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   Chapter 4 No.4

Jaffery By William John Locke Characters: 18899

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


That there should have been in the uncommon-tall young woman of buxom stateliness and prepossessing features, attired (to the mere masculine eye) in quite elegant black raiment-a thing called, I think, a picture hat, broad-brimmed with a sweeping ostrich feather, tickled my especial fancy, but was afterwards reviled by my wife as being entirely unsuited to fresh widowhood-what there should have been in this remarkable Junoesque young person who followed on the heels of Franklin to strike terror into Jaffery's soul, I could not, for the life of me, imagine. In the light of her personality I thought Barbara's coup de théatre rather cruel. . . . Of course Barbara received her courteously. She, too, was surprised at her outward aspect, having expected to behold a fantastic personage of comic opera.

"I am very pleased to see you, Mrs. Prescott."

Liosha-I must call her that from the start, for she exists to me as Liosha and as nothing else-shook hands with Barbara, making a queer deep formal bow, and turned her calm, brown eyes on Jaffery. There was just a little quarter-second of silence, during which we all wondered in what kind of outlandish tongue she would address him. To our gasping astonishment she said with an unmistakable American intonation: "Mr. Chayne, will you have the kindness to introduce me to your friends?"

I broke into a nervous laugh and grasped her hand "Pray allow me. I am Mr. Freeth, your much honoured host, and this is my wife, and . . . Miss Jornicroft . . . and Mr. Boldero. Mr. Chayne has been deceiving us. We thought you were an Albanian."

"I guess I am," said the lady, after having made four ceremonious bows, "I am the daughter of Albanian patriots. They were murdered. One day I'm going back to do a little murdering on my own account."

Barbara drew an audible short breath and Doria instinctively moved within the protective area of Adrian's arm. Jaffery, with knitted brow, leaned against one of the posts supporting the old wistaria arbour and said nothing, leaving me to exploit the lady.

"But you speak perfect English," said I.

"I was raised in Chicago. My parents were employed in the stockyards of Armour. My father was the man who slit the throats of the pigs. He was a dandy," she said in unemotional tones-and I noticed a little shiver of repulsion ripple through Barbara and Doria. "When I was twelve, my father kind of inherited lands in Albania, and we went back. Is there anything more you'd like to know?"

She looked us all up and down, rather down than up, for she towered above us, perfectly unconcerned mistress of the situation. Naturally we made mute appeal to Jaffery. He stirred his huge bulk from the post and plunged his hands into his pockets.

"I should like to know, Liosha," said he, in a rumble like thunder, "why you have left my sister Euphemia and what you are doing here?"

"Euphemia is a damn fool," she said serenely. "She's a freak. She ought to go round in a show."

"What have you been quarrelling about?" he asked.

"I never quarrel," she replied, regarding him with her calm brown eyes. "It is not dignified."

"Then I repeat, most politely, Liosha-what are you doing here?"

She looked at Barbara. "I guess it isn't right to talk of money before strangers."

Barbara smiled-glanced at me rebukingly. I pulled forward a chair and invited the lady to sit-for she had been standing and her astonishing entrance had flabbergasted ceremonious observance out of me. Whilst she was accepting my belated courtesy, Barbara continued to smile and said:

"You mustn't look on us as strangers, Mrs. Prescott. We are all Mr. Chayne's oldest and most intimate friends."

"Do tell us what the row was?" said Jaffery.

Liosha took calm stock of us, and seeing that we were a pleasant-faced and by no means an antagonistic assembly-even Doria's curiosity lent her a semblance of a sense of humour-she relaxed her Olympian serenity and laughed a little, shewing teeth young and strong and exquisitely white.

"I am here, Jaff Chayne," she said, "because Euphemia is a damn fool. She took me this morning to your big street-the one where all the shops are-"

"My dear lady," said Adrian, "there are about a hundred miles of such streets in London."

"There's only one-" she snapped her fingers, recalling the name-"only one Regent Street, I ever heard of," she replied crushingly. "It was Regent Street. Euphemia took me there to shew me the shops. She made me mad. For when I wanted to go in and buy things she dragged me away. If she didn't want me to buy things why did she shew me the shops?" She bent forward and laid her hand on Barbara's knee. "She must he a damn fool, don't you think so?"

