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    Book 2 - Chapter 7

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    Chapter 20
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    The Golden Gates Are Passed

    So Tom went on even to the fifth half-year--till he was turned
    sixteen--at King's Lorton, while Maggie was growing with a rapidity
    which her aunts considered highly reprehensible, at Miss Firniss's
    boarding-school in the ancient town of Laceham on the Floss, with
    cousin Lucy for her companion. In her early letters to Tom she had
    always sent her love to Philip, and asked many questions about him,
    which were answered by brief sentences about Tom's toothache, and a
    turf-house which he was helping to build in the garden, with other
    items of that kind. She was pained to hear Tom say in the holidays
    that Philip was as queer as ever again, and often cross. They were no
    longer very good friends, she perceived; and when she reminded Tom
    that he ought always to love Philip for being so good to him when his
    foot was bad, he answered: "Well, it isn't my fault; _I_ don't do
    anything to him." She hardly ever saw Philip during the remainder of
    their school-life; in the Midsummer holidays he was always away at the
    seaside, and at Christmas she could only meet him at long intervals in
    the street of St. Ogg's. When they did meet, she remembered her
    promise to kiss him, but, as a young lady who had been at a
    boarding-school, she knew now that such a greeting was out of the
    question, and Philip would not expect it. The promise was void, like
    so many other sweet, illusory promises of our childhood; void as
    promises made in Eden before the seasons were divided, and when the
    starry blossoms grew side by side with the ripening peach,--impossible
    to be fulfilled when the golden gates had been passed.

    But when their father was actually engaged in the long-threatened
    lawsuit, and Wakem, as the agent at once of Pivart and Old Harry, was
    acting against him, even Maggie felt, with some sadness, that they
    were not likely ever to have any intimacy with Philip again; the very
    name of Wakem made her father angry, and she had once heard him say
    that if that crook-backed son lived to inherit his father's ill-gotten
    gains, there would be a curse upon him. "Have as little to do with him
    at school as you can, my lad," he said to Tom; and the command was
    obeyed the more easily because Mr. Sterling by this time had two
    additional pupils; for though this gentleman's rise in the world was
    not of that meteor-like rapidity which the admirers of his
    extemporaneous eloquence had expected for a preacher whose voice
    demanded so wide a sphere, he had yet enough of growing prosperity to
    enable him to increase his expenditure in continued disproportion to
    his income.

    As for Tom's school course, it went on with mill-like monotony, his
    mind continuing to move with a slow, half-stifled pulse in a medium
    uninteresting or unintelligible ideas. But each vacation he brought
    home larger and larger drawings with the satiny rendering of
    landscape, and water-colors in vivid greens, together with manuscript
    books full of exercises and problems, in which the handwriting was all
    the finer because he gave his whole mind to it. Each vacation he
    brought home a new book or two, indicating his progress through
    different stages of history, Christian doctrine, and Latin literature;
    and that passage was not entirely without results, besides the
    possession of the books. Tom's ear and tongue had become accustomed to
    a great many words and phrases which are understood to be signs of an
    educated condition; and though he had never really applied his mind to
    any one of his lessons, the lessons had left a deposit of vague,
    fragmentary, ineffectual notions. Mr. Tulliver, seeing signs of
    acquirement beyond the reach of his own criticism, thought it was
    probably all right with Tom's education; he observed, indeed, that
    there were no maps, and not enough "summing"; but he made no formal
    complaint to Mr. Stelling. It was a puzzling business, this schooling;
    and if he took Tom away, where could he send him with better effect?

    By the time Tom had reached his last quarter at King's Lorton, the
    years had made striking changes in him since the day we saw him
    returning from Mr. Jacobs's academy. He was a tall youth now, carrying
    himself without the least awkwardness, and speaking without more
    shyness than was a becoming symptom of blended diffidence and pride;
    he wore his tail-coat and his stand-up collars, and watched the down
    on his lip with eager impatience, looking every day at his virgin
    razor, with which he had provided himself in the last holidays. Philip
    had already left,--at the autumn quarter,--that he might go to the
    south for the winter, for the sake of his health; and this change
    helped to give Tom the unsettled, exultant feeling that usually
    belongs to the last months before leaving school. This quarter, too,
    there was some hope of his father's lawsuit being decided; _that_ made
    the prospect of home more entirely pleasurable. For Tom, who had
    gathered his view of the case from his father's conversation, had no
    doubt that Pivart would be beaten.

