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   Chapter 13 THE BAZAAR

Anna of the Five Towns By Arnold Bennett Characters: 17402

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


The Wesleyan Bazaar, the greatest undertaking of its kind ever known in Bursley, gradually became a cloud which filled the entire social horizon. Mrs. Sutton, organiser of the Sunday-school stall, pressed all her friends into the service, and a fortnight after the death of Sarah Vodrey, Anna and even Agnes gave much of their spare time to the work, which was carried on under pressure increasing daily as the final moments approached. This was well for Anna, in that it diverted her thoughts by keeping her energies fully engaged. One morning, however, it occurred to Mrs. Sutton to reflect that Anna, at such a period of life, should be otherwise employed. Anna had called at the Suttons' to deliver some finished garments.

'My dear,' she said, 'I am very much obliged to you for all this industry. But I've been thinking that as you are to be married in February you ought to be preparing your things.'

'My things!' Anna repeated idly; and then she remembered Mynors' phrase, on the hill, 'Can you be ready by that time?'

'Yes,' said Mrs. Sutton; 'but possibly you've been getting forward with them on the quiet.'

'Tell me,' said Anna, with an air of interest; 'I've meant to ask you before: Is it the bride's place to provide all the house-linen, and that sort of thing?'

'It was in my day; but those things alter so. The bride took all the house-linen to her husband, and as many clothes for herself as would last a year; that was the rule. We used to stitch everything at home in those days-everything; and we had what we called a "bottom drawer" to store them in. As soon as a girl passed her fifteenth birthday, she began to sew for the "bottom drawer." But all those things change so, I dare say it's different now.'

'How much will it cost to buy everything, do you think?' Anna asked.

Just then Beatrice entered the room.

'Beatrice, Anna is inquiring how much it will cost to buy her trousseau, and the house-linen. What do you say?'

'Oh!' Beatrice replied, without any hesitation, 'a couple of hundred at least.'

Mrs. Sutton, reading Anna's face, smiled reassuringly. 'Nonsense, Bee! I dare say you could do it on a hundred with care, Anna.'

'Why should Anna want to do it with care?' Beatrice asked curtly.

Anna went straight across the road to her father, and asked him for a hundred pounds of her own money. She had not spoken to him, save under necessity, since the evening spent at the Suttons'.

'What's afoot now?' he questioned savagely.

'I must buy things for the wedding-clothes and things, father.'

'Ay! clothes! clothes! What clothes dost want? A few pounds will cover them.'

'There'll be all the linen for the house.'

'Linen for-- It's none thy place for buy that.'

'Yes, father, it is.'

'I say it isna',' he shouted.

'But I've asked Mrs. Sutton, and she says it is.'

'What business an' ye for go blabbing thy affairs all over Bosley? I say it isna' thy place for buy linen, and let that be sufficient. Go and get dinner. It's nigh on twelve now.'

That evening, when Agnes had gone to bed, she resumed the struggle.

'Father, I must have that hundred pounds. I really must. I mean it.'

'Thou means it! What?'

'I mean I must have a hundred pounds.'

'I'd advise thee to tak' care o' thy tongue, my lass. Thou means it!'

'But you needn't give it me all at once,' she pursued.

He gazed at her, glowering.

'I shanna' give it thee. It's Henry's place for buy th' house-linen.'

'Father, it isn't.' Her voice broke, but only for an instant. 'I'm asking you for my own money. You seem to want to make me miserable just before my wedding.'

'I wish to God thou 'dst never seen Henry Mynors. It's given thee pride and made thee undutiful.'

'I'm only asking you for my own money.'

Her calm insistence maddened him. Jumping up from his chair, he stamped out of the room, and she heard him strike a match in his office. Presently he returned, and threw angrily on to the table in front of her a cheque-book and pass-book. The deposit-book she had always kept herself for convenience of paying into the bank.

'Here,' he said scornfully, 'tak' thy traps and ne'er speak to me again. I wash my hands of ye. Tak' 'em and do what ye'n a mind. Chuck thy money into th' cut[1] for aught I care.'

The next evening Henry came up. She observed that his face had a grave look, but intent on her own difficulties she did not remark on it, and proceeded at once to do what she resolved to do. It was a cold night in November, yet the miser, wrathfully sullen, chose to sit in his office without a fire. Agnes was working sums in the kitchen.

'Henry,' Anna began, 'I've had a difficulty with father, and I must tell you.'

'Not about the wedding, I hope,' he said.

'It was about money. Of course, Henry, I can't get married without a lot of money.'

'Why not?' he inquired.

'I've my own things to get,' she said, 'and I've all the house-linen to buy.'

'Oh! You buy the house-linen, do you?' She saw that he was relieved by that information.

'Of course. Well, I told father I must have a hundred pounds, and he wouldn't give it me. And when I stuck to him he got angry-you know he can't bear to see money spent-and at last he get a little savage and gave me my bank-books, and said he'd have nothing more to do with my money.'

Henry's face broke into a laugh, and Anna was obliged to smile. 'Capital!' he said. 'Couldn't be better.'

'I want you to tell me how much I've got in the bank,' she said. 'I only know I'm always paying in odd cheques.'

