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Desperate Remedies

by Thomas Hardy


Chapter 4. AFTERNOON

It might almost have been believed that a transmutation had taken place in Cytherea's idiosyncrasy, that her moral nature had fled.

The wedding-party returned to the house. As soon as he could find an opportunity, Owen took his sister aside to speak privately with her on what had happened. The expression of her face was hard, wild, and unreal--an expression he had never seen there before, and it disturbed him. He spoke to her severely and sadly.

'Cytherea,' he said, 'I know the cause of this emotion of yours. But remember this, there was no excuse for it. You should have been woman enough to control yourself. Remember whose wife you are, and don't think anything more of a mean-spirited fellow like Springrove; he had no business to come there as he did. You are altogether wrong, Cytherea, and I am vexed with you more than I can say--very vexed.'

'Say ashamed of me at once,' she bitterly answered.

'I am ashamed of you,' he retorted angrily; 'the mood has not left you yet, then?'

'Owen,' she said, and paused. Her lip trembled; her eye told of sensations too deep for tears. 'No, Owen, it has not left me; and I will be honest. I own now to you, without any disguise of words, what last night I did not own to myself, because I hardly knew of it. I love Edward Springrove with all my strength, and heart, and soul. You call me a wanton for it, don't you? I don't care; I have gone beyond caring for anything!' She looked stonily into his face and made the speech calmly.

'Well, poor Cytherea, don't talk like that!' he said, alarmed at her manner.

'I thought that I did not love him at all,' she went on hysterically. 'A year and a half had passed since we met. I could go by the gate of his garden without thinking of him--look at his seat in church and not care. But I saw him this morning--dying because he loves me so--I know it is that! Can I help loving him too? No, I cannot, and I will love him, and I don't care! We have been separated somehow by some contrivance--I know we have. O, if I could only die!'

He held her in his arms. 'Many a woman has gone to ruin herself,' he said, 'and brought those who love her into disgrace, by acting upon such impulses as possess you now. I have a reputation to lose as well as you. It seems that do what I will by way of remedying the stains which fell upon us, it is all doomed to be undone again.' His voice grew husky as he made the reply.

The right and only effective chord had been touched. Since she had seen Edward, she had thought only of herself and him. Owen--her name--position--future--had been as if they did not exist.

'I won't give way and become a disgrace to YOU, at any rate,' she said.

'Besides, your duty to society, and those about you, requires that you should live with (at any rate) all the appearance of a good wife, and try to love your husband.'

'Yes--my duty to society,' she murmured. 'But ah, Owen, it is difficult to adjust our outer and inner life with perfect honesty to all! Though it may be right to care more for the benefit of the many than for the indulgence of your own single self, when you consider that the many, and duty to them, only exist to you through your own existence, what can be said? What do our own acquaintances care about us? Not much. I think of mine. Mine will now (do they learn all the wicked frailty of my heart in this affair) look at me, smile sickly, and condemn me. And perhaps, far in time to come, when I am dead and gone, some other's accent, or some other's song, or thought, like an old one of mine, will carry them back to what I used to say, and hurt their hearts a little that they blamed me so soon. And they will pause just for an instant, and give a sigh to me, and think, "Poor girl!" believing they do great justice to my memory by this. But they will never, never realize that it was my single opportunity of existence, as well as of doing my duty, which they are regarding; they will not feel that what to them is but a thought, easily held in those two words of pity, "Poor girl!" was a whole life to me; as full of hours, minutes, and peculiar minutes, of hopes and dreads, smiles, whisperings, tears, as theirs: that it was my world, what is to them their world, and they in that life of mine, however much I cared for them, only as the thought I seem to them to be. Nobody can enter into another's nature truly, that's what is so grievous.'

'Well, it cannot be helped,' said Owen.

'But we must not stay here,' she continued, starting up and going. 'We shall be missed. I'll do my best, Owen--I will, indeed.'

It had been decided that on account of the wretched state of the roads, the newly-married pair should not drive to the station till the latest hour in the afternoon at which they could get a train to take them to Southampton (their destination that night) by a reasonable time in the evening. They intended the next morning to cross to Havre, and thence to Paris--a place Cytherea had never visited--for their wedding tour.

