Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy

I

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 at first.

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
of Marygreen.

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 cast-iron crosses
warranted to last five years.

II

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, moved aside.

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-shetters 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. Love-matches
that had populated the adjoining hamlet had been made up there
between reaping and carrying. Under the hedge which divided the
field from a distant plantation girls had given themselves to lovers
who would not turn their heads to look at them by the next harvest;
and in that ancient cornfield many a man had made love-promises to
a woman at whose voice he had trembled by the next seed-time after
fulfilling them in the church adjoining. But this neither Jude nor
the rooks around him considered. For them it was a lonely place,
possessing, in the one view, only the quality of a work-ground, and
in the other that of a granary good to feed in.

The boy stood under the rick before mentioned, and every few seconds
used his clacker or rattle briskly. At each clack the rooks left off
pecking, and rose and went away on their leisurely wings, burnished
like tassets of mail, afterwards wheeling back and regarding him
warily, and descending to feed at a more respectful distance.

He sounded the clacker till his arm ached, and at length his heart
grew sympathetic with the birds’ thwarted desires. They seemed, like
himself, to be living in a world which did not want them. Why should
he frighten them away? They took upon more and more the aspect of
gentle friends and pensioners–the only friends he could claim as
being in the least degree interested in him, for his aunt had often
told him that she was not. He ceased his rattling, and they alighted
anew.

“Poor little dears!” said Jude, aloud. “You SHALL have some dinner–
you shall. There is enough for us all. Farmer Troutham can afford
to let you have some. Eat, then my dear little birdies, and make a
good meal!”

They stayed and ate, inky spots on the nut-brown soil, and Jude
enjoyed their appetite. A magic thread of fellow-feeling united his
own life with theirs. Puny and sorry as those lives were, they much
resembled his own.

His clacker he had by this time thrown away from him, as being a mean
and sordid instrument, offensive both to the birds and to himself
as their friend. All at once he became conscious of a smart blow
upon his buttocks, followed by a loud clack, which announced to his
surprised senses that the clacker had been the instrument of offence
used. The birds and Jude started up simultaneously, and the dazed
eyes of the latter beheld the farmer in person, the great Troutham
himself, his red face glaring down upon Jude’s cowering frame, the
clacker swinging in his hand.

“So it’s ‘Eat my dear birdies,’ is it, young man? ‘Eat, dear
birdies,’ indeed! I’ll tickle your breeches, and see if you say,
‘Eat, dear birdies,’ again in a hurry! And you’ve been idling at the
schoolmaster’s too, instead of coming here, ha’n’t ye, hey? That’s
how you earn your sixpence a day for keeping the rooks off my corn!”

Whilst saluting Jude’s ears with this impassioned rhetoric, Troutham
had seized his left hand with his own left, and swinging his slim
frame round him at arm’s-length, again struck Jude on the hind parts
with the flat side of Jude’s own rattle, till the field echoed with
the blows, which were delivered once or twice at each revolution.

“Don’t ‘ee, sir–please don’t ‘ee!” cried the whirling child, as
helpless under the centrifugal tendency of his person as a hooked
fish swinging to land, and beholding the hill, the rick, the
plantation, the path, and the rooks going round and round him in an
amazing circular race. “I–I sir–only meant that–there was a good
crop in the ground–I saw ’em sow it–and the rooks could have a
little bit for dinner–and you wouldn’t miss it, sir–and Mr.
Phillotson said I was to be kind to ’em–oh, oh, oh!”

This truthful explanation seemed to exasperate the farmer even more
than if Jude had stoutly denied saying anything at all, and he still
smacked the whirling urchin, the clacks of the instrument continuing
to resound all across the field and as far as the ears of distant
workers–who gathered thereupon that Jude was pursuing his business
of clacking with great assiduity–and echoing from the brand-new
church tower just behind the mist, towards the building of which
structure the farmer had largely subscribed, to testify his love for
God and man.

Presently Troutham grew tired of his punitive task, and depositing
the quivering boy on his legs, took a sixpence from his pocket and
gave it him in payment for his day’s work, telling him to go home and
never let him see him in one of those fields again.

Jude leaped out of arm’s reach, and walked along the trackway
weeping–not from the pain, though that was keen enough; not from the
perception of the flaw in the terrestrial scheme, by which what was
good for God’s birds was bad for God’s gardener; but with the awful
sense that he had wholly disgraced himself before he had been a year
in the parish, and hence might be a burden to his great-aunt for
life.

