- CHAPTER VIII
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"BE in good time for lunch won't you, Kenneth? Commander and Mrs. Attfield are coming, with Mr. Buttifant if he feels up to it."
"I like Buttifant."The clergyman looked at his mother as she sat by the little fire with the open window behind her. "He has very generously offered to paint a picture of St. Agnes, our Patronal Saint."
"That is good of him, because he is famous now and the picture will be worth money. The newspaper people say that there is something wonderful about his water-colour work. You wouldn't think so to look at him."
"That's just it."Kenneth, answering her, looked worried. "He'd do St. Agnes in oils. Then these artists have a most unorthodox conception and he may produce a Saint that I can't put in the church. Beautiful work but improper."
"Well, get back early from your visiting and talk it over with him,"said Mrs. Marshall soothingly. "Make him see your point of view."
Part of her mission in life was to placate Kenneth.
He lingered at the door, holding it half open in a fat hand.
Kenneth was like Jane; fat and pale-coloured, with a perfectly round head—as Jane's had been round. It was quite monastically bald and he was | | 203 proud of this natural tonsure. He was like Jane to look at and like her in his incredible industry and his mute pathos. He nearly worked himself to death in his parish and it was thankless work, because most of the people were dissenters. Kenneth looked and sounded a commonplace and priggish young man; but he was thoroughly good.
"It's uphill work in the parish,"he said, looking cherubic and woebegone, "and worse than ever since the Roman Catholic chapel was built on Skidden Hill."
"I know what a difficult parish it is, dear boy."His mother smiled at him in her comfortable way. "And it always was, Kenneth. We can't be surprised,"a sense of scandal stole into her voice, "at your poor grandfather going to pieces in the way he did."
"I don't think it is a matter we ought to regard lightly, mother."
"Lightly! My dear Kenneth, I would not for worlds allow St. Ives to suppose that I was the daughter of John Trewhella. For people suspect that he murdered Dr. Curnow."
"We know that he did."Kenneth was uneasy. "It weighs on me."
"Don't let it. I take it philosophically, Becca is cynical and nobody else knows. That old woman at Towednack may, but she won't live much longer."
"I preach at Towednack on Sunday. The Rector and I exchange pulpits."
"I don't like that man's sermons. Well, you'll get back early, won't you, dear?''
Mrs. Marshall in her black dress, with her calm face and thickset figure, went on putting careful stitches | | 204 into a stole she was embroidering. She watched her son go out.
"He is too conscientious,"she said. "Pity he isn't a Marshall. What a sensible, easy-going person Mr. Marshall was! As for me——"
"You're getting into an awful habit of talking to yourself, mother,"Becca burst in, making a flame and a whirl with her red head and her long limbs. "It leads to lunacy. But we can't imagine you going off your head. As for you—what?"
"I was just sorting us all out as a family, Becca. Of course I am my mother clean through; no nonsense about either of us. She kept an inn and was an excellent woman of business, as you know very well. Kenneth is nearly a Marshall. I wish he was quite; then he wouldn't worry over the parish. He'd just take his stipend and do as much work as the stipend was worth."
"There's a lot of poor old Jane in Kenneth."Becca sat down by the open window. "What did you make of me?"
"I can't make anything."Her mother steadily threaded a needle with green silk.
"Can't you? Well I can. I'm my grandfather; dear, mad, murdering——"
"Ssh, Becca! "
"John Trewhella, mother."
'You are not your grandfather. John-Andrew is exactly. John-Andrew is cold and ambitious and unhappy. You don't remind me of anybody. You are a sport. You are like some of the girls down the Digey."
"You wait. I may turn into something rare; a | | 205 plant that people take cuttings from."Becca grinned at her mother mysteriously. "I suppose the Attfields will be here soon. Didn't you say they were coming to lunch?"
"Yes, with Mr. Buttifant if he's well enough."
"Do you like Mr. Buttifant, mother?"
"Yes, do you?"
"Immensely. I'm sorry for him."
"You need not be. He has done the thing he wanted to."
"That's something."Becca rucked up her black skirt and swung her foot fast.
"It is everything, my dear. You see he was doing that picture-book work and hating it, but he had to do it for money and to keep his mother. Then he got this illness, which upset his work altogether, then he collected the water-colours and had a little show——"
"And the thing was done."Becca looked eager. "I suppose it comes like that—the thing you want. It comes suddenly, doesn't it? You blink—and there it is!"
"If it comes at all,"her mother sounded prudent. "It came to Mr. Buttifant and if he hadn't been taken suddenly ill and the very day when poor Jane died, which was a queer coincidence, he might never have been famous at all. He would have kept on being—now what does he call himself—a pot boiler.
