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   Chapter 14 No.14

Jaffery By William John Locke Characters: 25756

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


It was a gorgeous April day-one of those days when young Spring in madcap masquerade flaunts it in the borrowed mantle of summer. She could assume the deep blue of the sky and the gold of the sunshine, but through all the travesty peeped her laughing youth, the little tender leaves on the trees, the first shy bloom of the lilac, the swelling of the hawthorn buds, the pathetic immature barrenness of the walnuts.

And even the leafless walnuts were full of alien life, for in their hollow boles chippering starlings made furtive nests, and in their topmost forks jackdaws worked with clamorous zeal. A pale butterfly here and there accomplished its early day, and queen wasps awakened from their winter slumber in cosy crevices, the tiniest winter-palaces in the world, sped like golden arrow tips to and from the homes they had to build alone for the swarms that were to come. The flower beds shone gay with tulips and hyacinths; in the long grass beyond the lawn and under the trees danced a thousand daffodils; and by their side warmly wrapped up in furs lay Doria on a long cane chair.

She could not literally dance with the daffodils as I had prophesied, for her full strength had not yet returned, but there she was among them, and she smiled at them sympathetically as though they were dancing in her honour. She was, however, restored to health; the great circles beneath her eyes had disappeared and a tinge of colour shewed beneath her ivory cheek. Beside her, in the first sunbonnet of the year, sat Susan, a prim monkey of nine. . . . Lord! It scarcely seemed two years since Jaffery came from Albania and tossed the seven year old up in his arms and was struck all of a heap by Doria at their first meeting. So thought I, looking from my study-table at the pretty picture some thirty yards, away. And once again-pleasant self repetition of history-Jaffery was expected. Doria, fresh from Nice, had spent a night at her father's house and had come down to us the evening before to complete her convalescence. She had wanted to go straight to the flat in St. John's Wood and begin her life anew with Adrian's beloved ghost, and she had issued orders to servants to have everything in readiness for her arrival, but Barbara had intervened and so had Mr. Jornicroft, a man of limited sympathies and brutal common sense. All of us, including Jaffery, who seemed to regard advice to Doria as a presumption only equalled by that of a pilgrim on his road to Mecca giving hints to Allah as to the way to run the universe, had urged her to give up the abode of tragic memories and find a haven of quietude elsewhere. But she had indignantly refused. The home of her wondrous married life was the home of her widowhood. If she gave it up, how could she live in peace with the consciousness ever in her brain that the Holy of Holies in which Adrian had worked and died was being profaned by vulgar tread? Our suggestions were callous, monstrous, everything that could arise from earth-bound non-percipience of sacred things. We could only prevail upon her to postpone her return to the flat until such time as she was physically strong enough to grapple with changed conditions.

The pink sunbonnet was very near the dark head; both were bending over a book on Doria's knee-Les Malheurs de Sophie, which Susan, proud of her French scholarship, had proposed to read to Doria, who having just returned from France was supposed to be the latest authority on the language. I noticed that the severity of this intellectual communion was mitigated by Susan's favourite black kitten, who, sitting on its little haunches, seemed to be turning over pages rather rapidly. Then all of a sudden, from nowhere in particular, there stepped into the landscape (framed, you must remember, by the jambs of my door) a huge and familiar figure, carrying a great suit-case. He put this on the ground, rushed up to Doria, shook her by both hands, swung Susan in the air and kissed her, and was still laughing and making the welkin ring-that is to say, making a thundering noise-when I, having sped across the lawn, joined the group.

"Hello!" said I, "how did you get here?"

"Walked from the station," said Jaffery. "Came down by an earlier train. No good staying in town on such a morning. Besides-" He glanced at Doria in significant aposiopesis.

"And you lugged that infernal thing a mile and a half?" I asked, pointing to the suit-case, which must have weighed half a ton. "Why didn't you leave it to be called for?"

"This? This little sachet?" He lifted it up by one finger and grinned.

Susan regarded the feat, awe-stricken. "Oh, Uncle Jaff, you are strong!"

Doria smiled at him admiringly and declared she couldn't lift the thing an inch from the ground with both her hands.

"Do you know," she laughed, "when he used to carry me about, I felt as if I had been picked up by an iron crane."

Jaffery beamed with delight. He was just a little vain of his physical strength. A colleague of his once told me that he had seen Jaffery in a nasty row in Caracas during a revolution, bend from his saddle and wrench up two murderous villains by the armpits, one in each hand, and dash their heads together over his horse's neck. But that is the sort of story that Jaffery himself never told.

