‘You must have heard,’ said the mother.
’I don’t in the least know what you are talking about. I have heard nothing at all.’
In very truth he had heard nothing of his old friend,—not even that he had returned to England. Then by degrees the whole story was told to him. ‘I know that he was putting a lot of money together,’ said Dick enviously. ’Married Hester Bolton? I thought he would! Bigamy! Euphemia Smith! Married before! Certainly not at the diggings.’
‘He wasn’t married up at Ahalala?’ asked the doctor.
’To Euphemia Smith? I was there when they quarrelled, and when she went into partnership with Crinkett. I am sure there was no such marriage. John Caldigate in prison for bigamy? And he paid them twenty thousand pounds? The more fool he!’
‘They all say that.’
’But it’s an infernal plant. As sure as my name is Richard Shand, John Caldigate never married that woman.’
Again at Sir John’s Chambers
And this was the man as to whom it had been acknowledged that his evidence, if it could be obtained, would be final. The return of Dick himself was to the Shands an affair so much more momentous than the release of John Caldigate from prison, that for some hours or so the latter subject was allowed to pass out of sight. The mother got him up-stairs and asked after his linen,—vain inquiry,—and arranged for his bed, turning all the little Rewbles into one small room. In the long run, grandmothers are more tender to their grand-children than their own offspring. But at this moment Dick was predominant. How grand a thing to have her son returned to her, and such a son,—a teetotaller of two years’ growth, who had seen all the world of the Pacific Ocean! As he could not take whisky-and-water, would he like ginger-beer before he went to bed,—or arrowroot? Dick decided in favour of ginger-beer, and consented to be embraced again.
It was, I think, to Maria’s credit that she was the first to bring back the conversation to John Caldigate’s marriage. ’Was she a very horrible woman?’ Maria asked, referring to Euphemia Smith.
’There were a good many of ’em out there, greedy after gold,’ said Dick; ’but she beat ’em all; and she was awfully clever.’
‘In what way, Dick?’ asked Mrs. Rewble. Because she does not seem to me to have done very well with herself.’
’She knew more about shares than any man of them all. But I think she just drank a little. It was that which disgusted Caldigate.’
‘He had been very fond of her?’ suggested Maria.
‘I never knew a man so taken with a woman.’ Maria blushed, and Mrs. Rewble looked round at her younger sisters as though desirous that they should be sent to bed. ’All that began on board the ship. Then he was fool enough to run after her down to Sydney; and of course she followed him up to the mines.’