Jude seemed to pay no great heed to what she was announcing, or indeed to anything whatever. The entrance of Taylor infused fresh spirit into the company, and they remained sitting, till Arabella whispered to her father: "Now we may as well go."
"But the parson don't know?"
"Yes, I told him last night that we might come between eight and nine, as there were reasons of decency for doing it as early and quiet as possible; on account of it being our second marriage, which might make people curious to look on if they knew. He highly approved."
"Oh very well: I'm ready," said her father, getting up and shaking himself.
"Now, old darling," she said to Jude. "Come along, as you promised."
"When did I promise anything?" asked he, whom she had made so tipsy by her special knowledge of that line of business as almost to have made him sober again—or to seem so to those who did not know him.
"Why!" said Arabella, affecting dismay. "You've promised to marry me several times as we've sat here to-night. These gentlemen have heard you."
"I don't remember it," said Jude doggedly. "There's only one woman—but I won't mention her in this Capharnaum!"
Arabella looked towards her father. "Now, Mr. Fawley be honourable," said Donn. "You and my daughter have been living here together these three or four days, quite on the understanding that you were going to marry her. Of course I shouldn't have had such goings on in my house if I hadn't understood that. As a point of honour you must do it now."
"Don't say anything against my honour!" enjoined Jude hotly, standing up. "I'd marry the W—— of Babylon rather than do anything dishonourable! No reflection on you, my dear. It is a mere rhetorical figure—what they call in the books, hyperbole."
"Keep your figures for your debts to friends who shelter you," said Donn.
"If I am bound in honour to marry her—as I suppose I am—though how I came to be here with her I know no more than a dead man—marry her I will, so help me God! I have never behaved dishonourably to a woman or to any living thing. I am not a man who wants to save himself at the expense of the weaker among us!"
"There—never mind him, deary," said she, putting her cheek against Jude's. "Come up and wash your face, and just put yourself tidy, and off we'll go. Make it up with Father."
They shook hands. Jude went upstairs with her, and soon came down looking tidy and calm. Arabella, too, had hastily arranged herself, and accompanied by Donn away they went.
"Don't go," she said to the guests at parting. "I've told the little maid to get the breakfast while we are gone; and when we come back we'll all have some. A good strong cup of tea will set everybody right for going home."
When Arabella, Jude, and Donn had disappeared on their matrimonial errand the assembled guests yawned themselves wider awake, and discussed the situation with great interest. Tinker Taylor, being the most sober, reasoned the most lucidly.
"I don't wish to speak against friends," he said. "But it do seem a rare curiosity for a couple to marry over again! If they couldn't get on the first time when their minds were limp, they won't the second, by my reckoning."
"Do you think he'll do it?"
"He's been put upon his honour by the woman, so he med."
"He'd hardly do it straight off like this. He's got no licence nor anything."
"She's got that, bless you. Didn't you hear her say so to her father?"
"Well," said Tinker Taylor, relighting his pipe at the gas-jet. "Take her all together, limb by limb, she's not such a bad-looking piece—particular by candlelight. To be sure, halfpence that have been in circulation can't be expected to look like new ones from the mint. But for a woman that's been knocking about the four hemispheres for some time, she's passable enough. A little bit thick in the flitch perhaps: but I like a woman that a puff o' wind won't blow down."
Their eyes followed the movements of the little girl as she spread the breakfast-cloth on the table they had been using, without wiping up the slops of the liquor. The curtains were undrawn, and the expression of the house made to look like morning. Some of the guests, however, fell asleep in their chairs. One or two went to the door, and gazed along the street more than once. Tinker Taylor was the chief of these, and after a time he came in with a leer on his face.
"By Gad, they are coming! I think the deed's done!"
"No," said Uncle Joe, following him in. "Take my word, he turned rusty at the last minute. They are walking in a very unusual way; and that's the meaning of it!"
They waited in silence till the wedding-party could be heard entering the house. First into the room came Arabella boisterously; and her face was enough to show that her strategy had succeeded.
"Mrs. Fawley, I presume?" said Tinker Taylor with mock courtesy.
"Certainly. Mrs. Fawley again," replied Arabella blandly, pulling off her glove and holding out her left hand. "There's the padlock, see... Well, he was a very nice, gentlemanly man indeed. I mean the clergyman. He said to me as gentle as a babe when all was done: 'Mrs. Fawley, I congratulate you heartily,' he says. 'For having heard your history, and that of your husband, I think you have both done the right and proper thing. And for your past errors as a wife, and his as a husband, I think you ought now to be forgiven by the world, as you have forgiven each other,' says he. Yes: he was a very nice, gentlemanly man. 'The Church don't recognize divorce in her dogma, strictly speaking,' he says: 'and bear in mind the words of the service in your goings out and your comings in: What God hath joined together let no man put asunder.' Yes: he was a very nice, gentlemanly man... But, Jude, my dear, you were enough to make a cat laugh! You walked that straight, and held yourself that steady, that one would have thought you were going 'prentice to a judge; though I knew you were seeing double all the time, from the way you fumbled with my finger."
"I said I'd do anything to—save a woman's honour," muttered Jude. "And I've done it!"
"Well now, old deary, come along and have some breakfast."
"I want—some—more whisky," said Jude stolidly.
"Nonsense, dear. Not now! There's no more left. The tea will take the muddle out of our heads, and we shall be as fresh as larks."
"All right. I've—married you. She said I ought to marry you again, and I have straightway. It is true religion! Ha—ha—ha!"
Michaelmas came and passed, and Jude and his wife, who had lived but a short time in her father's house after their remarriage, were in lodgings on the top floor of a dwelling nearer to the centre of the city.
