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    Book 3 - Chapter 1

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    Chapter 21
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    What Had Happened at Home

    When Mr. Tulliver first knew the fact that the law-suit was decided
    against him, and that Pivart and Wakem were triumphant, every one who
    happened to observe him at the time thought that, for so confident and
    hot-tempered a man, he bore the blow remarkably well. He thought so
    himself; he thought he was going to show that if Wakem or anybody else
    considered him crushed, they would find themselves mistaken. He could
    not refuse to see that the costs of this protracted suit would take
    more than he possessed to pay them; but he appeared to himself to be
    full of expedients by which he could ward off any results but such as
    were tolerable, and could avoid the appearance of breaking down in the
    world. All the obstinacy and defiance of his nature, driven out of
    their old channel, found a vent for themselves in the immediate
    formation of plans by which he would meet his difficulties, and remain
    Mr. Tulliver of Dorlcote Mill in spite of them. There was such a rush
    of projects in his brain, that it was no wonder his face was flushed
    when he came away from his talk with his attorney, Mr. Gore, and
    mounted his horse to ride home from Lindum. There was Furley, who held
    the mortgage on the land,--a reasonable fellow, who would see his own
    interest, Mr. Tulliver was convinced, and who would be glad not only
    to purchase the whole estate, including the mill and homestead, but
    would accept Mr. Tulliver as tenant, and be willing to advance money
    to be repaid with high interest out of the profits of the business,
    which would be made over to him, Mr. Tulliver only taking enough
    barely to maintain himself and his family. Who would neglect such a
    profitable investment? Certainly not Furley, for Mr. Tulliver had
    determined that Furley should meet his plans with the utmost alacrity;
    and there are men whoses brains have not yet been dangerously heated
    by the loss of a lawsuit, who are apt to see in their own interest or
    desires a motive for other men's actions. There was no doubt (in the
    miller's mind) that Furley would do just what was desirable; and if he
    did--why, things would not be so very much worse. Mr. Tulliver and his
    family must live more meagrely and humbly, but it would only be till
    the profits of the business had paid off Furley's advances, and that
    might be while Mr. Tulliver had still a good many years of life before
    him. It was clear that the costs of the suit could be paid without his
    being obliged to turn out of his old place, and look like a ruined
    man. It was certainly an awkward moment in his affairs. There was that
    suretyship for poor Riley, who had died suddenly last April, and left
    his friend saddled with a debt of two hundred and fifty pounds,--a
    fact which had helped to make Mr. Tulliver's banking book less
    pleasant reading than a man might desire toward Christmas. Well! he
    had never been one of those poor-spirited sneaks who would refuse to
    give a helping hand to a fellow-traveller in this puzzling world. The
    really vexatious business was the fact that some months ago the
    creditor who had lent him the five hundred pounds to repay Mrs. Glegg
    had become uneasy about his money (set on by Wakem, of course), and
    Mr. Tulliver, still confident that he should gain his suit, and
    finding it eminently inconvenient to raise the said sum until that
    desirable issue had taken place, had rashly acceded to the demand that
    he should give a bill of sale on his household furniture and some
    other effects, as security in lieu of the bond. It was all one, he had
    said to himself; he should soon pay off the money, and there was no
    harm in giving that security any more than another. But now the
    consequences of this bill of sale occurred to him in a new light, and
    he remembered that the time was close at hand when it would be
    enforced unless the money were repaid. Two months ago he would have
    declared stoutly that he would never be beholden to his wife's
    friends; but now he told himself as stoutly that it was nothing but
    right and natural that Bessy should go to the Pullets and explain the
    thing to them; they would hardly let Bessy's furniture be sold, and it
    might be security to Pullet if he advanced the money,--there would,
    after all, be no gift or favor in the matter. Mr. Tulliver would never
    have asked for anything from so poor-spirited a fellow for himself,
    but Bessy might do so if she liked.

