IT was at eleven oclock the next morning that the aunts and uncles came to hold their consultation. The fire was lighted in the large parlor, and poor Mrs. Tulliver, with a confused impression that it was a great occasion, like a funeral, unbagged the bell-rope tassels, and unpinned the curtains, adjusting them in proper folds, looking round and shaking her head sadly at the polished tops and legs of the tables, which sister Pullet herself could not accuse of insufficient brightness.
Mr. Deane was not coming, he was away on business; but Mrs. Deane appeared punctually in that handsome new gig with the head to it, and the livery-servant driving it, which had thrown so clear a light on several traits in her character to some of her female friends in St. Oggs. Mr. Deane had been advancing in the world as rapidly as Mr. Tulliver had been going down in it; and in Mrs. Deanes house the Dodson linen and plate were beginning to hold quite a subordinate position, as a mere supplement to the handsomer articles of the same kind, purchased in recent years,a change which had caused an occasional coolness in the sisterly intercourse between her and Mrs. Glegg, who felt that Susan was getting like the rest, and there would soon be little of the true Dodson spirit surviving except in herself, and, it might be hoped, in those nephews who supported the Dodson name on the family land, far away in the Wolds.
People who live at a distance are naturally less faulty than those immediately under our own eyes; and it seems superfluous, when we consider the remote geographical position of the Ethiopians, and how very little the Greeks had to do with them, to inquire further why Homer calls them blameless.
Mrs. Deane was the first to arrive; and when she had taken her seat in the large parlor, Mrs. Tulliver came down to her with her comely face a little distorted, nearly as it would have been if she had been crying. She was not a woman who could shed abundant tears, except in moments when the prospect of losing her furniture became unusually vivid, but she felt how unfitting it was to be quite calm under present circumstances.
Yes, sister, she said deliberately, this is a changing world, and we dont know to-day what may happen tomorrow. But its right to be prepared for all things, and if troubles sent, to remember as it isnt sent without a cause. Im very sorry for you as a sister, and if the doctor orders jelly for Mr. Tulliver, I hope youll let me know. Ill send it willingly; for it is but right he should have proper attendance while hes ill.
Thank you, Susan, said Mrs. Tulliver, rather faintly, withdrawing her fat hand from her sisters thin one. But theres been no talk o jelly yet. Then after a moments pause she added, Theres a dozen o cut jelly-glasses upstairsI shall never put jelly into em no more.
Mrs. Pullet entered crying, as a compendious mode, at all times, of expressing what were her views of life in general, and what, in brief, were the opinions she held concerning the particular case before her.
Mrs. Glegg had on her fuzziest front, and garments which appeared to have had a recent resurrection from rather a creasy form of burial; a costume selected with the high moral purpose of instilling perfect humility into Bessy and her children.
Dr. Turnbull thought him a deal better this morning, said Mrs. Tulliver; he took more notice, and spoke to me; but hes never known Tom yet,looks at the poor lad as if he was a stranger, though he said something once about Tom and the pony. The doctor says his memorys gone a long way back, and he doesnt know Tom because hes thinking of him when he was little. Eh dear, eh dear!
I doubt its the water got on his brain, said aunt Pullet, turning round from adjusting her cap in a melancholy way at the pier-glass. Its much if he ever gets up again; and if he does, hell most like be childish, as Mr. Carr was, poor man! They fed him with a spoon as if hed been a babby for three year. Hed quite lost the use of his limbs; but then hed got a Bath chair, and somebody to draw him; and thats what you wont have, I doubt, Bessy.
Sister Pullet, said Mrs. Glegg, severely, if I understand right, weve come together this morning to advise and consult about whats to be done in this disgrace as has fallen upon the family, and not to talk o people as dont belong to us. Mr. Carr was none of our blood, nor noways connected with us, as Ive ever heared.
