Presently Franklin reappeared.
“Mrs. Prescott,” said he.
That there should have been in the uncommon-tall young woman of buxom stateliness and prepossessing features, attired (to the mere masculine eye) in quite elegant black raiment—a thing called, I think, a picture hat, broad-brimmed with a sweeping ostrich feather, tickled my especial fancy, but was afterwards reviled by my wife as being entirely unsuited to fresh widowhood—what there should have been in this remarkable Junoesque young person who followed on the heels of Franklin to strike terror into Jaffery’s soul, I could not, for the life of me, imagine. In the light of her personality I thought Barbara’s coup de theatre rather cruel. . . . Of course Barbara received her courteously. She, too, was surprised at her outward aspect, having expected to behold a fantastic personage of comic opera.
“I am very pleased to see you, Mrs. Prescott.”
Liosha—I must call her that from the start, for she exists to me as Liosha and as nothing else—shook hands with Barbara, making a queer deep formal bow, and turned her calm, brown eyes on Jaffery. There was just a little quarter-second of silence, during which we all wondered in what kind of outlandish tongue she would address him. To our gasping astonishment she said with an unmistakable American intonation: “Mr. Chayne, will you have the kindness to introduce me to your friends?”
I broke into a nervous laugh and grasped her hand
“Pray allow me. I am
Mr. Freeth, your much honoured host, and this is my wife, and . . .
Miss Jornicroft . . . and Mr. Boldero. Mr. Chayne has been deceiving us.
We thought you were an Albanian.”
“I guess I am,” said the lady, after having made four ceremonious bows, “I am the daughter of Albanian patriots. They were murdered. One day I’m going back to do a little murdering on my own account.”
Barbara drew an audible short breath and Doria instinctively moved within the protective area of Adrian’s arm. Jaffery, with knitted brow, leaned against one of the posts supporting the old wistaria arbour and said nothing, leaving me to exploit the lady.
“But you speak perfect English,” said I.
“I was raised in Chicago. My parents were employed in the stockyards of Armour. My father was the man who slit the throats of the pigs. He was a dandy,” she said in unemotional tones—and I noticed a little shiver of repulsion ripple through Barbara and Doria. “When I was twelve, my father kind of inherited lands in Albania, and we went back. Is there anything more you’d like to know?”
She looked us all up and down, rather down than up, for she towered above us, perfectly unconcerned mistress of the situation. Naturally we made mute appeal to Jaffery. He stirred his huge bulk from the post and plunged his hands into his pockets.