J. C. (John Collis) Snaith.

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Strange that it should be so! But the sad voice at
her elbow blended marvelously with all the things
she could see and hear. And what it said was quite
true. By some miracle both were living now more
fully than ever before.



"I'll always have one regret, Mother." His voice
had grown as deep as the water itself. But it broke
off in the middle suddenly.

A feeling came upon her that she ought to say
something. "Don't let us have no regrets, Bill."
Those were the words she wanted to utter. "I'll not
have none." But they were not for her to speak. At
that moment she was not able to say anything. She
waited tensely for him to go on talking.

In the odd way he had, which was a part of his
peculiar faculty, he seemed to feel what was passing
in her mind. "I'm not thinking of what might have
been. That's no good. The time's gone by. I'm
thinking of my friend, Stanning, R.A. You see we'd
arranged that if we ever had the chance we'd come
here for a day's fishing. We had a bit one day when
we were up in the Line in that canal the Yser, I
think they call it. And he said, 'Auntie, I may be
able to tell you a thing or two about drawing, but
when it comes to this game the boot's on the other
leg.' 'Yes,' I said, 'that's because I've put my heart
into it while you've put your heart into something
better.' 'Well, I don't know about that,' he said
he was the broadest-minded, the best read, the wisest
chap I ever talked to 'nothing is but thinking makes
it so, as Hamlet, that old crackpot used to say. What-
ever you happen to be doing, Auntie, the only thing
that matters is whether your heart is in it.' 'Yes,'
I said, 'I daresay you are right there. But it's one



thing to catch barbel. It's another to paint Corfield
Weir.' "

To Melia this seemed like philosophy. And she
had no head for philosophy, although inclined to be
a little proud that Bill should be able to swim in these
deep waters in such distinguished company. But one
thing aroused her curiosity. Why was this man of
hers called Auntie?

Bill laughed good humoredly when, a little scan-
dalized, she came to put the question. "They all call
me that in C company." His frankness was remark-

"But why?"

"They say I was born an old woman."

Melia thought it was like their impertinence and
did not hesitate to say so.

"Ah, you don't know the Chaps," Bill laughed
heartily. "The Chaps is a rum crowd. They call you

"But to your face?" Melia couldn't help resent-
ing it and spoke with dignity. "You oughtn't to let
them, Bill."

"Why not?"

"You're a Corporal."

"Well, Stanning was a sergeant, you see. And no-
body means nothing by it. It's a way they have in
the army of being friendly and pleasant. And I
daresay it suits me. My fingers is all thumbs as you
might say. Fishing and a bit o' gardening are the



only things I'm good for, although Stanning told me
that in time, if I stuck it, I might be able to draw.
And that was a lot for him to say."

Melia thought that it must be.

"I often wonder," the eyes of the Corporal were
fixed on the Sharrow "what made Stanning take up
with a chap like me. There was lots of 'em in C com-
pany with far more education, but he told me once
that I was the same kind of fool that he was and I
said that I wished it was so. I suppose he meant that
I liked to talk about this old river and the lights on
it and the look of it at different times of the year.
He knew every yard of the Sharrow between here
and Dibley and so did I, but he could see things that
I couldn't, and he could remember 'em and he'd a won-
derful eye for nature. He wasn't the least bit of a
soldier, no more than myself, but he made a first-rate
job of it he was the kind of chap who would make
a first-rate job of anything. Our C.O. wanted him
to apply for a commission, but he said he couldn't face
the responsibility. That was queer, wasn't it, in a man
of that sort? for he was a man, I give you my
word." The Corporal plucked another spear of grass
and began to chew it pensively. "He had a cottage
up at Dibley, that largish white one on the left, stand-
ing back from the road, you know the one I mean
the one with the iron gate, and that funny sort of a
tower at the end of the garden."

Melia said she did know, although she had half for-


gotten it, but she hadn't been to Dibley since they were
first married, and that was a long time ago.

"It belonged to Torrington the artist. He lived
and died there. Stanning said he was the greatest
painter of landscape that ever lived, but nobody knew
it while he was alive and he died in poverty. Not that
it mattered. Stanning said that money doesn't matter
to an artist, but he said that many an artist had been
ruined by making it too easy."

This dictum of Stanning's sounded odd in the ear
of Melia. No one could be ruined by making money
too easily, but she had not the heart to contradict his
disciple who was still chewing grass and looking up
at the sky.

