As Caldigate travelled home to Folking he turned many things in his mind. In the first place he had escaped, and that to him was a matter of self-congratulation. He had declared his purpose in reference to his cousin Julia very clearly; — and though he had done so he had not quarrelled utterly with the family. As far as the young lady’s father was concerned or her brothers, there had been no quarrel at all. The ill-will against him was confined to the women. But as he thought of it all, he was not proud of himself. He had received great kindness from their hands, and certainly owed them much in return. When he had been a boy he had been treated almost as one of the family; — but as he had not been quite one of them, would it not have been natural that he should be absorbed in the manner proposed? And then he could not but admit to himself that he had been deficient in proper courage when he had been first caught and taken into the cupboard. On that occasion he had neither accepted nor rejected the young lady; and in such a matter as this silence certainly may be supposed to give consent. Though he rejoiced in his escape he was not altogether proud of his conduct in reference to his friends at Babington.
Would it not have been better that he should have told his aunt frankly that his heart was engaged elsewhere? The lady’s name would have been asked, and the lady’s name could not have been given. But he might in this way have prepared the way for the tidings which would have to be communicated should he finally be successful with Hester Bolton. Now such news would reach them as an aggravation of the injury. For that, however, there could be no remedy. The task at present before him was that of obtaining a footing in the house at Chesterton, and the more he thought of it the more he was at a loss to know how to set about it. They could not intend to shut such a girl up, through all her young years, as in a convent. There must be present to the minds of both of them an idea that marriage would be good for her, or, at any rate, that she should herself have some choice in the matter. And if there were to be any son-in-law why should not he have as good a chance as any other? When they should learn how constantly the girl’s image had been present to his mind, so far away, during so many years, under such hard circumstances would not that recommend him to them? Had he not proved himself to be steady, industrious, and a good man of business? In regard to position and fortune was he not such as a father would desire for his daughter? Having lost his claim to Folking, had he not regained it; — and in doing so had he not shown himself to be something much more than merely the heir to Folking? An immediate income would, of course, be necessary; — but there was money enough. He would ask the old man for nothing. Reports said that though the old man had been generous to his own sons, still he was fond of money. He should have the opportunity of bestowing his daughter in marriage without being asked for a shilling. And then John Caldigate bethought himself with some pride that he could make a proper settlement on his wife without burdening the estate at Folking with any dowers. But of what use would be all this if he could not get at the girl to tell her that he loved her?
He might, indeed, get at the father and tell his purpose plainly and honestly. But he thought that his chance of prevailing with the girl might be better than with the father. In such cases it is so often the daughter who prevails with her own parents after she has surrendered her own heart. The old man had looked at him sternly, had seemed even in that moment of time to disapprove of him. But the girl ——. Well; in such an interview as that there had not been much scope for approval. Nor was he a man likely to flatter himself that any girl could fall in love with him at first sight. But she had not looked sternly at him. In the few words which she had spoken her voice had been very sweet. Both of them had said they remembered him after the long interval that had passed; — but the manner of saying so had been very different. He was almost sure that the old man would be averse to him, though he could tell himself personally that there was no just cause for such aversion But if this were so, he could not forward his cause by making his offer through the father.
‘Well, John, how has it gone with you at Babington?’ his father asked almost as soon as they were together.
It had not been difficult to tell his father of the danger before he made his visit, but now he hesitated before he could avow that the young lady’s hand had again been offered to him. ‘Pretty well, sir. We had a good deal of archery and that kind of thing. It was rather slow.’
‘I should think so. Was there nothing besides the archery?’
‘The young lady was not troublesome?’
‘Perhaps the less we say about it the better, sir. They were very kind to me when I was a boy.’
‘I have nothing to say at all, unless I am to be called on to welcome her as a daughter-in-law.’
‘You will not have to do that, sir.’
‘I suppose, John, you mean to marry some day,’ said the father after a pause. Then it occurred to the son that he must have some one whom he could trust in this matter which now occupied his mind, and that no one probably might be so able to assist him as his father. ‘I wish I knew what your idea of life is,’ continued Mr. Caldigate. ‘I fear you will be growing tired of this place, and that when you get back to your gold-mines you will stay there.’
‘There is no fear of that. I do not love the place well enough.’
‘If you were settled here, I should feel more comfortable I sometimes think, John, that if you would fix yourself I would give the property up to you altogether and go away with my books into some town. Cambridge, perhaps, would do as well as any other.’
‘You must never do that, sir. You must not leave Folking. But as for myself — I have ideas about my own life.’
