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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Bars Of Iron - Part 1. The Gates Of Brass - Chapter 15. The Scheme
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The Bars Of Iron - Part 1. The Gates Of Brass - Chapter 15. The Scheme Post by :JPatrick Category :Long Stories Author :Ethel May Dell Date :May 2012 Read :2126

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The Bars Of Iron - Part 1. The Gates Of Brass - Chapter 15. The Scheme


"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.

"I've given you a reason. What more do you want?" he growled.

Piers looked straight at him for a few seconds longer; then broke into his sudden boyish laugh. "All right, sir. When shall we start?" he said.

Sir Beverley stared. "What the devil are you laughing at?" he demanded.

Piers had returned to the peeling of his walnut. "Nothing, sir," he said airily. "At least, nothing more important than your reason for going abroad."

"Damn your impudence!" said Sir Beverley, and then for some reason he too began to smile. "That's settled then. We'll go to Monte Carlo, eh, Piers? You'll like that."

"Do you think I am to be trusted at Monte Carlo?" said Piers.

"I let you go round the world by yourself while you were still an infant, so I almost think I can trust you at Monte Carlo under my own eye," returned Sir Beverley.

Piers was silent. The smile had left his lips. He frowned slightly over his task.

"Well?" said Sir Beverley, suddenly and sharply.

"Well, sir?" Piers raised his brows without looking up.

The old man brought down an impatient fist on the table. "Why can't you say what you think?" he demanded angrily. "You sit there with your mouth shut as if--as if--" His eyes went suddenly to the woman's face on the wall with the red lips that smiled half-sadly, half-mockingly, and the eyes that perpetually followed him but never smiled at all. "Confound you, Piers!" he said. "I sometimes think that voyage round the world did you more harm than good."

"Why, sir?" said Piers quickly.

Sir Beverley's look left the smiling, baffling face upon the wall and sought his grandson's. "You were so mad to be off the bearing-rein, weren't you?" he said. "So keen to feel your own feet? I thought it would make a man of you, but I was a fool to do it. I'd better have kept you on the rein after all."

"I should have run away if you had," said Piers. He poured himself out a glass of wine and raised it to his lips. He looked at Sir Beverley above it with a smile half-sad, half-mocking, and eyes that veiled his soul. "I should have gone to the devil if you had, sir," he said, "and--probably--I shouldn't have come back." He drank slowly, his eyes still upon Sir Beverley's face.

When he set the glass down again he was openly laughing. "Besides, you horsewhipped me for something or other, do you remember? It hurts to be horsewhipped at nineteen."

Sir Beverley growled at him inarticulately.

"Yes, I know," said Piers, "But it doesn't affect me so much now. I'm past the sensitive age." He ate his walnut, drained his glass, and rose.

"You--puppy!" said Sir Beverley, looking up at him.

Piers came to his side. He suddenly knelt down and pulled the old man's arm round his shoulders. "I say, I'm going to enjoy that trip," he said boyishly. "Let's get away before the New Year!"

Sir Beverley suffered the action with no further protest than a frown. "You weren't so mighty anxious when I first suggested it," he grumbled.

Piers laughed. "Can't a man change his mind? I'm keen enough now."

"What do you want to go for?" Sir Beverley looked at him suspiciously.

But Piers' frank return of his look told him nothing. "I love the South as you know," he said.

"Damn it, yes!" said Sir Beverley irritably. He could never endure any mention of the Southern blood in Piers.

"And--" Piers' brown fingers grew suddenly tight upon the bony hand he had drawn over his shoulder--"I like going away with you."

"Oh, stow it, Piers!" growled Sir Beverley.

"The truth, sir!" protested Piers, with eyes that suddenly danced. "It does me good to be with you. It keeps me young."

"Young!" ejaculated Sir Beverley. "You--infant!"

Piers broke into a laugh. He looked a mere boy when he gave himself up to merriment. "And it'll do you good too," he said, "to get away from that beastly doctor who is always hanging around. I long to give him the boot whenever I see him."

"You don't like each other, eh?" Sir Beverley's smile was sardonic.

"We loathe and detest each other," said Piers. All the boyishness went out of his face with the words; he looked suddenly grim, and in that moment the likeness between them was very marked. "I presume this change of air scheme was his suggestion," he said abruptly.

"And if it was?" said Sir Beverley.

Piers threw back his head and laughed again through clenched teeth. "For which piece of consideration he has my sincere gratitude," he said. He pressed his grandfather's hand again and rose. "So it's to be Monte Carlo, is it? Well, the sooner the better for me. I'll tell Victor to look up the trains. We can't get away to-morrow or the next day. But we ought to be able to manage the day after."

He strolled across to the fire, and stood there with his back to the room, whistling below his breath.

Sir Beverley regarded him frowningly. There was no denying the fact, he did not understand Piers. He had expected a strenuous opposition to his scheme. He had been prepared to do battle with the boy. But Piers had refused the conflict. What was the fellow's game, he asked himself? Why this prompt compliance with his wishes? He was not to be deceived into the belief that he wanted to go. The attraction was too great for that. Unless indeed--he looked across at the bent black head in sudden doubt--was it possible that the boy had met with a check in the least likely direction of all? Could it be that the woman's plans did not include him after all?

No! No! That was out of the question. He knew women. A hard laugh rose to his lips. If she had put a check upon Piers' advances it was not with the ultimate purpose of stopping him. She knew what she was about too well for that, confound her!

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.

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