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This generous phalanx of supporters, and a few others of independent judgment, whose own domestic experiences had been not without vicissitude, came up and warmly shook hands with Phillotson; after which they expressed their thoughts so strongly to the meeting that issue was joined, the result being a general scuffle, wherein a black board was split, three panes of the school windows were broken, an inkbottle was spilled over a town-councillor's shirt front, a churchwarden was dealt such a topper with the map of Palestine that his head went right through Samaria, and many black eyes and bleeding noses were given, one of which, to everybody's horror, was the venerable incumbent's, owing to the zeal of an emancipated chimney-sweep, who took the side of Phillotson's party. When Phillotson saw the blood running down the rector's face he deplored almost in groans the untoward and degrading circumstances, regretted that he had not resigned when called upon, and went home so ill that next morning he could not leave his bed.
The farcical yet melancholy event was the beginning of a serious illness for him; and he lay in his lonely bed in the pathetic state of mind of a middle-aged man who perceives at length that his life, intellectual and domestic, is tending to failure and gloom. Gillingham came to see him in the evenings, and on one occasion mentioned Sue's name.
"She doesn't care anything about me!" said Phillotson. "Why should she?"
"She doesn't know you are ill."
"So much the better for both of us."
"Where are her lover and she living?"
"At Melchester--I suppose; at least he was living there some time ago."
When Gillingham reached home he sat and reflected, and at last wrote an anonymous line to Sue, on the bare chance of its reaching her, the letter being enclosed in an envelope addressed to Jude at the diocesan capital. Arriving at that place it was forwarded to Marygreen in North Wessex, and thence to Aldbrickham by the only person who knew his present address-- the widow who had nursed his aunt.
Three days later, in the evening, when the sun was going down in splendour over the lowlands of Blackmoor, and making the Shaston windows like tongues of fire to the eyes of the rustics in that vale, the sick man fancied that he heard somebody come to the house, and a few minutes after there was a tap at the bedroom door. Phillotson did not speak; the door was hesitatingly opened, and there entered--Sue.
She was in light spring clothing, and her advent seemed ghostly-- like the flitting in of a moth. He turned his eyes upon her, and flushed; but appeared to check his primary impulse to speak.
"I have no business here," she said, bending her frightened face to him. "But I heard you were ill--very ill; and--and as I know that you recognize other feelings between man and woman than physical love, I have come."
"I am not very ill, my dear friend. Only unwell."
"I didn't know that; and I am afraid that only a severe illness would have justified my coming!"
"Yes ... yes. And I almost wish you had not come! It is a little too soon-- that's all I mean. Still, let us make the best of it. You haven't heard about the school, I suppose?"
"No--what about it?"
"Only that I am going away from here to another place. The managers and I don't agree, and we are going to part-- that's all."
Sue did not for a moment, either now or later, suspect what troubles had resulted to him from letting her go; it never once seemed to cross her mind, and she had received no news whatever from Shaston. They talked on slight and ephemeral subjects, and when his tea was brought up he told the amazed little servant that a cup was to be set for Sue. That young person was much more interested in their history than they supposed, and as she descended the stairs she lifted her eyes and hands in grotesque amazement. While they sipped Sue went to the window and thoughtfully said, "It is such a beautiful sunset, Richard."
"They are mostly beautiful from here, owing to the rays crossing the mist of the vale. But I lose them all, as they don't shine into this gloomy corner where I lie."
"Wouldn't you like to see this particular one? It is like heaven opened."
"Ah yes! But I can't."
"I'll help you to."
"No--the bedstead can't be shifted."
"But see how I mean."
She went to where a swing-glass stood, and taking it in her hands carried it to a spot by the window where it could catch the sunshine, moving the glass till the beams were reflected into Phillotson's face.
"There--you can see the great red sun now!" she said. "And I am sure it will cheer you--I do so hope it will!" She spoke with a childlike, repentant kindness, as if she could not do too much for him.
Phillotson smiled sadly. "You are an odd creature!" he murmured as the sun glowed in his eyes. "The idea of your coming to see me after what has passed!"
"Don't let us go back upon that!" she said quickly. "I have to catch the omnibus for the train, as Jude doesn't know I have come; he was out when I started; so I must return home almost directly. Richard, I am so very glad you are better. You don't hate me, do you? You have been such a kind friend to me!"
"I am glad to know you think so," said Phillotson huskily. "No. I don't hate you!"
It grew dusk quickly in the gloomy room during their intermittent chat, and when candles were brought and it was time to leave she put her hand in his or rather allowed it to flit through his; for she was significantly light in touch. She had nearly closed the door when he said, "Sue!" He had noticed that, in turning away from him, tears were on her face and a quiver in her lip.
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Jude the Obscure -- by Thomas Hardy