`I can't believe in you any more,' said Tom, gradually passing from the tremulous excitement of the first moment to cold inflexibility. `You have been carrying on a clandestine relation with Stephen Guest - as you did before with another. He went to see you at my aunt Moss's; you walked alone with him in the lanes: you must have behaved as no modest girl would have done to her cousin's lover, else that could never have happened. The people at Luckreth saw you pass - you passed all the other places: you knew what you were doing. You have been using Philip Wakem as a screen to deceive Lucy - the kindest friend you ever had. Go and see the return you have made her: she's ill - unable to speak - my mother can't go near her, lest she should remind her of you.'
Maggie was half stunned: too heavily pressed upon by her anguish even to discern any difference between her actual guilt and her brother's accusations - still less to vindicate herself.
`Tom,' she said, crushing her hands together under her cloak, in the effort to speak again - `Whatever I have done - I repent it bitterly - I want to make amends - I will endure anything - I want to be kept from doing wrong again.'
`What will keep you?' said Tom, with cruel bitterness. `Not religion - not your natural feelings of gratitude and honour. And he - he would deserve to be shot, if it were not - But you are ten times worse than he is. I loathe your character and your conduct. You struggled with your feelings, you say. Yes! I have had feelings to struggle with - but I conquered them. I have had a harder life than you have had; but I have found my comfort in doing my duty. But I will sanction no such character as yours: the world shall know that I feel the difference between right and wrong. If you are in want, I will provide for you - let my mother know. But you shall not come under my roof. It is enough that I have to bear the thought of your disgrace - the sight of you is hateful to me.'
Slowly Maggie was turning away, with despair in her heart. But the poor frightened mother's move leaped out now, stronger than all dread.
`My child! I'll go with you. You've got a mother.'
O the sweet rest of that embrace to the heart-stricken Maggie! More helpful than all wisdom is one draught of simple human pity that will not forsake us.
Tom turned and walked into the house.
`Come in, my child,' Mrs Tulliver whispered. `He'll let you stay and sleep in my bed. He won't deny that, if I ask him.'
`No, mother,' said Maggie, in a low tone, like a moan. `I will never go in.'
`Then wait for me outside. I'll get ready and come with you.'
When his mother appeared with her bonnet on, Tom came out to her in the passage, and put money into her hands.
`My house is yours, mother, always,' he said. `You will come and let me know everything you want - you will come back to me.'
Poor Mrs Tulliver took the money, too frightened to say anything. She had only clear to her the mother's instinct, that she would go with her unhappy child.
Maggie was waiting outside the gate; she took her mother's hand, and they walked a little way in silence.
`Mother,' said Maggie, at last, `we will go to Luke's cottage - Luke will take me in. He was very good to me when I was a little girl.'
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