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Chapter 8

Michaelmas came and passed, and Jude and his wife, who had lived but
a short time in her father's house after their remarriage, were in
lodgings on the top floor of a dwelling nearer to the centre of the
city.

He had done a few days' work during the two or three months since
the event, but his health had been indifferent, and it was now
precarious. He was sitting in an arm-chair before the fire, and
coughed a good deal.

"I've got a bargain for my trouble in marrying thee over
again!" Arabella was saying to him. "I shall have to keep 'ee
entirely--that's what 'twill come to! I shall have to make black-pot
and sausages, and hawk 'em about the street, all to support an
invalid husband I'd no business to be saddled with at all. Why
didn't you keep your health, deceiving one like this? You were well
enough when the wedding was!"

"Ah, yes!" said he, laughing acridly. "I have been thinking of
my foolish feeling about the pig you and I killed during our
first marriage. I feel now that the greatest mercy that could be
vouchsafed to me would be that something should serve me as I served
that animal."

This was the sort of discourse that went on between them every day
now. The landlord of the lodging, who had heard that they were a
queer couple, had doubted if they were married at all, especially
as he had seen Arabella kiss Jude one evening when she had taken a
little cordial; and he was about to give them notice to quit, till by
chance overhearing her one night haranguing Jude in rattling terms,
and ultimately flinging a shoe at his head, he recognized the note of
genuine wedlock; and concluding that they must be respectable, said
no more.

Jude did not get any better, and one day he requested Arabella, with
considerable hesitation, to execute a commission for him. She asked
him indifferently what it was.

"To write to Sue."

"What in the name--do you want me to write to her for?"

"To ask how she is, and if she'll come to see me, because I'm ill,
and should like to see her--once again."

"It is like you to insult a lawful wife by asking such a thing!"

"It is just in order not to insult you that I ask you to do it. You
know I love Sue. I don't wish to mince the matter--there stands the
fact: I love her. I could find a dozen ways of sending a letter to
her without your knowledge. But I wish to be quite above-board with
you, and with her husband. A message through you asking her to come
is at least free from any odour of intrigue. If she retains any of
her old nature at all, she'll come."

"You've no respect for marriage whatever, or its rights and duties!"

"What DOES it matter what my opinions are--a wretch like me! Can
it matter to anybody in the world who comes to see me for half an
hour--here with one foot in the grave! ... Come, please write,
Arabella!" he pleaded. "Repay my candour by a little generosity!"

"I should think NOT!"

"Not just once?--Oh do!" He felt that his physical weakness had
taken away all his dignity.

"What do you want HER to know how you are for? She don't want to see
'ee. She's the rat that forsook the sinking ship!"

"Don't, don't!"

"And I stuck to un--the more fool I! Have that strumpet in the house
indeed!"

Almost as soon as the words were spoken Jude sprang from the chair,
and before Arabella knew where she was he had her on her back upon a
little couch which stood there, he kneeling above her.

"Say another word of that sort," he whispered, "and I'll kill
you--here and now! I've everything to gain by it--my own death not
being the least part. So don't think there's no meaning in what I
say!"

"What do you want me to do?" gasped Arabella.

"Promise never to speak of her."

"Very well. I do."

"I take your word," he said scornfully as he loosened her. "But what
it is worth I can't say."

"You couldn't kill the pig, but you could kill me!"

"Ah--there you have me! No--I couldn't kill you--even in a passion.
Taunt away!"

He then began coughing very much, and she estimated his life with an
appraiser's eye as he sank back ghastly pale. "I'll send for her,"
Arabella murmured, "if you'll agree to my being in the room with you
all the time she's here."

The softer side of his nature, the desire to see Sue, made him unable
to resist the offer even now, provoked as he had been; and he replied
breathlessly: "Yes, I agree. Only send for her!"

In the evening he inquired if she had written.

"Yes," she said; "I wrote a note telling her you were ill, and asking
her to come to-morrow or the day after. I haven't posted it yet."

The next day Jude wondered if she really did post it, but would not
ask her; and foolish Hope, that lives on a drop and a crumb, made him
restless with expectation. He knew the times of the possible trains,
and listened on each occasion for sounds of her.

