After that Caldigate did not allow the grass to grow under his feet, and before the end of November the two young people were engaged. As Robert Bolton had said, Hester was of course flattered and of course delighted with this new joy. John Caldigate was just the man to recommend himself to such a girl, not too light, not too prone to pleasure, not contenting himself with bicycles, cricket matches, or billiards, and yet not wholly given to serious matters as had been those among whom she had hitherto passed her days. And he was one who could speak of his love with soft winning words, neither roughly nor yet with too much of shame-faced diffidence. And when he told her how he had sworn to himself after seeing her that once — that once when all before him in life was enveloped in doubt and difficulty — that he would come home and make her his wife, she thought that the manly constancy of his heart was almost divine. Of course she loved him with all her heart. He was in all respects one made to be loved by a woman; — and then what else had she ever had to love? When once it was arranged that he should be allowed to speak to her, the thing was done. She did not at once tell him that it was done. She took some few short halcyon weeks to dally with the vow which her heart was ready to make; but those around her knew that the vow had been inwardly made; and those who were anxious on her behalf with a new anxiety, with a new responsibility, redoubled their inquiries as to John Caldigate. How would Robert Bolton or Mrs. Robert excuse themselves to that frightened miserable mother if at last it should turn out that John Caldigate was not such as they had represented him to be?
But no one could pick a hole in him although many attempts to pick holes were made. The question of his money was put quite at rest by the transference of all his securities, balances, and documents to the Boltons’ bank, and the £60,000 for Polyeuka was accepted, so that there was no longer any need that he should go again to the colony. This was sweet news to Hester when she first heard it; — for it had come to pass that it had been agreed that the marriage should be postponed till his return, that having been the one concession made to Mrs. Bolton. There had been many arguments about it; — but Hester at last told him that she had promised so much to her mother and that she would of course keep her promise. Then the arrangement took such a form that the journey was not necessary — or perhaps the objection to the journey became so strong in Caldigate’s mind that he determined to dispense with it at any price. And thus, very greatly to the dismay of Mrs. Bolton, suddenly there came to be no reason why they should not be married almost at once.
But there was an attempt made at the picking of holes — or rather many attempts. It would be unfair to say that this was carried on by Mrs. Bolton herself; — but she was always ready to listen to what evil things were said to her. Mrs. Nicholas, in her horror at the general wickedness of the Caldigates almost reconciled herself to her step-mother, and even Mrs. Daniel began to fear that a rash thing was being done. In the first place there was the old story of Davis and Newmarket. Robert Bolton who had necessarily become the advocate and defender of our hero generally, did not care much for Davis and Newmarket. All young men sow their wild oats. Of course he had been extravagant. Since his extravagance he had shown himself to be an industrious, sensible, steady member of society; — and there was the money that he had earned! What young man had earned more in a shorter time, or had ever been more prudent in keeping it? Davis and Newmarket were easily answered by a reference to the bank account. Did he ever go to Newmarket now, though he was living so close to it? On that matter Robert Bolton was very strong.
But Mrs. Nicholas had found out that Caldigate had spent certainly two Sundays running at Folking without going to church at all; and, as far as she could learn, he was altogether indifferent about public worship. Mrs. Bolton, who could never bring herself to treat him as a son-in-law, but who was still obliged to receive him, taxed him to his face with his paganism. ‘Have you no religion, Mr. Caldigate?’ He assured her that he had, and fell into a long discussion in which he thoroughly confused her, though he by no means convinced her that he was what he ought to be. But he went with her to church twice on one Sunday, and showed her that he was perfectly familiar with the ways of the place.
But perhaps the loudest complaint came from the side of Babington; and here two sets of enemies joined their forces together who were thoroughly hostile to each other. Mrs. Babington declared loudly that old Bolton had been an errand-boy in his youth, and that his father had been a porter and his mother a washerwoman. This could do no real harm, as Caldigate would not have been deterred by any such rumours, even had they been true; but they tended to show animosity, and enabled Mrs. Nicholas to find out the cause of the Babington opposition. When she learned that John Caldigate had been engaged to his cousin Julia, of course she made the most of it; and so did Mrs. Bolton. And in this way it came to be reported not only that the young man had been engaged to Miss Babington before he went to Australia — but also that he had renewed his engagement since his return. ‘You do not love her, do you?’ Hester asked him. Then he told her the whole story, as nearly as he could tell it with some respect for his cousin, laughing the while at his aunt’s solicitude, and saying, perhaps something not quite respectful as to Julia’s red cheeks and green hat, all of which certainly had not the effect of hardening Hester’s heart against him. ‘The poor young lady can’t help it if her feet are big,’ said Hester, who was quite alive to the grace of a well-made pair of boots, although she had been taught to eschew braided hair and pearls and gold.
