- CHAPTER II
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JOHN-ANDREW was sitting in his bedroom, a slip of a place leading off from the sitting-room and facing the Square. At the back of the set were two other rooms, looking on to Gray's Inn Road. These were the kitchen and Jane's bedroom. They were noisy but Jane could sleep through anything. This was one of her boasts. She said she had the imaginative temperament and yet her nerves were sound.
He sat there; it was only ten o'clock, the month was February and the morning bitterly cold. His oil stove, warranted not to smell, yet turned him sick with its fatty fumes—and he cursed the shade of the man who—hundreds of years ago—had built this room and not put in a fireplace.
Jane was talking in the kitchen to the charwoman, arranging the mid-day meal. Jane was an excellent manager and most economical. She did the marketing herself. She was excellent—and she was spiked all over like a hedgehog! Vaguener alternated, in his relations with Jane, between fits of articulate fury and fits of mute penitence. He used to go out and buy her little gifts after he had been brutal; senseless cheap things—for his money was running out. The top of her desk was littered with trifles.
Jane was shouting in the kitchen,| | 72
"You can use margarine for the apple turnover, Mrs. Welfare. I'll bring some in. Make a nice thick crust."
Then she laughed. Then she went into her bed-room. She was putting on her hat. Vaguener waited for her to cross the Square, with her little basket, her unrolled umbrella and her oldest clothes. He watched her. What a joy it was to know she was out of the place if only for twenty minutes!
Her absence made him feel free and manly. He looked out of his window and he knew that Buttifant, in the next set, had left his easel and was looking out of his. They both watched Jane: and Buttifant's eyes said more than his did.
He continued to look at the Square, with its green grass and its austere houses. Beyond it, was the world: and men were doing strong things. But he must sit here, just labouring at the intangible.
When Jane was in, there was the noise of her typewriter and he could not think. There was coarseness and reproach in it; she worked so fast and sold so well. He had not made a penny since he left Taplow. And he knew that his position was contemptible. This dependence upon Jane was eating into him; it was making him hate her.
He said to himself throughout the days—and the saying dogged his nights—that he must live upon Jane for the time being. To live upon the earnings of a woman was devitalising; yet you had to do it. It is all very well to say that a man, lacking any other sort of income, may go out and sweep a crossing. The fact remains that he cannot and does not. This was Vaguener's line of argument: also, he knew how much | | 73 would be lost to the world if he went back to teaching. He must not stifle his gift; he must give himself every chance. Fortunate—for the world—that Jane was there to help!
He had been in Gray's Inn three months and every morning after breakfast he settled in this slip of a room. He watched Jane go to market, he saw her come back; he heard her take off the cover of her typewriter. She did it with a flourish. Heaven knew what she was thinking!
She worked in a clattering frenzy until one o'clock, when they had dinner. Vaguener sat chilled and savage, thinking hotly, producing sparely. How could you put your ideas into form with that vulgarity going on through the wall? He found the mornings long. He was glad—as a dog might be glad—when he heard the sound of crockery in the kitchen and the feet of Mrs. Welfare going backwards and forwards laying the cloth in the sitting-room. Yet he was not hungry. Jane was and she daily provided what she called a good hot spread. She used to smile at him so lovingly directly he came into the room. She would say, "Had a good morning, old boy? I have." She had his chair ready by the table. She carved herself and heaped his plate. She was never cross or grudging or weary; she was only pleased with herself.
After dinner she used to go back to her typewriter and John-Andrew went for a walk; to get ideas, so he said. It invariably meant turning into the British Museum. He spent aimless hours in the Reading Room, his head getting stuffier. At first he used to go for omnibus rides; he learnt new suburbs. Then his money went. He could live upon Jane but he | | 74 certainly could not ask her for pocket money. When it came to asking for pocket money the violent thing must happen. So he merely walked to the Museum and back. Tea would be ready when he returned; tea—and candles burning. How good of her to do that! She indulged him with candles until seven. Then she turned on the gas and did some more typing. About this time, he used to go across the landing and talk to Buttifant, who would be working also—but in what might be called a well-bred way.
