While all this was going on, as the general opinion in favour of Caldigate was becoming stronger every day, when even Judge Bramber had begun to doubt, the feeling which had always prevailed at Puritan Grange was growing in intensity and converting itself from a conviction into a passion. That the wicked bigamist had falsely and fraudulently robbed her of her daughter was a religion to Mrs. Bolton; — and, as the matter had proceeded, the old banker had become ever more and more submissive to his wife’s feelings. All the Cambridge Boltons were in accord on this subject — who had never before been in accord on any subject. Robert Bolton, who understood thoroughly each point as it was raised on behalf of Caldigate, was quite sure that the old squire was spending his money freely, his own money and his son’s, with the view of getting the verdict set aside. What was so clear as that Dick Shand and Bagwax, and probably also Smithers from the Stamps and Taxes, were all in the pay of old Caldigate? At this time the defection of Adamson was not known to him, but he did know that a strong case was being made with the Secretary of State. ‘If it costs me all I have in the world I will expose them,’ he said up in London to his brother William, the London barrister.
The barrister was not quite in accord with the other Boltons. He also had been disposed to think that Dick Shand and Bagwax might have been bribed by the squire. It was at any rate possible. And the twenty thousand pounds paid to the accusing witnesses had always stuck in his throat when he had endeavoured to believe that Caldigate might be innocent. It seemed to him still that the balance of evidence was against the man who had taken his sister away from her home. But he was willing to leave that to the Secretary of State and to the judge. He did not see why his sister should not have her husband and be restored to the world — if Judge Bramber should at last decide that so it ought to be. No money could bribe Judge Bramber. No undue persuasion could weaken him. If that Rhadamanthus should at last say that the verdict had been a wrong verdict, then — for pity’s sake, for love’s sake, in the name of humanity, and for the sake of all Boltons present and to come — let the man be considered innocent.
But Robert Bolton was more intent on his purpose, and was a man of stronger passion. Perhaps some real religious scruple told him that a woman should not live with a man who was not her true husband — let any judge say what he might. But hatred, probably had more to do with it than religion. It was he who had first favoured Caldigate’s claim on Hester’s hand, and he who had been most grievously deceived. From the moment in which the conviction had come upon him that Caldigate had even promised his hand in marriage to Euphemia Smith, he had become Caldigate’s enemy — his bitter enemy; and now he could not endure the thought that he should be called upon again to receive Caldigate as his brother-in-law Caldigate’s guilt was an idea fixed in his mind which no Secretary of State, no Judge Bramber, no brother could expel.
And so it came to pass that there were hard words between him and his brother. ‘You are wrong,’ said William.
‘How wrong? You cannot say that you believe him to be innocent.’
‘If he receives the Queen’s pardon he is to be considered as innocent.’
‘Even though you should know him to have been guilty?’
‘Well — yes,’ said William, slowly, and perhaps indiscreetly. ‘It is a matter in which a man’s guilt or innocence must be held to depend upon what persons in due authority have declared. As he is now guilty of bigamy in consequence of the verdict, even though he should never have committed the offence, so should he be presumed to be innocent, when that verdict has been set aside by the Queen’s pardon on the advice of her proper officers — even though he committed the offence.’
‘You would have your sister live with a man who has another wife alive? It comes to that.’
‘For all legal purposes he would have no other wife alive.’
‘The children would be illegitimate.’
‘There you are decidedly wrong,’ said the barrister. ‘The children would be legitimate. Even at this moment, without any pardon, the child could claim and would enter in upon his inheritance.’
‘The next of kin would claim,’ said the attorney.
‘The burden of proving the former marriage would then be on him,’ said the barrister.
‘The verdict would be evidence,’ said the attorney.
‘Certainly,’ said the barrister; ‘but such evidence would not be worth a straw after a Queen’s pardon, given on the advice of the judge who had tried the former case. As yet we know not what the judge may say — we do not know the facts as they have been expounded to him. But if Caldigate be regarded as innocent by the world at large, it will be our duty so to regard him.’
‘I will never look on him as Hester’s husband,’ said the attorney.
‘I and Fanny have already made up our minds that we would at once ask them to come to us for a month,’ said the barrister.
‘Nothing on earth will induce me to speak to him,’ said the attorney.
‘Then you will be very cruel to Hester,’ said the barrister.
‘It is dreadful to me,’ said the attorney, ‘that you should care so little for your sister’s reputation.’ And so they quarrelled. Robert, leaving the house in great dudgeon, went down on the following morning to Cambridge.
