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   Chapter 7 No.7

Jaffery By William John Locke Characters: 17671

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


There is a race of gifted people who make their livelihood by writing descriptions of weddings. I envy them. They can crowd so many pebbly facts into such a small compass. They know the names of everybody who attended from the officiating clergy to the shyest of poor relations. With the cold accuracy of an encyclop?dia, and with expert technical discrimination, they mention the various fabrics of which the costumes of bride and bridesmaids were composed. They catalogue the wedding presents with the correct names of the donors. They remember what hymns were sung and who signed the register. They know the spot chosen for the honeymoon. They know the exact hour of the train by which the happy pair departed. Their knowledge is astonishing in its detail. Their accounts naturally lack imagination. Otherwise they would not be faithful records of fact. But they do lack colour, the magic word that brings a scene before the eye. Perhaps that is why they are never collected and published in book form.

Now I have been wondering how to describe the wedding of Doria and Adrian. I have recourse to Barbara.

"Why, I have the very thing for you," she says, and runs away and presently reappears with a long thing like a paper snake. "This is a full report of the wedding. I kept it. I felt it might come in useful some day," she cried in triumph. "You can stick it in bodily."

I began to read in hope the column of precise information. I end it in despair. It leaves me admiring but cold. It fails to conjure up to my mind the picture of a single mortal thing. Sadly I hand it back to Barbara.

"I shan't describe the wedding at all," I say.

And indeed why should I? Our young friends were married as legally and irrevocably as half a dozen parsons in the presence of a distinguished congregation assembled in a fashionable London church could marry them. Of what actually took place I have the confused memory of the mere man. I know that it was magnificent. All the dinner parties of Mr. Jornicroft were splendidly united. Adrian's troops of friends supported him. Doria, dark eyed, without a tinge of colour in the strange ivory of her cheek, looked more elfin than ever beneath the white veil. Jaffery, who was best man, vast in a loose frock coat, loomed like a monstrous effigy by the altar-rails. Susan, at the head of the bridesmaids, kept the stern set face of one at grapple with awful responsibility. She told her mother afterwards that a pin was running into her all the time. . . . Well, I, for one, signed the register and I kissed the bride and shook hands with Adrian, who adopted the poor nonchalant attitude of one accustomed to get married every day of his life. Driving from church to reception with Barbara, I railed, in the orthodox manner of the superior husband, at the modern wedding.

"A survival of barbarism," said I. "What is the veil but a relic of marriage by barter, when the man bought a pig in a poke and never knew his luck till he unveiled his bride? What is the ring but the symbol of the fetters of slavery? The rice, but the expression of a hope for a prolific union? The satin slipper tied on to the carriage or thrown after it? Good luck? No such thing. It was once part of the marriage ceremony for the bridegroom to tap the wife with a shoe to symbolise his assertion of and her acquiescence in her entire subjection."

"Where did Lady Bagshawe get that awful hat?" said Barbara sweetly. "Did you notice it? It isn't a hat; it's a crime."

I turned on her severely. "What has Lady Bagshawe's hat to do with the subject under discussion? Haven't you been listening?"

She squeezed my hand and laughed. "No, you dear silly, of course not."

Another instance of the essential inconvincibility of woman.

It was Jaffery Chayne, who, on the pavement before the house in Park Crescent, threw the satin slipper at the departing carriage. He had been very hearty and booming all the time, the human presentment of a devil-may-care lion out for a jaunt, and his great laugh thundering cheerily above the clatter of talk had infected the heterogeneous gathering. Unconsciously dull eyes sparkled and pursy lips vibrated into smiles. So gay a wedding reception I have never attended, and I am sure it was nothing but Jaffery's pervasive influence that infused vitality into the deadly and decorous mob. It was a miracle wrought by a rich Silenic personality. I had never guessed before the magnetic power of Jaffery Chayne. Indeed I had often wondered how the overgrown and apparently irresponsible schoolboy who couldn't make head or tail of Nietzsche and from whom the music of Shelley was hid, had managed to make a journalistic reputation as a great war and foreign correspondent. Now the veil of the mystery was drawn an inch or two aside. I saw him mingle with an alien crowd, and, by what On the surface appeared to be sheer brute full-bloodedness, compel them to his will. The wedding was not to be a hollow clang of bells but a glad fanfare of trumpets in all hearts. In order that this wedding of Adrian and Doria should be memorable he had instinctively put out the forces that had carried him unscathed through the wildest and fiercest of the congregations of men. He could subdue and he could create. In the most pithless he had started the working of the sap of life.

As for his own definite part of best man, he played it with an Elizabethan spaciousness. . . . There was no hugger-mugger escape of travel-clad bride and bridegroom. He contrived a triumphal progress through lines of guests led by a ruddy giant, Master of the Ceremonies, exuding Pantagruelian life. Joyously he conducted them to their glittering carriage and pair-and, unconscious of anthropological truth, threw the slipper of woman's humiliation. The carriage drove off amid the cheers of the multitude. Jaffery stood and watched it until it disappeared round the curve. In my eagerness to throw the unnecessarily symbolic rice I had followed and stayed a foot or two away from him; and then I saw his face change-just for a few seconds. All the joyousness was stricken from it; his features puckered up into the familiar twists of a child about to cry. His huge glazed hands clenched and unclenched themselves. It was astonishing and very pitiful. Quickly he gulped something down and turned on me with a grin and shook me by the shoulders.

