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    Book 1 - Chapter 6

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    Chapter 6
    Previous Chapter
    The Aunts and Uncles Are Coming

    It was Easter week, and Mrs. Tulliver's cheesecakes were more
    exquisitely light than usual. "A puff o' wind 'ud make 'em blow about
    like feathers," Kezia the housemaid said, feeling proud to live under
    a mistress who could make such pastry; so that no season or
    circumstances could have been more propitious for a family party, even
    if it had not been advisable to consult sister Glegg and sister Pullet
    about Tom's going to school.

    "I'd as lief not invite sister Deane this time," said Mrs. Tulliver,
    "for she's as jealous and having as can be, and's allays trying to
    make the worst o' my poor children to their aunts and uncles."

    "Yes, yes," said Mr. Tulliver, "ask her to come. I never hardly get a
    bit o' talk with Deane now; we haven't had him this six months. What's
    it matter what she says? My children need be beholding to nobody."

    "That's what you allays say, Mr. Tulliver; but I'm sure there's nobody
    o' your side, neither aunt nor uncle, to leave 'em so much as a
    five-pound note for a leggicy. And there's sister Glegg, and sister
    Pullet too, saving money unknown, for they put by all their own
    interest and butter-money too; their husbands buy 'em everything."
    Mrs. Tulliver was a mild woman, but even a sheep will face about a
    little when she has lambs.

    "Tchuh!" said Mr. Tulliver. "It takes a big loaf when there's many to
    breakfast. What signifies your sisters' bits o' money when they've got
    half-a-dozen nevvies and nieces to divide it among? And your sister
    Deane won't get 'em to leave all to one, I reckon, and make the
    country cry shame on 'em when they are dead?"

    "I don't know what she won't get 'em to do," said Mrs. Tulliver, "for
    my children are so awk'ard wi' their aunts and uncles. Maggie's ten
    times naughtier when they come than she is other days, and Tom doesn't
    like 'em, bless him!--though it's more nat'ral in a boy than a gell.
    And there's Lucy Dean's such a good child,--you may set her on a
    stool, and there she'llsit for an hour together, and never offer to
    get off. I can't help loving the child as if she was my own; and I'm
    sure she's more like _my_ child than sister Deane's, for she'd allays
    a very poor color for one of our family, sister Deane had."

    "Well, well, if you're fond o' the child, ask her father and mother to
    bring her with 'em. And won't you ask their aunt and uncle Moss too,
    and some o' _their_ children?"

    "Oh, dear, Mr. Tulliver, why, there'd be eight people besides the
    children, and I must put two more leaves i' the table, besides
    reaching down more o' the dinner-service; and you know as well as I do
    as _my_ sisters and _your_ sister don't suit well together."

