`Solemnity?' Jude looked at her with some surprise, and grew conscious that she was not the Sue of their earlier time.
`Yes,' she said, with a little quiver in her words, `I have had dreadful fears, a dreadful sense of my own insolence of action. I have thought - that I am still his wife!'
`Good God, dearest! - why?'
`Oh I can't explain! Only the thought comes to me.'
`It is your weakness - a sick fancy, without reason or meaning! Don't let it trouble you.'
Sue sighed uneasily.
As a set-off against such discussions as these there had come an improvement in their pecuniary position, which earlier in their experience would have made them cheerful. Jude had quite unexpectedly found good employment at his old trade almost directly he arrived, the summer weather suiting his fragile constitution; and outwardly his days went on with that monotonous uniformity which is in itself so grateful after vicissitude. People seemed to have forgotten that he had ever shown any awkward aberrancies: and he daily mounted to the parapets and copings of colleges he could never enter, and renewed the crumbling freestones of mullioned windows he would never look from, as if he had known no wish to do otherwise.
There was this change in him; that he did not often go to any service at the churches now. One thing troubled him more than any other; that Sue and himself had mentally travelled in opposite directions since the tragedy: events which had enlarged his own views of life, laws, customs, and dogmas, had not operated in the same manner on Sue's. She was no longer the same as in the independent days, when her intellect played like lambent lightning over conventions and formalities which he at that time respected, though he did not now.
On a particular Sunday evening he came in rather late. She was not at home, but she soon returned, when he found her silent and meditative.
`What are you thinking of, little woman?' he asked curiously.
`Oh I can't tell clearly! I have thought that we have been selfish, careless, even impious, in our courses, you and I. Our life has been a vain attempt at self-delight. But self-abnegation is the higher road. We should mortify the flesh - the terrible flesh - the curse of Adam!'
`Sue!' he murmured. `What has come over you?'
`We ought to be continually sacrificing ourselves on the altar of duty! But I have always striven to do what has pleased me. I well deserved the scourging I have got! I wish something would take the evil right out of me, and all my monstrous errors, and all my sinful ways!'
`Sue - my own too suffering dear! - there's no evil woman in you. Your natural instincts are perfectly healthy; not quite so impassioned, perhaps, as I could wish; but good, and dear, and pure. And as I have often said, you are absolutely the most ethereal, least sensual woman I ever knew to exist without inhuman sexlessness. Why do you talk in such a changed way? We have not been selfish, except when no one could profit by our being otherwise. You used to say that human nature was noble and long-suffering, not vile and corrupt, and at last I thought you spoke truly. And now you seem to take such a much lower view!'
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