Sister Glegg, said Mrs. Pullet, in a pleading tone, drawing on her gloves again, and stroking the fingers in an agitated manner, if youve got anything disrespectful to say o Mr. Carr, I do beg of you as you wont say it to me. I know what he was, she added, with a sigh; his breath was short to that degree as you could hear him two rooms off.
Sophy! said Mrs. Glegg, with indignant disgust, you do talk o peoples complaints till its quite undecent. But I say again, as I said before, I didnt come away from home to talk about acquaintances, whether theyd short breath or long. If we arent come together for one to hear what the other ull do to save a sister and her children from the parish, I shall go back. One cant act without the other, I suppose; it isnt to be expected as I should do everything.
Well, Jane, said Mrs. Pullet, I dont see as youve been so very forrard at doing. So far as I know, this is the first time as here youve been, since its been known as the bailiffs in the house; and I was here yesterday, and looked at all Bessys linen and things, and I told her Id buy in the spotted tablecloths. I couldnt speak fairer; for as for the teapot as she doesnt want to go out o the family, it stands to sense I cant do with two silver teapots, not if it hadnt a straight spout, but the spotted damask I was allays fond on.
Oh dear, oh dear, said Mrs. Tulliver, to think o my chany being sold i that way, and I bought it when I was married, just as you did yours, Jane and Sophy; and I know you didnt like mine, because o the sprig, but I was fond of it; and theres never been a bit broke, for Ive washed it myself; and theres the tulips on the cups, and the roses, as anybody might go and look at em for pleasure. You wouldnt like your chany to go for an old song and be broke to pieces, though yours has got no color in it, Jane,its all white and fluted, and didnt cost so much as mine. And theres the castors, sister Deane, I cant think but youd like to have the castors, for Ive heard you say theyre pretty.
Best things! exclaimed Mrs. Glegg, with severity, which had gathered intensity from her long silence. It drives me past patience to hear you all talking o best things, and buying in this, that, and the other, such as silver and chany. You must bring your mind to your circumstances, Bessy, and not be thinking o silver and chany; but whether you shall get so much as a flock-bed to lie on, and a blanket to cover you, and a stool to sit on. You must remember, if you get em, itll be because your friends have bought em for you, for youre dependent upon them for everything; for your husband lies there helpless, and hasnt got a penny i the world to call his own. And its for your own good I say this, for its right you should feel what your state is, and what disgrace your husbands brought on your own family, as youve got to look to for everything, and be humble in your mind.
Im sure, sister, Ive never asked anybody to do anything, only buy things as it ud be a pleasure to em to have, so as they mightnt go and be spoiled i strange houses. I never asked anybody to buy the things in for me and my children; though theres the linen I spun, and I thought when Tom was born,I thought one o the first things when he was lying i the cradle, as all the things Id bought wi my own money, and been so careful of, ud go to him. But Ive said nothing as I wanted my sisters to pay their money for me. What my husband has done for his sisters unknown, and we should ha been better off this day if it hadnt been as hes lent money and never asked for it again.
Come, come, said Mr. Glegg, kindly, dont let us make things too dark. Whats done cant be undone. We shall make a shift among us to buy whats sufficient for you; though, as Mrs. G. says, they must be useful, plain things. We mustnt be thinking o whats unnecessary. A table, and a chair or two, and kitchen things, and a good bed, and such-like. Why, Ive seen the day when I shouldnt ha known myself if Id lain on sacking istead o the floor. We get a deal o useless things about us, only because weve got the money to spend.
Mr. Glegg, said Mrs. G., if youll be kind enough to let me speak, istead o taking the words out o my mouth,I was going to say, Bessy, as its fine talking for you to say as youve never asked us to buy anything for you; let me tell you, you ought to have asked us. Pray, how are you to be purvided for, if your own family dont help you? You must go to the parish, if they didnt. And you ought to know that, and keep it in mind, and ask us humble to do what we can for you, istead o saying, and making a boast, as youve never asked us for anything.
You talked o the Mosses, and what Mr. Tullivers done for em, said uncle Pullet, who became unusually suggestive where advances of money were concerned. Havent they been anear you? They ought to do something as well as other folks; and if hes lent em money, they ought to be made to pay it back.
