Schulers Books Online
books - games - software - wallpaper - everything
- The Mill on the Floss - 40/109 -
hers, and felt no alarm at the unusual seriousness of her greeting.
"Why, how is it you're come so early this cold morning, Maggie? Did you come in the gig?" said Tom, as she backed toward the sofa, and drew him to her side.
"No, I came by the coach. I've walked from the turnpike."
"But how is it you're not at school? The holidays have not begun yet?"
"Father wanted me at home," said Maggie, with a slight trembling of the lip. "I came home three or four days ago."
"Isn't my father well?" said Tom, rather anxiously.
"Not quite," said Maggie. "He's very unhappy, Tom. The lawsuit is ended, and I came to tell you because I thought it would be better for you to know it before you came home, and I didn't like only to send you a letter."
"My father hasn't lost?" said Tom, hastily, springing from the sofa, and standing before Maggie with his hands suddenly thrust into his pockets.
"Yes, dear Tom," said Maggie, looking up at him with trembling.
Tom was silent a minute or two, with his eyes fixed on the floor. Then he said:
"My father will have to pay a good deal of money, then?"
"Yes," said Maggie, rather faintly.
"Well, it can't be helped," said Tom, bravely, not translating the loss of a large sum of money into any tangible results. "But my father's very much vexed, I dare say?" he added, looking at Maggie, and thinking that her agitated face was only part of her girlish way of taking things.
"Yes," said Maggie, again faintly. Then, urged to fuller speech by Tom's freedom from apprehension, she said loudly and rapidly, as if the words _would_ burst from her: "Oh, Tom, he will lose the mill and the land and everything; he will have nothing left."
Tom's eyes flashed out one look of surprise at her, before he turned pale, and trembled visibly. He said nothing, but sat down on the sofa again, looking vaguely out of the opposite window.
Anxiety about the future had never entered Tom's mind. His father had always ridden a good horse, kept a good house, and had the cheerful, confident air of a man who has plenty of property to fall back upon. Tom had never dreamed that his father would "fail"; _that_ was a form of misfortune which he had always heard spoken of as a deep disgrace, and disgrace was an idea that he could not associate with any of his relations, least of all with his father. A proud sense of family respectability was part of the very air Tom had been born and brought up in. He knew there were people in St. Ogg's who made a show without money to support it, and he had always heard such people spoken of by his own friends with contempt and reprobation. He had a strong belief, which was a lifelong habit, and required no definite evidence to rest on, that his father could spend a great deal of money if he chose; and since his education at Mr. Stelling's had given him a more expensive view of life, he had often thought that when he got older he would make a figure in the world, with his horse and dogs and saddle, and other accoutrements of a fine young man, and show himself equal to any of his contemporaries at St. Ogg's, who might consider themselves a grade above him in society because their fathers were professional men, or had large oil-mills. As to the prognostics and headshaking of his aunts and uncles, they had never produced the least effect on him, except to make him think that aunts and uncles were disagreeable society; he had heard them find fault in much the same way as long as he could remember. His father knew better than they did.
The down had come on Tom's lip, yet his thoughts and expectations had been hitherto only the reproduction, in changed forms, of the boyish dreams in which he had lived three years ago. He was awakened now with a violent shock.
Maggie was frightened at Tom's pale, trembling silence. There was something else to tell him,--something worse. She threw her arms round him at last, and said, with a half sob:
"Oh, Tom--dear, dear Tom, don't fret too much; try and bear it well."
Tom turned his cheek passively to meet her entreating kisses, and there gathered a moisture in his eyes, which he just rubbed away with his hand. The action seemed to rouse him, for he shook himself and said: "I shall go home, with you, Maggie. Didn't my father say I was to go?"
"No, Tom, father didn't wish it," said Maggie, her anxiety about _his_ feeling helping her to master her agitation. What _would_ he do when she told him all? "But mother wants you to come,--poor mother!--she cries so. Oh, Tom, it's very dreadful at home."
