Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

The Card, A Story Of Adventure In The Five Towns by Arnold Bennett

Part 5 out of 5

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.5 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

true sport save the sport of ski-running. He allowed it to be understood
that luges were for infants. He had brought his skis, and these
instruments of locomotion, some six feet in length, made a sensation
among the inexperienced. For when he had strapped them to his feet the
Captain, while stating candidly that his skill was as nothing to that of
the Swedish professionals at St Moritz, could assuredly slide over snow
in manner prodigious and beautiful. And he was exquisitely clothed for
the part. His knickerbockers, in the elegance of their lines, were the
delight of beholders. Ski-ing became the rage. Even Nellie insisted on
hiring a pair. And the pronunciation of the word "ski" aroused long
discussions and was never definitely settled by anybody. The Captain
said "skee," but he did not object to "shee," which was said to be the
more strictly correct by a lady who knew some one who had been to
Norway. People with no shame and no feeling for correctness said
brazenly, "sky." Denry, whom nothing could induce to desert his luge,
said that obviously "s-k-i" could only spell "planks." And thanks to his
inspiration this version was adopted by the majority.

On the second day of Nellie's struggle with her skis she had more
success than she either anticipated or desired. She had been making
experiments at the summit of the track, slithering about, falling, and
being restored to uprightness by as many persons as happened to be near.
Skis seemed to her to be the most ungovernable and least practical means
of travel that the madness of man had ever concocted. Skates were
well-behaved old horses compared to these long, untamed fiends, and a
luge was like a tricycle. Then suddenly a friendly starting push drove
her a yard or two, and she glided past the level on to the first
imperceptible slope of the track. By some hazard her two planks were
exactly parallel, as they ought to be, and she glided forward
miraculously. And people heard her say:

"How lovely!"

And then people heard her say:

"Oh!... Oh!"

For her pace was increasing. And she dared not strike her pole into the
ground. She had, in fact, no control whatever over those two planks to
which her feet were strapped. She might have been Mazeppa and they
mustangs. She could not even fall. So she fled down the preliminary
straight of the track, and ecstatic spectators cried: "Look how
_well_ Mrs Machin is doing!"

Mrs Machin would have given all her furs to be anywhere off those
planks. On the adjacent fields of glittering snow the Captain had been
giving his adored Countess a lesson in the use of skis; and they stood
together, the Countess somewhat insecure, by the side of the track at
its first curve.

Nellie, dumb with excitement and amazement, swept towards them.

"Look out!" cried the Captain.

In vain! He himself might perhaps have escaped, but he could not abandon
his Countess in the moment of peril, and the Countess could only move
after much thought and many efforts, being scarce more advanced than
Nellie. Nellie's wilful planks quite ignored the curve, and, as it were
afloat on them, she charged off the track, and into the Captain and the
Countess. The impact was tremendous. Six skis waved like semaphores in
the air. Then all was still. Then, as the beholders hastened to the
scene of the disaster, the Countess laughed and Nellie laughed. The
laugh of the Captain was not heard. The sole casualty was a wound about
a foot long in the hinterland of the Captain's unique knicker-bockers.
And as threads of that beautiful check pattern were afterwards found
attached to the wheel of Nellie's pole, the cause of the wound was
indisputable. The Captain departed home, chiefly backwards, but with
great rapidity.

In the afternoon Denry went down to Montreux and returned with an opal
bracelet, which Nellie wore at dinner.

"Oh! What a ripping bracelet!" said a girl.

"Yes," said Nellie. "My husband gave it me only to-day."

"I suppose it's your birthday or something," the inquisitive girl

"No," said Nellie.

"How nice of him!" said the girl.

The next day Captain Deverax appeared in riding breeches. They were not
correct for ski-running, but they were the best he could do. He visited
a tailor's in Montreux.


The Countess Ruhl had a large sleigh of her own, also a horse; both were
hired from Montreux. In this vehicle, sometimes alone, sometimes with a
male servant, she would drive at Russian speed over the undulating
mountain roads; and for such expeditions she always wore a large red
cloak with a hood. Often she was thus seen, in the afternoon; the
scarlet made a bright moving patch on the vast expanses of snow. Once,
at some distance from the village, two tale-tellers observed a man on
skis careering in the neighbourhood of the sleigh. It was Captain
Deverax. The flirtation, therefore, was growing warmer and warmer. The
hotels hummed with the tidings of it. But the Countess never said
anything; nor could anything be extracted from her by even the most
experienced gossips. She was an agreeable but a mysterious woman, as
befitted a Russian Countess. Again and again were she and the Captain
seen together afar off in the landscape. Certainly it was a novelty in
flirtations. People wondered what might happen between the two at the
fancy-dress ball which the Hotel Beau-Site was to give in return for the
hospitality of the Hotel Metropole. The ball was offered not in love,
but in emulation, almost in hate; for the jealousy displayed by the
Beau-Site against the increasing insolence of the Metropole had become
acute. The airs of the Captain and his lieges, the Clutterbuck party,
had reached the limit of the Beau-Site's endurance. The Metropole seemed
to take it for granted that the Captain would lead the cotillon at the
Beau-Site's ball as he had led it at the Metropole's.

