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The Tight Hand
by [?]


The tight hand was Mrs Garlick’s. A miser, she was not the ordinary miser, being exceptional in the fact that her temperament was joyous. She had reached the thirtieth year of her widowhood and the sixtieth of her age, with cheerfulness unimpaired. The people of Bursley, when they met her sometimes of a morning coming down into the town from her singular house up at Toft End, would be conscious of pleasure in her brisk gait, her slightly malicious but broad-minded smile, and her cheerful greeting. She was always in black. She always wore one of those nodding black bonnets which possess neither back nor front, nor any clue of any kind to their ancient mystery. She always wore a mantle which hid her waist and spread forth in curves over her hips; and as her skirts stuck stiffly out, she thus had the appearance of one who had been to sleep since 1870, and who had got up, thoroughly refreshed and bright, into the costume of her original period. She always carried a reticule. It was known that she suffered from dyspepsia, and this gave real value to her reputation for cheerfulness.

Her nearness, closeness, stinginess, close-fistedness–as the quality was variously called–was excused to her, partly because it had been at first caused by a genuine need of severe economy (she having been “left poorly off” by a husband who had lived “in a large way”), partly because it inconvenienced nobody save perhaps her servant Maria, and partly because it was so picturesque and afforded much excellent material for gossip. Mrs Garlick’s latest feat of stinginess was invariably a safe card to play in the conversational game. Each successive feat was regarded as funnier than the one before it.

Maria, who had a terrific respect for appearances, never disclosed her mistress’s peculiarities. It was Mrs Garlick herself who humorously ventilated and discussed them; Mrs Garlick, being a philosopher, got quite as much amusement as anyone out of her most striking quality.

“Is there anything interesting in the Signal to-night?” she had innocently asked one of her sons.

“No,” said Sam Garlick, unthinkingly.

“Well, then,” said she, “suppose I turn out the gas and we talk in the dark?”

Soon afterwards Sam Garlick married; his mother remarked drily that she was not surprised.

It was supposed that this feat of turning out the gas when the Signal happened to fail in interest would remain unparalleled in the annals of Five Towns skin-flintry. But in the summer after her son’s marriage, Mrs Garlick was discovered in the evening habit of pacing slowly up and down Toft Lane. She said that she hated sitting in the dark alone, that Maria would not have her in the kitchen, and that she saw no objection to making harmless use of the Corporation gas by strolling to and fro under the Corporation gas-lamps on fine nights. Compared to this feat the previous feat was as naught. It made Mrs Garlick celebrated even as far as Longshaw. It made the entire community proud of such an inventive miser.

Once Mrs Garlick, before what she called her dinner, asked Maria, “Will there be enough mutton for to-morrow?” And Maria had gloomily and firmly said, “No.” “Will there be enough if I don’t have any to-day?” pursued Mrs Garlick. And Maria had said, “Yes.” “I won’t have any then,” said Mrs Garlick. Maria was offended; there are some things that a servant will not stand. She informed Mrs Garlick that if Mrs Garlick meant “to go on going on like that” she should leave; she wouldn’t stay in such a house. In vain Mrs Garlick protested that the less she ate the better she felt; in vain she referred to her notorious indigestion. “Either you eats your dinner, mum, or out I clears!” Mrs Garlick offered her a rise of L1 a year to stay. She was already, because she would stop and most servants wouldn’t, receiving L18, a high wage. She refused the increment. Pushed by her passion for economy in mutton, Mrs Garlick then offered her a rise of L2 a year. Maria accepted, and Mrs Garlick went without mutton. Persons unacquainted with the psychology of parsimoniousness may hesitate to credit this incident. But more advanced students of humanity will believe it without difficulty. In the Five Towns it is known to be true.