Joshua’s Vision - William J. Locke - ebook

Joshua’s Vision ebook

William J. Locke



During the war, Joshua Fendik became rich against his will and found for himself an entrance to social circles, completely new to him. In particular, he falls under the influence of Robins Dale, a sculptor who supports a useless husband abroad. Robins „mothers” Joshua and prompts him to try his hand with a chisel.

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Joshua Fendick wandered about his drawing-room looking absent-mindedly at the pictures that had been specially selected as pictures befitting a gentleman’s drawing-room by the firm who had selected and supplied all the furniture and equipment of his new house at the spacious end of Eaton Terrace. They were all water-colours, each good of its kind, but, as a collection, of a depressing and lifeless harmony. Of their value or effect, however, Joshua Fendick was only vaguely conscious. They were the things he was supposed to have in his drawing-room, just as he was supposed to have mezzotints in the hall and up the staircase, oil-paintings in his dining-room, and colour-prints in his library. Thus had the young Expert of the Eminent Firm decreed; and Joshua had been in the habit of obeying Decrees from his youth up.

He turned away and looked around the over-harmoniously furnished room–“modern, with an Empire feeling,” in the words of another enthusiastic expert. On the whole he liked it. It was a gentleman’s room, satisfying, if not his æsthetic tastes, at least his social requirements. The whole thing had cost a pretty penny; but the cost he did not mind. He could afford it. Meanness was the vice most dreaded and loathed by Joshua Fendick. Many times inherited instinct had made him hesitate between a halfpenny and a penny as a bounty to be dropped into a beggar’s palm, until the revolt of reaction had drawn forth a silver coin.

He lit a cigarette, and almost immediately threw it into the fire. He was expecting guests to dinner, ladies.... He was not sure whether the smell of tobacco-smoke might not offend them when they entered the room. He had never before given a dinner-party on such a scale of magnificence, with a butler–his own butler–to attend to the service, and an expensive cook–his own cook–to serve up a meal of many courses, and with London people–some of them with titles–to sit at his table. Robina Dale had suggested–or was it again a Decree?–this house-warming. She was a masterful woman, a sculptor, a new and perplexing factor in Joshua’s life. He had been sitting to her for his head. He couldn’t reconcile the business-like, masculine figure in the stained white overall, frowning and screwing up her eyes and doing magic with her fingers on green wax amid the gaunt surroundings of the studio, with the flashing, beautifully dressed woman of the world whom he met on other occasions. Why she wanted to make an effigy of his head he couldn’t determine. There were heaps of handsome young men about, like the fellows you saw as heroes in the cinema. Why worry about his middle-aged, commonplace mug? Joshua was a man who had never crossed the frontier of the Land of Illusion.

He was a stocky man, in the mid-forties, just under medium height, with thickly-growing, dark-red hair, short cropped to prevent unruliness, and a little scrubby, red moustache. A horizontal crease across his forehead deepened according to the degree of anxiety from which he was suffering. He gave the impression of a man physically strong and hardily trained. For a short and glorious period of his youth he had been a professional footballer, a member of the famous Trenthampton Wanderers. His little blue eyes were pathetically alert, like those of the footballer intent on a ball which he could not find. The two middle fingers of his left hand were missing.

Joshua Fendick was not a self-made man. He had not achieved greatness. Whatever greatness there was about him had been thrust upon him by his father.

The first manifestation of paternal influence occurred when he was a few weeks old. His father, operative in the great boot factory of Swan & Co. in Trenthampton–who hasn’t heard of Swan’s Boots?–called one evening on the curate of St. Peter’s to arrange for his son’s christening. He was an unsmiling, dour and bearded man. The curate, who received him in the sitting-room of his modest lodgings, was, on the contrary, a young man of cherubic countenance and urbane demeanour. He sat with pencil and paper to make the necessary notes.

“Of course, Mr.–er–?”


“Yes, yes. Do forgive me. Your full name?”

“John Nunn Fendick.”

“And you want the child, a son, you said, to be christened–?”


The curate smiled. “Son of Nun.”

“My mother’s maiden name was Nunn.”

“Obviously Joshua,” said the curate. “I hope he’ll have the success of his illustrious predecessor.”

