flippant mood; it was to be read in the mocking disdain of my glance, in the scornful curl of my lip, and even in the turn of my wrist as I put aside my opponent's passes. All this, Canaples must have noted, and it was not without effect upon his nerves. Moreover, there is in steel a subtle magnetism which is the index of one's antagonist; and from the moment that our blades slithered one against the other I make no doubt but that Canaples grew aware of the confident, almost exultant mood in which I met him, and which told him that I was his master. Add to this the fact that whilst Canaples's nerves were unstrung by passion mine were held in check by a mind as calm and cool as though our swords were baited, and consider with what advantages I took my ground. He led the attack fiercely and furiously, as if I were a boy whose guard was to be borne down by sheer weight of blows. I contented myself with tapping his blade aside, and when at length, after essaying every trick in his catalogue, he fell back baffled, I laughed a low laugh of derision that drove him pale with fury. Again he came at me, almost before I was prepared for him, and his point, parried with a downward stroke and narrowly averted, scratched my thigh, but did more damage to my breeches than my skin. in exchange I touched him playfully on the shoulder, and the sting of it drove him back a second time. He was breathing hard by then, and would fain have paused awhile for breath, but I saw no reason to be merciful. "Now, sir," I cried, saluting him as though our combat were but on the point of starting--"to me! Guard yourself!" Again our swords clashed, and my blows now fell as swift on his blade as his had done awhile ago on mine. So hard did I press him that he was forced to give way before me. Back I drove him pace by pace, his wrist growing weaker at each parry, each parry growing wider, and the perspiration streaming down his ashen face. Panting he went, in that backward flight before my onslaught, defending himself as best he could, never thinking of a riposte--beaten already. Back, and yet back he went, until he reached the railings and could back no farther, and so broken was his spirit then that a groan escaped him. I answered with a laugh--my mood was lusty and cruel--and thrust at him. Then, eluding his guard, I thrust again, beneath it, and took him fairly in the middle of his doublet. He staggered, dropped his rapier, and caught at the railings, where for a moment he hung swaying and gasping. Then his head fell forward, his grip relaxed, and swooning he sank down into a heap. A dozen sprang to his aid, foremost amongst them being St. Auban and Montmédy, whilst I drew back, suddenly realising my own spent condition, to which the heat of the combat had hitherto rendered me insensible. I mastered myself as best I might, and, dissembling my hard breathing, I wiped my blade with a kerchief, an act which looked so calm and callous that it drew from the crowd--for a crowd it had become by then--an angry growl. 'T is thus with the vulgar; they are ever ready to sympathise with the vanquished without ever pausing to ask themselves if his chastisement may not be merited. In answer to the growl I tossed my head, and sheathing my sword I flung the bloodstained kerchief into their very midst. The audacity of the gesture left them breathless, and they growled no more, but stared. Then that outrageous fop, Vilmorin, who had been bending over Canaples, started up and coming towards me with a face that was whiter than that of the prostrate man, he proved himself so utterly bereft of wit by terror that for once he had the temerity to usurp the words and actions of a brave man. "You have murdered him!" he cried in a strident voice, and thrusting his clenched fist within an inch of my face. "Do you hear me, you knave? You have murdered him!" Now, as may be well conceived, I was in no mood to endure such words from any man, so was but natural that for answer I caught the dainty Vicomte a buffet that knocked him into the arms of the nearest bystander, and brought him to his senses. "Fool," I snarled at him, "must I make another example before you believe that Gaston de Luynes wears a sword?" "In the name of Heaven--" he began, putting forth his hands in a beseeching gesture; but what more he said was drowned by the roar of anger that burst from the onlookers, and it was like to have gone ill with me had not St. Auban come to my aid at that most critical juncture. "Messieurs!" he cried, thrusting himself before me, and raising his hand to crave silence, "hear me. I, a friend of M. de Canaples, tell you that you wrong M. de Luynes. 