"Well, but now," said Mr. Glegg, gently, "hasn't your husband no way o' raising this money? Because it 'ud be a little fortin, like, for these folks, if we can do without Tulliver's being made a bankrupt. Your husband's got stock; it is but right he should raise the money, as it seems to me, — not but what I'm sorry for you, Mrs. Moss."
"Oh, sir, you don't know what bad luck my husband's had with his stock. The farm's suffering so as never was for want o' stock; and we've sold all the wheat, and we're behind with our rent, — not but what we'd like to do what's right, and I'd sit up and work half the night, if it 'ud be any good; but there's them poor children, — four of 'em such little uns — — "
"Don't cry so, aunt; don't fret," whispered Maggie, who had kept hold of Mrs. Moss's hand.
"Did Mr. Tulliver let you have the money all at once?" said Mrs. Tulliver, still lost in the conception of things which had been "going on" without her knowledge.
"No; at twice," said Mrs. Moss, rubbing her eyes and making an effort to restrain her tears. "The last was after my bad illness four years ago, as everything went wrong, and there was a new note made then. What with illness and bad luck, I've been nothing but cumber all my life."
"Yes, Mrs. Moss," said Mrs. Glegg, with decision, "yours is a very unlucky family; the more's the pity for my sister."
"I set off in the cart as soon as ever I heard o' what had happened," said Mrs. Moss, looking at Mrs. Tulliver. "I should never ha' stayed away all this while, if you'd thought well to let me know. And it isn't as I'm thinking all about ourselves, and nothing about my brother, only the money was so on my mind, I couldn't help speaking about it. And my husband and me desire to do the right thing, sir," she added, looking at Mr. Glegg, "and we'll make shift and pay the money, come what will, if that's all my brother's got to trust to. We've been used to trouble, and don't look for much else. It's only the thought o' my poor children pulls me i' two."
"Why, there's this to be thought on, Mrs. Moss," said Mr. Glegg, "and it's right to warn you, — if Tulliver's made a bankrupt, and he's got a note-of-hand of your husband's for three hundred pounds, you'll be obliged to pay it; th' assignees 'ull come on you for it."
"Oh dear, oh dear!" said Mrs. Tulliver, thinking of the bankruptcy, and not of Mrs. Moss's concern in it. Poor Mrs. Moss herself listened in trembling submission, while Maggie looked with bewildered distress at Tom to see if he showed any signs of understanding this trouble, and caring about poor aunt Moss. Tom was only looking thoughtful, with his eyes on the tablecloth.
"And if he isn't made bankrupt," continued Mr. Glegg, "as I said before, three hundred pounds 'ud be a little fortin for him, poor man. We don't know but what he may be partly helpless, if he ever gets up again. I'm very sorry if it goes hard with you, Mrs. Moss, but my opinion is, looking at it one way, it'll be right for you to raise the money; and looking at it th' other way, you'll be obliged to pay it. You won't think ill o' me for speaking the truth."
"Uncle," said Tom, looking up suddenly from his meditative view of the tablecloth, "I don't think it would be right for my aunt Moss to pay the money if it would be against my father's will for her to pay it; would it?"
Mr. Glegg looked surprised for a moment or two before he said: "Why, no, perhaps not, Tom; but then he'd ha' destroyed the note, you know. We must look for the note. What makes you think it 'ud be against his will?"
"Why," said Tom, coloring, but trying to speak firmly, in spite of a boyish tremor, "I remember quite well, before I went to school to Mr. Stelling, my father said to me one night, when we were sitting by the fire together, and no one else was in the room — — "
Tom hesitated a little, and then went on.
"He said something to me about Maggie, and then he said: 'I've always been good to my sister, though she married against my will, and I've lent Moss money; but I shall never think of distressing him to pay it; I'd rather lose it. My children must not mind being the poorer for that.' And now my father's ill, and not able to speak for himself, I shouldn't like anything to be done contrary to what he said to me."
"Well, but then, my boy," said Uncle Glegg, whose good feeling led him to enter into Tom's wish, but who could not at once shake off his habitual abhorrence of such recklessness as destroying securities, or alienating anything important enough to make an appreciable difference in a man's property, "we should have to make away wi' the note, you know, if we're to guard against what may happen, supposing your father's made bankrupt — — "
"Mr. Glegg," interrupted his wife, severely, "mind what you're saying. You're putting yourself very forrard in other folks's business. If you speak rash, don't say it was my fault."
"That's such a thing as I never heared of before," said uncle Pullet, who had been making haste with his lozenge in order to express his amazement, — "making away with a note! I should think anybody could set the constable on you for it."
"Well, but," said Mrs. Tulliver, "if the note's worth all that money, why can't we pay it away, and save my things from going away? We've no call to meddle with your uncle and aunt Moss, Tom, if you think your father 'ud be angry when he gets well."
Mrs. Tulliver had not studied the question of exchange, and was straining her mind after original ideas on the subject.
"Pooh, pooh, pooh! you women don't understand these things," said uncle Glegg. "There's no way o' making it safe for Mr. and Mrs. Moss but destroying the note."
"Then I hope you'll help me do it, uncle," said Tom, earnestly. "If my father shouldn't get well, I should be very unhappy to think anything had been done against his will that I could hinder. And I'm sure he meant me to remember what he said that evening. I ought to obey my father's wish about his property."
Even Mrs. Glegg could not withhold her approval from Tom's words; she felt that the Dodson blood was certainly speaking in him, though, if his father had been a Dodson, there would never have been this wicked alienation of money. Maggie would hardly have restrained herself from leaping on Tom's neck, if her aunt Moss had not prevented her by herself rising and taking Tom's hand, while she said, with rather a choked voice:
"You'll never be the poorer for this, my dear boy, if there's a God above; and if the money's wanted for your father, Moss and me 'ull pay it, the same as if there was ever such security. We'll do as we'd be done by; for if my children have got no other luck, they've got an honest father and mother."
"Well," said Mr. Glegg, who had been meditating after Tom's words, "we shouldn't be doing any wrong by the creditors, supposing your father was bankrupt. I've been thinking o' that, for I've been a creditor myself, and seen no end o' cheating. If he meant to give your aunt the money before ever he got into this sad work o' lawing, it's the same as if he'd made away with the note himself; for he'd made up his mind to be that much poorer. But there's a deal o' things to be considered, young man," Mr. Glegg added, looking admonishingly at Tom, "when you come to money business, and you may be taking one man's dinner away to make another man's breakfast. You don't understand that, I doubt?"
"Yes, I do," said Tom, decidedly. "I know if I owe money to one man, I've no right to give it to another. But if my father had made up his mind to give my aunt the money before he was in debt, he had a right to do it."
"Well done, young man! I didn't think you'd been so sharp," said uncle Glegg, with much candor. "But perhaps your father did make away with the note. Let us go and see if we can find it in the chest."
"It's in my father's room. Let us go too, aunt Gritty," whispered Maggie.