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   Chapter 16 No.16

Jaffery By William John Locke Characters: 17703

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


"The Greater Glory" came out in due season, puzzled the reviewers and made a sensation; a greater sensation even than a legitimate successor to "The Diamond Gate" dictated by the spirit of Tom Castleton. The contrast was so extraordinary, so inexplicable. It was generally concluded that no writer but Adrian Boldero, in the world's history, had ever revealed two such distinct literary personalities as those that informed the two novels. The protean nature of his genius aroused universal wonder. His death was deplored as the greatest loss sustained by English letters since Keats. The press could do nothing but hail the new book as a masterpiece. Barbara and myself, who, alone of mortals, knew the strange history of the two books, did not agree with the press. In sober truth "The Greater Glory" was not a work of genius; for, after all, the only hallmark of a work of genius that you can put your finger on is its haunting quality. That quality Tom Castleton's work possessed; Jaffery Chayne's did not. "The Greater Glory" vibrated with life, it was wide and generous, it was a capital story; but, unlike "The Diamond Gate," it could not rank with "The Vicar of Wakefield" and "David Copperfield." I say this in no way to disparage my dear old friend, but merely to present his work in true proportion. Published under his own name it would doubtless have received recognition; probably it would have made money; but it could not have met with the enthusiastic reception it enjoyed when published under the tragic and romantic name of Adrian Boldero.

Of course Jaffery beamed with delight. His forlorn hope had succeeded beyond his dreams. He had fulfilled the immediate needs of the woman he loved. He had also astonished himself enormously.

"It's darned good to let you and Barbara know," said he, "that I'm not a mere six foot of beef and thirst, but that I'm a chap with brains, and"-he turned over a bundle of press-cuttings-"and 'poetic fancy' and 'master of the human heart' and 'penetrating insight into the soul of things' and 'uncanny knowledge of the complexities of woman's nature.' Ho! ho! ho! That's me, Jaff Chayne, whom you've disregarded all these years. Look at it in black and white: 'uncanny knowledge of the complexities of a woman's nature'! Ho! ho! ho! And it's selling like blazes."

It did not enter his honest head to envy the dead man his fresh ill-gotten fame. He accepted the success in the large simplicity of spirit that had enabled him to conceive and write the book. His poorer human thoughts and emotions centred in the hope that now Adrian's restless ghost would be laid forever and that for Doria there would open a new life in which, with the past behind her, she could find a glory in the sun and an influence in the stars, and a spark in her own bosom responsive to his devotion. For the tumultuous moment, however, when Adrian's name was on all men's tongues, and before all men's eyes, the ghost walked in triumphant verisimilitude of life. At all the meetings of Jaffery and Doria, he was there smiling beneath his laurels, whenever he was evoked; and he was evoked continuously. Either by law of irony or perhaps for intrinsic merit, the bridges to whose clumsy construction Jaffery, like an idiot, had confessed, had been picked out by many reviewers as typical instances of Adrian Boldero's new style. Such blunders were flies in Doria's healing ointment. She alluded to the reviewers in disdainful terms. How dared editors employ men to write on Adrian's work who were unable to distinguish between it and that of Jaffery Chayne?

One day, when she talked like this, Barbara lost her temper.

"I think you're an ungrateful little wretch. Here has Jaffery sacrificed his work for three months and devoted himself to pulling together Adrian's unfinished manuscript and making a great success of it, and you treat him as if he were a dog."

Doria protested. "I don't. I am grateful. I don't know what I should do without Jaffery. But all my gratitude and fondness for Jaffery can't alter the fact that he has spoiled Adrian's work; and when I hear those very faults in the book praised, I am fit to be tied."

"Well, go crazy and bite the furniture when you're all by yourself," said Barbara; "but when you're with Jaffery try to be sane and civil."

"I think you're horrid!" Doria exclaimed, "and if you weren't the wife of Adrian's trusted friend, I would never speak to you again."

"Rubbish!" said Barbara. "I'm talking to you for your good, and you know it."

Meanwhile Jaffery lingered on in London, in the cheerless little eyrie in Victoria Street, with no apparent intention of ever leaving it. Arbuthnot of The Daily Gazette satirically enquiring whether he wanted a job or still yearned for a season in Mayfair he consigned, in his grinning way, to perdition. Change was the essence of holiday-making, and this was his holiday. It was many years since he had one. When he wanted a job he would go round to the office.

"All right," said Arbuthnot, "and, in the meantime, if you want to keep your hand in by doing a fire or a fashionable wedding, ring us up."

Whereat Jaffery roared, this being the sort of joke he liked.

The need of a holiday amid the bricks and mortar of Victoria Street may have impressed Arbuthnot, but it did not impress me. I dismissed the excuse as fantastic. I tackled him one day, at lunch, at the club, assuming my most sceptical manner.

"Well," said he, "there's Doria. Somebody must look after her."

"Doria," said I, "is a young woman, now that she is in sound health, perfectly capable of looking after herself. And if she does want a man's advice, she can always turn to me."

