Chapter 50

Michaelmas came and passed, and Jude and his wife, who had lived but a short time in her father's house after their remarriage, were in lodgings on the top floor of a dwelling nearer to the centre of the city.

He had done a few days' work during the two or three months since the event, but his health had been indifferent, and it was now precarious. He was sitting in an arm-chair before the fire, and coughed a good deal.

`I've got a bargain for my trouble in marrying thee over again!' Arabella was saying to him. `I shall have to keep 'ee entirely - that's what 'twill come to! I shall have to make black-pot and sausages, and hawk 'em about the street, all to support an invalid husband I'd no business to be saddled with at all. Why didn't you keep your health, deceiving one like this? You were well enough when the wedding was!'

`Ah, yes!' said he, laughing acridly. `I have been thinking of my foolish feeling about the pig you and I killed during our first marriage. I feel now that the greatest mercy that could be vouchsafed to me would be that something should serve me as I served that animal.'

This was the sort of discourse that went on between them every day now. The landlord of the lodging, who had heard that they were a queer couple, had doubted if they were married at all, especially as he had seen Arabella kiss Jude one evening when she had taken a little cordial; and he was about to give them notice to quit, till by chance overhearing her one night haranguing Jude in rattling terms, and ultimately flinging a shoe at his head, he recognized the note of genuine wedlock; and concluding that they must be respectable, said no more.

Jude did not get any better, and one day he requested Arabella, with considerable hesitation, to execute a commission for him. She asked him indifferently what it was.

`To write to Sue.'

`What in the name - do you want me to write to her for?'

`To ask how she is, and if she'll come to see me, because I'm ill, and should like to see her - once again.'

`It is like you to insult a lawful wife by asking such a thing!'

`It is just in order not to insult you that I ask you to do it. You know I love Sue. I don't wish to mince the matter - there stands the fact: I love her. I could find a dozen ways of sending a letter to her without your knowledge. But I wish to be quite above-board with you, and with her husband. A message through you asking her to come is at least free from any odour of intrigue. If she retains any of her old nature at all, she'll come.'

`You've no respect for marriage whatever, or its rights and duties!'

`What does it matter what my opinions are - a wretch like me! Can it matter to anybody in the world who comes to see me for half an hour - here with one foot in the grave! ... Come, please write, Arabella!' he pleaded. `Repay my candour by a little generosity!'

`I should think not!'

`Not just once? - Oh do!' He felt that his physical weakness had taken away all his dignity.

`What do you want her to know how you are for? She don't want to see 'ee. She's the rat that forsook the sinking ship!'

`Don't, don't!'

  By PanEris using Melati.

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