J. C. (John Collis) Snaith.

The undefeated online

. (page 15 of 18)
Online LibraryJ. C. (John Collis) SnaithThe undefeated → online text (page 15 of 18)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

been the new clothes. Formerly, she had felt self-
conscious, awkward, hopelessly shabby in the midst
of a grandeur to which she was unused, whereby she
was thrown back upon her embittered self, but now
her changing circumstances, the considered kindness
of her mother and Gerty, and especially her father's
new attitude towards her gave her a sense of happi-
ness almost.

Perhaps the fact that Ethel, Mrs. Doctor Cockburn,
was unable to be present may also have ministered a
little to this feeling. Ethel's absence was much de-
plored. Somehow a void was created which seemed
to rob the modest function of any claim to distinction
it might have had; yet in her heart Melia felt that
the absence of Mrs. Doctor made it easier for her
personally, and even for her mother, whatever it may
have done for people so accomplished in the world as



her father now was, and for Aunt Gerty who some-
how had learned to be genteel without being stuck
up. With Ethel, on the other hand, she had never
felt quite at her ease. Nor did anybody, if it came
to that. Putting people at their ease was not among
Mrs. Doctor Cockburn's many gifts. She was so
much a lady that simple folk were apt to be over-
whelmed by her sense of her happy condition. It was
difficult for ordinary people to be their plain selves
in her presence; ordinary they might be, but in social
intercourse Mrs. Doctor seemed almost to resent their
plainness as being in the nature of a slight upon her-

However, Ethel was not there. And in Melia's
opinion her absence gave a finer flavor to the turkey,
a gentler quality to the plum pudding and a more
subtle aroma to the blazing fumes that crowned it.
Nevertheless, it was a theme for much comment. An
Event of the first magnitude was almost due to take
place in the family; and the head of it, presiding over
the modest feast with a kind of genial majesty which
ever-growing public recognition of his unusual quali-
ties seemed to enhance and to humanize, made no se-
cret of the fact that he very much wanted to have a
little grandson.

"Well, Josiah," said the gallant Gerty, adding a lit-
tle water to some excellent claret and smiling at him
with two level rows of white teeth, "I am sure we
all hope your wish will be gratified. No man, I'm



sure, if I may be allowed to say so, more thoroughly
deserves a little grandson than yourself."

To some minds, perhaps, it was not quite in the
Gertrude tradition. It was Christmas Day and in
crowning the Christmas pudding Josiah had been a
thought on the free side, no doubt, with some of the
finest old brandy even the Duke of Wellington could
boast ; but in any case she meant well. All the same,
the Mayoress could not repress a slight frown of an-
noyance. The demonstration did not amount to more
than that. It did not really convict Gerty of bad
taste, but Maria felt somehow that she had to watch
her continually. Gerty was such a Schemer. Besides,
what business was it of Gerty 's anyway?

"Thank you, Gert" The Mayor raised his glass
to the Serpent with the homely charm that was never
seen to greater advantage than on Christmas Day in
the family circle. "Good health and good luck all
round. I must have that little grandson, somehow.
Melia, my gel, that's something for you and your good
man to bear in mind."

Melia flushed. She looked so confused and so un-
happy that the watchful Gerty, who with all her ways
really spent a good deal of time thinking for others,
suddenly perceived that it might be kind to change
the subject.

"Josiah/' said Gerty, "what is this one hears about
a public presentation to Sally?"

"You may well ask that." The Mayor held up a


glass of '68 port to the light "Some of those jockeys
on the City Council have been making themselves very

"Glad to hear it, Josiah." Gerty was just as pat
as your hat. "Think of the honor she's brought to
the city. Surely right and surely proper that what
Sally has done should be publicly recognized. Even
the Times says she's a credit to the Empire."

"All very well," said his worship. "But it's noth-
ing like ten years since I used to lay her across my
knee and spank her. There was one slipper I kept
for the purpose." With a humorous sigh he con-
verged upon the brim of his wine glass. "But I could
never make nothing of that gel. There was always
the devil in her. Public presentation's all very well,
but some of those jockeys on the Council have per-
suaded the Duke to make it, and he's fair set on my
takin' the chair as I'm Mayor o' the city and so on."

