JUDE THE OBSCURE
JUDE THE OBSCURE
"Yea many there be that have run out of their wits for women
and become servants for their sakes. Many also have perished
have erred and sinned for women.... O ye men how can it be
but women should be strong seeing they do thus?"--ESDRAS.
THE schoolmaster was leaving the village and everybody seemed sorry.
The miller at Cresscombe lent him the small white tilted cart and horse
to carry his goods to the city of his destination about twenty miles off
such a vehicle proving of quite sufficient size for the departing
teacher's effects. For the schoolhouse had been partly furnished by
the managers and the only cumbersome article possessed by the master
in addition to the packing-case of books was a cottage piano that he had
bought at an auction during the year in which he thought of learning
instrumental music. But the enthusiasm having waned he had never acquired
any skill in playing and the purchased article had been a perpetual trouble
to him ever since in moving house.
The rector had gone away for the day being a man who disliked
the sight of changes. He did not mean to return till the evening
when the new school-teacher would have arrived and settled in
and everything would be smooth again.
The blacksmith the farm bailiff and the schoolmaster himself were
standing in perplexed attitudes in the parlour before the instrument.
The master had remarked that even if he got it into the cart he should
not know what to do with it on his arrival at Christminster the city
he was bound for since he was only going into temporary lodgings just
A little boy of eleven who had been thoughtfully assisting
in the packing joined the group of men and as they rubbed
their chins he spoke up blushing at the sound of his own voice:
"Aunt have got a great fuel-house and it could be put there
perhaps till you've found a place to settle in sir."
"A proper good notion" said the blacksmith.
It was decided that a deputation should wait on the boy's aunt--
an old maiden resident--and ask her if she would house the piano
till Mr. Phillotson should send for it. The smith and the bailiff
started to see about the practicability of the suggested shelter
and the boy and the schoolmaster were left standing alone.
"Sorry I am going Jude?" asked the latter kindly.
Tears rose into the boy's eyes for he was not among the regular day scholars
who came unromantically close to the schoolmaster's life but one who had
attended the night school only during the present teacher's term of office.
The regular scholars if the truth must be told stood at the present moment
afar off like certain historic disciples indisposed to any enthusiastic
volunteering of aid.
The boy awkwardly opened the book he held in his hand
which Mr. Phillotson had bestowed on him as a parting gift
and admitted that he was sorry.
"So am I" said Mr. Phillotson.
"Why do you go sir?" asked the boy.
"Ah--that would be a long story. You wouldn't understand my reasons Jude.
You will perhaps when you are older."
"I think I should now sir."
"Well--don't speak of this everywhere. You know what a university is
and a university degree? It is the necessary hallmark of a man
who wants to do anything in teaching. My scheme or dream
is to be a university graduate and then to be ordained. By going
to live at Christminster or near it I shall be at headquarters
so to speak and if my scheme is practicable at all I consider
that being on the spot will afford me a better chance of carrying it
out than I should have elsewhere."
The smith and his companion returned. Old Miss Fawley's fuel-house was dry
and eminently practicable; and she seemed willing to give the instrument
standing-room there. It was accordingly left in the school till the evening
when more hands would be available for removing it; and the schoolmaster gave
a final glance round.
The boy Jude assisted in loading some small articles and at nine o'clock
Mr. Phillotson mounted beside his box of books and other IMPEDIMENTA
and bade his friends good-bye.
"I shan't forget you Jude" he said smiling as the cart moved off.
"Be a good boy remember; and be kind to animals and birds and read all
you can. And if ever you come to Christminster remember you hunt me out
for old acquaintance' sake."
The cart creaked across the green and disappeared round
the corner by the rectory-house. The boy returned to the draw-well
at the edge of the greensward where he had left his buckets
when he went to help his patron and teacher in the loading.
There was a quiver in his lip now and after opening the well-cover
to begin lowering the bucket he paused and leant with his forehead
and arms against the framework his face wearing the fixity
of a thoughtful child's who has felt the pricks of life somewhat
before his time. The well into which he was looking was as
ancient as the village itself and from his present position
appeared as a long circular perspective ending in a shining
disk of quivering water at a distance of a hundred feet down.
There was a lining of green moss near the top and nearer still
the hart's-tongue fern.
He said to himself in the melodramatic tones of a whimsical boy
that the schoolmaster had drawn at that well scores of times
on a morning like this and would never draw there any more.
"I've seen him look down into it when he was tired with his drawing
just as I do now and when he rested a bit before carrying
the buckets home! But he was too clever to bide here any longer--
a small sleepy place like this!"
A tear rolled from his eye into the depths of the well.
The morning was a little foggy and the boy's breathing
unfurled itself as a thicker fog upon the still and heavy air.
His thoughts were interrupted by a sudden outcry:
"Bring on that water will ye you idle young harlican!"
It came from an old woman who had emerged from her door towards
the garden gate of a green-thatched cottage not far off.
