Perhaps it was more the fault of Daniel Caldigate the father than of his son John Caldigate, that they two could not live together in comfort in the days of the young man's early youth. And yet it would have been much for both of them that such comfortable association should have been possible to them. Wherever the fault lay, or the chief fault—for probably there was some on both sides—the misfortune was so great as to bring crushing troubles upon each of them.
There were but the two of which to make a household. When John was fifteen, and had been about a year at Harrow, he lost his mother and his two little sisters almost at a blow. The two girls went first, and the poor mother, who had kept herself alive to see them die, followed them almost instantly. Then Daniel Caldigate had been alone.
And he was a man who knew how to live alone,—a just, hard, unsympathetic man,—of whom his neighbours said, with something of implied reproach, that he bore up strangely when he lost his wife and girls. This they said, because he was to be seen riding about the country, and because he was to be heard talking to the farmers and labourers as though nothing special had happened to him. It was rumoured of him, too, that he was as constant with his books as before; and he had been a man always constant with his books; and also that he had never been seen to shed a tear, or been heard to speak of those who had been taken from him.
He was, in truth, a stout, self-constraining man, silent unless when he had something to say. Then he could become loud enough, or perhaps it might be said, eloquent. To his wife he had been inwardly affectionate, but outwardly almost stern. To his daughters he had been the same,—always anxious for every good thing on their behalf, but never able to make the children conscious of this anxiety. When they were taken from him, he suffered in silence, as such men do suffer; and he suffered the more because he knew well how little of gentleness there had been in his manners with them.
But he had hoped, as he sat alone in his desolate house, that it would be different with him and his only son,—with his son who was now the only thing left to him. But the son was a boy, and he had to look forward to what years might bring him rather than to present happiness from that source. When the boy came home for his holidays, the father would sometimes walk with him, and discourse on certain chosen subjects,—on the politics of the day, in regard to which Mr. Caldigate was an advanced Liberal, on the abomination of the Game Laws, on the folly of Protection, on the antiquated absurdity of a State Church;—as to all which matters his son John lent him a very inattentive ear. Then the lad would escape and kill rabbits, or rats, or even take birds' nests, with a zest for such pursuits which was disgusting to the father, though he would not absolutely forbid them. Then John would be allured to go to his uncle Babington's house, where there was a pony on which he could hunt, and fishing-rods, and a lake with a boat, and three fine bouncing girl-cousins, who made much of him, and called him Jack; so that he soon preferred his uncle Babington's house, and would spend much of his holidays at Babington House.
Mr. Caldigate was a country squire with a moderate income, living in a moderate house called Folking, in the parish of Utterden, about ten miles from Cambridge. Here he owned nearly the entire parish, and some portion of Netherden, which lay next to it, having the reputation of an income of L3,000 a-year. It probably amounted to about two-thirds of that. Early in life he had been a very poor man, owing to the improvidence of his father; but he had soon quarrelled with his father,—as he had with almost everyone else,—and had for some ten years earned his own bread in the metropolis among the magazines and newspapers. Then, when his father died, the property was his own, with such encumbrances as the old squire had been able to impose upon it. Daniel Caldigate had married when he was a poor man, but did not go to Folking to live till the estate was clear, at which time he was forty years old. When he was endeavouring to inculcate good Liberal principles into that son of his, who was burning the while to get off to a battle of rats among the corn-stacks, he was not yet fifty. There might therefore be some time left to him for the promised joys of companionship if he could only convince the boy that politics were better than rats.
But he did not long make himself any such promise. It seemed to him that his son's mind was of a nature very different from his own; and much like to that of his grandfather. The lad could be awakened to no enthusiasm in the abuse of Conservative leaders. And those Babingtons were such fools! He despised the whole race of them,—especially those thick-legged, romping, cherry-cheeked damsels, of whom, no doubt, his son would marry one. They were all of the earth earthy, without an idea among them. And yet he did not dare to forbid his son to go to the house, lest people should say of him that his sternness was unendurable.
