He stared at Piers who had wheeled suddenly from the fire at the sound of the laugh. “Well?” he said irritably. “Well? What’s the matter now?”
The eyes that countered his were hard, with just a hint of defiance. “You laughed, sir,” said Piers curtly.
“Well, what of it?” threw back Sir Beverley. “You’re deuced suspicious. I wasn’t laughing at you.”
“I know that,” said Piers. He spoke deliberately, as one choosing his words. His face was stern. “I don’t want to know the joke if it’s private. But I should like to know how long you want to be away.”
“How long? How the devil can I tell?” growled Sir Beverley. “Till I’ve had enough of it, I suppose.”
“Does it depend on that only?” said Piers.
Sir Beverley pushed back his chair with fierce impatience. “Oh, leave me alone, boy, do! I’ll let you know when it’s time to come home again.”
Piers came towards him. He halted with the light from the lamp full on his resolute face. “If you are going to wait on Tudor’s convenience,” he said, “you’ll wait—longer than I shall.”
“What the devil do you mean?” thundered Sir Beverley.
But again Piers turned aside from open conflict. He put a quiet hand through his grandfather’s arm.
“Come along, sir! We’ll smoke in the hall,” he said. “I think you understand me. If you don’t—” he paused and smiled his sudden, winning smile into the old man’s wrathful eyes—“I’ll explain more fully when the time comes.”
“Confound you, Piers!” was Sir Beverley’s only answer.
Yet he left the room with the boy’s arm linked in his. And the woman’s face on the wall smiled behind them—the smile of a witch, mysterious, derisive, aloof, yet touched with that same magic with which Piers had learned even in his infancy to charm away the evil spirit that lurked in his grandfather’s soul.
“Going away to-morrow, are you?” said Ina Rose, in her cool young voice. “I hope you’ll enjoy it.”
“Thanks!” said Piers. “No doubt I shall.”
He spoke with his eyes on the dainty lace fan he had taken from her.
Ina frankly studied his face. She had always found Piers Evesham interesting.
“I should be wild if I were in your place,” she remarked, after a moment.
He shrugged his shoulders, and his brown face slightly smiled. “Because of the hunting?” he said, and turned his eyes upon her fresh, girlish face. “But there’s always next year, what?”
“Good gracious!” said Ina. “You talk as if you were older than your grandfather. It wouldn’t comfort me in the least to think of next season’s hunting. And I don’t believe it does you either. You are only putting it on.”
“All right!” said Piers. His eyes dwelt upon her with a species of mocking homage that yet in a fashion subtly flattered. He always knew how to please Ina Rose, though not always did he take the trouble. “Let us say—for the sake of argument—that I am quite inconsolable. It doesn’t matter to anyone, does it?”