    It is precisely the proudest and most obstinate men who are the most
    liable to shift their position and contradict themselves in this
    sudden manner; everything is easier to them than to face the simple
    fact that they have been thoroughly defeated, and must begin life
    anew. And Mr. Tulliver, you perceive, though nothing more than a
    superior miller and maltster, was as proud and obstinate as if he had
    been a very lofty personage, in whom such dispositions might be a
    source of that conspicuous, far-echoing tragedy, which sweeps the
    stage in regal robes, and makes the dullest chronicler sublime. The
    pride and obstinacy of millers and other insignificant people, whom
    you pass unnoticingly on the road every day, have their tragedy too;
    but it is of that unwept, hidden sort that goes on from generation to
    generation, and leaves no record,--such tragedy, perhaps, as lies in
    the conflicts of young souls, hungry for joy, under a lot made
    suddenly hard to them, under the dreariness of a home where the
    morning brings no promise with it, and where the unexpectant
    discontent of worn and disappointed parents weighs on the children
    like a damp, thick air, in which all the functions of life are
    depressed; or such tragedy as lies in the slow or sudden death that
    follows on a bruised passion, though it may be a death that finds only
    a parish funeral. There are certain animals to which tenacity of
    position is a law of life,--they can never flourish again, after a
    single wrench: and there are certain human beings to whom predominance
    is a law of life,--they can only sustain humiliation so long as they
    can refuse to believe in it, and, in their own conception, predominate
    still.

    Mr. Tulliver was still predominating, in his own imagination, as he
    approached St. Ogg's, through which he had to pass on his way
    homeward. But what was it that suggested to him, as he saw the Laceham
    coach entering the town, to follow it to the coach-office, and get the
    clerk there to write a letter, requiring Maggie to come home the very
    next day? Mr. Tulliver's own hand shook too much under his excitement
    for him to write himself, and he wanted the letter to be given to the
    coachman to deliver at Miss Firniss's school in the morning. There was
    a craving which he would not account for to himself, to have Maggie
    near him, without delay,--she must come back by the coach to-morrow.

    To Mrs. Tulliver, when he got home, he would admit no difficulties,
    and scolded down her burst of grief on hearing that the lawsuit was
    lost, by angry assertions that there was nothing to grieve about. He
    said nothing to her that night about the bill of sale and the
    application to Mrs. Pullet, for he had kept her in ignorance of the
    nature of that transaction, and had explained the necessity for taking
    an inventory of the goods as a matter connected with his will. The
    possession of a wife conspicuously one's inferior in intellect is,
    like other high privileges, attended with a few inconveniences, and,
    among the rest, with the occasional necessity for using a little
    deception.

    The next day Mr. Tulliver was again on horseback in the afternoon, on
    his way to Mr. Gore's office at St. Ogg's. Gore was to have seen
    Furley in the morning, and to have sounded him in relation to Mr.
    Tulliver's affairs. But he had not gone half-way when he met a clerk
    from Mr. Gore's office, who was bringing a letter to Mr. Tulliver. Mr.
    Gore had been prevented by a sudden call of business from waiting at
    his office to see Mr. Tulliver, according to appointment, but would be
    at his office at eleven to-morrow morning, and meanwhile had sent some
    important information by letter.

    "Oh!" said Mr. Tulliver, taking the letter, but not opening it. "Then
    tell Gore I'll see him to-morrow at eleven"; and he turned his horse.

    The clerk, struck with Mr. Tulliver's glistening, excited glance,
    looked after him for a few moments, and then rode away. The reading of
    a letter was not the affair of an instant to Mr. Tulliver; he took in
    the sense of a statement very slowly through the medium of written or
    even printed characters; so he had put the letter in his pocket,
    thinking he would open it in his armchair at home. But by-and-by it
    occurred to him that there might be something in the letter Mrs.
    Tulliver must not know about, and if so, it would be better to keep it
    out of her sight altogether. He stopped his horse, took out the
    letter, and read it. It was only a short letter; the substance was,
    that Mr. Gore had ascertained, on secret, but sure authority, that
    Furley had been lately much straitened for money, and had parted with
    his securities,--among the rest, the mortgage on Mr. Tulliver's
    property, which he had transferred to----Wakem.

    In half an hour after this Mr. Tulliver's own wagoner found him lying
    by the roadside insensible, with an open letter near him, and his gray
    horse snuffing uneasily about him.

    When Maggie reached home that evening, in obedience to her father's
    call, he was no longer insensible. About an hour before he had become
    conscious, and after vague, vacant looks around him, had muttered
    something about "a letter," which he presently repeated impatiently.
    At the instance of Mr. Turnbull, the medical man, Gore's letter was
    brought and laid on the bed, and the previous impatience seemed to be
    allayed. The stricken man lay for some time with his eyes fixed on the
    letter, as if he were trying to knit up his thoughts by its help. But
    presently a new wave of memory seemed to have come and swept the other
    away; he turned his eyes from the letter to the door, and after
    looking uneasily, as if striving to see something his eyes were too
    dim for, he said, "The little wench."

