Chapter 17Jude's old and embittered aunt lay unwell at Marygreen, and on the following Sunday he went to see her - a visit which was the result of a victorious struggle against his inclination to turn aside to the village of Lumsdon and obtain a miserable interview with his cousin, in which the word nearest his heart could not be spoken, and the sight which had tortured him could not be revealed.
His aunt was now unable to leave her bed, and a great part of Jude's short day was occupied in making arrangements for her comfort. The little bakery business had been sold to a neighbour, and with the proceeds of this and her savings she was comfortably supplied with necessaries and more, a widow of the same village living with her and ministering to her wants. It was not till the time had nearly come for him to leave that he obtained a quiet talk with her, and his words tended insensibly towards his cousin.
`Was Sue born here?'
`She was - in this room. They were living here at that time. What made 'ee ask that?'
`Oh - I wanted to know.'
`Now you've been seeing her!' said the harsh old woman. `And what did I tell 'ee?'
`Well - that I was not to see her.'
`Have you gossiped with her?'
`Then don't keep it up. She was brought up by her father to hate her mother's family; and she'll look with no favour upon a working chap like you - a townish girl as she's become by now. I never cared much about her. A pert little thing, that's what she was too often, with her tight-strained nerves. Many's the time I've smacked her for her impertinence. Why, one day when she was walking into the pond with her shoes and stockings off, and her petticoats pulled above her knees, afore I could cry out for shame, she said: `Move on, Aunty! This is no sight for modest eyes!''
`She was a little child then.'
`She was twelve if a day.'
`Well - of course. But now she's older she's of a thoughtful, quivering, tender nature, and as sensitive as - '
`Jude!' cried his aunt, springing up in bed. `Don't you be a fool about her!'
`No, no, of course not.'
`Your marrying that woman Arabella was about as bad a thing as a man could possibly do for himself by trying hard. But she's gone to the other side of the world, and med never trouble you again. And there'll be a worse thing if you, tied and bound as you be, should have a fancy for Sue. If your cousin is civil to you, take her civility for what it is worth. But anything more than a relation's good wishes it is stark madness for 'ee to give her. If she's townish and wanton it med bring 'ee to ruin.'
`Don't say anything against her, Aunt! Don't, please!'
A relief was afforded to him by the entry of the companion and nurse of his aunt, who must have been listening to the conversation, for she began a commentary on past years, introducing Sue Bridehead as a character in her recollections. She described what an odd little maid Sue had been when a pupil at the village school across the green opposite, before her father went to London - how, when the vicar arranged readings and recitations, she appeared on the platform, the smallest of them all, `in her little
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