She did not come; but Jude would not address Arabella again thereon.
He hoped and expected all the next day; but no Sue appeared; neither
was there any note of reply. Then Jude decided in the privacy of his
mind that Arabella had never posted hers, although she had written
it. There was something in her manner which told it. His physical
weakness was such that he shed tears at the disappointment when she
was not there to see. His suspicions were, in fact, well founded.
Arabella, like some other nurses, thought that your duty towards your
invalid was to pacify him by any means short of really acting upon
his fancies.

He never said another word to her about his wish or his conjecture.
A silent, undiscerned resolve grew up in him, which gave him, if not
strength, stability and calm. One midday when, after an absence of
two hours, she came into the room, she beheld the chair empty.

Down she flopped on the bed, and sitting, meditated. "Now where the
devil is my man gone to!" she said.

A driving rain from the north-east had been falling with more or less
intermission all the morning, and looking from the window at the
dripping spouts it seemed impossible to believe that any sick man
would have ventured out to almost certain death. Yet a conviction
possessed Arabella that he had gone out, and it became a certainty
when she had searched the house. "If he's such a fool, let him be!"
she said. "I can do no more."

Jude was at that moment in a railway train that was drawing near to
Alfredston, oddly swathed, pale as a monumental figure in alabaster,
and much stared at by other passengers. An hour later his thin form,
in the long great-coat and blanket he had come with, but without an
umbrella, could have been seen walking along the five-mile road to
Marygreen. On his face showed the determined purpose that alone
sustained him, but to which has weakness afforded a sorry foundation.
By the up-hill walk he was quite blown, but he pressed on; and at
half-past three o'clock stood by the familiar well at Marygreen.
The rain was keeping everybody indoors; Jude crossed the green to the
church without observation, and found the building open. Here he
stood, looking forth at the school, whence he could hear the usual
sing-song tones of the little voices that had not learnt Creation's
groan.

He waited till a small boy came from the school--one evidently
allowed out before hours for some reason or other. Jude held up his
hand, and the child came.

"Please call at the schoolhouse and ask Mrs. Phillotson if she will
be kind enough to come to the church for a few minutes."

The child departed, and Jude heard him knock at the door of the
dwelling. He himself went further into the church. Everything
was new, except a few pieces of carving preserved from the wrecked
old fabric, now fixed against the new walls. He stood by these:
they seemed akin to the perished people of that place who were his
ancestors and Sue's.

A light footstep, which might have been accounted no more than an
added drip to the rainfall, sounded in the porch, and he looked
round.

"Oh--I didn't think it was you! I didn't--Oh, Jude!" A hysterical
catch in her breath ended in a succession of them. He advanced, but
she quickly recovered and went back.

"Don't go--don't go!" he implored. "This is my last time! I thought
it would be less intrusive than to enter your house. And I shall
never come again. Don't then be unmerciful. Sue, Sue! We are
acting by the letter; and 'the letter killeth'!"

"I'll stay--I won't be unkind!" she said, her mouth quivering and her
tears flowing as she allowed him to come closer. "But why did you
come, and do this wrong thing, after doing such a right thing as you
have done?"

"What right thing?"

"Marrying Arabella again. It was in the Alfredston paper. She has
never been other than yours, Jude--in a proper sense. And therefore
you did so well--Oh so well!--in recognizing it--and taking her to
you again."

"God above--and is that all I've come to hear? If there is anything
more degrading, immoral, unnatural, than another in my life, it is
this meretricious contract with Arabella which has been called doing
the right thing! And you too--you call yourself Phillotson's wife!
HIS wife! You are mine."

"Don't make me rush away from you--I can't bear much! But on this
point I am decided."

"I cannot understand how you did it--how you think it--I cannot!"

