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   Chapter 17 No.17

Jaffery By William John Locke Characters: 26131

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


If the old song be true which says that it is not so much the lover who woos as the lover's way of wooing, Jaffery seemed to have thrown away his chances by adopting a very unfortunate way indeed. Doria proved to Barbara, urgently summoned to a bed of prostration and nervous collapse, that she would never set eyes again upon the unqualifiable savage by whom her holiest sentiments had been outraged and her person disgracefully mishandled. She poured out a blood-curdling story into semi-sympathetic ears. Barbara made short work of her contention that Jaffery ought to have respected her as he would have respected the wife of a living friend, characterising it as morbid and indecent nonsense; and with regard to the physical violence she declared that it would have served her right had he smacked her.

"If you want to be faithful to the memory of your first husband, be faithful," she said. "No one can prevent you. And if a good man comes along with an honourable proposal of marriage, tell him in an honourable way why you can't marry him. But don't accept for months all a man has to give, and then, when he tells you what you've known perfectly well all along, treat him as if he were making shameful proposals to you-especially a man like Jaffery; I have no patience with you."

Doria wept. No one understood her. No one understood Adrian. No one understood the bond there was between them. Of that she was aware. But when it came to being brutally assaulted by Jaffery Chayne, she really thought Barbara would sympathise. Wherefore Barbara, rather angry at being brought up to London on a needless errand, involving loss of dinner and upset of household arrangements, administered a sleeping-draught and bade her wake in the morning in a less idiotic frame of mind.

"Perhaps I behaved like a cat," Barbara said to me later-to "behave like a cat" is her way of signifying a display of the vilest phases of feminine nature-"but I couldn't help it. She didn't talk a great deal of sense. It isn't as if I had never warned her about the way she has been treating Jaffery. I have, heaps of times. And as for Adrian-I'm sick of his name-and if I am, what must poor old Jaff be?"

This she said during a private discussion that night on the whole situation. I say the whole situation, because, when she returned to Northlands, she found there a haggard ogre who for the first time in his life had eaten a canary's share of an excellent dinner, imploring me to tell him whether he should enlist for a soldier, or commit suicide, or lie prone on Doria's doormat until it should please her to come out and trample on him. He seemed rather surprised-indeed a trifle hurt-that neither of us called him a Satyr. How could we take his part and not Doria's-especially now that Barbara had come from the bedside of the scandalously entreated lady? He boomed and bellowed about the drawing-room, recapitulating the whole story.

"But, my good friend," I remonstrated, "by the showing of both of you, she taunted you and insulted you all ends up. You-'a barren rascal'-you? Good God!"

He flung out a deprecatory hand. What did it matter? We must take this from her point of view. He oughtn't to have laid hands on her. He oughtn't to have spoken to her at all. She was right. He was a savage unfit for the society of any woman outside a wigwam.

"Oh, you make me tired," cried Barbara, at last. "I'm going to bed. Hilary, give him a strait-waistcoat. He's a lunatic."

The household resources not including a strait-waistcoat, I could not exactly obey her, but as he had come down luggageless, and with a large disregard of the hours of homeward trains, I lent him a suit of my meagre pyjamas, which must have served the same purpose.

He left the next morning. Heedless of advice he called on Doria and was denied admittance. He wrote. His letter was returned unopened. He passed a miserable week, unable to work, at a loose end in London during the height of the season. In despair he went to The Daily Gazette office and proclaimed himself ready for a job. But for the moment the earth was fairly calm and the management could find no field for Jaffery's special activities. Arbuthnot again offered him reports of fires and fashionable weddings, but this time Jaffery did not enjoy the fine humour of the proposal. He blistered Arbuthnot with abuse, swung from the newspaper office, and barged mightily down Fleet Street, a disturber of traffic. Then he came down to Northlands for a while, where, for want of something to do, he hired himself out to my gardener and dug up most of the kitchen garden. His usual occupation of romping with Susan was gone, for she lay abed with some childish ailment which Barbara feared might turn into German measles. So when he was not perspiring over a spade or eating or sleeping he wandered about the place in his most restless mood. At nights he ransacked my library for gazetteers and atlases wherein he searched for abominable places likely to afford the explorer the most horrible life and the bleakest possible death. He was toying with the idea of making a jaunt on his own account to Thibet, when a merciful Providence gave him something definite to think about.

It was Saturday morning. I was shaving peacefully in my dressing-room when Jaffery, after thunderously demanding admittance, rushed in, clad in bath gown and slippers, flourishing a letter.