"Now I'm the only free man of the bunch. The only one. Don't you wish you were a bachelor and could go to Hell or Honolulu-wherever you chose without a care? Ho! ho! ho!" He linked his arm in mine, and said in what he thought was a whisper: "For Heaven's sake let us go in and try to find a real drink."

We went into a deserted smoking-room where decanters and siphons were set out. Jaffery helped himself to a mighty whisky and soda and poured it down his throat.

"You seemed to want that," said I, drily.

"It's this infernal kit," said he, with a gesture including his frock coat and patent leather boots. "For gossamer comfort give me a suit of armour. At any rate that's a man's kit."

I made some jesting answer; but it had been given to me to see that transient shadow of pain and despair, and I knew that the discomfort of the garments of civilisation had nothing to do with the swallowing of the huge jorum of alcohol.

Of course I told Barbara all about it-it is best to establish your wife in the habit of thinking you tell her everything-and she was more than usually gentle to Jaffery. We carried him down with us to Northlands that afternoon, calling at his club for a suit-case. In the car he tucked a very tired and comfort-desiring Susan in the shelter of his great arm. There was something pathetically tender in the gathering of the child to him. Barbara with her delicate woman's sense felt the harmonics of chords swept within him. And when we reached home and were alone together, she said with tears very near her eyes:

"Poor old Jaff. What a waste of a life!"

"My dear," I replied, "so said Doria. But you speak with the tongue of an angel, whereas Doria, I'm afraid, is still earth-bound."

The tear fell with a laugh. She touched my cheek with her hand.

"When you're intelligent like that," she said, "I really love you."

For a mere man to be certified by Barbara as intelligent is praise indeed.

"I wonder," she said, a little later, "whether those two are going to be happy?"

"As happy," said I, "as a mutual admiration society of two people can possibly be."

She rebuked me for a tinge of cynicism in my estimate. They were both of them dears and the marriage was genuine Heaven-made goods. I avowed absolute agreement.

"But what would have happened," she said reflectively, "if Jaffery had come along first and there had been no question of Adrian. Would they have been happy?"

Then I found my opportunity. "Woman," said I, "aren't you satisfied? You have made one match-you, and you'll pardon me for saying so, not Heaven-and now you want to unmake it and make a brand-new hypothetical one."

"All your talk," she said, "doesn't help poor Jaffery."

I put my hand to my head to still the flickering in my brain, kissed her and retired to my dressing-room. Barbara smiled, conscious of triumph over me.

During dinner and afterwards in the drawing-room, she played the part of Jaffery's fairy mother. She discussed his homelessness-she had an eerie way of treading on delicate ground. A bed in a tent or a club or an inn. That was his home. He had no possessions.

"Good Lord!" cried Jaffery. "I should think I have. I've got about three hundred stuffed head of game stored in the London Repository, to say nothing of skins and as fine a collection of modern weapons as you ever saw. I could furnish a place in slap-up style to-morrow."

"But have you a chest of drawers or a pillow slip or a book or a dinner plate or a fork?"

"Thousands, my dear," said Jaffery. "They're waiting to be called for in all the shops of London."

He laughed his great laugh at Barbara's momentary discomfiture. I laughed too, for he had scored a point. When a man has, say, a thousand pounds wherewith to buy that much money's worth of household clutter, he certainly is that household clutter's potential owner. Between us we developed this incontrovertible proposition.

"Then why," said Barbara, "don't you go at once to Harrod's Stores and purchase a comfortable home?"

"Because, my dear Barbara," said Jaffery, "I'm starting off for the interior of China the day after to-morrow."

"China?" echoed Barbara vaguely.

"The interior of China?" I re?choed, with masculine definiteness.

"Why not? It isn't in Neptune or Uranus. You wouldn't go into hysterics if I said I was going to Boulogne. Let him come with me, Barbara. It would do him a thundering lot of good."

At this very faintly humorous proposal he laughed immoderately. I need not say that I declined it. I should be as happy in the interior of China as on an Albanian mountain. I asked him how long he would be away.

"A year or two," he replied casually.

"It must be a queer thing," said I, "to be born with no conception of time and space."

"A couple of years pass pretty quick," said Jaffery.

"So does a lifetime," said I.

Well, this was just like Jaffery. No sooner home amid the amenities of civilisation than the wander-fever seizes him again. In vain he pleaded his job, the valuable copy he would send to his paper. I proved to him it was but the mere lust of savagery. And he could not understand why we should be startled by the announcement that within forty-eight hours he would be on his way to lose himself for a couple of years in Crim Tartary.

