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    Book 3 - Chapter 5

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    Chapter 25
    Previous Chapter
    Tom Applies His Knife to the Oyster

    The next day, at ten o'clock, Tom was on his way to St. Ogg's, to see
    his uncle Deane, who was to come home last night, his aunt had said;
    and Tom had made up his mind that his uncle Deane was the right person
    to ask for advice about getting some employment. He was in a great way
    of business; he had not the narrow notions of uncle Glegg; and he had
    risen in the world on a scale of advancement which accorded with Tom's

    It was a dark, chill, misty morning, likely to end in rain,--one of
    those mornings when even happy people take refuge in their hopes. And
    Tom was very unhappy; he felt the humiliation as well as the
    prospective hardships of his lot with all the keenness of a proud
    nature; and with all his resolute dutifulness toward his father there
    mingled an irrepressible indignation against him which gave misfortune
    the less endurable aspect of a wrong. Since these were the
    consequences of going to law, his father was really blamable, as his
    aunts and uncles had always said he was; and it was a significant
    indication of Tom's character, that though he thought his aunts ought
    to do something more for his mother, he felt nothing like Maggie's
    violent resentment against them for showing no eager tenderness and
    generosity. There were no impulses in Tom that led him to expect what
    did not present itself to him as a right to be demanded. Why should
    people give away their money plentifully to those who had not taken
    care of their own money? Tom saw some justice in severity; and all the
    more, because he had confidence in himself that he should never
    deserve that just severity. It was very hard upon him that he should
    be put at this disadvantage in life by his father's want of prudence;
    but he was not going to complain and to find fault with people because
    they did not make everything easy for him. He would ask no one to help
    him, more than to give him work and pay him for it. Poor Tom was not
    without his hopes to take refuge in under the chill damp imprisonment
    of the December fog, which seemed only like a part of his home
    troubles. At sixteen, the mind that has the strongest affinity for
    fact cannot escape illusion and self-flattery; and Tom, in sketching
    his future, had no other guide in arranging his facts than the
    suggestions of his own brave self-reliance. Both Mr. Glegg and Mr.
    Deane, he knew, had been very poor once; he did not want to save money
    slowly and retire on a moderate fortune like his uncle Glegg, but he
    would be like his uncle Deane--get a situation in some great house of
    business and rise fast. He had scarcely seen anything of his uncle
    Deane for the last three years--the two families had been getting
    wider apart; but for this very reason Tom was the more hopeful about
    applying to him. His uncle Glegg, he felt sure, would never encourage
    any spirited project, but he had a vague imposing idea of the
    resources at his uncle Deane's command. He had heard his father say,
    long ago, how Deane had made himself so valuable to Guest & Co. that
    they were glad enough to offer him a share in the business; that was
    what Tom resolved _he_ would do. It was intolerable to think of being
    poor and looked down upon all one's life. He would provide for his
    mother and sister, and make every one say that he was a man of high
    character. He leaped over the years in this way, and, in the haste of
    strong purpose and strong desire, did not see how they would be made
    up of slow days, hours, and minutes.

    By the time he had crossed the stone bridge over the Floss and was
    entering St. Ogg's, he was thinking that he would buy his father's
    mill and land again when he was rich enough, and improve the house and
    live there; he should prefer it to any smarter, newer place, and he
    could keep as many horses and dogs as he liked.

    Walking along the street with a firm, rapid step, at this point in his
    reverie he was startled by some one who had crossed without his
    notice, and who said to him in a rough, familiar voice:

    "Why, Master Tom, how's your father this morning?" It was a publican
    of St. Ogg's, one of his father's customers.

    Tom disliked being spoken to just then; but he said civilly, "He's
    still very ill, thank you."

    "Ay, it's been a sore chance for you, young man, hasn't it,--this
    lawsuit turning out against him?" said the publican, with a confused,
    beery idea of being good-natured.

