The tidings of John Caldigate’s pardon reached Cambridge on the Saturday morning, and was communicated in various shapes. Official letters from the Home Office were written to the governor of the jail and to the sub-sheriff, to Mr. Seely who was still acting as attorney on behalf of the prisoner, and to Caldigate himself. The latter was longer than the others, and contained a gracious expression of Her Majesty’s regret that he as an innocent person should have been subjected to imprisonment. The Secretary of State also was described as being keenly sensible of the injustice which had been perpetrated by the unfortunate and most unusual circumstances of the case. As the Home Office had decided that the man was to be considered innocent, it decided also on the expression of its opinion without a shadow of remaining doubt. And the news reached Cambridge in other ways by the same post. William Bolton wrote both to his father and brother, and Mr. Brown the Under-Secretary sent a private letter to the old squire at Folking, of which further mention shall be made. Before church time on the Sunday morning, the fact that John Caldigate was to be released, or had been released from prison, was known to all Cambridge.
Caldigate himself had borne his imprisonment on the whole well. He had complained but little to those around him, and had at once resolved to endure the slowly passing two years with silent fortitude — as a brave man will resolve to bear any evil for which there is no remedy. But a more wretched man than he was after the first week of bitterness could hardly be found. Fortitude has no effect in abating such misery other than what may come from an absence of fretful impatience. The man who endures all that the tormentors can do to him without a sign, simply refuses to acknowledge the agonies inflicted. So it was with Caldigate. Though he obeyed with placid readiness all the prison instructions, and composed his features and seemed almost to smile when that which was to be exacted from him was explained, he ate his heart in dismay as he counted the days, the hours, the minutes, and then calculated the amount of misery that was in store for him. And there was so much more for him to think of than his own condition He knew of course that he was innocent of the crime imputed to him; — but would it not be the same to his wife and child as though he had been in truth guilty? Would not his boy to his dying day be regarded as illegitimate? And though he had been wrongly condemned, had not all this come in truth from his own fault? And when that eternity of misery within the prison walls should have come to an end — if he could live through it so as to see the end of it — what would then be his fate, and what his duty? He had perfect trust in his wife; but who could say what two years might do — two years during which she would be subjected to the pressure of all her friends? Where should he find her when the months had passed? And if she were no longer at Folking, would she come back to him? He was sure, nearly sure, that he could not claim her as his wife. And were she still minded to share her future lot with him, in what way should he treat her? If that horrid woman was his wife in the eye of the law — and he feared though hardly knew that it would be so — then could not that other one, who was to him as a part of his own soul, be his wife also? What would become of his child, who, as far as he could see, would not be his child at all in the eye of the law? Even while he was still a free man, still uncondemned, an effort had been made to rob him of his wife and boy — an effort which for a time had seemed to be successful. How would Hester be able to withstand such attempts when they would be justified by a legal decision that she was not his wife — and could not become his wife while that other woman was alive? Such thoughts as these did not tend to relieve the weariness of his days.
The only person from the outside world whom he was allowed to see during the three months of his incarceration was Mr. Seely, and with him he had two interviews. From the time of the verdict Mr. Seely was still engaged in making those enquiries as to the evidence of which we have heard so much, and though he was altogether unsympathetic and incredulous, still he did his duty. He had told his client that these enquiries were being made, and had, on his second visit, informed him of the arrival of Dick Shand. But he had never spoken with hope, and had almost ridiculed Bagwax with his postage-stamps and postmarks. When Caldigate first heard that Dick was in England — for a minute or two — he allowed himself to be full of hope. But the attorney had dashed his hopes. What was Shand’s evidence against the testimony of four witnesses who had borne the fire of cross-examination? Their character was not very good, but Dick’s was, if possible, worse. Mr. Seely did not think that Dick’s word would go for much. He could simply say that, as far as he knew, there had been no marriage. And in this Mr. Seely had been right, for Dick’s word had not gone for much. Then, when Crinkett and Mrs. Smith had been arrested, no tidings had reached him of that further event. It had been thought best that nothing as to that should be communicated to him till the result should be known.
