The maid was a dull-seeming girl with colorless hair and teeth as yellow as her skin. She recited the terms of board and lodging, relieved Moody of ten shillings (these she dropped with a sullen clatter into a locked drawer beneath the desk), and wearily led him upstairs. He was conscious of the trail of rainwater he left behind him, and the sizeable puddle he had created on the foyer floor, and pressed a sixpence upon her; she took it pityingly and made to leave, but then at once seemed to wish she had been kinder. She flushed, and after a moment's pause, suggested that he might like a supper tray brought up from the kitchens'To dry out your insides," she said, and pulled back her lips in a yellow smile.
The Crown Hotel was lately built, and still retained the dusty, honeyed trace of fresh-planed lumber, the walls still beading gems of sap along each groove, the hearths still clean of ash and staining. Moody's room was furnished very approximately, as in a pantomime where a large and lavish household is conjured by a single chair. The bolster was thin upon the mattress, and padded with what felt like twists of muslin; the blankets were slightly too large, so that their edges pooled on the floor, giving the bed a rather shrunken aspect, huddled as it was beneath the rough slope of the eave. The bareness lent the place a spectral, unfinished quality that might have been disquieting, had the prospect through the buckled glass been of a different street and a different age, but to Moody the emptiness was like a balm. He stowed his sodden case on the whatnot beside his bed, wrung and dried his clothes as best he could, drank off a pot of tea, ate four slices of dark-grained bread with ham, and, after peering through the window to the impenetrable wash of the street, resolved to defer his business in town until the morning.
The maid had left yesterday's newspaper beneath the teapothow thin it was, for a sixpenny broadsheet! Moody smiled as he took it up. He had a fondness for cheap news, and was amused to see that the town's Most Alluring Dancer also advertised her services as the town's Most Discreet Accoucheuse. A whole column of the paper was devoted to missing prospectors (If this should reach the eyes of Emery Staines, or any who know of his whereabouts ) and an entire page to Barmaids Wanted. Moody read the document twice over, including the shipping notices, the advertisements for lodging and small fare, and several very dull campaign speeches, printed in full. He found that he was disappointed: the West Coast Times read like a parish gazette. But what had he expected? That a goldfield would be an exotic phantasm, made of glitter and promise? That the diggers would be notorious and slyevery man a murderer, every man a thief?
Moody folded the paper slowly. His line of thinking had returned him to the Godspeed, and to the bloody casket in her hold, and his heart began to pound again. "That's enough," he said aloud, and immediately felt foolish. He stood and tossed the folded paper aside. In any case, he thought, the daylight was fading, and he disliked reading in the dusk.
Quitting his room, he returned downstairs. He found the maid sequestered in the alcove beneath the stairs, scrubbing at a pair of riding boots with blacking, and inquired of her if there was a parlor in which he might spend the evening. His voyage had wrought considerable strain in him, and he was in sore need of a glass of brandy and a quiet place to rest his eyes.
The maid was more obliging nowher sixpences must be few and far between, Moody thought, which could be useful later, if he needed her. She explained that the parlor of the Crown had been reserved that night for a private party"The Catholic Friendlies," she clarified, grinning againbut she might conduct him instead, if he wished it, to the smoking room.
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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