A month had passed by since Caldigate’s interview with Mrs. Bolton, and nothing had as yet been decided either for him or against him at Chesterton And the fact that no absolute decision had been made against him may be taken as having been very much in his favour. But of those who doubted, and doubting, had come to no decision, Mrs. Bolton herself was by no means one. She was as firm as ever in her intention that the idea should not even be suggested to her daughter. Nor, up to this time, had our hero’s name been even mentioned to Hester Bolton.
About a week after Caldigate’s visit to Chesterton in the early days of August, he wrote to Robert Bolton saying that he was going into Scotland for a month, and that he trusted that during that time his proposition might be considered. On his return he would take the liberty of calling on Mr. Bolton at the bank. In the meantime he hoped that inquiries might be made as to his position in the world, and in order that such inquiries might be effectual he gave a reference to his man of business in London. To this letter Robert Bolton sent no answer; but he went up to London, and did make the inquiries as suggested, and consulted his brother the barrister, and his sister-in-law the barrister’s wife. They were both of opinion that John Caldigate was behaving well, and were of opinion also that something should be done to liberate Hester from the thraldom of her mother. ‘I knew how it would be when she grew up and became a woman,’ said Mrs. William Bolton. ‘Nobody will be allowed to see her, and she won’t have a chance of settling herself. When we asked her to come up here for a couple of months in the season, Mrs. Bolton sent me word that London is a terrible place for young girls — though, of course, she knew that our own girls were being brought up here.’ Then the ways of Mrs. Bolton at Chesterton and Hester’s future life generally were discussed in a spirit that was by no means unfriendly to our hero.
The suggested inquiries were made in the city, and were all favourable. Everyone connected with the mining interests of the Australian colonies knew the name of John Caldigate. All of that class of people were well aware of his prosperity and confirmed good-fortune. He had brought with him or sent home nobody quite knew how much money. But it was very well known that he had left his interest in the Polyeuka mine to be sold for £60,000, and now there had come word that a company had created itself for the sake of making the purchase, and that the money would be forthcoming. The gentleman in the city connected with mining matters did not think that Mr. Caldigate would be called upon to go out to the colony again, unless he chose to do so for his own pleasure. All this Robert Bolton learned in the City, and he learned also that the man as to whom he was making inquiry was held in high esteem for honesty, perseverance, and capacity. The result of all this was that he returned to Cambridge with a feeling that his sister ought to be allowed to make the man’s acquaintance. He and his brother had agreed that something should be done to liberate their sister from her present condition. Love on the part of a mother may be as injurious as cruelty, if the mother be both tyrannical and superstitious. While Hester had been a child, no interference had been possible or perhaps expedient — but the time had now come when something ought to be done. Such having been the decision in Harley Street, where the William Boltons lived, Robert Bolton went back home with the intention of carrying it out.
This could only be done through the old man, and even with him not without great care. He was devotedly attached to his young wife; — but was very averse to having it thought that he was ruled by her. Indeed, in all matters affecting his establishment, his means, and his business, he would hardly admit of interference from her at all. His worldly matters he kept between himself and his sons. But in regard to his soul he could not restrain her, and sometimes would hardly oppose her. The prolonged evening prayers, the sermons twice a-week, the two long church services on Sundays — indulgence as to the third being allowed to him only on the score of his age — he endured at her command. And in regard to Hester, he had hitherto been ruled by his wife, thinking it proper that a daughter should be left in the hands of her mother. But now, when he was told that if he did not interfere, his girl would be constrained by the harsh bonds of an unnatural life, stern as he was himself and inclined to be gloomy, little as he was disposed to admit ideas of recreation and delight, he did acknowledge that something should be done to relieve her. ‘But when I die she must be left in her mother’s hands,’ said the old banker.
‘It is to be hoped that she may be in other hands before that,’ replied his son. ‘I do not mean to say anything against my step-mother; — but for a young woman it is generally best that she should be married. And in Hester’s peculiar position, she ought to have the chance of choosing for herself.’
In this way something almost like a conspiracy was made on behalf of Caldigate. And yet the old man did not as yet abandon his prejudices against the miner. A man who had at so early an age done so much to ruin himself, and had then sprung so suddenly from ruin to prosperity, could not, he thought, be regarded as a steady well-to-do man of business. He did agree that, as regarded Hester, the prison-bars should be removed; but he did not think that she should be invited to walk forth with Mr. John Caldigate. Robert declared that his sister was quite able to form an opinion of her own, and boldly suggested that Hester should be allowed to come and dine at his house. ‘To meet the man?’ asked the banker in dismay. ‘Yes,’ said Robert. ‘He isn’t an ogre. You needn’t be afraid of him. I shall be there — and Margaret. Bring her yourself if you are afraid of anything. No plant ever becomes strong by being kept always away from the winds of heaven.’ To this he could not assent at the time. He knew that it was impossible to assent without consulting his wife. But he was brought so far round as to think that if nothing but his own consent were wanting, his girl would be allowed to go and meet the ogre.
