- CHAPTER III
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JOHN-ANDREW dressed himself with almost tearful solemnity for Jane's tea. It was only a party at Jane's club—yet it was Literature to him: incongruous as that golden word was in connection with Jane!
He put on a frock-coat, for he thought it was the right thing. He remained provincial. Jane went on first. She wanted to be early so that she might fuss over the arrangements. Buttifant was to go late; he always made the most of daylight.
Vaguener walked down Piccadilly alone, feeling airy, looking hopeful; he felt sure that the end of his anguish was in sight. When he came into contact with really literary men—or even women—they would hail him by instinct. Distinguished minds held no communion with people like Mr. Branch and like Jane.
Mr. Branch was going to the tea; but he did not propose to speak to the brute. He had once detected covert amusement upon the shining plain of the agent's big face.
The only use he had to-day for Mr. Branch—and Jane—was that they might introduce him to people. This done, he, by his personality, would do the rest.
It was a delicious day; early February, with the first daffodils in the roomy baskets of the strapping flower girls. Such a pretty blue sky chased across the | | 98 London parks that he thought of Cornwall. He looked at sooty sheep under the bare trees. Down there in Cornwall, at St. Ives—at home—sheep upon the hills, that were sharp green in spring-time and blood crimson when autumn came, down there, then, sheep upon the hills looked like the boulders of scattered stone.
He had begun to long for the quietness of the country, for the consoling solitude: when he had made his name he would go back to Cornwall and stay there. He would work, contemplate and rejoice. Once he had thought that he never wished to see it again. That was because he had been restless, wretched and ambitious there. His cousin Kenneth had priggishly bossed him, his aunt Rebecca had asked questions. When his name was made, when it was such a big name that even fishermen upon the wharf knew it—and regarded it as something mysteriously rich; then he would go back to St. Ives; he would feast upon the homage of his neighbours. Carelessly—for he detested philanthropy—he would throw money to the poor.
Jane's club was at one of the big houses in Piccadilly. When he got in at the door he found himself closed around by stereotyped magnificence. The garish modern touch got on his nerves. It depressed him and his glad dreams died. He was announced, he moved forward and his limbs felt heavy.
Jane was at the door of the reception room receiving people. She gave him a sisterly grin and a critical sisterly glance. He felt that something about him wasn't right and said to her when he was close enough:
"Is my tie straight? Why do you stare?"
"It isn't your tie," Jane whispered back and she | | 99 let out a rather uncomfortable giggle. "Get on: you are blocking the way. I'm on the look out for young Best; he promised faithfully to come. Gó and talk to Becca, she is over there with Auntie. I haven't had time to speak to them."
Vaguener moved on. He had only gone a few steps when a girl detached herself from the throng and enveloped him. That, so he thought, was the way of putting it; his cousin Becca enveloped him. She drew him to the end of the big room where her mother stood, looking sulky and sharp, in her solid good clothes, with her astringent country face.
"I've been waiting for you, Johnny," Becca said. "I don't care about Jane's party but I did want to see you."
She was nineteen and looked younger. Her flaming cheeks and intent eyes told her secret. She was in love with John-Andrew; seriously, deeply and for ever. That was Becca's way with her heart. It was exclusive and strong. She would be expressive and changeless.
"Did you?" he said listlessly. "That was kind."
He hardly felt the close pressure of Becca's hand, he was totally dead to its significance. He was looking at the people and he wondered which was who. The room was full of somebodies and nobodies. In this well-dressed, gabbling crowd were the people who would deliver him from Jane, who would set him on his feet, who—in a word—would recognise him at once and mark his import.
His Aunt Rebecca took his hand, she hesitated a moment, then she warmly kissed him. She was a wholesome, simple woman, with a homely tongue.
She had been looking at all these people who | | 100 mattered nothing to her: nor did she conceive that they meant anything much to the rest of the world. She was angry with Jane for neglecting her; it was not good manners.
"How are you getting on, John-Andrew?" she asked him maternally. "Jane says you haven't got another school yet?"
