III. Mr. Riley Gives His Advice Concerning a School for Tom
THE GENTLEMAN in the ample white cravat and shirt-frill, taking his brandy-and-water so pleasantly with his good friend Tulliver, is Mr. Riley, a gentleman with a waxen complexion and fat hands, rather highly educated for an auctioneer and appraiser, but large-hearted enough to show a great deal of bonhomie toward simple country acquaintances of hospitable habits. Mr. Riley spoke of such acquaintances kindly as people of the old school.
The conversation had come to a pause. Mr. Tulliver, not without a particular reason, had abstained from a seventh recital of the cool retort by which Riley had shown himself too many for Dix, and how Wakem had had his comb cut for once in his life, now the business of the dam had been settled by arbitration, and how there never would have been any dispute at all about the height of water if everybody was what they should be, and Old Harry hadnt made the lawyers.
Mr. Tulliver was, on the whole, a man of safe traditional opinions; but on one or two points he had trusted to his unassisted intellect, and had arrived at several questionable conclusions; amongst the rest, that rats, weevils, and lawyers were created by Old Harry. Unhappily he had no one to tell him that this was rampant Manichæism, else he might have seen his error. But to-day it was clear that the good principle was triumphant: this affair of the water-power had been a tangled business somehow, for all it seemedlook at it one wayas plain as waters water; but, big a puzzle as it was, it hadnt got the better of Riley. Mr. Tulliver took his brandy-and-water a little stronger than usual, and, for a man who might be supposed to have a few hundreds lying idle at his bankers, was rather incautiously open in expressing his high estimate of his friends business talents.
But the dam was a subject of conversation that would keep; it could always be taken up again at the same point, and exactly in the same condition; and there was another subject, as you know, on which Mr. Tulliver was in pressing want of Mr. Rileys advice. This was his particular reason for remaining silent for a short space after his last draught, and rubbing his knees in a meditative manner. He was not a man to make an abrupt transition. This was a puzzling world, as he often said, and if you drive your wagon in a hurry, you may light on an awkward corner. Mr. Riley, meanwhile, was not impatient. Why should he be? Even Hotspur, one would think, must have been patient in his slippers on a warm hearth, taking copious snuff, and sipping gratuitous brandy-and-water.
Ah! said Mr. Riley, in a tone of mild interest. He was a man with heavy waxen eyelids and high-arched eyebrows, looking exactly the same under all circumstances. This immovability of face, and the habit of taking a pinch of snuff before he gave an answer, made him trebly oracular to Mr. Tulliver.
At the sound of this name, Maggie, who was seated on a low stool close by the fire, with a large book open on her lap, shook her heavy hair back and looked up eagerly. There were few sounds that roused Maggie when she was dreaming over her book, but Toms name served as well as the shrillest whistle; in an instant she was on the watch, with gleaming eyes, like a Skye terrier suspecting mischief, or at all events determined to fly at any one who threatened it toward Tom.
You see, I want to put him to a new school at Midsummer, said Mr. Tulliver; hes comin away from the cademy at Lady-day, an I shall let him run loose for a quarter; but after that I want to send him to a downright good school, where theyll make a scholard of him.
Well, said Mr. Riley, theres no greater advantage you can give him than a good education. Not, he added, with polite significance,not that a man cant be an excellent miller and farmer, and a shrewd, sensible fellow into the bargain, without much help from the schoolmaster.
I believe you, said Mr. Tulliver, winking, and turning his head on one side; but thats where it is. I dont mean Tom to be a miller and farmer. I see no fun i that. Why, if I made him a miller an farmer, hed be expectin to take to the mill an the land, an a-hinting at me as it was time for me to lay by an think o my latter end. Nay, nay, Ive seen enough o that wi sons. Ill never pull my coat off before I go to bed. I shall give Tom an eddication an put him to a business, as he may make a nest for himself, an not want to push me out o mine. Pretty well if he gets it when Im dead an gone. I shant be put off wi spoon-meat afore Ive lost my teeth.
This was evidently a point on which Mr. Tulliver felt strongly; and the impetus which had given unusual rapidity and emphasis to his speech showed itself still unexhausted for some minutes afterward in a defiant motion of the head from side to side, and an occasional Nay, nay, like a subsiding growl.
