Thomas Hardy.

The writings of Thomas Hardy in prose and verse, with prefaces and notes (Volume 9) online

. (page 6 of 20)
Online LibraryThomas HardyThe writings of Thomas Hardy in prose and verse, with prefaces and notes (Volume 9) → online text (page 6 of 20)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


the pews that the lady coloured up more than ever
for very shame at the noise, and pulled it in to keep
it from touching ; but when she pushed into her seat,
it whewed more than ever. Mr. Lodge, he seemed
pleased, and his waistcoat stuck out, and his great
golden seals hung like a lord's ; but she seemed to
wish her noisy gownd anywhere but on her.'

' Not she ! However, that will do now.'

These descriptions of the newly-married couple
were continued from time to time by the boy at his
mother's request, after any chance encounter he had
had with them. But Rhoda Brook, though she might
easily have seen young Mrs. Lodge for herself by
walking a couple of miles, would never attempt an

75



WESSEX TALES

excursion towards the quarter where the farmhouse
lay. Neither did she, at the daily milking in the
dairyman's yard on Lodge's outlying second farm,
ever speak on the subject of the recent marriage.
The dairyman, who rented the cows of Lodge,
and knew perfectly the tall milkmaid's history, with
manly kindliness always kept the gossip in the cow-
barton from annoying Rhoda. But the atmosphere
thereabout was full of the subject during the first days
of Mrs. Lodge's arrival ; and from her boy's descrip-
tion and the casual words of the other milkers, Rhoda
Brook could raise a mental image of the unconscious
Mrs. Lodge that was realistic as a photograph.



A VISION
III

ONE night, two or three weeks after the bridal return,
when the boy was gone to bed, Rhoda sat a long time
over the turf ashes that she had raked out in front of
her to extinguish them. She contemplated so intently
the new wife, as presented to her in her mind's eye
over the embers, that she forgot the lapse of time.
At last, wearied with her day's work, she too retired.

But the figure which had occupied her so much
during this and the previous days was not to be
banished at night. For the first time Gertrude Lodge
visited the supplanted woman in her dreams. Rhoda
Brook dreamed since her assertion that she really
saw, before falling asleep, was not to be believed
that the young wife, in the pale silk dress and white
bonnet, but with features shockingly distorted, and
wrinkled as by age, was sitting upon her chest as she
lay. The pressure of Mrs. Lodge's person grew
heavier ; the blue eyes peered cruelly into her face ;
and then the figure thrust forward its left hand
mockingly, so as to make the wedding-ring it wore
glitter in Rhoda's eyes. Maddened mentally, and
nearly suffocated by pressure, the sleeper struggled ;
the incubus, still regarding her, withdrew to the foot
of the bed, only, however, to come forward by degrees,
resume her seat, and flash her left hand as before.

Gasping for breath, Rhoda, in a last desperate
effort, swung out her right hand, seized the confront-

77



WESSEX TALES

ing spectre by its obtrusive left arm, and whirled it
backward to the floor, starting up herself as she did
so with a low cry.

' O, merciful heaven ! ' she cried, sitting on the
edge of the bed in a cold sweat ; ' that was not a
dream she was here ! '

She could feel her antagonist's arm within her
grasp even now the very flesh and bone of it, as it
seemed. She looked on the floor whither she had
whirled the spectre, but there was nothing to be
seen.

Rhoda Brook slept no more that night, and when
she went milking at the next dawn they noticed how
pale and haggard she looked. The milk that she
drew quivered into the pail ; her hand had not calmed
even yet, and still retained the feel of the arm. She
came home to breakfast as wearily as if it had been
supper-time.

'What was that noise in your chimmer, mother,
last night ? ' said her son. ' You fell off the bed,
surely ? '

' Did you hear anything fall ? At what time ? '

'Just when the clock struck two.'

She could not explain, and when the meal was
done went silently about her household work, the boy
assisting her, for he hated going afield on the farms,
and she indulged his reluctance. Between eleven and
twelve the garden-gate clicked, and she lifted her eyes
to the window. At the bottom of the garden, within
the gate, stood the woman of her vision. Rhoda
seemed transfixed.

' Ah, she said she would come ! ' exclaimed the
boy, also observing her.

' Said so when ? How does she know us ? '

' I have seen and spoken to her. I talked to her
yesterday.'

1 1 told you,' said the mother, flushing indignantly,
' never to speak to anybody in that house, or go near
the place.'

78



THE WITHERED ARM

' I did not speak to her till she spoke to me.
And I did not go near the place. I met her in the
road.'

