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Blade of the Gascon


Dawn and a Gascon

THE rapier of the Chevalier accomplished a masterly parry.

The French maître d'armes, Le Flamand, had tried his special foyne thrust at the head, puzzling in its jerky time-movement. It had proven fatal on other fields.

Yet the Chevalier solved the stroke in the quick heart-beat of its apt performance. Imperturbably he developed his parry's consummation into reversal of the point and thrust in his turn.

The French master reeled back with a disabled sword-arm.

"Magician!" he gasped, eyes wide with amazement.

The young poet, Du Brullier, who seconded the Chevalier, waved him aside to the attending physicians.

"Gascon magic, monsieur!" affirmed the poet-second, his eyes twinkling.

The Chevalier was from Gascony. As he drove the point of his rapier into the soft turf to cleanse it of its stain, although he looked pensively out upon the fair River Seine, his spirit felt elated.

Shortly before, dawn had broken over the Place des Terraux, where the duels of this Gascon with the four foremost fencing masters of Paris were taking place.

As the Chevalier so ably had defeated his first antagonist, he heard, among the plaudits of the onlooking gallants, the acclaim of no less a personage than Prince Gaston, brother to the King of France.

Now there seemed to be some question of precedence among the remaining opponents of the Gascon. The poet stifled a gTeat yawn.

"If I were not so drowsy, Chevalier, I could write a sonnet praising this fair dawn ... or love, and so win fame, he murmured.

"Would you rise so early to write of love—for mere fame, my poet?" the Chevalier gibed.

"Ha!" quoth the poet. "'Tis true fame has ever been a step beyond me or, overlooked, behind me. Yet I am no pawner of others' ideas. My originality is my own, not pilfered. So I will put aside that hackneyed thing termed ‘love' and write of that unknown event at court—the dawn.

"But come, Chevalier, your next opponent waits. It is the Spaniard, de Limia. By Bacchus, I will drink a tun of wine after the meetings; it will make me dry to see you cut them down. There'll be Homeric laughter at the hotels tonight!"

His second and third antagonists were defeated by the Gascon in inimitable manner, both retiring with minor wounds.

NOW Prince Gaston countenanced the proceedings in pure spleen against the Cardinal Richelieu, for whom he had bitter hatred and a wholesome fear. As usual half-drunken, he slyly applauded the Chevalier for breaking the edicts of His Eminence against dueling, the while cautioning his attendant favorite gentleman, the Duke de Puylaurens, to keep a keen watch for the guards of that dignitary.

"'Sdeath!" exclaimed the prince. "Note the quick, sure turn of the Gascon's leg. A thing of beauty to behold."

"The man is using methods of all schools," agreed Puylaurens. "Watch the careless handling of his blade, his seeming indifference. The apparent weak points in his defense are but to draw on his attacker."

Gaston was no mean swordsman himself. "He is a master of timing," he muttered. "His point is so late in parry as to barely put aside the opposing blade; he escapes by the barest fraction the thrust. Yet he toys with them. It is worth staying up till dawn to see. 'Sdeath! I am becoming sober. Who and what is the fellow?"

Puylaurens eyed the prince, calculatingly. His voice fawned.

"Recall, monseigneur, I brought you to this new sensation. He terms himself 'The Chevalier'. Some time since he opened a salle d'armes in the fashionable Rue de Bethisy, with no pupils. Without warning, he challenged the four most prominent fencing masters in Paris, undertaking to defeat them all with the rapier in a single evening, or forfeit a hundred louis to each master!"

The duke pressed shaking hand to aching forehead, and sighed, resignedly, under his breath. Being favorite gentleman to the brother to a king entailed being a fountain-head of information, and drinking a fountain-head of wine upon all occasions. Yet, withal, he thought complacently, there were compensations.

"The evening arrived," he continued, noting Gaston's interest. "Before half the nobles of Paris this unknown Gascon, by this or that trick of fence, conquered the four maestros. The thing was uncanny. In a night the Chevalier's salle d'armes became the vogue—his sword the most famous in Paris.

"Owing to our absence from Paris, monseigneur, we missed that night but we are here for this dawn. The four fencing masters attributed their defeat to the fact that buttoned foils were used. They challenged the Gascon to naked points and he had the effrontery to accept. Hence the meeting in this secluded spot.

"But see now, he faces the Italian." A breath of premonition seemed to overtake the favorite. "Somehow I like not his assurance. He cannot always conquer. Fifty louis, monseigneur, the Gascon meets his fate," the duke ended, eagerly.

"Taken." Gaston's smile was cunning. "And if he wins, we have good use for a famous sword—if we can save him from the Cardinal and the Bastille."

THE fourth, and remaining, challenger of the Chevalier was no less a master than the Italian, Caizo, the "lamer of men," credited with the crippling of half the male population of Milan—a pleasing myth. But the man was truly expert in the "coup de Jarnac"—a left-handed drawing cut at the inside of the knee. To him the Chevalier paid the tribute of close attention as they fought. For the first time he lost some of his jaunty manner.

To meet the justly feared attack of the Italian master, he again changed his style of fence, holding his point far forward—so loosely, it seemed, a breath might dislodge it- But 'twas no insensate thing, that point, pregnantly become a wall of steel, against which the Italian used his bag of tricks in vain. As for the Chevalier, it contented him, for the moment, to remain strictly upon the defensive. Despite his incredible exertions, he seemed iron-sinewed and scarcely breathed.

Finally, exasperated, Caizo snarled out:

"Watch your knee, monsieur!"

"It comes! It comes! The 'Jarnac'!" whispered the onlookers with bated breath.

The flicker of a smile crossed the Gascon's face, as he replied.

"Try your botte, maestro. 'Tis all you have remaining. As I parry I will take you in the right leg, in my turn."

"Horns of Panurge!" lisped the poet. "Is the man omnipotent?"

