’Mr. Seely says that twelve men will not be less likely to think me a bigamist because she has expressed her readiness to commit bigamy; that, if alone, she would not have a leg to stand upon, but that she is amply corroborated; whereas I have not been able to find a single witness to support me. It seems to me that in this way any man might be made the victim of a conspiracy.’
Then Mr. Bromley said that all that would be too patent to a jury to leave any doubt upon the matter. But John Caldigate himself, though he took great comfort in the society of the clergyman, did in truth rely rather on the opinion of the lawyer.
The old squire never doubted his son for a moment, and in his intercourse with Hester showed her all the tenderness and trust of a loving parent. But he, too, manifestly feared the verdict of a jury. According to him, things in the world around him generally were very bad. What was to be expected from an ordinary jury such as Cambridgeshire would supply but prejudice, thick-headed stupidity, or at the best a strict obedience to the dictum of a judge. ’It is a case,’ he said, ’in which no jury about here will have sense enough to understand and weigh the facts. There will be on one side the evidence of four people, all swearing the same thing. It may be that one or more of them will break down under cross-examination, and that all will then be straight. But if not, the twelve men in a box will believe them because they are four, not understanding that in such a case four may conspire as easily as two or three. There will be the Judge, no doubt; but English judges are always favourable to convictions. The Judge begins with the idea that the man before him would hardly have been brought there had he not been guilty.’
In all this, and very much more that he said both to Mr. Bromley and his son, he was expressing his contempt for the world around him rather than any opinion of his own on this particular matter. ‘I often think,’ said he, ’that we have to bear more from the stupidity than from the wickedness of the world.’
It should be mentioned that about a week after Hester’s escape from Chesterton there came to her a letter from her mother.
’Dearest Hester,—You do not think that I do not love you because I tried to protect you from what I believe to be sin and evil and temptation? You do not think that I am less your mother because I caused you suffering? If your eye offend you, pluck it out. Was I not plucking out my own eye when I caused pain to you? You ought to come back to me and your father. You ought to do so even now. But whether you come back or not, will you not remember that I am the mother who bore you, and have always loved you? And when further distress shall come upon you, will you not return to me?—Your unhappy but most loving Mother,