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Chapter 37
With peculiar irony, the passing of that pallid, vague, and ineffectual character, Mrs. Thursby, proved the signal for the dissolution of the family which, denying her both respect and affection during her life, had none the less lost, in losing her, its sole motive or excuse for unity.

The return from the cemetery was accomplished toward noon of a July day whose heavily overcast sky seemed only to act as a blanket over the city, compressing its heated and humid atmosphere until the least exertion was to be indulged in only at the cost of saturated clothing.

The four were crowded in common misery within a shabby, stuffy, undertaker's growler.

Thursby occupied the back seat with his eldest daughter, notwithstanding the fact that, since apprising her of her mother's death, the morning of her return, he had addressed no word to her directly. He sat now with fat and mottled hands resting on his knees, his waistcoat unbuttoned, exposing soiled linen, his dull and heavy gaze steadfastly directed through the window.

Opposite him, on the forward seat, Edna wept silently and incessantly into a black-bordered handkerchief.

Butch, beside her, looked serious and depressed in a suit of black clothing borrowed for the occasion.

Nobody spoke from the time they re-entered the carriage, after the burial, until they left it. Joan huddled herself into her corner, putting all possible space between herself and her father. A sense of lassitude was heavy upon her. She meditated vaguely on the strangeness of life, its inscrutable riddle, the enigma of its brief and feverish transit from black oblivion through light to black oblivion. But the problem only wearied her. She dropped it from time to time and tried to think of other things; as a rule this resulted in her speculations centering about Butch.

The boy mystified her, awed her a little with a suggestion of spirit and strength, character and intelligence, conveyed by a forceful yet unassuming manner. It was a new manner, strangely developed in the year that spaced her knowledge of him, only to be explained by his sudden determination to go seriously to work and make something of himself; and the motive for that remained inexplicable, and would ever as far as concerned Joan. For the personal reticence that had always sealed his cynical mouth was more than ever characteristic of the boy today; and the sympathy which once had existed between himself and Joan was become a thing of yesterday and as if it had never been. His attitude toward her was touched with just a colour of contempt, almost too faint to be resented; she shrank from it, feeling that he saw through her shallowness, that he knew her, not as Marbridge knew her, perhaps, or as Billy Salute, but thoroughly and intimately, and far better than she would ever know herself.

She knew now—through Edna—that within the last twelve-month Butch had learned his trade of chauffeur and pursued it with such diligence that, aside from being the main support of the family which she had deserted, he was half-owner of his taxicab and in a way to acquire an interest in a small garage....

When the carriage stopped, the father was the first to alight. With no word or look for either of his daughters, and only a semi-articulate growl for Butch, to the effect that they'd see one another again at dinner, he pulled his rusty derby well forward over his haggard, haunted eyes, thrust his hands deep into trouser-pockets, and slouched ponderously away in the direction of his news-stand. Before he turned the avenue corner, Joan, looking after him while she waited for Butch to settle with the driver, saw Thursby produce his packet of dope and, moistening a thumb, begin to con it as he plodded on.

So, pursuing his passion to the end, he passed forever from her life, yet never altogether from her memory; in which, as time matured the girl, his inscrutable personality assumed the character of a symbol of aborted destiny. What he had been, whence he had sprung, what he might have become, she never learned....

Then, preceded by Edna, followed by Butch, she climbed for the last time those weary stairs.

Arrived in the flat, Butch shut himself into his room to change to working clothes. He could not afford to waste an afternoon, he said. Joan and Edna sat down in the dark and dismal dining-room, conferring in hushed voices until he rejoined them. He came forth presently, the inevitable cigarette drooping from his thin, hard lips, and sat down, his spare, wiry body looking uncommonly well set-up and capable in the chauffeur's livery.

After a little hesitation, Joan mustered up courage to say her say, if with something nearly approaching appeal in the way that she addressed this taciturn and self-sufficient man who had replaced her loaferish brother.

"I've been telling Edna," she said, "that I'm going to take care of her from now on."

"That so?" Butch exhaled twin jets of smoke from his nostrils. "How?" he enquired without prejudice.

"Well ... she's coming to live with me—"

"Where?"

"I don't know. I'm leaving where you found me. By the way, how did you know where to look for me, Butch?"

"Seen you one day when you was livin' in the Astoria Inn. There's a dairy lunch on the ground floor where I gen'ly eat. After that I kept an eye on you."

"Oh!" said Joan thoughtfully, wondering how much that eye had seen of the brief but lurid existence she had led before coming partially to her senses and moving to share Hattie Morrison's lodgings. "Well, I'll find a good place, and Edna can stay with me and act as my maid until she's old enough to find something to do for herself."

"On the stage, eh?"

"I guess so. I'm getting on, you know. Chances are I could give her a boost."

Butch shook his head: "Nothin' doin'."

"Why?"

He was unmoved by the flash of hostility in Joan's manner.

"I guess," he said after a deliberate pause, "we don't have to go into that. Anyway, I got other plans for Edna. She's goin' to the country, up-State, to spend the summer on a farm—family of a fellow I know. After that, if she's strong enough, she can come back and keep house for me, if she wants to, or go to work any way she chooses—that's not my business. Only—understand me—she isn't going to go into the chorus until she's old enough to know what she's doin', and strong enough to stand the racket. That's settled."

Rising, he jerked the stub of his cigarette through the air-shaft window, and slowly drew on his gauntlets.

"You do what packin' you wanta, kid," he advised Edna, "before three o'clock thisaft'noon. I'll be back for you then. Your train leaves at four. You'll travel along with the mother of this friend of mine—Mrs. Simmons, her name is."

As he had said, the matter was settled. Joan conceded the point without bickering, with indeed a feeling of mean relief. Moreover, she was afraid of Butch....

The flat in Fiftieth Street had gained associations insufferably hateful. She returned to it only long enough to pack up and move out. Incidentally she found, read, and destroyed without answering, a note from Fowey suggesting an assignation. Her paradoxical dislike for the man had deepened into detestation. She both hoped and intended never to see him again.

She moved before nightfall, leaving no address, and established herself in an inexpensive but reputable boarding establishment, little frequented by the class of theatrical people with which she was acquainted, and where a repetition of her escapade was impossible. On the third day following she began rehearsing privately with Gloucester, and threw into the work all she could muster of strength, patience, and intelligence, leaving herself, at the end of each day's work, too exhausted in mind and body to indulge in any of the pleasures to which her tastes inclined.

Fowey, unable to trace her and seeing nothing of the girl in those restaurants and places of amusement she had been wont to frequent, in time gave up the chase; and before the first presentation of "Mrs. Mixer" the newspapers supplied Joan with the news of his clandestine marriage and subsequent flight to Europe with a widow whose fortune doubtless promised compensation for the fact that she had a son nearly as old as her latest husband.


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