"For there was no other girl, O bridegroom,
like her!"--SAPPHO (H. T. Wharton).
It was a new idea--the ecclesiastical and altruistic life as distinct from the intellectual and emulative life. A man could preach and do good to his fellow-creatures without taking double-firsts in the schools of Christminster, or having anything but ordinary knowledge. The old fancy which had led on to the culminating vision of the bishopric had not been an ethical or theological enthusiasm at all, but a mundane ambition masquerading in a surplice. He feared that his whole scheme had degenerated to, even though it might not have originated in, a social unrest which had no foundation in the nobler instincts; which was purely an artificial product of civilization. There were thousands of young men on the same self-seeking track at the present moment. The sensual hind who ate, drank, and lived carelessly with his wife through the days of his vanity was a more likable being than he.
But to enter the Church in such an unscholarly way that he could not in any probability rise to a higher grade through all his career than that of the humble curate wearing his life out in an obscure village or city slum--that might have a touch of goodness and greatness in it; that might be true religion, and a purgatorial course worthy of being followed by a remorseful man.
The favourable light in which this new thought showed itself by contrast with his foregone intentions cheered Jude, as he sat there, shabby and lonely; and it may be said to have given, during the next few days, the _coup de grace_ to his intellectual career--a career which had extended over the greater part of a dozen years. He did nothing, however, for some long stagnant time to advance his new desire, occupying himself with little local jobs in putting up and lettering headstones about the neighbouring villages, and submitting to be regarded as a social failure, a returned purchase, by the half-dozen or so of farmers and other country-people who condescended to nod to him.
The human interest of the new intention--and a human interest is indispensable to the most spiritual and self-sacrificing--was created by a letter from Sue, bearing a fresh postmark. She evidently wrote with anxiety, and told very little about her own doings, more than that she had passed some sort of examination for a Queen's Scholarship, and was going to enter a training college at Melchester to complete herself for the vocation she had chosen, partly by his influence. There was a theological college at Melchester; Melchester was a quiet and soothing place, almost entirely ecclesiastical in its tone; a spot where worldly learning and intellectual smartness had no establishment; where the altruistic feeling that he did possess would perhaps be more highly estimated than a brilliancy which he did not.
As it would be necessary that he should continue for a time to work at his trade while reading up Divinity, which he had neglected at Christminster for the ordinary classical grind, what better course for him than to get employment at the further city, and pursue this plan of reading? That his excessive human interest in the new place was entirely of Sue's making, while at the same time Sue was to be regarded even less than formerly as proper to create it, had an ethical contradictoriness to which he was not blind. But that much he conceded to human frailty, and hoped to learn to love her only as a friend and kinswoman.
He considered that he might so mark out his coming years as to begin his ministry at the age of thirty--an age which much attracted him as being that of his exemplar when he first began to teach in Galilee. This would allow him plenty of time for deliberate study, and for acquiring capital by his trade to help his aftercourse of keeping the necessary terms at a theological college.
Christmas had come and passed, and Sue had gone to the Melchester Normal School. The time was just the worst in the year for Jude to get into new employment, and he had written suggesting to her that he should postpone his arrival for a month or so, till the days had lengthened. She had acquiesced so readily that he wished he had not proposed it--she evidently did not much care about him, though she had never once reproached him for his strange conduct in coming to her that night, and his silent disappearance. Neither had she ever said a word about her relations with Mr. Phillotson.
Suddenly, however, quite a passionate letter arrived from Sue. She was quite lonely and miserable, she told him. She hated the place she was in; it was worse than the ecclesiastical designer's; worse than anywhere. She felt utterly friendless; could he come immediately?--though when he did come she would only be able to see him at limited times, the rules of the establishment she found herself in being strict to a degree. It was Mr. Phillotson who had advised her to come there, and she wished she had never listened to him.
Phillotson's suit was not exactly prospering, evidently; and Jude felt unreasonably glad. He packed up his things and went to Melchester with a lighter heart than he had known for months.
This being the turning over a new leaf he duly looked about for a temperance hotel, and found a little establishment of that description in the street leading from the station. When he had had something to eat he walked out into the dull winter light over the town bridge, and turned the corner towards the Close. The day was foggy, and standing under the walls of the most graceful architectural pile in England he paused and looked up. The lofty building was visible as far as the roofridge; above, the dwindling spire rose more and more remotely, till its apex was quite lost in the mist drifting across it.
The lamps now began to be lighted, and turning to the west front he walked round. He took it as a good omen that numerous blocks of stone were lying about, which signified that the cathedral was undergoing restoration or repair to a considerable extent. It seemed to him, full of the superstitions of his beliefs, that this was an exercise of forethought on the part of a ruling Power, that he might find plenty to do in the art he practised while waiting for a call to higher labours.
Then a wave of warmth came over him as he thought how near he now stood to the bright-eyed vivacious girl with the broad forehead and pile of dark hair above it; the girl with the kindling glance, daringly soft at times--something like that of the girls he had seen in engravings from paintings of the Spanish school. She was here--actually in this Close--in one of the houses confronting this very west facade.
He went down the broad gravel path towards the building. It was an ancient edifice of the fifteenth century, once a palace, now a training-school, with mullioned and transomed windows, and a courtyard in front shut in from the road by a wall. Jude opened the gate and went up to the door through which, on inquiring for his cousin, he was gingerly admitted to a waiting-room, and in a few minutes she came.
Though she had been here such a short while, she was not as he had seen her last. All her bounding manner was gone; her curves of motion had become subdued lines. The screens and subtleties of convention had likewise disappeared. Yet neither was she quite the woman who had written the letter that summoned him. That had plainly been dashed off in an impulse which second thoughts had somewhat regretted; thoughts that were possibly of his recent self-disgrace. Jude was quite overcome with emotion.
"You don't--think me a demoralized wretch--for coming to you as I was--and going so shamefully, Sue?"
"Oh, I have tried not to! You said enough to let me know what had caused it. I hope I shall never have any doubt of your worthiness, my poor Jude! And I am glad you have come!"
She wore a murrey-coloured gown with a little lace collar. It was made quite plain, and hung about her slight figure with clinging gracefulness. Her hair, which formerly she had worn according to the custom of the day was now twisted up tightly, and she had altogether the air of a woman clipped and pruned by severe discipline, an under-brightness shining through from the depths which that discipline had not yet been able to reach.
She had come forward prettily, but Jude felt that she had hardly expected him to kiss her, as he was burning to do, under other colours than those of cousinship. He could not perceive the least sign that Sue regarded him as a lover, or ever would do so, now that she knew the worst of him, even if he had the right to behave as one; and this helped on his growing resolve to tell her of his matrimonial entanglement, which he had put off doing from time to time in sheer dread of losing the bliss of her company.
Sue came out into the town with him, and they walked and talked with tongues centred only on the passing moments. Jude said he would like to buy her a little present of some sort, and then she confessed, with something of shame, that she was dreadfully hungry. They were kept on very short allowances in the college, and a dinner, tea, and supper all in one was the present she most desired in the world. Jude thereupon took her to an inn and ordered whatever the house afforded, which was not much. The place, however, gave them a delightful opportunity for a _tete-a-tete_, nobody else being in the room, and they talked freely.
She told him about the school as it was at that date, and the rough living, and the mixed character of her fellow-students, gathered together from all parts of the diocese, and how she had to get up and work by gas-light in the early morning, with all the bitterness of a young person to whom restraint was new. To all this he listened; but it was not what he wanted especially to know--her relations with Phillotson. That was what she did not tell. When they had sat and eaten, Jude impulsively placed his hand upon hers; she looked up and smiled, and took his quite freely into her own little soft one, dividing his fingers and coolly examining them, as if they were the fingers of a glove she was purchasing.
"Your hands are rather rough, Jude, aren't they?" she said.
"Yes. So would yours be if they held a mallet and chisel all day."
"I don't dislike it, you know. I think it is noble to see a man's hands subdued to what he works in... Well, I'm rather glad I came to this training-school, after all. See how independent I shall be after the two years' training! I shall pass pretty high, I expect, and Mr. Phillotson will use his influence to get me a big school."
She had touched the subject at last. "I had a suspicion, a fear," said Jude, "that he--cared about you rather warmly, and perhaps wanted to marry you."
"Now don't be such a silly boy!"
"He has said something about it, I expect."
"If he had, what would it matter? An old man like him!"
"Oh, come, Sue; he's not so very old. And I know what I saw him doing--"
"Not kissing me--that I'm certain!"
"No. But putting his arm round your waist."
"Ah--I remember. But I didn't know he was going to."
"You are wriggling out if it, Sue, and it isn't quite kind!"
Her ever-sensitive lip began to quiver, and her eye to blink, at something this reproof was deciding her to say.
"I know you'll be angry if I tell you everything, and that's why I don't want to!"
"Very well, then, dear," he said soothingly. "I have no real right to ask you, and I don't wish to know."
"I shall tell you!" said she, with the perverseness that was part of her. "This is what I have done: I have promised--I have promised--that I will marry him when I come out of the training-school two years hence, and have got my certificate; his plan being that we shall then take a large double school in a great town--he the boys' and I the girls'--as married school-teachers often do, and make a good income between us."
"Oh, Sue! ... But of course it is right--you couldn't have done better!"
He glanced at her and their eyes met, the reproach in his own belying his words. Then he drew his hand quite away from hers, and turned his face in estrangement from her to the window. Sue regarded him passively without moving.
"I knew you would be angry!" she said with an air of no emotion whatever. "Very well--I am wrong, I suppose! I ought not to have let you come to see me! We had better not meet again; and we'll only correspond at long intervals, on purely business matters!"
This was just the one thing he would not be able to bear, as she probably knew, and it brought him round at once. "Oh yes, we will," he said quickly. "Your being engaged can make no difference to me whatever. I have a perfect right to see you when I want to; and I shall!"
"Then don't let us talk of it any more. It is quite spoiling our evening together. What does it matter about what one is going to do two years hence!"
She was something of a riddle to him, and he let the subject drift away. "Shall we go and sit in the cathedral?" he asked, when their meal was finished.
"Cathedral? Yes. Though I think I'd rather sit in the railway station," she answered, a remnant of vexation still in her voice. "That's the centre of the town life now. The cathedral has had its day!"
"How modern you are!"
"So would you be if you had lived so much in the Middle Ages as I have done these last few years! The cathedral was a very good place four or five centuries ago; but it is played out now... I am not modern, either. I am more ancient than mediaevalism, if you only knew."
Jude looked distressed.
"There--I won't say any more of that!" she cried. "Only you don't know how bad I am, from your point of view, or you wouldn't think so much of me, or care whether I was engaged or not. Now there's just time for us to walk round the Close, then I must go in, or I shall be locked out for the night."
He took her to the gate and they parted. Jude had a conviction that his unhappy visit to her on that sad night had precipitated this marriage engagement, and it did anything but add to his happiness. Her reproach had taken that shape, then, and not the shape of words. However, next day he set about seeking employment, which it was not so easy to get as at Christminster, there being, as a rule, less stone-cutting in progress in this quiet city, and hands being mostly permanent. But he edged himself in by degrees. His first work was some carving at the cemetery on the hill; and ultimately he became engaged on the labour he most desired--the cathedral repairs, which were very extensive, the whole interior stonework having been overhauled, to be largely replaced by new. It might be a labour of years to get it all done, and he had confidence enough in his own skill with the mallet and chisel to feel that it would be a matter of choice with himself how long he would stay.
The lodgings he took near the Close Gate would not have disgraced a curate, the rent representing a higher percentage on his wages than mechanics of any sort usually care to pay. His combined bed and sitting-room was furnished with framed photographs of the rectories and deaneries at which his landlady had lived as trusted servant in her time, and the parlour downstairs bore a clock on the mantelpiece inscribed to the effect that it was presented to the same serious-minded woman by her fellow-servants on the occasion of her marriage. Jude added to the furniture of his room by unpacking photographs of the ecclesiastical carvings and monuments that he had executed with his own hands; and he was deemed a satisfactory acquisition as tenant of the vacant apartment.
He found an ample supply of theological books in the city book-shops, and with these his studies were recommenced in a different spirit and direction from his former course. As a relaxation from the Fathers, and such stock works as Paley and Butler, he read Newman, Pusey, and many other modern lights. He hired a harmonium, set it up in his lodging, and practised chants thereon, single and double.
"To-morrow is our grand day, you know. Where shall we go?"
"I have leave from three till nine. Wherever we can get to and come back from in that time. Not ruins, Jude--I don't care for them."
"Well--Wardour Castle. And then we can do Fonthill if we like--all in the same afternoon."
"Wardour is Gothic ruins--and I hate Gothic!"
"No. Quite otherwise. It is a classic building--Corinthian, I think; with a lot of pictures."
"Ah--that will do. I like the sound of Corinthian. We'll go."
Their conversation had run thus some few weeks later, and next morning they prepared to start. Every detail of the outing was a facet reflecting a sparkle to Jude, and he did not venture to meditate on the life of inconsistency he was leading. His Sue's conduct was one lovely conundrum to him; he could say no more.
There duly came the charm of calling at the college door for her; her emergence in a nunlike simplicity of costume that was rather enforced than desired; the traipsing along to the station, the porters' "B'your leave!," the screaming of the trains--everything formed the basis of a beautiful crystallization. Nobody stared at Sue, because she was so plainly dressed, which comforted Jude in the thought that only himself knew the charms those habiliments subdued. A matter of ten pounds spent in a drapery-shop, which had no connection with her real life or her real self, would have set all Melchester staring. The guard of the train thought they were lovers, and put them into a compartment all by themselves.
"That's a good intention wasted!" said she.
Jude did not respond. He thought the remark unnecessarily cruel, and partly untrue.