    Tom reddened and passed on; he would have felt it like the handling of
    a bruise, even if there had been the most polite and delicate
    reference to his position.

    "That's Tulliver's son," said the publican to a grocer standing on the
    adjacent door-step.

    "Ah!" said the grocer, "I thought I knew his features. He takes after
    his mother's family; she was a Dodson. He's a fine, straight youth;
    what's he been brought up to?"

    "Oh! to turn up his nose at his father's customers, and be a fine
    gentleman,--not much else, I think."

    Tom, roused from his dream of the future to a thorough consciousness
    of the present, made all the greater haste to reach the warehouse
    offices of Guest & Co., where he expected to find his uncle Deane. But
    this was Mr. Deane's morning at the band, a clerk told him, and with
    some contempt for his ignorance; Mr. Deane was not to be found in
    River Street on a Thursday morning.

    At the bank Tom was admitted into the private room where his uncle
    was, immediately after sending in his name. Mr. Deane was auditing
    accounts; but he looked up as Tom entered, and putting out his hand,
    said, "Well, Tom, nothing fresh the matter at home, I hope? How's your

    "Much the same, thank you, uncle," said Tom, feeling nervous. "But I
    want to speak to you, please, when you're at liberty."

    "Sit down, sit down," said Mr. Deane, relapsing into his accounts, in
    which he and the managing-clerk remained so absorbed for the next
    half-hour that Tom began to wonder whether he should have to sit in
    this way till the bank closed,--there seemed so little tendency toward
    a conclusion in the quiet, monotonous procedure of these sleek,
    prosperous men of business. Would his uncle give him a place in the
    bank? It would be very dull, prosy work, he thought, writing there
    forever to the loud ticking of a timepiece. He preferred some other
    way of getting rich. But at last there was a change; his uncle took a
    pen and wrote something with a flourish at the end.

    "You'll just step up to Torry's now, Mr. Spence, will you?" said Mr.
    Deane, and the clock suddenly became less loud and deliberate in Tom's

    "Well, Tom," said Mr. Deane, when they were alone, turning his
    substantial person a little in his chair, and taking out his
    snuff-box; "what's the business, my boy; what's the business?" Mr.
    Deane, who had heard from his wife what had passed the day before,
    thought Tom was come to appeal to him for some means of averting the

    "I hope you'll excuse me for troubling you, uncle," said Tom,
    coloring, but speaking in a tone which, though, tremulous, had a
    certain proud independence in it; "but I thought you were the best
    person to advise me what to do."

    "Ah!" said Mr. Deane, reserving his pinch of snuff, and looking at Tom
    with new attention, "let us hear."

    "I want to get a situation, uncle, so that I may earn some money,"
    said Tom, who never fell into circumlocution.

    "A situation?" said Mr. Deane, and then took his pinch of snuff with
    elaborate justice to each nostril. Tom thought snuff-taking a most
    provoking habit.

    "Why, let me see, how old are you?" said Mr. Deane, as he threw
    himself backward again.

    "Sixteen; I mean, I am going in seventeen," said Tom, hoping his uncle
    noticed how much beard he had.

    "Let me see; your father had some notion of making you an engineer, I

    "But I don't think I could get any money at that for a long while,
    could I?"

    "That's true; but people don't get much money at anything, my boy,
    when they're only sixteen. You've had a good deal of schooling,
    however; I suppose you're pretty well up in accounts, eh? You
    understand book keeping?"

    "No," said Tom, rather falteringly. "I was in Practice. But Mr.
    Stelling says I write a good hand, uncle. That's my writing," added
    Tom, laying on the table a copy of the list he had made yesterday.

    "Ah! that's good, that's good. But, you see, the best hand in the
    world'll not get you a better place than a copying-clerk's, if you
    know nothing of book-keeping,--nothing of accounts. And a
    copying-clerk's a cheap article. But what have you been learning at
    school, then?"