"No, he wouldn't. He was only waiting to get his mother off his hands; he has told me so."
"He seems to tell you a great deal."
"He does; but not more than his mother tells you."
The girl's foot swung faster. Her mother regarded | | 206 her. She wanted Becca to marry Buttifant. She had not thought much of Buttifant when he was a black and white artist, living queerly in what she persisted in calling "apartments"on the same landing as Jane. But Buttifant, with his mother married to a person so rich and creditable as Commander Attfield and Buttifant with his sudden exclusive fame as a water-colour painter of gift and originality, presented himself in another light. Mrs. Marshall wasbourgeois in her blood: she now considered Buttifant to be a gentleman: at the time of Jane's tea-party he had been merely a polite little hardworking oddity.
She would have preferred Becca not to marry. She was forced, whimsically and regretfully, to the conclusion that Becca must; or be embittered. She had only produced in her children one perfect celibate, not two. And Becca must not marry John-Andrew; for it would make her miserable. John-Andrew was cold, he was unfitted for marriage. His aunt understood him, she sympathised with him and—did not wish him to be perverted. Buttifant was on the spot and in the mood. For she suspected that he had been attracted by Jane, as Becca had been attracted by John-Andrew.
Mrs. Marshall stood so cynically outside any personal interest in love affairs, that she became a subtle student of them.
"He wasn't really ill, mother; it was his eyes. He ought to have had glasses from the first. He has long sight and was doing short work."
"Short work, Becca?"
"Sticking his face close up to that scratchy black and white stuff, mother. He had been feeling funny | | 207 in his eyes for a long time. The oculist said he only knew of one other case; and that was a watchmaker. He's all right now he has glasses but they do make him look a fright."
"Glasses always do; and he is no worse than other people. What are looks, my dear?"
"Everything,"said Becca succinctly. "Isn't that why father married you: and delivered you from grandfather, with his mad ways and bad temper, and made you a well-to-do widow before you were forty? I'm sure he didn't marry you for your warm affections."The girl laughed rather savagely.
"My warm affections! Certainly not."Her mother was affronted. "As for looks, Becca——"
"Don't simper, dear. You know you are good looking, in your nice blonde middle class—no, not middle class, lower class way. Is a public-house keeper lower class,—or what class?"
"Goodness knows, Becca. And I wish you wouldn't be so blunt about it."
"But you were blunt just now; you said you were exactly like my grandmother. I should think it was awfully jolly to keep an inn. And here are the Attfields coming."
"With Mr. Buttifant?"
"With Mr. Buttifant."The girl met her mother's glance drolly.
Then she stooped and gave her a kiss.
"It won't do, mother."
"What won't do?"
"Mr. Buttifant. He doesn't want me and I wouldn't have him,"| | 208
"Well, in any case,"Mrs. Marshall blushed and looked gawky; she covered her embroidered stole with tissue paper and put it in the work table, "they are very nice neighbours. And we need not bother about anything else just yet. I am glad the Commander is building a house at Carbis Bay. They will spend every autumn there. It is only natural that an old sailor should wish to be near the sea. And Mr. Buttifant will be able to paint."
"He finds Cornish landscape very stimulating,"said Becca.
"Does he? I am glad."
Mrs. Marshall spoke heartily and as if the Cornish landscape were a tonic which would put flesh on Buttifant's body and blood into his face.
She went to the house door, in the homely country way, to greet her guests.
It was late November: mellow tints and sweet airs: the time of high storms and great penitences, down here in Cornwall.
The house door of the Rectory was wide. It opened out from the flagged hall with its raftered ceiling.
Mrs. Marshall stood in the doorway and autumn leaves whirled in; for there was always a gale, sweet or shrewish, through these weeks of autumn. There were days when the dry leaves curled and danced upon the stones and days when they lay upon them in a sodden brown. Up till Christmas it was always mild enough to have doors and windows open.
Mrs. Marshall stood there. Becca, her red head in a glory, her yellow face in contrast, was behind. Commander Attfield and his wife, with Buttifant and | | 209 Kenneth, came up the path. They came between well-filled flower borders. Everything was prolific. The garden expressed Mrs. Marshall's practical mind. The great fuchsia bushes—or some just like them—which John Trewhella had left in his slovenly garden in 1854 flowered in their old places. They darkened the study window. The little wistful red flowers hung thick upon the rapidly baring brown stalks.
"We met such a delightful man at the top of Barnoon,"Buttifant's mother said, in her slow way—soft and enthusiastic; comfortable, complacent: "quite a foreign type. He gave me such a smile, didn't he, William? And he touched his hat."
