FOUR-AND-TWENTY hours before this time Sue had written the following note to Jude:
It is as I told you; and I am leaving to-morrow evening. Richard and I thought it could be done with less obtrusiveness after dark. I feel rather frightened, and therefore ask you to be sure you are on the Melchester platform to meet me. I arrive at a little to seven. I know you will, of course, dear Jude; but I feel so timid that I can't help begging you to be punctual. He has been so VERY kind to me through it all!
Now to our meeting! S.
As she was carried by the omnibus farther and farther down from the mountain town--the single passenger that evening-- she regarded the receding road with a sad face. But no hesitation was apparent therein.
The up-train by which she was departing stopped by signal only. To Sue it seemed strange that such a powerful organization as a railway train should be brought to a stand-still on purpose for her-- a fugitive from her lawful home.
The twenty minutes' journey drew towards its close, and Sue began gathering her things together to alight. At the moment that the train came to a stand-still by the Melchester platform a hand was laid on the door and she beheld Jude. He entered the compartment promptly. He had a black bag in his hand, and was dressed in the dark suit he wore on Sundays and in the evening after work. Altogether he looked a very handsome young fellow, his ardent affection for her burning in his eyes.
"Oh Jude!" She clasped his hand with both hers, and her tense state caused her to simmer over in a little succession of dry sobs. "I--I am so glad! I get out here?"
"No. I get in, dear one! I've packed. Besides this bag I've only a big box which is labelled."
"But don't I get out? Aren't we going to stay here?"
"We couldn't possibly, don't you see. We are known here--I, at any rate, am well known. I've booked for Aldbrickham; and here's your ticket for the same place, as you have only one to here."
"I thought we should have stayed here," she repeated.
"It wouldn't have done at all."
"Ah! Perhaps not."
"There wasn't time for me to write and say the place I had decided on. Aldbrickham is a much bigger town--sixty or seventy thousand inhabitants-- and nobody knows anything about us there."
"And you have given up your cathedral work here?"
"Yes. It was rather sudden--your message coming unexpectedly. Strictly, I might have been made to finish out the week. But I pleaded urgency and I was let off. I would have deserted any day at your command, dear Sue. I have deserted more than that for you!"
"I fear I am doing you a lot of harm. Ruining your prospects of the Church; ruining your progress in your trade; everything!"
"The Church is no more to me. Let it lie! I am not to be one of
The soldier-saints who, row on row,
Burn upward each to his point of bliss,
if any such there be! My point of bliss is not upward, but here."
"Oh I seem so bad--upsetting men's courses like this!" said she, taking up in her voice the emotion that had begun in his. But she recovered her equanimity by the time they had travelled a dozen miles.
"He has been so good in letting me go," she resumed. "And here's a note I found on my dressing-table, addressed to you."
"Yes. He's not an unworthy fellow," said Jude, glancing at the note. "And I am ashamed of myself for hating him because he married you."
"According to the rule of women's whims I suppose I ought to suddenly love him, because he has let me go so generously and unexpectedly," she answered smiling. "But I am so cold, or devoid of gratitude, or so something, that even this generosity hasn't made me love him, or repent, or want to stay with him as his wife; although I do feel I like his large-mindedness, and respect him more than ever."
"It may not work so well for us as if he had been less kind, and you had run away against his will," murmured Jude.
"That I NEVER would have done."
Jude's eyes rested musingly on her face. Then he suddenly kissed her; and was going to kiss her again. "No--only once now--please, Jude!"
"That's rather cruel," he answered; but acquiesced. "Such a strange thing has happened to me," Jude continued after a silence. "Arabella has actually written to ask me to get a divorce from her-- in kindness to her, she says. She wants to honestly and legally marry that man she has already married virtually; and begs me to enable her to do it."
"What have you done?"
"I have agreed. I thought at first I couldn't do it without getting her into trouble about that second marriage, and I don't want to injure her in any way. Perhaps she's no worse than I am, after all! But nobody knows about it over here, and I find it will not be a difficult proceeding at all. If she wants to start afresh I have only too obvious reasons for not hindering her."
"Then you'll be free?"
"Yes, I shall be free."
"Where are we booked for?" she asked, with the discontinuity that marked her to-night.
"Aldbrickham, as I said."
"But it will be very late when we get there?"
"Yes. I thought of that, and I wired for a room for us at the Temperance Hotel there."
She looked at him. "Oh Jude!" Sue bent her forehead against the corner of the compartment. "I thought you might do it; and that I was deceiving you. But I didn't mean that!"
In the pause which followed, Jude's eyes fixed themselves with a stultified expression on the opposite seat. "Well!" he said.... "Well!"
He remained in silence; and seeing how discomfited he was she put her face against his cheek, murmuring, "Don't be vexed, dear!"
"Oh--there's no harm done," he said. "But--I understood it like that.... Is this a sudden change of mind?"
"You have no right to ask me such a question; and I shan't answer!" she said, smiling.
