J. C. (John Collis) Snaith.

The undefeated online

. (page 1 of 18)
Online LibraryJ. C. (John Collis) SnaithThe undefeated → online text (page 1 of 18)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook










Printed in the United States of America.





IT was hot
It was so hot that a certain Mr. William Hollis
sitting on an old bacon box in the lee of a summer-
house in his lock-up garden had removed coat and
waistcoat tie and collar, rolled up the sleeves of his
shirt and loosened his braces. The presence of a
neighbor's elbows on the party hedge forbade a com-
plete return to nature, but the freedom of Old Man
Adam from the restraints imposed by society was en-
vied just now by one at least of his heirs.

By the side of Bill Hollis was a stone jar of Black-
hampton ale, a famous brew, but even this could not
save him from gasping like a carp. It was a scorcher
and no mistake thick, slab and hazy, the sort of heat
you can almost cut with a knife.

Leaning gracefully across from the next plot was
a large, rotund gentleman with the face of a well
nourished ferret. Draped in an artful festoon be-
neath an old straw hat, a wreath of burdock leaves
defended him from the weather. "Mr. Hollis" he
addressed the man on the bacon box with conversa-



tional charm "if you want my opinion they're put-
ting in a bit of overtime in Hell."

"Mr. Goldman, you've got it." His neighbor, a man
of somber imagination, was struck by the force of
the image. First he glanced up to a sky of burnished
copper and then he glanced down over the edge of
sheer hillside upon which he and his friend were
poised like a couple of black ants on the face of a hay-
rick. Below he saw a cauldron in which seethed more
than a quarter of a million souls. Floating above the
cauldron and its many thousands of chimneys was a
haze of soot thick enough to conceal what in point of
mere size was the fourteenth city of Great Britain.
But speaking geographically, and Blackhampton's in-
habitants were prone to do that, it was the exact center
of England, of the United Kingdom, of the British
Empire, and therefore

Somewhere in the mind of William Hollis lurked
a poet, a philosopher and an artist. He pointed over
the dip of the hill into the middle of the cauldron.
"Reminds me," he said, half to himself, for he was
not consciously an artist, "of the Inferno of Dant,
with Lustrations by Door."

Mr. Goldman frowned at the simile. What else
could he do? He was a solid citizen, of a solid city,
of a solid empire: he was not merely a Philistine, he
was proud of being a Philistine. He suddenly remem-
bered that his neighbor was a failure as a man of
business. And in a flash Mr. Goldman knew why.



"Yes, Hollis hot." The ferret-faced gentleman
spoke with more caution and less charm. Commer-
cially and socially he was secure, but the same could
hardly be said for the man on the bacon box who
spoke of the Inferno of Dant with Lustrations by
Door whatever the Inferno of Dant with Lustra-
tions by Door might be.

"Hot enough, Mr. Goldman, to melt those three
brass balls of yours." It was a graceful allusion to a
trade symbol, yet a prosperous pawnbroker felt that
in making it a semi-bankrupt green grocer was verg-
ing upon the familiar. He had just reached that con-
clusion when a boy selling papers came along the nar-
row lane that ran past the end of the garden, and
thrust a tousled head over the fence.

"Four o'clock, mister?"

Bill Hollis produced a halfpenny. A minute later
he produced a note of disgust. "County's beat. York-
shire won by an innings an' four runs. Funny thing,
our chaps can't never play against Yorkshire not
for sour apples."

Mr. Goldman gave a slow deep grunt and then ar-
tistically readjusted his garland.

"Hirst six for twenty-two. Them Tykes can bahl
a bit. Rhodes four for nineteen."

Mr. Goldman grunted again. And it was now clear
by the look in his small eyes that disapproval was in-
tended. The Inferno of Dant with Lustrations by
Door was still in his mind. Tnat was the key to his


neighbor's financial failure, but this squandering of
money, time and brain power on things of no value
was just as significant.

"Cricket." The tone was very scornful. "One o'
these days cricket is going to be the ruin of the coun-

William Hollis stoutly dissented. "It's cricket that
makes us what we are."

