On the morrow between nine and half-past they were journeying back to Christminster, the only two occupants of a compartment in a third-class railway-carriage. Having, like Jude, made rather a hasty toilet to catch the train, Arabella looked a little frowsy, and her face was very far from possessing the animation which had characterized it at the bar the night before. When they came out of the station she found that she still had half an hour to spare before she was due at the bar. They walked in silence a little way out of the town in the direction of Alfredston. Jude looked up the far highway.
"Ah ... poor feeble me!" he murmured at last.
"What?" said she.
"This is the very road by which I came into Christminster years ago full of plans!"
"Well, whatever the road is I think my time is nearly up, as I have to be in the bar by eleven o'clock. And as I said, I shan't ask for the day to go with you to see your aunt. So perhaps we had better part here. I'd sooner not walk up Chief Street with you, since we've come to no conclusion at all."
"Very well. But you said when we were getting up this morning that you had something you wished to tell me before I left?"
"So I had — two things — one in particular. But you wouldn't promise to keep it a secret. I'll tell you now if you promise? As an honest woman I wish you to know it... It was what I began telling you in the night — about that gentleman who managed the Sydney hotel." Arabella spoke somewhat hurriedly for her. "You'll keep it close?"
"Yes — yes — I promise!" said Jude impatiently. "Of course I don't want to reveal your secrets."
"Whenever I met him out for a walk, he used to say that he was much taken with my looks, and he kept pressing me to marry him. I never thought of coming back to England again; and being out there in Australia, with no home of my own after leaving my father, I at last agreed, and did."
"What — marry him?"
"Regularly — legally — in church?"
"Yes. And lived with him till shortly before I left. It was stupid, I know; but I did! There, now I've told you. Don't round upon me! He talks of coming back to England, poor old chap. But if he does, he won't be likely to find me."
Jude stood pale and fixed.
"Why the devil didn't you tell me last, night!" he said.
"Well — I didn't... Won't you make it up with me, then?"
"So in talking of 'your husband' to the bar gentlemen you meant him, of course — not me!"
"Of course... Come, don't fuss about it."
"I have nothing more to say!" replied Jude. "I have nothing at all to say about the — crime — you've confessed to!"
"Crime! Pooh. They don't think much of such as that over there! Lots of 'em do it... Well, if you take it like that I shall go back to him! He was very fond of me, and we lived honourable enough, and as respectable as any married couple in the colony! How did I know where you were?"
"I won't go blaming you. I could say a good deal; but perhaps it would be misplaced. What do you wish me to do?"
"Nothing. There was one thing more I wanted to tell you; but I fancy we've seen enough of one another for the present! I shall think over what you said about your circumstances, and let you know."
Thus they parted. Jude watched her disappear in the direction of the hotel, and entered the railway station close by. Finding that it wanted three-quarters of an hour of the time at which he could get a train back to Alfredston, he strolled mechanically into the city as far as to the Fourways, where he stood as he had so often stood before, and surveyed Chief Street stretching ahead, with its college after college, in picturesqueness unrivalled except by such Continental vistas as the Street of Palaces in Genoa; the lines of the buildings being as distinct in the morning air as in an architectural drawing. But Jude was far from seeing or criticizing these things; they were hidden by an indescribable consciousness of Arabella's midnight contiguity, a sense of degradation at his revived experiences with her, of her appearance as she lay asleep at dawn, which set upon his motionless face a look as of one accurst. If he could only have felt resentment towards her he would have been less unhappy; but he pitied while he contemned her.
Jude turned and retraced his steps. Drawing again towards the station he started at hearing his name pronounced — less at the name than at the voice. To his great surprise no other than Sue stood like a vision before him — her look bodeful and anxious as in a dream, her little mouth nervous, and her strained eyes speaking reproachful inquiry.
"Oh, Jude — I am so glad — to meet you like this!" she said in quick, uneven accents not far from a sob. Then she flushed as she observed his thought that they had not met since her marriage.
They looked away from each other to hide their emotion, took each other's hand without further speech, and went on together awhile, till she glanced at him with furtive solicitude. "I arrived at Alfredston station last night, as you asked me to, and there was nobody to meet me! But I reached Marygreen alone, and they told me Aunt was a trifle better. I sat up with her, and as you did not come all night I was frightened about you — I thought that perhaps, when you found yourself back in the old city, you were upset at — at thinking I was — married, and not there as I used to be; and that you had nobody to speak to; so you had tried to drown your gloom — as you did at that former time when you were disappointed about entering as a student, and had forgotten your promise to me that you never would again. And this, I thought, was why you hadn't come to meet me!"
"And you came to hunt me up, and deliver me, like a good angel!"
"I thought I would come by the morning train and try to find you — in case — in case — "
"I did think of my promise to you, dear, continually! I shall never break out again as I did, I am sure. I may have been doing nothing better, but I was not doing that — I loathe the thought of it."
"I am glad your staying had nothing to do with that. But," she said, the faintest pout entering into her tone, "you didn't come back last night and meet me, as you engaged to!"
"I didn't — I am sorry to say. I had an appointment at nine o'clock — too late for me to catch the train that would have met yours, or to get home at all."
Looking at his loved one as she appeared to him now, in his tender thought the sweetest and most disinterested comrade that he had ever had, living largely in vivid imaginings, so ethereal a creature that her spirit could be seen trembling through her limbs, he felt heartily ashamed of his earthliness in spending the hours he had spent in Arabella's company. There was something rude and immoral in thrusting these recent facts of his life upon the mind of one who, to him, was so uncarnate as to seem at times impossible as a human wife to any average man. And yet she was Phillotson's. How she had become such, how she lived as such, passed his comprehension as he regarded her to-day.