J. C. (John Collis) Snaith.

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on her almost with horror that in all those long years
it was the first peep she had had behind the scenes of
his mind. She hadn't realized the kind of man he
was. More than once she had cast it in his face that
he was an idle shack-about. Somehow, there had been
nothing to give her the key to him; and now, miracu-
lously as it seemed, it had come to her, it was too late.

She had the key to him now. But the sands were
running out in fate's hour glass. She couldn't bear to
look at his thin gray face as the light fell on it, nor at



his strange eyes fixed on the padlocked gate of the
cottage opposite. Of a sudden the watch slipped
from her shaking hands, and fell lightly in a little
brake of thistles by the end of the bench on which they

Cautiously and carefully he picked it out. "Take
care on it, Mother," he said softly as he put it again
in her hands. "I wish we'd a little boy as could have
had it. However, we've not. There was once a
George Hollis who was an artist; I showed you that
picture of his, "The Glade above Corfield," the other
day; Jim said it was a good one. John Torrington
one time was his pupil. Don't suppose he was any
relation but it's the same name."

Melia put the watch in the pretty leather bag he
had insisted on buying for her. And then she said
with a horrible clutch in her throat: "Bill, promise!
You'll come back . . . won't you?"

His eyes didn't move.

"I'll be that lonely."

He sighed softly like a child who is very tired. "I'll
do what I can, Mother." The voice was gentleness it-
self. "I can't do more."

She didn't know . . . she didn't realize . . . what
. she . . was .


THEY sat hand in hand on the bench by the
duck pond until the shadows began to lengthen
along the valley of the Sharrow. For quite a long
time they didn't speak, but at last their reverie was
broken by the sight of a dusty figure with a sack on
its back shambling along the road towards them. It
was the village postman.

"Who's bought the cottage opposite?" the Corporal

"Zur?" said the postman.

The Corporal repeated his question.

"They do sey, zur," said the postman in slow, im-
pressive Doric, "the Mayor o' Blackhampton has
bought it."

"What Alderman Munt?" The voice of the Cor-
poral was full of dismay.

"The Mayor o' Blackhampton, zur. Come here the
other day in a motey car to look at it. Large big
genelman in a white hat."

The heart of the Corporal sank. What the hell had
he, of all people, to go buying it for! Somehow the
postman had shattered the queer sad little world in
which they sat. A feeling of desperation came sud-
denly upon the Corporal. He rose abruptly from



the bench. "Come on, Mother," he said, "if we don't
get along we'll be late for supper."

"Don't want no supper, Bill."

But the Corporal was firm.

"I'd like to stop here all night," Melia said as she
rose limply from the bench. "I'd like to stop here

That was the desire uppermost in the Corporal
also, but it would not do to admit it.

Down the road, hand in hand, like two children
out late, they trudged in the gathering dusk to Cor-
field. It was a perfect evening. Just a little ahead
was one faint star; over to the left in the noble line
of woods that overlooked the river they could hear
the nightingale. Once they stopped and held their
breaths to listen. They saw the rabbits dart from
among the ferns at their feet and run before them
along the white road. The evening pressed ever closer
upon them as they marched slowly on, until, at a turn
in the road, Corfield with its fruit orchards came into

It was a long trek home but they were in no
hurry to get there. By the time they had come to
the old stone bridge which spanned the broad river
and united the country with the town it was quite
dark and the lamps of the city were shining in the

Midway across the bridge they stopped to take one
last look at the Sharrow gleaming down its valley.



Since the afternoon this mighty symbol which from
earliest childhood had dominated their every recollec-
tion seemed to have gained in power, in magic and in


THE hard and difficult months wore on. Sum-
mer passed to autumn; Europe was locked in
the most terrible conflict the world had ever seen, but
there was no sign of a decision.

Like Britain herself, Blackhampton was in the war
to the last man and the last shilling. From the mo-
ment the plunge had been taken the conscience and the
will of this brotherhood of free peoples had been in
grim unison behind the action of its government. The
war was no affair of sections or of classes; the issue
was so clear that there was no ground for misunder-
standing it.