They reached the park and castle and wandered through the picture-galleries, Jude stopping by preference in front of the devotional pictures by Del Sarto, Guido Reni, Spagnoletto, Sassoferrato, Carlo Dolci, and others. Sue paused patiently beside him, and stole critical looks into his face as, regarding the Virgins, Holy Families, and Saints, it grew reverent and abstracted. When she had thoroughly estimated him at this, she would move on and wait for him before a Lely or Reynolds. It was evident that her cousin deeply interested her, as one might be interested in a man puzzling out his way along a labyrinth from which one had one's self escaped.
When they came out a long time still remained to them and Jude proposed that as soon as they had had something to eat they should walk across the high country to the north of their present position, and intercept the train of another railway leading back to Melchester, at a station about seven miles off. Sue, who was inclined for any adventure that would intensify the sense of her day's freedom, readily agreed; and away they went, leaving the adjoining station behind them.
It was indeed open country, wide and high. They talked and bounded on, Jude cutting from a little covert a long walking-stick for Sue as tall as herself, with a great crook, which made her look like a shepherdess. About half-way on their journey they crossed a main road running due east and west--the old road from London to Land's End. They paused, and looked up and down it for a moment, and remarked upon the desolation which had come over this once lively thoroughfare, while the wind dipped to earth and scooped straws and hay-stems from the ground.
They crossed the road and passed on, but during the next half-mile Sue seemed to grow tired, and Jude began to be distressed for her. They had walked a good distance altogether, and if they could not reach the other station it would be rather awkward. For a long time there was no cottage visible on the wide expanse of down and turnip-land; but presently they came to a sheepfold, and next to the shepherd, pitching hurdles. He told them that the only house near was his mother's and his, pointing to a little dip ahead from which a faint blue smoke arose, and recommended them to go on and rest there.
This they did, and entered the house, admitted by an old woman without a single tooth, to whom they were as civil as strangers can be when their only chance of rest and shelter lies in the favour of the householder.
"A nice little cottage," said Jude.
"Oh, I don't know about the niceness. I shall have to thatch it soon, and where the thatch is to come from I can't tell, for straw do get that dear, that 'twill soon be cheaper to cover your house wi' chainey plates than thatch."
They sat resting, and the shepherd came in. "Don't 'ee mind I," he said with a deprecating wave of the hand; "bide here as long as ye will. But mid you be thinking o' getting back to Melchester to-night by train? Because you'll never do it in this world, since you don't know the lie of the country. I don't mind going with ye some o' the ways, but even then the train mid be gone."
They started up.
"You can bide here, you know, over the night--can't 'em, Mother? The place is welcome to ye. 'Tis hard lying, rather, but volk may do worse." He turned to Jude and asked privately: "Be you a married couple?"
"Hsh--no!" said Jude.
"Oh--I meant nothing ba'dy--not I! Well then, she can go into Mother's room, and you and I can lie in the outer chimmer after they've gone through. I can call ye soon enough to catch the first train back. You've lost this one now."
On consideration they decided to close with this offer, and drew up and shared with the shepherd and his mother the boiled bacon and greens for supper.
"I rather like this," said Sue, while their entertainers were clearing away the dishes. "Outside all laws except gravitation and germination."
"You only think you like it; you don't: you are quite a product of civilization," said Jude, a recollection of her engagement reviving his soreness a little.
"Indeed I am not, Jude. I like reading and all that, but I crave to get back to the life of my infancy and its freedom."
"Do you remember it so well? You seem to me to have nothing unconventional at all about you."
"Oh, haven't I! You don't know what's inside me."
"An urban miss is what you are."
She looked severe disagreement, and turned away.
The shepherd aroused them the next morning, as he had said. It was bright and clear, and the four miles to the train were accomplished pleasantly. When they had reached Melchester, and walked to the Close, and the gables of the old building in which she was again to be immured rose before Sue's eyes, she looked a little scared. "I expect I shall catch it!" she murmured.
They rang the great bell and waited.
"Oh, I bought something for you, which I had nearly forgotten," she said quickly, searching her pocket. "It is a new little photograph of me. Would you like it?"
"WOULD I!" He took it gladly, and the porter came. There seemed to be an ominous glance on his face when he opened the gate. She passed in, looking back at Jude, and waving her hand.
The seventy young women, of ages varying in the main from nineteen to one-and-twenty, though several were older, who at this date filled the species of nunnery known as the Training-School at Melchester, formed a very mixed community, which included the daughters of mechanics, curates, surgeons, shopkeepers, farmers, dairy-men, soldiers, sailors, and villagers. They sat in the large school-room of the establishment on the evening previously described, and word was passed round that Sue Bridehead had not come in at closing-time.
"She went out with her young man," said a second-year's student, who knew about young men. "And Miss Traceley saw her at the station with him. She'll have it hot when she does come."
"She said he was her cousin," observed a youthful new girl.
"That excuse has been made a little too often in this school to be effectual in saving our souls," said the head girl of the year, drily.
The fact was that, only twelve months before, there had occurred a lamentable seduction of one of the pupils who had made the same statement in order to gain meetings with her lover. The affair had created a scandal, and the management had consequently been rough on cousins ever since.
At nine o'clock the names were called, Sue's being pronounced three times sonorously by Miss Traceley without eliciting an answer.
At a quarter past nine the seventy stood up to sing the "Evening Hymn," and then knelt down to prayers. After prayers they went in to supper, and every girl's thought was, Where is Sue Bridehead? Some of the students, who had seen Jude from the window, felt that they would not mind risking her punishment for the pleasure of being kissed by such a kindly-faced young men. Hardly one among them believed in the cousinship.
Half an hour later they all lay in their cubicles, their tender feminine faces upturned to the flaring gas-jets which at intervals stretched down the long dormitories, every face bearing the legend "The Weaker" upon it, as the penalty of the sex wherein they were moulded, which by no possible exertion of their willing hearts and abilities could be made strong while the inexorable laws of nature remain what they are. They formed a pretty, suggestive, pathetic sight, of whose pathos and beauty they were themselves unconscious, and would not discover till, amid the storms and strains of after-years, with their injustice, loneliness, child-bearing, and bereavement, their minds would revert to this experience as to something which had been allowed to slip past them insufficiently regarded.
One of the mistresses came in to turn out the lights, and before doing so gave a final glance at Sue's cot, which remained empty, and at her little dressing-table at the foot, which, like all the rest, was ornamented with various girlish trifles, framed photographs being not the least conspicuous among them. Sue's table had a moderate show, two men in their filigree and velvet frames standing together beside her looking-glass.
"Who are these men--did she ever say?" asked the mistress. "Strictly speaking, relations' portraits only are allowed on these tables, you know."
"One--the middle-aged man," said a student in the next bed--"is the schoolmaster she served under--Mr. Phillotson."
"And the other--this undergraduate in cap and gown--who is he?"
"He is a friend, or was. She has never told his name."
"Was it either of these two who came for her?"
"You are sure 'twas not the undergraduate?"
"Quite. He was a young man with a black beard."
The lights were promptly extinguished, and till they fell asleep the girls indulged in conjectures about Sue, and wondered what games she had carried on in London and at Christminster before she came here, some of the more restless ones getting out of bed and looking from the mullioned windows at the vast west front of the cathedral opposite, and the spire rising behind it.
When they awoke the next morning they glanced into Sue's nook, to find it still without a tenant. After the early lessons by gas-light, in half-toilet, and when they had come up to dress for breakfast, the bell of the entrance gate was heard to ring loudly. The mistress of the dormitory went away, and presently came back to say that the principal's orders were that nobody was to speak to Bridehead without permission.
When, accordingly, Sue came into the dormitory to hastily tidy herself, looking flushed and tired, she went to her cubicle in silence, none of them coming out to greet her or to make inquiry. When they had gone downstairs they found that she did not follow them into the dining-hall to breakfast, and they then learnt that she had been severely reprimanded, and ordered to a solitary room for a week, there to be confined, and take her meals, and do all her reading.
At this the seventy murmured, the sentence being, they thought, too severe. A round robin was prepared and sent in to the principal, asking for a remission of Sue's punishment. No notice was taken. Towards evening, when the geography mistress began dictating her subject, the girls in the class sat with folded arms.
"You mean that you are not going to work?" said the mistress at last. "I may as well tell you that it has been ascertained that the young man Bridehead stayed out with was not her cousin, for the very good reason that she has no such relative. We have written to Christminster to ascertain."
"We are willing to take her word," said the head girl.
"This young man was discharged from his work at Christminster for drunkenness and blasphemy in public-houses, and he has come here to live, entirely to be near her."
However, they remained stolid and motionless, and the mistress left the room to inquire from her superiors what was to be done.
Presently, towards dusk, the pupils, as they sat, heard exclamations from the first-year's girls in an adjoining classroom, and one rushed in to say that Sue Bridehead had got out of the back window of the room in which she had been confined, escaped in the dark across the lawn, and disappeared. How she had managed to get out of the garden nobody could tell, as it was bounded by the river at the bottom, and the side door was locked.
They went and looked at the empty room, the casement between the middle mullions of which stood open. The lawn was again searched with a lantern, every bush and shrub being examined, but she was nowhere hidden. Then the porter of the front gate was interrogated, and on reflection he said that he remembered hearing a sort of splashing in the stream at the back, but he had taken no notice, thinking some ducks had come down the river from above.
"She must have walked through the river!" said a mistress.
"Or drownded herself," said the porter.
The mind of the matron was horrified--not so much at the possible death of Sue as at the possible half-column detailing that event in all the newspapers, which, added to the scandal of the year before, would give the college an unenviable notoriety for many months to come.
More lanterns were procured, and the river examined; and then, at last, on the opposite shore, which was open to the fields, some little boot-tracks were discerned in the mud, which left no doubt that the too excitable girl had waded through a depth of water reaching nearly to her shoulders--for this was the chief river of the county, and was mentioned in all the geography books with respect. As Sue had not brought disgrace upon the school by drowning herself, the matron began to speak superciliously of her, and to express gladness that she was gone.
On the self-same evening Jude sat in his lodgings by the Close Gate. Often at this hour after dusk he would enter the silent Close, and stand opposite the house that contained Sue, and watch the shadows of the girls' heads passing to and fro upon the blinds, and wish he had nothing else to do but to sit reading and learning all day what many of the thoughtless inmates despised. But to-night, having finished tea and brushed himself up, he was deep in the perusal of the Twenty-ninth Volume of Pusey's Library of the Fathers, a set of books which he had purchased of a second-hand dealer at a price that seemed to him to be one of miraculous cheapness for that invaluable work. He fancied he heard something rattle lightly against his window; then he heard it again. Certainly somebody had thrown gravel. He rose and gently lifted the sash.
"Jude!" (from below).
"Yes--it is! Can I come up without being seen?"
"Then don't come down. Shut the window."
Jude waited, knowing that she could enter easily enough, the front door being opened merely by a knob which anybody could turn, as in most old country towns. He palpitated at the thought that she had fled to him in her trouble as he had fled to her in his. What counterparts they were! He unlatched the door of his room, heard a stealthy rustle on the dark stairs, and in a moment she appeared in the light of his lamp. He went up to seize her hand, and found she was clammy as a marine deity, and that her clothes clung to her like the robes upon the figures in the Parthenon frieze.
"I'm so cold!" she said through her chattering teeth. "Can I come by your fire, Jude?"
She crossed to his little grate and very little fire, but as the water dripped from her as she moved, the idea of drying herself was absurd. "Whatever have you done, darling?" he asked, with alarm, the tender epithet slipping out unawares.
"Walked through the largest river in the county--that's what I've done! They locked me up for being out with you; and it seemed so unjust that I couldn't bear it, so I got out of the window and escaped across the stream!" She had begun the explanation in her usual slightly independent tones, but before she had finished the thin pink lips trembled, and she could hardly refrain from crying.
"Dear Sue!" he said. "You must take off all your things! And let me see--you must borrow some from the landlady. I'll ask her."
"No, no! Don't let her know, for God's sake! We are so near the school that they'll come after me!"
"Then you must put on mine. You don't mind?"
"My Sunday suit, you know. It is close here." In fact, everything was close and handy in Jude's single chamber, because there was not room for it to be otherwise. He opened a drawer, took out his best dark suit, and giving the garments a shake, said, "Now, how long shall I give you?"
Jude left the room and went into the street, where he walked up and down. A clock struck half-past seven, and he returned. Sitting in his only arm-chair he saw a slim and fragile being masquerading as himself on a Sunday, so pathetic in her defencelessness that his heart felt big with the sense of it. On two other chairs before the fire were her wet garments. She blushed as he sat down beside her, but only for a moment.
"I suppose, Jude, it is odd that you should see me like this and all my things hanging there? Yet what nonsense! They are only a woman's clothes--sexless cloth and linen... I wish I didn't feel so ill and sick! Will you dry my clothes now? Please do, Jude, and I'll get a lodging by and by. It is not late yet."
"No, you shan't, if you are ill. You must stay here. Dear, dear Sue, what can I get for you?"
"I don't know! I can't help shivering. I wish I could get warm." Jude put on her his great-coat in addition, and then ran out to the nearest public-house, whence he returned with a little bottle in his hand. "Here's six of best brandy," he said. "Now you drink it, dear; all of it."
"I can't out of the bottle, can I?" Jude fetched the glass from the dressing-table, and administered the spirit in some water. She gasped a little, but gulped it down, and lay back in the armchair.
She then began to relate circumstantially her experiences since they had parted; but in the middle of her story her voice faltered, her head nodded, and she ceased. She was in a sound sleep. Jude, dying of anxiety lest she should have caught a chill which might permanently injure her, was glad to hear the regular breathing. He softly went nearer to her, and observed that a warm flush now rosed her hitherto blue cheeks, and felt that her hanging hand was no longer cold. Then he stood with his back to the fire regarding her, and saw in her almost a divinity.
Jude's reverie was interrupted by the creak of footsteps ascending the stairs.
He whisked Sue's clothing from the chair where it was drying, thrust it under the bed, and sat down to his book. Somebody knocked and opened the door immediately. It was the landlady.
