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Title: Secrets of the Sword
Author: Bazancourt, César Lecat de
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Secrets of the Sword



                         Secrets of the Sword


                  Translated from the original French
                       of BARON DE BAZANCOURT by
                    C. F. CLAY, with illustrations
                           by F. H. TOWNSEND


                   _La pointe d'une épée est une
                     réalité qui fait disparaître
                     bien des fantômes._

                                       BAZANCOURT.


                          [Publisher's mark]


               London: George Bell & Sons, York Street,
                 Covent Garden; and New York. Mdcccc.



                              Cambridge:
                     Printed by J. and C. F. Clay
                       at the University Press.



PREFACE


If French is, as we have been told, the natural language of the art of
fencing, it seems a particularly rash venture to translate a French
book on the subject into English. This is especially the case when the
original is such a work as _Les Secrets de l'Épée_, which so far from
being a dry technical manual, that might be sufficiently rendered by
a baldly literal version, is one of those fascinating, chatty books,
written in a happy vein, in which the manner of writing is the matter
of principal importance. But the delightful ease and artful simplicity
of style that captivate the reader are the translator's despair. I
have made the attempt for my own amusement, and I am publishing my
translation because the original work, which was first published in
1862 and reprinted in 1875, has been for some years inaccessible, and
because I think it is a book that will interest English fencers.

An interesting and appreciative account of the book is given in the
introduction to the volume devoted to fencing in the Badminton Library,
together with some criticism of the author. The would-be fencer is
cautioned that the Baron de Bazancourt is 'a very expert literary
dodger' whose specious arguments must be studied with the greatest
caution. The warning note is no doubt wise in a book intended for the
English fencer, for English fencing certainly shows no tendency to
be excessively correct, but is rather inclined to err in the other
direction. But no fencer who reads the work attentively can fail to
derive from it a real profit, and, I hope, a real pleasure. The keynote
of the book is that a fencer must fence with his 'head.' Bazancourt
generally calls it 'instinct,' or 'inspiration.' But call it what
you will, there can be no doubt that the continual tax that fencing
makes on the resourcefulness of the player gives it its subtle and
enduring charm. The unforeseen emergencies that have to be faced,
and the varieties of play that are encountered in meeting different
opponents, make fencing of all sports the least mechanical and the
least monotonous.

We are often told that fencing will never be popular in England,
because it is no longer required for practical purposes. But does
anyone suppose that we are guided by practical considerations in
choosing our sports? Fencing is a most exhilarating exercise and one
that is particularly suitable for those of us who live a town life. A
dull day in London may be very sensibly enlivened by a brisk assault.
The luxury of getting into flannels is increased by the reflection that
for an hour at any rate one will think of nothing but the foils. For no
exercise is so absorbing as fencing. Whether you are taking a lesson or
are engaged in a friendly combat your whole attention cannot fail to
be occupied. There is room for nothing else, and on that account alone
fencing must be commended as a mental relaxation of the highest value.

Compared with boxing, fencing has the advantage that it can be
continued even into old age. Now, however willing one may be to
be punched and pommelled, there usually comes a time when it is
inconvenient to appear in public with a black eye or a bruised cheek.
Few men who take to fencing and master the preliminary stages can make
up their minds to give it up, until they are obliged to do so for want
of time or opportunity.

The cosmopolitan character of fencing is another point in its favour.
Not only throughout France and Italy, but wherever French or Italian
is spoken, fencing rooms abound, and the stranger who visits them is
sure to be received with friendly interest and hospitality. Fencers are
always glad to try conclusions with a new blade, and a very moderate
knowledge of the art may often serve as a pleasant and informal
introduction in a strange country.

The art of translation is perhaps as slippery and elusive as the
art of fence. _L'escrime vit de loyales perfidies_ says the Baron
de Bazancourt. He might have said the same thing of translation. I
have endeavoured to give a faithful rendering of this book. It has
equally been my object to make my version readable. I am conscious of
many defects, and cannot hope to have avoided mistakes, but if I have
sometimes been perfidious, I trust that I have never been disloyal.

I have to thank many friends for assistance and advice, and I am
especially indebted to Mr F. H. Townsend for the spirited series of
fencing drawings that accompany the text.

                                                            C. F. CLAY.

     LONDON,
 _October, 1900._



Introduction


[Illustration]


I.

Why have I written this book? I will tell you. For of all the subjects
that might have occurred to me, this I am sure is the last in the world
on which I should have ever dreamed of trespassing. Accident, however,
is apt to take a hand in the most trivial things of this world as well
as in the most important. It is continually responsible for the most
unlikely events, and it was in fact by accident that I undertook this
work, in which I have collected and jotted down remarks that are
entirely my own, concerning an art to which I have devoted myself for
more years than I care to remember.


I was staying in the country at an old manor house belonging to one of
my friends. The litter of autumn, fallen leaves and withering herbage,
was scattered over field and woodland. This is a favourite season
with poets, when Nature before her winter sleep affects a serene and
melancholy air, that inclines to reverie and lends wings to fancy. The
season also favours sportsmen. Coverts in which the game has hitherto
found shelter are no longer impenetrable, and every day the wind robs
the poor persecuted beasts of some fraction of their shield of verdure.
At my friend's house there were no poets, but there was instead a large
shooting party. We used to take the field after breakfast, and come
home towards dusk, all of us as tired as a man has a right to be when
he has done six or eight hours' walking. After dinner we invariably
adjourned to the smoking room, and spent the evening in discussing
things in general over our cigars.


II.

One evening--I quite forget how it came about--we found ourselves
talking about fencing. Some one's casual remark, as erratic as the blue
wreaths of smoke that floated vaguely towards the ceiling, was taken up
by some one else, and led to other remarks, which gradually became more
definite and finally solidified into a conversation.

One can always talk, and one enjoys talking about a subject in which
one is interested. That is one of the general truths. And as I have
always been devoted to the practice of arms, I found myself talking at
some length and expounding some views of my own, which I have tested
by practical experience and observation till they have established
themselves in my mind as axioms.

I was listened to with attention, though there were few fencers
present. And after all the art of fence does furnish a most interesting
fund of conversation--the art of skilful fighting at close quarters,
which implies a knowledge of theory combined with a trained power of
execution, which taxes eye and hand, vigour and judgment, and brings
into play every faculty of mind and body, each doing its part, and
each in turn supplementing and reinforcing the other.


III.

"Are you aware," said one of my friends, "that these are the secrets of
the sword that you are revealing to us?"

"Only," I replied, "those secrets which I happen to know. But really
you have hit upon the right word, for the secrets of the sword are
innumerable. It is a Proteus in the hand that orders it, and obeys
the least motion of the will with the quick docility of an attendant
spirit. It can be the insolent and overbearing bully, it can be the
wary and diplomatic courtier. At one moment it is all menace, a keen
attacking point, the next it changes to a protecting shield.

"But alas for our poor faithful servant; to-day the sword and its
secrets are almost forgotten, or at least but little valued. There was
a time, and a time not so very remote, when a knowledge of sword-play
was considered one of the credentials of a gentleman. Apply that test
now; apply it to yourselves. We have here in this room a large number
of gentlemen met together, and I do not doubt that each one of you
could make good his title to gentle birth, and that in more ways than
one; and yet how many of you would be seriously embarrassed if you were
required to manipulate a sword! How many of you, if you will allow me
to say so, would make but a very pitiful exhibition of yourselves!"


I saw by the smile that went round the room that my remarks were only
too well founded.


"Of course," I continued, "I know the usual answer:--'True,' you will
say, 'we may be duffers, but we are not afraid of fighting.' Yes, you
are not afraid of fighting, that is to say you are willing to be killed
by the first bully, who chooses to force a quarrel upon you. Brave
words truly! But after all is it worth while to be the owner of so many
talents, youth and strength, a cultured mind, a healthy body, and yet
not even to know how to defend your life?

"I am reminded of the story told of a certain General. When one of
his officers, who disagreed with him on the policy of some strategic
movement, had said:--'Well, General, when the time comes I will show
you that I know how to die.' 'Don't be a fool, Sir,' replied the
General, 'your duty is not to see that you get killed, but to take care
that you don't'."


"Surely," suggested one of my friends, "the real difficulty is that it
takes years of conscientious and continual application to make even a
moderate fencer."

"Quite a mistake, I assure you."

"Why, only the other day I happened to pick up one or two books about
fencing and glanced through them. I assure you, they really are
appalling."

"There we have it," I exclaimed, "and with that word you go over bag
and baggage to the enemy's camp. You are not the first to be appalled,
merely because the professors have omitted to caution the reader, that
they cannot in the exercise of their craft afford to be otherwise than
omniscient, and that their omniscience must be aired. It is because
they are afraid of being taxed with ignorance, or of being rated as
less men than their predecessors, that they insist on science at any
price; science they must have, interminable and unmitigated science,
and so they produce their laborious treatises, monuments of erudition,
but as you say--appalling.

"For my part, after reading and rereading, with the most scrupulous
attention, everything that has been written on the subject, I remain
convinced of this, that if I were writing a manual of fencing my first
object would be to get rid of the alarming jargon of technical terms,
which are supposed to be indispensable--a formidable array, quite
enough, I freely admit, to give pause to the most resolute, and to
blanch the cheek of the keenest aspirant."

"Ah, you are quite right," said my host with the air of a man who had
made the experiment. "How much the art and the professors too would
have gained, if they had only studied simplicity, and taken the trouble
to make themselves intelligible."


IV.

The conversation, you see, was getting on.

"Unfortunately," I continued, "most of the professors who have
committed themselves to paper have thought otherwise. They plunge into
interminable dissertations on the denomination of thrusts. They use
words which, it is true, may be found in the dictionary but which have
an unfamiliar appearance. For instance they talk about the hand _in
pronation_ or _in supination_, instead of simply saying the hand with
the nails turned up, or the hand with the nails turned down.

"Others have devoted their energy to working out combinations and
classifications of feints, parries, and ripostes, distinguishing
between them by the nicest shades of difference, and to devising
subtleties of terminology, even going so far as to compile and exhibit
with the pride of a collector a prodigious catalogue of twelve thousand
five hundred strokes.[1] What memory could possibly contain them?

"Now I, on the contrary, should have spared no pains to prove that it
is perfectly possible to learn the practical management of the sword
without a superhuman effort, and that sword-play is worth cultivating
as a delightful exercise and one of the finest kinds of sport.

"For unfortunately we have to remember that Latin, which one uses
so seldom, perhaps once or twice after leaving college, and Greek,
for which one has even less occasion, are considered useful and even
necessary parts of polite education, but that such things as swimming,
which may on an emergency be the means of saving your life, or fencing,
which is one of the most healthy of athletic exercises, the best
thing in the world for developing and bracing a feeble youngster,
and which enables you to defend yourself if you are challenged by a
bully or assaulted by a blackguard, are reckoned merely frivolous
accomplishments. And it is generally recognised of course that it is
not right to waste time on mere accomplishments.

"I mentioned Latin and Greek, which we all learnt more or less at
school. Well, do you suppose that the man who is going to make
learning his profession carries his studies no further than the rest
of us, however scholarly some of us may be? No, of course he must go
deeper and examine the remotest bearings of the particular branch of
knowledge, which he will presently have to teach.


V.

"If you want a still more striking analogy, take horsemanship. Most
men learn to ride, and can as a matter of fact manage a hack in the
park without making an exhibition of themselves, or even join the
road-riders when it is a question of following the hounds. But do you
suppose that the mere man on horseback takes the trouble to acquire the
whole art of horsemanship, the severe mastery which the professional
requires, the 'high airs' of the school rider? Does every one study the
fundamental principles, and analyse the nice distinctions, which go to
make the finished equestrian,--such a man as the late Mr Astley?

"How few there are who attain or pretend to attain this rare degree of
excellence. And yet they alone can tell you how much perseverance, how
much continual application, and downright drudgery they have had to go
through. For you may be quite sure that perfect mastery of any kind
whatever can only be the matured result of extraordinary diligence.
Yet you seldom meet a man who cannot ride tolerably, and you find that
men ride with more or less grace, or freedom, or vigour, according to
their natural disposition, and gradually perfect their style, or if
you prefer it, unconsciously complete their education by the growth of
habit and experience. It is just the same with fencing.

"If you would be an accomplished swordsman, you will certainly require
years of hard work, close application, and incessant practice. But do
you need this recondite skill? What would you do with it? You would
find it embarrassing. All that you need as men of leisure, is to be
able to use a sword as you do a horse, for your amusement, and when
you have occasion for it. And observe I say for your amusement, for
no sport is so attractive for its own sake, or so engrossing as the
practice of arms."

"You are of opinion then," remarked the Comte de C..., "that a man can
learn to use a sword without devoting to it more time and trouble than
he does to riding?"

"I am sure of it; but don't misunderstand me, I mean riding in the
sense of sticking on. In fact, without driving the analogy too hard, I
should say that for both exercises a year at the outside is all that
is required to obtain useful and solid results. And I should add that
after a few months' trial you will find that you cannot resist the
fascination that belongs unmistakably to both these sports. Surely that
is not too much to ask for putting you into good trim, and teaching you
how to protect yourself?"

"Then, why don't they say so?" some one remarked.

"Well, I do say so," I replied. "And what is more I will make my words
good, if one of these days you care to continue this discussion."

I was unanimously called upon to keep my word, and that the next day.

"Well, to-morrow then," I replied, "I shall do my best to convince you;
but you don't give me much law."

"What, with twenty-four hours' notice?"

"There's something in that--I will sleep upon it--and so--good-night."


That is the true history of the making of this book. The following
chapters are the record of our conversations, which I have simply put
into shape and revised.

[Illustration]



The First Evening


[Illustration: _Keep the right foot straight._]


I.

The next day after dinner we all reassembled in the smoking-room.

"Well," said my host, "your audience you see is complete, our cigars
are alight, and we are ready to give you our best attention."

"Of course," I replied, "you will understand that I have no intention
of inflicting upon you a course of instruction. As far as that goes,
the books, especially the two that have appeared most recently, by
Professors Gomard and Grisier, have said all that is worth saying, and
in my judgment perhaps a great deal more. They give too much good
advice, too many excellent rules, too many excellent maxims, too many
thrusts, feints, parries, ripostes, counter-ripostes, and so forth.

"I am very far from holding with the received doctrine of the necessity
or the importance of a great variety of play. I believe that the
effectiveness of a skilful fencer depends on the correctness of his
inferences, on the alertness and nicety of his judgment, on quickness
of hand and precision of movement, whether in attack, parry, or
riposte, rather than on a very varied play, which necessitates a much
more elaborate training, and so far from being of any real use serves
only to perplex the mind.

"The alphabet of fencing, if you will allow the expression, is as fixed
and immutable as any other alphabet. Its characters are ascertained and
definite motions, which are combined in accordance with the structure
and balance of our organism, the natural action of the muscles, and
the flexibility possible to the limbs and body. I do not set up for
a schoolmaster, and shall not attempt to teach you this alphabet. I
assume that you are already acquainted with it. All that I shall do,
or at all events try to do, is to discuss the theoretical principles,
for apart from them the material factors are only so much dull and
senseless machinery.

"I shall try to keep within bounds, and to advance a few simple
arguments, to convince you that swordsmanship is neither so slow nor so
perplexing as you are inclined to suppose. Above all, I hope you will
not allow me to forget that this is a conversation. Remember that you
are at liberty to make any remarks that occur to you. That is part of
the bargain."


Several of my friends assured me that I need have no anxiety; they did
not mean to let me off too easily.


II.

"To begin then; my first object will be to make my meaning perfectly
plain. The thing to do will be to take fencing in its broad outlines.
It would be labour thrown away to enter the bewildering labyrinth of
those interminable details, which after all are nothing more than the
mathematical extension of elementary principles, which may be continued
to infinity.

"Fencing in its infancy had to feel its way; its methods were yet to
be found, its possibilities to be explored. Little by little, as one
period succeeded another and the art became in many respects perfected,
changes were introduced, and especially changes that tended to greater
simplicity. Old theories became old fashioned and were thrown aside to
make room for new doctrines.

"Fencing, in fact, was developed like most other things. But we must
not lose sight of the fact that the early methods of the old masters,
both in Italy and France, date from the sixteenth or seventeenth
century, and that the weapons employed in those days differed
materially from ours in shape, weight, and function. The change of
weapon has naturally led to a change of method.

"It would doubtless be interesting to the antiquary to trace the
successive changes that have taken place in sword-play, and to compare
it as it exists to-day with what it was in 1536, when Marozzo wrote his
treatise on the sword. (Pray excuse my erudition.) The sword of that
period was a wide straight blade with two cutting edges. I need not say
that Marozzo was Italian. The first French work on the subject was,
I believe, a treatise by Henri de Saint-Didier, which was published
in 1573, and dedicated to Charles IX. At that time France was a long
way behind Italy, where for twenty years already the edge had been
abandoned for the point.

"It is not my intention to retrace the abstruse history of the
development of swordsmanship; such an inquiry would, however, prove
that in all ages the new truths were invariably denied before they
established themselves as accomplished facts. There is no need then,
as you will doubtless be relieved to hear, to discuss the systems of
antiquity; we will pass over the intervening periods without further
preface, and come down at once to modern times.


III.

"We are told to draw a hard and fast line between two schools,--probably
for the convenience of putting ourselves in the right and our opponents
in the wrong.

"For my own part, and speaking seriously, I fail to recognise more than
one. True, that one may be regarded from several points of view. I can
distinguish three very clearly, but these different aspects are very
far from being distinct in the sense of clearly defined natural orders.
I will describe three kinds of play, which are adopted by fencers
according to fancy.

"The first is fencing regarded as a graceful athletic exercise,
contrived very much on the lines of a ceremonious dance, the
interlacing movements of the combatants, as they close and fall back
to their original positions, recalling the figures of a quadrille. One
might almost say that the simplest example of this method is the single
combat of melodrama, the stage duel with its concerted movements,
and that it finds its most perfect expression, or, if you prefer the
phrase, attains its object in the execution of a series of _voltes_
and _passes_ or dodgy side-steps, a complicated succession of attacks,
parries, and ripostes, skilfully delivered, and brought off strictly in
accordance with prescribed regulations.

"The second is fencing conceived as an exact science. Here it is
'the noble art' that calls for profound study and arduous research.
The student must explore its truths and consider them in all their
bearings, pursue theory to its remotest ramifications, and drag to
light its most reluctant secrets. Solid hard work and assiduous
application, such as science always demands of her votaries, backed by
physical and intellectual resources naturally fitted to the task, are
the only means which will enable you to achieve this consummate skill,
the highest degree of attainment in the art. You will not be surprised
when I say that the annals of the sword record but few names of
undisputed preeminence, new stars that mark the epochs in its history.

"The third is fencing considered from the point of view of practical
self-defence. In this case the method is fashioned, so to speak, by
personal inspiration, and is impressed with the stamp of individual
character. This is the real thing, battle in deadly earnest, complete
with all the terrors and sudden crises of warfare. Instead of passes
ingeniously complicated, and foiled by parries as scientifically
elaborate, steel clashes with steel, intent on forcing somewhere a
passage for the point. The game becomes a fight, and a fight all the
more grim, because the fighting animal is reinforced by science,
and chooses from her armoury the weapons that make him strong,
rejecting whatever is cumbrous or likely to obscure his 'native hue of
resolution.'

"We now see the difference between the two styles,--call them schools
if you like. One wishes to preserve intact and unalloyed the ancient
academical traditions,--I had almost called them the traditions of the
dancing master,--while the other inclines to what nowadays we call
realism. Is that a gain or a loss? At the present time everything tends
to realism, but we are not, so far as I know, obliged to admit that the
dream is the type of perfect beauty, and the real the type of all that
is ugly and bad. We live in a practical age, perhaps too practical.
Sometimes one may regret that it is so; but what other result could you
expect to follow from the convulsions that have so frequently shattered
it? The ideal, scared by the noise and confusion of our revolutions, so
often repeated, so seldom foreseen, has used its wings to some purpose,
and taken flight to a world far removed from ours.


IV.

"You will tell me that my comment is too grave for my text, but you
know as well as I do that small things and great are linked together by
bonds, which may be invisible but are none the less real."

"Every age," remarked one of my friends, "has its own manners and
customs. We no longer live in the days when every gentleman carried a
sword at his side and as a matter of course knew how to use it. The
taste for fencing is not so universal that we are all impatient to be
initiated into its inmost mysteries. Some of us may not have sufficient
leisure or sufficient inclination; we are too busy or too lazy. I
believe that what most men think about it can be put in a very few
words:--'_We don't want to fight but_--if we must, we should like to be
able to show our teeth and fight like gentlemen,' that is all that the
average man wants with fencing."


"Quite right," chimed in the Vicomte de G. with a laugh, "we only want
just so much of it as will serve our private ends."


"All that you say," I continued, "is true, but it is not the whole
truth, as you would readily admit if you paid a visit to one of the
fencing rooms of Paris. If you happened, for instance, to drop in on
my friend and esteemed master, M. Pons, you would find a gathering of
amateurs, who are devoted to the practice of arms, who keep up the
traditions with taste and culture, and understand thoroughly well how a
sword ought to be used.

"But, to be quite fair, I must hasten to add that the prowess
and prestige of these brilliant players would not suffer by the
simplification of sword-play. The point I wish to make is that a
treatise on fencing for the use of gentlemen, who have so little time
to spare and so much to waste, is a book to be written, a book of real
utility and importance, and indeed almost indispensable. I have put my
finger on a felt want, and if you will allow me I will briefly explain
how I think such a book ought to be written, and what it ought to
teach. I know, of course, that I shall be violently contradicted, but
after all--I know that I am on the right track.


V.

"I have told you that we are asked to make an absolute distinction
between two schools of fencing. Obviously it is the new school that
is wrong, and, as I happen to belong to that school, you must give
me leave to defend it, or, at all events, to explain its tendencies
logically, theoretically, and practically."


"Take care, Sir," a voice was heard to remark, "those three words are
decidedly appalling."


"Don't be afraid," I answered, "they are not so formidable as they
seem at first sight. You will find that if we thresh out the general
principles, what I have to say presently will be much simplified and
easier to follow.

"You often hear men say: 'There is no pretty fencing nowadays. It has
relapsed into its primitive brutality.'

