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 8

Jude wondered if she had really left her handkerchief behind; or
whether it were that she had miserably wished to tell him of a love
that at the last moment she could not bring herself to express.

He could not stay in his silent lodging when they were gone, and
fearing that he might be tempted to drown his misery in alcohol he
went upstairs, changed his dark clothes for his white, his thin boots
for his thick, and proceeded to his customary work for the afternoon.

But in the cathedral he seemed to hear a voice behind him, and to
be possessed with an idea that she would come back. She could not
possibly go home with Phillotson, he fancied. The feeling grew and
stirred. The moment that the clock struck the last of his working
hours he threw down his tools and rushed homeward. "Has anybody been
for me?" he asked.

Nobody had been there.

As he could claim the downstairs sitting-room till twelve o'clock
that night he sat in it all the evening; and even when the clock had
struck eleven, and the family had retired, he could not shake off
the feeling that she would come back and sleep in the little room
adjoining his own in which she had slept so many previous days. Her
actions were always unpredictable: why should she not come? Gladly
would he have compounded for the denial of her as a sweetheart and
wife by having her live thus as a fellow-lodger and friend, even on
the most distant terms. His supper still remained spread, and going
to the front door, and softly setting it open, he returned to the
room and sat as watchers sit on Old-Midsummer eves, expecting the
phantom of the Beloved. But she did not come.

Having indulged in this wild hope he went upstairs, and looked out of
the window, and pictured her through the evening journey to London,
whither she and Phillotson had gone for their holiday; their rattling
along through the damp night to their hotel, under the same sky of
ribbed cloud as that he beheld, through which the moon showed its
position rather than its shape, and one or two of the larger stars
made themselves visible as faint nebulae only. It was a new
beginning of Sue's history. He projected his mind into the future,
and saw her with children more or less in her own likeness around
her. But the consolation of regarding them as a continuation of
her identity was denied to him, as to all such dreamers, by the
wilfulness of Nature in not allowing issue from one parent alone.
Every desired renewal of an existence is debased by being half alloy.
"If at the estrangement or death of my lost love, I could go and see
her child--hers solely--there would be comfort in it!" said Jude.
And then he again uneasily saw, as he had latterly seen with more and
more frequency, the scorn of Nature for man's finer emotions, and her
lack of interest in his aspirations.

The oppressive strength of his affection for Sue showed itself on
the morrow and following days yet more clearly. He could no longer
endure the light of the Melchester lamps; the sunshine was as drab
paint, and the blue sky as zinc. Then he received news that his old
aunt was dangerously ill at Marygreen, which intelligence almost
coincided with a letter from his former employer at Christminster,
who offered him permanent work of a good class if he would come back.
The letters were almost a relief to him. He started to visit Aunt
Drusilla, and resolved to go onward to Christminster to see what
worth there might be in the builder's offer.

Jude found his aunt even worse than the communication from the Widow
Edlin had led him to expect. There was every possibility of her
lingering on for weeks or months, though little likelihood. He wrote
to Sue informing her of the state of her aunt, and suggesting that
she might like to see her aged relative alive. He would meet her at
Alfredston Road, the following evening, Monday, on his way back from
Christminster, if she could come by the up-train which crossed his
down-train at that station. Next morning, according, he went on to
Christminster, intending to return to Alfredston soon enough to keep
the suggested appointment with Sue.

The city of learning wore an estranged look, and he had lost all
feeling for its associations. Yet as the sun made vivid lights
and shades of the mullioned architecture of the façades, and drew
patterns of the crinkled battlements on the young turf of the
quadrangles, Jude thought he had never seen the place look more
beautiful. He came to the street in which he had first beheld Sue.
The chair she had occupied when, leaning over her ecclesiastical
scrolls, a hog-hair brush in her hand, her girlish figure had
arrested the gaze of his inquiring eyes, stood precisely in its
former spot, empty. It was as if she were dead, and nobody had been
found capable of succeeding her in that artistic pursuit. Hers was
now the city phantom, while those of the intellectual and devotional
worthies who had once moved him to emotion were no longer able to
assert their presence there.

However, here he was; and in fulfilment of his intention he went on
to his former lodging in "Beersheba," near the ritualistic church of
St. Silas. The old landlady who opened the door seemed glad to see
him again, and bringing some lunch informed him that the builder who
had employed him had called to inquire his address.

Jude went on to the stone-yard where he had worked. But the old
sheds and bankers were distasteful to him; he felt it impossible to
engage himself to return and stay in this place of vanished dreams.
He longed for the hour of the homeward train to Alfredston, where he
might probably meet Sue.

