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Authors: Gerald Bullet

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The Jury

BOOK: The Jury
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THE JURY

GERALD BULLET

Contents

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part One: The Twelve Converging
1
Conversation In Soho

ON an April evening some years ago a man sat in the upper room of a Soho restaurant, waiting for the arrival of his guest. She was not yet unduly late, and Mark Perryman was not impatient. He was a man approaching thirty-five who picked up a precarious living in Fleet Street. He had lived through many excitements, and at his present advanced age he liked to think of himself as imperturbable, but he would not have denied that his mind was pleasantly warmed by the prospect of an evening with Roderick Strood's wife. The Stroods were old friends; he had dined at their house the very evening before, and had been surprised and amused to hear Daphne say, with an engaging candour which her husband gave every sign of enjoying: “Why don't you take me to dinner some evening, Mark? No, not with Roderick. Just you and I.” Only Daphne, he reflected, could do a thing like that and get away with it, by virtue of a quality rarer than beauty, and, when allied to beauty, irresistible. With this thought the sense of her was so vivid in his mind that he became suddenly impatient for her coming; and to pass the time he beckoned the waiter and ordered a cocktail. As he raised the glass to his lips he caught sight of Daphne poised in the doorway and looking for him. He waved a hand; she saw him and came forward, greeting him with an air of pleased surprise, as though he were the last person she had expected to see and the one she had most wanted to see.

“Hullo, Mark! How nice of you to come! May I sit here?” She looked round. “I like this place.” She was a child at a party, taking it for granted that Mark himself had designed everything for her pleasure, even to the mural decorations of a public restaurant.

“Foolish, but not revolting,” said Mark.

She sat smiling at him, peeling off her gloves. “Do you mean me?”

“I might have meant you,” said Mark. “You are probably foolish, and I don't find you revolting. But what I really meant was this room, with its arcadian nonsense. I don't hold with it, but there are worse forms of humbug. The flowers. The shepherdesses.” He waved his hands at the walls. “What are you going to drink?” The waiter was discreetly hovering.

“Do I want a cocktail or don't I?” asked Daphne.

“You do,” said Mark. “Possibly two. Possibly three.”

“Madame will per'aps like a cocktail
à la maison,”
suggested the waiter. “A secret of the 'ouse. Very beautiful.”

“And then,” said Mark, “we'll take the table d'hôte, do you think?”

“Yes,” agreed Daphne. “And we'll take it slowly, shall we? How long can you spare for me of your busy life, Mark?”

“My dear Daphne! If the devotion of a lifetime is of any use to you …”

She laughed. “Good!” They studied the menu, and, eager to be rid of him, set themselves to answer the waiter's catechism. When that was over Daphne gave a sigh of relief, and seeing a small secret light that shone and faded in her eyes, a visiting gleam of mystery, Mark felt his pulse quicken with expectation.

“And now?” he said.

She looked across at him with challenge. “And now what?”

He had meant “And now for the secret!” But daunted by her look he made haste to repudiate that meaning. “And now,” he repeated, “tell me what you think of everything.”

“Everything?”

“Life. The world. The modern girl.”

Her smile was perfunctory. It faded quickly. “Why have you never married, Mark?”

He grinned. “The more I see of marriage, the better I like my monastic cell.”

“And not so monastic either, I dare say,” remarked Daphne, with mischievous humour. “But you haven't answered my question. Why have you never married?”

“Nine out of ten of the married couples I know wish they were single,” said Mark. “It's not encouraging, is it?”

“And what about the tenth?”

He considered for a moment. “Well, you and Roderick can be the tenth, if you like. You're the conspicuously lucky ones of my acquaintance.”

“Are we? Now isn't that nice!” Daphne sounded dangerous. “Rod and I as a model couple. That's very good indeed. You've known Rod a long time, Mark. Longer even than I have. But perhaps you don't realize how much he's changed. For two years now he's made me very unhappy.”

Mark was surprised, but not so much surprised as he pretended to be. He had not expected this piece of information, and was wary of taking it at its face value. But nothing nowadays surprised him very much. “Really? How's that? I always supposed that you and Rod … Here's that confounded waiter again.”

The waiter continued to interrupt the conversation from time to time, but the food was pleasant, the wine exquisite, the ritual soothing; and the presence of other diners, each pair or group a self-contained neighbouring world, added to the quality of the hour. It's like a planetarium, thought Mark Perryman. It's like the constituents of the atom. It's like … but Daphne was telling her story, and the buzz of discreet voices about him provided a running accompaniment to that recital. The human orchestra, he said to himself. Violin concerto, with the soloist in great form. He despised these captions, but could not stop inventing them. On the whole he was enjoying his evening. He wearied of many things: boredom lay perpetually in wait for him. But he never wearied of receiving the confidences of attractive young women, and he never betrayed a confidence. It suited his humour to take a cynical view of himself, but he was ingenuous enough to believe that there was something about him that made people tell him the story of their lives on the shortest acquaintance. It flattered him to be trusted, and it was a point of vanity to be worthy of the trust. He got more kick out of keeping a secret, he would explain, than others got out of gossip. He was a practised listener and seldom went unthanked for the advice he professed not to give.

