HOWEVER, if God disposed not, woman did. The next morning but one brought him this note from her:
Don't come next week. On your own account don't! We were too free, under the influence of that morbid hymn and the twilight. Think no more than you can help of SUSANNA FLORENCE MARY.
The disappointment was keen. He knew her mood, the look of her face, when she subscribed herself at length thus. But whatever her mood he could not say she was wrong in her view. He replied:
I acquiesce. You are right. It is a lesson in renunciation which I suppose I ought to learn at this season. JUDE
He despatched the note on Easter Eve, and there seemed a finality in their decisions. But other forces and laws than theirs were in operation. On Easter Monday morning he received a message from the Widow Edlin, whom he had directed to telegraph if anything serious happened:
Your aunt is sinking. Come at once.
He threw down his tools and went. Three and a half hours later he was crossing the downs about Marygreen, and presently plunged into the concave field across which the short cut was made to the village. As he ascended on the other side a labouring man, who had been watching his approach from a gate across the path, moved uneasily, and prepared to speak. "I can see in his face that she is dead," said Jude. "Poor Aunt Drusilla!"
It was as he had supposed, and Mrs. Edlin had sent out the man to break the news to him.
"She wouldn't have knowed 'ee. She lay like a doll wi' glass eyes; so it didn't matter that you wasn't here," said he.
Jude went on to the house, and in the afternoon, when everything was done, and the layers-out had finished their beer, and gone, he sat down alone in the silent place. It was absolutely necessary to communicate with Sue, though two or three days earlier they had agreed to mutual severance. He wrote in the briefest terms:
Aunt Drusilla is dead, having been taken almost suddenly. The funeral is on Friday afternoon.
He remained in and about Marygreen through the intervening days, went out on Friday morning to see that the grave was finished, and wondered if Sue would come. She had not written, and that seemed to signify rather that she would come than that she would not. Having timed her by her only possible train, he locked the door about mid-day, and crossed the hollow field to the verge of the upland by the Brown House, where he stood and looked over the vast prospect northwards, and over the nearer landscape in which Alfredston stood. Two miles behind it a jet of white steam was travelling from the left to the right of the picture.
There was a long time to wait, even now, till he would know if she had arrived. He did wait, however, and at last a small hired vehicle pulled up at the bottom of the hill, and a person alighted, the conveyance going back, while the passenger began ascending the hill. He knew her; and she looked so slender to-day that it seemed as if she might be crushed in the intensity of a too passionate embrace-- such as it was not for him to give. Two-thirds of the way up her head suddenly took a solicitous poise, and he knew that she had at that moment recognized him. Her face soon began a pensive smile, which lasted till, having descended a little way, he met her.
"I thought," she began with nervous quickness, "that it would be so sad to let you attend the funeral alone! And so--at the last moment-- I came."
"Dear faithful Sue!" murmured Jude.
With the elusiveness of her curious double nature, however, Sue did not stand still for any further greeting, though it wanted some time to the burial. A pathos so unusually compounded as that which attached to this hour was unlikely to repeat itself for years, if ever, and Jude would have paused, and meditated, and conversed. But Sue either saw it not at all, or, seeing it more than he, would not allow herself to feel it.
The sad and simple ceremony was soon over, their progress to the church being almost at a trot, the bustling undertaker having a more important funeral an hour later, three miles off. Drusilla was put into the new ground, quite away from her ancestors. Sue and Jude had gone side by side to the grave, and now sat down to tea in the familiar house; their lives united at least in this last attention to the dead.
"She was opposed to marriage, from first to last, you say?" murmured Sue.
"Yes. Particularly for members of our family."
Her eyes met his, and remained on him awhile.
"We are rather a sad family, don't you think, Jude?"
"She said we made bad husbands and wives. Certainly we make unhappy ones. At all events, I do, for one!"
Sue was silent. "Is it wrong, Jude," she said with a tentative tremor, "for a husband or wife to tell a third person that they are unhappy in their marriage? If a marriage ceremony is a religious thing, it is possibly wrong; but if it is only a sordid contract, based on material convenience in householding, rating, and taxing, and the inheritance of land and money by children, making it necessary that the male parent should be known--which it seems to be-- why surely a person may say, even proclaim upon the housetops, that it hurts and grieves him or her?"
"I have said so, anyhow, to you."
Presently she went on: "Are there many couples, do you think, where one dislikes the other for no definite fault?"
"Yes, I suppose. If either cares for another person, for instance."
"But even apart from that? Wouldn't the woman, for example, be very bad-natured if she didn't like to live with her husband; merely"--her voice undulated, and he guessed things--"merely because she had a personal feeling against it-- a physical objection--a fastidiousness, or whatever it may be called--although she might respect and be grateful to him? I am merely putting a case. Ought she to try to overcome her pruderies?"
