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Chapter 8

In the afternoon Sue and the other people bustling about Kennetbridge
fair could hear singing inside the placarded hoarding farther down
the street. Those who peeped through the opening saw a crowd of
persons in broadcloth, with hymn-books in their hands, standing round
the excavations for the new chapel-walls. Arabella Cartlett and her
weeds stood among them. She had a clear, powerful voice, which could
be distinctly heard with the rest, rising and falling to the tune,
her inflated bosom being also seen doing likewise.

It was two hours later on the same day that Anny and Mrs. Cartlett,
having had tea at the Temperance Hotel, started on their return
journey across the high and open country which stretches between
Kennetbridge and Alfredston. Arabella was in a thoughtful mood; but
her thoughts were not of the new chapel, as Anny at first surmised.

"No--it is something else," at last said Arabella sullenly. "I
came here to-day never thinking of anybody but poor Cartlett, or of
anything but spreading the Gospel by means of this new tabernacle
they've begun this afternoon. But something has happened to turn my
mind another way quite. Anny, I've heard of un again, and I've seen
HER!"

"Who?"

"I've heard of Jude, and I've seen his wife. And ever since, do what
I will, and though I sung the hymns wi' all my strength, I have not
been able to help thinking about 'n; which I've no right to do as a
chapel member."

"Can't ye fix your mind upon what was said by the London preacher
to-day, and try to get rid of your wandering fancies that way?"

"I do. But my wicked heart will ramble off in spite of myself!"

"Well--I know what it is to have a wanton mind o' my own, too! If
you on'y knew what I do dream sometimes o' nights quite against my
wishes, you'd say I had my struggles!" (Anny, too, had grown rather
serious of late, her lover having jilted her.)

"What shall I do about it?" urged Arabella morbidly.

"You could take a lock of your late-lost husband's hair, and have it
made into a mourning brooch, and look at it every hour of the day."

"I haven't a morsel!--and if I had 'twould be no good... After all
that's said about the comforts of this religion, I wish I had Jude
back again!"

"You must fight valiant against the feeling, since he's another's.
And I've heard that another good thing for it, when it afflicts
volupshious widows, is to go to your husband's grave in the dusk of
evening, and stand a long while a-bowed down."

"Pooh! I know as well as you what I should do; only I don't do it!"

They drove in silence along the straight road till they were within
the horizon of Marygreen, which lay not far to the left of their
route. They came to the junction of the highway and the cross-lane
leading to that village, whose church-tower could be seen athwart the
hollow. When they got yet farther on, and were passing the lonely
house in which Arabella and Jude had lived during the first months of
their marriage, and where the pig-killing had taken place, she could
control herself no longer.

"He's more mine than hers!" she burst out. "What right has she to
him, I should like to know! I'd take him from her if I could!"

"Fie, Abby! And your husband only six weeks gone! Pray against it!"

"Be damned if I do! Feelings are feelings! I won't be a creeping
hypocrite any longer--so there!"

Arabella had hastily drawn from her pocket a bundle of tracts which
she had brought with her to distribute at the fair, and of which she
had given away several. As she spoke she flung the whole remainder
of the packet into the hedge. "I've tried that sort o' physic and
have failed wi' it. I must be as I was born!"

"Hush! You be excited, dear! Now you come along home quiet, and
have a cup of tea, and don't let us talk about un no more. We won't
come out this road again, as it leads to where he is, because it
inflames 'ee so. You'll be all right again soon."

Arabella did calm herself down by degrees; and they crossed the
ridge-way. When they began to descend the long, straight hill, they
saw plodding along in front of them an elderly man of spare stature
and thoughtful gait. In his hand he carried a basket; and there was
a touch of slovenliness in his attire, together with that indefinable
something in his whole appearance which suggested one who was his
own housekeeper, purveyor, confidant, and friend, through possessing
nobody else at all in the world to act in those capacities for him.
The remainder of the journey was down-hill, and guessing him to be
going to Alfredston they offered him a lift, which he accepted.