He examined the three books. 'A very tidy bit,' he said; 'something over two hundred and fifty pounds. So you can draw cheques at your ease.'

'Draw me a cheque for twenty pounds,' she said; and then, while he wrote: 'Henry, after we're married, I shall want you to take charge of all this.'

'Yes, of course; I will do that, dear. But your money will be yours. There ought to be a settlement on you. Still, if your father says nothing, it is not for me to say anything.'

'Father will say nothing-now,' she said. 'You've never shown any interest in it, Henry; but as we're talking of money, I may as well tell you that father says I'm worth fifty thousand pounds.'

The man of business was astonished and enraptured beyond measure. His countenance shone with delight.

'Surely not!' he protested formally.

'That's what father told me, and he made me read a list of shares, and so on.'

'We will go slow, to begin with,' said Mynors solemnly. He had not expected more than fifteen, or twenty thousand pounds, and even this sum had dazzled his imagination. He was glad that he had only taken the house at Toft End on a yearly tenancy. He now saw himself the dominant figure in all the Five Towns.

Later in the evening he disclosed, perfunctorily, the matter which had been a serious weight on his mind when he entered the house, but which this revelation of vast wealth had diminished to a trifle. Titus Price had been the treasurer of the building fund which the bazaar was designed to assist. Mynors had assumed the position of the dead man, and that day, in going through the accounts, he had discovered that a sum of fifty pounds was missing.

'It's a dreadful thing for Willie, if it gets about,' he said; 'a tale of that sort would follow him to Australia.'

'Oh, Henry, it is!' she exclaimed, sorrow-stricken, 'but we mustn't let it get about. Let us pay the money ourselves. You must enter it in the books and say nothing.'

'That is impossible,' he said firmly. 'I can't alter the accounts. At least I can't alter the bank-book and the vouchers. The auditor would detect it in a minute. Besides, I should not be doing my duty if I kept a thing like this from the Superintendent-minister. He, at any rate, must know, and perhaps the stewards.'

'But you can urge them to say nothing. Tell them that you will make it good. I will write a cheque at once.'

'I had meant to find the fifty myself,' he said. It was a peddling sum to him now.

'Let me pay half, then,' she asked.

'If you like,' he urged, smiling faintly at her eagerness. 'The thing is bound to be kept quiet-it would create such a frightful scandal. Poor old chap!' he added, carelessly, 'I suppose he was hard run, and meant to put it back-as they all do mean.'

But it was useless for Mynors to affect depression of spirits, or mournful sympathy with the errors of a dead sinner. The fifty thousand danced a jig in his brain that night.

Anna was absorbed in contemplating the misfortune of Willie Price. She prayed wildly that he might never learn the full depth of his father's fall. The miserable robbery of Sarah's w

ages was buried for evermore, and this new delinquency, which all would regard as flagrant sacrilege, must be buried also. A soul less loyal than Anna's might have feared that Willie, a self-convicted forger, had been a party to the embezzlement; but Anna knew that it could not be so.

It was characteristic of Mynors' cautious prudence that, the first intoxication having passed, he made no further reference of any kind to Anna's fortune. The arrangements for their married life were planned on a scale which ignored the fifty thousand pounds. For both their sakes he wished to avoid all friction with the miser, at any rate until his status as Anna's husband would enable him to enforce her rights, if that should be necessary, with dignity and effectiveness. He did not precisely anticipate trouble, but the fact had not escaped him that Ephraim still held the whole of Anna's securities. He was in no hurry to enlarge his borders. He knew that there were twenty-four hours in every day, three hundred and sixty-five days in every year, and thirty good years in life still left to him; and therefore that there would be ample time, after the wedding, for the execution of his purposes in regard to that fifty thousand pounds. Meanwhile, he told Anna that he had set aside two hundred pounds for the purchase of furniture for the Priory-a modest sum; but he judged it sufficient. His method was to buy a piece at a time, always second-hand, but always good. The bargain-hunt was up, and Anna soon yielded to its mild satisfactions. In the matter of her trousseau and the house-linen, Anna, having obtained the needed money-at so dear a cost-found yet another obstacle in the imminent bazaar, which occupied Mrs. Sutton and Beatrice so completely that they could not contrive any opportunity to assist her in shopping. It was decided between them that every article should be bought ready-made and seamed, and that the first week of the New Year, if indeed Mrs. Sutton survived the bazaar, should be entirely and absolutely devoted to Anna's business.

At nights, when she had leisure to think, Anna was astonished how during the day she had forgotten her preoccupations in the activities precendent to the bazaar, or in choosing furniture with Mynors. But she never slept without thinking of Willie Price, and hoping that no further disaster might overtake him. The incident of the embezzled fifty pounds had been closed, and she had given a cheque for twenty-five pounds to Mynors. He had acquainted the minister with the facts, and Mr. Banks had decided that the two circuit stewards must be informed. Beyond these the scandalous secret was not to go. But Anna wondered whether a secret shared by five persons could long remain a secret.

