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Desperate Remedies

by Thomas Hardy



Owen accompanied the newly-married couple to the railway-station, and in his anxiety to see the last of his sister, left the brougham and stood upon his crutches whilst the train was starting.

When the husband and wife were about to enter the railway-carriage they saw one of the porters looking frequently and furtively at them. He was pale, and apparently very ill.

'Look at that poor sick man,' said Cytherea compassionately, 'surely he ought not to be here.'

'He's been very queer to-day, madam, very queer,' another porter answered. 'He do hardly hear when he's spoken to, and d' seem giddy, or as if something was on his mind. He's been like it for this month past, but nothing so bad as he is to-day.'

'Poor thing.'

She could not resist an innate desire to do some just thing on this most deceitful and wretched day of her life. Going up to him she gave him money, and told him to send to the old manor-house for wine or whatever he wanted.

The train moved off as the trembling man was murmuring his incoherent thanks. Owen waved his hand; Cytherea smiled back to him as if it were unknown to her that she wept all the while.

Owen was driven back to the Old House. But he could not rest in the lonely place. His conscience began to reproach him for having forced on the marriage of his sister with a little too much peremptoriness. Taking up his crutches he went out of doors and wandered about the muddy roads with no object in view save that of getting rid of time.

The clouds which had hung so low and densely during the day cleared from the west just now as the sun was setting, calling forth a weakly twitter from a few small birds. Owen crawled down the path to the waterfall, and lingered thereabout till the solitude of the place oppressed him, when he turned back and into the road to the village. He was sad; he said to himself--

'If there is ever any meaning in those heavy feelings which are called presentiments--and I don't believe there is--there will be in mine to-day. . . . Poor little Cytherea!'

At that moment the last low rays of the sun touched the head and shoulders of a man who was approaching, and showed him up to Owen's view. It was old Mr. Springrove. They had grown familiar with each other by reason of Owen's visits to Knapwater during the past year. The farmer inquired how Owen's foot was progressing, and was glad to see him so nimble again.

'How is your son?' said Owen mechanically.

'He is at home, sitting by the fire,' said the farmer, in a sad voice. 'This morning he slipped indoors from God knows where, and there he sits and mopes, and thinks, and thinks, and presses his head so hard, that I can't help feeling for him.'

'Is he married?' said Owen. Cytherea had feared to tell him of the interview in the garden.

'No. I can't quite understand how the matter rests. . . . Ah! Edward, too, who started with such promise; that he should now have become such a careless fellow--not a month in one place. There, Mr. Graye, I know what it is mainly owing to. If it hadn't been for that heart affair, he might have done--but the less said about him the better. I don't know what we should have done if Miss Aldclyffe had insisted upon the conditions of the leases. Your brother-in- law, the steward, had a hand in making it light for us, I know, and I heartily thank him for it.' He ceased speaking, and looked round at the sky.

'Have you heard o' what's happened?' he said suddenly; 'I was just coming out to learn about it.'

'I haven't heard of anything.'

'It is something very serious, though I don't know what. All I know is what I heard a man call out bynow--that it very much concerns somebody who lives in the parish.'

It seems singular enough, even to minds who have no dim beliefs in adumbration and presentiment, that at that moment not the shadow of a thought crossed Owen's mind that the somebody whom the matter concerned might be himself, or any belonging to him. The event about to transpire was as portentous to the woman whose welfare was more dear to him than his own, as any, short of death itself, could possibly be; and ever afterwards, when he considered the effect of the knowledge the next half-hour conveyed to his brain, even his practical good sense could not refrain from wonder that he should have walked toward the village after hearing those words of the farmer, in so leisurely and unconcerned a way. 'How unutterably mean must my intelligence have appeared to the eye of a foreseeing God,' he frequently said in after-time. 'Columbus on the eve of his discovery of a world was not so contemptibly unaware.'

After a few additional words of common-place the farmer left him, and, as has been said, Owen proceeded slowly and indifferently towards the village.

The labouring men had just left work, and passed the park gate, which opened into the street as Owen came down towards it. They went along in a drift, earnestly talking, and were finally about to turn in at their respective doorways. But upon seeing him they looked significantly at one another, and paused. He came into the road, on that side of the village-green which was opposite the row of cottages, and turned round to the right. When Owen turned, all eyes turned; one or two men went hurriedly indoors, and afterwards appeared at the doorstep with their wives, who also contemplated him, talking as they looked. They seemed uncertain how to act in some matter.

