Chapter 34

In returning to his native town of Shaston as schoolmaster Phillotson had won the interest and awakened the memories of the inhabitants, who, though they did not honour him for his miscellaneous aquirements as he would have been honoured elsewhere, retained for him a sincere regard. When, shortly after his arrival, he brought home a pretty wife - awkwardly pretty for him, if he did not take care, they said - they were glad to have her settle among them.

For some time after her flight from that home Sue's absence did not excite comment. Her place as monitor in the school was taken by another young woman within a few days of her vacating it, which substitution also passed without remark, Sue's services having been of a provisional nature only. When, however, a month had passed, and Phillotson casually admitted to an acquaintance that he did not know where his wife was staying, curiosity began to be aroused; till, jumping to conclusions, people ventured to affirm that Sue had played him false and run away from him. The schoolmaster's growing languor and listlessness over his work gave countenance to the idea.

Though Phillotson had held his tongue as long as he could, except to his friend Gillingham, his honesty and directness would not allow him to do so when misapprehensions as to Sue's conduct spread abroad. On a Monday morning the chairman of the school committee called, and after attending to the business of the school drew Phillotson aside out of earshot of the children.

`You'll excuse my asking, Phillotson, since everybody is talking of it: is this true as to your domestic affairs - that your wife's going away was on no visit, but a secret elopement with a lover? If so, I condole with you.'

`Don't,' said Phillotson. `There was no secret about it.'

`She has gone to visit friends?'


`Then what has happened?'

`She has gone away under circumstances that usually call for condolence with the husband. But I gave my consent.'

The chairman looked as if he had not apprehended the remark.

`What I say is quite true,' Phillotson continued testily. `She asked leave to go away with her lover, and I let her. Why shouldn't I? A woman of full age, it was a question of her own conscience - not for me. I was not her gaoler. I can't explain any further. I don't wish to be questioned.'

The children observed that much seriousness marked the faces of the two men, and went home and told their parents that something new had happened about Mrs. Phillotson. Then Phillotson's little maidservant, who was a schoolgirl just out of her standards, said that Mr. Phillotson had helped in his wife's packing, had offered her what money she required, and had written a friendly letter to her young man, telling him to take care of her. The chairman of committee thought the matter over, and talked to the other managers of the school, till a request came to Phillotson to meet them privately. The meeting lasted a long time, and at the end the school-master came home, looking as usual pale and worn. Gillingham was sitting in his house awaiting him.

`Well; it is as you said,' observed Phillotson, flinging himself down wearily in a chair. `They have requested me to send in my resignation on account of my scandalous conduct in giving my tortured wife her liberty - or, as they call it, condoning her adultery. But I shan't resign!'

`I think I would.'

  By PanEris using Melati.

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