Piers obeyed him. There was that in Sir Beverley’s manner that silenced all questioning. He pulled out the drawer and looked in. It contained one thing only—a revolver.
Sir Beverley went on speaking, calmly, dispassionately, wholly impersonally. “It’s loaded—has been loaded for fifty years. But I never used it. And that not because my own particular hell wasn’t hot enough, but just because I wouldn’t have it said that I’d ever loved any she-devil enough to let her be my ruin. There were times enough when I nearly did it. I’ve sat all night with the thing in my hand. But I hung on for that reason, till at last the fire burnt out, and I didn’t care. Every woman is the same to me now. I know now—and you’ve got to know it too—that woman is only fit to be the servant, not the mistress, of man,—and a damn treacherous servant at that. She was made for man’s use, and if he is fool enough to let her get the upper hand, then Heaven help him, for he certainly won’t be in a position to help himself!”
He stopped abruptly, and in the silence Piers shut and relocked the drawer. He dropped the key into his own pocket, and came back to the fire.
Sir Beverley looked up at him with something of an effort. “Boy,” he said, “you’ve got to marry some day, I know. You’ve got to have children. But—you’re young, you know. There’s plenty of time before you. You might wait a bit—just a bit—till I’m out of the way. I won’t keep you long; and I won’t beat you often either—if you’ll condescend to stay with me.”
He smiled with the words, his own grim ironical smile; but the pathos of it cut straight to Piers’ heart. He went down on his knees beside the old man and thrust his arm about the shrunken shoulders.
“I’ll never leave you again, sir,” he vowed earnestly. “I’ve been a heartless brute, and I’m most infernally sorry. As to marrying, well—there’s no more question of that for me. I couldn’t marry Ina Rose. You understand that?”
“Never liked the chit,” growled Sir Beverley. “Only thought she’d answer your purpose better than some. For you’ve got to get an heir, boy; remember that! You’re the only Evesham left.”
“Oh, damn!” said Piers very wearily. “What does it matter?”
Sir Beverley looked at him from under his thick brows piercingly but without condemnation. “It’s up to you, Piers,” he said.
“Is it?” said Piers, with a groan. “Well, let’s leave it at that for the present! Sure you’ve forgiven me?”
Sir Beverley’s grim face relaxed again. He put his arm round Piers and held him hard for a moment.
Then: “Oh, drat it, Piers!” he said testily. “Get away, do! And behave yourself for the future!”
Whereat Piers laughed, a short, unsteady laugh, and went back to his chair.
“The matter is settled,” said the Reverend Stephen Lorimer, in the tones of icy decision with which his wife was but too tragically familiar. “I engaged Mrs. Denys to be a help to you, not exclusively to Jeanie. The child is quite well enough to return home, and I do not feel myself justified in incurring any further expense now that her health is quite sufficiently restored.”