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Desperate Remedies

by Thomas Hardy



Her convalescence had arrived at this point on a certain evening towards the end of the winter, when Owen had come in from the building hard by, and was changing his muddy boots for slippers, previously to sitting down to toast and tea.

A prolonged though quiet knocking came to the door.

The only person who ever knocked at their door in that way was the new vicar, the prime mover in the church-building. But he was that evening dining with the Squire.

Cytherea was uneasy at the sound--she did not know why, unless it was because her nerves were weakened by the sickness she had undergone. Instead of opening the door she ran out of the room, and upstairs.

'What nonsense, Cytherea!' said her brother, going to the door.

Edward Springrove stood in the grey light outside.

'Capital--not gone to Australia, and not going, of course!' cried Owen. 'What's the use of going to such a place as that?--I never believed that you would.'

'I am going back to London again to-morrow,' said Springrove, 'and I called to say a word before going. Where is . . .?'

'She has just run upstairs. Come in--never mind scraping your shoes--we are regular cottagers now; stone floor, yawning chimney- corner, and all, you see.'

'Mrs. Manston came,' said Edward awkwardly, when he had sat down in the chimney-corner by preference.

'Yes.' At mention of one of his skeletons Owen lost his blitheness at once, and fell into a reverie.

'The history of her escape is very simple.'


'You know I always had wondered, when my father was telling any of the circumstances of the fire to me, how it could be that a woman could sleep so soundly as to be unaware of her horrid position till it was too late even to give shout or sound of any kind.'

'Well, I think that would have been possible, considering her long wearisome journey. People have often been suffocated in their beds before they awoke. But it was hardly likely a body would be completely burnt to ashes as this was assumed to be, though nobody seemed to see it at the time. And how positive the surgeon was too, about those bits of bone! Why he should have been so, nobody can tell. I cannot help saying that if it has ever been possible to find pure stupidity incarnate, it was in that jury of Carriford. There existed in the mass the stupidity of twelve and not the penetration of one.'

'Is she quite well?' said Springrove.

'Who?--O, my sister, Cytherea. Thank you, nearly well, now. I'll call her.'

'Wait one minute. I have a word to say to you.'

Owen sat down again.

'You know, without my saying it, that I love Cytherea as dearly as ever. . . . I think she loves me too,--does she really?'

There was in Owen enough of that worldly policy on the subject of matchmaking which naturally resides in the breasts of parents and guardians, to give him a certain caution in replying, and, younger as he was by five years than Edward, it had an odd effect.

'Well, she may possibly love you still,' he said, as if rather in doubt as to the truth of his words.

Springrove's countenance instantly saddened; he had expected a simple 'Yes,' at the very least. He continued in a tone of greater depression--

'Supposing she does love me, would it be fair to you and to her if I made her an offer of marriage, with these dreary conditions attached--that we lived for a few years on the narrowest system, till a great debt, which all honour and duty require me to pay off, shall be paid? My father, by reason of the misfortune that befell him, is under a great obligation to Miss Aldclyffe. He is getting old, and losing his energies. I am attempting to work free of the burden. This makes my prospects gloomy enough at present.

'But consider again,' he went on. 'Cytherea has been left in a nameless and unsatisfactory, though innocent state, by this unfortunate, and now void, marriage with Manston. A marriage with me, though under the--materially--untoward conditions I have mentioned, would make us happy; it would give her a locus standi. If she wished to be out of the sound of her misfortunes we would go to another part of England--emigrate--do anything.'

'I'll call Cytherea,' said Owen. 'It is a matter which she alone can settle.' He did not speak warmly. His pride could not endure the pity which Edward's visit and errand tacitly implied. Yet, in the other affair, his heart went with Edward; he was on the same beat for paying off old debts himself.

'Cythie, Mr. Springrove is here,' he said, at the foot of the staircase.

His sister descended the creaking old steps with a faltering tread, and stood in the firelight from the hearth. She extended her hand to Springrove, welcoming him by a mere motion of the lip, her eyes averted--a habit which had engendered itself in her since the beginning of her illness and defamation. Owen opened the door and went out--leaving the lovers alone. It was the first time they had met since the memorable night at Southampton.

'I will get a light,' she said, with a little embarrassment.

'No--don't, please, Cytherea,' said Edward softly, 'Come and sit down with me.'

'O yes. I ought to have asked YOU to,' she returned timidly. 'Everybody sits in the chimney-corner in this parish. You sit on that side. I'll sit here.'

Two recesses--one on the right, one on the left hand--were cut in the inside of the fireplace, and here they sat down facing each other, on benches fitted to the recesses, the fire glowing on the hearth between their feet. Its ruddy light shone on the underslopes of their faces, and spread out over the floor of the room with the low horizontality of the setting sun, giving to every grain of sand and tumour in the paving a long shadow towards the door.

