Ephraim Tellwright is a miser, one of the wealthiest men in any of the Five Towns, a group of small industrial towns joined by a single road. He is a former Methodist lay preacher and teacher, concerned more with getting congregations in sound financial shape than with their souls. Although he married money and makes more money from rentals and foreclosures, he lives in the most frugal way possible and gives his two daughters nothing but the barest essentials. Both of his wives have died, the first giving him his daughter Anna and the second producing Agnes. Tellwright is usually taciturn. As long as his meals are on time, no money is wasted, and the house is never left alone and unguarded, he pays little attention to his daughters. Anna loves her father, even though she can never feel close to him. Agnes, much younger, follows her sister’s lead. The two girls are unusually close, having no one else in their lives.
On Anna’s twenty-first birthday, her father calls her into his office and tells her that she is inheriting almost fifty thousand pounds from her mother’s estate. He invested the original sum wisely, and it grew to a fortune. Anna, who never owned one pound to call her own, cannot comprehend an amount so large. Accustomed to letting her father handle all business affairs, she willingly gives him control of her fortune. The income from the stocks and rentals is deposited in the bank in her name, but she gives her father her checkbook and signs only when she is instructed to do so. The money makes little difference in Anna’s life; it simply stays in the bank until her father tells her to invest it.
One result of the money, however, creates unhappiness for Anna. Among her properties is a run-down factory owned by Titus Price, who is also a Methodist and superintendent of the chapel’s Sunday school. Because Price is continually behind in his rent, Tellwright forces Anna to keep demanding something on account. Knowing that the property will never rent to anyone else, the old miser never puts Price out but keeps hounding him for as much as the man can pay. Anna usually has to deal with Willie Price, the son, and she always leaves the interview with a feeling of guilt. Although the sight of Willie’s embarrassment leaves her unhappy, she always demands his money, because she is afraid to face her father without it.
A teacher in the Sunday school in which Anna teaches is Henry Mynors, already at the age of thirty a pillar in the chapel and a successful man in the community. Anna is attracted to him, and she tries to join in his religious fervor but cannot quite bring herself to repent or to accept God publicly at the revival meetings. She feels that repentance should be a private matter. Henry is clearly in love with her. When the townspeople say...
(The entire section is 1141 words.)