AT CHRISTMINSTER AGAIN
"... And she humbled her body greatly, and all the places of her joy she filled with her torn hair." — ESTHER (Apoc.).
"There are two who decline, a woman and I, And enjoy our death in the darkness here." — R. BROWNING.
On their arrival the station was lively with straw-hatted young men, welcoming young girls who bore a remarkable family likeness to their welcomers, and who were dressed up in the brightest and lightest of raiment.
"The place seems gay," said Sue. "Why — it is Remembrance Day! — Jude — how sly of you — you came to-day on purpose!"
"Yes," said Jude quietly, as he took charge of the small child, and told Arabella's boy to keep close to them, Sue attending to their own eldest. "I thought we might as well come to-day as on any other."
"But I am afraid it will depress you!" she said, looking anxiously at him up and down.
"Oh, I mustn't let it interfere with our business; and we have a good deal to do before we shall be settled here. The first thing is lodgings."
Having left their luggage and his tools at the station they proceeded on foot up the familiar street, the holiday people all drifting in the same direction. Reaching the Fourways they were about to turn off to where accommodation was likely to be found when, looking at the clock and the hurrying crowd, Jude said: "Let us go and see the procession, and never mind the lodgings just now? We can get them afterwards."
"Oughtn't we to get a house over our heads first?" she asked.
But his soul seemed full of the anniversary, and together they went down Chief Street, their smallest child in Jude's arms, Sue leading her little girl, and Arabella's boy walking thoughtfully and silently beside them. Crowds of pretty sisters in airy costumes, and meekly ignorant parents who had known no college in their youth, were under convoy in the same direction by brothers and sons bearing the opinion written large on them that no properly qualified human beings had lived on earth till they came to grace it here and now.
"My failure is reflected on me by every one of those young fellows," said Jude. "A lesson on presumption is awaiting me to-day! — Humiliation Day for me! ... If you, my dear darling, hadn't come to my rescue, I should have gone to the dogs with despair!"
She saw from his face that he was getting into one of his tempestuous, self-harrowing moods. "It would have been better if we had gone at once about our own affairs, dear," she answered. "I am sure this sight will awaken old sorrows in you, and do no good!"
"Well — we are near; we will see it now," said he.
They turned in on the left by the church with the Italian porch, whose helical columns were heavily draped with creepers, and pursued the lane till there arose on Jude's sight the circular theatre with that well-known lantern above it, which stood in his mind as the sad symbol of his abandoned hopes, for it was from that outlook that he had finally surveyed the City of Colleges on the afternoon of his great meditation, which convinced him at last of the futility of his attempt to be a son of the university.
To-day, in the open space stretching between this building and the nearest college, stood a crowd of expectant people. A passage was kept clear through their midst by two barriers of timber, extending from the door of the college to the door of the large building between it and the theatre.
"Here is the place — they are just going to pass!" cried Jude in sudden excitement. And pushing his way to the front he took up a position close to the barrier, still hugging the youngest child in his arms, while Sue and the others kept immediately behind him. The crowd filled in at their back, and fell to talking, joking, and laughing as carriage after carriage drew up at the lower door of the college, and solemn stately figures in blood-red robes began to alight. The sky had grown overcast and livid, and thunder rumbled now and then.
Father Time shuddered. "It do seem like the Judgment Day!" he whispered.
"They are only learned doctors," said Sue.
While they waited big drops of rain fell on their heads and shoulders, and the delay grew tedious. Sue again wished not to stay.
"They won't be long now," said Jude, without turning his head.
But the procession did not come forth, and somebody in the crowd, to pass the time, looked at the facade of the nearest college, and said he wondered what was meant by the Latin inscription in its midst. Jude, who stood near the inquirer, explained it, and finding that the people all round him were listening with interest, went on to describe the carving of the frieze (which he had studied years before), and to criticize some details of masonry in other college fronts about the city.
The idle crowd, including the two policemen at the doors, stared like the Lycaonians at Paul, for Jude was apt to get too enthusiastic over any subject in hand, and they seemed to wonder how the stranger should know more about the buildings of their town than they themselves did; till one of them said: "Why, I know that man; he used to work here years ago — Jude Fawley, that's his name! Don't you mind he used to be nicknamed Tutor of St. Slums, d'ye mind? — because he aimed at that line o' business? He's married, I suppose, then, and that's his child he's carrying. Taylor would know him, as he knows everybody."
The speaker was a man named Jack Stagg, with whom Jude had formerly worked in repairing the college masonries; Tinker Taylor was seen to be standing near. Having his attention called the latter cried across the barriers to Jude: "You've honoured us by coming back again, my friend!"
"An' you don't seem to have done any great things for yourself by going away?"
Jude assented to this also.
"Except found more mouths to fill!" This came in a new voice, and Jude recognized its owner to be Uncle Joe, another mason whom he had known.
Jude replied good-humouredly that he could not dispute it; and from remark to remark something like a general conversation arose between him and the crowd of idlers, during which Tinker Taylor asked Jude if he remembered the Apostles' Creed in Latin still, and the night of the challenge in the public house.
"But Fortune didn't lie that way?" threw in Joe. "Yer powers wasn't enough to carry 'ee through?"
"Don't answer them any more!" entreated Sue.
"I don't think I like Christminster!" murmured little Time mournfully, as he stood submerged and invisible in the crowd.
But finding himself the centre of curiosity, quizzing, and comment, Jude was not inclined to shrink from open declarations of what he had no great reason to be ashamed of; and in a little while was stimulated to say in a loud voice to the listening throng generally:
"It is a difficult question, my friends, for any young man — that question I had to grapple with, and which thousands are weighing at the present moment in these uprising times — whether to follow uncritically the track he finds himself in, without considering his aptness for it, or to consider what his aptness or bent may be, and re-shape his course accordingly. I tried to do the latter, and I failed. But I don't admit that my failure proved my view to be a wrong one, or that my success would have made it a right one; though that's how we appraise such attempts nowadays — I mean, not by their essential soundness, but by their accidental outcomes. If I had ended by becoming like one of these gentlemen in red and black that we saw dropping in here by now, everybody would have said: 'See how wise that young man was, to follow the bent of his nature!' But having ended no better than I began they say: 'See what a fool that fellow was in following a freak of his fancy!'
"However it was my poverty and not my will that consented to be beaten. It takes two or three generations to do what I tried to do in one; and my impulses — affections — vices perhaps they should be called — were too strong not to hamper a man without advantages; who should be as cold-blooded as a fish and as selfish as a pig to have a really good chance of being one of his country's worthies. You may ridicule me — I am quite willing that you should — I am a fit subject, no doubt. But I think if you knew what I have gone through these last few years you would rather pity me. And if they knew" — he nodded towards the college at which the dons were severally arriving — "it is just possible they would do the same."