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Desperate remedies : a novel. In three volumes (Volume 2) online

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The particular day he had suggested to his
wife, had, in the interim, been appropriated by
his correspondent. The meeting could not now
be put off.

So he wrote again to his wife, stating that
business, which could not be postponed, called
him away from home on Monday, and would
entirely prevent him coming all the way to fetch
her on Sunday night as he had intended, but
that he would meet her at the Carriford-Road
Station with a conveyance when she arrived
there in the evenino-.

The next day came his wife's answer to his
first letter, in which she said that she would be
ready to be fetched at the time named.

Having already written his second letter,
which was by that time in her hands, he made
no further reply.


The week passed away. The steward had, in
the meantime, let it become generally known in
the village that he was a married man, and by
a little judicious management, sound family
reasons for his past secrecy upon the subject,
which were floated as adjuncts to the story,
were placidly received ; they seemed so natural
and justifiable to the unsophisticated minds of
nine-tenths of his neighbours, that curiosity in
the matter, beyond a strong curiosity to see the
lady's face, was well-nigh extinguished.

E 2



§ 1. November the twenty-eigJitJi. Until
ten, p.m.

Monday came, the day named for Mrs.
Manston's journey from London to her
husband's house; a day of singular and great
events, influencing the present and future of
nearly all the personages whose actions in a
complex drama form the subject of this record.

The proceedings of the steward demand the
first notice. Whilst taking his breakfast on this
particular morning, the clock pointing to eight,
the horse and gig that was to take him to
Chettlewood waiting ready at the door, Manston
hurriedly cast his eyes down the column of
Bradshaw which showed the details and dura-
tion of the selected train's journey.


The inspection was carelessly made, the leaf
being kept open by the aid of one hand, ^\'hilst
the other still held his cup of coffee ; much more
carelessly than would have been the case had
the expected new-comer been Cytherea Graye,
instead of his lawful wife.

He did not perceive, branching from the
column down which his finger ran, a small
twist, called a shunting - line, inserted at a
particular place, to imply that at that point the
train was divided into two. By this oversight
he understood that the arrival of his wife at
Carriford-Road Station would not be till late in
the evening : by the second half of the train,
containing the third-class passengers, and pass-
ing two hours and three-quarters later than the
previous one, by which the lady, as a second-
class passenger, would really be brought.

He then considered that there would be
plenty of time for him to return from his day's
engagement to meet this train. He finished his
breakfast, gave proper and precise directions to
his servant on the preparations that were to be


made for the lady's reception, jumped into his
gig, and drove off to Lord Claydonfield's at

He went along by the front of Knapwater
House. He could not help turning to look at
TS'hat he knew to be the window of Cytherea's
room. Whilst he looked, a hopeless expression
of passionate love and sensuous anguish came
upon his face and lingered there for a few
seconds ; then, as on previous occasions, it was
resolutel}^ repressed, and he trotted along the
smooth white road, again endeavouring to
banish all thought of the young girl whose
beauty and grace had so enslaved him.

Thus it was that when, in the evening of the
same day, Mrs. Manston reached Carriford-Road
Station, her husband was still at Chettlewood
ignorant of her arrival, and on looking up and
down the platform, dreary with autumn gloom
and wind, she could .see no sign that any pre-
paration whatever had been made for her
reception and conduct home.

The train went on. She waited, fido:eted


with the handle of her umbrella, walked about,
strained her eyes into the gloom of the chilly
night, Hstened for wheels, tapped with her foot,
and showed all the usual signs of annoyance and
irritation : she was the more irritated in that
this seemed a second and culminating instance
of her husband's neglect — the first having been
shown in his not fetching her.

Reflecting awhile upon the course it would be
best to take, in order to secure a passage to
Knapwater, she decided to leave all her luggage,
except a carpet-bag, in the cloak-room, and
walk to her husband's house, as she had done
on her first visit. She asked one of the porters

if he could find a lad to 2:0 with her and can



her bag : he offered to do it himself.

The porter was a good-tempered, shallow-
minded, ignorant man. Mrs. Manston, being
apparently in very gloomy spirits, would pro-
bably have preferred walking beside him with-
out saying a word : but her companion would
not allow silence to continue between them for a
longer period than two or three minutes together.


