Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 6

Jude's old and embittered aunt lay unwell at Marygreen, and on the
following Sunday he went to see her--a visit which was the result of
a victorious struggle against his inclination to turn aside to the
village of Lumsdon and obtain a miserable interview with his cousin,
in which the word nearest his heart could not be spoken, and the
sight which had tortured him could not be revealed.

His aunt was now unable to leave her bed, and a great part of Jude's
short day was occupied in making arrangements for her comfort. The
little bakery business had been sold to a neighbour, and with the
proceeds of this and her savings she was comfortably supplied with
necessaries and more, a widow of the same village living with her and
ministering to her wants. It was not till the time had nearly come
for him to leave that he obtained a quiet talk with her, and his
words tended insensibly towards his cousin.

"Was Sue born here?"

"She was--in this room. They were living here at that time. What
made 'ee ask that?"

"Oh--I wanted to know."

"Now you've been seeing her!" said the harsh old woman. "And what
did I tell 'ee?"

"Well--that I was not to see her."

"Have you gossiped with her?"


"Then don't keep it up. She was brought up by her father to hate her
mother's family; and she'll look with no favour upon a working chap
like you--a townish girl as she's become by now. I never cared much
about her. A pert little thing, that's what she was too often, with
her tight-strained nerves. Many's the time I've smacked her for her
impertinence. Why, one day when she was walking into the pond with
her shoes and stockings off, and her petticoats pulled above her
knees, afore I could cry out for shame, she said: 'Move on, Aunty!
This is no sight for modest eyes!'"

"She was a little child then."

"She was twelve if a day."

"Well--of course. But now she's older she's of a thoughtful,
quivering, tender nature, and as sensitive as--"

"Jude!" cried his aunt, springing up in bed. "Don't you be a fool
about her!"

"No, no, of course not."

"Your marrying that woman Arabella was about as bad a thing as a man
could possibly do for himself by trying hard. But she's gone to
the other side of the world, and med never trouble you again. And
there'll be a worse thing if you, tied and bound as you be, should
have a fancy for Sue. If your cousin is civil to you, take her
civility for what it is worth. But anything more than a relation's
good wishes it is stark madness for 'ee to give her. If she's
townish and wanton it med bring 'ee to ruin."

"Don't say anything against her, Aunt! Don't, please!"

A relief was afforded to him by the entry of the companion and nurse
of his aunt, who must have been listening to the conversation, for
she began a commentary on past years, introducing Sue Bridehead as
a character in her recollections. She described what an odd little
maid Sue had been when a pupil at the village school across the green
opposite, before her father went to London--how, when the vicar
arranged readings and recitations, she appeared on the platform, the
smallest of them all, "in her little white frock, and shoes, and pink
sash"; how she recited "Excelsior," "There was a sound of revelry by
night," and "The Raven"; how during the delivery she would knit her
little brows and glare round tragically, and say to the empty air, as
if some real creature stood there--

"Ghastly, grim, and ancient Raven,
wandering from the Nightly shore,
Tell me what thy lordly name is
on the Night's Plutonian shore!"

"She'd bring up the nasty carrion bird that clear," corroborated the
sick woman reluctantly, "as she stood there in her little sash and
things, that you could see un a'most before your very eyes. You too,
Jude, had the same trick as a child of seeming to see things in the

The neighbour told also of Sue's accomplishments in other kinds:

"She was not exactly a tomboy, you know; but she could do things that
only boys do, as a rule. I've seen her hit in and steer down the
long slide on yonder pond, with her little curls blowing, one of
a file of twenty moving along against the sky like shapes painted
on glass, and up the back slide without stopping. All boys except
herself; and then they'd cheer her, and then she'd say, 'Don't be
saucy, boys,' and suddenly run indoors. They'd try to coax her out
again. But 'a wouldn't come."

