Thomas Hardy.

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

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again be as I was when he first saw me ! '

She obediently destroyed her nostrums and charms;
but there remained a hankering wish to try something
else some other sort of cure altogether. She had
never revisited Trendle since she had been conducted
to the house of the solitary by Rhoda against her will ;
but it now suddenly occurred to Gertrude that she
would, in a last desperate effort at deliverance from
this seeming curse, again seek out the man, if he yet
lived. He was entitled to a certain credence, for
the indistinct form he had raised in the glass had
undoubtedly resembled the only woman in the world
who as she now knew, though not then could have
a reason for bearing her ill-will. The visit should
be paid.

This time she went alone, though she nearly got
lost on the heath, and roamed a considerable distance



out of her way. Treadle's house was reached at last,
however : he was not indoors, and instead of waiting
at the cottage, she went to where his bent figure was
pointed out to her at work a long way off. Trendle
remembered her, and laying down the handful of
furze-roots which he was gathering and throwing into
a heap, he offered to accompany her in her homeward
direction, as the distance was considerable and the
days were short. So they walked together, his head
bowed nearly to the earth, and his form of a colour
with it.

, ' You can send away warts and other excrescences,
I know,' she said ; ' why can't you send away this ? '
And the arm was uncovered.

'You think too much of my powers!' said Trendle;
1 and I am old and weak now, too. No, no ; it is too
much for me to attempt in my own person. What
have ye tried ? '

She named to him some of the hundred medica-
ments and counterspells which she had adopted from
time to time. He shook his head.

' Some were good enough,' he said approvingly ;
' but not many of them for such as this. This is of
the nature of a blight, not of the nature of a wound ;
and if you ever do throw it off, it will be all at once.'

'If I only could!'

' There is only one chance of doing it known to
me. It has never failed in kindred afflictions, that
I can declare. But it is hard to carry out, and
especially for a woman.'

' Tell me ! ' said she.

' You must touch with the limb the neck of a man
who's been hanged.'

She started a little at the image he had raised.

' Before he's cold just after he's cut down,' con-
tinued the conjuror impassively.

' How can that do good ? '

' It will turn the blood and change the constitution.
But, as I say, to do it is hard. You must go to the



jail when there's a hanging, and wait for him when
he's brought off the gallows. Lots have done it,
though perhaps not such pretty women as you. I
used to send dozens for skin complaints. But that
was in former times. The last I sent was in '13
near twelve years ago.'

He had no more to tell her ; and, when he had
put her into a straight track homeward, turned and
left her, refusing all money as at first.


THE communication sank deep into Gertrude's mind.
Her nature was rather a timid one ; and probably
of all remedies that the white wizard could have
suggested there was not one which would have filled
her with so much aversion as this, not to speak of the
immense obstacles in the way of its adoption.

Casterbridge, the county- town, was a dozen or
fifteen miles off; and though in those days, when men
were executed for horse-stealing, arson, and burglary,
an assize seldom passed without a hanging, it was
not likely that she could get access to the body of the
criminal unaided. And the fear of her husband's
anger made her reluctant to breathe a word of
Trendle's suggestion to him or to anybody about him.

She did nothing for months, and patiently bore her
disfigurement as before. But her woman's nature,
craving for renewed love, through the medium of
renewed beauty (she was but twenty-five), was ever
stimulating her to try what, at any rate, could hardly
do her any harm. 'What came by a spell will go
by a spell surely,' she would say. Whenever her
imagination pictured the act she shrank in terror from
the possibility of it : then the words of the conjuror,
' It will turn your blood,' were seen to be capable
of a scientific no less than a ghastly interpretation ;
the mastering desire returned, and urged her on


There was at this time but one county paper, and
that her husband only occasionally borrowed. But
old-fashioned days had old-fashioned means, and
news was extensively conveyed by word of mouth
from market to market, or from fair to fair, so that,
whenever such an event as an execution was about
to take place, few within a radius of twenty miles
were ignorant of the coming sight ; and, so far as
Holmstoke was concerned, some enthusiasts had been
known to walk all the way to Casterbridge and back
in one day, solely to witness the spectacle. The next
assizes were in March ; and when Gertrude Lodge
hteard that they had been held, she inquired stealthily
at the inn as to the result, as soon as she could find

She was, however, too late. The time at which
the sentences were to be carried out had arrived, and
to make the journey and obtain admission at such
short notice required at least her husband's assistance.
She dared not tell him, for she had found by delicate
experiment that these smouldering village beliefs
made him furious if mentioned, partly because he half
entertained them himself. It was therefore necessary
to wait for another opportunity.

