SUE was convalescent, though she had hoped for death, and Jude had again obtained work at his old trade. They were in other lodgings now, in the direction of Beersheba, and not far from the Church of Ceremonies-- Saint Silas.
They would sit silent, more bodeful of the direct antagonism of things than of their insensate and stolid obstructiveness. Vague and quaint imaginings had haunted Sue in the days when her intellect scintillated like a star, that the world resembled a stanza or melody composed in a dream; it was wonderfully excellent to the half-aroused intelligence, but hopelessly absurd at the full waking; that the first cause worked automatically like a somnambulist, and not reflectively like a sage; that at the framing of the terrestrial conditions there seemed never to have been contemplated such a development of emotional perceptiveness among the creatures subject to those conditions as that reached by thinking and educated humanity. But affliction makes opposing forces loom anthropomorphous; and those ideas were now exchanged for a sense of Jude and herself fleeing from a persecutor.
"We must conform!" she said mournfully. "All the ancient wrath of the Power above us has been vented upon us. His poor creatures, and we must submit. There is no choice. We must. It is no use fighting against God!"
"It is only against man and senseless circumstance," said Jude.
"True!" she murmured. "What have I been thinking of! I am getting as superstitious as a savage! ... But whoever or whatever our foe may be, I am cowed into submission. I have no more fighting strength left; no more enterprise. I am beaten, beaten! ... 'We are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men!' I am always saying that now."
"I feel the same!"
"What shall we do? You are in work now; but remember, it may only be because our history and relations are not absolutely known.... Possibly, if they knew our marriage had not been formalized they would turn you out of your job as they did at Aldbrickham!"
"I hardly know. Perhaps they would hardly do that. However, I think that we ought to make it legal now--as soon as you are able to go out."
"You think we ought?"
And Jude fell into thought. "I have seemed to myself lately," he said, "to belong to that vast band of men shunned by the virtuous-- the men called seducers. It amazes me when I think of it! I have not been conscious of it, or of any wrongdoing towards you, whom I love more than myself. Yet I am one of those men! I wonder if any other of them are the same purblind, simple creatures as I? ... Yes, Sue--that's what I am. I seduced you.... You were a distinct type--a refined creature, intended by Nature to be left intact. But I couldn't leave you alone!"
"No, no, Jude!" she said quickly. "Don't reproach yourself with being what you are not. If anybody is to blame it is I."
"I supported you in your resolve to leave Phillotson; and without me perhaps you wouldn't have urged him to let you go."
"I should have, just the same. As to ourselves, the fact of our not having entered into a legal contract is the saving feature in our union. We have thereby avoided insulting, as it were, the solemnity of our first marriages."
"Solemnity?" Jude looked at her with some surprise, and grew conscious that she was not the Sue of their earlier time.
"Yes," she said, with a little quiver in her words, "I have had dreadful fears, a dreadful sense of my own insolence of action. I have thought--that I am still his wife!"
"Good God, dearest!--why?"
"Oh I can't explain! Only the thought comes to me."
"It is your weakness--a sick fancy, without reason or meaning! Don't let it trouble you."
Sue sighed uneasily.
As a set-off against such discussions as these there had come an improvement in their pecuniary position, which earlier in their experience would have made them cheerful. Jude had quite unexpectedly found good employment at his old trade almost directly he arrived, the summer weather suiting his fragile constitution; and outwardly his days went on with that monotonous uniformity which is in itself so grateful after vicissitude. People seemed to have forgotten that he had ever shown any awkward aberrancies: and he daily mounted to the parapets and copings of colleges he could never enter, and renewed the crumbling freestones of mullioned windows he would never look from, as if he had known no wish to do otherwise.
There was this change in him; that he did not often go to any service at the churches now. One thing troubled him more than any other; that Sue and himself had mentally travelled in opposite directions since the tragedy: events which had enlarged his own views of life, laws, customs, and dogmas, had not operated in the same manner on Sue's. She was no longer the same as in the independent days, when her intellect played like lambent lightning over conventions and formalities which he at that time respected, though he did not now.
On a particular Sunday evening he came in rather late. She was not at home, but she soon returned, when he found her silent and meditative.
"What are you thinking of, little woman?" he asked curiously.
"Oh I can't tell clearly! I have thought that we have been selfish, careless, even impious, in our courses, you and I. Our life has been a vain attempt at self-delight. But self-abnegation is the higher road. We should mortify the flesh--the terrible flesh--the curse of Adam!"
"Sue!" he murmured. "What has come over you?"