"Read that."

I recognised Liosha's handwriting. I read:

"Dear Jaff Chayne,

"As you are my Trustee, I guess I ought to tell you what I'm going to do. I'm going to marry Ras Fendihook-"

I looked up. "But you told me the man was married already."

"He is. Read on."

"We are going to be married at once. We are going to be married at Havre in France. Ras says that because I am a widow and an Albanian it would be an awful trouble for me to get married in England, and I would have to give up half my money to Government. But in France, owing to different laws, I can get married without any fuss at all. I don't understand it, but Ras has consulted a lawyer, so it's all right. I suppose when I am married you won't be my trustee any more. So, dear Jaff Chayne, I must say good-bye and thank you for all your great kindness to me. I am sorry you and Barbara and Hilary don't like Ras, which his real name really is Erasmus, but you will when you know him better.

"Yours affectionately,

"LIOSHA PRESCOTT."

The amazing epistle took my breath away.

"Of all the infernal scoundrels!" I cried.

"There's going to be trouble," said Jaffery, and his look signified that it was he who intended to cause it.

"But why Havre of all places in the world?" said I.

"I suppose it's the only one he knows," replied Jaffery. "He must have once gone to Paris by that route. It's the cheapest."

I glanced through the letter again, and I felt a warm gush of pity for our poor deluded Liosha.

"We must get her out of this."

"Going to," said Jaffery. "Let us have in Barbara at once."

I opened the communicating door and threw the letter into the room where she was dressing. After a moment or two she appeared in cap and peignoir, and the three of us in dressing-gowns, I with lather crinkling over one-half of my face, held first an indignation meeting, and then a council of war.

"I never dreamed the brute would do this," said Jaffery. "He couldn't offer her marriage in the ordinary way without committing bigamy, and I know she wouldn't consent to any other arrangement; so he has invented this poisonous plot to get her out of England."

"And probably go through some fool form of ceremony," said Barbara.

"But how can she be such a thundering idiot as to swallow it?" asked Jaffery.

I was going to remark that women would believe anything, but Barbara's eye was upon me. Yet Liosha's unfamiliarity with the laws and formalities of English marriage was natural, considering the fact that, not so very long before, she was placidly prepared to be sold to a young Albanian cutthroat who met his death through coming to haggle over her price. I myself had found unworthy amusement in telling her wild fables of English life. Her ignorance in many ways was abysmal. Once having seen a photograph in the papers of the King in a bowler-hat she expressed her disappointment that he wore no insignia of royalty; and when I consoled her by saying that, by Act of Parliament, the King was obliged to wear his crown so many hours a day and therefore wore it always at breakfast, lunch and dinner in Buckingham Palace, she accepted my assurance with the credulity of a child of four. And when Barbara rebuked me for taking advantage of her innocence, she was very angry indeed. How was she to know when and where not to believe me?

"She is fresh and ingenuous enough," said I, "to swallow any kind of plausible story. And her ingenuousness in writing you a full account of it is a proof."

"She has given the whole show away," said Jaffery. He smiled. "If Fendihook knew, he would be as sick as a dog."

"And the poor dear is so honest and truthful," said Barbara. "She thought she was doing the honourable thing in letting you know."

"No doubt modelling herself on Mrs. Jupp, late Considine," said I.

"Who let us know at the last minute," said Barbara with a quick knitting of the brow.

"Precisely," said I.

"Good Lord!" cried Jaffery. "Do you think she's gone off with the fellow already?"

"You had better ring up Queen's Gate and find out."

He rushed from the room. I hastily finished shaving, while Barbara discoursed to me on the neglect of our duties with regard to Liosha.

Presently Jaffery burst in like a rhinoceros.

"She's gone! She went on Thursday. And this is Saturday. Fendihook left last Sunday. Evidently she has joined him."

We regarded each other in dismay.

"They're in Havre by now," said Barbara.

"I'm not so sure," said Jaffery, sweeping his beard from moustache downward. This I knew to be a sign of satisfaction. When he was puzzled he scrabbled at the whisker. "I'm not so sure. Why should he leave the boarding-house on Sunday? I'll tell you. Because his London engagement was over and he had to put in a week's engagement at some provincial music-hall. Theatrical folks always travel on Sunday. If he was still working in London and wanted to shift his lodgings he wouldn't have chosen Sunday. We can easily see by the advertisements in the morning paper. His London engagement was at the Atrium."

"I've got the Daily Telegraph here," said Barbara.

