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   Chapter 25 No.25

Jaffery By William John Locke Characters: 21563

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


So, as I have said, we left those two face to face in the big drawing-room. The man in an agony of self-reproach, helpless pity and realised failure; the woman-as it seemed to me, smoking reflectively in my library armchair, for sleep was impossible-the woman in the calm of desperation. The man who had performed a thousand chivalrous acts to shield her from harm, who lavished on her all the devotion and tenderness of his simple heart; the woman who owed him her life, and, but for fool accident and her own lack of faith in him, would still be owing him the twilight happiness of her Fool's Paradise. They had not met, or exchanged written words, since the early summer day at the St. John's Wood flat, when he had told her that he loved her, and by the sheer mischance of his hulking strength had thrown her to the ground; since that day when she had spat out at him her hatred and contempt, when she had called him "a barren rascal," and had lashed him into fury; when, white with realisation that the secret was about to escape from his lips, he had laid her on the sofa and had gone blindly into the street. Now facing each other for the first time after many months, they remembered all too poignantly that parting. The barren rascal who stood before her was the man who had written every word of Adrian's triumphant second novel, and had given it to her out of the largesse of his love. And he had borne with patience all her imperious strictures and had obeyed all her crazy and jealous whims. He had fooled her-quixotically fooled her, it is true-but fooled her as never woman had been fooled in the world before. And knowing Adrian to be the barren rascal, all the time, never had he wavered in his loyalty, never had he uttered one disparaging word. And he had secured the insertion of a life of Adrian in the next supplement to the Dictionary of National Biography; and he had helped her to set up that staring white marble monument in Highgate Cemetery, with its lying inscription. Never had human soul been invested in such a Nessus shirt of irony. No wonder she had passed through Hell-fire. No wonder her soul had been scorched and shrivelled up. No wonder the licking fires of unutterable shame kept her awake of nights. And if she writhed in the flaming humiliation of it all when she was alone, what was that woman's anguish of abasement when she stood face to face, and compelled to speech, with the man whose loving hand had unwittingly kindled that burning torment?

The poor human love for Adrian was not dead. That secret I had plucked out of her heart a few weeks ago in the garden. How did she regard the man who must have held Adrian in the worst of contempt, the contempt of pity? She hated him. I was sure she hated him. I could not take my mind off those two closeted together. What was happening? Again and again I went over the whole disastrous story. What would be the end? I wearied myself for a long, long time with futile speculation.

* * *

My library door opened, and Liosha, bright-eyed, with quivering lip and tragic face, burst in, and seeing me, flung herself down by my side and buried her head on the arm of the chair and began to cry wretchedly.

"My dear, my dear," said I, bewildered by this tornado of misery. "My dear," said I, putting an arm round her shoulders, "what is the matter?"

"I'm a fool," she wailed. "I know I'm a fool, but I can't help it. I went in there just now. I didn't know they were there. Susan's music mistress came and I had to go out of the nursery-and I went into the drawing-room. Oh, it's hard, Hilary, dear-it's damned hard."

"My poor Liosha," said I.

"There doesn't seem to be a place in the world for me."

"There's lots of places in our hearts," I said as soothingly as I could. But the assurance gave her little comfort. Her body shook.

"I wish the cargo had killed me," she said.

I waited for a little, then rose and made her sit in my chair. I drew another near her.

"Now," said I. "Tell me all about it."

And she told me in her broken way.

* * *

She walked into the drawing-room thinking to find Barbara. Instead, she sailed into a surging sea of passion. Doria crouched on a sofa hiding her face-the flame, poor little elf in the Nessus shirt, had been lapping her round, and with both hands outstretched she motioned away Jaffery who stood over her.

"Don't touch me, don't touch me! I couldn't bear it!" she cried; and then, aware of Liosha's sudden presence, she started to her feet. Liosha did not move. The two women glared at each other.

"What do you mean by coming in here?" cried Doria.

"You had better leave us, Liosha," said Jaffery sombrely.

But Liosha stood firm. The spurning of Jaffery by Doria struck a chord of the heroic that ran through her strange, wild nature. If this man she loved was not for her, at least no other woman should scorn him. She drew herself up in her full-bosomed magnificence.

"Instead of telling him not to touch you, you little fool, you ought to fall at his feet. For what he has done for you, you ought to steal the wide world and give it to him. And you refuse your footling little insignificant self. If you had a thousand selves, they wouldn't be enough for him."

"Stop!" shouted Jaffery.

She wheeled round on him. "Hold your tongue, Jaff Chayne. I guess I've the right, if anybody has, to fix up your concerns."