"Not at all," I should answer, "it has come back to its proper object.
For consider,--an exercise, an art which starts with the fundamental
idea of a fight between two men who are thirsting for each other's
blood, cannot be regarded as a mere amusement, or as an academical
study in civility and good manners. One might argue with some effect,
that to sacrifice the first essential principle of the art to superior
refinements, which were really too exclusive, was a risky game to play,
and that, sooner or later, the players were sure to discover that fact
to their cost. Now I should maintain that the revolution, which has
been brought about, is a clear advance, and only brutal, if you will
have it so, because it is the assertion of the brutal truth.

"With the exception of the few who have the ambition to make themselves
accomplished swordsmen, men you meet in the fencing room do not as a
rule come there to sit at the feet of the professor, and imbibe the
mystic lore of scientific theory which he expounds, but rather to be
drilled and disciplined in the practical use of the sword which he
holds in his hand.

"As a young man I was passionately fond of fencing; I worked at it
with enthusiasm; my diligence and devotion were untiring. Among my
contemporaries were several very strong amateurs, really skilful
swordsmen, experts worthy of the best days and most glorious traditions
of the sword. I am thinking of such men as Ambert, Caccia, Choquet,
Lord Seymour, the Marquis de l'Angle and others, a group of amateurs
well able to hold their own with the most skilful masters. I believe
that at that time, and I give you this as my sincere conviction,
fencing reached as high a level as at any period in its history.


VI.

"It was the opening of a new era. Hitherto the art had advanced along
a narrow track. Now the old ways suddenly broadened out. Old methods
were superseded. Fencing was no longer treated as an academical
accomplishment, a graceful exercise in courtly skill and bearing, from
which originality was barred. It had become something more than the
glib repetition of set phrases, that had been got by heart from a book
and carefully rehearsed. The new movement, as it may well be called,
though it abandoned the perfect manner, which had grown too perfect,
brought our elusive art back to regions less celestial, I readily
admit, but at the same time brought it face to face with other than
imaginary difficulties.

"The art received a new impetus. 'Natural fighters,' men equipped with
abundant energy and assurance, who were convinced that all that was
necessary for self-defence was a general athletic training such as they
possessed, called the fencer's skill in question. Regarded as fencing
their style may have been faulty, not to say atrocious, but they
confronted the fencer with this logical dilemma:--'You are a master
of the sword or an accomplished amateur, I, on the other hand, know
nothing about it. Hit me and do not let me hit you. That is all I ask.
I shall fight by the light of nature and do what I can; you will be
strictly scientific and keep to your rules.'


"To my mind the only way to silence an opponent of this sort was to
take sword in hand, and literally demonstrate to him that he was
equally ignorant and incapable. This course, however, did not commend
itself to others, who were content to fight this modern hydra, which
reappeared every day in some new shape, with--contempt.

"The professors gnashed their teeth and swore, though a few of them
kept their temper:--

'Is our Art then,' they declaimed, 'a mere delusion, a fallen idol? Are
we to prostitute and expose it to the barbarous excesses of a brutal
and ignorant mob? Are we to join in an outlandish Babel, where every
one claims to be heard in his own tongue, some jargon which no one can
understand?'


"There certainly was something in this line of argument, however
magisterially it might be stated. But at the same time it was
impossible to deny that there was, wrapped up in these ungainly
eccentricities, a real truth, which could not be entirely neglected.
For among the noisy crowd, who would have liked to set their fads upon
a pinnacle, one found fencers of experience, men who by long training
and the use of scientific method had acquired sound judgment and
thorough workmanship. These men, it is true, had the courage to trample
on the ancient superstitions, and gladly welcomed the widening of the
field, which would give ample room, and scope for every kind of bias.

"It was clearly a revolution, and declared itself by the unmistakable
signs of all revolutions, by its aggressive attitude and by its
onslaught on old ideas and traditions, which till then had been thought
unassailable.

"Molière's famous maxim,--'Hit and don't be hit back,'--asserted itself
triumphantly. Truth and falsehood went hand in hand. The thing to be
done was to winnow the chaff from the corn, and not reject the whole as
worthless.


VII.

"Well, let us now see if we can sum up the real changes which the new
school introduced.

"As a matter of fact it proposed absolutely none that was unreasonable.
Its tenets amounted to this:--'A fencer must be judged not so much by
his graceful attitude and classical style, not so much by his masterly
command of precise execution, as by his power of quickly conceiving and
quickly delivering the right attack at the right moment.

'When once a beginner has learnt the rudiments of sword-play; when
he has learnt that the movements of hand and body must correspond,
and maintain an even balance in every position; that the wrist must
be quick to follow the adverse blade and form a close parry, without
flying wild and wide in uncontrolled disorder; when he can appreciate
the value of a step to the rear and the value of a step to the front;
when he has grasped the danger to which he is exposed in making a
complicated attack, and realises that the effectiveness of a simple
attack depends on the power of seizing the critical moment,--then he
should be left to follow his natural instinct, and allowed to exercise
his own judgment in making use of the knowledge he has acquired.'


"You should not say to him:--'We must now describe an exact circle,
beyond which, by thought, word, or deed, you must not budge. You find
it a more natural position, and easier for attack and riposte, to lean
your body forward and double yourself up. It cannot be helped, you are
required to keep the body upright by the rules of classical fencing.

'You prefer to keep out of distance, because you find that at close
quarters your nervous dread of a surprise attack or of a quick thrust
is disconcerting and disturbs your equanimity. You must not keep out of
distance. You are required to keep the prescribed distance and to join
blades.

'You are afraid of attacks on the sword, such as beats, binds, and
pressures, or of surprise attacks, and to avoid them you refuse to
engage your adversary's blade. You must not refuse. You are required
to engage swords by the rules of the game; only bad fencers attempt to
avoid the engagement.

'You attack in the low lines, perhaps you hit your opponent below the
belt. Quite true, the hit would be fatal in a duel, but in sword-play
it is considered a foul blow; the code does not allow it, therefore the
hit is bad.'


VIII.

"This sort of thing is mistaken prejudice. The assault ought to be a
sham fight.

"It follows that everyone should have liberty of action. Do not attempt
to force A. to be graceful and elegant, if he is not built that way.
Permit B. to develope his own style in his own fashion, and do not
try to make him a servile copy of yourself, merely for the sake of
emphasising your superiority. If he makes mistakes, take advantage of
them, that is the most convincing kind of correction. If his play is
dangerous but incorrect, show him that you can be at once correct and
dangerous.

"In short we ask for a fair field and no favour for every sort of style
and theory that is based on a study of the weapon. Science you know is
the result of intelligent application. Do you seriously believe that
these fencers are devoid of science, because they refuse to be judged
by your standard, or because they try to obtain new results, where you
persist in seeing nothing but annoying tricks?


"You must allow one of two things. Either the methods which these
fencers employ, their plans of attack and defence, are based on policy
and their knowledge of the weapon, and their source of inspiration is
the same as yours; in that case they are justified by results, they
have teeth and can bite, and are not the easy prey, which you expected
to find them. Or on the contrary, they go to work without judgment,
they let fly at random, and advance or retire without any notion of
time or distance, their parries are wide and weak, without any sense of
touch, their attacks uncertain, wild and incoherent. In that case they
are not dangerous. Chance may perhaps protect them once, but you with
your experience and skill of course will easily defeat them, and their
slap-dash play will lead them promptly into every trap which you choose
to set for them.


IX.

"Such is the controversy, the great quarrel between the two schools,
the feud between the white rose and the red. I have attempted to
explain it to you in its general outlines as clearly as I possibly
could. You will find it easier to understand the details, which we
shall consider when we continue this discussion."


"What will your subject be to-morrow?" asked my host.


"I really cannot say," I replied. "It would be difficult to lay down a
regular plan. No doubt something will turn up to talk about. And, by
the way, this morning I noticed in the library one or two old books
about sword-play, and I shall try to find time to turn them over."

[Illustration]



The Second Evening


[Illustration: _The legs are springs._]


I.

It began to dawn upon me that my undertaking was more serious than I
had anticipated, and that I had let myself in for some uncommonly hard
work; for I should have to advance solid reasons in support of the
theories that I had so rashly propounded. I had committed myself to
nothing less than the exposition of a system to men who, for the most
part, knew nothing at all about sword-play, and could not be expected
to understand the meaning of the technical terms. I should have to be
clear and precise and ready to answer any questions that might be put
to me.

I was particularly anxious to carry my little audience with me, because
I venture to think that no gentleman's education is complete without
some knowledge of fencing, and I consider that parents and guardians
are much to blame if they fail to recognise the two-fold importance of
this indispensable exercise, which not only strengthens and developes
the learner's body, but also insures his life.


"Ah," I exclaimed, as I joined the company in the smoking-room, where
we met every evening, "my audience I see is before me."

"You have kept your audience waiting," said my host, "and we have kept
an armchair waiting for you. Sit down, and begin as soon as you please."

"Thank you," I replied sitting down,--"I will begin at once."


II.

"I remarked, yesterday, that the art of fencing would greatly benefit
by simplification, and that it does not require such formidable and
protracted study as some of the text-books by their elaborate display
of intricate and interminable combinations would lead you to suppose.

"The elementary principles of sword-play are four in number. They are
these:--

 SIMPLE ATTACKS.
 COMPOSITE ATTACKS.
 SIMPLE PARRIES.
 COMPOSITE PARRIES.

"Here is a table of the attacks and parries:--


 SIMPLE ATTACKS.

 The Straight Thrust.
 The Disengagement.


 COMPOSITE ATTACKS.

 One, two.
 Beat straight thrust.
 Beat disengage.
 Feint disengage.
 Feint cut over.
 Cut over and disengage in tierce or quarte.


 SIMPLE PARRIES.

 Quarte.
 Tierce.
 Seconde.
 Low Quarte, or Quinte.


 COUNTER PARRIES.

 Counter-Quarte.
 Counter-Tierce.
 Circle.


III.

"My classification, you see, is not very complicated."


"But," some one objected, "you are surely forgetting to name an immense
number of strokes and parries; for it is impossible that the long lists
of names, which are given in the books, and the directions for the
various passes, which have the air of cabalistic formulae and are about
equally intelligible, can be reduced to such simple terms."


"I am willing to forget them," I replied, "in fact more than willing,
for I am convinced that they only serve to distract the learner's mind.
The simpler the principles, the simpler the practice. Give him fewer
things to do, and he will do them more easily, and he will certainly
learn to do them in a shorter time.

"I have always said that a text-book of fencing, which contained
nothing that was superfluous, would not fill a volume but might be
written out on a sheet of notepaper, and besides, I would have you
notice that several of the attacks, parries, and ripostes included
in my list might logically have been omitted, because they are simply
different ways of executing the same movement.

"For instance, what I have called "_One, two_" is the combination of
two _disengagements_, one delivered in quarte, the other in tierce.
The _beat straight thrust_ is the combination of a _beat_ on the sword
with a _straight thrust_. The _beat disengage_ is simply a _beat_
followed by a _disengagement_. _Feint cut-over_, _feint disengage_ are
in like manner the different methods, which are most commonly used,
of executing the _straight thrust_ or the _disengagement_, the two
fundamental strokes of sword-play.

"Even the _cut-over_ is really a sort of _disengagement_, since
it starts from the same position, is aimed at the same point, and
may be met by the same parries. The only difference is that the
_disengagement_ passes under the blade, while the _cut-over_ passes
over the point. The _cut-over and disengage in quarte_ is the same
movement as _counter-quarte_, conceived and executed in the one case as
an attack, in the other as a parry. _Cut-over and disengage in tierce_
is related in precisely the same way to _counter-tierce_.

"You see, then, that the multiplication of strokes, far from extending
to infinity, may be reduced to very narrow limits. And I am firmly
convinced, that if you transgress these limits you are at once involved
in endless confusion, which you ought to be very careful to avoid.--You
will, I am sure, admit the force of my argument.

"The attacks and parries which I have described traverse all the lines
which are open to the passage of the sword, that is to say _the high
and low lines, the inside lines and the outside_. The fencer whose
mind is set free from the perplexity of parries complete and parries
intermediate and so forth, understands more clearly the materials that
are available for his combinations, and the measures that he must take
to meet the adverse attack.

"The lucidity of his mind is reflected even in the movement of his
hand which goes straight to its mark without hesitation or confusion.
Speed and freedom of delivery follow as a matter of course. And we must
not forget that quickness of hand, combined with what may be called
fencing judgment, is of all qualifications the most important, the most
necessary, the most vitally indispensable.


IV.

"We may as well follow up the turn our conversation has taken, and
pass under review without further preface the three watch-words of
swordsmanship:--

                    JUDGMENT;    CONTROL;    SPEED.

The man who should master these three would be the pattern of the
perfect fencer.

"Well, what of fencing judgment? Why in the world should you be afraid
of it, as though it were the hundred-headed hydra that guards the
sacred portals? What is it but that part of the understanding that we
all bring to bear on the conduct of everyday life? Nothing in human
affairs however trivial or however great can be done without it.

"Fencing judgment implies more especially distrust, cunning, a wise
caution, the power of interpreting the dumb language of the sword,
the faculty of drawing correct inferences. These faculties are in the
first instance directly stimulated by the master's lessons, and natural
intelligence, acting without any conscious effort on your part,
combined with experience, will make the good seed grow. Do not concern
yourself about it. Over-anxiety always has a most disturbing effect on
the mind.

"The other night when I spoke of the alphabet of fencing, I had a
special object in view. There is a language of the sword, by which
questions are asked and answered. As soon as you have learnt the words
you can speak and understand it. To admit that it is necessary to
make a separate study of every possible phrase implies that a simple
and straightforward method of instruction, which I hold to be of the
highest importance, is unattainable.


V.

"In like manner the faculty of control is a thing that may be gradually
acquired by practice. It is the result of imparting a supple 'temper'
to the wrist and body, and consists in the knitting up of the various
operations into one continuous movement. But, as in the case of fencing
judgment, so here, the desired result cannot be obtained all at
once. It is the first and most natural consequence of your master's
instructions. It comes of daily practice and you must patiently watch
and wait for it, as you might wait for a peach slowly ripening on a
sunny wall. Let it grow upon you like a habit, by slow degrees, till it
becomes a second nature.

"Speed, not of course mere quickness of hand, but the rapid execution
of every movement, is one of the fencer's great resources, whether
in attack, parry, or retreat. It is to my mind the main point to be
insisted on from the very first.

"And, accordingly, I think that the master should be careful not to
overdo the sort of teaching, that consists in delivering a running
commentary such as this:--'Steady now: not too fast: take your time
about it: think what you are doing: keep your hand in order: mark each
motion: at the word _one_,--and so forth: don't hurry, you will go fast
enough by and by.'

"It is certainly useful to practise the hand by exercising it on the
master's jacket, but it is useless to practise it by slow movements.
First explain how the stroke is to be executed, and then without more
ado make your pupil get into the way of taking it quickly. Slowness
is convenient, because it renders execution easy, but the ease of
execution that is derived from it is dangerous, because it reacts on
the judgment and accustoms the mind to lazy ways. Your object is,
no doubt, to bring the hand under control and analyse the stroke in
detail, but if the result of your teaching is that your pupil falls
into a sluggish habit you are sowing the seeds of a vice, which you
will probably never succeed in extirpating.

"Suppose you are teaching a child to walk, you are not surprised
that his first steps are wavering and unsteady, and that he cannot
plant his feeble feet firmly on the ground. You hold him up, but you
let him walk. In due time he learns to use his strength, as a bird
learns to fly. The young fencer is the child learning to walk. As his
knowledge and experience gradually expand, many faults will disappear
of themselves, or will be more easily seen and corrected by his maturer
judgment.

"Speed is a mechanical force, unreasoning, unconscious, but a force
capable of development. You must add fuel to the fire and not allow it
to go out. Do you suppose that all you have to do is to change the word
of command:--'Now do quickly what you have done slowly hitherto'? Your
new command introduces a new idea and creates new difficulties.


"Such, speaking generally, are the essential principles of fencing. I
cannot say whether I have succeeded in showing you clearly how simple
the lesson on these lines may be made, or how far I have been able to
reassure those, who have inadvertently opened a treatise on sword-play
and have fought shy of the subject ever since, but I am convinced that
a course of instruction such as I suggest would produce very good
results.

"To explain myself more fully, as I am talking among friends and there
are no professors present, I will go on to tell you briefly how I
should set about teaching the use of the sword.


VI.

"I should expect my scholar during the first month to give up _half an
hour a day_ to foil practice, and after that to keep it up _three times
a week_. My first lesson would be devoted to showing him theoretically
and practically the vital importance of establishing a perfect concert
or balance between the various movements. This is the fundamental
principle of all athletic exercises, and applies equally to riding,
swimming, gymnastics, and to fencing.

"I should make him advance and retire, lunge and recover, taking care
not to lose his balance. This first lesson is sufficient to enable
the least intelligent to understand the mechanism of the different
movements, which are based on the natural and instinctive faculties of
the human body.


"Come, C----," I said, rising from my chair, "unless I am mistaken, you
have never attempted to fence. Will you allow me to make use of you by
way of illustration?"

"I shall be delighted," replied C----, "but I shall be very awkward."

"Perhaps you will be for the first five minutes. It is the common lot
from which no one can escape. Now place yourself 'On guard'; the words
explain themselves:--to be on guard, to protect yourself, that is to
say to hold yourself equally ready for attack or defence.

"Bend your legs. Let me use an expression which is perhaps incorrect
but which explains my meaning clearly:--Sit well down.

"Your right arm must be half extended. As a general rule the wrist
should be at the height of the breast. You will be able later to modify
these elementary studies, by adapting them to suit the position which
comes to you most naturally. The important thing is to acquire an
uncramped easy style, and to keep the body evenly balanced. In this
position the sword can most easily traverse the various openings that
are offered to it.

"I advance on you. In order to get back and always keep your distance
you have only to carry the left foot to the rear, and let the right
foot follow it immediately. To advance on me, simply reverse these
movements. Bring the right foot forward and follow it up with the left.

"Bravo! you advance like a professor. See that you keep your legs bent
and the body upright, so as to be always ready for advance or retreat.
If you cannot avoid stooping, lean forward rather than backward. By
carrying the body forward you are no more exposed than you were before;
for the body by its inclined position protects itself, presents a
smaller surface, and makes it more difficult for your opponent to fix
his point, when he might otherwise hit you; but if you throw the body
back, you lose the power of making a quick attack and a quick riposte.
Are you tired?"

"No."

"Good! That shows that your position is correct, and that it does not
cramp your muscles or paralyse any of your movements. You understand,
of course, that by standing sideways you present a smaller target to
your adversary.

"So much for defence. Now, for the attack.


VII.

"In order to attack, you lunge, by carrying the right leg smartly
forward and straightening the left, so as to give the body its full
extension.

"Whatever the attack may be, whether simple or composite, the movements
of the hand must be completed and the arm absolutely straight, before
the lunge is made, though the different movements must follow each
other without the least interval.

"It is equally important to remember that the recovery must be as smart
as the attack. The great danger of the attack is that it should be too
intemperate, for a too intemperate attack leaves you exposed to danger,
without strength or speed to escape."


"But," some one asked, "is it really necessary when you are on guard,
to arrange the left arm above the head in a graceful curve, and then
swing it down to the leg as you lunge?"


"The graceful curve is not an absolute necessity. Place the arm
behind your back if you prefer to do so, for if you bring it to the
front you drag forward the left shoulder, and thereby expose a larger
target to your opponent's point. The arm, you see, acts the part of a
rope-walker's balancing pole. It steadies the movements and balances
the weight of the body. Since you have a spare arm you must place it
somewhere, and if you consider you will see that it is least in the
way where I have placed it. It serves a useful purpose in the general
arrangement,--that is the only object of the position. I need not
refine the point further.

"In fencing, the movements of the body and limbs are of great
importance. All the mechanical part of sword-play depends on the
principles which I have just explained. I have now taken the mechanism
to pieces and shown you how it is put together.


VIII.

"One word more. What was the reason for choosing this attitude and
these movements?

"They were chosen because they are natural and instinctive. Instinct
dictated the rule, which is based on experience, on practical
necessity, on correct principle.

"What is the object to be attained?

"First, for defence, to allow the limbs their complete liberty of
action, their natural elasticity and easy play; secondly for attack, to
give the extension of the body its full force.

"Now try to change the position; straighten your legs; you will at once
notice the increased difficulty of executing the different movements,
whether of attack, defence, or retreat. You lose your balance, and the
lunge either precedes the action of the hand and the extension of the
arm, or follows those movements too late.

"The legs are springs which support the body and determine its most
rapid movements. If you are out shooting and want to jump a ditch, you
bend your legs in order to obtain the necessary spring. Or again, if
you jump down from a height, you bend your legs at the moment your feet
touch the ground; if you do not, your whole body is jarred.

"I dwell on this point in order to convince you of its absolute
necessity, and to make you understand clearly the why and wherefore of
the position. But, I repeat, instinct was the first teacher, experience
came later and has only confirmed the principle.

"One last caution. When once you have learnt by practice how to
harmonise your movements, and have realised how great a power at a
given moment the faculty of making these movements with ease and
rapidity may be, then, and not till then, venture to take your personal
inclination into account. And if after carefully weighing the pros and
cons you come to the conclusion that you can, owing to some personal
peculiarity, improve upon the elementary rules of the lesson, do not
hesitate to depart from them without scruple, but never without good
reason. The best position is that which allows you complete freedom and
perfect balance. But never forget that all exaggeration is bad, and
that nothing can be worse than the exaggeration of an ungraceful and
ungainly style. That is all I have to say this evening."

[Illustration: _Keep the left shoulder back._]



The Third Evening


[Illustration]


I.

"We will continue the course of instruction of which you have studied
at present only the first page; I am going into very minute detail, as
you see.

"Our scholar now knows the different positions, and can appreciate why
they are to be commended, and what is to be gained by adopting them. At
the next lesson,--and each lesson would consist of not more than three
bouts of eight or ten minutes each,--I should show him and make him
execute the simple attacks and the simple parries:--_Disengagements
in tierce and quarte, straight thrusts, the cut over, and parries of
quarte and tierce._ The attacks will exercise him in the lunge, the
parries will improve the flexibility of his wrist.

"I should make him continually retire and advance. I should, even at
this early stage, take pains to secure a certain degree of life and
speed in his execution, and I should be careful to vary the exercises,
and never appeal to his intelligence at the risk of checking the
activity of his movements. Sluggishness, I repeat, is a deadly foe,
against which every avenue must be closed from the very first.

