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Jaffery By William John Locke Characters: 23913

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


I received a letter the day before yesterday from my old friend, Jaffery Chayne, which has inspired me to write the following account of that dear, bull-headed, Pantagruelian being. I must say that I have been egged on to do so by my wife, of whom hereafter. A man of my somewhat urbane and dilettante temperament does not do these things without being worried into them. I had the inspiration, however. I told Barbara (my wife), and she agreed, at the time, dutifully, that I ought to record our friend Jaffery's doings. But now, womanlike, she declares that the first suggestion, the root germ of the idea, came from her; that the "egging on" is merely the vain man's way of misdefining a woman's serene insistence; that she has given me, out of her intimate knowledge, all the facts of the story-although Jaffery Chayne and Adrian Boldero and poor Tom Castleton, and others involved in the imbroglio, counted themselves as my bosom cronies, while she, poor wretch (a man must get home somewhere), was in the nursery; and that, finally, if she had been taught English grammar and spelling at school, she would have dispensed entirely with my pedantic assistance and written the story herself. Anyhow, man-like, I am broad minded enough to proclaim that it doesn't very much matter. Man and wife are one. She thinks they are one wife. I know they are one husband. Between speculation and knowledge why so futile a thing as a quarrel? I proceed therefore to my originally self-appointed and fantastic task.

But on reflection, before beginning, I must honestly admit that if it had not been for Barbara I should write of these things with half-knowledge. Sex is a queer and incalculable solvent of human confidence. There are certain revelations that men will make only to a man, certain revelations likewise that women will make only to a man. On the other hand, a woman is told things by her sister women and her brother men which, but for her, would never reach a man's ears. So by combining the information obtained from our family encyclop?dia under the feminine heading of China with that obtained under the masculine heading of Philosophy, I can, figuratively speaking, like the famous student, issue my treatise on Chinese Philosophy.

* * *

One miraculous morning in late May, not so very many years ago, when the parrot-tulips in my garden were expanding themselves wantonly to the sun, and the lilac and laburnum which I caught, as I sat at my table, with the tail of one eye, and the pink may which I caught with the tail of the other, bloomed in splendid arrogance, my quiet outlook on greenery and colour was obscured by a human form. I may mention that my study-table is placed in the bay of a window, on the ground floor. It is a French window, opening on a terrace. Beyond the parapet of the terrace, the garden, with its apple and walnut trees, its beeches, its lawn, its beds of tulips, its lilac and laburnum and may and all sorts of other pleasant things, slopes lazily upwards to a horizon of iron railings separating the garden from a meadow where now and then a cow, when she desires to be peculiarly agreeable to the sight, poses herself in silhouette against the sky. I like to gaze on that adventitious cow. Her ruminatory attitude falls in with mine. . . . But I digress. . . .

I glanced up at the obscuring human form and recognized my wife. She looked, I must confess, remarkably pretty, with her fair hair blond comme les blés, and her mocking cornflower blue eyes, and her mutinous mouth, which has never yet (after all these years) assumed a responsible parent's austerity. She wore a fresh white dress with coquettish bits of blue about the bodice. In her hand she grasped a dilapidated newspaper, the Daily Telegraph, which looked as if she had been to bed in it.

"Am I disturbing you, Hilary?"

She was. She knew she was. But she looked so charming, a petal of spring, a quick incarnation of pink may and forget-me-not and laburnum, that I put down my pen and I smiled.

"You are, my dear," said I, "but it doesn't matter."

"What are you doing?" She remained on the threshold.

"I am writing my presidential address," said I, "for the Grand Meeting, next month, of the Hafiz Society."

"I wonder," said Barbara, "why Hafiz always makes me think of sherbet."

I remonstrated, waving a dismissing hand.

"If that's all you've got to say-"

"But it isn't."

She crossed the threshold, stepped in, swished round the end of my long oak table and took possession of my library. I wheeled round politely in my chair.

"Then, what is it?" I asked.

"Have you read the paper this morning?"

"I've glanced through the Times," said I.