' What did you tell her ?

' Nothing. She said, " Are you the poor boy who
had to bring the heavy load from market ? " And she
looked at my boots, and said they would not keep my
feet dry if it came on wet, because they were so
cracked. I told her I lived with my mother, and we
had enough to do to keep ourselves, and that's how it
was; and she said then, "I'll come and bring you
some better boots, and see your mother." She gives
away things to other folks in the meads besides us.'

Mrs. Lodge was by this time close to the door
not in her silk, as Rhoda had dreamt of in the bed-
chamber, but in a morning hat, and gown of common
light material, which became her better than silk. On
her arm she carried a basket.

The impression remaining from the night's experi-
ence was still strong. Brook had almost expected to
see the wrinkles, the scorn, and the cruelty on her
visitor's face. She would have escaped an interview,
had escape been possible. There was, however, no
backdoor to the cottage, and in an instant the boy had
lifted the latch to Mrs. Lodge's gentle knock.

' I see I have come to the right house,' said she,
glancing at the lad, and smiling. ' But I was not sure
till you opened the door.'

The figure and action were those of the phantom ;
but her voice was so indescribably sweet, her glance
so winning, her smile so tender, so unlike that of
Rhoda's midnight visitant, that the latter could hardly
believe the evidence of her senses. She was truly
glad that she had not hidden away in sheer aversion,
as she had been inclined to do. In her basket Mrs.
Lodge brought the pair of boots that she had promised
to the boy, and other useful articles.

At these proofs of a kindly feeling towards her
and hers Rhoda's heart reproached her bitterly. This

79



WESSEX TALES

innocent young thing should have her blessing and
not her curse. When she left them a light seemed
gone from the dwelling. Two days later she came
again to know if the boots fitted ; and less than a
fortnight after that paid Rhoda another call. On this
occasion the boy was absent.

'I walk a good deal,' said Mrs. Lodge, 'and your
house is the nearest outside our own parish. I hope
you are well. You don't look quite well.'

Rhoda said she was well enough ; and, indeed,
though the paler of the two, there was more of the
strength that endures in her well-defined features and
large frame than in the soft-cheeked young woman
before her. The conversation became quite con-
fidential as regarded their powers and weaknesses ;
and when Mrs. Lodge was leaving, Rhoda said, ' I
hope you will find this air agree with you, ma'am, and
not suffer from the damp of the water meads.'

The younger one replied that there was not much
doubt of it, her general health being usually good.
'Though, now you remind me,' she added, ' I have
one little ailment which puzzles me. It is nothing
serious, but I cannot make it out.'

She uncovered her left hand and arm ; and their
outline confronted Rhoda's gaze as the exact original
of the limb she had beheld and seized in her dream.
Upon the pink round surface of the arm were faint
marks of an unhealthy colour, as if produced by a
rough grasp. Rhoda's eyes became riveted on the
discolorations ; she fancied that she discerned in them
the shape of her own four fingers.

' How did it happen?' she said mechanically.

' I cannot tell,' replied Mrs. Lodge, shaking her
head. 'One night when I was sound asleep, dreaming
I was away in some strange place, a pain suddenly
shot into my arm there, and was so keen as to awaken
me. I must have struck it in the daytime, I suppose,
though I don't remember doing so.' She added,
laughing, ' I tell my dear husband that it looks just as

80



THE WITHERED ARM

if he had flown into a rage and struck me there. O,
I daresay it will soon disappear.'

' Ha, ha! Yes. . . . On what night did it come? '

Mrs. Lodge considered, and said it would be a
fortnight ago on the morrow. ' When I awoke I
could not remember where I was,' she added, ' till the
clock striking two reminded me.'

She had named the night and the hour of Rhoda's
spectral encounter, and Brook felt like a guilty thing.
The artless disclosure startled her ; she did not reason
on the freaks of coincidence ; and all the scenery of
that ghastly night returned with double vividness to
her mind.

' O, can it be,' she said to herself, when her visitor
had departed, ' that I exercise a malignant power
over people against my own will?' She knew that
she had been slily called a witch since her fall ; but
never having understood why that particular stigma
had been attached to her, it had passed disregarded.
Could this be the explanation, and had such things as
this ever happened before ?



A SUGGESTION
IV

THE summer drew on, and Rhoda Brook almost
dreaded to meet Mrs. Lodge again, notwithstanding
that her feeling for the young wife amounted well-
nigh to affection. Something in her own individuality
seemed to convict Rhoda of crime. Yet a fatality
sometimes would direct the steps of the latter to the
outskirts of Holmstoke whenever she left her house
for any other purpose than her daily work ; and
hence it happened that their next encounter was out
of doors. Rhoda could not avoid the subject which
had so mystified her, and after the first few words she
stammered, ' I hope your arm is well again, ma'am ? J
She had perceived with consternation that Gertrude
Lodge carried her left arm stiffly.

