J. C. (John Collis) Snaith.

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"It is." Josiah was emphatic. "You can't hold
some people back. I give him another ten years to
be the first architect in this town ... if he comes
through This."

"It's a big 'if.' " Before the words were out of
Gerty's mouth she remembered Amelia's husband and
wished them unsaid. She had not had the courage to
mention William Hollis with poor Amelia so rigidly
on the defensive, but she had hoped that some one
would introduce the subject so that a tribute might be
paid him. But no one had done so, and now that
Josiah was there the time seemed to have gone by.
His views in regard to Amelia's husband were far
too definite to be challenged lightly.

Interest in young Nixey, the architect, began to
wane and then suddenly Ethel startled them all by
the statement that she had just had a letter from

Josiah's geniality promptly received a coating of
ice. His mouth closed like a trap. Sally had not
been forgiven by her father and those who knew him
best had the least hope that she would be. Her con-
duct had struck him in a very tender place, and Gerty
could not help thinking that it was most imprudent



of Ethel to mention Sally in his presence in any cir-

Ethel, however, had long ceased to fear her father.
For one thing, in the eyes of the world her position
was too secure. Besides, she was obtuse. Where an-
gels, etc., Mrs. Doctor could always be trusted to
walk with a certain measure of assurance, mainly be-
cause she didn't see things and feel things in the way
that most people did. For that reason she was not
at all disconcerted by the silence that followed her
announcement. And she supplemented it with another
which compelled Gerty, the adroit, to steal a veiled
glance at the sphinx-like face of her brother-in-law.

"She writes from Serbia, giving a long and won-
derful account of her doings with the Red Cross. I
think I have her letter with me." Ethel opened a
green morocco bag that was on the sofa beside her.
''Yes . . ./.here it is ... a long account. Care to
read it, Father?" She offered the letter unconcernedly
to Josiah.

He shook his head somberly. "I'll not read it now."

"Let me leave it with you. Well worth reading.
But I'd like to have it back."

"No, take it with you, gel." The words were
sharp. "Haven't much time for reading anything these
days. Happen I'll lose it or something." It was
lame and obvious, but Josiah had been taken too much
by surprise to do anything better. Gerty was an-
noyed with Ethel. She had no right to be so tact-



less. None knew so well as Ethel the state of the
case in regard to Sally. At the same time Gerty's
respect for Josiah which amounted to genuine regard
was a little wounded. He ought to have been big
enough to have read the letter.

Ethel had contrived to banish the ease and the sun-
shine from the proceedings. The light of genial hu-
mor in the eyes of her father yielded to the trucu-
lence of that earlier epoch so familiar to Amelia. It
was a great pity that it should be so; and after a
tense moment the gallant Gerty did her best to pour
oil on the vexed waters. "The other day in the
Tribune they were praising you finely, Josiah."

"Was they?" The King's English was not his
strong point in moments of tension. But in any mo-
ment, as Gerty knew, he had his share of the legiti-
mate vanity of the rising publicist. "What did they

"The Tribune said you deserved well, not only of
your fellow townsmen, but of the country at large
for the excellent work you had done in the last nine
months for the national cause. They said your work
on the Recruiting and Munitions Committees had
been most valuable."

Josiah was visibly mollified by this piping. "Very
decent of the Tribune."

"You'll make an excellent mayor, Josiah. Your
turn next year, isn't it?"

Josiah nodded. The light came again into his eyes.


"There's no saying what sort of a mayor I'll make.
It's a stiff job when you come to tackle it. Big re-
sponsibility in times like these."

"You are not the man to shirk responsibility."

Josiah allowed that he was not, but the office of
mayor in a place like Blackhampton in times like
these was no sinecure for a man with a sense of civic
duty. Once more he clouded. From what he heard
things were looking pretty bad. If England was go-
ing to win the war she should have to find a better
set of brains.

"But surely the Allies are quite as clever as the
Germans ?"

"They may be, but they haven't shown it so far.
We are a scratch lot of amateurs against a team of
trained professionals. The raw material is just as
good, if not better, but it takes time to lick it in to
shape. And we've got to learn to use it." His gloom
deepened. "Still we shall never give in to the Hun
. . . not in a hundred years."

Ethel concurred in this robust sentiment. And then
again she obtusely referred to Sally's letter. It was
such a wonderful letter that her father really ought
to read it. He was clearly annoyed by her tactless
persistence. In order to cloak his feelings he called
upon Melia in the old peremptory way to come and
look at his tomatoes.

As they rose for that purpose, Mrs. Doctor Cock-
burn rose also. She must really be going; it was the



cook's evening out. Gwenneth and Gwladys were
bidden to say good-by to Grandpa. They did so shy-
ly but rather prettily.

"Now let me see you shake hands with your Auntie
Melia," said Josiah.

Gwenneth and Gwladys accomplished this task less
successfully. They were half terrified by this shabby,
gloomy, silent woman who had not a word to say.


WEEKS went by and Melia settled down to a
hard and lonely winter in Love Lane. She
missed Bill sadly now he was no longer there. Ab-
sence had conferred all sorts of virtues upon him.
She quite forgot that for many years and up till very
recently she could hardly bear the sight of him about
the place. Their relations as man and wife had en-
tered upon a new and very remarkable phase.

About once a fortnight or so life was made a bit
lighter for her by a penciled scrawl from somewhere
in France. Bill's letters told surprisingly little, yet
he maintained a kind of grim cheeriness and seemed
more concerned for the life she might be leading than
for anything that was happening to himself. He was
very grateful for the small comforts she sent him
from time to time, he was much interested in the con-
tinued prosperity of the business, and he mentioned
with evident pleasure that her mother had sent him
a pair of socks and a comforter she had knitted herself,
also a "nice letter."

From his mother-in-law, whom Bill had always sus-
pected of being a good sort at heart, "if the Old Un
would give her a chance," he had an account of Melia's
visit to Strathfieldsaye. Her mother said what plea-



sure it would give her father if she would go there
every Sunday. The statement was incredible on the
face of it; Bill frankly didn't know what to think,
but there it was. No doubt the old girl meant kind-
ly. Perhaps it was her idea of bucking him up.

In his letters to Melia he made no comment on the
life he was leading, but in one he told her that they
had moved up into the Line; in another that "the
Boche had got it in the neck" ; in another that "he
had got the rheumatics so that he could hardly move,"
but that he meant to carry on as long as possible,
adding, "We are very short of men."

Somehow the letters of that dark winter made her
more proud than ever of this man of hers. There
was a determined note of quiet cheerfulness that she
had never known in him before. Instead of the eter-
nal grumbling that had done so much to embitter her,
there was a tone of whimsical humor which at a time
made her laugh, although as a general rule few peo-
ple found it harder than she did to laugh at anything.
She had little imagination, still less of the penetra-
tion of mind that goes with it, but there was one
phrase he used that was hard to forget. In one let-
ter he was tempted to complain that the Boche had
taken to raiding them in the middle of the night, but
he added a postscript, "It's no use growsing here."

Somehow that phrase stuck in her mind. When
she rose before daylight in the bitter mornings of
midwinter to light the kitchen fire and prepare a meal



she would have to eat alone, she would remember
those words which he of all men had used, he who was
a born growser if ever there was one. "It's no use
growsing here." She tried to take in their meaning,
but the task was not easy. He wrote so cheerfully
that he could hardly mean what he said. And it was
his nearest approach to complaint, he whose life in
peace time had been one long complaint. Now and
again she read in the Tribune of things that made
her shiver. Sometimes in the winter darkness she
awoke with these things in her mind. Bill's letters,
however, gave no details. If he spoke of "a scrap,"
he did so casually, without embroidery, yet she re-
membered that once when he had cut his thumb, not
very badly, he fainted at the sight of blood.

Such letters were a puzzle; they told so little. She
couldn't make them out. Reading between the lines,
he seemed to be enjoying life more than he had ever
done, he seemed to realize the humor of it more. It
was very strange that it should be so, especially on the
part of one who had always taken things so hard.
In one letter he said that spring was coming and that
the look of the sky made him think of the crocuses
along Sharrow Lane, and then added as a brief post-
script, "Stanning's gone."

