Gradually his voice had become steadier, his manner more assured. A glimmer of light on the Squire’s strange doings had begun to penetrate his simple, dull brain. Vaguely he guessed the purport of the disguise and of the lies, and the mention of Lady Sue’s name was not an arrow shot thoughtlessly into the air. At the same time he had not perceived the slightest quiver of fear or even of anxiety on Sir Marmaduke’s face.
The latter had in the meanwhile put his crumpled toilet in order and now turned with an urbane smile to his glowering antagonist.
“I will not deny, kind master,” he said pleasantly, “that you might cause me a vast amount of unpleasantness just now ... although of a truth, I do not perceive that you would benefit yourself overmuch thereby. On the contrary, you would vastly lose. Your worthy aunt, Mistress Lambert, would lose a pleasant home, and you would never know what you and your brother Richard have vainly striven to find out these past ten years.”
“What may that be, pray?” queried the smith sullenly.
“Who you both are,” rejoined Sir Marmaduke blandly, as he calmly sat down in one of the stiff-backed elm chairs beside the hearth, “and why worthy Mistress Lambert never speaks to you of your parentage.”
“Who we both are?” retorted Lambert with obvious bitterness, “two poor castaways, who, but for the old woman would have been left to starve, and who have tried, therefore, to be a bit grateful to her, and to earn an honest livelihood. That is what we are, Sir Marmaduke de Chavasse; and now prithee tell me, who the devil art thou?”
“You are overfond of swearing, worthy master,” quoth Sir Marmaduke lightly, “’tis sinful so I’m told, for one of your creed. But that is no matter to me. You are, believe me, somewhat more interesting than you imagine. Though I doubt if to a Quaker, being heir to title and vast estates hath more than a fleeting interest.”
But the smith had shrugged his broad shoulders and uttered an exclamation of contempt.
“Title and vast estates?” he said with an ironical laugh. “Nay! Sir Marmaduke de Chavasse, the bait is passing clumsy. An you wish me to hold my tongue about you and your affairs, you’ll have to be vastly sharper than that.”
“You mistake me, friend smith, I am not endeavoring to purchase your silence. I hold certain information relating to your parentage. This I would be willing to impart to a friend, yet loath to do so to an enemy. A man doth not like to see his enemy in possession of fifteen thousand pounds a year. Does he?”
And Sir Marmaduke appeared absorbed in the contemplation of his left shoe, whilst Adam Lambert repeated stupidly and vaguely:
“Fifteen thousand pounds a year? I?”
“Even you, my friend.”
This was said so simply, and with such conviction-carrying certainty—that in spite of himself Lambert’s sulkiness vanished. He drew nearer to Sir Marmaduke, looked down on him silently for a second or two, then muttered through his teeth: