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Jaffery By William John Locke Characters: 19006

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

Some weeks passed; but we heard no more of Jaffery Chayne. If he had planted his widow there, in Cettinje, and gone off to Central Africa we should not have been surprised. On the other hand, he might have walked in at any minute, just as though he lived round the corner and had dropped in casually to see us.

In the meantime events had moved rapidly for Adrian. Everybody was talking about his book; everybody was buying it. The rare phenomenon of the instantaneous success of a first book by an unknown author was occurring also in America. Golden opinions were being backed by golden cash. Adrian continued to draw on his publishers, who, fortunately for them, had an American house. Anticipating possible alluring proposals from other publishers, they offered what to him were dazzling and fantastic terms for his next two novels. He accepted. He went about the world wearing Fortune like a halo. He achieved sudden fame; fame so widespread that Mr. Jornicroft heard of it in the city, where he promoted (and still promotes) companies with monotonous success. The result was an interview to which Adrian came wisely armed with a note from his publisher as to sales up to date, and the amazing contract which he had just signed. He left the house with a father's blessing in his ears and an affianced bride's kisses on his lips. The wedding was fixed for September. Adrian declared himself to be the happiest of God's creatures and spent his days in joy-sodden idleness. His mother, with tears in her eyes, increased his allowance.

The book that created all this commotion, I frankly admit, held me spellbound. It deserved the highest encomiums by the most enthusiastic reviewers. It was one of the most irresistible books I had ever read. It was a modern high romance of love and pity, of tears iridescent with laughter, of strong and beautiful though erring souls; it was at once poignant and tender; it vibrated with drama; it was instinct with calm and kindly wisdom. In my humility, I found I had not known my Adrian one little bit. As the shepherd of old who had a sort of patronizing affection for the irresponsible, dancing, flute-playing, goat-footed creature of the woodland was stricken with panic when he recognised the god, so was I convulsed when I recognised the genius of my friend Adrian. And the fellow still went on dancing and flute-playing and I stared at him open-mouthed.

Mr. Jornicroft, who was a widower, gave a great dinner party at his house in Park Crescent, in honour of the engagement. My wife and I attended, fishes somewhat out of water amid this brilliant but solid assembly of what it pleased Barbara to call "merchantates." She expressed a desire to shrink out of the glare of the diamonds; but she wore her grandmother's pearls, and, being by far the youngest and prettiest matron present, held her own with the best of them. There were stout women, thin women, white-haired women, women who ought to have been white-haired, but were not; sprightly and fashionable women; but besides Barbara, the only other young woman was Doria herself.

She took us aside, as soon as we were released from the formal welcome of Mr. Jornicroft, a thickset man with a very bald head and heavy black moustache.

"The sight of you two is like a breath of fresh air. Did you ever meet with anything so stuffy?"

Now, considering that all these prosperous folks had come to do her homage I thought the remark rather ungracious.

"It's apt to be stuffy in July in London," I said.

She laid her hand on Barbara's wrist and pointed at me with her fan.

"He thinks he's rebuking me. But I don't care. I'm glad to see him all the same. These people mean nothing but money and music-halls and bridge and restaurants-I'm so sick of it. You two mean something else."

"Don't speak sacrilegiously of restaurants, even though you are going to marry a genius," said I. "There is one in Paris to which Adrian will take you straight-like a homing bird."

"Wherever Adrian takes me, it will be beautiful," she said defiantly.

My little critical humour vanished, for she looked so valiantly adorable in her love for the man. She was very small and slenderly made, with dark hair, luminous eyes, and ivory-white complexion, a sensitive nose and mouth, a wisp of nerves and passion. She carried her head high and, for so diminutive a person, appeared vastly important.

Adrian, released from an ex-Lady Mayoress, came up all smiles, to greet us. Doria gave him a glance which in spite of my devotion to Barbara and my abhorrence of hair's breadth deviation from strict monogamy dealt me a pang of unregenerate jealousy. There is only one man in the universe worthy of being so regarded by a woman; and he is oneself. Every true-minded man will agree with me. She was inordinately proud of him; proud too of herself in that she had believed in him and given him her love long before he became famous. Adrian's eyes softened as they met the glance. He turned to Barbara.

