J. C. (John Collis) Snaith.

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though there might be those among them who felt pri-
vately that their august President carried family pride
rather far, even these could not help admiring the
rigidity of his attitude. It meant enormous strength
of character; and character in the shrine at which the
true Briton worships. But now that the Committee
was up against the problem Bill Hollis had raised they
keenly regretted that they had not taken steps to dis-
qualify him from the outset, or had not apprised the
President beforehand of the state of the case.

The pause that followed was rather irksome for all
parties. It was ended at last by Nurseryman Jen-
nings. That practical expert, having enjoyed an af-
ternoon of free whisky at the President's expense,
was now able to clothe his judgment becomingly.
"Don't suppose the little Snot grew it hisself!" said

Half the Committee saw at once that a way out had



been found for the President. But the President was
not of the number. "Why don't you ?" he said curtly.

The practical expert was hardly prepared with rea-
sons. Why should he be? His doubts were inspired
by the purest altruism. "Why don't you, Jennings ?"
repeated the President.

Really there is no helping some people !

"Because I don't!" It was rather lame, but Jen-
nings was doing his best in extremely trying circum-

The longer, tenser pause that followed none w#s
stout enough to break. Up to a hundred might have
been counted before the President said, slowly and
gruffly, as a large and shaggy bear endowed with a
few limited human vocables might have done, "Have
the goodness, Jennings, to mark Exhibit Sixteen for
the President's Special."


THUS it was, that among the successful competi-
tors who lined up by the bandstand at six
o'clock to receive awards of merit from the fair hands
of Mrs. Alderman Munt, was her son-in-law Mr.
William Hollis.

Wonders never cease to happen in a world of won-
ders. When in a moment of sheer bravado Bill Hollis
had paid the necessary shilling and had entered the
choicest bloom in his garden for the Annual Show he
would have staked his davy that he stood about as
much chance of walking off with the Special Prize as
he did of going to heaven in a golden chariot. The
Old Un himself would see to that.

Taken on its merits, this pure white rose that had
come as the crown of many years of loving labor
would be hard to beat. But, as Bill Hollis knew,
things are not taken on their merits by the a priori
school of criticism. He knew that its judgments are
conditioned by many things and that intrinsic worth
is apt to weigh least in the scale. He had shown his
bloom in pride and defiance; he had not expected to
get anything by it; and now that the despised Com-
mittee had acted better than itself he was inclined to
regret that it had not lived up to its reputation.



The table containing the prizes had been carried out
on to the grass. Beside it stood Mrs. Alderman
Munt, white-gloved and anxious, her eyes not unlike
those of a frightened rabbit. And yet lurking some-
where in the folds of a rather redundant frame was
a certain dignity, as there is bound to be in one who
has given four children to the state ; in one, moreover,
who has accompanied such a mate as Josiah step by
step in his steady rise to wealth and power. Beside
Mrs. Munt stood the secretary of the society, an im-
portant pince-nezed gentleman, with a scroll in his
hand bearing the names of the prize winners ; immedi-
ately behind these, on a row of chairs, were various
notabilities, among whom Alderman Munt was con-
spicuously foremost; and then facing them, in a cu-
rious, rather impressed semicircle, were the members
of that general public which not for worlds would
miss anything in the nature of a giving of prizes by
the wife of a real live alderman.

The proprietor of the Duke of Wellington sat glar-
ing fiercely from under his white billycock hat, clutch-
ing a little convulsively the knob of his sun um-
brella. A ruthless eye raked the distant corps of suc-
cessful competitors, as one by one they came round
the corner of tfte bandstand and converged upon the
timid lady whose task it was publicly to reward their
skill. All were awkward, some were abashed, some
tried to hide their feelings by an ill-timed facetious-



There he was, the little dog! Josiah's grip tight-
ened on the knob of the sun umbrella. If the little
cur had "had a drop/' as he most probably had, he
was very likely to insult Maria it was such a great,
such a golden, opportunity. Josiah was not troubled
as a rule by vain regrets, but as the Secretary in his
far flung voice announced, "President's Special Prize
for best Single Bloom, winner Mr. W. Hollis," and
there came an expectant hush in which the meager
form of Mr. W. Hollis emerged into the full glare of
the public gaze, his father-in-law would have paid a
substantial sum to be able to rescind his recent ver-
dict. The little Stoat could not be expected to bear
himself like a gentleman.