She patted her handful of bedclothing and let fall a blanket and a bed-spread or two-("Look at my beautifully, orderly folded Times," said I, with an indicatory gesture) She looked and sniffed-and shed Vallombrosa leaves of the Daily Telegraph about the library until she had discovered the page for which she was searching. Then she held a mangled sheet before my eyes.

"There!" she cried, "what do you think of that?"

"What do I think of what?" I asked, regarding the acre of print.

"Adrian Boldero has written a novel!"

"Adrian?" said I. "Well, my dear, what of it? Poor old Adrian is capable of anything. Nothing he did would ever surprise me. He might write a sonnet to a Royal Princess's first set of false teeth or steal the tin cup from a blind beggar's dog, and he would be still the same beautiful, charming, futile Adrian."

Barbara pished and insisted. "But this is apparently a wonderful novel. There's a whole column about it. They say it's the most astounding book published in our generation. Look! A work of genius."

"Rubbish, darling," said I, knowing my Adrian.

"Take the trouble to read the notice," said Barbara, thrusting the paper at me in a superior manner.

I took it from her and read. She was right. Somebody calling himself Adrian Boldero had written a novel called "The Diamond Gate," which a usually sane and distinguished critic proclaimed to be a work of genius. He sketched the outline of the story, indicated its peculiar wonder. The review impressed me.

"Barbara, my dear," said I, "this is somebody else-not our Adrian."

"How many people in the world are called Adrian Boldero?"

"Thousands," said I.

She pished again and tossed her pretty head.

"I'll go and telephone straight away to Adrian and find out all about it."

She departed through the library door into the recesses of the house where the telephone has its being. I resumed consideration of my presidential address. But Hafiz eluded me, and Adrian occupied my thoughts. I took up the paper and read the review again; and the more I read, the more absurd did it seem to me that the author of "The Diamond Gate" and my Adrian Boldero could be one and the same person.

You see, we had, all four of us, Adrian, Jaffery Chayne, Tom Castleton and myself, been at Cambridge together, and formed after the manner of youth a somewhat incongruous brotherhood. We knew one another's shortcomings to a nicety and whenever three of the quartette were gathered together, the physical prowess, the morals and the intellectual capacity of the absent fourth were discussed with admirable lack of reticence. So it came to pass that we gauged one another pretty accurately and remained devoted friends. There were other men, of course, on the fringe of the brotherhood, and each of us had our little separate circle; we did not form a mutual admiration society and advertise ourselves as a kind of exclusive, Athos, Porthos, Aramis and d'Artagnan swashbucklery; but, in a quiet way, we recognised our quadruple union of hearts, and talked amazing rubbish and committed unspeakable acts of lunacy and dreamed impossible dreams in a very delightful, and perhaps unsuspected, intimacy. We were now in our middle and late thirties-all save poor Tom Castleton, over whom, in an alien grave, the years of the Lord passed unheeded. Poor old chap! He was the son of the acting-manager of a well-known theatre and used to talk to us of the starry theatre-folk, his family intimates, as though they were haphazard occupants of an omnibus. How we envied him! And he was forever writing plays which he read to us; which plays, I remember, were always on the verge of being produced by Irving. We believed in him firmly. He alone of the little crew had a touch of genius.

Blond, bull-necked Jaffery who rowed in the college boat, and would certainly have got his blue if he had been amenable to discipline and, because he was not, got sent down ingloriously from the University at the beginning of his third year, certainly did not show a sign of it. Adrian was a bit unaccountable. He wrote poems for the Cambridge Review, and became Vice-President of the Union; but he ran disastrously to fancy waistcoats, and shuddered at Dickens because his style was not that of Walter Pater. For myself, Hilary Freeth-well-I am a happy nonentity. I have a very mild scholarly taste which sufficient private means, accruing to me through my late father's acumen in buying a few founder's shares in a now colossal universal providing emporium, enable me to gratify. I am a harmless person of no account. But the other three mattered. They were definite-Jaffery, blatantly definite; Adrian Boldero, in his queer, silky way, incisively definite; Tom Castleton, romantically definite. And poor old Tom was dead. Dear, impossible, feckless fellow. He took a first class in the Classical Tripos and we thought his brilliant career was assured-but somehow circumstances baffled him; he had a terrible time for a dozen years or so, taking pupils, acting, free-lancing in journalism, his father having, in the meanwhile, died suddenly penniless; and then Fortune smiled on him. He secured a professorship at an Australian University. The three of us-Jaffery and Adrian and I-saw him off at Southampton. He never reached Australia. He died on the voyage. Poor old Tom!