"It's in a crowd like this that she looks so mysterious-an Elemental; but whether of Earth, Air, Fire or Water, I shall spend my life trying to discover."

The faintest flush possible mounted to that pure ivory-white cheek of hers. She laughed and caught me by the arm.

"I must carry you to Lady Bagshawe-you're taking her in to dinner. Her husband is Master of the Organ-Grinders' Company-"

"No, no, Doria," said I.

"-Well, it's some city company-I don't know-and she is a museum of diseases and a gazetteer of cure places. Now you know where you are."

She led me to Lady Bagshawe. Soon afterwards we trooped down to dinner, during which I learned more of my inside than I knew before, and more of that of Lady Bagshawe than any of her most fervent adorers in their wildest dreams could have ever hoped to ascertain; during which, also, I endeavoured to convince an unknown, but agreeable lady on my left that I did not play polo, whereat, it seemed, her eight brothers were experts; and that Omar Khayyam was a contemporary not of the Prophet Isaiah, but of William the Conqueror. As for the setting-I am not an observant man-but I had an impression of much gold and silver and rare flora on the table, great gold frames enclosing (I doubt not) costly pictures on the walls, many desirable jewels on undesirable bosoms, strong though unsympathetic masculine faces, and such food and drink as Lucullus, poor fellow, did not live long enough to discover.

When the ladies retired, and we moved up towards our host, I found myself between two groups; one discussing the mercantile depravity of a gentleman called Wilmot, of whom I had never heard, the other arguing on dark dilemmas connected with an Abyssinian loan. A vacant chair happening to be by my side, Adrian, glass in hand, came round the table and sat down.

"How are you getting on?"

"Well," said I. "Very well." I sipped my port. I recognised Cockburn 1870.

"You seemed rather at a loose end."

"When one has 1870 port to drink," said I, "why fritter away its flavour in vain words?"

"It is damned good port," Adrian admitted.

"Earth holds nothing better," said I.

We lapsed into silence amid the talk on each side of us. I confess that I rather surrendered myself to the wine. A little taper for cigarettes happened to be in front of me; I held my glass in its light and lost myself in the wine's pure depths of mystery and colour; and my mind wandered to the lusty sunshine of "Lusitanian summers" that was there imprisoned. I inhaled its fragrance, I accepted its exquisite and spacious generosity. Wine, like bread and oil-"God's three chief words"-is a thing of itself-a thing of earth and air and sun-one of the great natural things, such as the stars and the flowers and the eyes of a dog. Even the most mouth-twisting new wine of Northern Italy has its fascination for me, in that it is essentially something apart from the dust and empty racket of the world; how much more then this radiant vintage suddenly awakened from its slumber in the darkness of forty years. So I mused, as I think an honest man is justified in musing, soberly, over a great wine, when suddenly my left eye caught Adrian's face. He too was musing; but musing on unhappy things, for a hand seemed to have swept his face and wiped the joy from it. He was gazing at his half-emptied glass, with the short stem of which his fingers were nervously toying. There was a quick snap. The stem broke and the wine flowed over the cloth. He started, and with a flash the old Adrian came back, manifesting itself in his smiling dismay, his boyish apology to Mr. Jornicroft for smashing a rare glass, spoiling the tablecloth and wasting precious wine. The incident served to disequilibrate, as one might say, the two discussions on Wilmot and Abyssinia. Coffee came and liqueurs. I bade farewell to Lusitanian dreams and found myself in heart to heart conversation with my neighbour on the right, a florid, simple-minded sugar-broker, a certain next-year's Sheriff of the City of London, whose consuming ambition was to become a member of the Athen?um Club. When I informed him that I was privileged to enter that Valley of Dry Bones-my late father, an eminent Assyriologist and a disastrous Master of Fox hounds, had put me up for all sorts of weird institutions, I think, before I was born-my sugar broker almost fell at my feet and worshipped me. Although I told him that the premises were overrun with Bishops and that we had l

