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   Chapter 7 THE SEWING MEETING

Anna of the Five Towns By Arnold Bennett Characters: 37433

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


On an afternoon ten days later, Mr. Sutton's coachman, Barrett by name, arrived at Ephraim Tellwright's back-door with a note. The Tellwrights were having tea. The note could be seen in his enormous hand, and Agnes went out.

'An answer, if you please, Miss,' he said to her, touching his hat, and giving a pull to the leathern belt which, surrounding his waist, alone seemed to hold his frame together. Agnes, much impressed, took the note. She had never before seen that resplendent automaton apart from the equipage which he directed. Always afterwards, Barrett formally saluted her in the streets, affording her thus, every time, a thrilling moment of delicious joy.

'A letter, and there's an answer, and he's waiting,' she cried, running into the parlour.

'Less row!' said her father. 'Here, give it me.'

'It's for Miss Tellwright-that's Anna, isn't it? Oh! Scent!' She put the grey envelope to her nose like a flower.

Anna, secretly as excited as her sister, opened the note and read:-'Lansdowne House, Wednesday. Dear Miss Tellwright,-Mother gives tea to the Sunday-school Sewing Meeting here to-morrow. Will you give us the pleasure of your company? I do not think you have been to any of the S.S.S. meetings yet, but we should all be glad to see you and have your assistance. Everyone is working very hard for the Autumn Bazaar, and mother has set her mind on the Sunday-school stall being the best. Do come, will you? Excuse this short notice. Yours sincerely, BEATRICE SUTTON. P.S.-We begin at 3.30.'

'They want me to go to their sewing meeting to-morrow,' she exclaimed timidly to her father, pushing the note towards him across the table. 'Must I go, father?'

'What dost ask me for? Please thysen. I've nowt do wi' it.'

'I don't want to go--'

'Oh! Sis, do> go,' Agnes pleaded.

'Perhaps I'd better,' she agreed, but with the misgivings of diffidence. 'I haven't a rag to wear. I really must have a new dress, father, at once.'

'Hast forgotten as that there coachman's waiting?' he remarked curtly.

'Shall I run and tell him you'll go?' Agnes suggested. 'It 'll be splendid for you.'

'Don't be silly, dear. I must write.'

'Well, write then,' said the child energetically. 'I'll get you the ink and paper.' She flew about and hovered over Anna while the answer to the invitation was being written. Anna made her reply as short and simple as possible, and then tendered it for her father's inspection. 'Will that do?'

He pretended to be nonchalant, but in fact he was somewhat interested.

'Thou's forgotten to put th' date in,' was all his comment, and he threw the note back.

'I've put Wednesday.'

'That's not the date.'

'Does it matter? Beatrice Sutton only puts Wednesday.'

His response was to walk out of the room.

'Is he vexed?' Agnes asked anxiously. There had been a whole week of almost perfect amenity.

The next day at half-past three Anna, having put on her best clothes, was ready to start. She had seen almost nothing of social life, and the prospect of taking part in this entertainment of the Suttons filled her with trepidation. Should she arrive early, in which case she would have to talk more, or late, in which case there would be the ordeal of entering a crowded room? She could not decide. She went into her father's bedroom, whose window overlooked Trafalgar Road, and saw from behind a curtain that small groups of ladies were continually passing up the street to disappear into Alderman Sutton's house. Most of the women she recognised; others she knew but vaguely by sight. Then the stream ceased, and suddenly she heard the kitchen clock strike four. She ran downstairs-Agnes, swollen by importance, was carrying her father's tea into the parlour-and hastened out the back way. In another moment she was at the Suttons' front-door. A servant in black alpaca, with white wristbands, cap, streams, and embroidered apron (each article a dernier cri from Bostock's great shop at Hanbridge), asked her in a subdued and respectful tone to step within. Externally there had been no sign of the unusual, but once inside the house Anna found it a humming hive of activity. Women laden with stuffs and implements were crossing the picture-hung hall, their footsteps noiseless on the thick rugs which lay about in rich confusion. On either hand was an open door, and from each door came the sound of many eager voices. Beyond these doors a broad staircase rose majestically to unseen heights, closing the vista of the hall. As the servant was demanding Anna's name, Beatrice Sutton, radiant and gorgeous, came with a rush out of the room to the left, the dining-room, and, taking her by both hands, kissed her.

