“It is very kind of you.” If the marquis was excited, or nervous, there was nothing on his face to indicate it.
Jehan and the governor made their exits through opposite doors; and Monsieur le Marquis sat alone. Several minutes passed. Once or twice the marquis turned his attention to his wine-soaked sleeve. Steps were heard in the corridor, but these died away in the distance. From time to time the old man’s hand wandered to his throat, as if something was bothering him there. Time marked off a quarter of an hour. Then the door opened, and a man entered; a man bronzed of countenance, tall, and deep of chest. He wore the trapper’s blouse and fringed leggings. From where he stood he could not see who sat at the table.
“Come toward the light, Monsieur,” said the marquis, “where I may see you to better advantage.” The marquis rose and stood with the fingers of his right band pressing lightly on the table.
At the sound of that voice, the Chevalier’s heart leaped. He strode forward quickly, and, leaning across the table, stared into his father’s eyes.
THE MASTER OF IRONIES
So they stood for some moments, the one with eyes glaring, the other with quiet scrutiny.
“It appears to agree with you here,” began the marquis. There was not the slightest tremor in his voice.
“You?” said the son.
The marquis winced inwardly: that pronoun was so pregnant with surprise, contempt, anger, and indignation! “Yes, it is I, your paternal parent.”
“And you could not leave me in peace, even here?” The son stepped, back and strained his arms across his chest.
“From your tone it would seem so.” The marquis sat down. A fit of trembling had seized his legs. How the boy had changed in three months! He looked like a god, an Egyptian god, with that darkened skin; and the tilt of the chin recalled the mother.
“I had hoped never to look upon your face again,” coldly.
The marquis waved his hand. “Life is a page of disappointments, with a margin of realized expectations which is narrow indeed. Will you not sit down?”
“I prefer to stand. It is safer for you with the table between us.”
“Your sword was close to my heart one night. I made no effort to repulse it.”
“Heaven was not quite ready for you, Monsieur.”
“Heaven or Hell. There seems to be gall in your blood yet.”
“Who put it there?” The Chevalier was making an effort to control his passion.
“I put it there, it is true. But did you not stir a trifle too well?”
“Why are you here? What is your purpose?”
“I have been three months on the water; I have been without my accustomed canary and honey; I have dined upon salt meats till my tongue and stomach are parched like corn. Have you no welcome?”