And then, on the very afternoon of the ball, the Countess received a
telegram--it was said from St Petersburg--which necessitated her instant
departure. And she went, in an hour, down to Montreux by the funicular
railway, and was lost to the Beau-Site. This was a blow to the prestige
of the Beau-Site. For the Countess was its chief star, and, moreover,
much loved by her fellow-guests, despite her curious weakness for the
popinjay, and the mystery of her outings with him.

In the stables Denry saw the Countess's hired sleigh and horse, and in
the sleigh her glowing red cloak. And he had one of his ideas, which he
executed, although snow was beginning to fall. In ten minutes he and
Nellie were driving forth, and Nellie in the red cloak held the reins.
Denry, in a coachman's furs, sat behind. They whirled past the Hotel
Metropole. And shortly afterwards, on the wild road towards Attalens,
Denry saw a pair of skis scudding as quickly as skis can scud in their
rear. It was astonishing how the sleigh, with all the merry jingle of
its bells, kept that pair of skis at a distance of about a hundred
yards. It seemed to invite the skis to overtake it, and then to regret
the invitation and flee further. Up the hills it would crawl, for the
skis climbed slowly. Down them it galloped, for the skis slid on the
slopes at a dizzy pace. Occasionally a shout came from the skis. And the
snow fell thicker and thicker. So for four or five miles. Starlight
commenced. Then the road made a huge descending curve round a hollowed
meadow, and the horse galloped its best. But the skis, making a straight
line down the snow, acquired the speed of an express, and gained on the
sleigh one yard in every three. At the bottom, where the curve met the
straight line, was a farmhouse and outbuildings and a hedge and a stone
wall and other matters. The sleigh arrived at the point first, but only
by a trifle. "Mind your toes," Denry muttered to himself, meaning an
injunction to the skis, whose toes were three feet long. The skis,
through the eddying snow, yelled frantically to the sleigh to give room.
The skis shot up into the road, and in swerving aside swerved into a
snow-laden hedge, and clean over it into the farmyard, where they stuck
themselves up in the air, as skis will when the person to whose feet
they are attached is lying prone. The door of the farm opened and a
woman appeared.

She saw the skis at her doorstep. She heard the sleigh-bells, but the
sleigh had already vanished into the dusk.

"Well, that was a bit of a lark, that was, Countess!" said Denry to
Nellie. "That will be something to talk about. We'd better drive home
through Corsier, and quick too! It'll be quite dark soon."

"Supposing he's dead!" Nellie breathed, aghast, reining in the horse.

"Not he!" said Denry. "I saw him beginning to sit up."

"But how will he get home?"

"It looks a very nice farmhouse," said Denry. "I should think he'd be
sorry to leave it."


When Denry entered the dining-room of the Beau-Site, which had been
cleared for the ball, his costume drew attention not so much by its
splendour or ingenuity as by its peculiarity. He wore a short
Chinese-shaped jacket, which his wife had made out of blue linen, and a
flat Chinese hat to match, which they had constructed together on a
basis of cardboard. But his thighs were enclosed in a pair of absurdly
ample riding-breeches of an impressive check and cut to a comic
exaggeration of the English pattern. He had bought the cloth for these
at the tailor's in Montreux. Below them were very tight leggings, also
English. In reply to a question as to what or whom he supposed himself
to represent, he replied:

"A Captain of Chinese cavalry, of course."

And he put an eyeglass into his left eye and stared.

Now it had been understood that Nellie was to appear as Lady Jane Grey.
But she appeared as Little Red Riding-Hood, wearing over her frock the
forgotten cloak of the Countess Ruhl.

Instantly he saw her, Denry hurried towards her, with a movement of the
legs and a flourish of the eyeglass in his left hand which powerfully
suggested a figure familiar to every member of the company. There was
laughter. People saw that the idea was immensely funny and clever, and
the laughter ran about like fire. At the same time some persons were not
quite sure whether Denry had not lapsed a little from the finest taste
in this caricature. And all of them were secretly afraid that the
uncomfortable might happen when Captain Deverax arrived.

However, Captain Deverax did not arrive. The party from the Metropole
came with the news that he had not been seen at the hotel for dinner; it
was assumed that he had been to Montreux and missed the funicular back.

"Our two stars simultaneously eclipsed!" said Denry, as the Clutterbucks
(representing all the history of England) stared at him curiously.

"Why?" exclaimed the Clutterbuck cousin, "who's the other?"

"The Countess," said Denry. "She went this afternoon--three o'clock."

And all the Metropole party fell into grief.

"It's a world of coincidences," said Denry, with emphasis.

"You don't mean to insinuate," said Mrs Clutterbuck, with a nervous
laugh, "that Captain Deverax has--er--gone after the Countess?"

