J. C. (John Collis) Snaith.

The undefeated online

. (page 16 of 18)
Online LibraryJ. C. (John Collis) SnaithThe undefeated → online text (page 16 of 18)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

didn't come to see me at all."

"Pray, then, Father, who did he come to see?"
fluted Mrs. Doctor.

Josiah jerked a humorous thumb in the direction
of Sally, who was still tete-a-tete with the Corporal.

"Nonsense, Father."

"Well, it's my opinion."

It was hard for Mrs. Doctor to believe that her
youngest sister could be the attraction. But her father
was clear upon the point. And that being the case
it made the pity all the greater that Sally had declined
the invitation to be present. She had been urged to
come to luncheon and meet the Duke who was anx-
ious to meet her, but she had preferred to stay at
Park Crescent and play with the children.

So like her !


D'YOU mind if I smoke, Mother?"
The lady at the tea-table looked mutely at
her lord.

Josiah nodded graciously. "Do as you like, gel."
Sally produced a wisp of paper and a very mascu-
line tobacco pouch and began rolling a cigarette in an
extremely competent manner. Josiah proffered a box
of Egyptian but Sally preferred her own and struck
a match on the sole of her shoe in a fashion at once
so accomplished and so boylike as to take away the
breath of her mother and Aunt Gerty.

As she sat talking easily and yet gravely to the
Corporal with her long straight legs and trim ankles
freely displayed by a surprisingly short khaki skirt
she looked more like a boy than ever. And such was
the thought in the minds of the other three ladies, who
agreed tacitly that the skirt and the cigarette and the
astonishing freedom of pose were not quite maidenly.
Still with those ribbons, and that clear deep voice and
that wonderful eye she was fascinating. Even her
father, who on principle declined to admire her
Damnable Independence, was unable to resist the im-
pact of a personality that was now world famous.



Gazing at her in stern astonishment he pointed to
her abbreviated lower garment "Excuse me, gel," he
said, "but do you mind telling us what you've got
underneath ?"

Sally deigned no reply in words, but stuck the ciga-
rette in the corner of her mouth with unconscious grace
and dexterously lifted her skirt. A decidedly work-
manlike pair of knickerbockers was disclosed.

Josiah gasped.

The unconcerned Sally continued to talk with the
Corporal, while the Mayor, half scandalized, strug-
gled against a guffaw. "Things seem to be chang-
ing a bit, as you might say. Don't you think so,

Aunt Gerty took upon herself to answer, as she
often did, for poor bewildered Maria. "I fully agree,
Josiah." She lowered her discreet voice. "But al-
most a pity . . . almost a pity . . . don't you think ?"

The Mayor pursed his lips. "Durned if I know
what to think, Gert." He scratched a dubious head.
"Seems to me the Empire is not going to be short o'
man power for some little time to come, eh?"

"Still . . . not . . . quite . . . maidenly . . . Jo-

"Daresay you're right." The Mayor fought down
his feelings. "Next chicken on the roost'll be the
hussy puttin' up for parliament."

"Bound to get in if she does," Gerty sounded rather
rueful. "There isn't a constituency in England that



wouldn't jump at the chance of electing her just now."

Josiah breathed hard while this obvious truth sank
into his bo'nes, but Mrs. Doctor assured Gerty that
she was talking nonsense. Her father being frankly
opposed to this pious opinion, Ethel appealed to her
mother. Maria, alas, was in the position of a mod-
est wether who has given birth to a superb young
panther. She simply didn't know what to think, and
by forlornly folding her hands on her lap gave mute
expression to her feelings.

At the best, however, it was a futile discussion as
Gerty was quick to realize. She turned the talk
adroitly into other channels. "This morning," she
said, "as I was walking along Queen's Road I had
quite a shock. I met a blind man being led by an old
woman. And who do you think it was?"

Mrs. Doctor had no idea who it could be.

"It was Harold Nixey the architect. Such a piti-
ful object! Did you know, Josiah, that he is now
quite blind?"

Josiah was aware of the fact.

"How sad, how very sad!" said Ethel. "And he
has done so well, so wonderfully well, in France."

Gerty considered it nothing less than a calamity
for an architect of all people. And for one who
promised such great things.

Sally was apparently absorbed in talk with the
Corporal, but she lifted her eyes quickly. "Blind,
did you say? Harold Nixey?"



"Yes," said Gerty. "Such a grievous thing."

"Aye, it is that!" The voice of Josiah was heavy
and somber.

