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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesLeonora: A Novel - Chapter 2. Meshach And Hannah
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Leonora: A Novel - Chapter 2. Meshach And Hannah Post by :billy_bob Category :Long Stories Author :Arnold Bennett Date :May 2012 Read :1790

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Leonora: A Novel - Chapter 2. Meshach And Hannah


The little old bachelor and spinster were resting after dinner in the back-parlour of their house near the top of Church Street. In that abode they had watched generations pass and manners change, as one list hearthrug succeeded another in the back-parlour. Meshach had been born in the front bedroom, and he meant to die there; Hannah had also been born in the front bedroom, but it was through the window of the back bedroom that the housewife's soul would rejoin the infinite. The house, which Meshach's grandfather, first of his line to emerge from the grey mass of the proletariat, had ruined himself to build, was a six-roomed dwelling of honest workmanship in red brick and tile, with a beautiful pillared doorway and fanlight in the antique taste. It had cost two hundred pounds, and was the monument of a life's ambition. Mortgaged by its hard-pressed creator, and then sold by order of the mortgagee, it had ultimately been bought again in triumph by Meshach's father, who made thirty thousand pounds out of pots without getting too big for it, and left it unspoilt to Meshach and Hannah. Only one alteration had ever been made in it, and that, completed on Meshach's fiftieth birthday, admirably exemplified his temperament. Because he liked to observe the traffic in Church Street, and liked equally to sit in the back-parlour near the hob, he had, with an oriental grandeur of self-indulgence, removed the dividing wall between the front and the back parlours and substituted a glass partition: so that he could simultaneously warm the fire and keep an eye on the street. The town said that no one but Meshach could have hit on such a scheme, or would have carried it out with such an object: it crowned his reputation.

John Stanway's maternal uncle was one of those individuals whose character, at once strong, egotistic, and peculiar, so forcibly impresses the community that by contrast ordinary persons seem to be without character; such men are therefore called, distinctively, 'characters'; and it is a matter of common experience that, whether through the unconscious prescience of parents or through that felicitous sense of propriety which often guides the hazards of destiny, they usually bear names to match their qualities. Meshach Myatt! Meshach Myatt! What piquant curious syllables to roll glibly off the tongue, and to repeat for the pleasure of repetition! And what a vision of Meshach their utterance conjured up! At sixty-four, stereotyped by age, fixed and confirmed in singularity, Meshach's figure answered better than ever to his name. He was slight of bone and spare in flesh, with a hardly perceptible stoop. He had a red, seamed face. Under the small, pale blue eyes, genial and yet frigid, there showed a thick, raw, red selvedge of skin, and below that the skin was loose and baggy; the wrinkled eyelids, instead of being shaped to the pupil, came down flat and perpendicular. His nose and chin were witch-like, the nostrils large and elastic; the lips, drawn tight together, curved downwards, indifferently captious; a short white beard grew sparsely on the chin; the skin of the narrow neck was fantastically drawn and creased. His limbs were thin, the knees and elbows sharpened to a fine point; the hands very long, with blue, corded veins. As a rule his clothes were a distressing combination of black and dark blue; either the coat, the waistcoat, or the trousers would be black, the rest blue; the trousers had the old-fashioned flap-pockets, like a sailor's, with a complex apparatus of buttons. He wore loose white cuffs that were continually slipping down the wrist, a starched dickey, a collar of too lenient flexure, and a black necktie with a 'made' bow that was fastened by means of a button and button-hole under the chin to the right; twenty times a day Meshach had to secure this precarious cravat. Lastly, the top and bottom buttons of his waistcoat were invariably loose.