"Oh no!" said Denry, with unction. "Such a thought never entered my

"I think you're a very strange man, Mr Machin," retorted Mrs
Clutterbuck, hostile and not a bit reassured. "May one ask what that
costume is supposed to be?"

"A Captain of Chinese cavalry," said Denry, lifting his eyeglass.

Nevertheless, the dance was a remarkable success, and little by little
even the sternest adherents of the absent Captain Deverax deigned to be
amused by Denry's Chinese gestures. Also, Denry led the cotillon, and
was thereafter greatly applauded by the Beau-Site. The visitors agreed
among themselves that, considering that his name was not Deverax, Denry
acquitted himself honourably. Later he went to the bureau, and,
returning, whispered to his wife:

"It's all right. He's come back safe."

"How do you know?"

"I've just telephoned to ask."

Denry's subsequent humour was wildly gay. And for some reason which
nobody could comprehend, he put a sling round his left arm. His efforts
to insert the eyeglass into his left eye with his right hand were
insistently ludicrous and became a sure source of laughter for all
beholders. When the Metropole party were getting into their sleighs to
go home--it had ceased snowing--Denry was still trying to insert his
eyeglass into his left eye with his right hand, to the universal joy.


But the joy of the night was feeble in comparison with the violent joy
of the next morning. Denry was wandering, apparently aimless, between
the finish of the tobogganing track and the portals of the Metropole.
The snowfall had repaired the defects of the worn track, but it needed
to be flattened down by use, and a number of conscientious "lugeurs"
were flattening it by frequent descents, which grew faster at each
repetition. Other holiday-makers were idling about in the sunshine. A
page-boy of the Metropole departed in the direction of the Beau-Site
with a note.

At length--the hour was nearing eleven--Captain Deverax, languid, put
his head out of the Metropole and sniffed the air. Finding the air
sufferable, he came forth on to the steps. His left arm was in a sling.
He was wearing the new knickerbockers which he had ordered at Montreux,
and which were of precisely the same vast check as had ornamented
Denry's legs on the previous night.

"Hullo!" said Denry, sympathetically. "What's this?"

The Captain needed sympathy.

"Ski-ing yesterday afternoon," said he, with a little laugh. "Hasn't the
Countess told any of you?"

"No," said Denry, "not a word."

The Captain seemed to pause a moment.

"Yes," said he. "A trifling accident. I was ski-ing with the Countess.
That is, I was ski-ing and she was in her sleigh."

"Then this is why you didn't turn up at the dance?"

"Yes," said the Captain.

"Well," said Denry, "I hope it's not serious. I can tell you one thing,
the cotillon was a most fearful frost without you." The Captain seemed

They strolled together toward the track.

The first group of people that caught sight of the Captain with his
checked legs and his arm in a sling began to smile. Observing this
smile, and fancying himself deceived, the Captain attempted to put his
eyeglass into his left eye with his right hand, and regularly failed.
His efforts towards this feat changed the smiles to enormous laughter.

"I daresay it's awfully funny," said he. "But what can a fellow do with
one arm in a sling?"

The laughter was merely intensified. And the group, growing as luge
after luge arrived at the end of the track, seemed to give itself up to
mirth, to the exclusion of even a proper curiosity about the nature of
the Captain's damage. Each fresh attempt to put the eyeglass to his eye
was coal on the crackling fire. The Clutterbucks alone seemed glum.

"What on earth is the joke?" Denry asked primly. "Captain Deverax came
to grief late yesterday afternoon, ski-ing with the Countess Ruhl.
That's why he didn't turn up last night. By the way, where was it,

"On the mountain, near Attalens," Deverax answered gloomily. "Happily
there was a farmhouse near--it was almost dark."

"With the Countess?" demanded a young impulsive schoolgirl.

"You did say the Countess, didn't you?" Denry asked.

"Why, certainly," said the Captain, testily.

"Well," said the schoolgirl with the nonchalant thoughtless cruelty of
youth, "considering that we all saw the Countess off in the funicular at
three o'clock, I don't see how you could have been ski-ing with her when
it was nearly dark." And the child turned up the hill with her luge,
leaving her elders to unknot the situation.

"Oh, yes!" said Denry. "I forgot to tell you that the Countess left
yesterday after lunch."

At the same moment the page-boy, reappearing, touched his cap and placed
a note in the Captain's only free hand.

"Couldn't deliver it, sir. The Comtesse left early yesterday afternoon."

Convicted of imaginary adventure with noble ladies, the Captain made his
retreat, muttering, back to the hotel. At lunch Denry related the exact
circumstances to a delighted table, and the exact circumstances soon
reached the Clutterbuck faction at the Metropole. On the following day
the Clutterbuck faction and Captain Deverax (now fully enlightened) left
Mont Pridoux for some paradise unknown. If murderous thoughts could
kill, Denry would have lain dead. But he survived to go with about half
the Beau-Site guests to the funicular station to wish the Clutterbucks a
pleasant journey. The Captain might have challenged him to a duel but a
haughty and icy ceremoniousness was deemed the best treatment for Denry.
"Never show a wound" must have been the Captain's motto.

