The Mill on the Floss HTML version

IV.2. The Torn Nest Is Pierced by the Thorns
There is something sustaining in the very agitation that accompanies the first
shocks of trouble, just as an acute pain is often a stimulus, and produces an
excitement which is transient strength. It is in the slow, changed life that follows;
in the time when sorrow has become stale, and has no longer an emotive
intensity that counteracts its pain; in the time when day follows day in dull,
unexpectant sameness, and trial is a dreary routine,--it is then that despair
threatens; it is then that the peremptory hunger of the soul is felt, and eye and
ear are strained after some unlearned secret of our existence, which shall give to
endurance the nature of satisfaction.
This time of utmost need was come to Maggie, with her short span of thirteen
years. To the usual precocity of the girl, she added that early experience of
struggle, of conflict between the inward impulse and outward fact, which is the lot
of every imaginative and passionate nature; and the years since she hammered
the nails into her wooden Fetish among the worm-eaten shelves of the attic had
been filled with so eager a life in the triple world of Reality, Books, and Waking
Dreams, that Maggie was strangely old for her years in everything except in her
entire want of that prudence and self-command which were the qualities that
made Tom manly in the midst of his intellectual boyishness. And now her lot was
beginning to have a still, sad monotony, which threw her more than ever on her
inward self. Her father was able to attend to business again, his affairs were
settled, and he was acting as Wakem's manager on the old spot. Tom went to
and fro every morning and evening, and became more and more silent in the
short intervals at home; what was there to say? One day was like another; and
Tom's interest in life, driven back and crushed on every other side, was
concentrating itself into the one channel of ambitious resistance to misfortune.
The peculiarities of his father and mother were very irksome to him, now they
were laid bare of all the softening accompaniments of an easy, prosperous
home; for Tom had very clear, prosaic eyes, not apt to be dimmed by mists of
feeling or imagination. Poor Mrs. Tulliver, it seemed, would never recover her old
self, her placid household activity; how could she? The objects among which her
mind had moved complacently were all gone,--all the little hopes and schemes
and speculations, all the pleasant little cares about her treasures which had
made the world quite comprehensible to her for a quarter of a century, since she
had made her first purchase of the sugar-tongs, had been suddenly snatched
away from her, and she remained bewildered in this empty life. Why that should
have happened to her which had not happened to other women remained an
insoluble question by which she expressed her perpetual ruminating comparison
of the past with the present. It was piteous to see the comely woman getting
thinner and more worn under a bodily as well as mental restlessness, which
made her often wander about the empty house after her work was done, until
Maggie, becoming alarmed about her, would seek her, and bring her down by