Well, Mr. Bagwax, I’m glad that it’s only one envelope this time.’ This was said by Sir John Joram to the honest and energetic post-office clerk on the morning of Wednesday the 3d September, when the lawyer would have been among the partridges down in Suffolk but for the vicissitudes of John Caldigate’s case. It was hard upon Sir John, and went something against the grain with him. He was past the time of life at which men are enthusiastic as to the wrongs of others — as was Bagwax; and had, in truth, much less to gain from the cause, or to expect, than Bagwax. He thought that the pertinacity of Bagwax, and the coming of Dick Shand at the moment of his holidays, were circumstances which justified the use of a little internal strong language — such as he had occasionally used externally before he had become attorney-general. In fact he had — damned Dick Shand and Bagwax, and in doing so had considered that Jones his clerk was internal ‘I wish he had gone to Sydney a month ago,’ he said to Jones, But when Jones suggested that Bagwax might be sent to Sydney without further trouble, Sir John’s conscience pricked him. Not to be able to shoot a Suffolk partridge on the 1st of September was very cruel, but to be detained wrongfully in Cambridge jail was worse; and he was of opinion that such cruelty had been inflicted on Caldigate. On the Saturday Dick Shand had been with him. He had remained in town on the Monday and Tuesday by agreement with Mr. Seely. Early on the Tuesday intimation was given to him that Bagwax would come on the Wednesday with further evidence — with evidence which should be positively conclusive. Bagwax had, in the meantime, been with his friend Smithers at the stamp-office, and was now fully prepared By the help of Smithers he had arrived at the fact that the postage-stamp had certainly been fabricated in 1874, some months after the date imprinted on the cover of the letter to which it was affixed.
‘No, Sir John; — only one this time. We needn’t move anything.’ All the chaos had been restored to its normal place, and looked as though it had never been moved since it was collected.
‘And we can prove that this queen’s-head did not exist before the 1st January, 1874.’
‘Here’s the deposition,’ said Bagwax, who, by his frequent intercourse with Mr. Jones, had become almost as good as a lawyer himself — ‘at least, it isn’t a deposition, of course — because it’s not sworn.’
‘A statement of what can be proved on oath.’
‘Just that, Sir John. It’s Mr. Smithers! Mr. Smithers has been at the work for the last twenty years. I knew it just as well as he from the first, because I attend to these sort of things; but I thought it best to go to the fountain-head.’
‘Sir John will want to hear it from the fountain-head I said to myself; and therefore I went to Smithers. Smithers is perhaps a little conceited, but his word is — gospel. In a matter of postage-stamps Smithers is gospel.’
Then Sir John read the statement; and though he may not have taken it for gospel, still to him it was credible. ‘It seems clear,’ he said.
‘Clear as the running stream,’ said Bagwax.
‘I should like to have all that gang up for perjury, Mr. Bagwax.’
‘So should I, Sir John; — so should I. When I think of that poor dear lady and her infant babe without a name, and that young father torn from his paternal acres and cast into a vile prison, my blood boils within my veins, and all my passion to see foreign climes fades into the distance.’
‘No foreign climes now, Mr. Bagwax.’
‘I suppose not, Sir John,’ said the hero, mournfully
‘Not if this be true.’
‘It’s gospel, Sir John; — gospel. They might send me out to set that office to rights. Things must be very wrong when they could get hold of a date-stamp and use it in that way. There must be one of the gang in the office.’
‘A bribe did it, I should say.’
‘I could find it out, Sir John. Let me alone for that. You could say that you have found me — quick-like in this matter; — couldn’t you, Sir John?’ Bagwax was truly happy in the love of Jemima Curlydown but the idea of earning two hundred pounds for furniture, and of seeing distant climes at the same time, had taken a strong hold of his imagination.
‘I am afraid I should have no voice in the matter — unless with the view of getting evidence.’
‘And we’ve got that; — haven’t we, Sir John?’
‘I think so.’
‘Duty, Sir John, duty!’ said Bagwax, almost sobbing through his triumph.
‘That’s it, Mr. Bagwax.’ Sir John too had given up his partridges — for a day or two.
‘And that gentleman will now be restored to his wife?’
‘It isn’t for me to say. As you and I have been engaged on the same side ——’ To be told that he had been on the same side with the late attorney-general was almost compensation to Bagwax for the loss of his journey. ‘As you and I have been on the same side, I don’t mind telling you that I think that he ought to be released. The matter remains with the Secretary of State, who will probably be guided by the judge who tried the case.’
‘A stern man, Sir John.’
‘Not soft-hearted, Mr. Bagwax — but as conscientious a man as you’ll be able to put your hand upon. The young wife with her nameless baby won’t move him at all. But were he moved by such consideration he would be so far unfit for his office.’
‘Mercy is divine,’ said Bagwax.
‘And therefore unfit to be used by a merely human judge. You know, I suppose, that Richard Shand has come home?’