"The Duke is such a sensible man !" An arch preen
of Gerty's plumage. "Only right and proper, Jo-
siah, that you should take the chair. The other day,
according to the Tribune, the French Government gave
her a very high decoration. She's quite a heroine in

"I'm not surprised at anything." In the Mayor's
grim eye was quite as much vexation as there was
humor. "Stubborn as a mule. And that independ-
ent. Must always go her own gait. Nice thing my
having to preside over three thousand people while



she's being handed an illuminated address. Of course,
that Aylett's at the back of it. Mischievous dog! I
said if there must be a public presentation, as I was
the father o' the hussy, it was up to somebody else
to preside. But, seemingly, they don't take to the

"Of course not, Josiah."

Groaned the Mayor, "I'll have to make the best of
it, I suppose. Still, a scurvy trick on the part of
that Aylett"


IN spite of the Mayor's attitude, which was unsym-
pathetic to the verge of discouragement, the Town
Clerk was able to inform him on New Year's morn-
ing that Miss Sarah Ann Munt had graciously con-
sented to accept an illuminated address in commemo-
ration of her deeds on January twenty-fifth at the
Floral Hall. The news was not received graciously.
Josiah had comforted himself with the not unrea-
sonable hope that the Hussy would decline the presen-
tation; it would be so like her to upset their plans.
But no, after all, Sally preferred to behave with still
deeper cussedness. She wrote a charmingly polite
letter from the Depot of the Northern Command at
Screwton, where she was at present attached, to in-
form the members of the Blackhampton City Council
that it would give her great pleasure to attend the
function on January twenty-fifth and that she was
very sensible of the honor about to be conferred upon
her. And that, after all, was even more like her than
a refusal of the proposal would have been.

Josiah was more disconcerted than fie cared to own.
It was necessary to hide his feelings as far as he could,
but he was not a finished dissembler, and, in addition
to "that Aylett," there were several members of the



Council who seemed to enjoy the situation. Several
of these received a piece of the Mayor's mind in the
course of the morning. "He didn't know what they
could be thinking of to be wastin' the Town's money
in that way." In other words, Josiah had decided to
carry things off with a high hand.

That evening, after dinner, he sat down and wrote
a letter.

"Dear Sarah Ann, I understand that you are to be pre-
sented with an Address on the twenty-fifth at the Floral
Hall. Your mother and I hope that you will be able to come
and stay here over the week end. Your affectionate Father,
Josiah Munt. P.S. No need to tell you that this Affair is
none of my doing."

It was not an easy letter to write nor was the Mayor
altogether satisfied when it was written. But in the
circumstances it wouldn't do to say too much.

By return of post came a dry, rather curt note from
Sally. She thanked her father for the invitation,
but she had already promised Ethel that when next
in Blackhampton she would stay at Park Crescent.

Josiah felt annoyed. Once more it was so like her.
Somehow the reply left him less easy in his mind
than ever. He would be glad when the ordeal of the
twenty-fifth was over. He didn't trust the minx. As
likely as not she would play some trick or other; she
was quite capable of affronting him publicly. How-
ever, the eyes of the world were upon him, he must
keep a stiff upper lip, he must see that she didn't
down him.



In the meantime, from another quarter, bitter disap-
pointment came. The high hopes of a little grandson
did not materialize. Instead of a lusty Horace Josiah
Cockburn bursting upon a flattered world, the inferior
tribe of Gwenneths and Gwladyses had a Gwendolen
added to their number. It was quite a blow. The
Mayor and all his family had set their hearts on a boy.
For once the successful Ethel had been less than
herself. She had failed conspicuously. It was im-
possible to conceal the fact that people were a little
disappointed with her.

Happily, Gwendolen had enough sense of propor-
tion and right feeling to arrive according to schedule.
It would have been unpardonable in her to have pre-
vented Mrs. Doctor from attending the important
function on the twenty-fifth at the Floral Hall and
the even more important ceremony on the twenty-
sixth when the Duke was to open the new annex to
the Mayor of Blackhampton's hospital, which at one
acute moment she had threatened to do. Fortunately
Gwendolen remembered herself in time. She con-
trived to make her appearance on January second in
this vale of tears, and, although from the outset not
a popular member of society, after all she was less
unpopular than she might have been had she deferred
her arrival until a week


THE scene at the Floral Hall was worthy of the
occasion. All that was best in the public life
of Blackhampton and of the county of Middleshire
was gathered in force in the ornate building in New