"Next I should go on to composite parries and composite attacks. I have
already named them, and you remember that they are not very numerous.
_Counters_, _double counters_, and combinations of the _cut over_ and
_disengagement_ are the most useful things to practise, because they
work the wrist in every direction, and make it both quick and supple.

"Although a great many instructors would say that I am wrong, I should
make it my principal aim to form and cultivate a habit of executing
all movements at speed. I should insist less on precision of control
than on smartness of execution, and at the same time I should call
my pupil's attention to the mistakes which he must be most careful to
avoid, and to the points of danger where he must exercise the greatest
caution.

"I should practise him in retiring quickly, and should make him deliver
simple attacks on the march, keeping his blade in position. After a few
lessons I should repeatedly place my button on his jacket, if he did
not parry quickly enough, or if he was slow on the recovery. In a word
I should put plenty of life and go into my lessons from the first, and
not allow them to become tedious.

"After every lesson I should direct his serious attention to the
principal faults I had noticed, and I should make him understand the
dangers to which these faults must inevitably expose him. For instance,
if he caught the fatal trick of dropping or drawing back his hand, I
should take care to make him attack and riposte in the high lines, in
order to get him to carry his wrist high, and vice versa. In this way I
should exercise his judgment by making him think, and his hand and body
by keeping him closely to his work.


II.

"Above all, the master's lesson must not lose itself in a maze of
attacks and parries and ripostes, which in some treatises are as
numerous and interminable as the stars of heaven. The strict limitation
of the number of strokes to be taught renders their execution
proportionately easier, and makes a clear impression on the mind.
Experience and fencing instinct teach, far better than any lesson,
certain niceties, which give life and finish and character to the play.
There you have the lesson complete.

"As the scholar gradually grows stronger, he learns to hold himself
correctly, and acquires ease. He understands what to do without being
told, and his hand is in a fair way to become the faithful echo of his
thought.


III.

"We here touch on another point, where I find myself at variance with
nearly all the professional instructors.

"I have read in the books which deal with this subject of 'the danger
of premature loose play.' 'You run the risk,' say some, 'of spoiling
a promising pupil, and of arresting his future progress, just when he
is beginning to form good habits.' Others go further and declare that:
'The instructor who allows his pupil to commence loose play too soon
sacrifices by an act of fatal indulgence the whole future of fencing.'

"I do not agree with this view. I cannot even see that it logically
applies to those who mean to devote all their time to the study of
sword-play, and who are prepared to make a determined effort to reach
the topmost summit of this difficult art. Much less, then, to my mind,
is it applicable to the generality of men, who have no ambition to
become such learned fencers, as we were saying the other evening. The
professors wilfully refuse to see this.

"And yet of all arts, the art of fencing may be considered from the
most widely different standpoints, and particularly may be approached
with very varied degrees of knowledge and application. Is it so very
certain that 'premature loose play,' as the professors love to call
it, is so pernicious as they think,--the bad seed that cannot fail to
produce an evil crop of vices? Right or wrong, I can only say once
more that I am of quite the contrary opinion.

"I fail to see that it is dangerous for a pupil to attempt the assault,
when he has learnt by taking lessons for a month,--more or less,
according to the progress made and his natural capacity,--to understand
the various strokes I have described, and can already execute them with
some degree of liveliness and control.


IV.

"Of course I am quite ready to admit that his first assaults, like
all first attempts that require a trained habit of mind, cannot be
free from mistakes, exaggerations, faults of all sorts. But is not the
master there to correct these errors with his lesson, and to bring his
pupil, who is inclined to go astray, back to the right path? Cannot the
leading strings be readjusted?

"The very fact that the master has had an opportunity of observing the
mistakes, to which his pupil is most liable, when left to himself,
enables him to devote all his care to overcome and correct them by
both practice and precept. More important still, he has also had an
opportunity of observing his pupil's bias; he notices the strokes which
come naturally to his hand, the parries he most affects, the natural
promptings of his impulse, impetuous or cautious as the case may be. He
makes a study of his artless scholar, who is clumsily feeling his feet,
reads him like a book, catches him in the act so to speak, and detects
the working of his character, and thenceforward he knows the way in
which his studies may be most profitably directed to give full play to
his individual temperament.

"The assault teaches the novice what no amount of lunging at the
master's pad can drill into him. It enters him to the sudden
emergencies, which in one shape or another arise at every moment, to
the movement and exertion and keen emulation of real fighting. The
assault is in fact a lesson subsidiary to the formal lesson, and you
may rest assured that the instruction it conveys is equally salutary."


V.

"Then," smilingly remarked the Comte de R., "you are for open war with
the existing routine?"

"And with the old traditions. Yes, I am afraid I am. But what can I do?
You admit the force of my arguments?"

"Certainly."

"And that fencing taught on my plan loses its terrors?"

"Yes, I quite admit that."

"And in fact it is not really formidable. My system is able to
satisfy the requirements of all, and I do not overshoot the mark, by
over-anxiety to reach it.


"It is most important to bear in mind that it is not necessary or
even desirable to attend all the professor's lectures, to pass all
the examinations and finally to qualify as Bachelor of Arms in order
to become a fair ordinary fencer. After all in every art one usually
admits the professor's right to dictate the elementary principles of
his subject, but after the elementary stage is passed we are not,
I believe, always ready to accept the professor's estimate of the
importance of the art which he happens to teach. The remark applies
equally to music, to painting, to literature, and why not to fencing?
Poets we know are nothing if not first-rate, but why should fencers be
singled out for this invidious distinction?

"You may judge how firmly my own belief is rooted, when I say that I am
as strongly convinced of the good results that follow from 'premature
assaults,' as I am of the necessity of making the lesson as simple and
as clear as possible.


VI.

"I remember a story told by my friend, M. Desbarolles, an artist who
is endowed more liberally than most of my acquaintance with the warm
artistic temperament. It is to be found in one of his neatly written
essays. He had, it seems, studied fencing for two years under a French
master, in Germany I think, when he paid a visit to M. Charlemagne,
one of the most famous instructors of the day, to whom he had an
introduction.

"He fenced before the professor, and when the bout was over expected to
be complimented, under the impression that he had done rather well.

'Will you allow me, Sir, to give you a word of advice?' asked the great
man.

'By all means,' replied my friend.

'Then, let me recommend you to give up loose play altogether for at
least a year, and confine your attention entirely to the lesson.'

"Good heavens, what amazing perversity, what pompous humbug! M.
Desbarolles remarks that he was utterly taken aback, and I can well
believe him, but he goes on to say that he accepted the master's
verdict, and never had reason to repent it.

"If he had not given his word for the fact, I should certainly have
ventured to hope, most sincerely, that his sense of humour was
sufficient to save him from following such a piece of advice to the
letter, and in any case I am sure that it was quite unnecessary for him
to do so, in order to become the charming fencer that he is and one for
whom I have the warmest admiration.


"Do not tell me that the quickness of hand and rapidity of movement,
the alertness of body and mind required in loose play, can be
imparted by the lessons of a skilful instructor, if only he is careful
to graduate his instruction in proportion to his pupil's progress.
The result is mere clock-work with the professor for mainspring,
counterfeit vitality set in motion by the word of command; a most
mechanical use of the intelligence. The pupil cannot go wrong because
he is tied to his master's apron-strings. The master's sword shows him
exactly where to go with the precision of a finger-post. He is like a
man swimming in a cork jacket, practising the motions of swimming at
his leisure, and not caring in the least whether these motions would
really support him on the surface or let him sink to the bottom.

"That the formal lesson is useful I do not doubt, that it has a
monopoly of usefulness I emphatically deny. Why allow it to meddle with
and domineer over things which do not concern it? Let it keep its place
and refrain from trespassing outside its own dominions.

"The lesson can explain the logic and theory of fencing, it can assign
reasons and exhibit the mechanical process, but it cannot deal with the
great Unknown, the tricksy spirit, which suddenly starts out on the
fencer under every shape and form, always assuming some new disguise
and upsetting in a moment the most perfect theories and the most
scientific combinations.

"The young fencer who undertakes his first assault is like the heroic
youth of the fairy tales, who leaves his humble cottage and goes out
into the wide world to seek his fortune. Like him he will meet with
many strange adventures, which will try his mettle, put his character
to the touch, and call into play all the resources of his intelligence.


VII.

"Perhaps you think that by continually presenting this question to
you in a new light I am detaining you too long on one part of my
subject. My intention is to bring home to your minds the conviction I
so strongly feel myself. If you only knew how many striking examples I
have witnessed of the truth of my assertion!

"You may see one of these pupils taking his lesson. He is a magnificent
spectacle; his hand perfectly correct, a grand lunge, his action smooth
and free; he follows his master's blade through a cunning series of
feints and false attacks, ripostes and counter-ripostes, his parry
is never beaten; not a fault, not a single mistake; he is an animated
illustration of his master's treatise, which the author with pardonable
pride displays before you.

"Now in the assault pupils of this type are far from maintaining their
superiority. Their mechanical agility is paralysed, when it is no
longer set in motion by the accustomed spring. They know too little and
at the same time they know too much. They find out that the assault
is not the same thing as the lesson. Their opponent's blade does not
accommodate itself to theirs with the precision to which they are
accustomed; the touch of the steel no longer conveys those delicate
hints, to which they formerly responded with such alacrity, and of
course they lose their bearings. They have not acquired the sort of
defence which is ready for anything, alike for well directed thrusts
and for more eccentric methods of attack, and they look in vain for a
succession of passes strictly correlated in a systematic order.

"Instead of marching with a swing along the broad highway to which
they are accustomed, they find themselves lost in a wild and difficult
country without a guide and without confidence. Habit will perhaps
enable them to maintain some smartness of appearance, but they make
few hits, and in spite of their science and the skill, which they
undoubtedly possess up to a certain point, they are continually beaten
by fencers, who are less scholarly perhaps, but who have been better
entered than they to the actual combat, the manifold emergencies of
practical fighting, and who have learnt that strange language, by which
the sword contrives to reveal the most delicate shades of meaning.

"I have seen this happen so often, that I have taken some trouble to
study the question, and I am convinced that if these same pupils had
been at less pains to make themselves pedantically perfect in the
peaceful and philosophic practice of the lesson, and had been made
familiar at an early stage with the changing incidents of the assault,
they would have been equally well disciplined, and at the same time
really dangerous fencers. Of course I freely admit that exceptions may
sometimes be found, but they are the exceptions which prove the rule.


VIII.

"We have now reached a point from which we may survey the thrilling
spectacle of the assault, as fencers call the mimic combat, in which
desperate and brutal fighting is controlled by skill, the hazardous
duel, full of fire and fury, between two combatants, who summon to
their aid all that they know or all that they think they know.

"I can say with literal truth, that I have never taken a foil in my
hand for a serious assault without feeling a real tremor, and most
fencers have experienced and indeed are generally conscious of the same
sensation.

"You have listened so kindly to my rough attempt to put together an
extemporary course of instruction, that I can confidently claim your
attention now; for we are about to find in this great arena the rival
systems face to face. I shall put before you and examine at no great
length the various situations which are likely to occur.

"Our imaginary pupil has now become a fencer. He will no longer lunge
merely at the master's pad, henceforward he will cover his manly face
with a mask. Shall we follow him in his career?"


"We will"; replied my host in tragic tones. "The standard of revolt is
raised. Lead on, and we will follow you."

"'Tis well," I answered in the same spirit. "The tryst is here, at the
same hour,--to-morrow."

[Illustration: _A Parry of Prime._]



The Fourth Evening


[Illustration: _Coup Double._]


I.

The next day I continued my discourse thus:--

"In the assault with its incessant alarms and perilous crises, in
encountering the wiles and avoiding the snares of the enemy, those who
use the sword find their 'crowded hour of glorious life,' the hour
crowded with illusions and disenchantments, the rubs of fortune, the
ups and downs of victory or defeat.

"What legions of cunning counsels and crafty wiles, from the deep-laid
stratagem down to the sudden surprise, one finds marshalled in the
text-books, and how unmanageable and superfluous they generally are.
All that the Spartan mother said to her son when he was setting out
for the wars was:--'Be bold, be resolute, be cautious.' Do not her
words contain the whole? For all fighting, whether at long range or at
close quarters, is very much alike, from schoolboys' games to the most
elaborate military operations; and all the advice of the world may be
summed up in the eternal law of attack and defence, which is stated in
these four words:--cunning, caution, energy, audacity.

"Deceive your enemy: seize the critical moment to attack him, that
is the secret of fighting. Cultivate the mistrust which suspects the
hidden snare, the caution which frustrates his plots, combined with the
energy and audacity which surmount difficulties; try to encourage in
your enemy a spirit of wanton confidence; turn a strong position which
you cannot carry by a direct attack; threaten one point when you mean
to concentrate your whole strength on another; draw your adversary by
a show of weakness to attack you in your strongest position; keep your
plans secret; mask your approaches; and then by the sudden impetuosity
of your attack take him unawares, and if you cannot secure a victory,
contrive a safe retreat. Such from the earliest times have been the
methods of the greatest commanders.

"The tactics of the field of battle and the tactics of hand-to-hand
fighting are identical, for the simple reason that skill, or strategy,
or science, call it what you will, are but different names to express
the same idea. These are the sage counsels; the rest belongs to
inspiration, the inward monitor which in moments of danger warns us
with tenfold insistence, and guides us right.

"Too much stress is laid on education, too little on individual
intelligence. The lessons are supposed to have trained and directed
this intelligence. But if your pupil is so wanting in intelligence
that he cannot enter into the spirit of the game, if he can never rise
to the occasion, and never strike out a line of his own, what can you
expect? You may advise for ever, but his mind will not respond, he will
only listen and forget.

"It is here that the two schools begin to part company. I have already
given you a general view of the points in which they differ, and we
need not now recur to the consideration of general principles, with
which you are already acquainted.


II.

"If we could return to the past, and witness an exhibition of
sword-play as it was understood by the professors of only fifty years
ago, what a contrast we should find with the style of our own day, even
with our most severely classical style. Our methods would certainly be
called revolutionary.

"It was usual not so very long since to display upon the bosom a fair
red heart, stitched to the fencing jacket, to show plainly for all
eyes to see the spot where hits should be placed. Attacks, parries and
ripostes were restricted by convention to a very narrow circle. Any hit
that went wide of the mark was accounted execrable and received with
the most profound contempt. Modern fencing is inclined to be somewhat
less fastidious. Hits in the low line are generally acknowledged. But a
hit below the belt! 'You really do not expect me to follow your point
down there!' is still the attitude of most fencers. 'Call it a hit if
you like, but really it is not fencing. A school of arms, you know,
is not a school of surgery, you might leave those base regions to the
medical students.'


"You smile, but I assure you that they mean it seriously, without
the least sarcasm. It is quite true that any wound in that despised
region would be mortal almost to a certainty. That is a detail; and
they forget that a sword, though it may be a civil and gentlemanly
implement, is still a lethal weapon. It really is very strange to admit
that it is wrong to disregard the deadly character of the point when
aimed in one direction, but to claim that it is right to disregard it
when aimed in another. Yet most men cling to this error with the utmost
pertinacity.

"That you should despise a hit in the leg or fore-arm I can well
understand. By all means concentrate your whole attention on the
protection of the parts of the body which contain the vital organs. But
not to use your utmost care, your surest parries, your most anxious
precautions to defend the trunk,--high lines and low,--always has been
and is still a delusion, a delusion which those who attempt to draw
an impossible distinction between the assaults of foil-play and real
fighting with sharp swords, vainly ask us to accept as an unassailable
article of faith.

"There is a real distinction, for after all foil-play can only be an
imperfect representation of real fighting. Our object should be to make
the resemblance as perfect as possible, and so minimise the chances on
which the ignorant and brutal too confidently rely.

"Let them see that you both know the correct answer to a correct
combination, and that you are equally prepared to deal with the wild
and disorderly antics of an untutored point.


III.

"You may often hear men say:--'I do that in the fencing room, I should
be very sorry to attempt it in a serious fight.'

"Then why attempt it at all? If your judgment tells you that the stroke
is good, it is good for all occasions. If it is bad it cannot be
justified in any case.

"Always bear in mind that you must pay attention to all thrusts which
might prove fatal in a serious encounter, and then if some day you
have the misfortune to find a real sword in your hand, you will have
the satisfaction of knowing that you are fore-armed by habit against
known and familiar dangers. I cannot emphasise this point too strongly.

"In short, the refusal to acknowledge hits however low is a dangerous
and a gratuitous mistake. Why should a thrust aimed in that direction
not be of its kind as brilliant and meritorious as another? Why should
it be boycotted? Is there any reason for this mysterious taboo?"


"The old master who used to teach us fencing at school," remarked my
host, "would fall foul of you with a vengeance, if he heard you talk
like that."


"I do not mean for a moment," I replied, "that I have any preference
for hits in the low line, but rather that I am more afraid of them,
because I have fenced too often with fencers good and bad not to know
how necessary it is to be on one's guard against the dangers of wild
play.

"For instance, those who make a practice of straightening their
arm as they retire nearly always drop their hand, and the point of
their weapon, whether they wish it or no, is necessarily directed
towards the low line. It is equally inevitable that the same part
should be threatened by those who rightly or wrongly reverse the
lunge by throwing the left foot back on your attack, at the same time
stooping forwards, so as to let your point pass over their head; and
ignorant fencers nearly always hit you there, quite innocently and
unintentionally.

"You should therefore guard that part of the body as strictly as you
guard the chest, and, by a parity of reasoning, when you meet an
adversary who neglects to protect the low line annoy him in that region
frequently.


IV.

"It often happens that things that are most neglected in one age become
the ruling fashions of the next, just as things once highly honoured
may often fall into complete discredit.

"Take this instance. In an old and dusty folio, entitled '_Académie de
l'Espée_[2],' which I discovered yesterday banished to the darkest
corner of the library, I found several pages entirely devoted to the
art '_of delivering a stroke with the point at the right eye_.' The
point is specified because in those days cuts and thrusts were held in
equal favour.

"What do you say to a thrust in the eye? And yet if you will consult my
folio you will find a collection of plates illustrating all the passes
by which this brilliant stroke may be brought off.

"You know what is thought now-a-days of a hit in the face, that is to
say on the mask; we are taught,--again quite wrongly,--not to take the
smallest notice of it. And this leads me to hope that some day we may
yet see a revolution, by which the vulgar belly will claim its rights
and in its turn drive out the lordly bosom. It will be rated too highly
then, as it is too much degraded now. But when did revolutions ever
know where to stop?

"For the assault the one thing needful is self-reliance. Trust to your
own resources, and do not imagine that you have to repeat word for word
the lesson that you have got by heart from your book, but rather look
for inspiration to the resources of your native wit.


V.

"If any one came to me for advice, the course I should recommend, not
as a hard and fast rule, but in a general way, would be something of
this sort:--Act as much as possible on the defensive, keep out of
distance, in order to prevent your opponent from attacking you without
shifting his position, and in order to compel him to advance on your
point, the most dangerous thing he can do, and without a doubt the most
difficult art to acquire. If you make up your mind to stand your ground
whatever happens, and to attack always in exact measure, instead of
retiring and advancing with quick and irregular movements, and instead
of trying to surprise and overwhelm your adversary with combinations
for which he is unprepared, you are to my mind simply acting without
the least judgment, or rather you are making a perverse blunder.


"Then I should go on to say, always supposing that I was asked for my
opinion:--Make a practice of stepping back as you form the parry, if
only half a pace. There is everything to be gained by it, and there is
no objection to it that I can see, unless it be the strong objection
that your opponent will feel to being considerably embarrassed on every
possible occasion.

"The advantages, on the other hand, are manifold. By stepping back you
increase the effectiveness of the parry, because by withdrawing the
body you, in a sense, double the rapidity of the hand. If the attack
has been delivered with sufficient rapidity to beat the parry, by
retiring you parry twice, the first time with your blade, with which
you try to find your adversary's weapon, the second time by removing
the body to a greater distance, with the result that the point, which
would have hit you if you had stood your ground, does not reach your
chest.

"By employing this manoeuvre against simple attacks you counteract
rapidity of execution, and by employing it against composite attacks
or against feints you encounter the last movement forcibly. It is also
of service in screening one from attacks made by drawing back the arm,
for it often happens if you stand your ground, that your hand starts
too soon, and your sword encounters nothing but empty air. It has the
further advantage of increasing the fencer's confidence in himself.

"Do not imagine that it hinders the riposte. It renders it easier
and more certain. Nearly always, when a fencer has lunged right out,
and--as often happens--does not recover immediately, the two opponents
are so close together that it is very difficult to get in the riposte
without shortening the arm, and so giving an opportunity for a _remise_.

"The parry and riposte without breaking ground are certainly of value,
I do not dispute that, but against the fencers of all sorts, whom
you have to meet, and who offer all sorts and kinds of difficulty,
they should not be employed except occasionally, and only when they
are almost certain to succeed. To my mind it would be dangerous and
unreasonable to adopt them as the systematic basis of your play.


VI.

"My reason for insisting so strongly on this point is that I have
nearly always found that it is thought to be very magnificent to stand
up to the parry, whereas breaking ground is regarded as the shift of a
man hard pressed, a last resort when the hand has proved too slow, or
when it is necessary to retrieve an error of judgment.

"Now my plan provides you with a second line of defence, without
infringing any of the recognised canons; it is consistent with the
most classical style, and with perfect control of your weapon. And one
may well ask why, when two chances of safety are at your disposal, you
should deliberately resolve to avail yourself of only one of them?

"I should accordingly reverse the usual advice, thus:--

'As a general rule and on principle break ground as you parry, either
by a few inches or by a clear pace, according to the momentum of your
opponent's attack, for by breaking ground I do not mean to say that you
are to avoid a hit by continual and precipitate bolting.

'Sometimes stand firm, but only when you are sure that you have at last
induced your opponent to develope an attack, which you have long been
waiting for him to make.'


VII.

"Unless I know my man, or have come to an understanding with him
beforehand, I have very little faith in a prolonged concatenation of
parries, ripostes and counter-ripostes, and here again I should try to
relieve the mind, as much as may be, from an unnecessary burden, by
getting rid of complications instead of multiplying them.