Mrs. Babington, however, pushed her remonstrances so far that she boldly declared that the man was engaged to her daughter, and wrote to him more than once declaring that it was so. She wrote, indeed, very often, sometimes abusing him for his perfidy, and then, again, imploring him to return to them, and not to defile the true old English blood of the Caldigates with the suds of a washerwoman and the swept-up refuse of a porter’s shovel. She became quite eloquent in her denunciation, but always saying that if he would only come back to Babington all would be forgiven him. But in these days he made no visits to Babington.
Then there came a plaintive little note from Mrs. Shand. Of course they wished him joy if it were true. But could it be true? Men were very fickle, certainly; but this change seemed to have been very, very sudden! And there was a word or two, prettily written in another hand, on a small slip of paper —‘Perhaps you had better send back the book’; and Caldigate, as he read it, thought that he could discern the almost-obliterated smudge of a wiped-up tear. He wrote a cheerful letter to Mrs. Shand, in which he told her that though he had not been absolutely engaged to marry Hester Bolton before he started for Australia — and consequently before he had ever been at Pollington — yet his mind had been quite made up to do so; and that therefore he regarded himself as being abnormally constant rather than fickle. ‘And tell your daughter, with my kindest regards,’ he added, ‘that I hope I may be allowed to keep the book.’
The Babington objections certainly made their way in Cambridge and out at Chesterton further than any others, and for a time did give a hope to Mrs. Bolton and Mrs. Nicholas — and made Robert Bolton shrug his shoulders uneasily when he heard all the details of the engagement in the linen-closet. But there came at one moment a rumour, which did not count for much among the Boltons, but which disturbed Caldigate himself more than any of the other causes adduced for breaking off his intended marriage. Word came that he had been very intimate with a certain woman on his way out to Melbourne woman supposed to be a foreigner and an actress; and the name of Cettini was whispered. He did not know whence the rumour came; — but on one morning Robert Bolton, half-laughing, but still with a tone of voice that was half-earnest, taxed him with having as many loves as Lothario. ‘Who is Cettini?’ asked Robert Bolton.
‘Cettini?’ said Caldigate, with a struggle to prevent a blush.
‘Did you travel with such a woman?’
‘Yes; — at least, if that was her name. I did not hear it till afterwards. A very agreeable woman she was.’
‘They say that you promised to marry her when on board.’
‘Then they lie. But that is a matter of course. There are so many lies going about that I almost feel myself to be famous.’
‘You did not see her after the journey?’
‘Yes, I did. I saw her act at Sydney; and very well she acted. Have you anything else to ask?’ Robert Bolton said that he had nothing else to ask — and seemed, at the moment, to turn his half-serious mood into one that was altogether jocular, But the mention of the name had been a wound; and when an anonymous letter a few days afterwards reached Hester herself he was really unhappy. Hester made nothing of the letter — did not even show it to her mother. At that time a day had been fixed for their marriage; and she already regarded her lover as nearer to her than either father or mother. The letter purported to be from some one who had travelled with her lover and this woman on board ship, and declared that everybody on board the ship had thought that Caldigate meant to marry the woman — who then, so said the letter, called herself Mrs. Smith. Hester showed the letter to Caldigate, and then Caldigate told his story. There had been such a woman, who had been much ill-treated because of her poverty. He had certainly taken the woman’s part. She had been clever and, as he had thought, well-behaved. And, no doubt, there had been a certain amount of friendship. He had seen her again in Sydney, where he had found her exercising her profession as an actress. That had been all. ‘I cannot imagine, dear,’ he said, ‘that you should be jealous of any woman; but certainly not of such a one as she.’ ‘Nor can I imagine,’ said Hester, stoutly, ‘that I could possibly be jealous of any woman.’ And then there was nothing more said about the woman Smith-Cettini.
During all this time there were many family meetings. Those between Mr. Caldigate, the father, and old Mr. Bolton were pleasant enough, though not peculiarly cordial. The banker, though he had been brought to agree to the marriage had not been quite reconciled to it. His younger son had been able to convince him that it was his duty to liberate his daughter from the oppression of her mother’s over-vigilance, and all the rest had followed very quickly — overwhelming him, as it were, by stern necessity. When once the girl had come to understand that she could have her own way, if she chose to have a way of her own, she very quickly took the matter into her own management. And in this way the engagement became a thing settled before the banker had realised the facts of the position. Though he could not be cordial he endeavoured to be gracious to his old friend. But Mrs. Bolton spoke words which made all friendship impossible. She asked old Mr. Caldigate after his soul, and when he replied to her less seriously than she thought becoming, she told him that he was in the bad way. And then she said things about the marriage which implied that she would sooner see her daughter in her grave than married to a man who was no more than a professing Christian. The conversation ended in a quarrel, after which the squire would not go again to Puritan Grange.
