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Once A Hero by Harold Brighouse

(From Pan)

1922

Standing in a sheltered doorway a tramp, with a slouch hat crammed low over a notably unwashed face, watched the outside of the new works canteen of the Sir William Rumbold Ltd., Engineering Company. Perhaps because they were workers while he was a tramp, he had an air of compassionate cynicism as the audience assembled and thronged into the building, which, as prodigally advertised throughout Calderside, was to be opened that night by Sir William in person.

There being no one to observe him, the tramp could be frank with his cynicism; but inside the building, in the platform ante-room, Mr. Edward Fosdike, who was Sir William's locally resident secretary, had to discipline his private feelings to a suave concurrence in his employer's florid enthusiasm. Fosdike served Sir William well, but no man is a hero to his (male) secretary.

“I hope you will find the arrangements satisfactory,” Fosdike was saying, tugging nervously at his maltreated moustache. “You speak at seven and declare the canteen open. Then there's a meal.” He hesitated. “Perhaps I should have warned you to dine before you came.”

Sir William was aware of being a very gallant gentleman. “Not at all,” he said heroically, “not at all. I have not spared my purse over this War Memorial. Why should I spare my feelings? Well, now, you've seen about the Press?”

“Oh, yes. The reporters are coming. There'll be flash-light photographs. Everything quite as usual when you make a public appearance, sir.”

Sir William wondered if this resident secretary of his were quite adequate. Busy in London, he had left all arrangements in his local factotum's hands, and he was doubting whether those hands had grasped the situation competently. “Only as usual?” he said sharply. “This War Memorial has cost me ten thousand pounds.”

“The amount,” Fosdike hastened to assure him, “has been circulated, with appropriate tribute to your generosity.”

“Generosity,” criticised Rumbold. “I hope you didn't use that word.”

Mr. Fosdike referred to his notebook. “We said,” he read, “'the cost, though amounting to ten thousand pounds, is entirely beside the point. Sir William felt that no expense was excessive that would result in a fitting and permanent expression of our gratitude to the glorious dead.'“

“Thank you, Fosdike. That is exactly my feeling,” said the gratified Sir William, paying Fosdike the unspoken compliment of thinking him less of a fool than he looked. “It is,” he went on, “from no egotistic motive that I wish the Press to be strongly represented to-night. I believe that in deciding that Calderside's War Memorial should take the form of a Works Canteen, I am setting an example of enlightenment which other employers would do well to follow. I have erected a monument, not in stone, but in goodwill, a club-house for both sexes to serve as a centre of social activities for the firm's employees, wherein the great spirit of the noble work carried out at the Front by by the Y.M.C.A. will be recaptured and adapted to peace conditions in our local organisation in the Martlow Works Canteen. What are you taking notes for?”

“I thought——” began Fosdike.

“Oh, well, perhaps you are right. Reporters have been known to miss one's point, and a little first aid, eh? By the way, I sent you some notes from town of what I intended to say in my speech. I just sent them ahead in case there was any local point I'd got wrong.”

He put it as a question, but actually it was an assertion and a challenge. It asserted that by no possible chance could there be anything injudicious in the proposed speech, and it challenged Fosdike to deny that assertion if he dared.

And Fosdike had to dare; he had to accuse himself of assuming too easily that Rumbold's memory of local Calderside detail was as fresh as the memory of the man on the spot.

“I did want to suggest a modification, sir,” he hazarded timidly.

“Really?”—quite below zero—“Really? I felt very contented with the speech.”

“Yes, sir, it's masterly. But on the spot here——”

“Oh, agreed. Quite right, Fosdike. I am speaking to-night to the world—no; let me guard against exaggeration. The world includes the Polynesians and Esquimaux—I am speaking to the English-speaking races of the world, but first and foremost to Calderside. My own people. Yes? You have a little something to suggest? Some happy local allusion?”

“It's about Martlow,” said Fosdike shortly.

Sir William took him up. “Ah, now you're talking,” he approved. “Yes, indeed, anything you can add to my notes about Martlow will be most welcome. I have noted much, but too much is not enough for such an illustrious example of conspicuous gallantry, so noble a life, so great a deed, and so self-sacrificing an end. Any details you can add about Timothy Martlow will indeed——”

Fosdike coughed. “Excuse me, sir, that's just the point. If you talk like that about Martlow down here, they'll laugh at you.”