'No; it is not quite well. Indeed it is no better
at all ; it is rather worse. It pains me dreadfully
sometimes.'

' Perhaps you had better go to a doctor, ma'am.'

She replied that she had already seen a doctor.
Her husband had insisted upon her going to one.
But the surgeon had not seemed to understand the
afflicted limb at all ; he had told her to bathe it in
hot water, and she had bathed it, but the treatment
had done no good.

' Will you let me see it ? ' said the milkwoman.

Mrs. Lodge pushed up her sleeve and disclosed
the place, which was a few inches above the wrist.

82




THE WITHERED ARM

As soon as Rhoda Brook saw it, she could hardly
preserve her composure. There was nothing of the
nature of a wound, but the arm at that point had a
shrivelled look, and the outline of the four fingers
appeared more distinct than at the former time.
Moreover, she fancied that they were imprinted in
precisely the relative position of her clutch upon the
arm in the trance ; the first finger towards Gertrude's
wrist, and the fourth towards her elbow.

What the impress resembled seemed to have
struck Gertrude herself since their last meeting. ' It
looks almost like finger-marks,' she said ; adding with
a faint laugh, ' my husband says it is as if some witch,
or the devil himself, had taken hold of me there, and
blasted the flesh.'

Rhoda shivered. 'That's fancy,' she said hurriedly
' I wouldn't mind it, if I were you.'

' I shouldn't so much mind it,' said the younger,
with hesitation, ' if if I hadn't a notion that it makes
my husband dislike me no, love me less. Men
think so much of personal appearance.'

' Some do he for one.'

' Yes ; and he was very proud of mine, at first.'

' Keep your arm covered from his sight.'

' Ah he knows the disfigurement is there ! ' She
tried to hide the tears that filled her eyes.

'Well, ma'am, I earnestly hope it will go away
soon.'

And so the milkwoman's mind was chained anew
to the subject by a horrid sort of spell as she returned
home. The sense of having been guilty of an act
of malignity increased, affect as she might to ridicule
her superstition. In her secret heart Rhoda did not
altogether object to a slight diminution of her
successor's beauty, by whatever means it had come
about ; but she did not wish to inflict upon her
physical pain. For though this pretty young woman
had rendered impossible any reparation which Lodge
might have made Rhoda for his past conduct, every-

83



WESSEX TALES

thing like resentment at the unconscious usurpation
had quite passed away from the elder's mind

If the sweet and kindly Gertrude Lodge only
knew of the dream-scene in the bed-chamber, what
would she think ? Not to inform her of it seemed
treachery in the presence of her friendliness ; but tell
she could not of her own accord neither could she
devise a remedy.

She mused upon the matter the greater part of
the night ; and the next day, after the morning
milking, set out to obtain another glimpse of Gertrude
Lodge if she could, being held to her by a gruesome
fascination. By watching the house from a distance
the milkmaid was presently able to discern the
farmer's wife in a ride she was taking alone probably
to join her husband in some distant field. Mrs.
Lodge perceived her, and cantered in her direction.

' Good morning, Rhoda ! ' Gertrude said, when she
had come up. ' I was going to call.'

Rhoda noticed that Mrs. Lodge held the reins
with some difficulty.

4 1 hope the bad arm,' said Rhoda.

' They tell me there is possibly one way by which
I might be able to find out the cause, and so perhaps
the cure, of it,' replied the other anxiously. ' It is by
going to some clever man over in Egdon Heath.
They did not know if he was still alive and I cannot
remember his name at this moment ; but they said
that you knew more of his movements than anybody
else hereabout, and could tell me if he were still to be
consulted. Dear me what was his name ? But you
know.'

* Not Conjuror Trendle?' said her thin companion,
turning pale.

' Trendle yes. Is he alive ? '

1 1 believe so,' said Rhoda, with reluctance.

' Why do you call him conjuror ? '

' Well they say they used to say he was a he
had powers other folks have not.'

84



THE WITHERED ARM

' O, how could my people be so superstitious as
to recommend a man of that sort ! I thought they
meant some medical man. I shall think no more of
him.'

