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   Chapter 19 No.19

Jaffery By William John Locke Characters: 20115

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


"Arrêtez! 'Arrêtez!" roared Jaffery all of a sudden.

We had just passed the Havre Casino on our way back from Etretat. The chauffeur pulled up. Jaffery flung open the door, leaped out and disappeared. In a few seconds we heard his voice reverberating from side to side of the Boulevard Maritime.

"Hullo! hullo! hullo!"

I raised myself and, looking over the back of the car, saw Jaffery in characteristic attitude, shaking a strange man by the shoulders and laughing in delighted welcome. He was a squat, broad, powerful-looking fellow, with a heavy black beard trimmed to a point, and wearing a curiously ill-fitting suit of tweeds and a bowler-hat. I noticed that he carried neither stick nor gloves. The ecstasies of encounter having subsided, Jaffery dragged him to the car.

"This is my good old friend, Captain Maturin," he shouted, opening the door. "Mrs. Prescott. Mr. Freeth. Get in. We'll have a drink at Tortoni's."

Captain Maturin, unconfused by Jaffery's unceremonious whirling, took off his hat very politely and entered the car in a grave, self-possessed manner. He had clear, unblinking, grey-green eyes, the colour of a stormy sea before the dawn. I was for surrendering him my seat next Liosha, but with a courteous "Pray don't," he quickly established himself on the small seat facing us, hitherto occupied by Jaffery. Jaffery jumped up in front next the chauffeur and leaned over the partition. The car started.

"Captain and I are old shipmates." All Havre must have heard him. "From Christiania to Odessa, with all the Baltic and Mediterranean ports thrown in. In the depth of winter. Remember?"

"It was five years ago," said Captain Maturin, twisting his head round. "We sailed from the port of Leith on the 27th of December."

"And by gosh! Didn't it blow? Gales the whole time, there and back."

"It was as dirty a voyage as ever I made," said Captain Maturin.

"A ripping time, anyhow," said Jaffery.

"Weren't you very seasick?" I asked.

"Ho! ho! ho!" Jaffery roared derisively.

"Mr. Chayne's pretty tough, sir," said the Captain with a grave smile. "He has missed his vocation. He's a good sailor lost."

"Remember that night off Vigo?"

"I don't ever want to see such another, Mr. Chayne. It was touch and go." Captain Maturin's smile faded. No commander likes to think of the time when a freakish Providence and not his helpless self was responsible for the saving of his ship.

"He was on the bridge sixty hours at a stretch," said Jaffery.

"Sixty hours?" I exclaimed.

"Thousands have done it before and thousands have done it since, myself included. On this occasion Mr. Chayne saw it through with me."

Two days and nights and a day without sleep; standing on a few planks, holding on to a rail, while you are tossed up and down and from side to side and drenched with dashing tons of ice-cold water and fronting a hurricane that blows ice-tipped arrows, and all the time not knowing from one minute to the next whether you are going to Kingdom come-No. It is my idea of duty, but not my idea of fun. And even as duty-I thanked merciful Heaven that never since the age of nine, when I was violently sick crossing to the Isle of Wight, have I had the remotest desire to be a mariner, either professional or amateur. I looked at the two adventurers wonderingly; and so did Liosha.

"I love the sea," she said. "Don't you?"

"I can't say I do, ma'am. I've got a wife and child at Pinner, and I grow sweet peas for exhibition. All of which I can't attend to on board ship."

He said it very seriously. He was not the man to talk flippantly for the entertainment of a pretty woman.

"But if he's a month ashore, he fumes to get back," boomed Jaffery.

"It's the work I was bred to," replied the Captain soberly. "If a man doesn't love his work, he's not worth his salt. But that's not saying that I love the sea."

With such discourse did we beguile the short journey to the Hotel, Restaurant and Café Tortoni in the Place Gambetta. The terrace was thronged with the good Havre folks, husbands and wives and families enjoying the Sunday afternoon apéritif.

"Now let us have a drink," cried Jaffery, huge pioneer through the crowd. Liosha would have left us three men to our masculine devices. But Jaffery swept her along. Why shouldn't we have a pretty woman at our table as well as other people? She flushed at the compliment, the first, I think, he had ever paid her. A waiter conjured a vacant table and chairs from nowhere, in the midst of the sedentary throng. For Liosha was brought grenadine syrup and soda, for me absinthe, at which Captain Maturin, with the steady English sailor's suspicion of any other drink than Scotch whisky, glanced disapprovingly. Jaffery, to give himself an appetite for dinner, ordered half a litre of Munich beer.

