Part III, Chapter IV
Jude's reverie was interrupted by the creak of footsteps ascending the stairs.
He whisked Sue's clothing from the chair where it was drying, thrust it under the bed, and sat down to his book. Somebody knocked and opened the door immediately. It was the landlady.
"Oh, I didn't know whether you was in or not, Mr. Fawley. I wanted to know if you would require supper. I see you've a young gentleman—"
"Yes, ma'am. But I think I won't come down to-night. Will you bring supper up on a tray, and I'll have a cup of tea as well."
It was Jude's custom to go downstairs to the kitchen, and eat his meals with the family, to save trouble. His landlady brought up the supper, however, on this occasion, and he took it from her at the door.
When she had descended he set the teapot on the hob, and drew out Sue's clothes anew; but they were far from dry. A thick woollen gown, he found, held a deal of water. So he hung them up again, and enlarged his fire and mused as the steam from the garments went up the chimney.
Suddenly she said, "Jude!"
"Yes. All right. How do you feel now?"
"Better. Quite well. Why, I fell asleep, didn't I? What time is it? Not late surely?"
"It is past ten."
"Is it really? What shall I do!" she said, starting up.
"Stay where you are."
"Yes; that's what I want to do. But I don't know what they would say! And what will you do?"
"I am going to sit here by the fire all night, and read. To-morrow is Sunday, and I haven't to go out anywhere. Perhaps you will be saved a severe illness by resting there. Don't be frightened. I'm all right. Look here, what I have got for you. Some supper."
When she had sat upright she breathed plaintively and said, "I do feel rather weak still. I thought I was well; and I ought not to be here, ought I?" But the supper fortified her somewhat, and when she had had some tea and had lain back again she was bright and cheerful.
The tea must have been green, or too long drawn, for she seemed preternaturally wakeful afterwards, though Jude, who had not taken any, began to feel heavy; till her conversation fixed his attention.
"You called me a creature of civilization, or something, didn't you?" she said, breaking a silence. "It was very odd you should have done that."
"Well, because it is provokingly wrong. I am a sort of negation of it."
"You are very philosophical. 'A negation' is profound talking."
"Is it? Do I strike you as being learned?" she asked, with a touch of raillery.
"No—not learned. Only you don't talk quite like a girl—well, a girl who has had no advantages."
"I have had advantages. I don't know Latin and Greek, though I know the grammars of those tongues. But I know most of the Greek and Latin classics through translations, and other books too. I read Lemprière, Catullus, Martial, Juvenal, Lucian, Beaumont and Fletcher, Boccaccio, Scarron, De Brantôme, Sterne, De Foe, Smollett, Fielding, Shakespeare, the Bible, and other such; and found that all interest in the unwholesome part of those books ended with its mystery."
"You have read more than I," he said with a sigh. "How came you to read some of those queerer ones?"
"Well," she said thoughtfully, "it was by accident. My life has been entirely shaped by what people call a peculiarity in me. I have no fear of men, as such, nor of their books. I have mixed with them—one or two of them particularly—almost as one of their own sex. I mean I have not felt about them as most women are taught to feel—to be on their guard against attacks on their virtue; for no average man—no man short of a sensual savage—will molest a woman by day or night, at home or abroad, unless she invites him. Until she says by a look 'Come on' he is always afraid to, and if you never say it, or look it, he never comes. However, what I was going to say is that when I was eighteen I formed a friendly intimacy with an undergraduate at Christminster, and he taught me a great deal, and lent me books which I should never have got hold of otherwise."
"Is your friendship broken off?"
"Oh yes. He died, poor fellow, two or three years after he had taken his degree and left Christminster."
"You saw a good deal of him, I suppose?"
"Yes. We used to go about together—on walking tours, reading tours, and things of that sort—like two men almost. He asked me to live with him, and I agreed to by letter. But when I joined him in London I found he meant a different thing from what I meant. He wanted me to be his mistress, in fact, but I wasn't in love with him—and on my saying I should go away if he didn't agree to my plan, he did so. We shared a sitting-room for fifteen months; and he became a leader-writer for one of the great London dailies; till he was taken ill, and had to go abroad. He said I was breaking his heart by holding out against him so long at such close quarters; he could never have believed it of woman. I might play that game once too often, he said. He came home merely to die. His death caused a terrible remorse in me for my cruelty—though I hope he died of consumption and not of me entirely. I went down to Sandbourne to his funeral, and was his only mourner. He left me a little money—because I broke his heart, I suppose. That's how men are—so much better than women!"
"Good heavens!—what did you do then?"
"Ah—now you are angry with me!" she said, a contralto note of tragedy coming suddenly into her silvery voice. "I wouldn't have told you if I had known!"
