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Desperate Remedies

by Thomas Hardy



The next presentation is the interior of the Old House on the evening of the preceding section. The steward was sitting by his parlour fire, and had been reading the letter arrived from the rectory. Opposite to him sat the woman known to the village and neighbourhood as Mrs. Manston.

'Things are looking desperate with us,' he said gloomily. His gloom was not that of the hypochondriac, but the legitimate gloom which has its origin in a syllogism. As he uttered the words he handed the letter to her.

'I almost expected some such news as this,' she replied, in a tone of much greater indifference. 'I knew suspicion lurked in the eyes of that young man who stared at me so in the church path: I could have sworn it.'

Manston did not answer for some time. His face was worn and haggard; latterly his head had not been carried so uprightly as of old. 'If they prove you to be--who you are. . . . Yes, if they do,' he murmured.

'They must not find that out,' she said, in a positive voice, and looking at him. 'But supposing they do, the trick does not seem to me to be so serious as to justify that wretched, miserable, horrible look of yours. It makes my flesh creep; it is perfectly deathlike.'

He did not reply, and she continued, 'If they say and prove that Eunice is indeed living--and dear, you know she is--she is sure to come back.'

This remark seemed to awaken and irritate him to speech. Again, as he had done a hundred times during their residence together, he categorized the events connected with the fire at the Three Tranters. He dwelt on every incident of that night's history, and endeavoured, with an anxiety which was extraordinary in the apparent circumstances, to prove that his wife must, by the very nature of things, have perished in the flames. She arose from her seat, crossed the hearthrug, and set herself to soothe him; then she whispered that she was still as unbelieving as ever. 'Come, supposing she escaped--just supposing she escaped--where is she?' coaxed the lady.

'Why are you so curious continually?' said Manston.

'Because I am a woman and want to know. Now where is she?'

'In the Flying Isle of San Borandan.'

'Witty cruelty is the cruellest of any. Ah, well--if she is in England, she will come back.'

'She is not in England.'

'But she will come back?'

'No, she won't. . . . Come, madam,' he said, arousing himself, 'I shall not answer any more questions.'

'Ah--ah--ah--she is not dead,' the woman murmured again poutingly.

'She is, I tell you.'

'I don't think so, love.'

'She was burnt, I tell you!' he exclaimed.

'Now to please me, admit the bare possibility of her being alive-- just the possibility.'

'O yes--to please you I will admit that,' he said quickly. 'Yes, I admit the possibility of her being alive, to please you.'

She looked at him in utter perplexity. The words could only have been said in jest, and yet they seemed to savour of a tone the furthest remove from jesting. There was his face plain to her eyes, but no information of any kind was to be read there.

'It is only natural that I should be curious,' she murmured pettishly, 'if I resemble her as much as you say I do.'

'You are handsomer,' he said, 'though you are about her own height and size. But don't worry yourself. You must know that you are body and soul united with me, though you are but my housekeeper.'

She bridled a little at the remark. 'Wife,' she said, 'most certainly wife, since you cannot dismiss me without losing your character and position, and incurring heavy penalties.'

'I own it--it was well said, though mistakenly--very mistakenly.'

'Don't riddle to me about mistakenly and such dark things. Now what was your motive, dearest, in running the risk of having me here?'

'Your beauty,' he said.

'She thanks you much for the compliment, but will not take it. Come, what was your motive?'

'Your wit.'

'No, no; not my wit. Wit would have made a wife of me by this time instead of what I am.'

'Your virtue.'

'Or virtue either.'

'I tell you it was your beauty--really.'

'But I cannot help seeing and hearing, and if what people say is true, I am not nearly so good-looking as Cytherea, and several years older.'

The aspect of Manston's face at these words from her was so confirmatory of her hint, that his forced reply of 'O no,' tended to develop her chagrin.

'Mere liking or love for me,' she resumed, 'would not have sprung up all of a sudden, as your pretended passion did. You had been to London several times between the time of the fire and your marriage with Cytherea--you had never visited me or thought of my existence or cared that I was out of a situation and poor. But the week after you married her and were separated from her, off you rush to make love to me--not first to me either, for you went to several places-- '

'No, not several places.'

