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On the day of the family party Aunt Glegg was the first to arrive, and she was followed not long afterwards by Aunt Pullet and her husband.
Maggie and Tom, on their part, thought their Aunt Pullet tolerable, because she was not their Aunt Glegg. Tom always declined to go more than once during his holidays to see either of them. Both his uncles tipped him that once, of course; but at his Aunt Pullet's there were a great many toads to pelt in the cellar-area, so that he preferred the visit to her. Maggie disliked the toads, and dreamed of them horribly; but she liked her Uncle Pullet's musical snuff-box.
When Maggie and Tom came in from the garden with their father and their Uncle Glegg, they found that Aunt Deane and Cousin Lucy had also arrived. Maggie had thrown her bonnet off very carelessly, and coming in with her hair rough as well as out of curl, rushed at once to Lucy, who was standing by her mother's knee.
Lucy put up the neatest little rosebud mouth to be kissed. Everything about her was neat—her little round neck with the row of coral beads; her little straight nose, not at all snubby; her little clear eyebrows, rather darker than her curls to match her hazel eyes, which looked up with shy pleasure at Maggie, taller by the head, though scarcely a year older.
"O Lucy," burst out Maggie, after kissing her, "you'll stay with Tom and me, won't you?—Oh, kiss her, Tom."
Tom, too, had come up to Lucy, but he was not going to kiss her—no; he came up to her with Maggie because it seemed easier, on the whole, than saying, "How do you do?" to all those aunts and uncles.
"Heyday!" said Aunt Glegg loudly. "Do little boys and gells come into a room without taking notice o' their uncles and aunts? That wasn't the way when I was a little gell."
"Go and speak to your aunts and uncles, my dears," said Mrs. Tulliver. She wanted also to whisper to Maggie a command to go and have her hair brushed.
"Well, and how do you do? And I hope you're good children—are you?" said Aunt Glegg, in the same loud way, as she took their hands, hurting them with her large rings, and kissing their cheeks, much against their desire. "Look up, Tom, look up. Boys as go to boarding-schools should hold their heads up. Look at me now." Tom would not do so, and tried to draw his hand away. "Put your hair behind your ears, Maggie, and keep your frock on your shoulder."
Aunt Glegg always spoke to them in this loud way, as if she thought them quite deaf, or perhaps rather silly.
"Well, my dears," said Aunt Pullet sadly, "you grow wonderful fast.—I doubt they'll outgrow their strength," she added, looking over their heads at their mother. "I think the gell has too much hair. I'd have it thinned and cut shorter, sister, if I was you. It isn't good for her health. It's that as makes her skin so brown, I shouldn't wonder.—Don't you think so, Sister Deane?"
"I can't say, I'm sure, sister," said Mrs. Deane.
"No, no," said Mr. Tulliver, "the child's healthy enough—there's nothing ails her. There's red wheat as well as white, for that matter, and some like the dark grain best. But it 'ud be as well if Bessy 'ud have the child's hair cut, so as it 'ud lie smooth."
Maggie now wished to learn from her Aunt Deane whether she would leave Lucy behind to stay at the mill. Aunt Deane would hardly ever let Lucy come to see them, to Maggie's great regret.
"You wouldn't like to stay behind without mother, should you, Lucy?" she said to her little daughter.
"Yes, please, mother," said Lucy timidly, blushing very pink all over her little neck.
"Well done, Lucy!—Let her stay, Mrs. Deane, let her stay," said Mr. Deane, a large man, who held a silver snuff-box very tightly in his hand, and now and then exchanged a pinch with Mr. Tulliver.
"Maggie," said Mrs. Tulliver, beckoning Maggie to her, and whispering in her ear, as soon as this point of Lucy's staying was settled, "go and get your hair brushed—do, for shame. I told you not to come in without going to Martha first; you know I did."
"Tom, come out with me," whispered Maggie, pulling his sleeve as she passed him; and Tom followed willingly enough.
"Come upstairs with me, Tom," she whispered, when they were outside the door. "There's something I want to do before dinner."
"There's no time to play at anything before dinner," said Tom.
"Oh yes, there is time for this. Do come, Tom."
Tom followed Maggie upstairs into her mother's room, and saw her go at once to a drawer, from which she took a large pair of scissors.
"What are they for, Maggie?" said Tom.
Maggie answered by seizing her front locks and cutting them straight across the middle of her forehead.
"Oh, my buttons, Maggie, you'll catch it!" exclaimed Tom; "you'd better not cut any more off."
Snip went the great scissors again while Tom was speaking; and he couldn't help feeling it was rather good fun—Maggie would look so queer.
"Here, Tom, cut it behind for me," said Maggie, much excited.
"You'll catch it, you know," said Tom as he took the scissors.
"Never mind; make haste!" said Maggie, giving a little stamp with her foot. Her cheeks were quite flushed.
One delicious grinding snip, and then another and another. The hinder locks fell heavily on the floor, and soon Maggie stood cropped in a jagged, uneven manner.
"O Maggie!" said Tom, jumping round her, and slapping his knees as he laughed—"oh, my buttons, what a queer thing you look! Look at yourself in the glass."
