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    Book 3 - Chapter 3

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    Chapter 23
    Previous Chapter
    The Family Council

    It was at eleven o'clock 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.
    Ogg's. Mr. Deane had been advancing in the world as rapidly as Mr.
    Tulliver had been going down in it; and in Mrs. Deane's 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.

    "Oh, sister, what a world this is!" she exclaimed as she entered;
    "what trouble, oh dear!"

    Mrs. Deane was a thin-lipped woman, who made small well-considered
    speeches on peculiar occasions, repeating them afterward to her
    husband, and asking him if she had not spoken very properly.

    "Yes, sister," she said deliberately, "this is a changing world, and
    we don't know to-day what may happen tomorrow. But it's right to be
    prepared for all things, and if trouble's sent, to remember as it
    isn't sent without a cause. I'm very sorry for you as a sister, and if
    the doctor orders jelly for Mr. Tulliver, I hope you'll let me know.
    I'll send it willingly; for it is but right he should have proper
    attendance while he's ill."

    "Thank you, Susan," said Mrs. Tulliver, rather faintly, withdrawing
    her fat hand from her sister's thin one. "But there's been no talk o'
    jelly yet." Then after a moment's pause she added, "There's a dozen o'
    cut jelly-glasses upstairs--I shall never put jelly into 'em no more."

    Her voice was rather agitated as she uttered the last words, but the
    sound of wheels diverted her thoughts. Mr. and Mrs. Glegg were come,
    and were almost immediately followed by Mr. and Mrs. Pullet.

    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.

    "Mrs. G., won't you come nearer the fire?" said her husband, unwilling
    to take the more comfortable seat without offering it to her.

    "You see I've seated myself here, Mr. Glegg," returned this superior
    woman; "_you_ can roast yourself, if you like."

    "Well," said Mr. Glegg, seating himself good-humoredly, "and how's the
    poor man upstairs?"

    "Dr. Turnbull thought him a deal better this morning," said Mrs.
    Tulliver; "he took more notice, and spoke to me; but he's 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
    memory's gone a long way back, and he doesn't know Tom because he's
    thinking of him when he was little. Eh dear, eh dear!"

    "I doubt it's the water got on his brain," said aunt Pullet, turning
    round from adjusting her cap in a melancholy way at the pier-glass.
    "It's much if he ever gets up again; and if he does, he'll most like
    be childish, as Mr. Carr was, poor man! They fed him with a spoon as
    if he'd been a babby for three year. He'd quite lost the use of his
    limbs; but then he'd got a Bath chair, and somebody to draw him; and
    that's what you won't have, I doubt, Bessy."

    "Sister Pullet," said Mrs. Glegg, severely, "if I understand right,
    we've come together this morning to advise and consult about what's to
    be done in this disgrace as has fallen upon the family, and not to
    talk o' people as don't belong to us. Mr. Carr was none of our blood,
    nor noways connected with us, as I've 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
    you've got anything disrespectful to say o' Mr. Carr, I do beg of you
    as you won't 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'
    people's complaints till it's quite undecent. But I say again, as I
    said before, I didn't come away from home to talk about acquaintances,
    whether they'd short breath or long. If we aren't 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_ can't act without the other,
    I suppose; it isn't to be expected as _I_ should do everything."

    "Well, Jane," said Mrs. Pullet, "I don't see as you've been so very
    forrard at doing. So far as I know, this is the first time as here
    you've been, since it's been known as the bailiff's in the house; and
    I was here yesterday, and looked at all Bessy's linen and things, and
    I told her I'd buy in the spotted tablecloths. I couldn't speak
    fairer; for as for the teapot as she doesn't want to go out o' the
    family, it stands to sense I can't do with two silver teapots, not if
    it _hadn't_ a straight spout, but the spotted damask I was allays fond
    on."

    "I wish it could be managed so as my teapot and chany and the best
    castors needn't be put up for sale," said poor Mrs. Tulliver,
    beseechingly, "and the sugar-tongs the first things ever I bought."

