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   Chapter 11 THE DOWNFALL

Anna of the Five Towns By Arnold Bennett Characters: 55919

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


In order to catch the Liverpool steamer at Douglas it was necessary to leave Port Erin at half-past six in the morning. The freshness of the morning, and the smiles of the Alderman and his wife as they waved God-speed from the doorstep, filled Anna with a serene content which she certainly had not felt during the wakeful night. She forgot, then, the hours passed with her conscience in realising how serious and solemn a thing was this engagement, made in an instant on the previous evening. All that remained in her mind, as she and Henry walked quickly down the road, was the tonic sensation of high resolves to be a worthy wife. The duties, rather than the joys, of her condition, had lain nearest her heart until that moment of setting out, giving her an anxious and almost worried mien which at breakfast neither Henry nor the Suttons could quite understand. But now the idea of duty ceased for a time to be paramount, and she loosed herself to the pleasures of the day in store. The harbour was full of low wandering mists, through which the brown sails of the fishing-smacks played at hide-and-seek. High above them the round forms of immense clouds were still carrying the colours of sunrise. The gentle salt wind on the cheek was like the touch of a life-giver. It was impossible, on such a morning, not to exult in life, not to laugh childishly from irrational glee, not to dismiss the memory of grief and the apprehension of grief as morbid hallucinations. Mynor's face expressed the double happiness of present and anticipated pleasure. He had once again succeeded, he who had never failed; and the voyage back to England was for him a triumphal progress. Anna responded eagerly to his mood. The day was an ecstasy, a bright expanse unstained. To Anna in particular it was a unique day, marking the apogee of her existence. In the years that followed she could always return to it and say to herself: 'That day I was happy, foolishly, ignorantly, but utterly. And all that I have since learnt cannot alter it-I was happy.'

When they reached Shawport Station a cab was waiting for Anna. Unknown to her, Henry had ordered it by telegraph. This considerateness was of a piece, she thought, with his masterly conduct of the entire journey-on the steamer, at Liverpool, in the train; nothing that an experienced traveller could devise had been lacking to her comfort. She got into the cab alone, while Mynors, followed by a boy and his bag, walked to his rooms in Mount Street. It had been arranged, at Anna's wish, that he should not appear at Manor Terrace till supper-time. Ephraim opened for her the door of her home. It seemed to her that he was pleased.

'Well, father, here I am again, you see.'

'Ay, lass.' They shook hands, and she indicated to the cabman where to deposit her tin-box. She was glad and relieved to be back. Nothing had changed, except herself, and this absolute sameness was at once pleasant and pathetic to her.

'Where's Agnes?' she asked, smiling at her father. In the glow of arrival she had a vague notion that her relations with him had been permanently softened by absence.

'I see thou's gotten into th' habit o' flitting about in cabs,' he said, without answering her question.

'Well, father,' she said, smiling yet, 'there was the box. I couldn't carry the box.'

'I reckon thou couldst ha' hired a lad to carry it for sixpence.'

She did not reply. The cabman had gone to his vehicle.

'Art'na going to pay th' cabby?'

'I've paid him, father.'

'How much?'

She paused. 'Eighteen-pence, father.' It was a lie; she had paid two shillings.

She went eagerly into the kitchen, and then into the parlour, where tea was set for one. Agnes was not there. 'Her's upstairs,' Ephraim said, meeting Anna as she came into the lobby again. She ran softly upstairs, and into the bedroom. Agnes was replacing ornaments on the mantelpiece with mathematical exactitude; under her arm was a duster. The child turned, startled, and gave a little shriek.

'Eh, I didn't know you'd come. How early you are!'

They rushed towards each other, embraced, and kissed. Anna was overcome by the pathos of her sister's loneliness in that grim house for fourteen days, while she, the elder, had been absorbed in selfish gaiety. The pale face, large, melancholy eyes, and long, thin arms, were a silent accusation. She wondered that she could ever have brought herself to leave Agnes even for a day. Sitting down on the bed, she drew the child on her knee in a fury of love, and kissed her again, weeping. Agnes cried too, for sympathy.

'Oh, my dear, dear Anna, I'm so glad you've come back!' She dried her eyes, and in quite a different tone of voice asked: 'Has Mr. Mynors proposed to you?'

Anna could not avoid a blush at this simple and astounding query. She said: 'Yes.' It was the one word of which she was capable, under the circumstances. That was not the moment to tax Agnes with too much precocity and abruptness.

'You're engaged, then? Oh, Anna, does it feel nice? It must. I knew you would be!'

'How did you know, Agnes?'

'I mean I knew he would ask you, some time. All the girls at school knew too.'

'I hope you didn't talk about it,' said the elder sister.

'Oh, no! But they did; they were always talking about it.'

'You never told me that.'

'I-I didn't like to. Anna, shall I have to call him Henry now?'

'Yes, of course. When we're married he will be your brother-in-law.'

'Shall you be married soon, Anna?'

'Not for a very long time.'

'When you are-shall I keep house alone? I can, you know-- I shall never dare to call him Henry. But he's awfully nice; isn't he, Anna? Yes, when you are married, I shall keep house here, but I shall come to see you every day. Father will have to let me do that. Does father know you're engaged?'

'Not yet. And you mustn't say anything. Henry is coming for supper. And then father will be told.'

'Did he kiss you, Anna?'

'Who-father?'

'No, silly! Henry, of course-I mean when he'd asked you?'

'I think you are asking all the questions. Suppose I ask you some now. How have you managed with father? Has he been nice?'

'Some days-yes,' said Agnes, after thinking a moment. 'We have had some new cups and saucers up from Mr. Mynors works. And father has swept the kitchen chimney. And, oh Anna! I asked him to-day if I'd kept house well, and he said "Pretty well," and he gave me a penny. Look! It's the first money I've ever had, you know. I wanted you at nights, Anna-and all the time, too. I've been frightfully busy. I cleaned silvers all afternoon. Anna, I have tried-- And I've got some tea for you. I'll go down and make it. Now you mustn't come into the kitchen. I'll bring it to you in the parlour.'