aid down all kinds of episcopicide to no avail, he refused to be disillusioned. I told him that on the occasion of my last visit to the Megatherium-Thackeray, I explained-a Royal Academician, with whom I had a slight acquaintance, reading desolate "The Hibbert Journal" in the smoking-room, embraced me as fondly as the austerity of the place permitted and related a non-drawing-room story which was current at my preparatory school-and that in the library I ran into an equally desolate, though even less familiar Archdeacon, who seized me, like the Ancient Mariner, and never let me go until he had impressed upon my mind the name and address of the only man in London who could cut clerical gaiters. But the simple child of sugar would have his way. There was but one Valhalla in London, and it was built by Decimus Burton.

After that we joined the ladies for an unimportant half hour or so, and then Barbara and I took our leave. As we were motoring home-we live some thirty miles out of London-we discussed the dinner party, according to the way of married folks, home-bound after a feast, and I mentioned the trivial incident of Adrian and the broken glass. Why should his face have been so haggard when he had everything to make him happy?

"He was thinking of Mr. Jornicroft's previous insulting behaviour."

"How do you know?"

"He told me," said Barbara.

"I never knew Adrian to be seriously vindictive," said I.

"It strikes me, my dear," replied Barbara, taking my hand, "that you are an old ignoramus."

And this from a woman who actively glories in not knowing how many "r's" there are in "harassed."

She nestled up to me. "We're not going abroad in August, are we?"

"What?" I cried, "leave the English country during the only part of the year that is not 'deformed with dripping rains or withered by a frost'? Certainly not."

"But we did last year, and the year before."

"Pure accident. The year before, Susan was recovering from the measles and you had some pretty frocks which you thought would look lovely at Dinard. And last year you also had some frocks and insisted that Houlgate was the only place where Susan could avoid being stricken down by scarlet-fever."

"Anyhow," said my wife, "we're not going away this year, for I've fixed up with Doria and Adrian to spend August at Northlands."

"Why didn't you tell me so at once? Why did you ask me whether we were going away?"

"Because I knew we weren't," she answered.

In putting two questions at the same time, I blundered. The first was a poser and might have elicited some interesting revelation of feminine mental process. In forlorn hope I repeated it.

"Why, I've told you, stupid," said Barbara. "You've no objection to their coming, have you?"

"Good Lord, no. I'm delighted."

"From the way you've argued, any one would have thought you didn't want them."

Outraged by the illogic, I gasped; but she broke into a laugh.

"You silly old Hilary," she said. "Don't you see that Doria must get her trousseau together and Adrian must find a house or a flat, that has to be decorated and furnished, and the poor child hasn't a mother or any sensible woman in the world to look after her but me?"

"I see," said I, "that you intend having the time of your life."

* * *

My prevision proved correct. In August came the engaged couple and every day Barbara took them up to town and whirled them about from house-agent to house-agent until she found a flat to suit them, and then from emporium to emporium until she found furniture to suit the flat, and from raiment-vendor to raiment-vendor until she equipped Doria to suit the furniture. She used to return almost speechless with exhaustion; but pantingly and with the glaze of victory in her eyes, she fought all her battles o'er again and told of bargains won. In the meantime had it not been for Susan, I should have lived in the solitude of an anchorite. We spent much time in the garden which we (she less conscious of irony than I) called our desert island. I was Robinson Crusoe and she was Man Friday, and on the whole we were quite happy; perhaps I should have been happier in a temperature of 80° in the shade if I had not been forced to wear the Polar bear rug from the drawing-room in representation of Crusoe's goatskins. I did suggest that I should be Robinson Crusoe's brother, who wore ordinary flannels, and that she should be Woman Wednesday. But Susan saw through the subterfuge and that game didn't work. One afternoon, however, Barbara, returning earlier than usual, caught us at it and expressing horror and indignation at the uses to which the bearskin was put, metaphorically whipped me and sent me to bed as being the elder of the naughty ones. After that we played at fairies in a glade, which was much cooler.