For years it had been freely declared that Britain
was past her zenith, that disintegration had already be-
gun, that England herself was enervated with pros-
perity. At the outset the enemy in making war had
counted on the fact too confidently. Britain would
not dare to enter the struggle, she who was suffering
from fatty degeneration of the soul, or if in the end
she was driven into the whirlpool in spite of herself
she would prove a broken reed in this strife for hu-
man freedom.



These were dangerous heresies, even for a race of
supermen, and nowhere in the oldest of free com-
munities was the task of dispelling it undertaken more
vigorously than in Blackhampton. As its archives
bore witness it had a long and proud record. No
matter what great national movement had been afoot
in the past, Blackhampton, the central city of England,
geographically speaking, had invariably reacted to it
with force and urgency.

Among the many virile men who strove to meet a
supreme occasion, none deserved better of his country,
or of his fellow citizens than Mr. Josiah Munt. He
was of a type suited beyond all others to deal with
the more obvious needs of a time that called for the
unsparing use of every energy; he had a genius of a
plain, practical, ruthless kind; he was the incarnation
of "carry-on" and "get things done."

From the first hour he took off his coat and buckled
to. He worked like a leviathan. No day was too long
for him, no labor too arduous; his methods were
rough and now and again the clatter he made was a
little out of proportion to the amount of weight he
pulled in the boat. His life had been one of limited
opportunity, but he had a knack of seeing the thing
to be done and of doing it. People soon began to real-
ize that he was the right man in the right place, and
that as a driving force he was a great asset to the city
of Blackhampton.

The war was about fifteen months' old when Alder-


man Munt was chosen mayor of Blackhampton. He
took up an office that was by no means a sinecure at a
very critical moment. But it was soon clear that a
wise choice had been made; a certain Britishness of
character of the right bull-dog breed did much to keep
a population of two hundred and eighty-six thousand
souls "up to the collar." Somehow, the rude force
and the native honesty of the man appealed to the
popular imagination; if a prophet is ever honored in
his own country it is in time of war.

During his mayoralty Josiah Munt came to occupy
a place in the minds of his own people that none could
have predicted. When the grim hour struck which
altered the face of the world and changed the whole
aspect of human society few could have been found
to say a word in favor of the proprietor of the Duke
of Wellington. He had begun low down, in a com-
mon part of the town ; and, although there was really
nothing against him, his name was never in specially
good odor, perhaps for the reason that he bore ob-
vious marks of his origin and because the curves of
his mind were too broad for him to care very much
about concealing them. In the general opinion he
had been a very "lucky" man, financially successful
beyond his merits, and for that reason arrogant. But
in the throes of the upheaval preconceived ideas were
soon shed if they did not happen to square with the
facts; and it took considerably less than a year for
Josiah to prove to his fellow townsmen that the god-



dess Fortune is not always the capricious fool she has
the name of being.

Even in the stress of a terribly strenuous twelve
months the Mayor of Blackhampton, like the wise
man he was, insisted upon taking his annual fort-
night's holiday at Bridlington. He had not missed his
annual fortnight at Bridlington once in the last thirty
years. It did him so much good, he was able to
work so much the better for it afterwards, that, as
he informed Mr. Aylett the Town Clerk, on the eve
of departure in the second week of August, "it would
take more than the likes o' the Kaiser to keep him
from the seaside."

Like a giant refreshed the Mayor returned to his
civic duties at the end of the month. His leisure at
Bridlington had been enlivened by the company of
the Mayoress, by Mrs. Doctor Cockburn and her two
children, and also by Miss Gertrude Preston, who for
quite a number of years now had helped to beguile
the tedium of her brother-in-law's annual rest cure.

As soon as the Mayor returned to the scene of his
labors he found there was one very important ques-
tion he would have to decide. In his absence the City
fathers had met several times to discuss the matter of
his successor and had come, in some cases perhaps re-
luctantly, to the conclusion that none but himself could
be his peer. According to the aldermanic roster, Mr.
Limpenny the maltster was next in office, but that
wise man was the first to own that he had not the



driving power, or the breadth of appeal of the present

In ordinary times that would not have mattered,
but the times were very far from ordinary. War
was making still sterner demands, week by week, upon
every man and woman in the country. Blackhampton
had done much, as every town in England had, but
its temporal directors felt that no effort must be re-
laxed, and that it was ever increasingly their duty "to
keep it up to the collar." And Josiah Munt now filled
the popular mind.

