The news of Shand’s return was soon common in Cambridge. The tidings, of course, were told to Mr. Caldigate, and were then made known by him to Hester. The old man, though he turned the matter much in his mind — doubting whether the hopes thus raised would not add to Hester’s sorrow should they not ultimately be realised — decided that he could not keep her in the dark. Her belief could not be changed by any statement which Shand might make. Her faith was so strong that no evidence could shake it — or confirm it. But there would, no doubt, arise in her mind a hope of liberation if any new evidence against the Australian marriage were to reach her; which hope might so probably be delusive! But he knew her to be strong to endure as well as strong to hope, and therefore he told her at once. Then Mr. Seely returned to Cambridge, and all the facts of Shand’s deposition were made known at Folking. ‘That will get him out at once, of course,’ said Hester, triumphantly, as soon as she heard it. But the Squire was older and more cautious, and still doubted. He explained that Dick Shand was not a man who by his simple word would certainly convince a Secretary of State; — that deceit might be suspected; — that a fraudulent plot would be possible; and that very much care was necessary before a convicted prisoner would be released.
‘I am quite sure, from Mr. Seely’s manner, that he thinks I have bribed the young man,’ said Caldigate.
‘Yes; — I. These are the ideas which naturally come into people’s heads. I am not in the least angry with Mr. Seely, and feel that it is only too likely that the Secretary of State and the judge will think the same. If I were Secretary of State I should have to think so.’
‘I couldn’t suspect people like that.’
‘And therefore, my dear, you are hardly fit to be Secretary of State. We must not be too sanguine. That is all.’
But Hester was very sanguine. When it was fully known that Dick had written to Mr. Seely immediately on his arrival at Pollington, and that he had shown himself to be a warm partisan in the Caldigate interests, she could not rest till she saw him herself, and persuaded Mr. Caldigate to invite him down to Folking. To Folking therefore he went, with the full intention of declaring John Caldigate’s innocence, not only there, but all through Cambridgeshire. The Boltons, of whom he had now heard something, should be made to know what an honest man had to say on the subject — an honest man, and who was really on the spot at the time. To Dick’s mind it was marvellous that the Boltons should have been anxious to secure a verdict against Caldigate — which verdict was also against their own daughter and their own sister. Being quite sure himself that Caldigate was innocent, he could not understand the condition of feeling which would be produced by an equally strong conviction of his guilt. Nor was his mind, probably, imbued with much of that religious scruple which made the idea of a feigned marriage so insupportable to all Hester’s relations. Nor was he aware that when a man has taken a preconception home to himself and fastened it and fixed it, as it were, into his bosom, he cannot easily expel it — even though personal interest should be on the side of such expulsion. It had become a settled belief with the Boltons that John Caldigate was a bigamist, which belief had certainly been strengthened by the pertinacious hostility of Hester’s mother. Dick had heard something of all this, and thought that he would be able to open their eyes.
When he arrived at Folking he was received with open arms. Sir John Joram had not quite liked him, because his manner had been rough. Mr. Seely had regarded him from the first as a ruined man, and therefore a willing perjurer. Even at Pollington his ‘bush’ manners had been a little distasteful to all except his mother. Mr. Caldigate felt some difficulty in making conversation with him. But to Hester he was as an angel from heaven. She was never tired of hearing from him every detail as to her husband’s life at Ahalala and Nobble — particularly as to his life after Euphemia Smith had taken herself to those parts and had quarrelled with him. The fact of the early infatuation had been acknowledged on all sides. Hester was able to refer to that as a mother, boasting of her child’s health, may refer to the measles — which have been bad and are past and gone. Euphemia Smith had been her husband’s measles. Men generally have the measles. That was a thing so completely acknowledged, that it was not now the source of discomfort. And the disease had been very bad with him. So bad that he had talked of marriage — had promised marriage. Crafty women do get hold of innocent men, and drive them sometimes into perdition — often to the brink of perdition. That was Hester’s theory as to her husband. He had been on the brink, but had been wise in time. That was her creed, and as it was supported by Dick, she found no fault with Dick’s manner — not even with the yellow trousers which were brought into use at Folking.
