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previous: Part Sixth AT CHRISTMINSTER AGAIN
ON their arrival the station was lively with straw-hatted young men, welcoming young girls who bore a remarkable family likeness to their welcomers, and who were dressed up in the brightest and lightest of raiment.
"The place seems gay," said Sue. "Why - it is Remembrance Day! - Jude - how sly of you - you came to-day on purpose!"
"Yes," said Jude quietly, as he took charge of the small child, and told Arabella's boy to keep close to them, Sue attending to their own eldest. "I thought we might as well come to-day as on any other."
"But I am afraid it will depress you!" she said, looking anxiously at him up and down.
"Oh, I mustn't let it interfere with our business; and we have a good deal to do before we shall be settled here. The first thing is lodgings."
Having left their luggage and his tools at the station they proceeded on foot up the familiar street, the holiday people all drifting in the same direction. Reaching the Fourways they were about to turn off to where accommodation was likely to be found when, looking at the clock and the hurrying crowd, Jude said: "Let us go and see the procession, and never mind the lodgings just now? We can get them afterwards."
"Oughtn't we to get a house over our heads first?" she asked.
But his soul seemed full of the anniversary, and together they went down Chief Street, their smallest child in Jude's arms, Sue leading her little girl, and Arabella's boy walking thoughtfully and silently beside them. Crowds of pretty sisters in airy costumes, and meekly ignorant parents who had known no college in their youth, were under convoy in the same direction by brothers and sons bearing the opinion written large on them that no properly qualified human beings had lived on earth till they came to grace it here and now.
"My failure is reflected on me by every one of those young fellows," said Jude. "A lesson on presumption is awaiting me to-day!-Humiliation Day for me! ... If you, my dear darling, hadn't come to my rescue, I should have gone to the dogs with despair!"
She saw from his face that he was getting into one of his tempestuous, self-harrowing moods. "It would have been better if we had gone at once about our own affairs, dear," she answered. "I am sure this sight will awaken old sorrows in you, and do no good!"
"Well - we are near; we will see it now," said he.
They turned in on the left by the church with the Italian porch, whose helical columns were heavily draped with creepers, and pursued the lane till there arose on Jude's sight the circular theatre with that well-known lantern above it, which stood in his mind as the sad symbol of his abandoned hopes, for it was from that outlook that he had finally surveyed the City of Colleges on the afternoon of his great meditation, which convinced him at last of the futility of his attempt to be a son of the university.
To-day, in the open space stretching between this building and the nearest college, stood a crowd of expectant people. A passage was kept clear through their midst by two barriers of timber, extending from the door of the college to the door of the large building between it and the theatre.
"Here is the place - they are just going to pass!" cried Jude in sudden excitement. And pushing his way to the front he took up a position close to the barrier, still hugging the youngest child in his arms, while Sue and the others kept immediately behind him. The crowd filled in at their back, and fell to talking, joking, and laughing as carriage after carriage drew up at the lower door of the college, and solemn stately figures in blood-red robes began to alight. The sky had grown overcast and livid, and thunder rumbled now and then.
Father Time shuddered. "It do seem like the Judgment Day!" he whispered.
"They are only learned doctors," said Sue.
While they waited big drops of rain fell on their heads and shoulders, and the delay grew tedious. Sue again wished not to stay.
"They won't be long now," said Jude, without turning his head.
But the procession did not come forth, and somebody in the crowd, to pass the time, looked at the facade of the nearest college, and said he wondered what was meant by the Latin inscription in its midst. Jude, who stood near the inquirer, explained it, and finding that the people all round him were listening with interest, went on to describe the carving of the frieze (which he had studied years before), and to criticize some details of masonry in other college fronts about the city.
The idle crowd, including the two policemen at the doors, stared like the Lycaonians at Paul, for Jude was apt to get too enthusiastic over any subject in hand, and they seemed to wonder how the stranger should know more about the buildings of their town than they themselves did; till one of them said: "Why, I know that man; he used to work here years ago-Jude Fawley, that's his name! Don't you mind he used to be nicknamed Tutor of St. Slums, d'ye mind? - because he aimed at that line o' business? He's married, I suppose, then, and that's his child he's carrying. Taylor would know him, as he knows everybody."
