A Day of Reckoning

MR TULLIVER was an essentially sober man - able to take his glass and not averse to it, but never exceeding the bounds of moderation. He had naturally an active Hotspur temperament, which did not crave liquid fire to set it aglow; his impetuosity was usually equal to an exciting occasion, without any such reinforcements, and his desire for the brandy and water implied that the too sudden joy had fallen with a dangerous shock on a frame depressed by four years of gloom and unaccustomed hard fare. But that first doubtful tottering moment passed, he seemed to gather strength with his gathering excitement, and the next day, when he was seated at table with his creditors, his eye kindling and his cheek flushed with the consciousness that he was about to make an honourable figure once more, he looked more like the proud, confident, warm-hearted and warm-tempered Tulliver of old times, than might have seemed possible to any one who had met him a week before, riding along as had been his wont for the last four years since the sense of failure and debt had been upon him - with his head hanging down, casting brief, unwilling looks on those who forced themselves on his notice. He made his speech, asserting his honest principles with his old confident eagerness, alluding to the rascals and the luck that had been against him, but that he had triumphed over to some extent by hard effort and the aid of a good son, and winding up with the story of how Tom had got the best part of the needful money. But the streak of irritation and hostile triumph seemed to melt for a little while into purer fatherly pride and pleasure, when, Tom's health having been proposed, and uncle Deane having taken occasion to say a few words of eulogy on his general character and conduct, Tom himself got up and made the single speech of his life. It could hardly have been briefer: he thanked the gentlemen for the honour they had done him. He was glad that he had been able to help his father in proving his integrity and regaining his honest name, and, for his own part, he hoped he should never undo that work and disgrace that name. But the applause that followed was so great, and Tom looked so gentlemanly as well as tall and straight, that Mr Tulliver remarked in an explanatory manner to his friends on his right and left that he had spent a deal of money on his son's education. The party broke up in very sober fashion at five o'clock. Tom remained in St Ogg's to attend to some business and Mr Tulliver mounted his horse to go home, and describe the memorable things that had been said and done, to `poor Bessy and the little wench.' The air of excitement that hung about him, was but faintly due to good cheer or any stimulus but the potent wine of triumphant joy. He did not choose any back street today, but rode slowly, with uplifted head and free glances along the principal street all the way to the bridge. Why did he not happen to meet Wakem? The want of that coincidence vexed him and set his mind at work in an irritating way. Perhaps Wakem was gone out of town today on purpose to avoid seeing or hearing anything of an honorable action, which might well cause him some unpleasant twinges. If Wakem were to meet him then, Mr Tulliver would look straight at him, and the rascal would perhaps be forsaken a little by his cool domineering impudence. He would know by and by that an honest man was not going to serve him any longer, and lend his honesty to fill a pocket already over full of dishonest gains. Perhaps the luck was beginning to turn: perhaps the devil didn't always hold the best cards in this world.

Simmering in this way, Mr Tulliver approached the yardgates of Dorlcote Mill, near enough to see a well known figure coming out of them on a fine black horse. They met about fifty yards from the gates, between the great chestnuts and elms and the high bank.

`Tulliver,' said Wakem, abruptly, in a haughtier tone than usual, `What a fool's trick you did - spreading those hard lumps on that Far Close. I told you how it would be; but you men never learn to farm with any method.'

`Oh!' said Tulliver, suddenly boiling up. `Get somebody else to farm for you, then, as 'll ask you to teach him.'

`You have been drinking, I suppose,' said Wakem, really believing that this was the meaning of Tulliver's flushed face and sparkling eyes.

`No, I've not been drinking,' said Tulliver, `I want no drinking to help me make up my mind as I'll serve no longer under a scoundrel.'

  By PanEris using Melati.

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