The Beau-Site had scored effectively. And, now that its rival had lost
eleven clients by one single train, it beat the Metropole even in vulgar

Denry had an embryo of a conscience somewhere, and Nellie's was fully

"Well," said Denry, in reply to Nellie's conscience, "it serves him
right for making me look a fool over that Geneva business. And besides,
I can't stand uppishness, and I won't. I'm from the Five Towns, I am."

Upon which singular utterance the incident closed.




Denry was not as regular in his goings and comings as the generality of
business men in the Five Towns; no doubt because he was not by nature a
business man at all, but an adventurous spirit who happened to be in a
business which was much too good to leave. He was continually, as they
say there, "up to something" that caused changes in daily habits.
Moreover, the Universal Thrift Club (Limited) was so automatic and
self-winding that Denry ran no risks in leaving it often to the care of
his highly drilled staff. Still, he did usually come home to his tea
about six o'clock of an evening, like the rest, and like the rest, he
brought with him a copy of the _Signal_ to glance at during tea.

One afternoon in July he arrived thus upon his waiting wife at Machin
House, Bleakridge. And she could see that an idea was fermenting in his
head. Nellie understood him. One of the most delightful and reassuring
things about his married life was Nellie's instinctive comprehension of
him. His mother understood him profoundly. But she understood him in a
manner sardonic, slightly malicious and even hostile, whereas Nellie
understood him with her absurd love. According to his mother's attitude,
Denry was guilty till he had proved himself innocent. According to
Nellie's, he was always right and always clever in what he did, until he
himself said that he had been wrong and stupid--and not always then.
Nevertheless, his mother was just as ridiculously proud of him as Nellie
was; but she would have perished on the scaffold rather than admit that
Denry differed in any detail from the common run of sons. Mrs Machin had
departed from Machin House without waiting to be asked. It was
characteristic of her that she had returned to Brougham Street and
rented there an out-of-date cottage without a single one of the
labour-saving contrivances that distinguished the residence which her
son had originally built for her.

It was still delicious for Denry to sit down to tea in the dining-room,
that miracle of conveniences, opposite the smile of his wife, which told
him (_a_) that he was wonderful, (_b_) that she was enchanted to be
alive, and (_c_) that he had deserved her particular caressing
attentions and would receive them. On the afternoon in July the smile
told him (_d_) that he was possessed by one of his ideas.

"Extraordinary how she tumbles to things!" he reflected.

Nellie's new fox-terrier had come in from the garden through the French
window, and eaten part of a muffin, and Denry had eaten a muffin and a
half, before Nellie, straightening herself proudly and putting her
shoulders back (a gesture of hers) thought fit to murmur:

"Well, anything thrilling happened to-day?"

Denry opened the green sheet and read:

"'Sudden death of Alderman Bloor in London.' What price that?"

"Oh!" exclaimed Nellie. "How shocked father will be! They were always
rather friendly. By the way, I had a letter from mother this morning. It
appears as if Toronto was a sort of paradise. But you can see the old
thing prefers Bursley. Father's had a boil on his neck, just at the edge
of his collar. He says it's because he's too well. What did Mr Bloor die

"He was in the fashion," said Denry.


"Appendicitis, of course. Operation--domino! All over in three days."

"Poor man!" Nellie murmured, trying to feel sad for a change and not
succeeding. "And he was to have been mayor in November, wasn't he? How
disappointing for him."

"I expect he's got something else to think about," said Denry.

After a pause Nellie asked suddenly:

"Who'll be mayor--now?"

"Well," said Denry, "his Worship Councillor Barlow, J.P., will be
extremely cross if _he_ isn't."

"How horrid!" said Nellie, frankly. "And he's got nobody at all to be

"Mrs Prettyman would be mayoress," said Denry. "When there's no wife or
daughter, it's always a sister if there is one."

"But can you _imagine_ Mrs Prettyman as mayoress? Why, they say she
scrubs her own doorstep--after dark. They ought to make you mayor."

"Do you fancy yourself as mayoress?" he inquired.

"I should be better than Mrs Prettyman, anyhow."

"I believe you'd make an A1 mayoress," said Denry.

"I should be frightfully nervous," she confidentially admitted.

"I doubt it," said he.

The fact was, that since her return to Bursley from the honeymoon,
Nellie was an altered woman. She had acquired, as it were in a day, to
an astonishing extent, what in the Five Towns is called "a nerve."

"I should like to try it," said she.

"One day you'll have to try it, whether you want to or not."

"When will that be?"

"Don't know. Might be next year but one. Old Barlow's pretty certain to
be chosen for next November. It's looked on as his turn next. I know
there's been a good bit of talk about me for the year after Barlow. Of
course, Bloor's death will advance everything by a year. But even if I
come next after Barlow it'll be too late."

