IT was a clear frosty January day on which Mr. Tulliver first came downstairs. The bright sun on the chestnut boughs and the roofs opposite his window had made him impatiently declare that he would be caged up no longer; he thought everywhere would be more cheery under this sunshine than his bedroom; for he knew nothing of the bareness below, which made the flood of sunshine importunate, as if it had an unfeeling pleasure in showing the empty places, and the marks where well-known objects once had been. The impression on his mind that it was but yesterday when he received the letter from Mr. Gore was so continually implied in his talk, and the attempts to convey to him the idea that many weeks had passed and much had happened since then had been so soon swept away by recurrent forgetfulness, that even Mr. Turnbull had begun to despair of preparing him to meet the facts by previous knowledge. The full sense of the present could only be imparted gradually by new experience,not by mere words, which must remain weaker than the impressions left by the old experience. This resolution to come downstairs was heard with trembling by the wife and children. Mrs. Tulliver said Tom must not go to St. Oggs at the usual hour, he must wait and see his father downstairs; and Tom complied, though with an intense inward shrinking from the painful scene. The hearts of all three had been more deeply dejected than ever during the last few days. For Guest &Co. had not bought the mill; both mill and land had been knocked down to Wakem, who had been over the premises, and had laid before Mr. Deane and Mr. Glegg, in Mrs. Tullivers presence, his willingness to employ Mr. Tulliver, in case of his recovery, as a manager of the business. This proposition had occasioned much family debating. Uncles and aunts were almost unanimously of opinion that such an offer ought not to be rejected when there was nothing in the way but a feeling in Mr. Tullivers mind, which, as neither aunts nor uncles shared it, was regarded as entirely unreasonable and childish,indeed, as a transferring toward Wakem of that indignation and hatred which Mr. Tulliver ought properly to have directed against himself for his general quarrelsomeness, and his special exhibition of it in going to law. Here was an opportunity for Mr. Tulliver to provide for his wife and daughter without any assistance from his wifes relations, and without that too evident descent into pauperism which makes it annoying to respectable people to meet the degraded member of the family by the wayside. Mr. Tulliver, Mrs. Glegg considered, must be made to feel, when he came to his right mind, that he could never humble himself enough; for that had come which she had always foreseen would come of his insolence in time past to them as were the best friends hed got to look to. Mr Glegg and Mr. Deane were less stern in their views, but they both of them thought Tulliver had done enough harm by his hot-tempered crotchets and ought to put them out of the question when a livelihood was offered him; Wakem showed a right feeling about the matter,he had no grudge against Tulliver.
Tom had protested against entertaining the proposition. He shouldnt like his father to be under Wakem; he thought it would look mean-spirited; but his mothers main distress was the utter impossibility of ever turning Mr. Tulliver round about Wakem, or getting him to hear reason; no, they would all have to go and live in a pigsty on purpose to spite Wakem, who spoke so as nobody could be fairer. Indeed, Mrs. Tullivers mind was reduced to such confusion by living in this strange medium of unaccountable sorrow, against which she continually appealed by asking, Oh dear, what have I done to deserve worse than other women? that Maggie began to suspect her poor mothers wits were quite going.
Tom, she said, when they were out of their fathers room together, we must try to make father understand a little of what has happened before he goes downstairs. But we must get my mother away. She will say something that will do harm. Ask Kezia to fetch her down, and keep her engaged with something in the kitchen.
Kezia was equal to the task. Having declared her intention of staying till the master could get about again, wage or no wage, she had found a certain recompense in keeping a strong hand over her mistress, scolding her for moithering herself, and going about all day without changing her cap, and looking as if she was mushed. Altogether, this time of trouble was rather a Saturnalian time to Kezia; she could scold her betters with unreproved freedom. On this particular occasion there were drying clothes to be fetched in; she wished to know if one pair of hands could do everything in-doors and out, and observed that she should have thought it would be good for Mrs. Tulliver to put on her bonnet, and get a breath of fresh air by doing that needful piece of work. Poor Mrs. Tulliver went submissively downstairs; to be ordered about by a servant was the last remnant of her household dignities,she would soon have no servant to scold her. Mr. Tulliver was resting in his chair a little after the fatigue of dressing, and Maggie and Tom were seated near him, when Luke entered to ask if he should help master downstairs.
Ay, ay, Luke; stop a bit, sit down, said Mr. Tulliver pointing his stick toward a chair, and looking at him with that pursuant gaze which convalescent persons often have for those who have tended them, reminding one of an infant gazing about after its nurse. For Luke had been a constant night-watcher by his masters bed.
Mr. Tulliver leaned forward, resting his elbows on the armchair, and looking on the ground as if in search of something, striving after vanishing images like a man struggling against a doze. Maggie looked at Tom in mute distress, their fathers mind was so far off the present, which would by-and-by thrust itself on his wandering consciousness! Tom was almost ready to rush away, with that impatience of painful emotion which makes one of the differences between youth and maiden, man and woman.
Yes, he died of apoplexy nearly a year ago. I remember hearing you say you had to pay money for him; and he left his daughters badly off; one of them is under-teacher at Miss Firnisss, where Ive been to school, you know.
Ah? said her father, doubtfully, still looking in her face. But as soon as Tom began to speak he turned to look at him with the same inquiring glances, as if he were rather surprised at the presence of these two young people. Whenever his mind was wandering in the far past, he fell into this oblivion of their actual faces; they were not those of the lad and the little wench who belonged to that past.
Its a long while since you had the dispute with Dix, father, said Tom. I remember your talking about it three years ago, before I went to school at Mr. Stellings. Ive been at school there three years; dont you remember?
