The Cloven Tree

SECRETS are rarely betrayed or discovered according to any programme our fear has sketched out. Fear is almost always haunted by terrible dramatic scenes, which recur in spite of the best argued probabilities against them; and during a year that Maggie had had the burthen of concealment on her mind, the possibility of discovery had continually presented itself under the form of a sudden meeting with her father or Tom when she was walking with Philip in the Red Deeps. She was aware that this was not one of the most likely events; but it was the scene that most completely symbolised her inward dread. Those slight indirect suggestions which are dependent on apparently trivial coincidences and incalculable states of mind are the favourite machinery of Fact, but are not the stuff in which imagination is apt to work. Certainly one of the persons about whom Maggie's fears were farthest from troubling themselves was her aunt Pullet, on whom, seeing that she did not live in St Ogg's, and was neither sharp-eyed nor sharp-tempered, it would surely have been quite whimsical of them to fix rather than on aunt Glegg. And yet the channel of fatality - the pathway of the lightning - was no other than aunt Pullet. She did not live at St Ogg's, but the road from Garum Firs lay by the Red Deeps at the end opposite that by which Maggie entered.

The day after Maggie's last meeting with Philip, being a Sunday on which Mr Pullet was bound to appear in funereal hat-band and scarf at St Ogg's church, Mrs Pullet made this the occasion of dining with sister Glegg, and taking tea with poor sister Tulliver. Sunday was the one day in the week on which Tom was at home in the afternoon; and today the brighter spirits he had been in of late had flowed over in unusually cheerful open chat with his father, and in the invitation, `Come, Magsie, you come too!' when he strolled out with his mother in the garden to see the advancing cherry blossoms. He had been better pleased with Maggie since she had been less odd and ascetic; he was even getting rather proud of her: several persons had remarked in his hearing that his sister was a very fine girl. Today there was a peculiar brightness in her face, due in reality to an under-current of excitement, which had as much doubt and pain as pleasure in it; but it might pass for a sign of happiness.

`You look very well, my dear,' said aunt Pullet, shaking her head, sadly, as they sat round the tea-table. `I niver thought your girl 'ud be so good-looking Bessy. But you must wear pink, my dear: that blue thing as your aunt Glegg gave you turns you into a crow-flower. Jane never was tasty. Why don't you wear that gown o' mine?'

`It's so pretty and so smart, aunt. I think it's too showy for me - at least for my other clothes, that I must wear with it.'

`To be sure it 'ud be unbecoming if it wasn't well-known you've got them belonging to you, as can afford to give you such things, when they've done with 'em themselves. It stands to reason I must give my own niece clothes now and then - such things as I buy every year, and never wear anything out. And as for Lucy, there's no giving to her, for she's got everything o' the choicest: sister Deane may well hold her head up, though she looks dreadful yallow, poor thing - I doubt this liver-complaint 'ull carry her off. That's what this new Vicar, this Dr Kenn, said in the funeral sermon today.'

`Ah, he's a wonderful preacher, by all account - isn't he, Sophy?' said Mrs Tulliver.

`Why, Lucy had got a collar on this blessed day,' continued Mrs Pullet, with her eyes fixed in a ruminating manner, `as I don't say I haven't got as good, but I must look out my best to match it.'

`Miss Lucy's called the bell o' St Ogg's, they say - that's a cur'ous word,' observed Mr Pullet, on whom the mysteries of etymology sometimes fell with an oppressive weight.

`Pooh!' said Mr Tulliver, jealous for Maggie, `She's a small thing, not much of a figure. But fine feathers make fine birds. I see nothing to admire so much in those diminitive women: they look silly by the side o' the men - out o'proportion. When I chose my wife, I chose her the right size - neither too little nor too big.'

The poor wife, with her withered beauty, smiled complacently.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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