Vaguener saw that Mr. Branch was talking obsequiously to a short man with a furious moustache. He wondered who the man was. He meant something or Branch would not stand there wasting time and smiling so steadfastly.
"I've given up teaching," he told his relative stonily. "I have taken up literature."
"My dear boy, but it doesn't pay nearly so well, does it? And Jane works so hard that——"
"Oh, mother, he doesn't want to talk about getting his living? People don't come to tea-parties for that."
"Jane says they do, my dear. All on the make; that was her expression about her guests."
Aunt Rebecca found herself in a society of which she knew nothing and consequently of which she did not approve. She had been standing neglected in a corner and she came to the conclusion that although the room was handsome and the dresses expensive, the company was not well bred. People in the neighbourhood of St. Ives—which stood for her sole world—were dull and they were different.
She preferred them; for she distrusted odd ways of dressing yourself and an informal mode of greeting.
She said something of this to her nephew.
"People in Cornwall, John-Andrew, dress well as | | 101 you know; everything good—the fashions are excellent at Penzance—but they are not extreme. I don't like that woman's neck wear."
She indicated a dress cut low at the throat.
"There isn't any wear, mother," Becca laughed. "That's it. Go and get us some tea, Johnny?"
He went off. His spirits drooped. Mr. Branch—from whom he would have condescended to take introductions—had not seen him; Jane was at the door with a group of people. She was laughing and showing her teeth; her hat was crooked and between her smiles she looked cross. Something had upset her.
As he steered his way back across the noisy room with the cups of tea, he was struck and cheered by the beautiful flame of Becca's hair. It appeared as if never before had he seen her hair. Red, deep, dull—and such lots! He knew nothing of it, he would never know—but his grandfather had wooed a woman with a head like Becca's! She was living at Towednack now and she was close on ninety.
Everything was fantastically happening over again. He and his grandfather were to be identical: cold, ambitious, guilty; foredoomed to fail. He regarded his cousin's hair with gratitude; it was beautiful and all loveliness cheered him. God knew he needed comfort. As to falling in love with it, as to feeling any tingle of a young man's passion, he was a stranger to this. He would always be. The celibate drop had come down to them. It was his heritage and Jane's.
This, the family living and the family mystery were What their grandfather had bequeathed.
He said, as he handed her cup:| | 102
"Your head is the loveliest lire that angels ever lighted."
She stood dumb, radiant, confused.
"Don't be profane, John-Andrew." His aunt was blunt. "Don't pick up the tricks of all these people. Standing here, knowing not a soul, I've heard some extraordinary things said."
Becca never spoke; she was quivering.
"But it is pretty hair." Vaguener awkwardly touched the great knot that stood out under the brim of his cousin's hat.
"That's according to fancy." His aunt looked at her girl. "Red hair, so I tell Becca, is like olives and caviare and other odd things to eat. You are greedy over them or they make you sick."
"You must find a greedy man, Becca," John-Andrew said with gentle constraint, with a chill in his voice.
"I could make him greedy," the girl said swiftly and as swiftly she looked up. There was challenge in her glance and infinite pleading.
Her eyes were small and dark, as his were. They swum in candid eloquence. If ever a woman wooed a man she did.
"Eating isn't in my way," he said; sounding detached, looking at her with amused softness; speaking to her as if she were a child and drawing subtly back.
"You two are ridiculous," his aunt laughed—and her laugh was shrill—with her manner and her quick glance and her curiously satirical mouth. "The idea of eating hair!"
"Makes your throat tickle, doesn't it, mother?" | | 103 Becca absurdly kissed her. She seemed to overbrim with feeling.
"Let's go away," she said, "Jane's party is a silly affair."
"My dear, I said so ten minutes after we came into the place but you would stay."
"Yes I would stay." Becca stared down at her cousin—she was tall and he was short. "I wanted to see you, John-Andrew."
"I was glad to see you, for I don't know anybody here," he answered simply.