Aunt Gerty, standing prim and. tense at the back of
the invertebrate Maria, grew as white as if she had
seen a ghost. But she drew in her thin lips sternly
and, great warrior as she was, literally transfixed poor
Melia's declasse husband with her tortoiseshell fold-
ers. How common he was ! It was really very stupid
of Josiah to let him have a prize in such circumstances.
It was very stupid, indeed ! He was just the kind of
man who might be tempted to indulge in some form
t f cheap revenge.

As Melia's husband shuffled across the grass Josiah
I eld himself ready to spring upon him. Public or no
public he would certainly do so if the little beast made
any sign of insulting Maria. But as Bill Hollis came
slowly and doggedly into the picture he was visited



by a reluctant grace. Half way across the grass,
midway between the bandstand and the alderman's
lady, he took his shabby hands from his shabby pock-
ets; a little farther on several degrees of slouch passed
from the unpleasing curve of his narrow shoulders.
And finally, as the silver gilt goblet was bestowed upon
him by a pair of trembling hands, he ducked solemnly,
the best he could do in the way of a bow, and then
retired modestly, silently, respectfully, the trophy un-
der his arm.

Josiah and Aunt Gerty breathed again. Great was
their relief. And so intensely had they been preoccu-
pied with the bearing of Melia's husband, that, very
luckily for Maria, they were not able to notice hers.
It was well this was so. For the alderman's lady
had disgraced herself on an important public occasion
by allowing her eyes to fill with tears.


BILL'S first thought was to take the trophy
straight home to his wife. But for various rea-
sons he didn't obey it. Relations had grown very
strained between Melia and himself. For months past
she had been giving him such a bad time that there
was little pleasure to be got out of his home.

He was a bit of an idealist in his way. Sixteen
years ago, at any rate, he had begun married life by
idealizing his home and Melia. But Melia was not an
idealist She was a decidedly practical person, and,
like her father, endowed with much shrewd sense. In
a perverse hour she had yielded against her better
judgment to the quiet persistency of William Hollis;
but almost before she married him she knew it
wouldn't answer. In her heart she wanted somebody
better. She felt that a daughter of Josiah Munt was
entitled to somebody better. And in waiving all her
rights as the eldest child of a tyrannical, overbearing
father, the least she could ask of the man to whose
star she had pinned her faith was that he should
prove himself a forcible and successful citizen.

Unhappily Bill had proved to be neither. He was
a wordster, a dreamer ; there was nothing at the back
of his rose-colored ideas. It was not that he was a



vicious man. For such a nature as Melia's it had
perhaps been better if he had been. She asked for
the positive in man, even positive badness; anything
rather than muddling mediocrity, ignoble envy of
other men's prosperity and continual whinings against

There were times when Melia was so bored with the
inadequacy of this mate of hers that she half hoped
to goad him into getting drunk enough to repay some
of her insults with a good beating. At least it would
have been an event, an excitement. But he was not
even a thorough-going drinker; at the best, or the
worst, he never drank enough beer to rise to the he-
roic, as a real man might have done ; his deepest pota-
tions did not carry him beyond maudlin sentiment or
vapid braggadocio, both very galling to a woman of
spirit. And now, having realized that there was noth-
ing to hope for, that they were going steadily down a
hill at the bottom of which was the gutter just as
her clear-sighted father had predicted from the first
years of resentment had crystallized into a hard and
fixed hostility. She had an ever-growing contempt
for the spineless fool who was dragging her down
in his own ruin.

Bill's instinct was to go home at once with the silver
gilt goblet. In spite of all the bitterness the last few
years had brought him he still had a wish to please
Melia. In spite of a cat and dog existence they were
man and wife. They had lived sixteen years together



but he still wished to propitiate her. But hardly had
he borne his prize through the throng by the band-
stand and begun to steer for the main gate of Jubilee
Park than there came a change of mind.

