“You swear you’ve seen it?”
“Yes,” said I, in some bewilderment.
He turned away, passed his hand over his forehead and through his hair, and walked for a little about the room.
“I’m sorry, Hilary, old chap, to have lost control of myself. It’s a matter of life and death. I’m all right now. But you understand clearly what I mean?”
“Certainly. I’m to swear that I saw the manuscript. I’m to lend myself to a pious fraud. That’s all right for the present. But it can’t last forever.”
Jaffery thrust both hands in his pockets and bent and fixed the steel of his eyes on me. I should not like to be Jaffery’s enemy.
“It can. And it’s going to. I’ll see to that.”
“What do you mean?” I asked. “There’s no book. We can’t conjure something out of nothing.”
“There is a book, damn you,” he roared fiercely, “and you’ve seen it, and I’ve got it. And I’m responsible for it. And what the hell does it matter to you what becomes of it?”
“Very well,” said I. “If you insist, I can wash my hands of the whole matter. I saw a completed manuscript. You are my co-executor and trustee. You took it away. That’s all I know. Will that do for you?”
“Yes. And I’ll give you a receipt. Whatever happens, you’re not responsible. I can burn the damned thing if I like. Do anything I choose. But you’ve seen the outside of it.”
He went to the writing table by the gloomy window and scribbled a memorandum and duplicate, which we both signed. Each pocketed a copy. Then he turned on me.
“I needn’t mention that you’re not going to give a hint to a human soul of what you have seen this day?”
I faced him and looked into his eyes. “What do you take me for? But you’re forgetting. . . . There is one human soul who must know.”
He was silent for a minute or two. Then, with his great-hearted smile:
“You and Barbara are one,” said he.
Presently, after a little desultory talk, he took a folded paper from his pocket and shook it out before me. I recognized the top sheet of the blotting-pad on which Adrian had written thrice: “God: A Novel: By Adrian Boldero.”
“We had better burn this,” said he; and he threw it into the fire.
The slow weeks passed. Fog gave way to long rain and rain to a touch of frost and timid spring sunshine; and it was only then that Doria emerged from the Valley of the Shadow. The first time they allowed me to visit her, I stood for a fraction of a second, almost in search of a human occupant of the room. Lying in the bed she looked such a pitiful scrap, all hair and eyes. She smiled and held droopingly out to me the most fragile thing in hands I have ever seen.
“I’m going to live, after all, they tell me.”
“Of course you are,” I answered cheerily. “It’s the season for things to find they’re going to live. The crocuses and aconite have already made the discovery.”