Barbara, who, flitting about the house on domestic duty, had caught sight of him through a window, came out to greet him.

"Isn't it glorious to have her back?" he cried, waving his great hand towards Doria. "And looking so bonny. Nothing like the South. The sunshine gets into your blood. By Jove! what a difference, eh? Remember when we started for Nice?"

He stood, legs apart and hands on hips, looking down on her with as much pride as if he had wrought the miracle himself.

"Get some more chairs, dear," said Barbara.

By good fortune seeing one of the gardeners in the near distance, I hailed him and shouted the necessary orders. That is the one disadvantage of summer: during the whole of that otherwise happy season, Barbara expects me to be something between a scene-shifter and a Furniture Removing Van.

The chairs were fetched from a far-off summer house and we settled down. Jaffery lit his pipe, smiled at Doria, and met a very wistful look. He held her eyes for a space, and laid his great hand very gently on hers.

"I know what you're thinking of," he said, with an arresting tenderness in his deep voice. "You won't have to wait much longer."

"Is it at the printer's?"

"It's printed."

Barbara and I gave each a little start-we looked at Jaffery, who was taking no notice of us, and then questioningly at each other. What on earth did the man mean?

"From to-morrow onwards, till publication, the press will be flooded with paragraphs about Adrian Boldero's new book. I fixed it up with Wittekind, as a sort of welcome home to you."

"That was very kind, Jaffery," said Doria; "but was it necessary? I mean, couldn't Wittekind have done it before?"

"It was necessary in a way," said Jaffery. "We wanted you to pass the proofs."

Doria smiled proudly. "Pass Adrian's proofs? I? I wouldn't presume to do such a thing."

"Well, here they are, anyway," said Jaffery.

And to the bewilderment of Barbara and myself, he snapped open the hasps of his suit-case and drew out a great thick clump of galley-proofs fastened by a clip at the left hand top corner, which he deposited on Doria's lap. She closed her eyes and her eyelids fluttered as she fingered the precious thing. For a moment we thought she was going to faint. There was breathless silence. Even Susan, who had been left out in the cold, let the black kitten leap from her knee, and aware that something out of the ordinary was happening, fixed her wondering eyes on Doria. Her mother and I wondered even more than Susan, for we had more reason. Of what manuscript, in heaven's name, were these the printed proofs? Was it possible that I had been mistaken and that Jaffery, in the assiduity of love, had made coherence out of Adrian's farrago of despair?

Jaffery touched Doria's hand with his finger tips. She opened her eyes and smiled wanly, and looked at the front slip of the long proofs. At once she sat bolt upright.

"'The Greater Glory.' But that wasn't Adrian's title. His title was 'God.' Who has dared to change it?"

He drew out a great thick clump of galley-proofs.

Her eyes flashed; her little body quivered. She flamed an incarnate indignation. For some reason or other she turned accusingly on me.

"I knew nothing of the change," said I, "but I'm very glad to hear of it now."

Many times before had I been forced to disclaim knowledge of what Jaffery had been doing with the book.

"Wittekind wouldn't have the old title," cried Jaffery eagerly. "The public are very narrow minded, and he felt that in certain quarters it might be misunderstood."

"Wittekind told dear Adrian that he thought it a perfect title."

"Our dear Adrian," said I, pacifically, "was a man of enormous will-power and perhaps Wittekind hadn't the strength to stand up against him."

"Of course he hadn't," exclaimed Doria. "Of course he hadn't when Adrian was alive: now Adrian's dead, he thinks he is going to do just as he chooses. He isn't! Not while I live, he isn't!"

Jaffery looked at me from beneath bent brows and his eyes were turned to cold blue steel.

"Hilary!" said he, "will you kindly tell Doria what we found on Adrian's blotting pad-the last words he ever wrote?"

What he desired me to say was obvious.

"Written three or four times," said I, "we found the words: 'The Greater Glory: A Novel by Adrian Boldero.'"

"What has become of the blotting pad?"

"The sheet seemed to be of no value, so we destroyed it with a lot of other unimportant papers."

"And I came across further evidence," said Jaffery, "of his intention to rename the novel."

Doria's anger died away. She looked past us into the void. "I should like to have had Adrian's last words," she whispered. Then bringing herself back to earth, she begged Jaffery's pardon very touchingly. Adrian's implied intention was a command. She too approved the change. "But I'm so jealous," she said, with a catch in her voice, "of my dear husband's work. You must forgive me. I'm sure you've done everything that was right and good, Jaffery." She held out the great bundle and smiled. "I pass the proofs."