‘I suppose we ought to wish that Hester should be married some day,’ he said to his wife about this time. She shuddered and dashed her hands together as though deprecating some evil — some event which she could hardly hope to avoid but which was certainly an evil. ‘Do you not wish that yourself?’ She shook her head. ‘Is it not the safest condition in which a woman can live?’
‘How shall any one be safe among the dangers of this world, Nicholas?’ She habitually called her husband by his Christian name, but she was the only living being who did so.
‘More safe then?’ said he. ‘It is the natural condition of a woman.’
‘I do not know. Sin is natural.’
‘Very likely. No doubt. But marriage is not sinful.’
‘Men are so wicked.’
‘Some of them are.’
‘Where is there one that is not steeped in sin over his head?’
‘That applies to women also; doesn’t it?’ said the banker petulantly. He was almost angry because she was introducing a commonplace as to the world’s condition into a particular argument as to their daughter’s future life — which he felt to be unfair and illogical.
‘Of course it does, Nicholas. We are all black and grimed with sin, men and women too; and perhaps something more may be forgiven to men because they have to go out into the world and do their work. But neither one nor the other can be anything but foul with sin; — except — except —’
He was quite accustomed to the religious truth which was coming, and, in an ordinary way, did not object to the doctrine which she was apt to preach to him often. But it had no reference whatever to the matter now under discussion. The general condition of things produced by the fall of Adam could not be used as an argument against matrimony generally. Wicked as men and women are it is so evidently intended that they should marry and multiply that even she would not deny the general propriety of such an arrangement. Therefore when he was talking to her about their daughter, she was ill-treating him when on that occasion she flew away to her much-accustomed discourse.
‘What’s the use, then, of saying that men are wicked?’
‘They are. They are!’
‘Not a doubt about it. And so are the women, but they’ve got to have husbands and wives. They wouldn’t be any the better if there were no marrying. We have to suppose that Hester will do the same as other girls.’
‘I hope not, Nicholas.’
‘But why not?’
‘They are vain, and they adorn themselves, not in modest apparel, as St. Paul says in First Timothy, chapter second, nor with shame-facedness and sobriety but with braided hair and gold and pearls and costly array.’
‘What has that to do with it?’
‘She might be married without all those things.’
‘You said you wanted her to be like other girls.’
‘No, I didn’t. I said she would have to get married like other girls. You don’t want to make a nun of her.’
‘A nun! I would sooner sit by her bedside and watch her die! My Hester a nun!’
‘Very well, then. Let her go out into the world ——’
‘The world, Nicholas! The world, the flesh, and the devil! Do they not always go together?’
He was much harassed and very angry. He knew how unreasonable she was, and yet he did not know how to answer her. And she was dishonest with him. Because she felt herself unable to advocate in plain terms a thorough shutting up of her daughter — a protecting of her from the temptation of sin by absolute and prolonged sequestration — therefore she equivocated with him, pretending to think that he was desirous of sending his girl out to have her hair braided and herself arrayed in gold and pearls. It was thoroughly dishonest, and he understood the dishonesty. ‘She must go somewhere,’ he said, rising from his chair and closing the conversation. At this time a month had passed since Caldigate had been at Chesterton, and he had now returned from Scotland to Folking.
On the following day Hester was taken out to dinner at The Nurseries, as Robert Bolton’s house was called — was taken out by her father. This was quite a new experiment, as she had never dined with any of her aunts and cousins except at an early dinner almost as a child — and even as a child not at her brother Robert’s. But the banker, after having declared that she must go somewhere, had persisted. It is not to be supposed that Caldigate was on this occasion invited to meet her; — nor that the father had as yet agreed that any such meeting should be allowed. But as William Bolton — the London brother — and Mrs. William and one of their girls were down at Cambridge, it was arranged that Hester should meet her relatives. Even so much as this was not settled without much opposition on the part of Hester’s mother.
