- CHAPTER VI
|<< chapter 05||< prologue||chapter 07 >||chapter 13 >>|
THAT week-end when Buttifant went to Dulwich to see his mother, meant the end of all things for John-Andrew and for Jane. The end was in sight and—in the way human drama has—neither suspected. Jane was at the beginning of a story more holding than any she had written; Vaguener was going to get what he wanted—and he would pay the price!
When they woke upon that particular morning, it was to the usual thoughts and apprehensions, and the usual dull conviction that this routine would last for ever.
Vaguener twisted frantically on his pillow at five, because Jane had started tapping in the next room. She had taken to rising very early and working hours before breakfast. She said that her illness had thrown her back with her work and that she must do this. There was, latterly, a mystery about Jane and her work but Vaguener had not noticed.
He noticed and knew nothing but his own unbearable pain.
For months he had been taking money of Jane—and nothing had happened! Yet he had sworn to himself that when it came to taking money from her something should and must happen. Desolately, he began to get what he called the hang of himself: he | | 161 had the murderous desire for strength and achievement—of any sort. Yet, when it came to the point, he could not carry things through.
He went regularly to the roll-top desk, taking Jane's small change. He bought tobacco and everything he wanted. She used to look at him and grin. She would look at him over the top of the typewriter, or up from a stack of MS., or up from the penny account books in which she made notes. She had a stack of those penny books and she chronicled—or believed that she chronicled—everything that mattered.
He knew that Jane was speculating upon him, talking about him. He used to listen when she went into the kitchen to settle dinners and things with Mrs. Welfare. He never caught his name: oh but they talked—and they looked at each other! Neither of them believed in keeping a man. Had not Mrs. Welfare said so? He made no attempt to get another post nor did Jane urge him. Jane, of late, had been absorbed. She even looked vague while she ate and for many weeks she had not bought herself new fal-lals. He missed the latest novelty pinned on at her neck; and the latest novelty—in the pin-cushion or stuffed animal line—about the sitting-room.
He listened to Jane and Mrs. Welfare—for women will talk when they get together in a kitchen! He also suspected Buttifant and sometimes in the evenings when they were all three together he would get up and say he must post a letter.
Jane used to laugh in her metallic way and shout,"What letter?"
Or she would say, with that insolent generosity of hers,"Help yourself to a stamp, old boy. You'll find | | 162 them in an empty type-ribbon box. You know where my things are as well as I do."
He would stand at the roll-top desk with his back to them; and he knew that Jane winked at Buttifant. He knew that Buttifant raised his silly faint eyebrows.
He would go out into the Square. He would walk round the quietly cloistered place; round and round, looking up at the sitting-room window of Jane's set, wondering what she and Buttifant were saying. Sometimes as he prowled in this way along the pavements, in the sweet half-dusk of summer, curfew would ring; drawing him back to unseen things and forceful times. If he had lived in some other age he might have drawn blood. But nobody murdered in that way nowadays—except the lower classes. The better classes used poison—or something more subtle still.
He pondered upon it, walking round and round. Six months ago he would have got excited and hopeful, he would have seen an essay in this topic of murder; something he would write off, white-hot, and then tear to pieces next day with a destructive classicism. The day after, he would have taken it to Mr. Branch; he had done this sort of thing lots of times. The agent's reception had always been the same. His glance and his smile had been the same, his gesture with his fat hands was the same, his words were the same. He used to say,"My dear fellow, there is no market. Your stuff is very good very likely—but what do they care for literature? They want something to hold their readers, something to send their circulation up. Can't you turn me off stuff like that? I could handle it."| | 163
He referred to the editors for whom Jane wrote.
Vaguener, then, would walk round South Square on those June nights about curfew time. He looked at one window—yet he felt that people at other windows were looking at him; were laughing and jeering and speculating. They knew that he lived upon his sister; took her small change, ate her food, let her pay for having his shirts and collars washed. Trust Mrs. Welfare—who worked in half a dozen sets—for spreading that yarn!
In the end, he would bolt upstairs, enter the set stealthily and burst into the sitting-room without giving them warning. He burst in as a jealous husband might burst. He would find Buttifant and Jane sitting in that telling silence which falls between people when they love—and before confession: the eloquent, wonderful waiting time—of which he knew nothing, nor did Jane. Buttifant made the atmosphere. He would be sitting extra quiet, extra white, with perhaps a touch of red on his face: he would be looking at Jane.
But it was all going to end and the day had dawned! Yet when Jane woke and dressed in a hurry and clanked the cover off her typewriter (for she never could be quiet) she had no suspicion that this day would be unlike all the other ones. When Vaguener awoke, cursed her wretchedly for making such a row, then fell asleep again, he did not know. At nine he woke afresh and got up; merely wondering how he would get through the day.
And there were all the days to follow! He had come to that state: he foresaw years and years of living upon Jane, of listening to her typewriter, of | | 164 going to her roll-top desk. She had even spoken of drawing a cheque for his new suit. She said he was in rags and a positive disgrace. She added with her hearty amiability that it was only fair that, if she paid, she should choose the cloth. He must write for patterns? Or should she?
She had written yesterday. He did nothing but dress himself and eat his dinner and do marketing for Jane. Since she had been so busy she had allowed him to do that and was grateful.
