“Hadn’t you better send Jeanie to bed?” he said.
Jeanie rose obediently. “Good-night, dear Avery.”
Avery sat up. Her hand was pressed hard upon her heart. “I am coming with you,” she said.
Piers crossed the room to the door. He held it open for them.
Jeanie lifted her face for his kiss. An unaccustomed shyness seemed to have descended upon her. “Good-night,” she whispered.
He bent to her. “Good-night, Jeanie!”
Her arms were round his neck in a moment. “Piers, thank you for your music, but—but—”
“Good-night, dear!” said Piers again gently, but with obvious decision.
“Good-night!” said Jeanie at once.
She would have passed out instantly, but Avery paused, detaining her.
Her eyes were raised steadily to her husband’s face. “I will say good-night, too,” she said. “I am spending the night with Jeanie. She is not used to sleeping alone, and—the storm may come back.”
She was white to the lips as she said it. She looked as if she would faint.
“Oh, but—” began Jeanie, “I don’t mind really. I—”
With a brief, imperious gesture Piers silenced her for the second time. He looked over her head, straight into Avery’s eyes for a long, long second.
Then: “So be it!” he said, and with ironical ceremony he bowed her out.
“Hullo, sonny! You!”
Edmund Crowther turned from his littered writing-table, and rose to greet his visitor with a ready smile of welcome.
“Hullo!” said Piers. “How are you getting on? I was in town and thought I’d look you up. By Jove, though, you’re busy! I’d better not stay.”
“Sit down!” said Crowther.
He took him by the shoulders with kindly force and made him sit in his easy-chair. “I’m never too busy to be pleased to see you, Piers,” he said.
“Very decent of you,” said Piers.
He spoke with a short laugh, but his dark eyes roved round restlessly. There was no pleasure in his look.
The light from Crowther’s unshaded lamp flared full upon him. In his faultless evening dress he looked every inch an aristocrat. That air of the old-Roman patrician was very strong upon him that night. But there was something behind it that Crowther was quick to note, something that reminded him vividly of an evening months before when he had fought hand to hand with the Evesham devil and had with difficulty prevailed.
He pushed his work to one side and foraged in his cupboard for drinks.
Piers watched him with an odd, half-scoffing smile about his lips. “Do you never drink when you are by yourself?” he asked.
“Not when I’m working,” said Crowther.
“I see! Work is sacred, what?”
Crowther looked at him. The mockery of the tone had been scarcely veiled; but there was no consciousness of the fact in Crowther’s quiet reply. “Yes; just that, sonny.”