MoboReader> Literature > Jaffery

   Chapter 6 No.6

Jaffery By William John Locke Characters: 22824

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Barbara having freed Jaffery from immediate anxieties with regard to Liosha, easily persuaded him to pay a longer visit than he had proposed. A telephonic conversation with a first distracted, then conscience-smitten and then much relieved Euphemia had for effect the payment of bills at the Savoy and the retreat of the gentle lady to Tunbridge Wells. Liosha remained with us, pending certain negotiations darkly carried on by my wife and Doria in concert. During this time I had some opportunity of observing her from a more philosophic standpoint and my judgment was-I will not say formed-but aided by Barbara's confidential revelations. When not directly thwarted, she seemed to be good-natured. She took to Susan-a good sign; and Susan took to her-a better. Finding that her idea of happiness was to sprawl about the garden and let the child run over her and inveigle her into childish games and call her "Loshie" (a disrespectful mode of address which I had all the pains in the world in persuading Barbara to permit) and generally treat her as an animate instrument of entertainment, we smoothed down every obstacle that might lie in this particular path to beatitude. So many difficulties were solved. Not only were we spared the problem of what the deuce to do with Liosha during the daytime, but also Barbara was able to send the nurse away for a short and much needed holiday. Of course Barbara herself undertook all practical duties; but when she discovered that Liosha experienced primitive delight in bathing Susan-Susan's bath being a heathen rite in which ducks and fish and swimming women and horrible spiders played orgiac parts, and in getting up at seven in the morning-("Good God! Is there such an hour?" asked Adrian, when he heard about it)-in order to breakfast with Susan, and in dressing and undressing her and brushing her hair, and in tramping for miles by her side while with Basset, her vassal, in attendance, Susan rode out on her pony; when Barbara, in short, became aware of this useful infatuation, she pandered to it, somewhat shamelessly, all the time, however, keeping an acute eye on the zealous amateur. If, for instance, Liosha had picked a bushel of nectarines and had established herself with Susan, in the corner of the fruit garden, for a debauch, which would have had, for consequence, a child's funeral, Barbara, by some magic of motherhood, sprang from the earth in front of them with her funny little smile and her "Only one-and a very ripe one-for Susan, dear Liosha." And in these matters Liosha was as much overawed by Barbara as was Susan.

This, I repeat, was a good sign in Liosha. I don't say that she would have fallen captive to any ordinary child, but Susan being my child was naturally different from the vulgar run of children. She was rarissinia avis in the lands of small girls-one of the few points on which Barbara and I are in unclouded agreement. No one could have helped falling captive to Susan. But, I admit, in the case of Liosha, who was an out-of-the-way, incalculable sort of creature-it was a good sign. Perhaps, considering the short period during which I had her under close observation, it was the best sign. She had grievous faults.

One evening, while I was dressing for dinner, Barbara burst into my dressing-room.

"Reynolds has given me notice."

"Oh," said I, not desisting (as is the callous way of husbands the world over) from the absorbing and delicate manipulation of my tie. "What for?"

"Liosha has just gone for her with a pair of scissors."

"Horrible!" said I, getting the ends even. "I can imagine nothing more finnikin in ghastliness than to cut anybody's throat with nail scissors, especially when the subject is unwilling."

Barbara pished and pshawed. It was no occasion for levity.

"I agree," said I. The dressing hour is the calmest and most philosophic period of the day.

Barbara came up to me blue eyed and innocent, and with a traitorous jerk, undid my beautiful white bow.

"There, now listen."

And I, dilapidated wretch, had to listen to the tale of crime. It appeared that Reynolds, my wife's maid, in putting Liosha into a ready-made gown-a model gown I believe is the correct term-insisted on her being properly corseted. Liosha, agonisingly constricted, rebelled. The maid was obdurate. Liosha flew at her with a pair of scissors. I think I should have done the same. Reynolds bolted from the room. So should I have done. I sympathised with both of them. Reynolds fled to her mistress, and, declaring it to be no part of her duty to wait on tigers, gave notice.

