“The very, very best, dear,” replied Barbara gently.
And indeed it was. If ever a man realised himself to be on the verge of the abyss, I am sure it was Adrian Boldero. Some haunting fear was set at the back of his laughing eyes—the expression of an animal instinct for self-preservation which discounted the balderdash about the soaring yet disciplined soul.
I whispered to Doria: “Don’t go too far into the wilds out of reach of medical advice.”
“You’re taking away a sick man.”
“Do you really think so?”
“I do,” said I.
She looked to right and left and then at me full in the face, and she gripped my hand.
“You’re a good friend, Hilary. God knows I thank you.”
From which I clearly understood that her passionately loyal heart was grievously sore for Adrian.
During their absence abroad, which lasted much longer than three months, we heard fairly regularly from Doria; twice or thrice from Adrian. After a time he grew tired of mountaintops and solitude and declared that his inspiration required steeping in the past, communion with the hallowed monuments of mankind. So they wandered about the old Italian cities, until he discovered that the one thing essential to his work was the gaiety of cosmopolitan society; whereupon they went the round of French watering-places, where Adrian played recklessly at baccarat and spent inordinate sums on food. And all the time Doria wrote glowingly of their doings. Adrian had put the book out of his head, was always in the best of spirits. He had completely recovered from the strain of work and was looking forward joyously to the final spurt in London and the achievement of the masterpiece.
Meanwhile we played the annual comedy of our August migration; the only change being that instead of Dinard we went to the West Coast of Scotland to stay with some of Barbara’s relatives. One gleam of joy irradiated that grey and dismal sojourn—the news that Jaffery, his mission in Crim Tartary being accomplished, would be home for Christmas. Our host and hostess were sporting folk with red, weatherbeaten faces and a mania (which they expected us to share) for salmon-fishing in the pouring rain. As neither Barbara nor I were experts—I always trembled lest a strong young fish getting hold of the end of Barbara’s line should whisk her over like a feather into the boiling current—and as for myself, I prefer the more contemplative art of bottom fishing from a punt in dry weather—our friends caught all the salmon, while we merely caught colds in the head. Many an hour of sodden misery was cheered by the whispered word of comfort: Jaffery would be home for Christmas. And when, at ten o’clock in the evening, just as we were beginning to awake from the nightmare of the day, and to desire sprightly conversation, our host and hostess fell into a lethargy, and staggered off to slumber, we beguiled the hour before bedtime with talk of Jaffery’s homecoming.