The Best British Short Stories of 1922 HTML version

Once A Hero
(From Pan)
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.'"