What Had Happened at Home
When Mr. Tulliver first knew the fact that the law-suit was decided against him, and that Pivart and Wakem were triumphant, every one who happened to observe him at the time thought that, for so confident and hot-tempered a man, he bore the blow remarkably well. He thought so himself; he thought he was going to show that if Wakem or anybody else considered him crushed, they would find themselves mistaken. He could not refuse to see that the costs of this protracted suit would take more than he possessed to pay them; but he appeared to himself to be full of expedients by which he could ward off any results but such as were tolerable, and could avoid the appearance of breaking down in the world. All the obstinacy and defiance of his nature, driven out of their old channel, found a vent for themselves in the immediate formation of plans by which he would meet his difficulties, and remain Mr. Tulliver of Dorlcote Mill in spite of them. There was such a rush of projects in his brain, that it was no wonder his face was flushed when he came away from his talk with his attorney, Mr. Gore, and mounted his horse to ride home from Lindum. There was Furley, who held the mortgage on the land,–a reasonable fellow, who would see his own interest, Mr. Tulliver was convinced, and who would be glad not only to purchase the whole estate, including the mill and homestead, but would accept Mr. Tulliver as tenant, and be willing to advance money to be repaid with high interest out of the profits of the business, which would be made over to him, Mr. Tulliver only taking enough barely to maintain himself and his family. Who would neglect such a profitable investment? Certainly not Furley, for Mr. Tulliver had determined that Furley should meet his plans with the utmost alacrity; and there are men whoses brains have not yet been dangerously heated by the loss of a lawsuit, who are apt to see in their own interest or desires a motive for other men's actions. There was no doubt (in the miller's mind) that Furley would do just what was desirable; and if he did–why, things would not be so very much worse. Mr. Tulliver and his family must live more meagrely and humbly, but it would only be till the profits of the business had paid off Furley's advances, and that might be while Mr. Tulliver had still a good many years of life before him. It was clear that the costs of the suit could be paid without his being obliged to turn out of his old place, and look like a ruined man. It was certainly an awkward moment in his affairs. There was that suretyship for poor Riley, who had died suddenly last April, and left his friend saddled with a debt of two hundred and fifty pounds,–a fact which had helped to make Mr. Tulliver's banking book less pleasant reading than a man might desire toward Christmas. Well! he had never been one of those poor-spirited sneaks who would refuse to give a helping hand to a fellow-traveller in this puzzling world. The really vexatious business was the fact that some months ago the creditor who had lent him the five hundred pounds to repay Mrs. Glegg had become uneasy about his money (set on by Wakem, of course), and Mr. Tulliver, still confident that he should gain his suit, and finding it eminently inconvenient to raise the said sum until that desirable issue had taken place, had rashly acceded to the demand that he should give a bill of sale on his household furniture and some other effects, as security in lieu of the bond. It was all one, he had said to himself; he should soon pay off the money, and there was no harm in giving that security any more than another. But now the consequences of this bill of sale occurred to him in a new light, and he remembered that the time was close at hand when it would be enforced unless the money were repaid. Two months ago he would have declared stoutly that he would never be beholden to his wife's friends; but now he told himself as stoutly that it was nothing but right and natural that Bessy should go to the Pullets and explain the thing to them; they would hardly let Bessy's furniture be sold, and it might be security to Pullet if he advanced the money,–there would, after all, be no gift or favor in the matter. Mr. Tulliver would never have asked for anything from so poor-spirited a fellow for himself, but Bessy might do so if she liked.
It is precisely the proudest and most obstinate men who are the most liable to shift their position and contradict themselves in this sudden manner; everything is easier to them than to face the simple fact that they have been thoroughly defeated, and must begin life anew. And Mr. Tulliver, you perceive, though nothing more than a superior miller and maltster, was as proud and obstinate as if he had been a very lofty personage, in whom such dispositions might be a source of that conspicuous, far-echoing tragedy, which sweeps the stage in regal robes, and makes the dullest chronicler sublime. The pride and obstinacy of millers and other insignificant people, whom you pass unnoticingly on the road every day, have their tragedy too; but it is of that unwept, hidden sort that goes on from generation to generation, and leaves no record,–such tragedy, perhaps, as lies in the conflicts of young souls, hungry for joy, under a lot made suddenly hard to them, under the dreariness of a home where the morning brings no promise with it, and where the unexpectant discontent of worn and disappointed parents weighs on the children like a damp, thick air, in which all the functions of life are depressed; or such tragedy as lies in the slow or sudden death that follows on a bruised passion, though it may be a death that finds only a parish funeral. There are certain animals to which tenacity of position is a law of life,–they can never flourish again, after a single wrench: and there are certain human beings to whom predominance is a law of life,–they can only sustain humiliation so long as they can refuse to believe in it, and, in their own conception, predominate still.
Mr. Tulliver was still predominating, in his own imagination, as he approached St. Ogg's, through which he had to pass on his way homeward. But what was it that suggested to him, as he saw the Laceham coach entering the town, to follow it to the coach-office, and get the clerk there to write a letter, requiring Maggie to come home the very next day? Mr. Tulliver's own hand shook too much under his excitement for him to write himself, and he wanted the letter to be given to the coachman to deliver at Miss Firniss's school in the morning. There was a craving which he would not account for to himself, to have Maggie near him, without delay,–she must come back by the coach to-morrow.
To Mrs. Tulliver, when he got home, he would admit no difficulties, and scolded down her burst of grief on hearing that the lawsuit was lost, by angry assertions that there was nothing to grieve about. He said nothing to her that night about the bill of sale and the application to Mrs. Pullet, for he had kept her in ignorance of the nature of that transaction, and had explained the necessity for taking an inventory of the goods as a matter connected with his will. The possession of a wife conspicuously one's inferior in intellect is, like other high privileges, attended with a few inconveniences, and, among the rest, with the occasional necessity for using a little deception.
The next day Mr. Tulliver was again on horseback in the afternoon, on his way to Mr. Gore's office at St. Ogg's. Gore was to have seen Furley in the morning, and to have sounded him in relation to Mr. Tulliver's affairs. But he had not gone half-way when he met a clerk from Mr. Gore's office, who was bringing a letter to Mr. Tulliver. Mr. Gore had been prevented by a sudden call of business from waiting at his office to see Mr. Tulliver, according to appointment, but would be at his office at eleven to-morrow morning, and meanwhile had sent some important information by letter.
"Oh!" said Mr. Tulliver, taking the letter, but not opening it. "Then tell Gore I'll see him to-morrow at eleven"; and he turned his horse.
The clerk, struck with Mr. Tulliver's glistening, excited glance, looked after him for a few moments, and then rode away. The reading of a letter was not the affair of an instant to Mr. Tulliver; he took in the sense of a statement very slowly through the medium of written or even printed characters; so he had put the letter in his pocket, thinking he would open it in his armchair at home. But by-and-by it occurred to him that there might be something in the letter Mrs. Tulliver must not know about, and if so, it would be better to keep it out of her sight altogether. He stopped his horse, took out the letter, and read it. It was only a short letter; the substance was, that Mr. Gore had ascertained, on secret, but sure authority, that Furley had been lately much straitened for money, and had parted with his securities,–among the rest, the mortgage on Mr. Tulliver's property, which he had transferred to––Wakem.
In half an hour after this Mr. Tulliver's own wagoner found him lying by the roadside insensible, with an open letter near him, and his gray horse snuffing uneasily about him.
When Maggie reached home that evening, in obedience to her father's call, he was no longer insensible. About an hour before he had become conscious, and after vague, vacant looks around him, had muttered something about "a letter," which he presently repeated impatiently. At the instance of Mr. Turnbull, the medical man, Gore's letter was brought and laid on the bed, and the previous impatience seemed to be allayed. The stricken man lay for some time with his eyes fixed on the letter, as if he were trying to knit up his thoughts by its help. But presently a new wave of memory seemed to have come and swept the other away; he turned his eyes from the letter to the door, and after looking uneasily, as if striving to see something his eyes were too dim for, he said, "The little wench."
He repeated the words impatiently from time to time, appearing entirely unconscious of everything except this one importunate want, and giving no sign of knowing his wife or any one else; and poor Mrs. Tulliver, her feeble faculties almost paralyzed by this sudden accumulation of troubles, went backward and forward to the gate to see if the Laceham coach were coming, though it was not yet time.
But it came at last, and set down the poor anxious girl, no longer the "little wench," except to her father's fond memory.
"Oh, mother, what is the matter?" Maggie said, with pale lips, as her mother came toward her crying. She didn't think her father was ill, because the letter had come at his dictation from the office at St. Ogg's.
But Mr. Turnbull came now to meet her; a medical man is the good angel of the troubled house, and Maggie ran toward the kind old friend, whom she remembered as long as she could remember anything, with a trembling, questioning look.
"Don't alarm yourself too much, my dear," he said, taking her hand. "Your father has had a sudden attack, and has not quite recovered his memory. But he has been asking for you, and it will do him good to see you. Keep as quiet as you can; take off your things, and come upstairs with me."
Maggie obeyed, with that terrible beating of the heart which makes existence seem simply a painful pulsation. The very quietness with which Mr. Turnbull spoke had frightened her susceptible imagination. Her father's eyes were still turned uneasily toward the door when she entered and met the strange, yearning, helpless look that had been seeking her in vain. With a sudden flash and movement, he raised himself in the bed; she rushed toward him, and clasped him with agonized kisses.
Poor child! it was very early for her to know one of those supreme moments in life when all we have hoped or delighted in, all we can dread or endure, falls away from our regard as insignificant; is lost, like a trivial memory, in that simple, primitive love which knits us to the beings who have been nearest to us, in their times of helplessness or of anguish.
But that flash of recognition had been too great a strain on the father's bruised, enfeebled powers. He sank back again in renewed insensibility and rigidity, which lasted for many hours, and was only broken by a flickering return of consciousness, in which he took passively everything that was given to him, and seemed to have a sort of infantine satisfaction in Maggie's near presence,–such satisfaction as a baby has when it is returned to the nurse's lap.
Mrs. Tulliver sent for her sisters, and there was much wailing and lifting up of hands below stairs. Both uncles and aunts saw that the ruin of Bessy and her family was as complete as they had ever foreboded it, and there was a general family sense that a judgment had fallen on Mr. Tulliver, which it would be an impiety to counteract by too much kindness. But Maggie heard little of this, scarcely ever leaving her father's bedside, where she sat opposite him with her hand on his. Mrs. Tulliver wanted to have Tom fetched home, and seemed to be thinking more of her boy even than of her husband; but the aunts and uncles opposed this. Tom was better at school, since Mr. Turnbull said there was no immediate danger, he believed. But at the end of the second day, when Maggie had become more accustomed to her father's fits of insensibility, and to the expectation that he would revive from them, the thought of Tom had become urgent with her too; and when her mother sate crying at night and saying, "My poor lad–it's nothing but right he should come home," Maggie said, "Let me go for him, and tell him, mother; I'll go to-morrow morning if father doesn't know me and want me. It would be so hard for Tom to come home and not know anything about it beforehand."
And the next morning Maggie went, as we have seen. Sitting on the coach on their way home, the brother and sister talked to each other in sad, interrupted whispers.
"They say Mr. Wakem has got a mortgage or something on the land, Tom," said Maggie. "It was the letter with that news in it that made father ill, they think."
"I believe that scoundrel's been planning all along to ruin my father," said Tom, leaping from the vaguest impressions to a definite conclusion. "I'll make him feel for it when I'm a man. Mind you never speak to Philip again."
"Oh, Tom!" said Maggie, in a tone of sad remonstrance; but she had no spirit to dispute anything then, still less to vex Tom by opposing him.
Mrs. Tulliver's Teraphim, or Household Gods
When the coach set down Tom and Maggie, it was five hours since she had started from home, and she was thinking with some trembling that her father had perhaps missed her, and asked for "the little wench" in vain. She thought of no other change that might have happened.
She hurried along the gravel-walk and entered the house before Tom; but in the entrance she was startled by a strong smell of tobacco. The parlor door was ajar; that was where the smell came from. It was very strange; could any visitor be smoking at a time like this? Was her mother there? If so, she must be told that Tom was come. Maggie, after this pause of surprise, was only in the act of opening the door when Tom came up, and they both looked into the parlor together.
There was a coarse, dingy man, of whose face Tom had some vague recollection, sitting in his father's chair, smoking, with a jug and glass beside him.
The truth flashed on Tom's mind in an instant. To "have the bailiff in the house," and "to be sold up," were phrases which he had been used to, even as a little boy; they were part of the disgrace and misery of "failing," of losing all one's money, and being ruined,–sinking into the condition of poor working people. It seemed only natural this should happen, since his father had lost all his property, and he thought of no more special cause for this particular form of misfortune than the loss of the lawsuit. But the immediate presence of this disgrace was so much keener an experience to Tom than the worst form of apprehension, that he felt at this moment as if his real trouble had only just begin; it was a touch on the irritated nerve compared with its spontaneous dull aching.
"How do you do, sir?" said the man, taking the pipe out of his mouth, with rough, embarrassed civility. The two young startled faces made him a little uncomfortable.
But Tom turned away hastily without speaking; the sight was too hateful. Maggie had not understood the appearance of this stranger, as Tom had. She followed him, whispering: "Who can it be, Tom? What is the matter?" Then, with a sudden undefined dread lest this stranger might have something to do with a change in her father, she rushed upstairs, checking herself at the bedroom door to throw off her bonnet, and enter on tiptoe. All was silent there; her father was lying, heedless of everything around him, with his eyes closed as when she had left him. A servant was there, but not her mother.
"Where's my mother?" she whispered. The servant did not know.
Maggie hastened out, and said to Tom; "Father is lying quiet; let us go and look for my mother. I wonder where she is."
Mrs. Tulliver was not downstairs, not in any of the bedrooms. There was but one room below the attic which Maggie had left unsearched; it was the storeroom, where her mother kept all her linen and all the precious "best things" that were only unwrapped and brought out on special occasions.
Tom, preceding Maggie, as they returned along the passage, opened the door of this room, and immediately said, "Mother!"
Mrs. Tulliver was seated there with all her laid-up treasures. One of the linen chests was open; the silver teapot was unwrapped from its many folds of paper, and the best china was laid out on the top of the closed linen-chest; spoons and skewers and ladles were spread in rows on the shelves; and the poor woman was shaking her head and weeping, with a bitter tension of the mouth, over the mark, "Elizabeth Dodson," on the corner of some tablecloths she held in her lap.
She dropped them, and started up as Tom spoke.
"Oh, my boy, my boy!" she said, clasping him round the neck. "To think as I should live to see this day! We're ruined–everything's going to be sold up–to think as your father should ha' married me to bring me to this! We've got nothing–we shall be beggars–we must go to the workhouse––"
She kissed him, then seated herself again, and took another tablecloth on her lap, unfolding it a little way to look at the pattern, while the children stood by in mute wretchedness, their minds quite filled for the moment with the words "beggars" and "workhouse."
"To think o' these cloths as I spun myself," she went on, lifting things out and turning them over with an excitement all the more strange and piteous because the stout blond woman was usually so passive,–if she had been ruffled before, it was at the surface merely,–"and Job Haxey wove 'em, and brought the piece home on his back, as I remember standing at the door and seeing him come, before I ever thought o' marrying your father! And the pattern as I chose myself, and bleached so beautiful, and I marked 'em so as nobody ever saw such marking,–they must cut the cloth to get it out, for it's a particular stitch. And they're all to be sold, and go into strange people's houses, and perhaps be cut with the knives, and wore out before I'm dead. You'll never have one of 'em, my boy," she said, looking up at Tom with her eyes full of tears, "and I meant 'em for you. I wanted you to have all o' this pattern. Maggie could have had the large check–it never shows so well when the dishes are on it."
Tom was touched to the quick, but there was an angry reaction immediately. His face flushed as he said:
"But will my aunts let them be sold, mother? Do they know about it? They'll never let your linen go, will they? Haven't you sent to them?"
"Yes, I sent Luke directly they'd put the bailies in, and your aunt Pullet's been–and, oh dear, oh dear, she cries so and says your father's disgraced my family and made it the talk o' the country; and she'll buy the spotted cloths for herself, because she's never had so many as she wanted o' that pattern, and they sha'n't go to strangers, but she's got more checks a'ready nor she can do with." (Here Mrs. Tulliver began to lay back the tablecloths in the chest, folding and stroking them automatically.) "And your uncle Glegg's been too, and he says things must be bought in for us to lie down on, but he must talk to your aunt; and they're all coming to consult. But I know they'll none of 'em take my chany," she added, turning toward the cups and saucers, "for they all found fault with 'em when I bought 'em, 'cause o' the small gold sprig all over 'em, between the flowers. But there's none of 'em got better chany, not even your aunt Pullet herself; and I bought it wi' my own money as I'd saved ever since I was turned fifteen; and the silver teapot, too,–your father never paid for 'em. And to think as he should ha' married me, and brought me to this."