He liked Buttifant at first; then later on he resented him. He imagined that Buttifant was privately criticising him for living upon Jane. He would not stand criticism of his private affairs from any man.
If he did not go to Buttifant, then Buttifant about nine o'clock would come across the landing to them. Jane would put away her typewriter and get out cakes and make chocolate; which was the only supper they had. She used to talk loudly to Buttifant about her work and about his. Vaguener was left out in the cold. His eyes, sad and angry, would glance from one to the other as they sat in the firelight. He had to thank Buttifant for this hour of firelight. He would come in and say that his eyes ached with so much pen and ink work; Jane, who was most sweetly considerate for everybody, would at once consent to sit in semi-darkness, although she chafed at it. Jane's good heart, her spacious common sense and pathetic industry should have gained for her homage from all men. Yet Nature had put her so perversely together. She was plain and noisy. She was vain.
All the days were just alike, except Sundays. Jane never worked then: she went to church in the morn- | | 75 ing and lay on the sofa with a novel all the afternoon. She read every novel that was worth while, she insisted that you had to, if you wrote fiction. You learnt what was ruling the market. You modelled yourself.
No typewriter on Sundays, thank God!
More and more Vaguener hated the sound of the typewriter; and he knew that, even if she were dead, he would hear the sound of her bell.
Yet he consoled himself by thinking that although he was living upon Jane now, it would not be for long. Although Jane was contemptuously good-natured to him now; and bore with him and fed him—it would not be for long. The time might come when she would have to borrow money of him. He glowed—and with real affection for her. Dear worthy vulgar young woman! She should never borrow, he would not wait until she asked. He would take two handfuls of chinking gold, he would pour them between her knees. Oh yes, Jane should have a good time! She should be lazy, she should have a chance of keeping quiet.
Jane would never fall low, but she would never fly high: this expressed her work. Jane was not going to be rich but he was. When—in literature—you once started on money-making, in the true exclusive sense, there was practically no end to it. True, he was not making a penny now, but he was building up—and the structure should be Fortune. He conserved his power of the chance, while Jane had none. This consoled him, made him content to wait, made eating at her table less bitter.
Time went on; he was bored to death, he was barren and yet buoyant. He was a contemptible creature—according to Buttifant; also, perhaps, | | 76 according to Jane; for he never got behind those pale blue eyes of hers with the sharp black pupils. Her face was like the face of a china doll; hard and firm and fresh and shiny.
Yet he believed in himself and he knew that he would achieve himself, he would cast those two in the shade. For the present, they might think what they liked. Jane had gone as far as she could ever go, Buttifant had cut one of his wings. He could no more fly than a cock in a wired fowl run.
He went across to Buttifant's set late one evening and found him at his easel.
"I'm alone," he said, sitting down. "Am I in your way? Jane's gone to a party."
"In my way, not a bit. So she's gone to a party? In her violet rig?"
"In her violet rig," Vaguener nodded, "but with a cheap coral necklace."
He sat down by the lire, looking round him. Buttifant used his sitting-room simply as a studio. It was bare and untidy; in direct contrast to Jane's room across the landing. Yet he had extraordinary water-colour drawings stuck here and there on the wall. When Jane had finished work she put the cover on her typewriter, locked up her papers in the roll-top desk and was elegant. She had a few bits of family furniture brought from the Rectory in Cornwall, these—the reserved air of the panelled walls and a few inherited ornaments—made the place too good for Jane.
"Directly I can afford it," said Vaguener, "I'll buy her some topazes. Do you think they'd be nice with the violet?"
"Yes, or turquoise—to go with her eyes."| | 77
Buttifant was doing water-colours. He made gluggy swishy noises when he washed his brush. Presently he came to the fire and sat down, lighting a cigarette.
He held out the case to Vaguener who, taking one, felt helpless, mad and hot—as he felt upon those rare occasions when he asked Jane for a second helping at dinner. He had no tobacco of his own and no money to buy any. He had emptied his cigarette case this morning between breakfast and dinner—for he smoked ceaselessly while he sat alone, trying to work, listening to Jane's tapping, and looking out at the Square, around which on all sides the industrious world of accomplished men was flowing. For him! He was not accomplished; he had done nothing but prove himself a failure as a schoolmaster. Yet he would end by doing everything. He would show them. So he smoked without ceasing and he elegantly turned off vague sentences. His idea, for the present, was a book of essays; glittering—like the tail of a comet: yet steadfast as the eternal stars. Jane had said that poetry did not pay. So he would try prose first, since pocket money—at least—must be made. And such prose! He magnificently compared the words that he was putting together and the words that she put. Only one partition wall between two efforts so sublimely diverse! It was incredible.
