The Great Todescan's Secret Thrust can be found in


by Agnes & Egerton Castle

Authors of "The Pride of Jennico" etc.

They had their time, and we may say: they were!
Don Lewis of Madrid is now the sole remaining master of the world.

Ben Jonson (The New Inn).

IT WAS close upon noon, hour of the "ordinary" at the Bolt-in-Tun, that noted tavern over against Ludgate, by the Fleet.

Hither a goodly company of your cavaliero gentry, whether captains of fortune or town gulls, were wont daily to foregather, intent as much upon the gleaning of foreign news as upon the savory promise of a good dinner.

For the common room of the Bolt-in-Tun was rarely devoid of some new great man fresh from oversea experience and full of tales as a hen is of clucks. Here might you at all times reckon upon the diversion of tall stories of Bohemia or Eldorado; of Castile's splendor or cruelty of border onsets and leaguers; of outfalls and camisadoes in Portugal or Muscovy; of boardings, wrecks, and discoveries about the Spanish Main—admirable and much-admired adventures which nevertheless seemed to have left their hero none the wealthier, save in fine-chased outlandish oaths.

But this day, the last of September in the year 1602, forty-fourth of Queen Elizabeth's reign, the ruffling community at the "Tun"—old and young, all lovers of a blade—was too deeply engrossed in the topic of the London hour o have much interest to spare for travelers' tales.

Yet the latest oracle of them all, a man, tall, gray-bearded, of freebooting manner and conscious truculence of mien, was not only well prepared (as his attitude testified) to fill his post with due relish, but, unlike many of his kind, bore evidence of having really countered many hard knocks of fate. One hollow orbit, a gash that had shorn his weather-beaten countenance of the best part of an ear, not to speak of a left hand reduced to one finger and the thumb—each memento of adventure might in its turn have served for fitting introduction to some tall story.

For the moment he sat in moody silence, his single eye roaming fierce and wary from one to the other of the eager faces about him—watching for the chance, it seemed, of springing upon the talk and holding it as his own. From time to time he lifted the ale pot to his lips with that mutilated hand that yet showed menace in its pinch. At length a scanty stock of patience seemed, on a sudden, to fail him; for he raised a voice that drew every eye suddenly full upon him.

"Vincent, again!" quoth he. "By the curse of Mahound, and who may this Vincent be that ye all should be gathering, in thought, like so many rats to-day round his carcass? Let us be talking of living men, my springalls, and let the dead go rot; for, by your laments, I take it that he's dead in his bed even as any old woman—this same gallant Vincentio Saviolo!"

For an instant there was that pause around the table which marks some monstrous pronouncement; then a sudden clamor among the huffing crowd, a scraping of boots and spurs as sundry started to their feet, a mouthing of oaths, a jingling of cans as others turned upon their bench to confront the blasphemer. It required all mine host's persuasiveness to quell the rising threat—aided, no doubt, by the steadiness of the adventurer's single orb that looked with such mastery out of the tanned visage.

"I pray you, masters, no tumult here, and on this day! And pray you, good Captain Strongi'th'arm, you should know that the name of Vincent Saviolo, the great master of fence, who died but yestereve, is one we speak here with respect. Where shall he be mourned more than at the Bolt-in-Tun, which has sounded to his tread daily these twenty years? But you are from foreign parts, Captain, and have not known him."

"'Twas the tallest man of his hands, at all manner of weapons, but above all at rapier play," asserted a gallant from the end of the table, and made in dumb show, with his two forefingers extended, the sketch of a pass with sword and dagger.

"The subtlest arbiter in all matters of honorable difficulty," cried another, older and grave. The encomium was capped by a youth with a court air about him.

"A most noted favorite, look you, of her Majesty. Her Grace liked above all things to be heard tripping Italian with the gallant signor. Ah, Her Grace knows a right proper man!" added he and smiled as one who has his reason for saying so.