Mrs. Tulliver burst out crying afresh, and she sobbed with her handkerchief at her eyes a few moments, but then removing it, she said in a deprecating way, still half sobbing, as if she were called upon to speak before she could command her voice,–
"And I did say to him times and times, 'Whativer you do, don't go to law,' and what more could I do? I've had to sit by while my own fortin's been spent, and what should ha' been my children's, too. You'll have niver a penny, my boy–but it isn't your poor mother's fault."
She put out one arm toward Tom, looking up at him piteously with her helpless, childish blue eyes. The poor lad went to her and kissed her, and she clung to him. For the first time Tom thought of his father with some reproach. His natural inclination to blame, hitherto kept entirely in abeyance toward his father by the predisposition to think him always right, simply on the ground that he was Tom Tulliver's father, was turned into this new channel by his mother's plaints; and with his indignation against Wakem there began to mingle some indignation of another sort. Perhaps his father might have helped bringing them all down in the world, and making people talk of them with contempt, but no one should talk long of Tom Tulliver with contempt.
The natural strength and firmness of his nature was beginning to assert itself, urged by the double stimulus of resentment against his aunts, and the sense that he must behave like a man and take care of his mother.
"Don't fret, mother," he said tenderly. "I shall soon be able to get money; I'll get a situation of some sort."
"Bless you, my boy!" said Mrs. Tulliver, a little soothed. Then, looking round sadly, "But I shouldn't ha' minded so much if we could ha' kept the things wi' my name on 'em."
Maggie had witnessed this scene with gathering anger. The implied reproaches against her father–her father, who was lying there in a sort of living death–neutralized all her pity for griefs about tablecloths and china; and her anger on her father's account was heightened by some egoistic resentment at Tom's silent concurrence with her mother in shutting her out from the common calamity. She had become almost indifferent to her mother's habitual depreciation of her, but she was keenly alive to any sanction of it, however passive, that she might suspect in Tom. Poor Maggie was by no means made up of unalloyed devotedness, but put forth large claims for herself where she loved strongly. She burst out at last in an agitated, almost violent tone: "Mother, how can you talk so; as if you cared only for things with your name on, and not for what has my father's name too; and to care about anything but dear father himself!–when he's lying there, and may never speak to us again. Tom, you ought to say so too; you ought not to let any one find fault with my father."
Maggie, almost choked with mingled grief and anger, left the room, and took her old place on her father's bed. Her heart went out to him with a stronger movement than ever, at the thought that people would blame him. Maggie hated blame; she had been blamed all her life, and nothing had come of it but evil tempers.
Her father had always defended and excused her, and her loving remembrance of his tenderness was a force within her that would enable her to do or bear anything for his sake.
Tom was a little shocked at Maggie's outburst,–telling him as well as his mother what it was right to do! She ought to have learned better than have those hectoring, assuming manners, by this time. But he presently went into his father's room, and the sight there touched him in a way that effaced the slighter impressions of the previous hour. When Maggie saw how he was moved, she went to him and put her arm round his neck as he sat by the bed, and the two children forgot everything else in the sense that they had one father and one sorrow.
The Family Council
It was at eleven o'clock the next morning that the aunts and uncles came to hold their consultation. The fire was lighted in the large parlor, and poor Mrs. Tulliver, with a confused impression that it was a great occasion, like a funeral, unbagged the bell-rope tassels, and unpinned the curtains, adjusting them in proper folds, looking round and shaking her head sadly at the polished tops and legs of the tables, which sister Pullet herself could not accuse of insufficient brightness.
Mr. Deane was not coming, he was away on business; but Mrs. Deane appeared punctually in that handsome new gig with the head to it, and the livery-servant driving it, which had thrown so clear a light on several traits in her character to some of her female friends in St. Ogg's. Mr. Deane had been advancing in the world as rapidly as Mr. Tulliver had been going down in it; and in Mrs. Deane's house the Dodson linen and plate were beginning to hold quite a subordinate position, as a mere supplement to the handsomer articles of the same kind, purchased in recent years,–a change which had caused an occasional coolness in the sisterly intercourse between her and Mrs. Glegg, who felt that Susan was getting "like the rest," and there would soon be little of the true Dodson spirit surviving except in herself, and, it might be hoped, in those nephews who supported the Dodson name on the family land, far away in the Wolds.
People who live at a distance are naturally less faulty than those immediately under our own eyes; and it seems superfluous, when we consider the remote geographical position of the Ethiopians, and how very little the Greeks had to do with them, to inquire further why Homer calls them "blameless."
Mrs. Deane was the first to arrive; and when she had taken her seat in the large parlor, Mrs. Tulliver came down to her with her comely face a little distorted, nearly as it would have been if she had been crying. She was not a woman who could shed abundant tears, except in moments when the prospect of losing her furniture became unusually vivid, but she felt how unfitting it was to be quite calm under present circumstances.
"Oh, sister, what a world this is!" she exclaimed as she entered; "what trouble, oh dear!"
Mrs. Deane was a thin-lipped woman, who made small well-considered speeches on peculiar occasions, repeating them afterward to her husband, and asking him if she had not spoken very properly.
"Yes, sister," she said deliberately, "this is a changing world, and we don't know to-day what may happen tomorrow. But it's right to be prepared for all things, and if trouble's sent, to remember as it isn't sent without a cause. I'm very sorry for you as a sister, and if the doctor orders jelly for Mr. Tulliver, I hope you'll let me know. I'll send it willingly; for it is but right he should have proper attendance while he's ill."
"Thank you, Susan," said Mrs. Tulliver, rather faintly, withdrawing her fat hand from her sister's thin one. "But there's been no talk o' jelly yet." Then after a moment's pause she added, "There's a dozen o' cut jelly-glasses upstairs–I shall never put jelly into 'em no more."
Her voice was rather agitated as she uttered the last words, but the sound of wheels diverted her thoughts. Mr. and Mrs. Glegg were come, and were almost immediately followed by Mr. and Mrs. Pullet.
Mrs. Pullet entered crying, as a compendious mode, at all times, of expressing what were her views of life in general, and what, in brief, were the opinions she held concerning the particular case before her.
Mrs. Glegg had on her fuzziest front, and garments which appeared to have had a recent resurrection from rather a creasy form of burial; a costume selected with the high moral purpose of instilling perfect humility into Bessy and her children.
"Mrs. G., won't you come nearer the fire?" said her husband, unwilling to take the more comfortable seat without offering it to her.
"You see I've seated myself here, Mr. Glegg," returned this superior woman; "you can roast yourself, if you like."
"Well," said Mr. Glegg, seating himself good-humoredly, "and how's the poor man upstairs?"
"Dr. Turnbull thought him a deal better this morning," said Mrs. Tulliver; "he took more notice, and spoke to me; but he's never known Tom yet,–looks at the poor lad as if he was a stranger, though he said something once about Tom and the pony. The doctor says his memory's gone a long way back, and he doesn't know Tom because he's thinking of him when he was little. Eh dear, eh dear!"
"I doubt it's the water got on his brain," said aunt Pullet, turning round from adjusting her cap in a melancholy way at the pier-glass. "It's much if he ever gets up again; and if he does, he'll most like be childish, as Mr. Carr was, poor man! They fed him with a spoon as if he'd been a babby for three year. He'd quite lost the use of his limbs; but then he'd got a Bath chair, and somebody to draw him; and that's what you won't have, I doubt, Bessy."
"Sister Pullet," said Mrs. Glegg, severely, "if I understand right, we've come together this morning to advise and consult about what's to be done in this disgrace as has fallen upon the family, and not to talk o' people as don't belong to us. Mr. Carr was none of our blood, nor noways connected with us, as I've ever heared."
"Sister Glegg," said Mrs. Pullet, in a pleading tone, drawing on her gloves again, and stroking the fingers in an agitated manner, "if you've got anything disrespectful to say o' Mr. Carr, I do beg of you as you won't say it to me. I know what he was," she added, with a sigh; "his breath was short to that degree as you could hear him two rooms off."
"Sophy!" said Mrs. Glegg, with indignant disgust, "you do talk o' people's complaints till it's quite undecent. But I say again, as I said before, I didn't come away from home to talk about acquaintances, whether they'd short breath or long. If we aren't come together for one to hear what the other 'ull do to save a sister and her children from the parish, I shall go back. One can't act without the other, I suppose; it isn't to be expected as I should do everything."
"Well, Jane," said Mrs. Pullet, "I don't see as you've been so very forrard at doing. So far as I know, this is the first time as here you've been, since it's been known as the bailiff's in the house; and I was here yesterday, and looked at all Bessy's linen and things, and I told her I'd buy in the spotted tablecloths. I couldn't speak fairer; for as for the teapot as she doesn't want to go out o' the family, it stands to sense I can't do with two silver teapots, not if it hadn't a straight spout, but the spotted damask I was allays fond on."
"I wish it could be managed so as my teapot and chany and the best castors needn't be put up for sale," said poor Mrs. Tulliver, beseechingly, "and the sugar-tongs the first things ever I bought."
"But that can't be helped, you know," said Mr. Glegg. "If one o' the family chooses to buy 'em in, they can, but one thing must be bid for as well as another."
"And it isn't to be looked for," said uncle Pullet, with unwonted independence of idea, "as your own family should pay more for things nor they'll fetch. They may go for an old song by auction."
"Oh dear, oh dear," said Mrs. Tulliver, "to think o' my chany being sold i' that way, and I bought it when I was married, just as you did yours, Jane and Sophy; and I know you didn't like mine, because o' the sprig, but I was fond of it; and there's never been a bit broke, for I've washed it myself; and there's the tulips on the cups, and the roses, as anybody might go and look at 'em for pleasure. You wouldn't like your chany to go for an old song and be broke to pieces, though yours has got no color in it, Jane,–it's all white and fluted, and didn't cost so much as mine. And there's the castors, sister Deane, I can't think but you'd like to have the castors, for I've heard you say they're pretty."
"Well, I've no objection to buy some of the best things," said Mrs. Deane, rather loftily; "we can do with extra things in our house."
"Best things!" exclaimed Mrs. Glegg, with severity, which had gathered intensity from her long silence. "It drives me past patience to hear you all talking o' best things, and buying in this, that, and the other, such as silver and chany. You must bring your mind to your circumstances, Bessy, and not be thinking o' silver and chany; but whether you shall get so much as a flock-bed to lie on, and a blanket to cover you, and a stool to sit on. You must remember, if you get 'em, it'll be because your friends have bought 'em for you, for you're dependent upon them for everything; for your husband lies there helpless, and hasn't got a penny i' the world to call his own. And it's for your own good I say this, for it's right you should feel what your state is, and what disgrace your husband's brought on your own family, as you've got to look to for everything, and be humble in your mind."
Mrs. Glegg paused, for speaking with much energy for the good of others is naturally exhausting.
Mrs. Tulliver, always borne down by the family predominance of sister Jane, who had made her wear the yoke of a younger sister in very tender years, said pleadingly:
"I'm sure, sister, I've never asked anybody to do anything, only buy things as it 'ud be a pleasure to 'em to have, so as they mightn't go and be spoiled i' strange houses. I never asked anybody to buy the things in for me and my children; though there's the linen I spun, and I thought when Tom was born,–I thought one o' the first things when he was lying i' the cradle, as all the things I'd bought wi' my own money, and been so careful of, 'ud go to him. But I've said nothing as I wanted my sisters to pay their money for me. What my husband has done for his sister's unknown, and we should ha' been better off this day if it hadn't been as he's lent money and never asked for it again."
"Come, come," said Mr. Glegg, kindly, "don't let us make things too dark. What's done can't be undone. We shall make a shift among us to buy what's sufficient for you; though, as Mrs. G. says, they must be useful, plain things. We mustn't be thinking o' what's unnecessary. A table, and a chair or two, and kitchen things, and a good bed, and such-like. Why, I've seen the day when I shouldn't ha' known myself if I'd lain on sacking i'stead o' the floor. We get a deal o' useless things about us, only because we've got the money to spend."
"Mr. Glegg," said Mrs. G., "if you'll be kind enough to let me speak, i'stead o' taking the words out o' my mouth,–I was going to say, Bessy, as it's fine talking for you to say as you've never asked us to buy anything for you; let me tell you, you ought to have asked us. Pray, how are you to be purvided for, if your own family don't help you? You must go to the parish, if they didn't. And you ought to know that, and keep it in mind, and ask us humble to do what we can for you, i'stead o' saying, and making a boast, as you've never asked us for anything."
"You talked o' the Mosses, and what Mr. Tulliver's done for 'em," said uncle Pullet, who became unusually suggestive where advances of money were concerned. "Haven't they been anear you? They ought to do something as well as other folks; and if he's lent 'em money, they ought to be made to pay it back."
"Yes, to be sure," said Mrs. Deane; "I've been thinking so. How is it Mr. and Mrs. Moss aren't here to meet us? It is but right they should do their share."
"Oh, dear!" said Mrs. Tulliver, "I never sent 'em word about Mr. Tulliver, and they live so back'ard among the lanes at Basset, they niver hear anything only when Mr. Moss comes to market. But I niver gave 'em a thought. I wonder Maggie didn't, though, for she was allays so fond of her aunt Moss."
"Why don't your children come in, Bessy?" said Mrs. Pullet, at the mention of Maggie. "They should hear what their aunts and uncles have got to say; and Maggie,–when it's me as have paid for half her schooling, she ought to think more of her aunt Pullet than of aunt Moss. I may go off sudden when I get home to-day; there's no telling."
"If I'd had my way," said Mrs. Glegg, "the children 'ud ha' been in the room from the first. It's time they knew who they've to look to, and it's right as somebody should talk to 'em, and let 'em know their condition i' life, and what they're come down to, and make 'em feel as they've got to suffer for their father's faults."
"Well, I'll go and fetch 'em, sister," said Mrs. Tulliver, resignedly. She was quite crushed now, and thought of the treasures in the storeroom with no other feeling than blank despair.
She went upstairs to fetch Tom and Maggie, who were both in their father's room, and was on her way down again, when the sight of the storeroom door suggested a new thought to her. She went toward it, and left the children to go down by themselves.
The aunts and uncles appeared to have been in warm discussion when the brother and sister entered,–both with shrinking reluctance; for though Tom, with a practical sagacity which had been roused into activity by the strong stimulus of the new emotions he had undergone since yesterday, had been turning over in his mind a plan which he meant to propose to one of his aunts or uncles, he felt by no means amicably toward them, and dreaded meeting them all at once as he would have dreaded a large dose of concentrated physic, which was but just endurable in small draughts. As for Maggie, she was peculiarly depressed this morning; she had been called up, after brief rest, at three o'clock, and had that strange dreamy weariness which comes from watching in a sick-room through the chill hours of early twilight and breaking day,–in which the outside day-light life seems to have no importance, and to be a mere margin to the hours in the darkened chamber. Their entrance interrupted the conversation. The shaking of hands was a melancholy and silent ceremony, till uncle Pullet observed, as Tom approached him:
"Well, young sir, we've been talking as we should want your pen and ink; you can write rarely now, after all your schooling, I should think."
"Ay, ay," said uncle Glegg, with admonition which he meant to be kind, "we must look to see the good of all this schooling, as your father's sunk so much money in, now,–
'When land is gone and money's spent,
Then learning is most excellent.'
Now's the time, Tom, to let us see the good o' your learning. Let us see whether you can do better than I can, as have made my fortin without it. But I began wi' doing with little, you see; I could live on a basin o' porridge and a crust o' bread-and-cheese. But I doubt high living and high learning 'ull make it harder for you, young man, nor it was for me."
"But he must do it," interposed aunt Glegg, energetically, "whether it's hard or no. He hasn't got to consider what's hard; he must consider as he isn't to trusten to his friends to keep him in idleness and luxury; he's got to bear the fruits of his father's misconduct, and bring his mind to fare hard and to work hard. And he must be humble and grateful to his aunts and uncles for what they're doing for his mother and father, as must be turned out into the streets and go to the workhouse if they didn't help 'em. And his sister, too," continued Mrs. Glegg, looking severely at Maggie, who had sat down on the sofa by her aunt Deane, drawn to her by the sense that she was Lucy's mother, "she must make up her mind to be humble and work; for there'll be no servants to wait on her any more,–she must remember that. She must do the work o' the house, and she must respect and love her aunts as have done so much for her, and saved their money to leave to their nepheys and nieces."
Tom was still standing before the table in the centre of the group. There was a heightened color in his face, and he was very far from looking humbled, but he was preparing to say, in a respectful tone, something he had previously meditated, when the door opened and his mother re-entered.
Poor Mrs. Tulliver had in her hands a small tray, on which she had placed her silver teapot, a specimen teacup and saucer, the castors, and sugar-tongs.
"See here, sister," she said, looking at Mrs. Deane, as she set the tray on the table, "I thought, perhaps, if you looked at the teapot again,–it's a good while since you saw it,–you might like the pattern better; it makes beautiful tea, and there's a stand and everything; you might use it for every day, or else lay it by for Lucy when she goes to housekeeping. I should be so loath for 'em to buy it at the Golden Lion," said the poor woman, her heart swelling, and the tears coming,–"my teapot as I bought when I was married, and to think of its being scratched, and set before the travellers and folks, and my letters on it,–see here, E. D.,–and everybody to see 'em."