'My dear, we thought you were never coming. Everyone's here, except the men, of course. Come along upstairs and take your things off. I'm so glad you've kept your promise.'

'Did you think I should break it?' said Anna, as they ascended the easy gradient of the stairs.

'Oh, no, my dear. But you're such a shy little bird.'

The conception of herself as a shy little bird amused Anna. By a curious chain of ideas she came to wonder who could clean those stairs the better, she or this gay and flitting butterfly in a pale green tea-gown. Beatrice led the way to a large bedroom, crammed with furniture and knick-knacks. There were three mirrors in this spacious apartment-one in the wardrobe, a cheval-glass, and a third over the mantelpiece; the frame of the last was bordered with photographs.

'This is my room,' said Beatrice. 'Will you put your things on the bed?' The bed was already laden with hats, bonnets, jackets, and wraps.

'I hope your mother won't give me anything fancy to do,' Anna said. 'I'm no good at anything except plain sewing.'

'Oh, that's all right,' Beatrice answered carelessly. 'It's all plain sewing.' She drew a cardboard box from her pocket, and offered it to Anna. 'Here, have one.' They were chocolate creams.

'Thanks,' said Anna, taking one. 'Aren't they very expensive? I've never seen any like these before.'

'Oh! Just ordinary. Four shillings a pound. Papa buys them for me: I simply dote on them. I love to eat them in bed, if I can't sleep.' Beatrice made these statements with her mouth full. 'Don't you adore chocolates?' she added.

'I don't know,' Anna lamely replied. 'Yes, I like them.' She only adored her sister, and perhaps God; and this was the first time she had tasted chocolate.

'I couldn't live without them,' said Beatrice. 'Your hair is lovely. I never saw such a brown. What wash do you use?'

'Wash?' Anna repeated.

'Yes, don't you put anything on it?'

'No, never.'

'Well! Take care you don't lose it, that's all. Now, will you come and have just a peep at my studio-where I paint, you know? I'd like you to see it before we go down.'

They proceeded to a small room on the second floor, with a sloping ceiling and a dormer window.

'I'm obliged to have this room,' Beatrice explained, 'because it's the only one in the house with a north light, and of course you can't do without that. How do you like it?'

Anna said that she liked it very much.

The walls of the room were hung with various odd curtains of Eastern design. Attached somehow to these curtains some coloured plates, bits of pewter, and a few fans were hung high in apparently precarious suspense. Lower down on the walls were pictures and sketches, chiefly unframed, of flowers, fishes, loaves of bread, candlesticks, mugs, oranges and tea-trays. On an immense easel in the middle of the room was an unfinished portrait of a man.

'Who's that?' Anna asked, ignorant of those rules of caution which are observed by the practised frequenter of studios.

'Don't you know?' Beatrice exclaimed, shocked. 'That's papa; I'm doing his portrait; he sits in that chair there. The silly old master at the school won't let me draw from life yet-he keeps me to the antique-so I said to myself I would study the living model at home. I'm dreadfully in earnest about it, you know-I really am. Mother says I work far too long up here.'

Anna was unable to perceive that the picture bore any resemblance to Alderman Sutton, except in the matter of the aldermanic robe, which she could now trace beneath the portrait's neck. The studies on the walls pleased her much better. Their realism amazed her. One could make out not only that here for instance, was a fish-there was no doubt that it was a hallibut; the solid roundness of the oranges and the glitter on the tea-trays seemed miraculously achieved. 'Have you actually done all these?' she asked, in genuine admiration. 'I think they're splendid.'

'Oh, yes, they're all mine; they're only still-life studies,' Beatrice said contemptuously of them, but she was nevertheless flattered.

'I see now that that is Mr. Sutton,' Anna said, pointing to the easel picture.

'Yes, it's pa right enough. But I'm sure I'm boring you. Let's go down now, or perhaps we shall catch it from mother.'