Ethel hoped for his recovery.

Her father shook his head. "From what they tell
me the sight is completely destroyed. I was with the
lad yesterday." It was clear from Josiah's manner
that he was moved by real feeling. "Wonderful pluck
and cheerfulness. He knows he'll never draw an-
other elevation, but he pretends to that old mother
of his that he's going to get better just to keep her

"And you say, Father" it was the slow precise
voice of Sally "that he can't get better?"

"Not a dog's chance from what Minyard the eye
doctor tells me. It's a gas those devils have been us-
ing." The Mayor sighed. "He's a good lad, is that.
And he'd have gone far. Rose from nothing, as you
might say, but in a year or two he'd have been at the
top of the tree." Josiah, whose gospel was "getting
on," again sighed heavily.

"I think I'll go and see him, Father, if you'll give
me his address." Again the slow, precise voice of

"Do. It'll be a kindness. Number Fourteen, Tor-
rington Avenue. The second turn on the right past
the Brewery along Corfield Road. Pleased to have
a visit from you, I'm sure. He talked about you a
lot. His mother had read him the Tribune's account



of Thursday. He says he used to know you in Lon-
don when he was studying at South Kensington."

Under Sally's deep tan the blood imperceptibly
mounted. "Yes, I used to know him quite well."
She didn't add that she had refused rather peremp-
torily to marry him.

"Well, go and see him, gel. A very good soldier
they tell me D.S.O. and M.C. with two bars."

"Two bars, Josiah!" Gerty put up her glasses

"And earned 'em they tell me. Come to think of
it, it's wonderful what some of these young chaps
have done."

"And some of the older ones, too, Josiah." Gerty
looked across at the Corporal who was toying pen-
sively with a cigarette that had been pressed upon

"Aye, and some of the old uns, too!" The Mayor
followed the glance of his sister-in-law with the eye
of perfect candor. "And not been brought up to it,
mark you. They tell me our B.B. is second to none
in the British Army."

The Corporal looked as if he would like to have
confirmed the Mayor's statement had he not remem-
bered that professional etiquette required so delicate
a topic to be left exclusively to civilians.

Sally and Ethel went after awhile, and Josiah led
the Corporal across the hall to what he called "his
snuggery," wherein he considered his business affairs



and the affairs of the City, and, although by no means
a reading man, occasionally referred to the Encyclo-
pedia Britannica and kindred works. He was at pains
to dispose the Corporal in comfort near the fire and
then gave him an excellent cigar and insisted on his
smoking it.

At first little passed between them in the way of
words. They smoked in silence, but the Corporal
could not help thinking, as he delicately savored the
best cigar he had ever held between his fingers, how
much prosperity had improved "the Mester." He was
so much mellower, so much more generous than of
yore. His outlook on the world was bigger alto-
gether; the Corporal's own outlook was larger also;
somehow, he had not the heart to resist the peace over-
tures of his father-in-law.

Said Josiah at last, pointing to the Corporal's leg:
"A longish job, I expect."

The doctors seemed to think it might be. Still it
had got the turn now. It was beginning to mend.

"I've been wondering," said the Mayor, "whether
it mightn't be possible to get you transferred to mu-
nitions. Johnson and Hartley are short o' foremen.
Pound a day to begin with. What do you say, my

The Corporal gazed into the fire without saying

Said the Mayor, half apologetically, "You're not
so young as you were, you see. Forty-three, they tell



me, is a bit long in the tooth for the trenches. And
you've done your bit. Why not give some o' the
younger ones a chance ?"

In silence the Corporal went on gazing into the fire.

"Anyhow it might be worth thinking over."

The Corporal removed the cigar from his mouth
and appeared laconically to agree that it might be
worth thinking over. But the suggestion didn't seem
to fire him.

A deeper silence followed and then said the Mayor
with a certain gruff abruptness which was a partial
return to the old manner, "I'm thinking it'll be a good
thing for Melia to quit Love Lane. She's not done so
bad with the business lately, but it might be wise to
sell it now. And she'll be none the worse for a rest
in country air. Happen I told you that back in the
spring I bought that cottage up at Dibley that that
artist chap I forget his name for the moment used
to come and paint in. Rare situation sandstone foun-
dation highest point in the county see for miles
from his studio at the end o' the garden. Don't quite
know why I bought it except that it was going cheap.
An old property nobody seemed to fancy it but the
freehold is not going to get less in value if I'm a
judge o' such matters and the place is in pretty good
condition. Suppose, my boy, you and Melia moved
in there? Save me a caretaker, and some o' the fin-
est air in Europe comes down the valley of the Shar-



The heart of the Corporal leaped at these amazing
words, but his eyes were still fixed upon the fire.