"Ah, dear, dear!" said aunt Pullet, shaking her head with deep sadness, "it's very bad,–to think o' the family initials going about everywhere–it niver was so before; you're a very unlucky sister, Bessy. But what's the use o' buying the teapot, when there's the linen and spoons and everything to go, and some of 'em with your full name,–and when it's got that straight spout, too."
"As to disgrace o' the family," said Mrs. Glegg, "that can't be helped wi' buying teapots. The disgrace is, for one o' the family to ha' married a man as has brought her to beggary. The disgrace is, as they're to be sold up. We can't hinder the country from knowing that."
Maggie had started up from the sofa at the allusion to her father, but Tom saw her action and flushed face in time to prevent her from speaking. "Be quiet, Maggie," he said authoritatively, pushing her aside. It was a remarkable manifestation of self-command and practical judgment in a lad of fifteen, that when his aunt Glegg ceased, he began to speak in a quiet and respectful manner, though with a good deal of trembling in his voice; for his mother's words had cut him to the quick.
"Then, aunt," he said, looking straight at Mrs. Glegg, "if you think it's a disgrace to the family that we should be sold up, wouldn't it be better to prevent it altogether? And if you and aunt Pullet," he continued, looking at the latter, "think of leaving any money to me and Maggie, wouldn't it be better to give it now, and pay the debt we're going to be sold up for, and save my mother from parting with her furniture?"
There was silence for a few moments, for every one, including Maggie, was astonished at Tom's sudden manliness of tone. Uncle Glegg was the first to speak.
"Ay, ay, young man, come now! You show some notion o' things. But there's the interest, you must remember; your aunts get five per cent on their money, and they'd lose that if they advanced it; you haven't thought o' that."
"I could work and pay that every year," said Tom, promptly. "I'd do anything to save my mother from parting with her things."
"Well done!" said uncle Glegg, admiringly. He had been drawing Tom out, rather than reflecting on the practicability of his proposal. But he had produced the unfortunate result of irritating his wife."
"Yes, Mr. Glegg!" said that lady, with angry sarcasm. "It's pleasant work for you to be giving my money away, as you've pretended to leave at my own disposal. And my money, as was my own father's gift, and not yours, Mr. Glegg; and I've saved it, and added to it myself, and had more to put out almost every year, and it's to go and be sunk in other folks' furniture, and encourage 'em in luxury and extravagance as they've no means of supporting; and I'm to alter my will, or have a codicil made, and leave two or three hundred less behind me when I die,–me as have allays done right and been careful, and the eldest o' the family; and my money's to go and be squandered on them as have had the same chance as me, only they've been wicked and wasteful. Sister Pullet, you may do as you like, and you may let your husband rob you back again o' the money he's given you, but that isn't my sperrit."
"La, Jane, how fiery you are!" said Mrs. Pullet. "I'm sure you'll have the blood in your head, and have to be cupped. I'm sorry for Bessy and her children,–I'm sure I think of 'em o' nights dreadful, for I sleep very bad wi' this new medicine,–but it's no use for me to think o' doing anything, if you won't meet me half-way."
"Why, there's this to be considered," said Mr. Glegg. "It's no use to pay off this debt and save the furniture, when there's all the law debts behind, as 'ud take every shilling, and more than could be made out o' land and stock, for I've made that out from Lawyer Gore. We'd need save our money to keep the poor man with, instead o' spending it on furniture as he can neither eat nor drink. You will be so hasty, Jane, as if I didn't know what was reasonable."
"Then speak accordingly, Mr. Glegg!" said his wife, with slow, loud emphasis, bending her head toward him significantly.
Tom's countenance had fallen during this conversation, and his lip quivered; but he was determined not to give way. He would behave like a man. Maggie, on the contrary, after her momentary delight in Tom's speech, had relapsed into her state of trembling indignation. Her mother had been standing close by Tom's side, and had been clinging to his arm ever since he had last spoken; Maggie suddenly started up and stood in front of them, her eyes flashing like the eyes of a young lioness.
"Why do you come, then," she burst out, "talking and interfering with us and scolding us, if you don't mean to do anything to help my poor mother–your own sister,–if you've no feeling for her when she's in trouble, and won't part with anything, though you would never miss it, to save her from pain? Keep away from us then, and don't come to find fault with my father,–he was better than any of you; he was kind,–he would have helped you, if you had been in trouble. Tom and I don't ever want to have any of your money, if you won't help my mother. We'd rather not have it! We'll do without you."
Maggie, having hurled her defiance at aunts and uncles in this way, stood still, with her large dark eyes glaring at them, as if she were ready to await all consequences.
Mrs. Tulliver was frightened; there was something portentous in this mad outbreak; she did not see how life could go on after it. Tom was vexed; it was no use to talk so. The aunts were silent with surprise for some moments. At length, in a case of aberration such as this, comment presented itself as more expedient than any answer.
"You haven't seen the end o' your trouble wi' that child, Bessy," said Mrs. Pullet; "she's beyond everything for boldness and unthankfulness. It's dreadful. I might ha' let alone paying for her schooling, for she's worse nor ever."
"It's no more than what I've allays said," followed Mrs. Glegg. "Other folks may be surprised, but I'm not. I've said over and over again,–years ago I've said,–'Mark my words; that child 'ull come to no good; there isn't a bit of our family in her.' And as for her having so much schooling, I never thought well o' that. I'd my reasons when I said I wouldn't pay anything toward it."
"Come, come," said Mr. Glegg, "let's waste no more time in talking,–let's go to business. Tom, now, get the pen and ink––"
While Mr. Glegg was speaking, a tall dark figure was seen hurrying past the window.
"Why, there's Mrs. Moss," said Mrs. Tulliver. "The bad news must ha' reached her, then"; and she went out to open the door, Maggie eagerly following her.
"That's fortunate," said Mrs. Glegg. "She can agree to the list o' things to be bought in. It's but right she should do her share when it's her own brother."
Mrs. Moss was in too much agitation to resist Mrs. Tulliver's movement, as she drew her into the parlor automatically, without reflecting that it was hardly kind to take her among so many persons in the first painful moment of arrival. The tall, worn, dark-haired woman was a strong contrast to the Dodson sisters as she entered in her shabby dress, with her shawl and bonnet looking as if they had been hastily huddled on, and with that entire absence of self-consciousness which belongs to keenly felt trouble. Maggie was clinging to her arm; and Mrs. Moss seemed to notice no one else except Tom, whom she went straight up to and took by the hand.
"Oh, my dear children," she burst out, "you've no call to think well o' me; I'm a poor aunt to you, for I'm one o' them as take all and give nothing. How's my poor brother?"
"Mr. Turnbull thinks he'll get better," said Maggie. "Sit down, aunt Gritty. Don't fret."
"Oh, my sweet child, I feel torn i' two," said Mrs. Moss, allowing Maggie to lead her to the sofa, but still not seeming to notice the presence of the rest. "We've three hundred pounds o' my brother's money, and now he wants it, and you all want it, poor things!–and yet we must be sold up to pay it, and there's my poor children,–eight of 'em, and the little un of all can't speak plain. And I feel as if I was a robber. But I'm sure I'd no thought as my brother––"
The poor woman was interrupted by a rising sob.
"Three hundred pounds! oh dear, dear," said Mrs. Tulliver, who, when she had said that her husband had done "unknown" things for his sister, had not had any particular sum in her mind, and felt a wife's irritation at having been kept in the dark.
"What madness, to be sure!" said Mrs. Glegg. "A man with a family! He'd no right to lend his money i' that way; and without security, I'll be bound, if the truth was known."
Mrs. Glegg's voice had arrested Mrs. Moss's attention, and looking up, she said:
"Yes, there was security; my husband gave a note for it. We're not that sort o' people, neither of us, as 'ud rob my brother's children; and we looked to paying back the money, when the times got a bit better."
"Well, but now," said Mr. Glegg, gently, "hasn't your husband no way o' raising this money? Because it 'ud be a little fortin, like, for these folks, if we can do without Tulliver's being made a bankrupt. Your husband's got stock; it is but right he should raise the money, as it seems to me,–not but what I'm sorry for you, Mrs. Moss."
"Oh, sir, you don't know what bad luck my husband's had with his stock. The farm's suffering so as never was for want o' stock; and we've sold all the wheat, and we're behind with our rent,–not but what we'd like to do what's right, and I'd sit up and work half the night, if it 'ud be any good; but there's them poor children,–four of 'em such little uns––"
"Don't cry so, aunt; don't fret," whispered Maggie, who had kept hold of Mrs. Moss's hand.
"Did Mr. Tulliver let you have the money all at once?" said Mrs. Tulliver, still lost in the conception of things which had been "going on" without her knowledge.
"No; at twice," said Mrs. Moss, rubbing her eyes and making an effort to restrain her tears. "The last was after my bad illness four years ago, as everything went wrong, and there was a new note made then. What with illness and bad luck, I've been nothing but cumber all my life."
"Yes, Mrs. Moss," said Mrs. Glegg, with decision, "yours is a very unlucky family; the more's the pity for my sister."
"I set off in the cart as soon as ever I heard o' what had happened," said Mrs. Moss, looking at Mrs. Tulliver. "I should never ha' stayed away all this while, if you'd thought well to let me know. And it isn't as I'm thinking all about ourselves, and nothing about my brother, only the money was so on my mind, I couldn't help speaking about it. And my husband and me desire to do the right thing, sir," she added, looking at Mr. Glegg, "and we'll make shift and pay the money, come what will, if that's all my brother's got to trust to. We've been used to trouble, and don't look for much else. It's only the thought o' my poor children pulls me i' two."
"Why, there's this to be thought on, Mrs. Moss," said Mr. Glegg, "and it's right to warn you,–if Tulliver's made a bankrupt, and he's got a note-of-hand of your husband's for three hundred pounds, you'll be obliged to pay it; th' assignees 'ull come on you for it."
"Oh dear, oh dear!" said Mrs. Tulliver, thinking of the bankruptcy, and not of Mrs. Moss's concern in it. Poor Mrs. Moss herself listened in trembling submission, while Maggie looked with bewildered distress at Tom to see if he showed any signs of understanding this trouble, and caring about poor aunt Moss. Tom was only looking thoughtful, with his eyes on the tablecloth.
"And if he isn't made bankrupt," continued Mr. Glegg, "as I said before, three hundred pounds 'ud be a little fortin for him, poor man. We don't know but what he may be partly helpless, if he ever gets up again. I'm very sorry if it goes hard with you, Mrs. Moss, but my opinion is, looking at it one way, it'll be right for you to raise the money; and looking at it th' other way, you'll be obliged to pay it. You won't think ill o' me for speaking the truth."
"Uncle," said Tom, looking up suddenly from his meditative view of the tablecloth, "I don't think it would be right for my aunt Moss to pay the money if it would be against my father's will for her to pay it; would it?"
Mr. Glegg looked surprised for a moment or two before he said: "Why, no, perhaps not, Tom; but then he'd ha' destroyed the note, you know. We must look for the note. What makes you think it 'ud be against his will?"
"Why," said Tom, coloring, but trying to speak firmly, in spite of a boyish tremor, "I remember quite well, before I went to school to Mr. Stelling, my father said to me one night, when we were sitting by the fire together, and no one else was in the room––"
Tom hesitated a little, and then went on.
"He said something to me about Maggie, and then he said: 'I've always been good to my sister, though she married against my will, and I've lent Moss money; but I shall never think of distressing him to pay it; I'd rather lose it. My children must not mind being the poorer for that.' And now my father's ill, and not able to speak for himself, I shouldn't like anything to be done contrary to what he said to me."
"Well, but then, my boy," said Uncle Glegg, whose good feeling led him to enter into Tom's wish, but who could not at once shake off his habitual abhorrence of such recklessness as destroying securities, or alienating anything important enough to make an appreciable difference in a man's property, "we should have to make away wi' the note, you know, if we're to guard against what may happen, supposing your father's made bankrupt––"
"Mr. Glegg," interrupted his wife, severely, "mind what you're saying. You're putting yourself very forrard in other folks's business. If you speak rash, don't say it was my fault."
"That's such a thing as I never heared of before," said uncle Pullet, who had been making haste with his lozenge in order to express his amazement,–"making away with a note! I should think anybody could set the constable on you for it."
"Well, but," said Mrs. Tulliver, "if the note's worth all that money, why can't we pay it away, and save my things from going away? We've no call to meddle with your uncle and aunt Moss, Tom, if you think your father 'ud be angry when he gets well."
Mrs. Tulliver had not studied the question of exchange, and was straining her mind after original ideas on the subject.
"Pooh, pooh, pooh! you women don't understand these things," said uncle Glegg. "There's no way o' making it safe for Mr. and Mrs. Moss but destroying the note."
"Then I hope you'll help me do it, uncle," said Tom, earnestly. "If my father shouldn't get well, I should be very unhappy to think anything had been done against his will that I could hinder. And I'm sure he meant me to remember what he said that evening. I ought to obey my father's wish about his property."
Even Mrs. Glegg could not withhold her approval from Tom's words; she felt that the Dodson blood was certainly speaking in him, though, if his father had been a Dodson, there would never have been this wicked alienation of money. Maggie would hardly have restrained herself from leaping on Tom's neck, if her aunt Moss had not prevented her by herself rising and taking Tom's hand, while she said, with rather a choked voice:
"You'll never be the poorer for this, my dear boy, if there's a God above; and if the money's wanted for your father, Moss and me 'ull pay it, the same as if there was ever such security. We'll do as we'd be done by; for if my children have got no other luck, they've got an honest father and mother."
"Well," said Mr. Glegg, who had been meditating after Tom's words, "we shouldn't be doing any wrong by the creditors, supposing your father was bankrupt. I've been thinking o' that, for I've been a creditor myself, and seen no end o' cheating. If he meant to give your aunt the money before ever he got into this sad work o' lawing, it's the same as if he'd made away with the note himself; for he'd made up his mind to be that much poorer. But there's a deal o' things to be considered, young man," Mr. Glegg added, looking admonishingly at Tom, "when you come to money business, and you may be taking one man's dinner away to make another man's breakfast. You don't understand that, I doubt?"
"Yes, I do," said Tom, decidedly. "I know if I owe money to one man, I've no right to give it to another. But if my father had made up his mind to give my aunt the money before he was in debt, he had a right to do it."
"Well done, young man! I didn't think you'd been so sharp," said uncle Glegg, with much candor. "But perhaps your father did make away with the note. Let us go and see if we can find it in the chest."
"It's in my father's room. Let us go too, aunt Gritty," whispered Maggie.
A Vanishing Gleam
Mr. Tulliver, even between the fits of spasmodic rigidity which had recurred at intervals ever since he had been found fallen from his horse, was usually in so apathetic a condition that the exits and entrances into his room were not felt to be of great importance. He had lain so still, with his eyes closed, all this morning, that Maggie told her aunt Moss she must not expect her father to take any notice of them.
They entered very quietly, and Mrs. Moss took her seat near the head of the bed, while Maggie sat in her old place on the bed, and put her hand on her father's without causing any change in his face.
Mr. Glegg and Tom had also entered, treading softly, and were busy selecting the key of the old oak chest from the bunch which Tom had brought from his father's bureau. They succeeded in opening the chest,–which stood opposite the foot of Mr. Tulliver's bed,–and propping the lid with the iron holder, without much noise.
"There's a tin box," whispered Mr. Glegg; "he'd most like put a small thing like a note in there. Lift it out, Tom; but I'll just lift up these deeds,–they're the deeds o' the house and mill, I suppose,–and see what there is under 'em."
Mr. Glegg had lifted out the parchments, and had fortunately drawn back a little, when the iron holder gave way, and the heavy lid fell with a loud bang that resounded over the house.
Perhaps there was something in that sound more than the mere fact of the strong vibration that produced the instantaneous effect on the frame of the prostrate man, and for the time completely shook off the obstruction of paralysis. The chest had belonged to his father and his father's father, and it had always been rather a solemn business to visit it. All long-known objects, even a mere window fastening or a particular door-latch, have sounds which are a sort of recognized voice to us,–a voice that will thrill and awaken, when it has been used to touch deep-lying fibres. In the same moment, when all the eyes in the room were turned upon him, he started up and looked at the chest, the parchments in Mr. Glegg's hand, and Tom holding the tin box, with a glance of perfect consciousness and recognition.
"What are you going to do with those deeds?" he said, in his ordinary tone of sharp questioning whenever he was irritated. "Come here, Tom. What do you do, going to my chest?"
Tom obeyed, with some trembling; it was the first time his father had recognized him. But instead of saying anything more to him, his father continued to look with a growing distinctness of suspicion at Mr. Glegg and the deeds.
"What's been happening, then?" he said sharply. "What are you meddling with my deeds for? Is Wakem laying hold of everything? Why don't you tell me what you've been a-doing?" he added impatiently, as Mr. Glegg advanced to the foot of the bed before speaking.
"No, no, friend Tulliver," said Mr. Glegg, in a soothing tone. "Nobody's getting hold of anything as yet. We only came to look and see what was in the chest. You've been ill, you know, and we've had to look after things a bit. But let's hope you'll soon be well enough to attend to everything yourself."
