John Caldigate, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter XLIII

The Last Day

After Sir John Joram’s speech, and when the work of the second day had been brought to a close, Caldigate allowed his hopes to rise higher than they had ever mounted since he had first become aware that the accusation would in truth be brought against him. It seemed to be almost impossible that any jury should give a verdict in opposition to arguments so convincing as those Sir John had used. All those details which had appeared to himself to be so damning to his own cause now melted away, and seemed to be of no avail. And even Mr. Seely, when he came to see his client in the evening, was less oppressive than usual. He did not, indeed, venture to express hope, but in his hopelessness he was somewhat more hopeful than before. ‘You must remember, Mr. Caldigate,’ he said, ‘that you have not yet heard the judge, and that with such a jury the Judge will go much further than any advocate. I never knew a Cambridgeshire jury refuse to be led by Judge Bramber.’

‘Why a Cambridgeshire jury?’ asked old Mr. Caldigate; ‘and why Judge Bramber especially?’

‘We are a little timid, I think, here in the eastern counties — a little wanting in self-confidence. An advocate in the north of England has a finer scope, because the people like to move counter to authority. A Lancashire jury will generally be unwilling to do what a judge tells them. And then Judge Bramber has a peculiar way of telling a jury. If he has a strong opinion of his own he never leaves the jury in doubt about it. Some judges are — what I call flabby, Mr. Caldigate. They are a little afraid of responsibility, and leave the jury and the counsel to fight it out among them. Sir John did it very well, no doubt; — very well. He made the best he could of that postage stamp, though I don’t know that it will go for much. The point most in our favour is that those Australians are a rough lot to look at. The woman has been drinking, and has lost her good looks — so that the jurymen won’t be soft about her.’ Caldigate, when he heard this, thought of Euphemia Smith on board the Goldfinder, when she certainly did not drink, when her personal appearance was certainly such as might touch the heart of any juryman. Gold and drink together had so changed the woman that he could hardly persuade himself that she was that forlorn attractive female whom he had once so nearly loved.

Before he went to bed, Caldigate wrote to his wife as he had done also on the preceding evening. ‘There is to be another long, tedious, terrible day, and then it may be that I shall be able to write no more. For your sake, almost more than for my own, I am longing for it to be over. It would be vain for me to attempt to tell you all that took place. I do not dare to give you hope which I know may be fallacious. And yet I feel my own heart somewhat higher than it was when I wrote last night.’ Then he did tell her something of what had taken place, speaking in high praise of Sir John Joram. ‘And now my own, own wife, my real wife, my beloved one, I have to call you so, perhaps for the last time for years. If these men shall choose to think that I married that woman, we shall have to be so parted that it would be better for us to be in our graves. But even then I will not give up all hope. My father has promised that the whole colony shall be ransacked till proof be found of the truth. And then, though I shall have been convicted, I shall be reinstated in my position as your husband. May God Almighty bless you, and our boy, till I may come again to claim my wife and my child without disgrace.’

The old man had made the promise. ‘I would go myself,’ said he, ‘were it not that Hester will want my support here.’ For there had been another promise made — that by no entreaty, no guile, no force, should Hester be taken from Folking to Chesterton.

Early on the third day Judge Bramber began his charge, and in doing so he told the jury that it would occupy him about three hours. And in exactly three hours’ time he had completed his task. In summing up the case he certainly was not ‘flabby’; — so little so, that he left no doubt on the minds of any who heard him of the verdict at which he had himself arrived. He went through the evidence of the four chief witnesses very carefully, and then said that the antecedents of these people, or even their guilt, if they had been guilty, had nothing to do with the case except in so far as it might affect the opinion of the jury as to their veracity. They had been called conspirators. Even though they had conspired to raise money by threats, than which nothing could be more abominable — even though by doing so they should have subjected themselves to criminal proceedings, and to many penalties — that would not lessen the criminality of the accused if such a marriage as that described had in truth taken place. ‘This,’ said the judge, ‘is so much a matter of course that I should not insist upon it had it not been implied that the testimony of these four persons is worth nothing because they are conspirators. It is for you to judge what their testimony is worth, and it is for you to remember that they are four distinct witnesses, all swearing to the same thing.’ Then he went into the question of the money. There could be no doubt that the four persons had come to England with the purpose of getting money out of the accused, and that they had succeeded. With their mode of doing this — whether criminal or innocent — the jury had nothing to do, except as it affected their credit. But they were bound to look to Caldigate’s motive in paying so large a sum. It had been shown that he did not owe them a shilling, and that when the application for money reached him from Australia he had refused to give them a shilling. Then, when they had arrived here in England, accusation was made; and when they had offered to desert the case if paid the money, then the money was paid. The prisoner, when paying it, had no doubt intimated to those who received it that he made no bargain with them as to their going away. And he had taken a friend with him who had given his evidence in court, and this friend had manifestly been taken to show that the money was not secretly paid. The jury would give the prisoner the benefit of all that — if there was benefit to be derived from it. But they were bound to remember, in coming to their verdict, that a very large sum of money had been paid to the witnesses by the prisoner, which money certainly was not due to them.

