J. C. (John Collis) Snaith.

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R.S.P., although he didn't feel like smiling. Thence
by Tube to Waterloo. It was their first experience
of this medium of travel. Even in Blackhampton,
in so many ways the home of modernity, Tubes were
unknown; they seemed exclusively, rather bewilder-
ingly, metropolitan.

The attendant Genie had to be watchful indeed to
prevent their going all round London en route from
Euston to Waterloo, but it was so alive to its duties
that they were only once baffled and then but tempo-
rarily. Thus in the end they found themselves on
a seat on Platform Six with a full hour to wait for
the Southampton train.

She left him at the carriage door, a few minutes
before he was due out on his own grim journey, so
that she might have plenty of time to catch the train
for the north. Minute instructions had to be given
to enable her to do this, for London is a bewildering
maze to those not up to its ways. But the Corporal's
lady had a typical Blackhampton head, a thing cool,
resolute, hardy in the presence of any severe demand
upon it; and he was quite sure, and she was quite
sure, that she would be able to catch the 8:55 from
Euston, no matter what traps were laid for her.

It was a very simple good-by, but yet they were


torn by it in a way they had hardly expected. She
with her worn face and tired eyes was all there was
to hold him to life she and a terrible, impersonal
sense of duty which seemed to frighten him almost.
As he watched the drab figure disappear among the
crowd on the long platform he couldn't help wonder-
ing. . . .

But it was no use wondering. He must set his
teeth and get his head down and try to stick it no
matter what the dark fates had in store.


THE Corporal even at his best was not a great
hand at writing letters. And the series he
wrote from France did not flatter his powers. Really
they told hardly anything and that which they did
tell might have been far more vividly rendered. Still
in the eyes of Melia they were precious ; and they did
something to soften months of loneliness and toil.

One other gleam there was in that sore time; a
fitful one, no doubt, and the ray it cast upon her life
so dubious, that, all things considered, it meant small
comfort. Yet, perhaps, it may have been wrong not
to accept this doubtful boon more gratefully.

One morning, about a fortnight after Bill's depar-
ture for France, her father paid one of his periodical
visits to Love Lane. Since W. Hollis Fruiterer had
taken a turn for the better he was content with a
monthly survey instead of a weekly one in order to
assure himself that the enterprise was shipshape and
its affairs in order.

Melia's reception of her father was invariably cool.
She had a proud, unyielding nature, and Josiah's
tardy concession to the sternness of the times even if
it had thawed the ice a little had not really melted
it. Neither was quite at ease in the presence of the



other; in both was a smoldering resentment and the
spirit of un forgiveness.

The books, on inspection, proved to be in very fair
order. They were carefully and neatly kept and, in
comparison with the state of affairs before a busi-
ness man came on the scene to direct them, they
showed a refreshing change for the better. The ac-
counts had been made up to the half year. And as
a result of eight months trading under new condi-
tions there was a clear profit of forty-five pounds after
a full allowance for expenses.

Josiah expressed himself well satisfied. In com-
mon with the great majority of his race, material
success was the shrine at which he worshiped. Suc-
cess in this case, moreover, was doubly gratifying;
it lent point to his own foresight and judgment and
it exhibited a latent capacity in his eldest daughter.
Time alone would be able to disperse the bitterness
he cherished against her in his heart, but it did him
good to feel that she was not wholly a fool and that
in some quite important particulars she was a chip
of the old block.

He congratulated her solemnly in the manner of a
Chairman of Directors addressing a General Mana-
ger and hoped she would go on as she had begun. Re-
sentful as she still was, she was secretly flattered by
the compliment ; and she hastened to offer to repay the
sum he had advanced for the satisfaction of the for-
mer creditors.



"Let it stand over," he said, "until your position's
a bit firmer."

She insisted, but he was not to be shaken; and
then, as was his way when at a loss for an argument,
he gave the contest of wills a new, unexpected turn.
"Doing anything particular Sunday afternoon?"

No, she was not doing a thing particular.

"Better come up home and have a cup of tea with
us." Then in a tone less impersonal : "Your mother
would like to see you."

The blood rushed over Melia's face. At first she
feigned not to hear, but that did not help her. Dig-
nity had many demands to make, but the brusque in-
sistence of this father of hers seemed to cut away the
ground on which it stood.

