- CHAPTER I
|< prologue||chapter 02 >||chapter 13 >>|
A MAN, carrying a big cardboard box, walked through the rain, from Oxford Circus, going eastwards. He was little and dark, with a long head, upon which the fine hair grew close and black as satin. His small black eyes, set close together, were steadfast and quiet—yet they held hints of things that were not so quiet.
All that he passed he saw—with that intuitive quality which is more than mere seeing. For him, there was often confession on the faces of passers-by; there was joy and grief and secrecy and guilt—they were not just faces, and these were not merely wet people hurrying home. He divined in some measure what they were and to what they were hurrying. He could—with this thoughtful vision of his—open the doors of homes and look inside. He went on, delighted with his impressions, glowing with his thoughts and, already, turning his thoughts into ready-money: into more than money—into Fame! That was what he had come to London for.
Yes, here he was, bent upon the same old stupid quest. He had come to London to be famous. Through this New Year of 1912 he meant to force himself upon London. John-Andrew Vaguener! He could see his name in big letters and see it everywhere.
40 THIS WAY OUTshe would stare. She would threaten him with the material outlook. Yet he did not care for Jane and her opinions, except in so far as you are constrained to care for the views of a person upon whom you propose to live. He smiled softly as he walked through the rain, as he studied the fast-flitting people under their gleaming umbrellas. Poor industrious, commonplace Jane! Jane—vulgar, affectionate, and genuine! He would have to live upon her—but only for a little while. He thought it was an idea to make a business proposition to his sister at the start. He would say to her directly he got inside her sitting-room, directly family greetings were exchanged, "Jane, let this be a business arrangement. Put down every penny that I cost you and before long I will pay it back with a six per cent interest." That was fair, it was generous.
Dear Jane, with her staring eyes and her short neck; Jane, with her noisy voice and kind heart—she was sitting by the fire now, waiting for him, and with something hot for tea.
He dawdled on, delighting in the rosy look of the wet asphalt road, when light from the shop lamps fell upon it. He gazed through the dirty rain with perpetual savour.Yes! London was the place.
He thought, with dreary resentment, of the Thames Valley and the rambling stucco house he had just left. He would never set foot in it again, nor in one like it. He would starve first or he would live upon Jane.
41 THIS WAY OUTremoved from the heart of things. It was too small. You met the same people in the same streets. You might as well live on board ship and pace a deck. Yet it held him, his birthplace. He dwelt upon the vivid melancholy of it; the lavishness of its summer blooming, the gauntness of its autumn storms. He felt himself a boy again, walking in the soft, constantly streaming rain and the wild warm wind of October; going from the Rectory where he had been born, and down the Stennack to the town. He could see the carts rock recklessly across the steep street and hear the shouts of the drivers and hear the rattle-tattle of the mine. He could see the small grey houses, with firelight in the rooms and washing hanging across the rafters. It all came back; the colour and the isolation; the implied despair of that place and the wonderful beauty.
Then he pulled himself up, for he stood at the entrance gate of Gray's Inn.
He went under the arch in the sudden darkness, he stood in South Square. Looking up at Jane's window on the third floor, he saw that she had not drawn down the blinds. Firelight jigged about.
He went in at the open doorway of Number 6. He looked at the names which were painted up. Third floor. MR. ARNOLD BUTTIFANT. That was one set and he did not care who Buttifant was. The other set was Jane's. Miss J. VAGUENER. She must have that altered. They must paint anew JOHN-ANDREW VAGUENER, ESQ., MISS VAGUENER. He supposed that Jane would insist upon her name remaining. She was so self-assertive.
42 THIS WAY OUTin the middle of the Square. He had always resented this finished touch, this recent attempt at the pensive quiet of a Cathedral Close. They were trying to make a backwater of the place; whereas it stood for the roaring torrent. Gray's Inn was the place where he would struggle and achieve. His dark face, little and lean, fired.
He went up the wide stairway; dirty, wooden, dimly lighted. At Jane's set the oak was back and the inner door boasted a neat brass knocker brightly polished. He knocked and a woman opened. She said that Miss Vaguener was in and, going before him, opened the sitting-room door. Then she went actively back into her lighted kitchen and he smelt the good smell of hot toast.
He set down his cardboard box in the passage and then he went into the firelit sitting-room, where shabbiness was softened in the gentle light. It was a fair-sized room, panelled to the ceiling and with a heavy wooden cornice, the whole painted a cool stone colour. There was a wide fireplace with a high mantel-shelf above, the grate was old, with waving bars and pretty hobs. The proportion of the place was tranquillising. John-Andrew Vaguener felt cooled and steadied directly he entered, every aggravating detail was blurred.
Jane got up from her chair by the fire. She put her arms round him; her fat arms in the thin blouse.
"Good old Johnny," she said affectionately. "So you've come back."