These angry symptoms were keenly observed by Maggie, and cut her to the quick. Tom, it appeared, was supposed capable of turning his father out of doors, and of making the future in some way tragic by his wickedness. This was not to be borne; and Maggie jumped up from her stool, forgetting all about her heavy book, which fell with a bang within the fender, and going up between her fathers knees, said, in a half-crying, half-indignant voice,
Mrs. Tulliver was out of the room superintending a choice supper-dish, and Mr. Tullivers heart was touched; so Maggie was not scolded about the book. Mr. Riley quietly picked it up and looked at it, while the father laughed, with a certain tenderness in his hard-lined face, and patted his little girl on the back, and then held her hands and kept her between his knees.
What! they mustnt say any harm o Tom, eh? said Mr. Tulliver, looking at Maggie with a twinkling eye. Then, in a lower voice, turning to Mr. Riley, as though Maggie couldnt hear, She understands what ones talking about so as never was. And you should hear her read,straight off, as if she knowed it all beforehand. And allays at her book! But its badits bad, Mr. Tulliver added sadly, checking this blamable exultation. A womans no business wi being so clever; itll turn to trouble, I doubt. But bless you!here the exultation was clearly recovering the mastery,shell read the books and understand em better nor half the folks as are growed up.
Oh, Ill tell you what that means. Its a dreadful picture, isnt it? But I cant help looking at it. That old woman in the waters a witch,theyve put her in to find out whether shes a witch or no; and if she swims shes a witch, and if shes drownedand killed, you knowshes innocent, and not a witch, but only a poor silly old woman. But what good would it do her then, you know, when she was drowned? Only, I suppose, shed go to heaven, and God would make it up to her. And this dreadful blacksmith with his arms akimbo, laughing,oh, isnt he ugly?Ill tell you what he is. Hes the Devil really (here Maggies voice became louder and more emphatic), and not a right blacksmith; for the Devil takes the shape of wicked men, and walks about and sets people doing wicked things, and hes oftener in the shape of a bad man than any other, because, you know, if people saw he was the Devil, and he roared at em, theyd run away, and he couldnt make em do what he pleased.
Why, its one o the books I bought at Partridges sale. They was all bound alike,its a good binding, you see,and I thought theyd be all good books. Theres Jeremy Taylors Holy Living and Dying among em. I read in it often of a Sunday (Mr. Tulliver felt somehow a familiarity with that great writer, because his name was Jeremy); and theres a lot more of em,sermons mostly, I think,but theyve all got the same covers, and I thought they were all o one sample, as you may say. But it seems one mustnt judge by th outside. This is a puzzlin world.
Well, said Mr. Riley, in an admonitory, patronizing tone as he patted Maggie on the head, I advise you to put by the History of the Devil, and read some prettier book. Have you no prettier books?
Oh, yes, said Maggie, reviving a little in the desire to vindicate the variety of her reading. I know the reading in this book isnt pretty; but I like the pictures, and I make stories to the pictures out of my own head, you know. But Ive got Æsops Fables, and a book about Kangaroos and things, and the Pilgrims Progress.
Maggie ran in an instant to the corner of the room, jumped on a chair, and reached down from the small bookcase a shabby old copy of Bunyan, which opened at once, without the least trouble of search, at the picture she wanted.
Here he is, she said, running back to Mr. Riley, and Tom colored him for me with his paints when he was at home last holidays,the body all black, you know, and the eyes red, like fire, because hes all fire inside, and it shines out at his eyes.
Go, go! said Mr. Tulliver, peremptorily, beginning to feel rather uncomfortable at these free remarks on the personal appearance of a being powerful enough to create lawyers; shut up the book, and lets hear no more o such talk. It is as I thoughtthe child ull learn more mischief nor good wi the books. Go, go and see after your mother.
Maggie shut up the book at once, with a sense of disgrace, but not being inclined to see after her mother, she compromised the matter by going into a dark corner behind her fathers chair, and nursing her doll, toward which she had an occasional fit of fondness in Toms absence, neglecting its toilet, but lavishing so many warm kisses on it that the waxen cheeks had a wasted, unhealthy appearance.