The Commander laughed, he looked adoringly at his ample wife: the delectable blossom that he had gathered after thirty years.
"A haughty looking savage chap; I've seen plenty like him abroad, Aggie."
He shook hands with Mrs. Marshall.
"That must have been Thomas Nancurvis,"Becca said to her brother as they passed through the cool hall.
"Except that he would never touch his hat to anybody; not even Mrs. Attfield."
The clergyman said this and he looked distrustfully at Buttifant's mother.
She was attractive, but she ought to realise that she was too old to attract. There was ample Puritan m Kenneth; to him, she was something of the Scarlet Woman; watered down and well bred—but reprehensible. He thought her bad for Becca. His sister gave him moments of anxiety. The ways of women disagreed with him.| | 210
"There is something about my wife that arouses devotion,"said the Commander simply.
He was absurd in his adulation and enormously touching. Buttifant looked across at his mother; she seemed to bloom and droop. She was like an overblown, beautiful peony; he was in love with her himself. His eyes said to her:
'So you've indulged him! He calls you Aggie!'
They went in to lunch.
"What a delightful old house this is! "the Commander looked about him at wide spaces and cradled nooks: room after room leading from the hall; great niches of big hearths, window seats that were deep and all of it owing such generous proportion to the thickness of the stone walls.
"The little place we are building at Carbis Bay, Aggie, what a cockle shell by comparison! "
"It won't be red—the Cornish landscape has me to thank for that."Buttifant laughed and took his place. "I persuaded the Commander,"he spoke to Kenneth, "to have a grey house. You must always build of the material you find to hand. Red houses are all very well in Surrey and they are beautiful at Torquay, with its rosy sandstone. But here! A red house here is as great an outrage as one would be upon the South-Downs. Not quite because the South-Downs are my passion."
He loved them and, thinking of them, he retreated from this hospitable company; a genial gathering of feeding folk talking so frothily; yet in a very eloquent house. There was plenty of mystery and sadness here—had he known. The guilty ghost of John Trewhella still inhabited it. John Trewhella's love, an | | 211 old widow woman at Towednack, had lived here in heart since 1854.
Buttifant was thinking of his own hurt,—again, with agony so literal that he nearly cried out, he could imagine Jane lying dead, as she lay last May. He had not seen her lying dead. This was November. He had been ill. Now he came crawling back—to strength, to desire, to hopelessness. His dear, his noisy, vulgar Jane was dead. He never could win her. This world did not hold her.
Just to speak of the South-Downs brought her to him: although they had never been on the incomparable hills together. Those hills were nearer his heart than anything in England or out of it and when he left Gray's Inn on Sundays it had been to tramp over them. He knew them—clothed and naked! He knew the beech woods and the dotted, brushy junipers, and knew, better, the unclothed hills, bare and high, that spring east of the Adur[.] Only three weeks before she died he had made Jane promise that when she got time she would go with him to Firle Beacon.
They were to have gone without John-Andrew. Buttifant had imagined them sitting alone in strong sunlight through the long day; sea beneath, ships undulating along the golden line of horizon.
And how Jane's voice would have carried in that clear air! Her voice—that went through his head! Why did he want her so? He would never—in this world—know why. He only knew he did want and that nothing else would do.
They had not gone to Firle. Jane had never found tune. Shoddy activities had beset her throughout, as | | 212 they had beset him. Neither of them had lived, they had debased Time. She had been keeping herself and John-Andrew, he had been keeping his family. He looked across the table at his mother; charming, shallow, supremely selfish; automatically getting what she wanted. His mother had lost him Jane. While he had been doing black and white work, while he had been hounded on by Branch to do more, while he had been paying school bills and housekeeping bills and dressmaking bills, hand over hand, he might have married Jane. His courage should have compelled consent. He had been a coward and now the coward's fate was his. Jane was his soul's desire and she was dead.
He sat looking at his mother; the mother he immensely admired. He austerely considered himself justified in resenting her, as a man should resent a parasite. His mother had done him the worst injury; she had sealed his eyes to spiritual things.
He blamed his mother—since he must blame somebody. He blamed her for his own weakness, for his puny wanting to feel sure. She had hung round his neck, a dead weight: as thousands of women hang round thousands of men; she had made him want to see whole vistas of the necessary bread and butter instead of gratefully eating his daily slice. She had taken it for granted that neither she nor Reggie nor Bernie could do without a single thing; nothing—neither water-colours nor Jane—must imperil the three. They were all off his hands now—and Jane was dead!
