And then in a silence more dreadful than any speech, he strode to the door and went out, crashing it furiously shut behind him.
Sir Beverley, grown piteously feeble, sank down in the chair, and remained there huddled and gasping for many dragging minutes.
A WATCH IN THE NIGHT
He came at last out of what had almost been a stupor of inertia, sat slowly up, turned his brooding eyes upon the door through which Piers had passed. A tremor of anger crossed his face, and was gone. A grim smile took its place. He still panted spasmodically; but he found his voice.
“Egad!” he said. “The fellow’s as strong as a young bear. He’s hugged—all the wind—out of my vitals.”
He struggled to his feet, straightening his knees with difficulty, one hand pressed hard to his labouring heart.
“Egad!” he gasped again. “He’s getting out of hand—the cub! But he’ll come to heel,—he’ll come to heel! I know the rascal!”
He stumbled to the bell and rang it.
David appeared with a promptitude that seemed to indicate a certain uneasiness.
“Coffee!” growled his master. “And liqueur!”
David departed at as high a rate of speed as decorum would permit.
During his absence Sir Beverley set himself rigidly to recover his normal demeanour. The encounter had shaken him, shaken him badly; but he was not the man to yield to physical weakness. He fought it with angry determination.
Before David’s reappearance he had succeeded in controlling his gasping breath, though the hand with which he helped himself shook very perceptibly.
There were two cups on the tray. David lingered.
“You can go,” said Sir Beverley.
David cocked one eyebrow in deferential enquiry. “Master Piers in the garden, sir?” he ventured. “Shall I find him?”
“No!” snapped Sir Beverley.
“Very good, sir.” David turned regretfully to the door. “Shall I keep the coffee hot, Sir Beverley?” he asked, as he reached it, with what was almost a pleading note in his voice.
Sir Beverley’s frown became as menacing as a thunder-cloud. “No!” he shouted.
David nodded in melancholy submission and withdrew.
Sir Beverley sat down heavily in his chair and slowly drank his coffee. Finally he put aside the empty cup and sat staring at the closed door, his brows drawn heavily together.
How had the young beggar dared to defy him so? He must have been getting out of hand for some time by imperceptible degrees. He had always vowed to himself that he would not spoil the boy. Had that resolution of his become gradually relaxed? His frown grew heavier. He had never before contemplated the possibility that Piers might some day become an individual force utterly beyond his control.
His eye fell upon a fragment of the broken ruler lying under the table and again grimly he smiled.