Half an hour later when Mrs. Edlin put on her bonnet and shawl to leave, Sue seemed to be seized with vague terror.
"No — no — don't go, Mrs. Edlin," she implored, her eyes enlarged, and with a quick nervous look over her shoulder.
"But it is bedtime, child."
"Yes, but — there's the little spare room — my room that was. It is quite ready. Please stay, Mrs. Edlin! — I shall want you in the morning."
"Oh well — I don't mind, if you wish. Nothing will happen to my four old walls, whether I be there or no."
She then fastened up the doors, and they ascended the stairs together.
"Wait here, Mrs. Edlin," said Sue. "I'll go into my old room a moment by myself."
Leaving the widow on the landing Sue turned to the chamber which had been hers exclusively since her arrival at Marygreen, and pushing to the door knelt down by the bed for a minute or two. She then arose, and taking her night-gown from the pillow undressed and came out to Mrs. Edlin. A man could be heard snoring in the room opposite. She wished Mrs. Edlin good-night, and the widow entered the room that Sue had just vacated.
Sue unlatched the other chamber door, and, as if seized with faintness, sank down outside it. Getting up again she half opened the door, and said "Richard." As the word came out of her mouth she visibly shuddered.
The snoring had quite ceased for some time, but he did not reply. Sue seemed relieved, and hurried back to Mrs. Edlin's chamber. "Are you in bed, Mrs. Edlin?" she asked.
"No, dear," said the widow, opening the door. "I be old and slow, and it takes me a long while to un-ray. I han't unlaced my jumps yet."
"I — don't hear him! And perhaps — perhaps — "
"Perhaps he's dead!" she gasped. "And then — I should be FREE, and I could go to Jude! ... Ah — no — I forgot HER — and God!"
"Let's go and hearken. No — he's snoring again. But the rain and the wind is so loud that you can hardly hear anything but between whiles."
Sue had dragged herself back. "Mrs. Edlin, good-night again! I am sorry I called you out." The widow retreated a second time.
The strained, resigned look returned to Sue's face when she was alone. "I must do it — I must! I must drink to the dregs!" she whispered. "Richard!" she said again.
"Hey — what? Is that you, Susanna?"
"What do you want? Anything the matter? Wait a moment." He pulled on some articles of clothing, and came to the door. "Yes?"
"When we were at Shaston I jumped out of the window rather than that you should come near me. I have never reversed that treatment till now — when I have come to beg your pardon for it, and ask you to let me in."
"Perhaps you only think you ought to do this? I don't wish you to come against your impulses, as I have said."
"But I beg to be admitted." She waited a moment, and repeated, "I beg to be admitted! I have been in error — even to-day. I have exceeded my rights. I did not mean to tell you, but perhaps I ought. I sinned against you this afternoon."
"I met Jude! I didn't know he was coming. And — "
"I kissed him, and let him kiss me."
"Oh — the old story!"
"Richard, I didn't know we were going to kiss each other till we did!"
"How many times?"
"A good many. I don't know. I am horrified to look back on it, and the least I can do after it is to come to you like this."
"Come — this is pretty bad, after what I've done! Anything else to confess?"
"No." She had been intending to say: "I called him my darling love." But, as a contrite woman always keeps back a little, that portion of the scene remained untold. She went on: "I am never going to see him any more. He spoke of some things of the past: and it overcame me. He spoke of — the children. But, as I have said, I am glad — almost glad I mean — that they are dead, Richard. It blots out all that life of mine!"
"Well — about not seeing him again any more. Come — you really mean this?" There was something in Phillotson's tone now which seemed to show that his three months of remarriage with Sue had somehow not been so satisfactory as his magnanimity or amative patience had anticipated.
"Perhaps you'll swear it on the New Testament?"
He went back to the room and brought out a little brown Testament. "Now then: So help you God!"
"Now I supplicate you, Richard, to whom I belong, and whom I wish to honour and obey, as I vowed, to let me in."
"Think it over well. You know what it means. Having you back in the house was one thing — this another. So think again."
"I have thought — I wish this!"
"That's a complaisant spirit — and perhaps you are right. With a lover hanging about, a half-marriage should be completed. But I repeat my reminder this third and last time."
"It is my wish! ... O God!"
"What did you say 'O God' for?"
"I don't know!"
"Yes you do! But ..." He gloomily considered her thin and fragile form a moment longer as she crouched before him in her night-clothes. "Well, I thought it might end like this," he said presently. "I owe you nothing, after these signs; but I'll take you in at your word, and forgive you."
He put his arm round her to lift her up. Sue started back.
"What's the matter?" he asked, speaking for the first time sternly. "You shrink from me again? — just as formerly!"
"No, Richard — I — I — was not thinking — "
"You wish to come in here?"
"You still bear in mind what it means?"
"Yes. It is my duty!"
Placing the candlestick on the chest of drawers he led her through the doorway, and lifting her bodily, kissed her. A quick look of aversion passed over her face, but clenching her teeth she uttered no cry.
Mrs. Edlin had by this time undressed, and was about to get into bed when she said to herself: "Ah — perhaps I'd better go and see if the little thing is all right. How it do blow and rain!"
The widow went out on the landing, and saw that Sue had disappeared. "Ah! Poor soul! Weddings be funerals 'a b'lieve nowadays. Fifty-five years ago, come Fall, since my man and I married! Times have changed since then!"