“Dunno what you mean,” said Mr. Fendick.

“Perhaps you haven’t heard the old rhyme:

“ "Joshua, son of Nun, and Caleb, son of Jephunneh,

Were the only two

That ever got through

To the land of milk and honey.’ ”

Mr. Fendick clutched his cloth cap in an angry grip.

“Sir,” said he, “I have no dealings with folk who make ribald jests on sacred subjects. Good evening.”

He went out and forthwith joined an obscure but irreproachable sect of dissenters to which his wife belonged, and had Joshua baptized in their little tin chapel which was situated on a forlorn bit of waste land on the outskirts of the town.

As for the curate, he quarrelled with his vicar over the loss of a staunch parishioner, and resigned; and eventually throwing off his orders, became a stockbroker, made a fortune, and thanked Heaven for the faculty of a misapplied sense of humour.

Joshua, looking back on early memories, found them scantily irradiated with joy. For many years he seemed to have his domestic being in a cold kitchen, an adjoining wash-house and a bleak back-yard. In one of the three there were always signs of household washing. In the kitchen he slept; he had measles and whooping-cough there, most uncomfortably. When old enough, he went to the County School and did what he was told to do and learned what he was set to learn, according to Decree. But who can take much interest in a Decree? On Sundays he accompanied his grim parents to their depressing tin tabernacle, to which, after dinner, he returned for Sunday-school.

Truancy from the latter afforded a few golden hours in those dreary years. In a hollow not far from the Bethel was a festering refuse-heap whence, here and there, wondrous prizes could be excavated. Once he and two or three fellow-sinners found a three-quarter filled box of sardines. The food of the gods compensated the pains of the damned that afterwards beset them. But–all honour to the Spartan youth of England–not a boy of them could give anxious parents a clue to the fount and origin of their ills.

The only item in his school curriculum that interested him was the poor course of drawing. He won a prize for freehand–a copy of some antique plaster plaque. He had no notion of what he was doing, or why he could do it, while his friends created abortions in pencil. His master saw he had considerable talent. His father thought him a fool for wasting his time over things which girls were supposed to do in elegant Academies for Young Ladies. The end came swiftly. As soon as the Education Authorities could liberate Joshua from compulsory attendance at the County School, he was thrust into the factory of Messrs. Swan & Co., and started on his career in the atmosphere of boots.

Thenceforward, during his young life, it is only in terms of boots that Joshua can be comprehended and measured.

There were two short stretches of burning fever when boots seemed to have no significance; but, after each, boots claimed him irrevocably.

He had been but a few months in the factory when he became aware of domestic upheaval. There came the MOVE. Instead of living on the ground floor of a workman’s cottage–one of a dismal row–the upper floor of which was let to lodgers, the Fendick family occupied the whole of a superior residence, one of a line of villas, Rosemary Villas, with a little garden in front, and Nottingham lace curtains in the front parlour window, so draped as to disclose to the passer-by a geranium in a flower-pot. For the first time in his life he found himself in a bedroom of his own. It was uncarpeted, bare and austere. The most zealous young monk might have said of it: “I’m all for subduing the flesh, but still self-sacrifice has its ordained limits.” Yet Joshua, aged fourteen, who had slept since babyhood on a mattress spread on the stone floor of an evil-smelling kitchen, wallowed in the sudden luxury of a bed with real legs. He became aware that his father, foreman for many years, had been promoted to the supervision of a department, and that the dignity of Swan’s compelled this entry into a genteel residence.

Yet life went on very much as before. His father, a man with a full beard now growing grey, took it into his head to mark his rise in the world by shaving his long upper lip, and thus became of grimmer aspect than before. Joshua had scarcely ever spoken to his father. At meals he was too interestingly occupied, in the factory he was too busy, and the main concern of his leisure hours was to move as far as possible from the paternal presence. His mother, with whom he had more in common, was a stout and prayerful woman, terrified of her husband, and entirely at a loss to know what to do with her son. Now and then, in a frightened way, she allowed him a little pocket-money out of the wages he contributed to the family fund.