Rhoda looked relieved, and Mrs. Lodge rode on.
The milkwoman had inwardly seen, from the moment
she heard of her having been mentioned as a refer-
ence for this man, that there must exist a sarcastic
feeling among the work-folk that a sorceress would
know the whereabouts of the exorcist. They sus-
pected her, then. A short time ago this would have
given no concern to a woman of her common-sense.
But she had a haunting reason to be superstitious
now ; and she had been seized with sudden dread
that this Conjuror Trendle might name her as the
malignant influence which was blasting the fair person
of Gertrude, and so lead her friend to hate her for
ever, and to treat her as some fiend in human shape.

But all was not over. Two days after, a shadow
intruded into the window-pattern thrown on Rhoda
Brook's floor by the afternoon sun. The woman
opened the door at once, almost breathlessly.

' Are you alone ? ' said Gertrude. She seemed to
be no less harassed and anxious than Brook herself.

1 Yes,' said Rhoda.

4 The place on my arm seems worse, and troubles
me!' the young farmer's wife went on. 'It is so
mysterious ! I do hope it will not be an incurable
wound. I have again been thinking of what they
said about Conjuror Trendle. I don't really believe
in such men, but I should not mind just visiting
him, from curiosity though on no account must my
husband know. Is it far to where he lives ? '

' Yes five miles,' said Rhoda backwardly. ' In
the heart of Egdon.'

1 Well, I should have to walk. Could not you
go with me to show me the way say to-morrow
afternoon ? '

' O, not I ; that is ,' the milkwoman murmured,

85



WESSEX TALES

with a start of dismay. Again the dread seized her
that something to do with her fierce act in the dream
might be revealed, and her character in the eyes of
the most useful friend she had ever had be ruined
irretrievably.

Mrs. Lodge urged, and Rhoda finally assented,
though with much misgiving. Sad as the journey
would be to her, she could not conscientiously stand in
the way of a possible remedy for her patron's strange
affliction. It was agreed that, to escape suspicion of
their mystic intent, they should meet at the edge of
the heath at the corner of a plantation which was
visible from the spot where they now stood.



CONJUROR TRENDLE



BY the next afternoon Rhoda would have done any-
thing to escape this inquiry. But she had promised
to go. Moreover, there was a horrid fascination at
times in becoming instrumental in throwing such
possible light on her own character as would reveal
her to be something greater in the occult world than
she had ever herself suspected.

She started just before the time of day mentioned
between them, and half -an -hour's brisk walking
brought her to the south-eastern extension of the
Egdon tract of country, where the fir plantation was.
A slight figure, cloaked and veiled, was already there.
Rhoda recognized, almost with a shudder, that Mrs.
Lodge bore her left arm in a sling.

They hardly spoke to each other, and immediately
set out on their climb into the interior of this solemn
country, which stood high above the rich alluvial soil
they had left half -an -hour before. It was a long
walk ; thick clouds made the atmosphere dark, though
it was as yet only early afternoon ; and the wind
howled dismally over the slopes of the heath not
improbably the same heath which had witnessed the
agony of the Wessex King Ina, presented to after-
ages as Lear. Gertrude Lodge talked most, Rhoda
replying with monosyllabic preoccupation. She had
a strange dislike to walking on the side of her com-
panion where hung the afflicted arm, moving round to

87



WESSEX TALES

the other when inadvertently near it. Much heather
had been brushed by their feet when they descended
upon a cart-track, beside which stood the house of
the man they sought.

He did not profess his remedial practices openly,
or care anything about their continuance, his direct
interests being those of a dealer in furze, turf, ' sharp
sand,' and other local products. Indeed, he affected
not to believe largely in his own powers, and when
warts that had been shown him for cure miraculously
disappeared which it must be owned they infallibly
did he would say lightly, ' O, I only drink a glass
of grog upon 'em at your expense perhaps it's all
chance,' and immediately turn the subject.

He was at home when they arrived, having in fact
seen them descending into his valley. He was a
gray-bearded man, with a reddish face, and he looked
singularly at Rhoda the first moment he beheld her.
Mrs. Lodge told him her errand ; and then with
words of self-disparagement he examined her arm.

' Medicine can't cure it,' he said promptly. ' 'Tis
the work of an enemy.'

Rhoda shrank into herself, and drew back.

' An enemy ? What enemy ? ' asked Mrs. Lodge.

He shook his head. ' That's best known to your-
self,' he said. ' If you like, I can show the person to
you, though I shall not myself know who it is. I can
do no more ; and don't wish to do that.'

