- CHAPTER IV
|<< chapter 03||< prologue||chapter 05 >||chapter 13 >>|
AFTER the party Jane caught cold and took to her bed. This meant that Mrs. Marshall Land Becca did not return to Cornwall; they stayed in London to look after Jane. It meant that Buttifant, his face more like white blotting-paper than usual, was always coming into the set with offerings for the invalid: Vaguener used to grin—t the blots upon Buttifant's face. It meant the visits of a doctor and the threaten of a long bill; for Jane had a touch of bronchitis. It meant that Gabriel Best, on the bare chance of meeting Becca, also came to Gray's Inn with offerings. It meant that Vaguener was wretched and moody and barren and sensitive—believing that they all commented upon him behind his back: also that he was brought to close quarters with Mrs. Welfare, the charwoman.
He was not of the stuff that can get diversion out of coarse minds. Mrs. Welfare—in addition to Jane, in addition to everything else—got upon his nerves. He found himself looking back affectionately to those days when Jane had tapped away steadily three hours each morning, driving him mad with her easy vitality.
Mrs Welfare used to talk to him when she laid the cloth for his solitary dinner. Jane had a diet of her own; hot stuff, served in a cup. Sometimes Mrs. | | 120 Welfare warmed it up and sometimes Vaguener did. Sometimes Becca and her mother came along to make special dishes. And they sent to Cornwall for cream.
Mrs. Welfare was noisy and capable; she had the useful quality of giving people what she called "the rough side of her tongue."
She hated John-Andrew, for she considered that he gave himself airs. He was what she called lackadaisical. And who was he? Now Mr. Buttifant was an affable little chap and Miss Vaguener, poor soul, was a perfect lady. These things she said to Mr. Welfare when she got back to her own fireside in Little Coram Street. She usually found him at home, for he was usually out of a job.
All the morning, John-Andrew, now that Jane was ill, would sit by the fire in the parlour reading. He took the deepest chair, he stretched his legs, he, as it were, unbound his brain. He simply would not think of the pile of scribbled on paper in his bedroom; for he meant to give himself a rest. That writing-table by the window, where he had struggled to express himself! He had failed and yet he knew that someíthing strong was there to express. He was a genius—but Jane with her common craft and Mr. Branch with his commercial mind, they dammed him up. He mattered to the world—immensely: but the fool of a world had not felt its need of him yet.
If he had only found his chance—as young Best had found his! If he had been less of a genius—he would have been more! If he could have belittled himself and written yarns about people in the Digey and down by the wharf at St. Ives, as Best had done, | | 121 then he would have been, in the opinion of the world, a far bigger man than Best.
Oh it was nothing—all that this farm boy had done! Just to write about firelight in the Stennack cottages; and the sound of the mine at work—hadn't he thought of these things himself and felt them? What was it then Yet Gabriel was flattered and sought after; he was getting rich: while he, John-Andrew Vaguener—the really gifted one—had perfectly empty pockets and had been snubbed, by celebrities at Jane's party. He was laughed at by Mr. Branch and pitied by Buttifant. He had nothing to smoke, he could not even buy a newspaper. When one day his boot lace broke, he felt frenzied, for he had not a penny.
Just to write down all the things that came into your head about Cornwall: women standing in the deep, brightly-coloured doorways; wildly vivid rags of washing spread upon the beach; the curing of pilchards in the cellars; the walking of old sailors along the quay—just two or three steps and then back, as if they were on deck: the starry fleet of lighted herring boats floating out at dusk; the reflection from Godrevy lighthouse on your bedroom wall if you lay awake at night; old tales of smuggling and the press-gang; the colour and the joy and the sorrow and the hard work and the hard swearing of those barbarians down there—all these things that Gabriel had noted! What was it after all? He also had seen them and felt them: yes, deeper feeling and more things! The taste of the cream, the tradition of the steaming pasties, yellow saffron buns and the heavy Gold Eyes cake that they eat at harvest time— | | 122 didn't he know it? And could not an educated man—an Oxford graduate—have made a better job of it than a youth who had carted dung and milked cows and fed the chickens and driven the milk cart over the cobble stones? And fetched water from the reservoir; plenty of it—for his mother's washing day! Vaguener could have wept.
