ON the platform stood Arabella. She looked him up and down.
"You've been to see her?" she asked.
"I have," said Jude, literally tottering with cold and lassitude.
"Well, now you'd best march along home."
The water ran out of him as he went, and he was compelled to lean against the wall to support himself while coughing.
"You've done for yourself by this, young man," said she. "I don't know whether you know it."
"Of course I do. I meant to do for myself."
"What--to commit suicide?"
"Well, I'm blest! Kill yourself for a woman."
"Listen to me, Arabella. You think you are the stronger; and so you are, in a physical sense, now. You could push me over like a nine-pin. You did not send that letter the other day, and I could not resent your conduct. But I am not so weak in another way as you think. I made up my mind that a man confined to his room by inflammation of the lungs, a fellow who had only two wishes left in the world, to see a particular woman, and then to die, could neatly accomplish those two wishes at one stroke by taking this journey in the rain. That I've done. I have seen her for the last time, and I've finished myself--put an end to a feverish life which ought never to have been begun!"
"Lord--you do talk lofty! Won't you have something warm to drink?"
"No thank you. Let's get home."
They went along by the silent colleges, and Jude kept stopping.
"What are you looking at?"
"Stupid fancies. I see, in a way, those spirits of the dead again, on this my last walk, that I saw when I first walked here!"
"What a curious chap you are!"
"I seem to see them, and almost hear them rustling. But I don't revere all of them as I did then. I don't believe in half of them. The theologians, the apologists, and their kin the metaphysicians, the high-handed statesmen, and others, no longer interest me. All that has been spoilt for me by the grind of stern reality!"
The expression of Jude's corpselike face in the watery lamplight was indeed as if he saw people where there was nobody. At moments he stood still by an archway, like one watching a figure walk out; then he would look at a window like one discerning a familiar face behind it. He seemed to hear voices, whose words he repeated as if to gather their meaning.
"They seem laughing at me!"
"Oh--I was talking to myself! The phantoms all about here, in the college archways, and windows. They used to look friendly in the old days, particularly Addison, and Gibbon, and Johnson, and Dr. Browne, and Bishop Ken"
"Come along do! Phantoms! There's neither living nor dead hereabouts except a damn policeman! I never saw the streets emptier."
"Fancy! The Poet of Liberty used to walk here, and the great Dissector of Melancholy there!"
"I don't want to hear about 'em! They bore me."
"Walter Raleigh is beckoning to me from that lane--Wycliffe-- Harvey--Hooker--Arnold--and a whole crowd of Tractarian Shades"
"I DON'T WANT to know their names, I tell you! What do I care about folk dead and gone? Upon my soul you are more sober when you've been drinking than when you have not!"
"I must rest a moment," he said; and as he paused, holding to the railings, he measured with his eye the height of a college front. "This is old Rubric. And that Sarcophagus; and Up that lane Crozier and Tudor: and all down there is Cardinal with its long front, and its windows with lifted eyebrows, representing the polite surprise of the university at the efforts of such as I."
"Come along, and I'll treat you!"
"Very well. It will help me home, for I feel the chilly fog from the meadows of Cardinal as if death-claws were grabbing me through and through. As Antigone said, I am neither a dweller among men nor ghosts. But, Arabella, when I am dead, you'll see my spirit flitting up and down here among these!"
"Pooh! You mayn't die after all. You are tough enough yet, old man."
It was night at Marygreen, and the rain of the afternoon showed no sign of abatement. About the time at which Jude and Arabella were walking the streets of Christminster homeward, the Widow Edlin crossed the green, and opened the back door of the schoolmaster's dwelling, which she often did now before bedtime, to assist Sue in putting things away.
Sue was muddling helplessly in the kitchen, for she was not a good housewife, though she tried to be, and grew impatient of domestic details.
"Lord love 'ee, what do ye do that yourself for, when I've come o' purpose! You knew I should come."
"Oh--I don't know--I forgot! No, I didn't forget. I did it to discipline myself. I have scrubbed the stairs since eight o'clock. I MUST practise myself in my household duties. I've shamefully neglected them!"
"Why should ye? He'll get a better school, perhaps be a parson, in time, and you'll keep two servants. 'Tis a pity to spoil them pretty hands."
"Don't talk of my pretty hands, Mrs. Edlin. This pretty body of mine has been the ruin of me already!"
"Pshoo--you've got no body to speak of! You put me more in mind of a sperrit. But there seems something wrong to-night, my dear. Husband cross?"
"No. He never is. He's gone to bed early."
"Then what is it?"
"I cannot tell you. I have done wrong to-day. And I want to eradicate it.... Well--I will tell you this--Jude has been here this afternoon, and I find I still love him--oh, grossly! I cannot tell you more."
"Ah!" said the widow. "I told 'ee how 'twould be!"
"But it shan't be! I have not told my husband of his visit; it is not necessary to trouble him about it, as I never mean to see Jude any more. But I am going to make my conscience right on my duty to Richard--by doing a penance--the ultimate thing. I must!"
"I wouldn't--since he agrees to it being otherwise, and it has gone on three months very well as it is."
"Yes--he agrees to my living as I choose; but I feel it is an indulgence I ought not to exact from him. It ought not to have been accepted by me. To reverse it will be terrible--but I must be more just to him. O why was I so unheroic!"
"What is it you don't like in him?" asked Mrs. Edlin curiously.
"I cannot tell you. It is something ... I cannot say. The mournful thing is, that nobody would admit it as a reason for feeling as I do; so that no excuse is left me."
"Did you ever tell Jude what it was?"
"I've heard strange tales o' husbands in my time," observed the widow in a lowered voice. "They say that when the saints were upon the earth devils used to take husbands' forms o' nights, and get poor women into all sorts of trouble. But I don't know why that should come into my head, for it is only a tale.... What a wind and rain it is to-night! Well-- don't be in a hurry to alter things, my dear. Think it over."