“Laugh?” gasped Rumbold, his sense of propriety outraged. “My dear Fosdike, what's come to you? I celebrate a hero. Our hero. Why, I'm calling the Canteen after Martlow when I might have given it my own name. That speaks volumes.” It did.

But Fosdike knew too well what would be the attitude of a Calderside audience if he allowed his chief to sing in top-notes an unreserved eulogy of Tim Martlow. Calderside knew Tim, the civilian, if it had also heard of Tim, the soldier. “Don't you remember Martlow, sir? Before the war, I mean.”

“No. Ought I to?”

“Not on the bench?”

“Martlow? Yes, now I think of the name in connection with the old days, there was a drunken fellow. To be sure, an awful blackguard, continually before the bench. Dear me! Well, well, but a man is not responsible for his undesirable relations, I hope.”

“No, sir. But that was Martlow. The same man. You really can't speak to Calderside of his as an ennobling life and a great example. The war changed him, but—well, in peace, Tim was absolutely the local bad man, and they all know it. I thought you did, or——”

Sir William turned a face expressive of awe-struck wonder. “Fosdike,” he said with deep sincerity, “this is the most amazing thing I've heard of the war. I never connected Martlow the hero with—well, well de mortuis.” He quoted:

  “'Nothing in his life
  Became him like the leaving it; he died
  As one that had been studied in his death
  To throw away the dearest thing he owed
  As 'there a careless trifle.'

“Appropriate, I think? I shall use that.”

It was, at least, a magnificent recovery from an unexpected blow, administered by the very man whose duty it was to guard Sir William against just that sort of blow. If Fosdike was not the local watch-dog, he was nothing; and here was an occasion when the dog had omitted to bark until the last minute of the eleventh hour.

“Very apt quotation, sir, though there have never been any exact details of Martlow's death.”

Sir William meditated. “Do you recall the name of the saint who was a regular rip before he got religion?” he asked.

“I think that applies to most of them,” said Fosdike.

“Yes, but the one in particular. Francis. That's it.” He filled his chest. “Timothy Martlow,” he pronounced impressively, “is the St. Francis of the Great War, and this Canteen is his shrine. Now, I think I will go into the hall. It is early, but I shall chat with the people. Oh, one last thought. When you mentioned Martlow, I thought you were going to tell me of some undesirable connections. There are none?”

“There is his mother. A widow. You remember the Board voted her an addition to her pension.”

“Oh, yes. And she?”

“Oh, most grateful. She will be with you on the platform. I have seen myself that she is—fittingly attired.”

“I think I can congratulate you, Fosdike,” said Sir William magnanimously. “You've managed very well. I look forward to a pleasant evening, a widely reported speech, and—”

Then Dolly Wainwright came into the ante-room.

“If you please, sir,” she said, “what's going to be done about me?”

Two gentlemen who had all but reached the smug bathos of a mutual admiration society turned astonished eyes at the intruder.

She wore a tam, and a check blanket coat, which she unbuttoned as they watched her. Beneath it, suitable to the occasion, was a white dress, and Sir William, looking at it, felt a glow of tenderness for this artless child who had blundered into the privacy of the ante-room. Something daintily virginal in Dolly's face appealed to him; he caught himself thinking that her frock was more than a miracle in bleached cotton—it was moonshine shot with alabaster; and the improbability of that combination had hardly struck him when Fosdike's voice forced itself harshly on his ears.

“How did you get in here?”

Sir William moved to defend the girl from the anger of his secretary, but when she said, with a certain challenge, “Through the door,” he doubted if she were so defenceless as she seemed.

“But there's a doorkeeper at the bottom,” said Fosdike. “I gave him my orders.”

“I gave him my smile,” said Dolly. “I won.”

“Upon my word—” Fosdike began.

“Well, well,” interrupted Sir William, “what can I do for you?”

The reply was indirect, but caused Sir William still further to readjust his estimate of her.