"And there's Liosha."

"Liosha," I remarked judiciously, "is also a young woman capable of looking after herself. If she isn't, she has given you very definitely to understand that she's going to try. Have you had any more interesting evenings out lately?"

"No," he growled. "She's offended with me because I warned her off that low-down bounder."

"I think you did your best," said I, "to make her take up with him."

He protested. We argued the point, and I think I got the best of the argument.

"Well, anyhow," he said with an air of infantile satisfaction, "she can't marry him."

"Who's going to prevent her, if she wants to?"

"The law of England." He laughed, mightily pleased. "The beggar is married already. I've found that out. He's got three or four wives in fact-oh, a dreadful hound-but only one real one with a wedding ring, and she lives up in the north with a pack of children."

"All the more dangerous for Liosha to associate with such a villain."

He waved the suggestion aside. No fear of that, said he. It was not Liosha's game. Hers was an Amazonian kind of chastity. Here I agreed with him.

"All the less reason," said I, "for you to stay in London, so as to look after her."

"But I don't like her to be seen about in the fellow's company. She'll get a bad name."

"Look here," said I, "the idea of a vast, hairy chap like you devoting his life to keeping a couple of young widows out of mischief is too preposterous. Try me with something else."

Then, being in good humour, he told me the real reason. He was writing another book.

He was writing another novel and he did not want any one to know. He was getting along famously. He had had the story in his head for a long time. Glad to talk about it; sketched the outline very picturesquely. Perhaps I was more vitally interested in the development of the man Jaffery than in the story. A queer thing had happened. The born novelist had just discovered himself and clamoured for artistic self-expression. He was writing this book just because he could not help it, finding gladness in the mere work, delighting in the mechanics of the thing, and letting himself go in the joy of the narrative. What was going to become of it when written, I did not enquire. It was rather too delicate a matter. Jaffery Chayne could be nothing else than Jaffery Chayne. A new novel published by him would resemble "The Greater Glory" as closely as "Pendennis" resembles "Philip." And then there would be the deuce to pay. If he published it under his own name, he would render himself liable to the charge of having stolen a novel from the dead author of "The Greater Glory," and so complicate this already complicated web of literary theft; and if he threw sufficient dust into the eyes of Doria to enable him to publish under Adrian's name, he would be performing the task of the altruistic bees immortalised by Virgil.

Anyhow, there he was, perfectly happy, pegging away at his novel, looking after Doria, pretending to look after Liosha, and enjoying the society of the few cronies, chiefly adventurous birds of passage like himself, who happened t

o be passing through London. Being a man of modest needs, save need of mere bulk of simple food, he found his small patrimony and the savings from his professional earnings quite adequate for amenable existence. When he wanted healthy, fresh air he came down to us to see Susan; when he wanted anything else he went to see Doria, which was almost daily.

Doria was living now in the flat surrounded by the Lares and Penates consecrated by Adrian. Now and then for purposes of airing and dusting, she entered the awful room-neither servants nor friends were allowed to cross the threshold; but otherwise it was always locked and the key lay in her jewel case. Adrian was the focus of her being. She put heavy tasks on Jaffery. There was to be a fitting monument on Adrian's grave, over which she kept him busy. In her blind perversity she counted on his co?peration. It was he who carried through negotiations with an eminent sculptor for a bust of Adrian, which in her will, made about that time, she bequeathed to the nation. She ordered him to see to the inclusion of Adrian in the supplement to the Dictionary of National Biography. . . . And all the time Jaffery obeyed her sovereign behests without a murmur and without a hint that he desired reward for his servitude. But, to those gifted with normal vision, signs were not wanting that he chafed, to put it mildly, under this forced worship of Adrian; and to those who knew Jaffery it was obvious that his one-sided arrangement could not last forever. Doria remained blind, taking it for granted that every one should kiss the feet of her idol and in that act of adoration find august recompense. That the man loved her she was fully aware; she was not devoid of elementary sense; but she accepted it, as she accepted everything else, as her due, and perhaps rather despised Jaffery for his meekness. Why, again, she disregarded what her instinct must have revealed to her of the primitive passions lurking beneath the exterior of her kind and tender ogre, I cannot understand. For one thing, she considered herself his intellectual superior; vanity perhaps blinded her judgment. At all events she did not realise that a change was bound to come in their relations. It came, inevitably.

One day in June they sat together on the balcony of the St. John's Wood flat, in the soft afternoon shadow, both conscious of queer isolation from the world below, and from the strange world masked behind the vast superficies of brick against which they were perched. Jaffery said something about a nest midway on a cliff side overlooking the sea. He also, in bass incoherence, formulated the opinion that in such a nest might he found true happiness. The pretty languor of early summer laughed in the air. Their situation, 'twixt earth and heaven, had a little sensuous charm. Doria replied sentimentally:

"Yes, a little house, covered with clematis, on a ledge of cliff, with the sea-gulls wheeling about it-bringing messages from the sunset lands across the blue, blue sea-" Poor dear! She forgot that sea lit by a westering sun is of no colour at all and that the blue water lies to the east; but no matter; Jaffery, drinking in her words, forgot it likewise. "Away from everything," she continued, "and two people who loved-with a great, great love-"

Her eyes were fixed on the motor omnibuses passing up and down Maida Vale at the end of her road. Her lips were parted-the ripeness of youth and health rendered her adorable. A flush stained her ivory cheek-you will find the exact simile in Virgil. She was too desirable for Jaffery's self-control. He bent forward in his chair-they were sitting face to face, so that he had his back to the motor omnibuses-and put his great hand on her knee.

