George Eliot. (1819–1880). The Mill on the Floss.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.
XIII. Mr. Tulliver Further Entangles the Skein of Life
“It’s not to be expected, I suppose,” observed Mrs. Glegg, by way of winding up the subject, “as I shall go to the mill again before Bessy comes to see me, or as I shall go and fall down o’ my knees to Mr. Tulliver, and ask his pardon for showing him favors; but I shall bear no malice, and when Mr. Tulliver speaks civil to me, I’ll speak civil to him. Nobody has any call to tell me what’s becoming.”
Finding it unnecessary to plead for the Tullivers, it was natural that aunt Pullet should relax a little in her anxiety for them, and recur to the annoyance she had suffered yesterday from the offspring of that apparently ill-fated house. Mrs. Glegg heard a circumstantial narrative, to which Mr. Pullet’s remarkable memory furnished some items; and while aunt Pullet pitied poor Bessy’s bad luck with her children, and expressed a half-formed project of paying for Maggie’s being sent to a distant boarding-school, which would not prevent her being so brown, but might tend to subdue some other vices in her, aunt Glegg blamed Bessy for her weakness, and appealed to all witnesses who should be living when the Tulliver children had turned out ill, that she, Mrs. Glegg, had always said how it would be from the very first, observing that it was wonderful to herself how all her words came true.
“Then I may call and tell Bessy you’ll bear no malice, and everything be as it was before?” Mrs. Pullet said, just before parting.
“Yes, you may, Sophy,” said Mrs. Glegg; “you may tell Mr. Tulliver, and Bessy too, as I’m not going to behave ill because folks behave ill to me; I know it’s my place, as the eldest, to set an example in every respect, and I do it. Nobody can say different of me, if they’ll keep to the truth.”
Mrs. Glegg being in this state of satisfaction in her own lofty magnanimity, I leave you to judge what effect was produced on her by the reception of a short letter from Mr. Tulliver that very evening, after Mrs. Pullet’s departure, informing her that she needn’t trouble her mind about her five hundred pounds, for it should be paid back to her in the course of the next month at farthest, together with the interest due thereon until the time of payment. And furthermore, that Mr. Tulliver had no wish to behave uncivilly to Mrs. Glegg, and she was welcome to his house whenever she liked to come, but he desired no favors from her, either for himself or his children.
It was poor Mrs. Tulliver who had hastened this catastrophe, entirely through that irrepressible hopefulness of hers which led her to expect that similar causes may at any time produce different results. It had very often occurred in her experience that Mr. Tulliver had done something because other people had said he was not able to do it, or had pitied him for his supposed inability, or in any other way piqued his pride; still, she thought to-day, if she told him when he came in to tea that sister Pullet was gone to try and make everything up with sister Glegg, so that he needn’t think about paying in the money, it would give a cheerful effect to the meal. Mr. Tulliver had never slackened in his resolve to raise the money, but now he at once determined to write a letter to Mrs. Glegg, which should cut off all possibility of mistake. Mrs. Pullet gone to beg and pray for him indeed! Mr. Tulliver did not willingly write a letter, and found the relation between spoken and written language, briefly known as spelling, one of the most puzzling things in this puzzling world. Nevertheless, like all fervid writing, the task was done in less time than usual, and if the spelling differed from Mrs. Glegg’s,—why, she belonged, like himself, to a generation with whom spelling was a matter of private judgment.
Mrs. Glegg did not alter her will in consequence of this letter, and cut off the Tulliver children from their sixth and seventh share in her thousand pounds; for she had her principles. No one must be able to say of her when she was dead that she had not divided her money with perfect fairness among her own kin. In the matter of wills, personal qualities were subordinate to the great fundamental fact of blood; and to be determined in the distribution of your property by caprice, and not make your legacies bear a direct ratio to degrees of kinship, was a prospective disgrace that would have embittered her life. This had always been a principle in the Dodson family; it was one form of that sense of honor and rectitude which was a proud tradition in such families,—a tradition which has been the salt of our provincial society.
But though the letter could not shake Mrs. Glegg’s principles, it made the family breach much more difficult to mend; and as to the effect it produced on Mrs. Glegg’s opinion of Mr. Tulliver, she begged to be understood from that time forth that she had nothing whatever to say about him; his state of mind, apparently, was too corrupt for her to contemplate it for a moment. It was not until the evening before Tom went to school, at the beginning of August, that Mrs. Glegg paid a visit to her sister Tulliver, sitting in her gig all the while, and showing her displeasure by markedly abstaining from all advice and criticism; for, as she observed to her sister Deane, “Bessy must bear the consequence o’ having such a husband, though I’m sorry for her,” and Mrs. Deane agreed that Bessy was pitiable.
That evening Tom observed to Maggie: “Oh my! Maggie, aunt Glegg’s beginning to come again; I’m glad I’m going to school. You’ll catch it all now!”
Maggie was already so full of sorrow at the thought of Tom’s going away from her, that this playful exultation of his seemed very unkind, and she cried herself to sleep that night.
Mr. Tulliver’s prompt procedure entailed on him further promptitude in finding the convenient person who was desirous of lending five hundred pounds on bond. “It must be no client of Wakem’s,” he said to himself; and yet at the end of a fortnight it turned out to the contrary; not because Mr. Tulliver’s will was feeble, but because external fact was stronger. Wakem’s client was the only convenient person to be found. Mr. Tulliver had a destiny as well as dipus, and in this case he might plead, like dipus, that his deed was inflicted on him rather than committed by him.