She fetched it from her room, in the earthquake-stricken condition to which she, as usual, had reduced it, and after earnest search among the ruins disinterred the theatrical advertisement page. The attractions at the Atrium were set out fully; but the name of Ras Fendihook did not appear.

"I'm right," said Jaffery. "The brute's not in town. Now where did she write from?" He fished the envelope from his bath-gown pocket. "Postmark, 'London, S.W., 5.45 p.m.' Posted yesterday afternoon. So she's in London." He glanced at the letter, which was written on her own note-paper headed with the Queen's Gate address, and then held it up before us. "See anything queer about this?"

We looked and saw that it was dated "Thursday."

"There's something fishy," said he. "Can I have the car?"

"Of course."

"I'm going to run 'em both to earth. I want Barbara to come along. I can tackle men right enough, but when it comes to women, I seem to be a bit of an ass. Besides-you'll come, won't you?"

"With pleasure, if I can get back early this afternoon."

"Early this afternoon? Why, my dear child, I want you to be prepared to come to Havre-all over France, if necessary."

"You've got rather a nerve," said I, taken aback by the vast coolness of the proposal.

"I have," said he curtly. "I make my living by it."

"I'd come like a shot," said Barbara, "but I can't leave Susan."

"Oh, blazes!" said Jaffery. "I forgot about that. Of course you can't." He turned to me. "Then Hilary'll come."

"Where?" I asked, stupidly.

"Wherever I take you."

"But, my dear fellow-" I remonstrated.

He cut me short. "Send him to his bath, Barbara dear, and pack his bag, and see that he's ready to start at ten sharp."

He strode out of the door. I caught him up in the corridor.

"Why the deuce," I cried, "can't you do your manhunting by yourself?"

"There are two of 'em and you may come in useful." He faced me and I met the cold steel in his eyes. "If you would rather not help me to save a woman we're both fond of from destruction, I can find somebody else."

"Of course I'll come," said I.

"Good," said he. "Ask Barbara to order a devil of a breakfast."

He marched away, looking in his bath-gown like twenty Roman heroes rolled into one, quite a different Jaffery from the noisy, bellowing fellow to whom I had been accustomed. He spoke in the normal tones of the ordinary human, very coldly and incisively.

I rejoined Barbara. "My dear," said I, "what h

ave we done that we should be dragged into all these acute discomforts of other people's lives?"

She put her hand on my shoulder. "Perhaps, my dear boy, it's just because we've done nothing-nothing otherwise to justify our existence. We're too selfishly, sluggishly happy, you and I and Susan. If we didn't take a share of other people's troubles we should die of congestion of the soul."

I kissed her to show that I understood my rare Barbara of the steady vision. But all the same I fretted at having to start off at a moment's notice for anywhere-perhaps Havre, perhaps Marseilles, perhaps Singapore with its horrible damp climate, which wouldn't suit me-anywhere that tough and discomfort-loving Jaffery might choose to ordain. And I was getting on so nicely with my translation of Firdusi. . . .

"Don't forget," said I, departing bathwards, "to tell Franklin to put in an Arctic sleeping-bag and a solar topee."

* * *

We drove first to the house in Queen's Gate and interviewed Mrs. Jardine, a pretentious woman with gold earrings and elaborately done black hair, who seemed to resent our examination as though we were calling in question the moral character of her establishment. She did not know where Mr. Fendihook and Mrs. Prescott had gone. She was not in the habit of putting such enquiries to her guests.

"But one or other may have mentioned it casually," said I.

"Mr. Fendihook went away on Sunday and Mrs. Prescott on Thursday. It was not my business to associate the two departures in any way."

By pressing the various points we learned that Fendihook was an old client of the house. During Mrs. Considine's residence he had been touring in America. It had been his habit to go and come without much ceremonial. As for Liosha, she had given up her rooms, paid her bill and departed with her trunks.

"When did she give notice to leave you?"

"I knew nothing of her intentions till Thursday morning. Then she came with her hat on and asked for her bill and said her things were packed and ready to be brought downstairs."

"What address did she give to the cabman?"

Mrs. Jardine did not know. She rang for the luggage porter. Jaffery repeated his question.

"Westminster Abbey, sir," answered the man.

I laughed. It seemed rather comic. But every one else regarded it as the most natural thing in the world. Jaffery frowned on me.

"I see nothing to laugh at. She was obeying instructions-covering up her tracks. When she got to Westminster she told the driver to cross the bridge-and what railway station is the other end of the bridge?"

"Waterloo," said I.