'I had my tea at Crewe,' Anna was about to say, but refrained, in due course drinking the cup prepared by Agnes. She felt passionately sorry for Agnes, too young to feel the shadow which overhung her future. Anna would marry into freedom, but Agnes would remain the serf. Would Agnes marry? Could she? Would her father allow it? Anna had noticed that in families the youngest, petted in childhood, was often sacrificed in maturity. It was the last maid who must keep her maidenhood, and, vicariously filial, pay out of her own life the debt of all the rest.

'Mr. Mynors is coming up for supper to-night. He wants to see you;' Anna said to her father, as calmly as she could. The miser grunted. But at eight o'clock, the hour immutably fixed for supper, Henry had not arrived. The meal proceeded, of course, without him. To Anna his absence was unaccountable and disturbing, for none could be more punctilious than he in the matter of appointments. She expected him every moment, but he did not appear. Agnes, filled full of the great secret confided to her, was more openly impatient than her sister. Neither of them could talk, and a heavy silence fell upon the family group, a silence which her father, on that particular evening of Anna's return, resented.

'You dunna' tell us much,' he remarked, when the supper was finished.

She felt that the complaint was a just one. Even before supper, when nothing had occurred to preoccupy her, she had spoken little. There had seemed so much to tell-at Port Erin, and now there seemed nothing to tell. She ventured into a flaccid, perfunctory account of Beatrice's illness, of the fishing, of the unfinished houses which had caught the fancy of Mr. Sutton; she said the sea had been smooth, that they had had something to eat at Liverpool, that the train for Crewe was very prompt; and then she could think of no more. Silence fell again. The supper-things were cleared away and washed up. At a quarter-past nine, Agnes, vainly begging permission to stay up in order to see Mr. Mynors, was sent to bed, only partially comforted by a clothes-brush, long desired, which Anna had brought for her as a present from the Isle of Man.

'Shall you tell father yourself, now Henry hasn't come?' the child asked Anna, who had gone upstairs to unpack her box.

'Yes,' said Anna, briefly.

'I wonder what he'll say,' Agnes reflected, with that habit, always annoying to Anna, of meeting trouble half-way.

At a quarter to ten Anna ceased to expect Mynors, and finally braced herself to the ordeal of a solemn interview with her father, well knowing that she dared not leave him any longer in ignorance of her engagement. Already the old man was locking and bolting the door; he had wound up the kitchen clock. When he came back to the parlour to extinguish the gas she was standing by the mantelpiece.

'Father,' she began, 'I've something I must tell you.'

'Eh, what's that ye say?' his hand was on the gas-tap. He dropped it, examining her face curiously.

'Mr. Mynors has asked me to marry him; he asked me last night. We settled he should come up to-night to see you-I can't think why he hasn't. It must be something very unexpected and important, or he'd have come.' She trembled, her heart beat violently; but the words were out, and she thanked God.

'Asked ye to marry him, did he?' The miser gazed at her quizzically out of his small blue eyes.

'Yes, father.'

'And what didst say?'

'I said I would.'

'Oh! Thou saidst thou wouldst! I reckon it was for thatten as thou must go gadding off to seaside, eh?'

'Father, I never dreamt of such a thing when Suttons asked me to go. I do wish Henry'-the cost of that Christian name!-'had come. He quite meant to come to-night.' She could not help insisting on the propriety of Henry's intentions.

'Then I am for be consulted, eh?'

'Of course, father.'

'Ye've soon made it up, between ye.'

His tone was, at the best, brusque; but she breathed more easily, divining instantly from his manner that he meant to offer no violent objection to the engagement. She knew that only tact was needed now. The miser had, indeed, foreseen the possibility of this marriage for months past, and had long since decided in his own mind that Henry would make a satisfactory son-in-law. Ephraim had no social ambitions-with all his meanness, he was above them; he had nothing but contempt for rank, style, luxury, and 'the theory of what it is to be a lady and a gentleman.' Yet, by a curious contradiction, Henry's smartness of appearance-the smartness of an unrivalled commercial traveller-pleased him. He saw in Henry a young and sedate man of remarkable shrewdness, a man who had saved money, had made money for others, and was now making it for himself; a man who could be trusted absolutely to perform that feat of 'getting on'; a 'safe' and profoundly respectable man, at the same time audacious and imperturbable. He was well aware that Henry had really fallen in love with Anna, but nothing would have convinced him that Anna's money was not the primal cause of Henry's genuine passion for Anna's self.

'You like Henry, don't you, father?' Anna said. It was a failure in the desired tact, for Ephraim had never been known to admit that he liked anyone or anything. Such natures are capable of nothing more positive than toleration.

'He's a hard-headed chap, and he knows the value o' money. Ay! that he does; he knows which side his bread's buttered on.' A sinister emphasis marked the last sentence.

Instead of remaining silent, Anna, in her nervousness, committed another imprudence. 'What do you mean, father?' she asked, pretending that she thought it impossible he could mean what he obviously did mean.

'Thou knows what I'm at, lass. Dost think he isna' marrying thee for thy brass? Dost think as he canna' make a fine guess what thou'rt worth? But that wunna' bother thee as long as thou'st hooked a good-looking chap.'

'Father!'

'Ay! thou mayst bridle; but it's true. Dunna' tell me.'

Securely conscious of the perfect purity of Mynors' affection, she was not in the least hurt. She even thought that her father's attitude was not quite sincere, an attitude partially due to mere wilful churlishness. 'Henry has never even mentioned money to me,' she said mildly.

'Happen not; he isna' such a fool as that.' He paused, and continued: 'Thou'rt free to wed, for me. Lasses will do it, I reckon, and thee among th' rest.' She smiled, and on that smile he suddenly turned out the gas. Anna was glad that the colloquy had ended so well. Congratulations, endearments, loving regard for her welfare: she had not expected these things, and was in no wise grieved by their absence. Groping her way towards the lobby, she considered herself lucky, and only wished that nothing had happened to keep Mynors away. She wanted to tell him at once that her father had proved tractable.

