They mounted the stairs together, Piers still standing motionless, still mutely watching. There was no temper nor anger in his face. Simply he stood and waited. And, as if that silent gaze drew her, even against her will, suddenly at the top she turned. Her own sweet smile flashed into her face. She threw a friendly glance down to him.
“Good-night, Mr. Evesham!” she called softly. “A happy Christmas to you!”
And as if that were what he had been waiting for, Piers bowed very low in answer and at once turned away.
His face as he went out into the night wore a very curious expression. It was not grim, nor ashamed, nor triumphant, and yet there was in it a suggestion of all three moods.
He reached his car, standing as he had left it in the deserted lane, and stooped to start the engine. Then, as it throbbed in answer, he straightened himself, and very suddenly he laughed. But it was not a happy laugh; and in a moment more he shot away into the dark as though pursued by fiends. If he had gained his end, if he had in any fashion achieved his desire, it was plain that it did not give him any great satisfaction. He went like a fury through the night.
“Look here, boy!” Very suddenly, almost fiercely, Sir Beverley addressed his grandson that evening as they sat together over dessert. “I’ve had enough of this infernal English climate. I’m going away.”
Piers was peeling a walnut. He did not raise his eyes or make the faintest sign of surprise. Steadily his fingers continued their task. His lips hardened a little, that was all.
“Do you hear?” rapped out Sir Beverley.
Piers bent his head. “What about the hunting?” he said.
“Damn the hunting!” growled Sir Beverley.
Piers was silent a moment. Then: “I suggested it to you myself, didn’t I?” he said deliberately, “six weeks ago. And you wouldn’t hear of it.”
“Confound your impertinence!” began Sir Beverley. But abruptly Piers raised his eyes, and he stopped. “What do you mean?” he said, in a calmer tone.
Very steadily Piers met his look. “That’s a question I should like to ask, sir,” he said. “Why do you want to go abroad? Aren’t you well?”
“I am perfectly well,” declared Sir Beverley, who furiously resented any enquiry as to his health. “Can’t a man take it into his head that he’d like a change from this beastly damp hole of a country without being at death’s door, I should like to know?”
“You generally have a reason for what you do, sir,” observed Piers.
“Of course I have a reason,” flung back Sir Beverley.
A faint smile touched the corners of Piers’ mouth. “But I am not to know what it is, what?” he asked.
Sir Beverley glared at him. There were times when he was possessed by an uneasy suspicion that the boy was growing up into a manhood that threatened to overthrow his control. He had a feeling that Piers’ submission to his authority had become a matter of choice rather than of necessity. He had inherited his Italian grandmother’s fortune, moreover,—a sore point with Sir Beverley who would have repudiated every penny had it been left at his disposal—and was therefore independent.