"It's business, Hollis, that makes a country." There
was an accession of moral superiority in the pawn-
broker's tone. "That's the thing that counts. All this
sport is ruination ruination, Hollis the road to no-

William Hollis was unconvinced, but a man so suc-
cessful had him at a hopeless disadvantage. In the-
ory he was sure that he was right, but the pawn-
broker knew that he had just made a composition with
his creditors, so that it didn't matter how sound the
argument or how honest the cause, he was out of
court. Truth doesn't matter. It is public opinion that
matters. And public opinion is conditioned by many
subtleties, among which a banking account is fore-

Bill Hollis covered his retreat from a position that
should have been impregnable, by turning to another
part of the paper which was the Blackhampton Even-
ing Star.

"Ultimatum to Serbia. Ugly situation. I don't



Mr. Goldman asked why he didn't.

"A dodge to sell the paper."

"I expect you're right," said the pawnbroker judi-
cially. "They've always got some flam or other."

"Civil war in Ireland," announced Bill Hollis.

"I daresay. And next week we shall have the sea
serpent and the giant gooseberry. And all for a half-
penny, mark you. We're living in great days, Hollis."

The little greengrocer was silent a moment and then
he said thoughtfully, "I sometimes think, Mr. Gold-
man, what this country wants is a really good war."

Mr. Goldman smiled in a superior way. "Well, I
don't mind telling you," he said, "that I've thought
that for the last twenty years. Not this country only,
but Europe, the whole world."

"You're right, Mr. Goldman." There was a gran-
deur in the conception that in spite of the weather
almost moved his neighbor to enthusiasm.

"Stands to reason, my boy, and I'll tell you why.
The world is overpoppylated. Look at this town of
ours." With the finger of an Olympian the pawn-
broker pointed down the hillside to the smoking caul-
dron below. "Poppylation two hundred and sixty odd
thousand at the last census. And when I first set up
in business, the year before the Franco-Prussian War,
it was seventy-two thousand. And it's not only here,
it's all over the world alike."

"That is so, Mr. Goldman. And they say that in



America it's even worse. In fact, wherever you look
the competition is cruel."

"Yes, Hollis, a real good war would do a power of
good. We want Old Boney back again then there
might be breathing space for a bit. As it is this coun-
try is overrun with aliens."

William assented gloomily.

"This town of ours, my boy, is crawling with Ger-
mans. They come over here and take the bread out
of our mouths. They work for nothing and they live
on nothing. They learn all our trades and then they
go back to the Fatherland, and undersell us."

Said Bill Hollis with the air of a prophet, "I reckon
that sooner or later we'll be having a scrap with the

"Not likely." The pawnbroker's tone was a little
contemptuous. "The Germans can get all they want
without fighting. Peaceful penetration's their game.
They are the cleverest nation in the world. In an-
other twenty years they'll own it all."

Upon this last expression of his wisdom Mr. Gold-
man gave a final touch to his straw hat and its cool
garland, waddled down a box-bordered path and out
of the gate at the bottom of his garden.


THE departure of Mr. Goldman left a void in
the heart of Mr. William Hollis. He was a
sociable man, with a craving for the company of his
fellows, and although for quite a long time now his
distinguished neighbor had been clearly labeled in his
mind as "a pursy old pig," he was an interesting per-
son to talk to when he was in the humor. He was
not always in the humor, it was true, for he was a
"warm" man, an owner of house property; therefore
he was in the happy position of not having to be civil
to anybody when he didn't feel like it This after-
noon, however, he had unbent

The slowly receding form of Mr. Goldman waddled
along by the hedge, turned into the lane, passed from
view. In almost the same moment William Hollis
felt a severe depression. He had reached the stage
of life and fortune when he could not bear to be alone.
With a kind of dull pain he realized that this was his
forty-first birthday and that he had failed in life.

He was going down the hill. Unless he could take
a pull on himself he was done. Already it might be
too late. The best part of his life was behind him.
A year ago that day, in this very garden, his only
source of happiness, he had told himself that; two



years ago, three years ago, five years ago, this had
been the burden of his thoughts. But he was in a rut
and there seemed to be no way out.

Twenty years ago he had felt it was in him to do
something. He was an ambitious young fellow with
a mind that looked forward to the day after to-mor-
row. Such a man ought to have done something. But
now he knew that there had been a soft spot in him
somewhere and that a moral and mental dry rot had
already set in. He was a talker, a thinker, a dreamer ;
action was not his sphere. Unless he took a strong
pull on himself he was out of the race.

