J. C. (John Collis) Snaith.

The undefeated online

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The entrance of Bill Hollis into the bar struck Miss
Searson dumb with surprise. In a mind temporarily
bewildered sixteen years were as but a single day.
This was the first occasion in that long period that the
incredible adventurer who had suborned the eldest
daughter of his stern master into marrying him had
dared to revisit the scene of his crime. To weak
minds a great romance, no doubt, but the lady behind
the bar had not a weak mind, therefore she was not



in the least romantic. She saw things as they were,
she knew what life was. It was very well for such
things to happen in the pages of a novel, but in the
daily round of humdrum existence they simply didn't

It seemed an age to Miss Searson before William
the Incredible girded his courage to the point of or-
dering a pint of bitter. She drew it in stately silence,
handed it across the counter and accepted threepence
with superb hauteur.

He drank a little. It was no mean brew; and he
felt so much a man for the experience that he was
able to ask Miss Searson what she thought of the

"News," said Miss Searson loftily. "News?"

"War with Germany."

"Oh, that!" A Juno-like toss of Miss Searson's
coiffure. But there she stopped. War with Ger-
many was none of her business, nor was it going to
be her business to be forced into conversation with
a character whose standing was so doubtful as the
former barman. Miss Searson was not a believer in
finesse. Her methods had a brutal simplicity which
made them tremendously effective.

However, this evening they were less effective than
usual. The world itself was tottering, and a deep,
deep chord in the amazing Bill Hollis was responsive
to the cataclysm. This evening he was not himself,



he was more than himself; his appearance in the Pri-
vate Bar was proof of it.

Miss Searson was but a woman, a human female.
She meant nothing, she meant less than nothing in
this hour of destiny. "Yes, that!" He filled in the
pause, after waiting in vain for her to do so. "War
with Germany. Do you realize it?" His voice was
full of emotion.

But Miss Searson did not intend to be drawn into
a discussion of anything so fanciful as war with Ger-
many. She was practical. A sensorious mouth shut
like a trap. She regarded Bill with the eye of a cod-

"D'you realize what it means?"

By an adroit turn of the head towards the farther
beer-engine she gave William Hollis the full benefit of
a pile of stately back hair. And then she said slowly,
as if she were trying to bite off the head of each blunt
syllable, "Do you realize that the Mester sometimes
looks in about this time of a Thursday?"


A NORMAL Bill Hollis would not have been
slow to analyze this speech and to find a lurking
insult. But he was not a normal Bill Hollis this eve-
ning; it was the last place he was likely to be in if he
had been. Therefore he shook his head gently at Miss
Searson without submitting her to any more destruc-
tive form of criticism. What a fool the woman was,
what a common fool not to understand that in the
presence of a war with Germany nothing else could
possibly matter.

"I don't think I'd stop here if I was you." Yes,
there was a bluntness about Miss Searson which at
ordinary times had a unique power of "getting there."
But Bill merely smiled at her now. The chrysanthe-
mum-topped fathead! Suddenly he reached the limit
of his endurance; he expressed a boundless contempt
for her and all her tribe by recourse to a spittoon.

How could Melia ever have married him . . .
Melia Munt who might have married an architect ! . . .

Bill Hollis defensively went on with his bitter. He
was consumed with scorn of a person whom he had
once respected immensely. She was found out, the
shallow fool, fringe and back hair included! When
he came to the end of the pint, he paused a moment



in the midst of the pleasant sensations it had in-
spired and then decided that he would have another,
not because he wanted another, but because he felt
that it would annoy this Toplofty Crackpot.

The second pint did annoy the T.C., annoyed her
obviously; emotionally she was a very obvious lady.
But it was odd that Bill Hollis, shaken to the depths
by a world catastrophe, should desire a cheap revenge
and stoop to gratify it. Perhaps it was a case of
multiple personality. There were several Bill Hollises
in this moment of destiny.

There was the Bill Hollis who gave the defiant
order for another pint of bitter, the Bill Hollis who
paid for it with truculent coolness, the Bill Hollis who
bore it to the window the better to regard the somber
stream of fellow citizens flowing steadily in the direc-
tion of the Market Place, the Bill Hollis who took a
beer- stained copy of the Blackhampton Tribune from
a table with a marble top and glanced at the porten-
tous headings of its many columns. And finally there
was the Bill Hollis who suddenly heard with a sick
thrill that came very near to nausea a footfall heavily
familiar and a voice outside in the passage.

