The Withered Arm
A Lorn Milkmaid
It was an eighty-cow dairy, and the troop of milkers, regular and
supernumerary, were all at work; for, though the time of year was as yet
but early April, the feed lay entirely in water-meadows, and the cows
were "in full pail." The hour was about six in the evening, and
three-fourths of the large, red, rectangular animals having been
finished off, there was opportunity for a little conversation.
"He do bring home his bride tomorrow, I hear. They've come as far as
The voice seemed to proceed from the belly of the cow called Cherry, but
the speaker was a milking-woman, whose face was buried in the flank of
that motionless beast.
"Hav' anybody seen her?" said another.
There was a negative response from the first. "Though they say she's a
rosy-cheeked, tisty-tosty little body enough," she added; and as the
milkmaid spoke she turned her face so that she could glance past her
cow's tail to the other side of the barton, where a thin, fading woman
of thirty milked somewhat apart from the rest.
"Years younger than he, they say," continued the second, with also a
glance of reflectiveness in the same direction.
Nothing more was said publicly about Farmer Lodge's wedding, but the
first woman murmured under her cow to her next neighbour, "'Tis hard for
she," signifying the thin worn milkmaid aforesaid.
"O no," said the second. "He ha'n't spoke to Rhoda Brook for years."
When the milking was done they washed their pails and hung them on a
many-forked stand made of the peeled limb of an oak-tree, set upright in
the earth, and resembling a colossal antlered horn. The majority then
dispersed in various directions homeward. The thin woman who had not
spoken was joined by a boy of twelve or thereabout, and the twain went
away up the field also.
Their course lay apart from that of the others, to a lonely spot high
above the water-meads, and not far from the border of Egdon Heath, whose
dark countenance was visible in the distance as they drew nigh to their
"They've just been saying down in barton that your father brings his
young wife home from Anglebury tomorrow," the woman observed. "I shall
want to send you for a few things to market, and you'll be pretty sure
to meet 'em."
"Yes, mother," said the boy. "Is father married then?"
"Yes.... You can give her a look, and tell me what's she's like, if you
do see her."
"If she's dark or fair, and if she's tall--as tall as I. And if she
seems like a woman who has ever worked for a living, or one that has
been always well off, and has never done anything, and shows marks of
the lady on her, as I expect she do."
They crept up the hill in the twilight, and entered the cottage. It was
built of mud-walls, the surface of which had been washed by many rains
into channels and depressions that left none of the original flat face
visible; while here and there in the thatch above a rafter showed like a
bone protruding through the skin.
She was kneeling down in the chimney-corner, before two pieces of turf
laid together with the heather inwards, blowing at the red-hot ashes
with her breath till the turves flamed. The radiance lit her pale cheek,
and made her dark eyes, that had once been handsome, seem handsome anew.
"Yes," she resumed, "see if she is dark or fair, and if you can, notice
if her hands be white; if not, see if they look as though she had ever
done housework, or are milker's hands like mine."
The boy again promised, inattentively this time, his mother not
observing that he was cutting a notch with his pocket-knife in the
The Young Wife
The road 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.
The next 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
Few people 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 a 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 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.
"How that poor lad stared at me!" said the young wife.
"Yes, dear; 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
"He knows who we are, no doubt?"
"O yes. You must expect to be stared at just at first, my pretty
"I 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."
"O no," 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.
Meanwhile 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 his mother.
She had reached home after her day's milking at the outlying dairy, and
was washing cabbage at the door-way in the declining light. "Hold up the
net a moment," she said, without preface, as the boy came up.
He flung 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
"Yes; quite plain."
"Is she ladylike?"
"Yes; and more. A lady complete."
"Is she young?"
"Well, she's growed up, and her ways be quite a woman's."
"Of course. What colour is her hair and face?"
"Her hair is lightish, and her face as comely as a live doll's."
"Her eyes, then, are not dark like mine?"
"No--of a bluish turn, and her mouth is very nice and red; and when she
smiles, her teeth show white."
