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Chapter 6

Meanwhile a middle-aged man was dreaming a dream of great beauty
concerning the writer of the above letter. He was Richard
Phillotson, who had recently removed from the mixed village school at
Lumsdon near Christminster, to undertake a large boys' school in his
native town of Shaston, which stood on a hill sixty miles to the
south-west as the crow flies.

A glance at the place and its accessories was almost enough to reveal
that the schoolmaster's plans and dreams so long indulged in had
been abandoned for some new dream with which neither the Church nor
literature had much in common. Essentially an unpractical man, he
was now bent on making and saving money for a practical purpose--that
of keeping a wife, who, if she chose, might conduct one of the girls'
schools adjoining his own; for which purpose he had advised her to go
into training, since she would not marry him offhand.

About the time that Jude was removing from Marygreen to Melchester,
and entering on adventures at the latter place with Sue, the
schoolmaster was settling down in the new school-house at Shaston.
All the furniture being fixed, the books shelved, and the nails
driven, he had begun to sit in his parlour during the dark winter
nights and re-attempt some of his old studies--one branch of
which had included Roman-Britannic antiquities--an unremunerative
labour for a national school-master but a subject, that, after his
abandonment of the university scheme, had interested him as being a
comparatively unworked mine; practicable to those who, like himself,
had lived in lonely spots where these remains were abundant, and were
seen to compel inferences in startling contrast to accepted views on
the civilization of that time.

A resumption of this investigation was the outward and apparent hobby
of Phillotson at present--his ostensible reason for going alone into
fields where causeways, dykes, and tumuli abounded, or shutting
himself up in his house with a few urns, tiles, and mosaics he had
collected, instead of calling round upon his new neighbours, who for
their part had showed themselves willing enough to be friendly with
him. But it was not the real, or the whole, reason, after all.
Thus on a particular evening in the month, when it had grown quite
late--to near midnight, indeed--and the light of his lamp, shining
from his window at a salient angle of the hill-top town over infinite
miles of valley westward, announced as by words a place and person
given over to study, he was not exactly studying.

The interior of the room--the books, the furniture, the
schoolmaster's loose coat, his attitude at the table, even the
flickering of the fire, bespoke the same dignified tale of
undistracted research--more than creditable to a man who had had no
advantages beyond those of his own making. And yet the tale, true
enough till latterly, was not true now. What he was regarding was
not history. They were historic notes, written in a bold womanly
hand at his dictation some months before, and it was the clerical
rendering of word after word that absorbed him.

He presently took from a drawer a carefully tied bundle of letters,
few, very few, as correspondence counts nowadays. Each was in its
envelope just as it had arrived, and the handwriting was of the same
womanly character as the historic notes. He unfolded them one by
one and read them musingly. At first sight there seemed in these
small documents to be absolutely nothing to muse over. They were
straightforward, frank letters, signed "Sue B--"; just such ones as
would be written during short absences, with no other thought than
their speedy destruction, and chiefly concerning books in reading
and other experiences of a training school, forgotten doubtless by
the writer with the passing of the day of their inditing. In one of
them--quite a recent note--the young woman said that she had received
his considerate letter, and that it was honourable and generous of
him to say he would not come to see her oftener than she desired (the
school being such an awkward place for callers, and because of her
strong wish that her engagement to him should not be known, which it
would infallibly be if he visited her often). Over these phrases the
school-master pored. What precise shade of satisfaction was to be
gathered from a woman's gratitude that the man who loved her had not
been often to see her? The problem occupied him, distracted him.

He opened another drawer, and found therein an envelope, from which
he drew a photograph of Sue as a child, long before he had known her,
standing under trellis-work with a little basket in her hand. There
was another of her as a young woman, her dark eyes and hair making a
very distinct and attractive picture of her, which just disclosed,
too, the thoughtfulness that lay behind her lighter moods. It was
a duplicate of the one she had given Jude, and would have given to
any man. Phillotson brought it half-way to his lips, but withdrew
it in doubt at her perplexing phrases: ultimately kissing the
dead pasteboard with all the passionateness, and more than all the
devotion, of a young man of eighteen.

