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   Chapter 3 No.3

Jaffery By William John Locke Characters: 22653

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


A fair-bearded, red-faced, blue-eyed, grinning giant got out of the train and catching sight of us ran up and laid a couple of great sun-glazed hands on my shoulders.

"Hullo! hullo! hullo!" he shouted, and gripping Adrian in his turn, shouted it again. He made such an uproar that people stuck wondering heads out of the carriage windows. Then he thrust himself between us, linked our arms in his and made us charge with him down the quiet country platform. A porter followed with his suit-case.

"Why didn't you tell me that the Man of Fame was with you?"

"I thought I'd give you a pleasant surprise," said I.

"I met Robson of the Embassy in Constantinople-you remember Robson of Pembroke-fussy little cock-sparrow-he'd just come from England and was full of it. You seem to have got 'em in the neck. Bully! Bully!"

Adrian took advantage of the narrow width of the exit to release himself and I, who went on with Jaffery, looking back, saw him rub himself ruefully, as though he had been mauled by a bear.

"And how's everybody?" Jaffery's voice reverberated through the subway. "Barbara and the fairy grasshopper? I'm longing to see 'em. That's the pull of being free. You can adopt other fellows' wives and families. I'm coming home now to my adopted wife and daughter. How are they?"

I answered explicitly. He boomed on till we reached the station yard, where his eye fell upon a familiar object.

"What?" cried he. "Have you still got the Chinese Puffhard?"

The vehicle thus disrespectfully alluded to was an ancient, ancient car, the pride of many a year ago, which sentiment (together with the impossibility of finding a purchaser) would not allow me to sell. It had been a splendid thing in those far-off days. It kept me in health. It made me walk miles and miles along unknown and unfrequented roads. In the aggregate I must have spent months of my life doing physical culture exercises underneath it. You got into it at the back; it was about ten feet high, and you started it at the side by a handle in its midriff. But I loved it. It still went, if treated kindly. Barbara loathed it and insulted it, so that with her as passenger, it sulked and refused to go. But Susan's adoration surpassed even mine. Its demoniac groans and rattles and convulsive quakings appealed to her unspoiled sense of adventure.

"Barbara has gone away with the Daimler," said I, "and as I don't keep a fleet of cars, I had to choose between this and the donkey-cart. Get in and don't be so fastidious-unless you're afraid-"

He took no account of my sarcasm. His face fell. He made no attempt to enter the car.

"Barbara gone away?"

I burst out laughing. His disappointment at not being welcomed by Barbara at Northlands was so genuine and so childishly unconcealed.

"She'll be back in time for lunch. She had to run up to town on business. She sent you her love and Susie will do the honours."

His face brightened. "That's all right. But you gave me a shock. Northlands without Barbara-" He shook his head.

We drove off. The Chinese Puffhard excelled herself, and though she choked asthmatically did not really stop once until we were half way up the drive, when I abandoned her to the gardeners, who later on harnessed the donkey to her and pulled her into the motor-house. We dismounted, however, in the drive. A tiny figure in a blue smock came scuttling over the sloping lawn. The next thing I saw was the small blue patch somewhere in the upland region of Jaffery's beard. Then boomed forth from him idiotic exclamations which are not worth chronicling, accompanied by a duet of bass and treble laughter. Then he set her astride of his bull neck and pitched his soft felt hat to Adrian to hold.

"Hang on to my hair. It won't hurt," he commanded.

She obeyed literally, clawing two handfuls of his thick reddish shock in her tiny grasp, and Jaffery lumbered along like an elephant with a robin on his head, unconscious of her weight. We mounted to the terrace in front of the house and having established my guests in easy chairs, I went indoors to order such drink as would be refreshing on a sultry August noon. When I returned I found Jaffery, with Susan on his knee, questioning Adrian, after the manner of a primitive savage, on the subject of "The Diamond Gate," and Adrian, delighted at the opportunity, dazzling our simple-minded friend with publisher's statistics.