He had smoked his last cigarette while Mrs. Welfare was laying the cloth for dinner that morning. After dinner he had gone out and spent his last shilling on flowers for Jane to wear with her violet frock. She had been tearfully grateful and she had told him that they did not match.| | 78
"Jane's eyes!" he laughed—and Buttifant privately cursed his brotherly brutality. "They are glass eyes! I saw a case in High Holborn. I stopped by that case and I matched Jane's black and blue eyes—to a glassiness."
He smoked in peevish haste.
"I'm putting you off your work." He looked behind him at the easel. "I get in everybody's way. I'm the little boy in the fable—but it won't be for ong [sic] ."
"I didn't mean to work." Buttifant shut his aching eyes and Vaguener studied the feminine white lids.
"Why do you do water-colours by gaslight? Do people? I know nothing of pictures," he asked.
"I was only gloating." Buttifant looked quickly at him. "That's the stuff I love—and I haven't time to give myself to it properly. I like to do it at night. With my tired eyes and my dog-tired brain and the artificial light I get queer effects. Next morning get out of bed early and come in and look at it and say to myself, 'Is it so bad as to be surpassingly good? Or is it so good that it must be ghastly?' I can't understand my water-colour stuff; it goes beyond me. It runs off somewhere and I can't follow. It is funny—but perhaps not funny enough. Some critic—a far cleverer chap, yet not with my trick of sloshing on colour—may decide on it some day."
He looked at Vaguener with droll warm modesty. There was colour in his face and there was friendship in Vaguener's little black eyes. For he understood all that Buttifant was striving for—and he wished him luck. He was not jealous of any canvas Fame. Men | | 79 might paint pictures: they should not write books until he had written his.
He would cut down the first man who got in his way.
"Some day," said Buttifant, "I will have a show. I'll put these things to the test," he waved his hands round the walls. "And yet I never have time to breathe. After all, what does it matter? This idea of reputation is a cruel chimera. Yet men get caught by it."
"It is the only thing there is." Vaguener lifted his voice, he moved his hands about fast. How strong they looked; those lean little brown hands!
Buttifant said, "There is love. Getting your living and making love. God sent us into the world for that."
"Love!" Vaguener's trick of looking frigid made Buttifant feel too frank. "I take no interest in it, nor does Jane. That is our family trait. We shall die out as a family. It is intended."
"There is your cousin Becca. And there is her parson brother."
"I wasn't thinking of Becca. Kenneth is like us."
Vaguener was curt; he wished to change the topic.
"I assure you," Buttifant was insistent, "that nothing else matters but home. You can't call this," he indicated his own set, "nor that," nodding his head towards Jane's, "home. We have workshops, your sister and I."
"What is home?"
"Any little corner where you crowd with the woman you love. May be Grosvenor Square, may be a caravan, may be one of your stone cottages in Cornwall. Doesn't matter which or what. It is the | | 80 close magic space for the chosen two and it is home."
Vaguener got up. He fetched from the table a pen and ink drawing which Buttifant had done that day. It was hardly dry. He looked evil. He pointed to the woman in the picture. She was short and thick, she was commonplace—yet there was something to her. And it was this 'something to it' which made Buttifant's work the popular success it was—although he always drew the same woman.
"Is this the chosen woman for the little space, Buttifant?"
He was sardonic, he was full of meaning. They both knew that the woman was just Jane.
"Every man," Buttifant temporised, "every artist I mean, has a particular model and he can't get away from her. He is at the mercy of the woman who influences him."
"The woman he loves?"
Vaguener was persistent and contemptuous and cold.
"Not of necessity." Buttifant laughed bitterly. "I know artists who could tell you tales about that; they don't draw the woman they love, but the woman who caught them earliest. Artists are gullible fish; a bent hairpin is bait enough."
