"I like you much for how you have behaved. It is a curious thing that directly I have begun to regard you as not my husband, but as my old teacher, I like you. I won't be so affected as to say I love you, because you know I don't, except as a friend. But you do seem that to me!"
Sue was for a few moments a little tearful at these reflections, and then the station omnibus came round to take her up. Phillotson saw her things put on the top, handed her in, and was obliged to make an appearance of kissing her as he wished her good-bye, which she quite understood and imitated. From the cheerful manner in which they parted the omnibus-man had no other idea than that she was going for a short visit.
When Phillotson got back into the house he went upstairs and opened the window in the direction the omnibus had taken. Soon the noise of its wheels died away. He came down then, his face compressed like that of one bearing pain; he put on his hat and went out, following by the same route for nearly a mile. Suddenly turning round he came home.
He had no sooner entered than the voice of his friend Gillingham greeted him from the front room.
"I could make nobody hear; so finding your door open I walked in, and made myself comfortable. I said I would call, you remember."
"Yes. I am much obliged to you, Gillingham, particularly for coming to-night."
"How is Mrs. — "
"She is quite well. She is gone — just gone. That's her tea-cup, that she drank out of only an hour ago. And that's the plate she — " Phillotson's throat got choked up, and he could not go on. He turned and pushed the tea-things aside.
"Have you had any tea, by the by?" he asked presently in a renewed voice.
"No — yes — never mind," said Gillingham, preoccupied. "Gone, you say she is?"
"Yes... I would have died for her; but I wouldn't be cruel to her in the name of the law. She is, as I understand, gone to join her lover. What they are going to do I cannot say. Whatever it may be she has my full consent to."
There was a stability, a ballast, in Phillotson's pronouncement which restrained his friend's comment. "Shall I — leave you?" he asked.
"No, no. It is a mercy to me that you have come. I have some articles to arrange and clear away. Would you help me?"
Gillingham assented; and having gone to the upper rooms the schoolmaster opened drawers, and began taking out all Sue's things that she had left behind, and laying them in a large box. "She wouldn't take all I wanted her to," he continued. "But when I made up my mind to her going to live in her own way I did make up my mind."
"Some men would have stopped at an agreement to separate."
"I've gone into all that, and don't wish to argue it. I was, and am, the most old-fashioned man in the world on the question of marriage — in fact I had never thought critically about its ethics at all. But certain facts stared me in the face, and I couldn't go against them."
They went on with the packing silently. When it was done Phillotson closed the box and turned the key.
"There," he said. "To adorn her in somebody's eyes; never again in mine!"