He repeated simply! "I thought — what I naturally thought. But if we are not lovers, we are not. Phillotson thought so, I am sure. See, here is what he has written to me." He opened the letter she had brought, and read:
"I make only one condition — that you are tender and kind to her. I know you love her. But even love may be cruel at times. You are made for each other: it is obvious, palpable, to any unbiased older person. You were all along 'the shadowy third' in my short life with her. I repeat, take care of Sue."
"He's a good fellow, isn't he!" she said with latent tears. On reconsideration she added, "He was very resigned to letting me go — too resigned almost! I never was so near being in love with him as when he made such thoughtful arrangements for my being comfortable on my journey, and offering to provide money. Yet I was not. If I loved him ever so little as a wife, I'd go back to him even now."
"But you don't, do you?"
"It is true — oh so terribly true! — I don't."
"Nor me neither, I half-fear!" he said pettishly. "Nor anybody perhaps! Sue, sometimes, when I am vexed with you, I think you are incapable of real love."
"That's not good and loyal of you!" she said, and drawing away from him as far as she could, looked severely out into the darkness. She added in hurt tones, without turning round: "My liking for you is not as some women's perhaps. But it is a delight in being with you, of a supremely delicate kind, and I don't want to go further and risk it by — an attempt to intensify it! I quite realized that, as woman with man, it was a risk to come. But, as me with you, I resolved to trust you to set my wishes above your gratification. Don't discuss it further, dear Jude!"
"Of course, if it would make you reproach yourself... but you do like me very much, Sue? Say you do! Say that you do a quarter, a tenth, as much as I do you, and I'll be content!"
"I've let you kiss me, and that tells enough."
"Just once or so!"
"Well — don't be a greedy boy."
He leant back, and did not look at her for a long time. That episode in her past history of which she had told him — of the poor Christminster graduate whom she had handled thus, returned to Jude's mind; and he saw himself as a possible second in such a torturing destiny.
"This is a queer elopement!" he murmured. "Perhaps you are making a cat's paw of me with Phillotson all this time. Upon my word it almost seems so — to see you sitting up there so prim!"
"Now you mustn't be angry — I won't let you!" she coaxed, turning and moving nearer to him. "You did kiss me just now, you know; and I didn't dislike you to, I own it, Jude. Only I don't want to let you do it again, just yet — considering how we are circumstanced, don't you see!"
He could never resist her when she pleaded (as she well knew). And they sat side by side with joined hands, till she aroused herself at some thought.
"I can't possibly go to that Temperance Inn, after your telegraphing that message!"
"You can see well enough!"
"Very well; there'll be some other one open, no doubt. I have sometimes thought, since your marrying Phillotson because of a stupid scandal, that under the affectation of independent views you are as enslaved to the social code as any woman I know!"
"Not mentally. But I haven't the courage of my views, as I said before. I didn't marry him altogether because of the scandal. But sometimes a woman's LOVE OF BEING LOVED gets the better of her conscience, and though she is agonized at the thought of treating a man cruelly, she encourages him to love her while she doesn't love him at all. Then, when she sees him suffering, her remorse sets in, and she does what she can to repair the wrong."
"You simply mean that you flirted outrageously with him, poor old chap, and then repented, and to make reparation, married him, though you tortured yourself to death by doing it."
"Well — if you will put it brutally! — it was a little like that — that and the scandal together — and your concealing from me what you ought to have told me before!"
He could see that she was distressed and tearful at his criticisms, and soothed her, saying: "There, dear; don't mind! Crucify me, if you will! You know you are all the world to me, whatever you do!"
"I am very bad and unprincipled — I know you think that!" she said, trying to blink away her tears.
"I think and know you are my dear Sue, from whom neither length nor breadth, nor things present nor things to come, can divide me!"
Though so sophisticated in many things she was such a child in others that this satisfied her, and they reached the end of their journey on the best of terms. It was about ten o'clock when they arrived at Aldbrickham, the county town of North Wessex. As she would not go to the Temperance Hotel because of the form of his telegram, Jude inquired for another; and a youth who volunteered to find one wheeled their luggage to the George farther on, which proved to be the inn at which Jude had stayed with Arabella on that one occasion of their meeting after their division for years.
Owing, however, to their now entering it by another door, and to his preoccupation, he did not at first recognize the place. When they had engaged their respective rooms they went down to a late supper. During Jude's temporary absence the waiting-maid spoke to Sue.
"I think, ma'am, I remember your relation, or friend, or whatever he is, coming here once before — late, just like this, with his wife — a lady, at any rate, that wasn't you by no manner of means — jest as med be with you now."
"Oh do you?" said Sue, with a certain sickness of heart. "Though I think you must be mistaken! How long ago was it?"
"About a month or two. A handsome, full-figured woman. They had this room."
When Jude came back and sat down to supper Sue seemed moping and miserable. "Jude," she said to him plaintively, at their parting that night upon the landing, "it is not so nice and pleasant as it used to be with us! I don't like it here — I can't bear the place! And I don't like you so well as I did!"
"How fidgeted you seem, dear! Why do you change like this?"
"Because it was cruel to bring me here!"
"You were lately here with Arabella. There, now I have said it!"
"Dear me, why — " said Jude looking round him. "Yes — it is the same! I really didn't know it, Sue. Well — it is not cruel, since we have come as we have — two relations staying together."
"How long ago was it you were here? Tell me, tell me!"
"The day before I met you in Christminster, when we went back to Marygreen together. I told you I had met her."
"Yes, you said you had met her, but you didn't tell me all. Your story was that you had met as estranged people, who were not husband and wife at all in Heaven's sight — not that you had made it up with her."
"We didn't make it up," he said sadly. "I can't explain, Sue."
"You've been false to me; you, my last hope! And I shall never forget it, never!"
"But by your own wish, dear Sue, we are only to be friends, not lovers! It is so very inconsistent of you to — "
"Friends can be jealous!"
"I don't see that. You concede nothing to me and I have to concede everything to you. After all, you were on good terms with your husband at that time."
"No, I wasn't, Jude. Oh how can you think so! And you have taken me in, even if you didn't intend to." She was so mortified that he was obliged to take her into her room and close the door lest the people should hear. "Was it this room? Yes it was — I see by your look it was! I won't have it for mine! Oh it was treacherous of you to have her again! I jumped out of the window!"
"But Sue, she was, after all, my legal wife, if not — "
Slipping down on her knees Sue buried her face in the bed and wept.