"Yes, I've come back; like a bad penny, Jane."
43 THIS WAY OUThigh voice, yet following the words with the gentlest sigh. "And now," she had his arm and was pulling him towards the fire, "let me introduce our neighbour, Mr. Buttifant. He has the set on the other side of the passage. My brother, Mr. Buttifant."
Jane had roomy chairs each side of the fireplace and Buttifant had been buried in his. Bad taste of Jane—obtuse and just like her, poor soul, to have a visitor when he arrived! For he wanted to tell her and at once why he had left Taplow and what a lot he had been constrained to put up with. But he was civil to Buttifant and he sat down in the middle between him and Jane.
"I'll light the gas," said Jane. "It's early for gas but we can't have tea in the dark. You'll stay to tea, Mr. Buttifant?"
"Sorry. I can't. I must do some work to-night. I ought to be doing it now."
"Awfully bad for your eyes; that fine black and white stuff by gaslight," said Jane. "If you won't stay, I'll tell her not to bring the tea in for ten minutes. You can spare that for a chat."
She went bustling out. Her brother watched her. How she combed up your nerves, poor girl! Everything about Jane was high and brightly coloured and thick. Her waist was thick and her neck was thick; he felt sure that her ankles were abominably thick. I his did not matter to him; being a brother he need not make love to her. Moreover, he was quite sure that no man would wish to make love to her. She stood outside that kind of thing, altogether; just as he stood himself. Into the mixture which had been moulded into him and Jane, a tincture of
44 THIS WAY OUTcelibacy had been dropped. It curdled and flavoured them.
He turned to look at Buttifant. He was curious about this man; he wanted to strike a match and see him better. The firelight was good enough. It showed him a small fellow; thirty perhaps. He was fair and, already, his carefully brushed hair was thin to streaky. He had a pale face, so expressionless that Vaguener compared it to a sheet of new blotting-paper. When he spoke he, by the raising of dun brows and the humorous twisting of a clean-shaved mouth, summoned expression and Vaguener saw what he chose to consider the inky markings on the blotting-paper. For the rest, he had a singularly agreeable voice. Vaguener was critical with voices, because he had lived through his nursery days and beyond them with Jane's metallic, exhausting soprano.
"Horrible day," said Buttifant melodiously.
"I liked it, coming up Oxford Street," returnee Vaguener. "I haven't been in London for some time."
"I wish I was out of it for all time," said Buttifant.
"He's always saying that, Johnny," screamed1 Jane, rustling into her chair by the fire. "I've sent her away."
"Her? Who?" asked Vaguener.
"My woman, Mrs. Welfare. She comes every morning; you must remember her. I kept her late to-day for your sake; to make toast and have things nice. I wanted to give you a special welcome."
She put out her hand, which was plump and white, and squeezed her brother's.
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"You are always saying that," she addressed Buttifant, "and I can't agree with you. It is nonsense to like the country better than London. Don't I know? Don't we both know, Johnny?" she laughed. "Do you remember St. Ives? And the awful sea and the empty hills and the lonely roads leading to nowhere and the grey farms and the stone cottages and the ugly chapels? Ugh! Makes me damp down my back to think of it."
She poked the fire, making it run over their three faces.
"If you'd been born in the sort of country, Mr. Buttifant, we were, if you knew it, as we know it, you'd be grateful for a life in London, wouldn't he, Johnny?"
"I don't know. I liked it sometimes, I even loved it. And I remember it well," said Vaguener dreamily and turning aside from her.
He did not want to look at Jane. He was thinking of St. Ives as he had known it in moments: the azure sea, the haunting caress of the air, the pinky look of the flowery land. South Square with a silly patch of new-sown grass was perhaps a poor makeshift.
London was merely a jumping-off place and when you had achieved yourself you left!
"He always goes," Jane was laughing and pointing to Buttifant, "into the country when he can. Don't you?"
"Always," said Buttifant solemnly. "Sussex on Sundays, that's my rule."
"It's good for your work," Jane admitted.
"Mr. Buttifant is a black and white artist, Johnny. He has illustrated three of my serials."
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She spoke proudly, for she had an inordinate opinion of her work.
The look that Vaguener shot at her was uncommonly like hate. For he did hate Jane's complacence and Jane's competence. She could make her living easily; I he had not succeeded in making his; he was always coming back to her and sponging upon her. Not only did she make her own living and—incidentally—his, but she made it in the way which he regarded as sacred. Jane took a holy thing an vulgarised it.
That was Vaguener's exalted way of looking at literature. To him it was a spiritual craft; to Jane it was a way of getting her living, of growing fat, of dressing herself in abominably chosen clothes.
"Are you doing a serial now?" he asked stiffly.
"I'm doing two serials. Not many people can keep; two ideas running and keep them clear, can they, Mr. Buttifant?"
"Profitable energy!" sneered her brother.