The very qualities which in the gentler days, not so
long ago, had aroused antagonism were at a premium
now. For superfine people the Mayor was a full-
blooded representative of a distressing type, but it
was now the reign of King Demos : all over the island
from Westminster itself to the parish hall of Little
Pedlington-in-the-Pound the Josiah Munts of the
earth had come at last by their own. On every public
platform and in every newspaper was to be found a
Josiah Munt haranguing the natives at the top of his
voice, thereby guaranteeing his political vision and his
mental capacity. King Demos is not a rose born to
blush unseen; he knows everything about everything
and he is not ashamed to say so. With a fraction of
his colossal mind he can conduct the most delicate and
far-reaching military operations, involving millions of
men, and cotthtless tons of machinery to which even
a Napoleon or a Clausewitz might be expected to give



his undivided attention ; with another he is able to in-
sure that the five million dogs of the island, mainly
untaxed, shall continue to pollute the unscavengered
streets of its most populous cities; with another he is
able to devise a Ministry of Health; with another he
can pick his way through the maze of world politics,
and recast the map of Europe and Asia on a basis to
endure until the crack of doom; with yet another he
can devise a new handle for the parish pump.

King Demos is indeed a bright fellow. And in Mr.
Josiah Munt he found an ideal representative. Hap-
pily for Blackhampton, although there were places
of even greater importance who in this respect were
not so well off, he was a man of rude honesty. He
said what he meant and he meant what he said; he
was no believer in graft, he did not willfully mislead;
he was not a seeker of cheap applause ; and in matters
of the public purse he had a certain amount of public
conscience. As Mr. Aylett the town clerk said in the
course of a private conversation with Mr. Druce the
chairman of the Finance Committee, "His worship is
not everybody's pretty boy, but just now we are lucky
to have him and we ought to be thankful that he is
the clean potato."

Therefore, within a week of his return from Brid-
lington, the Mayor was met by the request of the City
fathers that he should take office for another year.
Josiah was flattered by the compliment, but he felt



that it was not a matter he could decide offhand.
"He must talk to the wife."

At dinner that evening at Strathfieldsaye, when the
question was mooted, the hapless Maria was over-
come. Only heaven knew, if heaven did know, how
she had contrived to fill the part of a Mayoress for
so many trying months. She had simply been count-
ing the days when she could retire into that life of
privacy, from which by no desire of her own had she
emerged It was too cruel that the present agony
should be prolonged for another year, and although
her tremulous lips dare not say so her eyes spoke for

"What do you say, Mother?" His worship proudly
took a helping of potatoes.

Maria did not say anything.

"A compliment, you know. Limpenny's next in,
but the Council is unanimous in asking me to keep on.
I don't know that I want to, it's terrible work, great
responsibility and it costs money; but, between you
and me, I don't see who is going to do it better.
Comes to that, I don't see who is going to do it as
well. Limpenny's a gentleman and all that, college
bred and so on, but he's not the man somehow. Give
Limpenny his due, he knows that. He button-holed
me this morning after the meeting of the Council.
'Mr. Mayor/ he said Limpenny's one o' those precise
think-before-you-speak sort o' people 'I do hope
you'll continue in office. To my mind you're the right



man in the right place.' I thought that very decent
of Limpenny. Couldn't have spoken fairer, could

The hapless Maria gave an audible sniff and dis-
continued the eating of war beef.

"Well, Mother, what do you say? The Council
seems to think that I've got the half nelson on this
town. So Aylett said. A bit of a wag in his way, is
that Aylett He said I'd got two hundred and eighty-
six thousand people feeding from the hand. That's
an exaggeration, but I see what he means; and he's
a man of considerable municipal experience. Smart-
est town clerk in England, they tell me. 'It's all very
well, Mr. Aylett,' I said, 'but I'll have to talk to the
Mayoress. And I'll let you have an answer to-mor-
row.' "

The hapless Maria declined gooseberry fool prof-
fered by the respectful Alice.

"Don't seem to be eating, Mother," said his worship.
"Aren't you well? I expect it's the weather."

Maria thought it must be the weather; at any rate
it could be nothing else.