He had volunteered several remarks upon
her arrival, chiefly to the effect that it was very
unfortunate Mr. Manston had not come to the
station for her, when she suddenly asked him
concerning the inhabitants of the parish.
' He told her categorically the names of the
chief — first the chief possessors of property ;
then of brains ; then of good looks. As first
among the latter he mentioned Miss Cytherea

After getting him to describe her appearance
as completely as lay in his power, she wormed
out of him the statement that everybody had
been saying — before Mrs. Manston's existence
w^as heard of — how well the handsome Mr.
Manston and the beautiful Miss Graye were
suited for each other as man and wife, and that
Miss Aldclyffe was the only one in the parish
who took no interest in bringing about the

" He rather liked her you think 1 "
The porter began to think he had been too
explicit, and hastened to correct the error.


"0 no, he doesn't care a bit about her,
madam," he said, solemnly.

" Any more than he does about me \ "

'-' Not a bit."

" Then that must be little indeed," Mrs.
Manston murmured. She stood still, as if
reflecting upon the jDainful neglect her words
had recalled to her mind ; then with a sudden
impulse, turned round, and walked petulantly
a few steps back again in tbe direction of the

The porter stood still and looked surprised.

" I'll go back again, yes, indeed, I'll go back
again ! " she said plaintively. Then she paused
and looked anxiously up and dow^n the deserted

"No, I mustn't go back now,"' she con-
tinued, in a tone of resignation. Seeing that
the porter was watching her, she turned about
and came on as before, giving vent to a slight

It was a laugh full of character ; the low^
forced laugh which seeks to hide the painful


perception of a humiliating position under the
mask of indifference.

Altogether her conduct had shown her to be
what in fact she was, a weak, though a calcu-
lating woman, one clever to conceive, weak to
execute : one whose best-laid schemes were for
ever liable to be frustrated by the ineradicable
blight of vacillation at the critical hour of

" if I had only known that all this was
going to happen ! " she murmured again, as
they paced along upon the rustling leaves.

" What did you say, madam 1 '' said the

" nothing particular ; we are getting near
the old manor-house by this time, I imagine 1 "

" Very near now, madam."

They soon reached Manston's residence,
round which the wind blew mournfully and

Passing under the detached gateway, they
entered the porch. The porter stepped for-
ward, knocked heavily, and waited.


Nobody came.

Mrs. Manston then advanced to the door and
gave a different series of rappings — less forcible,
but more sustained.

There ^as not a movement of any kind
inside, not a ray of light visible ; nothing but
the echo of her own knocks through the pas-
sages, and the dry scratching of the withered
leaves blown about her feet upon the floor of
the porch.

The steward, of course, was not at home.
Mrs. Crickett, not expecting that anybody
would arrive till the time of the later train,
had set the place in order, laid the supper-
table, and then locked the door, to go into the
village and converse with her friends.

" Is there an inn in the village 1 " said Mrs.
Manston, after the fourth and loudest rapping
upon the iron-studded old door had resulted
only in the fourth and loudest echo from the
passages inside.

" Yes, madam.''

" Who keeps it 1 "


" Farmer Springrove/'

" I will go there to-night," she said, de-
cisivel3\ " It is too cold, and altogether too
bad, for a woman to wait in the open road on
anybody's account, gentle or simple."

They went down the park and through the
gate, into the village of Carriford. By the
time they reached the Three Tranters, it was
verging upon ten o'clock. There, on the spot
where two months earlier in the season the
sunny and lively group of villagers making
cider under the trees had greeted Cytherea's
eyes, was nothing now intelligible but a vast
cloak of darkness, from which came the low
sough of the elms, and the occasional creak of
the swino-ino; si2;n.

o o o

They went to the door, Mrs. Mansion shiver-
ing ; but less from the cold, than from the
dreariness of her emotions. Neglect is the
coldest of winter winds.

It so happened that Edward Sprin grove was
expected to arrive from London either on that
evening or the next, and at the sound of voices,


his father came to the door fully expecting to
see him. A picture of disappointment seldom
witnessed in a man's face was visible in old Mr.
Springrove's, when he saw that the comer was
a stranger.