Could it be ... ! Could it be that . . . !

There was a look of obvious triumph on the almost
unnaturally fair countenance of Miss Searson. In
her grim eyes was "I told you so!"

The ex-barman, in the peril of the moment, glanced
hastily around, but the eyes of Miss Searson assured



him that he was a rat and that he was caught in a
trap. Moreover they assured him that if ever rat de-
served a fate so ignominious, William Hollis was the
name of that rodent. And the loathsome animal had
time to recall before that voice and those footsteps
were able to enter the private bar that sixteen years
ago Miss Searson had been the witness of a certain
incident. And if her warlike bearing meant any-
thing she was now looking for a repetition, with mod-
ern improvements and variations.

Escape was impossible, that was clear. And on the
strength of a fact so obvious all the various kinds of
Bill Hollises promptly came together and decided to
hand over the body politic to the only Bill Hollis who
could hope to deal with the crisis. This was the Bill
Hollis who had had a pint and a half of his father-in-
law's excellent bitter and felt immeasurably the better
for it.

As a measure of precaution this Bill Hollis spread
wide the Tribune and by taking cover behind it greatly
reassured his brethren. None of the others would
have had the wit to think of that. Even as it was only
a pint and a half of a very choice brew enabled the
device to be put coolly and quietly into practice.

He had hardly taken cover when Josiah came in.
Following close behind were Julius Weiss and Coun-
cilor Kersley. It was a tense moment, but these gran-
dees were occupied with a matter more important than



the identity of the man behind the newspaper in the
corner by the window.

"Miss Searson!" The tone of the proprietor was
like unto that of Jove. "Ring up Strathfieldsaye and
tell them I am going to eat at the Club."

Bill Hollis was sensible of a thrill. He was a mere
cat in the presence of a king, except that this was a
king whom he dare not look at. It was a disgusting
feeling yet somehow it was exalting. And this sense
of uplift grew when Josiah and his friends disposed
themselves augustly at one of the tables with a marble
top, and three tankards of an exclusive brew were
brought to them and they began to talk.

It was "inner circle talk" and in the ear of William
Hollis that lent it piquancy. Really it was what he
was there for. The newspapers were unsatisfying.
He craved to hear the matter discussed by men of sub-
stance, standing, general information, by men of the
world. Sitting there behind his paper in the private
bar, he felt nearer to the heart of things than he had
ever been in his life.

"Is it going to make so much difference?" Coun-
cilor Kersley, the eminent retail grocer, asked the

"It's going to alter everything, Kersley you mark
me." The tone of Josiah was as final as an act of
parliament and Julius Weiss slowly nodded in deep
concurrence with it.



"Of course we shall down *em," said Councilor

"Yes, we shall down 'em, but " Josiah's "but"

left a good deal to the imagination.

"Don't be too sure, my friends," said the master-

"Our Navy'll settle it at the finish," Josiah's growl
was that of a very big dog.

Julius Weiss shook his head solemnly but he didn't
speak again. An odd, uneasy silence settled on the
three of them wliile they drank their beer. But of
a sudden there came a wholly unexpected obtrusion
into the conversation.

The man by the window lowered his paper. "We're
not going to have a walk over, so don't let us think
we are." For a reason he could not have explained
had his life depended on it, William Hollis revealed
his presence and plunged horse, foot and artillery into
the matter in hand.


JOSIAH gave him a look. But it was not the look
he might have expected to receive. It was less the
look of a vindictive parent and employer than the ges-
ture a Chamberlain might have bestowed on a Jesse
Collings or a Gladstone on a John Morley.
"You're right, my lad not a walk over."
For a few minutes these great men talked on and
William Hollis by sheer force of some innate capacity,
now first brought to life in the stress of an overwhelm-
ing affair, talked with them as an equal. These were
proud moments in which the power of vision, the un-
derstanding heart seemed to come by their own. The
world was on fire, and it the flames were to be brought
under control many estimates must be revised, many
standards must go by the board. Self-preservation,
the primal instinct, was already uppermost. Brains,
foresight, mental energy were at a premium now.
Any man, no matter who or what he might be, who
had it in him to contribute to the common stock was
more than welcome to do so. The conflagration had
only just begun but a new range of ideas was already
rife. Men were no longer taken on trust, institutions
no longer accepted at their face value.