At Puritan Grange the matter was argued rather by rules of religion than of law; but as the rules of law were made by those interested to fit themselves to expediency, so were the rules of religion fitted to prejudice. No hatred could be more bitter than that which Mrs. Bolton felt for the man whom she would permit no one to call her son-in-law. Something as to the postage-stamp and the postmarks was told her; but with a woman’s indomitable obstinacy she closed her mind against all that — as indeed did also the banker. ‘Is her position in the world to depend upon a postage-stamp?’ said the banker, intending to support his wife. Then she arose in her wrath, and was very eloquent. ‘Her position in the world!’ she said. ‘What does it matter? It is her soul! Though all men and all women should call her a castaway, it would be nothing if the Lord knew her to be guiltless. But she will be living as an adulteress with an adulterer. The law has told her that it is so. She will feel every day and every night that she is a transgressor, and will vainly seek consolation by telling herself that men have pardoned that which God has condemned.’ And again she broke forth. ‘The Queen’s pardon! What right has the Queen to pardon an adulterer who has crept into the bosom of a family and destroyed all that he found there? What sense of justice can any Queen have in her bosom who will send such a one back, to heap sin upon sin, to fasten the bonds of iniquity on the soul of my child?’ Postage-stamps and postmarks and an old envelope! The triviality of the things as compared with the importance of everlasting life made her feel that they were unworthy to be even noticed. It did not occur to her that the presence of a bodkin might be ample evidence of murder. Post-marks indeed — when her daughter’s everlasting life was the matter in question! Then they told her of Dick Shand. She, too, had heard of Dick Shand. He had been a gambler. So she said — without much truth. He was known for a drunkard, a spendthrift, a penniless idle ne’er-do-well who had wandered back home without clothes to his back; — which was certainly untrue, as the yellow trousers had been bought at San Francisco; — and now she was told that the hated miscreant was to be released from prison because such a one as this was ready to take an oath! She had a knack of looking on such men — ne’er-do-wells like Dick Shand and Caldigate — as human beings who had, as it were, lost their souls before death, so that it was useless to think of them otherwise than as already damned. That Caldigate should become a good, honest, loving husband, or Dick Shand a truth-speaking witness, was to her thinking much more improbable than that a camel should go through the eye of a needle. She would press her lips together and grind her teeth and shake her head when any one about her spoke of a doubt. The man was in prison, at any rate for two years — locked up safe for so much time, as it might be a wild beast which with infinite trouble had been caged. And now they were talking of undoing the bars and allowing the monster to gorge himself again with his prey!
‘If the Queen were told the truth she would never do it,’ she said to her amazed husband. ‘The Queen is a mother and a woman who kneels in prayer before her Maker. Something should be done, so that the truth may be made known to her.’
To illuminate all the darkness which was betrayed by this appeal to him was altogether beyond Mr. Bolton’s power. He appreciated the depth of the darkness. He knew, for instance, that the Queen herself would in such a matter act so simply in accordance with the advice of some one else, that the pardon, if given, would not in the least depend on her Majesty’s sentiments. To call it the Queen’s pardon was a simple figure of speech. This was manifest to him, and he was driven to endeavour to make it manifest to her. She spoke of a petition to be sent direct to the Queen, and insinuated that Robert Bolton, if he were anything like a real brother, would force himself into her Majesty’s presence. ‘It isn’t the Queen,’ said her husband.
‘It is the Queen. Mercy is the prerogative of the Crown. Even I know as much as that. And she is to be made to believe that this is mercy!’
‘Her Majesty does what her Ministers tell her.’
‘But she wouldn’t if she was told the truth. I do not for a moment believe that she would allow such a man as that to be let loose about the world like a roaring lion if she knew all that you and I know. Mercy indeed!’
‘It won’t be meant for mercy, my dear.’
‘What then? Do you not know that the man has another wife alive — a wife much more suited to him than our poor darling? Nobody would hear my voice while there was yet time. And so my child, my only one, was taken away from me by her own father and her own brothers, and no one now will exert himself to bring her back to her home!’ The poor old man had had but little comfort in his home since his daughter’s marriage, and was now more miserable than ever.
