Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 1

Napoleon the First, whose career had the quality of a duel against the
whole of Europe, disliked duelling between the officers of his army. The
great military emperor was not a swashbuckler, and had little respect
for tradition.

Nevertheless, a story of duelling which became a legend in the army runs
through the epic of imperial wars. To the surprise and admiration of
their fellows, two officers, like insane artists trying to gild refined
gold or paint the lily, pursued their private contest through the
years of universal carnage. They were officers of cavalry, and their
connection with the high-spirited but fanciful animal which carries men
into battle seems particularly appropriate. It would be difficult to
imagine for heroes of this legend two officers of infantry of the line,
for example, whose fantasy is tamed by much walking exercise and whose
valour necessarily must be of a more plodding kind. As to artillery,
or engineers whose heads are kept cool on a diet of mathematics, it is
simply unthinkable.

The names of the two officers were Feraud and D'Hubert, and they were
both lieutenants in a regiment of hussars, but not in the same regiment.

Feraud was doing regimental work, but Lieutenant D'Hubert had the good
fortune to be attached to the person of the general commanding the
division, as _officier d'ordonnance_. It was in Strasbourg, and in this
agreeable and important garrison, they were enjoying greatly a short
interval of peace. They were enjoying it, though both intensely warlike,
because it was a sword-sharpening, firelock-cleaning peace dear to a
military heart and undamaging to military prestige inasmuch that no one
believed in its sincerity or duration.

Under those historical circumstances so favourable to the proper
appreciation of military leisure Lieutenant D'Hubert could have been
seen one fine afternoon making his way along the street of a cheerful
suburb towards Lieutenant Feraud's quarters, which were in a private
house with a garden at the back, belonging to an old maiden lady.

His knock at the door was answered instantly by a young maid in Alsatian
costume. Her fresh complexion and her long eyelashes, which she lowered
modestly at the sight of the tall officer, caused Lieutenant D'Hubert,
who was accessible to esthetic impressions, to relax the cold, on-duty
expression of his face. At the same time he observed that the girl had
over her arm a pair of hussar's breeches, red with a blue stripe.

"Lieutenant Feraud at home?" he inquired benevolently.

"Oh, no, sir. He went out at six this morning."

And the little maid tried to close the door, but Lieutenant D'Hubert,
opposing this move with gentle firmness, stepped into the anteroom
jingling his spurs.


"Come, my dear. You don't mean to say he has not been home since six
o'clock this morning?"

Saying these words, Lieutenant D'Hubert opened without ceremony the
door of a room so comfortable and neatly ordered that only from internal
evidence in the shape of boots, uniforms and military accoutrements, did
he acquire the conviction that it was Lieutenant Feraud's room. And he
saw also that Lieutenant Feraud was not at home. The truthful maid had
followed him and looked up inquisitively.

"H'm," said Lieutenant D'Hubert, greatly disappointed, for he had
already visited all the haunts where a lieutenant of hussars could be
found of a fine afternoon. "And do you happen to know, my dear, why he
went out at six this morning?"

"No," she answered readily. "He came home late at night and snored. I
heard him when I got up at five. Then he dressed himself in his oldest
uniform and went out. Service, I suppose."

"Service? Not a bit of it!" cried Lieutenant D'Hubert. "Learn, my child,
that he went out so early to fight a duel with a civilian."

She heard the news without a quiver of her dark eyelashes. It was very
obvious that the actions of Lieutenant Feraud were generally above
criticism. She only looked up for a moment in mute surprise, and
Lieutenant D'Hubert concluded from this absence of emotion that she
must have seen Lieutenant Feraud since the morning. He looked around the
room.

"Come," he insisted, with confidential familiarity. "He's perhaps
somewhere in the house now?"

She shook her head.

"So much the worse for him," continued Lieutenant D'Hubert, in a tone of
anxious conviction. "But he has been home this morning?"

This time the pretty maid nodded slightly.

"He has!" cried Lieutenant D'Hubert. "And went out again? What for?
Couldn't he keep quietly indoors? What a lunatic! My dear child...."