But all too soon for William Hollis the proceedings



came to an end. He would have liked to sit there all
night, tossing the ball among his peers, listening po-
litely and now and again throwing in a word. Sud-
denly, however, the door of the private bar opened and
a flaming-haired, shirt-sleeved appearance in a green
baize apron abruptly thrust in its head. At the sight
of the grandees it was thrust out again even more

"That George?"

George it was.

"Go out and step that there Bus." In the command
of Josiah was all the power of the man of privilege,
the almost superhuman authority of a city alderman.
Bill Hollis, who had once worn the green apron him-
self, was thrilled by the recollection that even in his
day, when Josiah was first elected to the town council,
the public vehicle plying for hire between Jubilee Park
and the Market Place was always at the beck and call
of Mr. Councilor Munt. Few had a good word for
him, but even in those days in that part of the city
his word was law.

Josiah rose and his friends rose with him. But as
he moved to the door he turned a dour eye upon Bill
Hollis. Whole volumes were in it, beyond tongue or
pen to utter. To-night even he, in the stress of what
was happening to the world in which he had pros-
pered so greatly, was less than himself and also more.
An eye of wary truculence pinned the ex-barman to
the wainscot while the master of the house uttered his



slow, unwilling growl. "Not a bad bloom ye sent in,
my lad."

It was a very big dog to a very little dog, but some-
how it told far more than was intended. Almost in
spite of himself, the man who on a day had abused
the confidence of his master by marrying his eldest
daughter was forced to realize that no matter what
Josiah Munt might be, he was . . . well, he was Jan-


TWENTY minutes later William Hollis, feeling
inches taller, and more in harmony with him-
self than for many a day, went forth to grapple with
the situation in Europe.

Half Blackhampton, at least, if its streets meant
anything, was bent on a similar errand. From every
part of the city, its people were slowly filtering in twos
and threes to the Great Market Place, that nodal point
of the local life and of the life of the empire. Black-
hampton claims to be the exact center of England,
speaking geographically, and its position on the map
is reflected i" its mental outlook. It combines a healthy
tolerance for the ways and ideas of places less happily
situated with a noble fajth in itself. Time and again
history has justified that faith; time and again it has
chosen the famous town as the scene of a memorable
manifestation, as its castle, its churches, its ancient
buildings, its streets and monuments bear witness.
Here an ill-starred king declared war on his people,
here a great poet was born, to give but a single deed
and a single name among so much that has passed into
history. Many of its sons have shed luster on their
birthplace. Here is a street bearing the name of one
who revolutionized industry ; yonder the humble abode



of the prizefighter who gave his name to one of the
most important towns of Australia ; over there the ob-
scure conventicle of the plain citizen who founded a
world religion; "up yond" the early home of one
whose name is a household word on five continents;
across the road the public house where a famous ath-
lete has chosen to live in a modest but honored retire-

Biologists say that all forms of organic life are
determined by climate. Blackhampton owed much, no
doubt, to its happy situation as the exact center of
the Empire, but no city in the kingdom could have
lived more consciously in that fact. London was not
without importance as places went ; the same might be
said for New York; but in the eyes of the true Black-
hamptonian, after all, these centers of light were com-
paratively provincial.

This evening the streets of the city were alive with
true Blackhamptonians. In the sight of these only
Blackhampton mattered. Its attitude was of decisive
consequence in this unparalleled crisis. No matter
what other places were doing and thinking, Black-
hampton itself was fully determined to pull its weight
in the boat.

The press of citizens was very great by the time
Bill Hollis arrived in the Market Place. In partic-
ular, they were gathered in serious groups before the
City Hall, the Imperial Club and the offices of the
Blackhampton Tribune, which continued to emit hourly



editions of the Evening Star with fuller accounts o!
the proceedings in Parliament and the latest tele-
grams concerning the fighting in Belgium.

