Wheat and Tares
In the Red Deeps
The family sitting-room was a long room with a window at each end; one looking toward the croft and along the Ripple to the banks of the Floss, the other into the mill-yard. Maggie was sitting with her work against the latter window when she saw Mr. Wakem entering the yard, as usual, on his fine black horse; but not alone, as usual. Some one was with him,–a figure in a cloak, on a handsome pony. Maggie had hardly time to feel that it was Philip come back, before they were in front of the window, and he was raising his hat to her; while his father, catching the movement by a side-glance, looked sharply round at them both.
Maggie hurried away from the window and carried her work upstairs; for Mr. Wakem sometimes came in and inspected the books, and Maggie felt that the meeting with Philip would be robbed of all pleasure in the presence of the two fathers. Some day, perhaps, she could see him when they could just shake hands, and she could tell him that she remembered his goodness to Tom, and the things he had said to her in the old days, though they could never be friends any more. It was not at all agitating to Maggie to see Philip again; she retained her childish gratitude and pity toward him, and remembered his cleverness; and in the early weeks of her loneliness she had continually recalled the image of him among the people who had been kind to her in life, often wishing she had him for a brother and a teacher, as they had fancied it might have been, in their talk together. But that sort of wishing had been banished along with other dreams that savored of seeking her own will; and she thought, besides, that Philip might be altered by his life abroad,–he might have become worldly, and really not care about her saying anything to him now. And yet his face was wonderfully little altered,–it was only a larger, more manly copy of the pale, small-featured boy's face, with the gray eyes, and the boyish waving brown hair; there was the old deformity to awaken the old pity; and after all her meditations, Maggie felt that she really should like to say a few words to him. He might still be melancholy, as he always used to be, and like her to look at him kindly. She wondered if he remembered how he used to like her eyes; with that thought Maggie glanced toward the square looking-glass which was condemned to hang with its face toward the wall, and she half started from her seat to reach it down; but she checked herself and snatched up her work, trying to repress the rising wishes by forcing her memory to recall snatches of hymns, until she saw Philip and his father returning along the road, and she could go down again.
It was far on in June now, and Maggie was inclined to lengthen the daily walk which was her one indulgence; but this day and the following she was so busy with work which must be finished that she never went beyond the gate, and satisfied her need of the open air by sitting out of doors. One of her frequent walks, when she was not obliged to go to St. Ogg's, was to a spot that lay beyond what was called the "Hill,"–an insignificant rise of ground crowned by trees, lying along the side of the road which ran by the gates of Dorlcote Mill. Insignificant I call it, because in height it was hardly more than a bank; but there may come moments when Nature makes a mere bank a means toward a fateful result; and that is why I ask you to imagine this high bank crowned with trees, making an uneven wall for some quarter of a mile along the left side of Dorlcote Mill and the pleasant fields behind it, bounded by the murmuring Ripple. Just where this line of bank sloped down again to the level, a by-road turned off and led to the other side of the rise, where it was broken into very capricious hollows and mounds by the working of an exhausted stone-quarry, so long exhausted that both mounds and hollows were now clothed with brambles and trees, and here and there by a stretch of grass which a few sheep kept close-nibbled. In her childish days Maggie held this place, called the Red Deeps, in very great awe, and needed all her confidence in Tom's bravery to reconcile her to an excursion thither,–visions of robbers and fierce animals haunting every hollow. But now it had the charm for her which any broken ground, any mimic rock and ravine, have for the eyes that rest habitually on the level; especially in summer, when she could sit on a grassy hollow under the shadow of a branching ash, stooping aslant from the steep above her, and listen to the hum of insects, like tiniest bells on the garment of Silence, or see the sunlight piercing the distant boughs, as if to chase and drive home the truant heavenly blue of the wild hyacinths. In this June time, too, the dog-roses were in their glory, and that was an additional reason why Maggie should direct her walk to the Red Deeps, rather than to any other spot, on the first day she was free to wander at her will,–a pleasure she loved so well, that sometimes, in her ardors of renunciation, she thought she ought to deny herself the frequent indulgence in it.
You may see her now, as she walks down the favorite turning and enters the Deeps by a narrow path through a group of Scotch firs, her tall figure and old lavender gown visible through an hereditary black silk shawl of some wide-meshed net-like material; and now she is sure of being unseen she takes off her bonnet and ties it over her arm. One would certainly suppose her to be farther on in life than her seventeenth year–perhaps because of the slow resigned sadness of the glance from which all search and unrest seem to have departed; perhaps because her broad-chested figure has the mould of early womanhood. Youth and health have withstood well the involuntary and voluntary hardships of her lot, and the nights in which she has lain on the hard floor for a penance have left no obvious trace; the eyes are liquid, the brown cheek is firm and round, the full lips are red. With her dark coloring and jet crown surmounting her tall figure, she seems to have a sort of kinship with the grand Scotch firs, at which she is looking up as if she loved them well. Yet one has a sense of uneasiness in looking at her,–a sense of opposing elements, of which a fierce collision is imminent; surely there is a hushed expression, such as one often sees in older faces under borderless caps, out of keeping with the resistant youth, which one expects to flash out in a sudden, passionate glance, that will dissipate all the quietude, like a damp fire leaping out again when all seemed safe.
But Maggie herself was not uneasy at this moment. She was clamly enjoying the free air, while she looked up at the old fir-trees, and thought that those broken ends of branches were the records of past storms, which had only made the red stems soar higher. But while her eyes were still turned upward, she became conscious of a moving shadow cast by the evening sun on the grassy path before her, and looked down with a startled gesture to see Philip Wakem, who first raised his hat, and then, blushing deeply, came forward to her and put out his hand. Maggie, too, colored with surprise, which soon gave way to pleasure. She put out her hand and looked down at the deformed figure before her with frank eyes, filled for the moment with nothing but the memory of her child's feelings,–a memory that was always strong in her. She was the first to speak.
"You startled me," she said, smiling faintly; "I never meet any one here. How came you to be walking here? Did you come to meet me?"
It was impossible not to perceive that Maggie felt herself a child again.
"Yes, I did," said Philip, still embarrassed; "I wished to see you very much. I watched a long while yesterday on the bank near your house to see if you would come out, but you never came. Then I watched again to-day, and when I saw the way you took, I kept you in sight and came down the bank, behind there. I hope you will not be displeased with me."
"No," said Maggie, with simple seriousness, walking on as if she meant Philip to accompany her, "I'm very glad you came, for I wished very much to have an opportunity of speaking to you. I've never forgotten how good you were long ago to Tom, and me too; but I was not sure that you would remember us so well. Tom and I have had a great deal of trouble since then, and I think that makes one think more of what happened before the trouble came."
"I can't believe that you have thought of me so much as I have thought of you," said Philip, timidly. "Do you know, when I was away, I made a picture of you as you looked that morning in the study when you said you would not forget me."
Philip drew a large miniature-case from his pocket, and opened it. Maggie saw her old self leaning on a table, with her black locks hanging down behind her ears, looking into space, with strange, dreamy eyes. It was a water-color sketch, of real merit as a portrait.
"Oh dear," said Maggie, smiling, and flushed with pleasure, "what a queer little girl I was! I remember myself with my hair in that way, in that pink frock. I really was like a gypsy. I dare say I am now," she added, after a little pause; "am I like what you expected me to be?"
The words might have been those of a coquette, but the full, bright glance Maggie turned on Philip was not that of a coquette. She really did hope he liked her face as it was now, but it was simply the rising again of her innate delight in admiration and love. Philip met her eyes and looked at her in silence for a long moment, before he said quietly, "No, Maggie."
The light died out a little from Maggie's face, and there was a slight trembling of the lip. Her eyelids fell lower, but she did not turn away her head, and Philip continued to look at her. Then he said slowly:
"You are very much more beautiful than I thought you would be."
"Am I?" said Maggie, the pleasure returning in a deeper flush. She turned her face away from him and took some steps, looking straight before her in silence, as if she were adjusting her consciousness to this new idea. Girls are so accustomed to think of dress as the main ground of vanity, that, in abstaining from the looking-glass, Maggie had thought more of abandoning all care for adornment than of renouncing the contemplation of her face. Comparing herself with elegant, wealthy young ladies, it had not occurred to her that she could produce any effect with her person. Philip seemed to like the silence well. He walked by her side, watching her face, as if that sight left no room for any other wish. They had passed from among the fir-trees, and had now come to a green hollow almost surrounded by an amphitheatre of the pale pink dog-roses. But as the light about them had brightened, Maggie's face had lost its glow.
She stood still when they were in the hollows, and looking at Philip again, she said in a serious, sad voice:
"I wish we could have been friends,–I mean, if it would have been good and right for us. But that is the trial I have to bear in everything; I may not keep anything I used to love when I was little. The old books went; and Tom is different, and my father. It is like death. I must part with everything I cared for when I was a child. And I must part with you; we must never take any notice of each other again. That was what I wanted to speak to you for. I wanted to let you know that Tom and I can't do as we like about such things, and that if I behave as if I had forgotten all about you, it is not out of envy or pride–or–or any bad feeling."
Maggie spoke with more and more sorrowful gentleness as she went on, and her eyes began to fill with tears. The deepening expression of pain on Philip's face gave him a stronger resemblance to his boyish self, and made the deformity appeal more strongly to her pity.
"I know; I see all that you mean," he said, in a voice that had become feebler from discouragement; "I know what there is to keep us apart on both sides. But it is not right, Maggie,–don't you be angry with me, I am so used to call you Maggie in my thoughts,–it is not right to sacrifice everything to other people's unreasonable feelings. I would give up a great deal for my father; but I would not give up a friendship or–or an attachment of any sort, in obedience to any wish of his that I didn't recognize as right."
"I don't know," said Maggie, musingly. "Often, when I have been angry and discontented, it has seemed to me that I was not bound to give up anything; and I have gone on thinking till it has seemed to me that I could think away all my duty. But no good has ever come of that; it was an evil state of mind. I'm quite sure that whatever I might do, I should wish in the end that I had gone without anything for myself, rather than have made my father's life harder to him."
"But would it make his life harder if we were to see each other sometimes?" said Philip. He was going to say something else, but checked himself.
"Oh, I'm sure he wouldn't like it. Don't ask me why, or anything about it," said Maggie, in a distressed tone. "My father feels so strongly about some things. He is not at all happy."
"No more am I," said Philip, impetuously; "I am not happy."
"Why?" said Maggie, gently. "At least–I ought not to ask–but I'm very, very sorry."
Philip turned to walk on, as if he had not patience to stand still any longer, and they went out of the hollow, winding amongst the trees and bushes in silence. After that last word of Philip's, Maggie could not bear to insist immediately on their parting.
"I've been a great deal happier," she said at last, timidly, "since I have given up thinking about what is easy and pleasant, and being discontented because I couldn't have my own will. Our life is determined for us; and it makes the mind very free when we give up wishing, and only think of bearing what is laid upon us, and doing what is given us to do."
"But I can't give up wishing," said Philip, impatiently. "It seems to me we can never give up longing and wishing while we are thoroughly alive. There are certain things we feel to be beautiful and good, and we must hunger after them. How can we ever be satisfied without them until our feelings are deadened? I delight in fine pictures; I long to be able to paint such. I strive and strive, and can't produce what I want. That is pain to me, and always will be pain, until my faculties lose their keenness, like aged eyes. Then there are many other things I long for,"–here Philip hesitated a little, and then said,–"things that other men have, and that will always be denied me. My life will have nothing great or beautiful in it; I would rather not have lived."
"Oh, Philip," said Maggie, "I wish you didn't feel so." But her heart began to beat with something of Philip's discontent.
"Well, then," said he, turning quickly round and fixing his gray eyes entreatingly on her face, "I should be contented to live, if you would let me see you sometimes." Then, checked by a fear which her face suggested, he looked away again and said more calmly, "I have no friend to whom I can tell everything, no one who cares enough about me; and if I could only see you now and then, and you would let me talk to you a little, and show me that you cared for me, and that we may always be friends in heart, and help each other, then I might come to be glad of life."
"But how can I see you, Philip?" said Maggie, falteringly. (Could she really do him good? It would be very hard to say "good-by" this day, and not speak to him again. Here was a new interest to vary the days; it was so much easier to renounce the interest before it came.)
"If you would let me see you here sometimes,–walk with you here,–I would be contented if it were only once or twice in a month. That could injure no one's happiness, and it would sweeten my life. Besides," Philip went on, with all the inventive astuteness of love at one-and-twenty, "if there is any enmity between those who belong to us, we ought all the more to try and quench it by our friendship; I mean, that by our influence on both sides we might bring about a healing of the wounds that have been made in the past, if I could know everything about them. And I don't believe there is any enmity in my own father's mind; I think he has proved the contrary."
Maggie shook her head slowly, and was silent, under conflicting thoughts. It seemed to her inclination, that to see Philip now and then, and keep up the bond of friendship with him, was something not only innocent, but good; perhaps she might really help him to find contentment as she had found it. The voice that said this made sweet music to Maggie; but athwart it there came an urgent, monotonous warning from another voice which she had been learning to obey,–the warning that such interviews implied secrecy; implied doing something she would dread to be discovered in, something that, if discovered, must cause anger and pain; and that the admission of anything so near doubleness would act as a spiritual blight. Yet the music would swell out again, like chimes borne onward by a recurrent breeze, persuading her that the wrong lay all in the faults and weaknesses of others, and that there was such a thing as futile sacrifice for one to the injury of another. It was very cruel for Philip that he should be shrunk from, because of an unjustifiable vindictiveness toward his father,–poor Philip, whom some people would shrink from only because he was deformed. The idea that he might become her lover or that her meeting him could cause disapproval in that light, had not occurred to her; and Philip saw the absence of this idea clearly enough, saw it with a certain pang, although it made her consent to his request the less unlikely. There was bitterness to him in the perception that Maggie was almost as frank and unconstrained toward him as when she was a child.
"I can't say either yes or no," she said at last, turning round and walking toward the way she come; "I must wait, lest I should decide wrongly. I must seek for guidance."
"May I come again, then, to-morrow, or the next day, or next week?"
"I think I had better write," said Maggie, faltering again. "I have to go to St. Ogg's sometimes, and I can put the letter in the post."
"Oh no," said Philip eagerly; "that would not be so well. My father might see the letter–and–he has not any enmity, I believe, but he views things differently from me; he thinks a great deal about wealth and position. Pray let me come here once more. Tell me when it shall be; or if you can't tell me, I will come as often as I can till I do see you."