The speaker was a man named Jack Stagg, with whom Jude had formerly worked in repairing the college masonries; Tinker Taylor was seen to be standing near. Having his attention called the latter cried across the barriers to Jude: "You've honoured us by coming back again, my friend!"
"An' you don't seem to have done any great things for yourself by going away?"
Jude assented to this also.
"Except found more mouths to fill!" This came in a new voice, and Jude recognized its owner to be Uncle Joe, another mason whom he had known.
Jude replied good-humouredly that he could not dispute it; and from remark to remark something like a general conversation arose between him and the crowd of idlers, during which Tinker Taylor asked Jude if he remembered the Apostles' Creed in Latin still, and the night of the challenge in the public house.
"But Fortune didn't lie that way?" threw in Joe. "Yer powers wasn't enough to carry 'ee through?"
"Don't answer them any more!" entreated Sue.
"I don't think I like Christminster!" murmured little Time mournfully, as he stood submerged and invisible in the crowd.
But finding himself the centre of curiosity, quizzing, and comment, Jude was not inclined to shrink from open declarations of what he had no great reason to be ashamed of; and in a little while was stimulated to say in a loud voice to the listening throng generally:
"It is a difficult question, my friends, for any young man-that question I had to grapple with, and which thousands are weighing at the present moment in these uprising times-whether to follow uncritically the track he finds himself in, without considering his aptness for it, or to consider what his aptness or bent may be, and re-shape his course accordingly. I tried to do the latter, and I failed. But I don't admit that my failure proved my view to be a wrong one, or that my success would have made it a right one; though that's how we appraise such attempts nowadays - I mean, not by their essential soundness, but by their accidental outcomes. If I had ended by becoming like one of these gentlemen in red and black that we saw dropping in here by now, everybody would have said: 'See how wise that young man was, to follow the bent of his nature!' But having ended no better than I began they say: 'See what a fool that fellow was in following a freak of his fancy!'
"However it was my poverty and not my will that consented to be beaten. It takes two or three generations to do what I tried to do in one; and my impulses - affections - vices perhaps they should be called-were too strong not to hamper a man without advantages; who should be as cold-blooded as a fish and as selfish as a pig to have a really good chance of being one of his country's worthies. You may ridicule me - I am quite willing that you should-I am a fit subject, no doubt. But I think if you knew what I have gone through these last few years you would rather pity me. And if they knew" - he nodded towards the college at which the dons were severally arriving - "it is just possible they would do the same."
"He do look ill and worn-out, it is true!" said a woman.
Sue's face grew more emotional; but though she stood close to Jude she was screened.
"I may do some good before I am dead - be a sort of success as a frightful example of what not to do; and so illustrate a moral story," continued Jude, beginning to grow bitter, though he had opened serenely enough. "I was, perhaps, after all, a paltry victim to the spirit of mental and social restlessness that makes so many unhappy in these days!"
"Don't tell them that!" whispered Sue with tears, at perceiving Jude's state of mind. "You weren't that. You struggled nobly to acquire knowledge, and only the meanest souls in the world would blame you!"
Jude shifted the child into a more easy position on his arm, and concluded: "And what I appear, a sick and poor man, is not the worst of me. I am in a chaos of principles-groping in the dark - acting by instinct and not after example. Eight or nine years ago when I came here first, I had a neat stock of fixed opinions, but they dropped away one by one; and the further I get the less sure I am. I doubt if I have anything more for my present rule of life than following inclinations which do me and nobody else any harm, and actually give pleasure to those I love best. There, gentlemen, since you wanted to know how I was getting on, I have told you. Much good may it do you! I cannot explain further here. I perceive there is something wrong somewhere in our social formulas: what it is can only be discovered by men or women with greater insight than mine - if, indeed, they ever discover it-at least in our time. 'For who knoweth what is good for man in this life? - and who can tell a man what shall be after him under the sun?'"
"Hear, hear," said the populace.
