Jaffery threw a couple of logs on the fire—the ship-logs that Adrian loved, and the sea-salts, barium, strontium and what-not, gave green and crimson and lavender flames.
“I’ve seen as much suffering in my time as any man living,” he said. “A war-correspondent does. He sees samples of every conceivable sort of hell. But this sample I haven’t struck before and it’s the worst of the lot. My God! and only the day before yesterday I took him to be married.”
“It was fifteen months ago, Jaff, and since then you’ve plucked hairs out of Prester John’s beard, or been entertained by a Viceroy of China, which comes to the same thing. I was right in saying you had no idea of time or space.”
He paid no attention to my poor, watery jest.
“It was the day before yesterday. And now he’s dead and the child stillborn—”
I uttered a short cry which interrupted him. A memory had smitten me; that of his words in September, and of the queer slanting look in his eyes: “They’ll both be born together.”
I told Jaffery. “Was there ever such a ghastly prophecy?” I said. “Both stillborn together. The more one goes into the matter, the more shudderingly awful it is.”
Jaffery nodded and stared into the fire.
“And she at the point of death—to complete the tragedy,” he said below his breath.
Then suddenly he shook himself like a great dog.
“I would give the soul out of my body to save her,” he cried with a startling quaver in his deep voice.
“I know you love her dearly, old man,” said I, “but is life the best thing you can wish for her?”
“Isn’t it obvious? She recovers—she will, most probably, recover; Jephson said so this morning—she comes back to life to find what? The shattering of her idol. That will kill her. My dear old Jaff, it’s better that she should die now.”
Rugged lines that I had never seen before came into his brow, and his eyes blazed.
“What do you mean—shattering of idols?”
“She is bound to learn the truth.”
He darted forward in his chair and gripped my knee in his mighty grasp, so that I winced with pain.
“She’s not going to learn the truth. She’s not going to have any dim suspicion of the truth. By God! I’d kill anybody, even you, who told her. She’s not to know. She must never know.” In his sudden fit of passion he sprang to his feet and towered over me with clenched fists,—the sputtering flames casting a weird Brocken shadow on wall and ceiling of the fog-darkened room—I shrank into my chair, for he seemed not a man but one of the primal forces of nature. He shouted in the same deep, shaken voice.
“Adrian is dead. The child is dead. But the book lives. You understand.” His great fist touched my face. “The book lives. You have seen it.”
“Very well,” said I, “I’ve seen it.”