J. C. (John Collis) Snaith.

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"I wish she would. I'm afraid it may be a draw
without her."

Sally, with all her ribbons and her uniform, could
rise to no immediate interest in America.

"Our poor lads have had an awful grueling on the
Somme. Seven hundred thousand casualties and noth-
ing to show for it so far."

"I know." The sightless eyes were lacerating her.
"They ought to help us. It's their war as much as
it's ours."

"We can't blame them for staying out. Can't blame
anybody for staying out. But we'll never get the
right peace unless they help us."

"Some people think they'd not make much differ-

"My God !" It was the vehemence she used not to
like. "They'd simply tip the scale. Have you ever
been there?"


"I have. Some country, America. They've pinched
our best Torrington, curse them . . . not that that took
me there. One afternoon, though, I happened to be
looking for it in a moldy, one-horse museum just off
Washington Square I forget the name of it when
I walked straight into the arms of dear old Jim Stan-



ning who had actually come all'the way from Europe
on purpose to gaze at it."

Sally emitted becoming surprise.

"If you read that in a novel you'd say it was the
sort of thing that doesn't happen. But it did happen.
Fancy old Jim coming all those miles by flood and
field to look at a strip of canvas not as big as that
drawing board. The Valley of the Sharrow on an af-
ternoon in July.' By the way, did you ever happen to
meet him ?"

Sally had never met Stanning the painter.

"One of the whitest men that ever lived. Lies out
there. A great chap, Jim Stanning. Another Tor-
rington almost for a certainty . . . although he doubted
himself, whether he was big enough to fight his own
success. See what he meant?"

It thrilled him a little when he realized that she

For an instant the extinguished eyes seemed to well
with light. "That picture of his, 'As the Leaves of the
Tree,' carries technique to a point that makes one
dizzy. Some say technique doesn't matter, but there's
nothing permanent without it." He sighed heavily.
"Of course the undaunted soul of man has to shine
through it. And that's just what Jim Stanning was
an undaunted soul. Dead at thirty-nine. We shan't
realize ... if we ever realize . . . however. . . ."

Overcome by his thoughts for a moment, he could
not go on. Sally sat breathing hard.



"If I were a rich man, as rich as Ford or Carnegie,
I'd buy that picture of old Jim's and send it to them in
Berlin. Some day it might help them to ask them-
selves just what it was that brought the man who
painted it, a man who simply lived for beauty, to die
like a dbg, half mad, in a poisoned muckyard in Flan-

Suddenly he stopped and the light seemed to die in
his face. Then he turned round on the piano stool and
broke delicately into the opening bars of the haunted,
wild and terrible Fifth Symphony. For the moment
he had forgotten that Sally was there.

She got up from her chair and came to him as a
child to a wounded and suffering animal. Putting an
arm round his clean but frayed collar she kissed his

"I shall come and see you again ... if I may."

His sightless flesh seemed to contract as he lifted his
thin hands from the keyboard. "Don't!" he gasped.
"Better not . . . better not . . . for both of us."

She knew he was right and something in her voice
told him so. ". . . If I may," she repeated weakly.

He didn't answer. She pressed her lips again upon
his forehead, then took up her coat and went hastily
from the room.

The old woman was in the act of turning the latch-
key in the front door. She had got her coupons and
was returning in triumph with a full basket.

"Not going, Miss Sally, are you? I should like


you to have seen his decorations D.S.O. with two
Bars and such a wonderful letter from the General/'

"I'm afraid I simply must go, Mrs. Nixey. Off to
France to-morrow, and I've got to pack."

"Yes, my dear, I suppose so. Very good of you
to come and see him."

"Don't say that."

At the sight of Sally's eyes the voice of the old
woman changed suddenly. "He thinks, my dear, he'll
get better ... he quite thinks he'll get better . . . but
. . . but, Dr. Minyard ..." Again the voice of the
old woman changed. "Ah, there he is playing again.
How beautifully he does play, doesn't he? Hours
. . . and hours . . . and hours. So soft and gentle
. . . the bit he's playing now reminds him of the wind
in Dibley Chase. Yes, and that bit too ... he says
it makes him see the sun dancing along the Sharrow
on an afternoon in July. Beautiful piano! So kind
and thoughtful of your dear father! He quite thinks
. he'll . ."


