It was a sad wedding, though everything within the power of Mr. Robert Bolton was done to make it gay. There was a great breakfast, and all the Boltons were at last persuaded to be present except Mrs. Bolton and Mrs. Nicholas. As to Mrs. Nicholas she was hardly even asked. ‘Of course we would be delighted to see Mrs. Nicholas, if she would come,’ Mrs. Robert said to Nicholas himself. But there had been such long-continued and absolute hostility between the ladies that this was known to be impossible. In regard to Mrs. Bolton herself, great efforts were made. Her husband condescended to beg her to consent on this one occasion to appear among the Philistines. But as the time came nearer she became more and more firm in her resolution. ‘You shall not touch pitch and not be defiled,’ she said. ‘You cannot serve God and Mammon.’ When the old man tried to show her that there was no question of Mammon here, she evaded him, as she always did on such occasions, either by a real or simulated deficiency of consequent intelligence. She regarded John Caldigate as being altogether unregenerate, and therefore a man of the world — and therefore a disciple of Mammon. She asked him whether he wanted her to do what she thought to be sinful. ‘It is very sinful hating people as you hate my sons’ families,’ he said in his wrath. ‘No, Nicholas, I do not hate their families. I certainly do not hate Margaret, nor yet Fanny; — but I think that they live in opposition to the Gospel. Am I to belie my own belief?’ Now the old man was quite certain that his wife did hate both Robert’s wife and William’s and would not admit in her own mind this distinction between the conduct of persons and the persons themselves. But he altogether failed in his attempts to induce her to go to the breakfast.
The great contest was between the mother and the daughter; but in all that passed between them no reference was even made to the banquet. As to that Hester was indifferent. She thought, on the whole, that her mother would do best to be absent. After all, what is a breakfast; — or what the significance of any merry-meeting, even for a wedding? There would no doubt be much said and much done on such an occasion at variance with her mother’s feelings. Even the enforced gaiety of the dresses would be distasteful to her, and there would hardly be sufficient cause for pressing her to be present on such an occasion. But in reference to the church, the question, to Hester’s thinking, was very different, ‘Mamma,’ she said, ‘if you are not there, it will be a lasting misery to me.’
‘How can I go there when I would give so much to save you from going there yourself?’ This was a terrible thing for a mother to say to her own child on the eve of her wedding, but it had been now said so often as to have lost something of its sting. It had come to be understood that Mrs. Bolton would not allow herself to give any assent to the marriage, but that the marriage was to go on without such assent. All that had been settled. But still she might go to the church with them and pray for good results. She feared that evil would come, but still she might wish for good — wish for it and pray for it.
‘You don’t want me to be unhappy, mamma?’
‘Want!’ said the mother. ‘Who can want her child to be unhappy? But there is an unhappiness harder to be borne, more to be dreaded, enduring so much longer than that which we may suffer here.’
‘Will you not come and pray that I may be delivered also from that? As I am going from you, will you not let me know that you are there with me at the last moment. Though you do not love him, you do not wish to quarrel with me. Oh, mamma, let me feel at any rate that you are there.’ Then the mother promised that she would be there, in the church, though unknown to or at least unrecognised by any one else. When the morning came, and when Hester was dropped at The Nurseries, in order that she might go up and be invested in her finery amidst her bridesmaids, who were all her cousins, the carriage went on and took Mrs. Bolton to the church. It was represented to her that, by this arrangement, she would be forced to remain an hour alone in the cold building. But she was one of those who regarded all discomfort as meritorious, as in some way adding something to her claim for heaven. Self-scourging with rods as a penance, was to her thinking a papistical ordinance most abominable and damnatory; but the essence of the self-scourging was as comfortable to her as ever was a hair-shirt to a Roman Catholic enthusiast. So she went and sat apart in a dark distant pew, dressed in black and deeply veiled, praying, not it is to be feared, that John Caldigate might be a good husband to her girl, but that he, as he made his way downward to things below, might not drag her darling with him. That only a few can be saved was the fact in all her religion with which she was most thoroughly conversant. The strait way and the narrow gate, through which only a few can pass! Were they not known to all believers, to all who had a glimmering of belief, as an established part of the Christian faith, as a part so established that to dream even that the gate would be made broad and the way open would be to dream against the Gospel, against the very plainest of God’s words? If so — and she would tell herself at all hours that certainly, certainly, certainly so it was — then why should she trouble herself for one so little likely to come in the way of salvation as this man who was now robbing her of her daughter? If it was the will of the Almighty — as it clearly was the will of the Almighty — that, out of every hundred, ninety and nine should perish, could she dare now to pray more than for one? Or if her prayers were wider must they not be inefficacious? Yes; — there had been the thief upon the cross! It was all possible. But this man was a thief, not upon the cross. And, therefore, as she prayed that morning she said not a prayer for him.