His spirit wanted the relief of what a woman would call a good cry. In his mood, Jane would have reddened her nose and swelled her eyes; then she would have tied on a veil and gone off down Regent Street to buy things. Very often—far more often than even Buttifant suspected—Jane's biggest shopípings had been preluded by bitter tears.
John-Andrew would never have suspected it; to him Jane was a person who wrote bad fiction and bought worse frocks.
He used to sit in the deep chair through these long mornings while she lay in bed. He could hear her coughing; and he could hear Mrs. Welfare making more racket than she need have done while she washed dishes. He seemed to read the paper most assiduously but his brain never contained one single sentence. He was thinking feverishly of his own affairs; he was consumed by horrible inertia and more horrible sufferíing. All his life he had wanted to do something strong, beautiful and compelling; something to make the world stare. He went back in his mind to those days at Oxford when he was blazing with desire to take the family living and teach Christianity, which he believed then to be the loveliest thing the world knew. Jane knew nothing of this. She only knew of his surly curt refusal to take the family living | | 123 when the time came and—constantly—she still called him a fool. But he knew. Hadn't he been enrapt, aglow! In his own mind, he had been Archíbishop of Canterbury—and higher yet, if it could be. Yes; a great prelate, a great religious influence; a missionary of the S. Francis Assisi sort, a saint also very likely, a hundred years hence! For they still made saints and he had believed that, as the world went on, it would become more spiritual and so there would be more saints. This age of science and dry materialism would drift aside and the sun—of revealed religion—would shine through. In that dazzling age, long after he was dead, the name of John-Andrew Vaguener would shine.
He had felt all this, he had believed fervidly: in Christianity, in himself. Then the passionate Faith went. He believed no longer in any dogma: yet he still had left the most glorious belief in himself. So he took to teaching in schools, just as a stop gap, just while he arranged his thoughts. Then he could stand teaching no longer, so he had come to Jane and here he was! And there, through the wall on the writing-table by the narrow window, were those efforts of his brain at which Mr. Branch would not even look. He would smile, wave his fat hand and say blandly, "My dear fellow, there is no market."
Already, with this record of total non-achievement, he was weary of writing and his brain got clogged. The same slow death came to his heart over writing as had come to his heart over religion. Yet the strength was there—he'd swear it. He had in him the capacity for great Fame. He would get there. He had not found the right road; that was all.| | 124
Yet his enthusiasms, so far, had dwindled and died off before they came to fruit. So he began to ask himself if he could by any possibility ever do anything strong. Suppose he turned navvy and took to the pick! Wouldn't paralysis grip him round the waist? Wouldn't the pick fall and smash his own foot—or somebody else's?
He was effete, yet he longed for strength—and he would have it. He had not found himself; he wanted putting in the way—that was all.
Outside there, beyond the staid confines of this old Square, were strength, labour, achievement and manliness—in ten thousand forms! Yet here he sat, idle, brain-bound. For the life of him he could not stir, although his soul felt dying.
These things he thought out through the long mornings, sitting perfectly still, staring at the newsípaper type, jumping nervously when Mrs. Welfare burst open the door at a quarter to one to lay the cloth.
Day by day, alone, idle, the grim atmosphere of this old set of chambers blew in his nostrils. Hundreds of lives had been lived here. Men had worked and suffered and laughed and sinned. The terror and wonder of old walls took hold of him.
He went out into the kitchen one day after dinner to fetch his boots; for he was going to the Museum. Mrs. Welfare had not cleaned them.
She left off her dish washing, wiped her hands on the round towel behind the door and started brushing with a flourish.
He stood, limp, by the table watching her; for he might as well stand there as anywhere else! It | | 125 occurred to him—as a distant fantastic speculation—that for a man to stand idle while a woman brushed his boots was perhaps contemptible. And he did not even pay Mrs. Welfare for doing it. Jane paid. Mrs. Welfare, brushing vigorously, spoke of Jane.
"Are you going out all the afternoon? I don't think she ought to be left. I don't like her looks."
"She'll be all right; don't trouble to put on too much polish," he held out his hands for his boots; he wanted to get away from Mrs. Welfare. "She's had her broth, hasn't she? And I'll be back to tea. Besides, Mrs. Marshall may come in; she's got a key."
