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Tom was to arrive early one afternoon, and there was another fluttering heart besides Maggie's when it was late enough for the sound of the gig wheels to be expected; for if Mrs. Tulliver had a strong feeling, it was fondness for her boy.
At last the sound came, and in spite of the wind, which was blowing the clouds about, and was not likely to respect Mrs. Tulliver's curls and cap-strings, she came and stood outside the door with her hand on Maggie's head.
"There he is, my sweet lad! But he's got never a collar on; it's been lost on the road, I'll be bound, and spoilt the set!"
Mrs. Tulliver stood with her arms open; Maggie jumped first on one leg and then on the other; while Tom stepped down from the gig, and said, "Hallo, Yap! what, are you there?"
Then he allowed himself to be kissed willingly enough, though Maggie hung on his neck in rather a strangling fashion, while his blue eyes wandered towards the croft and the lambs and the river, where he promised himself that he would begin to fish the first thing to-morrow morning. He was a lad with light brown hair, cheeks of cream and roses, and full lips.
"Maggie," said Tom, taking her into a corner as soon as his mother was gone out to examine his box, "you don't know what I've got in my pockets," nodding his head up and down as a means of rousing her sense of mystery.
"No," said Maggie. "How stodgy they look, Tom! Is it marls (marbles) or cob-nuts?" Maggie's heart sank a little, because Tom always said it was "no good" playing with her at those games, she played so badly.
"Marls! no. I've swopped all my marls with the little fellows; and cobnuts are no fun, you silly—only when the nuts are green. But see here!" He drew something out of his right-hand pocket.
"What is it?" said Maggie in a whisper. "I can see nothing but a bit of yellow."
"Why, it's a new— Guess, Maggie!"
"Oh, I can't guess, Tom," said Maggie impatiently.
"Don't be a spitfire, else I won't tell you," said Tom, thrusting his hand back into his pocket.
"No, Tom," said Maggie, laying hold of the arm that was held stiffly in the pocket. "I'm not cross, Tom; it was only because I can't bear guessing. Please be good to me."
Tom's arm slowly relaxed, and he said, "Well, then, it's a new fish-line—'two new uns—one for you, Maggie, all to yourself. I wouldn't go halves in the toffee and gingerbread on purpose to save the money; and Gibson and Spouncer fought with me because I wouldn't. And here's hooks; see here! I say, won't we go and fish to-morrow down by Round Pond? And you shall catch your own fish, and put the worms on, and everything. Won't it be fun!"
Maggie's answer was to throw her arms round Tom's neck and hug him, and hold her cheek against his without speaking, while he slowly unwound some of the line, saying, after a pause,—
"Wasn't I a good brother, now, to buy you a line all to yourself? You know, I needn't have bought it if I hadn't liked!"
"Yes, very, very good. I do love you, Tom."
Tom had put the line back in his pocket, and was looking at the hooks one by one, before he spoke again.
"And the fellows fought me because I wouldn't give in about the toffee."
"Oh dear! I wish they wouldn't fight at your school, Tom. Didn't it hurt you?"
"Hurt me? No," said Tom, putting up the hooks again. Then he took out a large pocket-knife, and slowly opened the largest blade and rubbed his finger along it. At last he said,—
"I gave Spouncer a black eye, I know—that's what he got by wanting to leather me; I wasn't going to go halves because anybody leathered me."
"Oh, how brave you are, Tom! I think you're like Samson. If there came a lion roaring at me, I think you'd fight him; wouldn't you, Tom?"
"How can a lion come roaring at you, you silly thing? There's no lions—only in the shows."
"No; but if we were in the lion countries—I mean, in Africa, where it's very hot—the lions eat people there. I can show it you in the book where I read it."
"Well, I should get a gun and shoot him."
"But if you hadn't got a gun. We might have gone out, you know, not thinking, just as we go fishing; and then a great lion might run towards us roaring, and we couldn't get away from him. What should you do, Tom?"
Tom paused, and at last turned away, saying, "But the lion isn't coming. What's the use of talking?"
"But I like to fancy how it would be," said Maggie, following him. "Just think what you would do, Tom."
"Oh, don't bother, Maggie! you're such a silly. I shall go and see my rabbits."
Upon this Maggie's heart began to flutter with fear, for she had bad news for Tom. She dared not tell the sad truth at once, but she walked after Tom in trembling silence as he went out.
"Tom," she said timidly, when they were out of doors, "how much money did you give for your rabbits?"
"Two half-crowns and a sixpence," said Tom promptly.
"I think I've got a great deal more than that in my steel purse upstairs. I'll ask mother to give it you."
"What for?" said Tom. "I don't want your money, you silly thing. I've got a great deal more money than you, because I'm a boy."
"Well, but, Tom, if mother would let me give you two half-crowns and a sixpence out of my purse to put into your pocket and spend, you know, and buy some more rabbits with it."
"More rabbits? I don't want any more."
"Oh, but, Tom, they're all dead!"
Tom stopped, and turned round towards Maggie. "You forgot to feed 'em, then, and Harry forgot?" he said, his colour rising for a moment. "I'll pitch into Harry—I'll have him turned away. And I don't love you, Maggie. You shan't go fishing with me to-morrow. I told you to go and see the rabbits every day." He walked on again.