Jude threw a troubled look at her. He said, looking away: "It would be just one of those cases in which my experiences go contrary to my dogmas. Speaking as an order-loving man-- which I hope I am, though I fear I am not--I should say, yes. Speaking from experience and unbiased nature, I should say, no.... Sue, I believe you are not happy!"
"Of course I am!" she contradicted. "How can a woman be unhappy who has only been married eight weeks to a man she chose freely?"
"Why do you repeat it? ... But I have to go back by the six o'clock train. You will be staying on here, I suppose?"
"For a few days to wind up Aunt's affairs. This house is gone now. Shall I go to the train with you?"
A little laugh of objection came from Sue. "I think not. You may come part of the way."
"But stop--you can't go to-night! That train won't take you to Shaston. You must stay and go back to-morrow. Mrs. Edlin has plenty of room, if you don't like to stay here?"
"Very well," she said dubiously. "I didn't tell him I would come for certain."
Jude went to the widow's house adjoining, to let her know; and returning in a few minutes sat down again.
"It is horrible how we are circumstanced, Sue--horrible!" he said abruptly, with his eyes bent to the floor.
"I can't tell you all my part of the gloom. Your part is that you ought not to have married him. I saw it before you had done it, but I thought I mustn't interfere. I was wrong. I ought to have!"
"But what makes you assume all this, dear?"
"Because--I can see you through your feathers, my poor little bird!"
Her hand lay on the table, and Jude put his upon it. Sue drew hers away.
"That's absurd, Sue," cried he, "after what we've been talking about! I am more strict and formal than you, if it comes to that; and that you should object to such an innocent action shows that you are ridiculously inconsistent!"
"Perhaps it was too prudish," she said repentantly. "Only I have fancied it was a sort of trick of ours-- too frequent perhaps. There, you may hold it as much as you like. Is that good of me?"
"But I must tell him."
"Oh--of course, if you think it necessary. But as it means nothing it may be bothering him needlessly."
"Well--are you sure you mean it only as my cousin?"
"Absolutely sure. I have no feelings of love left in me."
"That's news. How has it come to be?"
"I've seen Arabella."
She winced at the hit; then said curiously, "When did you see her?"
"When I was at Christminster."
"So she's come back; and you never told me! I suppose you will live with her now?"
"Of course--just as you live with your husband."
She looked at the window pots with the geraniums and cactuses, withered for want of attention, and through them at the outer distance, till her eyes began to grow moist. "What is it?" said Jude, in a softened tone.
"Why should you be so glad to go back to her if--if what you used to say to me is still true--I mean if it were true then! Of course it is not now! How could your heart go back to Arabella so soon?"
"A special Providence, I suppose, helped it on its way."
"Ah--it isn't true!" she said with gentle resentment. "You are teasing me-- that's all--because you think I am not happy!"
"I don't know. I don't wish to know."
"If I were unhappy it would be my fault, my wickedness; not that I should have a right to dislike him! He is considerate to me in everything; and he is very interesting, from the amount of general knowledge he has acquired by reading everything that comes in his way.... Do you think, Jude, that a man ought to marry a woman his own age, or one younger than himself-- eighteen years--as I am than he?"
"It depends upon what they feel for each other."
He gave her no opportunity of self-satisfaction, and she had to go on unaided, which she did in a vanquished tone, verging on tears:
"I--I think I must be equally honest with you as you have been with me. Perhaps you have seen what it is I want to say?--that though I like Mr. Phillotson as a friend, I don't like him--it is a torture to me to--live with him as a husband!--There, now I have let it out-- I couldn't help it, although I have been--pretending I am happy.-- Now you'll have a contempt for me for ever, I suppose!" She bent down her face upon her hands as they lay upon the cloth, and silently sobbed in little jerks that made the fragile three-legged table quiver.
"I have only been married a month or two!" she went on, still remaining bent upon the table, and sobbing into her hands. "And it is said that what a woman shrinks from--in the early days of her marriage--she shakes down to with comfortable indifference in half a dozen years. But that is much like saying that the amputation of a limb is no affliction, since a person gets comfortably accustomed to the use of a wooden leg or arm in the course of time!"
Jude could hardly speak, but he said, "I thought there was something wrong, Sue! Oh, I thought there was!"
"But it is not as you think!--there is nothing wrong except my own wickedness, I suppose you'd call it--a repugnance on my part, for a reason I cannot disclose, and what would not be admitted as one by the world in general! ... What tortures me so much is the necessity of being responsive to this man whenever he wishes, good as he is morally!-- the dreadful contract to feel in a particular way in a matter whose essence is its voluntariness! ... I wish he would beat me, or be faithless to me, or do some open thing that I could talk about as a justification for feeling as I do! But he does nothing, except that he has grown a little cold since he has found out how I feel. That's why he didn't come to the funeral.... Oh, I am very miserable--I don't know what to do! ... Don't come near me, Jude, because you mustn't. Don't--don't!"
But he had jumped up and put his face against hers--or rather against her ear, her face being inaccessible.