"What was the name o' that artist chap? A local
man, but quite well up, they tell me."

"Stanning, R.A." Something hard and queer rose
in the Corporal's throat.

"That's the jockey Stanning, R.A. Now I remem-
ber ... a rare dust there was in the Council some
years ago when the Art Committee bought one of his
pictures for . . ." The Mayor drew heavily at his
cigar . . . "for . . . dram it! I'm losing my mem-
ory. . . ."

"A thousand guineas," the Corporal whispered.

"Something like that. Something extortionate. I
remember there was a proper dust when the Council
got to know of it. All very well to encourage local
talent, I remember saying, but a thousand guineas was
money. Maxon the curator resigned."

The Corporal kept his eyes on the fire.

With a rich chuckle the Mayor turned over the cigar
in his mouth at the memory of old battles in the Coun-
cil Chamber. "The fur flew for a bit, I can tell you.
He wasn't an R.A. at that time and the poor chap's
gone now so happen he'll begin to rank as an old
master. They tell me fabulous sums are paid for
these old masters, so one o' these days Stanning,
R.A., may grow into money and the City'll have a
bargain after all. But I don't pretend to understand
such things myself. A brave man, anyway. Joined



tip with the B.B. at the beginning and was killed out

The Corporal nodded but said nothing. The Mayor
went on with his cigar. "I'm trying to remember the
name of another artist chap who used to live in that
cottage when I was a boy. We used to jang from
school on fine afternoons in the summer and go bath-
ing in Corfield Weir. And painting by the river
was an old chap with a long beard like Tennyson
you've seen the picture of Tennyson" Josiah pointed
to a lithograph of the bard on the wall behind the
Corporal "but not quite so fierce looking. Wonder-
ful blue eyes had that old feller . . . lord love me,
what did they call him! ... I remember we used to
throw stones at his easel. We got one right through
it once, when he had nearly finished his picture and
he had to begin all over again. What was the name
of the old feller?" The Mayor fingered his cigar
lovingly and looked into the fire. "Soft Billy . . .
that was it. ... Soft Billy." Josiah sighed gently.
"Poor, harmless old boy. I can see those blue eyes

The Mayor drew gently at his cigar while the Cor-
poral kept his eyes on the fire. "That reminds me.
. . . I've got one of the old chap's pictures, some-
where." The Mayor laughed softly to himself. "Took
it for a bad debt . . . quite a small thing . . . won-
der what's become of it?" He grew pensive. "Must



be up in the box room." Suddenly he rose from his
chair. "I'll go and see if I can find it."

The man of action went out of the room, leaving
the Corporal in silent enjoyment of warmth, the to-
bacco and many reflections.

In a few minutes Josiah returned in triumph with
a small piece of unframed canvas in his hand. He
rang the bell for a duster, of which it was much in
need, and when the duster had been duly applied he
held the picture up to the light. "It wants a frame."
The tone was indulgent but casual. "Looks like Dib-
ley Chase to me." He handed the landscape to the
Corporal who gazed at it with wistful eagerness.

"Dibley Chase was always a favorite pitch for these
artist chaps. See the Sharrow gleaming between the
trees?" Josiah traced with his finger the line of the
river. "I like that bit o' sun creeping down the val-
ley. Good work in it, I daresay . . . but I don't
pretend to be up in such matters. Very small but it
may be worth a frame. Been up in the attic at Wa-
terloo Villa for years . . . aye, long before Waterloo
Villa. . . ." Josiah took a loving puff of his cigar.
"I must have had that picture when I first went to the
Duke o' Wellington in March, '79. How time gets
on! Had it of that lame chap who used to keep the
Corfield Arms who went up the spout finally. Used to
supply him with beer. Gave me this for a barrel he
couldn't pay for." The Mayor laughed richly and
put on his spectacles. "Can you see the name o' the


artist? What was the name o' that old Soft Billy
... ha, there it is." The Mayor brought his thumb
to bear on the right-hand corner. " *J. Torrington,
1854' ... a long time ago. John Torrington, that
was his name . . . some of his work grew in value,
I've heard say. A harmless old man !"

