WHILE the possible troubles of Maggies future were occupying her fathers mind, she herself was tasting only the bitterness of the present. Childhood has no forebodings; but then, it is soothed by no memories of outlived sorrow.
The fact was, the day had begun ill with Maggie. The pleasure of having Lucy to look at, and the prospect of the afternoon visit to Garum Firs, where she would hear uncle Pullets musical box, had been marred as early as eleven oclock by the advent of the hair-dresser from St. Oggs, who had spoken in the severest terms of the condition in which he had found her hair, holding up one jagged lock after another and saying, See here! tut, tut, tut! in a tone of mingled disgust and pity, which to Maggies imagination was equivalent to the strongest expression of public opinion. Mr. Rappit, the hair-dresser, with his well-anointed coronal locks tending wavily upward, like the simulated pyramid of flame on a monumental urn, seemed to her at that moment the most formidable of her contemporaries, into whose street at St. Oggs she would carefully refrain from entering through the rest of her life.
Moreover, the preparation for a visit being always a serious affair in the Dodson family, Martha was enjoined to have Mrs. Tullivers room ready an hour earlier than usual, that the laying out of the best clothes might not be deferred till the last moment, as was sometimes the case in families of lax views, where the ribbon-strings were never rolled up, where there was little or no wrapping in silver paper, and where the sense that the Sunday clothes could be got at quite easily produced no shock to the mind. Already, at twelve oclock, Mrs. Tulliver had on her visiting costume, with a protective apparatus of brown holland, as if she had been a piece of satin furniture in danger of flies; Maggie was frowning and twisting her shoulders, that she might if possible shrink away from the prickliest of tuckers, while her mother was remonstrating, Dont, Maggie, my dear; dont make yourself so ugly! and Toms cheeks were looking particularly brilliant as a relief to his best blue suit, which he wore with becoming calmness, having, after a little wrangling, effected what was always the one point of interest to him in his toilet: he had transferred all the contents of his every-day pockets to those actually in wear.
As for Lucy, she was just as pretty and neat as she had been yesterday; no accidents ever happened to her clothes, and she was never uncomfortable in them, so that she looked with wondering pity at Maggie, pouting and writhing under the exasperating tucker. Maggie would certainly have torn it off, if she had not been checked by the remembrance of her recent humiliation about her hair; as it was, she confined herself to fretting and twisting, and behaving peevishly about the card-houses which they were allowed to build till dinner, as a suitable amusement for boys and girls in their best clothes. Tom could build perfect pyramids of houses; but Maggies would never bear the laying on the roof. It was always so with the things that Maggie made; and Tom had deduced the conclusion that no girls could ever make anything. But it happened that Lucy proved wonderfully clever at building; she handled the cards so lightly, and moved so gently, that Tom condescended to admire her houses as well as his own, the more readily because she had asked him to teach her. Maggie, too, would have admired Lucys houses, and would have given up her own unsuccessful building to contemplate them, without ill temper, if her tucker had not made her peevish, and if Tom had not inconsiderately laughed when her houses fell, and told her she was a stupid.
Then its very wicked and cruel of you to wish so, said Maggie, starting up hurriedly from her place on the floor, and upsetting Toms wonderful pagoda. She really did not mean it, but the circumstantial evidence was against her, and Tom turned white with anger, but said nothing; he would have struck her, only he knew it was cowardly to strike a girl, and Tom Tulliver was quite determined he would never do anything cowardly.
Tom took no notice of her, but took, instead, two or three hard peas out of his pocket, and shot them with his thumbnail against the window, vaguely at first, but presently with the distinct aim of hitting a superannuated blue-bottle which was exposing its imbecility in the spring sunshine, clearly against the views of Nature, who had provided Tom and the peas for the speedy destruction of this weak individual.
Thus the morning had been made heavy to Maggie, and Toms persistent coldness to her all through their walk spoiled the fresh air and sunshine for her. He called Lucy to look at the half-built birds nest without caring to show it Maggie, and peeled a willow switch for Lucy and himself, without offering one to Maggie. Lucy had said, Maggie, shouldnt you like one? but Tom was deaf.