"Oh, I didn't know whether you was in or not, Mr. Fawley. I wanted to know if you would require supper. I see you've a young gentleman--"
"Yes, ma'am. But I think I won't come down to-night. Will you bring supper up on a tray, and I'll have a cup of tea as well."
It was Jude's custom to go downstairs to the kitchen, and eat his meals with the family, to save trouble. His landlady brought up the supper, however, on this occasion, and he took it from her at the door.
When she had descended he set the teapot on the hob, and drew out Sue's clothes anew; but they were far from dry. A thick woollen gown, he found, held a deal of water. So he hung them up again, and enlarged his fire and mused as the steam from the garments went up the chimney.
Suddenly she said, "Jude!"
"Yes. All right. How do you feel now?"
"Better. Quite well. Why, I fell asleep, didn't I? What time is it? Not late surely?"
"It is past ten."
"Is it really? What SHALL I do!" she said, starting up.
"Stay where you are."
"Yes; that's what I want to do. But I don't know what they would say! And what will you do?"
"I am going to sit here by the fire all night, and read. To-morrow is Sunday, and I haven't to go out anywhere. Perhaps you will be saved a severe illness by resting there. Don't be frightened. I'm all right. Look here, what I have got for you. Some supper."
When she had sat upright she breathed plaintively and said, "I do feel rather weak still. I thought I was well; and I ought not to be here, ought I?" But the supper fortified her somewhat, and when she had had some tea and had lain back again she was bright and cheerful.
The tea must have been green, or too long drawn, for she seemed preternaturally wakeful afterwards, though Jude, who had not taken any, began to feel heavy; till her conversation fixed his attention.
"You called me a creature of civilization, or something, didn't you?" she said, breaking a silence. "It was very odd you should have done that."
"Well, because it is provokingly wrong. I am a sort of negation of it."
"You are very philosophical. 'A negation' is profound talking."
"Is it? Do I strike you as being learned?" she asked, with a touch of raillery.
"No--not learned. Only you don't talk quite like a girl--well, a girl who has had no advantages."
"I have had advantages. I don't know Latin and Greek, though I know the grammars of those tongues. But I know most of the Greek and Latin classics through translations, and other books too. I read Lempriere, Catullus, Martial, Juvenal, Lucian, Beaumont and Fletcher, Boccaccio, Scarron, De Brantome, Sterne, De Foe, Smollett, Fielding, Shakespeare, the Bible, and other such; and found that all interest in the unwholesome part of those books ended with its mystery."
"You have read more than I," he said with a sigh. "How came you to read some of those queerer ones?"
"Well," she said thoughtfully, "it was by accident. My life has been entirely shaped by what people call a peculiarity in me. I have no fear of men, as such, nor of their books. I have mixed with them--one or two of them particularly--almost as one of their own sex. I mean I have not felt about them as most women are taught to feel--to be on their guard against attacks on their virtue; for no average man--no man short of a sensual savage--will molest a woman by day or night, at home or abroad, unless she invites him. Until she says by a look 'Come on' he is always afraid to, and if you never say it, or look it, he never comes. However, what I was going to say is that when I was eighteen I formed a friendly intimacy with an undergraduate at Christminster, and he taught me a great deal, and lent me books which I should never have got hold of otherwise."
"Is your friendship broken off?"
"Oh yes. He died, poor fellow, two or three years after he had taken his degree and left Christminster."
"You saw a good deal of him, I suppose?"
"Yes. We used to go about together--on walking tours, reading tours, and things of that sort--like two men almost. He asked me to live with him, and I agreed to by letter. But when I joined him in London I found he meant a different thing from what I meant. He wanted me to be his mistress, in fact, but I wasn't in love with him--and on my saying I should go away if he didn't agree to MY plan, he did so. We shared a sitting-room for fifteen months; and he became a leader-writer for one of the great London dailies; till he was taken ill, and had to go abroad. He said I was breaking his heart by holding out against him so long at such close quarters; he could never have believed it of woman. I might play that game once too often, he said. He came home merely to die. His death caused a terrible remorse in me for my cruelty--though I hope he died of consumption and not of me entirely. I went down to Sandbourne to his funeral, and was his only mourner. He left me a little money--because I broke his heart, I suppose. That's how men are--so much better than women!"
"Good heavens!--what did you do then?"
"Ah--now you are angry with me!" she said, a contralto note of tragedy coming suddenly into her silvery voice. "I wouldn't have told you if I had known!"
"No, I am not. Tell me all."
"Well, I invested his money, poor fellow, in a bubble scheme, and lost it. I lived about London by myself for some time, and then I returned to Christminster, as my father-- who was also in London, and had started as an art metal-worker near Long-Acre--wouldn't have me back; and I got that occupation in the artist-shop where you found me... I said you didn't know how bad I was!"
Jude looked round upon the arm-chair and its occupant, as if to read more carefully the creature he had given shelter to. His voice trembled as he said: "However you have lived, Sue, I believe you are as innocent as you are unconventional!"
"I am not particularly innocent, as you see, now that I have
'twitched the robe
From that blank lay-figure your fancy draped,'"
said she, with an ostensible sneer, though he could hear that she was brimming with tears. "But I have never yielded myself to any lover, if that's what you mean! I have remained as I began."
"I quite believe you. But some women would not have remained as they began."
"Perhaps not. Better women would not. People say I must be cold-natured--sexless--on account of it. But I won't have it! Some of the most passionately erotic poets have been the most self-contained in their daily lives."
"Have you told Mr. Phillotson about this university scholar friend?"
"Yes--long ago. I have never made any secret of it to anybody."
"What did he say?"
"He did not pass any criticism--only said I was everything to him, whatever I did; and things like that."
Jude felt much depressed; she seemed to get further and further away from him with her strange ways and curious unconsciousness of gender.
"Aren't you REALLY vexed with me, dear Jude?" she suddenly asked, in a voice of such extraordinary tenderness that it hardly seemed to come from the same woman who had just told her story so lightly. "I would rather offend anybody in the world than you, I think!"
"I don't know whether I am vexed or not. I know I care very much about you!"
"I care as much for you as for anybody I ever met."
"You don't care MORE! There, I ought not to say that. Don't answer it!"
There was another long silence. He felt that she was treating him cruelly, though he could not quite say in what way. Her very helplessness seemed to make her so much stronger than he.
"I am awfully ignorant on general matters, although I have worked so hard," he said, to turn the subject. "I am absorbed in theology, you know. And what do you think I should be doing just about now, if you weren't here? I should be saying my evening prayers. I suppose you wouldn't like--"
"Oh no, no," she answered, "I would rather not, if you don't mind. I should seem so--such a hypocrite."
"I thought you wouldn't join, so I didn't propose it. You must remember that I hope to be a useful minister some day."
"To be ordained, I think you said?"
"Then you haven't given up the idea?--I thought that perhaps you had by this time."
"Of course not. I fondly thought at first that you felt as I do about that, as you were so mixed up in Christminster Anglicanism. And Mr. Phillotson--"
"I have no respect for Christminster whatever, except, in a qualified degree, on its intellectual side," said Sue Bridehead earnestly. "My friend I spoke of took that out of me. He was the most irreligious man I ever knew, and the most moral. And intellect at Christminster is new wine in old bottles. The mediaevalism of Christminster must go, be sloughed off, or Christminster itself will have to go. To be sure, at times one couldn't help having a sneaking liking for the traditions of the old faith, as preserved by a section of the thinkers there in touching and simple sincerity; but when I was in my saddest, rightest mind I always felt,
'O ghastly glories of saints, dead limbs of gibbeted Gods!'"...
"Sue, you are not a good friend of mine to talk like that!"
"Then I won't, dear Jude!" The emotional throat-note had come back, and she turned her face away.
"I still think Christminster has much that is glorious; though I was resentful because I couldn't get there." He spoke gently, and resisted his impulse to pique her on to tears.
"It is an ignorant place, except as to the townspeople, artizans, drunkards, and paupers," she said, perverse still at his differing from her. "THEY see life as it is, of course; but few of the people in the colleges do. You prove it in your own person. You are one of the very men Christminster was intended for when the colleges were founded; a man with a passion for learning, but no money, or opportunities, or friends. But you were elbowed off the pavement by the millionaires' sons."
"Well, I can do without what it confers. I care for something higher."
"And I for something broader, truer," she insisted. "At present intellect in Christminster is pushing one way, and religion the other; and so they stand stock-still, like two rams butting each other."
"What would Mr. Phillotson--"
"It is a place full of fetishists and ghost-seers!"
He noticed that whenever he tried to speak of the schoolmaster she turned the conversation to some generalizations about the offending university. Jude was extremely, morbidly, curious about her life as Phillotson's _protegee_ and betrothed; yet she would not enlighten him.
"Well, that's just what I am, too," he said. "I am fearful of life, spectre-seeing always."
"But you are good and dear!" she murmured.
His heart bumped, and he made no reply.
"You are in the Tractarian stage just now, are you not?" she added, putting on flippancy to hide real feeling, a common trick with her. "Let me see--when was I there? In the year eighteen hundred and--"
"There's a sarcasm in that which is rather unpleasant to me, Sue. Now will you do what I want you to? At this time I read a chapter, and then say prayers, as I told you. Now will you concentrate your attention on any book of these you like, and sit with your back to me, and leave me to my custom? You are sure you won't join me?"
"I'll look at you."
"No. Don't tease, Sue!"
"Very well--I'll do just as you bid me, and I won't vex you, Jude," she replied, in the tone of a child who was going to be good for ever after, turning her back upon him accordingly. A small Bible other than the one he was using lay near her, and during his retreat she took it up, and turned over the leaves.
"Jude," she said brightly, when he had finished and come back to her; "will you let me make you a NEW New Testament, like the one I made for myself at Christminster?"
"Oh yes. How was that made?"
"I altered my old one by cutting up all the Epistles and Gospels into separate _brochures_, and rearranging them in chronological order as written, beginning the book with Thessalonians, following on with the Epistles, and putting the Gospels much further on. Then I had the volume rebound. My university friend Mr.--but never mind his name, poor boy--said it was an excellent idea. I know that reading it afterwards made it twice as interesting as before, and twice as understandable."
"H'm!" said Jude, with a sense of sacrilege.
"And what a literary enormity this is," she said, as she glanced into the pages of Solomon's Song. "I mean the synopsis at the head of each chapter, explaining away the real nature of that rhapsody. You needn't be alarmed: nobody claims inspiration for the chapter headings. Indeed, many divines treat them with contempt. It seems the drollest thing to think of the four-and-twenty elders, or bishops, or whatever number they were, sitting with long faces and writing down such stuff."
Jude looked pained. "You are quite Voltairean!" he murmured.
"Indeed? Then I won't say any more, except that people have no right to falsify the Bible! I HATE such hum-bug as could attempt to plaster over with ecclesiastical abstractions such ecstatic, natural, human love as lies in that great and passionate song!" Her speech had grown spirited, and almost petulant at his rebuke, and her eyes moist. "I WISH I had a friend here to support me; but nobody is ever on my side!"
"But my dear Sue, my very dear Sue, I am not against you!" he said, taking her hand, and surprised at her introducing personal feeling into mere argument.
"Yes you are, yes you are!" she cried, turning away her face that he might not see her brimming eyes. "You are on the side of the people in the training-school--at least you seem almost to be! What I insist on is, that to explain such verses as this: 'Whither is thy beloved gone, O thou fairest among women?' by the note: '_The Church professeth her faith_,' is supremely ridiculous!"
"Well then, let it be! You make such a personal matter of everything! I am--only too inclined just now to apply the words profanely. You know YOU are fairest among women to me, come to that!"
"But you are not to say it now!" Sue replied, her voice changing to its softest note of severity. Then their eyes met, and they shook hands like cronies in a tavern, and Jude saw the absurdity of quarrelling on such a hypothetical subject, and she the silliness of crying about what was written in an old book like the Bible.
"I won't disturb your convictions--I really won't!" she went on soothingly, for now he was rather more ruffled than she. "But I did want and long to ennoble some man to high aims; and when I saw you, and knew you wanted to be my comrade, I--shall I confess it?--thought that man might be you. But you take so much tradition on trust that I don't know what to say."
"Well, dear; I suppose one must take some things on trust. Life isn't long enough to work out everything in Euclid problems before you believe it. I take Christianity."
"Well, perhaps you might take something worse."
"Indeed I might. Perhaps I have done so!" He thought of Arabella.
"I won't ask what, because we are going to be VERY nice with each other, aren't we, and never, never, vex each other any more?" She looked up trustfully, and her voice seemed trying to nestle in his breast.
"I shall always care for you!" said Jude.
"And I for you. Because you are single-hearted, and forgiving to your faulty and tiresome little Sue!"
He looked away, for that epicene tenderness of hers was too harrowing. Was it that which had broken the heart of the poor leader-writer; and was he to be the next one? ... But Sue was so dear! ... If he could only get over the sense of her sex, as she seemed to be able to do so easily of his, what a comrade she would make; for their difference of opinion on conjectural subjects only drew them closer together on matters of daily human experience. She was nearer to him than any other woman he had ever met, and he could scarcely believe that time, creed, or absence, would ever divide him from her.
But his grief at her incredulities returned. They sat on till she fell asleep again, and he nodded in his chair likewise. Whenever he aroused himself he turned her things, and made up the fire anew. About six o'clock he awoke completely, and lighting a candle, found that her clothes were dry. Her chair being a far more comfortable one than his she still slept on inside his great-coat, looking warm as a new bun and boyish as a Ganymede. Placing the garments by her and touching her on the shoulder he went downstairs, and washed himself by starlight in the yard.
When he returned she was dressed as usual.
"Now could I get out without anybody seeing me?" she asked. "The town is not yet astir."
"But you have had no breakfast."
