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   Chapter 20 No.20

Jaffery By William John Locke Characters: 19742

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


I have one failing. Even I, Hilary Freeth, of Northlands in the County of Berkshire, Esquire, Gent, have one failing, and I freely confess it. I cannot keep a key. Were I as other men are-which, thank Heaven, I am not-I might wear a pound or so of hideous ironmongery chained to my person. This I decline to do, with the result that, as I say, I cannot keep a key. Of all the household stowaway places under my control (and Barbara limits their number) only one is locked; and that drawer containing I know not what treasures or rubbish is likely to continue so forever and ever-for the key is lost. Such important documents as I desire to place in security I send to bankers or solicitors, who are trained from childhood in the expert use of safes and strong-boxes. My other papers the world can read if it choose to waste its time; at any rate, I am not going to lock them up and have the worry of a key preying on my mind. I should only lose it as I lost the other one. Now, by a freak of fortune, the key of Jaffery's flat remained in the suit-case wherein I had flung it at Havre, until it was fished out by Franklin on my arrival at Northlands.

"For goodness' sake, my dear," said I to Barbara, "take charge of this thing."

But she refused. She had too many already to look after. I must accept the responsibility as a moral discipline. So I tied a luggage label to the elusive object, inscribed thereon the legend, "Key of Jaffery's flat," and hung it on a nail which I drove into the wall of my library.

"Besides," said Barbara, satirically watching the operation, "I am not going to have anything to do with this crack-brained adventure."

"To hear you speak," said I, for she had already spoken at considerable length on the subject, "one would think that I could have prevented it. If Jaffery chooses to go Baresark and Liosha to throw her cap over the topmasts, why in the world shouldn't they?"

"I suppose I'm conventional," said Barbara. "And from the description you have given me of the boat, I'm sure the poor child will be utterly miserable, and she'll ruin her hands and her figure and her skin."

I wished I had drawn a little less lurid picture of the steamship Vesta.

As soon as business or idleness took me to town, I visited St. Quentin's Mansions, and after consultation with the porter, who, knowing me to be a friend of Mr. Chayne's, assured me that I need not have burdened myself with the horrible key, I entered Jaffery's chambers. I found the small sitting-room in very much the same state of litter as when Jaffery left it. He enjoyed litter and hated the devastating tidiness of housemaids. Give a young horse with a long, swishy tail a quarter of an hour's run in an ordinary bachelor's rooms, and you will have the normal appearance of Jaffery's home. As I knew he did not want me to dust his books and pictures (such as they were) or to make order out of a chaos, of old newspapers, or to put his pipes in the rack or to remove spurs and physical culture apparatus from the sofa, or to bestow tender care upon a cannon ball, an antiquated eighteen or twenty-pounder, which reposed-most useful piece of furniture-in the middle of the hearth-rug, or to see to the comfortless electric radiator that took the place of a grate, I let these things be, and concentrated my attention on his papers which lay loose on desk and table. This was obviously the tidying up to which he had referred. I swept his correspondence into one drawer. I gathered together the manuscript of his new novel and swept it into another. On the top of a pedestal bookcase I discovered the original manuscript of "The Greater Glory," neatly bound in brown paper and threaded through with red tape. This I dropped into the third drawer of the desk, which already contained a mass of papers. I went into his bedroom, where I found more letters lying about. I collected them and looked around. There seemed to be little left for me to do. I noticed two photographs on his dressing-table-one of his mother, whom I remembered, and, one of Doria-these I laid face downwards so that the light should not fade them. I noticed also a battered portmanteau from beneath the lid of which protruded three or four corners of scribbling paper, and lastly my eyes fell upon the offending beer-barrel in a dark alcove. The basin set below the tap, in order to catch the drip, was nearly full. In four months' time the room would be flooded with sour and horrible beer. Full of the thought, I deposited the letters in the drawer with the rest of the correspondence, and, leaving the flat, summoned the lift, and in Jaffery's name presented a delighted porter with the contents of a nine-gallon cask. I went away in the rich glow that mantles from man's heart to check when he knows that he has made a friend for life. It was only afterwards, when I got home, and hung the labelled key on my library wall, that I realised that old Jaffery and myself had, at least, one thing in common-videlicet, the keyless habit. I had often suspected that deep in our souls lurked some hidden trait-d'union. Now I had found it.