    Tom had not heard anything from home for some weeks,--a fact which did
    not surprise him, for his father and mother were not apt to manifest
    their affection in unnecessary letters,--when, to his great surprise,
    on the morning of a dark, cold day near the end of November, he was
    told, soon after entering the study at nine o'clock, that his sister
    was in the drawing-room. It was Mrs. Stelling who had come into the
    study to tell him, and she left him to enter the drawing-room alone.

    Maggie, too, was tall now, with braided and coiled hair; she was
    almost as tall as Tom, though she was only thirteen; and she really
    looked older than he did at that moment. She had thrown off her
    bonnet, her heavy braids were pushed back from her forehead, as if it
    would not bear that extra load, and her young face had a strangely
    worn look, as her eyes turned anxiously toward the door. When Tom
    entered she did not speak, but only went up to him, put her arms round
    his neck, and kissed him earnestly. He was used to various moods of
    hers, and felt no alarm at the unusual seriousness of her greeting.

    "Why, how is it you're come so early this cold morning, Maggie? Did
    you come in the gig?" said Tom, as she backed toward the sofa, and
    drew him to her side.

    "No, I came by the coach. I've walked from the turnpike."

    "But how is it you're not at school? The holidays have not begun yet?"

    "Father wanted me at home," said Maggie, with a slight trembling of
    the lip. "I came home three or four days ago."

    "Isn't my father well?" said Tom, rather anxiously.

    "Not quite," said Maggie. "He's very unhappy, Tom. The lawsuit is
    ended, and I came to tell you because I thought it would be better for
    you to know it before you came home, and I didn't like only to send
    you a letter."

    "My father hasn't lost?" said Tom, hastily, springing from the sofa,
    and standing before Maggie with his hands suddenly thrust into his
    pockets.

    "Yes, dear Tom," said Maggie, looking up at him with trembling.

    Tom was silent a minute or two, with his eyes fixed on the floor. Then
    he said:

    "My father will have to pay a good deal of money, then?"

    "Yes," said Maggie, rather faintly.

    "Well, it can't be helped," said Tom, bravely, not translating the
    loss of a large sum of money into any tangible results. "But my
    father's very much vexed, I dare say?" he added, looking at Maggie,
    and thinking that her agitated face was only part of her girlish way
    of taking things.

    "Yes," said Maggie, again faintly. Then, urged to fuller speech by
    Tom's freedom from apprehension, she said loudly and rapidly, as if
    the words _would_ burst from her: "Oh, Tom, he will lose the mill and
    the land and everything; he will have nothing left."

    Tom's eyes flashed out one look of surprise at her, before he turned
    pale, and trembled visibly. He said nothing, but sat down on the sofa
    again, looking vaguely out of the opposite window.

    Anxiety about the future had never entered Tom's mind. His father had
    always ridden a good horse, kept a good house, and had the cheerful,
    confident air of a man who has plenty of property to fall back upon.
    Tom had never dreamed that his father would "fail"; _that_ was a form
    of misfortune which he had always heard spoken of as a deep disgrace,
    and disgrace was an idea that he could not associate with any of his
    relations, least of all with his father. A proud sense of family
    respectability was part of the very air Tom had been born and brought
    up in. He knew there were people in St. Ogg's who made a show without
    money to support it, and he had always heard such people spoken of by
    his own friends with contempt and reprobation. He had a strong belief,
    which was a lifelong habit, and required no definite evidence to rest
    on, that his father could spend a great deal of money if he chose; and
    since his education at Mr. Stelling's had given him a more expensive
    view of life, he had often thought that when he got older he would
    make a figure in the world, with his horse and dogs and saddle, and
    other accoutrements of a fine young man, and show himself equal to any
    of his contemporaries at St. Ogg's, who might consider themselves a
    grade above him in society because their fathers were professional
    men, or had large oil-mills. As to the prognostics and headshaking of
    his aunts and uncles, they had never produced the least effect on him,
    except to make him think that aunts and uncles were disagreeable
    society; he had heard them find fault in much the same way as long as
    he could remember. His father knew better than they did.

    The down had come on Tom's lip, yet his thoughts and expectations had
    been hitherto only the reproduction, in changed forms, of the boyish
    dreams in which he had lived three years ago. He was awakened now with
    a violent shock.