An evil gleam appeared in the eyes of the Italian. He seemed veritably to tie himself into a knot of muscle and, from a bewildering stance, uncoiling, shot forth his famous "falso manco" stroke, with extremely sudden virulence, knowing if his disdainful antagonist improvised a parry, he was lost. It was a supreme effort, gallantly essayed.

But the Gascon met the thrust intelligently. The eye could not well follow the parry or the counter-stroke. Vet out of the melee there came the flickering of a blade, tossed high in the air, and the cursing Italian, disarmed, held his right leg by his hand where it had been stricken.

Across his face a deathly pallor spread. A paroxysm of fear shook him. That he should be lamed for life as he had often those others!

"Maestro," the Chevalier declared, "you are a gallant fighter, although somewhat merciless I hear. My steel cut no artery. 'Tis but a flesh wound. Yet spare your next opponent for the clemency."

The poet flung his beaver high in the air and his frank shout rang out, in defiance of the occasion's etiquette.

"The man's a paladin," he asserted, joyously. "I'll immortalize him in verse All Paris shall hear."

"If that drunken ass brays too loud, make him the fifth to feel your blade today, monsieur," admonished Prince Gaston who approached the Chevalier. "We owe you thanks for rare entertainment, yet there are still the cardinal's edicts." Gaston laughed, dryly, and continued. "You may well need a friend at court, shortly. Count upon me."

The Chevalier bowed, in apparent gratitude.

"Monseigneur, you honor me," he declared.

"If you are in your salle d'armes tonight and not in the Bastille reserve the hour of ten for two new pupils at fence, myself and the Duke de Puylaurens," commanded the prince. He waved a benign hand and was gone, leaning upon the arm of his favorite.

"But," queried Puylaurens, "think you then this swordsman is the man for our purpose?"

"The very fellow," declared the prince. "He is unknown in Paris. Being a Gascon adventurer he will sell his sword for a song and count not the cost—nor fear Satan himself."

'Yet one thing I like not," returned the duke, thoughtfully. "Somehow he brings to mind the cardinal, himself."

The prince hiccoughed, mightily. "Bah!" he said. "You see the shadow of that pompous prelate everywhere. In a word you fear him. I—I fear him not." He made a magnificent gesture.

Puylaurens was careful to hide his doubting sneer. He would have scoffed openly, had he dared.

THE poet gazed after the departing, mincing figures of Gaston and his favorite, his brow cloudy with resentment, hand on hilt.

"Ha!" he muttered, "To what fair company am I elected, to what club of sties ? Dubbed fellow-animal by the chief swine, termed ‘drunken ass' by Panurge's self, no less."

He patted his blade, tenderly.

"Were he less than profligate brother to a king, he might well feel the drunken ass's sober kick."

He turned to find the Chevalier's appraising eyes upon him and immediately resumed his gayety.

"Come, my Gascon!" he exclaimed. "Come to Voisin's. I would drink to your prowess in the grape. Princes may flatter but Bacchus calls."

Still the Chevalier eyed him gravely.

"Monsieur Poet," he stated. "I would term you no craven if you go into retirement for a space. Here lie the cardinal's edicts shattered upon this field. There go my erstwhile opponents and their physicians to nurse their wounds, in secret places. You will note the nobles, for whom I made a summer morning's holiday, bowing to me coyly—from a distance."

The poet flushed warmly.

"Chevalier, I have known you but for the few days you have flashed, meteor-like, across the disturbed orbit of this Paris, yet my heart Jikes you well. I'll not desert you."

The two clasped hands warmly and, arm-in-arm, turned their way toward Paris, waxing confidential.

Said the Chevalier: "I have esteemed you more than most, my poet, since I read that triolet of yours in praise of a lady. You recall:

"When Madame trips through the Louvre hall,
The Court drinks deep from her azure eyes;
A drab-gowned Psyche, divinely tall—
When Madame trips through the Louvre hall
The Muses sing; Hebe's love-birds call;
The Poets rant her to the skies—
When Madame trips through the Louvre hall
And we drink the wine of her azure eyes."

The poet's reply was merry, but bis eyes were wistful.

"Your few days in Paris then, Chevalier, have taught you the mode. 'Tis the reigning fashion to declare a burning love for Madame de Combalet, niece of the Cardinal, the lady of my triolet.

"A truly romantic figure. She disdains the court dresses the cardinal provides as too extravagant, yet how she out-dazzles the court ladies with her sweet simplicity. The Hundred and One suitors of Madame are composed the famous statesmen wits, geniuses of Paris... even poets, monsieur." "The renown and famed virtue of Madame reached me in far off Gascony, my poet," assured the Chevalier. There was that in his tone, that in his eyes, which kindled ready sympathy in the heart of Du Brullier—the kindred emotion which two men have who both divinely love the unattainable.

SOMETIME later at Voinsin's, that wine-cellar celebrated for its old Burgundy, where always could be found some of the musketeers and the prince's troop, there entered hurriedly the Chevalier's fencing assistant, Gregoire.

Monsieur," he gasped. "The salle d'armes is closed by order of the Cardinal. The guards of His Eminence are searching all Paris for your person. They are but now on their way here!"

"Body of Bacchus!" exclaimed the poet. "Let us drink while we may! Alas!" he mourned, "how my Muse will stale, your sword-arm rust in the Bastille, my Chevalier."

The Gascon's eyes sparkled, perhaps with the lustre of the grape.

"Fear not the Bastille, my poet," he replied. "I have a word to say to the Cardinal. And if this magic word does not win us pardon, be assured we will hang at the very least for my effrontery."

"A word?"

"Yes—the word ‘Pluvinel'."

Pluvinel," repeated the poet. " ‘Tis not a wine—no! It may be a town . . . perhaps a province. Name of a name, what is it then?"

"'Tis a reminiscence," quoth the Chevalier.

For the Sake of the Days of Pluvinel

IN HIS private salon in the Luxembourg, that new and beautiful establishment, Cardinal Richelieu was closeted with his familiar, Father Joseph.

