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The Telling

The Telling

Titel: The Telling
Autoren: Jo Baker
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‘So it seems.’
    He stopped laughing then. My face burned.
    Dad made a clumsy joke about the refinements of the establishment, and I turned away, and went to tidy up my work, and clear the leftovers of his tea, and all the time I was blushing, fiercely conscious of myself, of how ungainly and uncouth I must seem. I slipped upstairs, and washed my face in yesterday’s water. I loosened my hair, gave it forty strokes, plaited it and pinned it up again. I looked at my hands, the yellowed calluses on the palms, the nails stained dark and rough. I soaked them in the water and scrubbed at them. I heard Mam come in downstairs. I heard her greeting. She called Mr Moore by name, which was a surprise to me. I looked at my hands. Pinker, a little softer, still badly stained, the nails worn dull with work. I went downstairs to help Mam get the supper.
    Mam and I were at the table. She was spooning tea from the canister. One for each of us. One for the pot. One for Mr Moore. So he was staying for supper. Over at the fireside, Dad was talking to him. Mam was telling me what else needed to be done that evening and what was to be done tomorrow when I rose. I nodded, trying to keep my attention on her, and not let it drift towards the fireside. Every so often, Mr Moore glanced over. I kept my attention on the loaf and the neat portioning of slices. One for each of us. One for him.
    Then Mr Moore spoke, and Mam’s words faded out of my thoughts, and all I could do was listen to him. Dad must have asked him about the towns and cities to the south, because he was giving an account of them. Leeds, he said, was like a midden, filthy, all of a fester, a summer’s heat would suffice to make it burst into flames. Manchester was a tinderbox: any reckless hand might strike the spark. People were arming themselves, he said; in towns and villages all over the country, he’d seen arms hanging over the fireplaces in the poorest houses.
    His voice, his manner and what he said: it reminded me of something, but I couldn’t quite remember what.
    ‘Everybody’s spirits are down,’ Dad said. ‘The bad seasons and these unchristian taxes. People don’t like going hungry.’
    Mr Moore half shook his head. ‘When an employer says there is a slump in trade, and makes a reduction in wages, a man who already works every hour he can to watch his wife and children starve must feel the injustice of his circumstances as keenly as he feels brute hunger. What can he do? He can’t take his labour elsewhere , since if one employer makes a reduction, the others follow. They are reducing wages now, all across the region. And if there is a slump, then by God but the mill-owners are doing well out of it. Oversby’s building his new Hall on the strength of the current crisis.’
    I realized that I was staring at him. His words and the manner of his speaking made me stare.
    ‘They do well, the Oversbys,’ my father said, seeming to think they were in complete agreement. ‘That’s a fine new house they’re building up at Storrs. A man needs a little land, a little seed-money, if he’s to make anything of himself.’
    Mr Moore said nothing for a moment. He inclined his head, and when he spoke, it was quietly, almost too calmly. ‘You know my position, a joiner on the new hall, and you know I need the work as much as the next man. But every peg I hammer home seems like a coffin nail to me.’
    He was still as a rock, the whole of his body, but for his hands; they did not cease moving. He pressed his fingertips together; his fingers slid and meshed and separated. These slight motions seemed to be connected with what he said, as if he felt the distress in his own body and could not be at ease; as if his hands were eager to be at other work. His thumb rested for a moment between his lips, his teeth teasing at the skin beside the nail. I noticed my own hand was at my mouth, my own knuckle resting in the wet between my lips. I dropped my hand and looked away.
    ‘I take the money that could be used to pay his workers decent wages, and you will take it from me, and that is how we must live, and so all our hands are stained with this guilt, however little we intend it. We cannot be free of it.’
    I knew what he reminded me of. Years ago, when we were girls, a preacher had come to give witness to the Lord from a tree-stump on the green. Our mams had forbidden us to go, so me and Agnes sneaked up through the field behind the green, huddled down behind the wall
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