WHEN Sue reached home Jude was awaiting her at the door to take the initial step towards their marriage. She clasped his arm, and they went along silently together, as true comrades oft-times do. He saw that she was preoccupied, and forbore to question her.
"Oh Jude--I've been talking to her," she said at last. "I wish I hadn't! And yet it is best to be reminded of things."
"I hope she was civil."
"Yes. I--I can't help liking her--just a little bit! She's not an ungenerous nature; and I am so glad her difficulties have all suddenly ended." She explained how Arabella had been summoned back, and would be enabled to retrieve her position. "I was referring to our old question. What Arabella has been saying to me has made me feel more than ever how hopelessly vulgar an institution legal marriage is-- a sort of trap to catch a man--I can't bear to think of it. I wish I hadn't promised to let you put up the banns this morning!"
"Oh, don't mind me. Any time will do for me. I thought you might like to get it over quickly, now."
"Indeed, I don't feel any more anxious now than I did before. Perhaps with any other man I might be a little anxious; but among the very few virtues possessed by your family and mine, dear, I think I may set staunchness. So I am not a bit frightened about losing you, now I really am yours and you really are mine. In fact, I am easier in my mind than I was, for my conscience is clear about Richard, who now has a right to his freedom. I felt we were deceiving him before."
"Sue, you seem when you are like this to be one of the women of some grand old civilization, whom I used to read about in my bygone, wasted, classical days, rather than a denizen of a mere Christian country. I almost expect you to say at these times that you have just been talking to some friend whom you met in the Via Sacra, about the latest news of Octavia or Livia; or have been listening to Aspasia's eloquence, or have been watching Praxiteles chiselling away at his latest Venus, while Phryne made complaint that she was tired of posing."
They had now reached the house of the parish clerk. Sue stood back, while her lover went up to the door. His hand was raised to knock when she said: "Jude!"
He looked round.
"Wait a minute, would you mind?"
He came back to her.
"Just let us think," she said timidly. "I had such a horrid dream one night! ... And Arabella----"
"What did Arabella say to you?" he asked
"Oh, she said that when people were tied up you could get the law of a man better if he beat you--and how when couples quarrelled.... Jude, do you think that when you must have me with you by law, we shall be so happy as we are now? The men and women of our family are very generous when everything depends upon their goodwill, but they always kick against compulsion. Don't you dread the attitude that insensibly arises out of legal obligation? Don't you think it is destructive to a passion whose essence is its gratuitousness?"
"Upon my word, love, you are beginning to frighten me, too, with all this foreboding! Well, let's go back and think it over."
Her face brightened. "Yes--so we will!" said she. And they turned from the clerk's door, Sue taking his arm and murmuring as they walked on homeward:
Can you keep the bee from ranging,
Or the ring-dove s neck from changing?
No! Nor fetter'd love ...
They thought it over, or postponed thinking. Certainly they postponed action, and seemed to live on in a dreamy paradise. At the end of a fortnight or three weeks matters remained unadvanced, and no banns were announced to the ears of any Aldbrickham congregation.
Whilst they were postponing and postponing thus a letter and a newspaper arrived before breakfast one morning from Arabella. Seeing the handwriting Jude went up to Sue's room and told her, and as soon as she was dressed she hastened down. Sue opened the newspaper; Jude the letter. After glancing at the paper she held across the first page to him with her finger on a paragraph; but he was so absorbed in his letter that he did not turn awhile.
"Look!" said she.
He looked and read. The paper was one that circulated in South London only, and the marked advertisement was simply the announcement of a marriage at St. John's Church, Waterloo Road, under the names, "CARTLETT--DONN"; the united pair being Arabella and the inn-keeper.
"Well, it is satisfactory," said Sue complacently. "Though, after this, it seems rather low to do likewise, and I am glad. However, she is provided for now in a way, I suppose, whatever her faults, poor thing. It is nicer that we are able to think that, than to be uneasy about her. I ought, too, to write to Richard and ask him how he is getting on, perhaps?"
But Jude's attention was still absorbed. Having merely glanced at the announcement he said in a disturbed voice: "Listen to this letter. What shall I say or do?"
THE THREE HORNS, LAMBETH.
DEAR JUDE (I won't be so distant as to call you Mr. Fawley),-- I send to-day a newspaper, from which useful document you will learn that I was married over again to Cartlett last Tuesday. So that business is settled right and tight at last. But what I write about more particular is that private affair I wanted to speak to you on when I came down to Aldbrickham. I couldn't very well tell it to your lady friend, and should much have liked to let you know it by word of mouth, as I could have explained better than by letter. The fact is, Jude, that, though I have never informed you before, there was a boy born of our marriage, eight months after I left you, when I was at Sydney, living with my father and mother. All that is easily provable. As I had separated from you before I thought such a thing was going to happen, and I was over there, and our quarrel had been sharp, I did not think it convenient to write about the birth. I was then looking out for a good situation, so my parents took the child, and he has been with them ever since. That was why I did not mention it when I met you in Christminster, nor at the law proceedings. He is now of an intelligent age, of course, and my mother and father have lately written to say that, as they have rather a hard struggle over there, and I am settled comfortably here, they don't see why they should be encumbered with the child any longer, his parents being alive. I would have him with me here in a moment, but he is not old enough to be of any use in the bar nor will be for years and years, and naturally Cartlett might think him in the way. They have, however, packed him off to me in charge of some friends who happened to be coming home, and I must ask you to take him when he arrives, for I don't know what to do with him. He is lawfully yours, that I solemnly swear. If anybody says he isn't, call them brimstone liars, for my sake. Whatever I may have done before or afterwards, I was honest to you from the time we were married till I went away, and I remain, yours, &c.,
Sue's look was one of dismay. "What will you do, dear?" she asked faintly.
