“Her pardon ... beg her pardon, my fine prince ... lick the dust in an English cottage, thou foreign devil ... or, by God, I will kill thee! ...”
“Let me go!” gasped Sir Marmaduke, whom the icy fear of imminent discovery gripped more effectually even than did the village blacksmith’s muscular fingers, “let me go ... damn you!”
“Not before I have made thee lick the dust,” said Adam grimly, bringing one huge palm down on the elaborate perruque, and forcing Sir Marmaduke’s head down, down towards the ground, “lick it ... lick it ... Prince of Orleans....”
He burst out laughing in the midst of his fury, at sight of this disdainful gentleman, with the proud title, about to come in violent contact with a cottage floor. But Sir Marmaduke struggled violently still. He had been wiser no doubt, to take the humiliation quietly, to lick the dust and to pacify the smith: but what man is there who would submit to brute force without using his own to protect himself?
Then Fate at last worked her wanton will.
In the struggle the fantastic perruque and heavy mustache of Prince Amede d’Orleans remained in the smith’s hand whilst it was the round head and clean-shaven face of Sir Marmaduke de Chavasse which came in contact with the floor.
In an instant, stricken at first dumb with surprise and horror, but quickly recovering the power of speech, Adam Lambert murmured:
“You? ... You? ... Sir Marmaduke de Chavasse! ... Oh! my God! ...”
His grip on his enemy had, of course, relaxed. Sir Marmaduke was able to struggle to his feet. Fate had dealt him a blow as unexpected as it was violent. But he had not been the daring schemer that he was, if throughout the past six months, the possibility of such a moment as this had not lurked at the back of his mind.
The blow, therefore, did not find him quite unprepared. It had been stunning but not absolutely crushing. Even whilst Adam Lambert was staring with almost senseless amazement alternately at him and at the bundle of false hair which he was still clutching, Sir Marmaduke had struggled to his feet.
He had recovered his outward composure at any rate, and the next moment was busy re-adjusting his doublet and bands before the mirror over the hearth.
“Yes! my violent friend!” he said coolly, speaking over his shoulder, “of a truth it is mine own self! Your landlord you see, to whom that worthy woman upstairs owes this nice cottage which she has had rent free for over ten years ... not the foreign vermin, you see,” he added with a pleasant laugh, “which maketh your actions of just now, somewhat unpleasant to explain. Is that not so?”
“Nay! but by the Lord!” quoth Adam Lambert, still somewhat dazed, vaguely frightened himself now at the magnitude, the importance of what he had done, “meseems that ’tis thine actions, friend, which will be unpleasant to explain. Thou didst not put on these play-actor’s robes for a good purpose, I’ll warrant! ... I cannot guess what is thy game, but methinks her young ladyship would wish to know something of its rules ... or mayhap, my brother Richard who is no friend of thine, forsooth.”