    Mr. Deane had not occupied himself with methods of education, and had
    no precise conception of what went forward in expensive schools.

    "We learned Latin," said Tom, pausing a little between each item, as
    if he were turning over the books in his school-desk to assist his
    memory,--"a good deal of Latin; and the last year I did Themes, one
    week in Latin and one in English; and Greek and Roman history; and
    Euclid; and I began Algebra, but I left it off again; and we had one
    day every week for Arithmetic. Then I used to have drawing-lessons;
    and there were several other books we either read or learned out
    of,--English Poetry, and Horæ Pauliné and Blair's Rhetoric, the last

    Mr. Deane tapped his snuff-box again and screwed up his mouth; he felt
    in the position of many estimable persons when they had read the New
    Tariff, and found how many commodities were imported of which they
    knew nothing; like a cautious man of business, he was not going to
    speak rashly of a raw material in which he had had no experience. But
    the presumption was, that if it had been good for anything, so
    successful a man as himself would hardly have been ignorant of it.

    About Latin he had an opinion, and thought that in case of another
    war, since people would no longer wear hair-powder, it would be well
    to put a tax upon Latin, as a luxury much run upon by the higher
    classes, and not telling at all on the ship-owning department. But,
    for what he knew, the Horé Pauliné might be something less neutral. On
    the whole, this list of acquirements gave him a sort of repulsion
    toward poor Tom.

    "Well," he said at last, in rather a cold, sardonic tone, "you've had
    three years at these things,--you must be pretty strong in 'em. Hadn't
    you better take up some line where they'll come in handy?"

    Tom colored, and burst out, with new energy:

    "I'd rather not have any employment of that sort, uncle. I don't like
    Latin and those things. I don't know what I could do with them unless
    I went as usher in a school; and I don't know them well enough for
    that! besides, I would as soon carry a pair of panniers. I don't want
    to be that sort of person. I should like to enter into some business
    where I can get on,--a manly business, where I should have to look
    after things, and get credit for what I did. And I shall want to keep
    my mother and sister."

    "Ah, young gentleman," said Mr. Deane, with that tendency to repress
    youthful hopes which stout and successful men of fifty find one of
    their easiest duties, "that's sooner said than done,--sooner said than

    "But didn't _you_ get on in that way, uncle?" said Tom, a little
    irritated that Mr. Deane did not enter more rapidly into his views. "I
    mean, didn't you rise from one place to another through your abilities
    and good conduct?"

    "Ay, ay, sir," said Mr. Deane, spreading himself in his chair a
    little, and entering with great readiness into a retrospect of his own
    career. "But I'll tell you how I got on. It wasn't by getting astride
    a stick and thinking it would turn into a horse if I sat on it long
    enough. I kept my eyes and ears open, sir, and I wasn't too fond of my
    own back, and I made my master's interest my own. Why, with only
    looking into what went on in the mill,, I found out how there was a
    waste of five hundred a-year that might be hindered. Why, sir, I
    hadn't more schooling to begin with than a charity boy; but I saw
    pretty soon that I couldn't get on far enough without mastering
    accounts, and I learned 'em between working hours, after I'd been
    unlading. Look here." Mr. Deane opened a book and pointed to the page.
    "I write a good hand enough, and I'll match anybody at all sorts of
    reckoning by the head; and I got it all by hard work, and paid for it
    out of my own earnings,--often out of my own dinner and supper. And I
    looked into the nature of all the things we had to do in the business,
    and picked up knowledge as I went about my work, and turned it over in
    my head. Why, I'm no mechanic,--I never pretended to be--but I've
    thought of a thing or two that the mechanics never thought of, and
    it's made a fine difference in our returns. And there isn't an article
    shipped or unshipped at our wharf but I know the quality of it. If I
    got places, sir, it was because I made myself fit for 'em. If you want
    to slip into a round hole, you must make a ball of yourself; that's
    where it is."

