J. C. (John Collis) Snaith.

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was a man of peculiar gifts, and it was- soon only too
clear that not only Blackhampton, but England her-
self, had need of them. His was the ruthless energy
that disdains finesse. It sees what to do, or believes
it does almost as important in life as we know it!
and goes straight ahead and gets it done.

One evening in the middle of September Josiah
came home to dinner in a very black mood. It was
not often that he yielded to depression. But he had
had a hard day on local war committees in the course
of which he had been in contact with men nearer to
the center of things than he was himself. Moreover,
these were men from whom this shrewd son of the
midlands was only too ready to learn. They were
behind the scenes. Sources of information were open
to them which even a Blackhampton alderman might
envy; and they were far from echoing the airy opti-
mism of the public press, The fabric of society, stable
but elastic, by means of which Josiah himself and so
many like him had been able in the course of two or
three decades to rise from obscurity to a certain power
and dignity was in urgent danger. The whole of the
western world was in the melting pot. That which
had been could never be again. Cherished institu-
tions were already in the mire. And all this was but
the prelude to a tragedy of which none could see the

Josiah's mood that evening was heavy. Even the



presence at the meal of his sister-in-law, as a rule a
natural tonic, did little to lighten it.

"They won't get Paris now," she affirmed.

"We don't know that." He shook his head with
the gesture of a tired man. "Nobody knows it."

"No, I suppose they don't." Miss Preston read in
that somber manner the need for mental readjust-
ment. "But the papers say that General Joffre has
the situation in hand."

Josiah renounced a plate of mutton broth only half
consumed. "Mustn't believe a word you see in the
papers, my gel. They don't know much, and half of
what they do know they are not allowed to tell."
Miss Preston discreetly supposed that it was so. "But
things are going better, aren't they?"

"We'll hope they are." Josiah's fierce attack upon
the joint in front of him seemed to veto the subject.

The silence that followed was broken by Maria,
whose entrance into the conversation was quite un-
expected and rather startling. "Did you know," she
said, "that Melia's husband has joined the army?"

Josiah suspended operations to poise an interroga-
tory carving knife. "Who tells you that?" he said

"The boy from Murrell's, the greengrocer's,"
somehow the infrequent voice of Maria had an odd
precision "said to Alice this morning that he heard
that Mr. Hollis had gone for a soldier."

Josiah returned to the joint, content for the time



being with the remark, "that it was a bad lookout for
the Germans," a sally that won a timely laugh from
his sister-in-law. On the other hand, Maria, who had
never been known to laugh at anything in all her
anxious days, began to wonder somberly whether
Melia would be able to carry on the business.

"From all that I hear," growled Josiah, "there ain't
a sight o' business to be carried on."

In the silence which followed Maria gave a sniff
that was slightly lachrymose, and then the strategic
Gerty after a veiled glance towards the head of the
table, ventured on "Poor Amelia."

Josiah was in the act of giving himself what he
called "a man's helping" of beans. "She made her
own bed," he said in a tone that gained in force by
not being forcible, "and now she's got to lie in it."

For the first time in many years, however, Maria
seemed to be visited by a spark of spirit. "Well, I
think it's credible of that Hollis, very creditable."

Josiah raised a glass of beer to the light with a
connoisseur's disparagement of its color, and then he
said, "In my opinion he's running away from his
creditors. I hear he owes money all round."

"He's going to risk his life, though," ventured Aunt
Gerty. "And that's something."

"It is if he risks it," Josiah reluctantly allowed.

Maria became so tearful that she was unable to con-
tinue her dinner.


THE next morning, about a quarter to ten, Josiah
boarded a Municipal tram at the foot of The
Rise, earning in the process the almost groveling re-
spect of its conductor, and paid twopence for a jour-
ney to Love Lane. Five doors up on the left was a
meager house that had been converted into a green-
grocer's shop. By far the most imposing thing about
it was a signboard, which, although sadly in need of
a coat of paint, boldly displayed the name William
Hollis Fruiterer, in white letters on a black ground.
For the last sixteen years, whenever the proprietor
of the Duke of Wellington had occasion to pass this
eyesore which was clearly visible from the busy main
thoroughfare that ran by the end of the street, he
made it a fixed rule to look the other way. But this
morning when he got off the tram car at the corner,
he set his teeth, faced the signboard resolutely and
walked slowly towards it.