‘Indeed he has, and was with me a day or two since.’
‘Can he say anything?’ Bagwax was not rejoiced at Dick’s opportune return. He thoroughly wished that Caldigate should be liberated, but he wished himself to monopolise the glory of the work.
‘He says a great deal. He has sworn point-blank that there was no such marriage at the time named. He and Caldigate were living together then, and for some weeks afterwards, and the woman was never near them during the time.’
‘To think of his coming just now!’
‘It will be a great help, Mr. Bagwax; but it wouldn’t be enough alone. He might possibly — tell an untruth.’
‘Perjury on the other side, as it were.’
‘Just that. But this little queen’s-head here can’t be untrue.’
‘No, Sir John, no; that can’t be,’ said Bagwax, comforted; ‘and the dated impression can’t lie either. The envelope is what’ll do it after all.’
‘I hope so. You and Mr. Jones will prepare the statement for the Secretary of State, and I will send it myself.’ With that Mr. Bagwax took his leave, and remained closeted with Mr. Jones for much of the remainder of the day.
The moment Sir John was alone he wrote an almost angry note to his friend Honybun, in conjunction with whom and another Member of Parliament he had the shooting in Suffolk. Honybun, who was also a lawyer, though less successful than his friend, was a much better shot, and was already taking the cream off the milk of the shooting. ‘I cannot conceive,’ he said at the end of his letter, ‘that, after all my experience, I should have put myself so much out of my way to serve a client. A man should do what he’s paid to do, and what it is presumed that he will do, and nothing more. But here I have been instigated by an insane ambition to emulate the good-natured zeal of a fellow who is absolutely willing to sacrifice himself for the good of a stranger.’ Then he went on to say that he could not leave London till the Friday.
On the Thursday morning he put all the details together, and himself drew out a paper for the perusal of the Secretary of State. As he looked at the matter all round, it seemed to him that the question was so clear that even Judge Bramber could not hesitate. The evidence of Dick Shand was quite conclusive — if credible. It was open, of course, to strong doubt, in that it could not be sifted by cross-examination. Alone, it certainly would not have sufficed to extort a pardon from any Secretary of State — as any Secretary of State would have been alive to the fact that Dick might have been suborned. Dick’s life had not been such that his single word would have been regarded as certainly true. But in corroboration it was worth much. And then if the Secretary or the judge could be got to go into that very complicated question of the dated stamp, it would, Sir John thought, become evident to him that the impression had not been made at the time indicated. This had gradually been borne in upon Sir John’s mind, till he was almost as confident in his facts as Bagwax himself. But this operation had required much time and much attention. Would the Secretary, or would the judge, clear his table, and give himself time to inspect and to measure two or three hundred postmarks? The date of the fabrication of the postage-stamp would of course require to be verified by official report; — but if the facts as stated by Bagwax were thus confirmed then the fraudulent nature of the envelope would be put beyond doubt. It would be so manifest that this morsel of evidence had been falsely concocted, that no clear-headed man, let his prepossessions be what they might, could doubt it. Judge Bramber would no doubt begin to sift the case with a strong bias in favour of the jury. It was for a jury to ascertain the facts; and in this case the jury had done so. In his opinion — in Judge Bramber’s opinion, as the judge had often declared it — a judge should not be required to determine facts. A new trial, were that possible, would be the proper remedy, if remedy were wanted; but as that was impossible, he would be driven to investigate such new evidence as was brought before him, and to pronounce what would, in truth, be another verdict. All this was clear to Sir John; and he told himself that even Judge Bramber would not be able to deny that false evidence had been submitted to the jury.
Sir John, as he occupied his mind with the matter on the Thursday morning, did wake himself up to some generous energy on his client’s behalf — so that in sending the written statements of the case to the Home Secretary, he himself wrote a short but strongly-worded note. ‘As it is quite manifest,’ he said, ‘that a certain amount of false and fraudulent circumstantial evidence has been brought into court by the witnesses who proved the alleged marriage, and as direct evidence has now come to hand on the other side which is very clear, and as far as we know trustworthy, I feel myself justified in demanding her Majesty’s pardon for my client.’
On the next day he went down to Birdseye Lodge, near Ipswich, and was quite enthusiastic on the matter with his friend Honybun. ‘I never knew Bramber go beyond a jury in my life,’ said Honybun.
‘He’ll have to do it now. They can’t keep him in prison when they find that the chief witness was manifestly perjured. The woman swore on her oath that the letter reached her by post in May, 1873. It certainly did not do so. The cover, as we see it, has been fabricated since that date.’
‘I never thought the cover went for much,’ said Honybun.
‘For very little — for nothing at all perhaps — till proved to be fraudulent. If they had left the letter alone their case would have been strong enough for a conviction. As it was, they were fools enough to go into a business of this sort; but they have done so, and as they have been found out, the falsehood which has been detected covers every word of their spoken evidence with suspicion. It will be like losing so much of his heart’s blood, but the old fellow will have to give way.’