    "Well, well, do as you like, Bessy," said Mr. Tulliver, taking up his
    hat and walking out to the mill. Few wives were more submissive than
    Mrs. Tulliver on all points unconnected with her family relations; but
    she had been a Miss Dodson, and the Dodsons were a very respectable
    family indeed,--as much looked up to as any in their own parish, or
    the next to it. The Miss Dodsons had always been thought to hold up
    their heads very high, and no one was surprised the two eldest had
    married so well,--not at an early age, for that was not the practice
    of the Dodson family. There were particular ways of doing everything
    in that family: particular ways of bleaching the linen, of making the
    cowslip wine, curing the hams, and keeping the bottled gooseberries;
    so that no daughter of that house could be indifferent to the
    privilege of having been born a Dodson, rather than a Gibson or a
    Watson. Funerals were always conducted with peculiar propriety in the
    Dodson family: the hat-bands were never of a blue shade, the gloves
    never split at the thumb, everybody was a mourner who ought to be, and
    there were always scarfs for the bearers. When one of the family was
    in trouble or sickness, all the rest went to visit the unfortunate
    member, usually at the same time, and did not shrink from uttering the
    most disagreeable truths that correct family feeling dictated; if the
    illness or trouble was the sufferer's own fault, it was not in the
    practice of the Dodson family to shrink from saying so. In short,
    there was in this family a peculiar tradition as to what was the right
    thing in household management and social demeanor, and the only bitter
    circumstance attending this superiority was a painful inability to
    approve the condiments or the conduct of families ungoverned by the
    Dodson tradition. A female Dodson, when in "strange houses," always
    ate dry bread with her tea, and declined any sort of preserves, having
    no confidence in the butter, and thinking that the preserves had
    probably begun to ferment from want of due sugar and boiling. There
    were some Dodsons less like the family than others, that was admitted;
    but in so far as they were "kin," they were of necessity better than
    those who were "no kin." And it is remarkable that while no individual
    Dodson was satisfied with any other individual Dodson, each was
    satisfied, not only with him or her self, but with the Dodsons
    collectively. The feeblest member of a family--the one who has the
    least character--is often the merest epitome of the family habits and
    traditions; and Mrs. Tulliver was a thorough Dodson, though a mild
    one, as small-beer, so long as it is anything, is only describable as
    very weak ale: and though she had groaned a little in her youth under
    the yoke of her elder sisters, and still shed occasional tears at
    their sisterly reproaches, it was not in Mrs. Tulliver to be an
    innovator on the family ideas. She was thankful to have been a Dodson,
    and to have one child who took after her own family, at least in his
    features and complexion, in liking salt and in eating beans, which a
    Tulliver never did.

    In other respects the true Dodson was partly latent in Tom, and he was
    as far from appreciating his "kin" on the mother's side as Maggie
    herself, generally absconding for the day with a large supply of the
    most portable food, when he received timely warning that his aunts and
    uncles were coming,--a moral symptom from which his aunt Glegg deduced
    the gloomiest views of his future. It was rather hard on Maggie that
    Tom always absconded without letting her into the secret, but the
    weaker sex are acknowledged to be serious _impedimenta_ in cases of

    On Wednesday, the day before the aunts and uncles were coming, there
    were such various and suggestive scents, as of plumcakes in the oven
    and jellies in the hot state, mingled with the aroma of gravy, that it
    was impossible to feel altogether gloomy: there was hope in the air.
    Tom and Maggie made several inroads into the kitchen, and, like other
    marauders, were induced to keep aloof for a time only by being allowed
    to carry away a sufficient load of booty.

    "Tom," said Maggie, as they sat on the boughs of the elder-tree,
    eating their jam-puffs, "shall you run away to-morrow?"

    "No," said Tom, slowly, when he had finished his puff, and was eying
    the third, which was to be divided between them,--"no, I sha'n't."

    "Why, Tom? Because Lucy's coming?"

    "No," said Tom, opening his pocket-knife and holding it over the puff,
    with his head on one side in a dubitative manner. (It was a difficult
    problem to divide that very irregular polygon into two equal parts.)
    "What do _I_ care about Lucy? She's only a girl,--_she_ can't play at

    "Is it the tipsy-cake, then?" said Maggie, exerting her hypothetic
    powers, while she leaned forward toward Tom with her eyes fixed on the
    hovering knife.

    "No, you silly, that'll be good the day after. It's the pudden. I know
    what the pudden's to be,--apricot roll-up--O my buttons!"

    With this interjection, the knife descended on the puff, and it was in
    two, but the result was not satisfactory to Tom, for he still eyed the
    halves doubtfully. At last he said,--

    "Shut your eyes, Maggie."

    "What for?"

    "You never mind what for. Shut 'em when I tell you."

    Maggie obeyed.

    "Now, which'll you have, Maggie,--right hand or left?"

    "I'll have that with the jam run out," said Maggie, keeping her eyes
    shut to please Tom.

    "Why, you don't like that, you silly. You may have it if it comes to
    you fair, but I sha'n't give it you without. Right or left,--you
    choose, now. Ha-a-a!" said Tom, in a tone of exasperation, as Maggie
    peeped. "You keep your eyes shut, now, else you sha'n't have any."

