Excerpt of The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
(Page 7 of 15)
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Moody could not produce an appropriate response to this remark, so he bowed againand then, as if to repudiate all puritanical implication, he drank deeply from his glass. Outside, a gust of wind interrupted the steady lash of the rain, throwing a sheet of water against the western windows. Balfour examined the end of his cigar, still chuckling; Moody placed his own between his lips, turned his face away, and drew lightly upon it.
Just then one of the eleven silent men got to his feet, folding his newspaper into quarters as he did so, and crossed to the secretary in order to exchange the paper for another. He was wearing a collarless black coat and a white necktiea clergyman's dress, Moody realized, with some surprise. That was strange. Why should a cleric elect to get his news in the smoking room of a common hotel, late on a Saturday night? And why should he keep such silent company, in doing so? Moody watched as the reverend man shuffled through the pile of broadsheets, rejecting several editions of the Colonist in favor of a Grey River Argus, which he plucked out with a murmur of pleasure, holding it away from his body and tilting it, with appreciation, toward the light. Then again, Moody thought, reasoning with himself, perhaps it was not so strange: the night was very wet, and the halls and taverns of the town were likely very crowded. Perhaps the chaplain had been obliged, for some reason, to seek temporary refuge from the rain.
"So you had a quarrel," Balfour said presently, as if Moody had promised him a rousing tale, and had then forgotten to begin it.
"I was party to a quarrel," Moody corrected him. "That is, the dispute was not of my own making."
"With your father, I suppose."
"It is painful to relate, sir." Moody glanced at the other man, meaning to silence him with a stern look, but Balfour responded by leaning further forward, encouraged by the gravity of Moody's expression to believe the story all the more worth his hearing.
"Oh, come!" he said. "Ease your burden."
"It is not a burden to be eased, Mr. Balfour."
"My friend, I have never heard of such a thing."
"Pardon me to change the subject"
"But you have roused me! You have roused my attention!" Balfour was grinning at him.
"I beg to refuse you," Moody said. He was trying to speak quietly, to protect their conversation from the rest of the room. "I beg to reserve my privacy. My motive is purely that I do not wish to make a poor impression upon you."
"But you're the wronged man, you saidthe dispute, not of your making."
"That is correct."
"Well, now! One needn't be private about that!?" Balfour cried. "Do I not speak truly? One needn't be private about another fellow's wrong! One needn't feel ashamed of another fellow'sdeeds, you know!" He was being very loud.
"You describe personal shame," Moody said in a low voice. "I refer to the shame that is brought upon a family. I do not wish to sully my father's name; it is my name also."
"Your father! But what have I told you already? You'll find fathers enough, I said, down in the gorge! That's no turn of phraseit's custom, and necessityit's the way that things are done! Let me tell you what counts for shame on the diggings. Cry a false fieldthat's worthy. Dispute the pegging on a claimthat's worthy. Rob a man, cheat a man, kill a manthat's worthy. But family shame! Tell that to the bellmen, to cry up and down the Hokitika-roadthey'll think it news! What's family shame, without a family?"
Balfour concluded this exhortation with a smart rap of his empty glass upon the arm of his chair. He beamed at Moody, and lifted his open palm, as if to say that his point had been so persuasively phrased as to need no further amendment, but he would like some kind of approbation all the same. Moody gave another automatic jerk of his head and replied, in a tone that betrayed the exhaustion of his nerves for the first time, "You speak persuasively, sir."
Excerpted from The Luminaries
by Eleanor Catton. Copyright © 2013 by Eleanor Catton.
Excerpted by permission of Little Brown & Company. All rights
reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted
without permission in writing from the publisher.