Jane looked pained. Buttifant gave Vaguener a look which Vaguener saw and wondered at.
It was full of vigour and mysterious expression; it made blots upon his blotting-paper face.
Had Jane been a pretty woman or even a plain woman with a pretty voice, you might have imagined that Buttifant was in love with her! For he looked defensive. It was a look of clenched fists.
"Was I unkind?" Vaguener asked his sister gently. "Forgive me, overlook it this once. Remember what a failure I am, what a regular bad hat. And then think of all your own successes."
47 THIS WAY OUT"But you'll be all right, Johnny. You'll get another post. I wouldn't waste time, I should go to the agency to-morrow."
She spoke briskly. She was going to keep him up to the mark, for his own good. He knew her.
"We don't want to bore Mr. Buttifant with my affairs, Jane."
"I must be going." Buttifant rose.
"No, you don't want to go yet. I've decided that you'll stay to tea." Jane gave him a clumsy friendly push and he allowed himself to sit down again. ' You can knock off those drawings to-morrow morning. Get up an hour earlier."
"Yes; I can knock them off," he said ruefully. Vaguener surveyed him.
"Mr. Buttifant," said Jane, proudly exploiting her friend, "has more work than he can do. Haven't you?"
"Yes." Buttifant spoke to Vaguener. "I'm making money hand over hand. But every sovereign stings."
"Stings! Oh you are funny," laughed Jane.
"Already," Buttifant was solemn, "I don't get the very best work. Already—and I'm only thirty! They pass me over; they know me for a hack. I've missed reputation and money won't last."
"That's bad," said Vaguener honestly.
"How gloomy you two are! I shall light the gas." Jane lighted it.
When the room was in a blinding glow they all blinked at each other and the same look of sickness and terror which had fallen upon Buttifant was reflected on Jane.
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"Oh, Jane! You have spoiled the occasion by your incandescent devil." Vaguener shielded his eyes.
"That's another of his funny ways!" Jane shrugged her shoulders, making her neck shorter. "If he had his way he'd drink tea by one candle, wouldn't you, Johnny?"
"Yes, with a shade on it," said Vaguener.
"I'll get the toast and wet the tea." Jane went out of the room. "She said the toast wouldn't hurt in the oven."
"I'm a schoolmaster," Vaguener told Buttifant when they were alone. "Classical master at Taplow was my last job, and I've lost it."
"You don't mean to say they chucked you?" Jane was back with the toast. "You were so vague about it in your letter."
She lifted the cover of the dish.
"It hasn't dried up. I love it all buttery and squelchy, don't you?" she twinkled at Buttifant. "And I've got some pastries, Johnny, from that place opposite Mudie's. You don't mean to say that those people at Taplow dared——"
"Oh no, I gave myself the determining touch. That's all right," said Vaguener.
"And of course you've got a quarter's notice? You'll go back after Christmas?" She sat down. "Bring up your chairs, the two of you."
They came to her tea-table.
"I could have had a quarter's notice. I'm entitled to it, but——Shall I cut the bread, Jane?"
"No, don't you see there is toast, you dear old silly. Go on about Taplow."
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"I simply cannot endure another day of it. I've left for good."
"For good! But where's your luggage?"
"Coming on by Carter Paterson. Never mind my luggage.
"I haven't the knack," Vaguener spoke to Buttifant, "of schoolmastering. I don't get on with the head's wife and I'm no good at games and——"
"But you can't start a school of your own. You haven't any capital," said Jane. "And you haven't any connection. I don't know," she bit into her buttered toast and looked at him anxiously, "what is going to happen to you."
"I do." Vaguener was instantly radiant. "Literature."
"Oh!" Jane was cold. "Literature! "
"Which is not interfering with you," Vaguener told her rudely.
"We never quarrel, Johnny and I, or I should be angry with him," Jane said to Buttifant. "He doesn't understand the technique of my work; he thinks I do it on my head, instead of out of it."
"Head! You don't do it from your heart, Jane. That is all I mean."
"Amateurs do it from the heart," said Jane scornfully. "Don't they, Mr. Buttifant? Come now! Stick up for me—and for yourself. We are both," she looked at him with a sad kindness,"in the same boat."
50 THIS WAY OUTthinking about. It's just one way of getting your living out of thousands of ways."
"There I don't agree with you." Vaguener tempestuously emptied his teacup then stumped it down into the saucer.
Buttifant and Jane smiled at each other.
For they knew.
Then Vaguener opened out. He talked to them. Jane put her elbows on the table and listened; she held triangles of hot toast in the air, biting infrequently; now and then sliding plates across the table towards the men. Or she took their cups and filled them silently. Her mouth was quivering.
