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 4

The Withered Arm
by [?]

CHAPTER III. A VISION

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 before.

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 suppertime.

‘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 assisting her, for he hated going afield on the farms, and she indulged his reluctance. 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.

‘Ah, she said she would come!’ exclaimed the boy, also observing her.

‘Said so–when? How does she know us?’

‘I have seen and spoken to her. I talked to her yesterday.’

‘I told you,’ said the mother, flushing indignantly, ‘never to speak to anybody in that house, or go near the place.’

‘I did not speak to her till she spoke to me. And I did not go near the place. I met her in the road.’

‘What did you tell her?’

‘Nothing. She said, “Are you the poor boy who had to bring the heavy load from market?” And she looked at my boots, and said they would not keep my feet dry if it came on wet, because they were so cracked. I told her I lived with my mother, and we had enough to do to keep ourselves, and that’s how it was; and she said then, “I’ll come and bring you some better boots, and see your mother.” She gives away things to other folks in the meads besides us.’