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 Lempriere, Catullus, Martial, Juvenal, Lucian, Beaumont and Fletcher, Boccaccio, Scarron, De Brantome, 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."