Part VI, Chapter IV
The man whom Sue, in her mental volte-face, was now regarding as her inseparable husband, lived still at Marygreen.
On the day before the tragedy of the children, Phillotson had seen both her and Jude as they stood in the rain at Christminster watching the procession to the theatre. But he had said nothing of it at the moment to his companion Gillingham, who, being an old friend, was staying with him at the village aforesaid, and had, indeed, suggested the day's trip to Christminster.
"What are you thinking of?" said Gillingham, as they went home. "The university degree you never obtained?"
"No, no," said Phillotson gruffly. "Of somebody I saw to-day." In a moment he added, "Susanna."
"I saw her, too."
"You said nothing."
"I didn't wish to draw your attention to her. But, as you did see her, you should have said: 'How d'ye do, my dear-that-was?'"
"Ah, well. I might have. But what do you think of this: I have good reason for supposing that she was innocent when I divorced her—that I was all wrong. Yes, indeed! Awkward, isn't it?"
"She has taken care to set you right since, anyhow, apparently."
"H'm. That's a cheap sneer. I ought to have waited, unquestionably."
At the end of the week, when Gillingham had gone back to his school near Shaston, Phillotson, as was his custom, went to Alfredston market; ruminating again on Arabella's intelligence as he walked down the long hill which he had known before Jude knew it, though his history had not beaten so intensely upon its incline. Arrived in the town he bought his usual weekly local paper; and when he had sat down in an inn to refresh himself for the five miles' walk back, he pulled the paper from his pocket and read awhile. The account of the "strange suicide of a stone-mason's children" met his eye.
Unimpassioned as he was, it impressed him painfully, and puzzled him not a little, for he could not understand the age of the elder child being what it was stated to be. However, there was no doubt that the newspaper report was in some way true.
"Their cup of sorrow is now full!" he said: and thought and thought of Sue, and what she had gained by leaving him.
Arabella having made her home at Alfredston, and the schoolmaster coming to market there every Saturday, it was not wonderful that in a few weeks they met again—the precise time being just after her return from Christminster, where she had stayed much longer than she had at first intended, keeping an interested eye on Jude, though Jude had seen no more of her. Phillotson was on his way homeward when he encountered Arabella, and she was approaching the town.
"You like walking out this way, Mrs. Cartlett?" he said.
"I've just begun to again," she replied. "It is where I lived as maid and wife, and all the past things of my life that are interesting to my feelings are mixed up with this road. And they have been stirred up in me too, lately; for I've been visiting at Christminster. Yes; I've seen Jude."
"Ah! How do they bear their terrible affliction?"
"In a ve-ry strange way—ve-ry strange! She don't live with him any longer. I only heard of it as a certainty just before I left; though I had thought things were drifting that way from their manner when I called on them."
"Not live with her husband? Why, I should have thought 'twould have united them more."
"He's not her husband, after all. She has never really married him although they have passed as man and wife so long. And now, instead of this sad event making 'em hurry up, and get the thing done legally, she's took in a queer religious way, just as I was in my affliction at losing Cartlett, only hers is of a more 'sterical sort than mine. And she says, so I was told, that she's your wife in the eye of Heaven and the Church—yours only; and can't be anybody else's by any act of man."
"Ah—indeed? … Separated, have they!"
"You see, the eldest boy was mine—"
"Yes, poor little fellow—born in lawful wedlock, thank God. And perhaps she feels, over and above other things, that I ought to have been in her place. I can't say. However, as for me, I am soon off from here. I've got Father to look after now, and we can't live in such a hum-drum place as this. I hope soon to be in a bar again at Christminster, or some other big town."
They parted. When Phillotson had ascended the hill a few steps he stopped, hastened back, and called her.
"What is, or was, their address?"
Arabella gave it.
"Thank you. Good afternoon."
Arabella smiled grimly as she resumed her way, and practised dimple-making all along the road from where the pollard willows begin to the old almshouses in the first street of the town.