Jude did not reply, and Sue watched him anxiously, with heavy breaths.
"It hits me hard!" said he in an under-voice. "It MAY be true! I can't make it out. Certainly, if his birth was exactly when she says, he's mine. I cannot think why she didn't tell me when I met her at Christminster, and came on here that evening with her! ... Ah-- I do remember now that she said something about having a thing on her mind that she would like me to know, if ever we lived together again."
"The poor child seems to be wanted by nobody!" Sue replied, and her eyes filled.
Jude had by this time come to himself. "What a view of life he must have, mine or not mine!" he said. "I must say that, if I were better off, I should not stop for a moment to think whose he might be. I would take him and bring him up. The beggarly question of parentage--what is it, after all? What does it matter, when you come to think of it, whether a child is yours by blood or not? All the little ones of our time are collectively the children of us adults of the time, and entitled to our general care. That excessive regard of parents for their own children, and their dislike of other people's, is, like class-feeling, patriotism, save-your-own-soul-ism, and other virtues, a mean exclusiveness at bottom."
Sue jumped up and kissed Jude with passionate devotion. "Yes--so it is, dearest! And we'll have him here! And if he isn't yours it makes it all the better. I do hope he isn't--though perhaps I ought not to feel quite that! If he isn't, I should like so much for us to have him as an adopted child!"
"Well, you must assume about him what is most pleasing to you, my curious little comrade!" he said. "I feel that, anyhow, I don't like to leave the unfortunate little fellow to neglect. Just think of his life in a Lambeth pothouse, and all its evil influences, with a parent who doesn't want him, and has, indeed, hardly seen him, and a stepfather who doesn't know him. 'Let the day perish wherein I was born, and the night in which it was said, There is a man child conceived!' That's what the boy--my boy, perhaps, will find himself saying before long!"
"As I was the petitioner, I am really entitled to his custody, I suppose."
"Whether or no, we must have him. I see that. I'll do the best I can to be a mother to him, and we can afford to keep him somehow. I'll work harder. I wonder when he'll arrive?"
"In the course of a few weeks, I suppose."
"I wish--When shall we have courage to marry, Jude?"
"Whenever you have it, I think I shall. It remains with you entirely, dear. Only say the word, and it's done."
"Before the boy comes?"
"It would make a more natural home for him, perhaps," she murmured.
Jude thereupon wrote in purely formal terms to request that the boy should be sent on to them as soon as he arrived, making no remark whatever on the surprising nature of Arabella's information, nor vouchsafing a single word of opinion on the boy's paternity, nor on whether, had he known all this, his conduct towards her would have been quite the same.
In the down-train that was timed to reach Aldbrickham station about ten o'clock the next evening, a small, pale child's face could be seen in the gloom of a third-class carriage. He had large, frightened eyes, and wore a white woollen cravat, over which a key was suspended round his neck by a piece of common string: the key attracting attention by its occasional shine in the lamplight. In the band of his hat his half-ticket was stuck. His eyes remained mostly fixed on the back of the seat opposite, and never turned to the window even when a station was reached and called. On the other seat were two or three passengers, one of them a working woman who held a basket on her lap, in which was a tabby kitten. The woman opened the cover now and then, whereupon the kitten would put out its head, and indulge in playful antics. At these the fellow-passengers laughed, except the solitary boy bearing the key and ticket, who, regarding the kitten with his saucer eyes, seemed mutely to say: "All laughing comes from misapprehension. Rightly looked at there is no laughable thing under the sun."
Occasionally at a stoppage the guard would look into the compartment and say to the boy, "All right, my man. Your box is safe in the van." The boy would say, "Yes," without animation, would try to smile, and fail.
He was Age masquerading as Juvenility, and doing it so badly that his real self showed through crevices. A ground-swell from ancient years of night seemed now and then to lift the child in this his morning-life, when his face took a back view over some great Atlantic of Time, and appeared not to care about what it saw.
When the other travellers closed their eyes, which they did one by one-- even the kitten curling itself up in the basket, weary of its too circumscribed play--the boy remained just as before. He then seemed to be doubly awake, like an enslaved and dwarfed divinity, sitting passive and regarding his companions as if he saw their whole rounded lives rather than their immediate figures.
