Chapter 36

It was an evening at the end of the month, and Jude had just returned home from hearing a lecture on ancient history in the public hall not far off. When he entered, Sue, who had been keeping indoors during his absence, laid out supper for him. Contrary to custom she did not speak. Jude had taken up some illustrated paper, which he perused till, raising his eyes, he saw that her face was troubled.

`Are you depressed, Sue?' he said.

She paused a moment. `I have a message for you,' she answered.

`Somebody has called?'

`Yes. A woman.' Sue's voice quavered as she spoke, and she suddenly sat down from her preparations, laid her hands in her lap, and looked into the fire. `I don't know whether I did right or not!' she continued. `I said you were not at home, and when she said she would wait, I said I thought you might not be able to see her.'

`Why did you say that, dear? I suppose she wanted a headstone. Was she in mourning?'

`No. She wasn't in mourning, and she didn't want a headstone; and I thought you couldn't see her.' Sue looked critically and imploringly at him.

`But who was she? Didn't she say?'

`No. She wouldn't give her name. But I know who she was - I think I do! It was Arabella!'

`Heaven save us! What should Arabella come for? What made you think it was she?'

`Oh, I can hardly tell. But I know it was! I feel perfectly certain it was - by the light in her eyes as she looked at me. She was a fleshy, coarse woman.'

`Well - I should not have called Arabella coarse exactly, except in speech, though she may be getting so by this time under the duties of the public house. She was rather handsome when I knew her.'

`Handsome! But yes! - so she is!'

`I think I heard a quiver in your little mouth. Well, waiving that, as she is nothing to me, and virtuously married to another man, why should she come troubling us?'

`Are you sure she's married? Have you definite news of it?'

`No - not definite news. But that was why she asked me to release her. She and the man both wanted to lead a proper life, as I understood.'

`Oh Jude - it was, it was Arabella!' cried Sue, covering her eyes with her hand. `And I am so miserable! It seems such an ill omen, whatever she may have come for. You could not possibly see her, could you?'

`I don't really think I could. It would be so very painful to talk to her now - for her as much as for me. However, she's gone. Did she say she would come again?'

`No. But she went away very reluctantly.'

Sue, whom the least thing upset, could not eat any supper, and when Jude had finished his he prepared to go to bed. He had no sooner raked out the fire, fastened the doors, and got to the top of the stairs than there came a knock. Sue instantly emerged from her room, which she had but just entered.

`There she is again!' Sue whispered in appalled accents.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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