'If they want me, surely they will call me,' he thought, wondering more and more. He could no longer doubt that he was connected with the subject of their discourse.

The first who approached him was a boy.

'What has occurred?' said Owen.

'O, a man ha' got crazy-religious, and sent for the pa'son.'

'Is that all?'

'Yes, sir. He wished he was dead, he said, and he's almost out of his mind wi' wishen it so much. That was before Mr. Raunham came.'

'Who is he?' said Owen.

'Joseph Chinney, one of the railway-porters; he used to be night- porter.'

'Ah--the man who was ill this afternoon; by the way, he was told to come to the Old House for something, but he hasn't been. But has anything else happened--anything that concerns the wedding to-day?'

'No, sir.'

Concluding that the connection which had seemed to be traced between himself and the event must in some way have arisen from Cytherea's friendliness towards the man, Owen turned about and went homewards in a much quieter frame of mind--yet scarcely satisfied with the solution. The route he had chosen led through the dairy-yard, and he opened the gate.

Five minutes before this point of time, Edward Springrove was looking over one of his father's fields at an outlying hamlet of three or four cottages some mile and a half distant. A turnpike- gate was close by the gate of the field.

The carrier to Casterbridge came up as Edward stepped into the road, and jumped down from the van to pay toll. He recognized Springrove. 'This is a pretty set-to in your place, sir,' he said. 'You don't know about it, I suppose?'

'What?' said Springrove.

The carrier paid his dues, came up to Edward, and spoke ten words in a confidential whisper: then sprang upon the shafts of his vehicle, gave a clinching nod of significance to Springrove, and rattled away.

Edward turned pale with the intelligence. His first thought was, 'Bring her home!'

The next--did Owen Graye know what had been discovered? He probably did by that time, but no risks of probability must be run by a woman he loved dearer than all the world besides. He would at any rate make perfectly sure that her brother was in possession of the knowledge, by telling it him with his own lips.

Off he ran in the direction of the old manor-house.

The path was across arable land, and was ploughed up with the rest of the field every autumn, after which it was trodden out afresh. The thaw had so loosened the soft earth, that lumps of stiff mud were lifted by his feet at every leap he took, and flung against him by his rapid motion, as it were doggedly impeding him, and increasing tenfold the customary effort of running,

But he ran on--uphill, and downhill, the same pace alike--like the shadow of a cloud. His nearest direction, too, like Owen's, was through the dairy-barton, and as Owen entered it he saw the figure of Edward rapidly descending the opposite hill, at a distance of two or three hundred yards. Owen advanced amid the cows.

The dairyman, who had hitherto been talking loudly on some absorbing subject to the maids and men milking around him, turned his face towards the head of the cow when Owen passed, and ceased speaking.

Owen approached him and said--

'A singular thing has happened, I hear. The man is not insane, I suppose?'

'Not he--he's sensible enough,' said the dairyman, and paused. He was a man noisy with his associates--stolid and taciturn with strangers.

'Is it true that he is Chinney, the railway-porter?'

'That's the man, sir.' The maids and men sitting under the cows were all attentively listening to this discourse, milking irregularly, and softly directing the jets against the sides of the pail.

Owen could contain himself no longer, much as his mind dreaded anything of the nature of ridicule. 'The people all seem to look at me, as if something seriously concerned me; is it this stupid matter, or what is it?'

'Surely, sir, you know better than anybody else if such a strange thing concerns you.'

'What strange thing?'

'Don't you know! His confessing to Parson Raunham.'

'What did he confess? Tell me.'

'If you really ha'n't heard, 'tis this. He was as usual on duty at the station on the night of the fire last year, otherwise he wouldn't ha' known it.'

'Known what? For God's sake tell, man!'

But at this instant the two opposite gates of the dairy-yard, one on the east, the other on the west side, slammed almost simultaneously.

The rector from one, Springrove from the other, came striding across the barton.

Edward was nearest, and spoke first. He said in a low voice: 'Your sister is not legally married! His first wife is still living! How it comes out I don't know!'

