When the story of the story is not the story


(Reprinted from Great Moments in Deconstructionism, University of Toronto Press, 2018.)


In 1975, some two weeks after the death of Franco, the Compultense University of Madrid announced the discovery of a lost Renaissance text. The discovery had been made by María Chabier, a graduate student recently returned from a semester in Paris. There she had studied under Jacques Derrida, and it was there, too, that she had found the text among a pile of remaindered books. Edited by the eminent philologist Ramón Menéndez Pidal, it bore the title El piquero andaluz and told, in the form of a dying confession written down by a priest, the story of Ruy Daza, a grifter and adventurer who served in the armies of Ferdinand and Isabella. What made the discovery so exciting was that the text dated from the second or third decade of the sixteenth century, making it the earliest known example of the picaresque novel.


It was an opportune discovery, coming as it did at a time when Spaniards were eager to reclaim their heritage from both the Church and the dead hand of Franco. Ruy Daza, as El País put it, was the perfect anti-authoritarian antihero, a man of the people and for the people,” while the celebrated cartoonist Felip Puig did much to popularize Daza by making him the hero of a new cartoon series, “Piquero/Pícaro.” For her part, Chabier was much praised for bringing a Renaissance masterpiece back to life, and her PhD thesis now completed, she had her pick of appointments at Spain’s leading universities, settling at last on her alma mater, which promised her a free hand in establishing a center for deconstructionist studies at the university. She also received an undisclosed sum from Ediciones Barredor for the publication of the text, which was then translated into English under the title The Andalusian Pikeman.


Then, in 1980, Anneke Loos, a lecturer in Spanish history and literature at the University of Leyden, published an article challenging the text’s authenticity. Subsequently reprinted in the Boletín de la Real Academia Española, it was then picked up by the Spanish press, which, having been quick to champion El piquero, was now just as quick to repudiate it. “Is El piquero andaluz Spain’s answer to the Hitler Diaries?” asked El País in what was the most sensational headline to come out of the attack. Suspicion naturally fell on Chabier, without, however, her being explicitly named as the culprit.


At no time had Loos herself accused Chabier of having forged the text, but her close analysis of the text’s origins and transmission could not rule out that someone else had.


Who, then, wrote El piquero andaluz? Was it Ruy Daza, whose dying confession it records, Father Jerónimo Pulgar, the priest who wrote it down and doubtless improved upon it, or someone else altogether? With any other text, the question would have come down to the first two men: either Father Pulgar faithfully transcribed Daza’s words, or he used them as the starting point for his own literary creation. But in the case of El piquero, there are two other strong candidates: Anatole Beauséjour, a French officer who fought in the Peninsular War, and an unnamed Basque who served under him. Or was it someone else altogether?


The picture is further muddied by the fact that there is no independent record of Daza’s existence aside from a passing mention of what may or may not have been his grave, as noted below. That said, the fact that he left no other trace in the historical record is hardly remarkable: recordkeeping was notoriously spotty in the armies of Renaissance Europe, while few of the men serving in them could actually write.


Of Father Pulgar, only two facts are certain: that he was, unlike most Spanish priests of the time, university-educated, having completed his studies in Salamanca in or around 1490, and that despite this, he spent the entirety of his career as a humble parish priest, in the Castilian village of Fuentes Secas. He would appear to have had a brush with the Holy Office in 1520, assuming that he is the Father Pulgar who was reprimanded that year for “telling indecent stories, which he ought not to have done, in a tavern, where he ought not to have been.”


The search for Father Pulgar is further complicated by the fact that the village where he served no longer exists. This was the fate of countless other villages in the more barren areas of Old Castile, and the name Fuentes Secas hints at a particularly unfortunate location. And yet maps show that it was in fact located next to a river, the Río Almar, while accounts from Father Pulgar’s time depict a village that was, by the modest standards of Old Castile, reasonably prosperous, and, what is even more unusual, clean to the point of fastidiousness. This certainly was the impression it made on Hieronymus Münzer (d. 1508), the German humanist whose travels took him to Spain in 1495:


Never, not even in the spotless towns of Flanders, have I seen as much sweeping as I saw in Fuentes Secas. Beside each of its neat doorways is to be found a broom, itself a model of cleanliness, and a traveller has but to pass through the village for its matrons to rush out to sweep away the dust he leaves in his wake. The impression, if he looks back, is that they were trying to sweep away history itself, for what is history if not the dust left by the past? On the village’s coat of arms is to be found the titular saint of the local church, Santa Eufemia, wielding a broom as a reaper might a scythe. The least clean person in the parish is the priest, who lives openly with his housekeeper.