"Is she tall?" said the woman sharply.
"I couldn't see. She was sitting down."
"Then do you go to Holmstoke church tomorrow 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."
"Very well, 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
"Just the same as usual."
"Took no notice of you?"
Next day 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 front, 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.
When he reached home his mother said, "Well?" before he had entered the
"She is not tall. She is rather short," he replied.
"Ah!" said his mother, with satisfaction.
"But she's very pretty--very. In fact, she's lovely." The youthful
freshness of the yeoman's wife had evidently made an impression even on
the somewhat hard nature of the boy.
"That's all 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."
"I have never seen 'em. She never took off her gloves."
"What did she wear this morning?"
"A white bonnet and a silver-coloured gown. 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 gown
anywhere but on her."
"Not she! However, that will do now."
These 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.
One night, 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.
But the 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
Gasping for 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.
"O, merciful heaven!" she cried, sitting on the edge of the bed in a
cold sweat; "that was not a dream--she was here!"
She could 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.
Rhoda Brook 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 supper-time.
"What was that noise in your chimmer, mother, last night?" said her son.
"You fell off the bed, surely?"
"Did you hear anything fall? At what time?"
"Just when the clock struck two."
She could not explain, and when the meal was done went silently about
her household work, the boy going afield on the farms. 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.
The 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 face. She would have escaped an interview, had
escape been possible.
"I see I have come to the right house," said Mrs. Lodge, smiling. "But I
was not sure till you opened the door."
The figure 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.
"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."
Rhoda said 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."
The younger 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 out."
She 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.
"I cannot 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
"Ha, ha! Yes.... On what night did it come?"
Mrs. Lodge 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."
She had 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?
The summer drew on, and Rhoda Brook almost dreaded to meet Mrs. Lodge
again, notwithstanding that her feeling for the young wife amounted
wellnigh 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."
"Will you let me see it?" said the milkwoman.
Mrs. Lodge 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.
What the 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 flesh."
Rhoda shivered. "That's fancy," she said hurriedly. "I wouldn't mind it,
if I were you."
"I 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."
"Some do--he for one."
"Yes; and he was very proud of mine, at first."
"Keep your arm covered from his sight."
"Ah--he knows the disfigurement is there!" She tried to hide the tears
that filled her eyes.
"Well, ma'am, I earnestly hope it will go away soon."
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.
"They tell 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 you know."
"Not Conjuror Trendle?" said her thin companion, turning pale.
"Trendle--yes. Is he alive?"
"I believe so," said Rhoda, with reluctance.
"Why do you call him conjuror?"
"Well--they say--they used to say he was a--he had powers other folks
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.
"The place on my arm is so mysterious! 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?"
"Yes--five miles," said Rhoda backwardly. "In the heart of Egdon."
"Well, I should have to walk. Could not you go with me to show me the
way--say tomorrow afternoon?"
"O, not 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.
Mrs. Lodge 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 stood.
Rhoda started 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 sling.
They hardly 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
Rhoda 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.
Conjuror Trendle was at home when they arrived, having in fact
seen them descending into his valley. He was a grey-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.
"Medicine can't cure it," he said promptly. "'Tis the work of an enemy."
Rhoda shrank into herself, and drew back.
"An enemy? What enemy?" asked Mrs. Lodge.
He shook 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."
She pressed 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
"Do you catch the likeness of any face or figure as you look?" demanded
the conjuror of the young woman.
She 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.
When Mrs. 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
"Did he charge much?" she asked tentatively.
"O no--nothing. He would not take a farthing," said Gertrude.
"And what did you see?" inquired Rhoda.
"Nothing 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 bed-chamber.
"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
The subject 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.
A Second Attempt
Half-a-dozen 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
"You want 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
Gertrude guessed 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 heath-man.
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 be paid.
This time she went alone, though she nearly got lost on the heath, and
roamed a considerable distance out of her way.