Yet he turned from her. With a despondent glare he surveyed the company. He pondered upon it. He asked himself—was the vital person here? He sought for recognition in all the faces. He had buoyed himself by meditating upon this tea-party of Jane's. He had made himself believe that there would be people there—or at least a person—who would lift him out of the mire; the mire of his life with Jane.
And there was nobody. They were all greeting each other and cackling and laughing. They streamed on; in the noisiest of brooks. Not one of them even looked his way. They made their own world and it was full. Jane was surrounded, Mr. Branch had disappeared. Vaguener stood ignored, broken, his heart dying. He had his aunt and his cousin Becca. That was all. Just these two—with their airs of orchards and blue seas; and shallow great pans of cream. His relatives expressed the Cornish things.
"Jane's got her back up about something," his aunt was saying, in her observant homely way. "Can't you see how she jumps if a new person comes into the room? She's looking for somebody."| | 104
"Buttifant perhaps," John-Andrew said listlessly. "He is coming on later with his mother."
"That man on the other side of the landing? The man who came into Jane's apartments when we had tea with you last Sunday? "
"Yes, that's Buttifant. He's a black and white artist; also he is a Dean's son."
"A Dean's son! My dear Johnny! I didn't know they did."
His aunt was impressed.
"Pictures in books. Dean's sons!"
"Why not? The Dean is dead and he didn't leave his wife and children a penny. Buttifant discovered he had a profitable trick of scratching."
"Deans are so respectable."
His aunt's voice softened upon a note of reverence.
"You will think better of Jane's work now," her nephew said; and, just speaking of Jane's work—carelessly—his face showed violence.
"I don't know about that," she was resolute. "We don't meet them about, these scribbling people, do we, Becca? There are writers and painters at St. Ives, but they only know each other."
Becca did not answer. She was standing by John-Andrew. A look of wonder was on her face;she seemed out of the world.
"Go and fetch me a cake," her mother said vigorously. "No, don't move, Johnny. Let her. I want to talk to you about your prospects."
When she was alone with him she added:
"Becca's in love with you. Don't encourage her, for you haven't a penny. Don't make a fool of the | | 105 child. I'll find her a good husband, if that is what she wants."
"In love! With me!"
His thin mouth twisted.
"You needn't look as if you had swallowed a spoonful of mustard. Becca's a dear girl, and pretty too—if you like that colour."
"Colour! It isn't that. We don't marry in our family."
"I did," his aunt looked at him, "though I've no patience with this improper nonsense of falling in love. I felt cross with Becca for looking at you as she did just now. I was ashamed. I felt as you feel—shy."
They looked at each other. Perfect understanding stood in their eyes. The family chilliness fanned them.
"Shy—that's it," John-Andrew admitted gravely.
"Marriage," his aunt spoke quickly, for she saw her daughter edging a way back to them with a large plate of pastries, "is a matter of suitability. In my case I married a man thirty years my senior. He wanted a housekeeper, I wanted a home. I chose to rule an old man in preference to being bullied by one. Your grandfather was a handful, John-Andrew."
"So we've been told," he said.
"Oh I don't mean the murder," she lowered her voice. "He was hard to live with, so I got married. It was a good way out, don't you think? Mr. Marshall adored me—but I had to put up with something you see."
"A very good way. I can imagine that marriage would be that; a way out," her nephew said.| | 106
Becca was at his elbow, holding the cakes near his nose.
"Gabriel's here," she said to her mother, "I spoke to him, I told him to come to us in this corner. But Jane's got hold of him, she's introducing him to people. They all buzz round him like bees. And she looks in a much better temper, so I suppose she was waiting for him and not for Mr. Buttifant."
"She wouldn't bother about Buttifant," Vaguener said.
"Of course not, she's sure of him. That young man is in love with Jane, although why I can't think. For a plainer girl than Jane you don't often meet," remarked his aunt.
"Do you always know when people are in love, mother? "
"Always, my dear. What's the good of being a mother else? Here comes young Best. I suppose people take him for a gentleman, but I can see him carrying buckets of pig swill across the fields between Hellesvean and Hellesveor. I always shall."
