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   Chapter 9 THE TREAT

Anna of the Five Towns By Arnold Bennett Characters: 32356

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


This surly and terrorising ferocity of Tellwright's was as instinctive as the growl and spring of a beast of prey. He never considered his attitude towards the women of his household as an unusual phenomenon which needed justification, or as being in the least abnormal. The women of a household were the natural victims of their master: in his experience it had always been so. In his experience the master had always, by universal consent, possessed certain rights over the self-respect, the happiness and the peace of the defenceless souls set under him-rights as unquestioned as those exercised by Ivan the Terrible. Such rights were rooted in the secret nature of things. It was futile to discuss them, because their necessity and their propriety were equally obvious. Tellwright would not have been angry with any man who impugned them: he would merely have regarded the fellow as a crank and a born fool, on whom logic or indignation would be entirely wasted. He did as his father and uncles had done. He still thought of his father as a grim customer, infinitely more redoubtable than himself. He really believed that parents spoiled their children nowadays: to be knocked down by a single blow was one of the punishments of his own generation. He could recall the fearful timidity of his mother's eyes without a trace of compassion. His treatment of his daughters was no part of a system, nor obedient to any defined principles, nor the expression of a brutal disposition, nor the result of gradually-acquired habit. It came to him like eating, and like parsimony. He belonged to the great and powerful class of house-tyrants, the backbone of the British nation, whose views on income-tax cause ministries to tremble. If you had talked to him of the domestic graces of life, your words would have conveyed to him no meaning. If you had indicted him for simple unprovoked rudeness, he would have grinned, well knowing that, as the King can do no wrong, so a man cannot be rude in his own house. If you had told him that he inflicted purposeless misery not only on others but on himself, he would have grinned again, vaguely aware that he had not tried to be happy, and rather despising happiness as a sort of childish gewgaw. He had, in fact, never been happy at home: he had never known that expansion of the spirit which is called joy; he existed continually under a grievance. The atmosphere of Manor Terrace afflicted him, too, with a melancholy gloom-him, who had created it. Had he been capable of self-analysis, he would have discovered that his heart lightened whenever he left the house, and grew dark whenever he returned; but he was incapable of the feat. His case, like every similar case, was irremediable.

The next morning his preposterous displeasure lay like a curse on the house; Anna was silent, and Agnes moved on timid feet. In the afternoon Willie Price called in answer to the note. The miser was in the garden, and Agnes at school. Willie's craven and fawning humility was inexpressibly touching and shameful to Anna. She longed to say to him, as he stood hesitant and confused in the parlour: 'Go in peace. Forget this despicable rent. It sickens me to see you so.' She foresaw, as the effect of her father's vindictive pursuit of her tenants, an interminable succession of these mortifying interviews.

'You're rather hard on us,' Willie Price began, using the old phrases, but in a tone of forced and propitiatory cheerfulness, as though he feared to bring down a storm of anger which should ruin all. 'You'll not deny that we've been doing our best.'

'The rent is due, you know, Mr. William,' she replied, blushing.

'Oh, yes,' he said quickly. 'I don't deny that. I admit that. I-did you happen to see Mr. Tellwright's postscript to your letter?'

'No,' she answered, without thinking.

He drew the letter, soiled and creased, from his pocket, and displayed it to her. At the foot of the page she read, in Ephraim's thick and clumsy characters: 'P.S. This is final.'

'My father,' said Willie, 'was a little put about. He said he'd never received such a letter before in the whole of his business career. It isn't as if--'

'I needn't tell you,' she interrupted, with a sudden determination to get to the worst without more suspense, 'that of course I am in father's hands.'

'Oh! Of course, Miss Tellwright; we quite understand that-quite. It's just a matter of business. We owe a debt and we must pay it. All we want is time.' He smiled piteously at her, his blue eyes full of appeal. She was obliged to gaze at the floor.

'Yes,' she said, tapping her foot on the rug. 'But father means what he says.' She looked up at him again, trying to soften her words by means of something more subtle than a smile.

'He means what he says,' Willie agreed; 'and I admire him for it.'

The obsequious, truckling lie was odious to her.