As Anna, in the wake of Beatrice, entered the drawing-room, a dozen or more women glanced at her with keen curiosity, and the even flow of conversation ceased for a moment, to be immediately resumed. In the centre of the room, with her back to the fire-place, Mrs. Sutton was seated at a square table, cutting out. Although the afternoon was warm she had a white woollen wrap over her shoulders; for the rest she was attired in plain black silk, with a large stuff apron containing a pocket for scissors and chalk. She jumped up with the activity of which Beatrice had inherited a part, and greeted Anna, kissing her heartily.

'How are you, my dear? So pleased you have come.' The time-worn phrases came from her thin, nervous lips full of sincere and kindly welcome. Her wrinkled face broke into a warm, life-giving smile. 'Beatrice, find Miss Anna a chair.' There were two chairs in the bay of the window, and one of them was occupied by Miss Dickinson, whom Anna slightly knew. The other, being empty, was assigned to the late-comer.

'Now you want something to do, I suppose,' said Beatrice.

'Please.'

'Mother, let Miss Tellwright have something to get on with at once. She has a lot of time to make up.'

Mrs. Sutton, who had sat down again, smiled across at Anna. 'Let me see, now, what can we give her?'

'There's several of those boys' nightgowns ready tacked,' said Miss Dickinson, who was stitching at a boy's nightgown. 'Here's one half-finished,' and she picked up an inchoate garment from the floor. 'Perhaps Miss Tellwright wouldn't mind finishing it.'

'Yes, I will do my best at it,' said Anna.

The thoughtless girl had arrived at the sewing meeting without needles or thimble or scissors, but one lady or another supplied these deficiencies, and soon she was at work. She stitched her best and her hardest, with head bent, and all her wits concentrated on the task. Most of the others seemed to be doing likewise, though not to the detriment of conversation. Beatrice sank down on a stool near her mother, and, threading a needle with coloured silk, took up a long piece of elaborate embroidery.

The general subjects of talk were the Revival, now over, with a superb record of seventy saved souls, the school-treat shortly to occur, the summer holidays, the fashions, and the change of ministers which would take place in August. The talkers were the wives and daughters of tradesmen and small manufacturers, together with a few girls of a somewhat lower status, employed in shops: it was for the sake of these latter that the sewing meeting was always fixed for the weekly half-holiday. The splendour of Mrs. Sutton's drawing-room was a little dazzling to most of the guests, and Mrs. Sutton herself seemed scarcely of a piece with it. The fact was that the luxury of the abode was mainly due to Alderman Sutton's inability to refuse anything to his daughter, whose tastes lay in the direction of rich draperies, large or quaint chairs, occasional tables, dwarf screens, hand-painted mirrors, and an opulence of bric-à-brac. The hand of Beatrice might be perceived everywhere, even in the position of the piano, whose back, adorned with carelessly-flung silks and photographs, was turned away from the wall. The pictures on the walls had been acquired gradually by Mr. Sutton at auction sales: it was commonly held that he had an excellent taste in pictures, and that his daughter's aptitude for the arts came from him, and not from her mother. The gilt clock and side pieces on the mantelpiece were also peculiarly Mr. Sutton's, having been publicly presented to him by the directors of a local building society of which he had been chairman for many years.

Less intimidated by all this unexampled luxury than she was reassured by the atmosphere of combined and homely effort, the lowliness of several of her companions, and the kind, simple face of Mrs. Sutton, Anna quickly began to feel at ease. She paused in her work, and, glancing around her, happened to catch the eye of Miss Dickinson, who offered a remark about the weather. Miss Dickinson was head-assistant at a draper's in St. Luke's Square, and a pillar of the Sunday-school, which Sunday by Sunday and year by year had watched her develop from a rosy-cheeked girl into a confirmed spinster with sallow and warted face. Miss Dickinson supported her mother, and was a pattern to her sex. She was lovable, but had never been loved. She would have made an admirable wife and mother, but fate had decided that this material was to be wasted. Miss Dickinson found compensation for the rigour of destiny in gossip, as innocent as indiscreet. It was said that she had a tongue.

'I hear,' said Miss Dickinson, lowering her contralto voice to a confidential tone, 'that you are going into partnership with Mr. Mynors, Miss Tellwright.'

