**** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE ****

Find this Story

Print, a form you can hold

Wireless download to your Amazon Kindle

Look for a summary or analysis of this Story.

Enjoy this? Share it!

An Unfair Advantage
by [?]


James Peake and his wife, and Enoch Lovatt, his wife’s half-sister’s husband, and Randolph Sneyd, the architect, were just finishing the usual Saturday night game of solo whist in the drawing-room of Peake’s large new residence at Hillport, that unique suburb of Bursley. Ella Peake, twenty-year-old daughter of the house, sat reading in an arm-chair by the fire which blazed in the patent radiating grate. Peake himself was banker, and he paid out silver and coppers at the rate of sixpence a dozen for the brass counters handed to him by his wife and Randolph Sneyd.

“I’ve made summat on you to-night, Lovatt,” said Peake, with his broad easy laugh, as he reckoned up Lovatt’s counters. Enoch Lovatt’s principles and the prominence of his position at the Bursley Wesleyan Chapel, though they did not prevent him from playing cards at his sister-in-law’s house, absolutely forbade that he should play for money, and so it was always understood that the banker of the party should be his financier, supplying him with counters and taking the chances of gain or loss. By this kindly and ingenious arrangement Enoch Lovatt was enabled to live at peace with his conscience while gratifying that instinct for worldliness which the weekly visit to Peake’s always aroused from its seven-day slumber into a brief activity.

“Six shillings on my own; five and fourpence on you,” said Peake. “Lovatt, we’ve had a good night; no mistake.” He laughed again, took out his knife, and cut a fresh cigar.

“You don’t think of your poor wife,” said Mrs Peake, “who’s lost over three shillings,” and she nudged Randolph Sneyd.

“Here, Nan,” Peake answered quickly. “You shall have the lot.” He dropped the eleven and fourpence into the kitty-shell, and pushed it across the table to her.

“Thank you, James,” said Mrs Peake. “Ella, your father’s given me eleven and fourpence.”

“Oh, father!” The long girl by the fire jumped up, suddenly alert. “Do give me half-a-crown. You’ve no conception how hard up I am.”

“You’re a grasping little vixen, that’s what you are. Come and give me a light.” He gazed affectionately at her smiling flushed face and tangled hair.

When she had lighted his cigar, Ella furtively introduced her thin fingers into his waistcoat-pocket, where he usually kept a reserve of money against a possible failure of his trouser-pockets.

“May I?” she questioned, drawing out a coin. It was a four-shilling piece.

“No. Get away.”

“I’ll give you change.”

“Oh! take it,” he yielded, “and begone with ye, and ring for something to drink.”

“You are a duck, pa!” she said, kissing him. The other two men smiled.

“Let’s have a tune now, Ella,” said Peake, after she had rung the bell. The girl dutifully sat down to the piano and sang “The Children’s Home.” It was a song which always touched her father’s heart.

Peake was in one of those moods at once gay and serene which are possible only to successful middle-aged men who have consistently worked hard without permitting the faculty for pleasure to deteriorate through disuse. He was devoted to his colliery, and his commercial acuteness was scarcely surpassed in the Five Towns, but he had always found time to amuse himself; and at fifty-two, with a clear eye and a perfect digestion, his appreciation of good food, good wine, a good cigar, a fine horse, and a pretty woman was unimpaired. On this night his happiness was special; he had returned in the afternoon from a week’s visit to London, and he was glad to get back again. He loved his wife and adored his daughter, in his own way, and he enjoyed the feminized domestic atmosphere of his fine new house with exactly the same zest as, on another evening, he might have enjoyed the blue haze of the billiard-room at the Conservative Club. The interior of the drawing-room realized very well Peake’s ideals. It was large, with two magnificent windows, practicably comfortable, and unpretentious. Peake despised, or rather he ignored, the aesthetic crazes which had run through fashionable Hillport like an infectious fever, ruthlessly decimating its turned and twisted mahogany and its floriferous carpets and wall-papers. That the soft thick pile under his feet would wear for twenty years, and that the Welsbach incandescent mantles on the chandelier saved thirty per cent, in gas-bills while increasing the light by fifty per cent.: it was these and similar facts which were uppermost in his mind as he gazed round that room, in which every object spoke of solid, unassuming luxury and represented the best value to be obtained for money spent. He desired, of a Saturday night, nothing better than such a room, a couple of packs of cards, and the presence of wife and child and his two life-long friends, Sneyd and Lovatt–safe men both. After cards were over–and on Lovatt’s account play ceased at ten o’clock–they would discuss Bursley and Bursley folk with a shrewd sagacity and an intimate and complete knowledge of circumstance not to be found in combination anywhere outside a small industrial town. To listen to Sneyd and Mrs Peake, when each sought to distance the other in tracing a genealogy, was to learn the history of a whole community and the secret springs of the actions which constituted its evolution.