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Desperate Remedies

by Thomas Hardy


Chapter 10. ELEVEN O'CLOCK P.M.

On their arrival at the door of the hotel, it was arranged between Springrove and Graye that the latter only should enter, Edward waiting outside. Owen had remembered continually what his friend had frequently overlooked, that there was yet a possibility of his sister being Manston's wife, and the recollection taught him to avoid any rashness in his proceedings which might lead to bitterness hereafter.

Entering the room, he found Manston sitting in the chair which had been occupied by Cytherea on Edward's visit, three hours earlier. Before Owen had spoken, Manston arose, and stepping past him closed the door. His face appeared harassed--much more troubled than the slight circumstance which had as yet come to his knowledge seemed to account for.

Manston could form no reason for Owen's presence, but intuitively linked it with Cytherea's seclusion. 'Altogether this is most unseemly,' he said, 'whatever it may mean.'

'Don't think there is meant anything unfriendly by my coming here,' said Owen earnestly; 'but listen to this, and think if I could do otherwise than come.'

He took from his pocket the confession of Chinney the porter, as hastily written out by the vicar, and read it aloud. The aspects of Manston's face whilst he listened to the opening words were strange, dark, and mysterious enough to have justified suspicions that no deceit could be too complicated for the possessor of such impulses, had there not overridden them all, as the reading went on, a new and irrepressible expression--one unmistakably honest. It was that of unqualified amazement in the steward's mind at the news he heard. Owen looked up and saw it. The sight only confirmed him in the belief he had held throughout, in antagonism to Edward's suspicions.

There could no longer be a shadow of doubt that if the first Mrs. Manston lived, her husband was ignorant of the fact. What he could have feared by his ghastly look at first, and now have ceased to fear, it was quite futile to conjecture.

'Now I do not for a moment doubt your complete ignorance of the whole matter; you cannot suppose for an instant that I do,' said Owen when he had finished reading. 'But is it not best for both that Cytherea should come back with me till the matter is cleared up? In fact, under the circumstances, no other course is left open to me than to request it.'

Whatever Manston's original feelings had been, all in him now gave way to irritation, and irritation to rage. He paced up and down the room till he had mastered it; then said in ordinary tones--

'Certainly, I know no more than you and others know--it was a gratuitous unpleasantness in you to say you did not doubt me. Why should you, or anybody, have doubted me?'

'Well, where is my sister?' said Owen.

'Locked in the next room.'

His own answer reminded Manston that Cytherea must, by some inscrutable means, have had an inkling of the event.

Owen had gone to the door of Cytherea's room.

'Cytherea, darling--'tis Owen,' he said, outside the door. A rustling of clothes, soft footsteps, and a voice saying from the inside, 'Is it really you, Owen,--is it really?'

'It is.'

'O, will you take care of me?'


She unlocked the door, and retreated again. Manston came forward from the other room with a candle in his hand, as Owen pushed open the door.

Her frightened eyes were unnaturally large, and shone like stars in the darkness of the background, as the light fell upon them. She leapt up to Owen in one bound, her small taper fingers extended like the leaves of a lupine. Then she clasped her cold and trembling hands round his neck and shivered.

The sight of her again kindled all Manston's passions into activity. 'She shall not go with you,' he said firmly, and stepping a pace or two closer, 'unless you prove that she is not my wife; and you can't do it!'

'This is proof,' said Owen, holding up the paper.

'No proof at all,' said Manston hotly. ''Tis not a death-bed confession, and those are the only things of the kind held as good evidence.'

'Send for a lawyer,' Owen returned, 'and let him tell us the proper course to adopt.'

'Never mind the law--let me go with Owen!' cried Cytherea, still holding on to him. 'You will let me go with him, won't you, sir?' she said, turning appealingly to Manston.

'We'll have it all right and square,' said Manston, with more quietness. 'I have no objection to your brother sending for a lawyer, if he wants to.'

It was getting on for twelve o'clock, but the proprietor of the hotel had not yet gone to bed on account of the mystery on the first floor, which was an occurrence unusual in the quiet family lodging. Owen looked over the banisters, and saw him standing in the hall. It struck Graye that the wisest course would be to take the landlord to a certain extent into their confidence, appeal to his honour as a gentleman, and so on, in order to acquire the information he wanted, and also to prevent the episode of the evening from becoming a public piece of news. He called the landlord up to where they stood, and told him the main facts of the story.

The landlord was fortunately a quiet, prejudiced man, and a meditative smoker.

'I know the very man you want to see--the very man,' he said, looking at the general features of the candle-flame. 'Sharp as a needle, and not over-rich. Timms will put you all straight in no time--trust Timms for that.'

'He's in bed by this time for certain,' said Owen.

'Never mind that--Timms knows me, I know him. He'll oblige me as a personal favour. Wait here a bit. Perhaps, too, he's up at some party or another--he's a nice, jovial fellow, sharp as a needle, too; mind you, sharp as a needle, too.'

He went downstairs, put on his overcoat, and left the house, the three persons most concerned entering the room, and standing motionless, awkward, and silent in the midst of it. Cytherea pictured to herself the long weary minutes she would have to stand there, whilst a sleepy man could be prepared for consultation, till the constraint between them seemed unendurable to her--she could never last out the time. Owen was annoyed that Manston had not quietly arranged with him at once; Manston at Owen's homeliness of idea in proposing to send for an attorney, as if he would be a touchstone of infallible proof.

Reflection was cut short by the approach of footsteps, and in a few moments the proprietor of the hotel entered, introducing his friend. 'Mr. Timms has not been in bed,' he said; 'he had just returned from dining with a few friends, so there's no trouble given. To save time I explained the matter as we came along.'

It occurred to Owen and Manston both that they might get a misty exposition of the law from Mr. Timms at that moment of concluding dinner with a few friends.

'As far as I can see,' said the lawyer, yawning, and turning his vision inward by main force, 'it is quite a matter for private arrangement between the parties, whoever the parties are--at least at present. I speak more as a father than as a lawyer, it is true, but, let the young lady stay with her father, or guardian, safe out of shame's way, until the mystery is sifted, whatever the mystery is. Should the evidence prove to be false, or trumped up by anybody to get her away from you, her husband, you may sue them for the damages accruing from the delay.'

'Yes, yes,' said Manston, who had completely recovered his self- possession and common-sense; 'let it all be settled by herself.' Turning to Cytherea he whispered so softly that Owen did not hear the words--

'Do you wish to go back with your brother, dearest, and leave me here miserable, and lonely, or will you stay with me, your own husband.'

'I'll go back with Owen.'

'Very well.' He relinquished his coaxing tone, and went on sternly: 'And remember this, Cytherea, I am as innocent of deception in this thing as you are yourself. Do you believe me?'

'I do,' she said.

'I had no shadow of suspicion that my first wife lived. I don't think she does even now. Do you believe me?'

'I believe you,' she said.

'And now, good-evening,' he continued, opening the door and politely intimating to the three men standing by that there was no further necessity for their remaining in his room. 'In three days I shall claim her.'

The lawyer and the hotel-keeper retired first. Owen, gathering up as much of his sister's clothing as lay about the room, took her upon his arm, and followed them. Edward, to whom she owed everything, who had been left standing in the street like a dog without a home, was utterly forgotten. Owen paid the landlord and the lawyer for the trouble he had occasioned them, looked to the packing, and went to the door.

A fly, which somewhat unaccountably was seen lingering in front of the house, was called up, and Cytherea's luggage put upon it.

'Do you know of any hotel near the station that is open for night arrivals?' Owen inquired of the driver.

'A place has been bespoke for you, sir, at the White Unicorn--and the gentleman wished me to give you this.'

'Bespoken by Springrove, who ordered the fly, of course,' said Owen to himself. By the light of the street-lamp he read these lines, hurriedly traced in pencil:--

'I have gone home by the mail-train. It is better for all parties that I should be out of the way. Tell Cytherea that I apologize for having caused her such unnecessary pain, as it seems I did--but it cannot be helped now. E.S.'

Owen handed his sister into the vehicle, and told the flyman to drive on.

'Poor Springrove--I think we have served him rather badly,' he said to Cytherea, repeating the words of the note to her.

A thrill of pleasure passed through her bosom as she listened to them. They were the genuine reproach of a lover to his mistress; the trifling coldness of her answer to him would have been noticed by no man who was only a friend. But, in entertaining that sweet thought, she had forgotten herself, and her position for the instant.

Was she still Manston's wife--that was the terrible supposition, and her future seemed still a possible misery to her. For, on account of the late jarring accident, a life with Manston which would otherwise have been only a sadness, must become a burden of unutterable sorrow.

Then she thought of the misrepresentation and scandal that would ensue if she were no wife. One cause for thankfulness accompanied the reflection; Edward knew the truth.

They soon reached the quiet old inn, which had been selected for them by the forethought of the man who loved her well. Here they installed themselves for the night, arranging to go to Budmouth by the first train the next day.

At this hour Edward Springrove was fast approaching his native county on the wheels of the night-mail.


The Classical Library, This HTML edition copyright 2000.

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