"I think it must be so, then," said Maggie, "for I can't be quite certain of coming here any particular evening."
Maggie felt a great relief in adjourning the decision. She was free now to enjoy the minutes of companionship; she almost thought she might linger a little; the next time they met she should have to pain Philip by telling him her determination.
"I can't help thinking," she said, looking smilingly at him, after a few moments of silence, "how strange it is that we should have met and talked to each other, just as if it had been only yesterday when we parted at Lorton. And yet we must both be very much altered in those five years,–I think it is five years. How was it you seemed to have a sort of feeling that I was the same Maggie? I was not quite so sure that you would be the same; I know you are so clever, and you must have seen and learnt so much to fill your mind; I was not quite sure you would care about me now."
"I have never had any doubt that you would be the same, whenever I migh see you," said Philip,–"I mean, the same in everything that made me like you better than any one else. I don't want to explain that; I don't think any of the strongest effects our natures are susceptible of can ever be explained. We can neither detect the process by which they are arrived at, nor the mode in which they act on us. The greatest of painters only once painted a mysteriously divine child; he couldn't have told how he did it, and we can't tell why we feel it to be divine. I think there are stores laid up in our human nature that our understandings can make no complete inventory of. Certain strains of music affect me so strangely; I can never hear them without their changing my whole attitude of mind for a time, and if the effect would last, I might be capable of heroisms."
"Ah! I know what you mean about music; I feel so," said Maggie, clasping her hands with her old impetuosity. "At least," she added, in a saddened tone, "I used to feel so when I had any music; I never have any now except the organ at church."
"And you long for it, Maggie?" said Philip, looking at her with affectionate pity. "Ah, you can have very little that is beautiful in your life. Have you many books? You were so fond of them when you were a little girl."
They were come back to the hollow, round which the dog-roses grew, and they both paused under the charm of the faëry evening light, reflected from the pale pink clusters.
"No, I have given up books," said Maggie, quietly, "except a very, very few."
Philip had already taken from his pocket a small volume, and was looking at the back as he said:
"Ah, this is the second volume, I see, else you might have liked to take it home with you. I put it in my pocket because I am studying a scene for a picture."
Maggie had looked at the back too, and saw the title; it revived an old impression with overmastering force.
"'The Pirate,'" she said, taking the book from Philip's hands. "Oh, I began that once; I read to where Minna is walking with Cleveland, and I could never get to read the rest. I went on with it in my own head, and I made several endings; but they were all unhappy. I could never make a happy ending out of that beginning. Poor Minna! I wonder what is the real end. For a long while I couldn't get my mind away from the Shetland Isles,–I used to feel the wind blowing on me from the rough sea."
Maggie spoke rapidly, with glistening eyes.
"Take that volume home with you, Maggie," said Philip, watching her with delight. "I don't want it now. I shall make a picture of you instead,–you, among the Scotch firs and the slanting shadows."
Maggie had not heard a word he had said; she was absorbed in a page at which she had opened. But suddenly she closed the book, and gave it back to Philip, shaking her head with a backward movement, as if to say "avaunt" to floating visions.
"Do keep it, Maggie," said Philip, entreatingly; "it will give you pleasure."
"No, thank you," said Maggie, putting it aside with her hand and walking on. "It would make me in love with this world again, as I used to be; it would make me long to see and know many things; it would make me long for a full life."
"But you will not always be shut up in your present lot; why should you starve your mind in that way? It is narrow asceticism; I don't like to see you persisting in it, Maggie. Poetry and art and knowledge are sacred and pure."
"But not for me, not for me," said Maggie, walking more hurriedly; "because I should want too much. I must wait; this life will not last long."
"Don't hurry away from me without saying 'good-by,' Maggie," said Philip, as they reached the group of Scotch firs, and she continued still to walk along without speaking. "I must not go any farther, I think, must I?"
"Oh no, I forgot; good-by," said Maggie, pausing, and putting out her hand to him. The action brought her feeling back in a strong current to Philip; and after they had stood looking at each other in silence for a few moments, with their hands clasped, she said, withdrawing her hand:
"I'm very grateful to you for thinking of me all those years. It is very sweet to have people love us. What a wonderful, beautiful thing it seems that God should have made your heart so that you could care about a queer little girl whom you only knew for a few weeks! I remember saying to you that I thought you cared for me more than Tom did."
"Ah, Maggie," said Philip, almost fretfully, "you would never love me so well as you love your brother."
"Perhaps not," said Maggie, simply; "but then, you know, the first thing I ever remember in my life is standing with Tom by the side of the Floss, while he held my hand; everything before that is dark to me. But I shall never forget you, though we must keep apart."
"Don't say so, Maggie," said Philip. "If I kept that little girl in my mind for five years, didn't I earn some part in her? She ought not to take herself quite away from me."
"Not if I were free," said Maggie; "but I am not, I must submit." She hesitated a moment, and then added, "And I wanted to say to you, that you had better not take more notice of my brother than just bowing to him. He once told me not to speak to you again, and he doesn't change his mind–Oh dear, the sun is set. I am too long away. Good-by." She gave him her hand once more.
"I shall come here as often as I can till I see you again, Maggie. Have some feeling for me as well as for others."
"Yes, yes, I have," said Maggie, hurrying away, and quickly disappearing behind the last fir-tree; though Philip's gaze after her remained immovable for minutes as if he saw her still.
Maggie went home, with an inward conflict already begun; Philip went home to do nothing but remember and hope. You can hardly help blaming him severely. He was four or five years older than Maggie, and had a full consciousness of his feeling toward her to aid him in foreseeing the character his contemplated interviews with her would bear in the opinion of a third person. But you must not suppose that he was capable of a gross selfishness, or that he could have been satisfied without persuading himself that he was seeking to infuse some happiness into Maggie's life,–seeking this even more than any direct ends for himself. He could give her sympathy; he could give her help. There was not the slightest promise of love toward him in her manner; it was nothing more than the sweet girlish tenderness she had shown him when she was twelve. Perhaps she would never love him; perhaps no woman ever could love him. Well, then, he would endure that; he should at least have the happiness of seeing her, of feeling some nearness to her. And he clutched passionately the possibility that she might love him; perhaps the feeling would grow, if she could come to associate him with that watchful tenderness which her nature would be so keenly alive to. If any woman could love him, surely Maggie was that woman; there was such wealth of love in her, and there was no one to claim it all. Then, the pity of it, that a mind like hers should be withering in its very youth, like a young forest-tree, for want of the light and space it was formed to flourish in! Could he not hinder that, by persuading her out of her system of privation? He would be her guardian angel; he would do anything, bear anything, for her sake–except not seeing her.
Aunt Glegg Learns the Breadth of Bob's Thumb
While Maggie's life-struggles had lain almost entirely within her own soul, one shadowy army fighting another, and the slain shadows forever rising again, Tom was engaged in a dustier, noisier warfare, grappling with more substantial obstacles, and gaining more definite conquests. So it has been since the days of Hecuba, and of Hector, Tamer of horses; inside the gates, the women with streaming hair and uplifted hands offering prayers, watching the world's combat from afar, filling their long, empty days with memories and fears; outside, the men, in fierce struggle with things divine and human, quenching memory in the stronger light of purpose, losing the sense of dread and even of wounds in the hurrying ardor of action.
From what you have seen of Tom, I think he is not a youth of whom you would prophesy failure in anything he had thoroughly wished; the wagers are likely to be on his side, notwithstanding his small success in the classics. For Tom had never desired success in this field of enterprise; and for getting a fine flourishing growth of stupidity there is nothing like pouring out on a mind a good amount of subjects in which it feels no interest. But now Tom's strong will bound together his integrity, his pride, his family regrets, and his personal ambition, and made them one force, concentrating his efforts and surmounting discouragements. His uncle Deane, who watched him closely, soon began to conceive hopes of him, and to be rather proud that he had brought into the employment of the firm a nephew who appeared to be made of such good commercial stuff. The real kindness of placing him in the warehouse first was soon evident to Tom, in the hints his uncle began to throw out, that after a time he might perhaps be trusted to travel at certain seasons, and buy in for the firm various vulgar commodities with which I need not shock refined ears in this place; and it was doubtless with a view to this result that Mr. Deane, when he expected to take his wine alone, would tell Tom to step in and sit with him an hour, and would pass that hour in much lecturing and catechising concerning articles of export and import, with an occasional excursus of more indirect utility on the relative advantages to the merchants of St. Ogg's of having goods brought in their own and in foreign bottoms,–a subject on which Mr. Deane, as a ship-owner, naturally threw off a few sparks when he got warmed with talk and wine.
Already, in the second year, Tom's salary was raised; but all, except the price of his dinner and clothes, went home into the tin box; and he shunned comradeship, lest it should lead him into expenses in spite of himself. Not that Tom was moulded on the spoony type of the Industrious Apprentice; he had a very strong appetite for pleasure,–would have liked to be a Tamer of horses and to make a distinguished figure in all neighboring eyes, dispensing treats and benefits to others with well-judged liberality, and being pronounced one of the finest young fellows of those parts; nay, he determined to achieve these things sooner or later; but his practical shrewdness told him that the means to such achievements could only lie for him in present abstinence and self-denial; there were certain milestones to be passed, and one of the first was the payment of his father's debts. Having made up his mind on that point, he strode along without swerving, contracting some rather saturnine sternness, as a young man is likely to do who has a premature call upon him for self-reliance. Tom felt intensely that common cause with his father which springs from family pride, and was bent on being irreproachable as a son; but his growing experience caused him to pass much silent criticism on the rashness and imprudence of his father's past conduct; their dispositions were not in sympathy, and Tom's face showed little radiance during his few home hours. Maggie had an awe of him, against which she struggled as something unfair to her consciousness of wider thoughts and deeper motives; but it was of no use to struggle. A character at unity with itself–that performs what it intends, subdues every counteracting impulse, and has no visions beyond the distinctly possible–is strong by its very negations.
You may imagine that Tom's more and more obvious unlikeness to his father was well fitted to conciliate the maternal aunts and uncles; and Mr. Deane's favorable reports and predictions to Mr. Glegg concerning Tom's qualifications for business began to be discussed amongst them with various acceptance. He was likely, it appeared, to do the family credit without causing it any expense and trouble. Mrs. Pullet had always thought it strange if Tom's excellent complexion, so entirely that of the Dodsons, did not argue a certainty that he would turn out well; his juvenile errors of running down the peacock, and general disrespect to his aunts, only indicating a tinge of Tulliver blood which he had doubtless outgrown. Mr. Glegg, who had contracted a cautious liking for Tom ever since his spirited and sensible behavior when the execution was in the house, was now warming into a resolution to further his prospects actively,–some time, when an opportunity offered of doing so in a prudent manner, without ultimate loss; but Mrs. Glegg observed that she was not given to speak without book, as some people were; that those who said least were most likely to find their words made good; and that when the right moment came, it would be seen who could do something better than talk. Uncle Pullet, after silent meditation for a period of several lozenges, came distinctly to the conclusion, that when a young man was likely to do well, it was better not to meddle with him.
Tom, meanwhile, had shown no disposition to rely on any one but himself, though, with a natural sensitiveness toward all indications of favorable opinion, he was glad to see his uncle Glegg look in on him sometimes in a friendly way during business hours, and glad to be invited to dine at his house, though he usually preferred declining on the ground that he was not sure of being punctual. But about a year ago, something had occurred which induced Tom to test his uncle Glegg's friendly disposition.
Bob Jakin, who rarely returned from one of his rounds without seeing Tom and Maggie, awaited him on the bridge as he was coming home from St. Ogg's one evening, that they might have a little private talk. He took the liberty of asking if Mr. Tom had ever thought of making money by trading a bit on his own account. Trading, how? Tom wished to know. Why, by sending out a bit of a cargo to foreign ports; because Bob had a particular friend who had offered to do a little business for him in that way in Laceham goods, and would be glad to serve Mr. Tom on the same footing. Tom was interested at once, and begged for full explanation, wondering he had not thought of this plan before.
He was so well pleased with the prospect of a speculation that might change the slow process of addition into multiplication, that he at once determined to mention the matter to his father, and get his consent to appropriate some of the savings in the tin box to the purchase of a small cargo. He would rather not have consulted his father, but he had just paid his last quarter's money into the tin box, and there was no other resource. All the savings were there; for Mr. Tulliver would not consent to put the money out at interest lest he should lose it. Since he had speculated in the purchase of some corn, and had lost by it, he could not be easy without keeping the money under his eye.
Tom approached the subject carefully, as he was seated on the hearth with his father that evening, and Mr. Tulliver listened, leaning forward in his arm-chair and looking up in Tom's face with a sceptical glance. His first impulse was to give a positive refusal, but he was in some awe of Tom's wishes, and since he had the sense of being an "unlucky" father, he had lost some of his old peremptoriness and determination to be master. He took the key of the bureau from his pocket, got out the key of the large chest, and fetched down the tin box,–slowly, as if he were trying to defer the moment of a painful parting. Then he seated himself against the table, and opened the box with that little padlock-key which he fingered in his waistcoat pocket in all vacant moments. There they were, the dingy bank-notes and the bright sovereigns, and he counted them out on the table–only a hundred and sixteen pounds in two years, after all the pinching.
"How much do you want, then?" he said, speaking as if the words burnt his lips.
"Suppose I begin with the thirty-six pounds, father?" said Tom.
Mr. Tulliver separated this sum from the rest, and keeping his hand over it, said:
"It's as much as I can save out o' my pay in a year."
"Yes, father; it is such slow work, saving out of the little money we get. And in this way we might double our savings."
"Ay, my lad," said the father, keeping his hand on the money, "but you might lose it,–you might lose a year o' my life,–and I haven't got many."
Tom was silent.
"And you know I wouldn't pay a dividend with the first hundred, because I wanted to see it all in a lump,–and when I see it, I'm sure on't. If you trust to luck, it's sure to be against me. It's Old Harry's got the luck in his hands; and if I lose one year, I shall never pick it up again; death 'ull o'ertake me."
Mr. Tulliver's voice trembled, and Tom was silent for a few minutes before he said:
"I'll give it up, father, since you object to it so strongly."
But, unwilling to abandon the scheme altogether, he determined to ask his uncle Glegg to venture twenty pounds, on condition of receiving five per cent. of the profits. That was really a very small thing to ask. So when Bob called the next day at the wharf to know the decision, Tom proposed that they should go together to his uncle Glegg's to open the business; for his diffident pride clung to him, and made him feel that Bobs' tongue would relieve him from some embarrassment.