This was Arabella's boy. With her usual carelessness she had postponed writing to Jude about him till the eve of his landing, when she could absolutely postpone no longer, though she had known for weeks of his approaching arrival, and had, as she truly said, visited Aldbrickham mainly to reveal the boy's existence and his near home-coming to Jude. This very day on which she had received her former husband's answer at some time in the afternoon, the child reached the London Docks, and the family in whose charge he had come, having put him into a cab for Lambeth and directed the cabman to his mother's house, bade him good-bye, and went their way.
On his arrival at the Three Horns, Arabella had looked him over with an expression that was as good as saying, "You are very much what I expected you to be," had given him a good meal, a little money, and, late as it was getting, dispatched him to Jude by the next train, wishing her husband Cartlett, who was out, not to see him.
The train reached Aldbrickham, and the boy was deposited on the lonely platform beside his box. The collector took his ticket and, with a meditative sense of the unfitness of things, asked him where he was going by himself at that time of night.
"Going to Spring Street," said the little one impassively.
"Why, that's a long way from here; a'most out in the country; and the folks will be gone to bed."
"I've got to go there."
"You must have a fly for your box."
"No. I must walk."
"Oh well: you'd better leave your box here and send for it. There's a 'bus goes half-way, but you'll have to walk the rest."
"I am not afraid."
"Why didn't your friends come to meet 'ee?"
"I suppose they didn't know I was coming."
"Who is your friends?"
"Mother didn't wish me to say."
"All I can do, then, is to take charge of this. Now walk as fast as you can."
Saying nothing further the boy came out into the street, looking round to see that nobody followed or observed him. When he had walked some little distance he asked for the street of his destination. He was told to go straight on quite into the outskirts of the place.
The child fell into a steady mechanical creep which had in it an impersonal quality--the movement of the wave, or of the breeze, or of the cloud. He followed his directions literally, without an inquiring gaze at anything. It could have been seen that the boy's ideas of life were different from those of the local boys. Children begin with detail, and learn up to the general; they begin with the contiguous, and gradually comprehend the universal. The boy seemed to have begun with the generals of life, and never to have concerned himself with the particulars. To him the houses, the willows, the obscure fields beyond, were apparently regarded not as brick residences, pollards, meadows; but as human dwellings in the abstract, vegetation, and the wide dark world.
He found the way to the little lane, and knocked at the door of Jude's house. Jude had just retired to bed, and Sue was about to enter her chamber adjoining when she heard the knock and came down.
"Is this where Father lives?" asked the child.
"Mr. Fawley, that's his name."
Sue ran up to Jude's room and told him, and he hurried down as soon as he could, though to her impatience he seemed long.
"What--is it he--so soon?" she asked as Jude came.
She scrutinized the child's features, and suddenly went away into the little sitting-room adjoining. Jude lifted the boy to a level with himself, keenly regarded him with gloomy tenderness, and telling him he would have been met if they had known of his coming so soon, set him provisionally in a chair whilst he went to look for Sue, whose supersensitiveness was disturbed, as he knew. He found her in the dark, bending over an arm-chair. He enclosed her with his arm, and putting his face by hers, whispered, "What's the matter?"
"What Arabella says is true--true! I see you in him!"
"Well: that's one thing in my life as it should be, at any rate."
"But the other half of him is--SHE! And that's what I can't bear! But I ought to--I'll try to get used to it; yes, I ought!"
"Jealous little Sue! I withdraw all remarks about your sexlessness. Never mind! Time may right things.... And Sue, darling; I have an idea! We'll educate and train him with a view to the university. What I couldn't accomplish in my own person perhaps I can carry out through him? They are making it easier for poor students now, you know."
"Oh you dreamer!" said she, and holding his hand returned to the child with him. The boy looked at her as she had looked at him. "Is it you who's my REAL mother at last?" he inquired.
"Why? Do I look like your father's wife?"
"Well, yes; 'cept he seems fond of you, and you of him. Can I call you Mother?"
Then a yearning look came over the child and he began to cry. Sue thereupon could not refrain from instantly doing likewise, being a harp which the least wind of emotion from another's heart could make to vibrate as readily as a radical stir in her own.
"You may call me Mother, if you wish to, my poor dear!" she said, bending her cheek against his to hide her tears.
"What's this round your neck?" asked Jude with affected calmness.
"The key of my box that's at the station."
They bustled about and got him some supper, and made him up a temporary bed, where he soon fell asleep. Both went and looked at him as he lay.
"He called you Mother two or three times before he dropped off," murmured Jude. "Wasn't it odd that he should have wanted to!"
"Well--it was significant," said Sue. "There's more for us to think about in that one little hungry heart than in all the stars of the sky.... I suppose, dear, we must pluck up courage, and get that ceremony over? It is no use struggling against the current, and I feel myself getting intertwined with my kind. Oh Jude, you'll love me dearly, won't you, afterwards! I do want to be kind to this child, and to be a mother to him; and our adding the legal form to our marriage might make it easier for me."