Mr. Tulliver looked around him meditatively, at Tom, at Mr. Glegg, and at Maggie; then suddenly appearing aware that some one was seated by his side at the head of the bed he turned sharply round and saw his sister.
"Eh, Gritty!" he said, in the half-sad, affectionate tone in which he had been wont to speak to her. "What! you're there, are you? How could you manage to leave the children?"
"Oh, brother!" said good Mrs. Moss, too impulsive to be prudent, "I'm thankful I'm come now to see you yourself again; I thought you'd never know us any more."
"What! have I had a stroke?" said Mr. Tulliver, anxiously, looking at Mr. Glegg.
"A fall from your horse–shook you a bit,–that's all, I think," said Mr. Glegg. "But you'll soon get over it, let's hope."
Mr. Tulliver fixed his eyes on the bed-clothes, and remained silent for two or three minutes. A new shadow came over his face. He looked up at Maggie first, and said in a lower tone, "You got the letter, then, my wench?"
"Yes, father," she said, kissing him with a full heart. She felt as if her father were come back to her from the dead, and her yearning to show him how she had always loved him could be fulfilled.
"Where's your mother?" he said, so preoccupied that he received the kiss as passively as some quiet animal might have received it.
"She's downstairs with my aunts, father. Shall I fetch her?"
"Ay, ay; poor Bessy!" and his eyes turned toward Tom as Maggie left the room.
"You'll have to take care of 'em both if I die, you know, Tom. You'll be badly off, I doubt. But you must see and pay everybody. And mind,–there's fifty pound o' Luke's as I put into the business,–he gave me a bit at a time, and he's got nothing to show for it. You must pay him first thing."
Uncle Glegg involuntarily shook his head, and looked more concerned than ever, but Tom said firmly:
"Yes, father. And haven't you a note from my uncle Moss for three hundred pounds? We came to look for that. What do you wish to be done about it, father?"
"Ah! I'm glad you thought o' that, my lad," said Mr. Tulliver. "I allays meant to be easy about that money, because o' your aunt. You mustn't mind losing the money, if they can't pay it,–and it's like enough they can't. The note's in that box, mind! I allays meant to be good to you, Gritty," said Mr. Tulliver, turning to his sister; "but you know you aggravated me when you would have Moss."
At this moment Maggie re-entered with her mother, who came in much agitated by the news that her husband was quite himself again.
"Well, Bessy," he said, as she kissed him, "you must forgive me if you're worse off than you ever expected to be.
But it's the fault o' the law,–it's none o' mine," he added angrily. "It's the fault o' raskills. Tom, you mind this: if ever you've got the chance, you make Wakem smart. If you don't, you're a good-for-nothing son. You might horse-whip him, but he'd set the law on you,–the law's made to take care o' raskills."
Mr. Tulliver was getting excited, and an alarming flush was on his face. Mr. Glegg wanted to say something soothing, but he was prevented by Mr. Tulliver's speaking again to his wife. "They'll make a shift to pay everything, Bessy," he said, "and yet leave you your furniture; and your sisters'll do something for you–and Tom'll grow up–though what he's to be I don't know–I've done what I could–I've given him a eddication–and there's the little wench, she'll get married–but it's a poor tale––"
The sanative effect of the strong vibration was exhausted, and with the last words the poor man fell again, rigid and insensible. Though this was only a recurrence of what had happened before, it struck all present as if it had been death, not only from its contrast with the completeness of the revival, but because his words had all had reference to the possibility that his death was near. But with poor Tulliver death was not to be a leap; it was to be a long descent under thickening shadows.
Mr. Turnbull was sent for; but when he heard what had passed, he said this complete restoration, though only temporary, was a hopeful sign, proving that there was no permanent lesion to prevent ultimate recovery.
Among the threads of the past which the stricken man had gathered up, he had omitted the bill of sale; the flash of memory had only lit up prominent ideas, and he sank into forgetfulness again with half his humiliation unlearned.
But Tom was clear upon two points,–that his uncle Moss's note must be destroyed; and that Luke's money must be paid, if in no other way, out of his own and Maggie's money now in the savings bank. There were subjects, you perceive, on which Tom was much quicker than on the niceties of classical construction, or the relations of a mathematical demonstration.
Tom Applies His Knife to the Oyster
The next day, at ten o'clock, Tom was on his way to St. Ogg's, to see his uncle Deane, who was to come home last night, his aunt had said; and Tom had made up his mind that his uncle Deane was the right person to ask for advice about getting some employment. He was in a great way of business; he had not the narrow notions of uncle Glegg; and he had risen in the world on a scale of advancement which accorded with Tom's ambition.
It was a dark, chill, misty morning, likely to end in rain,–one of those mornings when even happy people take refuge in their hopes. And Tom was very unhappy; he felt the humiliation as well as the prospective hardships of his lot with all the keenness of a proud nature; and with all his resolute dutifulness toward his father there mingled an irrepressible indignation against him which gave misfortune the less endurable aspect of a wrong. Since these were the consequences of going to law, his father was really blamable, as his aunts and uncles had always said he was; and it was a significant indication of Tom's character, that though he thought his aunts ought to do something more for his mother, he felt nothing like Maggie's violent resentment against them for showing no eager tenderness and generosity. There were no impulses in Tom that led him to expect what did not present itself to him as a right to be demanded. Why should people give away their money plentifully to those who had not taken care of their own money? Tom saw some justice in severity; and all the more, because he had confidence in himself that he should never deserve that just severity. It was very hard upon him that he should be put at this disadvantage in life by his father's want of prudence; but he was not going to complain and to find fault with people because they did not make everything easy for him. He would ask no one to help him, more than to give him work and pay him for it. Poor Tom was not without his hopes to take refuge in under the chill damp imprisonment of the December fog, which seemed only like a part of his home troubles. At sixteen, the mind that has the strongest affinity for fact cannot escape illusion and self-flattery; and Tom, in sketching his future, had no other guide in arranging his facts than the suggestions of his own brave self-reliance. Both Mr. Glegg and Mr. Deane, he knew, had been very poor once; he did not want to save money slowly and retire on a moderate fortune like his uncle Glegg, but he would be like his uncle Deane–get a situation in some great house of business and rise fast. He had scarcely seen anything of his uncle Deane for the last three years–the two families had been getting wider apart; but for this very reason Tom was the more hopeful about applying to him. His uncle Glegg, he felt sure, would never encourage any spirited project, but he had a vague imposing idea of the resources at his uncle Deane's command. He had heard his father say, long ago, how Deane had made himself so valuable to Guest & Co. that they were glad enough to offer him a share in the business; that was what Tom resolved he would do. It was intolerable to think of being poor and looked down upon all one's life. He would provide for his mother and sister, and make every one say that he was a man of high character. He leaped over the years in this way, and, in the haste of strong purpose and strong desire, did not see how they would be made up of slow days, hours, and minutes.
By the time he had crossed the stone bridge over the Floss and was entering St. Ogg's, he was thinking that he would buy his father's mill and land again when he was rich enough, and improve the house and live there; he should prefer it to any smarter, newer place, and he could keep as many horses and dogs as he liked.
Walking along the street with a firm, rapid step, at this point in his reverie he was startled by some one who had crossed without his notice, and who said to him in a rough, familiar voice:
"Why, Master Tom, how's your father this morning?" It was a publican of St. Ogg's, one of his father's customers.
Tom disliked being spoken to just then; but he said civilly, "He's still very ill, thank you."
"Ay, it's been a sore chance for you, young man, hasn't it,–this lawsuit turning out against him?" said the publican, with a confused, beery idea of being good-natured.
Tom reddened and passed on; he would have felt it like the handling of a bruise, even if there had been the most polite and delicate reference to his position.
"That's Tulliver's son," said the publican to a grocer standing on the adjacent door-step.
"Ah!" said the grocer, "I thought I knew his features. He takes after his mother's family; she was a Dodson. He's a fine, straight youth; what's he been brought up to?"
"Oh! to turn up his nose at his father's customers, and be a fine gentleman,–not much else, I think."
Tom, roused from his dream of the future to a thorough consciousness of the present, made all the greater haste to reach the warehouse offices of Guest & Co., where he expected to find his uncle Deane. But this was Mr. Deane's morning at the bank, a clerk told him, and with some contempt for his ignorance; Mr. Deane was not to be found in River Street on a Thursday morning.
At the bank Tom was admitted into the private room where his uncle was, immediately after sending in his name. Mr. Deane was auditing accounts; but he looked up as Tom entered, and putting out his hand, said, "Well, Tom, nothing fresh the matter at home, I hope? How's your father?"
"Much the same, thank you, uncle," said Tom, feeling nervous. "But I want to speak to you, please, when you're at liberty."
"Sit down, sit down," said Mr. Deane, relapsing into his accounts, in which he and the managing-clerk remained so absorbed for the next half-hour that Tom began to wonder whether he should have to sit in this way till the bank closed,–there seemed so little tendency toward a conclusion in the quiet, monotonous procedure of these sleek, prosperous men of business. Would his uncle give him a place in the bank? It would be very dull, prosy work, he thought, writing there forever to the loud ticking of a timepiece. He preferred some other way of getting rich. But at last there was a change; his uncle took a pen and wrote something with a flourish at the end.
"You'll just step up to Torry's now, Mr. Spence, will you?" said Mr. Deane, and the clock suddenly became less loud and deliberate in Tom's ears.
"Well, Tom," said Mr. Deane, when they were alone, turning his substantial person a little in his chair, and taking out his snuff-box; "what's the business, my boy; what's the business?" Mr. Deane, who had heard from his wife what had passed the day before, thought Tom was come to appeal to him for some means of averting the sale.
"I hope you'll excuse me for troubling you, uncle," said Tom, coloring, but speaking in a tone which, though, tremulous, had a certain proud independence in it; "but I thought you were the best person to advise me what to do."
"Ah!" said Mr. Deane, reserving his pinch of snuff, and looking at Tom with new attention, "let us hear."
"I want to get a situation, uncle, so that I may earn some money," said Tom, who never fell into circumlocution.
"A situation?" said Mr. Deane, and then took his pinch of snuff with elaborate justice to each nostril. Tom thought snuff-taking a most provoking habit.
"Why, let me see, how old are you?" said Mr. Deane, as he threw himself backward again.
"Sixteen; I mean, I am going in seventeen," said Tom, hoping his uncle noticed how much beard he had.
"Let me see; your father had some notion of making you an engineer, I think?"
"But I don't think I could get any money at that for a long while, could I?"
"That's true; but people don't get much money at anything, my boy, when they're only sixteen. You've had a good deal of schooling, however; I suppose you're pretty well up in accounts, eh? You understand book keeping?"
"No," said Tom, rather falteringly. "I was in Practice. But Mr. Stelling says I write a good hand, uncle. That's my writing," added Tom, laying on the table a copy of the list he had made yesterday.
"Ah! that's good, that's good. But, you see, the best hand in the world'll not get you a better place than a copying-clerk's, if you know nothing of book-keeping,–nothing of accounts. And a copying-clerk's a cheap article. But what have you been learning at school, then?"
Mr. Deane had not occupied himself with methods of education, and had no precise conception of what went forward in expensive schools.
"We learned Latin," said Tom, pausing a little between each item, as if he were turning over the books in his school-desk to assist his memory,–"a good deal of Latin; and the last year I did Themes, one week in Latin and one in English; and Greek and Roman history; and Euclid; and I began Algebra, but I left it off again; and we had one day every week for Arithmetic. Then I used to have drawing-lessons; and there were several other books we either read or learned out of,–English Poetry, and Horæ Pauliné and Blair's Rhetoric, the last half."
Mr. Deane tapped his snuff-box again and screwed up his mouth; he felt in the position of many estimable persons when they had read the New Tariff, and found how many commodities were imported of which they knew nothing; like a cautious man of business, he was not going to speak rashly of a raw material in which he had had no experience. But the presumption was, that if it had been good for anything, so successful a man as himself would hardly have been ignorant of it.
About Latin he had an opinion, and thought that in case of another war, since people would no longer wear hair-powder, it would be well to put a tax upon Latin, as a luxury much run upon by the higher classes, and not telling at all on the ship-owning department. But, for what he knew, the Horé Pauliné might be something less neutral. On the whole, this list of acquirements gave him a sort of repulsion toward poor Tom.
"Well," he said at last, in rather a cold, sardonic tone, "you've had three years at these things,–you must be pretty strong in 'em. Hadn't you better take up some line where they'll come in handy?"
Tom colored, and burst out, with new energy:
"I'd rather not have any employment of that sort, uncle. I don't like Latin and those things. I don't know what I could do with them unless I went as usher in a school; and I don't know them well enough for that! besides, I would as soon carry a pair of panniers. I don't want to be that sort of person. I should like to enter into some business where I can get on,–a manly business, where I should have to look after things, and get credit for what I did. And I shall want to keep my mother and sister."
"Ah, young gentleman," said Mr. Deane, with that tendency to repress youthful hopes which stout and successful men of fifty find one of their easiest duties, "that's sooner said than done,–sooner said than done."
"But didn't you get on in that way, uncle?" said Tom, a little irritated that Mr. Deane did not enter more rapidly into his views. "I mean, didn't you rise from one place to another through your abilities and good conduct?"
"Ay, ay, sir," said Mr. Deane, spreading himself in his chair a little, and entering with great readiness into a retrospect of his own career. "But I'll tell you how I got on. It wasn't by getting astride a stick and thinking it would turn into a horse if I sat on it long enough. I kept my eyes and ears open, sir, and I wasn't too fond of my own back, and I made my master's interest my own. Why, with only looking into what went on in the mill,, I found out how there was a waste of five hundred a-year that might be hindered. Why, sir, I hadn't more schooling to begin with than a charity boy; but I saw pretty soon that I couldn't get on far enough without mastering accounts, and I learned 'em between working hours, after I'd been unlading. Look here." Mr. Deane opened a book and pointed to the page. "I write a good hand enough, and I'll match anybody at all sorts of reckoning by the head; and I got it all by hard work, and paid for it out of my own earnings,–often out of my own dinner and supper. And I looked into the nature of all the things we had to do in the business, and picked up knowledge as I went about my work, and turned it over in my head. Why, I'm no mechanic,–I never pretended to be–but I've thought of a thing or two that the mechanics never thought of, and it's made a fine difference in our returns. And there isn't an article shipped or unshipped at our wharf but I know the quality of it. If I got places, sir, it was because I made myself fit for 'em. If you want to slip into a round hole, you must make a ball of yourself; that's where it is."
Mr. Deane tapped his box again. He had been led on by pure enthusiasm in his subject, and had really forgotten what bearing this retrospective survey had on his listener. He had found occasion for saying the same thing more than once before, and was not distinctly aware that he had not his port-wine before him.
"Well, uncle," said Tom, with a slight complaint in his tone, "that's what I should like to do. Can't I get on in the same way?"
"In the same way?" said Mr. Deane, eyeing Tom with quiet deliberation. "There go two or three questions to that, Master Tom. That depends on what sort of material you are, to begin with, and whether you've been put into the right mill. But I'll tell you what it is. Your poor father went the wrong way to work in giving you an education. It wasn't my business, and I didn't interfere; but it is as I thought it would be. You've had a sort of learning that's all very well for a young fellow like our Mr. Stephen Guest, who'll have nothing to do but sign checks all his life, and may as well have Latin inside his head as any other sort of stuffing."
"But, uncle," said Tom, earnestly, "I don't see why the Latin need hinder me from getting on in business. I shall soon forget it all; it makes no difference to me. I had to do my lessons at school, but I always thought they'd never be of any use to me afterward; I didn't care about them."
"Ay, ay, that's all very well," said Mr. Deane; "but it doesn't alter what I was going to say. Your Latin and rigmarole may soon dry off you, but you'll be but a bare stick after that. Besides, it's whitened your hands and taken the rough work out of you. And what do you know? Why, you know nothing about book-keeping, to begin with, and not so much of reckoning as a common shopman. You'll have to begin at a low round of the ladder, let me tell you, if you mean to get on in life. It's no use forgetting the education your father's been paying for, if you don't give yourself a new un."
Tom bit his lips hard; he felt as if the tears were rising, and he would rather die than let them.
"You want me to help you to a situation," Mr. Deane went on; "well, I've no fault to find with that. I'm willing to do something for you. But you youngsters nowadays think you're to begin with living well and working easy; you've no notion of running afoot before you get horseback. Now, you must remember what you are,–you're a lad of sixteen, trained to nothing particular. There's heaps of your sort, like so many pebbles, made to fit in nowhere. Well, you might be apprenticed to some business,–a chemist's and druggist's perhaps; your Latin might come in a bit there––"
Tom was going to speak, but Mr. Deane put up his hand and said:
"Stop! hear what I've got to say. You don't want to be a 'prentice,–I know, I know,–you want to make more haste, and you don't want to stand behind a counter. But if you're a copying-clerk, you'll have to stand behind a desk, and stare at your ink and paper all day; there isn't much out-look there, and you won't be much wiser at the end of the year than at the beginning. The world isn't made of pen, ink, and paper, and if you're to get on in the world, young man, you must know what the world's made of. Now the best chance for you 'ud be to have a place on a wharf, or in a warehouse, where you'd learn the smell of things, but you wouldn't like that, I'll be bound; you'd have to stand cold and wet, and be shouldered about by rough fellows. You're too fine a gentleman for that."