"You can send away warts and other excrescences, I know," she said; "why
can't you send away this?" And the arm was uncovered.
"You think too much of my powers!" said Trendle. "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 could!"
"There is 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."
"Tell me!" said she.
"You must touch with the limb the neck of a man who's been hanged."
She started a little at the image he had raised.
"Before he's cold--just after he's cut down," continued the conjuror
"How can that do good?"
"It will 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 years ago."
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.
The communication sank deep into Gertrude's mind. Her nature was rather
a timid one; and probably of all remedies that the white wizard could
have suggested there was not one which would have filled her with so
much aversion as this, not to speak of the immense obstacles in the way
of its adoption.
Casterbridge, the county-town, was a dozen or fifteen miles off; and
though in those days, when men were executed for horse-stealing, arson,
and burglary, an assize seldom passed without a hanging, it was not
likely that she could get access to the body of the criminal unaided.
And the fear of her husband's anger made her reluctant to breathe a
word of Trendle's suggestion to him or to anybody about him.
She did nothing for months, and patiently bore her disfigurement as
before. But her woman's nature, craving for renewed love, through the
medium of renewed beauty (she was but twenty-five), was ever stimulating
her to try what, at any rate, could hardly do her any harm. "What came
by a spell will go by a spell surely," she would say. Whenever her
imagination pictured the act she shrank in terror from the possibility
of it: then the words of the conjuror, "it will turn your blood," were
seen to be capable of a scientific no less than a ghastly
interpretation; the mastering desire returned, and urged her on again.
Her determination received a fillip from learning that two epileptic
children had attended from this very village of Holmstoke many years
before with beneficial results, though the experiment had been strongly
condemned by the neighbouring clergy. April, May, June, passed; and it
is no overstatement to say that by the end of the last-named month
Gertrude wellnigh longed for the death of a fellow-creature. Instead of
her formal prayers each night, her unconscious prayer was, "O Lord, hang
some guilty or innocent person soon!"
The assizes were in July and there was to be one execution--only
one--for arson; Her greatest problem was not how to get to Casterbridge,
but what means she should adopt for obtaining admission to the jail.
Though access for such purposes had formerly never been denied, the
custom had fallen into desuetude; and in contemplating her possible
difficulties, she was again almost driven to fall back upon her husband.
But, on sounding him about the assizes, he was so uncommunicative, so
more than usually cold, that she did not proceed, and decided that
whatever she did she would do alone.
Fortune, obdurate hitherto, showed her unexpected favour. On the
Thursday before the Saturday fixed for the execution, Lodge remarked to
her that he was going away from home for another day or two on business
at a fair, and that he was sorry he could not take her with him.
She exhibited on this occasion so much readiness to stay at home that he
looked at her in surprise. Time had been when she would have shown deep
disappointment at the loss of such a jaunt. However, he lapsed into his
usual taciturnity, and on the day named left Holmstoke.
It was now her turn. She at first had thought of driving, but on
reflection held that driving would not do, since it would necessitate
her keeping to the turnpike-road, and so increase by tenfold the risk of
her ghastly errand being found out. She decided to ride, and avoid the
beaten track, notwithstanding that in her husband's stables there was no
animal just at present which by any stretch of imagination could be
considered a lady's mount, in spite of his promise before marriage to
always keep a mare for her. He had, however, many cart-horses, fine ones
of their kind; and among the rest was a serviceable creature, an equine
Amazon, with a back as broad as a sofa, on which Gertrude had
occasionally taken an airing when unwell. This horse she chose.
On Friday afternoon one of the men brought it round. She was dressed,
and before going down looked at her shrivelled arm. "Ah!" she said to
it, "if it had not been for you this terrible ordeal would have been
When strapping up the bundle in which she carried a few articles of
clothing, she took occasion to say to the servant, "I take these in case
I should not get back tonight from the person I am going to visit. Don't
be alarmed if I am not in by ten, and close up the house as usual. I
shall be at home tomorrow for certain." She meant then to privately tell
her husband: the deed accomplished was not like the deed projected. He
would almost certainly forgive her.