    Mr. Deane tapped his box again. He had been led on by pure enthusiasm
    in his subject, and had really forgotten what bearing this
    retrospective survey had on his listener. He had found occasion for
    saying the same thing more than once before, and was not distinctly
    aware that he had not his port-wine before him.

    "Well, uncle," said Tom, with a slight complaint in his tone, "that's
    what I should like to do. Can't _I_ get on in the same way?"

    "In the same way?" said Mr. Deane, eyeing Tom with quiet deliberation.
    "There go two or three questions to that, Master Tom. That depends on
    what sort of material you are, to begin with, and whether you've been
    put into the right mill. But I'll tell you what it is. Your poor
    father went the wrong way to work in giving you an education. It
    wasn't my business, and I didn't interfere; but it is as I thought it
    would be. You've had a sort of learning that's all very well for a
    young fellow like our Mr. Stephen Guest, who'll have nothing to do but
    sign checks all his life, and may as well have Latin inside his head
    as any other sort of stuffing."

    "But, uncle," said Tom, earnestly, "I don't see why the Latin need
    hinder me from getting on in business. I shall soon forget it all; it
    makes no difference to me. I had to do my lessons at school, but I
    always thought they'd never be of any use to me afterward; I didn't
    care about them."

    "Ay, ay, that's all very well," said Mr. Deane; "but it doesn't alter
    what I was going to say. Your Latin and rigmarole may soon dry off
    you, but you'll be but a bare stick after that. Besides, it's whitened
    your hands and taken the rough work out of you. And what do you know?
    Why, you know nothing about book-keeping, to begin with, and not so
    much of reckoning as a common shopman. You'll have to begin at a low
    round of the ladder, let me tell you, if you mean to get on in life.
    It's no use forgetting the education your father's been paying for, if
    you don't give yourself a new un."

    Tom bit his lips hard; he felt as if the tears were rising, and he
    would rather die than let them.

    "You want me to help you to a situation," Mr. Deane went on; "well,
    I've no fault to find with that. I'm willing to do something for you.
    But you youngsters nowadays think you're to begin with living well and
    working easy; you've no notion of running afoot before you get
    horseback. Now, you must remember what you are,--you're a lad of
    sixteen, trained to nothing particular. There's heaps of your sort,
    like so many pebbles, made to fit in nowhere. Well, you might be
    apprenticed to some business,--a chemist's and druggist's perhaps;
    your Latin might come in a bit there----"

    Tom was going to speak, but Mr. Deane put up his hand and said:

    "Stop! hear what I've got to say. You don't want to be a 'prentice,--I
    know, I know,--you want to make more haste, and you don't want to
    stand behind a counter. But if you're a copying-clerk, you'll have to
    stand behind a desk, and stare at your ink and paper all day; there
    isn't much out-look there, and you won't be much wiser at the end of
    the year than at the beginning. The world isn't made of pen, ink, and
    paper, and if you're to get on in the world, young man, you must know
    what the world's made of. Now the best chance for you 'ud be to have a
    place on a wharf, or in a warehouse, where you'd learn the smell of
    things, but you wouldn't like that, I'll be bound; you'd have to stand
    cold and wet, and be shouldered about by rough fellows. You're too
    fine a gentleman for that."

    Mr. Deane paused and looked hard at Tom, who certainly felt some
    inward struggle before he could reply.

    "I would rather do what will be best for me in the end, sir; I would
    put up with what was disagreeable."

    "That's well, if you can carry it out. But you must remember it isn't
    only laying hold of a rope, you must go on pulling. It's the mistake
    you lads make that have got nothing either in your brains or your
    pocket, to think you've got a better start in the world if you stick
    yourselves in a place where you can keep your coats clean, and have
    the shopwenches take you for fine gentlemen. That wasn't the way _I_
    started, young man; when I was sixteen, my jacket smelt of tar, and I
    wasn't afraid of handling cheeses. That's the reason I can wear good
    broadcloth now, and have my legs under the same table with the head
    of the best firms in St. Ogg's."