Mr. Deane paused and looked hard at Tom, who certainly felt some inward struggle before he could reply.
"I would rather do what will be best for me in the end, sir; I would put up with what was disagreeable."
"That's well, if you can carry it out. But you must remember it isn't only laying hold of a rope, you must go on pulling. It's the mistake you lads make that have got nothing either in your brains or your pocket, to think you've got a better start in the world if you stick yourselves in a place where you can keep your coats clean, and have the shopwenches take you for fine gentlemen. That wasn't the way I started, young man; when I was sixteen, my jacket smelt of tar, and I wasn't afraid of handling cheeses. That's the reason I can wear good broadcloth now, and have my legs under the same table with the heads of the best firms in St. Ogg's."
Uncle Deane tapped his box, and seemed to expand a little under his waistcoat and gold chain, as he squared his shoulders in the chair.
"Is there any place at liberty that you know of now, uncle, that I should do for? I should like to set to work at once," said Tom, with a slight tremor in his voice.
"Stop a bit, stop a bit; we mustn't be in too great a hurry. You must bear in mind, if I put you in a place you're a bit young for, because you happen to be my nephew, I shall be responsible for you. And there's no better reason, you know, than your being my nephew; because it remains to be seen whether you're good for anything."
"I hope I shall never do you any discredit, uncle," said Tom, hurt, as all boys are at the statement of the unpleasant truth that people feel no ground for trusting them. "I care about my own credit too much for that."
"Well done, Tom, well done! That's the right spirit, and I never refuse to help anybody if they've a mind to do themselves justice. There's a young man of two-and-twenty I've got my eye on now. I shall do what I can for that young man; he's got some pith in him. But then, you see, he's made good use of his time,–a first-rate calculator,–can tell you the cubic contents of anything in no time, and put me up the other day to a new market for Swedish bark; he's uncommonly knowing in manufactures, that young fellow."
"I'd better set about learning book-keeping, hadn't I, uncle?" said Tom, anxious to prove his readiness to exert himself.
"Yes, yes, you can't do amiss there. But–Ah, Spence, you're back again. Well Tom, there's nothing more to be said just now, I think, and I must go to business again. Good-by. Remember me to your mother."
Mr. Deane put out his hand, with an air of friendly dismissal, and Tom had not courage to ask another question, especially in the presence of Mr. Spence. So he went out again into the cold damp air. He had to call at his uncle Glegg's about the money in the Savings Bank, and by the time he set out again the mist had thickened, and he could not see very far before him; but going along River Street again, he was startled, when he was within two yards of the projecting side of a shop-window, by the words "Dorlcote Mill" in large letters on a hand-bill, placed as if on purpose to stare at him. It was the catalogue of the sale to take place the next week; it was a reason for hurrying faster out of the town.
Poor Tom formed no visions of the distant future as he made his way homeward; he only felt that the present was very hard. It seemed a wrong toward him that his uncle Deane had no confidence in him,–did not see at once that he should acquit himself well, which Tom himself was as certain of as of the daylight. Apparently he, Tom Tulliver, was likely to be held of small account in the world; and for the first time he felt a sinking of heart under the sense that he really was very ignorant, and could do very little. Who was that enviable young man that could tell the cubic contents of things in no time, and make suggestions about Swedish bark! Tom had been used to be so entirely satisfied with himself, in spite of his breaking down in a demonstration, and construing nunc illas promite vires as "now promise those men"; but now he suddenly felt at a disadvantage, because he knew less than some one else knew. There must be a world of things connected with that Swedish bark, which, if he only knew them, might have helped him to get on. It would have been much easier to make a figure with a spirited horse and a new saddle.
Two hours ago, as Tom was walking to St. Ogg's, he saw the distant future before him as he might have seen a tempting stretch of smooth sandy beach beyond a belt of flinty shingles; he was on the grassy bank then, and thought the shingles might soon be passed. But now his feet were on the sharp stones; the belt of shingles had widened, and the stretch of sand had dwindled into narrowness.
"What did my Uncle Deane say, Tom?" said Maggie, putting her arm through Tom's as he was warming himself rather drearily by the kitchen fire. "Did he say he would give you a situation?"
"No, he didn't say that. He didn't quite promise me anything; he seemed to think I couldn't have a very good situation. I'm too young."
"But didn't he speak kindly, Tom?"
"Kindly? Pooh! what's the use of talking about that? I wouldn't care about his speaking kindly, if I could get a situation. But it's such a nuisance and bother; I've been at school all this while learning Latin and things,–not a bit of good to me,–and now my uncle says I must set about learning book-keeping and calculation, and those things. He seems to make out I'm good for nothing."
Tom's mouth twitched with a bitter expression as he looked at the fire.
"Oh, what a pity we haven't got Dominie Sampson!" said Maggie, who couldn't help mingling some gayety with their sadness. "If he had taught me book-keeping by double entry and after the Italian method, as he did Lucy Bertram, I could teach you, Tom."
"You teach! Yes, I dare say. That's always the tone you take," said Tom.
"Dear Tom, I was only joking," said Maggie, putting her cheek against his coat-sleeve.
"But it's always the same, Maggie," said Tom, with the little frown he put on when he was about to be justifiably severe. "You're always setting yourself up above me and every one else, and I've wanted to tell you about it several times. You ought not to have spoken as you did to my uncles and aunts; you should leave it to me to take care of my mother and you, and not put yourself forward. You think you know better than any one, but you're almost always wrong. I can judge much better than you can."
Poor Tom! he had just come from being lectured and made to feel his inferiority; the reaction of his strong, self-asserting nature must take place somehow; and here was a case in which he could justly show himself dominant. Maggie's cheek flushed and her lip quivered with conflicting resentment and affection, and a certain awe as well as admiration of Tom's firmer and more effective character. She did not answer immediately; very angry words rose to her lips, but they were driven back again, and she said at last:
"You often think I'm conceited, Tom, when I don't mean what I say at all in that way. I don't mean to put myself above you; I know you behaved better than I did yesterday. But you are always so harsh to me, Tom."
With the last words the resentment was rising again.
"No, I'm not harsh," said Tom, with severe decision. "I'm always kind to you, and so I shall be; I shall always take care of you. But you must mind what I say."
Their mother came in now, and Maggie rushed away, that her burst of tears, which she felt must come, might not happen till she was safe upstairs. They were very bitter tears; everybody in the world seemed so hard and unkind to Maggie; there was no indulgence, no fondness, such as she imagined when she fashioned the world afresh in her own thoughts. In books there were people who were always agreeable or tender, and delighted to do things that made one happy, and who did not show their kindness by finding fault. The world outside the books was not a happy one, Maggie felt; it seemed to be a world where people behaved the best to those they did not pretend to love, and that did not belong to them. And if life had no love in it, what else was there for Maggie? Nothing but poverty and the companionship of her mother's narrow griefs, perhaps of her father's heart-cutting childish dependence. There is no hopelessness so sad as that of early youth, when the soul is made up of wants, and has no long memories, no superadded life in the life of others; though we who looked on think lightly of such premature despair, as if our vision of the future lightened the blind sufferer's present.
Maggie, in her brown frock, with her eyes reddened and her heavy hair pushed back, looking from the bed where her father lay to the dull walls of this sad chamber which was the centre of her world, was a creature full of eager, passionate longings for all that was beautiful and glad; thirsty for all knowledge; with an ear straining after dreamy music that died away and would not come near to her; with a blind, unconscious yearning for something that would link together the wonderful impressions of this mysterious life, and give her soul a sense of home in it.
No wonder, when there is this contrast between the outward and the inward, that painful collisions come of it.
Tending to Refute the Popular Prejudice against the Present of a Pocket-Knife
In that dark time of December, the sale of the household furniture lasted beyond the middle of the second day. Mr. Tulliver, who had begun, in his intervals of consciousness, to manifest an irritability which often appeared to have as a direct effect the recurrence of spasmodic rigidity and insensibility, had lain in this living death throughout the critical hours when the noise of the sale came nearest to his chamber. Mr. Turnbull had decided that it would be a less risk to let him remain where he was than to remove him to Luke's cottage,–a plan which the good Luke had proposed to Mrs. Tulliver, thinking it would be very bad if the master were "to waken up" at the noise of the sale; and the wife and children had sat imprisoned in the silent chamber, watching the large prostrate figure on the bed, and trembling lest the blank face should suddenly show some response to the sounds which fell on their own ears with such obstinate, painful repetition.
But it was over at last, that time of importunate certainty and eye-straining suspense. The sharp sound of a voice, almost as metallic as the rap that followed it, had ceased; the tramping of footsteps on the gravel had died out. Mrs. Tulliver's blond face seemed aged ten years by the last thirty hours; the poor woman's mind had been busy divining when her favorite things were being knocked down by the terrible hammer; her heart had been fluttering at the thought that first one thing and then another had gone to be identified as hers in the hateful publicity of the Golden Lion; and all the while she had to sit and make no sign of this inward agitation. Such things bring lines in well-rounded faces, and broaden the streaks of white among the hairs that once looked as if they had been dipped in pure sunshine. Already, at three o'clock, Kezia, the good-hearted, bad-tempered housemaid, who regarded all people that came to the sale as her personal enemies, the dirt on whose feet was of a peculiarly vile quality, had begun to scrub and swill with an energy much assisted by a continual low muttering against "folks as came to buy up other folk's things," and made light of "scrazing" the tops of mahogany tables over which better folks than themselves had had to–suffer a waste of tissue through evaporation. She was not scrubbing indiscriminately, for there would be further dirt of the same atrocious kind made by people who had still to fetch away their purchases; but she was bent on bringing the parlor, where that "pipe-smoking pig," the bailiff, had sat, to such an appearance of scant comfort as could be given to it by cleanliness and the few articles of furniture bought in for the family. Her mistress and the young folks should have their tea in it that night, Kezia was determined.
It was between five and six o'clock, near the usual teatime, when she came upstairs and said that Master Tom was wanted. The person who wanted him was in the kitchen, and in the first moments, by the imperfect fire and candle light, Tom had not even an indefinite sense of any acquaintance with the rather broad-set but active figure, perhaps two years older than himself, that looked at him with a pair of blue eyes set in a disc of freckles, and pulled some curly red locks with a strong intention of respect. A low-crowned oilskin-covered hat, and a certain shiny deposit of dirt on the rest of the costume, as of tablets prepared for writing upon, suggested a calling that had to do with boats; but this did not help Tom's memory.
"Sarvant, Master Tom," said he of the red locks, with a smile which seemed to break through a self-imposed air of melancholy. "You don't know me again, I doubt," he went on, as Tom continued to look at him inquiringly; "but I'd like to talk to you by yourself a bit, please."
"There's a fire i' the parlor, Master Tom," said Kezia, who objected to leaving the kitchen in the crisis of toasting.
"Come this way, then," said Tom, wondering if this young fellow belonged to Guest & Co.'s Wharf, for his imagination ran continually toward that particular spot; and uncle Deane might any time be sending for him to say that there was a situation at liberty.
The bright fire in the parlor was the only light that showed the few chairs, the bureau, the carpetless floor, and the one table–no, not the one table; there was a second table, in a corner, with a large Bible and a few other books upon it. It was this new strange bareness that Tom felt first, before he thought of looking again at the face which was also lit up by the fire, and which stole a half-shy, questioning glance at him as the entirely strange voice said:
"Why! you don't remember Bob, then, as you gen the pocket-knife to, Mr. Tom?"
The rough-handled pocket-knife was taken out in the same moment, and the largest blade opened by way of irresistible demonstration.
"What! Bob Jakin?" said Tom, not with any cordial delight, for he felt a little ashamed of that early intimacy symbolized by the pocket-knife, and was not at all sure that Bob's motives for recalling it were entirely admirable.
"Ay, ay, Bob Jakin, if Jakin it must be, 'cause there's so many Bobs as you went arter the squerrils with, that day as I plumped right down from the bough, and bruised my shins a good un–but I got the squerril tight for all that, an' a scratter it was. An' this littlish blade's broke, you see, but I wouldn't hev a new un put in, 'cause they might be cheatin' me an' givin' me another knife instid, for there isn't such a blade i' the country,–it's got used to my hand, like. An' there was niver nobody else gen me nothin' but what I got by my own sharpness, only you, Mr. Tom; if it wasn't Bill Fawks as gen me the terrier pup istid o' drowndin't it, an' I had to jaw him a good un afore he'd give it me."
Bob spoke with a sharp and rather treble volubility, and got through his long speech with surprising despatch, giving the blade of his knife an affectionate rub on his sleeve when he had finished.
"Well, Bob," said Tom, with a slight air of patronage, the foregoing reminscences having disposed him to be as friendly as was becoming, though there was no part of his acquaintance with Bob that he remembered better than the cause of their parting quarrel; "is there anything I can do for you?"
"Why, no, Mr. Tom," answered Bob, shutting up his knife with a click and returning it to his pocket, where he seemed to be feeling for something else. "I shouldn't ha' come back upon you now ye're i' trouble, an' folks say as the master, as I used to frighten the birds for, an' he flogged me a bit for fun when he catched me eatin' the turnip, as they say he'll niver lift up his head no more,–I shouldn't ha' come now to ax you to gi' me another knife 'cause you gen me one afore. If a chap gives me one black eye, that's enough for me; I sha'n't ax him for another afore I sarve him out; an' a good turn's worth as much as a bad un, anyhow. I shall niver grow down'ards again, Mr. Tom, an' you war the little chap as I liked the best when I war a little chap, for all you leathered me, and wouldn't look at me again. There's Dick Brumby, there, I could leather him as much as I'd a mind; but lors! you get tired o' leatherin' a chap when you can niver make him see what you want him to shy at. I'n seen chaps as 'ud stand starin' at a bough till their eyes shot out, afore they'd see as a bird's tail warn't a leaf. It's poor work goin' wi' such raff. But you war allays a rare un at shying, Mr. Tom, an' I could trusten to you for droppin' down wi' your stick in the nick o' time at a runnin' rat, or a stoat, or that, when I war a-beatin' the bushes."
Bob had drawn out a dirty canvas bag, and would perhaps not have paused just then if Maggie had not entered the room and darted a look of surprise and curiosity at him, whereupon he pulled his red locks again with due respect. But the next moment the sense of the altered room came upon Maggie with a force that overpowered the thought of Bob's presence. Her eyes had immediately glanced from him to the place where the bookcase had hung; there was nothing now but the oblong unfaded space on the wall, and below it the small table with the Bible and the few other books.
"Oh, Tom!" she burst out, clasping her hands, "where are the books? I thought my uncle Glegg said he would buy them. Didn't he? Are those all they've left us?"
"I suppose so," said Tom, with a sort of desperate indifference. "Why should they buy many books when they bought so little furniture?"
"Oh, but, Tom," said Maggie, her eyes filling with tears, as she rushed up to the table to see what books had been rescued. "Our dear old Pilgrim's Progress that you colored with your little paints; and that picture of Pilgrim with a mantle on, looking just like a turtle–oh dear!" Maggie went on, half sobbing as she turned over the few books, "I thought we should never part with that while we lived; everything is going away from us; the end of our lives will have nothing in it like the beginning!"
Maggie turned away from the table and threw herself into a chair, with the big tears ready to roll down her cheeks, quite blinded to the presence of Bob, who was looking at her with the pursuant gaze of an intelligent dumb animal, with perceptions more perfect than his comprehension.
"Well, Bob," said Tom, feeling that the subject of the books was unseasonable, "I suppose you just came to see me because we're in trouble? That was very good-natured of you."
"I'll tell you how it is, Master Tom," said Bob, beginning to untwist his canvas bag. "You see, I'n been with a barge this two 'ear; that's how I'n been gettin' my livin',–if it wasn't when I was tentin' the furnace, between whiles, at Torry's mill. But a fortni't ago I'd a rare bit o' luck,–I allays thought I was a lucky chap, for I niver set a trap but what I catched something; but this wasn't trap, it was a fire i' Torry's mill, an' I doused it, else it 'ud set th' oil alight, an' the genelman gen me ten suvreigns; he gen me 'em himself last week. An' he said first, I was a sperrited chap,–but I knowed that afore,–but then he outs wi' the ten suvreigns, an' that war summat new. Here they are, all but one!" Here Bob emptied the canvas bag on the table. "An' when I'd got 'em, my head was all of a boil like a kettle o' broth, thinkin' what sort o' life I should take to, for there war a many trades I'd thought on; for as for the barge, I'm clean tired out wi't, for it pulls the days out till they're as long as pigs' chitterlings. An' I thought first I'd ha' ferrets an' dogs, an' be a rat-catcher; an' then I thought as I should like a bigger way o' life, as I didn't know so well; for I'n seen to the bottom o' rat-catching; an' I thought, an' thought, till at last I settled I'd be a packman,–for they're knowin' fellers, the packmen are,–an' I'd carry the lightest things I could i' my pack; an' there'd be a use for a feller's tongue, as is no use neither wi' rats nor barges. An' I should go about the country far an' wide, an' come round the women wi' my tongue, an' get my dinner hot at the public,–lors! it 'ud be a lovely life!"
