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   Chapter 5 THE REVIVAL

Anna of the Five Towns By Arnold Bennett Characters: 19270

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Anna spent the two following afternoons in visiting the houses of her school-children. She had no talent for such work, which demands the vocal rather than the meditative temperament, and the apparent futility of her labours would have disgusted and disheartened her had she not been sustained and urged forward by the still active influence of Mynors and the teachers' meeting. There were fifteen names in her class-book, and she went to each house, except four whose tenants were impeccable Wesleyan families and would have considered themselves insulted by a quasi-didactic visit from an upstart like Anna. Of the eleven, some parents were rude to her; others begged, and she had nothing to give; others made perfunctory promises; only two seemed to regard her as anything but a somewhat tiresome impertinence. The fault was doubtless her own. Nevertheless she found joy in the uncongenial and ill-performed task-the cold, fierce joy of the nun in her penance. When it was done she said 'I have done it,' as one who has sworn to do it come what might, yet without quite expecting to succeed.

On the Friday afternoon, during tea, a boy brought up a large foolscap packet addressed to Mr. Tellwright. 'From Mr. Mynors,' the boy said. Tellwright opened it leisurely after the boy had gone, and took out some sheets covered with figures which he carefully examined. 'Anna,' he said, as she was clearing away the tea things, 'I understand thou'rt going to the Revival meeting to-night. I shall have a message as thou mun give to Mr. Mynors.'

When she went upstairs to dress, she saw the Suttons' landau standing outside their house on the opposite side of the road. Mrs. Sutton came down the front steps and got into the carriage, and was followed by a little restless, nervous, alert man who carried in his hand a black case of peculiar form. 'The Revivalist!' Anna exclaimed, remembering that he was to stay with the Suttons during the Revival week. Then this was the renowned crusader, and the case held his renowned cornet! The carriage drove off down Trafalgar Road, and Anna could see that the little man was talking vehemently and incessantly to Mrs. Sutton, who listened with evident interest; at the same time the man's eyes were everywhere, absorbing all details of the street and houses with unquenchable curiosity.

'What is the message for Mr. Mynors, father?' she asked in the parlour, putting on her cotton gloves.

'Oh!' he said, and then paused. 'Shut th' door, lass.'

She shut it, not knowing what this cautiousness foreshadowed. Agnes was in the kitchen.

'It's o' this'n,' Tellwright began. 'Young Mynors wants a partner wi' a couple o' thousand pounds, and he come to me. Ye understand; 'tis what they call a sleeping partner he's after. He'll give a third share in his concern for two thousand pound now. I've looked into it and there's money in it. He's no fool and he's gotten hold of a good thing. He sent me up his stock-taking and balance sheet to-day, and I've been o'er the place mysen. I'm telling thee this, lass, because I have na' two thousand o' my own idle just now, and I thought as thou might happen like th' investment.'

'But father--'

'Listen. I know as there's only four hundred o' thine in th' Bank now, but next week 'll see the beginning o' July and dividends coming in. I've reckoned as ye'll have nigh on fourteen hundred i' dividends and interests, and I can lend ye a couple o' hundred in case o' necessity. It's a rare chance; thou's best tak' it.'

'Of course, if you think it's all right, father, that's enough,' she said without animation.

'Am' na I telling thee I think it's all right?' he remarked sharply. 'You mun tell Mynors as I say it's satisfactory. Tell him that, see? I say it's satisfactory. I shall want for to see him later on. He told me he couldna' come up any night next week, so ask him to make it the week after. There's no hurry. Dunna' forget.'