He had done a few days' work during the two or three months since the event, but his health had been indifferent, and it was now precarious. He was sitting in an arm-chair before the fire, and coughed a good deal.
"I've got a bargain for my trouble in marrying thee over again!" Arabella was saying to him. "I shall have to keep 'ee entirely—that's what 'twill come to! I shall have to make black-pot and sausages, and hawk 'em about the street, all to support an invalid husband I'd no business to be saddled with at all. Why didn't you keep your health, deceiving one like this? You were well enough when the wedding was!"
"Ah, yes!" said he, laughing acridly. "I have been thinking of my foolish feeling about the pig you and I killed during our first marriage. I feel now that the greatest mercy that could be vouchsafed to me would be that something should serve me as I served that animal."
This was the sort of discourse that went on between them every day now. The landlord of the lodging, who had heard that they were a queer couple, had doubted if they were married at all, especially as he had seen Arabella kiss Jude one evening when she had taken a little cordial; and he was about to give them notice to quit, till by chance overhearing her one night haranguing Jude in rattling terms, and ultimately flinging a shoe at his head, he recognized the note of genuine wedlock; and concluding that they must be respectable, said no more.
Jude did not get any better, and one day he requested Arabella, with considerable hesitation, to execute a commission for him. She asked him indifferently what it was.
"To write to Sue."
"What in the name—do you want me to write to her for?"
"To ask how she is, and if she'll come to see me, because I'm ill, and should like to see her—once again."
"It is like you to insult a lawful wife by asking such a thing!"
"It is just in order not to insult you that I ask you to do it. You know I love Sue. I don't wish to mince the matter—there stands the fact: I love her. I could find a dozen ways of sending a letter to her without your knowledge. But I wish to be quite above-board with you, and with her husband. A message through you asking her to come is at least free from any odour of intrigue. If she retains any of her old nature at all, she'll come."
"You've no respect for marriage whatever, or its rights and duties!"
"What DOES it matter what my opinions are—a wretch like me! Can it matter to anybody in the world who comes to see me for half an hour—here with one foot in the grave! ... Come, please write, Arabella!" he pleaded. "Repay my candour by a little generosity!"
"I should think NOT!"
"Not just once?—Oh do!" He felt that his physical weakness had taken away all his dignity.
"What do you want HER to know how you are for? She don't want to see 'ee. She's the rat that forsook the sinking ship!"
"And I stuck to un—the more fool I! Have that strumpet in the house indeed!"
Almost as soon as the words were spoken Jude sprang from the chair, and before Arabella knew where she was he had her on her back upon a little couch which stood there, he kneeling above her.
"Say another word of that sort," he whispered, "and I'll kill you—here and now! I've everything to gain by it—my own death not being the least part. So don't think there's no meaning in what I say!"
"What do you want me to do?" gasped Arabella.
"Promise never to speak of her."
"Very well. I do."
"I take your word," he said scornfully as he loosened her. "But what it is worth I can't say."
"You couldn't kill the pig, but you could kill me!"
"Ah—there you have me! No—I couldn't kill you—even in a passion. Taunt away!"
He then began coughing very much, and she estimated his life with an appraiser's eye as he sank back ghastly pale. "I'll send for her," Arabella murmured, "if you'll agree to my being in the room with you all the time she's here."
The softer side of his nature, the desire to see Sue, made him unable to resist the offer even now, provoked as he had been; and he replied breathlessly: "Yes, I agree. Only send for her!"
In the evening he inquired if she had written.
"Yes," she said; "I wrote a note telling her you were ill, and asking her to come to-morrow or the day after. I haven't posted it yet."
The next day Jude wondered if she really did post it, but would not ask her; and foolish Hope, that lives on a drop and a crumb, made him restless with expectation. He knew the times of the possible trains, and listened on each occasion for sounds of her.
She did not come; but Jude would not address Arabella again thereon. He hoped and expected all the next day; but no Sue appeared; neither was there any note of reply. Then Jude decided in the privacy of his mind that Arabella had never posted hers, although she had written it. There was something in her manner which told it. His physical weakness was such that he shed tears at the disappointment when she was not there to see. His suspicions were, in fact, well founded. Arabella, like some other nurses, thought that your duty towards your invalid was to pacify him by any means short of really acting upon his fancies.
He never said another word to her about his wish or his conjecture. A silent, undiscerned resolve grew up in him, which gave him, if not strength, stability and calm. One midday when, after an absence of two hours, she came into the room, she beheld the chair empty.
Down she flopped on the bed, and sitting, meditated. "Now where the devil is my man gone to!" she said.
A driving rain from the north-east had been falling with more or less intermission all the morning, and looking from the window at the dripping spouts it seemed impossible to believe that any sick man would have ventured out to almost certain death. Yet a conviction possessed Arabella that he had gone out, and it became a certainty when she had searched the house. "If he's such a fool, let him be!" she said. "I can do no more."
Jude was at that moment in a railway train that was drawing near to Alfredston, oddly swathed, pale as a monumental figure in alabaster, and much stared at by other passengers. An hour later his thin form, in the long great-coat and blanket he had come with, but without an umbrella, could have been seen walking along the five-mile road to Marygreen. On his face showed the determined purpose that alone sustained him, but to which has weakness afforded a sorry foundation. By the up-hill walk he was quite blown, but he pressed on; and at half-past three o'clock stood by the familiar well at Marygreen. The rain was keeping everybody indoors; Jude crossed the green to the church without observation, and found the building open. Here he stood, looking forth at the school, whence he could hear the usual sing-song tones of the little voices that had not learnt Creation's groan.
He waited till a small boy came from the school—one evidently allowed out before hours for some reason or other. Jude held up his hand, and the child came.
"Please call at the schoolhouse and ask Mrs. Phillotson if she will be kind enough to come to the church for a few minutes."
