sword he wielded gave him little confidence opposed to Garnache with a chair. He must have help. His eyes sought the door, measuring the distance. Ere he could reach it Garnache would cut him off. There was nothing for it but to attempt to drive the Parisian back. And so with a sudden rush he advanced to the attack. Garnache fell back and raised his chair, and in that instant mademoiselle once more intervened between them. "Stand aside, mademoiselle," cried Garnache, who now, grown cool, as was his way when once he was engaged, saw clearly through the purpose formed by Marius. "Stand aside, or we shall have him giving the alarm." He leapt clear of her to stop Marius's sudden rush for the door. On the very threshold the young man was forced to turn and defend himself, lest his brains be dashed out by that ponderous weapon Garnache was handling with a rare facility. But the mischief was done, in that he had reached the threshold. Backing, he defended himself and gained the anteroom. Garnache followed, but the clumsy chair was defensive rather than offensive, and Marius's sword meanwhile darted above it and below it, forcing him to keep a certain distance. And now Marius raised his voice and shouted with all the power of his lungs: "To me! To me! Fortunio! Abdon! To me, you dogs! I am beset." >From the courtyard below rose an echo of his words, repeated in a shout by the sentinel, who had overheard them, and they caught the swift fall of the fellow's feet as he ran for help. Furious, picturing to himself how the alarm would spread like a conflagration through the chateau, cursing his headstrong folly yet determined that Marius at least should not escape him, Garnache put forth his energies to hinder him from gaining the door that opened on to the stairs. From the doorway of the antechamber mademoiselle, with a white face and terrified eyes, watched the unequal combat and heard the shouts for help. Anon despair might whelm her at the thought of how they had lost their opportunity of escaping; but for the present she had no thought save for the life of that brave man who was defending himself with an unwieldy chair. Garnache leapt suddenly aside to take his opponent in the flank and thus turn him from his backward progress towards the outer door. The manoeuvre succeeded, and gradually, always defending himself, Garnache circled farther round him until he was between Marius and the threshold. And now there came a sound of running feet on the uneven stones of the courtyard. Light gleamed on the staircase, and breathless voices were wafted up to the two men. Garnache bethought him that his last hour was assuredly at hand. Well, if he must take his death, he might as well take it here upon Marius's sword as upon another's. So he would risk it for the sake of leaving upon Marius some token by which he might remember him. He swung his chair aloft, uncovering himself for a second. The young man's sword darted in like a shaft of light. Nimbly Garnache stepped aside to avoid it, and moved nearer his opponent. Down crashed the chair, and down went Marius, stunned and bleeding, under its terrific blow. The sword clattered from his hand and rolled, with a pendulum-like movement, to the feet of Garnache. The Parisian flung aside his chair and stooped to seize that very welcome blade. He rose, grasping the hilt and gathering confidence from the touch of that excellently balanced weapon, and he swung round even as Fortunio and two of his braves appeared in the doorway. CHAPTER XVII HOW MONSIEUR DE GARNACHE LEFT CONDILLAC Never was there a man with a better stomach for a fight than Martin de Garnache, nor did he stop to consider that here his appetite in that direction was likely to be indulged to a surfeit. The sight of those three men opposing him, swords drawn and Fortunio armed in addition with a dagger, drove from his mind every other thought, every other consideration but that of the impending battle. He fell on guard to receive their onslaught, his eyes alert, his lips tight set, his knees like springs of steel, slightly flexed to support his well-poised body. But they paused a moment in the extremity of their surprise, and Fortunio called to him in Italian to know the meaning of this attitude of his as well as that of Marius, who lay huddled where he had fallen. Garnache, reckless now, disdaining further subterfuge nor seeking to have recourse to subtleties that could avail him nothing, retorted in French with the announcement of his true name. At that, perceiving that here was some deep treachery at work, they hesitated no longer. Led by Fortunio they attacked him, and the din they made in the next few minutes with their heavy breathing, their frequent oaths, their stamping and springing this way and that, and, ringing above all, the clash and clatter of sword on sword, filled the chamber and could be heard in the courtyard below. Minutes sped, yet they gained no advantage on this single man; not one, but a dozen swords did he appear