Find this Story

Print, a form you can hold

Wireless download to your Amazon Kindle

Look for a summary or analysis of this Story.

Enjoy this? Share it!

PAGE 3

The Withered Arm
by [?]

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 doorway 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 see her?’

‘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 to-morrow 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 or do?’

‘Just the same as usual.’

‘Took no notice of you?’

‘None.’

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 font, 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 room.

‘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 gownd. 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 gownd 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.