Oh, dear! said Mrs. Tulliver, I never sent em word about Mr. Tulliver, and they live so backard among the lanes at Basset, they niver hear anything only when Mr. Moss comes to market. But I niver gave em a thought. I wonder Maggie didnt, though, for she was allays so fond of her aunt Moss.
Why dont your children come in, Bessy? said Mrs. Pullet, at the mention of Maggie. They should hear what their aunts and uncles have got to say; and Maggie,when its me as have paid for half her schooling, she ought to think more of her aunt Pullet than of aunt Moss. I may go off sudden when I get home to-day; theres no telling.
If Id had my way, said Mrs. Glegg, the children ud ha been in the room from the first. Its time they knew who theyve to look to, and its right as somebody should talk to em, and let em know their condition i life, and what theyre come down to, and make em feel as theyve got to suffer for their fathers faults.
She went upstairs to fetch Tom and Maggie, who were both in their fathers room, and was on her way down again, when the sight of the storeroom door suggested a new thought to her. She went toward it, and left the children to go down by themselves.
The aunts and uncles appeared to have been in warm discussion when the brother and sister entered,both with shrinking reluctance; for though Tom, with a practical sagacity which had been roused into activity by the strong stimulus of the new emotions he had undergone since yesterday, had been turning over in his mind a plan which he meant to propose to one of his aunts or uncles, he felt by no means amicably toward them, and dreaded meeting them all at once as he would have dreaded a large dose of concentrated physic, which was but just endurable in small draughts. As for Maggie, she was peculiarly depressed this morning; she had been called up, after brief rest, at three oclock, and had that strange dreamy weariness which comes from watching in a sick-room through the chill hours of early twilight and breaking day,in which the outside day-light life seems to have no importance, and to be a mere margin to the hours in the darkened chamber. Their entrance interrupted the conversation. The shaking of hands was a melancholy and silent ceremony, till uncle Pullet observed, as Tom approached him:
Ay, ay, said uncle Glegg, with admonition which he meant to be kind, we must look to see the good of all this schooling, as your fathers sunk so much money in, now,
When land is gone and moneys spent,
Then learning is most excellent.
Nows the time, Tom, to let us see the good o your learning. Let us see whether you can do better than I can, as have made my fortin without it. But I began wi doing with little, you see; I could live on a basin o porridge and a crust o bread-and-cheese. But I doubt high living and high learning ull make it harder for you, young man, nor it was for me.
But he must do it, interposed aunt Glegg, energetically, whether its hard or no. He hasnt got to consider whats hard; he must consider as he isnt to trusten to his friends to keep him in idleness and luxury; hes got to bear the fruits of his fathers misconduct, and bring his mind to fare hard and to work hard. And he must be humble and grateful to his aunts and uncles for what theyre doing for his mother and father, as must be turned out into the streets and go to the workhouse if they didnt help em. And his sister, too, continued Mrs. Glegg, looking severely at Maggie, who had sat down on the sofa by her aunt Deane, drawn to her by the sense that she was Lucys mother, she must make up her mind to be humble and work; for therell be no servants to wait on her any more,she must remember that. She must do the work o the house, and she must respect and love her aunts as have done so much for her, and saved their money to leave to their nepheys and nieces.
Tom was still standing before the table in the centre of the group. There was a heightened color in his face, and he was very far from looking humbled, but he was preparing to say, in a respectful tone, something he had previously meditated, when the door opened and his mother re-entered.
See here, sister, she said, looking at Mrs. Deane, as she set the tray on the table, I thought, perhaps, if you looked at the teapot again,its a good while since you saw it,you might like the pattern better; it makes beautiful tea, and theres a stand and everything; you might use it for every day, or else lay it by for Lucy when she goes to housekeeping. I should be so loath for em to buy it at the Golden Lion, said the poor woman, her heart swelling, and the tears coming,my teapot as I bought when I was married, and to think of its being scratched, and set before the travellers and folks, and my letters on it,see here, E. D.,and everybody to see em.