'Perhaps I could see him,' he ventured.

'I wish you would,' Anna said, sincerely. 'Father, you're wanted,' she called curtly through the window.

'I've got a proposal to make to him,' Price continued, while they awaited the presence of the miser, 'and I can't hardly think he'll refuse it.'

'Well, young sir,' Tellwright said blandly, with an air almost insinuating, as he entered. Willie Price, the simpleton, was deceived by it, and, taking courage, adopted another line of defence. He thought the miser was a little ashamed of his postscript.

'About your note, Mr. Tellwright; I was just telling Miss Tellwright that my father said he had never received such a letter in the whole of his business career.' The youth assumed a discreet indignation.

'Thy feyther's had dozens o' such letters, lad,' the miser said with cold emphasis, 'or my name's not Tellwright. Dunna tell me as Titus Price's never heard of a bumbailiff afore.'

Willie was crushed at a blow, and obliged to retreat. He smiled painfully. 'Come, Mr. Tellwright. Don't talk like that. All we want is time.'

'Time is money,' said Tellwright, 'and if us give you time us give you money. 'Stead o' that, it's you as mun give us money. That's right reason.'

Willie laughed with difficulty. 'See here, Mr. Tellwright. To cut a long story short, it's like this. You ask for twenty-five pounds. I've got in my pocket a bill of exchange drawn by us on Mr. Sutton and endorsed by him, for thirty pounds, payable in three months. Will you take that? Remember it's for thirty, and you only ask for twenty-five.'

'So Mr. Sutton has dealings with ye, eh?' Tellwright remarked.

'Oh, yes,' Willie answered proudly. 'He buys off us regularly. We've done business for years.'

'And pays i' bills at three months, eh?' The miser grinned.

'Sometimes,' said Willie.

'Let's see it,' said the miser.

'What-the bill?'

'Ay!'

'Oh! The bill's all right.' Willie took it from his pocket, and opening out the blue paper, gave it to old Tellwright. Anna perceived the anxiety on the youth's face. He flushed and his hand trembled. She dared not speak, but she wished to tell him to be at ease. She knew from infallible signs that her father would take the bill. Ephraim gazed at the stamped paper as at something strange and unprecedented in his experience.

'Father would want you not to negotiate that bill,' said Willie. 'The fact is, we promised Mr. Sutton that that particular bill should not leave our hands-unless it was absolutely necessary. So father would like you not to discount it, and he will redeem it before it matures. You quite understand-we don't care to offend an old customer like Mr. Sutton.'

'Then this bit o' paper's worth nowt for welly[1] three months?' the old man said, with an affectation of bewildered simplicity.

Happily inspired for once, Willie made no answer, but put the question: 'Will you take it?'

'Ay! Us'll tak' it,' said Tellwright, 'though it is but a promise.' He was well pleased.

Young Price's face showed his relief. It was now evident that he had been passing through an ordeal. Anna guessed that perhaps everything had depended on the acceptance by Tellwright of that bill. Had he refused it, Prices, she thought, might have come to sudden disaster. She felt glad and disburdened for the moment; but immediately it occurred to her that her father would not rest satisfied for long; a few weeks, and he would give another turn to the screw.

The Tellwrights were destined to have other visitors that afternoon. Agnes, coming from school, was accompanied by a lady. Anna, who was setting the tea-table, saw a double shadow pass the window, and heard voices. She ran into the kitchen, and found Mrs. Sutton seated on a chair, breathing quickly.

'You'll excuse me coming in so unceremoniously, Anna,' she said, after having kissed her heartily. 'But Agnes said that she always came in by the back way, so I came that way too. Now I'm resting a minute. I've had to walk to-day. Our horse has gone lame.'

This kind heart radiated a heavenly goodwill, even in the most ordinary phrases. Anna began to expand at once.

'Now do come into the parlour,' she said, 'and let me make you comfortable.'

'Just a minute, my dear,' Mrs. Sutton begged, fanning herself with her handkerchief, 'Agnes's legs are so long.'

'Oh, Mrs. Sutton,' Agnes protested, laughing, 'how can you? I could scarcely keep up with you!'