The suddenness of the attack took Anna by surprise. Her first defensive impulse was boldly to deny the statement, or at the least to say that it was premature. A fortnight ago, under similar circumstances, she would not have hesitated to do so. But for more than a week Anna had been 'leading a new life,' which chiefly meant a meticulous avoidance of the sins of speech. Never to deviate from the truth, never to utter an unkind or a thoughtless word, under whatever provocation: these were two of her self-imposed rules. 'Yes,' she answered Miss Dickinson, 'I am.'

'Rather a novelty, isn't it?' Miss Dickinson smiled amiably.

'I don't know,' said Anna. 'It's only a business arrangement; father arranged it. Really I have nothing to do with it, and I had no idea that people were talking about it.'

'Oh! Of course I should never breathe a syllable,' Miss Dickinson said with emphasis. 'I make a practice of never talking about other people's affairs. I always find that best, don't you? But I happened to hear it mentioned in the shop.'

'It's very funny how things get abroad, isn't it?' said Anna.

'Yes, indeed,' Miss Dickinson concurred. 'Mr. Mynors hasn't been to our sewing meetings for quite a long time, but I expect he'll turn up to-day.'

Anna took thought. 'Is this a sort of special meeting, then?'

'Oh, not at all. But we all of us said just now, while you were upstairs, that he would be sure to come,' Miss Dickinson's features, skilled in innuendo, conveyed that which was too delicate for utterance. Anna said nothing.

'You see a good deal of him at your house, don't you?' Miss Dickinson continued.

'He comes sometimes to see father on business,' Anna replied sharply, breaking one of her rules.

'Oh! Of course I meant that. You didn't suppose I meant anything else, did you?' Miss Dickinson smiled pleasantly. She was thirty-five years of age. Twenty of those years she had passed in a desolating routine; she had existed in the midst of life and never lived; she knew no finer joy than that which she at that moment experienced.

Again Anna offered no reply. The door opened, and every eye was centred on the stately Mrs. Clayton Vernon, who, with Mrs. Banks, the minister's wife, was in charge of the other half of the sewing party in the dining-room. Mrs. Clayton Vernon had heroic proportions, a nose which everyone admitted to be aristocratic, exquisite tact, and the calm consciousness of social superiority. In Bursley she was a great lady: her instincts were those of a great lady; and she would have been a great lady no matter to what sphere her God had called her. She had abundant white hair, and wore a flowered purple silk, in the antique taste.

'Beatrice, my dear,' she began, 'you have deserted us.'

'Have I, Mrs. Vernon?' the girl answered with involuntary deference. 'I was just coming in.'

'Well, I am sent as a deputation from the other room to ask you to sing something.'

'I'm very busy, Mrs. Vernon. I shall never get this mantel-cloth finished in time.'

'We shall all work better for a little music,' Mrs. Clayton Vernon urged. 'Your voice is a precious gift, and should be used for the benefit of all. We entreat, my dear girl.'

Beatrice arose from the footstool and dropped her embroidery.

'Thank you,' said Mrs. Clayton Vernon. 'If both doors are left open we shall hear nicely.'

'What would you like?' Beatrice asked.

'I once heard you sing "Nazareth," and I shall never forget it. Sing that. It will do us all good.'

Mrs. Clayton Vernon departed with the large movement of an argosy, and Beatrice sat down to the piano and removed her bracelets. 'The accompaniment is simply frightful towards the end,' she said, looking at Anna with a grimace. 'Excuse mistakes.'

During the song, Mrs. Sutton beckoned with her finger to Anna to come and occupy the stool vacated by Beatrice. Glad to leave the vicinity of Miss Dickinson, Anna obeyed, creeping on tiptoe across the intervening space. 'I thought I would like to have you near me, my dear,' she whispered maternally. When Beatrice had sung the song and somehow executed that accompaniment which has terrorised whole multitudes of drawing-room pianists, there was a great deal of applause from both rooms. Mrs. Sutton bent down and whispered in Anna's ear: 'Her voice has been very well trained, has it not?' 'Yes, very,' Anna replied. But, though 'Nazareth' had seemed to her wonderful, she had neither understood it nor enjoyed it. She tried to like it, but the effect of it on her was bizarre rather than pleasing.

