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Desperate Remedies

by Thomas Hardy



Two evenings later, to the total disarrangement of his dinner-hour, Mr. Raunham appeared at Owen's door. His arrival was hailed with genuine gratitude. The horse was tied to the palings, and the rector ushered indoors and put into the easy-chair.

Then Graye told him the whole story, reminding him that their first suspicions had been of a totally different nature, and that in endeavouring to obtain proof of their truth they had stumbled upon marks which had surprised them into these new uncertainties, thrice as marvellous as the first, yet more prominent.

Cytherea's heart was so full of anxiety that it superinduced a manner of confidence which was a death-blow to all formality. Mr. Raunham took her hand pityingly.

'It is a serious charge,' he said, as a sort of original twig on which his thoughts might precipitate themselves.

'Assuming for a moment that such a substitution was rendered an easy matter by fortuitous events,' he continued, 'there is this consideration to be placed beside it--what earthly motive can Mr. Manston have had which would be sufficiently powerful to lead him to run such a very great risk? The most abandoned roue could not, at that particular crisis, have taken such a reckless step for the mere pleasure of a new companion.'

Owen had seen that difficulty about the motive; Cytherea had not.

'Unfortunately for us,' the rector resumed, 'no more evidence is to be obtained from the porter, Chinney. I suppose you know what became of him? He got to Liverpool and embarked, intending to work his way to America, but on the passage he fell overboard and was drowned. But there is no doubt of the truth of his confession--in fact, his conduct tends to prove it true--and no moral doubt of the fact that the real Mrs. Manston left here to go back by that morning's train. This being the case, then, why, if this woman is not she, did she take no notice of the advertisement--I mean not necessarily a friendly notice, but from the information it afforded her have rendered it impossible that she should be personified without her own connivance?'

'I think that argument is overthrown,' Graye said, 'by my earliest assumption of her hatred of him, weariness of the chain which bound her to him, and a resolve to begin the world anew. Let's suppose she has married another man--somewhere abroad, say; she would be silent for her own sake.'

'You've hit the only genuine possibility,' said Mr. Raunham, tapping his finger upon his knee. 'That would decidedly dispose of the second difficulty. But his motive would be as mysterious as ever.'

Cytherea's pictured dreads would not allow her mind to follow their conversation. 'She's burnt,' she said. 'O yes; I fear--I fear she is!'

'I don't think we can seriously believe that now, after what has happened,' said the rector.

Still straining her thought towards the worst, 'Then, perhaps, the first Mrs. Manston was not his wife,' she returned; 'and then I should be his wife just the same, shouldn't I?'

'They were married safely enough,' said Owen. 'There is abundance of circumstantial evidence to prove that.'

'Upon the whole,' said Mr. Raunham, 'I should advise your asking in a straightforward way for legal proof from the steward that the present woman is really his original wife--a thing which, to my mind, you should have done at the outset.' He turned to Cytherea kindly, and asked her what made her give up her husband so unceremoniously.

She could not tell the rector of her aversion to Manston, and of her unquenched love for Edward.

'Your terrified state no doubt,' he said, answering for her, in the manner of those accustomed to the pulpit. 'But into such a solemn compact as marriage, all-important considerations, both legally and morally, enter; it was your duty to have seen everything clearly proved. Doubtless Mr. Manston is prepared with proofs, but as it concerns nobody but yourself that her identity should be publicly established (and by your absenteeism you act as if you were satisfied) he has not troubled to exhibit them. Nobody else has taken the trouble to prove what does not affect them in the least-- that's the way of the world always. You, who should have required all things to be made clear, ran away.'

'That was partly my doing,' said Owen.

The same explanation--her want of love for Manston--applied here too, but she shunned the revelation.

'But never mind,' added the rector, 'it was all the greater credit to your womanhood, perhaps. I say, then, get your brother to write a line to Mr. Manston, saying you wish to be satisfied that all is legally clear (in case you should want to marry again, for instance), and I have no doubt that you will be. Or, if you would rather, I'll write myself?'

'O no, sir, no,' pleaded Cytherea, beginning to blanch, and breathing quickly. 'Please don't say anything. Let me live here with Owen. I am so afraid it will turn out that I shall have to go to Knapwater and be his wife, and I don't want to go. Do conceal what we have told you. Let him continue his deception--it is much the best for me.'

Mr. Raunham at length divined that her love for Manston, if it had ever existed, had transmuted itself into a very different feeling now.

'At any rate,' he said, as he took his leave and mounted his mare, 'I will see about it. Rest content, Miss Graye, and depend upon it that I will not lead you into difficulty.'

'Conceal it,' she still pleaded.

'We'll see--but of course I must do my duty.'

'No--don't do your duty!' She looked up at him through the gloom, illuminating her own face and eyes with the candle she held.

'I will consider, then,' said Mr. Raunham, sensibly moved. He turned his horse's head, bade them a warm adieu, and left the door.

