The Golden Gates Are Passed

SO Tom went on even to the fifth half year - till he was turned sixteen - at King's Lorton, while Maggie was growing, with a rapidity which her aunts considered highly reprehensible, at Miss Firniss's boarding school in the ancient town of Laceham on the Floss, with cousin Lucy for her companion. In her early letters to Tom she had always sent her love to Philip and asked many questions about him which were answered by brief sentences about Tom's toothache, and a turf-house which he was helping to build in the garden, with other items of that kind. She was pained to hear Tom say in the holidays that Philip was as queer as ever again, and often cross: they were no longer very good friends, she perceived, and when she reminded Tom that he ought always to love Philip for being so good to him when his foot was bad, he answered, `Well, it isn't my fault: I don't do anything to him.' She hardly ever saw Philip during the remainder of their school life: in the Midsummer holidays he was always away at the seaside, and at Christmas she could only meet him at long intervals in the streets of St Ogg's. When they did meet, she remembered her promise to kiss him, but, as a young lady who had been at a boarding-school, she knew now that such a greeting was out of the question, and Philip would not expect it. The promise was void like so many other sweet, illusory promises of our childhood: void as promises made in Eden before the seasons were divided, and when the starry blossoms grew side by side with the ripening peach - impossible to be fulfilled when the golden gates had been passed. But when their father was actually engaged in the long-threatened lawsuit, and Wakem, as the agent at once of Pivart and Old Harry, was acting against him, even Maggie felt, with some sadness, that they were not likely ever to have any intimacy with Philip again: the very name of Wakem made her father angry, and she had once heard him say that if that crookbacked son lived to inherit his father's ill-gotten gains, there would be a curse upon him. `Have as little to do with him at school as you can, my lad,' he said to Tom; and the command was obeyed the more easily because Mr Stelling by this time had two additional pupils; for though this gentleman's rise in the world was not of that meteor-like rapidity which the admirers of his extemporaneous eloquence had expected for a preacher whose voice demanded so wide a sphere, he had yet enough of growing prosperity to enable him to increase his expenditure in continued disproportion to his income.

As for Tom's school course, it went on with mill-like monotony, his mind continuing to move with a slow, half-stifled pulse in a medium of uninteresting or unintelligible ideas. But each vacation he brought home larger and larger drawings with the satiny rendering of landscape and water-colours in vivid greens, together with manuscript books full of exercises and problems, in which the handwriting was all the finer because he gave his whole mind to it. Each vacation he brought home a new book or two, indicating his progress through different stages of history, Christian doctrine, and Latin literature; and that passage was not entirely without result besides the possession of the books. Tom's ear and tongue had become accustomed to a great many words and phrases which are understood to be signs of an educated condition, and though he had never really applied his mind to any one of his lessons, the lessons had left a deposit of vague, fragmentary ineffectual notions. Mr Tulliver, seeing signs of acquirement beyond the reach of his own criticism, thought it was probably all right with Tom's education: he observed, indeed, that there were no maps, and not enough `summing,' but he made no formal complaint to Mr Stelling. It was a puzzling business, this schooling; and if he took Tom away, where could he send him with better effect?

By the time Tom had reached his last quarter at King's Lorton, the years had made striking changes in him since the day we saw him returning from Mr Jacobs' Academy. He was a tall youth now, carrying himself without the least awkwardness, and speaking without more shyness than was a becoming symptom of blended diffidence and pride: he wore his tailed coat and his stand-up collars, and watched the down on his lip with eager impatience looking every day at his virgin razor, with which he had provided himself in the last holidays. Philip had already left - at the Autumn quarter - that he might go to the South for the winter, for the sake of his health; and this change helped to give Tom the unsettled, exulting feeling that usually belongs to the last months before leaving school. This quarter too, there was some hope of his father's lawsuit being decided: that made the prospect of home more entirely pleasurable. For Tom, who had gathered his view of the case from his father's conversation, had no doubt that Pivart would be beaten.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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