THE place was the door of Jude's lodging in the out-skirts of Christminster--far from the precincts of St. Silas' where he had formerly lived, which saddened him to sickness. The rain was coming down. A woman in shabby black stood on the doorstep talking to Jude, who held the door in his hand.
"I am lonely, destitute, and houseless--that's what I am! Father has turned me out of doors after borrowing every penny I'd got, to put it into his business, and then accusing me of laziness when I was only waiting for a situation. I am at the mercy of the world! If you can't take me and help me, Jude, I must go to the workhouse, or to something worse. Only just now two undergraduates winked at me as I came along. 'Tis hard for a woman to keep virtuous where there's so many young men!"
The woman in the rain who spoke thus was Arabella, the evening being that of the day after Sue's remarriage with Phillotson.
"I am sorry for you, but I am only in lodgings," said Jude coldly.
"Then you turn me away?"
"I'll give you enough to get food and lodging for a few days."
"Oh, but can't you have the kindness to take me in? I cannot endure going to a public house to lodge; and I am so lonely. Please, Jude, for old times' sake!"
"No, no," said Jude hastily. "I don't want to be reminded of those things; and if you talk about them I shall not help you."
"Then I suppose I must go!" said Arabella. She bent her head against the doorpost and began sobbing.
"The house is full," said Jude. "And I have only a little extra room to my own--not much more than a closet--where I keep my tools, and templates, and the few books I have left!"
"That would be a palace for me!"
"There is no bedstead in it."
"A bit of a bed could be made on the floor. It would be good enough for me."
Unable to be harsh with her, and not knowing what to do, Jude called the man who let the lodgings, and said this was an acquaintance of his in great distress for want of temporary shelter.
"You may remember me as barmaid at the Lamb and Flag formerly?" spoke up Arabella. "My father has insulted me this afternoon, and I've left him, though without a penny!"
The householder said he could not recall her features. "But still, if you are a friend of Mr. Fawley's we'll do what we can for a day or two--if he'll make himself answerable?"
"Yes, yes," said Jude. "She has really taken me quite unawares; but I should wish to help her out of her difficulty." And an arrangement was ultimately come to under which a bed was to be thrown down in Jude's lumber-room, to make it comfortable for Arabella till she could get out of the strait she was in-- not by her own fault, as she declared--and return to her father's again.
While they were waiting for this to be done Arabella said: "You know the news, I suppose?"
"I guess what you mean; but I know nothing."
"I had a letter from Anny at Alfredston to-day. She had just heard that the wedding was to be yesterday: but she didn't know if it had come off."
"I don't wish to talk of it."
"No, no: of course you don't. Only it shows what kind of woman----"
"Don't speak of her I say! She's a fool! And she's an angel, too, poor dear!"
"If it's done, he'll have a chance of getting back to his old position, by everybody's account, so Anny says. All his well-wishers will be pleased, including the bishop himself."
"Do spare me, Arabella."
Arabella was duly installed in the little attic, and at first she did not come near Jude at all. She went to and fro about her own business, which, when they met for a moment on the stairs or in the passage, she informed him was that of obtaining another place in the occupation she understood best. When Jude suggested London as affording the most likely opening in the liquor trade, she shook her head. "No--the temptations are too many," she said. "Any humble tavern in the country before that for me."
On the Sunday morning following, when he breakfasted later than on other days, she meekly asked him if she might come in to breakfast with him, as she had broken her teapot, and could not replace it immediately, the shops being shut.
"Yes, if you like," he said indifferently.
While they sat without speaking she suddenly observed: "You seem all in a brood, old man. I'm sorry for you."
"I am all in a brood."
"It is about her, I know. It's no business of mine, but I could find out all about the wedding--if it really did take place-- if you wanted to know."
"How could you?"
"I wanted to go to Alfredston to get a few things I left there. And I could see Anny, who'll be sure to have heard all about it, as she has friends at Marygreen."
