- CHAPTER IX
|<< chapter 08||< prologue||chapter 10 >||chapter 13 >>|
BUTTIFANT walked about Highgate Cemetery, looking for the St. Pancras burial ground. Before he left St. Ives for London he had promised his mother that he would not stay with Vaguener in Gray's Inn—assuming Vaguener asked him! He had promised to stay at an hotel until she could come up to town and choose rooms for him. This would be in a few days. He had put up at the First Avenue—which was as near Gray's Inn as he could get.
He had only left Cornwall the evening before and he had not yet seen John-Andrew. It seemed to him that, first, he must go to Jane: his noisy Jane, in her new silent home. He had found out from Mrs. Marshall just where the grave was and, quite recently, John-Andrew had written curtly to his relatives saying the stone was up.
This was March. Buttifant since November had been ill again—in that weak dim way, the way without a name to it, which pursues people after some great shock.
He looked little and vacuous and quiet as he poked about in the vast cemetery alone.
It was one of those days of naked sunlight when most people say gladly to each other, 'What lovely weather we are having.' The brisk spring wind | | 233 blew and daffodils nodded jauntily upon many graves.
On this hard day, with light so brutally candid, with nothing veiled at all; not only tombstones stood out clear, but the very histories of those lying beneath appeared to be betrayed. So Buttifant felt, in his grieved exalted mood, walking about the burial grounds alone.
He turned down a side path, brightly gravelled, as all the paths were. In the distance, a man was planting things upon a grave; a little way off, another man was digging a new one.
Overhead, there was the steady blue sky with here and there a bunch of pink almond blossom flung against it. Birds were singing carelessly. The graves were hard, green and very neat.
There was Jane's grave and her new clean stone above it. There was the sharp lettering of her name JANE VAGUENER. It was a marble stone and there was a marble coping round the grave. Within this space, little evergreen trees were planted. Buttifant stood looking down; he held a wreath of white flowers which he had bought at a florist's just outside the cemetery gates. It swung in his hands.
Presently he stooped and put his wreath between the little evergreens. He put it near the headstone.
Then he heard a laugh at his elbow and looking round saw Vaguener standing very close to him.
"My dear fellow," Jane's brother said, without preamble, "Jane will be so unhappy when those lilies turn brown. Don't you know Jane better than that? Jane! Always tidy and up to date!"| | 234
Buttifant stepped back, looking assaulted. His nerves would not stand very much.
He stared at Vaguener, who had not changed; except that he was beautifully turned out—perhaps a little too dandified and well brushed.
"You startled me," he said, putting out his hand. "You came so quietly."
"I came from behind the stone." Vaguener took his hand, holding on to it. "I was here before you. I come every day to look at her grave."
"I do. I was very fond of Jane—you ought to know that. You saw enough of our life together. I am, in fact, an affectionate man and I can be fond of people, so long as they give me no trouble, so long as they don't get in my way."
Vaguener laughed again. Buttifant became aware of an insensible change in him. This was another man, this was not the John-Andrew of Jane's time. HadCackle Street done it? Or was there something else?
"And you were in love with her. Poor old chap! "
John-Andrew's voice sounded soft, he looked calm. He looked cautious also; as if he had taught himself to keep guard.
"Yes." Buttifant was simple. "I was in love with her."
"You wanted to marry her. Yet all you can do for her now is to litter her grave with a five shilling wreath. Was it five?"
Jane's brother laughed again, then stopped.
"Oh I don't know. Upon my soul I don't re- | | 235 member." Buttifant shook; limbs and voice. "I had to bring it, that's all."
"Yes, you had to," John-Andrew nodded. "People must. Queer isn't it? I heard the other day of a woman who lost her only son, a sailor. He was drowned and the body never recovered. She bought a wreath and laid it at the foot of Nelson's column. I thought of working that into my new play."
"A new play? Already! I haven't seenCackle Street yet. I'm going to-night."
"Cackle Street is rubbish." John-Andrew was fierce. "The one I am on now is infinitely better. Wait till you see that."
