The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot

Chapter I

Outside Dorlcote Mill

A wide plain, where the broadening Floss hurries on between its green
banks to the sea, and the loving tide, rushing to meet it, checks its
passage with an impetuous embrace. On this mighty tide the black
ships–laden with the fresh-scented fir-planks, with rounded sacks of
oil-bearing seed, or with the dark glitter of coal–are borne along to
the town of St. Ogg’s, which shows its aged, fluted red roofs and the
broad gables of its wharves between the low wooded hill and the
river-brink, tingeing the water with a soft purple hue under the
transient glance of this February sun. Far away on each hand stretch
the rich pastures, and the patches of dark earth made ready for the
seed of broad-leaved green crops, or touched already with the tint of
the tender-bladed autumn-sown corn. There is a remnant still of last
year’s golden clusters of beehive-ricks rising at intervals beyond the
hedgerows; and everywhere the hedgerows are studded with trees; the
distant ships seem to be lifting their masts and stretching their
red-brown sails close among the branches of the spreading ash. Just by
the red-roofed town the tributary Ripple flows with a lively current
into the Floss. How lovely the little river is, with its dark changing
wavelets! It seems to me like a living companion while I wander along
the bank, and listen to its low, placid voice, as to the voice of one
who is deaf and loving. I remember those large dipping willows. I
remember the stone bridge.

And this is Dorlcote Mill. I must stand a minute or two here on the
bridge and look at it, though the clouds are threatening, and it is
far on in the afternoon. Even in this leafless time of departing
February it is pleasant to look at,–perhaps the chill, damp season
adds a charm to the trimly kept, comfortable dwelling-house, as old as
the elms and chestnuts that shelter it from the northern blast. The
stream is brimful now, and lies high in this little withy plantation,
and half drowns the grassy fringe of the croft in front of the house.
As I look at the full stream, the vivid grass, the delicate
bright-green powder softening the outline of the great trunks and
branches that gleam from under the bare purple boughs, I am in love
with moistness, and envy the white ducks that are dipping their heads
far into the water here among the withes, unmindful of the awkward
appearance they make in the drier world above.

The rush of the water and the booming of the mill bring a dreamy
deafness, which seems to heighten the peacefulness of the scene. They
are like a great curtain of sound, shutting one out from the world
beyond. And now there is the thunder of the huge covered wagon coming
home with sacks of grain. That honest wagoner is thinking of his
dinner, getting sadly dry in the oven at this late hour; but he will
not touch it till he has fed his horses,–the strong, submissive,
meek-eyed beasts, who, I fancy, are looking mild reproach at him from
between their blinkers, that he should crack his whip at them in that
awful manner as if they needed that hint! See how they stretch their
shoulders up the slope toward the bridge, with all the more energy
because they are so near home. Look at their grand shaggy feet that
seem to grasp the firm earth, at the patient strength of their necks,
bowed under the heavy collar, at the mighty muscles of their
struggling haunches! I should like well to hear them neigh over their
hardly earned feed of corn, and see them, with their moist necks freed
from the harness, dipping their eager nostrils into the muddy pond.
Now they are on the bridge, and down they go again at a swifter pace,
and the arch of the covered wagon disappears at the turning behind the

Now I can turn my eyes toward the mill again, and watch the unresting
wheel sending out its diamond jets of water. That little girl is
watching it too; she has been standing on just the same spot at the
edge of the water ever since I paused on the bridge. And that queer
white cur with the brown ear seems to be leaping and barking in
ineffectual remonstrance with the wheel; perhaps he is jealous because
his playfellow in the beaver bonnet is so rapt in its movement. It is
time the little playfellow went in, I think; and there is a very
bright fire to tempt her: the red light shines out under the deepening
gray of the sky. It is time, too, for me to leave off resting my arms
on the cold stone of this bridge….

Ah, my arms are really benumbed. I have been pressing my elbows on the
arms of my chair, and dreaming that I was standing on the bridge in
front of Dorlcote Mill, as it looked one February afternoon many years
ago. Before I dozed off, I was going to tell you what Mr. and Mrs.
Tulliver were talking about, as they sat by the bright fire in the
left-hand parlor, on that very afternoon I have been dreaming of.