He used to go down Fetter Lane or Lamb's Conduit Street with a basket. He brought everything home, even the potatoes; for Jane said it was much more handy to housekeep that way. He found out that in Red Lion Street you got butter a halfpenny a pound cheaper than anywhere else.
When he returned, Jane would be tapping madly and he would give the basket of food to Mrs. Welfare. The way that woman used to turn round from the greasy sink and stare! The insults that her sharp eye and her silent mouth heaped upon him!
He grew to be skilful at a bargain. He knew which day the butcher sold New Zealand kidneys and at which shop you saved on bananas. He became an expert in cooking eggs. Once he found himself talking solemnly to Jane about bacon—and she laughed in his face!
Plenty of pain in that laugh; plenty of hurt and scorn—but he was not the one to hear.
The day had dawned; the June Monday that was bringing Buttifant back from Dulwich. Everything was settled. He had met Commander Attfield on the Sunday, talked with him at length, liked him enor- | | 165 mously. The Commander had insisted not only upon marrying his mother but on taking his two little brothers completely off his hands. He said that he had more money than he could do with; it was uncomfortable.
So Arnold, on his way back to Gray's Inn, decided that he would propose to Jane that night. He would propose. She would refuse. She would go on refusing. But he would go on proposing.
Never had the world been more lovely than it was to Buttifant that day as he travelled back from the suburbs. He saw such divine things; such tints and shapes. He wanted his water-colours.
Jane and Vaguener had breakfasted as usual; she a little strained, he a little solemn; but nothing more. Then she settled to work and he went off to buy a wild rabbit and some of those big onions to make the sauce.
"Be sure it's wild," said Jane and she sat down to the typewriter." There isn't a bit of taste in Ostends."
He gave the rabbit to Mrs. Welfare.
"Who's going to skin it, that's what I want to know?" she asked loudly. The typewriter in the sitting-room ceased, then it tore on.
"I know who isn't," he returned mildly.
He went into his bedroom to read the morning paper.
"Mr. Welfare," said Jane's charwoman, speaking shrilly into his back, as he receded,"would no more let me skin a rabbit than he'd let me go down a drain. Man's work I call it."
"Woman's work, my good soul." Vaguener held his bedroom door in his hand before he softly shut it.| | 166
"Man kills the animal, woman cleans it. You've only got to imagine wild rabbits scuttling down Lamb's Conduit Street. Rabbits burrowing under the tram lines in Theobald's Road, Mrs. Welfare."
"Rabbits in Tibbald's Row! I never!" said Mrs. Welfare. Vaguener had chuckled in what she called his "nasty way." He had shut his door.
He went for a walk in the afternoon leaving Jane working. The rabbit they had for dinner was excellent. It put them both into a human temper. Jane said before he went:
"Come back to tea early, Johnny. I've got a treat. Shall we make it half-past three?"
"If you like. But if we waited till five Buttifant might come in."
"He'll be late home from Dulwich," said Jane. "He told me so. I shall be ready at half-past three, so you turn up. And for goodness' sake, Johnny, go down New Oxford Street and buy a new hat. That bowler's a disgrace. Yet you only had a new one a little while back."
"It's a long while back. I can't get one to-day; there's no more money in your desk."
"Have you taken my last shilling? Oh bother you, John-Andrew! I may want a shilling for the gas. But I can't draw a cheque now. Do go away. Let me finish."
She sounded frantic.
"You are working too hard, Jane."
"Somebody's got to work."
She was tapping away, as she made this retort.
He went out, walking absently, looking with mechanical dulled agony along the vista of the | | 167 years that would be: he doing nothing, Jane doing it all.
Yet already, the life of the two was over—so far as living together went. He depraved, yet fine, she coarse, but moral—their relation, save in the loose physical sense, was over.
Things were changed, the past had gone, the terrific future beat at the door. They did not know. We are only made aware of what may be called official drama. We know when we are sentenced in a court of justice. We have been prepared for, at least,#x2014;something. But the more subtle sentence comes swinging round the corner, in the midst of our fun or our misery.
So John-Andrew walked away in the delightful sun and Jane tapped in a final fervour—for she was finishing—and Buttifant came riotously from Dulwich. He was going to marry Jane.
John-Andrew got home at three. He brought some chocolate cream.
"Your money—but I hope it doesn't spoil the gift," he said quaintly, taking it to Jane as she sat, thoughtful, by the window. Odd to find Jane thoughtful! She took the paper bag.
"Is it pink inside?" she asked. "I like the pink best."
She bit it, then broke off a section and gave it to her brother. They looked at each other. Feeling was so strong that, in each case there was a quickened heart beat. For months they had been living at high pressure.
Jane moved from the window and drew him away from it. She put her arms, such lumpy soft arms (Vaguener noticed this) round his neck.| | 168
"You are a dear gentle thoughtful old soul, John-Andrew."
She looked at him affectionately. Then she went off and she fetched the tea-tray, which Mrs. Welfare left ready set out in the kitchen.
"Cream!" said Jane on a high note, returning and slamming the tray down, "and a pot of that jolly paste from the shop near Leicester Square. And cake. We'll have a good gorge and afterwards I want to tell you something. I'm always hungry, because I work so hard."
"Tell me something! What?"
"Never mind. You wait."
She trembled like a flabby jelly, so he thought.
They ate heartily at tea. Very often it seemed as if, without agreement but with a common motive, they sought to console themselves by eating: she for her hard work, he for his agonising idleness.