Maggie's lips grew whiter, and she began to tremble almost as Tom had done. The two poor things clung closer to each other, both trembling,--the one at an unshapen fear, the other at the image of a terrible certainty. When Maggie spoke, it was hardly above a whisper.
Maggie could not utter it. But the suspense was intolerable to Tom. A vague idea of going to prison, as a consequence of debt, was the shape his fears had begun to take.
"Where's my father?" he said impatiently. "_Tell_ me, Maggie."
"He's at home," said Maggie, finding it easier to reply to that question. "But," she added, after a pause, "not himself--he fell off his horse. He has known nobody but me ever since--he seems to have lost his senses. O father, father----"
With these last words, Maggie's sobs burst forth with the more violence for the previous struggle against them. Tom felt that pressure of the heart which forbids tears; he had no distinct vision of their troubles as Maggie had, who had been at home; he only felt the crushing weight of what seemed unmitigated misfortune. He tightened his arm almost convulsively round Maggie as she sobbed, but his face looked rigid and tearless, his eyes blank,--as if a black curtain of cloud had suddenly fallen on his path.
But Maggie soon checked herself abruptly; a single thought had acted on her like a startling sound.
"We must set out, Tom, we must not stay. Father will miss me; we must be at the turnpike at ten to meet the coach." She said this with hasty decision, rubbing her eyes, and rising to seize her bonnet.
Tom at once felt the same impulse, and rose too. "Wait a minute, Maggie," he said. "I must speak to Mr. Stelling, and then we'll go."
He thought he must go to the study where the pupils were; but on his way he met Mr. Stelling, who had heard from his wife that Maggie appeared to be in trouble when she asked for her brother, and now that he thought the brother and sister had been alone long enough, was coming to inquire and offer his sympathy.
"Please, sir, I must go home," Tom said abruptly, as he met Mr. Stelling in the passage. "I must go back with my sister directly. My father's lost his lawsuit--he's lost all his property--and he's very ill."
Mr. Stelling felt like a kind-hearted man; he foresaw a probable money loss for himself, but this had no appreciable share in his feeling, while he looked with grave pity at the brother and sister for whom youth and sorrow had begun together. When he knew how Maggie had come, and how eager she was to get home again, he hurried their departure, only whispering something to Mrs. Stelling, who had followed him, and who immediately left the room.
Tom and Maggie were standing on the door-step, ready to set out, when Mrs. Stelling came with a little basket, which she hung on Maggie's arm, saying: "Do remember to eat something on the way, dear." Maggie's heart went out toward this woman whom she had never liked, and she kissed her silently. It was the first sign within the poor child of that new sense which is the gift of sorrow,--that susceptibility to the bare offices of humanity which raises them into a bond of loving fellowship, as to haggard men among the ice-bergs the mere presence of an ordinary comrade stirs the deep fountains of affection.
Mr. Stelling put his hand on Tom's shoulder and said: "God bless you, my boy; let me know how you get on." Then he pressed Maggie's hand; but there were no audible good-byes. Tom had so often thought how joyful he should be the day he left school "for good"! And now his school years seemed like a holiday that had come to an end.
The two slight youthful figures soon grew indistinct on the distant road,--were soon lost behind the projecting hedgerow.
They had gone forth together into their life of sorrow, and they would never more see the sunshine undimmed by remembered cares. They had entered the thorny wilderness, and the golden gates of their childhood had forever closed behind them.
What Had Happened at Home
When Mr. Tulliver first knew the fact that the law-suit was decided against him, and that Pivart and Wakem were triumphant, every one who happened to observe him at the time thought that, for so confident and hot-tempered a man, he bore the blow remarkably well. He thought so himself; he thought he was going to show that if Wakem or anybody else considered him crushed, they would find themselves mistaken. He could not refuse to see that the costs of this protracted suit would take more than he possessed to pay them; but he appeared to himself to be full of expedients by which he could ward off any results but such as were tolerable, and could avoid the appearance of breaking down in the world. All the obstinacy and defiance of his nature, driven out of
Previous Page Next Page
1 10 20 30 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 50 60 70 80 90 100 109
Schulers Books Online
books - games - software - wallpaper - everything