THE purpose of a chronicler of moods and deeds does not require him to express his personal views upon the grave controversy above given. That the twain were happy--between their times of sadness--was indubitable. And when the unexpected apparition of Jude's child in the house had shown itself to be no such disturbing event as it had looked, but one that brought into their lives a new and tender interest of an ennobling and unselfish kind, it rather helped than injured their happiness.
To be sure, with such pleasing anxious beings as they were, the boy's coming also brought with it much thought for the future, particularly as he seemed at present to be singularly deficient in all the usual hopes of childhood. But the pair tried to dismiss, for a while at least, a too strenuously forward view.
There is in Upper Wessex an old town of nine or ten thousand souls; the town may be called Stoke-Barehills. It stands with its gaunt, unattractive, ancient church, and its new red brick suburb, amid the open, chalk-soiled cornlands, near the middle of an imaginary triangle which has for its three corners the towns of Aldbrickham and Wintoncester, and the important military station of Quartershot. The great western highway from London passes through it, near a point where the road branches into two, merely to unite again some twenty miles further westward. Out of this bifurcation and reunion there used to arise among wheeled travellers, before railway days, endless questions of choice between the respective ways. But the question is now as dead as the scot-and-lot freeholder, the road waggoner, and the mail coachman who disputed it; and probably not a single inhabitant of Stoke-Barehills is now even aware that the two roads which part in his town ever meet again; for nobody now drives up and down the great western highway dally.
The most familiar object in Stoke-Barehills nowadays is its cemetery, standing among some picturesque mediaeval ruins beside the railway; the modern chapels, modern tombs, and modern shrubs having a look of intrusiveness amid the crumbling and ivy-covered decay of the ancient walls.
On a certain day, however, in the particular year which has now been reached by this narrative--the month being early June-- the features of the town excite little interest, though many visitors arrive by the trains; some down-trains, in especial, nearly emptying themselves here. It is the week of the Great Wessex Agricultural Show, whose vast encampment spreads over the open outskirts of the town like the tents of an investing army. Rows of marquees, huts, booths, pavilions, arcades, porticoes-- every kind of structure short of a permanent one-- cover the green field for the space of a square half-mile, and the crowds of arrivals walk through the town in a mass, and make straight for the exhibition ground. The way thereto is lined with shows, stalls, and hawkers on foot, who make a market-place of the whole roadway to the show proper, and lead some of the improvident to lighten their pockets appreciably before they reach the gates of the exhibition they came expressly to see.
It is the popular day, the shilling day, and of the fast arriving excursion trains two from different directions enter the two contiguous railway stations at almost the same minute. One, like several which have preceded it, comes from London: the other by a cross-line from Aldbrickham; and from the London train alights a couple; a short, rather bloated man, with a globular stomach and small legs, resembling a top on two pegs, accompanied by a woman of rather fine figure and rather red face, dressed in black material, and covered with beads from bonnet to skirt, that made her glisten as if clad in chain-mail.
They cast their eyes around. The man was about to hire a fly as some others had done, when the woman said, "Don't be in such a hurry, Cartlett. It isn't so very far to the show-yard. Let us walk down the street into the place. Perhaps I can pick up a cheap bit of furniture or old china. It is years since I was here--never since I lived as a girl at Aldbrickham, and used to come across for a trip sometimes with my young man."
"You can't carry home furniture by excursion train," said, in a thick voice, her husband, the landlord of The Three Horns, Lambeth; for they had both come down from the tavern in that "excellent, densely populated, gin-drinking neighbourhood," which they had occupied ever since the advertisement in those words had attracted them thither. The configuration of the landlord showed that he, too, like his customers, was becoming affected by the liquors he retailed.
"Then I'll get it sent, if I see any worth having," said his wife.
They sauntered on, but had barely entered the town when her attention was attracted by a young couple leading a child, who had come out from the second platform, into which the train from Aldbrickham had steamed. They were walking just in front of the inn-keepers.
"Sakes alive!" said Arabella.
"What's that?" said Cartlett.
