As far as I could gather—for she spoke in the ordinary tones of civilised womanhood, whereas Jaffery, under the impression that he was whispering confidentially, bellowed like an honest bull—as far as I could gather, she said:
“You must have met hundreds of men more sympathetic to you than Mr. Freeth and Adrian.”
“I haven’t,” he cried. “That’s the funny devil of it. I haven’t. If I was struck a helpless paralytic with not a cent and no prospect of earning a cent, I know I could come to those two and say, ’Keep me for the rest of my life’—and they would do it”
“And would you do the same for either of them?”
Jaffery rose and stuffed his hands in his jacket pockets and towered over her.
“I’d do it for them and their wives and their children and their children’s children.”
He sat down again in confusion at having been led into hyperbole. But he took her shoulders in his huge but kindly hands, somewhat to her alarm—for, in her world, she was not accustomed to gigantic males laying unceremonious hold of her—
“All I wanted to convey to you, my dear girl, is this—that if Adrian’s wife won’t look on me as a true friend, I’m ready to go away and cut my throat”
Doria smiled at him with pretty civility and assured him of her willingness to admit him into her inner circle of friends; whereupon he caught up his pouch and pipe and lumbered down the terrace towards us, shouting out his news.
“I’ve fixed it up with Doria”—he turned his head—“I can call you Doria, can’t I?” She nodded permission—what else could she do? “We’re going to be friends. And I say, Barbara, they’ll want a wedding-present. What shall I give ’em? What would you like?”
The latter question was levelled direct at Doria, who had followed demurely in his footsteps. But it was not answered; for from the drawing-room there emerged Franklin, the butler, who marched up straight to Jaffery.
“A lady to see you, sir”
“A lady? Good God! What kind of a lady?”
He stared at Franklin, in dismay.
“She came in a taxi, sir. The driver mistook the way, and put her down at the back entrance. She would not give her name.”
“Tall, rather handsome, dressed in black?”
“Lord Almighty!” cried Jaffery, including us all in the sweep of a desperate gaze. “It’s Liosha! I thought I had given her the slip.”
Barbara rose, and confronted him. “And pray who is Liosha?”
Adrian hugged his knee and laughed:
“The dynamic widow,” said he.
“I’ll go and see what in thunder she wants,” said Jaffery.
But Barbara’s eyes twinkled. “You’ll do nothing of the sort. She has no business to come running after you like this. She must be taught manners. Franklin, will you show the lady out here?”
She drew herself up to her full height of five feet nothing, thereby demonstrating the obvious fact that she was mistress in her own house.