Lieutenant D'Hubert's natural kindness of disposition and strong sense
of comradeship helped his powers of observation, which generally were
not remarkable. He changed his tone to a most insinuating softness; and
gazing at the hussar's breeches hanging over the arm of the girl, he
appealed to the interest she took in Lieutenant Feraud's comfort and
happiness. He was pressing and persuasive. He used his eyes, which were
large and fine, with excellent effect. His anxiety to get hold at
once of Lieutenant Feraud, for Lieutenant Feraud's own good, seemed so
genuine that at last it overcame the girl's discretion. Unluckily she
had not much to tell. Lieutenant Feraud had returned home shortly before
ten; had walked straight into his room and had thrown himself on his
bed to resume his slumbers. She had heard him snore rather louder than
before far into the afternoon. Then he got up, put on his best uniform
and went out. That was all she knew.

She raised her candid eyes up to Lieutenant D'Hubert, who stared at her
incredulously.

"It's incredible. Gone parading the town in his best uniform! My dear
child, don't you know that he ran that civilian through this morning?
Clean through as you spit a hare."

She accepted this gruesome intelligence without any signs of distress.
But she pressed her lips together thoughtfully.

"He isn't parading the town," she remarked, in a low tone. "Far from
it."

"The civilian's family is making an awful row," continued Lieutenant
D'Hubert, pursuing his train of thought. "And the general is very angry.
It's one of the best families in the town. Feraud ought to have kept
close at least...."

"What will the general do to him?" inquired the girl anxiously.

"He won't have his head cut off, to be sure," answered Lieutenant
D'Hubert. "But his conduct is positively indecent. He's making no end of
trouble for himself by this sort of bravado."

"But he isn't parading the town," the maid murmured again.

"Why, yes! Now I think of it. I haven't seen him anywhere. What on earth
has he done with himself?"

"He's gone to pay a call," suggested the maid, after a moment of
silence.

Lieutenant D'Hubert was surprised. "A call! Do you mean a call on a
lady? The cheek of the man. But how do you know this?"

Without concealing her woman's scorn for the denseness of the masculine
mind, the pretty maid reminded him that Lieutenant Feraud had arrayed
himself in his best uniform before going out. He had also put on his
newest dolman, she added in a tone as if this conversation were getting
on her nerves and turned away brusquely. Lieutenant D'Hubert, without
questioning the accuracy of the implied deduction, did not see that it
advanced him much on his official quest. For his quest after Lieutenant
Feraud had an official character. He did not know any of the women this
fellow who had run a man through in the morning was likely to call on in
the afternoon. The two officers knew each other but slightly. He bit his
gloved finger in perplexity.

"Call!" he exclaimed. "Call on the devil." The girl, with her back to
him and folding the hussar's breeches on a chair, said with a vexed
little laugh:

"Oh, no! On Madame de Lionne." Lieutenant D'Hubert whistled softly.
Madame de Lionne, the wife of a high official, had a well-known salon
and some pretensions to sensibility and elegance. The husband was a
civilian and old, but the society of the salon was young and military
for the greater part. Lieutenant D'Hubert had whistled, not because the
idea of pursuing Lieutenant Feraud into that very salon was in the least
distasteful to him, but because having but lately arrived in Strasbourg
he had not the time as yet to get an introduction to Madame de Lionne.
And what was that swashbuckler Feraud doing there? He did not seem the
sort of man who...

"Are you certain of what you say?" asked Lieutenant D'Hubert.

The girl was perfectly certain. Without turning round to look at him
she explained that the coachman of their next-door neighbours knew
the _maitre-d'hôtel_ of Madame de Lionne. In this way she got her
information. And she was perfectly certain. In giving this assurance she
sighed. Lieutenant Feraud called there nearly every afternoon.

"Ah, bah!" exclaimed D'Hubert ironically. His opinion of Madame de
Lionne went down several degrees. Lieutenant Feraud did not seem to him
specially worthy of attention on the part of a woman with a reputation
for sensibility and elegance. But there was no saying. At bottom they
were all alike--very practical rather than idealistic. Lieutenant
D'Hubert, however, did not allow his mind to dwell on these
considerations. "By thunder!" he reflected aloud. "The general goes
there sometimes. If he happens to find the fellow making eyes at
the lady there will be the devil to pay. Our general is not a very
accommodating person, I can tell you."

"Go quickly then. Don't stand here now I've told you where he is," cried
the girl, colouring to the eyes.

"Thanks, my dear. I don't know what I would have done without you."

After manifesting his gratitude in an aggressive way which at first was
repulsed violently and then submitted to with a sudden and still more
repellent indifference, Lieutenant D'Hubert took his departure.