A stately thirty seconds or so of progress brought
him to the shop itself. For a moment he stood look-
ing in the window, which was neither more nor less
than that of a visibly unprosperous greengrocer in a
very small way of business. He then entered a rather



moribund interior, the stock in trade of which con-
sisted in the main of baskets of potatoes and carrots
and an array of stale cabbages laid in a row on the

The shop had no one in it, but the first step taken
by an infrequent customer across its threshold rang
a bell attached to the underside of a loose board in
the floor, thereby informing a mysterious entity be-
yond a glass door draped with a surprisingly clean
lace curtain that it was required elsewhere.

The entity did not immediately respond to Josiah's
heavy-footed summons. When it did respond it was
seen to be that of a thin faced, exceedingly unhappy
looking woman of thirty-five whose hair was begin-
ning to turn gray. Her print dress, much worn but
scrupulously clean and neat, had its sleeves rolled
back beyond the elbows; and this fact and a coarse
sackcloth apron implied that she had been interrupted
in the task of scrubbing the floor of the back prem-

The interior of the shop was rather dark and Josiah,
having taken up a position in its most sunless corner,
was not recognized at once by his eldest daughter.

They stood looking at each other, not knowing what
to say or how to carry themselves after a complete
estrangement of sixteen years. Josiah, however, had
taken the initiative; he was a ready witted man of
affairs and he had been careful to enter the shop with
a formula already prepared to his mind. It might



or might not bridge the gulf, but in any case that did
not greatly matter. He had not come out of a desire
to make concessions; he was there at the call of duty.

"They tell me your man's joined th' army." That
was the formula, but it needed speaking. And when
spoken it was, after a moment uncannily tense, it was
not as Alderman Munt J.P. had expected and intended
to utter it. Instead of being quite impersonal, the tone
and the manner were rude and grim. Somehow they
had thrown back to an earlier phase of autocratic par-

Melia turned very white. It did not seem possible
for her to say anything beyond a defiant "yes." Breath-
ing hard, she stood looking stonily at her father.

"When did he go?"

"Monday." The tone of Melia was queerly like
his own.

Josiah rolled the scrub of whisker under his chin
between his thumb and forefinger, and then slowly
transferred the weight of his ponderous body from
one massive foot to the other. "Don't seem to be
doing much trade."

"Not much." But the tone of Melia rather im-
plied that it was none of his business even if such
was the case.

"Will ye be able to carry on ?"

Melia didn't know. Her father didn't either. He
was inclined to think not, but without expressing that
opinion he stood with narrowed eyes and pursing his



lips somberly. "Where's the books?" he said abruptly.

The desire uppermost in Melia was to tell him in
just a few plain words that the books were no con-
cern of his and that she would be much obliged if
he would go about his own affairs. But for some
reason she was not able to do so. She was no longer
afraid of him; years ago she had learned to hate and
despise him; but either she was not strong enough,
not a big enough character to be openly rude to him,
or the subtle feelings of a daughter, long since re-
jected and forgotten, may have intervened. For after
a horrible moment, in which devils flew round in her,
she said impassively, "Don't keep none."

"Not books! Don't keep books!" The man of af-
fairs caught up the admission and treated it almost
as a young bull in a paddock might have treated a
red parasol. "Never heard the like !" He cast a truc-
ulent glance round the half denuded shop. "No won-
der the jockey has to make compositions with his cred-

Melia flushed darkly. She would have given much
had she been able at that moment to order this father
of hers out of the shop, but every minute now seemed
to bring him an increasing authority. The Dad, the
tyrant and the bully whom she had feared, defied and
secretly admired, was now in full possession. At bot-
tom, sixteen years had not changed him and it had
not changed her. Had the man for whom she had
wrecked her life had something of her father's qual-



ity she might have forgiven his inefficiency, his tragic
failure as a human being, or at any rate have been
more able to excuse herself for an act which, look
at it as one would, was simply unforgivable.