'Well, my dear, I never could walk slowly. I'm one of them that go till they drop. It's very silly.' She smiled, and the two girls smiled happily in return.

'Agnes,' said the housewife, 'set another cup and saucer and plate.' Agnes threw down her hat and satchel of books, eager to show hospitality.

'It still keeps very warm,' Anna remarked, as Mrs. Sutton was silent.

'It's beautifully cool here,' said Mrs. Sutton. 'I see you've got your kitchen like a new pin, Anna, if you'll excuse me saying so. Henry was very enthusiastic about this kitchen the other night, at our house.'

'What! Mr. Mynors?' Anna reddened to the eyes.

'Yes, my dear; and he's a very particular young man, you know.'

The kettle conveniently boiled at that moment, and Anna went to the range to make the tea.

'Tea is all ready, Mrs. Sutton,' she said at length. 'I'm sure you could do with a cup.'

'That I could,' said Mrs. Sutton. 'It's what I've come for.'

'We have tea at four. Father will be glad to see you.' The clock struck, and they went into the parlour, Anna carrying the tea-pot and the hot-water jug. Agnes had preceded them. The old man was sitting expectant in his chair.

'Well, Mr. Tellwright,' said the visitor, 'you see I've called to see you, and to beg a cup of tea. I overtook Agnes coming home from school-overtook her, mind-me, at my age!' Ephraim rose slowly and shook hands.

'You're welcome,' he said curtly, but with a kindliness that amazed Anna. She was unaware that in past days he had known Mrs. Sutton as a young and charming girl, a vision that had stirred poetic ideas in hundreds of prosaic breasts, Tellwright's included. There was scarcely a middle-aged male Wesleyan in Bursley and Hanbridge who had not a peculiar regard for Mrs. Sutton, and who did not think that he alone truly appreciated her.

'What an' you bin tiring yourself with this afternoon?' he asked, when they had begun tea, and Mrs. Sutton had refused a second piece of bread-and-butter.

'What have I been doing? I've been seeing to some inside repairs to the superintendent's house. Be thankful you aren't a circuit-steward's wife, Anna.'

'Why, does she have to see to the repairs of the minister's house?' Anna asked, surprised.

'I should just think she does. She has to stand between the minister's wife and the funds of the society. And Mrs. Reginald Banks has been used to the very best of everything. She's just a bit exacting, though I must say she's willing enough to spend her own money too. She wants a new boiler in the scullery now, and I'm sure her boiler is a great deal better than ours. But we must try to please her. She isn't used to us rough folks and our ways. Mr. Banks said to me this afternoon that he tried always to shield her from the worries of this world.' She smiled almost imperceptibly.

There was a ring at the bell, and Agnes, much perturbed by the august arrival, let in Mr. Banks himself.

'Shall I enter, my little dear?' said Mr. Banks. 'Your father, your sister, in?'

'It ne'er rains but it pours,' said Tellwright, who had caught the minister's voice.

'Speak of angels--' said Mrs. Sutton, laughing quietly.

The minister came grandly into the parlour. 'Ah! How do you do, brother Tellwright, and you, Miss Tellwright? Mrs. Sutton, we two seem happily fated to meet this afternoon. Don't let me disturb you, I beg-I cannot stay. My time is very limited. I wish I could call oftener, brother Tellwright; but really the new régime leaves no time for pastoral visits. I was saying to my wife only this morning that I haven't had a free afternoon for a month.' He accepted a cup of tea.

'Us'n have a tea-party this afternoon,' said Tellwright quasi-privately to Mrs. Sutton.

'And now,' the minister resumed, 'I've come to beg. The special fund, you know, Mr. Tellwright, to clear off the debt on the new school-buildings. I referred to it from the pulpit last Sabbath. It's not in my province to go round begging, but someone must do it.'

'Well, for me, I'm beforehand with you, Mr. Banks,' said Mrs. Sutton, 'for it's on that very errand I've called to see Mr. Tellwright this afternoon. His name is on my list.'

'Ah! Then I leave our brother to your superior persuasions.'