Ah, dear, dear! said aunt Pullet, shaking her head with deep sadness, its very bad,to think o the family initials going about everywhereit niver was so before; youre a very unlucky sister, Bessy. But whats the use o buying the teapot, when theres the linen and spoons and everything to go, and some of em with your full name,and when its got that straight spout, too.
As to disgrace o the family, said Mrs. Glegg, that cant be helped wi buying teapots. The disgrace is, for one o the family to ha married a man as has brought her to beggary. The disgrace is, as theyre to be sold up. We cant hinder the country from knowing that.
Maggie had started up from the sofa at the allusion to her father, but Tom saw her action and flushed face in time to prevent her from speaking. Be quiet, Maggie, he said authoritatively, pushing her aside. It was a remarkable manifestation of self-command and practical judgment in a lad of fifteen, that when his aunt Glegg ceased, he began to speak in a quiet and respectful manner, though with a good deal of trembling in his voice; for his mothers words had cut him to the quick.
Then, aunt, he said, looking straight at Mrs. Glegg, if you think its a disgrace to the family that we should be sold up, wouldnt it be better to prevent it altogether? And if you and aunt Pullet, he continued, looking at the latter, think of leaving any money to me and Maggie, wouldnt it be better to give it now, and pay the debt were going to be sold up for, and save my mother from parting with her furniture?
Ay, ay, young man, come now! You show some notion o things. But theres the interest, you must remember; your aunts get five per cent on their money, and theyd lose that if they advanced it; you havent thought o that.
Well done! said uncle Glegg, admiringly. He had been drawing Tom out, rather than reflecting on the practicability of his proposal. But he had produced the unfortunate result of irritating his wife.
Yes, Mr. Glegg! said that lady, with angry sarcasm. Its pleasant work for you to be giving my money away, as youve pretended to leave at my own disposal. And my money, as was my own fathers gift, and not yours, Mr. Glegg; and Ive saved it, and added to it myself, and had more to put out almost every year, and its to go and be sunk in other folks furniture, and encourage em in luxury and extravagance as theyve no means of supporting; and Im to alter my will, or have a codicil made, and leave two or three hundred less behind me when I die,me as have allays done right and been careful, and the eldest o the family; and my moneys to go and be squandered on them as have had the same chance as me, only theyve been wicked and wasteful. Sister Pullet, you may do as you like, and you may let your husband rob you back again o the money hes given you, but that isnt my sperrit.
La, Jane, how fiery you are! said Mrs. Pullet. Im sure youll have the blood in your head, and have to be cupped. Im sorry for Bessy and her children,Im sure I think of em o nights dreadful, for I sleep very bad wi this new medicine,but its no use for me to think o doing anything, if you wont meet me half-way.
Why, theres this to be considered, said Mr. Glegg. Its no use to pay off this debt and save the furniture, when theres all the law debts behind, as ud take every shilling, and more than could be made out o land and stock, for Ive made that out from Lawyer Gore. Wed need save our money to keep the poor man with, instead o spending it on furniture as he can neither eat nor drink. You will be so hasty, Jane, as if I didnt know what was reasonable.
Toms countenance had fallen during this conversation, and his lip quivered; but he was determined not to give way. He would behave like a man. Maggie, on the contrary, after her momentary delight in Toms speech, had relapsed into her state of trembling indignation. Her mother had been standing close by Toms side, and had been clinging to his arm ever since he had last spoken; Maggie suddenly started up and stood in front of them, her eyes flashing like the eyes of a young lioness.
Why do you come, then, she burst out, talking and interfering with us and scolding us, if you dont mean to do anything to help my poor motheryour own sister,if youve no feeling for her when shes in trouble, and wont part with anything, though you would never miss it, to save her from pain? Keep away from us then, and dont come to find fault with my father,he was better than any of you; he was kind,he would have helped you, if you had been in trouble. Tom and I dont ever want to have any of your money, if you wont help my mother. Wed rather not have it! Well do without you.