'T was a fair fight--how the quarrel arose is no concern of yours." Despite his words they still snarled and growled like the misbegotten curs they were. But St. Auban was famous for the regal supper parties he gave, to which all were eager to be bidden, and amidst that crowd, as I have said, there were a score or so of gentlemen of the Court, who--with scant regard for the right or wrong of the case and every regard to conciliate this giver of suppers--came to range themselves beside and around us, and thus protected me from the murderous designs of that rabble. Seeing how the gentlemen took my part, and deeming--in their blessed ignorance--that what gentlemen did must be perforce well done, they grew calm in the twinkling of an eye. Thereupon St. Auban, turning to me, counselled me in a whisper to be gone, whilst the tide of opinion flowed in my favour. Intent to act upon this good advice, I took a step towards the little knot that had collected round Canaples, and with natural curiosity inquired into the nature of his hurt. 'T was Montmédy who answered me, scowling as he did so: "He may die of it, Monsieur. If he does not, his recovery will be at least slow and difficult." I had been wise had I held my peace and gone; but, like a fool, I must needs give utterance to what was in my mind. "Ah! At least there will be no duel at St. Germain this evening." Scarce had the words fallen from my lips when I saw in the faces of Montmédy and St. Auban and half a dozen others the evidence of their rashness. "So!" cried St. Auban in a voice that shook with rage. "That was your object, eh? That you had fallen low, Master de Luynes, I knew, but I dreamt not that in your fall you had come so low as this." "You dare?" "Pardieu! I dare more, Monsieur; I dare tell you--you, Gaston de Luynes, spy and bravo of the Cardinal--that your object shall be defeated. That, as God lives, this duel shall still be fought--by me instead of Canaples." "And I tell you, sir, that as God lives it shall not," I answered with a vehemence not a whit less than his own. "To you and to what other fools may think to follow in your footsteps, I say this: that not to-night nor to-morrow nor the next day shall that duel be fought. Cowards and poltroons you are, who seek to murder a beardless boy who has injured none of you! But, by my soul! every man who sends a challenge to that boy will I at once seek out and deal with as I have dealt with Eugène de Canaples. Let those who are eager to try another world make the attempt. Adieu, Messieurs!" And with a flourish of my sodden beaver, I turned and left them before they had recovered from the vehemence of my words. CHAPTER IV FAIR RESCUERS Like the calm of the heavens when pregnant with thunder was the calm of that crowd. And as brief it was; for scarce had I taken a dozen steps when my ears were assailed by a rumble of angry voices and a rush of feet. One glance over my shoulder, one second's hesitation whether I should stay and beard them, then the thought of Andrea de Mancini and of what would befall him did this canaille vent its wrath upon me decided my course and sent me hotfoot down the Rue Monarque. Howling and bellowing that rabble followed in my wake, stumbling over one another in their indecent haste to reach me. But I was fleet of foot, and behind me there was that that would lend wings to the most deliberate, so that when I turned into the open space before the Hôtel Vendôme I had set a good fifty yards betwixt myself and the foremost of my hunters. A coach was passing at that moment. I shouted, and the knave who drove glanced at me, then up the Rue Monarque at my pursuers, whereupon, shaking his head, he would have left me to my fate. But I was of another mind. I dashed towards the vehicle, and as it passed me I caught at the window, which luckily was open, and drawing up my legs I hung there despite the shower of mud which the revolving wheels deposited upon me. From the bowels of the coach I was greeted by a woman's scream; a pale face, and a profusion of fair hair flashed before my eyes. "Fear not, Madame," I shouted. "I am no assassin, but rather one who stands in imminent peril of assassination, and who craves your protection." More I would have said, but at that juncture the lash of the coachman's whip curled itself about my shoulders, and stung me vilely. "Get down, you rascal," he bellowed; "get down or I'll draw rein!" To obey him would have been madness. The crowd surged behind with hoots and yells, and had I let go I must perforce have fallen into their hands. So, instead of getting down as he inconsiderately counselled, I drew myself farther up by a mighty effort, and thrust half my body into the coach, whereupon the fair lady screamed again, and the whip caressed my legs. But within the coach sat another woman, dark of hair and exquisite of face, who eyed my advent with a disdainful glance. Her proud countenance bore the stamp of courage, and to her it was that I directed my appeal. "Madame, permit me, I pray, to seek shelter in your carriage, and suffer me to journey a little way with you. Quick, Madame! Your coachman is drawing rein, and I shall of a certainty be murdered under your very nose unless you bid him change his mind. To be murdered in itself is a