During the few succeeding years Joshua developed a genius for Association Football. At nineteen he was offered a paid position in the Trenthampton team. In the world of Swan’s this was dazzling honour and glory. Whenever the Trenthampton Wanderers played in Cup Ties, fifty thousand people flocked to see them from all parts of Great Britain. The team consisted of heroes. Their names were household words in a million homes. Eager eyes scanned the reports of their individual doings in the evening papers of Land’s End, Hackney, Birmingham, North Berwick... North Pole.... The firm placed no obstacle in Joshua’s path, and John Fendick was so far under the influence of class tradition as to send him forth into the football field with a proud father’s blessing. His mother only hoped that no one would kick him hard and break his leg. At the only game at which she was present, she saw him dexterously pass a ball with his head. She grew white thinking that he should have been slain, as from the impact of a cannon-ball. She could not believe that he wasn’t hurt. Her protests were of no avail, for Joshua only laughed. From that time onward he paid for his board and lodging at home, and kept the rest of his money. He bore his glory modestly; and, though girls hung ripe for his plucking like cherries on a tree, he was seldom tempted to put forth his hand. No one, he said, could mess about with girls, were it only to the extent of stuffing them, and incidentally himself, with chocolates at picture-theatres, and keep fit. And to keep fit became his religion. Joshua was an earnest soul.

His glory, however, only lasted a couple of seasons, for there came a day when his father addressed him more or less in this wise:

“I have to tell you that a great change is about to take place in our social conditions. You’re a man now and can appreciate what I mean. I’ve been offered a partnership in the Firm, with the position of Managing Director. I’ve been working towards this for upward of thirty years. As you’re my only son, it isn’t fit that you should be a professional footballer in the winter and a boot-and-shoe operative in the summer. You must take my place when I’m dead, if you’ve got the brains to do so. Therefore you must go into the Counting House and take up the administrative side of the business. This will keep you occupied all day and every day; and for the next year or two you’ll have to attend evening classes at the Technical School and learn book-keeping and Commercial Theory and the scientific part of the trade–things I’ve had to pick up as I’ve gone along during a lifetime. So there’s no time left for professional footballing. That’s over. And you’ll have to wash your face and hands, and wear a clean collar and tie and a hat and a decent suit of clothes every day, weekdays and Sundays. Here are five pounds to go to Sutton’s and get a rig out. I don’t know many young fellows who have had such a start in life.”

The above, it may be remarked, is but the concentrated essence of what, in itself, was a concentrated hour’s discourse, during which many things dawned on Joshua’s somewhat obscured mind. Not the least of them was the influence and importance of his father in Swan’s that had been gradually widening and intensifying from the day that they had moved to Rosemary Villas. He realized, with almost a shock, that for years past his father had abandoned the cloth cap of the operative for the hard felt hat of the manager–it was a hideous flat-roofed hat which toned in with the grimness of his shaven upper lip.

Joshua was torn in twain between the fear of death and the hope of life. To resign the glory of the Reputed Best Centre Forward of England was signing a death-warrant; the entrance into the hierarchy of the bosses of Swan’s gleamed like the path to Elysian Fields.... His brain was also smitten by the sudden conception of his dour, penurious, unapproachable father as a great man.

“I’ve taken a house in Redesdale Road,” said John Fendick, “and we move in next week.”

Redesdale Road! Those were houses standing all alone in their own grounds; houses inhabited by folks who kept servants, trim maids in white cap and apron. Why, yes... he remembered one of the trim maids–Annie. He had done his best to respond to her amorous, though perfectly irreprehensible advances, but had failed lamentably. She was in the service of the Suttons–the Suttons who owned the great drapery establishment in the High Street. His brain whirled.

He sought an elderly mother whose brain he found was whirling even more vertiginously than his own.

“Your father never consults me,” she wailed. “He springs things on me like dreadful Jack-in-the-boxes. It seems he has bought all the furniture for this new house, and engaged servants, and when I asked him what was to become of poor Tommy the cat, who would never accustom himself to fresh surroundings, he got impatient and said I could make him into a pie.”

And Mrs. Fendick wiped away the tear of the uncomprehended woman.