What surprised Anna most in the affair was that Henry Mynors should have been able to tempt her father into a speculation. Ephraim Tellwright the investor was usually as shy as a well-fed trout, and this capture of him by a youngster only two years established in business might fairly be regarded as a prodigious feat. It was indeed the highest distinction of Mynors' commercial career. Henry was so prominently active in the Wesleyan Society that the members of that society, especially the women, were apt to ignore the other side of his individuality. They knew him supreme as a religious worker; they did not realise the likelihood of his becoming supreme in the staple manufacture. Left an orphan at seventeen, Mynors belonged to a family now otherwise extinct in the Five Towns-one of those families which by virtue of numbers, variety, and personal force seem to permeate a whole district, to be a calculable item of it, an essential part of its identity. The elders of the Mynors blood had once occupied the red house opposite Tellwright's, now used as a school, and had there reared many children: the school building was still known as 'Mynors's' by old-fashioned people. Then the parents died in middle age: one daughter married in the North, another in the South; a third went to China as a missionary and died of fever; the eldest son died; the second had vanished into Canada and was reported a scapegrace; the third was a sea-captain. Henry (the youngest) alone was left, and of all the family Henry was the only one to be connected with the earthenware trade. There was no inherited money, and during ten years he had worked for a large firm in Turnhill, as clerk, as traveller, and last as manager, living always quietly in lodgings. In the fullness of time he gave notice to leave, was offered a partnership, and refused it. Taking a newly erected manufactory in Bursley near the canal, he started in business for himself, and it became known that, at the age of twenty-eight, he had saved fifteen hundred pounds. Equally expert in the labyrinths of manufacture and in the niceties of the markets (he was reckoned a peerless traveller), Mynors inevitably flourished. His order-books were filled and flowing over at remunerative prices, and insufficiency of capital was the sole peril to which he was exposed. By the raising of a finger he could have had a dozen working and moneyed partners, but he had no desire for a working partner. What he wanted was a capitalist who had confidence in him, Mynors. In Ephraim Tellwright he found the man. Whether it was by instinct, good luck, or skilful diplomacy that Mynors secured this invaluable prize no one could positively say, and perhaps even he himself could not have catalogued all the obscure motives that had guided him to the shrewd miser of Manor Terrace.

Anna had meant to reach chapel before the commencement of the meeting, but the interview with her father threw her late. As she entered the porch an officer told her that the body of the chapel was quite full and that she should go into the gallery, where a few seats were left near the choir. She obeyed: pew-holders had no rights at that service. The scene in the auditorium astonished her, effectually putting an end to the worldly preoccupation caused by her father's news. The historic chapel was crowded almost in every part, and the congregation-impressed, excited, eager-sang the opening hymn with unprecedented vigour and sincerity; above the rest could be heard the trained voices of a large choir, and even the choir, usually perfunctory, seemed to share the general fervour. In the vast mahogany pulpit the Reverend Reginald Banks, the superintendent minister, a stout pale-faced man with pendent cheeks and cold grey eyes, stood impassively regarding the assemblage, and by his side was the revivalist, a manikin in comparison with his colleague; on the broad balustrade of the pulpit lay the cornet. The fiery and inquisitive eyes of the revivalist probed into the furthest corners of the chapel; apparently no detail of any single face or of the florid decoration escaped him, and as Anna crept into a small empty pew next to the east wall she felt that she too had been separately observed. Mr. Banks gave out the last verse of the hymn, and simultaneously with the leading chord from the organ the revivalist seized his cornet and joined the melody. Massive yet exultant, the tones rose clear over the mighty volume of vocal sound, an incitement to victorious effort. The effect was instant: an ecstatic tremor seemed to pass through the congregation, like wind through ripe corn, and at the close of the hymn it was not until the revivalist had put down his cornet that the people resumed their seats. Amid the frou-frou of dresses and subdued clearing of throats, Mr. Banks retired softly to the back of the pulpit, and the revivalist, mounting a stool, suddenly dominated the congregation. His glance swept masterfully across the chapel and round the gallery. He raised one hand with the stilling action of a mesmerist, and the people, either kneeling or inclined against the front of the pews, hid their faces from those eyes. It was as though the man had in a moment measured their iniquities, and had courageously resolved to intercede for them with God, but was not very sanguine as to the result. Everyone except the organist, who was searching his tune-book for the next tune, seemed to feel humbled, bitterly ashamed, as it were caught in the act of sin. There was a solemn and terrible pause.

