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 single 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 relations, 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 - an'be burnt to death before he gets 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' brians 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 of a pity, though,' said Mr Tulliver, `as the lad should take after the mother's side istead o' the little wench. That's the worst on't wi' the 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 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 - wanderin' up an' down by the water, like a wild thing: she'll tumble in same 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.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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