Then, for one ghastly half-hour of depression caused by these scenes,
there returned upon him that feeling which had been his undoing more
than once--that he was not worth the trouble of being taken care of
either by himself or others; and during this half-hour he met Tinker
Taylor, the bankrupt ecclesiastical ironmonger, at Fourways, who
proposed that they should adjourn to a bar and drink together.
They walked along the street till they stood before one of the
great palpitating centres of Christminster life, the inn wherein he
formerly had responded to the challenge to rehearse the Creed in
Latin--now a popular tavern with a spacious and inviting entrance,
which gave admittance to a bar that had been entirely renovated and
refitted in modern style since Jude's residence here.

Tinker Taylor drank off his glass and departed, saying it was too
stylish a place now for him to feel at home in unless he was drunker
than he had money to be just then. Jude was longer finishing his,
and stood abstractedly silent in the, for the minute, almost empty
place. The bar had been gutted and newly arranged throughout,
mahogany fixtures having taken the place of the old painted
ones, while at the back of the standing-space there were stuffed
sofa-benches. The room was divided into compartments in the approved
manner, between which were screens of ground glass in mahogany
framing, to prevent topers in one compartment being put to the blush
by the recognitions of those in the next. On the inside of the
counter two barmaids leant over the white-handled beer-engines,
and the row of little silvered taps inside, dripping into a pewter
trough.

Feeling tired, and having nothing more to do till the train left,
Jude sat down on one of the sofas. At the back of the barmaids rose
bevel-edged mirrors, with glass shelves running along their front,
on which stood precious liquids that Jude did not know the name
of, in bottles of topaz, sapphire, ruby and amethyst. The moment
was enlivened by the entrance of some customers into the next
compartment, and the starting of the mechanical tell-tale of monies
received, which emitted a ting-ting every time a coin was put in.

The barmaid attending to this compartment was invisible to Jude's
direct glance, though a reflection of her back in the glass behind
her was occasionally caught by his eyes. He had only observed this
listlessly, when she turned her face for a moment to the glass to set
her hair tidy. Then he was amazed to discover that the face was
Arabella's.

If she had come on to his compartment she would have seen him.
But she did not, this being presided over by the maiden on the other
side. Abby was in a black gown, with white linen cuffs and a broad
white collar, and her figure, more developed than formerly, was
accentuated by a bunch of daffodils that she wore on her left bosom.
In the compartment she served stood an electro-plated fountain of
water over a spirit-lamp, whose blue flame sent a steam from the top,
all this being visible to him only in the mirror behind her; which
also reflected the faces of the men she was attending to--one of them
a handsome, dissipated young fellow, possibly an undergraduate, who
had been relating to her an experience of some humorous sort.

"Oh, Mr. Cockman, now! How can you tell such a tale to me in my
innocence!" she cried gaily. "Mr. Cockman, what do you use to make
your moustache curl so beautiful?" As the young man was clean shaven
the retort provoked a laugh at his expense.

"Come!" said he, "I'll have a curaçao; and a light, please."

She served the liqueur from one of the lovely bottles and striking
a match held it to his cigarette with ministering archness while he
whiffed.

"Well, have you heard from your husband lately, my dear?" he asked.

"Not a sound," said she.

"Where is he?"

"I left him in Australia; and I suppose he's there still."

Jude's eyes grew rounder.

"What made you part from him?"

"Don't you ask questions, and you won't hear lies."

"Come then, give me my change, which you've been keeping from me for
the last quarter of an hour; and I'll romantically vanish up the
street of this picturesque city."

She handed the change over the counter, in taking which he caught her
fingers and held them. There was a slight struggle and titter, and
he bade her good-bye and left.

Jude had looked on with the eye of a dazed philosopher. It was
extraordinary how far removed from his life Arabella now seemed to
be. He could not realize their nominal closeness. And, this being
the case, in his present frame of mind he was indifferent to the fact
that Arabella was his wife indeed.

The compartment that she served emptied itself of visitors, and
after a brief thought he entered it, and went forward to the counter.
Arabella did not recognize him for a moment. Then their glances met.
She started; till a humorous impudence sparkled in her eyes, and she
spoke.

"Well, I'm blest! I thought you were underground years ago!"

"Oh!"

"I never heard anything of you, or I don't know that I should
have come here. But never mind! What shall I treat you to this
afternoon? A Scotch and soda? Come, anything that the house will
afford, for old acquaintance' sake!"

"Thanks, Arabella," said Jude without a smile. "But I don't want
anything more than I've had." The fact was that her unexpected
presence there had destroyed at a stroke his momentary taste for
strong liquor as completely as if it had whisked him back to his
milk-fed infancy.

"That's a pity, now you could get it for nothing."

"How long have you been here?"

"About six weeks. I returned from Sydney three months ago. I always
liked this business, you know."

"I wonder you came to this place!"

"Well, as I say, I thought you were gone to glory, and being in
London I saw the situation in an advertisement. Nobody was likely to
know me here, even if I had minded, for I was never in Christminster
in my growing up."

"Why did you return from Australia?"

"Oh, I had my reasons... Then you are not a don yet?"

"No."

"Not even a reverend?"

"No."