Mrs. Marshall laughed good-temperedly. She meant no ill-will; but the mere idea of Jane being desirable or Gabriel Best being anything but a farm boy amused her intensely. To her philosophy, God when He made His little manikins put them each one on a ledge: they could not get off it. Sometimes they pretended to, sometimes people thought they did.
"There's Buttifant coming in now with his mother?" John-Andrew glanced towards the door.
"What a nice-looking woman!" His aunt brightened. "Can't you bring them over, Johnny?"
"Yes, I'll go and get them."| | 107
He went away. He seemed so glad to go that Becca felt he skipped. Her little dark eyes romantically followed him. Her mother regarded her uncomfortably.
"We've lost Johnny now," the girl said at the end of live minutes, through which she and her mother kept silence. "Is he going to be a big person too, like all the rest?"
"Big persons! My dear, they are nothing outside this room. You may take it from me, Becca, that your cousin John-Andrew will never be so much as poor Jane. And as to Gabriel Best——"
"Gabriel!" Becca said. "Half London is talking about him. Just think of all the papers we've seen his portrait in!"
"Oh he's a good-looking boy," her mother returned.
"When I went to fetch the cakes they were tumbling over each other to talk to him."
"We've talked to him often enough, Becca, and kept our feet. This place seems to me mad. I wish John-Andrew would come back."
"He doesn't seem as if he meant to come back, mother. He is talking to Jane, he is asking her something and she is shaking her head. You see that man with the big face? The one talking to Johnny now. He is Jane's agent and Gabriel's too. He made Gabriel."
"Wicked stuff and nonsense, Becca. What things they do say."
"You can ask Gabriel himself, mother, for here he comes."
Gabriel joined them; flushed with triumph, giving himself equal airs, if not superior. Becca's mother | | 108 failed to understand: he was a farming boy down there at St. Ives; she was the daughter of the late Rector and the mother of the present one. Yet he surveyed her—here and now in this strange room—with a quizzical glance. She would be glad to get home again and weigh up human values.
She said to him—as she had said to John-Andrew,
"How are you getting on, Gabriel?"
He returned with a great happy laugh, throwing his handsome head back,
"I have got on, Mrs. Marshall. I am at the top of the tree."
"Take care the first gale doesn't blow you down then. We have rough storms in Cornwall."
"It would take a bigger gale than the Atlantic blows to dislodge me," he was lofty and glad and good-humoured. "I'm made—for life; Branch says so and he did it."
"Didn't I tell you so, mother?"
Becca was looking at John-Andrew as he moved amongst people at the other end of the crowded room; convoyed from one to the other by Branch. She marked his manner as he talked to these strangers; she saw his face, eager and strained and defiant. She was perplexed and pained. He did not look in his element; lie looked almost humble,he seemed to cringe. Through her young strong passion—the feeling that was so new and so overwhelming that it sent her to sleep on the other sides of herself—there stirred the maternal anxiety of a woman who loves: she would die before she would let John-Andrew be hurt! She hated those men and those women who chose to ignore him; or who appeared to be amused by him. He did not | | 109 merge with the company. She was watching him; and she noticed that Jane watched too. Jane was talking to Buttifant; the little man with the white quiet face. Buttifant's mother, fat and beautifully attired, was standing near. Becca turned to Gabriel.
"I told mother that Mr. Branch made you. Could he do the same for John-Andrew?"
"Don't know," Gabriel's voice was careless. "I didn't know your cousin wrote. Branch has got to have something to go on; a little dust."
"Or you could spare a rib?"
"Now this is irreligious, Becca," her mother said. "Kenneth would be shocked to hear you."
"Dear old Kenneth! He is so devout and so literal. We don't mean any harm, do we, Gabriel? Would you give a rib for John-Andrew's making? Come now!"
She laughed in his face; not looking up, not looking down. They were of equal height and a handsome pair.