“I've got friends in the meeting to-night,” she concluded. “They'll speak up for me, too, if I'm not righted. So I'm telling you.”

“Don't threaten me, my girl,” said Sir William without severity. “I am always ready to pay attention to any legitimate grievance, but——”

“Legitimate?” she interrupted. “Well, mine's not legitimate. So there!”

“I beg your pardon?” She puzzled Sir William. “Come now,” he went on in his most patriarchal manner, “don't assume I'm not going to listen to you. I am. To-night there is no thought in my mind except the welfare of Calderside.”

“Oh, well,” she said apologetically, “I'm sorry if I riled you, but it's a bit awkward to speak it out to a man. Only” (the unconscious cruelty of youth—or was it conscious?) “you're both old, so perhaps I can get through. It's about Tim Martlow.”

“Ah,” said Sir William encouragingly, “our glorious hero.”

“Yes,” said Dolly. “I'm the mother of his child.”

We are all balloons dancing our lives amongst pins. Therefore, be compassionate towards Sir William. He collapsed speechlessly on a hard chair.

Fosdike reacted more alertly. “This is the first I've heard of Martlow's being married,” he said aggressively.

Dolly looked up at him indignantly. “You ain't heard it now, have you?” she protested. “I said it wasn't legitimate. I don't say we'd not have got married if there'd been time, but you can't do everything on short leave.”

There seemed an obvious retort. Rumbold and Fosdike looked at each other, and neither made the retort. Instead, Fosdike asked: “Are you employed in the works here?”

“I was here, on munitions,” she said, “and then on doles.”

“And now you're on the make,” he sneered.

“Oh, I dunno,” she said. “All this fuss about Tim Martlow. I ought to have my bit out of it.”

“Deplorable,” grieved Sir William. “The crass materialism of it all. This is so sad. How old are you?”

“Twenty,” said Dolly. “Twenty, with a child to keep, and his father's name up in gold lettering in that hall there. I say somebody ought to do something.”

“I suppose now, Miss——” Fosdike baulked.

“Wainwright, Dolly Wainwright, though it ought to be Martlow.”

“I suppose you loved Tim very dearly?”

“I liked him well enough. He was good-looking in his khaki.”

“Liked him? I'm sure it was more than that.”

“Oh, I dunno. Why?” asked the girl, who said she was the mother of Martlow's child.

“I am sure,” said Fosdike gravely, “you would never do anything to bring a stain upon his memory.”

Dolly proposed a bargain. “If I'm rightly done by,” she said, “I'll do right by him.”

“Anything that marred the harmony of to-night's ceremony, Miss Wainwright, would be unthinkable,” said Sir William, coming to his lieutenant's support.

“Right,” said Dolly cheerfully. “If you'll take steps according, I'm sure I've no desire to make a scene.”

“A scene,” gasped Sir William.

“Though,” she pointed out, “it's a lot to ask of any one, you know. Giving up the certain chance of getting my photograph in the papers. I make a good picture, too. Some do and some don't, but I take well and when you know you've got the looks to carry off a scene, it's asking something of me to give up the idea.”

“But you said you'd no desire to make a scene.”

“Poor girls have often got to do what they don't wish to. I wouldn't make a scene in the usual way. Hysterics and all that. Hysterics means cold water in your face and your dress messed up and no sympathy. But with scenes, the greater the occasion the greater the reward, and there's no denying this is an occasion, is there? You're making a big to-do about Tim Martlow and the reward would be according. I don't know if you've noticed that if a girl makes a scene and she's got the looks for it, she gets offers of marriage, like they do in the police-court when they've been wronged and the magistrate passes all the men's letters on to the court missionary and the girl and the missionary go through them and choose the likeliest fellow out of the bunch?”

“But my dear young lady——” Fosdike began.

She silenced him. “Oh, it's all right. I don't know that I want to get married.”

“Then you ought to,” said Sir William virtuously.

“There's better things in life than getting married,” Dolly said. “I've weighed up marriage, and I don't see what there is in it for a girl nowadays.”

“In your case, I should have thought there was everything.”

