John Caldigate, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter LII

The Fortunes of Bagwax

An altogether new idea had occurred to Bagwax as he sat in his office after his interview with Sir John Joram; — and it was an idea of such a nature that he thought that he saw his way quite plain to a complete manifestation of the innocence of Caldigate, to a certainty of a pardon, and to an immediate end of the whole complication. By a sudden glance at the evidence his eye had caught an object which in all his glances he had never before observed. Then at once he went to work, and finding that certain little marks were distinctly legible, he became on a sudden violently hot — so that the sweat broke out on his forehead. Here was the whole thing disclosed at once — disclosed to all the world if he chose to disclose it. But if he did so, then there could not be any need for that journey to Sydney, which Sir John still thought to be expedient. And this thing which he had now seen was not one within his own branch of work — was not a matter with which he was bound to be conversant. Somebody else ought to have found it out. His own knowledge was purely accidental. There would be no disgrace to him in not finding it out. But he had found it out.

Bagwax was a man who, in his official zeal and official capacity, had exercised his intellect far beyond the matters to which he was bound to apply himself in the mere performance of his duties. Post-marks were his business; and had he given all his mind to postmarks, he would have sufficiently carried out that great doctrine of doing the duty which England expects from every man. But he had travelled beyond postmarks, and had looked into many things. Among other matters he had looked into penny stamps, twopenny stamps, and other stamps. In post-office phraseology there is sometimes a confusion because the affixed effigy of her Majesty’s head, which represents the postage paid, is called a stamp, and the postmarks or impressions indicating the names of towns are also called stamps. Those postmarks or impressions had been the work of Bagwax’s life; but his zeal, his joy in his office, and the general energy of his disposition, had opened up to him also all the mysteries of the queen’s heads. That stamp, that effigy, that twopenny queen’s-head, which by its presence on the corner of the envelope purported to have been the price of conveying the letter from Sydney to Nobble, on 10th May, 1873, had certainly been manufactured and sent out to the colony since that date!

There are signs invisible to ordinary eyes which are plain as the sun at noonday to the initiated. It is so in all arts, in all sciences. Bagwax was at once sure of his fact. To his instructed gaze the little receipt for twopence was as clearly dated as though the figures were written on it. And yet he had never looked at it before. In the absorbing interest which the postmark had created — that fraudulent postmark as it certainly was — he had never condescended to examine the postage-stamp. But now he saw and was certain.

If it was so — and he had no doubt — then would Caldigate surely be released. It is hoped that the reader will follow the mind of Bagwax, which was in this matter very clear. This envelope had been brought up at the trial as evidence that, on a certain day, Caldigate had written to the woman as his wife, and had sent the letter through the post-office. For such sending the postage-stamp was necessary. The postage-stamp had certainly been put on when the envelope was prepared for its intended purpose. But if it could be proved by the stamp itself that it had not been in existence on the date impressed on the envelope, then the fraud would be quite apparent. And if there had been such fraud, then would the testimony of all those four witnesses be crushed into arrant perjury. They had produced the fraudulent document, and by it would be thoroughly condemned There could be no necessity for a journey to Sydney.

As it all became clear to his mind, he thumped his table partly in triumph — partly in despair. ‘What’s the matter with you now?’ said Mr. Curlydown. It was a quarter past four, and Curlydown had not completed his daily inspections. Had Bagwax been doing his proper share of work, Curlydown would have already washed his hands and changed his coat, and have been ready to start for the 4.30 train. As it was, he had an hour of labour before him, and would be unable to count the plums upon his wall, as was usual with him before dinner.

‘It becomes more wonderful every day,’ said Bagwax solemnly — almost awfully.

‘It is very wonderful to me that a man should be able to sit so many hours looking at one dirty bit of paper.’

‘Every moment that I pass with that envelope before my eyes I see the innocent husband in jail, and the poor afflicted wife weeping in her solitude.’

‘You’ll be going on to the stage, Bagwax, before this is done.’

‘I have sometimes thought that it was the career for which I was best adapted. But, as to the envelope, the facts are now certain.’

‘Any new facts?’ asked Curlydown. But he asked the question in a jeering tone, not at all as though desiring confidence or offering sympathy.

