He described himself as an American, and said he had traveled a great deal. As my ill luck would have it, he stood in no need of my instructions. On the two or three occasions when he amused himself with my foils and my pistols, he proved to be one of the most expert swordsmen and one of the finest shots that I ever met with. It was not wonderful: he had by nature cool nerves and a quick eye; and he had been taught by the masters of the art in Vienna and Paris.
Early in July--the 9th or 10th of the month, I think--I was sitting alone in my gallery, looking ruefully enough at the last two sovereigns in my purse, when a gentleman was announced who wanted a lesson. "A _private_ lesson," he said, with emphasis, looking at the man who cleaned and took care of my weapons.
I sent the man out of the room. The stranger (an Englishman, and, as I fancied, judging by outward appearances, a military man as well) took from his pocket-book a fifty-pound banknote, and held it up before me. "I have a heavy wager depending on a fencing match," he said, "and I have no time to improve myself. Teach me a trick which will make me a match for a man skilled in the use of the foil, and keep the secret--and there are fifty pounds for you."
I hesitated. I did indeed hesitate, poor as I was. But this devil of a man held his banknote before me whichever way I looked, and I had only two pounds left in the world!
"Are you going to fight a duel?'' I asked.
"I have already told you what I am going to do," he answered.
I waited a little. The infernal bank-note still tempted me. In spite of myself, I tried him again.
"If I teach you the trick," I persisted, "will you undertake to make no bad use of your lesson?"