Tom Comes Home
Tom was to arrive early in the afternoon, and there was another fluttering heart besides Maggie's when it was late enough for the sound of the gig-wheels to be expected; for if Mrs. Tulliver had a strong feeling, it was fondness for her boy. At last the sound came, — that quick light bowling of the gig-wheels, — and in spite of the wind, which was blowing the clouds about, and was not likely to respect Mrs. Tulliver's curls and cap-strings, she came outside the door, and even held her hand on Maggie's offending head, forgetting all the griefs of the morning.
"There he is, my sweet lad! But, Lord ha' mercy! he's got never a collar on; it's been lost on the road, I'll be bound, and spoilt the set."
Mrs. Tulliver stood with her arms open; Maggie jumped first on one leg and then on the other; while Tom descended from the gig, and said, with masculine reticence as to the tender emotions, "Hallo! Yap — what! are you there?"
Nevertheless he submitted to be kissed willingly enough, though Maggie hung on his neck in rather a strangling fashion, while his blue-gray eyes wandered toward the croft and the lambs and the river, where he promised himself that he would begin to fish the first thing to-morrow morning. He was one of those lads that grow everywhere in England, and at twelve or thirteen years of age look as much alike as goslings, — a lad with light-brown hair, cheeks of cream and roses, full lips, indeterminate nose and eyebrows, — a physiognomy in which it seems impossible to discern anything but the generic character to boyhood; as different as possible from poor Maggie's phiz, which Nature seemed to have moulded and colored with the most decided intention. But that same Nature has the deep cunning which hides itself under the appearance of openness, so that simple people think they can see through her quite well, and all the while she is secretly preparing a refutation of their confident prophecies. Under these average boyish physiognomies that she seems to turn off by the gross, she conceals some of her most rigid, inflexible purposes, some of her most unmodifiable characters; and the dark-eyed, demonstrative, rebellious girl may after all turn out to be a passive being compared with this pink-and-white bit of masculinity with the indeterminate features.
"Maggie," said Tom, confidentially, taking her into a corner, as soon as his mother was gone out to examine his box and the warm parlor had taken off the chill he had felt from the long drive, "you don't know what I've got in my pockets," nodding his head up and down as a means of rousing her sense of mystery.
"No," said Maggie. "How stodgy they look, Tom! Is it marls (marbles) or cobnuts?" Maggie's heart sank a little, because Tom always said it was "no good" playing with her at those games, she played so badly.
"Marls! no; I've swopped all my marls with the little fellows, and cobnuts are no fun, you silly, only when the nuts are green. But see here!" He drew something half out of his right-hand pocket.
"What is it?" said Maggie, in a whisper. "I can see nothing but a bit of yellow."
"Why, it's — a — new — guess, Maggie!"
"Oh, I can't guess, Tom," said Maggie, impatiently.
"Don't be a spitfire, else I won't tell you," said Tom, thrusting his hand back into his pocket and looking determined.
"No, Tom," said Maggie, imploringly, laying hold of the arm that was held stiffly in the pocket. "I'm not cross, Tom; it was only because I can't bear guessing. Please be good to me."
Tom's arm slowly relaxed, and he said, "Well, then, it's a new fish-line — two new uns, — one for you, Maggie, all to yourself. I wouldn't go halves in the toffee and gingerbread on purpose to save the money; and Gibson and Spouncer fought with me because I wouldn't. And here's hooks; see here — I say, won't we go and fish to-morrow down by the Round Pool? And you shall catch your own fish, Maggie and put the worms on, and everything; won't it be fun?"
Maggie's answer was to throw her arms round Tom's neck and hug him, and hold her cheek against his without speaking, while he slowly unwound some of the line, saying, after a pause, —
"Wasn't I a good brother, now, to buy you a line all to yourself? You know, I needn't have bought it, if I hadn't liked."
"Yes, very, very good — I do love you, Tom."
Tom had put the line back in his pocket, and was looking at the hooks one by one, before he spoke again.
"And the fellows fought me, because I wouldn't give in about the toffee."
"Oh, dear! I wish they wouldn't fight at your school, Tom. Didn't it hurt you?"
"Hurt me? no," said Tom, putting up the hooks again, taking out a large pocket-knife, and slowly opening the largest blade, which he looked at meditatively as he rubbed his finger along it. Then he added, —
"I gave Spouncer a black eye, I know; that's what he got by wanting to leather me; I wasn't going to go halves because anybody leathered me."
"Oh, how brave you are, Tom! I think you're like Samson. If there came a lion roaring at me, I think you'd fight him, wouldn't you, Tom?"
"How can a lion come roaring at you, you silly thing? There's no lions, only in the shows."
"No; but if we were in the lion countries — I mean in Africa, where it's very hot; the lions eat people there. I can show it you in the book where I read it."
"Well, I should get a gun and shoot him."
"But if you hadn't got a gun, — we might have gone out, you know, not thinking, just as we go fishing; and then a great lion might run toward us roaring, and we couldn't get away from him. What should you do, Tom?"
Tom paused, and at last turned away contemptuously, saying, "But the lion isn't coming. What's the use of talking?"
"But I like to fancy how it would be," said Maggie, following him. "Just think what you would do, Tom."
"Oh, don't bother, Maggie! you're such a silly. I shall go and see my rabbits."
Maggie's heart began to flutter with fear. She dared not tell the sad truth at once, but she walked after Tom in trembling silence as he went out, thinking how she could tell him the news so as to soften at once his sorrow and his anger; for Maggie dreaded Tom's anger of all things; it was quite a different anger from her own.
"Tom," she said, timidly, when they were out of doors, "how much money did you give for your rabbits?"
"Two half-crowns and a sixpence," said Tom, promptly.
"I think I've got a great deal more than that in my steel purse upstairs. I'll ask mother to give it you."
"What for?" said Tom. "I don't want your money, you silly thing. I've got a great deal more money than you, because I'm a boy. I always have half-sovereigns and sovereigns for my Christmas boxes because I shall be a man, and you only have five-shilling pieces, because you're only a girl."
"Well, but, Tom — if mother would let me give you two half-crowns and a sixpence out of my purse to put into your pocket and spend, you know, and buy some more rabbits with it?"
"More rabbits? I don't want any more."
"Oh, but, Tom, they're all dead."
Tom stopped immediately in his walk and turned round toward Maggie. "You forgot to feed 'em, then, and Harry forgot?" he said, his color heightening for a moment, but soon subsiding. "I'll pitch into Harry. I'll have him turned away. And I don't love you, Maggie. You sha'n't go fishing with me to-morrow. I told you to go and see the rabbits every day." He walked on again.