- CHAPTER X
|<< chapter 09||< prologue||chapter 11 >||chapter 13 >>|
BUTTIFANT next day went early in the evening to Gray's Inn. This had been arranged, but—even not—he would have gone. He yearned to get near Jane: the Jane he knew—not that silent woman lying beneath his stiff lilies at Highgate.
Jane was dead; yet at Gray's Inn she, in a sense and to him, still dwelt. Her things were there and the noisy spirit of her voice. He had lost her—and by death—which is the real loss: while the lost one lives, there are the quaint surprises of a freakish Fate to reckon with.
To go up those stairs at Gray's Inn—dirty, old and dear—to stand upon the top landing and look at those two doors, made his heart sound like a hammer.
He looked at his own oak, which was sported. A strange man's name was painted up.
John-Andrew's oak was back and the brass knocker on the inner door was brightly polished, as it had been in Jane's time. Mrs. Welfare opened to him. Her face tilled with welcome. She said, simply,
"Lor', Mr. Buttifant, you're a sight for sore eyes! "
The sitting-room had not changed. Jane's odds and ends were still there; John-Andrew sat idle at her rolltop desk. Buttifant saw no sign of manuscript. John-Andrew's pose, John-Andrew's face when he | | 250 turned round, looked as they had looked in Jane's time; in the pre-Cackle Street time when he had not a penny of his own; when he used to go marketing for Jane, with Jane's shabby old purse and her rush basket.
"It's only five,"said Buttifant. "You said six."
"I'm glad you came early."John-Andrew looked affectionate, he seemed secure. "Sit down. She's cooking dinner for six o'clock; we can talk till then."
"You'd have time to read me those two acts."
"The play—yes. Did you go toCackle Street last night?"
"I did, it's—it's—Vaguener, it is supreme."
"Supreme! That's the word I used to Jane. She didn't tell you?"
"She never mentioned your play. I didn't think she knew."
"My play! "John-Andrew laughed, he left the rolltop desk and sat in the easy chair. "No, she didn't know."
It was a warm evening in late March. There was no fire and the two easy chairs stood beneath one of the windows. This window was open and that insensible mournfulness of spring stole in. Buttifant looked white, John-Andrew looked yellow. They looked at each other, without further word they started smoking. The eloquence of this sitting here together after all that had happened since they sat here last, suggested itself and tied their tongues. They were two, when they should have been three. | | 251 Buttifant was sitting in Jane's chair. He faced the mantelpiece, which was crowded with the cheap ornaments and freakish toys she used to pick up: of men selling on the kerbstone, from the Oriental department of the big drapers. John-Andrew had not moved anything.
"Let's talk," he said appealingly.
"I can't. We have so much to say." Buttifant's voice shook. 'You'd better start reading aloud. Afterwards, we shall get used to the place and each other."
"I can't read on an empty stomach." John-Andrew's little laugh came quivering out from his throat. "I want to talk. I want to tell you things, Buttifant. What sort of life do you think I've lived here since she was murdered?"
"The word you used in the cemetery."
So I did. You ought not to have stopped here. It has been too much for you."
Buttifant looked at the yellowed face upon which the skin seemed stretched; he looked at the queer eyes and the round head covered so closely with satin-like hair that it seemed a cap.
"Well, Jane had this set on an agreement you see for three years and the things were here and where-ever I went these noises in my head would go on just the same," said John-Andrew, speaking breathlessly.
"What sort of noises?"
"Oh buzzing, humming, ringing. Bells! Her bell."
'You don't use the typewriter? You write your stuff."| | 252
"Yes, I write my stuff. But Cackle Street was typed."
"You had it typed?"
"Yes, I had it typed."
John-Andrew looked cunning; he picked at his trouser leg.
"Nice cloth!" he drew Buttifant's attention. "Jane wrote for patterns. I found them in the letterbox when I came back from her funeral. She wanted to choose the stuff, because she was going to pay, but she didn't."
"Of course not."
Buttifant felt increasingly uneasy.
"So I chose it myself—you may be sure Jane wouldn't have chosen it. She would have dressed me in something green, with a check. I've had a devil of a time, Buttifant." John-Andrew dropped his voice and looked towards the door.
Mrs. Welfare was frying and they smelt it.
