"No--it wasn't that!" she answered. "I did catch a bad cold-- but I could have written. Only I wouldn't!"
"Why not?--frightening me like this!"
"Yes--that was what I was afraid of! But I had decided not to write to you any more. They won't have me back at the school--that's why I couldn't write. Not the fact, but the reason!"
"They not only won't have me, but they gave me a parting piece of advice----"
She did not answer directly. "I vowed I never would tell you, Jude--it is so vulgar and distressing!"
"Is it about us?"
"But do tell me!"
"Well--somebody has sent them baseless reports about us, and they say you and I ought to marry as soon as possible, for the sake of my reputation! ... There--now I have told you, and I wish I hadn't!"
"Oh, poor Sue!"
"I don't think of you like that means! It did just OCCUR to me to regard you in the way they think I do, but I hadn't begun to. I HAVE recognized that the cousinship was merely nominal, since we met as total strangers. But my marrying you, dear Jude--why, of course, if I had reckoned upon marrying you l shouldn't have come to you so often! And I never supposed you thought of such a thing as marrying me till the other evening; when I began to fancy you did love me a little. Perhaps I ought not to have been so intimate with you. It is all my fault. Everything is my fault always!"
The speech seemed a little forced and unreal, and they regarded each other with a mutual distress.
"I was so blind at first!" she went on. "I didn't see what you felt at all. Oh, you have been unkind to me--you have-- to look upon me as a sweetheart without saying a word, and leaving me to discover it myself! Your attitude to me has become known; and naturally they think we've been doing wrong! I'll never trust you again!"
"Yes, Sue," he said simply; "I am to blame--more than you think. I was quite aware that you did not suspect till within the last meeting or two what I was feeling about you. I admit that our meeting as strangers prevented a sense of relationship, and that it was a sort of subterfuge to avail myself of it. But don't you think l deserve a little consideration for concealing my wrong, very wrong, sentiments, since I couldn't help having them?"
She turned her eyes doubtfully towards him, and then looked away as if afraid she might forgive him.
By every law of nature and sex a kiss was the only rejoinder that fitted the mood and the moment, under the suasion of which Sue's undemonstrative regard of him might not inconceivably have changed its temperature. Some men would have cast scruples to the winds, and ventured it, oblivious both of Sue's declaration of her neutral feelings, and of the pair of autographs in the vestry chest of Arabella's parish church. Jude did not. He had, in fact, come in part to tell his own fatal story. It was upon his lips; yet at the hour of this distress he could not disclose it. He preferred to dwell upon the recognized barriers between them.
"Of course--I know you don't--care about me in any particular way," he sorrowed. "You ought not, and you are right. You belong to-- Mr. Phillotson. I suppose he has been to see you?"
"Yes," she said shortly, her face changing a little. "Though I didn't ask him to come. You are glad, of course, that he has been! But I shouldn't care if he didn't come any more!"
It was very perplexing to her lover that she should be piqued at his honest acquiescence in his rival, if Jude's feelings of love were deprecated by her. He went on to something else.
"This will blow over, dear Sue," he said. "The training-school authorities are not all the world. You can get to be a student in some other, no doubt."
"I'll ask Mr. Phillotson," she said decisively.
Sue's kind hostess now returned from church, and there was no more intimate conversation. Jude left in the afternoon, hopelessly unhappy. But he had seen her, and sat with her. Such intercourse as that would have to content him for the remainder of his life. The lesson of renunciation it was necessary and proper that he, as a parish priest, should learn.
But the next morning when he awoke he felt rather vexed with her, and decided that she was rather unreasonable, not to say capricious. Then, in illustration of what he had begun to discern as one of her redeeming characteristics there came promptly a note, which she must have written almost immediately he had gone from her:
Forgive me for my petulance yesterday! I was horrid to you; I know it, and I feel perfectly miserable at my horridness. It was so dear of you not to be angry! Jude please still keep me as your friend and associate, with all my faults. I'll try not to be like it again.
I am coming to Melchester on Saturday, to get my things away from the T.S., &c. I could walk with you for half an hour, if you would like?--Your repentant SUE.
Jude forgave her straightway, and asked her to call for him at the cathedral works when she came.
Jude the Obscure -- by Thomas Hardy