And then the pretty palpitating Gertrude Lodge went from her husband's
homestead; but though her goal was Casterbridge she did not take the
direct route thither through Stickleford. Her cunning course at first
was in precisely the opposite direction. As soon as she was out of
sight, however, she turned to the left, by a road which led into Egdon,
and on entering the heath wheeled round, and set out in the true course,
due westerly. When it was almost dusk, Gertrude reached the White Hart,
the first inn of the town on that side.
Little surprise was excited by her arrival; farmers' wives rode on
horseback then more than they do now; though, for that matter, Mrs.
Lodge was not imagined to be a wife at all; the innkeeper supposed her
some harum-skarum young woman who had come to attend "hang-fair" next
day. Neither her husband nor herself ever dealt in Casterbridge market,
so that she was unknown. While dismounting she beheld a crowd of boys
standing at the door of a harness-maker's shop just above the inn,
looking inside it with deep interest.
"What is going on there?" she asked of the ostler.
"Making the rope for tomorrow."
She throbbed responsively, and contracted her arm.
"'Tis sold by the inch afterwards," the man continued. "I could get you
a bit, miss, for nothing, if you'd like?"
She hastily repudiated any such wish, all the more from a curious
creeping feeling that the condemned wretch's destiny was becoming
interwoven with her own; and having engaged a room for the night, sat
down to think.
Up to this time she had formed but the vaguest notions about her means
of obtaining access to the prison. The words of the cunning-man returned
to her mind. He had implied that she should use her beauty, impaired
though it was, as a pass-key. In her inexperience she knew little about
jail functionaries; she had heard of a high-sheriff and an
under-sheriff, but dimly only. She knew, however, that there must be a
hangman, and to the hangman she determined to apply.
A Water-Side Hermit
At this date, and for several years after, there was a hangman to almost
every jail. Gertrude found, on inquiry, that the Casterbridge official
dwelt in a lonely cottage by a deep slow river flowing under the cliff
on which the prison buildings were situate--the stream being the
self-same one, though she did not know it, which watered the Stickleford
and Holmstoke meads lower down in its course.
Having changed her dress, and before she had eaten or drunk--for
she could not take her ease till she had ascertained some
particulars--Gertrude pursued her way by a path along the water-side to
the cottage indicated. Passing thus the outskirts of the jail, she
discerned on the level roof over the gateway three rectangular lines
against the sky, where the specks had been moving in her distant view;
she recognized what the erection was, and passed quickly on. Another
hundred yards brought her to the executioner's house, which a boy
pointed out. It stood close to the same stream, and was hard by a weir,
the waters of which emitted a steady roar.
While she stood hesitating the door opened, and an old man came forth
shading a candle with one hand. Locking the door on the outside, he
turned to a flight of wooden steps fixed against the end of the cottage,
and began to ascend them, this being evidently the staircase to his
bedroom. Gertrude hastened forward, but by the time she reached the
foot of the ladder he was at the top. She called to him loudly enough to
be heard above the roar of the weir; he looked down and said, "What d'ye
"To speak to you a minute."
The candle-light, such as it was, fell upon her imploring, pale,
upturned face, and Davies (as the hangman was called) backed down the
ladder. "I was just going to bed," he said; "'Early to bed and early to
rise,' but I don't mind stopping a minute for such a one as you. Come
into house." He reopened the door, and preceded her to the room within.
The implements of his daily work, which was that of a jobbing gardener,
stood in a corner, and seeing probably that she looked rural, he said,
"If you want me to undertake country work I can't come, for I never
leave Casterbridge for gentle nor simple--not I. My real calling is
officer of justice," he added formally.
"Yes, yes! That's it. Tomorrow!"
"Ah! I thought so. Well, what's the matter about that? 'Tis no use to
come here about the knot--folks do come continually, but I tell 'em one
knot is as merciful as another if ye keep it under the ear. Is the
unfortunate man a relation; or, I should say, perhaps" (looking at her
dress) "a person who's been in your employ?"