Her mother watched them. Gabriel Best was in love with her girl! And her girl was in love with John-Andrew! A pretty state of things. The family chill of amazed disdain ran through this elder woman; she felt a distaste for her own daughter. The look upon Becca's face when she spoke to John-Andrew, the look upon Gabriel's when he spoke to Becca! People should get married without making a fuss; they should not have feelings, before or after. She must talk to Kenneth. He would be of a kin rigour. He had sworn himself to celibacy because he conceived this to be the duty of a priest. His mother had said, looking at him with affectionate approval, | | 110 "You would be a celibate in Salt Lake City, Kenneth."
He hadn't denied this.
"Would I give a rib! I expect I'd give my whole skeleton if you asked for it," Gabriel was saying to Becca. "Yes: you should play with my bones."
The girl flushed. She read the look in his eyes; solid-looking eyes, brown and flashing; big and with splendid lashes. He was a pastoral type of boy. When Mrs. Marshall said she imagined him with a bucket of swill going across the fields, this expressed him. His russet skin and thick frank features, his brown throat and red young mouth spoke solely of farming. He had a mat of hair. It was a ruddy thatch—and the woman who loved him would want to dig her fingers into it and laugh. He was a boy who should make love upon a hill in bare reality; not write about love in the thickness of a city.
"We read a story of yours in one of the magazines before we came out, Gabriel," Becca said. "What a lot of things you are writing!"
"Stories that we already know," her mother was brisk. "About old people and old ways. Stories out of the Digey; I could tell them myself, for I know them all. There is nothing in it, yet you seem to have turned people's heads."
"Yes, I've turned the head; the head of this great serious London."
Gabriel's voice lifted. People stopped talking, looked at him, prepared to listen to him. The word had gone round that he was most romantic; he was a ploughboy.
"So you like London, do you? It's about time now, | | 111 "Becca's mother looked at the clock on the wall, "for milking cows. Wouldn't you rather be doing that? Are you ever going to do it again?"
"I shall never do it again," patronising incredulity ran in his voice. "But I don't forget the way of doing it—and that's the thing! Mud in the town place, the moon coming up over Rosewall; the sounds and the smells and the look of the beasts' hides in the fading light, and the groaning of mother's cider press, as I put my leg over the stone stile."
"The pad of their feet in the soft mud and the funny slow swishing of their tails and the sound of the milk when it splashes," he added almost reverently.
"Well, I'm glad you like London. We shall be glad to get back to St. Ives, shan't we, Becca?"
"You're not going yet?" he asked anxiously.
"At the end of the week we are. And we're going from Jane's party now. Come along, Becca, we'll find Jane and say good-bye. It is the most unsocial and uncomfortable affair I ever was at. I feel as if I'd been standing in a corner on one leg all the afternoon. Not a soul has spoken to us but you and Johnny."
"You soon get used to London society," Gabriel told her. "I'm quite in the swim. I've been out to dinner every night this week and to lunch three days in the week and this is my second At Home since last Wednesday. I hardly get time to do my work and editors keep asking for it. And I'm getting known all over London by my walk. People turn round when I pass."
"They are looking for a yoke on your shoulders. Better come back to Cornwall, Gabriel, and put what | | 112 money you've made into the farm and marry a nice girl."
He looked at his Rector's mother blandly. He was not offended, he was sorry for her and gentle with her. She was simply a Rector's mother, while he was the great Gabriel Best. How could he expect her to understand? This ran through his head quite simply.
He guilelessly believed himself to be the best known person in London. If he had been told that there was a single cab driver out there in Piccadilly who did not know the name of Gabriel Best, who had not been moved by Gabriel Best's Cornish sketches, he would not have believed. He would have remained gentle, boastful, bland and unperturbed—for the thing was impossible! He was always charming and gentle; for he had no need to give himself airs, and he knew that humility was the proper attribute of genius. People said how thoroughly unspoiled he was.
"Here comes Jane," Becca said. "And she's bringing Mr. Buttifant. You liked him, mother."
"I did, my dear. Nothing in him; but a modest young man."
"He's quite a good sort," Gabriel smiled. "A hack you know, but a good sort. There are differences in art. There are classes. Buttifant is the middle class—he's safe. I'm the aristocratic class—I'm sensitive. Your niece, Miss Vaguener, is lower class. She goes out with her market basket on Saturday night; she has the weekly wages mind and she knows it. I've told her so."