'Yes, you told me so yourself--that you went first to the only lodging in which your wife had been known as Mrs. Manston, and when you found that the lodging-house-keeper had gone away and died, and that nobody else in the street had any definite ideas as to your wife's personal appearance, and came and proposed the arrangement we carried out--that I should personate her. Your taking all this trouble shows that something more serious than love had to do with the matter.'

'Humbug--what trouble after all did I take? When I found Cytherea would not stay with me after the wedding I was much put out at being left alone again. Was that unnatural?'


'And those favouring accidents you mention--that nobody knew my first wife--seemed an arrangement of Providence for our mutual benefit, and merely perfected a half-formed impulse--that I should call you my first wife to escape the scandal that would have arisen if you had come here as anything else.'

'My love, that story won't do. If Mrs. Manston was burnt, Cytherea, whom you love better than me, could have been compelled to live with you as your lawful wife. If she was not burnt, why should you run the risk of her turning up again at any moment and exposing your substitution of me, and ruining your name and prospects?'

'Why--because I might have loved you well enough to run the risk (assuming her not to be burnt, which I deny).'

'No--you would have run the risk the other way. You would rather have risked her finding you with Cytherea as a second wife, than with me as a personator of herself--the first one.'

'You came easiest to hand--remember that.'

'Not so very easy either, considering the labour you took to teach me your first wife's history. All about how she was a native of Philadelphia. Then making me read up the guide-book to Philadelphia, and details of American life and manners, in case the birthplace and history of your wife, Eunice, should ever become known in this neighbourhood--unlikely as it was. Ah! and then about the handwriting of hers that I had to imitate, and the dying my hair, and rouging, to make the transformation complete? You mean to say that that was taking less trouble than there would have been in arranging events to make Cytherea believe herself your wife, and live with you?'

'You were a needy adventuress, who would dare anything for a new pleasure and an easy life--and I was fool enough to give in to you-- '

'Good heavens above!--did I ask you to insert those advertisements for your old wife, and to make me answer it as if I was she? Did I ask you to send me the letter for me to copy and send back to you when the third advertisement appeared--purporting to come from the long-lost wife, and giving a detailed history of her escape and subsequent life--all which you had invented yourself? You deluded me into loving you, and then enticed me here! Ah, and this is another thing. How did you know the real wife wouldn't answer it, and upset all your plans?'

'Because I knew she was burnt.'

'Why didn't you force Cytherea to come back, then? Now, my love, I have caught you, and you may just as well tell first as last, WHAT WAS YOUR MOTIVE IN HAVING ME HERE AS YOUR FIRST WIFE?'

'Silence!' he exclaimed.

She was silent for the space of two minutes, and then persisted in going on to mutter, 'And why was it that Miss Aldclyffe allowed her favourite young lady, Cythie, to be overthrown and supplanted without an expostulation or any show of sympathy? Do you know I often think you exercise a secret power over Miss Aldclyffe. And she always shuns me as if I shared the power. A poor, ill-used creature like me sharing power, indeed!'

'She thinks you are Mrs. Manston.'

'That wouldn't make her avoid me.'

'Yes it would,' he exclaimed impatiently. 'I wish I was dead-- dead!' He had jumped up from his seat in uttering the words, and now walked wearily to the end of the room. Coming back more decisively, he looked in her face.

'We must leave this place if Raunham suspects what I think he does,' he said. 'The request of Cytherea and her brother may simply be for a satisfactory proof, to make her feel legally free--but it may mean more.'

'What may it mean?'

'How should I know?'

'Well, well, never mind, old boy,' she said, approaching him to make up the quarrel. 'Don't be so alarmed--anybody would think that you were the woman and I the man. Suppose they do find out what I am-- we can go away from here and keep house as usual. People will say of you, "His first wife was burnt to death" (or "ran away to the Colonies," as the case may be); "He married a second, and deserted her for Anne Seaway." A very everyday case--nothing so horrible, after all.'

He made an impatient movement. 'Whichever way we do it, NOBODY MUST KNOW THAT YOU ARE NOT MY WIFE EUNICE. And now I must think about arranging matters.'

Manston then retired to his office, and shut himself up for the remainder of the evening.


The Classical Library, This HTML edition copyright 2000.

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