Thus Joshua entered on the collar, tie and hat phase of his existence. The Decree went forth, and he obeyed unthinkingly. Needing exercise and mild interest outside the offices of Swan & Company, he joined the County Territorial Artillery. He also became a sound middle-weight boxer. Beyond such conscious intellectual cultivation as was necessary for the business of boot-making, it never occurred to him that he had a mind. By no one was its possession suggested. His literary and æsthetic interests found full satisfaction in the sporting news of evening papers and printed matter relevant to the Higher Boot-making in the “Leather Trades Review.” Fate decreed that a common snobbery for which no one was to blame should set up a social barrier between him and his late uncollared and cloth-capped associates. Shyness prevented him from making new friends.

At three-and-twenty he married Arabella (otherwise called Bella), one of the many daughters of Trenthampton’s most flourishing linen-draper, in whose house, almost contiguous to the Fendicks’ in Redesdale Road, once lived Annie, now long since departed into the limbo of departed housemaids. Bella was a pale, lymphatic girl with mouse-coloured hair and a drooping manner, whom he had met first at a whist drive, and afterwards, by curious chance, on most occasions when he trod the trim pavement of Redesdale Road. The force of character which enabled her to secure as a husband the young ex-gladiator son of the Managing Director of Swan’s was expended in the terrific effort. She was a flabby, foolish woman, who brought sickly and short-lived children into the world. Only one, the first-born, survived her death, which occurred when Joshua was thirty-three.

During those ten years, owing to his father’s master-grip and his own sedulous attention to business in hand, fortune had conferred on Joshua considerable favours. He reckoned his yearly income in increasing hundreds. He had lived in a little house of his own with the flaccid Bella. Looking on the married estate of his father and mother, on that of Mr. and Mrs. Sutton, his wife’s parents, he had accepted his own, without conjecture, as normal. A man’s concern in life was threefold: to keep himself fit; to carry on his business to the best of his ability; to conjoin himself with a woman and make her the mistress of his household for... for... well, for God knows what–not for any peculiar merriment of his own. Such was the Decree.

Meanwhile his mother had died, frightened out of a life too complicated by idleness for a hard-working woman who had striven in a stone-flagged kitchen most of her days. Old John Fendick said piously, by way of requiem: “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away,” and went on making his fortune in Swan’s boot factory, in which he was now a principal shareholder.

The widowed Joshua, on his father’s urging, sold up his home and came to live with his little son, Sutton Fendick, so called after his maternal grandfather, in the uninspiring house in Redesdale Road. Little Sutton went to the Trenthampton Grammar School, and spent most of his spare time with his mother’s people, who adored and spoiled him. He loved his shy father in an animal fashion, but was scared to death by Grandfather Fendick, the living personification, according to his childish imagination, of an unsympathetic and relentless Jehovah. Dogs and children always got out of old John Fendick’s way. In his opinion, it was the only reasonable thing they ever did. He was a man of fierce, narrow aims and restricted sympathies. Now and then he betrayed human weakness. When he became a partner in Swan’s he abjured the tin tabernacle on the outskirts of the town and re-entered the fold of the Established Church. He had been a churchwarden officiating on Sundays in a frock-coat for many years. In sins of commission, his life was blameless. He was certain of salvation, oblivious, like many men of his kind, of the Recording Angel’s per contra account of things omitted. Perhaps his undemonstrative love of Joshua was the only human sentiment in a needlessly austere and (were it not for that sentiment) a stupidly ambitious life.

Thus, what with Joshua’s acceptance of Decrees and his father’s decretal authority, dissension never marred their relations one with the other. Mutual pride consolidated their friendship. By 1913 John Fendick had risen from a factory hand, living in squalor, to the supreme head of Swan’s Boot Factory. Of such a father what dutiful son should not be proud? Also, what father should not be proud of a son of such achievement? Had he not been Centre Forward of the Trenthampton Wanderers, bribed in vain by illustrious football organizations to forswear his allegiance? Had he not cast away his laurels at the call of duty? Had he not forced himself into the social citadel, one of whose gates had been held by Sutton the Magnificent, thrice Mayor of Trenthampton? Had he not so thoroughly absorbed the spirit of Swan’s that he was now a Director, with a goodly set of shares behind him?... Eventually Joshua would take his place. He had not lived in vain.