It was one of those sudden, causeless changes of
mind that was always overtaking him. He never
seemed able to do anything now for the reason that
almost before he had decided upon one thing he was
overpowered by a desire to do another. He had not
reached the park gate before he felt the humiliation
of accepting such a prize from such hands ; and Melia
would probably tell him that he ought to have had
more self-respect than to take it if she thought it
worth while to express herself on the subject.

The President's Special Prize would bring no plea-
sure to Melia. True, there was no need to tell her
whence it came. No . . . there was no need! Sud-
denly the band broke into a hearty strain. Beyond a
doubt the atmosphere of Jubilee Park was far more ge-
nial than that of Number Five Love Lane. Perhaps he
ought to have brought Melia to witness his triumph.
One reason was that he had been far from expecting
it; another, that he daren't invite her. For many
months now she had been careful to keep herself to
herself, declining always to be seen with him in pub-

There was a vacant seat by the gate, out of the sun
and within sound of the gay music. This, after all,
was far better than Number Five Love Lane. For a



few brief moments "The Merry Widow" (selection)
made him feel happier. It would have been nice for
Melia still it couldn't be helped. He ought to have
refused the prize still he had honestly won it. But
only an oversight on the part of the blinking Commit-
tee had given it him; he could read that in Josiah's
ugly mug and in the face of that stuck-up Gerty Pres-
ton so it was one in the eye for them after all ! And
what price Ma! Her son-in-law broke into a guffaw
of melancholy laughter. The old barrel-bodied image
got up like one of the Toffs ! And yet . . . how her
hands trembled! . . . white gloves on 'em too! . . .
and that was a queer look she gave him. The old girl,
after all, was the best of a rotten bunch.

"The Merry Widow" crashed to an abrupt finale,
and a light went out suddenly, as it so often did, in
the heart of Bill Hollis. Again the stern edge of
reality pressed upon him from every side, but almost
at once it was swept away by a new excitement. And
yet the excitement was not so new as it seemed. All
the afternoon it had been present, a chorus, a back-
ground, thrilling and momentous, to a series of formal
proceedings to which it had nothing in common, to
which it did not bear the slightest relation, and yet
with a power truly sinister to cast a pall over them.

A youth with lungs of brass came through the gate
crying the Blackhampton Evening Star.

Terrible Fighting in Belgium! Awful German
Losses! Great Speech by Sir Edward Grey!



A sharp thrill ran through the veins of Bill Hollis.
It was one more lively variation on a theme that had
been kindling his senses at short intervals throughout
the afternoon. War, a real big war, was coming, had
come. Of course to him personally it wouldn't mat-
ter, except that it might make life more interesting.
Yes, somehow it was bound to do that. Whether it
would make it interesting enough for a man like him-
self to care to go on living, that was another question.

"Here y'are, boy."

The boy came across the grass, handed Bill an
Evening Star and firmly declined the halfpenny that
was offered him.

"Penny, sir."

A penny for a Star was unheard of. Even the re-
sult of the Derby, the result of the match with York-
shire, the result of the Cup Final itself could not com-
mand a penny. Evidently this war, now that it had
come at last, was going to be a Record.

Yes, a Record. All the same he was not going to
pay a penny for it. One halfpenny was the legal
price of the Blackhampton Evening Star, and he told
the boy "that if he had any of his sauce he'd have
the police of him."


WILLIAM HOLLIS, having defeated the boy,
turned his back to the sun and was assured by
the Blackhampton Star that he was living in a great
moment of the world's history. Germany had, it
seemed, until twelve o'clock that evening to decide
whether she would take on England. She had taken
on France, Russia and Belgium already; a few hours
hence, if she wasn't careful, she would have to fight
the British Empire.

Even to Bill Hollis, dizzied by the sheer magnitude
of the headlines of his favorite journal which actually
surpassed those of the Crippen trial, the sinking of the
Titanic and the late King Edward's visit to Black-
hampton, that phrase "the British Empire" was full of
magic. Lurking somewhere in a compound of half-
baked inefficiencies was the vision of a poet, and at this
moment it was queerly responsive to this symbol.

"It's all up with 'em if they take on Us." In strict
order of priority that was the first message to flash
through the sentient being of Mr. William Hollis to
be duly recorded by the central office. Hard upon it
came a second message. "They've got a Nerve them

In the column for late news were blurred fragments



of the speech of the Foreign Minister in the House of
Commons. Intellectually William Hollis was not con-
spicuously bright, but, as he read the simple words,
the nature of the terrible misprision against the hu-
man race came home to him and he could only gasp.