And looking back on that wreck of a room, I reflected how congenial Jaffery must have found his surroundings on board the Vesta. The weather had changed from summer calm to storm. The gentleman from the meteorological office who writes for the newspapers talked about cyclonic disturbances, and reported gales in the channel and on the west coasts of France. The same was likely to continue. The wind blew hard enough in Berkshire, what must it have done in the Bay of Biscay? As a matter of fact, as we learned from a picture postcard from Jaffery and a short letter from Liosha posted at Bordeaux, and from their lips considerably later-for impossible as it may seem, they did not go to the bottom or die of scurvy or the cannibal's pole-axe-they had made their way from Havre in an ever-increasing tempest, during which they apparently had not slept or put on a dry rag. Heavy seas washed the deck, and kept out the galley fires, so that warm food had not been procurable. It seemed that every horror I had prophesied had come to pass. I should have pitied them, but for the blatant joyousness of their communications. "I was not seasick a minute, and I have never been so happy in my life," wrote Liosha. "Hilary should have been with us," wrote Jaffery. "It would have made a man of him. Liosha in splendid fettle. She goes about in men's clothes and oilskins and can turn her hand to anything when she isn't lashed to a stanchion." You can just imagine them having cast off all semblance of Christians and wallowing in wet and dirt. . . .

About this time, according to the sequence of events recorded in my all too scraggy diary, Doria came to us for a week-end, her first visit since Jaffery's outrageous conduct. She was glad to make friends with us once more, and to prove it showed the pleasanter side of her character. She professed not to have forgiven Jaffery; but she referred to the terrible episode in less vehement terms. It was obvious to us both that she missed him more than she would confess, even to herself. In her reconstituted existence he had stood for an essential element. Unconsciously she had counted on his devotion, his companionship, his constant service, his bulky protection from the winds of heaven. Now that she had driven him away, she found a girder wanting in her life's neat structure, which accordingly had begun to wobble uncomfortably. After all, she had provoked the man (this with some reluctance she admitted to Barbara), and he had only picked her up and shaken her. He had had no intention of dashing out her brains or even of giving her a beating. In her heart she repented. Otherwise why should she take so ill Jaffery's flight with Liosha, which she characterised as abominable, and Liosha's flight with Jaffery, which she characterised as monstrous?

"I can't talk to Barbara about it," she said to me on the Sunday morning, perching herself on the corner of my library table, a disrespectful trick which she had caught from my wife, while I sat back in my writing-chair. "Barbara seems to be bemused about the woman. One would think she was a kind of saint, incapable of stain."

"In one specific way," I replied, "I think she is."

"Oh, rubbish, Hilary!" she smiled, and swung her little foot. "You, a man of the world, how can you talk so? First she runs off with that dreadful fellow and a few hours afterwards runs off with Jaffery. What respectable woman-well, what honest woman, according to the term of the lower classes-would run away with two men within twenty-five hours?"

"She went off with Fendihook, honourably, thinking he was going to marry her. She has joined Jaffery honourably, too, because there's no question of marriage or anything else between them."

"Sancta simplicitas!" She shook her head from side to side and looked at me pityingly. "I'll allow Jaffery is just a fool. But she isn't. The best one can say for her is that she has no moral sense. I know the type."

"Where have you studied it, my dear?" I asked.

She coloured, taken aback, but after half a second she replied with her ready sureness:

"In my father's drawing-room among city people and in my own among literary people."

"H'm!" said I. "Lioshas don't grow on every occasional chair."

"You're as bemused as Barbara."

"I haven't studied what you call the type," I replied. "But I've studied an individual, which you haven't."

She swung off the table. "Oh, well, have it your own way-Paul and Virginia, if you like. What does it matter to me?"

"Yes, my dear," said I. "That's just it-what the dickens does it matter to you?"

"Nothing at all." She snapped a dainty finger and thumb.

