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Desperate Remedies

by Thomas Hardy



Intentness pervaded everything; Night herself seemed to have become a watcher.

The four persons proceeded across the glade, and into the park plantation, at equi-distances of about seventy yards. Here the ground, completely overhung by the foliage, was coated with a thick moss which was as soft as velvet beneath their feet. The first watcher, that is, the man walking immediately behind Manston, now fell back, when Manston's housekeeper, knowing the ground pretty well, dived circuitously among the trees and got directly behind the steward, who, encumbered with his load, had proceeded but slowly. The other woman seemed now to be about opposite to Anne, or a little in advance, but on Manston's other hand.

He reached a pit, midway between the waterfall and the engine-house. There he stopped, wiped his face, and listened.

Into this pit had drifted uncounted generations of withered leaves, half filling it. Oak, beech, and chestnut, rotten and brown alike, mingled themselves in one fibrous mass. Manston descended into the midst of them, placed his sack on the ground, and raking the leaves aside into a large heap, began digging. Anne softly drew nearer, crept into a bush, and turning her head to survey the rest, missed the man who had dropped behind, and whom we have called the first watcher. Concluding that he, too, had hidden himself, she turned her attention to the second watcher, the other woman, who had meanwhile advanced near to where Anne lay in hiding, and now seated herself behind a tree, still closer to the steward than was Anne Seaway.

Here and thus Anne remained concealed. The crunch of the steward's spade, as it cut into the soft vegetable mould, was plainly perceptible to her ears when the periodic cessations between the creaks of the engine concurred with a lull in the breeze, which otherwise brought the subdued roar of the cascade from the further side of the bank that screened it. A large hole--some four or five feet deep--had been excavated by Manston in about twenty minutes. Into this he immediately placed the sack, and then began filling in the earth, and treading it down. Lastly he carefully raked the whole mass of dead and dry leaves into the middle of the pit, burying the ground with them as they had buried it before.

For a hiding-place the spot was unequalled. The thick accumulation of leaves, which had not been disturbed for centuries, might not be disturbed again for centuries to come, whilst their lower layers still decayed and added to the mould beneath.

By the time this work was ended the sky had grown clearer, and Anne could now see distinctly the face of the other woman, stretching from behind the tree, seemingly forgetful of her position in her intense contemplation of the actions of the steward. Her countenance was white and motionless.

It was impossible that Manston should not soon notice her. At the completion of his labour he turned, and did so.

'Ho--you here!' he exclaimed.

'Don't think I am a spy upon you,' she said, in an imploring whisper. Anne recognized the voice as Miss Aldclyffe's.

The trembling lady added hastily another remark, which was drowned in the recurring creak of the engine close at hand The first watcher, if he had come no nearer than his original position, was too far off to hear any part of this dialogue, on account of the roar of the falling water, which could reach him unimpeded by the bank.

The remark of Miss Aldclyffe to Manston had plainly been concerning the first watcher, for Manston, with his spade in his hand, instantly rushed to where the man was concealed, and, before the latter could disengage himself from the boughs, the steward struck him on the head with the blade of the instrument. The man fell to the ground.

'Fly!' said Miss Aldclyffe to Manston. Manston vanished amidst the trees. Miss Aldclyffe went off in a contrary direction.

Anne Seaway was about to run away likewise, when she turned and looked at the fallen man. He lay on his face, motionless.

Many of these women who own to no moral code show considerable magnanimity when they see people in trouble. To act right simply because it is one's duty is proper; but a good action which is the result of no law of reflection shines more than any. She went up to him and gently turned him over, upon which he began to show signs of life. By her assistance he was soon able to stand upright.

He looked about him with a bewildered air, endeavouring to collect his ideas. 'Who are you?' he said to the woman, mechanically.

It was bad policy now to attempt disguise. 'I am the supposed Mrs. Manston,' she said. 'Who are you?'

'I am the officer employed by Mr. Raunham to sift this mystery-- which may be criminal.' He stretched his limbs, pressed his head, and seemed gradually to awake to a sense of having been incautious in his utterance. 'Never you mind who I am,' he continued. 'Well, it doesn't matter now, either--it will no longer be a secret.'

He stooped for his hat and ran in the direction the steward had taken--coming back again after the lapse of a minute.

'It's only an aggravated assault, after all,' he said hastily, 'until we have found out for certain what's buried here. It may be only a bag of building rubbish; but it may be more. Come and help me dig.' He seized the spade with the awkwardness of a town man, and went into the pit, continuing a muttered discourse. 'It's no use my running after him single-handed,' he said. 'He's ever so far off by this time. The best step is to see what is here.'

It was far easier for the detective to re-open the hole than it had been for Manston to form it. The leaves were raked away, the loam thrown out, and the sack dragged forth.

'Hold this,' he said to Anne, whose curiosity still kept her standing near. He turned on the light of a dark lantern he had brought, and gave it into her hand.