"Help me take the things out," said Jane, when they had finished. "Don't take the paste, John-Andrew, or that woman will eat the lot. Put it in the cupboard here."
Her cheeks were flushed and as she packed the china together she broke a saucer.
"Your skin's patchy. You look like Buttifant," Vaguener said.
"Oh bother Mr. Buttifant! I'm so glad he's at Dulwich. I don't want him to-night. Let's sport the oak, in case he came back early. I've got something to say and it would drive me mad to be interrupted."
When they had cleared away the tea-things, she went and shut the outer door. When she returned | | 169 to the sitting-room she shut the window, looking peevish.
"Let's be quiet," she said, dropping into her chair.
"Can't be quiet; you want to talk."
"I know I've got a clear voice—but you needn't rub it in."
"Sit down," she pointed to the chair where he usually sat, "and I'll tell you something. I'll read you something."
"Read! Is that it?"
John-Andrew looked evil. What did he care for her rubbishy stories?
Jane was at the roll-top desk. She brought back a MS.
"This is my play," she said solemnly. "That is why I got up in the morning early. It's why I'm so dreadfully tired and so strained that if you only look at me I feel like crying."
"Do you feel like that?"
"Yes I do; but I don't expect a man to understand. This is my good work, John-Andrew. You've got to listen and tell me what you think."
"Wait a bit. What put the idea of a play into your head?"
"I don't know." Jane sounded strange. "It was when I was in bed with that bad cold. I got the idea the day that Mr. Buttifant brought the picture of gulls and a violet ground. Poor dear! He has no sense of colour. I'm always telling him so. I rub it in."
She sat with the typewritten play on her knee; her eyes, glassy and bright, stared at the wall.| | 170
"And Becca was here and you took some stuff of mine to Branch. Do you remember?"
Vaguener nodded. He remembered. Mr. Branch had been peculiarly insulting that day.
"And Becca who is always mad," Jane said, "was—more than usual! We are all mad, in our way, John-Andrew; we Vagueners."
"No, Kenneth's sane enough."
"I suppose he is—the chip!" Jane was scornful.
"If by chip, you mean celibate; we are—you and I."
"Rather!" she was hearty. "I wouldn't be bothered with getting married. What an awful fag!"
"What was Becca mad about?"
John-Andrew was smoking. He had made an enormous tea and Jane wasn't typing. So he sounded and looked amiable. He hoped that, by conversation, he might draw her away from that tiresome idea of reading her stupid play aloud. Buttifant might come back, she could read it to him. But she had closed the oak against Buttifant! They were shut in here together, he and Jane. Anything might happen. It was extraordinary to reflect upon the staggering privacy of these sets of chambers in the Inns of Court.
"Mad about you." Jane was blunt. "In love with you. I told her it was no good; that you hadn't a penny."
"I hope you added that I hadn't a passion."
"Don't be indelicate," Jane wriggled. "She was bad enough. I made notes of all she said about love and marriage and that kind of thing."| | 171
Jane jerked in her speech. John-Andrew's face, behind the tobacco smoke, looked clammy.
"She said that most women were like monkeys and would marry any man so long as they got a clean cage and enough cocoanuts. No, she didn't." Jane's gaze at the wall became more fixed. "I've said that myself, in my play. Becca started me, Johnny. After she went, I lay in bed burning all over and I made notes like mad. I filled up one book and got out of bed to fetch another. The very next morning I started on my play. I've called it Cackle Street."
"Cackle Street! That's no good as a title."
"What do you know about titles? It's very good—and I've got Becca to thank for it. She said that the life of writing people was like living in a place called Cackle Street. All of us laying eggs and seeing who could make the most row and Branch coming round with a basket."
"Mr. Branch coming round with a basket!" Vaguener laughed out, violently.
"Oh don't make such a din, John-Andrew." Jane jumped. " That girl depressed me horribly and I thought that the day might come when Branch would——"
"Take away your nest box? Exactly."
He was looking at the MS. upon her knee. Of course it wasn't good. It was the usual piffle: Jane's piffle which sold so well. She was talking about that.
"I'm booked up for the end of the year, but suppose I—stopped! Suppose Branch said—and he hinted at it the other day—that my stuff hadn't got enough snap. We are all 'bus horses to him; we only last a certain time."| | 172
"There's money to be made while you're between the shafts. Look at young Best."
"I don't count him." Jane was contemptuous. "He won't last long; and he is spending his money like water, the young ass.
"Supposing," her voice kept getting shriller, "I do save enough to bring in two pounds a week. What's that?"
"Exactly—for two of us!" Vaguener was sardonic.
"Oh, Johnny!" she smiled at him in an odd way. "And I must have nice things," she proceeded.
Her voice was just as usual—unbearable. But it would have broken Buttifant's heart; he would have detected.
"I can't let myself go as Mrs. Buttifant does. I must dress."
She started stroking her MS., she was suddenly silent. This was so amazing that Vaguener felt respect for Jane and understanding. When she spoke again, it was upon a shadowed note.
"So I did this—as a last throw. It is my good work, Johnny. It must be good, because it came without any trouble and because I had to do it."
"I used to feel that when first I came to Gray's Inn and before Mr. Branch knocked all heart out of me. Yet you say my work's no good."
"Your work!" Jane was scornful at once; she was narrow and fierce and bitter.