Vaguener looked alight. His topic made a shrine of him with candles burning. Buttifant looked at his lean face—savagely intent and queerly glowing; he regarded him with intelligent detachment. He said, interrupting:
"I felt like that once. I was a drawing master at Malvern. One day I put a bundle of drawings under my arm and came to London."
"Did you?" Vaguener turned to him warmly. "Then you understand what teaching means? It kills your soul."
"No good having a fine lusty soul when your body's got nothing to eat," said Jane. "Have one of those spiky things, Johnny. There's cream inside."
"Shove the plate along." Vaguener boisterously took one.
They all laughed without reason. They were caught up in something; it was the gilded cloud of his rapture for writing.
51 THIS WAY OUTwhich was the quality of it, and whatever he said would have sounded the same, "left behind me at Malvern, a widowed mother and two small brothers. I'd been keeping the lot and I had to go on keeping them. I'm keeping them now."
"That was courage," Vaguener said.
"It needs courage to burn your boats, Johnny, and it doesn't do to rely upon other people. If you two men don't want any more tea I'll have the last cup myself." Jane tilted her teapot.
"It turned out all right with you." Vaguener was staring at Buttifant.
"It turned out remarkably right; if you mean money—and getting a living is all that matters. But if I had only been able to study abroad and wait a little and give myself a chance, I could have got to the top of the tree. I'm only on a low branch with my toes scraping the earth."
"You are at the top." Jane was brusque. "Everybody knows your name."
"In certain quarters; but that isn't it," Buttifant was positive.
"My name," Vaguener burst out laughing and took his second pastry, "will resound in all the quarters. Wait a bit, Jane."
"A play?" Buttifant looked at him.
"A play! He couldn't write a play." Jane was quick.
"No, no." Vaguener shook his head. "The drama makes no appeal to me. Poems."
"My dear Johnny, you won't sell a sonnet in six months! You might make a bit if you could turn your hand to topical things for the——"
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"Shut up, Jane."
She laughed, and it went through his racked head.
"Dear old boy," she was shrill, yet she was pitiful. "you are talking rubbish. You haven't got the trick of writing and you never will have. Why you can't even write a good letter; you don't take up one's points. To-morrow morning after breakfast I shall bundle you off to the agency and you must get another school after Christmas. And save up—that's the way—and ingratiate yourself with people. Then you can have a school of your own some day."
"Another way," said Buttifant, "is to marry a schoolmaster's widow."
"Johnny and I never think of marriage. It isn't in us," said Jane simply.
"I don't believe it is." Buttifant fixed his intelligent pale eyes upon her face, with the common, good-tempered features.
"Celibacy is in our blood and that's a fact," said Vaguener.
"Johnny! Don't get on to the old story about our grandfather."
"Your grandfather wasn't a celibate, anyway?" Buttifant's faint brows became quizzical.
"Haven't I ever told you the story?" Jane sat back in her chair—and her brother noticed how bad her figure was: bulging in the wrong places—and then the deplorable shortness of that neck!
53 THIS WAY OUTneither and never could be. She hadn't that mysterious gift which is called 'presence.'
"Sometimes I thought I'd use it for a plot," she was saying to Buttifant, "and then it seemed so farfetched. Besides, it doesn't seem decent with your own family."
"Body-snatching your own grandfather! Of course not," returned Buttifant.
When he spoke to Jane his voice displayed lovely modulations which Vaguener delighted in. This man, Buttifant, could never be vulgar; Jane could never be anything else.
"But it is a remarkable story, Jane, and it bears strongly upon all I've been talking about," he said to her. "He was ambitious and so am I. He wouldn't let anyone get in his way and I'm hanged if I will either."
"I should like to hear about him," said Buttifant.
"Yes, tell Mr. Buttifant, Johnny; you'll tell it best." Jane began to look interested. "I wonder," she spoke to Buttifant, " what you'll make of it and whether I could turn it into something. The illustrations would be good; 1850 dress, you know. You might like to do them. Yes, let's try to pull it off. Do. Begin, Johnny."
"It's nothing very much." Vaguener took his third pastry.
"Twopence each and awfully rich," Jane told him frankly. "But you are never bilious although you always look it."
"Yellow skins run in our family," Vaguener said.
"Yet mine is so fresh," returned Jane.
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She got up and looked at her face in the glass, for she was brim full of impulsive vanities.
"You don't see many complexions like mine in London," she said simply when she came back to the table. "I ought to clear away these things, but let's have grandfather first."
"It was just this." Vaguener looked at Buttifant." A man got in his way and he killed him; he pushed him into the sea down there in Cornwall."
"Love affair?" asked Buttifant.
"No, that's the funny part," Jane spoke quite eagerly, "there wasn't a woman in it. That is why I think it might be original. It might work up well; a thing without a love interest. And it would be nice to do, for I'm dead sick of love."