Jaffery took the bundle and laid it again on her lap. "It's awfully good of you to say that. I appreciate it tremendously. But you can keep this set. I've got another, with the corrections in duplicate."

She looked at the proofs wistfully, turned over the long strips in a timid, reverent way, and abruptly handed them back.

"I can't read it. I daren't read it. If Adrian had lived I shouldn't have seen it before it was published. He would have given me the finally bound book-an advance copy. These things-you know-it's the same to me as if he were living."

The tears started. She rose; and we all did the same.

"I must go indoors for a little. No, no, Barbara dear. I'd rather be alone." She put her arm round my small daughter. "Perhaps Susan will see I don't break my neck across the lawn."

Her voice ended in a queer little sob, and holding on to Susan, who was mighty proud of being selected as an escort, walked slowly towards the house. Susan afterwards reported that, dismissed at the bedroom door, she had lingered for a moment outside and had heard Auntie Doria crying like anything.

Barbara, who had said absolutely nothing since the miraculous draught of proofs, advanced, a female David, up to Goliath Jaffery.

"Look here, my friend, I'm not accustomed to sit still like a graven image and be mystified in my own house. Will you have the goodness to explain?"

Jaffery looked down on her, his head on one side.

"Explain what?"

"That!"

She pointed to the proofs of which I had possessed myself and was eagerly scanning. Unblenching he met her gaze.

"That is the posthumous novel of Adrian Boldero, which I, as his literary executor, have revised for the press. Hilary saw the rough manuscript, but he had no time to read it."

They looked at one another for quite a long time.

"Is that all you're going to tell me?"

"That's all."

"And all you're going to tell Hilary?"

"Telling Hilary is the same as telling you."

"Naturally."

"And telling you is the same as telling Hilary."

"By no manner of means," said Barbara tartly. She took him by the sleeve. "Come and explain."

"I've explained already," said Jaffery.

Barbara eyed him like a syren of the cornfields. "I'm going to dress a crab for lunch. A very big crab."

Jaffery's face was transfigured into a vast, hairy smile. Barbara could dress crab like no one else in the world. She herself disliked the taste of crab. I,

a carefully trained gastronomist, adored it, but a Puckish digestion forbade my consuming one single shred of the ambrosial preparation. Doria would pass it by through sheer unhappiness. And it was not fit food for Susan's tender years. Old Jaff knew this. One gigantic crab-shell filled with Barbara's juicy witchery and flanked by cool pink, meaty claws would be there for his own individual delectation. Several times before had he taken the dish, with a "One man, one crab. Ho! ho! ho!" and had left nothing but clean shells.

"I'm going to dress this crab," said Barbara, "for the sake of the servants. But if you find I've put poison in it, don't blame me."

She left us, her little head indignantly in the air. Jaffery laughed, sank into a chair and tugged at his pipe.

"I wish Doria could be persuaded to read the thing," said he.

"Why?" I asked looking up from the proofs.

"It's not quite up to the standard of 'The Diamond Gate.'"

"I shouldn't suppose it was," said I drily.

"Wittekind's delighted anyhow. It's a different genre; but he says that's all the better."

Susan emerged from my study door on to the terrace.

"My good fellow," said I, "yonder is the daughter of the house, evidently at a loose end. Go and entertain her. I'm going to read this wonderful novel and don't want to be disturbed till lunch."

The good-humoured giant lumbered away, and Susan finding herself in undisputed possession took him off to remote recesses of the kitchen garden, far from casual intruders. Meanwhile I went on reading, very much puzzled. Naturally the style was not that of "The Diamond Gate," which was the style of Tom Castleton and not of Adrian Boldero. But was what I read the style of Adrian Boldero? This vivid, virile opening? This scene of the two derelicts who hated one another, fortuitously meeting on the old tramp steamer? This cunning, evocation of smells, jute, bilge water, the warm oils of the engine room? This expert knowledge so carelessly displayed of the various parts of a ship? How had Adrian, man of luxury, who had never been on a tramp steamer in his life, gained the knowledge? The people too were lustily drawn. They had a flavour of the sea and the breeziness of wide spaces; a deep-lunged folk. So that I should not be interrupted I wandered off to a secluded nook of the garden down the drive away from the house and gave myself up to the story. From the first it went with a rare swing, incident following incident, every trait of character presented objectively in fine scorn of analysis. There were little pen pictures of grim scenes faultless in their definition and restraint. There was a girl in it, a wild, clean-limbed, woodland thing who especially moved my admiration. The more I read the more fascinated did I become, and the more did I doubt whether a single line in it had been written by Adrian Boldero.