"I'm sure you have. I've often thought of you and wondered."
"Where have you been all these months? You might have looked me up."
"I've been in Cornwall. Commander Attfield and my mother are there. They are building a house at Carbis Bay. And I've been ill. You heard that?"
"Yes, I heard. Becca wrote. Once a week she used to write but I never answered, so she left off."
John-Andrew sounded disdainful. Poor little Becca!
"What was the matter with you, Buttifant?"
"Tried my eyes too much. I've got glasses now, so it's all right. You don't look very fit."| | 253
"I'm remarkably well, thank you; never was better." John-Andrew's answer was prompt. "I was telling you about the time I've had here. Bad enough since Jane died, but infernal while she was alive. She—she"—he suddenly turned piteous, so piteous that Buttifant's swift anger with him died—" rubbed it in, old fellow."
"That was only her way. She never meant it."
"And I couldn't make a penny. I couldn't even pay for the washing of my own shirt. I kept taking things to Mr. Branch—good stuff—and he kept grinning. And——''
"But you were doing Cackle Street?"
"Cackle Street! Yes. But that came later on."
"It didn't take you long to write?"
"Oh no time. Afternoon of one day, morning of the next——"
"What! Cackle Street! A play—in half a day! My dear fellow."
'The idea, the idea, I mean." John-Andrew was eager.
"Ideas! Yes, they can come while you're fastening your collar. It is the working out I mean."
"Yes, the working out; that's a grind. I used to get up early in the morning. But I'd rather talk about Jane. Wouldn't you?"
"That depends." Buttifant's small figure looked rigid.
"She used to gossip to Mrs. Welfare, you know, about me. It wasn't kind. Old Mother Welfare's insolence——"
"I wonder you've kept her."| | 254
"Well! There she was, you know. She comes more than she did in Jane's time. She comes to cook dinner at night."
"You can afford it." Buttifant was bitter.
"Oh I can afford it." John-Andrew was sleek.
"And then," he continued, "Jane talked against me to you."
"Never, never. You do us—you do her—a wrong."
"I don't expect you to give her away." John-Andrew glared. "Why should you? And what does it matter? It is all over. But if you knew what I suffered." He put up his hands to his ears, he jerked them down and folded them simply on his crossed knees. "I should never have done what I did, Jane you know—if I had only gone away just for one week-end, to think things out. That might have saved me. It was touch and go with me at that time. But I couldn't go without asking Jane for the money."
"You did do what you did—Cackle Street," Buttifant soothed him," by suffering.—We do."
"Good work! Cackle Street It was because you suffered."
"Yes, yes; she suffered too. Jane I mean."
"In her way. Yes, she used to get afraid," Buttifant's sweet voice ran round the panelled walls in pure music," but it did not wring good work out of her. It only produced the bad and popular."
Mrs. Welfare came in to lay the cloth; she was looking at John-Andrew covertly and trying to catch Buttifant's eye. She went out again. She had been slow laying the cloth.| | 255
"That's the way she always lays the cloth," said John-Andrew, whispering, " and the way she used to lay it when Jane was ill in bed that time."
Mrs. Welfare returned.
"Be sure you put enough knives on the table, Mrs. Welfare. Last night I had to ring for an extra one."
Vaguener speaking, stood up.
"Have you taken the hot water into my room?" he added.
"And some for Mr. Buttifant? You'd like to wash your hands, old fellow? I can't manage to keep mine clean."
"No, thanks," said Buttifant, looking at his fingers.
John-Andrew went out, leaving him alone with Mrs. Welfare.
She put the plate-basket down and said, jerking her head towards the bedroom that used to be Jane's:
"Hear him washing his hands? He does that all day long. I'm always putting shillings in the gas`meter through hotting up so much water."
"Washes his hands all day long! Why?"
"That's it!" Mrs. Welfare nodded. "Why? If I ask Mr. Welfare that question once of a evening I ask it twenty times. And Mr. Welfare's got but one answer—blood!"
"Blood! Good gracious!"
Buttifant looked at her. Faint smiles played across his quietly expressionless face. Melodrama amused him and Mrs. Welfare was the exponent of it. | | 256 She always had been. Jane—who had no pride, of the exclusive sort—used to try plots on Mrs. Welfare.
