- CHAPTER XI
|<< chapter 10||< prologue||chapter 12 >||chapter 13 >>|
THEY went into the police station; Buttifant eager, the composure of his face stirred; John-Andrew set, yet oblivious.
Together they breathed the naked official airs of the place.
A policeman was sitting at a thick yellow table, highly varnished and having upon it a book, a pen, a blotting pad and a great dirty glass inkpot.
John-Andrew stepped briskly up to this table, holding his hands behind him. He said to the observant policeman, as if he said a lesson, "I am John-Andrew Vaguener, the famous playwright. You of course know my name. I wish to give myself up for a murder. I murdered my sister Jane in South Square. We lived together and I cut her throat with a knife, I took it out of the box in the kitchen. She was in bed at the time but wide awake. She saw me do it."
He shot his hands out straight before him.
"I suppose you've got handcuffs here," he added simply.
Buttifant came forward, taking him by the arm. John-Andrew turned his head, looking blank. There was nothing in his eyes; any more than there had been in Jane's.
He stared, then he collapsed and folding his hands | | 267 between his knees, dropped into a chair that was by the table.
He covered his face. The policeman and Buttifant heard him crying violently.
"Fit to break his heart," whispered the policeman, as if John-Andrew were a baby.
"It's all right," Buttifant whispered back. "He is John-Andrew Vaguener and——"
"The chap who wrote Cackle Street, sir? Yes, I knew him at once. I've seen his photo in the papers. And it ain't a face you can forget, no more you can't the play. You should hear my missus on that play!"
The policeman stood over John-Andrew, looking at him curiously as he sat there crying, his jerky brown hands, with their air of strength, covering his face.
"A nervous breakdown," continued Buttifant, still whispering. "His sister took an overdose of sleeping stuff in South Square. There was an inquest. Dr. Graham from Woburn Square was called in."
"Yes, yes," the policeman suddenly became stolid and rubbed his chin. "You'll leave your name?"
"Of course—Buttifant. I'm staying at the First Avenue Hotel, but you'd find me with Mr. Vaguener at 6 South Square for the next few days. I'll take him back there now."
"Mr. Grattan off Torrington Square is the medical gent for that sort of case, sir. Brings 'em round wonderful."
"Thanks, but I shall call in Dr. Graham who was sent for when Miss Vaguener died. Good night, officer." | | 268 Buttifant touched John Andrew.
"Come along," he said cheerfully. "We'll get back."
"Like a cab, sir?"
"Yes, I think a cab," Buttifant smiled affably into the official's broad pink face, stamped suddenly with official suspicion. The policeman believed every word that Buttifant said; he had recognised John-Andrew and he did not believe him. At the same time, the sense of his profession was strong.
"They'll follow the cab. You see?" said John-Andrew quite in his natural voice as they drove away. "If they won't believe me I can't help that can I? I've done my duty. I went and gave myself up for murdering Jane. I was willing to pay the penalty, but if they won't hang me—well, they won't."
He cuddled back on the seat.
"Don't think about it," said Buttifant.
"I have thought a lot. I've written it all out—the way I did it you know."
"In your play? Of course. I see."
"Play! I've put it all down in diary form. If they'd hanged me, you might have edited the thing and got it published. What a scoop for Branch! But they're not going to hang me, so I shall burn it."
When the cab stopped in South Square he seemed half asleep. Buttifant helped him out; they went slowly up the stairs. When they got to the top landing they found Branch there.
"I was just going away," he said. "The oak wasn't sported so I thought you must be in, Vaguener. I've been knocking for ten minutes and more."| | 269
John-Andrew laughed."I just stepped round to the police station to give myself up for murder. I murdered Jane but the fool of a policeman won't believe it. I should like," he turned peevishly to Buttifant, "to get to bed. I haven't slept properly for weeks. Can't you get me to bed? Open the door. Here's the key." He brought it out.