Mr. Glegg, at the pleasant hour of four in the afternoon of a hot August day, was naturally counting his wall-fruit to assure himself that the sum total had not varied since yesterday. To him entered Tom, in what appeared to Mr. Glegg very questionable companionship,–that of a man with a pack on his back,–for Bob was equipped for a new journey,–and of a huge brindled bull-terrier, who walked with a slow, swaying movement from side to side, and glanced from under his eye-lids with a surly indifference which might after all be a cover to the most offensive designs.
Mr. Glegg's spectacles, which had been assisting him in counting the fruit, made these suspicious details alarmingly evident to him.
"Heigh! heigh! keep that dog back, will you?" he shouted, snatching up a stake and holding it before him as a shield when the visitors were within three yards of him.
"Get out wi' you, Mumps," said Bob, with a kick. "He's as quiet as a lamb, sir,"–an observation which Mumps corroborated by a low growl as he retreated behind his master's legs.
"Why, what ever does this mean, Tom?" said Mr. Glegg. "Have you brought information about the scoundrels as cut my trees?" If Bob came in the character of "information," Mr. Glegg saw reasons for tolerating some irregularity.
"No, sir," said Tom; "I came to speak to you about a little matter of business of my own."
"Ay–well; but what has this dog got to do with it?" said the old gentleman, getting mild again.
"It's my dog, sir," said the ready Bob. "An' it's me as put Mr. Tom up to the bit o' business; for Mr. Tom's been a friend o' mine iver since I was a little chap; fust thing iver I did was frightenin' the birds for th' old master. An' if a bit o' luck turns up, I'm allays thinkin' if I can let Mr. Tom have a pull at it. An' it's a downright roarin' shame, as when he's got the chance o' making a bit o' money wi' sending goods out,–ten or twelve per zent clear, when freight an' commission's paid,–as he shouldn't lay hold o' the chance for want o' money. An' when there's the Laceham goods,–lors! they're made o' purpose for folks as want to send out a little carguy; light, an' take up no room,–you may pack twenty pound so as you can't see the passill; an' they're manifacturs as please fools, so I reckon they aren't like to want a market. An' I'd go to Laceham an' buy in the goods for Mr. Tom along wi' my own. An' there's the shupercargo o' the bit of a vessel as is goin' to take 'em out. I know him partic'lar; he's a solid man, an' got a family i' the town here. Salt, his name is,–an' a briny chap he is too,–an' if you don't believe me, I can take you to him."
Uncle Glegg stood open-mouthed with astonishment at this unembarrassed loquacity, with which his understanding could hardly keep pace. He looked at Bob, first over his spectacles, then through them, then over them again; while Tom, doubtful of his uncle's impression, began to wish he had not brought this singular Aaron, or mouthpiece. Bob's talk appeared less seemly, now some one besides himself was listening to it.
"You seem to be a knowing fellow," said Mr. Glegg, at last.
"Ay, sir, you say true," returned Bob, nodding his head aside; "I think my head's all alive inside like an old cheese, for I'm so full o' plans, one knocks another over. If I hadn't Mumps to talk to, I should get top-heavy an' tumble in a fit. I suppose it's because I niver went to school much. That's what I jaw my old mother for. I says, 'You should ha' sent me to school a bit more,' I says, 'an' then I could ha' read i' the books like fun, an' kep' my head cool an' empty.' Lors, she's fine an' comfor'ble now, my old mother is; she ates her baked meat an' taters as often as she likes. For I'm gettin' so full o' money, I must hev a wife to spend it for me. But it's botherin,' a wife is,–and Mumps mightn't like her."
Uncle Glegg, who regarded himself as a jocose man since he had retired from business, was beginning to find Bob amusing, but he had still a disapproving observation to make, which kept his face serious.
"Ah," he said, "I should think you're at a loss for ways o' spending your money, else you wouldn't keep that big dog, to eat as much as two Christians. It's shameful–shameful!" But he spoke more in sorrow than in anger, and quickly added:
"But, come now, let's hear more about this business, Tom. I suppose you want a little sum to make a venture with. But where's all your own money? You don't spend it all–eh?"
"No, sir," said Tom, coloring; "but my father is unwilling to risk it, and I don't like to press him. If I could get twenty or thirty pounds to begin with, I could pay five per cent for it, and then I could gradually make a little capital of my own, and do without a loan."
"Ay–ay," said Mr. Glegg, in an approving tone; "that's not a bad notion, and I won't say as I wouldn't be your man. But it 'ull be as well for me to see this Salt, as you talk on. And then–here's this friend o' yours offers to buy the goods for you. Perhaps you've got somebody to stand surety for you if the money's put into your hands?" added the cautious old gentleman, looking over his spectacles at Bob.
"I don't think that's necessary, uncle," said Tom. "At least, I mean it would not be necessary for me, because I know Bob well; but perhaps it would be right for you to have some security."
"You get your percentage out o' the purchase, I suppose?" said Mr. Glegg, looking at Bob.
"No, sir," said Bob, rather indignantly; "I didn't offer to get a apple for Mr. Tom, o' purpose to hev a bite out of it myself. When I play folks tricks, there'll be more fun in 'em nor that."
"Well, but it's nothing but right you should have a small percentage," said Mr. Glegg. "I've no opinion o' transactions where folks do things for nothing. It allays looks bad."
"Well, then," said Bob, whose keenness saw at once what was implied, "I'll tell you what I get by't, an' it's money in my pocket in the end,–I make myself look big, wi' makin' a bigger purchase. That's what I'm thinking on. Lors! I'm a 'cute chap,–I am."
"Mr. Glegg, Mr. Glegg!" said a severe voice from the open parlor window, "pray are you coming in to tea, or are you going to stand talking with packmen till you get murdered in the open daylight?"
"Murdered?" said Mr. Glegg; "what's the woman talking of? Here's your nephey Tom come about a bit o' business."
"Murdered,–yes,–it isn't many 'sizes ago since a packman murdered a young woman in a lone place, and stole her thimble, and threw her body into a ditch."
"Nay, nay," said Mr. Glegg, soothingly, "you're thinking o' the man wi' no legs, as drove a dog-cart."
"Well, it's the same thing, Mr. Glegg, only you're fond o' contradicting what I say; and if my nephey's come about business, it 'ud be more fitting if you'd bring him into the house, and let his aunt know about it, instead o' whispering in corners, in that plotting, underminding way."
"Well, well," said Mr. Glegg, "we'll come in now."
"You needn't stay here," said the lady to Bob, in a loud voice, adapted to the moral, not the physical, distance between them. "We don't want anything. I don't deal wi' packmen. Mind you shut the gate after you."
"Stop a bit; not so fast," said Mr. Glegg; "I haven't done with this young man yet. Come in, Tom; come in," he added, stepping in at the French window.
"Mr. Glegg," said Mrs. G., in a fatal tone, "if you're going to let that man and his dog in on my carpet, before my very face, be so good as to let me know. A wife's got a right to ask that, I hope."
"Don't you be uneasy, mum," said Bob, touching his cap. He saw at once that Mrs. Glegg was a bit of game worth running down, and longed to be at the sport; "we'll stay out upo' the gravel here,–Mumps and me will. Mumps knows his company,–he does. I might hish at him by th' hour together, before he'd fly at a real gentlewoman like you. It's wonderful how he knows which is the good-looking ladies; and's partic'lar fond of 'em when they've good shapes. Lors!" added Bob, laying down his pack on the gravel, "it's a thousand pities such a lady as you shouldn't deal with a packman, i' stead o' goin' into these newfangled shops, where there's half-a-dozen fine gents wi' their chins propped up wi' a stiff stock, a-looking like bottles wi' ornamental stoppers, an' all got to get their dinner out of a bit o' calico; it stan's to reason you must pay three times the price you pay a packman, as is the nat'ral way o' gettin' goods,–an' pays no rent, an' isn't forced to throttle himself till the lies are squeezed out on him, whether he will or no. But lors! mum, you know what it is better nor I do,–you can see through them shopmen, I'll be bound."
"Yes, I reckon I can, and through the packmen too," observed Mrs. Glegg, intending to imply that Bob's flattery had produced no effect on her; while her husband, standing behind her with his hands in his pockets and legs apart, winked and smiled with conjugal delight at the probability of his wife's being circumvented.
"Ay, to be sure, mum," said Bob. "Why, you must ha' dealt wi' no end o' packmen when you war a young lass–before the master here had the luck to set eyes on you. I know where you lived, I do,–seen th' house many a time,–close upon Squire Darleigh's,–a stone house wi' steps––"
"Ah, that it had," said Mrs. Glegg, pouring out the tea. "You know something o' my family, then? Are you akin to that packman with a squint in his eye, as used to bring th' Irish linen?"
"Look you there now!" said Bob, evasively. "Didn't I know as you'd remember the best bargains you've made in your life was made wi' packmen? Why, you see even a squintin' packman's better nor a shopman as can see straight. Lors! if I'd had the luck to call at the stone house wi' my pack, as lies here,"–stooping and thumping the bundle emphatically with his fist,–"an' th' handsome young lasses all stannin' out on the stone steps, it ud' ha' been summat like openin' a pack, that would. It's on'y the poor houses now as a packman calls on, if it isn't for the sake o' the sarvant-maids. They're paltry times, these are. Why, mum, look at the printed cottons now, an' what they was when you wore 'em,–why, you wouldn't put such a thing on now, I can see. It must be first-rate quality, the manifactur as you'd buy,–summat as 'ud wear as well as your own faitures."
"Yes, better quality nor any you're like to carry; you've got nothing first-rate but brazenness, I'll be bound," said Mrs. Glegg, with a triumphant sense of her insurmountable sagacity. "Mr. Glegg, are you going ever to sit down to your tea? Tom, there's a cup for you."
"You speak true there, mum," said Bob. "My pack isn't for ladies like you. The time's gone by for that. Bargains picked up dirt cheap! A bit o' damage here an' there, as can be cut out, or else niver seen i' the wearin', but not fit to offer to rich folks as can pay for the look o' things as nobody sees. I'm not the man as 'ud offer t' open my pack to you, mum; no, no; I'm a imperent chap, as you say,–these times makes folks imperent,–but I'm not up to the mark o' that."
"Why, what goods do you carry in your pack?" said Mrs. Glegg. "Fine-colored things, I suppose,–shawls an' that?"
"All sorts, mum, all sorts," said Bob,–thumping his bundle; "but let us say no more about that, if you please. I'm here upo' Mr. Tom's business, an' I'm not the man to take up the time wi' my own."
"And pray, what is this business as is to be kept from me?" said Mrs. Glegg, who, solicited by a double curiosity, was obliged to let the one-half wait.
"A little plan o' nephey Tom's here," said good-natured Mr. Glegg; "and not altogether a bad 'un, I think. A little plan for making money; that's the right sort o' plan for young folks as have got their fortin to make, eh, Jane?"
"But I hope it isn't a plan where he expects iverything to be done for him by his friends; that's what the young folks think of mostly nowadays. And pray, what has this packman got to do wi' what goes on in our family? Can't you speak for yourself, Tom, and let your aunt know things, as a nephey should?"
"This is Bob Jakin, aunt," said Tom, bridling the irritation that aunt Glegg's voice always produced. "I've known him ever since we were little boys. He's a very good fellow, and always ready to do me a kindness. And he has had some experience in sending goods out,–a small part of a cargo as a private speculation; and he thinks if I could begin to do a little in the same way, I might make some money. A large interest is got in that way."
"Large int'rest?" said aunt Glegg, with eagerness; "and what do you call large int'rest?"
"Ten or twelve per cent, Bob says, after expenses are paid."
"Then why wasn't I let to know o' such things before, Mr. Glegg?" said Mrs. Glegg, turning to her husband, with a deep grating tone of reproach. "Haven't you allays told me as there was no getting more nor five per cent?"
"Pooh, pooh, nonsense, my good woman," said Mr. Glegg. "You couldn't go into trade, could you? You can't get more than five per cent with security."
"But I can turn a bit o' money for you, an' welcome, mum," said Bob, "if you'd like to risk it,–not as there's any risk to speak on. But if you'd a mind to lend a bit o' money to Mr. Tom, he'd pay you six or seven per zent, an' get a trifle for himself as well; an' a good-natur'd lady like you 'ud like the feel o' the money better if your nephey took part on it."
"What do you say, Mrs. G.?" said Mr. Glegg. "I've a notion, when I've made a bit more inquiry, as I shall perhaps start Tom here with a bit of a nest-egg,–he'll pay me int'rest, you know,–an' if you've got some little sums lyin' idle twisted up in a stockin' toe, or that––"
"Mr. Glegg, it's beyond iverything! You'll go and give information to the tramps next, as they may come and rob me."
"Well, well, as I was sayin', if you like to join me wi' twenty pounds, you can–I'll make it fifty. That'll be a pretty good nest-egg, eh, Tom?"
"You're not counting on me, Mr. Glegg, I hope," said his wife. "You could do fine things wi' my money, I don't doubt."
"Very well," said Mr. Glegg, rather snappishly, "then we'll do without you. I shall go with you to see this Salt," he added, turning to Bob.
"And now, I suppose, you'll go all the other way, Mr. Glegg," said Mrs. G., "and want to shut me out o' my own nephey's business. I never said I wouldn't put money into it,–I don't say as it shall be twenty pounds, though you're so ready to say it for me,–but he'll see some day as his aunt's in the right not to risk the money she's saved for him till it's proved as it won't be lost."
"Ay, that's a pleasant sort o'risk, that is," said Mr. Glegg, indiscreetly winking at Tom, who couldn't avoid smiling. But Bob stemmed the injured lady's outburst.
"Ay, mum," he said admiringly, "you know what's what–you do. An' it's nothing but fair. You see how the first bit of a job answers, an' then you'll come down handsome. Lors, it's a fine thing to hev good kin. I got my bit of a nest-egg, as the master calls it, all by my own sharpness,–ten suvreigns it was,–wi' dousing the fire at Torry's mill, an' it's growed an' growed by a bit an' a bit, till I'n got a matter o' thirty pound to lay out, besides makin' my mother comfor'ble. I should get more, on'y I'm such a soft wi' the women,–I can't help lettin' 'em hev such good bargains. There's this bundle, now," thumping it lustily, "any other chap 'ud make a pretty penny out on it. But me!–lors, I shall sell 'em for pretty near what I paid for 'em."
"Have you got a bit of good net, now?" said Mrs. Glegg, in a patronizing tone, moving from the tea-table, and folding her napkin.
"Eh, mum, not what you'd think it worth your while to look at. I'd scorn to show it you. It 'ud be an insult to you."