    Maggie's power of sacrifice did not extend so far; indeed, I fear she
    cared less that Tom should enjoy the utmost possible amount of puff,
    than that he should be pleased with her for giving him the best bit.
    So she shut her eyes quite close, till Tom told her to "say which,"
    and then she said, "Left hand."

    "You've got it," said Tom, in rather a bitter tone.

    "What! the bit with the jam run out?"

    "No; here, take it," said Tom, firmly, handing, decidedly the best
    piece to Maggie.

    "Oh, please, Tom, have it; I don't mind--I like the other; please take

    "No, I sha'n't," said Tom, almost crossly, beginning on his own
    inferior piece.

    Maggie, thinking it was no use to contend further, began too, and ate
    up her half puff with considerable relish as well as rapidity. But Tom
    had finished first, and had to look on while Maggie ate her last
    morsel or two, feeling in himself a capacity for more. Maggie didn't
    know Tom was looking at her; she was seesawing on the elder-bough,
    lost to almost everything but a vague sense of jam and idleness.

    "Oh, you greedy thing!" said Tom, when she had swallowed the last
    morsel. He was conscious of having acted very fairly, and thought she
    ought to have considered this, and made up to him for it. He would
    have refused a bit of hers beforehand, but one is naturally at a
    different point of view before and after one's own share of puff is

    Maggie turned quite pale. "Oh, Tom, why didn't you ask me?"

    "I wasn't going to ask you for a bit, you greedy. You might have
    thought of it without, when you knew I gave you the best bit."

    "But I wanted you to have it; you know I did," said Maggie, in an
    injured tone.

    "Yes, but I wasn't going to do what wasn't fair, like Spouncer. He
    always takes the best bit, if you don't punch him for it; and if you
    choose the best with your eyes shut, he changes his hands. But if I go
    halves, I'll go 'em fair; only I wouldn't be a greedy."

    With this cutting innuendo, Tom jumped down from his bough, and threw
    a stone with a "hoigh!" as a friendly attention to Yap, who had also
    been looking on while the eatables vanished, with an agitation of his
    ears and feelings which could hardly have been without bitterness. Yet
    the excellent dog accepted Tom's attention with as much alacrity as if
    he had been treated quite generously.

    But Maggie, gifted with that superior power of misery which
    distinguishes the human being, and places him at a proud distance from
    the most melancholy chimpanzee, sat still on her bough, and gave
    herself up to the keen sense of unmerited reproach. She would have
    given the world not to have eaten all her puff, and to have saved some
    of it for Tom. Not but that the puff was very nice, for Maggie's
    palate was not at all obtuse, but she would have gone without it many
    times over, sooner than Tom should call her greedy and be cross with
    her. And he had said he wouldn't have it, and she ate it without
    thinking; how could she help it? The tears flowed so plentifully that
    Maggie saw nothing around her for the next ten minutes; but by that
    time resentment began to give way to the desire of reconciliation, and
    she jumped from her bough to look for Tom. He was no longer in the
    paddock behind the rickyard; where was he likely to be gone, and Yap
    with him? Maggie ran to the high bank against the great holly-tree,
    where she could see far away toward the Floss. There was Tom; but her
    heart sank again as she saw how far off he was on his way to the great
    river, and that he had another companion besides Yap,--naughty Bob
    Jakin, whose official, if not natural, function of frightening the
    birds was just now at a standstill. Maggie felt sure that Bob was
    wicked, without very distinctly knowing why; unless it was because
    Bob's mother was a dreadfully large fat woman, who lived at a queer
    round house down the river; and once, when Maggie and Tom had wandered
    thither, there rushed out a brindled dog that wouldn't stop barking;
    and when Bob's mother came out after it, and screamed above the
    barking to tell them not to be frightened, Maggie thought she was
    scolding them fiercely, and her heart beat with terror. Maggie thought
    it very likely that the round house had snakes on the floor, and bats
    in the bedroom; for she had seen Bob take off his cap to show Tom a
    little snake that was inside it, and another time he had a handful of
    young bats: altogether, he was an irregular character, perhaps even
    slightly diabolical, judging from his intimacy with snakes and bats;
    and to crown all, when Tom had Bob for a companion, he didn't mind
    about Maggie, and would never let her go with him.

