On the platform stood Arabella. She looked him up and down.
"You've been to see her?" she asked.
"I have," said Jude, literally tottering with cold and lassitude.
"Well, now you'd best march along home."
The water ran out of him as he went, and he was compelled to lean against the wall to support himself while coughing.
"You've done for yourself by this, young man," said she. "I don't know whether you know it."
"Of course I do. I meant to do for myself."
"What — to commit suicide?"
"Well, I'm blest! Kill yourself for a woman."
"Listen to me, Arabella. You think you are the stronger; and so you are, in a physical sense, now. You could push me over like a nine-pin. You did not send that letter the other day, and I could not resent your conduct. But I am not so weak in another way as you think. I made up my mind that a man confined to his room by inflammation of the lungs, a fellow who had only two wishes left in the world, to see a particular woman, and then to die, could neatly accomplish those two wishes at one stroke by taking this journey in the rain. That I've done. I have seen her for the last time, and I've finished myself — put an end to a feverish life which ought never to have been begun!"
"Lord — you do talk lofty! Won't you have something warm to drink?"
"No thank you. Let's get home."
They went along by the silent colleges, and Jude kept stopping.
"What are you looking at?"
"Stupid fancies. I see, in a way, those spirits of the dead again, on this my last walk, that I saw when I first walked here!"
"What a curious chap you are!"
"I seem to see them, and almost hear them rustling. But I don't revere all of them as I did then. I don't believe in half of them. The theologians, the apologists, and their kin the metaphysicians, the high-handed statesmen, and others, no longer interest me. All that has been spoilt for me by the grind of stern reality!"
The expression of Jude's corpselike face in the watery lamplight was indeed as if he saw people where there was nobody. At moments he stood still by an archway, like one watching a figure walk out; then he would look at a window like one discerning a familiar face behind it. He seemed to hear voices, whose words he repeated as if to gather their meaning.
"They seem laughing at me!"
"Oh — I was talking to myself! The phantoms all about here, in the college archways, and windows. They used to look friendly in the old days, particularly Addison, and Gibbon, and Johnson, and Dr. Browne, and Bishop Ken — "
"Come along do! Phantoms! There's neither living nor dead hereabouts except a damn policeman! I never saw the streets emptier."
"Fancy! The Poet of Liberty used to walk here, and the great Dissector of Melancholy there!"
"I don't want to hear about 'em! They bore me."
"Walter Raleigh is beckoning to me from that lane — Wycliffe — Harvey — Hooker — Arnold — and a whole crowd of Tractarian Shades — "
"I DON'T WANT to know their names, I tell you! What do I care about folk dead and gone? Upon my soul you are more sober when you've been drinking than when you have not!"
"I must rest a moment," he said; and as he paused, holding to the railings, he measured with his eye the height of a college front. "This is old Rubric. And that Sarcophagus; and Up that lane Crozier and Tudor: and all down there is Cardinal with its long front, and its windows with lifted eyebrows, representing the polite surprise of the university at the efforts of such as I."
"Come along, and I'll treat you!"
"Very well. It will help me home, for I feel the chilly fog from the meadows of Cardinal as if death-claws were grabbing me through and through. As Antigone said, I am neither a dweller among men nor ghosts. But, Arabella, when I am dead, you'll see my spirit flitting up and down here among these!"
"Pooh! You mayn't die after all. You are tough enough yet, old man."
It was night at Marygreen, and the rain of the afternoon showed no sign of abatement. About the time at which Jude and Arabella were walking the streets of Christminster homeward, the Widow Edlin crossed the green, and opened the back door of the schoolmaster's dwelling, which she often did now before bedtime, to assist Sue in putting things away.
Sue was muddling helplessly in the kitchen, for she was not a good housewife, though she tried to be, and grew impatient of domestic details.
"Lord love 'ee, what do ye do that yourself for, when I've come o' purpose! You knew I should come."
"Oh — I don't know — I forgot! No, I didn't forget. I did it to discipline myself. I have scrubbed the stairs since eight o'clock. I MUST practise myself in my household duties. I've shamefully neglected them!"
"Why should ye? He'll get a better school, perhaps be a parson, in time, and you'll keep two servants. 'Tis a pity to spoil them pretty hands."
"Don't talk of my pretty hands, Mrs. Edlin. This pretty body of mine has been the ruin of me already!"
"Pshoo — you've got no body to speak of! You put me more in mind of a sperrit. But there seems something wrong to-night, my dear. Husband cross?"
"No. He never is. He's gone to bed early."
"Then what is it?"
"I cannot tell you. I have done wrong to-day. And I want to eradicate it... Well — I will tell you this — Jude has been here this afternoon, and I find I still love him — oh, grossly! I cannot tell you more."
"Ah!" said the widow. "I told 'ee how 'twould be!"
"But it shan't be! I have not told my husband of his visit; it is not necessary to trouble him about it, as I never mean to see Jude any more. But I am going to make my conscience right on my duty to Richard — by doing a penance — the ultimate thing. I must!"
"I wouldn't — since he agrees to it being otherwise, and it has gone on three months very well as it is."
"Yes — he agrees to my living as I choose; but I feel it is an indulgence I ought not to exact from him. It ought not to have been accepted by me. To reverse it will be terrible — but I must be more just to him. O why was I so unheroic!"
"What is it you don't like in him?" asked Mrs. Edlin curiously.
"I cannot tell you. It is something... I cannot say. The mournful thing is, that nobody would admit it as a reason for feeling as I do; so that no excuse is left me."
"Did you ever tell Jude what it was?"
"I've heard strange tales o' husbands in my time," observed the widow in a lowered voice. "They say that when the saints were upon the earth devils used to take husbands' forms o' nights, and get poor women into all sorts of trouble. But I don't know why that should come into my head, for it is only a tale... What a wind and rain it is to-night! Well — don't be in a hurry to alter things, my dear. Think it over."
"No, no! I've screwed my weak soul up to treating him more courteously — and it must be now — at once — before I break down!"
"I don't think you ought to force your nature. No woman ought to be expected to."
"It is my duty. I will drink my cup to the dregs!"