"No, I am not. Tell me all."
"Well, I invested his money, poor fellow, in a bubble scheme, and lost it. I lived about London by myself for some time, and then I returned to Christminster, as my father— who was also in London, and had started as an art metal-worker near Long-Acre—wouldn't have me back; and I got that occupation in the artist-shop where you found me… I said you didn't know how bad I was!"
Jude looked round upon the arm-chair and its occupant, as if to read more carefully the creature he had given shelter to. His voice trembled as he said: "However you have lived, Sue, I believe you are as innocent as you are unconventional!"
"I am not particularly innocent, as you see, now that I have
'twitched the robe
From that blank lay-figure your fancy draped,'"
said she, with an ostensible sneer, though he could hear that she was brimming with tears. "But I have never yielded myself to any lover, if that's what you mean! I have remained as I began."
"I quite believe you. But some women would not have remained as they began."
"Perhaps not. Better women would not. People say I must be cold-natured—sexless—on account of it. But I won't have it! Some of the most passionately erotic poets have been the most self-contained in their daily lives."
"Have you told Mr. Phillotson about this university scholar friend?"
"Yes—long ago. I have never made any secret of it to anybody."
"What did he say?"
"He did not pass any criticism—only said I was everything to him, whatever I did; and things like that."
Jude felt much depressed; she seemed to get further and further away from him with her strange ways and curious unconsciousness of gender.
"Aren't you really vexed with me, dear Jude?" she suddenly asked, in a voice of such extraordinary tenderness that it hardly seemed to come from the same woman who had just told her story so lightly. "I would rather offend anybody in the world than you, I think!"
"I don't know whether I am vexed or not. I know I care very much about you!"
"I care as much for you as for anybody I ever met."
"You don't care more! There, I ought not to say that. Don't answer it!"
There was another long silence. He felt that she was treating him cruelly, though he could not quite say in what way. Her very helplessness seemed to make her so much stronger than he.
"I am awfully ignorant on general matters, although I have worked so hard," he said, to turn the subject. "I am absorbed in theology, you know. And what do you think I should be doing just about now, if you weren't here? I should be saying my evening prayers. I suppose you wouldn't like—"
"Oh no, no," she answered, "I would rather not, if you don't mind. I should seem so—such a hypocrite."
"I thought you wouldn't join, so I didn't propose it. You must remember that I hope to be a useful minister some day."
"To be ordained, I think you said?"
"Then you haven't given up the idea?—I thought that perhaps you had by this time."
"Of course not. I fondly thought at first that you felt as I do about that, as you were so mixed up in Christminster Anglicanism. And Mr. Phillotson—"
"I have no respect for Christminster whatever, except, in a qualified degree, on its intellectual side," said Sue Bridehead earnestly. "My friend I spoke of took that out of me. He was the most irreligious man I ever knew, and the most moral. And intellect at Christminster is new wine in old bottles. The mediævalism of Christminster must go, be sloughed off, or Christminster itself will have to go. To be sure, at times one couldn't help having a sneaking liking for the traditions of the old faith, as preserved by a section of the thinkers there in touching and simple sincerity; but when I was in my saddest, rightest mind I always felt,
'O ghastly glories of saints, dead limbs of gibbeted Gods!'"…
"Sue, you are not a good friend of mine to talk like that!"
"Then I won't, dear Jude!" The emotional throat-note had come back, and she turned her face away.
"I still think Christminster has much that is glorious; though I was resentful because I couldn't get there." He spoke gently, and resisted his impulse to pique her on to tears.
"It is an ignorant place, except as to the townspeople, artizans, drunkards, and paupers," she said, perverse still at his differing from her. "They see life as it is, of course; but few of the people in the colleges do. You prove it in your own person. You are one of the very men Christminster was intended for when the colleges were founded; a man with a passion for learning, but no money, or opportunities, or friends. But you were elbowed off the pavement by the millionaires' sons."
"Well, I can do without what it confers. I care for something higher."
"And I for something broader, truer," she insisted. "At present intellect in Christminster is pushing one way, and religion the other; and so they stand stock-still, like two rams butting each other."
"What would Mr. Phillotson—"
"It is a place full of fetishists and ghost-seers!"
He noticed that whenever he tried to speak of the schoolmaster she turned the conversation to some generalizations about the offending university. Jude was extremely, morbidly, curious about her life as Phillotson's protégée and betrothed; yet she would not enlighten him.
"Well, that's just what I am, too," he said. "I am fearful of life, spectre-seeing always."
"But you are good and dear!" she murmured.
His heart bumped, and he made no reply.