"Suppose I sprang a thing like that on you," said I. "Suppose I told you I was starting to-morrow morning for the South Pole. What would you say?"

"I should say you were a liar. Ho! ho! ho!"

In his mirth he rubbed his hands and feet together like a colossal fly. The joke lasted him for the rest of the evening.

So, the next morning Jaffery left us with a "See you as soon as ever I get back," and the day after that he sailed for China. We felt sad; not only because Jaffery's vitality counted for something in the quiet backwater of our life, but also because we knew that he went away a less happy man than he had come. This time it was not sheer Wanderlust that had driven him into the wilderness. He had fled in the blind hope of escaping from the unescapable. The ogre to whatsoever No Man's Land he betook himself would forever be haunted by the phantom of the elf. . . . It was just as well he had gone, said Barbara.

A man of intense appetites and primitive passions, like Jaffery, for all his loyalty and lovable childishness, was better away from the neighbour's wife who had happened to engage his affections. If he lost his head. . . .

I had once seen Jaffery lose his head and the spectacle did not make for edification. It was before I was married, when Jaffery, during his London sojourn, had the spare bedroom in a set of rooms I rented in Tavistock Square. At a florist's hard by, a young flower seller-a hussy if ever there was one-but bewitchingly pretty-carried on her poetical avocation; and of her did my hulking and then susceptible friend become ragingly enamoured. I repeat, she was a hussy. She had no intention of giving him more than the tip of her pretty little shoe to kiss; but Jaffery, reading the promise of secular paradise in her eyes, had no notion of her little hard intention. He squandered himself upon her and she led him a dog's life. Of course I remonstrated, argued, implored. It was like asking a hurricane politely not to blow. Her name I remember was Gwenny. One summer evening she had promised to meet him outside the house in Tavistock Square-he had arranged to take her to some Earl's Court Exhibition, where she could satiate a depraved passion for switch-backs, water-chutes and scenic railways. At the appointed hour Jaffery stood in waiting on the pavement. I sat on the first floor balcony, alternately reading a novel and watching him with a sardonic eye. Presently Gwenny turned the corner of the square-our house was a few doors up-and she appeared, on the opposite side of the road, by the square railings. But Gwenny was not alone. Gwenny, rigged out in the height of Bloomsbury florists' fashion, was ostentatiously accompanied by a young man, a very scrubby, pallid, ignoble young man; his arm was round her waist, and her arm was around his, in the approved enlinkment of couples in her class who are keeping company, or, in other words, are, or are about to be, engaged to be married. A curious shock vibrated through Jaffery's frame. He flamed red. He saw red. Gwenny shot a supercilious glance and tossed her chin. Jaffery crossed the road and barred their path. He fished in his pocket for some coins and addressed the scrubby man, who, poor wretch, had never heard of Jaffery's existence.

"Here's twopence to go away. Take the twopence and go away. Damn you-take the twopence."

The man retreated in a scare.

"Won't you take the twopence? I should advise you to."

Anybody but a born fool or a hero would have taken the twopence. I think the scrubby man had the makings of a hero. He looked up at the blazing giant.

"You be damned!" said he, retreating a pace.

Then, suddenly, with the swiftness of a panther, Jaffery sprang on him, grasped him in the back by a clump of clothes-it seemed, with one hand, so quickly was it done-and hurled him yards away over the railings. I can still see the flight of the poor devil's body in mid air until it fell into a holly-bush. With another spring he turned on the paralysed Gwenny, caught her up like a doll and charged with her now screaming violently against the shut solid oak front door. A flash of instinct suggested a latchkey. Holding the girl anyhow, he fumbled in his pocket. It was an August London evening. The Square was deserted; but at Gwenny's shrieks, neighbouring windows were thrown up and eager heads appeared. It was very funny. There was Jaffery holding a squalling girl in one arm and with the other exploring available pockets for his latchkey. I had one of the inspirations of my life. I rushed into my bedroom, caught up the ewer from my washstand, went out onto the extreme edge of the balcony and cast the gallon or so of water over the heads of the struggling pair. The effect was amazing. Jaffery dropped the girl. The girl, once on her feet, fled like a cat. Jaffery looked up idiotically. I flourished the empty jug. I think I threatened to brain him with it if he stirred. Then people began to pour out of the houses and a policeman sprang up from nowhere. I went down and joined the excited throng. There was a dreadful to-do. It cost Jaffery five hundred pounds to mitigate the righteous wrath of the young man in the holly-bush, and save himself from a dungeon-cell. The scrubby young man, who, it appeared, had been brought up in the fishmongering trade, used the five hundred pounds to set up for himself in Ealing, where very shortly afterwards Gwenny joined him, and that, save an enduring ashamedness on the part of Jaffery, was the end of the matter.

So, if Jaffery did lose his head over Doria, there might be the devil to pay. We sighed and reconciled ourselves to his exile in Crim Tartary. After all, it was his business in life to visit the dark places of the earth and keep the world informed of history in the making. And it was a business which could not possibly be carried on in the most cunningly devised home that could be purchased at Harrod's Stores.

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