Buttifant opened the door; he led John-Andrew along the passage. He said to Branch, who followed them, "Go into the sitting-room."
Branch nodded; his large flat-looking blue eyes seemed starting out of his head. For he believed John-Andrew.
"Are you going to stay?" asked John-Andrew sleepily; his smooth head ducking and diving into the pillows, directly he was got to bed.
"Of course. You get off to sleep."
When Buttifant entered the sitting-room, Branch was walking about; in steps of quick excited soft-ness."
"I say, Buttifant, what a development If he really did murder that poor girl. What a sensation! It's just the sort of thing he might do."
"Of course he didn't." Buttifant was cool. "We know it was sleeping powders. He's off his head, Branch, for the time being. Can't you see that? He's had more than he can stand."
"Miss Vaguener stood the racket; he didn't," returned Branch, staring still and speaking coldly—for he hated John-Andrew. "A man who can live on a woman as he did must be pretty blunt, don't you think?"
"I suppose he's a genius isn't he? We don't | | 270 measure them by the same foot rule, do we?" Buttifant asked these questions quietly.
"Hanged if I know what genius is." Branch dropped heavily down in the chair which once was Jane's.
"Don't sit down," Buttifant, small, composed, compact, and smiling, stood over him, "I've got a job for you."
"Go to Woburn Square and see if Dr. Graham is in. If he is, send him round. We're going to have trouble with Vaguener."
"Think so!" Branch stood up at once. "All right. I'll go."
He turned round at the outer door.
"You're a good fellow, Buttifant."
"Good! Why? What's happened?"
"Nothing—but a good sort!" Branch shook his fat shoulders. "A genius too in your way—but no confounded airs! I was awfully glad about those water-colours, you know. I always knew you would. I can spot that sort of thing at once."
"Yes, I was glad," Buttifant returned the warmth of the agent's hand grip, "but you don't always spot. How about John-Andrew?"
"I'll take a bet that you'll go farther than either he or Best. There's no stay to them. One book, one play! What's the good of that?"
Branch, a heavy man, went off deliberately down-stairs. Buttifant leaned over the top of the landing:
"Send him along as quick as you can—the doctor."
"Of course I will. Good night. I'll look in to- | | 271 morrow to see how Vaguener is. Don't suppose it's much; he'll sleep it off."
"Good gracious, Branch, he is not drunk."
Branch did not answer. His heavy tread continued—at the same pace.
Buttifant stood upon the landing. How quiet it was in there—in Jane's set! He looked through the open door to the end of the passage.
In that other set of chambers across the landing which once was his, he could hear a woman laughing. How she laughed! And wasn't she happy? He had a heart for women.
Shut in there in Jane's room, burrowing in her bed, was John-Andrew. He probably was fast asleep by now.
When he woke up? Would he have forgotten about the police station and his ghastly yarn of a knife to Jane's throat? '
Buttifant's sense of composition was strong upon him and he thought, that, artistically, John-Andrew, lying there upon Jane's bed, should have taken too many sleeping powders, gone to sleep and never awakened. He should have died as Jane died.
That would be dramatic; it would be in keeping with Cackle Street.
John Andrew had done his marvellous one work. He would do no more. He would only cut sorry capers. Branch had said so and Branch always knew.
Gabriel Best was different. He was of a lighter literary build and could gyrate. John-Andrew was inflexible. If he failed—after so amply succeeding—he would end by cutting his own throat or somebody else's.| | 272
Buttifant, looking at Jane's door, trembled for the future.
Much better if John-Andrew went out now, in a blaze of imaginative glory. If he went now, he stood to be a classic.
But—no! He would not. Buttifant knew too much about the foolish, inevitable anti-climax of Life. John-Andrew would go on living. He would write drivelling plays, become insufferable, make a violent end.
Doctor Graham came that night. He was a Scotchman, with a bald, domed head and a dry manner. The very sight of him revived in Buttifant the strangeness of his own sickness; when he had spun upon the landing that morning when Jane died.