"Well preached!" said Tinker Taylor. And privately to his neighbours: "Why, one of them jobbing pa'sons swarming about here, that takes the services when our head reverends want a holiday, wouldn't ha' discoursed such doctrine for less than a guinea down? Hey? I'll take my oath not one o' 'em would! And then he must have had it wrote down for 'n. And this only a working-man!"
As a sort of objective commentary on Jude's remarks there drove up at this moment with a belated doctor, robed and panting, a cab whose horse failed to stop at the exact point required for setting down the hirer, who jumped out and entered the door. The driver, alighting, began to kick the animal in the belly.
"If that can be done," said Jude, "at college gates in the most religious and educational city in the world, what shall we say as to how far we've got?"
"Order!" said one of the policemen, who had been engaged with a comrade in opening the large doors opposite the college. "Keep yer tongue quiet, my man, while the procession passes." The rain came on more heavily, and all who had umbrellas opened them. Jude was not one of these, and Sue only possessed a small one, half sunshade. She had grown pale, though Jude did not notice it then.
"Let us go on, dear," she whispered, endeavouring to shelter him. "We haven't any lodgings yet, remember, and all our things are at the station; and you are by no means well yet. I am afraid this wet will hurt you!"
"They are coming now. Just a moment, and I'll go!" said he.
A peal of six bells struck out, human faces began to crowd the windows around, and the procession of heads of houses and new doctors emerged, their red and black gowned forms passing across the field of Jude's vision like inaccessible planets across an object glass.
As they went their names were called by knowing informants, and when they reached the old round theatre of Wren a cheer rose high.
"Let's go that way!" cried Jude, and though it now rained steadily he seemed not to know it, and took them round to the theatre. Here they stood upon the straw that was laid to drown the discordant noise of wheels, where the quaint and frost-eaten stone busts encircling the building looked with pallid grimness on the proceedings, and in particular at the bedraggled Jude, Sue, and their children, as at ludicrous persons who had no business there.
"I wish I could get in!" he said to her fervidly. "Listen - I may catch a few words of the Latin speech by staying here; the windows are open."
However, beyond the peals of the organ, and the shouts and hurrahs between each piece of oratory, Jude's standing in the wet did not bring much Latin to his intelligence more than, now and then, a sonorous word in UM or IBUS.
"Well - I'm an outsider to the end of my days!" he sighed after a while. "Now I'll go, my patient Sue. How good of you to wait in the rain all this time - to gratify my infatuation! I'll never care any more about the infernal cursed place, upon my soul I won't! But what made you tremble so when we were at the barrier? And how pale you are, Sue!"
"I saw Richard amongst the people on the other side."
"Ah - did you!"
"He is evidently come up to Jerusalem to see the festival like the rest of us: and on that account is probably living not so very far away. He had the same hankering for the university that you had, in a milder form. I don't think he saw me, though he must have heard you speaking to the crowd. But he seemed not to notice."
"Well - suppose he did. Your mind is free from worries about him now, my Sue?"
"Yes, I suppose so. But I am weak. Although I know it is all right with our plans, I felt a curious dread of him; an awe, or terror, of conventions I don't believe in. It comes over me at times like a sort of creeping paralysis, and makes me so sad!"
"You are getting tired, Sue. Oh - I forgot, darling! Yes, we'll go on at once."
They started in quest of the lodging, and at last found something that seemed to promise well, in Mildew Lane-a spot which to Jude was irresistible - though to Sue it was not so fascinating - a narrow lane close to the back of a college, but having no communication with it. The little houses were darkened to gloom by the high collegiate buildings, within which life was so far removed from that of the people in the lane as if it had been on opposite sides of the globe; yet only a thickness of wall divided them. Two or three of the houses had notices of rooms to let, and the newcomers knocked at the door of one, which a woman opened.
"Ah - listen!" said Jude suddenly, instead of addressing her.
"Why the bells - what church can that be? The tones are familiar."
Another peal of bells had begun to sound out at some distance off.
"I don't know!" said the landlady tartly. "Did you knock to ask that?"
"No; for lodgings," said Jude, coming to himself.
The householder scrutinized Sue's figure a moment. "We haven't any to let," said she, shutting the door.
