I picked up a small inkpot from the side of the table and hurled it at him. He sprang aside, but it caught the corner of his forehead, and he gave a shrill cry of pain. He struck a fierce blow at me, which I parried, and a moment later we were locked in one another’s arms. I think that we must have been of equal strength, for we swayed up and down the room, neither gaining the advantage, till I felt my breath come short and my head dizzy. Nevertheless, I was slowly gaining the mastery. My grasp upon his throat was tightening. I had hold of his collar and tie, and I could have strangled him with a turn of my wrist. Just then the door opened. There was a quick exclamation of horrified surprise in a familiar tone. I threw him from me to the ground, and turned my head. It was Lady Angela who stood upon the threshold.
A RELUCTANT APOLOGY
Lady Angela looked at us both in cold surprise.
“Mr. Ducaine! Prince!” she exclaimed. “What is the meaning of this extraordinary exhibition?”
The Prince, whose sangfroid was marvellous, rose to his feet, and began to wipe his forehead with a spotless cambric handkerchief.
“My dear Lady Angela,” he said, “I am most distressed that you should have been a witness of this—extraordinary incident. I have been trying to adapt myself to the methods of your country, but, alas! I cannot say that I am enamoured of them. Here, it seems, that gentlemen who differ must behave like dustmen. Will you pardon me if I turn my back to you for a moment? I see a small mirror, and I am convinced that my tie and collar need readjustment.”
“But why quarrel at all?” she exclaimed. “Mr. Ducaine,” she added, turning coolly to me, “I trust you have remembered that the Prince is my father’s guest.”
I was speechless, but the Prince himself intervened.
“The blame, if any,” he declared, “was mine. Mr. Ducaine appeared to misunderstand me from the first. I believe that his little ebullition arose altogether from too great zeal on behalf of his employers. I congratulate him upon it, while I am bound to deprecate his extreme measures.”
“And you, Mr. Ducaine,” she asked, turning towards me, “what have you to say?”
“Nothing,” I declared, stung by her tone and manner as much as by his coolness, “except that I found the Prince of Malors meddling with my private papers, and subsequently I interrupted him in the offer of a bribe.”
The Prince smoothed his necktie, which he had really tied very well, complacently.
“The personal belongings of Mr. Ducaine,” he said calmly, “are without interest to me. I fancy that the Prince of Malors can ignore any suggestions to the contrary. As for the bribe, Mr. Ducaine talks folly. I am not aware that he has anything to sell, and I decline to believe him a blackmailer. I prefer to look upon him as a singularly hot-headed and not over-intelligent person, who takes very long jumps at conclusions. Lady Angela, I find my foot much better. May I have the pleasure of escorting you to the house?”