The place was the door of Jude's lodging in the out-skirts of Christminster — far from the precincts of St. Silas' where he had formerly lived, which saddened him to sickness. The rain was coming down. A woman in shabby black stood on the doorstep talking to Jude, who held the door in his hand.
"I am lonely, destitute, and houseless — that's what I am! Father has turned me out of doors after borrowing every penny I'd got, to put it into his business, and then accusing me of laziness when I was only waiting for a situation. I am at the mercy of the world! If you can't take me and help me, Jude, I must go to the workhouse, or to something worse. Only just now two undergraduates winked at me as I came along. 'Tis hard for a woman to keep virtuous where there's so many young men!"
The woman in the rain who spoke thus was Arabella, the evening being that of the day after Sue's remarriage with Phillotson.
"I am sorry for you, but I am only in lodgings," said Jude coldly.
"Then you turn me away?"
"I'll give you enough to get food and lodging for a few days."
"Oh, but can't you have the kindness to take me in? I cannot endure going to a public house to lodge; and I am so lonely. Please, Jude, for old times' sake!"
"No, no," said Jude hastily. "I don't want to be reminded of those things; and if you talk about them I shall not help you."
"Then I suppose I must go!" said Arabella. She bent her head against the doorpost and began sobbing.
"The house is full," said Jude. "And I have only a little extra room to my own — not much more than a closet — where I keep my tools, and templates, and the few books I have left!"
"That would be a palace for me!"
"There is no bedstead in it."
"A bit of a bed could be made on the floor. It would be good enough for me."
Unable to be harsh with her, and not knowing what to do, Jude called the man who let the lodgings, and said this was an acquaintance of his in great distress for want of temporary shelter.
"You may remember me as barmaid at the Lamb and Flag formerly?" spoke up Arabella. "My father has insulted me this afternoon, and I've left him, though without a penny!"
The householder said he could not recall her features. "But still, if you are a friend of Mr. Fawley's we'll do what we can for a day or two — if he'll make himself answerable?"
"Yes, yes," said Jude. "She has really taken me quite unawares; but I should wish to help her out of her difficulty." And an arrangement was ultimately come to under which a bed was to be thrown down in Jude's lumber-room, to make it comfortable for Arabella till she could get out of the strait she was in — not by her own fault, as she declared — and return to her father's again.
While they were waiting for this to be done Arabella said: "You know the news, I suppose?"
"I guess what you mean; but I know nothing."
"I had a letter from Anny at Alfredston to-day. She had just heard that the wedding was to be yesterday: but she didn't know if it had come off."
"I don't wish to talk of it."
"No, no: of course you don't. Only it shows what kind of woman — "
"Don't speak of her I say! She's a fool! And she's an angel, too, poor dear!"
"If it's done, he'll have a chance of getting back to his old position, by everybody's account, so Anny says. All his well-wishers will be pleased, including the bishop himself."
"Do spare me, Arabella."
Arabella was duly installed in the little attic, and at first she did not come near Jude at all. She went to and fro about her own business, which, when they met for a moment on the stairs or in the passage, she informed him was that of obtaining another place in the occupation she understood best. When Jude suggested London as affording the most likely opening in the liquor trade, she shook her head. "No — the temptations are too many," she said. "Any humble tavern in the country before that for me."
On the Sunday morning following, when he breakfasted later than on other days, she meekly asked him if she might come in to breakfast with him, as she had broken her teapot, and could not replace it immediately, the shops being shut.
"Yes, if you like," he said indifferently.
While they sat without speaking she suddenly observed: "You seem all in a brood, old man. I'm sorry for you."
"I am all in a brood."
"It is about her, I know. It's no business of mine, but I could find out all about the wedding — if it really did take place — if you wanted to know."
"How could you?"
"I wanted to go to Alfredston to get a few things I left there. And I could see Anny, who'll be sure to have heard all about it, as she has friends at Marygreen."
Jude could not bear to acquiesce in this proposal; but his suspense pitted itself against his discretion, and won in the struggle. "You can ask about it if you like," he said. "I've not heard a sound from there. It must have been very private, if — they have married."
"I am afraid I haven't enough cash to take me there and back, or I should have gone before. I must wait till I have earned some."
"Oh — I can pay the journey for you," he said impatiently. And thus his suspense as to Sue's welfare, and the possible marriage, moved him to dispatch for intelligence the last emissary he would have thought of choosing deliberately.
Arabella went, Jude requesting her to be home not later than by the seven o'clock train. When she had gone he said: "Why should I have charged her to be back by a particular time! She's nothing to me — nor the other neither!"
But having finished work he could not help going to the station to meet Arabella, dragged thither by feverish haste to get the news she might bring, and know the worst. Arabella had made dimples most successfully all the way home, and when she stepped out of the railway carriage she smiled. He merely said "Well?" with the very reverse of a smile.
"They are married."
"Yes — of course they are!" he returned. She observed, however, the hard strain upon his lip as he spoke.
"Anny says she has heard from Belinda, her relation out at Marygreen, that it was very sad, and curious!"
"How do you mean sad? She wanted to marry him again, didn't she? And he her!"
"Yes — that was it. She wanted to in one sense, but not in the other. Mrs. Edlin was much upset by it all, and spoke out her mind at Phillotson. But Sue was that excited about it that she burnt her best embroidery that she'd worn with you, to blot you out entirely. Well — if a woman feels like it, she ought to do it. I commend her for it, though others don't." Arabella sighed. "She felt he was her only husband, and that she belonged to nobody else in the sight of God A'mighty while he lived. Perhaps another woman feels the same about herself, too!" Arabella sighed again.