"Don't go — don't go!" he implored. "This is my last time! I thought it would be less intrusive than to enter your house. And I shall never come again. Don't then be unmerciful. Sue, Sue! We are acting by the letter; and 'the letter killeth'!"
"I'll stay — I won't be unkind!" she said, her mouth quivering and her tears flowing as she allowed him to come closer. "But why did you come, and do this wrong thing, after doing such a right thing as you have done?"
"What right thing?"
"Marrying Arabella again. It was in the Alfredston paper. She has never been other than yours, Jude — in a proper sense. And therefore you did so well — Oh so well! — in recognizing it — and taking her to you again."
"God above — and is that all I've come to hear? If there is anything more degrading, immoral, unnatural, than another in my life, it is this meretricious contract with Arabella which has been called doing the right thing! And you too — you call yourself Phillotson's wife! HIS wife! You are mine."
"Don't make me rush away from you — I can't bear much! But on this point I am decided."
"I cannot understand how you did it — how you think it — I cannot!"
"Never mind that. He is a kind husband to me — And I — I've wrestled and struggled, and fasted, and prayed. I have nearly brought my body into complete subjection. And you mustn't — will you — wake — "
"Oh you darling little fool; where is your reason? You seem to have suffered the loss of your faculties! I would argue with you if I didn't know that a woman in your state of feeling is quite beyond all appeals to her brains. Or is it that you are humbugging yourself, as so many women do about these things; and don't actually believe what you pretend to, and only are indulging in the luxury of the emotion raised by an affected belief?"
"Luxury! How can you be so cruel!"
"You dear, sad, soft, most melancholy wreck of a promising human intellect that it has ever been my lot to behold! Where is your scorn of convention gone? I WOULD have died game!"
"You crush, almost insult me, Jude! Go away from me!" She turned off quickly.
"I will. I would never come to see you again, even if I had the strength to come, which I shall not have any more. Sue, Sue, you are not worth a man's love!"
Her bosom began to go up and down. "I can't endure you to say that!" she burst out, and her eye resting on him a moment, she turned back impulsively. "Don't, don't scorn me! Kiss me, oh kiss me lots of times, and say I am not a coward and a contemptible humbug — I can't bear it!" She rushed up to him and, with her mouth on his, continued: "I must tell you — oh I must — my darling Love! It has been — only a church marriage — an apparent marriage I mean! He suggested it at the very first!"
"I mean it is a nominal marriage only. It hasn't been more than that at all since I came back to him!"
"Sue!" he said. Pressing her to him in his arms he bruised her lips with kisses: "If misery can know happiness, I have a moment's happiness now! Now, in the name of all you hold holy, tell me the truth, and no lie. You do love me still?"
"I do! You know it too well! ... But I MUSTN'T do this! I mustn't kiss you back as I would!"
"And yet you are so dear! — and you look so ill — "
"And so do you! There's one more, in memory of our dead little children — yours and mine!"
The words struck her like a blow, and she bent her head. "I MUSTN'T — I CAN'T go on with this!" she gasped presently. "But there, there, darling; I give you back your kisses; I do, I do! ... And now I'll HATE myself for ever for my sin!"
"No — let me make my last appeal. Listen to this! We've both remarried out of our senses. I was made drunk to do it. You were the same. I was gin-drunk; you were creed-drunk. Either form of intoxication takes away the nobler vision... Let us then shake off our mistakes, and run away together!"
"No; again no! ... Why do you tempt me so far, Jude! It is too merciless! ... But I've got over myself now. Don't follow me — don't look at me. Leave me, for pity's sake!"
She ran up the church to the east end, and Jude did as she requested. He did not turn his head, but took up his blanket, which she had not seen, and went straight out. As he passed the end of the church she heard his coughs mingling with the rain on the windows, and in a last instinct of human affection, even now unsubdued by her fetters, she sprang up as if to go and succour him. But she knelt down again, and stopped her ears with her hands till all possible sound of him had passed away.
He was by this time at the corner of the green, from which the path ran across the fields in which he had scared rooks as a boy. He turned and looked back, once, at the building which still contained Sue; and then went on, knowing that his eyes would light on that scene no more.
There are cold spots up and down Wessex in autumn and winter weather; but the coldest of all when a north or east wind is blowing is the crest of the down by the Brown House, where the road to Alfredston crosses the old Ridgeway. Here the first winter sleets and snows fall and lie, and here the spring frost lingers last unthawed. Here in the teeth of the north-east wind and rain Jude now pursued his way, wet through, the necessary slowness of his walk from lack of his former strength being insufficent to maintain his heat. He came to the milestone, and, raining as it was, spread his blanket and lay down there to rest. Before moving on he went and felt at the back of the stone for his own carving. It was still there; but nearly obliterated by moss. He passed the spot where the gibbet of his ancestor and Sue's had stood, and descended the hill.
It was dark when he reached Alfredston, where he had a cup of tea, the deadly chill that began to creep into his bones being too much for him to endure fasting. To get home he had to travel by a steam tram-car, and two branches of railway, with much waiting at a junction. He did not reach Christminster till ten o'clock.