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   Chapter 9 No.9

Jaffery By William John Locke Characters: 20490

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


We kept the unreasonable pair at Northlands as long as we could, doing all that lay in our power to restore Adrian's idiotically impaired health. I motored him about the county; I took him to golf, a pastime at which I do not excel; and I initiated him into the invigorating mysteries of playing at robbers with Susan. We gave a carefully selected dinner-party or two, and accepted on his behalf a few discreet invitations. At these entertainments-whether at Northlands or elsewhere-we caused it to be understood that the lion, being sick, should not be asked to roar.

"It's so trying for him," said Doria, "when people he doesn't know come up and gush over 'The Diamond Gate'-especially now when his nerves are on edge."

On the occasion of our second dinner-party, the guests having been forewarned of the famous man's idiosyncrasies, no reference whatever was made to his achievements. We sat him between two pretty and charming women who chattered amusingly to him with what I, who kept an eye open and an ear cocked, considered to be a very subtly flattering deference. Adrian responded with adequate animation. As an ordinary clever, well-bred man of the world he might have done this almost mechanically; but I fancied that he found real enjoyment in the light and picturesque talk of his two neighbours. When the ladies left us, he discussed easy politics with the Member for our own division of the County. In the drawing-room, afterwards, he played a rubber at bridge, happened to hold good cards and smiled an hour away. When the last guest departed, he yawned, excused himself on the ground of healthy fatigue and went straight off to bed. Barbara and I congratulated ourselves on the success of our dinner-party. The next day Adrian went about as glum as a dinosaur in a museum, and conveyed, even to Susan's childish mind, his desire for solitude. His hang-dog dismalness so affected my wife, that she challenged Doria.

"What in the world is the matter with him, to-day?"

Doria drew herself up and flashed a glance at Barbara-they were both little bantams of women, one dark as wine, the other fair as corn. If ever these two should come to a fight, thought I who looked on, it would be to the death.

"Your friends are very charming, my dear, and of course I've nothing to say against them; but I was under the impression that every educated person in the English-speaking world knew my husband's name, and I consider the way he was ignored last night by those people was disgraceful."

"But, my dear Doria," cried Barbara, aghast, "we thought that Adrian was having quite a good time."

"You may think so, but he wasn't. Adrian's a gentleman and plays the game; but you must see it was very galling to him-and to me-to be treated like any stockbroker-or architect-or idle man about town."

"You are unfortunate in your examples," said I, intervening judicially. "Pray reflect that there are architects alive whose artistic genius is not far inferior to Adrian's."

"You know very well what I mean," she snapped.

"No, we don't, dear," said Barbara dangerously. "We think you're a little idiot and ought to be ashamed of yourself. We took the trouble to tell every one of those people that Adrian hated any reference to his work, and like decent folk they didn't refer to it. There-now round upon us."

The pallor deepened a shade in Doria's ivory cheek.

"You have put me in the wrong, I admit it. But I think it would have been better to let us know."

What could one do with such people? I was inclined to let them work out their salvation in their own eccentric fashion; but Barbara decided otherwise. When one's friends reached such a degree of lunacy as warranted confinement in an asylum, it was one's plain duty to look after them. So we continued to look after our genius and his worshipper, and we did it so successfully that before he left us he recovered his sleep in some measure, and lost the squinting look of strain in his eyes.

On the morning of their departure I mildly counselled him to temper his fine frenzy with common-sense.

"Knock off the night work," said I.

He frowned, fidgeted with his feet.

"I wish to God I hadn't to work at all," said he. "I hate it! I'd sooner be a coal-heaver."

"Bosh!" said I. "I know that you're an essentially idle beggar; but you're as proud as Punch of your fame and success and all that it means to you."

"What does it mean after all?"

"If you talk in that pessimistic way," I said, "you'll make me cry. Don't. It means every blessed thing in the world to you. At any rate it has meant Doria."

"I suppose that's true," he grunted. "And I suppose I am essentially idle. But I wish the damned thing would get written of its own accord. It's having to sit down at that infernal desk that gets on my nerves. I have the same horrible apprehension of it-always have-as one has before a visit to the dentist, when you know he's going to drill hell into you."

"Why do you work in such a depressing room?" I asked. "If I were shut up alone in it, I would stick my nose in the air and howl like a dog."

