John Caldigate, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter LIX

How The Big-Wigs Doubted

It’s what I call an awful shame.’ Mr. Holt and parson Bromley were standing together on the causeway at Folking, and the former was speaking. The subject under discussion was, of course, the continued detention of John Caldigate in the county prison.

‘I cannot at all understand it,’ said Mr. Bromley.

‘There’s no understanding nothing about it, sir. Every man, woman, and child in the county knows as there wasn’t no other marriage, and yet they won’t let ’un out. It’s sheer spite, because he wouldn’t vote for their man last ‘lection.’

‘I hardly think that, Mr. Holt.’

‘I’m as sure of it as I stands here,’ said Mr. Holt, slapping his thigh. ‘What else ‘d they keep ’un in for? It’s just like their ways.’

Mr. Holt was one of a rare class, being a liberal farmer — a Liberal, that is, in politics; as was also Mr. Bromley, a Liberal among parsons — rava avis. The Caldigates had always been Liberal, and Mr. Holt had been brought up to agree with his landlord. He was now beyond measure acerbated, because John Caldigate had not been as yet declared innocent on evidence which was altogether conclusive to himself The Conservatives were now in power, and nothing seemed so natural to Mr. Holt as that the Home Secretary should keep his landlord in jail because the Caldigates were Liberals. Mr. Bromley could not quite agree to this, but he also was of opinion that a great injustice was being done. He was in the habit of seeing the young wife almost daily, and knew the havoc which hope turned into despair was making with her. Another week had now gone by since the old squire had been up in town, and nothing yet had been heard from the Secretary of State. All the world knew that Crinkett and Euphemia Smith were in custody, and still no tidings came — yet the husband, convicted on the evidence of these perjurers, was detained in prison!

Hope deferred maketh the heart sick, and Hester’s heart was very sick within her. ‘Why do they not tell me something?’ she said when her father-in-law vainly endeavoured to comfort her. Why not, indeed? He could only say hard things of the whole system under which the perpetration of so great a cruelty was possible, and reiterate his opinion that, in spite of that system, they must, before long, let his son go free.

The delay in truth was not at the Home Office. Judge Bramber could not as yet quite make up his mind. It is hoped that the reader has made up his, but the reader knows somewhat more than the judge knew. Crinkett had confessed nothing — though a rumour had got abroad that he intended to plead guilty. Euphemia Smith was constant in her assertion to all those who came near her, that she had positively been married to the man at Ahalala. Adamson and Anna Young were ready now to swear that all which they had sworn before was false; but it was known to the police that they had quarrelled bitterly as to the division of the spoil ever since the money had been paid to the ring-leaders. It was known that Anna Young had succeeded in getting nothing from the other woman, and that the man had unwillingly accepted his small share, fearing that otherwise he might get nothing. They were not trustworthy witnesses, and it was very doubtful whether the other two could be convicted on their evidence. The judge, as he turned it all over in his mind, was by no means sure that the verdict was a mistaken verdict. It was at any rate a verdict. It was a decision constitutionally arrived at from a jury. This sending back of the matter to him hardly was constitutional.

It was abhorrent to his nature — not that a guilty man should escape, which he knew to be an affair occurring every day — but that a guilty man, who had been found to be guilty, should creep back through the meshes of the law. He knew how many chances were given by the practice of British courts to an offender on his trial, and he was quite in favour of those chances. He would be urgent in telling a jury to give the prisoner the benefit of a doubt. But when the transgressor, with all those loopholes stopped, stood before him convicted, then he felt a delight in the tightness of the grip with which he held the wretch, and would tell himself that the world in which he lived was not as yet all astray, in that a guilty man could still be made to endure the proper reward of his guilt.

It was with him as when a hunter has hunted a fox after the approved laws of venery. There have been a dozen ways of killing the animal of which he has scorned to avail himself. He has been careful to let him break from his covert, regarding all who would stop him as enemies to himself. It has been a point of honour with him that the animal should suffer no undue impediment. Any ill-treatment shown to the favoured one in his course, is an injury done to the hunter himself. Let no man head the fox, let no man strive to drive him back upon the hounds. Let all be done by hunting law — in accordance with those laws which give so many chances of escape. But when the hounds have run into their quarry, not all the eloquence of all the gods should serve to save that doomed one’s life.