Then there came a letter from Hester to her mother. Since Mrs. Bolton’s last visit to Folking there had been some correspondence maintained. A few letters had passed, very sad on each side, in which the daughter had assured the mother of her undying love, and in which the mother had declared that day and night she prayed for her child. But of Caldigate, neither on one side nor on the other had mention been made. Now Hester, who was full of hope, and sick with hope deferred, endeavoured to convince her mother that the entire charge against her husband had been proved by new evidence to be false. She recapitulated all the little details with which the diligent reader must by this time be too well acquainted. She made quite clear, as she thought, the infamous plot by which the envelope had been made to give false evidence, and she added the assurance that certainly before long her dear, dearest, ill-used husband would be restored to her. Then she went on to implore her mother’s renewed affection both for herself and him and her boy, promising that bygones should all be bygones; and then she ended by declaring that though the return of her husband would make her very happy, she could not be altogether happy unless her parents also should be restored to her.
To this there came a crushing answer, as follows:—-
‘Puritan Grange, 28th September.’
‘Dearest Hester — It was unnecessary that you should ask for a renewal of your mother’s love. There has never been a moment in which she has not loved you — more dearly, I fear, than one human creature should ever love another. When I was strongest in opposing you, I did so from love. When I watched you in the hall all those hours, endeavouring to save you from further contact with the man who had injured you, I did it from love. You need not doubt my love.
‘But as to all the rest, I cannot agree to a word that you say. They are plotting with false evidence to rescue the man from prison. I will not give way to it when my soul tells me that it is untrue. As your mother, I can only implore you to come back to me, and to save yourself from the further evil which is coming upon you. It may be that he will be enabled to escape, and then you will again have to live with a husband that is no husband — unless you will listen to your mother’s words.
‘You are thinking of the good things of this world — of a home with all luxuries and ease, and of triumph over those who, for the good of your soul, have hitherto marred your worldly joys. Is it thus that you hope to win that crown of everlasting life which you have been taught to regard as the one thing worthy of a Christian’s struggles? Is it not true that, since that wretched day on which you were taken away from me, you have allowed your mind to pass from thoughts of eternity to longings after vain joys in this bitter, fruitless vale of tears? If that be so, can he who has so encouraged you have been good to you? Do you remember David’s words; “Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; but we will remember the name of the Lord our God”? And then, again; “They are brought down and fallen; but we are risen and stand upright.” Ask yourself whether you have stood upright or have fallen, since you left your father’s house; whether you have trusted in the Lord your God, or in horses and chariots — that is, in the vain comforts of an easy life? If it be so, can it be for your good that you have left your father’s house? And should you not accept this scourge that has fallen upon you as a healing balm from the hands of the Lord?
‘My child, I have no other answer to send you. That I love you till my very bowels yearn after you is most true. But I cannot profess to believe a lie, or declare that to be good which I know to be evil.
‘May the Lord bless you, and turn your feet aright, and restore you to your loving mother,
When Hester read this she was almost crushed. The delay since the new tidings had come to her had not, in truth, been very great. It was not yet quite a month since Shand had been at Folking, and a shorter period since the discoveries of Bagwax had been explained to her. But the days seemed to her to be very long; and day after day she thought that on that day at least the news of his promised release would be brought to her. And now, instead of these news, there came this letter from her mother, harder almost in its words than any words which had hitherto been either written or spoken in the matter. Even when all the world should have declared him innocent — when the Queen, and the great officer of State, and that stern judge, should have said that he was innocent — even then her cruel mother would refuse to receive him! She had been invited to ask herself certain questions as to the state of her soul, and as to the teaching she had received since her marriage. The subject is one on which there is no possible means of convergence between persons who have learned to differ. Her mother’s allusions to chariots and horses was to her the enthusiasm of a fanatic. No doubt, teaching had come to her from her husband, but it had come at the period of life at which such lessons are easily learned. ‘Brought down and fallen!’ she said to herself. ‘Yes, we are all brought down and fallen;’ for she had not at all discarded the principles of her religious faith; —‘but a woman will hardly raise herself by being untrue to her husband.’ She, too, yearned for her mother; — but there was never a moment’s doubt in her mind to which she would cling if at last it should become necessary that one should be cast off.
Mrs. Bolton, when the letter had been despatched, sat brooding over it in deep regret mixed with deeper anger. She was preparing for herself an awful tragedy. She must be severed for ever from her daughter, and so severed with the opinion of all her neighbours against her! But what was all that if she had done right? Or of what service to her would be the contrary if she were herself to think — nay, to know — that she had done wrong?
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14