"Oh, the room's all right," said he. Then he looked away absently and murmured as if to himself, "It isn't the room."

"Then what is it?" I persisted.

He turned with a dreary sort of smile. "It's the born butterfly being condemned to do the work of the busy bee."

A short while afterwards we saw them drive off and watched the car disappear round the bend of the drive.

"Well, my dear," said I, "thank goodness I'm not a man of genius."

"Amen!" said Barbara, fervently.

As soon as they had settled down in their flat, Adrian began to work again, in the same unremitting fashion. The only concession he made to consideration of health was to go to bed immediately on his return from dinner-parties and theatres instead of spending three or four hours in his study. Otherwise the routine of toil went on as before. One afternoon, happening to be in town and in the neighbourhood of St. John's Wood, I called at the flat with the idea of asking Doria for a cup of tea. I also had in my pocket a letter from Jaffery which I thought might interest Adrian. The maid who opened the door informed me that her mistress was out. Was Mr. Boldero in? Yes; but he was working.

"That doesn't matter," said I. "Tell him I'm here."

The maid did not dare disturb him. Her orders were absolute. She could not refuse to admit me, seeing that I was already in the hall; but she stoutly refused to announce me. I argued with the damsel.

"I may have business of the utmost importance with your master."

She couldn't help it. She had her orders.

"But, my good Ellen," said I-the minx had actually been in our service a couple of years before!-"suppose the place were on fire, what would you do?"

She looked at me demurely. "I think I should call a policeman, sir."

"You can call one now," said I, "for I'm going to announce myself. Don't tell me I'll have to walk over your dead body first, for it won't do."

I know it is not looked upon as a friendly act to interrupt a man in his work and to disregard the orders given to his servants, but I was irritated by all this Grand Llama atmosphere of mysterious seclusion. Besides, I had been walking and felt just a little hot and dusty and thirsty, and I felt all the hotter, dustier and thirstier for my argument with Ellen.

"I'll announce myself," I said, and marched to the door of Adrian's study. It was locked. I rapped at the door.

"Who's there?" came Adrian's voice.

"Me. Hilary."

"What's the matter?"

"I happen to be a guest under your roof," said I, with a touch of temper.

"Wait a minute," said he.

I waited about two. Then the door was unlocked and opened and I strode in upon Adrian who looked rather pale and dishevelled.

"Why the deuce," said I, "did you keep me hanging about like that?"

"I'm sorry," he replied. "But I make it a fixed rule to put away my work"-he waved a hand towards the safe-"whenever anybody, even Doria, wants to come into the room."

I glanced around the cheerless place. There were no traces of work visible. Save that the quill pens and blotting pad were inky, his library table seemed as immaculate, as unstained by toil, as it did on the occasion of my first visit.

"You needn't have made all that fuss," said I. "I only dropped in for a second or two. I wanted to ask for a drink and to show you a letter from Jaffery."

"Oh, Jaffery!" He smiled. "How's the old barbarian getting on?"

"Tremendously. He's the guest of a Viceroy and living in sumptuousness. Read for yourself."

I took from my pocket letter and envelope. Now I am a man who keeps few letters and no envelopes. The second post bringing Jaffery's epistle had just arrived when I was leaving Northlands that morning, and it was but an accident of haste that the envelope had not been destroyed. I took the opportunity of tearing it up while Adrian was reading. With the pieces in my hand, I peered about the room.

"What are you looking for?" he asked.

"Your waste-paper basket."

"Haven't got such a thing."

I threw my litter into the grate.

"Why?"

"I'm not going to pander to the curiosity of housemaids," he replied rather irritably.

"What do you do with your waste paper, then?"

"Never have any," he said, with his eyes on Jaffery's letter.

"Good Lord!" I cried. "Do you pigeon-hole bills and money-lenders' circulars and second-hand booksellers' catalogues and all their wrappers?"

He folded up the letter, took me by the arm and regarded me with a smile of forced patience.

"My dear Hilary, can't you ever understand that this room is just a workshop and nothing else? Here I think of nothing but my novel. I would as soon think of conducting my social correspondence in the bathroom. If you want to see the waste-paper basket where I throw my bills and unanswered letters from duchesses, and the desk-I share it with Doria-where I dash off my brilliant replies to money-lenders, come into the drawing-room. There, also, I shall be able to give you a drink."