    It must be owned that Tom was fond of Bob's company. How could it be
    otherwise? Bob knew, directly he saw a bird's egg, whether it was a
    swallow's, or a tomtit's, or a yellow-hammer's; he found out all the
    wasps' nests, and could set all sort of traps; he could climb the
    trees like a squirrel, and had quite a magical power of detecting
    hedgehogs and stoats; and he had courage to do things that were rather
    naughty, such as making gaps in the hedgerows, throwing stones after
    the sheep, and killing a cat that was wandering _incognito_.

    Such qualities in an inferior, who could always be treated with
    authority in spite of his superior knowingness, had necessarily a
    fatal fascination for Tom; and every holiday-time Maggie was sure to
    have days of grief because he had gone off with Bob.

    Well! there was no hope for it; he was gone now, and Maggie could
    think of no comfort but to sit down by the hollow, or wander by the
    hedgerow, and fancy it was all different, refashioning her little
    world into just what she should like it to be.

    Maggie's was a troublous life, and this was the form in which she took
    her opium.

    Meanwhile Tom, forgetting all about Maggie and the sting of reproach
    which he had left in her heart, was hurrying along with Bob, whom he
    had met accidentally, to the scene of a great rat-catching in a
    neighboring barn. Bob knew all about this particular affair, and spoke
    of the sport with an enthusiasm which no one who is not either
    divested of all manly feeling, or pitiably ignorant of rat-catching,
    can fail to imagine. For a person suspected of preternatural
    wickedness, Bob was really not so very villanous-looking; there was
    even something agreeable in his snub-nosed face, with its close-curled
    border of red hair. But then his trousers were always rolled up at the
    knee, for the convenience of wading on the slightest notice; and his
    virtue, supposing it to exist, was undeniably "virtue in rags," which,
    on the authority even of bilious philosophers, who think all
    well-dressed merit overpaid, is notoriously likely to remain
    unrecognized (perhaps because it is seen so seldom).

    "I know the chap as owns the ferrets," said Bob, in a hoarse treble
    voice, as he shuffled along, keeping his blue eyes fixed on the river,
    like an amphibious animal who foresaw occasion for darting in. "He
    lives up the Kennel Yard at Sut Ogg's, he does. He's the biggest
    rot-catcher anywhere, he is. I'd sooner, be a rot-catcher nor
    anything, I would. The moles is nothing to the rots. But Lors! you mun
    ha' ferrets. Dogs is no good. Why, there's that dog, now!" Bob
    continued, pointing with an air of disgust toward Yap, "he's no more
    good wi' a rot nor nothin'. I see it myself, I did, at the
    rot-catchin' i' your feyther's barn."

    Yap, feeling the withering influence of this scorn, tucked his tail in
    and shrank close to Tom's leg, who felt a little hurt for him, but had
    not the superhuman courage to seem behindhand with Bob in contempt for
    a dog who made so poor a figure.

    "No, no," he said, "Yap's no good at sport. I'll have regular good
    dogs for rats and everything, when I've done school."

    "Hev ferrets, Measter Tom," said Bob, eagerly,--"them white ferrets
    wi' pink eyes; Lors, you might catch your own rots, an' you might put
    a rot in a cage wi' a ferret, an' see 'em fight, you might. That's
    what I'd do, I know, an' it 'ud be better fun a'most nor seein' two
    chaps fight,--if it wasn't them chaps as sold cakes an' oranges at the
    Fair, as the things flew out o' their baskets, an' some o' the cakes
    was smashed--But they tasted just as good," added Bob, by way of note
    or addendum, after a moment's pause.

    "But, I say, Bob," said Tom, in a tone of deliberation, "ferrets are
    nasty biting things,--they'll bite a fellow without being set on."

