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   Chapter 12 No.12

Jaffery By William John Locke Characters: 21405

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


The slow weeks passed. Fog gave way to long rain and rain to a touch of frost and timid spring sunshine; and it was only then that Doria emerged from the Valley of the Shadow. The first time they allowed me to visit her, I stood for a fraction of a second, almost in search of a human occupant of the room. Lying in the bed she looked such a pitiful scrap, all hair and eyes. She smiled and held droopingly out to me the most fragile thing in hands I have ever seen.

"I'm going to live, after all, they tell me."

"Of course you are," I answered cheerily. "It's the season for things to find they're going to live. The crocuses and aconite have already made the discovery."

She sighed. "The garden at Northlands will soon be beautiful. I love it in the spring. The dancing daffodils-"

"We'll have you down to dance with them," said I.

"It's strange that I want to live," she remarked after a pause. "At first I longed to die-that was why my recovery was so slow. But now-odd, isn't it?"

"Life means infinitely more than one's own sorrow, no matter how great it is," I replied gently.

"Yes," she assented. "I can live now for Adrian's memory."

I suppose most women in Doria's position would have said much the same. In ordinary circumstances one approves the pious aspiration. If it gives them temporary comfort, why, in Heaven's name, shouldn't they have it? But in Doria's case, its utterance gave me a kind of stab in the heart. By way of reply I patted her poor little wrist sympathetically.

"When will the book be out?" she asked.

"I'm afraid I don't quite know," said I.

"I suppose they're busy printing it."

"Jaffery's in charge," I replied, according to instructions.

"He must get it out at once. The early spring's the best time. It won't do to wait too long. Will you tell him?"

"I will," said I.

I don't think I have ever loathed a thing so wholly as that confounded ghost of a book. Naturally it was the dominant thought in the poor child's mind. She had already worried Barbara about it. It formed the subject of nearly her first question to me. I foresaw trouble. I could not plead bland ignorance forever; though for the present I did not know the nature of Jaffery's scheme. Anyhow I redeemed my promise and gave him Doria's message. He received it with a grumpy nod and said nothing. He had become somewhat grumpy of late, even when I did not broach the disastrous topic, and made excuses for not coming down to Northlands.

I attributed the unusual moroseness to London in vile weather. At the best of times Jaffery grew impatient of the narrow conditions of town; yet there he was week after week, staying in a poky set of furnished chambers in Victoria Street, and doing nothing in particular, as far as I could make out, save riding on the tops of motor-omnibuses without an overcoat.

After his silent acknowledgment of the message, he stuffed his pipe thoughtfully-we were in the smoking-room of a club (not the Athen?um) to which we both belonged-and then he roared out:

"Do you think she could bear the sight of me?"

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"Well"-he grinned a little-"I'm not exactly a kind of sick-room flower."

"I think you ought to see her-you're as much trustee and executor as I am. You might also save Barbara and myself from nerve-racking questions."

"All right, I'll go," he said.

The interview was only fairly successful. He told her that the book would be published as soon as possible.

"When will that be?" she asked.

Jaffery seemed to be as vague as myself.

"Is it in the printer's hands?"

"Not yet."

"Why?"

He explained that Adrian had practically finished the novel; but here and there it needed the little trimming and tacking together, which Adrian would have done had he lived to revise the manuscript. He himself was engaged on this necessary though purely mechanical task of revision.

"I quite agree," said Doria to this, "that Adrian's work could not be given out in an imperfect state. But there can't be very much to do, so why are you taking all this time over it?"

"I'm afraid I've been rather busy," said he.

Which tactless, though I admit unavoidable, reply did not greatly please Doria. When she saw Barbara, to whom she related this conversation, she complained of Jaffery's unfeeling conduct. He had no right to hang up Adrian's great novel on account of his own wretched business. Letting the latter slide would have been a tribute to his dead friend. Barbara did her best to soothe her; but we agreed that Jaffery had made a bad start.

A short while afterwards I was in the club again and there I came across Arbuthnot, the manager of Jaffery's newspaper, whom I had known for some years-originally I think through Jaffery. I accepted the offer of a seat at his luncheon table, and, as men will, we began to discuss our common friend.

"I wonder what has come over him lately," said he after a while.

"Have you noticed any difference?" I was startled.

"Yes. Can't make him out."

"Poor Adrian Boldero's death was a great shock."

"Quite so," Arbuthnot assented. "But Jaff Chayne, when he gets a shock, is the sort of fellow that goes into the middle of a wilderness and roars. Yet here he is in London and won't be persuaded to leave it."

