Tending to Refute the Popular Prejudice against the Present of a Pocket-Knife

IN that dark time of December the sale of the household furniture lasted beyond the middle of the second day. Mr Tulliver, who had begun, in his intervals of consciousness, to manifest an irritability which often appeared to have as a direct effect the recurrence of spasmodic rigidity and insensibility, had lain in this living death throughout the critical hours when the noise of the sale came nearest to his chamber. Mr Turnbull had decided that it would be a less risk to let him remain where he was, than to move him to Luke's cottage, a plan which the good Luke had proposed to Mrs Tulliver, thinking it would be very bad if the master were `to waken up' at the noise of the sale; and the wife and children had sat imprisoned in the silent chamber, watching the large prostrate figure on the bed, and trembling lest the blank face should suddenly show some response to the sounds which fell on their own ears with such obstinate, painful repetition. But it was over at last - that time of importunate certainty and eye-straining suspense. The sharp sound of a voice almost as metallic as the rap that followed it had ceased; the tramping of footsteps on the gravel had died out. Mrs Tulliver's blond face seemed aged ten years by the last thirty hours: the poor woman's mind had been busy divining when her favourite things were being knocked down by the terrible hammer, her heart had been fluttering at the thought that first one thing and then another had gone to be identified as hers in the hateful publicity of the Golden Lion; and all the while she had to sit and make no sign of this inward agitation. Such things bring lines in well-rounded faces, and broaden the streaks of white among the hairs that once looked as if they had been dipped in pure sunshine. Already at three o'clock, Kezia, the good-hearted, bad-tempered housemaid, who regarded all people that came to the sale as her personal enemies, the dirt on whose feet was of a peculiarly vile quality, had begun to scrub and swill with an energy much assisted by a continual low muttering against `folks as came to buy up other folks's things,' and made light of `scrazing' the tops of mahogany tables over which better folks than themselves had had to - suffer a waste of tissue through evaporation. She was not scrubbing indiscriminately, for there would be further dirt of the same atrocious kind made by people who had still to fetch away their purchases: but she was bent on bringing the parlour, where that `pipe-smoking pig' the bailiff had sat, to such an appearance of scant comfort as could be given to it by cleanliness and the few articles of furniture bought in for the family. Her mistress and the young folks should have their tea in it that night, Kezia was determined.

It was between five and six o'clock, near the usual teatime, when she came up-stairs and said that Master Tom was wanted. The person who wanted him was in the kitchen, and in the first moments, by the imperfect fire and candlelight Tom had not even an indefinite sense of any acquaintance with the rather broad-set but active figure, perhaps two years older than himself, that looked at him with a pair of blue eyes set in a disc of freckles, and pulled some curly red locks with a strong intention of respect. A low- crowned oilskin-covered hat and a certain shiny deposit of dirt on the rest of the costume, as of tables prepared for writing upon, suggested a calling that had to do with boats, but this did not help Tom's memory.

`Sarvant, Mr Tom,' said he of the red locks, with a smile which seemed to break through a self-imposed air of melancholy. `You don' know me again, I doubt,' he went on, as Tom continued to look at him inquiringly, `but I'd like to talk to you by yourself a bit, please.'

`There's a fire i' the parlour, Mr Tom,' said Kezia, who objected to leaving the kitchen in the crises of toasting.

`Come this way, then,' said Tom, wondering if this young fellow belonged to Guest & Co.'s Wharf; for his imagination ran continually towards that particular spot, and uncle Deane might any time be sending for him to say that there was a situation at liberty.

The bright fire in the parlour was the only light that showed the few chairs, the bureau, the carpetless floor and the one table - no, not the one table: there was a second table in a corner, with a large Bible and a few other books upon it. It was this new strange bareness that Tom felt first, before he thought of looking again at the face which was also lit up by the fire, and which stole a half-shy, questioning glance at him as the entirely strange voice said--

`Why! you don't remember Bob, then, as you gen the pocket knife, Mr Tom?'

  By PanEris using Melati.

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