    Maggie was frightened at Tom's pale, trembling silence. There was
    something else to tell him,--something worse. She threw her arms round
    him at last, and said, with a half sob:

    "Oh, Tom--dear, dear Tom, don't fret too much; try and bear it well."

    Tom turned his cheek passively to meet her entreating kisses, and
    there gathered a moisture in his eyes, which he just rubbed away with
    his hand. The action seemed to rouse him, for he shook himself and
    said: "I shall go home, with you, Maggie. Didn't my father say I was
    to go?"

    "No, Tom, father didn't wish it," said Maggie, her anxiety about _his_
    feeling helping her to master her agitation. What _would_ he do when
    she told him all? "But mother wants you to come,--poor mother!--she
    cries so. Oh, Tom, it's very dreadful at home."

    Maggie's lips grew whiter, and she began to tremble almost as Tom had
    done. The two poor things clung closer to each other, both
    trembling,--the one at an unshapen fear, the other at the image of a
    terrible certainty. When Maggie spoke, it was hardly above a whisper.

    "And--and--poor father----"

    Maggie could not utter it. But the suspense was intolerable to Tom. A
    vague idea of going to prison, as a consequence of debt, was the shape
    his fears had begun to take.

    "Where's my father?" he said impatiently. "_Tell_ me, Maggie."

    "He's at home," said Maggie, finding it easier to reply to that
    question. "But," she added, after a pause, "not himself--he fell off
    his horse. He has known nobody but me ever since--he seems to have
    lost his senses. O father, father----"

    With these last words, Maggie's sobs burst forth with the more
    violence for the previous struggle against them. Tom felt that
    pressure of the heart which forbids tears; he had no distinct vision
    of their troubles as Maggie had, who had been at home; he only felt
    the crushing weight of what seemed unmitigated misfortune. He
    tightened his arm almost convulsively round Maggie as she sobbed, but
    his face looked rigid and tearless, his eyes blank,--as if a black
    curtain of cloud had suddenly fallen on his path.

    But Maggie soon checked herself abruptly; a single thought had acted
    on her like a startling sound.

    "We must set out, Tom, we must not stay. Father will miss me; we must
    be at the turnpike at ten to meet the coach." She said this with hasty
    decision, rubbing her eyes, and rising to seize her bonnet.

    Tom at once felt the same impulse, and rose too. "Wait a minute,
    Maggie," he said. "I must speak to Mr. Stelling, and then we'll go."

    He thought he must go to the study where the pupils were; but on his
    way he met Mr. Stelling, who had heard from his wife that Maggie
    appeared to be in trouble when she asked for her brother, and now that
    he thought the brother and sister had been alone long enough, was
    coming to inquire and offer his sympathy.

    "Please, sir, I must go home," Tom said abruptly, as he met Mr.
    Stelling in the passage. "I must go back with my sister directly. My
    father's lost his lawsuit--he's lost all his property--and he's very
    ill."

    Mr. Stelling felt like a kind-hearted man; he foresaw a probable money
    loss for himself, but this had no appreciable share in his feeling,
    while he looked with grave pity at the brother and sister for whom
    youth and sorrow had begun together. When he knew how Maggie had come,
    and how eager she was to get home again, he hurried their departure,
    only whispering something to Mrs. Stelling, who had followed him, and
    who immediately left the room.

    Tom and Maggie were standing on the door-step, ready to set out, when
    Mrs. Stelling came with a little basket, which she hung on Maggie's
    arm, saying: "Do remember to eat something on the way, dear." Maggie's
    heart went out toward this woman whom she had never liked, and she
    kissed her silently. It was the first sign within the poor child of
    that new sense which is the gift of sorrow,--that susceptibility to
    the bare offices of humanity which raises them into a bond of loving
    fellowship, as to haggard men among the ice-bergs the mere presence of
    an ordinary comrade stirs the deep fountains of affection.

    Mr. Stelling put his hand on Tom's shoulder and said: "God bless you,
    my boy; let me know how you get on." Then he pressed Maggie's hand;
    but there were no audible good-byes. Tom had so often thought how
    joyful he should be the day he left school "for good"! And now his
    school years seemed like a holiday that had come to an end.

    The two slight youthful figures soon grew indistinct on the distant
    road,--were soon lost behind the projecting hedgerow.

    They had gone forth together into their life of sorrow, and they would
    never more see the sunshine undimmed by remembered cares. They had
    entered the thorny wilderness, and the golden gates of their childhood
    had forever closed behind them.
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