Her determination received a fillip from learning
that two epileptic children had attended from this
very village of Holmstoke many years before with
beneficial results, though the experiment had been
strongly condemned by the neighbouring clergy.
April, May, June, passed ; and it is no overstatement
to say that by the end of the last-named month
Gertrude well-nigh longed for the death of a fellow-
creature. Instead of her formal prayers each night,
her unconscious prayer was, ' O Lord, hang some
guilty or innocent person soon ! '

This time she made earlier inquiries, and was
altogether more systematic in her proceedings. More-
over, the season was summer, between the haymaking
and the harvest, and in the leisure thus afforded him



her husband had been holiday - taking away from

The assizes were in July, and she went to the inn
as before. There was to be one execution only one
for arson.

Her greatest problem was not how to get to
Casterbridge, but what means she should adopt for
obtaining admission to the jail. Though access for
such purposes had formerly never been denied, the
custom had fallen into desuetude ; and in contemplat-
ing her possible difficulties, she was again almost
driven to fall back upon her husband. But, on
sounding him about the assizes, he was so uncom-
municative, so more than usually cold, that she did
not proceed, and decided that whatever she did she
would do alone.

Fortune, obdurate hitherto, showed her unexpected
favour. On the Thursday before the Saturday fixed
for the execution, Lodge remarked to her that he was
going away from home for another day or two on
business at a fair, and that he was sorry he could not
take her with him.

She exhibited on this occasion so much readiness
to stay at home that he looked at her in surprise.
Time had been when she would have shown deep
disappointment at the loss of such a jaunt. However,
he lapsed into his usual taciturnity, and on the day
named left Holmstoke.

It was now her turn. She at first had thought
of driving, but on reflection held that driving would
not do, since it would necessitate her keeping to the
turnpike-road, and so increase by tenfold the risk of
her ghastly errand being found out. She decided to
ride, and avoid the beaten track, notwithstanding that
in her husband's stables there was no animal just at
present which by any stretch of imagination could be
considered a lady's mount, in spite of his promise
before marriage to always keep a mare for her. He
had, however, many cart-horses, fine ones of their



kind ; and among the rest was a serviceable creature,
an equine Amazon, with a back as broad as a sofa,
on which Gertrude had occasionally taken an airing
when unwell. This horse she chose.

On Friday afternoon one of the men brought it
round. She was dressed, and before going down
looked at her shrivelled arm. ' Ah ! ' she said to it,
1 if it had not been for you this terrible ordeal would
have been saved me ! '

When strapping up the bundle in which she
carried a few articles of clothing, she took occasion to
say to the servant, ' I take these in case I should not
get back to-night from the person I am going to visit.
Don't be alarmed if I am not in by ten, and close up
the house as usual. I shall be at home to-morrow
for certain.' She meant then to tell her husband
privately : the deed accomplished was not like the
deed projected. He would almost certainly forgive

And then the pretty palpitating Gertrude Lodge
went from her husband's homestead ; but though her
goal was Casterbridge she did not take the direct
route thither through Stickleford. Her cunning
course at first was in precisely the opposite direction.
As soon as she was out of sight, however, she turned
to the left, by a road which led into Egdon, and on
entering the heath wheeled round, and set out in the
true course, due westerly. A more private way down
the county could not be imagined; and as to direction,
she had merely to keep her horse's head to a point a
little to the right of the sun. She knew that she
would light upon a furze-cutter or cottager of some
sort from time to time, from whom she might correct
her bearing.

Though the date was comparatively recent, Egdon
was much less fragmentary in character than now.
The attempts successful and otherwise at cultiva-
tion on the lower slopes, which intrude and break up
the original heath into small detached heaths, had not



been carried far ; Enclosure Acts had not taken effect,
and the banks and fences which now exclude the
cattle of those villagers who formerly enjoyed rights
of commonage thereon, and the carts of those who
had turbary privileges which kept them in firing all
the year round, were not erected. Gertrude, there-
fore, rode along with no other obstacles than the
prickly furze-bushes, the mats of heather, the white
water-courses, and the natural steeps and declivities
of the ground.