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"We wanted to send him out to Persia, and he refused to go. We had to send young Brodie instead, who won't do the work half as well."

"All this is news to me," said I.

"And it was a first-class business with armed escorts, caravans, wild tribes-a matter of great danger and subtle politics-railways, finance-the whole hang of the international situation and internal conditions-a big scoop-everything that usually is butter and honey to Jaff Chayne-an ideal job for him in every way. But no. He was fed up with scalliwagging all over the place. He wanted a season in town!"

At the idea of Jaffery yearning to play the Society butterfly I could not help laughing. Jaffery lounging down Bond Street in immaculate vesture! Jaffery sipping tea at afternoon At Homes! Jaffery dancing till three o'clock in the morning! It was all very comic, and Arbuthnot seeing the matter in that aspect laughed too. But, on the other hand, it was all very incomprehensible. To Jaffery a job was a sacred affair, the meaning of his existence. He was a Mercury who took himself seriously. The more remote and rough and uncomfortable and dangerous his mission, the more he liked it. He had never spared himself. He had been a model special correspondent ever ready at a moment's notice to set off to the ends of the earth. And now, all of a sudden, behold him declining a task after his own heart, and, as I gathered from Arbuthnot, of the greatest political significance, and thereby endangering his peculiar and honourable position on the paper.

"If it had been any other man alive who had turned us down like that," said Arbuthnot, "we would have chucked him altogether. In fact we didn't tell him that we wouldn't."

It was very mysterious; all the more so because Jaffery had never been a man of mystery, like Adrian. I went away wondering. If it had occurred to me at the time that I was destined to play Boswell to Jaffery's Johnson, perhaps I might have gone straight to him and demanded a solution of my difficulties. As it was, in my unawakened condition, I did nothing of the kind. I spent an hour or two looking up something in the British Museum, stopped at the bootmaker's to give an order concerning Susan's riding-boots (vide diary) and drove home to dinner, to a comfortable chat with Barbara, during which I gave her an account of the day's doings, and eventually to the peaceful slumber of the contented and inoffensive man.

A fortnight or so passed before I saw Jaffery again. Happening to be in Westminster in the forenoon-I had come up to town on business-I mounted to his cheerless eyrie in Victoria Street, and rang the bell. A dingy servitor in a dress suit, on transient duty, admitted me, and I found Jaffery collarless and minus jacket and waistcoat, smoking a pipe in front of the fire. It wasn't even a good coal fire. Some austere former tenant had installed an electric radiator in the once comfort-giving grate. But Jaffery did not seem to mind. The remains of breakfast were on the table which the dingy servitor began to clear. Jaffery rose from the depths of his easy chair like an agile mammoth.

"Hullo, hullo, hullo!"

His usual greeting. We shook hands and commended the weather. When the alien attendant had departed, he began to curse London. It was a hole for sick dogs, not for sound men. He loathed its abominable suffocation.

"Then why the deuce do you stay in it?"

He shrugged his shoulders. "I can't do anything else."

This gave me an opening to satisfy my curiosity.

"I understood you could have gone to Persia."

He frowned and tugged his red beard. "How did you know that?"

"Arbuthnot-" I began.

"Arbuthnot?" he boomed angrily. "What the blazes does he mean by telling you about my affairs? I'll punch his damned head!"

"Don't," said I. "Your hands are so big and he's so small. You might hurt him."

"I'd like to hurt him. Why can't he keep his infernal tongue quiet?"

He proceeded to wither up the soul of Arbuthnot with awful anathema. Then in his infantile way he shouted: "I didn't want any of you to know anything about it."

"Why?" I asked.

"Because I didn't."

"But I suppose you wanted to go to Persia?"

He paused in his lumbering walk about the little room and collecting a litter of books and papers and a hat or two and a legging from a sofa, pitched it into a corner.

"Here. Sit down."

I had been warming my back at the fire hitherto and surveying the half-formal, half-unkempt sitting-room. It was by no means the comfortable home from Harrod's Stores that Barbara had prescribed; and he had not attempted to furnish it in slap-up style with the heads of game and skins and modern weapons which lay in the London Repository. It was the impersonal abode of the male bird of passage.

"Sit down," said he, "and have a drink."

I declined, alleging the fact that a philosophically minded country gentleman of domestic habits does not require alcohol at half past eleven in the morning, except under the stress of peculiar circumstances.

"I'm going to have one anyway!"