He clanked and jingled along the streets with a martial swagger. To
run a comrade to earth in a drawing-room where he was not known did not
trouble him in the least. A uniform is a social passport. His position
as _officier d'ordonnance_ of the general added to his assurance.
Moreover, now he knew where to find Lieutenant Feraud, he had no option.
It was a service matter.

Madame de Lionne's house had an excellent appearance. A man in livery
opening the door of a large drawing-room with a waxed floor, shouted his
name and stood aside to let him pass. It was a reception day. The
ladies wearing hats surcharged with a profusion of feathers, sheathed in
clinging white gowns from their armpits to the tips of their low satin
shoes, looked sylphlike and cool in a great display of bare necks
and arms. The men who talked with them, on the contrary, were arrayed
heavily in ample, coloured garments with stiff collars up to their
ears and thick sashes round their waists. Lieutenant D'Hubert made his
unabashed way across the room, and bowing low before a sylphlike form
reclining on a couch, offered his apologies for this intrusion, which
nothing could excuse but the extreme urgency of the service order he
had to communicate to his comrade Feraud. He proposed to himself to come
presently in a more regular manner and beg forgiveness for interrupting
this interesting conversation....

A bare arm was extended to him with gracious condescension even before
he had finished speaking. He pressed the hand respectfully to his lips
and made the mental remark that it was bony. Madame de Lionne was a
blonde with too fine a skin and a long face.

"_C'est ça!_" she said, with an ethereal smile, disclosing a set of
large teeth. "Come this evening to plead for your forgiveness."

"I will not fail, madame."

Meantime Lieutenant Feraud, splendid in his new dolman and the extremely
polished boots of his calling, sat on a chair within a foot of the couch
and, one hand propped on his thigh, with the other twirled his moustache
to a point without uttering a sound. At a significant glance from
D'Hubert he rose without alacrity and followed him into the recess of a
window.

"What is it you want with me?" he asked in a tone of annoyance, which
astonished not a little the other. Lieutenant D'Hubert could not imagine
that in the innocence of his heart and simplicity of his conscience
Lieutenant Feraud took a view of his duel in which neither remorse
nor yet a rational apprehension of consequences had any place. Though
Lieutenant Feraud had no clear recollection how the quarrel had
originated (it was begun in an establishment where beer and wine are
drunk late at night), he had not the slightest doubt of being himself
the outraged party. He had secured two experienced friends or his
seconds. Everything had been done according to the rules governing that
sort of adventure. And a duel is obviously fought for the purpose of
someone being at least hurt if not killed outright. The civilian got
hurt. That also was in order. Lieutenant Feraud was perfectly tranquil.
But Lieutenant D'Hubert mistook this simple attitude for affectation and
spoke with some heat.

"I am directed by the general to give you the order to go at once to
your quarters and remain there under close arrest."

It was now the turn of Lieutenant Feraud to be astonished.

"What the devil are you telling me there?" he murmured faintly, and fell
into such profound wonder that he could only follow mechanically the
motions of Lieutenant D'Hubert. The two officers--one tall, with an
interesting face and a moustache the colour of ripe corn, the other
short and sturdy, with a hooked nose and a thick crop of black, curly
hair--approached the mistress of the house to take their leave. Madame
de Lionne, a woman of eclectic taste, smiled upon these armed young men
with impartial sensibility and an equal share of interest. Madame de
Lionne took her delight in the infinite variety of the human species.
All the eyes in the drawing-room followed the departing officers, one
strutting, the other striding, with curiosity. When the door had closed
after them one or two men who had already heard of the duel imparted the
information to the sylphlike ladies, who received it with little shrieks
of humane concern.

Meantime the two hussars walked side by side, Lieutenant Feraud trying
to fathom the hidden reason of things which in this instance eluded the
grasp of his intellect; Lieutenant D'Hubert feeling bored by the part he
had to play; because the general's instructions were that he should see
personally that Lieutenant Feraud carried out his orders to the letter
and at once.

"The chief seems to know this animal," he thought, eyeing his companion,
whose round face, the round eyes and even the twisted-up jet black
little moustache seemed animated by his mental exasperation before
the incomprehensible. And aloud he observed rather reproachfully, "The
general is in a devilish fury with you."

Lieutenant Feraud stopped short on the edge of the pavement and cried
in the accents of unmistakable sincerity: "What on earth for?" The
innocence of the fiery Gascon soul was depicted in the manner in which
he seized his head in both his hands as if to prevent it bursting with
perplexity.