"What right?" Doria demanded.

"Never mind." She took a step forward. "Oh, no; not that right! Don't you dare to think it. Jaff Chayne doesn't care a tinker's curse for me that way. But I have a right to speak, Jaff Chayne. Haven't I?"

Jaffery's mind went back to the Bedlam of the slithering cargo. He turned to Doria.

"Let her say what she wants."

"I want nothing!" cried Liosha. "Nothing for myself. Not a thing! But I want Jaff Chayne to be happy. You think you know all he has done for you, but you don't. You don't know a bit. They offered him thousands of pounds to go to Persia, and he would have come back a great man, and he didn't go because of you."

"Persia? I never heard of that," said Doria.

"The job didn't suit me," Jaffery growled.

"And you told her all about it?"

"No, he didn't," said Liosha. "Hilary told me to-day."

"I take your word for it," said Doria coldly. "It only shows that I'm under one more obligation than I thought to Mr. Chayne."

From what I could gather, the word "obligation" infuriated Liosha. She uttered an avalanche of foolish things. And Jaffery (for what is man in a woman's battle but an impotent spectator?) looked in silence from one: to the other; from the little ivory, black and white Tanagra figure to the great full creature whom he had seen, but a few days ago, with the salt spray in her hair and the wind in her vestments. And at last she said:

"If I were a woman like you and wouldn't marry a man who loved me like Jaff Chayne, and who had done for me all that Jaff Chayne had done for you, I'd pray to God to blast me and fill my body with worms."

* * *

And then she burst out of the room, and, like a child seeking protection, came and threw herself down by my side.

What happened when she left them I know, because Jaffery kept me up till three o'clock in the morning narrating it to me, while he poured into his Gargantuan self hogsheads of whisky and soda.

* * *

When Liosha had gone, they eyed one another for a while in embarrassing silence, until Doria spoke:

"She misunderstood-when she came in. Quite natural. It was your touch of pity that I couldn't bear. I wasn't repelling you, as she seemed to think."

"It cut me to the heart to see you in such grief," said Jaffery. "I only thought of comforting you."

"I know." She sat on a chair by the window and looked out at the pouring rain.

"Tell me," she said, without turning round, "what did she mean by saying she had the right to interfere in your affairs?"

"She saved my life at the risk of her own," replied Jaffery.

"I see. And you saved my life once; so perhaps you have rights over me."

"That would be damnable!" he cried. "Such a thought has never entered my head."

"It is firmly fixed in mine," said Doria.

She sat for a while, with knitted brows deep in thought. Jaffery stood dejectedly by the fire, his hands in his pockets. Presently she rose.

"Besides saving my life and doing for me the things I know, there must be many things you've done for me that I never heard of-like this sacrifice of the Persian expedition. Liosha was right. I ought to go on my knees to you. But I can't very well do that, can I?"

"No," replied Jaffery, scrabbling at whiskers and beard. "That would be stupid. You mustn't worry about me at all. Whatever I did for you, my dear, I'd do a thousand times over again!"

"You must have your reward, such as it is. God knows you have earned it."

"Don't talk about rights or rewards," said he. "As I've said repeatedly this afternoon, I've forfeited even your thanks."

"And I've said I forgive you-if there's anything to forgive," she smiled, just a little wearily. "So that is wiped out. All the rest remains. Let us bury all past unhappiness between us two."

"I wish we could. But how?"

"There is a way."

"What is that?"

"You make things somewhat hard for me. You might guess. But I'll tell you. Liosha again was right. . . . If you want me still, I will marry you. Not quite yet; but, say, in six months' time. You are a great-hearted, loyal man"-she continued bravely, faltering under his gaze-"and I will learn to love you and will devote my life to making you happy."

She glanced downwards with averted head, awaiting some outcry of gladness, surrendering herself to the quick clasp of strong arms. But no outcry came, and no arms clasped. She glanced up, and met a stricken look in the man's eyes.