The child departed, and Jude heard him knock at the door of the dwelling. He himself went further into the church. Everything was new, except a few pieces of carving preserved from the wrecked old fabric, now fixed against the new walls. He stood by these: they seemed akin to the perished people of that place who were his ancestors and Sue's.
A light footstep, which might have been accounted no more than an added drip to the rainfall, sounded in the porch, and he looked round.
"Oh—I didn't think it was you! I didn't—Oh, Jude!" A hysterical catch in her breath ended in a succession of them. He advanced, but she quickly recovered and went back.
"Don't go—don't go!" he implored. "This is my last time! I thought it would be less intrusive than to enter your house. And I shall never come again. Don't then be unmerciful. Sue, Sue! We are acting by the letter; and 'the letter killeth'!"
"I'll stay—I won't be unkind!" she said, her mouth quivering and her tears flowing as she allowed him to come closer. "But why did you come, and do this wrong thing, after doing such a right thing as you have done?"
"What right thing?"
"Marrying Arabella again. It was in the Alfredston paper. She has never been other than yours, Jude—in a proper sense. And therefore you did so well—Oh so well!—in recognizing it—and taking her to you again."
"God above—and is that all I've come to hear? If there is anything more degrading, immoral, unnatural, than another in my life, it is this meretricious contract with Arabella which has been called doing the right thing! And you too—you call yourself Phillotson's wife! HIS wife! You are mine."
"Don't make me rush away from you—I can't bear much! But on this point I am decided."
"I cannot understand how you did it—how you think it—I cannot!"
"Never mind that. He is a kind husband to me—And I—I've wrestled and struggled, and fasted, and prayed. I have nearly brought my body into complete subjection. And you mustn't—will you—wake—"
"Oh you darling little fool; where is your reason? You seem to have suffered the loss of your faculties! I would argue with you if I didn't know that a woman in your state of feeling is quite beyond all appeals to her brains. Or is it that you are humbugging yourself, as so many women do about these things; and don't actually believe what you pretend to, and only are indulging in the luxury of the emotion raised by an affected belief?"
"Luxury! How can you be so cruel!"
"You dear, sad, soft, most melancholy wreck of a promising human intellect that it has ever been my lot to behold! Where is your scorn of convention gone? I WOULD have died game!"
"You crush, almost insult me, Jude! Go away from me!" She turned off quickly.
"I will. I would never come to see you again, even if I had the strength to come, which I shall not have any more. Sue, Sue, you are not worth a man's love!"
Her bosom began to go up and down. "I can't endure you to say that!" she burst out, and her eye resting on him a moment, she turned back impulsively. "Don't, don't scorn me! Kiss me, oh kiss me lots of times, and say I am not a coward and a contemptible humbug—I can't bear it!" She rushed up to him and, with her mouth on his, continued: "I must tell you—oh I must—my darling Love! It has been—only a church marriage—an apparent marriage I mean! He suggested it at the very first!"
"I mean it is a nominal marriage only. It hasn't been more than that at all since I came back to him!"
"Sue!" he said. Pressing her to him in his arms he bruised her lips with kisses: "If misery can know happiness, I have a moment's happiness now! Now, in the name of all you hold holy, tell me the truth, and no lie. You do love me still?"
"I do! You know it too well! ... But I MUSTN'T do this! I mustn't kiss you back as I would!"
"And yet you are so dear!—and you look so ill—"
"And so do you! There's one more, in memory of our dead little children—yours and mine!"
The words struck her like a blow, and she bent her head. "I MUSTN'T—I CAN'T go on with this!" she gasped presently. "But there, there, darling; I give you back your kisses; I do, I do! ... And now I'll HATE myself for ever for my sin!"
"No—let me make my last appeal. Listen to this! We've both remarried out of our senses. I was made drunk to do it. You were the same. I was gin-drunk; you were creed-drunk. Either form of intoxication takes away the nobler vision... Let us then shake off our mistakes, and run away together!"
"No; again no! ... Why do you tempt me so far, Jude! It is too merciless! ... But I've got over myself now. Don't follow me—don't look at me. Leave me, for pity's sake!"
She ran up the church to the east end, and Jude did as she requested. He did not turn his head, but took up his blanket, which she had not seen, and went straight out. As he passed the end of the church she heard his coughs mingling with the rain on the windows, and in a last instinct of human affection, even now unsubdued by her fetters, she sprang up as if to go and succour him. But she knelt down again, and stopped her ears with her hands till all possible sound of him had passed away.
He was by this time at the corner of the green, from which the path ran across the fields in which he had scared rooks as a boy. He turned and looked back, once, at the building which still contained Sue; and then went on, knowing that his eyes would light on that scene no more.
There are cold spots up and down Wessex in autumn and winter weather; but the coldest of all when a north or east wind is blowing is the crest of the down by the Brown House, where the road to Alfredston crosses the old Ridgeway. Here the first winter sleets and snows fall and lie, and here the spring frost lingers last unthawed. Here in the teeth of the north-east wind and rain Jude now pursued his way, wet through, the necessary slowness of his walk from lack of his former strength being insufficent to maintain his heat. He came to the milestone, and, raining as it was, spread his blanket and lay down there to rest. Before moving on he went and felt at the back of the stone for his own carving. It was still there; but nearly obliterated by moss. He passed the spot where the gibbet of his ancestor and Sue's had stood, and descended the hill.
It was dark when he reached Alfredston, where he had a cup of tea, the deadly chill that began to creep into his bones being too much for him to endure fasting. To get home he had to travel by a steam tram-car, and two branches of railway, with much waiting at a junction. He did not reach Christminster till ten o'clock.
On the platform stood Arabella. She looked him up and down.
