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Desperate Remedies

by Thomas Hardy



Manston received a message the next day requesting his attendance at the House punctually at eight o'clock the ensuing evening. Miss Aldclyffe was brave and imperious, but with the purpose she had in view she could not look him in the face whilst daylight shone upon her.

The steward was shown into the library. On entering it, he was immediately struck with the unusual gloom which pervaded the apartment. The fire was dead and dull, one lamp, and that a comparatively small one, was burning at the extreme end, leaving the main proportion of the lofty and sombre room in an artificial twilight, scarcely powerful enough to render visible the titles of the folio and quarto volumes which were jammed into the lower tiers of the bookshelves.

After keeping him waiting for more than twenty minutes (Miss Aldclyffe knew that excellent recipe for taking the stiffness out of human flesh, and for extracting all pre-arrangement from human speech) she entered the room.

Manston sought her eye directly. The hue of her features was not discernible, but the calm glance she flung at him, from which all attempt at returning his scrutiny was absent, awoke him to the perception that probably his secret was by some means or other known to her; how it had become known he could not tell.

She drew forth the letter, unfolded it, and held it up to him, letting it hang by one corner from between her finger and thumb, so that the light from the lamp, though remote, fell directly upon its surface.

'You know whose writing this is?' she said.

He saw the strokes plainly, instantly resolving to burn his ships and hazard all on an advance.

'My wife's,' he said calmly.

His quiet answer threw her off her balance. She had no more expected an answer than does a preacher when he exclaims from the pulpit, 'Do you feel your sin?' She had clearly expected a sudden alarm.

'And why all this concealment?' she said again, her voice rising, as she vainly endeavoured to control her feelings, whatever they were.

'It doesn't follow that, because a man is married, he must tell every stranger of it, madam,' he answered, just as calmly as before.

'Stranger! well, perhaps not; but, Mr. Manston, why did you choose to conceal it, I ask again? I have a perfect right to ask this question, as you will perceive, if you consider the terms of my advertisement.'

'I will tell you. There were two simple reasons. The first was this practical one; you advertised for an unmarried man, if you remember?'

'Of course I remember.'

'Well, an incident suggested to me that I should try for the situation. I was married; but, knowing that in getting an office where there is a restriction of this kind, leaving one's wife behind is always accepted as a fulfilment of the condition, I left her behind for awhile. The other reason is, that these terms of yours afforded me a plausible excuse for escaping (for a short time) the company of a woman I had been mistaken in marrying.'

'Mistaken! what was she?' the lady inquired.

'A third-rate actress, whom I met with during my stay in Liverpool last summer, where I had gone to fulfil a short engagement with an architect.'

'Where did she come from?'

'She is an American by birth, and I grew to dislike her when we had been married a week.'

'She was ugly, I imagine?'

'She is not an ugly woman by any means.'

'Up to the ordinary standard?'

'Quite up to the ordinary standard--indeed, handsome. After a while we quarrelled and separated.'

'You did not ill-use her, of course?' said Miss Aldclyffe, with a little sarcasm.

'I did not.'

'But at any rate, you got thoroughly tired of her.'

Manston looked as if he began to think her questions put of place; however, he said quietly, 'I did get tired of her. I never told her so, but we separated; I to come here, bringing her with me as far as London and leaving her there in perfectly comfortable quarters; and though your advertisement expressed a single man, I have always intended to tell you the whole truth; and this was when I was going to tell it, when your satisfaction with my careful management of your affairs should have proved the risk to be a safe one to run.'

She bowed.

'Then I saw that you were good enough to be interested in my welfare to a greater extent than I could have anticipated or hoped, judging you by the frigidity of other employers, and this caused me to hesitate. I was vexed at the complication of affairs. So matters stood till three nights ago; I was then walking home from the pottery, and came up to the railway. The down-train came along close to me, and there, sitting at a carriage window, I saw my wife: she had found out my address, and had thereupon determined to follow me here. I had not been home many minutes before she came in, next morning early she left again--'

'Because you treated her so cavalierly?'

'And as I suppose, wrote to you directly. That's the whole story of her, madam.' Whatever were Manston's real feelings towards the lady who had received his explanation in these supercilious tones, they remained locked within him as within a casket of steel.

'Did your friends know of your marriage, Mr Manston?' she continued.

'Nobody at all; we kept it a secret for various reasons.'

'It is true then that, as your wife tells me in this letter, she has not passed as Mrs. Manston till within these last few days?'