The great man inclined his head and wearily closed his eyes. Alas! France was voyaging through troublesome times, and although his guiding hand on the helm of state dared not tremble, it did, perforce, grow fatigued at times. "Father, read my budget," His Eminence finally demanded, somewhat testily.

For a time the dull monotone of the priest went on, giving the routine business of the day in the great capital of France. The secrets of Paris were here laid bare, garnered from the centers and purlieus of the city by the countless, able, spying agents of His Eminence.

Joseph's voice eventually took on a shade of emphasis:

"The Prince Gaston d'Orleans plots against Your Eminence secretly. He sneers openly. All Paris is laughing at his latest bon mot."

The Cardinal made a disdainful gesture.

"Madame de Combalet, your niece," went on the priest, "seems still determined to enter the Carmelite Convent. She refuses to wear the court dresses your munificence provides, claiming them too extravagant for her simple tastes."

The Cardinal muttered low to his beard. "I can control men—even kings among men. But women! Ah!" he sighed. "It is my destiny ever to be suspended over the abyss; tossed, puppet-like, now here now there, due to the whims and plots of women."

He seized a rapier from the massive table before him and, though seated, made a cunning thrust or two with skilled assurance. He bent the flexible steel of an expert craftsman point to hilt, and sent it back to length, singing its even tempered song to a swordsman's ear.

"A noble blade!" exclaimed the cardinal, his eyes taking on a glow, lighted by magnificent purpose. "Women! This steel is symbolic of them. I bend them—thus—to my need. But never break them—to my shame."

The look of Father Joseph was sympathetic, although wary.

"I have here the plea of the Duke de Puylaurens, Prince Gaston's favorite, to wed Madame de Combalet," he declared. "Your opinion, father?"

The familiar eyed his master, but the look of Richelieu was inscrutable.

"Prince Gaston plots with Spain to lose you the King's favor and overthrow your Eminence," Joseph whispered low. "The marriage would unite discordant factions. But—"

The tone of the priest faltered with timidity at the daring which led him on.

"You do not break women to your shame, monseigneur," he ended.

THE cardinal coughed dryly and a wintry smile somewhat lightened his countenance.

"Proceed with the budget," he commanded.

"The budget is ended," declared Joseph. "Several persons await in the anteroom, chief among them the fencing master termed ‘The Chevalier,' who has been duly apprehended. You have just handled his sword, taken from him by your order."

The eyes of His Eminence widened. He settled deeper in his seat and fingered a sheaf of papers. His face took on a look of sternness.

"Have him in at once."

In the anteroom Joseph conveyed his master's command to the Gascon. The two, swordsman and priest, whispered together for a moment, with an air of common understanding.

The Chevalier entered, his bow as free from restraint as though his neck were in less peril.

The cardinal frowned.

"Monsieur," he addressed the Gascon without preamble, "you and your establishment may well become a menace to the peace of Paris."

The Gascon made reply: "Your Eminence, on the other hand, my salle d'armes may yet serve Paris well."

Richelieu eyed this bold man before him, appraisingly. This swordsman who was, at the moment, the talk of Paris—who held his head so high, subtly combining in his manner the dignity of a prince with the grace of a ripe courtier. Yet, withal, what was he but a swashbuckling master-at-arms, an unknown out-of-heels of yesterday?

"Your assurance proclaims you Gascon," finally stated the cardinal. "'Tis perhaps the saving grace. A Gascon—a tilter at moons—a timeserver of fancies. Hardly, perhaps, an arch or dangerous conspirator, yet easily led to extravagances, rash expedients. Monsieur, why do you not respect my laws?" He broke off sternly.

The tall, lithe form of the Chevalier took on a seemly humility. His fine shoulders bent forward in a nice obeisance. His great dark eyes, which could express so much and so little, were wide with apparent wonder.

"The laws of your Eminence!" he gasped, in well-feigned amazement.

Richelieu made a testy gesture toward the documents before him.

"Come, you quibble, monsieur. Your recent misdoings are related here. They are already singing in the streets of a famous sword and its four duels at dawn—‘the blade of the Gascon here before me."

Beneath his bold spirit the Chevalier quailed. "I am lost," he thought. For the voice of His Eminence was positively purring, his manner openly admiring.

"The unlearned say it is witchcraft; the sacrilegious declare you sold your soul to the devil as the price of your secret thrusts; the fact remains, monsieur, that you wield the most dangerour blade in Paris."

THE Chevalier spread his hands in extenuation.

"Your Eminence, my license to open the school is in order; my challenge to ray fellow maestros was partly a means of gaining notoriety, to fill my empty school."

The tone of Richelieu still held a smooth invitation to confidence.

"You may say, monsieur, that the four duels were thrust upon you as further means of obtaining notoriety. But your swordsmanship—?"

May be explained in four words, monseigneur. I am a Gascon."

The lofty air of the Chevalier was indescribable.

The countenance of His Eminence dropped its mask. His eyes glowed with the rage before which had trembled the mightiest spirits of France.

You defy me!" he exclaimed. "With shifty blade and more shifty tongue— you defy me!"

The Chevalier confronted the wrath of the Iron Cardinal with courage even in despair. He answered, simply:

"The sword which appears my undoing has fought for France. 'Twas presented to my father upon a battlefield by a king. Perhaps France still has need of it."

"Monseigneur!" Father Joseph's voice was insistent.

The cardinal inclined his head, permitting the priest to speak, his eyes inscrutable.

The Chevalier is Captain du Plessis, akin to your Eminence," the priest declared. He attended the Academy of Pluvinel with you."

Richelieu pondered for a space, and when he again addressed the Gascon his voice was even kindly.

"'Tis true, your face, your voice, touch the chord of memory."

The Chevalier smiled proudly. "Ah, monseigneur," he prompted. "The good old days of Pluvinel, filled with dancing, fencing, riding—above all, the days when I dared to term a certain Marquis relative and friend."

THE cardinal settled himself further in his great chair and again fell to musing. Finally he stirred and sighed. For a time he had lived again the days of his youth at the Academy of Pluvinel, where, in velvet suit, with lace collar and soft shoes, a valet to wait on him, sword dangling at his heels, he had felt well on the road for camp and court—nor dreamed of the great destiny before him.

