Sue sat looking at the bare floor of the room, the house being little more than an old intramural cottage, and then she regarded the scene outside the uncurtained window. At some distance opposite, the outer walls of Sarcophagus College — silent, black, and windowless — threw their four centuries of gloom, bigotry, and decay into the little room she occupied, shutting out the moonlight by night and the sun by day. The outlines of Rubric College also were discernible beyond the other, and the tower of a third farther off still. She thought of the strange operation of a simple-minded man's ruling passion, that it should have led Jude, who loved her and the children so tenderly, to place them here in this depressing purlieu, because he was still haunted by his dream. Even now he did not distinctly hear the freezing negative that those scholared walls had echoed to his desire.
The failure to find another lodging, and the lack of room in this house for his father, had made a deep impression on the boy — a brooding undemonstrative horror seemed to have seized him. The silence was broken by his saying: "Mother, WHAT shall we do to-morrow!"
"I don't know!" said Sue despondently. "I am afraid this will trouble your father."
"I wish Father was quite well, and there had been room for him! Then it wouldn't matter so much! Poor Father!"
"Can I do anything?"
"No! All is trouble, adversity, and suffering!"
"Father went away to give us children room, didn't he?"
"It would be better to be out o' the world than in it, wouldn't it?"
"It would almost, dear."
"'Tis because of us children, too, isn't it, that you can't get a good lodging?"
"Well — people do object to children sometimes."
"Then if children make so much trouble, why do people have 'em?"
"Oh — because it is a law of nature."
"But we don't ask to be born?"
"And what makes it worse with me is that you are not my real mother, and you needn't have had me unless you liked. I oughtn't to have come to 'ee — that's the real truth! I troubled 'em in Australia, and I trouble folk here. I wish I hadn't been born!"
"You couldn't help it, my dear."
"I think that whenever children be born that are not wanted they should be killed directly, before their souls come to 'em, and not allowed to grow big and walk about!"
Sue did not reply. She was doubtfully pondering how to treat this too reflective child.
She at last concluded that, so far as circumstances permitted, she would be honest and candid with one who entered into her difficulties like an aged friend.
"There is going to be another in our family soon," she hesitatingly remarked.
"There is going to be another baby."
"What!" The boy jumped up wildly. "Oh God, Mother, you've never a-sent for another; and such trouble with what you've got!"
"Yes, I have, I am sorry to say!" murmured Sue, her eyes glistening with suspended tears.
The boy burst out weeping. "Oh you don't care, you don't care!" he cried in bitter reproach. "How EVER could you, Mother, be so wicked and cruel as this, when you needn't have done it till we was better off, and Father well! To bring us all into MORE trouble! No room for us, and Father a-forced to go away, and we turned out to-morrow; and yet you be going to have another of us soon! ... 'Tis done o' purpose! — 'tis — 'tis!" He walked up and down sobbing.
"Y-you must forgive me, little Jude!" she pleaded, her bosom heaving now as much as the boy's. "I can't explain — I will when you are older. It does seem — as if I had done it on purpose, now we are in these difficulties! I can't explain, dear! But it — is not quite on purpose — I can't help it!"
"Yes it is — it must be! For nobody would interfere with us, like that, unless you agreed! I won't forgive you, ever, ever! I'll never believe you care for me, or Father, or any of us any more!"
He got up, and went away into the closet adjoining her room, in which a bed had been spread on the floor. There she heard him say: "If we children was gone there'd be no trouble at all!"
"Don't think that, dear," she cried, rather peremptorily. "But go to sleep!"
The following morning she awoke at a little past six, and decided to get up and run across before breakfast to the inn which Jude had informed her to be his quarters, to tell him what had happened before he went out. She arose softly, to avoid disturbing the children, who, as she knew, must be fatigued by their exertions of yesterday.
She found Jude at breakfast in the obscure tavern he had chosen as a counterpoise to the expense of her lodging: and she explained to him her homelessness. He had been so anxious about her all night, he said. Somehow, now it was morning, the request to leave the lodgings did not seem such a depressing incident as it had seemed the night before, nor did even her failure to find another place affect her so deeply as at first. Jude agreed with her that it would not be worth while to insist upon her right to stay a week, but to take immediate steps for removal.
"You must all come to this inn for a day or two," he said. "It is a rough place, and it will not be so nice for the children, but we shall have more time to look round. There are plenty of lodgings in the suburbs — in my old quarter of Beersheba. Have breakfast with me now you are here, my bird. You are sure you are well? There will be plenty of time to get back and prepare the children's meal before they wake. In fact, I'll go with you."
She joined Jude in a hasty meal, and in a quarter of an hour they started together, resolving to clear out from Sue's too respectable lodging immediately. On reaching the place and going upstairs she found that all was quiet in the children's room, and called to the landlady in timorous tones to please bring up the tea-kettle and something for their breakfast. This was perfunctorily done, and producing a couple of eggs which she had brought with her she put them into the boiling kettle, and summoned Jude to watch them for the youngsters, while she went to call them, it being now about half-past eight o'clock.
Jude stood bending over the kettle, with his watch in his hand, timing the eggs, so that his back was turned to the little inner chamber where the children lay. A shriek from Sue suddenly caused him to start round. He saw that the door of the room, or rather closet — which had seemed to go heavily upon its hinges as she pushed it back — was open, and that Sue had sunk to the floor just within it. Hastening forward to pick her up he turned his eyes to the little bed spread on the boards; no children were there. He looked in bewilderment round the room. At the back of the door were fixed two hooks for hanging garments, and from these the forms of the two youngest children were suspended, by a piece of box-cord round each of their necks, while from a nail a few yards off the body of little Jude was hanging in a similar manner. An overturned chair was near the elder boy, and his glazed eyes were slanted into the room; but those of the girl and the baby boy were closed.
Half-paralyzed by the strange and consummate horror of the scene he let Sue lie, cut the cords with his pocket-knife and threw the three children on the bed; but the feel of their bodies in the momentary handling seemed to say that they were dead. He caught up Sue, who was in fainting fits, and put her on the bed in the other room, after which he breathlessly summoned the landlady and ran out for a doctor.