‘Are they such that you can tell them?’
‘Yes; — you shall hear them all. But I shall expect you to help me; — or at least not turn against me?’
‘Turn against you, John! I hope I may never have to do that again. What is that you mean?’ This he said very seriously. There was usually in his voice something of a tone of banter — a subdued cynicism — which had caused everybody near him to be afraid of him, and which even yet was habitual to him. But now that was all gone. Was there to be any new source of trouble betwixt him and his son?
‘I intend to ask Hester Bolton to be my wife,’ said John Caldigate.
The father, who was standing in the library, slapped both his hands down upon the table. ‘Hester Bolton!’
‘Is there any objection?’
‘What do you know about her? Why; — she’s a child.’
‘She is nearly twenty, sir.’
‘Have you ever seen her?’
‘Yes, I have seen her — twice. I daresay you’ll think it very absurd, but I have made up my mind about it. If I say that I was thinking about it all the time I was in Australia, of course you will laugh at me.’
‘I will not laugh at you at all, John.’
‘If any one else were to say so to me, I should laugh at them. But yet it was so. Have you ever seen her?’
‘I suppose I have. I think I remember a little girl.’
‘For beauty I have never seen anybody equal to her,’ said the lover. ‘I wish you’d go over to Chesterton and judge for yourself.’
‘They wouldn’t know what such a thing meant. It is years since I have been in the house. I believe that Mrs. Bolton devotes herself to religious exercises and that she regards me as a pagan.’
‘That’s just the difficulty, sir. How am I to get at her? But you may be sure of this, I mean to do it. If I were beat I do think that then I should go back and bury myself in the gold-mines. You asked me what I meant to do about my future life. That is my purpose. If she were my wife I should consult her. We might travel part of the time, and I might have a farm. I should always look upon Folking as home. But till that is settled, when you ask me what I mean to do with my life, I can only say that I mean to marry Hester Bolton.’
‘Did you tell them at Babington?’
‘I have told nobody but you. How am I to set about it?’
Then Mr. Caldigate sat down and began to scratch his head and to consider. ‘I don’t suppose they ever go out anywhere.’
‘I don’t think they do; — except to church.’
‘You can’t very well ask her there. You can always knock at the house-door.’
‘I can call again once; — but what if I am refused then? It is of no use knocking if a man does not get in.’ After a little more conversation the squire was so far persuaded that he assented to the proposed marriage as far as his assent was required; but he did not see his way to give any assistance. He could only suggest that his son should go direct to the father and make his proposition in the old-fashioned legitimate fashion. But when it was put to him whether Mr. Bolton would not certainly reject the offer unless it were supported by some goodwill on the part of his own daughter, he acknowledged that it might probably be so. ‘You see,’ said the squire, ‘he believes in gold, but he doesn’t believe in gold-mines.’
‘It is that accursed Davis that stands against me,’ said the son.
John Caldigate, no doubt, had many things to trouble him. Before he had resolved on making his second visit to Chesterton, he received a most heartrending epistle from Aunt Polly in which he was assured that he was quite as dear to her as ever, quite as dear as her own children, and in which he was implored to return to the haunts of his childhood where everybody loved him and admired him. After what had passed, he was determined not to revisit the haunts till he was married, or, at any rate, engaged to be married. But there was a difficulty in explaining this to Aunt Polly without an appearance of ingratitude. And then there were affairs in Australia which annoyed him. Tom Crinkett was taking advantage of his absence in reference to Polyeuka — that his presence would soon be required there; — and other things were not going quite smoothly. He had much to trouble him; — but still he was determined to carry out his purpose with Hester Bolton. Since the day on which he had roused himself to the necessity of an active life he had ever called upon himself ‘not to let the grass grow under his feet.’ And he had taught himself to think that there were few things a man could not achieve if he would only live up to that motto. Therefore, though he was perplexed by letters from Australia, and though his Aunt Polly was a great nuisance, he determined to persevere at once. If he allowed himself to revisit Nobble before he had settled this matter with Hester Bolton, would it not be natural that Hester Bolton should be the wife of some other man before he returned?