    "But that can't be helped, you know," said Mr. Glegg. "If one o' the
    family chooses to buy 'em in, they can, but one thing must be bid for
    as well as another."

    "And it isn't to be looked for," said uncle Pullet, with unwonted
    independence of idea, "as your own family should pay more for things
    nor they'll fetch. They may go for an old song by auction."

    "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 didn't like mine, because o' the
    sprig, but I was fond of it; and there's never been a bit broke, for
    I've washed it myself; and there's the tulips on the cups, and the
    roses, as anybody might go and look at 'em for pleasure. You wouldn't
    like _your_ chany to go for an old song and be broke to pieces, though
    yours has got no color in it, Jane,--it's all white and fluted, and
    didn't cost so much as mine. And there's the castors, sister Deane, I
    can't think but you'd like to have the castors, for I've heard you say
    they're pretty."

    "Well, I've no objection to buy some of the best things," said Mrs.
    Deane, rather loftily; "we can do with extra things in our house."

    "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, it'll be because your friends have bought 'em for you, for you're
    dependent upon _them_ for everything; for your husband lies there
    helpless, and hasn't got a penny i' the world to call his own. And
    it's for your own good I say this, for it's right you should feel what
    your state is, and what disgrace your husband's brought on your own
    family, as you've got to look to for everything, and be humble in your
    mind."

    Mrs. Glegg paused, for speaking with much energy for the good of
    others is naturally exhausting.

    Mrs. Tulliver, always borne down by the family predominance of sister
    Jane, who had made her wear the yoke of a younger sister in very
    tender years, said pleadingly:

    "I'm sure, sister, I've never asked anybody to do anything, only buy
    things as it 'ud be a pleasure to 'em to have, so as they mightn't go
    and be spoiled i' strange houses. I never asked anybody to buy the
    things in for me and my children; though there's 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 I'd bought wi' my own
    money, and been so careful of, 'ud go to him. But I've said nothing as
    I wanted my sisters to pay their money for me. What my husband has
    done for _his_ sister's unknown, and we should ha' been better off
    this day if it hadn't been as he's lent money and never asked for it
    again."

    "Come, come," said Mr. Glegg, kindly, "don't let us make things too
    dark. What's done can't be undone. We shall make a shift among us to
    buy what's sufficient for you; though, as Mrs. G. says, they must be
    useful, plain things. We mustn't be thinking o' what's unnecessary. A
    table, and a chair or two, and kitchen things, and a good bed, and
    such-like. Why, I've seen the day when I shouldn't ha' known myself if
    I'd lain on sacking i'stead o' the floor. We get a deal o' useless
    things about us, only because we've got the money to spend."

    "Mr. Glegg," said Mrs. G., "if you'll be kind enough to let me speak,
    i'stead o' taking the words out o' my mouth,--I was going to say,
    Bessy, as it's fine talking for you to say as you've 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 don't help
    you? You must go to the parish, if they didn't. And you ought to know
    that, and keep it in mind, and ask us humble to do what we can for
    you, i'stead o' saying, and making a boast, as you've never asked us
    for anything."

    "You talked o' the Mosses, and what Mr. Tulliver's done for 'em," said
    uncle Pullet, who became unusually suggestive where advances of money
    were concerned. "Haven't _they_ been anear you? They ought to do
    something as well as other folks; and if he's lent 'em money, they
    ought to be made to pay it back."

    "Yes, to be sure," said Mrs. Deane; "I've been thinking so. How is it
    Mr. and Mrs. Moss aren't here to meet us? It is but right they should
    do their share."

    "Oh, dear!" said Mrs. Tulliver, "I never sent 'em word about Mr.
    Tulliver, and they live so back'ard 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 didn't, though, for she was allays
    so fond of her aunt Moss."

    "Why don't 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 it's 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; there's no telling."

    "If I'd had _my_ way," said Mrs. Glegg, "the children 'ud ha' been in
    the room from the first. It's time they knew who they've to look to,
    and it's right as _somebody_ should talk to 'em, and let 'em know
    their condition i' life, and what they're come down to, and make 'em
    feel as they've got to suffer for their father's faults."

