“I thought it was all fixed up nicely forever,” he growled.
“Everything is transitory in this life, my dear fellow,” said I. “Everything except a trusteeship. That goes on forever.”
“That’s the devil of it,” he growled.
“You must get used to it,” said I. “You’ll have lots more to look after before you’ve done with this existence!”
His look hardened and seemed to say: “If you go and die and saddle me with Barbara, I’ll punch your head.”
He turned his back on me and, jerking a thumb, addressed Barbara.
“Why do you take him out without a muzzle? Now you’ve got sense. What shall I do?”
Then Liosha superb and smiling sailed into the room.
I ought to have mentioned that Barbara had convened this meeting at the boarding-house. The room into which Liosha sailed was the elegant “bonbonniere” of a chamber known as the “boudoir.” There was a great deal of ribbon and frill and photograph frame and artful feminine touch about it, which Liosha and, doubtless, many other inmates thought mightily refined.
Liosha kissed Barbara and shook hands with Jaffery and me, bade us be seated and put us at our ease with a social grace which could not have been excelled by the admirable Mrs. Considine (now Jupp) herself. That maligned lady had performed her duties during the past two years with characteristic ability. Parenthetically I may remark that Liosha’s table-manners and formal demeanour were now irreproachable. Mrs. Considine had also taken up the Western education of the child of twelve at the point at which it had been arrested, and had brought Liosha’s information as to history, geography, politics and the world in general to the standard of that of the average schoolgirl of fifteen. Again, she had developed in our fair barbarian a natural taste in dress, curbing, on her emergence from mourning, a fierce desire for apparel in primary colours, and leading her onwards to an appreciation of suaver harmonies. Again she had run her tactful hand over Liosha’s stockyard vocabulary, erasing words and expressions that might offend Queen’s Gate and substituting others that might charm; and she had done it with a touch of humour not lost on Liosha, who had retained the sense of values in which no child born and bred in Chicago can be deficient.
“I suppose you’re all fussed to death about this marriage,” she said pleasantly. “Well, I couldn’t help it.”
“Of course not, dear,” said Barbara.
“You might have given us a hint as to what was going on,” said Jaffery.
“What good could you have done? In Albania if the General had interfered with your plans, you might have shot him from behind a stone and everyone except Mrs. Considine would have been happy; but I’ve been taught you don’t do things like that in South Kensington.”
“Whoever wanted to shoot the chap?”
“I, for one,” said Barbara. “What are we to do now?”