'O, here you are at last, Mr. Graye, thank Heaven!' said the rector breathlessly. 'I have been to the Old House, and then to Miss Aldclyffe's looking for you--something very extraordinary.' He beckoned to Owen, afterwards included Springrove in his glance, and the three stepped aside together.

'A porter at the station. He was a curious nervous man. He had been in a strange state all day, but he wouldn't go home. Your sister was kind to him, it seems, this afternoon. When she and her husband had gone, he went on with his work, shifting luggage-vans. Well, he got in the way, as if he were quite lost to what was going on, and they sent him home at last. Then he wished to see me. I went directly. There was something on his mind, he said, and told it. About the time when the fire of last November twelvemonth was got under, whilst he was by himself in the porter's room, almost asleep, somebody came to the station and tried to open the door. He went out and found the person to be the lady he had accompanied to Carriford earlier in the evening, Mrs. Manston. She asked, when would be another train to London? The first the next morning, he told her, was at a quarter-past six o'clock from Budmouth, but that it was express, and didn't stop at Carriford Road--it didn't stop till it got to Anglebury. "How far is it to Anglebury?" she said. He told her, and she thanked him, and went away up the line. In a short time she ran back and took out her purse. "Don't on any account say a word in the village or anywhere that I have been here, or a single breath about me--I'm ashamed ever to have come." He promised; she took out two sovereigns. "Swear it on the Testament in the waiting-room," she said, "and I'll pay you these." He got the book, took an oath upon it, received the money, and she left him. He was off duty at half-past five. He has kept silence all through the intervening time till now, but lately the knowledge he possessed weighed heavily upon his conscience and weak mind. Yet the nearer came the wedding-day, the more he feared to tell. The actual marriage filled him with remorse. He says your sister's kindness afterwards was like a knife going through his heart. He thought he had ruined her.'

'But whatever can be done? Why didn't he speak sooner?' cried Owen.

'He actually called at my house twice yesterday,' the rector continued, 'resolved, it seems, to unburden his mind. I was out both times--he left no message, and, they say, he looked relieved that his object was defeated. Then he says he resolved to come to you at the Old House last night--started, reached the door, and dreaded to knock--and then went home again.'

'Here will be a tale for the newsmongers of the county,' said Owen bitterly. 'The idea of his not opening his mouth sooner--the criminality of the thing!'

'Ah, that's the inconsistency of a weak nature. But now that it is put to us in this way, how much more probable it seems that she should have escaped than have been burnt--'

'You will, of course, go straight to Mr. Manston, and ask him what it all means?' Edward interrupted.

'Of course I shall! Manston has no right to carry off my sister unless he's her husband,' said Owen. 'I shall go and separate them.'

'Certainly you will,' said the rector.

'Where's the man?'

'In his cottage.'

''Tis no use going to him, either. I must go off at once and overtake them--lay the case before Manston, and ask him for additional and certain proofs of his first wife's death. An up- train passes soon, I think.'

'Where have they gone?' said Edward.

'To Paris--as far as Southampton this afternoon, to proceed to- morrow morning.'

'Where in Southampton?'

'I really don't know--some hotel. I only have their Paris address. But I shall find them by making a few inquiries.'

The rector had in the meantime been taking out his pocket-book, and now opened it at the first page, whereon it was his custom every month to gum a small railway time-table--cut from the local newspaper.

'The afternoon express is just gone,' he said, holding open the page, 'and the next train to Southampton passes at ten minutes to six o'clock. Now it wants--let me see--five-and-forty minutes to that time. Mr. Graye, my advice is that you come with me to the porter's cottage, where I will shortly write out the substance of what he has said, and get him to sign it. You will then have far better grounds for interfering between Mr. and Mrs. Manston than if you went to them with a mere hearsay story.'

The suggestion seemed a good one. 'Yes, there will be time before the train starts,' said Owen.

Edward had been musing restlessly.

'Let me go to Southampton in your place, on account of your lameness?' he said suddenly to Graye.

'I am much obliged to you, but I think I can scarcely accept the offer,' returned Owen coldly. 'Mr. Manston is an honourable man, and I had much better see him myself.'

'There is no doubt,' said Mr. Raunham, 'that the death of his wife was fully believed in by himself.'

