The butler made an instinctive movement to detain him, but he flung him aside and entered the drawing-room, the servant recovering his equilibrium and following on a run. Light from great crystal chandeliers dazzled him for a moment; the butler again confronted him but hesitated under the wicked glare from his eyes. Then through the brilliant vista, the young fellow caught a glimpse of a dining-room, a table where silver and crystal glimmered, and a great gray man just lowering a glass of wine from his lips to gaze at him with quiet curiosity.
The next moment he traversed the carpeted interval between them and halted at the table's damask edge, gazing intently across at the solitary diner, who sat leaning back in an arm-chair, heavy right hand still resting on the stem of a claret glass, a cigar suspended between the fingers of his left hand.
"Are you Colonel Arran?"
"I am," replied the man at the table coolly. "Who the devil are you?"
"By God," replied the other with an insolent laugh, "that's what I came here to find out!"
The man at the table laid both hands on the edge of the cloth and partly rose from his chair, then fell back solidly, in silence, but his intent gaze never left the other's bloodless face.
"Send away your servants, Colonel Arran!" said the young man in a voice now labouring under restraint. "We'll settle this matter now."
The other made as though to speak twice; then, with an effort, he motioned to the butler.
What he meant by the gesture perhaps he himself scarcely realised at the moment.
The butler instantly signalled to Pim, the servant behind Colonel Arran's chair, and started forward with a furtive glance at his master; and the young man turned disdainfully to confront him.
"Will you retire peaceably, sir?"
"No, but you will retire permanently if you touch me. Be very careful."
Colonel Arran leaned forward, hands still gripping the table's edge:
"You may go."
The small gray eyes in the pock-pitted face stole toward youngBerkley, then were cautiously lowered.
"Very well, sir," he said.
"Close the drawing-room doors. No—this way. Go out through the pantry. And take Pim with you."
"Very well, sir."
"When I want you I'll ring. Until then I don't want anybody or anything. Is that understood?"
"That is all."
"Thank you, sir."
The great mahogany folding doors slid smoothly together, closing out the brilliant drawing-room; the door of the butler's pantry clicked.
Colonel Arran slowly wheeled in his place and surveyed his unbidden guest:
"Well, sir," he said, "continue."
"I haven't yet begun."
"You are mistaken, Berkley; you have made a very significant beginning. I was told that you are this kind of a young man."
"I am this kind of a young man. What else have you been told?"
Colonel Arran inspected him through partly closed and heavy eyes; "I am further informed," he said, that at twenty-four you have already managed to attain bankruptcy."
"Perfectly correct. What other items have you collected concerning me?"
"You can retrace your own peregrinations if you care to....