"Me and Mrs. Marshall has had more than one talk." Mrs. Welfare kept her hand in the boot and looked at John-Andrew steadily. 'Your sister, if you'll excuse me, she works too hard. She wants taking care of, poor lady. I call her a lady, though she works hard for her living like the rest of us. Yes, many a woman,"Mrs. Welfare's voice rose," works her fingers to the bone for some beast of a husband, but——"
"My good Mrs. Welfare, Miss Vaguener hasn't got a husband. Give me that boot. You start on the second one."
He took the boot from her; warm from her hand.
"There's Mr. Welfare," mud flew off the second boot and made the kitchen brown, "he isn't what you may call a model man, but he'll wait on me hand and foot, mind you."
'Yes he will. And if I've got so much as a sick | | 126 headache he's that upset. I've often seen tears in his eyes."
"Really! I don't care about blacking. Is it done?"
"Done! I ain't started, and you want a new lace." She spat on the brush, then dug it into the blacking tin. "And he says to me often enough, 'You take a day in bed, Annie.' But I can't take a day in bed, Mr. Vaguener, or where would the home be? For Mr. Welfare's work is fitful. It's the same here, if you'll excuse me; that poor lady she's worrying about her home. Oh I can understand, bless you, for I've been through it. When I took the broth in yesterday afternoon while you was out she ses,'Give me a sheet of paper off my desk in the next room, there's a dear soul, Mrs. Welfare.' And I wouldn't, but she come out and fetched it herself. Why, what wonderful brains they've got, her and Mr. Buttifant—but you can work a brain too far."
"That's a beautiful polish and I can't wait for any more."
Vaguener shot out his shaking hand; small and strong and cruel.
His face was dead white and his little eyes had an expression which impressed Mrs. Welfare.
"Crafty I call 'em," she said to Mr. Welfare that evening as they sat in Little Coram Street. "And I don't pretend to understand him."
"She'll have," Mrs. Welfare's last words were pitched high and spoken into John-Andrew's back, "a nervous breakdown if she keeps on;—and that's only a new-fangled name for going up the pole, mark you."
"Up the pole?"| | 127
He turned round blandly at the door, his flashing boots in his hand.
"Off your nut," explained Mrs. Welfare, flourishing back to the sink. "She's had more than she can stand, that's my opinion, and so I said to Mrs. Marshall. I speak my mind, without fear or favour, Mr. Vaguener. That's my way."
She wheeled round with a dish in her hand which she wiped. She met his glance with a stolid glare.
"He can't give me notice," she chuckled when she heard him go out; banging the door and then proceeding down the stairs. "He doesn't pay me. And how a man can bring himself to live on a woman unless she's his wife, that beats me."
She sighed; thinking of Mr. Welfare. For keeping a man was hard labour, married or not!
John-Andrew went out into South Square, he filtered into Holborn.
And, in the way he had, he noticed everything he saw; yet he no longer rejoiced in it—for what was the good? He had, so Mr. Branch declared, no market. His thoughts were no good to him unless he could communicate them to the world and so command its homage.
He wanted everything that Fame brought, he wanted what that damned young Best had got—and with so little trouble. He wanted to be warmed by flattery and he wanted his pockets filled. He kept one hand in his pocket and he discovered grimly that there was a hole in it—which really did not matter at all, since the pocket was empty.
He could not to-day go to the Museum and commune with the thoughts of dead men. He went | | 128 walking on, delicately commenting in his mind on the subtle differences between Holborn and Oxford Street. Differences in the women! In their voices and their dress and the way they walked. East of Tottenham Court Road, so it seemed to him, every woman was like his sister Jane—plebeian and assertive. He got into Bond Street and looked in the shops. Poor dear vulgar Jane! What a passion she had for clothes. Some day he would buy her a whole shop window full. He would draw a cheque, wave his hand at the window and say, 'Send it home.' Yes, that some day should come! Before Heaven it must-or he would not live! For what was life if you went aimlessly down Bond Street on a blowy March day with a hole in your pocket: a hole that did not matter?
