Mrs. Tulliver had her special reason for this permission: now the dinner was despatched, and every one's mind disengaged, it was the right moment to communicate Mr. Tulliver's intention concerning Tom, and it would be as well for Tom himself to be absent. The children were used to hear themselves talked of as freely as if they were birds, and could understand nothing, however they might stretch their necks and listen; but on this occasion Mrs. Tulliver manifested an unusual discretion, because she had recently had evidence that the going to school to a clergyman was a sore point with Tom, who looked at it as very much on a par with going to school to a constable. Mrs. Tulliver had a sighing sense that her husband would do as he liked, whatever sister Glegg said, or sister Pullet either; but at least they would not be able to say, if the thing turned out ill, that Bessy had fallen in with her husband's folly without letting her own friends know a word about it.
"Mr. Tulliver," she said, interrupting her husband in his talk with Mr. Deane, "it's time now to tell the children's aunts and uncles what you're thinking of doing with Tom, isn't it?"
"Very well," said Mr. Tulliver, rather sharply, "I've no objections to tell anybody what I mean to do with him. I've settled," he added, looking toward Mr. Glegg and Mr. Deane, — "I've settled to send him to a Mr. Stelling, a parson, down at King's Lorton, there, — an uncommon clever fellow, I understand, as'll put him up to most things."
There was a rustling demonstration of surprise in the company, such as you may have observed in a country congregation when they hear an allusion to their week-day affairs from the pulpit. It was equally astonishing to the aunts and uncles to find a parson introduced into Mr. Tulliver's family arrangements. As for uncle Pullet, he could hardly have been more thoroughly obfuscated if Mr. Tulliver had said that he was going to send Tom to the Lord Chancellor; for uncle Pullet belonged to that extinct class of British yeoman who, dressed in good broadcloth, paid high rates and taxes, went to church, and ate a particularly good dinner on Sunday, without dreaming that the British constitution in Church and State had a traceable origin any more than the solar system and the fixed stars.
It is melancholy, but true, that Mr. Pullet had the most confused idea of a bishop as a sort of a baronet, who might or might not be a clergyman; and as the rector of his own parish was a man of high family and fortune, the idea that a clergyman could be a schoolmaster was too remote from Mr. Pullet's experience to be readily conceivable. I know it is difficult for people in these instructed times to believe in uncle Pullet's ignorance; but let them reflect on the remarkable results of a great natural faculty under favoring circumstances. And uncle Pullet had a great natural faculty for ignorance. He was the first to give utterance to his astonishment.
"Why, what can you be going to send him to a parson for?" he said, with an amazed twinkling in his eyes, looking at Mr. Glegg and Mr. Deane, to see if they showed any signs of comprehension.
"Why, because the parsons are the best schoolmasters, by what I can make out," said poor Mr. Tulliver, who, in the maze of this puzzling world, laid hold of any clue with great readiness and tenacity. "Jacobs at th' academy's no parson, and he's done very bad by the boy; and I made up my mind, if I send him to school again, it should be to somebody different to Jacobs. And this Mr. Stelling, by what I can make out, is the sort o' man I want. And I mean my boy to go to him at Midsummer," he concluded, in a tone of decision, tapping his snuff-box and taking a pinch.
"You'll have to pay a swinging half-yearly bill, then, eh, Tulliver? The clergymen have highish notions, in general," said Mr. Deane, taking snuff vigorously, as he always did when wishing to maintain a neutral position.
"What! do you think the parson'll teach him to know a good sample o' wheat when he sees it, neighbor Tulliver?" said Mr. Glegg, who was fond of his jest, and having retired from business, felt that it was not only allowable but becoming in him to take a playful view of things.
"Why, you see, I've got a plan i' my head about Tom," said Mr. Tulliver, pausing after that statement and lifting up his glass.
"Well, if I may be allowed to speak, and it's seldom as I am," said Mrs. Glegg, with a tone of bitter meaning, "I should like to know what good is to come to the boy by bringin' him up above his fortin."
