“All right, old man! Here you are!” said Noel.
He fished out a lump of sugar and stuffed it between the sensitive lips that nibbled at his sleeve, kissed the white star between the soft brown eyes, whispered an endearing word into the cocked ear, slapped the glossy neck, and finally departed.
His face resumed its scowl as he entered the room where Max sprawled in a bamboo chair with his feet on another and the petted terrier of the establishment seated alertly on his chest. Max smiled at sight of it and stretched forth a lazy hand.
“Excuse my rising! I daren’t incur this creature’s displeasure.”
Noel took the creature by the neck and removed it. Max’s hand remained outstretched, but that he ignored.
“What have you come for?” he demanded gruffly.
“I should have said, ‘What can I do for you?’” observed Max to the ceiling. “If you are thinking of having a drink, perhaps you will allow me to join you.”
Noel went to the door and grumpily yelled an order. After which he jingled back, unbuckled his sword, and flung it noisily on the table.
Max turned his head very deliberately and regarded him.
His scrutiny was a prolonged one, and Noel finally waxed impatient under it. “Well, what are you staring at me for?” he enquired aggressively.
With a sudden movement Max removed his feet from the second chair and sat up. “Sit down there!” he said.
The words fell curt and sharp, a distinct order which Noel obeyed almost before he knew what he was doing. He dropped into the chair and sat directly facing his brother, a kind of surly respect struggling with the evident hostility of his expression.
His dog, feeling neglected, sprang on to his knees and licked his sullen face.
Max uttered a short laugh that was not unfriendly. “Oh, stop being a silly ass, Noel!” he said. “What on earth do you want to quarrel with me for? It’s the most unprofitable game under the sun.”
Noel sat stiffly upright, holding the dog at arm’s length. “It’s no fault of mine,” he said.
His eyes were obstinately lowered in a mule-like refusal to meet his brother’s straight regard. He looked absurdly like a schoolboy brought up for punishment.
Max considerately stifled a second laugh. “All right, it’s mine,” he said. “And I’ve come to apologize. Understand? I’ve come to make unconditional restitution of my ill-gotten gains. I’m just off to Bombay, to shake the dust of this accursed country off my feet, and to leave you in undisputed possession of the spoil. How’s that appeal to you, you sulky young hound?”
Noel’s eyes shot upwards at the epithet, though the supercilious good-humour of its utterance made it somehow impossible to raise any furious protest.
The entrance of his servant with drinks helped very materially to save his dignity. He pulled the table to him without rising and began to pour them out.