Chapter II

Mr. Tulliver, of Dorlcote Mill, Declares His Resolution about Tom

“What I want, you know,” said Mr. Tulliver,–“what I want is to give
Tom a good eddication; an eddication as’ll be a bread to him. That was
what I was thinking of when I gave notice for him to leave the academy
at Lady-day. I mean to put him to a downright good school at
Midsummer. The two years at th’ academy ‘ud ha’ done well enough, if
I’d meant to make a miller and farmer of him, for he’s had a fine
sight more schoolin’ nor _I_ ever got. All the learnin’ _my_ father
ever paid for was a bit o’ birch at one end and the alphabet at th’
other. But I should like Tom to be a bit of a scholard, so as he might
be up to the tricks o’ these fellows as talk fine and write with a
flourish. It ‘ud be a help to me wi’ these lawsuits, and arbitrations,
and things. I wouldn’t make a downright lawyer o’ the lad,–I should
be sorry for him to be a raskill,–but a sort o’ engineer, or a
surveyor, or an auctioneer and vallyer, like Riley, or one o’ them
smartish businesses as are all profits and no outlay, only for a big
watch-chain and a high stool. They’re pretty nigh all one, and they’re
not far off being even wi’ the law, _I_ believe; for Riley looks
Lawyer Wakem i’ the face as hard as one cat looks another. _He’s_ none
frightened at him.”

Mr. Tulliver was speaking to his wife, a blond comely woman in a
fan-shaped cap (I am afraid to think how long it is since fan-shaped
caps were worn, they must be so near coming in again. At that time,
when Mrs. Tulliver was nearly forty, they were new at St. Ogg’s, and
considered sweet things).

“Well, Mr. Tulliver, you know best: _I’ve_ no objections. But hadn’t I
better kill a couple o’ fowl, and have th’ aunts and uncles to dinner
next week, so as you may hear what sister Glegg and sister Pullet have
got to say about it? There’s a couple o’ fowl _wants_ killing!”

“You may kill every fowl i’ the yard if you like, Bessy; but I shall
ask neither aunt nor uncle what I’m to do wi’ my own lad,” said Mr.
Tulliver, defiantly.

“Dear heart!” said Mrs. Tulliver, shocked at this sanguinary rhetoric,
“how can you talk so, Mr. Tulliver? But it’s your way to speak
disrespectful o’ my family; and sister Glegg throws all the blame
upo’ me, though I’m sure I’m as innocent as the babe unborn. For
nobody’s ever heard me say as it wasn’t lucky for my children to have
aunts and uncles as can live independent. Howiver, if Tom’s to go to a
new school, I should like him to go where I can wash him and mend him;
else he might as well have calico as linen, for they’d be one as
yallow as th’ other before they’d been washed half-a-dozen times. And
then, when the box is goin’ back’ard and forrard, I could send the lad
a cake, or a pork-pie, or an apple; for he can do with an extry bit,
bless him! whether they stint him at the meals or no. My children can
eat as much victuals as most, thank God!”

“Well, well, we won’t send him out o’ reach o’ the carrier’s cart, if
other things fit in,” said Mr. Tulliver. “But you mustn’t put a spoke
i’ the wheel about the washin,’ if we can’t get a school near enough.
That’s the fault I have to find wi’ you, Bessy; if you see a stick i’
the road, you’re allays thinkin’ you can’t step over it. You’d want me
not to hire a good wagoner, ’cause he’d got a mole on his face.”

“Dear heart!” said Mrs. Tulliver, in mild surprise, “when did I iver
make objections to a man because he’d got a mole on his face? I’m sure
I’m rether fond o’ the moles; for my brother, as is dead an’ gone, had
a mole on his brow. But I can’t remember your iver offering to hire a
wagoner with a mole, Mr. Tulliver. There was John Gibbs hadn’t a mole
on his face no more nor you have, an’ I was all for having you hire
_him_; an’ so you did hire him, an’ if he hadn’t died o’ th’
inflammation, as we paid Dr. Turnbull for attending him, he’d very
like ha’ been drivin’ the wagon now. He might have a mole somewhere
out o’ sight, but how was I to know that, Mr. Tulliver?”

