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Desperate Remedies

by Thomas Hardy



Now that he was fairly on the track, and had begun to cool down, Edward remembered that he had nothing to show--no legal authority whatever to question Manston or interfere between him and Cytherea as husband and wife. He now saw the wisdom of the rector in obtaining a signed confession from the porter. The document would not be a death-bed confession--perhaps not worth anything legally-- but it would be held by Owen; and he alone, as Cytherea's natural guardian, could separate them on the mere ground of an unproved probability, or what might perhaps be called the hallucination of an idiot. Edward himself, however, was as firmly convinced as the rector had been of the truth of the man's story, and paced backward and forward the solitary compartment as the train wound through the dark heathery plains, the mazy woods, and moaning coppices, as resolved as ever to pounce on Manston, and charge him with the crime during the critical interval between the reception of the telegram and the hour at which Owen's train would arrive--trusting to circumstances for what he should say and do afterwards, but making up his mind to be a ready second to Owen in any emergency that might arise.

At thirty-three minutes past seven he stood on the platform of the station at Southampton--a clear hour before the train containing Owen could possibly arrive.

Making a few inquiries here, but too impatient to pursue his investigation carefully and inductively, he went into the town.

At the expiration of another half-hour he had visited seven hotels and inns, large and small, asking the same questions at each, and always receiving the same reply--nobody of that name, or answering to that description, had been there. A boy from the telegraph- office had called, asking for the same persons, if they recollected rightly.

He reflected awhile, struck again by a painful thought that they might possibly have decided to cross the Channel by the night-boat. Then he hastened off to another quarter of the town to pursue his inquiries among hotels of the more old-fashioned and quiet class. His stained and weary appearance obtained for him but a modicum of civility, wherever he went, which made his task yet more difficult. He called at three several houses in this neighbourhood, with the same result as before. He entered the door of the fourth house whilst the clock of the nearest church was striking eight.

'Have a tall gentleman named Manston, and a young wife arrived here this evening?' he asked again, in words which had grown odd to his ears from very familiarity.

'A new-married couple, did you say?'

'They are, though I didn't say so.'

'They have taken a sitting-room and bedroom, number thirteen.'

'Are they indoors?'

'I don't know. Eliza!'

'Yes, m'm.'

'See if number thirteen is in--that gentleman and his wife.'

'Yes, m'm.'

'Has any telegram come for them?' said Edward, when the maid had gone on her errand.

'No--nothing that I know of.'

'Somebody did come and ask if a Mr. and Mrs. Masters, or some such name, were here this evening,' said another voice from the back of the bar-parlour.

'And did they get the message?'

'Of course they did not--they were not here--they didn't come till half-an-hour after that. The man who made inquiries left no message. I told them when they came that they, or a name something like theirs, had been asked for, but they didn't seem to understand why it should be, and so the matter dropped.'

The chambermaid came back. 'The gentleman is not in, but the lady is. Who shall I say?'

'Nobody,' said Edward. For it now became necessary to reflect upon his method of proceeding. His object in finding their whereabouts-- apart from the wish to assist Owen--had been to see Manston, ask him flatly for an explanation, and confirm the request of the message in the presence of Cytherea--so as to prevent the possibility of the steward's palming off a story upon Cytherea, or eluding her brother when he came. But here were two important modifications of the expected condition of affairs. The telegram had not been received, and Cytherea was in the house alone.

He hesitated as to the propriety of intruding upon her in Manston's absence. Besides, the women at the bottom of the stairs would see him--his intrusion would seem odd--and Manston might return at any moment. He certainly might call, and wait for Manston with the accusation upon his tongue, as he had intended. But it was a doubtful course. That idea had been based upon the assumption that Cytherea was not married. If the first wife were really dead after all--and he felt sick at the thought--Cytherea as the steward's wife might in after-years--perhaps, at once--be subjected to indignity and cruelty on account of an old lover's interference now.

Yes, perhaps the announcement would come most properly and safely for her from her brother Owen, the time of whose arrival had almost expired.

But, on turning round, he saw that the staircase and passage were quite deserted. He and his errand had as completely died from the minds of the attendants as if they had never been. There was absolutely nothing between him and Cytherea's presence. Reason was powerless now; he must see her--right or wrong, fair or unfair to Manston--offensive to her brother or no. His lips must be the first to tell the alarming story to her. Who loved her as he! He went back lightly through the hall, up the stairs, two at a time, and followed the corridor till he came to the door numbered thirteen.

He knocked softly: nobody answered.

There was no time to lose if he would speak to Cytherea before Manston came. He turned the handle of the door and looked in. The lamp on the table burned low, and showed writing materials open beside it; the chief light came from the fire, the direct rays of which were obscured by a sweet familiar outline of head and shoulders--still as precious to him as ever.


The Classical Library, This HTML edition copyright 2000.

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