'Come, Mr. Tellwright,' said Mrs. Sutton, 'you're between two fires, and you'll get no mercy. What will you give?'

The miser foresaw a probable discomfiture, and sought for some means of escape.

'What are others giving?' he asked.

'My husband is giving fifty pounds, and you could buy him up, lock, stock, and barrel.'

'Nay, nay!' said Tellwright, aghast at this sum. He had underrated the importance of the Building Fund.

'And I,' said the parson solemnly, 'I have but fifty pounds in the world, but I am giving twenty to this fund.'

'Then you're giving too much,' said Tellwright with quick brusqueness. 'You canna' afford it.'

'The Lord will provide,' said the parson.

'Happen He will, happen not. It's as well you've gotten a rich wife, Mr. Banks.'

The parson's dignity was obviously wounded, and Anna wondered timidly what would occur next. Mrs. Sutton interposed. 'Come now, Mr. Tellwright,' she said again, 'to the point: what will you give?'

'I'll think it over and let you hear,' said Ephraim.

'Oh, no! That won't do at all, will it, Mr. Banks? I, at any rate, am not going away without a definite promise. As an old and good Wesleyan, of course you will feel it your duty to be generous with us.'

'You used to be a pillar of the Hanbridge circuit-was it not so?' said Mr. Banks to the miser, recovering himself.

'So they used to say,' Tellwright replied grimly. 'That was because I cleared 'em of debt in ten years. But they've slipped into th' ditch again sin' I left 'em.'

'But if I am right, you do not meet[2] with us,' the minister pursued imperturbably.

'No.'

'My own class is at three on Saturdays,' said the minister. 'I should be glad to see you.'

'I tell you what I'll do,' said the miser to Mrs. Sutton. 'Titus Price is a big man at th' Sunday-school. I'll give as much as he gives to th' school buildings. That's fair.'

'Do you know what Mr. Price is giving?' Mrs. Sutton asked the minister.

'I saw Mr. Price yesterday. He is giving twenty-five pounds.'

'Very well, that's a bargain,' said Mrs. Sutton, who had succeeded beyond her expectations.

Ephraim was the dupe of his own scheming. He had made sure that Price's contribution would be a small one. This ostentatious munificence on the part of the beggared Titus filled him with secret anger. He determined to demand more rent at a very early date.

'I'll put you down for twenty-five pounds as a first subscription,' said the minister, taking out a pocket-book. Perhaps you will give Mrs. Sutton or myself the cheque to-day?'

'Has Mr. Price paid?' the miser asked, warily.

'Not yet.'

'Then come to me when he has.' Ephraim perceived the way of escape.

When the minister was gone, as Mrs. Sutton seemed in no hurry to depart, Anna and Agnes cleared the table.

'I've just been telling your father, Anna,' said Mrs. Sutton, when Anna returned to the room, 'that Mr. Sutton and myself and Beatrice are going to the Isle of Man soon for a fortnight or so, and we should very much like you to come with us.'

Anna's heart began to beat violently, though she knew there was no hope for her. This, then, doubtless, was the main object of Mrs. Sutton's visit! 'Oh! But I couldn't, really!' said Anna, scarcely aware what she did say.

'Why not?' asked Mrs. Sutton.

'Well-the house.'

'The house? Agnes could see to what little housekeeping your father would want. The schools will break up next week.'

'What do these young folks want holidays for?' Tellwright inquired with philosophic gruffness. 'I never had one. And what's more, I wouldn't thank ye for one. I'll pig on at Bursley. When ye've gotten a roof of your own, where's the sense o' going elsewhere and pigging?'

'But we really want Anna to go,' Mrs. Sutton went on. 'Beatrice is very anxious about it. Beatrice is very short of suitable friends.'

'I should na' ha' thought it,' said Tellwright. 'Her seems to know everyone.'

'But she is,' Mrs. Sutton insisted.

'I think as you'd better leave Anna out this year,' said the miser stubbornly.

Anna wished profoundly that Mrs. Sutton would abandon the futile attempt. Then she perceived that the visitor was signalling to her to leave the room. Anna obeyed, going into the kitchen to give an eye to Agnes, who was washing up.