"You are in the Tractarian stage just now, are you not?" she added, putting on flippancy to hide real feeling, a common trick with her. "Let me see—when was I there? In the year eighteen hundred and—"
"There's a sarcasm in that which is rather unpleasant to me, Sue. Now will you do what I want you to? At this time I read a chapter, and then say prayers, as I told you. Now will you concentrate your attention on any book of these you like, and sit with your back to me, and leave me to my custom? You are sure you won't join me?"
"I'll look at you."
"No. Don't tease, Sue!"
"Very well—I'll do just as you bid me, and I won't vex you, Jude," she replied, in the tone of a child who was going to be good for ever after, turning her back upon him accordingly. A small Bible other than the one he was using lay near her, and during his retreat she took it up, and turned over the leaves.
"Jude," she said brightly, when he had finished and come back to her; "will you let me make you a new New Testament, like the one I made for myself at Christminster?"
"Oh yes. How was that made?"
"I altered my old one by cutting up all the Epistles and Gospels into separate brochures, and rearranging them in chronological order as written, beginning the book with Thessalonians, following on with the Epistles, and putting the Gospels much further on. Then I had the volume rebound. My university friend Mr.—but never mind his name, poor boy—said it was an excellent idea. I know that reading it afterwards made it twice as interesting as before, and twice as understandable."
"H'm!" said Jude, with a sense of sacrilege.
"And what a literary enormity this is," she said, as she glanced into the pages of Solomon's Song. "I mean the synopsis at the head of each chapter, explaining away the real nature of that rhapsody. You needn't be alarmed: nobody claims inspiration for the chapter headings. Indeed, many divines treat them with contempt. It seems the drollest thing to think of the four-and-twenty elders, or bishops, or whatever number they were, sitting with long faces and writing down such stuff."
Jude looked pained. "You are quite Voltairean!" he murmured.
"Indeed? Then I won't say any more, except that people have no right to falsify the Bible! I hate such hum-bug as could attempt to plaster over with ecclesiastical abstractions such ecstatic, natural, human love as lies in that great and passionate song!" Her speech had grown spirited, and almost petulant at his rebuke, and her eyes moist. "I wish I had a friend here to support me; but nobody is ever on my side!"
"But my dear Sue, my very dear Sue, I am not against you!" he said, taking her hand, and surprised at her introducing personal feeling into mere argument.
"Yes you are, yes you are!" she cried, turning away her face that he might not see her brimming eyes. "You are on the side of the people in the training-school—at least you seem almost to be! What I insist on is, that to explain such verses as this: 'Whither is thy beloved gone, O thou fairest among women?' by the note: 'The Church professeth her faith,' is supremely ridiculous!"
"Well then, let it be! You make such a personal matter of everything! I am—only too inclined just now to apply the words profanely. You know you are fairest among women to me, come to that!"
"But you are not to say it now!" Sue replied, her voice changing to its softest note of severity. Then their eyes met, and they shook hands like cronies in a tavern, and Jude saw the absurdity of quarrelling on such a hypothetical subject, and she the silliness of crying about what was written in an old book like the Bible.
"I won't disturb your convictions—I really won't!" she went on soothingly, for now he was rather more ruffled than she. "But I did want and long to ennoble some man to high aims; and when I saw you, and knew you wanted to be my comrade, I—shall I confess it?—thought that man might be you. But you take so much tradition on trust that I don't know what to say."
"Well, dear; I suppose one must take some things on trust. Life isn't long enough to work out everything in Euclid problems before you believe it. I take Christianity."
"Well, perhaps you might take something worse."
"Indeed I might. Perhaps I have done so!" He thought of Arabella.
"I won't ask what, because we are going to be very nice with each other, aren't we, and never, never, vex each other any more?" She looked up trustfully, and her voice seemed trying to nestle in his breast.
"I shall always care for you!" said Jude.
"And I for you. Because you are single-hearted, and forgiving to your faulty and tiresome little Sue!"
He looked away, for that epicene tenderness of hers was too harrowing. Was it that which had broken the heart of the poor leader-writer; and was he to be the next one? … But Sue was so dear! … If he could only get over the sense of her sex, as she seemed to be able to do so easily of his, what a comrade she would make; for their difference of opinion on conjectural subjects only drew them closer together on matters of daily human experience. She was nearer to him than any other woman he had ever met, and he could scarcely believe that time, creed, or absence, would ever divide him from her.
But his grief at her incredulities returned. They sat on till she fell asleep again, and he nodded in his chair likewise. Whenever he aroused himself he turned her things, and made up the fire anew. About six o'clock he awoke completely, and lighting a candle, found that her clothes were dry. Her chair being a far more comfortable one than his she still slept on inside his great-coat, looking warm as a new bun and boyish as a Ganymede. Placing the garments by her and touching her on the shoulder he went downstairs, and washed himself by starlight in the yard.