He was of that small and lonely minority of men who never know ambition, ardour, zeal, yearning, tears; whose convenient desires are capable of immediate satisfaction; of whom it may be said that they purchase a second-rate happiness cheap at the price of an incapacity for deep feeling. In his seventh decade, Meshach Myatt could look back with calm satisfaction at a career of uninterrupted nonchalance and idleness. The favourite of a stern father and of fate, he had never done a hard day's work in his life. When he and Hannah came into their inheritance, he realised everything except the house and invested the proceeds in Consols. With a roof, four hundred a year from the British Empire, a tame capable sister, and notoriously good health, he took final leave of care at the age of thirty-two. He wanted no more than he had. Leisure was his chief luxury; he watched life between meals, and had time to think about what he saw. Being gifted with a vigorous and original mind that by instinct held formulas in defiance, he soon developed a philosophy of his own; and his reputation as a 'character' sprang from the first diffident, wayward expressions of this philosophy. Perceiving that the town not unadmiringly deemed him odd, he cultivated oddity. Perceiving also that it was sometimes astonished at the extent of his information about hidden affairs, he cultivated mystery, the knowledge of other people's business, and the trick of unexpected appearances. At forty his fame was assured; at fifty he was an institution; at sixty an oracle.

'Meshach's a mixture,' ran the local phrase; but in this mixture there was a less tedious posturing and a more massive intellect than usually go to the achievement of a provincial renown such as Meshach's. The man's externals were deceptive, for he looked like a local curiosity who might never have been out of Bursley. Meshach, however, travelled sometimes in the British Isles, and thereby kept his ideas from congealing. And those who had met him in trains and hotels knew that porters, waiters, and drivers did not mistake his shrewdness for that of a simpleton determined not to be robbed; that he wanted the right things and had the art to get them; in short, that he was an expert in travel. Like many old provincial bachelors, while frugal at home he could be profuse abroad, exercising the luxurious freedom of the bachelor. In the course of years it grew slowly upon his fellow pew-holders at the big Sytch Chapel that he was worldly-minded and possibly contemptuous of their codes; some, who made a specialty of smelling rats, accused him of gaiety.

'You'd happen better get something extra for tea, sister,' said Meshach, rousing himself.

'Why, brother?' demanded Hannah.

'Some sausage, happen,' Meshach proceeded.

'Is any one coming?' she asked.

'Or a bit of fish,' said Meshach, gazing meditatively at the fire.

Hannah rose and interrogated his face. 'You ought to have told me before, brother. It's past three now, and Saturday afternoon too!' So saying, she hurried anxiously into the kitchen and told the servant to put her hat on.

'Who is it that's coming, brother?' she inquired later, with timid, ravenous curiosity.

'I see you'll have it out of me,' said Meshach, who gave up mysteries as a miser parts with gold. 'It's Arthur Twemlow from New York; and let that stop your mouth.'

Thus, with the utterance of this name in the prim, archaic, stuffy little back-parlour, Meshach raised the curtain on the last act of a drama which had slumbered for fifteen years, since the death of William Twemlow, and which the principal actors in it had long thought to be concluded or suppressed.

The whole matter could be traced back, through a series of situations which had developed one out of another, to the character of old Twemlow; but the final romantic solution was only rendered possible by the peculiarities of Meshach Myatt. William Twemlow had been one of those men in whom an unbridled appetite for virtue becomes a vice. He loved God with such virulence that he killed his wife, drove his daughter into a fatuous marriage, and quarrelled irrevocably with his son. The too sensitive wife died for lack of joy; Alice escaped to Australia with a parson who never accomplished anything but a large family; and Arthur, at the age of seventeen, precociously cursed his father and sought in America a land where there were fewer commandments. Then old Twemlow told his junior partner, John Stanway, that the ways of Providence were past finding out. Stanway sympathised with him, partly from motives of diplomacy, and partly from a genuine misunderstanding of the case; for Twemlow, mild, earnest, and a generous supporter of charities, was much respected in the town, and his lonely predicament excited compassion; most people looked upon young Arthur as a godless and heartless vagabond.