"Say what time and I'll send the car for you."

The tone was so final that anything she could raise
in the way of protest seemed weakly ridiculous. But
the car for her! She didn't want the car and she
mustered force enough to say so.

"Might as well have it. Doing nothing Sunday.
Save you a climb up the hill this hot weather."

Of one thing, however, she was quite sure. She
didn't want the car. This recent and remarkable ex-
pression of her father's wealth and ever-growing so-
cial importance had taken the form of a superb mo-
tor and a smart lady chauffeur in the neatest of green
liveries which already she had happened to see on
two occasions in Waterloo Square. No, such a ve-



hide was not for her ; and she contrived to say so with
the bluntness demanded by the circumstances, yet
tempered a little by a certain regard for anything her
father might be able to muster in the way of feelings.

"Might as well make use of it," he said. "Eating
its head off Sunday afternoon."

But she remained quite firm. The car was not for

"Well, it's there for you if you want it." His air
was majestic. "Better pay that money into the bank.
And I shall tell your mother to expect you Sunday
tea time."

It was left at that. He had gained both his points.
The third was subsidiary; it didn't matter. All the
same it was like Josiah to raise it as a. cover for those
that did.


MELIA was frankly annoyed with herself for
not having put up a better resistance. The
sight of her father strutting down the street with
the honors of war upon him was a little too much for
her. He had been guilty of sixteen years of tyranni-
cal cruelty and she was unable to forgive. In those
sixteen years she had suffered bitterly and her stub-
born nature had great powers of resentment.

Who was he that he should walk down Love Lane
not merely as if he owned it in sober truth he now
owned half but also the souls of the people who lived
there? She could not help resenting that invincible
flare, that overweening success, particularly when she
compared it with the fecklessness of the man she had
so imprudently married. After all, she was the first-
born of this vain image and she knew his shortcom-
ings better than he knew them himself. He had had
more than his share of luck. No matter what the
world might think of him, however fortune might
treat him, he was not worthy of the position he had
come to occupy.

As soon as the ponderous broadcloth back had
turned the corner of Love Lane and was lost in that
strong-moving stream, Mulcaster Road, she made up



her mind that she would not go up to tea on Sunday
afternoon. It was not that he really cared whether
she went or not; had he done so he would have asked
her sooner. Maybe his conscience was pricking him
a bit, but he was not one to be much troubled in that
way. In any case let it hurt him so much the bet-
ter if it did. This was a matter in which she would
like him to be hurt as he had never been hurt before.

Here again, however, her father had an unfair ad-
vantage. If she stayed away on Sunday she might
punish him a little and even that was doubtful :
but she would certainly punish her mother far more.
And she had not the slightest wish to do that. She
was sorry for her mother, whose sins of omission
sprang from weakness of character. Nature had
placed her in a very different category. She had
fought this tyrant as hard as it was in her to fight
any one, but she was one of nature's underlings whose
lot was always to be trampled on.

Alas, if Melia didn't turn up on Sunday it was her
mother who would suffer. And it was a matter in
which she had suffered too much already. Melia had
no particular affection now remaining for her mother ;
she even despised her for being so poor a creature,
but at least her only crime was weakness and it was
hardly fair that she should endure more than was nec-
essary. Melia's was rather a masculine nature in some
ways; at any rate her father and she had one trait

1 60


in common. They had a sense of justice. Hence she
was now on the horns of a dilemma.

It was not until Sunday itself, after morning serv-
ice at Saint George's, that the decision was finally
made. And then fortified by Mr. Bontine, a clergy-
man for whom Melia had a regard, she decided much
against her inclination to go up to The Rise in the
afternoon. It was a reluctant decision, made in sore-
ness of heart; the only satisfaction to be got out of
it would arise from the dubious process which the
reverend gentleman described as "conquest of self."

She set out rather later than she meant to, in a
decidedly heavy mood. And it was not made lighter
by the fact that the afternoon was sultry with the
promise of thunder, and that the long and tedious
climb to The Rise had to be made without the help
of the tram on which she had counted. Long before
the trams from the Market Place had reached the
end of Love Lane they were full to overflowing, as
she ought to have known they would be on a fine
Sunday afternoon in the middle of the summer. In
the process 6f painfully mounting the stuffy length
of mean streets to achieve the space and grandeur of
The Rise she grew vexed and hot. When at last
she reached the famous eminence she was far indeed
from the frame of mind proper to the paying of a
call in its exclusive society. But it served her right.
She should have stayed at home, or at least have al-
lowed the motor to be sent for her.