The next morning, Tellwright, whose attendance at chapel was losing the strictness of its old regularity, announced that he should stay at home. Sunday's dinner was to be a cold repast, and so Anna and Agnes went to chapel. Anna's thoughts were wholly occupied with the prospect of seeing Mynors, and hearing the explanation of his absence on Saturday night.

'There he is!' Agnes exclaimed loudly, as they were approaching the chapel.

'Agnes,' said Anna, 'when will you learn to behave in the street?'

Mynors stood at the chapel-gates; he was evidently awaiting them. He looked grave, almost sad. He raised his hat and shook hands, with a particular friendliness for Agnes, who was speculating whether he would kiss Anna, as his betrothed, or herself, as being only a little girl, or both or neither of them. Her eyes already expressed a sort of ownership in him.

'I should like to speak to you a moment,' Henry said. 'Will you come into the school-yard?'

'Agnes, you had better go straight into chapel,' said Anna. It was an ignominious disaster to the child, but she obeyed.

'I didn't give you up last night till nearly ten o'clock,' Anna remarked as they passed into the school-yard. She was astonished to discover in herself an inclination to pout, to play the offended fair one, because Mynors had failed in his appointment. Contemptuously she crushed it.

'Have you heard about Mr. Price?' Mynors began.

'No. What about him? Has anything happened?'

'A very sad thing has happened. Yes--' He stopped, from emotion. 'Our superintendent has committed suicide!'

'Killed himself?' Anna gasped.

'He hanged himself yesterday afternoon at Edward Street, in the slip-house after the works were closed. Willie had gone home, but he came back, when his father didn't turn up for dinner, and found him. Mr. Price was quite dead. He ran in to my place to fetch me just as I was getting my tea. That was why I never came last night.'

Anna was speechless.

'I thought I would tell you myself,' Henry resumed. 'It's an awful thing for the Sunday-school, and the whole society, too. He, a prominent Wesleyan, a worker among us! An awful thing!' he repeated, dominated by the idea of the blow thus dealt to the Methodist connexion by the man now dead.

'Why did he do it?' Anna demanded, curtly.

Mynors shrugged his shoulders, and ejaculated: 'Business troubles, I suppose; it couldn't be anything else. At school this morning I simply announced that he was dead.' Henry's voice broke, but he added, after a pause: 'Young Price bore himself splendidly last night.'

Anna turned away in silence. 'I shall come up for tea, if I may,' Henry said, and then they parted, he to the singing-seat, she to the portico of the chapel. People were talking in groups on the broad steps and in the vestibule. All knew of the calamity, and had received from it a new interest in life. The town was aroused as if from a lethargy. Consternation and eager curiosity were on every face. Those who arrived in ignorance of the event were informed of it in impressive tones, and with intense satisfaction to the informer; nothing of equal importance had happened in the society for decades. Anna walked up the aisle to her pew, filled with one thought:

'We drove him to it, father and I.'

Her fear was that the miser had renewed his terrible insistence during the previous fortnight. She forgot that she had disliked the dead man, that he had always seemed to her mean, pietistic, and two-faced. She forgot that in pressing him for rent many months overdue she and her father had acted within their just rights-acted as Price himself would have acted in their place. She could think only of the strain, the agony, the despair that must have preceded the miserable tragedy. Old Price had atoned for all in one sublime sin, the sole deed that could lend dignity and repose to such a figure as his. Anna's feverish imagination reconstituted the scene in the slip-house: she saw it as something grand, accusing, and unanswerable; and she could not dismiss a feeling of acute remorse that she should have been engaged in pleasure at that very hour of death. Surely some instinct should have warned her that the hare which she had helped to hunt was at its last gasp!

Mr. Sargent, the newly-appointed second minister, was in the pulpit-a little, earnest bachelor, who emphasised every sentence with a continual tremor of the voice. 'Brethren,' he said, after the second hymn-and his tones vibrated with a singular effect through the half-empty building: 'Before I proceed to my sermon I have one word to say in reference to the awful event which is doubtless uppermost in the minds of all of you. It is not for us to judge the man who is now gone from us, ushered into the dread presence of his Maker with the crime of self-murder upon his soul. I say it is not for us to judge him. The ways of the Almighty are past finding out. Therefore at such a moment we may fitly humble ourselves before the Throne, and while prostrate there let us intercede for the poor young man who is left behind, bereft, and full of grief and shame. We will engage in silent prayer.' He lifted his hand, and closed his eyes, and the congregation leaned forward against the fronts of the pews. The appealing face of Willie presented itself vividly to Anna.

'Who is it?' Agnes asked, in a whisper of appalling distinctness. Anna frowned angrily, and gave no reply.

While the last hymn was being sung, Anna signed to Agnes that she wished to leave the chapel. Everyone would be aware that she was among Price's creditors, and she feared that if she stayed till the end of the service some chatterer might draw her into a distressing conversation. The sisters went out, and Agnes's burning curiosity was at length relieved.

'Mr. Price has hanged himself,' Anna said to her father when they reached home.

The miser looked through the window for a moment. 'I am na' surprised,' he said. 'Suicide's i' that blood. Titus's uncle 'Lijah tried to kill himself twice afore he died o' gravel. Us'n have to do summat wi' Edward Street at last.'

She wanted to ask Ephraim if he had been demanding more rent lately, but she could not find courage to do so.