Shortly after half-past five the gong sounded for tea, and the ladies, bidden by Mrs. Sutton, unanimously thronged into the hall and towards a room at the back of the house. Beatrice came and took Anna by the arm. As they were crossing the hall there was a ring at the door. 'There's fath

er-and Mr. Banks, too,' Beatrice exclaimed, opening to them. Everyone in the vicinity, animated suddenly by this appearance of the male sex, turned with welcoming smiles. 'A greeting to you all,' the minister ejaculated with formal suavity as he removed his low hat. The Alderman beamed a rather absent-minded goodwill on the entire company, and said: 'Well! I see we're just in time for tea.' Then he kissed his daughter, and she accepted from him his hat and stick. 'Miss Tellwright, pa,' Beatrice said, drawing Anna forward: he shook hands with her heartily, emerging for a moment from the benignant dream in which he seemed usually to exist.

That air of being rapt by some inward vision, common in very old men, probably signified nothing in the case of William Sutton: it was a habitual pose into which he had perhaps unconsciously fallen. But people connected it with his humble arch?ological, geological, and zoological hobbies, which had sprung from his membership of the Five Towns Field Club, and which most of his acquaintances regarded with amiable secret disdain. At a school-treat once, held at a popular rural resort, he had taken some of the teachers to a cave, and pointing out the wave-like formation of its roof had told them that this peculiar phenomenon had actually been caused by waves of the sea. The discovery, valid enough and perfectly substantiated by an inquiry into the levels, was extremely creditable to the amateur geologist, but it seriously impaired his reputation among the Wesleyan community as a shrewd man of the world. Few believed the statement, or even tried to believe it, and nearly all thenceforth looked on him as a man who must be humoured in his harmless hallucinations and inexplicable curiosities. On the other hand, the collection of arrowheads, Roman pottery, fossils and birds' eggs which he had given to the Museum in the Wedgwood Institution was always viewed with municipal pride.

The tea-room opened by a large French window into a conservatory, and a table was laid down the whole length of the room and the conservatory. Mr. Sutton sat at one end and the minister at the other, but neither Mrs. Sutton nor Beatrice occupied a distinctive place. The ancient clumsy custom of having tea-urns on the table itself had been abolished by Beatrice, who had read in a paper that carving was now never done at table, but by a neatly-dressed parlour-maid at the sideboard. Consequently the tea-urns were exiled to the sideboard, and the tea dispensed by a couple of maids. Thus, as Beatrice had explained to her mother, the hostess was left free to devote herself to the social arts. The board was richly spread with fancy breads and cakes, jams of Mrs. Sutton's own celebrated preserving, diverse sandwiches compiled by Beatrice, and one or two large examples of the famous Bursley pork-pie. Numerous as the company was, several chairs remained empty after everyone was seated. Anna found herself again next to Miss Dickinson, and five places from the minister, in the conservatory. Beatrice and her mother were higher up, in the room. Grace was sung, by request of Mrs. Sutton. At first, silence prevailed among the guests, and the inquiries of the maids about milk and sugar were almost painfully audible. Then Mr. Banks, glancing up the long vista of the table and pretending to descry some object in the distance, called out:

'Worthy host, I doubt not you are there, but I can only see you with the eye of faith.'

At this all laughed, and a natural ease was established. The minister and Mrs. Clayton Vernon, who sat on his right, exchanged badinage on the merits and demerits of pork-pies, and their neighbours formed an appreciative audience. Then there was a sharp ring at the front door, and one of the maids went out.

'Didn't I tell you?' Miss Dickinson whispered to Anna.

'What?' asked Anna.

'That he would come to-day-Mr. Mynors, I mean.'

'Who can that be?' Mrs. Sutton's voice was heard from the room.

'I dare say it's Henry, mother,' Beatrice answered.

Mynors entered, joyous and self-possessed, a white rose in his coat: he shook hands with Mr. and Mrs. Sutton, sent a greeting down the table to Mr. Banks and Mrs. Clayton Vernon, and offered a general apology for being late.

'Sit here,' said Beatrice to him, sharply, indicating a chair between Mrs. Banks and herself. 'Mrs. Banks has a word to say to you about the singing of that anthem last Sunday.'