These retrospective visions of Sue only made Jude the more miserable
that he was unable to woo her, and he left the cottage of his aunt
that day with a heavy heart. He would fain have glanced into the
school to see the room in which Sue's little figure had so glorified
itself; but he checked his desire and went on.

It being Sunday evening some villagers who had known him during his
residence here were standing in a group in their best clothes. Jude
was startled by a salute from one of them:

"Ye've got there right enough, then!"

Jude showed that he did not understand.

"Why, to the seat of l'arning--the 'City of Light' you used to talk
to us about as a little boy! Is it all you expected of it?"

"Yes; more!" cried Jude.

"When I was there once for an hour I didn't see much in it for my
part; auld crumbling buildings, half church, half almshouse, and not
much going on at that."

"You are wrong, John; there is more going on than meets the eye of a
man walking through the streets. It is a unique centre of thought
and religion--the intellectual and spiritual granary of this country.
All that silence and absence of goings-on is the stillness of
infinite motion--the sleep of the spinning-top, to borrow the simile
of a well-known writer."

"Oh, well, it med be all that, or it med not. As I say, I didn't see
nothing of it the hour or two I was there; so I went in and had a pot
o' beer, and a penny loaf, and a ha'porth o' cheese, and waited till
it was time to come along home. You've j'ined a college by this
time, I suppose?"

"Ah, no!" said Jude. "I am almost as far off that as ever."

"How so?"

Jude slapped his pocket.

"Just what we thought! Such places be not for such as you--only for
them with plenty o' money."

"There you are wrong," said Jude, with some bitterness. "They are
for such ones!"

Still, the remark was sufficient to withdraw Jude's attention from
the imaginative world he had lately inhabited, in which an abstract
figure, more or less himself, was steeping his mind in a sublimation
of the arts and sciences, and making his calling and election sure
to a seat in the paradise of the learned. He was set regarding his
prospects in a cold northern light. He had lately felt that he
could not quite satisfy himself in his Greek--in the Greek of
the dramatists particularly. So fatigued was he sometimes after
his day's work that he could not maintain the critical attention
necessary for thorough application. He felt that he wanted a
coach--a friend at his elbow to tell him in a moment what sometimes
would occupy him a weary month in extracting from unanticipative,
clumsy books.

It was decidedly necessary to consider facts a little more closely
than he had done of late. What was the good, after all, of using
up his spare hours in a vague labour called "private study" without
giving an outlook on practicabilities?

"I ought to have thought of this before," he said, as he journeyed
back. "It would have been better never to have embarked in the
scheme at all than to do it without seeing clearly where I am going,
or what I am aiming at... This hovering outside the walls of the
colleges, as if expecting some arm to be stretched out from them to
lift me inside, won't do! I must get special information."

The next week accordingly he sought it. What at first seemed an
opportunity occurred one afternoon when he saw an elderly gentleman,
who had been pointed out as the head of a particular college, walking
in the public path of a parklike enclosure near the spot at which
Jude chanced to be sitting. The gentleman came nearer, and Jude
looked anxiously at his face. It seemed benign, considerate, yet
rather reserved. On second thoughts Jude felt that he could not
go up and address him; but he was sufficiently influenced by the
incident to think what a wise thing it would be for him to state his
difficulties by letter to some of the best and most judicious of
these old masters, and obtain their advice.

During the next week or two he accordingly placed himself in such
positions about the city as would afford him glimpses of several
of the most distinguished among the provosts, wardens, and other
heads of houses; and from those he ultimately selected five whose
physiognomies seemed to say to him that they were appreciative and
far-seeing men. To these five he addressed letters, briefly stating
his difficulties, and asking their opinion on his stranded situation.

When the letters were posted Jude mentally began to criticize
them; he wished they had not been sent. "It is just one of those
intrusive, vulgar, pushing, applications which are so common in these
days," he thought. "Why couldn't I know better than address utter
strangers in such a way? I may be an impostor, an idle scamp, a man
with a bad character, for all that they know to the contrary...
Perhaps that's what I am!"