Andrea Navagero (1483-1529), the Venetian ambassador to the court of the Emperor Charles, made a brief stop in the village some thirty years later, in 1526. Like Münzer, he was struck by its mania for cleanliness. But his account also reveals how Daza’s unsavory reputation had already managed to rub off on the village itself, making it, quite despite itself, a magnet for undesirables:


Despite this appearance, of being a village of housewives, an unspeakably strong stench of urine clings to the place, as foul as that produced by an encampment of soldiers. The smell emanates from a freshly dug grave in the churchyard, though the person buried in it, a one-time soldier with the colorful name of Il Picchiero, died several years ago. The people of the place openly murmur against their priest for allowing the bones of such a man to mingle with those of their ancestors, and have on several occasions dug them up and tossed them outside the churchyard, all in an attempt to discourage pranksters from pissing there. The man was by all accounts a great rascal in life, and this is the tribute his fellow rascals, female as well as male, have seen fit to pay him in death. Several of the more respectable households have already moved out of the village on account of the stench. The alcalde, which is their word for mayor, told me that should this exodus continue, the village must in a matter of years be home to none but gypsies and other such tramps; it is, he claims, all owing to this Picchiero of theirs, who, having seen the world in his own wicked image, would even in death go on fashioning it in the same image.


For Navagero, writing to a fellow Venetian (Giambattista Ramusio) this gloomy prediction was yet another example of the “essential pessimism of the Spanish character,” and yet it clearly had some basis, for by the reign of Felipe II the village was but a shadow of its former self. In the Relaciones topográficas submitted to the Crown, it is described as having “more houses than people,” the latter numbering no more than fifty “and none of them rich.” In the same report we read that the surrounding countryside had fallen out of cultivation, “despite which it is poor even for hunting, there being but crows and hares, and of the second, few.” By 1723, the village had ceased to be inhabited. This, at least, is the most obvious inference from the grant made that year to the Mesta, allowing its shepherds to shelter their flocks within its walls.


It seems almost incredible, then, that a complete manuscript should have been found there some three centuries later, in 1809. But it was only then that Father Pulgar’s account, unpublished during his life, and forgotten after it, saw the light of day, and under circumstances that were, to say the least, unusual in the extreme. In February of that year, a detachment of French troops set up camp in the ruins of the village, with orders to use it as a base for operations against guerrillas operating in the Sierra de Guadarrama. The detachment’s lieutenant, a Gascon by the name of Anatole Beauséjour, had a singularly poor record—he had twice been demoted to the ranks, the first time for cutting a ring off the finger of a fallen officer, the second for pocketing his men’s wages—and it was only owing to the interventions of his father, a childhood friend of Marshall Lefebvre, that he was able to keep his commission.


With such an officer, it was to be expected that the expedition would end badly, and it did. In Fuentes Secas, the French found themselves in a village with no people, no food, and, crucially, no potable water; worse, Beauséjour had made no provision for a latrine, other than to issue the airy order that his men “pay their respects to the enemy by relieving themselves in the graveyard.” As a result, within days his men were succumbing to dysentery, and Beauséjour found himself reduced to a handful of effectives.


This time, even his father’s influence could not save him. Cashiered from the army and with no money of his own, Beauséjour returned to Paris, where he was implicated in several dubious adventures, including the failed abduction of an eighty-three-year-old widow. He also put it out that he was in possession of an original Renaissance manuscript that he was willing to sell for the right price. One of the people he approached was the Polish count Jan Potocki, whose Manuscrit trouvé à Saragosse had recently been published in France. In his one surviving letter to the count, Beauséjour equates his manuscript, which he claims to have found in Fuentes Secas, with the fictional one found by Potocki’s French officer in Zaragoza:


I am writing to you, esteemed sir, because of the keen interest you have shown in manuscripts found by French officers in Spain. As it so happens, when I was an officer there, I, too, happened upon an antique manuscript, though admittedly not in as picturesque a location as Zaragoza. The place where I found mine was called Fuentes Secas, a ridiculous name, as I’m sure you will agree, and the circumstances were no less ridiculous. We had not been in this godforsaken place for two days when my men were stricken with the bloody flux, and those who were not prostrated entirely went about in constant fear of soiling themselves. Why the great armies of Europe should all want to dress their soldiers in white trousers is something I, for one, cannot fathom, but because of it my men were in a perfect frenzy for paper, any paper, and turned the old church upside down looking for it. The simplest of the lot, a peasant wholly untouched by Republican principles, actually got down on his knees and prayed for just one sheet of paper, and lo and behold (as the religious are given to saying) his prayer was answered, for upon breaking down the door to the sacristy we found a whole trove of paper, parish registers I have to assume, which the men immediately made off with. One, a wily Basque whose name I never could master, appropriated a packet containing a hundred or so folios, and being able to read Spanish, took the trouble to read the first of these before using it to wipe his ass, and, would you believe, was so entranced that he remained frozen to the spot, his pants down, until he had read the entire thing. His fellows suspected him of lunacy, as did I, but when, by way of explanation of his conduct, he began reading the manuscript to me, translating as he went, and I could not help myself: I fell under the same spell he had, the tale was so perfectly astonishing. And now, most happily, I am in possession of that manuscript; in fact, it is right before me, in my present accommodations in La Grande Force, and my question to you is how much, as one gentleman to another, you might be willing to pay for it—


Beauséjour went on to claim that the only reason why he had so far been unable to find a buyer was because he had, as an unapologetic Bonapartist, been blacklisted by the newly restored monarchy. “You are quite right about that,” Potocki wrote back:


You have indeed been blacklisted, but not for your politics. It is for your morals, or rather, your utter lack of them. In fact, there is an uncanny resemblance between this piquero of yours and yourself. You will forgive my bluntness, but now that I have started on that path, allow me to add two things more: that you presume in attempting to enter into a correspondence with me, and presume even more in thinking that I—or anyone else, for that matter—could possibly believe your story, that you just happened to find a book-length manuscript in a deserted church. And lest you accuse me of also making things up, permit me to observe that that is my privilege as a novelist, but that when a scoundrel follows suit, he is merely lying.


We do not know whose hands the manuscript next fell into, only that it suddenly reappeared in 1937, in circumstances as improbable as those marking its first appearance. In August of that year, a Spanish refugee in Foix presented Hippolyte Lachaise, the director of the local archives, with a Renaissance manuscript, saying only that an antiquarian in Ávila had entrusted her with smuggling it out of the country. Fearful that the Fascists were even then pursuing her, she refused to give her name; for the same reason, she also refused to name the antiquarian. As for the manuscript, she knew only what he had told her: that it was supposed to have come from one of the villages in the area, but that he himself had never heard of it. Lachaise’s suspicions were further aroused when she asked for a “finder’s fee,” which he nonetheless paid out of his own funds—“more out of compassion than conviction,” as he wrote to his friend Lucien Febvre.


It was on Febvre’s recommendation that Lachaise asked Ramón Menéndez Pidal to evaluate the manuscript. The request came at a particularly fraught time in Menéndez Pidal’s life—with the victory of the Nationalists all but assured, it was by no means certain that he and his wife would even be allowed back in Spain—but he nonetheless agreed, asking that the manuscript be forwarded to him in Paris. His reply was both immediate and emphatic: the hand (the bastardilla), the orthography, and the deteriorated condition of the vellum on which it was written all dated the manuscript to the early sixteenth century. What especially excited him about the text was that Ruy Daza claimed to have served under Don Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba, known for his many victories as The Great Captain, making it an invaluable resource for historians of both early modern Spain and the Italian Wars of the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries.


Though sorely in need of funds, Menéndez Pidal refused payment for his service, asking instead that he be allowed to transcribe and publish the manuscript so that it might be made accessible to his fellow scholars. Lachaise readily agreed, and as the manuscript rightfully belonged in Spain, entrusted him with depositing it at some later date in the Biblioteca Nacional in Madrid.