She pressed him ; on which he told Rhoda to wait
outside where she stood, and took Mrs. Lodge into
the room. It opened immediately from the door ;
and, as the latter remained ajar, Rhoda Brook could
see the proceedings without taking part in them. He
brought a tumbler from the dresser, nearly filled it
with water, and fetching an egg, prepared it in some
private way ; after which he broke it on the edge of
the glass, so that the white went in and the yolk
remained. As it was getting gloomy, he took the
glass and its contents to the window, and told

88



THE WITHERED ARM

Gertrude to watch the mixture closely. They leant
over the table together, and the milkwoman could see
the opaline hue of the egg-fluid changing form as it
sank in the water, but she was not near enough to
define the shape that it assumed.

' Do you catch the likeness of any face or figure
as you look ? ' demanded the conjuror of the young
woman.

She murmured a reply, in tones so low as to be
inaudible to Rhoda, and continued to gaze intently
into the glass. Rhoda turned, and walked a few steps
away.

When Mrs. Lodge came out, and her face was
met by the light, it appeared exceedingly pale as
pale as Rhoda's against the sad dun shades of the
upland's garniture. Trendle shut the door behind
her, and they at once started homeward together.
But Rhoda perceived that her companion had quite
changed.

' Did he charge much ? ' she asked tentatively.

' O no nothing. He would not take a farthing,'
said Gertrude.

' And what did you see ? ' inquired Rhoda.

1 Nothing I care to speak of.' The constraint in
her manner was remarkable ; her face was so rigid as
to wear an oldened aspect, faintly suggestive of the
face in Rhoda's bed-chamber.

1 Was it you who first proposed coming here ? '
Mrs. Lodge suddenly inquired, after a long pause.
' How very odd, if you did ! '

' No. But I am not sorry we have come, all
things considered,' she replied. For the first time a
sense of triumph possessed her, and she did not
altogether deplore that the young thing at her side
should learn that their lives had been antagonized by
other influences than their own.

The subject was no more alluded to during the
long and dreary walk home. But in some way or
other a story was whispered about the many-dairied

89



WESSEX TALES

lowland that winter that Mrs. Lodge's gradual loss of
the use of her left arm was owing to her being ' over-
looked ' by Rhoda Brook. The latter kept her own
counsel about the incubus, but her face grew sadder
and thinner ; and in the spring she and her boy
disappeared from the neighbourhood of Holmstoke.



A SECOND ATTEMPT

VI

HALF a dozen years passed away, and Mr. and Mrs.
Lodge's married experience sank into prosiness, and
worse. The farmer was usually gloomy and silent :
the woman whom he had wooed for her grace and
beauty was contorted and disfigured in the left limb ;
moreover, she had brought him no child, which
rendered it likely that he would be the last of a family
who had occupied that valley for some two hundred
years. He thought of Rhoda Brook and her son ;
and feared this might be a judgment from heaven
upon him.

The once blithe-hearted and enlightened Gertrude
was changing into an irritable, superstitious woman,
whose whole time was given to experimenting upon
her ailment with every quack remedy she came across.
She was honestly attached to her husband, and was
ever secretly hoping against hope to win back his
heart again by regaining some at least of her personal
beauty. Hence it arose that her closet was lined
with bottles, packets, and ointment -pots of every
description nay, bunches of mystic herbs, charms,
and books of necromancy, which in her schoolgirl
time she would have ridiculed as folly.

' Damned if you won't poison yourself with these
apothecary messes and witch mixtures some time or
other,' said her husband, when his eye chanced to fall
upon the multitudinous array.

01



WESSEX TALES

She did not reply, but turned her sad, soft glance
upon him in such heart-swollen reproach that he
looked sorry for his words, and added, ' I only meant
it for your good, you know, Gertrude.'

' I'll clear out the whole lot, and destroy them,'
said she huskily, ' and try such remedies no more ! '

' You want somebody to cheer you,' he observed.
' I once thought of adopting a boy ; but he is too old
now. And he is gone away I don't know where.'

She guessed to whom he alluded ; for Rhoda
Brook's story had in the course of years become known
to her ; though not a word had ever passed between
her husband and herself on the subject. Neither had
she ever spoken to him of her visit to Conjuror
Trendle, and of what was revealed to her, or she
thought was revealed to her, by that solitary heath-
man.

She was now five-and-twenty ; but she seemed
older. ' Six years of marriage, and only a few months
of love,' she sometimes whispered to herself. And
then she thought of the apparent cause, and said, with
a tragic glance at her withering limb, ' If I could only


1 2 3 4 6 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20

Online LibraryThomas HardyThe writings of Thomas Hardy in prose and verse, with prefaces and notes (Volume 9) → online text (page 6 of 20)