"I told you not to, Jude!"
"I know you did--I only wish to--console you! It all arose through my being married before we met, didn't it? You would have been my wife, Sue, wouldn't you, if it hadn't been for that?"
Instead of replying she rose quickly, and saying she was going to walk to her aunt's grave in the churchyard to recover herself, went out of the house. Jude did not follow her. Twenty minutes later he saw her cross the village green towards Mrs. Edlin's, and soon she sent a little girl to fetch her bag, and tell him she was too tired to see him again that night.
In the lonely room of his aunt's house, Jude sat watching the cottage of the Widow Edlin as it disappeared behind the night shade. He knew that Sue was sitting within its walls equally lonely and disheartened; and again questioned his devotional motto that all was for the best.
He retired to rest early, but his sleep was fitful from the sense that Sue was so near at hand. At some time near two o'clock, when he was beginning to sleep more soundly, he was aroused by a shrill squeak that had been familiar enough to him when he lived regularly at Marygreen. It was the cry of a rabbit caught in a gin. As was the little creature's habit, it did not soon repeat its cry; and probably would not do so more than once or twice; but would remain bearing its torture till the morrow when the trapper would come and knock it on the head.
He who in his childhood had saved the lives of the earthworms now began to picture the agonies of the rabbit from its lacerated leg. If it were a "bad catch" by the hind-leg, the animal would tug during the ensuing six hours till the iron teeth of the trap had stripped the leg-bone of its flesh, when, should a weak-springed instrument enable it to escape, it would die in the fields from the mortification of the limb. If it were a "good catch," namely, by the fore-leg, the bone would be broken and the limb nearly torn in two in attempts at an impossible escape.
Almost half an hour passed, and the rabbit repeated its cry. Jude could rest no longer till he had put it out of its pain, so dressing himself quickly he descended, and by the light of the moon went across the green in the direction of the sound. He reached the hedge bordering the widow's garden, when he stood still. The faint click of the trap as dragged about by the writhing animal guided him now, and reaching the spot he struck the rabbit on the back of the neck with the side of his palm, and it stretched itself out dead.
He was turning away when he saw a woman looking out of the open casement at a window on the ground floor of the adjacent cottage. "Jude!" said a voice timidly--Sue's voice. "It is you-- is it not?"
"I haven't been able to sleep at all, and then I heard the rabbit, and couldn't help thinking of what it suffered, till I felt I must come down and kill it! But I am so glad you got there first.... They ought not to be allowed to set these steel traps, ought they!"
Jude had reached the window, which was quite a low one, so that she was visible down to her waist. She let go the casement-stay and put her hand upon his, her moonlit face regarding him wistfully.
"Did it keep you awake?" he said.
"No--I was awake."
"How was that?"
"Oh, you know--now! I know you, with your religious doctrines, think that a married woman in trouble of a kind like mine commits a mortal sin in making a man the confidant of it, as I did you. I wish I hadn't, now!"
"Don't wish it, dear," he said. "That may have BEEN my view; but my doctrines and I begin to part company."
"I knew it--I knew it! And that's why I vowed I wouldn't disturb your belief. But--I am SO GLAD to see you!--and, oh, I didn't mean to see you again, now the last tie between us, Aunt Drusilla, is dead!"
Jude seized her hand and kissed it. "There is a stronger one left!" he said. "I'll never care about my doctrines or my religion any more! Let them go! Let me help you, even if I do love you, and even if you ..."
"Don't say it!--I know what you mean; but I can't admit so much as that. There! Guess what you like, but don't press me to answer questions!"
"I wish you were happy, whatever I may be!"
"I CAN'T be! So few could enter into my feeling--they would say 'twas my fanciful fastidiousness, or something of that sort, and condemn me.... It is none of the natural tragedies of love that's love's usual tragedy in civilized life, but a tragedy artificially manufactured for people who in a natural state would find relief in parting! ... It would have been wrong, perhaps, for me to tell my distress to you, if I had been able to tell it to anybody else. But I have nobody. And I MUST tell somebody! Jude, before I married him I had never thought out fully what marriage meant, even though I knew. It was idiotic of me--there is no excuse. I was old enough, and I thought I was very experienced. So I rushed on, when I had got into that training school scrape, with all the cock-sureness of the fool that I was! ... I am certain one ought to be allowed to undo what one had done so ignorantly! I daresay it happens to lots of women, only they submit, and I kick.... When people of a later age look back upon the barbarous customs and superstitions of the times that we have the unhappiness to live in, what WILL they say!"
"You are very bitter, darling Sue! How I wish--I wish----"
"You must go in now!"
In a moment of impulse she bent over the sill, and laid her face upon his hair, weeping, and then imprinting a scarcely perceptible little kiss upon the top of his head, withdrawing quickly, so that he could not put his arms round her, as otherwise he unquestionably would have done. She shut the casement, and he returned to his cottage.