Alice's husband was a fool, impulsive and vain; and, despite introductions, no congregation in Australia could be persuaded to listen to his version of the gospel; Alice gave birth to more children than bad sermons could keep alive, and soon the old man at Bursley was regularly sending remittances to her. Twemlow desired fervently to do his duty, and moreover the estrangement from his son increased his satisfaction in dealing handsomely with his daughter; the son would doubtless learn from the daughter how much he had lost by his impiety. Seven years elapsed so, and then the parson gave up his holy calling and became a tea-blender in Brisbane. Twemlow was shocked at this defection, which seemed to him sacrilegious, and a chance phrase in a letter of Alice's requesting capital for the new venture--a too assured demand, an insufficient gratitude for past benefits, Alice never quite knew what--brought about a second breach in the Twemlow family. The paternal purse was closed, and perhaps not too early, for the improvidence of the tea-blender and Alice's fecundity were a gulf whose depth no munificence could have plumbed. Again John Stanway sympathised with the now enfeebled old man. John advised him to retire, and Twemlow decided to do so, receiving one-third of the net profits of the partnership business during life. In two years he was bedridden and the miserable victim of a housekeeper; but, though both Alice and Arthur attempted reconciliation, some fine point of conscience obliged him to ignore their overtures. John Stanway, his last remaining friend, called often and chatted about business, which he lamented was far from being what it ought to be. Twemlow's death was hastened by a fire at the works; it happened that he could see the flames from his bedroom window; he survived the spectacle five days. Before entering into his reward, the great pietist wrote letters of forgiveness to Alice and Arthur, and made a will, of which John Stanway was sole executor, in favour of Alice. The town expressed surprise when it learnt that the estate was sworn at less than a thousand pounds, for the dead man's share in the profits of Twemlow & Stanway was no secret, and Stanway had been living in splendour at Hillport for several years. John, when questioned by gossips, referred sadly to Alice's husband and to the depredations of housekeepers. In this manner the name and memory of the Twemlows were apparently extinguished in Bursley.

But Meshach Myatt had witnessed the fire at the works; he had even remained by the canal side all through that illuminated night; and an adventure had occurred to him such as occurs only to the Meshach Myatts of this world. The fire was threatening the office, and Meshach saw his nephew John running to a place of refuge with a drawer snatched out of an American desk; the drawer was loaded with papers and books, and as John ran a small book fell unheeded to the ground. Meshach cried out to John that he had dropped something, but in the excitement and confusion of the fire his rather high-pitched voice was not heard. He left the book lying where it fell; half-an-hour afterwards he saw it again, picked it up, and put it in his pocket. It contained some interesting informal private memoranda of the annual profits of the firm. Now Meshach did not return the book to its owner. He argued that John deserved to suffer for his carelessness in losing it, that John ought to have heard his call, and that anyhow John would surely inquire for it and might then be allowed to receive it with a few remarks upon the need of a calm demeanour at fires; but John never did inquire for it.

When William Twemlow's will was proved a few weeks later, Meshach Myatt made no comment whatever. From time to time he heard news of Arthur Twemlow: that he had set up in New York as an earthenware and glassware factor, that he was doing well, that he was doing extremely well, that his buyer had come over to visit the more aristocratic manufactories at Knype and Cauldon, that some one from Bursley had met Arthur at the Leipzig Easter Fair and reported him stout, taciturn, and Americanised. Then, one morning in Lord Street, Liverpool, fifteen years after the death of old Twemlow and the misappropriation of the little book, Meshach encountered Arthur Twemlow himself; Meshach was returning from his autumn holiday in the Isle of Man, and Arthur had just landed from the 'Servia.' The two men were mutually impressed by each other's skill in nicely conducting an interview which ninety-nine people out of a hundred would have botched; for they had last met as boy of seventeen and man of forty. They lunched richly at the Adelphi, and gave news for news. Arthur's buyer, it seemed, was dead, and after a day or two in London Arthur was coming to the Five Towns to buy a little in person. Meshach inquired about Alice in Australia, and was told that things were in a specially bad way with the tea-blender. He said that you couldn't cure a fool, and remarked casually upon the smallness of the amount left by old Twemlow. Arthur, unaware that Meshach Myatt was raising up an idea which for fifteen years had been buried but never forgotten in his mind, answered with nonchalance that the amount certainly was rather small. Arthur added that in his dying letter of forgiveness to Alice the old man had stated that his income from the works during the last years of his life had been less than two hundred per annum. Meshach worked his shut thin lips up and down and then began to discuss other matters. But as they parted at Lime Street Station the observer of life said to Arthur with presaging calm: 'You'll be i' th' Five Towns at the end of the week. Come and have a cup o' tea with me and Hannah on Saturday afternoon. The old spot, you know it, top of Church Street. I've something to show you as 'll interest you.' There was a pause and an interchange of glances. 'Right!' said Arthur Twemlow. 'Thank you! I'll be there at a quarter after four or thereabouts.' 'It's like as if what must be!' Meshach murmured to himself with almost sad resignation, in the enigmatic idiom of the Five Towns. But he was highly pleased that he, the first of all the townsfolk, should have seen Arthur Twemlow after twenty-five years' absence.