He turned abruptly from the grave. Buttifant, giving it a last look, followed. For where was the use of staying? He would not hear Jane's shrill, matter-of-fact voice any more.
If he wanted to come again and be sentimental (he would try not to be) there were years and years left him; through which to fight the idea or indulge it.
He walked beside her brother along the gingery gravel path and he said, in his quiet, melodious way:
"I never said anything to her—for where was the good? She was too busy and so was I. Life Was such a grind and we couldn't leave off for lovemaking."
"But you've done well with your water-colours, in a modest way." Vaguener was insolently patronising.
I haven't seen them but I've heard what people say. I always believed in your water-colours, always."| | 236
"Yes, they are all right; so the world seems to think." Buttifant was polite, yet he was distant and the indignant blood crept into his face, settling in one spot. "We've both pulled off what we wanted to, Vaguener, but it is too late."
"Oh yes, Jane; yes of course—Jane."
Vaguener seemed confused. He clapped his hands to his ears then he drew them down and dived them into his pockets.
"Cackle Street," he said grandiloquently, "is the thing. There hasn't been such a comedy since Sheridan. But—and I repeat it, Buttifant—Cackle Street is nothing; it is the merest rubbish—a thing that Jane could have done—compared to my new play. I finished the second act yesterday morning."
He turned round, he went pattering back to the grave. Buttifant went after him; so they stood beside Jane once more: two commonplace little men, one dark, one fair; and each one wrung by his own particular pain.
"Yes," said John-Andrew, looking down and nodding wildly. "You could have done Cackle Street, Jane, my dear girl. You could have ticked it off like this upon your infernal typewriter."
He played his fingers up and down in the air.
Buttifant thought of Becca. She had said that John-Andrew would not be able to stand success, and she was right.
Becca loved John-Andrew and, when you love, you do not need argument nor proof, you divine.| | 237
Buttifant had loved Jane—and did he need anyone to tell him anything about her?
He stared at her grave. They stood, these two men, beside the grave of this industrious woman. They shuddered and flinched. Jane, so practical in life, so of the robust daylight, so like the burly blustering day which was passing now, became in death some subtle object.
"We do no good by standing here. Why did you let me come back? I want somebody to look after me, Buttifant."
He spoke as if he were going to cry. Buttifant had heard that mood of the voice before; in Gray's Inn and when John-Andrew was living upon Jane—and being heartily reminded of it very often!
They walked away again. Buttifant said when they regained the main drive leading to the entrance gates of the cemetery,
"My feeling for her—was it the true thing? I can't rest for asking myself. If it had been, shouldn't I have taken her by storm?"
"Don't ask me. What do I care about love? "demanded Vaguener in his voice of outrage.
"Plenty of love inCackle Street. I've read the press notices," Buttifant reminded him.
"Oh yes;Cackle Street. Plenty of love in everything Jane did. But we neither of us care about love; it does not agree with us as a family."
"Except your cousin Becca."
"Becca!" John-Andrew was scornful. "She's heaped her plate with everybody else's share."
They walked on, they were near the gate.| | 238
Buttifant could think only of Jane. To leave her lying there seemed unreal, impossible. It would have been so natural to hear her shouting good-humouredly behind them. He half expected her to try and catch them up.
"I've elaborated my feeling for her since she died," he returned to his dreary soliloquy. "I've been ill, for one thing, and——"
"Yes, I heard you've been ill. I'm sorry." John-Andrew squeezed his arm.
"And illness," Buttifant continued, "makes you see things as they are. You lie, stripped, in your sick bed. And you strip the rest of the world. Then she had such a dastardly ending that——"
"Dastardly!" Vaguener dropped his arm. "You speak as if she'd been murdered."
"It was murder." Buttifant was resolute.
"The impulse that drove her to take those powders was beyond her control. She was worked to death. She was murdered by those shocking yarns which she tapped off so glibly and which Branch sold like hot cakes."
"If you like to put it that way." John-Andrew's hands went up to his ears, then into his pockets at once.