He poured what remained of the jar of ale into the
earthenware mug he kept for the purpose Black-
hampton ale tastes better out of a mug and drank it
slowly, without relish. Then he cut a few flowers to
take home to his wife to the wife who hadn't spoken
to him for nearly a week arranged them in a bunch,
with the delicacy of one unconsciously sensitive to
form and color, looped a bit of twitch neatly round
them, put on his coat, a stained and worn alpaca, put
on his hat, a battered, disreputable straw, cast the
eye of a lover round his precious garden, locked its
dilapidated green door and started down the lane and
down the hill towards the city.

It was now five o'clock and a little cooler, yet Wil-
liam Hollis walked very slowly. There was a lot of
time to kill before the day was through. But his
thoughts were biting him harder than ever as he turned


into the famous road leading to the city, known as
The Rise. This salubrious eminence, commanding the
town from the northeast, was sacred to the city mag-
nates. When a man made good in Blackhampton,
really good, he built a house on The Rise. It was
the ambition of every true Blackhamptonian to ex-
press his individuality in that way. Until he had
achieved a house entirely to his own fancy and taste
on The Rise, no son of Blackhampton could be said
really to have "arrived."

William Hollis trudged slowly along a well kept
road, between two irregular lines of superb villas,
gleaming with paint and glass, standing well back
from the road in ample grounds of their own, with
broad and trim gravel approaches. The first on the
right was Rosemere, the residence of Sir Reuben Jope,
three times Mayor of Blackhampton, a man of large
fortune and robust taste, whose last expression was
greenhouses and conservatories. They were said to
produce fabulous things flowers, fruits, shrubs,
plants known only to tropical countries. Many a time
from afar had Bill gazed upon them with rather wist-
ful awe.

A little farther along was The Haven, the ances-
tral home of the Glints, a famous Blackhampton fam-
ily whose local prestige was on a par with that of
the Rothschilds in the city of London. Across the
road was The Gables, the modest house of Lawyer
Mossop, the town's leading solicitor ; then on the right,



again, the reticulated dwelling of the philanthropic
Stephen Mortimore, head of the great engineering
firm of Mortimore, Barrow, and Mortimore. For a
true son of Blackhampton these were names to con-
jure with. Even to walk along such a road gave one
a feeling of worldly success, financial security, aris-
tocratic exclusiveness.

Still a little further along on the left was what was
clearly intended to be the piece de resistance of The
Rise. It was the brand-new residence of the very lat-
est arrival and no house had been more discussed by
Blackhampton society. It was intended to eclipse
every other dwelling on The Rise, but it was of non-
descript design, half suburban villa, half mediaeval
castle. From the aesthetic standpoint the result was
so little satisfactory that a local wit had christened it
"Dammit 'All."

As "Dammit 'All" came into view, Bill Hollis found
an almost morbid fascination in gazing at its turrets
and the tower so regally crowning them. It was the
house of his father-in-law, Mr. Josiah Munt. Sixteen
years ago, in that very month of July, an ambitious
young man had married his master's eldest daughter.
Melia Munt had espoused Bill Hollis in direct defiance
of her father's wishes and had lived long enough al-
ready to rue the day. Josiah, at that time, was not the
great man he had since become, but he was a hard,
unbending parent; and he gave Melia to understand
clearly that if she married Hollis he would never



speak to her again. Melia chose to defy him, as he
always thought out of sheer perversity, and her im-
placable father had been careful to keep his word to
the letter. Not again did he mention her name; not
again did her old home receive her.

In those sixteen years Josiah Munt had gone up
in the world, and if William Hollis could not be said
to have come down in it, he had certainly made very
little headway. At the time of his marriage he was
the chief barman at "the Duke of Wellington," an
extremely thriving public house, at the corner of
Waterloo Square in the populous southeastern part
of the city. He was now a small greengrocer in Love
Lane, within a stone's throw of the famous licensed
house of his father-in-law, and he was continually
haunted by the problem of how much longer he would
be able to carry on his business. On the other hand,
his old master had prospered so much that he had re-
cently built for himself a fine house on The Rise.