Thus it had come to pass that when the tidings reached the prison he was not in a state of expectation. The governor of the prison knew what was going on, and had for days been looking for the order of release. But he had not held himself to be justified in acquainting his prisoner with the facts. The despatches to him and to Caldigate from the Home Office were marked immediate, and by the courtesy of the postmaster were given in at the prison gates before daylight. Caldigate was still asleep when the door of the cell was opened by the governor in person and the communication was made to him as he lay for the last time stretched on his prison pallet. ‘You can get up a free man, Mr. Caldigate,’ said the governor, with his hand on his prisoner’s shoulder. ‘I have here the Queen’s pardon. It has reached me this morning.’ Caldigate got up and looked at the man as though he did not at first understand the words that had been spoken. ‘It is true, Mr. Caldigate. Here is my authority — and this, no doubt, is a communication of the same nature to yourself.’ Then Caldigate took the letter, and, with his mind still bewildered, made himself acquainted with the gratifying fact that all the big-wigs were very sorry for the misfortune which had befallen him.
In his state of mind, as it then was, he was by no means disposed to think much of the injustice done to him. He had in store for him, for immediate use, a whole world of glorious bliss. There was his house, his property, his farm, his garden, and the free air. And there would be the knowledge of all those around him that he had not done the treacherous thing of which those wretches had accused him.
And added to all this, and above all this, there would be his wife and his child! It was odd enough that a word from the mouth of an exalted Parliamentary personage should be able to give him back one wife and release him from another — in opposition to the decision of the law — should avail to restore to his boy the name and birthright of which he had been practically deprived, and should, by a stroke of his pen, undo all that had been done by the combined efforts of jury, judge, and prosecutor! But he found that so it was. He was pardoned, forsooth, as though he were still a guilty man! Yet he would have back his wife and child, and no one could gainsay him.
‘When can I go?’ he said, jumping from his bed.
‘When you please; — now, at once. But you had better come into the house and breakfast with me first.’
‘If I may I would rather go instantly. Can you send for a carriage for me?’ Then the governor endeavoured to explain to him that it would be better for his wife, and more comfortable for everybody concerned, that she should have been enabled to expect him, if it were only for an hour or two, before his arrival. A communication would doubtless have been made from the Home Office to some one at Folking, and as that would be sent out by the foot-postman it would not be received before nine in the morning.
But Caldigate would not allow himself to be persuaded As for eating before he had seen the dear ones at home, that he declared to be impossible. A vision of what that breakfast might be to him with his own wife at his side came before his eyes, and therefore a messenger was at once sent for the vehicle.
But the postmaster, who from the beginning had never been a believer in the Australian wife, and, being a Liberal, was staunch to the Caldigate side of the question, would not allow the letter addressed to the old squire to be retained for the slow operations of the regular messenger, but sent it off manfully by horse express, before the dawn of day, so that it reached the old squire almost as soon as the other letters reached the prison. The squire, who was an early man, was shaving himself when the despatch was brought into his room with an intimation that the boy on horseback wanted to know what he was to do next. The boy of course got his breakfast and Mr. Caldigate read his letter, which was as follows:—
‘HOME OFFICE — October, 187-.
‘My DEAR SIR — When you did me the honour of calling upon me here I was able to do no more than express my sympathy as to the misfortune which had fallen upon your family, and to explain to you, I fear not very efficiently, that at that moment the mouths of all of us here were stopped by official prudence as to the matter which was naturally so near your heart. I have now the very great pleasure of informing you that the Secretary of State has this morning received her Majesty’s command to issue a pardon for your son. The official intimation will be sent to him and to the county authorities by this post, and by the time that this reaches you he will be a free man.
‘In writing to you, I need hardly explain that the form of a pardon from the Throne is the only mode allowed by the laws of the country for setting aside a verdict which has been found in error upon false evidence. Unfortunately, perhaps, we have not the means of annulling a criminal conviction by a second trial; and therefore, on such occasions as this — occasions which are very rare — we have but this lame way of redressing a great grievance. I am happy to think that in this case the future effect will be as complete as though the verdict had been reversed. As to the suffering which has been already endured by your son, by his much-injured wife, and by yourself, I am aware that no redress can be given.
It is one of those cases in which the honest and good have to endure a portion of the evil produced by the dishonesty of the wicked. I can only add to this my best wishes for your son’s happiness on his return to his home, and express a hope that you will understand that I would most willingly have made your visit to the Home Office more satisfactory had it been within my power to do so. — Believe me, very faith-fully yours,
He had not read this letter to the end, and had hardly washed the soap from his face, before he was in his daughter-in-law’s room. She was there with her child, still in bed — thinking, thinking, thinking whether there would ever come an end to her misery. ‘It has come,’ said the old man.
‘What has come?’ she asked, jumping up with the baby in her arms. But she knew what had come, for he had the letter open in his hands.
