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 your-self! ... 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 200 pounds 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.