Mr. Curlydown’s insinuations had been very cruel, but also very powerful. Bagwax, as he considered the matter that night in his bed, did conscientiously think that a discreet and humane Secretary of State would let the unfortunate husband out of prison on the evidence which he (Bagwax) had already collected. My readers will not perhaps agree with him. The finding of a jury and the sentence of a judge must be regarded seriously by Secretaries of State, and it is probable that Bagwax’s theory would not make itself clear to that great functionary. A good many ‘ifs’ were necessary. If the woman claiming Caldigate as her husband would swear falsely to anything in that matter, then she would swear falsely to everything. If this envelope had never passed through the Sydney post-office then she would have sworn falsely about the letter — and therefore her evidence would have been altogether false. If this postmark had not been made in the due course of business, and on the date as now seen, then the envelope had not passed regularly through the Sydney office. So far it was all clear to the mind of Bagwax, and almost clear that the postmark could not have been made on the date it bore. The result for which he was striving with true faith had taken such a hold of his mind, he was so adverse to the Smith-Crinkett interest, and so generously anxious for John Caldigate and the poor lady at Folking, that he could not see obstacles; — he could not even clearly see the very obstacles which made his own going to Sydney seem to others to be necessary. And yet he longed to go to Sydney with all his heart. He would be almost broken-hearted if he were robbed of that delight.
In this frame of mind he packed all his envelopes carefully into a large hand-bag, and started in a cab for Sir John Joram’s chambers. ‘Where are you going with them now?’ Curlydown asked, somewhat disdainfully, just as Bagwax was starting. Curlydown had taken upon himself of late to ridicule the envelopes, and had become almost an anti-Caldigatite. Bagwax vouchsafed to make him no reply. On the previous afternoon he had declared his purpose of going at once to Sir John, and had written, as Curlydown well knew, a letter to Sir John’s clerk to make an appointment. Sir John was known to be in town though it was the end of August, being a laborious man who contented himself with a little partridge-shooting by way of holiday. It had been understood that he was to see Bagwax before his departure. All this had been known to Curlydown, and the question had been asked only to exasperate. There was a sarcasm in the ‘now’ which determined Bagwax to start without a word of reply.
As he went down to the Temple in the cab he turned over in his mind a great question which often troubles many of us. How far was he bound to sacrifice himself for the benefit of others? He had done his duty zealously in this matter, and now was under orders to continue the work in a manner which opened up to him a whole paradise of happiness. How grand was this opportunity of seeing something of the world beyond St. Martin’s-le-Grand! And then the pecuniary gain would be so great! Hitherto he had received no pay for what he had done. He was a simple post-office clerk, and was paid for his time by the Crown — very moderately. On this projected journey all his expenses would be paid for him, and still he would have his salary. Sir John Joram had declared the journey to be quite necessary. The Secretary of State had probably not occupied his mind much with the matter; but in the mind of Bagwax there was a fixed idea that the Secretary thought of little else, and that the Secretary had declared that his hands were tied till Bagwax should have been to Sydney. But his conscience told him that the journey was not necessary, and that the delay would be cruel. In that cab Bagwax made up his mind that he would do his duty like an honest man.
Sir John’s chambers in Pump Court were gloomy without, though commodious and ample within. Bagwax was now well known to the clerk, and was received almost as a friend. ‘I think I’ve got it all as clear as running water, Mr. Jones,’ he said, feeling no doubt that Sir John’s clerk, Mr. Jones, must feel that interest in the case which pervaded his own mind.
‘That will be a good thing for the gentleman in prison, Mr. Bagwax.’
‘And for the lady; poor lady! I don’t know whether I don’t think almost more of her than of him.’ Mr. Jones was returning to his work, having sent in word to Sir John of this visitor’s arrival. But Bagwax was too full of his subject, and of his own honesty, for that. ‘I don’t think that I need go out after all, Mr. Jones.’
‘Of course it will be a great sell for me.’
‘Will it, now?’
‘Sydney, I am told, is an Elysium upon earth.’