"You've been to see her?" she asked.
"I have," said Jude, literally tottering with cold and lassitude.
"Well, now you'd best march along home."
The water ran out of him as he went, and he was compelled to lean against the wall to support himself while coughing.
"You've done for yourself by this, young man," said she. "I don't know whether you know it."
"Of course I do. I meant to do for myself."
"What—to commit suicide?"
"Well, I'm blest! Kill yourself for a woman."
"Listen to me, Arabella. You think you are the stronger; and so you are, in a physical sense, now. You could push me over like a nine-pin. You did not send that letter the other day, and I could not resent your conduct. But I am not so weak in another way as you think. I made up my mind that a man confined to his room by inflammation of the lungs, a fellow who had only two wishes left in the world, to see a particular woman, and then to die, could neatly accomplish those two wishes at one stroke by taking this journey in the rain. That I've done. I have seen her for the last time, and I've finished myself—put an end to a feverish life which ought never to have been begun!"
"Lord—you do talk lofty! Won't you have something warm to drink?"
"No thank you. Let's get home."
They went along by the silent colleges, and Jude kept stopping.
"What are you looking at?"
"Stupid fancies. I see, in a way, those spirits of the dead again, on this my last walk, that I saw when I first walked here!"
"What a curious chap you are!"
"I seem to see them, and almost hear them rustling. But I don't revere all of them as I did then. I don't believe in half of them. The theologians, the apologists, and their kin the metaphysicians, the high-handed statesmen, and others, no longer interest me. All that has been spoilt for me by the grind of stern reality!"
The expression of Jude's corpselike face in the watery lamplight was indeed as if he saw people where there was nobody. At moments he stood still by an archway, like one watching a figure walk out; then he would look at a window like one discerning a familiar face behind it. He seemed to hear voices, whose words he repeated as if to gather their meaning.
"They seem laughing at me!"
"Oh—I was talking to myself! The phantoms all about here, in the college archways, and windows. They used to look friendly in the old days, particularly Addison, and Gibbon, and Johnson, and Dr. Browne, and Bishop Ken—"
"Come along do! Phantoms! There's neither living nor dead hereabouts except a damn policeman! I never saw the streets emptier."
"Fancy! The Poet of Liberty used to walk here, and the great Dissector of Melancholy there!"
"I don't want to hear about 'em! They bore me."
"Walter Raleigh is beckoning to me from that lane—Wycliffe—Harvey— Hooker—Arnold—and a whole crowd of Tractarian Shades—"
"I DON'T WANT to know their names, I tell you! What do I care about folk dead and gone? Upon my soul you are more sober when you've been drinking than when you have not!"
"I must rest a moment," he said; and as he paused, holding to the railings, he measured with his eye the height of a college front. "This is old Rubric. And that Sarcophagus; and Up that lane Crozier and Tudor: and all down there is Cardinal with its long front, and its windows with lifted eyebrows, representing the polite surprise of the university at the efforts of such as I."
"Come along, and I'll treat you!"
"Very well. It will help me home, for I feel the chilly fog from the meadows of Cardinal as if death-claws were grabbing me through and through. As Antigone said, I am neither a dweller among men nor ghosts. But, Arabella, when I am dead, you'll see my spirit flitting up and down here among these!"
"Pooh! You mayn't die after all. You are tough enough yet, old man."
It was night at Marygreen, and the rain of the afternoon showed no sign of abatement. About the time at which Jude and Arabella were walking the streets of Christminster homeward, the Widow Edlin crossed the green, and opened the back door of the schoolmaster's dwelling, which she often did now before bedtime, to assist Sue in putting things away.
Sue was muddling helplessly in the kitchen, for she was not a good housewife, though she tried to be, and grew impatient of domestic details.
"Lord love 'ee, what do ye do that yourself for, when I've come o' purpose! You knew I should come."
"Oh—I don't know—I forgot! No, I didn't forget. I did it to discipline myself. I have scrubbed the stairs since eight o'clock. I MUST practise myself in my household duties. I've shamefully neglected them!"
"Why should ye? He'll get a better school, perhaps be a parson, in time, and you'll keep two servants. 'Tis a pity to spoil them pretty hands."
"Don't talk of my pretty hands, Mrs. Edlin. This pretty body of mine has been the ruin of me already!"
"Pshoo—you've got no body to speak of! You put me more in mind of a sperrit. But there seems something wrong to-night, my dear. Husband cross?"
"No. He never is. He's gone to bed early."
"Then what is it?"
"I cannot tell you. I have done wrong to-day. And I want to eradicate it... Well—I will tell you this—Jude has been here this afternoon, and I find I still love him—oh, grossly! I cannot tell you more."
"Ah!" said the widow. "I told 'ee how 'twould be!"
"But it shan't be! I have not told my husband of his visit; it is not necessary to trouble him about it, as I never mean to see Jude any more. But I am going to make my conscience right on my duty to Richard—by doing a penance—the ultimate thing. I must!"
"I wouldn't—since he agrees to it being otherwise, and it has gone on three months very well as it is."
"Yes—he agrees to my living as I choose; but I feel it is an indulgence I ought not to exact from him. It ought not to have been accepted by me. To reverse it will be terrible—but I must be more just to him. O why was I so unheroic!"
"What is it you don't like in him?" asked Mrs. Edlin curiously.
"I cannot tell you. It is something... I cannot say. The mournful thing is, that nobody would admit it as a reason for feeling as I do; so that no excuse is left me."
"Did you ever tell Jude what it was?"
"I've heard strange tales o' husbands in my time," observed the widow in a lowered voice. "They say that when the saints were upon the earth devils used to take husbands' forms o' nights, and get poor women into all sorts of trouble. But I don't know why that should come into my head, for it is only a tale... What a wind and rain it is to-night! Well—don't be in a hurry to alter things, my dear. Think it over."