"But let me see," said Mrs. Glegg, still patronizing. "If they're damaged goods, they're like enough to be a bit the better quality."
"No, mum, I know my place," said Bob, lifting up his pack and shouldering it. "I'm not going t' expose the lowness o' my trade to a lady like you. Packs is come down i' the world; it 'ud cut you to th' heart to see the difference. I'm at your sarvice, sir, when you've a mind to go and see Salt."
"All in good time," said Mr. Glegg, really unwilling to cut short the dialogue. "Are you wanted at the wharf, Tom?"
"No, sir; I left Stowe in my place."
"Come, put down your pack, and let me see," said Mrs. Glegg, drawing a chair to the window and seating herself with much dignity.
"Don't you ask it, mum," said Bob, entreatingly.
"Make no more words," said Mrs. Glegg, severely, "but do as I tell you."
"Eh mum, I'm loth, that I am," said Bob, slowly depositing his pack on the step, and beginning to untie it with unwilling fingers. "But what you order shall be done" (much fumbling in pauses between the sentences). "It's not as you'll buy a single thing on me,–I'd be sorry for you to do it,–for think o' them poor women up i' the villages there, as niver stir a hundred yards from home,–it 'ud be a pity for anybody to buy up their bargains. Lors, it's as good as a junketing to 'em when they see me wi' my pack, an' I shall niver pick up such bargains for 'em again. Least ways, I've no time now, for I'm off to Laceham. See here now," Bob went on, becoming rapid again, and holding up a scarlet woollen Kerchief with an embroidered wreath in the corner; "here's a thing to make a lass's mouth water, an' on'y two shillin'–an' why? Why, 'cause there's a bit of a moth-hole 'i this plain end. Lors, I think the moths an' the mildew was sent by Providence o' purpose to cheapen the goods a bit for the good-lookin' women as han't got much money. If it hadn't been for the moths, now, every hankicher on 'em 'ud ha' gone to the rich, handsome ladies, like you, mum, at five shillin' apiece,–not a farthin' less; but what does the moth do? Why, it nibbles off three shillin' o' the price i' no time; an' then a packman like me can carry 't to the poor lasses as live under the dark thack, to make a bit of a blaze for 'em. Lors, it's as good as a fire, to look at such a hankicher!"
Bob held it at a distance for admiration, but Mrs. Glegg said sharply:
"Yes, but nobody wants a fire this time o' year. Put these colored things by; let me look at your nets, if you've got 'em."
"Eh, mum, I told you how it 'ud be," said Bob, flinging aside the colored things with an air of desperation. "I knowed it ud' turn again' you to look at such paltry articles as I carry. Here's a piece o' figured muslin now, what's the use o' you lookin' at it? You might as well look at poor folks's victual, mum; it 'ud on'y take away your appetite. There's a yard i' the middle on't as the pattern's all missed,–lors, why, it's a muslin as the Princess Victoree might ha' wore; but," added Bob, flinging it behind him on to the turf, as if to save Mrs. Glegg's eyes, "it'll be bought up by the huckster's wife at Fibb's End,–that's where it'll go–ten shillin' for the whole lot–ten yards, countin' the damaged un–five-an'-twenty shillin' 'ud ha' been the price, not a penny less. But I'll say no more, mum; it's nothing to you, a piece o' muslin like that; you can afford to pay three times the money for a thing as isn't half so good. It's nets you talked on; well, I've got a piece as 'ull serve you to make fun on––"
"Bring me that muslin," said Mrs. Glegg. "It's a buff; I'm partial to buff."
"Eh, but a damaged thing," said Bob, in a tone of deprecating disgust. "You'd do nothing with it, mum, you'd give it to the cook, I know you would, an' it 'ud be a pity,–she'd look too much like a lady in it; it's unbecoming for servants."
"Fetch it, and let me see you measure it," said Mrs. Glegg, authoritatively.
Bob obeyed with ostentatious reluctance.
"See what there is over measure!" he said, holding forth the extra half-yard, while Mrs. Glegg was busy examining the damaged yard, and throwing her head back to see how far the fault would be lost on a distant view.
"I'll give you six shilling for it," she said, throwing it down with the air of a person who mentions an ultimatum.
"Didn't I tell you now, mum, as it 'ud hurt your feelings to look at my pack? That damaged bit's turned your stomach now; I see it has," said Bob, wrapping the muslin up with the utmost quickness, and apparently about to fasten up his pack. "You're used to seein' a different sort o' article carried by packmen, when you lived at the stone house. Packs is come down i' the world; I told you that; my goods are for common folks. Mrs. Pepper 'ull give me ten shillin' for that muslin, an' be sorry as I didn't ask her more. Such articles answer i' the wearin',–they keep their color till the threads melt away i' the wash-tub, an' that won't be while I'm a young un."
"Well, seven shilling," said Mrs. Glegg.
"Put it out o' your mind, mum, now do," said Bob. "Here's a bit o' net, then, for you to look at before I tie up my pack, just for you to see what my trade's come to,–spotted and sprigged, you see, beautiful but yallow,–'s been lyin' by an' got the wrong color. I could niver ha' bought such net, if it hadn't been yallow. Lors, it's took me a deal o' study to know the vally o' such articles; when I begun to carry a pack, I was as ignirant as a pig; net or calico was all the same to me. I thought them things the most vally as was the thickest. I was took in dreadful, for I'm a straightforrard chap,–up to no tricks, mum. I can only say my nose is my own, for if I went beyond, I should lose myself pretty quick. An' I gev five-an'-eightpence for that piece o' net,–if I was to tell y' anything else I should be tellin' you fibs,–an' five-an'-eightpence I shall ask of it, not a penny more, for it's a woman's article, an' I like to 'commodate the women. Five-an'-eightpence for six yards,–as cheap as if it was only the dirt on it as was paid for.'"
"I don't mind having three yards of it,'" said Mrs. Glegg.
"Why, there's but six altogether," said Bob. "No, mum, it isn't worth your while; you can go to the shop to-morrow an' get the same pattern ready whitened. It's on'y three times the money; what's that to a lady like you?" He gave an emphatic tie to his bundle.
"Come, lay me out that muslin," said Mrs. Glegg. "Here's eight shilling for it."
"You will be jokin'," said Bob, looking up with a laughing face; "I see'd you was a pleasant lady when I fust come to the winder."
"Well, put it me out," said Mrs. Glegg, peremptorily.
"But if I let you have it for ten shillin', mum, you'll be so good as not tell nobody. I should be a laughin'-stock; the trade 'ud hoot me, if they knowed it. I'm obliged to make believe as I ask more nor I do for my goods, else they'd find out I was a flat. I'm glad you don't insist upo' buyin' the net, for then I should ha' lost my two best bargains for Mrs. Pepper o' Fibb's End, an' she's a rare customer."
"Let me look at the net again," said Mrs. Glegg, yearning after the cheap spots and sprigs, now they were vanishing.
"Well, I can't deny you, mum," said Bob handing it out.
"Eh!, see what a pattern now! Real Laceham goods. Now, this is the sort o' article I'm recommendin' Mr. Tom to send out. Lors, it's a fine thing for anybody as has got a bit o' money; these Laceham goods 'ud make it breed like maggits. If I was a lady wi' a bit o' money!–why, I know one as put thirty pounds into them goods,–a lady wi' a cork leg, but as sharp,–you wouldn't catch her runnin' her head into a sack; she'd see her way clear out o' anything afore she'd be in a hurry to start. Well, she let out thirty pound to a young man in the drapering line, and he laid it out i' Laceham goods, an' a shupercargo o' my acquinetance (not Salt) took 'em out, an' she got her eight per zent fust go off; an' now you can't hold her but she must be sendin' out carguies wi' every ship, till she's gettin' as rich as a Jew. Bucks her name is, she doesn't live i' this town. Now then, mum, if you'll please to give me the net––"
"Here's fifteen shilling, then, for the two," said Mrs. Glegg. "But it's a shameful price."
"Nay, mum, you'll niver say that when you're upo' your knees i' church i' five years' time. I'm makin' you a present o' th' articles; I am, indeed. That eightpence shaves off my profits as clean as a razor. Now then, sir," continued Bob, shouldering his pack, "if you please, I'll be glad to go and see about makin' Mr. Tom's fortin. Eh, I wish I'd got another twenty pound to lay out mysen; I shouldn't stay to say my Catechism afore I knowed what to do wi't."
"Stop a bit, Mr. Glegg," said the lady, as her husband took his hat, "you never will give me the chance o' speaking. You'll go away now, and finish everything about this business, and come back and tell me it's too late for me to speak. As if I wasn't my nephey's own aunt, and the head o' the family on his mother's side! and laid by guineas, all full weight, for him, as he'll know who to respect when I'm laid in my coffin."
"Well, Mrs. G., say what you mean," said Mr. G., hastily.
"Well, then, I desire as nothing may be done without my knowing. I don't say as I sha'n't venture twenty pounds, if you make out as everything's right and safe. And if I do, Tom," concluded Mrs. Glegg, turning impressively to her nephew, "I hope you'll allays bear it in mind and be grateful for such an aunt. I mean you to pay me interest, you know; I don't approve o' giving; we niver looked for that in my family."
"Thank you, aunt," said Tom, rather proudly. "I prefer having the money only lent to me."
"Very well; that's the Dodson sperrit," said Mrs. Glegg, rising to get her knitting with the sense that any further remark after this would be bathos.
Salt–that eminently "briny chap"–having been discovered in a cloud of tobacco-smoke at the Anchor Tavern, Mr. Glegg commenced inquiries which turned out satisfactorily enough to warrant the advance of the "nest-egg," to which aunt Glegg contributed twenty pounds; and in this modest beginning you see the ground of a fact which might otherwise surprise you; namely, Tom's accumulation of a fund, unknown to his father, that promised in no very long time to meet the more tardy process of saving, and quite cover the deficit. When once his attention had been turned to this source of gain, Tom determined to make the most of it, and lost on opportunity of obtaining information and extending his small enterprises. In not telling his father, he was influenced by that strange mixture of opposite feelings which often gives equal truth to those who blame an action and those who admire it,–partly, it was that disinclination to confidence which is seen between near kindred, that family repulsion which spoils the most sacred relations of our lives; partly, it was the desire to surprise his father with a great joy. He did not see that it would have been better to soothe the interval with a new hope, and prevent the delirium of a too sudden elation.
At the time of Maggie's first meeting with Philip, Tom had already nearly a hundred and fifty pounds of his own capital; and while they were walking by the evening light in the Red Deeps, he, by the same evening light, was riding into Laceham, proud of being on his first journey on behalf of Guest & Co., and revolving in his mind all the chances that by the end of another year he should have doubled his gains, lifted off the obloquy of debt from his father's name, and perhaps–for he should be twenty-one–have got a new start for himself, on a higher platform of employment. Did he not desire it? He was quite sure that he did.
The Wavering Balance
I said that Maggie went home that evening from the Red Deeps with a mental conflict already begun. You have seen clearly enough, in her interview with Philip, what that conflict was. Here suddenly was an opening in the rocky wall which shut in the narrow valley of humiliation, where all her prospect was the remote, unfathomed sky; and some of the memory-haunting earthly delights were no longer out of her reach. She might have books, converse, affection; she might hear tidings of the world from which her mind had not yet lost its sense of exile; and it would be a kindness to Philip too, who was pitiable,–clearly not happy. And perhaps here was an opportunity indicated for making her mind more worthy of its highest service; perhaps the noblest, completest devoutness could hardly exist without some width of knowledge; must she always live in this resigned imprisonment? It was so blameless, so good a thing that there should be friendship between her and Philip; the motives that forbade it were so unreasonable, so unchristian! But the severe monotonous warning came again and again,–that she was losing the simplicity and clearness of her life by admitting a ground of concealment; and that, by forsaking the simple rule of renunciation, she was throwing herself under the seductive guidance of illimitable wants. She thought she had won strength to obey the warning before she allowed herself the next week to turn her steps in the evening to the Red Deeps. But while she was resolved to say an affectionate farewell to Philip, how she looked forward to that evening walk in the still, fleckered shade of the hollows, away from all that was harsh and unlovely; to the affectionate, admiring looks that would meet her; to the sense of comradeship that childish memories would give to wiser, older talk; to the certainty that Philip would care to hear everything she said, which no one else cared for! It was a half-hour that it would be very hard to turn her back upon, with the sense that there would be no other like it. Yet she said what she meant to say; she looked firm as well as sad.
"Philip, I have made up my mind; it is right that we should give each other up, in everything but memory. I could not see you without concealment–stay, I know what you are going to say,–it is other people's wrong feelings that make concealment necessary; but concealment is bad, however it may be caused. I feel that it would be bad for me, for us both. And then, if our secret were discovered, there would be nothing but misery,–dreadful anger; and then we must part after all, and it would be harder, when we were used to seeing each other."
Philip's face had flushed, and there was a momentary eagerness of expression, as if he had been about to resist this decision with all his might.
But he controlled himself, and said, with assumed calmness: "Well, Maggie, if we must part, let us try and forget it for one half hour; let us talk together a little while, for the last time."
He took her hand, and Maggie felt no reason to withdraw it; his quietness made her all the more sure she had given him great pain, and she wanted to show him how unwillingly she had given it. They walked together hand in hand in silence.
"Let us sit down in the hollow," said Philip, "where we stood the last time. See how the dog-roses have strewed the ground, and spread their opal petals over it."
They sat down at the roots of the slanting ash.
"I've begun my picture of you among the Scotch firs, Maggie," said Philip, "so you must let me study your face a little, while you stay,–since I am not to see it again. Please turn your head this way."
This was said in an entreating voice, and it would have been very hard of Maggie to refuse. The full, lustrous face, with the bright black coronet, looked down like that of a divinity well pleased to be worshipped, on the pale-hued, small-featured face that was turned up to it.
"I shall be sitting for my second portrait then," she said, smiling. "Will it be larger than the other?"
"Oh yes, much larger. It is an oil-painting. You will look like a tall Hamadryad, dark and strong and noble, just issued from one of the fir-trees, when the stems are casting their afternoon shadows on the grass."
"You seem to think more of painting than of anything now, Philip?"
"Perhaps I do," said Philip, rather sadly; "but I think of too many things,–sow all sorts of seeds, and get no great harvest from any one of them. I'm cursed with susceptibility in every direction, and effective faculty in none. I care for painting and music; I care for classic literature, and mediæval literature, and modern literature; I flutter all ways, and fly in none."