Mrs. Manston asked for a room, and one
that had been prepared for Edward was im-
mediately named as being ready for her,
another being adaptable for Edward, should he
come in.

Without partaking of any refreshment, or
entering any room downstairs, or even lifting
her veil, she walked straight along the passage
and up to her apartment, the chambermaid
preceding her.

" If Mr. Manston comes to-night," she said,
sitting on the bed as she had come in, and
addressing the woman, "tell him I cannot see

" Yes, madam."

The woman left the room, and Mrs. Manston
locked the door. Before the servant had gone
down more than two or three stairs, Mrs.


Manston unfastened the door again, and held
it ajar.

" Bring me some brandy/' she said.

The chambermaid went down to the bar and
brought up the spirit in a tumbler. When she
came into the room, Mrs. Manston had not
removed a single article of apj^arel, and was
walking up and down, as if still quite undecided
upon the course it was best to adopt.

Outside the door, when it was closed
upon her, the maid paused to listen for an
instant. She heard Mrs. Manston talking to

" This is welcome home ! " she said.

§ 2. From ten to half-past eleven, p.m.

A strange concurrence of phenomena now
confronts us.

During the autumn in which the past scenes
were enacted, Mr. Springrove had ploughed,
harrowed, and cleaned a narrow and shaded
piece of ground, Ijing at the back of his house,


which for many years had been looked upon as
irreclaimable Tvaste.

The couch-grass extracted from the soil had
been left to wither in the sun ; afterwards it
was raked together, hghted in the customary
way, and now lay smouldering in a large heap
in the middle of the plot.

It had been kindled three days previous to
Mrs. Manston's arrival, and one or two villagers,
of a more cautious and less sanguine tempera-
ment than Springrove, had suggested that the
fire was almost too near the back of the house
for its continuance to be unattended with risk ;
for though no danger could be apprehended
whilst the air remained moderately still, a brisk
breeze blowing towards the house might possibly
carry a spark across.

"Ay, that's true enough,'' said Springrove.
" I must look round before going to bed and see
that everything's safe ; but to tell the truth I am
anxious to get the rubbish burnt up before the
rain comes to wash it into ground again. As to
carrying the couch into the back field to burn,


and bringing it back ngain, ^^hy 'tis more than
the ashes would be worth."

" Well, that's very true/' said the neighbours,
and passed on.

Two or three times during the first evening-
after the heap was lit, he went to the back door
to take a survey. Before bolting and barring
up for the night, he made a final and more
careful examination. The slowly-smoking pile
showed not the shghtest signs of activity.

Springrove's perfectly sound conclusion was,
that as long as the heap was not stirred, and
the vrind continued in the quarter it blew from
then, the couch would not flame, and that there
could be no shadow of danger to anything, even
a combustible substance, and if it were no more
than a yard off.

The next morning the burning couch was
discovered in precisely the same state as when
he had gone to bed the preceding night. The
heap smoked in the same manner the whole of
that day : at bed-time the farmer looked towards
it, but less carefully than on the first night.


The morning and the whole of the third day
still saw the heap in its old smouldering condi-
tion ; indeed, the smoke was less, and there
seemed a probability that it might have to be
re-kindled on the morrow.

After admitting Mrs. Manston to his house
in the evening, and hearing her retire, Mr.
Springrove returned to the front door to listen
for a sound of his son, and inquired concerning
him of the railway-porter, who sat for a while
in the kitchen.

The porter had not noticed young 'Mv. Sprin-
grove get out of the train, at which intelligence
the old man concluded that he would probably
not see his son till the next day, as Edward had
hitherto made a point of coming by the train
which brought Mrs. Manston.

Half an hour later the porter left the inn,
Springrove at the same time going to the door
to listen again for an instant, then he walked
round and in at the back of the house.

The farmer glanced at the heap casually and
indifferently in passing ; two nights of safety



seemed to ensure the third ; and he was about
to bolt and bar as usual, wlien the idea struck
him that there was just a possibility of his son's
return by the latest train, unlikely as it was
that he would be so delayed.