"Oh, I don't want any! I fear I ought not to have run away from that school! Things seem so different in the cold light of morning, don't they? What Mr. Phillotson will say I don't know! It was quite by his wish that I went there. He is the only man in the world for whom I have any respect or fear. I hope he'll forgive me; but he'll scold me dreadfully, I expect!"
"I'll go to him and explain--" began Jude.
"Oh no, you shan't. I don't care for him! He may think what he likes--I shall do just as I choose!"
"But you just this moment said--"
"Well, if I did, I shall do as I like for all him! I have thought of what I shall do--go to the sister of one of my fellow-students in the training-school, who has asked me to visit her. She has a school near Shaston, about eighteen miles from here--and I shall stay there till this has blown over, and I get back to the training-school again."
At the last moment he persuaded her to let him make her a cup of coffee, in a portable apparatus he kept in his room for use on rising to go to his work every day before the household was astir.
"Now a dew-bit to eat with it," he said; "and off we go. You can have a regular breakfast when you get there."
They went quietly out of the house, Jude accompanying her to the station. As they departed along the street a head was thrust out of an upper window of his lodging and quickly withdrawn. Sue still seemed sorry for her rashness, and to wish she had not rebelled; telling him at parting that she would let him know as soon as she got re-admitted to the training-school. They stood rather miserably together on the platform; and it was apparent that he wanted to say more.
"I want to tell you something--two things," he said hurriedly as the train came up. "One is a warm one, the other a cold one!"
"Jude," she said. "I know one of them. And you mustn't!"
"You mustn't love me. You are to like me--that's all!"
Jude's face became so full of complicated glooms that hers was agitated in sympathy as she bade him adieu through the carriage window. And then the train moved on, and waving her pretty hand to him she vanished away.
Melchester was a dismal place enough for Jude that Sunday of her departure, and the Close so hateful that he did not go once to the cathedral services. The next morning there came a letter from her, which, with her usual promptitude, she had written directly she had reached her friend's house. She told him of her safe arrival and comfortable quarters, and then added:--
What I really write about, dear Jude, is something I said
to you at parting. You had been so very good and kind to
me that when you were out of sight I felt what a cruel and
ungrateful woman I was to say it, and it has reproached me
ever since. IF YOU WANT TO LOVE ME, JUDE, YOU MAY: I don't
mind at all; and I'll never say again that you mustn't!
Now I won't write any more about that. You do forgive your
thoughtless friend for her cruelty? and won't make her
miserable by saying you don't?--Ever,
It would be superfluous to say what his answer was; and how he thought what he would have done had he been free, which should have rendered a long residence with a female friend quite unnecessary for Sue. He felt he might have been pretty sure of his own victory if it had come to a conflict between Phillotson and himself for the possession of her.
Yet Jude was in danger of attaching more meaning to Sue's impulsive note than it really was intended to bear.
After the lapse of a few days he found himself hoping that she would write again. But he received no further communication; and in the intensity of his solicitude he sent another note, suggesting that he should pay her a visit some Sunday, the distance being under eighteen miles.
He expected a reply on the second morning after despatching his missive; but none came. The third morning arrived; the postman did not stop. This was Saturday, and in a feverish state of anxiety about her he sent off three brief lines stating that he was coming the following day, for he felt sure something had happened.
His first and natural thought had been that she was ill from her immersion; but it soon occurred to him that somebody would have written for her in such a case. Conjectures were put an end to by his arrival at the village school-house near Shaston on the bright morning of Sunday, between eleven and twelve o'clock, when the parish was as vacant as a desert, most of the inhabitants having gathered inside the church, whence their voices could occasionally be heard in unison.
A little girl opened the door. "Miss Bridehead is up-stairs," she said. "And will you please walk up to her?"
"Is she ill?" asked Jude hastily.
"Only a little--not very."
Jude entered and ascended. On reaching the landing a voice told him which way to turn--the voice of Sue calling his name. He passed the doorway, and found her lying in a little bed in a room a dozen feet square.
"Oh, Sue!" he cried, sitting down beside her and taking her hand. "How is this! You couldn't write?"
"No--it wasn't that!" she answered. "I did catch a bad cold--but I could have written. Only I wouldn't!"
"Why not?--frightening me like this!"
"Yes--that was what I was afraid of! But I had decided not to write to you any more. They won't have me back at the school--that's why I couldn't write. Not the fact, but the reason!"
"They not only won't have me, but they gave me a parting piece of advice--"
She did not answer directly. "I vowed I never would tell you, Jude--it is so vulgar and distressing!"
"Is it about us?"
"But do tell me!"
"Well--somebody has sent them baseless reports about us, and they say you and I ought to marry as soon as possible, for the sake of my reputation! ... There--now I have told you, and I wish I hadn't!"
"Oh, poor Sue!"
"I don't think of you like that means! It did just OCCUR to me to regard you in the way they think I do, but I hadn't begun to. I HAVE recognized that the cousinship was merely nominal, since we met as total strangers. But my marrying you, dear Jude--why, of course, if I had reckoned upon marrying you I shouldn't have come to you so often! And I never supposed you thought of such a thing as marrying me till the other evening; when I began to fancy you did love me a little. Perhaps I ought not to have been so intimate with you. It is all my fault. Everything is my fault always!"
The speech seemed a little forced and unreal, and they regarded each other with a mutual distress.
"I was so blind at first!" she went on. "I didn't see what you felt at all. Oh, you have been unkind to me--you have--to look upon me as a sweetheart without saying a word, and leaving me to discover it myself! Your attitude to me has become known; and naturally they think we've been doing wrong! I'll never trust you again!"
"Yes, Sue," he said simply; "I am to blame--more than you think. I was quite aware that you did not suspect till within the last meeting or two what I was feeling about you. I admit that our meeting as strangers prevented a sense of relationship, and that it was a sort of subterfuge to avail myself of it. But don't you think I deserve a little consideration for concealing my wrong, very wrong, sentiments, since I couldn't help having them?"
She turned her eyes doubtfully towards him, and then looked away as if afraid she might forgive him.
By every law of nature and sex a kiss was the only rejoinder that fitted the mood and the moment, under the suasion of which Sue's undemonstrative regard of him might not inconceivably have changed its temperature. Some men would have cast scruples to the winds, and ventured it, oblivious both of Sue's declaration of her neutral feelings, and of the pair of autographs in the vestry chest of Arabella's parish church. Jude did not. He had, in fact, come in part to tell his own fatal story. It was upon his lips; yet at the hour of this distress he could not disclose it. He preferred to dwell upon the recognized barriers between them.
"Of course--I know you don't--care about me in any particular way," he sorrowed. "You ought not, and you are right. You belong to--Mr. Phillotson. I suppose he has been to see you?"
"Yes," she said shortly, her face changing a little. "Though I didn't ask him to come. You are glad, of course, that he has been! But I shouldn't care if he didn't come any more!"
It was very perplexing to her lover that she should be piqued at his honest acquiescence in his rival, if Jude's feelings of love were deprecated by her. He went on to something else.
"This will blow over, dear Sue," he said. "The training-school authorities are not all the world. You can get to be a student in some other, no doubt."
"I'll ask Mr. Phillotson," she said decisively.
Sue's kind hostess now returned from church, and there was no more intimate conversation. Jude left in the afternoon, hopelessly unhappy. But he had seen her, and sat with her. Such intercourse as that would have to content him for the remainder of his life. The lesson of renunciation it was necessary and proper that he, as a parish priest, should learn.
But the next morning when he awoke he felt rather vexed with her, and decided that she was rather unreasonable, not to say capricious. Then, in illustration of what he had begun to discern as one of her redeeming characteristics there came promptly a note, which she must have written almost immediately he had gone from her:
Forgive me for my petulance yesterday! I was horrid to
you; I know it, and I feel perfectly miserable at my
horridness. It was so dear of you not to be angry! Jude,
please still keep me as your friend and associate, with
all my faults. I'll try not to be like it again.
I am coming to Melchester on Saturday, to get my things
away from the T. S., &c. I could walk with you for half
an hour, if you would like?--Your repentant
Jude forgave her straightway, and asked her to call for him at the cathedral works when she came.
Meanwhile a middle-aged man was dreaming a dream of great beauty concerning the writer of the above letter. He was Richard Phillotson, who had recently removed from the mixed village school at Lumsdon near Christminster, to undertake a large boys' school in his native town of Shaston, which stood on a hill sixty miles to the south-west as the crow flies.
A glance at the place and its accessories was almost enough to reveal that the schoolmaster's plans and dreams so long indulged in had been abandoned for some new dream with which neither the Church nor literature had much in common. Essentially an unpractical man, he was now bent on making and saving money for a practical purpose--that of keeping a wife, who, if she chose, might conduct one of the girls' schools adjoining his own; for which purpose he had advised her to go into training, since she would not marry him offhand.
About the time that Jude was removing from Marygreen to Melchester, and entering on adventures at the latter place with Sue, the schoolmaster was settling down in the new school-house at Shaston. All the furniture being fixed, the books shelved, and the nails driven, he had begun to sit in his parlour during the dark winter nights and re-attempt some of his old studies--one branch of which had included Roman-Britannic antiquities--an unremunerative labour for a national school-master but a subject, that, after his abandonment of the university scheme, had interested him as being a comparatively unworked mine; practicable to those who, like himself, had lived in lonely spots where these remains were abundant, and were seen to compel inferences in startling contrast to accepted views on the civilization of that time.
A resumption of this investigation was the outward and apparent hobby of Phillotson at present--his ostensible reason for going alone into fields where causeways, dykes, and tumuli abounded, or shutting himself up in his house with a few urns, tiles, and mosaics he had collected, instead of calling round upon his new neighbours, who for their part had showed themselves willing enough to be friendly with him. But it was not the real, or the whole, reason, after all. Thus on a particular evening in the month, when it had grown quite late--to near midnight, indeed--and the light of his lamp, shining from his window at a salient angle of the hill-top town over infinite miles of valley westward, announced as by words a place and person given over to study, he was not exactly studying.
The interior of the room--the books, the furniture, the schoolmaster's loose coat, his attitude at the table, even the flickering of the fire, bespoke the same dignified tale of undistracted research--more than creditable to a man who had had no advantages beyond those of his own making. And yet the tale, true enough till latterly, was not true now. What he was regarding was not history. They were historic notes, written in a bold womanly hand at his dictation some months before, and it was the clerical rendering of word after word that absorbed him.
He presently took from a drawer a carefully tied bundle of letters, few, very few, as correspondence counts nowadays. Each was in its envelope just as it had arrived, and the handwriting was of the same womanly character as the historic notes. He unfolded them one by one and read them musingly. At first sight there seemed in these small documents to be absolutely nothing to muse over. They were straightforward, frank letters, signed "Sue B--"; just such ones as would be written during short absences, with no other thought than their speedy destruction, and chiefly concerning books in reading and other experiences of a training school, forgotten doubtless by the writer with the passing of the day of their inditing. In one of them--quite a recent note--the young woman said that she had received his considerate letter, and that it was honourable and generous of him to say he would not come to see her oftener than she desired (the school being such an awkward place for callers, and because of her strong wish that her engagement to him should not be known, which it would infallibly be if he visited her often). Over these phrases the school-master pored. What precise shade of satisfaction was to be gathered from a woman's gratitude that the man who loved her had not been often to see her? The problem occupied him, distracted him.
He opened another drawer, and found therein an envelope, from which he drew a photograph of Sue as a child, long before he had known her, standing under trellis-work with a little basket in her hand. There was another of her as a young woman, her dark eyes and hair making a very distinct and attractive picture of her, which just disclosed, too, the thoughtfulness that lay behind her lighter moods. It was a duplicate of the one she had given Jude, and would have given to any man. Phillotson brought it half-way to his lips, but withdrew it in doubt at her perplexing phrases: ultimately kissing the dead pasteboard with all the passionateness, and more than all the devotion, of a young man of eighteen.
The schoolmaster's was an unhealthy-looking, old-fashioned face, rendered more old-fashioned by his style of shaving. A certain gentlemanliness had been imparted to it by nature, suggesting an inherent wish to do rightly by all. His speech was a little slow, but his tones were sincere enough to make his hesitation no defect. His greying hair was curly, and radiated from a point in the middle of his crown. There were four lines across his forehead, and he only wore spectacles when reading at night. It was almost certainly a renunciation forced upon him by his academic purpose, rather than a distaste for women, which had hitherto kept him from closing with one of the sex in matrimony.
Such silent proceedings as those of this evening were repeated many and oft times when he was not under the eye of the boys, whose quick and penetrating regard would frequently become almost intolerable to the self-conscious master in his present anxious care for Sue, making him, in the grey hours of morning, dread to meet anew the gimlet glances, lest they should read what the dream within him was.
He had honourably acquiesced in Sue's announced wish that he was not often to visit her at the training school; but at length, his patience being sorely tried, he set out one Saturday afternoon to pay her an unexpected call. There the news of her departure--expulsion as it might almost have been considered--was flashed upon him without warning or mitigation as he stood at the door expecting in a few minutes to behold her face; and when he turned away he could hardly see the road before him.
Sue had, in fact, never written a line to her suitor on the subject, although it was fourteen days old. A short reflection told him that this proved nothing, a natural delicacy being as ample a reason for silence as any degree of blameworthiness.
They had informed him at the school where she was living, and having no immediate anxiety about her comfort his thoughts took the direction of a burning indignation against the training school committee. In his bewilderment Phillotson entered the adjacent cathedral, just now in a direly dismantled state by reason of the repairs. He sat down on a block of freestone, regardless of the dusty imprint it made on his breeches; and his listless eyes following the movements of the workmen he presently became aware that the reputed culprit, Sue's lover Jude, was one amongst them.
