Four-and-twenty hours before this time Sue had written the following note to Jude:
It is as I told you; and I am leaving to-morrow evening. Richard and I thought it could be done with less obtrusiveness after dark. I feel rather frightened, and therefore ask you to be sure you are on the Melchester platform to meet me. I arrive at a little to seven. I know you will, of course, dear Jude; but I feel so timid that I can't help begging you to be punctual. He has been so VERY kind to me through it all!
Now to our meeting!
As she was carried by the omnibus farther and farther down from the mountain town — the single passenger that evening — she regarded the receding road with a sad face. But no hesitation was apparent therein.
The up-train by which she was departing stopped by signal only. To Sue it seemed strange that such a powerful organization as a railway train should be brought to a stand-still on purpose for her — a fugitive from her lawful home.
The twenty minutes' journey drew towards its close, and Sue began gathering her things together to alight. At the moment that the train came to a stand-still by the Melchester platform a hand was laid on the door and she beheld Jude. He entered the compartment promptly. He had a black bag in his hand, and was dressed in the dark suit he wore on Sundays and in the evening after work. Altogether he looked a very handsome young fellow, his ardent affection for her burning in his eyes.
"Oh Jude!" She clasped his hand with both hers, and her tense state caused her to simmer over in a little succession of dry sobs. "I — I am so glad! I get out here?"
"No. I get in, dear one! I've packed. Besides this bag I've only a big box which is labelled."
"But don't I get out? Aren't we going to stay here?"
"We couldn't possibly, don't you see. We are known here — I, at any rate, am well known. I've booked for Aldbrickham; and here's your ticket for the same place, as you have only one to here."
"I thought we should have stayed here," she repeated.
"It wouldn't have done at all."
"Ah! Perhaps not."
"There wasn't time for me to write and say the place I had decided on. Aldbrickham is a much bigger town — sixty or seventy thousand inhabitants — and nobody knows anything about us there."
"And you have given up your cathedral work here?"
"Yes. It was rather sudden — your message coming unexpectedly. Strictly, I might have been made to finish out the week. But I pleaded urgency and I was let off. I would have deserted any day at your command, dear Sue. I have deserted more than that for you!"
"I fear I am doing you a lot of harm. Ruining your prospects of the Church; ruining your progress in your trade; everything!"
"The Church is no more to me. Let it lie! I am not to be one of
The soldier-saints who, row on row, Burn upward each to his point of bliss,
if any such there be! My point of bliss is not upward, but here."
"Oh I seem so bad — upsetting men's courses like this!" said she, taking up in her voice the emotion that had begun in his. But she recovered her equanimity by the time they had travelled a dozen miles.
"He has been so good in letting me go," she resumed. "And here's a note I found on my dressing-table, addressed to you."
"Yes. He's not an unworthy fellow," said Jude, glancing at the note. "And I am ashamed of myself for hating him because he married you."
"According to the rule of women's whims I suppose I ought to suddenly love him, because he has let me go so generously and unexpectedly," she answered smiling. "But I am so cold, or devoid of gratitude, or so something, that even this generosity hasn't made me love him, or repent, or want to stay with him as his wife; although I do feel I like his large-mindedness, and respect him more than ever."
"It may not work so well for us as if he had been less kind, and you had run away against his will," murmured Jude.
"That I NEVER would have done."
Jude's eyes rested musingly on her face. Then he suddenly kissed her; and was going to kiss her again. "No — only once now — please, Jude!"
"That's rather cruel," he answered; but acquiesced. "Such a strange thing has happened to me," Jude continued after a silence. "Arabella has actually written to ask me to get a divorce from her — in kindness to her, she says. She wants to honestly and legally marry that man she has already married virtually; and begs me to enable her to do it."
"What have you done?"
"I have agreed. I thought at first I couldn't do it without getting her into trouble about that second marriage, and I don't want to injure her in any way. Perhaps she's no worse than I am, after all! But nobody knows about it over here, and I find it will not be a difficult proceeding at all. If she wants to start afresh I have only too obvious reasons for not hindering her."
"Then you'll be free?"
"Yes, I shall be free."
"Where are we booked for?" she asked, with the discontinuity that marked her to-night.
"Aldbrickham, as I said."
"But it will be very late when we get there?"
"Yes. I thought of that, and I wired for a room for us at the Temperance Hotel there."
"Yes — one."
She looked at him. "Oh Jude!" Sue bent her forehead against the corner of the compartment. "I thought you might do it; and that I was deceiving you. But I didn't mean that!"
In the pause which followed, Jude's eyes fixed themselves with a stultified expression on the opposite seat. "Well!" he said... "Well!"
He remained in silence; and seeing how discomfited he was she put her face against his cheek, murmuring, "Don't be vexed, dear!"
"Oh — there's no harm done," he said. "But — I understood it like that... Is this a sudden change of mind?"
"You have no right to ask me such a question; and I shan't answer!" she said, smiling.
"My dear one, your happiness is more to me than anything — although we seem to verge on quarrelling so often! — and your will is law to me. I am something more than a mere — selfish fellow, I hope. Have it as you wish!" On reflection his brow showed perplexity. "But perhaps it is that you don't love me — not that you have become conventional! Much as, under your teaching, I hate convention, I hope it IS that, not the other terrible alternative!"
Even at this obvious moment for candour Sue could not be quite candid as to the state of that mystery, her heart. "Put it down to my timidity," she said with hurried evasiveness; "to a woman's natural timidity when the crisis comes. I may feel as well as you that I have a perfect right to live with you as you thought — from this moment. I may hold the opinion that, in a proper state of society, the father of a woman's child will be as much a private matter of hers as the cut of her underlinen, on whom nobody will have any right to question her. But partly, perhaps, because it is by his generosity that I am now free, I would rather not be other than a little rigid. If there had been a rope-ladder, and he had run after us with pistols, it would have seemed different, and I may have acted otherwise. But don't press me and criticize me, Jude! Assume that I haven't the courage of my opinions. I know I am a poor miserable creature. My nature is not so passionate as yours!"