Some weeks later he wrote from the Base to say
that "he had had a whiff of gas, nothing to speak of,"
but that he was out of the Line for a bit. And then
after a cheerful letter or two in the meantime, he



wrote a month later to say that he had got leave for
ten days and that he was coming home.

It was the middle of June when he turned up in
Love Lane late one evening, without notice, laden
like a beast of burden, looking very brown and well
but terribly worn and shabby. So much had he
changed in appearance that Melia felt it would have
been easy to pass him in the street without recogniz-
ing him. He was thin and gray, even his features,
and particularly his eyes, seemed to have altered. The
tone of his voice was different; he spoke in a differ-
ent way; the words and phrases he used were not
those of the William Hollis she had always known.

He was glad to be back in his home, if only for a
few days, and the sight of him with his heavy pack
and his gas mask and his helmet laid on the new lino-
leum in the little sitting room behind the shop gave
her a deeper pleasure than anything life had offered
her so far. Strange as he was, new almost to the
point of being somebody else, the mere sight of him
thrilled her. She was thrilled to the verge of happi-
ness. It was something beyond any previous emo-
tion. Long ago she had given up believing that ever
again he would appeal to her in the way of that brief
time which had been once and had passed so soon.

He took off his heavy boots and lit his pipe and
seemed childishly glad to be home again. But he
didn't talk much. He sighed luxuriously and smiled
at her in his odd new way, yet he was interested in

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the excellent supper she gave him presently and in
the account she furnished of the business which was
still on an ascending curve of prosperity. The old
wound, still unhealed, would not allow her to praise
her father, but there was more than one instance to
offer of that tardy repentance; and it was hard to
repress a note of pride when she announced that he
was now Mayor of Blackhampton and by all accounts
a good one.

She tried to get her husband to speak of France,
but some instinct soon made it clear to her that he
wanted to forget it. He could not be induced to speak
of his experiences, made light of his "whiff of gas,"
but confessed it was hell all the time; he also said
that the German was not a clean fighter. As he sat
opposite to her, eating his supper, his reticence made
it impossible for her to realize what he had been
through. He did not seem to realize it himself, ex-
cept that in a subtle way he was altogether changed.

He was eight days at home and they spent a lot
of the time together. They had a new kind of inti-
macy; the world of men and affairs had altered for
them both. Everything came to them at a fresh an-
gle. They were dwellers in another atmosphere. The
most commonplace actions meant much more; events
once of comparatively large importance meant much
less. She half suggested that they should go up on
Sunday afternoon to Strathfieldsaye, but the idea
evidently did not appeal to him and she did not press



it. Still she threw out the hint, because it was an
opportunity to let bygones be bygones and she was sure
that he would meet with a good reception. A sense
of justice impelled her to be grateful to her father,
much as she disliked him; in his domineering way he
had tried to make amends; all the same she was not
sorry that Bill was determined to hold himself aloof.
It was not exactly that he bore a grudge against her
father; at the point he had reached men did not bear
grudges, but he had some decided views on the mat-
ter and they gained in power by not being expressed.

On the afternoon of Wednesday, which was early
closing day in Blackhampton, Bill insisted on taking
Melia to the Art Gallery. It was in the historic low-
roofed building in New Square which dated from
the Romans known as the old Moot Hall. It was
now the home of one of the finest collections of pic-
tures in the country. Among ancient masterpieces
and some modern ones were several characteristic ex-
amples of his friend, Stanning, R.A., whom he had
carried dying into a dugout not four months ago.

Corporal Hollis had it from Sergeant Stanning's
own lips that the best picture he had ever painted was
hung in the middle room, and that it was not the
Sharrow at Corfield Weir, which the Corporal him-
self admired so much, but the smaller, less ambitious
piece called, "The Leaves of the Tree" a picture of
the woods up at Dibley in the sunlight of October,
stripped by the winds of autumn, with the bent figure



in the foreground of a very old man raking the dead
leaves together.

They had no difficulty in finding it. "As the leaves
of the trees are the lives of men." That legend on
the gilt frame seemed to them both at that moment
strangely, terribly prophetic. Bill did not tell Melia
as they stood in front of the picture that he had risked
his own life in a vain attempt to save the man who
had painted it, nor did he tell her that the blood of
the artist had dyed the sleeves of his tunic.