"And you're writing another? Deep down in another?" asked Jaffery. "Do you know, Susie, Uncle Adrian has just got to take a pen and jab it into a piece of paper, and-tchick!-up comes a golden sovereign every time he does it."

Susan turned her serene gaze on Adrian. "Do it now," she commanded.

"I haven't got a pen," said he.

"I'll fetch you one from Daddy's study," she said, sliding from Jaffery's knee.

Both Jaffery and Adrian looked scared. I, who was not the father of a feminine thing of seven years old for nothing, interposed, I think, rather tactfully.

"Uncle Adrian can only do it with a great gold pen, and poor old daddy hasn't got one."

"I call that silly," replied my daughter. "Uncle Jaffery, have you got one?"

"No," said he, "You have to be born, like Uncle Adrian, with a golden pen in your mouth."

The lucky advent of the Archangel Gabriel, with a grin on his face and a doll in his mouth-the Archangel Gabriel, commonly known as Gabs, and so termed on account of his archi-angelic disposition, a hideous mongrel with a white patch over one eye and a brown patch over the other, with the nose of a collie and the legs of a Great Dane and the tail of a fox-terrier, whose mongreldom, however, Adrian repudiated by the bold assertion that he was a Zanzibar bloodhound-the lucky advent of this pampered and over-affectionate quadruped directed Susan's mind from the somewhat difficult conversation. She ran off, forthwith, to the rescue or her doll; but later (I heard) her nurse was sore put to it to explain the mystery of the golden pen.

"So much for Adrian. I'm tired of the auriferous person," said I, waving a hand. "What about yourself? What about the dynamic widow?"

"Oh, damn the dynamic widow," he replied, corrugating his serene and sunburnt forehead. "I've come down here to forget her. I'll tell you about her later." Then he grinned, in his silly, familiar way, showing two rows of astonishingly white, strong teeth, between the hair on lip and chin.

"Well," said I, "at any rate give some account of yourself. What were you doing in Albania, for instance?"

"Prospecting," said he.

"In what-gold, coal, iron?"

"War," said he. "There's going to be a hell of a bust-up one of these days-and one of these days very soon-in the Balkans. From Scutari to Salonica to Rodosto, the whole blooming triangle-it's going to be a battlefield. The war correspondent who goes out there not knowing his ground will be a silly ass. The slim statesman like me won't. See? So poor old Prescott-you must know Prescott of Reuter's?-anyhow that was the chap-poor old Prescott and I went out exploring. When he pegged out with enteric I hadn't finished, so I dumped his widow down at Cettinje where I have some pals, and started out again on my own. That's all."

He filled another pint tumbler with the iced liquid (one always had to provide largely for Jaffery's needs) and poured it down his throat.

"I don't call that a very picturesque account of your adventures," said Adrian.

Jaffery grinned. "I'll tell you all sorts of funny things, if you'll give me time," said he, wiping his lips with a vast red and white handkerchief about the size of a ship's Union Jack.

But we did not give him time; we plied him with questions and for the next hour he entertained us pleasantly with stories of his wanderings. He had a Rabelaisian way of laughing over must of his experiences, even those which had a touch of the gruesome, and the laughter got into his speech, so that many amusing episodes were told in the roars of a hilarious lion.

Presently the familiar sound of the horn announced the return of Barbara. We sprang to our feet and descended to meet the car at the front porch. Jaffery, grinning with delight, opened the door, appeared to lift a radiant Barbara out of the car like a parcel and almost hugged her. And there they stood holding on to each other's hands and smiling into each other's faces and saying how well they looked, regardless of the fact that they were blocking the way for Doria, who remained in the car, I had to move them on with the reminder that they had the whole week-end for their effusions. Adrian helped Doria to alight, and to Doria then, for the first time, was presented Jaffery Chayne. Jaffery blinked at her oddly as he held her little gloved fingers in his enormous hand. And, indeed, I could excuse him; for she was a very striking object to come suddenly into the immediate range of a man's vision, with her chiffon and her slenderness, and her black hat beneath which her great eyes shone from the startling, nervous, ivory-white face.

