Showing that Old Acquaintances Are Capable of Surprising Us

WHEN Maggie was at home again, her mother brought her news of an unexpected line of conduct in aunt Glegg. As long as Maggie had not been heard of, Mrs Glegg had half closed her shutters and drawn down her blinds: she felt assured that Maggie was drowned: that was far more probable than that her niece and legatee should have done anything to wound the family honour in the tenderest point. When, at last, she learned from Tom that Maggie had come home, and gathered from him what was her explanation of her absence, she burst forth in severe reproof of Tom for admitting the worst of his sister until he was compelled. If you were not to stand by your `kin' as long as there was a shred of honour attributable to them, pray what were you to stand by? Lightly to admit conduct in one of your own family that would force you to alter your will, had never been the way of the Dodsons; and though Mrs Glegg had always augured ill of Maggie's future at a time when other people were perhaps less clear-sighted, yet fair play was a jewel, and it was not for her own friend to help to rob the girl of her fair fame, and to cast her out from family shelter to the scorn of the outer world, until she had become unequivocally a family disgrace. The circumstances were unprecedented in Mrs Glegg's experience - nothing of that kind had happened among the Dodsons before; but it was a case in which her hereditary rectitude and personal strength of character found a common channel along with her fundamental ideas of clanship, as they did in her lifelong regard to equity in money matters. She quarrelled with Mr Glegg, whose kindness, flowing entirely into compassion for Lucy made him as hard in his judgment of Maggie as Mr Deane himself was, and, fuming against her sister Tulliver because she did not at once come to her for advice and help, shut herself up in her own room with Baxter's Saints' Rest from morning till night, denying herself to all visitors, till Mr Glegg brought from Mr Deane the news of Stephen's letter. Then Mrs Glegg felt that she had adequate fighting-ground - then she laid aside Baxter and was ready to meet all comers. While Mrs Pullet could do nothing but shake her head and cry, and wish that cousin Abbot had died or any number of funerals had happened rather than this, which had never happened before, so that there was no knowing how to act, and Mrs Pullet could never enter St Ogg's again, because `acquaintances' knew of it all, Mrs Glegg only hoped that Mrs Wooll or any one else would come to her with their false tales about her own niece, and she would know what to say to that ill-advised person. Again she had a scene of remonstrance with Tom, all the more severe, in proportion to the greater strength of her present position. But Tom, like other immovable things, seemed only the more rigidly fixed under that attempt to shake him. Poor Tom! he judged by what he had been able to see: and the judgment was painful enough to himself. He thought he had the demonstration of facts observed through years by his own eyes which gave no warning of their imperfection, that Maggie's nature was utterly untrustworthy and too strongly marked with evil tendencies to be safely treated with leniency: he would act on that demonstration at any cost - but the thought of it made his days bitter to him. Tom, like every one of us, was imprisoned within the limits of his own nature, and his education had simply glided over him, and left a slight deposit of polish. If you are inclined to be severe on his severity, remember that the responsibility of tolerance lies with those who have the wider vision. There had arisen in Tom a repulsion towards Maggie that derived its very intensity from their early childish love in the time when they had clasped tiny fingers together, and their later sense of nearness in a common duty and a common sorrow: the sight of her, as he had told her, was hateful to him. In this branch of the Dodson family aunt Glegg found a stronger nature than her own - a nature in which family feeling had lost the character of clanship in taking on a doubly deep dye of personal pride. Mrs Glegg allowed that Maggie ought to be punished - she was not a woman to deny that - she knew what conduct was - but punished in proportion to the misdeeds proved against her, not to those which were cast upon her by people outside her own family, who might wish to show that their own kin were better.

`Your aunt Glegg scolded me so as niver was, my dear,' said poor Mrs Tulliver, when she came back to Maggie, `as I didn't go to her before - she said it wasn't for her to come to me first. But she spoke like a sister, too: having she allays was, and hard to please - O dear! - but she's said the kindest word as ever been spoke by you yet, my child. For she says, for all she's been so set again' having one extry in the house, and making extry spoons and things, and putting her about in her ways, you shall have a shelter in her house, if you'll go to her dutiful, and she'll uphold you again' folks as say harm of you when they've no call. And I told her I thought you couldn't bear to see nobody but me - you was so beat down with trouble; but she said - "I won't throw ill words at her - there's them out o' th' family 'ull be ready

  By PanEris using Melati.

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