"Never mind that. He is a kind husband to me--And I--I've wrestled
and struggled, and fasted, and prayed. I have nearly brought my body
into complete subjection. And you mustn't--will you--wake--"

"Oh you darling little fool; where is your reason? You seem to have
suffered the loss of your faculties! I would argue with you if I
didn't know that a woman in your state of feeling is quite beyond all
appeals to her brains. Or is it that you are humbugging yourself, as
so many women do about these things; and don't actually believe what
you pretend to, and only are indulging in the luxury of the emotion
raised by an affected belief?"

"Luxury! How can you be so cruel!"

"You dear, sad, soft, most melancholy wreck of a promising human
intellect that it has ever been my lot to behold! Where is your
scorn of convention gone? I WOULD have died game!"

"You crush, almost insult me, Jude! Go away from me!" She turned
off quickly.

"I will. I would never come to see you again, even if I had the
strength to come, which I shall not have any more. Sue, Sue, you are
not worth a man's love!"

Her bosom began to go up and down. "I can't endure you to say that!"
she burst out, and her eye resting on him a moment, she turned back
impulsively. "Don't, don't scorn me! Kiss me, oh kiss me lots
of times, and say I am not a coward and a contemptible humbug--I
can't bear it!" She rushed up to him and, with her mouth on his,
continued: "I must tell you--oh I must--my darling Love! It has
been--only a church marriage--an apparent marriage I mean! He
suggested it at the very first!"

"How?"

"I mean it is a nominal marriage only. It hasn't been more than that
at all since I came back to him!"

"Sue!" he said. Pressing her to him in his arms he bruised her
lips with kisses: "If misery can know happiness, I have a moment's
happiness now! Now, in the name of all you hold holy, tell me the
truth, and no lie. You do love me still?"

"I do! You know it too well! ... But I MUSTN'T do this! I mustn't
kiss you back as I would!"

"But do!"

"And yet you are so dear!--and you look so ill--"

"And so do you! There's one more, in memory of our dead little
children--yours and mine!"

The words struck her like a blow, and she bent her head. "I
MUSTN'T--I CAN'T go on with this!" she gasped presently. "But there,
there, darling; I give you back your kisses; I do, I do! ... And now
I'll HATE myself for ever for my sin!"

"No--let me make my last appeal. Listen to this! We've both
remarried out of our senses. I was made drunk to do it. You were
the same. I was gin-drunk; you were creed-drunk. Either form of
intoxication takes away the nobler vision... Let us then shake off
our mistakes, and run away together!"

"No; again no! ... Why do you tempt me so far, Jude! It is too
merciless! ... But I've got over myself now. Don't follow me--don't
look at me. Leave me, for pity's sake!"

She ran up the church to the east end, and Jude did as she requested.
He did not turn his head, but took up his blanket, which she had not
seen, and went straight out. As he passed the end of the church she
heard his coughs mingling with the rain on the windows, and in a last
instinct of human affection, even now unsubdued by her fetters, she
sprang up as if to go and succour him. But she knelt down again, and
stopped her ears with her hands till all possible sound of him had
passed away.

He was by this time at the corner of the green, from which the path
ran across the fields in which he had scared rooks as a boy. He
turned and looked back, once, at the building which still contained
Sue; and then went on, knowing that his eyes would light on that
scene no more.

There are cold spots up and down Wessex in autumn and winter weather;
but the coldest of all when a north or east wind is blowing is the
crest of the down by the Brown House, where the road to Alfredston
crosses the old Ridgeway. Here the first winter sleets and snows
fall and lie, and here the spring frost lingers last unthawed. Here
in the teeth of the north-east wind and rain Jude now pursued his
way, wet through, the necessary slowness of his walk from lack of his
former strength being insufficent to maintain his heat. He came to
the milestone, and, raining as it was, spread his blanket and lay
down there to rest. Before moving on he went and felt at the back
of the stone for his own carving. It was still there; but nearly
obliterated by moss. He passed the spot where the gibbet of his
ancestor and Sue's had stood, and descended the hill.

It was dark when he reached Alfredston, where he had a cup of tea,
the deadly chill that began to creep into his bones being too much
for him to endure fasting. To get home he had to travel by a steam
tram-car, and two branches of railway, with much waiting at a
junction. He did not reach Christminster till ten o'clock.

Thomas Hardy