When Hannah, in silk, met the most interesting and disconcerting American stranger in the lobby, the sound and the smell of Bursley sausage frizzling in the kitchen added a warm finish to her confused welcome. She remembered him perfectly, 'Eh! Mr. Arthur,' she said, 'I remember you that _well_....' And that was all she could say, except: 'Now take off your overcoat and do make yourself at home, Mr. Arthur.'

'I guess I know _you_,' said Twemlow, touched by the girlish shyness, the primeval innocence, and the passionate hospitality of the little grey-haired thing.

As he took off his glossy blue overcoat and hung it up he seemed to fill the narrow lobby with his large frame and his quiet but penetrating attractive American accent. He probably weighed fourteen stone, but the elegance of his suit and his boots, the clean-shaven chin, the fineness of the lines of the nose, and the alert eyes set back under the temples, redeemed him from grossness. He looked under rather than over forty; his brown hair was beginning to recede from the forehead, but the heavy moustache, which entirely hid his mouth and was austerely trimmed at the sides, might have aroused the envy of a colonel of hussars.

'Come in, wut,'(1) cried Meshach impatiently from the hob, 'come in and let's be pecking a bit,' and as Arthur and Hannah entered the parlour, he added: 'She's gotten sausages for you. She would get 'em, though I told her you'd take us as you found us. I told her that. But women--well, you know what they are!'

(1) _Wut = wilt.

'Eh, Meshach, Meshach!' the old damsel protested sadly, and escaped into the kitchen.

And when Meshach insisted that the guest should serve out the sausages, and Hannah, passing his tea, said it was a shame to trouble him, Twemlow slipped suddenly back into the old life and ways and ideas. This existence, which he thought he had utterly forgotten, returned again and triumphed for a time over all the experiences of his manhood; it alone seemed real, honest, defensible. Sensations of his long and restless career in New York flashed through his mind as he impaled Hannah's sausages in the curious parlour--the hysteric industry of his girl-typist, the continuous hot-water service in the bedroom of his glittering apartment at the Concord House, youthful nights at Coster and Bial's music-hall, an insanely extravagant dinner at Sherry's on his thirtieth birthday, a difficulty once with an emissary of Pinkerton, the incredible plague of flies in summer. And during all those racing years of clangour and success in New York, the life of Bursley, self-sufficient and self-contained, had preserved its monotonous and slow stolidity. Bursley had become a museum to him; he entered it as he might have entered the Middle Ages, and was astonished to find that beautiful which once he had deemed sordid and commonplace. Some of the streets seemed like a monument of the past, a picturesque survival; the crate-floats, drawn by swift shaggy ponies and driven by men who balanced themselves erect on two thin boards while flying round corners, struck him as the quaintest thing in the world.

'And what's going on nowadays in old Bosley, Miss Myatt?' he asked expansively, trying to drop his American accent and use the dialect.

'Eh, bless us!' exclaimed Hannah, startled. 'Nothing ever happens here, Mr. Arthur.'

He felt that nothing did happen there.

'Same here as elsewhere,' said Meshach. 'People living, and getting childer to worry 'em, and dying. Nothing'll cure 'em of it seemingly. Is there anything different to that in New York? Or can they do without cemeteries?'

Twemlow laughed, and again he had the illusion of having come back to reality after a long, hurried dream. 'Nothing seems to have changed here,' he remarked idly.