"No, no! I've screwed my weak soul up to treating him more courteously—and it must be now—at once—before I break down!"
"I don't think you ought to force your nature. No woman ought to be expected to."
"It is my duty. I will drink my cup to the dregs!"
Half an hour later when Mrs. Edlin put on her bonnet and shawl to leave, Sue seemed to be seized with vague terror.
"No—no—don't go, Mrs. Edlin," she implored, her eyes enlarged, and with a quick nervous look over her shoulder.
"But it is bedtime, child."
"Yes, but—there's the little spare room—my room that was. It is quite ready. Please stay, Mrs. Edlin!—I shall want you in the morning."
"Oh well—I don't mind, if you wish. Nothing will happen to my four old walls, whether I be there or no."
She then fastened up the doors, and they ascended the stairs together.
"Wait here, Mrs. Edlin," said Sue. "I'll go into my old room a moment by myself."
Leaving the widow on the landing Sue turned to the chamber which had been hers exclusively since her arrival at Marygreen, and pushing to the door knelt down by the bed for a minute or two. She then arose, and taking her night-gown from the pillow undressed and came out to Mrs. Edlin. A man could be heard snoring in the room opposite. She wished Mrs. Edlin good-night, and the widow entered the room that Sue had just vacated.
Sue unlatched the other chamber door, and, as if seized with faintness, sank down outside it. Getting up again she half opened the door, and said "Richard." As the word came out of her mouth she visibly shuddered.
The snoring had quite ceased for some time, but he did not reply. Sue seemed relieved, and hurried back to Mrs. Edlin's chamber. "Are you in bed, Mrs. Edlin?" she asked.
"No, dear," said the widow, opening the door. "I be old and slow, and it takes me a long while to un-ray. I han't unlaced my jumps yet."
"I—don't hear him! And perhaps—perhaps—"
"Perhaps he's dead!" she gasped. "And then—I should be FREE, and I could go to Jude! ... Ah—no—I forgot HER—and God!"
"Let's go and hearken. No—he's snoring again. But the rain and the wind is so loud that you can hardly hear anything but between whiles."
Sue had dragged herself back. "Mrs. Edlin, good-night again! I am sorry I called you out." The widow retreated a second time.
The strained, resigned look returned to Sue's face when she was alone. "I must do it—I must! I must drink to the dregs!" she whispered. "Richard!" she said again.
"Hey—what? Is that you, Susanna?"
"What do you want? Anything the matter? Wait a moment." He pulled on some articles of clothing, and came to the door. "Yes?"
"When we were at Shaston I jumped out of the window rather than that you should come near me. I have never reversed that treatment till now—when I have come to beg your pardon for it, and ask you to let me in."
"Perhaps you only think you ought to do this? I don't wish you to come against your impulses, as I have said."
"But I beg to be admitted." She waited a moment, and repeated, "I beg to be admitted! I have been in error—even to-day. I have exceeded my rights. I did not mean to tell you, but perhaps I ought. I sinned against you this afternoon."
"I met Jude! I didn't know he was coming. And—"
"I kissed him, and let him kiss me."
"Oh—the old story!"
"Richard, I didn't know we were going to kiss each other till we did!"
"How many times?"
"A good many. I don't know. I am horrified to look back on it, and the least I can do after it is to come to you like this."
"Come—this is pretty bad, after what I've done! Anything else to confess?"
"No." She had been intending to say: "I called him my darling love." But, as a contrite woman always keeps back a little, that portion of the scene remained untold. She went on: "I am never going to see him any more. He spoke of some things of the past: and it overcame me. He spoke of—the children. But, as I have said, I am glad—almost glad I mean—that they are dead, Richard. It blots out all that life of mine!"
"Well—about not seeing him again any more. Come—you really mean this?" There was something in Phillotson's tone now which seemed to show that his three months of remarriage with Sue had somehow not been so satisfactory as his magnanimity or amative patience had anticipated.
"Perhaps you'll swear it on the New Testament?"
He went back to the room and brought out a little brown Testament. "Now then: So help you God!"
"Now I supplicate you, Richard, to whom I belong, and whom I wish to honour and obey, as I vowed, to let me in."
"Think it over well. You know what it means. Having you back in the house was one thing—this another. So think again."
"I have thought—I wish this!"
"That's a complaisant spirit—and perhaps you are right. With a lover hanging about, a half-marriage should be completed. But I repeat my reminder this third and last time."
"It is my wish! ... O God!"
"What did you say 'O God' for?"
"I don't know!"
"Yes you do! But ..." He gloomily considered her thin and fragile form a moment longer as she crouched before him in her night-clothes. "Well, I thought it might end like this," he said presently. "I owe you nothing, after these signs; but I'll take you in at your word, and forgive you."
He put his arm round her to lift her up. Sue started back.
"What's the matter?" he asked, speaking for the first time sternly. "You shrink from me again?—just as formerly!"
"No, Richard—I—I—was not thinking—"
"You wish to come in here?"
"You still bear in mind what it means?"
"Yes. It is my duty!"
Placing the candlestick on the chest of drawers he led her through the doorway, and lifting her bodily, kissed her. A quick look of aversion passed over her face, but clenching her teeth she uttered no cry.
Mrs. Edlin had by this time undressed, and was about to get into bed when she said to herself: "Ah—perhaps I'd better go and see if the little thing is all right. How it do blow and rain!"
The widow went out on the landing, and saw that Sue had disappeared. "Ah! Poor soul! Weddings be funerals 'a b'lieve nowadays. Fifty-five years ago, come Fall, since my man and I married! Times have changed since then!"