The Mayor sighed a little and gave himself up to
old memories while the Corporal held the picture in
his hand. "Soft Jack . . . aye, that was his name.
... I can see him now with his white beard and long
hair . . . I'm speakin' of fifty years ago Soft Jack,
yes . . . had been a good painter so they said . . .
but an old man, then. Used to sit by the Weir paint-
ing the sun on the water. I've pitched many a stone
at his easel ... in the summertime after bathing."

The Corporal was too absorbed in the picture to
heed the Mayor's reminiscences. Josiah laughed soft-
ly at his thoughts and chose a second cigar. "Too
small to be worth much," he said. "But Melia might
like it. She was always a one for pictures. We'll pop
a bit o' the Tribune round it and she can stick it in
the front parlor up at Dibley where the old boy lived
and died."


THE next morning, Monday, towards eleven
o'clock, Sally dropped expertly off the municipal
tram, without waiting for it to stop, at the second turn
on the right past the Brewery, along the suburban end
of the Corfield Road, and entered a street that she
had never seen before.

Torrington Avenue was one of those thoroughfares
on the edge of large cities that seem to spring into
being in a day and a night. In spite of the obvious
haste with which its small houses had been flung to-
gether it was not unpleasing. But when Sally was
last in her native city, a year before the war, this area
had been a market garden.

Number Fourteen was a well kept little dwelling in
the middle of a neat row. Just as Sally reached it,
an old woman with a wicker shopping basket came
out of the iron gate.

"Mrs. Nixey?"

The visitor had recognized the old lady but the
converse did not hold true.

"You don't remember me, Mrs. Nixey. I'm Sally

The old lady gave vent to surprise, pleasure, in-


credulity. But even then she was not able to iden-
tify one who but a few years ago had been almost as
familiar to her as her own son until Sally had lifted
her cap and rolled back the fur collar of her immense
khaki overcoat.

"Well, I never !" The old woman's voice was shrill
and excited. "It is Miss Munt. I am pleased to see
you, my dear." The distinguished visitor suddenly
received a peck on a firm brown cheek. "He knows
all about you. I read him the account of the doings
at the Floral Hall. He wanted to be there, but the
Doctor thought it wouldn't be good for him. It is
kind of you to come and see him . . . It'll please him

Sally cut the old lady short with a brief, pointed
question or two. He was very well in health except
that he couldn't see, but he was always telling his
mother that he was quite sure he would be able to
see presently, although Dr. Minyard had told her pri-
vately that he couldn't promise anything.

The old lady led the way along the short path and
applied a latchkey to the front door. As it opened,
Sally caught the delicately played notes of a piano
floating softly across the tiny hall.

"He plays for hours and hours and hours," said
the old lady. "Your dear father has just given him
a beautiful new piano. He's been such a friend to
Harold. Wonderful the interest he's taken in him."

She opened the door of a small sitting room, whence


the music came, but the player wholly absorbed did
not hear them enter.

"Harold, who do you think has come to see you !"

As the piano stopped and the musician swung round
slowly on his stool, Sally shivered at the pallor of
the face and the closed eyes. She saw that tears were
trickling from them.

"Miss Munt has come to see you." There was ex-
citement in the voice of the old lady. "You remember
Miss Sally of Waterloo Villa. And to think what
we've been reading about her in the Tribune!"

The musician sprang up with a boy's impulsive-
ness. "You don't say, Mother you don't say !" The
eager voice had a music of its own. "Where are you,
Miss Sally ?" He held out his hand. "Put your hand
there and then I shall believe it."

Sally did as she was asked.

"Well, well, it's really the great and famous you."
He seemed to caress that strong and competent paw
with his delicate fingers.

She couldn't find the courage to say anything.

But he did not allow the silence to become awk-
ward. "Better go and look after your coupons,
Mother, while Miss Sally and I talk shop."

Upon that plain hint the old lady went away, clos-
ing the front door after her, and then the blind man
helped the visitor to take off her heavy coat and put
her into a chair. He found his way back to the music
stool without difficulty, but in sitting down He



brushed the keys of the piano with his coat sleeve.

"Your dear, good father gave me this. A wonder-
ful improvement on the one we've scrapped. Did you
hear me murdering Beethoven as you came in ? One's
only chance now to score off the poor blighters !" His
cheerfulness, his whimsical courage, were amazing to
Sally. "Since last we met things have happened,
haven't they? South Kensington Tube Station, De-
cember, 1913. ^Eons ago." He sighed like a child.
"By the way, tell me, did you get a letter I sent to you
when you did your 'go' of time?"