Mr. Josiah Munt was still the owner of the Duke <
of Wellington. Over the top of its swing doors his
name appeared below the spirited effigy of the Iron
Duke as "licensed to sell wines, spirits, beer and to-
bacco," but years ago he had ceased to reside there
with his family. As far as possible he liked to dis-
associate himself from it in the public mind, but he
was too shrewd a man to part with the goose that laid
the golden eggs; besides, in his heart, there was a
tender spot for the old house which had been the



foundation of his fortunes. His womenfolk might
despise it ; in some ways he had outgrown it himself ;
but he knew better than to crab his luck by parting
with an extremely valuable property which at the
present time was not appreciated at its true worth by
the surveyor of rates and taxes.

As William Hollis trudged along the dusty road
and his father-in-law's new and amazing house came
into view, he became the prey of many emotions. The
sight of this magnificence was a bitter pill to swallow.
It brought back vividly to his mind the scene that was
printed on it forever the scene that followed his diffi-
dent request for the hand of Melia. He could still
hear the stinging taunts of his employer, he could still
feel the impact of Josiah's boot. It may have been
that boot for women are queer! which caused the
final capitulation of Melia. But the hard part was that
time had justified the prediction of her far-sighted
parent. Melia in throwing herself away on "a man
of no class" would do a bad day's work when she
married Hollis.

It had been the son-in-law's intention to give the lie
to that prophecy. But! there was a kink in him
somewhere. He had always loved to dream of the
future, yet he had not the power of making his dreams
come true. If only he had had a good education! If
only he had known people who could have put him
on the right road to success when he was young and
sharp and the sap was in his brain! If only there



hadn't been so much competition, so much to fight
against; if only he could have had a bit of luck; if
only Melia had really cared for him; if only he hadn't
speculated with the hundred pounds she had inherited
from her Aunt Elizabeth ; if only he wasn't so apt to
be hurt by things that didn't matter a damn !

William Hollis was a disappointed and embittered
man. Life had gone wrong with him; but a small jar
of Blackhampton Old Ale softens failure and evokes
the quality of self-pity. However, as he approached
Mr. Munt's gate and gained a clearer view of the new-
est and most imposing house on The Rise, the sense
of failure rose in him to a pitch that was hard to
bear. So this was what Melia's father had done!
No wonder she despised a man like himself. It was
not very surprising after all that she hardly threw a
word to him now from one day's end to another.


A MAN in an apron that had once been white and
in a cloth cap that had once been navy blue
was painting a series of bold letters on Mr. Josiah
Munt's front gate. Bill Hollis was overwhelmed with
depression, but at this interesting sight curiosity
stirred him. He advanced upon the decorative artist
who was whistling gently over a job in which he took
a pride and a pleasure. Upon the ornate front of the
large green gate was being inscribed the word


Bill recognized the artist as a near neighbor of his
own in Love Lane.

"Working for the Nobs, are you, Wickens?"
There was a world of scorn in the tone of William
Hollis, a world of sarcasm. And yet what was scorn
and what was sarcasm in the presence of a hard fact,
clear, outstanding, fully accomplished!

The artist expectorated a silent affirmative.

"Piecework, I suppose? Cut rates?" Mr. Munt
had the reputation of being a very keen man of busi-


The artist was too much absorbed in his labors to
indulge in promiscuous talk.

William Hollis peered through the gate, to the rows
of newly planted shrubs on either side the curving
carriage drive. "Bleeding upstart" he muttered;
then he turned on his heel and walked on up the road.

He had gone but a few yards when quite unex-
pectedly he came upon a massive figure in a black
and white checked summer suit and a white billy-
cock hat worn at a rather rakish angle. It was his
father-in-law and they were face to face.

Mr. Munt was proceeding with a kind of elephan-
tine dignity along the exact center of the sidewalk,
and instinctively, before he was aware of what he had
done, his son-in-law by stepping nimbly into the
grassgrown gutter had conceded it to him. But in
almost the same instant he scorned himself for his
action; and the gesture of lordly indifference with
which the proprietor of the Duke of Wellington di-
rected his gaze upon the western gables of Strathfield-
saye, without a flicker of recognition of the person
who had made way for him, suddenly brought Wil-
liam Hollis to the bursting point.