Jude could not bear to acquiesce in this proposal; but his suspense pitted itself against his discretion, and won in the struggle. "You can ask about it if you like," he said. "I've not heard a sound from there. It must have been very private, if--they have married."
"I am afraid I haven't enough cash to take me there and back, or I should have gone before. I must wait till I have earned some."
"Oh--I can pay the journey for you," he said impatiently. And thus his suspense as to Sue's welfare, and the possible marriage, moved him to dispatch for intelligence the last emissary he would have thought of choosing deliberately.
Arabella went, Jude requesting her to be home not later than by the seven o'clock train. When she had gone he said: "Why should I have charged her to be back by a particular time! She's nothing to me--nor the other neither!"
But having finished work he could not help going to the station to meet Arabella, dragged thither by feverish haste to get the news she might bring, and know the worst. Arabella had made dimples most successfully all the way home, and when she stepped out of the railway carriage she smiled. He merely said "Well?" with the very reverse of a smile.
"They are married."
"Yes--of course they are!" he returned. She observed, however, the hard strain upon his lip as he spoke.
"Anny says she has heard from Belinda, her relation out at Marygreen, that it was very sad, and curious!"
"How do you mean sad? She wanted to marry him again, didn't she? And he her!"
"Yes--that was it. She wanted to in one sense, but not in the other. Mrs. Edlin was much upset by it all, and spoke out her mind at Phillotson. But Sue was that excited about it that she burnt her best embroidery that she'd worn with you, to blot you out entirely. Well--if a woman feels like it, she ought to do it. I commend her for it, though others don't." Arabella sighed. "She felt he was her only husband, and that she belonged to nobody else in the sight of God A'mighty while he lived. Perhaps another woman feels the same about herself, too!" Arabella sighed again.
"I don't want any cant!" exclaimed Jude.
"It isn't cant," said Arabella. "I feel exactly the same as she!"
He closed that issue by remarking abruptly: "Well--now I know all I wanted to know. Many thanks for your information. I am not going back to my lodgings just yet." And he left her straightway.
In his misery and depression Jude walked to well-nigh every spot in the city that he had visited with Sue; thence he did not know whither, and then thought of going home to his usual evening meal. But having all the vices of his virtues, and some to spare, he turned into a public house, for the first time during many months. Among the possible consequences of her marriage Sue had not dwelt on this.
Arabella, meanwhile, had gone back. The evening passed, and Jude did not return. At half-past nine Arabella herself went out, first proceeding to an outlying district near the river where her father lived, and had opened a small and precarious pork-shop lately.
"Well," she said to him, "for all your rowing me that night, I've called in, for I have something to tell you. I think I shall get married and settled again. Only you must help me: and you can do no less, after what I've stood 'ee."
"I'll do anything to get thee off my hands!"
"Very well. I am now going to look for my young man. He's on the loose I'm afraid, and I must get him home. All I want you to do to-night is not to fasten the door, in case I should want to sleep here, and should be late."
"I thought you'd soon get tired of giving yourself airs and keeping away!"
"Well--don't do the door. That's all I say."
She then sallied out again, and first hastening back to Jude's to make sure that he had not returned, began her search for him. A shrewd guess as to his probable course took her straight to the tavern which Jude had formerly frequented, and where she had been barmaid for a brief term. She had no sooner opened the door of the "Private Bar" than her eyes fell upon him-- sitting in the shade at the back of the compartment, with his eyes fixed on the floor in a blank stare. He was drinking nothing stronger than ale just then. He did not observe her, and she entered and sat beside him.
Jude looked up, and said without surprise: "You've come to have something, Arabella? ... I'm trying to forget her: that's all! But I can't; and I am going home." She saw that he was a little way on in liquor, but only a little as yet.