Despite himself Jude recovered somewhat, and worked at his trade for several weeks. After Christmas, however, he broke down again.
With the money he had earned he shifted his lodgings to a yet more central part of the town. But Arabella saw that he was not likely to do much work for a long while, and was cross enough at the turn affairs had taken since her remarriage to him. "I'm hanged if you haven't been clever in this last stroke!" she would say, "to get a nurse for nothing by marrying me!"
Jude was absolutely indifferent to what she said, and indeed, often regarded her abuse in a humorous light. Sometimes his mood was more earnest, and as he lay he often rambled on upon the defeat of his early aims.
"Every man has some little power in some one direction," he would say. "I was never really stout enough for the stone trade, particularly the fixing. Moving the blocks always used to strain me, and standing the trying draughts in buildings before the windows are in always gave me colds, and I think that began the mischief inside. But I felt I could do one thing if I had the opportunity. I could accumulate ideas, and impart them to others. I wonder if the founders had such as I in their minds—a fellow good for nothing else but that particular thing? ... I hear that soon there is going to be a better chance for such helpless students as I was. There are schemes afoot for making the university less exclusive, and extending its influence. I don't know much about it. And it is too late, too late for me! Ah—and for how many worthier ones before me!"
"How you keep a-mumbling!" said Arabella. "I should have thought you'd have got over all that craze about books by this time. And so you would, if you'd had any sense to begin with. You are as bad now as when we were first married."
On one occasion while soliloquizing thus he called her "Sue" unconsciously.
"I wish you'd mind who you are talking to!" said Arabella indignantly. "Calling a respectable married woman by the name of that—" She remembered herself and he did not catch the word.
But in the course of time, when she saw how things were going, and how very little she had to fear from Sue's rivalry, she had a fit of generosity. "I suppose you want to see your—Sue?" she said. "Well, I don't mind her coming. You can have her here if you like."
"I don't wish to see her again."
"Oh—that's a change!"
"And don't tell her anything about me—that I'm ill, or anything. She has chosen her course. Let her go!"
One day he received a surprise. Mrs. Edlin came to see him, quite on her own account. Jude's wife, whose feelings as to where his affections were centred had reached absolute indifference by this time, went out, leaving the old woman alone with Jude. He impulsively asked how Sue was, and then said bluntly, remembering what Sue had told him: "I suppose they are still only husband and wife in name?"
Mrs. Edlin hesitated. "Well, no—it's different now. She's begun it quite lately—all of her own free will."
"When did she begin?" he asked quickly.
"The night after you came. But as a punishment to her poor self. He didn't wish it, but she insisted."
"Sue, my Sue—you darling fool—this is almost more than I can endure! ... Mrs. Edlin—don't be frightened at my rambling—I've got to talk to myself lying here so many hours alone—she was once a woman whose intellect was to mine like a star to a benzoline lamp: who saw all MY superstitions as cobwebs that she could brush away with a word. Then bitter affliction came to us, and her intellect broke, and she veered round to darkness. Strange difference of sex, that time and circumstance, which enlarge the views of most men, narrow the views of women almost invariably. And now the ultimate horror has come—her giving herself like this to what she loathes, in her enslavement to forms! She, so sensitive, so shrinking, that the very wind seemed to blow on her with a touch of deference... As for Sue and me when we were at our own best, long ago—when our minds were clear, and our love of truth fearless—the time was not ripe for us! Our ideas were fifty years too soon to be any good to us. And so the resistance they met with brought reaction in her, and recklessness and ruin on me! ... There—this, Mrs. Edlin, is how I go on to myself continually, as I lie here. I must be boring you awfully."
"Not at all, my dear boy. I could hearken to 'ee all day."
As Jude reflected more and more on her news, and grew more restless, he began in his mental agony to use terribly profane language about social conventions, which started a fit of coughing. Presently there came a knock at the door downstairs. As nobody answered it Mrs. Edlin herself went down.
The visitor said blandly: "The doctor." The lanky form was that of Physician Vilbert, who had been called in by Arabella.
"How is my patient at present?" asked the physician.
"Oh bad—very bad! Poor chap, he got excited, and do blaspeam terribly, since I let out some gossip by accident—the more to my blame. But there—you must excuse a man in suffering for what he says, and I hope God will forgive him."
"Ah. I'll go up and see him. Mrs. Fawley at home?"
"She's not in at present, but she'll be here soon."
Vilbert went; but though Jude had hitherto taken the medicines of that skilful practitioner with the greatest indifference whenever poured down his throat by Arabella, he was now so brought to bay by events that he vented his opinion of Vilbert in the physician's face, and so forcibly, and with such striking epithets, that Vilbert soon scurried downstairs again. At the door he met Arabella, Mrs. Edlin having left. Arabella inquired how he thought her husband was now, and seeing that the doctor looked ruffled, asked him to take something. He assented.
"I'll bring it to you here in the passage," she said. "There's nobody but me about the house to-day."
She brought him a bottle and a glass, and he drank.
Arabella began shaking with suppressed laughter. "What is this, my dear?" he asked, smacking his lips.
"Oh—a drop of wine—and something in it." Laughing again she said: "I poured your own love-philtre into it, that you sold me at the agricultural show, don't you re-member?"
"I do, I do! Clever woman! But you must be prepared for the consequences." Putting his arm round her shoulders he kissed her there and then.
"Don't don't," she whispered, laughing good-humouredly. "My man will hear."
She let him out of the house, and as she went back she said to herself: "Well! Weak women must provide for a rainy day. And if my poor fellow upstairs do go off—as I suppose he will soon—it's well to keep chances open. And I can't pick and choose now as I could when I was younger. And one must take the old if one can't get the young."