He said: "Although you were the youngest of us all, even then you made us veritable tyros with your blade. Ha! I recall a night... there was a moon I think... and a garden—"

"The moon had sunk behind a cloud. The shrubbery in the garden was rarely thick," aided the Chevalier.

"Thus we did not perceive the four lackeys until they attacked us," the cardinal continued. "I remember when my blade broke how you, transformed into a dozen fencing masters, shielded me, until wounded and bleeding the cravens fled."

The spirit of the Gascon soared.

"Ha!" he cried, "ha! And the gardener's daughters, the cause of it all. How well—"

He broke off suddenly, in amazement, at the sudden apparition of the horrified countenance of Joseph, rising, moon-like, behind the cardinal's chair, his arms frantically gesturing him to silence.

His Most Holy Eminence and gardener's daughters!

The cardinal, unperturbed, smiled somewhat kindly, somewhat reminiscently.

"I doubt not, my son, there lived gardeners' daughters in those days who smiled upon the young Marquis of Chillon. Alas! The flesh is weak." Again he sighed. Long and hard years had passed since he had borne the simple title of marquis.

He rose and extended to the Chevalier the rapier before him, in his eyes a look of such lofty purpose that it moved the Gascon to instant allegiance.

"In your hands this blade may win you the heights or send you to the lower depths," he declaimed. "I learn that certain enemies plot against my niece, Madame de Combalet. They strike at me through her."

The Gascon grasped the tendered blade, his face transfigured with rage.

"They dare!" he exclaimed.

His Eminence observed him keenly. "You may earn my full pardon by guarding Madame until she enters a convent, as she so strongly desires."

The Chevalier grew deadly pale. The look he turned upon the inscrutable cardinal was first imploring, then hopeless.

As the churchman raised his hand in final dismissal he added.

"If, in your service to Madame, you cope with such danger that even your expert blade falters, the password 'Pluvinel' will turn out my guards to your aid."

In the anteroom Father Joseph warned the Chevalier.

"Beware of your two newest pupils at fence, Prince Gaston and his favorite gentleman. You play with fire."

The Gascon's assurance was in grim earnest.

"Against the highest noble I will turn the shaft of ridicule, a poignant means in merry Paris. Against the lesser gallant the long white blade at my side."

The priest nodded, half doubting, half assenting, and held aloft a hand in parting benediction.

As the Chevalier left the Luxembourg, he turned his face to the night sky, with its mocking happy moon, and breathed a sigh—or a vow—

"Madame—to a convent! Madame! he murmured, despairingly.

A LITTLE later at court the Chevalier had a word aside with the poet, Du Brullier.

"For a time I wear the sword of Prince Gaston, whose sword-captain I have become. Gregoire, my assistant, will deliver to you my own blade. Keep it well hidden in your scabbard.

The poet, flushed with wine, became sober, his eyes wide with alarm, as e remonstrated.

"Are you utterly mad to so defy t e cardinal; to appear at court with the prince's gentlemen?"

"My poet, yes, I am utterly mad. But you have pledged aid. Learn or me the time Madame sets out for St. Cloud, the country estate of the car dinal, the morning after tomorrow.

Du Brullier bowed understanding and was quick to give his own message:

"Madame de Combalet requests that you meet her in the gardens of Hotel Rambouillet after the fête tomorrow."

The Chevalier gasped, "You mean—"

"That Madame has a remonstrance for you—and a warning."

"How high have I risen in one day, monsieur! Sword-captain to the brother of a king and a tryst with the most beautiful lady in France!" The tone of the Gascon was defiant and mocking, but he appeared at court no more that night.

The Bright Shield of Chivalry

A MORNING fête was in progress in honor of "the Princess-Niece," Madame de Combalet, in the gardens of the Hotel Rambouillet. The grassy sward was strewn with countless roses and orange flowers.

For the first time the cardinal had his will with her. She, ever before garbed in black at court functions, wore white.

'Twas a notable occasion. The geniuses of Paris—Colletet, Corneille, Voiture—were there, to say nothing of the poet Du Brullier, a candle-light among great luminaries. Madame was hailed as chief patroness of the Arts in France.

Pierre Corneille seized the occasion to dedicate his new play, "The Cid," to Madame.

How the changing jewels in her blue eyes sparkled!

How she outshone, in her simple gown, the great display of feathers and rare lace, the mingling of precious stones with silks, satins and elaborate coiffures!

As fascinating as Circe with her enchanting caprices*, as learned as Aspasia with her little amazing extravagances of wit and fancy! All were enraptured by her adorableness.

At the last—the Poets of Paris formed an arch with their swords, and she passed beneath—the fairest, most gracious mistress in all France.

Despite the gayety of the fête, Madame, at times, had seemed constrained. As the last of the guests departed she dismissed her attendants, and her feet tripped eager way, upon a flower-bordered path, to a far corner of the gardens.

A shyness was upon her as, before entering, she peered within the quaint latticed pleasure-lodge, her destination. Her eyes sparkled as, unperceived, she gazed upon the Chevalier awaiting the tryst.

But they were woman's eyes, when she faced his low respectful bow—and so unfathomable.

"Madame!" the Gascon murmured. "After all the years we meet again."

Madame's lips pouted adorably and Madame's voice held an edge of ice.

"You have been in Paris for a space. Last night at court you were arm-inarm with my uncle's enemies. You came not near."

The Chevalier spread his arms in extenuation. "I to approach you, the Princess-Niece! I—the swashbuckling sword-captain?" He grave a bitter little laugh.

Madame bit her perfect lips in vexation.

"You appear at court with your beaver at such an angle it is an aggression in itself. Your hair is tinged with gray. Your laugh rings false. Have the years then brought you but bitterness?"

How sweetly malicious was her tone.

"Yet you now have fame. You are called 'First Sword of Paris,' monsieur."