"You're looking all right now." The doctor shook hands with him. "Glasses suit?"
"You've made a name for yourself since I saw you last." The Scotchman spoke with the usual kindly patronage; he meant well; he had an idea that he was being complimentary.
It was a manner, so Buttifant resentfully felt, of dealing with some odd sect. He felt that he was regarded as belonging—in a non-religious sense—to the Peculiar people. The bland interest which persons like this Scotch doctor and good Mrs. Marshall took in what they imposingly called "his work" filled him with helpless violences.
"Have I?" He was off-hand.
"My dear fellow," the doctor laughed amiably," don't be too modest. I've been to see those water-colours. Lots of people went; they were spoken | | 273 very well of. I took my daughter. She paints, she thought them quite good. I congratulate you. It must be more satisfactory than doing pictures for the papers."
"It is." Buttifant was more limp and more distant. "I wanted you to see Vaguener. He's got a sort of nervous breakdown and thinks he murdered his sister Jane. He went to the police station and tried to give himself up for cutting her throat."
"Dear, dear! What an extraordinary notion. We must get that out of his head. Where is he?"
"In bed. I'll take you to him."
They found John-Andrew wide awake. He had in his eyes that dead look which told nothing. He would not speak; he passively allowed the doctor to pummel him.
"He must be taken off to a Nursing Home," said the doctor when he returned with Buttifant to the sitting-room." Get him out of this; he never ought to have stayed here after his sister died. What were his people thinking of to let him? ''
"He isn't influenced by his people."
"I suppose not. Great pity, great pity; that you clever folk can't be like everybody else. Of course he's had the strain of that play. Clever bit of work, Cackle Street. I flatter myself that, if I hadn't been a doctor, I could have done well as a dramatist. I never miss a good thing at the theatres. You've seen it of course. Remarkably clever isn't it?"
'Yes, I've seen it. Awfully clever. Where are you going to send him to, doctor?"
"Street off Bryanston Square. I'll give you the | | 274 name and address. I'll telephone the Matron. He mustn't see anybody, not even relatives, for some time, remember."
"Relatives are the last people he'd want to see."
Buttifant smiled when he said this; for he thought of Becca. What a passionate child she was, with her flaming hair and her long, lovely, immature limbs!
"I suppose he's that sort." The doctor's laugh was amused. "These artistic people! They don't seem to have any natural feeling. Great pity, great pity!"
"You get the advantage of their natural feeling when you go to the theatre, doctor."
"I suppose that's it." The doctor looked thought-fully at Buttifant's impassive pallor. "Only a certain amount of nervous force to expend in all of us. I hadn't looked at it in that light before. We'll get him away to the Nursing Home. Bed, no visitors, constant feeding. He'll be all right."
"You think he'll get rid of this delusion?"
"About murdering his sister? Of course he will. These cases are simple; it is only a matter of time and rest."
The doctor went off and a couple of hours later John-Andrew was taken to the Nursing Home.
Mrs. Welfare was washing up. He called to her blandly through the open kitchen door.
"They've come to fetch me away you see. Hanging' s too good for a man like me, isn't it? They've nabbed me, Mrs. Welfare."
He laughed. When he and Buttifant had driven out of the Square, Mrs. Welfare went into Jane's | | 275 bedroom, opened the window and set the bed to air. Then—feeling herself complete mistress at last—she poked about in the recess amongst Jane's dresses. She opened drawers and helped herself to a lace collar; she appropriated a pot of cream upon the wash-stand.
Buttifant came back to South Square with John-Andrew's key in his pocket. He opened the door. Mrs. Welfare, thank Heaven, had gone home. He was in no mood for her rough philosophy.
This set of chambers, once Jane's, was now his for as long as he chose. John-Andrew had begged him to look after things. If he liked, he could stay there while John-Andrew was in the Nursing Home; and that would be weeks. But he knew that his mother would not allow it; she would come and—imperiously tender—dig him out.