There was more than one reason for the represen-
tative character of the audience. In the first place it
was felt to be a royal opportunity to exalt the horn
of patriotism. This public recognition of the heroic
Miss Munt was a compliment paid to the women of
Britain, to those many thousands of magnificent wom-
en whose deeds had proved them worthy of their
brothers, their husbands and their sons. Again, the
figure of Sally herself had fired the public imagination.
A Joan of Arc profile overlaid by a general air of
you-be-damnedness made an ideal picture postcard
as her father had already found to his cost. All sorts
of people seemed to take a fantastic pleasure in ad-
dressing them to Josiah Munt, Esquire, J.P., Strath-
fieldsaye, The Rise, Blackhampton. "How proud you
must be of her," et cetera. Ad nauseam.

Moreover, this function was intended as a tribute
to the Mayor himself. His worth was now recog-
nized by all classes. He was the right man in the



right place; his boundless energy and his practical
sense were of the utmost value to the community;
and the wise men of that thickly populated district
seized the chance of paying homage to Josiah and at
the same time of exploiting a powerful personality in
the interests of the state.

At three o'clock, when the Mayor came on to the
platform, the large hall was very full. He was fol-
lowed by the Duke of Dumbarton, a genial, young-
middle-aged nobleman, who was to make the presen-
tation, and by other magnates. Behind the Chairman
many notables were seated already; and to lend point
to the somewhat intimate nature of the proceedings,
which may or may not have been part of the design
of these "in the know," the members of Josiah's fam-
ily with the national heroine in their midst had been
grouped prominently upon his right hand.

The Town Clerk, a little wickedly perhaps, had
intimated beforehand to the Mayor that the proceed-
ings would really be in the nature of "a family party."
At all events, his worship took the hint "of that Ay-
lett" literally. Before sitting down at the table and
taking formal charge of the meeting his eyes chanced
to light on a group of men in hospital blue for whom
places had been reserved in the front row of the bal-
cony. Among these he recognized Corporal Hollis,
whose leg as a result of five weeks' special treatment
had improved quite remarkably.

The Mayor went to the end of the platform and


called loudly, "Bill, you are wanted down here. Come
on to the platform, my boy."

The Corporal did not covet notoriety, but it would*
have been as wise to thwart the waters of Niagara as
to resist the will of the City's chief magistrate at a
public meeting. Until his instructions had been car-
ried out there was not a chance of a start being made.
Reluctantly realizing this the Corporal in the course
of three minutes had made his way down from the
gallery and on to the platform, a crutch in each hand,
where his august father-in-law received him.

"Come on, Bill." He was shepherded along the
front row of chairs as if the presence of three thou-
sand people was a very ordinary matter. "You come
and sit with the wife. Colonel Hickman, kindly move
up a bit Thank you. Like a chair for your leg?
If you do, I'll get one."

The Corporal declined a chair for his leg, just as
the meeting incited by certain officious members of
the Town Council broke into cheers. Melia and the
Corporal, seated side by side, were covered in mo-
mentary confusion. Then the chairman took his seat
at the table, reduced the meeting to silence by rap-
ping the board sternly with his mallet and stood up
again briefly to open the proceedings. These consisted
in patriotic speeches from Lieutenant-General Sir
William Hardcastle, K.C.B., and the Duke of Dum-
barton, and the presentation of an illuminated scroll
in a gold casket to Miss Sarah Ann Munt.


First, a speech excellent in its kind, which paid
tribute to the deeds of the sons and daughters of the
Empire in all parts of the world; also it emphasized
the sternness of the hour and the need for "keeping
on, keeping on." Then, amid a flutter of excitement,
came the presentation to Miss Munt. It was made by
the Duke, a figure deservedly popular all over the
district from which, to be sure, he derived immense
revenues. A master of courtly phrase and well turned
compliment, he gave the heroine of the occasion the
full benefit of his powers. And when at last, in the
purview of three thousand people, the dauntless Sally
came forth to the table to receive the casket and scroll
she was a sight to behold.

Rather tall, very slender, brown of cheek and with
the eye of a falcon, in her simple, faded, but much be-
ribboned khaki she looked at that moment a child of
the gods. At the sight of her a thrill ran through
the hall. Cinema, newspaper, picture postcard had
led that assembly to set its hopes high, but the real-
ity, in its calm strength, with a faintly ironical smile
fusing a noble fixity of purpose, more than fulfilled
them. In the youngest daughter of the Mayor of the
city was symbolized the glorious spirit of the youth of
the Empire.

