John Caldigate, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter LVII

Squire Caldigate at the Home Office

When October came no information from the Secretary of State’s office had yet reached Folking, and the two inhabitants there were becoming almost despondent as well as impatient. There was nobody with whom they could communicate. Sir John Joram had been obliged to answer a letter from the squire by saying that, as soon as there was anything to tell the tidings would assuredly be communicated to him from the Home Office. The letter had seemed to be cold and almost uncivil; but Sir John had in truth said all that he could say. To raise hopes which, after all, might be fallacious, would have been, on his part, a great fault. Nor, in spite of his bet, was he very sanguine, sharing his friend Honybun’s opinion as to Judge Bramber’s obstinacy. And there was a correspondence between the elder Caldigate and the Home Office, in which the letters from the squire were long and well argued, whereas the replies, which always came by return of post, were short and altogether formal. Some assistant under-secretary would sign his name at the end of three lines, in which the correspondent was informed that as soon as the matter was settled the result would be communicated.

Who does not know the sense of aggravated injustice which comes upon a sufferer when redress for an acknowledged evil is delayed? The wronged one feels that the whole world must be out of joint in that all the world does not rise up in indignation. So it was with the old squire, who watched Hester’s cheek becoming paler day by day, and who knew by her silence that the strong hopes which in his presence had been almost convictions were gradually giving way to a new despair. Then he would abuse the Secretary of State, say hard things of the Queen, express his scorn as to the fatuous absurdities of the English law, and would make her understand by his anger that he also was losing hope.

During these days preparations were being made for the committal of Crinkett and Euphemia Smith, nor would Judge Bramber report to the Secretary till he was convinced that there was sufficient evidence for their prosecution. It was not much to him that Caldigate should spend another week in prison. The condition of Hester did not even come beneath his ken. When he found allusion to it in the papers before him, he treated it as a matter which should not have been adduced — in bringing which under his notice there had been something akin to contempt of court, as though an endeavour had been made to talk him over in private. He knew his own character, and was indignant that such an argument should have been used with himself. He was perhaps a little more slow — something was added to his deliberation — because he was told that a young wife and an infant child were anxiously expecting the liberation of the husband and father. It was not as yet clear to Judge Bramber that the woman had any such husband, or that the child could claim his father.

At this crisis, when the first weeks in October had dragged themselves tediously along, Mr. Caldigate, in a fit which was half rage and half moodiness, took himself off to London. He did not tell Hester that he was going till the morning on which he started, and then simply assured her that she should hear from him by every post till he returned.

‘You will tell me the truth, father.’

‘If I know it myself, I will tell you.’

‘But you will conceal nothing?’

‘No; — I will conceal nothing. If I find that they are all utterly unjust, altogether hard-hearted, absolutely indifferent to the wrong they have done, I will tell you even that.’ And thus he went.

He had hardly any fixed purpose in going. He knew that Sir John Joram was not in London, and that if he were in town he ought not to be made subject to visits on behalf of clients. To call upon any judge in such a matter would be altogether out of place, but to call upon such a judge as Judge Bramber would be very vain indeed. He had in his head some hazy idea of forcing an answer from the officials in Downing Street; but in his heart he did not believe that he should be able to get beyond the messengers. He was one of a class, not very small in numbers, who, from cultivating within their bosom a certain tendency towards suspicion, have come to think that all Government servants are idle, dilatory, supercilious and incompetent. That some of these faults may have existed among those who took wages from the Crown in the time of George III. is perhaps true. And the memory of those times has kept alive the accusation. The vitality of these prejudices calls to mind the story of the Nottinghamshire farmer who, when told of the return of Charles II., asked what had become of Charles I. Naseby, Worcester, and the fatal day at Whitehall had not yet reached him. Tidings of these things had only been approaching him during these twelve years. The true character of the Civil Service is only now approaching the intelligence of those who are still shaking their heads over the delinquencies of the last century. But old Mr. Caldigate was a man peculiarly susceptible to such hard judgments. From the crown down to the black helmet worn by the policeman who was occasionally to be seen on Folking causeway, he thought that all such headpieces were coverings for malpractices. The bishop’s wig had, he thought, disappeared as being too ridiculous for the times; but even for the judge’s wig he had no respect. Judge Bramber was to him simply pretentious, and a Secretary of State no better than any other man. In this frame of mind how was it probable that he should do any good at the Home Office?

But in this frame of mind he went to the Home Office, and asked boldly for the great man. It was then eleven o’clock in the morning and neither had the great man, nor even any of the deputy great men, as yet made their appearance. Mr. Caldigate of course fell back upon his old opinion as to public functionaries, and, mentally, applied opprobrious epithets to men who, taking the public pay, could not be at their posts an hour before mid-day. He was not aware that the great man and the first deputy great man were sitting in the House of Commons at 2 A.M. on that morning, and that the office generally was driven by the necessity of things to accommodate itself to Parliamentary exigencies.