‘You were with him on that very day,’ she said. This referred to the day in April on which it had been sworn that the marriage was solemnized.
‘I was with him every day about that time. I can’t say about particular days. The truth is — I don’t mind telling you, Mrs. Caldigate — I was drinking a good deal just then.’ His present state of abstinence had of course become known at Folking, not without the expression of much marvel on the part of the old Squire as to the quantity of tea which their visitor was able to swallow. And as this abstinence had of course been admired, Dick had fallen into a way of confessing his past backslidings to a pretty, sympathetic friendly woman, who was willing to believe all that he said, and to make much of him.
‘But I suppose ——’ Then she hesitated; and Dick understood the hesitation.
‘I was never so bad,’ said he, ‘but what I knew very well what was going on. I don’t believe Caldigate and Mrs. Smith even so much as spoke to each other all that month. She had had a wonderful turn of luck.’
‘In getting gold?’
‘She had bought and sold shares till she was supposed to have made a pot of money. People up there got an idea that she was one of the lucky ones — and it did seem so. Then she got it into her head that she didn’t want Caldigate to know about her money, and he was downright sick of her. She had been good-looking at one time, Mrs. Caldigate.’
‘I daresay. Most of them are so, I suppose.’
‘And clever. She’d talk the hind-legs off a dog, as we used to say out there.’
‘You had very odd sayings, Mr. Shand.’
‘Indeed we had. But when she got in that way about her money, and then took to drinking brandy, Caldigate was only too glad to be rid of her. Crinkett believed in her because she had such a run of luck. She held a lot of his shares — shares that used to be his. So they got together, and she left Ahalala and went to Polyeuka Hall. I remember it all as if it were yesterday. When I broke away from Caldigate in June, and went to Queensland, they hadn’t seen each other for two months. And as for having been married; — you might as well tell me that I had married her!’
If Mr. Caldigate had ever allowed a shade of doubt to cross his mind as to his son’s story, Dick Shand’s further story removed it. The picture of the life which was led at Ahalala and Nobble was painted for him clearly, so that he could see, or fancy that he saw, what the condition of things had been. And this increased faith trickled through to others. Mr. Bromley who had always believed, believed more firmly than before, and sent tidings of his belief to Plum-cum-Pippins and thence to Babington. Mr. Holt, the farmer, became more than ever energetic, and in a loud voice at a Cambridge market ordinary, declared the ill-usage done to Caldigate and his young wife. It had been said over and over again at the trial that Dick Shand’s evidence was the one thing wanted, and here was Dick Shand to give his evidence. Then the belief gained ground in Cambridge and with the belief there arose a feeling as to the egregious wrong which was being done.
But the Boltons were still assured. None of them had as yet given any sign of yielding. Robert Bolton knew very well that Shand was at Folking, but had not asked to see him. He and Mr. Seely were on different sides, and could not discuss the matter; but their ideas were the same. It was incredible to Robert that Dick Shand should appear just at this moment, unless as part of an arranged plan. He could not read the whole plot; but was sure that there was a plot. It was held in his mind as a certain fact, that John Caldigate would not have paid away that large sum of money had he not thought that by doing so he was buying off Crinkett and the other witnesses. Of course there had been a marriage in Australia, and therefore the arrival of Dick Shand was to him only a lifting of the curtain for another act of the play. An attempt was to be made to get Caldigate out of prison, which attempt it was his duty to oppose. Caldigate had, he thought, deceived and inflicted a terrible stain on his family; and therefore Caldigate was an enemy upon whom it behoved him to be revenged. This feeling was the stronger in his bosom, because Caldigate had been brought into the family by him.