"Too late? Too late for what?"

"I'll tell you," said Denry. "I wanted to be the youngest mayor that
Bursley's ever had. It was only a kind of notion I had a long time ago.
I'd given it up, because I knew there was no chance unless I came before
Bloor, which of course I couldn't do. Now he's dead. If I could upset
old Barlow's apple-cart I should just be the youngest mayor by the skin
of my teeth. Huskinson, the mayor in 1884, was aged thirty-four and six
months. I've looked it all up this afternoon."

"How lovely if you _could_ be the youngest mayor!"

"Yes. I'll tell you how I feel. I feel as though I didn't want to be
mayor at all if I can't be the youngest mayor... you know."

She knew.

"Oh!" she cried, "do upset Mr Barlow's apple-cart. He's a horrid old
thing. Should I be the youngest mayoress?"

"Not by chalks," said he. "Huskinson's sister was only sixteen."

"But that's only playing at being mayoress!" Nellie protested. "Anyhow,
I do think you might be youngest mayor. Who settles it?"

"The Council, of course."

"Nobody likes Councillor Barlow."

"He'll be still less liked when he's wound up the Bursley Football

"Well, urge him on to wind it up, then. But I don't see what football
has got to do with being mayor."

She endeavoured to look like a serious politician.

"You are nothing but a cuckoo," Denry pleasantly informed her. "Football
has got to do with everything. And it's been a disastrous mistake in my
career that I've never taken any interest in football. Old Barlow wants
no urging on to wind up the Football Club. He's absolutely set on it.
He's lost too much over it. If I could stop him from winding it up, I


"I dunno."

She perceived that his idea was yet vague.


Not very many days afterwards the walls of Bursley called attention, by
small blue and red posters (blue and red being the historic colours of
the Bursley Football Club), to a public meeting, which was to be held in
the Town Hall, under the presidency of the Mayor, to consider what steps
could be taken to secure the future of the Bursley Football Club.

There were two "great" football clubs in the Five Towns--Knype, one of
the oldest clubs in England, and Bursley. Both were in the League,
though Knype was in the first division while Bursley was only in the
second. Both were, in fact, limited companies, engaged as much in the
pursuit of dividends as in the practice of the one ancient and glorious
sport which appeals to the reason and the heart of England. (Neither
ever paid a dividend.) Both employed professionals, who, by a strange
chance, were nearly all born in Scotland; and both also employed
trainers who, before an important match, took the teams off to a
hydropathic establishment far, far distant from any public-house. (This
was called "training.") Now, whereas the Knype Club was struggling along
fairly well, the Bursley Club had come to the end of its resources. The
great football public had practically deserted it. The explanation, of
course, was that Bursley had been losing too many matches. The great
football public had no use for anything but victories. It would treat
its players like gods--so long as they won. But when they happened to
lose, the great football public simply sulked. It did not kick a man
that was down; it merely ignored him, well knowing that the man could
not get up without help. It cared nothing whatever for fidelity,
municipal patriotism, fair play, the chances of war, or dividends on
capital. If it could see victories it would pay sixpence, but it would
not pay sixpence to assist at defeats.

Still, when at a special general meeting of the Bursley Football Club,
Limited, held at the registered office, the Coffee House, Bursley,
Councillor Barlow, J.P., Chairman of the Company since the creation of
the League, announced that the Directors had reluctantly come to the
conclusion that they could not conscientiously embark on the dangerous
risks of the approaching season, and that it was the intention of the
Directors to wind up the club, in default of adequate public interest--
when Bursley read this in the _Signal_, the town was certainly
shocked. Was the famous club, then, to disappear for ever, and the
football ground to be sold in plots, and the grand stand for firewood?
The shock was so severe that the death of Alderman Bloor (none the less
a mighty figure in Bursley) had passed as a minor event.

Hence the advertisement of the meeting in the Town Hall caused joy and
hope, and people said to themselves: "Something's bound to be done; the
old club can't go out like that." And everybody grew quite sentimental.
And although nothing is supposed to be capable of filling Bursley Town
Hall except a political meeting and an old folk's treat, Bursley Town
Hall was as near full as made no matter for the football question. Many
men had cheerfully sacrificed a game of billiards and a glass of beer in
order to attend it.

The Mayor, in the chair, was a mild old gentleman who knew nothing
whatever about football and had probably never seen a football match;
but it was essential that the meeting should have august patronage and
so the Mayor had been trapped and tamed. On the mere fact that he paid
an annual subscription to the golf club, certain parties built up the
legend that he was a true sportsman, with the true interests of sport in
his soul.

He uttered a few phrases, such as "the manly game," "old associations,"
"bound up with the history of England," "splendid fellows,"
"indomitable pluck," "dogged by misfortune" (indeed, he produced quite
an impression on the rude and grim audience), and then he called upon
Councillor Barlow to make a statement.

Councillor Barlow, on the Mayor's right, was a different kind of man
from the Mayor. He was fifty and iron-grey, with whiskers, but no
moustache; short, stoutish, raspish.