For Jaffery could not find a word to utter. A chill crept about his heart and his blood became as water. He could not move; a nightmare horror of dismay held him in its grip. The inconceivable had happened. He no longer desired her. The woman who had haunted his thoughts for over two years, for whom he had made quixotic sacrifices, for whom he had made a mat of his great body so that she should tread stony paths without hurt to her delicate feet, was his now for the taking-nobly self-offered-and with all the world as an apanage he could not have taken her. The phenomenon of sex he could not explain. Once he had desired her passionately. The ivory-white of her daintiness had fired his blood. He had fought with beasts. He had wrestled with his soul in the night watches. He had loved her purely and sweetly, too. But now, as she stood before him, recoiling a little from his fixed stare of pain, though she

had suffered but little loss in beauty and in that of her which was desirable, he realised, in a kind of paralysis, that he desired her no more, that he loved her no more with the idealised love he had given to the elfin princess of his dreams. Not that he would not still do her infinite service. The pathos of her broken life moved him to an anguish of pity. For her soothing he would give all that life held for him, save one thing-which was no longer his to give. Another man glib of tongue and crafty of brain might have lied his way out of an abominable situation. But Jaffery's craft was of the simplest. He could not trick the dead love into smiling semblance of life. His nature was too primitive. He could only stare in spellbound affright at the icy barrier that separated him from Doria.

"I see," she said tonelessly, moving slowly away from him. "Your feelings have changed. I am sorry."

Then he found power of motion and speech. He threw out his arms. "My God, dear, forgive me he groaned, and sat down and clutched his head in his hands. She returned to the window and looked out at the rain. And there she fought with her woman's indignant humiliation. And there was a long, dead silence, broken only by the faintly heard notes of Susan's piano in the nursery and the splash of water on the terrace.

Presently all that was good in Doria conquered. She crossed the room and laid a light hand on Jaffery's head. It was the finest moment in her life.

"One can't help these things. I know it too well. And no hearts are broken. So it's all for the best."

He groaned again. "I didn't know. I'd like to shoot myself."

She smiled, conscious of feminine superiority. "If you did, I should die, too. I tell you, it's all for the best. I love you as I never loved you before. I usen't to love you a little bit. But I should have had to learn to love you as a wife-and it might have been difficult."

A moment afterwards she appeared in the library, serenely matter-of-fact. Liosha started round in her chair and looked defiantly at her rival.

"Would both of you mind coming into the drawing-room for a minute?"

We followed her. She held the door, which I was about to shut, and left it open. Before Jaffery had time to rise at our entrance, I caught sight of him sitting as she had left him, great clumps of his red hair sticking through his fingers. His face was a picture of woe. I can imagine nothing more like it than that of a conscience smitten lion. Doria ran her arm through mine and kept me near the doorway.

"I've asked Jaffery to marry me," she said, in a steady voice, "and he doesn't want to. It's because he loves a much better woman and wants to marry her."

Then while Jaffery and Liosha gasped in blank astonishment, she swung me abruptly out of the room and slammed the door behind her.

"There," she said, and flung up her little bead, "what do you think of that?"

"Magnificent," said I, "but bewildering. Did Jaffery really-?"

In a few words, she put me into possession of the bare facts.

"I'm not sorry," she added. "Sometimes I love Jaffery-because he's so lovable. Sometimes I hate him-because-oh, well-because of Adrian. You can't understand."

"I'm not altogether a fool," said I.

"Well, that's how it is. I would have worn myself to death to try to make him happy. You believe me?"

"I do indeed, my dear," I replied. And I replied with unshakable conviction. She was a woman who once having come under the domination of an idea would obey it blindly, ruthlessly, marching straight onwards, looking neither to right nor left. The very virtue that had made her overcruel to him in the past would have made her overkind to him in the future. Unwittingly she had used a phrase startlingly true. She would have worn herself to death in her determination to please. Incidentally she would have driven him mad with conscientious dutifulness.

"He would have found no fault with me that I could help," she said. "But we needn't speak of it any more. I'm not the woman for him. Liosha is. It's all over. I'm glad. At any rate, I've made atonement-at least, I've tried-as far as things lay in my power."

I took both her hands, greatly moved by her courage.

"And what's going to happen to you, my dear?"

"Now that all this is straight," she replied, with a faint smile, "I can turn round and remake my life. You and Barbara will help."

"With all our hearts," said I.

"It won't be so hard for you, ever again, I promise. I shall be more reasonable. And the first favour I'll ask you, dear Hilary, is to let me go this afternoon. It would be a bit of a strain on me to stay."

"I know, my dear," I said. "The car is at your service."

"Oh, no! I'll go by train."

"You'll do as you're told, young woman, and go by car."

At this rubbishy speech, the tears, for the first time, came into her eyes. She pulled down my shoulders-I am rather lank and tall-and kissed me.

"You're a dear," she said, and went off in search of Barbara.