The old man thereupon left the door un-
fastened, looked to his usual matters indoors,
and then went to bed. This was at half-past
ten o'clock.

Farmers and horticulturists well know that it
is the nature of a heap of couch-grass, when
kindled in calm weather, to smoulder for many
days, and even weeks, until the whole mass is
reduced to a powdery charcoal ash, displaying
the while scarcely a sign of combustion beyond
the volcano-like smoke from its summit ; but
the continuance of this quiet process is through-
out its length at the mercy of one particular
freak of Nature : that is, a sudden breeze, by
which the heap is liable to be fanned into a
flame so brisk as to consume the whole in an
hour or two.

Had the farmer narrowly watched the pile


when he went to close the door, he would have
seen, besides the familiar twine of smoke from
its summit, a quivering of the air around the
mass, showing that a considerable heat had
arisen inside.

As the railway-porter turned the corner
of the row of houses adjoining the Three
Tranters, a brisk new wind greeted his face,
and spread past him into the village. He
walked along the high-road till he came
to a gate, about three hundred yards from
the inn. Over the gate could be discerned
the situation of the building he had just

He carelessly turned his head in passing, and
saw behind him a clear red glow indicating the
position of the couch-heap : a glow without a
flame, increasing and diminishing in brightness
as the breeze quickened or fell, like the coal of a
newly-lighted cigar. If those cottages had been
his, he thought, he should not care to have a fire
so near to them as that — and the wind rising.
But the cottages not being his, he went on his

F 2


way to tlie station, where he was about to
resume duty for the night.

The road was now quite deserted : till four
o'clock the next morning, when the carters
would go by to the stables, there was little
probabihty of any human being passing the
Three Tranters Inn.

By eleven, everybody in the house was asleep.
It truly seemed as if the treacherous element
knew there had arisen a grand opportunity for

At a quarter-past eleven a slight stealthy
crackle made itself heard amid the increasing
moans of the night wind ; the heap glowed
brighter still, and burst into a flame ; the flame
sank, another breeze entered it, sustained it,
and it grew to be first continuous and weak,
then continuous and strong.

At twenty minutes past eleven a . blast of
wind carried an airy bit of ignited fern several
yards forward, in a direction parallel to the
houses and inn, and there deposited it on tlie


Five minutes later another puif of wind
carried a similar piece to a distance of five-and-
twenty yards, where it also was dropped softly
on the ground.

Still the wind did not blow in the direction
of the houses, and even now to a casual
observer they would have appeared safe.

But Nature does few things directly. A
minute later still, an ignited fragment fell upon
the straw covering of a long thatched heap or
" grave ^' of mangel-wurzel, lying in a direc-
tion at right angles to the house, and down
toward the hedge. There the fragment faded
to darkness.

A short time subsequent to this, after many
intermediate deposits and seemingly baffled
attempts, another fragment fell on the mangel-
wurzel grave, and continued to glow ; the glow
was increased by the wind ; the straw caught
fire and burst into flame. It was inevitable
that the flame should run along the ridge of the
thatch towards a piggery at the end. Yet had
the piggery been tiled, the time-honoured


hostel would even now at this last moment have
been safe ; but it was constructed as piggeries
are mostly constructed, of wood and thatch.
The hurdles and straw roof of the frail erection
became ignited in their turn, and abutting as
the shed did on the back of the inn, flamed up
to the eaves of the main roof in less than thirty

§ 3. Half -past eleven to tivelve, p.m.

A hazardous length of time elapsed before
the inmates of the Three Tranters knew of
their danger. When at length the discovery
was made, the rush was a rush for bare life.

A man's voice calling, then screams, then
loud stamping and shouts were heard.