‘Yes,’ replied Bagwax, slowly. ‘The facts are certainly new — and most convincing; but as you have not given attention to the particular branch concerned there can be no good in my mentioning them. You would not understand me.’ It was thus that he revenged himself on Curlydown. Then there was again silence between them for a quarter of an hour, during which Curlydown was hurrying through his work, and Bagwax was meditating whether it was certainly his duty to make known the facts as to the postage-stamp. ‘You are so unkind,’ said Bagwax at last, in a tone of injured friendship, burning to tell his new discovery.

‘You have got it all your way,’ said Curlydown, without lifting his head. ‘And then, as you said just now — I don’t understand.’

‘I’d tell you everything if you’d only be a little less hard.’

Curlydown was envious. He had, of course, been told of the civil things which Sir John Joram had said; and though he did not quite believe all, he was convinced that Bagwax was supposed to have distinguished himself. If there was anything to be known he would like to know it. Nor was he naturally quarrelsome. Bagwax was his old friend. ‘I don’t mean to be hard,’ he said. ‘Of course one does feel oneself fretted when one has been obliged to miss two trains.’

‘Can I lend a hand?’ said Bagwax.

‘It doesn’t signify now. I can’t catch anything before the 5.20. One does expect to get away a little earlier than that on a Saturday. What is it that you’ve found out?’

‘Do you really care to know?’

‘Of course I do — if it’s anything in earnest. I took quite as much interest as you in the matter when we were down at Cambridge.’

‘You see that postage-stamp?’ Bagwax stretched out the envelope — or rather the photograph of the envelope, for it was no more. But the Queen’s head, with all its obliterating smudges, and all its marks and peculiarities, were to be seen quite as plainly as on the original, which was tied up carefully among the archives of the trial. ‘You see that postage-stamp Curlydown took his glass, and looked at the document, and declared that he saw the postage-stamp very plainly.

‘But it does not tell you anything particular?’

‘Nothing very particular — at the first glance,’ said Curlydown, gazing through the glass with all his eyes.

‘Look again.’

‘I see that they obliterate out there with a kind of star.’

‘That has nothing to do with it.’

‘The bunch of hair at the back of the head isn’t quite like our bunch of hair.’

‘Just the same; — taken from the same die,’ said Bagwax.

‘The little holes for dividing the stamps are bigger.’

‘It isn’t that.’

‘Then what the d —— is it?’

‘There are letters at every corner,’ said Bagwax.

‘That’s of course,’ said Curlydown.

‘Can you read those letters?’ Curlydown owned that he never had quite understood what those letters meant. ‘Those two P’s in the two bottom corners tell me that that stamp wasn’t printed before ‘74. It was all explained to me not long ago. Now the postmark is dated ‘73.’ There was an air of triumph about Bagwax as he said this which almost drove Curlydown back to hostility. But he checked himself merely shaking his head, and continued to look at the stamp. ‘What do you think of that?’ asked Bagwax.

‘You’d have to prove it.’

‘Of course I should. But the stamps are made here and are sent out to the colony. I shall see Smithers at the stamp-office on Monday of course.’ Mr. Smithers was a gentleman concerned in the manufacture of stamps. ‘But I know my facts. I am as well aware of the meaning of those letters as though I had made postage-stamps my own peculiar duty. Now what ought I to do?’

‘You wouldn’t have to go, I suppose?’

‘Not a foot.’

‘And yet it ought to be found out how that date got there.’ And Curlydown put his finger upon the impression — 10th May, 1873.

‘Not a doubt about it. I should do a deal of good by going if they’d give me proper authority to overhaul everything in the office out there. They had the letter stamped fraudulently; — fraudulently, Mr. Curly down I Perhaps if I stayed at home to give evidence, they’d send you to Sydney to find all that out.’