"Want a bit more air, I think," said Josiah in the
midst of a royal helping of a favorite delicacy. "Just
roll back those sunblinds, Alice, and let in a bit o'

The sphinx-like Alice carried out the order.

"And open the doors a bit wider."

Alice impassively obeyed.


"Would you like a nip of brandy? The weather, I
suppose. Very hot to-day. Temperature nearly a
hundred this morning in the Council Chamber. We'll
have some new ventilators put in there or I'll know
the reason. At the best of times there's a great deal
too much hot air in the Council Chamber. And when
you get a hot summer on the top of it ... ! Alice,
go and get some brandy for the Mistress."

Exit Alice.

"You'll feel better when you've had a drop of
brandy. Antiquated things those ventilators at the
City Hall. Aylett thinks they've been there since the
time of Queen Anne. But they're not the only things
I'm going to scrap if I hold office another year.
There's too much flummery and red tape round about
Corporation Square. Tradition is all very well but
we want something practical."

Alice entered with a decanter.

"Ah, that'll put you right. A little meat for the
Mistress, Alice. Never mind the soda. It'll not hurt
you, Mother. Prime stuff is that and prime stuff
never does harm to no one. Some I've had by me
at the Duke of Wellington for many a year."

At first the Mayoress was very shy of the brandy,
prime stuff though it was, but his worship was ada-
mant, and after a moment or two of half-hearted re-
sistance Maria seemed the better for her lord's in-

"Talkin' of the Duke of Wellington . . . funny


how things work out ! When we went in there in '79,
you and me, we little thought we should be where we
are now, in the most important time in history. That
reminds me. Alice, just ring up the Tribune Office
and give the editor my compliments and tell him I've
arranged to speak to-morrow at the Gas Works at
twelve o'clock and they had better send a reporter."

"Very good, sir."


Alice halted sphinx-like at the door.

"Wait a minute. I'll go myself!" Josiah plucked
his table napkin out of his collar. "Nothing like do-
ing a thing while it's fresh in your mind. And do
it yourself if you want it done right. I must have
a word with Parslow the editor. The jockey he sent
to Jubilee Park to report the flower show didn't know
his business. The most important part of the speech
was left out." He laid down his table napkin and
rose determinedly. "Nice thing in a time like this
for the Mayor of the City not to be fully reported.
I've half a mind to tell that Parslow what I think
of him. Some people don't seem to know there's a
war on."

Five minutes later when Josiah returned in triumph
to his gooseberries he found Maria reclining on the
sofa with her feet up, next the window opening on to
the spacious lawns of Strathfieldsaye. The impas-
sive but assiduous handmaid was fanning her mistress
with a handkerchief.



"That's right, Alice!" Josiah sat down with an
air of satisfaction. He was not indifferent to the
sufferings of Maria, but of recent years she seemed
to have developed a susceptibility to climatic condi-
tions perhaps a little excessive for the wife of one who
at heart was still a plain man. She had a proneness
to whims and fancies now which in robuster days was
lacking. He could only ascribe it to a kind of mis-
placed fineladyism, and he didn't quite approve it.

"I spoke pretty straight to the Tribune ... to the
subeditor. I said I hoped they fully realized their
duty to the public and also to the Empire, but that
I sometimes doubted it. He seemed a bit huffed, I
thought . . . but you'll see I'll be reported to-morrow
all right. I'll look after your mistress, Alice. Go and
get the coffee."

When Alice returned with the coffee she found the
Mayor vigorously fanning the Mayoress with a table
napkin, and she was peremptorily ordered "to nip up-
stairs for a bottle of sal volatile."


THERE was honest satisfaction in the town when
it was known that the Mayor had consented to
remain another year in office. Most people agreed
that it was a good thing for Blackhampton. But the
Mayoress took to her bed.