“No, no, Bessy; I didn’t mean justly the mole; I meant it to stand for
summat else; but niver mind–it’s puzzling work, talking is. What I’m
thinking on, is how to find the right sort o’ school to send Tom to,
for I might be ta’en in again, as I’ve been wi’ th’ academy. I’ll have
nothing to do wi’ a ‘cademy again: whativer school I send Tom to, it
sha’n’t be a ‘cademy; it shall be a place where the lads spend their
time i’ summat else besides blacking the family’s shoes, and getting
up the potatoes. It’s an uncommon puzzling thing to know what school
to pick.”

Mr. Tulliver paused a minute or two, and dived with both hands into
his breeches pockets as if he hoped to find some suggestion there.
Apparently he was not disappointed, for he presently said, “I know
what I’ll do: I’ll talk it over wi’ Riley; he’s coming to-morrow, t’
arbitrate about the dam.”

“Well, Mr. Tulliver, I’ve put the sheets out for the best bed, and
Kezia’s got ’em hanging at the fire. They aren’t the best sheets, but
they’re good enough for anybody to sleep in, be he who he will; for as
for them best Holland sheets, I should repent buying ’em, only they’ll
do to lay us out in. An’ if you was to die to-morrow, Mr. Tulliver,
they’re mangled beautiful, an’ all ready, an’ smell o’ lavender as it
‘ud be a pleasure to lay ’em out; an’ they lie at the left-hand corner
o’ the big oak linen-chest at the back: not as I should trust anybody
to look ’em out but myself.”

As Mrs. Tulliver uttered the last sentence, she drew a bright bunch of
keys from her pocket, and singled out one, rubbing her thumb and
finger up and down it with a placid smile while she looked at the
clear fire. If Mr. Tulliver had been a susceptible man in his conjugal
relation, he might have supposed that she drew out the key to aid her
imagination in anticipating the moment when he would be in a state to
justify the production of the best Holland sheets. Happily he was not
so; he was only susceptible in respect of his right to water-power;
moreover, he had the marital habit of not listening very closely, and
since his mention of Mr. Riley, had been apparently occupied in a
tactile examination of his woollen stockings.

“I think I’ve hit it, Bessy,” was his first remark after a short
silence. “Riley’s as likely a man as any to know o’ some school; he’s
had schooling himself, an’ goes about to all sorts o’ places,
arbitratin’ and vallyin’ and that. And we shall have time to talk it
over to-morrow night when the business is done. I want Tom to be such
a sort o’ man as Riley, you know,–as can talk pretty nigh as well as
if it was all wrote out for him, and knows a good lot o’ words as
don’t mean much, so as you can’t lay hold of ’em i’ law; and a good
solid knowledge o’ business too.”

“Well,” said Mrs. Tulliver, “so far as talking proper, and knowing
everything, and walking with a bend in his back, and setting his hair
up, I shouldn’t mind the lad being brought up to that. But them
fine-talking men from the big towns mostly wear the false
shirt-fronts; they wear a frill till it’s all a mess, and then hide it
with a bib; I know Riley does. And then, if Tom’s to go and live at
Mudport, like Riley, he’ll have a house with a kitchen hardly big
enough to turn in, an’ niver get a fresh egg for his breakfast, an’
sleep up three pair o’ stairs,–or four, for what I know,–and be
burnt to death before he can get down.”

“No, no,” said Mr. Tulliver, “I’ve no thoughts of his going to
Mudport: I mean him to set up his office at St. Ogg’s, close by us,
an’ live at home. But,” continued Mr. Tulliver after a pause, “what
I’m a bit afraid on is, as Tom hasn’t got the right sort o’ brains for
a smart fellow. I doubt he’s a bit slowish. He takes after your
family, Bessy.”

“Yes, that he does,” said Mrs. Tulliver, accepting the last
proposition entirely on its own merits; “he’s wonderful for liking a
deal o’ salt in his broth. That was my brother’s way, and my father’s
before him.”

“It seems a bit a pity, though,” said Mr. Tulliver, “as the lad should
take after the mother’s side instead o’ the little wench. That’s the
worst on’t wi’ crossing o’ breeds: you can never justly calkilate
what’ll come on’t. The little un takes after my side, now: she’s twice
as ‘cute as Tom. Too ‘cute for a woman, I’m afraid,” continued Mr.
Tulliver, turning his head dubiously first on one side and then on the
other. “It’s no mischief much while she’s a little un; but an
over-‘cute woman’s no better nor a long-tailed sheep,–she’ll fetch
none the bigger price for that.”