In the meantime the carriage had gone back for the bride, who in very simple raiment, but yet in bridal-white array, was taken up to the church. These Boltons were prosperous people, who had all their carriages, so that there was no lack of vehicles. Two of the girls from London and two from The Nurseries made up the bevy of bridesmaids who were as bright and fair as though the bride had come from some worldlier stock. Mrs. Robert, indeed, had done all she could to give to the whole concern a becoming bridal brightness, till even Mrs. Daniel had been tempted to remonstrate. ‘I don’t see why you shouldn’t wear pretty things if you’ve got the money to pay for them,’ said Mrs. Robert. Mrs. Daniel shook her head, but on the afternoon before the wedding she bought an additional ribbon.
Caldigate came over from Folking that morning attended by one John Jones, an old college friend, as his best man. The squire was not at the wedding, but on the day before he was with Hester at The Nurseries, telling her that she should be his dear daughter, and at the same time giving her a whole set of wicked but very pretty worldly gauds. ‘Upon my word, my dear, he has been very gracious,’ said Mrs. Robert, when she saw them. ‘I quite envy the girls being married nowadays, because they get such pretty things.’
‘They are very pretty,’ said Hester.
‘And must have cost, I’m afraid to say how much money.’
‘I suppose it means to say that he will love me, and therefore I am so glad to have them!’ But the squire, though he did mean to say that he would love her, did not come to the wedding. He was, he said, unaccustomed to such things, and hoped that he might be excused.
Therefore, from the Folking side there was no one but John Caldigate himself and John Jones. Of the Babingtons, of course, there was not one. As long as there was a possibility of success Mrs. Babington had kept up her remonstrances; — but when there was no longer a possibility she announced that there was to be an everlasting quarrel between the houses. Babington and Folking were for the future to know nothing of each other. Caldigate had hoped that though the ladies would for a time be unforgiving, his uncle and his male cousins would not take up the quarrel. But aunt Polly was too strong for that; and he was declared to be a viper who had been warmed in all their bosoms and had then stung them all round. ‘If you will nurse a viper in your bosom of course he will sting you,’ said Aunt Polly in a letter which she took the trouble to write to the squire. In reply to which the squire wrote back thus; ‘My dear sister, if you will look into your dictionary of natural history you will see that vipers have no stings. Yours truly, D. Caldigate.’ This letter was supposed to add much to the already existing offence.
But the marriage ceremony was performed in spite of all this quarrelling, and the mother standing up in the dark corner of her pew heard her daughter’s silver-clear voice as she vowed to devote herself to her husband. As she heard it, she also devoted herself. When sorrow should come as sorrow certainly would come, then she would be ready once again to be a mother to her child. But till that time should come the wife of John Caldigate would be nothing to her.
She was not content with thinking and resolving that it should be so, but she declared her intention in so many words to her daughter. For poor Hester, though she was proud of her husband, this was in truth a miserable day. Could she have been induced to separate herself altogether from her mother on the previous night, or even on that morning, it would have been better, but there was with her that customary longing for a last word of farewell which has often made so many of us wretched. And then there was a feeling that, as she was giving herself away in marriage altogether in opposition to her mother’s counsels, on that very account she owed to her more attached and increased observance. Therefore, she had arranged with her husband that when she returned from the banquet to prepare herself for her journey, a longer absence than usual should be allowed to her; — so that she might be taken back to Chesterton, and might thus see her mother the last after saying farewell to all the others. Then the carriage should return to The Nurseries and he would be ready to step in, and she need not show herself again, worn out as she would be with the tears and sobbings which she anticipated.
It all went as it was arranged, but it would have been much better to arrange it otherwise. The journey to the Grange and back, together with the time spent in the interview, took an hour — and the time went very slowly with the marriage guests. There always comes a period beyond which it is impossible to be festive. When the bride left the room, the bridesmaids and other ladies went with her. Then the gentlemen who remained hardly knew what to do with each other. Old Mr. Bolton was not jovial on the occasion, and the four brothers hardly knew how to find subjects for conversation on such an occasion. The bridegroom felt the hour to be very long, although he consented to play billiards with the boys; and John Jones, although he did at last escape and find his way up among the girls, thought that his friend had married himself into a very sombre family. But all this was pleasant pastime indeed compared with that which poor Hester endured in her mother’s bedroom. ‘So it has been done,’ said Mrs. Bolton, sitting in a comfortless little chair, which she was accustomed to use when secluded, with her Bible, from all the household. She spoke in a voice that might have been fit had a son of hers been just executed on the gallows.
‘Oh, mamma, do not speak of it like that!’
‘My darling, my own one; would you have me pretend what I do not feel?’ ‘Why, yes. Even that would be better than treatment such as this.’ That would have been Hester’s reply could she have spoken her mind; but she could not speak it, and therefore she stood silent. ‘I will not pretend. You and your father have done this thing against my wishes and against my advice.’
‘It is I that have done it, mamma.’