"But surely that is a happiness to have so many tastes,–to enjoy so many beautiful things, when they are within your reach," said Maggie, musingly. "It always seemed to me a sort of clever stupidity only to have one sort of talent,–almost like a carrier-pigeon."
"It might be a happiness to have many tastes if I were like other men," said Philip, bitterly. "I might get some power and distinction by mere mediocrity, as they do; at least I should get those middling satisfactions which make men contented to do without great ones. I might think society at St. Ogg's agreeable then. But nothing could make life worth the purchase-money of pain to me, but some faculty that would lift me above the dead level of provincial existence. Yes, there is one thing,–a passion answers as well as a faculty."
Maggie did not hear the last words; she was struggling against the consciousness that Philip's words had set her own discontent vibrating again as it used to do.
"I understand what you mean," she said, "though I know so much less than you do. I used to think I could never bear life if it kept on being the same every day, and I must always be doing things of no consequence, and never know anything greater. But, dear Philip, I think we are only like children that some one who is wiser is taking care of. Is it not right to resign ourselves entirely, whatever may be denied us? I have found great peace in that for the last two or three years, even joy in subduing my own will."
"Yes, Maggie," said Philip, vehemently; "and you are shutting yourself up in a narrow, self-delusive fanaticism, which is only a way of escaping pain by starving into dulness all the highest powers of your nature. Joy and peace are not resignation; resignation is the willing endurance of a pain that is not allayed, that you don't expect to be allayed. Stupefaction is not resignation; and it is stupefaction to remain in ignorance,–to shut up all the avenues by which the life of your fellow-men might become known to you. I am not resigned; I am not sure that life is long enough to learn that lesson. You are not resigned; you are only trying to stupefy yourself."
Maggie's lips trembled; she felt there was some truth in what Philip said, and yet there was a deeper consciousness that, for any immediate application it had to her conduct, it was no better than falsity. Her double impression corresponded to the double impulse of the speaker. Philip seriously believed what he said, but he said it with vehemence because it made an argument against the resolution that opposed his wishes. But Maggie's face, made more childlike by the gathering tears, touched him with a tenderer, less egotistic feeling. He took her hand and said gently:
Don't let us think of such things in this short half-hour, Maggie. Let us only care about being together. We shall be friends in spite of separation. We shall always think of each other. I shall be glad to live as long as you are alive, because I shall think there may always come a time when I can–when you will let me help you in some way."
"What a dear, good brother you would have been, Philip," said Maggie, smiling through the haze of tears. "I think you would have made as much fuss about me, and been as pleased for me to love you, as would have satisfied even me. You would have loved me well enough to bear with me, and forgive me everything. That was what I always longed that Tom should do. I was never satisfied with a little of anything. That is why it is better for me to do without earthly happiness altogether. I never felt that I had enough music,–I wanted more instruments playing together; I wanted voices to be fuller and deeper. Do you ever sing now, Philip?" she added abruptly, as if she had forgotten what went before.
"Yes," he said, "every day, almost. But my voice is only middling, like everything else in me."
"Oh, sing me something,–just one song. I may listen to that before I go,–something you used to sing at Lorton on a Saturday afternoon, when we had the drawing-room all to ourselves, and I put my apron over my head to listen."
"I know," said Philip; and Maggie buried her face in her hands while he sang sotto voce, "Love in her eyes sits playing," and then said, "That's it, isn't it?"
"Oh no, I won't stay," said Maggie, starting up. "It will only haunt me. Let us walk, Philip. I must go home."
She moved away, so that he was obliged to rise and follow her.
"Maggie," he said, in a tone of remonstrance, "don't persist in this wilful, senseless privation. It makes me wretched to see you benumbing and cramping your nature in this way. You were so full of life when you were a child; I thought you would be a brilliant woman,–all wit and bright imagination. And it flashes out in your face still, until you draw that veil of dull quiescence over it."
"Why do you speak so bitterly to me, Philip?" said Maggie.
"Because I foresee it will not end well; you can never carry on this self-torture."
"I shall have strength given me," said Maggie, tremulously.
"No, you will not, Maggie; no one has strength given to do what is unnatural. It is mere cowardice to seek safety in negations. No character becomes strong in that way. You will be thrown into the world some day, and then every rational satisfaction of your nature that you deny now will assault you like a savage appetite."
Maggie started and paused, looking at Philip with alarm in her face.
"Philip, how dare you shake me in this way? You are a tempter."
"No, I am not; but love gives insight, Maggie, and insight often gives foreboding. Listen to me,–let me supply you with books; do let me see you sometimes,–be your brother and teacher, as you said at Lorton. It is less wrong that you should see me than that you should be committing this long suicide."
Maggie felt unable to speak. She shook her head and walked on in silence, till they came to the end of the Scotch firs, and she put out her hand in sign of parting.
"Do you banish me from this place forever, then, Maggie? Surely I may come and walk in it sometimes? If I meet you by chance, there is no concealment in that?"
It is the moment when our resolution seems about to become irrevocable–when the fatal iron gates are about to close upon us–that tests our strength. Then, after hours of clear reasoning and firm conviction, we snatch at any sophistry that will nullify our long struggles, and bring us the defeat that we love better than victory.
Maggie felt her heart leap at this subterfuge of Philip's, and there passed over her face that almost imperceptible shock which accompanies any relief. He saw it, and they parted in silence.
Philip's sense of the situation was too complete for him not to be visited with glancing fears lest he had been intervening too presumptuously in the action of Maggie's conscience, perhaps for a selfish end. But no!–he persuaded himself his end was not selfish. He had little hope that Maggie would ever return the strong feeling he had for her; and it must be better for Maggie's future life, when these petty family obstacles to her freedom had disappeared, that the present should not be entirely sacrificed, and that she should have some opportunity of culture,–some interchange with a mind above the vulgar level of those she was now condemned to live with. If we only look far enough off for the consequence of our actions, we can always find some point in the combination of results by which those actions can be justified; by adopting the point of view of a Providence who arranges results, or of a philosopher who traces them, we shall find it possible to obtain perfect complacency in choosing to do what is most agreeable to us in the present moment. And it was in this way that Philip justified his subtle efforts to overcome Maggie's true prompting against a concealment that would introduce doubleness into her own mind, and might cause new misery to those who had the primary natural claim on her. But there was a surplus of passion in him that made him half independent of justifying motives. His longing to see Maggie, and make an element in her life, had in it some of that savage impulse to snatch an offered joy which springs from a life in which the mental and bodily constitution have made pain predominate. He had not his full share in the common good of men; he could not even pass muster with the insignificant, but must be singled out for pity, and excepted from what was a matter of course with others. Even to Maggie he was an exception; it was clear that the thought of his being her lover had never entered her mind.
Do not think too hardly of Philip. Ugly and deformed people have great need of unusual virtues, because they are likely to be extremely uncomfortable without them; but the theory that unusual virtues spring by a direct consequence out of personal disadvantages, as animals get thicker wool in severe climates, is perhaps a little overstrained. The temptations of beauty are much dwelt upon, but I fancy they only bear the same relation to those of ugliness, as the temptation to excess at a feast, where the delights are varied for eye and ear as well as palate, bears to the temptations that assail the desperation of hunger. Does not the Hunger Tower stand as the type of the utmost trial to what is human in us?
Philip had never been soothed by that mother's love which flows out to us in the greater abundance because our need is greater, which clings to us the more tenderly because we are the less likely to be winners in the game of life; and the sense of his father's affection and indulgence toward him was marred by the keener perception of his father's faults. Kept aloof from all practical life as Philip had been, and by nature half feminine in sensitiveness, he had some of the woman's intolerant repulsion toward worldliness and the deliberate pursuit of sensual enjoyment; and this one strong natural tie in his life,–his relation as a son,–was like an aching limb to him. Perhaps there is inevitably something morbid in a human being who is in any way unfavorably excepted from ordinary conditions, until the good force has had time to triumph; and it has rarely had time for that at two-and-twenty. That force was present in Philip in much strength, but the sun himself looks feeble through the morning mists.
Early in the following April, nearly a year after that dubious parting you have just witnessed, you may, if you like, again see Maggie entering the Red Deeps through the group of Scotch firs. But it is early afternoon and not evening, and the edge of sharpness in the spring air makes her draw her large shawl close about her and trip along rather quickly; though she looks round, as usual, that she may take in the sight of her beloved trees. There is a more eager, inquiring look in her eyes than there was last June, and a smile is hovering about her lips, as if some playful speech were awaiting the right hearer. The hearer was not long in appearing.
"Take back your Corinne," said Maggie, drawing a book from under her shawl. "You were right in telling me she would do me no good; but you were wrong in thinking I should wish to be like her."
"Wouldn't you really like to be a tenth Muse, then, Maggie?" said Philip looking up in her face as we look at a first parting in the clouds that promises us a bright heaven once more.
"Not at all," said Maggie, laughing. "The Muses were uncomfortable goddesses, I think,–obliged always to carry rolls and musical instruments about with them. If I carried a harp in this climate, you know, I must have a green baize cover for it; and I should be sure to leave it behind me by mistake."
"You agree with me in not liking Corinne, then?"
"I didn't finish the book," said Maggie. "As soon as I came to the blond-haired young lady reading in the park, I shut it up, and determined to read no further. I foresaw that that light-complexioned girl would win away all the love from Corinne and make her miserable. I'm determined to read no more books where the blond-haired women carry away all the happiness. I should begin to have a prejudice against them. If you could give me some story, now, where the dark woman triumphs, it would restore the balance. I want to avenge Rebecca and Flora MacIvor and Minna, and all the rest of the dark unhappy ones. Since you are my tutor, you ought to preserve my mind from prejudices; you are always arguing against prejudices."
"Well, perhaps you will avenge the dark women in your own person, and carry away all the love from your cousin Lucy. She is sure to have some handsome young man of St. Ogg's at her feet now; and you have only to shine upon him–your fair little cousin will be quite quenched in your beams."
"Philip, that is not pretty of you, to apply my nonsense to anything real," said Maggie, looking hurt. "As if I, with my old gowns and want of all accomplishments, could be a rival of dear little Lucy,–who knows and does all sorts of charming things, and is ten times prettier than I am,–even if I were odious and base enough to wish to be her rival. Besides, I never go to aunt Deane's when any one is there; it is only because dear Lucy is good, and loves me, that she comes to see me, and will have me go to see her sometimes."
"Maggie," said Philip, with surprise, "it is not like you to take playfulness literally. You must have been in St. Ogg's this morning, and brought away a slight infection of dulness."
"Well," said Maggie, smiling, "if you meant that for a joke, it was a poor one; but I thought it was a very good reproof. I thought you wanted to remind me that I am vain, and wish every one to admire me most. But it isn't for that that I'm jealous for the dark women,–not because I'm dark myself; it's because I always care the most about the unhappy people. If the blond girl were forsaken, I should like her best. I always take the side of the rejected lover in the stories."
"Then you would never have the heart to reject one yourself, should you, Maggie?" said Philip, flushing a little.
"I don't know," said Maggie, hesitatingly. Then with a bright smile, "I think perhaps I could if he were very conceited; and yet, if he got extremely humiliated afterward, I should relent."
"I've often wondered, Maggie," Philip said, with some effort, "whether you wouldn't really be more likely to love a man that other women were not likely to love."
"That would depend on what they didn't like him for," said Maggie, laughing. "He might be very disagreeable. He might look at me through an eye-glass stuck in his eye, making a hideous face, as young Torry does. I should think other women are not fond of that; but I never felt any pity for young Torry. I've never any pity for conceited people, because I think they carry their comfort about with them."
"But suppose, Maggie,–suppose it was a man who was not conceited, who felt he had nothing to be conceited about; who had been marked from childhood for a peculiar kind of suffering, and to whom you were the day-star of his life; who loved you, worshipped you, so entirely that he felt it happiness enough for him if you would let him see you at rare moments––"
Philip paused with a pang of dread lest his confession should cut short this very happiness,–a pang of the same dread that had kept his love mute through long months. A rush of self-consciousness told him that he was besotted to have said all this. Maggie's manner this morning had been as unconstrained and indifferent as ever.
But she was not looking indifferent now. Struck with the unusual emotion in Philip's tone, she had turned quickly to look at him; and as he went on speaking, a great change came over her face,–a flush and slight spasm of the features, such as we see in people who hear some news that will require them to readjust their conceptions of the past. She was quite silent, and walking on toward the trunk of a fallen tree, she sat down, as if she had no strength to spare for her muscles. She was trembling.
"Maggie," said Philip, getting more and more alarmed in every fresh moment of silence, "I was a fool to say it; forget that I've said it. I shall be contented if things can be as they were."
The distress with which he spoke urged Maggie to say something. "I am so surprised, Philip; I had not thought of it." And the effort to say this brought the tears down too.
"Has it made you hate me, Maggie?" said Philip, impetuously. "Do you think I'm a presumptuous fool?"
"Oh, Philip!" said Maggie, "how can you think I have such feelings? As if I were not grateful for any love. But–but I had never thought of your being my lover. It seemed so far off–like a dream–only like one of the stories one imagines–that I should ever have a lover."
"Then can you bear to think of me as your lover, Maggie?" said Philip, seating himself by her, and taking her hand, in the elation of a sudden hope. "Do you love me?"
Maggie turned rather pale; this direct question seemed not easy to answer. But her eyes met Philip's, which were in this moment liquid and beautiful with beseeching love. She spoke with hesitation, yet with sweet, simple, girlish tenderness.
"I think I could hardly love any one better; there is nothing but what I love you for." She paused a little while, and then added: "But it will be better for us not to say any more about it, won't it, dear Philip? You know we couldn't even be friends, if our friendship were discovered. I have never felt that I was right in giving way about seeing you, though it has been so precious to me in some ways; and now the fear comes upon me strongly again, that it will lead to evil."
"But no evil has come, Maggie; and if you had been guided by that fear before, you would only have lived through another dreary, benumbing year, instead of reviving into your real self."
Maggie shook her head. "It has been very sweet, I know,–all the talking together, and the books, and the feeling that I had the walk to look forward to, when I could tell you the thoughts that had come into my head while I was away from you. But it has made me restless; it has made me think a great deal about the world; and I have impatient thoughts again,–I get weary of my home; and then it cuts me to the heart afterward, that I should ever have felt weary of my father and mother. I think what you call being benumbed was better–better for me–for then my selfish desires were benumbed."
Philip had risen again, and was walking backward and forward impatiently.
"No, Maggie, you have wrong ideas of self-conquest, as I've often told you. What you call self-conquest–binding and deafening yourself to all but one train of impressions–is only the culture of monomania in a nature like yours."