"Well, I do. Your sister was never the woman to——"
"Take a dinner knife and slit her throat," concluded John-Andrew brutally. "I suppose she wasn't. Yes, she was out of her mind. The jury brought in a verdict of temporary insanity. I told you," proud self-justification stole into his voice, "that I was anxious about her. I told | | 239 you and young Best and that fellow Branch. You remember?"
He put his face close to Buttifant's, looking at him anxiously.
"Of course I remember."
"Her letter to me, which I produced at the inquest. That proved the state of her mind. It was out of the question to suspect Mrs. Welfare."
"Mrs. Welfare!" Buttifant actually laughed. "Have you got her still?"
"Yes, I've got her. I've got everything still. You must come and see."
"I want to come and see."
"I've got Jane's typewriter." John-Andrew had walked on ahead; he spoke now with his head turning slightly over his shoulder. "And the bell keeps ringing, Buttifant. Little silvery devil! Do you know it won't leave off."
Buttifant jumped. Becca was right and there was something wrong with John-Andrew. Jane's bell! So that was why he had put his hands to his ears and why he was doing it now.
"I don't think you ought to have stayed on in Gray's Inn, old fellow," he said.
"Why not?" John-Andrew dropped back on his heels. "I've nothing to reproach myself with."
His sly eyes met Buttifant's fair gaze. There was challenge in them and the most enormous pathos. Buttifant thought of Becca's eyes. How like they were to each other, she and John-Andrew!
'The set in Gray's Inn," he was stubborn, "suits me very well; but it is odd," he paused, then re- | | 240 peated wistfully, "that I can't get away from the ting of Jane's bell."
"Nerves, only nerves. That is what I mean by saying you ought to get out of Gray's Inn. You are rich; you could afford something bigger, for one thing. And the change would do you good."
"Quite big enough for me. And rich! What do you mean? I haven't got much."
"You will have.Cackle Street by itself will make you a handsome competence. What luck! Most of us have to keep on until the last sickness steals behind and clubs us smartly on the head, knocking the ideas out."
"Jane had to keep on; yet nobody clubbed her on the head or cut her throat," said John-Andrew. "An overdose of sleeping draught; they proved that at the inquest. As for being safe, you've got your water-colours. You won't need to do magazine work any more."
"Perhaps not. But the water-colours are more a richness of the imagination than the pocket."
They turned out of the cemetery. John-Andrew looked timidly along the high road at the stream of traffic. Then he huddled back.
"I've got an aunt buried in here somewhere," he said, looking behind him at the wide drive and the white tombstones. "Shall we go and look her up? Jane used to come to see that her grave was nicely kept. She made a little treat of it; had tea somewhere and rode home on the top of the 'bus."
"No, no; come on." Buttifant took his arm. "Let us get back. Come with me to my club. We'll have a bit of dinner before I go to the theatre. Will | | 241 you come with me? Or have you seenCackle Street too often?"
"Cackle Street! I tell you Jane could have written it. I don't want to see it again. Tomorrow I'll read yon the two acts of my new play. See what you think of that! There's a murder in it."
"A murder! I didn't know melodrama——"
"Melodrama be hanged. I don't do things like other people. I don't want ready-made words tagged on to what I do. I was never a hack like you and Jane."
Poor old John-Andrew! Yes, he bragged; he was worse than Gabriel Best.
"It is murder made mystic," he condescended to explain. "That's the strength and the confounded cunning of my idea. See?"
"I think I see?"
"I read the two acts to Branch last night. He was struck all of a heap. He hadn't a word to say. You should have seen his shiny old face! "
"The public likes a murder if only the author will drape it enough," he added.
He was talking fast and walking fast; but his tongue and his legs were wavering. Buttifant said gently,
"We can't walk all the way back to London. And must you go so fast?"
He looked at John-Andrew's rapid irresolute legs.
"A walk will be nice," was the answer he got. "It's a beautiful day."
