The Withered Arm
by Thomas Hardy
CHAPTER II — The Young Wife
from Anglebury to Holmstoke is in general level; but
there is one place where a sharp ascent breaks its
monotony. Farmers homeward-bound from the former
market-town, who trot all the rest of the way, walk their
horses up this short incline.
evening, while the sun was yet bright, a handsome new
gig, with a lemon-coloured body and red wheels, was
spinning westward along the level highway at the heels of
a powerful mare. The driver was a yeoman in the prime of
life, cleanly shaven like an actor, his face being toned
to that bluish-vermilion hue which so often graces a
thriving farmer's features when returning home after
successful dealings in the town. Beside him sat a woman,
many years his junior—almost, indeed, a girl. Her face
too was fresh in colour, but it was of a totally
different quality—soft and evanescent, like the light
under a heap of rose-petals.
travelled this way, for it was not a main road; and the
long white riband of gravel that stretched before them
was empty, save of one small scarce-moving speck, which
presently resolved itself into the figure of boy, who was
creeping on at a snail's pace, and continually looking
behind him—the heavy bundle he carried being some excuse
for, if not the reason of, his dilatoriness. When the
bouncing gig-party slowed at the bottom of the incline
above mentioned, the pedestrian was only a few yards in
front. Supporting the large bundle by putting one hand on
his hip, he turned and looked straight at the farmer's
wife as though he would read her through and through,
pacing along abreast of the horse.
The low sun
was full in her face, rendering every feature, shade, and
contour distinct, from the curve of her little nostril to
the colour of her eyes. The farmer, though he seemed
annoyed at the boy's persistent presence, did not order
him to get out of the way; and thus the lad preceded
them, his hard gaze never leaving her, till they reached
the top of the ascent, when the farmer trotted on with
relief in his lineaments—having taken no outward notice
of the boy whatever.
poor lad stared at me!' said the young wife.
I saw that he did.'
'He is one
of the village, I suppose?'
'One of the
neighbourhood. I think he lives with his mother a mile or
who we are, no doubt?'
'O yes. You
must expect to be stared at just at first, my pretty
do,—though I think the poor boy may have looked at us in
the hope we might relieve him of his heavy load, rather
than from curiosity.'
said her husband off-handedly. 'These country lads will
carry a hundredweight once they get it on their backs;
besides his pack had more size than weight in it. Now,
then, another mile and I shall be able to show you our
house in the distance—if it is not too dark before we
get there.' The wheels spun round, and particles flew
from their periphery as before, till a white house of
ample dimensions revealed itself, with farm-buildings and
ricks at the back.
the boy had quickened his pace, and turning up a by-lane
some mile and half short of the white farmstead, ascended
towards the leaner pastures, and so on to the cottage of
reached home after her day's milking at the outlying
dairy, and was washing cabbage at the doorway in the
declining light. 'Hold up the net a moment,' she said,
without preface, as the boy came up.
down his bundle, held the edge of the cabbage-net, and as
she filled its meshes with the dripping leaves she went
on, 'Well, did you see her?'
more. A lady complete.'
she's growed up, and her ways be quite a woman's.'
What colour is her hair and face?'
is lightish, and her face as comely as a live doll's.'
then, are not dark like mine?'
bluish turn, and her mouth is very nice and red; and when
she smiles, her teeth show white.'
tall?' said the woman sharply.
see. She was sitting down.'
you go to Holmstoke church to-morrow morning: she's sure
to be there. Go early and notice her walking in, and come
home and tell me if she's taller than I.'
mother. But why don't you go and see for yourself?'
'_I_ go to
see her! I wouldn't look up at her if she were to pass my
window this instant. She was with Mr. Lodge, of course.
What did he say or do?'
same as usual.'
notice of you?'
the mother put a clean shirt on the boy, and started him
off for Holmstoke church. He reached the ancient little
pile when the door was just being opened, and he was the
first to enter. Taking his seat by the font, he watched
all the parishioners file in. The well-to-do Farmer Lodge
came nearly last; and his young wife, who accompanied
him, walked up the aisle with the shyness natural to a
modest woman who had appeared thus for the first time. As
all other eyes were fixed upon her, the youth's stare was
not noticed now.
reached home his mother said, 'Well?' before he had
entered the room.
'She is not
tall. She is rather short,' he replied.
his mother, with satisfaction.
very pretty—very. In fact, she's lovely.'
youthful freshness of the yeoman's wife had evidently
made an impression even on the somewhat hard nature of
I want to hear,' said his mother quickly. 'Now, spread
the table-cloth. The hare you caught is very tender; but
mind that nobody catches you.—You've never told me what
sort of hands she had.'
never seen 'em. She never took off her gloves.'
she wear this morning?'
bonnet and a silver-coloured gownd. It whewed and
whistled so loud when it rubbed against 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.'
However, that will do now.'
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 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 description 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.
Classical Library, This HTML edition copyright ©2001.