"You must listen to this." She held her papers tight, she subdued herself. "You must tell me what you think. If it isn't any good, if Branch won't touch it, I shall——"
She stopped.| | 173
"Kill myself. I'm sick of it all. Suicide! That's it."
She grinned queerly in his dark violent little face. They looked a savage, ill-assorted pair.
"You think I haven't got it in me, but I have. Don't let's be silly." She opened her play. "Let me read you this. It's popular—and yet I feel it is good. I want it to be a money success but an artistic one too. I don't want it produced at a minor theatre: good notices, a short run and five pounds profit."
She laughed in her usual hearty way; she had recovered.
"Let's have it," said John-Andrew.
He settled resignedly in the chair; he'd got to have it. Jane began to read.
After a bit he said quietly:
"Do you mind if I go and stand by the window? I can hear just as well."
For she must not see his face.
"Anywhere you like," snapped Jane, breaking off, then flowing on.
He went and stared out of the window. He knew that this half-hour or so through which Jane read him Crackle Street was a time that he would not only never forget but that he would never be void of: the effect of it, he would absorb. These haunting memories! These pallid ghosts of the mind! You could not buy or beg them off, nor could you pray them away. Prayer! It had meant a great deal to him once. He stood by the window, rigid yet trembling. He stared out and his hungry heart made a noise within him.
Jane went on reading Cackle Street; and how good | | 174 it was; how—non-Janey! Vaguener found himself face to face with a position which he would not and could not bear. Jane had done the trick, she had got there. Jane was a genius.
Jane's voice went on behind him. The common quality of her voice! Not only to-day but always he hated her.
She was so ugly; he turned furtively round. Any Frenchwoman would have made a marketable commodity of such positive ugliness. Jane did nothing to enthrall or control any man. She was conceited, yet she cared for nothing but her work. She was an ugly river carrying useful merchandise. So far, he had regarded her merely as that. She was proving herself as something more.
He hated her big fair face and dull hair. He hated the shape of her head; it was round, like a ball.
There she sat in the deep chair; reading away—and such transcendently clever stuff! She was provoking him dangerously yet had she seen his face she would have suspected nothing. She was too big a fool. A fool! But she had written Cackle Street!
He drummed his long, strong fingers on the window.
"For goodness' sake don't," screamed Jane.
She dropped her voice and went on reading. When she got to the end of the second act she said,
"I'll go on to the end. Don't speak. Tell me what you think afterwards."
"Here's Buttifant coming across the Square with a rose in his coat," Vaguener told her, after a bit.
"Johnny, come away from the window. I won't be interrupted."
Her voice had an edge.| | 175
Vaguener stepped back. They listened. They heard Buttifant thump at the oak. This he did two or three times, then he went into his own set.
Jane continued to read, John-Andrew returned to the window. At last the play was finished. He heard her say,
"Do you like it? Is it good?"
"Very good," he answered. "Supreme," and he meant this with all his soul.
He went to where she sat. Jane looked at him. Then her eyes filled, she put out her arms helplessly, turned her head upon her shoulder and burst out crying.
"Give me a cigarette," she blubbered."Those Turkish ones that Mr. Buttifant gives you. They pull me together."
He brought out his cigarette case. Jane blew her nose, wiped her eyes and took one. "Light it," she said forlornly.
He lighted it and she fell back.
"If you knew all I've gone through," she said."There is money in a play if you can do it. Say Cackle Street catches on, I'm safe. The plot just fell into shape, Johnny, that day Becca was here and when Mr. Buttifant brought the honey. The words tumbled over each other. The people stood round my bed."
"In Cackle Street, stupid."
She smiled at him. He regarded her forlorn red nose and swelled eyes. He wished she wouldn't smoke, for she had none of the qualities suitable to a woman smoking.| | 176
' Throw that thing away," he said.
"I don't like the idea of a woman smoking either, but it soothes me now and then. Let me finish," she returned.
"Have you told Buttifant, Jane? Have you told Mr. Branch?"
"I haven't told a soul. I only finished it this afternoon."
"That's a good thing."
"Why is it a good thing?"
"I don't know."
"How silly you are, Johnny! Can't you say anything more about Cackle Street."
"I have said. It is supreme. What more do you want? Let me think about it."
They sat quiet, Jane's cigarette rapidly getting to a stump. She smoked fast.
Yet not so fast as Vaguener thought; and not so swift as his decision. She had dealt a death blow. She had unfolded ideas that were magnificent. If Cackle Street were produced (and he knew that Mr. Branch would jump at it) and if it were simply popular he could bear that, perhaps. He might endure it if Jane made pots of money and was derided by serious writers. What he could not and would not suffer was to see her take her place in the front row. He was hanged if he would!
If you murdered a person you got hanged as a rule. He lighted another cigarette, he held out the case to Jane. She threw her stump away, took another, and lighted it herself.| | 177
"Two won't hurt me just for once in a way," she said hazily, looking happy.
After a long while she added:
"Can't. I'm thinking."
"About Cackle Street?"
"Confound you, Jane! Yes."
"You seem to think so much of it." She threw away her second cigarette." I don't know what to think. I'm all up or down. One day it is wonderful, the next day it is rot. I may burn it. I may never show it to Branch. That's how I feel."
"Don't burn it," said Vaguener slowly.
"But if it's no good," she was noisy and passionate,"I shall chuck it."
