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Desperate Remedies

6. The Events Of Twelve Hours
1. AUGUST THE NINTH. ONE TO TWO O'CLOCK A.M.
Cytherea entered her bedroom, and flung herself on the, bed, bewildered by a
whirl of thought. Only one subject was clear in her mind, and it was that, in spite
of family discoveries, that day was to be the first and last of her experience as a
lady's-maid. Starvation itself should not compel her to hold such a humiliating
post for another instant. 'Ah,' she thought, with a sigh, at the martyrdom of her
last little fragment of self-conceit, 'Owen knows everything better than I.'
She jumped up and began making ready for her departure in the morning, the
tears streaming down when she grieved and wondered what practical matter on
earth she could turn her hand to next. All these preparations completed, she
began to undress, her mind unconsciously drifting away to the contemplation of
her late surprises. To look in the glass for an instant at the reflection of her own
magnificent resources in face and bosom, and to mark their attractiveness
unadorned, was perhaps but the natural action of a young woman who had so
lately been chidden whilst passing through the harassing experience of
decorating an older beauty of Miss Aldclyffe's temper.
But she directly checked her weakness by sympathizing reflections on the hidden
troubles which must have thronged the past years of the solitary lady, to keep
her, though so rich and courted, in a mood so repellent and gloomy as that in
which Cytherea found her; and then the young girl marvelled again and again, as
she had marvelled before, at the strange confluence of circumstances which had
brought herself into contact with the one woman in the world whose history was
so romantically intertwined with her own. She almost began to wish she were not
obliged to go away and leave the lonely being to loneliness still.
In bed and in the dark, Miss Aldclyffe haunted her mind more persistently than
ever. Instead of sleeping, she called up staring visions of the possible past of this
queenly lady, her mother's rival. Up the long vista of bygone years she saw,
behind all, the young girl's flirtation, little or much, with the cousin, that seemed to
have been nipped in the bud, or to have terminated hastily in some way. Then
the secret meetings between Miss Aldclyffe and the other woman at the little inn
at Hammersmith and other places: the commonplace name she adopted: her
swoon at some painful news, and the very slight knowledge the elder female had
of her partner in mystery. Then, more than a year afterwards, the
acquaintanceship of her own father with this his first love; the awakening of the
passion, his acts of devotion, the unreasoning heat of his rapture, her tacit
acceptance of it, and yet her uneasiness under the delight. Then his declaration
amid the evergreens: the utter change produced in her manner thereby,
seemingly the result of a rigid determination: and the total concealment of her
reason by herself and her parents, whatever it was. Then the lady's course
dropped into darkness, and nothing more was visible till she was discovered here
at Knapwater, nearly fifty years old, still unmarried and still beautiful, but lonely,
embittered, and haughty. Cytherea imagined that her father's image was still
warmly cherished in Miss Aldclyffe's heart, and was thankful that she herself had
 
 
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