Moreover, he was celebrated in his way. He was safe, he had reached the goal of all imaginative | | 213 workers: he could, for the rest of his life, do the work he loved and feel sure of being paid for it: not much perhaps, yet enough. This had come to him; the thing that mattered so much, the thing that he had prayed for. Every day as he had stood at his easel in Gray's Inn hard upon unworthy work, he had breathed forth vague petitions. Through the rain of letters and telegrams and telephone messages asking for work, through the acceptable raining of cheques that paid for the work, his prayer had sounded. It was answered.
Coming out of one fever and falling, forthwith, into another of a different order, he had put his water-colours together and exhibited them. It was a wrong time; the holiday season not over, London half empty. Yet his work boomed. It was important enough to triumph over disadvantage. He found himself acclaimed as an influence. He was safe; the great black terror—of poverty, of obscurity—was off him. He had got there. That was it.
God had granted to him all things—and they came too late. He had everything but Jane—and she was all he wanted. Jane was dead: never once had they trodden the hills together, or even walked along a little lane or dived into a wood. He had never seen her in a holiday mood. She would have been a regular hoyden, walking the world in violent raiment—and he would have loved it all.
How Jane would have shouted over his success with water-colours and bluntly called his belauding critics a set of colour-blind fools! Jane had been so divinely cocksure; she knew everything!
Upon the hills, he would have modulated her: by | | 214 the virtue of the hills, by the fire of his own keen, inconsequent passion. He would have transmuted Jane's metal. He would have buried her vulgarity and her coldness as surely as Highgate Cemetery buried her body now.
Never had she found time to go with him to Firle. On that great hill—thick with those aromatic bloomings that cling to the ancient turf—he would have won her. For a man must possess a woman when they are alone upon a hill: with the sea to sight, with the sound of sheep bells and the smell of flowers; at the ear and on the shoulder. He would have won her. He would have created, up there upon Firle Beacon, a new, a warm, a fine Jane.
He and she would have succeeded the generations of lovers who had rejoiced up there; they would have forerun those that are unborn.
It seemed to him that he sat silent for hours at this Cornish table but it was only a moment or so. Mrs. Marshall's voice jarred him as she took up his topic.
"Oh the South-Downs! You don't mean to say, Mr. Buttifant, that you like that dreary range near Newhaven? I always think that when one comes back from the Continent and gets into the train for Victoria those hills are so depressing. May I send you some fish? An aunt of my late husband's——"
Her voice became narrative; her son and daughter convulsively composed themselves for the recital of a crusted family joke. Kenneth was thinking in conscientious travail, 'She has told them this yarn before! '
"Became engaged to a gentleman called Mackrill," | | 215 continued Mrs. Marshall, the pleasant smile broadening on her homely face. "So, to avoid anycontretemps, she never afterwards at table saidwhat fish she was serving but just 'May I send you some fish?' At the wedding breakfast she unfortunately said to the bridegroom's father, 'Fish, Mr. Lobster?' Those two were never on pleasant terms for the rest of their days. I think it affected the young couple's happiness."
"That story," Kenneth remarked in his serious way, "always made John-Andrew so angry."
"You speak as if he were dead, Kenneth."
Becca was sharp.
"So he is—to us. We haven't seen him since the day of poor Jane's funeral. And I must admit that since John-Andrew lost his Faith I haven't had much in common with him," the young priest said curtly.
"Don't talk about Jane's funeral," his mother was quick. "I shall never forget that dreadful time. And if there is one cemetery more gloomy than the rest——"
"John-Andrew," Kenneth frowned, "should have had Jane buried here. But he was very obstinate and also he was very mean over money. When he's rolling in money!"
"He wasn't rolling then and he was very upset." Mrs. Attfield spoke. "We all were. Everything happened at once. She was dead and you were so ill, Arnold. And Mr. Vaguener was so quiet; it was worse than any amount of fuss. I'm so glad I had all your things taken away from that place and warehoused while you were unconscious and could not | | 216 protest. I can't bear the idea of your ever going back to Gray's Inn."
"I shall go back and before long, mother."
Buttifant sounded dogged.
"I shall have to go to London and I shall look up John-Andrew. As to rolling in money, I don't suppose he has rolled far yet."
"Well, you can't have your old set of chambers, dear. It's let, isn't it, Willie?"
'Yes, I had the curiosity last time I was in London to go into South Square," said the Commander. "There's another name painted up."
"John-Andrew will give me a bed." Buttifant sounded so deadly that the table stopped eating. "I haven't seen him since he became such a swell."