He got to Piccadilly and went into the Green Park. It was cold but he sat down; for the seats were empty. There were no sniggering nursemaids to-day; to stare at him as he walked by, to notice that his bootílace was broken.
He sat down and then his heart jumped and his eyes got dangerously hot. For he saw a purse on the path at his foot. He touched it with his walking-stick, he looked round him covertly, he drew it with the stick behind his boot and then he stooped to tinker with that broken lace. He need not have been so careful, for no one was in sight. When he sat up again and when the purse was in his pocket his swift glance searched round childishly for a policeman.
He got up and walked on. He came out of the Park by another gate and when he was well away from it, he took the purse out of his pocket. It was poor and worn; there were three half-crowns in it.| | 129
He walked briskly back towards Gray's Inn; the world had changed. He went into a tobacconist's and bought a quarter of a pound tin of tobacco and some cigarette papers. He went into a draper's and asked solemnly, "How do you sell bootlaces?" They said a penny a pair, so he bought a dozen; for he would spare himself a repetition of that particular shame! He bought of a flower girl a bunch of daffodils and some violets, he went to a fruiterer's for tangerine oranges. Jane loved them. In the big draper's shop which is nearest Gray's Inn he saw some ribbon going cheap. It was bright blue with magenta roses on it; and just the gaudy childish stuff to allure Jane. So he had half a dozen yards. Finally he went to the caféat the corner near Mudie's for a bag of their twoípenny pastries; Jane patronised that place. Loaded and again nearly penniless, glowing at the prospect of Jane's frank delight, he turned into South Square.
He very often was a brute to Jane; yet he never meant it, his heart did not sin against her. When he was successful—and it might be soon, for these things always came suddenly—he would be the gentlest, the most generous brother on earth. He would show her! Jane should have the time of her life! But she must not get in his way. She must never dare criticise his work or compare it with her own. For his work was a sacred thing; it was his soul. He would not allow her to mention it. She would read it of course.
He let himself into the set and went into Jane's bedroom. She was sitting up in bed and Becca was with her. Becca's hat was off and her thick red hair was twisted round her head in some wonderful way. It looked like a turban of strangely-dyed stuff. A | | 130 little rose colour crept into the yellow of her skin when she nodded at John-Andrew, when he said laconically, "Hallo, Becca."
He walked to the bedside. Jane did not look so bad in bed. That blue flannel jacket matched her eyes, which was a great point. Her hair was in a pigítail. How much better women looked without their trappings! Jane in a nightgown was almost refined, she was bearable. He smiled at her fondly, he tumbled his offerings on the quilt.
"Flowers," he said, in a warmth, with a smile, with his face changing, "and cakes and some ribbon."
"Well really, Johnny, you are a dear!" Jane glowed at him. "I'd kiss you only you'd catch my cold. Put the cakes out on a plate, Becca; we'll have them for tea. I feel lots better to-day. I shall get up to-morrow. I should be all right if I could sleep; he has to give me stuff to make me sleep. Put the flowers in water, Becca. And Becca," she was unrolling the ribbon, "give me a back glass. John-Andrew, you have got taste. Hasn't he, Becca?'
Becca came to the bed with the glass. She was smiling; they were all radiant; love glowed in the room. John-Andrew could not believe that, only this morning, he had suffered so enormously in that other room just through the wall. He could not believe that Mrs. Welfare had insulted him in the kitchen while she polished his boots. He looked round this bedroom of Jane's; quaint and small and dainty, with the clear fire burning, with the smell of perfume in the air. Jane made a point of perfume; perhaps too great a point.
It was a pretty room, with a corner fireplace and | | 131 panelled walls and a recess: in it Jane hung her frocks and things. In a corner cupboard which had charming shelves and no door, she kept cosmetics; all the fal-lals of a chemist's shop. Jane was always up to dodges with her complexion; she did everyíthing but paint. She had hair washes and manicure sets and all sorts of things. Vaguener smiled at the loaded shelves of Jane's mystery cupboard; he might have been her lover. She was sitting bolt up in the bed and shouting gleefully,
"Isn't it just the blue to go with my jacket, Becca? If I had a knot here at the neck—give me a pin! Doesn't that set it off?" she held the glass to her throat and simpered. "I look awfully nice in bed. Do say you think so, Johnny. But you don't matter. What a pity Mr. Buttifant can't see me! People are kind. Just look at what Mr. Buttifant sent in this afternoon."