He laughed joyously. With the exquisite arrogance of successful twenty, he carelessly comprised the world.| | 113
"She turns off more work than anybody else and it is the most shoddy. In our world," his smile was dazzling, "classes, as you know them, don't count, Mrs. Marshall. I, a farmer's boy, rank with the dukes. Does that amaze you?"
"Do you? Yes it does," said Mrs. Marshall.
Becca laughed in his face. She said nothing. He laughed back; lover-like and delightful.
"You won't marry a duke?" he asked, dropping his voice, his eyes, behind the banter, flaming with a fire which she very well knew.
She trembled. He felt for her then as she felt for John-Andrew! What a marvellous world it was! A thrilling world! They stood there staring at each other and quietly trembling.
"I won't presume to marry above me," she said.
Then Jane came up behind and thumped her in a hearty cousinly way between the shoulders. Yoú could do as you chose with relations and say what you chose: this was one of Jane's theories. And to thump people was a trick of hers.
"Johnny worried me to introduce him to people," she said. "I wish he wouldn't. What's the good? You can't make a reputation or a living just by hobnobbing with celebrities."
"If you could, what a boon I should be," handsome Gabriel was serious. "I talk to everybody who is brought up to me and introduced. It was awfully good of you to ask me this afternoon and to bring together such interesting people to meet me."
Jane looked at him narrowly, with those china-blue, doll's eyes of hers which betrayed nothing. Her aunt Rebecca's eyes bolted; for she had a religious sense | | 114 of station: she could not accustom herself to Gabriel's black coat, so beautifully cut; to say nothing of his superb brag. She had a vague and general idea that before long he would be put in his place.
"Johnny," Jane seemed worried, "has such queer ways. He isn't used to society; he is too genial and too nervous and too sulky. People stare. And then he will say 'Mr. Branch' over and over again. I wish he wouldn't."
Her nervous laugh was racked and eloquent. Jane did not seem herself. Buttifant, coming up with his mother, went to her quietly when the introductions were over and the two elder women were talking. He asked,
"What's the matter?"
"How did you know anything was? It's Johnny with his absurd idea of writing. I wish he wouldn't. It only makes him absurd. People laugh at him."
"No, they don't. They think him an interesting chap. He's different."
"That's just it. He hasn't done anything, Mr.Buttifant. He hasn't any right to be different. Now with Gabriel," she dropped her voice—yet hardly enough so Buttifant feared—"there is some reason. He talks like a young ass but——"
"He has bought the right to bray?"
"Yes, that's it. Johnny mustn't bray, he mustn't have long ears. He insisted upon being introduced to nearly everyone. I wish he wouldn't. He came up to me looking quite violent. He doubled up his fists. He insisted. Oh here he comes! I am glad. I can keep my eye on him."
John-Andrew joined them. What they noticed | | 115 most was his concentrated look at Gabriel and the swift way in which he turned from him. He started talking in a high voice to Mrs. Buttifant. She regarded him kindly, with her large deep brown eyes that were so unlike Jane's. Buttifant's mother had whole wells and worlds of feeling lying in those eyes; yet she felt nothing much—it was just accident: the way they were set. She was fat and kind and reposeful and shallow. Her one distinction was a native elegance.
Beneath that quiet glance of hers Vaguener became imperceptibly stilled. He ceased to twitch his hands and pull at the lapel of his coat, he talked less boastfully, he no longer quoted the things that he had just now been saying to celebrities. The last time he put his hand up to his coat Jane had snatched it down, then she sniggered,
"Why did you wear a frock coat, John-Andrew? Nobody does. I wish you would not. I wish I'd thought to mention it."
"You don't generally forget to mention it, Jane." The rest of them felt uncomfortable; there seemed an ugly attitude between brother and sister.
The room was emptying. Jane flounced off to say good-bye to certain people that she wanted to stand well with, and to have a last word with Branch.