"Oh but you are a swell too." Mrs. Marshall was kindly. She had the usual idea: that these eccentric creatures should be encouraged!
"Not so big as he is. Just think ofCackle Street! Such an instant success and so uncannily clever. It is sure of a long run. I didn't think he had it in him. Poor old chap! I suppose he was worrying it out in Gray's Inn when he was so grumpy."
"I suppose," Kenneth was solemn, "that my cousin will make a fortune?"
"Rather!" Buttifant crowed in his certainty.
'You can make a living for life out of just a moderate play, Jane told me so," said Becca, flushing up and looking eager. "That was the time when she was in bed with bronchitis. She was awfully worried over money."
"She always worried over money." Buttifant pecked at his fish.| | 217
"Which is very wrong," remarked Kenneth, speaking as if he said grace.
"Awfully wrong—when you're got plenty," his sister told him.
Becca and Kenneth get upon each other's nerves. This was another reason why Becca should marry. Mrs. Marshall looked at Buttifant.
"Poor Jane! If only she had lived she would have had plenty," she said. "Life is very hard upon some people. If you do go to London, Mr. Buttifant, and if you do see Johnny give him my love and ask him why he never answered my letter. I wrote to him directly his play had such a good notice in theMorning Post."
"I shall see him, Mrs. Marshall; and I'll remember."
"But not until after Christmas, Arnold." His mother was firm. "We shall be in London then and I can look after you. I can help you to find rooms."
"He doesn't want rooms, he can live with us. The house in Bedford Square is big enough for everybody," said the Commander, with his usual hearty and generous inflections.
"I should be an awful nuisance to everybody," Buttifant returned. "I must have my own little place. You shall help choose it, mother. Find me something near Bedford Square."
The expansive and charming woman looked along the table at her son; at his neat profile and faultless insignificant nose. She looked at a face which, as she often told him, was so well tailored. Arnold's appearance was well-bred and nugatory; yet he was the one man she had not been able to twist right round her finger. He had his reservations of obstinacy | | 218 —over Jane Vaguener for instance. Mrs. Attfield looked pious: she could not help feeling glad that Jane was dead!
After lunch she saw Arnold led into Kenneth's study.
"They want to talk over the S. Agnes,' said Mrs. Marshall, going with her into the drawing-room. "In painting for the Church there are limitations. Kenneth will explain. He's a very good ceremonialist. You may have seen his letters in theChurch Times."
"TheChurch Times! Oh really?" breathed Mrs. Attfield.
Becca and the Commander were in the garden, she pointing out clumps of perennials which should be divided before the frosts came and sent to Carbis Bay to stock his new flower borders.
"It is dull for Becca down in Cornwall." Mrs. Marshall started embroidering her stole. "I wish sometimes that——"
"But she will." Mrs. Attfield smiled warmly. "Marry you mean?"
"Yes, that's what I mean."
They nodded at each other. Upon each face was a beam.
This being settled between them, they were gratified when Becca announced her intention of walking part of the way back with the Attfields, who had taken a furnished house on Barnoon Hill, while their own house was building. They had stayed to tea and it was already dusk.
Mrs. Marshall stood at the window watching the party cross the field and get over the stone stile. Buttifant looked neat and white and kind, Becca, in | | 219 her very walk, seemed to gambol. Becca's legs were too long and unruly. She was like a great big puppy. She was also like——Mrs. Marshall turned round to her son who stood behind her.
"Isn't Becca like the old Towednack woman? I notice it more and more?"
"It is a type, mother. Other girls and other old women at St. Ives are like Becca and Mrs. Polmeor. Why do you always say 'the old woman at Towednack'? It isn't charitable?"
"I don't like her. She's called Rebecca—which is my name. Then I feel positive that she knows about your grandfather and knows that we are not Vagueners at all, but Trewhellas. She seems to be grinning at us. She only pays me a formal call twice a year, but it makes me most uncomfortable to see her in the drawing-room, with those little glittering old eyes roving about. That yellow head and those eyes! She's like a toad."
"Not more than Becca will be at the same age, mother."
"Fancy Becca nearly ninety!" the mother's laugh was incredulous. "Well, I shan't be alive to see."
Her son kissed her conscientiously upon the broad homely face.
"Don't be irrational," he pleaded. "It isn't like you."
The old woman at Towednack? Then I won't say it any more. Did you and Mr. Buttifant settle about the S. Agnes?"
"He saw my point of view," Kenneth sounded doubtful, "but these artists are headstrong. You | | 220 wouldn't think so to look at him. We are going to talk it over when he comes down again."
"He's going to London after Christmas, isn't he? "
"He'll go before. You like just that shade of red?"