Dolly sniffed. “There isn't liberty,” she said. “And we won the fight for liberty, didn't we? No; if I made that scene it 'ud be to get my photograph in the papers where the film people could see it. I've the right face for the pictures, and my romantic history will do the rest.”

“Good heavens, girl,” cried the scandalised Sir William, “have you no reverence at all? The pictures! You'd turn all my disinterested efforts to ridicule. You'd—oh, but there! You're not going to make a scene?”

“That's a matter of arrangement, of course,” said the cool lady. “I'm only showing you what a big chance I shall miss if I oblige you. Suppose I pipe up my tale of woe just when you're on the platform with the Union Jack behind you and the reporters in front of you, and that tablet in there that says Tim is the greatest glory of Calderside——”

Sir William nearly screamed. “Be quiet, girl. Fosdike,” he snarled, turning viciously on his secretary, “what the deuce do you mean by pretending to keep an eye on local affairs when you miss a thing like this?”

“'Tisn't his fault,” said Dolly. “I've been saving this up for you.”

“Oh,” he groaned, “and I'd felt so happy about to-night.” He took out a fountain pen. “Well, I suppose there's no help for it. Fosdike, what's the amount of the pension we allow Martlow's mother?”

“Double it, add a pound a week, and what's the answer, Mr. Fosdike?” asked Dolly quickly.

Sir William gasped ludicrously.

“I mean to say,” said Dolly, conferring on his gasp the honour of an explanation, “she's old and didn't go on munitions, and didn't get used to wangling income tax on her wages, and never had no ambitions to go on the pictures, neither. What's compensation to her isn't compensation to me. I've got a higher standard.”

“The less you say about your standards, the better, my girl,” retorted Sir William. “Do you know that this is blackmail?”

“No, it isn't. Not when I ain't asked you for nothing. And if I pass the remark how that three pounds a week is my idea of a minimum wage, it isn't blackmail to state the fact.”

Sir William paused in the act of tearing a page out of Fosdike's note-book. “Three pounds a week!”

“Well,” said Dolly reasonably, “I didn't depreciate the currency. Three pounds a week is little enough these times for the girl who fell from grace through the chief glory of Calderside.”

“But suppose you marry,” suggested Mr. Fosdike.

“Then I marry well,” she said, “having means of my own. And I ought to, seeing I'm kind of widow to the chief glory of—”

Sir William looked up sharply from the table. “If you use that phrase again,” he said, “I'll tear this paper up.”

“Widow to Tim Martlow,” she amended it, defiantly. He handed her the document he had drawn up. It was an undertaking in brief, unambiguous terms to pay her three pounds a week for life. As she read it, exulting, the door was kicked open.

The tramp, whose name was Timothy Martlow, came in and turning, spoke through the doorway to the janitor below. “Call out,” he said, “and I'll come back and knock you down again.” Then he locked the door.

Fosdike went courageously towards him. “What do you mean by this intrusion? Who are you?”

The tramp assured himself that his hat was well pulled down over his face. He put his hands in his pockets and looked quizzically at the advancing Mr. Fosdike. “So far,” he said, “I'm the man that locked the door.”

Fosdike started for the second door, which led directly to the platform. The tramp reached it first, and locked it, shouldering Fosdike from him. “Now,” he said, Sir William was searching the wall, “are there no bells?” he asked desperately.

“No.”

“No?” jeered the tramp. “No bell. No telephone. No nothing. You're scotched without your rifle this time.”

Fosdike consulted Sir William. “I might shout for the police,” he suggested.

“It's risky,” commented the tramp. “They sometimes come when they're called.”

“Then——” began the secretary.

“It's your risk,” emphasised the tramp. “And, I don't advise it. I've gone to a lot of trouble this last week to keep out of sight of the Calderside police. They'd identify me easy, and Sir William wouldn't like that.”

“I wouldn't like?” said Rumbold. “I? Who are you?”

“Wounded and missing, believed dead,” quoted the tramp. “Only there's been a lot of beliefs upset in this war, and I'm one of them.”

“One of what?”

“I'm telling you. One of the strayed sheep that got mislaid and come home at the awkwardest times.” He snatched his hat off. “Have a good look at that face, your worship.”