Mynors made some laughing rejoinder, and the voices sank so that Anna could not catch what was said.

'That's a new frock that Miss Sutton is wearing to-day,' Miss Dickinson remarked in an undertone.

'It looks new,' Anna agreed.

'Do you like it?'

'Yes. Don't you?'

'Hum! Yes. It was made at Brunt's at Hanbridge. It's quite the fashion to go there now,' said Miss Dickinson, and added, almost inaudibly, 'She's put it on for Mr. Mynors. You saw how she saved that chair for him.'

Anna made no reply.

'Did you know they were engaged once?' Miss Dickinson resumed.

'No,' said Anna.

'At least people said they were. It was all over the town-oh! let me see, three years ago.'

'I had not heard,' said Anna.

During the rest of the meal she said little. On some natures Miss Dickinson's gossip had the effect of bringing them to silence. Anna had not seen Mynors since the previous Sunday, and now she was apparently unperceived by him. He talked gaily with Beatrice and Mrs. Banks: that group was a centre of animation. Anna envied their ease of manner, their smooth and sparkling flow of conversation. She had the sensation of feeling vulgar, clumsy, tongue-tied; Mynors and Beatrice possessed something which she would never possess. So they had been engaged! But had they? Or was it an idle rumour, manufactured by one who spent her life in such creations? Anna was conscious of misgivings. She had despised Beatrice once, but now it seemed that after all Beatrice was the natural equal of Henry Mynors. Was it more likely that Mynors or she, Anna, should be mistaken in Beatrice? That Beatrice had generous instincts she was sure. Anna lost confidence in herself; she felt humbled, out-of-place, and shamed.

'If our hostess and the company will kindly excuse me,' said the minister with a pompous air, looking at his watch, 'I must go. I have an important appointment, or an appointment which some people think is important.'

He got up and made various adieux. The elaborate meal, complex with fifty dainties each of which had to be savoured, was not nearly over. The parson stopped in his course up the room to speak with Mrs. Sutton. After he had shaken hands with her, he caught the admired violet eyes of his slim wife, a lady of independent fortune whom the wives of circuit stewards found it difficult to please in the matter of furniture, and who despite her forty years still kept something of the pose of a spoiled beauty. As a minister's spouse this languishing but impeccable and invariably correct dame was unique even in the experience of Mrs. Clayton Vernon.

'Shall you not be home early, Rex?' she asked in the tone of a young wife lounging amid the delicate odours of a boudoir.

'My love,' he replied with the stern fixity of a histrionic martyr, 'did you ever know me have a free evening?'

The Alderman accompanied his pastor to the door.

After tea, Mynors was one of the first to leave the room, and Anna one of the last, but he accosted her in the hall, on the way back to the drawing-room, and asked how she was, and how Agnes was, with such deference and sincerity of regard for herself and everything that was hers that she could not fail to be impressed. Her sense of humiliation and of uncertainty was effaced by a single word, a single glance. Uplifted by a delicious reassurance, she passed into the drawing-room, expecting him to follow: strange to say, he did not do so. Work was resumed, but with less ardour than before. It was in fact impossible to be strenuously diligent after one of Mrs. Sutton's teas, and in every heart, save those which beat over the most perfect and vigorous digestive organs, there was a feeling of repentance. The building-society's clock on the mantel-piece intoned seven: all expressed surprise at the lateness of the hour, and Mrs. Clayton Vernon, pleading fatigue after her recent indisposition, quietly departed. As soon as she was gone, Anna said to Mrs. Sutton that she too must go.

'Why, my dear?' Mrs. Sutton asked.

'I shall be needed at home,' Anna replied.

'Ah! In that case-- I will come upstairs with you, my dear,' said Mrs. Sutton.

When they were in the bedroom, Mrs. Sutton suddenly clasped her hand. 'How is it with you, dear Anna?' she said, gazing anxiously into the girl's eyes. Anna knew what she meant, but made no answer. 'Is it well?' the earnest old woman asked.

'I hope so,' said Anna, averting her eyes, 'I am trying.'