She smiled on him graciously. "I'm so glad to meet you." Then after a fraction of a second came the explanation. "I've heard so much of you."

He murmured something into his beard. Meeting his childlike gaze of admiration, she turned away and put her arm round Barbara's waist. The ladies went indoors to take off their things, accompanied by Adrian, who wanted a lover's word with Doria on the way. Jaffery followed her with his eyes until she had disappeared at the corner of the hall-stairs. Then he took me by the arm and led me up towards the terrace.

"Who is that singularly beautiful girl?" he asked.

"Doria Jornicroft," said I.

"She's the most astonishing thing I've ever seen in my life."

"I wouldn't find her too astonishing, if I were you," said I with a laugh, "because there might be complications. She's engaged to Adrian."

He dropped my arm. "Do you mean-she's going to marry him?"

"Next month," said I.

"Well, I'm damned," said Jaffery. I asked him why. He did not enlighten me. "Isn't he a lucky devil?" he asked, instead. "The most pestilentially lucky devil under the sun. But why the deuce didn't you tell me before?"

"You expressed such a distaste for female women that we thought we would give you as long a respite as possible."

"That's all very well," he grumbled. "But if I had known that Adrian's fiancée was knocking around I'd have lumped her in my heart with Barbara and Susie."

"You're not prevented from doing that now," said I.

His brow cleared. "True, sonny." He broke into a guffaw. "Fancy old Adrian getting married!"

"I see nothing funny in it," said I. "Lots of people get married. I'm married."

"Oh, you-you were born to be married," he said crushingly.

"And so are you," I retorted.

"I? I tie myself to the stay-strings of a flip of a thing in petticoats, whom I should have to swear to love, honour and obey-?"

"My good fellow," I interrupted, "it is the woman who swears obedience."

"And the man practises it. Ho! Ho! Ho!"

His laughter (at this very poor repartee) so resounded that the adventitious cow, in the field some hundred yards away, lifted her tail in the air and scampered away, in terror.

"And as to the stay-strings, to continue your delicate met

aphor, you can always cut them when you like."

"Yes. And then there's the devil to pay. She shows you the ends and makes you believe they're dripping blood and tears. Don't I know 'em? They're the same from Cape Horn to Alaska, from Dublin to Rio."

He bellowed forth his invective. He had no quarrel with marriage as an institution. It was most useful and salutary-apparently because it provided him, Jaffery, with comfortable conditions wherein to exist. The multitude of harmless, necessary males (like myself) were doomed to it. But there was a race of Chosen Ones, to which he belonged, whose untamable and omni-concupiscent essence kept them outside the dull conjugal pale. For such as him, nineteen hundred women at once, scattered within the regions of the seven circumferential seas. He loved them all. Woman as woman was the joy of the earth. It was only the silly spectrum of civilisation that broke Woman up into primary colours-black, yellow, brunette, blonde-he damned civilisation.

"To listen to you," said I, when he paused for breath, "one would think you were a devil of a fellow."

"I am," he declared. "I'm a Universalist. At any rate in theory, or rather in the conviction of what best suits myself. I'm one of those men who are born to be free, who've got to fill their lungs with air, who must get out into the wilds if they're to live-God! I'd sooner be snowed up on a battlefield than smirk at a damned afternoon tea-party any day in the week! If I want a woman, I like to take her by her hair and swing her up behind me on the saddle and ride away with her-"

"Lord! That's lovely," said I. "How often have you done it?"

"I've never done that exactly, you silly ass," said he. "But that's my attitude, my philosophy. You see how impossible it would be for me to tie myself for life to the stay-strings of one flip of a thing in petticoats."

"You're a blessed innocent," said I.

Adrian sauntering through the French window of my library joined us on the terrace. Jaffery, forgetful of his attitude, his philosophy, caught him by the shoulders and shook him in pain-dealing exuberance. Old Adrian was going to be married. He wished him joy. Yet it was no use his wishing him joy because he already had it-it was assured. That exquisite wonder of a girl. Adrian was a lucky devil, a pestilentially lucky devil. He, Jaffery, had fallen in love with her on sight. . . .