Then the revivalist began:

'Behold us, O dread God, suppliants for Thy mercy-'

His voice was rich and full, but at the same time s

harp and decisive. The burning eyes were shut tight, and Anna, who had a profile view of his face, saw that every muscle of it was drawn tense. The man possessed an extraordinary histrionic gift, and he used it with imagination. He had two audiences, God and the congregation. God was not more distant from him than the congregation, or less real to him, or less a heart to be influenced. Declamatory and full of effects carefully calculated-a work of art, in fact-his appeal showed no error of discretion in its approach to the Eternal. There was no minimising of committed sin, nor yet an insincere and grovelling self-accusation. A tyrant could not have taken offence at its tone, which seemed to pacify God while rendering the human audience still more contrite. The conclusion of the catalogue of wickedness and swift confident turn to Christ's Cross was marvellously impressive. The congregation burst out into sighs, groans, blessings, and Amens; and the pillars of distant rural conventicles who had travelled from the confines of the circuit to its centre in order to partake of this spiritual excitation began to feel that they would not be disappointed.

'Let the Holy Ghost descend upon us now,' the revivalist pleaded with restrained passion; and then, opening his eyes and looking at the clock in front of the gallery, he repeated, 'Now, now, at twenty-one minutes past seven.' Then his eyes, without shifting, seemed to ignore the clock, to gaze through it into some unworldly dimension, and he murmured in a soft dramatic whisper: 'I see the Divine Dove!--'

The doors, closed during prayer, were opened, and more people entered. A youth came into Anna's pew.

The superintendent minister gave out another hymn, and when this was finished the revivalist, who had been resting in a chair, came forward again. 'Friends and fellow-sinners,' he said, 'a lot of you, fools that you are, have come here to-night to hear me play my cornet. Well, you have heard me. I have played the cornet, and I will play it again. I would play it on my head if by so doing I could bring sinners to Christ. I have been called a mountebank. I am one. I glory in it. I am God's mountebank, doing God's precious business in my own way. But God's precious business cannot be carried on, even by a mountebank, without money, and there will be a collection towards the expenses of the Revival. During the collection we will sing "Rock of Ages," and you shall hear my cornet again. If you feel willing to give us your sixpences, give; but if you resent a collection,' here he adopted a tone of ferocious sarcasm, 'keep your miserable sixpences and get sixpenny-worth of miserable enjoyment out of them elsewhere.'

As the meeting proceeded, submitting itself more and more to the imperious hypnotism of the revivalist, Anna gradually became oppressed by a vague sensation which was partly sorrow and partly an inexplicable dull anger-anger at her own penitence. She felt as if everything was wrong and could never by any possibility be righted. After two exhortations, from the minister and the revivalist, and another hymn, the revivalist once more prayed, and as he did so Anna looked stealthily about in a sick, preoccupied way. The youth at her side stared glumly in front of him. In the orchestra Henry Mynors was whispering to the organist. Down in the body of the chapel the atmosphere was electric, perilous, overcharged with spiritual emotion. She was glad she was not down there. The voice of the revivalist ceased, but he kept the attitude of supplication. Sobs were heard in various quarters, and here and there an elder of the chapel could be seen talking quietly to some convicted sinner. The revivalist began softly to sing 'Jesu, lover of my soul,' and most of the congregation, standing up, joined him; but the sinners stricken of the Spirit remained abjectly bent, tortured by conscience, pulled this way by Christ and that by Satan. A few rose and went to the Communion rails, there to kneel in the sight of all. Mr. Banks descended from the pulpit and opening the wicket which led to the Communion table spoke to these over the rails, reassuringly, as a nurse to a child. Other sinners, desirous of fuller and more intimate guidance, passed down the aisles and so into the preacher's vestry at the eastern end of the chapel, and were followed thither by class-leaders and other proved servants of God: among these last were Titus Price and Mr. Sutton.

'The blood of Christ atones,' said the revivalist solemnly at the end of the hymn. 'The spirit of Christ is working among us. Let us engage in private prayer. Let us drive the devil out of this chapel.'