Did you ever hear the like ont? said Mr. Tulliver, as Maggie retired. Its a pity but what shed been the lad,shed ha been a match for the lawyers, she would. Its the wonderfulst thinghere he lowered his voiceas I picked the mother because she wasnt oer cutebein a good-looking woman too, an come of a rare family for managing; but I picked her from her sisters o purpose, cause she was a bit weak like; for I wasnt agoin to be told the rights o things by my own fireside. But you see when a mans got brains himself, theres no knowing where theyll run to; an a pleasant sort o soft woman may go on breeding you stupid lads and cute wenches, till its like as if the world was turned topsy-turvy. Its an uncommon puzzlin thing.
Well, he isnt not to say stupid,hes got a notion o things out o door, an a sort o common sense, as hed lay hold o things by the right handle. But hes slow with his tongue, you see, and he reads but poorly, and cant abide the books, and spells all wrong, they tell me, an as shy as can be wi strangers, an you never hear him say cute things like the little wench. Now, what I want is to send him to a school where theyll make him a bit nimble with his tongue and his pen, and make a smart chap of him. I want my son to be even wi these fellows as have got the start o me with having better schooling. Not but what, if the world had been left as God made it, I could ha seen my way, and held my own wi the best of em; but things have got so twisted round and wrapped up i unreasonable words, as arent a bit like em, as Im clean at fault, often an often. Everything winds about sothe more straightforrad you are, the more youre puzzled.
Youre quite in the right of it, Tulliver, observed Mr. Riley. Better spend an extra hundred or two on your sons education, than leave it him in your will. I know I should have tried to do so by a son of mine, if Id had one, though, God knows, I havent your ready money to play with, Tulliver; and I have a houseful of daughters into the bargain.
I know of a very fine chance for any one thats got the necessary money and thats what you have, Tulliver. The fact is, I wouldnt recommend any friend of mine to send a boy to a regular school, if he could afford to do better. But if any one wanted his boy to get superior instruction and training, where he would be the companion of his master, and that master a first rate fellow, I know his man. I wouldnt mention the chance to everybody, because I dont think everybody would succeed in getting it, if he were to try; but I mention it to you, Tulliver, between ourselves.
Why, the fact is, hes fond of teaching, and wishes to keep up his studies, and a clergyman has but little opportunity for that in his parochial duties. Hes willing to take one or two boys as pupils to fill up his time profitably. The boys would be quite of the family,the finest thing in the world for them; under Stellings eye continually.
But do you think theyd give the poor lad twice o pudding? said Mrs. Tulliver, who was now in her place again. Hes such a boy for pudding as never was; an a growing boy like that,its dreadful to think o their stintin him.
Why, I know of a clergyman who asks a hundred and fifty with his youngest pupils, and hes not to be mentioned with Stelling, the man I speak of. I know, on good authority, that one of the chief people at Oxford said, Stelling might get the highest honors if he chose. But he didnt care about university honors; hes a quiet mannot noisy.
A good education, let me tell you, Tulliver,a good education is cheap at the money. But Stelling is moderate in his terms; hes not a grasping man. Ive no doubt hed take your boy at a hundred, and thats what you wouldnt get many other clergymen to do. Ill write to him about it, if you like.
But belike hes a bachelor, observed Mrs. Tulliver, in the interval; an Ive no opinion o housekeepers. There was my brother, as is dead an gone, had a housekeeper once, an she took half the feathers out o the best bed, an packed em up an sent em away. An its unknown the linen she made away withStott her name was. It ud break my heart to send Tom where theres a housekeeper, an I hope you wont think of it, Mr. Tulliver.
You may set your mind at rest on that score, Mrs. Tulliver, said Mr. Riley, for Stelling is married to as nice a little woman as any man need wish for a wife. There isnt a kinder little soul in the world; I know her family well. She has very much your complexion,light curly hair. She comes of a good Mudport family, and its not every offer that would have been acceptable in that quarter. But Stellings not an every-day man; rather a particular fellow as to the people he chooses to be connected with. But I think he would have no objection to take your son; I think he would not, on my representation.