Gabriel remained beside Becca. Buttifant's mother talked to Vaguener. Buttifant in the pauses of his polite dialogue with Becca's mother studied the girl.
What a lovely flower she was! Something subtle growing in a garden. He put her in with columbines, Solomon's seal—and all those blossoms that do not flaunt. The world grew mere pretty girls by the | | 116 bushel; lovely skins, bright eyes, bright hair—what a crop it was! And how common!
But this girl Becca, with dull red hair, not a glint in the wicked, sulky mass of it; this girl with little eyes set like the petals of a black pansy, one each side her nose and close to it—and stuck on crooked! This girl with the flawless, yellowed skin and long raggedly cut mouth that was so vividly red! She was peculiar; she was priceless. Gabriel Best was in love with her. She had lost her heart to Vaguener, with his frigidity and his suggested madness. When she lost her heart—it would mean losing it a long way off; not just stooping down and finding it at her feet and replacing it.
Buttifant stood quiet, white and little, talking disjointedly to her mother; who thought him well-bred and feeble-minded.
He supposed that, as an artist, he ought to have fallen in love with a distinguished-looking girl—and not with this fat, commonplace Jane. Jane—who set his teeth on edge! Jane with her blunt tongue and her raucous laugh and her noisy clothes! It was an astonishing thing, it was part of the whimsicality of the world—but artists never married decorative women. He was going to marry Jane; when he could afford it. Heaven knew when that would be; for his mother and his little brothers at boarding school were expensive to keep up. He would not, once he'd got her, allow Jane to slave for money any more. She should find time to polish herself and keep quiet: she should attain to luminous repose. Vaguener had the same design for his sister. He meant to take Jane in hand when he had made his fortune. They neither of | | 117 them counted on Jane's hearty and obstinate vulgarity; and on that honest industry of hers. There was another thing—Buttifant brooded upon his chances with Jane—he must overcome her coldness. He'd got to set light to her somehow.
Then he heard Becca speak. She was talking to Gabriel about a story of his.
"You were wrong to let it end unhappily. I know he didn't love her but she loved him. I could make any man greedy if I wanted to. I said so to John-Andrew just now."
That was it. Buttifant nodded—and Becca's mother wondered why. He would make Jane greedy—when he found time, and when he could afford to. For the present, here he was being whipped on from day to day doing popular black and white work and paying bills at Dulwich. Even Jane must wait.
He watched her waddle across the room towards their group. How badly she walked! And what a dear she was!
"We'd better be moving on, Johnny," she said on her high arrogant note. "Is anybody coming our way? You are, Mr. Buttifant?"
"No; he's coming down to Dulwich with me, aren't you, Arnold?" His mother's quiet voice seemed to take him by the collar. She detested Jane.
"Oh yes, that's settled, dear, and we'll be going," he returned.
"We want an omnibus to Oxford Street," Aunt Rebecca said. "You'd better come back with us, Johnny and Jane, to supper."
"I—I," Vaguener stammered, "must go straight to Gray's Inn. There's some work I must do."| | 118
Jane looked at him. "And you've only got three months to do it in." She sounded waggish. "He's going to take another mastership then, Auntie."
She snatched at Gabriel's arm. "Let's have dinner together, you and I, Gabriel. I know a place in——"
"I know lots of places," he stopped her with his irrepressible vitality, "I know London through and through, and the chaps at the eating places know me. I wish," he looked at Becca, "that you'd come too."
"She's coming back to Berners Street with me," her mother answered firmly. "If you want to say good-bye to us, Gabriel, come to tea at four to-morrow."
They all went together into Piccadilly. Vaguener was left alone at last upon the lighted pavement: in the glare and tumble of the glowing thoroughfare. He stared confusedly, for his head was spinning—and his heart how vengeful it was. How it ached!
Jane's last words, Jane's knowing look as she got into the taxi with young Best and drove off, remained with him. She had said,
"We'll go and feed and talk about our work, Gabriel."
He dug his hands deep into his entirely empty pockets. He walked—fast and desperate—towards Gray's Inn.
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