Said Barbara, somewhat embarrassed:

"It's an amusement here to look at shops without any idea of buying."

"But if one wants to buy? If one has the money to buy?-I did not want anything foolish. I saw jewels that would buy up the whole of Albania. But I didn't want to buy up Albania. Not yet. But I saw a glass cage in a shop window full of little chickens, and I said to Euphemia: 'I want that. I must have those chickens.' I said, 'Give me money to go in and buy them.' Do you know, Jaff Chayne, she refused. I said, 'Give me my money, my husband's money, this minute, to buy those chickens in the glass cage.' She said she couldn't give me my husband's money to spend on chickens."

"That was very foolish of her," said Adrian solemnly, "for if there's one thing the management of the Savoy Hotel love, it's chicken incubators. They keep a specially heated suite of apartments for them."

"I was aware of it," said Liosha seriously. "Euphemia was not. She knows less than nothing. I asked her for the money. She refused. I saw an automobile close by. I entered. I said, 'Drive me to Mr. Jaff Chayne, he will give me the money.' He asked where Mr. Jaff Chayne was. I said he was staying with Mr. Freeth, at Northlands, Harston, Berkshire. I am not a fool like Euphemia. I remember. I left Euphemia standing on the sidewalk with her mouth open like that"-she made the funniest grimace in the world-"and the automobile brought me here to get some money to buy the chickens." She held out her hand to Jaffery.

"Confound the chickens," he cried. "It's the taxi I'm thinking of-ticking out tuppences, to say nothing of the mileage. Liosha," said he, in a milder roar, "it's no use thinking of buying chickens this afternoon. It's Saturday and the shops are shut. You go home before that automobile has ticked out bankruptcy and ruin. Go back to the Savoy and make your peace with Euphemia, like a good girl, and on Monday I'll talk to you about the chickens."

She sat up straight in her chair.

"You must take me somewhere else. I've got no use for Euphemia."

"But where else can I take you?" cried Jaffery aghast.

"I don't know. You know best where people go to in England. Doesn't he?" She included us all in a smile.

"But you must go back to Euphemia till Monday, at any rate."

"And she has arranged such a nice little programme for you," said Adrian. "A lecture on Tolstoi to-night and the City Temple to-morrow. Pity to miss 'em."

"If I saw any more of Euphemia, I might hurt her," said Liosha.

"Oh, Lord!" said Jaffery. "But you must go somewhere." He turned to me with a groan. "Look here, old chap. It's awfully rough luck, but I must take her back to the Savoy and mount guard over her so that she doesn't break my poor sister's neck."

"I wouldn't go so far as that," said Liosha.

"How far would you go?" Adrian asked politely, with the air of one seeking information.

"Oh, shut up, you idiot," Jaffery turned on him savagely. "Can't you see the position I'm in?"

"I'm very sorry you're angry, Jaff Chayne," said Liosha with a certain kind dignity. "But these are your friends. Their house is yours. Why should I not stay here with you?"

"Here? Good God!" cried Jaffery.

"Yes, why not?" said Barbara, who had set out to teach this lady manners.

"The very thing," said I.

Jaffery declared the idea to be nonsense. Barbara and I protested, growing warmer in our protestations as the argument continued. Nothing would give us such unimaginable pleasure as to entertain Mrs. Prescott. Liosha laid her hand on Jaffery's arm.

"But why shouldn't they have me? When a stranger asks for hospitality in Albania he is invited to walk right in and own the place. Is it refused in England?"

"Strangers don't ask," growled Jaffery.

"It would make life much more pleasant if they did," said Barbara, smiling. "Mrs. Prescott, this bear of a guardian or trustee or whatever he is of yours, makes a terrible noise-but he's quite harmless."

"I know that," said Liosha.

"He does what I tell him," the little lady continued, drawing herself up majestically beside Jaffery's great bulk. "He's going to stay here, and so will you, if you will so far honour us."

Liosha rose and bowed. "The honour is mine."

"Then will you come this way-I will shew you your room."

She motioned to Liosha to precede her through the French window of the drawing-room. Before disappearing Liosha bowed again. I caught up Barbara.

"My dear, what about clothes and things?"

