`You are keeping the school there again, just as formerly?'
The pressure of a sadness that would out unsealed him. `I am there,' he replied. `Just as formerly, no. Merely on sufferance. It was a last resource - a small thing to return to after my move upwards, and my long indulged hopes a returning to zero, with all its humiliations. But it is a refuge. I like the seclusion of the place, and the vicar having known me before my so-called eccentric conduct towards my wife had ruined my reputation as a schoolmaster, he accepted my services when all other schools were closed against me. However, although I take fifty pounds a year here after taking above two hundred elsewhere, I prefer it to running the risk of having my old domestic experiences raked up against me, as I should do if I tried to make a move.'
`Right you are. A contented mind is a continual feast. She has done no better.'
`She is not doing well, you mean?'
`I met her by accident at Kennetbridge this very day, and she is anything but thriving. Her husband is ill, and she anxious. You made a fool of a mistake about her, I tell 'ee again, and the harm you did yourself by dirting your own nest serves you right, excusing the liberty.'
`She was innocent.'
`But nonsense! They did not even defend the case!'
`That was because they didn't care to. She was quite innocent of what obtained you your freedom, at the time you obtained it. I saw her just afterwards, and proved it to myself completely by talking to her.'
Phillotson grasped the edge of the spring-cart, and appeared to be much stressed and worried by the information. `Still - she wanted to go,' he said.
`Yes. But you shouldn't have let her. That's the only way with these fanciful women that chaw high - innocent or guilty. She'd have come round in time. We all do! Custom does it! It's all the same in the end! However, I think she's fond of her man still - whatever he med be of her. You were too quick about her. I shouldn't have let her go! I should have kept her chained on - her spirit for kicking would have been broke soon enough! There's nothing like bondage and a stone-deaf taskmaster for taming us women. Besides, you've got the laws on your side. Moses knew. Don't you call to mind what he says?'
`Not for the moment, ma'am, I regret to say.'
`Call yourself a schoolmaster! I used to think o't when they read it in church, and I was carrying on a bit. `Then shall the man be guiltless; but the woman shall bear her iniquity.' Damn rough on us women; but we must grin and put up wi' it! Haw haw! Well; she's got her deserts now.'
`Yes,' said Phillotson, with biting sadness. `Cruelty is the law pervading all nature and society; and we can't get out of it if we would!'
`Well - don't you forget to try it next time, old man.'
`I cannot answer you, madam. I have never known much of womankind.'
They had now reached the low levels bordering Alfredston, and passing through the outskirts approached a mill, to which Phillotson said his errand led him; whereupon they drew up, and he alighted, bidding them good-night in a preoccupied mood.
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