"No. What time is the execution?"
"The same as usual--twelve o'clock, or as soon after as the London
mail-coach gets in. We always wait for that, in case of a reprieve."
"O--a reprieve--I hope not!" she said involuntarily.
"Well,--hee, hee!--as a matter of business, so do I! But still, if ever
a young fellow deserved to be let off, this one does; only just turned
eighteen, and only present by chance when the rick was fired.
Howsomever, there's not much risk of it, as they are obliged to make an
example of him, there having been so much destruction of property that
"I mean," she explained, "that I want to touch him for a charm, a cure
of an affliction, by the advice of a man who has proved the virtue of
"O yes, miss! Now I understand. I've had such people come in past years.
But it didn't strike me that you looked of a sort to require
blood-turning. What's the complaint? The wrong kind for this, I'll be
"My arm." She reluctantly showed the withered skin.
"Ah!--'tis all a-scram!" said the hangman, examining it.
"Yes," said she.
"Well," he continued, with interest, "that is the class o' subject, I'm
bound to admit. I like the look of the place; it is truly as suitable
for the cure as any I ever saw. 'Twas a knowing-man that sent 'ee,
whoever he was."
"You can contrive for me all that's necessary?" she said breathlessly.
"You should really have gone to the governor of the jail, and your
doctor with 'ee, and given your name and address--that's how it used to
be done, if I recollect. Still, perhaps, I can manage it for a trifling
"O, thank you! I would rather do it this way, as I should like it kept
"Lover not to know, eh?"
"Aha! Very well. I'll get 'ee a touch of the corpse."
"Where is it now?" she said, shuddering.
"It?--he, you mean; he's living yet. Just inside that little small
winder up there in the glum." He signified the jail on the cliff above.
She thought of her husband and her friends. "Yes, of course," she said;
"and how am I to proceed?"
He took her to the door. "Now, do you be waiting at the little wicket in
the wall, that you'll find up there in the lane, not later than one
o'clock. I will open it from the inside, as I shan't come home to dinner
till he's cut down. Good-night. Be punctual; and if you don't want
anybody to know 'ee, wear a veil. Ah--once I had such a daughter as
She went away, and climbed the path above, to assure herself that she
would be able to find the wicket next day. Its outline was soon visible
to her--a narrow opening in the outer wall of the prison precincts. The
steep was so great that, having reached the wicket, she stopped a
moment to breathe; and, looking back upon the water-side cot, saw the
hangman again ascending his outdoor staircase. He entered the loft or
chamber to which it led, and in a few minutes extinguished his light.
The town clock struck ten, and she returned to the White Hart as she had
It was one o'clock on Saturday. Gertrude Lodge, having been admitted to
the jail as above described, was sitting in a waiting-room within the
second gate, which stood under a classic archway of ashlar, then
comparatively modern, and bearing the inscription, "COUNTY JAIL: 1793."
This had been the facade she saw from the heath the day before. Near at
hand was a passage to the roof on which the gallows stood.
The town was thronged, and the market suspended; but Gertrude had seen
scarcely a soul. Having kept her room till the hour of the appointment,
she had proceeded to the spot by a way which avoided the open space
below the cliff where the spectators had gathered; but she could, even
now, hear the multitudinous babble of their voices, out of which rose at
intervals the hoarse croak of a single voice uttering the words, "Last
dying speech and confession!" There had been no reprieve, and the
execution was over; but the crowd still waited to see the body taken
Soon the persistent girl heard a trampling overhead, then a hand
beckoned to her, and, following directions, she went out and crossed the
inner paved court beyond the gatehouse, her knees trembling so that she
could scarcely walk. One of her arms was out of its sleeve, and only
covered by her shawl.