Jude had never spoken to his former hero since the meeting by the model of Jerusalem. Having inadvertently witnessed Phillotson's tentative courtship of Sue in the lane there had grown up in the younger man's mind a curious dislike to think of the elder, to meet him, to communicate in any way with him; and since Phillotson's success in obtaining at least her promise had become known to Jude, he had frankly recognized that he did not wish to see or hear of his senior any more, learn anything of his pursuits, or even imagine again what excellencies might appertain to his character. On this very day of the schoolmaster's visit Jude was expecting Sue, as she had promised; and when therefore he saw the schoolmaster in the nave of the building, saw, moreover, that he was coming to speak to him, he felt no little embarrassment; which Phillotson's own embarrassment prevented his observing.
Jude joined him, and they both withdrew from the other workmen to the spot where Phillotson had been sitting. Jude offered him a piece of sackcloth for a cushion, and told him it was dangerous to sit on the bare block.
"Yes; yes," said Phillotson abstractedly, as he reseated himself, his eyes resting on the ground as if he were trying to remember where he was. "I won't keep you long. It was merely that I have heard that you have seen my little friend Sue recently. It occurred to me to speak to you on that account. I merely want to ask--about her."
"I think I know what!" Jude hurriedly said. "About her escaping from the training school, and her coming to me?"
"Well"--Jude for a moment felt an unprincipled and fiendish wish to annihilate his rival at all cost. By the exercise of that treachery which love for the same woman renders possible to men the most honourable in every other relation of life, he could send off Phillotson in agony and defeat by saying that the scandal was true, and that Sue had irretrievably committed herself with him. But his action did not respond for a moment to his animal instinct; and what he said was, "I am glad of your kindness in coming to talk plainly to me about it. You know what they say?--that I ought to marry her."
"And I wish with all my soul I could!"
Phillotson trembled, and his naturally pale face acquired a corpselike sharpness in its lines. "I had no idea that it was of this nature! God forbid!"
"No, no!" said Jude aghast. "I thought you understood? I mean that were I in a position to marry her, or someone, and settle down, instead of living in lodgings here and there, I should be glad!"
What he had really meant was simply that he loved her.
"But--since this painful matter has been opened up--what really happened?" asked Phillotson, with the firmness of a man who felt that a sharp smart now was better than a long agony of suspense hereafter. "Cases arise, and this is one, when even ungenerous questions must be put to make false assumptions impossible, and to kill scandal."
Jude explained readily; giving the whole series of adventures, including the night at the shepherd's, her wet arrival at his lodging, her indisposition from her immersion, their vigil of discussion, and his seeing her off next morning.
"Well now," said Phillotson at the conclusion, "I take it as your final word, and I know I can believe you, that the suspicion which led to her rustication is an absolutely baseless one?"
"It is," said Jude solemnly. "Absolutely. So help me God!"
The schoolmaster rose. Each of the twain felt that the interview could not comfortably merge in a friendly discussion of their recent experiences, after the manner of friends; and when Jude had taken him round, and shown him some features of the renovation which the old cathedral was undergoing, Phillotson bade the young man good-day and went away.
This visit took place about eleven o'clock in the morning; but no Sue appeared. When Jude went to his dinner at one he saw his beloved ahead of him in the street leading up from the North Gate, walking as if no way looking for him. Speedily overtaking her he remarked that he had asked her to come to him at the cathedral, and she had promised.
"I have been to get my things from the college," she said--an observation which he was expected to take as an answer, though it was not one. Finding her to be in this evasive mood he felt inclined to give her the information so long withheld.
"You have not seen Mr. Phillotson to-day?" he ventured to inquire.
"I have not. But I am not going to be cross-examined about him; and if you ask anything more I won't answer!"
"It is very odd that--" He stopped, regarding her.
"That you are often not so nice in your real presence as you are in your letters!"
"Does it really seem so to you?" said she, smiling with quick curiosity. "Well, that's strange; but I feel just the same about you, Jude. When you are gone away I seem such a coldhearted--"
As she knew his sentiment towards her Jude saw that they were getting upon dangerous ground. It was now, he thought, that he must speak as an honest man.
But he did not speak, and she continued: "It was that which made me write and say--I didn't mind your loving me--if you wanted to, much!"
The exultation he might have felt at what that implied, or seemed to imply, was nullified by his intention, and he rested rigid till he began: "I have never told you--"
"Yes you have," murmured she.
"I mean, I have never told you my history--all of it."
"But I guess it. I know nearly."
Jude looked up. Could she possibly know of that morning performance of his with Arabella; which in a few months had ceased to be a marriage more completely than by death? He saw that she did not.
"I can't quite tell you here in the street," he went on with a gloomy tongue. "And you had better not come to my lodgings. Let us go in here."
The building by which they stood was the market-house; it was the only place available; and they entered, the market being over, and the stalls and areas empty. He would have preferred a more congenial spot, but, as usually happens, in place of a romantic field or solemn aisle for his tale, it was told while they walked up and down over a floor littered with rotten cabbage-leaves, and amid all the usual squalors of decayed vegetable matter and unsaleable refuse. He began and finished his brief narrative, which merely led up to the information that he had married a wife some years earlier, and that his wife was living still. Almost before her countenance had time to change she hurried out the words,
"Why didn't you tell me before!"
"I couldn't. It seemed so cruel to tell it."
"To yourself, Jude. So it was better to be cruel to me!"
"No, dear darling!" cried Jude passionately. He tried to take her hand, but she withdrew it. Their old relations of confidence seemed suddenly to have ended, and the antagonisms of sex to sex were left without any counter-poising predilections. She was his comrade, friend, unconscious sweetheart no longer; and her eyes regarded him in estranged silence.
"I was ashamed of the episode in my life which brought about the marriage," he continued. "I can't explain it precisely now. I could have done it if you had taken it differently!"
"But how can I?" she burst out. "Here I have been saying, or writing, that--that you might love me, or something of the sort!--just out of charity--and all the time--oh, it is perfectly damnable how things are!" she said, stamping her foot in a nervous quiver.
"You take me wrong, Sue! I never thought you cared for me at all, till quite lately; so I felt it did not matter! Do you care for me, Sue?--you know how I mean?--I don't like 'out of charity' at all!"
It was a question which in the circumstances Sue did not choose to answer.
"I suppose she--your wife--is--a very pretty woman, even if she's wicked?" she asked quickly.
"She's pretty enough, as far as that goes."
"Prettier than I am, no doubt!"
"You are not the least alike. And I have never seen her for years... But she's sure to come back--they always do!"
"How strange of you to stay apart from her like this!" said Sue, her trembling lip and lumpy throat belying her irony. "You, such a religious man. How will the demi-gods in your Pantheon--I mean those legendary persons you call saints--intercede for you after this? Now if I had done such a thing it would have been different, and not remarkable, for I at least don't regard marriage as a sacrament. Your theories are not so advanced as your practice!"
"Sue, you are terribly cutting when you like to be--a perfect Voltaire! But you must treat me as you will!"
When she saw how wretched he was she softened, and trying to blink away her sympathetic tears said with all the winning reproachfulness of a heart-hurt woman: "Ah--you should have told me before you gave me that idea that you wanted to be allowed to love me! I had no feeling before that moment at the railway-station, except--" For once Sue was as miserable as he, in her attempts to keep herself free from emotion, and her less than half-success.
"Don't cry, dear!" he implored.
"I am--not crying--because I meant to--love you; but because of your want of--confidence!"
They were quite screened from the market-square without, and he could not help putting out his arm towards her waist. His momentary desire was the means of her rallying. "No, no!" she said, drawing back stringently, and wiping her eyes. "Of course not! It would be hypocrisy to pretend that it would be meant as from my cousin; and it can't be in any other way."
They moved on a dozen paces, and she showed herself recovered. It was distracting to Jude, and his heart would have ached less had she appeared anyhow but as she did appear; essentially large-minded and generous on reflection, despite a previous exercise of those narrow womanly humours on impulse that were necessary to give her sex.
"I don't blame you for what you couldn't help," she said, smiling. "How should I be so foolish? I do blame you a little bit for not telling me before. But, after all, it doesn't matter. We should have had to keep apart, you see, even if this had not been in your life."
"No, we shouldn't, Sue! This is the only obstacle."
"You forget that I must have loved you, and wanted to be your wife, even if there had been no obstacle," said Sue, with a gentle seriousness which did not reveal her mind. "And then we are cousins, and it is bad for cousins to marry. And--I am engaged to somebody else. As to our going on together as we were going, in a sort of friendly way, the people round us would have made it unable to continue. Their views of the relations of man and woman are limited, as is proved by their expelling me from the school. Their philosophy only recognizes relations based on animal desire. The wide field of strong attachment where desire plays, at least, only a secondary part, is ignored by them--the part of--who is it?--Venus Urania."
Her being able to talk learnedly showed that she was mistress of herself again; and before they parted she had almost regained her vivacious glance, her reciprocity of tone, her gay manner, and her second-thought attitude of critical largeness towards others of her age and sex.
He could speak more freely now. "There were several reasons against my telling you rashly. One was what I have said; another, that it was always impressed upon me that I ought not to marry--that I belonged to an odd and peculiar family--the wrong breed for marriage."
"Ah--who used to say that to you?"
"My great-aunt. She said it always ended badly with us Fawleys."
"That's strange. My father used to say the same to me!"
They stood possessed by the same thought, ugly enough, even as an assumption: that a union between them, had such been possible, would have meant a terrible intensification of unfitness--two bitters in one dish.
"Oh, but there can't be anything in it!" she said with nervous lightness. "Our family have been unlucky of late years in choosing mates--that's all."
And then they pretended to persuade themselves that all that had happened was of no consequence, and that they could still be cousins and friends and warm correspondents, and have happy genial times when they met, even if they met less frequently than before. Their parting was in good friendship, and yet Jude's last look into her eyes was tinged with inquiry, for he felt that he did not even now quite know her mind.
Tidings from Sue a day or two after passed across Jude like a withering blast.
Before reading the letter he was led to suspect that its contents were of a somewhat serious kind by catching sight of the signature--which was in her full name, never used in her correspondence with him since her first note:
MY DEAR JUDE,--I have something to tell you which perhaps
you will not be surprised to hear, though certainly it may
strike you as being accelerated (as the railway companies
say of their trains). Mr. Phillotson and I are to be married
quite soon--in three or four weeks. We had intended, as you
know, to wait till I had gone through my course of training
and obtained my certificate, so as to assist him, if
necessary, in the teaching. But he generously says he does
not see any object in waiting, now I am not at the training
school. It is so good of him, because the awkwardness of my
situation has really come about by my fault in getting
Wish me joy. Remember I say you are to, and you mustn't
refuse!--Your affectionate cousin,
SUSANNA FLORENCE MARY BRIDEHEAD.
Jude staggered under the news; could eat no breakfast; and kept on drinking tea because his mouth was so dry. Then presently he went back to his work and laughed the usual bitter laugh of a man so confronted. Everything seemed turning to satire. And yet, what could the poor girl do? he asked himself: and felt worse than shedding tears.
"O Susanna Florence Mary!" he said as he worked. "You don't know what marriage means!"
Could it be possible that his announcement of his own marriage had pricked her on to this, just as his visit to her when in liquor may have pricked her on to her engagement? To be sure, there seemed to exist these other and sufficient reasons, practical and social, for her decision; but Sue was not a very practical or calculating person; and he was compelled to think that a pique at having his secret sprung upon her had moved her to give way to Phillotson's probable representations, that the best course to prove how unfounded were the suspicions of the school authorities would be to marry him off-hand, as in fulfilment of an ordinary engagement. Sue had, in fact, been placed in an awkward corner. Poor Sue!
He determined to play the Spartan; to make the best of it, and support her; but he could not write the requested good wishes for a day or two. Meanwhile there came another note from his impatient little dear:
Jude, will you give me away? I have nobody else who could
do it so conveniently as you, being the only married relation
I have here on the spot, even if my father were friendly
enough to be willing, which he isn't. I hope you won't think
it a trouble? I have been looking at the marriage service in
the prayer-book, and it seems to me very humiliating that a
giver-away should be required at all. According to the
ceremony as there printed, my bridegroom chooses me of his
own will and pleasure; but I don't choose him. Somebody
GIVES me to him, like a she-ass or she-goat, or any other
domestic animal. Bless your exalted views of woman, O
churchman! But I forget: I am no longer privileged to tease
SUSANNA FLORENCE MARY BRIDEHEAD.
Jude screwed himself up to heroic key; and replied:
MY DEAR SUE,--Of course I wish you joy! And also of course
I will give you away. What I suggest is that, as you have
no house of your own, you do not marry from your school
friend's, but from mine. It would be more proper, I think,
since I am, as you say, the person nearest related to you in
this part of the world.
I don't see why you sign your letter in such a new and
terribly formal way? Surely you care a bit about me
still!--Ever your affectionate,
What had jarred on him even more than the signature was a little sting he had been silent on--the phrase "married relation"--What an idiot it made him seem as her lover! If Sue had written that in satire, he could hardly forgive her; if in suffering--ah, that was another thing!
His offer of his lodging must have commended itself to Phillotson at any rate, for the schoolmaster sent him a line of warm thanks, accepting the convenience. Sue also thanked him. Jude immediately moved into more commodious quarters, as much to escape the espionage of the suspicious landlady who had been one cause of Sue's unpleasant experience as for the sake of room.
Then Sue wrote to tell him the day fixed for the wedding; and Jude decided, after inquiry, that she should come into residence on the following Saturday, which would allow of a ten days' stay in the city prior to the ceremony, sufficiently representing a nominal residence of fifteen.
She arrived by the ten o'clock train on the day aforesaid, Jude not going to meet her at the station, by her special request, that he should not lose a morning's work and pay, she said (if this were her true reason). But so well by this time did he know Sue that the remembrance of their mutual sensitiveness at emotional crises might, he thought, have weighed with her in this. When he came home to dinner she had taken possession of her apartment.