"I look at it in this way. If a fencer has to concern himself with the
different lines in which he may be attacked, he must be in a state of
continual suspense. He will be continually asking himself whether the
attack is coming in the inside line or the outside, in the high line
or the low. Thus, in order to parry to advantage and correctly he must
wait until his enemy's object is clearly disclosed. Take the case of a
simple attack promptly executed; it is obvious that the attacker must
gain a considerable start. True, there are a few fencers, but very
few, gifted with so fine a sense of touch, that they can divine their
adversary's intention, and read his inmost thought.

"Less gifted mortals should be content with a parry which mechanically
traverses all the lines. Such a parry must of necessity encounter the
adverse blade forcibly in whichever line the enemy has selected for his
attack. When once you have acquired this universal parry the strain is
lessened, your mind is more at ease, you are more sure of yourself and
feel that you can act with certainty and decision.


VIII.

"There are two kinds of parry, among those which I enumerated the other
day, which answer this purpose equally well. The first consists in
combining the parry of _tierce_ or _counter tierce_ with a _cut over_
and beat in _quarte_; the second in parrying _counter tierce_ and
_counter quarte_ in succession, and vice versa, or _counter quarte_ and
_circle_.

"These covering parries though they are technically composite, in
practice are fairly simple, and rapidly pass through all the lines that
are open to attack. Choose the one which you prefer instinctively,
which is another way of saying the one that comes most naturally to
your hand. Or, if you like, use sometimes one, sometimes the other."


"But what if this parry is deceived?" asked the Comte de R.


"Well," I answered, "'Deception no cheating' is the fencer's motto.
There is no such thing as an attack that cannot be parried, or a parry
that cannot be deceived. Sooner or later the fatal moment comes, and
superior activity or superior cunning prevails.

"If any professor can invent an attack which it is impossible to
resist, or a parry which it is impossible to deceive, I should advise
him to take very good care to secure the patent rights of his invention
without a moment's delay. He would certainly have no difficulty in
floating a company to put it on the market in all the capitals of
Europe.


"I have already expressed my opinion that a fencer's strength lies
much more in presence of mind and in quickness of hand than in a very
varied play. This is so true that the majority of fencers, amateur
and professional alike, affect certain favourite strokes; they have
favourite attacks, favourite parries and ripostes, and always come
back to them as to old friends on whose services they can confidently
rely. In the course of an assault the same stroke is often repeated
in many different ways; the shape it takes changes with the changing
incidents of the fight, and accordingly as it is adapted to suit the
peculiarities of the individual against whom it is employed. That is
the great beauty of a stroke in fencing.

"Some of you, I know, are not fencers, but there are one or two
connoisseurs present, who have studied the art, and are experts. It is
to them that I now appeal. As an illustration of my argument I will
take the most simple parry, the parry of quarte, and I will ask them if
it is not the fact that it constantly changes and undergoes surprising
transformations? Sometimes it is a light touch, sometimes a vigorous,
almost a violent blow; it may form a high parry, it may form a low
parry, it serves for every purpose and answers every call that can
be made upon it. Watch the blade as the parry is formed;--perhaps it
just meets the adverse blade and suddenly quits it or it may hold and
dominate it.

"It is this power of varying the stroke and transforming it at will
that marks the true fencer.

"The man, I repeat, who is content to recite his lesson by rote,
however well he has learnt it, can never be anything more than a
school-boy; call him that or an accomplished parrot, whichever he
prefers.


IX.

"I was reading one of the ancient treatises, which are reposing
peacefully on your dusty shelves, my dear C., when I came across the
following passage, which rather struck my fancy:--

    _The law of defence declares that your motions should be the
    natural motions of a man's body. But, however sacred the dignity of
    law may be, nevertheless you ought to consider that necessity knows
    no law, and that it overrides even the weightiest laws of human
    contrivance._

"That was written in 1600. The maxim is a trifle too sweeping for
general application, but it seems to me to be a good and serviceable
maxim when applied to sword-play.


"My remarks are perhaps somewhat disconnected. I am simply giving
you my ideas at random, as they occur to me. But my main object is
to direct your attention to the points which appear to me of some
importance.

"After the parries come the ripostes. On this subject a few words will
suffice. Never forget that the parry and riposte are twin sisters,
whose lives are so closely bound up in each other, that they cannot
exist apart. Riposte and parry ought to be so closely allied that the
riposte may seem to be the second part of the parry. Therefore, as a
general principle, riposte direct, in the line in which you have found
the blade. Changing the line wastes time, and gives your adversary an
opportunity to pull himself together and make a _remise_ or renew the
attack. Never, on any consideration, allow yourself to draw back your
arm, for then your riposte is lost,--as well throw your purse in the
gutter.

"If your judgment tells you that your adversary is waiting for your
direct riposte, and has attacked you with the object of drawing it, or
if you have noticed that he covers himself effectively on that side,
while he leaves you a clear opening elsewhere, then avoid the trap by a
disengagement or a cut-over; but only make one feint, never more than
one. For, if you do, though you may succeed once, you will probably
find out later that your success was dearly bought. It is always wise,
you know, to count the cost, and economise your resources, unless you
wish to take the straight road to ruin.


X.

"Our chat to-night," I remarked after a moment's silence, "if it has
not been very long, has at least been very serious. I only complain
that you have not sufficiently interrupted me."


"We have been listening to you," said the Comte de R., "very
attentively, because you warned us of the importance of your subject."


"Very well, my dear R.," I replied. "Now just imagine you are in court,
and let us hear how you would sum up the case for the benefit of the
jury."


"I fancy I can do that rather well," answered R. "Let me try:--The
lesson, you say, is the school-room, the assault is the fencer's
career, a free field for enterprise, where he must stand or fall by
dint of his own unaided genius. The only counsels, which are worth
anything, are those which have governed attack and defence from time
immemorial. For attack, the union of desperate energy with cool and
calculating caution; for defence, firmness, wariness, self-reliance.

"Then, passing from the general question to points of detail,
or execution, I should add:--It is a great mistake, a piece of
inconceivable folly, to have boycotted, to use your own expression,
hits in the very low lines, because the fencer is prevented thereby
from acquiring the habit of strictly guarding those parts of the body,
where in a serious encounter any wound would probably prove fatal.

"As a general rule step back as you form the parry, to make assurance
doubly sure, and to give greater freedom to your riposte. Stand your
ground only when you think you have judged the stroke to a nicety, and
when you hold your adversary in a tight place, from which he cannot
escape."


"I am infinitely obliged to you, my dear R.," I remarked. "You have
summarised most excellently the points that I have worked out in
detail, and you have exactly caught my meaning."


"Very good of you to say so," answered R., "but let me finish:--In
order to keep your wits about you, and to avoid trying to think of too
many things at once, adopt as a rule a universal parry, which will cut
all the lines, and must meet and drive away your opponent's blade.
Always riposte direct, and be careful on your riposte to avoid making
feints which expose you to a _remise_ or to a renewal of the attack.
Does that satisfy you?"


"You have taken us over the ground most admirably, my dear Professor.
To-morrow, I propose to discuss the attack, and in this connection we
shall have to consider what is usually called '_le sentiment du fer_,'
the fencer's sense of touch.

"To this sovereign principle we are asked to swear allegiance, as
though it occupied the throne by divine right. I shall ask you to
consider the pretensions of another claimant of very noble lineage to a
share of the royal honours."

[Illustration: _A riposte in tierce._]



The Fifth Evening


[Illustration]


I.

Although our conversation was quite informal and simply an after-dinner
amusement, I found that it involved diligent preparation, especially
when I was approaching one of the questions where I was in open
conflict with current theories, which are often taken for granted on no
better ground than their respectable antiquity.

One of these theories, which is described in fencing language as the
importance of judging the blade by touch, I was now prepared to
challenge, and I was ready to maintain the superiority of another
principle, against which the professors raise their voices, almost
with one accord, in a chorus of unmerited abuse. Accordingly when we
assembled in the smoking-room, I took my usual seat and began without
preface.


II.

"Perhaps I had better explain what is meant by refusing to join blades.
It means that, as soon as you have come on guard, you break away from
the engagement, and avoid crossing swords with your adversary, instead
of allowing the blades to remain in contact.

"This, I consider, was one of the most successful innovations of
what it is the fashion to call 'The New School'; and I am therefore
very far from sharing the opinions of the professors, who discover
in the practice the corruption of the best traditions of sword-play,
and declare that the refusal to join blades is equivalent to fencing
blindfold, and without judgment; it leads, they say, to mutual hits,
and deprives the fencer of one of the finest accomplishments he can
acquire, the power of judging the sword by touch.


III.

"Undoubtedly the fencer's touch is a great resource; I am even willing
to allow that it is invaluable, and it is a thing that can only be
obtained by practice and perseverance; it gives lightness and dexterity
to the hand, and enables the foil to be manipulated with accuracy and
speed.

"It is the refined result that is derived from extreme ease in
regulating the extension of the arm, from exquisite subtlety in the
use of the fingers, and from precision of play, which involves its
victim almost unawares, dismays, and utterly confounds him. I profess
the greatest admiration for this consummate power of fence, so seldom
seen to perfection. No one can think more highly of it than I do, and
on that account I am strongly convinced of the necessity of devising a
means to resist it, when it is used against me. I shall perhaps be told
to combat it by an equally fine sense of touch;--but it is still more
rare to see a bout of fencing in which the two men are evenly matched
in this respect, and general principles should be based on general
grounds, not on exceptional cases.

"The man who possesses this consummate sleight of touch may almost be
said to control his opponent's blade by the exercise of his will. By
a sort of hypnotic influence or fascination he does with it what he
pleases. If you refuse the engagement, you create a difficulty for
him; if you do not allow him to bring his blade into contact with
yours, you put an impediment in his way, which his skill will doubtless
overcome, but with less certainty; his course is not so clear, and he
is no longer completely master of the situation. For if you join blades
you are always within striking distance of his point, that is to say
he can attack you at any moment without shifting his ground. Now such
attacks are exceedingly difficult to stop, even for the most practised
hand, especially simple attacks such as straight thrusts or simple
disengagements.

"The mind perpetually held in suspense is harassed and distressed, you
have no leisure to think for yourself and are demoralised by the slow
torture of a constant strain. For, I repeat, it is very rare to find
two fencers so evenly matched in this respect that the risk is equally
divided.

"In that case I should say:--'Do what you please.' In the other
case:--'By refusing the engagement you can at first keep your opponent
out of distance, which will compel him to advance in order to attack
you, and so give you fair warning of his intention. You are no longer
exposed to the paralysing influence of a constantly threatened attack,
which destroys your liberty of action and judgment; you disconcert your
adversary by leaving him in the dark as to the line in which he will
encounter your blade; and you can choose your own time, when you are
ready to attack or parry, to engage his blade with decision.'

"For my own part, I am quite satisfied that the system is a safe and
sound defensive measure, which offers advantages that cannot be denied.
Pressures, binds, beats and _croisés_, all those dangerous movements by
which your opponent can bring the _fort_ of his blade to bear on the
_faible_ of yours, are rendered very difficult to perform, and are much
less likely to succeed. Surprise attacks are entirely or at least so
nearly eliminated, that their occurrence is a rare event.


IV.

"I have endeavoured to state as clearly as possible the advantages that
a weak fencer may derive from this system, when he is opposed to a
combatant more experienced and more skilful than himself; but further
than that, I believe that the skilful and experienced fencer has also
something to gain by adopting this much despised method. I have myself
never been able to discover that it is incompatible with perfect
'form,' or that it tends to wild play. It opens a wider field, it shows
the fallacy of certain ideas, which have been wrongly supposed to be
unassailable, and it furnishes a whole range of new situations, another
world to conquer.

"What ground is there, I would ask my critic, for your assertion that
I must be fencing blindly, because my sword does not happen to be
in constant touch with yours? Why do you say that mutual hits must
occur more frequently? If you are talking of a pair of duffers, who
charge each other blindly, you may trust them to commit every possible
blunder, whether they join blades or not.

"But why should you exalt so highly what you call the faculty of
touch, the power of judging the blade by touch, and be so ready to
degrade that other sovereign principle, which may be called the faculty
of sight, the power of judging the sword by eye? Can you deny the
controlling influence of the eye, the authority that belongs to it? Do
you believe that the eye cannot be trained to the same degree of nicety
as the hand? Why, when you have these two forces at your disposal, are
you content to let one of them do duty for both?

"You may keep your opponent at his distance by the menace of your
nimble point, which flashes in his sight incessantly; while your
watchful eye follows the movements of his sword and reads his thought,
as well as if the blades were crossed and questioned each other by the
language of the steel. Then, when it suits your convenience, when you
see a favourable opportunity, when you have by a rapid calculation
reckoned up the situation, weighed the chances, taken everything into
account, then is the time to offer your sword, then is the time to
engage your adversary, or by bold decided movements to get control of
his blade."


V.

"But," objected one of my hearers, "what if your adversary adopts the
same tactics, and refuses the engagement?"


"That is where science and strength, skill and personal superiority
tell. What is fencing if it is not the art of leading your opponent
into a trap, the art of making him think that he will be attacked
in one place, when you mean to hit him in another? the skill to
outwit his calculations, to master his game, paralyse his action,
outmanoeuvre him, reduce him to impotence?--That is the sort of thing
the accomplished fencer sets himself to do.

"Your adversary, you say, will not come to an engagement. Very good;
then you must force him to it by feints, or by threatening to attack.
Either he attempts to parry or he attempts to thrust. In either case
you get command of his blade by a simple or by a double beat, as the
case may be, and then you drive your attack home.

"It holds good with fencing, as it does with all warlike measures,
whether on a large scale or small, that you must not wait for what you
want to be brought to you; you must learn to help yourself; take no
denial, but by force or fraud get possession.


"Now, I appeal to you all as critics, not on a technical question of
fencing, on which no one can be expected to give an opinion without a
thorough knowledge of the art, but on a simpler matter. I will contrast
two assaults. Imagine that you are the spectators. The first is between
two fencers of the classical school, to use the conventional phrase.

"The swords are crossed, and the two adversaries, both gifted with
consummate skill, stand facing each other, foot to foot. Feint follows
feint, and parry parry; a simple attack is delivered, it is succeeded
by a combination. The attitudes of both are irreproachable; the body
always upright; the quick hand with exquisite finesse manipulates
the dancing point by subtle and accurate finger-play. You admire the
exhibition; for a moment you follow the quick passage of the blades,
but your sympathies are not aroused, you are not carried away, or
enthralled in spite of yourself in a fever of anxious expectation.

"Now turn to the other assault. This also is fought by two skilful
fencers, but they go to work on quite a different system.

"Look at the combatants. Instead of standing foot to foot, and blade
to blade, they are out of distance, on the alert, ready to strike but
cautious. Their eyes follow each other, and watch for the tell-tale
movement. Suddenly they close, the blades cross, interlock, and break
away. That was a searching thrust! But by a sudden retreat, a rapid
movement, perhaps a leap backwards, the fencer evades the hit, and is
ready on the instant to give back the point. This assault is a battle
between two men, who mean hard fighting, keen swordsmen, dodgy, artful,
and slippery, who bring to bear all their science, employ every trick
they can think of, and throw themselves body and soul into the fight.

"Now let me ask you, which of these two assaults is the more
interesting to follow?


VI.

"I remember an assault, in M. Pons's rooms, between one of my friends
and a man who was generally considered and really was a strong fencer,
although he insisted on clinging to that mischievous routine, which
with some men is a superstition.

"They came on guard, and my friend, after crossing swords to show that
he was ready to defend himself, quitted the engagement, attacked, and
hit his opponent several times.

'But, Sir,' his opponent objected, 'you do not join blades.'

'Why should I?'

'Unless you join blades, how am I to fence?'

'That is your look-out.'

'But you must join blades.'

'Why _must_ I? My only object, I assure you, is to endeavour, as well
as I am able, to disconcert my opponent, and as I find that this plan
disconcerts you considerably, I see all the more reason why I should
continue to employ it.'

'That may be,' rejoined the other sticking to his point, 'but if you do
not join blades, it is not fencing.'

'Well,' said my friend, 'let us try for a moment to discuss the matter.
Tell me, are my hits improperly delivered?'

'Oh, no.'

'Did I stab, or come in with a round-arm?'

'Certainly not'

'Is there anything wrong with my parries? Are they too wide, or what?
Is my hand too heavy, or do you complain of mutual hits?'

'No, that is not the point.'

'Then, what more do you want?'

'I want you to join blades.'

'To oblige you?'

'No, I do not say that. But unless you join blades it is not fencing.'

"And say what one might, nothing would make him budge from his
everlasting axiom.


"It is always so, whenever an attempt is made to interfere with the
traditions of any art whatever. The man who tries to strike out a new
line cannot fail to disturb the tranquil repose of ancient custom. The
conservatives resist, they object to interference, they feel that their
placid triumphs, their cherished habits are threatened. The regular
routine, which has been drilled into them, till they know it like an
old tune of which every turn and every note is familiar, will be
unsettled. They have good reason to be annoyed, but that does not prove
them to be right.


VII.

"At the present day people have gradually come to admit that there is
some good in these innovations, which have suddenly enlarged the scope
of fencing. 'Fencing,' they say, 'is more difficult than it used to be,
but less graceful.' Are these qualities then necessarily incompatible
with each other?

"In order to make a clear distinction between those who run after
strange gods, and the 'auld lichts' who have preserved intact the
primitive tradition of the true faith, a phrase has been invented to
describe the backsliders. They are said to be 'difficult fencers.'

"Now what are these words supposed to mean? Do they imply that a
graceful fencer is not difficult? No doubt, classical grace and a
masterly style are very fine things, which I, for one, can appreciate
and admire. But if I am asked to choose between the graceful and
the difficult fencer,--if it is not possible to be both at once,--I
much prefer the latter, for I suppose that 'difficult' can only mean
difficult to hit, difficult to defeat.

"But there is no need to suppose that difficulty is incompatible with
grace, at least with grace of a certain kind, the grace of manly and
robust energy, which sits well upon the fighting man, such grace as in
old times so well became the gallant chevaliers, who illumined by their
prowess the spacious days of ruff and rapier.

"We have here another of the important points of difference between the
two schools. Some people treat the newcomer like an inconvenient guest,
whom they cannot very well turn out of doors. But they may as well make
up their minds that the intruder can take care of himself, and will
find room for his ample proportions in the domestic circle. He has come
to stay, and whether they like him or not he means to make one of the
party.

"The axiom--'Hit and do not be hit back' ought, in spite of everything
that can be said against it, to be the motto of all who fight with the
sword. Science may teach how to hit well, but its first lesson should
be, how not to be hit at all by the arrant duffer, who uses his sword
by the light of nature. When swordsmanship fails to keep this end in
view, we may be very sure that it is off the track. 'Business first'
must be the invariable rule.


VIII.

"There was a time when the mask was not worn for the assault. And I
remember reading some time ago in the _Encyclopaedia_, published about
the middle of last century (1755), under the word _mask_ the following
remarks:--


'In foil-play Fencers have sometimes carried precaution so far as to
wear a mask, to protect themselves from possible hits in the face. It
is true that those who have acquired little skill in the Art may chance
to wound their Adversary by a clumsy thrust, or cause themselves to be
wounded by throwing up the point with a bad parry. It is however never
worn at the present day.'


"This encyclopaedia evidently reflects the ideas which were generally
accepted at the time. To wear a mask in a bout with the foils was as
much as to say that you considered your opponent a duffer, and was not
far short of an insult.


"Fencing in those days was nothing but a formal series of attacks,
feints, parries and ripostes, well understood and defined by the
code; every movement led up to some other movement, which was rigidly
prescribed. If a fencer had ventured on a straight thrust while the
feints were in progress, instead of elaborately following the blade
through every turn of the labyrinth, he would have been considered an
unmannerly cub, and sent back to study his rudiments. It was only in
the last years of the period signalised by the famous Saint-Georges
that the mask came into general use. Even then the only masks used were
made of tin, and the professors' view was that such safeguards were
permissible for rough players. But it so happened that three professors
each lost an eye. And their respect for ancient tradition did not go
far enough to induce them to risk losing the one that remained. After
that the wire mask was generally adopted, but not without regret.


IX.

"Every generation takes the march of progress one stage further, or at
least modifies existing institutions in its own way. It is not so long
since the fanciful multiplication of feints, of which I was speaking
just now, was considered the correct game; the right thing to do was
to follow the blade until you found it. At the present day it is no
longer part of the necessary ritual to follow always every vagary.
Suppose you feint inordinately, I suddenly let drive with opposition of
the hand, or simply straighten my arm and hit you with a stop thrust,
which interferes rather effectively with your trickiness, and spoils
the magnificent flourishes of your arabesques. These hits are now
recognised and regularly taught. If need be, instead of lunging you
slip the left foot to the rear, throw the left shoulder well back, so
as to be out of the way, and drop the body, in order to avoid being hit
yourself.

"The system of our fathers, which in many respects was excellent but at
the same time was remarkable for several very odd and very peremptory
theories, has in many instances been successfully assailed. Perhaps in
some cases its assailants have themselves been too peremptory, and this
has led to that loss of temper and angry recrimination, by which the
debate has been embittered.

"But I must not tax your patience further to-night. We had better
adjourn the discussion until to-morrow; otherwise you will be tired
of hearing me talk, and I am sincerely anxious to command your whole
attention."

[Illustration]



The Sixth Evening


[Illustration: _A very old trick._]


I.

"Fencing," I began, when we had all reassembled as usual, "is such
an inexhaustible topic, that I could not, if I would, pretend to go
minutely into all its practical details. No one gifted with a modicum
of sense, a little determination, and a dash of enterprise, can fail
to strike out a line for himself. I am obliged, as you see, to content
myself with a general view. For we cannot consider the assault, and
especially an assault in which the combatants use their heads as well
as their hands, without assuming that our young friend has gained some
science, and has become an educated fencer.

"I have already spoken of parries and ripostes, and you have seen that
the lesson teaches how these should be employed. You know what use may
be made of the sense of touch, the power of feeling the blade, and of
the electric influence of the eye. It remains to say a few words on the
subject of attacks.

"It is more dangerous to attack than to parry. Instead of waiting
you let yourself go. And the great difficulty is to know how to let
yourself go far enough without going too far.

"Remember that discretion is the better part of valour; but do not
confound discretion with timidity. I have already said that you ought
to be able and willing, and more than that, that you ought to make it
your object to encounter every sort of style, even those styles which
are hardly worthy or--to be quite candid--are quite unworthy of the
name. As a matter of fact there are such styles, and therefore it is
just as well not to allow their exponents to become conceited, or to
imagine that by any chance they can possibly be effective.