"Ambition." Vaguener slid the plate of cakes across the table. "He had invented something and the other chap tumbled on the same idea and got in first. Our grandfather—his name was John Trewhella and he was Rector of a church down there——"
"But you were born down there?" Buttifant turned to Jane.
"Yes, same Rectory," she nodded. "Let Johnny explain."
"He went abroad after the murder. He fell ill at a little inn——"
"Where was it, Johnny? I can't remember."
"Switzerland, I think; doesn't matter. He got better and within six months he married the landlady."
"Thought he was a celibate by instinct," Buttifant said.
55 THIS WAY OUTwants looking after." Vaguener became reflective. "I expect I should do the same."
"I'm sure you would," chuckled Jane. "Look what you're doing now! Leaning hard up against me; though I don't mind."
"He took his wife's name," Buttifant saw Vaguener's cheek quiver, "and it is her name twisted about, rolled on the British tongue, which we bear now and which our father bore. But we are really Trewhellas. He had a son and a daughter. The son, my father, was called John-Andrew; so am I. None of us can understand the Andrew. His daughter was Rebecca. That is our aunt and the mother of Kenneth and Becca. You'll hear about them by and by, if Jane hasn't told you already."
"How did you know about the murder? It isn't a thing a man blabs."
"When a man's weak he'll do anything." John-Andrew lifted his sensitive shoulders. "He was on his death-bed. If he had fled to a Catholic country, he would, at the last when the thing worried him, have confessed to a priest and there would have been an end: the seal of confession would have spared his descendants."
"Cheated them," amended Jane, "for I may use the idea."
"As it was," continued her brother, "he unburdened his soul to a Swiss pastor, who unburdened his to the nearest relative—my father. My father, equally scrupulous, solemnly uncovered the family skeleton when I was twenty-one. The Protestant conscience carries a great responsibility. Why couldn't the Swiss pastor have kept quiet?"
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"Did he live to be old, your grandfather? Did he turn into an innkeeper?"
"He lived to be awfully old," said Jane. "And he led Aunt Rebecca who kept house for him out there in Switzerland a dreadful life. So she got married, she had to. She didn't want to; she's said so heaps of times. Her husband, Mr. Marshall, was a well-to-do bank manager, travelling for his health. He soon died—and then she came to England. She's settled down at St. Ives. She's quite Cornish, although she was born in Switzerland."
"He didn't turn into an innkeeper; he left that to his wife. He developed a trick of making mechanical toys," said Vaguener, "and netted quite a little fortune. Then he got to know that the Cornish living was for sale——"
"The one he fled from after the murder?"
"Yes. And he bought the advowson for his son."
"Yes. He took it, married a Cornish girl and we were born at the Rectory, Jane and I."
"Then father and mother died and Aunt Rebecca looked after us. Then John-Andrew went to Oxford and I couldn't stick St. Ives and came to London. So now you know all about us," said Jane to Buttifant, smiling at him squarely.
"Who's got the living now? Why haven't you? Buttifant asked Vaguener.
"I wouldn't go into the Church," Vaguener said, curtly and with a funny quick glare.
"Kenneth's got it." Jane sounded affectionate. "He's a dear old chap—and just like all the rest of us. Very ambitious and very full of common sense."
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When Jane said 'all the rest of us' she meant herself!
"You were a fool to refuse the living, Johnny," she added. "You would have been provided for. That's the only thing that matters, isn't it, Mr. Buttifant?"
"Thought you were ambitious, Jane." Vaguener was lazily smiling.
"Well so I am, you stupid old Johnny: ambitious of a competence—a certain something rolling in every week."
"A man with a penny account book at the back door every Saturday and you'd give him a receipt?" asked Buttifant, raising his effective pale brows and looking at her fondly.
"Yes, that's it." Her long sigh touched him. "Oh, wouldn't that be nice!"
She got up, pushing back her chair. Then she smiled at Buttifant in her broad good-natured way.
"Aunt Rebecca's coming to London in the spring with her daughter. I'll introduce you; Becca's a dear little girl."
"Don't like dear little girls."
"What do you like?"
"Never mind; no good my saying."
"Well, I do hope it isn't the dumpy woman you put in your drawings."
Jane smoothed her plump arms in the transparent sleeves.
Jane had a delusion—and it was one of many. She imagined herself tall and slim.
58 THIS WAY OUTmother must have been when she was young, for your mother's fat, isn't she?"
"She is certainly well covered," Buttifant allowed—and his thoughts drifted away to a house in Dulwich where his mother—fat and captivating, with a trick of getting all she wanted—lived elegantly at his expense.
"It's improper to ask," Jane laughed, "but she doesn't wear stays, does she? I went to be fitted the other day. I'm very particular. And it does seem so odd to see yourself in a long glass; just in your hat and your other things."
"I never asked her. Does it matter?"
"Not enough for her to think that I asked you. I'm very particular about my figure, that's all; and she doesn't seem to care. She doesn't do her clothes justice. It's a pity, considering what you spend."