After a long spell, I took out my watch. It was twenty past one. We lunched at half-past. I rose, went towards the house and came upon Jaffery and Susan. The latter I despatched peremptorily to her ablutions. Alone with Jaffery, I challenged him.

"You hulking baby," said I, "what's the good of pretending with me? Why didn't you tell me at once that you had written it yourself?"

He looked at me anxiously. "What makes you think so?"

"The simple intelligence possessed by the average adult. First," I continued, as he made no reply but stood staring at me in ingenuous discomfort, "you couldn't have got this out of poor Adrian's mush; secondly, Adrian hadn't the experience of life to have written it; thirdly, I have read many brilliant descriptive articles in The Daily Gazette and have little difficulty in recognising the hand of Jaffery Chayne."

"Good Lord!" said he. "It isn't as obvious as all that?"

I laughed. "Then you did write it?"

"Of course," he growled. "But I didn't want you to know. I tried to get as near Tom Castleton as I could. Look here"-he gripped my shoulder-"if it's such a transparent fraud, what the blazes is going to happen?"

To some extent I reassured him. I was in a peculiar position, having peculiar knowledge. Save Barbara, no other soul in the world had the faintest suspicion of Adrian's tragedy. The forthcoming book would be received without shadow of question as the work of the author of "The Diamond Gate." The difference of style and treatment would be attributed to the marvellous versatility of the dead genius. . . . Jaffery's brow began to clear.

"What do you think of it-as far as you've gone?"

My enthusiastic answer expressed the sincerity of my appreciation. He positively blushed and looked at me rather guiltily, like a schoolboy detected in the act of helping an old woman across the road.

"It's awful cheek," said he, "but I was up against it. The only alternative was to say the damn thing had been lost or burnt and take the consequences. Somehow I thought of this. I had written about half of it all in bits and pieces about three or four years ago and put it aside. It wasn't my job. Then I pulled it out one day and read it and it seemed rather good, so, having the story in my head, I set to work."

"And that's why you didn't go to Persia?"

"How the devil could I go to Persia? I couldn't write a novel on the back of a beastly camel!"

He walked a few steps in silence. Then he said with a rumble of a laugh.

"I had an awful fright about that time. I suddenly dried up; couldn't get along. I must have spent a week, night after night, staring at a blank sheet of paper. I thought I had bitten off more than I could chew and was going the way of Adrian. By George, it taught me something of the Hades the poor fellow must have passed through. I've been in pretty tight corners in my day and I know what it is to have the cold fear creeping down my spine; but that week gave me the fright of my life."

"I wish you had told me," said I, "I might have helped. Why didn't you?"

"I didn't like to. You see, if this idea hadn't come off, I should have looked such a stupendous ass."

"That's a reason," I admitted.

"And I didn't tell you at first because you would have thought I was going off my chump. I don't look the sort of chap that could write a novel, do I? You would have said I was attempting the impossible, like Adrian. You and Barbara would have been scared to death and you would have put me off."

Franklin came from the house. Luncheon was on the table. We hurried to the dining-room. Jaffery sat down before a gigantic crab.

"Is it all right?" he asked.

"Doria has interceded for you," said Barbara. "You owe her your life."

Doria smiled. "It's the least I could do for you."

Jaffery grinned by way of delicate rejoinder and immersed himself in crab. From its depths, as it seemed, he said:

"Hilary has read half the book."

"What do you think of it?" Barbara asked.

I repeated my dithyrambic eulogy. Doria's eyes shone.

"I do wish you could see your way to read it," said Jaffery.

"I would give my heart to," said Doria. "But I've told you why I can't."

"Circumstances alter cases," said I, platitudinously. "In happier circumstances you would have been presented with the novelist's fine, finished product. As it happens, Jaffery has had to fill up little gaps, make bridges here and there. I'm sure if you had been well enough," I added, with a touch of malice, for I had not quite forgiven his leaving me in the dark, "Jaffery would have consulted you on many points."

I was very anxious to see what impression the book would make upon her. Although I had reassured Jaffery, I could, scarcely conceive the possibility of the book being taken as the work of Adrian.