THE Corporal's leg was a long time getting well.
First it came on a bit, then it went back a bit;
but the process of recovery was a painful and a tardy
business. Still it was much softened by the judicious
help of others. By the interest of the Mayor of the
city, whose model hospital on The Rise and its last
word in equipment meant access to more than one
influential ear, Corporal Hollis in the later stages of
a long convalescence had the privileges of an out

These privileges, moreover, were enjoyed in ideal
conditions. Early in April, Melia was installed at
Torrington Cottage, Dibley. To the secret gratifica-
tion of her family, the business in Love Lane was
given up, and Melia's checkered life entered upon a
new phase amid surroundings wholly different from
'any it had known before.

At first the change seemed almost too great to be
enjoyed. After the gloom, the semi-squalor, the hard
toil of Love Lane, it was like an entrance into para-
dise. And when, at the end of that enchanted month
of April, the Corporal joined her in the new abode,
Melia's cup of happiness seemed quite perilously full.



That was a summer of magic days. For weeks
on end they lived in a dream that had come true. To
Melia the well appointed house, the beautiful surround-
ings, the bounty of her father were sources of per-
petual amazement; to the Corporal the extensive gar-
den, so gloriously stocked with flowers, fruit and veg-
etables, was a thing of delight; above all, the tower
at the end of it, commanding on every hand his lovely
native county, was a sacred thing, a temple of august

The Corporal sunning himself and smoking his pipe
by the south wall, where the peaches grew, could never
have believed it to be possible. Melia, tending the
flowerbeds and the grass, at the end of a not-too-stren-
uous summer's day, felt somehow that this was fairy-
land. Yes, their dreams of the long ago had more
than come true. And, crowning consummation, in the
eyes of each other, they were honored husband and
cherished wife.

The Corporal was a long time getting well, but in
that he was obeying instructions. Those most com-
petent to speak of his case had told him not to be
in a hurry; otherwise he might be permanently lame.
And he was entitled to take his time. He had done
his bit. Moreover, as his father-in-law assured him,
it was the turn of younger men to "carry on." He had
been through more than a year and a half in the
trenches amid some of the cruelest fighting of the
war; he was entitled to wear two stripes of gold braid


on his sleeve. If any man could nurse a painful in-
jury with a good conscience that man was Corporal

In spite of searing memories, in spite of the whole
nation's anxieties, in a measure made less, yet not
wholly dispelled by the entrance into the war of a
great Ally, the Corporal was allowed a taste of those
half- forbidden fruits, Poetry and Romance. At such
a time, perhaps, with the issue still undecided and the
trials of the people growing more severe every week,
the gilt on life's gingerbread should have been denied
him altogether. And yet by dogged pluck he had
earned that guerdon, and Melia by her simple faith
was worthy to share it with him.

The famous erection at the end of the garden, a
weathercock at its apex, a course of bricks and twelve
stone steps at its base, was haunted continually by
an unseen presence. And it was a presence with whom
the Corporal long communed. Many an odd hour be-
tween sunrise and sunset, a humble disciple of the
Highest, pencil or brush in hand, strove with hardly
more than infantile art to surprise some of the se-
crets of woodland, stream and hill.

No wonder that at that particular corner, where
mile upon lovely mile of England rolled back to the
frontiers of three counties, two of her greatest paint-
ers had gloried in Beauty and drunk deep. The lights
tossed from the sky to the silver-breasted river gleam-
ing a thousand feet below and then cast back again



were so many heralds and sconce-bearers for those
who had eyes to see.

When the Corporal was not being wheeled round
his enchanted garden, or was not smoking his pipe in
the sun, he was sitting with his back to the weather,
drawing and painting and dwelling in spirit with the
genius of place and, through it, with one immortal

Autumn came and the Corporal still needed a
crutch. But he could get about the garden now and
even pluck the weeds, although not yet able to dig.
And he was so happy that he didn't chafe against
the slow recovery. He needed rest and he had earned
it; of that there could be no question.

Meanwhile the months passed and events moved
quickly. The war, to which no glimpse of an end
was yet in sight, continued to press ever more se-
verely upon all sections of the population. There
was a shortage of everything now except the spirit
of grim determination. It was a people's war, as no
war had ever been, and the people, come what might,
were set on winning it.