Agnes had to go to Sunday-school alone that afternoon. Without saying anything to her father, Anna decided to stay at home. She spent the time in her bedroom, idle, preoccupied; and did not come downstairs till half-past three. Ephraim had gone out. Agnes presently returned, and then Henry came in with Mr. Tellwright. They were conversing amicably, and Anna knew that her engagement was finally and satisfactorily settled. During tea no reference was made to it, nor to the suicide. Mynors' demeanour was quiet but cheerful. He had partly recovered from the morning's agitation, and gave Ephraim and Agnes a vivacious account of the attractions of Port Erin. Anna noticed the amusement in his eyes when Agnes, reddening, said to him: 'Will you have some more bread-and-butter, Henry?' It seemed to be tacitly understood afterwards that Agnes and her father would attend chapel, while Henry and Anna kept house. No one was ingenious enough to detect an impropriety in the arrangement. For some obscure reason, immediately upon the departure of the chapel-goers, Anna went into the kitchen, rattled some plates, stroked her hair mechanically, and then stole back again to the parlour. It was a chilly evening, and instead of walking up and down the strip of garden the betrothed lovers sat together under the window. Anna wondered whether or not she was happy. The presence of Mynors was, at any rate, marvellously soothing.

'Did your father say anything about the Price affair?' he began, yielding at once to the powerful hypnotism of the subject which fascinated the whole town that night, and which Anna could bear neither to discuss nor to ignore.

'Not much,' she said, and repeated to him her father's remark.

Mynors told her all he knew; how Willie had discovered his father with his toes actually touching the floor, leaning slightly forward, quite dead; how he had then cut the rope and fetched Mynors, who went with him to the police-station; how they had tied up the head of the corpse, and then waited till night to wheel the body on a hand-cart from Edward Street to the mortuary chamber at the police-station; how the police had telephoned to the coroner, and settled at once that the inquest should be held on Tuesday in the court-room at the town-hall; and how quiet, self-contained, and dignified Willie had been, surprising everyone by this new-found manliness. It all seemed hideously real to Anna, as Henry added detail to detail.

'I think I ought to tell you,' she said very calmly, when he had finished the recital, 'that I-I'm dreadfully upset over it. I can't help thinking that I-that father and I, I mean-are somehow partly responsible for this.'

'For Price's death? How?'

'We have been so hard on him for his rent lately, you know.'

'My dearest girl! What next?' He took her hand in his. 'I assure you the idea is absurd. You've only got it because you're so sensitive and high-strung. I undertake to say Price was stuck fast everywhere-everywhere-hadn't a chance.'

'Me high-strung!' she exclaimed. He kissed her lovingly. But, beneath the feeling of reassurance, which by superior force he had imposed on her, there lay a feeling that she was treated like a frightened child who must be tranquillized in the night. Nevertheless, she was grateful for his kindness, and when she went to bed she obtained relief from the returning obsession of the suicide by making anew her vows to him.

As a theatrical effect the death of Titus Price could scarcely have been surpassed. The town was profoundly moved by the spectacle of this abject yet heroic surrender of all those pretences by which society contrives to tolerate itself. Here was a man whom no one respected, but everyone pretended to respect-who knew that he was respected by none, but pretended that he was respected by all; whose whole career was made up of dissimulations: religious, moral, and social. If any man could have been trusted to continue the decent sham to the end, and so preserve the general self-esteem, surely it was this man. But no! Suddenly abandoning all imposture, he transgresses openly, brazenly; and, snatching a bit of hemp cries: 'Behold me; this is real human nature. This is the truth; the rest was lies. I lied; you lied. I confess it, and you shall confess it.' Such a thunderclap shakes the very base of the microcosm. The young folk in particular could with difficulty believe their ears. It seemed incredible to them that Titus Price, the Methodist, the Sunday-school superintendent, the loud champion of the highest virtues, should commit the sin of all sins-murder. They were dazed. The remembrance of his insincerity did nothing to mitigate the blow. In their view it was perhaps even worse that he had played false to his own falsity. The elders were a little less disturbed. The event was not unique in their experience. They had lived longer and felt these seismic shocks before. They could go back into the past and find other cases where a swift impulse had shattered the edifice of a lifetime. They knew that the history of families and of communities is crowded with disillusion. They had discovered that character is changeless, irrepressible, incurable. They were aware of the astonishing fact, which takes at least thirty years to learn, that a Sunday-school superintendent is a man. And the suicide of Titus Price, when they had realised it, served but to confirm their most secret and honest estimate of humanity, that estimate which they never confided to a soul. The young folk thought the Methodist Society shamed and branded by the tragic incident, and imagined that years must elapse before it could again hold up its head in the town. The old folk were wiser, foreseeing with certainty that in only a few days this all-engrossing phenomenon would lose its significance, and be as though it had never been. Even in two days, time had already begun its work, for by Tuesday morning the interest of the affair-on Sunday at the highest pitch-had waned so much that the thought of the inquest was capable of reviving it. Although everyone knew that the case presented no unusual features, and that the coroner's inquiry would be nothing more than a formal ceremony, the almost greedy curiosity of Methodist circles lifted it to the level of a cause célèbre. The court was filled with irreproachable respectability when the coroner drove into the town, and each animated face said to its fellow: 'So you're here, are you?' Late comers of the official world-councillors, guardians of the poor, members of the school board, and one or two of their ladies, were forced to intrigue for room with the police and the town-hall keeper, and, having succeeded, sank into their narrow seats with a sigh of expectancy and triumph. Late comers with less influence had to retire, and by a kind of sinister fascination were kept wandering about the corridor before they could decide to go home. The market-place was occupied by hundreds of loafers, who seemed to find a mystic satisfaction in beholding the coroner's dogcart and the exterior of the building which now held the corpse.

It was by accident that Anna was in the town. She knew that the inquest was to occur that morning, but had not dreamed of attending it. When, however, she saw the stir of excitement in the market-place, and the police guarding the entrances of the town-hall, she walked directly across the road, past the two officers at the east door, and into the dark main corridor of the building, which was dotted with small groups idly conversing. She was conscious of two things: a vehement curiosity, and the existence somewhere in the precincts of a dead body, unsightly, monstrous, calm, silent, careless-the insensible origin of all this simmering ferment which disgusted her even while she shared in it. At a small door, half hidden by a curtain, she was startled to see Mynors.