So I sat, with the review of Adrian's book before me, looking out at my Pleasant garden, and my mind went irresistibly back to the old days and then wandered on to the present. Tom was dead: I flourished, a comfortable cumberer of the earth; Jaffery was doing something idiotically desperate somewhere or the other-he was a war-correspondent by trade (as regular an employment as that of the maker of hot-cross buns), and a desperado by predilection-I had not heard from him for a year; and now Adrian-if indeed the Adrian Boldero of the review was he-had written an epoch-making novel.

But Adrian-the precious, finnikin Adrian-how on earth could he have written this same epoch-making novel? Beyond doubt he was a clever fellow. He had obtained a First Class in the Law Tripos and had done well in his Bar examination. But after fourteen years or so he was making twopence halfpenny per annum at his profession. He made another three-farthings, say, by selling elegant verses to magazines. He dined out a great deal and spent much of his time at country houses, being a very popular and agreeable person. His other means of livelihood consisted of an allowance of four hundred a year made him by his mother. Beyond the social graces he had not distinguished himself. And now-

"It is Adrian," cried my wife, bursting into the library. "I knew it was. He has had several other glorious reviews which we haven't seen. Isn't it splendid?"

Her eyes danced with loyalty and gladness. Now that I too knew it was our Adrian I caught her enthusiasm.

"Splendid," I echoed. "To think of old Adrian making good at last! I'm more than glad. Telephone at once, dear, for a copy of the book."

"Adrian is bringing one with him. He's coming down to dine and stay the night. He said he had an engagement, but I told him it was rubbish, and he's coming."

Barbara had a despotic way with her men

friends, especially with Adrian and Jaffery, who, each after his kind, paid her very pretty homage.

"And now, I've got a hundred things to do, so you must excuse me," said Barbara-for all the world as if I had invited her into my library and was detaining her against her will.

My reply was smilingly ironical. She disappeared. I returned to Hafiz. Soon a bumble-bee, a great fellow splendid in gold and black and crimson, blundered into the room and immediately made furious racket against a window pane. Now I can't concentrate my mind on serious things, if there's a bumble-bee buzzing about. So I had to get up and devote ten minutes to persuading the dunderhead to leave the glass and establish himself firmly on the piece of paper that would waft him into the open air and sunlight. When I lost sight of him in the glad greenery I again came back to my work. But two minutes afterwards my little seven year old daughter, rather the worse for amateur gardening, and holding a cage of white mice in her hand, appeared on the threshold, smiled at me with refreshing absence of apology, darted in, dumped the white mice on an open volume of my precious Turner Macan's edition of Firdusi, and clambering into my lap and seizing pencil and paper, instantly ordained my participation in her favourite game of "head, body and legs."

An hour afterwards a radiant angel of a nurse claimed her for purposes of ablution. I once more returned to Hafiz. Then Barbara put her head in at the door.

"Haven't you thought how delighted Doria will be?"

"I haven't," said I. "I've more important things to think about."

"But," said Barbara, entering and closing the door with soft deliberation behind her and coming to my side-"if Adrian makes a big success, they'll be able to marry."

"Well?" said I.

"Well," said she, with a different intonation. "Don't you see?"

"See what?"

It is wise to irritate your wife on occasion, so as to manifest your superiority. She shook me by the collar and stamped her foot.

"Don't you care a bit whether your friends get married or not?"

"Not a bit," said I.

Barbara lifted the Macan's Firdusi, still suffering the desecration of the forgotten cage of white mice, onto my manuscript and hoisted herself on the cleared corner of the table.

"Doria is my dearest friend. She did my sums for me at school, although I was three years older. If it hadn't been for us, she and Adrian would never have met."

"That I admit," I interrupted. "But having started on the path of crime we're not bound to pursue it to the end."