trifling matter, I avow, but it is not nice to behold, and I would not, for all the world, offend your eyes with the spectacle of it." I had judged her rightly, and my tone of flippant recklessness won me her sympathy and aid. Quickly thrusting her head through the other window: "Drive on, Louis," she commanded. "Faster!" Then turning to me, "You may bring your legs into the coach if you choose, sir," she said. "Your words, Madame, are the sweetest music I have heard for months," I answered drily, as I obeyed her. Then leaning out of the carriage again I waved my hat gallantly to the mob which--now realising the futility of further pursuit--had suddenly come to a halt. "Au plaisir de vous revoir, Messieurs," I shouted. "Come to me one by one, and I'll keep the devil busy finding lodgings for you." They answered me with a yell, and I sat down content, and laughed. "You are not a coward, Monsieur," said the dark lady. "I have been accounted many unsavoury things, Madame, but my bitterest enemies never dubbed me that." "Why, then, did you run away?" "Why? Ma foi! because in the excessive humility of my soul I recognised myself unfit to die." She bit her lip and her tiny foot beat impatiently upon the floor. "You are trifling with me, Monsieur. Where do you wish to alight?" "Pray let that give you no concern; I can assure you that I am in no haste." "You become impertinent, sir," she cried angrily. "Answer me, where are you going?" "Where am I going? Oh, ah--to the Palais Royal." Her eyes opened very wide at that, and wandered over me with a look that was passing eloquent. Indeed, I was a sorry spectacle for any woman's eyes--particularly a pretty one's. Splashed from head to foot with mud, my doublet saturated and my beaver dripping, with the feather hanging limp and broken, whilst there was a rent in my breeches that had been made by Canaples's sword, I take it that I had not the air of a courtier, and that when I said that I went to the Palais Royal she might have justly held me to be the adventurous lover of some kitchen wench. But unto the Palais Royal go others besides courtiers and lovers--spies of the Cardinal, for instance, and in her sudden coldness and the next question that fell from her beauteous lips I read that she had guessed me one of these. "Why did the mob pursue you, Monsieur?" There was in her voice and gesture when she asked a question the imperiousness of one accustomed to command replies. This pretty queenliness it was that drove me to answer--as I had done before--in a bantering strain. "Why did the mob pursue me? Hum! Why does the mob pursue great men? Because it loves their company." Her matchless eyes flashed an angry glance, and the faint smile on my lips must have tried her temper sorely. "What did you do to deserve this affection?" "A mere nothing--I killed a man," I answered coolly. "Or, at least, I left him started on the road to--Paradise." The little flaxen-haired doll uttered a cry of horror, and covered her face with her small white hands. My inquisitor, however, sat rigid and unaffected. My answer had confirmed her suspicions. "Why did you kill him?" "Ma foi!" I replied, encouraging her thoughts, "because he sought to kill me." "Ah! And why did he seek to kill you?" "Because I disturbed him at dinner." "Have a care how you trifle, sir!" she retorted, her eyes kindling again. "Upon my honour, 't was no more than that. I pulled the cloth from the table whilst he ate. He was a quick-tempered gentleman, and my playfulness offended him. That is all." Doubt appeared in her eyes, and it may have entered her mind that perchance her judgment had been over-hasty. "Do you mean, sir, that you provoked a duel?" "Alas, Madame! It had become necessary. You see, M. de Canaples--" "Who?" Her voice rang sharp as the crack of a pistol. "Eh? M. de Canaples." "Was it he whom you killed?" From her tone, and the eager, strained expression of her face, it was not difficult to read that some mighty interest of hers was involved in my reply. It needed not the low moan that burst from her companion to tell me so. "As I have said, Madame, it is possible that he is not dead--nay, even that he will not die. For the rest, since you ask the question, my opponent was, indeed, M. de Canaples--Eugène de Canaples." Her face went deadly white, and she sank back in her seat as if every nerve in her body had of a sudden been bereft of power, whilst she of the fair hair burst into tears. A pretty position was this for me!--luckily it endured not. The girl roused herself from her momentary weakness, and, seizing the cord, she tugged it violently. The coach drew up. "Alight, sir," she hissed--"go! I wish to Heaven that I had left you to the vengeance of the people." Not so did I; nevertheless, as I alighted: "I am sorry, Madame, that you did not," I answered. "Adieu!" The coach moved away, and I was left standing at the corner of the Rue St.
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