Mr Tulliver was resting in his chair a little after the fatigue of dressing, and Maggie and Tom were seated near him, when Luke entered to ask if he should help master downstairs.
`Ay, ay, Luke, stop a bit, sit down,' said Mr Tulliver, pointing his stick towards a chair, and looking at him with that pursuant gaze which convalescent persons often have for those who have tended them, reminding one of an infant gazing about after its nurse. And Luke had been a constant night-watcher by his master's bed.
`How's the water now, eh, Luke?' said Mr Tulliver. `Dix hasn't been choking you up again, eh?'
`No, sir, it's all right.'
`Ay, I thought not: he won't be in a hurry at that again, now Riley's been to settle him. That was what I said to Riley yesterday... I said... '
Mr Tulliver leaned forward, resting his elbows on the arm-chair, and looking on the ground as if in search of something - striving after vanishing images like a man struggling against a doze. Maggie looked at Tom in mute distress - their father's mind was so far off the present, which would by and by thrust itself on his wandering consciousness!Tom was almost ready to rush away, with that impatience of painful emotion which makes one of the differences between youth and maiden, man and woman.
`Father,' said Maggie, laying her hand on his, `Don't you remember that Mr Riley is dead?'
`Dead?' said Mr Tulliver, sharply, looking in her face with a strange, examining glance.
`Yes, he died of apoplexy nearly a year ago; I remember hearing you say you had to pay money for him; and he left his daughters badly off - one of them is under-teacher at Miss Firniss's where I've been to school, you know... '
`Ah?' said her father, doubtfully, still looking in her face. But as soon as Tom began to speak he turned to look at him with the same inquiring glances, as if he were rather surprised at the presence of these two young people. Whenever his mind was wandering in the far past, he fell into this oblivion of their actual faces: they were not those of lad and the little wench who belonged to that past.
`It's a long while since you had the dispute with Dix, father,' said Tom. `I remember your talking about it three years ago, before I went to school at Mr Stelling's. I've been at school there three years; don't you remember?'
Mr Tulliver threw himself backward again, losing the child-like outward glance, under a rush of new ideas which diverted him from external impressions.
`Ay, ay,' he said, after a minute or two, `I've paid a deal o' money... I was determined my son should have a good eddication: I'd none myself, and I've felt the miss of it. And he'll want no other fortin: that's what I say... if Wakem was to get the better of me again... '
The thought of Wakem roused new vibrations, and after a moment's pause he began to look at the coat he had on, and to feel in his side-pocket. Then he turned to Tom, and said in his old sharp way, `Where have they put Gore's letter?'
It was close at hand in a drawer, for he had often asked for it before.
`You know what there is in the letter, father?' said Tom, as he gave it to him.
`To be sure I do,' said Mr Tulliver, rather angrily, `What o' that? If Furley can't take to the property, somebody else can: there's plenty o' people in the world besides Furley. But it's hindering - my not being well - go
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