"Everything." Jane looked at him and her blue eyes were lurid—she was saying something with those eyes at last. "You think I can't. Can't I? If this play is rot—and it may be—I won't go on; just making money and getting nothing else, while cads like Gabriel Best are called geniuses."
"He is a little bounder, that young Best," said Vaguener.
"For goodness' sake, don't bother about him." Jane was snappish."Johnny, you go for a walk and let me read this thing through to myself. I can't rest until I do."
"All right." He bounded up. "But don't burn it, Jane."
He looked at the empty fire-grate and so did she.
"Give me an hour, just to read it through and see What I make of it," she pleaded.| | 178
He nodded and went into his bedroom for his hat and stick. He left her looking blankly down at the MS. Tears were on her cheeks. Jane was worn out. He did not care; no—not a hang!
He went stealthily out. Jane's last words had been " Be sure you sport the oak. I don't want to be bothered by Mr. Buttifant."
He went walking north towards King's Cross. He continued on towards Hampstead Road, looking at nothing in particular. He was so hot that the soles of his feet felt burning as they touched the pavements. So he walked like a cat.
He stood looking over the railings at the monumental mason's yard; where the crosses, obelisks and simpering lady angels are. When he walked on it was with a Kensal Green tinge of mind and before him bobbed the sharp black lettering upon new gravestones. All the letters spelled one name; this was strange and most monotonous. He had walked on, then he stopped; taking an envelope and pencil from his pocket he wrote in capitals JANE VAGUENER. It looked well. He had written her name carefully. More carefully he tore the envelope into scraps and dropped them, one by one, as he walked.
The summer dust and the summer traffic got upon his nerves and he slanted off into one of those decorous stucco Crescents that are always cool. How long he walked in this cool land he did not know but the little moon came out. The restrained houses, palely yellow, the gentle silver heavens helped him to arrange his thoughts. They walked in a well-ordered procession; they did not tumble helter-skelter over each other, as they did when he wrote things to take to Mr. Branch.| | 179
Yet he was in a confused agony of mind, for he knew now how hopeless he was of attainment. Literature had failed him as Religion had failed; as everything had failed. That was his doom. Yet that Jane should excel him was not to be thought of. But as to murdering her!
What was murder? It meant that you cleared the way as you went along: and this was incumbent upon every man. Murder sometimes meant only this and it might, so, become commendable.
It was late when he got back to South Square.
Jane would have made the evening cups of chocolate. She would have given some to Buttifant—they were sitting in there talking about him. Jane would shout at him for coming in late, she would grumble goodnaturedly while she made his chocolate. She was a good sort—his face was gentle and affectionate for a moment; it was his going-to-market face. Yes, a good sort! But as to letting her live! As to letting her swagger about London as the author of Cackle Street, he would be hanged if he would. Yes. Hanged—if he would!
When he let himself into the set he found it empty. Across the landing, he had noticed that Buttifant's oak was sported. The sitting-room was dim, so he lighted a candle. He wished, although it was June, that he could light a fire also. He shivered so.
A note from Jane addressed to him was upon the roll-top desk. For one absurd moment he had an idea that she had eloped with Buttifant. He was full of imaginative hope concerning Jane and he did not care what became of her so long as she got out of the way: that is, so long as Cackle Street was never | | 180 produced. He looked at the empty grate, half hoping to see the tinder of Cackle Street lying in it. She had threatened to burn it. Nothing in the grate! So he opened her note. Jane said,
"I've had a wire from Branch who wants me to dine with him. I've got on your violet silk, old boy; there was nobody to hook me up. Branch is always dangerous when he's most chummy; so if this means bad luck I shall finish off, for I'm sick to death. I said so to you at tea time; and the word suicide made you jump, didn't it, dear old chap? I read that MS. over after you went out and it's bad. I have never written worse stuff. Don't sit up. If you go out, for Heaven's sake come in quietly: it's touch and go with me to-night.Jane
"P.S.—I am sick to death, Johnny—sick."
She had said that twice; sick to death!
Vaguener stood there, thoughtful.
She had lost confidence in Cackle Street, but that merely proved her to be a genius: for they are always up or down! What mysteries people were, even common people like Jane. Yet—devil take her—he must not call her common any more; for she had written Cackle Street.
Where had she put it? He rummaged in the rolltop desk. He found two sets of MS. There was Cackle Street and there was the thing she was doing to order for Mr. Branch. With Cackle Street in one hand, with Jane's note in the other, he sat down by the desk, prepared to read by the light of the | | 181 candle. As to Jane's letter, it was a weapon. Yes, she had put the weapon in his hands.
He started reading. His head cleared and cooled now that he dealt with composition—and it was impossible to deny the genius of this affair. Jane had done the trick. She was a genius! Common, ugh', noisy Jane; with her awful clothes and her cheap industry!
He loved her austerity, limpidity and beautiful order as displayed in Cackle Street. He could appreciate fine work yet he could not produce it. He recognised this. All that he had done, how weak it was. Mr. Branch would have been a fool had he tried to handle it. Jane's play was broad and strong; simple and masterly. It showed ultimate finish and perfect fineness, yet it made an appeal to the heart. It was a thing to make common people—people just like Jane—laugh and cry. Yet it would provoke the homage of the gifted ones. They might be jealous but they could not ignore.
Cackle Street would not leave the common people cold; for it dealt with a topic that they could understand and dealt with it simply. Vaguener beheld the amazing simplicity of genius—and it was Jane!