He had spoken with some irritation, but now he sat down by her again and took her hand.
"Don't think of the past now, Maggie; think only of our love. If you can really cling to me with all your heart, every obstacle will be overcome in time; we need only wait. I can live on hope. Look at me, Maggie; tell me again it is possible for you to love me. Don't look away from me to that cloven tree; it is a bad omen."
She turned her large dark glance upon him with a sad smile.
"Come, Maggie, say one kind word, or else you were better to me at Lorton. You asked me if I should like you to kiss me,–don't you remember?–and you promised to kiss me when you met me again. You never kept the promise."
The recollection of that childish time came as a sweet relief to Maggie. It made the present moment less strange to her. She kissed him almost as simply and quietly as she had done when she was twelve years old. Philip's eyes flashed with delight, but his next words were words of discontent.
"You don't seem happy enough, Maggie; you are forcing yourself to say you love me, out of pity."
"No, Philip," said Maggie, shaking her head, in her old childish way; "I'm telling you the truth. It is all new and strange to me; but I don't think I could love any one better than I love you. I should like always to live with you–to make you happy. I have always been happy when I have been with you. There is only one thing I will not do for your sake; I will never do anything to wound my father. You must never ask that from me."
"No, Maggie, I will ask nothing; I will bear everything; I'll wait another year only for a kiss, if you will only give me the first place in your heart."
"No," said Maggie, smiling, "I won't make you wait so long as that." But then, looking serious again, she added, as she rose from her seat,–
"But what would your own father say, Philip? Oh, it is quite impossible we can ever be more than friends,–brother and sister in secret, as we have been. Let us give up thinking of everything else."
"No, Maggie, I can't give you up,–unless you are deceiving me; unless you really only care for me as if I were your brother. Tell me the truth."
"Indeed I do, Philip. What happiness have I ever had so great as being with you,–since I was a little girl,–the days Tom was good to me? And your mind is a sort of world to me; you can tell me all I want to know. I think I should never be tired of being with you."
They were walking hand in hand, looking at each other; Maggie, indeed, was hurrying along, for she felt it time to be gone. But the sense that their parting was near made her more anxious lest she should have unintentionally left some painful impression on Philip's mind. It was one of those dangerous moments when speech is at once sincere and deceptive; when feeling, rising high above its average depth, leaves floodmarks which are never reached again.
They stopped to part among the Scotch firs.
"Then my life will be filled with hope, Maggie, and I shall be happier than other men, in spite of all? We do belong to each other–for always–whether we are apart or together?"
"Yes, Philip; I should like never to part; I should like to make your life very happy."
"I am waiting for something else. I wonder whether it will come."
Maggie smiled, with glistening tears, and then stooped her tall head to kiss the pale face that was full of pleading, timid love,–like a woman's.
She had a moment of real happiness then,–a moment of belief that, if there were sacrifice in this love, it was all the richer and more satisfying.
She turned away and hurried home, feeling that in the hour since she had trodden this road before, a new era had begun for her. The tissue of vague dreams must now get narrower and narrower, and all the threads of thought and emotion be gradually absorbed in the woof of her actual daily life.
The Cloven Tree
Secrets are rarely betrayed or discovered according to any programme our fear has sketched out. Fear is almost always haunted by terrible dramatic scenes, which recur in spite of the best-argued probabilities against them; and during a year that Maggie had had the burthen of concealment on her mind, the possibility of discovery had continually presented itself under the form of a sudden meeting with her father or Tom when she was walking with Philip in the Red Deeps. She was aware that this was not one of the most likely events; but it was the scene that most completely symbolized her inward dread. Those slight indirect suggestions which are dependent on apparently trivial coincidences and incalculable states of mind, are the favorite machinery of Fact, but are not the stuff in which Imagination is apt to work.
Certainly one of the persons about whom Maggie's fears were furthest from troubling themselves was her aunt Pullet, on whom, seeing that she did not live in St. Ogg's, and was neither sharp-eyed nor sharp-tempered, it would surely have been quite whimsical of them to fix rather than on aunt Glegg. And yet the channel of fatality–the pathway of the lightning–was no other than aunt Pullet. She did not live at St. Ogg's, but the road from Garum Firs lay by the Red Deeps, at the end opposite that by which Maggie entered.
The day after Maggie's last meeting with Philip, being a Sunday on which Mr. Pullet was bound to appear in funeral hatband and scarf at St. Ogg's church, Mrs. Pullet made this the occasion of dining with sister Glegg, and taking tea with poor sister Tulliver. Sunday was the one day in the week on which Tom was at home in the afternoon; and today the brighter spirits he had been in of late had flowed over in unusually cheerful open chat with his father, and in the invitation, "Come, Magsie, you come too!" when he strolled out with his mother in the garden to see the advancing cherry-blossoms. He had been better pleased with Maggie since she had been less odd and ascetic; he was even getting rather proud of her; several persons had remarked in his hearing that his sister was a very fine girl. To-day there was a peculiar brightness in her face, due in reality to an undercurrent of excitement, which had as much doubt and pain as pleasure in it; but it might pass for a sign of happiness.
"You look very well, my dear," said aunt Pullet, shaking her head sadly, as they sat round the tea-table. "I niver thought your girl 'ud be so good-looking, Bessy. But you must wear pink, my dear; that blue thing as your aunt Glegg gave you turns you into a crowflower. Jane never was tasty. Why don't you wear that gown o' mine?"
"It is so pretty and so smart, aunt. I think it's too showy for me,–at least for my other clothes, that I must wear with it.
"To be sure, it 'ud be unbecoming if it wasn't well known you've got them belonging to you as can afford to give you such things when they've done with 'em themselves. It stands to reason I must give my own niece clothes now and then,–such things as I buy every year, and never wear anything out. And as for Lucy, there's no giving to her, for she's got everything o' the choicest; sister Deane may well hold her head up,–though she looks dreadful yallow, poor thing–I doubt this liver complaint 'ull carry her off. That's what this new vicar, this Dr. Kenn, said in the funeral sermon to-day."
"Ah, he's a wonderful preacher, by all account,–isn't he, Sophy?" said Mrs. Tulliver.
"Why, Lucy had got a collar on this blessed day," continued Mrs. Pullet, with her eyes fixed in a ruminating manner, "as I don't say I haven't got as good, but I must look out my best to match it."
"Miss Lucy's called the bell o' St. Ogg's, they say; that's a cur'ous word," observed Mr. Pullet, on whom the mysteries of etymology sometimes fell with an oppressive weight.
"Pooh!" said Mr. Tulliver, jealous for Maggie, "she's a small thing, not much of a figure. But fine feathers make fine birds. I see nothing to admire so much in those diminutive women; they look silly by the side o' the men,–out o' proportion. When I chose my wife, I chose her the right size,–neither too little nor too big."
The poor wife, with her withered beauty, smiled complacently.
"But the men aren't all big," said uncle Pullet, not without some self-reference; "a young fellow may be good-looking and yet not be a six-foot, like Master Tom here.
"Ah, it's poor talking about littleness and bigness,–anybody may think it's a mercy they're straight," said aunt Pullet. "There's that mismade son o' Lawyer Wakem's, I saw him at church to-day. Dear, dear! to think o' the property he's like to have; and they say he's very queer and lonely, doesn't like much company. I shouldn't wonder if he goes out of his mind; for we never come along the road but he's a-scrambling out o' the trees and brambles at the Red Deeps."
This wide statement, by which Mrs. Pullet represented the fact that she had twice seen Philip at the spot indicated, produced an effect on Maggie which was all the stronger because Tom sate opposite her, and she was intensely anxious to look indifferent. At Philip's name she had blushed, and the blush deepened every instant from consciousness, until the mention of the Red Deeps made her feel as if the whole secret were betrayed, and she dared not even hold her tea-spoon lest she should show how she trembled. She sat with her hands clasped under the table, not daring to look round. Happily, her father was seated on the same side with herself, beyond her uncle Pullet, and could not see her face without stooping forward. Her mother's voice brought the first relief, turning the conversation; for Mrs. Tulliver was always alarmed when the name of Wakem was mentioned in her husband's presence. Gradually Maggie recovered composure enough to look up; her eyes met Tom's, but he turned away his head immediately; and she went to bed that night wondering if he had gathered any suspicion from her confusion. Perhaps not; perhaps he would think it was only her alarm at her aunt's mention of Wakem before her father; that was the interpretation her mother had put on it. To her father, Wakem was like a disfiguring disease, of which he was obliged to endure the consciousness, but was exasperated to have the existence recognized by others; and no amount of sensitiveness in her about her father could be surprising, Maggie thought.
But Tom was too keen-sighted to rest satisfied with such an interpretation; he had seen clearly enough that there was something distinct from anxiety about her father in Maggie's excessive confusion. In trying to recall all the details that could give shape to his suspicions, he remembered only lately hearing his mother scold Maggie for walking in the Red Deeps when the ground was wet, and bringing home shoes clogged with red soil; still Tom, retaining all his old repulsion for Philip's deformity, shrank from attributing to his sister the probability of feeling more than a friendly interest in such an unfortunate exception to the common run of men. Tom's was a nature which had a sort of superstitious repugnance to everything exceptional. A love for a deformed man would be odious in any woman, in a sister intolerable. But if she had been carrying on any kind of intercourse whatever with Philip, a stop must be put to it at once; she was disobeying her father's strongest feelings and her brother's express commands, besides compromising herself by secret meetings. He left home the next morning in that watchful state of mind which turns the most ordinary course of things into pregnant coincidences.
That afternoon, about half-past three o'clock, Tom was standing on the wharf, talking with Bob Jakin about the probability of the good ship Adelaide coming in, in a day or two, with results highly important to both of them.
"Eh," said Bob, parenthetically, as he looked over the fields on the other side of the river, "there goes that crooked young Wakem. I know him or his shadder as far off as I can see 'em; I'm allays lighting on him o' that side the river."
A sudden thought seemed to have darted through Tom's mind. "I must go, Bob," he said; "I've something to attend to," hurrying off to the warehouse, where he left notice for some one to take his place; he was called away home on peremptory business.
The swiftest pace and the shortest road took him to the gate, and he was pausing to open it deliberately, that he might walk into the house with an appearance of perfect composure, when Maggie came out at the front door in bonnet and shawl. His conjecture was fulfilled, and he waited for her at the gate. She started violently when she saw him.
"Tom, how is it you are come home? Is there anything the matter?" Maggie spoke in a low, tremulous voice.
"I'm come to walk with you to the Red Deeps, and meet Philip Wakem," said Tom, the central fold in his brow, which had become habitual with him, deepening as he spoke.
Maggie stood helpless, pale and cold. By some means, then, Tom knew everything. At last she said, "I'm, not going," and turned round.
"Yes, you are; but I want to speak to you first. Where is my father?"
"Out on horseback."
"And my mother?"
"In the yard, I think, with the poultry."
"I can go in, then, without her seeing me?"
They walked in together, and Tom, entering the parlor, said to Maggie, "Come in here."
She obeyed, and he closed the door behind her.
"Now, Maggie, tell me this instant everything that has passed between you and Philip Wakem."
"Does my father know anything?" said Maggie, still trembling.
"No," said Tom indignantly. "But he shall know, if you attempt to use deceit toward me any further."
"I don't wish to use deceit," said Maggie, flushing into resentment at hearing this word applied to her conduct.
"Tell me the whole truth, then."
"Perhaps you know it."
"Never mind whether I know it or not. Tell me exactly what has happened, or my father shall know everything."
"I tell it for my father's sake, then."
"Yes, it becomes you to profess affection for your father, when you have despised his strongest feelings."
"You never do wrong, Tom," said Maggie, tauntingly.
"Not if I know it," answered Tom, with proud sincerity.
"But I have nothing to say to you beyond this: tell me what has passed between you and Philip Wakem. When did you first meet him in the Red Deeps?"
"A year ago," said Maggie, quietly. Tom's severity gave her a certain fund of defiance, and kept her sense of error in abeyance. "You need ask me no more questions. We have been friendly a year. We have met and walked together often. He has lent me books."
"Is that all?" said Tom, looking straight at her with his frown.
Maggie paused a moment; then, determined to make an end of Tom's right to accuse her of deceit, she said haughtily:
"No, not quite all. On Saturday he told me that he loved me. I didn't think of it before then; I had only thought of him as an old friend."
"And you encouraged him?" said Tom, with an expression of disgust.
"I told him that I loved him too."
Tom was silent a few moments, looking on the ground and frowning, with his hands in his pockets. At last he looked up and said coldly,–
"Now, then, Maggie, there are but two courses for you to take,–either you vow solemnly to me, with your hand on my father's Bible, that you will never have another meeting or speak another word in private with Philip Wakem, or you refuse, and I tell my father everything; and this month, when by my exertions he might be made happy once more, you will cause him the blow of knowing that you are a disobedient, deceitful daughter, who throws away her own respectability by clandestine meetings with the son of a man that has helped to ruin her father. Choose!" Tom ended with cold decision, going up to the large Bible, drawing it forward, and opening it at the fly-leaf, where the writing was.
It was a crushing alternative to Maggie.
"Tom," she said, urged out of pride into pleading, "don't ask me that. I will promise you to give up all intercourse with Philip, if you will let me see him once, or even only write to him and explain everything,–to give it up as long as it would ever cause any pain to my father. I feel something for Philip too. He is not happy."
"I don't wish to hear anything of your feelings; I have said exactly what I mean. Choose, and quickly, lest my mother should come in."
"If I give you my word, that will be as strong a bond to me as if I laid my hand on the Bible. I don't require that to bind me."
"Do what I require," said Tom. "I can't trust you, Maggie. There is no consistency in you. Put your hand on this Bible, and say, 'I renounce all private speech and intercourse with Philip Wakem from this time forth.' Else you will bring shame on us all, and grief on my father; and what is the use of my exerting myself and giving up everything else for the sake of paying my father's debts, if you are to bring madness and vexation on him, just when he might be easy and hold up his head once more?"
"Oh, Tom, will the debts be paid soon?" said Maggie, clasping her hands, with a sudden flash of joy across her wretchedness.
"If things turn out as I expect," said Tom. "But," he added, his voice trembling with indignation, "while I have been contriving and working that my father may have some peace of mind before he dies,–working for the respectability of our family,–you have done all you can to destroy both."
Maggie felt a deep movement of compunction; for the moment, her mind ceased to contend against what she felt to be cruel and unreasonable, and in her self-blame she justified her brother.