He dwelt, also, at great length on the stamp on the envelope, but contrived at last to leave a feeling on the minds of those who heard him, that Sir John had shown the weakness of his case by trusting so much to such allegations as he had made. ‘It has been represented,’ said Judge Bramber, ‘that the impression which you have seen of the Sydney post-office stamp has been fraudulently obtained. Some stronger evidence should, I think, be shown of this before you believe it. Two clerks from the London post-office have told you that they believed the impression to be a false one; but I think they were hardly justified in their opinion. They founded it on the clearness and cleanness of the impression; but they both of them acknowledged afterwards that such clearness and cleanness is simply unusual, and by no means impossible — not indeed improbable. But how would it have been if the envelope had been brought to you without any post-office impression, simply directed to Mrs. Caldigate, by the man who is alleged to have made the woman his wife shortly before the envelope was written? Would it not in that case have been strong evidence? If any fraud were proved — such a fraud as would be that of getting some post-office official falsely to stamp the envelope — then the stain of perjury would be there. But it will be for you to consider whether you can find such stain of perjury merely because the impression on the envelope is clear and clean.’

When he came to the present condition of Caldigate’s wife and child at Folking, he was very tender in his speech — but even his tenderness seemed to turn itself against the accused.

‘Of that poor lady I can only speak with that unfeigned respect which I am sure you all feel. That she was happy in her marriage till this accusation reached her ears, no one can doubt. That he to whom she was given in marriage has done his duty by her, treating her with full affection and confidence, has been proved to us. Who can think that such a condition of things shall be disturbed, that happiness so perfect is to be turned to misery and misfortune, without almost an agony of regret? But not on that account can you be in any way released from your duty. In this case you are not entitled to think of the happiness or unhappiness of individuals. You have to confine yourself to the evidence, and must give your verdict in accordance with that.’

John Caldigate, as he heard the words, told himself at once that the judge had, in fact, desired the jury to find a verdict against him. Not a single point had been made in his favour, and every point had been made to tell against him. The judge had almost said that a man’s promise to marry a woman should be taken as evidence of marriage. But the jury, at any rate, did not show immediate alacrity in obeying the judge’s behest. They returned once or twice to ask questions; and at three o’clock Caldigate was allowed to go to his inn, with an intimation that he must hold himself in readiness to be brought back and hear the verdict at a moment’s notice. ‘I wish they would declare it at once,’ he said to his father. ‘The suspense is worse than all.’

During the afternoon the matter was discussed very freely throughout the borough. ‘I thought they would have agreed almost at once,’ said the mayor, at about four o’clock, to Mr. Seely, who, at this moment, had retired to his own office where the great magistrate of the borough was closeted with him. The mayor had been seated on the bench throughout the trial, and had taken much interest in the case. ‘I never imagined that there could be much doubt after Judge Bramber’s summing up.’

‘I hear that there’s one man holding out,’ said the attorney in a low voice.

‘Who is it?’ whispered the mayor. The mayor and Mr. Seely were very intimate.

‘I suppose it’s Jones, the tanner at Ely. They say that the Caldigates have had dealings with his family from generation to generation. I knew all about it, and when they passed his name, I wondered that Burder hadn’t been sharper.’ Mr. Burder was the gentleman who had got up the prosecution on the part of the Crown.

‘It must be something of that kind,’ said the mayor. ‘Nothing else would make a jury hesitate after such a charge as that. I suppose he did marry her.’ Mr. Seely shrugged his shoulders. ‘I have attended very closely to the case, and I know I should have been against him on a jury. God bless my soul! Did any man ever write to a woman as his wife without having married her?’

‘It has been done, I should think.’

‘And that nobody should have been got to say that they weren’t man and wife.’

‘I really have hardly formed an opinion,’ said Mr. Seely, still whispering, ‘I am inclined to think that there was probably some ceremony, and that Caldigate salved his conscience, when he married Bolton’s daughter, by an idea that the ceremony wasn’t valid. But they’ll convict him at last. When he told me that he had been up to town and paid that money, I knew it was all up with him. How can any juryman believe that a man will pay twenty thousand pounds, which he doesn’t owe, to his sworn enemy, merely on a point of conscience?’

At the same time the old banker was sitting in his room at the bank, and Robert Bolton was with him. ‘There cannot be a doubt of his guilt,’ said Robert Bolton.

‘No, no — not a doubt.’

‘But the jury may disagree?’

‘What shall we do then?’ said the banker.

‘There must be another trial. We must go on till we get a verdict.’

‘And Hester? What can we do for Hester?’

‘She is very obstinate, and I fear we have no power. Even though she is declared not to be his wife, she can choose her own place of living. If he is convicted, I think that she would come back. Of course she ought to come back.’

‘Of course, of course.’

‘Old Caldigate, too, is very obstinate; but it may be that we should be able to persuade him. He will know that she ought to be with her mother.’

‘Her poor mother! Her poor mother! And when he comes out of prison?’