‘They have pardoned him. The absurdity of the thing! Pardoning a man whom they know to be innocent, and to have been injured!’
But the ‘absurdity of the thing,’ as the old squire very naturally called it, was nothing to her now. He was to come back to her. She would be in his arms that day. On that very day she would once again hold up her boy to be kissed by his father.
‘Where is he? When will he come? Of course I will go to him! You will make them have the waggonnette at once; will you not? I will be dressed in five minutes if you will go. Of course I will go to fetch him.’
But this the squire would not allow. The carriage should be sent, of course, and if it met his son on the road, as was probable, there would be no harm done. But it would not be well that the greeting between the husband and the wife should be in public. So he went out to order the carriage and to prepare himself to accompany it, leaving her to think of her happiness and to make herself ready for the meeting. But when left to herself she could hardly compose herself so as to brush her hair and give herself those little graces which should be pleasant to his eye. ‘Papa is coming,’ she said to her boy over and over again. ‘Papa is coming back. Papa will be here; your own, own, own papa.’ Then she threw aside the black gown, which she had worn since he left her, and chose for her wear one which he himself had taken pride in buying for her — the first article of her dress in the choice of which he had been consulted as her husband; and with quick unsteady hand she pulled out some gay ribbon for her baby. Yes; — she and her boy would once again be bright for his sake; — for his sake there should again be gay ribbons and soft silks. ‘Papa is coming, my own one; your own, own papa!’ and then she smothered the child with kisses.
While they were sitting at breakfast at Puritan Grange, the same news reached Mr. and Mrs. Bolton. The letter to the old man from his son in town was very short, merely stating that the authorities at the Home Office had at last decided that Caldigate should be released from prison. The writer knew that his father would be prepared for this news by his brother; and all that could be said in the way of argument had been said already. The letters which came to Puritan Grange were few in number, and were generally addressed to the lady. The banker’s letters were all received at the house of business in the town. ‘What is it?’ asked the wife, as soon as she saw the long official envelope. But he read it to the end very slowly before he vouchsafed her any reply. ‘It has to do with that wretched man in prison,’ she said. ‘What is it?’
‘He is in prison no longer.’
‘They have let him escape?’
‘The Queen has pardoned him because he was not guilty.’
‘The Queen! As though she could know whether he be guilty or innocent. What can the Queen know of the manner of his life in foreign parts — before he had taken my girl away from me?’
‘He never married the woman. Let there be no more said about it. He never married her.’
But Mrs. Bolton, though she was not victorious, was not to be silenced by a single word. No more about it, indeed! There must be very much more about it. ‘If she was not his wife, she was worse,’ she said.
‘He has repented of that.’
‘Repented!’ she said, with scorn. What very righteous person ever believed in the repentance of an enemy?
‘Why should he not repent?’
‘He has had leisure in jail.’
‘Let us hope that he has used it. At any rate he is her husband. There are not many days left to me here. Let me at least see my daughter during the few that remain to me.’
‘Do I not want to see my own child?’
‘I will see her and her boy; — and I will have them called by the name which is theirs. And he shall come — if he will. Who are you, or who am I, that we shall throw in his teeth the sins of his youth?’ Then she became sullen and there was not a word more said between them that morning. But after breakfast the old gardener was sent into town for a fly, and Mr. Bolton was taken to the bank.
‘And what are we to do now?’ asked Mrs. Robert Bolton of her husband, when the tidings were made known to her also at her breakfast-table.
‘We must take it as a fact that she is his wife.’
‘Of course, my dear. If the Secretary of State were to say that I was his wife, I suppose I should have to take it as a fact.’
‘If he said that you were a goose it might be nearer the mark.’
‘Really! But a goose must know what she is to do.’
‘You must write her a letter and call her Mrs. Caldigate. That will be an acknowledgment.’
‘And what shall I say to her?’
‘Ask her to come here, if you will.’
‘And him, too. The fact is we have got to swallow it all. I was sure that he had married that woman, and then of course I wanted to get Hester away from him. Now I believe that he never married her, and therefore we must make the best of him as Hester’s husband.’
‘You used to like him.’
‘Yes; — and perhaps I shall again. But why on earth did he pay twenty thousand pounds to those miscreants? That is what I could not get over. It was that which made me sure he was guilty. It is that which still puzzles me so that I can hardly make up my mind to be quite sure that he is innocent. But still we have to be sure. Perhaps the miracle will be explained some day.’
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01