“Yes, it _is_ a mischief while she’s a little un, Mr. Tulliver, for it
runs to naughtiness. How to keep her in a clean pinafore two hours
together passes my cunning. An’ now you put me i’ mind,” continued
Mrs. Tulliver, rising and going to the window, “I don’t know where she
is now, an’ it’s pretty nigh tea-time. Ah, I thought so,–wanderin’ up
an’ down by the water, like a wild thing: She’ll tumble in some day.”

Mrs. Tulliver rapped the window sharply, beckoned, and shook her
head,–a process which she repeated more than once before she returned
to her chair.

“You talk o’ ‘cuteness, Mr. Tulliver,” she observed as she sat down,
“but I’m sure the child’s half an idiot i’ some things; for if I send
her upstairs to fetch anything, she forgets what she’s gone for, an’
perhaps ‘ull sit down on the floor i’ the sunshine an’ plait her hair
an’ sing to herself like a Bedlam creatur’, all the while I’m waiting
for her downstairs. That niver run i’ my family, thank God! no more
nor a brown skin as makes her look like a mulatter. I don’t like to
fly i’ the face o’ Providence, but it seems hard as I should have but
one gell, an’ her so comical.”

“Pooh, nonsense!” said Mr. Tulliver; “she’s a straight, black-eyed
wench as anybody need wish to see. I don’t know i’ what she’s behind
other folks’s children; and she can read almost as well as the

“But her hair won’t curl all I can do with it, and she’s so franzy
about having it put i’ paper, and I’ve such work as never was to make
her stand and have it pinched with th’ irons.”

“Cut it off–cut it off short,” said the father, rashly.

“How can you talk so, Mr. Tulliver? She’s too big a gell–gone nine,
and tall of her age–to have her hair cut short; an’ there’s her
cousin Lucy’s got a row o’ curls round her head, an’ not a hair out o’
place. It seems hard as my sister Deane should have that pretty child;
I’m sure Lucy takes more after me nor my own child does. Maggie,
Maggie,” continued the mother, in a tone of half-coaxing fretfulness,
as this small mistake of nature entered the room, “where’s the use o’
my telling you to keep away from the water? You’ll tumble in and be
drownded some day, an’ then you’ll be sorry you didn’t do as mother
told you.”

Maggie’s hair, as she threw off her bonnet, painfully confirmed her
mother’s accusation. Mrs. Tulliver, desiring her daughter to have a
curled crop, “like other folks’s children,” had had it cut too short
in front to be pushed behind the ears; and as it was usually straight
an hour after it had been taken out of paper, Maggie was incessantly
tossing her head to keep the dark, heavy locks out of her gleaming
black eyes,–an action which gave her very much the air of a small
Shetland pony.

“Oh, dear, oh, dear, Maggie, what are you thinkin’ of, to throw your
bonnet down there? Take it upstairs, there’s a good gell, an’ let your
hair be brushed, an’ put your other pinafore on, an’ change your
shoes, do, for shame; an’ come an’ go on with your patchwork, like a
little lady.”

“Oh, mother,” said Maggie, in a vehemently cross tone, “I don’t _want_
to do my patchwork.”

“What! not your pretty patchwork, to make a counterpane for your aunt

“It’s foolish work,” said Maggie, with a toss of her mane,–“tearing
things to pieces to sew ’em together again. And I don’t want to do
anything for my aunt Glegg. I don’t like her.”

Exit Maggie, dragging her bonnet by the string, while Mr. Tulliver
laughs audibly.

“I wonder at you, as you’ll laugh at her, Mr. Tulliver,” said the
mother, with feeble fretfulness in her tone. “You encourage her i’
naughtiness. An’ her aunts will have it as it’s me spoils her.”