to wield, so rapid were his passes, so ubiquitous his point. Had he but stood his ground there might have been a speedy end to him, but he retreated slowly towards the door of the antechamber. Valerie still stood there, watching with fearful eyes and bated breath that tremendous struggle which at any moment she expected to see terminate in the death of her only friend. In her way she was helping Garnache, though she little realized it. The six tapers in the candle-branch she held aloft afforded the only light for that stormy scene, and that light was in the eyes of Garnache's assailants, showing him their faces yet leaving his own in shadow. He fell back steadily towards that door. He could not see it; but there was not the need. He knew that it was in a direct line with the one that opened upon the stairs, and by the latter he steered his backward course. His aim was to gain the antechamber, although they guessed it not, thinking that he did but retreat through inability to stand his ground. His reasons were that here in this guardroom the best he could do would be to put his back to the wall, where he might pick off one or two before they made an end of him. The place was too bare to suit his urgent, fearful need. Within the inner room there was furniture to spare, with which he might contrive to hamper his opponents and give them such a lusty fight as would live in the memory of those who might survive it for as long as they should chance to live thereafter. He had no thought of perishing himself, although, to any less concerned, his death, sooner or later, must seem inevitable - the only possible conclusion to this affray, taken as he was. His mind was concerned only with this fight; his business to kill, and not himself to be slain. He knew that presently others would come to support these three. Already, perhaps, they were on their way, and he husbanded his strength against their coming. He was proudly conscious of his own superior skill, for he had studied the art of fence in Italy - its home - during his earlier years, and there was no trick of sword-play with which he was not acquainted, no ruse of service in a rough-and-tumble in which he was unversed. He was proudly conscious, too, of his supple strength, his endurance, and his great length of reach, and upon all these he counted to help him make a decent fight. Valerie, watching him, guessed his purpose to be the gaining of the inner chamber, the crossing of the threshold on which she was standing. She drew back a pace or two, almost mechanically, to give him room. The movement went near to costing him his life. The light no longer falling so pitilessly upon Fortunio's eyes, the captain saw more clearly than hitherto, and shot a swift, deadly stroke straight at the region of Garnache's heart. The Parisian leapt back when it was within an inch of his breast; one of the bravoes followed up, springing a pace in advance of his companions and lengthening his arm in a powerful lunge. Garnache caught the blade almost on his hilt, and by the slightest turn of the wrist made a simultaneous presentment of his point at the other's outstretched throat. It took the fellow just above the Adam's apple, and with a horrid, gurgling cry he sank, stretched as he still was in the attitude of that murderous lunge that had proved fatal only to himself. Garnache had come on guard again upon the instant. Yet in the briefest of seconds during which his sword had been about its work of death, Fortunio's rapier came at him a second time. He beat the blade aside with his bare left hand and stopped with his point the rush of the other bravo. Then he leapt back again, and his leap brought him to the threshold of the anteroom. He retreated quickly a pace, and then another. He was a sword's length within the chamber, and now he stood, firm as a rock and engaged Fortunio's blade which had followed him through the doorway. But he was more at his ease. The doorway was narrow. Two men abreast could not beset him, since one must cumber the movements of the other. If they came at him one at a time, he felt that he could continue that fight till morning, should there still by then be any left to face him. A wild exultation took him, an insane desire to laugh. Surely was sword-play the merriest game that was ever devised for man's entertainment. He straightened his arm, and his steel went out like a streak of lightning. But for the dagger on which he caught its edge, the blade had assuredly pierced the captain's heart. And now, fighting still, Garnache called to Valerie. He had need of her assistance to make his preparations ere others came. "Set down your tapers, mademoiselle," he bade her, "on the mantel shelf at my back. Place the other candle branch there too." Swiftly, yet with half-swimming senses, everything dim to her as to one in a nightmare, she ran to do his bidding; and now the light placed so at his back, gave him over his opponents the same slight advantage that he had enjoyed