"She would be sorry to think you thought that."
Buttifant was diplomatic and critical? He surveyed Jane—with her delusion of slimness and a good figure! Jane so atrociously put together! Jane whose clothes always looked as if they had been thrown at her haphazard from a bargain counter! Jane with her irrepressibility and her frenzy for the latest novelty. Jane who meant such a lot to his heart! Jane who, like all cold women, was often so unconsciously coarse!
"The name Rebecca," she returned to the topic of her relatives, "always reminds me of that disagreeable old woman at Towednack. You remember, Johnny? The late Rector's widow, Mrs. Polmeor."
"I remember—yes. She's a Rebecca too. Lots of them down there."
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"She was as old as the hills when we were there," Jane laughed. "I expect she's dead now, don't you?"
"No, she isn't dead." Vaguener was indifferent. "I had a letter from Becca when I was at Taplow. She'd met the old soul in her donkey chair along the Towednack road."
"What's Becca doing writing to you? Funny child!" said Jane.
"I didn't know she was a child," said Buttifant.
"She's not too young for a heroine. We like them young, don't we?" Jane chaffed him. "She is nineteen. Why did she write to you, Johnny?"
"Sent me some photographs, that's all. Somebody gave her a camera for a birthday present. They were good photographs too: sea, mostly. And she wrote a queer enthusiastic letter."
"I should like to see that letter."
"My dear Jane, I burnt it."
"That old woman at Towednack—what is her name, Johnny; Rebecca—what?"
"Yes, that's it—Mrs. Polmeor, she used to make me shiver," Jane said. "Why is it that there is something so sinister about some old women? They say at St. Ives that she could tell tales about Dr. Curnow's murder if she chose."
"Who is Dr. Curnow?" asked Buttifant. "This begins to look like a plot."
"Curnow is the man our grandfather murdered," answered Vaguener with some rigour.
"You had better not use the plot either of you, for I might not like it."
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He looked dangerous.
"Or you might want to use it yourself." Jane was amused. "I should like to see a serial that you wrote, Johnny! It would be a funny bit of work. No construction, no curtains! There's a lot to learn."
"I'm not likely to do that sort of work." Vaguener was disdainful. "I've got several things—poems and essays—ready to send out. Then I shall get some reviewing to do. And I shall get a ticket for the Museum Reading Room and do a little research."
He went on talking, more to himself than to them. They exchanged glances; of amusement and sympathy. He sounded so old-fashioned and so leisurely. He was out of date.
The scribbling and scratching life that they knew left no room either for research or thought. It was a hurly-burly and a hubble-bubble; it consisted in everybody tumbling over everybody else. It sometimes took even Jane's breath away. It depressed and exhausted her. On these occasions she sensibly put the cover on her typewriter, walked down Oxford Street and bought herself some clothes, whether she wanted them or not. If the same mood overtook Buttifant he went far into the country or he went down to Dulwich and talked to his mother. She was very reposeful and only eighteen years older than he was himself.
61 THIS WAY OUTletters to the newspapers upon any topic that was in vogue; for that sort of thing advertised you. Jane was hearty and vulgar and vain. She enjoyed her life; except in certain moods when queer terror came along. Then she grew frightened and wondered what would happen if she did not get any more commissions. Stars in the firmament had a way of dying out. She knew it and Buttifant knew it.
"I shan't use grandfather's story," she said to her brother, after a pause through which she had sat with her pale eyes with the sharp black pupils staring vacantly at the panelled wall," for there is no love interest. The public will have love—and I can make it!"
"You make it," Buttifant looked up from the table-cloth, where he had been drawing with his finger," but do real men and women make it your way? I'm not sure."
'You must put it to the test some day," Jane said carelessly. " I don't care whether it is real or not. It sells."
She got up.
'You two men can help me clear the table."
They each picked up something and carried it out of the kitchen, laughing and moving in a picnic spirit. John-Andrew looked about him gratefully; at the pretty arch in the passage, at the windows in their heavy frames, at the mouldings on the wooden walls. He was glad that Jane—quite by accident—had managed to rent one of the sets in the Inn that was unimproved and unspoiled. He was affected by his setting and he came to the conclusion that half his misery at Taplow had been caused by the large ex-
62 THIS WAY OUTcrescent ugliness of the house. He could live at peace here and work well—if it were not for Jane!
They packed together the dirty china and put the cakes away. In the passage, he said to his sister:
"Turn the gas out in the sitting-room. Let's sit in firelight or with candles."
"Firelight gives me the blues and I haven't got a candle in the place," Jane told him, "but I'll fix up something to soften the light. Why, what's this?" She saw the cardboard box. "It's from Peter Robinson's. Did you bring it, Johnny? What on earth have you been buying at Peter Robinson's?"