Her horse was sure, if heavy-footed and slow, and
though a draught animal, was easy-paced ; had it been
otherwise, she was not a woman who could have
ventured to ride over such a bit of country with a
half-dead arm. It was therefore nearly eight o'clock
when she drew rein to breathe her bearer on the last
outlying high point of heath-land towards Caster-
bridge, previous to leaving Egdon for the cultivated

She halted before a pool called Rushy -pond,
flanked by the ends of two hedges ; a railing ran
through the centre of the pond, dividing it in half.
Over the railing she saw the low green country ; over
the green trees the roofs of the town ; over the roofs
a white flat faade, denoting the entrance to the county
jail. On the roof of this front specks were moving
about ; they seemed to be workmen erecting some-
thing. Her flesh crept. She descended slowly, and
was soon amid corn-fields and pastures. In another
half-hour, when it was almost dusk, Gertrude reached
the White Hart, the first inn of the town on that

Little surprise was excited by her arrival ; farmers'
wives rode on horseback then more than they do now ;
though, for that matter, Mrs. Lodge was not imagined
to be a wife at all ; the innkeeper supposed her some
harum-skarum young woman who had come to attend
'hang-fair' next day. Neither her husband nor her-
self ever dealt in Casterbridge market, so that she



was unknown. While dismounting she beheld a
crowd of boys standing at the door of a harness-
maker's shop just above the inn, looking inside it with
deep interest.

1 What is going on there ? ' she asked of the ostler.

' Making the rope for to-morrow.'

She throbbed responsively, and contracted her

' 'Tis sold by the inch afterwards,' the man con-
tinued. ' I could get you a bit, miss, for nothing, if
you'd like ? '

She hastily repudiated any such wish, all the more
from a curious creeping feeling that the condemned
wretch's destiny was becoming interwoven with her
own ; and having engaged a room for the night, sat
down to think.

Up to this time she had formed but the vaguest
notions about her means of obtaining access to the
prison. The words of the cunning-man returned to
her mind. He had implied that she should use her
beauty, impaired though it was, as a pass-key. In her
inexperience she knew little about jail functionaries ;
she had heard of a high-sheriff and an under-sheriff,
but dimly only. She knew, however, that there must
be a hangman, and to the hangman she determined
to apply.


AT this date, and for several years after, there was a
hangman to almost every jail. Gertrude found, on
inquiry, that the Casterbridge official dwelt in a lonely
cottage by a deep slow river flowing under the cliff on
which the prison buildings were situate the stream
being the self-same one, though she did not know it,
which watered the Stickleford and Holmstoke meads
lower down in its course.

Having changed her dress, and before she had
eaten or drunk for she could not take her ease till
she had ascertained some particulars Gertrude pur-
sued her way by a path along the water-side to the
cottage indicated. Passing thus the outskirts of the
jail, she discerned on the level roof over the gateway
three rectangular lines against the sky, where the
specks had been moving in her distant view ; she
recognized what the erection was, and passed quickly
on. Another hundred yards brought her to the
executioner's house, which a boy pointed out. It
stood close to the same stream, and was hard by a
weir, the waters of which emitted a steady roar.

While she stood hesitating the door opened, and
an old man came forth shading a candle with one
hand. Locking the door on the outside, he turned
to a flight of wooden steps fixed against the end of
the cottage, and began to ascend them, this being
evidently the staircase to his bedroom. Gertrude



hastened forward, but by the time she reached the
foot of the ladder he was at the top. She called to
him loudly enough to be heard above the roar of the
weir ; he looked down and said, ' What d'ye want

' To speak to you a minute/

The candle-light, such as it was, fell upon her im-
ploring, pale, upturned face, and Davies (as the hang-
man was called) backed down the ladder. ' I was just
going to bed,' he said ; ' " Early to bed and early to
rise," but I don't mind stopping a minute for such a
one as you. Come into house.' He reopened the
door, and preceded her to the room within.