The world allows that in a stone jar of Blackhamp-
ton Old Ale there are magic qualities; and far down
in Bill himself was hidden some deep strain of inde-
pendent manhood. The City records proved vide
Bazeley's famous Annals of Blackhampton, a second-
hand copy of which was one of his most cherished pos-



sessions that the name of Hollis had been known
and honored in the town long before the name of
Munt had been heard of. The Hollises were an old
and distinguished Blackhampton clan. A William
Hollis was mayor of the Borough in the year of the
Armada. It was a family of wide ramifications.
There was the great John Hollis the inventor, circa
1724-1798, there was Henry Hollis the poet, circa
1747-1801. Of these their present descendant was a
kinsman so remote that the science of genealogy had
lost track of their actual relationship. But beyond
a doubt his father's uncle, Troop Sergeant Major
William Hollis, had fought at Waterloo. He himself
was named after that worthy, and the old boy's por-
trait and portions of his kit had long embellished the
sitting room in Love Lane.

It was then, perhaps, force of ancestry quite as
much as the virtue of the Blackhampton ale that
moved William Hollis to his sudden and remarkable
act of self-assertion. For as Josiah Munt passed him,
head in air, and weather eye fixed upon the western
gables of Strathfieldsaye, his son-in-law stopped,
swung round and called after him in a voice that
could be heard even by the decorative artist at work
on the gate

"Sally out of Quod yet?"


BY not so much as the quiver of an eyelid did Mr.
Munt betray that he had even heard, much less
taken cognizance, of that which amounted to a stud-
ied insult on the part of William Hollis. The pro-
prietor of the Duke of Wellington converged upon the
gate of Strathfieldsaye with head upheld, with dig-
nity unimpaired. He even cast one cool glance at the
handiwork of the inspired Wickens, but made no com-
ment upon it, while the artist suspended his labors,
opened the gate obsequiously, and waited for the
great man to pass through. But when Mr. Munt had
walked along the carriage drive to within a few yards
of his newly bedizened front door, he stopped all of a
sudden like a man who has received a blow in the face.
Had Bill Hollis at that moment been able to obtain
a glimpse of his father-in-law he would have seen
that his shaft had gone right home. A sternly domi-
neering countenance was distorted with passion.
There was a rage of suffering in the fierce yellow-
brown eyes, there was a twist of half strangled tor-
ment in the lines of the hard mouth. As the lord of
Strathfieldsaye stood clenching his hands in the cen-
ter of the gravel he was not an attractive figure. Be-
fore entering the house he took off the white hat and


soothed the pressure upon head and neck by passing
over them a red bandanna handkerchief.

A trim parlor maid, bright as a new pin, received
the lord of Strathfieldsaye. The smart and shining
creature was in harmony with her surroundings.
Everything in the spacious and lofty entrance hall
shone with paint and polish, with new curtains, new
carpets, new fittings, new furniture.

Mr. Munt handed his hat to the parlor maid rather
roughly. "Tea's in the drawing-room, sir," she said,
calmly and modestly. It was the air of a very su-
perior servant.

Josiah went into the drawing-room and found two
ladies drinking tea and consuming cake, strawberries
and cream and bread and butter. One was a depressed
lady in puce silk to whom her lord paid little atten-
tion ; the other was much more sprightly, although by
no means in the first blush of youth. She had the
air of a visitor.

Before heralding his arrival by any remark, Mr.
Munt gazed with an air of genuine satisfaction round
the large cool room smelling of paint and general
newness, and then he said in a tone of rather grim
heartiness to the more sprightly of the two ladies,
"Well, Gert, what do you think on us?"

There was a careful marshaling of manner on the
part of the lady addressed as Gert. "Almost too
grand, Josiah since you ask my opinion. Still I've
been telling Maria that she must show Spirit."



The nod of Josiah might be said to express ap-
proval. Miss Gertrude Preston was a half-sister of
his wife, and she was perhaps the only woman among
his strictly limited acquaintance who was able to sus-
tain a claim to his respect. She had character and
great common sense and having acted for many years
as resident companion to no less a person than Law-
yer Mossop's aunt, the late Miss Selina Gregg, she
had seen something of the world. Upon all subjects
her views were well considered and uncommonly
shrewd; therefore they were not to be passed over
lightly. Aunt Gerty was a favorite of Josiah, not
merely for the reason that "she knew a bit more than
most," but also because she was clever enough to play
up to his rising fortunes and growing renown.

"Maria shown you round?" said Josiah, accepting

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18

Online LibraryJ. C. (John Collis) SnaithThe undefeated → online text (page 1 of 18)