"See what I mean, Mother?"

"Makes them take to drink and gambling, I sup-
pose." After all, there was that solution.

"Stanning meant that if an artist gets money too
easy it'll take the edge off his work. He was always
afraid that was what was going to happen to himself.
In 1913 he made six thousand pounds think on it,
Mother, six thousand pounds in one year painting pic-
tures! He said that was the writing on the wall for
him; he said it was as much as Torrington made in
all his life and he lived beyond eighty. 'And I'm nof
fit to tie Torrington's shoelace, Auntie.' I laughed
at that, of course, but he was not a man to want but-
ter. 'I mean it, my dear.' If he liked you he had
a way of calling you 'my dear,' like one girl does to



another. 'Torrington was the only man that ever
lived who could handle sunlight. That's the test for a
painter. If I touch sunlight I burn holes in the can-
vas.' Of course, I laughed, but Stanning was a very
humble chap when he talked about his own paintings."
Suddenly the Corporal realized that he had let his
tongue run away with him, as it did sometimes. Melia
was getting drowsy. He got up, therefore, and
stretched his legs on the soft turf and then he said,
"Let us go across to the Corfield Arms and see if we
can get a cup of tea. And then if you feel up to it
we'll walk through the Glade as far as Dibley and
look at the house that Torrington lived in."


THEY went across to the Corfield Arms. It was
an old, romantic looking inn, spoiled a little in
these later days by contiguity to a great hive of com-
merce. But there were occasions, even now, when it
retained something of the halo of ancient peace it
was wont to bear; and the afternoon being Friday
was an off day for visitors. When Bill and Melia
passed through the bowling green at the back of the
house to the arbor where last they had sat in the days
of their courtship they found it empty.

In the garden by the arbor an old man was plucking
raspberries. He turned out to be the landlord, and to
the secret gratification of Melia he addressed Bill as
"sir," out of deference to his uniform. Upon receiv-
ing the Corporal's commands he called loudly for

In two shakes of a duck's tail Polly appeared: a
blithe beauty in a clean lilac print dress, a little shrunk
in the wash, which showed to advantage the lovely
lines of her shape and the slender stem of a brown
but classic neck in which a nest of red-gold hair hung
loose. The Corporal ordered a royal repast for two
persons; a pot of tea, boiled eggs, bread and butter,



cake, and a little of the honey for which the house
used to be famous.

While they waited for the tea, the Corporal gave
the old chap a hand with the raspberries. "Happen
you remember Torrington, the artist who lived up
at Dibley?"

"Aye." The old man remembered him without dif-
ficulty. "Knew him well when I was young. Soft
Jack we used to call him; an old man and just a bit
touched like as I remember him. Long beard he had
and blue eyes wonderful blue eyes had that old fel-
ler. Out painting in the open all day long, in all
weathers. I used to stand for hours and watch him.
He'd paint a bit, and then he'd paint it out, and then
he'd paint it in again. 'Course he was clever, you
know, in a manner of speaking. Nobody thought much
of him then, but in these days, if you'll believe me,
I've known people come specially from London to ask
about him."

The Corporal turned to Melia with an air of discreet
triumph. But Melia was so drowsy that she said she
would go into the arbor until the tea came. She
was encouraged to do so while the landlord went on,
"I was a bit of a favorite with old Soft Jack. Many's
the boy I've lammoxed for throwing stones at his
easel. Of course, at the time I speak of, the old chap
had got a bit tottery; he lived to be tight on ninety.
But as I say nobody thought much of him, yet if you'll
believe me it's only last year, or the year before last



I'm getting on myself that a college gentleman came
down here to write a book about him. A very nice
civil-spoken gentleman; but fancy writing a book
about old Soft Jack!"

"Ever buy any of his pictures?"

"My father did. Gave as much as five pounds for
one, more out of charity than anything, I've heard
him say, but if you'll believe me when the old boy was
dead my father sold that picture for twenty pounds,
and they tell me I've not seen it myself that that
picture is now in our Art Gallery, and the college gen-
tleman I'm speaking of I forget his name says folk
come from all parts of the world to look at it."

"Happen there was the sun in it," said the Corporal.

"Very like. Most of his pictures had the sun in
'em, what I remember. You know they do say that
that old chap could look at the sun with the naked eye.
And such an eye as it was like an eagle's, even when
he was old and past it."