"And from Waterloo the train goes to Southampton, and from Southampton the boat leaves for Havre. There's nothing funny, believe me."

I said no more.

The porter was dismissed. Jaffery drew the letter from his pocket.

"On the other hand she was in London yesterday afternoon in this district, for here is the 5:45 postmark."

"Oh, I posted that letter," said Mrs. Jardine.

"You?" cried Jaffery. He slapped his thigh. "I said there was something fishy about it."

"There was nothing fishy, as you call it, at all, Mr. Chayne, and I'm surprised at your casting such an aspersion on my character. I had a short letter from Mrs. Prescott yesterday enclosing four other letters which she asked me to stamp and post, as I owed her fourpence change on her bill."

"Where did she write from?" Jaffery asked eagerly.

"Nowhere in particular," said the provoking lady.

"But the postmark on the envelope."

She had not looked at the postmark and the envelope had been destroyed.

"Then where is she?" I asked.

"At Southampton, you idiot," said Jaffery. "Let us get there at once."

So after a visit to my bankers-for I am not the kind of person to set out for Santa Fé de Bogotà with twopence halfpenny in my pocket-and after a hasty lunch at a restaurant, much to Jaffery's impatient disgust-"Why the dickens," cried he, "did I order a big breakfast if we're to fool about wasting time over lunch?"-but as I explained, if I don't have regular meals, I get a headache-and after having made other sane preparations for a journey, including the purchase of a toothbrush, an indispensable toilet adjunct, which Franklin, admirable fellow that he is, invariably forgets to put into my case, we started for Southampton. And along the jolly Portsmouth Road we went, through Guildford, along the Hog's Back, over the Surrey Downs rolling warm in the sunshine, through Farnham, through grey, dreamy Winchester, past St. Cross, with its old-world almshouse, through Otterbourne and up the hill and down to Southampton, seventy-eight miles, in two hours and a quarter. Jaffery drove.

We began our search. First we examined the playbills at the various places of entertainment. Ras Fendihook was not playing in Southampton. We went round the hotels, the South-Western, the Royal, the Star, the Dolphin, the Polygon-and found no trace of the runaways. Jaffery interviewed officials at the stations and docks, dapper gentlemen with the air of diplomatists, tremendous fellows in uniform, policemen, porters, with all of whom he seemed to be on terms of familiar acquaintance; but none of them could trace or remember such a couple having crossed by the midnight boats of Thursday or Friday. Nor were their names down on the list of those who had secured berths in advance for this Saturday night.

"You're rather at fault," said I, rather maliciously, not displeased at my masterful friend's failure.

"Not a bit," said he. "Fendihook's leaving on Sunday certainly means that he was starting to fulfill a provincial engagement on Monday. If it was a week's engagement, he crosses to-night. We've only to wait and catch them. If it was a three nights' engagement, which is possible, he and Liosha crossed on Thursday night. In that case we'll cross ourselves and track them down."

"Even if we have to go over the Andes and far away," I murmured.

"Even so," said he. "Now listen. If he's had a week's engagement he must be finishing to-night. In order to catch the boat he must be working in the neighbourhood. Savvy? The only possible place besides this is Portsmouth. We'll run over to Portsmouth, only seventeen miles."

"All right," said I, with a wistful look back at my peaceful, comfortable home, "let us go to Portsmouth. I'll resign myself to dine at Portsmouth. But supposing he isn't there?" I asked, as the car drove off.

"Then he went to Havre on Thursday."

"But suppose he's at Birmingham. He would then take to-morrow night's boat."

"There isn't one on Sundays."

"Then Monday night's boat."

"Well, if he does, won't we be there on Tuesday morning to meet him on the quay? Lord!" he laughed, and brought his huge grip down on my leg above the knee, thereby causing me physical agony, "I should like to take you on an expedition. It would do you a thundering lot of good."

We arrived at Portsmouth, where we conducted the same kind of enquiries as at Southampton. Neither there nor at adjoining Southsea could we find a sign of the Variety Star, Ras Fendihook, and still less of the obscure Liosha. We dined at a Southsea hotel. We dined very well. On that I insisted-without much expenditure of nervous force. Jaffery rails at me for a Sybarite and what not, but I have never seen him refuse viands on account of succulency or wine on account of flavour. We had a quart of excellent champagne, a pint of decent port and a good cigar, and we felt that the gods were good. That is how I like to feel. I felt it so gratefully that when Jaffery suggested it was time to start back to Southampton in order to waylay the London train at the docks, on the off-chance of our fugitives having come down by it, and to catch the Havre boat ourselves, I had not a weary word to say. I cheerfully contemplated the prospect of a night's voyage to Havre. And as Jaffery (also humanised by good cheer) had been entertaining me with juicy stories of China and other mythical lands, I felt equal to any dare-devil adventure.