Arabella looked at him, and looked again, till at length she spoke.
"If I don't mistake I am talking to Mr. Phillotson?"

The wayfarer faced round and regarded her in turn. "Yes; my name is
Phillotson," he said. "But I don't recognize you, ma'am."

"I remember you well enough when you used to be schoolmaster out at
Marygreen, and I one of your scholars. I used to walk up there from
Cresscombe every day, because we had only a mistress down at our
place, and you taught better. But you wouldn't remember me as I
should you?--Arabella Donn."

He shook his head. "No," he said politely, "I don't recall the name.
And I should hardly recognize in your present portly self the slim
school child no doubt you were then."

"Well, I always had plenty of flesh on my bones. However, I am
staying down here with some friends at present. You know, I suppose,
who I married?"

"No."

"Jude Fawley--also a scholar of yours--at least a night scholar--for
some little time I think? And known to you afterwards, if I am not
mistaken."

"Dear me, dear me," said Phillotson, starting out of his stiffness.
"YOU Fawley's wife? To be sure--he had a wife! And he--I
understood--"

"Divorced her--as you did yours--perhaps for better reasons."

"Indeed?"

"Well--he med have been right in doing it--right for both; for I soon
married again, and all went pretty straight till my husband died
lately. But you--you were decidedly wrong!"

"No," said Phillotson, with sudden testiness. "I would rather not
talk of this, but--I am convinced I did only what was right, and
just, and moral. I have suffered for my act and opinions, but I hold
to them; though her loss was a loss to me in more ways than one!"

"You lost your school and good income through her, did you not?"

"I don't care to talk of it. I have recently come back here--to
Marygreen. I mean."

"You are keeping the school there again, just as formerly?"

The pressure of a sadness that would out unsealed him. "I am there,"
he replied. "Just as formerly, no. Merely on sufferance. It was
a last resource--a small thing to return to after my move upwards,
and my long indulged hopes--a returning to zero, with all its
humiliations. But it is a refuge. I like the seclusion of the
place, and the vicar having known me before my so-called eccentric
conduct towards my wife had ruined my reputation as a schoolmaster,
he accepted my services when all other schools were closed against
me. However, although I take fifty pounds a year here after taking
above two hundred elsewhere, I prefer it to running the risk of
having my old domestic experiences raked up against me, as I should
do if I tried to make a move."

"Right you are. A contented mind is a continual feast. She has done
no better."

"She is not doing well, you mean?"

"I met her by accident at Kennetbridge this very day, and she is
anything but thriving. Her husband is ill, and she anxious. You
made a fool of a mistake about her, I tell 'ee again, and the harm
you did yourself by dirting your own nest serves you right, excusing
the liberty."

"How?"

"She was innocent."

"But nonsense! They did not even defend the case!"

"That was because they didn't care to. She was quite innocent of
what obtained you your freedom, at the time you obtained it. I saw
her just afterwards, and proved it to myself completely by talking to
her."

Phillotson grasped the edge of the spring-cart, and appeared to be
much stressed and worried by the information. "Still--she wanted to
go," he said.

"Yes. But you shouldn't have let her. That's the only way with
these fanciful women that chaw high--innocent or guilty. She'd have
come round in time. We all do! Custom does it! It's all the same
in the end! However, I think she's fond of her man still--whatever
he med be of her. You were too quick about her. _I_ shouldn't
have let her go! I should have kept her chained on--her spirit for
kicking would have been broke soon enough! There's nothing like
bondage and a stone-deaf taskmaster for taming us women. Besides,
you've got the laws on your side. Moses knew. Don't you call to
mind what he says?"

"Not for the moment, ma'am, I regret to say."

"Call yourself a schoolmaster! I used to think o't when they read
it in church, and I was carrying on a bit. 'Then shall the man be
guiltless; but the woman shall bear her iniquity.' Damn rough on us
women; but we must grin and put up wi' it! Haw haw! Well; she's got
her deserts now."