"You're simply horrid!" she cried. "We've talked for years of the sad story of these two poor young things, and now, when there's a chance of their marrying, you say you don't care a bit!"

"My dear," said I, rising, "what with you and Adrian and a bumble-bee and the child and two white mice, and now Doria, my morning's work is ruined. Let us go out into the garden and watch the starlings resting in the walnut trees. Incidentally we might discuss Doria and Adrian."

"Now you're talking sense," said Barbara.

So we went into the garden-and discussed the formation next autumn of a new rose-bed.

* * *

By the afternoon train came Adrian, impeccably vestured and feverish with excitement. Two evening papers which he brandished nervously, proclaimed "The Diamond Gate" a masterpiece. The book had been only out a week-(we country mice knew nothing of it)-and already, so his publisher informed him, repeat orders were coming in from the libraries and distributing agents.

"Wittekind, my publisher, declares it's going to be the biggest thing in first novels ever known. And though I say it as shouldn't, dear old Hilary,"-he clapped me on the shoulder-"it's a damned fine book."

I shall always remember him as he said this, in the pride of his manhood, a defiant triumph in his eyes, his head thrown back, and a smile revealing the teeth below his well-trimmed moustache. He had conquered at last. He had put poor old Jaffery and fortune-favoured me in the shade. At one leap he had mounted to planes beyond our dreams. All this his attitude betokened. He removed the hand from my shoulder and flourished it in a happy gesture.

"My fortune's made," he cried.

"But, my dear fellow," I asked, "why have you sprung this surprise on us? I had no idea you were writing a novel."

He laughed. "No one had. Not even Doria. It was on her account I kept it secret. I didn't want to arouse possible false hopes. It's very simple. Besides, I like being a dark horse. It's exciting. Don't you remember how paralysed you all were when I got my First at Cambridge? Everybody thought I hadn't done a stroke of work-but I had sweated like mad all the time."

This was quite true, the sudden brilliance of the end of Adrian's University career had dazzled the whole of his acquaintance. Barbara, impatient of retrospect, came to the all-important point.

"How does Doria take it?"

He turned on her and beamed. He was one of those dapper, slim-built men who can turn with quick grace.

"She's as pleased as Punch. Gave it to old man Jornicroft to read and insisted on his reading it. He's impressed. Never thought I had it in me. Can't see, however, where the commercial value of it comes in."

"Wait till you show him your first thumping cheque," sympathised my wife.

"I'm going to," he exclaimed boyishly. "I might have done it this afternoon. Wittekind was off his head with delight and if I had asked him to give me a bogus cheque for ten thousand to show to old man Jornicroft, he would have written it without a murmur."

"How much did he really write a cheque for this afternoon?" I asked, knowing (as I have said before) my Adrian.

Barbara looked shocked. "Hilary!" she remonstrated.

But Adrian laughed in high good humour. "He gave me a hundred pounds on account."

"That won't impress Mr. Jornicroft at all," said I.

"It impressed my tailor, who cashed it, deducting a quarter of his bill."

"Do you mean to say, my dear Adrian," I questioned, "that you went to your tailor with a cheque for a hundred pounds and said, `I want to pay you a quarter of what I owe you, will you give me change?'"

"Of course."

"But why didn't you pass the cheque through your banking account and post him your own cheque?"

"Did you ever hear such an innocent?" he cried gaily. "I wanted to impress him, I did. One must do these things with an air. He stuffed my pockets with notes and gold-there has never been any one so all over money as I am at this particular minute-and then I gave him an order for half-a-dozen suits straight away."

"Good God!" I cried aghast. "I've never had six suits of clothes at a time since I was born."

"And more shame for you. Look!" said he, drawing my wife's attention to my comfortable but old and deliberately unfashionable raiment. "I love you, my dear Barbara, but you are to blame."

"Hilary," said my wife, "the next time you go to town you'll order half-a-dozen suits and I'll come with you to see you do it. Who is your tailor, Adrian?"

He gave the address. "The best in London. And if you go to him on my introduction-Good Lord!"-it seemed to amuse him vastly-"I can order half-a-dozen more!"