“Timothy Martlow,” cried Sir William.

Fosdike staggered to a chair while Dolly, who had shown nothing but amusement at the tramp, now gave a quick cry and shrank back against the wall, exhibiting every symptom of the liveliest terror. Of the trio, Sir William, for whom surely this inopportune return had the most serious implications, alone stood his ground, and Martlow grimly appreciated his pluck.

“It's very near made a stretcher-case of him,” he said, indicating the prostrated Fosdike. “You're cooler. Walking wounded.”

“I ... really....”

“Shake hands, old cock,” said Martlow, “I know you've got it writ up in there——” he jerked his head towards the hall—“that I'm the chief glory of Calderside, but damme if you're not the second best yourself, and I'll condescend to shake your hand if it's only to show you I'm not a ghost.”

Sir William decided that it was politic to humour this visitor. He shook hands. “Then, if you know,” he said, “if you know what this building is, it isn't accident that brings you here to-night.”

“The sort of accident you set with a time-fuse,” said Martlow grimly. “I told you I'd been dodging the police for a week lest any of my old pals should recognise me. I was waiting to get you to-night, and sitting tight and listening. The things I heard! Nearly made me take my hat off to myself. But not quite. Not quite. I kept my hat on and I kept my hair on. It's a mistake to act premature on information received. If I'd sprung this too soon, the wrong thing might have happened to me.”

“What wrong thing, Martlow?” asked Sir William with some indignation. If the fellow meant anything, it was that he would have been spirited away by Sir William.

“Oh, anything,” replied Martlow. “Anything would be wrong that made me miss this pleasure. You and me conversing affable here. Not a bit like it was in the old days before I rose to being the chief glory of Calderside. Conversation was one-sided then, and all on your side instead of mine. 'Here again, Martlow,' you'd say, and then they'd gabble the evidence, and you'd say 'fourteen days' or 'twenty-one days,' if you'd got up peevish and that's all there was to our friendly intercourse. This time, I make no doubt you'll be asking me to stay at the Towers to-night. And,” he went on blandly, enjoying every wince that twisted Sir William's face in spite of his efforts to appear unmoved, “I don't know that I'll refuse. It's a levelling thing, war. I've read that war makes us all conscious we're members of one brotherhood, and I know it's true now. Consequently the chief glory of the place ain't got no right to be too high and mighty to accept your humble invitation. The best guest-room for Sergeant Martlow, you'll say. See there's a hot water-bottle in his bed, you'll say, and in case he's thirsty in the night, you'll tell them to put the whisky by his side.”

After all, a man does not rise to become Sir William Rumbold by being flabby. Sir William struck the table heavily. Somehow he had to put a period to this mocking harangue. “Martlow,” he said, “how many people know you're here?”

Tim gave a good imitation of Sir William's gesture. He, too, could strike a table. “Rumbold,” he retorted, “what's the value of a secret when it's not a secret? You three in this room know, and not another soul in Calderside.”

“Not even your mother?” queried Rumbold.

“No. I been a bad son to her in the past. I'm a good one now I'm dead. She's got a bit o' pension, and I'll not disturb that. I'll stay dead—to her,” he added forcibly, dashing the hope which leapt in Rumbold.

“Why have you come here? Here—to-night?”

The easy mockery renewed itself in Martlow's voice. “People's ideas of fun vary,” he stated. “The fly's idea ain't the same as the spider's. This 'ere is my idea—shaking your hand and sitting cosy with the bloke that's sent me down more times than I can think. And the fun 'ull grow furious when you and I walk arm in arm on to that platform, and you tell them all I'm resurrected.”

“Like this?” The proper Mr. Fosdike interjected.

“Eh?” said Tim. “Like what?”

“You can't go on to the platform in those clothes, Martlow. Have you looked in a mirror lately? Do you know what you look like? This is a respectable occasion, man.”

“Yes,” said Tim drily. “It's an occasion for showing respect to me. I'll do as I am, not having had time to go to the tailor's for my dress suit yet.”

“Martlow,” said Sir William briskly, “time's short. I'm due on that platform.”

“Right, I'm with you.” Tim moved towards the platform door.