'It's all right,' said Mrs. Sutton contentedly, when Anna returned to the parlour. 'Your father has consented to your going with us. It is very kind of him, for I'm sure he'll miss you.'

Anna sat down, limp, speechless. She could not believe the news.

'You are awfully good,' she said to Mrs. Sutton in the lobby, as the latter was leaving the house. 'I'm ever so grateful-you can't think.' And she threw her arms round Mrs. Sutton's neck.

Agnes ran up to say good-bye.

Mrs. Sutton kissed the child. 'Agnes will be the little housekeeper, eh?' The little housekeeper was almost as pleased at the prospect of housekeeping as if she too had been going to the Isle of Man. 'You'll both be at the school-treat next Tuesday, I suppose,' Mrs. Sutton said, holding Agnes by the hand. Agnes glanced at her sister in inquiry.

'I don't know,' Anna replied. 'We shall see.'

The truth was, that not caring to ask her father for the money for the tickets, she had given no thought to the school-treat.

'Did I tell you that Henry Mynors will most likely come with us to the Isle of Man?' said Mrs. Sutton from the gate.

Anna retired to her bedroom to savour an astounding happiness in quietude. At supper the miser was in a mood not unbenevolent. She expected a reaction the next morning, but Ephraim, strange to say, remained innocuous. She ventured to ask him for the money for the treat tickets, two shillings. He made no immediate reply. Half an hour afterwards, he ejaculated: 'What i' th' name o' fortune dost thee want wi' school-treats?'

'It's Agnes,' she answered; 'of course Agnes can't go alone.'

In the end he threw down a florin. He became perilous for the rest of the day, but the florin was an indisputable fact in Anna's pocket.

The school-treat was held in a twelve-acre field near Sneyd, the seat of a marquis, and a Saturday afternoon resort very popular in the Five Towns. The children were formed at noon on Duck Bank into a procession, which marched to the railway station to the singing of 'Shall we gather at the river?' Thence a special train carried them, in seething compartments, excited and strident, to Sneyd, where there had been two sharp showers in the morning, the procession was reformed along a country road, and the vacillating sky threatened more rain; but because the sun had shone dazzlingly at eleven o'clock all the women and girls, too easily tempted by the glory of the moment, blossomed forth in pale blouses and parasols. The chattering crowd, bright and defenceless as flowers, made at Sneyd a picture at once gay and pathetic. It had rained there at half-past twelve; the roads were wet; and among the two hundred and fifty children and thirty teachers there were less than a score umbrellas. The excursion was theoretically in charge of Titus Price, the Senior Superintendent, but this dignitary had failed to arrive on Duck Bank, and Mynors had taken his place. In the train Anna heard that some one had seen Mr. Price, wearing a large grey wideawake, leap into the guard's van at the very instant of departure. He had not been at school on the previous Sunday, and Anna was somewhat perturbed at the prospect of meeting the man who had defined her letter to him as unique in the whole of his business career. She caught a glimpse of the grey wideawake on the platform at Sneyd, and steered her own scholars so as to avoid its vicinity. But on the march to the field Titus reviewed the procession, and she was obliged to meet his eyes and return his salutation. The look of the man was a shock to her. He seemed thinner, nervous, restless, preoccupied, and terribly careworn; except the new brilliant hat, all his summer clothes were soiled and shabby. It was as though he had forced himself, out of regard for appearances, to attend the fête, but had left his thoughts in Edward Street. His uneasy and hollow cheerfulness was painful to watch. Anna realised the intensity of the crisis through which Mr. Price was passing. She perceived in a single glance, more clearly than she could have done after a hundred interviews with the young and unresponsible William-however distressing these might be-that Titus must for weeks have been engaged in a truly frightful struggle. His face was a proof of the tragic sincerity of William's appeals to herself and to her father. That Price should have contrived to pay seventy pounds of rent in a little more than a month seemed to her, imperfectly acquainted alike with Ephraim's ruthless compulsions and with the financial jugglery often practised by hard-pressed debtors, to be an almost miraculous effort after honesty. Her conscience smote her for conniving at which she now saw to be a persecution. She felt as sorry for Titus as she had felt for his son. The obese man, with his reputation in rags about him, was acutely wistful in her eyes, as a child might have been.

