Jude the Obscure
PART IV: Chapter 6
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