List Of Contents | Contents of The Suitors of Yvonne, by Rafael Sabatini
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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

"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

"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,

And with a flourish of my sodden beaver, I turned and left them before they
had recovered from the vehemence of my words.



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

"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

"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

"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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