    "Well, I'll go and fetch 'em, sister," said Mrs. Tulliver, resignedly.
    She was quite crushed now, and thought of the treasures in the
    storeroom with no other feeling than blank despair.

    She went upstairs to fetch Tom and Maggie, who were both in their
    father's 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 o'clock, 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:

    "Well, young sir, we've been talking as we should want your pen and
    ink; you can write rarely now, after all your schooling, I should
    think."

    "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 father's
    sunk so much money in, now,--

    'When land is gone and money's spent,
    Then learning is most excellent.'

    Now's 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
    it's hard or no. He hasn't got to consider what's hard; he must
    consider as he isn't to trusten to his friends to keep him in idleness
    and luxury; he's got to bear the fruits of his father's 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 they're doing for
    his mother and father, as must be turned out into the streets and go
    to the workhouse if they didn't 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
    Lucy's mother, "she must make up her mind to be humble and work; for
    there'll 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.

    Poor Mrs. Tulliver had in her hands a small tray, on which she had
    placed her silver teapot, a specimen teacup and saucer, the castors,
    and sugar-tongs.

    "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,--it's a good while since you saw it,--you might like the
    pattern better; it makes beautiful tea, and there's 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, "it's very bad,--to think o' the family initials going about
    everywhere--it niver was so before; you're a very unlucky sister,
    Bessy. But what's the use o' buying the teapot, when there's the linen
    and spoons and everything to go, and some of 'em with your full
    name,--and when it's got that straight spout, too."

    "As to disgrace o' the family," said Mrs. Glegg, "that can't 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
    they're to be sold up. We can't 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 mother's words had cut him to
    the quick.

    "Then, aunt," he said, looking straight at Mrs. Glegg, "if you think
    it's a disgrace to the family that we should be sold up, wouldn't 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, wouldn't it be better to give it now, and pay the debt
    we're going to be sold up for, and save my mother from parting with
    her furniture?"

    There was silence for a few moments, for every one, including Maggie,
    was astonished at Tom's sudden manliness of tone. Uncle Glegg was the
    first to speak.

    "Ay, ay, young man, come now! You show some notion o' things. But
    there's the interest, you must remember; your aunts get five per cent
    on their money, and they'd lose that if they advanced it; you haven't
    thought o' that."

    "I could work and pay that every year," said Tom, promptly. "I'd do
    anything to save my mother from parting with her things."

    "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. "It's pleasant
    work for you to be giving my money away, as you've pretended to leave
    at my own disposal. And my money, as was my own father's gift, and not
    yours, Mr. Glegg; and I've saved it, and added to it myself, and had
    more to put out almost every year, and it's to go and be sunk in other
    folks' furniture, and encourage 'em in luxury and extravagance as
    they've no means of supporting; and I'm 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 money's to go and be squandered on them as have had
    the same chance as me, only they've 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 he's given you, but that isn't _my_ sperrit."

    "La, Jane, how fiery you are!" said Mrs. Pullet. "I'm sure you'll have
    the blood in your head, and have to be cupped. I'm sorry for Bessy and
    her children,--I'm sure I think of 'em o' nights dreadful, for I sleep
    very bad wi' this new medicine,--but it's no use for me to think o'
    doing anything, if you won't meet me half-way."

    "Why, there's this to be considered," said Mr. Glegg. "It's no use to
    pay off this debt and save the furniture, when there's all the law
    debts behind, as 'ud take every shilling, and more than could be made
    out o' land and stock, for I've made that out from Lawyer Gore. We'd
    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 didn't know what was reasonable."

    "Then speak accordingly, Mr. Glegg!" said his wife, with slow, loud
    emphasis, bending her head toward him significantly.

    Tom's 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 Tom's
    speech, had relapsed into her state of trembling indignation. Her
    mother had been standing close by Tom's 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 don't mean to do anything to help my poor
    mother--your own sister,--if you've no feeling for her when she's in
    trouble, and won't part with anything, though you would never miss it,
    to save her from pain? Keep away from us then, and don't 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 don't
    ever want to have any of your money, if you won't help my mother. We'd
    rather not have it! We'll do without you."