The last pages to which the chronicler of these lives would ask the reader's attention are concerned with the scene in and out of Jude's bedroom when leafy summer came round again.
His face was now so thin that his old friends would hardly have known him. It was afternoon, and Arabella was at the looking-glass curling her hair, which operation she performed by heating an umbrella-stay in the flame of a candle she had lighted, and using it upon the flowing lock. When she had finished this, practised a dimple, and put on her things, she cast her eyes round upon Jude. He seemed to be sleeping, though his position was an elevated one, his malady preventing him lying down.
Arabella, hatted, gloved, and ready, sat down and waited, as if expecting some one to come and take her place as nurse.
Certain sounds from without revealed that the town was in festivity, though little of the festival, whatever it might have been, could be seen here. Bells began to ring, and the notes came into the room through the open window, and travelled round Jude's head in a hum. They made her restless, and at last she said to herself: "Why ever doesn't Father come!"
She looked again at Jude, critically gauged his ebbing life, as she had done so many times during the late months, and glancing at his watch, which was hung up by way of timepiece, rose impatiently. Still he slept, and coming to a resolution she slipped from the room, closed the door noiselessly, and descended the stairs. The house was empty. The attraction which moved Arabella to go abroad had evidently drawn away the other inmates long before.
It was a warm, cloudless, enticing day. She shut the front door, and hastened round into Chief Street, and when near the theatre could hear the notes of the organ, a rehearsal for a coming concert being in progress. She entered under the archway of Oldgate College, where men were putting up awnings round the quadrangle for a ball in the hall that evening. People who had come up from the country for the day were picnicking on the grass, and Arabella walked along the gravel paths and under the aged limes. But finding this place rather dull she returned to the streets, and watched the carriages drawing up for the concert, numerous dons and their wives, and undergraduates with gay female companions, crowding up likewise. When the doors were closed, and the concert began, she moved on.
The powerful notes of that concert rolled forth through the swinging yellow blinds of the open windows, over the housetops, and into the still air of the lanes. They reached so far as to the room in which Jude lay; and it was about this time that his cough began again and awakened him.
As soon as he could speak he murmured, his eyes still closed: "A little water, please."
Nothing but the deserted room received his appeal, and he coughed to exhaustion again—saying still more feebly: "Water—some water—Sue—Arabella!"
The room remained still as before. Presently he gasped again: "Throat—water—Sue—darling—drop of water—please—oh please!"
No water came, and the organ notes, faint as a bee's hum, rolled in as before.
While he remained, his face changing, shouts and hurrahs came from somewhere in the direction of the river.
"Ah—yes! The Remembrance games," he murmured. "And I here. And Sue defiled!"
The hurrahs were repeated, drowning the faint organ notes. Jude's face changed more: he whispered slowly, his parched lips scarcely moving:
"Let the day perish wherein I was born, and the night in which it was said, There is a man-child conceived."
"Let that day be darkness; let not God regard it from above, neither let the light shine upon it. Lo, let that night be solitary, let no joyful voice come therein."
"Why died I not from the womb? Why did i not give up the ghost when I came out of the belly? ... For now should I have lain still and been quiet. I should have slept: then had I been at rest!"
"There the prisoners rest together; they hear not the voice of the oppressor... The small and the great are there; and the servant is free from his master. Wherefore is light given to him that is in misery, and life unto the bitter in soul?"
Meanwhile Arabella, in her journey to discover what was going on, took a short cut down a narrow street and through an obscure nook into the quad of Cardinal. It was full of bustle, and brilliant in the sunlight with flowers and other preparations for a ball here also. A carpenter nodded to her, one who had formerly been a fellow-workman of Jude's. A corridor was in course of erection from the entrance to the hall staircase, of gay red and buff bunting. Waggon-loads of boxes containing bright plants in full bloom were being placed about, and the great staircase was covered with red cloth. She nodded to one workman and another, and ascended to the hall on the strength of their acquaintance, where they were putting down a new floor and decorating for the dance.
The cathedral bell close at hand was sounding for five o'clock service.
"I should not mind having a spin there with a fellow's arm round my waist," she said to one of the men. "But Lord, I must be getting home again—there's a lot to do. No dancing for me!"
When she reached home she was met at the door by Stagg, and one or two other of Jude's fellow stoneworkers. "We are just going down to the river," said the former, "to see the boat-bumping. But we've called round on our way to ask how your husband is."
"He's sleeping nicely, thank you," said Arabella.
"That's right. Well now, can't you give yourself half an hour's relaxation, Mrs. Fawley, and come along with us? 'Twould do you good."
"I should like to go," said she. "I've never seen the boat-racing, and I hear it is good fun."
"How I WISH I could!" She looked longingly down the street. "Wait a minute, then. I'll just run up and see how he is now. Father is with him, I believe; so I can most likely come."
They waited, and she entered. Downstairs the inmates were absent as before, having, in fact, gone in a body to the river where the procession of boats was to pass. When she reached the bedroom she found that her father had not even now come.
"Why couldn't he have been here!" she said impatiently. "He wants to see the boats himself—that's what it is!"
However, on looking round to the bed she brightened, for she saw that Jude was apparently sleeping, though he was not in the usual half-elevated posture necessitated by his cough. He had slipped down, and lay flat. A second glance caused her to start, and she went to the bed. His face was quite white, and gradually becoming rigid. She touched his fingers; they were cold, though his body was still warm. She listened at his chest. All was still within. The bumping of near thirty years had ceased.
After her first appalled sense of what had happened the faint notes of a military or other brass band from the river reached her ears; and in a provoked tone she exclaimed, "To think he should die just now! Why did he die just now!" Then meditating another moment or two she went to the door, softly closed it as before, and again descended the stairs.
