The Withered Arm
by Thomas Hardy
IV — A Suggestion
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?' 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.'
you had better go to a doctor, ma'am.'
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.
let me see it?' said the milkwoman.
pushed up her sleeve and disclosed the place, which was a
few inches above the wrist. 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.
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
shivered. 'That's fancy,' she said hurriedly. 'I wouldn't
mind it, if I were you.'
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.'
do—he for one.'
he was very proud of mine, at first.'
arm covered from his sight.'
knows the disfigurement is there!' She tried to hide the
tears that filled her eyes.
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, everything like
resentment at the unconscious usurpation had quite passed
away from the elder's mind.
sweet and kindly Gertrude Lodge only knew of the 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.
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
morning, Rhoda!' Gertrude said, when she had come up. 'I
was going to call.'
noticed that Mrs. Lodge held the reins with some
hope—the bad arm,' said Rhoda.
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
Conjuror Trendle?' said her thin companion, turning pale.
Is he alive?'
so,' said Rhoda, with reluctance.
'Why do you
call him conjuror?'
say—they used to say he was a—he had powers other folks
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.'
looked relieved, and Mrs. Lodge rode on. The milkwoman
had inwardly seen, from the moment she heard of her
having been mentioned as a reference 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 suspected 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
alone?' said Gertrude. She seemed to be no less harassed
and anxious than Brook herself.
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?'
miles,' said Rhoda backwardly. 'In the heart of Egdon.'
should have to walk. Could not you go with me to show me
the way—say to-morrow afternoon?'
I—that is,' the milkwoman murmured, 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.
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
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