Mrs. Sutton kissed her almost passionately. 'Ah! my dear,' she exclaimed with an impulsive gesture, 'I am glad, so glad. I did so want to have a word with you. You must "lean hard," as Miss Havergal says. "Lean hard" on Him. Do not be afraid.' And then, changing her tone: 'You are looking pale, Anna. You want a holiday. We shall be going to the Isle of Man in August or September. Would your father let you come with us?'

'I don't know,' said Anna. She knew, however, that he would not. Nevertheless the suggestion gave her much pleasure.

'We must see about that later,' said Mrs. Sutton, and they went downstairs.

'I must say good-bye to Beatrice. Where is she?' Anna said in the hall. One of the servants directed them to the dining-room. The Alderman and Henry Mynors were looking together at a large photogravure of Sant's 'The Soul's Awakening,' which Mr. Sutton had recently bought, and Beatrice was exhibiting her embroidery to a group of ladies: sundry stitchers were scattered about, including Miss Dickinson.

'It is a great picture-a picture that makes you think,' Henry was saying, seriously, and the Alderman, feeling as the artist might have felt, was obviously flattered by this sagacious praise.

Anna said good-night to Miss Dickinson and then to Beatrice. Mynors, hearing the words, turned round. 'Well, I must go. Good evening,' he said suddenly to the astonished Alderman.

'What? Now?' the latter inquired, scarcely pleased to find that Mynors could tear himself away from the picture with so little difficulty.

'Yes.'

'Good-night, Mr. Mynors,' said Anna.

'If I may I will walk down with you,' Mynors imperturbably answered.

It was one of those dramatic moments which arrive without the slightest warning. The gleam of joyous satisfaction in Miss Dickinson's eyes showed that she alone had foreseen this declaration. For a declaration it was, and a formal declaration. Mynors stood there calm, confident with masculine superiority, and his glance seemed to say to those swiftly alert women, whose faces could not disguise a thrilling excitation: 'Yes. Let all know that I, Henry Mynors, the desired of all, am honourably captive to this shy and perfect creature who is blushing because I have said what I have said.' Even the Alderman forgot his photogravure. Beatrice hurriedly resumed her explanation of the embroidery.

'How did you like the sewing meeting?' Mynors asked Anna when they were on the pavement.

Anna paused. 'I think Mrs. Sutton is simply a splendid woman,' she said enthusiastically.

When, in a moment far too short, they reached Tellwright's house, Mynors, obeying a mutual wish to which neither had given expression, followed Anna up the side entry, and so into the yard, where they lingered for a few seconds. Old Tellwright could be seen at the extremity of the long narrow garden-a garden which consisted chiefly of a grass-plot sown with clothes-props and a narrow bordering of flower beds without flowers. Agnes was invisible. The kitchen-door stood ajar, and as this was the sole means of ingress from the yard Anna, humming an air, pushed it open and entered, Mynors in her wake. They stood on the threshold, happy, hesitating, confused, and looked at the kitchen as at something which they had not seen before. Anna's kitchen was the only satisfactory apartment in the house. Its furniture included a dresser of the simple and dignified kind which is now assiduously collected by amateurs of old oak. It had four long narrow shelves holding plates and saucers; the cups were hung in a row on small brass hooks screwed into the fronts of the shelves. Below the shelves were three drawers in a line, with brass handles, and below the drawers was a large recess which held stone jars, a copper preserving-saucepan, and other receptacles. Seventy years of continuous polishing by a dynasty of priestesses of cleanliness had given to this dresser a rich ripe tone which the cleverest trade-trickster could not have imitated. In it was reflected the conscientious labour of generations. It had a soft and assuaged appearance, as though it had never been new and could never have been new. All its corners and edges had long lost the asperities of manufacture, and its smooth surfaces were marked by slight hollows similar in spirit to those worn by the naked feet of pilgrims into the marble steps of a shrine. The flat portion over the drawers was scarred with hundreds of scratches, and yet even all these seemed to be incredibly ancient, and in some distant past to have partaken of the mellowness of the whole. The dark woodwork formed an admirable background for the crockery on the shelves, and a few of the old plates, hand-painted according to some vanished secret in pigments which time could only improve, had the look of relationship by birth to the dresser. There must still be thousands of exactly similar dressers in the kitchens of the people, but they are gradually being transferred to the dining rooms of curiosity-hunters. To Anna this piece of furniture, which would have made the most taciturn collector vocal with joy, was merely 'the dresser.' She had always lamented that it contained no cupboard. In front of the fireless range was an old steel kitchen fender with heavy fire-irons. It had in the middle of its flat top a circular lodgment for saucepans, but on this polished disc no saucepan was ever placed. The fender was perhaps as old as the dresser, and the profound depths of its polish served to mitigate somewhat the newness of the patent coal-economising range which Tellwright had had put in when he took the house. On the high mantelpiece were four tall brass candlesticks which, like the dresser, were silently awaiting their apotheosis at the hands of some collector. Beside these were two or three common mustard tins, polished to counterfeit silver, containing spices; also an abandoned coffee-mill and two flat-irons. A grandfather's clock of oak to match the dresser stood to the left of the fireplace; it had a very large white dial with a grinning face in the centre. Though it would only run for twenty-four hours, its leisured movement seemed to have the certainty of a natural law, especially to Agnes, for Mr. Tellwright never forgot to wind it before going to bed. Under the window was a plain deal table, with white top and stained legs. Two Windsor chairs completed the catalogue of furniture. The glistening floor was of red and black tiles, and in front of the fender lay a list hearthrug made by attaching innumerable bits of black cloth to a canvas base. On the painted walls were several grocers' almanacs, depicting sailors in the arms of lovers, children crossing brooks, or monks swelling themselves with Gargantuan repasts. Everything in this kitchen was absolutely bright and spotless, as clean as a cat in pattens, except the ceiling, darkened by fumes of gas. Everything was in perfect order, and had the humanised air of use and occupation which nothing but use and occupation can impart to senseless objects. It was a kitchen where, in the housewife's phrase, you might eat off the floor, and to any Bursley matron it would have constituted the highest possible certificate of Anna's character, not only as housewife but as elder sister-for in her absence Agnes had washed the tea-things and put them away.

