The Mill on the Floss
III.2. Mrs. Tulliver's Teraphim, or Household Gods
When the coach set down Tom and Maggie, it was five hours since she had
started from home, and she was thinking with some trembling that her father had
perhaps missed her, and asked for "the little wench" in vain. She thought of no
other change that might have happened.
She hurried along the gravel-walk and entered the house before Tom; but in the
entrance she was startled by a strong smell of tobacco. The parlor door was ajar;
that was where the smell came from. It was very strange; could any visitor be
smoking at a time like this? Was her mother there? If so, she must be told that
Tom was come. Maggie, after this pause of surprise, was only in the act of
opening the door when Tom came up, and they both looked into the parlor
There was a coarse, dingy man, of whose face Tom had some vague
recollection, sitting in his father's chair, smoking, with a jug and glass beside him.
The truth flashed on Tom's mind in an instant. To "have the bailiff in the house,"
and "to be sold up," were phrases which he had been used to, even as a little
boy; they were part of the disgrace and misery of "failing," of losing all one's
money, and being ruined,--sinking into the condition of poor working people. It
seemed only natural this should happen, since his father had lost all his property,
and he thought of no more special cause for this particular form of misfortune
than the loss of the lawsuit. But the immediate presence of this disgrace was so
much keener an experience to Tom than the worst form of apprehension, that he
felt at this moment as if his real trouble had only just begin; it was a touch on the
irritated nerve compared with its spontaneous dull aching.
"How do you do, sir?" said the man, taking the pipe out of his mouth, with rough,
embarrassed civility. The two young startled faces made him a little
But Tom turned away hastily without speaking; the sight was too hateful. Maggie
had not understood the appearance of this stranger, as Tom had. She followed
him, whispering: "Who can it be, Tom? What is the matter?" Then, with a sudden
undefined dread lest this stranger might have something to do with a change in
her father, she rushed upstairs, checking herself at the bedroom door to throw off
her bonnet, and enter on tiptoe. All was silent there; her father was lying,
heedless of everything around him, with his eyes closed as when she had left
him. A servant was there, but not her mother.
"Where's my mother?" she whispered. The servant did not know.
Maggie hastened out, and said to Tom; "Father is lying quiet; let us go and look
for my mother. I wonder where she is."
Mrs. Tulliver was not downstairs, not in any of the bedrooms. There was but one
room below the attic which Maggie had left unsearched; it was the storeroom,
where her mother kept all her linen and all the precious "best things" that were
only unwrapped and brought out on special occasions.