She put the glass down and pointed to a little table beside the bed. A pot of honey stood on it and a water-colour sketch.
"He's a charming man"—Becca, speaking after Jane, sounded subdued; John-Andrew surveyed her gratefully. "He just came to the door to ask how Jane was and send her in these. He was in Sussex yesterday and he bought the honey somewhere—where was it I told you, Jane?"
"Rustington; that's Littlehampton way. He often goes down there," said Jane, in that glad screech of hers and with the knot of new ribbon at her throat. "Just look at the water-colour, Johnny. I don't care for his water-colours. He thinks they're good but——"| | 132
"No he doesn't; he can't make them out. Damned bad or devilish good; I think that's what he said to me," Vaguener told her and he picked up the sketch.
He found in it the soothing and the vivid quality which appealed to him—ignorant though he was of technique—in Buttifant's water-colour work. It was just a swoop of gulls following the plough across the wintry earth.
"He hasn't got an eye for colour. Whoever saw violet earth?" asked Jane dogmatically. "I like," she laughed, "the honey best. I've had a spoonful. He bought it down there of a woman who keeps bees and he carried it home on his handle-bar. But as to work—we none of us know our good from our bad. His strength is black and white. I've told him so."
"Don't we know our good from our bad?" Vaguener was gloating over the plough-land.
"Our good from our bad!" Jane laughed till she coughed. "Oh Johnny, you old dear!" The water stood in her eyes and she wheezed. "Why you don't do any work worth talking about. It is only playing round. But your three months' grace is nearly up. He's going to get another school after Easter, Becca?"
"Is he?" The girl spoke strangely; she stood staring at John-Andrew.
Her face was trying to tell him things. But his eyes remained fast upon Buttifant's wonderful violet earth and airy gulls—those birds that were flying points of pearl and silver.
Jane collapsed on her pillow.
"Oh let's have our tea, Becca. I'm not up to | | 133 much yet, after all. Don't look sulky, John-Andrew, for you know I don't mind keeping you. And I'm so touched with all the things you've brought me. And I didn't know you had any money. Why, Johnny!" she sat up a little, "you said the other day you had no money. Don't you know we made a joke of it, you and I and Mr. Buttifant?"
"You made a joke of it. We didn't."
"No you didn't; men never have much sense of humour, have they, Becca? How quiet you are, Becca! Well, but you did say you had not a penny, John-Andrew, and I told you where I kept my odd change and told you to help yourself. I said, 'I shan't count it, so you can feel quite comfortable. Go there whenever you like.'"
"I found a purse this afternoon," said Vaguener, standing by the round table and with Buttifant's painting flapping between his ringer and thumb.
'You found a purse! Put that picture down; you make my eyes jump, moving it about."
"You found a purse," said Becca, taking the picture softly from him.
"Did you take it to Scotland Yard?" asked Jane. "That's the proper thing to do."
"Scotland Yard!" his great noisy bitter laugh tilled the little room. "It fell out of an angel's pocket for my salvation, that's what I feel."
"Your salvation! What an old duffer you are! If you wanted money, why on earth didn't you help yourself from the right-hand top drawer inside my roll-top desk? Haven't I said so?"
Becca kept close to him. Her face was lovely with compassion. John-Andrew never looked at it. Nor | | 134 did he look at the bed, he was looking at the putty-painted walls.
"So you didn't take it to Scotland Yard! Let me look at it," Jane said to him.
"There were three half-crowns inside. I threw the purse away."
"You threw it away! Upon my word, Johnny, you know the tricks of the trade." Jane laughed till she spluttered. "And you've spent the half-crowns! So all my pretty things are stolen property."
"And I bought myself some bootlaces and this." Vaguener spoke grimly and he brought out of his pocket the pink tin of tobacco.
Jane and Becca watched him—in such different ways!
The girl made a quick movement. Jane's blue eyes, from the bed, were hard and bright.
