The Mill on the Floss HTML version

I.3. Mr. Riley Gives His Advice Concerning a School for
The gentleman in the ample white cravat and shirt-frill, taking his brandy-and-
water so pleasantly with his good friend Tulliver, is Mr. Riley, a gentleman with a
waxen complexion and fat hands, rather highly educated for an auctioneer and
appraiser, but large-hearted enough to show a great deal of bonhomie toward
simple country acquaintances of hospitable habits. Mr. Riley spoke of such
acquaintances kindly as "people of the old school."
The conversation had come to a pause. Mr. Tulliver, not without a particular
reason, had abstained from a seventh recital of the cool retort by which Riley had
shown himself too many for Dix, and how Wakem had had his comb cut for once
in his life, now the business of the dam had been settled by arbitration, and how
there never would have been any dispute at all about the height of water if
everybody was what they should be, and Old Harry hadn't made the lawyers.
Mr. Tulliver was, on the whole, a man of safe traditional opinions; but on one or
two points he had trusted to his unassisted intellect, and had arrived at several
questionable conclusions; amongst the rest, that rats, weevils, and lawyers were
created by Old Harry. Unhappily he had no one to tell him that this was rampant
Manichaeism, else he might have seen his error. But to-day it was clear that the
good principle was triumphant: this affair of the water-power had been a tangled
business somehow, for all it seemed--look at it one way--as plain as water's
water; but, big a puzzle as it was, it hadn't got the better of Riley. Mr. Tulliver took
his brandy-and-water a little stronger than usual, and, for a man who might be
supposed to have a few hundreds lying idle at his banker's, was rather
incautiously open in expressing his high estimate of his friend's business talents.
But the dam was a subject of conversation that would keep; it could always be
taken up again at the same point, and exactly in the same condition; and there
was another subject, as you know, on which Mr. Tulliver was in pressing want of
Mr. Riley's advice. This was his particular reason for remaining silent for a short
space after his last draught, and rubbing his knees in a meditative manner. He
was not a man to make an abrupt transition. This was a puzzling world, as he
often said, and if you drive your wagon in a hurry, you may light on an awkward
corner. Mr. Riley, meanwhile, was not impatient. Why should he be? Even
Hotspur, one would think, must have been patient in his slippers on a warm
hearth, taking copious snuff, and sipping gratuitous brandy-and-water.
"There's a thing I've got i' my head," said Mr. Tulliver at last, in rather a lower
tone than usual, as he turned his head and looked steadfastly at his companion.
"Ah!" said Mr. Riley, in a tone of mild interest. He was a man with heavy waxen
eyelids and high-arched eyebrows, looking exactly the same under all
circumstances. This immovability of face, and the habit of taking a pinch of snuff
before he gave an answer, made him trebly oracular to Mr. Tulliver.
"It's a very particular thing," he went on; "it's about my boy Tom."