The downpour seemed to intensify as the lighter neared the shore. The spray from the breakers brought such a great quantity of seawater over the gunwales that Moody was obliged to assist the crew in bailing the boat, using a leather pail thrust wordlessly upon him by a man who was missing every tooth except his rearmost molars. Moody did not even have the spirit to flinch. They were carried over the bar and into the calm of the river mouth on a white-capped wave. He did not shut his eyes. When the lighter reached her mooring he was the first out of the boat, drenched to the skin and so giddy he stumbled on the ladder, causing the boat to lurch wildly away from him. Like a man pursued he staggered, half-limping, down the wharf to solid ground.
When he turned back, he could only just distinguish the fragile lighter bucking against her mooring at the end of the wharf. The barque herself had long since vanished into the mist, which hung in plates of clouded glass, obscuring the wrecked ships, the steamers in the roadstead, and the open sea beyond. Moody reeled on his feet. He was dimly aware of the crew handing bags and valises out of the boat, the other passengers running about, the porters and stevedores shouting their instructions through the rain. The scene was veiled to him, the figures gauzedas if the journey, and everything pertaining to it, had been claimed already by the gray fog of his uncertain mind; as if his memory, recoiling upon itself, had met its obverse, the power of forgetting, and had conjured the mist and driving rain as a kind of cloth, spectral, to screen him from the shapes of his own recent past.
Moody did not linger. He turned and hurried up the beach, past the slaughterhouses, the latrines, the breakwind huts along the sandy lip of the shore, the tents that sagged under the graying weight of two weeks' rain. His head was down, his case clutched tightly against him, and he saw none of it: not the stockyards, not the high gables of the warehouses, not the mullioned windows of the offices along Wharf-street, behind which shapeless bodies moved through lighted rooms. Moody struggled on, shin-deep in slurry, and when the sham front of the Crown Hotel rose up before him he dashed toward it and threw down his case to wrench with both hands at the door.
The Crown was an establishment of the serviceable, unadorned sort, recommended only by its proximity to the quay. If this feature was an expedience, however, it could hardly be called a virtue: here, so close to the stockyards, the bloody smell of slaughter intermingled with the sour, briny smell of the sea, putting one in mind, perpetually, of an untended icebox in which an uncured joint has spoiled. For this reason Moody might have disdained the place offhand, resolving instead to venture northward up Revell-street to where the fronts of the hotels broadened, brightened in color, acquired porticoes, and communicated, with their high windows and their delicate fretwork, all those reassurances of wealth and comfort to which he was accustomed, as a man of means but Moody had left all discerning faculties in the pitching belly of the barque Godspeed. He wanted only shelter, and solitude.
The calm of the empty foyer, once he had closed the door behind him, muting the sound of the rain, had an immediate and physical effect upon him. We have noted that Moody derived considerable personal benefit from his appearance, and that this was a fact of which he was wholly sensible: he was not about to make his first acquaintance in an unfamiliar town looking like a haunted man. He struck the water from his hat, ran a hand through his hair, stamped his feet to stop his knees from shaking, and worked his mouth in a vigorous way, as if testing its elasticity. He performed these motions swiftly and without embarrassment. By the time the maid appeared, he had arranged his face into its habitual expression of benign indifference, and was examining the dovetailed join at the corner of the front desk.
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.
Blood at the Root
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