A hush came over the great audience. The Duke
opened the casket and took out the scroll. Everybody
seemed fascinated by her, including the members of
her own family in a group at the right hand of the



Chair. But there was just one person there who did
not seem willing to submit without a struggle to her
dynamic influence; and that person was her rather
rueful, slightly scandalized male parent.

Even now, in this, of all moments, his worship
seemed to detect in that amazing personality the spirit
of Damnable Independence. How many times in the
past, in the stress of combat, when it had been his will
against hers, had he seen that dogged, oh-go-to-the-
devil look which would surely have driven him mad
had not he been weak enough to admire it secretly.
There was no getting topside of a look of that kind.
As she stood in the presence of the ducal necktie,
with a faint trace of humorous scorn at the corners
of her lips, the outraged Chairman suddenly caught
and fixed her eye. And as he did so his own eye, as
of old, seemed to say to her, "One word from You,
our Sally, and I'll give You such a Lammoxing!"

The casket and scroll were handed to Miss Munt,
who acknowledged them with a graceful inclination
of an imperial head, and then cheers broke out in a
hurricane. In part, no doubt, they were inspired by
family associations, for her father had grown vastly
popular; but in large measure they were due beyond
a doubt to sheer power of personality. The secret
force which distinguishes one human being from an-
other, over and beyond their works and their walk
in life, belonged to Sally in sovereign degree. Her
portraits and her fame had kindled hopes which the



dauntless reality had more than fulfilled. In the sight
of all she stood a true daughter of her race, four-
square, unconquerable.

At last the cheers subsided and then arose demands
for a speech from the Mayor. As the result of as-
siduous practice in war oratory Josiah had won re-
markable success. He did not pretend to polish or
to flights of intellect or fancy, but he had a knack
of speechmaking that was immensely to the taste of
his fellow citizens. In response to the insistent de-
mand of the meeting he rose ponderously.

On the crowded platform, as in the body of the
hall itself, was many a shrewd judge of men. The
average Briton of all classes has an instinct in such
matters that is almost uncanny. He knows a man
when he sees one. And when the Mayor stood up
to address them, a little yet not too much, embar-
rassed by the nature of his reception, all present knew
that they saw one now. Charmed and delighted by
the heroine of the piece, so shrewd a body of persons
may also have been rather amazed that she had come
to happen. But, somehow, her father seemed to ex-
plain her. A rough diamond, no doubt, but at that
moment, in his self-possession, in his self-belief, in
his titanic grappling power when faced with difficulty,
he was an expression of the genius of the race.

All the same it was not easy for the Mayor of
Blackhampton to find words at that moment. As a
rule, when on his legs he did not suffer a lack of them.



He had a natural gift of speech and a faculty of hu-
mor which found expression in many a racy idiom.
But his powers threatened to desert him now.

"Ladies and gentlemen," he began. There was a
pause and then he began again. "Ladies and gentle-
men." There was a second pause while three thou-
sand sympathetic fellow citizens hung upon the
phrase. And then at last slowly and grimly the great
voice boomed out, "Ladies and gentlemen, there are
those who think they can down the Anglo-Saxon race,
but" slight pause "they don't know what they are
un-der-ta-kin' "

There was one pause more. It lasted but an in-
stant for the meeting broke out in a roar. Only too
well had the Mayor interpreted the thought that was
dominating the minds of his fellow citizens.


ON the Sunday after the famous meeting at the
Floral Hall, Bill paid a first visit to Strath-
fieldsaye. He was loth to yield to the will of his
father-in-law, but Josiah would take no denial. Cor-
poral Hollis was a stubborn man, but no one under
the rank of a field marshal could hope to resist ef-
fectively the Mayor of Blackhampton in his second
year of office.

Due notice was given by Josiah that he was going
personally to fetch Melia on Sunday afternoon. He in-
tended to drive in his car to Love Lane for that pur-
pose. On the way back he would call at the hospital
for the Corporal "who must come along up home and
drink a dish of tea with Maria."

The program was not exactly to the taste of Bill,
who had little use for tea and perhaps even less use
for his "in-laws." But what could he do in face of
the Mayor's ukase?

