John Caldigate, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter LVIII

Mr. Smirkie Is Ill-used

It was on a Tuesday that Mr. Caldigate made his visit to the Home Office, and on the Thursday he returned to Cambridge. On the platform whom should he meet but his brother-in-law Squire Babington, who had come into Cambridge that morning intent on hearing something further about his nephew. He, too, had read a paragraph in his newspaper, ‘The Snapper,’ as to Crinkett and Euphemia Smith.

‘Thomas Crinkett, and Euphemia Smith, who gave evidence against Mr. John Caldigate in the well-known trial at the last Cambridge assizes, have been arrested at Plymouth just as they were about to leave the country for New Zealand. These are the persons to whom it was proved that Caldigate had paid the enormous sum of twenty thousand pounds a few days before the trial. It is alleged that they are to be indicted for perjury. If this be true, it implies the innocence of Mr. Caldigate, who, as our readers will remember, was convicted of bigamy. There will be much in the whole case for Mr. Caldigate to regret, but nothing so much as the loss of that very serious sum of money. It would be idle to deny that it was regarded by the jury, and the judge, and the public as a bribe to the witnesses. Why it should have been paid will now probably remain for ever a mystery.’

The squire read this over three times before he could quite understand the gist of it, and at last perceived thought that he perceived — that if this were true the innocence of his nephew was incontestable But Julia, who seemed to prefer the paternal mansion at Babington to her own peculiar comforts and privileges at Plum-cum-Pippins, declared that she didn’t believe a word of it; and aunt Polly, whose animosity to her nephew had somewhat subsided, was not quite inclined to accept the statement at once. Aunt Polly expressed an opinion that newspapers were only born to lie, but added that had she seen the news anywhere else she would not have been a bit surprised. The squire was prepared to swear by the tidings. If such a thing was not to be put into a newspaper, where was it to be put? Aunt Polly could not answer this question, but assisted in persuading her husband to go into Cambridge for further information.

‘I hope this is true,’ said the Suffolk squire, tendering his hand cordially to his brother-in-law. He was a man who could throw all his heart into an internecine quarrel on a Monday and forget the circumstance altogether on the Tuesday.

‘Of what are you speaking?’ asked the squire of Folking, with his usual placid look, partly indifferent and partly sarcastic, covering so much contempt of which the squire from Suffolk was able to read nothing at all.

‘About the man and the woman, the witnesses who are to be put in prison at Plymouth, and who now say just the contrary to what they said before.’

‘I do not think that can be true,’ said Mr. Caldigate.

‘Then you haven’t seen the “Snapper”?’ asked Mr. Babington, dragging the paper out of his pocket. ‘Look at that.’

They were now in a cab together, going towards the town, and Mr. Caldigate did not find it convenient to read the paragraph. But of course he knew the contents. ‘It is quite true,’ he said, ‘that the persons you allude to have been arrested, and that they are up in London. They will, I presume, be tried for perjury.’

‘It is true?’

‘There is no doubt of it.’

‘And the party are splitting against each other?’ asked Mr. Babington eagerly.

‘Two of them have already sworn that what they swore before was false.’

‘Then why don’t they let him out?’

‘Why not, indeed?’ said Mr. Caldigate.

‘I should have thought they wouldn’t have lost a moment in such a case. They’ve got one of the best fellows in the world at the Home Office. His name is Brown. If you could have seen Brown I’m sure he wouldn’t have let them delay a minute. The Home Office has the reputation of being so very quick.’

In answer to this the squire of Folking only shook his head. He would not even condescend to say that he had seen Brown, and certainly not to explain that Brown had seemed to him to be the most absurdly-cautious and courteously-dilatory man that he had ever met in his life. In Trumpington Street they parted, Mr. Caldigate proceeding at once to Folking, and Mr. Babington going to the office of Mr. Seely the attorney. ‘He’ll be out in a day or two,’ said the man of Suffolk, again shaking his brother-in-law’s hand; ‘and do you tell him from me that I hope it won’t be long before we see him at Babington. I’ve been true to him almost from the first, and his aunt has come over now. There is no one against him but Julia, and these are things of course which young women won’t forget.’

Mr. Caldigate almost became genial as he accepted this assurance, telling himself that his brother magistrate was as honest as he was silly.

Mr. Babington, who was well known in Cambridge asked many questions of many persons. From Mr. Seely he heard but little. Mr. Seely had heard of the arrest made at Plymouth, but did not quite know what to think about it. If it was all square, then he supposed his client must after all be innocent. But this went altogether against the grain with Mr. Seely. ‘If it be so, Mr. Babington,’ he said, ‘I shall always think the paying away of that twenty thousand pounds the greatest miracle I ever came across.’ Nevertheless, Mr. Seely did believe that the two witnesses had been arrested on a charge of perjury.