"Take it in the sitting-room. Open it and see," John-Andrew said.
He looked at her in affectionate excitement. He had been waiting for her to find it.
Her face grew greedy.
"Is it for me?" she said, speaking like a child. "Oh give me a knife, somebody. Let's cut the string."
Buttifant had his knife ready. He held it out.
Jane slashed at the string and took the lid off. When she saw tissue paper, she put the lid on again and carried the box ritually into the sitting-room. I The men stood round as she unpacked it on the table, She drew out—and it looked a purpled stream—an evening gown of lovely stuff. Underneath were stockings, long gloves and a fan.
"To go with it!" screamed Jane.
Her face, always so nicely fresh, turned crimson. She hugged Vaguener.
63 THIS WAY OUThysterical. "You really are a dear thoughtful gentle creature. I don't believe that one man in ten thousand would have thought of stockings too."
"And got so good a match," added Buttifant.
He had been standing by, watching them, aloof from this outburst of family feeling. He now took one of the webby purple stockings and ran his hand down the leg, spreading his fingers in the foot.
"May I?" he spoke very sweetly and smiled at Jane. "I love the fine feel of silk."
"I can't let you feel it long, I'm going to take the whole kit into my bedroom and try it on. I just must."
She fluttered her finery into the box, snatching the stocking from him. She said to Vaguener, "Johnny! I shall never forget this. I look my very best in violet. It brings out the fineness of my skin and suits my blue eyes."
She picked up the box and went to her bedroom. The men sat listening to her slap-bang ways of dressing; bursting open drawers, swilling water, dropping things.
She came back transformed. She had arranged her hair on the top of her head instead of rolling it in an untidy club at the nape of her neck. Her eyes were bright and happy and hard. Her cheeks were redder than her mouth, which was always pale.
The violet frock was cut low and this made her neck seem longer. She had spoiled everything—for the fastidious—by sticking a great papery-looking artificial rose of a dreadful yellow at her waist. There was another one in her hair.
She went and posed before Vaguener.
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"Don't I look nice?"
"Extremely nice. Only the roses——"
Jane shouted, "Yellow and violet are jolly together, aren't they, Mr. Buttifant? You know all about colour. Artists do."
"You must let me think it out. Sit down and I'll look at you," said Buttifant.
He felt as Vaguener felt: that those yellow roses were like eating sour apples. Jane sat down.
"It fits so well," she said. "How did you know the size, Johnny?"
"Thirty-eight inch bust," returned Vaguener, with promptitude. "Don't you remember the blouse you were trying to make by the aid of a paper pattern when I stayed here last?"
"I should think I did! Fancy you remembering. That was the time," she looked across at Buttifant, "when fashions in fiction were changing. I wondered if I could keep up. And I was afraid—you know how afraid we do get? So I started making my own clothes."
"There is no fashion in literature," Vaguener I remarked haughtily.
"Poems and essays and that sort of leisurely stuff, perhaps not," Jane was cocksure. "But fiction—good wholesome family reading—is different."
"He's right." Buttifant looked at Vaguener. "Fashions don't change, when you come to the things that tell. No fashion in art, no fashion in love; always the same and always solemn. I wonder," he looked at Jane, "if you could do your grandfather's story."
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"No. Must have a love interest." Jane was curt. She hated to be opposed.
"I suppose so." Buttifant hardly took his eyes off her. "There are worthy folk who would confine the interest in love to certain decades. They would cool the warm world to their own fish-like temperature. They are wrong—love is a thread that runs through the stuff; yes, even the stuff they make shrouds of."
"Shrouds! How horrid of you! When I've got. on a new frock and when I've got in there," Jane jerked her head towards her roll-top desk between the two windows, "note-books stuffed with plots. Wonder if I shall do them all before I die! I should like to."
"You love doing your work then?" Vaguener asked her very gravely.
"So long as it pays I do."
She spoke stridently, she looked at him with a certain defiance; and there was something else behind it.
"'Don't you think," he smiled at her in his gentle lazy way—the way with an insolent flick, "that we might, when you are looking so delightful, turn out the gas and have a candle? Gas is always, to my mind, a squalid form of lighting. If they burned it in the Vatican I should feel the same."
"How you do harp on the gas! I'll indulge you to-night if I can find a candle. But only to-night, John-Andrew. I always type from seven till nine and I must have a good light."
She got up and rummaged in the drawers of her desk. She brought out a half-burned and guttery candle.
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"How it got there goodness knows," she laughed as she pushed it into a candlestick on the mantelshelf. "Now then, a match, one of you, and the other can turn out the gas. Whenever I want any old odd thing I look in the drawers of my desk and it's there. I found a card of linen buttons yesterday."
Vaguener spread his legs to the fire and set his shoulders back when he found himself sitting in a gentle light. He opened his eyes and shut them happily.
"Nothing like the aristocracy of candles," he said.