"This one caught you earliest?"
"If you like. Put the thing back, Vaguener, please. It is no good my thinking about marriage. A man can only keep one woman at a time and I've got my mother."
"You could marry a woman you didn't have to keep. She might keep you." Vaguener was glaring.| | 81
Buttifant looked at him. "Take that drawing away, there's a good chap," he said mildly.
Vaguener did as he was told. He sat down again. He asked for another cigarette.
"Here's a box here," Buttifant said delicately and taking one of a hundred, hardly broken into, from the mantelshelf, "which I can't smoke. Turkish. Do they upset you? Do you mind smoking them? It would be a kindness; for they tempt me."
"Thank you." Vaguener looked at him steadily but the white blank face expressed nothing. "I'll be kind."
It was such a shaky laugh that Buttifant felt a tear in it.
"Is she also the woman who influenced you first." Vaguener pointed to the picture of a redundant blonde cut from a magazine and fastened by a drawing-pin to the wall.
She was beautiful, yet—perversely—she was not unlike Jane.
"She is any woman you like to make her. Your sister was bothering me about her the other day. Isn't it time," Buttifant pulled out his watch, "that she was in? Where's she gone?"
"A literary dinner," Vaguener spoke with jealous reverence.
"She's only a minnow." Buttifant sounded sweet. "She goes to see the big fish swim."
"You've got to have a ticket even for her pool." Vaguener had already finished his cigarette; he took another. "She went off in a great bustle and a noisy glory. Mrs. Welfare came in to hook her up. She | | 82 told me that Mr. Branch said it did her good to be seen about; he wished her to do it, whenever she got the chance, for it helped her."
"Branch is a humbug. Have you been to see him about your own work, Vaguener?"
"Yes. He was cordial, yet firm. He merely asked me to bring him what I'd done."
"That's Branch," Buttifant said. "Hopeful and implacable. Did you take him anything?"
"My dear fellow, I haven't done anything—to a positive finish. My work isn't of that quality."
The red look—of eye and cheek and neck—overspread Vaguener. Buttifant felt—as he had felt many times—that suppressed fire was here. Whose house would it burn down?
"I see," he said softly. "Oh I understand you—thoroughly."
"I know you do. I knew that directly you showed me your water-colours. You could make a name with water-colours."
"Perhaps—but I haven't time to try. I can't stop, no, not for half a day. Two brothers at boarding-school and a mother, bless her heart, who hasn't a notion of economy and never will have. And work, which must be done at once, coming in by every post."
"Suppose you didn't do it at once?"
"Somebody else would get the job. I should fall out, that's all." Buttifant's simple face—white and vacuous—seemed to shift.
"I'm not like you," he said, without a touch of ill nature, "I haven't anybody to fall back on."
"Well, there is plenty of Jane to lean against." | | 83 Vaguener burst into ugly merriment. "And here it is on the stairs. Can't you hear?"
"Did you leave a good fire in your place?" Buttifant stood up quickly. "She's got her key I suppose? She'll be cold."
"Excellent fire and she's got her key. Don't worry about Jane. She'll take off some of her finery and make some chocolate and then call across to us."
Vaguener was sprawling, he had his hands in his trouser pockets; Buttifant could see his fingers work.
"Anyone would think you had a revolver in there," he said, moving. "I'm going across the landing to see how she is."
Vaguener followed him. They went from Buttifant's set to Jane's.
She was in the sitting-room, making chocolate already. Cakes were on the table, her evening cloak and the lace thing she had worn on her head lay crumpled on a chair. Vaguener tidily picked them up. He looked at the lace.
"Spanish," he said to Buttifant, "and our mother's."
He folded it.
Buttifant went to the table where Jane was watching her pot on the spirit stove.
"Was it a nice party?"
"Yes, jolly. Such good speeches. I don't want any chocolate, I couldn't touch another thing. They did give us a spread. I'm making this for you and Johnny." She poured it out. "Here you are!"
She gave him a cup.