In November the signal compliment was paid Jo-
siah of electing him to office a third consecutive year.
If anything, his second term had enhanced his pres-
tige; his authority in the city of Blackhampton was
greater than ever. More and more did he seem to
be the man such abnormal times required. And the
Mayoress, although under the constant threat of dis-



solution throughout a strenuous year, was still in the
land of the living. Looking back on what she had
suffered, the fact appeared miraculous; and yet as the
end of the second term drew near, had she been quite
honest with herself, she might have been tempted to
own that she was none the worse for her experience.
In some ways, although the admission would have
called for wild horses, she might almost be said to be
the better for it. Gertrude Preston, at any rate, open-
ly said so.

Such being the case, Josiah did not hesitate to ac-
cept office for a third term. By now he realized that
he was the best man in the city, at all events for that
particular job. Everybody said so, from the Town
Clerk down ; and it was no mere figure of speech. In-
deed, Josiah felt that Blackhampton could hardly
"carry on" without him.

He was an autocrat, it was true, his temper was
despotic, but that was the kind of man the times called
for. It was no use having a divided mind, it was
no use having a mealy-mouth. With the political in-
stinct of a hard-headed race he had contrived to find
a formula of government. He could talk to Labor
in the language it understood; and the employers of
Labor allowed him to talk to them, perhaps mainly
for the reason that he was not himself an employer,
but a disinterested and, if anything, slightly too hon-
est, private citizen.

Therefore, no great surprise was caused at the be-


ginning of the New Year when it was announced that
the dignity of a Knight of the British Empire had
been conferred upon the Mayor of Blackhampton.
Sir Josiah Munt, K.B.E., took it as "all in the day's
work." A democrat pur sang, yet he didn't doubt
"that he'd make as good a knight as some of 'em."
But the hapless Maria showed less stoicism. Accord-
ing to credible witnesses, when the news came to her
that Lady Munt was her future style and degree,
she fainted right off, and when at last the assiduous
Alice had brought her to, she put herself to bed for
three days.

Be that as it may, old issues were revived in that tor-
mented breast. Horace, Doctor Cockburn, had im-
mensely strengthened his position in the triumphant
course of the preceding year, but the new situation
cried aloud for Doctor Tremlett. However, the
Mayor telephoned to his sister-in-law "to come at
once and set her ladyship to rights," the call was
promptly obeyed by the dauntless Gerty, and the
crisis passed.


THE early months of the year 1918 saw the en-
tire Allied Cause in the gravest jeopardy. Even
a superficial study of facts only partially revealed
has made it clear that disaster was invited by an al-
most criminal taking of chances. The time is not
yet for the whole truth to be known. Meanwhile the
muse of history continues to weave her Daedalian
spells. . . .

On the last Sunday morning of that momentous
and terrible March the Mayor sent his car to Tor-
rington Cottage. Melia and her husband had been
invited to spend the day at Strathfieldsaye. For sev-
eral months the Corporal had been working at a new
aerodrome along the valley, which happened to be
within easy reach of his tricycle. His last Medical
Board had proved that his leg was still weak and in
its opinion not unlikely to remain so. But he had
not been invalided out of the Army, as there was still
a chance that presently he might be able to pass the
doctor; at the same time, having regard to his age
and the nature of his injury, he had a reasonable hope
of getting his discharge whenever he cared to apply
for it



More than once had Melia urged him to do so. Her
arguments were strong. He was not a young man
and he had already "done his bit"; they were very
happy together in their charming house; and her
father had said that it would continue to be theirs as
long as they cared to live in it. The Corporal, how-
ever, could not quite bring himself to quit the Army,
even had such a course been possible. Something still
held him. He didn't know exactly what it was, but
even now that the chance had been given him he was
loathe "to cut the painter." Pride seemed to lie at
the root of his reluctance. Melia felt it must be that.
But the Corporal knew that alchemies more potent
were at work.

On this fateful Sunday in March, after the midday
meal, as he sat smoking one of his father-in-law's ci-
gars in the little room across the hall he realized that
pressure was being brought to bear upon him to make
a decision. Moreover, in Josiah's arguments, he
heard the voice of his wife. Melia had lately aston-
ished the world with the news that she was expect-
ing a baby. The fact was very hard to credit that
she was now preparing clothes for her first-born.
A nine days' wonder had ensued. Such a thing was
almost beyond precedent, yet, after all, Dame Nature
had been known to indulge in these caprices! The
startled, fluttered, rather piqued Mrs. Doctor, after
consultation with her lord, was able to furnish in-
stances. Still, it was remarkable! And it lent much



cogency to MehVs desire that the Corporal should now
apply for his discharge from the Army.