"I shall never understand you," she said, "and that seems wrong between a brother and sister. Make the tea, Becca." She became suddenly weary. "When we've had it, do you mind taking some stuff round to Branch for me, Johnny? He doesn't leave his office till six. And tell him to get it typed. I've only done it in pencil, lying here in bed."
"Yes, I'll take it. Where is it? I'll go now."
"No, you won't, we'll have tea first. It's in my desk with my other papers and it's packed up ready. I get out of bed sometimes in the afternoon, when you've gone to the Museum and before Aunt Becca comes. I just go through my papers."
"I mustn't be ill long," she added. "Or I may fall out."| | 135
"Fall out of what? Bed?" asked Becca lightly.
"It is all very well for you." Jane was jolly and bitter upon a note. "Your father had plenty of money; John-Andrew and I have none. If Branch thought I was sickly he'd think I was done for and so I should be; for the first thing that goes is your imagination. And yet," she sat up more on her pillow and looked at Vaguener and Becca sharply, "I do think of the most original things while I'm lying here in bed."
"Mother would say you'd got a temperature," Becca told her sensibly and poured out her tea and put it on the little table near the bed.
After tea Vaguener went off to Branch's office with the instalment of Jane's serial. When she and her cousin Jane were alone in the little panelled room Becca sat by the fire looking at the flames.
"Penny for your thoughts," said Jane. Becca stared up.
"You could turn my thoughts into pounds, Jane. If I talk I shall give you the true touch. I won't have you put me into one of your horrid stories and yet——"
Becca started up, standing midway between fire and bed; light from the little flames bobbing on her face. She was looking blankly at the window; the window caked outside with mud.
"But I must talk," suddenly she was on her knees by the bed, her face burrowed in the quilt, her flaming hair touching it.
"What is it, old girl?" asked Jane.
The words were common, the voice was metallic; yet there was understanding somewhere.| | 136
"It's Johnny," said the girl in a marvellous whisper. "Johnny! Haven't you guessed?Doesn't everyíbody see it? Why, when he comes near me I shake, I can't help it. I worship him, Jane. You don't know what that means; you're an old maid, just as mother is an old maid. Her getting married and our being born—Kenneth and me—hasn't made any difference. Nothing can."
There was vigour and contempt and pain in the deep young voice.
Jane lay still, upon her back, in the warm bed.
Just for once, she had not a word to say. She watched and was keen, she listened painfully, striving to remember every word. She instinctively put her hand under her pillow for the pencil and the penny account book that she kept there. She made notes in it. Directly Becca was gone she would write down every word, she would add her own description. Nothing was sacred to Jane. She was feeling, 'Here's a good curtain.'
"You don't understand, you'll be disgusted," Becca went on talking with her mouth against the bed-clothes. "My sort of woman disgusts the other sort—and yet you disgust us——"
"We—who?And us—what do you mean? I Jane asked.
"There's a gulf," Becca said, "between the two sorts. When I tell you that I love John-Andrew, when I own that—yes, when you sent me into his room just now to wash my hands I kissed the soap—there!—you think me mad and coarse. Now you do, don't you?"| | 137
"I think it isn't modest." Jane sounded affronted. "I think it's nasty," she added, "if you ask me."
"Very likely. When I am old I may think so too. And yet I shan't, because I shall remember all my hot pain. I may want it back." Becca jumped up and went to the window. She stood looking out through the caked mud on the pane. "As to being nasty! People like you, Jane, shock me all the time. Call modesty an instrument—and say we play different tunes."
Jane's face said, 'I'll remember that.'
Her lips uttered,
"You're clever! I've always thought so."
"Never mind that. People like you—prudes, as you and mother are—are coy and coarse and sexless and clumsy—I can't say it."
"Different tunes; stick to that," said Jane. "It's good."
"When you talk about love——" flamed Becca.
"Never talk about it; doesn't interest me."
"When you write about it you are like a puppy—your legs are all over the place. You don't know what to imply or when to stop."
Becca flung round, hurrying hotly back to the fire.
"I'm miserable," she said, "miserable. He doesn't care about me. He is indifferent—except when he is repelled. He thinks—as you think—that I'm not modest. Jane, when any one is in love, as I'm in love, she's just a lump of sheer molten modesty. She's the purest thing on earth. I don't know what I'm saying."
