In a still suspense she waited on. It seemed as if the whole time had nearly elapsed when the door was opened again, and Jude appeared.
Sue gave a little ecstatic cry. "Oh, I knew I could trust you! — how good you are!" — she began.
"I can't find her anywhere in this street, and I went out in my slippers only. She has walked on, thinking I've been so hard-hearted as to refuse her requests entirely, poor woman. I've come back for my boots, as it is beginning to rain."
"Oh, but why should you take such trouble for a woman who has served you so badly!" said Sue in a jealous burst of disappointment.
"But, Sue, she's a woman, and I once cared for her; and one can't be a brute in such circumstances."
"She isn't your wife any longer!" exclaimed Sue, passionately excited. "You MUSTN'T go out to find her! It isn't right! You CAN'T join her, now she's a stranger to you. How can you forget such a thing, my dear, dear one!"
"She seems much the same as ever — an erring, careless, unreflecting fellow-creature," he said, continuing to pull on his boots. "What those legal fellows have been playing at in London makes no difference in my real relations to her. If she was my wife while she was away in Australia with another husband she's my wife now."
"But she wasn't! That's just what I hold! There's the absurdity! — Well — you'll come straight back, after a few minutes, won't you, dear? She is too low, too coarse for you to talk to long, Jude, and was always!"
"Perhaps I am coarse too, worse luck! I have the germs of every human infirmity in me, I verily believe — that was why I saw it was so preposterous of me to think of being a curate. I have cured myself of drunkenness I think; but I never know in what new form a suppressed vice will break out in me! I do love you, Sue, though I have danced attendance on you so long for such poor returns! All that's best and noblest in me loves you, and your freedom from everything that's gross has elevated me, and enabled me to do what I should never have dreamt myself capable of, or any man, a year or two ago. It is all very well to preach about self-control, and the wickedness of coercing a woman. But I should just like a few virtuous people who have condemned me in the past, about Arabella and other things, to have been in my tantalizing position with you through these late weeks! — they'd believe, I think, that I have exercised some little restraint in always giving in to your wishes — living here in one house, and not a soul between us."
"Yes, you have been good to me, Jude; I know you have, my dear protector."
"Well — Arabella has appealed to me for help. I must go out and speak to her, Sue, at least!"
"I can't say any more! — Oh, if you must, you must!" she said, bursting out into sobs that seemed to tear her heart. "I have nobody but you, Jude, and you are deserting me! I didn't know you were like this — I can't bear it, I can't! If she were yours it would be different!"
"Or if you were."
"Very well then — if I must I must. Since you will have it so, I agree! I will be. Only I didn't mean to! And I didn't want to marry again, either! ... But, yes — I agree, I agree! I do love you. I ought to have known that you would conquer in the long run, living like this!"
She ran across and flung her arms round his neck. "I am not a cold-natured, sexless creature, am I, for keeping you at such a distance? I am sure you don't think so! Wait and see! I do belong to you, don't I? I give in!"
"And I'll arrange for our marriage to-morrow, or as soon as ever you wish."
"Then I'll let her go," said he, embracing Sue softly. "I do feel that it would be unfair to you to see her, and perhaps unfair to her. She is not like you, my darling, and never was: it is only bare justice to say that. Don't cry any more. There; and there; and there!" He kissed her on one side, and on the other, and in the middle, and rebolted the front door.
The next morning it was wet.
"Now, dear," said Jude gaily at breakfast; "as this is Saturday I mean to call about the banns at once, so as to get the first publishing done to-morrow, or we shall lose a week. Banns will do? We shall save a pound or two."
Sue absently agreed to banns. But her mind for the moment was running on something else. A glow had passed away from her, and depression sat upon her features.
"I feel I was wickedly selfish last night!" she murmured. "It was sheer unkindness in me — or worse — to treat Arabella as I did. I didn't care about her being in trouble, and what she wished to tell you! Perhaps it was really something she was justified in telling you. That's some more of my badness, I suppose! Love has its own dark morality when rivalry enters in — at least, mine has, if other people's hasn't... I wonder how she got on? I hope she reached the inn all right, poor woman."
"Oh yes: she got on all right," said Jude placidly.
"I hope she wasn't shut out, and that she hadn't to walk the streets in the rain. Do you mind my putting on my waterproof and going to see if she got in? I've been thinking of her all the morning."
"Well — is it necessary? You haven't the least idea how Arabella is able to shift for herself. Still, darling, if you want to go and inquire you can."
There was no limit to the strange and unnecessary penances which Sue would meekly undertake when in a contrite mood; and this going to see all sorts of extraordinary persons whose relation to her was precisely of a kind that would have made other people shun them was her instinct ever, so that the request did not surprise him.
"And when you come back," he added, "I'll be ready to go about the banns. You'll come with me?"
Sue agreed, and went off under cloak and umbrella letting Jude kiss her freely, and returning his kisses in a way she had never done before. Times had decidedly changed. "The little bird is caught at last!" she said, a sadness showing in her smile.
"No — only nested," he assured her.
She walked along the muddy street till she reached the public house mentioned by Arabella, which was not so very far off. She was informed that Arabella had not yet left, and in doubt how to announce herself so that her predecessor in Jude's affections would recognize her, she sent up word that a friend from Spring Street had called, naming the place of Jude's residence. She was asked to step upstairs, and on being shown into a room found that it was Arabella's bedroom, and that the latter had not yet risen. She halted on the turn of her toe till Arabella cried from the bed, "Come in and shut the door," which Sue accordingly did.
Arabella lay facing the window, and did not at once turn her head: and Sue was wicked enough, despite her penitence, to wish for a moment that Jude could behold her forerunner now, with the daylight full upon her. She may have seemed handsome enough in profile under the lamps, but a frowsiness was apparent this morning; and the sight of her own fresh charms in the looking-glass made Sue's manner bright, till she reflected what a meanly sexual emotion this was in her, and hated herself for it.
"I've just looked in to see if you got back comfortably last night, that's all," she said gently. "I was afraid afterwards that you might have met with any mishap?"
"Oh — how stupid this is! I thought my visitor was — your friend — your husband — Mrs. Fawley, as I suppose you call yourself?" said Arabella, flinging her head back upon the pillows with a disappointed toss, and ceasing to retain the dimple she had just taken the trouble to produce.
"Indeed I don't," said Sue.
"Oh, I thought you might have, even if he's not really yours. Decency is decency, any hour of the twenty-four."