"And if I hadn't told him that Miss Jornicroft was engaged to you," said I, "he would have taken her by the hair of her head and swung her up behind him on the saddle and ridden away with her. It's a little way Jaffery has."

In spite of sunburn, freckles and pervading hairiness of face, Jaffery grew red.

"Shut up, you silly fool!" said he, like the overgrown schoolboy that he was.

And I shut up-not because he commanded, but because Barbara, like spring in deep summer, and Doria, like night at noontide, appeared on the terrace.

Soon afterwards lunch was announced. By common conspiracy Jaffery and Susan upset the table arrangements, insisting that they should sit next each other. He helped the child to impossible viands, much to my wife's dismay, and told her apocalyptic stories of Bulgaria, somewhat to her puzzledom, but wholly to her delight. But when he proposed to fill her silver mug (which he, as godfather, had given her on her baptism) with the liquefied dream of Paradise that Barbara, sola mortalium, can prepare, consisting of hock and champagne and fruits and cucumber and borage and a blend of liqueurs whose subtlety transcends human thought, Barbara's Medusa glare petrified him into a living statue, the crystal jug of joy poised in his hand.

"Why mayn't I have some, mummy?"

"Because Uncle Jaff's your godfather," said I. "And your mother's hock-cup is a sinful lust of the flesh. Spare the child and fill up your own glass."

"Don't you know," said Barbara, "that this is Berkshire, not the Balkans? We don't intoxicate infants here to make a summer holiday!"

At this rebuke he exchanged winks with my daughter, and refusing a handed dish of cutlets asked to be allowed to help himself to some cold beef on the sideboard. The butler's assistance he declined. No Christian butler could carve for Jaffery Chayne. After a longish absence he returned to the table with half the joint on his plate. Susan regarded it wide-eyed.

"Uncle Jaff, are you going to eat all that?" she asked in an audible whisper.

"Yes, and you too," he roared, "and mummy and daddy and Uncle Adrian, if I don't get enough to eat!"

"And Aunt Doria?"

Again he reddened-but he turned to Doria and bowed.

"In my quality of ogre only-a bonne bouche," said he.

It was said very charmingly, and we laughed. Of course Susan began the inevitable question, but Barbara hurriedly notified some dereliction with regard to gravy, and my small daughter was, so to speak, hustled out of the conversation. Jaffery by way of apology for his Gargantuan appetite discoursed on the privations of travel in uncivilised lands. A lump of sour butter for lunch and a sardine and a hazelnut for dinner. We were to fancy the infinite accumulation of hunger-pangs. And as he devoured cold beef and talked, Doria watched him with the somewhat aloof interest of one who stands daintily outside the railed enclosure of a new kind of hippopotamus.

The meal over we sought the deep shade of the terrace which faces due east. Jaffery, in his barbaric fashion, took Doria by the elbow and swept her far away from the wistaria arbour beneath which the remaining three of us were gathered, and when he fondly thought he was out of earshot, he set her beside him on the low parapet. My wife, with the responsibilities of all the Chancelleries of Europe knitted in her brow, discussed wedding preparations with Adrian. I, to whom the quality of the bath towels wherewith Adrian and his wife were to dry themselves and that of the sheets between which their housemaid was to lie, were matters of black and awful indifference, gave my more worthily applied attention to one of a new brand of cigars, a corona corona, that had its merits but lacked an indefinable soul-satisfying aroma; and I was on the pleasurable and elusive point of critical formulation, when Jaffery's voice, booming down the terrace, knocked the discriminating nicety out of my head. I lazily shifted my position and watched the pair.

"You're subtle and psychological and introspective and analytic and all that," Jaffery was saying-his light word about an ogre at lunch was not a bad one; sitting side by side on the low parapet they looked like a vast red-bearded ogre and a feminine black-haired elf-she had taken off her hat-engaged in a conversation in which the elf looked very much on the defensive-"and you're always tracking down motives to their roots, and you're not contented, like me, with the jolly face of things-"

"For an accurate diagnosis," I reflected, "of an individual woman's nature, the blatant universalist has his points."