"It may be beautiful out of London but here it is all grit and noise. Think what it must be like | | 242 down in Cornwall, Vaguener. Why don't you go to St. Ives for a bit? The Marshalls want you; they told me to say so."
"Yes, it's a privilege to have me. I'll write to Aunt Rebecca."
John-Andrew said this, then went tearing on again.
"I can't keep up with you,"Buttifant panted, "I've been ill. I'm a poor rag of a thing still."
"I'm sorry,"John-Andrew stopped dead, "but I only want to get out of all this clatter and rushing and ringing. Why don't you hail a cab, my good fellow?"
"You said it was a beautiful day and you wanted to walk, but here's a cab."
Buttifant hailed a taxi; he impelled John-Andrew into it. He told the driver to take them to his club, which was in a street off the Embankment.
It was a shabby exclusive club, with human homely ways. When they got there John-Andrew cuddled like a cat into a chair by the fire. He looked round him and said,
"What a contrast to Jane's club! What a hell that tea-party of hers was! How the women screamed: with their voices and their frocks. I shan't forget that day."
"It's a comfortable club. You ought to join."
"I've been asked to join a great many clubs. They all want me but I can't make up my mind. Branch belongs to this, doesn't he?"
"I believe he does."
"And young Best?"| | 243
"Yes, Branch put him up, now I think of it. Seen anything of Best?"
"No—and heard nothing of him; which is better."John-Andrew sounded devilish. "He's no good. He'd better get back to his milk cans and cattle. He's a good-looking hind."
"They were pretty little sketches, those Cornish things of his; they were the real thing. There is all sorts of work, of course,"said Buttifant.
"I'd like,"John-Andrew leaned forward, "there to be one sort of work—mine! I've got brain enough to keep the whole world amused with plays, novels, essays, poems—everything. But I haven't got the time."
"Nonsense! You can't write all the plays and bill all the papers."
"That is what I want."John-Andrew was dogged. "And I'd stop at nothing to get there. Look here, Buttifant, when anybody gets in my way I go like—that."
He looked round, reached out and took a paper knife from the table near.
"Cut up their work."Buttifant soothed him. " You'll have to be a critic as well as a playwright. Now let's go and have some grub. Then I'll get off to seeCackle Street."
They went in to dinner. John-Andrew ate very little; he was restless. Finally, he would not wait for coffee; he said he must get back to Gray's Inn and touch up those two acts. Buttifant had arranged to dine with him next day and afterwards to hear them read aloud.
Coming on top of Cackle Street," John-Andrew | | 244 shook hands with him violently and made off, "this new thing will hit you in the eye. And I read very well aloud. I read as well as I write."
Before Buttifant started for the theatre, Branch came into the club. He at once asked the agent what he thought of Vaguener's new play.
Branch sat down, he wiped the expanse of his great face.
When he spoke it was with one word:
"Oh—rot! "repeated Buttifant.
"Absolute—drivel! "Branch emphasised each word by padding his broad finger down on the table. "Vaguener,"he continued, "is a one-thing man. He's like young Best. They are very annoying, these people, they let the critics down. I would have put my money on Vaguener—after he brought me Cackle Street to place. Before that, while his poor little slave of a sister was alive and while he was comfortably sponging on her, I not only disliked him—that doesn't matter and I dislike him still—but I regarded him as the usual bumptious amateur. They make my life a misery and there are such lots of them. They are all geniuses—if only they had the time or if only they wanted the money."
"John-Andrew wanted money in those days, badly enough,"said Buttifant.
"He did, poor gloomy little devil. Well now he's got it. Pity it didn't come while his sister lived; for I liked Miss Vaguener. She was worked out, and I hadn't the heart to tell her. I only hinted."
Quiet Buttifant turned sick, he sat still. He could imagine the texture of Branch's hint! And Jane—not | | 245 often sensitive—was exquisitely so when it came to Branch. No wonder she took two sleeping powders. Oh his love! His commonplace, inventive, loudvoiced love! With her noise and her heartiness and her sense of terror over money. If she were alive to-night, he could give her a lapful of money.