But theres one thing Im thinking on, said Mr. Tulliver, turning his head on one side and looking at Mr. Riley, after a long perusal of the carpet. Wouldnt a parson be almost too high-learnt to bring up a lad to be a man o business? My notion o the parsons was as theyd got a sort o learning as lay mostly out o sight. And that isnt what I want for Tom. I want him to know figures, and write like print, and see into things quick, and know what folks mean, and how to wrap things up in words as arent actionable. Its an uncommon fine thing, that is, concluded Mr. Tulliver, shaking his head, when you can let a man know what you think of him without paying for it.
Oh, my dear Tulliver, said Mr. Riley, youre quite under a mistake about the clergy; all the best schoolmasters are of the clergy. The schoolmasters who are not clergymen are a very low set of men generally.
To be sure,men who have failed in other trades, most likely. Now, a clergyman is a gentleman by profession and education; and besides that, he has the knowledge that will ground a boy, and prepare him for entering on any career with credit. There may be some clergymen who are mere bookmen; but you may depend upon it, Stelling is not one of them,a man thats wide awake, let me tell you. Drop him a hint, and thats enough. You talk of figures, now; you have only to say to Stelling, I want my son to be a thorough arithmetician, and you may leave the rest to him.
You see, my dear Tulliver, Mr. Riley continued, when you get a thoroughly educated man, like Stelling, hes at no loss to take up any branch of instruction. When a workman knows the use of his tools, he can make a door as well as a window.
Well, Ill tell you what Ill do for you, said Mr. Riley, and I wouldnt do it for everybody. Ill see Stellings father-in-law, or drop him a line when I get back to Mudport, to say that you wish to place your boy with his son-in-law, and I dare say Stelling will write to you, and send you his terms.
But theres no hurry, is there? said Mrs. Tulliver; for I hope, Mr. Tulliver, you wont let Tom begin at his new school before Midsummer. He began at the cademy at the Lady-day quarter, and you see what goods come of it.
Ay, ay, Bessy, never brew wi bad malt upo Michael-masday, else youll have a poor tap, said Mr. Tulliver, winking and smiling at Mr. Riley, with the natural pride of a man who has a buxom wife conspicuously his inferior in intellect. But its true theres no hurry; youve hit it there, Bessy.
It might be as well not to defer the arrangement too long, said Mr. Riley, quietly, for Stelling may have propositions from other parties, and I know he would not take more than two or three boarders, if so many. If I were you, I think I would enter on the subject with Stelling at once: theres no necessity for sending the boy before Midsummer, but I would be on the safe side, and make sure that nobody forestalls you.
Father, broke in Maggie, who had stolen unperceived to her fathers elbow again, listening with parted lips, while she held her doll topsy-turvy, and crushed its nose against the wood of the chair,father, is it a long way off where Tom is to go? Shant we ever go to see him?
Oh, a long, long way off, that gentleman answered, being of opinion that children, when they are not naughty, should always be spoken to jocosely. You must borrow the seven-leagued boots to get to him.
Thats nonsense! said Maggie, tossing her head haughtily, and turning away, with the tears springing in her eyes. She began to dislike Mr. Riley; it was evident he thought her silly and of no consequence.
Hush, Maggie! for shame of you, asking questions and chattering, said her mother. Come and sit down on your little stool, and hold your tongue, do. But, added Mrs. Tulliver, who had her own alarm awakened, is it so far off as I couldnt wash him and mend him?
The entrance of supper opportunely adjourned this difficulty, and relieved Mr. Riley from the labor of suggesting some solution or compromise,a labor which he would otherwise doubtless have undertaken; for, as you perceive, he was a man of very obliging manners. And he had really given himself the trouble of recommending Mr. Stelling to his friend Tulliver without any positive expectation of a solid, definite advantage resulting to himself, notwithstanding the subtle indications to the contrary which might have misled a too-sagacious observer. For there is nothing more widely misleading than sagacity if it happens to get on a wrong scent; and sagacity, persuaded that men usually act and speak from distinct motives, with a consciously proposed end in view, is certain to waste its energies on imaginary game.
