The Withered Arm
by Thomas Hardy
III — A Vision
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.
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.
breath, Rhoda, in a last desperate effort, swung out her
right hand, seized the confronting spectre by its
obtrusive left arm, and whirled it backward to the floor,
starting up herself as she did so with a low cry.
merciful heaven!' she cried, sitting on the edge of the
bed in a cold sweat; 'that was not a dream—she was
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.
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 suppertime.
that noise in your chimmer, mother, last night?' said her
son. 'You fell off the bed, surely?'
hear anything fall? At what time?'
the clock struck two.'
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.
said she would come!' exclaimed the boy, also observing
so—when? How does she know us?'
seen and spoken to her. I talked to her yesterday.'
you,' said the mother, flushing indignantly, 'never to
speak to anybody in that house, or go near the place.'
'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.'
you tell her?'
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.'
was by this time close to the door—not in her silk, as
Rhoda had seen her 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.
impression remaining from the night's experience was
still strong. Brook had almost expected to see the
wrinkles, the scorn, and the cruelty on her visitor's
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
'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
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.
proofs of a kindly feeling towards her and hers Rhoda's
heart reproached her bitterly. This 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.'
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 confidential 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.'
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
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.
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 if he had flown into a rage and struck me
there. O, I daresay it will soon disappear.'
Yes . . . On what night did it come?'
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.'
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?
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