The afternoon drew on. The packing was done. Cytherea was so restless that she could stay still nowhere. Miss Aldclyffe, who, though she took little part in the day's proceedings, was, as it were, instinctively conscious of all their movements, put down her charge's agitation for once as the natural result of the novel event, and Manston himself was as indulgent as could be wished.

At length Cytherea wandered alone into the conservatory. When in it, she thought she would run across to the hot-house in the outer garden, having in her heart a whimsical desire that she should also like to take a last look at the familiar flowers and luxuriant leaves collected there. She pulled on a pair of overshoes, and thither she went. Not a soul was in or around the place. The gardener was making merry on Manston's and her account.

The happiness that a generous spirit derives from the belief that it exists in others is often greater than the primary happiness itself. The gardener thought 'How happy they are!' and the thought made him happier than they.

Coming out of the forcing-house again, she was on the point of returning indoors, when a feeling that these moments of solitude would be her last of freedom induced her to prolong them a little, and she stood still, unheeding the wintry aspect of the curly-leaved plants, the straw-covered beds, and the bare fruit-trees around her. The garden, no part of which was visible from the house, sloped down to a narrow river at the foot, dividing it from the meadows without.

A man was lingering along the public path on the other side of the river; she fancied she knew the form. Her resolutions, taken in the presence of Owen, did not fail her now. She hoped and prayed that it might not be one who had stolen her heart away, and still kept it. Why should he have reappeared at all, when he had declared that he went out of her sight for ever?

She hastily hid herself, in the lowest corner of the garden close to the river. A large dead tree, thickly robed in ivy, had been considerably depressed by its icy load of the morning, and hung low over the stream, which here ran slow and deep. The tree screened her from the eyes of any passer on the other side.

She waited timidly, and her timidity increased. She would not allow herself to see him--she would hear him pass, and then look to see if it had been Edward.

But, before she heard anything, she became aware of an object reflected in the water from under the tree which hung over the river in such a way that, though hiding the actual path, and objects upon it, it permitted their reflected images to pass beneath its boughs. The reflected form was that of the man she had seen further off, but being inverted, she could not definitely characterize him.

He was looking at the upper windows of the House--at hers--was it Edward, indeed? If so, he was probably thinking he would like to say one parting word. He came closer, gazed into the stream, and walked very slowly. She was almost certain that it was Edward. She kept more safely hidden. Conscience told her that she ought not to see him. But she suddenly asked herself a question: 'Can it be possible that he sees my reflected image, as I see his? Of course he does!'

He was looking at her in the water.

She could not help herself now. She stepped forward just as he emerged from the other side of the tree and appeared erect before her. It was Edward Springrove--till the inverted vision met his eye, dreaming no more of seeing his Cytherea there than of seeing the dead themselves.


'Mr. Springrove,' she returned, in a low voice, across the stream.

He was the first to speak again.

'Since we have met, I want to tell you something, before we become quite as strangers to each other.'

'No--not now--I did not mean to speak--it is not right, Edward.' She spoke hurriedly and turned away from him, beating the air with her hand.

'Not one common word of explanation?' he implored. 'Don't think I am bad enough to try to lead you astray. Well, go--it is better.'

Their eyes met again. She was nearly choked. O, how she longed-- and dreaded--to hear his explanation!

'What is it?' she said desperately.

'It is that I did not come to the church this morning in order to distress you: I did not, Cytherea. It was to try to speak to you before you were--married.'

He stepped closer, and went on, 'You know what has taken place? Surely you do?--my cousin is married, and I am free.'

'Married--and not to you?' Cytherea faltered, in a weak whisper.

'Yes, she was married yesterday! A rich man had appeared, and she jilted me. She said she never would have jilted a stranger, but that by jilting me, she only exercised the right everybody has of snubbing their own relations. But that's nothing now. I came to you to ask once more if. . . . But I was too late.'

'But, Edward, what's that, what's that!' she cried, in an agony of reproach. 'Why did you leave me to return to her? Why did you write me that cruel, cruel letter that nearly killed me!'

'Cytherea! Why, you had grown to love--like--Mr. Manston, and how could you be anything to me--or care for me? Surely I acted naturally?'

'O no--never! I loved you--only you--not him--always you!--till lately. . . . I try to love him now.'

'But that can't be correct! Miss Aldclyffe told me that you wanted to hear no more of me--proved it to me!' said Edward.

'Never! she couldn't.'

'She did, Cytherea. And she sent me a letter--a love-letter, you wrote to Mr. Manston.'