There was indeed a time, an entire week, during which the mother and daughter hardly spoke to each other. In these days Mrs. Bolton continually demanded of her husband that he should break off the match, always giving as a reason the alleged fact that John Caldigate was not a true believer. It had been acknowledged between them that if such were the fact the man would be an unfit husband for their daughter. But they differed as to the fact. The son had over and over again declared himself to be a faithful member of the Church of England — not very scrupulous perhaps in the performance of her ceremonies — but still a believing member. That his father was not so every one knew, but he was not responsible for his father. Mr. Bolton seemed to think that the argument was good; — but Mrs. Bolton was of opinion that to become willingly the daughter-in-law of an infidel, would be to throw oneself with one’s eyes open in the way of perdition. Hester through all this declared that nothing should now turn her from the man she loved, ‘Not though he were an infidel himself?’ said the terror-stricken mother. ‘Nothing!’ said Hester, bravely. ‘Of course I should try to change him.’ A more wretched woman than Mrs. Bolton might not probably then have been found. She suddenly perceived herself to be quite powerless with the child over whom her dominion had hitherto been supreme. And she felt herself compelled to give way to people whom, with all her heart, she hated. She determined that nothing — nothing should induce her to soften her feelings to this son-in-law who was forced upon her. The man had come and had stolen from her her treasure, her one treasure. And that other man whom she had always feared and always hated, Robert Bolton, the man whose craft and worldliness had ever prevented her from emancipating her husband from the flesh and the devil, had brought all this about. Then she reconciled herself to her child, and wept over her, and implored heaven to save her. Hester tried to argue with her — spoke of her own love — appealed to her mother, asking whether, as she had now declared her love, it could be right that she should abandon a man who was so good and so fondly attached to her. Then Mrs. Bolton would hide her face, and sob, and put up renewed prayers to heaven that her daughter might not by means of this unhappy marriage become lost to all sense of grace.
It was very miserable, but still the prospect of the marriage was never abandoned nor postponed. A day had been settled a little before Christmas, and the Robert Boltons would allow of no postponement. The old man was so tormented by the misery of his own home that he himself was averse to delay. There could be no comfort for him till the thing should have been done. Mrs. Bolton had suggested that it should be put off till the spring; — but he had gloomily replied that as the thing had to be done, the sooner it was done the better.
It had been settled almost from the first that the marriage festival should be held, not at Puritan Grange, but at The Nurseries; and gradually it came to be understood that Mrs. Bolton herself would not be present, either at the church or at the breakfast. It was in vain that Hester implored her mother to yield to her in something, to stand with her at any rate on the steps before the altar. ‘Would you wish me to go and lie before my God?’ said the unhappy woman. ‘When I would give all that I have in the world except my soul — my life, my name, even my child herself, to prevent this, am I to go and smile and be congratulated, and to look as though I were happy?’ There was, therefore, very much unhappiness at the Grange, and an absence of all triumph even at The Nurseries. At the old bank-house in the town where the Nicholases lived, the marriage was openly denounced; and even the Daniels, though they were pledged to be present, were in doubt.
‘I suppose it is all right,’ said Mrs. Robert to her husband.
‘Of course it is all right. Why not?’
‘It seems sad that such an event as a marriage should give rise to so much ill-feeling. I almost wish we had not meddled, Robert.’
‘I don’t think there is anything to regret. Remember what Hester’s position would have been if my father had died, leaving her simply to her mother’s guardianship! We were bound to free her from that, and we have done it.’ This was all very well; — but still there was no triumph, no ringing of those inward marriage bells the sound of whose music ought to be so pleasant to both the families concerned.
There were, however, two persons quite firm to their purpose, and these were the bride and bridegroom. With him firmness was comparatively easy. When his father suggested that the whole Bolton family was making itself disagreeable, he could with much satisfaction reply that he did not intend to marry the whole Bolton family. Having answered the first letter or two he could ignore the Babington remonstrances. And when he was cross-examined as to points of doctrine, he could with sincerity profess himself to be of the same creed with his examiners. If he went to church less often than old Mr. Bolton, so did old Mr. Bolton go less often than his wife. It was a matter as to which there was no rule. Thus his troubles were comparatively light, and his firmness might be regarded as a thing of course. But she was firm too, and firm amidst very different circumstances. Though her mother prayed and sobbed, implored her, and almost cursed her, still she was firm. She had given her word to the man, and her heart, and she would not go back. ‘Yes, papa. It is too late now,’ she said, when her father coming from his wife, once suggested to her that even yet it was not too late. ‘Of course I shall marry him,’ she said to Mrs. Robert, almost with indignation, when Mrs. Robert on one occasion almost broke down in her purpose.
‘Dear aunt, indeed, indeed, you need not interfere,’ she said to Mrs. Nicholas. ‘If he were all that they have called him, still I would marry him,’ she said to her other aunt — ‘because I love him.’ And so they all became astonished at the young girl whom they had reared up among them, and to understand that whatever might now be their opinions, she would have her way.
And so it was decided that they should be married on a certain Tuesday in the middle of December. Early in the morning she was to be brought down to her aunt’s house, there to be decked in her bridal robes, thence to be taken to the church, then to return for the bridal feast, and from thence to be taken off by her husband — to go whither they might list.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01