Nevertheless, he found himself clinging to the hope of some reply
as to his one last chance of redemption. He waited day after day,
saying that it was perfectly absurd to expect, yet expecting.
While he waited he was suddenly stirred by news about Phillotson.
Phillotson was giving up the school near Christminster, for a larger
one further south, in Mid-Wessex. What this meant; how it would
affect his cousin; whether, as seemed possible, it was a practical
move of the schoolmaster's towards a larger income, in view of a
provision for two instead of one, he would not allow himself to say.
And the tender relations between Phillotson and the young girl of
whom Jude was passionately enamoured effectually made it repugnant to
Jude's tastes to apply to Phillotson for advice on his own scheme.

Meanwhile the academic dignitaries to whom Jude had written
vouchsafed no answer, and the young man was thus thrown back
entirely on himself, as formerly, with the added gloom of a weakened
hope. By indirect inquiries he soon perceived clearly what he had
long uneasily suspected, that to qualify himself for certain open
scholarships and exhibitions was the only brilliant course. But to
do this a good deal of coaching would be necessary, and much natural
ability. It was next to impossible that a man reading on his own
system, however widely and thoroughly, even over the prolonged period
of ten years, should be able to compete with those who had passed
their lives under trained teachers and had worked to ordained lines.

The other course, that of buying himself in, so to speak, seemed the
only one really open to men like him, the difficulty being simply of
a material kind. With the help of his information he began to reckon
the extent of this material obstacle, and ascertained, to his dismay,
that, at the rate at which, with the best of fortune, he would be
able to save money, fifteen years must elapse before he could be in a
position to forward testimonials to the head of a college and advance
to a matriculation examination. The undertaking was hopeless.

He saw what a curious and cunning glamour the neighbourhood of the
place had exercised over him. To get there and live there, to move
among the churches and halls and become imbued with the _genius
loci_, had seemed to his dreaming youth, as the spot shaped its
charms to him from its halo on the horizon, the obvious and ideal
thing to do. "Let me only get there," he had said with the
fatuousness of Crusoe over his big boat, "and the rest is but a
matter of time and energy." It would have been far better for him in
every way if he had never come within sight and sound of the delusive
precincts, had gone to some busy commercial town with the sole object
of making money by his wits, and thence surveyed his plan in true
perspective. Well, all that was clear to him amounted to this, that
the whole scheme had burst up, like an iridescent soap-bubble, under
the touch of a reasoned inquiry. He looked back at himself along the
vista of his past years, and his thought was akin to Heine's:

Above the youth's inspired and flashing eyes
I see the motley mocking fool's-cap rise!

Fortunately he had not been allowed to bring his disappointment into
his dear Sue's life by involving her in this collapse. And the
painful details of his awakening to a sense of his limitations should
now be spared her as far as possible. After all, she had only known
a little part of the miserable struggle in which he had been engaged
thus unequipped, poor, and unforeseeing.

He always remembered the appearance of the afternoon on which he
awoke from his dream. Not quite knowing what to do with himself, he
went up to an octagonal chamber in the lantern of a singularly built
theatre that was set amidst this quaint and singular city. It had
windows all round, from which an outlook over the whole town and
its edifices could be gained. Jude's eyes swept all the views in
succession, meditatively, mournfully, yet sturdily. Those buildings
and their associations and privileges were not for him. From the
looming roof of the great library, into which he hardly ever had time
to enter, his gaze travelled on to the varied spires, halls, gables,
streets, chapels, gardens, quadrangles, which composed the ensemble
of this unrivalled panorama. He saw that his destiny lay not with
these, but among the manual toilers in the shabby purlieu which he
himself occupied, unrecognized as part of the city at all by its
visitors and panegyrists, yet without whose denizens the hard readers
could not read nor the high thinkers live.

