When he returned she was dressed as usual.
"Now could I get out without anybody seeing me?" she asked. "The town is not yet astir."
"But you have had no breakfast."
"Oh, I don't want any! I fear I ought not to have run away from that school! Things seem so different in the cold light of morning, don't they? What Mr. Phillotson will say I don't know! It was quite by his wish that I went there. He is the only man in the world for whom I have any respect or fear. I hope he'll forgive me; but he'll scold me dreadfully, I expect!"
"I'll go to him and explain — " began Jude.
"Oh no, you shan't. I don't care for him! He may think what he likes — I shall do just as I choose!"
"But you just this moment said — "
"Well, if I did, I shall do as I like for all him! I have thought of what I shall do — go to the sister of one of my fellow-students in the training-school, who has asked me to visit her. She has a school near Shaston, about eighteen miles from here — and I shall stay there till this has blown over, and I get back to the training-school again."
At the last moment he persuaded her to let him make her a cup of coffee, in a portable apparatus he kept in his room for use on rising to go to his work every day before the household was astir.
"Now a dew-bit to eat with it," he said; "and off we go. You can have a regular breakfast when you get there."
They went quietly out of the house, Jude accompanying her to the station. As they departed along the street a head was thrust out of an upper window of his lodging and quickly withdrawn. Sue still seemed sorry for her rashness, and to wish she had not rebelled; telling him at parting that she would let him know as soon as she got re-admitted to the training-school. They stood rather miserably together on the platform; and it was apparent that he wanted to say more.
"I want to tell you something — two things," he said hurriedly as the train came up. "One is a warm one, the other a cold one!"
"Jude," she said. "I know one of them. And you mustn't!"
"You mustn't love me. You are to like me — that's all!"
Jude's face became so full of complicated glooms that hers was agitated in sympathy as she bade him adieu through the carriage window. And then the train moved on, and waving her pretty hand to him she vanished away.
Melchester was a dismal place enough for Jude that Sunday of her departure, and the Close so hateful that he did not go once to the cathedral services. The next morning there came a letter from her, which, with her usual promptitude, she had written directly she had reached her friend's house. She told him of her safe arrival and comfortable quarters, and then added: —
What I really write about, dear Jude, is something I said to you at parting. You had been so very good and kind to me that when you were out of sight I felt what a cruel and ungrateful woman I was to say it, and it has reproached me ever since. IF YOU WANT TO LOVE ME, JUDE, YOU MAY: I don't mind at all; and I'll never say again that you mustn't!
Now I won't write any more about that. You do forgive your thoughtless friend for her cruelty? and won't make her miserable by saying you don't? — Ever,
It would be superfluous to say what his answer was; and how he thought what he would have done had he been free, which should have rendered a long residence with a female friend quite unnecessary for Sue. He felt he might have been pretty sure of his own victory if it had come to a conflict between Phillotson and himself for the possession of her.
Yet Jude was in danger of attaching more meaning to Sue's impulsive note than it really was intended to bear.
After the lapse of a few days he found himself hoping that she would write again. But he received no further communication; and in the intensity of his solicitude he sent another note, suggesting that he should pay her a visit some Sunday, the distance being under eighteen miles.
He expected a reply on the second morning after despatching his missive; but none came. The third morning arrived; the postman did not stop. This was Saturday, and in a feverish state of anxiety about her he sent off three brief lines stating that he was coming the following day, for he felt sure something had happened.
His first and natural thought had been that she was ill from her immersion; but it soon occurred to him that somebody would have written for her in such a case. Conjectures were put an end to by his arrival at the village school-house near Shaston on the bright morning of Sunday, between eleven and twelve o'clock, when the parish was as vacant as a desert, most of the inhabitants having gathered inside the church, whence their voices could occasionally be heard in unison.
A little girl opened the door. "Miss Bridehead is up-stairs," she said. "And will you please walk up to her?"
"Is she ill?" asked Jude hastily.
"Only a little — not very."
Jude entered and ascended. On reaching the landing a voice told him which way to turn — the voice of Sue calling his name. He passed the doorway, and found her lying in a little bed in a room a dozen feet square.
"Oh, Sue!" he cried, sitting down beside her and taking her hand. "How is this! You couldn't write?"
"No — it wasn't that!" she answered. "I did catch a bad cold — but I could have written. Only I wouldn't!"
"Why not? — frightening me like this!"
"Yes — that was what I was afraid of! But I had decided not to write to you any more. They won't have me back at the school — that's why I couldn't write. Not the fact, but the reason!"
"They not only won't have me, but they gave me a parting piece of advice — "
She did not answer directly. "I vowed I never would tell you, Jude — it is so vulgar and distressing!"
"Is it about us?"
"But do tell me!"
"Well — somebody has sent them baseless reports about us, and they say you and I ought to marry as soon as possible, for the sake of my reputation! ... There — now I have told you, and I wish I hadn't!"
"Oh, poor Sue!"