It was in the evenings that I was loneliest; for then Barbara went early to bed, and the lovers strolled about together in the moonlight. With the intention, half-malicious, half-pitiful, of filling up my time, Doria taught me a new and complicated Patience. Then finally, when Doria, having spent a couple of polite minutes in the drawing-room, had retired, and when I was tired out from the strain of the day and half-asleep through weariness, Adrian would mix himself the longest possible brandy and soda, light the longest possible cigar and try to keep me up all night listening to his conversation.

At last, one Friday evening, while I was engaged in my forlorn and unprofitable game, the butler entered the drawing-room with unperturbed announcement:

"Mr. Chayne on the telephone, sir."

I sent the card table flying amid the wreckage of my lay-out and rushed to the telephone.

"Hullo! That you, Jaff?"

"Yes, old man. Very much me. A devil of a lot of me. How are you?"

His strong bass boomed through the receiver. I have always found a queer comfort in Jaffery's voice. It wraps you round about in thundering waves. We exchanged the commonplaces of delighted greeting. I asked:

"When did you arrive?"

"A couple of days ago."

"Why on earth didn't you let me know at once?"

I heard him laugh. "I'll tell you when I see you. By the way, can Barbara have me for the week-end?"

This was like Jaffery. Most men would have asked me, taking Barbara for granted.

"Barbara would have you for the rest of time," said I. "And so would Susan. I'll expect you by the 11 o'clock train."

"Right," said he.

"And, I say!"


"Talking of fair ladies-what about-?"

"Oh, Hell!" came Jaffery's great voice. "She's here right enough."

"Where?" I asked.

"The Savoy. So is Euphemia-"

Euphemia was Jaffery's unmarried sister, as like to her brother as a little wizened raisin is to a fat, bursting muscat grape.

"Euphemia has taken her on. Wants to convert her."

"Good Lord!" I cried. "Is she a Turk?"

"She's a problem." And his great laugh vibrated in my ears.

"Why not bring her down with Euphemia?"

"I want a couple of days off. I want a good quiet time, with no female women about save Barbara and my fairy grasshopper whom, as you know, I love to distraction."

"But will Euphemia be all right with her?"

I had not the faintest notion what kind of a creature the "problem" was.

"Right as rain. Euphemia has fixed up to take her to-morrow night to a lecture on Tolstoi at the Lyceum Club, and to the City Temple on Sunday. Ho! ho! ho!"

His Homeric laughter must have shattered the Trunk Telephone system of Great Britain, for after that there was silence cold and merciless. Well, perhaps it was just as well, for if we had been allowed to converse further I might have told him that another female woman, Doria Jornicroft, was staying at Northlands, and he might not have come. Jaffery was always a queer fish where women were concerned. Not a chilly, fishy fish, but a sort of Laodicean fish, now hot, now cold. I have seen him shrink like a sensitive plant in the presence of an ingenue of nineteen and royster in Pantagruelian fashion with a mature member of the chorus of the Paris Opera; I ham e also known him to fly, a scared Joseph, from the allurements of the charming wife of a Right Honourable Sir Cornifer Potiphar, G.C.M.G., and sigh like a furnace in front of an obdurate little milliner's place of business in Bond Street. I do not, for the world, wish it to be supposed that I am insinuating that my dear old Jaffery had no morals. He had-lots of them. He was stuffed with them. But what they were, neither he nor I nor any one else was ever able to define. As a general rule, however, he was shy of strange women, and to that category did Doria belong.

When the lovers came in I told them my news. Adrian expressed extravagant delight. A little tiny cloud flitted over Doria's brow.

"Shall I like him?" she asked.

"You'll adore him," cried Adrian.

"I'll try to, dear, because he seems to mean so much to you. Are you going up to town with us to-morrow?"

"There's only a morning's fitting at a dressmaker-no place for me," he laughed. "I'll stay and welcome old Jaffery."

Again the most transient of tiny little clouds. But I could not help thinking that if Jaffery had been a woman instead of a mere man, there would have been a thunderstorm.

When we were alone Adrian threw himself into a chair.

"Women are funny beings," he said. "I do believe Doria is jealous of old Jaffery."

"You have every reason to be proud," said I, "of your psychological acumen."

* * *

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