Tidings from Sue a day or two after passed across Jude like a withering blast.
Before reading the letter he was led to suspect that its contents were of a somewhat serious kind by catching sight of the signature — which was in her full name, never used in her correspondence with him since her first note:
MY DEAR JUDE, — I have something to tell you which perhaps you will not be surprised to hear, though certainly it may strike you as being accelerated (as the railway companies say of their trains). Mr. Phillotson and I are to be married quite soon — in three or four weeks. We had intended, as you know, to wait till I had gone through my course of training and obtained my certificate, so as to assist him, if necessary, in the teaching. But he generously says he does not see any object in waiting, now I am not at the training school. It is so good of him, because the awkwardness of my situation has really come about by my fault in getting expelled.
Wish me joy. Remember I say you are to, and you mustn't refuse! — Your affectionate cousin,
SUSANNA FLORENCE MARY BRIDEHEAD.
Jude staggered under the news; could eat no breakfast; and kept on drinking tea because his mouth was so dry. Then presently he went back to his work and laughed the usual bitter laugh of a man so confronted. Everything seemed turning to satire. And yet, what could the poor girl do? he asked himself: and felt worse than shedding tears.
"O Susanna Florence Mary!" he said as he worked. "You don't know what marriage means!"
Could it be possible that his announcement of his own marriage had pricked her on to this, just as his visit to her when in liquor may have pricked her on to her engagement? To be sure, there seemed to exist these other and sufficient reasons, practical and social, for her decision; but Sue was not a very practical or calculating person; and he was compelled to think that a pique at having his secret sprung upon her had moved her to give way to Phillotson's probable representations, that the best course to prove how unfounded were the suspicions of the school authorities would be to marry him off-hand, as in fulfilment of an ordinary engagement. Sue had, in fact, been placed in an awkward corner. Poor Sue!
He determined to play the Spartan; to make the best of it, and support her; but he could not write the requested good wishes for a day or two. Meanwhile there came another note from his impatient little dear:
Jude, will you give me away? I have nobody else who could do it so conveniently as you, being the only married relation I have here on the spot, even if my father were friendly enough to be willing, which he isn't. I hope you won't think it a trouble? I have been looking at the marriage service in the prayer-book, and it seems to me very humiliating that a giver-away should be required at all. According to the ceremony as there printed, my bridegroom chooses me of his own will and pleasure; but I don't choose him. Somebody GIVES me to him, like a she-ass or she-goat, or any other domestic animal. Bless your exalted views of woman, O churchman! But I forget: I am no longer privileged to tease you. — Ever,
SUSANNA FLORENCE MARY BRIDEHEAD.
Jude screwed himself up to heroic key; and replied:
MY DEAR SUE, — Of course I wish you joy! And also of course I will give you away. What I suggest is that, as you have no house of your own, you do not marry from your school friend's, but from mine. It would be more proper, I think, since I am, as you say, the person nearest related to you in this part of the world.
I don't see why you sign your letter in such a new and terribly formal way? Surely you care a bit about me still! — Ever your affectionate,
What had jarred on him even more than the signature was a little sting he had been silent on — the phrase "married relation" — What an idiot it made him seem as her lover! If Sue had written that in satire, he could hardly forgive her; if in suffering — ah, that was another thing!