"O Sue!" said he with a sudden sense of his own danger. "Do not do an immoral thing for moral reasons! You have been my social salvation. Stay with me for humanity's sake! You know what a weak fellow I am. My two arch-enemies you know — my weakness for womankind and my impulse to strong liquor. Don't abandon me to them, Sue, to save your own soul only! They have been kept entirely at a distance since you became my guardian-angel! Since I have had you I have been able to go into any temptations of the sort, without risk. Isn't my safety worth a little sacrifice of dogmatic principle? I am in terror lest, if you leave me, it will be with me another case of the pig that was washed turning back to his wallowing in the mire!"
Sue burst out weeping. "Oh, but you must not, Jude! You won't! I'll pray for you night and day!"
"Well — never mind; don't grieve," said Jude generously. "I did suffer, God knows, about you at that time; and now I suffer again. But perhaps not so much as you. The woman mostly gets the worst of it in the long run!"
"Unless she is absolutely worthless and contemptible. And this one is not that, anyhow!"
Sue drew a nervous breath or two. "She is — I fear! ... Now Jude — good-night, — please!"
"I mustn't stay? — Not just once more? As it has been so many times — O Sue, my wife, why not!"
"No — no — not wife! ... I am in your hands, Jude — don't tempt me back now I have advanced so far!"
"Very well. I do your bidding. I owe that to you, darling, in penance for how I overruled it at the first time. My God, how selfish I was! Perhaps — perhaps I spoilt one of the highest and purest loves that ever existed between man and woman! ... Then let the veil of our temple be rent in two from this hour!"
He went to the bed, removed one of the pair of pillows thereon, and flung it to the floor.
Sue looked at him, and bending over the bed-rail wept silently. "You don't see that it is a matter of conscience with me, and not of dislike to you!" she brokenly murmured. "Dislike to you! But I can't say any more — it breaks my heart — it will be undoing all I have begun! Jude — good-night!"
"Good-night," he said, and turned to go.
"Oh but you shall kiss me!" said she, starting up. "I can't — bear — !"
He clasped her, and kissed her weeping face as he had scarcely ever done before, and they remained in silence till she said, "Good-bye, good-bye!" And then gently pressing him away she got free, trying to mitigate the sadness by saying: "We'll be dear friends just the same, Jude, won't we? And we'll see each other sometimes — yes! — and forget all this, and try to be as we were long ago?"
Jude did not permit himself to speak, but turned and descended the stairs.