Still, the sight of the peacock opportunely spreading his tail on the stackyard wall, just as they reached Garum Firs, was enough to divert the mind temporarily from personal grievances. And this was only the beginning of beautiful sights at Garum Firs. All the farmyard life was wonderful there,bantams, speckled and top-knotted; Friesland hens, with their feathers all turned the wrong way; Guinea-fowls that flew and screamed and dropped their pretty spotted feathers; pouter-pigeons and a tame magpie; nay, a goat, and a wonderful brindled dog, half mastiff, half bull-dog, as large as a lion. Then there were white railings and white gates all about, and glittering weathercocks of various design, and garden-walks paved with pebbles in beautiful patterns,nothing was quite common at Garum Firs; and Tom thought that the unusual size of the toads there was simply due to the general unusualness which characterized uncle Pullets possessions as a gentleman farmer. Toads who paid rent were naturally leaner. As for the house, it was not less remarkable; it had a receding centre, and two wings with battlemented turrets, and was covered with glittering white stucco.
Uncle Pullet had seen the expected party approaching from the window, and made haste to unbar and unchain the front door, kept always in this fortified condition from fear of tramps, who might be supposed to know of the glass case of stuffed birds in the hall, and to contemplate rushing in and carrying it away on their heads. Aunt Pullet, too, appeared at the doorway, and as soon as her sister was within hearing said, Stop the children, for Gods sake! Bessy; dont let em come up the door-steps; Sallys bringing the old mat and the duster, to rub their shoes.
Mrs. Pullets front-door mats were by no means intended to wipe shoes on; the very scraper had a deputy to do its dirty work. Tom rebelled particularly against this shoewiping, which he always considered in the light of an indignity to his sex. He felt it as the beginning of the disagreeables incident to a visit at aunt Pullets, where he had once been compelled to sit with towels wrapped round his boots; a fact which may serve to correct the too-hasty conclusion that a visit to Garum Firs must have been a great treat to a young gentleman fond of animals,fond, that is, of throwing stones at them.
The next disagreeable was confined to his feminine companions; it was the mounting of the polished oak stairs, which had very handsome carpets rolled up and laid by in a spare bedroom, so that the ascent of these glossy steps might have served, in barbarous times, as a trial by ordeal from which none but the most spotless virtue could have come off with unbroken limbs. Sophys weakness about these polished stairs was always a subject of bitter remonstrance on Mrs. Gleggs part; but Mrs. Tulliver ventured on no comment, only thinking to herself it was a mercy when she and the children were safe on the landing.
Its apt to make a mess with clothes, taking em out and putting em in again, said Mrs. Pullet, drawing a bunch of keys from her pocket and looking at them earnestly, but it ud be a pity for you to go away without seeing it. Theres no knowing what may happen.
Mrs. Pullet rose with a melancholy air and unlocked one wing of a very bright wardrobe, where you may have hastily supposed she would find a new bonnet. Not at all. Such a supposition could only have arisen from a too-superficial acquaintance with the habits of the Dodson family. In this wardrobe Mrs. Pullet was seeking something small enough to be hidden among layers of linen,it was a door-key.
So they went in procession along the bright and slippery corridor, dimly lighted by the semi-lunar top of the window which rose above the closed shutter; it was really quite solemn. Aunt Pullet paused and unlocked a door which opened on something still more solemn than the passage,a darkened room, in which the outer light, entering feebly, showed what looked like the corpses of furniture in white shrouds. Everything that was not shrouded stood with its legs upward. Lucy laid hold of Maggies frock, and Maggies heart beat rapidly.
Aunt Pullet half-opened the shutter and then unlocked the wardrobe, with a melancholy deliberateness which was quite in keeping with the funereal solemnity of the scene. The delicious scent of rose-leaves that issued from the wardrobe made the process of taking out sheet after sheet of silver paper quite pleasant to assist at, though the sight of the bonnet at last was an anticlimax to Maggie, who would have preferred something more strikingly preternatural. But few things could have been more impressive to Mrs. Tulliver. She looked all round it in silence for some moments, and then said emphatically, Well, sister, Ill never speak against the full crowns again!
Mrs. Pullet took off her cap, displaying the brown silk scalp with a jutting promontory of curls which was common to the more mature and judicious women of those times, and placing the bonnet on her head, turned slowly round, like a drapers lay-figure, that Mrs. Tulliver might miss no point of view.
How much might she charge you for that bonnet, sister? said Mrs. Tulliver, whose mind was actively engaged on the possibility of getting a humble imitation of this chef-duvre made from a piece of silk she had at home.
That would be unlucky, said Mrs. Tulliver, entering thoroughly into the possibility of an inopportune decease. Theres never so much pleasure i wearing a bonnet the second year, especially when the crowns are so chancy,never two summers alike.
Ah, its the way i this world, said Mrs. Pullet, returning the bonnet to the wardrobe and locking it up. She maintained a silence characterized by head-shaking, until they had all issued from the solemn chamber and were in her own room again. Then, beginning to cry, she said, Sister, if you should never see that bonnet again till Im dead and gone, youll remember I showed it you this day.