He said nothing about manliness, pluck, history, or Auld Lang Syne.

He said he had given his services as Chairman to the football club for
thirteen years; that he had taken up L2000 worth of shares in the
Company; and that as at that moment the Company's liabilities would
exactly absorb its assets, his L2000 was worth exactly nothing. "You may
say," he said, "I've lost that L2000 in thirteen years. That is, it's
the same as if I'd been steadily paying three pun' a week out of my own
pocket to provide football matches that you chaps wouldn't take the
trouble to go and see. That's the straight of it! What have I got for my
pains? Nothing but worries and these!" (He pointed to his grey hairs.)
"And I'm not alone; there's others; and now I have to come and defend
myself at a public meeting. I'm supposed not to have the best interests
of football at heart. Me and my co-Directors," he proceeded, with even a
rougher raspishness, "have warned the town again and again what would
happen if the matches weren't better patronised. And now it's happened,
and now it's too late, you want to _do_ something! You can't! It's
too late. There's only one thing the matter with first-class football in
Bursley," he concluded, "and it isn't the players. It's the public--it's
yourselves. You're the most craven lot of tom-fools that ever a big
football club had to do with. When we lose a match, what do you do? Do
you come and encourage us next time? No, you stop away, and leave us
fifty or sixty pound out of pocket on a match, just to teach us better!
Do you expect us to win every match? Why, Preston North End itself"--
here he spoke solemnly, of heroes--"Preston North End itself in its
great days didn't win every match--it lost to Accrington. But did the
Preston public desert it? No! _You_--you haven't got the pluck of a
louse, nor the faithfulness of a cat. You've starved your football club
to death, and now you call a meeting to weep and grumble. And you have
the insolence to write letters to the _Signal_ about bad
management, forsooth! If anybody in the hall thinks he can manage this
club better than me and my co-Directors have done, I may say that we
hold a majority of the shares, and we'll part with the whole show to any
clever person or persons who care to take it off our hands at a bargain
price. That's talking."

He sat down.

Silence fell. Even in the Five Towns a public meeting is seldom bullied
as Councillor Barlow had bullied that meeting. It was aghast. Councillor
Barlow had never been popular: he had merely been respected; but
thenceforward he became even less popular than before.

"I'm sure we shall all find Councillor Barlow's heat quite excusable--"
the Mayor diplomatically began.

"No heat at all," the Councillor interrupted. "Simply cold truth!"

A number of speakers followed, and nearly all of them were against the
Directors. Some, with prodigious memories for every combination of
players in every match that had ever been played, sought to prove by
detailed instances that Councillor Barlow and his co-Directors had
persistently and regularly muddled their work during thirteen
industrious years. And they defended the insulted public by asserting
that no public that respected itself would pay sixpence to watch the
wretched football provided by Councillor Barlow. They shouted that the
team wanted reconstituting, wanted new blood.

"Yes," shouted Councillor Barlow in reply; "And how are you going to get
new blood, with transfer fees as high as they are now? You can't get
even an average good player for less than L200. Where's the money to
come from? Anybody want to lend a thousand or so on second debentures?"

He laughed sneeringly.

No one showed a desire to invest in second debentures of the Bursley
F.C. Ltd.

Still, speakers kept harping on the necessity of new blood in the team,
and then others, bolder, harped on the necessity of new blood on the

"Shares on sale!" cried the Councillor. "Any buyers? Or," he added, "do
you want something for nothing--as usual?"

At length a gentleman rose at the back of the hall.

"I don't pretend to be an expert on football," said he, "though I think
it's a great game, but I should like to say a few words as to this
question of new blood."

The audience craned its neck.

"Will Mr Councillor Machin kindly step up to the platform?" the Mayor

And up Denry stepped.

The thought in every mind was: "What's he going to do? What's he got up
his sleeve--this time?"

"Three cheers for Machin!" people chanted gaily.

"Order!" said the Mayor.

Denry faced the audience. He was now accustomed to audiences. He said:

"If I'm not mistaken, one of the greatest modern footballers is a native
of this town."

And scores of voices yelled: "Ay! Callear! Callear! Greatest centre
forward in England!"

"Yes," said Denry. "Callear is the man I mean. Callear left the
district, unfortunately for the district, at the age of nineteen for
Liverpool. And it was not till after he left that his astounding
abilities were perceived. It isn't too much to say that he made the
fortune of Liverpool City. And I believe it is the fact that he scored
more goals in three seasons than any other player has ever done in the
League. Then, York County, which was in a tight place last year, bought
him from Liverpool for a high price, and, as all the world knows,
Callear had his leg broken in the first match he played for his new
club. That just happened to be the ruin of the York Club, which is now
quite suddenly in bankruptcy (which happily we are not), and which is
disposing of its players. Gentlemen, I say that Callear ought to come
back to his native town. He is fitter than ever he was, and his proper
place is in his native town."

