Perhaps there had been a little treachery on the part of Mr. Davis, for he had, in a gently insinuating way, made known to the Squire the fact of those acceptances, and the additional fact that he was, through unforeseen circumstances, lamentably in want of ready money. The Squire became eloquent, and assured Mr. Davis that he would not pay a penny to save either Mr. Davis or his son from instant imprisonment — or even from absolute starvation. Then Mr. Davis shrugged his shoulders, and whispered the word, ‘Post-obits.’ The Squire, thereupon threatened to kick him out of the house, and, on the next day, paid a visit to his friend Mr. Bolton. There had, after that, been a long correspondence between the father, the son, and Mr. Bolton, as to which John Caldigate said not a word to the Babingtons. Had he been more communicative, he might have perhaps saved himself from that scene in the linen-closet. As it was, when he started for Cambridge, nothing was known at Babington either of Mr. Davis or of the New South Wales scheme.
Mr. Bolton lived in a large red-brick house, in the village of Chesterton, near to Cambridge, which, with a large garden, was surrounded by an old, high, dark-coloured brick-wall. He rarely saw any company; and there were probably not many of the more recently imported inhabitants of the town who had ever been inside the elaborate iron gates by which the place was to be approached. He had been a banker all his life, and was still reported to be the senior partner in Bolton’s bank. But the management of the concern had, in truth, been given up to his two elder sons. His third son was a barrister in London, and a fourth was settled in Cambridge as a solicitor. These men were all married, and were doing well in the world, living in houses better than their father’s, and spending a great deal more money. Mr. Bolton had the name of being a hard man, because, having begun life in small circumstances, he had never learned to chuck his shillings about easily; but he had, in a most liberal manner, made over the bulk of his fortune to his sons; and though he himself could rarely be got to sit at their tables, he took delight in hearing that they lived bounteously with their friends. He had been twice married, and there now lived with him his second wife and a daughter, Hester — a girl about sixteen years of age at the period of John Caldigate’s visit to Puritan Grange, as Mr. Bolton’s house was called. At this time Puritan Grange was not badly named; for Mrs. Bolton was a lady of stern life, and Hester Bolton was brought up with more of seclusion and religious observances than are now common in our houses.
Mr. Bolton was probably ten years older than the Squire of Folking; but circumstances had, in early life, made them fast friends. The old Squire had owed a large sum of money to the bank, and Mr. Bolton had then been attracted by the manner in which the son had set himself to work, so that he might not be a burden on the estate. They had been fast friends for a quarter of a century, and now the arrangement of terms between the present Squire and his son had been left to Mr. Bolton.
Mr. Bolton had, no doubt, received a very unfavourable account of the young man. Men, such as was Mr. Bolton, who make their money by lending it out at recognised rates of interest — and who are generally very keen in looking after their principal — have no mercy whatsoever for the Davises of creation, and very little for their customers. To have had dealings with a Davis is condemnation in their eyes. Mr. Bolton would not, therefore, have opened his gates to this spendthrift had not his feelings for the father been very strong. He had thought much upon the matter, and had tried hard to dissuade the Squire. He, the banker, was not particularly attached to the theory of primogeniture. He had divided his wealth equally between his own sons. But he had a strong idea as to property and its rights. The young man’s claim to Folking after his father’s death was as valid as the father’s claim during his life. No doubt, the severance of the entail, if made at all, would be made in accordance with the young man’s wishes, and on certain terms which should be declared to be just by persons able to compute the value of such rights. No doubt, also — so Mr. Bolton thought — the property would be utterly squandered if left in its present condition. It would be ruined by incumbrances in the shape of post-obits. All this had been deeply considered, and at last Mr. Bolton had consented to act between the father and the son.
When John Caldigate was driven up through the iron gates to Mr. Bolton’s door, his mind was not quite at ease within him. He had seen Mr. Bolton on two or three occasions during his University career, and had called at the house; but he had never entered it, and had never seen the ladies; and now it was necessary that he should discuss his own follies, and own all his faults. Of course, that which he was going to do would, in the eyes of the British world, be considered very unwise. The British world regards the position of heirship to acres as the most desirable which a young man could hold. That he was about to abandon. But, as he told himself, without abandoning it he could not rid himself from the horror of Davis. He was quite prepared to acknowledge his own vice and childish stupidity in regard to Davis. He had looked all round that now, and was sure that he would do nothing of the kind again. But how could he get rid of Davis in any other way than this? And then Folking had no charms for him. He hated Folking. He was certain that any life would suit him better than a life to be passed as squire of Folking. And he was quite alive to the fact that, though there was at home the prospect of future position and future income, for the present, there would be nothing. Were he to submit himself humbly to his father, he might probably be allowed to vegetate at the old family home. But there was no career for him. No profession had as yet been even proposed. His father was fifty-five, a very healthy man — likely to live for the next twenty years. And then it would be impossible that he should dwell in peace under the same roof with his father. And Davis! Life would be miserable to him if he could not free himself from that thraldom. The sum of money which was to be offered to him, and which was to be raised on the Folking property, would enable him to pay Davis, and to start upon his career with plentiful means in his pocket. He would, too, be wise and not risk all his capital. Shand had a couple of thousand pounds, and he would start with a like sum of his own. Should he fail in New South Wales, there would still be something on which to begin again. With his mind thus fixed, he entered Mr. Bolton’s gates.