We went back to Southampton and collected our luggage at the South-Western Hotel-the hotel porter in charge thereof. Our uncertainty as to whether we would cross or not horribly disturbed his dull brain. Ten shillings and Jaffery's peremptory order to stick to his side and obey him slavishly took the place of intellectual workings. It was nearly midnight. We walked through the docks, a background of darkness, a foreground of confusing lights amid which shone vivid illuminated placards before the brightly lit steamers-"St. Malo"-"Cherbourg"-"Jersey"-"Havre." At the quiet gangway of the Havre boat we waited. The porter deposited our bags on the quay and stood patiently expectant like a dog who lays a stick at its master's feet.

One London train came in. The carriage doors opened and a myriad ants swarmed to the various boats. At the Havre boat I took the fore, he the aft gangway. Thousands passed over, men and women, vague human forms encumbered with queer projecting excrescences of impedimenta. They all seemed alike-just a herd of Britons, impelled by irrational instinct, like the fate-driven lemmings of Norway, to cross the sea. And all around, weird in the conflicting lights, hurried gnome-like figures mountainously laden, and in the confusion of sounds could be heard the slither and thud of trunks being conveyed to the hold. At last the tail of the packed wedge disappeared on board and the gangway was clear. I went to the aft gangway to Jaffery and the porter. Neither of us had seen Fendihook or Liosha.

A second train produced results equally barren.

There was nothing to do but carry out the prearranged plan. We went aboard followed by the porter with the luggage.

My method of travel has always been to arrange everything beforehand with meticulous foresight. In the most crowded trains and boats I have thus secured luxurious accommodation. To hear therefore that there were no berths free and that we should have to pass the night either on the windy deck or in the red-plush discomfort of the open saloon caused me not unreasonable dismay. I had to choose and I chose the saloon. Jaffery, of course, chose the raw winds of heaven. All night I did not get a wink of sleep. There was a gross fellow in the next section of red-plush whose snoring drowned the throb of the engines. Stewards long after they had cleared away the remains of supper from the long central table chinked money at the desk and discussed the racing stables of the world with a loudly dressed, red-faced man who, judging from the popping of corks, absorbed whiskies and sodas at the rate of three a minute. I understood then how thoughts of murder arose in the human brain. I devised exquisite means of removing him from a nauseated world. Then there was a lamp which swung backwards and forwards and searched my eyeballs relentlessly, no matter how I covered them.

What was I doing in this awful galley? Why had I left my wife and child and tranquil home? The wind freshened as soon as we got out to sea. There were horrible noises and rattling of tins and swift scurrying of stewards. The ship rolled, which I particularly hate a ship to do. And I was fully dressed and it seemed as if all the tender parts of my body were tied up with twine. What was I doing in this galley?

When I awoke it was broad daylight, and Jaffery was grinning over me and all was deathly still.

"Good God!" I cried, sitting up. "Why has the ship stopped? Is there a fog?"

"Fog?" he boomed. "What are you talking of? We're alongside of Havre."

"What time is it?" I asked.

"Half-past six."

"A Christian gentleman's hour of rising is nine o'clock," said I, lying down again.

He shook me rudely. "Get up," said he.

The sleepless, unshaven, unkempt, twine-bound, self-hating wreck of Hilary Freeth rose to his feet with a groan.

"What a ghastly night!"

"Splendid," said Jaffery, ruddy and fresh. "I must have tramped over twenty miles."

There was an onrush of blue-bloused porters, with metal plate numbers on their arms. One took our baggage. We followed him up the companion onto the deck, and joined the crowd that awaited the releasing gangway. I stood resentful in the sardine pack of humans. The sky was overcast. It was very cold. The universe had an uncared-for, unswept appearance, like a house surprised at dawn, before the housemaids are up. The forced appearance of a well-to-do philosopher at such an hour was nothing less than an outrage. I glared at the immature day. The day glared at me, and turned down its temperature about twenty degrees. From fool thoughtlessness I had not put on my overcoat, which was now far away in charge of the blue-bloused porter. I shivered. Jaffery was behind me. I glanced over my shoulder.

"This is our so-called civilisation," I said bitterly.

At the sound of my voice a tall woman in the rank five feet deep from us turned instinctively round, and Liosha and I looked into each other's eyes.

* * *

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