The implements of his daily work, which was that
of a jobbing gardener, stood in a corner, and seeing
probably that she looked rural, he said, ' If you want
me to undertake country work I can't come, for I
never leave Casterbridge for gentle nor simple not
I. My real calling is officer of justice,' he added

* Yes, yes ! That's it. To-morrow ! '

' Ah ! I thought so. Well, what's the matter about
that ? 'Tis no use to come here about the knot
folks do come continually, but I tell 'em one knot
is as merciful as another if ye keep it under the ear.
Is the unfortunate man a relation ; or, I should say,
perhaps ' (looking at her dress) ' a person who's been
in your employ ? '

' No. What time is the execution ? '

'The same as usual twelve o'clock, or as soon
after as the London mail-coach gets in. We always
wait for that, in case of a reprieve.'

' O a reprieve I hope not ! ' she said involun-

' Well, hee, hee ! as a matter of business, so do
I ! But still, if ever a young fellow deserved to be
let off, this one does ; only just turned eighteen, and
only present by chance when the rick was fired.
Howsomever, there's not much risk of it, as they are



obliged to make an example of him, there having been
so much destruction of property that way lately.'

' I mean,' she explained, ' that I want to touch him
for a charm, a cure of an affliction, by the advice of a
man who has proved the virtue of the remedy.'

' O yes, miss ! Now I understand. I've had such
people come in past years. But it didn't strike me
that you looked of a sort to require blood-turning.
What's the complaint ? The wrong kind for this, I'll
be bound.'

' My arm.' She reluctantly showed the withered

' Ah ! 'tis all a-scram ! ' said the hangman, examin-
ing it.

' Yes,' said she.

' Well,' he continued, with interest, ' that is the
class o' subject, I'm bound to admit! I like the look
of the wownd ; it is truly as suitable for the cure as
any I ever saw. 'Twas a knowing-man that sent 'ee,
whoever he was.'

' You can contrive for me all that's necessary ? '
she said breathlessly.

1 You should really have gone to the governor of
the jail, and your doctor with 'ee, and given your
name and address that's how it used to be done, if
I recollect. Still, perhaps, I can manage it for a
trifling fee.'

' O, thank you ! I would rather do it this way, as
I should like it kept private.'

' Lover not to know, eh ? '

'No husband.'

'Aha! Very well. I'll get 'ee a touch of the

' Where is it now ? ' she said, shuddering.

' It ? he, you mean ; he's living yet. Just inside
that little small winder up there in the glum.' He
signified the jail on the cliff above.

She thought of her husband and her friends. ' Yes,
of course,' she said ; ' and how am I to proceed ? '



He took her to the door. ' Now, do you be wait-
ing at the little wicket in the wall, that you'll find up
there in the lane, not later than one o'clock. I will
open it from the inside, as I shan't come home to
dinner till he's cut down. Good-night. Be punctual ;
and if you don't want anybody to know 'ee, wear a
veil. Ah once I had such a daughter as you ! '

She went away, and climbed the path above, to
assure herself that she would be able to find the
wicket next day. Its outline was soon visible to her
a narrow opening in the outer wall of the prison
precincts. The steep was so great that, having
reached the wicket, she stopped a moment to breathe ;
and, looking back upon the water-side cot, saw the
hangman again ascending his outdoor staircase. He
entered the loft or chamber to which it led, and in a
few minutes extinguished his light.

The town clock struck ten, and she returned to
the White Hart as she had come.



IT was one o'clock on Saturday. Gertrude Lodge,
having been admitted to the jail as above described,
was sitting in a waiting-room within the second gate,
which stood under a classic archway of ashlar, then
comparatively modern, and bearing the inscription,
'COVNTYJAIL: 1793.' This had been the fa$ade she
saw from the heath the day before. Near at hand
was a passage to the roof on which the gallows stood.

The town was thronged, and the market sus-
pended ; but Gertrude had seen scarcely a soul.
Having kept her room till the hour of the appoint-
ment, she had proceeded to the spot by a way which
avoided the open space below the cliff where the
spectators had gathered ; but she could, even now,
hear the multitudinous babble of their voices, out of
which rose at intervals the hoarse croak of a single
voice uttering the words, ' Last dying speech and
confession ! ' There had been no reprieve, and the
execution was over ; but the crowd still waited to see
the body taken down.