The Chevalier sadly answered. "Alas! Youth, the noon of my age, is gone. When we parted, madame, upon a time, today was but a step until the morrow; around the corner of the hours perhaps lurked romance. But now—"

He essayed a gesture brave yet somehow pitiful.

"Now, the warrior of former days is forgotten. France is at peace. My sword gains me but swashbuckling eminence. I frown and touch my blade—men shudder. The children hide their faces in the streets of Paris as I pass. Sorry fame have I."

MADAME veiled her eyes and her voice was low.

"In my childhood you, chevalier, were my neighbor playmate in fair Gascony. Do you recall you wandered through the fields with the lonely orphaned child, naming the wood-flowers? Do you remember how you ever bowed to the little one, as to some great court lady, hand on sword, your head debonairly inclined?

"'Mademoiselle, I am your true knight,' you would say.

"The day you rode away to war spelled shattered romance to the little maid. How she sobbed and sobbed!"

Her voice, sweetly tremulous, went on—

"Then convent days for your little friend. Marriage. Scarcely married, when a widow. Thus my life till now. The cardinal desires me as mistress of his household. But the envious, fawning, evil Court, monsieur! My sole refuge is in the minds of the geniuses of Paris. I again would enter the convent.

"But first, monsieur, hear my warning. Boon companion with his enemies as you have become, the cardinal is angered. Only Father Joseph's intercession has held the cardinal's hand. What are you doing? Have the years brought you but bitterness?" she repeated.

She paused, wondering at the exalted look in the Chevalier's eyes, as he answered:

"But bitterness, madame? No. The years have ever held a tender memory of a child's dainty fingers, holding aloft the bright shield of Chivalry, mirroring therein an unstained sword.

"I have a mission to perform. When fulfilled, you will understand, the cardinal will forgive. Paris will hear and laugh.

"You— you go to a convent! When my task is done, somewhere I will find another war."

He gazed at her wistfully, bowed gallantly, and was gone.

Nor heard her cry, impulsively, after him.

A Lifted Mask

THE clock of St. Germain l'Auxerrois had just struck the hour of four in the morning.

There had been gaming in the main room of the Hotel of Prince Gaston d'Orleans. Around the long table the gallants of the prince's troop were taking their ease, with flushed faces.

'Twas that hour when men, at gaming, are drunken, and the beast peers forth.

The Chevalier stood at the head of the table and gazed upon the assemblage with a look of cool contempt.

"Messieurs, attention," he commanded. "The Duke du Puylaurens once made mention of a lady of the court. ‘A rare simplicity is but a cloak for broad corruption,' he mouthed, in his cups. And you, you laughed. Jackals bay at the moon!

"Your laughter reached me in Gascony," he continued, and there was something in the assured manner of the Gascon, in his supreme audacity, that quickly sobered the amazed gallants. "And brought me to Paris where I have become sword-captain to a Prince of the Blood, to do his bidding—no less a task than to abduct a lady."

With a great oath du Puylaurens lunged forward, pulling at his sword, to be restrained by Prince Gaston.

The Chevalier drew his own rapier and flicked the favorite in the face with his gauntlet. "A challenge to another fencing lesson!" he mocked.

"How may a gentleman fight you? We do not know you even as of noble birth. Strangely fortunate at gaming, you press your luck too far," the prince asserted.

"To resemble a cardinal is not enough," Puylaurens scoffed.

The Gascon scattered coins in the air from a well filled purse.

"The gold I won and that of my hire returned in your face, monseigneur," he derided.

At such deadly affront to the prince his gentlemen rose, in a body, and menaced the Chevalier with their blades. A flicker of the Gascon's wrist and the point of his rapier was presented at Prince Gaston's throat.

Messieurs, restrain yourselves," he commanded.

Gaston, white with fear, gestured his gentlemen back.

The man is mad. Grant him his way," he stammered.

In truth the Chevalier seemed possessed of a mad humor.

"I have played a distasteful part indifferently well," he said. "Proof has been sent the cardinal of your plots against him. How Paris will laugh when it hears that wily Prince Gaston sought to bribe the cousin of His Eminence to abduct Madame, his niece!"

The Chevalier's challenging glance swept each gallant.

"Each of you save monseigneur, who is too high"—his look at Gaston held supreme contempt—"is warned from Paris. Else you may find my bag of sword-tricks not yet exhausted."

He dropped his point from Gaston's throat, and the echo of his mocking tone still seemed to linger in the room as, with agile step, he brushed by an incoming guardsman and was gone.

Gaston, his face distorted with rage, uttered a great oath.

"He may go now, the nimble play-actor, who is or is not what he claims. But I vow he will not live to laugh with Paris. Your news, fellow?"—to the newcomer.

"All is arranged. Madame leaves for St. Cloud at seven, instead of nine, your Grace."

The prince pointed one nervous, quivering finger at Puylaurens.

"Go you. Fail me not. We must have Madame for hostage. Then let Paris laugh!"

THE clock of St. Germain l'Auxerrois was striking the hour of seven in the morning.

The Chevalier was engaged in placing a placard on the closed doors of his salle d'armes. It read:

"Prince Gaston d'Orleans and his jackal, Puylaurens, hired me to teach them my secret tricks of fence that, in their amorous adventures, they might escape the vengeance of the jealous lovers and husbands of Paris. I have broken the blade used in the teaching. I have closed my salle d'armes. But I have taught the parries of the thrusts to the Four Fencing Masters of Paris. To them, then, oh jealous lovers and husbands, to learn the defense—and laugh as does all Paris with The Chevalier."

Then the Gascon, spurred by his hot contempt of the prince and all his bravos, drew the borrowed sword from his scabbard and broke it over his knee. He laughed aloud.

But his mirth changed to concern as four gallants of the prince's troop, shouting with glee upon finding him defenseless by his own action, came at him with bare points. One rascal, somewhat in the lead, thrust at the Gascon with all his skill.