Then he was asked his business. How could he explain to a messenger that his son had been unjustly convicted of bigamy and was now in prison as a criminal? So he left his card and said that he would call again at two.

At that hour precisely he appeared again and was told that the great man himself could not see him. Then he nearly boiled over in his wrath, while the messenger, with all possible courtesy, went on to explain that one of the deputies was ready to receive him. The deputy was the Honourable Septimus Brown, of whom it may be said that the Home Office was so proud that it considered itself to be superior to all other public offices whatever simply because it possessed Brown. He had been there for forty years, and for many sessions past had been the salvation of Parliamentary secretaries and under-secretaries. He was the uncle of an earl, and the brother-in-law of a duke and a marquis. Not to know Brown was, at the West End, simply to be unknown. Brooks’s was proud of him; and without him the ‘Travellers’’ would not have been such a Travellers’ as it is. But Mr. Caldigate, when he was told that Mr. Brown would see him, almost left the lobby in instant disgust. When he asked who was Mr. Brown, there came a muttered reply in which ‘permanent’ was the only word audible to him. He felt that were he to go away in dudgeon simply because Brown was the name of the man whom he was called upon to see, he would put himself in the wrong. He would by so doing close his own mouth against complaint, which, to Mr. Caldigate, would indeed have been a cutting of his own nose off his own face. With a scowl, therefore he consented to be taken away to Mr. Brown.

He was, in the first place, somewhat scared by the room into which he was shown, which was very large and very high. There were two clerks with Mr. Brown, who vanished, however, as soon as the squire entered the room. It seemed that Mr. Brown was certainly of some standing in the office, or he would not have had two arm-chairs and a sofa in his room. Mr. Caldigate, when he first consented to see Mr. Brown, had expected to be led into an uncarpeted chamber where there would have been half-a-dozen other clerks.

‘I have your card, Mr. Caldigate,’ said the official. ‘No doubt you have called in reference to your son.’

The squire had determined to be very indignant — very indignant even with the Secretary of State himself, to whose indifference he attributed the delay which had occurred; — but almost more than indignant when he found that he was to be fobbed off with Mr. Brown. But there was something in the gentleman’s voice which checked his indignation. There was something in Mr. Brown’s eye, a mixture of good-humour and authority, which made him feel that he ought not to be angry with the gentleman till he was quite sure of the occasion. Mr. Brown was a handsome hale old man with grey whiskers and greyish hair, with a well-formed nose and a broad forehead carefully dressed with a light waistcoat and a checked linen cravat, wearing a dark-blue frockcoat, and very well made boots — an old man, certainly, but who looked as though old age must naturally be the happiest time of life. When a man’s digestion is thoroughly good and his pockets adequately filled, it probably is so. Such were the circumstances of Mr. Brown, who, as the squire looked at him, seemed to partake more of the nature of his nephew and brothers-in-law than of the Browns generally.

‘Yes, sir,’ said Mr. Caldigate; ‘I have called about my son who, I think I may undertake to say, has been wrongly condemned, and is now wrongly retained in prison.’

‘You beg all the questions, Mr. Caldigate,’ said the permanent under-secretary, with a smile.

‘I maintain that what you call the questions are now so clearly proved as not to admit of controversy. No one can deny that a conspiracy was got up against my son.’

‘I shall not deny it, certainly, Mr. Caldigate. But in truth I know very little or nothing about it.’ The squire, who had been seated, rose from his chair — as in wrath — about to pour forth his indignation. Why was he treated in this way — he who was there on a subject of such tragic interest to him? When all the prospects, reputation, and condition of his son were at stake, he was referred to a gentleman who began by telling him that he knew nothing about the matter! ‘If you will sit down for a moment, Mr. Caldigate, I will explain all that can be explained,’ said Mr. Brown, who was weather-wise in such matters, and had seen the signs of a coming storm.

‘Certainly I will sit down.’

‘In such cases as this the Secretary of State never sees those who are interested. It is not right that he should do so.’

‘There might be somebody to do so.’

‘But not somebody who has been concerned in the inquiry. The Secretary of State, if he saw you, could only refuse to impart to you any portion of the information which he himself may possess, because it cannot be right that he should give an opinion in the matter while he himself is in doubt. You may be sure that he will open his mouth to no one except to those from whom he may seek assistance, till he has been enabled to advise her Majesty that her Majesty’s pardon should be given or refused.’

‘When will that be?’