The bazaar was a triumphant and unparalleled success, and, of the seven stalls, the Sunday-school stall stood first each night in the nightly returns. The scene in the town-hall, on the fourth and final night, a Saturday, was as delirious and gay as a carnival. Four hundred and twenty pounds had been raised up to tea-time, and it was the impassioned desire of everyone to achieve five hundred. The price of admission had been reduced to threepence, in order that the artisan might enter and spend his wages in an excellent cause. The seven stalls, ranged round the room like so many bowers of beauty, draped and frilled and floriated, and still laden with countless articles of use and ornament, were continually reinforced with purchasers by emissaries canvassing the crowd which filled the middle of the paper-strewn floor. The horse was not only taken to the water, but compelled to drink; and many a man who, outside, would have laughed at the risk of being robbed, was robbed openly, shamelessly, under the gaze of ministers and class-leaders. Bouquets were sold at a shilling each, and at the refreshment stall a glass of milk cost sixpence. The noise rivalled that of a fair; there was no quiet anywhere, save in the farthest recess of each stall, where the lady in supreme charge of it, like a spider in the middle of its web, watched customers and cash-box with equal cupidity.

Mrs. Sutton, at seven o'clock, had not returned from tea, and Anna and Beatrice, who managed the Sunday-school stall in her absence, feared that she had at last succumbed under the strain. But shortly afterwards she hurried back breathless to her place.

'See that, Anna? It will be reckoned in our returns,' she said, exhibiting a piece of paper. It was Ephraim's cheque for twenty-five pounds promised months ago, but on a condition which had not been fulfilled.

'She has the secret of persuading him,' thought Anna. 'Why have I never found it?'

Then Agnes, in a new white frock, came up with three shillings, proceeds of bouquets.

'But you must take that to the flower-stall, my pet,' said Mrs. Sutton.

'Can't I give it to you?' the child pleaded. 'I want your stall to be the best.'

Mynors arrived next, with something concealed in tissue-paper. He removed the paper, and showed, in a frame of crimson plush, a common white plate decorated with a simple band and line, and a monogram in the centre-'A.T.' Anna blushed, recognising the plate which she had painted that afternoon in July at Mynors' works.

'Can you sell this?' Mynors asked Mrs. Sutton.

'I'll try to,' said Mrs. Sutton doubtfully-not in the secret. 'What's it meant for?'

'Try to sell it to me,' said Mynors.

'Well,' she laughed, 'what will you give?'

'A couple of sovereigns.'

'Make it guineas.'

He paid the money, and requested Anna to keep the plate for him.

At nine o'clock it was announced that, though raffling was forbidden, the bazaar would be enlivened by an auction. A licensed auctioneer was brought, and the sale commenced. The auctioneer, however, failed to attune himself to the wild spirit of the hour, and his professional efforts would have resulted in a fiasco had not Mynors, perceiving the danger, leaped to the platform and masterfully assumed the hammer. Mynors surpassed himself in the kind of wit that amuses an excited crowd, and the auction soon monopolised the attention of the room; it was always afterwards remembered as the crowning success of the bazaar. The incredible man took ten pounds in twenty minutes. During this episode Anna, who had been left alone in the stall, first noticed Willie Price in the room. His ship sailed on the Monday, but steerage passengers had to be aboard on Sunday, and he was saying good-bye to a few acquaintances. He seemed quite cheerful, as he walked about with his hands in his pockets, chatting with this one and that; it was the false and hysterical gaiety that precedes a final separation. As soon as he saw Anna he came towards her.

'Well, good-bye, Miss Tellwright,' he said jauntily. 'I leave for Liverpool to-morrow morning. Wish me luck.'

Nothing more; no word, no accent, to recall the terrible but sublime past.

'I do,' she answered. They shook hands. Others approaching, he drifted away. Her glance followed him like a beneficent influence.

For three days she had carried in her pocket an envelope containing a bank-note for a hundred pounds, intending by some device to force it on him as a parting gift. Now the last chance was lost, and she had not even attempted this difficult feat of charity. Such futility, she reflected, self-scorning, was of a piece with her life. 'He hasn't really gone. He hasn't really gone,' she kept repeating, and yet knew well that he had gone.

'Do you know what they are saying, Anna?' said Beatrice, when, after eleven o'clock, the bazaar was closed to the public, and the stall-holders and their assistants were preparing to depart, their movements hastened by the stern aspect of the town-hall keeper.

'No. What?' said Anna; and in the same moment guessed.

'They say old Titus Price embezzled fifty pounds from the building fund, and Henry made it up, privately, so that there shouldn't be a scandal. Just fancy! Do you believe it?'

The secret was abroad. She looked round the room, and saw it in every face.

'Who says?' Anna demanded fiercely.

'It's all over the place. Miss Dickinson told me.'

'You will be glad to know, ladies,' Mynors' voice sang out from the platform, 'that the total proceeds, so far as we can calculate them now, exceed five hundred and twenty-five pounds.'

There was clapping of hands, which died out suddenly.

'Now Agnes,' Anna called, 'come along, quick; you're as white as a sheet. Good-night, Mrs. Sutton; good-night, Bee.'

Mynors was still occupied on the platform.

The town-hall keeper extinguished some of the lights. The bazaar was over.

[1] Cut: canal.

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