"Nor so much as a rather reverend dissenting gentleman?"

"I am as I was."

"True--you look so." She idly allowed her fingers to rest on the
pull of the beer-engine as she inspected him critically. He observed
that her hands were smaller and whiter than when he had lived with
her, and that on the hand which pulled the engine she wore an
ornamental ring set with what seemed to be real sapphires--which they
were, indeed, and were much admired as such by the young men who
frequented the bar.

"So you pass as having a living husband," he continued.

"Yes. I thought it might be awkward if I called myself a widow, as I
should have liked."

"True. I am known here a little."

"I didn't mean on that account--for as I said I didn't expect you.
It was for other reasons."

"What were they?"

"I don't care to go into them," she replied evasively. "I make a
very good living, and I don't know that I want your company."

Here a chappie with no chin, and a moustache like a lady's eyebrow,
came and asked for a curiously compounded drink, and Arabella was
obliged to go and attend to him. "We can't talk here," she said,
stepping back a moment. "Can't you wait till nine? Say yes, and
don't be a fool. I can get off duty two hours sooner than usual, if
I ask. I am not living in the house at present."

He reflected and said gloomily, "I'll come back. I suppose we'd
better arrange something."

"Oh, bother arranging! I'm not going to arrange anything!"

"But I must know a thing or two; and, as you say, we can't talk here.
Very well; I'll call for you."

Depositing his unemptied glass he went out and walked up and down the
street. Here was a rude flounce into the pellucid sentimentality of
his sad attachment to Sue. Though Arabella's word was absolutely
untrustworthy, he thought there might be some truth in her
implication that she had not wished to disturb him, and had really
supposed him dead. However, there was only one thing now to be done,
and that was to play a straightforward part, the law being the law,
and the woman between whom and himself there was no more unity than
between east and west being in the eye of the Church one person with
him.

Having to meet Arabella here, it was impossible to meet Sue at
Alfredston as he had promised. At every thought of this a pang
had gone through him; but the conjuncture could not be helped.
Arabella was perhaps an intended intervention to punish him for his
unauthorized love. Passing the evening, therefore, in a desultory
waiting about the town wherein he avoided the precincts of every
cloister and hall, because he could not bear to behold them, he
repaired to the tavern bar while the hundred and one strokes were
resounding from the Great Bell of Cardinal College, a coincidence
which seemed to him gratuitous irony. The inn was now brilliantly
lighted up, and the scene was altogether more brisk and gay. The
faces of the barmaidens had risen in colour, each having a pink
flush on her cheek; their manners were still more vivacious than
before--more abandoned, more excited, more sensuous, and they
expressed their sentiments and desires less euphemistically, laughing
in a lackadaisical tone, without reserve.

The bar had been crowded with men of all sorts during the previous
hour, and he had heard from without the hubbub of their voices; but
the customers were fewer at last. He nodded to Arabella, and told
her that she would find him outside the door when she came away.

"But you must have something with me first," she said with great
good humour. "Just an early night-cap: I always do. Then you can
go out and wait a minute, as it is best we should not be seen going
together." She drew a couple of liqueur glasses of brandy; and
though she had evidently, from her countenance, already taken in
enough alcohol either by drinking or, more probably, from the
atmosphere she had breathed for so many hours, she finished hers
quickly. He also drank his, and went outside the house.

In a few minutes she came, in a thick jacket and a hat with a black
feather. "I live quite near," she said, taking his arm, "and can let
myself in by a latch-key at any time. What arrangement do you want
to come to?"

"Oh--none in particular," he answered, thoroughly sick and tired, his
thoughts again reverting to Alfredston, and the train he did not go
by; the probable disappointment of Sue that he was not there when
she arrived, and the missed pleasure of her company on the long and
lonely climb by starlight up the hills to Marygreen. "I ought to
have gone back really! My aunt is on her deathbed, I fear."

"I'll go over with you to-morrow morning. I think I could get a day
off."

There was something particularly uncongenial in the idea of Arabella,
who had no more sympathy than a tigress with his relations or him,
coming to the bedside of his dying aunt, and meeting Sue. Yet he
said, "Of course, if you'd like to, you can."

"Well, that we'll consider... Now, until we have come to some
agreement it is awkward our being together here--where you are known,
and I am getting known, though without any suspicion that I have
anything to do with you. As we are going towards the station,
suppose we take the nine-forty train to Aldbrickham? We shall be
there in little more than half an hour, and nobody will know us for
one night, and we shall be quite free to act as we choose till we
have made up our minds whether we'll make anything public or not."

"As you like."

"Then wait till I get two or three things. This is my lodging.
Sometimes when late I sleep at the hotel where I am engaged, so
nobody will think anything of my staying out."

She speedily returned, and they went on to the railway, and made the
half-hour's journey to Aldbrickham, where they entered a third-rate
inn near the station in time for a late supper.

Thomas Hardy