A DUEL WITH A DASTARD

John reaches Havre after a long dreary tramp in mid-winter–Fails to
find a ship going to the East and turns south along the coast–Falls
exhausted by the roadside and is picked up by a good farmer–Regains
his strength and resumes his journey–Encounters Courcelles, one of
the Frenchmen who had robbed him–They draw swords and fall to–John
completely overcomes his antagonist, punishes him and leaves him
repentant–An unlooked for meeting with an old friend–John is set upon
his feet again–Goes to Marseilles and takes ship for Italy–Is thrown
overboard in a storm by the fanatical passengers–Swims to a desert
island.

It must not be supposed that John had abandoned his project of going to
fight the Turks. His was not the temperament to be easily discouraged
or diverted from a purpose. He was not now in a position to pursue
any very definite plan, but he walked coastward in the hope that
some favorable opportunity for going farther might present itself.
If he should find some ship of war or large merchantman bound for a
Mediterranean port he would be willing to work his way on her in any
capacity. Honfleur and Havre being the most likely places thereabouts
in which to find such a vessel as he sought, he made his way northward
and visited each of those ports in turn without success. It was winter,
and peace prevailed in western Europe for the time being. There
was little movement among the large ships but smaller vessels, in
considerable numbers, were plying between the Continent and England.
John might readily have secured passage to England, and no doubt his
wisest course would have been to return home and procure a fresh
supply of clothing and money. But John could not brook the thought of
appearing at home tattered and torn and confessing to his guardian that
he had been duped and robbed.

The shipping men of Havre advised the anxious inquirer to try St. Malo,
and so he turned back over the ground he had already twice traversed
and faced several more weeks of weary travel with a purse now nearly
empty and clothing almost reduced to rags. Coming up from Mortagne he
had selected the poorest inns for resting places; now even these were
beyond his means, and he had to depend upon the charity of the country
people for a night’s lodging or a meal. Occasionally his way led past a
monastery, when he was always sure of simple hospitality for, to their
credit be it said, the fact that John was an Englishman and a heretic
never caused the good monks to turn him from their doors.

When at length he arrived in the neighborhood of Pontorson in Brittany
it was in a condition bordering on collapse from the effects of the
exposure and hardship of the preceding weeks. St. Malo was but a short
two days’ journey away, but it did not seem possible that he could hold
out until that port should be reached. He staggered on for a few more
miles but at last his strength utterly gave out and he sank unconscious
to the ground by the roadside. Here John Smith’s career well nigh wound
up in an inglorious end, for had he lain neglected for a few hours he
must have frozen to death. Fate directed otherwise, however. A kind
farmer chancing by in his wagon picked up the exhausted lad and carried
him to his house. There he was nursed and fed and, some weeks later,
when he resumed his journey it was with a show of his natural vigor.

John left the farmhouse with a wallet sufficiently stocked to stay
his stomach until he should arrive at St. Malo–money he had refused
to accept from the good farmer. The air was mild. It was one of those
sunny days in late winter that give early promise of spring. Under
the influence of the cheery weather our hero’s spirits rose, and he
had a feeling that the tide in his affairs was about to turn. This
presentiment was strengthened by an adventure that immediately befell
him and which will not so greatly surprise us if we remember that he
was once again in the vicinity of Mortagne, having gone forth and back
in his long tramp.

John had been following a short cut through a wood and had just emerged
into the open when he came suddenly face to face with a traveler who
was pursuing the same path in opposite direction. Each recognized the
other immediately, and on the instant their swords flashed from the
scabbard. They flung aside their cloaks and engaged without a word.
Furious anger surged in John’s breast as he confronted Courcelles, one
of the four French robbers to whose perfidy he owed his present plight
and all the misery of the past months. For a moment he was tempted to
rush upon the rascal and run him through, but that caution and coolness
that ever characterized our hero in the presence of danger, soon took
possession of his reason and prompted him to assume the defensive.

Courcelles was no mean swordsman, and he saw before him a bareface boy
whom he could not suppose to be a master of fence. Moreover, he was
moved by the hatred which mean souls so often feel for those whom they
have wronged. He made a furious attack upon the stripling intending to
end the affair in short order.