“Mark, I want to ask your advice,” said Daphne. “You're such a wise egg.”

“Yes, aren't I?” said Mark. “Go ahead.”

She went ahead. And, while he listened, the figure of Roderick Strood moved about in his reverie, a dark, stiff, precise figure, long-faced, square-jawed, taciturn. The face of a hanging judge, thought Mark; but he repented of the phrase, remembering how the eyes could twinkle, the severe mouth relax. And if he was a judge of anything it was not of his fellow-men but rather of the houses they lived in, for he spent his days devising such things, paying far more attention, Mark imagined, to the utilities than to the aesthetics of the matter. Mark, himself of a more mercurial temperament, liked him for his limitations as much as for his qualities—because they
are
his qualities, thought the journalist. He was sensitive and conservative and nowadays (Mark recalled livelier times) unambitious. Nature, in designing him, had failed to provide him with the means of emotional expression, and though he could enjoy a joke he was fundamentally unhumorous in grain, thought Mark. But his massive integrity, the loyalty of his affections, sprang from something more vital than respect for conventional standards, though he had that too. As Daphne talked on, lowering her voice, exclaiming, pausing, making eyes of wonder and gestures of pride, looking now indignant and now distressed and always lovely in her small sleek velvet-skinned fashion, Mark Perryman's quick fancy pictured the scenes she sketched for him. Going home in a taxi after the party: Daphne angrily silent, Roderick unmoved and indifferent. The bedroom quarrel, with Daphne in tears (a disturbing sight, thought Mark) and Roderick coldly reasonable, distant, stupid. And what was it all about? That, it appeared, had been precisely Roderick's reiterated question; and Daphne had not been slow to answer it. In anger she had a wonderful flow of language. He had spent too much time flirting with that notorious red-headed girl. Everyone had noticed it. Everyone was talking about it. He had danced three times in succession with someone else. He had neglected his wife. He had drunk too much champagne and made stupid jokes. She, Daphne, had been ashamed of him. Mark's wonder grew big as he listened, and it moved him to
his one indiscretion. Did Daphne really mean that poor old Roderick was running after another woman?

“No such luck!” said Daphne bitterly. Mark's eyebrows invited an explanation. Instead of offering one she smiled and said: “Oh, Mark! What an idea! Staid old Rod running after a woman!”

“Then what precisely is the trouble?”

“He wants me to be a good girl and just stay put. He takes me for granted. He forgets I'm there. It's not good enough, Mark.”

“No,” said Mark thoughtfully. “I see that.” He waited for more, knowing by instinct that something more important than these trivial domestic rumpuses was to come.

“Besides,” remarked Daphne, after a moment's silence, “I expect you'll think it very dreadful of me, but I've fallen in love.”

Mark tried to look surprised. “Really?”

“Yes, really.”

“Do I know the gentleman?”

“I mustn't tell you who it is,” said Daphne. “That wouldn't be fair. Let's call him X, shall we?”

“I shall be delighted to call him X,” said Mark, “if you think he won't resent the liberty.”

Daphne dimpled. “How absurd you are! No, but this is serious, Mark. It's really no laughing matter. He's Roddy's friend as well. That makes it more difficult. He was taking me home from the theatre one night. In a taxi, you know.”

“Oh, I know,” assented Mark. “I know what these taxis are. And then?”

“Well, suddenly he was kissing me.”

“I see. And you?” His manner was oddly neutral. No one but he could have said whether the question was sympathetic, ironical, or amused. Perhaps it was all three at once.

“What do you mean?” asked Daphne, a dangerous gleam appearing suddenly in her eyes.

“I mean, how did you take it? Were you surprised, indignant, or what?”

He observed her closely, and the tender absent smile that played about her lips was a sufficient answer.

“It was the most wonderful thing that had ever happened
to me,” said Daphne. “And that's what I want your advice about. You know Rod and you know me. I can't let him down, can I? But then, it seems to me he's let me down. He has, hasn't he? I mean he's so casual, and moody, and all that. He doesn't want me any more, and … X does. X wants me to go away with him and have a divorce and everything.”

“But he hasn't got any money,” said Mark. “I see the difficulty.”

“What makes you say that? Do you know who X is?”

“Haven't the least idea.”

“Then why do you say he hasn't got any money?”

“Well, has he?”

“Not very much. But he will have, in time.”

“Yes, when his father dies,” agreed Mark. “But his father may live another fifteen years. Have you considered that?”

“Mark!” She stared in anger. “Then you
do
know who it is!”

“My dearest Daphne, I know nothing of the kind. I'm merely helping you to tell your story. It's not exactly a new story, you know, and one can't help being familiar with the general outline. When is this Heidelberg trip going to happen? Next month, isn't it?”

“You make the most surprising leaps,” said Daphne. “But you're right again. You know now why I want Rod to make his sentimental pilgrimage without me. At home we can keep our distance, we need never be alone together. But a holiday
à deux
is a very different matter. Never out of each other's sight. It would be merely hell. It's really Heidelberg that's brought things to a head for me.”

“And Heidelberg may solve the whole problem,” suggested Mark. “When you get away from each other, things will fall into perspective and …”

BOOK: The Jury
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