There was a courtesy in this suggestion which induced Curlydown to ask his junior to come down and take pot-luck at Apricot Villa. Bagwax was delighted, for his heart had been sore at the coolness which had grown up between him and the man under whose wing he had worked for so many years. He had been devoted to Curlydown till growing ambition had taught him to think himself able to strike out a line for himself. Mr. Curlydown had two daughters, of whom the younger, Jemima, had found much favour in the eyes of Bagwax. But since the jealousy had sprung up between the two men he had never seen Jemima, nor tasted the fruits of Curlydown’s garden. Mrs. Curlydown, who approved of Bagwax, had been angry, and Jemima herself had become sullen and unloving to her father. On that very morning Mrs. Curlydown had declared that she hated quarrels like poison. ‘So do I, mamma,’ said Jemima, breaking her silence emphatically. ‘Not that Mr. Bagwax is anything to anybody.’

‘That does look like something,’ said Curlydown, whispering to his friend in the railway carriage. They were sitting opposite to each other, with their knees together — and were of course discussing the envelope.

‘It is everything. When they were making up their case in Australia, and when the woman brought out the cover with his writing upon it, with the very name, Mrs. Caldigate, written by himself — Crinkett wasn’t contented with that. So they put their heads together, and said that if the letter could be got to look like a posted letter — a letter sent regularly by the post — that would be real evidence. The idea wasn’t bad.’

‘Nothing has ever been considered better evidence than postmarks,’ said Curlydown, with authority.

‘It was a good idea. Then they had to get a postage-stamp. They little knew how they might put their foot into it there. And they got hold of some young man at the post-office who knew how to fix a date-stamp with a past date. How these things become clear when one looks at them long enough!’

‘Only one has to have an eye in one’s head.’

‘Yes,’ said Bagwax, as modestly as he could at such a moment. ‘A fellow has to have his wits about him before he can do anything out of the common way in any line. You’d tell Sir John everything at once; — wouldn’t you?’ Curlydown raised his hat and scratched his head. ‘Duty first, you know. Duty first,’ said Bagwax.

‘In a man’s own line — yes,’ said Curlydown. ‘Somebody else ought to have found that out. That’s not post-office. It’s stamps and taxes. It’s very hard that a man should have to cut the nose off his own face by knowing more than he need know.’

‘Duty! Duty!’ said Bagwax as he opened the carriage-door and jumped out on to the platform.

When he got up to the cottage, Mrs. Curlydovvn assured him that it was quite a cure for sore eyes to see him. Sophia, the elder of the two daughters at home, told him that he was a false truant; and Jemima surmised that the great attractions of the London season had prevented him from coming down to Enfield. ‘It isn’t that, indeed,’ he said. ‘I am always delighted in running down. But the Caldigate affair has been so important!’

‘You mean the trial,’ said Mrs. Curlydown. ‘But the man has been in prison ever so long.’

‘Unjustly! Most unjustly!’

‘Is it so, really?’ asked Jemima. ‘And the poor young bride?’

‘Not so much of a bride,’ said Sophia. ‘She’s got one, I know.’

‘And papa says you’re to go out to Botany Bay,’ said Jemima. ‘It’ll be years and years before you are back again.’ Then he explained it was not Botany Bay, and he would be back in six months. And, after all, he wasn’t going at all. ‘Well, I declare, if papa isn’t down the walk already,’ said Jemima, looking out of the window.

‘I don’t think I shall go at all,’ said Bagwax in a melancholy tone as he went up-stairs to wash his hands.

The dinner was very pleasant; and as Curlydown and his guest drank their bottle of port together at the open window, it was definitely settled that Bagwax should reveal the mystery of the postage-stamp to Sir John Joram at once. ‘I should have it like a lump of lead on my conscience all the time I was on the deep,’ said Bagwax, solemnly.

‘Conscience is conscience, to be sure,’ said Curlydown

‘I don’t think that I’m given to be afraid,’ said Bagwax. ‘The ocean, if I know myself, would have no terrors for me; — not if I was doing my duty. But I should hear the ship’s sides cracking with every blast if that secret were lodged within my ‘breast.’

‘Take another glass of port, old boy.’

Bagwax did take another glass, finishing the bottle, and continued. ‘Farewell to those smiling shores. Farewell, Sydney, and all her charms. Farewell to her orange groves, her blue mountains, and her rich gold-fields.’