If Mrs. Welfare said, 'Lor', Miss Vaguener, what notions you do get,' Jane knew it was all right.
"I thought at first, I did indeed," Mrs. Welfare came up very close to Buttifant and the savoury hot smell of the food she had cooked blew out from her, " that he'd done it."
"Put her out of the way, poor soul. I said so—I as good as said so that day when I went off for the doctor. You know, Mr. Buttifant. That morning when she was found dead and you was took bad and your Ma came. I didn't care what I said; for I felt so sure."
"You thought Mr. Vaguener had killed his sister, Mrs. Welfare?"
"I did, sir. I never trust them dark-complexioned men. Mr. Welfare's a blond."
"So am I."
Buttifant was still amused.
"I suppose you are, sir."
Mrs. Welfare, insensibly, was disparaging as she stared into Buttifant's well-bred vacuity.
"Mr. Welfare's a fine man," she said. "Well, I thought, between ourselves, Mr. Buttifant, that he'd tried to do you both in. Poison! That was my idea as I went down them stairs that morning."
"But why? It's a dangerous thing to say."
"That's Mr. Welfare's way. 'You shut up,' he says. 'That's libel and libel's a dangerous thing.' Men, | | 257 if you'll excuse me, Mr. Buttifant, haven't got a ha'porth of imagination."
"Very likely not. What do you make of Cackle Street? Seen it? There's a man's imagination, Mrs. Welfare."
John-Andrew washing his hands in Jane's room—washing them hard—could be heard through the wall. Mrs. Welfare listened.
"He ain't nearly done yet," she said, "I know him. When he's done, he pours away the water. Of course I've seen his play. He ses to me, when it first come out, 'Go as often as you damned like, Mrs. Welfare.' His words, Mr. Buttifant, not mine, if you'll excuse me. So me and Mr. Welfare gets passed into the stalls. Ain't it wonderful, Mr. Buttifant! To think of all that coming out of his little noddle. No wonder he was so beastly to me through all them months when she was alive. It accounts for everything."
'You don't think he's a murderer then?"
"Not now I don't. I think it was the strain, Mr. Buttifant."
She was impressive, she was dignified: as if John-Andrew's brilliance conferred a ray on her.
"How he could think of it and work it out that way beats me. And it's true to life, mind you. Seen it?"
"Yes. I saw it last night."
"Did you now? Don't it make your flesh creep? And yet at one part I laughed till I thought my spine would crack. Oh he's got a wonderful brain. You can't deny that. Mind you, I don't like him and I never shall like him, but I don't deny his brain."| | 258
"No, I wouldn't." Buttifant was gentle.
"But when all's said and done, I ham a lady, Mr, Buttifant, and that stand-off way of his gets on my nerves. He kind of looks over you, if you understand my way of speaking."
"I do understand—and that is his way. Don't take any notice of him."
"All the same, he wants looking after, mind you. And my heart often bleeds for him."
Mrs. Welfare looked genuinely concerned.
"I'm sorry for the poor little chap. You can't help feeling sorry, although he makes you mad. There's something about him which his sister hadn't got. I never felt sorry for Miss Vaguener; not in my heart. And I've got a warm heart. I felt savage because she was so put upon, but I can't say I was sorry."
"Weren't you? " Buttifant was thinking of Jane who had never evoked anything in any heart—but his!
"He wants," Mrs. Welfare returned to John-Andrew," feeding up and properly looking after. Pity he hasn't got a wife—though if he had, God help her! I wouldn't marry him, not if I was free, not if he went on his knees. I can't stand your cold-tempered man."
"I don't think he's likely to have a wife, Mrs. Welfare."
"No more don't I. But he'll break down sooner or later. You see. I wouldn't be surprised at any-thing what happened. He ought to be taken out of this and put to bed and fed up. That's what they do with 'em nowadays. He'll do himself a mischief | | 259 else and that's my honest opinion. I'd never be surprised to come in some fine morning and find him hanging behind the door. And it's a load off my mind to speak to you, Mr. Buttifant. His brain—you mark what I say—won't stand much more. Brains go out on strike, like everything else. Why I come out of the theatre every time I see his play, feeling a different woman—and that can't be wholesome, can it? If I feel like that just lolling in the stalls, what did the making of it all up mean to him? And I'll slip back to the kitchen for—hark at him—he's pouring the water away."
