Moody returned to the present with a jolt, and saw that Thomas Balfour was still looking at him, with an expression of intrigued expectation upon his face.
"I beg your pardon," Moody said, in confusion. "I believe I must have drifted off into my own thoughtsfor a moment"
"What were you thinking of?" said Balfour.
What had he been thinking of? Only the cravat, the silver hand, that name, gasped out of the darkness. The scene was like a small world, Moody thought, possessed of its own dimensions. Any amount of ordinary time could pass, when his mind was straying there. There was this large world of rolling time and shifting spaces, and that small, stilled world of horror and unease; they fit inside each other, a sphere within a sphere. How strange, that Balfour had been watching him; that real time had been passingrevolving around him, all the while
"I wasn't thinking of anything in particular," he said. "I have endured a difficult journey, that is all, and I am very tired."
Behind him one of the billiard players made a shot: a doubled crack, a velvet plop, a ripple of appreciation from the other players. The clergyman shook out his paper noisily; another man coughed; another struck the dust from his shirtsleeve, and shifted in his chair.
"I was asking about your quarrel," Balfour said.
"The quarrel" Moody began, and then stopped. He suddenly felt too exhausted even to speak.
"The dispute," prompted Balfour. "Between you and your father."
"I am sorry," Moody said. "The particulars are delicate."
"A matter of money! Do I hit upon it?"
"Forgive me: you do not." Moody ran his hand over his face.
"Not of money! Thena matter of love! You are in love but your father will not approve the girl of your choosing "
"No, sir," Moody said. "I am not in love."
"A great shame," Balfour said. "Well! I conclude: you are already married!"
"I am unmarried."
"You are a young widower, perhaps!"
"I have never been married, sir."
Balfour burst out laughing and threw up both his hands, to signal that he considered Moody's reticence cheerfully exasperating, and quite absurd.
While he was laughing Moody raised himself up on his wrists and swiveled to look over the high back of his armchair at the room behind him. He had the intention of drawing others into their conversation somehow, and perhaps thus diverting the other man from his purpose. But nobody looked up to meet his gaze; they seemed, Moody thought, to be actively avoiding him. This was odd. But his posture was awkward and he was being rude, and so he reluctantly resumed his former position and crossed his legs again.
"I do not mean to disappoint you," he said, when Balfour's laughter subsided.
"Disappointno!" Balfour cried. "No, no. You will have your secrets!"
"You mistake me," Moody said. "My aim is not concealment. The subject is personally distressing to me, that is all."
"Oh," Balfour said, "but it is always so, Mr. Moody, when one is youngto be distressed by one's own history, you knowwishing to keep it backand never to share itI mean, with other men."
"That is a wise observation."
"Wise! And nothing else?"
"I do not understand you, Mr. Balfour."
"You are determined to thwart my curiosity!"
"I confess I am a little startled by it."
"This is a gold town, sir!" Balfour said. "One must be sure of his fellowsone must trust in his fellowsindeed!"
This was still more odd. For the first timeperhaps because of his growing frustration, which served to focus his attention more squarely upon the scene at handMoody felt his interest begin to stir. The strange silence of the room was hardly testament to the kind of fraternity where all was shared and made easy and moreover, Balfour had offered very little with respect to his own character and reputation in the town, by which intelligence Moody might be made to feel more assured of him! His gaze slid sideways, to the fat man closest to the hearth, whose closed eyelids were trembling with the effort of pretended sleep, and then to the blond-haired man behind him, who was passing his billiard cue from one hand to the other, but seemed to have lost all interest in the game.
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.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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