The boy quickly waved a signal of assent drew the water
with what was a great effort for one of his stature landed and
emptied the big bucket into his own pair of smaller ones
and pausing a moment for breath started with them across
the patch of clammy greensward whereon the well stood--
nearly in the centre of the little village or rather hamlet
It was as old-fashioned as it was small and it rested in the lap
of an undulating upland adjoining the North Wessex downs.
Old as it was however the well-shaft was probably the only
relic of the local history that remained absolutely unchanged.
Many of the thatched and dormered dwelling-houses had been
pulled down of late years and many trees felled on the green.
Above all the original church hump-backed wood-turreted
and quaintly hipped had been taken down and either cracked
up into heaps of road-metal in the lane or utilized
as pig-sty walls garden seats guard-stones to fences
and rockeries in the flower-beds of the neighbourhood.
In place of it a tall new building of modern Gothic design
unfamiliar to English eyes had been erected on a new piece
of ground by a certain obliterator of historic records who had run
down from London and back in a day. The site whereon so long
had stood the ancient temple to the Christian divinities was
not even recorded on the green and level grass-plot that had
immemorially been the churchyard the obliterated graves being
commemorated by eighteen-penny castiron crosses warranted to last
SLENDER as was Jude Fawley's frame he bore the two brimming
house-buckets of water to the cottage without resting.
Over the door was a little rectangular piece of blue board
on which was painted in yellow letters "Drusilla Fawley Baker."
Within the little lead panes of the window--this being one
of the few old houses left--were five bottles of sweets
and three buns on a plate of the willow pattern.
While emptying the buckets at the back of the house he could hear
an animated conversation in progress within-doors between his
great-aunt the Drusilla of the sign-board and some other villagers.
Having seen the school-master depart they were summing up particulars
of the event and indulging in predictions of his future.
"And who's he?" asked one comparatively a stranger when the boy entered.
"Well ye med ask it Mrs. Williams. He's my great-nephew--come since you
was last this way." The old inhabitant who answered was a tall gaunt woman
who spoke tragically on the most trivial subject and gave a phrase
of her conversation to each auditor in turn. "He come from Mellstock
down in South Wessex about a year ago--worse luck for 'n Belinda"
(turning to the right) "where his father was living and was took wi'
the shakings for death and died in two days as you know Caroline"
(turning to the left). "It would ha' been a blessing if Goddy-mighty
had took thee too wi' thy mother and father poor useless boy!
But I've got him here to stay with me till I can see what's to be
done with un though I am obliged to let him earn any penny he can.
Just now he's a-scaring of birds for Farmer Troutham. It keeps him
out of mischty. Why do ye turn away Jude?" she continued as the boy
feeling the impact of their glances like slaps upon his face
The local washerwoman replied that it was perhaps a very good
plan of Miss or Mrs. Fawley's (as they called her indifferently)
to have him with her--"to kip 'ee company in your loneliness
fetch water shet the winder-shet-ters o' nights and help in
the bit o' baking."
Miss Fawley doubted it.... "Why didn't ye get the schoolmaster
to take 'ee to Christminster wi' un and make a scholar of 'ee"
she continued in frowning pleasantry. "I'm sure he couldn't ha'
took a better one. The boy is crazy for books that he is.
It runs in our family rather. His cousin Sue is just the same--
so I've heard; but I have not seen the child for years though she
was born in this place within these four walls as it happened.
My niece and her husband after they were married didn' get a house
of their own for some year or more; and then they only had one till--
Well I won't go into that. Jude my child don't you ever marry.
'Tisn't for the Fawleys to take that step any more. She their only one
was like a child o' my own Belinda till the split come!
Ah that a little maid should know such changes!"
Jude finding the general attention again centering on himself
went out to the bakehouse where he ate the cake provided
for his breakfast. The end of his spare time had now arrived
and emerging from the garden by getting over the hedge at
the back he pursued a path northward till he came to a wide
and lonely depression in the general level of the upland
which was sown as a corn-field. This vast concave was the scene
of his labours for Mr Troutham the farmer and he descended into
the midst of it.
The brown surface of the field went right up towards the sky all round
where it was lost by degrees in the mist that shut out the actual verge
and accentuated the solitude. The only marks on the uniformity of the scene
were a rick of last year's produce standing in the midst of the arable
the rooks that rose at his approach and the path athwart the fallow
by which he had come trodden now by he hardly knew whom though once
by many of his own dead family.
"How ugly it is here!" he murmured.
The fresh harrow-lines seemed to stretch like the channellings
in a piece of new corduroy lending a meanly utilitarian air
to the expanse taking away its gradations and depriving it of all
history beyond that of the few recent months though to every clod
and stone there really attached associations enough and to spare--
echoes of songs from ancient harvest-days of spoken words
and of sturdy deeds. Every inch of ground had been the site
first or last of energy gaiety horse-play bickerings weariness.
Groups of gleaners had squatted in the sun on every square yard.