'Nothing changed!' said Meshach. 'Nay, nay! We're up in the world. We've got the steam-car. And we've got public baths. We wash oursen nowadays. And there's talk of a park, and a pond with a duck on it. We're moving with the times, my lad, and so's the rates.'

It gave him pleasure to be called 'my lad' by old Meshach. It was piquant to him that the first earthenware factor in New York, the Jupiter of a Fourteenth Street office, should be addressed as a stripling. 'And where is the park to be?' he suavely inquired.

'Up by the railway station, opposite your father's old works as was--it's a row of villas now.'

'Well,' said Twemlow. 'That sounds pretty nice. I believe I'll get you to come around with me and show off the sights. Say!' he added suddenly, 'do you remember being on that works one day when my poor father was on to me like half a hundred of bricks, and you said, "The boy's all right, Mr. Twemlow"? I've never forgotten that. I've thought of it scores of times.'

'Nay!' Meshach answered carelessly, 'I remember nothing o' that.'

Twemlow was dashed by this oblivion. It was his memory of the minute incident which more than anything else had encouraged him to respond so cordially to Meshach's advances in Liverpool; for he was by no means facile in social intercourse. And Meshach had rudely forgotten the affecting scene! He felt diminished, and saw in the old bachelor a personification of the blunt independent spirit of the Five Towns.

* * * * *

'Milly's late to-day,' said Hannah to her brother, timorously breaking the silence which ensued.

'Milly?' questioned Twemlow.

'Millicent her proper name is,' Hannah said quickly, 'but we call her Milly. My nephew's youngest.'

'Yes, of course,' Twemlow commented, when the Myatt family-tree had been sketched for him by the united effort of brother and sister, 'I recollect now you told me in Liverpool that Mr. Stanway was married. Who did he marry?'

Meshach Myatt pushed back his chair and stood up. 'John catched on to Knight's daughter, the doctor at Turnhill,' he said, reaching to a cigar-cabinet on the sideboard. 'Best thing he ever did in his life. John's among the better end of folk now. People said it were a come-down for her, but Leonora isn't the sort that comes down. She's got blood in her. _That_!' He snapped his fingers. 'She's a good bred 'un. Old Knight's father came from up York way. Ah! She's a cut above Twemlow & Stanway, is Leonora.'

Twemlow smiled at this persistence of respect for caste.

'Have a weed,' said Meshach, offering him a cigar. 'You'll find it all right; it's a J.S. Murias. Yes,' he resumed, 'maybe you don't remember old Knight's sister as had that far house up at Hillport? When she died she left it to Leonora, and they've lived there this dozen year and more.'

'Well, I guess she's got a handsome name to her,' Twemlow remarked perfunctorily, rising and leaving Hannah alone at the table.

'And she's the handsomest woman in the Five Towns: that I do know,' said Meshach as, in the grand manner of a connoisseur, he lighted his cigar. 'And her was forty, day afore yesterday,' he added with caustic emphasis.

'Meshach!' cried Hannah, 'for shame of yourself!' Then she turned to Twemlow smiling and blushing a little. 'Oughtn't he? Eh, but Mrs. John's a great favourite of my brother's. And I'm sure her girls are very good and attentive. Not a day but one or another of them calls to see me, not a day. Eh, if they missed a day I should think the world was coming to an end. And I'm expecting Milly to-day. What's made the dear child so late----'

'I will say this for John,' asserted Meshach, as though the little housewife had not been speaking, 'I will say this for John,' he repeated, settling himself by the hob. 'He knew how to pick up a d----d fine woman.'

'Meshach!' Hannah expostulated again.

Something in the excellence of Meshach's cigars, in his way of calling a woman fine, in the dry, aloof masculinity of his attitude towards Hannah, gave Twemlow to reflect that in the fundamental deeps of experience New York was perhaps not so far ahead of the old Five Towns after all.

There was a fluttering in the lobby, and Millicent ran into the parlour, hurriedly, negligently.