"We can't lose Reynolds," said I.

"Of course we can't."

"And we can't pack Liosha off at a moment's notice, so as to please Reynolds."

"Oh, you're too wise altogether," said my wife, and left me to the tranquil completion of my dressing.

Liosha came down to dinner very subdued, after a short, sharp interview with Barbara, who, for so small a person, can put on a prodigious air of authority. As a punishment for bloodthirsty behaviour she had made her wear the gown in the manner prescribed by Reynolds; and she had apologised to Reynolds, who thereupon withdrew her notice. So serenity again prevailed.

In some respects Liosha was very childish. The receipt of letters, no matter from whom-even bills, receipts and circulars-gave her overwhelming joy and sense of importance. This harmless craze, however, led to another outburst of ferocity. Meeting the postman outside the gate she demanded a letter. The man looked through his bundle.

"Nothing for you this morning, ma'am."

"I wrote to the dressmaker yesterday," said Liosha, "and you've got the reply right there."

"I assure you I haven't," said the postman.

"You're a liar," cried Liosha, "and I guess I'm going to see."

Whereupon Liosha, who was as strong as a young horse, sprang to death-grapple with the postman, a puny little man, pitched him onto the side of the road and calmly entered into felonious possession of His Majesty's mails. Then finding no letter she cast the whole delivery over the supine and gasping postman and marched contemptuously into the house.

The most astonishing part of the business was that in these outbreaks of barbarity she did not seem to be impelled by blind rage. Most people who heave a postman about a peaceful county would do so in a fit of passion, through loss of nerve-control. Not so Liosha. She did these things with the bland and deadly air of an inexorable Fate.

The perspiration still beads on my brow when I think of the cajoling and bribing and blustering and lying I had to practise in order to hush up the matter. As for Liosha, both Jaffery and I rated her soundly. I explained loftily that not so many years ago, transportation, lifelong imprisonment, death were the penalties for the felony which she had committed.

Jaffery, considerably disconcerted, handled the cleek.

"You ought to have a jolly good thrashing," roared Jaffery.

At this Liosha, who had endured our abuse with the downcast eyes of angelic meekness, took a golfclub from a bag lying on the hall table and handed it to the red-bearded giant.

"I guess I do," she said. "Beat me."

And, as I am a living man, I swear that if Jaffery had taken her at her word and laid on lustily she would have taken her thrashing without a murmur. What was one to do with such a woman?

Jaffery, considerably disconcerted, fingered the cleek. Gradually she raised her glorious eyes to him, and in them I was startled to see the most extraordinary doglike submission. He frowned portentously and shook his head. Her lips worked, and after a convulsive sob or two, she threw herself on the ground, clasped his knees, and to our dismay burst into a passion of weeping. Barbara, rushing into the hall at this juncture, like a fairy tornado, released us from our embarrassing position. She annihilated us with a sweeping glance of scorn.

"Oh, go away, both of you, go away!"

So we went away and left her to deal with Liosha.

Save for such little excursions and alarms the days passed very pleasantly. Jaffery spent most of the sweltering hours of daylight (it was a blazing summer) in playing golf on the local course. Adrian and Doria trod the path of the perfect lovers, while I, to justify my position as President of the Hafiz Society, worked hard at a Persian Grammar. Barbara, the never idle, was in the meantime arranging for Liosha's future. Her organising genius had brought Doria's suggestion as to the First Class London Boarding House into the sphere of practical things. The Boarding House idea alone would not work; but, combine it with Mrs. Considine, and the scheme ran on wheels.

"Even you," said Barbara, as though I were a sort of Schopenhauer, a professional disparager of her sex-"even you have a high opinion of Mrs. Considine."