Mrs. Tulliver was what is called a good-tempered person,–never cried,
when she was a baby, on any slighter ground than hunger and pins; and
from the cradle upward had been healthy, fair, plump, and dull-witted;
in short, the flower of her family for beauty and amiability. But milk
and mildness are not the best things for keeping, and when they turn
only a little sour, they may disagree with young stomachs seriously. I
have often wondered whether those early Madonnas of Raphael, with the
blond faces and somewhat stupid expression, kept their placidity
undisturbed when their strong-limbed, strong-willed boys got a little
too old to do without clothing. I think they must have been given to
feeble remonstrance, getting more and more peevish as it became more
and more ineffectual.

Chapter 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 hadn’t 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 seemed–look at it one way–as
plain as water’s water; but, big a puzzle as it was, it hadn’t 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 banker’s, was rather incautiously open
in expressing his high estimate of his friend’s 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. Riley’s 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.

“There’s a thing I’ve got i’ my head,” said Mr. Tulliver at last, in
rather a lower tone than usual, as he turned his head and looked
steadfastly at his companion.

“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.

“It’s a very particular thing,” he went on; “it’s about my boy Tom.”

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 Tom’s 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; “he’s 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 they’ll make a scholard of him.”

“Well,” said Mr. Riley, “there’s no greater advantage you can give him
than a good education. Not,” he added, with polite significance,–“not
that a man can’t be an excellent miller and farmer, and a shrewd,
sensible fellow into the bargain, without much help from the

“I believe you,” said Mr. Tulliver, winking, and turning his head on
one side; “but that’s where it is. I don’t _mean_ Tom to be a miller
and farmer. I see no fun i’ that. Why, if I made him a miller an’
farmer, he’d 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, I’ve seen enough o’ that wi’ sons. I’ll 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 I’m dead an’ gone.
I sha’n’t be put off wi’ spoon-meat afore I’ve 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 father’s knees, said, in a
half-crying, half-indignant voice,–

“Father, Tom wouldn’t be naughty to you ever; I know he wouldn’t.”

Mrs. Tulliver was out of the room superintending a choice supper-dish,
and Mr. Tulliver’s 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 mustn’t 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 couldn’t hear, “She understands
what one’s 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 it’s bad–it’s bad,” Mr. Tulliver added sadly, checking
this blamable exultation. “A woman’s no business wi’ being so clever;
it’ll turn to trouble, I doubt. But bless you!”–here the exultation
was clearly recovering the mastery,–“she’ll read the books and
understand ’em better nor half the folks as are growed up.”

Maggie’s cheeks began to flush with triumphant excitement. She thought
Mr. Riley would have a respect for her now; it had been evident that
he thought nothing of her before.

Mr. Riley was turning over the leaves of the book, and she could make
nothing of his face, with its high-arched eyebrows; but he presently
looked at her, and said,–

“Come, come and tell me something about this book; here are some
pictures,–I want to know what they mean.”

Maggie, with deepening color, went without hesitation to Mr. Riley’s
elbow and looked over the book, eagerly seizing one corner, and
tossing back her mane, while she said,–

“Oh, I’ll tell you what that means. It’s a dreadful picture, isn’t it?
But I can’t help looking at it. That old woman in the water’s a
witch,–they’ve put her in to find out whether she’s a witch or no;
and if she swims she’s a witch, and if she’s drowned–and killed, you
know–she’s 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, she’d go to heaven, and God would make it up
to her. And this dreadful blacksmith with his arms akimbo,
laughing,–oh, isn’t he ugly?–I’ll tell you what he is. He’s the
Devil _really_” (here Maggie’s 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 he’s
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, they’d run away,
and he couldn’t make ’em do what he pleased.”

Mr. Tulliver had listened to this exposition of Maggie’s with
petrifying wonder.

“Why, what book is it the wench has got hold on?” he burst out at

“The ‘History of the Devil,’ by Daniel Defoe,–not quite the right
book for a little girl,” said Mr. Riley. “How came it among your
books, Mr. Tulliver?”

Maggie looked hurt and discouraged, while her father said,–

“Why, it’s one o’ the books I bought at Partridge’s sale. They was all
bound alike,–it’s a good binding, you see,–and I thought they’d be
all good books. There’s Jeremy Taylor’s ‘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
there’s a lot more of ’em,–sermons mostly, I think,–but they’ve all
got the same covers, and I thought they were all o’ one sample, as you
may say. But it seems one mustn’t 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 isn’t
pretty; but I like the pictures, and I make stories to the pictures
out of my own head, you know. But I’ve got ‘Æsop’s Fables,’ and a book
about Kangaroos and things, and the ‘Pilgrim’s Progress.'”

