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(Tokyo, Japan) Everything seemed to be going as planned in the team fencing match between Great Britain and France until the French team captain appeared to be insulted by an offhand remark from the British team captain when the French captain, owing to an injured right hand, was unable to cleanly slice through the lighted candle on a table at the center of the arena – the initial test for point acquisition for Olympic team fencing competitions. Capes and large, plumed hats were quickly discarded with dramatic flourish, perfunctory salutes were made, and some posturing, boasting, and a few salty, additional insults could he heard between the teams.
Before outright mayhem ensued, some concern had been expressed for one of the younger fencers on the French team. One of the British fencers, it must be said, graciously implored the youngest fencer on the French team to withdraw, saying, “Withdraw, young man. You may retire; we consent to that. Save your skin; begone quickly.”
However, the fencer, an obstinate young man, reportedly from the Gascony region of France, did not budge. Even a couple of the young fencer’s teammates thought it wise for him to withdraw and were heard to say in French, “We should only be three, one of whom is already wounded, with the addition of a boy and yet it will not be the less said we were four men.”
“Try me, gentlemen,” the young Gascon could be heard to have replied, “and I swear to you by my honor that I will not go hence if we are challenged.”
During the melee, the young Gascon actually proved to be the most skillful of the French team. He was active and energetic, departed every instant from received rules, attacking the British fencers on all sides at once, and yet parrying like a man who had the greatest respect for his own epidermis.
Amidst the flurry and flash of steel blades, a good deal of acrobatics over benches, tables, the occasional swinging from chandeliers, gasps, and shouts of “Oh!” from at least one buxom woman bystander in a rather low-cut gown, and one moment when a French fencer appeared to be stabbed but actually tumbled over an open fire, deftly snagging three guinea hens that had been roasting and rotating on a spit — at least three of the British fencers were skewered and doubled-over in pain and were helped out of the empty arena by waiting Japanese paramedics.
After all was said and done, the British team captain begrudgingly acknowledged the French victory but vowed revenge. The four French teammates donned their respective chapeaux and fastened their capes once more around their necks, then clasped one another and marched out of the arena arm-in-arm, and could be heard shouting, “Un pour tous, tous pour un!”
(Team USA finished fourth in the competition).
h/t to mon frère, Donald, that Dumas fellow, and Richard Lester.Published in