Sir William, with a serene air of triumph, played his trump card. He took out his cheque-book. “No,” he said. “You're not coming. Instead—”

He shrank back hastily as a huge fist was projected vehemently towards his face. But the fist swerved and opened. The cheque-book, not Sir William's person, was its objective. “Instead be damned,” said Tim Martlow, pitching the cheque-book to the floor. “To hell with your money. Thought I was after money, did you?”

Sir William met his eye. “Yes, I did,” he said hardily.

“That's the sort of mean idea you would have, Sir William Rumbold. They say scum rises. You grew a handle to your name during the war, but you ain't grown manners to go with it. War changes them that's changeable. T'others are too set to change.”

Sir William felt a strange glow of appreciation for this man who, with so easy an opportunity to grow rich, refused money. “It's changed you,” he said with ungrudging admiration that had no tincture of diplomacy in it.

“Has it?” mused Tim. “From what?”

“Well—” Sir William was embarrassed. “From what you were.”

“What was I?” demanded Tim. “Go on, spit it out. What sort of character would you have given me then?” “I'd have called you,” said Sir William boldly, “a disreputable drunken loafer who never did an honest day's work in his life.” Which had the merit of truth, and, he thought, the demerit of rashness.

To his surprise he found that Tim was looking at him with undisguised admiration. “Lummy,” he said, “you've got guts. Yes, that's right. 'Disreputable drunken loafer.' And if I came back now?” he asked.

“You were magnificent in the war, Martlow.”

“First thing I did when I got civvies on was to get blind and skinned. Drink and civvies go together in my mind.”

“You'll get over that,” said Sir William encouragingly; but he was puzzled by the curiously wistful note which had replaced Tim's hectoring.

“There's a chance,” admitted Tim. “A bare chance. Not a chance I'd gamble on. Not when I've a bigger chance than that. You wouldn't say, weighing me up now, that I've got a reformed look, would you?”

Sir William couldn't. “But you'll pull yourself together. You'll remember—”

“I'll remember the taste of beer,” said Tim with fierce conviction. “No, I never had a chance before, but I've got one now, and, by heaven, I'm taking it.” Sir William's apprehension grew acute; if money was not the question, what outrageous demand was about to be made of him? Tim went on, “I'm nothing but a dirty, drunken tramp to-day. Yes, drunk when I can get it and craving when I can't. That's Tim Martlow when he's living. Tim Martlow dead's a different thing. He's a man with his name wrote up in letters of gold in a dry canteen. Dry! By God, that's funny! He's somebody, honoured in Calderside for ever and ever, amen. And we won't spoil a good thing by taking chances on my reformation. I'm dead. I'll stay dead.” He paused in enjoying the effect he made.

Sir William stooped to pick his cheque-book from the floor. “Don't do that,” said Tim sharply. “It isn't out of your mind yet that money's what I came for. Fun's one thing that brought me. Just for the treat of showing you myself and watching your quick-change faces while I did it. And I've had my fun.” His voice grew menacing. “The other thing I came for isn't fun. It's this.” Dolly screamed as he took her arm and jerked her to her feet from the corner where she had sought obscurity. He shook her urgently. “You've been telling tales about me. I've heard of it. You hear all the news when you lie quiet yourself and let other people do the talking. You came in here to-night to spin a yarn. I watched you in. Well, is it true?”

“No,” said Dolly, gasping for breath. “I mean—” he insisted, “what you said about you and me. That isn't true?”

She repeated her denial. “No,” he said, releasing her, “it 'ud have a job to be seeing this is the first time I've had the pleasure of meeting you. That'll do.” He opened the platform door politely. “I hope I haven't made you late on the platform, sir,” he said.

Both Sir William and the secretary stared fascinated at Dolly, the enterprising young person who had so successfully bluffed them. “I repeat, don't let me make you late,” said Tim from the now wide open door.

Rumbold checked Fosdike who was, apparently, bent on doing Dolly a personal violence. “That can wait,” he said. “What can't wait is this.” He held out his hand to Martlow. “In all sincerity, I beg the honour.”

Tim shook his hand, and Rumbold turned to the door. Fosdike ran after him with the notes of his speech. “Your speech, sir.”