With all this on his mind he started off one day on horseback to Cambridge. When he left Folking he had not quite made up his mind whether he would go direct to the bank and ask for old Mr. Bolton, or make a first attempt at that fortified castle at Chesterton. But on entering the town he put his horse up at an inn just where the road turns off to Chesterton, and proceeded on foot to the house. This was about a mile distant from the stable, and as he walked that mile he resolved that if he could get into the house at all he would declare his purpose to some one before he left it. What was the use of shilly-shallying? ‘Who ever did anything by letting the grass grow under his feet?’ So he knocked boldly at the door and asked for Mrs. Bolton. After a considerable time, the maid came and told him, apparently with much hesitation, that Mrs. Bolton was at home. He was quite determined to ask for Miss Bolton if Mrs. Bolton were denied to him. But the girl said that Mrs. Bolton was at home, seeming by her manner to say at the same time, ‘I cannot tell a lie about it, because of the sin; but I don’t know what business you can have here, and I’m sure that my mistress does not want to see any such a one as you.’ Nevertheless she showed him into the big sitting-room on the left hand of the hall, and as he entered he saw the skirts of a lady’s dress vanishing through another door. Had there been a moment allowed him he would boldly have called the lady back, for he was sure that the lady was Hester; — but the lady was gone and the door closed before he could open his mouth.
Then he waited for full ten minutes, which, of course, seemed to him to be very much more than an hour. At last the door was opened and Mrs. Bolton appeared. The reader is not to suppose that she was an ugly, cross-looking old woman. She was neither ugly, nor old, nor cross. When she had married Mr. Bolton, she had been quite young, and now she was not much past forty. And she was handsome too, with a fine oval face which suited well with the peculiar simplicity of her dress and the sober seriousness of her gait and manner. It might, perhaps, be said of her that she tried to look old and ugly — and cross too, but that she did not succeed. She now greeted her visitor very coldly, and having asked after old Mr. Caldigate, sat silent looking at John Caldigate as though there were nothing more possible for her to say.
‘I could not but come to see you and thank you for your kindness before I went,’ said John.
‘I remember your coming about some business. We have very few visitors here.’
‘I went out, you know, as a miner.’
‘I think I heard Mr. Bolton say so.’
‘And I have succeeded very well.’
‘So well that I have been able to come back; and though I may perhaps be obliged to revisit the colony to settle my affairs there, I am going to live here at home.’
‘I hope that will be comfortable to you.’ At every word she spoke, her voice took more and more plainly that tone of wonder which we are all of us apt to express when called on to speak on matters which we are at the moment astonished to have introduced to us.
‘Yes; Mrs. Bolton, I hope it will. And now I have got something particular to say.’
‘Perhaps you had better see — Mr. Bolton — at the bank.’
‘I hope I may be able to do so. I quite intend it. But as I am here, if you will allow me, I will say a word to you first. In all matters there is nothing so good as being explicit.’ She looked at him as though she was altogether afraid of him. And indeed she was. Her husband’s opinion of the young man had been very bad five years ago — and she had not heard that it had been altered since. Young men who went out to the colonies because they were ruined, were, to her thinking, the worst among the bad — men who drank and gambled and indulged in strange lives, mere castaways, the adopted of Satan. And, to her thinking, among men, none were so rough as miners — and among miners none were so godless, so unrestrained so wild as the seekers after gold. She had read, perhaps, something of the Spaniards in Central America, and regarded such adventurers as she would pirates and freebooters generally. And then with regard to the Caldigates generally — the elder of whom she knew to have been one of her husband’s intimate friends in his less regenerated days — she believed them to be infidel freethinkers. She was not, therefore, by any means predisposed in favour of this young man; and when he spoke of his desire to be explicit, she thought that he had better be explicit anywhere rather than in her drawing-room. ‘You may remember,’ he said, ‘that I had the pleasure of meeting your daughter here before I left the country five years ago.’ Then she listened with all her ears. There were not many things in this empty, vain, hard unattractive world which excited her. But the one thing in regard to which she had hopes and fears, doubts and resolutions — the one matter as to which she knew that she must ever be on her guard, and yet as to which she hardly knew how she was to exercise her care — was her child. ‘And once I have seen her since I have been back, though only for a moment.’ Then he paused as though expecting that she should say something; — but what was it possible that she should say? She only looked at him with all her eyes, and retreated a little from him with her body, as anxious to get away from a man of his class who should dare even to speak to her of her girl. ‘The truth is, Mrs. Bolton, that her image has been present to me through all my wanderings, and I am here to ask her to be my wife.’ She rose from her chair as though to fly from him — and then sitting down again stared at him with her mouth open and her eyes fixed upon him. His wife! Her Hester to become the wife of such a one as that! Her girl, as to whom, when thinking of the future life of her darling, she had come to tell herself that there could be no man good enough, pure enough, true enough, firm enough in his faith and life, to have so tender, so inestimable a treasure committed to his charge!
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55