"I'm not sure—thank you—" Buttifant took his cup and stared at her, "that your neck needs a necklace. I think a pendant."| | 84
"I like the coral," Jane was loud. "I've got a pendant somewhere; a thing with blue stones. But the setting is so funny. You remember, Johnny; it was mother's."
"Yes, I remember." He took his cup from her and they settled down by the fire.
"Everybody admired my frock. I could see that." Jane was glowing. "It's only the second time I've worn it. You couldn't have chosen better, Johnny. It's just my particular shade of violet. I heard somebody say something behind my back about it as we were going in to dinner. I just caught the words Vaguener and violet; that was all. Wasn't it maddening? I hate to miss a compliment. But you see they know me; I was evidently being pointed out."
"I should like to go to one of these shows," Vaguener was staring at her oddly, "and see you in your glory, Jane."
"Would you? I should have thought they would have bored an outsider. I wish I'd known. Every member of the club may take a friend and the ticket is only half a guinea. I'd have paid that for you gladly."
"Thank you," said John-Andrew—sounding sleek.
Buttifant studied him; as he did, when he saw him with Jane. He pondered upon him. They were a diverse two. He supposed this was the outcome of marriage between an English parson and a Swiss inn-keeper. Jane was—Swiss! Dear fat Jane! So good and so clumsy! Jane, with her underlying quality of pathos. There was shadow to her and amazing sweetness of which she was wholly unaware. He could see through all her fripperies, both of body and brain.| | 85
He knew Jane or supposed that he did. Yet no man ever quite solves this puzzle—of the feminine—which God has set out on the slate. Neither he nor Vaguener had solved Jane.
"But the funniest thing was," Jane was telling them, "my meeting Gabriel Best. Do you remember Best, John-Andrew?"
"Farming people at St. Ives; up at Hellesveor. That square house, with the trees round it. And Gabriel, the second son, was always a funny boy; half asleep and sulky. I can see him driving cows through the town place now! The town place, Mr. Buttifant," she burst into laughter, "was nothing but a dirty old farm-yard. We are so funny down there, calling things by grand names. I should like you to see Cornwall. I wish I could take you."
"I wish you could."
"But people would talk." Jane was serious.
"They wouldn't if we were married."
"That's too big a price to pay for a trip. You must marry Becca, my little cousin. Then I'll come and stay."
"Why is she Becca?" asked Buttifant, almost impatiently—for already he was perversely sick of this girl.
"Her mother is Rebecca; so she is two letters—two decades—short."
"How about young Best?" Vaguener was impatient. "Go on, Jane."
"John-Andrew!" she sounded bitter and anxious. "That lout has written a book and it has sold. I forget how many thousands. Somebody did say. I | | 86 don't seem to have heard of it, but I've been working so hard since Christmas, I haven't looked at the reviews nor been to Mudie's. It is about Cornwall, just putting in all he knows, that's all. It won't last."
"What won't last?" Vaguener had gone chalk white. And in his arrogance he wondered at the note in Jane's voice. For what could any one's reputation matter to her?
How ugly he looked. Buttifant saw.
"His vogue, stupid," Jane was short. "Just a book of sketches that happens to have caught on——"
"Oh fiction!" The colour came back to Vaguener in a rush.
"Yes—love things. A little religion, a little love, a lot of dialect and——"
"Love!" Vaguener dropped back in his chair and laughed. "That!"
"You can't throw cold water on love let me tell you." Jane was business-like. "I must get the book. I'll catch his trick if I can."
"Did you speak to him?"
"Of course, that's what I'm coming to. He was so clean and so good-looking; carried himself so well. A new evening suit, if you please. That's a long way from driving cows through the town place? I was kind to him, and—he was quite simple. He didn't give himself any airs. I asked him how everybody was down at St. Ives and he told me what I didn't know. I do think Aunt Rebecca might have written. She is in London with Becca, Johnny. They are staying at a private hotel in Berner's Street. Gabriel had tea with them on Thursday. Doesn't it seem | | 87 funny to think of that! But he appeared to take it for granted. He has learnt good manners all at once. I don't suppose he drinks out of his saucer, or wipes his mouth with the back of his hand, or things like that. I shall write to Aunt Rebecca."
"He can marry Becca. She's the sort of girl who must marry somebody. We've always known that," Vaguener said, with queer rigidity.