Menéndez Pidal completed the transcription while still in France, where he also arranged to have a limited edition privately printed in Andorra. He then returned to Spain, hoping to have it published there as well. “I myself may be persona non grata with the new regime,” he explained in a letter to Febvre, “but any history concerning The Great Captain cannot fail to interest the little generalissimo [Franco], who, incredible to say, would have people believe that he is no less great.” This was an accurate reading of Franco—in 1942, Fray Luis María de Lojendio, the dictatorship’s most ardent propagandist, was to produce his own fawning biography of The Great Captain—but by the same logic any account that cast his exploits in a less than heroic light was bound to be censored, if not banned outright. Menéndez Pidal was presented with the first option: a heavily bowdlerized edition that, unsurprisingly, he refused to publish.


Whatever hopes Menéndez Pidal may still have had for the book were dashed by the outbreak of war in 1939. Writing to Sánchez-Albornoz in December of that year, he announced his intention to “return the text to the oblivion from which I had so foolishly wanted to rescue it.” He was as good as his word, for he never again mentioned the edition; nor, more tellingly still, is it to be found in any bibliography of his publications. At this point, too, all trace of the original manuscript is lost, leaving only such copies of the Andorra edition as survived the war.


* * *


Loos herself refused to commit herself to any one author. But the more she delved into the text’s history, the less convinced she became that Father Pulgar could have written it, though as she was the first to say, she could “neither rule him in or out.” Beauséjour she could rule out for the simple fact that he knew no Spanish. Instead, her interest fell on the Basque who just happened to find the manuscript buried among the sacristy’s papers. He was, after all, the only person in Beauséjour’s troop who was able to translate the text: was it too much of a leap to think that he might have written it as well? The manuscript, by this reasoning, could only be a hoax, if not an out-and-out fraud.


As for Chabier, the implication, that she had either been taken in or had knowingly been a party to the hoax did not unduly trouble her. If anything, it only further advanced her career, providing her with a teachable moment in deconstructionism. When asked, as she has been on several occasions, who the author might be, she always answers with a question of her own: “Does it really matter whether Father Pulgar was the author? Or Daza or Beauséjour or some Basque or someone else altogether? The text is still the text no matter who wrote it, and a rogue’s tale must always be a rogue’s tale.”

How a horse made an ass of his master. From The Witty Sayings and Doings of Mr John Wilkes, Esq.


In 1762, John Wilkes and Lord Talbot fought a duel in which, suspiciously, neither man was hurt. The ostensible cause was a particularly scurrilous libel written by Wilkes; that Talbot had in fact been the victim of one of his famous practical jokes was something neither man could admit to at the time. But in 1777, with the incident long behind him, Wilkes wrote a full account of the prank, meaning to publish it in The Witty Sayings and Doings of Mr John Wilkes, Esq. The complete manuscript has since disappeared, but pages from it are to be found randomly interspersed among the various family papers held in the British Library.


It has now been some fifteen years since Lord Talbot, earl of that name and one-time Lord High Steward of England, has ridden a horse. Just the mention of one will throw him into a rage, and his stables, once stocked with the finest horses in the kingdom, now lie empty. He will tell you that this is on account of his advanced age, but if you were to see him you would pronounce him one of the fittest men in the kingdom, fitter, in fact, than men forty years his junior. No, the real reason is an incident that took place at his Majesty’s coronation, and though Talbot blames me for the misfortune that befell him there, that is rather like the condemned man blaming the executioner for his sentence.


I should start by saying that Lady Talbot was a very proud woman and, as is often the case with such people, of an exceedingly reserved demeanour. Her husband’s infidelities were therefore a great trial to her, one that was rendered worse still by her having to bear them in silence. But she was also possessed of great cunning, and this, combined with an equal measure of patience, made her a most dangerous adversary. Talbot, then, should have been on his guard when his wife suddenly started to take a friendly interest in his career. The old king had just died, and Talbot’s first (and only) thought was how he might make a pleasing impression on the new king. Lady Talbot, in her new role as faithful helpmeet, had an idea: he should play as conspicuous a part as possible at the upcoming coronation, and it was thanks to her efforts that he secured the most conspicuous post of all: that of Lord High Steward.


As part of this office, Talbot was supposed to ride into Westminster Hall and announce the arrival of the king’s champion. Because all eyes, starting with their Majesties’, would be upon him, Talbot, not unreasonably, worried about the effect the hubbub might have on his mount. And so he chose the most placid horse in his stable: a young gelding that was, in its complacency, already going to fat. It was this horse he now began training for the grand entrance he was to make on it. Lady Talbot looked on, casting an appraising eye on his performance. “Yes,” she at last pronounced, “that’s quite adequate. But do you know what would be remarkable? If your horse were to withdraw from the royal presence by walking backwards—” “Like a proper courtier!” interjected Talbot, clearly very excited by the idea. “Exactly,” replied his good lady. Accordingly, Talbot spent the next several weeks training the horse to walk backwards, all the while picturing their Majesties’ delight at this pretty display of court etiquette.