    Maggie, having hurled her defiance at aunts and uncles in this way,
    stood still, with her large dark eyes glaring at them, as if she were
    ready to await all consequences.

    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 haven't seen the end o' your trouble wi' that child, Bessy," said
    Mrs. Pullet; "she's beyond everything for boldness and unthankfulness.
    It's dreadful. I might ha' let alone paying for her schooling, for
    she's worse nor ever."

    "It's no more than what I've allays said," followed Mrs. Glegg. "Other
    folks may be surprised, but I'm not. I've said over and over
    again,--years ago I've said,--'Mark my words; that child 'ull come to
    no good; there isn't a bit of our family in her.' And as for her
    having so much schooling, I never thought well o' that. I'd my reasons
    when I said _I_ wouldn't pay anything toward it."

    "Come, come," said Mr. Glegg, "let's waste no more time in
    talking,--let's go to business. Tom, now, get the pen and ink----"

    While Mr. Glegg was speaking, a tall dark figure was seen hurrying
    past the window.

    "Why, there's Mrs. Moss," said Mrs. Tulliver. "The bad news must ha'
    reached her, then"; and she went out to open the door, Maggie eagerly
    following her.

    "That's fortunate," said Mrs. Glegg. "She can agree to the list o'
    things to be bought in. It's but right she should do her share when
    it's her own brother."

    Mrs. Moss was in too much agitation to resist Mrs. Tulliver's
    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 dear children," she burst out, "you've no call to think well
    o' me; I'm a poor aunt to you, for I'm one o' them as take all and
    give nothing. How's my poor brother?"

    "Mr. Turnbull thinks he'll get better," said Maggie. "Sit down, aunt
    Gritty. Don't fret."

    "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. "We've three hundred pounds o' my brother's
    money, and now he wants it, and you all want it, poor things!--and yet
    we must be sold up to pay it, and there's my poor children,--eight of
    'em, and the little un of all can't speak plain. And I feel as if I
    was a robber. But I'm sure I'd no thought as my brother----"

    The poor woman was interrupted by a rising sob.

    "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 wife's
    irritation at having been kept in the dark.

    "What madness, to be sure!" said Mrs. Glegg. "A man with a family!
    He'd no right to lend his money i' that way; and without security,
    I'll be bound, if the truth was known."

    Mrs. Glegg's voice had arrested Mrs. Moss's attention, and looking up,
    she said:

    "Yes, there _was_ security; my husband gave a note for it. We're not
    that sort o' people, neither of us, as 'ud rob my brother's children;
    and we looked to paying back the money, when the times got a bit
    better."

    "Well, but now," said Mr. Glegg, gently, "hasn't your husband no way
    o' raising this money? Because it 'ud be a little fortin, like, for
    these folks, if we can do without Tulliver's being made a bankrupt.
    Your husband's got stock; it is but right he should raise the money,
    as it seems to me,--not but what I'm sorry for you, Mrs. Moss."

    "Oh, sir, you don't know what bad luck my husband's had with his
    stock. The farm's suffering so as never was for want o' stock; and
    we've sold all the wheat, and we're behind with our rent,--not but
    what we'd like to do what's right, and I'd sit up and work half the
    night, if it 'ud be any good; but there's them poor children,--four of
    'em such little uns----"

    "Don't cry so, aunt; don't fret," whispered Maggie, who had kept hold
    of Mrs. Moss's hand.

    "Did Mr. Tulliver let you have the money all at once?" said Mrs.
    Tulliver, still lost in the conception of things which had been "going
    on" without her knowledge.

    "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, I've been nothing but cumber all my
    life."

    "Yes, Mrs. Moss," said Mrs. Glegg, with decision, "yours is a very
    unlucky family; the more's the pity for _my_ sister."