John calmly maintained his guard under the onslaught with his weapon
presented constantly at the other’s breast. With a slight movement of
the wrist he turned aside Courcelles’ thrusts and stepped back nimbly
when the Frenchman lunged. The latter, meeting with no counter-attack,
became more confident and pressed his adversary hard. But the skill
with which his assault was met soon dawned upon Courcelles. He checked
the impetuosity that had already told upon his nerves and muscles
and resorted to the many tricks of fence of which, like most French
swordsmen, he was an adept. He changed the engagement; he feinted
and feigned to fumble his weapon; he shifted his guard suddenly; he
pretended to slip and lose his footing; he endeavored to disengage;
but John could not be tempted from his attitude of alert defence.
Courcelles beat the _appel_ with his foot but John’s eyes remained
steadfastly fixed upon his and the firm blade was ever there lightly
but surely feeling his. Courcelles tapped the other’s sword sharply but
John only smiled with grim satisfaction as he remembered how Signor
Polaloga had schooled him to meet such disconcerting manœuvres as these.

Courcelles was growing desperate and determined as a last hope of
overcoming his antagonist to try the _coup de Marsac_. This consisted
in beating up the adversary’s weapon by sheer force and lunging under
his upthrown arm. Gathering himself together for the effort, the
Frenchman struck John’s sword with all the strength he could command,
but the act was anticipated by our hero, whose rapier yielded but a
few inches to the blow. The next instant the point of it had rapidly
described a semi-circle around and under Courcelles’ blade, throwing it
out of the line of his opponent’s body.

It was a last effort. Chill fear seized the Frenchman’s heart as with
the waning of his strength he realized that he was at the mercy of
the youth he had so heartlessly robbed. With difficulty he maintained
a feeble guard whilst he felt a menacing pressure from the other’s
weapon. John advanced leisurely upon the older man, whose eyes plainly
betrayed his growing terror. He was as helpless as a child and might
have been spitted like a fowl without resistance, but although our hero
was made of stern stuff there was nothing cruel in his composition and
he began to pity the cringing wretch who retreated before him. He had
no thought, however, of letting the rascal off without a reminder that
might furnish a lesson to him.

With that thought he pricked Courcelles upon the breast accompanying
the thrust with the remark:

“That for your friend Nelie, if you please!”

Almost immediately he repeated the action, saying:

“And that for your friend Montferrat!”

“For your master, the Lord De Preau, I beg your acceptance of that,”
continued John, running his rapier through the fleshy part of the
other’s shoulder.

The terrified Frenchman dropped his sword and fell upon his knees with
upraised hands.

“Mercy for the love of heaven!” he cried. “Slay me not unshriven with
my sins upon my head.”

“Maybe we can find a priest to prepare thee for the journey to a better
land,” replied John, not unwilling that the robber should suffer a
little more. “Ho, there!” to a group of rustics who had been attracted
by the sounds of the conflict. “Know’st any holy father confessor
living in these parts?”

The peasants declared that a priest resided within a mile of the spot
and one of them departed in haste to fetch him to the scene.

As we know, John had no intention of killing Courcelles, nor did
he desire to await the return of the shriver, so finding that the
Frenchman had no means of making restitution for the theft of his
goods, he left him. But before doing so, he extorted from the
apparently repentant man a promise to live an honest life in future.

The encounter with Courcelles had a stimulating effect upon John and
he entered St. Malo the following morning, feeling better pleased
with himself than he had for many a day. He at once set about making
enquiries as to the vessels in port and was engaged in conversation
with a sailor on the quay when he became aware of the scrutiny of a
well-dressed young man standing nearby. The face of the inquisitive
stranger seemed to awake a dim memory in John’s mind but he could not
remember to have met him before. The other soon put an end to his
perplexity by coming forward with outstretched hands.

“Certes, it is my old playmate Jack Smith of Willoughby! Thou hast not
so soon forgot Philip, Jack?”