"Tom," she said in a low voice, "it was wrong of me; but I was so lonely, and I was sorry for Philip. And I think enmity and hatred are wicked."
"Nonsense!" said Tom. "Your duty was clear enough. Say no more; but promise, in the words I told you."
"I must speak to Philip once more."
"You will go with me now and speak to him."
"I give you my word not to meet him or write to him again without your knowledge. That is the only thing I will say. I will put my hand on the Bible if you like."
"Say it, then."
Maggie laid her hand on the page of manuscript and repeated the promise. Tom closed the book, and said, "Now let us go."
Not a word was spoken as they walked along. Maggie was suffering in anticipation of what Philip was about to suffer, and dreading the galling words that would fall on him from Tom's lips; but she felt it was in vain to attempt anything but submission. Tom had his terrible clutch on her conscience and her deepest dread; she writhed under the demonstrable truth of the character he had given to her conduct, and yet her whole soul rebelled against it as unfair from its incompleteness. He, meanwhile, felt the impetus of his indignation diverted toward Philip. He did not know how much of an old boyish repulsion and of mere personal pride and animosity was concerned in the bitter severity of the words by which he meant to do the duty of a son and a brother. Tom was not given to inquire subtly into his own motives any more than into other matters of an intangible kind; he was quite sure that his own motives as well as actions were good, else he would have had nothing to do with them.
Maggie's only hope was that something might, for the first time, have prevented Philip from coming. Then there would be delay,–then she might get Tom's permission to write to him. Her heart beat with double violence when they got under the Scotch firs. It was the last moment of suspense, she thought; Philip always met her soon after she got beyond them. But they passed across the more open green space, and entered the narrow bushy path by the mound. Another turning, and they came so close upon him that both Tom and Philip stopped suddenly within a yard of each other. There was a moment's silence, in which Philip darted a look of inquiry at Maggie's face. He saw an answer there, in the pale, parted lips, and the terrified tension of the large eyes. Her imagination, always rushing extravagantly beyond an immediate impression, saw her tall, strong brother grasping the feeble Philip bodily, crushing him and trampling on him.
"Do you call this acting the part of a man and a gentleman, sir?" Tom said, in a voice of harsh scorn, as soon as Philip's eyes were turned on him again.
"What do you mean?" answered Philip, haughtily.
"Mean? Stand farther from me, lest I should lay hands on you, and I'll tell you what I mean. I mean, taking advantage of a young girl's foolishness and ignorance to get her to have secret meetings with you. I mean, daring to trifle with the respectability of a family that has a good and honest name to support."
"I deny that," interrupted Philip, impetuously. "I could never trifle with anything that affected your sister's happiness. She is dearer to me than she is to you; I honor her more than you can ever honor her; I would give up my life to her."
"Don't talk high-flown nonsense to me, sir! Do you mean to pretend that you didn't know it would be injurious to her to meet you here week after week? Do you pretend you had any right to make professions of love to her, even if you had been a fit husband for her, when neither her father nor your father would ever consent to a marriage between you? And you,–you to try and worm yourself into the affections of a handsome girl who is not eighteen, and has been shut out from the world by her father's misfortunes! That's your crooked notion of honor, is it? I call it base treachery; I call it taking advantage of circumstances to win what's too good for you,–what you'd never get by fair means."
"It is manly of you to talk in this way to me," said Philip, bitterly, his whole frame shaken by violent emotions. "Giants have an immemorial right to stupidity and insolent abuse. You are incapable even of understanding what I feel for your sister. I feel so much for her that I could even desire to be at friendship with you."
"I should be very sorry to understand your feelings," said Tom, with scorching contempt. "What I wish is that you should understand me,–that I shall take care of my sister, and that if you dare to make the least attempt to come near her, or to write to her, or to keep the slightest hold on her mind, your puny, miserable body, that ought to have put some modesty into your mind, shall not protect you. I'll thrash you; I'll hold you up to public scorn. Who wouldn't laugh at the idea of your turning lover to a fine girl?"
Tom and Maggie walked on in silence for some yards. He burst out, in a convulsed voice.
"Stay, Maggie!" said Philip, making a strong effort to speak. Then looking at Tom, "You have dragged your sister here, I suppose, that she may stand by while you threaten and insult me. These naturally seemed to you the right means to influence me. But you are mistaken. Let your sister speak. If she says she is bound to give me up, I shall abide by her wishes to the slightest word."
"It was for my father's sake, Philip," said Maggie, imploringly. "Tom threatens to tell my father, and he couldn't bear it; I have promised, I have vowed solemnly, that we will not have any intercourse without my brother's knowledge."
"It is enough, Maggie. I shall not change; but I wish you to hold yourself entirely free. But trust me; remember that I can never seek for anything but good to what belongs to you."
"Yes," said Tom, exasperated by this attitude of Philip's, "you can talk of seeking good for her and what belongs to her now; did you seek her good before?"
"I did,–at some risk, perhaps. But I wished her to have a friend for life,–who would cherish her, who would do her more justice than a coarse and narrow-minded brother, that she has always lavished her affections on."
"Yes, my way of befriending her is different from yours; and I'll tell you what is my way. I'll save her from disobeying and disgracing her father; I'll save her from throwing herself away on you,–from making herself a laughing-stock,–from being flouted by a man like your father, because she's not good enough for his son. You know well enough what sort of justice and cherishing you were preparing for her. I'm not to be imposed upon by fine words; I can see what actions mean. Come away, Maggie."
He seized Maggie's right wrist as he spoke, and she put out her left hand. Philip clasped it an instant, with one eager look, and then hurried away.
Tom and Maggie walked on in silence for some yards. He was still holding her wrist tightly, as if he were compelling a culprit from the scene of action. At last Maggie, with a violent snatch, drew her hand away, and her pent-up, long-gathered irritation burst into utterance.
"Don't suppose that I think you are right, Tom, or that I bow to your will. I despise the feelings you have shown in speaking to Philip; I detest your insulting, unmanly allusions to his deformity. You have been reproaching other people all your life; you have been always sure you yourself are right. It is because you have not a mind large enough to see that there is anything better than your own conduct and your own petty aims."
"Certainly," said Tom, coolly. "I don't see that your conduct is better, or your aims either. If your conduct, and Philip Wakem's conduct, has been right, why are you ashamed of its being known? Answer me that. I know what I have aimed at in my conduct, and I've succeeded; pray, what good has your conduct brought to you or any one else?"
"I don't want to defend myself," said Maggie, still with vehemence: "I know I've been wrong,–often, continually. But yet, sometimes when I have done wrong, it has been because I have feelings that you would be the better for, if you had them. If you were in fault ever, if you had done anything very wrong, I should be sorry for the pain it brought you; I should not want punishment to be heaped on you. But you have always enjoyed punishing me; you have always been hard and cruel to me; even when I was a little girl, and always loved you better than any one else in the world, you would let me go crying to bed without forgiving me. You have no pity; you have no sense of your own imperfection and your own sins. It is a sin to be hard; it is not fitting for a mortal, for a Christian. You are nothing but a Pharisee. You thank God for nothing but your own virtues; you think they are great enough to win you everything else. You have not even a vision of feelings by the side of which your shining virtues are mere darkness!"
"Well," said Tom, with cold scorn, "if your feelings are so much better than mine, let me see you show them in some other way than by conduct that's likely to disgrace us all,–than by ridiculous flights first into one extreme and then into another. Pray, how have you shown your love, that you talk of, either to me or my father? By disobeying and deceiving us. I have a different way of showing my affection."
"Because you are a man, Tom, and have power, and can do something in the world."
"Then, if you can do nothing, submit to those that can."
"So I will submit to what I acknowledge and feel to be right. I will submit even to what is unreasonable from my father, but I will not submit to it from you. You boast of your virtues as if they purchased you a right to be cruel and unmanly, as you've been to-day. Don't suppose I would give up Philip Wakem in obedience to you. The deformity you insult would make me cling to him and care for him the more."
"Very well; that is your view of things." said Tom, more coldly than ever; "you need say no more to show me what a wide distance there is between us. Let us remember that in future, and be silent."
Tom went back to St. Ogg's, to fulfill an appointment with his uncle Deane, and receive directions about a journey on which he was to set out the next morning.
Maggie went up to her own room to pour out all that indignant remonstrance, against which Tom's mind was close barred, in bitter tears. Then, when the first burst of unsatisfied anger was gone by, came the recollection of that quiet time before the pleasure which had ended in to-day's misery had perturbed the clearness and simplicity of her life. She used to think in that time that she had made great conquests, and won a lasting stand on serene heights above worldly temptations and conflict. And here she was down again in the thick of a hot strife with her own and others' passions. Life was not so short, then, and perfect rest was not so near as she had dreamed when she was two years younger. There was more struggle for her, and perhaps more falling. If she had felt that she was entirely wrong, and that Tom had been entirely right, she could sooner have recovered more inward harmony; but now her penitence and submission were constantly obstructed by resentment that would present itself to her no otherwise than as a just indignation. Her heart bled for Philip; she went on recalling the insults that had been flung at him with so vivid a conception of what he had felt under them, that it was almost like a sharp bodily pain to her, making her beat the floor with her foot and tighten her fingers on her palm.
And yet, how was it that she was now and then conscious of a certain dim background of relief in the forced separation from Philip? Surely it was only because the sense of a deliverance from concealment was welcome at any cost.
The Hard-Won Triumph
Three weeks later, when Dorlcote Mill was at its prettiest moment in all the year,–the great chestnuts in blossom, and the grass all deep and daisied,–Tom Tulliver came home to it earlier than usual in the evening, and as he passed over the bridge, he looked with the old deep-rooted affection at the respectable red brick house, which always seemed cheerful and inviting outside, let the rooms be as bare and the hearts as sad as they might inside. There is a very pleasant light in Tom's blue-gray eyes as he glances at the house-windows; that fold in his brow never disappears, but it is not unbecoming; it seems to imply a strength of will that may possibly be without harshness, when the eyes and mouth have their gentlest expression. His firm step becomes quicker, and the corners of his mouth rebel against the compression which is meant to forbid a smile.
The eyes in the parlor were not turned toward the bridge just then, and the group there was sitting in unexpectant silence,–Mr. Tulliver in his arm-chair, tired with a long ride, and ruminating with a worn look, fixed chiefly on Maggie, who was bending over her sewing while her mother was making the tea.
They all looked up with surprise when they heard the well-known foot.
"Why, what's up now, Tom?" said his father. "You're a bit earlier than usual."
"Oh, there was nothing more for me to do, so I came away. Well, mother!"
Tom went up to his mother and kissed her, a sign of unusual good-humor with him. Hardly a word or look had passed between him and Maggie in all the three weeks; but his usual incommunicativeness at home prevented this from being noticeable to their parents.
"Father," said Tom, when they had finished tea, "do you know exactly how much money there is in the tin box?"
"Only a hundred and ninety-three pound," said Mr. Tulliver. "You've brought less o' late; but young fellows like to have their own way with their money. Though I didn't do as I liked before I was of age." He spoke with rather timid discontent.
"Are you quite sure that's the sum, father?" said Tom. "I wish you would take the trouble to fetch the tin box down. I think you have perhaps made a mistake."
"How should I make a mistake?" said his father, sharply. "I've counted it often enough; but I can fetch it, if you won't believe me."
It was always an incident Mr. Tulliver liked, in his gloomy life, to fetch the tin box and count the money.
"Don't go out of the room, mother," said Tom, as he saw her moving when his father was gone upstairs.
"And isn't Maggie to go?" said Mrs. Tulliver; "because somebody must take away the things."
"Just as she likes," said Tom indifferently.
That was a cutting word to Maggie. Her heart had leaped with the sudden conviction that Tom was going to tell their father the debts could be paid; and Tom would have let her be absent when that news was told! But she carried away the tray and came back immediately. The feeling of injury on her own behalf could not predominate at that moment.
Tom drew to the corner of the table near his father when the tin box was set down and opened, and the red evening light falling on them made conspicuous the worn, sour gloom of the dark-eyed father and the suppressed joy in the face of the fair-complexioned son. The mother and Maggie sat at the other end of the table, the one in blank patience, the other in palpitating expectation.
Mr. Tulliver counted out the money, setting it in order on the table, and then said, glancing sharply at Tom:
"There now! you see I was right enough."
He paused, looking at the money with bitter despondency.
"There's more nor three hundred wanting; it'll be a fine while before I can save that. Losing that forty-two pound wi' the corn was a sore job. This world's been too many for me. It's took four year to lay this by; it's much if I'm above ground for another four year. I must trusten to you to pay 'em," he went on, with a trembling voice, "if you keep i' the same mind now you're coming o' age. But you're like enough to bury me first."
He looked up in Tom's face with a querulous desire for some assurance.
"No, father," said Tom, speaking with energetic decision, though there was tremor discernible in his voice too, "you will live to see the debts all paid. You shall pay them with your own hand."
His tone implied something more than mere hopefulness or resolution. A slight electric shock seemed to pass through Mr. Tulliver, and he kept his eyes fixed on Tom with a look of eager inquiry, while Maggie, unable to restrain herself, rushed to her father's side and knelt down by him. Tom was silent a little while before he went on.
"A good while ago, my uncle Glegg lent me a little money to trade with, and that has answered. I have three hundred and twenty pounds in the bank."
His mother's arms were round his neck as soon as the last words were uttered, and she said, half crying:
"Oh, my boy, I knew you'd make iverything right again, when you got a man."
But his father was silent; the flood of emotion hemmed in all power of speech. Both Tom and Maggie were struck with fear lest the shock of joy might even be fatal. But the blessed relief of tears came. The broad chest heaved, the muscles of the face gave way, and the gray-haired man burst into loud sobs. The fit of weeping gradually subsided, and he sat quiet, recovering the regularity of his breathing. At last he looked up at his wife and said, in a gentle tone:
"Bessy, you must come and kiss me now–the lad has made you amends. You'll see a bit o' comfort again, belike."
When she had kissed him, and he had held her hand a minute, his thoughts went back to the money.
"I wish you'd brought me the money to look at, Tom," he said, fingering the sovereigns on the table; "I should ha' felt surer."
"You shall see it to-morrow, father," said Tom. "My uncle Deane has appointed the creditors to meet to-morrow at the Golden Lion, and he has ordered a dinner for them at two o'clock. My uncle Glegg and he will both be there. It was advertised in the 'Messenger' on Saturday."