She hurried out as John-Andrew slid in. Ten minutes later she brought in the dinner.
"Don't stay to wash up, Mrs. Welfare." John-Andrew was suave when she came in to clear away. "I want to talk to Mr. Buttifant."
"Well, I don't wash up at the keyhole, Mr. Vaguener, but I'll go home if you like. Mr. Welfare will be grateful."
She went off; in a fusillade of slamming doors. John-Andrew breathed hard.
"It's such a relief to get rid of that woman, Buttifant." He slouched from the table to the easy chair and took out his cigarette-case." Do you remember when you kept me in Turkish cigarettes? How decent of you!''
They sat smoking. John-Andrew looked fretfully at his lingers. "I hate dirty hands," he said. "They make me most unhappy. That brown stain might be dried blood and it's only tobacco. I hate blood. I'm afraid of cutting myself when I shave."
Buttifant was looking at Jane's desk and the shining | | 260 cover of her typewriter. John-Andrew followed his glance.
"Don't think I use the typewriter," he said irritably, "I told you I didn't. And all the papers are in her desk just as she left them. There are a deuce of a lot of notebooks. I don't know what to do with them. None of it any good to me of course."
His tone was superior. Buttifant reddened. He looked at him and he could understand what Mrs. Welfare meant; about resenting John-Andrew and yet feeling pitiful.
"Jane was no good to me," John-Andrew continued.
"And yet how good she was!" burst out Buttifant.
"Yes, wasn't she?" John-Andrew was hearty. "Yet our life together here was a perfect hell. It was to me. I don't know what Jane felt. I hated Jane—one of those native hates of soul for soul which you can't drive out, or dig in. There it is! Yet I lived on her earnings. I was worse than a prostitute. You know the sort of name they've got for men like me."
"Well, it's over, it's over, old man."
"Yes—over. But what a way to get it over. And it was the only way. No other way out for me. Something devilish pointing a finger! What a signpost! This way out, it said."
He lighted another cigarette. Slipping down in the big chair, he smoked hard.
"There's nothing I can do for Jane—to make up," he spoke more quietly. "I did try while she was alive. Do you remember that violet frock I bought at Peter | | 261 Robinson's? It's hanging up still. And the shoes to match are under the bed. I've told Mrs. Welfare she'll get sacked if she alters a thing in Jane's room."
"But you sleep there."
"How do you know that?"
"I concluded. I saw a light there late last night.you went in there to wash your hands just now."
"Yes, I sleep there. It's more—companionable than that." He pointed to the door leading into the bedroom he had occupied in Jane's life. "Also that room," still pointing," is mixed up in my mind with countless horrors. I worked there that winter you know—when she was alive."
"You wrote Cackle Street there. Remember that."
A soft laugh came from the big chair down which John-Andrew kept slipping.
"The monotony of our lives—Jane's life and mine! The hopelessness and desperation! And then, Buttifant, the noises these old rooms make! Not only the sound of Jane's bell, but the spirits of the sounds that dead men make. Think of the men that have lived and died in these rooms. All sorts of sins, I'll swear. Hey? Murder would be nothing. Very often you can justify murder."
"Dangerous ethics," said Buttifant and looked hard at him.
Mrs. Welfare was right. John-Andrew was on the edge. He must be got away. But how? Buttifant thought of Becca in Cornwall. He had promised to write. What could he say?
"There's one thing I might do for Jane." John-Andrew was thoughtful. "It occurred to me when | | 262 I was washing my hands. I didn't mention it at dinner, I didn't want Mrs. Welfare to hear. What do you say to taking away that cross on the grave and putting up a regular monument? Something swagger. Something people would stop to stare at. You can get them at that place near Great Portland Street. I go in and talk to the chap sometimes. I'll get an estimate from him to-morrow. Something handsome in white marble—or would Jane rather have pink granite? What do you think? She loved expense, poor girl. I think a really striking tombstone is her right. It's her share. I don't mean just a stone but an effigy, an angel—something emblematic. By George! You could design it."
Buttifant never answered. He could not.
John-Andrew did not mind, he did not notice. He kept on lighting one cigarette after another. At last he shot up, getting to his feet suddenly.