She had been doing this in the early mornings while he slept. She had been doing it while he bought wild rabbits for Mrs. Welfare to skin.
He put down the MS., held his hands over his face and cried. He had not known till now how bitter it had been to live upon the earnings of a woman.
Jane would have fame, fortune and at once. Cackle Street would have a long run, it would be taken to America, go round the provinces, be translated into | | 182 other languages. He racked himself with all the possibilities. It would be filmed: it was good enough to stand the test of that. Everybody would applaud it and be swayed. Not a single critic would dare to sneer—nor would he wish to!
And all this wonderful stuff had come out of Jane!
He wiped his face. He reflected. He supposed it was the odd Vaguener blood: the Trewhella blood! They had got it from their grandfather, this blessing and this curse; the desire for expression, the ability, or the non-ability to express. Jane had got there. He never would. Becca would get there. No, she would not; for all that Becca wanted was to marry him. He flushed: sitting alone, he retreated and seemed ashamed. He remembered looks that he had seen upon Becca's face and things that her eyes had said.
Never mind Becca! Cackle Street was the only thing that mattered. He picked it up, he went on reading. Sometimes he stopped, looked round the room and said incredulously, "Jane!—Yes, that large shoddy sister of his—she had done it. Jane, dining out with Mr. Branch, wearing her violet silk, shouting and sniggering; eminently pleased with herself!"
He finished the play and he stood up; looking collected and official. He put Cackle Street tidily back into the pigeon-hole beside the cheap serial that was designed for virtuous family reading. Was it possible that one brain could think out two such different things?
He stood in the middle of the room. He was transformed; this was not the man who had flaccidly lived upon Jane for more than six months. This was a man | | 183 of affairs; concentrated, brisk, cautious. He felt immensely better: for he had made up his mind. He was going to do something definite at last. To-night he would murder Jane.
The dim garment of his boredom dropped off and, emotionally, he became a well-groomed man.
Everything was settled; the smallest details were arranged; and so easy. This made him think that, subconsciously, he must have decided to murder Jane months back. His brain had been doing its work. He had only been waiting for Jane to hand the weapon.
He put her note in his pocket, then he scribbled a note to her, taking a half-sheet of paper from his pocket book. On one side of it were pencillings, ideas that he had jotted down for a sonnet. He scratched them out ruthlessly; he would not want them. He had come to simpleness. He was going to do something manly, definite and strong.
And if he got hanged for it? If he got hanged for it—how Mrs. Welfare would talk! The things that she would say to Mr. Welfare in the evenings. He wrote to Jane on the clean side of the paper.
"Got your note. Don't be a duffer. Have gone out with Buttifant and if I am late back will get him to give me a shake down. See you in the morning.
He had slept at Buttifant's before, so Jane would be neither surprised nor alarmed. And she would be so pleased at his signing "Johnny." She loved him to be affectionate. That "Johnny " would cheer her up. She would go to bed and sleep soundly.| | 184
He left the set, slamming the oak. He stood upon the landing. His dark face was brutal, it was primal. He might have been a savage on a lonely hill.
He stood there and he remembered how he had sat in his bedroom trying to work all the winter, morning after morning, while Jane tapped through the wall; and how he had envied navvies or porters or draymen: those elemental muscular creatures who never troubled themselves about the light and the shade of life, nor the complexity of human relationships. They would have laughed or sworn had you tried to explain.
Men of this sort committed murder if the moment came. You read about it in the papers. They cut the throat of the woman they loved. They did this and they took their punishment: they, as they put it, swung for her. They were brutal and so was the law. He would perhaps swing for Jane. But he would give himself a sporting chance of escape. He did not mean to be found out if he could help it. The whole thing was at his fingers' ends. He looked at his fingers.
Really, the thing was astonishingly easy.
He tapped at Buttifant's door and Buttifant opened. He looked beyond Vaguener and said, sounding odd,
"Where's your sister?"
"She's dining out with Mr. Branch." Vaguener seemed irradiated. "May I come in?"
"Of course. Do."
They went into the studio. Buttifant had been working; he looked pinched.
He walked back to his easel, then he turned round.
"Why did you two sport your oak this afternoon? Why didn't you let me in? I saw you at the window. I'd brought some flowers and I wanted some tea."| | 185
He was doleful.
"It was unfriendly," John-Andrew spoke as if he'd got every word off pat, "but you know what Jane is over her work. She had finished some stuff and she wanted my opinion. She was reading aloud."
"And now she's gone out; so I shan't see her to-night."
"You shall see her to-morrow. To-night you must put up with me, Buttifant. Can't we go out? A theatre or something. You pay—and I'll pay you later on. Can you put me up if we get in late? Jane's nervy since she had that cold in the spring. The least thing wakes her and then she takes a sleeping powder."
"She ought not to take those things? Why don't you stop her?"
Buttifant left his easel; he was fierce.
"I! Stop Jane! My dear fellow! And there is no harm in those powders; she gave me two when I had toothache. I took one: the other is in my pocket."
"I can put you up." Buttifant hated him for looking so happy. There was very little venom in Buttifant; but what there was Vaguener provoked. How dare he work Jane to death and, throughout, gibe at her? How dare he look so jaunty to-night?
"I've got the folding bedstead that I keep for Reggie or Bernie in the holidays. I give them a treat one at a time. You can have that."