The schoolmaster's was an unhealthy-looking, old-fashioned face,
rendered more old-fashioned by his style of shaving. A certain
gentlemanliness had been imparted to it by nature, suggesting an
inherent wish to do rightly by all. His speech was a little slow,
but his tones were sincere enough to make his hesitation no defect.
His greying hair was curly, and radiated from a point in the middle
of his crown. There were four lines across his forehead, and he only
wore spectacles when reading at night. It was almost certainly a
renunciation forced upon him by his academic purpose, rather than a
distaste for women, which had hitherto kept him from closing with one
of the sex in matrimony.

Such silent proceedings as those of this evening were repeated many
and oft times when he was not under the eye of the boys, whose quick
and penetrating regard would frequently become almost intolerable to
the self-conscious master in his present anxious care for Sue, making
him, in the grey hours of morning, dread to meet anew the gimlet
glances, lest they should read what the dream within him was.

He had honourably acquiesced in Sue's announced wish that he was
not often to visit her at the training school; but at length, his
patience being sorely tried, he set out one Saturday afternoon to pay
her an unexpected call. There the news of her departure--expulsion
as it might almost have been considered--was flashed upon him without
warning or mitigation as he stood at the door expecting in a few
minutes to behold her face; and when he turned away he could hardly
see the road before him.

Sue had, in fact, never written a line to her suitor on the subject,
although it was fourteen days old. A short reflection told him that
this proved nothing, a natural delicacy being as ample a reason for
silence as any degree of blameworthiness.

They had informed him at the school where she was living, and having
no immediate anxiety about her comfort his thoughts took the
direction of a burning indignation against the training school
committee. In his bewilderment Phillotson entered the adjacent
cathedral, just now in a direly dismantled state by reason of
the repairs. He sat down on a block of freestone, regardless of
the dusty imprint it made on his breeches; and his listless eyes
following the movements of the workmen he presently became aware
that the reputed culprit, Sue's lover Jude, was one amongst them.

Jude had never spoken to his former hero since the meeting by the
model of Jerusalem. Having inadvertently witnessed Phillotson's
tentative courtship of Sue in the lane there had grown up in the
younger man's mind a curious dislike to think of the elder, to meet
him, to communicate in any way with him; and since Phillotson's
success in obtaining at least her promise had become known to Jude,
he had frankly recognized that he did not wish to see or hear of his
senior any more, learn anything of his pursuits, or even imagine
again what excellencies might appertain to his character. On this
very day of the schoolmaster's visit Jude was expecting Sue, as she
had promised; and when therefore he saw the schoolmaster in the nave
of the building, saw, moreover, that he was coming to speak to him,
he felt no little embarrassment; which Phillotson's own embarrassment
prevented his observing.

Jude joined him, and they both withdrew from the other workmen to the
spot where Phillotson had been sitting. Jude offered him a piece of
sackcloth for a cushion, and told him it was dangerous to sit on the
bare block.

"Yes; yes," said Phillotson abstractedly, as he reseated himself, his
eyes resting on the ground as if he were trying to remember where he
was. "I won't keep you long. It was merely that I have heard that
you have seen my little friend Sue recently. It occurred to me to
speak to you on that account. I merely want to ask--about her."

"I think I know what!" Jude hurriedly said. "About her escaping
from the training school, and her coming to me?"

"Yes."

"Well"--Jude for a moment felt an unprincipled and fiendish wish to
annihilate his rival at all cost. By the exercise of that treachery
which love for the same woman renders possible to men the most
honourable in every other relation of life, he could send off
Phillotson in agony and defeat by saying that the scandal was true,
and that Sue had irretrievably committed herself with him. But his
action did not respond for a moment to his animal instinct; and what
he said was, "I am glad of your kindness in coming to talk plainly to
me about it. You know what they say?--that I ought to marry her."

"What!"

"And I wish with all my soul I could!"

Phillotson trembled, and his naturally pale face acquired a
corpselike sharpness in its lines. "I had no idea that it was of
this nature! God forbid!"

"No, no!" said Jude aghast. "I thought you understood? I mean that
were I in a position to marry her, or someone, and settle down,
instead of living in lodgings here and there, I should be glad!"