"For the duel," said Lieutenant D'Hubert curtly. He was annoyed greatly
by this sort of perverse fooling.

"The duel! The..."

Lieutenant Feraud passed from one paroxysm of astonishment into another.
He dropped his hands and walked on slowly trying to reconcile this
information with the state of his own feelings. It was impossible. He
burst out indignantly:

"Was I to let that sauerkraut-eating civilian wipe his boots on the
uniform of the Seventh Hussars?"

Lieutenant D'Hubert could not be altogether unsympathetic toward that
sentiment. This little fellow is a lunatic, he thought to himself, but
there is something in what he says.

"Of course, I don't know how far you were justified," he said
soothingly. "And the general himself may not be exactly informed. A lot
of people have been deafening him with their lamentations."

"Ah, he is not exactly informed," mumbled Lieutenant Feraud, walking
faster and faster as his choler at the injustice of his fate began to
rise. "He is not exactly.... And he orders me under close arrest with
God knows what afterward."

"Don't excite yourself like this," remonstrated the other. "That young
man's people are very influential, you know, and it looks bad enough
on the face of it. The general had to take notice of their complaint at
once. I don't think he means to be over-severe with you. It is best for
you to be kept out of sight for a while."

"I am very much obliged to the general," muttered Lieutenant Feraud
through his teeth.

"And perhaps you would say I ought to be grateful to you too for the
trouble you have taken to hunt me up in the drawing-room of a lady
who..."

"Frankly," interrupted Lieutenant D'Hubert, with an innocent laugh, "I
think you ought to be. I had no end of trouble to find out where you
were. It wasn't exactly the place for you to disport yourself in under
the circumstances. If the general had caught you there making eyes at
the goddess of the temple.... Oh, my word!... He hates to be bothered
with complaints against his officers, you know. And it looked uncommonly
like sheer bravado."

The two officers had arrived now at the street door of Lieutenant
Feraud's lodgings. The latter turned toward his companion. "Lieutenant
D'Hubert," he said, "I have something to say to you which can't be said
very well in the street. You can't refuse to come in."

The pretty maid had opened the door. Lieutenant Feraud brushed past
her brusquely and she raised her scared, questioning eyes to Lieutenant
D'Hubert, who could do nothing but shrug his shoulders slightly as he
followed with marked reluctance.

In his room Lieutenant Feraud unhooked the clasp, flung his new dolman
on the bed, and folding his arms across his chest, turned to the other
hussar.

"Do you imagine I am a man to submit tamely to injustice?" he inquired
in a boisterous voice.

"Oh, do be reasonable," remonstrated Lieutenant D'Hubert.

"I am reasonable. I am perfectly reasonable," retorted the other,
ominously lowering his voice. "I can't call the general to account for
his behaviour, but you are going to answer to me for yours."

"I can't listen to this nonsense," murmured Lieutenant D'Hubert, making
a slightly contemptuous grimace.

"You call that nonsense. It seems to me perfectly clear. Unless you
don't understand French."

"What on earth do you mean?"

"I mean," screamed suddenly Lieutenant Feraud, "to cut off your ears to
teach you not to disturb me, orders or no orders, when I am talking to a
lady."

A profound silence followed this mad declaration--and through the open
window Lieutenant D'Hubert heard the little birds singing sanely in the
garden. He said coldly:

"Why! If you take that tone, of course I will hold myself at your
disposal whenever you are at liberty to attend to this affair. But I
don't think you will cut off my ears."

"I am going to attend to it at once," declared Lieutenant Feraud, with
extreme truculence. "If you are thinking of displaying your airs and
graces to-night in Madame de Lionne's salon you are very much mistaken."

"Really," said Lieutenant D'Hubert, who was beginning to feel irritated,
"you are an impracticable sort of fellow. The general's orders to
me were to put you under arrest, not to carve you into small pieces.
Good-morning." Turning his back on the little Gascon who, always sober
in his potations, was as though born intoxicated, with the sunshine
of his wine-ripening country, the northman, who could drink hard on
occasion, but was born sober under the watery skies of Picardy, made
calmly for the door. Hearing, however, the unmistakable sound, behind
his back, of a sword drawn from the scabbard, he had no option but to
stop.

"Devil take this mad Southerner," he thought, spinning round and
surveying with composure the warlike posture of Lieutenant Feraud with
the unsheathed sword in his hand.

