The Hard-Won Triumph

THREE weeks later, when Dorlcote Mill was at its prettiest moment in all the year - the great chestnuts in blossom, and the grass all deep and daisied - Tom Tulliver came home to it earlier than usual in the evening, and as he passed over the bridge, he looked with the old deep-rooted affection at the respectable red brick house, which always seemed cheerful and inviting outside, let the rooms be as bare and the hearts as sad as they might, inside. There is a very pleasant light in Tom's blue-grey eyes as he glances at the house-windows: that fold in his brow never disappears but it is not unbecoming - it seems to imply a strength of will that may possibly be without harshness, when the eyes and mouth have their gentlest expression. His firm step becomes quicker, and the corners of his mouth rebel against the compression which is meant to forbid a smile.

The eyes in the parlour were not turned towards the bridge just then, and the group there was sitting in unexpectant silence: Mr Tulliver in his armchair, tired with a long ride, and ruminating with a worn look, fixed chiefly on Maggie, who was bending over her sewing while her mother was making the tea.

They all looked up with surprise when they heard the well-known foot.

`Why what's up now, Tom?' said his father. `You're a bit earlier than usual.'

`O, there was nothing more for me to do, so I came away. Well, mother!'

Tom went up to his mother and kissed her - a sign of unusual good-humour with him. Hardly a word or look had passed between him and Maggie in all the three weeks; but his usual incommunicativeness at home prevented this from being noticeable to their parents.

`Father,' said Tom, when they had finished tea, `do you know exactly how much money there is in the tin box?'

`Only a hundred and ninety-three pound,' said Mr Tulliver. `You've brought less o' late - but young fellows like to have their own way with their money. Though I didn't do as I liked before I was of age.' He spoke with rather timid discontent.

`Are you quite sure that's the sum, father?' said Tom: `I wish you would take the trouble to fetch the tin box down. I think you have perhaps made a mistake.'

`How should I make a mistake?' said his father, sharply. `I've counted it often enough. But I can fetch it - if you won't believe me.'

It was always an incident Mr Tulliver liked, in his gloomy life, to fetch the tin box and count the money.

`Don't go out of the room, mother,' said Tom, as he saw her moving, when his father was gone upstairs.

`And isn't Maggie to go?' said Mrs Tulliver, `because somebody must take away the things.'

`Just as she likes,' said Tom indifferently.

That was a cutting word to Maggie. Her heart had leaped with the sudden conviction that Tom was going to tell their father, the debts could be paid - and Tom would have let her be absent when that news was told! But she carried away the tray, and came back immediately. The feeling of injury on her own behalf could not predominate at that moment.

Tom drew to the corner of the table near his father, when the tin box was set down and opened, and the red evening light falling on them made conspicuous the worn, sour gloom of the dark-eyed father and the suppressed joy in the face of the fair-complexioned son. The mother and Maggie sat at the other end of the table; the one in blank patience, the other in palpitating expectation.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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