Edward looked at his pale love through the thin azure twines of smoke that went up like ringlets between them, and invested her, as seen through its medium, with the shadowy appearance of a phantom. Nothing is so potent for coaxing back the lost eyes of a woman as a discreet silence in the man who has so lost them--and thus the patient Edward coaxed hers. After lingering on the hearth for half a minute, waiting in vain for another word from him, they were lifted into his face.

He was ready primed to receive them. 'Cytherea, will you marry me?' he said.

He could not wait in his original position till the answer came. Stepping across the front of the fire to her own side of the chimney corner, he reclined at her feet, and searched for her hand. She continued in silence awhile.

'Edward, I can never be anybody's wife,' she then said sadly, and with firmness.

'Think of it in every light,' he pleaded; 'the light of love, first. Then, when you have done that, see how wise a step it would be. I can only offer you poverty as yet, but I want--I do so long to secure you from the intrusion of that unpleasant past, which will often and always be thrust before you as long as you live the shrinking solitary life you do now--a life which purity chooses, it may be; but to the outside world it appears like the enforced loneliness of neglect and scorn--and tongues are busy inventing a reason for it which does not exist.'

'I know all about it,' she said hastily; 'and those are the grounds of my refusal. You and Owen know the whole truth--the two I love best on earth--and I am content. But the scandal will be continually repeated, and I can never give any one the opportunity of saying to you--that--your wife . . . .' She utterly broke down and wept.

'Don't, my own darling!' he entreated. 'Don't, Cytherea!'

'Please to leave me--we will be friends, Edward--but don't press me- -my mind is made up--I cannot--I will not marry you or any man under the present ambiguous circumstances--never will I--I have said it: never!'

They were both silent. He listlessly regarded the illuminated blackness overhead, where long flakes of soot floated from the sides and bars of the chimney-throat like tattered banners in ancient aisles; whilst through the square opening in the midst one or two bright stars looked down upon them from the grey March sky. The sight seemed to cheer him.

'At any rate you will love me?' he murmured to her.

'Yes--always--for ever and for ever!'

He kissed her once, twice, three times, and arose to his feet, slowly withdrawing himself from her side towards the door. Cytherea remained with her gaze fixed on the fire. Edward went out grieving, but hope was not extinguished even now.

He smelt the fragrance of a cigar, and immediately afterwards saw a small red star of fire against the darkness of the hedge. Graye was pacing up and down the lane, smoking as he walked. Springrove told him the result of the interview.

'You are a good fellow, Edward,' he said; 'but I think my sister is right.'

'I wish you would believe Manston a villain, as I do,' said Springrove.

'It would be absurd of me to say that I like him now--family feeling prevents it, but I cannot in honesty say deliberately that he is a bad man.'

Edward could keep the secret of Manston's coercion of Miss Aldclyffe in the matter of the houses a secret no longer. He told Owen the whole story.

'That's one thing,' he continued, 'but not all. What do you think of this--I have discovered that he went to Budmouth post-office for a letter the day before the first advertisement for his wife appeared in the papers. One was there for him, and it was directed in his wife's handwriting, as I can prove. This was not till after the marriage with Cytherea, it is true, but if (as it seems to show) the advertising was a farce, there is a strong presumption that the rest of the piece was.'

Owen was too astounded to speak. He dropped his cigar, and fixed his eyes upon his companion.



'With his first wife?'

'Yes--with his wife. I am firmly persuaded of it.'

'What did you discover?'

'That he fetched from the post-office at Budmouth a letter from her the day BEFORE the first advertisement appeared.'

Graye was lost in a long consideration. 'Ah!' he said, 'it would be difficult to prove anything of that sort now. The writing could not be sworn to, and if he is guilty the letter is destroyed.'

'I have other suspicions--'

'Yes--as you said' interrupted Owen, who had not till now been able to form the complicated set of ideas necessary for picturing the position. 'Yes, there is this to be remembered--Cytherea had been taken from him before that letter came--and his knowledge of his wife's existence could not have originated till after the wedding. I could have sworn he believed her dead then. His manner was unmistakable.'

'Well, I have other suspicions,' repeated Edward; 'and if I only had the right--if I were her husband or brother, he should be convicted of bigamy yet.'

'The reproof was not needed,' said Owen, with a little bitterness. 'What can I do--a man with neither money nor friends--whilst Manston has Miss Aldclyffe and all her fortune to back him up? God only knows what lies between the mistress and her steward, but since this has transpired--if it is true--I can believe the connection to be even an unworthy one--a thing I certainly never so much as owned to myself before.'


The Classical Library, This HTML edition copyright 2000.

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