"At once. At once," stuttered Feraud, beside himself.

"You had my answer," said the other, keeping his temper very well.

At first he had been only vexed and somewhat amused. But now his face
got clouded. He was asking himself seriously how he could manage to get
away. Obviously it was impossible to run from a man with a sword, and as
to fighting him, it seemed completely out of the question.

He waited awhile, then said exactly what was in his heart:

"Drop this; I won't fight you now. I won't be made ridiculous."

"Ah, you won't!" hissed the Gascon. "I suppose you prefer to be made
infamous. Do you hear what I say?... Infamous! Infamous! Infamous!" he
shrieked, raising and falling on his toes and getting very red in the
face. Lieutenant D'Hubert, on the contrary, became very pale at the
sound of the unsavoury word, then flushed pink to the roots of his fair
hair.

"But you can't go out to fight; you are under arrest, you lunatic," he
objected, with angry scorn.

"There's the garden. It's big enough to lay out your long carcass in,"
spluttered out Lieutenant Feraud with such ardour that somehow the anger
of the cooler man subsided.

"This is perfectly absurd," he said, glad enough to think he had found a
way out of it for the moment. "We will never get any of our comrades to
serve as seconds. It's preposterous."

"Seconds! Damn the seconds! We don't want any seconds. Don't you worry
about any seconds. I will send word to your friends to come and bury
you when I am done. This is no time for ceremonies. And if you want
any witnesses, I'll send word to the old girl to put her head out of a
window at the back. Stay! There's the gardener. He'll do. He's as deaf
as a post, but he has two eyes in his head. Come along. I will teach
you, my staff officer, that the carrying about of a general's orders is
not always child's play."

While thus discoursing he had unbuckled his empty scabbard. He sent it
flying under the bed, and, lowering the point of the sword, brushed past
the perplexed Lieutenant D'Hubert, crying: "Follow me." Directly he had
flung open the door a faint shriek was heard, and the pretty maid, who
had been listening at the keyhole, staggered backward, putting the backs
of her hands over her eyes. He didn't seem to see her, but as he was
crossing the anteroom she ran after him and seized his left arm. He
shook her off and then she rushed upon Lieutenant D'Hubert and clawed at
the sleeve of his uniform.

"Wretched man," she sobbed despairingly. "Is this what you wanted to
find him for?"

"Let me go," entreated Lieutenant D'Hubert, trying to disengage himself
gently. "It's like being in a madhouse," he protested with exasperation.
"Do let me go, I won't do him any harm."

A fiendish laugh from Lieutenant Feraud commented that assurance. "Come
along," he cried impatiently, with a stamp of his foot.

And Lieutenant D'Hubert did follow. He could do nothing else. But in
vindication of his sanity it must be recorded that as he passed out
of the anteroom the notion of opening the street door and bolting out
presented itself to this brave youth, only, of course, to be instantly
dismissed: for he felt sure that the other would pursue him without
shame or compunction. And the prospect of an officer of hussars being
chased along the street by another officer of hussars with a naked sword
could not be for a moment entertained. Therefore he followed into the
garden. Behind them the girl tottered out too. With ashy lips and wild,
scared eyes, she surrendered to a dreadful curiosity. She had also
a vague notion of rushing, if need be, between Lieutenant Feraud and
death.

The deaf gardener, utterly unconscious of approaching footsteps, went
on watering his flowers till Lieutenant Feraud thumped him on the back.
Beholding suddenly an infuriated man, flourishing a big sabre, the old
chap, trembling in all his limbs, dropped the watering pot. At once
Lieutenant Feraud kicked it away with great animosity; then seizing the
gardener by the throat, backed him against a tree and held him there
shouting in his ear:

"Stay here and look on. You understand you've got to look on. Don't dare
budge from the spot."

Lieutenant D'Hubert, coming slowly down the walk, unclasped his dolman
with undisguised reluctance. Even then, with his hand already on his
sword, he hesitated to draw, till a roar "_En garde, fichtre!_ What do
you think you came here for?" and the rush of his adversary forced him
to put himself as quickly as possible in a posture of defence.