My eyes, following an unconscious glance from his, fell upon a new and hitherto unnoticed object-a little table,

now startlingly obvious, in a corner of the all but unfurnished room, bearing a tray with half full decanter, syphon and glass.

"You've got all I want here," said I.

"No. That's mere stimulant. Sapit lucernam. It has a horrible flavour of midnight oil. There's not what you understand by a drink in it. Let's get out of the accursed hole."

He dragged me almost by force into the drawing-room, where he entertained me courteously. It was curious to observe how his manner changed in-I have to use the Boldero jargon-in the different atmosphere. He expounded the qualities of his whisky-a present from old man Jornicroft, a rare blend which just a few "merchantates" (Barbara's word, he declared, was delicious) in Glasgow and Dundee and here and there a one in the City of London were able to procure. In its flavour, said he, lurked the mystery of strange and barbaric names. He showed me a Bonington water colour which he had picked up for a song. On enquiry as to the signification of a song as a unit of value, I learned that since eminent tenors and divas had sung into gramophones, the standard had appreciated.

"My dear man," he laughed, in answer to my protest. "I can afford it."

For the quarter of an hour that I spent with him in his own drawing-room, he was quite the old Adrian. I drove to Paddington Station under the influence of his urbanity. But in the train, and afterwards at home, I was teased by vague apprehensions. Hitherto I had loosely and playfully qualified his methods of work as lunatic, without a thought as to the exact significance of the term. Now a horrible thought harassed me. Had I been precise without knowing it?

Novelists may have their little idiosyncrasies, and the privacy of their working hours deserves respect; but none I have ever heard of are such fearful wildfowl as to need the precautions with which Adrian surrounded himself. Why should he put himself under lock and key? Why should he not allow human eye to fall, even from the distance prescribed by good manners, upon his precious manuscript? Why need he use care so scrupulous as not to expose even torn up bits of rough draft to the ancillary publicity of a waste-paper basket? Soundness of mind did not lie that way. The terms in which he alluded to his book were not those of a sane man filled with the joy of his creation. None of us, not even Doria, knew how the story was progressing. He had signed a contract with an American editor for serialisation to begin in July. Here we were in the middle of May, and not a page of manuscript had been delivered. Doria told Barbara that the editor had been cabling frenziedly. How much of the story was written? I recalled his wild talk at Easter about putting into the novel the whole of human life. I had jested with him, calling it a megalomaniac notion. But suppose, unwittingly, I had been right? I thought of the ghastly name physicians give to the malady and shivered.

Suddenly, a day or two afterwards, came news that, to some extent, relieved my mind.

While the Bolderos were at breakfast, a cable arrived from the Editor. It ran: "Unless half of manuscript is delivered to-day at London Office will cancel contract." Adrian read it, frowned and handed it to Doria. It seems that in all business matters she had his confidence.

"Well, dear?" she said, looking up at him.

He broke out angrily. "Did you ever hear such amazing insolence? I give this pettifogging tradesman the privilege of publishing my novel in his rubbishy periodical and he dares to dictate terms to me! Half a novel, indeed! As if it were half a bale of calico. The besotted fool! As well ask a clock-maker to deliver half a clock."

"Argument by analogy is rather dangerous," she said gently, seeking to turn aside his wrath with a smile. "It's not quite the same thing. Can't you give him something to go on with?"

"I can, but I won't. I'll see him damned first." He turned to the maid and demanded a telegraph form.

"What are you going to do?"

"I'm going to teach him a lesson. He thinks I'm going to be taken in by his bluff and run round with a brown paper parcel to Fleet Street or wherever his beastly office is. He's mistaken. There," he wrote the cable hurriedly and read it aloud, "'Shall not deliver anything. Only too glad to cancel contract.' He'll he the most surprised and disgusted man in America!"

"Need you put it quite like that?" said Doria.

"It's the only way to make him understand. He has been buzzing round me like a wasp for the past month. Now he's squashed. And now," said he, getting up and lighting a cigarette, "I'm not going to do another stroke of work for three months."