"Why not we two?"

It was silly, sentimental, schoolboyish-what you please; but every man's first declaration of love is bathos-the zenith of his passion connoting perhaps the nadir of his intelligence. Anyhow the declaration was made, without shadow of mistake.

Doria switched her knee away sharply, as her vision of sunset and gulls and blue sea and a clematis-covered house vanished from before her eyes, and she found herself on her balcony with Jaff Chayne.

"What do you mean?" she asked.

"You know very well what I mean."

He rose like a leviathan and made a step towards her. The three-foot balustrade of the balcony seemed to come to his ankles. She put out a hand.

"Oh, don't do that, Jaff. You might fall over. It makes me so nervous."

He checked himself and stood up quite straight. Again he felt as if she had dealt him a slap in the face.

"You know very well what I mean," he repeated. "I love you and I want you and I'll never be happy till I get you."

She looked away from him and lifted her slender shoulders.

"Why spoil things by talking of the impossible?"

"The word has no meaning. Doesn't exist," said Jaffery.

"It exists very much indeed," she returned, with a quick upward glance.

"Not with an obstinate devil like me."

He leaned against the low balustrade. She rose.

"You'll drive me into hysterics," she cried and fled to the drawing-room.

He followed, impatiently. "I'm not such an ass as to fall off a footling balcony. What do you take me for?"

"I take you for Adrian's friend," she said, very erect, brave elf facing horrible ogre-and, either by chance or design, her hand touched and held the tip of a great silver-framed photograph of her late husband.

"I think I've proved it," said Jaffery.

"Are you proving it now? What value can you attach to Adrian's memory when you say such things to me?"

"I'm saying to you what every honest man has the right to say to the free woman he loves."

"But I'm not a free woman. I'm bound to Adrian."

"You can't be bound to him forever and ever."

"I am. That's why it's shameful and dishonourable of you,"-his blue eyes flashed dangerously and he clenched his hands, but heedless she went on-"yes, mean and base and despicable of you to wish to betray him. Adrian-"

"Oh, don't talk drivel. It makes me sick. Leave Adrian alone and listen to a living man," he shouted, all the pent-up intellectual disgusts and sex-jealousies bursting out in a mad gush. "A real live man who would walk through Hell for you!" He caught her frail body in his great grasp, and she vibrated like a bit of wire caught up by a dynamo. "My love for you has nothing whatever to do with Adrian. I've been as loyal to him as one man can be to another, living and dead. By God, I have! Ask Hilary and Barbara. But I want you. I've wanted you since the first moment I set eyes on you. You've got into my blood. You're going to love me. You're going to marry me, Adrian or no Adrian."

He bent over her and she met the passion in his eyes bravely. She did not lack courage. And her eyes were hard and her lips were white and her face was pinched into a marble statuette of hate. And unconscious that his grip was giving her physical pain he continued:

"I've waited for you. I've waited for you from the moment I heard you were engaged to the other man. And I'll go on waiting. But, by God!"-and, not knowing what he did, he shook her backwards and forwards-"I'll not go on waiting for ever. You-you little bit of mystery-you little bit of eternity-you-you-ah!"

With a great gesture he released her. But the poor ogre had not counted on his strength. His unwitting violence sent her spinning, and she fell, knocking her head against a sofa. He uttered a gasp of horror and in an instant lifted her and laid her on the sofa, and on his knees beside her, with remorse oversurging his passion, behaved like a penitent fool, accusing himself of all the unforgivable savageries ever practised by barbaric male. Doria, who was not hurt in the least, sat up and pointed to the door.

"Go!" she said. "Go. You're nothing but a brute."

Jaffery rose from his knees and regarded her in the hebetude of reaction.

"I suppose I am, Doria, but it's my way of loving you."

She still pointed. "Go," she said tonelessly. "I can't turn you out, but if Adrian was alive-Ha! ha! ha!-" she laughed with a touch of hysteria. "How do you dare, you barren rascal-how do you dare to think you can take the place of a man like Adrian?"

"Go! You are nothing but a brute."

The whip of her tongue lashed him to sudden fury. He picked her up bodily and held her in spite of struggles, just as you or I would hold a cat or a rabbit.

"You little fool," said he, "don't you know the difference between a man and a-"

Realisation of the tragedy struck him as a spent bullet might have struck him on the side of the head. He turned white.

"All right," said he in a changed voice. "Easy on. I'm not going to hurt you."

He deposited her gently on the sofa and strode out of the room.

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