He disappeared and presently re?ntered with a battered two-handled silver quart pot bearing defaced arms and inscription, a rowing trophy of Cambridge days, which he always carried about with him on no matter what lightly equipped expedition-it is always a matter of regret t

o me that Jaffery, as I have mentioned before, missed his seat in the Cambridge boat; but when one despoils a Proctor of his square cap and it is found the central feature of one's rooms beneath a glass shade such as used to protect wax flowers from the dust, what can one expect from the priggish judgment of university authority?-he re?ntered, with this vessel full of beer. He nodded, drank a huge draught and wiped his moustache with his hand.

"Better have some. I've got a cask in the bedroom."

"Good God!" said I, aghast. "What else do you keep there? A side of bacon and a Limburger cheese and Bombay duck?"

Now just imagine a civilised gentleman keeping a cask of beer in his bedroom.

Jaffery laughed and took another swig and called me a long, lean, puny-gutted insect; which was not polite, but I was glad to hear the deep "Ho! ho! ho!" that followed his vituperation.

"All the same," said I, reclining on the cleared sofa and lighting a cigarette, "I should like to know why you missed one of the chances of your life in not going out to Persia."

He stood, for a moment or two, scrabbling in whisker and beard; and, turning over in his mind, I suppose, that Barbara was my wife, and Susan my child, and I myself an inconsiderable human not evilly disposed towards him, he apparently decided not to annihilate me.

"It was hell, Hilary, old chap, to chuck the Persian proposition," said he, his hands in his trouser pockets, looking out of the window at the infinitely reaching landscape of the chimney pots of south London, their grey smoke making London's unique pearly haze below the crisp blue of the March sky. "Just hell!" he muttered in his bass whisper, and craning round my neck I could, with the tail of my eye, catch his gaze, which was very wistful and seemed directed not at the opalescent mystery of the London air, but at the clear vividness of the Persian desert. Away and away, beyond the shimmering sand, gleamed the frosted town with white walls, white domes, white minarets against the horizon band of topaz and amethystine vapours. And in his nostrils was the immemorable smell of the East, and in his ears the startling jingle of the harness and the pad of the camels, and the guttural cries of the drivers, and in his heart the certainty of plucking out the secret from the soul of this strange land. . . .

At last he swung round and throwing himself into the armchair enquired politely after the health of Barbara and Susan. As far as the Persian journey was concerned the palaver was ended. He did not intend to give me his reasons for staying in England and I could not demand them more insistently. At any rate I had discovered the cause of his grumpiness. What creature of Jaffery's temperament could be contented with a soft bed in the centre of civilisation, when he had the chance of sleeping in verminous caravanserais with a saddle for pillow? In spite of his amazing predilections, Jaffery was very human. He would make a great sacrifice without hesitation; but the consequences of the sacrifice would cause him to go about like a bear with a sore head.

And the cause of the sacrifice? Obviously Doria. Once having been admitted to her bedside, he went there every day. Flowers and fruit he had sent from the very beginning in absurd profusion; a grape for Doria failed in adequacy unless it was the size of a pumpkin. Now he brought the offerings personally in embarrassing bulk. One offering was a gramophone which nearly drove her mad. Even in its present stage of development it offends the sensitive ear; but in its early days it was an instrument of torturing cacophony. And Jaffery, thinking the brazen strains music of the spheres, would turn on the hideous engine, when he came to see her, and would grin and roar and expect her to shew evidence of ravished senses. She did her best, poor child, out of politeness and recognition of his desire to alleviate her lot; but I don't think the gramophone conveyed to her heart the poor dear fellow's unspoken message. But gently criticising the banality of the tunes the thing played and sending him forth in quest of records of recondite and "unrecorded" music, she succeeded in mitigating the terror. To the present moment, however, I don't think Jaffery has realised that she had a higher ?sthetic equipment than the hypnotised fox-terrier in the advertisement. . . . Jaffery also bought her puzzles and funny penny pavement toys and gallons of eau-de-cologne (which came in useful), and expensive scent (which she abominated), and stacks of new novels, and a fearsome machine of wood and brass and universal joints, by means of which an invalid could read and breakfast and write and shave all at the same time. The only thing he did not give her-the thing she craved more than all-was a fresh-bound copy of Adrian's book.

Obviously, as I have remarked, it was Doria that kept him out of Persia. But I could not help thinking that this same Persian journey might have afforded a solution of the whole difficulty. Despatched suddenly to that vaguely known country, he could have taken the mythical manuscript to revise on the journey: the convoy could have been attacked by a horde of Kurds or such-like desperadoes, all could have been slain save a fortunate handful, and the manuscript could have been looted as an important political document and carried off into Eternity. Doria would have hated Jaffery forever after; but his chivalrous aim would have been accomplished. Adrian's honour would have been safe. But this simple way out never occurred to him. Apparently he thought it wiser to sacrifice his career and remain in London so as to buoy Doria up with false hope, all the time praying God to burn down St. Quentin's Mansions (where he lived) and Adrian's portmanteau of rubbish and himself all together.