    He repeated the words impatiently from time to time, appearing
    entirely unconscious of everything except this one importunate want,
    and giving no sign of knowing his wife or any one else; and poor Mrs.
    Tulliver, her feeble faculties almost paralyzed by this sudden
    accumulation of troubles, went backward and forward to the gate to see
    if the Laceham coach were coming, though it was not yet time.

    But it came at last, and set down the poor anxious girl, no longer the
    "little wench," except to her father's fond memory.

    "Oh, mother, what is the matter?" Maggie said, with pale lips, as her
    mother came toward her crying. She didn't think her father was ill,
    because the letter had come at his dictation from the office at St.
    Ogg's.

    But Mr. Turnbull came now to meet her; a medical man is the good angel
    of the troubled house, and Maggie ran toward the kind old friend, whom
    she remembered as long as she could remember anything, with a
    trembling, questioning look.

    "Don't alarm yourself too much, my dear," he said, taking her hand.
    "Your father has had a sudden attack, and has not quite recovered his
    memory. But he has been asking for you, and it will do him good to see
    you. Keep as quiet as you can; take off your things, and come upstairs
    with me."

    Maggie obeyed, with that terrible beating of the heart which makes
    existence seem simply a painful pulsation. The very quietness with
    which Mr. Turnbull spoke had frightened her susceptible imagination.
    Her father's eyes were still turned uneasily toward the door when she
    entered and met the strange, yearning, helpless look that had been
    seeking her in vain. With a sudden flash and movement, he raised
    himself in the bed; she rushed toward him, and clasped him with
    agonized kisses.

    Poor child! it was very early for her to know one of those supreme
    moments in life when all we have hoped or delighted in, all we can
    dread or endure, falls away from our regard as insignificant; is lost,
    like a trivial memory, in that simple, primitive love which knits us
    to the beings who have been nearest to us, in their times of
    helplessness or of anguish.

    But that flash of recognition had been too great a strain on the
    father's bruised, enfeebled powers. He sank back again in renewed
    insensibility and rigidity, which lasted for many hours, and was only
    broken by a flickering return of consciousness, in which he took
    passively everything that was given to him, and seemed to have a sort
    of infantine satisfaction in Maggie's near presence,--such
    satisfaction as a baby has when it is returned to the nurse's lap.

    Mrs. Tulliver sent for her sisters, and there was much wailing and
    lifting up of hands below stairs. Both uncles and aunts saw that the
    ruin of Bessy and her family was as complete as they had ever
    foreboded it, and there was a general family sense that a judgment had
    fallen on Mr. Tulliver, which it would be an impiety to counteract by
    too much kindness. But Maggie heard little of this, scarcely ever
    leaving her father's bedside, where she sat opposite him with her hand
    on his. Mrs. Tulliver wanted to have Tom fetched home, and seemed to
    be thinking more of her boy even than of her husband; but the aunts
    and uncles opposed this. Tom was better at school, since Mr. Turnbull
    said there was no immediate danger, he believed. But at the end of the
    second day, when Maggie had become more accustomed to her father's
    fits of insensibility, and to the expectation that he would revive
    from them, the thought of Tom had become urgent with _her_ too; and
    when her mother sate crying at night and saying, "My poor lad--it's
    nothing but right he should come home," Maggie said, "Let me go for
    him, and tell him, mother; I'll go to-morrow morning if father doesn't
    know me and want me. It would be so hard for Tom to come home and not
    know anything about it beforehand."

    And the next morning Maggie went, as we have seen. Sitting on the
    coach on their way home, the brother and sister talked to each other
    in sad, interrupted whispers.

    "They say Mr. Wakem has got a mortgage or something on the land, Tom,"
    said Maggie. "It was the letter with that news in it that made father
    ill, they think."

    "I believe that scoundrel's been planning all along to ruin my
    father," said Tom, leaping from the vaguest impressions to a definite
    conclusion. "I'll make him feel for it when I'm a man. Mind you never
    speak to Philip again."

    "Oh, Tom!" said Maggie, in a tone of sad remonstrance; but she had no
    spirit to dispute anything then, still less to vex Tom by opposing
    him.
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    Chapter 21
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