"Yes," said Phillotson, with biting sadness. "Cruelty is the law
pervading all nature and society; and we can't get out of it if we
would!"

"Well--don't you forget to try it next time, old man."

"I cannot answer you, madam. I have never known much of womankind."

They had now reached the low levels bordering Alfredston, and passing
through the outskirts approached a mill, to which Phillotson said his
errand led him; whereupon they drew up, and he alighted, bidding them
good-night in a preoccupied mood.

In the meantime Sue, though remarkably successful in her cake-selling
experiment at Kennetbridge fair, had lost the temporary brightness
which had begun to sit upon her sadness on account of that success.
When all her "Christminster" cakes had been disposed of she took
upon her arm the empty basket, and the cloth which had covered the
standing she had hired, and giving the other things to the boy left
the street with him. They followed a lane to a distance of half a
mile, till they met an old woman carrying a child in short clothes,
and leading a toddler in the other hand.

Sue kissed the children, and said, "How is he now?"

"Still better!" returned Mrs. Edlin cheerfully. "Before you are
upstairs again your husband will be well enough--don't 'ee trouble."

They turned, and came to some old, dun-tiled cottages with gardens
and fruit-trees. Into one of these they entered by lifting the latch
without knocking, and were at once in the general living-room. Here
they greeted Jude, who was sitting in an arm-chair, the increased
delicacy of his normally delicate features, and the childishly
expectant look in his eyes, being alone sufficient to show that he
had been passing through a severe illness.

"What--you have sold them all?" he said, a gleam of interest lighting
up his face.

"Yes. Arcades, gables, east windows and all." She told him the
pecuniary results, and then hesitated. At last, when they were left
alone, she informed him of the unexpected meeting with Arabella, and
the latter's widowhood.

Jude was discomposed. "What--is she living here?" he said.

"No; at Alfredston," said Sue.

Jude's countenance remained clouded. "I thought I had better tell
you?" she continued, kissing him anxiously.

"Yes... Dear me! Arabella not in the depths of London, but down
here! It is only a little over a dozen miles across the country to
Alfredston. What is she doing there?"

She told him all she knew. "She has taken to chapel-going," Sue
added; "and talks accordingly."

"Well," said Jude, "perhaps it is for the best that we have almost
decided to move on. I feel much better to-day, and shall be well
enough to leave in a week or two. Then Mrs. Edlin can go home
again--dear faithful old soul--the only friend we have in the world!"

"Where do you think to go to?" Sue asked, a troublousness in her
tones.

Then Jude confessed what was in his mind. He said it would surprise
her, perhaps, after his having resolutely avoided all the old places
for so long. But one thing and another had made him think a great
deal of Christminster lately, and, if she didn't mind, he would like
to go back there. Why should they care if they were known? It was
oversensitive of them to mind so much. They could go on selling
cakes there, for that matter, if he couldn't work. He had no sense
of shame at mere poverty; and perhaps he would be as strong as ever
soon, and able to set up stone-cutting for himself there.

"Why should you care so much for Christminster?" she said pensively.
"Christminster cares nothing for you, poor dear!"

"Well, I do, I can't help it. I love the place--although I know
how it hates all men like me--the so-called self-taught--how it
scorns our laboured acquisitions, when it should be the first
to respect them; how it sneers at our false quantities and
mispronunciations, when it should say, I see you want help, my poor
friend! ... Nevertheless, it is the centre of the universe to me,
because of my early dream: and nothing can alter it. Perhaps it will
soon wake up, and be generous. I pray so! ... I should like to go
back to live there--perhaps to die there! In two or three weeks I
might, I think. It will then be June, and I should like to be there
by a particular day."

His hope that he was recovering proved so far well grounded that
in three weeks they had arrived in the city of many memories; were
actually treading its pavements, receiving the reflection of the
sunshine from its wasting walls.

Thomas Hardy