"Who do you think that couple is? Don't you recognize the man?"
"Not from the photos I have showed you?"
"Is it Fawley?"
"Oh, well. I suppose he was inclined for a little sight-seeing like the rest of us." Cartlett's interest in Jude whatever it might have been when Arabella was new to him, had plainly flagged since her charms and her idiosyncrasies, her supernumerary hair-coils, and her optional dimples, were becoming as a tale that is told.
Arabella so regulated her pace and her husband's as to keep just in the rear of the other three, which it was easy to do without notice in such a stream of pedestrians. Her answers to Cartlett's remarks were vague and slight, for the group in front interested her more than all the rest of the spectacle.
"They are rather fond of one another and of their child, seemingly," continued the publican.
"THEIR child! 'Tisn't their child," said Arabella with a curious, sudden covetousness. "They haven't been married long enough for it to be theirs!"
But although the smouldering maternal instinct was strong enough in her to lead her to quash her husband's conjecture, she was not disposed on second thoughts to be more candid than necessary. Mr. Cartlett had no other idea than that his wife's child by her first husband was with his grandparents at the Antipodes.
"Oh I suppose not. She looks quite a girl."
"They are only lovers, or lately married, and have the child in charge, as anybody can see."
All continued to move ahead. The unwitting Sue and Jude, the couple in question, had determined to make this agricultural exhibition within twenty miles of their own town the occasion of a day's excursion which should combine exercise and amusement with instruction, at small expense. Not regardful of themselves alone, they had taken care to bring Father Time, to try every means of making him kindle and laugh like other boys, though he was to some extent a hindrance to the delightfully unreserved intercourse in their pilgrimages which they so much enjoyed. But they soon ceased to consider him an observer, and went along with that tender attention to each other which the shyest can scarcely disguise, and which these, among entire strangers as they imagined, took less trouble to disguise than they might have done at home. Sue, in her new summer clothes, flexible and light as a bird, her little thumb stuck up by the stem of her white cotton sunshade, went along as if she hardly touched ground, and as if a moderately strong puff of wind would float her over the hedge into the next field. Jude, in his light grey holiday-suit, was really proud of her companionship, not more for her external attractiveness than for her sympathetic words and ways. That complete mutual understanding, in which every glance and movement was as effectual as speech for conveying intelligence between them, made them almost the two parts of a single whole.
The pair with their charge passed through the turnstiles, Arabella and her husband not far behind them. When inside the enclosure the publican's wife could see that the two ahead began to take trouble with the youngster, pointing out and explaining the many objects of interest, alive and dead; and a passing sadness would touch their faces at their every failure to disturb his indifference.
"How she sticks to him!" said Arabella. "Oh no--I fancy they are not married, or they wouldn't be so much to one another as that.... I wonder!"
"But I thought you said he did marry her?"
"I heard he was going to--that's all, going to make another attempt, after putting it off once or twice.... As far as they themselves are concerned they are the only two in the show. I should be ashamed of making myself so silly if I were he!"
"I don't see as how there's anything remarkable in their behaviour. I should never have noticed their being in love, if you hadn't said so."
"You never see anything," she rejoined. Nevertheless Cartlett's view of the lovers' or married pair's conduct was undoubtedly that of the general crowd, whose attention seemed to be in no way attracted by what Arabella's sharpened vision discerned.
"He's charmed by her as if she were some fairy!" continued Arabella. "See how he looks round at her, and lets his eyes rest on her. I am inclined to think that she don't care for him quite so much as he does for her. She's not a particular warm-hearted creature to my thinking, though she cares for him pretty middling much-- as much as she's able to; and he could make her heart ache a bit if he liked to try--which he's too simple to do. There--now they are going across to the cart-horse sheds. Come along."
"I don't want to see the cart-horses. It is no business of ours to follow these two. If we have come to see the show let us see it in our own way, as they do in theirs."
"Well--suppose we agree to meet somewhere in an hour's time-- say at that refreshment tent over there, and go about independent? Then you can look at what you choose to, and so can I."