'You here!' he exclaimed, as if painfully surprised, and shook hands with a preoccupied air. 'They are ex

amining Willie. I came outside while he was in the witness-box.'

'Is the inquest going on in there?' she asked, pointing to the door. Each appeared to be concealing a certain resentment against the other; but this appearance was due only to nervous agitation.

A policeman down the corridor called: 'Mr. Mynors, a moment.' Henry hurried away, answering Anna's question as he went: 'Yes, in there. That's the witnesses' and jurors' door; but please don't go in. I don't like you to, and it is sure to upset you.'

She opened the door and went in. None said nay, and she found a few inches of standing-room behind the jury-box. A terrible stench nauseated her; the chamber was crammed, and not a window open. There was silence in the court-no one seemed to be doing anything; but at last she perceived that the coroner, enthroned on the bench justice was writing in a book with blue leaves. In the witness-box stood William Price, dressed in black, with kid gloves, not lounging in an ungainly attitude, as might have been expected, but perfectly erect; he kept his eyes fixed on the coroner's head. Sarah Vodrey, Price's aged housekeeper, sat on a chair near the witness-box, weeping into a black-bordered handkerchief; at intervals she raised her small, wrinkled, red face, with its glistening, inflamed eyes, and then buried it again in the handkerchief. The members of the jury, whom Anna could see only in profile, shuffled to and fro on their long, pew-like seats-they were mostly working men, shabbily clothed; but the foreman was Mr. Leal, the provision dealer, a freemason, and a sidesman at the parish church. The general public sat intent and vacuous; their minds gaped, if not their mouths; occasionally one whispered inaudibly to another; the jury, conscious of an official status, exchanged remarks in a whisper courageously loud. Several tall policemen, helmet in hand, stood in various corners of the room, and the coroner's officer sat near the witness-box to administer the oath. At length the coroner lifted his head. He was rather a young man, with a large, intelligent face; he wore eyeglasses, and his chin was covered with a short, wavy beard. His manner showed that, while secretly proud of his supreme position in that assemblage, he was deliberately trying to make it appear that this exercise of judicial authority was nothing to him, that in truth these eternal inquiries, which interested others so deeply, were to him a weariness conscientiously endured.

'Now, Mr. Price,' the coroner said blandly, and it was plain that he was being ceremoniously polite to an inferior, in obedience to the rules of good form, 'I must ask you some more questions. They may be inconvenient, even painful; but I am here simply as the instrument of the law, and I must do my duty. And these gentlemen here,' he waved a hand in the direction of the jury, 'must be told the whole facts of the case. We know, of course, that the deceased committed suicide-that has been proved beyond doubt; but, as I say, we have the right to know more.' He paused, well satisfied with the sound of his voice, and evidently thinking that he had said something very weighty and impressive.

'What do you want to know?' Willie Price demanded, his broad Five Towns speech contrasting with the Kensingtonian accents of the coroner. The latter, who came originally from Manchester, was irritated by the brusque interruption; but he controlled his annoyance, at the same time glancing at the public as if to signify to them that he had learnt not to take too seriously the unintentional rudeness characteristic of their district.

'You say it was probably business troubles that caused your late father to commit the rash act?'

'Yes.'

'You are sure there was nothing else?'

'What else could there be?'

'Your late father was a widower?'

'Yes.'

'Now as to these business troubles-what were they?'

'We were being pressed by creditors.'

'Were you a partner with your late father?'

'Yes.'

'Oh! You were a partner with him!'

The jury seemed surprised, and the coroner wrote again: 'What was your share in the business?'

'I don't know.'

'You don't know? Surely that is rather singular?'

'My father took me in Co. not long since. We signed a deed, but I forget what was in it. My place was principally on the bank, not in the office.'

'And so you were being pressed by creditors?'

'Yes. And we were behind with the rent.'

'Was the landlord pressing you, too?'

Anna lowered her eyes, fearful lest every head had turned towards her.

'Not then; he had been-she, I mean.'

'The landlord is a lady?' Here the coroner faintly smiled. 'Then, as regards the landlord, the pressure was less than it had been?'

'Yes; we had paid some rent, and settled some other claims.'

'Does it not seem strange--?' the coroner began, with a suave air of suggesting an idea.

'If you must know,' Willie surprisingly burst out, 'I believe it was the failure of a firm in London that owed us money that caused father to hang himself.'

'Ah!' exclaimed the coroner. 'When did you hear of that failure?'

'By second post on Friday. Eleven in the morning.'

'I think we have heard enough, Mr. Coroner,' said Leal, standing up in the jury-box. 'We have decided on our verdict.'

'Thank you, Mr. Price,' said the coroner, dismissing Willie. He added, in a tone of icy severity to the foreman: 'I had concluded my examination of the witness.' Then he wrote further in his book.

'Now, gentlemen of the jury,' the coroner resumed, having first cleared his throat; 'I think you will agree with me that this is a peculiarly painful case. Yet at the same time--'

Anna hastened from the court as impulsively as she had entered it. She could think of nothing but the quiet, silent, pitiful corpse; and all this vapid mouthing exasperated her beyond sufferance.

On the Thursday afternoon, Anna was sitting alone in the house, with the Persian cat and a pile of stockings on her knee, darning. Agnes had with sorrow returned to school; Ephraim was out. The bell sounded violently, and Anna, thinking that perhaps for some reason her father had chosen to enter by the front door, ran to open it. The visitor was Willie Price; he wore the new black suit which had figured in the coroner's court. She invited him to the parlour and they both sat down, tongue-tied. Now that she had learnt from his evidence given at the inquest that Ephraim had not been pressing for rent during her absence in the Isle of Man, she felt less like a criminal before Willie than she would have felt without that assurance. But at the best she was nervous, self-conscious, and shamed. She supposed that he had called to make some arrangement with reference to the tenure of the works, or, more probably, to announce a bankruptcy and stoppage.

'Well, Miss Tellwright,' Willie began, 'I've buried him. He's gone.'