Then came the war. Joshua, Battery Sergeant-Major, went into training with his brigade. He had often been urged to apply for a commission, but his obstinate shyness had kept him in the ranks. The officers belonged to a class with which he came seldom into contact. They had been to Public Schools, the Universities; they were members of professions; or, if only in business, like himself, they or their families lived in the higher social sphere of what he vaguely called the Gentry. They spoke a language of their own; had friends, pursuits, sports in common. They hunted and played golf. They visited the great houses of that part of the county, and, to their women-folk, his father-in-law, Mr. Sutton, was at the most a highly respectable and polite linen-draper, whom convention forbade to salute them if he passed them in the Street. Joshua, feeling that he would have been an unsuccessful subaltern, was proud of his non-commissioned rank. He was efficient. His officers knew it from the Colonel downwards, and his men knew it. He was as contented a sergeant-major as ever rode out to war with a crack Territorial Brigade of Artillery.

Less than a year afterwards he was sent home minus two fingers on his left hand, and a couple of toes on his left foot, and with odds and ends of shrapnel in his body.

It was then that he had to settle down to his real job in the war–the making of boots for armies. It soon became less of a job than an obsessing slavery. The contracts of Swan & Co. were world-wide. Millions of men must have boots. Each man of each million appeared to need a million pairs. New buildings covering acres were hurriedly erected and equipped with machinery for the making of boots. Millions of tons of hides were dumped into the factory, to say nothing of the millions of tons invoiced that never arrived. Joshua’s life grew to be a nightmare of boots. Of the same nightmare did his father, a man of seventy-four, soon die. Joshua, awakening for a short period from a boot-dream, found himself the undisputed head of Swan & Co., with the vast responsibilities of shoeing myriads of men. Once he had heard some one recite Kipling’s Boot poem of the Boer War, “... forty thousand million Boots, boots–boots–boots–moving up and down again....” The jingle got on his nerves. There they were in the factory, forty thousand million pairs of them, in staggering figures on the pages of documents of European Governments, papers, books, ledgers innumerable. The once quiet office became a swarming hive of accountancy, accounting for nothing but boots in every stage from contract to delivery; for the receipt and expenditure to a penny of hitherto unimagined sums of money. There were forty thousand million pairs of them to be seen through the works.... Joshua, the old Centre Forward of the Trenthampton Wanderers, and the efficient sergeant-major, was an efficient maker of Boots. He had passed his life in the making of boots. He knew everything there was to be known about the making of boots, from the quality of raw material to the finish of an eyelet-hole. He thought in terms of boots. He dreamed of boots. Whenever, as an important contractor, he went to London, it was to discuss boots with War Office and other Committees.... Boots, always Boots.

For the first time since his football days of glory and popular adulation, he found himself a person of some importance. Generals all over gold and red tabs and decorations, and politicians whose pictures he had seen in the back illustrated page of the “Daily Mail,” listened to him deferentially when he told them what he knew about Boots. This surprised him exceedingly. What surprised him even more was the discovery that the buzzing Accountancy Hive at Trenthampton turned, as it were, automatically, colossal sums of money into his own private banking account.

Now Joshua had never loved the Counting House. He hadn’t his father’s curious vision, that of the great master of industry which not only sees the panorama as a whole, but is eagle-eyed for minute detail. Almost unconsciously he had specialized on manufacture. His brain boggled at the infinite intricacies of the financial side of the business. He must direct a policy, as Chairman of the Company; that was simple: to make as many boots as possible within a given time. But of figures he had never acquired the great manufacturer’s mastery. He left them to the acute paid official who knew. He was more at home in the multitudinous whirl of the machines and the rank smell of leather–that rank smell that would never leave his nostrils till he died.