The large room was empty and they sat down sol-
emnly on the settee in front of this canvas, looking
at it in silence, yet as they did so holding the hand
of each other like a pair of children. Once before
had they sat there, in the early days of their mar-
riage, when he had talked to her of those ambitions
that were never to materialize. And now, again, with
the spirit of peace upon him and stirred by old mem-
ories, he sighed to himself and spoke for a moment
or two of what might have been. One of these days
he had hoped to do something. He had always in-
tended to do something but the time had slipped away.

They were still sitting there looking at the picture
when two people came into the room. One was a
commonplace elderly woman, the other a young man
in khaki. Although they were totally unlike in the
superficialities of outward bearing- it was easy to tell
that they were mother and son. His trained move-
ments and upright carriage, his poise and alertness,



were not able to conceal an odd resemblance to the
wholly different person at his side.

William and Melia were concealed by the high-
backed, wide-armed settee on which they sat; and
as these two people came up the room and took up
a position behind it, they did not seem to realize that
they could be overheard.

"I want you, mother," said the young man in an
eager voice, "to look at what to my mind is the pic-
ture of this collection. Stand here and you'll get it
just right."

The Corporal and his lady on the high-backed settee
offered a silent prayer that the young man had as much
wisdom and taste as the owner of such a clear, con-
fident voice ought to have. "As the leaves of the
tree are the lives of men." The Corporal breathed
more freely; the young man's voice had not belied
him. "Homer's words." He reeled off pat a large-
sounding foreign language. "I want you to catch
the ghost of the sun glancing through these wind-
torn branches. You'll get the light if you stand just
here. Wonderful composition . . . wonderful vision
. . . wonderful harmony . . . wonderful every-
thing. The big artists feel with their eyes." It was
charming to hear the voice in its enthusiasm. "They
look behind the curtain of appearances as you might
say. The life of man is but the shadow of a shadow
. . . you remember that bit of Lucretius I read you
last night ? Look at the figure in the foreground gath-



ering the leaves. Modern critics say symbolism is not
art, but it depends on how it's done, doesn't it? The
eyes of the mind . . . imagination . . . and that's
the only key we have to the Riddle of the Sphinx."
He ran on and on, laughing like a child. "Look at
his color. And how spacious! imagination there!
the harmony, the drawing! A marvelous draughts-
man. If he'd lived he'd have been a second Torring-
ton, although you hear people say that Torrington
couldn't draw." He laughed like a schoolboy and
then his voice fell. "I like to think that Jim Stan-
ning was one of us, that he was born among us, and
it's good to think that our old one-horse Art Commit-
tee has had the luck to buy his magnum opus with-
out knowing it. They paid twice as much for Cor-
field Weir in the other room, which is not in the same
class. However . . . posterity. . . ."

Prattling on and on the young man came round the
corner of the settee, followed by the old lady.

And then his flow of words failed suddenly as he
caught a glimpse of William and Melia, whose pres-
ence he had been far from suspecting. His little start
of guilt betrayed a feeling that he had made rather
an ass of himself, for he said half shamefacedly,
"Come on, my dear, let's go and look at the Weir.
We'll come back here later." The Corporal and his
lady could only catch a glimpse of him as he led his
mother abruptly into the next room; but Melia saw
he was an officer with two pips on his sleeve and that



his tunic was adorned with a tiny strip of white and
purple ribbon with a star on it. In answer to her
questions the Corporal was able to inform her that
the young man was a Captain in the B.B. and that
his decorations was the M.C. with Bar.

"And he looks so young!" said Melia.

"A very good soldier," said the Corporal with a
professional air.

"Who is he, Bill ? I seem to remember his mother."

"It's young Nixey, the architect."

Of course! But his uniform had altered him. He
looked so handsome. And that was Emma Nixey
Emma Price that was. How proud she must be to
have a boy like that!

"He's a good soldier." The deep voice of the Cor-
poral broke in upon Melia's thoughts. "A good sol-
dier that young feller."

"Bill, you remember Emma Price that used to live
at the bottom of Piper's Hill?" There was a note
of envy in the tone of Melia.

"I remember old Price, the cobbler."