"My dear one, your happiness is more to me than anything-- although we seem to verge on quarrelling so often!-- and your will is law to me. I am something more than a mere-- selfish fellow, I hope. Have it as you wish!" On reflection his brow showed perplexity. "But perhaps it is that you don't love me--not that you have become conventional! Much as, under your teaching, I hate convention, I hope it IS that, not the other terrible alternative!"
Even at this obvious moment for candour Sue could not be quite candid as to the state of that mystery, her heart. "Put it down to my timidity," she said with hurried evasiveness; "to a woman's natural timidity when the crisis comes. I may feel as well as you that I have a perfect right to live with you as you thought--from this moment. I may hold the opinion that, in a proper state of society, the father of a woman's child will be as much a private matter of hers as the cut of her underlinen, on whom nobody will have any right to question her. But partly, perhaps, because it is by his generosity that I am now free, I would rather not be other than a little rigid. If there had been a rope-ladder, and he had run after us with pistols, it would have seemed different, and I may have acted otherwise. But don't press me and criticize me, Jude! Assume that I haven't the courage of my opinions. I know I am a poor miserable creature. My nature is not so passionate as yours!"
He repeated simply! "I thought--what I naturally thought. But if we are not lovers, we are not. Phillotson thought so, I am sure. See, here is what he has written to me." He opened the letter she had brought, and read:
"I make only one condition--that you are tender and kind to her. I know you love her. But even love may be cruel at times. You are made for each other: it is obvious, palpable, to any unbiased older person. You were all along 'the shadowy third' in my short life with her. I repeat, take care of Sue."
"He's a good fellow, isn't he!" she said with latent tears. On reconsideration she added, "He was very resigned to letting me go-- too resigned almost! I never was so near being in love with him as when he made such thoughtful arrangements for my being comfortable on my journey, and offering to provide money. Yet I was not. If I loved him ever so little as a wife, I'd go back to him even now."
"But you don't, do you?"
"It is true--oh so terribly true!--I don't."
"Nor me neither, I half-fear!" he said pettishly. "Nor anybody perhaps! Sue, sometimes, when I am vexed with you, I think you are incapable of real love."
"That's not good and loyal of you!" she said, and drawing away from him as far as she could, looked severely out into the darkness. She added in hurt tones, without turning round: "My liking for you is not as some women's perhaps. But it is a delight in being with you, of a supremely delicate kind, and I don't want to go further and risk it by--an attempt to intensify it! I quite realized that, as woman with man, it was a risk to come. But, as me with you, I resolved to trust you to set my wishes above your gratification. Don't discuss it further, dear Jude!"
"Of course, if it would make you reproach yourself ... but you do like me very much, Sue? Say you do! Say that you do a quarter, a tenth, as much as I do you, and I'll be content!"
"I've let you kiss me, and that tells enough."
"Just once or so!"
"Well--don't be a greedy boy."
He leant back, and did not look at her for a long time. That episode in her past history of which she had told him-- of the poor Christminster graduate whom she had handled thus, returned to Jude's mind; and he saw himself as a possible second in such a torturing destiny.
"This is a queer elopement!" he murmured. "Perhaps you are making a cat's paw of me with Phillotson all this time. Upon my word it almost seems so--to see you sitting up there so prim!"
"Now you mustn't be angry--I won't let you!" she coaxed, turning and moving nearer to him. "You did kiss me just now, you know; and I didn't dislike you to, I own it, Jude. Only I don't want to let you do it again, just yet--considering how we are circumstanced, don't you see!"
He could never resist her when she pleaded (as she well knew). And they sat side by side with joined hands, till she aroused herself at some thought.
"I can't possibly go to that Temperance Inn, after your telegraphing that message!"
"You can see well enough!"
"Very well; there'll be some other one open, no doubt. I have sometimes thought, since your marrying Phillotson because of a stupid scandal, that under the affectation of independent views you are as enslaved to the social code as any woman I know!"
"Not mentally. But I haven't the courage of my views, as I said before. I didn't marry him altogether because of the scandal. But sometimes a woman's LOVE OF BEING LOVED gets the better of her conscience, and though she is agonized at the thought of treating a man cruelly, she encourages him to love her while she doesn't love him at all. Then, when she sees him suffering, her remorse sets in, and she does what she can to repair the wrong."
"You simply mean that you flirted outrageously with him, poor old chap, and then repented, and to make reparation, married him, though you tortured yourself to death by doing it."
"Well--if you will put it brutally!--it was a little like that-- that and the scandal together--and your concealing from me what you ought to have told me before!"
He could see that she was distressed and tearful at his criticisms, and soothed her, saying: "There, dear; don't mind! Crucify me, if you will! You know you are all the world to me, whatever you do!"
"I am very bad and unprincipled--I know you think that!" she said, trying to blink away her tears.
"I think and know you are my dear Sue, from whom neither length nor breadth, nor things present nor things to come, can divide me!"
Though so sophisticated in many things she was such a child in others that this satisfied her, and they reached the end of their journey on the best of terms. It was about ten o'clock when they arrived at Aldbrickham, the county town of North Wessex. As she would not go to the Temperance Hotel because of the form of his telegram, Jude inquired for another; and a youth who volunteered to find one wheeled their luggage to the George farther on, which proved to be the inn at which Jude had stayed with Arabella on that one occasion of their meeting after their division for years.