The squire then went to the governor of the jail, who had been connected with him many years as a county magistrate. The governor had heard nothing, received no information as to his prisoner from any one in authority; but quite believed the story as to Crinkett and the woman. ‘Perhaps you had better not see him, Mr. Babington,’ said the governor, ‘as he has heard nothing as yet of all this. It would not be right to tell him till we know what it will come to.’ Assenting to this, Mr. Babington took his leave with the conviction on his mind that the governor was quite prepared to receive an order for the liberation of his prisoner.

He did not dare to go to Robert Bolton’s office, but he did call at the bank. ‘We have heard nothing about it, Mr. Babington,’ said the old clerk over the counter. But then the old clerk added in a whisper, ‘None of the family take to the news, sir; but everybody else seems to think there is a great deal in it. If he didn’t marry her I suppose he ought to be let out.’

‘I should think he ought,’ said the squire, indignantly as he left the bank.

Thus fortified by what he considered to be the general voice of Cambridge, he returned the same evening to Babington. Cambridge, including Mr. Caldigate, had been unanimous in believing the report. And if the report were true, then, certainly, was his nephew innocent. As he thought of this, some appropriate idea of the injustice of the evil done to the man and to the man’s wife came upon him. If such were the treatment to which he and she had been subjected — if he, innocent, had been torn away from her and sent to the common jail, and if she, certainly innocent, had been wrongly deprived for a time of the name which he had honestly given her — then would it not have been right to open to her the hearts and the doors at Babington during the period of her great distress? As he thought of this he was so melted by ruth that a tear came into each of his old eyes. Then he remembered the attempt which had been made to catch this man for Julia — as to which he certainly had been innocent — and his daughter’s continued wrath. That a woman should be wrathful in such a matter was natural to him. He conceived that it behoved a woman to be weak, irascible, affectionate, irrational, and soft-hearted. When Julia would be loud in condemnation of her cousin, and would pretend to commiserate the woes of the poor wife who had been left in Australia, though he knew the source of these feelings, he could not be in the least angry with her. But that was not at all the state of his mind in reference to his son-in-law Augustus Smirkie. Sometimes, as he had heard Mr. Smirkie inveigh against the enormity of bigamy and of this bigamist in particular, he had determined that some ‘odd-come-shortly,’ as he would call it, he would give the vicar of Plum-cum-Pippins a moral pat on the head which should silence him for a time. At the present moment when he got into his carriage at the station to be taken home, he was not sure whether or no he should find the vicar at Babington. Since their marriage, Mr. Smirkie had spent much of his time at Babington, and seemed to like the Babington claret. He would come about the middle of the week and return on the Saturday evening, in a manner which the squire could hardly reconcile with all that he had heard as to Mr. Smirkie’s exemplary conduct in his own parish. The squire was hospitality itself, and certainly would never have said a word to make his house other than pleasant to his own girl’s husband. But a host expects that his corns should be respected, whereas Mr. Smirkie was always treading on Mr. Babington’s toes. Hints had been given to him as to his personal conduct which he did not take altogether in good part. His absence from afternoon service had been alluded to, and it had been suggested to him that he ought sometimes to be more careful as to his language. He was not, therefore ill-disposed to resent on the part of Mr. Smirkie the spirit of persecution with which that gentleman seemed to regard his nephew. ‘Is Mr. Smirkie in the house,’ he asked the coachman. ‘He came by the 3.40, as usual,’ said the man. It was very much ‘as usual,’ thought the squire.

‘There isn’t a doubt about it,’ said the squire to his wife as he was dressing. ‘The poor fellow is as innocent as you.’

‘He can’t be — innocent,’ said aunt Polly.

‘If he never married the woman whom they say he married he can’t be guilty.’

‘I don’t know about that, my dear.’

‘He either did marry her or he didn’t, I suppose.’

‘I don’t say he married her, but — he did worse.’

‘No, he didn’t,’ said the squire.

‘That may be your way of thinking of it. According to my idea of what is right and what is wrong, he did a great deal worse.’

‘But if he didn’t marry that woman he didn’t commit bigamy when he married this one,’ argued he, energetically.

‘Still he may have deserved all he got.’

‘No; he mayn’t. You wouldn’t punish a man for murder because he doesn’t pay his debts.’

‘I won’t have it that he’s innocent,’ said Mrs. Babington.

‘Who the devil is, if you come to that?’

‘You are not, or you wouldn’t talk in that way. I’m not saying anything now against John. If he didn’t marry the woman I suppose they’ll let him out of prison, and I for one shall be willing to take him by the hand; but to say he’s innocent is what I won’t put up with!’

‘He has sown his wild oats, and he’s none the worse for that. He’s as good as the rest of us, I dare say.’

‘Speak for yourself,’ said the wife. ‘I don’t suppose you mean to tell me that in the eyes of the Creator he is as good a man as Augustus.’

‘Augustus be ——.’ The word was spoken with great energy. Mrs. Babington at the moment was employed in sewing a button on the wristband of her husband’s shirt, and in the start which she gave stuck the needle into his arm.

‘Humphrey!’ exclaimed the agitated lady.