She lived in the same house with him, but on a different floor, and they saw each other little, an occasional supper being the only meal they took together, when Sue's manner was something like that of a scared child. What she felt he did not know; their conversation was mechanical, though she did not look pale or ill. Phillotson came frequently, but mostly when Jude was absent. On the morning of the wedding, when Jude had given himself a holiday, Sue and her cousin had breakfast together for the first and last time during this curious interval; in his room--the parlour--which he had hired for the period of Sue's residence. Seeing, as women do, how helpless he was in making the place comfortable, she bustled about.
"What's the matter, Jude?" she said suddenly.
He was leaning with his elbows on the table and his chin on his hands, looking into a futurity which seemed to be sketched out on the tablecloth.
"You are 'father', you know. That's what they call the man who gives you away."
Jude could have said "Phillotson's age entitles him to be called that!" But he would not annoy her by such a cheap retort.
She talked incessantly, as if she dreaded his indulgence in reflection, and before the meal was over both he and she wished they had not put such confidence in their new view of things, and had taken breakfast apart. What oppressed Jude was the thought that, having done a wrong thing of this sort himself, he was aiding and abetting the woman he loved in doing a like wrong thing, instead of imploring and warning her against it. It was on his tongue to say, "You have quite made up your mind?"
After breakfast they went out on an errand together moved by a mutual thought that it was the last opportunity they would have of indulging in unceremonious companionship. By the irony of fate, and the curious trick in Sue's nature of tempting Providence at critical times, she took his arm as they walked through the muddy street--a thing she had never done before in her life--and on turning the corner they found themselves close to a grey perpendicular church with a low-pitched roof--the church of St. Thomas.
"That's the church," said Jude.
"Where I am going to be married?"
"Indeed!" she exclaimed with curiosity. "How I should like to go in and see what the spot is like where I am so soon to kneel and do it."
Again he said to himself, "She does not realize what marriage means!"
He passively acquiesced in her wish to go in, and they entered by the western door. The only person inside the gloomy building was a charwoman cleaning. Sue still held Jude's arm, almost as if she loved him. Cruelly sweet, indeed, she had been to him that morning; but his thoughts of a penance in store for her were tempered by an ache:
... I can find no way
How a blow should fall, such as falls on men,
Nor prove too much for your womanhood!
They strolled undemonstratively up the nave towards the altar railing, which they stood against in silence, turning then and walking down the nave again, her hand still on his arm, precisely like a couple just married. The too suggestive incident, entirely of her making, nearly broke down Jude.
"I like to do things like this," she said in the delicate voice of an epicure in emotions, which left no doubt that she spoke the truth.
"I know you do!" said Jude.
"They are interesting, because they have probably never been done before. I shall walk down the church like this with my husband in about two hours, shan't I!"
"No doubt you will!"
"Was it like this when you were married?"
"Good God, Sue--don't be so awfully merciless! ... There, dear one, I didn't mean it!"
"Ah--you are vexed!" she said regretfully, as she blinked away an access of eye moisture. "And I promised never to vex you! ... I suppose I ought not to have asked you to bring me in here. Oh, I oughtn't! I see it now. My curiosity to hunt up a new sensation always leads me into these scrapes. Forgive me! ... You will, won't you, Jude?"
The appeal was so remorseful that Jude's eyes were even wetter than hers as he pressed her hand for Yes.
"Now we'll hurry away, and I won't do it any more!" she continued humbly; and they came out of the building, Sue intending to go on to the station to meet Phillotson. But the first person they encountered on entering the main street was the schoolmaster himself, whose train had arrived sooner than Sue expected. There was nothing really to demur to in her leaning on Jude's arm; but she withdrew her hand, and Jude thought that Phillotson had looked surprised.
"We have been doing such a funny thing!" said she, smiling candidly. "We've been to the church, rehearsing as it were. Haven't we, Jude?"
"How?" said Phillotson curiously.
Jude inwardly deplored what he thought to be unnecessary frankness; but she had gone too far not to explain all, which she accordingly did, telling him how they had marched up to the altar.
Seeing how puzzled Phillotson seemed, Jude said as cheerfully as he could, "I am going to buy her another little present. Will you both come to the shop with me?"
"No," said Sue, "I'll go on to the house with him"; and requesting her lover not to be a long time she departed with the schoolmaster.
Jude soon joined them at his rooms, and shortly after they prepared for the ceremony. Phillotson's hair was brushed to a painful extent, and his shirt collar appeared stiffer than it had been for the previous twenty years. Beyond this he looked dignified and thoughtful, and altogether a man of whom it was not unsafe to predict that he would make a kind and considerate husband. That he adored Sue was obvious; and she could almost be seen to feel that she was undeserving his adoration.
Although the distance was so short he had hired a fly from the Red Lion, and six or seven women and children had gathered by the door when they came out. The schoolmaster and Sue were unknown, though Jude was getting to be recognized as a citizen; and the couple were judged to be some relations of his from a distance, nobody supposing Sue to have been a recent pupil at the training school.
In the carriage Jude took from his pocket his extra little wedding-present, which turned out to be two or three yards of white tulle, which he threw over her bonnet and all, as a veil.
"It looks so odd over a bonnet," she said. "I'll take the bonnet off."
"Oh no--let it stay," said Phillotson. And she obeyed.
When they had passed up the church and were standing in their places Jude found that the antecedent visit had certainly taken off the edge of this performance, but by the time they were half-way on with the service he wished from his heart that he had not undertaken the business of giving her away. How could Sue have had the temerity to ask him to do it--a cruelty possibly to herself as well as to him? Women were different from men in such matters. Was it that they were, instead of more sensitive, as reputed, more callous, and less romantic; or were they more heroic? Or was Sue simply so perverse that she wilfully gave herself and him pain for the odd and mournful luxury of practising long-suffering in her own person, and of being touched with tender pity for him at having made him practise it? He could perceive that her face was nervously set, and when they reached the trying ordeal of Jude giving her to Phillotson she could hardly command herself; rather, however, as it seemed, from her knowledge of what her cousin must feel, whom she need not have had there at all, than from self-consideration. Possibly she would go on inflicting such pains again and again, and grieving for the sufferer again and again, in all her colossal inconsistency.
Phillotson seemed not to notice, to be surrounded by a mist which prevented his seeing the emotions of others. As soon as they had signed their names and come away, and the suspense was over, Jude felt relieved.
The meal at his lodging was a very simple affair, and at two o'clock they went off. In crossing the pavement to the fly she looked back; and there was a frightened light in her eyes. Could it be that Sue had acted with such unusual foolishness as to plunge into she knew not what for the sake of asserting her independence of him, of retaliating on him for his secrecy? Perhaps Sue was thus venturesome with men because she was childishly ignorant of that side of their natures which wore out women's hearts and lives.
When her foot was on the carriage-step she turned round, saying that she had forgotten something. Jude and the landlady offered to get it.
"No," she said, running back. "It is my handkerchief. I know where I left it."
Jude followed her back. She had found it, and came holding it in her hand. She looked into his eyes with her own tearful ones, and her lips suddenly parted as if she were going to avow something. But she went on; and whatever she had meant to say remained unspoken.
Jude wondered if she had really left her handkerchief behind; or whether it were that she had miserably wished to tell him of a love that at the last moment she could not bring herself to express.
He could not stay in his silent lodging when they were gone, and fearing that he might be tempted to drown his misery in alcohol he went upstairs, changed his dark clothes for his white, his thin boots for his thick, and proceeded to his customary work for the afternoon.
But in the cathedral he seemed to hear a voice behind him, and to be possessed with an idea that she would come back. She could not possibly go home with Phillotson, he fancied. The feeling grew and stirred. The moment that the clock struck the last of his working hours he threw down his tools and rushed homeward. "Has anybody been for me?" he asked.
Nobody had been there.
As he could claim the downstairs sitting-room till twelve o'clock that night he sat in it all the evening; and even when the clock had struck eleven, and the family had retired, he could not shake off the feeling that she would come back and sleep in the little room adjoining his own in which she had slept so many previous days. Her actions were always unpredictable: why should she not come? Gladly would he have compounded for the denial of her as a sweetheart and wife by having her live thus as a fellow-lodger and friend, even on the most distant terms. His supper still remained spread, and going to the front door, and softly setting it open, he returned to the room and sat as watchers sit on Old-Midsummer eves, expecting the phantom of the Beloved. But she did not come.
Having indulged in this wild hope he went upstairs, and looked out of the window, and pictured her through the evening journey to London, whither she and Phillotson had gone for their holiday; their rattling along through the damp night to their hotel, under the same sky of ribbed cloud as that he beheld, through which the moon showed its position rather than its shape, and one or two of the larger stars made themselves visible as faint nebulae only. It was a new beginning of Sue's history. He projected his mind into the future, and saw her with children more or less in her own likeness around her. But the consolation of regarding them as a continuation of her identity was denied to him, as to all such dreamers, by the wilfulness of Nature in not allowing issue from one parent alone. Every desired renewal of an existence is debased by being half alloy. "If at the estrangement or death of my lost love, I could go and see her child--hers solely--there would be comfort in it!" said Jude. And then he again uneasily saw, as he had latterly seen with more and more frequency, the scorn of Nature for man's finer emotions, and her lack of interest in his aspirations.
The oppressive strength of his affection for Sue showed itself on the morrow and following days yet more clearly. He could no longer endure the light of the Melchester lamps; the sunshine was as drab paint, and the blue sky as zinc. Then he received news that his old aunt was dangerously ill at Marygreen, which intelligence almost coincided with a letter from his former employer at Christminster, who offered him permanent work of a good class if he would come back. The letters were almost a relief to him. He started to visit Aunt Drusilla, and resolved to go onward to Christminster to see what worth there might be in the builder's offer.
Jude found his aunt even worse than the communication from the Widow Edlin had led him to expect. There was every possibility of her lingering on for weeks or months, though little likelihood. He wrote to Sue informing her of the state of her aunt, and suggesting that she might like to see her aged relative alive. He would meet her at Alfredston Road, the following evening, Monday, on his way back from Christminster, if she could come by the up-train which crossed his down-train at that station. Next morning, according, he went on to Christminster, intending to return to Alfredston soon enough to keep the suggested appointment with Sue.
The city of learning wore an estranged look, and he had lost all feeling for its associations. Yet as the sun made vivid lights and shades of the mullioned architecture of the facades, and drew patterns of the crinkled battlements on the young turf of the quadrangles, Jude thought he had never seen the place look more beautiful. He came to the street in which he had first beheld Sue. The chair she had occupied when, leaning over her ecclesiastical scrolls, a hog-hair brush in her hand, her girlish figure had arrested the gaze of his inquiring eyes, stood precisely in its former spot, empty. It was as if she were dead, and nobody had been found capable of succeeding her in that artistic pursuit. Hers was now the city phantom, while those of the intellectual and devotional worthies who had once moved him to emotion were no longer able to assert their presence there.
However, here he was; and in fulfilment of his intention he went on to his former lodging in "Beersheba," near the ritualistic church of St. Silas. The old landlady who opened the door seemed glad to see him again, and bringing some lunch informed him that the builder who had employed him had called to inquire his address.
Jude went on to the stone-yard where he had worked. But the old sheds and bankers were distasteful to him; he felt it impossible to engage himself to return and stay in this place of vanished dreams. He longed for the hour of the homeward train to Alfredston, where he might probably meet Sue.
Then, for one ghastly half-hour of depression caused by these scenes, there returned upon him that feeling which had been his undoing more than once--that he was not worth the trouble of being taken care of either by himself or others; and during this half-hour he met Tinker Taylor, the bankrupt ecclesiastical ironmonger, at Fourways, who proposed that they should adjourn to a bar and drink together. They walked along the street till they stood before one of the great palpitating centres of Christminster life, the inn wherein he formerly had responded to the challenge to rehearse the Creed in Latin--now a popular tavern with a spacious and inviting entrance, which gave admittance to a bar that had been entirely renovated and refitted in modern style since Jude's residence here.
Tinker Taylor drank off his glass and departed, saying it was too stylish a place now for him to feel at home in unless he was drunker than he had money to be just then. Jude was longer finishing his, and stood abstractedly silent in the, for the minute, almost empty place. The bar had been gutted and newly arranged throughout, mahogany fixtures having taken the place of the old painted ones, while at the back of the standing-space there were stuffed sofa-benches. The room was divided into compartments in the approved manner, between which were screens of ground glass in mahogany framing, to prevent topers in one compartment being put to the blush by the recognitions of those in the next. On the inside of the counter two barmaids leant over the white-handled beer-engines, and the row of little silvered taps inside, dripping into a pewter trough.
Feeling tired, and having nothing more to do till the train left, Jude sat down on one of the sofas. At the back of the barmaids rose bevel-edged mirrors, with glass shelves running along their front, on which stood precious liquids that Jude did not know the name of, in bottles of topaz, sapphire, ruby and amethyst. The moment was enlivened by the entrance of some customers into the next compartment, and the starting of the mechanical tell-tale of monies received, which emitted a ting-ting every time a coin was put in.
The barmaid attending to this compartment was invisible to Jude's direct glance, though a reflection of her back in the glass behind her was occasionally caught by his eyes. He had only observed this listlessly, when she turned her face for a moment to the glass to set her hair tidy. Then he was amazed to discover that the face was Arabella's.
If she had come on to his compartment she would have seen him. But she did not, this being presided over by the maiden on the other side. Abby was in a black gown, with white linen cuffs and a broad white collar, and her figure, more developed than formerly, was accentuated by a bunch of daffodils that she wore on her left bosom. In the compartment she served stood an electro-plated fountain of water over a spirit-lamp, whose blue flame sent a steam from the top, all this being visible to him only in the mirror behind her; which also reflected the faces of the men she was attending to--one of them a handsome, dissipated young fellow, possibly an undergraduate, who had been relating to her an experience of some humorous sort.
