Sue was convalescent, though she had hoped for death, and Jude had again obtained work at his old trade. They were in other lodgings now, in the direction of Beersheba, and not far from the Church of Ceremonies — Saint Silas.
They would sit silent, more bodeful of the direct antagonism of things than of their insensate and stolid obstructiveness. Vague and quaint imaginings had haunted Sue in the days when her intellect scintillated like a star, that the world resembled a stanza or melody composed in a dream; it was wonderfully excellent to the half-aroused intelligence, but hopelessly absurd at the full waking; that the first cause worked automatically like a somnambulist, and not reflectively like a sage; that at the framing of the terrestrial conditions there seemed never to have been contemplated such a development of emotional perceptiveness among the creatures subject to those conditions as that reached by thinking and educated humanity. But affliction makes opposing forces loom anthropomorphous; and those ideas were now exchanged for a sense of Jude and herself fleeing from a persecutor.
"We must conform!" she said mournfully. "All the ancient wrath of the Power above us has been vented upon us, His poor creatures, and we must submit. There is no choice. We must. It is no use fighting against God!"
"It is only against man and senseless circumstance," said Jude.
"True!" she murmured. "What have I been thinking of! I am getting as superstitious as a savage! ... But whoever or whatever our foe may be, I am cowed into submission. I have no more fighting strength left; no more enterprise. I am beaten, beaten! ... 'We are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men!' I am always saying that now."
"I feel the same!"
"What shall we do? You are in work now; but remember, it may only be because our history and relations are not absolutely known... Possibly, if they knew our marriage had not been formalized they would turn you out of your job as they did at Aldbrickham!"
"I hardly know. Perhaps they would hardly do that. However, I think that we ought to make it legal now — as soon as you are able to go out."
"You think we ought?"
And Jude fell into thought. "I have seemed to myself lately," he said, "to belong to that vast band of men shunned by the virtuous — the men called seducers. It amazes me when I think of it! I have not been conscious of it, or of any wrongdoing towards you, whom I love more than myself. Yet I am one of those men! I wonder if any other of them are the same purblind, simple creatures as I? ... Yes, Sue — that's what I am. I seduced you... You were a distinct type — a refined creature, intended by Nature to be left intact. But I couldn't leave you alone!"
"No, no, Jude!" she said quickly. "Don't reproach yourself with being what you are not. If anybody is to blame it is I."
"I supported you in your resolve to leave Phillotson; and without me perhaps you wouldn't have urged him to let you go."
"I should have, just the same. As to ourselves, the fact of our not having entered into a legal contract is the saving feature in our union. We have thereby avoided insulting, as it were, the solemnity of our first marriages."
"Solemnity?" Jude looked at her with some surprise, and grew conscious that she was not the Sue of their earlier time.
"Yes," she said, with a little quiver in her words, "I have had dreadful fears, a dreadful sense of my own insolence of action. I have thought — that I am still his wife!"
"Good God, dearest! — why?"
"Oh I can't explain! Only the thought comes to me."
"It is your weakness — a sick fancy, without reason or meaning! Don't let it trouble you."
Sue sighed uneasily.
As a set-off against such discussions as these there had come an improvement in their pecuniary position, which earlier in their experience would have made them cheerful. Jude had quite unexpectedly found good employment at his old trade almost directly he arrived, the summer weather suiting his fragile constitution; and outwardly his days went on with that monotonous uniformity which is in itself so grateful after vicissitude. People seemed to have forgotten that he had ever shown any awkward aberrancies: and he daily mounted to the parapets and copings of colleges he could never enter, and renewed the crumbling freestones of mullioned windows he would never look from, as if he had known no wish to do otherwise.
There was this change in him; that he did not often go to any service at the churches now. One thing troubled him more than any other; that Sue and himself had mentally travelled in opposite directions since the tragedy: events which had enlarged his own views of life, laws, customs, and dogmas, had not operated in the same manner on Sue's. She was no longer the same as in the independent days, when her intellect played like lambent lightning over conventions and formalities which he at that time respected, though he did not now.
On a particular Sunday evening he came in rather late. She was not at home, but she soon returned, when he found her silent and meditative.
"What are you thinking of, little woman?" he asked curiously.
"Oh I can't tell clearly! I have thought that we have been selfish, careless, even impious, in our courses, you and I. Our life has been a vain attempt at self-delight. But self-abnegation is the higher road. We should mortify the flesh — the terrible flesh — the curse of Adam!"
"Sue!" he murmured. "What has come over you?"
"We ought to be continually sacrificing ourselves on the altar of duty! But I have always striven to do what has pleased me. I well deserved the scourging I have got! I wish something would take the evil right out of me, and all my monstrous errors, and all my sinful ways!"
"Sue — my own too suffering dear! — there's no evil woman in you. Your natural instincts are perfectly healthy; not quite so impassioned, perhaps, as I could wish; but good, and dear, and pure. And as I have often said, you are absolutely the most ethereal, least sensual woman I ever knew to exist without inhuman sexlessness. Why do you talk in such a changed way? We have not been selfish, except when no one could profit by our being otherwise. You used to say that human nature was noble and long-suffering, not vile and corrupt, and at last I thought you spoke truly. And now you seem to take such a much lower view!"
"I want a humble heart; and a chastened mind; and I have never had them yet!"
"You have been fearless, both as a thinker and as a feeler, and you deserved more admiration than I gave. I was too full of narrow dogmas at that time to see it."
"Don't say that, Jude! I wish my every fearless word and thought could be rooted out of my history. Self-renunciation — that's everything! I cannot humiliate myself too much. I should like to prick myself all over with pins and bleed out the badness that's in me!"
"Hush!" he said, pressing her little face against his breast as if she were an infant. "It is bereavement that has brought you to this! Such remorse is not for you, my sensitive plant, but for the wicked ones of the earth — who never feel it!"
"I ought not to stay like this," she murmured, when she had remained in the position a long while.
"It is indulgence."
"Still on the same tack! But is there anything better on earth than that we should love one another?"
"Yes. It depends on the sort of love; and yours — ours — is the wrong."
"I won't have it, Sue! Come, when do you wish our marriage to be signed in a vestry?"
She paused, and looked up uneasily. "Never," she whispered.
Not knowing the whole of her meaning he took the objection serenely, and said nothing. Several minutes elapsed, and he thought she had fallen asleep; but he spoke softly, and found that she was wide awake all the time. She sat upright and sighed.