"I've come entirely to look for you, dear boy. You are not well. Now you must have something better than that." Arabella held up her finger to the barmaid. "You shall have a liqueur-- that's better fit for a man of education than beer. You shall have maraschino, or curacao dry or sweet, or cherry brandy. I'll treat you, poor chap!"
"I don't care which! Say cherry brandy.... Sue has served me badly, very badly. I didn't expect it of Sue! I stuck to her, and she ought to have stuck to me. I'd have sold my soul for her sake, but she wouldn't risk hers a jot for me. To save her own soul she lets mine go damn! ... But it isn't her fault, poor little girl-- I am sure it isn't!"
How Arabella had obtained money did not appear, but she ordered a liqueur each, and paid for them. When they had drunk these Arabella suggested another; and Jude had the pleasure of being, as it were, personally conducted through the varieties of spirituous delectation by one who knew the landmarks well. Arabella kept very considerably in the rear of Jude; but though she only sipped where he drank, she took as much as she could safely take without losing her head--which was not a little, as the crimson upon her countenance showed.
Her tone towards him to-night was uniformly soothing and cajoling; and whenever he said "I don't care what happens to me," a thing he did continually, she replied, "But I do very much!" The closing hour came, and they were compelled to turn out; whereupon Arabella put her arm round his waist, and guided his unsteady footsteps.
When they were in the streets she said: "I don't know what our landlord will say to my bringing you home in this state. I expect we are fastened out, so that he'll have to come down and let us in."
"I don't know--I don't know."
"That's the worst of not having a home of your own. I tell you, Jude, what we had best do. Come round to my father's-- I made it up with him a bit to-day. I can let you in, and nobody will see you at all; and by to-morrow morning you'll be all right."
"Anything--anywhere," replied Jude. "What the devil does it matter to me?"
They went along together, like any other fuddling couple, her arm still round his waist, and his, at last, round hers; though with no amatory intent; but merely because he was weary, unstable, and in need of support.
"This--is th' Martyrs'--burning-place," he stammered as they dragged across a broad street. "I remember--in old Fuller's HOLY STATE-- and I am reminded of it--by our passing by here--old Fuller in his HOLY STATE says, that at the burning of Ridley, Doctor Smith-- preached sermon, and took as his text 'THOUGH I GIVE MY BODY TO BE BURNED, AND HAVE NOT CHARITY, IT PROFITETH ME NOTHING.'-- Often think of it as I pass here. Ridley was a----"
"Yes. Exactly. Very thoughtful of you, deary, even though it hasn't much to do with our present business."
"Why, yes it has! I'm giving my body to be burned! But--ah you don't understand!--it wants Sue to understand such things! And I was her seducer--poor little girl! And she's gone-- and I don't care about myself! Do what you like with me! ... And yet she did it for conscience' sake, poor little Sue!"
"Hang her!--I mean, I think she was right," hiccuped Arabella. "I've my feelings too, like her; and I feel I belong to you in Heaven's eye, and to nobody else, till death us do part! It is--hic--never too late--hic to mend!"
They had reached her father's house, and she softly unfastened the door, groping about for a light within.
The circumstances were not altogether unlike those of their entry into the cottage at Cresscombe, such a long time before. Nor were perhaps Arabella's motives. But Jude did not think of that, though she did.
"I can't find the matches, dear," she said when she had fastened up the door. "But never mind--this way. As quiet as you can, please."
"It is as dark as pitch," said Jude.
"Give me your hand, and I'll lead you. That's it. Just sit down here, and I'll pull off your boots. I don't want to wake him."
"Father. He'd make a row, perhaps."
She pulled off his boots. "Now," she whispered, "take hold of me-- never mind your weight. Now--first stair, second stair"
"But,--are we out in our old house by Marygreen?" asked the stupefied Jude. "I haven't been inside it for years till now! Hey? And where are my books? That's what I want to know?"
"We are at my house, dear, where there's nobody to spy out how ill you are. Now--third stair, fourth stair--that's it. Now we shall get on."