High overhead, above the chancel steps, Jude could discern a huge, solidly constructed Latin cross — as large, probably, as the original it was designed to commemorate. It seemed to be suspended in the air by invisible wires; it was set with large jewels, which faintly glimmered in some weak ray caught from outside, as the cross swayed to and fro in a silent and scarcely perceptible motion. Underneath, upon the floor, lay what appeared to be a heap of black clothes, and from this was repeated the sobbing that he had heard before. It was his Sue's form, prostrate on the paving.
"Sue!" he whispered.
Something white disclosed itself; she had turned up her face.
"What — do you want with me here, Jude?" she said almost sharply. "You shouldn't come! I wanted to be alone! Why did you intrude here?"
"How can you ask!" he retorted in quick reproach, for his full heart was wounded to its centre at this attitude of hers towards him. "Why do I come? Who has a right to come, I should like to know, if I have not! I, who love you better than my own self — better — far better — than you have loved me! What made you leave me to come here alone?"
"Don't criticize me, Jude — I can't bear it! — I have often told you so. You must take me as I am. I am a wretch — broken by my distractions! I couldn't BEAR it when Arabella came — I felt so utterly miserable I had to come away. She seems to be your wife still, and Richard to be my husband!"
"But they are nothing to us!"
"Yes, dear friend, they are. I see marriage differently now. My babies have been taken from me to show me this! Arabella's child killing mine was a judgement — the right slaying the wrong. What, WHAT shall I do! I am such a vile creature — too worthless to mix with ordinary human beings!"
"This is terrible!" said Jude, verging on tears. "It is monstrous and unnatural for you to be so remorseful when you have done no wrong!"
"Ah — you don't know my badness!"
He returned vehemently: "I do! Every atom and dreg of it! You make me hate Christianity, or mysticism, or Sacerdotalism, or whatever it may be called, if it's that which has caused this deterioration in you. That a woman-poet, a woman-seer, a woman whose soul shone like a diamond — whom all the wise of the world would have been proud of, if they could have known you — should degrade herself like this! I am glad I had nothing to do with Divinity — damn glad — if it's going to ruin you in this way!"
"You are angry, Jude, and unkind to me, and don't see how things are."
"Then come along home with me, dearest, and perhaps I shall. I am overburdened — and you, too, are unhinged just now." He put his arm round her and lifted her; but though she came, she preferred to walk without his support.
"I don't dislike you, Jude," she said in a sweet and imploring voice. "I love you as much as ever! Only — I ought not to love you — any more. Oh I must not any more!"
"I can't own it."
"But I have made up my mind that I am not your wife! I belong to him — I sacramentally joined myself to him for life. Nothing can alter it!"
"But surely we are man and wife, if ever two people were in this world? Nature's own marriage it is, unquestionably!"
"But not Heaven's. Another was made for me there, and ratified eternally in the church at Melchester."
"Sue, Sue — affliction has brought you to this unreasonable state! After converting me to your views on so many things, to find you suddenly turn to the right-about like this — for no reason whatever, confounding all you have formerly said through sentiment merely! You root out of me what little affection and reverence I had left in me for the Church as an old acquaintance... What I can't understand in you is your extraordinary blindness now to your old logic. Is it peculiar to you, or is it common to woman? Is a woman a thinking unit at all, or a fraction always wanting its integer? How you argued that marriage was only a clumsy contract — which it is — how you showed all the objections to it — all the absurdities! If two and two made four when we were happy together, surely they make four now? I can't understand it, I repeat!"
"Ah, dear Jude; that's because you are like a totally deaf man observing people listening to music. You say 'What are they regarding? Nothing is there.' But something is."
"That is a hard saying from you; and not a true parallel! You threw off old husks of prejudices, and taught me to do it; and now you go back upon yourself. I confess I am utterly stultified in my estimate of you."
"Dear friend, my only friend, don't be hard with me! I can't help being as I am, I am convinced I am right — that I see the light at last. But oh, how to profit by it!"
They walked along a few more steps till they were outside the building and she had returned the key. "Can this be the girl," said Jude when she came back, feeling a slight renewal of elasticity now that he was in the open street; "can this be the girl who brought the pagan deities into this most Christian city? — who mimicked Miss Fontover when she crushed them with her heel? — quoted Gibbon, and Shelley, and Mill? Where are dear Apollo, and dear Venus now!"
"Oh don't, don't be so cruel to me, Jude, and I so unhappy!" she sobbed. "I can't bear it! I was in error — I cannot reason with you. I was wrong — proud in my own conceit! Arabella's coming was the finish. Don't satirize me: it cuts like a knife!"
He flung his arms round her and kissed her passionately there in the silent street, before she could hinder him. They went on till they came to a little coffee-house. "Jude," she said with suppressed tears, "would you mind getting a lodging here?"
"I will — if, if you really wish? But do you? Let me go to our door and understand you."
He went and conducted her in. She said she wanted no supper, and went in the dark upstairs and struck a light. Turning she found that Jude had followed her, and was standing at the chamber door. She went to him, put her hand in his, and said "Good-night."
"But Sue! Don't we live here?"
"You said you would do as I wished!"
"Yes. Very well! ... Perhaps it was wrong of me to argue distastefully as I have done! Perhaps as we couldn't conscientiously marry at first in the old-fashioned way, we ought to have parted. Perhaps the world is not illuminated enough for such experiments as ours! Who were we, to think we could act as pioneers!"
"I am so glad you see that much, at any rate. I never deliberately meant to do as I did. I slipped into my false position through jealousy and agitation!"
"But surely through love — you loved me?"
"Yes. But I wanted to let it stop there, and go on always as mere lovers; until — "
"But people in love couldn't live for ever like that!"
"Women could: men can't, because they — won't. An average woman is in this superior to an average man — that she never instigates, only responds. We ought to have lived in mental communion, and no more."
"I was the unhappy cause of the change, as I have said before! ... Well, as you will! ... But human nature can't help being itself."
"Oh yes — that's just what it has to learn — self-mastery."
"I repeat — if either were to blame it was not you but I."
"No — it was I. Your wickedness was only the natural man's desire to possess the woman. Mine was not the reciprocal wish till envy stimulated me to oust Arabella. I had thought I ought in charity to let you approach me — that it was damnably selfish to torture you as I did my other friend. But I shouldn't have given way if you hadn't broken me down by making me fear you would go back to her... But don't let us say any more about it! Jude, will you leave me to myself now?"
"Yes... But Sue — my wife, as you are!" he burst out; "my old reproach to you was, after all, a true one. You have never loved me as I love you — never — never! Yours is not a passionate heart — your heart does not burn in a flame! You are, upon the whole, a sort of fay, or sprite — not a woman!"
"At first I did not love you, Jude; that I own. When I first knew you I merely wanted you to love me. I did not exactly flirt with you; but that inborn craving which undermines some women's morals almost more than unbridled passion — the craving to attract and captivate, regardless of the injury it may do the man — was in me; and when I found I had caught you, I was frightened. And then — I don't know how it was — I couldn't bear to let you go — possibly to Arabella again — and so I got to love you, Jude. But you see, however fondly it ended, it began in the selfish and cruel wish to make your heart ache for me without letting mine ache for you."
"And now you add to your cruelty by leaving me!"
"Ah — yes! The further I flounder, the more harm I do!"