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The Matador of the Five Towns and Other Stories By Arnold Bennett Characters: 8264

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


On the Saturday evening only Sneyd and Mrs Lovatt came up to Hillport, Enoch Lovatt being away from home. Therefore there were no cards; they talked of the Eardley affair.

"You'll have to manage with the old organ now," was one of the first things that Peake said to Mrs Lovatt, after he had recited his own woe. He smiled grimly as he said it.

"I don't see why," Sneyd remarked. It was not true; he saw perfectly; but he enjoyed the rousing of Jim Peake into a warm altercation.

"Not at all," said Mrs Lovatt, proudly. "We shall have the organ, I'm sure. There was an urgency committee meeting last night. Titus Blackhurst has most generously given another hundred; he said it would be a shame if the bankruptcy of professed Methodists was allowed to prejudice the interests of the chapel. And the organ-makers have taken fifty pounds off their price. Now, who do you think has given another fifty? Mr Copinger! He stood up last night, Mr Blackhurst told me this morning, and he said, 'Friends, I've only seventy pounds in the world, but I'll give fifty pounds towards this organ.' There! What do you think of that? Isn't he a grand fellow?"

"He is a grand fellow," said Peake, with emphasis, reflecting that the total income of the minister could not exceed three hundred a year.

"So you see you'll have to give your hundred," Mrs Lovatt continued. "You can't do otherwise after that."

There was a pause.

"I won't give it," said Peake. "I've said I won't, and I won't."

He could think of no argument. To repeat that Eardley's bankruptcy would cost him dear seemed trivial. Nevertheless, the absence of any plausible argument served only to steel his resolution.

At that moment the servant opened the door.

"Mr Titus Blackhurst, senior, to see you, sir."

Peake and his wife looked at one another in amazement, and Sneyd laughed quietly.

"He told me he should come up," Mrs Lovatt explained.

"Show him into the breakfast-room, Clara," said Mrs Peake to the servant.

Peake frowned angrily as he crossed the hall, but as he opened the breakfast-room door he contrived to straighten out his face into a semblance of urbanity. Though he could have enjoyed accelerating the passage of his visitor into the street, there were excellent commercial reasons why he should adopt a less strenuous means towards the end which he had determined to gain.

"Glad to see you, Mr Blackhurst," he began, a little awkwardly.

"You know, I suppose, what I've come for, Mr Peake," said the old man, in that rich, deep, oily voice of which Mrs Lovatt, in one of those graphic phrases that came to her sometimes, had once remarked that it must have been "well basted in the cooking."

"I suppose I do," Peake answered diffidently.

Mr Blackhurst took off a wrinkled black glove, stroked his grey beard, and started on a long account of the inception and progress of the organ scheme. Peake listened and was drawn into an admission that it was a good scheme and deserved to succeed. Mr Blackhurst then went on to make plain that it was in danger of utterly collapsing, that only one man of "our Methodist friends" could save it, and that both Mrs Sutton and Mrs Lovatt had advised him to come and make a personal appeal to that man.

Peake knew of old, and in other affairs, the wily diplomatic skill of this Sunday School superintendent, and when Mr Blackhurst paused he collected himself for an effort which should conclude the episode at a stroke.

"The fact is," he said, "I've decided that I can't help you. It's no good beating about the bush, and so I tell you this at once. Mind you, Mr Blackhurst, if there's anyone in Bursley that I should have liked to oblige, it's you. We've had business dealings, you and me, for many years now, and I fancy we know one another. I've the highest respect for you, and if you'll excuse me saying so, I think you've some respect for me. My rule is always to be candid. I say what I mean and I mean what I say; and so, as I've quite made up my mind, I let you know straight off. I can't do it. I simply can't do it."

"Of course if you put it that way, if y

ou can't-"

"I do put it that way, Mr Blackhurst," Peake continued quickly, warming himself into eloquence as he perceived the most effective line to pursue. "I admire your open-handedness. It's an example to us all. I wish I could imitate it. But I mustn't. I'm not one o' them as rushes out and promises a hundred pound before they've looked at their profit and loss account. Eardleys, for example. By the way, I'm pleased to hear from Sneyd that you aren't let in there. I'm one of the flats. Three hundred and fifty pound-that's my bit; I'm told they won't pay six shillings in the pound. Isn't that a warning? What right had they to go offering their hundred pound apiece to your organ fund?"

"It was very wrong," said Mr Blackhurst, severely, "and what's more, it brings discredit on the Methodist society."

"True!" agreed Peake, and then, leaning over confidentially, he spoke in a different voice: "If you ask me, I don't mind saying that I think that magnificent subscription o' theirs was a deliberate and fraudulent attempt to inspire pressing creditors with fresh confidence. That's what I think. I call it monstrous."

Mr Blackhurst nodded slowly, as though meditating upon profound truths ably expressed.

"Well," Peake resumed, "I'm not one of that sort. If I can afford to give, I give; but not otherwise. How do I know how I stand? I needn't tell you, Mr Blackhurst, that trade in this district is in a very queer state-a very queer state indeed. Outside yourself, and Lovatt, and one or two more, is there a single manufacturer in Bursley that knows how he stands? Is there one of them that knows whether he's making money or losing it? Look at prices; can they go lower? And secret discounts; can they go higher? And all this affects the colliery-owners. I shouldn't like to tell you the total of my book-debts; I don't even care to think of it. And suppose there's a colliers' strike-as there's bound to be sooner or later-where shall we be then?"

Mr Blackhurst nodded once more, while Peake, intoxicated by his own rhetoric, began actually to imagine that his commercial condition was indeed perilous.

"I've had several very severe losses lately," he went on. "You know I was in that newspaper company; that was a heavy drain; I've done with newspapers for ever more. I was a fool, but calling myself a fool won't bring back what I've lost. It's got to be faced. Then there's that new shaft I sunk last year. What with floodings, and flaws in the seam, that shaft alone is running me into a loss of six pound a week at this very moment, and has been for weeks."

"Dear me!" exclaimed Mr Blackhurst, sympathetically.

"Yes! Six pound a week! And that isn't all"-he had entirely forgotten the immediate object of Mr Blackhurst's visit-"that isn't all. I've got a big lawsuit coming on with the railway company. Goodness knows how that will end! If I lose it ... well!"

"Mr Peake," said the old man, with quiet firmness, "if things are as bad as you say we will have a word of prayer."

He knelt down and forthwith commenced to intercede with God on behalf of this luckless colliery-owner, his business, his family, his soul.

Peake jumped like a shot rabbit, reddening to the neck with stupefaction, excruciating sheepishness and annoyance. Never in the whole course of his life had he been caught in such an ineffable predicament. He strode to and fro in futile speechless rage and shame. The situation was intolerable. He felt that at no matter what cost he must get Titus Blackhurst up from his knees. He approached him, meaning to put a hand on his shoulder, but dared not do so. Inarticulate sounds escaped from his throat, and then at last he burst out:

"Stop that, stop that! I canna stand it. Here, I'll give ye a cheque for a hundred. I'll write it now."

When Mr Blackhurst had departed he rang for a brandy-and-soda, and then, after an interval, returned to the drawing-room.

"Sneyd," he said, trying to laugh, "here's your shilling. I've lost."

"There!" exclaimed Mrs Lovatt. "Didn't I say that Mr Copinger's example would do it? Eh, James! Bless you!"

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