‘He never gave way in his life.’
‘We’ll make him begin.’
‘I’ll bet you a pony he don’t.’
‘I’ll take the bet,’ said the late Attorney-General. But as he did so he looked round to see that not even a gamekeeper was near enough to hear him.
On that Friday Bagwax was in a very melancholy state of mind at his office, in spite of the brilliancy of his prospects with Miss Curlydown. ‘I’ll just come back to my old work,’ he said to his future father-in-law. ‘There’s nothing else for me to do.’
This was all as it should be, and would have been regarded a day or two ago by Curlydown as simple justice. There had been quite enough of that pottering over an old envelope, to the manifest inconvenience of himself and others. But now the matter was altered. His was a paternal and an affectionate heart, and he saw very plainly the pecuniary advantage of a journey to Sydney. And he knew too that, in official life as well as elsewhere, to those who have much, more is given. Now that Bagwax was to him in the light of a son, he wished Bagwax to rise in the world. ‘I wouldn’t give it up,’ said he.
‘But what would you do?’
‘I’d stick to it like wax till they did something for me.’
‘There’s nothing to stick to.’
‘I’d take it for granted I was going at once to Sydney. I’d get my outfit, and, by George! I’d take my place.’
‘I’ve told Sir John I wasn’t going; and he said it wasn’t necessary.’ As Bagwax told his sad tale he almost wept.
‘I wouldn’t mind that. I’d have it out of them somehow. Why is he to have all the pay? No doubt it’s been hundreds to him; and you’ve done the work and got nothing.’
‘When I asked him to get me sent, he said he’d no power; — not now it’s all so plain.’ He turned his face down towards the desk to hide the tear that now was, in truth, running down his face. ‘But duty!’ he said, looking up again. ‘Duty! England expects ——. D— n it, who’s going to whimper? When I lay my head on my pillow at night and think that I, I, Thomas Bagwax, have restored that nameless one to her babe and her lord, I shall sleep even though that pillow be no better than a hard bolster.’
‘Jemima will look after that,’ said the father, laughing. ‘But still I wouldn’t give it up. Never give a chance up — they come so seldom. I’ll tell you what I should do; — I should apply to the Secretary for leave to go to Sydney at once.’
‘At my own expense?’ said Bagwax, horrified.
‘Certainly not; — but that you might have an opportunity of investigating all this for the public service. It’ll get referred round in some way to the Secretary of State, who can’t but say all that you’ve done. When it gets out of a man’s own office he don’t so much mind doing a little job. It sounds good-natured. And then if they don’t do anything for you, you’ll get a grievance. Next to a sum of money down, a grievance is the best thing you can have. A man who can stick to a grievance year after year will always make money of it at last.’
On the Saturday, Bagwax went down to Apricot Lodge, having been invited to stay with his beloved till the Monday. In the smiles of his beloved he did find much consolation, especially as it had already been assured to him that sixty pounds a-year would be settled on Jemima on and from her wedding-day. And then they made very much of him. ‘You do love me, Tom; don’t you?’ said Jemima. They were sitting on camp-stools behind the grotto, and Bagwax answered by pressing the loved one’s waist. ‘Better than going to Sydney, Tom — don’t you?’
‘It is so very different,’ said Bagwax — which was true.
‘If you don’t like me better than anything else in all the world, however different, I will never stand at the altar with you.’ And she moved her camp-stool perhaps an inch away.
‘In the way of loving, of course I do.’
‘Then why do you grieve when you’ve got what you like best?’
‘You don’t understand, Jemima, what a spirit of adventure means.’
‘I think I do, or I shouldn’t be going to marry you. That’s quite as great an adventure as a journey to Sydney. You ought to be very glad to get off, now you’re going to settle down as a married man.’
‘Think what two hundred pounds would be, Jemima; — in the way of furniture.’
‘That’s papa’s putting in, I know. I hate all that hankering after filthy lucre. You ought to be ashamed of wanting to go so far away just when you’re engaged You wouldn’t care about leaving me, I suppose the least.’
‘I should always be thinking of you.’
‘Yes, you would! But suppose I wasn’t thinking of you. Suppose I took to thinking of somebody else. How would it be then?’
‘You wouldn’t do that, Jemima.’
‘You ought to know when you’re well off, Tom.’ By this time he had recovered the inch and perhaps a little more. ‘You ought to feel that you’ve plenty to console you.’
‘So I do. Duty! duty! England expects that every man ——’
‘That’s your idea of consolation, is it?’ And away went the camp-stool half a yard.
‘You believe in duty, don’t you, Jemima?’
‘In a husband’s duty to his wife, I do; — and in a young man’s duty to his sweetheart.’
‘And in a father’s to his children.’
‘That’s as may be,’ said she, getting up and walking away into the kitchen-garden. He of course accompanied her, and before they got to the house had promised her not to sigh for the delights of Sydney, nor for the perils of adventure any more.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01