He asked her this as she threaded her needle with silk for the stole.
"Yes. I think so. But when it comes to starting on that festal chasuble for you, Kenneth, I shan't trust my own ideas. I must go to Bodiam."
There was an authority upon vestments living at Bodiam.
Becca said to Buttifant as they walked towards Barnoon,
"When you have seen John-Andrew, write to me and say just what you make of him. Something is sure to happen to him before long."
She met Buttifant's eyes. He admired those funny dark ones of hers; just slantwise pansy petals, of the blackest grown.
"If anything happens, you want to know?" he asked.
Looking at each other in the dying light understanding became exchanged. They learnt things about each other. Becca said roughly:
"You know that I love John-Andrew? I don t mind saying this to you because you loved Jane."
"Yes." Buttifant, still walking, yet became motionless in effect: it seemed as if even his heart stopped while he answered, "I did love Jane."
"I'm sorry." Becca's hand gripped his. "She | | 221 didn't care for love and John-Andrew doesn't but——"
"You will make him?"
"I will make him, as you would have made Jane."
"There is nothing to stop you." Buttifant sounded bitterly self-scorning. "Vaguener will have plenty of money now."
"I suppose he will and I've got some, but money doesn't count."
"It does—when you haven't got any counting to do. You said that to your brother at lunch."
"So I did. AndCackle Street does mean money?"
"Without doubt. Vaguener's all right."
"I don't think he is. I think that the shock and the joy of it will be too much. Go to London soon. Find out. Send for me if I'm wanted."
"Don't worry about him. He's all right. But I will go soon and I will write to you."
"You'll tell me everything?"
Neither of them assumed what a thing there would be to tell. Becca had a sense of drama; born in her, provoked by her, but Buttifant kept a practical view of John-Andrew. He imagined him making himself comfortable, revelling in money and in the relief from Jane. How he would hug himself over Cackle Street! And what a clever chap he was! He was by this time conceited and bragging: he had doubtless become a Gabriel Best. He was certainly insufferable. Buttifant wanted to see him. He felt a hunger for that set in South Square. Had Vaguener kept Jane's things: the odd and end rubbish that she bought so freely and scattered about the place?| | 222
He parted from Becca at the corner of the path, just where the town is seen. His mother and Commander Attfield were well ahead and looking like lovers, as one of them was.
He turned back to look after the girl—with that quick haughty walk of hers, with that fiery head! She was grand and fine; she understood him, she appealed to him. So why couldn't they fall in love with each other, marry and be happy ever after? Out of the question—on each side. He would have given the whole of Becca—for just Jane's finger. Those fingers of Jane's, thick; very often dyed violet from her typewriting ribbon. He could see them, he could feel the way they felt.
As to Becca, she was mad—for John-Andrew. She would have laughed at any other lovemaking—or stamped upon it.
She wanted that disagreeable little dark chap; with his violence and his genius. No other man would do.
Buttifant watched the girl go; in the pathos of her youth and her vitality. What would happen to Becca? Would she get John-Andrew and if she did would he suffice?
She might be an old maid. John-Andrew, who was more than a touch mad, might utterly refuse her. Buttifant wondered. Jane was dead, but these two were alive—with their chapter to finish.
He walked after his mother and her second husband. He envied that sublimely besotted sailor man going on in front. He had got the woman he wanted. He had waited thirty years—yet there she was!
Buttifant thought of Jane's grave, which he had | | 223 never seen. For when he came out of the fever of his illness he fell into the even more delirious fever of his water-colours. This had absorbed and saved him. Then came success. He must go to London
Becca walked away from him. She was staring straight before her at the hills; at Rosewall which seemed to hang immediately above the church, at Buttermilk, beyond it and nearer to Zennor. Her face softened and grew desperate; for these hills had their effect upon Cornish lovers. She stuck out her arms, long and thinnish, not quite developed. She was of the type that takes a long time growing up. The most mature appeal was in those immature arms, nevertheless. She looked desirable and mad.
"Johnny!" she breathed in a quick long whisper, "Johnny, Johnny!"
Her head flung back, then dropped. She quivered. Fierce tears ran down her face.
Old Rebecca Polmeor at Towednack, widow of the late Rector and going on for ninety, had looked at Rosewall hill and stood like that and spoken like that very often. Stolen soliloquy was the recitative of her living. As maiden, as wife, as widow; as young, as old; with sin or without it. She did not know, she did not care. She had loved one man—a little cold dark man and a murderer. She had sent him away, but she kept on wanting him for the whole of her long, long life. She talked to the hills about him, she told them. When she heard that he was dead, when his son came back under another name—yet instantly recognised by her—When his grandchildren were born: that made no | | 224 difference to her invincibly youthful heart. To the world, Rebecca Polmeor would have been in her moods of confession, absurd and ancient: to the hills, she remained heroic and always young.