Meanwhile Phillotson ascended to Marygreen, and for the first time during a lengthened period he lived with a forward eye. On crossing under the large trees of the green to the humble schoolhouse to which he had been reduced he stood a moment, and pictured Sue coming out of the door to meet him. No man had ever suffered more inconvenience from his own charity, Christian or heathen, than Phillotson had done in letting Sue go. He had been knocked about from pillar to post at the hands of the virtuous almost beyond endurance; he had been nearly starved, and was now dependent entirely upon the very small stipend from the school of this village (where the parson had got ill-spoken of for befriending him). He had often thought of Arabella's remarks that he should have been more severe with Sue, that her recalcitrant spirit would soon have been broken. Yet such was his obstinate and illogical disregard of opinion, and of the principles in which he had been trained, that his convictions on the rightness of his course with his wife had not been disturbed.
Principles which could be subverted by feeling in one direction were liable to the same catastrophe in another. The instincts which had allowed him to give Sue her liberty now enabled him to regard her as none the worse for her life with Jude. He wished for her still, in his curious way, if he did not love her, and, apart from policy, soon felt that he would be gratified to have her again as his, always provided that she came willingly.
But artifice was necessary, he had found, for stemming the cold and inhumane blast of the world's contempt. And here were the materials ready made. By getting Sue back and remarrying her on the respectable plea of having entertained erroneous views of her, and gained his divorce wrongfully, he might acquire some comfort, resume his old courses, perhaps return to the Shaston school, if not even to the Church as a licentiate.
He thought he would write to Gillingham to inquire his views, and what he thought of his, Phillotson's, sending a letter to her. Gillingham replied, naturally, that now she was gone it were best to let her be, and considered that if she were anybody's wife she was the wife of the man to whom she had borne three children and owed such tragical adventures. Probably, as his attachment to her seemed unusually strong, the singular pair would make their union legal in course of time, and all would be well, and decent, and in order.
"But they won't—Sue won't!" exclaimed Phillotson to himself. "Gillingham is so matter of fact. She's affected by Christminster sentiment and teaching. I can see her views on the indissolubility of marriage well enough, and I know where she got them. They are not mine; but I shall make use of them to further mine."
He wrote a brief reply to Gillingham. "I know I am entirely wrong, but I don't agree with you. As to her having lived with and had three children by him, my feeling is (though I can advance no logical or moral defence of it, on the old lines) that it has done little more than finish her education. I shall write to her, and learn whether what that woman said is true or no."
As he had made up his mind to do this before he had written to his friend, there had not been much reason for writing to the latter at all. However, it was Phillotson's way to act thus.
He accordingly addressed a carefully considered epistle to Sue, and, knowing her emotional temperament, threw a Rhadamanthine strictness into the lines here and there, carefully hiding his heterodox feelings, not to frighten her. He stated that, it having come to his knowledge that her views had considerably changed, he felt compelled to say that his own, too, were largely modified by events subsequent to their parting. He would not conceal from her that passionate love had little to do with his communication. It arose from a wish to make their lives, if not a success, at least no such disastrous failure as they threatened to become, through his acting on what he had considered at the time a principle of justice, charity, and reason.
To indulge one's instinctive and uncontrolled sense of justice and right, was not, he had found, permitted with impunity in an old civilization like ours. It was necessary to act under an acquired and cultivated sense of the same, if you wished to enjoy an average share of comfort and honour; and to let crude loving kindness take care of itself.
He suggested that she should come to him there at Marygreen.
On second thoughts he took out the last paragraph but one; and having rewritten the letter he dispatched it immediately, and in some excitement awaited the issue.
A few days after a figure moved through the white fog which enveloped the Beersheba suburb of Christminster, towards the quarter in which Jude Fawley had taken up his lodging since his division from Sue. A timid knock sounded upon the door of his abode.
It was evening—so he was at home; and by a species of divination he jumped up and rushed to the door himself.
"Will you come out with me? I would rather not come in. I want to—to talk with you—and to go with you to the cemetery."
It had been in the trembling accents of Sue that these words came. Jude put on his hat. "It is dreary for you to be out," he said. "But if you prefer not to come in, I don't mind."
"Yes—I do. I shall not keep you long."