To escape the stroke the Chevalier desperately fell full length on the step before him, supporting his body upon one hand, and parried, with the splintered hilt-end of his blade, the quick thrust of another of the too eager knaves.

In a flash he resumed his feet and stood at bay. Fortunately the entrance of the salle d'armes was so narrow that the number of the assailants hindered the assassination upon which they were bent.

But the four rascals were the best swordsmen of the prince's troop and would not be long denied.

Once, twice, thrice the Gascon was slightly wounded and he gave himself up for lost. Desperately he resolved to throw himself upon the four as a last extremity, and do the harm he could before the end.

THERE came the sound of a madly galloping horse and the poet, Du Brullier, rode upon the scene, A great bruise marred his forehead and his face was wan with dread.

He reined in his steed at a loss, but was quick to heed the Chevalier's command:

"Cast me my blade, poet. It has work to do!"

Du Brullier drew forth the rapier of the Gascon and tossed it lightly to the Chevalier's hand.

"Now, messieurs, now I The odds are somewhat equal," the Gascon mocked.

The poet, helpless to assist, uttered a cry of appeal:

"Chevalier, Gaston's knaves prevented me from warning Madame. She leaves, with a bribed maid, for St. Cloud at seven instead of nine—is on the road even now with Puylaurens as outrider. Alas! I fought and failed—" his voice broke off in a moan.

The Gascon became transfigured. They dare!" he raged.

The assassins were suddenly attacked, in their turn, by a madman who came at them with such skill and fervor they were forced to break before him.

In a twinkling one of the attackers was thrust through the body and another disarmed. The remaining two cravens fled as though the fiend himself pursued.

His wounds forgotten, the Chevalier in a moment was in the stirrups in place of the poet.

"Go you and rout out the cardinal s guards," he commanded Du Brullier. "Use the word 'Pluvinel' and they will do your bidding. Hasten to Madame's aid."

He wheeled the panting steed and was gone on the road to St. Cloud as swiftly as though his urgent mission had given wings to his mount.

The Rescue

WHILE the clock of St. Germain was still striking the hour of seven, Madame de Combalet took the road to St. Cloud, in her yellow caléche, to visit the country estate of the cardinal.

In her absorption she did not note she was unattended by her usual escort of the cardinal's guards. The two strange slinking outriders, the noise of a scuffle, escaped her.

Thoughts of a convent seemed far away from Madame on this fair morning. She felt her heart leap under the caress of the warm, playful breeze, coyly pressing against her cheek the soft tendrils of hair that matched in glint the gay, tender, young spring sun outside the coach window.

The month was April; the air, heady as old wine, went to the heads of the two horses drawing the caleche, so that they reared and plunged with the delight of life, nor minded greatly the muttered curses of the furtive-mannered and newly hired coachman, as he pulled strongly on the reins.

Even Madame's maid, for a short moment, forgot her intended treachery. Her eyes glistened in sympathy with the youth and winsomeness of her gracious mistress, seated across the coach from her. She had joined the establishment but two weeks before, was deft and meek, and seemed above her station.

Madame had brought with her the original manuscript of Corneille's "Cid" and, as the vehicle wheeled out of the environs of Paris, she scanned the lines. Then she sighed and, cheek on hand, gazed out into the distance where delicate purple mists hung in the air o'er glistening dew on grass and leaf. And thought how her own case resembled that of the Cid's "Infanta":

"But for a princess so to stoop
As to admit a simple cavalier
Within her heart—"

And sighed again and mused of her girlhood knight, that "simple cavalier.

"Madame will have her cordial now?" The maid broke in upon the revery, with voice somewhat strained, eyeing her mistress with a calculating look.

"You are kindly thoughtful, Marie," Madame stated, brightly. "I give you thanks for persuading me to advance the hour of my excursion. The sole tonic I need is the air of this fair April and the marvelous verses of Pierre Corneille."

"But the cardinal's orders, Madame, that you heed the court physician? You have been pale of late, listless." The maid was insistent.

Madame secretly mused—"What do court physicians know of Jove?" and blushed.

"That uncle martinet of mine no doubt must have his will of me, as he does with all of France. Have you heard, Marie, he has induced the Pope to send me a command, forbidding my entrance to a convent? And yet my heart is glad."

She gave a little, lilting laugh. "But, come, I will drink."

The maid, biting her lips with resolution, extended the cordial, and Madame drank from the cut-glass vial its lustreless liquid contents, which were not at all what the court physician had prescribed.

MADAME drank and, very shortly, Madame slept as a child might, dreamlessly, her face pillowed upon one perfectly rounded arm. The transition was startlingly abrupt; Madame so still that the false maid stooped low to learn if fragrant breath really came forth from parted lips. Then, giving a gasp of quick relief, she flung one hand out of the coach window.

The coachman pulled up the spirited animals instantly.

"Is it done?" he asked, hoarsely.

"Madame is well betrayed," the maid replied. "Let me forth to walk back to Paris through the fields. I wish to forget the perfidy of men—and women."

The coach had stopped hard by a thick forest, an aloof spot. The coachman whistled shrilly and, at the signal, the two outriders rode up at a smart pace. The foremost was no less than the Duke de Puylaurens, who flung himself from his mount and peered within the coach.

"She is there then. The potion works," he muttered.

"You have done well," he addressed the coachman. "We will await Monseigneur here. He follows almost instantly. Madame's maid?"

"Goes there through the fields weeping," the fellow guffawed.

Puylaurens uttered an oath. "Knave, hide your sneer," he scowled. "That maid is countess born and may weep, if she please, for diversion."

The coachman, abashed, cringed, and then started, amazed.

THERE came the sound of a cry on the breeze—"Madame! Madame! I come!"

There galloped around a turn in the road an exhausted horse, nostrils distended, bearing the Chevalier, eyes gleaming with menace.

Again Puylaurens swore a great oath, drew his rapier, and called his companion to his side. "Play for time," he muttered to the sleek looking rascal with a patch over one eye. "The prince will be here presently. If we engage, take him in the back," he ivenly ended.