Becca wiped her eyes and walked on; flaming, mystified and ashamed. She looked straight ahead and saw Gabriel Best coming. He came from the square stone house where his mother farmed and upon which he had worked. He came quickly, in a walk that was Cockneyfied, yet loutish: he had spoiled himself for perfect harmony either in town or country. He stopped before Becca and said humbly:
"I saw you all leave the Rectory and go towards Barnoon. I followed, I sneaked along behind. I waited until Buttifant left you. I felt you were my betters. Down here in Cornwall, that feeling comes back."
"Gabriel! I thought you were in London writing wonderful stories and being made a fuss of. Did you see me cry?" She turned in a sudden panic, looking red and then yellow. "Did you hear me talking to the hill?"
"Wouldn't matter if I did. I've said lots of things to that hill. It knows all I've got."
When Gabriel said this, his voice acquired some Buttifant's unfailing sweetness.
"You've put that sort of talk in books," Becca reminded him sullenly. "I'm sick of books and writing people—with their immodest way of telling everything. Think of my poor cousin Jane! "
"Think of your poor cousin John-Andrew!" Gabriel, reminding her, turned bitter. "Think of | | 225 him andCackle Street. You gave him the name for that play."
"I said to Jane that you were all of you living in what seemed to me a place called Cackle Street. Did she tell you?"
"Yes, she told me."
"You all tell each other. Is John-Andrew's play about writing people?"
"Not a bit; Vaguener's only taken the title and twisted things round to make it fit."
"I see. Is it really a good play?"
"Splendid!" Gabriel was enthusiastic and grudging. "I can't think how he did it."
"Tell me all about it?"
"No, I won't. I want to talk about myself. I only came from Paddington this morning and I'm going back tomorrow morning—unless you ask me to stop."
'You ought to stop. You never ought to go ten miles out of St. Ives."
She looked at him, magnificent: as he appeared in the lovely sunset and the incomparable land. Light from the hill, with its glowing radiance and its ragged, sodden wine dregs of the turning bracken, fell upon their faces; showing Gabriel's strong peasant colours, the hue soaked into him; the honourable tinting of a line of labouring ancestors. Bests had been farming at Hellesveor from the beginning. The light fell on Becca too, showing her weird contradictions of red hair and yellow skin and little dark eyes that shone and sulked. There were girls like her and men like him in the adorable byways that led up from the sea | | 226 into the town; girls and men wooing or mated, Cornish of the Cornish; ancient and part of the place.
They stood there, with the instinctive pose of lovers, for both were shaken by desire. The grand, one mood of the growing world encompassed them. It seemed natural, inevitable; that they should drift into prolific matrimony. For they expressed young love at its sturdiest. An impartial looker on would have said, 'If these two don't increase and multiply, what an astonishing muddle old Nature is making of things.'
"You don't belong to leave St. Ives, Gabriel."
"I don't, nor do you."
"I shan't ever leave St. Ives."
She told him this and looked round proudly; at the flaming land, at the violet sea. The fishing fleet was out and all the little lights were stars. The sea was the firmament upside down.
"But I must," he sounded fatalistic. "London's got me."
"Oh yes, you'll go back and write books. You'll come down now and then to feed at St. Ives; to suck stories out of people."
"Books!" Gabriel was quick. "I'm tired of books."
"But you were so proud. And people made such a fuss of you."
"I was a new fashion, and fashions change.I was a rustic, I smelt of milk and manure. They expected to be diverted by me. They thought I'd drink my tea out of my saucer and——"| | 227
"And blow it." Becca laughed. "I expected that when you had tea with us in Berners Street."
"I can't think of book writing and book people." He interrupted her, lie took her hands, by the intent solemnity of his look, he struck her jesting dead—"Not with you; not under Rosewall, not with the night coming. You understand?"
"Very well." Becca was frigid.
"It was my love for you that made me able to write the Cornish stories. Love wrings that sort of thing out of us, as labour wrings sweat."
"I'm sorry. Sorry, Gabriel. Don't say any more."
Becca was taking this wooing pitifully. Buttifant was still walking towards Barnoon and still wondering how she would treat any declaration that did not come from John-Andrew.