Bob paused, and then said, with defiant decision, as if resolutely turning his back on that paradisaic picture:
"But I don't mind about it, not a chip! An' I'n changed one o' the suvreigns to buy my mother a goose for dinner, an' I'n bought a blue plush wescoat, an' a sealskin cap,–for if I meant to be a packman, I'd do it respectable. But I don't mind about it, not a chip! My yead isn't a turnip, an' I shall p'r'aps have a chance o' dousing another fire afore long. I'm a lucky chap. So I'll thank you to take the nine suvreigns, Mr. Tom, and set yoursen up with 'em somehow, if it's true as the master's broke. They mayn't go fur enough, but they'll help."
Tom was touched keenly enough to forget his pride and suspicion.
"You're a very kind fellow, Bob," he said, coloring, with that little diffident tremor in his voice which gave a certain charm even to Tom's pride and severity, "and I sha'n't forget you again, though I didn't know you this evening. But I can't take the nine sovereigns; I should be taking your little fortune from you, and they wouldn't do me much good either."
"Wouldn't they, Mr. Tom?" said Bob, regretfully. "Now don't say so 'cause you think I want 'em. I aren't a poor chap. My mother gets a good penn'orth wi' picking feathers an' things; an' if she eats nothin' but bread-an'-water, it runs to fat. An' I'm such a lucky chap; an' I doubt you aren't quite so lucky, Mr. Tom,–th' old master isn't, anyhow,–an' so you might take a slice o' my luck, an' no harm done. Lors! I found a leg o' pork i' the river one day; it had tumbled out o' one o' them round-sterned Dutchmen, I'll be bound. Come, think better on it, Mr. Tom, for old 'quinetance' sake, else I shall think you bear me a grudge."
Bob pushed the sovereigns forward, but before Tom could speak Maggie, clasping her hands, and looking penitently at Bob. said:
"Oh, I'm so sorry, Bob; I never thought you were so good. Why, I think you're the kindest person in the world!"
Bob had not been aware of the injurious opinion for which Maggie was performing an inward act of penitence, but he smiled with pleasure at this handsome eulogy,–especially from a young lass who, as he informed his mother that evening, had "such uncommon eyes, they looked somehow as they made him feel nohow."
"No, indeed Bob, I can't take them," said Tom; "but don't think I feel your kindness less because I say no. I don't want to take anything from anybody, but to work my own way. And those sovereigns wouldn't help me much–they wouldn't really–if I were to take them. Let me shake hands with you instead."
Tom put out his pink palm, and Bob was not slow to place his hard, grimy hand within it.
"Let me put the sovereigns in the bag again," said Maggie; "and you'll come and see us when you've bought your pack, Bob."
"It's like as if I'd come out o' make believe, o' purpose to show 'em you," said Bob, with an air of discontent, as Maggie gave him the bag again, "a-taking 'em back i' this way. I am a bit of a Do, you know; but it isn't that sort o' Do,–it's on'y when a feller's a big rogue, or a big flat, I like to let him in a bit, that's all."
"Now, don't you be up to any tricks, Bob," said Tom, "else you'll get transported some day."
"No, no; not me, Mr. Tom," said Bob, with an air of cheerful confidence. "There's no law again' flea-bites. If I wasn't to take a fool in now and then, he'd niver get any wiser. But, lors! hev a suvreign to buy you and Miss summat, on'y for a token–just to match my pocket-knife."
While Bob was speaking he laid down the sovereign, and resolutely twisted up his bag again. Tom pushed back the gold, and said, "No, indeed, Bob; thank you heartily, but I can't take it." And Maggie, taking it between her fingers, held it up to Bob and said, more persuasively:
"Not now, but perhaps another time. If ever Tom or my father wants help that you can give, we'll let you know; won't we, Tom? That's what you would like,–to have us always depend on you as a friend that we can go to,–isn't it, Bob?"
"Yes, Miss, and thank you," said Bob, reluctantly taking the money; "that's what I'd like, anything as you like. An' I wish you good-by, Miss, and good-luck, Mr. Tom, and thank you for shaking hands wi' me, though you wouldn't take the money."
Kezia's entrance, with very black looks, to inquire if she shouldn't bring in the tea now, or whether the toast was to get hardened to a brick, was a seasonable check on Bob's flux of words, and hastened his parting bow.
How a Hen Takes to Stratagem
The days passed, and Mr. Tulliver showed, at least to the eyes of the medical man, stronger and stronger symptoms of a gradual return to his normal condition; the paralytic obstruction was, little by little, losing its tenacity, and the mind was rising from under it with fitful struggles, like a living creature making its way from under a great snowdrift, that slides and slides again, and shuts up the newly made opening.
Time would have seemed to creep to the watchers by the bed, if it had only been measured by the doubtful, distant hope which kept count of the moments within the chamber; but it was measured for them by a fast-approaching dread which made the nights come too quickly. While Mr. Tulliver was slowly becoming himself again, his lot was hastening toward its moment of most palpable change. The taxing-masters had done their work like any respectable gunsmith conscientiously preparing the musket, that, duly pointed by a brave arm, will spoil a life or two. Allocaturs, filing of bills in Chancery, decrees of sale, are legal chain-shot or bomb-shells that can never hit a solitary mark, but must fall with widespread shattering. So deeply inherent is it in this life of ours that men have to suffer for each other's sins, so inevitably diffusive is human suffering, that even justice makes its victims, and we can conceive no retribution that does not spread beyond its mark in pulsations of unmerited pain.
By the beginning of the second week in January, the bills were out advertising the sale, under a decree of Chancery, of Mr. Tulliver's farming and other stock, to be followed by a sale of the mill and land, held in the proper after-dinner hour at the Golden Lion. The miller himself, unaware of the lapse of time, fancied himself still in that first stage of his misfortunes when expedients might be thought of; and often in his conscious hours talked in a feeble, disjointed manner of plans he would carry out when he "got well." The wife and children were not without hope of an issue that would at least save Mr. Tulliver from leaving the old spot, and seeking an entirely strange life. For uncle Deane had been induced to interest himself in this stage of the business. It would not, he acknowledged, be a bad speculation for Guest & Co. to buy Dorlcote Mill, and carry on the business, which was a good one, and might be increased by the addition of steam power; in which case Tulliver might be retained as manager. Still, Mr. Deane would say nothing decided about the matter; the fact that Wakem held the mortgage on the land might put it into his head to bid for the whole estate, and further, to outbid the cautious firm of Guest & Co., who did not carry on business on sentimental grounds. Mr. Deane was obliged to tell Mrs. Tulliver something to that effect, when he rode over to the mill to inspect the books in company with Mrs. Glegg; for she had observed that "if Guest &Co. would only think about it, Mr. Tulliver's father and grandfather had been carrying on Dorlcote Mill long before the oil-mill of that firm had been so much as thought of."
Mr. Deane, in reply, doubted whether that was precisely the relation between the two mills which would determine their value as investments. As for uncle Glegg, the thing lay quite beyond his imagination; the good-natured man felt sincere pity for the Tulliver family, but his money was all locked up in excellent mortgages, and he could run no risk; that would be unfair to his own relatives; but he had made up his mind that Tulliver should have some new flannel waistcoats which he had himself renounced in favor of a more elastic commodity, and that he would buy Mrs. Tulliver a pound of tea now and then; it would be a journey which his benevolence delighted in beforehand, to carry the tea and see her pleasure on being assured it was the best black.
Still, it was clear that Mr. Deane was kindly disposed toward the Tullivers. One day he had brought Lucy, who was come home for the Christmas holidays, and the little blond angel-head had pressed itself against Maggie's darker cheek with many kisses and some tears. These fair slim daughters keep up a tender spot in the heart of many a respectable partner in a respectable firm, and perhaps Lucy's anxious, pitying questions about her poor cousins helped to make uncle Deane more prompt in finding Tom a temporary place in the warehouse, and in putting him in the way of getting evening lessons in book-keeping and calculation.
That might have cheered the lad and fed his hopes a little, if there had not come at the same time the much-dreaded blow of finding that his father must be a bankrupt, after all; at least, the creditors must be asked to take less than their due, which to Tom's untechnical mind was the same thing as bankruptcy. His father must not only be said to have "lost his property," but to have "failed,"–the word that carried the worst obloquy to Tom's mind. For when the defendant's claim for costs had been satisfied, there would remain the friendly bill of Mr. Gore, and the deficiency at the bank, as well as the other debts which would make the assets shrink into unequivocal disproportion; "not more than ten or twelve shillings in the pound," predicted Mr. Deane, in a decided tone, tightening his lips; and the words fell on Tom like a scalding liquied, leaving a continual smart.
He was sadly in want of something to keep up his spirits a little in the unpleasant newness of his position,–suddenly transported from the easy carpeted ennui of study-hours at Mr. Stelling's, and the busy idleness of castle-building in a "last half" at school, to the companionship of sacks and hides, and bawling men thundering down heavy weights at his elbow. The first step toward getting on in the world was a chill, dusty, noisy affair, and implied going without one's tea in order to stay in St. Ogg's and have an evening lesson from a one-armed elderly clerk, in a room smelling strongly of bad tobacco. Tom's young pink-and-white face had its colors very much deadened by the time he took off his hat at home, and sat down with keen hunger to his supper. No wonder he was a little cross if his mother or Maggie spoke to him.
But all this while Mrs. Tulliver was brooding over a scheme by which she, and no one else, would avert the result most to be dreaded, and prevent Wakem from entertaining the purpose of bidding for the mill. Imagine a truly respectable and amiable hen, by some portentous anomaly, taking to reflection and inventing combinations by which she might prevail on Hodge not to wring her neck, or send her and her chicks to market; the result could hardly be other than much cackling and fluttering. Mrs. Tulliver, seeing that everything had gone wrong, had begun to think she had been too passive in life; and that, if she had applied her mind to business, and taken a strong resolution now and then, it would have been all the better for her and her family. Nobody, it appeared, had thought of going to speak to Wakem on this business of the mill; and yet, Mrs. Tulliver reflected, it would have been quite the shortest method of securing the right end. It would have been of no use, to be sure, for Mr. Tulliver to go,–even if he had been able and willing,–for he had been "going to law against Wakem" and abusing him for the last ten years; Wakem was always likely to have a spite against him. And now that Mrs. Tulliver had come to the conclusion that her husband was very much in the wrong to bring her into this trouble, she was inclined to think that his opinion of Wakem was wrong too. To be sure, Wakem had "put the bailies in the house, and sold them up"; but she supposed he did that to please the man that lent Mr. Tulliver the money, for a lawyer had more folks to please than one, and he wasn't likely to put Mr. Tulliver, who had gone to law with him, above everybody else in the world. The attorney might be a very reasonable man; why not? He had married a Miss Clint, and at the time Mrs. Tulliver had heard of that marriage, the summer when she wore her blue satin spencer, and had not yet any thoughts of Mr. Tulliver, she knew no harm of Wakem. And certainly toward herself, whom he knew to have been a Miss Dodson, it was out of all possibility that he could entertain anything but good-will, when it was once brought home to his observation that she, for her part, had never wanted to go to law, and indeed was at present disposed to take Mr. Wakem's view of all subjects rather than her husband's. In fact, if that attorney saw a respectable matron like herself disposed "to give him good words," why shouldn't he listen to her representations? For she would put the matter clearly before him, which had never been done yet. And he would never go and bid for the mill on purpose to spite her, an innocent woman, who thought it likely enough that she had danced with him in their youth at Squire Darleigh's, for at those big dances she had often and often danced with young men whose names she had forgotten.
Mrs. Tulliver hid these reasonings in her own bosom; for when she had thrown out a hint to Mr. Deane and Mr. Glegg that she wouldn't mind going to speak to Wakem herself, they had said, "No, no, no," and "Pooh, pooh," and "Let Wakem alone," in the tone of men who were not likely to give a candid attention to a more definite exposition of her project; still less dared she mention the plan to Tom and Maggie, for "the children were always so against everything their mother said"; and Tom, she observed, was almost as much set against Wakem as his father was. But this unusual concentration of thought naturally gave Mrs. Tulliver an unusual power of device and determination: and a day or two before the sale, to be held at the Golden Lion, when there was no longer any time to be lost, she carried out her plan by a stratagem. There were pickles in question, a large stock of pickles and ketchup which Mrs. Tulliver possessed, and which Mr. Hyndmarsh, the grocer, would certainly purchase if she could transact the business in a personal interview, so she would walk with Tom to St. Ogg's that morning; and when Tom urged that she might let the pickles be at present,–he didn't like her to go about just yet,–she appeared so hurt at this conduct in her son, contradicting her about pickles which she had made after the family receipts inherited from his own grandmother, who had died when his mother was a little girl, that he gave way, and they walked together until she turned toward Danish Street, where Mr. Hyndmarsh retailed his grocery, not far from the offices of Mr. Wakem.
That gentleman was not yet come to his office; would Mrs. Tulliver sit down by the fire in his private room and wait for him? She had not long to wait before the punctual attorney entered, knitting his brow with an examining glance at the stout blond woman who rose, curtsying deferentially,–a tallish man, with an aquiline nose and abundant iron-gray hair. You have never seen Mr. Wakem before, and are possibly wondering whether he was really as eminent a rascal, and as crafty, bitter an enemy of honest humanity in general, and of Mr. Tulliver in particular, as he is represented to be in that eidolon or portrait of him which we have seen to exist in the miller's mind.
It is clear that the irascible miller was a man to interpret any chance-shot that grazed him as an attempt on his own life, and was liable to entanglements in this puzzling world, which, due consideration had to his own infallibility, required the hypothesis of a very active diabolical agency to explain them. It is still possible to believe that the attorney was not more guilty toward him than an ingenious machine, which performs its work with much regularity, is guilty toward the rash man who, venturing too near it, is caught up by some fly-wheel or other, and suddenly converted into unexpected mince-meat.
But it is really impossible to decide this question by a glance at his person; the lines and lights of the human countenance are like other symbols,–not always easy to read without a key. On an a priori view of Wakem's aquiline nose, which offended Mr. Tulliver, there was not more rascality than in the shape of his stiff shirt-collar, though this too along with his nose, might have become fraught with damnatory meaning when once the rascality was ascertained.
"Mrs. Tulliver, I think?" said Mr. Wakem.
"Yes, sir; Miss Elizabeth Dodson as was."
"Pray be seated. You have some business with me?"
"Well, sir, yes," said Mrs. Tulliver, beginning to feel alarmed at her own courage, now she was really in presence of the formidable man, and reflecting that she had not settled with herself how she should begin. Mr. Wakem felt in his waistcoat pockets, and looked at her in silence.
"I hope, sir," she began at last,–"I hope, sir, you're not a-thinking as I bear you any ill-will because o' my husband's losing his lawsuit, and the bailies being put in, and the linen being sold,–oh dear!–for I wasn't brought up in that way. I'm sure you remember my father, sir, for he was close friends with Squire Darleigh, and we allays went to the dances there, the Miss Dodsons,–nobody could be more looked on,–and justly, for there was four of us, and you're quite aware as Mrs. Glegg and Mrs. Deane are my sisters. And as for going to law and losing money, and having sales before you're dead, I never saw anything o' that before I was married, nor for a long while after. And I'm not to be answerable for my bad luck i' marrying out o' my own family into one where the goings-on was different. And as for being drawn in t' abuse you as other folks abuse you, sir, that I niver was, and nobody can say it of me."
Mrs. Tulliver shook her head a little, and looked at the hem of her pocket-handkerchief.
"I've no doubt of what you say, Mrs. Tulliver," said Mr. Wakem, with cold politeness. "But you have some question to ask me?"
"Well, sir, yes. But that's what I've said to myself,–I've said you'd had some nat'ral feeling; and as for my husband, as hasn't been himself for this two months, I'm not a-defending him, in no way, for being so hot about th' erigation,–not but what there's worse men, for he never wronged nobody of a shilling nor a penny, not willingly; and as for his fieriness and lawing, what could I do? And him struck as if it was with death when he got the letter as said you'd the hold upo' the land. But I can't believe but what you'll behave as a gentleman."
"What does all this mean, Mrs. Tulliver?" said Mr. Wakem rather sharply. "What do you want to ask me?"
"Why, sir, if you'll be so good," said Mrs. Tulliver, starting a little, and speaking more hurriedly,–"if you'll be so good not to buy the mill an' the land,–the land wouldn't so much matter, only my husband ull' be like mad at your having it."
Something like a new thought flashed across Mr. Wakem's face as he said, "Who told you I meant to buy it?"
"Why, sir, it's none o' my inventing, and I should never ha' thought of it; for my husband, as ought to know about the law, he allays used to say as lawyers had never no call to buy anything,–either lands or houses,–for they allays got 'em into their hands other ways. An' I should think that 'ud be the way with you, sir; and I niver said as you'd be the man to do contrairy to that."
"Ah, well, who was it that did say so?" said Wakem, opening his desk, and moving things about, with the accompaniment of an almost inaudible whistle.
