The Return to the Mill

BETWEEN four and five o'clock on the afternoon of the fifth day from that on which Stephen and Maggie had left St Ogg's, Tom Tulliver was standing on the gravel walk outside the old house at Dorlcote Mill. He was master there now: he had half fulfilled his father's dying wish, and by years of steady self-government and energetic work he had brought himself near to the attainment of more than the old respectability which had been the proud inheritance of the Dodsons and Tullivers. But Tom's face, as he stood in the hot still sunshine of that summer afternoon, had no gladness, no triumph in it. His mouth wore its bitterest expression, his severe brow its hardest and deepest fold, as he drew down his hat farther over his eyes to shelter them from the sun, and thrusting his hands deep into his pockets, began to walk up and down the gravel. No news of his sister had been heard since Bob Jakin had come back in the steamer from Mudport and put an end to all improbable suppositions of an accident on the water by stating that he had seen her land from a vessel with Mr Stephen Guest. Would the next news be that she was married - or what? Probably that she was not married: Tom's mind was set to the expectation of the worst that could happen - not death, but disgrace.

As he was walking with his back towards the entrance gate, and his face towards the rushing mill-stream, a tall dark-eyed figure, that we know well, approached the gate, and paused to look at him, with a fast- beating heart. Her brother was the human being of whom she had been most afraid, from her childhood upwards - afraid with that fear which springs in us when we love one who is inexorable, unbending, unmodifiable - with a mind that we can never mould ourselves upon, and yet that we cannot endure to alienate from us. That deep-rooted fear was shaking Maggie now: but her mind was unswervingly bent on returning to her brother, as the natural refuge that had been given her. In her deep humiliation under the retrospect of her own weakness - in her anguish at the injury she had inflicted - she almost desired to endure the severity of Tom's reproof, to submit in patient silence to that harsh disapproving judgment against which she had so often rebelled: it seemed no more than just to her now - who was weaker than she was? She craved that outward help to her better purpose which would come from complete, submissive confession - from being in the presence of those whose looks and words would be a reflection of her own conscience.

Maggie had been kept on her bed at York for a day with that prostrating headache which was likely to follow on the terrible strain of the previous day and night. There was an expression of physical pain still about her brow and eyes, and her whole appearance, with her dress so long unchanged, was worn and distressed. She lifted the latch of the gate and walked in - slowly. Tom did not hear the gate - he was just then close upon the roaring dam; but he presently turned, and lifting up his eyes, saw the figure whose worn look and loneliness seemed to him a confirmation of his worst conjectures. He paused - trembling and white with disgust and indignation.

Maggie paused too - three yards before him. She felt the hatred in his face - felt it rushing through her fibres: but she must speak.

`Tom--' she began, faintly, `I am come back to you - I am come back home - for refuge - to tell you everything - '

`You will find no home with me,' he answered with tremulous rage. `You have disgraced us all - you have disgraced my father's name. You have been a curse to your best friends. You have been base - deceitful - no motives are strong enough to restrain you. I wash my hands of you for ever. You don't belong to me.'

Their mother had come to the door now. She stood paralysed by the double shock of seeing Maggie and hearing Tom's words.

`Tom,' said Maggie, with more courage, `I am perhaps not so guilty as you believe me to be. I never meant to give way to my feelings. I struggled against them. I was carried too far in the boat to come back on Tuesday. I came back as soon as I could.'

  By PanEris using Melati.

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