Could she have had her way she would never have
got up again. For many years now life had been a
nightmare of ever-growing duties, of ever-increasing
responsibilities. Her conservative temperament re-
sisted change. She had not wanted to leave the Duke
of Wellington for the comparative luxury of Water-
loo Villa, she had not wanted to leave Waterloo Villa
for the defiant grandeur of Strathfieldsaye. When
she was faced with a whole year as Mayoress she fully
expected to die of it, and perhaps she would have died
of it but for the oblique influence of Gertrude Pres-
ton ; but now she was threatened with a further twelve-
months of the same embarrassing public grandeur she
was compelled to review her attitude towards an early

Maria knew that if she allowed her light to be put
out Gerty had the makings of a highly qualified suc-
cessor. No one was better at shaking hands with a



grandee, no one had a happier knack of saying the
right word at the right time; and neither the Mayor
nor the Mayoress, particularly the latter, knew what
they would have done without her. Gerty, in fact,
had become a kind of unofficial standard bearer and
henchwoman of a great man. Every piece of gossip
she heard about him was faithfully reported, every
paragraph that appeared in the paper was brought to
his notice, she flattered him continually and made him
out to be no end of a fellow ; and in consequence poor
Maria was bitten with such a furious jealousy that
she would like to have killed her designing but indis-
pensable step-sister.

When Maria took to her bed, the Mayor promptly
requested the accomplished Gertrude to do what she
could in the matter.

"Josiah, she must show Spirit." As always that
was her specific for the hapless Maria, and at the re-
quest of his worship she went at once to the big bed-
room, from whose large bay windows a truly noble
view of the whole city and the open country beyond
was to be obtained, and as Josiah himself expressed
it, "proceeded to read the riot act to the Mayoress."

The Mayoress was in bed, therefore she had to take
it lying down. For that matter it was her nature to
take all things lying down. But in her heart she had
never so deeply resented the obtrusion of Gerty as
at this moment. She wanted never to get up any
more, but if she didn't get up any more this meddle-



some and dangerous rival would do as she liked with
Josiah, and in all human probability as soon as the
lawful Mayoress was decently and comfortably in her
grave she would marry him.

It was really Gerty who kept the Mayoress going;
not by the crude method of personal admonition, how-
ever forcible its use, but by the subtle spur that one
mind may exert upon another. Maria had to choose
between showing spirit and allowing the odious Gerty
to wear the dubious mantle of her grandeur.

Hard was the choice, but Mother Eve prevailed in
the weak flesh of the lawful Mayoress. She made a
silent vow that Gerty should not marry Josiah if she
could possibly help it. Yes, she would show spirit.
Cruel as the alternative was, she would be Mayoress
a second year. Even if she died of it, and in her
present frame of mind she rather hoped she would,
she alone should sit in the chair of honor at the An-
nual Meeting of the British Women's Tribute to the
Memory of Queen Boadicea, she alone should take
precedence of the local duchess and the county ladies
at the annual bazaar in aid of the Society for Pro-
viding Black and White Dogs with Brown Biscuits.

Maria, however, in her present low state, consented
to Gerty deputizing for her at the review of the Girl
Scouts in the Arboretum. She was reluctant to make
even that minor concession it was the thin end of
the wedge! but it had been intimated to Josiah that
the Mayoress was always expected to say a few words



on this spirited occasion. This was altogether too
much for Maria in the present condition of her health.

Before the Girl Scouts, Gerty bore herself in a man-
ner that even Miss Heber-Knollys, the august princi-
pal of the High School for Young Ladies, who was
present, a perfect dragon of silent criticism, could
hardly have improved upon. The Mayor at any rate
was delighted with his sister-in-law's performance,
drove her back in triumph to Strathfieldsaye and in-
sisted on her staying to dinner.

The hapless Maria, after nearly three weeks of the
peace and sanctity of her chamber, had struggled down
to tea for the first time. She sat forlornly in the draw-
ing-room, a white woolen shawl over her ample shoul-
ders. It had been a real relief to allow Gerty to depu-
tize for her, but now that the hour of trial was past
Maria was inclined to despise, for the moment at any
rate, the human weakness that had played into the
hands of a highly dangerous schemer. It would have
been so easy to have done it oneself, after all; it was
such a simple thing, now that it was safely over !

Gerty consumed a pickelet and drank two cups of
tea with an air of rectitude, while Josiah recited the
story of the afternoon for the delectation of Maria.
He was so well satisfied with the performance of the
deputy that the lawful Mayoress began to scent dan-
ger. "Gert says," the Mayor informed her, "that if

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Online LibraryJ. C. (John Collis) SnaithThe undefeated → online text (page 12 of 18)