‘Take a drop of whitewash to wind up, and then we’ll join the ladies.’ Curlydown was a strictly hospitable man, and in his own house would not appear to take amiss anything his guest might say. But when Bagwax became too poetical over his wine, Curlydown waxed impatient. Bagwax took his drop of whitewash, and then hurried on to the lawn to join Jemima.

‘And you really are no t going to those distant parts?’

‘No,’ said Bagwax, with all that melancholy which wine and love combined with sorrow can produce. ‘That dream is over.’

‘I am so glad.’

‘Why should you be glad? Why should a resolve which it almost breaks my heart to make be a source of joy to you?’

‘Of course you would have nothing to regret at leaving, Mr. Bagwax.’

‘Very much — if I were going for ever. No; — I could never do that, unless I were to take some dear one with me. But, as I said, that dream is over. It has ever been my desire to see foreign climes, and the chance so seldom comes in a man’s way.’

‘You’ve been to Ostend, I know, Mr. Bagwax.’

‘Oh yes, and to Boulogne,’ said Bagwax, proudly. ‘But the desire of travel grows with the thing it feeds on. I long to overcome great distances — to feel that I have put illimitable space behind me. To set my foot on shores divided from these by the thickness of all the earth would give me a sense of grandeur which I— which — which — would be magnificent.’

‘I suppose that is natural in a man.’

‘In some men,’ said Bagwax, not liking to be told that his heroic instincts were shared by all his brethren.

‘But women, of course, think of the dangers. Suppose you were to be cast away!’

‘What matter? With a father of a family of course it would be different. But a lone man should never think of such things.’ Jemima shook her head and walked silently by his side. ‘If I had some dear one who cared for me I suppose it would be different with me.’

‘I don’t know,’ said Jemima. ‘Gentlemen like to amuse themselves sometimes, but it doesn’t often go very deep.’

‘Things always go deep with me,’ said Bagwax. ‘I panted for that journey to the Antipodes; — panted for it! Now that it is over, perhaps some day I may tell you under what circumstances it has been relinquished In the meantime my mind passes to other things; or perhaps I should say my heart — Jemima!’ Then Bagwax stopped on the path.

‘Go on, Mr. Bagwax. Papa will be looking at you.’

‘Jemima,’ he said, ‘will you recompense me by your love for what I have lost on the other side of the globe?’ She recompensed him, and he was happy.

The future father and son-in-law sat and discussed their joint affairs for an hour after the ladies had retired. As to Jemima and his love, Bagwax was allowed to be altogether triumphant. Mrs. Curlydown kissed him, and he kissed Sophia. That was in public. What passed between him and Jemima no human eye saw. The old post-office clerk took the younger one to his heart, and declared that he was perfectly satisfied with his girl’s choice. ‘I’ve always known that you were steady,’ he said, ‘and that’s what I look to. She has had her admirers, and perhaps might have looked higher; but what’s rank or money if a man’s fond of pleasure?’ But when that was settled they returned again to the Caldigate envelope. Curlydown was not quite so sure as to that question of duty. The proposed journey to Sydney, with a pound a-day allowed for expenses, and the traveller’s salary going on all the time, would put a nice sum of ready-money into Bagwax’s pocket. ‘It wouldn’t be less than two hundred towards furnishing my boy,’ said Curlydown. ‘You’ll want it. And as for the delay, what’s six months? Girls like to have a little time to boast about it.’

But Bagwax had made up his mind, and nothing would shake him. ‘If they’ll let me go out all the same, to set matters right, of course I’d take the job. I should think it a duty, and would bear the delay as well as I could. If Jemima thought it right I’m sure she wouldn’t complain. But since I saw that letter on that stamp my conscience has told me that I must reveal it all. It might be me as was in prison, and Jemima who was told that I had a wife in Australia. Since I’ve looked at it in that light I’ve been more determined than ever to go to Sir John Joram’s chambers on Monday. Good-night, Mr. Curlydown. I am very glad you asked me down to the cottage to-day; more glad than anything.’

At half-past eleven, by the last train, Bagwax returned to town, and spent the night with mingled dreams, in which Sydney, Jemima, and the envelope were all in their turns eluding him, and all in their turns within his grasp.

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