I could see that the Count changed colour at my words. As the son of a fisherman he could have pleaded his nobility as an excuse for not meeting me, and had me punished by the law, but he had forgotten that my betrothal to Anna carried with it a dignity equal to his own, or I doubt he had been so ready with his tongue.
A hasty consultation was held among those who were with him, from which it appeared I was judged to be in the right, for presently the count turned and said to me, with a surly frown, “At dawn, then, in the courtyard,” and quitted the hall.
Such scenes were not uncommon at this time, and beyond a question or two in our immediate vicinity, but little notice was taken of what had occurred. But Hugh Bergin, a friend who offered to second me in my affair with the count, advised some rest before the hour of meeting, which was now almost at hand, for it was said the count was a skilful swordsman, who had never yet failed to kill or maim his adversary in a duel.
Hugh Bergin and I were first in the courtyard at break of day, and here we were presently joined by the count and his seconds.
Count Hendrick Luitken and I now stepped forward, and, the rapiers living been handed to us, we fell to the task of I trying to kill one another according to the rules of the duello.
At first I parried the count’s attack, in order that I might learn the extent of his boasted skill, but I soon found myself to be his equal, if not his superior, in sword play, for I had spent much of my spare time in the gymnasium at Amsterdam, where I had become the favourite pupil of the instructor.
The count, I thought, seemed surprised at my cunning in fence, and lost the confident smile with which he had first, regarded me. Presently I felt the point of my rapier touch his tunic upon the breast, and, in my sensitive grasp, I knew that my blade had encountered steel. The look which I gave him must have conveyed to him the knowledge that I had discovered his treachery, for he set his lips and attacked me with even greater fury than before, but my blood was up, and I beat his guard down with such force that I was presently enabled, by a trick I had learnt, known as binding the blade, to wrest the weapon from his hand. The seconds would now have interfered, but my temper was not to be restrained, and, to the astonishment of those present, I seized the count by the throat, and, tearing open his tunic, laid bare a breastplate which he wore next his skin. No blow that I could have struck this cowardly noble would have hurt him so much as this exposure. With shamefaced looks his seconds led him away. This was the last I saw of him, for he soon after left Holland, and took service with the Spaniards, with whom he had long been in league. Some years later he was condemned as a heretic, and suffered death by torture at the hands of the Inquisition.
Nothing now stood between me and my marriage with Anna, which was duly celebrated with much pomp at the Count of Holstein’s town palace, after which Anna and I retired to my country estate, there to live, as I thought, the rest of our days in peace.