Thus it was that in the twilight of a memorable
Sunday the Corporal made his first appearance in
Strathfieldsaye's spacious drawing-room. In the past
month his leg had surprisingly improved, but final re-
covery would be long and slow, and he still required
two crutches. On entering the room he was a little



disconcerted to find so distinguished a company, for
in addition to the Mayoress, mutely superb at the tea
table, was Mrs. Doctor Cockburn, more vocal in black
velvet, Miss Preston, as usual, touched with fashion,
and, standing on the hearthrug, near the fire, in her
faded khaki was the slight but martial form of Sally.

The presence of Sally was a surprise to the Mayor.
He had not expected to see her there, and as soon as
his eye lit on her he gave a start. First of all, how-
ever, he shepherded the Corporal into a comfortable
chair with a tenderness hard to credit in him, fixing
up the injured leg on a second chair and laying the
crutches on the carpet by the Corporal's side.

Having done all this, the Mayor moved up to the
hearthrug, his hand outstretched. "Very glad to see
you here, my gel." Without hesitation and in the
frankest way he kissed Sally loudly upon the cheek.
It was manly and it was also bold, for such an act
seemed perilously like kissing in public a decidedly sol-
dierlike young man.

Sally didn't seem to mind, however. She was just
as frank and unaffected as her father. Moreover,
she had acquired a rich laugh and an authority of
manner almost the equal of his own. She compli-
mented him upon his speech and quizzically added
that he ought to stand for Parliament. Josiah
promptly rejoined that if he did he'd be as much use
as some of those jackasses, no doubt.

The Mayor then carried a cup of tea to the Corporal


and Aunt Gerty provided him with bread and butter
and a plate to put it on ; and then Sally moved across
from the chimneypiece, sat down very simply on a
hassock by his side and began at once to talk to him.
Plain, direct talk it was, full of technical turns and
queer out-of-the-way information which could have
only come from the most intimate first-hand knowl-
edge. But it was palpably unstudied, without the least
wish to pose or impress, and presently with almost
the same air of blunt modesty the Corporal began
talking to her.

To Mrs. Doctor and even to Miss Preston it seemed
rather odd that a real live graduate of Heaven-knew-
where should sit tete-a-tete with poor Melia's husband
and be completely absorbed by him and the crude halt-
ing syllables he emitted from time to time. Still to
the Mayor himself, standing with his broad back to
the fire and toying like a large but domesticated wolf
with a buttered scone, it didn't seem so remarkable.

Josiah, at any rate, was able to perceive that his
youngest daughter and his son-in-law were occupied
with realities. They had been through the fire. Bat-
tle, murder, death in every unspeakable form had been
their companions months on end. These two were full-
fledged Initiates in an exclusive Order.

The Mayor, foursquare on the hearthrug, had
never seemed more at home in the family circle, but,
even his noble self-assurance abated a feather or two
out of deference to Sally and the Corporal. They



had been there. They knew. If Josiah had respect
for anything it was for actual first-hand experience.

Mrs. Doctor, however, was not fettered by the van-
ities of hero worship. In spite of Sally and in spite
of the Corporal she was able as usual to bring her
light tea-table artillery into play. At strategic inter-
vals her high-pitched, authoritative voice took spas-
modic charge of the proceedings. Now it was the
Egg Fund and the incompetence of Lady Jope, now
the latest dicta of Miss Heber-Knollys, now the wide-
spread complaints of the Duke's inaudibility at the
Floral Hall.

Miss Preston fully agreed. "So different from you,
Josiah." She was well on the target as usual. "But
he made up for it, didn't he, by the nice things he
said of you when he opened the Annex?"

"Very flattering, wasn't he?" Mrs. Doctor took up
the ball. "And wasn't it charming of him to come
here to lunch. Such an unaffected man!"

Josiah broke his scone in half and held a piece in
each hand. "Why shouldn't he come here?" The
voice had the old huffiness, yet mitigated now by an
undeniable twinkle of humor. "He got quite as good
food here as he'd get at home, even if we don't run
to gold plate and flunkeys."

"Quite, Josiah, quite," piped the undefeated Gerty.
"And only too glad, I'm sure, to come and see the
Mayor of Blackhampton."

The laugh of his worship verged upon the whim-


sical. "Gert, if you want my private opinion, he

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 15 17 18

Online LibraryJ. C. (John Collis) SnaithThe undefeated → online text (page 15 of 18)