"Got any of his pictures now ?"

"Can't say I have. My father had one or two odd
bits, but he sold 'em or gave 'em away. No good
having a picture, I've heard the dad say, unless you've
a frame to put it in. And frames was dear in those
days. If you'll believe me, the frame often cost more
than the picture."

"Pity you haven't one or two by you now. They
do say all Torrington's pictures are worth a sight o'



"Shouldn't wonder. Money's more plentiful now
than it used to be. My father was 'mazed when he
got twenty pounds for the one he sold, and he heard
afterwards it fetched as high as fifty. But I'm speak-
ing, of course, of when the old man was dead. That
reminds me, the old chap, being very hard up, painted
our signboard. It wants a fresh coat now, but it's
wonderful how it's lasted."

The Corporal, in his devotion to art, ceased to pick
raspberries, and accompanied by his host, went to
look at the expression of Soft Jack's genius upon the
ancient front of the Corfield Arms. As they crossed
the bowling green they came upon the smiling and
gracious Polly, who bore a tea tray heavily laden.

"Lady's in the summerhouse." The gallant Cor-
poral returned smile for smile. "Tell her to pour
out the tea and I'll be along in a jiffy."

The signboard, after all, was not much to look at.
The arms of the Corfields consisted in the main of a
rampant unicorn, reft by the weather of a good deal
of paint. But even here, by some miracle, the sun-
light was shining on the noble horns of the fabulous
animal, but whether the phenomenon was due to pure-
ly natural causes on this glorious afternoon of July,
or whether the great artist was personally responsi-
ble for it was more than Corporal Hollis was able to
say. It needed the trained eye of a Stanning, R.A.,
or of a young Nixey, the architect, to determine the
point, but in the right-hand corner of the signboard



beyond a doubt, as the landlord was able to indicate
with an air of pride, was Soft Jack's monogram, J. T.
Somehow the monogram saved the signboard itself
from being a washout as a work of art, and the Cor-
poral felt grateful for it as he returned to the arbor
to drink tea with his wife, while the landlord, less
of a critic, went back to the raspberries in his pro-
lific garden.


AFTER an excellent tea William and Melia went
up the road to Dibley. It was two miles on and
they took a path of classic beauty, fringed by a grove
of elms in which the rooks were cawing, along a
carpet of green bracken through which the lovely
river wound. Dibley stood high, at the crest of a
great clump of woodland, with the Sharrow silver-
breasted below surging through a glorious valley.

It was getting on for twenty years since Bill had
last handed Melia over the stile at the top of the
glade, famous in song and story, and they had de-
bouched arm in arm past the vicarage, along the bridle
path, and had threaded their way through a nest of
thatched cottages to the village green. The sun had
now waned a little and the air had cooled on these
shaded heights, the tea had been refreshing, and, for
a few golden moments, inexpressibly sweet yet tragi-
cally fleeting, the courage of youth came back to them.
Just beyond the parson's gate the* Corporal stopped
suddenly, took Melia in his arms and kissed her.

It was a sloppy thing to do, unworthy of old mar-
ried people, but the guilt of the act was upon them,
though neither knew exactly why it should have come
about. They crossed the paddock and went on through



the romantic village, so sweetly familiar in its change-
lessness. It seemed but yesterday since they walked
through it last.

"I've wondered sometimes," whispered the Cor-
poral at the edge of the green, "what made you marry

"I believed in you, Bill; I always believed in you."
It was a great answer, yet somehow it was unexpected.
In his heart he knew he was not worthy of it and
that seemed to make it greater still.

Facing the duck pond, at the far end of the green,
was the white cottage in which Torrington the artist
had lived and died. It had changed a bit since his
time. Things had been added by his more opulent
successor. There were an iron gate, a considerable
garden and a tall tower with a glass roof which nobly
commanded the steep wooded slopes of the valley of
the Sharrow.

With the new eyes a great painter had given him
Bill saw at once that this was a rare pitch for an ar-
tist. It was one of the most beautiful spots in the
land. The immense city of Blackhampton with its
thousands of chimneys and its roaring factories might
have been a hundred miles off instead of a bare four
miles down the valley. There was not a glimpse or a
sound of it here in this peace-haunted woodland, in
this enchantment of stream and hill, bathed in a pomp
of golden cloud and magic beauty.