The rector of Carriford trotted homewards under the cold and clear March sky, its countless stars fluttering like bright birds. He was unconscious of the scene. Recovering from the effect of Cytherea's voice and glance of entreaty, he laid the subject of the interview clearly before himself.

The suspicions of Cytherea and Owen were honest, and had foundation- -that he must own. Was he--a clergyman, magistrate, and conscientious man--justified in yielding to Cytherea's importunities to keep silence, because she dreaded the possibility of a return to Manston? Was she wise in her request? Holding her present belief, and with no definite evidence either way, she could, for one thing, never conscientiously marry any one else. Suppose that Cytherea were Manston's wife--i.e., that the first wife was really burnt? The adultery of Manston would be proved, and, Mr. Raunham thought, cruelty sufficient to bring the case within the meaning of the statute. Suppose the new woman was, as stated, Mr. Manston's restored wife? Cytherea was perfectly safe as a single woman whose marriage had been void. And if it turned out that, though this woman was not Manston's wife, his wife was still living, as Owen had suggested, in America or elsewhere, Cytherea was safe.

The first supposition opened up the worst contingency. Was she really safe as Manston's wife? Doubtful. But, however that might be, the gentle, defenceless girl, whom it seemed nobody's business to help or defend, should be put in a track to proceed against this man. She had but one life, and the superciliousness with which all the world now regarded her should be compensated in some measure by the man whose carelessness--to set him in the best light--had caused it.

Mr. Raunham felt more and more positively that his duty must be done. An inquiry must be made into the matter. Immediately on reaching home, he sat down and wrote a plain and friendly letter to Mr. Manston, and despatched it at once to him by hand. Then he flung himself back in his chair, and went on with his meditation. Was there anything in the suspicion? There could be nothing, surely. Nothing is done by a clever man without a motive, and what conceivable motive could Manston have for such abnormal conduct? Corinthian that he might be, who had preyed on virginity like St. George's dragon, he would never have been absurd enough to venture on such a course for the possession alone of the woman--there was no reason for it--she was inferior to Cytherea in every respect, physical and mental.

On the other hand, it seemed rather odd, when he analyzed the action, that a woman who deliberately hid herself from her husband for more than a twelvemonth should be brought back by a mere advertisement. In fact, the whole business had worked almost too smoothly and effectually for unpremeditated sequence. It was too much like the indiscriminate righting of everything at the end of an old play. And there was that curious business of the keys and watch. Her way of accounting for their being left behind by forgetfulness had always seemed to him rather forced. The only unforced explanation was that suggested by the newspaper writers-- that she left them behind on purpose to blind people as to her escape, a motive which would have clashed with the possibility of her being fished back by an advertisement, as the present woman had been. Again, there were the two charred bones. He shuffled the books and papers in his study, and walked about the room, restlessly musing on the same subject. The parlour-maid entered.

'Can young Mr. Springrove from London see you to-night, sir?'

'Young Mr. Springrove?' said the rector, surprised.

'Yes, sir.'

'Yes, of course he can see me. Tell him to come in.'

Edward came so impatiently into the room, as to show that the few short moments his announcement had occupied had been irksome to him. He stood in the doorway with the same black bag in his hand, and the same old gray cloak on his shoulders, that he had worn fifteen months earlier when returning on the night of the fire. This appearance of his conveyed a true impression; he had become a stagnant man. But he was excited now.

'I have this moment come from London,' he said, as the door was closed behind him.

The prophetic insight, which so strangely accompanies critical experiences, prompted Mr. Raunham's reply.

'About the Grayes and Manston?'

'Yes. That woman is not Mrs. Manston.'

'Prove it.'

'I can prove that she is somebody else--that her name is Anne Seaway.'

'And are their suspicions true indeed!'

'And I can do what's more to the purpose at present.'

'Suggest Manston's motive?'

'Only suggest it, remember. But my assumption fits so perfectly with the facts that have been secretly unearthed and conveyed to me, that I can hardly conceive of another.'

There was in Edward's bearing that entire unconsciousness of himself which, natural to wild animals, only prevails in a sensitive man at moments of extreme intentness. The rector saw that he had no trivial story to communicate, whatever the story was.

'Sit down,' said Mr. Raunham. 'My mind has been on the stretch all the evening to form the slightest guess at such an object, and all to no purpose--entirely to no purpose. Have you said anything to Owen Graye?'

'Nothing--nor to anybody. I could not trust to the effect a letter might have upon yourself, either; the intricacy of the case brings me to this interview.'

Whilst Springrove had been speaking the two had sat down together. The conversation, hitherto distinct to every corner of the room, was carried on now in tones so low as to be scarcely audible to the interlocutors, and in phrases which hesitated to complete themselves. Three-quarters of an hour passed. Then Edward arose, came out of the rector's study and again flung his cloak around him. Instead of going thence homeward, he went first to the Carriford Road Station with a telegram, having despatched which he proceeded to his father's house for the first time since his arrival in the village.


The Classical Library, This HTML edition copyright 2000.

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