"Emma was his eldest girl no, not the eldest.
Polly who married Ford, the ironmonger, was the
eldest. Emma was the second. Married Harry Nixey,
whose mother kept the all-sorts shop in Curwood
Street. A drunken fellow, but very clever at his
trade. Bolted with another woman when this lad
Harold was twelve months old. Emma never saw nor
heard of him again. Went to Australia, people said



at the time. But I'll say this for Emma, she was
always a good plucked one."

There was a moment of silence and then the Cor-
poral demanded weightily, "Has she any others?"

"He's the only one. But brought up very respect-
able . . . she's managed to give him a rare good edu-
cation. How she did it nobody knows. Tremendous
worker, was Emma. But that boy does her credit, I
must say."

"He does that." The Corporal stared hard at the
picture in front of him. "Nothing like education."
He sighed softly. "If only I'd had a bit of education
I sometimes think I might have done something my-


ON the afternoon of the day before the Corporal
returned to France he went with Melia by bus
to Sharrow Bridge and they walked thence to Cor-
field Weir. Many hours had he spent with rod and
tackle in this hallowed spot. Those were the only
hours in his drab life that he would have desired to
live over again. Many a good fish had he played in
the bend of the river below the famous Corfield Glade,
much commemorated by the local poets in whom the
town and county were exceptionally rich. In par-
ticular there was the legend of the fair Mary Cor-
field who in the days of Queen Bess had cast herself
for love of an honest yeoman into the deep waters
of the Sharrow. From Bill's favorite tree, where
from boyhood he had spun so many dreams that had
come to naught, could be seen the high chimneys of
the Old Hall, the home of the ill-fated Mary, about
whose precincts her ghost still walked and was oc-
casionally seen.

The day was perfect, a rare golden opulence of sky
and earth with a sheen of beauty on wood and field
and flowing water. They came to the little gnarled
clump of alders, his old-time friends, whom the swift-
flowing Sharrow was always threatening to devour,

1 88


and lay side by side in the shade, on the dry grass,
listening to the great rats plopping into the cool water.

Both were very silent at first; it was as if nature
spoke to them in a new way. It was as if their eyes
were bathed in a magical light. All the things around
them were clearer in outline, brighter, sharper, more
visible. Their ears, too, were attuned to a higher in-
tensity. The swirl of the water, the rustle of leaves,
the cry of the birds, the little voice of the wind, were
more intimate, more harmonious, more audibly full
of meaning. The world itself had never seemed so
richly amazing, so gorgeously inexhaustible as at that

At last the Corporal broke a very long silence.
"Mother, it's something to have lived."

Melia did not answer at once, but presently she
sighed a little and said, "I wonder, Bill."

He plucked a spear of grass. "It's a rum thing
to say, but if it hadn't been for this war I don't sup-
pose I ever should have lived, really."

She didn't understand him, and her large round
eyes, a little like those of a cow, told him so.

"I've always been thinking too much about it, you
see." His voice was curiously gentle. "All my life,
as you might say, I've always been telling myself what
a wonderful day it was going to be to-morrow. But
to-morrow never comes, you see. And you keep on
thinking, thinking, until you suddenly find that to-
morrow was yesterday. That's how it was with me.



And if I hadn't had the guts to join up just when I
did, my belief is I should never have lived at all.
Understand me?"

She shook a placid head at him, not understanding
him in the least. But this was the mood in which
he had first captured her, in which he had first im-
pressed her with his intellectual quality, for which, as
a raw girl, who knew nothing about anything, she
had had a sort of reverence. But as she had come to
see, it was this very power of mind, which she had told
herself was not shared by other, more common men,
that had been his undoing, that had brought them
both to the verge of ruin. It was fine and all that,
but it didn't mean anything. It was just a kink in
the machine which prevented it from working prop-

The tears sprang to her eyes as she listened to him,
and her youth and his came back to her, but she turned
her face to the river so that he could not see it. Still
it was not all pain to hear him talking. It was the
old, old way that she had loved once and had since
despised, but now lying there in the shade of those
old trees, with the music of the Weir and the glory of
the earth and the sky all about her, she loved again.

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Online LibraryJ. C. (John Collis) SnaithThe undefeated → online text (page 10 of 18)