    Uncle Deane tapped his box, and seemed to expand a little under his
    waistcoat and gold chain, as he squared his shoulders in the chair.

    "Is there any place at liberty that you know of now, uncle, that I
    should do for? I should like to set to work at once," said Tom, with a
    slight tremor in his voice.

    "Stop a bit, stop a bit; we mustn't be in too great a hurry. You must
    bear in mind, if I put you in a place you're a bit young for, because
    you happen to be my nephew, I shall be responsible for you. And
    there's no better reason, you know, than your being my nephew; because
    it remains to be seen whether you're good for anything."

    "I hope I shall never do you any discredit, uncle," said Tom, hurt, as
    all boys are at the statement of the unpleasant truth that people feel
    no ground for trusting them. "I care about my own credit too much for

    "Well done, Tom, well done! That's the right spirit, and I never
    refuse to help anybody if they've a mind to do themselves justice.
    There's a young man of two-and-twenty I've got my eye on now. I shall
    do what I can for that young man; he's got some pith in him. But then,
    you see, he's made good use of his time,--a first-rate calculator,--
    can tell you the cubic contents of anything in no time, and put me up
    the other day to a new market for Swedish bark; he's uncommonly
    knowing in manufactures, that young fellow."

    "I'd better set about learning book-keeping, hadn't I, uncle?" said
    Tom, anxious to prove his readiness to exert himself.

    "Yes, yes, you can't do amiss there. But--Ah, Spence, you're back
    again. Well Tom, there's nothing more to be said just now, I think,
    and I must go to business again. Good-by. Remember me to your mother."

    Mr. Deane put out his hand, with an air of friendly dismissal, and Tom
    had not courage to ask another question, especially in the presence of
    Mr. Spence. So he went out again into the cold damp air. He had to
    call at his uncle Glegg's about the money in the Savings Bank, and by
    the time he set out again the mist had thickened, and he could not see
    very far before him; but going along River Street again, he was
    startled, when he was within two yards of the projecting side of a
    shop-window, by the words "Dorlcote Mill" in large letters on a
    hand-bill, placed as if on purpose to stare at him. It was the
    catalogue of the sale to take place the next week; it was a reason for
    hurrying faster out of the town.

    Poor Tom formed no visions of the distant future as he made his way
    homeward; he only felt that the present was very hard. It seemed a
    wrong toward him that his uncle Deane had no confidence in him,--did
    not see at once that he should acquit himself well, which Tom himself
    was as certain of as of the daylight. Apparently he, Tom Tulliver, was
    likely to be held of small account in the world; and for the first
    time he felt a sinking of heart under the sense that he really was
    very ignorant, and could do very little. Who was that enviable young
    man that could tell the cubic contents of things in no time, and make
    suggestions about Swedish bark! Tom had been used to be so entirely
    satisfied with himself, in spite of his breaking down in a
    demonstration, and construing _nunc illas promite vires_ as "now
    promise those men"; but now he suddenly felt at a disadvantage,
    because he knew less than some one else knew. There must be a world of
    things connected with that Swedish bark, which, if he only knew them,
    might have helped him to get on. It would have been much easier to
    make a figure with a spirited horse and a new saddle.

    Two hours ago, as Tom was walking to St. Ogg's, he saw the distant
    future before him as he might have seen a tempting stretch of smooth
    sandy beach beyond a belt of flinty shingles; he was on the grassy
    bank then, and thought the shingles might soon be passed. But now his
    feet were on the sharp stones; the belt of shingles had widened, and
    the stretch of sand had dwindled into narrowness.

    "What did my Uncle Deane say, Tom?" said Maggie, putting her arm
    through Tom's as he was warming himself rather drearily by the kitchen
    fire. "Did he say he would give you a situation?"