"No, no! I've screwed my weak soul up to treating him more courteously-- and it must be now--at once--before I break down!"
"I don't think you ought to force your nature. No woman ought to be expected to."
"It is my duty. I will drink my cup to the dregs!"
Half an hour later when Mrs. Edlin put on her bonnet and shawl to leave, Sue seemed to be seized with vague terror.
"No--no--don't go, Mrs. Edlin," she implored, her eyes enlarged, and with a quick nervous look over her shoulder.
"But it is bedtime, child."
"Yes, but--there's the little spare room--my room that was. It is quite ready. Please stay, Mrs. Edlin!--I shall want you in the morning."
"Oh well--I don't mind, if you wish. Nothing will happen to my four old walls, whether I be there or no."
She then fastened up the doors, and they ascended the stairs together.
"Wait here, Mrs. Edlin," said Sue. "I'll go into my old room a moment by myself."
Leaving the widow on the landing Sue turned to the chamber which had been hers exclusively since her arrival at Marygreen, and pushing to the door knelt down by the bed for a minute or two. She then arose, and taking her night-gown from the pillow undressed and came out to Mrs. Edlin. A man could be heard snoring in the room opposite. She wished Mrs. Edlin good-night, and the widow entered the room that Sue had just vacated.
Sue unlatched the other chamber door, and, as if seized with faintness, sank down outside it. Getting up again she half opened the door, and said "Richard." As the word came out of her mouth she visibly shuddered.
The snoring had quite ceased for some time, but he did not reply. Sue seemed relieved, and hurried back to Mrs. Edlin's chamber. "Are you in bed, Mrs. Edlin?" she asked.
"No, dear," said the widow, opening the door. "I be old and slow, and it takes me a long while to un-ray. I han't unlaced my jumps yet."
"I--don't hear him! And perhaps--perhaps --"
"Perhaps he's dead!" she gasped. "And then--I should be FREE, and I could go to Jude! ... Ah--no--I forgot HER--and God!"
"Let's go and hearken. No--he's snoring again. But the rain and the wind is so loud that you can hardly hear anything but between whiles."
Sue had dragged herself back. "Mrs. Edlin, good-night again! I am sorry I called you out." The widow retreated a second time.
The strained, resigned look returned to Sue's face when she was alone. "I must do it--I must! I must drink to the dregs!" she whispered. "Richard!" she said again.
"Hey--what? Is that you, Susanna?"
"What do you want? Anything the matter? Wait a moment." He pulled on some articles of clothing, and came to the door. "Yes?"
"When we were at Shaston I jumped out of the window rather than that you should come near me. I have never reversed that treatment till now-- when I have come to beg your pardon for it, and ask you to let me in."
"Perhaps you only think you ought to do this? I don't wish you to come against your impulses, as I have said."
"But I beg to be admitted." She waited a moment, and repeated, "I beg to be admitted! I have been in error--even to-day. I have exceeded my rights. I did not mean to tell you, but perhaps I ought. I sinned against you this afternoon."
"I met Jude! I didn't know he was coming. And----"
"I kissed him, and let him kiss me."
"Oh--the old story!"
"Richard, I didn't know we were going to kiss each other till we did!"
"How many times?"
"A good many. I don't know. I am horrified to look back on it, and the least I can do after it is to come to you like this."
"Come--this is pretty bad, after what I've done! Anything else to confess?"
"No." She had been intending to say: "I called him my darling love." But, as a contrite woman always keeps back a little, that portion of the scene remained untold. She went on: "I am never going to see him any more. He spoke of some things of the past: and it overcame me. He spoke of--the children. But, as I have said, I am glad-- almost glad I mean--that they are dead, Richard. It blots out all that life of mine!"
"Well--about not seeing him again any more. Come--you really mean this?" There was something in Phillotson's tone now which seemed to show that his three months of remarriage with Sue had somehow not been so satisfactory as his magnanimity or amative patience had anticipated.
"Perhaps you'll swear it on the New Testament?"
He went back to the room and brought out a little brown Testament. "Now then: So help you God!"
"Now I supplicate you, Richard, to whom I belong, and whom I wish to honour and obey, as I vowed, to let me in."
"Think it over well. You know what it means. Having you back in the house was one thing--this another. So think again."
"I have thought--I wish this!"
"That's a complaisant spirit--and perhaps you are right. With a lover hanging about, a half-marriage should be completed. But I repeat my reminder this third and last time."
"It is my wish! ... O God!"
"What did you say 'O God' for?"
"I don't know!"
"Yes you do! But ..." He gloomily considered her thin and fragile form a moment longer as she crouched before him in her night-clothes. "Well, I thought it might end like this," he said presently. "I owe you nothing, after these signs; but I'll take you in at your word, and forgive you."
He put his arm round her to lift her up. Sue started back.
"What's the matter?" he asked, speaking for the first time sternly. "You shrink from me again?--just as formerly!"
"No, Richard--I I--was not thinking----"
"You wish to come in here?"
"You still bear in mind what it means?"
"Yes. It is my duty!"
Placing the candlestick on the chest of drawers he led her through the doorway, and lifting her bodily, kissed her. A quick look of aversion passed over her face, but clenching her teeth she uttered no cry.
Mrs. Edlin had by this time undressed, and was about to get into bed when she said to herself: "Ah--perhaps I'd better go and see if the little thing is all right. How it do blow and rain!"
The widow went out on the landing, and saw that Sue had disappeared. "Ah! Poor soul! Weddings be funerals 'a b'lieve nowadays. Fifty-five years ago, come Fall, since my man and I married! Times have changed since then!"