The next afternoon the familiar Christminster fog still hung over all things. Sue's slim shape was only just discernible going towards the station.
Jude had no heart to go to his work that day. Neither could he go anywhere in the direction by which she would be likely to pass. He went in an opposite one, to a dreary, strange, flat scene, where boughs dripped, and coughs and consumption lurked, and where he had never been before.
"Sue's gone from me — gone!" he murmured miserably.
She in the meantime had left by the train, and reached Alfredston Road, where she entered the steam-tram and was conveyed into the town. It had been her request to Phillotson that he should not meet her. She wished, she said, to come to him voluntarily, to his very house and hearthstone.
It was Friday evening, which had been chosen because the schoolmaster was disengaged at four o'clock that day till the Monday morning following. The little car she hired at the Bear to drive her to Marygreen set her down at the end of the lane, half a mile from the village, by her desire, and preceded her to the schoolhouse with such portion of her luggage as she had brought. On its return she encountered it, and asked the driver if he had found the master's house open. The man informed her that he had, and that her things had been taken in by the schoolmaster himself.
She could now enter Marygreen without exciting much observation. She crossed by the well and under the trees to the pretty new school on the other side, and lifted the latch of the dwelling without knocking. Phillotson stood in the middle of the room, awaiting her, as requested.
"I've come, Richard," said she, looking pale and shaken, and sinking into a chair. "I cannot believe — you forgive your — wife!"
"Everything, darling Susanna," said Phillotson.
She started at the endearment, though it had been spoken advisedly without fervour. Then she nerved herself again.
"My children — are dead — and it is right that they should be! I am glad — almost. They were sin-begotten. They were sacrificed to teach me how to live! Their death was the first stage of my purification. That's why they have not died in vain! ... You will take me back?"
He was so stirred by her pitiful words and tone that he did more than he had meant to do. He bent and kissed her cheek.
Sue imperceptibly shrank away, her flesh quivering under the touch of his lips.
Phillotson's heart sank, for desire was renascent in him. "You still have an aversion to me!"
"Oh no, dear — I have been driving through the damp, and I was chilly!" she said, with a hurried smile of apprehension. "When are we going to have the marriage? Soon?"
"To-morrow morning, early, I thought — if you really wish. I am sending round to the vicar to let him know you are come. I have told him all, and he highly approves — he says it will bring our lives to a triumphant and satisfactory issue. But — are you sure of yourself? It is not too late to refuse now if — you think you can't bring yourself to it, you know?"
"Yes, yes, I can! I want it done quick. Tell him, tell him at once! My strength is tried by the undertaking — I can't wait long!"
"Have something to eat and drink then, and go over to your room at Mrs. Edlin's. I'll tell the vicar half-past eight to-morrow, before anybody is about — if that's not too soon for you? My friend Gillingham is here to help us in the ceremony. He's been good enough to come all the way from Shaston at great inconvenience to himself."
Unlike a woman in ordinary, whose eye is so keen for material things, Sue seemed to see nothing of the room they were in, or any detail of her environment. But on moving across the parlour to put down her muff she uttered a little "Oh!" and grew paler than before. Her look was that of the condemned criminal who catches sight of his coffin.
"What?" said Phillotson.
The flap of the bureau chanced to be open, and in placing her muff upon it her eye had caught a document which lay there. "Oh — only a — funny surprise!" she said, trying to laugh away her cry as she came back to the table.
"Ah! Yes," said Phillotson. "The licence.... It has just come."
Gillingham now joined them from his room above, and Sue nervously made herself agreeable to him by talking on whatever she thought likely to interest him, except herself, though that interested him most of all. She obediently ate some supper, and prepared to leave for her lodging hard by. Phillotson crossed the green with her, bidding her good-night at Mrs. Edlin's door.
The old woman accompanied Sue to her temporary quarters, and helped her to unpack. Among other things she laid out a night-gown tastefully embroidered.
"Oh — I didn't know THAT was put in!" said Sue quickly. "I didn't mean it to be. Here is a different one." She handed a new and absolutely plain garment, of coarse and unbleached calico.
"But this is the prettiest," said Mrs. Edlin. "That one is no better than very sackcloth o' Scripture!"
"Yes — I meant it to be. Give me the other."
She took it, and began rending it with all her might, the tears resounding through the house like a screech-owl.
"But my dear, dear! — whatever..."
"It is adulterous! It signifies what I don't feel — I bought it long ago — to please Jude. It must be destroyed!"
Mrs. Edlin lifted her hands, and Sue excitedly continued to tear the linen into strips, laying the pieces in the fire.
"You med ha' give it to me!" said the widow. "It do make my heart ache to see such pretty open-work as that a-burned by the flames — not that ornamental night-rails can be much use to a' ould 'ooman like I. My days for such be all past and gone!"
"It is an accursed thing — it reminds me of what I want to forget!" Sue repeated. "It is only fit for the fire."
"Lord, you be too strict! What do ye use such words for, and condemn to hell your dear little innocent children that's lost to 'ee! Upon my life I don't call that religion!"
Sue flung her face upon the bed, sobbing. "Oh, don't, don't! That kills me!" She remained shaken with her grief, and slipped down upon her knees.
"I'll tell 'ee what — you ought not to marry this man again!" said Mrs. Edlin indignantly. "You are in love wi' t' other still!"
"Yes I must — I am his already!"
"Pshoo! You be t' other man's. If you didn't like to commit yourselves to the binding vow again, just at first, 'twas all the more credit to your consciences, considering your reasons, and you med ha' lived on, and made it all right at last. After all, it concerned nobody but your own two selves."
"Richard says he'll have me back, and I'm bound to go! If he had refused, it might not have been so much my duty to — give up Jude. But — " She remained with her face in the bed-clothes, and Mrs. Edlin left the room.