'This is the nicest room, I know,' said Mynors at length.

'Whatever do you mean?' Anna smiled, incapable of course of seeing the place with his eye.

'I mean there is nothing to beat a clean, straight kitchen,' Mynors replied, 'and there never will be. It wants only the mistress in a white apron to make it complete. Do you know, when I came in here the other night, and you were sitting at the table there, I thought the place was like a picture.'

'How funny!' said Anna, puzzled but well satisfied. 'But won't you come into the parlour?'

The Persian with one ear met them in the lobby, his tail flying, but cautiously sidled upstairs at sight of Mynors. When Anna opened the door of the parlour she saw Agnes seated at the table over her lessons, frowning and preoccupied. Tears were in her eyes.

'Why, what's the matter, Agnes?' she exclaimed.

'Oh! Go away,' said the child crossly. 'Don't bother.'

'But what's the matter? You're crying.'

'No, I'm not. I'm doing my sums, and I can't get it-can't--' The child burst into tears just as Mynors entered. His presence was a complete surprise to her. She hid her face in her pinafore, ashamed to be thus caught.

'Where is it?' said Mynors. 'Where is this sum that won't come right?' He picked up the slate and examined it while Agnes was finding herself again. 'Practice!' he exclaimed. 'Has Agnes got as far as practice?' She gave him an instant's glance and murmured 'Yes.' Before she could shelter her face he had kissed her. Anna was enchanted by his manner, and as for Agnes, she surrendered happily to him at once. He worked the sum, and she copied the figures into her exercise-book. Anna sat and watched.

'Now I must go,' said Mynors.

'But surely you'll stay and see father,' Anna urged.

'No. I really had not meant to call. Good-night, Agnes.' In a moment he was gone out of the room and the house. It was as if, in obedience to a sudden impulse, he had forcibly torn himself away.

'Was he at the sewing meeting?' Agnes asked, adding in parenthesis, 'I never dreamt he was here, and I was frightfully vexed. I felt such a baby.'

'Yes. At least, he came for tea.'

'Why did he call here like that?'

'How can I tell?' Anna said. The child looked at her.

'It's awfully queer, isn't it?' she said slowly. 'Tell me all about the sewing meeting. Did they have cakes or was it a plain tea? And did you go into Beatrice Sutton's bedroom?'

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