The Mill on the Floss HTML version

III.6. Tending to Refute the Popular Prejudice
In that dark time of December, the sale of the household furniture lasted beyond
the middle of the second day. Mr. Tulliver, who had begun, in his intervals of
consciousness, to manifest an irritability which often appeared to have as a direct
effect the recurrence of spasmodic rigidity and insensibility, had lain in this living
death throughout the critical hours when the noise of the sale came nearest to
his chamber. Mr. Turnbull had decided that it would be a less risk to let him
remain where he was than to remove him to Luke's cottage,--a plan which the
good Luke had proposed to Mrs. Tulliver, thinking it would be very bad if the
master were "to waken up" at the noise of the sale; and the wife and children had
sat imprisoned in the silent chamber, watching the large prostrate figure on the
bed, and trembling lest the blank face should suddenly show some response to
the sounds which fell on their own ears with such obstinate, painful repetition.
But it was over at last, that time of importunate certainty and eye-straining
suspense. The sharp sound of a voice, almost as metallic as the rap that
followed it, had ceased; the tramping of footsteps on the gravel had died out.
Mrs. Tulliver's blond face seemed aged ten years by the last thirty hours; the
poor woman's mind had been busy divining when her favorite things were being
knocked down by the terrible hammer; her heart had been fluttering at the
thought that first one thing and then another had gone to be identified as hers in
the hateful publicity of the Golden Lion; and all the while she had to sit and make
no sign of this inward agitation. Such things bring lines in well-rounded faces,
and broaden the streaks of white among the hairs that once looked as if they had
been dipped in pure sunshine. Already, at three o'clock, Kezia, the good-hearted,
bad-tempered housemaid, who regarded all people that came to the sale as her
personal enemies, the dirt on whose feet was of a peculiarly vile quality, had
begun to scrub and swill with an energy much assisted by a continual low
muttering against "folks as came to buy up other folk's things," and made light of
"scrazing" the tops of mahogany tables over which better folks than themselves
had had to--suffer a waste of tissue through evaporation. She was not scrubbing
indiscriminately, for there would be further dirt of the same atrocious kind made
by people who had still to fetch away their purchases; but she was bent on
bringing the parlor, where that "pipe-smoking pig," the bailiff, had sat, to such an
appearance of scant comfort as could be given to it by cleanliness and the few
articles of furniture bought in for the family. Her mistress and the young folks
should have their tea in it that night, Kezia was determined.
It was between five and six o'clock, near the usual teatime, when she came
upstairs and said that Master Tom was wanted. The person who wanted him was
in the kitchen, and in the first moments, by the imperfect fire and candle light,
Tom had not even an indefinite sense of any acquaintance with the rather broad-
set but active figure, perhaps two years older than himself, that looked at him
with a pair of blue eyes set in a disc of freckles, and pulled some curly red locks