So it was with Judge Bramber and a convicted prisoner. He would give the man the full benefit of every quibble of the law till he was convicted. He would be severe on witnesses, harsh to the police, apparently a very friend to the man standing at the bar — till the time came for him to array the evidence before the jury. Then he was inexorable; and when the verdict had been once pronounced, the prisoner was but as a fox about to be thrown to the hounds.

And now there was a demand that this particular fox should be put back into his covert! The Secretary of State could put him back, if he thought fit. But in these matters there was so often a touch of cowardice. Why did not the Secretary do it without asking him? There had arisen no question of law. There was no question as to the propriety of the verdict as found upon the evidence given at the trial. The doubt which had arisen since had come from further evidence, of which the Secretary was as well able to judge as he. No doubt the case was difficult. There had been gross misdoing on both sides. But if Caldigate had not married the woman, why had he paid those twenty thousands? Why had he written those words on the envelope? There was doubt enough now, but the time for giving the prisoner the benefit of the doubt was gone. The fox had been fairly hunted, and Judge Bramber thought that he had better die.

But he hesitated; — and while he was hesitating there came to him a little reminder, a most gentle hint, in the shape of a note from the Secretary of State’s private secretary. The old squire’s visit to the office had not seemed to himself to be satisfactory but he had made a friend for himself in Mr. Brown. Mr. Brown looked into the matter, and was of opinion that it would be well to pardon the young man. Even though there had been some jumping over a broomstick at Ahalala, why should things not be made comfortable here at home? What harm would a pardon do to any one? — whereas there were so many whom it would make happy. So he asked the Secretary whether that wasn’t a hard case of young Caldigate. The Secretary whispered that it was in Bramber’s hands, upon which Mr. Brown observed that, if so, it was certainly hard. But the conversation was not altogether thrown away, for on that afternoon the private secretary wrote his note.

Judge Bramber when he received the note immediately burned it — and this he did with considerable energy of action. If they would send him such cases as that, what right had they to remind him of his duty? He was not going to allow any private secretary or any Secretary of State, to hurry him! There was no life or death in this matter. Of what importance was it that so manifest an evil-doer as this young Caldigate should remain in prison a day or two more — a man who had attempted to bribe four witnesses by twenty thousand pounds? It was an additional evil that such a one should have such a sum for such a purpose. But still he felt that there was a duty thrown upon him; and he sat down with all the papers before him, determined to make up his mind before he rose from his chair.

He did make up his mind, but did so at last by referring back the responsibility to the Secretary of State. ‘The question is one altogether of evidence,’ he said, ‘and not of law. Any clear-headed man is as able to reach a true decision as I am. It is such a question as should be left to a jury — and would justify a trial on appeal if that were practicable. It would be well that the case should stand over till Thomas Crinkett and Euphemia Smith shall have been tried for perjury, which, as I understand, will take place at the next winter assizes. If the Secretary of State thinks that the delay would be too long, I would humbly suggest that he should take her Majesty’s pleasure in accordance with his own opinion as to the evidence.’

When that document was read at the Home Office by the few who were privileged to read it, they knew that Judge Bramber had been in a very ill humour. But there was no help for that. The judge had been asked for advice and had refused to give it; or had advised — if his remark on that subject was to be taken for advice — that the consideration of the matter should be postponed for another three months. The case, if there was any case in favour of the prisoner, was not one for pardon but for such redress as might now be given for a most gross injustice. The man had been put to a very great expense, and had been already in prison for ten or eleven weeks, and his further detention would be held to have been very cruel if it should appear at last that the verdict had been wrong. The public press was already using strong language on the subject, and the Secretary of State was not indifferent to the public press. Judge Bramber thoroughly despised the press — though he would have been very angry if his ‘Times’ had not been ready for him at breakfast every morning. And two or three questions had already been asked in the House of Commons. The Secretary of State, with that habitual strategy, without which any Secretary of State must be held to be unfit for the position which he holds, contrived to answer the questions so as to show that, while the gentlemen who asked them were the most indiscreet of individuals, he was the most discreet of Secretaries. And he did this, though he was strongly of opinion that Judge Bramber’s delay was unjustifiable. But what would be thought of a Secretary of State who would impute blame in the House of Commons to one of the judges of the land before public opinion had expressed itself so strongly on the matter as to make such expression indispensable? He did not think that he was in the least untrue in throwing blame back upon the questioners and in implying that on the side of the Crown there had been no undue delay, though, at the moment he was inwardly provoked at the dilatoriness of the judge.