The day before this performance was to take place I received a most unusual invitation. It was from Lady Talbot, begging me to come to her at once. I knew her only by reputation, but she already seemed to know a great deal about me, for when I presented myself she launched into a discussion of pranks, gradually narrowing the topic to the many I had already been known to play, and the even greater number that have been imputed to me. At last she came to her reason for summoning me: “What if I were to tell you that I intend to play such a trick on my husband that he will never live it down?” I begged her to take me into her confidence, which she now did. Tomorrow morning, just before Talbot set out, the stable boy was to add a peck of figs to the horse’s oats. “A whole peck!” I exclaimed. “But that will cause the poor brute to—” “Yes, I suppose it will,” she replied, smiling ever so faintly. “And if a certain faux-pas were to occur directly in front of their Majesties—”


“It would leave his Lordship in a decidedly bad odour—”


“Decidedly. But that is not all I have planned for him—” She went on to describe the singular trick the horse had been taught to perform and the use she meant to make of it: if someone—and here she looked fixedly at me—were to give the command to back up just as Talbot made his entrance, the horse would, in its confusion, wheel around and proceed rump first down the length of the hall. Naturally, she could not be that someone, as that would make her the sharer in her husband’s disgrace, but if someone else, someone who was renowned for his wit and who spoke perfect French besides, if that someone were to pronounce the word recule at just the right moment—the command, of course, had to be in French, and, because it was to a horse, in the familiar—if some clever prankster were to pronounce that word, very clearly and distinctly, mind you—


The following morning, then, I placed myself among the great throng in Westminster Hall, waiting for Talbot to make his grand entrance. When he at last arrived, he surprised us all by stopping just outside the doorway, as if uncertain of whether to go through with his part. The reason for this indecision soon communicated itself: the horse was producing a great fanfare of farts, squealing, rumbling explosions, as unstoppable as the sea and smelling (not unpleasantly) of figs. At last, plucking up his courage, Talbot spurred his horse on, whereupon I, having taken the precaution of concealing myself behind a pillar, gave the command Recule! just as her Ladyship had bid me.


They say that Prussian soldiers are so perfectly disciplined that when they are ordered to advance they will not stop until they walk straight into a wall, and so it was with Talbot’s horse: upon hearing the familiar command he wheeled around and proceeded to back his way straight down the hall, not stopping until he was within a few feet of their Majesties’ table. It was at that precise moment, with his backside to them, that the unfortunate animal emitted a fart for the ages, as loud and piercing as Dido’s lament, now in a major key, now in a minor, now pleading, now defiant, sometimes fortissimo, others piano, and, but for its source, strangely affecting.


Attend a meeting of the Royal Society, wait upon the king at his levée, enter the meanest gin shop in Bethnal Green, gather with the mourners at the funeral of your best friend, and you will find that people are still discussing that fart. It is the source of endless jokes, the staple of every wit’s stock of anecdotes, an object of endless speculation, a cause of controversy and faction. Some maintain that it was an act of God, others that it was an act of man. When the question of which man then arises, it is always my name that comes first. I admit to being more than a little flattered by the imputation, and if I have added to my reputation by saving Lady Talbot’s, are we not both the gainers?





On the dangers of underestimating one's adversary. A Domenico Angelo story




I, Domenico Angelo, universally acknowledged as the greatest swordsman of all times, have always considered myself to be a man blessed by Fortune, though it is equally true that I have not always been the first to recognise her blessings as such. And so when an Irishman called on me, demanding to match his sword against mine, I was merely annoyed and did not see his challenge for the opportunity that it in fact was. He gave his name as Keyes, as if that was all the introduction he needed, and being a great hulk of a man, he no doubt thought that he could make short work of a slight man such as myself. It is, I fear, a common misconception, and one I have never yet failed to correct with my sword.