The simple and profound grief, and the restrained bitterness against all the world, which were expressed in these words-the sole epitaph of Titus Price-nearly made Anna cry. She would have cried, if the cat had not opportunely jumped on her knee again; she controlled herself by dint of stroking it. She sympathised with him more intensely in that first moment of his loneliness than she had ever sympathised with anyone, even Agnes. She wished passionately to shield, shelter, and comfort him, to do something, however small, to diminish his sorrow and humiliation; and this despite his size, his ungainliness, his coarse features, his rough voice, his lack of all the conventional refinements. A single look from his guileless and timid eyes atoned for every shortcoming. Yet she could scarcely open her mouth. She knew not what to say. She had no phrases to soften the frightful blow which Providence had dealt him.

'I'm very sorry,' she said. 'You must be relieved it's all over.'

If she could have been Mrs. Sutton for half an hour! But she was Anna, and her feelings could only find outlet in her eyes. Happily young Price was of those meek ones who know by instinct the language of the eyes.

'You've come about the works, I suppose?' she went on.

'Yes,' he said. 'Is your father in? I want to see him very particular.'

'He isn't in now,' she replied: 'but he will be back by four o'clock.'

'That's an hour. You don't know where he is?'

She shook her head. 'Well,' he continued, 'I must tell you, then. I've come up to do it, and do it I must. I can't come up again; neither can I wait. You remember that bill of exchange as we gave you some weeks back towards rent?'

'Yes,' she said. There was a pause. He stood up, and moved to the mantelpiece. Her gaze followed him intently, but she had no idea what he was about to say.

'It's forged, Miss Tellwright.' He sat down again, and seemed calmer, braver, ready to meet any conceivable set of consequences.

'Forged!' she repeated, not immediately grasping the significance of the avowal.

'Mr. Sutton's name is forged on it. So I came to tell your father; but you'll do as well. I feel as if I should like to tell you all about it,' he said, smiling sadly. 'Mr. Sutton had really given us a bill for thirty pounds, but we'd paid that away when Mr. Tellwright sent word down-you remember-that he should put bailiffs in if he didn't have twenty-five pounds next day. We were just turning the corner then, father said to me. There was a goodish sum due to us from a London firm in a month's time, and if we could only hold out till then, father said he could see daylight for us. But he knew as there'd be no getting round Mr. Tellwright. So he had the idea of using Mr. Sutton's name-just temporary like. He sent me to the post-office to buy a bill stamp, and he wrote out the bill all but the name. "You take this up to Tellwright's," he says, "and ask 'em to take it and hold it, and we'll redeem it, and that'll be all right. No harm done there, Will!" he says. Then he tries Sutton's name on the back of an envelope. It's an easy signature, as you know; but he couldn't do it. "Here, Will," he says, "my old hand shakes; you have a go," and he gives me a letter of Sutton's to copy from. I did it easy enough after a try or two. "That'll be all right, Will," he says, and I put my hat on and brought the bill up here. That's the truth, Miss Tellwright. It was the smash of that London firm that finished my poor old father off.'

Her one feeling was the sense of being herself a culprit. After all, it was her father's action, more than anything else, that had led to the suicide, and he was her agent.

'Oh, Mr. Price,' she said foolishly, 'whatever shall you do?'

'There's nothing to be done,' he replied. 'It was bound to be. It's our luck. We'd no thought but what we should bring you thirty pound in cash and get that bit of paper back, and rip it up, and no one the worse. But we were always unlucky, me and him. All you've got to do is just to tell your father, and say I'm ready to go to the police-station when he gives the word. It's a bad business, but I'm ready for it.'

'Can't we do something?' she na?vely inquired, with a vision of a trial and sentence, and years of prison.

'Your father keeps the bill, doesn't he? Not you?'

'I could ask him to destroy it.'

'He wouldn't,' said Willie. 'You'll excuse me saying that, Miss Tellwright, but he wouldn't.'

He rose as if to go, bitterly. As for Anna, she knew well that her father would never permit the bill to be destroyed. But at any cost she meant to comfort him then, to ease his lot, to send him away less grievous than he came.

'Listen!' she said, standing up, and abandoning the cat, 'I will see what can be done. Yes. Something shall be done-something or other. I will come and see you at the works to-morrow afternoon. You may rely on me.'

She saw hope brighten his eyes at the earnestness and resolution of her tone, and she felt richly rewarded. He never said another word, but gripped her hand with such force that she flinched in pain. When he had gone, she perceived clearly the dire dilemma; but cared nothing, in the first bliss of having reassured him.

During tea it occurred to her that as soon as Agnes had gone to bed she would put the situation plainly before her father, and, for the first and last time in her life, assert herself. She would tell him that the affair was, after all, entirely her own, she would firmly demand possession of the bill of exchange, and she would insist on it being destroyed. She would point out to the old man that, her promise having been given to Willie Price, no other course than this was possible. In planning this night-surprise on her father's obstinacy, she found argument after argument auspicious of its success. The formidable tyrant was at last to meet his equal, in force, in resolution, and in pugnacity. The swiftness of her onrush would sweep him, for once, off his feet. At whatever cost, she was bound to win, even though victory resulted in eternal enmity between father and daughter. She saw herself towering over him, morally, with blazing eye and scornful nostril. And, thus meditating on the grandeur of her adventure, she fed her courage with indignation. By the act of death, Titus Price had put her father for ever in the wrong. His corpse accused the miser, and Anna, incapable now of seeing aught save the pathos of suicide, acquiesced in the accusation with all the strength of her remorse. She did not reason-she felt; reason was shrivelled up in the fire of emotion. She almost trembled with the urgency of her desire to protect from further shame the figure of Willie Price, so frank, simple, innocent, and big; and to protect also the lifeless and dishonoured body of his parent. She reviewed the whole circumstances again and again, each time finding less excuse for her father's implacable and fatal cruelty.