'None whatever,' said Owen; 'and the news must be broken to him, and the question of other proofs asked, in a friendly way. It would not do for Mr. Springrove to appear in the case at all.' He still spoke rather coldly; the recollection of the attachment between his sister and Edward was not a pleasant one to him.

'You will never find them,' said Edward. 'You have never been to Southampton, and I know every house there.'

'That makes little difference,' said the rector; 'he will have a cab. Certainly Mr. Graye is the proper man to go on the errand.'

'Stay; I'll telegraph to ask them to meet me when I arrive at the terminus,' said Owen; 'that is, if their train has not already arrived.'

Mr. Raunham pulled out his pocket-book again. 'The two-thirty train reached Southampton a quarter of an hour ago,' he said.

It was too late to catch them at the station. Nevertheless, the rector suggested that it would be worth while to direct a message to 'all the respectable hotels in Southampton,' on the chance of its finding them, and thus saving a deal of personal labour to Owen in searching about the place.

'I'll go and telegraph, whilst you return to the man,' said Edward-- an offer which was accepted. Graye and the rector then turned off in the direction of the porter's cottage.

Edward, to despatch the message at once, hurriedly followed the road towards the station, still restlessly thinking. All Owen's proceedings were based on the assumption, natural under the circumstances, of Manston's good faith, and that he would readily acquiesce in any arrangement which should clear up the mystery. 'But,' thought Edward, 'suppose--and Heaven forgive me, I cannot help supposing it--that Manston is not that honourable man, what will a young and inexperienced fellow like Owen do? Will he not be hoodwinked by some specious story or another, framed to last till Manston gets tired of poor Cytherea? And then the disclosure of the truth will ruin and blacken both their futures irremediably.'

However, he proceeded to execute his commission. This he put in the form of a simple request from Owen to Manston, that Manston would come to the Southampton platform, and wait for Owen's arrival, as he valued his reputation. The message was directed as the rector had suggested, Edward guaranteeing to the clerk who sent it off that every expense connected with the search would be paid.

No sooner had the telegram been despatched than his heart sank within him at the want of foresight shown in sending it. Had Manston, all the time, a knowledge that his first wife lived, the telegram would be a forewarning which might enable him to defeat Owen still more signally.

Whilst the machine was still giving off its multitudinous series of raps, Edward heard a powerful rush under the shed outside, followed by a long sonorous creak. It was a train of some sort, stealing softly into the station, and it was an up-train. There was the ring of a bell. It was certainly a passenger train.

Yet the booking-office window was closed.

'Ho, ho, John, seventeen minutes after time and only three stations up the line. The incline again?' The voice was the stationmaster's, and the reply seemed to come from the guard.

'Yes, the other side of the cutting. The thaw has made it all in a perfect cloud of fog, and the rails are as slippery as glass. We had to bring them through the cutting at twice.'

'Anybody else for the four-forty-five express?' the voice continued. The few passengers, having crossed over to the other side long before this time, had taken their places at once.

A conviction suddenly broke in upon Edward's mind; then a wish overwhelmed him. The conviction--as startling as it was sudden--was that Manston was a villain, who at some earlier time had discovered that his wife lived, and had bribed her to keep out of sight, that he might possess Cytherea. The wish was--to proceed at once by this very train that was starting, find Manston before he would expect from the words of the telegram (if he got it) that anybody from Carriford could be with him--charge him boldly with the crime, and trust to his consequent confusion (if he were guilty) for a solution of the extraordinary riddle, and the release of Cytherea!

The ticket-office had been locked up at the expiration of the time at which the train was due. Rushing out as the guard blew his whistle, Edward opened the door of a carriage and leapt in. The train moved along, and he was soon out of sight.

Springrove had long since passed that peculiar line which lies across the course of falling in love--if, indeed, it may not be called the initial itself of the complete passion--a longing to cherish; when the woman is shifted in a man's mind from the region of mere admiration to the region of warm fellowship. At this assumption of her nature, she changes to him in tone, hue, and expression. All about the loved one that said 'She' before, says 'We' now. Eyes that were to be subdued become eyes to be feared for: a brain that was to be probed by cynicism becomes a brain that is to be tenderly assisted; feet that were to be tested in the dance become feet that are not to be distressed; the once-criticized accent, manner, and dress, become the clients of a special pleader.


The Classical Library, This HTML edition copyright 2000.

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