`O Tom,' said Maggie, at last, going half-way towards him, `I didn't mean to knock it down - indeed, indeed I didn't.'

Tom took no notice of her, but took, instead, two or three hard peas out of his pocket and shot them with his thumb-nail against the window - vaguely at first, but presently with the distinct aim of hitting a superannuated blue-bottle which was exposing its imbecility in the spring sunshine, clearly against the views of nature, who had provided Tom and the peas for the speedy destruction of this weak individual.

Thus the morning had been made heavy to Maggie, and Tom's persistent coldness to her all through their walk spoiled the fresh air and sunshine for her. He called Lucy to look at the half-built bird's nest without caring to show it Maggie, and peeled a willow switch for Lucy and himself without offering one to Maggie. Lucy had said, `Maggie, shouldn't you like one?' But Tom was deaf.

Still the sight of the peacock opportunely spreading his tail on the stackyard wall, just as they reached Garum Firs was enough to divert the mind temporarily from personal grievances. And this was only the beginning of beautiful sights at Garum Firs. All the farmyard life was wonderful there - bantams, speckled and topknotted - Friesland hens, with their feathers all turned the wrong way; Guinea-fowls that flew and screamed and dropped their pretty-spotted feathers - pouter pigeons and a tame magpie; nay, a goat, and a wonderful brindled dog, half mastiff, half bull-dog, as large as a lion. Then there were white railings and white gates all about, and glittering weathercocks of various design, and garden-walks paved with pebbles in beautiful patterns - nothing was quite common at Garum Firs; and Tom thought that the unusual size of the toads there was simply due to the general unusualness which characterised uncle Pullet's possessions as a gentleman farmer. Toads who paid rent were naturally leaner. As for the house, it was not less remarkable: it had a receding centre, and two wings with battlemented turrets, and was covered with glittering white stucco.

Uncle Pullet had seen the expected party approaching from the window, and made haste to unbar and unchain the front door, kept always in this fortified condition from fear of tramps who might be supposed to know of the glass-case of stuffed birds in the hall and to contemplate rushing in and carrying it away on their heads. Aunt Pullet too appeared at the doorway, and as soon as her sister was within hearing said, `Stop the children, for God's sake, Bessy - don't let 'em come up the door-steps: Sally's bringing the old mat and the duster, to rub their shoes.'

Mrs Pullet's front-door mats were by no means intended to wipe shoes on: the very scraper had a deputy to do its dirty work. Tom rebelled particularly against this shoe-wiping, which he always considered in the light of an indignity to his sex. He felt it as the beginning of the disagreeables incident to a visit at aunt Pullet's, where he had once been compelled to sit with towels wrapped round his boots; a fact which may serve to correct the too hasty conclusion that a visit to Garum Firs must have been a great treat to a young gentleman fond of animals - fond, that is, of throwing stones at them.

The next disagreeable was confined to his feminine companions: it was the mounting of the polished oak stairs, which had very handsome carpets rolled up and laid by in a spare bedroom, so that the ascent of these glossy steps might have served in barbarous times as a trial by ordeal from which none but the most spotless virtue could have come off with unbroken limbs. Sophy's weakness about these polished stairs was always a subject of bitter remonstrance on Mrs Glegg's part, but Mrs Tulliver ventured on no comment, only thinking to herself it was a mercy, when she and the children were safe on the landing.

`Mrs Gray has sent home my new bonnet, Bessy,' said Mrs Pullet, in a pathetic tone as Mrs Tulliver adjusted her cap.

`Has she, sister?' said Mrs Tulliver, with an air of much interest. `And how do you like it?'

`It's apt to make a mess with clothes, taking 'em out and putting 'em in again,' said Mrs Pullet, drawing a bunch of keys from her pocket and looking at them earnestly, `but it 'ud be a pity for you to go away without seeing it. There's no knowing what may happen.'

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