Buttifant's face cleared when he referred to his little brothers. Commander Attfield had made him-self responsible for them henceforth. So Buttifant free to marry Jane. Yet, upon this joyful day of | | 186 decision Jane had sported her oak, she was dining out with Branch.
"Oh thanks!" He had never known Vaguener so blithe. "Shall we go, then? What is there on? What do you advise? I feel like a good play."
"Thought you hated the theatre."
Buttifant, as he said this, was unpacking a cardboard box filled with flowers and putting them in water, which he fetched from his tiny kitchen.
"I couldn't bring them in a bunch," he said shamefacedly and very like blushing. "It looks so rustic! They will be fresh to-morrow."
"And won't Jane shout when she sees them," said John-Andrew gaily.
Buttifant, the flowers disposed of, sat down.
"Well, aren't you coming?"
Vaguener was eager to be off.
"I suppose so." The little white artist stood up. "It will do me good. I've got the hump to-night. I feel, so Mrs. Welfare would say, as if someone walks over my grave. I was thinking before you came in, of what would happen if I fell ill; if the doctor ordered a serious operation. All my work would stop."
"Operations only happen to people who can afford them," Vaguener told him, adding grimly: "If it happened to you, you'd die under the knife and be spared the expense of a long convalescence."
"I wish," Buttifant walked to his easel and then walked away from it, "that I had been apprenticed to a decent trade; no, an outdoor muscular affair; something where you only had to make your mark. No drawing, no writing. Sick to death of it."| | 187
Vaguener jumped. He was quiet for a second, then nodding he said,
"Sick to death are you? I know. You'd like to be a brewer's drayman, or a railway porter, something strong: pick up Continental luggage as if it were a handful of feathers!"
He shouted: and his shout had a note of Jane!
"If I told him that he'd knock me down," thought Buttifant weirdly. "He looks reckless. What's happened to him?"
"I wish your sister could have come with you or that I could have come to her for chocolate," he said childishly. "She is so cheerful, so chronically jolly—if only she'll keep off her investments. I wanted her to-night."
His voice nickered and so did his face; white, small and tense.
"Jane has her moments of positive despair. You don't know Jane," remarked Vaguener emphatically. "I am anxious about her, for you are never sure of these commonplace people; they wear a mask."
Buttifant looked at him intolerantly.
"Your sister is the frankest creature upon earth. Nothing troubles her. She works those serials as a cook works dough."
"Nevertheless, she is afraid the present batch won't rise. She is worried about it and that is why she read it to me this afternoon."
"Good?" Buttifant lifted his brows.
"The usual stuff." Vaguener was insolent. "Jane says the things that the mob, her public, has already said and would like to hear said again."
He moved to the door.| | 188
"Let's go," he said.
"All right." Buttifant got his hat.
"You won't mind," he remarked as they went downstairs, "if we make up the chair bedstead in my room? The studio's in an awful mess?"
"I could sleep in the kitchen." Vaguener was quick.
"With your head in the sink? It's only a cupboard, and what would Mrs. Welfare say in the morning?"
"I'd forgotten her. No I don't want to see her. Why not the studio?"
"No." Buttifant was curt. His studio—water-colours hanging there—was to him absurdly and seriously sacred. "My bedroom, if you don't mind. It's a nice big room. We can crowd into opposite corners."
"All right, but you make it difficult." Vaguener was sullen.
"I shall be a nuisance in your room. Why should you put up with me? I'd better go across the landing and spoil Jane's night."
"Nonsense. I don't mind you in my room. Shan't know you're there. I sleep like a log."
They crossed the Square, went down the passage through the gate and into Holborn.
John-Andrew said, smiling and with the ugly temper out of his voice,
"All right. Your room; perhaps that's best."
They went to a theatre, to see a play which, so Buttifant said, Commander Attfield recommended. He had told Vaguener about the Commander: | | 189 Vaguener was plainly bored, for love and marriage always bored him. Sensitively he implied, and as sensitively Buttifant gathered, that Mrs. Buttifant had fallen in his estimation. At Jane's tea-party he had concluded her to be sympathetic and delicate: now she was neither. She was making a second marriage.
"What do you think of it?" asked Buttifant of the play when they left the theatre.
"Nothing at all. I could write a better one myself."
"You write a better one! Oh come, Vaguener!"
The impudent amusement sounded in Buttifant "s voice, just as it sounded so often in Jane's.
"Yes, I could," he said resolutely. "Some day I will. Some day I will surprise you."
He boisterously took Buttifant's arm.
"Don't let's go back yet. Let's get something to eat. You pay; I'll pay you back."
Buttifant regarded him. It had come to this: John-Andrew did not care whom he sponged on! He didn't grudge the money—but there was Jane!
"Very well," he said quietly and he took him to a place. Vaguener knew nothing of London; all he knew was walking with empty pockets about the streets—that and a market basket and Jane's marketing purse, fat with small change!
At the restaurant they found, amongst other men that Buttifant knew, Gabriel Best and Branch. Vaguener went pointedly up to the agent.
"Did you see my sister home?" he asked. "She dined with you, didn't she?"| | 190
"Yes, and I saw her home. She didn't seem herself to-night. She was depressed and that is very unlike her," said Branch.
Buttifant was listening; Vaguener noticed that.
"She is working too hard, she ought to switch off for six months at least. She ought to go abroad and get fresh ideas. I told her so,"Branch added.