As it was, it was nearly five o'clock when, limp
and fagged, she came at last in view of the many-
windowed, much-gabled elevation of Strathfieldsaye.
In spite of herself the sight of it made her feel nerv-
ous. It was the home of her father and mother, but
its note of grandeur gave her a cruel sense of her
own inadequacy. At the brilliantly painted gate she
lingered a moment. Courage was called for to walk
up the broad gravel path as far as the porch with its
fine oak door studded with brass nails.

At last, however, she went up and rang the bell.
An extremely grand parlor maid received her almost
scornfully, and led her across a slippery but superb
entrance hall which was disconcertingly magnificent.
It was hard to grasp at that moment that such an in-
terior was the creation of her commonplace parents,
harder still to believe that this servant whose clothes
and manners were superior to her own was at their
beck and call.

However, she would go through the ordeal now she
had got so far. But this afternoon luck was heavily
against her. The ordeal proved to be more severe
than even her gloomiest moments had foreshadowed.
She was ushered just as she was, in her shabby hat
and much mended gloves, straight into the drawing
room into the midst of company. And the company
was of the kind she would have given much to avoid.

She had hoped that she might find her mother alone,
or at the worst, drinking tea with her father. In-



stead, the first person she saw was the insufferable
Gertrude Preston, that mass of airs and graces which
always enabled their wearer to stand out in Melia's
mind as all that a woman ought not to be. And as
if the sight of Gertrude was not sufficiently chilling
and embarrassing, the second person she realized as
being present was her own stuck-up sister Ethel, in-
variably known in the family as Mrs. Doctor Cock-
burn. She was accompanied, however, by her two
children, little peacocks of six and seven, spoiled
fluffy masses of pink ribbons and conceit.

Last of all was her mother. She was always last
in any assembly. Somehow she never seemed to
count. In the old days even in her own home she could
always be talked down, or put out of countenance or
elbowed to the wall; and now, after the flight of
years, in these grand surroundings, she had not al-
tered in the least. She still had the eyes of a rabbit
and a fat hand that wobbled ; and on Melia's entrance
into the room Gerty and Ethel at once took the lead
of her in the way they had always taken it.

"Why, I do declare!" Gerty rose at once with
cleverly (simulated surprise tempered by a certain
stock brand of archness, kept always on tap, and un-
failingly effective in moments of sudden crisis or
emotional tension. "How are you, Amelia?" She
would have liked to offer her cheek, but the look in
Amelia's eyes forbade her risking it. Therefore, a



hand had to suffice, an elegant hand, but a wary one
which met with scant ceremony.

Ethel, Mrs. Doctor Cockburn, also rose, but not
immediately. "Glad to see you, Amelia."

Melia knew it was a lie on Ethel's part, and had
she had a little more self-possession might have been
moved to say so.

The three daughters of Mr. Josiah Munt marked
three stages in his meteoric career. Melia, the eldest,
was the child of the primitive era. Compared with
her sisters she was almost a savage. Between her
and Ethel had been a boy, Josiah, whose birth had
nearly killed Maria and who had died untimely in his
babyhood. She was not allowed in consequence to
bear any more children for ten years, and Ethel was
the natural fruit of the interregnum. Ethel was gen-
erally allowed to be the masterpiece of the family.
Five years after her had come Sally who perhaps in
point of time and opportunity should have put out the
light even of Ethel; but in her case it seemed the
blessed word progress had moved a little too fast.
Sally, as the world knew only too well, was over-edu-
cated; from the uplands of high intellectual develop-
ment Sally had slipped over the precipice into a mental
and moral abyss.

From the social and even the physical standpoint
Ethel was indubitably the pick of Mr. Josiah Munt's
three daughters. And Mrs. Doctor's rather frigid
reception of her eldest sister showed a nice perception



of the fact. Amelia had thrown her back to a prehis-
toric phase. She had something of the air and man-
ner of a charwoman. When she entered the room,
little shivers had crept down Ethel's sensitive spine.
She could hardly bear to look at her.