A carriage rolled by, raising the dust in places where the strong sun had already dried the road. It was Mr. Sutton's landau, driven by Barrett. Beatrice, in white, sat solitary amid cushions, while two large hampers occupied most of the coachman's box. The carriage seemed to move with lordly ease and rapidity, and the teachers, already weary and fretted by the endless pranks of the children, bitterly envied the enthroned maid who nodded and smiled to them with such charming condescension. It was a social triumph for Beatrice. She disappeared ahead like a goddess in a cloud, and scarcely a woman who saw her from the humble level of the roadway but would have married a satyr to be able to do as Beatrice did. Later, when the field was reached, and the children bursting through the gate had spread like a flood over the daisied grass, the landau was to be seen drawn up near the refreshment tent; Barrett was unpacking the hampers, which contained delicate creamy confectionery for the teachers' tea; Beatrice explained that these were her mother's gift, and that she had driven down in order to preserve the fragile pasties from the risks of a railway journey. Gratitude became vocal, and Beatrice's success was perfected.

Then the more conscientious teachers set themselves seriously to the task of amusing the smaller children, and the smaller children consented to be amused according to the recipes appointed by long custom for school-treats. Many round-games, which invariably comprised singing or kissing, being thus annually resuscitated by elderly people from the deeps of memory, were preserved for a posterity which otherwise would never have known them. Among these was Bobby-Bingo. For twenty-five years Titus Price had played at Bobby-Bingo with the infant classes at the school-treat, and this year he was bound by the expectations of all to continue the practice. Another diversion which he always took care to organise was the three-legged race for boys. Also, he usually joined in the tut-ball, a quaint game which owes its surprising longevity to the fact that it is equally proper for both sexes. Within half an hour the treat was in full career; football, cricket, rounders, tick, leap-frog, prison-bars, and round-games, transformed the field into a vast arena of complicated struggles and emulations. All were occupied, except a few of the women and older girls, who strolled languidly about in the r?le of spectators. The sun shone generously on scores of vivid and frail toilettes, and parasols made slowly-moving hemispheres of glowing colour against the rich green of the grass. All around were yellow cornfields, and meadows where cows of a burnished brown indolently meditated upon the phenomena of a school-treat. Every hedge and ditch and gate and stile was in that ideal condition of plenary correctness which denotes that a great landowner is exhibiting the beauties of scientific farming for the behoof of his villagers. The sky, of an intense blue, was a sea in which large white clouds sailed gently but capriciously; on the northern horizon a low range of smoke marked the sinister region of the Five Towns.

'Will you come and help with the bags and cups?' Henry Mynors asked Anna. She was standing by herself, watching Agnes at play with some other girls. Mynors had evidently walked across to her from the refreshment tent, which was at the opposite extremity of the field. In her eyes he was once more the exemplar of style. His suit of grey flannel, his white straw hat, became him to admiration. He stood at ease with his hands in his coat-pockets, and smiled contentedly.

'After all,' he said, 'the tea is the principal thing, and, although it wants two hours to tea-time yet, it's as well to be beforehand.'

'I should like something to do,' Anna replied.

'How are you?' he said familiarly, after this abrupt opening, and then shook hands. They traversed the field together, with many deviations to avoid trespassing upon areas of play.

The flapping refreshment tent seemed to be full of piles of baskets and piles of bags and piles of cups, which the contractor had brought in a waggon. Some teachers were already beginning to put the paper bags into the baskets; each bag contained bread-and-butter, currant cake, an Eccles-cake, and a Bath-bun. At the far end of the tent Beatrice Sutton was arranging her dainties on a small trestle-table.

'Come along quick, Anna,' she exclaimed, 'and taste my tarts, and tell me what you think of them. I do hope the good people will enjoy them.' And then, turning to Mynors, 'Hello! Are you seeing after the bags and things? I thought that was always Willie Price's favourite job!'

