The Withered Arm
by Thomas Hardy
VI — A Second Attempt
years passed away, and Mr. and Mrs. Lodge's married
experience sank into prosiness, and worse. The farmer was
usually gloomy and silent: the woman whom he had wooed
for her grace and beauty was contorted and disfigured in
the left limb; moreover, she had brought him no child,
which rendered it likely that he would be the last of a
family who had occupied that valley for some two hundred
years. He thought of Rhoda Brook and her son; and feared
this might be a judgment from heaven upon him.
blithe-hearted and enlightened Gertrude was changing into
an irritable, superstitious woman, whose whole time was
given to experimenting upon her ailment with every quack
remedy she came across. She was honestly attached to her
husband, and was ever secretly hoping against hope to win
back his heart again by regaining some at least of her
personal beauty. Hence it arose that her closet was lined
with bottles, packets, and ointment-pots of every
description—nay, bunches of mystic herbs, charms, and
books of necromancy, which in her schoolgirl time she
would have ridiculed as folly.
you won't poison yourself with these apothecary messes
and witch mixtures some time or other,' said her husband,
when his eye chanced to fall upon the multitudinous
She did not
reply, but turned her sad, soft glance upon him in such
heart-swollen reproach that he looked sorry for his
words, and added, 'I only meant it for your good, you
out the whole lot, and destroy them,' said she huskily,
'and try such remedies no more!'
somebody to cheer you,' he observed. 'I once thought of
adopting a boy; but he is too old now. And he is gone
away I don't know where.'
to whom he alluded; for Rhoda Brook's story had in the
course of years become known to her; though not a word
had ever passed between her husband and herself on the
subject. Neither had she ever spoken to him of her visit
to Conjuror Trendle, and of what was revealed to her, or
she thought was revealed to her, by that solitary
She was now
five-and-twenty; but she seemed older.
of marriage, and only a few months of love,' she
sometimes whispered to herself. And then she thought of
the apparent cause, and said, with a tragic glance at her
withering limb, 'If I could only again be as I was when
he first saw me!'
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
she went alone, though she nearly got lost on the heath,
and roamed a considerable distance out of her way.
Trendle'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
send away warts and other excrescences I know,' she said;
'why can't you send away this?' And the arm was
too much of my powers!' said Trendle; '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?'
to him some of the hundred medicaments and counterspells
which she had adopted from time to time. He shook his
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
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.'
touch with the limb the neck of a man who's been hanged.'
a little at the image he had raised.
he's cold—just after he's cut down,' continued the
that do good?'
turn the blood and change the constitution. But, as I
say, to do it is hard. You must get into jail, 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 twenty
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.
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