The British Cabinet had given Germany until mid-
night, but Blackhampton had fully made up its mind
in the matter by five minutes past nine, which was the
precise hour that Mr. William Hollis arrived to bear
his part in the local witenagemot. His part was the
relatively humble one of standing in front of the
Imperial Club and gazing with rather wistful eyes
into that brightly tiled and glazed and highly bur-
nished interior as it was momentarily revealed by the
entrance of a member.

Even so early in the world's history as five minutes
past nine it was known to those privileged sons of the
race who had assembled in front of the sandstone and
red brick facade of the Blackhampton Imperial Club
that Germany "was going to get it in the neck." There
must be a limit to all things and Germany had al-
ready exceeded it. The Cabinet having unluckily
omitted to provide itself with even one Blackhampton
man was yet doing its best to keep pace with informed
Blackhampton opinion, but events were moving very
quickly in front of the Imperial Club. At a quarter
past nine Sir Reuben Jope, the chairman of the Party,
drove up in his electric brougham, a bearded fierce-
eyed figure whose broadcloth trousers allied to a pre-
historic box hat seemed to make him a cross between
a rather aggressive Free Kirk elder and an extraor-



dinarily respectable pirate. At twenty minutes past
nine Mr. Whibley, the Club porter, an imposing vision
in pale brown, gold braid, and brass buttons, came
down the steps and informed a friend on the curb
"that the Fleet was fully mobilized."

Other luminaries continued to arrive. It was like
the night of a very hotly contested election, except
for the fact that every one of the thousands of hu-
man beings thronging the Market Place were of one
mind. But there was neither boasting nor revelry.
This was a sagacious, a keen-bitten, a practical race.
A terrible job was on hand, but it was realized al-
ready that it would have to be done. The thing had
gone too far. There were no demonstrations; on the
contrary, a quietude so intense as to seem unnatural
gave the measure and the depth of Blackhampton's
feeling upon the subject.

Had Bill Hollis used the forty-one years of his life
in a way to justify his early ambitions he would have
been inside the Club on this historical evening, sitting
on red leather and smoking a cigar with the best of
them. As it was he had to be content with a foremost
place in the ever-growing throng outside the Club
portals, from which point of vantage he was able to
witness the arrival of many renowned citizens and
also to gaze through the famous bow window which
abutted on to the Square at the array of notables
within. In the intensity of the hour the Club serv-
ants had omitted to draw down the blinds.



At ten minutes to ten Mr. Alderman Munt, sus-
tained by roast saddle of mutton and green peas, fruit
tart and custard, appeared in the embrasure with a
large cigar. Seen from the street he looked a tre-
mendously imposing figure. Even in the midst of the
men of light and leading who surrounded him he was
a Saul towering among the prophets. Not even his
admirers, and in the city of his birth these were sin-
gularly few, ventured to call him genial, but there was
power, virility, unconscious domination in the far-
flung glance that marked the press beyond the Club
windows. Somehow there was a bulldog look about
him that was extraordinarily British. Somehow he
looked a good man in a tight place and a bad one to

Had the question been asked there was not one
among that throng of hushed spectators who could
have explained his own presence in the Market Place,
nor could he have said just what he was doing there.
A powerful magnet had drawn the many together into
a limited space on an airless evening in August to
gaze at one another and to wonder what was going
to happen, yet well knowing that nothing could hap-
pen as far as that evening was concerned. But in
this strange gathering, in the solemn hush that came
upon it from time to time, was the visible evidence
that the people of Blackhampton were standing to-
gether in a supreme moment. Perhaps it gave a feel-
ing of security that each was shoulder to shoulder


with his neighbor in this hour so fateful for them-
selves, for Blackhampton, for the human race.

Nothing happened, yet everything happened. The
throng grew denser inside and outside the Imperial
Club, but casual remarks became even less frequent,
newsboys ceased to shout, and presently the hour of
midnight boomed across the square from the great
clock on the Corn Exchange and from many neigh-
boring steeples. Nothing happened. But it was
Wednesday, August the fifth. The silent multitude
began slowly to disperse. A new phase had opened
in history.

