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Chapter 1

AT SHASTON

"Whoso prefers either Matrimony or other Ordinance before
the Good of Man and the plain Exigence of Charity, let
him profess Papist, or Protestant, or what he will, he
is no better than a Pharisee."--J. MILTON.


I


Shaston, the ancient British Palladour,

From whose foundation first such strange reports
arise,


(as Drayton sang it), was, and is, in itself the city of a dream.
Vague imaginings of its castle, its three mints, its magnificent
apsidal abbey, the chief glory of South Wessex, its twelve churches,
its shrines, chantries, hospitals, its gabled freestone mansions--all
now ruthlessly swept away--throw the visitor, even against his will,
into a pensive melancholy, which the stimulating atmosphere and
limitless landscape around him can scarcely dispel. The spot was the
burial-place of a king and a queen, of abbots and abbesses, saints
and bishops, knights and squires. The bones of King Edward "the
Martyr," carefully removed hither for holy preservation, brought
Shaston a renown which made it the resort of pilgrims from every part
of Europe, and enabled it to maintain a reputation extending far
beyond English shores. To this fair creation of the great Middle-Age
the Dissolution was, as historians tell us, the death-knell. With
the destruction of the enormous abbey the whole place collapsed in a
general ruin: the Martyr's bones met with the fate of the sacred pile
that held them, and not a stone is now left to tell where they lie.

The natural picturesqueness and singularity of the town still remain;
but strange to say these qualities, which were noted by many writers
in ages when scenic beauty is said to have been unappreciated, are
passed over in this, and one of the queerest and quaintest spots in
England stands virtually unvisited to-day.

It has a unique position on the summit of a steep and imposing scarp,
rising on the north, south, and west sides of the borough out of
the deep alluvial Vale of Blackmoor, the view from the Castle Green
over three counties of verdant pasture--South, Mid, and Nether
Wessex--being as sudden a surprise to the unexpectant traveller's
eyes as the medicinal air is to his lungs. Impossible to a railway,
it can best be reached on foot, next best by light vehicles; and
it is hardly accessible to these but by a sort of isthmus on the
north-east, that connects it with the high chalk table-land on that
side.

Such is, and such was, the now world-forgotten Shaston or Palladour.
Its situation rendered water the great want of the town; and within
living memory, horses, donkeys and men may have been seen toiling
up the winding ways to the top of the height, laden with tubs and
barrels filled from the wells beneath the mountain, and hawkers
retailing their contents at the price of a halfpenny a bucketful.

This difficulty in the water supply, together with two other odd
facts, namely, that the chief graveyard slopes up as steeply as a
roof behind the church, and that in former times the town passed
through a curious period of corruption, conventual and domestic, gave
rise to the saying that Shaston was remarkable for three consolations
to man, such as the world afforded not elsewhere. It was a place
where the churchyard lay nearer heaven than the church steeple, where
beer was more plentiful than water, and where there were more wanton
women than honest wives and maids. It is also said that after the
Middle Ages the inhabitants were too poor to pay their priests,
and hence were compelled to pull down their churches, and refrain
altogether from the public worship of God; a necessity which they
bemoaned over their cups in the settles of their inns on Sunday
afternoons. In those days the Shastonians were apparently not
without a sense of humour.

There was another peculiarity--this a modern one--which Shaston
appeared to owe to its site. It was the resting-place and
headquarters of the proprietors of wandering vans, shows,
shooting-galleries, and other itinerant concerns, whose business
lay largely at fairs and markets. As strange wild birds are seen
assembled on some lofty promontory, meditatively pausing for longer
flights, or to return by the course they followed thither, so here,
in this cliff-town, stood in stultified silence the yellow and green
caravans bearing names not local, as if surprised by a change in the
landscape so violent as to hinder their further progress; and here
they usually remained all the winter till they turned to seek again
their old tracks in the following spring.

It was to this breezy and whimsical spot that Jude ascended from the
nearest station for the first time in his life about four o'clock one
afternoon, and entering on the summit of the peak after a toilsome
climb, passed the first houses of the aerial town; and drew towards
the school-house. The hour was too early; the pupils were still in
school, humming small, like a swarm of gnats; and he withdrew a few
steps along Abbey Walk, whence he regarded the spot which fate had
made the home of all he loved best in the world. In front of the
schools, which were extensive and stone-built, grew two enormous
beeches with smooth mouse-coloured trunks, as such trees will only
grow on chalk uplands. Within the mullioned and transomed windows he
could see the black, brown, and flaxen crowns of the scholars over
the sills, and to pass the time away he walked down to the level
terrace where the abbey gardens once had spread, his heart throbbing
in spite of him.

Unwilling to enter till the children were dismissed he remained here
till young voices could be heard in the open air, and girls in white
pinafores over red and blue frocks appeared dancing along the paths
which the abbess, prioress, subprioress, and fifty nuns had demurely
paced three centuries earlier. Retracing his steps he found that he
had waited too long, and that Sue had gone out into the town at the
heels of the last scholar, Mr. Phillotson having been absent all the
afternoon at a teachers' meeting at Shottsford.