"It is important for the prestige of fencing, that those who have no
knowledge of their weapon, or at most a mere smattering, should not be
allowed to suppose that they can depend upon mere energy and a blind
rush to defend themselves against a man who has been trained to the
skilful handling of the sword. Confidence, that mainest mainstay of
defence, ought not to be possible for the ignorant fencer; it ought to
be the peculiar privilege of the trained and scientific expert.


II.

"To come back to the various situations which may occur in the assault.
If I see a fencer, as soon as he falls on guard, engage swords, and at
once hurriedly let fly thrust after thrust, attack following attack in
quick succession, if he neglects to test the length of his opponent's
sword by gradually feeling his way, by employing all the necessary
tactics of the preliminary skirmish, by prospecting for information and
discreetly sounding the enemy, then to my mind he may be classed at
once. He may have some dexterity, a certain power of execution, but by
the mere act of joining blades he may be set down as a blind fencer,
far more truly than the man who keeps out of distance, and chooses the
proper moment at one time to refuse, at another, when least expected,
to take the engagement, or to seize his opponent's blade with courage
and resolution."


"I suppose," remarked the Comte de R., "that, a few years hence, it
is highly probable that a new set of theories will be invented to
supersede these modern ideas, which are so hotly disputed now, and they
in their turn will be considered out of date."


"No doubt that is to be expected in the nature of things. The form may
or rather certainly will change, but the substance will be unaltered.
Let me submit evidence to prove it. I mentioned the other day some old
books on sword-play which I hoped to look through. I will only refer to
them for one moment. I managed to read them all, and dreary reading it
was, but I got through them, being supported by a conscientious sense
of duty, and I unearthed among others the two following passages.

"The first on the subject of _Approaches_ was written in the
seventeenth century, that is to say, it is about two hundred years
old:--


'The reason why you must make your steps of unequal Measure is that
thereby you always hold your Adversary in Suspense and uncertain what
you would be at. For if you always go about your business of a set way
and with a set regularity of step, it may happen that the Enemy will
make his reckoning so exactly, that he can direct his sword not only at
the place where he sees you to be, but even at that place to which he
knows you will presently come, whereof by this means he is hindered.'


"One might suppose that this was written yesterday. Could any
professor, however skilful, put the point better or more logically? The
weapons however were very different from ours, heavy cut and thrust
rapiers, wielded sometimes in one hand, sometimes in both; but the laws
of judgment, caution, and strategy were the same, and will be the same
a hundred years hence.

"To prove once more that this new school, which a few years since
was received with a howl of abuse, really did not advance such very
extravagant doctrines, and that the power of eye, which we were
discussing yesterday, is intimately connected with the power of touch,
I have made a note of these other few lines, still on the subject of
attacks:--


'It follows that the great gain that Science gives is Security in
making your Approaches, which cannot be obtained except you thoroughly
comprehend the Importance both of Touch and Eye; and you may rest
assured that bodily activity and readiness of hand are alike as nothing
when weighed against a good Approach.'


"And we are reluctantly obliged to admit that after all our original
ideas have been anticipated, and we stand convicted of plagiarism.

"I might revenge myself for the trouble I have taken to ransack these
ancient folios, by inflicting upon you any number of quotations, but I
will be merciful, and am content to have demonstrated that the ideas
that are supposed to be most radical are often, when they come to be
examined, most truly conservative."


III.

"I have another question for you," continued the Comte de R. "You were
speaking the other day of feints and stop thrusts. Of course it was
ridiculous to expect an opponent to follow every gyration, which you
chose to describe with the point of your sword, but don't you think
that nowadays the practice of straightening the arm on every possible
occasion is utterly overdone?"


"No doubt it is by some men--overdone, or rather very badly done, which
amounts to the same thing. '_Ne quid nimis_' you know is a good motto,
and I quite agree with you, however little you may like it, that this
movement, which comes more by instinct than by intention, is now the
refuge of those who cannot parry; but, mind this, it is a refuge, from
which it is often very difficult to dislodge them. I quite admit that
those who straighten the arm without any justification are hopelessly
unscientific, but they present a difficulty to surmount, which requires
serious attention.

"Let me explain before going on. There is a distinction to be made
between stop thrusts, and time thrusts. The stop thrust is taken,
when your opponent advances incautiously, or when he draws back his
arm while executing a complicated attack, whenever in fact he makes a
movement which leaves him exposed. The time thrust on the other hand,
correctly speaking, is a parry of opposition,--the most dangerous of
all parries, for if it fails it leaves you absolutely exposed and at
the mercy of your opponent. I have seen it taught in the lesson by
every master (as an exercise no doubt), but I have hardly ever seen
a master put it into practice in the assault. The thrust has nothing
to recommend it, but on the contrary it is to be condemned on many
grounds. I should like to see it ignominiously expelled from the
fencing room, as the buyers and sellers were expelled from the temple.


IV.

"Do you follow the distinction? A time thrust is taken on the final
movement of an attack, when you think you know exactly what is coming,
and can judge with certainty in what line the point will be delivered.
Very well, then parry instead of timing; for if you are wrong--and who
is not sometimes?--you can at any rate have recourse to another parry.
Whereas the time thrust, when misjudged, results in a mutual hit, and
for one that is good tender how much base metal you will put into
circulation. The stop thrust, which is taken, as I have said, on the
opponent's advance, is less dangerous. Therefore never attack a man,
who straightens his arm on every occasion, without making sure of his
blade, and you need have no fear of the result.

"It is quite true that the practice of straightening the arm is much
more prevalent than it used to be; simply because this style of play,
which is of great antiquity, had gone out of fashion, and given place
to another method, which in its turn was overdone,--the method of
feints and flourishes.

"So too, the trick of reversing the lunge by throwing back the left
foot and dropping the body, to allow the attack to pass over your
head, is not an invention of the 'Romantic' school, as it has been
ridiculously christened. It is an old trick, a ruse of great antiquity,
which may or at all events ought to be found in Homer. Still, unless
your opponent drives you to it by wild and frantic rushes, it is a
stroke to be used sparingly, and with the object of letting him know
that you are ready to receive him. By this means you will stop him from
rushing at you on every possible occasion. I like to see a stop thrust
correctly taken, always provided that I do not see others in the course
of the same assault taken incorrectly,--for then it is obvious that the
correct thrust was a simple fluke.


V.

"I am speaking now from the scientific standpoint. Perhaps I can put
my point more clearly. If my opponent says:--'I don't profess to be
scientific; I simply defend myself by the light of nature,' he may do
what he likes, I shall not complain of his mistakes; he is perfectly
within his rights and knows no better. But the expert fencer has no
business to make mistakes, or at least he should try to avoid them as
far as he can.

"Even at the risk of being lynched for my unorthodox opinions, I
should venture to say to the would-be fencer:--'Above all things
make yourself dangerous. Be 'a difficult fencer,' since that is the
stereotyped phrase. Without it there is no salvation; your guns are not
shotted, your performance is mere fire-works.'

"But be careful not to give these words a wider application than they
are meant to carry. All that I would say is this:--that you are to
follow your natural instinct, to trust your impulse, to be yourself and
not your master's puppet. I do not mean to propound an acrobatic theory
of fencing, or to recommend a meaningless, objectless, indiscriminate
charging about, like the convulsive struggles of a wild beast, that has
received its death wound. It would be as wrong to take such extravagant
exceptions for your model, as it would be unfair to argue from them in
order to demonstrate the futility of the new school.

"No doubt fencers of this kind,--they call themselves fencers,--may
score an occasional hit, for, as I have had occasion to remark already,
there is always a certain amount of luck in fencing; but this sort of
thing is not fencing; it is much more like mere brutal fisticuffs. Such
eccentric methods are of no importance, they are not based on any sort
of principle, but are the mere outcome of ignorance; they belong to no
school and have no permanent value. But it does not do to despise an
unbeaten enemy. Therefore confront these methods and defeat them first;
you can afford to despise them afterwards."


"Quite so," exclaimed Monsieur de C., "that is exactly my opinion."


"One moment," I said, "I have not quite done. I was going to say, that
I have very little faith in the stories one hears of the regimental
fencing master being run through by the recruit. Such an event may
happen, just as a chimney-pot may fall on your head when you are
walking in the street, but I fancy that if you were to apply the rule
of three to all the cases the result would not exactly support the
paradox.

"There is a class of fencers who are thoroughly--in fact too
thoroughly--convinced that they are very dangerous fellows, and that
they are never hit. You repeatedly come across this sort of thing in
the fencing room:--Your opponent delivers an attack which you parry;
he stays on the lunge doubled up, with his body dropped forward;
your riposte lands perhaps in his mask, perhaps in his back, or arm.
Thereupon he recovers and remarks with a negligent air: 'hit in the
mask,' 'hit in the back,' 'arm only,' as the case may be.

"Oh, only in the mask! But, Sir, the point would have run you through
the head and traversed your brain. In fact it would have been quite
as effective as a hit in the chest, which penetrated your lungs. The
other would have gone six inches into your back; while the third would
have pierced your arm and run you through the chest afterwards. You
offer your head, back, or arm instead of your chest, I hit the part
exposed and am quite satisfied. You cannot evade or parry a thrust by
substituting for the part that would otherwise be hit some other part,
which you do not attempt to cover; all that you do is to offer an
exchange.


VI.

"Do you suppose that these fencers would pursue the same tactics, if
they had to face a naked point instead of the button of a foil, and
that they would fancy themselves out of danger, if they laid themselves
open to be run through the head or back or neck? Such wounds are not
trivial and cannot be ignored. A sharp point is a peremptory fact,
which makes short work of illusions.

"Or again, do you imagine that anyone would be very anxious in a
real fight to run the risk of double hits, by which he might succeed
in inflicting a serious wound, but only at the expense of being run
through the body himself? No one would resort to such desperate
measures as these, unless there was absolutely nothing else left to be
done.

"This is so thoroughly true, that if you set two men to fight in a
fencing-room with blunt swords, you notice at once that the assault is
something very different from what it would have been with mere foils.
You might almost fancy that the swords, though they can no longer
wound, are still possessed by the spirit of mortal combat, and retain
some reminiscence of the real thing, of naked chest opposed to naked
steel.

"There is none of that brilliant dash, none of those brilliant strokes
that are usually more conspicuous for temerity than judgment. The
fight is a sham fight still, but the players cannot help taking it
seriously. Each is saying to himself:--'Now let me see what would
happen, if we were in earnest.' The different shape of the hilt, the
harsh grating of the steel affect the imagination. 'Watch that fellow,
see what he is up to, make him keep his distance, give him something
to think about.' That is the sort of caution that the swords are
whispering.

"You may easily satisfy yourselves of the truth of my remarks the next
time you have an opportunity of watching a bout of this sort. And if
there is so great a difference between simple foils and blunt swords,
you will have no difficulty in believing that the difference between
blunt swords and sharp is far greater. Wild play subsides, and those
who were willing to charge blindly, when they risked nothing more than
a dent in a leather jacket, prefer to study ways and means a little
more closely. It is a very natural prompting of the instinct. The rule
is almost universal, but there are occasional exceptions, which you may
be called upon to face, and if you do not want to be taken by surprise,
you had better make yourself acquainted with them beforehand for what
they are worth."


"Then you approve," said M. de C., "of occasional practice with muffled
swords?"


"Not only of occasional but of constant practice, and that not in the
assault only, but in the lesson too. The greater weight of the sword
and the wider blade, which is straight and less whippy than the foil,
steady the hand, keep it in position, and give a truer aim."


VII.

"I notice," observed one of my friends, "that you have said nothing
about left-handed fencers."

"No," I answered. "The fact is, there is hardly anything to say, and
even the text-books, which do not usually err on the side of brevity,
devote very little space to them. For there is really no particular
rule, which applies to them exclusively."

"But surely they are very difficult?"

"Yes in a way no doubt they are, though one of my friends, a
left-hander of course, used to say that the supposed difficulty
is only a convenient excuse invented by right-handed fencers. His
suggestion is more witty than true, and I am willing to allow, without
hesitation, that left-handers really are puzzling to those who are
not accustomed to fence with them. Their only real advantage is that
they have more opportunities of fencing against right-handers, than
right-handers have of fencing against them. When once you are used to
them the difficulty vanishes. The left-hander on the contrary, when it
comes to fighting, is never rid of the far graver risk which he takes
by exposing his left side.

"I may add that the left-hander's advantage, which consists entirely
in his incognito, would exist no longer, if the professors,--who I
hope may take the hint,--would make a practice of giving lessons
occasionally with the left hand. Some of them do so already, and I
congratulate them on their good sense. If you come to think of it,
there is not a single left-handed thrust or parry, which cannot be
equally well executed by a right-handed player. Only, from want of
practice, the latter finds it more difficult to direct his point
because the lines are reversed. _Quarte_ becomes _sixte_, and vice
versa. The left-hander prefers to take the inside engagement, that is
to say _quarte_. This line suits him better, and accordingly it is good
policy not to let him take it without a struggle. It is usually more
difficult to hit him in the outside line.

"So much for general principles, for of course left-handed play varies
as much as right-handed, although the contrary is sometimes maintained.
But if all left-handers were providentially made alike, one would think
that it could not be very difficult to get to know the pattern by heart.


VIII.

"Well, you must admit that in the course of my remarks I try not to
pass over anything that is likely to interest those who have, or those
who should, could, or would have a fancy for sword-play.

"My object is to bring out the essential features in clear relief, and
I intentionally omit the thousand and one minute details, which would
overcrowd my canvas, and prevent you from properly appreciating the
leading features. These refinements, which come with experience and
habit, cannot be forced, they must be slowly acquired by the friction
of the blades, by meeting all sorts and conditions of fencers, by
facing the unforeseen and sudden perils, which confront you just when
they are least expected.

"You know how awkward a young fellow is when he makes his first
appearance in society. When he finds himself in a drawing-room, he is
shy and uncomfortable, he does not know how to sit down or how to stand
up or how to talk, but presently without consulting any professor,
simply, so to speak, by the daily friction of his common intercourse
with other people, older and more experienced than himself, he acquires
confidence, ease, address, manners, and so forth.

"It is just the same with fencers. Craft, finesse, tact, and judgment
come by degrees, as wings grow out of feathers; but do not forget that
the lesson and the master's pad are your first instructors and must not
be neglected. To neglect them would be ungrateful, and ingratitude is
always base. Besides you cannot afford it.

"I am sure I don't know what else I can find to say; I shall be in a
difficulty to-morrow, unless you promise to help me out."

[Illustration: _A Stop Thrust._]



The Seventh Evening


[Illustration: _Toucher et ne pas l'être._]


I.

"Well, what is your text to-night?" asked my host as he joined the
group which had met as usual in the smoking-room.

"Oh," I replied, "I have nothing left to preach about."

"And I," said the Marquis de G., who was looking through the evening
paper, "don't mean to let you off so easily. Here is a piece of news,
which is very interesting in connection with our nightly symposia."

"Read it! Read it!" exclaimed a chorus of voices.


The Marquis read out the following paragraph:--

'An unfortunate encounter recently took place in the Papal States
between the young Marquis de Monte C. and the Chevalier d'A. The
duel arose out of a very singular incident. The Chevalier d'A., a
Neapolitan, has the reputation of a _jettatore_, that is to say he is
supposed to have the evil eye. The Marquis de Monte C., happening to
meet him in a drawing-room, took up without thinking a little coral
hand, a charm that he was wearing on his watch-chain, and pointed it at
the Chevalier d'A. as he was passing close by him. The Chevalier who
knew what people thought of him, noticed the movement and called the
young Marquis out. They met the following morning, and the unfortunate
Marquis received a sword thrust in the chest and was killed outright.
The Chevalier, besides being a very expert swordsman, is said to have
acquired a knowledge of several secret thrusts.'


II.

The reading of this paragraph was followed by a momentary silence. Then
someone remarked:--"I have often heard 'secret thrusts' spoken of, but
how is it that they are not taught by the Professors?"

"Well," I said smiling, "for one sufficient reason, that if they were
taught they would no longer be secret. But, joking apart, I may as
well say at once that my belief in secret thrusts is about equal to my
belief in ghosts."

"Come, this must be looked into."

"I believe in out of the way and unlooked for strokes, but further than
that I cannot go."

"Yet, surely they must have existed some time or other," objected my
critic, "or how did they come by their name?"

"Oh, they existed more or less at one time, or perhaps it would be
nearer the mark to say that they were supposed to exist. They are
a shadowy survival, a sort of family ghost that we have inherited
from the Italian school. For French fencing, though it has developed
characteristic features of its own, traces its descent, as you know, in
a direct line from Italian ancestry.

"Secret thrusts died and were buried when Science was in its infancy;
and Science has since grown up in other conditions, and grown strong by
working on other lines. They could not be revived, unless the attendant
ritual of an effete tradition, the system of a bygone age long since
forgotten, were revived along with them.

"At the present day, with our modern weapons and our modern methods, to
use a secret thrust would amount almost to a crime. And if it were not
exactly that, if a charge of murder or manslaughter would not lie, it
certainly would be considered iniquitous by all honourable men. No one
with a conscience could conceivably buy success in an affair of honour
at such a price.


III.

"Before we leave this question I should like to make my meaning
perfectly clear. In the world as we find it there are some things for
which no definite penalty is prescribed, things that do not bring a man
within the law, but that are none the less offences in the court of
conscience and very properly censured. An action, such as we are now
discussing, is to my mind a case in point, always supposing it to be a
possible action; but is it possible?--that is the question.

"Put yourself in the place of a man who is compelled by force of
circumstances to fight a duel. Your success, if you do succeed, may be
due to the blessing of Providence, to skill, or to accident, but it
must satisfy one condition,--it must be unequivocal. You are meeting
an honourable enemy in an honourable fight, and obviously the means
you employ must be beyond all question 'straight,' and not devices so
crooked as almost to deserve the epithet 'felonious.'"


I found myself speaking with some warmth, and was pleased to see that
my remarks were received with great interest.


"Of course," I continued, "in speaking or writing on a subject of this
sort, one can only express a strictly personal opinion. Now, what do
you say? We have been let in for this duel by an evening paper. Shall
we drop it, or shall we see it through?"

I was answered by a general cry:--"Go on!"

"I am afraid it may take us rather far afield, for it involves
important considerations."

"So much the better," observed my host, "we have plenty of cigars, and
the night is young."

We provided ourselves with fresh cigars to follow those already alight,
and settled down in our arm-chairs, and the most profound silence
reigned in the smoking-room.


IV.

"Well," I began, "hitherto we have had in view sword-play in the
literal sense of the word, that is to say theoretical fencing, fencing
regarded as a sport, as a bout with the foils in a fencing room. We
shall now have to consider it from the strictly utilitarian standpoint.

"In the one case we have an assault, consisting of a succession of
fancy strokes played by connoisseurs, who in point of skill may of
course be equally or unequally matched, but who nevertheless play the
game on the whole in accordance with principles that are tolerably
well ascertained. In the other case we have a serious encounter with
swords sharply pointed, flashing in the sun, and dangerous to life.
The first hit, correct or incorrect, is decisive, no matter how it is
delivered, no matter where.

"Do not forget that you have to reckon not only with skill but with the
possibility of surprise, not only with subtlety but with brute force,
not only with science but with blind and headlong ignorance. Your
opponent does not greatly care whether he lets your blood in orthodox
style, or whether he operates on your face for instance, or on those
parts of the body that are too much neglected in the fencing room. You
do not choose your opponent, he is chosen for you by accident; he may
be tall or short, strong or weak. You are no longer engaged in a sport
in which your object is to play correctly, in a contest of skill in
which you may perhaps allow yourself to be hit occasionally in order
to lead your opponent on and afterwards defeat him more easily. The
man who confronts you with that threatening point may be an artistic
and accomplished swordsman, but he may equally well never have touched
a sword in his life, and be trusting to luck, or to his general
smartness, or to a cool head. You may find that you have to do with an
enemy whose every movement is studied; who keeps his distance cleverly;
who never advances or retires without a reason. Or on the contrary,
it may turn out that your opponent, trusting to one supreme effort of
audacity, in defiance of all calculation, and throwing to the wind
every shred of theory, will make such brutal use of his sword as the
primitive and untutored instinct of self-preservation dictates.


V.

"We realise at once how far we have got from the harmless diversion
of the assault, the sham fight conducted under the master's eye on
strictly correct principles and with inoffensive weapons. The assault
and the duel are even further apart than the assault and the formal
lesson. In short this newspaper paragraph has brought us face to face
with the real duel, and what we have to do is to discuss it in all its
bearings,--so we had better begin at the beginning.

"Unfortunately, one always finds that it is impossible to discuss
the art of fence without coming to the duel; for say what you will,
cases must sometimes occur when an affront for which the law offers no
redress compels you to go out. 'The duel,' as someone puts it, 'cannot
be suppressed. It is like a bad neighbour with whom we have to live on
the best terms we can.'

"Some years ago I happened to read a great deal of fencing literature.
The various authors, though not one of them could find a good word to
say for duelling, contrived between them to fill in a sketch of its
rise and progress from the earliest times down to the present day.

"This is evidently one of the points where the civilised man and the
savage meet on common ground, and is an instance of the law that
civilisation modifies, refines, perhaps transforms our instincts,
dresses or disguises them in the latest fashion, but never gets rid of
them.

"At one time the duel was called Trial by Battle or simply The Judicial
Combat. Then it was pronounced illegal, and those who fought in a
private quarrel were sentenced either to death or to long and cruel
periods of imprisonment.

"At a later period, growing insolent with impunity, the duel like a
strayed reveller swaggered in the streets and public places; we find it
haunting the taverns, we see the flicker of the blades under a street
lamp,--drawn for a word, for a ribbon, for a bet, for anything, or for
nothing. Even the seconds who parted good friends over-night did their
best to spit each other next morning.

"Well, what better evidence could we require to prove that this last
resort of wounded honour is somehow deeply rooted in human nature,
than the fact that the ancient and honourable practice of duelling has
remained the final court of appeal, in spite of changed surroundings,
in spite of hostile opinion, and in spite of the extravagant follies
that have sometimes disgraced it?


VI.

"But this is a digression for which I apologise. I was led astray by my
subject and drifted quite unconsciously into an unpremeditated preface."

"Don't apologise," said M. de C., "your digression is charming."

"And besides," I continued, "you know I have a sort of moral claim on
your indulgence, for I might have displayed my erudition, and have
quoted names and dates and facts unearthed from dusty folios, and yet I
have mercifully spared you."