"Here she is!" said one of the workmen. "We wondered if you were coming after all. Come along; we must be quick to get a good place... Well, how is he? Sleeping well still? Of course, we don't want to drag 'ee away if—"
"Oh yes—sleeping quite sound. He won't wake yet," she said hurriedly.
They went with the crowd down Cardinal Street, where they presently reached the bridge, and the gay barges burst upon their view. Thence they passed by a narrow slit down to the riverside path—now dusty, hot, and thronged. Almost as soon as they had arrived the grand procession of boats began; the oars smacking with a loud kiss on the face of the stream, as they were lowered from the perpendicular.
"Oh, I say—how jolly! I'm glad I've come," said Arabella. "And—it can't hurt my husband—my being away."
On the opposite side of the river, on the crowded barges, were gorgeous nosegays of feminine beauty, fashionably arrayed in green, pink, blue, and white. The blue flag of the boat club denoted the centre of interest, beneath which a band in red uniform gave out the notes she had already heard in the death-chamber. Collegians of all sorts, in canoes with ladies, watching keenly for "our" boat, darted up and down. While she regarded the lively scene somebody touched Arabella in the ribs, and looking round she saw Vilbert.
"That philtre is operating, you know!" he said with a leer. "Shame on 'ee to wreck a heart so!"
"I shan't talk of love to-day."
"Why not? It is a general holiday."
She did not reply. Vilbert's arm stole round her waist, which act could be performed unobserved in the crowd. An arch expression overspread Arabella's face at the feel of the arm, but she kept her eyes on the river as if she did not know of the embrace.
The crowd surged, pushing Arabella and her friends sometimes nearly into the river, and she would have laughed heartily at the horse-play that succeeded, if the imprint on her mind's eye of a pale, statuesque countenance she had lately gazed upon had not sobered her a little.
The fun on the water reached the acme of excitement; there were immersions, there were shouts: the race was lost and won, the pink and blue and yellow ladies retired from the barges, and the people who had watched began to move.
"Well—it's been awfully good," cried Arabella. "But I think I must get back to my poor man. Father is there, so far as I know; but I had better get back."
"What's your hurry?"
"Well, I must go... Dear, dear, this is awkward!"
At the narrow gangway where the people ascended from the riverside path to the bridge the crowd was literally jammed into one hot mass—Arabella and Vilbert with the rest; and here they remained motionless, Arabella exclaiming, "Dear, dear!" more and more impatiently; for it had just occurred to her mind that if Jude were discovered to have died alone an inquest might be deemed necessary.
"What a fidget you are, my love," said the physician, who, being pressed close against her by the throng, had no need of personal effort for contact. "Just as well have patience: there's no getting away yet!"
It was nearly ten minutes before the wedged multitude moved sufficiently to let them pass through. As soon as she got up into the street Arabella hastened on, forbidding the physician to accompany her further that day. She did not go straight to her house; but to the abode of a woman who performed the last necessary offices for the poorer dead; where she knocked.
"My husband has just gone, poor soul," she said. "Can you come and lay him out?"
Arabella waited a few minutes; and the two women went along, elbowing their way through the stream of fashionable people pouring out of Cardinal meadow, and being nearly knocked down by the carriages.
"I must call at the sexton's about the bell, too," said Arabella. "It is just round here, isn't it? I'll meet you at my door."
By ten o'clock that night Jude was lying on the bedstead at his lodging covered with a sheet, and straight as an arrow. Through the partly opened window the joyous throb of a waltz entered from the ball-room at Cardinal.
Two days later, when the sky was equally cloudless, and the air equally still, two persons stood beside Jude's open coffin in the same little bedroom. On one side was Arabella, on the other the Widow Edlin. They were both looking at Jude's face, the worn old eyelids of Mrs. Edlin being red.
"How beautiful he is!" said she.
"Yes. He's a 'andsome corpse," said Arabella.
The window was still open to ventilate the room, and it being about noontide the clear air was motionless and quiet without. From a distance came voices; and an apparent noise of persons stamping.
"What's that?" murmured the old woman.
"Oh, that's the doctors in the theatre, conferring honorary degrees on the Duke of Hamptonshire and a lot more illustrious gents of that sort. It's Remembrance Week, you know. The cheers come from the young men."
"Aye; young and strong-lunged! Not like our poor boy here."
An occasional word, as from some one making a speech, floated from the open windows of the theatre across to this quiet corner, at which there seemed to be a smile of some sort upon the marble features of Jude; while the old, superseded, Delphin editions of Virgil and Horace, and the dog-eared Greek Testament on the neighbouring shelf, and the few other volumes of the sort that he had not parted with, roughened with stone-dust where he had been in the habit of catching them up for a few minutes between his labours, seemed to pale to a sickly cast at the sounds. The bells struck out joyously; and their reverberations travelled round the bed-room.
Arabella's eyes removed from Jude to Mrs. Edlin. "D'ye think she will come?" she asked.
"I could not say. She swore not to see him again."
"How is she looking?"
"Tired and miserable, poor heart. Years and years older than when you saw her last. Quite a staid, worn woman now. 'Tis the man—she can't stomach un, even now!"
"If Jude had been alive to see her, he would hardly have cared for her any more, perhaps."
"That's what we don't know... Didn't he ever ask you to send for her, since he came to see her in that strange way?"
"No. Quite the contrary. I offered to send, and he said I was not to let her know how ill he was."
"Did he forgive her?"
"Not as I know."
"Well—poor little thing, 'tis to be believed she's found forgiveness somewhere! She said she had found peace!
"She may swear that on her knees to the holy cross upon her necklace till she's hoarse, but it won't be true!" said Arabella. "She's never found peace since she left his arms, and never will again till she's as he is now!"