On the spot at which she had now arrived were two trestles, and before
she could think of their purpose she heard heavy feet descending stairs
somewhere at her back. Turn her head she would not, or could not, and,
rigid in this position, she was conscious of a rough coffin passing her
shoulder, borne by four men. It was open, and in it lay the body of a
young man, wearing the smockfrock of a rustic, and fustian breeches. The
corpse had been thrown into the coffin so hastily that the skirt of the
smockfrock was hanging over. The burden was temporarily deposited on the
By this time the young woman's state was such that a grey mist seemed to
float before her eyes, on account of which, and the veil she wore, she
could scarcely discern anything: it was as though she had nearly died,
but was held up by a sort of galvanism.
"Now!" said a voice close at hand, and she was just conscious that the
word had been addressed to her.
By a last strenuous effort she advanced, at the same time hearing
persons approaching behind her. She bared her poor cursed arm; and
Davies, uncovering the face of the corpse, took Gertrude's hand, and
held it so that her arm lay across the dead man's neck, upon a line the
colour of an unripe blackberry, which surrounded it.
Gertrude shrieked: "the turn o' the blood," predicted by the conjuror,
had taken place. But at that moment a second shriek rent the air of the
enclosure: it was not Gertrude's, and its effect upon her was to make
her start round.
Immediately behind her stood Rhoda Brook, her face drawn, and her eyes
red with weeping. Behind Rhoda stood Gertrude's own husband; his
countenance lined, his eyes dim, but without a tear.
"D--n you! what are you doing here?" he said hoarsely.
"Hussy--to come between us and our child now!" cried Rhoda. "This is the
meaning of what Satan showed me in the vision! You are like her at
last!" And clutching the bare arm of the younger woman, she pulled her
unresistingly back against the wall. Immediately Brook had loosened her
hold the fragile young Gertrude slid down against the feet of her
husband. When he lifted her up she was unconscious.
The mere sight of the twain had been enough to suggest to her that the
dead young man was Rhoda's son. At that time the relatives of an
executed convict had the privilege of claiming the body for burial, if
they chose to do so; and it was for this purpose that Lodge was awaiting
the inquest with Rhoda. He had been summoned by her as soon as the young
man was taken in the crime, and at different times since; and he had
attended in court during the trial. This was the "holiday" he had been
indulging in of late. The two wretched parents had wished to avoid
exposure; and hence had come themselves for the body, a wagon and sheet
for its conveyance and covering being in waiting outside.
Gertrude's case was so serious that it was deemed advisable to call to
her the surgeon who was at hand. She was taken out of the jail into the
town; but she never reached home alive. Her delicate vitality, sapped
perhaps by the paralysed arm, collapsed under the double shock that
followed the severe strain, physical and mental, to which she had
subjected herself during the previous twenty-four hours. Her blood had
been "turned" indeed--too far. Her death took place in the town three
Her husband was never seen in Casterbridge again; once only in the old
market-place at Anglebury, which he had so much frequented, and very
seldom in public anywhere. Burdened at first with moodiness and remorse,
he eventually changed for the better, and appeared as a chastened and
thoughtful man. Soon after attending the funeral of his poor young wife
he took steps towards giving up the farms in Holmstoke and the adjoining
parish, and, having sold every head of his stock, he went away to
Port-Bredy, at the other end of the county, living there in solitary
lodgings till his death two years later of a painless decline. It was
then found that he had bequeathed the whole of his not inconsiderable
property to a reformatory for boys, subject to the payment of a small
annuity to Rhoda Brook, if she could be found to claim it.
For some time she could not be found; but eventually she reappeared in
her old parish,--absolutely refusing, however, to have anything to do
with the provision made for her. Her monotonous milking at the dairy was
resumed, and followed for many long years, till her form became bent,
and her once abundant dark hair white and worn away at the
forehead--perhaps by long pressure against the cows. Here, sometimes,
those who knew her experience would stand and observe her, and wonder
what sombre thoughts were beating inside that impassive, wrinkled brow,
to the rhythm of the alternating milk-streams.
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