Mrs. Tulliver felt that she ought to be affected, but she was a woman of sparse tears, stout and healthy; she couldnt cry so much as her sister Pullet did, and had often felt her deficiency at funerals. Her effort to bring tears into her eyes issued in an odd contraction of her face. Maggie, looking on attentively, felt that there was some painful mystery about her aunts bonnet which she was considered too young to understand; indignantly conscious, all the while, that she could have understood that, as well as everything else, if she had been taken into confidence.
When they went down, uncle Pullet observed, with some acumen, that he reckoned the missis had been showing her bonnet,that was what had made them so long upstairs. With Tom the interval had seemed still longer, for he had been seated in irksome constraint on the edge of a sofa directly opposite his uncle Pullet, who regarded him with twinkling gray eyes, and occasionally addressed him as Young sir.
Well, young sir, what do you learn at school? was a standing question with uncle Pullet; whereupon Tom always looked sheepish, rubbed his hands across his face, and answered, I dont know. It was altogether so embarrassing to be seated tête-à-tête with uncle Pullet, that Tom could not even look at the prints on the walls, or the flycages, or the wonderful flower-pots; he saw nothing but his uncles gaiters. Not that Tom was in awe of his uncles mental superiority; indeed, he had made up his mind that he didnt want to be a gentleman farmer, because he shouldnt like to be such a thin-legged, silly fellow as his uncle Pullet,a molly-coddle, in fact. A boys sheepishness is by no means a sign of overmastering reverence; and while you are making encouraging advances to him under the idea that he is overwhelmed by a sense of your age and wisdom, ten to one he is thinking you extremely queer. The only consolation I can suggest to you is, that the Greek boys probably thought the same of Aristotle. It is only when you have mastered a restive horse, or thrashed a drayman, or have got a gun in your hand, that these shy juniors feel you to be a truly admirable and enviable character. At least, I am quite sure of Tom Tullivers sentiments on these points. In very tender years, when he still wore a lace border under his outdoor cap, he was often observed peeping through the bars of a gate and making minatory gestures with his small forefinger while he scolded the sheep with an inarticulate burr, intended to strike terror into their astonished minds; indicating thus early that desire for mastery over the inferior animals, wild and domestic, including cockchafers, neighbors dogs, and small sisters, which in all ages has been an attribute of so much promise for the fortunes of our race. Now, Mr. Pullet never rode anything taller than a low pony, and was the least predatory of men, considering firearms dangerous, as apt to go off of themselves by nobodys particular desire. So that Tom was not without strong reasons when, in confidential talk with a chum, he had described uncle Pullet as a nincompoop, taking care at the same time to observe that he was a very rich fellow.
The only alleviating circumstance in a tête-à-tête with uncle Pullet was that he kept a variety of lozenges and peppermint-drops about his person, and when at a loss for conversation, he filled up the void by proposing a mutual solace of this kind.
The appearance of the little girls suggested to uncle Pullet the further solace of small sweet-cakes, of which he also kept a stock under lock and key for his own private eating on wet days; but the three children had no sooner got the tempting delicacy between their fingers, than aunt Pullet desired them to abstain from eating it till the tray and the plates came, since with those crisp cakes they would make the floor all over crumbs. Lucy didnt mind that much, for the cake was so pretty, she thought it was rather a pity to eat it; but Tom, watching his opportunity while the elders were talking, hastily stowed it in his mouth at two bites, and chewed it furtively. As for Maggie, becoming fascinated, as usual, by a print of Ulysses and Nausicaa, which uncle Pullet had bought as a pretty Scripture thing, she presently let fall her cake, and in an unlucky movement crushed it beneath her foot,a source of so much agitation to aunt Pullet and conscious disgrace to Maggie, that she began to despair of hearing the musical snuff-box to-day, till, after some reflection, it occurred to her that Lucy was in high favor enough to venture on asking for a tune. So she whispered to Lucy; and Lucy, who always did what she was desired to do, went up quietly to her uncles knee, and blush-all over her neck while she fingered her necklace, said, Will you please play us a tune, uncle?
Lucy thought it was by reason of some exceptional talent in uncle Pullet that the snuff-box played such beautiful tunes, and indeed the thing was viewed in that light by the majority of his neighbors in Garum. Mr. Pullet had bought the box, to begin with, and he understood winding it up, and knew which tune it was going to play beforehand; altogether the possession of this unique piece of music was a proof that Mr. Pullets character was not of that entire nullity which might otherwise have been attributed to it. But uncle Pullet, when entreated to exhibit his accomplishment, never depreciated it by a too-ready consent. Well see about it, was the answer he always gave, carefully abstaining from any sign of compliance till a suitable number of minutes had passed. Uncle Pullet had a programme for all great social occasions, and in this way fenced himself in from much painful confusion and perplexing freedom of will.