"You've turned Jaffery out of your house," I continued, with malicious intent. "Y

ou've sworn never to set eyes on him again. You've banished him beyond your horizon. His doings now can be no concern of yours. If he chose to elope with the fat woman in a freak museum, why shouldn't he? What would it have to do with you?"

"Only this," said Doria, coming back to the table corner but not sitting on it. "It would make Jaffery's declaration to me all the more insulting."

"'Having known me to decline'?" I quoted.

"Precisely."

She tossed her head, in her wounded pride. But unknowingly she had swallowed my bait. I had hooked my little fish. I smiled to myself. She was eaten up with jealousy.

"Well," said I, "you remember the French proverb about the absent being always in the wrong. Let us wait until they come back and hear what they've got to say for themselves."

She put her hands behind her back. As she stood, her little black and ivory head was not much above the level of mine. "What they may say is a matter of perfect indifference to me."

I bent forward. "I think I ought to tell you what Jaffery's-practically-last words to me were: 'There's only one woman in the world for me.' Meaning you." She broke away with a laugh. "And to prove it, he elopes with the fat woman! Oh, Hilary"-with the tips of her fingers she brushed my hair-"you really are a simple old dear!"

"All the same-" I began.

"All the same," she interrupted, "this is a very untidy conversation. I didn't come in here to talk, but to borrow a copy of Baudelaire, if you have one."

She turned to scan my shelves. I joined her and took down Les Fleurs du Mal. She thanked me, tucked the book under her arm, and went out.

Rather uncharitably I rejoiced in her soreness. It was good discipline. It would give her a sense of values. Should she ever get Jaffery back again, with no Liosha hanging round his neck, I was certain that not only would she forgive past mishandling, but for the sake of keeping him would put up with a little more. Whether she would marry him was another story. I had every reason to believe that she would not. Adrian reigned her bosom's lord. In her worshipping fidelity she never wavered. She regarded a second marriage with horror. That was comprehensible enough, with her husband but seven months dead. No, should she ever get Jaffery back, I didn't think she would marry him; but beyond doubt she would treat him with more consideration and respect. These, of course, were my conjectures and deductions (confirmed by Barbara) from the patent fact that she found herself lost without Jaffery and that she was furiously jealous of Liosha.

It was several weeks before we saw her again. August arrived. Barbara and I played the ever-fresh summer comedy. I swore by all my gods I would not leave Northlands. I went on vowing until I arrived with a mountain of luggage, a wife and a child and a maid at a great hotel on the Lido. Our days were unimportant. We bathed in the Adriatic. We revisited familiar churches and picture galleries in Venice. We mingled with a cosmopolitan crowd and developed the complexions (not only in our faces) of an Othello family. Doria, too, made holiday abroad. Every August, Mr. Jornicroft repaired the ravages of eleven months' civic and other feasting at Marienbad, and Doria, as she had done before her marriage, accompanied him. She and Barbara exchanged letters about nothing in particular. The time passed smoothly.

Once or twice we had word from our runagates. The fury of the sea having subsided after they had left Bordeaux, they had settled down to the normal life of shipboard, and Jaffery took his turn with the hands, coiled ropes, sweated over cargo, and kept his watch. Liosha, we were given to understand, besides helping in the galley and the cabin and swabbing decks, found much delight in painting the ship's boats with paint which Jaffery had bought for the purpose at Bordeaux. She had struck up a friendship with the first mate, who, possessing a camera, had taken their photographs. They sent us one of the two standing side by side, and a more villainous-looking yet widely smiling pair you could not wish to see. Both wore sailors' caps and jerseys and sea-boots, and Barbara's keen eye detected the fact that Liosha, for freedom's sake, had cut a foot or so off the bottom of her skirt without taking the trouble to hem up the edge, which, now frayed, hung about her calves in disgraceful fringes.

"I think you were wrong, my dear," said I. "The poor thing looks anything but utterly miserable."

"I'm sure I was right about her hands and skin," she maintained.

"Well, it's her own skin."

"More's the pity," Barbara retorted.

What on earth she meant, I do not know; but, as usual, she had the last word.

