proud spirit is to have a stronger dominion over you than the experience and wisdom of all your friends?’

‘Perhaps it does. But, at any rate, my proud spirit will retain its pride.’

‘You will be obstinate?’

‘Certainly I will. Nothing on earth shall make me leave this house till I am told by its owner to go.’

‘Who is its owner? Old Mr. Caldigate is its owner.’

‘I hardly know. Though John has explained it again and again, I am so bad at such things that I am not sure. But I can do what I please with it. I am the mistress here. As you say that the Grange is your house, I can say that this is mine. It is the abode appointed for me, and here I will abide.’

‘Then, Hester, I can only tell you that you are sinning. It is a heavy, grievous, and most obvious sin.’

‘Dear mother — dear mamma; I knew how it would be if you came. It is useless for me to say more. Were I to go away, that to me would be the sin. Why should we discuss it any more? There comes a time to all of us when we must act on our own responsibility. My husband is in prison, and cannot personally direct me. No doubt I could go, were I so pleased. His father would not hinder me, though he is most unwilling that I should go. I must judge a little for myself. But I have his judgment to fall back upon. He told me to stay, and I shall stay.’

Then there was a pause, during which Mrs. Bolton was thinking of her burning words — was remembering the scorn with which she had treated her husband when he told her that they had ‘no power.’ She had endeavoured herself not to be sleepy in doing the Lord’s work. But her seed, too, had fallen upon stony places. She was powerless to do, or even to say, anything further. ‘Then I may go,’ she muttered.

‘You will come and eat with me, mamma?’

‘No, my dear — no.’

‘You do not wish that there should be a quarrel?’

‘There is very much, Hester, that I do not wish. I have long ceased to trust much to any wishes. There is a great gulf between us, and I will not attempt to bridge it by the hollow pretence of sitting at table with you. I will still pray that you may be restored to me.’ Then she went to the door.

‘Mamma, you will kiss me before you go?’

‘I will cover you with kisses when you return to your own home.’ But in spite of this, Hester went down with her into the hall, holding by her raiment; and as Mrs. Bolton got into the fly, she did succeed in kissing her mother’s hand.

‘She has gone,’ said Hester, going to her father-in-law’s room. ‘Though I was so glad to see her, I wish she had not come. When people think so very, very differently on a matter which is so very, very important, it is better that they should not meet, let them love each other ever so.’

As far as Hester and Mr. Caldigate were concerned the visit had in truth been made without much inconvenience. There had been no absolute violence — no repetition of such outward quarrelling as had made those two days at the Grange so memorable. There was almost a feeling of relief in Hester’s bosom when her mother was driven away after that successful grasp at the parting hand. Though they had differed much, they had not hated each other during that last half-hour. Hester had been charged with sin; — which, however, had been a matter of course. But in Mrs. Bolton’s heart there was a feeling which made her return home very uncomfortable. Having twitted her husband with his lack of power, she had been altogether powerless herself; and now she was driven to confess to herself that no further step could be taken. ‘She is obstinate,’ she said to her husband — ‘stiff-necked in her sin, as are all determined sinners. I can say no more to her. It may be that the Lord will soften her heart when her sorrows have endured yet for a time.’ But she said no more of burning words, or of eloquence, or of the slackness of the work of those who work as though they were not in earnest.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 18:43