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Mr. Riley, who came next day, was a gentleman with a waxen face and fat hands. He talked with his host for some time about the water supply to Dorlcote Mill. Then after a short silence Mr. Tulliver changed the subject.
"There's a thing I've got i' my head," said he at last, in rather a lower tone than usual, as he turned his head and looked at his companion.
"Ah!" said Mr. Riley, in a tone of mild interest.
"It's a very particular thing," Mr. Tulliver 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.
"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."
"I don't mean Tom to be a miller and farmer," said Mr. Tulliver; "I see no fun i' that. Why, if I made him a miller, he'd be expectin' to take the mill an' the land, an' a-hinting at me as it was time for me to lay by. Nay, nay; I've seen enough o' that wi' sons."
These words cut Maggie to the quick. Tom was supposed capable of turning his father out of doors! 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-angry voice,—
"Father, Tom wouldn't be naughty to you ever; I know he wouldn't."
"What! they mustn't say any harm o' Tom, eh?" said Mr. Tulliver, looking at Maggie with a twinkling eye. Then he added gently, "Go, go and see after your mother."
"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."
Mr. Riley laughed, took a pinch of snuff, and said,—
"But your lad's not stupid, is he?" said Mr. Riley. "I saw him, when I was here last, busy making fishing-tackle; he seemed quite up to it."
"Well, he isn't stupid. He's got a notion o' things out o' door, an' a sort o' common sense, and he'll 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' 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."
"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 dare say, now, you know of a school as 'ud be just the thing for Tom," said Mr. Tulliver.
Mr. Riley took a pinch of snuff, and waited a little 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. But if any one wanted his boy to be placed under a first-rate fellow, I know his man. He's an Oxford man, and a parson. He's willing to take one or two boys as pupils to fill up his time. The boys would be quite of the family—the finest thing in the world for them—under Stelling's eye continually."
"But do you think they'd give the poor lad twice o' pudding?" said Mrs. Tulliver, who was now in her place again.
"And what money 'ud he want?" said Mr. Tulliver.
"Stelling is moderate in his terms; he's not a grasping man," said Mr. Riley. "I've no doubt he'd take your boy at a hundred. I'll write to him about it if you like."
Mr. Tulliver rubbed his knees, and looked at the carpet.
"But belike he's a bachelor," observed Mrs. Tulliver, "an' I've no opinion o' house-keepers. 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."
"Father," broke in Maggie, who had stolen 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? Shan'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. "You must borrow the seven-leagued boots to get to him."
"That's nonsense!" said Maggie, tossing her head and turning away with the tears springing to her eyes.
"Hush, Maggie, for shame of you, chattering so," 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 kind, pleasant man—he'd be glad to have you stay."
"But it's too far off for the linen, I doubt," said Mrs. Tulliver sadly.
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