"But how can I?" she burst out. "Here I have been saying, or writing, that — that you might love me, or something of the sort! — just out of charity — and all the time — oh, it is perfectly damnable how things are!" she said, stamping her foot in a nervous quiver.
"You take me wrong, Sue! I never thought you cared for me at all, till quite lately; so I felt it did not matter! Do you care for me, Sue? — you know how I mean? — I don't like 'out of charity' at all!"
It was a question which in the circumstances Sue did not choose to answer.
"I suppose she — your wife — is — a very pretty woman, even if she's wicked?" she asked quickly.
"She's pretty enough, as far as that goes."
"Prettier than I am, no doubt!"
"You are not the least alike. And I have never seen her for years... But she's sure to come back — they always do!"
"How strange of you to stay apart from her like this!" said Sue, her trembling lip and lumpy throat belying her irony. "You, such a religious man. How will the demi-gods in your Pantheon — I mean those legendary persons you call saints — intercede for you after this? Now if I had done such a thing it would have been different, and not remarkable, for I at least don't regard marriage as a sacrament. Your theories are not so advanced as your practice!"
"Sue, you are terribly cutting when you like to be — a perfect Voltaire! But you must treat me as you will!"
When she saw how wretched he was she softened, and trying to blink away her sympathetic tears said with all the winning reproachfulness of a heart-hurt woman: "Ah — you should have told me before you gave me that idea that you wanted to be allowed to love me! I had no feeling before that moment at the railway-station, except — " For once Sue was as miserable as he, in her attempts to keep herself free from emotion, and her less than half-success.
"Don't cry, dear!" he implored.
"I am — not crying — because I meant to — love you; but because of your want of — confidence!"
They were quite screened from the market-square without, and he could not help putting out his arm towards her waist. His momentary desire was the means of her rallying. "No, no!" she said, drawing back stringently, and wiping her eyes. "Of course not! It would be hypocrisy to pretend that it would be meant as from my cousin; and it can't be in any other way."
They moved on a dozen paces, and she showed herself recovered. It was distracting to Jude, and his heart would have ached less had she appeared anyhow but as she did appear; essentially large-minded and generous on reflection, despite a previous exercise of those narrow womanly humours on impulse that were necessary to give her sex.
"I don't blame you for what you couldn't help," she said, smiling. "How should I be so foolish? I do blame you a little bit for not telling me before. But, after all, it doesn't matter. We should have had to keep apart, you see, even if this had not been in your life."
"No, we shouldn't, Sue! This is the only obstacle."
"You forget that I must have loved you, and wanted to be your wife, even if there had been no obstacle," said Sue, with a gentle seriousness which did not reveal her mind. "And then we are cousins, and it is bad for cousins to marry. And — I am engaged to somebody else. As to our going on together as we were going, in a sort of friendly way, the people round us would have made it unable to continue. Their views of the relations of man and woman are limited, as is proved by their expelling me from the school. Their philosophy only recognizes relations based on animal desire. The wide field of strong attachment where desire plays, at least, only a secondary part, is ignored by them — the part of — who is it? — Venus Urania."
Her being able to talk learnedly showed that she was mistress of herself again; and before they parted she had almost regained her vivacious glance, her reciprocity of tone, her gay manner, and her second-thought attitude of critical largeness towards others of her age and sex.
He could speak more freely now. "There were several reasons against my telling you rashly. One was what I have said; another, that it was always impressed upon me that I ought not to marry — that I belonged to an odd and peculiar family — the wrong breed for marriage."
"Ah — who used to say that to you?"
"My great-aunt. She said it always ended badly with us Fawleys."
"That's strange. My father used to say the same to me!"
They stood possessed by the same thought, ugly enough, even as an assumption: that a union between them, had such been possible, would have meant a terrible intensification of unfitness — two bitters in one dish.
"Oh, but there can't be anything in it!" she said with nervous lightness. "Our family have been unlucky of late years in choosing mates — that's all."
And then they pretended to persuade themselves that all that had happened was of no consequence, and that they could still be cousins and friends and warm correspondents, and have happy genial times when they met, even if they met less frequently than before. Their parting was in good friendship, and yet Jude's last look into her eyes was tinged with inquiry, for he felt that he did not even now quite know her mind.