"Whereas, I, you see," he continued, "just buzz about life like a dunderheaded old bumble-bee. I'm always busting myself up against glass panes, not seeing, as you would, the open window a few inches off. Do you see what I'm driving at?"

Apparently she didn't; for while she was speaking, he threw away his corona corona-a dream of a cigar for nine hundred and ninety-nine men out of a thousand (I glanced at Adrian who had religiously preserved two inches of ash on his)-and hauled out pipe and tobacco-pouch. I could not hear what she said. When she had finished, he edged a span nearer.

"What I want you to understand," said he, "is that I'm a simple sort of savage. I can't follow all these intricate henry Jamesian complications of feeling. I've had in my life"-he stuck pouch and pipe on the stone beside him-"I've had in my life just a few men I've loved-I don't count women-men-men I've cared for, God knows why. Do you know why one cares for people?"

She smiled, shrugged her shoulders and shook her head.

"The latest was poor Prescott-he has just pegged out-you'll hear soon enough about Prescott. There was Tom Castleton-has Adrian told you about Castleton-?"

Again she shook her head.

"He will-of course-a wonder of a fellow-up with us at Cambridge. He's dead. There only remains Hilary, our host, and Adrian."

As far as I could gather-for she spoke in the ordinary tones of civilised womanhood, whereas Jaffery, under the impression that he was whispering confidentially, bellowed like an honest bull-as far as I could gather, she said:

"You must have met hundreds of men more sympathetic to you than Mr. Freeth and Adrian."

"I haven't," he cried. "That's the funny devil of it. I haven't. If I was struck a helpless paralytic with not a cent and no prospect of earning a cent, I know I could come to those two and say, 'Keep me for the rest of my life'-and they would do it"

"And would you do the same for either of them?"

Jaffery rose and stuffed his hands in his jacket pockets and towered over her.

"I'd do it for them and their wives and their children and their children's children."

He sat down again in confusion at having been led into hyperbole. But he took her shoulders in his huge but kindly hands, somewhat to her alarm-for, in her world, she was not accustomed to gigantic males laying unceremonious hold of her-

"All I wanted to convey to you, my dear girl, is this-that if Adrian's wife won't look on me as a true friend, I'm ready to go away and cut my throat"

Doria smiled at him with pretty civility and assured him of her willingness to admit him into her inner circle of friends; whereupon he caught up his pouch and pipe and lumbered down the terrace towards us, shouting out his news.

"I've fixed it up with Doria"-he turned his head-"I can call you Doria, can't I?" She nodded permission-what else could she do? "We're going to be friends. And I say, Barbara, they'll want a wedding-present. What shall I give 'em? What would you like?"

The latter question was levelled direct at Doria, who had followed demurely in his footsteps. But it was not answered; for from the drawing-room there emerged Franklin, the butler, who marched up straight to Jaffery.

"A lady to see you, sir"

"A lady? Good God! What kind of a lady?"

He stared at Franklin, in dismay.

"She came in a taxi, sir. The driver mistook the way, and put her down at the back entrance. She would not give her name."

"Tall, rather handsome, dressed in black?"

"Yes, sir."

"Lord Almighty!" cried Jaffery, including us all in the sweep of a desperate gaze. "It's Liosha! I thought I had given her the slip."

Barbara rose, and confronted him. "And pray who is Liosha?"

Adrian hugged his knee and laughed:

"The dynamic widow," said he.

"I'll go and see what in thunder she wants," said Jaffery.

But Barbara's eyes twinkled. "You'll do nothing of the sort. She has no business to come running after you like this. She must be taught manners. Franklin, will you show the lady out here?"

She drew herself up to her full height of five feet nothing, thereby demonstrating the obvious fact that she was mistress in her own house.

Presently Franklin reappeared.

"Mrs. Prescott," said he.

* * *

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