Jude looked discomfited, and the boy distressed. "Now, Jude," said Sue, "let me try. You don't know the way."
They found a second place hard by; but here the occupier, observing not only Sue, but the boy and the small children, said civilly, "I am sorry to say we don't let where there are children"; and also closed the door.
The small child squared its mouth and cried silently, with an instinct that trouble loomed. The boy sighed. "I don't like Christminster!" he said. "Are the great old houses gaols?"
"No; colleges," said Jude; "which perhaps you'll study in some day."
"I'd rather not!" the boy rejoined.
"Now we'll try again," said Sue. "I'll pull my cloak more round me.... Leaving Kennetbridge for this place is like coming from Caiaphas to Pilate! ... How do I look now, dear?"
"Nobody would notice it now," said Jude.
There was one other house, and they tried a third time. The woman here was more amiable; but she had little room to spare, and could only agree to take in Sue and the children if her husband could go elsewhere. This arrangement they perforce adopted, in the stress from delaying their search till so late. They came to terms with her, though her price was rather high for their pockets. But they could not afford to be critical till Jude had time to get a more permanent abode; and in this house Sue took possession of a back room on the second floor with an inner closet-room for the children. Jude stayed and had a cup of tea; and was pleased to find that the window commanded the back of another of the colleges. Kissing all four he went to get a few necessaries and look for lodgings for himself.
When he was gone the landlady came up to talk a little with Sue, and gather something of the circumstances of the family she had taken in. Sue had not the art of prevarication, and, after admitting several facts as to their late difficulties and wanderings, she was startled by the landlady saying suddenly:
"Are you really a married woman?"
Sue hesitated; and then impulsively told the woman that her husband and herself had each been unhappy in their first marriages, after which, terrified at the thought of a second irrevocable union, and lest the conditions of the contract should kill their love, yet wishing to be together, they had literally not found the courage to repeat it, though they had attempted it two or three times. Therefore, though in her own sense of the words she was a married woman, in the landlady's sense she was not.
The housewife looked embarrassed, and went down-stairs. Sue sat by the window in a reverie, watching the rain. Her quiet was broken by the noise of someone entering the house, and then the voices of a man and woman in conversation in the passage below. The land-lady's husband had arrived, and she was explaining to him the incoming of the lodgers during his absence.
His voice rose in sudden anger. "Now who wants such a woman here? and perhaps a confinement! ... Besides, didn't I say I wouldn't have children? The hall and stairs fresh painted, to be kicked about by them! You must have known all was not straight with 'em - coming like that. Taking in a family when I said a single man."
The wife expostulated, but, as it seemed, the husband insisted on his point; for presently a tap came to Sue's door, and the woman appeared.
"I am sorry to tell you, ma'am," she said, "that I can't let you have the room for the week after all. My husband objects; and therefore I must ask you to go. I don't mind your staying over to-night, as it is getting late in the afternoon; but I shall be glad if you can leave early in the morning.
Though she knew that she was entitled to the lodging for a week, Sue did not wish to create a disturbance between the wife and husband, and she said she would leave as requested. When the landlady had gone Sue looked out of the window again. Finding that the rain had ceased she proposed to the boy that, after putting the little ones to bed, they should go out and search about for another place, and bespeak it for the morrow, so as not to be so hard-driven then as they had been that day.
Therefore, instead of unpacking her boxes, which had just been sent on from the station by Jude, they sallied out into the damp though not unpleasant streets, Sue resolving not to disturb her husband with the news of her notice to quit while he was perhaps worried in obtaining a lodging for himself. In the company of the boy she wandered into this street and into that; but though she tried a dozen different houses she fared far worse alone than she had fared in Jude's company, and could get nobody to promise her a room for the following day. Every householder looked askance at such a woman and child inquiring for accommodation in the gloom.
"I ought not to be born, ought I?" said the boy with misgiving.
Thoroughly tired at last Sue returned to the place where she was not welcome, but where at least she had temporary shelter. In her absence Jude had left his address; but knowing how weak he still was she adhered to her determination not to disturb him till the next day.
Turn to the next chapter: II