"We ought to be continually sacrificing ourselves on the altar of duty! But I have always striven to do what has pleased me. I well deserved the scourging I have got! I wish something would take the evil right out of me, and all my monstrous errors, and all my sinful ways!"
"Sue--my own too suffering dear!--there's no evil woman in you. Your natural instincts are perfectly healthy; not quite so impassioned, perhaps, as I could wish; but good, and dear, and pure. And as I have often said, you are absolutely the most ethereal, least sensual woman I ever knew to exist without inhuman sexlessness. Why do you talk in such a changed way? We have not been selfish, except when no one could profit by our being otherwise. You used to say that human nature was noble and long-suffering, not vile and corrupt, and at last I thought you spoke truly. And now you seem to take such a much lower view!"
"I want a humble heart; and a chastened mind; and I have never had them yet!"
"You have been fearless, both as a thinker and as a feeler, and you deserved more admiration than I gave. I was too full of narrow dogmas at that time to see it."
"Don't say that, Jude! I wish my every fearless word and thought could be rooted out of my history. Self-renunciation--that's everything! I cannot humiliate myself too much. I should like to prick myself all over with pins and bleed out the badness that's in me!"
"Hush!" he said, pressing her little face against his breast as if she were an infant. "It is bereavement that has brought you to this! Such remorse is not for you, my sensitive plant, but for the wicked ones of the earth--who never feel it!"
"I ought not to stay like this," she murmured, when she had remained in the position a long while.
"It is indulgence."
"Still on the same tack! But is there anything better on earth than that we should love one another?"
"Yes. It depends on the sort of love; and yours--ours is the wrong."
"I won't have it, Sue! Come, when do you wish our marriage to be signed in a vestry?"
She paused, and looked up uneasily. "Never," she whispered.
Not knowing the whole of her meaning he took the objection serenely, and said nothing. Several minutes elapsed, and he thought she had fallen asleep; but he spoke softly, and found that she was wide awake all the time. She sat upright and sighed.
"There is a strange, indescribable perfume or atmosphere about you to-night, Sue," he said. "I mean not only mentally, but about your clothes, also. A sort of vegetable scent, which I seem to know, yet cannot remember."
"It is incense."
"I have been to the service at St. Silas', and I was in the fumes of it."
"Yes. I go there sometimes."
"Indeed. You go there!"
"You see, Jude, it is lonely here in the weekday mornings, when you are at work, and I think and think of--of my--" She stopped till she could control the lumpiness of her throat. "And I have taken to go in there, as it is so near."
"Oh well--of course, I say nothing against it. Only it is odd, for you. They little think what sort of chiel is amang them!"
"What do you mean, Jude?"
"Well--a sceptic, to be plain."
"How can you pain me so, dear Jude, in my trouble! Yet I know you didn't mean it. But you ought not to say that."
"I won't. But I am much surprised!"
"Well--I want to tell you something else, Jude. You won't be angry, will you? I have thought of it a good deal since my babies died. I don't think I ought to be your wife--or as your wife-- any longer."
"What? ... But you ARE!"
"From your point of view; but--"
"Of course we were afraid of the ceremony, and a good many others would have been in our places, with such strong reasons for fears. But experience has proved how we misjudged ourselves, and overrated our infirmities; and if you are beginning to respect rites and ceremonies, as you seem to be, I wonder you don't say it shall be carried out instantly? You certainly ARE my wife, Sue, in all but law. What do you mean by what you said?"
"I don't think I am!"
"Not? But suppose we HAD gone through the ceremony? Would you feel that you were then?"
"No. I should not feel even then that I was. I should feel worse than I do now."
"Why so--in the name of all that's perverse, my dear?"
"Because I am Richard's."
"Ah--you hinted that absurd fancy to me before!"
"It was only an impression with me then; I feel more and more convinced as time goes on that--I belong to him, or to nobody."
"My good heavens--how we are changing places!"
"Yes. Perhaps so."
Some few days later, in the dusk of the summer evening, they were sitting in the same small room down-stairs, when a knock came to the front door of the carpenter's house where they were lodging, and in a few moments there was a tap at the door of their room. Before they could open it the comer did so, and a woman's form appeared.
"Is Mr. Fawley here?"
Jude and Sue started as he mechanically replied in the affirmative, for the voice was Arabella's.
He formally requested her to come in, and she sat down in the window bench, where they could distinctly see her outline against the light; but no characteristic that enabled them to estimate her general aspect and air. Yet something seemed to denote that she was not quite so comfortably circumstanced, nor so bouncingly attired, as she had been during Cartlett's lifetime.