Melia also felt very uncomfortable. She couldn't
find a word to say and the children stared at her. But
she sat on the edge of a chair that Gerty provided ; tea,
bread and butter and cake were given her; she began
to eat and drink mechanically, but still she felt
strangely hostile and unhappy. She resented the
bright plumage, the amazing prosperity of those
among whom she had been born ; above all, she resent-
ed Ethel's superciliousness and Gerty's patronage.
Ethel, of course, had a right to be supercilious, and
that fact was an added barb. Her light shone. SHE
was the only one who had shed any luster on the fam-
ily; her marriage with a doctor rising to eminence in
the town was a model of judicious ambition. Ethel
"had done very well for herself," and even the set
of her hat, black tulle and white feathers and the op-
ulent lines of her spotted muslin dress, seemed to pro-
claim it. Her bearing completed the picture. She
had not been in the same room with Amelia for many
years, although she had passed her once or twice in
the street without speaking; and at the moment her
judicious mind was fully engaged with the problem
as to whether Gwenneth and Gwladys could or could



not call her "Auntie." Finally, but not at once, the
answer was in the negative.

Amelia, without a word to say for herself, and
suffering acutely from a social awkwardness which
a lonely life in sordid circumstances had made much
worse, was altogether out of it. Ethel and Gerty had
charm and elegance; they spoke a different language;
they might have belonged to a different race. Amelia's
natural ally should have been her mother. They had
much in common but that depressed and inefficient
woman was nearly as tongue-tied as her eldest daugh-
ter. Ethel and Gerty were almost as far beyond the,
range of Maria as they were beyond the range of
Amelia; their expensive clothes and their correct talk
of This and That and These and Those, with clear,
high pitched intonation filled her with dismay. Maria,
even in her own drawing room, was in such awe of
them that she could make no overtures to Amelia, al-
though she simply longed to point to the vacant sofa
beside her and to say, "Come and sit over here, my

The eldest daughter of the house bitterly regretted
the folly that had brought her among them again after
so many years of outlawry. But in a few minutes
her father came in and then she got on better. He
was the real cause of her present sufferings, but his
own freedom from self-consciousness or the least ten-
dency to pose amid surroundings which seemed to

1 66


crave that form of weakness was exactly what the sit-
uation called for.

"Hulloa, Melia," he said heartily. "Pleased to see
you, gel." His lips saluted her cheek with a loud
smack. There was not a suspicion of false shame
about him. He was master in his own house at any
rate. And when he made up his mind to do a thing
he did it thoroughly. "What do you think on 'em?"
He pointed to his grandchildren rather proudly.
"That's Gwennie. And that's Gladdie. This is your
Auntie Melia."

The ears of Mrs. Doctor Cockburn began to burn
a little as the eyes of Gwennie and Gladdie grew
rounder and rounder.

"Gladdie favors her ma. Don't you think so, eh?
And they've both got a look of Grandma what?"

"I see a look of you, you know, Josiah," said
Auntie Gerty with an air of immense discretion.

"Urn. Maybe. Have they had any strawberries,
Grandma ?"

Their mother thought they ought not to have straw-
berries, but their grandfather was convinced that a
few would not hurt them and chose half a dozen him-
self from a blue dish on the tea table and presented
them personally.

"There, Gwenneth, what do you say?" Mrs. Doc-
tor Cockburn's own mouth was full of prunes and
prisms. "Thank you what thank you, Grandpa."

"That's a good little gel." There was a geniality,


an indulgence, in the tone of Josiah that he had never
thought of extending to his own children in their nurs-
ery days. "And I tell you what, Ma if they get
a pain under their pinnies they must blame their old

Altogether, a pleasant episode, and to everybody,
Gwenneth and Gwladys included, a welcome diver-

"Have some more tea, Melia." Her father took her
cup from her in spite of the protest her tongue was
unable to utter and handed it to the inefficient lady
in charge of the teapot. "And you must have a few
strawberries. Fresh picked out of the garden. Ethel,
touch that bell."

Mrs. Doctor, with an air of resolute fineladyism,
pressed the electric button at her elbow. The grand
parlor maid entered with a smile of imperfectly con-
cealed cynicism.

"Alice, more cream !"