"Aye, aye," commented mine host genially, glad to see the vexed question like to be settled by wag of tongue only, "and Master Vincent was likewise a friend of my good Lord of Pembroke."

"And I'll tell you more," interposed a raffish blade from the "Friars," much bedizened if somewhat out at elbows; "one who first put a rapier in Master Will Shakespeare's hand—one who was himself the butcher of a silk button (Oh, rare!) as Mercutio hath it in the play!"

Captain Strongi'th'arm's little fierce eye, which had mellowed under something like amusement, suddenly became fixed upon the doorway.

"Here come two as goodly youths," he asserted into space, "as I have seen since I landed. But, body o' me! whence do our honest English lads get knowledge of these foreign antics? In my time, an elbow in the stomach was the way to settle precedence if the portal was scant for two."

"Aha now!" exclaimed the gallant who was of the court, "these same antics, as you call them, are as a point of honor with all scholars of our lamented Master Saviolo, and all the more punctiliously observed by yonder pair that, from the friends they were yesterday, they have become rivals to-day."

"Say you so?" called out eagerly a young gull from the other side of the table. "How so, fair sir?"

"Why, 'tis the sole talk in Paul's Walk this morning. Have you never heard? Robert Beckett and Dick Wyatt are, by Signor Vincentio's dying wish, expressed to my Lord of Pembroke himself, to contend for the reversion of the Master's honors in the 'Friars,' aye and of the mastership itself at the Academy!"

All glances were turned toward the door, to gaze upon the two who had assumed so sudden an importance in the ruffling world. The question of courteous precedence had been settled and the shorter of the newcomers advanced into the room with a slow step and an air of gravity that seemed to sit uneasily upon his comely sanguine countenance. A goodly youth, broad-shouldered, sinewy, his bright brown eyes seemed made to match a flashing smile.

"Master Robert Beckett, a student at the Temple—good Kentish stock, sir," murmured mine host into Strongi'th'arm's split ear. "And behind him, sir, his friend, Master Wyatt."

"A tall galliard," commented the adventurer, "though less of a gentleman than your Templar."

"Aye, good sir," assented the other, still under his voice; "your perspicacity has hit in the gold. 'Twas a mere city 'prentice—till some good dame marked him for her heir, and dying left him rich."

"Master Vincent's two best scholars, Sir Traveler," here interposed a typical Paul's man, with long tooth and ragged lip, fixing on the veteran an aggressive stare and speaking loud as one in hopes of stirring up the drooping spirit of fight. These are the lads to take up with you for the fame of Saviolo's Academy!"

Under the insolent look, the old man's blood was fired again. He struck the table with his sound hand.

"Good lack!" he cried testily. "Saviolo! Saviolo! I've a surfeit of the name!"

As the words rang out, Master Beckett halted and faced the speaker. Then, with measured action, he unhooked his rapier and clapped it, still sheathed, on the table. Not brutally, mark you, but with that nice hint of declared hostility, as learned in the inner room of Saviolo's Academy, where the more recondite points of honorable quarreling were studied.

After which he sat down in silence, half facing this contemner of the revered master. Silence had fallen; even the drawer hung in the doorway to watch progress.

A gleam of new appreciation appeared in the veteran's solitary orb. For a while he gazed upon the Templar; then, slowly smiling, raised his tankard and saluted.

"'Twas right gallantly done, young sir," he said. "Don Lewis Pacheco de Narvaez"—Spanish pronounced with exaggerated lisp—"Don Lewis, who follows the footsteps of the great Carranza (mirror of cavalier perfection), never put the countercheck quarrelsome with better grace! You mind me of him, fair youth," he went on paternally. "Hast traveled, doubtless? Nay, I'll swear thou hast met him. None but your Castilliano, say I, to open a difference with the right martial scorn."

"Sir," retorted Beckett with some harshness, giving his beaver, as he spoke, a bellicose dent with his knuckles, "I claim no travels, and therefore no Spanish schooling. Nor have I known of a brighter mirror of honorable bearing than Ma...

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