The three attempted an awkward conversation about the tragedy, of which Jude had felt it to be his duty to inform her immediately, though she had never replied to his letter.
"I have just come from the cemetery," she said. "I inquired and found the child's grave. I couldn't come to the funeral-- thank you for inviting me all the same. I read all about it in the papers, and I felt I wasn't wanted.... No--I couldn't come to the funeral," repeated Arabella, who, seeming utterly unable to reach the ideal of a catastrophic manner, fumbled with iterations. "But I am glad I found the grave. As 'tis your trade, Jude, you'll be able to put up a handsome stone to 'em."
"I shall put up a headstone," said Jude drearily.
"He was my child, and naturally I feel for him."
"I hope so. We all did."
"The others that weren't mine I didn't feel so much for, as was natural."
A sigh came from the dark corner where Sue sat.
"I had often wished I had mine with me," continued Mrs. Cartlett. "Perhaps 'twouldn't have happened then! But of course I didn't wish to take him away from your wife."
"I am not his wife," came from Sue.
The unexpectedness of her words struck Jude silent.
"Oh, I beg your pardon, I'm sure," said Arabella. "I thought you were!"
Jude had known from the quality of Sue's tone that her new and transcendental views lurked in her words; but all except their obvious meaning was, naturally, missed by Arabella. The latter, after evincing that she was struck by Sue's avowal, recovered herself, and went on to talk with placid bluntness about "her" boy, for whom, though in his lifetime she had shown no care at all, she now exhibited a ceremonial mournfulness that was apparently sustaining to the conscience. She alluded to the past, and in making some remark appealed again to Sue. There was no answer: Sue had invisibly left the room.
"She said she was not your wife?" resumed Arabella in another voice. "Why should she do that?"
"I cannot inform you," said Jude shortly.
"She is, isn't she? She once told me so."
"I don't criticize what she says."
"Ah--I see! Well, my time is up. I am staying here to-night, and thought I could do no less than call, after our mutual affliction. I am sleeping at the place where I used to be barmaid, and to-morrow I go back to Alfredston. Father is come home again, and I am living with him."
"He has returned from Australia?" said Jude with languid curiosity.
"Yes. Couldn't get on there. Had a rough time of it. Mother died of dys--what do you call it--in the hot weather, and Father and two of the young ones have just got back. He has got a cottage near the old place, and for the present I am keeping house for him."
Jude's former wife had maintained a stereotyped manner of strict good breeding even now that Sue was gone, and limited her stay to a number of minutes that should accord with the highest respectability. When she had departed Jude, much relieved, went to the stairs and called Sue--feeling anxious as to what had become of her.
There was no answer, and the carpenter who kept the lodgings said she had not come in. Jude was puzzled, and became quite alarmed at her absence, for the hour was growing late. The carpenter called his wife, who conjectured that Sue might have gone to St. Silas' church, as she often went there.
"Surely not at this time o' night?" said Jude. "It is shut."
"She knows somebody who keeps the key, and she has it whenever she wants it."
"How long has she been going on with this?"
"Oh, some few weeks, I think."
Jude went vaguely in the direction of the church, which he had never once approached since he lived out that way years before, when his young opinions were more mystical than they were now. The spot was deserted, but the door was certainly unfastened; he lifted the latch without noise, and pushing to the door behind him, stood absolutely still inside. The prevalent silence seemed to contain a faint sound, explicable as a breathing, or a sobbing, which came from the other end of the building. The floor-cloth deadened his footsteps as he moved in that direction through the obscurity, which was broken only by the faintest reflected night-light from without.
High overhead, above the chancel steps, Jude could discern a huge, solidly constructed Latin cross--as large, probably, as the original it was designed to commemorate. It seemed to be suspended in the air by invisible wires; it was set with large jewels, which faintly glimmered in some weak ray caught from outside, as the cross swayed to and fro in a silent and scarcely perceptible motion. Underneath, upon the floor, lay what appeared to be a heap of black clothes, and from this was repeated the sobbing that he had heard before. It was his Sue's form, prostrate on the paving.
"Sue!" he whispered.
Something white disclosed itself; she had turned up her face.
"What--do you want with me here, Jude?" she said almost sharply. "You shouldn't come! I wanted to be alone! Why did you intrude here?"
"How can you ask!" he retorted in quick reproach, for his full heart was wounded to its centre at this attitude of hers towards him. "Why do I come? Who has a right to come, I should like to know, if I have not! I, who love you better than my own self--better-- far better--than you have loved me! What made you leave me to come here alone?"