'It is quite true; I was in receipt of a very small and uncertain income when we married; and so she continued playing at the theatre as before our marriage, and in her maiden name.'

'Has she any friends?'

'I have never heard that she has any in England. She came over here on some theatrical speculation, as one of a company who were going to do much, but who never did anything; and here she has remained.'

A pause ensued, which was terminated by Miss Aldclyffe.

'I understand,' she said. 'Now, though I have no direct right to concern myself with your private affairs (beyond those which arise from your misleading me and getting the office you hold)--'

'As to that, madam,' he interrupted, rather hotly, 'as to coming here, I am vexed as much as you. Somebody, a member of the Institute of Architects--who, I could never tell--sent to my old address in London your advertisement cut from the paper; it was forwarded to me; I wanted to get away from Liverpool, and it seemed as if this was put in my way on purpose, by some old friend or other. I answered the advertisement certainly, but I was not particularly anxious to come here, nor am I anxious to stay.'

Miss Aldclyffe descended from haughty superiority to womanly persuasion with a haste which was almost ludicrous. Indeed, the Quos ego of the whole lecture had been less the genuine menace of the imperious ruler of Knapwater than an artificial utterance to hide a failing heart.

'Now, now, Mr. Manston, you wrong me; don't suppose I wish to be overbearing, or anything of the kind; and you will allow me to say this much, at any rate, that I have become interested in your wife, as well as in yourself.'

'Certainly, madam,' he said, slowly, like a man feeling his way in the dark. Manston was utterly at fault now. His previous experience of the effect of his form and features upon womankind en masse, had taught him to flatter himself that he could account by the same law of natural selection for the extraordinary interest Miss Aldclyffe had hitherto taken in him, as an unmarried man; an interest he did not at all object to, seeing that it kept him near Cytherea, and enabled him, a man of no wealth, to rule on the estate as if he were its lawful owner. Like Curius at his Sabine farm, he had counted it his glory not to possess gold himself, but to have power over her who did. But at this hint of the lady's wish to take his wife under her wing also, he was perplexed: could she have any sinister motive in doing so? But he did not allow himself to be troubled with these doubts, which only concerned his wife's happiness.

'She tells me,' continued Miss Aldclyffe, 'how utterly alone in the world she stands, and that is an additional reason why I should sympathize with her. Instead, then, of requesting the favour of your retirement from the post, and dismissing your interests altogether, I will retain you as my steward still, on condition that you bring home your wife, and live with her respectably, in short, as if you loved her; you understand. I WISH you to stay here if you grant that everything shall flow smoothly between yourself and her.'

The breast and shoulders of the steward rose, as if an expression of defiance was about to be poured forth; before it took form, he controlled himself and said, in his natural voice--

'My part of the performance shall be carried out, madam.'

'And her anxiety to obtain a standing in the world ensures that hers will,' replied Miss Aldclyffe. 'That will be satisfactory, then.'

After a few additional remarks, she gently signified that she wished to put an end to the interview. The steward took the hint and retired.

He felt vexed and mortified; yet in walking homeward he was convinced that telling the whole truth as he had done, with the single exception of his love for Cytherea (which he tried to hide even from himself), had never served him in better stead than it had done that night.

Manston went to his desk and thought of Cytherea's beauty with the bitterest, wildest regret. After the lapse of a few minutes he calmed himself by a stoical effort, and wrote the subjoined letter to his wife:--

'KNAPWATER, November 21, 1864.

'DEAR EUNICE,--I hope you reached London safely after your flighty visit to me.

'As I promised, I have thought over our conversation that night, and your wish that your coming here should be no longer delayed. After all, it was perfectly natural that you should have spoken unkindly as you did, ignorant as you were of the circumstances which bound me.

'So I have made arrangements to fetch you home at once. It is hardly worth while for you to attempt to bring with you any luggage you may have gathered about you (beyond mere clothing). Dispose of superfluous things at a broker's; your bringing them would only make a talk in this parish, and lead people to believe we had long been keeping house separately.

'Will next Monday suit you for coming? You have nothing to do that can occupy you for more than a day or two, as far as I can see, and the remainder of this week will afford ample time. I can be in London the night before, and we will come down together by the mid- day train--Your very affectionate husband,


'Now, of course, I shall no longer write to you as Mrs. Rondley.'

The address on the envelope was--


He took the letter to the house, and it being too late for the country post, sent one of the stablemen with it to Casterbridge, instead of troubling to go to Budmouth with it himself as heretofore. He had no longer any necessity to keep his condition a secret.


The Classical Library, This HTML edition copyright 2000.

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