The Withered Arm
by Thomas Hardy
V — Conjuror Trendle
By the next
afternoon Rhoda would have done anything 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.
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
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 hills 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 companion
where hung the afflicted arm, moving round to 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—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.
can't cure it,' he said promptly. ''Tis the work of an
shrank into herself, and drew back.
What enemy?' asked Mrs. Lodge.
his head. 'That's best known to yourself,' 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.'
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
Gertrude to watch them 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
catch the likeness of any face or figure as you look?'
demanded the conjuror of the young woman.
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.
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.
charge much?' she asked tentatively.
no—nothing. He would not take a farthing,' said
did you see?' inquired Rhoda.
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
'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.
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 lowland that winter that Mrs.
Lodge's gradual loss of the use of her left arm was owing
to her being 'overlooked' 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.
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