"Don't criticize me, Jude--I can't bear it!--I have often told you so. You must take me as I am. I am a wretch--broken by my distractions! I couldn't BEAR it when Arabella came--I felt so utterly miserable I had to come away. She seems to be your wife still, and Richard to be my husband!"
"But they are nothing to us!"
"Yes, dear friend, they are. I see marriage differently now. My babies have been taken from me to show me this! Arabella's child killing mine was a judgement--the right slaying the wrong. What, WHAT shall I do! I am such a vile creature-- too worthless to mix with ordinary human beings!"
"This is terrible!" said Jude, verging on tears. "It is monstrous and unnatural for you to be so remorseful when you have done no wrong!"
"Ah--you don't know my badness!"
He returned vehemently: "I do! Every atom and dreg of it! You make me hate Christianity, or mysticism, or Sacerdotalism, or whatever it may be called, if it's that which has caused this deterioration in you. That a woman-poet, a woman-seer, a woman whose soul shone like a diamond--whom all the wise of the world would have been proud of, if they could have known you-- should degrade herself like this! I am glad I had nothing to do with Divinity--damn glad--if it's going to ruin you in this way!"
"You are angry, Jude, and unkind to me, and don't see how things are."
"Then come along home with me, dearest, and perhaps I shall. I am overburdened--and you, too, are unhinged just now." He put his arm round her and lifted her; but though she came, she preferred to walk without his support.
"I don't dislike you, Jude," she said in a sweet and imploring voice. "I love you as much as ever! Only--I ought not to love you--any more. Oh I must not any more!"
"I can't own it."
"But I have made up my mind that I am not your wife! I belong to him--I sacramentally joined myself to him for life. Nothing can alter it!"
"But surely we are man and wife, if ever two people were in this world? Nature's own marriage it is, unquestionably!"
"But not Heaven's. Another was made for me there, and ratified eternally in the church at Melchester."
"Sue, Sue--affliction has brought you to this unreasonable state! After converting me to your views on so many things, to find you suddenly turn to the right-about like this--for no reason whatever, confounding all you have formerly said through sentiment merely! You root out of me what little affection and reverence I had left in me for the Church as an old acquaintance.... What I can't understand in you is your extraordinary blindness now to your old logic. Is it peculiar to you, or is it common to woman? Is a woman a thinking unit at all, or a fraction always wanting its integer? How you argued that marriage was only a clumsy contract-- which it is--how you showed all the objections to it-- all the absurdities! If two and two made four when we were happy together, surely they make four now? I can't understand it, I repeat!"
"Ah, dear Jude; that's because you are like a totally deaf man observing people listening to music. You say 'What are they regarding? Nothing is there.' But something is."
"That is a hard saying from you; and not a true parallel! You threw off old husks of prejudices, and taught me to do it; and now you go back upon yourself. I confess I am utterly stultified in my estimate of you."
"Dear friend, my only friend, don't be hard with me! I can't help being as I am, I am convinced I am right-- that I see the light at last. But oh, how to profit by it!"
They walked along a few more steps till they were outside the building and she had returned the key. "Can this be the girl," said Jude when she came back, feeling a slight renewal of elasticity now that he was in the open street; "can this be the girl who brought the pagan deities into this most Christian city?--who mimicked Miss Fontover when she crushed them with her heel?--quoted Gibbon, and Shelley, and Mill? Where are dear Apollo, and dear Venus now!"
"Oh don't, don't be so cruel to me, Jude, and I so unhappy!" she sobbed. "I can't bear it! I was in error--I cannot reason with you. I was wrong--proud in my own conceit! Arabella's coming was the finish. Don't satirize me: it cuts like a knife!"
He flung his arms round her and kissed her passionately there in the silent street, before she could hinder him. They went on till they came to a little coffee-house. "Jude," she said with suppressed tears, "would you mind getting a lodging here?"
"I will--if, if you really wish? But do you? Let me go to our door and understand you."
He went and conducted her in. She said she wanted no supper, and went in the dark upstairs and struck a light. Turning she found that Jude had followed her, and was standing at the chamber door. She went to him, put her hand in his, and said "Good-night."
"But Sue! Don't we live here?"
"You said you would do as I wished!"
"Yes. Very well! ... Perhaps it was wrong of me to argue distastefully as I have done! Perhaps as we couldn't conscientiously marry at first in the old-fashioned way, we ought to have parted. Perhaps the world is not illuminated enough for such experiments as ours! Who were we, to think we could act as pioneers!"