Suddenly, as soon as Doria could be moved, Mr. Jornicroft stepped in and carried her to the south of France. Barbara and Jaffery and myself saw her off by the afternoon train at Charing Cross. She was to rest in Paris for the night and the next day, and proceed the following night to Nice. She looked the frailest thing under the sun. Her face was startling ivory beneath her widow's headgear. She had scarcely strength to lift her head. Mr. Jornicroft had made luxurious arrangements for her comfort-an ambulance carriage from St. John's Wood, a special invalid compartment in the train; but at the station, as at Doria's wedding, Jaffery took command. It was his great arms that lifted her feather-weight with extraordinary sureness and gentleness from the carriage, carried her across the platform and deposited her tenderly on her couch in the compartment. Touched by his solicitude she thanked him with much graciousness. He bent over her-we were standing at the door and could not choose but hear:

"Don't you remember what I said the first day I met you?"

"Yes."

"It stands, my dear; and more than that." He paused for a second and took her thin hand. "And don't you worry about that book. You get well and strong."

He kissed her hand and spoiled the gallantry by squeezing her shoulder-half her little body it seemed to be-and emerging from the compartment joined us on the platform. He put a great finger on the arm of the rubicund, thickset, black-moustached Jornicroft.

"I think I'll come with you as far as Paris," said he. "I'll get into a smoker somewhere or the other."

"But, my dear sir"-exclaimed Mr. Jornicroft in some amazement-"it's awfully kind, but why should you?"

"Mrs. Boldero has got to be carried. I didn't realise it. She can't put her feet to the ground. Some one has got to lift her at every stage of the journey. And I'm not going to let any damned clumsy fellow handle her. I'll see her into the Nice train to-morrow night-perhaps I'll go on to Nice with you and fix her up in the hotel. As a matter of fact, I will. I shan't worry you. You won't see me, except at the right time. Don't be afraid."

Mr. Jornicroft, most methodical of Britons, gasped. So, I must confess, did Barbara and I. When Jaffery met us at the station he had no more intention of escorting Doria to Nice than we had ourselves.

"I can't permit it-it's too kind-there's no necessity-we'll get on all right!" spluttered Mr. Jornicroft.

"You won't. She has got to be carried. You're not going to take any risks."

"But, my dear fellow-it's absurd-you haven't any luggage."

"Luggage?" He looked at Mr. Jornicroft as if he had suggested the impossibility of going abroad without a motor veil or the Encyclop?dia Britannica. "What the blazes has luggage got to do with it?" His roar could be heard above the din of the hurrying station. "I don't want luggage." The humour of the proposition appealed to him so mightily that he went off into one of his reverberating explosions of mirth.

"Ho! ho! ho!" Then recovering-"Don't you worry about that."

"But have you enough on you-it's an expensive journey-of course I should be most happy-"

Jaffery stepped back and scanned the length of the platform and beckoned to an official, who came hurrying towards him. It was the station master.

"Have you ever seen me before, Mr. Winter?"

The official laughed. "Pretty often, Mr. Chayne."

"Do you think I could get from here to Nice without buying a ticket now?"

"Why, of course, our agent at Boulogne will arrange it if I send him a wire."

"Right," said Jaffery. "Please do so, Mr. Winter. I'm crossing now and going to Nice by the C?te d'Azur Express to-morrow night. And see after a seat for me, will you?"

"I'll reserve a compartment if possible, Mr. Chayne."

The station master raised his hat and departed. Jaffery, his hands stuffed deep in his pockets, beamed upon us like a mountainous child. We were all impressed by his lordly command of the railway systems of Europe. It was a question of credit, of course, but neither Mr. Jornicroft, solid man that he was, nor myself could have undertaken that journey with a few loose shillings in his possession. For the first time since Adrian's death I saw Jaffery really enjoying himself.

And that is how Jaffery without money or luggage or even an overcoat travelled from London to Nice, for no other purpose than to save Doria's sacred little body from being profaned by the touch of ruder hands.

Having carried her at every stage beginning with the transfer from train to steamer at Folkestone and ending with a triumphant march up the stairs to the third floor of the Cimiez hotel, he took the first train back straight through to London.

He returned the same old grinning giant, without a shadow of grumpiness on his jolly face.

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