    "Lors! why that's the beauty on 'em. If a chap lays hold o' your
    ferret, he won't be long before he hollows out a good un, _he_ won't."

    At this moment a striking incident made the boys pause suddenly in
    their walk. It was the plunging of some small body in the water from
    among the neighboring bulrushes; if it was not a water-rat, Bob
    intimated that he was ready to undergo the most unpleasant

    "Hoigh! Yap,--hoigh! there he is," said Tom, clapping his hands, as
    the little black snout made its arrowy course to the opposite bank.
    "Seize him, lad! seize him!"

    Yap agitated his ears and wrinkled his brows, but declined to plunge,
    trying whether barking would not answer the purpose just as well.

    "Ugh! you coward!" said Tom, and kicked him over, feeling humiliated
    as a sportsman to possess so poor-spirited an animal. Bob abstained
    from remark and passed on, choosing, however, to walk in the shallow
    edge of the overflowing river by way of change.

    "He's none so full now, the Floss isn't," said Bob, as he kicked the
    water up before him, with an agreeable sense of being insolent to it.
    "Why, last 'ear, the meadows was all one sheet o' water, they was."

    "Ay, but," said Tom, whose mind was prone to see an opposition between
    statements that were really accordant,--"but there was a big flood
    once, when the Round Pool was made. _I_ know there was, 'cause father
    says so. And the sheep and cows all drowned, and the boats went all
    over the fields ever such a way."

    "_I_ don't care about a flood comin'," said Bob; "I don't mind the
    water, no more nor the land. I'd swim, _I_ would."

    "Ah, but if you got nothing to eat for ever so long?" said Tom, his
    imagination becoming quite active under the stimulus of that dread.
    "When I'm a man, I shall make a boat with a wooden house on the top of
    it, like Noah's ark, and keep plenty to eat in it,--rabbits and
    things,--all ready. And then if the flood came, you know, Bob, I
    shouldn't mind. And I'd take you in, if I saw you swimming," he added,
    in the tone of a benevolent patron.

    "I aren't frighted," said Bob, to whom hunger did not appear so
    appalling. "But I'd get in an' knock the rabbits on th' head when you
    wanted to eat 'em."

    "Ah, and I should have halfpence, and we'd play at heads-and-tails,"
    said Tom, not contemplating the possibility that this recreation might
    have fewer charms for his mature age. "I'd divide fair to begin with,
    and then we'd see who'd win."

    "I've got a halfpenny o' my own," said Bob, proudly, coming out of the
    water and tossing his halfpenny in the air. "Yeads or tails?"

    "Tails," said Tom, instantly fired with the desire to win.

    "It's yeads," said Bob, hastily, snatching up the halfpenny as it

    "It wasn't," said Tom, loudly and peremptorily. "You give me the
    halfpenny; I've won it fair."

    "I sha'n't," said Bob, holding it tight in his pocket.

    "Then I'll make you; see if I don't," said Tom.

    "Yes, I can."

    "You can't make me do nothing, you can't," said Bob.

    "No, you can't."

    "I'm master."

    "I don't care for you."

    "But I'll make you care, you cheat," said Tom, collaring Bob and
    shaking him.

    "You get out wi' you," said Bob, giving Tom a kick.

    Tom's blood was thoroughly up: he went at Bob with a lunge and threw
    him down, but Bob seized hold and kept it like a cat, and pulled Tom
    down after him. They struggled fiercely on the ground for a moment or
    two, till Tom, pinning Bob down by the shoulders, thought he had the

    "_You_, say you'll give me the halfpenny now," he said, with
    difficulty, while he exerted himself to keep the command of Bob's

    But at this moment Yap, who had been running on before, returned
    barking to the scene of action, and saw a favorable opportunity for
    biting Bob's bare leg not only with inpunity but with honor. The pain
    from Yap's teeth, instead of surprising Bob into a relaxation of his
    hold, gave it a fiercer tenacity, and with a new exertion of his force
    he pushed Tom backward and got uppermost. But now Yap, who could get
    no sufficient purchase before, set his teeth in a new place, so that
    Bob, harassed in this way, let go his hold of Tom, and, almost
    throttling Yap, flung him into the river. By this time Tom was up
    again, and before Bob had quite recovered his balance after the act of
    swinging Yap, Tom fell upon him, threw him down, and got his knees
    firmly on Bob's chest.