'A love-letter I wrote?'

'Yes, a love-letter--you could not meet him just then, you said you were sorry, but the emotion you had felt with him made you forgetful of realities.'

The strife of thought in the unhappy girl who listened to this distortion of her meaning could find no vent in words. And then there followed the slow revelation in return, bringing with it all the misery of an explanation which comes too late. The question whether Miss Aldclyffe were schemer or dupe was almost passed over by Cytherea, under the immediate oppressiveness of her despair in the sense that her position was irretrievable.

Not so Springrove. He saw through all the cunning half- misrepresentations--worse than downright lies--which had just been sufficient to turn the scale both with him and with her; and from the bottom of his soul he cursed the woman and man who had brought all this agony upon him and his Love. But he could not add more misery to the future of the poor child by revealing too much. The whole scheme she should never know.

'I was indifferent to my own future,' Edward said, 'and was urged to promise adherence to my engagement with my cousin Adelaide by Miss Aldclyffe: now you are married I cannot tell you how, but it was on account of my father. Being forbidden to think of you, what did I care about anything? My new thought that you still loved me was first raised by what my father said in the letter announcing my cousin's marriage. He said that although you were to be married on Old Christmas Day--that is to-morrow--he had noticed your appearance with pity: he thought you loved me still. It was enough for me--I came down by the earliest morning train, thinking I could see you some time to-day, the day, as I thought, before your marriage, hoping, but hardly daring to hope, that you might be induced to marry me. I hurried from the station; when I reached the village I saw idlers about the church, and the private gate leading to the House open. I ran into the church by the small door and saw you come out of the vestry; I was too late. I have now told you. I was compelled to tell you. O, my lost darling, now I shall live content--or die content!'

'I am to blame, Edward, I am,' she said mournfully; 'I was taught to dread pauperism; my nights were made sleepless; there was continually reiterated in my ears till I believed it--

'"The world and its ways have a certain worth, And to press a point where these oppose Were a simple policy."

But I will say nothing about who influenced--who persuaded. The act is mine, after all. Edward, I married to escape dependence for my bread upon the whim of Miss Aldclyffe, or others like her. It was clearly represented to me that dependence is bearable if we have another place which we can call home; but to be a dependent and to have no other spot for the heart to anchor upon--O, it is mournful and harassing!. . . But that without which all persuasion would have been as air, was added by my miserable conviction that you were false; that did it, that turned me! You were to be considered as nobody to me, and Mr. Manston was invariably kind. Well, the deed is done--I must abide by it. I shall never let him know that I do not love him--never. If things had only remained as they seemed to be, if you had really forgotten me and married another woman, I could have borne it better. I wish I did not know the truth as I know it now! But our life, what is it? Let us be brave, Edward, and live out our few remaining years with dignity. They will not be long. O, I hope they will not be long!. . . Now, good-bye, good- bye!'

'I wish I could be near and touch you once, just once,' said Springrove, in a voice which he vainly endeavoured to keep firm and clear.

They looked at the river, then into it; a shoal of minnows was floating over the sandy bottom, like the black dashes on miniver; though narrow, the stream was deep, and there was no bridge.

'Cytherea, reach out your hand that I may just touch it with mine.'

She stepped to the brink and stretched out her hand and fingers towards his, but not into them. The river was too wide.

'Never mind,' said Cytherea, her voice broken by agitation, 'I must be going. God bless and keep you, my Edward! God bless you!'

'I must touch you, I must press your hand,' he said.

They came near--nearer--nearer still--their fingers met. There was a long firm clasp, so close and still that each hand could feel the other's pulse throbbing beside its own.

'My Cytherea! my stolen pet lamb!'

She glanced a mute farewell from her large perturbed eyes, turned, and ran up the garden without looking back. All was over between them. The river flowed on as quietly and obtusely as ever, and the minnows gathered again in their favourite spot as if they had never been disturbed.

Nobody indoors guessed from her countenance and bearing that her heart was near to breaking with the intensity of the misery which gnawed there. At these times a woman does not faint, or weep, or scream, as she will in the moment of sudden shocks. When lanced by a mental agony of such refined and special torture that it is indescribable by men's words, she moves among her acquaintances much as before, and contrives so to cast her actions in the old moulds that she is only considered to be rather duller than usual.


The Classical Library, This HTML edition copyright 2000.

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