“Ah, a beautiful book,” said Mr. Riley; “you can’t read a better.”

“Well, but there’s a great deal about the Devil in that,” said Maggie,
triumphantly, “and I’ll show you the picture of him in his true shape,
as he fought with Christian.”

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 he’s
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 let’s
hear no more o’ such talk. It is as I thought–the child ‘ull learn
more mischief nor good wi’ the books. Go, go and see after your

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 father’s chair, and nursing her
doll, toward which she had an occasional fit of fondness in Tom’s
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 on’t?” said Mr. Tulliver, as Maggie
retired. “It’s a pity but what she’d been the lad,–she’d ha’ been a
match for the lawyers, _she_ would. It’s the wonderful’st thing”–here
he lowered his voice–“as I picked the mother because she wasn’t o’er
‘cute–bein’ 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 wasn’t agoin’ to be told the rights o’ things
by my own fireside. But you see when a man’s got brains himself,
there’s no knowing where they’ll run to; an’ a pleasant sort o’ soft
woman may go on breeding you stupid lads and ‘cute wenches, till it’s
like as if the world was turned topsy-turvy. It’s an uncommon puzzlin’

Mr. Riley’s gravity gave way, and he shook a little under the
application of his pinch of snuff before he said,–

“But your lad’s not stupid, is he? I saw him, when I was here last,
busy making fishing-tackle; he seemed quite up to it.”

“Well, he isn’t not to say stupid,–he’s got a notion o’ things out o’
door, an’ a sort o’ common sense, as he’d lay hold o’ things by the
right handle. But he’s slow with his tongue, you see, and he reads but
poorly, and can’t 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 they’ll 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 aren’t a bit
like ’em, as I’m clean at fault, often an’ often. Everything winds
about so–the more straightforrad you are, the more you’re puzzled.”

Mr. Tulliver took a draught, swallowed it slowly, and shook his head
in a melancholy manner, conscious of exemplifying the truth that a
perfectly sane intellect is hardly at home in this insane world.

“You’re quite in the right of it, Tulliver,” observed Mr. Riley.
“Better spend an extra hundred or two on your son’s education, than
leave it him in your will. I know I should have tried to do so by a
son of mine, if I’d had one, though, God knows, I haven’t your ready
money to play with, Tulliver; and I have a houseful of daughters into
the bargain.”

“I dare say, now, you know of a school as ‘ud be just the thing for
Tom,” said Mr. Tulliver, not diverted from his purpose by any sympathy
with Mr. Riley’s deficiency of ready cash.

Mr. Riley took a pinch of snuff, and kept Mr. Tulliver in suspense by
a silence that seemed deliberative, before he said,–

“I know of a very fine chance for any one that’s got the necessary
money and that’s what you have, Tulliver. The fact is, I wouldn’t
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
wouldn’t mention the chance to everybody, because I don’t think
everybody would succeed in getting it, if he were to try; but I
mention it to you, Tulliver, between ourselves.”

The fixed inquiring glance with which Mr. Tulliver had been watching
his friend’s oracular face became quite eager.

“Ay, now, let’s hear,” he said, adjusting himself in his chair with
the complacency of a person who is thought worthy of important

“He’s an Oxford man,” said Mr. Riley, sententiously, shutting his
mouth close, and looking at Mr. Tulliver to observe the effect of this
stimulating information.

“What! a parson?” said Mr. Tulliver, rather doubtfully.

“Yes, and an M.A. The bishop, I understand, thinks very highly of him:
why, it was the bishop who got him his present curacy.”

“Ah?” said Mr. Tulliver, to whom one thing was as wonderful as another
concerning these unfamiliar phenomena. “But what can he want wi’ Tom,

“Why, the fact is, he’s fond of teaching, and wishes to keep up his
studies, and a clergyman has but little opportunity for that in his
parochial duties. He’s 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 Stelling’s eye

“But do you think they’d give the poor lad twice o’ pudding?” said
Mrs. Tulliver, who was now in her place again. “He’s such a boy for
pudding as never was; an’ a growing boy like that,–it’s dreadful to
think o’ their stintin’ him.”