This afternoon it was clear that Josiah was plead-
ing Melia's case. There was an excellent billet wait-
ing for the Corporal at Jackson and Holcroft's if he
cared to take it. They offered short hours and good
pay. Why not? He was still going a trifle lame;
the Medical Board was not likely to raise any objec-
tion; and it would be a relief to Melia who ought to
be considered now.

The Corporal, however, shifted uneasily in his chair.
All through luncheon he had seemed terribly gloomy;
and, if anything, his father-in-law's arguments had
deepened the clouds. One reason was, perhaps, that
Josiah himself was terribly gloomy. The whole coun-
try was terribly gloomy. It had suddenly swung back
to the phase of August, 1914.

The simple truth was that disaster was in the air.
A crushing blow had fallen, a blow doubly cruel be-
cause so long foreseen and, therefore, to be parried
if not actually prevented.

"Over a wide front the British Army is beaten!"
Such was the enemy message to the Sunday papers.
"Ninety thousand prisoners and an enormous booty
have been taken!" And the greatest disaster in the
long history of British arms was confirmed by the
artless official meiosis. "Our Fourth and Fifth Arm-
ies have retired to a previously prepared position." It
omitted to state that the position was some thirty


miles nearer Paris, but that fact received confirma-
tion from the French communique in the next column,
"The capital is being bombarded by long-range guns."

No day could have been less propitious for Melia.
And after the Mayor had sat smoking a few minutes
with his gloomy son-in-law he appeared to realize the
state of the case. As the Corporal drew at his cigar
in a silence that was almost morose, Josiah's own
thoughts and feelings began to take color from their
surroundings. He lapsed into silence also. It seemed
to come home to him all at once and for the first time
in his life that he had been guilty of impertinence.
This little man with his bloodshot eyes and few strug-
gling wisps of gray hair, with his twitching hands and
his air of smoldering rage, had been through it. Even
to have been Mayor of Blackhampton three years
running was very little by comparison. Josiah was
man enough to feel keenly annoyed for having allowed
his tongue so free a rein.

There came at last a deep growl from the Corporal.
It was the note of an old dog, whose life of many
battles has not improved his temper. "If the bloody
politicians will interfere!"

The words found an echo in the heart of the Mayor.
Sinister tales were rife on every hand. And of his
own knowledge he was aware that there were hun-
dreds of thousands of trained men in the country at
that moment whose presence was most imperatively


called for on the perilously weakened and extended
British line to France.

"Goin' to call up the grandads, I see," said the Cor-
poral, grimly.

"Aye!" The Mayor laughed bitterly. "Fat lot o'
use they'll be when they've got 'em. Muddle, muddle,
muddle." Like the Corporal, he was in a very black
humor. "It's a mercy the Yankees are with us now
if they are not in too late."

"Fancy muckin' it," said the Corporal, "with the
game in our hands. A year ago we'd got 'em beat."

"Press government," said Josiah savagely.

The Corporal proceeded to chew a good cigar.
"Dad," he said at last, and it was the first time in his
life he had addressed his former employer so famil-
iarly, "I'm thinking I'll have to go before the Medical
Board again."

Josiah combed an incipient goatee with a dubious
forefinger. "But, my boy, from what you told me,
you thought you could get your discharge any time
you liked to ask for it."

"That was back in January."

"You're no fitter now than you were then, are you?"

The Corporal slowly stretched his right leg to its
full length, and then, gathering it under him leant
his whole weight upon it. "I'm much firmer on my
pins than I was then." His rough voice suddenly
regained its usual gentleness. "Work seems to suit



me." He laughed rather wryly. "I expect the
Board'll pass me now if I ask 'em to."

It was the turn of Josiah to maltreat his cigar. "Not
thinking of going back into the Line, are you?"