‘What now, Gascon?" he called. ring you that fencing lesson. Come, de in the forest there is a proper •de." He sought to draw the Chevar away from the coach and Madame.

The Gascon swerved wide to avoid the two gallants and encircled the eche. In a breath he flung himself from his beast and his quick eye caught ht of the recumbent figure of idame within the coach.

He uttered a cry of such venomous anger, he wore so terrible a look that, as he leaped in a mountebank flash to the box and snatched the reins from the coachman's hands, that craven leaped from his high seat and fled, incontinently.

Puylaurens' other cutthroat was a man of quick wit and some courage and, at the Chevalier's action, he was prompt to wheel his steed and grasp the mouth-rein of the nearest coachhorse, to which he desperately clung.

For a moment, chaos! the spirited horses plunging wildly, the Chevalier on his precarious perch guarding himself with rapier point against the blade of Puylaurens, who rode at him with eager zest.

The patch-eyed fellow had not drawn his blade; instead he suddenly released his hold of the rearing horse, and plucking from his doublet a dagger he flung the steel, with a malediction, at the Gascon. Chance served him well, for the point sped true and embedded itself in the side of the Chevalier.

The Gascon reeled with the shock and Puylaurens gave a cry of exultation.

"He is ours, this swaggerer," he gloated, and made a desperate lunge with his point.

But the Chevalier, wincing with pain, put forth the acme of his skill in his parry of the Duke's blade; his counter was a streak of white flame that pierced a full inch into Puylaurens' throat.

"Your fencing lesson, jackal," he retorted grimly.

"A moi! A moi! messieurs!" Puylaurens feebly gasped, his rapier falling to the roadside, his hand clutching at his throat.

TO THE Gascon's ears came the sound of approaching horsemen. The cry of the duke gave him warning. With the last remnants of his failing strength, he swerved the coach horses and sent them (lying up the road towards Paris, with their passage thrusting aside into the ditch Monsieur Patch-eye.

The next Instant there appeared to the astonished Prince Gaston and his gentlemen a wild vision:

A slumbering beauty in a yellow calèche, draum by two vicious-eyed steeds, galloping like demons. On the box a bleeding madman, a dagger in his breast, rapier between his teeth, guiding the frenzied beasts willy nilly, yet masterfully directing them on the road to Paris.

The startled prince and his gallants were prompt to give the strange apparition the road, and although their wits led them to quick pursuit, it was abandoned almost immediately, for the coach drew ever nearer to a mounted body of the cardinal's guards, headed by the excited poet.

The coach horses were halted by the guards and the Chevalier sank from the box into the welcoming arms of the poet.

"See to Madame," the Gascon gasped, plucked the dagger from his breast and swooned away.

Du Brullier laid him tenderly by the roadside for the rough but ready ministrations of the guardsmen, and dashed to the coach window.

Madame stirred and Madame sighed, the potion having lost its power.

"My pulse... its conqueror's name ... it knows its master," she murmured, drowsily quoting from "The Cid."

Madame opened her glorious blue eyes to behold the anxious poet, framed in the coach window.

"Ah, my poet," she inquired, wonderingly. "Why are you here? I have had a strange dream. Your doublet, there, stained with blood? Are you wounded?" Her expression bore alarm.

"No, Madame, no," the poet replied, with earnest pathos, "'tis the lifeblood of the Gascon."

The Laughter of Paris

TWAS a morning in the merry month of May ere the Chevalier awakened to the calm reasoning sanity he had foregone.

His eyes opened wide with wonder to find himself, the hardened campaigner, upon such a pampered sickbed, within the magnificent appointments of a vast chamber. Before them was the joyful, loyal visage of the poet.

"Ha! Chevalier," cried Du Brullier, gleefully, "you are yourself again. But, hush. You may not yet speak. 'Tis so ordered by the king's own physician who allows me but five moments of the clock to relate to you the news of Paris, to relieve your spirit.

"Know then Madame came to no harm from her adventure, thanks to your quick rescue. Due to your mad exertions your wounds brought you low. Yet you have had careful nursing." A sly smile lurked upon the poet's lips.

"You awake, my Gascon, to find yourself in the Cardinal's own palace, brought here by his express command.

"You awake to find yourself the most famous man in Paris, amid its laughter. But a week ago, outside the palace gates, half of Paris crowded mourning, you were so very low. For Paris worships the one who brought it inextinguishable mirth.

"Your enemies have disappeared. Gaston has fled to Lorraine to escape the wrath of king and cardinal. His gentlemen also were veritably laughed out of Paris.

"The Duke du Puylaurens is convalescing in Spain, where he is receiving careful nursing from Madame s former maid, a countess, they say. Your point sped so true the haughty duke will never speak again above a whisper.

Ha! Much may be said in five minutes of the clock.

The king inquires about you daily. The cardinal has been thrice by your bedside.

See there by your bedside the wreath of Ted roses. A card is attached. It reads: 'From the jealous lovers and husbands of Paris.'

"Note that cluster of fragrant spring flowers, daffodils, snow-drops, tulips, primroses—see where the shy violet hangs its head. Here I place them by your side. They were plucked most carefully by Madame, herself.

But not a word of the questions I see trembling upon your Ups. Take this draught and sleep that you may wake again to quick convalescence."

The Chevalier sought to disregard the admonition, but found himself too weak and sank into a healing slumber.

Thus he failed to view the radiant vision of Madame, softly stealing forth from her concealment, to look down upon him as he slept, a light within her eyes that was torture to the poet as he gazed upon her, worshiping.

And the Chevalier dreamed he strolled a sylvan fairyland, beside a youthful, starry-eyed Queen Titania. He knelt. She placed a dainty hand upon his forehead. He rose. She elfishly eluded him, a will-o'-the-wisp dancer through a twilight air, twinkling with the soft glow of fire-flies. He was quick to follow, crying-

"Mademoiselle, I am your true knight!" And she tarried-almost was in his grasp.