‘You would not have persevered had he been firm — as firm as I have been. But he has vacillated, turning hither and thither, serving God and Mammon. And he has allowed himself to be ruled by his own son. I will never, never speak to Robert Bolton again.’
‘Oh mamma, do not say that.’
‘I do say it. I swear it. You shall not touch pitch and not be defiled. If there be pitch on earth he is pitch. If your eye offend you, pluck it out. He is my step-son, I know; but I will pluck him out like an eye that has offended. It is he that has robbed me of my child.’
‘Am I not still your child?’ said Hester, going down on her knees with her hands in her mother’s lap and her eyes turned up to her mother’s face.
‘No. You are not mine any longer. You are his. You are that man’s wife. When he bids you do that which is evil in the sight of the Lord, you must do it. And he will bid you. You are not my child now. As days run on and sins grow black I cannot warn you now against the wrath to come. But though you are not my child, though you are this man’s wife, I will pray for you.’
‘And for him?’
‘I do not know. I cannot say. Who am I that I should venture to pray specially for a stranger? That His way may be shown to all sinners; — thus will I pray for him. And it will be shown. Though whether he will walk in it — who can say that?’ So much was true of John Caldigate, no doubt, and is true of all; but there was a tone in her voice which implied that in regard to this special sinner there could be very little hope indeed.
‘Why should you think that he is bad, mamma?’
‘We are all bad. There is no doubt about his being bad. There is not one among us fit to sweep the lowest step of God’s throne. But they who are His people shall be made bright enough to sit round His feet. May the time come when you, my darling, shall be restored to the fold.’ The poor young wife by this time had acknowledged to herself the mistake she had made in thus coming to her mother after her marriage. She now was of course in that ecstatic phase of existence which makes one’s own self altogether subordinate to the self of another person. That her husband should be happy constituted her hope of happiness; that he should be comfortable, her comfort. If he were thought worthy, that would be her worthiness; or if he were good, that would be her goodness. And even as to those higher, more distant aspirations, amidst which her mother was always dwelling, she would take no joy for herself which did not include him. The denunciations against him which were so plainly included even in her mother’s blessings and prayers for herself, did not frighten her on behalf of the man to whom she had devoted herself. She could see the fanaticism and fury of her mother’s creed. But she could not escape from the curse of the moment. When that last imprecation was made by the woman, with her hands folded and her eyes turned up to heaven, Hester could only bury her face on her mother’s knees and weep. ‘When that time comes, and I know it will come, you shall return to me, and once more be my child,’ said the mother.
‘You do not mean that I shall leave my husband?’
‘Who can tell? If you do, and I am living, you shall be my child. Till then we must be apart. How can it be otherwise? Can I give my cheek to a man to be kissed, and call him my son, when I think that he has robbed me of my only treasure?’
This was so terrible that the daughter could only hang around her mother’s neck, sobbing and kissing her at the same time, and then go without another word. She was sure of this — that if she must lose one or the other, her mother or her husband, then she would lose her mother. When she returned to The Nurseries, her husband, according to agreement came out to her at once. She had bidden adieu to all the others; but at the last moment her father put his hand into the carriage, so that she could take it and kiss it. ‘Mamma is so sad,’ she said to him; ‘go home to her and comfort her.’ Of course the old man did go home, but he was aware that there would for some time be little comfort there either for him or for his wife. He and his sons had been too powerful for her in arranging the marriage; but now, now that it was done, nothing could stop her reproaches. He had been made to think it wrong on one side to shut his girl up, and now from the other side he was being made to think that he had done very wrong in allowing her to escape.
It had been arranged that they should be driven out of Cambridge to the railway station at Audley End on their way to London; so that they might avoid the crowd of people who would know them at the Cambridge station. As soon as they had got away from the door of Robert Bolton’s house, the husband attempted to comfort his young wife. ‘At any rate it is over,’ he said, alluding of course to the tedium of their wedding festivities.
‘So much is over,’ she replied.
‘You do not regret anything?’
She shook her head slowly as she leaned lovingly against his shoulder. ‘You are not sorry, Hester, that you have become my wife?’
‘I had to be your wife — because I love you.’
‘Is that a sorrow?’
‘I had been all my mother’s; — and now I am all yours. She has thrown me off because I have disobeyed her. I hope you will never throw me off.’
‘Is it likely?’
‘I think not. I know that I shall never throw you off. They have tried to make me believe that you are not all that you ought to be — in religion. But now your religion shall be my religion, and your life my life. I shall be of your colour — altogether But, John, a limb cannot be wrenched out of a socket, as I have been torn away from my mother, without pain.’
‘She will forgive it all when we come back.’
‘I fear — I fear. I never knew her to forgive anything yet.’ This was very bad; but nevertheless it was plain to him as it had been plain to Robert and William Bolton, that not because of the violence of the woman’s character should the life of her daughter have been sacrificed to her. His duty to make her new life bright for her was all the more plain and all the more sound — and as they made their first journey together he explained to her how sacred that duty should always be to him.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01