‘It’s much the same as Botany Bay; isn’t it?’ asked Jones.
‘Oh, not at all; quite a different place. I was reading a book the other day which said that Sydney harbour is the most beautiful thing God ever made on the face of the globe.’
‘I know there used to be convicts there,’ said Mr. Jones, very positively.
‘Perhaps they had a few once, but never many. They have oranges there, and a Parliament almost as good as our own, and a beautiful new post-office. But I shan’t have to go, Mr. Jones. Of course, a man has to do his duty.’
‘Some do, and more don’t. That’s as far as I see, Mr. Bagwax.’
‘I’m all for Nelson’s motto, Mr. Jones — “England expects that every man this day shall do his duty.”’ In repeating these memorable words Bagwax raised his voice.
‘Sir John don’t like to hear anything through the partition, Mr. Bagwax.’
‘I beg pardon. But whenever I think of that glorious observation I am apt to become a little excited. It’ll go a long way, Mr. Jones, in keeping a man straight if he’ll only say it to himself often enough.’
‘But not to roar it out in an eminent barrister’s chambers. He didn’t hear you, I daresay; only I thought I’d just caution you.’
‘Quite right, Mr. Jones. Now I mean to do mine. I think we can get the party out of prison without any journey to Sydney at all; and I’m not going to stand in the way of it. I have devoted myself to this case, and I’m not going to let my own interest stand in the way. Mr. Jones, let a man be ever so humble, England does expect — that he’ll do his duty.’
‘By George, he’ll hear you, Mr. Bagwax; — he will indeed.’ But at that moment Sir John’s bell was rung, and Bagwax was summoned into the great man’s room. Sir John was sitting at a large office-table so completely covered with papers that a whole chaos of legal atoms seemed to have been deposited there by the fortuitous operation of ages. Bagwax, who had his large bag in his hand, looked forlornly round the room for some freer and more fitting board on which he might expose his documents. But there was none. There were bookshelves filled with books, and a large sofa which was covered also with papers, and another table laden with what seemed to be a concrete chaos — whereas the chaos in front of Sir John was a chaos in solution. Sir John liked Bagwax, though he was generally opposed to zealous co-operators. There was in the man a mixture of intelligence and absurdity, of real feeling and affectation, of genuine humility as to himself personally and of thorough confidence in himself post-officially, which had gratified Sir John; and Sir John had been quite sure that the post-office clerk had intended to speak the absolute truth, with an honest, manly conviction in the innocence of his client, and in the guilt of the witnesses on the other side. He was therefore well disposed towards Bagwax. ‘Well, Mr. Bagwax he said; ‘so I understand you have got a little further in the matter since I saw you last.’
‘A good deal further, Sir John.’
‘As how? Perhaps you can explain it shortly.’
This was troublesome. Bagwax did not think that he could explain the matter very shortly. He could not explain the matter at all without showing his envelopes; and how was he to show them in the present condition of that room? He immediately dived into his bag and brought forth the first bundle of envelopes. ‘Perhaps, Sir John, I had better put them out upon the floor,’ he said.
‘Must I see all those?’
There were many more bundles within which Bagwax was anxious that the barrister should examine minutely. ‘It is very important, Sir John. It is indeed. It is really altogether a case of postmarks — altogether. We have never in our branch had anything so interesting before. If we can show that that envelope certainly was not stamped with that postmark in the Sydney post-office on the 10th May 1873, then we shall get him out — shan’t we?’
‘It will be very material, Mr. Bagwax,’ said Sir John, cautiously.
‘They will all have sworn falsely, and then somebody must have obtained the postmark surreptitiously. There must have been a regular plant. The stamp must have been made up and dated on purpose — so as to give a false date. Some official in the Sydney post-office must have been employed.’
‘That’s what we want you to find out over there,’ said Sir John, who was not quite so zealous, perhaps not quite so conscientious, as his more humble assistant — whose mind was more occupied with other matters. ‘You’ll find out all that at Sydney.’