He got up presently and moved away from the
band. As always the band was very nice, but for some
reason or other he didn't want to hear it just now.
For a short time he walked about on the brown grass,
the President's cup under his arm, wrapped in the
Evening Star. But he wasn't thinking now of the
President, of the cup, of Melia, of the injustice of
Fate to a prwate citizen. His thoughts were centered
on a Thing that made all these other things, painfully
intimate as they were, of no moment at all. These
were but trivial matters, and he was now in the pres-
ence of the inconceivable, the stupendous.

Coming back to the throng, perhaps for the latent
solace these clusters of fellow beings afforded him,
he saw from their blank eyes, their set faces, that his
own terrible thoughts were shared more or less by
them all. The boy had sold his papers already. Other
boys had sold theirs. The whole place was alive with
fluttering news sheets, gleaming white and spectral
in the sun. Already these people, these stout females
in farcical clothes, for the most part trundling queer
abortions on the end of a string, and these hard-faced,
grasping men who were always overreaching one in
trade, were living in a different world. They were



not thinking now of flowers and vegetables, of bands
or dancing, although the first couples of juniors had
just begun to sway rhythmically to the strains of
"Hitchy Koo." Something else had come into their

Passing the tent sacred to the President and Com-
mittee, it gave him one more thrill to mark the bear-
ing of the grandees. The famous white hat no longer
adorned the head of the President. The great man
nursed it upon his fat loud-checked knees. All the
reluctant geniality a public function had inspired had
passed from his ugly face. Yet in the purview of his
son-in-law it looked a little less ugly at that moment
than he ever remembered to have seen it. Those fierce
eyes were not occupied now with the narrow round of
their own affairs, nor with a swelling vision of self-
importance. The world was on fire. He was simply
a man among his fellow men; and like them he was
wondering what ought to be done.

At seven o'clock a vaguely excited but profoundly
depressed William Hollis made his way out of Jubilee
Park. He turned down Short Hill in the direction of
his home. But by the time he had reached the foot of
that brief declivity, and was involved in an airless
maze of bricks and mortar, the thought of his home
grew suddenly intolerable. He needed freedom and
space, he needed an atmosphere more congenial. Melia
would not understand. Or if she did understand she



would be dumb and just now he simply longed for a
little human intercourse.

At the end of Love Lane, a mean and crooked little
street debouching from the Mulcaster Road which
wound a somber trail to the very heart of the city, he
stood a moment gazing at the dingy sign a few doors
up on the left, W. Hollis, Fruiterer. The obvious
course was to go and deposit the prize he had won on
the dresser in the back sitting room, or still better,
give it into the personal care of Melia. But instead,
he wrapped up the trophy a little more carefully, re-
settled it under his arm, and then allowed himself to
drift slowly with the throng in the direction of the
Market Place.

As was usual with him now, his actions were aimless
and uncertain. There was no particular reason why
he should be going to the Market Place beyond the
fact that other people seemed to be going there, as
somehow they always did seem to be going there at
great moments in the national life. The factories and
warehouses who happened to be working that day had
disgorged their human cargoes and these under the
stimulus of hourly editions of the Evening Star were
moving slowly and solemnly towards the nodal point.

What the Market Place is to the city as a whole,
Waterloo Square is to the teeming, close-packed pop-
ulation of its southeastern area. And at the busiest
corner of Waterloo Square, at its confluence with Mul-
caster Road, that main artery which leads directly to



the center of all things, is the Duke of Wellington pub-
lic house. William Hollis, drifting with the tide, felt
a sudden, uncontrollable desire to "have one" at this
famous landmark of the local life.

The Duke of Wellington was a "free" house and
Mr. Josiah Munt had been able to maintain in its in-
tegrity the declining art of brewing Blackhampton Old
Ale. This had a bite and a sting in it, with which the
more diluted beverages of "tied" houses could not
compare. At the Duke of Wellington you paid for the
best and you got it ; therefore it was patronized by all
in the neighborhood who knew what was what ; it had,
moreover, peculiar advantages of tradition and geog-
raphy which gave it a cachet of its own.