The middle of September found us back in England, and shortly afterwards Doria returned also, and resumed her lonely life in the Adrian-haunted flat. But by and by she grew restless, complaining that no one but her father, of whose society she had wearied, was in town, and went off on a series of country-house visits. The flat, I suspected, for all its sacred memories, was dull without Jaffery. She still maintained her unrelenting attitude, and spoke scornfully of him; but once or twice she asked when this mad voyage would be over, thereby betraying curiosity rather than indifference.

Meanwhile the autumn publishing season was in full swing. Wittekind's list of new novels in its deep black framing border stared at you from the advertisement pages of every periodical you picked up, and so did the list of every other publisher. Day after day Doria's eyes fell on this announcement of Wittekind, and day after day her indignation swelled at the continued omission of "The Greater Glory." All these nobodies, these ephemeral scribblers, were being thrust flamboyantly on public notice and her Adrian, the great Sun of the firm, was allowed to remain in eclipse. For what purpose had he lived and died if his memory was treated with this dark ingratitude? I strove to reason with her. Adrian's book had been prodigally advertised in the spring. It had sold enormously. It was still selling. There was no need to advertise it any longer. Besides, advertisement cost money, and poor Wittekind had to do his duty by his other authors. He had to push his new wares. "Tradesman!" cried Doria. If he wasn't, I remonstrated, if he wasn't a tradesman in a certain sense, an expert in the art of selling books, how could Adrian's novels have attained their wide circulation? It was to his interest to increase that circulation as much as possible. Why not let him run his very successful business his own way? Doria loftily assured me that she had no interest in his business, in the mere vulgar number of copies sold. Adrian's glory was above such sordid things. Of far higher importance was it that his name should be kept, like a beacon, before the public. Not to do so was callous ingratitude and tradesman's niggardliness on the part of Wittekind. Something ought to be done. I confessed my inability to do anything.

"I know you have nothing to do with the literary side of the executorship. Jaffery undertook it. And now, instead of looking after his duties, he has gone on this impossible voyage."

Here was another grievance against the unfortunate Jaffery. I might have asked her who drove him to Madagascar, for had she been kind, he would have made short work of Liosha, after having rescued her from Fendihook, and would have returned meekly to Doria's feet. But what would have been the use? I was tired of these windy arguments with Doria, and worn out with the awful irony of upholding our poor Adrian's genius.

"I'm sorry he's not here," said I, somewhat tartly, "because he might have prevailed upon you to listen to common sense."

A little while after this, another firm of publishers announced an édition de luxe of the works of a brilliant novelist cut off like Adrian in the flower of his age. It was printed on special paper and illustrated by a famous artist, and limited to a certain number of copies. This set Doria aflare. From Scotland, where she was paying one of her restless visits, she sent me the newspaper cutting. If the commercial organism, she said, that passed with Wittekind for a soul would not permit him to advertise Adrian's spring book in his autumn list, why couldn't he do like Mackenzie & Co., and advertise an édition de luxe of Adrian's two novels? And if Mackenzie & Co. thought it worth while to bring out such an edition of an entirely second-rate author, surely it would be to Wittekind's advantage to treat Adrian equally sumptuously. I advised her to write to Wittekind. She did. Accompanied by a fury of ink, she sent me his most courteous and sensible answer. Both books were doing splendidly. There was every prospect of a golden aftermath of cheap editions. The time was not ripe for an édition de luxe. It would come, a pleasurable thing to look forward to, when other sales showed signs of exhaustion.

"He talks about exhaustion," she wrote. "I suppose he means when he sends the volumes to be pulped, 'remainder or waste'-there's a foolish woman here who evidently has written a foolish book, and has shown me her silly contract with a publisher. 'Remainder or waste.' That's what he's thinking of. It's intolerable. I've no one, dear Hilary, to turn to but you. Do advise me."

I sent her a telegram. For one thing, it saved the trouble of concocting a letter, and, for another, it was more likely to impress the recipient. It ran:

* * *

"I advise you strongly to go to Wittekind yourself and bite him."

I was rather pleased at the humour-may I venture to qualify it as mordant?-of the suggestion. Even Barbara smiled. Of course, I was right. Let her fight it out herself with Wittekind.

But I have regretted that telegram ever since.

* * *

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