He looked fat and shiny and seraphically calm, yet there was that heartless note in his voice which Jane dreaded. Young Best standing by and listening with interest put it into words,
"If any of us were drowning, Branch, you wouldn't take off your coat till you were sure of your commission."
"Very likely not." Branch was unperturbed. He continued talking to Vaguener; fixing him with a scornful pale eye.
"I told her that you can't get the foreign flavour of a place just by reading descriptive articles. She is writing about Madrid and she knows no more about it than I do about Patagonia. She tells me she has never been across the Channel. Says she can't afford it."
"She has many claims on her purse." John-Andrew, saying this, looked diabolical.
"More's the pity."Branch was frigid. "I was obliged to tell her to-night that this stuff she's doing doesn't ring true. The market is changing and she must change. I hope she isn't played out, for your sake."
He lifted his glass, looking at Vaguener over the top.
Vaguener kept quiet.| | 191
"Played out! Of course she isn't." Buttifant was valiant at once. Vaguener said,
"I am not happy about my sister, Mr. Branch. I think her work tells upon her more than we suppose."
He spoke carefully and without feeling; he bore Mr. Branch no malice.
Buttifant, Best and Branch looked at him contemptuously. Then they had a last drink and parted company. Best, who was a rich young man so far, had chambers on the Embankment, Branch was married and had to catch the train for Surbiton. Buttifant and Vaguener returned to Gray's Inn. They rang at the gate and were admitted. Vaguener politely said good night to the porter. He was amazingly bland, and he looked the man full in the eye.
Buttifant was sleepy. He stumbled on the stairs and fumbled with his key. Vaguener held his arm.
"We mustn't wake Jane," he whispered. And he opened the door of the set himself.
Directly he was in bed, Buttifant fell asleep, not dreaming, not moving; a soundless, motionless, deep slumber. He was right off. Vaguener, on the folding bed in the far corner, leaned upon his elbow sharply watching. Presently he slipped out. He stood in the moonlight; a little lithe man dressed in Buttifant's Pyjamas.
He went out of the room and out of Buttifant's set. He stood upon the landing between the two sets and he glowered at Jane's oak with her name painted white upon it. Only her name!
He felt calm and ultra-composed, he felt perfectly safe: he was convinced there would be no hitch.| | 192
He was a simple, unscrupulous man going across the landing from one set of chambers to another to do a definite task. He had found work to do and it was violent. Violence was the thing which, always, he had demanded. He was not unduly elated, he had not a touch of conscience and, most emphatically, he was not afraid.
When he had unlocked the two doors and stood in Jane's set his wrists trembled. Oh he must get the thing over, he must not lose his nerve!
He went stolidly into the kitchen—the bare small place so redolent of Mrs. Welfare. There was a box upon the table full of knives. He took one out and went on to Jane's bedroom with it.
He opened her door and stood still. There were her clothes neatly folded upon the chair, there was the shape of her body lying in the bed. He breathed quietly, drawing in the smell of soap, perfume and hair wash. Jane always made a careful toilette before she went to bed.
He went up to the bed, the knife gripped fast. He was perfectly ready. As to flinching—not he! He was strong at last. He was going to murder Jane.
He stood by the bed, moonlight was in the room and it fell melodramatically on the blade of the knife. It fell also upon Jane. She was lying on her side, facing him. The night was hot and the bedclothes were down to her waist. She lay in her nightgown, with her short, fat neck bare.
Her hair in front was twisted into curlers, leaving her healthy face looking bigger than ever.
She was lying on her side and she was broad awake. She saw him standing by the bed and saw the up- | | 193 raised knife. Their eyes met and they kept perfectly still, just staring at each other; a glance of stupendous eloquence. Jane did not say a word. If she had spoken John-Andrew would have plunged the knife. She knew this.
She looked at him: her eyes told and taught him all sorts of things. He would never forget that look in her hard blue eyes. Eyes that never talked: yet now they said more than her tongue had ever said. They said perhaps more than eyes ever had said: for this was a great occasion.
John-Andrew turned away. The knife dropped to the floor. He stooped, picked it up and walked quietly out of the room. He replaced that knife in the box upon the kitchen table, then he went out of Jane's set, carefully closing both doors. He crossed the landing to Buttifant's.
He was in a bath of blazing sweat, his throat was on fire. He said to himself, grimly,
"It didn't come off!"
Nothing he wanted to do ever did come off. It was a ticklish moment when he entered Buttifant's bedroom. But his friend lay fast asleep upon his back. There was a puckered smile upon the kind little white face. He didn't look pretty when he was in bed and asleep. Very few people did, reflected Vaguener, slipping between his own sheets that, still, were warm. Yet didn't they look worse when they were awake? He wanted to laugh.
With a confused sense of something done, yet nonaccomplished, he fell asleep.
It seemed but a moment later when Buttifant seized his shoulder, shouting out,| | 194
"We've overslept. It is past ten. I've never done such a thing in my life before."
Vaguener lopped round in his narrow bed, he blinked.
"I've had an awfully good night," he said cheerfully.
"Have you? More than I can say." Buttifant looked weary and not over-well. "There was something funny about that whisky last night, though it doesn't seem to have upset you. I slept like a log and woke in a fever. I might have been drugged."
He turned away.
"Get up," he said. "Mother Welfare's been in and cooked the breakfast. She's left it in the oven."
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