It was not until a quarter past one, by which time
four-fifths of the crowd had gone away as quietly as
it had assembled, that Bill Hollis slowly made his
way home to Love Lane. In his hand was the prize
he had so unexpectedly gained, wrapped in the Even-
ing Star, but somehow the Show and all the other
incidents of a crowded, memorable, even glorious day
seemed very far off as his boots echoed along the nar-
row streets. An imaginative man in whom psychic
perception was sometimes raised to a high power, he
was oppressed by a stealthy sense of disaster. It was
as if an earthquake had shaken the world from pole
to pole. It was as if all the people in it were a little
dizzy with a vibration they could hardly feel which
yet had shivered the foundations of society.


BLACKHAMPTON was in the war from the first
moment. Never its custom to do things by
halves, this body of clear thinking Britons did its best
to rise to the greatest occasion in history. Its best
was not enough nothing human could have been
but as far as it went it was heroic.

In the first days of the disaster none could tell its
magnitude. Forces had been set in motion whose co-
lossal displacement was beyond human calculation.
Something more than buckets of water are required
to cope with a prairie fire, but at first there seemed
no other means at hand of dealing with it.

Within the tentative and narrow scope of the ma-
chinery provided by the state wonders were performed
in the early weeks of the holocaust. Every bucket the
country could boast was called into use, but the flames
seemed always to gain in power and fury.

From the outset this midland city, like the kingdom
itself, betrayed not a sign of panic. In the presence
of fathomless danger it remained calm. British
nerves lie deep down, and in those first shattering
weeks the entire nation stood stolidly to its guns un-
der the threat of night and disruption.

The energy shown by Blackhampton in organizing



hospitals and in raising men to fill them was truly
amazing, yet in this it was no more than the mirror
of the whole country. City vied with city, shire vied
with shire, in voluntary service to a state, that, no
matter what its defects, was able to maintain a sense
of proportion which may be claimed as the common
measure of the republic. The curious anacronism,
magniloquently miscalled the British Empire, rose at
once to a moral height without a precedent in the his-
tory of the world. It would have been fatally easy in
the circumstances of the case for a brotherhood of
free peoples to have turned a deaf ear to the voice
of honor. The mine was sprung so quickly, the issues
at stake were so cunningly veiled, that only "a decent
and a dauntless people," unprepared as they were and
taken by surprise, would have cast themselves into
the breach at an hour's notice, fully alive to the na-
ture of the act and by a divine instinct aware of its
necessity, yet without fully comprehending what it

Governments and politicians, like books and writ-
ers, exist to be criticized, and it is their common mis-
fortune that impudence is now the first function of
wisdom. History is not likely to deny the great part
played in a supreme moment by certain brave and en-
lightened men. In the end the mean arts of the party
journal will not rob of their need those who have made
still possible a decent life.

Within a fortnight of the outbreak arose a crying



need for men. Few, even at that moment, were bold
enough to breathe the word "conscription." Britain
was a maritime power. Armies on the Continental
scale were none of her business. Russia and France
bred to European conditions, with a fundamental man
power fully equal to that of the Central Empires could
be trusted to hold their own. But these fallacies were
soon exposed.

Still, even then, the country hesitated to take the
plunge. Conscription seemed to many the direct ne-
gation of what it had stood for in the past. These still
pinned their faith to the system of voluntary levies.
The rally of the country's manhood to a cause only
indirectly its own was beyond all precedent. Field
Marshal Viscount Partington mobilized his very best
mop and sent it to deal with the Atlantic. For all
that the flood did not subside and it gradually dawned
on the public mind that more comprehensive methods
might be needed.

In the meantime the Hun was at the gate of Paris.
The Channel ports, if not actually in the hands of
the enemy, were as good as lost. Belgium was being
ground under the heel of a savage conqueror. And
in the city of Blackhampton, as elsewhere in Britain,
these things made a very deep impression.

Among the many forcible men that a new world
phase revealed Blackhampton to possess, none stood
out more boldly in those first grim weeks than Josiah
Munt. The proprietor of the Duke of Wellington

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Online LibraryJ. C. (John Collis) SnaithThe undefeated → online text (page 5 of 18)