"Why, sir, it was Mr. Glegg and Mr. Deane, as have all the management; and Mr. Deane thinks as Guest &Co. 'ud buy the mill and let Mr. Tulliver work it for 'em, if you didn't bid for it and raise the price. And it 'ud be such a thing for my husband to stay where he is, if he could get his living: for it was his father's before him, the mill was, and his grandfather built it, though I wasn't fond o' the noise of it, when first I was married, for there was no mills in our family,–not the Dodson's,–and if I'd known as the mills had so much to do with the law, it wouldn't have been me as 'ud have been the first Dodson to marry one; but I went into it blindfold, that I did, erigation and everything."
"What! Guest &Co. would keep the mill in their own hands, I suppose, and pay your husband wages?"
"Oh dear, sir, it's hard to think of," said poor Mrs. Tulliver, a little tear making its way, "as my husband should take wage. But it 'ud look more like what used to be, to stay at the mill than to go anywhere else; and if you'll only think–if you was to bid for the mill and buy it, my husband might be struck worse than he was before, and niver get better again as he's getting now."
"Well, but if I bought the mill, and allowed your husband to act as my manager in the same way, how then?" said Mr. Wakem.
"Oh, sir, I doubt he could niver be got to do it, not if the very mill stood still to beg and pray of him. For your name's like poison to him, it's so as never was; and he looks upon it as you've been the ruin of him all along, ever since you set the law on him about the road through the meadow,–that's eight year ago, and he's been going on ever since–as I've allays told him he was wrong––"
"He's a pig-headed, foul-mouthed fool!" burst out Mr. Wakem, forgetting himself.
"Oh dear, sir!" said Mrs. Tulliver, frightened at a result so different from the one she had fixed her mind on; "I wouldn't wish to contradict you, but it's like enough he's changed his mind with this illness,–he's forgot a many things he used to talk about. And you wouldn't like to have a corpse on your mind, if he was to die; and they do say as it's allays unlucky when Dorlcote Mill changes hands, and the water might all run away, and then–not as I'm wishing you any ill-luck, sir, for I forgot to tell you as I remember your wedding as if it was yesterday; Mrs. Wakem was a Miss Clint, I know that; and my boy, as there isn't a nicer, handsomer, straighter boy nowhere, went to school with your son––"
Mr. Wakem rose, opened the door, and called to one of his clerks.
"You must excuse me for interrupting you, Mrs. Tulliver; I have business that must be attended to; and I think there is nothing more necessary to be said."
"But if you would bear it in mind, sir," said Mrs. Tulliver, rising, "and not run against me and my children; and I'm not denying Mr. Tulliver's been in the wrong, but he's been punished enough, and there's worse men, for it's been giving to other folks has been his fault. He's done nobody any harm but himself and his family,–the more's the pity,–and I go and look at the bare shelves every day, and think where all my things used to stand."
"Yes, yes, I'll bear it in mind," said Mr. Wakem, hastily, looking toward the open door.
"And if you'd please not to say as I've been to speak to you, for my son 'ud be very angry with me for demeaning myself, I know he would, and I've trouble enough without being scolded by my children."
Poor Mrs. Tulliver's voice trembled a little, and she could make no answer to the attorney's "good morning," but curtsied and walked out in silence.
"Which day is it that Dorlcote Mill is to be sold? Where's the bill?" said Mr. Wakem to his clerk when they were alone.
"Next Friday is the day,–Friday at six o'clock."
"Oh, just run to Winship's the auctioneer, and see if he's at home. I have some business for him; ask him to come up."
Although, when Mr. Wakem entered his office that morning, he had had no intention of purchasing Dorlcote Mill, his mind was already made up. Mrs. Tulliver had suggested to him several determining motives, and his mental glance was very rapid; he was one of those men who can be prompt without being rash, because their motives run in fixed tracks, and they have no need to reconcile conflicting aims.
To suppose that Wakem had the same sort of inveterate hatred toward Tulliver that Tulliver had toward him would be like supposing that a pike and a roach can look at each other from a similar point of view. The roach necessarily abhors the mode in which the pike gets his living, and the pike is likely to think nothing further even of the most indignant roach than that he is excellent good eating; it could only be when the roach choked him that the pike could entertain a strong personal animosity. If Mr. Tulliver had ever seriously injured or thwarted the attorney, Wakem would not have refused him the distinction of being a special object of his vindictiveness. But when Mr. Tulliver called Wakem a rascal at the market dinner-table, the attorneys' clients were not a whit inclined to withdraw their business from him; and if, when Wakem himself happened to be present, some jocose cattle-feeder, stimulated by opportunity and brandy, made a thrust at him by alluding to old ladies' wills, he maintained perfect sang froid, and knew quite well that the majority of substantial men then present were perfectly contented with the fact that "Wakem was Wakem"; that is to say, a man who always knew the stepping-stones that would carry him through very muddy bits of practice. A man who had made a large fortune, had a handsome house among the trees at Tofton, and decidedly the finest stock of port-wine in the neighborhood of St. Ogg's, was likely to feel himself on a level with public opinion. And I am not sure that even honest Mr. Tulliver himself, with his general view of law as a cockpit, might not, under opposite circumstances, have seen a fine appropriateness in the truth that "Wakem was Wakem"; since I have understood from persons versed in history, that mankind is not disposed to look narrowly into the conduct of great victors when their victory is on the right side. Tulliver, then, could be no obstruction to Wakem; on the contrary, he was a poor devil whom the lawyer had defeated several times; a hot-tempered fellow, who would always give you a handle against him. Wakem's conscience was not uneasy because he had used a few tricks against the miller; why should he hate that unsuccessful plaintiff, that pitiable, furious bull entangled in the meshes of a net?
Still, among the various excesses to which human nature is subject, moralists have never numbered that of being too fond of the people who openly revile us. The successful Yellow candidate for the borough of Old Topping, perhaps, feels no pursuant meditative hatred toward the Blue editor who consoles his subscribers with vituperative rhetoric against Yellow men who sell their country, and are the demons of private life; but he might not be sorry, if law and opportunity favored, to kick that Blue editor to a deeper shade of his favorite color. Prosperous men take a little vengeance now and then, as they take a diversion, when it comes easily in their way, and is no hindrance to business; and such small unimpassioned revenges have an enormous effect in life, running through all degrees of pleasant infliction, blocking the fit men out of places, and blackening characters in unpremeditated talk. Still more, to see people who have been only insignificantly offensive to us reduced in life and humiliated, without any special effort of ours, is apt to have a soothing, flattering influence. Providence or some other prince of this world, it appears, has undertaken the task of retribution for us; and really, by an agreeable constitution of things, our enemies somehow don't prosper.
Wakem was not without this parenthetic vindictiveness toward the uncomplimentary miller; and now Mrs. Tulliver had put the notion into his head, it presented itself to him as a pleasure to do the very thing that would cause Mr. Tulliver the most deadly mortification,–and a pleasure of a complex kind, not made up of crude malice, but mingling with it the relish of self-approbation. To see an enemy humiliated gives a certain contentment, but this is jejune compared with the highly blent satisfaction of seeing him humiliated by your benevolent action or concession on his behalf. That is a sort of revenge which falls into the scale of virtue, and Wakem was not without an intention of keeping that scale respectably filled. He had once had the pleasure of putting an old enemy of his into one of the St. Ogg's alms-houses, to the rebuilding of which he had given a large subscription; and here was an opportunity of providing for another by making him his own servant. Such things give a completeness to prosperity, and contribute elements of agreeable consciousness that are not dreamed of by that short-sighted, overheated vindictiveness which goes out its way to wreak itself in direct injury. And Tulliver, with his rough tongue filed by a sense of obligation, would make a better servant than any chance-fellow who was cap-in-hand for a situation. Tulliver was known to be a man of proud honesty, and Wakem was too acute not to believe in the existence of honesty. He was given too observing individuals, not to judging of them according to maxims, and no one knew better than he that all men were not like himself. Besides, he intended to overlook the whole business of land and mill pretty closely; he was fond of these practical rural matters. But there were good reasons for purchasing Dorlcote Mill, quite apart from any benevolent vengeance on the miller. It was really a capital investment; besides, Guest &Co. were going to bid for it. Mr. Guest and Mr. Wakem were on friendly dining terms, and the attorney liked to predominate over a ship-owner and mill-owner who was a little too loud in the town affairs as well as in his table-talk. For Wakem was not a mere man of business; he was considered a pleasant fellow in the upper circles of St. Ogg's–chatted amusingly over his port-wine, did a little amateur farming, and had certainly been an excellent husband and father; at church, when he went there, he sat under the handsomest of mural monuments erected to the memory of his wife. Most men would have married again under his circumstances, but he was said to be more tender to his deformed son than most men were to their best-shapen offspring. Not that Mr. Wakem had not other sons beside Philip; but toward them he held only a chiaroscuro parentage, and provided for them in a grade of life duly beneath his own. In this fact, indeed, there lay the clenching motive to the purchase of Dorlcote Mill. While Mrs. Tulliver was talking, it had occurred to the rapid-minded lawyer, among all the other circumstances of the case, that this purchase would, in a few years to come, furnish a highly suitable position for a certain favorite lad whom he meant to bring on in the world.
These were the mental conditions on which Mrs. Tulliver had undertaken to act persuasively, and had failed; a fact which may receive some illustration from the remark of a great philosopher, that fly-fishers fail in preparing their bait so as to make it alluring in the right quarter, for want of a due acquaintance with the subjectivity of fishes.
Daylight on the Wreck
It was a clear frosty January day on which Mr. Tulliver first came downstairs. The bright sun on the chestnut boughs and the roofs opposite his window had made him impatiently declare that he would be caged up no longer; he thought everywhere would be more cheery under this sunshine than his bedroom; for he knew nothing of the bareness below, which made the flood of sunshine importunate, as if it had an unfeeling pleasure in showing the empty places, and the marks where well-known objects once had been. The impression on his mind that it was but yesterday when he received the letter from Mr. Gore was so continually implied in his talk, and the attempts to convey to him the idea that many weeks had passed and much had happened since then had been so soon swept away by recurrent forgetfulness, that even Mr. Turnbull had begun to despair of preparing him to meet the facts by previous knowledge. The full sense of the present could only be imparted gradually by new experience,–not by mere words, which must remain weaker than the impressions left by the old experience. This resolution to come downstairs was heard with trembling by the wife and children. Mrs. Tulliver said Tom must not go to St. Ogg's at the usual hour, he must wait and see his father downstairs; and Tom complied, though with an intense inward shrinking from the painful scene. The hearts of all three had been more deeply dejected than ever during the last few days. For Guest &Co. had not bought the mill; both mill and land had been knocked down to Wakem, who had been over the premises, and had laid before Mr. Deane and Mr. Glegg, in Mrs. Tulliver's presence, his willingness to employ Mr. Tulliver, in case of his recovery, as a manager of the business. This proposition had occasioned much family debating. Uncles and aunts were almost unanimously of opinion that such an offer ought not to be rejected when there was nothing in the way but a feeling in Mr. Tulliver's mind, which, as neither aunts nor uncles shared it, was regarded as entirely unreasonable and childish,–indeed, as a transferring toward Wakem of that indignation and hatred which Mr. Tulliver ought properly to have directed against himself for his general quarrelsomeness, and his special exhibition of it in going to law. Here was an opportunity for Mr. Tulliver to provide for his wife and daughter without any assistance from his wife's relations, and without that too evident descent into pauperism which makes it annoying to respectable people to meet the degraded member of the family by the wayside. Mr. Tulliver, Mrs. Glegg considered, must be made to feel, when he came to his right mind, that he could never humble himself enough; for that had come which she had always foreseen would come of his insolence in time past "to them as were the best friends he'd got to look to." Mr Glegg and Mr. Deane were less stern in their views, but they both of them thought Tulliver had done enough harm by his hot-tempered crotchets and ought to put them out of the question when a livelihood was offered him; Wakem showed a right feeling about the matter,–he had no grudge against Tulliver.
Tom had protested against entertaining the proposition. He shouldn't like his father to be under Wakem; he thought it would look mean-spirited; but his mother's main distress was the utter impossibility of ever "turning Mr. Tulliver round about Wakem," or getting him to hear reason; no, they would all have to go and live in a pigsty on purpose to spite Wakem, who spoke "so as nobody could be fairer." Indeed, Mrs. Tulliver's mind was reduced to such confusion by living in this strange medium of unaccountable sorrow, against which she continually appealed by asking, "Oh dear, what have I done to deserve worse than other women?" that Maggie began to suspect her poor mother's wits were quite going.
"Tom," she said, when they were out of their father's room together, "we must try to make father understand a little of what has happened before he goes downstairs. But we must get my mother away. She will say something that will do harm. Ask Kezia to fetch her down, and keep her engaged with something in the kitchen."
Kezia was equal to the task. Having declared her intention of staying till the master could get about again, "wage or no wage," she had found a certain recompense in keeping a strong hand over her mistress, scolding her for "moithering" herself, and going about all day without changing her cap, and looking as if she was "mushed." Altogether, this time of trouble was rather a Saturnalian time to Kezia; she could scold her betters with unreproved freedom. On this particular occasion there were drying clothes to be fetched in; she wished to know if one pair of hands could do everything in-doors and out, and observed that she should have thought it would be good for Mrs. Tulliver to put on her bonnet, and get a breath of fresh air by doing that needful piece of work. Poor Mrs. Tulliver went submissively downstairs; to be ordered about by a servant was the last remnant of her household dignities,–she would soon have no servant to scold her. Mr. Tulliver was resting in his chair a little after the fatigue of dressing, and Maggie and Tom were seated near him, when Luke entered to ask if he should help master downstairs.
"Ay, ay, Luke; stop a bit, sit down," said Mr. Tulliver pointing his stick toward a chair, and looking at him with that pursuant gaze which convalescent persons often have for those who have tended them, reminding one of an infant gazing about after its nurse. For Luke had been a constant night-watcher by his master's bed.
"How's the water now, eh, Luke?" said Mr. Tulliver. "Dix hasn't been choking you up again, eh?"
"No, sir, it's all right."
"Ay, I thought not; he won't be in a hurry at that again, now Riley's been to settle him. That was what I said to Riley yesterday–I said––"
Mr. Tulliver leaned forward, resting his elbows on the armchair, and looking on the ground as if in search of something, striving after vanishing images like a man struggling against a doze. Maggie looked at Tom in mute distress, their father's mind was so far off the present, which would by-and-by thrust itself on his wandering consciousness! Tom was almost ready to rush away, with that impatience of painful emotion which makes one of the differences between youth and maiden, man and woman.
"Father," said Maggie, laying her hand on his, "don't you remember that Mr. Riley is dead?"
"Dead?" said Mr. Tulliver, sharply, looking in her face with a strange, examining glance.
"Yes, he died of apoplexy nearly a year ago. I remember hearing you say you had to pay money for him; and he left his daughters badly off; one of them is under-teacher at Miss Firniss's, where I've been to school, you know."
"Ah?" said her father, doubtfully, still looking in her face. But as soon as Tom began to speak he turned to look at him with the same inquiring glances, as if he were rather surprised at the presence of these two young people. Whenever his mind was wandering in the far past, he fell into this oblivion of their actual faces; they were not those of the lad and the little wench who belonged to that past.
"It's a long while since you had the dispute with Dix, father," said Tom. "I remember your talking about it three years ago, before I went to school at Mr. Stelling's. I've been at school there three years; don't you remember?"
Mr. Tulliver threw himself backward again, losing the childlike outward glance under a rush of new ideas, which diverted him from external impressions.
"Ay, ay," he said, after a minute or two, "I've paid a deal o' money–I was determined my son should have a good eddication; I'd none myself, and I've felt the miss of it. And he'll want no other fortin, that's what I say–if Wakem was to get the better of me again––"
The thought of Wakem roused new vibrations, and after a moment's pause he began to look at the coat he had on, and to feel in his side-pocket. Then he turned to Tom, and said in his old sharp way, "Where have they put Gore's letter?"
It was close at hand in a drawer, for he had often asked for it before.
"You know what there is in the letter, father?" said Tom, as he gave it to him.
"To be sure I do," said Mr. Tulliver, rather angrily. "What o' that? If Furley can't take to the property, somebody else can; there's plenty o' people in the world besides Furley. But it's hindering–my not being well–go and tell 'em to get the horse in the gig, Luke; I can get down to St. Ogg's well enough–Gore's expecting me."
"No, dear father!" Maggie burst out entreatingly; "it's a very long while since all that; you've been ill a great many weeks,–more than two months; everything is changed."
Mr. Tulliver looked at them all three alternately with a startled gaze; the idea that much had happened of which he knew nothing had often transiently arrested him before, but it came upon him now with entire novelty.
"Yes, father," said Tom, in answer to the gaze. "You needn't trouble your mind about business until you are quite well; everything is settled about that for the present,–about the mill and the land and the debts."
"What's settled, then?" said his father, angrily.
"Don't you take on too much bout it, sir," said Luke. "You'd ha' paid iverybody if you could,–that's what I said to Master Tom,–I said you'd ha' paid iverybody if you could."
