The Mill on the Floss HTML version

IV.3. A Voice from the Past
One afternoon, when the chestnuts were coming into flower, Maggie had brought
her chair outside the front door, and was seated there with a book on her knees.
Her dark eyes had wandered from the book, but they did not seem to be enjoying
the sunshine which pierced the screen of jasmine on the projecting porch at her
right, and threw leafy shadows on her pale round cheek; they seemed rather to
be searching for something that was not disclosed by the sunshine. It had been a
more miserable day than usual; her father, after a visit of Wakem's had had a
paroxysm of rage, in which for some trifling fault he had beaten the boy who
served in the mill. Once before, since his illness, he had had a similar paroxysm,
in which he had beaten his horse, and the scene had left a lasting terror in
Maggie's mind. The thought had risen, that some time or other he might beat her
mother if she happened to speak in her feeble way at the wrong moment. The
keenest of all dread with her was lest her father should add to his present
misfortune the wretchedness of doing something irretrievably disgraceful. The
battered school-book of Tom's which she held on her knees could give her no
fortitude under the pressure of that dread; and again and again her eyes had
filled with tears, as they wandered vaguely, seeing neither the chestnut-trees, nor
the distant horizon, but only future scenes of home-sorrow.
Suddenly she was roused by the sound of the opening gate and of footsteps on
the gravel. It was not Tom who was entering, but a man in a sealskin cap and a
blue plush waistcoat, carrying a pack on his back, and followed closely by a
bullterrier of brindled coat and defiant aspect.
"Oh, Bob, it's you!" said Maggie, starting up with a smile of pleased recognition,
for there had been no abundance of kind acts to efface the recollection of Bob's
generosity; "I'm so glad to see you."
"Thank you, Miss," said Bob, lifting his cap and showing a delighted face, but
immediately relieving himself of some accompanying embarrassment by looking
down at his dog, and saying in a tone of disgust, "Get out wi' you, you thunderin'
"My brother is not at home yet, Bob," said Maggie; "he is always at St. Ogg's in
the daytime."
"Well, Miss," said Bob, "I should be glad to see Mr. Tom, but that isn't just what
I'm come for,--look here!"
Bob was in the act of depositing his pack on the door-step, and with it a row of
small books fastened together with string.
Apparently, however, they were not the object to which he wished to call
Maggie's attention, but rather something which he had carried under his arm,
wrapped in a red handkerchief.
"See here!" he said again, laying the red parcel on the others and unfolding it;
"you won't think I'm a-makin' too free, Miss, I hope, but I lighted on these books,