Perhaps the suspense did heighten Maggies enjoyment when the fairy tune began; for the first time she quite forgot that she had a load on her mind, that Tom was angry with her; and by the time Hush, ye pretty warbling choir, had been played, her face wore that bright look of happiness, while she sat immovable with her hands clasped, which sometimes comforted her mother with the sense that Maggie could look pretty now and then, in spite of her brown skin. But when the magic music ceased, she jumped up, and running toward Tom, put her arm round his neck and said, Oh, Tom, isnt it pretty?
Lest you should think it showed a revolting insensibility in Tom that he felt any new anger toward Maggie for this uncalled-for and, to him, inexplicable caress, I must tell you that he had his glass of cowslip wine in his hand, and that she jerked him so as to make him spill half of it. He must have been an extreme milksop not to say angrily, Look there, now! especially when his resentment was sanctioned, as it was, by general disapprobation of Maggies behavior.
Mrs. Tulliver, foreseeing nothing but misbehavior while the children remained indoors, took an early opportunity of suggesting that, now they were rested after their walk, they might go and play out of doors; and aunt Pullet gave permission, only enjoining them not to go off the paved walks in the garden, and if they wanted to see the poultry fed, to view them from a distance on the horse-block; a restriction which had been imposed ever since Tom had been found guilty of running after the peacock, with an illusory idea that fright would make one of its feathers drop off.
Mrs. Tullivers thoughts had been temporarily diverted from the quarrel with Mrs. Glegg by millinery and maternal cares, but now the great theme of the bonnet was thrown into perspective, and the children were out of the way, yesterdays anxieties recurred.
Ah, said aunt Pullet, theres no accounting for what Jane ull do. I wouldnt speak of it out o the family, if it wasnt to Dr. Turnbull; but its my belief Jane lives too low. Ive said so to Pullet often and often, and he knows it.
Why, you said so last Monday was a week, when we came away from drinking tea with em, said Mr. Pullet, beginning to nurse his knee and shelter it with his pocket-hand-kerchief, as was his way when the conversation took an interesting turn.
Very like I did, said Mrs. Pullet, for you remember when I said things, better than I can remember myself. Hes got a wonderful memory, Pullet has, she continued, looking pathetically at her sister. I should be poorly off if he was to have a stroke, for he always remembers when Ive got to take my doctors stuff; and Im taking three sorts now.
Theres the pills as before every other night, and the new drops at eleven and four, and the fervescing mixture when agreeable, rehearsed Mr. Pullet, with a punctuation determined by a lozenge on his tongue.
Ah, perhaps it ud be better for sister Glegg if shed go to the doctor sometimes, instead o chewing Turkey rhubard whenever theres anything the matter with her, said Mrs. Tulliver, who naturally saw the wide subject of medicine chiefly in relation to Mrs. Glegg.
Its dreadful to think on, said aunt Pullet, raising her hands and letting them fall again, people playing with their own insides in that way! And its flying i the face o Providence; for what are the doctors for, if we arent to call em in? And when folks have got the money to pay for a doctor, it isnt respectable, as Ive told Jane many a time. Im ashamed of acquaintance knowing it.
Pullet keeps all my physic-bottles, did you know, Bessy? said Mrs. Pullet. He wont have one sold. He says its nothing but right folks should see em when Im gone. They fill two o the long store-room shelves aready; but, she added, beginning to cry a little, its well if they ever fill three. I may go before Ive made up the dozen o these last sizes. The pill-boxes are in the closet in my room,youll remember that, sister,but theres nothing to show for the boluses, if it isnt the bills.
Dont talk o your going, sister, said Mrs. Tulliver; I should have nobody to stand between me and sister Glegg if you was gone. And theres nobody but you can get her to make it up with Mr. Tulliver, for sister Deanes never o my side, and if she was, its not to be looked for as she can speak like them as have got an independent fortin.
Well, your husband is awkard, you know, Bessy, said Mrs. Pullet, good-naturedly ready to use her deep depression on her sisters account as well as her own. Hes never behaved quite so pretty to our family as he should do, and the children take after him,the boys very mischievous, and runs away from his aunts and uncles, and the gells rude and brown. Its your bad luck, and Im sorry for you, Bessy; for you was allays my favorite sister, and we allays liked the same patterns.