He was to stay one night at Puritan Grange; and then, if the matter were arranged, he would go over to Folking for a day or two, and endeavour to part from his father on friendly terms. In that case he would be able to pay Davis himself, and there need be no ground for quarrelling on that score.
Before dinner the matter was settled at the Grange. The stern old man bade his visitor sit down, and then explained to him at full length that which it was proposed to do. So much money the Squire had himself put by; so much more Mr. Bolton himself would advance; the value had been properly computed; and, should the arrangement be completed, he, John Caldigate, would sell his inheritance at its proper price. Over and over again the young man endeavoured to interrupt the speaker, but was told to postpone his words till the other should have done. Such interruptions came from the too evident fact that Mr. Bolton thoroughly despised his guest. Caldigate, though he had been very foolish, though he had loved to slaughter rats and rabbits, and to romp with the girls at Babington, was by no means a fool. He was possessed of good natural abilities, of great activity, and of a high spirit. His appreciation was quicker than that of the old banker, who, as he soon saw, had altogether failed to understand him. In every word that the banker spoke, it was evident that he thought that these thousands would be squandered instantly. The banker spoke as though this terrible severance was to be made because the natural heir had shown himself to be irrevocably bad. What could be expected from a youth who was deep in the books of a Davis before he had left his college? ‘I do not recommend this,’ he said at last. ‘I have never recommended it. The disruption is so great as to be awful. But when your father has asked what better step he could take, I have been unable to advise him.’ It was as though the old man were telling the young one that he was too bad for hope, and that, therefore, he must be consigned for ever to perdition.
Caldigate, conscious of the mistake which the banker was making, full of hope as to himself, intending to acknowledge the follies of which he had been guilty, and, at the same time, not to promise — for he would not condescend so far — but to profess that they were things of the past, and impatient of the judgment expressed against him, endeavoured to stop the old man in his severity, so that the tone in which the business was being done might be altered. But when he found that he could not do this without offence, he leaned back in his chair, and heard the indictment to the end. ‘Now, Mr. Bolton,’ he said, when at length his time came, ‘you shall hear my view of the matter.’ And Mr. Bolton did hear him, listening very patiently. Caldigate first asserted, that in coming there, to Puritan Grange, his object had been to learn what were the terms proposed — as to which he was now willing to give his assent. He had already quite made up his mind to sell what property he had on the estate, and therefore, though he was much indebted to Mr. Bolton for his disinterested and kind friendship, he was hardly in want of counsel on that matter. Mr. Bolton raised his eyebrows, but still listened patiently. Caldigate then went on to explain his views as to life, declaring that under no circumstances — had there been no Davis — would he have consented to remain at Folking as a deputy-squire, waiting to take up his position some twenty years hence at his father’s death. Nor, even were Folking his own at this moment, would he live there! He must do something; and, upon the whole, he thought that gold-mining in the colonies was the most congenial pursuit to which he could put his hand. Then he made a frank acknowledgment as to Davis and his gambling follies, and ended by saying that the matter might be regarded as settled.
He had certainly been successful in changing the old man’s opinion. Mr. Bolton did not say as much, nor was he a man likely to make such acknowledgment; but when he led John Caldigate away to be introduced to his wife in the drawing-room, he felt less of disdain for his guest than he had done half an hour before. Mr. Bolton was a silent, cautious man, even in his own family, and had said nothing of this business to his wife, and nothing, of course, to his daughter. Mrs. Bolton asked after the Squire, and expressed a hope that her guest would not find the house very dull for one night. She had heard that John Caldigate was a fast young man, and of course regarded him as a lost sinner. Hester, who was with her mother, looked at him with all her young big eyes, but did not speak a word. It was very seldom that she saw any young man, or indeed young people of either sex. But when this stranger spoke freely to her mother about this subject and the other, she listened to him and was interested.