‘I beg your pardon, but not his,’ said the squire, rubbing the wound. ‘If he says a word more about John Caldigate in my presence, I shall tell him what I think about it. He has got his wife, and that ought to be enough for him.’

After that they went down-stairs and dinner was at once announced. There was Mr. Smirkie to give an arm to his mother-in-law. The squire took his married daughter while the other two followed. As they crossed the hall Julia whispered her cousin’s name, but her father bade her be silent for the present ‘I was sure it was not true,’ said Mrs. Smirkie.

‘Then you’re quite wrong,’ said the squire, ‘for it’s as true as the Gospel.’ Then there was no more said about John Caldigate till the servants had left the room.

Mr. Smirkie’s general appreciation of the good things provided, did not on this occasion give the owner of them that gratification which a host should feel in the pleasures of his guests. He ate a very good dinner and took his wine with a full appreciation of its merits. Such an appetite on the part of his friends was generally much esteemed by the squire of Babington, who was apt to press the bottle upon those who sat with him, in the old-fashioned manner. At the present moment he eyed his son-in-law’s enjoyments with a feeling akin to disappointment. There was a habit at Babington with the ladies of sitting with the squire when he was the only man present till he had finished his wine, and, at Mrs. Smirkie’s instance, this custom was continued when she and her husband were at the house. Fires had been commenced, and when the dinner-things had been taken away they clustered round the hearth. The squire himself sat silent in his place, out of humour, knowing that the peculiar subject would be introduced, and determined to make himself disagreeable.

‘Papa, won’t you bring your chair round?’ said one of the girls who was next to him. Whereupon he did move his chair an inch or two.

‘Did you hear anything about John?’ said the other unmarried sister.

‘Yes, I heard about him. You can’t help hearing about him in Cambridge now. All the world is talking about him.’

‘And what does all the world say?’ asked Julia, flippantly. To this question her father at first made no answer. ‘Whatever the world may say, I cannot alter my opinion,’ continued Julia. ‘I shall never be able to look upon John Caldigate and Hester Bolton as man and wife in the sight of God.’

‘I might just as well take upon myself to say that I didn’t look upon you and Smirkie as man and wife in the sight of God.’

‘Papa!’ screamed the married daughter.

‘Sir!’ ejaculated the married son-in-law.

‘My dear, that is a strange thing to say of your own child,’ whispered the mother.

‘Most strange!’ said Julia, lifting both her hands up in an agony.

‘But it’s true,’ roared the squire. ‘She says that, let the law say what it may, these people are not to be regarded as man and wife.’

‘Not by me,’ said Julia.

‘Who are you that you are to set up a tribunal of your own? And if you judge of another couple in that way, why isn’t some one to judge of you after the same fashion?’

‘There is the verdict,’ said Mr. Smirkie. ‘No verdict has pronounced me a bigamist.’

‘But it might for anything I know,’ said the squire, angrily. ‘Some woman might come up in Plum-cum-Pippins and say you had married her before your first wife.’

‘Papa, you are very disagreeable,’ said Julia.

‘Why shouldn’t there be a wicked lie told in one place as well as in another? There has been a wicked lie told here; and when the lie is proved to have been a lie, as plain as the nose on your face, he is to tell me that he won’t believe the young folk to be man and wife because of an untrue verdict! I say they are man and wife; — as good a man and wife as you and he; — and let me see who’ll refuse to meet them as such in my house?’

Mr. Smirkie had not, in truth, made the offensive remark. It had been made by Mrs. Smirkie. But it had suited the squire to attribute it to the clergyman. Mr. Smirkie was now put upon his mettle, and was obliged either to agree or to disagree. He would have preferred the former, had he not been somewhat in awe of his wife. As it was, he fell back upon the indiscreet assertion which his father-in-law had made some time back. ‘I, at any rate, sir, have not had a verdict against me.’

‘What does that signify?’

‘A great deal, I should say. A verdict, no doubt, is human, and therefore may be wrong.’

‘So is a marriage human.’

‘I beg your pardon, sir; — a marriage is divine.’

‘Not if it isn’t a marriage. Your marriage in our church wouldn’t have been divine if you’d had another wife alive.’

‘Papa, I wish you wouldn’t.’

‘But I shall. I’ve got to hammer it into his head somehow.’

Mr. Smirkie drew himself up and grinned bravely. But the squire did not care for his frowns. That last backhander at the claret-jug had determined him. ‘John Caldigate’s marriage with his wife was not in the least interfered with by the verdict.’

‘It took away the lady’s name from her at once,’ said the indignant clergyman.

‘That’s just what it didn’t do,’ said the squire, rising from his chair; —‘of itself it didn’t affect her name at all. And now that it is shown to have been a mistaken verdict, it doesn’t affect her position. The long and the short of it is this, that anybody who doesn’t like to meet him and his wife as honoured guests in my house had better stay away. Do you hear that, Julia?’ Then without waiting for an answer he walked out before them all into the drawing-room and not another word was said that night about the matter. Mr. Smirkie, indeed, did not utter a word on any subject, till at an early hour he wished them all good-night with dignified composure.

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