"Then Wakem knows on't!" said Mr. Tulliver, his eye kindling with triumphant fire. "Ah!" he went on, with a long-drawn guttural enunciation, taking out his snuff-box, the only luxury he had left himself, and tapping it with something of his old air of defiance. "I'll get from under his thumb now, though I must leave the old mill. I thought I could ha' held out to die here–but I can't––we've got a glass o' nothing in the house, have we, Bessy?"
"Yes," said Mrs. Tulliver, drawing out her much-reduced bunch of keys, "there's some brandy sister Deane brought me when I was ill."
"Get it me, then; get it me. I feel a bit weak."
"Tom, my lad," he said, in a stronger voice, when he had taken some brandy-and-water, "you shall make a speech to 'em. I'll tell 'em it's you as got the best part o' the money. They'll see I'm honest at last, and ha' got an honest son. Ah! Wakem 'ud be fine and glad to have a son like mine,–a fine straight fellow,–i'stead o' that poor crooked creatur! You'll prosper i' the world, my lad; you'll maybe see the day when Wakem and his son 'ull be a round or two below you. You'll like enough be ta'en into partnership, as your uncle Deane was before you,–you're in the right way for't; and then there's nothing to hinder your getting rich. And if ever you're rich enough–mind this–try and get th' old mill again."
Mr. Tulliver threw himself back in his chair; his mind, which had so long been the home of nothing but bitter discontent and foreboding, suddenly filled, by the magic of joy, with visions of good fortune. But some subtle influence prevented him from foreseeing the good fortune as happening to himself.
"Shake hands wi' me, my lad," he said, suddenly putting out his hand. "It's a great thing when a man can be proud as he's got a good son. I've had that luck."
Tom never lived to taste another moment so delicious as that; and Maggie couldn't help forgetting her own grievances. Tom was good; and in the sweet humility that springs in us all in moments of true admiration and gratitude, she felt that the faults he had to pardon in her had never been redeemed, as his faults were. She felt no jealousy this evening that, for the first time, she seemed to be thrown into the background in her father's mind.
There was much more talk before bedtime. Mr. Tulliver naturally wanted to hear all the particulars of Tom's trading adventures, and he listened with growing excitement and delight. He was curious to know what had been said on every occasion; if possible, what had been thought; and Bob Jakin's part in the business threw him into peculiar outbursts of sympathy with the triumphant knowingness of that remarkable packman. Bob's juvenile history, so far as it had come under Mr. Tulliver's knowledge, was recalled with that sense of astonishing promise it displayed, which is observable in all reminiscences of the childhood of great men.
It was well that there was this interest of narrative to keep under the vague but fierce sense of triumph over Wakem, which would otherwise have been the channel his joy would have rushed into with dangerous force. Even as it was, that feeling from time to time gave threats of its ultimate mastery, in sudden bursts of irrelevant exclamation.
It was long before Mr. Tulliver got to sleep that night; and the sleep, when it came, was filled with vivid dreams. At half-past five o'clock in the morning, when Mrs. Tulliver was already rising, he alarmed her by starting up with a sort of smothered shout, and looking round in a bewildered way at the walls of the bedroom.
"What's the matter, Mr. Tulliver?" said his wife. He looked at her, still with a puzzled expression, and said at last:
"Ah!–I was dreaming–did I make a noise?–I thought I'd got hold of him."
A Day of Reckoning
Mr. Tulliver was an essentially sober man,–able to take his glass and not averse to it, but never exceeding the bounds of moderation. He had naturally an active Hotspur temperament, which did not crave liquid fire to set it aglow; his impetuosity was usually equal to an exciting occasion without any such reinforcements; and his desire for the brandy-and-water implied that the too sudden joy had fallen with a dangerous shock on a frame depressed by four years of gloom and unaccustomed hard fare. But that first doubtful tottering moment passed, he seemed to gather strength with his gathering excitement; and the next day, when he was seated at table with his creditors, his eye kindling and his cheek flushed with the consciousness that he was about to make an honorable figure once more, he looked more like the proud, confident, warm-hearted, and warm-tempered Tulliver of old times than might have seemed possible to any one who had met him a week before, riding along as had been his wont for the last four years since the sense of failure and debt had been upon him,–with his head hanging down, casting brief, unwilling looks on those who forced themselves on his notice. He made his speech, asserting his honest principles with his old confident eagerness, alluding to the rascals and the luck that had been against him, but that he had triumphed over, to some extent, by hard efforts and the aid of a good son; and winding up with the story of how Tom had got the best part of the needful money. But the streak of irritation and hostile triumph seemed to melt for a little while into purer fatherly pride and pleasure, when, Tom's health having been proposed, and uncle Deane having taken occasion to say a few words of eulogy on his general character and conduct, Tom himself got up and made the single speech of his life. It could hardly have been briefer. He thanked the gentlmen for the honor they had done him. He was glad that he had been able to help his father in proving his integrity and regaining his honest name; and, for his own part, he hoped he should never undo that work and disgrace that name. But the applause that followed was so great, and Tom looked so gentlemanly as well as tall and straight, that Mr. Tulliver remarked, in an explanatory manner, to his friends on his right and left, that he had spent a deal of money on his son's education.
The party broke up in very sober fashion at five o'clock. Tom remained in St. Ogg's to attend to some business, and Mr. Tulliver mounted his horse to go home, and describe the memorable things that had been said and done, to "poor Bessy and the little wench." The air of excitement that hung about him was but faintly due to good cheer or any stimulus but the potent wine of triumphant joy. He did not choose any back street to-day, but rode slowly, with uplifted head and free glances, along the principal street all the way to the bridge.
Why did he not happen to meet Wakem? The want of that coincidence vexed him, and set his mind at work in an irritating way. Perhaps Wakem was gone out of town to-day on purpose to avoid seeing or hearing anything of an honorable action which might well cause him some unpleasant twinges. If Wakem were to meet him then, Mr. Tulliver would look straight at him, and the rascal would perhaps be forsaken a little by his cool, domineering impudence. He would know by and by that an honest man was not going to serve him any longer, and lend his honesty to fill a pocket already over-full of dishonest gains. Perhaps the luck was beginning to turn; perhaps the Devil didn't always hold the best cards in this world.
Simmering in this way, Mr. Tulliver approached the yardgates of Dorlcote Mill, near enough to see a well-known figure coming out of them on a fine black horse. They met about fifty yards from the gates, between the great chestnuts and elms and the high bank.
"Tulliver," said Wakem, abruptly, in a haughtier tone than usual, "what a fool's trick you did,–spreading those hard lumps on that Far Close! I told you how it would be; but you men never learn to farm with any method."
"Oh!" said Tulliver, suddenly boiling up; "get somebody else to farm for you, then, as'll ask you to teach him."
"You have been drinking, I suppose," said Wakem, really believing that this was the meaning of Tulliver's flushed face and sparkling eyes.
"No, I've not been drinking," said Tulliver; "I want no drinking to help me make up my mind as I'll serve no longer under a scoundrel."
"Very well! you may leave my premises to-morrow, then; hold your insolent tongue and let me pass." (Tulliver was backing his horse across the road to hem Wakem in.)
"No, I sha'n't let you pass," said Tulliver, getting fiercer. "I shall tell you what I think of you first. You're too big a raskill to get hanged–you're––"
"Let me pass, you ignorant brute, or I'll ride over you."
Mr. Tulliver, spurring his horse and raising his whip, made a rush forward; and Wakem's horse, rearing and staggering backward, threw his rider from the saddle and sent him sideways on the ground. Wakem had had the presence of mind to loose the bridle at once, and as the horse only staggered a few paces and then stood still, he might have risen and remounted without more inconvenience than a bruise and a shake. But before he could rise, Tulliver was off his horse too. The sight of the long-hated predominant man down, and in his power, threw him into a frenzy of triumphant vengeance, which seemed to give him preternatural agility and strength. He rushed on Wakem, who was in the act of trying to recover his feet, grasped him by the left arm so as to press Wakem's whole weight on the right arm, which rested on the ground, and flogged him fiercely across the back with his riding-whip. Wakem shouted for help, but no help came, until a woman's scream was heard, and the cry of "Father, father!"
Suddenly, Wakem felt, something had arrested Mr. Tulliver's arm; for the flogging ceased, and the grasp on his own arm was relaxed.
"Get away with you–go!" said Tulliver, angrily. But it was not to Wakem that he spoke. Slowly the lawyer rose, and, as he turned his head, saw that Tulliver's arms were being held by a girl, rather by the fear of hurting the girl that clung to him with all her young might.
"Oh, Luke–mother–come and help Mr. Wakem!" Maggie cried, as she heard the longed-for footsteps.
"Help me on to that low horse," said Wakem to Luke, "then I shall perhaps manage; though–confound it–I think this arm is sprained."
With some difficulty, Wakem was heaved on to Tulliver's horse. Then he turned toward the miller and said, with white rage, "You'll suffer for this, sir. Your daughter is a witness that you've assaulted me."
"I don't care," said Mr. Tulliver, in a thick, fierce voice; "go and show your back, and tell 'em I thrashed you. Tell 'em I've made things a bit more even i' the world."
"Ride my horse home with me," said Wakem to Luke. "By the Tofton Ferry, not through the town."
"Father, come in!" said Maggie, imploringly. Then, seeing that Wakem had ridden off, and that no further violence was possible, she slackened her hold and burst into hysteric sobs, while poor Mrs. Tulliver stood by in silence, quivering with fear. But Maggie became conscious that as she was slackening her hold her father was beginning to grasp her and lean on her. The surprise checked her sobs.
"I feel ill–faintish," he said. "Help me in, Bessy–I'm giddy–I've a pain i' the head."
He walked in slowly, propped by his wife and daughter and tottered into his arm-chair. The almost purple flush had given way to paleness, and his hand was cold.
"Hadn't we better send for the doctor?" said Mrs. Tulliver.
He seemed to be too faint and suffering to hear her; but presently, when she said to Maggie, "Go and seek for somebody to fetch the doctor," he looked up at her with full comprehension, and said, "Doctor? No–no doctor. It's my head, that's all. Help me to bed."
Sad ending to the day that had risen on them all like a beginning of better times! But mingled seed must bear a mingled crop.
In half an hour after his father had lain down Tom came home. Bob Jakin was with him, come to congratulate "the old master," not without some excusable pride that he had had his share in bringing about Mr. Tom's good luck; and Tom had thought his father would like nothing better, as a finish to the day, than a talk with Bob. But now Tom could only spend the evening in gloomy expectation of the unpleasant consequences that must follow on this mad outbreak of his father's long-smothered hate. After the painful news had been told, he sat in silence; he had not spirit or inclination to tell his mother and sister anything about the dinner; they hardly cared to ask it. Apparently the mingled thread in the web of their life was so curiously twisted together that there could be no joy without a sorrow coming close upon it. Tom was dejected by the thought that his exemplary effort must always be baffled by the wrong-doing of others; Maggie was living through, over and over again, the agony of the moment in which she had rushed to throw herself on her father's arm, with a vague, shuddering foreboding of wretched scenes to come. Not one of the three felt any particular alarm about Mr. Tulliver's health; the symptoms did not recall his former dangerous attack, and it seemed only a necessary consequence that his violent passion and effort of strength, after many hours of unusual excitement, should have made him feel ill. Rest would probably cure him.
Tom, tired out by his active day, fell asleep soon, and slept soundly; it seemed to him as if he had only just come to bed, when he waked to see his mother standing by him in the gray light of early morning.
"My boy, you must get up this minute; I've sent for the doctor, and your father wants you and Maggie to come to him."
"Is he worse, mother?"
"He's been very ill all night with his head, but he doesn't say it's worse; he only said suddenly, 'Bessy, fetch the boy and girl. Tell 'em to make haste.'"
Maggie and Tom threw on their clothes hastily in the chill gray light, and reached their father's room almost at the same moment. He was watching for them with an expression of pain on his brow, but with sharpened, anxious consciousness in his eyes. Mrs. Tulliver stood at the foot of the bed, frightened and trembling, looking worn and aged from disturbed rest. Maggie was at the bedside first, but her father's glance was toward Tom, who came and stood next to her.
"Tom, my lad, it's come upon me as I sha'n't get up again. This world's been too many for me, my lad, but you've done what you could to make things a bit even. Shake hands wi' me again, my lad, before I go away from you."
The father and son clasped hands and looked at each other an instant. Then Tom said, trying to speak firmly,–
"Have you any wish, father–that I can fulfil, when––"
"Ay, my lad–you'll try and get the old mill back."
"And there's your mother–you'll try and make her amends, all you can, for my bad luck–and there's the little wench––"
The father turned his eyes on Maggie with a still more eager look, while she, with a bursting heart, sank on her knees, to be closer to the dear, time-worn face which had been present with her through long years, as the sign of her deepest love and hardest trial.
"You must take care of her, Tom–don't you fret, my wench–there'll come somebody as'll love you and take your part–and you must be good to her, my lad. I was good to my sister. Kiss me, Maggie.–Come, Bessy.–You'll manage to pay for a brick grave, Tom, so as your mother and me can lie together."
He looked away from them all when he had said this, and lay silent for some minutes, while they stood watching him, not daring to move. The morning light was growing clearer for them, and they could see the heaviness gathering in his face, and the dulness in his eyes. But at last he looked toward Tom and said,–
"I had my turn–I beat him. That was nothing but fair. I never wanted anything but what was fair."
"But, father, dear father," said Maggie, an unspeakable anxiety predominating over her grief, "you forgive him–you forgive every one now?"
He did not move his eyes to look at her, but he said,–
"No, my wench. I don't forgive him. What's forgiving to do? I can't love a raskill––"
His voice had become thicker; but he wanted to say more, and moved his lips again and again, struggling in vain to speak. At length the words forced their way.
"Does God forgive raskills?–but if He does, He won't be hard wi' me."
His hands moved uneasily, as if he wanted them to remove some obstruction that weighed upon him. Two or three times there fell from him some broken words,–
"This world's–too many–honest man–puzzling––"
Soon they merged into mere mutterings; the eyes had ceased to discern; and then came the final silence.
But not of death. For an hour or more the chest heaved, the loud, hard breathing continued, getting gradually slower, as the cold dews gathered on the brow.
At last there was total stillness, and poor Tulliver's dimly lighted soul had forever ceased to be vexed with the painful riddle of this world.
Help was come now; Luke and his wife were there, and Mr. Turnbull had arrived, too late for everything but to say, "This is death."
Tom and Maggie went downstairs together into the room where their father's place was empty. Their eyes turned to the same spot, and Maggie spoke,–
"Tom, forgive me–let us always love each other"; and they clung and wept together.