Jude went into the empty schoolroom and sat down, the girl who was
sweeping the floor having informed him that Mrs. Phillotson would be
back again in a few minutes. A piano stood near--actually the old
piano that Phillotson had possessed at Marygreen--and though the dark
afternoon almost prevented him seeing the notes Jude touched them in
his humble way, and could not help modulating into the hymn which had
so affected him in the previous week.

A figure moved behind him, and thinking it was still the girl with
the broom Jude took no notice, till the person came close and laid
her fingers lightly upon his bass hand. The imposed hand was a
little one he seemed to know, and he turned.

"Don't stop," said Sue. "I like it. I learnt it before I left
Melchester. They used to play it in the training school."

"I can't strum before you! Play it for me."

"Oh well--I don't mind."

Sue sat down, and her rendering of the piece, though not remarkable,
seemed divine as compared with his own. She, like him, was evidently
touched--to her own surprise--by the recalled air; and when she
had finished, and he moved his hand towards hers, it met his own
half-way. Jude grasped it--just as he had done before her marriage.

"It is odd," she said, in a voice quite changed, "that I should care
about that air; because--"

"Because what?"

"I am not that sort--quite."

"Not easily moved?"

"I didn't quite mean that."

"Oh, but you ARE one of that sort, for you are just like me at
heart!"

"But not at head."

She played on and suddenly turned round; and by an unpremeditated
instinct each clasped the other's hand again.

She uttered a forced little laugh as she relinquished his quickly.
"How funny!" she said. "I wonder what we both did that for?"

"I suppose because we are both alike, as I said before."

"Not in our thoughts! Perhaps a little in our feelings."

"And they rule thoughts... Isn't it enough to make one blaspheme
that the composer of that hymn is one of the most commonplace men I
ever met!"

"What--you know him?"

"I went to see him."

"Oh, you goose--to do just what I should have done! Why did you?"

"Because we are not alike," he said drily.

"Now we'll have some tea," said Sue. "Shall we have it here instead
of in my house? It is no trouble to get the kettle and things
brought in. We don't live at the school you know, but in that
ancient dwelling across the way called Old-Grove Place. It is so
antique and dismal that it depresses me dreadfully. Such houses are
very well to visit, but not to live in--I feel crushed into the earth
by the weight of so many previous lives there spent. In a new place
like these schools there is only your own life to support. Sit down,
and I'll tell Ada to bring the tea-things across."

He waited in the light of the stove, the door of which she flung open
before going out, and when she returned, followed by the maiden with
tea, they sat down by the same light, assisted by the blue rays of a
spirit-lamp under the brass kettle on the stand.

"This is one of your wedding-presents to me," she said, signifying
the latter.

"Yes," said Jude.

The kettle of his gift sang with some satire in its note, to his
mind; and to change the subject he said, "Do you know of any good
readable edition of the uncanonical books of the New Testament? You
don't read them in the school I suppose?"

"Oh dear no!--'twould alarm the neighbourhood... Yes, there is one.
I am not familiar with it now, though I was interested in it when my
former friend was alive. Cowper's _Apocryphal Gospels_."

"That sounds like what I want." His thoughts, however reverted with
a twinge to the "former friend"--by whom she meant, as he knew, the
university comrade of her earlier days. He wondered if she talked of
him to Phillotson.

"The Gospel of Nicodemus is very nice," she went on to keep him from
his jealous thoughts, which she read clearly, as she always did.
Indeed when they talked on an indifferent subject, as now, there was
ever a second silent conversation passing between their emotions,
so perfect was the reciprocity between them. "It is quite like the
genuine article. All cut up into verses, too; so that it is like
one of the other evangelists read in a dream, when things are the
same, yet not the same. But, Jude, do you take an interest in those
questions still? Are you getting up _Apologetica_?"

"Yes. I am reading Divinity harder than ever."

She regarded him curiously.

"Why do you look at me like that?" said Jude.

"Oh--why do you want to know?"

"I am sure you can tell me anything I may be ignorant of in that
subject. You must have learnt a lot of everything from your dear
dead friend!"

"We won't get on to that now!" she coaxed. "Will you be carving out
at that church again next week, where you learnt the pretty hymn?"

"Yes, perhaps."

"That will be very nice. Shall I come and see you there? It is in
this direction, and I could come any afternoon by train for half an
hour?"

"No. Don't come!"

"What--aren't we going to be friends, then, any longer, as we used to
be?"

"No."

"I didn't know that. I thought you were always going to be kind to
me!"

"No, I am not."

"What have I done, then? I am sure I thought we two--" The
_tremolo_ in her voice caused her to break off.

"Sue, I sometimes think you are a flirt," said he abruptly.

There was a momentary pause, till she suddenly jumped up; and to his
surprise he saw by the kettle-flame that her face was flushed.