Sir William turned on him angrily. “Man,” he said, “haven't you heard? That muck won't do now. I have to try to do Martlow justice.” He went out to the platform, Fosdike after him.

Tim Martlow sat at the table and took a bottle from his pocket. He drew the cork with his teeth, then felt a light touch on his arm. “I was forgetting you,” he said, replacing the bottle.

“I ain't likely to forget you,” said Dolly ruefully.

He gripped her hard. “But you are going to forget me, my girl,” he said. “Tim Martlow's dead, and his letters of gold ain't going to be blotted by the likes of you. You that's been putting it about Calderside I'm the father of your child, and I ain't never seen you in my life till to-night.”

“Yes, but you're getting this all wrong,” she blubbered. “I didn't have a baby. I was going to borrow one if they'd claimed to see it.”

“What? No baby? And you put it across old Rumbold?” Laughter and sheer admiration of her audacity were mingled in his voice. With a baby it was a good bluff; without one, the girl's ingenuity seemed to him to touch genius.

“He gave me that paper,” she said, pride subduing tears as she handed him her splendid trophy.

“Three pounds a week for life,” he read, with profound reverence. “If you ain't a blinkin' marvel.” He complimented her, giving her the paper back. Then he realised that, through him, her gains were lost.

“Gawd, I done wrong. I got no right to mess up a thing like that. I didn't know. See, I'll tell him I made you lie. I'll own the baby's mine.”

“But there ain't no baby,” she persisted.

“There's plenty of babies looking for a mother with three pounds a week,” he said.

She tore the paper up. “Then they'll not find me,” she said. “Three pounds a week's gone. And your letters of gold, Mr. Martlow, remain.”

The practised voice of Sir William Rumbold, speaking on the platform, filled the ante-room, not with the rhetorician's counterfeit of sincerity, but, unmistakably, with sincerity itself. “I had prepared a speech,” he was saying. “A prepared speech is useless in face of the emotion I feel at the life of Timothy Martlow. I say advisedly to you that when I think of Martlow, I know myself for a worm. He was despised and rejected. What had England done for him that he should give his life for her? We wronged him. We made an outcast of him. I personally wronged him from the magistrate's bench, and he pays us back like this, rising from an undeserved obscurity to a height where he rests secure for ever, a reproach to us, and a great example of the man who won. And against what odds he played it out to a supreme end, and——”

“You're right,” said Tim Martlow, motioning the girl to close the door. He wasn't used to hearing panegyrics on himself, nor was he aware that, mechanically, he had raised the bottle to his lips.

Dolly meant to close the door discreetly; instead, she threw it from her and jumped at the bottle. Tim was conscious of a double crash, putting an emphatic stop to the sound of Sir William's eulogy—the crash of the door and the bottle which Dolly snatched from him and pitched against the wall.

“Letters of gold,” she panted, “and you shan't tarnish them. I'll see to that.”

He gaped for a moment at the liquor flowing from the bottle, then raised his eyes to hers. “You?” he said.

“I haven't got a baby to look after,” said Dolly. “But—I've you. Where were you thinking of going now?”

His eyes went to the door behind which Sir William was, presumably, still praising him, and his head jerked resolutely. “Playing it out,” he said. “I've got to vanish good, and sure after that. I'll play it out, by God. I was a hero once, I'll be a hero still.” His foot crunched broken glass as he moved. “I'm going to America, my girl. It's dry.”

Perhaps she distrusted the absolute dryness of America, and perhaps that had nothing to do with Dolly. She examined her hand minutely. “Going to the Isle of Man on a rough day, I wasn't a bit ill,” she said casually. “I'm a good sailor.”

“You put it across Sir William,” he said. “You're a blinkin' marvel.”

“No,” she said, “but a thing that's worth doing is worth doing well. I'm not a marvel, but I might be the metal polish in those gold letters of yours if you think it worth while.”

His trampish squalor seemed to him suddenly appalling. “There, don't do that,” he protested—her arm had found its way into his. “My sleeve's dirty.”

“Idiot!” said Dolly Wainwright, drawing him to the door.

 
 
 

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