The temptation was very great. Sir John wanted him to go — told him that he ought to go! Sir John was the man responsible for the whole matter. He, Bagwax, had done his best. Could it be right for him to provoke Sir John by contesting the matter — contesting it so much to his own disadvantage? Had he not done enough for honesty? — enough to satisfy even that grand idea of duty? As he turned the bundle of documents round in his hand, he made up his mind that he had not done enough. There was a little gurgle in his throat, almost a tear in his eye, as he replied, ‘I don’t think I should be wanted to go if you would look at these envelopes.’
Sir John understood it all at once — and there was much to understand. He knew how anxious the man was to go on this projected journey, and he perceived the cause which was inducing him to surrender his own interests. He remembered that the journey must be made at a great expense to his own client. He ran over the case in his mind, and acknowledged to himself that conclusive evidence — evidence that should be quite conclusive — of fraud as to the envelope, might possibly suffice to release his client at once from prison. He told himself also that he could not dare to express an opinion on the matter himself without a close inspection of those postmarks — that a close inspection might probably take two hours, and that the two hours would finally have to be abstracted from the already curtailed period of his nightly slumbers. Then he thought of the state of his tables, and the difficulties as to space. Perhaps that idea was the one strongest in his mind against the examination.
But then what a hero was Bagwax! What self-abnegation was there! Should he be less ready to devote himself to his client — he, who was paid for his work — than this post-office clerk, who was as pure in his honesty as he was zealous in the cause? ‘There are a great many of them, I suppose?’ he said, almost whining.
‘A good many, Sir John.’
‘Have at it!’ said the Queen’s Counsel and late Attorney-General, springing up from his chair. Bagwax almost jumped out of the way, so startled was he by the quick and sudden movement. Sir John rang his bell; but not waiting for the clerk, began to hurl the chaos in solution on to the top of the concrete chaos. Bagwax naturally attempted to assist him. ‘For G—-‘s sake, don’t you touch them!’ said Sir John, as though avenging himself by a touch of scorn for the evil thing which was being done to him. Then Jones hurried into the room, and with more careful hands assisted his master, trying to preserve some order with the disturbed papers. In this way the large office-table was within three minutes made clear for the Bagwaxian strategy. Mr. Jones declared afterwards that it was seven years since he had seen the entire top of that table. ‘Now go ahead!’ said Sir John, who seemed, during the operation, to have lost something of his ordinary dignity.
Bagwax, who since that little check had been standing perfectly still, with his open bag in his hands, at once began his work. The plain before him was immense, and he was able to marshal all his forces. In the centre, and nearest to Sir John, as he sat in his usual chair, were exposed all the Mays ‘73. For it was thus that he denominated the envelopes with which he was so familiar. There were 71’s, and 72’s, and 74’s, and 75’s. But the 73’s were all arranged in months, and then in days. He began by explaining that he had obtained all these envelopes ‘promiscuously,’ as he said. There had been no selection, none had been rejected. Then courteously handing his official magnifying-glass to the barrister, he invited him to inspect them all generally — to make, as it were, a first cursory inspection — so that he might see that there was not one perfect impression perfect as that impression on the Caldigate envelope was perfect. ‘Not one,’ said Bagwax, beating his bosom in triumph.
‘That seems perfect,’ said Sir John, pointing with the glass to a selected specimen.
‘Your eyes are very good, Sir John — very good indeed. You have found the cleanest and truest of the whole lot. But if you’ll examine the tail of the Y, you’ll see it’s been rubbed a little. And then if you’ll follow with your eye the circular line which makes up the round of the postmark, you’ll find a dent on the outside bar. I go more on the dents in those bars, Sir John, than I do on the figures. All the bars are dented more or less — particularly the Mays ‘73. They don’t remain quite true, Sir John — not after a day’s fair use. They’ve taken a new stamp out of the store to do the Caldigate envelope. They couldn’t get at the stamps in use. That’s how it has been.’