Public opinion was expressing itself very strongly in the press. ‘The Daily Tell-Tale’ had a beautifully sensational article, written by their very best artist. The whole picture was drawn with a cunning hand. The young wife in her lonely house down in Cambridge which the artist not inaptly called The Moated Grange! The noble, innocent, high-souled husband, eating his heart out within the bars of a county prison, and with very little else to eat! The indignant father, driven almost to madness by the wrongs done to his son and heir! Had the son not been an heir this point would have been much less touching. And then the old evidence was dissected, and the new evidence against the new culprits explained. In regard to the new culprits, the writer was very loud in expressing his purpose to say not a word against persons who were still to be tried; — but immediately upon that he went on and said a great many words against them. Assuming all that was said about them to be true, he asked whether the country would for a moment endure the idea that a man in Mr. Caldigate’s position should be kept in prison on the evidence of such miscreants. When he came to Bagwax and the postmarks, he explained the whole matter with almost more than accuracy. He showed that the impression could not possibly have been made till after the date it conveyed. He fell into some little error as to the fabrication of the postage-stamp in the colony, not having quite seized Bagwax’s great point. But it was a most telling article. And the writer, as he turned it off at his club, and sent it down to the office of the paper, was ready to bet a five-pound note that Caldigate would be out before a week was over. The Secretary of State saw the article, and acknowledged its power. And then even the ‘Slipper’ turned round and cautiously expressed an opinion that the time had come for mercy.

There could be no doubt that public opinion was running very high in Caldigate’s favour, and that the case had become thoroughly popular. People were again beginning to give dinner-parties in London and at every party the matter was discussed.

It was a peculiarly interesting case because the man had thrown away so large a sum of money! People like to have a nut to crack which is ‘uncrackable,’— a Gordian knot to undo which cannot even be cut. Nobody could understand the twenty thousand pounds. Would any man pay such a sum with the object of buying off false witnesses — and do it in such a manner that all the facts must be brought to light when he was tried? It was said here and there that he had paid the money because he owed it; — but then it had been shown so clearly that he had not owed any one a penny! Nevertheless the men were all certain that he was not guilty, and the ladies thought that whether he were guilty or not did not matter much. He certainly ought to be released from prison.

But yet the Secretary doubted. In that unspoken but heartfelt accusation of cowardice which the judge had made against the great officer of State there had been some truth. How would it be if it should be made to appear at the approaching trial that the two reprobates, who had turned Queen’s evidence against their associates, were to break down altogether in their assertions? It might possibly then become quite apparent that Caldigate had married the woman, and had committed bigamy, when he would already have been pardoned for the last three months! The pardon in that case would not do away with the verdict — and the pardoned man would be a convicted bigamist. What, then, would be the condition of his wife and child? If subsequent question should arise as to the boy’s legitimacy, as might so probably be the case, in what light would he appear, he who had taken upon himself, on his own responsibility, to extort from her Majesty a pardon in opposition to a righteous and just verdict — in opposition to the judge who had tried the case? He had been angry with Judge Bramber for not deciding, and was now frightened at the necessity of deciding himself.

In this emergency he sent for the gentleman who had managed the prosecution on the part of the Crown, and asked him to read up the case again, ‘I never was convinced of the prisoner’s guilt,’ said the barrister.

‘No!’

‘It was one of those cases in which we cannot be convinced. The strongest point against him was the payment of the money. It is possible that he paid it from a Quixotic feeling of honour.’

‘To false witnesses, and that before the trial!’ said the Secretary.

‘And there may have been a hope that, in spite of what he said himself as to their staying, they would take themselves off when they had got the money. In that way he may have persuaded himself that, as an honest man, he ought to make the payment. Then as to the witnesses, there can be little doubt that they were willing to lie. Even if their main story were true, they were lying as to details.’

‘Then you would advise a pardon?’

‘I think so,’ said the barrister, who was not responsible for his advice.

‘Without waiting for the other trial?’

‘If the perjury be then proved — or even so nearly proved as to satisfy the outside world — the man’s detention will be thought to have been a hardship.’ The Secretary of State thanked the barrister and let him go. He then went down to the House, and amidst the turmoil of a strong party conflict at last made up his mind. It was unjust that such responsibility should be thrown upon any one person. There ought to be some Court of Appeal for such cases. He was sure of that now. But at last he made up his mind. Early on the next morning the Queen should be advised to allow John Caldigate to go free.

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