More sighs and groans followed. Then someone cried out in sharp, shrill tones, 'Praise Him;' and another cried, 'Praise Him;' and an old woman's quavering voice sang the words, 'I know that my Redeemer liveth.' Anna was in despair at her own predicament, and the sense of sin was not more strong than the sense of being confused and publicly shamed. A man opened the pew-door, and sitting down by the youth's side began to talk with him. It was Henry Mynors. Anna looked steadily away, at the wall, fearful lest he should address her too. Presently the youth got up with a frenzied gesture and walked out of the gallery, followed by Mynors. In a moment she saw the youth stepping awkwardly along the aisle beneath, towards the inquiry room, his head forward, and the lower lip hanging as though he were sulky.

Anna was now in the profoundest misery. The weight of her sins, of her ingratitude to God, lay on her like a physical and intolerable load, and she lost all feeling of shame, as a sea-sick voyager loses shame after an hour of nausea. She knew then that she could no longer go on living as aforetime. She shuddered at the thought of her tremendous responsibility to Agnes-Agnes who took her for perfection. She recollected all her sins individually-lies, sloth, envy, vanity, even theft in her infancy. She heaped up all the wickedness of a lifetime, hysterically augmented it, and found a horrid pleasure in the exaggeration. Her virtuous acts shrank into nothingness.

A man, and then another, emerged from the vestry door with beaming, happy face. These were saved; they had yielded to Christ's persuasive invitation. Anna tried to imagine herself converted, or in the process of being converted. She could not. She could only sit moveless, dull, and abject. She did not stir, even when the congregation rose for another hymn. In what did conversion consist? Was it to say the words, 'I believe'? She repeated to herself softly, 'I believe; I believe.' But nothing happened. Of course she believed. She had never doubted, or dreamed of doubting, that Jesus died on the Cross to save her soul-her soul-from eternal damnation. She was probably unaware that any person in Christendom had doubted that fact so fundamental to her. What, then, was lacking? What was belief? What was faith?

A venerable class-leader came from the vestry, and, slowly climbing the pulpit stairs, whispered in the ear of the revivalist. The latter faced the congregation with a cry of joy. 'Lord,' he exclaimed, 'we bless Thee that seventeen souls have found Thee! Lord, let the full crop be gathered, for the fields are white unto harvest.' There was an exuberant chorus of praise to God.

The door of the pew was opened gently, and Anna started to see Mrs. Sutton at her side. She at once guessed that Mynors had sent to her this angel of consolation.

'Are you near the light, dear Anna?' Mrs. Sutton began.

Anna searched for an answer. She now sat huddled up in the corner of the pew, her face partially turned towards Mrs. Sutton, who looked mildly into her eyes. 'I don't know,' Anna stammered, feeling like a naughty school-girl. A doubt whether the whole affair was not after all absurd flashed through her, and was gone.

'But it is quite simple,' said Mrs. Sutton. 'I cannot tell you anything that you do not know. Cast out pride. Cast out pride-that is it. Nothing but earthly pride prevents you from realising the saving power of Christ. You are afraid, Anna, afraid to be humble. Be brave. It is so simple, so easy. If one will but submit.'

Anna said nothing, had nothing to say, was conscious of nothing save excessive discomfort.

'Where do you feel your difficulty to be?' asked Mrs. Sutton.

'I don't know,' she answered wearily.

'The happiness that awaits you is unspeakable. I have followed Christ for nearly fifty years, and my happiness increases daily. Sometimes I do not know how to contain it all. It surges above all the trials and disappointments of this world. Oh, Anna, if you will but believe!'

The ageing woman's thin, distinguished face, crowned with abundant grey hair, glistened with love and compassion, and as Anna's eyes rested upon it Anna felt that here was something tangible, something to lay hold on.

'I think I do believe,' she said weakly.

'You "think"? Are you sure? Are you not deceiving yourself? Belief is not with the lips: it is with the heart.'

There was a pause. Mr. Banks could be heard praying.

'I will go home,' Anna whispered at length, 'and think it out for myself.'

'Do, my dear girl, and God will help you.'

Mrs. Sutton bent and kissed Anna affectionately, and then hurried away to offer her ministrations elsewhere. As Anna left the chapel, she encountered the chapel-keeper pacing regularly to and fro across the length of the broad steps. In the porch was a notice that cabinet photographs of the revivalist could be purchased on application, at one shilling each.

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