I returned to my library, rang the bell, and gave orders for the chauffeur to stand at Mrs. Boldero's disposal. Then I sat down at a loose end, very much like a young professional man, doctor or estate-agent, waiting for the next client. And like the young professional man at a loose end, I made a pretence of looking through papers. Presently I became aware that I only had to open a window in order to summon a couple of clients at once. For there in the gathering November dusk and in the rain-it had ceased pouring, but it was drizzling, and therefore it was rain-I saw our pair of delectable savages strolling across the wet, sodden lawn, in loverlike proximity, for all the world as though it were a flowery mead in May. I might have summoned them, but it would have been an unprofessional thing to do. Instead, I drew my curtains and turned on the light, and continued to wait. I waited a long time. At last Barbara rushed in.

"Doria's ready."

"You've heard all about it?" She nodded. "I said there would be no marriage," I remarked blandly.

"You said she wouldn't marry him. I said she would. And so she would, if he had let her. I know you're prepared to argue," she said, rather excitedly, "but it's no use. I was right all the time."

I yielded.

"You're always right, my dear," said I.

* * *

That is practically all, up to the present, that I have to tell you about Jaffery. What words passed between him and Liosha in the drawing-room I have never known. Jaffery, with conscience still sore, and childishly anxious that I should not account him a traitor and a scoundrel, and a brute too despicable for human touch, told me, as I have already stated, over and over again, until I yawned for weariness in the small hours of the morning, what had taken place in his staggering interview with Doria; but as regards Liosha, he was shyly evasive. After all, I fancy, it was a very simple affair. She had told me bluntly that when the two men, Jaffery and Prescott, rode into the scene of Balkan desolation in which she was the central figure, Jaffery was the one who caused her heart to throb. And in her chaste, proud way she had loved him ever since that extraordinary moment. And though Jaffery has never confessed it, I am absolutely certain that, just as Monsieur Jourdain spoke prose, sans le savoir, so, without knowing it, was Jaffery in love with Liosha when she drove away from Northlands in Mr. Ras Fendihook's car. Perhaps before. Quien sabe? But he imagined himself to be in love with a moonbeam. And the moonbeam shot like a glamorous, enchanted sword between him and Liosha, and kept them apart until the moment of dazed revelation, when he saw that the moonbeam was merely a pale, earnest, anxious, suffering little human thing, alien to his every instinct, a firmament away, in every vital essential, from the goddess of his idolatry.

There is war going on in the Balkans. Jaffery is there as

war correspondent. Liosha is there, too.

That is how I explain-and I have puzzled my head into aching over any other possible explanation-the attitude of Jaffery towards Liosha on the Vesta voyage. Well, my conjectures are of not much value. I have done my best to put the facts, as I know them, before you; and if you are interested in the matter you can go on conjecturing to your heart's content. "Look here, my friend," said I, as soon as I could attune my mind to new conditions, "what about your new novel?"

He frowned portentously. "It can go to blazes!" "Aren't you going to finish it?"

"No."

"But you must. Don't you realise that you're a born novelist?"

"Don't you realise," he growled, "that you're a born fool?"

"I don't," said I.

He walked about the library in his space-occupying way.

"I'm going to tear the damned thing up! I'm never going to write a novel again. I cut it out altogether. It's the least I can do for her."

"Isn't that rather quixotic?" I asked.

"Suppose it is. What have you to say against it?"

"Nothing," said I.

"Well, keep on saying it," replied Jaffery, with the steel flash in his eyes.

* * *

They were married. Our vicar performed the ceremony. I gave the bride away. Liosha revealed the feminine kink in her otherwise splendid character by insisting on the bridal panoply of white satin, veil and orange blossoms. I confess she looked superb. She looked like a Valkyr. A leather-visaged war correspondent, named Burchester, whom I had never seen before, and have not seen since, acted as best man. Susan, tense with the responsibilities of office, was the only bridesmaid. Mrs. Jupp (late Considine) and her General were our only guests. Doria excused herself from attendance, but sent the bride a travelling-case fitted with a myriad dazzling gold-stoppered bottles and a phantasmagoria of gold-mounted toilette implements.

And then they went on their honeymoon. And where do you think they went? They signed again on the steamship Vesta. And Captain Maturin gave them his cabin, which is more than I would have done, and slept, I presume, in the dog-hole. And they were as happy as the ship was abominable.

Now, as I write, there is a war going on in the Balkans. Jaffery is there as the correspondent of The Daily Gazette. Liosha is there, too, as the inseparable and peculiarly invaluable companion of Jaffery Chayne. They live impossible lives. But what has that got to do with you or me? They like it. They adore it. A more radiantly mated pair the earth cannot produce. Their two-year-old son is learning the practice of the heroic virtues at Cettinje, while his parents loaf about battlefields in full eruption.

"Poor little mite!" says Barbara.

But I say:

"Lucky little Pantagruel!"

* * *

THE END

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