"I wanted her for Mr. Buttifant."
Jane grinned across the hearth.
"Gabriel Best can have her," Buttifant said.
"She may have made up her mind to take somebody else." Jane seemed thoughtful. "Becca's a whirlwind. She isn't like any of us. I'm so sensible and John-Andrew's so gentle—aren't you, Johnny?"
She put out her fat hand and squeezed his. This was one of her little tricks. He appreciated it and it annoyed him horribly.
"He's awfully good," she spoke to Buttifant. "He brought me in these flowers to wear. And he's always ready to do any little marketing that I forget, aren't you, Johnny? He'll bring home anything I ask him, won't you? It was parsley for the melted butter yesterday, wasn't it?"
"Brought a sprig of it home in my mouth," Vaguener spoke bitterly to Buttifant.
"Your mouth! You didn't, Johnny!"
"Yes, I did," Vaguener nodded waggishly at Buttifant. "She patted my head, I wagged my tail. You missed the wagging of my tail, Jane; and you forgot to give me the bone from your chop at dinner to-day."
"I think you're absurd." She looked at him with | | 88 blank affection, then she sighed ever so softly—only Buttifant heard.
"But you help pay for your keep," she added heartily. "That's something."
"And have you taken out my licence?" Vaguener asked in that deeply foreboding note of his.
"Don't be silly, Johnny."
Jane leaned back in her chair, smoothing her violet frock with her hands. When she wore it she was like a vain bird. She looked at the two men critically; at their neat small limbs, at their two very different faces; Vaguener's was volcanic and Buttifant's was unwritten on. It was blank but responsive.
"I wish you two men were bigger," she said discontentedly.
"Which of us?" Buttifant asked her.
"It doesn't matter. I like a big man to look at, that's all. Gabriel Best is big. He looked awfully handsome to-night, Johnny."
"You'd better marry him, then. Don't waste him on Becca."
"He's too young for me. He is only twenty and I'm close on thirty. Just fancy! He has made his name—at twenty!"
"You can't make it properly at that age," Buttifant consoled her. "He's boggled the stitches. He'll be bursting into indecorous gaps quite soon. You see."
"I don't know about that." Jane poked her fire and the glad radiance evoked by her frock forsook her. "Sometimes I'm afraid. What will happen if?——"
"Nothing is ever going to happen," Buttifant's rich voice flowed along the channel of consolation, except that Branch will get you more commissions and at | | 89 higher prices. Or you may throw writing overboard and get married."
He leaned forward, looking at her: in the plenitude of her sumptuous raiment and her fine strong limbs, in the pathos of her plain face and common craft. He ached to redeem her.
"I should never marry."
She told him this: sounding austere, making him feel improper. Metaphorically, she boxed his ears—and he burned all over. She was more celibate than her brother. They were a cold pair. No fire in Jane; nothing but a swift attack of worldly anxiety. In John-Andrew the makings of a mighty blaze; yet not for love.
"The thing is," Buttifant's face became more expressionless than usual, "that we are all three at an awkward age. You are twenty-seven; don't jump forward and make it thirty. I am twenty-eight and Vaguener is thirty. We are too old for optimism and too young for philosophy."
"No philosophy would console me for failing," Vaguener said, quickly passionate, "no, not if I were ninety."
"Nor me," Jane shouted, "for having to go shabby. I do like to go and buy new clothes. I pride myself on my appearance. John-Andrew!" She turned to her brother and looked suddenly happy; she looked flippant and shallow and commonplace—and Jane! "I shall give a tea-party at 'my club. I shall ask Aunt Rebecca and Becca. I'll get a lot of good people together. It won't cost much and it will make a good impression on young Best."
"You'd ask him?"| | 90
"I'm going to cultivate him. Rising young men are most useful, aren't they, Mr. Buttifant?"
"Most," he confirmed her. "Ask me to the party too, won't you?"
"Of course I shall. That goes without saying. You are asked."
"Because," continued Buttifant, " he'll be an editor some day and it may be an illustrated paper. When he's worked out this Cornish vein he'll go into journalism; they do."
Vaguener was listening; he felt a reverence and a jealousy at the glib way Buttifant had—and Jane—of settling things.