‘Her very nature will have been altered by that time,’ said the attorney. ‘She will, I trust, have consented before that to take up her residence under your roof.’

‘I shall be dead,’ said the old man. ‘Disgrace and years together will have killed me before that time comes.’

The Smirkies were staying at Babington, and the desire for news there was very intent. Mr. Smirkie was full of thought on the matter, but was manifestly in favour of a conviction. ‘Yes; the poor young woman is very much to be pitied,’ he said, in answer to the squire, who had ventured to utter a word in favour of Hester. ‘A young woman who falls into the hands of an evil man must always be pitied; but it is to prevent the evil men from preying upon the weaker sex that examples such as these are needed. When we think what might have been the case here, in this house, we have all of us a peculiar reason to be thankful for the interposition of divine Providence.’ Here Mr. Smirkie made a little gesture of thanksgiving, thanking Heaven for its goodness to his wife in having given her himself. ‘Julia, my love, you have a very peculiar reason to be thankful, and I trust you are so. Yes — we must pity the poor young lady; but it will be well that the offender should be made subject to the outraged laws of his country.’ Mrs. Smirkie, as she listened to these eloquent words, closed her eyes and hands in token of her thankfulness for all that Providence had done for her.

If she knew how to compare her condition with that of poor Hester at this time, she had indeed cause for thankfulness. Hester was alone with her baby, and with no information but what had been conveyed to her by her husband’s letters. As she read the last of the two she acknowledged to herself that too probably she would not even see his handwriting again till the period of his punishment should have expired. And then? What would come then? Sitting alone, at the open window of her bed-room, with her boy on her lap, she endeavoured to realise her own position. She would be a mother, without a husband — with her bastard child. However innocent he might be, such would be her position under the law. It did not suffice that they too should be man and wife as thoroughly as any whom God had joined together, if twelve men assembled together in a jury-box should say otherwise. She had told him that she would be brave; — but how should she be brave in such a condition as this? What should she do? How should she look forward to the time of his release? Could anything ever again give her back her husband and make him her own in the eyes of men? Could anything make men believe that he had always been her own, and that there had been no flaw? She had been very brave when they had attempted to confine her, to hold her by force at Chesterton. Then she had been made strong, had always been comforted, by opposition. The determination of her purpose to go back had supported her. But now — how should it be with her now? and with her boy? and with him?

The old man was very good, good and eager in her cause, and would let her live at Folking. But what would they call her? When they wrote to her from Chesterton how would they address her letters? Never, never would she soil her fingers by touching a document that called her by any other name than her own. Yes, her own; — let all the jurymen in all the counties, let all the judges on the bench, say what they would to the contrary. Though it should be for all her life — though there should never come the day on which they — they — the world at large would do him justice and her, though they should call her by what hard name they would, still up there, in the courts of her God, she would be his wife. She would be a pure woman there, and there would her child be without a stain. And here, here in this world, though she could never more be a wife in all things, she would be a wife in love, a wife in care, a wife in obedience, a wife in all godly truth. And though it would never be possible for her to show her face again among mankind, never for her, surely the world would be kinder to her boy! They would not begrudge him his name! And when it should be told how it had come to pass that there was a blot upon his escutcheon, they would not remind him of his mother’s misery. But, above all, there should be no shade of doubt as to her husband. ‘I know,’ she said, speaking aloud, but not knowing that she spoke aloud, ‘I know that he is my husband.’ Then there was a knock at the door. ‘Well; yes; — has it come? Do you know?’

No; nothing was known there at that moment, but in another minute all would be known. The wheels of the old Squire’s carriage had been heard upon the gravel. ‘No, ma’am, no; you shall not leave the room,’ said the nurse. ‘Stay here and let him come to you.’

‘Is he alone?’ she asked. But the woman did not know. The wheels of the carriage had only been heard.

Alas, alas! he was alone. His heart too had been almost broken as he bore the news home to the wife who was a wife no longer.

‘Father!’ she said, when she saw him.

‘My daughter; — O my daughter!’ And then, with their hands clasped together, they sat speechless and alone, while the news was spread through the household which the old man did not dare to tell to his son’s wife.

It was very slowly that the actual tidings reached her ears. Mr. Caldigate, when he tried to tell them, found that the power of words had left him. Old as he was, and prone to cynic indifference as he had shown himself, he was affected almost like a young girl. He sobbed convulsively as he hung over her, embracing her. ‘My daughter!’ he said, ‘my daughter! my daughter!’

But at last it was all told. Caldigate had been declared guilty, and the judge had condemned him to be confined to prison for two years. Judge Bramber had told him that, in his opinion, the jury could have found no other verdict; but he went on to say that, looking for some excuse for so terrible a deed as that which had been done — so terrible for that poor lady who was now left nameless with a nameless infant — he could imagine that the marriage, though legally solemnised, had nevertheless been so deficient in the appearances of solemnity as to have imbued the husband with the idea that it had not meant all that a marriage would have meant if celebrated in a church and with more of the outward appurtenances of religion. On that account he refrained from inflicting a severer penalty.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01