"I don't know what you mean." Her hard voice
trembled and then broke harshly but anger and de-
fiance could not go beyond that. "He paid the quar-
ter's rent before he went He owes a few pounds but
he's going to send me a bit every week until it's paid."

"I suppose you've got a list of his liabilities." Even
his voice shook a little, but he treated the scorn, the
anger, the hard defiance in her eyes as if they were
not there.

Again the paramount desire was to insult this father
of hers, had it been humanly possible to do so. But
again was she bereft of the power even to make the
attempt. "Yes, I have," she said sullenly.

"Let me see it, gel."

For nearly a minute she stood biting her lips and
looking at him, while for his part he coolly surveyed
the shop in all its miserable inadequacy. She still
wanted to order him out. His proprietary air en-
raged her. Yet she could not repress a sneaking ad-
miration for it and that enraged her even more. But
she suddenly gave up fighting and retired in defeat to
the mysterious region beyond the curtained door,
whence she returned very soon with a piece of paper
in her hand.

Josiah impressively put on his gold-rimmed eye-



glasses, a recent addition to his greatness, and exam-
ined the paper critically. The amount of William
Hollis's indebtedness, declared in hurried, rather il-
literate pencil, as if the heart of the writer had not
been in his task, came to rather less than twenty

"This the lot?" He spoke as if he had a perfect
right to ask the question.

"It is." Her eyes and her voice contested the right,
yet in spite of themselves they admitted it.

"Who owns this here property?" Again the half
truculent glance explored every nook and cranny of
the meager premises.

"Whatmore the builder."

Josiah rubbed a thick knuckle upon his cheek.
"Ah !" That was his only comment. "Owns the row,
I suppose?"

Melia supposed he did.

"What rent do you pay?"

"Twenty-five." She resented the question, but the
growing magnetism of having again a real live man
to deal with was making her clay in his hands.

He took a step to the shop door, the paper still in
his hand, and stood an instant looking up the dreary
length of narrow street. It was only an instant he
stood there, but it was long enough to enable him to
make up his mind. Suddenly he swung round on his
heel to confront the still astonished and resentful



"Want more window space," he said. "Casement
ought to be lower and larger. Those flowers" he
pointed to a bowl of stocks on the counter "ought to
be where people can look at 'em. But this isn't a
neighborhood for flowers. Offer vegetables and fruit
at a low price, but more shop room's needed so that
folks can see 'em and so that you can buy in bigger
quantities. Who is your wholesaler?" He looked
down the list. "Coggins, eh? Coggins in the Mar-
ket Place?"

Melia nodded. Should she tell him that Coggins
had that morning refused to supply anything else un-
til the la,st delivery of potatoes, bananas and tomatoes
had been paid for? Pride said no, but a force more
elemental than pride had hold of her now.

"Owe him six pound, I see. What does he let you
have in the way of credit?"

"He won't let me have anything else until I've paid
his account," said the reluctant Melia. "And he says
it's all got to be cash for the future."

"When did he say that?"

"He's just been up to see me."

"Can you pay him ?"

"I promised him two pounds by Saturday."

Josiah made no comment. Once more his eyes made
the tour of the shop. And then he said with the slow
grunt that Melia knew so well:

"Very creditable to your man to join up ... if he
sticks it."



The four last little words were almost sinister.
And then in the unceremonious way in which he had
entered the shop the great man walked out. The place
was as distasteful to him as his presence in it was
distasteful to his eldest daughter. Yet for both, and
in spite of themselves, their meeting after long years
had had an extraordinary grim fascination.


AT Christmas Private Hollis was granted forty-
eight hours' leave. He had been a member of
the Blackhampton Battalion rather less than three
months, but this was a piece of luck for which he felt
very grateful.

Those three months had been a grueling time. His
age was forty-one, and, in order to comply with the
arbitrary limit of thirty-eight imposed by Field Mar-
shal Viscount Partington in the first days of strife,
it had been necessary to falsify his age. Many an-
other had done likewise. Questions were not asked,
and if a man had physical soundness and the stand-
ards of measurement demanded by the noble Viscount
there seemed no particular reason why they should
be. All the same the sudden and severe change from
a soft life found some weak places in Private Hollis.