"And now, Captain," said he genially, "what have you been doing with yourself? Still on the Baltic-Mediterranean?"

"No, Mr. Chayne. I left that some time ago. I'm on the Blue Cross Line-Ellershaw & Co.-trading between Havre and Mozambique."

"Where's Mozambique?" Liosha asked me.

I looked wise, but Captain Maturin supplied the information. "Portuguese East Africa, ma'am. We also run every other trip to Madagascar."

"That's a place I've never been to," said Jaffery.

"Interesting," said the Captain. He poured the little bottle of soda into his whisky, held up his glass, bowed to the lady, and to me, exchanged a solemnly confidential wink with Jaffery, and sipped his drink. Under Jaffery's questioning he informed us-for he was not a spontaneously communicative man-that he now had a very good command: steamship Vesta, one thousand five hundred tons, somewhat old, but sea-worthy, warranted to take more cargo than any vessel of her size he had ever set eyes on.

"And when do you sail?" asked Jaffery.

"To-morrow at daybreak. They're finishing loading her up now."

Jaffery drained his tall glass mug of beer and ordered another.

"Are you going to Madagascar this trip?"

"Yes, worse luck."

"Why worse luck?" I asked.

"It cuts short my time at Pinner," replied Captain Maturin.

Here was a man, I reflected, with the mystery and romance of Madagascar before him, who sighed for his little suburban villa and plot of garden at Pinner. Some people are never satisfied.

"I've not been to Madagascar," said Jaffery again.

Captain Maturin smiled gravely. "Why not come along with me. Mr. Chayne?"

Jaffery's eyes danced and his smile broadened so that his white teeth showed beneath his moustache. "Why not?" he cried. And bringing down his hand with a clamp on Liosha's shoulder-"Why not? You and I. Out of this rotten civilisation?"

Liosha drew a deep breath and looked at him in awed amazement. So did I. I thought he was going mad.

"Would you like it?" he asked.

"Like it!" She had no words to express the glory that sprang into her face.

Captain Maturin leaned forward.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Chayne, we've no license for passengers, and certainly there's no accommodation for ladies."

Jaffery threw up a hand. "But she's not a lady-in your silly old sailor sense of the term. She's a hefty savage like me. When you had me aboard, did you think of having accommodation for a gentleman? Ho! ho! ho! At any rate," said he, at the end of the peal, "you've a sort of spare cabin? There's always one."

"A kind of dog-hole-for you, Mr. Chayne."

Jaffery's keen eye caught the Captain's and read things. He jumped to his feet, upsetting his chair and causing disaster at two adjoining and crowded tables, for which, dismayed and bareheaded-Jaffery could be a very courtly gentleman when he chose-he apologized in fluent French, and, turning, caught Captain Maturin beneath the arm.

"Let us have a private palaver about this."

They threaded their way through the tables to the spaciousness of the Place Gambetta. Liosha followed them with her glance till they disappeared; then she looked at me and asked breathlessly:

"Hilary! Do you think he means it?"

"He's demented enough to mean anything," said I.

"But, seriously." She caught my wrist, and only then did I notice that her hands were bare, her gloves reposing where she had cast them on the hillside at Etretat. "Did he mean it? I'd give my immortal soul to go."

I looked into her eyes, and if I did not see stick, stark, staring craziness in them I don't know what stick, stark, staring craziness is.

"Do you know what you're letting yourself in for?" said I, pretending to believe in her sanity. "Here's a rotten old tub of a tramp-without another woman on board, with all the inherited smells of all the animals in Noah's Ark, including the descendants of all the cockroaches that Noah forgot to land, with a crew of Dagoes and Dutchmen, with awful food, without a bath, with a beast of an unventilated rabbit-hutch to sleep in-a wallowing, rolling, tossing, pitching, antiquated parody of a steamer, a little trumpery cockleshell always wet, always shipping seas, always slithery, never a dry place to sit down upon, with people always standing, sixty hours at a time, without sleep, on the bridge to see that she doesn't burst asunder and go down-a floating-when she does float-a floating inferno of misery-here it is-I can tell you all about it-any child in a board school could tell you-an inferno of misery in which you would be always hungry, always sleepless, always suffering from indigestion, always wet through, always violently ill and always dirty, with your hair in ropes and your face bloused by the wind-to say nothing of icebergs and fogs and the cargo of cotton goods catching fire, and the wheezing medi?val boilers bursting and sending you all to glory-"

I paused for lack of breath. Liosha, who, elbows on table and chin on hands, had listened to me, first with amusement, then with absorbed interest, and lastly with glowing rapture, cried in a shaky voice:

"I should love it! I should love it!"