John instantly recollected the young son of Count Ployer who, as you
will recall, had passed several months at the castle as the guest of
Lady Willoughby. The young men repaired to a neighboring tavern where,
over a grateful draught of wine, John recounted his adventures. When
John spoke of his wanderings in Brittany Philip listened with a puzzled
expression, and when his friend had finished said:

“But why didst thou shun me and my father’s house? Surely not in doubt
of a welcome? It was known to you that the Count Ployer possesses the
castle and estates of Tonquedec.”

“Truly,” replied John, “but where is Tonquedec?”

Philip lay back in his chair and laughed long and heartily. When his
merriment had somewhat subsided he silently beckoned his new-found
friend to the window. St. Malo lies at the entrance to a long narrow
inlet. Extending a finger Philip pointed across this bay. Upon the
opposite shore John saw the gray walls of a large battlemented castle.

“Behold Tonquedec!” said Philip with a quizzical smile.

By the Count, John was received at the castle with the most hearty
welcome. That nobleman was, as his son had been, moved to immoderate
amusement at the thought of Jack–as Philip persisted in calling
him–having been in the neighborhood of the castle so long without
knowing it.

“Your friend is doubtless a gallant soldier,” he said to his son, “but
a sorry geographer I fear.”

John spent a pleasant week at Tonquedec Castle but declined to prolong
his stay, being anxious to pursue his journey to Hungary now that the
means of doing so expeditiously lay at his command. For the Count
generously supplied all his immediate needs and lent him a considerable
sum of money on the security of his estate. Thus equipped our hero set
out for Marseilles, whence he purposed taking ship for Italy. In after
years John proved his grateful remembrance of the kindness of the Count
and his son by naming one of the headlands of Chesapeake Bay, Point
Ployer.

John arrived at Marseilles just in time to take passage on a small
vessel filled with pilgrims bound for Rome. They encountered foul
weather from the moment of leaving port and day by day the storm
increased in fury until the danger of going down became hourly more
imminent. At this critical juncture both seamen and passengers
abandoned hope and sank upon their knees loudly calling upon the saints
for succor. John stood for awhile watching this proceeding which
revolted his common sense. At length his patience gave out and he
soundly berated the sailors for their cowardice and imbecility. Their
saints, he declared, would much more readily aid men than cravens, and
if they turned to and helped themselves, God would surely help them.

This ill-advised interference drew the attention of the mixed crowd
of passengers to the Englishman. Half mad with terror and despair
they turned upon him a shower of abuse couched in the foulest terms
and voiced in a dozen different dialects. They cursed his country
and his Queen. Then some one announced the discovery that he was the
only heretic on board, and the superstitious peasants at once became
convinced that the storm was attributable to his presence and that the
ship could only be saved on condition of getting rid of him.

Cries of “Overboard with the heretic! Throw the renegado into the sea!”
rose on every side, and many approached him menacingly flourishing
their staves. John set his back against the mast and drew his sword,
determined, if he must, to sell his life dearly. For awhile the
threatening weapon held the crowd at bay, but one crept up from behind
and knocked it from our hero’s hand. Immediately a rush was made upon
him. He was seized by many hands and dragged to the side of the vessel.
With their curses still ringing in his ears John sank beneath the waves.

All this occupied some time during which the master had, with the
assistance of two of the seamen, contrived to run his vessel under the
lee of a small island. When John, who was a strong swimmer, came to
the surface, he made for the islet which was scarce a mile distant. A
few strokes satisfied him that he must rid himself of his heavy cloak,
which was easily done since it fastened only at the neck. He next
kicked off his shoes and cast away his belt and scabbard. But it was
still doubtful if he could make the goal in the rough sea. Every ounce
of dead weight would count, and at last he reluctantly took his heavy
purse from his pocket and allowed it to sink. When at length his feet
touched bottom and he staggered out of the water our adventurer was
completely exhausted.

John threw himself behind a large rock which gave shelter from the
chill wind, and there he lay for an hour or more before he could gather
sufficient strength to walk. When he arose the night was falling and a
driving rain had set in. A brief survey of the little island satisfied
him that it was uninhabited. With that knowledge he faced the prospect
of a night in the open air under the beating rain. What might lie
beyond that he did not care to surmise.