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"What I want, you know," said Mr. Tulliver of Dorlcote Mill—"what I want is to give Tom a good eddication. That was what I was thinking of when I gave notice for him to leave th' academy at Lady Day. I meant to put him to a downright good school at Midsummer.
"The two years at th' academy 'ud ha' done well enough," the miller went on, "if I'd meant to make a miller and farmer of him like myself. 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 things."
Mr. Tulliver was speaking to his wife, a blond, comely woman in a fan-shaped cap.
"Well, Mr. Tulliver," said she, "you know best. 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.
"Dear heart!" said Mrs. Tulliver, "how can you talk so, Mr. Tulliver? However, 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' backards and forrards, I could send the lad a cake, or a pork-pie, or an apple."
"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. But 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 pockets, as if he hoped to find some idea there. Then he said, "I know what I'll do, I'll talk it over wi' Riley. He's coming to-morrow."
"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."
As Mrs. Tulliver spoke 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.
"I think I've hit it, Bessy," said Mr. Tulliver, 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—auctioneering and vallyin' and that. 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 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—an' 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. I doubt Tom's a bit slowish. He takes after your family, Bessy."
"Yes, that he does," said Mrs. Tulliver; "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 of a pity, though," said Mr. Tulliver, "as the lad should take after the mother's side instead o' the little wench. The little un takes after my side, now: she's twice as 'cute as Tom."
"Yes, Mr. Tulliver, and it all 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—there she is, 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.
"You talk o' 'cuteness, Mr. Tulliver," she said as she sat down; "but I'm sure the child's very slow i' some things, for if I send her upstairs to fetch anything, she forgets what she's gone for."
"Pooh, nonsense!" said Mr. Tulliver. "She's a straight, black-eyed wench as anybody need wish to see; and she can read almost as well as the parson."
"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.—Maggie, Maggie," continued the mother, as the child herself 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, and then you'll be sorry you didn't do as mother told you."
Maggie threw off her bonnet. Now, Mrs. Tulliver, desiring her daughter to have a curled crop, 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.
"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 and go on with your patchwork, like a little lady."
"O mother," said Maggie in a very cross tone, "I don't want to do my patchwork."
"What! not your pretty patchwork, to make a counterpane for your Aunt Glegg?"
"It's silly work," said Maggie, with a toss of her mane—"tearing things to pieces to sew 'em together again. And I don't want to sew anything for my Aunt Glegg; I don't like her."
Exit Maggie, drawing 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. "An' her aunts will have it as it's me spoils her."
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