"Yes, but I forgot; and I couldn't help it, indeed, Tom. I'm so very sorry," said Maggie, while the tears rushed fast.
"You're a naughty girl," said Tom severely, "and I'm sorry I bought you the fish-line. I don't love you."
"O Tom, it's very cruel," sobbed Maggie. "I'd forgive you if you forgot anything—I wouldn't mind what you did—I'd forgive you and love you."
"Yes, you're a silly; but I never do forget things—I don't."
"Oh, please forgive me, Tom; my heart will break," said Maggie, shaking with sobs, clinging to Tom's arm, and laying her wet cheek on his shoulder.
Tom shook her off. "Now, Maggie, you just listen. Aren't I a good brother to you?"
"Ye-ye-es," sobbed Maggie.
"Didn't I think about your fish-line all this quarter, and mean to buy it, and saved my money o' purpose, and wouldn't go halves in the toffee, and Spouncer fought me because I wouldn't?"
"Ye-ye-es—and I—lo-lo-love you so, Tom."
"But you're a naughty girl. Last holidays you licked the paint off my lozenge-box; and the holidays before that you let the boat drag my fish-line down when I'd set you to watch it, and you pushed your head through my kite, all for nothing."
"But I didn't mean," said Maggie; "I couldn't help it."
"Yes, you could," said Tom, "if you'd minded what you were doing. And you're a naughty girl, and you shan't go fishing with me to-morrow."
With this Tom ran away from Maggie towards the mill, meaning to greet Luke there, and complain to him of Harry.
"Oh, he is cruel!" Maggie sobbed aloud. She would stay up in the attic and starve herself—hide herself behind the tub, and stay there all night; and then they would all be frightened, and Tom would be sorry.
Thus Maggie thought in the pride of her heart, as she crept behind the tub; but presently she began to cry again at the idea that they didn't mind her being there.
Meanwhile, Tom was too much interested in his talk with Luke, and in going the round of the mill, to think of Maggie at all. But when he had been called in to tea, his father said, "Why, where's the little wench?" And Mrs. Tulliver, almost at the same moment, said, "Where's your little sister?"
"I don't know," said Tom. He didn't want to "tell" of Maggie, though he was angry with her; for Tom Tulliver was a lad of honour.
"What! hasn't she been playing with you all this while?" said the father. "She'd been thinking o' nothing but your coming home."
"I haven't seen her this two hours," says Tom.
"Goodness heart! she's got drownded," exclaimed Mrs. Tulliver, rising from her seat and running to the window.
"Nay, nay, she's none drownded," said Mr. Tulliver.—"You've been naughty to her, I doubt, Tom?"
"I'm sure I haven't, father," said Tom quickly. "I think she's in the house."
"Perhaps up in that attic," said Mrs. Tulliver, "a-singing and talking to herself, and forgetting all about meal-times."
"You go and fetch her down, Tom," said Mr. Tulliver, rather sharply. "And be good to her, do you hear? Else I'll let you know better."
Maggie, who had taken refuge in the attic, knew Tom's step, and her heart began to beat with the shock of hope. But he only stood still on the top of the stairs and said, "Maggie, you're to come down." Then she rushed to him and clung round his neck, sobbing, "O Tom, please forgive me! I can't bear it. I will always be good—always remember things. Do love me—please, dear Tom?" And the boy quite forgot his desire to punish her as much as she deserved; he actually began to kiss her in return, and say,—
"Don't cry, then, Magsie; here, eat a bit o' cake."
Maggie's sobs began to subside, and she put out her mouth for the cake and bit a piece; and then Tom bit a piece, just for company, and they ate together, and rubbed each other's cheeks and brows and noses together while they ate like two friendly ponies.
"Come along, Magsie, and have tea," said Tom at last.
So ended the sorrows of this day, and the next morning Maggie was to be seen trotting out with her own fishing-rod in one hand and a handle of the basket in the other. She had told Tom, however, that she should like him to put the worms on the hook for her.
They were on their way to the Round Pool—that wonderful pool which the floods had made a long while ago. The sight of the old spot always heightened Tom's good-humour, and he opened the basket and prepared their tackle. He threw Maggie's line for her, and put the rod into her hand. She thought it probable that the small fish would come to her hook, and the large ones to Tom's. But after a few moments she had forgotten all about the fish, and was looking dreamily at the glassy water, when Tom said, in a loud whisper, "Look, look, Maggie!" and came running to prevent her from snatching her line away.
Maggie was frightened lest she had been doing something wrong, as usual; but presently Tom drew out her line and brought a large tench bouncing out upon the grass.
Tom was excited.
"O Magsie! you little duck! Empty the basket."
Maggie did not know how clever she had been; but it was quite enough that Tom called her Magsie, and was pleased with her. There was nothing to mar her delight in the whispers and the dreamy silences, when she listened to the light dipping sounds of the rising fish, and the gentle rustling, as if the willows and the reeds and the water had their happy whisperings also. Maggie thought it would make a very nice heaven to sit by the pool in that way, and never be scolded. She never knew she had a bite until Tom told her, it is true, but she liked fishing very much.
It was one of their happy mornings. They trotted along and sat down together, with no thought that life would ever change much for them. They would only get bigger and not go to school, and it would always be like the holidays; they would always live together, and be very, very fond of each other.
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