"I am so glad you see that much, at any rate. I never deliberately meant to do as I did. I slipped into my false position through jealousy and agitation!"
"But surely through love--you loved me?"
"Yes. But I wanted to let it stop there, and go on always as mere lovers; until----"
"But people in love couldn't live for ever like that!"
"Women could: men can't, because they--won't. An average woman is in this superior to an average man--that she never instigates, only responds. We ought to have lived in mental communion, and no more."
"I was the unhappy cause of the change, as I have said before! ... Well, as you will! ... But human nature can't help being itself."
"Oh yes--that's just what it has to learn--self-mastery."
"I repeat--if either were to blame it was not you but I."
"No--it was I. Your wickedness was only the natural man's desire to possess the woman. Mine was not the reciprocal wish till envy stimulated me to oust Arabella. I had thought I ought in charity to let you approach me-- that it was damnably selfish to torture you as I did my other friend. But I shouldn't have given way if you hadn't broken me down by making me fear you would go back to her.... But don't let us say any more about it! Jude, will you leave me to myself now?"
"Yes.... But Sue--my wife, as you are!" he burst out; "my old reproach to you was, after all, a true one. You have never loved me as I love you--never--never! Yours is not a passionate heart--your heart does not burn in a flame! You are, upon the whole, a sort of fay, or sprite-- not a woman!"
"At first I did not love you, Jude; that I own. When I first knew you I merely wanted you to love me. I did not exactly flirt with you; but that inborn craving which undermines some women's morals almost more than unbridled passion--the craving to attract and captivate, regardless of the injury it may do the man--was in me; and when I found I had caught you, I was frightened. And then--I don't know how it was-- I couldn't bear to let you go--possibly to Arabella again--and so I got to love you, Jude. But you see, however fondly it ended, it began in the selfish and cruel wish to make your heart ache for me without letting mine ache for you."
"And now you add to your cruelty by leaving me!"
"Ah--yes! The further I flounder, the more harm I do!"
"O Sue!" said he with a sudden sense of his own danger. "Do not do an immoral thing for moral reasons! You have been my social salvation. Stay with me for humanity's sake! You know what a weak fellow I am. My two arch-enemies you know-- my weakness for womankind and my impulse to strong liquor. Don't abandon me to them, Sue, to save your own soul only! They have been kept entirely at a distance since you became my guardian-angel! Since I have had you I have been able to go into any temptations of the sort, without risk. Isn't my safety worth a little sacrifice of dogmatic principle? I am in terror lest, if you leave me, it will be with me another case of the pig that was washed turning back to his wallowing in the mire!"
Sue burst out weeping. "Oh, but you must not, Jude! You won't! I'll pray for you night and day!"
"Well--never mind; don't grieve," said Jude generously. "I did suffer, God knows, about you at that time; and now I suffer again. But perhaps not so much as you. The woman mostly gets the worst of it in the long run!"
"Unless she is absolutely worthless and contemptible. And this one is not that, anyhow!"
Sue drew a nervous breath or two. "She is--I fear! ... Now Jude--good-night,--please!"
"I mustn't stay?--Not just once more? As it has been so many times-- O Sue, my wife, why not!"
"No--no--not wife! ... I am in your hands, Jude--don't tempt me back now I have advanced so far!"
"Very well. I do your bidding. I owe that to you, darling, in penance for how I overruled it at the first time. My God, how selfish I was! Perhaps--perhaps I spoilt one of the highest and purest loves that ever existed between man and woman! ... Then let the veil of our temple be rent in two from this hour!"
He went to the bed, removed one of the pair of pillows thereon, and flung it to the floor.
Sue looked at him, and bending over the bed-rail wept silently. "You don't see that it is a matter of conscience with me, and not of dislike to you!" she brokenly murmured. "Dislike to you! But I can't say any more--it breaks my heart--it will be undoing all I have begun! Jude--good-night!"
"Good-night," he said, and turned to go.
"Oh but you shall kiss me!" said she, starting up. "I can't--bear!"
He clasped her, and kissed her weeping face as he had scarcely ever done before, and they remained in silence till she said, "Good-bye, good-bye!" And then gently pressing him away she got free, trying to mitigate the sadness by saying: "We'll be dear friends just the same, Jude, won't we? And we'll see each other sometimes--yes!--and forget all this, and try to be as we were long ago?"
Jude did not permit himself to speak, but turned and descended the stairs.