Cartlett was not loath to agree to this, and they parted-- he proceeding to the shed where malting processes were being exhibited, and Arabella in the direction taken by Jude and Sue. Before, however, she had regained their wake a laughing face met her own, and she was confronted by Anny, the friend of her girlhood.
Anny had burst out in hearty laughter at the mere fact of the chance encounter. "I am still living down there," she said, as soon as she was composed. "I am soon going to be married, but my intended couldn't come up here to-day. But there's lots of us come by excursion, though I've lost the rest of 'em for the present."
"Have you met Jude and his young woman, or wife, or whatever she is? I saw 'em by now."
"No. Not a glimpse of un for years!"
"Well, they are close by here somewhere. Yes--there they are-- by that grey horse!"
"Oh, that's his present young woman--wife did you say? Has he married again?"
"I don't know."
"She's pretty, isn't she!"
"Yes--nothing to complain of; or jump at. Not much to depend on, though; a slim, fidgety little thing like that."
"He's a nice-looking chap, too! You ought to ha' stuck to un, Arabella."
"I don't know but I ought," murmured she.
Anny laughed. "That's you, Arabella! Always wanting another man than your own."
"Well, and what woman don't I should like to know? As for that body with him-- she don't know what love is--at least what I call love! I can see in her face she don't."
"And perhaps, Abby dear, you don't know what she calls love."
"I'm sure I don't wish to! ... Ah--they are making for the art department. I should like to see some pictures myself. Suppose we go that way?-- Why, if all Wessex isn't here, I verily believe! There's Dr. Vilbert. Haven't seen him for years, and he's not looking a day older than when I used to know him. How do you do, Physician? I was just saying that you don't look a day older than when you knew me as a girl."
"Simply the result of taking my own pills regular, ma'am. Only two and threepence a box--warranted efficacious by the Government stamp. Now let me advise you to purchase the same immunity from the ravages of time by following my example? Only two-and-three."
The physician had produced a box from his waistcoat pocket, and Arabella was induced to make the purchase.
"At the same time," continued he, when the pills were paid for, "you have the advantage of me, Mrs.--Surely not Mrs. Fawley, once Miss Donn, of the vicinity of Marygreen?"
"Yes. But Mrs. Cartlett now."
"Ah--you lost him, then? Promising young fellow! A pupil of mine, you know. I taught him the dead languages. And believe me, he soon knew nearly as much as I."
"I lost him; but not as you think," said Arabella dryly "The lawyers untied us. There he is, look, alive and lusty; along with that young woman, entering the art exhibition."
"Ah--dear me! Fond of her, apparently."
"They SAY they are cousins."
"Cousinship is a great convenience to their feelings, I should say?"
"Yes. So her husband thought, no doubt, when he divorced her.... Shall we look at the pictures, too?"
The trio followed across the green and entered. Jude and Sue, with the child, unaware of the interest they were exciting, had gone up to a model at one end of the building, which they regarded with considerable attention for a long while before they went on. Arabella and her friends came to it in due course, and the inscription it bore was:
"Model of Cardinal College, Christminster; by J. Fawley and S. F. M. Bridehead."
"Admiring their own work," said Arabella. "How like Jude-- always thinking of colleges and Christminster, instead of attending to his business!"
They glanced cursorily at the pictures, and proceeded to the band-stand. When they had stood a little while listening to the music of the military performers, Jude, Sue, and the child came up on the other side. Arabella did not care if they should recognize her; but they were too deeply absorbed in their own lives, as translated into emotion by the military band, to perceive her under her beaded veil. She walked round the outside of the listening throng, passing behind the lovers, whose movements had an unexpected fascination for her to-day. Scrutinizing them narrowly from the rear she noticed that Jude's hand sought Sue's as they stood, the two standing close together so as to conceal, as they supposed, this tacit expression of their mutual responsiveness.
"Silly fools--like two children!" Arabella whispered to herself morosely, as she rejoined her companions, with whom she preserved a preoccupied silence.