How he stuck it he hardly knew. Many a time in
those trying early weeks he was sorely tempted to
go sick with "a pain in his hair." But ever at the back
of his mind hovered the august shade of Troop Ser-
geant Major William Hollis, the distinguished kins-
man who had fought at Waterloo, whose spurs and



sword hung in the little back sitting room of Number
Five, Love Lane; and that old warrior simply would
not countenance any such proceeding. Therefore,
Christmas week arrived without Private Hollis hav-
ing missed a single parade. Although not one of the
bright boys of the Battalion, he was not looked upon
unfavorably, and on Christmas Eve, about four
o'clock, he returned to his home from the neighboring
town of Duckingfield.

His home in the course of the sixteen years he had
lived in it had brought him precious little in the way
of happiness. More than once he had wondered if-
ever he would be man enough to break its sinister
thrall; more than once he had wished to end the ever-
growing aversion of man and wife by doing some-
thing violent. He had really grown to hate the place.
And yet after an absence of less than three months he
was returning to it with a thankfulness that was sur-

All the same he was not sure how Melia would re-
ceive him. When at last he had made the great de-
cision and had told her that he was going to join up
he had said she must either carry on the business in
his absence, or that it could be wound up and she must
be content with the separation allowance. Her an-
swer had been a gibe. However, she proposed to
carry on in spite of the fact that W. Hollis Fruiterer
as a means of livelihood was likely to prove a stone
about her neck. Still there was a pretty strong vein

1 08


of independence in her and if she could keep afloat by
her own exertions she meant to do so.

During his three months' absence in camp their cor-
respondence had been meager ; it had also been formal,
not to say cold. The estrangement into which they
had drifted was so wide that even the step he had
recently taken could not bridge it. He had told her
on a picture postcard with a view of Duckingfield
Parish Church that he was quite well and he hoped
that she was and that things were going on all right ;
and with a view of the Market Place she replied that
she was glad to know that he was quite well as it left
her at present. However, he was careful to supple-
ment this marital politeness with a few words every
Saturday when he sent her five shillings, all he could
spare of his pay. The money was always acknowl-
edged briefly and coldly. No clew was given to her
feelings, or to her affairs, but when he told her he
was coming home at Christmas for two days she
wrote to say that she would be pleased to see him.

As he stepped off the tram into the raw Black-
hampton mirk which awaited him at the end of Love
Lane that formal phrase came rather oddly into his
mind. It gave him a sort of consolation to reflect that
Melia was one who said what she meant and meant
what she said. But, whether or not she would be
pleased to see him at the present moment, he was gen-
uinely pleased to be seeing her.

It was strange that it should be so. But Melia with


all her grim humors stood for freedom, a life of phys-
ical ease and cushioned independence, and this was
what a slack fibered man of one and forty simply
longed for after three months' "grueling." For a man
past his physical best, of slothful habits and civilian
softness, the hard training had not been child's play.
Besides, his home meant something. It always had
meant something. That was why in the face of many
difficulties he had struggled in his spasmodic way to
keep it together. It had seemed to give him no plea-
sure, it had seemed to bring nothing into his life, but
somehow he had felt that if once he let go of it, as
far as he was concerned it would mean the end of all
things. He would simply fall to pieces. He would
sink into the gutter and he would never be able to
rise again.

Getting off the tram at the end of Love Lane he felt
a sensation that was almost pride to think that he had
a place of his own to come home to. After all it stood
for sixteen years of life and struggle. And at that
moment he was particularly glad that he had sent that
five shillings a week regularly. Unless he had done
so he would not now have been able to go and face

There was not much light in the little street, but
it was not yet quite dark. And the first sight of his
home gave him a shock. The outside of the shop had
changed completely. Not only was the signboard and
the rest of the woodwork resplendent with new paint,



but the window was more than twice the size it had
been. Moreover it was brilliantly lighted; there was
a fine display of apples, oranges-, prunes, nuts, even
boxes of candied fruits and bonbons ; and in the center
of this amazing picture was a large Christmas tree,
artfully decorated, in a pot covered with pink paper.