There was nobody at the house but members of the family. The old banker’s oldest son Nicholas was not there as his wife and Mrs. Robert did not get on well together. Mrs. Nicholas was almost as strict as Mrs. Bolton herself, and, having no children of her own, would not have sympathised at all in any desire to procure for Hester the wicked luxury of a lover. The second son Daniel joined the party with his wife, but he had married too late to have grown-up children. His wife was strict too — but of a medium strictness. Teas, concerts, and occasional dinner parties were with her permissible; — as were also ribbons and a certain amount of costly array. Mrs. Nicholas was in the habit of telling Mrs. Daniel that you cannot touch pitch and not be defiled — generally intending to imply that Mrs. Robert was the pitch; and would harp on the impossibility of serving both God and mammon, thinking perhaps that her brother-in-law Robert and mammon were one and the same. But Daniel, who could go to church as often as any man on Sundays, and had thoroughly acquired for himself the reputation of a religious man of business, had his own ideas as to proprieties and expediencies, and would neither quarrel with his brother Robert, or allow his wife to quarrel with Mrs. Robert. So that the Nicholases lived very much alone. Mrs. Nicholas and Mrs. Bolton might have suited each other, might have been congenial and a comfort each to the other, but the elder son and the elder son’s wife had endeavoured to prevent the old man’s second marriage, and there had never been a thorough reconciliation since. There are people who can never forgive. Mrs. Nicholas had never forgiven the young girl for marrying the old man, and the young girl had never forgiven the opposition of her elder step-daughter-in-law to her own marriage. Hence it had come to pass that the Nicholases were extruded from the family conclaves, which generally consisted of the Daniels and the Roberts. The Williams were away in London, not often having much to do with these matters. But they too allied themselves with the dominant party, it being quite understood that as long as the old man lived Robert was and would be the most potent member of the family.
When the father and the three sons were in the dining-room together, after the six or seven ladies had left them, the propriety of allowing John Caldigate to make Hester’s acquaintance was fully discussed. ‘I would not for the world interfere,’ said Robert, ‘if I did not think it unfair to the dear girl that she should be shut up there altogether.’
‘Do you suppose that the young man is in earnest?’ asked Daniel.
As to this they all agreed that there could be no doubt. He was, too, an old family friend, well-to-do in the world, able to make proper settlements, and not at all greedy as to a fortune with his wife. Even Daniel Bolton thought that the young man should have a chance — by saying which he was supposed to declare that the question ought to be left to the arbitrament of the young lady. The old banker was unhappy and ill at ease. He could not reconcile himself at once to so great a change. Though he felt that the excessive fears of his wife, if indulged, would be prejudicial to their girl, still he did not wish to thrust her out into the world all at once. Could there not be some middle course? Could there not be a day named, some four years hence, at which she might be allowed to begin to judge for herself? But his three sons were against him, and he could not resist their joint influence. It was therefore absolutely decided that steps should be taken for enabling John Caldigate to meet Hester at Robert Bolton’s house.
‘I suppose it will end in a marriage,’ William Bolton said to his brother Robert when they were alone.
‘Of course it will. She is the dearest creature in the world; — so good to her mother; but no fool, and quite aware that the kind of restraint to which she has been subjected is an injustice. Of course she will be gratified when a man like that tells her that he loves her. He is a good-looking fellow, with a fine spirit and plenty of means. How on earth can she do better?’
‘But Mrs. B.?’ said William, who would sometimes thus disrespectfully allude to his step-mother.
‘Mrs. B. will do all she can to prevent it,’ said Robert; ‘but I think we shall find that Hester has a will of her own.’
On the following day John Caldigate called at the bank, where the banker had a small wainscoted back-parlour appropriated to himself. He had already promised that he would see the young man, and Caldigate was shown into the little room. He soon told his story, and was soon clever enough to perceive that the telling of his story was at any rate permitted. The old father did not receive him with astonishment and displeasure combined, as the young mother had done. Of course he made difficulties, and spoke of the thing as being beyond the bounds of probability. But objection no stronger than that may be taken as amounting almost to encouragement in such circumstances. And he paid evident attention to all that Caldigate said about his own pecuniary affairs — going so far as to say that he was not in a condition to declare whether he would give his daughter any fortune at all on her marriage.
‘It is quite unnecessary,’ said Caldigate.
‘She will probably have something at my death,’ rejoined the old man.
‘And when may I see her?’ asked Caldigate.
In answer to that Mr. Bolton would not at first make any suggestion whatsoever — falling back upon his old fears, and declaring that there could be no such meetings at all, but at last allowing that the lover should discuss the matter with his son Robert.
‘Perhaps I may have been mistaken about the young man Caldigate,’ the banker said to his wife that night.
‘I only say that perhaps I may have been mistaken.’
‘You are not thinking of Hester?’
‘I said nothing about Hester then; — but perhaps I may have been mistaken in my opinion about that young man John Caldigate.’
John Caldigate, as he rode home after his interview at the bank, almost felt that he had cleared away many difficulties, and that, by his perseverance, he might probably be enabled to carry out the dream of his earlier youth.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01