- CHAPTER VII
|<< chapter 06||< prologue||chapter 08 >||chapter 13 >>|
BUTTIFANT went out. In the passage he ran up against Mrs. Welfare. It was a narrow passage. She was excited, Buttifant was dull. The two bumped against each other.
"What's up, Mrs. Welfare?" Buttifant appeared to slide out from a cloud. "You can't clear away yet for we haven't started breakfast. Overslept."
"We! Then have you got them in here with you, Mr. Buttifant? I can't make nobody hear. I've been thumping at the oak till my knuckles are raw and Miss Vaguener ain't took in the milk. Oh I am glad she's here." Mrs. Welfare panted. "I didn't know what to think to tell you the truth. I was quite upset, for things do happen."
She dropped her voice and looked towards the door of the studio. "I couldn't let myself in for he's got my key. Nothing ain't been the same since hecome."
"Mr. Vaguener is here. He slept here." Buttifant's eyes caught a gleam of her anxiety: that budding melodrama which blossoms in people of the Welfare type.
He shivered; he was not feeling well and, subtly, this woman alarmed him.
"Go and knock again. Miss Vaguener's in there," he said. "Go on."| | 196
He pushed her in a peevish way. He hardly knew what he was doing.
"No, I ain't going on, Mr. Buttifant. I've knocked the best part of ten minutes already at that door. Let him give me the key and I'll go in."
"My good soul!" John-Andrew's voice sounded lazily behind them. "Do you want the key? Here it is."
He was fully dressed and smiling, he held out the key. Mrs. Welfare took it and went away; across the landing to the other set.
"What's all the fuss about?" Vaguener asked Buttifant when they were alone and when Buttifant was taking eggs and bacon from the gas oven.
"She can't make your sister hear. I hope she hasn't taken two of those infernal powders instead of one. That is what people come to with sleeping draughts. Hadn't you better go in yourself and see? Tell her," Buttifant roused, he looked hopeful and tender, " to dress quickly—any-old-how—and come in here to breakfast. There is plenty for three and it would be jolly. I shan't work to-day in any case. My mother is coming up early from Dulwich. She wants me to go shopping. Wedding clothes!"
He laughed. He made the tea, in a tidy bachelor way. Then he said,
"What a fool I am! Jane won't like it overdrawn."
"So it has come to Jane?"
John-Andrew was standing idly by; limp, yet horribly alert.
"No, it hasn't; except in my heart," returned Buttifant.| | 197
It was the answer he had given his mother.
They heard a scream and Mrs. Welfare bundled out from Jane's set.
"What the devil!" John-Andrew moved, then he stood still.
"That woman will rouse all London with her yells," he said. "Stop her!"
Buttifant had gone. For the second time that morning, he cannoned against Mrs. Welfare. It was on the landing now.
"I never thought," she said, "to be mixed up in a murder case. What will Mr. Welfare say when I get home?"
"A murder, a murder!" echoed Buttifant through his white neat lips.
"She's dead in her bed; lay in' on her side like an infant and stone cold. I went and touched her, when she wouldn't answer. I ain't likely to forget the feel of her hand."
"Jane's done it," said John-Andrew, he was standing behind them again. "She said she would but I didn't believe her."
He walked into Jane's set alone. The other two looked after him. Buttifant was stunned. Mrs. Welfare was suspicious.
"You'll swing yet,"she said under her breath and with her eyes balefully following the sturdy small figure that retreated.
John-Andrew opened Jane's door, he went up to the bed and touched her cold hand; the fat stiffening hand that would not tap the typewriter again.
He looked swiftly round the room for a note. Had | | 198 she in the middle of the night, after he left her, written another note? By Jove! He'd got to be careful over bits of paper. He looked round and saw nothing. He moved cautiously, turning over her tidily-folded clothes on the chair. Finally, he slid his hand under her pillow, found the account book which she kept for notes, in case she had an idea in the night, and put it in his pocket.
She had certainly left him no further word—unless she had gone into the sitting-room and written. He must be first with her papers, he would ransack that roll-top desk directly he had a chance.
She had got out of bed, or reached out of bed, and taken two sleeping powders. This he surmised and the inquest proved him right.
After he went away with the knife she had got out of bed. She had been strong enough to do what he could not do. She had killed herself.
She had been fully aware of his futile attempt. Those hard eyes of hers, talking at last, had conveyed to him, in the grim simplicity of one steady glance, utter knowledge and complete melancholy.
He remembered how she had looked. He recalled plenty of amazement and not a touch of terror. She knew that he had come in meaning to murder her, and, as usual, it was Jane, confound her, who did the strong thing: the thing that he could never do. There she lay—definitely dead.
Jane had kept herself and she had kept him. She had written Cackle Street. She had killed herself All the strong record was Jane's.
He supposed, standing thoughtful and dissective | | 199 and as cool as a fish, by her bedside for those few, brimful moments, he supposed that he had represented to Jane the sum total of family affection. This was a side of life which she valued inordinately. She made a perfect piety of family ties.
Standing there with the knife in his hand last night, he had cut away her last consolation: since—as her note in his pocket confessed—she was already in despair over her work. He must take care of that note; it was his trump card at the inquest.
Poor affectionate Jane! And so prolific! Well, she had to die. He turned aside. He went steadily out, his face composed, his gait stiff. He went out on to the landing. Neither Buttifant nor Mrs. Welfare had moved.
They were waiting. Frozen anticipation blew around the heads of both. Mrs. Welfare was alert; speechless, she yet appeared voluble. Buttifant looked vague.
"Dead," said John-Andrew, going up close to him. "You were right. Two sleeping powders, I expect. Here's your mother coming upstairs, Buttifant."
Mrs. Buttifant appeared, smiling, anticipant—for Arnold was to help her choose her wedding dress. She was serene and dignified; very fat, a little breathless with so many flights of stairs.
She saw the odd trio on the landing and saw that the outer doors of both sets of chambers were open.
She appeared to look round apprehensively for Jane and to deplore the presence of Mrs. Welfare.| | 200
She gave Mrs. Welfare her old clothes; they being, as Mrs. Welfare once remarked, in an access of gratitude, the "same figure." It was a remark you could not possibly forgive. For Mrs. Welfare was mere unruly flesh in a loosely shaped bag, while Mrs. Buttifant preserved contours.
"There's been a murder, m'm," said Mrs. Welfare in a loud voice and smiling a watery welcome.
She had on one of Mrs. Buttifant's skirts at that moment.
"Murder!"John-Andrew never lifted his voice, but its inflection was dangerous. "That's a serious thing to say, Mrs. Welfare."
She turned her back on him. She went up, sobbing and heaving, to Mrs. Buttifant.
"Oh I am glad another woman's come, m'm. You do want a female at a time like this. I never been mixed up with nothing——"
"What is it, Arnold?" His mother softly pushed Mrs. Welfare aside, seeming to pat her away. She went to her son.
He was standing there, white and small; foolish and speechless. He seemed to be doubling, to be folding up into his boots. He leaned against her heavily.
:"Darling!" he said in a silly", broken way. " It's Jane. She's dead, mother."
He suddenly fell against her breast as she held her arms round him. He was grimacing.
They got him into the studio and stretched him on the sofa.
"Go and fetch a doctor, Mrs. Welfare," said John-Andrew.| | 201
He was trying not to smile.
"Yes I will. And we may want a policeman too,"she retorted, going into the kitchen for her hat and coat. She concluded—as she told Mr. Welfare later—that John-Andrew had 'done them in.'
|<< chapter 06||< prologue||chapter 08 >||chapter 13 >>|