"Come and see Jane's frocks. Advise me what to do. I can't give them to Mrs. Welfare."
"Jane's things to that woman! No."
Buttifant said this and stood up.
"I could send to a wardrobe shop and have them fetched away. Come and have a look."
John-Andrew started off to Jane's room. Buttifant followed, in that sacred hush of the mind which a man feels when he loves a woman and comes intimately near her possessions. He was shaking; his white, still face looked blotched.
"You see she never had a woman friend." John-Andrew opened the bedroom door. "There is your mother. She likes clothes; she is a good sort. Can't she——?"| | 263
"My mother is not the one. You must send for Mrs. Marshall."
"Aunt Rebecca! I can't be bothered with them. Becca would make love and Kenneth would pray."
A curtain hung over the recess in which Jane's things hung. John-Andrew drew it back.
"There you are! Now what am I to do with all those suicides? Don't they look like dead women hanging there?"
Buttifant looked helplessly round him; not only at dresses but at all the fal-lals and all the popular refinements which had been Jane's. Nothing had been moved—Jane's things they rived his heart.
"You must have it all taken away," he said resolutely." And you must come away from the place yourself. I'll take you off to Cornwall to-morrow morning.
"No, you won't." John-Andrew was lingering Jane's frocks." I must finish my play. Very soon my public will be gaping for it. The public, with a throat like a young thrush, wants my long worm. In my play—come back to the sitting-room and I'll read those two acts—I've got a murder. I made the man do it with a knife. Quite a naked blunt crime. Bold stroke isn't it—a knife? I've done it in the most brutal, police-court way. Yet I've carried it through safely and the play isn't spoiled as a work of art. I'd like to know what you think." He sounded dreadfully anxious. "I could see that Branch was impressed. It took his breath away."
Buttifant stood by the open door. John-Andrew crouching more into the recess, enfolding himself in Jane's dead dresses, looked distraught.| | 264
"There are so many ways of murdering," he continued," and I had no time to think it over—to sleep on it I mean. The impulse came suddenly; the necessity asserted itself. To write the play I mean. You understand? For I must have something to follow, hot, on Cackle Street. I might have made it poison—but that is stagy. I wanted to be original and I was: not original in my mode, because a knife is the commonest way, but in my method. I wanted to be strong. There isn't anything more strong or more simple than cutting a woman's throat."
He left Jane's dresses. He had pushed past Buttifant and got into the little passage. His hat hung on a peg round the corner. He jammed it well down on his smooth head.
"I'm going out to get an evening paper," he said.
"An evening paper." Buttifant pulled one from his pocket." Here you are. An early edition—but there's nothing in the papers just now."
"There isn't." John-Andrew turned round by the outer door which he held open." We want something to wake us up. We want a sensation. A murder—or——"
"You've got a murder in your play. Come and read those acts to me."
Buttifant went close to him.
'Don't stop me." John-Andrew's voice was quiet, he put out his thin brown hands. "Let me go and get an evening paper."
He swung round, went out and slammed the door behind him.
Buttifant stood alone—with Jane! He was alone in this place where she had worked and where she had | | 265 killed herself. He went back into her bedroom, he drifted to her mute gowns on the hooks. He patted them. They were so lonely, so empty. Each one, neat upon a coat hanger, looked like a lean woman. Jane had been so plump! Such warmth and noise to Jane.
He stood still, but only for a few seconds. Then he was recalled to the necessity of looking after John-Andrew. He put on his own hat and hurried out of the set.
He raced down the stairs and into South Square.
John-Andrew must have taken the stairs slowly, because he was only just going under the archway into Gray's Inn Square.
Buttifant followed; close up and carefully. He felt there was no need for carefulness. John-Andrew—by his narrow shoulders, by his fixed sleek head—expressed absorption. His legs hurried across Gray's Inn Square—taking it diagonally, going towards the other little archway which led to Verulam Buildings: his spirit was a long way off.
They went along Verulam Buildings; John-Andrew walking at a steady trot, Buttifant behind. Over the railing was the spring traffic, the dust, the noise, the sulky, goldy glitter of the spring evening and the London street.
John-Andrew turned into the street. He went towards the police station at the corner. Buttifant followed.
|<< chapter 09||< prologue||chapter 11 >||chapter 13 >>|