Jude was too much affected to go on talking at first; she, too, was now such a mere cluster of nerves that all initiatory power seemed to have left her, and they proceeded through the fog like Acherontic shades for a long while, without sound or gesture.
"I want to tell you," she presently said, her voice now quick, now slow, "so that you may not hear of it by chance. I am going back to Richard. He has—so magnanimously—agreed to forgive all."
"Going back? How can you go—"
"He is going to marry me again. That is for form's sake, and to satisfy the world, which does not see things as they are. But of course I am his wife already. Nothing has changed that."
He turned upon her with an anguish that was well-nigh fierce.
"But you are my wife! Yes, you are. You know it. I have always regretted that feint of ours in going away and pretending to come back legally married, to save appearances. I loved you, and you loved me; and we closed with each other; and that made the marriage. We still love—you as well as I—know it, Sue! Therefore our marriage is not cancelled."
"Yes; I know how you see it," she answered with despairing self-suppression. "But I am going to marry him again, as it would be called by you. Strictly speaking you, too—don't mind my saying it, Jude!—you should take back—Arabella."
"I should? Good God—what next! But how if you and I had married legally, as we were on the point of doing?"
"I should have felt just the same—that ours was not a marriage. And I would go back to Richard without repeating the sacrament, if he asked me. But 'the world and its ways have a certain worth' (I suppose), therefore I concede a repetition of the ceremony… Don't crush all the life out of me by satire and argument, I implore you! I was strongest once, I know, and perhaps I treated you cruelly. But Jude, return good for evil! I am the weaker now. Don't retaliate upon me, but be kind. Oh be kind to me—a poor wicked woman who is trying to mend!"
He shook his head hopelessly, his eyes wet. The blow of her bereavement seemed to have destroyed her reasoning faculty. The once keen vision was dimmed. "All wrong, all wrong!" he said huskily. "Error—perversity! It drives me out of my senses. Do you care for him? Do you love him? You know you don't! It will be a fanatic prostitution—God forgive me, yes—that's what it will be!"
"I don't love him—I must, must, own it, in deepest remorse! But I shall try to learn to love him by obeying him."
Jude argued, urged, implored; but her conviction was proof against all. It seemed to be the one thing on earth on which she was firm, and that her firmness in this had left her tottering in every other impulse and wish she possessed.
"I have been considerate enough to let you know the whole truth, and to tell it you myself," she said in cut tones; "that you might not consider yourself slighted by hearing of it at second hand. I have even owned the extreme fact that I do not love him. I did not think you would be so rough with me for doing so! I was going to ask you…"
"To give you away?"
"No. To send—my boxes to me—if you would. But I suppose you won't."
"Why, of course I will. What—isn't he coming to fetch you—to marry you from here? He won't condescend to do that?"
"No—I won't let him. I go to him voluntarily, just as I went away from him. We are to be married at his little church at Marygreen."
She was so sadly sweet in what he called her wrong-headedness that Jude could not help being moved to tears more than once for pity of her. "I never knew such a woman for doing impulsive penances, as you, Sue! No sooner does one expect you to go straight on, as the one rational proceeding, than you double round the corner!"
"Ah, well; let that go! … Jude, I must say good-bye! But I wanted you to go to the cemetery with me. Let our farewell be there—beside the graves of those who died to bring home to me the error of my views."
They turned in the direction of the place, and the gate was opened to them on application. Sue had been there often, and she knew the way to the spot in the dark. They reached it, and stood still.
"It is here—I should like to part," said she.
"So be it!"
"Don't think me hard because I have acted on conviction. Your generous devotion to me is unparalleled, Jude! Your worldly failure, if you have failed, is to your credit rather than to your blame. Remember that the best and greatest among mankind are those who do themselves no worldly good. Every successful man is more or less a selfish man. The devoted fail… 'Charity seeketh not her own.'"
"In that chapter we are at one, ever beloved darling, and on it we'll part friends. Its verses will stand fast when all the rest that you call religion has passed away!"
"Well—don't discuss it. Good-bye, Jude; my fellow-sinner, and kindest friend!"
"Good-bye, my mistaken wife. Good-bye!"