I had. Every one had a high opinion of Mrs. Considine. She was not very beautiful or very clever or very fascinating or very angelic or very anything-but she was one of those women of whom everybody has a high opinion. The impoverished widow of an Indian soldierman, with a son soldiering somewhere in India, she managed to do a great deal on very small means. She was a woman of the world, a woman of character. She knew how to deal with people of queer races. Heaven indicated her for appointment by Barbara as Liosha's duenna in the Boarding House. Mrs. Considine, herself compelled to live in these homes for the homeless, gladly accepted the proposal, came down, interviewed her charge, who happened then to be in a mood of meekness indescribable, and went away, so to speak, with her contract in her pocket. It was part of the programme that Mrs. Considine should tactfully carry on Liosha's education, which had been arrested at the age of twelve, instil into her a sense of Western decorum, extend her acquaintance, and gradually root out of her heart the yearning to do her enemies to death. It was a capital programme; and I gave it the benediction of a smile, in which, seeing Barbara's shrewd blue eyes fixed on me, I suppressed the irony.

When this was all settled Jaffery proclaimed himself the most care-free fellow alive. His hitherto grumpy and resentful attitude towards Liosha changed. He established himself as fellow slave with her under the whip of Susan's tyranny. It did one good to see these two magnificent creatures sporting together for the child's, and incidentally their own, amusement. For the first time during their intercourse they met on the same plane.

"She's really quite a good sort," said Jaffery.

But if it was pleasant to see him with Liosha, it was still more touching to watch his protective attitude towards Doria. He seemed so anxious to do her service, so deferential to her views, so puzzle-headedly eager to reconcile them with his own. She took upon herself to read him little lectures.

"Don't you think you're rather wasting your life?" she asked him one day.

"Do you think I am?"

"Yes."

"Oh! But I work hard at my job, you know," he said apologetically-"when there's one for me to do. And when there isn't I kind of prepare myself for the next. For instance I've got to keep myself always fit."

"But that's all physical and outside." She smiled, in her little superior way. "It's the inside, the personal, the essential self that matters. Life, properly understo

od, is a process of self-development. If a human being is the same at the end of a year as he was at the beginning he has made no spiritual progress."

Jaffery pulled his red beard. "In other words, he hasn't lived," said he.

"Precisely."

"And you think that I'm just the same sort of old animal from one year's end to another and that I don't progress worth a cent, and so, that I don't live."

"I don't want to say quite that," she replied graciously. "Every one must advance a little bit unless they deteriorate. But the conscious striving after spiritual progress is so necessary-and you seem to put it aside. It is such waste of life."

"I suppose it is, in a way," Jaffery admitted.

She pursued the theme, a flattered Egeria. "You see-well, what do you do? You travel about in out-of-the-way places and make notes about them in case the knowledge may be useful to you in the future. When you come across anything to kill, you kill it. It also pleases you to come across anything that calls for an exercise of strength. When there is a war or a revolution or anything that takes you to your real work, as you call it, you've only got to go through it and report what you see."

"But that's just the difficulty," cried Jaffery. "It isn't every chap that's tough enough to come out rosy at the end of a campaign. And it isn't every chap that can see the things he ought to write about. That's when the training comes in."

Again she smiled. "I've no idea of belittling your profession, my dear Jaffery. I think it's a noble one. But should it be the Alpha and Omega of things? Don't you see? The real life is intellectual, spiritual, emotional. What are your ideals?"

Jaffery looked at her ruefully. Beneath those dark pools of eyes lay the spirituality that made her a mystery so sacred. He, great hulking fellow, was a gross lump of clay. Ideals?

"I don't suppose I have any," said he.

"But you must. Everybody has, to a certain extent."

"Well, to ride straight and tell the truth-like the ancient Persians, I suppose it was the Persians-anyway it's a sort of rough code I've got."

"Have you read Nietzsche?" she asked suddenly.

He frowned perplexedly. "Nietzsche-that's the mad superman chap, isn't it? No. I've not read a word."