'So it is,' said Mynors. 'But, unfortunately, he isn't here to-day.'

'How's that, pray? I never knew him miss a school-treat before.'

'Mr. Price told me they couldn't both be away from the works just now. Very busy, I suppose.'

'Well, William would have been more use than his father, anyhow.'

'Hush, hush!' Mynors murmured with a subdued laugh.

Beatrice was in one of her 'downright' moods, as she herself called them.

Mynors's arrangements for the prompt distribution of tea at the appointed hour were very minute, and involved a considerable amount of back bending and manual labour. But, though they were enlivened by frequent intervals of gossip, and by excursions into the field to observe this and that amusing sight, all was finished half an hour before time.

'I will go and warn Mr. Price,' said Mynors. 'He is quite capable of forgetting the clock.' Mynors left the tent, and proceeded to the scene of an athletic meeting, at which Titus Price, in shirt-sleeves, was distributing prizes of sixpences and pennies. The famous three-legged race had just been run. Anna followed at a saunter, and shortly afterwards Beatrice overtook her.

'The great Titus looks better than he did when he came on the field,' Beatrice remarked. And indeed the superintendent had put on quite a merry appearance-flushed, excited, and jocular in his elephantine way-it seemed as if he had not a care in the world. The boys crowded appreciatively round him. But this was his last hour of joy.

'Why! Willie Price is here,' Anna exclaimed, perceiving William in the fringe of the crowd. The lanky fellow stood hesitatingly, his left hand busy with his moustache.

'So he is,' said Beatrice. 'I wonder what that means.'

Titus had not observed the newcomer, but Henry Mynors saw William, and exchanged a few words with him. Then Mr. Mynors advanced into the crowd and spoke to Mr. Price, who glanced quickly round at his son. The girls, at a distance of forty yards, could discern the swift change in the man's demeanour. In a second he had reverted to the deplorable Titus of three hours ago. He elbowed his way roughly to William, getting into his coat as he went. The pair talked, William glanced at his watch, and in another moment they were leaving the field. Henry Mynors had to finish the prize distribution. So much Anna and Beatrice plainly saw. Others, too, had not been blind to this sudden and dramatic departure. It aroused universal comment among the teachers.

'Something must be wrong at Price's works,' Beatrice said, 'and Willie has had to fetch his papa.' This was the conclusion of all the gossips. Beatrice added: 'Dad has mentioned Price's several times lately, now I think of it.'

Anna grew extremely self-conscious and uncomfortable. She felt as though all were saying of her: 'There goes the oppressor of the poor!' She was fairly sure, however, that her father was not responsible for this particular incident. There must, then, be other implacable creditors. She had been thoroughly enjoying the afternoon, but now her pleasure ceased.

The treat ended disastrously. In the middle of the children's meal, while yet the enormous double-handled tea-cans were being carried up and down the thirsty rows, and the boys were causing their bags to explode with appalling detonations, it began to rain sharply. The fickle sun withdrew his splendour from the toilettes, and was seen no more for a week afterwards. 'It's come at last,' ejaculated Mynors, who had watched the sky with anxiety for an hour previously. He mobilised the children and ranked them under a row of elms. The teachers, running to the tent for their own tea, said to one another that the shower could only be a brief one. The wish was father to the thought, for they were a little ashamed to be under cover while their charges precariously sheltered beneath dripping trees-yet there was nothing else to be done; the men took turns in the rain to keep the children in their places. The sky was completely overcast. 'It's set in for a wet evening, and so we may as well make the best of it,' Beatrice said grimly, and she sent the landau home empty. She was right. A forlorn and disgusted snake of a procession crawled through puddles to the station. The platform resounded with sneezes. None but a dressmaker could have discovered a silver lining to the black and all-pervading cloud which had ruined so many dozens of fair costumes. Anna, melancholy and taciturn, exerted herself to minimise the discomfort of her scholars. A word from Mynors would have been balm to her; but Mynors, the general of a routed army, was parleying by telephone with the traffic-manager of the railway for the expediting of the special train.

[1] Welly: nearly.

[2] Meet: meet in class-a gathering for the exchange of religious counsel and experience.

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