"Oh, Mr. Cockman, now! How can you tell such a tale to me in my innocence!" she cried gaily. "Mr. Cockman, what do you use to make your moustache curl so beautiful?" As the young man was clean shaven the retort provoked a laugh at his expense.
"Come!" said he, "I'll have a curacao; and a light, please."
She served the liqueur from one of the lovely bottles and striking a match held it to his cigarette with ministering archness while he whiffed.
"Well, have you heard from your husband lately, my dear?" he asked.
"Not a sound," said she.
"Where is he?"
"I left him in Australia; and I suppose he's there still."
Jude's eyes grew rounder.
"What made you part from him?"
"Don't you ask questions, and you won't hear lies."
"Come then, give me my change, which you've been keeping from me for the last quarter of an hour; and I'll romantically vanish up the street of this picturesque city."
She handed the change over the counter, in taking which he caught her fingers and held them. There was a slight struggle and titter, and he bade her good-bye and left.
Jude had looked on with the eye of a dazed philosopher. It was extraordinary how far removed from his life Arabella now seemed to be. He could not realize their nominal closeness. And, this being the case, in his present frame of mind he was indifferent to the fact that Arabella was his wife indeed.
The compartment that she served emptied itself of visitors, and after a brief thought he entered it, and went forward to the counter. Arabella did not recognize him for a moment. Then their glances met. She started; till a humorous impudence sparkled in her eyes, and she spoke.
"Well, I'm blest! I thought you were underground years ago!"
"I never heard anything of you, or I don't know that I should have come here. But never mind! What shall I treat you to this afternoon? A Scotch and soda? Come, anything that the house will afford, for old acquaintance' sake!"
"Thanks, Arabella," said Jude without a smile. "But I don't want anything more than I've had." The fact was that her unexpected presence there had destroyed at a stroke his momentary taste for strong liquor as completely as if it had whisked him back to his milk-fed infancy.
"That's a pity, now you could get it for nothing."
"How long have you been here?"
"About six weeks. I returned from Sydney three months ago. I always liked this business, you know."
"I wonder you came to this place!"
"Well, as I say, I thought you were gone to glory, and being in London I saw the situation in an advertisement. Nobody was likely to know me here, even if I had minded, for I was never in Christminster in my growing up."
"Why did you return from Australia?"
"Oh, I had my reasons... Then you are not a don yet?"
"Not even a reverend?"
"Nor so much as a rather reverend dissenting gentleman?"
"I am as I was."
"True--you look so." She idly allowed her fingers to rest on the pull of the beer-engine as she inspected him critically. He observed that her hands were smaller and whiter than when he had lived with her, and that on the hand which pulled the engine she wore an ornamental ring set with what seemed to be real sapphires--which they were, indeed, and were much admired as such by the young men who frequented the bar.
"So you pass as having a living husband," he continued.
"Yes. I thought it might be awkward if I called myself a widow, as I should have liked."
"True. I am known here a little."
"I didn't mean on that account--for as I said I didn't expect you. It was for other reasons."
"What were they?"
"I don't care to go into them," she replied evasively. "I make a very good living, and I don't know that I want your company."
Here a chappie with no chin, and a moustache like a lady's eyebrow, came and asked for a curiously compounded drink, and Arabella was obliged to go and attend to him. "We can't talk here," she said, stepping back a moment. "Can't you wait till nine? Say yes, and don't be a fool. I can get off duty two hours sooner than usual, if I ask. I am not living in the house at present."
He reflected and said gloomily, "I'll come back. I suppose we'd better arrange something."
"Oh, bother arranging! I'm not going to arrange anything!"
"But I must know a thing or two; and, as you say, we can't talk here. Very well; I'll call for you."
Depositing his unemptied glass he went out and walked up and down the street. Here was a rude flounce into the pellucid sentimentality of his sad attachment to Sue. Though Arabella's word was absolutely untrustworthy, he thought there might be some truth in her implication that she had not wished to disturb him, and had really supposed him dead. However, there was only one thing now to be done, and that was to play a straightforward part, the law being the law, and the woman between whom and himself there was no more unity than between east and west being in the eye of the Church one person with him.
Having to meet Arabella here, it was impossible to meet Sue at Alfredston as he had promised. At every thought of this a pang had gone through him; but the conjuncture could not be helped. Arabella was perhaps an intended intervention to punish him for his unauthorized love. Passing the evening, therefore, in a desultory waiting about the town wherein he avoided the precincts of every cloister and hall, because he could not bear to behold them, he repaired to the tavern bar while the hundred and one strokes were resounding from the Great Bell of Cardinal College, a coincidence which seemed to him gratuitous irony. The inn was now brilliantly lighted up, and the scene was altogether more brisk and gay. The faces of the barmaidens had risen in colour, each having a pink flush on her cheek; their manners were still more vivacious than before--more abandoned, more excited, more sensuous, and they expressed their sentiments and desires less euphemistically, laughing in a lackadaisical tone, without reserve.
The bar had been crowded with men of all sorts during the previous hour, and he had heard from without the hubbub of their voices; but the customers were fewer at last. He nodded to Arabella, and told her that she would find him outside the door when she came away.
"But you must have something with me first," she said with great good humour. "Just an early night-cap: I always do. Then you can go out and wait a minute, as it is best we should not be seen going together." She drew a couple of liqueur glasses of brandy; and though she had evidently, from her countenance, already taken in enough alcohol either by drinking or, more probably, from the atmosphere she had breathed for so many hours, she finished hers quickly. He also drank his, and went outside the house.
In a few minutes she came, in a thick jacket and a hat with a black feather. "I live quite near," she said, taking his arm, "and can let myself in by a latch-key at any time. What arrangement do you want to come to?"
"Oh--none in particular," he answered, thoroughly sick and tired, his thoughts again reverting to Alfredston, and the train he did not go by; the probable disappointment of Sue that he was not there when she arrived, and the missed pleasure of her company on the long and lonely climb by starlight up the hills to Marygreen. "I ought to have gone back really! My aunt is on her deathbed, I fear."
"I'll go over with you to-morrow morning. I think I could get a day off."
There was something particularly uncongenial in the idea of Arabella, who had no more sympathy than a tigress with his relations or him, coming to the bedside of his dying aunt, and meeting Sue. Yet he said, "Of course, if you'd like to, you can."
"Well, that we'll consider... Now, until we have come to some agreement it is awkward our being together here--where you are known, and I am getting known, though without any suspicion that I have anything to do with you. As we are going towards the station, suppose we take the nine-forty train to Aldbrickham? We shall be there in little more than half an hour, and nobody will know us for one night, and we shall be quite free to act as we choose till we have made up our minds whether we'll make anything public or not."
"As you like."
"Then wait till I get two or three things. This is my lodging. Sometimes when late I sleep at the hotel where I am engaged, so nobody will think anything of my staying out."
She speedily returned, and they went on to the railway, and made the half-hour's journey to Aldbrickham, where they entered a third-rate inn near the station in time for a late supper.
On the morrow between nine and half-past they were journeying back to Christminster, the only two occupants of a compartment in a third-class railway-carriage. Having, like Jude, made rather a hasty toilet to catch the train, Arabella looked a little frowsy, and her face was very far from possessing the animation which had characterized it at the bar the night before. When they came out of the station she found that she still had half an hour to spare before she was due at the bar. They walked in silence a little way out of the town in the direction of Alfredston. Jude looked up the far highway.
"Ah ... poor feeble me!" he murmured at last.
"What?" said she.
"This is the very road by which I came into Christminster years ago full of plans!"
"Well, whatever the road is I think my time is nearly up, as I have to be in the bar by eleven o'clock. And as I said, I shan't ask for the day to go with you to see your aunt. So perhaps we had better part here. I'd sooner not walk up Chief Street with you, since we've come to no conclusion at all."
"Very well. But you said when we were getting up this morning that you had something you wished to tell me before I left?"
"So I had--two things--one in particular. But you wouldn't promise to keep it a secret. I'll tell you now if you promise? As an honest woman I wish you to know it... It was what I began telling you in the night--about that gentleman who managed the Sydney hotel." Arabella spoke somewhat hurriedly for her. "You'll keep it close?"
"Yes--yes--I promise!" said Jude impatiently. "Of course I don't want to reveal your secrets."
"Whenever I met him out for a walk, he used to say that he was much taken with my looks, and he kept pressing me to marry him. I never thought of coming back to England again; and being out there in Australia, with no home of my own after leaving my father, I at last agreed, and did."
"Yes. And lived with him till shortly before I left. It was stupid, I know; but I did! There, now I've told you. Don't round upon me! He talks of coming back to England, poor old chap. But if he does, he won't be likely to find me."
Jude stood pale and fixed.
"Why the devil didn't you tell me last, night!" he said.
"Well--I didn't... Won't you make it up with me, then?"
"So in talking of 'your husband' to the bar gentlemen you meant him, of course--not me!"
"Of course... Come, don't fuss about it."
"I have nothing more to say!" replied Jude. "I have nothing at all to say about the--crime--you've confessed to!"
"Crime! Pooh. They don't think much of such as that over there! Lots of 'em do it... Well, if you take it like that I shall go back to him! He was very fond of me, and we lived honourable enough, and as respectable as any married couple in the colony! How did I know where you were?"
"I won't go blaming you. I could say a good deal; but perhaps it would be misplaced. What do you wish me to do?"
"Nothing. There was one thing more I wanted to tell you; but I fancy we've seen enough of one another for the present! I shall think over what you said about your circumstances, and let you know."
Thus they parted. Jude watched her disappear in the direction of the hotel, and entered the railway station close by. Finding that it wanted three-quarters of an hour of the time at which he could get a train back to Alfredston, he strolled mechanically into the city as far as to the Fourways, where he stood as he had so often stood before, and surveyed Chief Street stretching ahead, with its college after college, in picturesqueness unrivalled except by such Continental vistas as the Street of Palaces in Genoa; the lines of the buildings being as distinct in the morning air as in an architectural drawing. But Jude was far from seeing or criticizing these things; they were hidden by an indescribable consciousness of Arabella's midnight contiguity, a sense of degradation at his revived experiences with her, of her appearance as she lay asleep at dawn, which set upon his motionless face a look as of one accurst. If he could only have felt resentment towards her he would have been less unhappy; but he pitied while he contemned her.
Jude turned and retraced his steps. Drawing again towards the station he started at hearing his name pronounced--less at the name than at the voice. To his great surprise no other than Sue stood like a vision before him--her look bodeful and anxious as in a dream, her little mouth nervous, and her strained eyes speaking reproachful inquiry.
"Oh, Jude--I am so glad--to meet you like this!" she said in quick, uneven accents not far from a sob. Then she flushed as she observed his thought that they had not met since her marriage.
They looked away from each other to hide their emotion, took each other's hand without further speech, and went on together awhile, till she glanced at him with furtive solicitude. "I arrived at Alfredston station last night, as you asked me to, and there was nobody to meet me! But I reached Marygreen alone, and they told me Aunt was a trifle better. I sat up with her, and as you did not come all night I was frightened about you--I thought that perhaps, when you found yourself back in the old city, you were upset at--at thinking I was--married, and not there as I used to be; and that you had nobody to speak to; so you had tried to drown your gloom--as you did at that former time when you were disappointed about entering as a student, and had forgotten your promise to me that you never would again. And this, I thought, was why you hadn't come to meet me!"
"And you came to hunt me up, and deliver me, like a good angel!"
"I thought I would come by the morning train and try to find you--in case--in case--"
"I did think of my promise to you, dear, continually! I shall never break out again as I did, I am sure. I may have been doing nothing better, but I was not doing that--I loathe the thought of it."
"I am glad your staying had nothing to do with that. But," she said, the faintest pout entering into her tone, "you didn't come back last night and meet me, as you engaged to!"
"I didn't--I am sorry to say. I had an appointment at nine o'clock--too late for me to catch the train that would have met yours, or to get home at all."
Looking at his loved one as she appeared to him now, in his tender thought the sweetest and most disinterested comrade that he had ever had, living largely in vivid imaginings, so ethereal a creature that her spirit could be seen trembling through her limbs, he felt heartily ashamed of his earthliness in spending the hours he had spent in Arabella's company. There was something rude and immoral in thrusting these recent facts of his life upon the mind of one who, to him, was so uncarnate as to seem at times impossible as a human wife to any average man. And yet she was Phillotson's. How she had become such, how she lived as such, passed his comprehension as he regarded her to-day.
"You'll go back with me?" he said. "There's a train just now. I wonder how my aunt is by this time... And so, Sue, you really came on my account all this way! At what an early time you must have started, poor thing!"
"Yes. Sitting up watching alone made me all nerves for you, and instead of going to bed when it got light I started. And now you won't frighten me like this again about your morals for nothing?"
He was not so sure that she had been frightened about his morals for nothing. He released her hand till they had entered the train,--it seemed the same carriage he had lately got out of with another--where they sat down side by side, Sue between him and the window. He regarded the delicate lines of her profile, and the small, tight, applelike convexities of her bodice, so different from Arabella's amplitudes. Though she knew he was looking at her she did not turn to him, but kept her eyes forward, as if afraid that by meeting his own some troublous discussion would be initiated.
"Sue--you are married now, you know, like me; and yet we have been in such a hurry that we have not said a word about it!"
"There's no necessity," she quickly returned.
"Oh well--perhaps not... But I wish"
"Jude--don't talk about ME--I wish you wouldn't!" she entreated. "It distresses me, rather. Forgive my saying it! ... Where did you stay last night?"
She had asked the question in perfect innocence, to change the topic. He knew that, and said merely, "At an inn," though it would have been a relief to tell her of his meeting with an unexpected one. But the latter's final announcement of her marriage in Australia bewildered him lest what he might say should do his ignorant wife an injury.