Loud cheers.

"As captain and centre forward of the club of the Mother of the Five
Towns, he would be an immense acquisition and attraction, and he would
lead us to victory."

Renewed cheers.

"And how," demanded Councillor Barlow, jumping up angrily, "are we to
get him back to his precious native town? Councillor Machin admits that
he is not an expert on football. It will probably be news to him that
Aston Villa have offered L700 to York for the transfer of Callear, and
Blackburn Rovers have offered L750, and they're fighting it out between
'em. Any gentleman willing to put down L800 to buy Callear for Bursley?"
he sneered. "I don't mind telling you that steam-engines and the King
himself couldn't get Callear into our club."

"Quite finished?" Denry inquired, still standing.

Laughter, overtopped by Councillor Barlow's snort as he sat down.

Denry lifted his voice.

"Mr Callear, will you be good enough to step forward and let us all have
a look at you?"

The effect of these apparently simple words surpassed any effect
previously obtained by the most complex flights of oratory in that hall.
A young, blushing, clumsy, long-limbed, small-bodied giant stumbled
along the central aisle and climbed the steps to the platform, where
Denry pointed him to a seat. He was recognised by all the true votaries
of the game. And everybody said to everybody: "By Gosh! It's him, right
enough. It's Callear!" And a vast astonishment and expectation of good
fortune filled the hall. Applause burst forth, and though no one knew
what the appearance of Callear signified, the applause continued and

"Good old Callear!" The hoarse shouts succeeded each other. "Good old

"Anyhow," said Denry, when the storm was stilled, "we've got him here,
without either steam-engines or His Majesty. Will the Directors of the
club accept him?"

"And what about the transfer?" Councillor Barlow demanded.

"Would you accept him and try another season if you could get him free?"
Denry retorted.

Councillor Barlow always knew his mind, and was never afraid to let
other people share that knowledge.

"Yes," he said.

"Then I will see that you have the transfer free."

"But what about York?"

"I have settled with York provisionally," said Denry. "That is my
affair. I have returned from York to-day. Leave all that to me. This
town has had many benefactors far more important than myself. But I
shall be able to claim this originality: I'm the first to make a present
of a live man to the town. Gentlemen--Mr Mayor--I venture to call for
three cheers for the greatest centre forward in England, our

The scene, as the _Signal_ said, was unique.

And at the Sports Club and the other clubs afterwards, men said to each
other: "No one but him would have thought of bringing Callear over
specially and showing him on the platform.... That's cost him above
twopence, that has!"

Two days later a letter appeared in the _Signal_ (signed "Fiat
Justitia"), suggesting that Denry, as some reward for his public spirit,
ought to be the next mayor of Bursley, in place of Alderman Bloor
deceased. The letter urged that he would make an admirable mayor, the
sort of mayor the old town wanted in order to wake it up. And also it
pointed out that Denry would be the youngest mayor that Bursley had ever
had, and probably the youngest mayor in England that year. The sentiment
in the last idea appealed to the town. The town decided that it would
positively _like_ to have the youngest mayor it had ever had, and
probably the youngest mayor in England that year. The _Signal_
printed dozens of letters on the subject. When the Council met, more
informally than formally, to choose a chief magistrate in place of the
dead alderman, several councillors urged that what Bursley wanted was a
young and _popular_ mayor. And, in fine, Councillor Barlow was
shelved for a year. On the choice being published the entire town said:
"Now we _shall_ have a mayoralty--and don't you forget it!"

And Denry said to Nellie: "You'll be mayoress to the youngest mayor,
etc., my child. And it's cost me, including hotel and travelling
expenses, eight hundred and eleven pounds six and seven-pence."


The rightness of the Council in selecting Denry as mayor was confirmed
in a singular manner by the behaviour of the football and of Callear at
the opening match of the season.

It was a philanthropic match, between Bursley and Axe, for the benefit
of a county orphanage, and, according to the custom of such matches, the
ball was formally kicked off by a celebrity, a pillar of society. The
ceremony of kicking off has no sporting significance; the celebrity
merely with gentleness propels the ball out of the white circle and then
flies for his life from the _melee_; but it is supposed to add to
the moral splendour of the game. In the present instance the posters
said: "Kick-off at 3.45 by Councillor E.H. Machin, Mayor-designate."
And, indeed, no other celebrity could have been decently selected. On
the fine afternoon of the match Denry therefore discovered himself with
a new football at his toes, a silk hat on his head, and twenty-two
Herculean players menacing him in attitudes expressive of an intention
to murder him. Bursley had lost the toss, and hence Denry had to kick
towards the Bursley goal. As the _Signal_ said, he "despatched the
sphere" straight into the keeping of Callear, who as centre forward was
facing him, and Callear was dodging down the field with it before the
Axe players had finished admiring Denry's effrontery. Every reader will
remember with a thrill the historic match in which the immortal Jimmy
Brown, on the last occasion when he captained Blackburn Rovers, dribbled
the ball himself down the length of the field, scored a goal, and went
home with the English Cup under his arm. Callear evidently intended to
imitate the feat. He was entirely wrong. Dribbling tactics had been
killed for ever, years before, by Preston North End, who invented the
"passing" game. Yet Callear went on, and good luck seemed to float over
him like a cherub. Finally he shot; a wild, high shot; but there was an
adverse wind which dragged the ball down, swept it round, and blew it
into the net. The first goal had been scored in twenty seconds! (It was
also the last in the match.) Callear's reputation was established.
Useless for solemn experts to point out that he had simply been larking
for the gallery, and that the result was a shocking fluke--Callear's
reputation was established. He became at once the idol of the populace.
As Denry walked gingerly off the field to the grand stand he, too, was
loudly cheered, and he could not help feeling that, somehow, it was he
who had scored that goal. And although nobody uttered the precise
thought, most people did secretly think, as they gazed at the triumphant
Denry, that a man who triumphed like that, because he triumphed like
that, was the right sort of man to be mayor, the kind of man they