Folking is not a place having many attractions of its own, beyond the rats. It lies in the middle of the Cambridgeshire fens, between St. Ives, Cambridge, and Ely. In the two parishes of Utterden and Netherden there is no rise of ground which can by any stretch of complaisance be called a hill. The property is bisected by an immense straight dike, which is called the Middle Wash, and which is so sluggish, so straight, so ugly, and so deep, as to impress the mind of a stranger with the ideas of suicide. And there are straight roads and straight dikes, with ugly names on all sides, and passages through the country called droves, also with ugly appellations of their own, which certainly are not worthy of the name of roads. The Folking Causeway possesses a bridge across the Wash, and is said to be the remains of an old Roman Way which ran in a perfectly direct line from St. Neots to Ely. When you have crossed the bridge going northward,—or north-westward,—there is a lodge at your right hand, and a private road running, as straight as a line can be drawn, through pollard poplars, up to Mr. Caldigate's house. Round the house there are meadows, and a large old-fashioned kitchen garden, and a small dark flower-garden, with clipt hedges and straight walks, quite in the old fashion. The house itself is dark, picturesque, well-built, low, and uncomfortable. Part of it is as old as the time of Charles II., and part dates from Queen Anne. Something was added at a later date,—perhaps early in the Georges; but it was all done with good materials, and no stint of labour. Shoddy had not been received among building materials when any portion of Folking was erected. But then neither had modern ideas of comfort become in vogue. Just behind the kitchen-garden a great cross ditch, called Foul-water Drain, runs, or rather creeps, down to the Wash, looking on that side as though it had been made to act as a moat to the house; and on the other side of the drain there is Twopenny Drove, at the end of which Twopenny Ferry leads to Twopenny Hall, a farmhouse across the Wash belonging to Mr. Caldigate. The fields around are all square and all flat, all mostly arable, and are often so deep in mud that a stranger wonders that a plough should be able to be dragged through the soil. The farming is, however, good of its kind, and the ploughing is mostly done by steam.
Such is and has been for some years the house at Folking in which Mr. Caldigate has lived quite alone. For five years after his wife's death he had only on rare occasions received visitors there. Twice his brother had come to Folking, and had brought a son with him. The brother had been a fellow of a college at Cambridge, and had taken a living, and married late in life. The living was far away in Dorsetshire, and the son, at the time of these visits, was being educated at a private school. Twice they had both been at Folking together, and the uncle had, in his silent way, liked the boy. The lad had preferred, or had pretended to prefer, books to rats; had understood or seemed to understand, something of the advantages of cheap food for the people, and had been commended by the father for general good conduct. But when they had last taken their departure from Folking, no one had entertained any idea of any peculiar relations between the nephew and the uncle. It was not till a year or two more had run by, that Mr. Daniel Caldigate thought of making his nephew George the heir to the property.
The property indeed was entailed upon John, as it had been entailed upon John's father. There were many institutions of his country which Mr. Caldigate hated with almost an inhuman hatred; but there were none more odious to him than that of entails, which institution he was wont to prove by many arguments to be the source of all the ignorance and all the poverty and all the troubles by which his country was inflicted. He had got his own property by an entail, and certainly never would have had an acre had his father been able to consume more than a life-interest. But he had denied that the property had done him any good, and was loud in declaring that the entail had done the property and those who lived on it very much harm. In his hearts of hearts he did feel a desire that when he was gone the acres should still belong to a Caldigate. There was so much in him of the leaven of the old English squirarchic aristocracy as to create a pride in the fact that the Caldigates had been at Folking for three hundred years, and a wish that they might remain there; and no doubt he knew that without repeated entails they would not have remained there. But still he had hated the thing, and as years rolled on he came to think that the entail now existing would do an especial evil.
His son on leaving school spent almost the whole four months between that time and the beginning of his first term at Cambridge with the Babingtons. This period included the month of September, and afforded therefore much partridge shooting,—than which nothing was meaner in the opinion of the Squire of Folking. When a short visit was made to Folking, the father was sarcastic and disagreeable; and then, for the first time, John Caldigate showed himself to be possessed of a power of reply which was peculiarly disagreeable to the old man. This had the effect of cutting down the intended allowance of L250 to L220 per annum, for which sum the father had been told that his son could live like a gentleman at the University. This parsimony so disgusted uncle Babington, who lived on the other side of the county, within the borders of Suffolk, that he insisted on giving his nephew a hunter, and an undertaking to bear the expense of the animal as long as John should remain at the University. No arrangement could have been more foolish. And that last visit made by John to Babington House for the two days previous to his Cambridge career was in itself most indiscreet. The angry father would not take upon himself to forbid it, but was worked up by it to perilous jealousy. He did not scruple to declare aloud that old Humphrey Babington was a thick-headed fool; nor did Humphrey Babington, who, with his ten or twelve thousand a-year, was considerably involved, scruple to say that he hated such cheese-paring ways. John Caldigate felt more distaste to the cheese-paring ways than he did to his uncle's want of literature.
Such was the beginning of the rupture which took place before the time had come for John to take his degree. When that time came he had a couple of hunters at Cambridge, played in the Cambridge eleven, and rowed in one of the Trinity boats. He also owed something over L800 to the regular tradesmen of the University, and a good deal more to other creditors who were not 'regular.' During the whole of this time his visits to Folking had been short and few. The old squire had become more and more angry, and not the less so because he was sensible of a non-performance of duty on his own part. Though he was close to Cambridge he never went to see his son; nor would he even press the lad to come out to Folking. Nor when, on rare occasions, a visit was made, did he endeavour to make the house pleasant. He was jealous, jealous to hot anger, at being neglected, but could not bring himself to make advances to his own son. Then when he heard from his son's tutor that his son could not pass his degree without the payment of L800 for recognised debts,—then his anger boiled over, and he told John Caldigate that he was expelled from his father's heart and his father's house.
The money was paid and the degree was taken: and there arose the question as to what was to be done. John, of course, took himself to Babington House, and was condoled with by his uncle and cousins. His troubles at this time were numerous enough. That L800 by no means summed up his whole indebtedness;—covered indeed but a small part of it. He had been at Newmarket; and there was a pleasant gentleman, named Davis, who frequented that place and Cambridge, who had been very civil to him when he lost a little money, and who now held his acceptances for, alas! much more than L800. Even uncle Babington knew nothing of this when the degree was taken. And then there came a terrible blow to him. Aunt Babington,—aunt Polly as she was called,—got him into her own closet upstairs, where she kept her linen and her jams and favourite liqueurs, and told him that his cousin Julia was dying in love for him. After all that had passed, of course it was expected he would engage himself to his cousin Julia. Now Julia was the eldest, the thickest-ankled, and the cherry-cheekedest of the lot. To him up to that time the Babington folk had always been a unit. No one else had been so good-natured to him, had so petted him, and so freely administered to all his wants. He would kiss them all round whenever he went to Babington; but he had not kissed Julia more than her sisters. There were three sons, whom he never specially liked, and who certainly were fools. One was the heir, and, of course, did nothing; the second was struggling for a degree at Oxford with an eye to the family living; the third was in a fair way to become the family gamekeeper. He certainly did not wish to marry into the family;—and yet they had all been so kind to him!
'I should have nothing to marry on, aunt Polly,' he said.
Then he was reminded that he was his father's heir, and that his father's house was sadly in want of a mistress. They could live at Babington till Folking should be ready. The prospect was awful!
What is a young man to say in such a position? 'I do not love the young lady after that fashion, and therefore I must decline.' It requires a hero, and a cold-blooded hero, to do that. And aunt Polly was very much in earnest, for she brought Julia into the room, and absolutely delivered her up into the young man's arms.
'I am so much in debt,' he said, 'that I don't care to think of it.'
Aunt Polly declared that such debts did not signify in the least. Folking was not embarrassed. Folking did not owe a shilling. Every one knew that. And there was Julia in his arms! He never said that he would marry her; but when he left the linen-closet the two ladies understood that the thing was arranged.
Luckily for him aunt Polly had postponed this scene till the moment before his departure from the house. He was at this time going to Cambridge, where he was to be the guest, for one night, of a certain Mr. Bolton, who was one of the very few friends to whom his father was still attached. Mr. Bolton was a banker, living close to Cambridge, an old man now, with four sons and one daughter; and to his house John Caldigate was going in order that he might there discuss with Mr. Bolton certain propositions which had been made between him and his father respecting the Folking property. The father had now realised the idea of buying his son out; and John himself, who had all the world and all his life before him, and was terribly conscious of the obligations which he owed to his friend Davis, had got into his head a notion that he would prefer to face his fortune with a sum of ready money, than to wait in absolute poverty for the reversion of the family estate. He had his own ideas, and in furtherance of them he had made certain inquiries. There was gold being found at this moment among the mountains of New South Wales, in quantities which captivated his imagination. And this was being done in a most lovely spot, among circumstances which were in all respects romantic. His friend, Richard Shand, who was also a Trinity man, was quite resolved to go out, and he was minded to accompany his friend. In this way, and, as he thought, in this way only, could a final settlement be made with that most assiduous of attendants, Mr. Davis. His mind was fully set upon New South Wales, and his little interview with his cousin Julia did not tend to bind him more closely to his own country, or to Babington, or to Folking.