Not inheriting his father’s ambition, he had never attached great importance to the making of money. It had been pleasant to lie soft and eat more or less succulently and to bestow a half-crown here and there in alms without thinking of the weekly budget. On the other hand, he could never appreciate the exact difference in comfort and convenience between the trams, which passing the end of his road at five minutes’ intervals landed him at his factory gates in strict, scheduled time, and the private automobile, which convention ordained as the only means of transport for the Chairman of Swan & Co. It was also pleasanter and more comfortable to have his clothes made to order, fitted more or less to his body by Jenks & Son, the famous Trenthampton tailors, who traded on the fact that for generations they had made riding-breeches for the nobility and gentry of the county, but disguised the fact that their noble and genteel riding-breeches patrons wouldn’t have been seen dead in one of their lounge-suits–the which Joshua didn’t know–than to buy them ready-made, he being too muscularly built for stock size, from the meagrely equipped clothing department of his father-in-law’s emporium. Financial ease mattered little to him beyond such minor amenities. On odd occasions, Municipal Festivals–his father had been Mayor of the town, and he himself was a member of the Municipal Council–at the annual Masonic banquet of his Lodge, at family functions celebrating the christenings or marriages of the Sutton family, he had drunk champagne. But it had never entered his head to buy a bottle of the fantastic wine for his own domestic consumption. Wine was a thing apart from his habit of life. His cellar contained the current barrel of good Trent ale, and a few bottles of whisky sent in by the family grocer.

Wealth, with a capital W, had held no place in his philosophy. When he found himself inevitably acquiring it, he grew frightened; then smothered his vague fears in the welter of the factory. It was only when the war came to an end and the Government rewarded him with a C.B.E. for services rendered as an honest manufacturer of boots, and he awoke from the four years’ nightmare of intensive production, that he took intelligent stock of his fortune and found himself a wealthy man.

A nervous breakdown brought him for the first time in his life–apart from war-wounds–into the doctor’s hands. It was a bad breakdown. Boots, forty thousand million pairs of them, swarmed through his brain. The doctors packed him off for a rest cure in an expensive nursing-home. Thence he was shifted on to a steamer, accompanied by a nurse, on a Pleasure Cruise round the Mediterranean. Having the uncomfortable feeling that his fellow passengers might suspect a sound young man accompanied by a trained nurse of being wrong in his head, he made as few acquaintances as possible. In other ways the cruise did not vastly interest him. The nurse realized with dismay this wealthy manufacturer’s singular lack of elementary education. Historic places like Genoa, Naples, Athens, had no reaction on his mind. Would he go on shore with the rest and see the Parthenon? What was the Parthenon? An old temple? No, he would lie on his deck-chair in the sun.

The sunshine, however, and the wonder of blue sea and sky–they had halcyon weather–cured him. He returned to Trenthampton, to the stuffy villa in Redesdale Road, to the factory.

He drove through the stone-flagged courtyard amid its busy clatter of vans and lorries, entered the side-door leading to the counting-house; and even there his nostrils were assailed by the smell of boots. A while afterwards he went over the still humming factory–for, war or no war, populations have to be shod–and the familiar smell grew into a nauseating stench.... For nearly a year he fought his loathing for everything that had to do with boots. Then suddenly one day an imp danced in front of him and laughed and put to him the amazing question: What bond woven by God or man bound him to the making of boots? He could find no answer. If he wanted to retain his health and reason, he must give up the making of boots. He was a free man. Again he obeyed, as he always had done, the mysterious Decree.

He went to the Isle of Man. Ever since his father’s rise to power, the Fendicks and the Suttons had spent their month’s annual summer holiday in the Isle of Man. There, in the peace of his accustomed boarding-house–it was not the tourist season–he worked out the details of his retirement from active interest in the business of Messrs. Swan & Co. And, while thus consciously engaged, he suffered from the curious affliction of the subconscious mind. Pictures of the Lion of Gibraltar, the rock of Monaco, Vesuvius, the high arcaded frontage of Algiers, emerged, sun-capped, from the dense fog of his memory. They had no relation with Redesdale Road. They were elusive visions awakening an unknown nostalgia: a craving for a purer and diviner air–an air not impregnated with the smell of boots....

In the dismal bamboo-and-wicker-work furnished lounge of the boarding-house he was idly turning over the pages of a three months old illustrated weekly–one of the startling differences between Palace Hotels and Boarding-Houses lies in the fact that the periodicals in the luxurious lounges of the former are quite a month in advance of those in the latter–when he became aware of a sudden interest in the photograph of a street scene in Yokohama. He passed it over to his son, Sutton, now a boy of twenty, whom he had brought with him for company.

“I should like to see that.”

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