"A cheap way of getting on in the world," Jane answered.
"My dear girl, true aristocracy, of any sort, is always cheap."
Buttifant's white vague face, kept—so Vaguener thought—blotting. He counted new blots. Candlelight did funny things with faces; candlelight and firelight together. It was all so much more subtle and redundant than a steady useful glare—some light by which you could do things instead of feeling and thinking them.
Jane, lying in her deep chair and lapped by the waves of her violet splendour, looked nearly refined. If it were not for those roses!
Buttifant got up quietly and leaned over her.
"Let me," he said, and drew out the rose from her waist. "The wrong yellow after all. I come to that conclusion." His voice dropped and his fingers were in her hair, untangling the other rose. Vaguener, taking no interest in such things, yet acute to everything that he saw, perceived that Buttifant was stirred. He could not see his face; the back of his
67 THIS WAY OUThead, the bend of his body was enough. When a man stoops over a woman in candlelight he may betray his secret. Vaguener thought it odd—considering Jane! But love affairs wearied and even shocked him; so he passed on to other thoughts. He had plenty. And Buttifant was a long time taking out those roses and Jane was quiet while he did it.
The Square was quiet, the rain dripped down the windows. You can sit a long time in firelight, just three.
Vaguener felt as if something were loosened in him; that tightness—which was the stress of living with Jane and hearing her scream and seeing her clothes—loosened. She even looked natural in her evening dress; she did not look painstaking. Perhaps there was promise in Jane?
Her airs of noisy achievement were in abeyance. Of course to-morrow he must wake up—to a grim progression of boastful and industrious days. He knew how hard she worked.
The pathos of Jane came to him as he sat in the dim light and saw her sitting quiet clothed gorgeously in violet.
He would make Fame for himself and Fortune for them both. She should not work so hard. She should find time to improve herself; perhaps she would allow him to give her hints. Struggle made a woman hard. It was a shame. He burned with brotherly valour.
Jane's point of view, Jane's astonishing vanity, never occurred to him. The idea of finding an opponent in Jane, an imaginative comrade, or even a rival, did not enter his mind.
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He kept looking at her, and looking at Buttifant. Nobody spoke. The eloquence of the occasion was strong upon all three. Vaguener felt family affection for his sister Jane; yet if she broke through these soothing moments—by a laugh or one of her giggles—he would murder her. For she would have destroyed something sacred. His ideas were flowing fast and taking form. To-morrow he would work. Oh how he would work! What a glorious, what a world-compelling piece of industry his should be. All great reputations were made at once; between a night and a day.
Jane laughed aloud without warning.
"Your laugh is like crumpets," Vaguener said ridiculously. "We want a bell to warn us first."
His face grew violent. Buttifant thought, "What a pocket Mephistopheles this swarthy little brother is!"
"Crumpets! How absurd!" Jane was looking outrageously arch. "I was thinking of something Mr. Branch said the other day. It was so sudden."
Branch was her agent; a fat calm man, upon whom her future hung. Branch had his finger on the public pulse; Jane had her eyes on Branch's pendulous inscrutable face.
"He said how good my eyes were. I knew that, but you don't expect compliments from Mr. Branch."
"He'll be cutting down your prices," Buttifant said.
"They are not good eyes at all." Vaguener was savage. "They are as hard as nails. When you cry your tears are splinters of glass; they jag your pocket handkerchief."
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He pulled out his own handkerchief and blew his nose. He made more noise than he need have done. Jane had murdered silence, so nothing else mattered.
Petals of flowers and a dried leaf or two came out from his pocket with the handkerchief. One fell in Jane's lap.
"What's that?" she asked, picking it up.
She did not sound offended; yet it was unlike Jane to be spiritless. There was a cadence in her voice—of positive sweetness and dignity, just for once. It impressed Vaguener.
"That's nothing," he told her, speaking very gently and looking ashamed. "Becca put them in her letter; she didn't say why. I suppose they fell out of the envelope."
"Becca put flowers in her letter! But, Johnny——"
"I told you it was a funny letter and you know she was always an odd child," he said wearily and standing up. "I think I'll go for a stretch in the Square."
"Sit still; it's pouring," said Jane.
"I don't mind that. I'll be back soon."
He got up, stood over his sister for a moment, then stooped and kissed her.
"Sorry," he said. "Your Mr. Branch was right and I'm a brute. I'll be back soon."
He heard Jane say to Buttifant:
"Just like Johnny! You never know how to take him."
Buttifant murmured something back; in that nice voice with those telling inflections he employed when speaking to Jane.
70 THIS WAY OUTdown the stairs, "then I should have the set to myself."
It did not occur to him that—so far—all the money was Jane's. And as to love-making—which must precede marriage—he felt a sensitive distaste. Nor had Buttifant's attitude towards Jane in candle-light amused him.
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