"I do wish you would. You'll find him so exhilarating. You might possibly agree with a lot of what he says. I don't. But he sets you thinking."

She sketched her somewhat prim conception of the Nietzschean philosophy, and after listening to it in dumb wonder, he promised to carry out her wishes. So, when I came down to my library that evening dressed for dinner, I found him, still in morning clothes, with "Thus Spake Zarathustra" on his knees, and a bewildered expression on his face.

"Have you read this, Hilary?" he asked.

"Yes," said I.

"Understand it?"

"More or less."

"Gosh!" said he, shutting the book, "and I suppose Doria understands it too, or she wouldn't have recommended it. But," he rose ponderously and looked down on me with serious eyes-"what the Hell is it all about?"

I drew out my watch. "The five seconds that you have before rushing up-stairs to dress," said I, "don't give me adequate time to expound a philosophic system."

Now if Adrian or I had talked to Jaffery about soul-progression and the Will to Power and suggested that he was missing the essentials of life, we should have been met with bellows of rude and profane derision. I don't believe he had even roughly considered what kind of an individuality he had, still less enquired into the state of his spiritual being. But the flip of a girl he professed so much to despise came along and reduced him to a condition of helpless introspection. I cannot say that it lasted very long. Psychology and metaphysics and ?sthetics lay outside Jaffery's sphere. But while seeing no harm in his own simple creed of straight-riding and truth-speaking, he added to it an unshakable faith in Doria's intellectual and spiritual superiority. On his first meeting with her he had disclaimed the subtler mental qualities, videlicet his similitude of the bumble-bee; now, however, he went further, declaring himself, to a subrident host, to be a chuckle-headed ass, only fit to herd with savages. He would listen, with childlike envy, to Adrian, glib of tongue, exchanging with Doria the shibboleths of the Higher Life. He had been considerably impressed by Adrian as the author of a successful novel; but Adrian as a co-treader of the stars with Doria, appeared to him in the light of an immortal.

Adrian and I, when alone, laughed over old Jaff, as we had laughed over him for goodness knows how many years. I, who had guessed (with Barbara's aid) the incidence of the thunderbolt, found in his humility something pathetic which was lost to Adrian. The latter only saw the blustering, woman-scorning hulk of thews and sinews, at the mercy of anything in petticoats, from Susan upward. I disagreed. He was not at the mercy of Liosha.

"You burrowing mole," cried Adrian one morning in the library, Jaffery having gone off to golf, "can't you see that he goes about in mortal terror of her?"

"No such thing!" I retorted hotly. "He has regarded her as an abominable nuisance-a millstone round his neck-a responsibility-"

"A huntress of men," he interrupted. "Especially an all too probable huntress of Jaffery Chayne. With Susan and Barbara and Doria he knows he's safe-spared the worst-so he yields and they pick him up-look at him and stand him on his head and do whatever they darn well like to him; but with Liosha he knows he isn't safe. You see," Adrian continued, after having lit a cigarette, "Jaffery's an honourable old chap, in his way. With Liosha, his friend Prescott's widow, it would be a question of marriage or nothing."

"You're talking rubbish," said I. "Jaffery would just as soon think of marrying the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbour."

"That's what I'm telling you," said Adrian. "He's in a mortal funk lest his animated Statue of Liberty should descend from her pedestal and with resistless hands take him away and marry him."

"For one who has been hailed as the acutest psychologist of the day," said I, "you seem to have very limited powers of observation."

For some unaccountable reason Adrian's pale face flushed scarlet. He broke out vexedly:

"I don't see what my imaginative work has got to do with the trivialities of ordinary life. As a matter of fact," he added, after a pause, "the psychology in a novel is all imagination, and it's the same imaginative faculty that has been amusing itself with Jaffery and this unqualifiable lady."

"All right, my dear man," said I, pacifically. "Probably you're right and I'm wrong. I was only talking lightly. And speaking of imagination-what about your next book?"