"Of course I would," said Jaffery eagerly. "But that's just it. You weren't equal to the worry. Now you're all right and I agree with Hilary. You ought to read it. You see, some of the bridges are so jolly clumsy."

Doria turned to my wife. "Do you think I would be justified?"

"Decidedly," said Barbara. "You ought to read it at once."

So it came to pass that, after lunch, Doria came into my study and demanded the set of proofs. She took them up to her bedroom, where she remained all the afternoon. I was greatly relieved. It was right that she should know what was going to be published under Adrian's name.

In Jaffery's presence, I disclosed to Barbara the identity of the author. He said to her much the same as he had said to me before lunch, with, perhaps, a little more shamefacedness. Were it not for reiteration upon reiteration of the same things in talk, life would be a stark silence broken only by staccato announcement of facts. At last Barbara's eyes grew uncomfortably moist. Impulsively she flew to Jaffery and put her arms round his vast shoulders-he was sitting, otherwise she could not have done it-and hugged him.

"You're a blessed, blessed dear," she said; and ashamed of this exhibition of sentiment she bolted from the room.

Jaffery, looking very shy and uncomfortable, suggested a game of billiards.

To Barbara and myself awaiting our guests in the drawing-room before dinner, the first to come was Doria, whom we hadn't seen since lunch; an arresting figure in her low evening dress; you can imagine a Tanagra figure in black and white ivory. Her face, however, was a passion of excitement.

"It's wonderful," she cried. "More than wonderful. Even I didn't know till to-day what a great genius Adrian was. All these things he describes-he never saw them. He imagined, created. Oh, my God! If only he had lived to finish it." She put her two hands before her eyes and dashed them swiftly away-"Jaffery has done his best, poor fellow. But oh! the bridges he speaks of-they're so crude, so crude! I can see every one. The murder-you remember?"

It occurred in the first part of the novel. I had read it. Three or four splashes of blood on the page instead of ink and the thing was done. Admirable. The instinctive high light of the artist.

"I thought it one of the best things in the book," said I.

"Oh!" she waved a gesture of disgust. "How can you say so? It's horrible. It isn't Adrian. I can see the point where he left it to the imagination. Jaffery, with no imagination, has come in and spoiled it. And then the scene on the Barbary Coast of San Francisco, where Fenton finds Ellina Ray, the broken-down star of London musical comedy. Adrian never wrote it. It's the sort of claptrap he hated. He has often told me so. Jaffery thought it was necessary to explain Ellina in the next chapter, and so in his dull way, he stuck it in."

That scene also had I read. It was a little flaming cameo of a low dive on the Barbary Coast, and a presentation of the thing seen, somewhat journalistic, I admit-but such as very few journalists could give.

"That's pure Adrian," said I brazenly.

"It isn't. There are disgusting little details that only a man that had been there could have mentioned. Oh! do you suppose I don't know the difference between Adrian's work and that of a penny-a-liner like Jaffery?"

The door opened and Jaffery appeared. Doria went up to him and took him by the lapels of his dress coat.

"I've read it. It's a work of genius. But, oh! Jaffery, I do want it to be without a flaw. Don't hate me, dear-I know you've done all that mortal man could do for Adrian and for me. But it isn't your fault if you're not a professional novelist or an imaginative writer. And you, yourself, said the bridges were clumsy. Couldn't you-oh!-I loathe hurting you, dear Jaffery-but it's all the world, all eternity to me-couldn't you get one of Adrian's colleagues-one of the famous people"-she rattled off a few names-"to look through the proofs and revise them-just in honour of Adrian's memory? Couldn't you, dear Jaffery?" She tugged convulsively at the poor old giant's coat. "You're one of the best and noblest men who ever lived or I couldn't say this to you. But you understand, don't you?"

Jaffery's ruddy face turned as white as chalk. She might have slapped it physically and it would have worn the same dazed, paralysed lack of expression.

"My life," said he, in a queer toned voice, that wasn't Jaffery's at all, "my life is only an expression of your wishes. I'll do as you say."

"It's for Adrian's sake, dear Jaffery," said Doria.

Jaffery passed his great glazed hand over his stricken face, from the roots of his hair to the point of his beard, and seemed to wipe therefrom all traces of day-infesting cares, revealing the sunny Reubens-like features that we all loved.

"But apart from my amateur joining of the flats, you think the book's worthy of Adrian?"

"Oh, I do," she cried passionately. "I do. It's a work of genius. It's Adrian in all his maturity, in all his greatness!"

The door opened.

"Dinner is served, madam," said Franklin.

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