Melia wondered how even her father was able to
address Alice in that way ; but his coolness ministered
to the reluctant respect he was arousing in her by his
manly attitude to his own grandeur.

The cream appeared. Gwenneth and Gwladys were
forbidden to have any their lives so far had been a
series of negations and inhibitions but Melia had
some, although she didn't want it, but the will of her
father was greater than her powers of resistance. And



then he said to her, "When you've had your tea, I'll
show you the greenus."

"Conservatory, Josiah," said Aunt Gerty with an
arch preen of features and a show of plumage. "Much
too big for a mere greenhouse."

"Greenus is more homelike, Gert. What do you
say, Mother?" He laughed almost gayly at Maria.
The eldest daughter was amazed at the change that
seemed to be coming over her father. In the dismal
days of drudgery and gloomy terrorism at the public
house in Waterloo Square which now seemed so far
away in the past, there was not a trace of this large
and rich geniality. Prosperity, power, worldly suc-
cess must have mellowed her father as well as enlarged
him. He seemed so much bigger now, so much riper,
he seemed to care more for others.

Ethel and Gertrude were quite put into the shade
by the force and the heartiness of Josiah, but Mrs.
Doctor was not one lightly to play second fiddle to
any member of her own family. "I hear," she said,
pitching her voice upon an almost perilous note of
fashion there was even a suspicion of a drawl which
brought an involuntary curl to Melia's lip "that
young Nixey, the architect, has been recommended
for the M.C."

"Has he so?" Josiah's eye lighted up over his
suspended teacup. "I've always said there was some-
thing in that young Nixey. And I'm not often mis-



taken. He designed that row of cottages I built down
Bush Lane."

"A row of cottages in Bush Lane, have you, Jo-
siah?" said Aunt Gerty with an air of statesmanlike
interest. "You seem to be what they call going into
bricks and mortar."

"You bet I am for some time now. And bricks
and mortar are not going to get less in value if this
war keeps on, take it from me."

"I suppose not," said Mrs. Doctor Cockburn, a
judge of values.

"I've one regret." It was not like Josiah to har-
bor regrets of any kind, and Aunt Gerty visibly ad-
justed her mind to hear something memorable.
"That young Nixey's as smart as paint. I nearly
let him have the contract for this house. In some
ways he might have suited us better."

"But this house is splendid," said Gerty with fla-
grant optimism. She knew in her heart that the house
was too splendid.

"Young Nixey's idea was something neater, more
in the Mossop style. I didn't see at the time, so I
got Rawlins to do it to my own design. Of course,
what I didn't like about Nixey was that he would
have it that he knew better than I did, and I'm not

sure " Josiah hovered on the brink of a very

remarkable admission.

"I don't agree, Josiah. This house is almost per-
fect." The specious Gertrude was amazed that he



of all men should be so near a confession that he
might have been wrong. Dark influences were at
work in him evidently.

"I agree with you, Father." Mrs. Doctor had
nothing of Gerty's finesse. "The Gables is so re-
fined, a house for a gentleman."

"Don't know about that," Josiah frowned. "Never
heard of a house being refined. Comes to that, this
place is good enough for me, any time." If he went
so far as to own that he might have been wrong it
was clearly the duty of others to hasten to contradict
him. "But The Gables is more compact. More com-
fort somehow, and less show."

"Stands in less ground, must have cost less," said
Gerty softly. "Compared to Strathfieldsaye, The Ga-
bles to my mind is rather niggardly."

"That is so, Gert." He nodded approvingly. She
was always there with the right word. "All the same
I believe in that young Nixey. Started, you know,
at the Council School. Won a scholarship at the
University. Why, I remember his mother when she
used to come to the Duke of Wellington and sew for
Maria. Done everything for himself. And now he's
a commissioned officer in the B.B. Give honor where
honor's due, I say."

Gerty and Ethel agreed, perhaps a little reluctantly.
Maria expressed a tacit approval. And then Melia
made the discovery that her mind had wandered as



far as France; and for a moment or so the world's
pressure upon her felt a little less stifling.

"Wonderful, how that young man's got on!" There
was reverence in the tone of Gerty whose religion
was "getting on."

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Online LibraryJ. C. (John Collis) SnaithThe undefeated → online text (page 9 of 18)