What he had really meant was simply that he loved her.

"But--since this painful matter has been opened up--what really
happened?" asked Phillotson, with the firmness of a man who felt that
a sharp smart now was better than a long agony of suspense hereafter.
"Cases arise, and this is one, when even ungenerous questions must be
put to make false assumptions impossible, and to kill scandal."

Jude explained readily; giving the whole series of adventures,
including the night at the shepherd's, her wet arrival at his
lodging, her indisposition from her immersion, their vigil of
discussion, and his seeing her off next morning.

"Well now," said Phillotson at the conclusion, "I take it as your
final word, and I know I can believe you, that the suspicion which
led to her rustication is an absolutely baseless one?"

"It is," said Jude solemnly. "Absolutely. So help me God!"

The schoolmaster rose. Each of the twain felt that the interview
could not comfortably merge in a friendly discussion of their recent
experiences, after the manner of friends; and when Jude had taken him
round, and shown him some features of the renovation which the old
cathedral was undergoing, Phillotson bade the young man good-day and
went away.

This visit took place about eleven o'clock in the morning; but no Sue
appeared. When Jude went to his dinner at one he saw his beloved
ahead of him in the street leading up from the North Gate, walking
as if no way looking for him. Speedily overtaking her he remarked
that he had asked her to come to him at the cathedral, and she had
promised.

"I have been to get my things from the college," she said--an
observation which he was expected to take as an answer, though it was
not one. Finding her to be in this evasive mood he felt inclined to
give her the information so long withheld.

"You have not seen Mr. Phillotson to-day?" he ventured to inquire.

"I have not. But I am not going to be cross-examined about him; and
if you ask anything more I won't answer!"

"It is very odd that--" He stopped, regarding her.

"What?"

"That you are often not so nice in your real presence as you are in
your letters!"

"Does it really seem so to you?" said she, smiling with quick
curiosity. "Well, that's strange; but I feel just the same about
you, Jude. When you are gone away I seem such a coldhearted--"

As she knew his sentiment towards her Jude saw that they were getting
upon dangerous ground. It was now, he thought, that he must speak as
an honest man.

But he did not speak, and she continued: "It was that which made me
write and say--I didn't mind your loving me--if you wanted to, much!"

The exultation he might have felt at what that implied, or seemed to
imply, was nullified by his intention, and he rested rigid till he
began: "I have never told you--"

"Yes you have," murmured she.

"I mean, I have never told you my history--all of it."

"But I guess it. I know nearly."

Jude looked up. Could she possibly know of that morning performance
of his with Arabella; which in a few months had ceased to be a
marriage more completely than by death? He saw that she did not.

"I can't quite tell you here in the street," he went on with a gloomy
tongue. "And you had better not come to my lodgings. Let us go in
here."

The building by which they stood was the market-house; it was the
only place available; and they entered, the market being over, and
the stalls and areas empty. He would have preferred a more congenial
spot, but, as usually happens, in place of a romantic field or solemn
aisle for his tale, it was told while they walked up and down over a
floor littered with rotten cabbage-leaves, and amid all the usual
squalors of decayed vegetable matter and unsaleable refuse. He
began and finished his brief narrative, which merely led up to the
information that he had married a wife some years earlier, and that
his wife was living still. Almost before her countenance had time to
change she hurried out the words,

"Why didn't you tell me before!"

"I couldn't. It seemed so cruel to tell it."

"To yourself, Jude. So it was better to be cruel to me!"

"No, dear darling!" cried Jude passionately. He tried to take her
hand, but she withdrew it. Their old relations of confidence seemed
suddenly to have ended, and the antagonisms of sex to sex were left
without any counter-poising predilections. She was his comrade,
friend, unconscious sweetheart no longer; and her eyes regarded him
in estranged silence.

"I was ashamed of the episode in my life which brought about the
marriage," he continued. "I can't explain it precisely now. I could
have done it if you had taken it differently!"

"But how can I?" she burst out. "Here I have been saying, or
writing, that--that you might love me, or something of the
sort!--just out of charity--and all the time--oh, it is perfectly
damnable how things are!" she said, stamping her foot in a nervous
quiver.