"Oh, damn the next book," said he, flicking the ash off his cigarette. "I've got an idea, of course. A jolly good idea. But I'm not worrying about it yet."

"Why?" I asked.

He threw his cigarette into the grate. How, in the name of common sense, could he settle down to work? Wasn't his head full of his approaching marriage? Could he see at present anything beyond the thing of dream and wonder that was to be his wife? I was a cold-blooded fish to talk of novel-writing.

"But you'll have to get into it sometime or other," said I.

"Of course. As soon as we come back from Venice, and settle down to a normal life in the flat."

"What does Doria think of the new idea?"

Thousands who knew him not were looking forward to Adrian Boldero's new book. We, who loved him, were peculiarly interested. Somehow or other we had not touched before so intimately on the subject. To my surprise he frowned and snapped impatient fingers.

"I haven't told Doria anything about it. It isn't my way. My work's too personal a thing, even for Doria. She understands. I know some fellows tell their plots to any and everybody-and others, if they don't do that, lay bare their artistic souls to those near and dear to them. Well, I can't. A word, no matter how loving, of adverse criticism, a glance even that was not sympathetic would paralyse me, it would shatter my faith in the whole structure I had built up. I can't help it. It's my nature. As I told you two or three months ago, it has always been my instinct to work in the dark. I instanced my First at Cambridge. How much more powerful is the instinct when it's a question of a vital created thing like a novel? My dear Hilary, you're the man I'm fondest of in the world. You know that. But don't worry me about my work. I can't stand it. It upsets me. Doria, heart of my heart and soul of my soul, has promised not to worry me. She sees I must be free from outside influences-no matter how closely near-but still outside. And you must promise too."

"My dear old boy," said I, somewhat confused by this impassioned exposition of the artistic temperament, "you've only got to express the wish-"

"I know," said he. "Forgive me." He laughed and lit another cigarette. "But Wittekind and the editor of Fowler's in America-I've sold him the serial rights-are shrieking out for a synopsis. I'm damned if I'm going to give 'em a synopsis. They get on my nerves. And-we're intimate enough friends, you and I, for me to confess it-so do our dearest Barbara and old Jaff, and you yourself, when you want to know how I'm getting on. Look, dear old Hilary"-he laughed again and threw himself into an armchair-"giving birth to a book isn't very much unlike giving birth to a baby. It's analogical in all sorts of ways. Well, some women, as soon as the thing is started, can talk quite freely-sweetly and delicately-I haven't a word to say against them-to all their women friends about it. Others shrink. There's something about it too near their innermost souls for them to give their confidence to anyone. Well, dear old Hilary-that's how I feel about the novel."

He spoke from his heart. I understood-like Doria.

"Elizabeth Barrett Browning calls it 'the sorrowful, great gift,'" said I. "We who haven't got it can only bow to those who have."

Adrian rose and took a few strides about the library.

"I'm afraid I've been talking a lot of inflated nonsense. It must sound awfully like swelled head. But you know it isn't, don't you?"

"Don't he an idiot," said I. "Let us talk of something else."

We did not return to the subject.

In the course of time came Mrs. Considine to carry off Liosha to the First Class Boarding House which she had found in Queen's Gate. Liosha left us full of love for Barbara and Susan and I think of kindly feeling for myself. A few days afterwards Jaffery went off to sail a small boat with another lunatic in the Hebrides. A little later Doria and Adrian went to pay a round of short family visits beginning with Mrs. Boldero. So before August was out, Barbara and Susan and I found ourselves alone.

"Now," said I, "I can get through some work."

"Now," said Barbara, "we can run over to Dinard."

"What?" I shouted.

"Dinard," she said, softly. "We always go. We only put it off this year on account of visitors."

"We definitely made up our minds," I retorted, "that we weren't going to leave this beautiful garden. You know I never change my mind. I'm not going away."

Barbara left the room, whistling a musical comedy air.

We went to Dinard.

* * *

Free to Download MoboReader
(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top

shares