"Oh, thank you, thank you!" came from several arm-chairs.


"When one talks of duelling, there is a point that strikes one at the
outset, and though it is not directly connected with sword-play, it is
too nearly allied to the duel to be dismissed without notice. I mean
the duties of seconds.

"I shall not now enter upon the question of what those duties may be
before the combatants meet. These consist in pressing for moderate
counsels, in acting or even over-acting the part of peacemaker. You
all know as well as I do that no chance of arriving at an honourable
settlement should be neglected before allowing your men to go out.

"What should we think of the man who could forget that his friend's
honour and his friend's life are equally committed to his keeping, and
that he ought not, out of a quixotic regard for the one, to jeopardise
the other needlessly?

"When a man fights, his conviction that right is on his side is
everything. And therefore the correct attitude of a second is that
of a man, who acting calmly but firmly in his friend's interest seeks
to avoid a quarrel. Any other attitude is not only incorrect but even
renders him liable to be called to account for neglecting his bounden
duty.

"Personally, if after exhausting every effort to obtain a friendly
settlement I found that a meeting was unavoidable, although I was
thoroughly satisfied in my own mind that it was a case not of injured
honour but only of injured vanity, or of wounded pride, I should not
hesitate to withdraw. Duels played to the gallery are either odious or
absurd; they are out of date, and should be numbered with the obsolete
fashions of the past.


VII.

"They arose in the manners and customs of a flamboyant era, when
everyone carried a sword and it was considered the right thing to air
it on every opportunity, in order to fill up the time which might
otherwise have passed somewhat heavily. Every age has its fashions
and its vices, its childish toys and favourite follies. Those gallant
blades that cut such a tremendous figure in the old days would meet
with a very poor reception now, if they could revisit the scenes of
their dashing exploits.

"But if it is the duty of a second to play the part of mediator before
the action, it is equally his duty to be cool and collected on the
ground. His personal responsibility is increased, but otherwise his
rôle remains unchanged.

"It then becomes imperative on him to anticipate and allow for every
contingency, he must let nothing escape him, and must give the closest
attention to the minutest detail, in order that his principal may be
relieved of all anxiety, and may preserve that cool presence of mind
which is so absolutely indispensable.


VIII.

"In short the fact that has to be grasped is simply this,--that not
one of the thousand and one preliminary details is unimportant; and
that things seemingly the most trivial may suddenly assume the most
unexpected gravity. The stake is too high to justify any man in
gambling it away with a light heart.

"In the first place the selection of the ground must be carefully
considered. The surface should be smooth and even, without dips
or inequalities that can be in the slightest degree dangerous. Be
particular to avoid a spot where there is any grass. Grass is slippery
and may imperil your friend's life.

"Here is another point worth remembering. Run your eye quickly but
carefully over the ground where your friend will stand; he is very
likely to neglect this precaution himself, and may fail to see a root
for instance, almost unnoticeable to a careless glance, which might
very easily trip him up or throw him off his guard at a critical
moment, when it was too late to stay the impetus of his opponent's
point. All this no doubt seems extremely trivial; but how do you
know that the tuft of wet slippery grass, the half hidden root, or
treacherous stone will not turn the scale a moment later?

"The contending parties, it has been said, are entitled to a fair
division of light and ground. If that is so, you will be well advised
not to stand out for your share of light, and you should never consent
to let your principal face the sun. The glitter of the blades confuses
the eye and causes hesitation. Remember that in fighting the eye is an
implement at least as important as the sword. Seeing in this case is
thinking. The eye warns you of danger, and instinctively picks out the
enemy's weak spot. And more than that, a steady eye, an eye that looks
one in the face unflinchingly, overawes and fascinates. While the sword
threatens, the spying questioning eye is the intelligent scout.

"Again, never allow the combatants to strip. The impression of the cold
air on the bare skin and the unaccustomed exposure may affect one more
than the other, if he is naturally more sensitive, even though he may
be quite unconscious of the fact."

"But," objected the Comte de R., "what if the other side insist?"

"You must refuse to give way. No one has a right to insist upon it. It
is a barrack-room practice, usual among soldiers, and does not hold
good outside the guard-room."


IX.

"While we are on this point," remarked one of my friends, "there are
two questions I should like to ask you."

"I will do my best to answer them," I replied, "for--as my lawyer would
put it--I may say, that I am thoroughly acquainted with all the leading
cases."

"Well, is it allowable to use a fencing glove?"

"It is usual. But custom is not always right, and though many men
suppose that they are entitled to it as a matter of course, they cannot
strictly speaking claim it. Generally the parties agree beforehand
whether fencing gloves shall be used or not. It nearly always happens
that both sides prefer to use them, for with the help of a fencing
glove you get a firmer and more confident grip of the sword, and are
less likely to be disarmed. Besides, the hilt of a sword is hard;
it tires and bruises the hand; the fingers in contact with it are
jarred at every parry that is at all strong, or whenever the blades
meet sharply. On these grounds fencing gloves are generally allowed.
However, if the seconds of one side object, the seconds of the other
side cannot either require them to use a fencing glove or claim the
right for their own principal.

"For instance, the objection may be raised that the use of a fencing
glove is familiar to a man accustomed to fencing, but unfamiliar and of
no value to one who has never fenced. True, this objection is seldom
raised, because, as I pointed out just now, the man who is not used
to fencing is of all men the one who finds a serious difficulty in
handling the rough hilt of a sword, and who has everything to gain by
using a padded glove.

"In any case you are at liberty to wear an ordinary leather glove,
whether your opponent chooses to do so or not. Or you may wrap a
handkerchief round your hand, to give you a firmer grip of the sword,
provided you are careful not to leave a hanging end, which may dangle
loose, and hinder the action of your opponent's point."


X.

"I will now put my second question," continued my inquisitor.

"Well, what is your second question?"

"Is it permissible to use the unarmed hand to parry and put aside your
opponent's blade?"

"Oh! that is a very serious matter, which I did not mean to pass over
in silence. But it involves the consideration of several points,
which would perhaps take us too far to-night. Suppose we leave it for
to-morrow."

"Then we adjourn until to-morrow," said the Comte de C.

And so we broke up.

[Illustration]



The Eighth Evening


[Illustration: _A Parry with the hand._]


I.

"You asked me yesterday, if it is allowable to use the unarmed hand to
parry and put aside the sword.

"My answer is very emphatic:--No."


"But what if the parties agree to allow it beforehand?" asked the
Marquis de R....


"That is an agreement which in my opinion ought not to be made. The
practice is wholly foreign to our ways and to the traditions that have
come down to us.

"I am fully aware of the fact that there is the authority of a very
profound writer, the Comte de Chatauvillard, who has many strong
supporters, for the statement that 'the parry with the hand may be
a matter of agreement.' And other writers, among whom is more than
one eminent master, may be quoted for the view that it is a proper
matter for arrangement between the contending parties. That does not
affect my opinion in the least; and I say very emphatically and very
distinctly:--As you clearly have the right to say yes or no, say no
invariably.

"Such a concession or such an agreement, even if it is freely entered
upon by both sides, is only too likely to lead to disastrous and fatal
mistakes, while it does not offer any counterbalancing advantage. I
will try to explain why.

"The parry made with the hand that does not hold the sword goes back to
the ancient traditions of the Italian school, to the methods in vogue
when men fought with sword and dagger. They parried and attacked with
either weapon indifferently, bringing one or other into play by voltes
and passes, which have been dismissed from the theory and practice
of modern fencing. The art, which was adapted in those days to the
double means of offence and defence, employed a system very different
from that which prevails now. This parry, or to speak more accurately
this method of diverting an opponent's blade, which was done with
either hand indifferently, was reasonable then; nowadays it would be a
fantastic and dangerous anomaly.

"I remember trying by way of experiment, some years ago at Naples,
several assaults of this sort with an Italian professor, named
Parisi.--The poor fellow died I believe in prison, after taking part
in one of the many revolutionary attempts that were made to wreck the
kingdom of Naples. Parisi used to come regularly to my house where I
had furnished a room for fencing. I wished to make a serious study of
Italian play, and of the surviving traditions of this school, which
is rapidly disappearing and is only connected with its past by a few
almost invisible threads.

"Well, Parisi used to fence with a long Italian sword in one hand, and
in the other a sort of stiletto, which he employed to parry my attacks
in certain lines; and while he thus stopped my attack with his dagger,
he made not exactly a riposte but rather a simultaneous counter-attack
on me with his sword. This kind of play, which continually produced new
and difficult situations, was very interesting.

"If Parisi dropped his dagger, what happened? His left hand, instead
of following my blade, sprang at once to a fixed position. And to what
position? Why, you could see at a glance, by the way he carried his
forearm, thrown rather high across his chest and only a few inches away
from it, that he was ready for the parry with the hand, in fact doubly
ready for it, both by the position of his body and by the forward
position of his left arm.

"Now we who follow the rules of French fencing do just the reverse. We
carry our left arm to the rear, and so leave a smaller surface exposed
to our opponent's point; we therefore cannot bring our left hand into
play without abandoning the French position, or at all events without
sacrificing some of its fundamental principles.


II.

"It is a good many years since I first took up fencing; I have been
in all the fencing-rooms; I have fenced with many professors and with
all sorts and conditions of amateurs, and no one has ever suggested to
me that we should agree to parry with the hand. I have never, no not
once in all the assaults that I have witnessed, heard such a suggestion
made; I have never seen this kind of parry employed; I have never heard
of a master showing or teaching it to his pupils as a possible case or
even as a highly improbable case, against which it was his duty, as
a wise and experienced professor, to put on their guard those whose
instruction was committed to his care.

"Then why, when the assault ceases to be an exercise or an amusement,
why, when you stake your life upon the issue, should you go out of
your way to suggest or assent to something foreign to all recognised
practice?

"If you approve of the surviving methods of the old Italian school,
you should admit all the precepts of that school, and then you will at
least be logical.

"Your sword will have a long heavy blade, broad and perfectly rigid;
the hilt will be surmounted by a little cross-bar of steel on which
you will place your fingers, and to which you will attach them with
a long ribbon; incidentally you will do away with the freedom of the
hand, the supple action of the wrist and the niceties of finger play.
You will have to make frequent use of parries of contraction, which are
indispensable to Italian play, though they are little valued, not to
say altogether ignored by the French school. You must learn your voltes
and passes, the manoeuvres of ducking and dodging; and then, I repeat,
you will at least be logical. But an agreement which recognises only
one of these practices, while it disregards all the rest, seems to me
absurd.


"Let me now show you the danger, which can hardly be avoided, of
admitting this parry with the left hand.

"Between the open palm, which merely brushes the blade aside, and the
hand, which by a nervous movement closes unconsciously on the blade and
holds it fast, the difference is very hard to seize. The thing is done
in a moment. It passes like a flash in the confusion of the encounter
and leaves no trace behind.

"Without a doubt the man who has unconsciously arrested the blade,
instead of merely turning it aside, will be in despair, and in the
loyalty of his heart will be the first to accuse himself. But if his
point has taken effect, if he has delivered a fatal thrust, will his
despair or regret or any self-reproach heal the wound that he has
inflicted, or restore the life that he has taken? If the odds were a
thousand to one against a fatal issue, that one chance would be enough
to condemn fatally this dangerous agreement.

"Moreover, I may remark, speaking from the experience that is obtained
by long familiarity, and perhaps from some small skill in the practice
of arms, that it is often very difficult, not to say impossible, for
the most practised eye in the confusion of a multitude of thrusts,
swiftly parried and as swiftly returned, to follow with accuracy the
course of two swords, that pass to and fro and interlace like living
things, or to judge with indisputable certainty the difference between
these two movements, one of which is authorised by consent, while the
other may suddenly turn an honourable fight into a foul assassination.

"The mere act of judging so bristles with difficulties, that it is
likely to lead to a conflict of opinion between even the most unbiassed
judges. Who can decide between them? The fact on which their judgment
is based is there no longer. It passed in a moment, quick as thought.
Consider the terrible position in which you are placed, in the presence
of a man lying stretched on the ground before you, cold and lifeless,
who ought to be a living man full of strength and vigour.


"And now, I appeal to all seconds. In the name of good sense, in common
fairness, could you or could you not with a clear conscience take the
heavy responsibility of such a risk?


III.

"I am trying, you see, to obtain a comprehensive view of the manifold
duties of seconds, and to omit none of the minute matters of detail,
which it is their duty to attend to, and which ought to be present to
their minds. Here is another point, which is worthy of their serious
attention.

"When the combatants have taken sword in hand and the blades are
crossed, the seconds should stand within reach, holding a sword or
walking-stick, and ready to stop the fight should any irregularity
occur, or if either of the men should slip, or stumble, or be disarmed,
or wounded. This last case especially requires their utmost vigilance,
for there are two events, both equally disastrous, that may occur.

"Suppose one of the men is wounded. In the natural excitement of the
moment, the man who has delivered the thrust is often unaware that
his point has taken effect. Before he can tell that his opponent is
disabled, perhaps before he can check himself, he may inflict a second
wound, unless the swords are instantly knocked up.

"The wounded man, on the other hand, may not immediately feel the
effect of his wound, and by continuing to fight may run the risk of
being wounded a second time, and that more seriously. It may also
happen, and this is the great danger, that in a fit of blind rage he
will rush madly on his opponent.

"Again, the man who has inflicted a wound and has felt his point go
home, instantly and instinctively stays his hand, and even if his
opponent renews the attack hesitates to strike a second time one who
is already hurt. It is during this juncture of a moment's pause with
a moment's hesitation that the wounded man may make his mad rush, and
either run his opponent through the body, or meet his own destruction,
if his opponent has promptly recovered his guard, and calmly offers him
his point.


IV.

"Both cases are alike disastrous, for either may lead to a fatal result
at a time when by the wound already received the fight may be regarded
as closed, or at least as suspended. The seconds, who by redoubling
their precautions might have saved the useless shedding of blood, will
of course be held to blame.

"No doubt it sometimes happens that in spite of the closest attention
the attack is so prompt, so impetuous, so swift, that it is impossible
to intervene in time. But then at all events the seconds will have
no cause for self-reproach. Fortunately such cases are of very rare
occurrence, but they do sometimes happen; and it is therefore very
necessary for the seconds to watch the crossed swords incessantly, and
to follow their every movement, in order to intervene the moment that
one of the men is wounded, however slight the wound may seem.

"If on examination the wound is found to be so trivial that the
fight can continue without disadvantage to the wounded man, the
combatants will at least have had time to recover their coolness and
self-possession.

"This close attention is one of the most important points; it is
in fact a matter of absolute necessity. Here is the seconds' real
difficulty, for here the whole responsibility rests with them.


"I have still several things to say, of which you will recognise the
importance. But it is getting late, and if you will allow me I will
postpone them to our next meeting."

[Illustration]



The Ninth Evening


[Illustration: _Corps à Corps._]


I.

"I wish," remarked the Comte de C..., when we met the next day, "that
you would tell us what you think of the _corps à corps_ in the duel."

"That," I replied, "is the very thing I was going to talk about."

"The right course in my opinion is to come to an agreement with the
seconds of the other side that the combatants shall be separated and
start afresh, when they become entangled at close quarters in what is
termed a _corps à corps_. Otherwise, in a struggle of this sort it is
impossible to say what may happen, except that both men are likely to
receive their quietus,--a very symmetrical settling of their accounts
by the process of double entry.

"But here again, one cannot help feeling that we have another thorny
case, which calls for the exercise of judgment with due regard to the
circumstances of the moment and fair play for both sides.

"If one of the men makes a furious rush on the other, the seconds ought
not to knock up the swords until the man who has stood the attack has
delivered his riposte. For he has gained this clear advantage, that
after stopping the rush he is prepared with an effective rejoinder, and
this advantage he is clearly entitled to use.

"Many questions of duelling must be left to the impartial discretion of
the seconds. There is therefore no need to consider what would happen,
if a second were to take unfair advantage of an agreement, honourably
entered into on both sides, by interfering when the case expressly
provided for had not arisen."

"Well, but suppose such a thing did happen?"

"Why, then, your conscience must tell you how to act. Perhaps you
might interfere summarily to stop the proceedings, if the nature of
the quarrel allowed it, or you might call upon the second who had so
misconstrued his duty to withdraw and take no further part in the
affair.


"I have often heard men say:--'If I were acting second in an affair
that was not so serious as to warrant a fatal issue, and were to see
that my principal was about to be run through the body by a thrust that
would certainly be fatal, I should not hesitate to knock up the swords.
I could not resist the temptation; my feelings would be too strong for
me. And as a matter of fact should I be very far wrong?'

"Yes, my friend, you would be absolutely wrong. You would be assuming
the most onerous, the most terrible responsibility, and your action,
though dictated by a praiseworthy impulse, would probably cause you the
most bitter remorse.

"For consider:--you have arrested the sword which would have struck
one of the opponents full in the body. The fight continues, and the
man whose blow you intercepted with the praiseworthy motive, I quite
admit, of preventing a mortal wound, is himself wounded or possibly
killed. Fortune which favoured him at the outset suddenly turns against
him and favours his opponent, perhaps with a lucky fluke, a thing which
no foresight can prevent. What would your feelings be, when you saw
stretched at your feet a man whose death you had caused by exposing him
to a danger that he ought never to have encountered?

"A duel is always a miserable business; but when once you have
faithfully and energetically done all that you can to prevent it, you
must leave chance to decide between the combatants; only see that you
take all the measures that are in your power to minimise the chances of
a fatal issue."


"It seems to me," someone remarked, "that if, when a friend asks you
to oblige him with your services, one were to think of all these
innumerable responsibilities, one would invariably decline to act."


"I don't know whether one would always decline, but I know very well
that the second's part is one of unsparing self-sacrifice and devotion.
I know that the man who undertakes it lightly cannot be too severely
blamed, and I may add that I have never accepted the charge without
passing a sleepless night haunted by the most gloomy forebodings.
The second who conceives that he is merely required to be a passive
witness, robs the part of all its meaning, all its value, all its
dignity.

"You remember, I was speaking just now of the case of a second who
acting on the spur of the moment instinctively intercepts a blow. I
will give you an experience of my own.

"I was once acting for a friend in an affair of honour; I was
thoroughly on the alert and carefully following the play of the points
with that close attention, and perhaps I may say with that sureness of
eye, which one acquires from some familiarity with sword-play, when I
saw the opponent's point coming straight at my friend's body. Before I
could think, I saw in an instant, as no one accustomed to fencing could
fail to see, that the wound would be mortal. I knocked up the swords,
and as the two men had got to close quarters, I called out:--'On
guard.' But I had hardly done so, when I realised the full extent of my
unconsidered action, and I felt--well, I really cannot tell you what
my feelings were at that moment. Luckily for me, my friend, who was no
less clumsy than brave, was not the man to leave me long in this cruel
position. He fell a few seconds later seriously wounded.

"The simple fact is, that where so many considerations have to be taken
into account, you cannot be too careful never to go a step beyond the
limits of strict and unassailable justice, in fairness to yourself and
to everyone else concerned.


II.

"In this connection I am reminded of another case, which not
unfrequently occurs, and on which I have sometimes heard the most
contradictory opinions expressed, for it presents a really difficult
problem.

"In the course of the fight one of the antagonists calls for a
halt--have you the right to insist that the fight shall continue
without interruption?

"In my opinion you unquestionably have that right, unless the case has
been already provided for, or both men consent."


"Still surely," said the Comte de C..., "in a prolonged set-to, if
your opponent is exhausted, if he is so done that he can hardly hold
his sword, if he is blown and distressed, you cannot refuse to give him
a minute or two to recover his wind."


"Well," I replied, "I have stated what I believe to be the rights of
the case, on which either combatant can fairly insist. I will now give
you my reasons.

"Your opponent, you say, is done; well, perhaps he may be, but have
you considered why? Is not his fatigue due to the violence and the
excessive energy with which he began the fight, to the regardless
eagerness with which he has assailed you, without consulting his
staying powers or husbanding his strength? You have had to bear the
brunt of all this fury, you have sustained incessant attacks, but you
with more skill have economised your resources and have bided your time
to attack him. That opportune moment evidently comes just when your
opponent, exhausted by the failure of his repeated attacks, is likely
to offer you the least resistance.

"Then what happens? He calls for a halt! And are you to let him off
without pressing the advantage that you with your judgment and
self-restraint have held in reserve? Are you to give him leave to
recover his wind, that is to say to recover his strength and rally his
scattered forces, in order that he may start afresh to make a second
onset with the same ardour and the same violence as before? The danger
that you have safely encountered once may prove too much for you the
second time. How does that strike you? Surely it is as though a man,
engaged in a duel with pistols, in which each party is at liberty to
fire when he chooses, were to be in too great hurry to let fly at his
opponent, and then, when his barrels were emptied and useless, were to
ask permission to reload, before he has received his opponent's fire.


III.

"Situations requiring nerve and self-control undoubtedly occur in
a duel with pistols, but similar situations, more trying and more
critical, occur in a duel with swords. You are willing to admit them in
the one case, yet you refuse to admit them in the other."


"But, after all," persisted my critic, "you can hardly strike a man,
who is so utterly done that he can hardly keep his point up."


"Quite true; but do you feel that hesitation, when you raise your
pistol to fire on a man who has emptied his barrels? Do you not say,
and with perfect justice, 'I have stood his fire, it is his turn now to
stand mine'? Yet the cases are strictly parallel. In each case you have
taken the risk and have escaped unhurt, and the empty pistol in your
opponent's hand is more completely spent than a sword in a hand that is
nerveless from fatigue. For no power can recharge the pistol with the
ball that has sped, but on the contrary a man with a sword in his hand
may possibly by a supreme effort pull himself together, and dangerous
to the last strike you before you can strike him.

"But here, as usual, fashion refuses to be logical, and the sentiment
of chivalry, which we look for in all right-minded men, does not
nowadays allow us to make use of an advantage, which some day or other,
perhaps in precisely identical circumstances, may very likely be
claimed without scruple.


IV.

"There is, by the way, another argument which I remember was once put
to me by a friend, and which struck me forcibly at the time.

"My friend, who is something of a scholar, and has not forgotten his
Latin, quoted these lines from Virgil:--

    Ille pedum melior motu fretusque iuventa;
    Hic membris et mole valens; sed tarda trementi
    Genua labant, vastos quatit aeger anhelitus artus[3].