The girl clapped up her hands to her face.
"You are saying it uncommonly well."
"Gabriel Best feels about me as I feel about John- | | 138 Andrew. He'll put it in a book. I can't think how you people can put all your feelings into books, for any one to read."
"I don't put my feelings into books."
"You haven't got any feelings. I meant Gabriel."
"Oh, Gabriel!" Jane's voice was concentrated. "He won't last. He is a flash in the pan. It is just one book and then journalism. That is what Branch said of Gabriel and he knows. He can reckon up any writer you choose to name; just as if he were a butcher's bill."
"It's an awful life, this writing life." Becca was talking fast and poking her flaming face near the fire. "I was thinking it out in bed last night. I wake in the middle of the night and cry. I'm telling you everything, Jane, I don't care what I say. It seems as if I must talk...."
"What were you thinking out about our life?" asked Jane, prompting her.
"Oh nothing; but you all live in a long street, so it seems to me, Cackle Street. All of you laying eggs and seeing who can cackle loudest. Mr. Branch coming along with a basket."
"Cackle Street! Um! You get lots of ideas, Becca."
"I'm half mad—and who is more inventive than a lunatic! Isn't it any good, Jane?"
"Isn't what any good?"
"Good! Why, Becca, he hasn't got a penny. When these half-crowns have gone he'll be borrowing of me. And I really do think that's the limit. I don't mind—but Johnny ought to. If he gets another job as an | | 139 usher after Easter, he won't keep it. If he did he couldn't marry," said Jane.
"I've got a little money. What's money? It isn't anything to do with that. If Johnny loved me, if we could climb up Rosewall in the sun, if we could sit on a ledge of rock down by Clodgy, if——"
"My dear child, he doesn't love you. He never will love you or anybody else. It isn't in him. He can't digest love—just as some people can't digest roast pork." Jane laughed laboriously.
"I'd roast it so nicely," Becca said, with a desolate laugh, "I'd make him greedy, I told him so."
"You repeated it to Gabriel Best so Mr. Buttifant told me. Gabriel will put it into a book."
"You all of you put everything in wrong. I shall be in your next story. You'll make me a shameless and gawky young person. You'll make me say smart things."
"I won't put you in at all if you'd rather not," said Jane generously.
She meant it. Yet she knew within herself, that she would never be able to resist Becca as a useful bit of 'copy.'
"As to Johnny," she continued in a sensible way, "you go back to Cornwall and forget. He isn't worth your feeling."
"Don't suppose they ever are." Becca was cynical. "I love him, I want him—and that's enough. You can't imagine how magic he is to me, Jane."
"He's no good to you, he's no good to any woman. I don't say he wouldn't marry you—to live on you—if things got bad enough," said Jane.
"I'd rather have him that way than not at all. | | 140 He's the one big thing to me. He matters. Don't you see?"
"I should hate to see." Steely cold disgust was in Jane's blue eyes. "If I felt like that," she added, with more subtlety than she usually showed, "I should feel ashamed of being a woman. For it is——"
"Don't say one more word." Becca's long hands shot out. "It is sure to be the wrong word and I shall want to murder you."
Becca got up, she fetched a bottle from the wash-stand. "Time for your tonic, Jane."
She measured it and Jane drank.
"I'm sick of celibacy—married or single," Becca broke out. "Mother and Kenneth are such icebergs. Kenneth with his natural tonsure that he's so idiotically proud of, mother with her cool references to father. She loves me and Kenneth, but she modestly wishes that she'd picked us off a tree. And you are as bad, Jane."
"And Johnny," added Jane.
"Johnny's different," Becca said.
The slow colour surged over her face. Jane could see her lips, red and thick and long, all quivering.
