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Desperate Remedies

by Thomas Hardy



Mrs. Crickett, twice a widow, and now the parish clerk's wife, a fine-framed, scandal-loving woman, with a peculiar corner to her eye by which, without turning her head, she could see what people were doing almost behind her, lived in a cottage standing nearer to the old manor-house than any other in the village of Carriford, and she had on that account been temporarily engaged by the steward, as a respectable kind of charwoman and general servant, until a settled arrangement could be made with some person as permanent domestic.

Every morning, therefore, Mrs. Crickett, immediately she had lighted the fire in her own cottage, and prepared the breakfast for herself and husband, paced her way to the Old House to do the same for Mr. Manston. Then she went home to breakfast; and when the steward had eaten his, and had gone out on his rounds, she returned again to clear away, make his bed, and put the house in order for the day.

On the morning of Owen Graye's departure, she went through the operations of her first visit as usual--proceeded home to breakfast, and went back again, to perform those of the second.

Entering Manston's empty bedroom, with her hands on her hips, she indifferently cast her eyes upon the bed, previously to dismantling it.

Whilst she looked, she thought in an inattentive manner, 'What a remarkably quiet sleeper Mr. Manston must be!' The upper bed- clothes were flung back, certainly, but the bed was scarcely disarranged. 'Anybody would almost fancy,' she thought, 'that he had made it himself after rising.'

But these evanescent thoughts vanished as they had come, and Mrs. Crickett set to work; she dragged off the counterpane, blankets and sheets, and stooped to lift the pillows. Thus stooping, something arrested her attention; she looked closely--more closely--very closely. 'Well, to be sure!' was all she could say. The clerk's wife stood as if the air had suddenly set to amber, and held her fixed like a fly in it.

The object of her wonder was a trailing brown hair, very little less than a yard long, which proved it clearly to be a hair from some woman's head. She drew it off the pillow, and took it to the window; there holding it out she looked fixedly at it, and became utterly lost in meditation: her gaze, which had at first actively settled on the hair, involuntarily dropped past its object by degrees and was lost on the floor, as the inner vision obscured the outer one.

She at length moistened her lips, returned her eyes to the hair, wound it round her fingers, put it in some paper, and secreted the whole in her pocket. Mrs. Crickett's thoughts were with her work no more that morning.

She searched the house from roof-tree to cellar, for some other trace of feminine existence or appurtenance; but none was to be found.

She went out into the yard, coal-hole, stable, hay-loft, green- house, fowl-house, and piggery, and still there was no sign. Coming in again, she saw a bonnet, eagerly pounced upon it; and found it to be her own.

Hastily completing her arrangements in the other rooms, she entered the village again, and called at once on the postmistress, Elizabeth Leat, an intimate friend of hers, and a female who sported several unique diseases and afflictions.

Mrs. Crickett unfolded the paper, took out the hair, and waved it on high before the perplexed eyes of Elizabeth, which immediately mooned and wandered after it like a cat's.

'What is it?' said Mrs. Leat, contracting her eyelids, and stretching out towards the invisible object a narrow bony hand that would have been an unmitigated delight to the pencil of Carlo Crivelli.

'You shall hear,' said Mrs. Crickett, complacently gathering up the treasure into her own fat hand; and the secret was then solemnly imparted, together with the accident of its discovery.

A shaving-glass was taken down from a nail, laid on its back in the middle of a table by the window, and the hair spread carefully out upon it. The pair then bent over the table from opposite sides, their elbows on the edge, their hands supporting their heads, their foreheads nearly touching, and their eyes upon the hair.

'He ha' been mad a'ter my lady Cytherea,' said Mrs. Crickett, 'and 'tis my very belief the hair is--'

'No 'tidn'. Hers idn' so dark as that,' said Elizabeth.

'Elizabeth, you know that as the faithful wife of a servant of the Church, I should be glad to think as you do about the girl. Mind I don't wish to say anything against Miss Graye, but this I do say, that I believe her to be a nameless thing, and she's no right to stick a moral clock in her face, and deceive the country in such a way. If she wasn't of a bad stock at the outset she was bad in the planten, and if she wasn't bad in the planten, she was bad in the growen, and if not in the growen, she's made bad by what she's gone through since.'

'But I have another reason for knowing it idn' hers,' said Mrs. Leat.

'Ah! I know whose it is then--Miss Aldclyffe's, upon my song!'

''Tis the colour of hers, but I don't believe it to be hers either.'

'Don't you believe what they d' say about her and him?'

'I say nothen about that; but you don't know what I know about his letters.'

'What about 'em?'

'He d' post all his letters here except those for one person, and they he d' take to Budmouth. My son is in Budmouth Post Office, as you know, and as he d' sit at desk he can see over the blind of the window all the people who d' post letters. Mr. Manston d' unvariably go there wi' letters for that person; my boy d' know 'em by sight well enough now.'

'Is it a she?'

''Tis a she.'

'What's her name?'

'The little stunpoll of a fellow couldn't call to mind more than that 'tis Miss Somebody, of London. However, that's the woman who ha' been here, depend upon't--a wicked one--some poor street-wench escaped from Sodom, I warrant ye.'

'Only to find herself in Gomorrah, seemingly.'

'That may be.'

'No, no, Mrs. Leat, this is clear to me. 'Tis no miss who came here to see our steward last night--whenever she came or wherever she vanished. Do you think he would ha' let a miss get here how she could, go away how she would, without breakfast or help of any kind?'

Elizabeth shook her head--Mrs. Crickett looked at her solemnly.

'I say I know she had no help of any kind; I know it was so, for the grate was quite cold when I touched it this morning with these fingers, and he was still in bed. No, he wouldn't take the trouble to write letters to a girl and then treat her so off-hand as that. There's a tie between 'em stronger than feelen. She's his wife.'

'He married! The Lord so 's, what shall we hear next? Do he look married now? His are not the abashed eyes and lips of a married man.'

'Perhaps she's a tame one--but she's his wife still.'

'No, no: he's not a married man.'

'Yes, yes, he is. I've had three, and I ought to know.'

'Well, well,' said Mrs. Leat, giving way. 'Whatever may be the truth on't I trust Providence will settle it all for the best, as He always do.'

'Ay, ay, Elizabeth,' rejoined Mrs. Crickett with a satirical sigh, as she turned on her foot to go home, 'good people like you may say so, but I have always found Providence a different sort of feller.'


The Classical Library, This HTML edition copyright 2000.

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