"You take me wrong, Sue! I never thought you cared for me at all,
till quite lately; so I felt it did not matter! Do you care for me,
Sue?--you know how I mean?--I don't like 'out of charity' at all!"

It was a question which in the circumstances Sue did not choose to
answer.

"I suppose she--your wife--is--a very pretty woman, even if she's
wicked?" she asked quickly.

"She's pretty enough, as far as that goes."

"Prettier than I am, no doubt!"

"You are not the least alike. And I have never seen her for
years... But she's sure to come back--they always do!"

"How strange of you to stay apart from her like this!" said Sue,
her trembling lip and lumpy throat belying her irony. "You, such a
religious man. How will the demi-gods in your Pantheon--I mean those
legendary persons you call saints--intercede for you after this?
Now if I had done such a thing it would have been different, and not
remarkable, for I at least don't regard marriage as a sacrament.
Your theories are not so advanced as your practice!"

"Sue, you are terribly cutting when you like to be--a perfect
Voltaire! But you must treat me as you will!"

When she saw how wretched he was she softened, and trying to blink
away her sympathetic tears said with all the winning reproachfulness
of a heart-hurt woman: "Ah--you should have told me before you gave
me that idea that you wanted to be allowed to love me! I had no
feeling before that moment at the railway-station, except--" For
once Sue was as miserable as he, in her attempts to keep herself free
from emotion, and her less than half-success.

"Don't cry, dear!" he implored.

"I am--not crying--because I meant to--love you; but because of your
want of--confidence!"

They were quite screened from the market-square without, and he could
not help putting out his arm towards her waist. His momentary desire
was the means of her rallying. "No, no!" she said, drawing back
stringently, and wiping her eyes. "Of course not! It would be
hypocrisy to pretend that it would be meant as from my cousin; and it
can't be in any other way."

They moved on a dozen paces, and she showed herself recovered. It
was distracting to Jude, and his heart would have ached less had she
appeared anyhow but as she did appear; essentially large-minded and
generous on reflection, despite a previous exercise of those narrow
womanly humours on impulse that were necessary to give her sex.

"I don't blame you for what you couldn't help," she said, smiling.
"How should I be so foolish? I do blame you a little bit for not
telling me before. But, after all, it doesn't matter. We should
have had to keep apart, you see, even if this had not been in your
life."

"No, we shouldn't, Sue! This is the only obstacle."

"You forget that I must have loved you, and wanted to be your
wife, even if there had been no obstacle," said Sue, with a gentle
seriousness which did not reveal her mind. "And then we are cousins,
and it is bad for cousins to marry. And--I am engaged to somebody
else. As to our going on together as we were going, in a sort of
friendly way, the people round us would have made it unable to
continue. Their views of the relations of man and woman are limited,
as is proved by their expelling me from the school. Their philosophy
only recognizes relations based on animal desire. The wide field
of strong attachment where desire plays, at least, only a secondary
part, is ignored by them--the part of--who is it?--Venus Urania."

Her being able to talk learnedly showed that she was mistress of
herself again; and before they parted she had almost regained her
vivacious glance, her reciprocity of tone, her gay manner, and her
second-thought attitude of critical largeness towards others of her
age and sex.

He could speak more freely now. "There were several reasons against
my telling you rashly. One was what I have said; another, that
it was always impressed upon me that I ought not to marry--that
I belonged to an odd and peculiar family--the wrong breed for
marriage."

"Ah--who used to say that to you?"

"My great-aunt. She said it always ended badly with us Fawleys."

"That's strange. My father used to say the same to me!"

They stood possessed by the same thought, ugly enough, even as an
assumption: that a union between them, had such been possible, would
have meant a terrible intensification of unfitness--two bitters in
one dish.

"Oh, but there can't be anything in it!" she said with nervous
lightness. "Our family have been unlucky of late years in choosing
mates--that's all."

And then they pretended to persuade themselves that all that had
happened was of no consequence, and that they could still be cousins
and friends and warm correspondents, and have happy genial times
when they met, even if they met less frequently than before. Their
parting was in good friendship, and yet Jude's last look into her
eyes was tinged with inquiry, for he felt that he did not even now
quite know her mind.

Thomas Hardy