Without a doubt, the most interesting aspect of London was Livesey Hawkins himself. The man was an absolute puzzle to me, and I vowed to myself that I would figure him out. When I first came to share rooms with him, I noticed he was reclusive and shunned all company except Mrs. Montgomery and me. He was cynical, sarcastic, and subtly rude, but he was also extremely intelligent. These traits combined together made him entertaining when the mood struck him and harsh at other times. He possessed fine manners, but he used them in a mocking and insincere way. He had little patience for simple-minded people, and he would be courteous to them in word and gesture but with dripping sarcasm in his tone of voice. Thus, many people thought him to be odious, although most were too simple-minded to heed his ridicule. He had no friends; indeed, to be called Livesey Hawkins’ friend was somewhat of an honor that none had when I arrived in London.
Hawkins was an active man, but in a restless sort of way. He went out for long walks several times a day and avoided talking to anyone as a general rule. I learned that he had been out on one of his strolls when I had run into him. He wasn’t very tall, but he set a blazing pace in spite of a slight limp in his left leg due to that leg being a few inches shorter than the other.
Despite his many unpleasant idiosyncrasies, he had a few redeeming qualities. Although he had no regard for his own safety, much to my disapproval, he would not risk the safety of others if he could help it. He also had a great affection for personal hygiene and kept his person very clean and tidy. He liked to be organized, but he hated cleaning even more than he liked organization, so you can imagine the state his belongings were usually in. Mrs. Montgomery and I got into the habit of ganging up on him to keep the sitting room tidy.
For the first few weeks of my stay, my manner of speech greatly annoyed Hawkins. He tolerated me for the most part, but if he was in a bad mood, he wouldn’t even let me speak. He made good his threat to coach me in the proper manner of speech, and although I tried very hard I just couldn’t learn it. I don’t believe this was a result of Hawkins being a poor teacher or me a poor student, but he just wasn’t the right teacher for me. He eventually ceased his efforts and wrote me off as a lost cause. One day though, he discovered that although I could not get into the habit of speaking like he wanted, I had picked up a little of it in my writing. After that, my status was elevated from lost cause to a singular individual. In years since, I have improved greatly in both writing and speech, although a little modern lingo slips out from time to time.
I surmised that Hawkins had had a bad childhood, accounting for much of his behavior. However, he rarely spoke about himself and never about his years growing up, so I was left without answers. I then turned to Mrs. Montgomery in order to satisfy my curiosity. The two weren’t necessarily close, but they had an understanding: she left him to himself, and he returned the favor. There were many harsh words between them; they were both formidable people, and she wasn’t put off by his masterful ways. She tolerated him quite well, despite his inconsideration of her. Although she knew nothing of his childhood, she was able to tell me a bit about his family.
“Mr. Hawkins is a strange one to be sure!” she said to me during one of our conversations. “And even after putting up with him for so long, he still surprises me from time to time—like when he carried you home.”
“He carried me home?” I asked with some surprise. “I’m at least three inches taller than him and heavier. How did he manage?”
“Oh, he’s quite strong he is. He walked right up to the front door with you slung over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes and said, ‘Mrs. Montgomery, please fetch some water, we have a guest,’ as if he hadn’t done anything more than ask for a cup of tea. I was quite shocked I was.”
“Wow! That’s pretty weird.”
“Yes sir, he seems to find you to be interesting.”
I turned back to the table I was scouring with sand—an unpleasant task that made me wish for liquid dish soap—and contemplated my next question. “So, does he have any family?”
“Oh yes, doctor! He has but one family member in this whole world to my knowledge, and that’s his sister Agatha. The parents have both passed away.”
“Agatha? She sounds pretty. Where is she?”
“She lives on the family estate in the country. Townsend Grange ’tis called. I’ve never been there, but the house itself sits on about a thousand acres of the best farmland in Surrey. I hear it is quite a lovely place. ”
“Wait, doesn’t the son inherit land, not the daughter?”
“Well, I don’t understand it completely myself. From what I heard, though, Mr. Hawkins didn’t want the estate. He asked his father to entail it to Agatha instead, and he receives a portion of the income to live on.”
“Hmm. So he has a sister. Is she younger or older?”
“She was born about five years after they found Mr. Hawkins. Her mother died soon after. More than that I don’t know.”
Excerpted from "The Chess Master's Violin" by Jennifer Willows. Copyright © 0 by Jennifer Willows. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.