    "You give me the halfpenny now," said Tom.

    "Take it," said Bob, sulkily.

    "No, I sha'n't take it; you give it me."

    Bob took the halfpenny out of his pocket, and threw it away from him
    on the ground.

    Tom loosed his hold, and left Bob to rise.

    "There the halfpenny lies," he said. "I don't want your halfpenny; I
    wouldn't have kept it. But you wanted to cheat; I hate a cheat. I
    sha'n't go along with you any more," he added, turning round homeward,
    not without casting a regret toward the rat-catching and other
    pleasures which he must relinquish along with Bob's society.

    "You may let it alone, then," Bob called out after him. "I shall cheat
    if I like; there's no fun i' playing else; and I know where there's a
    goldfinch's nest, but I'll take care _you_ don't. An' you're a nasty
    fightin' turkey-cock, you are----"

    Tom walked on without looking around, and Yap followed his example,
    the cold bath having moderated his passions.

    "Go along wi' you, then, wi' your drowned dog; I wouldn't own such a
    dog--_I_ wouldn't," said Bob, getting louder, in a last effort to
    sustain his defiance. But Tom was not to be provoked into turning
    round, and Bob's voice began to falter a little as he said,--

    "An' I'n gi'en you everything, an' showed you everything, an' niver
    wanted nothin' from you. An' there's your horn-handed knife, then as
    you gi'en me." Here Bob flung the knife as far as he could after Tom's
    retreating footsteps. But it produced no effect, except the sense in
    Bob's mind that there was a terrible void in his lot, now that knife
    was gone.

    He stood still till Tom had passed through the gate and disappeared
    behind the hedge. The knife would do not good on the ground there; it
    wouldn't vex Tom; and pride or resentment was a feeble passion in
    Bob's mind compared with the love of a pocket-knife. His very fingers
    sent entreating thrills that he would go and clutch that familiar
    rough buck's-horn handle, which they had so often grasped for mere
    affection, as it lay idle in his pocket. And there were two blades,
    and they had just been sharpened! What is life without a pocket-knife
    to him who has once tasted a higher existence? No; to throw the handle
    after the hatchet is a comprehensible act of desperation, but to throw
    one's pocket-knife after an implacable friend is clearly in every
    sense a hyperbole, or throwing beyond the mark. So Bob shuffled back
    to the spot where the beloved knife lay in the dirt, and felt quite a
    new pleasure in clutching it again after the temporary separation, in
    opening one blade after the other, and feeling their edge with his
    well-hardened thumb. Poor Bob! he was not sensitive on the point of
    honor, not a chivalrous character. That fine moral aroma would not
    have been thought much of by the public opinion of Kennel Yard, which
    was the very focus or heart of Bob's world, even if it could have made
    itself perceptible there; yet, for all that, he was not utterly a
    sneak and a thief as our friend Tom had hastily decided.

    But Tom, you perceive, was rather a Rhadamanthine personage, having
    more than the usual share of boy's justice in him,--the justice that
    desires to hurt culprits as much as they deserve to be hurt, and is
    troubled with no doubts concerning the exact amount of their deserts.
    Maggie saw a cloud on his brow when he came home, which checked her
    joy at his coming so much sooner than she had expected, and she dared
    hardly speak to him as he stood silently throwing the small
    gravel-stones into the mill-dam. It is not pleasant to give up a
    rat-catching when you have set your mind on it. But if Tom had told
    his strongest feeling at that moment, he would have said, "I'd do just
    the same again." That was his usual mode of viewing his past actions;
    whereas Maggie was always wishing she had done something different.
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