Although our village is a very small one, we had fifteen men serving in the Forces before the war was over. Fortunately, as the Vicar well said, “we were wonderfully blessed in that none of us was called upon to make the great sacrifice.” Indeed, with the exception of Charlie Rudd, of the Army Service Corps, who was called upon to be kicked by a horse, the village did not even suffer any casualties. Our rejoicings at the conclusion of Peace were whole-hearted.
Naturally, when we met to discuss the best way in which to give expression to our joy, our first thoughts were with our returned heroes. Miss Travers, who plays the organ with considerable expression on Sundays, suggested that a drinking fountain erected on the village green would be a pleasing memorial of their valour, if suitably inscribed. For instance, it might say, “In gratitude to our brave defenders who leaped to answer their country’s call,” followed by their names. Embury, the cobbler, who is always a wet blanket on these occasions, asked if “leaping” was the exact word for a young fellow who got into khaki in 1918, and then only in answer to his country’s police. The meeting was more lively after this, and Mr. Bates, of Hill Farm, had to be personally assured by the Vicar that for his part he quite understood how it was that young Robert Bates had been unable to leave the farm before, and he was sure that our good friend Embury meant nothing personal by his, if he might say so, perhaps somewhat untimely observation. He would suggest himself that some such phrase as “who gallantly answered” would be more in keeping with Miss Travers’ beautiful idea. He would venture to put it to the meeting that the inscription should be amended in this sense.
Mr. Clayton, the grocer and draper, interrupted to say that they were getting on too fast. Supposing they agreed upon a drinking fountain, who was going to do it? Was it going to be done in the village, or were they going to get sculptors and architects and such-like people from London? And if so The Vicar caught the eye of Miss Travers, and signalled to her to proceed; whereupon she explained that, as she had already told the Vicar in private, her nephew was studying art in London, and she was sure he would be only too glad to get Augustus James or one of those Academy artists to think of something really beautiful.
At this moment Embury said that he would like to ask two questions. First question–In what order were the names of our gallant defenders to be inscribed? The Vicar said that, speaking entirely without preparation and on the spur of the moment, he would imagine that an alphabetical order would be the most satisfactory. There was a general “Hear, hear,” led by the Squire, who thus made his first contribution to the debate. “That’s what I thought,” said Embury. “Well, then, second question–What’s coming out of the fountain?” The Vicar, a little surprised, said that presumably, my dear Embury, the fountain would give forth water. “Ah!” said Embury with great significance, and sat down.
Our village is a little slow at getting on to things; “leaping” is not the exact word for our movements at any time, either of brain or body. It is not surprising, therefore, that even Bates failed to realize for a moment that his son’s name was to have precedence on a water-fountain. But when once he realized it, he refused to be pacified by the cobbler’s explanation that he had only said “Ah!” Let those who had anything to say, he observed, speak out openly, and then we should know where we were. Embury’s answer, that one could generally guess where some people were, and not be far wrong, was drowned in the ecclesiastical applause which greeted the rising of the Squire.
The Squire said that he–er–hadn’t–er–intended–er–to say anything. But he thought–er–if he might–er–intervene–to–er–say something on the matter of–er–a matter which–er–well, they all knew what it was–in short–er–money. Because until they knew how they–er–stood, it was obvious that–it was obvious–quite obvious–well it was a question of how they stood. Whereupon he sat down.
The Vicar said that as had often happened before, the sound common-sense of Sir John had saved them from undue rashness and precipitancy. They were getting on a little too fast. Their valued friend Miss Travers had made what he was not ashamed to call a suggestion both rare and beautiful, but alas! in these prosaic modern days the sordid question of pounds, shillings and pence could not be wholly disregarded. How much money would they have?
Everybody looked at Sir John. There was an awkward silence, in which the Squire joined….
Amid pushings and whisperings from his corner of the room, Charlie Rudd said that he would just like to say a few words for the boys, if all were willing. The Vicar said that certainly, certainly he might, my dear Rudd. So Charlie said that he would just like to say that with all respect to Miss Travers, who was a real lady, and many was the packet of fags he’d had from her out there, and all the other boys could say the same, and if some of them joined up sooner than others, well perhaps they did, but they all tried to do their bit, just like those who stayed at home, and they’d thrashed Jerry, and glad of it, fountains or no fountains, and pleased to be back again and see them all, just the same as ever, Mr. Bates and Mr. Embury and all of them, which was all he wanted to say, and the other boys would say the same, hoping no offence was meant, and that was all he wanted to say.
When the applause had died down, Mr. Clayton said that, in his opinion, as he had said before, they were getting on too fast. Did they want a fountain, that was the question. Who wanted it? The Vicar replied that it would be a beautiful memento for their children of the stirring times through which their country had passed. Embury asked if Mr. Bates’ child wanted a memento of—-“This is a general question, my dear Embury,” said the Vicar.
There rose slowly to his feet the landlord of the Dog and Duck. Celebrations, he said. We were celebrating this here peace. Now, as man to man, what did celebrations mean? He asked any of them. What did it mean? Celebrations meant celebrating, and celebrating meant sitting down hearty-like, sitting down like Englishmen and–and celebrating. First, find how much money they’d got, same as Sir John said; that was right and proper. Then if so be as they wanted to leave the rest to him, well he’d be proud to do his best for them. They knew him. Do fair by him and he’d do fair by them. Soon as he knew how much money they’d got, and how many were going to sit down, then he could get to work. That was all he’d got to say about celebrations.
The enthusiasm was tremendous. Rut the Vicar looked anxious, and whispered to the Squire. The Squire shrugged his shoulders and murmured something, and the Vicar rose. They would be all glad to hear, he said, glad but not surprised, that with his customary generosity the Squire had decided to throw open his own beautiful gardens and pleasure-grounds to them on Peace Day and to take upon his own shoulders the burden of entertaining them. He would suggest that they now give Sir John three hearty cheers. This was done, and the proceedings closed.