"My dear," she said, "there's a telephone, there's a taxi, there's a maid, there's the Savoy hotel, and there's a train to bring back maid and clothes."

When Barbara takes command like this, the wis

e man effaces himself. She would run an Empire with far less fuss than most people devote to the running of a small sweet-stuff shop. I smiled and returned to the others. Jaffery was again filling his huge pipe.

"I'm awfully sorry, old man," he said gloomily.

Adrian burst out laughing "But she's immense, your widow! The most refreshing thing I've seen for many a day. The way she clears the place of the cobwebs of convention! She's great. Isn't she, Doria?"

"I can quite understand Mr. Chayne finding her an uncomfortable charge."

"Thank you," said Jaffery, with rather unnecessary vehemence. "I knew you would be sympathetic." He dropped into a chair by her side. "You can't tell what an awful thing it is to be responsible for another human being."

"Heaps of people manage to get through with it-every husband and wife-every mother and father."

"Yes; but not many poor chaps who are neither father nor husband are responsible for another fellow's grown-up widow."

Doria smiled. "You must find her another husband."

"That's a great idea. Will you help me? Before I knew of Adrian's great good fortune, I wrote to Hilary-ho! ho! ho! But we must find somebody else."

"Has she any money?" asked Doria, who smiled but faintly at the jocular notion of a Liosha-bound Adrian.

"Prescott left her about a thousand a year. He was pretty well off, for a war-correspondent."

"I don't think she'll have much difficulty. Do you know," she added, after a moment or two of reflection, "if I were you, I would establish her in a really first-class boarding-house."

"Would that be a good way?" Jaffery asked simply.

She nodded. "The best. She seems to have fallen foul of your sister."

"The dearest old soul that ever lived," said Jaffery.

"That's why. I'm sure I know your sister perfectly. The daughter of an Albanian patriot who used to kill pigs in Chicago-why, what can your poor sister do with her? Your sister is much older than you, isn't she?"

"Ten years. How did you guess?"

Doria smiled with feminine wisdom. "She's the gentlest maiden lady that ever was. It's only a man that could have thought of saddling her with our friend. Well-that's impossible. She would be the death of your sister in a week. You can't look after her yourself-that wouldn't be proper."

"And it would be the death of me too!" said Jaffery.

"You can't leave her in lodgings or a flat by herself, for the poor woman would die of boredom. The only thing that remains is the boarding-house."

Jaffery regarded her with the open-eyed adoration of a heathen Goth receiving the Gospel from Saint Ursula.

"By Jove!" he murmured. "You're wonderful."

"Let us stretch our legs, Hilary," said Adrian, who had not displayed enthusiastic interest in the housing of Liosha.

So we went off, leaving the two together, and we discoursed on the mystic ways of women, omitting all reference, as men do, to the exceptional paragon of femininity who reigned in our respective hearts. Perhaps we did a foolish thing in thus abandoning saint and hungry convert to their sympathetic intercourse. The saint could hold her own; she had vowed herself to Adrian, and she belonged to the type for whom vows are irrefragable; but poor old Jaffery had made no vows, save of loyalty to his friends; which vows, provided they are kept, are perfectly consistent with a man's falling hopelessly, despairingly in love with his friend's affianced bride. And, as far as Barbara and myself have been able to make out, it was during this intimate talk that Jaffery fell in love with Doria. Of course, what the French call le coup de foudre, the thunderbolt of love had smitten him when he had first beheld Doria alighting from the motor-car. But he did not realise the stupefying effect of this bang on the heart till he had thus sat at her little feet and drunk in her godlike wisdom.