"I must say it. I've come down to say it. You've thought me first a farming boy and then a freak. You've looked past and over me; when I drove down the Stennack with the milk carts; or carried pitchers from the reservoir. You've watched me driving cows and feeding pigs and seen me on the threshing machine—and I've been just a part of the landscape. I belonged to the look and the sound of Cornwall. I was like the fuchsia bushes outside your brother's study window. You expected me, you took me for granted. Wasn't that it?"
"That was it. That is it still. And will be it, Gabriel."
She was merciless but gentle. She seemed to study him, to fit him in with her own thoughts and | | 228 her own scheme. She might have been Jane, standing there looking at him, listening to him, missing nothing.
"Then I went off and wrote a book about the things and the people we know. But everybody else didn't know—so I was a new taste. They want new dishes in London. You thought me peculiar and a little insolent, for daring to leave the milk cart and the dung cart and the plough and the sty——"
"All those things that suit you, Gabriel; that make you big and simple and at home."
"That's what mother thinks. And she says I've brought disgrace on the chapel. Then I lost my head and bragged and you were all laughing at me in London. I don't wonder. I knew it—but I couldn't help it. I was transplanted; my roots were all over the place. I'd never in my life seen a woman in evening dress—not to take her on equal terms. I'd seen you and your mother at concerts down here. But we sat at the back on benches and you and your friends were in the front rows on chairs. I'd never had more than one fork to manage at dinnertime and never got into a fitted bath in my life. It was all new; it made me drunk and it made me uncomfortable. My clothes were strange. The wonderful thing is that I didn't put them on hind side before."
"You look very nice in them, but you looked better before," Becca told him. "You used to wear an old jacket. I remember it moving across the town place, going from the shed to the barn, winter after winter. It was black first and then it went green and then it went like the sea—when the sea is sulky. It was | | 229 part of every winter, that jacket—and it was all you."
Gabriel was looking at her, he was listening.
"I suppose," he said, after a long, long while, through which pause their eyes met—challenging, pleading, refusing—" that I shall go back to London and put that—the things you've said about my old jacket, the way you look saying it—into books. And that will be my life. For I've fallen between two stools. I'm no good down in Cornwall any more; yet I don't belong to leave it for London."
The gulping that came through the fading light was his sob: boyish, bitter, irresistible.
"Don't," said Becca.
She touched him.
Instantly he drew her up to his hip.
"Let me, let me," he begged.
"Let you? Let you?"
"Marry you. Nobody could give you such a love. Don't send me away. To send me away seems such awful waste."
"You go back to Paddington to-night," she was resolute.
With dignity that he could not withstand, she drew right away. Their flesh did not touch any more.
"It isn't any good? Never?"
"Never, Gabriel. But I wish that you could be in Cornwall—as you were before. That I could see you, that——"
"You want me as a property; an old greeny jacket stuck upon a stick. That won't do. I'm a man, not a thing to scare birds."
He turned.| | 230
"You are going, Gabriel?"
The light was going fast. Directly he stepped back, his outlines became teasing.
"I'm going. Just to kiss my mother, then to the station. I've got to write books and get money for them. That's to be my life. But if I could take your hand, Becca, and lead you softly up to the top of Rosewall, books past and books to be might burn."
He had never called her Becca before. She started. Gabriel observed.
"There you are!" He was sore at once. "Because I said Becca, you remembered that I am not what you call a gentleman. I never shall be. Nothing I can do, no height I can attain will change me—for Cornish folk."
"No, no—indeed! I wasn't thinking that."
She was anguished: he was telling the truth.
"You can't get away from it," he went on. "None of you can. You say that it is snobbish for outside things to make a difference. Yet if you married me and if I put my knife in my mouth——"
"Which you wouldn't."
"Oh I might! When I'd got you, I should revert to type, very likely. For when I'm my true man I love the rough way best. It's bigger. In my unbosomed moments I should become a coarse and picturesque working man—and you would hate me."
"I should hate to feel you were cutting your mouth."
She tried to jest. Gabriel approached her; he came out of the dimness with a bound, falling on her again.| | 231
"Don't be light," he besought.
She put her hands steadily on his broad shoulders, she looked into the handsome face, that was merging in with night.
"Not light," she said solemnly—"never. Don't think that. Now you go away; for it isn't any good. It never would be."
"Yes—dear," he put up his own hands, seized hers in a flurry and fondled them nervously. "I'll go."
Becca was feeling all his ravenous kisses fall upon her hands; the first kisses that had touched her. He dropped her hands at last and slid out of vision.
Night was soft, earth in the field was soft. She could hear the cattle-like pad of his feet on the grass and she could hear the sea down there by Clodgy. All the stars—those lights hanging from the herring boats—moved by in a wistful glory.
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