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—