"There is a strange, indescribable perfume or atmosphere about you to-night, Sue," he said. "I mean not only mentally, but about your clothes, also. A sort of vegetable scent, which I seem to know, yet cannot remember."
"It is incense."
"I have been to the service at St. Silas', and I was in the fumes of it."
"Oh — St. Silas."
"Yes. I go there sometimes."
"Indeed. You go there!"
"You see, Jude, it is lonely here in the weekday mornings, when you are at work, and I think and think of — of my — " She stopped till she could control the lumpiness of her throat. "And I have taken to go in there, as it is so near."
"Oh well — of course, I say nothing against it. Only it is odd, for you. They little think what sort of chiel is amang them!"
"What do you mean, Jude?"
"Well — a sceptic, to be plain."
"How can you pain me so, dear Jude, in my trouble! Yet I know you didn't mean it. But you ought not to say that."
"I won't. But I am much surprised!"
"Well — I want to tell you something else, Jude. You won't be angry, will you? I have thought of it a good deal since my babies died. I don't think I ought to be your wife — or as your wife — any longer."
"What? ... But you ARE!"
"From your point of view; but — "
"Of course we were afraid of the ceremony, and a good many others would have been in our places, with such strong reasons for fears. But experience has proved how we misjudged ourselves, and overrated our infirmities; and if you are beginning to respect rites and ceremonies, as you seem to be, I wonder you don't say it shall be carried out instantly? You certainly ARE my wife, Sue, in all but law. What do you mean by what you said?"
"I don't think I am!"
"Not? But suppose we HAD gone through the ceremony? Would you feel that you were then?"
"No. I should not feel even then that I was. I should feel worse than I do now."
"Why so — in the name of all that's perverse, my dear?"
"Because I am Richard's."
"Ah — you hinted that absurd fancy to me before!"
"It was only an impression with me then; I feel more and more convinced as time goes on that — I belong to him, or to nobody."
"My good heavens — how we are changing places!"
"Yes. Perhaps so."
Some few days later, in the dusk of the summer evening, they were sitting in the same small room downstairs, when a knock came to the front door of the carpenter's house where they were lodging, and in a few moments there was a tap at the door of their room. Before they could open it the comer did so, and a woman's form appeared.
"Is Mr. Fawley here?"
Jude and Sue started as he mechanically replied in the affirmative, for the voice was Arabella's.
He formally requested her to come in, and she sat down in the window bench, where they could distinctly see her outline against the light; but no characteristic that enabled them to estimate her general aspect and air. Yet something seemed to denote that she was not quite so comfortably circumstanced, nor so bouncingly attired, as she had been during Cartlett's lifetime.
The three attempted an awkward conversation about the tragedy, of which Jude had felt it to be his duty to inform her immediately, though she had never replied to his letter.
"I have just come from the cemetery," she said. "I inquired and found the child's grave. I couldn't come to the funeral — thank you for inviting me all the same. I read all about it in the papers, and I felt I wasn't wanted... No — I couldn't come to the funeral," repeated Arabella, who, seeming utterly unable to reach the ideal of a catastrophic manner, fumbled with iterations. "But I am glad I found the grave. As 'tis your trade, Jude, you'll be able to put up a handsome stone to 'em."
"I shall put up a headstone," said Jude drearily.
"He was my child, and naturally I feel for him."
"I hope so. We all did."
"The others that weren't mine I didn't feel so much for, as was natural."
A sigh came from the dark corner where Sue sat.
"I had often wished I had mine with me," continued Mrs. Cartlett. "Perhaps 'twouldn't have happened then! But of course I didn't wish to take him away from your wife."
"I am not his wife," came from Sue.
The unexpectedness of her words struck Jude silent.
"Oh, I beg your pardon, I'm sure," said Arabella. "I thought you were!"
Jude had known from the quality of Sue's tone that her new and transcendental views lurked in her words; but all except their obvious meaning was, naturally, missed by Arabella. The latter, after evincing that she was struck by Sue's avowal, recovered herself, and went on to talk with placid bluntness about "her" boy, for whom, though in his lifetime she had shown no care at all, she now exhibited a ceremonial mournfulness that was apparently sustaining to the conscience. She alluded to the past, and in making some remark appealed again to Sue. There was no answer: Sue had invisibly left the room.
"She said she was not your wife?" resumed Arabella in another voice. "Why should she do that?"
"I cannot inform you," said Jude shortly.
"She is, isn't she? She once told me so."
"I don't criticize what she says."
"Ah — I see! Well, my time is up. I am staying here to-night, and thought I could do no less than call, after our mutual affliction. I am sleeping at the place where I used to be barmaid, and to-morrow I go back to Alfredston. Father is come home again, and I am living with him."
"He has returned from Australia?" said Jude with languid curiosity.
"Yes. Couldn't get on there. Had a rough time of it. Mother died of dys — what do you call it — in the hot weather, and Father and two of the young ones have just got back. He has got a cottage near the old place, and for the present I am keeping house for him."
Jude's former wife had maintained a stereotyped manner of strict good breeding even now that Sue was gone, and limited her stay to a number of minutes that should accord with the highest respectability. When she had departed Jude, much relieved, went to the stairs and called Sue — feeling anxious as to what had become of her.
There was no answer, and the carpenter who kept the lodgings said she had not come in. Jude was puzzled, and became quite alarmed at her absence, for the hour was growing late. The carpenter called his wife, who conjectured that Sue might have gone to St. Silas' church, as she often went there.
"Surely not at this time o' night?" said Jude. "It is shut."
"She knows somebody who keeps the key, and she has it whenever she wants it."
"How long has she been going on with this?"
"Oh, some few weeks, I think."
Jude went vaguely in the direction of the church, which he had never once approached since he lived out that way years before, when his young opinions were more mystical than they were now. The spot was deserted, but the door was certainly unfastened; he lifted the latch without noise, and pushing to the door behind him, stood absolutely still inside. The prevalent silence seemed to contain a faint sound, explicable as a breathing, or a sobbing, which came from the other end of the building. The floor-cloth deadened his footsteps as he moved in that direction through the obscurity, which was broken only by the faintest reflected night-light from without.