`But the men aren't all big,' said uncle Pullet, not without some self-reference. `A young fellow may be good-looking and yet not be a six-foot, like Mr Tom here.'

`Ah, it's poor talking about littleness and bigness, - anybody may think it's a mercy they're straight,' said aunt Pullet. `There's that mis-made son o' Lawyer Wakem's - I saw him at church today. Dear, dear! to think o' the property he's like to have. And they say he's very queer and unked - doesn't like much company. I shouldn't wonder if he goes out of his mind, for we never come along the road but he's a- scrambling out o' the trees and brambles at the Red Deeps.'

This wide statement, by which Mrs Pullet represented the fact that she had twice seen Philip at the spot indicated, produced an effect on Maggie which was all the stronger because Tom sate opposite her, and she was intensely anxious to look indifferent. At Philip's name she had blushed, and the blush deepened every instant from consciousness, until the mention of the Red Deeps made her feel as if the whole secret were betrayed, and she dared not even hold her tea-spoon lest she should show how she trembled. She sat with her hands clasped under the table, not daring to look round. Happily, her father was seated on the same side with herself beyond her uncle Pullet, and could not see her face without stooping forward. Her mother's voice brought the first relief, turning the conversation - for Mrs Tulliver was always alarmed when the name of Wakem was mentioned in her husband's presence. Gradually Maggie recovered composure enough to look up: her eyes met Tom's, but he turned away his head immediately, and she went to bed that night wondering if he had gathered any suspicion from her confusion. Perhaps not - perhaps he would think it was only her alarm at her aunt's mention of Wakem before her father: that was the interpretation her mother had put on it. To her father, Wakem was like a disfiguring disease, of which he was obliged to endure the consciousness, but was exasperated to have the existence recognised by others; and no amount of sensitiveness in her about her father could be surprising, Maggie thought.

But Tom was too keen-sighted to rest satisfied with such an interpretation: he had seen clearly enough that there was something distinct from anxiety about her father in Maggie's excessive confusion. In trying to recall all the details that could give shape to his suspicions, he remembered only lately hearing his mother scold Maggie for walking in the Red Deeps when the ground was wet, and bringing home shoes clogged with red soil: - still Tom, retaining all his old repulsion for Philip's deformity, shrank from attributing to his sister the probability of feeling more than a friendly interest in such an unfortunate exception to the common run of men. Tom's was a nature which had a sort of superstitious repugnance to everything exceptional. A love for a deformed man would be odious in any woman - in a sister intolerable. But if she had been carrying on any kind of intercourse whatever with Philip, a stop must be put to it at once; she was disobeying her father's strongest feelings and her brother's express commands, besides compromising herself by secret meetings. He left home the next morning in that watchful state of mind which turns the most ordinary course of things into pregnant coincidences.

That afternoon, about half past three o' clock, Tom was standing on the wharf, talking with Bob Jakin about the probability of the good ship Adelaide coming in in a day or two with results highly important to both of them.

`Eh,' said Bob, parenthetically, as he looked over the fields on the other side of the river, `there goes that crooked young Wakem - I know him or his shadder as far off as I can see 'em. I'm allays lighting on him o' that side the river.'

A sudden thought seemed to have darted through Tom's mind. `I must go, Bob,' he said, `I've something to attend to,' hurrying off to the warehouse, where he left notice for some one to take his place - he was called away home on peremptory business.

The swiftest pace and the shortest road took him to the gate, and he was pausing to pen it deliberately that he might walk into the house with an appearance of perfect composure, when Maggie came out at the front door in bonnet and shawl. His conjecture was fulfilled, and he waited for her at the gate. She started violently when she saw him.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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