Thursday, April 13, 2006

An Exchange

It is late in the 19th century and the pursuit of fencing is fully developed as both a sport and an art. In a sprawling room with high ceilings and a glossy wooden floor, men in white jackets and mesh masks practice with the foil. Above, there is a gallery for viewing which is mostly occupied by ladies. One lady descends the wide staircase, one hand trailing upon the banister. She is slender, but not overly so as to make her appear frail. Her expression is cool, unmoved by her surroundings, suggestive of a mask to much more intense emotions. At the base of the stair is an older man, wearing the uniform of the amateur fencer. He is tall, but not so tall as to be imposing and he is handsome in a roguish sort of way. His eyes are drawn to the woman descending.

Man, inclining his head courteously: My lady.

Woman, curtseying upon the bottommost stair: Sir.You fence fine. I have seen you just now.

Man: Truly? It is kind of you to say: your propriety humbles me. Do you follow fencing?

Woman, remaining detached, matter-of-fact: I admit I do not. I have come to watch my brother. He aspires to fence as fine as you I suspect. Here he comes now.

She nods toward a young man who has emerged from the dressing area, but is stopped by friends before he can cross the room.

Man: I know of him - he is a fine athlete, if my opinion is to be trusted. What of you - have you held a blade? There is a class for ladies in the mornings. If you will not think it untoward of me, I will tell you that your figure would lend itself to the piste.

Woman, not necessarily taken aback: It is rather untoward of you sir, but I will forgive you as you have steel in your hand and I do not. I myself have not held a weapon nor do I have any wish for it. I prefer the pen.

Man, intrigued: A poetess? But you must try. I daresay you will find the language of the sword as elegant as any words upon a page. Though I can admit from firsthand experience that a blade cannot wound so deeply as a woman and her pen when she tires of a gentleman's attentions. He smiles weakly

Woman: Tell me then, Sir, why I should choose the lesser weapon? Were I to try and fend off suitors with a sword, I daresay it should only encourage them.

Man, impish: You have put your finger on the very reason, my lady. No man can resist a woman who can defend her own honor. I tell you it lifts a great burden from our shoulders! Here...

He takes his foil by the blade and lays the guard across his extended forearm, offering her the hilt, as it were

She regards him silently, inscrutable, then takes the proffered weapon. She holds it at arm's length, the point towards the floor

Man, smiling: Do not be afraid of it. You hold it as if there were a snake coiled about the tip. Like this...He lifts the blade and with it, her arm. I defy you to say that the feeling of a sword in your hand is not a satisfying one.

Woman: I will not presume to say anything of the sort then. For I would not challenge such a mandate and raise your ire. You might have one of your lady friends from a morning class throw down her gauntlet at my feet. And if I am to be deserving of a challenge, I'd prefer to go straight to the source.

A quick flick of her wrist and she has the point pressed to his chest, indenting his fencing jacket.

Man, raising an eyebrow: You have deceived me lady, for you said that you have never held a weapon yet I perceive that you have.

Woman, smiling coyly: Perhaps I have sir. But I did not deceive when I stated that the pen was my weapon of choice. A word of warning that an authoress may only be trusted with dubiety for her business is making up stories.

She returns his weapon to him in the same way it was given to her

Man: Touché, my lady.

Woman: You may however trust when I say that I have enjoyed your company... But here is my brother.

She takes the arm of a younger man, who acknowledges the older man with no small degree of reverence. The pair departs.

Man, quietly, echoing: Touché.

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