Denry became identified with the highest class of local football. This
fact led to a curious crisis in the history of municipal manners. On
Corporation Sunday the mayor walks to church, preceded by the mace, and
followed by the aldermen and councillors, the borough officials, the
Volunteers and the Fire Brigade; after all these, in the procession,
come individuals known as prominent citizens. Now the first and second
elevens of the Bursley Football Club, headed by Callear, expressed their
desire to occupy a place in Denry's mayoral procession; they felt that
some public acknowledgment was due to the Mayor for his services to the
national sport. Denry instantly agreed, with thanks: the notion seemed
to him entirely admirable. Then some unfortunately-inspired parson wrote
to the _Signal_ to protest against professional footballers
following the chief magistrate of the borough to church. His arguments
were that such a thing was unheard-of, and that football was the cause
of a great deal of evil gambling. Some people were inclined to agree
with the protest, until Denry wrote to the _Signal_ and put a few
questions: Was Bursley proud of its football team? Or was Bursley
ashamed of its football team? Was the practice of football incompatible
with good citizenship? Was there anything dishonourable in playing
football? Ought professional footballers to be considered as social
pariahs? Was there any class of beings to whom the churches ought to be

The parson foundered in a storm of opprobrium, scorn, and ironic
laughter. Though the town laughed, it only laughed to hide its disgust
of the parson.

People began to wonder whether the teams would attend in costume,
carrying the football between them on a charger as a symbol. No such
multitudes ever greeted a mayoral procession in Bursley before. The
footballers, however, appeared in ordinary costume (many of them in
frock-coats); but they wore neckties of the club colours, a device which
was agreed to be in the nicest taste. St Luke's Church was crowded; and,
what is stranger, the churchyard was also crowded. The church barely
held the procession itself and the ladies who, by influence, had been
accommodated with seats in advance. Thousands of persons filled the
churchyard, and to prevent them from crushing into the packed fane and
bursting it at its weakest point, the apse, the doors had to be locked
and guarded. Four women swooned during the service: neither Mrs Machin,
senior, nor Nellie, was among the four. It was the first time that any
one had been known to swoon at a religious service held in November.
This fact alone gave a tremendous prestige to Denry's mayoralty. When,
with Nellie on his arm, he emerged from the church to the thunders of
the organ, the greeting which he received in the churchyard, though the
solemnity of the occasion forbade clapping, lacked naught in brilliance
and efficacy.

The real point and delight of that Corporation Sunday was not fully
appreciated till later. It had been expected that the collection after
the sermon would be much larger than usual, because the congregation was
much larger than usual. But the church-wardens were startled to find it
four times as large as usual. They were further startled to find only
three threepenny-bits among all the coins. This singularity led to
comment and to note-comparing. Everybody had noticed for weeks past a
growing dearth of threepenny-bits. Indeed, threepenny-bits had
practically vanished from circulation in the Five Towns. On the Monday
it became known that the clerks of the various branches of the Universal
Thrift Club, Limited, had paid into the banks enormous and unparalleled
quantities of threepenny-bits, and for at least a week afterwards
everybody paid for everything in threepenny-bits. And the piquant news
passed from mouth to mouth that Denry, to the simple end of ensuring a
thumping collection for charities on Corporation Sunday, had used the
vast organisation of the Thrift Club to bring about a famine of
threepenny-bits. In the annals of the town that Sunday is referred to as
"Threepenny-bit Sunday," because it was so happily devoid of

A little group of councillors were discussing Denry.

"What a card!" said one, laughing joyously. "He's a rare 'un, no

"Of course, this'll make him more popular than ever," said another.
"We've never had a man to touch him for that."

"And yet," demanded Councillor Barlow, "what's he done? Has he ever done
a day's work in his life? What great cause is he identified with?"

"He's identified," said the speaker, "with the great cause of cheering
us all up."

* * * * *

_Printed by Jarrold & Sons Ltd. Norwich_

Book of the day: