Shirley HTML version

8. Noah and Moses
The next day Moore had risen before the sun, and had taken a ride to Whinbury
and back ere his sister had made the café au lait or cut the tartines for his
breakfast What business he transacted there he kept to himself. Hortense asked
no questions: it was not her wont to comment on his movements, nor his to
render an account of them. The secrets of business - complicated and often
dismal mysteries - were buried in his breast and never came out of their
sepulchre save now and then to scare Joe Scott, or give a start to some foreign
correspondent. Indeed, a general habit of reserve on whatever was important
seemed bred in his mercantile blood.
Breakfast over, he went to his counting-house. Henry, Joe Scott's boy, brought in
the letters and the daily papers; Moore seated himself at his desk, broke the
seals of the documents, and glanced them over. They were all short, but not it
seemed, sweet - probably rather sour, on the contrary, for as Moore laid down
the last, his nostrils emitted a derisive and defiant snuff, and though he burst into
no soliloquy, there was a glance in his eye which seemed to invoke the devil, and
lay charges on him to sweep the whole concern to Gehenna. However, having
chosen a pen and stripped away the feathered top in a brief spasm of finger-fury
(only finger-fury - his face was placid), he dashed off a batch of answers, sealed
them, and then went out and walked through the mill. On coming back he sat
down to read his newspaper.
The contents seemed not absorbingly interesting; he more than once laid it
across his knee, folded his arms and gazed into the fire; he occasionally turned
his head towards the window; he looked at intervals at his watch; in short, his
mind appeared preoccupied. Perhaps he was thinking of the beauty of the
weather - for it was a fine and mild morning for the season - and wishing to be
out in the fields enjoying it. The door of his counting-house stood wide open. The
breeze and sunshine entered freely; but the first visitant brought no spring
perfume on its wings, only an occasional sulphur-puff from the soot-thick column
of smoke rushing sable from the gaunt mill-chimney.
A dark-blue apparition (that of Joe Scott, fresh from a dyeing vat) appeared
momentarily at the open door, uttered the words 'He's comed, sir,' and vanished.
Mr. Moore raised not his eyes from the paper. A large man, broad-shouldered
and massive-limbed, clad in fustian garments and gray worsted stockings,
entered, who was received with a nod, and desired to take a seat, which he did,
making the remark, as he removed his hat (a very bad one), stowed it away
under his chair, and wiped his forehead with a spotted cotton handkerchief
extracted from the hat-crown, that it was 'raight dahn warm for Febewerry.' Mr.
Moore assented - at least he uttered some slight sound, which, though
inarticulate, might pass for an assent. The visitor now carefully deposited in the
corner beside him an official-looking staff which he bore in his hand; this done,
he whistled, probably by way of appearing at his ease.
'You have what is necessary, I suppose?' said Mr. Moore.
'Ay, ay! all's right.'