William Hollis gave a gasp. And then a slow chill
spread over him as he realized the truth. Somebody
had taken over the business, somebody with capital,
brains, business experience. But that being the case
why had Melia kept it all so dark? And why, if the
business belonged to somebody else, was his name
still on the signboard ? And why had it had that new
coat of paint?

The sheer unexpectedness struck him internally, as
if a bucket of water had been dashed in his face. It
was the worst set-back he had ever had in his life.
Not until that moment did he realize how much the
shop meant to him. He was bitterly angry that such
a trick had been played. It showed, as hardly any-
thing else could have done, the depth of Melia's ven-
om; it showed to what a point she was prepared to
carry her resentment.

It took him a minute to pull himself together, and
then he walked into the shop, not defiantly, not an-
grily, but with a sense of outrage. There was nobody
in it, but, as he cast round one indignant glance at its
new and guilty grandeur and then crossed heavily to



the curtained door, he held himself ready to meet the
new proprietor.

Beyond that mysterious portal the small living room
was very spick and span. Almost to his surprise he
found Melia there. She matched the room in appear-
ance and at the moment he came in she was putting a
log of wood on the fire. Great Uncle William's sword
and accouterments, hanging from the wall, were deco-
rated with holly, the pictures also and a new grocer's
almanac, and a small bunch of mistletoe was sus-
pended from the gas bracket in the middle of the
ceiling. Everything was far more cheerful and home-
like than he ever remembered to have seen it. The
note of Christmas was there, which in itself meant
welcome and good cheer.

He stood at the threshold of the curtained door, a
neat soldierlike figure with a chastened mustache,
looking wonderfully trim and erect in his uniform.
She greeted him with a kind of half smile on her hard
sad face, but he didn't offer to kiss her. Not for long
years had they been on those terms; they were man
and wife in hardly more than name. And if in his
absence, as there was reason to suspect, she had played
him a trick in revenge for her years of disappointment,
he somehow felt man enough at that moment to make
an end of things altogether so far as she was con-
cerned. There were faults on both sides, no doubt.
Perhaps he hadn't quite played jannock; but if the
business now belonged to somebody else, he would



simply walk straight out of the place and he would
never enter it again.

She stood looking at him, as if she expected him to
speak first. But he didn't know what to say to her,
with that doubt in his mind. Braced by the stern
discipline which he felt already had made him so
much more a man than he had ever been in his life, he
had come home fully prepared to make a fresh start.
In spite of her embittered temper, he had not lost quite
all his affection for her. He was the kind of man who
craves for affection; absence and hardship had made
him realize that. He had looked forward to this
homecoming, not merely as a relief from the grind of
military routine, which galled him at times so that
he could hardly bear it, but as an assertion of the
manhood, of the husbandhood, that had long been

"Evenin', Melia," he said at last.

"Evenin', Bill," as she spoke she dropped her eyes.

"Happy Christmas to you." Somehow his voice
sounded much deeper than ever before.

"Same to you, Bill." There was almost a softness
in the fall of the words that took his mind a long way

"How goes it?" Her reception was thawing him a
little in spite of himself, but he hesitated about taking
off his overcoat. If this fair seeming was intended
to mask a blow there was only one way to meet it.
There was a pause and then he took the plunge. "Busi-


ness good?" He held himself ready for the conse-

"Pretty fair." The tone told nothing.

"Seems to be that," he said mordantly. "Had a
coat o' paint, I see, outside." He steeled himself
again. "Had a new window put in an' all."

She nodded.

"How did you manage it?" Again the plunge.

"Got a new landlord."

Ha ! they were coming to it now. He held himself
tensely. "Old Whatmore gone up the spout or some-
thing?" He remembered that some time back there
had been rumors of an impending bankruptcy on the
part of Whatmore the builder.

"No, Whatmore's all right, but he's sold this shop
and the whole row with it."

"Sold it, eh?" His excitement was so great that
in spite of a cool military air it was impossible to dis-
guise it. All the same she waited for him to ask the
all-important question, but he was slow to do so.

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Online LibraryJ. C. (John Collis) SnaithThe undefeated → online text (page 6 of 18)