"But it's lunatic," said I.

"So much the better."

"But the proprieties."

She shifted her position, threw herself back in her chair, and flung out her hands towards me.

"You ought to be keeping Mrs. Jardine's boarding-house. What have Jaff Chayne and I to do with proprieties? Didn't he and I travel from Scutari to London?"

"Yes," said I. "But aren't things just a little bit different now?"

It was a searching question. Her swift change of expression from glow to defensive sombreness admitted its significance.

"Nothing is different," she said curtly. "Things are exactly the same." She bent forward and looked at me straight from beneath lowering brows. "If you think just because he and I are good friends now there's any difference, you're making a great mistake. And just you tell Barbara that."

"I will do so-" said I.

"And you can also tell her," she continued, "that Liosha Prescott is not going to let herself be made a fool of by a man who's crazy mad over another woman. No, sirree! Not this child. Not me. And as for the proprieties"-she snapped her fingers-"they be-they be anything'd!"

To this frank exposition of her feelings I could say nothing. I drank the remainder of my absinthe and lit a cigarette. I fell back on the manifest lunacy of the Madagascar voyage. I urged, somewhat anti-climatically after my impassioned harangue, its discomfort.

"You'll be the fifth wheel to a coach. Your petticoats, my dear, will always be in the way."

"I needn't wear petticoats," said Liosha.

We argued until a red, grinning Jaffery, beaming like the fiery sun now about to set, appeared winding his way through the tables, followed by the black-bearded, grey-eyed sea captain.

"It's all fixed up," said he, taking his seat. "The Cap'en understands the whole position. If you want to come to 'Jerusalem and Madagascar and North and South Amerikee,' come."

"But this is midsummer madness," said I.

"Suppose it is, what matter?" He waved a great hand and fortuitously caught a waiter by the arm. "Même chose pour tout le monde." He flicked him away. "Now, this is business. Will you come and rough it? The Vesta isn't a Cunard Liner. Not even a passenger boat. No luxuries. I hope you understand."

"Hilary has been telling me just what I'm to expect," said Liosha.

"We'll do our best for you, ma'am," said Captain Maturin; "but you mustn't expect too much. I suppose you know you'll have to sign on as one of the crew?"

"And if you disobey orders," said I, "the Captain can tie you up to the binnacle, and give you forty lashes and put you in irons."

"I guess I'll be obedient, Captain," said Liosha, proud of her incredulity.

"I don't allow my ship's company to bring many trunks and portmanteaux aboard," smiled Captain Maturin.

"I'll see to the dunnage," said Jaffery.

"The what?" I asked.

"It's only passengers that have luggage. Sailor folk like Liosha and me have dunnage."

"I see," said I. "And you bring it on board in a bundle together with a parrot in a cage."

Earnest persuasion being of no avail, I must have recourse to light mockery. But it met with little response. "And what," I asked, "is to become of the forty-odd colis that we passed through the customs this morning?"

"You can take 'em home with you," said Jaffery. He grinned over his third foaming beaker of dark beer. "Isn't it a blessing I brought him along? I told him he'd come in useful."

"But, good Lord!" I protested, aghast, "what excuse can I, a lone man, give to the Southampton customs for the possession of all this baggage? They'll think I've murdered my wife on the voyage and I shall be arrested. No. There is the parcel post. There are agencies of expedition. We can forward the luggage by grande vitesse or petite vitesse-how long are you likely to be away on this Theophile Gautier voyage-'Cueillir la fleur de neige. Ou la fleur d'Angsoka'?"

"Four months," said Captain Maturin.

"Then if I send them by the Great Swiftness, they'll arrive just in time."

I love my friends and perform altruistic feats of astonishing difficulty; but I draw the line at being personally involved in a nightmare of curved-top trunks and green canvas hat-containing crates belonging to a woman who is not my wife.