But when Dick Shand called upon him at his office, he would not deny himself. ‘I have been told by some people that, as I am here in the neighbourhood, I ought to come and speak to you,’ said Dick. The ‘some people’ had been, in the first instance, Mr. Ralph Holt, the farmer. But Dick had discussed the matter with Mr. Bromley, and Mr. Bromley had thought that Shand’s story should be told direct to Hester’s brother.
‘If you have anything to say, Mr. Shand, I am ready to hear it.’
‘All this about a marriage at Ahalala between John Caldigate and Mrs. Smith is a got-up plan, Mr. Bolton.’
‘The jury did not seem to think so, Mr. Shand.’
‘I wasn’t here then to let them know the truth.’ Robert Bolton raised his eyebrows, marvelling at the simplicity of the man who could fancy that his single word would be able to weigh down the weight of evidence which had sufficed to persuade twelve men and such a judge as Judge Bramber. ‘I was with Caldigate all the time, and I’m sure of what I’m saying The two weren’t on speaking terms when they were said to be married.’
‘Of course, Mr. Shand, as you have come to me, I will hear what you may have to say. But what is the use of it? The man has been tried and found guilty.’
‘They can let him out again if he’s innocent.’
‘The Queen can pardon him, no doubt; — but even the Queen cannot quash the conviction. The evidence was as clear as noonday. The judge and the jury and the public were all in one mind.’
‘But I wasn’t here, then,’ said Dick Shand, with perfect confidence. Robert Bolton could only look at him and raise his eyebrows. He could not tell him to his face that no unprejudiced person would believe the evidence of such a witness. ‘He’s your brother-in-law said Dick, ‘and I supposed you’d be glad to know that he was innocent.’
‘I can’t go into that question, Mr. Shand. As I believe him to have been guilty of as wicked a crime as any man can well commit, I cannot concern myself in asking for a pardon for him. My own impression is that he should have been sent to penal servitude.’
‘By George!’ exclaimed Dick. ‘I tell you that it is all a lie from beginning to end.’
‘I fear we cannot do any good by talking about it, Mr. Shand.’
‘By George!’ Dick hitched up his yellow trousers as though he were preparing for a fight. He wore his yellow trousers without braces, and in all moments of energy hitched them up.
‘If you please I will say good morning to you.’
‘By George! when I tell you that I was there all the time, and that Caldigate never spoke to the woman, or so much as saw her all that month, and that therefore your own sister is in honest truth Caldigate’s wife, you won’t listen to me! Do you mean to say that I’m lying?’
‘Mr. Shand, I must ask you to leave my office.’
‘By George! I wish I had you, Mr. Bolton, out at Ahalala, where there are not quite so many policemen as there are here at Cambridge.’
‘I shall have to send for one of them if you don’t go away, Mr. Shand.’
‘Here’s a man who, even for the sake of his own sister, won’t hear the truth, just because he hates his sister’s husband! What have I got to get by lying?’
‘That I cannot tell.’ Bolton, as he said this, prepared himself for a sudden attack; but Shand had sense enough to know that he would injure the cause in which he was interested, as well as himself, by any exhibition of violence, and therefore left the office.
‘No,’ said Mr. Bromley, when all this was told him; ‘he is not a cruel man, nor dishonest, nor even untrue to his sister. But having quite made up his mind that Caldigate had been married in Australia, he cannot release himself from the idea. And, as he thinks so, he feels it to be his duty to keep his sister and Caldigate apart.’
‘But why does he not believe me?’ demanded Dick.
‘In answer to that, I can only say that I do believe you.’