"Sometimes, when he is in a human mood—which doesn't happen often," Becca's voice rose and malicious amusement danced in her small, petal-like black eyes, "Kenneth sings old love songs and sings them very well. He's got a delicious tenor. The night before we came away he sang that one of Purcell's; about bringing down the stars to 'make them shamed by the fire in her eyes.' I noticed the humble apology in his voice now and then and the revolting shyness. When he had finished, mother said she thought it was melo- | | 141 dramatic and unreal; that no man would care so much and that it was a pity such things were ever written. I turned round on them. I hated their simpering, shocked faces. They were regarding each other in a mood of sympathetic pain. It seemed as if Kenneth apologised and mother forgave him. I said, 'It depends on what you want, doesn't it? And what you suppose you were sent into this world for? I want that sort of thing and I'll have it. A man may pull down whole bunches of constellations for me. Don't blush like that, mother; I detest a blush in the wrong place. Nothing can be more degrading. 'Then I went out of the room before they had time to answer, I went and lay on my bed; I was shaking and burning. I felt so reckless—and I couldn't have told you why. Mother and Kenneth were talking underneath. They were affectionately discussing what they would do with me. I know they were feeling dirty; for I had dragged out a topic that they keep in the lumber-room."
"Foreign travel is the thing for you," said Jane
"Foreign travel! The spirit of John-Andrew would follow me all over the earth. And I'd follow any man who looked like him. Can't you see?"
"See! It's sheer madness and it isn't nice." Jane was distressed.
Becca laughed at her brutally. She did not look Pretty. She looked passionate and wild and savage. Jane felt this: Becca was not girlish. Jane had a professional standard for girls.
"You don't look like an Englishwoman, Becca."
"I'm just a savage, Jane. You can't bear a sight of primitive instinct. Get up and dress yourself and | | 142 go down Oxford Street and buy something ready-made for my shameless soul to wear."
Becca burst out crying, making a childish noise.
"My dear—don't!" Jane was touched. "It's—it's only a fancy. You are young and you'll——"
"No, I shan't get over it. Spare yourself the trouble of saying that. And I'm not young—in the way you mean. And I'm not an Englishwoman—of the sort you mean. Neither are you. They make queer men and women down in Cornwall. A touch of wild, a touch of bitter, a lot of cool and sour. Nobody's normal. We have our grandfather to thank for a good deal. And we have the way we are mixed. Foreign sailors and Cornish girls and——"
"Oh, Becca, don't—don't."
"Well then I won't—won't." Becca wiped her eyes furiously and put her handkerchief away. "I'll go to Berner's Street and read aloud to mother. It is the Life of a Missionary and he was a most godly man. I won't wait until John-Andrew comes back. Let me go at once." She found her hat and pinned it on in a passionate flurry before the glass. "Have you got everything you want, Jane? Can you manage until he comes back? How big my mouth looks! How bright my eyes are!"
"I don't want anything, dear." Jane seemed chastened.
Becca bent over and kissed her.
Jane turned her head away. She proffered to Becca her unalluring jaw.
Becca was sharp and saw tears on the pillow.
"Why are you crying? There isn't a Johnny for you."| | 143
"I don't know, Becca. Certainly not over a man. I wouldn't be such a fool. It is the cold: a bad cold does weaken you. And then I worry sometimes."
"Why? Stupid money?"
"Money is only stupid when you've got it, and it isn't only over money; it's—everything. It's Branch—in case he didn't—oh you know! And it is my work—you don't understand that. I want to do really good work and there isn't time. I lie here and think." Jane sniffed. "And even if John-Andrew pokes the fire in the next room I jump like mad and I wonder how much coal he is burning. I hate him for burning away the coal."
"There's only one remedy for you." Becca was looking at her in thoughtful concern. "Marry Mr. Buttifant."
"There you go again! Mother and Kenneth and John-Andrew and you! I've got the wild and bitter. The cool and sour belongs to the rest of the family. What is the matter with Mr. Buttifant? He is well bred, well off, well meaning." Becca was caustically ticking off Buttifant's qualities. "But he's got one thing against him—he's a man. You can't forgive that, Jane, and he can't cure it."
"I don't want to marry." Jane frowned. "All I want is a hundred and fifty a year certain; without lifting a finger. Then I could be as happy as a queen."
"Notoriously unhappy persons." Becca had dried her eyes and was flippant.
She touched Jane's jaw with her blazing mouth and went to the door.| | 144
"If I meet Johnny on the stairs I shall cut him dead," she said shrilly.
Jane heard her laughing as she went along the passage.
Becca was not a bit like other girls. Jane lay pondering. Would Becca go well in a serial story?
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