With this shadow on his mind he did not care to show himself in the
village, and went homeward by a roundabout track behind a high hedge
and across a pasture. Here he beheld scores of coupled earthworms
lying half their length on the surface of the damp ground, as
they always did in such weather at that time of the year. It was
impossible to advance in regular steps without crushing some of them
at each tread.

Though Farmer Troutham had just hurt him, he was a boy who could not
himself bear to hurt anything. He had never brought home a nest of
young birds without lying awake in misery half the night after, and
often reinstating them and the nest in their original place the next
morning. He could scarcely bear to see trees cut down or lopped,
from a fancy that it hurt them; and late pruning, when the sap was up
and the tree bled profusely, had been a positive grief to him in his
infancy. This weakness of character, as it may be called, suggested
that he was the sort of man who was born to ache a good deal before
the fall of the curtain upon his unnecessary life should signify that
all was well with him again. He carefully picked his way on tiptoe
among the earthworms, without killing a single one.

On entering the cottage he found his aunt selling a penny loaf to a
little girl, and when the customer was gone she said, “Well, how do
you come to be back here in the middle of the morning like this?”

“I’m turned away.”

“What?”

“Mr. Troutham have turned me away because I let the rooks have a few
peckings of corn. And there’s my wages–the last I shall ever hae!”

He threw the sixpence tragically on the table.

“Ah!” said his aunt, suspending her breath. And she opened upon him
a lecture on how she would now have him all the spring upon her hands
doing nothing. “If you can’t skeer birds, what can ye do? There!
don’t ye look so deedy! Farmer Troutham is not so much better than
myself, come to that. But ’tis as Job said, ‘Now they that are
younger than I have me in derision, whose fathers I would have
disdained to have set with the dogs of my flock.’ His father was my
father’s journeyman, anyhow, and I must have been a fool to let ‘ee
go to work for ‘n, which I shouldn’t ha’ done but to keep ‘ee out of
mischty.”

More angry with Jude for demeaning her by coming there than for
dereliction of duty, she rated him primarily from that point of view,
and only secondarily from a moral one.

“Not that you should have let the birds eat what Farmer Troutham
planted. Of course you was wrong in that. Jude, Jude, why didstn’t
go off with that schoolmaster of thine to Christminster or somewhere?
But, oh no–poor or’nary child–there never was any sprawl on thy
side of the family, and never will be!”

“Where is this beautiful city, Aunt–this place where Mr. Phillotson
is gone to?” asked the boy, after meditating in silence.

“Lord! you ought to know where the city of Christminster is. Near a
score of miles from here. It is a place much too good for you ever
to have much to do with, poor boy, I’m a-thinking.”

“And will Mr. Phillotson always be there?”

“How can I tell?”

“Could I go to see him?”

“Lord, no! You didn’t grow up hereabout, or you wouldn’t ask such as
that. We’ve never had anything to do with folk in Christminster, nor
folk in Christminster with we.”

Jude went out, and, feeling more than ever his existence to be an
undemanded one, he lay down upon his back on a heap of litter near
the pig-sty. The fog had by this time become more translucent, and
the position of the sun could be seen through it. He pulled his
straw hat over his face, and peered through the interstices of the
plaiting at the white brightness, vaguely reflecting. Growing up
brought responsibilities, he found. Events did not rhyme quite as
he had thought. Nature’s logic was too horrid for him to care for.
That mercy towards one set of creatures was cruelty towards another
sickened his sense of harmony. As you got older, and felt yourself
to be at the centre of your time, and not at a point in its
circumference, as you had felt when you were little, you were seized
with a sort of shuddering, he perceived. All around you there seemed
to be something glaring, garish, rattling, and the noises and glares
hit upon the little cell called your life, and shook it, and warped
it.

If he could only prevent himself growing up! He did not want to be a
man.

Then, like the natural boy, he forgot his despondency, and sprang up.
During the remainder of the morning he helped his aunt, and in the
afternoon, when there was nothing more to be done, he went into the
village. Here he asked a man whereabouts Christminster lay.

“Christminster? Oh, well, out by there yonder; though I’ve never bin
there–not I. I’ve never had any business at such a place.”

The man pointed north-eastward, in the very direction where lay that
field in which Jude had so disgraced himself. There was something
unpleasant about the coincidence for the moment, but the fearsomeness
of this fact rather increased his curiosity about the city. The
farmer had said he was never to be seen in that field again; yet
Christminster lay across it, and the path was a public one. So,
stealing out of the hamlet, he descended into the same hollow which
had witnessed his punishment in the morning, never swerving an inch
from the path, and climbing up the long and tedious ascent on the
other side till the track joined the highway by a little clump of
trees. Here the ploughed land ended, and all before him was bleak
open down.