‘I am afraid that I cannot name a day. You, Mr. Caldigate, are, I know, a gentleman of position in your county and a magistrate. Cannot you understand how minutely facts must be investigated when a Minister of the Crown is called upon to accept the responsibility of either upsetting or confirming the verdict of a jury?’

‘The facts are as clear as daylight.’

‘If they be so, your son will soon be a free man.’

‘If you could feel what his wife suffers in the meantime!’

‘Though I did feel it — though we all felt it; as probably we do, for though we be officials still we are men — how should that help us? You would not have a man pardoned because his wife suffers!’

‘Knowing how she suffered, I do not think I should let much grass grow under my feet while I was making the inquiry.’

‘I hope there is no such grass grows here. The truth is, Mr. Caldigate, that, as a rule, no person coming here on such an errand as yours is received at all. The Secretary of State cannot, either in his own person or in that of those who are under him, put himself in communication with the friends of individuals who are under sentence. I am sure that you, as a man conversant with the laws, must see the propriety of such a rule.’

‘I think I have a right to express my natural anxiety.’

‘I will not deny it. The post is open to you, and though I fear that our replies may not be considered altogether satisfactory, we do give our full attention to the letters we receive. When I heard that you had been here, and had expressed an intention of returning, from respect to yourself personally I desired that you might be shown into my room. But I could not have done that had it not been that I myself have not been concerned in this matter.’ Then he got up from his seat, and Mr. Caldigate found himself compelled to leave the room with thanks rather than with indignation.

He walked out of the big building into Downing Street, and down the steps into the park. And going into the gardens, he wandered about them for more than an hour, sometimes walking slowly along the water-side, and then seating himself for a while on one of the benches. What must he say to Hester in the letter which he must write as soon as he was back at his hotel? He tried to sift some wheat out of what he was pleased to call the chaff of Mr. Brown’s courtesy. Was there not some indication to be found in it of what the result might be? If there were any such indication, it was, he thought, certainly adverse to his son. In whose bosom might be the ultimate decision — whether in that of the Secretary, or the judge, or of some experienced clerk in the Secretary’s office — it was manifest that the facts which had now been proven to the world at large for many days, had none of the effects on that bosom which they had on his own. Could it be that Shand was false, that Bagwax was false, that the postage-stamp was false — and that he only believed them to be true? Was it possible that after all his son had married the woman? He crept back to his hotel in Jermyn Street, and there he wrote his letter.

‘I think I shall be home to-morrow, but I will not say so for certain. I have been at the Home Office, but they would tell me nothing. A man was very civil to me, but explained that he was civil only because he knew nothing about the case. I think I shall call on Mr. Bagwax at the Post-office to-morrow, and after that return to Folking. Send in for the day-mail letters, and then you will hear from me again if I mean to stay.’

At ten o’clock on the following day he was at the Post-office, and there he found Bagwax prepared to take his seat exactly at that hour. Thereupon he resolved, with true radical impetuosity, that Bagwax was a much better public servant than Mr. Brown. ‘Well, Mr. Caldigate — so we’ve got it all clear at last,’ said Bagwax.

There was a triumph in the tone of the clerk’s voice which was not intelligible to the despondent old squire. ‘It is not at all clear to me,’ he said.

‘Of course you’ve heard?’

‘Heard what? I know all about the postage-stamp, of course.’

‘If Secretaries of State and judges of the Court of Queen’s Bench only had their wits about them, the postage-stamp ought to have been quite sufficient,’ said Bagwax, sententiously.

‘What more is there?’

‘For the sake of letting the world know what can be done in our department, it is a pity that there should be anything more.’

‘But there is something. For God’s sake tell me, Mr. Bagwax.’

‘You haven’t heard that they caught Crinkett just as he was leaving Plymouth?’

‘Not a word.’

‘And the woman. They’ve got the lot of ’em, Mr. Caldigate. Adamson and the other woman have agreed to give evidence, and are to be let go.’

‘When did you hear it?’

‘Well; — it is in the “Daily Tell-tale.” But I knew it last night — from a particular source. I have been a good deal thrown in with Scotland Yard since this began, Mr. Caldigate, and, of course, I hear things.’ Then it occurred to the squire that perhaps he had flown a little too high in going at once to the Home Office. They might have told him more, perhaps, in Scotland Yard. ‘But it’s all true. The depositions have already been made. Adamson and Young have sworn that they were present at no marriage. Crinkett they say, means to plead guilty; but the woman sticks to it like wax.’

The squire had written a letter by the day-mail to say that he would remain in London that further day. He now wrote again, at the Post-office, telling Hester all that Bagwax had told him, and declaring his purpose of going at once to Scotland Yard.

If this story were true, then certainly his son would soon be liberated.

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