"Why," said Mr. Tulliver, not looking at Mrs. Glegg, but at the male part of his audience, "you see, I've made up my mind not to bring Tom up to my own business. I've had my thoughts about it all along, and I made up my mind by what I saw with Garnett and his son. I mean to put him to some business as he can go into without capital, and I want to give him an eddication as he'll be even wi' the lawyers and folks, and put me up to a notion now an' then."
Mrs. Glegg emitted a long sort of guttural sound with closed lips, that smiled in mingled pity and scorn.
"It 'ud be a fine deal better for some people," she said, after that introductory note, "if they'd let the lawyers alone."
"Is he at the head of a grammar school, then, this clergyman, such as that at Market Bewley?" said Mr. Deane.
"No, nothing of that," said Mr. Tulliver. "He won't take more than two or three pupils, and so he'll have the more time to attend to 'em, you know."
"Ah, and get his eddication done the sooner; they can't learn much at a time when there's so many of 'em," said uncle Pullet, feeling that he was getting quite an insight into this difficult matter.
"But he'll want the more pay, I doubt," said Mr. Glegg.
"Ay, ay, a cool hundred a year, that's all," said Mr. Tulliver, with some pride at his own spirited course. "But then, you know, it's an investment; Tom's eddication 'ull be so much capital to him."
"Ay, there's something in that," said Mr. Glegg. "Well well, neighbor Tulliver, you may be right, you may be right:
'When land is gone and money's spent,
Then learning is most excellent.'
"I remember seeing those two lines wrote on a window at Buxton. But us that have got no learning had better keep our money, eh, neighbor Pullet?" Mr. Glegg rubbed his knees, and looked very pleasant.
"Mr. Glegg, I wonder at you," said his wife. "It's very unbecoming in a man o' your age and belongings."
"What's unbecoming, Mrs. G.?" said Mr. Glegg, winking pleasantly at the company. "My new blue coat as I've got on?"
"I pity your weakness, Mr. Glegg. I say it's unbecoming to be making a joke when you see your own kin going headlongs to ruin."
"If you mean me by that," said Mr. Tulliver, considerably nettled, "you needn't trouble yourself to fret about me. I can manage my own affairs without troubling other folks."
"Bless me!" said Mr. Deane, judiciously introducing a new idea, "why, now I come to think of it, somebody said Wakem was going to send his son — the deformed lad — to a clergyman, didn't they, Susan?" (appealing to his wife).
"I can give no account of it, I'm sure," said Mrs. Deane, closing her lips very tightly again. Mrs. Deane was not a woman to take part in a scene where missiles were flying.
"Well," said Mr. Tulliver, speaking all the more cheerfully, that Mrs. Glegg might see he didn't mind her, "if Wakem thinks o' sending his son to a clergyman, depend on it I shall make no mistake i' sending Tom to one. Wakem's as big a scoundrel as Old Harry ever made, but he knows the length of every man's foot he's got to deal with. Ay, ay, tell me who's Wakem's butcher, and I'll tell you where to get your meat."
"But lawyer Wakem's son's got a hump-back," said Mrs. Pullet, who felt as if the whole business had a funereal aspect; "it's more nat'ral to send him to a clergyman."
"Yes," said Mr. Glegg, interpreting Mrs. Pullet's observation with erroneous plausibility, "you must consider that, neighbor Tulliver; Wakem's son isn't likely to follow any business. Wakem 'ull make a gentleman of him, poor fellow."
"Mr. Glegg," said Mrs. G., in a tone which implied that her indignation would fizz and ooze a little, though she was determined to keep it corked up, "you'd far better hold your tongue. Mr. Tulliver doesn't want to know your opinion nor mine either. There's folks in the world as know better than everybody else."
"Why, I should think that's you, if we're to trust your own tale," said Mr. Tulliver, beginning to boil up again.
"Oh, I say nothing," said Mrs. Glegg, sarcastically. "My advice has never been asked, and I don't give it."
"It'll be the first time, then," said Mr. Tulliver. "It's the only thing you're over-ready at giving."