Tom Comes Home

TOM was to arrive early in the 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 - that quick light bowling of the gig wheels - 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 outside the door, and even held her hand on Maggie's offending head, forgetting all the griefs of the morning. `There he is, my sweet lad! But, Lord ha' mercy, 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 descended from the gig and said, with masculine reticence as to the tender emotions, `Hallo! Yap, what, are you there?'

Nevertheless, he submitted to be kissed willingly enough, though Maggie hung on his neck in rather a strangling fashion, while his blue-grey 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 one of those lads that grow everywhere in England, and, at twelve or thirteen years of age, look as much alike as goslings: - a lad with light brown hair, cheeks of cream and roses, full lips, indeterminate nose and eye-brows - a physiognomy in which it seems impossible to discern anything but the generic character of boyhood; as different as possible from poor Maggie's phiz, which Nature seemed to have moulded and coloured with the most decided intention. But that same Nature has the deep cunning which hides itself under the appearance of openness, so that simple people think they can see through her quite well, and all the while she is secretly preparing a refutation of their confident prophecies. Under these average boyish physiognomies that she seems to turn off by the gross, she conceals some of her most rigid inflexible purposes, some of her most unmodifiable characters, and the dark-eyed, demonstrative, rebellious girl may after all turn out to be a passive being compared with this pink and white bit of masculinity with indeterminate features.

`Maggie,' said Tom, confidentially, taking her into a corner, as soon as his mother was gone out to examine his box, and the warm parlour had taken off the chill he had felt from the long drive, `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 cobnuts?' Maggie's heart sank a little, because Tom always said it was `no good' playing withher at those games - she played so badly.

`Marls! no - I've swopped all my marls with little fellows. And cobnuts are no fun, you silly, only when the nuts are green. But see here!' He drew something half 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!'

`O, 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, and looking determined.

`No, Tom,' said Maggie, imploringly, 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 o' 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 the Round Pool? And you shall catch your own fish, Maggie, and put the worms on and everything - won't it be fun?'

  By PanEris using Melati.

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