"If they'll take me." The Corporal spoke slowly
and softly. "And I daresay they will if I ask 'em

Josiah's keen face was full of queer emotion. "Not
for me to say anything." But he had been charged
with a mission by the urgent Melia. No matter what
his private feelings let him not betray it! "Seems
to me, my boy, although it's not for me to say any-
thing, that no one'll blame you, after what you've
been through, if you stand aside and make room for

The Corporal extended both legs towards the fire.
He gazed into it solemnly without speaking.

"Well, think it over, Bill." The voice of the
tempter. "No one can blame you, if you stick to
your present billet, which suits you so well or even
if you go into munitions at a good salary. You'll
have earned anything they give you. And in a man-
ner o' speaking you'll still be doing your bit. But
as I say . . . it's not for me. . . ."

Strangling a groan, the Corporal rose suddenly
from his chair, "I must think it over." He threw the
stump of his cigar into the fire. "You see, I don't like
leaving the Chaps." The voice of the Corporal sank
almost to a whisper.



The Mayor gave his guest a second cigar and chose
another for himself. But he didn't say anything.

"You see as you might say I've had Experi-

The Mayor looked a little queerly at the Corporal.
Then he took a penknife out of the pocket of a rather
ornate knitted waistcoat and dexterously removed
the tip from his cigar.

"I've had Experience." The Corporal sighed and
sat down heavily in his cushioned chair. He fixed
his eyes again on the fire.

The Mayor applied a lighted spill to his cigar and
then in silence offered it to the Corporal. But the
Corporal's cigar was not yet ready for smoking.

"If I do go" the voice of the Corporal was soft
and thick and rather husky "you'll . . . you'll. . . ."

His father-in-law nodded. "Don't you worry about
that. I'll see her all right."

Josiah took out his handkerchief and blew his nose

THAT evening, about nine o'clock, when Melia
and the Corporal returned to Torrington Cot-
tage, they found a cosy fire awaiting them in the
charming sitting room, an act of grace on the part
of Fanny, a handmaiden from the village, for the
evenings were chilly They sat a few minutes to-
gether and then Melia retired for the night after hav-
ing drawn a promise from the Corporal that he would
not be long in following her example.

Alas, the Corporal did not feel in the least like going
to bed. There was a decision to be made. In fact
he had half made it already. But the good wife up-
stairs and the very chair in which he sat had cast
their spells upon him. Gazing into the heart of the
fire he realized that he was deliciously and solidly com-
fortable. All his days he had been a catlike lover of
the comfortable. In the first instance it had been
that as much as anything that had so nearly undone
him. Conflicting voices were urging him, as some-
how they always did, at critical moments in his life.

This beautiful room with its old furniture, its
china, its bric-a-brac, its soft carpet, its one rare land-
scape upon the wall was an enchanted palace. Even



now, after all these months of occupation, it seemed
like sacrilege to be sitting in it. But it was a symp-
tom of a changed condition. This lovely place with
its poetry and its elegance was a dream come true.
And the honor and the affection with which a world
formerly so hard and so supercilious surrounded him
now made life so much sweeter than ever before.

Sitting there in front of a delicious fire he felt
that the peace and the beauty all about him had en-
tered his soul. He had a right to these languors; he
had purchased them with many unspeakable months
of torture and pain. No one would blame him, no
one could blame him if he left the dance to younger
men. Suddenly he heard a little wind steal along the
valley and he shivered at the image that was born
upon its whisper. Just beyond these cosy, lamplit
walls was Night, Chaos, Panic. Outside the tiny
harbor he had won at such a price was all hell let

He heard the awful Crumps, he could taste the icy
mud they flung over him, he was plunged again in
endless, hideous hours, he could see and feel the
muck, the senseless muck, the boredom, the excruci-
ating misery. The wind in the valley grew a little
louder and he shuddered in the depths of his spirit.

The crocuses were out in the fields by the river.
Next week would be April, the time of cloud, of glow-
ing brake and flowering thorn, of daffodils and mi-
raculous lights along the Sharrow. The little picture

3 2 4


over the chimneypiece, which he had copied three
times in his long convalescence, showed what April
meant along the Sharrow. Friendship had taught him
something, had given him eyes. He had been initiated
into the higher mysteries. Beauty for the sake of
Beauty the world religion of the future had been
revealed to him. The sense of it seemed to fill him

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Online LibraryJ. C. (John Collis) SnaithThe undefeated → online text (page 17 of 18)