The simple cottage had been modernized and am-


plified, but with rare tact and cunning, so that it was
still "all of a piece," much as Torrington had left.
But the house itself was empty, with green shutters
across the windows. On the gate was a padlock, the
reason for which was given in a printed bill stuck on
a board that had been raised beside it.

By order of the executors of the late James Stanning,
Esqre., A.R.A., to be sold by auction the valuable and his-
torical property known as Torrington Cottage Dibley, to-
gether with the following furniture and effects.

A list followed of the furniture and effects, but
across the face of the bill was pasted a diagonal red-
lettered slip,

This property has been sold by private treaty.

The Corporal tried to open the gate but found the
padlock unyielding, and then he gazed at the notice

"Wonder who's bought it," he said.

Melia wondered too.

"Hope it's an artist," said the Corporal.

"So do I. But I expect it isn't. Artists is scarce."

"You're right, there." The Corporal sighed heav-
ily. "Artists is scarce." There was a strange look in
his eyes and he turned them suddenly upon the duck
pond so that Melia shouldn't notice it.

Across the road, beside the duck pond, was a wood-
en bench, sacred to the village elders, none of whom,
however, was in occupation at this moment. The



Corporal pointed to it. "Let's go an' set there a min-
ute," he said in a husky voice. As if she had been a
child he took her by the hand and led her to it.

They sat down and in a moment or two it was as if
the spirit of the place had descended upon them. The
magic hush of evening crept into their blood like a
subtle wine. A strange soft rapture seemed to per-
vade the air. The Unseen spoke to them as never

The Corporal took off his hat and wiped the dew
from his forehead. And then with a queer tighten-
ing of the throat and breast he scanned earth and sky.
They seemed marvelous indeed. He felt them speak
to him, to the infinite, submerged senses whose pres-
ence he had hardly suspected. Never had he experi-
enced such awe as now in the presence of this peace
that passed all understanding.

In a little while the silence of the Corporal began to
trouble Melia. A cold hand crept into his. "What
is it, love?" she said softly.

Not daring to look at her, he kept his eyes fixed on
the sky.

"What is it, love tell me?" He hardly knew the
voice for hers; not until that moment had he heard
her use it; but it had the power to ease just a little the
intolerable pressure of his thoughts.

"I was wondering," he said slowly, at last, "whether
it would not have been better never to have been



She shivered, not at his words, but at the gray look
on his face.

"Stanning said the night before he went he thought
that taking it altogether it would have been better if
there had never been a human race at all. I'll never
forget that last talk with him, not if I live to be a
hundred which I shall not." The Corporal had be-
gun to think his thoughts aloud. "You see, he knew
then that his number was up. I can see him settin'
there, Mother, just as you are now, lookin' at that old
sunset, his back to that old canal the Yser, I think
they call it an' stinkin' it was, fair cruel. 'Auntie,'
he said suddenlike, 'tell me what brought you into
this?' I said, 'No, boy' just like a child he was as he
set there 'it's for me to ask you, that question.
You're a big gun, you know, a shining light; I'm a
never-was-er.' That seemed to make him laugh; he
was one that could always raise a laugh, even when
he felt most solemn. 'I come of a long stock of high-
nosed old Methodists/ he said. 'Always made a thing
they call Conscience their watchword and -fetish.
There was a Stanning went to the stake for it in the
time of Bloody Mary; there was another helped Oliver
Cromwell to cut the head off King Charles. A poi-
sonous, uncomfortable crowd, and all my life they've
seemed to come back and worry me just at the times
I should have been most pleased to do without them.
People talk about free will but there isn't such a
thing, my dear.'



"I allowed that there wasn't in my case. Then I
told him about Troop Sergeant Major Hollis, who
fought at Waterloo. 'Yes,' he said, 'yours is an old
name in the city, older than mine, I dare say.' 'Well/
I said, 'according to Bazeley's Annals there was a
William Hollis who was mayor of the borough in the
year of the Spanish Armada.' 'Good for you, Auntie,'
he said, chaffing-like ; he was a rare one for chaff.
'One up to you. Then,' he said, 'there was William
Hollis who was "some" poet in the eighteenth cen-
tury, who wrote the famous romantic poem, "The
Love Lorn Lady of Corfield." Still,' he said, 'these
things don't explain you dragging your old bones to
rot out here.' 'They do in a way, though,' I said.
'When we come up against a big thing it isn't us that
really matters, it's what's at the back of us. I used
to set in my old garden on The Rise,' I said, 'in those
early days when those dirty dogs opposite was just
beginning to wipe their feet on Europe. And I said to
myself, Bill Hollis, how would you like it if they
broke through the fence into your garden, trampling
your young seeds and goose-stepping all over your
roses and your tulips. And I tell you, Jim we got
to be very familiar those last few weeks it used to
make me fair mad to read in the Tribune what they'd
done . . . Louvain one time . . . Termondy another
. . . et cetera. . . . And I kept on settin' there day
after day, in my old garden on the top o' The Rise,
saying to myself, Hollis, it's no use, me lad, you're go-