UPON a night thereafter the Chevalier, leaning somewhat heavily upon his cane, sought the palace garden underneath a waning moon, and paused by a quaint sun-dial that, sleeping, forebore to measure off its shadowly hour and minute duty.

A breath of the warm breeze sighed and whispered among the branches around him. A bird piped in its sleep, nearby. The soft strains of flute and violin, from the palace, made sweet melody that throbbed and lingered in the air.

The Chevalier sighed with the breeze. Somehow his heart was heavy within him, despite the fact that warm blood once more pulsed strongly within his veins.

"Madame comes not near me," he mused. "Her graciousness doubtless spent itself in her devoted nursing. She fears, perhaps, that I, misunderstanding, might presume.

"But well I know my part," he continued his bitter reflection. "I will playact until the end and straightway find me another war."

He raised his cane to fencing posture and made a cunning feint. He mocked: "Ha! I am again strong enough to try a tilt or two with destiny."

The air trembled to a rustle of robes no louder than the whisper of the breeze and the figure of Madame came between him and the stars.

"How it does pleasure me to see you standing thus," she faltered and her eyes would not meet his gaze. "What words can I find in gratitude to you?

One hand pressed against her bosom, she extended him the other so graciously that the Gascon's heart gave a great throb, as he pressed it lingeringly to his lips.

He, the assured, could find no woi in answer. Only stand gazing at her.

"Tomorrow evening, monsieur, you have an audience with the king," Madame went on, with a touch of lightness masking her emotion. "But first, the cardinal desires you before him to prepare you for fitting honors. Paris demands that you be well rewarded. My uncle, monsieur, assures me that you may ask what you will him—" she ended, faintly.

The Chevalier finally found voice.

"Tell me not of kings or cardinals, but you—Madame?"

I?" She turned away from him.

You—you go to a convent?"

Ah, no, monsieur," she answert "The Pope forbids it. The cardinal decrces that I take a husband at once."

She blushed rosy red, underneath the moon.

ALL things swam in chaos before the Chevalier. He had not thought renunciation would be so hard. But he turned brave eyes upon her.

"Madame, I give you joy—joy to the man who claims you," he asserted. "No further task will you have then for your simple knight."

The slight coquetry in Madame's heart relented at the sight of the gallant, drooping figure before her.

"Chevalier," she cried. "1 am not over-bold. Many times in your illness your delirium revealed your love for your childhood friend. Read here within my eyes that King Love at last has come! You won me when you told me I was your inspiration through the years, when you said: 'A child's dainty fingers, holding aloft the bright shield of Chivalry, mirroring therein an unstained sword.' When you see the cardinal ask what you will of him, monsieur."

How tenderly revealing was her tone.

"Madame! Madame!" The rapturous words from the Gascon were a prayer, a promise, a vow, as he viewed that destiny, once mocked, now so alluring to be shared with her, who came so sweetly willing in complete surrender to his embrace.

IN THE palace, the poet made report to the cardinal.

"The play is over; the footlights snuffed; the curtain down to a merry ending," he stated dramatically, with forced gayety.

"You mean—?" the cardinal demanded.

"That outside in the garden, by the sun-dial, Madame and the Chevalier have discovered the obvious fact that they love each other, to the utter confoundment of the Poets of Paris and the Hundred and One Suitors of the Princess-Niece."

The cardinal took on a most benign expression.

"After all the Chevalier is a du Plessis," he murmured. "Madame now will be content to stay and keep my household. I will confer the Duchy of D'Aiguillon upon them. Paris, thus, will witness that anomaly—a Gascon Duke with a large estate."

He turned his keen glance on the poet.

"Your eyes are heavy; you have wept then for sheer happiness?"

"Poets or cardinals dare not weep, your Eminence," replied Du Brullier. The cardinal nodded understandingly.

"The king has commanded that you set forth in verse the adventures of the Chevalier and Madame for your first duty as Court Poet," he stated, kindly.

"Hal" cried the poet, "I will write a ballade and will compose the l'envoi first. As for the title—"

"Ah, the title?" queried the cardinal, interested.

"I have it apt. 'Twill be 'The Blade of the Gascon'."

His Eminence inclined his head in approval. "And I will be your critic. 'Tis said I have some skill in such matters," he went on, complacently. "Your verse must have a martial strain, now light, now heavy; through it all must appear the plotting and con* foundment of the conspirators, intermingled with the laughter of Paris; the sword-magic of the Chevalier inspired by his great love for Madame. Ha! Love!"

The great man, with hands clasped tightly before him, bowed his head in reminiscence, and paced slowly up and down, somewhat marveling over that destiny which led him on and on.... "Ha! Love!" he repeated. "Know you aught of it?"

"Poets and cardinals dare not love, your Eminence," replied the poet, sadly.

Chinese War in California

ONE of the oddest battles in the history of the West occurred in Tuolumne County, California. There, on Sept. 26, 1856, was fought what is known as the "Chinese War."

A mining camp on the Stanislaus River was the scene of the incident that led to the war. Six Chinese, members of the Wan-Wo Tong, were working their gold claim near twelve of their countrymen who belonged to the SamYap Tong, when a large boulder rolled from one property to another. Words and blows ensued, but the difference was not settled. Next day the leaders of the two tongs met and decided to fight a regular battle.

Calls were sent out for the members of the respective tongs to assemble. American blacksmiths were engaged to make pikes, daggers, and tridents, to be used as implements of war. A few firearms were imported from San Francisco, and white miners and cowpunchers were hired, at $10 per day, plus rice and whiskey, to teach the Chinese the use of these weapons.

The battle was staged on a broad Plain near the base of Table Mountain. The combatants, consisting of 900 members of the Wan-Wo Tong and 1^00 opponents belonging to the Sam-Yap Tong, began the conflict at sunrise. They fought hand to hand for several hours, accompanied with screeching and yelling and the beating of tin pans. When hostilities finally subsided, it was learned that there were but few casualties. Four had been killed and four wounded.

Later, American law officers arrested 250 of the combatants, but subsequently released them.—Gene Kivett.