Then there came a request from Babington that Dick Shand would go over to them there for a day. At Babington opinion was divided. Aunt Polly and her eldest daughter, and with them Mr. Smirkie, still thought that John Caldigate was a wicked bigamist but the Squire and the rest of the family had gradually gone over to the other side. The Squire had never been hot against the offender, having been one of those who fancied that a marriage at a very out-of-the-way place such as Ahalala did not signify much. And now when he heard of Dick Shand’s return and proffered evidence, he declared that Dick Shand having been born a gentleman, though he had been ever so much a sinner, and ever so much a drunkard, was entitled to credence before a host of Crinketts. But with Aunt Polly and Julia there remained the sense of the old injury, robbing Shand of all his attributes of birth, and endowing even Crinkett with truth. Then there had been a few words, and the Squire had asserted himself, and insisted upon asking Shand to Babington.
‘Did you ever see such trousers?’ said Julia to her mother. ‘I would not believe him on his oath.’
‘Certainly not,’ said Mr. Smirkie, who of the three was by far the most vehement in his adherence to the verdict. ‘The man is a notorious drunkard. And he has that look of wildness which bad characters always bring with them from the colonies.’
‘He didn’t drink anything but water at lunch,’ said one of the younger girls.
‘They never do when they’re eating,’ said Mr. Smirkie. For the great teetotal triumph had not as yet been made known to the family at Babington. ‘These regular drunkards take it at all times by themselves in their own rooms. He has delirium tremens in his face. I don’t believe a word that he says.’
‘He certainly does wear the oddest trousers I ever saw,’ said Aunt Polly.
At the same time Dick himself was closeted with the Squire, and was convincing him that there had been no Australian marriage at all. ‘They didn’t jump over a broomstick, or anything of that kind?’ asked the Squire, intending to be jocose.
‘They did nothing at all,’ said Dick, who had worked himself up to a state of great earnestness. ‘Caldigate wouldn’t as much as look at her at that time; — and then to come home here and find him in prison because he had married her! How any one should have believed it!’
‘They did believe it. The women here believe it now, as you perceive.’
‘It’s an awful shame, Mr. Babington. Think of her, Mr. Babington. It’s harder on her even than him, for he was — well, fond of the woman once.’
‘It is hard. But we must do what we can to get him out. I’ll write to our member. Sir George supports the Government, and I’ll get him to see the Secretary. It is hard upon a young fellow just when he has got married and come into a nice property.’
‘And her, Mr. Babington!’
‘Very bad, indeed. I’ll see Sir George myself. The odd part of it is, the Boltons are all against him. Old Bolton never quite liked the marriage, and his wife is a regular Tartar.’
Thus the Squire was gained, and the younger daughter. But Mr. Smirkie was as obdurate as ever. Something of his ground was cut from under his feet when Dick’s new and peculiar habits were observed at dinner. Mr. Smirkie did indeed cling to his doctrine that your real drunkard never drinks at his meals; but when Dick, on being pressed in regard to wine, apologised by saying that he had become so used to tea in the colonies as not to be able to take anything else at dinner, the peculiarity was discussed till he was driven to own that he had drank nothing stronger for the last two years. Then it became plain that delirium tremens was not written on his face quite so plainly as Mr. Smirkie had at first thought, and there was nothing left but his trousers to condemn him. But Mr. Smirkie was still confident. ‘I don’t think you can go beyond the verdict,’ he said. ‘There may be a pardon, of course; — though I shall never believe it till I see it. But though there were twenty pardons she ought not to go back to him. The pardon does not alter the crime — and whether he was married in Australia, or whether he was not, she ought to think that he was, because the jury has said so. If she had any feeling of feminine propriety she would shut herself up and call herself Miss Bolton.’
‘I don’t agree with you in the least,’ said the Squire; ‘and I hope I may live to see a dozen little Caldigates running about on that lawn.’
And there were a few words upstairs on the subject between Mr. Smirkie and his wife — for even Mrs. Smirkie and Aunt Polly at last submitted themselves to Dick’s energy. ‘Indeed, then, if he comes out,’ said the wife, ‘I shall be very glad to see him at Plum-cum-Pippins.’ This was said in a voice which did not admit of contradiction, and was evidence at any rate that Dick’s visit to Babington had been successful in spite of the yellow trousers.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14