Good Luke felt, after the manner of contented hard-working men whose lives have been spent in servitude, that sense of natural fitness in rank which made his master's downfall a tragedy to him. He was urged, in his slow way, to say something that would express his share in the family sorrow; and these words, which he had used over and over again to Tom when he wanted to decline the full payment of his fifty pounds out of the children's money, were the most ready to his tongue. They were just the words to lay the most painful hold on his master's bewildered mind.
"Paid everybody?" he said, with vehement agitation, his face flushing, and his eye lighting up. "Why–what–have they made me a bankrupt?"
"Oh, father, dear father!" said Maggie, who thought that terrible word really represented the fact; "bear it well, because we love you; your children will always love you. Tom will pay them all; he says he will, when he's a man."
She felt her father beginning to tremble; his voice trembled too, as he said, after a few moments:
"Ay, my little wench, but I shall never live twice o'er."
"But perhaps you will live to see me pay everybody, father," said Tom, speaking with a great effort.
"Ah, my lad," said Mr. Tulliver, shaking his head slowly, "but what's broke can never be whole again; it 'ud be your doing, not mine." Then looking up at him, "You're only sixteen; it's an up-hill fight for you, but you mustn't throw it at your father; the raskills have been too many for him. I've given you a good eddication,–that'll start you."
Something in his throat half choked the last words; the flush, which had alarmed his children because it had so often preceded a recurrence of paralysis, had subsided, and his face looked pale and tremulous. Tom said nothing; he was still struggling against his inclination to rush away. His father remained quiet a minute or two, but his mind did not seem to be wandering again.
"Have they sold me up, then?" he said more clamly, as if he were possessed simply by the desire to know what had happened.
"Everything is sold, father; but we don't know all about the mill and the land yet," said Tom, anxious to ward off any question leading to the fact that Wakem was the purchaser.
"You must not be surprised to see the room look very bare downstairs, father," said Maggie; "but there's your chair and the bureau; they're not gone."
"Let us go; help me down, Luke,–I'll go and see everything," said Mr. Tulliver, leaning on his stick, and stretching out his other hand toward Luke.
"Ay, sir," said Luke, as he gave his arm to his master, "you'll make up your mind to't a bit better when you've seen iverything; you'll get used to't. That's what my mother says about her shortness o' breath,–she says she's made friends wi't now, though she fought again' it sore when it just come on."
Maggie ran on before to see that all was right in the dreary parlor, where the fire, dulled by the frosty sunshine, seemed part of the general shabbiness. She turned her father's chair, and pushed aside the table to make an easy way for him, and then stood with a beating heart to see him enter and look round for the first time. Tom advanced before him, carrying the leg-rest, and stood beside Maggie on the hearth. Of those two young hearts Tom's suffered the most unmixed pain, for Maggie, with all her keen susceptibility, yet felt as if the sorrow made larger room for her love to flow in, and gave breathing-space to her passionate nature. No true boy feels that; he would rather go and slay the Nemean lion, or perform any round of heroic labors, than endure perpetual appeals to his pity, for evils over which he can make no conquest.
Mr. Tulliver paused just inside the door, resting on Luke, and looking round him at all the bare places, which for him were filled with the shadows of departed objects,–the daily companions of his life. His faculties seemed to be renewing their strength from getting a footing on this demonstration of the senses.
"Ah!" he said slowly, moving toward his chair, "they've sold me up–they've sold me up."
Then seating himself, and laying down his stick, while Luke left the room, he looked round again.
"They've left the big Bible," he said. "It's got everything in,–when I was born and married; bring it me, Tom."
The quarto Bible was laid open before him at the fly-leaf, and while he was reading with slowly travelling eyes Mrs. Tulliver entered the room, but stood in mute surprise to find her husband down already, and with the great Bible before him.
"Ah," he said, looking at a spot where his finger rested, "my mother was Margaret Beaton; she died when she was forty-seven,–hers wasn't a long-lived family; we're our mother's children, Gritty and me are,–we shall go to our last bed before long."
He seemed to be pausing over the record of his sister's birth and marriage, as if it were suggesting new thoughts to him; then he suddenly looked up at Tom, and said, in a sharp tone of alarm:
"They haven't come upo' Moss for the money as I lent him, have they?"
"No, father," said Tom; "the note was burnt."
Mr. Tulliver turned his eyes on the page again, and presently said:
"Ah–Elizabeth Dodson–it's eighteen year since I married her––"
"Come next Ladyday," said Mrs. Tulliver, going up to his side and looking at the page.
Her husband fixed his eyes earnestly on her face.
"Poor Bessy," he said, "you was a pretty lass then,–everybody said so,–and I used to think you kept your good looks rarely. But you're sorely aged; don't you bear me ill-will–I meant to do well by you–we promised one another for better or for worse––"
"But I never thought it 'ud be so for worse as this," said poor Mrs. Tulliver, with the strange, scared look that had come over her of late; "and my poor father gave me away–and to come on so all at once––"
"Oh, mother!" said Maggie, "don't talk in that way."
"No, I know you won't let your poor mother speak–that's been the way all my life–your father never minded what I said–it 'ud have been o' no use for me to beg and pray–and it 'ud be no use now, not if I was to go down o' my hands and knees––"
"Don't say so, Bessy," said Mr. Tulliver, whose pride, in these first moments of humiliation, was in abeyance to the sense of some justice in his wife's reproach. "It there's anything left as I could do to make you amends, I wouldn't say you nay."
"Then we might stay here and get a living, and I might keep among my own sisters,–and me been such a good wife to you, and never crossed you from week's end to week's end–and they all say so–they say it 'ud be nothing but right, only you're so turned against Wakem."
"Mother," said Tom, severely, "this is not the time to talk about that."
"Let her be," said Mr. Tulliver. "Say what you mean, Bessy."
"Why, now the mill and the land's all Wakem's, and he's got everything in his hands, what's the use o' setting your face against him, when he says you may stay here, and speaks as fair as can be, and says you may manage the business, and have thirty shillings a-week, and a horse to ride about to market? And where have we got to put our heads? We must go into one o' the cottages in the village,–and me and my children brought down to that,–and all because you must set your mind against folks till there's no turning you."
Mr. Tulliver had sunk back in his chair trembling.
"You may do as you like wi' me, Bessy," he said, in a low voice; "I've been the bringing of you to poverty–this world's too many for me–I'm nought but a bankrupt; it's no use standing up for anything now."
"Father," said Tom, "I don't agree with my mother or my uncles, and I don't think you ought to submit to be under Wakem. I get a pound a-week now, and you can find something else to do when you get well."
"Say no more, Tom, say no more; I've had enough for this day. Give me a kiss, Bessy, and let us bear one another no ill-will; we shall never be young again–this world's been too many for me."
An Item Added to the Family Register
That first moment of renunciation and submission was followed by days of violent struggle in the miller's mind, as the gradual access of bodily strength brought with it increasing ability to embrace in one view all the conflicting conditions under which he found himself. Feeble limbs easily resign themselves to be tethered, and when we are subdued by sickness it seems possible to us to fulfil pledges which the old vigor comes back and breaks. There were times when poor Tulliver thought the fulfilment of his promise to Bessy was something quite too hard for human nature; he had promised her without knowing what she was going to say,–she might as well have asked him to carry a ton weight on his back. But again, there were many feelings arguing on her side, besides the sense that life had been made hard to her by having married him. He saw a possibility, by much pinching, of saving money out of his salary toward paying a second dividend to his creditors, and it would not be easy elsewhere to get a situation such as he could fill.
He had led an easy life, ordering much and working little, and had no aptitude for any new business. He must perhaps take to day-labor, and his wife must have help from her sisters,–a prospect doubly bitter to him, now they had let all Bessy's precious things be sold, probably because they liked to set her against him, by making her feel that he had brought her to that pass. He listened to their admonitory talk, when they came to urge on him what he was bound to do for poor Bessy's sake, with averted eyes, that every now and then flashed on them furtively when their backs were turned. Nothing but the dread of needing their help could have made it an easier alternative to take their advice.
But the strongest influence of all was the love of the old premises where he had run about when he was a boy, just as Tom had done after him. The Tullivers had lived on this spot for generations, and he had sat listening on a low stool on winter evenings while his father talked of the old half-timbered mill that had been there before the last great floods which damaged it so that his grandfather pulled it down and built the new one. It was when he got able to walk about and look at all the old objects that he felt the strain of his clinging affection for the old home as part of his life, part of himself. He couldn't bear to think of himself living on any other spot than this, where he knew the sound of every gate door, and felt that the shape and color of every roof and weather-stain and broken hillock was good, because his growing senses had been fed on them. Our instructed vagrancy, which was hardly time to linger by the hedgerows, but runs away early to the tropics, and is at home with palms and banyans,–which is nourished on books of travel and stretches the theatre of its imagination to the Zambesi,–can hardly get a dim notion of what an old-fashioned man like Tulliver felt for this spot, where all his memories centred, and where life seemed like a familiar smooth-handled tool that the fingers clutch with loving ease. And just now he was living in that freshened memory of the far-off time which comes to us in the passive hours of recovery from sickness.
"Ay, Luke," he said one afternoon, as he stood looking over the orchard gate, "I remember the day they planted those apple-trees. My father was a huge man for planting,–it was like a merry-making to him to get a cart full o' young trees; and I used to stand i' the cold with him, and follow him about like a dog."
Then he turned round, and leaning against the gate-post, looked at the opposite buildings.
"The old mill 'ud miss me, I think, Luke. There's a story as when the mill changes hands, the river's angry; I've heard my father say it many a time. There's no telling whether there mayn't be summat in the story, for this is a puzzling world, and Old Harry's got a finger in it–it's been too many for me, I know."
"Ay, sir," said Luke, with soothing sympathy, "what wi' the rust on the wheat, an' the firin' o' the ricks an' that, as I've seen i' my time,–things often looks comical; there's the bacon fat wi' our last pig run away like butter,–it leaves nought but a scratchin'."
"It's just as if it was yesterday, now," Mr. Tulliver went on, "when my father began the malting. I remember, the day they finished the malt-house, I thought summat great was to come of it; for we'd a plum-pudding that day and a bit of a feast, and I said to my mother,–she was a fine dark-eyed woman, my mother was,–the little wench 'ull be as like her as two peas." Here Mr. Tulliver put his stick between his legs, and took out his snuff-box, for the greater enjoyment of this anecdote, which dropped from him in fragments, as if he every other moment lost narration in vision. "I was a little chap no higher much than my mother's knee,–she was sore fond of us children, Gritty and me,–and so I said to her, 'Mother,' I said, 'shall we have plum-pudding every day because o' the malt-house? She used to tell me o' that till her dying day. She was but a young woman when she died, my mother was. But it's forty good year since they finished the malt-house, and it isn't many days out of 'em all as I haven't looked out into the yard there, the first thing in the morning,–all weathers, from year's end to year's end. I should go off my head in a new place. I should be like as if I'd lost my way. It's all hard, whichever way I look at it,–the harness 'ull gall me, but it 'ud be summat to draw along the old road, instead of a new un."
"Ay, sir," said Luke, "you'd be a deal better here nor in some new place. I can't abide new places mysen: things is allays awk'ard,–narrow-wheeled waggins, belike, and the stiles all another sort, an' oat-cake i' some places, tow'rt th' head o' the Floss, there. It's poor work, changing your country-side."
"But I doubt, Luke, they'll be for getting rid o' Ben, and making you do with a lad; and I must help a bit wi' the mill. You'll have a worse place."
"Ne'er mind, sir," said Luke, "I sha'n't plague mysen. I'n been wi' you twenty year, an' you can't get twenty year wi' whistlin' for 'em, no more nor you can make the trees grow: you mun wait till God A'mighty sends 'em. I can't abide new victual nor new faces, I can't,–you niver know but what they'll gripe you."
The walk was finished in silence after this, for Luke had disburthened himself of thoughts to an extent that left his conversational resources quite barren, and Mr. Tulliver had relapsed from his recollections into a painful meditation on the choice of hardships before him. Maggie noticed that he was unusually absent that evening at tea; and afterward he sat leaning forward in his chair, looking at the ground, moving his lips, and shaking his head from time to time. Then he looked hard at Mrs. Tulliver, who was knitting opposite him, then at Maggie, who, as she bent over her sewing, was intensely conscious of some drama going forward in her father's mind. Suddenly he took up the poker and broke the large coal fiercely.
"Dear heart, Mr. Tulliver, what can you be thinking of?" said his wife, looking up in alarm; "it's very wasteful, breaking the coal, and we've got hardly any large coal left, and I don't know where the rest is to come from."
"I don't think you're quite so well to-night, are you, father?" said Maggie; "you seem uneasy."
"Why, how is it Tom doesn't come?" said Mr. Tulliver, impatiently.
"Dear heart! is it time? I must go and get his supper," said Mrs. Tulliver, laying down her knitting, and leaving the room.
"It's nigh upon half-past eight," said Mr. Tulliver. "He'll be here soon. Go, go and get the big Bible, and open it at the beginning, where everything's set down. And get the pen and ink."
Maggie obeyed, wondering; but her father gave no further orders, and only sat listening for Tom's footfall on the gravel, apparently irritated by the wind, which had risen, and was roaring so as to drown all other sounds. There was a strange light in his eyes that rather frightened Maggie; she began to wish that Tom would come, too.
"There he is, then," said Mr. Tulliver, in an excited way, when the knock came at last. Maggie went to open the door, but her mother came out of the kitchen hurriedly, saying, "Stop a bit, Maggie; I'll open it."
Mrs. Tulliver had begun to be a little frightened at her boy, but she was jealous of every office others did for him.
"Your supper's ready by the kitchen-fire, my boy," she said, as he took off his hat and coat. "You shall have it by yourself, just as you like, and I won't speak to you."
"I think my father wants Tom, mother," said Maggie; "he must come into the parlor first."
Tom entered with his usual saddened evening face, but his eyes fell immediately on the open Bible and the inkstand, and he glanced with a look of anxious surprise at his father, who was saying,–
"Come, come, you're late; I want you."
"Is there anything the matter, father?" said Tom.
"You sit down, all of you," said Mr. Tulliver, peremptorily.
"And, Tom, sit down here; I've got something for you to write i' the Bible."
They all three sat down, looking at him. He began to speak slowly, looking first at his wife.
"I've made up my mind, Bessy, and I'll be as good as my word to you. There'll be the same grave made for us to lie down in, and we mustn't be bearing one another ill-will. I'll stop in the old place, and I'll serve under Wakem, and I'll serve him like an honest man; there's no Tulliver but what's honest, mind that, Tom,"–here his voice rose,–"they'll have it to throw up against me as I paid a dividend, but it wasn't my fault; it was because there's raskills in the world. They've been too many for me, and I must give in. I'll put my neck in harness,–for you've a right to say as I've brought you into trouble, Bessy,–and I'll serve him as honest as if he was no raskill; I'm an honest man, though I shall never hold my head up no more. I'm a tree as is broke–a tree as is broke."
He paused and looked on the ground. Then suddenly raising his head, he said, in a louder yet deeper tone:
"But I won't forgive him! I know what they say, he never meant me any harm. That's the way Old Harry props up the rascals. He's been at the bottom of everything; but he's a fine gentleman,–I know, I know. I shouldn't ha' gone to law, they say. But who made it so as there was no arbitratin', and no justice to be got? It signifies nothing to him, I know that; he's one o' them fine gentlemen as get money by doing business for poorer folks, and when he's made beggars of 'em he'll give 'em charity. I won't forgive him! I wish he might be punished with shame till his own son 'ud like to forget him. I wish he may do summat as they'd make him work at the treadmill! But he won't,–he's too big a raskill to let the law lay hold on him. And you mind this, Tom,–you never forgive him neither, if you mean to be my son. There'll maybe come a time when you may make him feel; it'll never come to me; I'n got my head under the yoke. Now write–write it i' the Bible."
"Oh, father, what?" said Maggie, sinking down by his knee, pale and trembling. "It's wicked to curse and bear malice."
"It isn't wicked, I tell you," said her father, fiercely. "It's wicked as the raskills should prosper; it's the Devil's doing. Do as I tell you, Tom. Write."
"What am I to write?" said Tom, with gloomy submission.
"Write as your father, Edward Tulliver, took service under John Wakem, the man as had helped to ruin him, because I'd promised my wife to make her what amends I could for her trouble, and because I wanted to die in th' old place where I was born and my father was born. Put that i' the right words–you know how–and then write, as I don't forgive Wakem for all that; and for all I'll serve him honest, I wish evil may befall him. Write that."
There was a dead silence as Tom's pen moved along the paper; Mrs. Tulliver looked scared, and Maggie trembled like a leaf.
"Now let me hear what you've wrote," said Mr. Tulliver, Tom read aloud slowly.
"Now write–write as you'll remember what Wakem's done to your father, and you'll make him and his feel it, if ever the day comes. And sign your name Thomas Tulliver."
"Oh no, father, dear father!" said Maggie, almost choked with fear. "You shouldn't make Tom write that."
"Be quiet, Maggie!" said Tom. "I shall write it."