Soon the persistent woman heard a trampling over-
head, then a hand beckoned to her, and, following
directions, she went out and crossed the inner paved
court beyond the gatehouse, her knees trembling so
that she could scarcely walk. . One of her arms was
out of its sleeve, and only covered by her shawl.

On the spot at which she had now arrived were



two trestles, and before she could think of their
purpose she heard heavy feet descending stairs some-
where at her back. Turn her head she would not, or
could not, and, rigid in this position, she was conscious
of a rough coffin passing her shoulder, borne by four
men. It was open, and in it lay the body of a young
man, wearing the smockfrock of a rustic, and fustian
breeches. The corpse had been thrown into the coffin
so hastily that the skirt of the smockfrock was hanging
over. The burden was temporarily deposited on the

By this time the young woman's state was such
that a gray mist seemed to float before her eyes, on
account of which, and the veil she wore, she could
scarcely discern anything : it was as though she had
nearly died, but was held up by a sort of galvanism.

' Now!' said a voice close at hand, and she was
just conscious that the word had been addressed
to her.

By a last strenuous effort she advanced, at the
same time hearing persons approaching behind her.
She bared her poor curst arm ; and Davies, uncover-
ing the face of the corpse, took Gertrude's hand, and
held it so that her arm lay across the dead man's neck,
upon a line the colour of an unripe blackberry, which
surrounded it.

Gertrude shrieked: 'the turn o' the blood,' pre-
dicted by the conjuror, had taken place. But at that
moment a second shriek rent the air of the enclosure :
it was not Gertrude's, and its effect upon her was to
make her start round.

Immediately behind her stood Rhoda Brook, her
face drawn, and her eyes red with weeping. Behind
Rhoda stood Gertrude's own husband ; his counten-
ance lined, his eyes dim, but without a tear.

' D n you ! what are you doing here ? ' he said

' Hussy to come between us and our child now ! '
cried Rhoda. ' This is the meaning of what Satan



showed me in the vision ! You are like her at last ! '
And clutching the bare arm of the younger woman,
she pulled her unresistingly back against the wall.
Immediately Brook had loosened her hold the fragile
young Gertrude slid down against the feet of her
husband. When he lifted her up she was unconscious.

The mere sight of the twain had been enough to
suggest to her that the dead young man was Rhoda's
son. At that time the relatives of an executed
convict had the privilege of claiming the body for
burial, if they chose to do so ; and it was for this
purpose that Lodge was awaiting the inquest with
Rhoda. He had been summoned by her as soon as
the young man was taken in the crime, and at
different times since ; and he had attended in court
during the trial. This was the ' holiday ' he had been
indulging in of late. The two wretched parents had
wished to avoid exposure ; and hence had come
themselves for the body, a waggon and sheet for its
conveyance and covering being in waiting outside.

Gertrude's case was so serious that it was deemed
advisable to call to her the surgeon who was at hand.
She was taken out of the jail into the town ; but she
never reached home alive. Her delicate vitality,
sapped perhaps by the paralyzed arm, collapsed under
the double shock that followed the severe strain,
physical and mental, to which she had subjected her-
self during the previous twenty-four hours. Her
blood had been ' turned ' indeed too far. Her death
took place in the town three days after.

Her husband was never seen in Casterbridge
again ; once only in the old market-place at Angle-
bury, which he had so much frequented, and very
seldom in public anywhere. Burdened at first with
moodiness and remorse, he eventually changed for the
better, and appeared as a chastened and thoughtful
man. Soon after attending the funeral of his poor
young wife he took steps towards giving up the farms
in Holmstoke and the adjoining parish, and, having



sold every head of his stock, he went away to Port-
Bredy, at the other end of the county, living there in
solitary lodgings till his death two years later of a
painless decline. It was then found that he had
bequeathed the whole of his not inconsiderable
property to a reformatory for boys, subject to the
payment of a small annuity to Rhoda Brook, if she
could be found to claim it.

For some time she could not be found ; but eventu-

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Online LibraryThomas HardyThe writings of Thomas Hardy in prose and verse, with prefaces and notes (Volume 9) → online text (page 7 of 20)