I know Tullivers hasty, and says odd things, said Mrs. Tulliver, wiping away one small tear from the corner of her eye; but Im sure hes never been the man, since he married me, to object to my making the friends o my side o the family welcome to the house.
I dont want to make the worst of you, Bessy, said Mrs. Pullet, compassionately, for I doubt youll have trouble enough without that; and your husbands got that poor sister and her children hanging on him,and so given to lawing, they say. I doubt hell leave you poorly off when he dies. Not as Id have it said out o the family.
This view of her position was naturally far from cheering to Mrs. Tulliver. Her imagination was not easily acted on, but she could not help thinking that her case was a hard one, since it appeared that other people thought it hard.
Im sure, sister, I cant help myself, she said, urged by the fear lest her anticipated misfortunes might be held retributive, to take comprehensive review of her past conduct. Theres no woman strives more for her children; and Im sure at scouring-time this Lady-day as Ive had all the bedhangings taken down I did as much as the two gells put together; and theres the last elder-flower wine Ive madebeautiful! I allays offer it along with the sherry, though sister Glegg will have it Im so extravagant; and as for liking to have my clothes tidy, and not go a fright about the house, theres nobody in the parish can say anything against me in respect o backbiting and making mischief, for I dont wish anybody any harm; and nobody loses by sending me a porkpie, for my pies are fit to show with the best o my neighbors; and the linens so in order as if I was to die to-morrow I shouldnt be ashamed. A woman can do no more nor she can.
But its all o no use, you know, Bessy, said Mrs. Pullet, holding her head on one side, and fixing her eyes pathetically on her sister, if your husband makes away with his money. Not but what if you was sold up, and other folks bought your furniture, its a comfort to think as youve kept it well rubbed. And theres the linen, with your maiden mark on, might go all over the country. It ud be a sad pity for our family. Mrs. Pullet shook her head slowly.
But what can I do, sister? said Mrs. Tulliver. Mr. Tullivers not a man to be dictated to,not if I was to go to the parson and get by heart what I should tell my husband for the best. And Im sure I dont pretend to know anything about putting out money and all that. I could never see into mens business as sister Glegg does.
Well, youre like me in that, Bessy, said Mrs. Pullet; and I think it ud be a deal more becoming o Jane if shed have that pier-glass rubbed oftener,there was ever so many spots on it last week,instead o dictating to folks as have more comings in than she ever had, and telling em what theyre to do with their money. But Jane and me were allays contrairy; she would have striped things, and I like spots. You like a spot too, Bessy; we allays hung together i that.
Yes, Sophy, said Mrs. Tulliver, I remember our having a blue ground with a white spot both alike,Ive got a bit in a bed-quilt now; and if you would but go and see sister Glegg, and persuade her to make it up with Tulliver, I should take it very kind of you. You was allays a good sister to me.
But the right thing ud be for Tulliver to go and make it up with her himself, and say he was sorry for speaking so rash. If hes borrowed money of her, he shouldnt be above that, said Mrs. Pullet, whose partiality did not blind her to principles; she did not forget what was due to people of independent fortune.
Well, you cant expect me to persuade Jane to beg pardon, said Mrs. Pullet. Her tempers beyond everything; its well if it doesnt carry her off her mind, though there never was any of our family went to a madhouse.
Im not thinking of her begging pardon, said Mrs. Tulliver. But if shed just take no notice, and not call her money in; as its not so much for one sister to ask of another; time ud mend things, and Tulliver ud forget all about it, and theyd be friends again.
Well, Bessy, said Mrs. Pullet, mournfully, I dont want to help you on to ruin. I wont be behindhand i doing you a good turn, if it is to be done. And I dont like it said among acquaintance as weve got quarrels in the family. I shall tell Jane that; and I dont mind driving to Janes tomorrow, if Pullet doesnt mind. What do you say, Mr. Pullet?
Ive no objections, said Mr. Pullet, who was perfectly contented with any course the quarrel might take, so that Mr. Tulliver did not apply to him for money. Mr. Pullet was nervous about his investments, and did not see how a man could have any security for his money unless he turned it into land.
After a little further discussion as to whether it would not be better for Mrs. Tulliver to accompany them on a visit to sister Glegg, Mrs. Pullet, observing that it was tea-time, turned to reach from a drawer a delicate damask napkin, which she pinned before her in the fashion of an apron. The door did, in fact, soon open, but instead of the tea-tray, Sally introduced an object so startling that both Mrs. Pullet and Mrs. Tulliver gave a scream, causing uncle Pullet to swallow his lozengefor the fifth time in his life, as he afterward noted.