Owing, however, to their now entering it by another door, and to his preoccupation, he did not at first recognize the place. When they had engaged their respective rooms they went down to a late supper. During Jude's temporary absence the waiting-maid spoke to Sue.
"I think, ma'am, I remember your relation, or friend, or whatever he is, coming here once before--late, just like this, with his wife--a lady, at any rate, that wasn't you by no manner of means--jest as med be with you now."
"Oh do you?" said Sue, with a certain sickness of heart. "Though I think you must be mistaken! How long ago was it?"
"About a month or two. A handsome, full-figured woman. They had this room."
When Jude came back and sat down to supper Sue seemed moping and miserable. "Jude," she said to him plaintively, at their parting that night upon the landing, "it is not so nice and pleasant as it used to be with us!
I don't like it here--I can't bear the place! And I don't like you so well as I did!"
"How fidgeted you seem, dear! Why do you change like this?"
"Because it was cruel to bring me here!"
"You were lately here with Arabella. There, now I have said it!"
"Dear me, why--" said Jude looking round him. "Yes--it is the same! I really didn't know it, Sue. Well--it is not cruel, since we have come as we have--two relations staying together."
"How long ago was it you were here? Tell me, tell me!"
"The day before I met you in Christminster, when we went back to Marygreen together. I told you I had met her."
"Yes, you said you had met her, but you didn't tell me all. Your story was that you had met as estranged people, who were not husband and wife at all in Heaven's sight-- not that you had made it up with her."
"We didn't make it up," he said sadly. "I can't explain, Sue."
"You've been false to me; you, my last hope! And I shall never forget it, never!"
"But by your own wish, dear Sue, we are only to be friends, not lovers! It is so very inconsistent of you to----"
"Friends can be jealous!"
"I don't see that. You concede nothing to me and I have to concede everything to you. After all, you were on good terms with your husband at that time."
"No, I wasn't, Jude. Oh how can you think so! And you have taken me in, even if you didn't intend to." She was so mortified that he was obliged to take her into her room and close the door lest the people should hear. "Was it this room? Yes it was--I see by your look it was! I won't have it for mine! Oh it was treacherous of you to have her again! I jumped out of the window!"
"But Sue, she was, after all, my legal wife, if not--"
Slipping down on her knees Sue buried her face in the bed and wept.
"I never knew such an unreasonable--such a dog-in-the-manger feeling," said Jude. "I am not to approach you, nor anybody else!"
"Oh don't you UNDERSTAND my feeling! Why don't you! Why are you so gross! I jumped out of the window!"
"Jumped out of window?"
"I can't explain!"
It was true that he did not understand her feelings very well. But he did a little; and began to love her none the less.
"I--I thought you cared for nobody--desired nobody in the world but me at that time--and ever since!" continued Sue.
"It is true. I did not, and don't now!" said Jude, as distressed as she.
"But you must have thought much of her! Or--"
"No--I need not--you don't understand me either--women never do! Why should you get into such a tantrum about nothing?"
Looking up from the quilt she pouted provokingly: "If it hadn't been for that, perhaps I would have gone on to the Temperance Hotel, after all, as you proposed; for I was beginning to think I did belong to you!"
"Oh, it is of no consequence!" said Jude distantly.
"I thought, of course, that she had never been really your wife since she left you of her own accord years and years ago! My sense of it was, that a parting such as yours from her, and mine from him, ended the marriage."
"I can't say more without speaking against her, and I don't want to do that," said he. "Yet I must tell you one thing, which would settle the matter in any case. She has married another man--really married him! I knew nothing about it till after the visit we made here."
"Married another? ... It is a crime--as the world treats it, but does not believe."
"There--now you are yourself again. Yes, it is a crime--as you don't hold, but would fearfully concede. But I shall never inform against her! And it is evidently a prick of conscience in her that has led her to urge me to get a divorce, that she may remarry this man legally. So you perceive I shall not be likely to see her again."
"And you didn't really know anything of this when you saw her?" said Sue more gently, as she rose.
"I did not. Considering all things, I don't think you ought to be angry, darling!"
"I am not. But I shan't go to the Temperance Hotel!"
He laughed. "Never mind!" he said. "So that I am near you, I am comparatively happy. It is more than this earthly wretch called Me deserves--you spirit, you disembodied creature, you dear, sweet, tantalizing phantom--hardly flesh at all; so that when I put my arms round you I almost expect them to pass through you as through air! Forgive me for being gross, as you call it! Remember that our calling cousins when really strangers was a snare. The enmity of our parents gave a piquancy to you in my eyes that was intenser even than the novelty of ordinary new acquaintance."
"Say those pretty lines, then, from Shelley's 'Epipsychidion' as if they meant me!" she solicited, slanting up closer to him as they stood. "Don't you know them?"
"I know hardly any poetry," he replied mournfully.
"Don't you? These are some of them:
There was a Being whom my spirit oft
Met on its visioned wanderings far aloft.