John Caldigate, without being absolutely handsome, was a youth sure to find favour in a woman’s eyes. He was about five feet ten in height, strong and very active, with bright dark eyes which were full of life and intelligence. His forehead was square and showed the angles of his brow; his hair was dark and thick and cut somewhat short; his mouth was large, but full of expression and generally, also, of good-humour. His nose would have been well formed, but that it was a little snubbed at the end. Altogether his face gave you the idea of will, intellect, and a kindly nature; but there was in it a promise, too, of occasional anger, and a physiognomist might perhaps have expected from it that vacillation in conduct which had hitherto led him from better things into wretched faults.
As he was talking to Mrs. Bolton he had observed the girl, who sat apart, with her fingers busy on her work, and who had hardly spoken a word since his entrance. She was, he thought, the most lovely human being that he had ever beheld; and yet she was hardly more than a child. But how different from those girls at Babington! Her bright brown hair was simply brushed from off her forehead and tied in a knot behind her head. Her dress was as plain as a child’s — as though it was intended that she should still be regarded as a child. Her face was very fair, with large, grey, thoughtful eyes, and a mouth which, though as Caldigate watched her it was never opened, seemed always as if it was just about to pour forth words. And he could see that though her eyes were intent upon her work, from time to time she looked across at him; and he thought that if only they two were alone together, he could teach her to speak.
But no such opportunity was given to him now, or during his short sojourn at the Grange. After a while the old man returned to the room and took him up to his bed-chamber. It was then about half-past four, and he was told that they were to dine at six. It was early in November — not cold enough for bedroom fires among thrifty people, and there he was left, apparently to spend an hour with nothing to do. Rebelling against this, declaring that even at Puritan Grange he would be master of his own actions, he rushed down into the hall, took his hat, and walked off into the town. He would go and take one last look at the old college.
He went in through the great gate and across the yard, and passing by the well-known buttery-hatches, looked into the old hall for the last time. The men were all seated at dinner, and he could see the fellows up at the high table. Three years ago it had been his fixed resolve to earn for himself the right to sit upon that dais. He had then been sure of himself — that he would do well, and take honours, and win a fellowship. There had been moments in which he had thought that a college life would suit him till he came into his own property. But how had all that faded away! Everybody had congratulated him on the ease with which he did his work — and the result had been Newmarket, Davis, and a long score in the ephemeral records of a cricket match. As he stood there, with his slouched hat over his eyes, one of the college servants recognised him, and called him by his name. Then he passed on quickly, and made his way out to the gravel-walk by the river-side. It was not yet closed for the night, and he went on, that he might take one last turn up and down the old avenue.
He had certainly made a failure of his life so far. He did acknowledge to himself that there was something nobler in these classic shades than in the ore-laden dirt of an Australian gold-gully. He knew as much of the world as that. He had not hitherto chosen the better part, and now something of regret, even as to Folking — poor old Folking — came upon him. He was, as it were, being kicked out and repudiated by his own family as worthless. And what was he to do about Julia Babington? After that scene in the linen-closet, he could not leave his country without a word either to Julia or to aunt Polly. But the idea of Julia was doubly distasteful to him since that lovely vision of young female simplicity had shone upon him from the corner of Mrs. Bolton’s drawing-room. Romping with the Babington girls was all very well; but if he could only feel the tips of that girl’s fingers come within the grasp of his hand! Then he thought that it would lend a fine romance to his life if he could resolve to come back, when he should be laden with gold, and make Hester Bolton his wife. It should be his romance, and he swore that he would cling to it.
He turned back, and came down to dinner five minutes after the time. At ten minutes before dinner-time Mr. Bolton heard that he was gone out and was offended — thinking it quite possible that he would not return at all. What might not be expected from a young man who could so easily abandon his inheritance! But he was there, only five minutes after the time, and the dinner was eaten almost in silence. In the evening there was tea, and the coldest shivering attempt at conversation for half an hour, during which he could still at moments catch the glance of Hester’s eyes, and see the moving curve of her lips. Then there was a reading of the Bible, and prayer, and before ten he was in his bed-room.
On the next morning as he took his departure, Mr. Bolton said a word intended to be gracious. ‘I hope you may succeed in your enterprise, Mr. Caldigate.’
‘Why should I not as well as another?’ said John, cheerily.
‘If you are steady, sober, industrious, self-denying and honest, you probably will,’ replied the banker.
‘To promise all that would be to promise too much,’ said John. ‘But I mean to make an effort.’
Then at that moment he made one effort which was successful. For an instant he held Hester’s fingers within his hand.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14