So her thoughts ran until the appointed hour of Agnes's bedtime. It was always necessary to remind Agnes of that hour; left to herself, the child would have stayed up till the very Day of Judgment. The clock struck, but Anna kept silence. To utter the word 'bedtime' to Agnes was to open the attack on her father, and she felt as the conductor of an opera feels before setting in motion a complicated activity which may end in either triumph or an unspeakable fiasco. The child was reading; Anna looked and looked at her, and at length her lips were set for the phrase, 'Now Agnes,' when, suddenly, the old man forestalled her:

'Is that wench going for sit here all night?' he asked of Anna, menacingly.

Agnes shut her book and crept away.

This accident was the ruin of Anna's scheme. Her father, always the favourite of circumstance, had by chance struck the first blow; ignorant of the battle that awaited him, he had unwittingly won it by putting her in the wrong, as Titus Price had put him in the wrong. She knew in a flash that her enterprise was hopeless; she knew that her father's position in regard to her was impregnable, that no moral force, no consciousness of right, would avail to overthrow that authority which she had herself made absolute by a life-long submission; she knew that face to face with her father she was, and always would be, a coward. And now, instead of finding arguments for success, she found arguments for failure. She divined all the retorts that he would fling at her. What about Mr. Sutton-in a sense the victim of this fraud? It was not merely a matter of thirty pounds. A man's name had been used. Was he, Ephraim Tellwright, and she, his daughter, to connive at a felony? The felony was done, and could not be undone. Were they to render themselves liable, even in theory, to a criminal prosecution? If Titus Price had killed himself, what of that? If Willie Price was threatened with ruin, what of that? Them as made the bed must lie on it. At the best, and apart from any forgery, the Prices had swindled their creditors; even in dying, old Price had been guilty of a commercial swindle. And was the fact that father and son between them had committed a direct and flagrant crime to serve as an excuse for sympathising with the survivor? Why was Anna so anxious to shield the forger? What claim had he? A forger was a forger, and that was the end of it.

She went to bed without opening her mouth. Irresolute, shamed, and despairing, she tried to pray for guidance, but she could bring no sincerity of appeal into this prayer; it seemed an empty form. Where, indeed, was her religion? She was obliged to acknowledge that the fervour of her aspirations had been steadily cooling for weeks. She was not a whit more a true Christian now than she had been before the Revival; it appeared that she was incapable of real religion, possibly one of those souls foreordained to damnation. This admission added to the general sense of futility, and increased her misery. She lay awake for hours, confronting her deliberate promise to Willie Price. Something shall be done. Rely on me. He was relying on her, then. But on whom could she rely? To whom could she turn? It is significant that the idea of confiding in Henry Mynors did not present itself for a single moment as practical. Mynors had been kind to Willie in his trouble, but Anna almost resented this kindness on account of the condescending superiority which she thought she detected therein. It was as though she had overheard Mynors saying to himself: 'Here is this poor, crushed worm. It is my duty as a Christian to pity and succour him. I will do so. I am a righteous man.' The thought of anyone stooping to Willie was hateful to her. She felt equal with him, as a mother feels equal with her child when it cries and she soothes it. And she felt, in another way, that he was equal with her, as she thought of his sturdy and simple confession, and of the loyal love in his voice when he spoke of his father. She liked him for hurting her hand, and for refusing to snatch at the slender chance of her father's clemency. She could never reveal Willie's sin, if it was a sin, to Henry Mynors-that symbol of correctness and of success. She had fraternised with sinners, like Christ; and, with amazing injustice, she was capable of deeming Mynors a Pharisee because she could not find fault with him, because he lived and loved so impeccably and so triumphantly. There was only one person from whom she could have asked advice and help, and that wise and consoling heart was far away in the Isle of Man.

'Why won't father give up the bill?' she demanded, half aloud, in sullen wrath. She could not frame the answer in words, but nevertheless she knew it and felt it. Such an act of grace would have been impossible to her father's nature-that was all.

Suddenly the expression of her face changed from utter disgust into a bitter and proud smile. Without thinking further, without daring to think, she rose out of bed and, night-gowned and bare-footed, crept with infinite precaution downstairs. The oilcloth on the stairs froze her feet; a cold, grey light issuing through the glass square over the front door showed that dawn was beginning. The door of the front-parlour was shut; she opened it gently, and went within. Every object in the room was faintly visible, the bureau, the chair, the files of papers, the pictures, the books on the mantelshelf, and the safe in the corner. The bureau, she knew, was never locked; fear of their father had always kept its privacy inviolate from Anna and Agnes, without the aid of a key. As Anna stood in front of it, a shaking figure with hair hanging loose, she dimly remembered having one day seen a blue paper among white in the pigeon-holes. But if the bill was not there she vowed that she would steal her father's keys while he slept, and force the safe. She opened the bureau, and at once saw the edge of a blue paper corresponding with her recollection. She pulled it forth and scanned it. 'Three months after date pay to our order ... Accepted payable, William Sutton.' So here was the forgery, here the two words for which Willie Price might have gone to prison! What a trifle! She tore the flimsy document to bits, and crumpled the bits into a little ball. How should she dispose of the ball? After a moment's reflection she went into the kitchen, stretched on tiptoe to reach the match-box from the high mantelpiece, struck a match, and burnt the ball in the grate. Then, with a restrained and sinister laugh, she ran softly upstairs.

'What's the matter, Anna?' Agnes was sitting up in bed, wide awake.

'Nothing; go to sleep, and don't bother,' Anna angrily whispered.

Had she closed the lid of the bureau? She was compelled to return in order to make sure. Yes, it was closed. When at length she lay in bed, breathless, her heart violently beating, her feet like icicles, she realised what she had done. She had saved Willie Price, but she had ruined herself with her father. She knew well that he would never forgive her.

On the following afternoon she planned to hurry to Edward Street and back while Ephraim and Agnes were both out of the house. But for some reason her father sat persistently after dinner, conning a sale catalogue. At a quarter to three he had not moved. She decided to go at any risks. She put on her hat and jacket, and opened the front door. He heard her.