He was safe for a few days. He could take a cherished pause: the lonely halt that heals us! He could live in limpness of mind, in luxury of soul. He could dwell with his own grief and fear no intrusion.
He sported the oak. How alone he was! For sheer solitude nothing could compare with these four rooms in the quiet Square. Four rooms with a thick outer door; to keep the prying world away. He set about making himself comfortable in the tidy, old-bachelor way that he had known in the set across the landing. With sorrow, with a sacred guilty feeling of invading Jane's sanctity, he found the drawer where she had kept house linen and helped himself to sheets and towels. He made up his bed in the room leading out of the sitting-room; the place | | 276 where John-Andrew—as everyone believed—had written Cackle Street.
Later in the day, he went round to the First Avenue Hotel, paid his bill and brought away his luggage.
He settled down in eloquence and sorrow and a strange, stilled peace. He could hear Jane and see her; he talked to her; he said to her things which, in life, he had not said. He seemed to touch her solid flesh.
Throughout, he severely kept his sense of sanity. He knew that to do this sort of thing for long would be morbid and might become dangerous. He might find himself—as John-Andrew found himself—in a Nursing Home at several guineas a week. A caustic smile drifted over his calm face. John-Andrew could afford to pay and so could he. How things had changed, since Jane slaved in this set of chambers.
He never meant to come to a Nursing Home. He would not be spoon-fed. But he would give himself a little while: to realise his love for Jane; to make a record of her, to recall every little darling noisy incident of her life here; to think of those evenings when she used to make chocolate for him and John-Andrew and brag about the work she had done that day. He wanted to imagine her in her violet frock and hear her brag about her complexion. His boastful, crude and precious Jane! Why had he loved her? Oh—he did! Yet, consumed by passion, he preserved his sense of poise.
When he lay in bed; awake and with the moon—for he chose to have it that way—coming through the window with the dragged-back curtain—he could hear homelv warm merriment in the room through | | 277 the wall; the room in the set which once had been his. She had a pretty laugh, that girl in his old chambers.
And she was pretty to look at. Once or twice he met her on the landing or he saw her cross the Square with a market basket. She went shopping in the mornings, as Jane used to shop. She was a Japanesy-looking girl, with heaps of fine dark hair, a white face and a new thick wedding-ring. He noticed that she flaunted that ring. It might have been legitimate pride. Or she might have had some other reason.
At night, he often heard her kick off her shoes. They were little shoes—somehow, he could tell that by the sound. And he could see her doing it. For he loved love and understood its little ways.
Jane never had any coquettish atmosphere; she only had conceit.
His calm days went on. He saw no one and did nothing. Each morning he called primly at the Nursing Home, enquired after John-Andrew, left a bunch of flowers, then walked back to Gray's Inn, through the bright sunshine and the busy people.
He knew he ought to write to Becca, he knew he ought to write to his mother. But he was in blissful suspension; each day he said, "I will write tomorrow."
One morning at the end of the second week he heard a hammering at the oak. He let the person—wherever it was—bang away for a good ten minutes; then, feeling jarred, feeling sneakish, he went along the passage. He supposed it was Branch; and he didn't want to see Branch's fat round face.
But when he opened the two doors he saw Becca.| | 278
"Oh, Mr. Buttifant! It's you is it?" she said and walked in. She turned into the sitting-room.
She said, looking round her,
"Where is Johnny?"
Buttifant told her all about it.
"You didn't keep your word with me. You didn't write. But I forgive you." She glanced at him. "You've been living here and thinking of Jane."
"Very bad—if you do it too long." Becca was curt. "Very good—for a little while."
"That is what I felt. How wise you are."
"We've learned out of the same lesson-book," said Becca. "I don't blame you for taking a little time to yourself. I should have done. But it is over now, Mr. Buttifant. Your mother is in London; they've come up to Bedford Square and I'm staying with them."