The fairy tales are very true. The rumbustious ogre has a hitherto undescribed, but quite imaginable, gap-toothed, beetle-browed ogress of a wife. Why he married her has never been told. Why the mortal male whom we meet for the first time at a dinner party has married the amazing mortal female sitting somewhere on the other side of the table is an insoluble mystery, and if we can't tell even why men mate, what can we expect to know about ogres? At all events, as far as the humdrum of matrimony is concerned, the fairy tales are truer than real life. The ogre marries his ogress. It is like to like. But when it comes to love-and if love were proclaimed and universally recognised as humdrum, there would never be a tale, fairy or otherwise, ever told again in the world worth the hearing-we have quite a different condition of affairs. Did you ever hear of an ogre sighing himself to a shadow for love of a gap-toothed ogress? No. He goes out into the fairy world, and, sending his ogress-wife to Jericho, becomes desperately enamoured of the elfin princess. There he is, great, ruddy, hairy wretch: there she is, a wraith of a creature made up of thistledown and fountain-bubbles and stars. He stares at her, stretches out his huge paw to grab a fairy, feathery tress of her dark hair. Defensive, she puts up her little hand. Its touch is an electric shock to the marauder. He blinks, and rubs his arm. He has a mighty respect for her. He could take her up in his fingers and eat her like a quail-the one satisfactory method of eating a quail is unfortunately practised only by ogres-but he does not want to eat her. He goes on his knees, and invites her to chew any portion of him that may please her dainty taste. In short he makes the very silliest ass of himself, and the elfin princess, who of course has come into contact with the Real Beautiful Young Man of the Story Books, won't have anything to do with the Ogre; and if he is more rumbustious than he ought to be, generally finds a way to send him packing. And so the poor Ogre remains, planted there. The Fairy Tales, I remark again, are very true in demonstrating that the Ogre loves the elf and not the Ogress. But all the same they are deucedly unsympathetic towards the poor Ogre. The only sympathetic one I know is Beauty and the Beast; and even that is a mere begging of the question, for the Beast was a handsome young nincompoop of a Prince all the time!

Barbara says that this figurative, allusive adumbration of Jaffery's love affair is pure nonsense. Anything less like an ogre than our overgrown baby of a friend it would he impossible to imagine. But I hold to my theory; all the more because when Adrian and I returned from our stroll round the garden, we found Jaffery standing over her, legs apart, like a Colossus of Rhodes, and roaring at her like a sucking dove. I noticed a scared, please-don't-eat-me look in her eyes. It was the ogre (trying to make himself agreeable) and the princess to the life.

Presently tea was brought out, and with it came Barbara, a quiet laugh about her lips, and Liosha, stately and smiling. My wife to put her at her ease (though she had displayed singularly little shyness), after dealing with maid and taxi, had taken her over the house, exhibited Susan at tea in the nursery, and as much of Doria's trousseau as was visible in the sewing-room. The approaching marriage aroused her keen interest. She said very little during the meal, but smiled embarrassingly on the engaged pair. Jaffery stood glumly devouring cucumber sandwiches, till Barbara took him aside.

"She's rather a dear, in spite of everything, and I think you're treating her abominably."

Jaffery grew scarlet beneath the brick-coloured glaze.

"I wouldn't treat any woman abominably, if I could help it."

"Well, you can help it-" and taking pity on him, she laughed in his face. "Can't you take her as a joke?"

He glanced quietly at the lady. "Rather a heavy one," he said.

"Anyhow come and talk to us and be civil to her. Imagine she's the Vicar's wife come to call."

Jaffery's elementary sense of humour was tickled and he broke out into a loud guffaw that sent the house cat, a delicate mendicant for food, scuttling across the lawn. The sight of the terror-stricken animal aroused the rest of the party to harmless mirth.

"Tell me, Mrs. Prescott," said Adrian, "was he allowed to do that in Albania?"

"I guess there aren't many things Jaff Chayne can't do in Albania," replied Liosha. "He has the bessas that carry him through and he's as brave as a lion."

"I suppose you like brave men?" said Doria.

"A woman who married a coward would be a damn fool-especially in Albania. I guess there aren't many in my mountains."

"I wish you would tell us about your mountains," said Barbara pleasantly.

"And at the same time," said I, "Jaff might let us hear his story. That is to say if you have no objection, Mrs. Prescott."

"With us," said Liosha, "the guest is expected to talk about himself; for if he's a guest he's one of the family."

"Shall I go ahead then?" asked Jaffery, "and you chip in whenever you feel like it?"

"That would be best," replied Liosha.

And having lit a cigarette and settled herself in her deck-chair, she motioned to Jaffery to proceed. And there in the shade of the old wistaria arbour, surrounded by such dainty products of civilisation as Adrian (in speckless white flannels and violet socks) and the tea-table (in silver and egg-shell china) this pair of barbarians told their tale.

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