“And what money ‘ud he want?” said Mr. Tulliver, whose instinct told
him that the services of this admirable M.A. would bear a high price.

“Why, I know of a clergyman who asks a hundred and fifty with his
youngest pupils, and he’s 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
didn’t care about university honors; he’s a quiet man–not noisy.”

“Ah, a deal better–a deal better,” said Mr. Tulliver; “but a hundred
and fifty’s an uncommon price. I never thought o’ paying so much as

“A good education, let me tell you, Tulliver,–a good education is
cheap at the money. But Stelling is moderate in his terms; he’s not a
grasping man. I’ve no doubt he’d take your boy at a hundred, and
that’s what you wouldn’t get many other clergymen to do. I’ll write to
him about it, if you like.”

Mr. Tulliver rubbed his knees, and looked at the carpet in a
meditative manner.

“But belike he’s a bachelor,” observed Mrs. Tulliver, in the interval;
“an’ I’ve 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’ it’s unknown
the linen she made away with–Stott her name was. It ‘ud break my
heart to send Tom where there’s a housekeeper, an’ I hope you won’t
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 isn’t 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 it’s not every offer
that would have been acceptable in that quarter. But Stelling’s 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.”

“I don’t know what he could have _against_ the lad,” said Mrs.
Tulliver, with a slight touch of motherly indignation; “a nice
fresh-skinned lad as anybody need wish to see.”

“But there’s one thing I’m thinking on,” said Mr. Tulliver, turning
his head on one side and looking at Mr. Riley, after a long perusal of
the carpet. “Wouldn’t 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 they’d
got a sort o’ learning as lay mostly out o’ sight. And that isn’t 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 aren’t actionable. It’s 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, “you’re 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

“Ay, that Jacobs is, at the ‘cademy,” interposed Mr. Tulliver.

“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 that’s wide awake, let me tell you. Drop him a hint, and
that’s 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.”

Mr. Riley paused a moment, while Mr. Tulliver, some-what reassured as
to clerical tutorship, was inwardly rehearsing to an imaginary Mr.
Stelling the statement, “I want my son to know ‘rethmetic.”

“You see, my dear Tulliver,” Mr. Riley continued, “when you get a
thoroughly educated man, like Stelling, he’s 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.”

“Ay, that’s true,” said Mr. Tulliver, almost convinced now that the
clergy must be the best of schoolmasters.

“Well, I’ll tell you what I’ll do for you,” said Mr. Riley, “and I
wouldn’t do it for everybody. I’ll see Stelling’s 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 there’s no hurry, is there?” said Mrs. Tulliver; “for I hope, Mr.
Tulliver, you won’t let Tom begin at his new school before Midsummer.
He began at the ‘cademy at the Lady-day quarter, and you see what
good’s come of it.”

“Ay, ay, Bessy, never brew wi’ bad malt upo’ Michael-masday, else
you’ll 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 it’s true there’s no
hurry; you’ve 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: there’s no necessity for sending the boy before
Midsummer, but I would be on the safe side, and make sure that nobody
forestalls you.”

“Ay, there’s summat in that,” said Mr. Tulliver.

“Father,” broke in Maggie, who had stolen unperceived to her father’s
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? Sha’n’t we
ever go to see him?”

“I don’t know, my wench,” said the father, tenderly. “Ask Mr. Riley;
he knows.”

Maggie came round promptly in front of Mr. Riley, and said, “How far
is it, please, sir?”

“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.”

“That’s 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

“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 couldn’t wash him and mend him?”

“About fifteen miles; that’s all,” said Mr. Riley. “You can drive
there and back in a day quite comfortably. Or–Stelling is a
hospitable, pleasant man–he’d be glad to have you stay.”

“But it’s too far off for the linen, I doubt,” said Mrs. Tulliver,

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
year’s 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 Gadsby’s 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 always–no, 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 Timpson’s 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 Timpson’s, 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, “I’ve secured a good pupil for your son-in-law.” Timpson had a
large family of daughters; Mr. Riley felt for him; besides, Louisa
Timpson’s 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 he 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 complacencies–of
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. Riley’s consciousness on this
occasion–would have been a mere blank.