They walked at their ease in a world—the world that he wanted. So far, he was squinting through the railings. There was a gate-keeper—and his name was Mr. Branch.
Jane began to talk of the people she would ask to her party. She ticked them off on her fingers, which—when she wore evening dress—she loaded with showy, inconsequent rings; things that she had picked out of trays in the second-hand shops; some good, some bad.
She mentioned names that made Vaguener tingle—for he had only seen them written on the backs of exclusive books. She proposed to bring together—to drink her tea—men and women that he reverenced. He could not imagine any of them drinking tea at all—and certainly not Jane's. He summed them—just by the line of a sonnet, or the phrase of an essay or, even, by beautifully cut cameo bits—of nature or feeling—taken from their novels. He consented to read novels; if they were of the best. He had never | | 91 read a line that Jane wrote and he hoped he never might. These exalted people, to him, were the things that they wrote; their heads were in Heaven. As to mouths that would drink or kiss! Irreverent!
He listened to the names. He was privately derisive: for he thought this was only Jane's usual nauseating brag. Buttifant knew better. He knew that Jane would get these people—who, after all, did not matter so much to their own world (which was his world and Jane's) as they did to Vaguener's. Nobody troubled to resist Jane; nobody wished to. She was so pushing and good-hearted; so obtuse and sunny. She was nothing and nobody; yet she was an influence at her club: by sheer sweet temper and solid shoving.
"They will all come," Buttifant said to her brother.
Vaguener believed him. His opinion of Jane modified. He had his moments of modification over Jane. At times, her wage-earning mind was not wholly intrusive; it seemed overlaid with something else—so much so that he could almost love this fine veneer of Jane's: but if it came to scraping down to native wood again!
Through all his horror of Jane and dislike of Jane, there ran sympathy. Yet he knew that any emotional episode with her would be disastrous. It would be scraping off veneer: and so ruining her as a piece of furniture with which he might live!
"Would your mother like to come? It would be a nice change for her. I should think Dulwich was awfully dull," said Jane to Buttifant.
"She'd love to come; thank you. But it would take many Dulwiches to make my mother dull."
"Would it?" Jane surveyed him casually. "I | | 92 thought her a cheerful person when you brought her here to tea. I'll send her a card."
"Do. She'll be delighted; it will give her a chance of wearing a new model gown she bought at the January sales."
"Did you pay much for it?" Jane was blunt. "They do cost a lot of money these dear relations, don't they?" She squeezed Vaguener's hand again. " I'll have to buy you a new bowler soon, Johnny. Or would you rather have a Homburg?"
"I paid quite enough," Buttifant was quick; he saw Vaguener's mad face; it touched and alarmed him, " but it suits her."
"I don't agree about model gowns." Jane was dogmatic and she was on her topic: for the one thing she thought she did understand was dress! "They make you look different from other people. I choose a style from a sales catalogue and then have it made to measure and trimmed according to my own ideas. That's the best way. I told your mother so when she was here. I offered to go shopping with her if she liked; for when people live in the suburbs they can't know what the latest novelty is. I'm always willing to go shopping with people and give them the advantage of my taste."
She was outrageous and yet she was sincere. You couldn't feel angry. Buttifant's smile was fond.
"And I should hate," she went on, getting warmer, " to pay a lot for a model gown. You've got to make it last and you get so sick of it."
"Not so sick as you do of yourself in navy suiting," answered Buttifant; still smiling—and thinking what a delightful bundle of complete delusion she was.| | 93
"Did your mother say that?"
"Sometimes she says things that sound spiteful; I don't suppose she means it. And it is ridiculous, Mr. Buttifant, to turn up your nose at navy serge. Why you can pay as much as eight guineas for a suit."
Her voice rose; and she nodded at him with vigorous good temper. "I don't believe in models and certainly not for your mother. No short fat woman should wear anything peculiar; she can't be too unobtrusive. You don't mind my being frank?"
"I'm used to it."
"If you are willowy," Jane stroked her violet body, "you can carry anything off. That was one of the things Branch said to-night. He looked at me and said that. And he smiled in his old way. I always think that Branch looks a mystic, he is like that old Madame What-was-her-name?"