Sally had received the letter. Soft the admission
and also blushing, although he could not see that.

"Wasn't meant as an impertinence, though perhaps
it was one. Always doing the wrong things at that
time, wasn't I? And I'm saying 'em now. Born un-
der bad stars." He laughed a little and paused. "Jove!
what wonderful things you've done, though."

"I've had luck." Her voice was firm at last.

"Not more than you deserve. Hell of a time in Ser-
bia . . . must have had. Don't know how you man-
aged to come through it."

"Just the stars." Sally laughed a little now. But
never in her life had she felt so little like laughing.
She remembered that she used to think him a bounder ;
she remembered how much his proposal had annoyed
her. Yet he was just the same now the same Har-
old Nixey only raised to a higher power. Once



she had despised his habit of thinking aloud, yet now
it almost enchanted her. . . .

But she was not very forthcoming. He seemed to
have to do the talking for both. "Fritz beginning to
get cold feet, do you think ?"

She didn't think so.

"What are you doing now?" It was the dry tone
of the professional soldier.

"I'm detailed for special duty in France." The tone
of Sally was professional also.

He sighed a gentle, "When?"

"Off to-morrow."

He sighed again.

"It was not until last evening," her voice changed
oddly "that I heard you were at home."

"Nice of you to come and see me," he said. "You
must excuse the room being in a litter." There was
a table in the center on which was a drawing board,
geometrical instruments, many sheets of paper. "I've
been trying to work. I'm always trying . . . but
. . . you need eyes to be an architect . . . you need

Sally was suddenly pierced by the thought of his
ambition and his passion for work. He was going to
do so much, he had begun so well.

"I have an idea for a new cathedral for Louvain.
Been studying ecclesiastical architecture for years in
my spare time." As he paused his face looked ghast-
ly. "It's all in my head ... but .. ."



"Is it possible" she could hardly speak "for any
one to help you in the details, I mean?"

"They would have to get right inside my mind . . .
some one practical . . . yet very sympathetic . . . and
then the chances are that it wouldn't work out."

"It might, though."

"Somehow, I don't think so." He was curiouoly
frank. "I tell myself it might, just to keep going.
There's always the bare chance if I get the right per-
son to help me . . . some one with great intelligence,
great insight, great sympathy, yet without ideas of
their own."

"You mean they wouldn't have to know too much ?"

"That's it ... not know too much. They would
have to sink their individuality in ... in one who
couldn't. . . . Your father suggested a partnership.
But it wouldn't be fair, would it? Besides I should
be terribly trying to work with . . . terribly trying
. . . perhaps impossible."

"Do you think you would be?"

"In a partnership, yes. It couldn't answer. I'm so
creative. ... I have always to stamp myself on my
work ... if you know what I mean. Then ... as
I say ... I don't know yet , . . that ... I can
pick up all the threads that have been. . . ."

"You need," said Sally slowly and softly, "some in-
telligent amateur, capable of drawing a ground plan,
who would give himself up to you."

He threw up his head eagerly. "That's it ...

somebody quite intelligent . . . but without ambition
. . . who would" the voice <began to tail off queerly
"have the courage . . . not to mind . . . the fero-
cious egotism ... of the . . . baffled." Suddenly he
covered his face with his hands.

"It wouldn't take me very long to learn the rudi-
ments, I think," said Sally. "I'm rather quick at pick-
ing up the things that interest me. It would be enor-
mously interesting to see what could be done with this
_this "

"But you are off to France to-morrow."

"The war won't last forever."

The tone of her voice startled him. His heart leapt
queerly. There was a time, not so long ago, when he
would have given his soul to have surprised just that
note in it. He began to shake violently.

With all the will his calamity had left him he strove
to hold himself in. Her voice was music, her near-
ness magical; what she offered him now was beyond
his wildest hopes. Once he had jumped at her too
soon, in a moment of delirium; but he had always
known, by force of the strong temperament, that was
such a torment to him now, that she was the only
woman in the world he would ever really care for.

"I see just the kind of helper you need." Divinely
practical, yet divinely modern! "I could mug up my
drawing in a week or two and I should never know
enough to want to interfere with anything that mat-



He held himself tensely like one who sees a preci-
pice yawning under his feet. "America coming in,
do you think?" It was a heroic change of voice.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 16 18

Online LibraryJ. C. (John Collis) SnaithThe undefeated → online text (page 16 of 18)