Their talk proceeded but awkwardly till they reached Alfredston. That Sue was not as she had been, but was labelled "Phillotson," paralyzed Jude whenever he wanted to commune with her as an individual. Yet she seemed unaltered--he could not say why. There remained the five-mile extra journey into the country, which it was just as easy to walk as to drive, the greater part of it being uphill. Jude had never before in his life gone that road with Sue, though he had with another. It was now as if he carried a bright light which temporarily banished the shady associations of the earlier time.
Sue talked; but Jude noticed that she still kept the conversation from herself. At length he inquired if her husband were well.
"O yes," she said. "He is obliged to be in the school all the day, or he would have come with me. He is so good and kind that to accompany me he would have dismissed the school for once, even against his principles--for he is strongly opposed to giving casual holidays--only I wouldn't let him. I felt it would be better to come alone. Aunt Drusilla, I knew, was so very eccentric; and his being almost a stranger to her now would have made it irksome to both. Since it turns out that she is hardly conscious I am glad I did not ask him."
Jude had walked moodily while this praise of Phillotson was being expressed. "Mr. Phillotson obliges you in everything, as he ought," he said.
"You ought to be a happy wife."
"And of course I am."
"Bride, I might almost have said, as yet. It is not so many weeks since I gave you to him, and--"
"Yes, I know! I know!" There was something in her face which belied her late assuring words, so strictly proper and so lifelessly spoken that they might have been taken from a list of model speeches in "The Wife's Guide to Conduct." Jude knew the quality of every vibration in Sue's voice, could read every symptom of her mental condition; and he was convinced that she was unhappy, although she had not been a month married. But her rushing away thus from home, to see the last of a relative whom she had hardly known in her life, proved nothing; for Sue naturally did such things as those.
"Well, you have my good wishes now as always, Mrs. Phillotson."
She reproached him by a glance.
"No, you are not Mrs. Phillotson," murmured Jude. "You are dear, free Sue Bridehead, only you don't know it! Wifedom has not yet squashed up and digested you in its vast maw as an atom which has no further individuality."
Sue put on a look of being offended, till she answered, "Nor has husbandom you, so far as I can see!"
"But it has!" he said, shaking his head sadly.
When they reached the lone cottage under the firs, between the Brown House and Marygreen, in which Jude and Arabella had lived and quarrelled, he turned to look at it. A squalid family lived there now. He could not help saying to Sue: "That's the house my wife and I occupied the whole of the time we lived together. I brought her home to that house."
She looked at it. "That to you was what the school-house at Shaston is to me."
"Yes; but I was not very happy there as you are in yours."
She closed her lips in retortive silence, and they walked some way till she glanced at him to see how he was taking it. "Of course I may have exaggerated your happiness--one never knows," he continued blandly.
"Don't think that, Jude, for a moment, even though you may have said it to sting me! He's as good to me as a man can be, and gives me perfect liberty--which elderly husbands don't do in general... If you think I am not happy because he's too old for me, you are wrong."
"I don't think anything against him--to you dear."
"And you won't say things to distress me, will you?"
"I will not."
He said no more, but he knew that, from some cause or other, in taking Phillotson as a husband, Sue felt that she had done what she ought not to have done.
They plunged into the concave field on the other side of which rose the village--the field wherein Jude had received a thrashing from the farmer many years earlier. On ascending to the village and approaching the house they found Mrs. Edlin standing at the door, who at sight of them lifted her hands deprecatingly. "She's downstairs, if you'll believe me!" cried the widow. "Out o' bed she got, and nothing could turn her. What will come o't I do not know!"
On entering, there indeed by the fireplace sat the old woman, wrapped in blankets, and turning upon them a countenance like that of Sebastiano's Lazarus. They must have looked their amazement, for she said in a hollow voice:
"Ah--sceered ye, have I! I wasn't going to bide up there no longer, to please nobody! 'Tis more than flesh and blood can bear, to be ordered to do this and that by a feller that don't know half as well as you do yourself! ... Ah--you'll rue this marrying as well as he!" she added, turning to Sue. "All our family do--and nearly all everybody else's. You should have done as I did, you simpleton! And Phillotson the schoolmaster, of all men! What made 'ee marry him?"
"What makes most women marry, Aunt?"
"Ah! You mean to say you loved the man!"
"I don't meant to say anything definite."
"Do ye love un?"
"Don't ask me, Aunt."
"I can mind the man very well. A very civil, honourable liver; but Lord!--I don't want to wownd your feelings, but--there be certain men here and there that no woman of any niceness can stomach. I should have said he was one. I don't say so NOW, since you must ha' known better than I--but that's what I SHOULD have said!"
Sue jumped up and went out. Jude followed her, and found her in the outhouse, crying.
"Don't cry, dear!" said Jude in distress. "She means well, but is very crusty and queer now, you know."
"Oh no--it isn't that!" said Sue, trying to dry her eyes. "I don't mind her roughness one bit."
"What is it, then?"
"It is that what she says is--is true!"
"God--what--you don't like him?" asked Jude.
"I don't mean that!" she said hastily. "That I ought--perhaps I ought not to have married!"
He wondered if she had really been going to say that at first. They went back, and the subject was smoothed over, and her aunt took rather kindly to Sue, telling her that not many young women newly married would have come so far to see a sick old crone like her. In the afternoon Sue prepared to depart, Jude hiring a neighbour to drive her to Alfredston.
"I'll go with you to the station, if you'd like?" he said.
She would not let him. The man came round with the trap, and Jude helped her into it, perhaps with unnecessary attention, for she looked at him prohibitively.
"I suppose--I may come to see you some day, when I am back again at Melchester?" he half-crossly observed.
She bent down and said softly: "No, dear--you are not to come yet. I don't think you are in a good mood."
"Very well," said Jude. "Good-bye!"
"Good-bye!" She waved her hand and was gone.
"She's right! I won't go!" he murmured.
He passed the evening and following days in mortifying by every possible means his wish to see her, nearly starving himself in attempts to extinguish by fasting his passionate tendency to love her. He read sermons on discipline, and hunted up passages in Church history that treated of the Ascetics of the second century. Before he had returned from Marygreen to Melchester there arrived a letter from Arabella. The sight of it revived a stronger feeling of self-condemnation for his brief return to her society than for his attachment to Sue.
The letter, he perceived, bore a London postmark instead of the Christminster one. Arabella informed him that a few days after their parting in the morning at Christminster, she had been surprised by an affectionate letter from her Australian husband, formerly manager of the hotel in Sydney. He had come to England on purpose to find her; and had taken a free, fully-licensed public, in Lambeth, where he wished her to join him in conducting the business, which was likely to be a very thriving one, the house being situated in an excellent, densely populated, gin-drinking neighbourhood, and already doing a trade of L200 a month, which could be easily doubled.
As he had said that he loved her very much still, and implored her to tell him where she was, and as they had only parted in a slight tiff, and as her engagement in Christminster was only temporary, she had just gone to join him as he urged. She could not help feeling that she belonged to him more than to Jude, since she had properly married him, and had lived with him much longer than with her first husband. In thus wishing Jude good-bye she bore him no ill-will, and trusted he would not turn upon her, a weak woman, and inform against her, and bring her to ruin now that she had a chance of improving her circumstances and leading a genteel life.
Jude returned to Melchester, which had the questionable recommendation of being only a dozen and a half miles from his Sue's now permanent residence. At first he felt that this nearness was a distinct reason for not going southward at all; but Christminster was too sad a place to bear, while the proximity of Shaston to Melchester might afford him the glory of worsting the Enemy in a close engagement, such as was deliberately sought by the priests and virgins of the early Church, who, disdaining an ignominious flight from temptation, became even chamber-partners with impunity. Jude did not pause to remember that, in the laconic words of the historian, "insulted Nature sometimes vindicated her rights" in such circumstances.
He now returned with feverish desperation to his study for the priesthood--in the recognition that the single-mindedness of his aims, and his fidelity to the cause, had been more than questionable of late. His passion for Sue troubled his soul; yet his lawful abandonment to the society of Arabella for twelve hours seemed instinctively a worse thing--even though she had not told him of her Sydney husband till afterwards. He had, he verily believed, overcome all tendency to fly to liquor--which, indeed, he had never done from taste, but merely as an escape from intolerable misery of mind. Yet he perceived with despondency that, taken all round, he was a man of too many passions to make a good clergyman; the utmost he could hope for was that in a life of constant internal warfare between flesh and spirit the former might not always be victorious.
As a hobby, auxiliary to his readings in Divinity, he developed his slight skill in church-music and thorough-bass, till he could join in part-singing from notation with some accuracy. A mile or two from Melchester there was a restored village church, to which Jude had originally gone to fix the new columns and capitals. By this means he had become acquainted with the organist, and the ultimate result was that he joined the choir as a bass voice.
He walked out to this parish twice every Sunday, and sometimes in the week. One evening about Easter the choir met for practice, and a new hymn which Jude had heard of as being by a Wessex composer was to be tried and prepared for the following week. It turned out to be a strangely emotional composition. As they all sang it over and over again its harmonies grew upon Jude, and moved him exceedingly.
When they had finished he went round to the organist to make inquiries. The score was in manuscript, the name of the composer being at the head, together with the title of the hymn: "The Foot of the Cross."
"Yes," said the organist. "He is a local man. He is a professional musician at Kennetbridge--between here and Christminster. The vicar knows him. He was brought up and educated in Christminster traditions, which accounts for the quality of the piece. I think he plays in the large church there, and has a surpliced choir. He comes to Melchester sometimes, and once tried to get the cathedral organ when the post was vacant. The hymn is getting about everywhere this Easter."
As he walked humming the air on his way home, Jude fell to musing on its composer, and the reasons why he composed it. What a man of sympathies he must be! Perplexed and harassed as he himself was about Sue and Arabella, and troubled as was his conscience by the complication of his position, how he would like to know that man! "He of all men would understand my difficulties," said the impulsive Jude. If there were any person in the world to choose as a confidant, this composer would be the one, for he must have suffered, and throbbed, and yearned.
In brief, ill as he could afford the time and money for the journey, Fawley resolved, like the child that he was, to go to Kennetbridge the very next Sunday. He duly started, early in the morning, for it was only by a series of crooked railways that he could get to the town. About mid-day he reached it, and crossing the bridge into the quaint old borough he inquired for the house of the composer.
They told him it was a red brick building some little way further on. Also that the gentleman himself had just passed along the street not five minutes before.
"Which way?" asked Jude with alacrity.
"Straight along homeward from church."
Jude hastened on, and soon had the pleasure of observing a man in a black coat and a black slouched felt hat no considerable distance ahead. Stretching out his legs yet more widely he stalked after. "A hungry soul in pursuit of a full soul!" he said. "I must speak to that man!"
He could not, however, overtake the musician before he had entered his own house, and then arose the question if this were an expedient time to call. Whether or not he decided to do so there and then, now that he had got here, the distance home being too great for him to wait till late in the afternoon. This man of soul would understand scant ceremony, and might be quite a perfect adviser in a case in which an earthly and illegitimate passion had cunningly obtained entrance into his heart through the opening afforded for religion.
Jude accordingly rang the bell, and was admitted.
The musician came to him in a moment, and being respectably dressed, good-looking, and frank in manner, Jude obtained a favourable reception. He was nevertheless conscious that there would be a certain awkwardness in explaining his errand.
"I have been singing in the choir of a little church near Melchester," he said. "And we have this week practised 'The Foot of the Cross,' which I understand, sir, that you composed?"
"I did--a year or so ago."
"I--like it. I think it supremely beautiful!"
"Ah well--other people have said so too. Yes, there's money in it, if I could only see about getting it published. I have other compositions to go with it, too; I wish I could bring them out; for I haven't made a five-pound note out of any of them yet. These publishing people--they want the copyright of an obscure composer's work, such as mine is, for almost less than I should have to pay a person for making a fair manuscript copy of the score. The one you speak of I have lent to various friends about here and Melchester, and so it has got to be sung a little. But music is a poor staff to lean on--I am giving it up entirely. You must go into trade if you want to make money nowadays. The wine business is what I am thinking of. This is my forthcoming list--it is not issued yet--but you can take one."
He handed Jude an advertisement list of several pages in booklet shape, ornamentally margined with a red line, in which were set forth the various clarets, champagnes, ports, sherries, and other wines with which he purposed to initiate his new venture. It took Jude more than by surprise that the man with the soul was thus and thus; and he felt that he could not open up his confidences.
They talked a little longer, but constrainedly, for when the musician found that Jude was a poor man his manner changed from what it had been while Jude's appearance and address deceived him as to his position and pursuits. Jude stammered out something about his feelings in wishing to congratulate the author on such an exalted composition, and took an embarrassed leave.
All the way home by the slow Sunday train, sitting in the fireless waiting-rooms on this cold spring day, he was depressed enough at his simplicity in taking such a journey. But no sooner did he reach his Melchester lodging than he found awaiting him a letter which had arrived that morning a few minutes after he had left the house. It was a contrite little note from Sue, in which she said, with sweet humility, that she felt she had been horrid in telling him he was not to come to see her, that she despised herself for having been so conventional; and that he was to be sure to come by the eleven-forty-five train that very Sunday, and have dinner with them at half-past one.
Jude almost tore his hair at having missed this letter till it was too late to act upon its contents; but he had chastened himself considerably of late, and at last his chimerical expedition to Kennetbridge really did seem to have been another special intervention of Providence to keep him away from temptation. But a growing impatience of faith, which he had noticed in himself more than once of late, made him pass over in ridicule the idea that God sent people on fools' errands. He longed to see her; he was angry at having missed her: and he wrote instantly, telling her what had happened, and saying he had not enough patience to wait till the following Sunday, but would come any day in the week that she liked to name.
Since he wrote a little over-ardently, Sue, as her manner was, delayed her reply till Thursday before Good Friday, when she said he might come that afternoon if he wished, this being the earliest day on which she could welcome him, for she was now assistant-teacher in her husband's school. Jude therefore got leave from the cathedral works at the trifling expense of a stoppage of pay, and went.