'Anna!' he called sharply. She obeyed the summons in terror. 'Art going out?'

'Yes, father.'

'Where to?'

'Down town to buy some things.'

'Seems thou'rt always buying.'

That was all; he let her free. In an unworthy attempt to appease her conscience she did in fact go first into the town; she bought some wool; the trick was despicable. Then she hastened to Edward Street. The decrepit works seemed to have undergone no change. She had expected the business would be suspended, and Willie Price alone on the bank; but manufacture was proceeding as usual. She went direct to the office, fancying, as she climbed the stairs, that every window of all the workshops was full of eyes to discern her purpose. Without knocking, she pushed against the unlatched door and entered. Willie was lolling in his father's chair, gloomy, meditative, apparently idle. He was coatless, and wore a dirty apron; a battered hat was at the back of his head, and his great hands which lay on the desk in front of him, were soiled. He sprang up, flushing red, and she shut the door; they were alone together.

'I'm all in my dirt,' he murmured apologetically. Simple and silly creature, to imagine that she cared for his dirt!

'It's all right,' she said; 'you needn't worry any more. It's all right.' They were glorious words for her, and her face shone.

'What do you mean?' he asked gruffly.

'Why,' she smiled, full of happiness, 'I got that paper and burnt it!'

He looked at her exactly as if he had not understood. 'Does your father know?'

She still smiled at him happily. 'No; but I shall tell him this afternoon. It's all right. I've burnt it.'

He sank down in the chair, and, laying his head on the desk, burst into sobbing tears. She stood over him, and put a hand on the sleeve of his shirt. At that touch he sobbed more violently.

'Mr. Price, what is it?' She asked the question in a calm, soothing tone.

He glanced up at her, his face wet, yet apparently not shamed by the tears. She could not meet his gaze without herself crying, and so she turned her head. 'I was only thinking,' he stammered, 'only thinking-what an angel you are.'

Only the meek, the timid, the silent, can, in moments of deep feeling, use this language of hyperbole without seeming ridiculous.

He was her great child, and she knew that he worshipped her. Oh, ineffable power, that out of misfortune canst create divine happiness!

Later, he remarked in his ordinary tone: 'I was expecting your father here this afternoon about the lease. There is to be a deed of arrangement with the creditors.'

'My father!' she exclaimed, and she bade him good-bye.

As she passed under the archway she heard a familiar voice: 'I reckon I shall find young Mester Price in th' office?' Ephraim, who had wandered into the packing-house, turned and saw her through the doorway; a second's delay, and she would have escaped. She stood waiting the storm, and then they walked out into the road together.

'Anna, what art doing here?'

She did not know what to say.

'What art doing here?' he repeated coldly.

'Father, I-was just going back home.'

He hesitated an instant. 'I'll go with thee,' he said. They walked back to Manor Terrace in silence. They had tea in silence; except that Agnes, with dreadful inopportuneness, continually worried her father for a definite promise that she might leave school at Christmas. The idea was preposterous; but Agnes, fired by her recent success as a housekeeper, clung to it. Ignorant of her imminent danger, and misinterpreting the signs of his face, she at last pushed her insistence too far.

'Get to bed, this minute,' he said, in a voice suddenly terrible. She perceived her error then, but it was too late. Looking wistfully at Anna, the child fled.

'I was told this morning, miss,' Ephraim began, as soon as Agnes was gone, 'that young Price had bin seen coming to this house 'ere yesterday afternoon. I thought as it was strange as thoud'st said nowt about it to thy feyther; but I never suspected as a daughter o' mine was up to any tricks. There was a hang-dog look on thy face this afternoon when I asked where thou wast going, but I didna' think thou wast lying to me.'

'I wasn't,' she began, and stopped.

'Thou wast! Now, what is it? What's this carrying-on between thee and Will Price? I'll have it out of thee.'

'There is no carrying-on, father.'

'Then why hast thou gotten secrets? Why dost go sneaking about to see him-sneaking, creeping, like any brazen moll?'

The miser was wounded in the one spot where there remained to him any sentiment capable of being wounded: his faith in the irreproachable, absolute chastity, in thought and deed, of his womankind.

'Willie Price came in here yesterday,' Anna began, white and calm, 'to see you. But you weren't in. So he saw me. He told me that bill of exchange, that blue paper, for thirty pounds, was forged. He said he had forged Mr. Sutton's name on it.' She stopped, expecting the thunder.

'Get on with thy tale,' said Ephraim, breathing loudly.

'He said he was ready to go to prison as soon as you gave the word. But I told him, "No such thing!" I said it must be settled quietly. I told him to leave it to me. He was driven to the forgery, and I thought--'

'Dost mean to say,' the miser shouted, 'as that blasted scoundrel came here and told thee he'd forged a bill, and thou told him to leave it to thee to settle?' Without waiting for an answer, he jumped up and strode to the door, evidently with the intention of examining the forged document for himself.

'It isn't there-it isn't there!' Anna called to him wildly.

'What isna' there?'

'The paper. I may as well tell you, father. I got up early this morning and burnt it.'

The man was staggered at this audacious and astounding impiety.

'It was mine, really,' she continued; 'and I thought--'

'Thou thought!'

Agnes, upstairs, heard that passionate and consuming roar. 'Shame on thee, Anna Tellwright! Shame on thee for a shameless hussy! A daughter o' mine, and just promised to another man! Thou'rt an accomplice in forgery. Thou sees the scamp on the sly! Thou--' He paused, and then added, with furious scorn: 'Shalt speak o' this to Henry Mynors?'

'I will tell him if you like,' she said proudly.

'Look thee here!' he hissed, 'if thou breathes a word o' this to Henry Mynors, or any other man, I'll cut thy tongue out. A daughter o' mine! If thou breathes a word--'

'I shall not, father.'

It was finished; grey with frightful anger, Ephraim left the room.

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