"I can't talk to you any longer, Jude!" she said, the tragic
contralto note having come back as of old. "It is getting too dark
to stay together like this, after playing morbid Good Friday tunes
that make one feel what one shouldn't! ... We mustn't sit and talk
in this way any more. Yes--you must go away, for you mistake me! I
am very much the reverse of what you say so cruelly--Oh, Jude, it WAS
cruel to say that! Yet I can't tell you the truth--I should shock
you by letting you know how I give way to my impulses, and how much I
feel that I shouldn't have been provided with attractiveness unless
it were meant to be exercised! Some women's love of being loved is
insatiable; and so, often, is their love of loving; and in the last
case they may find that they can't give it continuously to the
chamber-officer appointed by the bishop's licence to receive it.
But you are so straightforward, Jude, that you can't understand
me! ... Now you must go. I am sorry my husband is not at home."

"Are you?"

"I perceive I have said that in mere convention! Honestly I don't
think I am sorry. It does not matter, either way, sad to say!"

As they had overdone the grasp of hands some time sooner, she touched
his fingers but lightly when he went out now. He had hardly gone
from the door when, with a dissatisfied look, she jumped on a form
and opened the iron casement of a window beneath which he was passing
in the path without. "When do you leave here to catch your train,
Jude?" she asked.

He looked up in some surprise. "The coach that runs to meet it goes
in three-quarters of an hour or so."

"What will you do with yourself for the time?"

"Oh--wander about, I suppose. Perhaps I shall go and sit in the old
church."

"It does seem hard of me to pack you off so! You have thought enough
of churches, Heaven knows, without going into one in the dark. Stay
there."

"Where?"

"Where you are. I can talk to you better like this than when you
were inside... It was so kind and tender of you to give up half
a day's work to come to see me! ... You are Joseph the dreamer of
dreams, dear Jude. And a tragic Don Quixote. And sometimes you
are St. Stephen, who, while they were stoning him, could see Heaven
opened. Oh, my poor friend and comrade, you'll suffer yet!"

Now that the high window-sill was between them, so that he could not
get at her, she seemed not to mind indulging in a frankness she had
feared at close quarters.

"I have been thinking," she continued, still in the tone of one
brimful of feeling, "that the social moulds civilization fits us into
have no more relation to our actual shapes than the conventional
shapes of the constellations have to the real star-patterns. I
am called Mrs. Richard Phillotson, living a calm wedded life with
my counterpart of that name. But I am not really Mrs. Richard
Phillotson, but a woman tossed about, all alone, with aberrant
passions, and unaccountable antipathies... Now you mustn't wait
longer, or you will lose the coach. Come and see me again. You
must come to the house then."

"Yes!" said Jude. "When shall it be?"

"To-morrow week. Good-bye--good-bye!" She stretched out her hand
and stroked his forehead pitifully--just once. Jude said good-bye,
and went away into the darkness.

Passing along Bimport Street he thought he heard the wheels of the
coach departing, and, truly enough, when he reached the Duke's Arms
in the Market Place the coach had gone. It was impossible for him
to get to the station on foot in time for this train, and he settled
himself perforce to wait for the next--the last to Melchester that
night.

He wandered about awhile, obtained something to eat; and then, having
another half-hour on his hands, his feet involuntarily took him
through the venerable graveyard of Trinity Church, with its avenues
of limes, in the direction of the schools again. They were entirely
in darkness. She had said she lived over the way at Old-Grove
Place, a house which he soon discovered from her description of its
antiquity.

A glimmering candlelight shone from a front window, the shutters
being yet unclosed. He could see the interior clearly--the floor
sinking a couple of steps below the road without, which had become
raised during the centuries since the house was built. Sue,
evidently just come in, was standing with her hat on in this front
parlour or sitting-room, whose walls were lined with wainscoting
of panelled oak reaching from floor to ceiling, the latter being
crossed by huge moulded beams only a little way above her head. The
mantelpiece was of the same heavy description, carved with Jacobean
pilasters and scroll-work. The centuries did, indeed, ponderously
overhang a young wife who passed her time here.

She had opened a rosewood work-box, and was looking at a photograph.
Having contemplated it a little while she pressed it against her
bosom, and put it again in its place.

Then becoming aware that she had not obscured the windows she came
forward to do so, candle in hand. It was too dark for her to see
Jude without, but he could see her face distinctly, and there was an
unmistakable tearfulness about the dark, long-lashed eyes.

She closed the shutters, and Jude turned away to pursue his solitary
journey home. "Whose photograph was she looking at?" he said. He
had once given her his; but she had others, he knew. Yet it was his,
surely?

He knew he should go to see her again, according to her invitation.
Those earnest men he read of, the saints, whom Sue, with gentle
irreverence, called his demi-gods, would have shunned such encounters
if they doubted their own strength. But he could not. He might fast
and pray during the whole interval, but the human was more powerful
in him than the Divine.

Thomas Hardy