'I can't stay a minute, auntie,' the vivacious girl burst out in the unmistakable accents of condescending pertness, and then she caught sight of the well-dressed, good-looking man in the corner, and her bearing changed as though by a conjuring trick. She flushed sensitively, stroked her blue serge frock, composed her immature features to the mask of the finished lady paying a call, and summoned every faculty to aid her in looking her best. 'So this chit is the daughter of our admired Leonora,' thought Twemlow.

'I suppose you don't remember old Mr. Twemlow, my dear?' said Hannah after she had proudly introduced her niece.

'Oh, auntie! how silly you are! Of course I remember him quite well. I really can't stay, auntie.'

'You'll stay and drink this cup of tea with me,' Hannah insisted firmly, and Milly was obliged to submit. It was not often that the old lady exercised authority; but on that afternoon the famous New York visitor was just as much an audience for Hannah as for Hannah's greatniece.

Twemlow could think of nothing to say to this pretty pouting creature who had rushed in from a later world and dissipated the atmosphere of mediaevalism, and so he addressed himself to Meshach upon the eternal subject of the staple trade. The women at the table talked quietly but self-consciously, and Twemlow saw Milly forced to taste parkin after three refusals. Even while still masticating the viscid unripe parkin, Milly rose to depart. She bent down and dutifully grazed with her lips the cheek of the parkin-maker. 'Good-bye, auntie; good-bye, uncle.' And in an elegant, mincing tone, 'Good afternoon, Mr. Twemlow.'

'I suppose you've just got to be on time at the next place?' he said quizzically, smiling at her vivid youth in spite of himself. 'Something very important?'

'Oh, very important!' she laughed archly, reddening, and then was gone; and Aunt Hannah followed her to the door.

'What th' old folks lose,' murmured Meshach, apparently to the fire, as he put his half-consumed cigar into a meerschaum holder, 'goes to the profit of young Burgess, as is waiting outside the Bank at top o' th' Square.'

'I see,' said Twemlow, and thought primly that in his day such laxities were not permitted.

Hannah and the servant cleared the tea-table, and the two men were left alone, each silently reducing an J.S. Murias to ashes. Meshach seemed to grow smaller in his padded chair by the hob, to become torpid, and to lose that keen sense of his own astuteness which alone gave zest to his life. Arthur stared out of the window at the confined backyard. The autumn dusk thickened.

Suddenly Meshach sprang up and lighted the gas, and as he adjusted the height of the flame, he remarked casually: 'So your sister Alice is as poorly off as ever?'

Twemlow assented with a nod. 'By the way,' he said, 'you told me on Wednesday you had something interesting to show me.'

Meshach made no answer, but picked up the poker and struck several times a large pewter platter on the mantelpiece.

'Do you want anything, brother?' said Hannah, hastening into the room.

'Go up into my bedroom, sister, and in the left-hand pigeon-hole in the bureau you'll see a little flat tissue-paper parcel. Bring it me. It's marked J.S.'

'Yes, brother,' and she departed.

'You said as your father had told your sister as he never got no more than two hundred a year from th' partnership after he retired.'

'Yes,' Twemlow replied. 'That's what she wrote me. In fact she sent me the old chap's letter to read. So I reckoned it cost him most all he got to live.'

'Well,' the old man said, and Hannah returned with the parcel, which he carefully unwrapped. 'That'll do, sister.' Hannah disappeared. 'Sithee!' He mysteriously drew Arthur's attention to a little green book whose cover still showed traces of mud and water.

'And what's this?' Twemlow asked with assumed lightness.

Meshach gave him the history of his adventure at the fire, and then laboriously displayed and expounded the contents of the book, peering into the yellow pages through the steel-rimmed spectacles which he had put on for the purpose.

'And you've kept it all this time?' said Twemlow.

'I've kept it,' answered the old man grimly, and Twemlow felt that that was precisely what Meshach Myatt might have been expected to do.

'See,' said Meshach, and their heads were close together,' that's the year before your father's death--eight hundred and ninety-two pounds. And year afore that--one thousand two hundred and seven pounds. And year afore that--bless us! Have I turned o'er two pages at once?' And so he continued.

