“I’ve forgotten nothing, you—animal! Nor that you insulted my father publicly only a few minutes ago, you—”
“That is something that takes a bit of doing, too!” affirmed P. Sybarite with a nod.
“And I want to inform you, sir,” Shaynon raged, “that you’ve gone too far by much. I insist that you remove your mask and tell me your name.”
“And if I refuse?” said the little man coolly.
“If you refuse—or if you persist in this insolent attitude, sir!—I—I’ll—”
“What? In the name of brevity, make up your mind and give it a name, man!”
“I’ll thrash you within an inch of your life—here and now!” Shaynon blustered.
“One moment,” P. Sybarite pleaded with a graceful gesture. “Before committing yourself to this mad enterprise, would you mind telling me exactly how you spell that word inch? With a capital I and a final e—by any chance?”
IN A BALCONY
Bewilderment and consternation, working in the man, first struck him dumb, aghast, and witless, then found expression in an involuntary gasp that was more than half of wondering fear, the remainder rage slipping its leash entirely:
He advanced a pace with threatening mien.
Overshadowed though he was, P. Sybarite stood his ground with no least hint of dismay. To the contrary, he was seen to stroke his lips discreetly as if to erase a smile.
“The word in question,” he said with exasperating suavity, “is the common one of four letters, to-wit, inch; as ordinarily spelled denoting the unit of lineal measurement—the twelfth part of a foot; but lend it a capital I and an ultimate e—my good fellow!—and it stands, I fear too patiently, for the standard of your blackguardism.”
Speechless, the younger Shaynon hesitated, lifting an uncertain hand to his throat, as if to relieve a sense of strangulation.
“Or what if I were to suggest—delicately—that you’re within an Inche of the end of your rope?” the little man pursued, grimly playful. “Give you an Inche and—what will you take, eh?”
With an inarticulate cry, Shaynon’s fist shot out as if to strike his persecutor down; but in mid-air P. Sybarite’s slim, strong fingers closed round and inflexibly stayed his enemy’s wrist, with barely perceptible effort swinging it down and slewing the man off poise, so that perforce he staggered back against the stone of the window’s deep embrasure.
“Behave!” P. Sybarite counselled evenly. “Remember where you are—in a lady’s presence. Do you want to go sprawling from the sole of my foot into the presence of more than one—or over this railing, to the sidewalk, and become food for inch-worms?”
Releasing Shaynon, he stepped back warily, anticipating nothing less than an instant and disgraceful brawl.