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Desperate Remedies

by Thomas Hardy



At this, the eleventh hour, the postman brought a letter for Manston, directed in a woman's hand.

A bachelor friend of the steward's, Mr. Dickson by name, who was somewhat of a chatterer--plenus rimarum--and who boasted of an endless string of acquaintances, had come over from Casterbridge the preceding day by invitation--an invitation which had been a pleasant surprise to Dickson himself, insomuch that Manston, as a rule, voted him a bore almost to his face. He had stayed over the night, and was sitting at breakfast with his host when the important missive arrived.

Manston did not attempt to conceal the subject of the letter, or the name of the writer. First glancing the pages through, he read aloud as follows:--

'"MY HUSBAND,--I implore your forgiveness.

'"During the last thirteen months I have repeated to myself a hundred times that you should never discover what I voluntarily tell you now, namely, that I am alive and in perfect health.

'"I have seen all your advertisements. Nothing but your persistence has won me round. Surely, I thought, he MUST love me still. Why else should he try to win back a woman who, faithful unto death as she will be, can, in a social sense, aid him towards acquiring nothing?--rather the reverse, indeed.

'"You yourself state my own mind--that the only grounds upon which we can meet and live together, with a reasonable hope of happiness, must be a mutual consent to bury in oblivion all past differences. I heartily and willingly forget everything--and forgive everything. You will do the same, as your actions show.

'"There will be plenty of opportunity for me to explain the few facts relating to my escape on the night of the fire. I will only give the heads in this hurried note. I was grieved at your not coming to fetch me, more grieved at your absence from the station, most of all by your absence from home. On my journey to the inn I writhed under a passionate sense of wrong done me. When I had been shown to my room I waited and hoped for you till the landlord had gone upstairs to bed. I still found that you did not come, and then I finally made up my mind to leave. I had half undressed, but I put on my things again, forgetting my watch (and I suppose dropping my keys, though I am not sure where) in my hurry, and slipped out of the house. The--"'

'Well, that's a rum story,' said Mr. Dickson, interrupting.

'What's a rum story?' said Manston hastily, and flushing in the face.

'Forgetting her watch and dropping her keys in her hurry.'

'I don't see anything particularly wonderful in it. Any woman might do such a thing.'

'Any woman might if escaping from fire or shipwreck, or any such immediate danger. But it seems incomprehensible to me that any woman in her senses, who quietly decides to leave a house, should be so forgetful.'

'All that is required to reconcile your seeming with her facts is to assume that she was not in her senses, for that's what she did plainly, or how could the things have been found there? Besides, she's truthful enough.' He spoke eagerly and peremptorily.

'Yes, yes, I know that. I merely meant that it seemed rather odd.'

'O yes.' Manston read on:--

'"--and slipped out of the house. The rubbish-heap was burning up brightly, but the thought that the house was in danger did not strike me; I did not consider that it might be thatched.

'"I idled in the lane behind the wood till the last down-train had come in, not being in a mood to face strangers. Whilst I was there the fire broke out, and this perplexed me still more. However, I was still determined not to stay in the place. I went to the railway-station, which was now quiet, and inquired of the solitary man on duty there concerning the trains. It was not till I had left the man that I saw the effect the fire might have on my history. I considered also, though not in any detailed manner, that the event, by attracting the attention of the village to my former abode, might set people on my track should they doubt my death, and a sudden dread of having to go back again to Knapwater--a place which had seemed inimical to me from first to last--prompted me to run back and bribe the porter to secrecy. I then walked on to Anglebury, lingering about the outskirts of the town till the morning train came in, when I proceeded by it to London, and then took these lodgings, where I have been supporting myself ever since by needlework, endeavouring to save enough money to pay my passage home to America, but making melancholy progress in my attempt. However, all that is changed--can I be otherwise than happy at it? Of course not. I am happy. Tell me what I am to do, and believe me still to be your faithful wife, EUNICE.

'"My name here is (as before)


The name and address were written on a separate slip of paper.

'So it's to be all right at last then,' said Manston's friend. 'But after all there's another woman in the case. You don't seem very sorry for the little thing who is put to such distress by this turn of affairs? I wonder you can let her go so coolly.' The speaker was looking out between the mullions of the window--noticing that some of the lights were glazed in lozenges, some in squares--as he said the words, otherwise he would have seen the passionate expression of agonized hopelessness that flitted across the steward's countenance when the remark was made. He did not see it, and Manston answered after a short interval. The way in which he spoke of the young girl who had believed herself his wife, whom, a few short days ago, he had openly idolized, and whom, in his secret heart, he idolized still, as far as such a form of love was compatible with his nature, showed that from policy or otherwise, he meant to act up to the requirements of the position into which fate appeared determined to drive him.

'That's neither here nor there,' he said; 'it is a point of honour to do as I am doing, and there's an end of it.'

'Yes. Only I thought you used not to care overmuch about your first bargain.'

'I certainly did not at one time. One is apt to feel rather weary of wives when they are so devilish civil under all aspects, as she used to be. But anything for a change--Abigail is lost, but Michal is recovered. You would hardly believe it, but she seems in fancy to be quite another bride--in fact, almost as if she had really risen from the dead, instead of having only done so virtually.'

'You let the young pink one know that the other has come or is coming?'

'Cui bono?' The steward meditated critically, showing a portion of his intensely wide and regular teeth within the ruby lips.

'I cannot say anything to her that will do any good,' he resumed. 'It would be awkward--either seeing or communicating with her again. The best plan to adopt will be to let matters take their course-- she'll find it all out soon enough.'

Manston found himself alone a few minutes later. He buried his face in his hands, and murmured, 'O my lost one! O my Cytherea! That it should come to this is hard for me! 'Tis now all darkness--"a land of darkness as darkness itself; and of the shadow of death without any order, and where the light is as darkness."'

Yes, the artificial bearing which this extraordinary man had adopted before strangers ever since he had overheard the conversation at the inn, left him now, and he mourned for Cytherea aloud.


The Classical Library, This HTML edition copyright 2000.

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