Plotting covetousness and deliberate contrivance, in order to compass a selfish end, are nowhere abundant but in the world of the dramatist: they demand too intense a mental action for many of our fellow-parishioners to be guilty of them. It is easy enough to spoil the lives of our neighbors without taking so much trouble; we can do it by lazy acquiescence and lazy omission, by trivial falsities for which we hardly know a reason, by small frauds neutralized by small extravagances, by maladroit flatteries, and clumsily improvised insinuations. We live from hand to mouth, most of us, with a small family of immediate desires; we do little else than snatch a morsel to satisfy the hungry brood, rarely thinking of seed-corn or the next years crop.
Mr. Riley was a man of business, and not cold toward his own interest, yet even he was more under the influence of small promptings than of far-sighted designs. He had no private understanding with the Rev. Walter Stelling; on the contrary, he knew very little of that M.A. and his acquirements,not quite enough, perhaps, to warrant so strong a recommendation of him as he had given to his friend Tulliver. But he believed Mr. Stelling to be an excellent classic, for Gadsby had said so, and Gadsbys first cousin was an Oxford tutor; which was better ground for the belief even than his own immediate observation would have been, for though Mr. Riley had received a tincture of the classics at the great Mudport Free School, and had a sense of understanding Latin generally, his comprehension of any particular Latin was not ready. Doubtless there remained a subtle aroma from his juvenile contact with the De Senectute and the fourth book of the Æneid, but it had ceased to be distinctly recognizable as classical, and was only perceived in the higher finish and force of his auctioneering style. Then, Stelling was an Oxford man, and the Oxford men were alwaysno, no, it was the Cambridge men who were always good mathematicians. But a man who had had a university education could teach anything he liked; especially a man like Stelling, who had made a speech at a Mudport dinner on a political occasion, and had acquitted himself so well that it was generally remarked, this son-in-law of Timpsons was a sharp fellow. It was to be expected of a Mudport man, from the parish of St. Ursula, that he would not omit to do a good turn to a son-in-law of Timpsons, for Timpson was one of the most useful and influential men in the parish, and had a good deal of business, which he knew how to put into the right hands. Mr. Riley liked such men, quite apart from any money which might be diverted, through their good judgment, from less worthy pockets into his own; and it would be a satisfaction to him to say to Timpson on his return home, Ive secured a good pupil for your son-in-law. Timpson had a large family of daughters; Mr. Riley felt for him; besides, Louisa Timpsons face, with its light curls, had been a familiar object to him over the pew wainscot on a Sunday for nearly fifteen years; it was natural her husband should be a commendable tutor. Moreover, Mr. Riley knew of no other schoolmaster whom he had any ground for recommending in preference; why, then, should be not recommend Stelling? His friend Tulliver had asked him for an opinion; it is always chilling, in friendly intercourse, to say you have no opinion to give. And if you deliver an opinion at all, it is mere stupidity not to do it with an air of conviction and well-founded knowledge. You make it your own in uttering it, and naturally get fond of it. Thus Mr. Riley, knowing no harm of Stelling to begin with, and wishing him well, so far as he had any wishes at all concerning him, had no sooner recommended him than he began to think with admiration of a man recommended on such high authority, and would soon have gathered so warm an interest on the subject, that if Mr. Tulliver had in the end declined to send Tom to Stelling, Mr. Riley would have thought his friend of the old school a thoroughly pig-headed fellow.
If you blame Mr. Riley very severely for giving a recommendation on such slight grounds, I must say you are rather hard upon him. Why should an auctioneer and appraiser thirty years ago, who had as good as forgotten his free-school Latin, be expected to manifest a delicate scrupulosity which is not always exhibited by gentlemen of the learned professions, even in our present advanced stage of morality?
Besides, a man with the milk of human kindness in him can scarcely abstain from doing a good-natured action, and one cannot be good-natured all round. Nature herself occasionally quarters an inconvenient parasite on an animal toward whom she has otherwise no ill will. What then? We admire her care for the parasite. If Mr. Riley had shrunk from giving a recommendation that was not based on valid evidence, he would not have helped Mr. Stelling to a paying pupil, and that would not have been so well for the reverend gentleman. Consider, too, that all the pleasant little dim ideas and complacenciesof standing well with Timpson, of dispensing advice when he was asked for it, of impressing his friend Tulliver with additional respect, of saying something, and saying it emphatically, with other inappreciably minute ingredients that went along with the warm hearth and the brandy-and-water to make up Mr. Rileys consciousness on this occasionwould have been a mere blank.