Mrs. Tulliver was frightened; there was something portentous in this mad outbreak; she did not see how life could go on after it. Tom was vexed; it was no use to talk so. The aunts were silent with surprise for some moments. At length, in a case of aberration such as this, comment presented itself as more expedient than any answer.
You havent seen the end o your trouble wi that child, Bessy, said Mrs. Pullet; shes beyond everything for boldness and unthankfulness. Its dreadful. I might ha let alone paying for her schooling, for shes worse nor ever.
Its no more than what Ive allays said, followed Mrs. Glegg. Other folks may be surprised, but Im not. Ive said over and over again,years ago Ive said,Mark my words; that child ull come to no good; there isnt a bit of our family in her. And as for her having so much schooling, I never thought well o that. Id my reasons when I said I wouldnt pay anything toward it.
Mrs. Moss was in too much agitation to resist Mrs. Tullivers movement, as she drew her into the parlor automatically, without reflecting that it was hardly kind to take her among so many persons in the first painful moment of arrival. The tall, worn, dark-haired woman was a strong contrast to the Dodson sisters as she entered in her shabby dress, with her shawl and bonnet looking as if they had been hastily huddled on, and with that entire absence of self-consciousness which belongs to keenly felt trouble. Maggie was clinging to her arm; and Mrs. Moss seemed to notice no one else except Tom, whom she went straight up to and took by the hand.
Oh, my sweet child, I feel torn i two, said Mrs. Moss, allowing Maggie to lead her to the sofa, but still not seeming to notice the presence of the rest. Weve three hundred pounds o my brothers money, and now he wants it, and you all want it, poor things!and yet we must be sold up to pay it, and theres my poor children,eight of em, and the little un of all cant speak plain. And I feel as if I was a robber. But Im sure Id no thought as my brother
Three hundred pounds! oh dear, dear, said Mrs. Tulliver, who, when she had said that her husband had done unknown things for his sister, had not had any particular sum in her mind, and felt a wifes irritation at having been kept in the dark.
Yes, there was security; my husband gave a note for it. Were not that sort o people, neither of us, as ud rob my brothers children; and we looked to paying back the money, when the times got a bit better.
Well, but now, said Mr. Glegg, gently, hasnt your husband no way o raising this money? Because it ud be a little fortin, like, for these folks, if we can do without Tullivers being made a bankrupt. Your husbands got stock; it is but right he should raise the money, as it seems to me,not but what Im sorry for you, Mrs. Moss.
Oh, sir, you dont know what bad luck my husbands had with his stock. The farms suffering so as never was for want o stock; and weve sold all the wheat, and were behind with our rent,not but what wed like to do whats right, and Id sit up and work half the night, if it ud be any good; but theres them poor children,four of em such little uns
No; at twice, said Mrs. Moss, rubbing her eyes and making an effort to restrain her tears. The last was after my bad illness four years ago, as everything went wrong, and there was a new note made then. What with illness and bad luck, Ive been nothing but cumber all my life.
I set off in the cart as soon as ever I heard o what had happened, said Mrs. Moss, looking at Mrs. Tulliver. I should never ha stayed away all this while, if youd thought well to let me know. And it isnt as Im thinking all about ourselves, and nothing about my brother, only the money was so on my mind, I couldnt help speaking about it. And my husband and me desire to do the right thing, sir, she added, looking at Mr. Glegg, and well make shift and pay the money, come what will, if thats all my brothers got to trust to. Weve been used to trouble, and dont look for much else. Its only the thought o my poor children pulls me i two.
Why, theres this to be thought on, Mrs. Moss, said Mr. Glegg, and its right to warn you,if Tullivers made a bankrupt, and hes got a note-of-hand of your husbands for three hundred pounds, youll be obliged to pay it; th assignees ull come on you for it.
