THREE weeks later, when Dorlcote Mill was at its prettiest moment in all the year,the great chestnuts in blossom, and the grass all deep and daisied,Tom Tulliver came home to it earlier than usual in the evening, and as he passed over the bridge, he looked with the old deep-rooted affection at the respectable red brick house, which always seemed cheerful and inviting outside, let the rooms be as bare and the hearts as sad as they might inside. There is a very pleasant light in Toms blue-gray eyes as he glances at the house-windows; that fold in his brow never disappears, but it is not unbecoming; it seems to imply a strength of will that may possibly be without harshness, when the eyes and mouth have their gentlest expression. His firm step becomes quicker, and the corners of his mouth rebel against the compression which is meant to forbid a smile.
The eyes in the parlor were not turned toward the bridge just then, and the group there was sitting in unexpectant silence,Mr. Tulliver in his arm-chair, tired with a long ride, and ruminating with a worn look, fixed chiefly on Maggie, who was bending over her sewing while her mother was making the tea.
Tom went up to his mother and kissed her, a sign of unusual good-humor with him. Hardly a word or look had passed between him and Maggie in all the three weeks; but his usual incommunicativeness at home prevented this from being noticeable to their parents.
Only a hundred and ninety-three pound, said Mr. Tulliver. Youve brought less o late; but young fellows like to have their own way with their money. Though I didnt do as I liked before I was of age. He spoke with rather timid discontent.
That was a cutting word to Maggie. Her heart had leaped with the sudden conviction that Tom was going to tell their father the debts could be paid; and Tom would have let her be absent when that news was told! But she carried away the tray and came back immediately. The feeling of injury on her own behalf could not predominate at that moment.
Tom drew to the corner of the table near his father when the tin box was set down and opened, and the red evening light falling on them made conspicuous the worn, sour gloom of the dark-eyed father and the suppressed joy in the face of the fair-complexioned son. The mother and Maggie sat at the other end of the table, the one in blank patience, the other in palpitating expectation.
Theres more nor three hundred wanting; itll be a fine while before I can save that. Losing that forty-two pound wi the corn was a sore job. This worlds been too many for me. Its took four year to lay this by; its much if Im above ground for another four year. I must trusten to you to pay em, he went on, with a trembling voice, if you keep i the same mind now youre coming o age. But youre like enough to bury me first.
His tone implied something more than mere hopefulness or resolution. A slight electric shock seemed to pass through Mr. Tulliver, and he kept his eyes fixed on Tom with a look of eager inquiry, while Maggie, unable to restrain herself, rushed to her fathers side and knelt down by him. Tom was silent a little while before he went on.
But his father was silent; the flood of emotion hemmed in all power of speech. Both Tom and Maggie were struck with fear lest the shock of joy might even be fatal. But the blessed relief of tears came. The broad chest heaved, the muscles of the face gave way, and the gray-haired man burst into loud sobs. The fit of weeping gradually subsided, and he sat quiet, recovering the regularity of his breathing. At last he looked up at his wife and said, in a gentle tone:
You shall see it to-morrow, father, said Tom. My uncle Deane has appointed the creditors to meet to-morrow at the Golden Lion, and he has ordered a dinner for them at two oclock. My uncle Glegg and he will both be there. It was advertised in the Messenger on Saturday.
Then Wakem knows ont! said Mr. Tulliver, his eye kindling with triumphant fire. Ah! he went on, with a long-drawn guttural enunciation, taking out his snuff-box, the only luxury he had left himself, and tapping it with something of his old air of defiance. Ill get from under his thumb now, though I must leave the old mill. I thought I could ha held out to die herebut I cantweve got a glass o nothing in the house, have we, Bessy?
Tom, my lad, he said, in a stronger voice, when he had taken some brandy-and-water, you shall make a speech to em. Ill tell em its you as got the best part o the money. Theyll see Im honest at last, and ha got an honest son. Ah! Wakem ud be fine and glad to have a son like mine,a fine straight fellow,istead o that poor crooked creatur! Youll prosper i the world, my lad; youll maybe see the day when Wakem and his son ull be a round or two below you. Youll like enough be taen into partnership, as your uncle Deane was before you,youre in the right way fort; and then theres nothing to hinder your getting rich. And if ever youre rich enoughmind thistry and get th old mill again.
Mr. Tulliver threw himself back in his chair; his mind, which had so long been the home of nothing but bitter discontent and foreboding, suddenly filled, by the magic of joy, with visions of good fortune. But some subtle influence prevented him from foreseeing the good fortune as happening to himself.
Tom never lived to taste another moment so delicious as that; and Maggie couldnt help forgetting her own grievances. Tom was good; and in the sweet humility that springs in us all in moments of true admiration and gratitude, she felt that the faults he had to pardon in her had never been redeemed, as his faults were. She felt no jealousy this evening that, for the first time, she seemed to be thrown into the background in her fathers mind.
There was much more talk before bedtime. Mr. Tulliver naturally wanted to hear all the particulars of Toms trading adventures, and he listened with growing excitement and delight. He was curious to know what had been said on every occasion; if possible, what had been thought; and Bob Jakins part in the business threw him into peculiar outbursts of sympathy with the triumphant knowingness of that remarkable packman. Bobs juvenile history, so far as it had come under Mr. Tullivers knowledge, was recalled with that sense of astonishing promise it displayed, which is observable in all reminiscences of the childhood of great men.
It was well that there was this interest of narrative to keep under the vague but fierce sense of triumph over Wakem, which would otherwise have been the channel his joy would have rushed into with dangerous force. Even as it was, that feeling from time to time gave threats of its ultimate mastery, in sudden bursts of irrelevant exclamation.
It was long before Mr. Tulliver got to sleep that night; and the sleep, when it came, was filled with vivid dreams. At half-past five oclock in the morning, when Mrs. Tulliver was already rising, he alarmed her by starting up with a sort of smothered shout, and looking round in a bewildered way at the walls of the bedroom.