CHAPTER 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.
She 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 recognised, 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 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.
‘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 it assumed.
‘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 quite changed.
‘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 own.
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.