before. In brisk tones he issued his fresh orders. "Can you move the table, mademoiselle?" he asked her. "Try to drag it here, to the wall on my left, as close to the door as you can bring it." "I will try, monsieur," she panted through dry lips; and again she moved to do his bidding. Quickened by the need there was, her limbs, which awhile ago had seemed on the point of refusing their office, appeared to gather more thin ordinary strength. She was unconsciously sobbing in her passionate anxiety to render him what help was possible. Frenziedly she caught at the heavy oaken table, and began to drag it across the room as Garnache had begged her. And now, Fortunio seeing what was toward, and guessing Garnache's intentions, sought by a rush to force his way into the Chamber. But Garnache was ready for him. There was a harsh grind of steel on steel, culminating in a resounding lest, and Fortunio was back in the guard-room, whither he had leapt to save his skin. A pause fell at that, and Garnache lowered his point to rest his arm until they should again come at him. From beyond the doorway the captain called upon him to yield. He took the summons as an insult, and flew into a momentary passion. "Yield?" he roared. "Yield to you, you cut-throat scum? You shall have my sword if you will come for it, but you shall have it ii your throat." Angered in his turn, Fortunio inclined his head to his companion's ear, issuing an order. In obedience to it, it was the bravo now who advanced and engaged Garnache. Suddenly he dropped on to his knees, and over his head Garnache found his blade suddenly opposed by Fortunio's. It was a clever trick, and it all but did Garnache's business then. Yet together with the surprise of it there came to him the understanding of what was intended. Under his guard the kneeling man's sword was to be thrust up into his vitals. As a cry of alarm broke from mademoiselle, he leapt aside and towards the wall, where he was covered from Fortunio's weapon, and turning suddenly he passed his sword from side to side through the body of the kneeling mercenary. The whole thing he had performed mechanically, more by instinct than by reason; and when it was done, and the tables were thus effectively turned upon his assailants, he scarcely realized how he had accomplished it. The man's body cumbered now the doorway, and behind him Fortunio stood, never daring to advance lest a thrust of that sword which he could not see - Garnache still standing close against the wall - should serve him likewise. Garnache leaned there, in that friendly shelter, to breathe, and he smiled grimly under cover of his mustache. So long as he had to deal with a single assailant he saw no need to move from so excellent a position. Close beside him, leaning heavily against the table she had dragged thus far, stood Valerie, her face livid as death, her heart sick within her at the horror inspired her by that thing lying on the threshold. She could not take her eyes from the crimson stain that spread slowly on the floor, coming from under that limply huddled mass of arms and legs. "Do not look, mademoiselle," Garnache implored her softly. "Be brave, child; try to be brave." She sought to brace her flagging courage, and by an effort she averted her eyes from that horrid heap and fixed them upon Garnache's calm, intrepid face. The sight of his quietly watchful eyes, his grimly smiling lips, seemed to infuse courage into her anew. "I have the table, monsieur," she told him. "I can bring it no nearer to the wall." He understood that this was not because her courage or her strength might be exhausted, but because he now occupied the spot where he had bidden her place it. He motioned her away, and when she had moved he darted suddenly and swiftly aside and caught the table, his sword still fast in his two first fingers, which he had locked over the quillons. He had pushed its massive weight halfway across the door before Fortunio grasped the situation. Instantly the captain sought to take advantage of it, thinking to catch Garnache unawares. But no sooner did he show his nose inside the doorpost than Garnache's sword flashed before his eyes, driving him back with a bloody furrow in his cheek. "Have a care, Monsieur le Capitaine," Garnache mocked him. "Had you come an inch farther it might have been the death of you." A clatter of steps sounded upon the stairs, and the Parisian bent once more to his task, and thrust the table across the open doorway. He had a moment's respite now, for Fortunio stung - though lightly was not likely to come again until he had others to support him. And while the others came, while the hum of their voices rose higher, and finally their steps clattered over the bare boards of the guard-room floor, Garnache had caught up and flung a chair under the table to protect him from an attack from below, while he had piled another on top to increase and further strengthen the barricade.
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