Twemlow's heart began to beat heavily as Meshach's eyes met his. He seemed to see his father as a pathetic cheated simpleton, and to hear the innumerable children of his sister crying for food; he remembered that in the old Bursley days he had always distrusted John Stanway, that conceited fussy imposing young man of twenty-two whom his father had taken into partnership and utterly believed in. He forgot that he had hated his father, and his mind was obsessed by a sentimental and pure passion for justice.

'Say! Mr. Myatt,' he exclaimed with sudden gruffness, 'do you suggest that John Stanway didn't do my father right?'

'My lad, I'm doing no suggesting.... You can keep the book if you've a mind to. I've said nothing to no one, and if I had not met you in Liverpool, and you hadn't told me that your sister was poorly off again, happen I should ha' been mum to my grave. But that's how things turn out.'

'He's your own nephew, you know,' said Twemlow.

'Ay!' said the old man, 'I know that. What by that? Fair's fair.'

Meshach's tone, frigidly jocular, almost frightened the American.

'According to you,' said he, determined to put the thing into words, 'your nephew robbed my father each year of sums varying from one to three hundred pounds--that's what it comes to.'

'Nay, not according to me--according to that book, and what your father told your sister Alice,' Meshach corrected.

'But why should he do it? That's what I want to know.'

'Look here,' said Meshach quietly, resuming his chair. 'John's as good a man of business as you'd meet in a day's march. But never sin' he handled money could he keep off stocks and shares. He speculates, always has, always will. And now you know it--and 'tisn't everybody as does, either.'

'Then you think----'

'Nay, my lad, I don't,' said Meshach curtly.

'But what ought I to do?'

Meshach cackled in laughter. 'Ask your sister Alice,' he replied, 'it's her as is interested, not you. You aren't in the will.'

'But I don't want to ruin John Stanway,' Twemlow protested.

'Ruin John!' Meshach exclaimed, cackling again. 'Not you! We mun have no scandals in th' family. But you can go and see him, quiet-like, I reckon. Dost think as John'll be stuck fast for six or seven hundred, or eight hundred? Not John! And happen a bit of money'll come in handy to th' old parson tea-blender, by all accounts.'

'Suppose my father--made some mistake--forgot?'

'Ay!' said Meshach calmly. 'Suppose he did. And suppose he didna'.'

'I believe I'll go and talk to Stanway,' said Twemlow, putting the book in his pocket. 'Let me see. The works is down at Shawport?'

'On th' cut,'(2) said Meshach.

(2) Cut = canal.

'I can say Alice had asked me to look at the accounts. Oh! Perhaps I can straighten it out neat----' He spoke cheerfully, then stopped. 'But it's fifteen years ago!'

'Fifteen!' said Meshach with gravity.

'I'm d----d if I can make you out!' thought Twemlow as he walked along King Street towards the steam-tram for Knype, where he was staying at the Five Towns Hotel. Hannah had sped him, with blushings, and rustlings of silk, from Meshach's door. 'I'm d----d if I can make you out, Meshach.' He said it aloud. And yet, so complex and self-contradictory is the mind's action under certain circumstances, he could make out Meshach perfectly well; he could discern clearly that Meshach had been actuated partly by the love of chicane, partly by a quasi-infantile curiosity to see what he should see, and partly by an almost biblical sense of justice, a sense blind, callous, cruel.

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Leonora: A Novel - Chapter 1. The Household At Hillport Leonora: A Novel - Chapter 1. The Household At Hillport

Leonora: A Novel - Chapter 1. The Household At Hillport
CHAPTER I. THE HOUSEHOLD AT HILLPORTShe was walking, with her customary air of haughty and rapt leisure, across the market-place of Bursley, when she observed in front of her, at the top of Oldcastle Street, two men conversing and gesticulating vehemently, each seated alone in a dog-cart. These persons, who had met from opposite directions, were her husband, John Stanway, the earthenware manufacturer, and David Dain, the solicitor who practised at Hanbridge. Stanway's cob, always quicker to start than to stop, had been pulled up with difficulty, drawing his cart just clear of the other one, so that the two portly