Anny meanwhile had jokingly remarked to Vilbert on Arabella's hankering interest in her first husband.
"Now," said the physician to Arabella, apart; "do you want anything such as this, Mrs. Cartlett? It is not compounded out of my regular pharmacopoeia, but I am sometimes asked for such a thing." He produced a small phial of clear liquid. "A love-philtre, such as was used by the ancients with great effect. I found it out by study of their writings, and have never known it to fail."
"What is it made of?" asked Arabella curiously.
"Well--a distillation of the juices of doves' hearts--otherwise pigeons'-- is one of the ingredients. It took nearly a hundred hearts to produce that small bottle full."
"How do you get pigeons enough?"
"To tell a secret, I get a piece of rock-salt, of which pigeons are inordinately fond, and place it in a dovecot on my roof. In a few hours the birds come to it from all points of the compass-- east, west, north, and south--and thus I secure as many as I require. You use the liquid by contriving that the desired man shall take about ten drops of it in his drink. But remember, all this is told you because I gather from your questions that you mean to be a purchaser. You must keep faith with me?"
"Very well--I don't mind a bottle--to give some friend or other to try it on her young man." She produced five shillings, the price asked, and slipped the phial in her capacious bosom. Saying presently that she was due at an appointment with her husband she sauntered away towards the refreshment bar, Jude, his companion, and the child having gone on to the horticultural tent, where Arabella caught a glimpse of them standing before a group of roses in bloom.
She waited a few minutes observing them, and then proceeded to join her spouse with no very amiable sentiments. She found him seated on a stool by the bar, talking to one of the gaily dressed maids who had served him with spirits.
"I should think you had enough of this business at home!" Arabella remarked gloomily. "Surely you didn't come fifty miles from your own bar to stick in another? Come, take me round the show, as other men do their wives! Dammy, one would think you were a young bachelor, with nobody to look after but yourself!"
"But we agreed to meet here; and what could I do but wait?"
"Well, now we have met, come along," she returned, ready to quarrel with the sun for shining on her. And they left the tent together, this pot-bellied man and florid woman, in the antipathetic, recriminatory mood of the average husband and wife of Christendom.
In the meantime the more exceptional couple and the boy still lingered in the pavilion of flowers--an enchanted palace to their appreciative taste--Sue's usually pale cheeks reflecting the pink of the tinted roses at which she gazed; for the gay sights, the air, the music, and the excitement of a day's outing with Jude had quickened her blood and made her eyes sparkle with vivacity. She adored roses, and what Arabella had witnessed was Sue detaining Jude almost against his will while she learnt the names of this variety and that, and put her face within an inch of their blooms to smell them.
"I should like to push my face quite into them--the dears!" she had said. "But I suppose it is against the rules to touch them--isn't it, Jude?"
"Yes, you baby," said he: and then playfully gave her a little push, so that her nose went among the petals.
"The policeman will be down on us, and I shall say it was my husband's fault!"
Then she looked up at him, and smiled in a way that told so much to Arabella.
"Happy?" he murmured.
"Why? Because you have come to the great Wessex Agricultural Show-- or because we have come?"
"You are always trying to make me confess to all sorts of absurdities. Because I am improving my mind, of course, by seeing all these steam-ploughs, and threshing-machines, and chaff-cutters, and cows, and pigs, and sheep."
Jude was quite content with a baffle from his ever evasive companion. But when he had forgotten that he had put the question, and because he no longer wished for an answer, she went on: "I feel that we have returned to Greek joyousness, and have blinded ourselves to sickness and sorrow, and have forgotten what twenty-five centuries have taught the race since their time, as one of your Christminster luminaries says.... There is one immediate shadow, however--only one." And she looked at the aged child, whom, though they had taken him to everything likely to attract a young intelligence, they had utterly failed to interest.
He knew what they were saying and thinking. "I am very, very sorry, Father and Mother," he said. "But please don't mind!--I can't help it. I should like the flowers very very much, if I didn't keep on thinking they'd be all withered in a few days!"