There followed a conversation on what seemed to me fantastic, but to the others practical details, in which I had no share. A suit of oilskins and sea-boots for Liosha formed the subject of much complicated argument, at the end of which Captain Maturin undertook to procure them from marine stores this peaceful Sunday night. Liosha, aglow with excitement and looking exceedingly beautiful, also mentioned her need of thick jersey and woollen cap and stout boots not quite so tempest-defying as the others; and these, too, the foolish and apparently infatuated mariner promised to provide. We drifted mechanically, still talking, into the interior of the Café-Restaurant, where we sat down to a dinner which I ordered to please myself, for not one of the others took the slightest interest in it. Jaffery, like a schoolboy son of Gargamelle, shovelled food into his mouth-it might have been tripe, or bullock's heart or chitterlings for all he knew or cared. His jolly laugh served as a bass for the more treble buzz and clatter of the pleasant place. I have never seen a man exude such plentiful happiness. Liosha ate unthinkingly, her elbows on the table, after the manner of Albania, her hat not straight-I whispered the information as (through force of training) I should have whispered it to Barbara, with no other result than an impatient push which rendered it more piquantly crooked than ever. Captain Maturin went through the performance with the grave face of another classical devotee to duty; but his heart-poor fellow!-was not in his food. It was partly in Pinner, partly in his antediluvian tramp, and partly in the prospect of having as cook's mate during his voyage the superbly vital young woman of the stone-age, now accidentally tricked out in twentieth century finery, who was sitting next to him.

Captain Maturin took an early leave. He had various things to do before turning in-including, I suppose, the purchase of his cook's mate's outfit-and he was to sail at five-thirty in the morning. If his new deck-hand and cook's mate would come alongside at five or thereabouts, he would see to their adequate reception.

"You wouldn't like to ship along with me, too, Mr. Freeth?" said he, with a grip like-like any horrible thing that is hard and iron and clamping in a steamer's machinery-and athwart his green-grey eyes filled with wind and sea passed a gleam of humour-"There's still time."

"I would come with pleasure," said I, "were it not for the fact that all my spare moments are devoted to the translation of a Persian poet."

If I am not urbane, I am nothing.

He went. Liosha bade me good-bye. She must retire early. The rearrangement of her luggage-"dunnage," I corrected-would be a lengthy process. She thanked me, in her best Considine manner, for all the trouble I had taken on her account, sent her love to Barbara and to Susan, whose sickness, she trusted, would be transitory, expressed the hope that the care of her belongings would not be too great a strain upon my household-and then, like a flash of lightning, in the very middle of the humming restaurant filled with all the notabilities and respectabilities of Havre, she flung her generous arms around my neck in a great hug, and kissed me, and said: "Dear old Hilary, I do love you!" and marched away magnificently through the staring tables to the inner recesses of the hotel.

Puzzledom reigned in Havre that night. English people are credited in France with any form of eccentricity, so long as it conforms with traditions of le flègme britannique; but there was not much flègme about Liosha's embrace, and so the good Havrais were mystified.

There was no following Liosha. She had made her exit. To have run after her were an artistic crime; and in real life we are more instinctively artistic and dramatic than the unthinking might suppose. Besides, there was the bill to pay. We sat down again.

"That little chap never seems to have any luck," said Jaffery. "He's one of the finest seamen afloat, with a nerve of steel and a damnable way of getting himself obeyed. He ought to be in command of a great liner instead of a rotten old tramp of fifteen hundred tons."

I beamed. "I'm glad you call it a rotten old tramp. I described it in those terms to Liosha."

"Oh!" said Jaffery. "Precious lot you know about it." He yawned cavernously. "I'll be turning in soon, myself."

It was not yet ten o'clock. "And what shall I do?" I asked.

"Better turn in, too, if you want to see us off."

"My dear Jaff," said I, "you have always bewildered me, and when I contemplate this new caprice I am beyond the phenomenon of bewilderment. But in one respect my mind retains its serene equipoise. Nothing short of an Act of God shall drag me from my bed at half-past four in the morning."

"I wanted to give you a few last instructions."

"Give them to me now," said I.

He handed me the key of his chambers. "If you wouldn't mind tidying up, some day-I left my papers in a deuce of a mess."

"All right," said I.

"And I had better give you a power of attorney, in case anything should crop up."

He called for writing materials, and scribbled and signed the document, which I put into my letter case.

"And what about letters?"

"Don't want any. Unless"-said he, after a little pause, frowning in the plenitude of his content-"if you and Barbara can make things right again with Doria-then one of you might drop me a line. I'll send you a schedule of dates."

"Still harping on my daughter?" said I.

"You may think it devilish funny," he replied; "but for me there's only one woman in the world."

"Let us have a final drink," said I.

We drank, chatted a while, and went to bed.

When I awoke the next morning the Vesta was already four hours on her way to Madagascar.

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