He looked over the town into the country beyond, to the trees which
screened her whose presence had at first been the support of his
heart, and whose loss was now a maddening torture. But for this blow
he might have borne with his fate. With Sue as companion he could
have renounced his ambitions with a smile. Without her it was
inevitable that the reaction from the long strain to which he had
subjected himself should affect him disastrously. Phillotson had
no doubt passed through a similar intellectual disappointment to
that which now enveloped him. But the schoolmaster had been since
blest with the consolation of sweet Sue, while for him there was no

Descending to the streets, he went listlessly along till he arrived
at an inn, and entered it. Here he drank several glasses of beer in
rapid succession, and when he came out it was night. By the light of
the flickering lamps he rambled home to supper, and had not long been
sitting at table when his landlady brought up a letter that had just
arrived for him. She laid it down as if impressed with a sense of
its possible importance, and on looking at it Jude perceived that it
bore the embossed stamp of one of the colleges whose heads he had
addressed. "ONE--at last!" cried Jude.

The communication was brief, and not exactly what he had expected;
though it really was from the master in person. It ran thus:


SIR,--I have read your letter with interest; and, judging
from your description of yourself as a working-man, I
venture to think that you will have a much better chance
of success in life by remaining in your own sphere and
sticking to your trade than by adopting any other course.
That, therefore, is what I advise you to do. Yours


To Mr. J. FAWLEY, Stone-mason.

This terribly sensible advice exasperated Jude. He had known all
that before. He knew it was true. Yet it seemed a hard slap after
ten years of labour, and its effect upon him just now was to make him
rise recklessly from the table, and, instead of reading as usual, to
go downstairs and into the street. He stood at a bar and tossed off
two or three glasses, then unconsciously sauntered along till he
came to a spot called The Fourways in the middle of the city, gazing
abstractedly at the groups of people like one in a trance, till,
coming to himself, he began talking to the policeman fixed there.

That officer yawned, stretched out his elbows, elevated himself
an inch and a half on the balls of his toes, smiled, and looking
humorously at Jude, said, "You've had a wet, young man."

"No; I've only begun," he replied cynically.

Whatever his wetness, his brains were dry enough. He only heard in
part the policeman's further remarks, having fallen into thought on
what struggling people like himself had stood at that crossway, whom
nobody ever thought of now. It had more history than the oldest
college in the city. It was literally teeming, stratified, with the
shades of human groups, who had met there for tragedy, comedy, farce;
real enactments of the intensest kind. At Fourways men had stood
and talked of Napoleon, the loss of America, the execution of King
Charles, the burning of the Martyrs, the Crusades, the Norman
Conquest, possibly of the arrival of Caesar. Here the two sexes had
met for loving, hating, coupling, parting; had waited, had suffered,
for each other; had triumphed over each other; cursed each other in
jealousy, blessed each other in forgiveness.

He began to see that the town life was a book of humanity infinitely
more palpitating, varied, and compendious than the gown life.
These struggling men and women before him were the reality of
Christminster, though they knew little of Christ or Minster.
That was one of the humours of things. The floating population
of students and teachers, who did know both in a way, were not
Christminster in a local sense at all.

He looked at his watch, and, in pursuit of this idea, he went on till
he came to a public hall, where a promenade concert was in progress.
Jude entered, and found the room full of shop youths and girls,
soldiers, apprentices, boys of eleven smoking cigarettes, and light
women of the more respectable and amateur class. He had tapped the
real Christminster life. A band was playing, and the crowd walked
about and jostled each other, and every now and then a man got upon
a platform and sang a comic song.

The spirit of Sue seemed to hover round him and prevent his flirting
and drinking with the frolicsome girls who made advances--wistful
to gain a little joy. At ten o'clock he came away, choosing a
circuitous route homeward to pass the gates of the college whose head
had just sent him the note.

The gates were shut, and, by an impulse, he took from his pocket the
lump of chalk which as a workman he usually carried there, and wrote
along the wall:

"_I have understanding as well as you; I am not inferior to you:
yea, who knoweth not such things as these?_"--Job xii. 3.

Thomas Hardy