"These verses describe the fighting qualities of two heroes, who are
about to enter the ring.

"No one, I suppose, would seriously maintain that they ought to be
handicapped, that one of them should be made to concede some points in
which he is superior, that is to say some of the chances in his favour,
while the other retains all that he can muster. And yet can we not
easily imagine two men meeting to fight a duel, one of whom has in his
favour every chance but one, advantage of reach, dexterity, speed, and
swordsmanship, while the other relies only on sound condition and great
staying power?

"In an unequal combat such as this, what can the latter do but tire his
opponent out, get him thoroughly well blown, and so reduce the balance
of advantage, which until then tells with full force against him? The
other man who thereupon calls for a truce is practically asking his
antagonist to forgo his superiority of sound wind and limb, while he,
so far from giving up his own advantages of reach, dexterity, and
science, has every intention of making the most of them when the fight
begins afresh.

"Then again, the staying power which you handicap, is very likely
derived from a well developed chest which incidentally offers a larger
target to the adverse point; the greater vigour may be due to the fact
that its owner is thick-set, with heavy muscular limbs which make his
movements slow and ponderous. Why recognise the inequality of the match
in the one case, and disregard it in the other?


V.

"Suppose, added my friend, that the question is discussed by the
seconds before the fight begins. One side might say:--'If our man is
tired or blown, you will have no objection, we presume, to allowing a
short interval?' 'We cannot agree to that,' the other side would reply.
'The only chance we have of making an even fight of it is that our man
should outstay yours.'

"If they insist, the answer is this:--'Your man has every acquired
advantage, ours has only the one advantage of superior physique. If
we are to give up our points, you must forfeit yours, and how can
you?'--Some arguments are so one-sided.

"In conclusion, I think that such questions may very properly be
debated between the seconds, but that they ought never to come to the
ears of the principals, for one of them might seem to be asking a
favour, which the other would have a perfect right to refuse.

"I feel that I have dwelt on this matter at great length, but I was
anxious to sift it thoroughly, because it is of vital importance and
has often given rise to a serious conflict of opinions. I have tried
to give you the rights of the case in a strictly impartial spirit.
Exceptional cases may occur, to which the rule cannot be applied
without hardship, but such circumstances, as for example the bad health
or feeble constitution of one of the combatants, should be provided for
by arrangement."


VI.

"One more question, please," continued the Comte de C., "just to
complete my cross-examination. When a man is called out, can he be
required to fight two duels with two opponents in succession?"

"No, that cannot be expected of him. The man who has fought once
ought to be treated as a privileged person, and cannot in any case be
compelled to cross swords a second time. Tired as he is, or as he may
be by the first encounter, he stands at a disadvantage in meeting a
fresh antagonist. A second encounter, if it cannot be avoided and if
both sides consent, ought not to take place until the next day, or
after an interval of at least some hours, unless the party interested,
that is to say the man who has already fought, requests that it may
take place at once.

"But on no account should the man, who at a later stage may probably
or possibly become a principal, witness the first encounter either as
a simple spectator or as a second. For the mere fact of his presence
gives him a real and indisputable advantage, especially if the duel is
fought with swords. And then the first law of the duel,--that it should
be a fair fight with no favour,--is broken.

"There is one case and strictly speaking only one, in which his
presence is permissible. That is, when being the party injured and
therefore having the choice of weapons he selects different weapons
from those employed in the first encounter,--pistols for example, if
the former fight was with swords, or swords if it was fought with
pistols. But, I repeat, this can only be allowed, if the man who
has already fought wishes it or consents to it freely. In any other
circumstances if I were acting second on an occasion of this sort, I
should refuse to countenance a duel which I should consider equally
irregular and unfair.


VII.

"Take the question on its merits. In a duel with swords there are two
things you want to know: first, what is your opponent's natural temper,
when he is fighting in earnest; secondly, what is the character of his
play and the quality of his swordsmanship. No one can deny that it is
very advantageous to know, whether the man that you have to face is
impatient and excitable or self-possessed and cool; whether he will
attack you with resolution or play a waiting game; whether he will
attempt to parry or simply offer his point; whether he is energetic or
the reverse, skilful or clumsy, an ugly customer or not particularly
formidable. The fact of your presence at a previous encounter is
sufficient by itself to give you information on all these heads. You
are reassured and reinforced; undisturbed by doubt and hesitation you
can mature your plans at leisure with a quiet mind. You have been over
the ground and know how the land lies. Even if you have not the vaguest
notion of fencing, if your ignorance is so complete that you are not in
a position to make the best use of all this valuable information, still
the fact that you have been a spectator of the first fight, apart from
any conclusions you may draw, robs of its imaginary terrors the great
unknown, and shows you what you have to do.

"Your antagonist on the contrary has everything to learn. He does
not know whether you are skilful or incompetent; whether he ought to
attack you or to wait for your attack; whether your nerves are shaky or
firm; whether you are naturally cool or excitable. He is in the dark,
a stranger feeling his way in a new country. You, meanwhile, having
no need to waste time on such deliberations, go to work at once, with
every probability of winning an easy victory.

"Therefore, just as in the case of the man who is at a disadvantage
in point of science and practice, but superior in bodily strength,
soundness of wind, and condition, I maintained that he has as much
right to make full use of those advantages as his opponent has to use
those which he possesses, so in the situation we are now considering,
I maintain that we must refuse to allow anything that goes to handicap
the combatants, or tends to incline the scales unfairly on one side
rather than the other.

"It may be that some of the considerations, that I have put forward,
have not occurred to you before. But now, bearing them in mind, can
you say that you really and truly believe that such a fight as this is
a fair fight, or that you would consent to have anything to do with it?

"I think that I have said everything that I had to say on the duties
of seconds, as they appear to me in the light of my own experience and
of the history of the subject. To-morrow we will discuss a still more
important matter, the methods to be adopted by the principals."

[Illustration]



The Tenth Evening


[Illustration: _The instinctive position._]


I.

The next day found us lighting our cigars as usual. Brilliant
conversation, you know, cannot be maintained without something to
smoke. Our talk this evening was to be about the methods of attack and
defence, which offer the most likely chances of success in an actual
duel.

I began at once:--"Yesterday," I said, "I was speaking of the whole
duty of seconds. I endeavoured to describe as clearly and fully as
possible, what they ought to do and provide for, and I showed why it
is essential that they should follow every stage and every incident of
the fight with the utmost keenness, for the onus of responsibility is
rightly held to rest on them.

"The preliminaries are now settled; the antagonists, armed with swords
of equal length, stand face to face. One of the seconds is stationed
between them. He addresses to each in turn the venerable formula:--'Are
you ready?--On guard.' Upon their assenting he steps back and gives the
fatal word:--'Go.'

"The fighting is about to begin, and the two men stand expectant,
neither stirring yet, each sheltering his life behind a few inches of
cold steel.


II.

"There are only three contingencies that we need consider, which
naturally divide the discussion under three heads. The first arises,
when a man who has never touched a sword finds himself opposed to an
old hand. The second, when both antagonists are alike unskilled. The
third, when both are adepts.

"I may say at once with regard to this last case, that in a duel
between two skilful opponents the advantage of superior science which
one or the other of them may possess vanishes more often than not, and
is compensated for by difference of temperament. For I cannot remind
you too often, that in actual fighting it is not a question of hitting
your opponent often, or of placing your point artistically, but of
striking somehow and anyhow one blow and only one.

"Swords are not worn now, and swordsmanship as a necessary part
of polite education has gone out of fashion. Our more punctilious
ancestors prided themselves on never wounding their antagonist except
with some thrust ingeniously conceived and brilliantly executed.
Perhaps it was better so. It was certainly more picturesque, more
chivalrous and magnificent. To mistake your sword for a spit, though
you might succeed in running your antagonist through and through, would
have been voted a blackguardly proceeding, unworthy of a gentleman.
Molière's principle is good enough for us:--'_Hit the other man, and
don't be hit yourself._' Our object is to hit no matter where,--no
matter how. The art of fence is now so much neglected that it seldom
happens when two men go out to fight, that they have even a passable
knowledge of their weapon.


III.

"When a man knows nothing about fencing, either because he has never
touched a sword, or because he has only knocked about with his friends
in a rough way and very occasionally, his first thought when he has to
fight is to call on a professor, and endeavour to obtain some ideas
which will enable him to defend himself on the field of battle. I
will describe one of these lessons which the professor is expected to
give, and I shall try to point out the only sort of advice that is of
universal application in such cases.

"The novice explains that he has to go out the next morning, and
requests the professor to be good enough to give him a hint or two.


'Do you know anything about fencing?' enquires the professor.

'No, practically nothing.'

'You know that one holds the sword by the hilt and tries to hit the
other man with the point, and that is about all, I suppose,' continues
the professor, who will have his little joke. And he takes down a pair
of swords provided with buttons, hands one to his pupil, and the lesson
begins.


"One wonders how often this same lesson has been repeated. It never
varies, and it never ought to vary. Its whole value lies in its
simplicity.

"The ignorant fencer can do nothing without a cool head and steady
nerve, which are the more effective, when they are opposed, as they
often are, to bluster and over-confidence.

"First and foremost the professor must make his pupil understand the
absolute necessity of standing firmly on his feet with an easy balance
that allows perfect freedom of movement. The position, whatever it may
be, that your extempore pupil falls into naturally, is the position you
must accept. It is important to give him confidence in it and to modify
it only so far as is absolutely necessary to enable him to move about
easily. Your business is to make the best of this position, and if
possible turn even its defects to account.

"The body should be inclined forwards rather than backwards. In this
somewhat crouching attitude the upper part of the body, that is to say
the chest, by its advanced position with the sword arm held in front,
acts as a kind of natural rampart or shield to cover the lower part,
where a wound is almost certain to prove mortal.

"Keep in view from the very first the importance of inspiring
confidence in the unpractised fencer. For confidence alone implies some
sort of self-possession and reacts immediately on nerve and muscle. He
soon begins to feel somewhat more at ease. Some slight modifications
are all that is required to correct the glaring faults that are most
obviously dangerous.

"I am not afraid of putting the truth of my statement to a practical
test. If you will now, all of you, take one of those swords which I
see hanging on the wall and place yourselves on guard, not in what you
imagine to be a fencing attitude, but as you would stand if you were
seriously threatened, you will find that the attitudes you assume will
all be very much alike, apart from such slight variations as are due to
differences of physique."


IV.

"Come, I'll be your shocking example," said one of my hearers. "I have
never touched a sword in my life. See what you can make of me."

"Very good," I replied, rising as I spoke; and taking down a pair of
swords I handed him one. Then without giving him time to think, I made
a quick movement and threatened him with the point.

Instinctively he threw himself on guard.

"There, that will do," I said, "stay as you are; I only wish you
could be photographed to illustrate the instinctive attitude. Oh,
don't be too conceited; I do not mean to say that your position
is faultless,--very far from that; but the attitude in which you
are standing is the origin of the orthodox guard as taught in the
fencing-room, because it is essentially the attitude that accords with
our natural fighting instincts."


"I am getting tired of this," observed my patient, who had scrupulously
stuck to his position.


"One moment," I replied. "You are tired because your arm is too much
extended. Draw it back a trifle, to relax the muscles and give them
their natural play. Carry yourself more upright by slightly raising the
body. Your left foot is too far from the right; bring it rather more
forward; sink down a little on your legs, so as to be ready either to
spring quickly to the rear or to advance.

"Bring your right shoulder forward, in order to expose your chest less,
but not further than you can manage with comfort. You see I am not very
exacting.

"There, that will do very well.

"Now, if I make a movement, straighten your arm boldly, and step back.

"Very well done.

"And yet you tell me you have never touched a sword, or even a foil in
a fencing-room. Then all I can say is that I could not have chosen a
better subject for my demonstration.

"We will now put the swords back in their place, and return to our
discussion. Perhaps I may have occasion to trouble you again by and by."

"I am entirely at your disposal, Professor," replied my obliging pupil.


V.

"The rest of the lesson may be summed up in a convenient formula. For
so far as I know, there is only one really useful tip that a professor
can give to the uninstructed novice who says:--'This afternoon or
to-morrow morning I have to go out.'

"The professor will make a great mistake if he attempts to teach
him some fancy stroke, for he will only disturb the natural working
of his instinct, without controlling it. He must remember that the
excitement of fighting does not leave much room for thought, and he
must accordingly take care to limit his instruction to the simplest and
clearest ideas, easy to understand and easy to put into practice, such
as arise naturally out of the instinctive sense of self-preservation.

"These remarks of course do not apply to those dull and inert
creatures, cursed with a temperament so heavy, and so sluggish, that
they do not know what it is to move briskly and can never rise to the
occasion. You can put nothing into such as these and can get nothing
out of them.

"When swords are crossed, the thing to do is simply what our friend
here did just now:--Retire. I say 'retire' in order to avoid saying
'run away.' Retire always, retire incessantly, but retire little by
little, so as not to consume once and for all the entire _hinterland_;
retire in short, not like a man in a panic, but like one who is
watching his opportunity.

"Never forget this,--the only principle that at the critical moment
is available for him who cannot count on science to assist him:--_Get
back and straighten the arm_;--or in other words:--_Defend yourself by
threatening your opponent_. Never attack; that is the point on which
your attention must be concentrated."

"But," exclaimed one of my hearers, "what do you mean by 'threatening?'
It is not so easy to threaten when you are an absolute duffer."


VI.

"The naked point of a sword resolutely offered at the body or at the
face is always a threat. No one who sees it directed straight at him
with a set fixity of purpose and a suggestive glitter can fail to be
alarmed by it or can afford to disregard it, more especially perhaps
if he knows that the man behind it is unsophisticated, and cannot be
depended upon to obey the ordinary rules, that he has no deep design or
artful scheme in the background, but just one idea--to keep his point
always there, like a sentry at his post.

"Put shortly, my advice amounts to this:--Defend yourself by
retreating; threaten by offering the point. Offering the point, that is
to say straightening the arm, is the attack of the incapable fencer.

"By retreating you maintain the distance between yourself and your
opponent, and make it difficult for him to get command of your blade on
a simulated attack.

"There is only one other movement that I should teach to a novice, who
came to me for advice in these circumstances. I should tell him--as he
retires and straightens his arm--to change the line occasionally; that
is to say to pass his point under his opponent's blade and threaten him
on the other side, in fact a simple disengagement. It is the easiest
thing in the world to understand, and anyone, however little he may be
skilled in the art of fencing, can do it with the greatest ease; the
act of retiring itself facilitates the execution of the movement. An
hour's practice will make him familiar with this change of line, which
as I remarked just now answers the double purpose of attack and defence.

"I should make my pupil repeat this very simple performance over and
over again, instructing him to straighten his arm, sometimes with
his point held high on a level with the chest, attacking the high
lines, sometimes with the point lowered, attacking the low lines. You
understand of course what is meant by the high and low lines. It is the
A--B--C of fencing.

"Notice that my lesson is simplified to a degree that is almost
ludicrous. I dissect every movement and explain how the parts are put
together, being particularly careful to avoid the use of technical
terms, for my imaginary pupil is supposed to be completely ignorant,
and he would be hopelessly puzzled by them. If on the other hand he
happens to have some smattering of knowledge he will appreciate more
fully and derive all the more benefit from the lesson thus reduced to
its simplest expression."


VII.

"You say nothing," remarked one of my hearers, "about the movement,
which consists in reversing the lunge."

"No," I answered; "because I believe that this device, which is only
proper in certain exceptional circumstances, is likely to prove very
dangerous if it is employed at the wrong moment or at random. If it
does not come off, you are left without defence at your opponent's
mercy.

"To put the matter shortly:--if you adopt my plan, you retire and at
the same moment offer your point either with a straight thrust or with
a disengagement; then you immediately recover your guard and bring
your forearm back to its original position. Whether your thrust has
succeeded or not, you are always provided with a sound defence, you are
set firmly on your legs, your balance is undisturbed, and upon your
opponent's advance you can repeat the process again and again.

"Now suppose that you decide to lunge to the rear; that is to say, to
reverse the lunge by throwing the left leg back to its full extent and
dropping the body, without moving the right foot; well, when will you
do this and how?

"You are not an expert. What secret instinct will inform you that the
opportune moment has come for executing this manoeuvre? For after you
have executed it, you must recover, and recover smartly, if you are
to regain your guard; no easy matter, I assure you. In attempting to
perform a movement so complicated, you with your want of experience can
hardly fail to be thrown into disorder, to the great advantage of your
adversary, who will seize the opportunity to press you briskly and get
command of your blade.

"Even supposing that you escape from this danger, you cannot go on
repeating the process continually; you cannot repeat it indifferently
on every attack, or on every semblance of an attack that is made upon
you. You must judge your opportunity. Now fencing judgment, especially
in a duel, implies knowledge, and remember we are arguing on the
assumption that you are ignorant.

"For these reasons I should never think of recommending the lunge to
the rear to anyone who has not acquired some familiarity with his
weapon.


VIII.

"If we now turn from the man whose only chance lies in his getting
a rule of thumb to work by to the man who is more or less used to
fencing, the case is different. The scope of the lesson is enlarged.
The pupil knows a few words of the language, we must try to turn his
knowledge to account.

"My advice to him would be:--In the first place, take the same guard
as that already indicated; but make a little play with your point, by
changing the line occasionally from inside to outside and so on, in
order to bother your opponent. Make a show of attacking now and then,
in order to recover any ground that you may have lost by retreating.
But be very careful never on any account to attack in real earnest.
You must be doubly strong and doubly sure of all your movements to
enable you to attack without getting out of your depth, and perhaps
throwing yourself away in a moment of inadvertence.

"And then I should go on to say:--Sometimes, but always accompanying
the movement with a short step to the rear, make a parry of counter
quarte and circle, a sweeping parry which cuts all the lines, and is
bound to find the blade somewhere. Come back to your first position at
once, holding your point well in front of your body. Then if you find
that your opponent means to develope his attack fully, and that his
point is directed high, throw your left foot back boldly, remembering
to drop your head and body at the same moment, in order to avoid the
point which would otherwise strike you in the upper part of the chest
or in the face. Above all, recover as smartly as you can by springing
quickly to the rear, so as to regain your defensive position before
your adversary, if he has avoided or parried your thrust, can take
advantage of his opportunity.

"But once more I must caution you that this sort of thing requires such
training and judgment as I should not expect anyone to possess who has
not by regular practice made himself thoroughly at home with the sword."


IX.

"We are allowed to criticise, I believe," remarked the Comte de C.
after a pause which followed these remarks.

"By all means," I replied; "I not only allow but invite criticism. In
working out an idea, I may very likely neglect some side of it that
ought not to be passed over."

"Well, you seem to me inconsistent. You said the other day, and I quite
agreed with you:--'The first and fundamental rule of fencing is to
parry;' and now you tell us on the contrary not to attempt to parry."

"That is fair criticism," I answered, "but I do not admit the
inconsistency. You will remember that we were then talking of
scientific fencing, that is to say of the systematic study of
swordsmanship. But that has nothing to do with the present question.
The whole art of fencing cannot be learnt in three or four hours.

"Let me give you an analogy, for an analogy often serves to put an
argument simply. Two men are on a sinking ship; one of them knows how
to swim, the other only knows how to go to the bottom and stay there.
Meanwhile the danger is immediate. Would you say to the man who cannot
swim a stroke:--'Look here, this is the way to swim; you move your
arms like this, and at the same time you move your legs like that'? Do
you mean to tell me that he will be able to put into practice straight
away what you have just shown him? Or do you suppose, that thanks to
your demonstration he will be able to swim when he finds himself in the
water? No, of course you are not so foolish as to suppose anything of
the sort. You would of course tell him to catch hold of something or
other, anything--a spar, an oar, or a plank, and to support himself on
it as best he can; that is his only chance.

"Well, my case is on all fours with that. My pupil is in imminent peril
of his life. My business is to give him the spar or the plank, which
may serve to keep him afloat. I don't bother about teaching him to
swim.


X.

"Of course there is nothing to prevent one from showing one or two
parries to the novice who has to fight a duel at short notice. But the
only parries that would be of any use to him are the comprehensive and
rather complicated parries, which sweep through all the lines. What
would be the result?

"His parries would be weak, undecided, and slow. Instead of tripping
neatly round the blade, they would labour painfully after it in wide
circles. To deceive them would be the merest child's play, and the
poor novice, encountering nothing but empty air, would let his blade
fly into space, and send his arm after it, leaving himself completely
exposed.

"Even supposing that his opponent does not take advantage of his
opportunity, the novice realises how helpless he is, and racks his
brains for some device to avoid the danger when he is again attacked.
Then he does not know what to do, what not to do; he loses his head and
is seized with panic; he strikes wildly at his opponent's blade, as a
drowning man strikes wildly at the water, and nothing remains to be
done but to wait for the finishing thrust, or to rush blindly at his
opponent, with the probability that he will run upon his point. Those
are my reasons for not attempting to teach an untutored novice things
which he cannot possibly perform.

"Now, on the other hand, consider in detail the measures that I do put
at his disposal. By retiring he evades the point. Evading the point,
by drawing the body back or by springing to the rear, may not be the
same thing as parrying, but it amounts to much the same in the end,
since you retire out of range and are not hit. Or if you are hit, at
the worst you can be only lightly touched, because by retiring you
make your opponent lose the ground which he reckoned on gaining by his
attack.

"Moreover when he sees that you straighten your arm every time on the
chance of reaching him, he dare not lunge out recklessly. If he does,
you have at least a chance of hitting him,--by a fluke no doubt, but I
suppose you do not much mind that.


XI.

"There is one last objection that I will anticipate.

"What, I may be asked, becomes of your scheme of defence, if, the
moment that the novice extends his sword at a venture, the adversary
engages it?

"Without a doubt that is what he ought to do, and what he will do, as I
shall presently explain. But you do not imagine, I suppose, that a man
completely ignorant of the use of his weapon, who goes to a professor
for advice on the eve of an encounter, can hope to come away comforted
with the assurance that he has learnt the whole art of how to hit his
opponent without being touched himself? That, I fancy, would be too
convenient. It would be better then to study the art of not learning
to fence, instead of spending months and years in studying the art of
fencing. Ignorance would indeed be bliss and wisdom folly.

"The man who has not learnt the use of the weapon to which he entrusts
his life, may think himself lucky if he can lessen the chances,
to which he is exposed, of a fatal issue. The master can hope to
accomplish nothing more than to give his pupil some confidence, and
show him the only course that can be commended by common sense and at
the same time furnishes some sort of defence.