Oh dear, oh dear! said Mrs. Tulliver, thinking of the bankruptcy, and not of Mrs. Mosss concern in it. Poor Mrs. Moss herself listened in trembling submission, while Maggie looked with bewildered distress at Tom to see if he showed any signs of understanding this trouble, and caring about poor aunt Moss. Tom was only looking thoughtful, with his eyes on the tablecloth.
And if he isnt made bankrupt, continued Mr. Glegg, as I said before, three hundred pounds ud be a little fortin for him, poor man. We dont know but what he may be partly helpless, if he ever gets up again. Im very sorry if it goes hard with you, Mrs. Moss, but my opinion is, looking at it one way, itll be right for you to raise the money; and looking at it th other way, youll be obliged to pay it. You wont think ill o me for speaking the truth.
Uncle, said Tom, looking up suddenly from his meditative view of the tablecloth, I dont think it would be right for my aunt Moss to pay the money if it would be against my fathers will for her to pay it; would it?
Mr. Glegg looked surprised for a moment or two before he said: Why, no, perhaps not, Tom; but then hed ha destroyed the note, you know. We must look for the note. What makes you think it ud be against his will?
Why, said Tom, coloring, but trying to speak firmly, in spite of a boyish tremor, I remember quite well, before I went to school to Mr. Stelling, my father said to me one night, when we were sitting by the fire together, and no one else was in the room
He said something to me about Maggie, and then he said: Ive always been good to my sister, though she married against my will, and Ive lent Moss money; but I shall never think of distressing him to pay it; Id rather lose it. My children must not mind being the poorer for that. And now my fathers ill, and not able to speak for himself, I shouldnt like anything to be done contrary to what he said to me.
Well, but then, my boy, said Uncle Glegg, whose good feeling led him to enter into Toms wish, but who could not at once shake off his habitual abhorrence of such recklessness as destroying securities, or alienating anything important enough to make an appreciable difference in a mans property, we should have to make away wi the note, you know, if were to guard against what may happen, supposing your fathers made bankrupt
Thats such a thing as I never heared of before, said uncle Pullet, who had been making haste with his lozenge in order to express his amazement,making away with a note! I should think anybody could set the constable on you for it.
Well, but, said Mrs. Tulliver, if the notes worth all that money, why cant we pay it away, and save my things from going away? Weve no call to meddle with your uncle and aunt Moss, Tom, if you think your father ud be angry when he gets well.
Then I hope youll help me do it, uncle, said Tom, earnestly. If my father shouldnt get well, I should be very unhappy to think anything had been done against his will that I could hinder. And Im sure he meant me to remember what he said that evening. I ought to obey my fathers wish about his property.
Even Mrs. Glegg could not withhold her approval from Toms words; she felt that the Dodson blood was certainly speaking in him, though, if his father had been a Dodson, there would never have been this wicked alienation of money. Maggie would hardly have restrained herself from leaping on Toms neck, if her aunt Moss had not prevented her by herself rising and taking Toms hand, while she said, with rather a choked voice:
Youll never be the poorer for this, my dear boy, if theres a God above; and if the moneys wanted for your father, Moss and me ull pay it, the same as if there was ever such security. Well do as wed be done by; for if my children have got no other luck, theyve got an honest father and mother.
Well, said Mr. Glegg, who had been meditating after Toms words, we shouldnt be doing any wrong by the creditors, supposing your father was bankrupt. Ive been thinking o that, for Ive been a creditor myself, and seen no end o cheating. If he meant to give your aunt the money before ever he got into this sad work o lawing, its the same as if hed made away with the note himself; for hed made up his mind to be that much poorer. But theres a deal o things to be considered, young man, Mr. Glegg added, looking admonishingly at Tom, when you come to money business, and you may be taking one mans dinner away to make another mans breakfast. You dont understand that, I doubt?
Yes, I do, said Tom, decidedly. I know if I owe money to one man, Ive no right to give it to another. But if my father had made up his mind to give my aunt the money before he was in debt, he had a right to do it.