"When did you give her the hint?"he asked.
"The very night before she died. Don't you remember she dined with me? I've always been sorry—but I had to give her the tip for her own sake. I asked her out to dinner purposely. I put it as delicately as I could; and I'm pretty good at that sort of thing. Writers, of all grades, pass through my hands. And, by Jove, you have to handle them."
"You were talking of Vaguener. You didn't believe there was anything in him?"
"I certainly did not. He used to bring me essays; decent things—so far as grammar went and so far as I could judge. But the public can do without grammar if you give it the real thing. The something else which is more than grammar."
"AndCackle Street is—the real thing?"
"My dear chap! "Branch was enthusiastic, he talked fast and well. "It is marvellous. He's worked in all the commonplace things—the things we've got and can't do without, the things we like to see upon the stage and get out of Mudie's. Family life,Buttifant: making love, happy-ever-after—all that. Cackle Street might be one of his sister's serials. Yet there is something magic behind it. And something terrible too. Seen it?"
"No. I'm going to-night."
"Take my advice and sit in the pit. Listen to what | | 246 people say. They cry and they laugh and yet they can't make head nor tail of. it. They are wonderful creatures, these geniuses; full of surprises. But that play—the thing Vaguener is on now—is idiotic. It is dull, improbable—impossible. I shall find some manager to stage it—because of Cackle Street. But after that, he's done. I doubt if it runs a couple of weeks. There's young Best again——"
"Yes, how about Best?"
"Coming the same cropper as Vaguener; only he won't have so far to fall. I don't worry about Best; he can turn to journalism. But Vaguener is different. I don't relish——"
"Giving him a hint,"concluded Buttifant, with a funny smile.
"Exactly. He's an uncertain sort of fellow. Well,"Branch took out his watch, "you ought to be off to seeCackle Street."
So Buttifant went and he sat in the pit as he had been told to do. He was staggered by the genius of John-Andrew's play. Never had the family affections been more beautifully and more gaily, yet so terribly, portrayed. The genius and the mastery of it! He sat confused. He remembered those days in Gray's Inn, he remembered the funny terror of that set of Jane's after John-Andrew came. Underneath all the garish industry and solid eating there had been fantasy, promise and threat. It wasCackle Street. John-Andrew in his bedroom, his feet frozen and his head boiled by the fumes from his little oil stove, had been doing this!
Jane had never suspected. She had gone on complacently with her fluent puerile stuff. What would | | 247 Jane have said aboutCackle Street had she lived to see it produced, had she been sitting—now—here in the pit beside him?
Jane would have shouted and giggled; she would certainly have cried. When they got back to Gray's Inn, she would have hugged John-Andrew, made him a cup of chocolate—and told him how to touch up Cackle Street here and there! She would ask him why on earth he didn't go to her for advice. She would shout out'Johnny!'
Buttifant surmised this. He was quite off the track.
A woman behind him was snuffling, she said, "I love the drama, but this tears your very heart strings out, don't it, Herbert?"
Immediately after, came a gratified roar of pure mirth from another part of the house. John-Andrew could play tunes upon them all—any tune he liked. Yet you could imagine how sardonic he was throughout; making the audience pay for all his suffering. You felt the bitterness, the sexlessncss, the aloofness, all through the play: this—and some subtle unhinging of the mind.
Buttifant came out of the theatre reeling in his feelings. John-Andrew had transformed him.
He walked back to Holborn, but when he got to his hotel he walked by it and continued to Gray's Inn. The gate was shut. He would not ring up the porter and disturb John-Andrew, who was either asleep or hard at work. Yet to pass that portal was hard. He went on to Gray's Inn Road and, turning down, crossed the road. He walked slowly along, looking at the back windows of Grav's Inn. And he saw a light in | | 248 the bedroom which used to be Jane's. Was John-Andrew sleeping there? Funny! For he could not stand noise. And—funny! For Jane had been found dead in that room. It was not a place for comfortable sleeping.
|<< chapter 08||< prologue||chapter 10 >||chapter 13 >>|