She laughed in a wicked way, adding:
"I don't know what my mother will say when she comes back from Bodiam. She's gone to study embroidery and she left me in charge of the servants, her Orpington pullets and Kenneth. But you didn't write and I couldn't bear any more anxiety about John-Andrew, so I just went down to Barnoon the day before yesterday and told——"
"My mother? How wise. I'm glad you did. She'd understand."
"I didn't. I told Commander Attfield; he under-stood. He's got that lunacy about your mother that you had for Jane and I have for John-Andrew. We won't," Becca's thick scarlet mouth twisted in contempt for the populace, "call it love—because every- | | 279 one thinks they've been in love some time or the other. No they don't though; Mother never pretends she was in love with father."
"You told the Commander? Dear old thing! What did he do?"
"Yes, isn't he a dear old thing? Do! He just persuaded your mother to come to London for new clothes and then he said I looked as if I wanted a change. Your mother was sweet. She at once suggested my coming to stay in Bedford Square and you may be sure I jumped at her invitation."
"Did your brother mind?"
"I don't know. Did I tell him? Let me see. No, I didn't; he was out visiting, so I left word with Cook. Kenneth is all tonsure and no flesh; he won't care. He'll be relieved, I'm too bracing for him. Now we'll go off to Johnny."
"No we won't. He mustn't sec a soul. He'll be shut up there for weeks."
"Sounds like a lunatic asylum."
"In a polite way I suppose it is."
"But will he get quite well? Will he get rid of the awful idea that he murdered Jane?"
"Absolutely, so the doctor says. Only a matter of time."
"Your poor mother has got to keep me all that time." Becca looked droll, yet on the point of crying. "For nothing will make me go back to Cornwall till I've seen him, till," her little petal-like eyes blazed and so did her cheeks, "I've got him. You see?"
"I see." Buttifant looked at her. A curious shy glow overspread them.
Here, in the quiet room of Jane's set, they sat; | | 280 loving Jane, loving John-Andrew; in queer sympathy with each other.
The reflection came to Buttifant—wouldn't Jane have shouted—had she read their two hearts now!
"Of course you do." Becca dropped her eyes, she fumbled her hands across the table and Buttifant taking them, squeezed them hard.
He drank, he delighted; in her candour and her vividness: that colour of nature which is a bigger asset to a woman than mere beauty. Becca was so decorative; outside and in. The artist in him was ravished by her. Yet she was not—to his heart—worth Jane's little finger-nail. She was not worth one hearty shout of Jane's or one cheap garment—atrociously put on!
Jane, stiff under those lilies of his that by now had gone brown, held his heart for all his life. Jane—so plebeian, so grating, so good! Jane who, almost wholly, was component with her inn-keeping grand-mother; in Switzerland or somewhere. What a funny thing love was!
There was no fine streak in Jane; there was only a pathos born of hard circumstance. He would always believe this. He would never know that the germ of his love for Jane lay in her power to write Cackle Street. He believed as the world believed, that this astonishing drama had come out of John-Andrew. Whereas, all that John-Andrew had done was to pedantically alter a bit of his sister's dialogue here and there.
Lines—not many—that the critics had complained of—were John-Andrew's lines, not Jane's. They represented his sole output inCackle Street. They | | 281 were scholarly, correctly, dead—and out of all joint with the play.
"We'd better go to Bedford Square," said Buttifant, standing up.
"Yes, we'd better." Becca stood up too.
They were close together, they understood each other so well, they were so constitutionally kin of colour and texture, that he felt they should have merged.
John-Andrew and Jane stood coldly between.
"No artist," thought Buttifant, going down the stairs and revelling in Becca's youthful gaudiness, "ever marries a decorative woman. If I had married Jane—(God bless you, Jane!)—how pasty she would have been in middle age. Think of Jane's hair going grey when the time came! What a sandy muddle!
|<< chapter 10||< prologue||chapter 12 >||chapter 13 >>|