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Desperate Remedies

by Thomas Hardy



The next morning the opening move of the game was made. Cytherea, under cover of a thick veil, hired a conveyance and drove to within a mile or so of Carriford. It was with a renewed sense of depression that she saw again the objects which had become familiar to her eye during her sojourn under Miss Aldclyffe's roof--the outline of the hills, the meadow streams, the old park trees. She hastened by a lonely path to the rectory-house, and asked if Mr. Raunham was at home.

Now the rector, though a solitary bachelor, was as gallant and courteous to womankind as an ancient Iberian; and, moreover, he was Cytherea's friend in particular, to an extent far greater than she had ever surmised. Rarely visiting his relative, Miss Aldclyffe, except on parish matters, more rarely still being called upon by Miss Aldclyffe, Cytherea had learnt very little of him whilst she lived at Knapwater. The relationship was on the impecunious paternal side, and for this branch of her family the lady of the estate had never evinced much sympathy. In looking back upon our line of descent it is an instinct with us to feel that all our vitality was drawn from the richer party to any unequal marriage in the chain.

Since the death of the old captain, the rector's bearing in Knapwater House had been almost that of a stranger, a circumstance which he himself was the last man in the world to regret. This polite indifference was so frigid on both sides that the rector did not concern himself to preach at her, which was a great deal in a rector; and she did not take the trouble to think his sermons poor stuff, which in a cynical woman was a great deal more.

Though barely fifty years of age, his hair was as white as snow, contrasting strangely with the redness of his skin, which was as fresh and healthy as a lad's. Cytherea's bright eyes, mutely and demurely glancing up at him Sunday after Sunday, had been the means of driving away many of the saturnine humours that creep into an empty heart during the hours of a solitary life; in this case, however, to supplant them, when she left his parish, by those others of a more aching nature which accompany an over-full one. In short, he had been on the verge of feeling towards her that passion to which his dignified self-respect would not give its true name, even in the privacy of his own thought.

He received her kindly; but she was not disposed to be frank with him. He saw her wish to be reserved, and with genuine good taste and good nature made no comment whatever upon her request to be allowed to see the Chronicle for the year before the last. He placed the papers before her on his study table, with a timidity as great as her own, and then left her entirely to herself.

She turned them over till she came to the first heading connected with the subject of her search--'Disastrous Fire and Loss of Life at Carriford.'

The sight, and its calamitous bearing upon her own life, made her so dizzy that she could, for a while, hardly decipher the letters. Stifling recollection by an effort she nerved herself to her work, and carefully read the column. The account reminded her of no other fact than was remembered already.

She turned on to the following week's report of the inquest. After a miserable perusal she could find no more pertaining to Mrs. Manston's address than this:--

'ABRAHAM BROWN, of Hoxton, London, at whose house the deceased woman had been living, deposed,' etc.

Nobody else from London had attended the inquest. She arose to depart, first sending a message of thanks to Mr. Raunham, who was out of doors gardening.

He stuck his spade into the ground, and accompanied her to the gate.

'Can I help you in anything, Cytherea?' he said, using her Christian name by an intuition that unpleasant memories might be revived if he called her Miss Graye after wishing her good-bye as Mrs. Manston at the wedding. Cytherea saw the motive and appreciated it, nevertheless replying evasively--

'I only guess and fear.'

He earnestly looked at her again.

'Promise me that if you want assistance, and you think I can give it, you will come to me.'

'I will,' she said.

The gate closed between them.

'You don't want me to help you in anything now, Cytherea?' he repeated.

If he had spoken what he felt, 'I want very much to help you, Cytherea, and have been watching Manston on your account,' she would gladly have accepted his offer. As it was, she was perplexed, and raised her eyes to his, not so fearlessly as before her trouble, but as modestly, and with still enough brightness in them to do fearful execution as she said over the gate--

'No, thank you.'

She returned to Tolchurch weary with her day's work. Owen's greeting was anxious--

'Well, Cytherea?'

She gave him the words from the report of the inquest, pencilled on a slip of paper.

'Now to find out the name of the street and number,' Owen remarked.

'Owen,' she said, 'will you forgive me for what I am going to say? I don't think I can--indeed I don't think I can--take any further steps towards disentangling the mystery. I still think it a useless task, and it does not seem any duty of mine to be revenged upon Mr. Manston in any way.' She added more gravely, 'It is beneath my dignity as a woman to labour for this; I have felt it so all day.'

'Very well,' he said, somewhat shortly; 'I shall work without you then. There's dignity in justice.' He caught sight of her pale tired face, and the dilated eye which always appeared in her with weariness. 'Darling,' he continued warmly, and kissing her, 'you shall not work so hard again--you are worn out quite. But you must let me do as I like.'


The Classical Library, This HTML edition copyright 2000.

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