However, if God disposed not, woman did. The next morning but one brought him this note from her:
Don't come next week. On your own account don't! We were too free, under the influence of that morbid hymn and the twilight. Think no more than you can help of
SUSANNA FLORENCE MARY.
The disappointment was keen. He knew her mood, the look of her face, when she subscribed herself at length thus. But whatever her mood he could not say she was wrong in her view. He replied:
I acquiesce. You are right. It is a lesson in renunciation which I suppose I ought to learn at this season.
He despatched the note on Easter Eve, and there seemed a finality in their decisions. But other forces and laws than theirs were in operation. On Easter Monday morning he received a message from the Widow Edlin, whom he had directed to telegraph if anything serious happened:
Your aunt is sinking. Come at once.
He threw down his tools and went. Three and a half hours later he was crossing the downs about Marygreen, and presently plunged into the concave field across which the short cut was made to the village. As he ascended on the other side a labouring man, who had been watching his approach from a gate across the path, moved uneasily, and prepared to speak. "I can see in his face that she is dead," said Jude. "Poor Aunt Drusilla!"
It was as he had supposed, and Mrs. Edlin had sent out the man to break the news to him.
"She wouldn't have knowed 'ee. She lay like a doll wi' glass eyes; so it didn't matter that you wasn't here," said he.
Jude went on to the house, and in the afternoon, when everything was done, and the layers-out had finished their beer, and gone, he sat down alone in the silent place. It was absolutely necessary to communicate with Sue, though two or three days earlier they had agreed to mutual severance. He wrote in the briefest terms:
Aunt Drusilla is dead, having been taken almost suddenly. The funeral is on Friday afternoon.
He remained in and about Marygreen through the intervening days, went out on Friday morning to see that the grave was finished, and wondered if Sue would come. She had not written, and that seemed to signify rather that she would come than that she would not. Having timed her by her only possible train, he locked the door about mid-day, and crossed the hollow field to the verge of the upland by the Brown House, where he stood and looked over the vast prospect northwards, and over the nearer landscape in which Alfredston stood. Two miles behind it a jet of white steam was travelling from the left to the right of the picture.
There was a long time to wait, even now, till he would know if she had arrived. He did wait, however, and at last a small hired vehicle pulled up at the bottom of the hill, and a person alighted, the conveyance going back, while the passenger began ascending the hill. He knew her; and she looked so slender to-day that it seemed as if she might be crushed in the intensity of a too passionate embrace — such as it was not for him to give. Two-thirds of the way up her head suddenly took a solicitous poise, and he knew that she had at that moment recognized him. Her face soon began a pensive smile, which lasted till, having descended a little way, he met her.
"I thought," she began with nervous quickness, "that it would be so sad to let you attend the funeral alone! And so — at the last moment — I came."
"Dear faithful Sue!" murmured Jude.
With the elusiveness of her curious double nature, however, Sue did not stand still for any further greeting, though it wanted some time to the burial. A pathos so unusually compounded as that which attached to this hour was unlikely to repeat itself for years, if ever, and Jude would have paused, and meditated, and conversed. But Sue either saw it not at all, or, seeing it more than he, would not allow herself to feel it.
The sad and simple ceremony was soon over, their progress to the church being almost at a trot, the bustling undertaker having a more important funeral an hour later, three miles off. Drusilla was put into the new ground, quite away from her ancestors. Sue and Jude had gone side by side to the grave, and now sat down to tea in the familiar house; their lives united at least in this last attention to the dead.
"She was opposed to marriage, from first to last, you say?" murmured Sue.
"Yes. Particularly for members of our family."
Her eyes met his, and remained on him awhile.
"We are rather a sad family, don't you think, Jude?"
"She said we made bad husbands and wives. Certainly we make unhappy ones. At all events, I do, for one!"
Sue was silent. "Is it wrong, Jude," she said with a tentative tremor, "for a husband or wife to tell a third person that they are unhappy in their marriage? If a marriage ceremony is a religious thing, it is possibly wrong; but if it is only a sordid contract, based on material convenience in householding, rating, and taxing, and the inheritance of land and money by children, making it necessary that the male parent should be known — which it seems to be — why surely a person may say, even proclaim upon the housetops, that it hurts and grieves him or her?"
"I have said so, anyhow, to you."
Presently she went on: "Are there many couples, do you think, where one dislikes the other for no definite fault?"
"Yes, I suppose. If either cares for another person, for instance."
"But even apart from that? Wouldn't the woman, for example, be very bad-natured if she didn't like to live with her husband; merely" — her voice undulated, and he guessed things — "merely because she had a personal feeling against it — a physical objection — a fastidiousness, or whatever it may be called — although she might respect and be grateful to him? I am merely putting a case. Ought she to try to overcome her pruderies?"
Jude threw a troubled look at her. He said, looking away: "It would be just one of those cases in which my experiences go contrary to my dogmas. Speaking as an order-loving man — which I hope I am, though I fear I am not — I should say, yes. Speaking from experience and unbiased nature, I should say, no.... Sue, I believe you are not happy!"
"Of course I am!" she contradicted. "How can a woman be unhappy who has only been married eight weeks to a man she chose freely?"
"Why do you repeat it? ... But I have to go back by the six o'clock train. You will be staying on here, I suppose?"
"For a few days to wind up Aunt's affairs. This house is gone now. Shall I go to the train with you?"
A little laugh of objection came from Sue. "I think not. You may come part of the way."
"But stop — you can't go to-night! That train won't take you to Shaston. You must stay and go back to-morrow. Mrs. Edlin has plenty of room, if you don't like to stay here?"