ing into this. You've failed in every bloody thing so
far, and if you take on this you'll not be man enough
to stick it out. War isn't thinking, it's doing, and
you've never been a doer, you've not. Then I read in
the Tribune one morning that they'd got Antwerp and
I said to myself, I can't stand this no more. And I
went right away to the Duke of Wellington and had
a liquor up but only a mild one, you know and
then round the corner to the Recruiting Office and
gave my age as thirty-six and here I am admiring this
bleeding sunset with the eye of an artist.'

"That made him laugh some more. 'Well, Auntie,'
he said, 'I'm very proud to have known you and I
hope you'll do me the honor of accepting this as a
keepsake/ He unbuttoned his greatcoat and took this
old watch out of his tunic."

The Corporal paused an instant in his story to fol-
low the example of his friend. He produced an old-
fashioned gold hunting watch, with J. T. in mono-
gram at the back, and handed it to Melia.

"It's a rare good one, Mother," the Corporal's voice
was very low, "solid gold." He opened the lid and
showed her the inscription:

To John Torrington, Esquire, from a Humble Ad-
mirer of His Genius, 1859.

"Stanning said, 'I had the luck to buy that in a
pawnshop in Blackhampton long after he was dead,
and if I had had a boy of my own I should like him



to have kept it as an heirloom, but as I have not I
want you to take it, Auntie, because I know you'll
appreciate it.' Somehow, I could tell from the way
he spoke that he was done. I hadn't the heart to re-
fuse it, although I hadn't a boy or a girl of my own
neither." A huskiness in the Corporal's throat made
it hard to go on for a moment. " 'I'm only thirty-
nine,' he said, 'and all the best is in me. I don't fancy
having my light put out like this in a wet bog, but it's
got to come, my dear. I hate to think that sometime
to-morrow I shall be as if I had never been.' 'Not
you,' I said. 'You're sickening for the fever.' But I
couldn't move him. He'd got the hoo-doo. 'No use
taJking about it,' he said, 'but you and I'll never have
that day's fishing in Corfield Weir. I should like you
to have seen my cottage up at Dibley. It's got the
ghost of that old boy.' He put his hand on the watch,
Mother, just like this. 'If there is a heaven for dead
painters, and I doubt it, I'd like to sit in John Tor-
rington's corner on his right hand. You see, I've
learned all sorts of things, living in his house. I was
getting to know the lights on the Sharrow and the
feel of the clouds in all the great Torringtons the
clouds feel like velvet and he was going to show me
the way to handle sunlight I've already been twice
across to New York to see "An Afternoon in July in
the Valley of the Sharrow," the most wonderful
thing of its kind in existence. You get the view from
my cottage his cottage at Dibley. I should like you



to have seen it, Auntie. And then I should like to
have taken you across to New York to show you what
old John made of it. Fancy having to go all the way
to New York to look at it. So like us to be caught on
the hop, in the things that really matter/ I give you
my word, Mother, he raised a laugh even then, but of
a sudden his voice went all queer-like. 'However,' he
said, 'there's a Mind in this that knows more than we
do.' Then the lad began to shiver just as if he had
the ague. And the next day, about the same time,
or mayhap the perishin' old sun had gone a bit more
west, I had to go out across No Man's Land to bring
him in ... what there was left of him."

The Corporal ended his strange story as if after all
it didn't much matter. He was quite impersonal, but
Melia sat beside him shivering at the look in his eyes.
Never before had the veil been torn aside in this way.
She was a dull soul, fettered heavily by her limita-
tions, but sitting there in the growing dusk it came

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Online LibraryJ. C. (John Collis) SnaithThe undefeated → online text (page 11 of 18)