    "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 you'd thought well to let me know. And it
    isn't as I'm thinking all about ourselves, and nothing about my
    brother, only the money was so on my mind, I couldn't help speaking
    about it. And my husband and me desire to do the right thing, sir,"
    she added, looking at Mr. Glegg, "and we'll make shift and pay the
    money, come what will, if that's all my brother's got to trust to.
    We've been used to trouble, and don't look for much else. It's only
    the thought o' my poor children pulls me i' two."

    "Why, there's this to be thought on, Mrs. Moss," said Mr. Glegg, "and
    it's right to warn you,--if Tulliver's made a bankrupt, and he's got a
    note-of-hand of your husband's for three hundred pounds, you'll 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. Moss's 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 isn't made bankrupt," continued Mr. Glegg, "as I said
    before, three hundred pounds 'ud be a little fortin for him, poor man.
    We don't know but what he may be partly helpless, if he ever gets up
    again. I'm very sorry if it goes hard with you, Mrs. Moss, but my
    opinion is, looking at it one way, it'll be right for you to raise the
    money; and looking at it th' other way, you'll be obliged to pay it.
    You won't think ill o' me for speaking the truth."

    "Uncle," said Tom, looking up suddenly from his meditative view of the
    tablecloth, "I don't think it would be right for my aunt Moss to pay
    the money if it would be against my father's 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 he'd 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----"

    Tom hesitated a little, and then went on.

    "He said something to me about Maggie, and then he said: 'I've always
    been good to my sister, though she married against my will, and I've
    lent Moss money; but I shall never think of distressing him to pay it;
    I'd rather lose it. My children must not mind being the poorer for
    that.' And now my father's ill, and not able to speak for himself, I
    shouldn't 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 Tom's 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 man's property, "we should have to make away wi' the note, you
    know, if we're to guard against what may happen, supposing your
    father's made bankrupt----"

    "Mr. Glegg," interrupted his wife, severely, "mind what you're saying.
    You're putting yourself very forrard in other folks's business. If you
    speak rash, don't say it was my fault."

    "That's 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 note's worth all that money,
    why can't we pay it away, and save my things from going away? We've no
    call to meddle with your uncle and aunt Moss, Tom, if you think your
    father 'ud be angry when he gets well."

    Mrs. Tulliver had not studied the question of exchange, and was
    straining her mind after original ideas on the subject.

    "Pooh, pooh, pooh! you women don't understand these things," said
    uncle Glegg. "There's no way o' making it safe for Mr. and Mrs. Moss
    but destroying the note."

    "Then I hope you'll help me do it, uncle," said Tom, earnestly. "If my
    father shouldn't get well, I should be very unhappy to think anything
    had been done against his will that I could hinder. And I'm sure he
    meant me to remember what he said that evening. I ought to obey my
    father's wish about his property."

    Even Mrs. Glegg could not withhold her approval from Tom's 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 Tom's neck, if her aunt Moss had not prevented her by
    herself rising and taking Tom's hand, while she said, with rather a
    choked voice:

    "You'll never be the poorer for this, my dear boy, if there's a God
    above; and if the money's wanted for your father, Moss and me 'ull pay
    it, the same as if there was ever such security. We'll do as we'd be
    done by; for if my children have got no other luck, they've got an
    honest father and mother."

    "Well," said Mr. Glegg, who had been meditating after Tom's words, "we
    shouldn't be doing any wrong by the creditors, supposing your father
    _was_ bankrupt. I've been thinking o' that, for I've 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, it's the same
    as if he'd made away with the note himself; for he'd made up his mind
    to be that much poorer. But there's 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 man's dinner away to
    make another man's breakfast. You don't understand that, I doubt?"

    "Yes, I do," said Tom, decidedly. "I know if I owe money to one man,
    I've 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."

    "Well done, young man! I didn't think you'd been so sharp," said uncle
    Glegg, with much candor. "But perhaps your father _did_ make away with
    the note. Let us go and see if we can find it in the chest."

    "It's in my father's room. Let us go too, aunt Gritty," whispered
    Maggie.
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    Chapter 23
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