Ay, ay, he said, after a minute or two, Ive paid a deal o moneyI was determined my son should have a good eddication; Id none myself, and Ive felt the miss of it. And hell want no other fortin, thats what I sayif Wakem was to get the better of me again
The thought of Wakem roused new vibrations, and after a moments pause he began to look at the coat he had on, and to feel in his side-pocket. Then he turned to Tom, and said in his old sharp way, Where have they put Gores letter?
To be sure I do, said Mr. Tulliver, rather angrily. What o that? If Furley cant take to the property, somebody else can; theres plenty o people in the world besides Furley. But its hinderingmy not being wellgo and tell em to get the horse in the gig, Luke; I can get down to St. Oggs well enoughGores expecting me.
Mr. Tulliver looked at them all three alternately with a startled gaze; the idea that much had happened of which he knew nothing had often transiently arrested him before, but it came upon him now with entire novelty.
Yes, father, said Tom, in answer to the gaze. You neednt trouble your mind about business until you are quite well; everything is settled about that for the present,about the mill and the land and the debts.
Good Luke felt, after the manner of contented hard-working men whose lives have been spent in servitude, that sense of natural fitness in rank which made his masters downfall a tragedy to him. He was urged, in his slow way, to say something that would express his share in the family sorrow; and these words, which he had used over and over again to Tom when he wanted to decline the full payment of his fifty pounds out of the childrens money, were the most ready to his tongue. They were just the words to lay the most painful hold on his masters bewildered mind.
Oh, father, dear father! said Maggie, who thought that terrible word really represented the fact; bear it well, because we love you; your children will always love you. Tom will pay them all; he says he will, when hes a man.
Ah, my lad, said Mr. Tulliver, shaking his head slowly, but whats broke can never be whole again; it ud be your doing, not mine. Then looking up at him, Youre only sixteen; its an up-hill fight for you, but you mustnt throw it at your father; the raskills have been too many for him. Ive given you a good eddication,thatll start you.
Something in his throat half choked the last words; the flush, which had alarmed his children because it had so often preceded a recurrence of paralysis, had subsided, and his face looked pale and tremulous. Tom said nothing; he was still struggling against his inclination to rush away. His father remained quiet a minute or two, but his mind did not seem to be wandering again.
Ay, sir, said Luke, as he gave his arm to his master, youll make up your mind tot a bit better when youve seen iverything; youll get used tot. Thats what my mother says about her shortness o breath,she says shes made friends wit now, though she fought again it sore when it just come on.
Maggie ran on before to see that all was right in the dreary parlor, where the fire, dulled by the frosty sunshine, seemed part of the general shabbiness. She turned her fathers chair, and pushed aside the table to make an easy way for him, and then stood with a beating heart to see him enter and look round for the first time. Tom advanced before him, carrying the leg-rest, and stood beside Maggie on the hearth. Of those two young hearts Toms suffered the most unmixed pain, for Maggie, with all her keen susceptibility, yet felt as if the sorrow made larger room for her love to flow in, and gave breathing-space to her passionate nature. No true boy feels that; he would rather go and slay the Nemean lion, or perform any round of heroic labors, than endure perpetual appeals to his pity, for evils over which he can make no conquest.
Mr. Tulliver paused just inside the door, resting on Luke, and looking round him at all the bare places, which for him were filled with the shadows of departed objects,the daily companions of his life. His faculties seemed to be renewing their strength from getting a footing on this demonstration of the senses.
The quarto Bible was laid open before him at the fly-leaf, and while he was reading with slowly travelling eyes Mrs. Tulliver entered the room, but stood in mute surprise to find her husband down already, and with the great Bible before him.
Ah, he said, looking at a spot where his finger rested, my mother was Margaret Beaton; she died when she was forty-seven,hers wasnt a long-lived family; were our mothers children, Gritty and me are,we shall go to our last bed before long.
Poor Bessy, he said, you was a pretty lass then,everybody said so,and I used to think you kept your good looks rarely. But youre sorely aged; dont you bear me ill-willI meant to do well by youwe promised one another for better or for worse
But I never thought it ud be so for worse as this, said poor Mrs. Tulliver, with the strange, scared look that had come over her of late; and my poor father gave me awayand to come on so all at once
No, I know you wont let your poor mother speakthats been the way all my lifeyour father never minded what I saidit ud have been o no use for me to beg and prayand it ud be no use now, not if I was to go down o my hands and knees
Dont say so, Bessy, said Mr. Tulliver, whose pride, in these first moments of humiliation, was in abeyance to the sense of some justice in his wifes reproach. It theres anything left as I could do to make you amends, I wouldnt say you nay.
Then we might stay here and get a living, and I might keep among my own sisters,and me been such a good wife to you, and never crossed you from weeks end to weeks endand they all say sothey say it ud be nothing but right, only youre so turned against Wakem.
Why, now the mill and the lands all Wakems, and hes got everything in his hands, whats the use o setting your face against him, when he says you may stay here, and speaks as fair as can be, and says you may manage the business, and have thirty shillings a-week, and a horse to ride about to market? And where have we got to put our heads? We must go into one o the cottages in the village,and me and my children brought down to that,and all because you must set your mind against folks till theres no turning you.
You may do as you like wi me, Bessy, he said, in a low voice; Ive been the bringing of you to povertythis worlds too many for meIm nought but a bankrupt; its no use standing up for anything now.
Father, said Tom, I dont agree with my mother or my uncles, and I dont think you ought to submit to be under Wakem. I get a pound a-week now, and you can find something else to do when you get well.