Tom had not heard anything from home for some weeks - a fact which did not surprise him, for his father and mother were not apt to manifest their affection in unnecessary letters - when to his great surprise on the morning of a dark cold day near the end of November, he was told, soon after entering the study at nine o'clock, that his sister was in the drawing-room. It was Mrs Stelling who had come into the study to tell him, and she left him to enter the drawing-room alone.
Maggie too was tall now, with braided and coiled hair: she was almost as tall as Tom, though she was only thirteen; and she really looked older than he did at that moment. She had thrown off her bonnet, her heavy braids were pushed back from her forehead as if it would not bear that extra load, and her young face had a strangely worn look as her eyes turned anxiously towards the door. When Tom entered, she did not speak, but only went up to him, put her arms round his neck and kissed him earnestly. He was used to various moods of hers, and felt no alarm at the unusual seriousness of her greeting.
`Why, how is it you're come so early this cold morning, Maggie? Did you come in the gig?' said Tom, as she backed towards the sofa and drew him to her side.
`No, I came by the coach - I've walked from the turnpike.'
`But how is it you're not at school? The holidays have not begun yet?'
`Father wanted me at home,' said Maggie, with a slight trembling of the lip. `I came home three or four days ago.'
`Isn't my father well?' said Tom, rather anxiously.
`Not quite,' said Maggie. `He's very unhappy, Tom. The lawsuit is ended, and I came to tell you, because I thought it would be better for you to know it before you came home, and I didn't like only to send you a letter.'
`My father hasn't lost?' said Tom, hastily, springing from the sofa, and standing before Maggie with his hands suddenly thrust in his pockets.
`Yes, dear Tom,' said Maggie, looking up at him with trembling.
Tom was silent a minute or two, with his eyes fixed on the floor. Then he said--
`My father will have to pay a good deal of money, then?'
`Yes,' said Maggie, rather faintly.
`Well, it can't be helped,' said Tom, bravely, not translating the loss of a large sum of money into any tangible results. `But my father's very much vexed, I dare say?' he added, looking at Maggie, and thinking that her agitated face was only part of her girlish way of taking things.
`Yes,' said Maggie, again faintly. Then, urged to fuller speech by Tom's freedom from apprehension, she said loudly and rapidly, as if the words would burst from her, `O Tom, he will lose the mill and the land, and everything. He will have nothing left.'
Tom's eyes flashed out one look of surprise at her before he turned pale and trembled visibly. He said nothing, but sat down on the sofa again, looking vaguely out of the opposite window.
Anxiety about the future had never entered Tom's mind. His father had always ridden a good horse, kept a good house, and had the cheerful, confident air of a man who has plenty of property to fall back upon. Tom had never dreamed that his father would `fail:' that was a form of misfortune which he had always heard spoken of as a deep disgrace, and disgrace was an idea that he could not associate with any of his relations, least of all with his father. A proud sense of family respectability was part of the
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