"Yes, that's it, Blavatsky."
"So Mr. Branch was there." Vaguener, who had stared into the fire, roused himself. "Did he mention my work?"
"Your work. Why you haven't done any. I should have thought"—that thread of wistfulness which only Buttifant could hear crept into her voice—"that you might have knocked something off between November and now. Branch doesn't think you'll ever be saleable."
"I don't want to be—according to Mr. Branch."
"And he doesn't think," Jane proceeded arrogantly, | | 94 "that you've got the cut of a genius. Branch can spot them at once; he's handled so many. He found young Best."
"That plough boy a genius!" Vaguener was savage. "Why, I've clouted his head for not opening a gate down at St. Ives."
"There was Burns," Buttifant reminded him.
"I knew you'd say that." Vaguener twisted his sloping shoulders. He looked at Buttifant more tolerantly than he looked at Jane.
"I had to say it. Don't worry about this young Best. I've read his book. It is very good—and it is the merest flash in the pan, Buttifant assured him."
"That is what Branch said." Jane's hard eyes looked knowing; they attained to something very near expression—and it was relief. "He doubts if, even with Gabriel's next book, he'll be able to get him such a lump sum down. And then we went on talking of you, Johnny. We think you ought to go back to teaching. I should try for something after Easter if I were you."
"Would you?" asked John-Andrew.
He looked at her. The three of them were always exchanging glances. A queer, dumb eloquence was spreading in Jane's set of chambers.
"Of course I should. I don't mind keeping you a bit, old boy. It doesn't count in the housekeeping, and you're most awfully good. You never speak or even move if you see I'm thinking. It might be a dog or a cat in the room. But it isn't manly to be kicking your heels about, is it?"
"And sucking my big toe; no it isn't."
"You will turn everything into ridicule; there are | | 95 times when one doesn't want to joke. You really, Johnny, haven't a chance at writing. I do wish I could make you see it. But he won't even let me read his things," she addressed herself appealingly to Buttifant. "I can imagine them though."
"Oh you can imagine," Vaguener said.
"Of course. Isn't imagination my job? It's like Addison, I'll bet," she laughed good-temperedly in his dark face. "Those old slow coaches of the eighteenth century are quite out of the running. We mustn't write as they did. Addison wouldn't get a job as a proof reader nowadays. A man never knows what he's suited for any more than a woman knows what suits her."
"But there are exceptions, surely?" Buttifant's neat mouth moved.
"Oh of course, exceptions." Jane involuntarily ran her hand from her shoulder to her waist.
"I propose," Vaguener was deliberate, "to give myself three months more. Will that suit you and Mr. Branch?"
"Don't look so offended, Johnny. That's the worst of you; always so abominably sensitive. I was once, but knocking about rubs it off, doesn't it, Mr. Buttifant."
"It does. I also was very gloomy once," he said.
Vaguener looked at him in amazement; he saw the tenderness of his face and the compassion. He wondered how Buttifant could endure Jane. The stupendous anomaly was that he had evidently fallen in love with her. Vaguener wanted to strangle Jane—and he began to wonder if, in the end, he would. He went so far—feeling mad, as he did to-night—to | | 96 lift up his brown hand. He looked at it. Then he looked at her neck; so fat, so white, so short and with the coral necklace on it; that necklace which made such a clashing with bright violet. Just like her infernal stupidity!
"Three months and then——" he began.
"Yes—then?" Jane leaned forward.
"You'll see when it comes to then, my dear."
He started up. Buttifant stood too. Jane yawned.
"It's awfully late." She arose, she looked at the clock. "And I've got to do five thousand words to-morrow morning. Think of that, Johnny."
She laughed and thumped his back.
He flinched. He cowered, so it seemed to Buttifant.
He turned on his heel and went into his bedroom without one more word. Those narrow shoulders of his looked crushed and dangerous.
Instinctively, hardly knowing why, Jane and Buttifant, standing up close together, holding hands in the act of saying good night, held their breath and listened. There wasn't a sound in Vaguener's room: it was the silence of praying.
"I expect he's leaning out of the window," Jane whispered. "He does that sometimes."
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