I should add that the other thing that predisposed me against this match was its location, which was at the Thatched House Tavern, at the bottom of St. James’s Street. The place seemed more suited to a brawl than to a contest between two gentlemen, and so when I arrived, I was very indifferently dressed. Imagine, then, my surprise upon arriving to find that a small amphitheatre had been constructed for our match, and that the seats were already filled with men and women from the most brilliant circles of London society. My adversary—that great swaggerer!—was already there, swishing his sword back and forth and entertaining the ladies with descriptions of what he intended to do to the “presumptuous little foreigner.” He cast a disparaging look on my clothes, as if to say, “What else can you expect from his kind?” and ignoring my pleasantries demanded a bumper of brandy. Naturally, I refused to drink with him, not out of incivility but because it is a cardinal rule with me to keep all my wits about me when I fight.


The virtue of this rule was soon demonstrated. As my opponent was the challenger, courtesy demanded that I wait for him to make the first move. He immediately rushed at me, hacking at the air as if were attempting to cut a path through a thicket. I stood my ground, deliberately turning aside his lunges with the smallest possible movements of my sword, the point always aimed directly at his chest. I was egging him on—I will not deny it—and to show my complete contempt for him, I brought my blade closer and closer to his person with each riposte, but, what was even more insulting, I refused to hit him when I could. Then—and I also did this just to toy with him—I sent his foil flying with his next thrust, and picking it up, returned it to him with a bow. This was too much for the brute. Without waiting for me to resume my guard he made one last desperate lunge at me, which, naturally, I parried, and then, just as naturally, punished with a rapid succession of pinks—one! two! three! four! five! six!—one for each button on his shirt.


The applause! The rapturous cries of ‘Angelo! Angelo!’ The ladies wanting to touch my sword—

On the beauties of fencing. A Domenico Angelo story


Don Domenico Angelo (1717-1802) was by all accounts the greatest swordsman of his day. His travels took him from Livorno, where he was born, to Paris and finally to London, where he founded a fashionable fencing academy. His stories, which were legendary, were never recorded, but that does not mean that they do not exist.


You would be surprised how many people come up to me, the most accomplished swordsman of all times, and say: “I do not see the point of fencing.” To which I always say: “Not see the point of fencing! But perhaps you think it is nothing more than a way to kill someone? If so, there are better ways to do it. Your private soldiers, for example: their general lines them up, gives them muskets, and says, “See those stronzi over there? The ones that are pointing their muskets at you? Point your muskets at them and see if you can’t kill them first.” Bang-bang! Half the men on both sides fall down dead. Or perhaps the general gives his soldiers cannons instead. Again bang-bang! Again a massacre, only this time everyone’s blown to bits and there are heads and arms and legs everywhere but where they should be and you can’t go anywhere without stepping on brains and the pebbles that stick to your shoes aren’t pebbles at all: they’re some poor diavolo’s teeth.


But fencing! It is such a thing of beauty that no one ever objects if he happens to be killed as a consequence, provided only that the fatal thrust is made with proper elegance.


I myself once ran the Marchese di Montenero through with such art that his very last word, spoken even as the blood was spurting out of his mouth, was “Bravo!” Naturally, I accompanied the body back to the castle, where the marchesa was waiting. She examined the body in silence, not so much as a tear showing in her proud eyes, and afterwards, placing the shroud back over it, said: “Signor, I want to thank you. The wound you gave my husband, though fatal, was so clean, so perfect, that you have returned him to me as beautiful as when he left.” I bowed in acknowledgment of this pretty compliment. “Ah, signora la marchesa,” I replied with a sigh. “It is too true. Fencing is all about beauty.” Only the word I used was bellezza because naturally we were speaking in Italian. She, in turn, maintained that this was not always true: “What about the Spaniards? Their swords are nearly five feet long from hilt to point, and cut with both edges. A prodigious length, I am sure you will agree, and yet the men of that race always manage to keep them up, and it is to the face they invariably direct their first thrust. This, if successful, they follow with a thrust through the chest, which is instantly fatal. A mercy to the victim, perhaps, but not to the widow who is left to clean up afterwards.” “Ah, marchesa!” I cried, full of admiration, “I can see that you are a woman who knows her swords.” “Do I know my swords?” she asked, with all the loftiness that comes so naturally to a woman of rank, “if you will but show me yours—”


I should add that there is yet another reason why gentlemen should learn to fence: it does wonders for one’s stamina—