Sir John listened in silence as he continued to examine one envelope after another through the glass. ‘Now, Sir John, if we come to the Mays ‘73, we shall find that just about that time there has been no new stamp brought into use. There isn’t one, either, that is exactly the Caldigate breadth. I’ve brought a rule by which you can get to the fiftieth of an inch.’ Here Bagwax brought out a little ivory instrument marked all over with figures. ‘Of course they’re intended to be of the same pattern. But gradually, very gradually, the circle has always become smaller. Isn’t that conclusive? The Caldigate impression is a little, very little — ever so little — but a little smaller than any of the Mays ‘73. Isn’t that conclusive?’
‘If I understand it, Mr. Bagwax, you don’t pretend to say that you have got impressions of all the stamps which may have been in use in the Sydney office at that time? But in Sydney, if I understand the matter rightly, they keep daily impressions of all the stamps in a book.’
‘Just so — just so, Sir John,’ said Bagwax, feeling that every word spoken to the lawyer renewed his own hopes of going out to Sydney — but feeling also that Sir John would be wrong, very wrong, if he subjected his client to so unnecessarily prolonged a detention in the Cambridge county prison. ‘They do keep a book which would be quite conclusive. I could have the pages photographed.’
‘Would not that be best? and you might probably find out who it was who gave this fraudulent aid.’
‘I could find out everything,’ said Bagwax, energetically; ‘but ——’
‘It is all found out there. It is indeed, Sir John. If I could get you to go along with me, you would see that that letter couldn’t have gone through the Sydney post-office.’
‘I think I do see it. But it is so difficult, Mr. Bagwax, to make others see things.’
‘And if it didn’t — and it never did; — but if it didn’t, why did they say it did? Why did they swear it did? Isn’t that enough to make any Secretary let him go?’
The energy, the zeal, the true faith of the man, were admirable. Sir John was half disposed to rise from his seat to embrace the man, and hail him as his brother — only that had he done so he would have made himself as ridiculous as Bagwax. Zeal is always ridiculous. ‘I think I see it all,’ he said.
‘And won’t they let the man go?’
‘There were four persons who swore positively that they were present at the marriage, one of them being the woman who is said to have been married. That is direct evidence. With all our search, we have hitherto found no one to give us any direct evidence to rebut this. Then they brought forward, to corroborate these statements, a certain amount of circumstantial evidence — and among other things this letter.’
‘The Caldigate envelope,’ said Bagwax, eagerly.
‘What you call the Caldigate envelope. It was unnecessary, perhaps; and, if fraudulent, certainly foolish. They would have had their verdict without it.’
‘But they did it,’ said Bagwax, in a tone of triumph.
‘It is a pity, Mr. Bagwax, you were not brought up to our profession. You would have made a great lawyer.’
‘Oh, Sir John!’
‘Yes, they did it. And if it can be proved that they have done it fraudulently, no doubt that fraud will stain their direct evidence. But we have to remember that the verdict has been already obtained. We are not struggling now with a jury, but with an impassive emblem of sovereign justice.’
‘And therefore the real facts will go the further, Sir John.’
‘Well argued, Mr. Bagwax — admirably well argued. If you should ever be called, I hope I may not have you against me very often. But I will think of it all. You can take the envelopes away with you, because you have impressed me vividly with all that they can tell me. My present impression is, that you had better take the journey. But within the next few days I will give a little more thought to it, and you shall hear from me.’ Then he put out his hand, which was a courtesy Mr. Bagwax had never before enjoyed ‘You may believe me, Mr. Bagwax, when I say that I have come across many remarkable men in many cases which have fallen into my hands — but that I have rarely encountered a man whom I have more thoroughly respected than I do you.’
Mr. Bagwax went away to his own lodging exulting more than ever resolved that the journey to Sydney was unnecessary. As usual, he spent a large portion of that afternoon in contemplating the envelopes; and then, as he was doing so, another idea struck him — an idea which made him tear his hairs with disgust because it had not occurred to him before. There was now opened to him a new scope of inquiry, an altogether different matter of evidence. But the idea was by far too important to be brought in and explained at the fag-end of a chapter.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01