The string which bound the mouth of the sack was now cut. The officer laid the bag on its side, seized it by the bottom, and jerked forth the contents. A large package was disclosed, carefully wrapped up in impervious tarpaulin, also well tied. He was on the point of pulling open the folds at one end, when a light coloured thread of something, hanging on the outside, arrested his eye. He put his hand upon it; it felt stringy, and adhered to his fingers. 'Hold the light close,' he said.

She held it close. He raised his hand to the glass, and they both peered at an almost intangible filament he held between his finger and thumb. It was a long hair; the hair of a woman.

'God! I couldn't believe it--no, I couldn't believe it!' the detective whispered, horror-struck. 'And I have lost the man for the present through my unbelief. Let's get into a sheltered place. . . . Now wait a minute whilst I prove it.'

He thrust his hand into his waistcoat pocket, and withdrew thence a minute packet of brown paper. Spreading it out he disclosed, coiled in the middle, another long hair. It was the hair the clerk's wife had found on Manston's pillow nine days before the Carriford fire. He held the two hairs to the light: they were both of a pale-brown hue. He laid them parallel and stretched out his arms: they were of the same length to a nicety. The detective turned to Anne.

'It is the body of his first wife,' he said quietly. 'He murdered her, as Mr. Springrove and the rector suspected--but how and when, God only knows.'

'And I!' exclaimed Anne Seaway, a probable and natural sequence of events and motives explanatory of the whole crime--events and motives shadowed forth by the letter, Manston's possession of it, his renunciation of Cytherea, and instalment of herself--flashing upon her mind with the rapidity of lightning.

'Ah--I see,' said the detective, standing unusually close to her: and a handcuff was on her wrist. 'You must come with me, madam. Knowing as much about a secret murder as God knows is a very suspicious thing: it doesn't make you a goddess--far from it.' He directed the bull's-eye into her face.

'Pooh--lead on,' she said scornfully, 'and don't lose your principal actor for the sake of torturing a poor subordinate like me.'

He loosened her hand, gave her his arm, and dragged her out of the grove--making her run beside him till they had reached the rectory. A light was burning here, and an auxiliary of the detective's awaiting him: a horse ready harnessed to a spring-cart was standing outside.

'You have come--I wish I had known that,' the detective said to his assistant, hurriedly and angrily. 'Well, we've blundered--he's gone--you should have been here, as I said! I was sold by that woman, Miss Aldclyffe--she watched me.' He hastily gave directions in an undertone to this man. The concluding words were, 'Go in to the rector--he's up. Detain Miss Aldclyffe. I, in the meantime, am driving to Casterbridge with this one, and for help. We shall be sure to have him when it gets light.'

He assisted Anne into the vehicle, and drove off with her. As they went, the clear, dry road showed before them, between the grassy quarters at each side, like a white riband, and made their progress easy. They came to a spot where the highway was overhung by dense firs for some distance on both sides. It was totally dark here.

There was a smash; and a rude shock. In the very midst of its length, at the point where the road began to drop down a hill, the detective drove against something with a jerk which nearly flung them both to the ground.

The man recovered himself, placed Anne on the seat, and reached out his hand. He found that the off-wheel of his gig was locked in that of another conveyance of some kind.

'Hoy!' said the officer.

Nobody answered.

'Hoy, you man asleep there!' he said again.

No reply.

'Well, that's odd--this comes of the folly of travelling without gig-lamps because you expect the dawn.' He jumped to the ground and turned on his lantern.

There was the gig which had obstructed him, standing in the middle of the road; a jaded horse harnessed to it, but no human being in or near the vehicle.

'Do you know whose gig this is?' he said to the woman.

'No,' she said sullenly. But she did recognize it as the steward's.

'I'll swear it's Manston's! Come, I can hear it by your tone. However, you needn't say anything which may criminate you. What forethought the man must have had--how carefully he must have considered possible contingencies! Why, he must have got the horse and gig ready before he began shifting the body.'

He listened for a sound among the trees. None was to be heard but the occasional scamper of a rabbit over the withered leaves. He threw the light of his lantern through a gap in the hedge, but could see nothing beyond an impenetrable thicket. It was clear that Manston was not many yards off, but the question was how to find him. Nothing could be done by the detective just then, encumbered as he was by the horse and Anne. If he had entered the thicket on a search unaided, Manston might have stepped unobserved from behind a bush and murdered him with the greatest ease. Indeed, there were such strong reasons for the exploit in Manston's circumstances at that moment that without showing cowardice, his pursuer felt it hazardous to remain any longer where he stood.

He hastily tied the head of Manston's horse to the back of his own vehicle, that the steward might be deprived of the use of any means of escape other than his own legs, and drove on thus with his prisoner to the county-town. Arrived there, he lodged her in the police-station, and then took immediate steps for the capture of Manston.


The Classical Library, This HTML edition copyright 2000.

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