Maggie felt an unexpected pang. She didn't want her hair to look pretty—she only wanted people to think her a clever little girl, and not to find fault with her untidy head. But now, when Tom began to laugh at her, the affair had quite a new aspect. She looked in the glass, and still Tom laughed and clapped his hands, while Maggie's flushed cheeks began to pale and her lips to tremble a little.
"O Maggie, you'll have to go down to dinner directly," said Tom. "Oh my!"
"Don't laugh at me, Tom," said Maggie, with an outburst of angry tears, stamping, and giving him a push.
"Now, then, spitfire!" said Tom. "What did you cut it off for, then? I shall go down; I can smell the dinner going in."
He hurried downstairs at once. Maggie could see clearly enough, now the thing was done, that it was very foolish, and that she should have to hear and think more about her hair than ever. As she stood crying before the glass she felt it impossible to go down to dinner and endure the severe eyes and severe words of her aunts, while Tom, and Lucy, and Martha, who waited at table, and perhaps her father and her uncles, would laugh at her—for if Tom had laughed at her, of course every one else would; and if she had only let her hair alone, she could have sat with Tom and Lucy, and had the apricot pudding and the custard!
"Miss Maggie, you're to come down this minute," said Kezia, entering the room after a few moments. "Lawks! what have you been a-doing? I niver see such a fright."
"Don't, Kezia," said Maggie angrily. "Go away!"
"But I tell you, you're to come down, miss, this minute; your mother says so," said Kezia, going up to Maggie and taking her by the hand to raise her from the floor, on which she had thrown herself.
"Get away, Kezia; I don't want any dinner," said Maggie, resisting Kezia's arm. "I shan't come."
"Oh, well, I can't stay. I've got to wait at dinner," said Kezia, going out again.
"Maggie, you little silly," said Tom, peeping into the room ten minutes later, "why don't you come and have your dinner? There's lots o' goodies, and mother says you're to come."
Oh, it was dreadful! Tom was so hard. If he had been crying on the floor, Maggie would have cried too. And there was the dinner, so nice, and she was so hungry. It was very bitter.
But Tom was not altogether hard. He was not inclined to cry, but he went and put his head near her and said in a lower, comforting tone,—
"Won't you come, then, Magsie? Shall I bring you a bit o' pudding when I've had mine, and a custard and things?"
"Ye-e-es," said Maggie, beginning to feel life a little more tolerable.
"Very well," said Tom, going away. But he turned again at the door and said, "But you'd better come, you know. There's the dessert—nuts, you know, and cowslip wine."
Slowly she rose from amongst her scattered locks, and slowly she made her way downstairs. Then she stood leaning with one shoulder against the frame of the dining-parlour door, peeping in as it stood ajar. She saw Tom and Lucy with an empty chair between them, and there were the custards on a side-table. It was too much. She slipped in and went towards the empty chair. But she had no sooner sat down than she wished herself back again.
Mrs. Tulliver gave a little scream as she saw her, and felt such a "turn" that she dropped the large gravy-spoon into the dish, with the most serious results to the table-cloth.
Mrs. Tulliver's scream made all eyes turn towards the same point as her own, and Maggie's cheeks and ears began to burn, while Uncle Glegg, a kind-looking, white-haired old gentleman, said,—
"Heyday! What little gell's this? Why, I don't know her. Is it some little gell you've picked up in the road, Kezia?"
"Why, she's gone and cut her hair herself," said Mr. Tulliver in an undertone to Mr. Deane, laughing with much enjoyment. "Did you ever know such a little hussy as it is?"
"Why, little miss, you've made yourself look very funny," said Uncle Pullet.
"Fie, for shame!" said Aunt Glegg in her loudest tone. "Little gells as cut their own hair should be whipped, and fed on bread and water—not come and sit down with their aunts and uncles."
"Ay, ay," said Uncle Glegg playfully "she must be sent to jail, I think, and they'll cut the rest off there, and make it all even."
"She's more like a gipsy nor ever," said Aunt Pullet in a pitying tone. "It's very bad luck, sister, as the gell should be so brown; the boy's fair enough. I doubt it'll stand in her way i' life, to be so brown."
"She's a naughty child, as'll break her mother's heart," said Mrs. Tulliver, with the tears in her eyes.
"Oh my, Maggie," whispered Tom, "I told you you'd catch it."
The child's heart swelled, and getting up from her chair she ran to her father, hid her face on his shoulder, and burst out into loud sobbing.
"Come, come, my wench," said her father soothingly, putting his arm round her, "never mind; you was i' the right to cut it off if it plagued you. Give over crying; father'll take your part."
"How your husband does spoil that child, Bessy," said Mrs. Glegg in a loud "aside" to Mrs. Tulliver. "It'll be the ruin of her if you don't take care. My father niver brought his children up so, else we should ha' been a different sort o' family to what we are."
Mrs. Tulliver took no notice of her sister's remark, but threw back her cap-strings and served the pudding in silence.
When the dessert came the children were told they might have their nuts and wine in the summer-house, since the day was so mild; and they scampered out among the budding bushes of the garden like small animals getting from under a burning-glass.
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