Mr. Springrove ran out first. Two minutes
later appeared the ostler and chambermaid,
who were man and wife. The inn, as has been
stated, was a quaint old building, and as inflam-
mable as a bee-hive ; it overhung the base at
the level of the first floor, and again overhung


at the eaves, which were finished with heavy
oak barge-boards ; every atom in its substance,
every feature in its construction, favoured the

The forked flames, lurid and smoky, became
nearly lost to view, bursting forth again with a
bound and loud crackle, increased tenfold in
power and brightness. The crackling grew
sharper. Long quivering shadows began to be
flung from the stately trees at the end of the
house ; the square outline of the church tower,
on the other side of the way, which had hitherto
been a dark mass against a sky comparatively
light, now began to appear as a light object
against a sky of darkness ; and even the narrow
surface of the flag-staff* at the top could be seen
in its dark surrounding, brought out from its
obscurity by the rays from the dancing light.

Shouts and other noises increased in loud-
ness and frequency. The lapse of ten minutes
brought most of the inhabitants of that end of
the village into the street, followed in a short
time by the rector.


Casting a hasty glance up and down, he
beckoned to one or two of the men, and
vanished again. In a short time wheels were
heard, and Mr. Raunham and the men re-
appeared with the garden engine, the only one
in the village, except that at Knapwater House.
After some little trouble the hose was connected
with a tank in the old stable-yard, and the
puny instrument began to play.

Several seemed paralysed at first, and stood
transfixed, their rigid faces looking like red-
hot iron in the glaring light. In the con-
fusion a woman cried, " Ring the bells back-
wards ! " and three or four of the old and
superstitious entered the belfry and jangled
them indescribably. Some were only half-
dressed, and, to add to the horror, among them
was Clerk Cricket t, running up and down with
a face streaming with blood, ghastly and pitiful
to see, his excitement being so great that he
had not the slightest conception of how, when,
or where, he came by the w^ound.

The crowd was now busy at work, and tried


to save a little of the furniture of the inn. The
only room they could enter vras the parlour,
from which they managed to bring out the
bureau, a few chairs, some old silver candle-
sticks, and half-a-dozen light articles ; but these
were all.

Fier}^ mats of thatch slid off the roof and fell
into the road w4th a deadened thud, whilst white
flakes of straw^ and w^ood-ash were flying in the
wind like feathers. At the same time two of
the cottages adjoining, upon wdiich a little water
had been brought to play from the rector's
eno-ine, were seen to be on fire. The attenuated
spirt of water w^as as nothing upon the heated
and dry surface of the thatched roof ; the fire
prevailed without a minute's hindrance, and
dived through to the rafters.

Suddenly arose a cry, "Where's Mr. Sprin-
grove '? ''

He had vanished from the spot by the
churchyard wall, on wdiich he had been stand-
ing a few minutes earlier.

" I fancy he's gone inside," said a voice.


" Madness and folly, what can he save ! "
said another ; " Good God, find him ! Help
here ! ''

A wild rush was made at the door, which
had fallen to, and in defiance of the scorching
flame that burst forth, three men forced them-
selves through it. Immediately inside the thres-
hold they found the object of their search, lying
senseless on the floor of the passage.

To bring him out and lay him on a bank was
the work of an instant ; a basin of cold water
was dashed in his face, and he began to recover
consciousness, but very slowly. He had been
saved by a miracle. No sooner were his pre-
servers out of the building than the window-
frames lit up as if by magic with deep and
waving fringes of flames. Simultaneously, the
joints of the boards forming the front door
started into view as glowing bars of fire ; a star
of red light penetrated the centre, gradually
increasins; in size till the flames rushed forth.

Then the staircase fell.

" Everybody is out safe," said a voice.


" Yes, thank God!" said three or four others.

" Oh, we forgot that a stranger came ! I
think she is safe."

" I hope she is,'' said the weak voice of some
one coming up from loehind. It was the

Springrove at that moment aroused himself ;
he staggered to his feet, and threw his hand up

" Everybody, no ! no ! The lady who came
by train, Mrs. Mansion ! I tried to fetch her
out, but I fell."

An exclamation of horror burst from the
crowd ; it was caused partly by this disclosure
of Springrove, more by the added perception
which followed his words.

An average interval of about three minutes
had elapsed between one intensely fierce gust
of wind and the next, and now another poured
over them ; the roof swayed, and a moment

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Online LibraryThomas HardyDesperate remedies : a novel. In three volumes (Volume 2) → online text (page 3 of 12)