It was the news of this last announcement that relieved my mind: not the story of Adrian's intolerable treatment of the editor, which was of a piece with his ordinary attitude towards his own genius. The capriciousness of the resolution startled me; but I approved whole-heartedly. I would have counselled immediate change of scene, had not Adrian anticipated my advice by rushing off then and there to Cook's and taken tickets to Switzerland. Having some business in town, I motored up with Barbara earlier than I need have done, and we saw them off at Victoria Station. Adrian, in holiday spirits, talked rather loudly. Now that he was free from the horror of that bestial vampire sucking his blood-that was his way of referring to the long suffering and hardly used editor-life emerged from gloom into sunshine. Now his spirit could soar untrammelled. It had taken its leap into the Empyrean. He beheld his book beneath him dazzlingly clear. Three months communing with nature, three months solitude on the pure mountain heights, three months calm discipline of the soul-that was what he needed. Then to work, and in another three months, currente calamo, the book would be written.

"And what is Doria going to do on top of the Matterhorn?" asked my wife.

Doria cried out, "Oh, don't tease. We're not going near the Matterhorn. We're going to read beautiful books, and see beautiful things and think beautiful thoughts." She dragged Barbara a step or two aside. "Don't you think this is the best thing that could have happened?" she asked, with her anxious, earnest gaze.

"The very, very best, dear," replied Barbara gently.

And indeed it was. If ever a man realised himself to be on the verge of the abyss, I am sure it was Adrian Boldero. Some haunting fear was set at the back of his laughing eyes-the expression of an animal instinct for self-preservation which discounted the balderdash about the soaring yet disciplined soul.

I whispered to Doria: "Don't go too far into the wilds out of reach of medical advice."

"Why?"

"You're taking away a sick man."

"Do you really think so?"

"I do," said I.

She looked to right and left and then at me full in the face, and she gripped my hand.

"You're a good friend, Hilary. God knows I thank you."

From which I clearly understood that her passionately loyal heart was grievously sore for Adrian.

During their absence abroad, which lasted much longer than three months, we heard fairly regularly from Doria; twice or thrice from Adrian. After a time he grew tired of mountaintops and solitude and declared that his inspiration required steeping in the past, communion with the hallowed monuments of mankind. So they wandered about the old Italian cities, until he discovered that the one thing essential to his work was the gaiety of cosmopolitan society; whereupon they went the round of French watering-places, where Adrian played recklessly at baccarat and spent inordinate sums on food. And all the time Doria wrote glowingly of their doings. Adrian had put the book out of his head, was always in the best of spirits. He had completely recovered from the strain of work and was looking forward joyously to the final spurt in London and the achievement of the masterpiece.

Meanwhile we played the annual comedy of our August migration; the only change being that instead of Dinard we went to the West Coast of Scotland to stay with some of Barbara's relatives. One gleam of joy irradiated that grey and dismal sojourn-the news that Jaffery, his mission in Crim Tartary being accomplished, would be home for Christmas. Our host and hostess were sporting folk with red, weatherbeaten faces and a mania (which they expected us to share) for salmon-fishing in the pouring rain. As neither Barbara nor I were experts-I always trembled lest a strong young fish getting hold of the end of Barbara's line should whisk her over like a feather into the boiling current-and as for myself, I prefer the more contemplative art of bottom fishing from a punt in dry weather-our friends caught all the salmon, while we merely caught colds in the head. Many an hour of sodden misery was cheered by the whispered word of comfort: Jaffery would be home for Christmas. And when, at ten o'clock in the evening, just as we were beginning to awake from the nightmare of the day, and to desire sprightly conversation, our host and hostess fell into a lethargy, and staggered off to slumber, we beguiled the hour before bedtime with talk of Jaffery's homecoming.

At last we escaped and took the good train south. The Bolderos had already returned to London. They came to spend our first week-end at Northlands. Adrian professed to be in the robustest of health and to have not a care in the world. The holiday, said he, had done him incalculable good. Already he had begun to work in the full glow of inspiration. We thought him looking old and hag-ridden, but Doria seemed happy. She had her own reason for happiness, which she confided to Barbara. It would be early in the New Year. . . . Her eyes, I noticed, were filled with a new and wonderful love for Adrian. On the Sunday afternoon as we were sauntering about the garden, Adrian touched upon the subject in a man's shy way when speaking to his fellow man.

"Why," said I with a laugh, "that's just about the time you expect the book to be out."

He gave me a queer, slanting look. "Yes," said he, "they'll both be born together."

That night, to my consternation and sorrow, he went to bed quite fuddled with whisky.

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