All this seemed to me, who am not devoid of a sense of humour and an appreciation of the pleasant flippancies of life, somewhat futile and frothy talk, unworthy of the author of "The Diamond Gate" and the lover of Doria Jornicroft. I expressed this opinion and Barbara, for once, agreed with me.

"Yes. Let us be serious. In the first place you oughtn't to allude to Doria's father as 'old man Jornicroft.' It isn't respectful."

"But I don't respect him. Who could? He is bursting with money, but won't give Doria a farthing, won't hear of our marriage, and practically forbids me the house. What possible feeling can one have for an old insect like that?"

"I've never seen any reason," said Barbara, who is a brave little woman, "why Doria shouldn't run away and marry you."

"She would like a shot," cried Adrian; "but I won't let her. How can I allow her to rush to the martyrdom of married misery on four hundred a year, which I don't even earn?"

I looked at my watch. "It's time, my friends," said I, "to dress for dinner. Afterwards we can continue the discussion. In the meanwhile I'll order up some of the '89 Pol Roger so that we can drink to the success of the book."

"The '89 Pol Roger?" cried Adrian. "A man with '89 Pol Roger in his cellar is the noblest work of God!"

"I was thinking," Barbara remarked drily, "of asking Doria to spend a few days here next week."

"All I can say is," he retorted, with his quick turn and smile, "that you are the Divinity Itself."

So, a short time afterwards, a very happy Adrian sat down to dinner and brought a cultivated taste to the appreciation of a now, alas! historical wine, under whose influence he expanded and told us of the genesis and the making of "The Diamond Gate."

Now it is a very odd coincidence, one however which had little, if anything, to do with the curious entanglement of my friend's affairs into which I was afterwards drawn, but an odd coincidence all the same, that on passing from the dining room with Adrian to join Barbara in the drawing room, I found among the last post letters lying on the hall table one which, with a thrill of pleasure, I held up before Adrian's eyes.

"Do you recognise the handwriting?"

"Good Lord!" cried he. "It's from Jaffery Chayne. And"-he scanned the stamp and postmark-"from Cettinje. What the deuce is he doing there?"

"Let us see!" said I.

I opened the letter and scanned it through; then I read it aloud.

"Dear Hilary,

"A line to let you know that I'm coming back soon. I haven't quite finished my job-"

"What was his job?"

"Heaven knows," I replied. "The last time I heard from him he was cruising about the Sargasso Sea."

I resumed my reading.

"-for the usual reason, a woman. If it wasn't for women what a thundering amount of work a man could get through. Anyhow-I'm coming back, with an encumbrance. A wife. Not my wife, thank Olympus, but another man's wife-"

"Poor old devil!" cried Adrian. "I knew he would come a mucker one of these days!"

"Wait," said I, and I read-

"-poor Prescott's wife. I don't think you ever knew Prescott, but he was a good sort. He died of typhoid. Only quaggas and yaks and other iron-gutted creatures like myself can stand Albania. I'm escorting her to England, so look out for us. How's everybody? Do you ever hear of Adrian? If so, collar him. I want to work the widow off on him. She has a goodish deal of money and is a kind of human dynamo. The best thing in the world for Adrian."

Adrian confounded the fellow. I continued-

"Prepare then for the Dynamic Widow. Love to Barbara, the fairy grasshopper-"

"Who's that?"

"My daughter, Susan Freeth. The last time he saw her, she was hopping about in a green jumper-Barbara would give you the elementary costume's commercial name."

"-and yourself," I read. "By the way, do you know of a granite-built, iron-gated, portcullised, barbicaned, really comfortable home for widows?

Yours, Jaffery."

Without waiting for comment from Adrian, I went with the letter into the drawing room, he following. I handed it to Barbara, who ran it through.

"That's just like Jaffery. He tells us nothing."

"I think he has told us everything," said I.

"But who and what and whence is this lady?"

"Goodness knows!" said I.

"Therefore, he has told us nothing," retorted Barbara. "My own belief is that she's a Brazilian."

"But what," asked Adrian, "would a lone Brazilian female be doing in the Balkans?"

"Looking for a husband, of course," said Barbara.

And like all wise men when staggered by serene feminine asseveration we bowed our heads and agreed that nothing could be more obvious.

* * *

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