"To have one" at the Duke of Wellington, in the
eyes of those who lived near by, was almost on a par
with "looking in" at Brooks's or the Carl ton. It con-
ferred a kind of diploma of local worth and respon-
sibility. At the same time no form of politics was
barred, but the proprietor himself was a staunch con-
servative and it was very difficult to find a welcome
in the bar parlor without sharing that faith.

It could not be said that William Hollis had ever
aspired to the good graces of the house. There were
obvious reasons why this was the case. For sixteen
years he had not passed through its doors; in that
long period he had not even entered the humbler part
of the premises known as "the vaults," sacred to Tom,



Dick and Harry, where the more substantial patrons
of the establishment disdained to set foot.

To-night, however, new and strange forces were at
work in Bill. Borne along a tide of cosmic events as
far as those fascinating doors he was suddenly and
quite irrationally mastered by a desire to go in.

Partly it may have been bravado ; certainly it was a
daring act to cross that threshold. But Josiah him-
self, for whose personal prowess his son-in-law had a
wholesome respect, was safe at the Show; besides, the
proprietor was too great a man these days to visit the
house very often. Years ago he had ceased to reside
there with his family; and in his steady social ascent
he was careful not to emphasize a dubious but ex-
tremely lucrative connection with that which regarded
in perspective was but a common public house.

The chances were that Bill Hollis would be spared
this evening an encounter with his father-in-law and
former master. But why he should decide so suddenly
to take the risk was hard to say, unless it was the half
fantastic reaction of an exceedingly impressionable
mind to a crisis almost without a precedent in human
experience. By nature a sociable fellow, he had now
an intense desire to exchange ideas with responsible,
knowledgeable people, with those possessing more
light than himself. The Duke of Wellington was the
headquarters of such in that part of the city; it was
the haunt of the quidnuncs and the well informed; and
it may have been for that reason that Bill dived sud-



denly through the swing doors, an act he had not per-
formed for sixteen years, and crossed the dark, cool
passage with its highly spiced but not unattractive
odors. .

It may have been the magnitude of the situation in
Europe which had suddenly rendered all private mat-
ters ridiculous, or it may have been the talisman un-
der his arm which inspired him with an unwonted
hardihood, but instead of turning into the taproom,
the first on the left, which would have satisfied the
claims of honor and wisdom, he pushed boldly on past
the glass-surrounded cubicle of the celebrated but
haughty Miss Searson, into the Mecca of the just and
the good, sublimely guarded by that peri.

In a kind of dull excitement he entered the famous
Bar Parlor. To his surprise, and rather perversely,
to his relief, it was empty, except that, behind a
counter in a strategical angle that commanded the
room as well as the passage, Miss Searson was over-
whelmingly present, but absorbed apparently at that
moment in crocheting a two-inch lace border to an
article of female attire sacred to the pages of the real-

Nothing seemed to have altered in sixteen years,
even to the fly-blown advertisement of Muirhead's
Pale Brandy facing the door, and surrounding Miss
Searson the double row of brass taps, it had once been
a part of his duties to keep clean. And that lady
herself, sixteen years had altered her surprisingly lit-



tie, if at all. She was what is known technically as a
chemical blonde, a high-bosomed, high-voiced, large-
featured, large-earringed lady, with remarkable teeth
and an aloofness of manner which might almost be
said to enforce respect at the point of the bayonet.

When Miss Searson looked up from her crochet she
could hardly believe her eyes. William Hollis, in his
former incarnation, had been known to her as Bill the
Barman, and she in that distant epoch had been known
to him as a Stuck-Up Piece. Unofficially of course.
Outwardly everybody paid deference to Miss Searson;
even the proprietor himself, if he could be said to
pay deference to any human being, had always adopt-
ed that attitude to Miss Searson; as for Bill the Bar-
man, he had been hardly more than a worm in her
sight. And then had come the Great Romance. It
had come like a bolt out of clear sky, knocking a whole
world askew as Miss Searson understood it; a whole
world of sacred values by which Miss Searson and
those within her orbit regulated their lives.

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Online LibraryJ. C. (John Collis) SnaithThe undefeated → online text (page 4 of 18)