"If the novice does what he is told he will, I repeat, put difficulties
and dangers in the way of his opponent; he will force him to act with
caution, he will keep him at long range, and compel him to shift
his ground when he attacks. In shifting his ground he may, either
through carelessness or in the excitement of the moment, leave himself
uncovered, and give an opening to the point that is continually
directed at him. But I do not for a moment suppose that a wary and
experienced fencer, who keeps his head cool, will not easily defeat
such elementary strategy.

"You may tell your pupil to be prudent, you may tell him to be calm and
resolute, but now or never you should add the pious wish 'Heaven help
you'."


XII.

"May I ask one more question?" said one of my friends. "I have often
heard it said that if you don't know much about fencing the best thing
to do is, as soon as you come on guard, to make a sudden rush at the
other man before he has time to collect himself."

"Well," I replied, "if you wish to make sure of being incurably
spitted, that is the most infallible way to set about it.

"The seconds, before giving the signal to begin, have just asked your
opponent if he is ready. Is it likely that he will allow himself to be
rushed, or to be victimised by such a transparent piece of bluff?

"Is it not much more likely that he will have been told to look out for
a surprise attack? One of two things,--either the man who confronts
you is a skilful fencer, in which case he will not want you to give
him time to collect himself, but will be quite capable of taking his
own time; or his ignorance of fencing is on a par with yours, and
then it is a toss up. It follows that if this desperate plan of attack
is chosen, because it is thought likely to succeed, it is absurd. If
however it is chosen, because the man who chooses it is of a restive
impatient disposition, one who cannot wait and for whom cool defensive
tactics are an impossibility, the case is different.

"All that one can say to the pupil, whose temper is such that he cannot
play a waiting game, is something of this sort:--Trust your instinct,
be guided by your natural impulse. You quite understand that by acting
as you propose you run a greater risk; for your attack is delivered at
random, you are embarking on a wild and hazardous speculation. Your
only chance of success, as you yourself admit, is that you may, by
suddenly and violently letting yourself go for all you are worth, take
your opponent by surprise and put him off his parry. I can only give
you one word of advice. Before letting yourself go, try at any rate to
beat the other man's sword out of line in any way you can. Knock it up
or down, to one side or the other; as soon as you have made your beat,
let yourself go straight, without the least hesitation. By this means
you will avoid an interchange of hits or a stop thrust. But I warn you
this is not so easy as it sounds.

"Possibly, where so much depends on luck and accident, you may bring
off your hit. But if you are the wounded man, you will be wounded with
a vengeance, for you will probably run on the sword up to the hilt,--a
trifling consideration, which is perhaps worth taking into account.

"This plan in fact can never be recommended; it involves not only too
many risks, but risks that are too serious and too certain. I will show
you presently in greater detail why this is so, when we look at the
question from the other side, from the point of view of a fencer more
or less skilful, who is opposed to a novice ignorant of swordsmanship
but a determined natural fighter, who is thoroughly roused by a keen
sense of danger.


XIII.

"The case we shall consider next will be the reverse of this. By
reversing the position we shall hear what is to be said on both sides,
and we shall then have considered from every point of view, the
probabilities of victory or defeat, which are likely to occur in a
duel. We will leave that for to-morrow."

And so we broke up.

[Illustration]



The Eleventh Evening


[Illustration: _The real thing._]


I.

We have now to examine the duel with swords from a different point of
view. The ignorant and inexperienced fencer, trying at the last moment
to find a desperate remedy for a desperate state of affairs, may be
dismissed, and we have now to consider the case of combatants who are
more or less evenly matched, and who are fighting in deadly earnest.
For as I have already said, a duel generally equalises the forces
on either side, except when a skilful and resolute swordsman meets
a clumsy hesitating duffer, or when a cool head is opposed to that
rash and furious bluster which more often than not leads a man to his
destruction.

"First and foremost, your invariable rule must be:--Distrust your
enemy; never be overconfident. I cannot too often repeat that the
unexpected always turns up just when you are least prepared for it. It
is this glorious uncertainty that to my mind makes fighting with swords
the only sort of duelling that is fair and sportsmanlike, the only sort
in which energy, courage, and resolution always give some chance to the
weaker combatant.

"In a duel fought with pistols, what a wretched rôle is assigned to the
combatants. Energy is of no use, courage of no value; you stand up like
a target to be shot at, without any possibility of defence. Courage
and cowardice meet on equal terms; the feeblest and most spiritless
sneak may succeed in defeating the most determined courage and the
manliest energy. A finger presses a trigger, and the thing is done.
Duelling with pistols has always seemed to me a monstrous practice. I
am delighted to see it disappearing from our manners, and going more
and more out of fashion every day.


II.

"To return to my subject,--there are certain elementary principles of
self-defence, from which the prudent fencer ought never to depart;
principles of such universal application, that they may be considered
the foundation on which is based all serious fighting, which is
conducted with any sort of method.

"As soon as the second who undertakes to start the proceedings has put
you on guard, and steps back, leaving you at liberty to set to, you
should immediately take two or three paces to the rear, before your
opponent can realise or anticipate what you are about. By this means
you at once put yourself out of range, and out of danger either from a
surprise or from one of those blind and frantic rushes, to which, as we
have seen, some men are apt to pin their faith."


"But," exclaimed one of my hearers, not altogether seriously, "if your
opponent does the same thing, you will find yourselves at a range more
suitable for pistol practice than for sword-play."

"In that case," I replied, taking him seriously, "you have three
advantages for one,--surely a substantial gain.

"In the first place, if the same idea has occurred to your opponent as
to you, or if the same advice has been given to you both, the advice is
the more likely to be sound.

"In the second place, his quick strategic movement to the rear tells
you very plainly that he too has no fancy for a surprise, or for that
rough and tumble style of fighting which reduces sword-play to a sort
of fisticuffs. You are able to make up your mind at once that he is not
that sort of fighter, and that his attacks will be prudent and well
considered.

"In the third place, the brief pause gives you a moment or two to
pull yourself together and get steady, to take a good look at your
opponent's point, and get over that first involuntary sensation,
that momentary chill, which no one, not even the bravest of us, ever
fails to experience. It also gives you time to run your eye over your
antagonist, and by noting how he stands, how he holds his sword, in a
word how he shapes, to look the situation in the face and settle your
plan of campaign.

"That, I think you will admit, is something gained, even if you have
to stand for a few seconds at a range which, as you say, seems more
suitable for pistol practice.


III.

"Have you never observed how all animals, from the most insignificant
creatures up to the most savage beasts, set about fighting? Look at two
cocks in a back-yard or two bulls in a field. Notice how they skirmish
and spar before really letting themselves go; notice the wicked glitter
of their eyes as they intently watch for an opening, where they will
presently plant their most telling blow.

"What teaches them not to rush at each other's throat in blind fury?
Why, simply instinct, the science of self-preservation which is common
to every living thing; and common instinct should teach you the same
lesson.

"You will easily realise how completely you upset or at least disturb
the calculations of the man who is clinging to advice of this
kind:--'The moment you are on guard,--lunge, before your opponent has
time to collect himself'; or of the man, whose one idea is to make a
wild and indiscriminate charge.

"Such men, however lacking they may be in brains, can hardly fail
to perceive that the distance between you and them makes a surprise
impracticable. If they do attempt it, their movements will be
disconcerted; they will give themselves away, and may probably run upon
your point if you hold it straight before you, or in any case they must
give you time to see them coming. You may be attacked no doubt, and
attacked furiously, but you will not be surprised.


IV.

"When you have placed yourself out of range you remain free to choose
your next move. If your opponent now seems inclined to shorten the
distance between you, wait for him without breaking ground. He is
compelled to advance, and therefore is at a disadvantage; for if he
exposes himself, you are ready for him; you do your best to harass his
advance, you watch your opportunity, and whatever movement he makes
you let him see that he is continually threatened by your point. He
cannot help giving you notice of his attack; you see what is coming,
and are able to take your measures accordingly. The way he manages his
advance, and the accompanying movements of his point, hand, and arm,
are sure signs by which you can tell how much or how little he knows.

"If on the other hand he stands on the defensive and seems inclined to
wait for your attack, you may advance cautiously, with short steps,
keeping your legs well under you and your body well balanced, levelling
your point now at his eyes, now at his chest;--for you must be careful
to guard against the dangers that I have just mentioned.

"In order to counteract, or at least to lessen the disadvantage to
which you are exposed on your advance, you must occupy your opponent's
attention by continually threatening him in the different lines; for by
compelling him to protect himself you prevent him from attacking you,
and meanwhile little by little you gain ground.

"It is a good plan to feint a serious attack in order to compel him to
show his hand, and to find out whether he means to rely on a parry,
or if he will simply straighten his arm. But you must be very sure
of yourself, and have complete control of your movements, or you will
very likely disclose your own plans by some involuntary and incautious
gesture.

"All that I have said applies with equal force to good and bad fencers,
to the expert as well as to the novice. Prudence and self-control
are more than half the battle. To these must be added science, which
enables you to deceive your opponent by deluding him as to your real
object, while you compel him unwillingly to betray himself.


V.

"I hope," I said, interrupting myself, "that you find me tolerably
intelligible and that you follow the connection between the successive
steps of my argument?"

My audience with one voice assured me that I was perfectly intelligible,
and that they were following me with the greatest interest.

"I may be a trifle long-winded in dealing with these points, but please
remember that after pointing out a danger or giving a piece of advice,
I have to show how the danger may be met, by explaining the answering
move.

"To proceed,--whichever of you has made the first advance, you are now
within striking distance.

"If you are absolutely ignorant of sword-play, like the unfortunate
duellist whose case we were considering last night, I have already told
you what in my opinion you can do, or at least may attempt to do. I
have nothing more to say on that head.

"The opponents that we now have in view are supposed to have a
knowledge of the use of weapons. It follows that the questions to be
considered will naturally resemble those that we have already discussed
when talking of theoretical sword-play and more particularly of the
assault. The only difference is the difference between a sham fight and
a real fight, the difference between a muzzled foil and an unmuzzled
sword. Besides that, in an assault you are governed by conventional
restrictions clearly defined and well understood; you do not attempt to
hit your opponent except in accordance with the rules; you wear a mask
and a jacket.

"But the mistakes which you are most anxious to avoid in an assault
are the very things that you try to turn to account in a fight, in
order to perplex your opponent and spoil his game. For fencing, if the
professors will allow me to say so, is perhaps the one art in which
mistakes may upon occasion prove of the greatest possible advantage to
him who makes them. Otherwise it would be mere bookwork, to be learnt
more or less thoroughly, and the man who knew his book completely would
have nothing to fear; but to my mind it is nothing of the sort. No
knowledge of fencing can make a man invulnerable. If anyone imagines
that he is an exception to the rule he betrays a singularly misplaced
confidence in his own powers,--a very dangerous error.

"But ought we to condemn swordsmanship on that account? My own opinion
is that this uncertainty is the great beauty of the sword, the one
feature that distinguishes it as the only weapon for a fair fight;
for even the weakest player has his opportunity, his lucky moments,
his strokes of fortune, which must always prevent the duel from
degenerating into simple butchery.

"If fencing were an exact science, if you knew, that as sure as two
and two make four, you could certainly hit your man, and that he as
certainly could not hit you, how could you in common honesty cross
swords with him?


VI.

"I am afraid that I have been wandering somewhat from my text; but this
digression, though it may at first sight seem out of place, still when
one comes to consider it is very closely connected with our subject.
For it serves to emphasise once more the fact that, in spite of every
probability, luck may always turn the scale in favour of the other
side, and to remind you that you cannot attach too much importance to
the most minute particulars of your defence.

"Habitual mistrust is one of the most necessary requirements for
this complicated art. Put in another way it is the careful study of
the enemy whom you have to face. The mistrust that marks the wary,
calculating player, not only preserves him from danger but creates
dangers for his opponent.


VII.

"I was saying the other day that I did not believe in secret thrusts,
and that the thrusts that have received this absurd misnomer are
nothing but strokes that are not generally recognised by the ordinary
rules of fencing. Strip them of their imaginary terrors, and far from
being dangerous to you they become more than a little dangerous for the
man who attempts them.

"To describe them, we need not distinguish more than two sorts,--methods
of attack, and methods of evading or dodging an opponent's attack.
These tricks are all very much of the same character. Take this for
an example:--lunge as though you were making a simple attack, then
suddenly draw your arm back to make your opponent parry in the air,
throw yourself out of line and let drive, hitting him in the ribs.

"Or again:--after a false attack, dodge by stooping low to avoid the
parry and riposte, and hit your opponent in the low lines. The sudden
disappearance of your body will probably astonish him.

"Some men delight in charging at you with a shout, at the same time
drawing back their arm to avoid your parry. This strange war-cry
occasionally has the effect of causing a moment's involuntary pause,
of which they take advantage to drive their point home anyhow and
anywhere.

"Others again, when the blades are engaged in tierce, suddenly bring
their left foot to the front, at the same time swinging the body round,
left shoulder forward and out of line with your point.

"If on the other hand these strokes, which if not foul are decidedly
irregular, are employed to meet an attack, the same thing is done with
slight variations. Suppose I deliver an attack; my opponent, instead of
parrying, springs aside out of line. Sword and body vanish; the target
has moved away; my attack loses itself in space, and I am hit by a
flank movement.

"Or again, he ducks suddenly, supporting himself on his free hand, and
allows my point to pass harmlessly over his head, while at the same
time he hits me somewhere,--in the low lines of course.

"Or again, he seizes my blade in tierce, swings the left foot round to
the front, suddenly arrives at close quarters, and before I have time
either to retreat or to recover my guard, stabs me by drawing back or
dropping his hand.

"I might extend this list of examples indefinitely, but you see that
all these strokes are contrived on the same plan, and only differ from
each other in unimportant details. It needs no argument to prove how
completely the man who resorts to such tactics gives himself away if
they are unsuccessful, for in order to make them really formidable
there must be no hanging back,--you must let yourself go without the
least reserve."


VIII.

"But surely," someone objected, "in the hands of a skilful swordsman
they would be doubly dangerous?"

"That contingency," I replied, "is worth considering, but a skilful
swordsman would be very unlikely to resort to such methods. Why should
he? If his opponent is a duffer, he has no need to be so tricky. If
on the other hand his opponent is a cool-headed fencer, as skilful as
himself, he knows the penalty of failure too well to make the attempt.

"I need hardly tell you,--though I believe I have mentioned the fact
already,--that when you attack you ought to be particularly careful not
to let yourself go so completely that you cannot recover your defensive
position, if your attack fails.

"All these remarks illustrate how necessary it is to distrust your
enemy, to approach a strange antagonist with caution, and always keep
him at a distance. By retreating the moment you come on guard you
have already provided against a surprise and against wild rushes.
When you are within range, take my advice and do not join blades,
and always, as much as possible, avoid coming to such close quarters
that your opponent can reach you without breaking ground. But do not
misunderstand me when I tell you not to join blades. I do not mean
that you are never to cover yourself, and never to allow the blades
to meet; that would be a mistake. All that I mean is that you should
take care never to allow your opponent to hold your blade. By playing
light and refusing a proffered engagement you put a stop to all forcing
strokes,--_croisés_, beats, binds, _flanconnade_,--which are the most
dangerous of all strokes, because they are the most certain. I call
them certain, because by holding your blade prisoner they control it
forcibly, and make a stop thrust or an exchange of hits impossible.


IX.

"There are of course several ways of dealing with a man who refuses to
engage, but they are difficult and require much practice. It generally
happens that your refusal disconcerts your opponent. He has no definite
point to start from, he hesitates, and his hesitation retards his
attack.

"If his attack is complicated, you may venture on a stop thrust,
offered with caution and accompanied by a short step to the rear; and
you worry, and annoy, and wear him out to the best of your ability.

"If his attack is simple, he will be afraid of an exchange of hits;
and the more skilful he is, the more cautious you will find him; and
as I said when speaking of the assault, you may lessen the danger of
a simple attack by a brisk retreat to a greater or less distance, as
the case may be. By this means you parry more easily, you increase the
distance to be traversed, and you counteract the rapidity of the attack
by two methods of defence instead of one.

"If you are hit, the wound is slight, or at all events much less
severe than it would have been, if you had tried to parry without
breaking ground. If on the other hand your parry is successful, you
have escaped the danger of a _corps à corps_, and are in a better
position for delivering your riposte.

"So much for the defence, now let us suppose that you are the attacking
party. You attack, either because you place more reliance on the
quickness of your hand than on the certainty of your riposte, or
because your opponent, by confining himself to defensive tactics,
compels you to do so. You must be doubly cautious now.


X.

"If it is important, as I have just now pointed out, to avoid engaging
blades when you are acting on the defensive, in order to protect
yourself from what may be called attacks on the sword, it is obviously
of equal importance never to attack without first attempting to master
your opponent's _fort_.

"Eschew feints;--I have shown you how dangerous they are--therefore
be content with direct attacks, prefacing them with an engagement in
_carte_ or _tierce_, or with a pressure, or a beat, light or heavy,
accordingly as you wish to draw your opponent to one line or another.
Your object will be gained more easily, if he is willing to join blades.

"If on the other hand he is unwilling to do so, you must by force or
fraud bring him to an engagement, and you should never finish your
attack until you have succeeded in finding his blade; unless in his
efforts to elude you he leaves himself completely exposed. When that
happens a straight thrust is a certainty.

"What you have most to fear is a stop thrust, the straightening of your
opponent's arm on your preparation or advance. This is generally a
favourite stroke with those who deliberately stand on the defensive.

"In nine cases out of ten the refusal to join blades may be successfully
met by a simulated attack, if it is well marked. Either your opponent
attempts to parry, or he straightens his arm; whereupon you immediately
engage his blade, and drive your attack home, without quitting his
blade, and above all without any feint.


XI.

"It is evidently impossible to enumerate in the course of conversation
all the situations that may occur, or to describe all the traps that
you may set for your opponent or that he may set for you. These things
are matters of instinct and inspiration, the happy thoughts of the
moment, and depend on character and individual temperament, physical
and moral. The art of fighting cannot of course be learnt in a day; it
grows upon you gradually, as you learn by experience to combine the
various elements scientifically into a well-ordered whole.

"Picture for yourselves two men fighting.--You see them at one moment
standing their full height, the next bent double, swerving to right
and left, colliding violently, and entangled in a furious encounter;
suddenly they break away, recoiling from each other with a bound,
rest for a moment, panting and glaring, till suddenly they renew the
struggle. Do you suppose that all these intricate evolutions, and
the subtle application of muscular force that they imply, can be
systematically analysed and taught? Of course not.

"In every art proficiency can only be obtained by persistent and
intelligent application. Practice alone makes perfect. It is by
studying combinations, by trying to adapt the means at his disposal to
the object in view, that the artist tests the limits of his art and
discovers its hidden secrets, fashions it at will, and makes it his
obedient slave.


"These remarks would not be complete, if I failed to caution you
against a very pernicious habit, which one is apt to contract in the
fencing-room, and which in a duel may easily lead to a fatal issue.
I mean the habit of stopping after you have made a hit, instead of
immediately recovering your guard and putting yourself out of distance.
Never forget this important point; if you do, you may after wounding
your opponent receive a mortal wound, for which you will have only
yourself to blame.

"Every fencer knows how commonly it happens in an assault, that a man
ripostes automatically after he is hit, and strikes his opponent almost
simultaneously, especially when the latter has not taken the trouble to
attend strictly to his recovery.

"Remember that a sword-thrust, even though it be mortal, does not
take effect immediately. There is always a momentary interval before
the wounded man falters, or drops his sword, or falls to the ground
unconscious. The moment you think you have made a hit,--for you may
be mistaken,--get back as smartly as you can, and be ready to go on
fighting.


XII.

"Well," I added after a short pause, "nothing else occurs to me in the
way of general advice, which I can commend to your notice. When the
time for actual fighting arrives, your attention must be concentrated
on the important points, and these may be summed up in two or three
words:--self-reliance, well-judged caution, restrained and well-timed
energy."

"You have given us most excellent advice," exclaimed the Comte de C.
"If one could only think of it all at the critical moment, one would be
well provided."

"Think of only half of it," I answered, "and you will not do so
badly,--there are so many men who cannot think at all."


XIII.

The next day we all met as usual in the smoking-room.

"Well," someone asked me, "what are you going to talk about to-night?"

"Why," I answered, "my subject is exhausted, I have told you all I
know, or at any rate all that I think worth knowing."

[Illustration]


FOOTNOTES:

[1] Lafaugère, _Traité sur les Armes_.

[2] _Académie de l'Espée_, by Gerard Thibault, Antwerp, 1628.

[3]

    Dares the nimbler-footed, in manhood's confident ease;
    Huge Entellus of limb and of weight,--but his tardier knees
    Totter, and troubled breath convulses his towering frame.

                                     VIRGIL, _Aeneid_ V. BOWEN.



                       _Small Post_ 8_vo._ 6_s._

 SCHOOLS AND MASTERS OF FENCE, from the Middle Ages to the End of the
    Eighteenth Century. By Egerton Castle, M.A., F.S.A. With a Complete
    Bibliography. Illustrated with 140 Reproductions of Old Engravings
    and 6 Plates of Swords, showing 114 Examples.

       *       *       *       *       *

                      _Small Crown_ 8_vo._ 1_s._

 FENCING. By the late H. A. Colmore Dunn, Barrister-at-Law, Inns of
    Court School of Arms, Winner of the Medal at the German Gymnasium.
    With 17 Illustrations.

       *       *       *       *       *

                 _Small_ 4_to._ £1. 1_s._ 0_d._ _net._

 THE WORKS OF GEORGE SILVER. Comprising 'Paradoxes of Defence' (Printed
    in 1599 and now reprinted), and 'Bref instructions vpo my Pradoxes
    of Defence' (Printed for the first time from the MS. in the British
    Museum). Edited with an Introduction by Cyril G. R. Matthey,
    Captain, London Rifle Brigade; Member of the London Fencing Club;
    and Membre d'honneur du Cercle d'Escrime de Bruxelles. With 8
    Collotype Reproductions from the MS. in the British Museum.

       *       *       *       *       *

              London: George Bell and Sons, York Street,
                            Covent Garden.



    Transcriber's Note:

    Every effort has been made to replicate this text as faithfully as
    possible.

    Italic text has been marked with _underscores_.
    OE ligatures have been expanded.





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