    "No, he didn't say that. He didn't quite promise me anything; he
    seemed to think I couldn't have a very good situation. I'm too young."

    "But didn't he speak kindly, Tom?"

    "Kindly? Pooh! what's the use of talking about that? I wouldn't care
    about his speaking kindly, if I could get a situation. But it's such a
    nuisance and bother; I've been at school all this while learning Latin
    and things,--not a bit of good to me,--and now my uncle says I must
    set about learning book-keeping and calculation, and those things. He
    seems to make out I'm good for nothing."

    Tom's mouth twitched with a bitter expression as he looked at the

    "Oh, what a pity we haven't got Dominie Sampson!" said Maggie, who
    couldn't help mingling some gayety with their sadness. "If he had
    taught me book-keeping by double entry and after the Italian method,
    as he did Lucy Bertram, I could teach you, Tom."

    "_You_ teach! Yes, I dare say. That's always the tone you take," said

    "Dear Tom, I was only joking," said Maggie, putting her cheek against
    his coat-sleeve.

    "But it's always the same, Maggie," said Tom, with the little frown he
    put on when he was about to be justifiably severe. "You're always
    setting yourself up above me and every one else, and I've wanted to
    tell you about it several times. You ought not to have spoken as you
    did to my uncles and aunts; you should leave it to me to take care of
    my mother and you, and not put yourself forward. You think you know
    better than any one, but you're almost always wrong. I can judge much
    better than you can."

    Poor Tom! he had just come from being lectured and made to feel his
    inferiority; the reaction of his strong, self-asserting nature must
    take place somehow; and here was a case in which he could justly show
    himself dominant. Maggie's cheek flushed and her lip quivered with
    conflicting resentment and affection, and a certain awe as well as
    admiration of Tom's firmer and more effective character. She did not
    answer immediately; very angry words rose to her lips, but they were
    driven back again, and she said at last:

    "You often think I'm conceited, Tom, when I don't mean what I say at
    all in that way. I don't mean to put myself above you; I know you
    behaved better than I did yesterday. But you are always so harsh to
    me, Tom."

    With the last words the resentment was rising again.

    "No, I'm not harsh," said Tom, with severe decision. "I'm always kind
    to you, and so I shall be; I shall always take care of you. But you
    must mind what I say."

    Their mother came in now, and Maggie rushed away, that her burst of
    tears, which she felt must come, might not happen till she was safe
    upstairs. They were very bitter tears; everybody in the world seemed
    so hard and unkind to Maggie; there was no indulgence, no fondness,
    such as she imagined when she fashioned the world afresh in her own
    thoughts. In books there were people who were always agreeable or
    tender, and delighted to do things that made one happy, and who did
    not show their kindness by finding fault. The world outside the books
    was not a happy one, Maggie felt; it seemed to be a world where people
    behaved the best to those they did not pretend to love, and that did
    not belong to them. And if life had no love in it, what else was there
    for Maggie? Nothing but poverty and the companionship of her mother's
    narrow griefs, perhaps of her father's heart-cutting childish
    dependence. There is no hopelessness so sad as that of early youth,
    when the soul is made up of wants, and has no long memories, no
    superadded life in the life of others; though we who looked on think
    lightly of such premature despair, as if our vision of the future
    lightened the blind sufferer's present.

    Maggie, in her brown frock, with her eyes reddened and her heavy hair
    pushed back, looking from the bed where her father lay to the dull
    walls of this sad chamber which was the centre of her world, was a
    creature full of eager, passionate longings for all that was beautiful
    and glad; thirsty for all knowledge; with an ear straining after
    dreamy music that died away and would not come near to her; with a
    blind, unconscious yearning for something that would link together the
    wonderful impressions of this mysterious life, and give her soul a
    sense of home in it.

    No wonder, when there is this contrast between the outward and the
    inward, that painful collisions come of it.
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