The angry clash of arms filled that prim garden, which hitherto had
known no more warlike sound than the click of clipping shears; and
presently the upper part of an old lady's body was projected out of
a window upstairs. She flung her arms above her white cap, and began
scolding in a thin, cracked voice. The gardener remained glued to the
tree looking on, his toothless mouth open in idiotic astonishment, and
a little farther up the walk the pretty girl, as if held by a spell,
ran to and fro on a small grass plot, wringing her hands and muttering
crazily. She did not rush between the combatants. The onslaughts of
Lieutenant Feraud were so fierce that her heart failed her.

Lieutenant D'Hubert, his faculties concentrated upon defence, needed all
his skill and science of the sword to stop the rushes of his adversary.
Twice already he had had to break ground.

[Illustration: 028.jpg "The angry clash of arms filled that prim
garden"]

It bothered him to feel his foothold made insecure by the round dry
gravel of the path rolling under the hard soles of his boots. This was
most unsuitable ground, he thought, keeping a watchful, narrowed
gaze shaded by long eyelashes upon the fiery staring eyeballs of his
thick-set adversary. This absurd affair would ruin his reputation of a
sensible, steady, promising young officer. It would damage, at any rate,
his immediate prospects and lose him the good will of his general. These
worldly preoccupations were no doubt misplaced in view of the solemnity
of the moment. For a duel whether regarded as a ceremony in the cult of
honour or even when regrettably casual and reduced in its moral essence
to a distinguished form of manly sport, demands perfect singleness of
intention, a homicidal austerity of mood. On the other hand, this vivid
concern for the future in a man occupied in keeping sudden death at
sword's length from his breast, had not a bad effect, inasmuch as it
began to rouse the slow anger of Lieutenant D'Hubert. Some seventy
seconds had elapsed since they had crossed steel and Lieutenant D'Hubert
had to break ground again in order to avoid impaling his reckless
adversary like a beetle for a cabinet of specimens. The result was that,
misapprehending the motive, Lieutenant Feraud, giving vent to triumphant
snarls, pressed his attack with renewed vigour.

This enraged animal, thought D'Hubert, will have me against the wall
directly. He imagined himself much closer to the house than he was; and
he dared not turn his head, such an act under the circumstances being
equivalent to deliberate suicide. It seemed to him that he was
keeping his adversary off with his eyes much more than with his point.
Lieutenant Feraud crouched and bounded with a tigerish, ferocious
agility--enough to trouble the stoutest heart. But what was more
appalling than the fury of a wild beast accomplishing in all innocence
of heart a natural function, was the fixity of savage purpose man
alone is capable of displaying. Lieutenant D'Hubert in the midst of
his worldly preoccupations perceived it at last. It was an absurd and
damaging affair to be drawn into. But whatever silly intention the
fellow had started with, it was clear that by this time he meant to
kill--nothing else. He meant it with an intensity of will utterly beyond
the inferior faculties of a tiger.

As is the case with constitutionally brave men, the full view of the
danger interested Lieutenant D'Hubert. And directly he got properly
interested, the length of his arm and the coolness of his head told in
his favour. It was the turn of Lieutenant Feraud to recoil. He did this
with a blood-curdling grunt of baffled rage. He made a swift feint and
then rushed straight forward.

"Ah! you would, would you?" Lieutenant D'Hubert exclaimed mentally to
himself. The combat had lasted nearly two minutes, time enough for any
man to get embittered, apart from the merits of the quarrel. And all at
once it was over. Trying to close breast to breast under his adversary's
guard, Lieutenant Feraud received a slash on his shortened arm. He did
not feel it in the least, but it checked his rush, and his feet slipping
on the gravel, he fell backward with great violence. The shock
jarred his boiling brain into the perfect quietude of insensibility.
Simultaneously with his fall the pretty servant girl shrieked
piercingly; but the old maiden lady at the window ceased her scolding
and with great presence of mind began to cross herself.

In the first moment, seeing his adversary lying perfectly still, his
face to the sky and his toes turned up, Lieutenant D'Hubert thought he
had killed him outright. The impression of having slashed hard enough
to cut his man clean in two abode with him for awhile in an exaggerated
impression of the right good will he had put into the blow. He went down
on his knees by the side of the prostrate body. Discovering that not
even the arm was severed, a slight sense of disappointment mingled with
the feeling of relief. But, indeed, he did not want the death of that
sinner. The affair was ugly enough as it stood. Lieutenant D'Hubert
addressed himself at once to the task of stopping the bleeding. In this
task it was his fate to be ridiculously impeded by the pretty maid. The
girl, filling the garden with cries for help, flung herself upon his
defenceless back and, twining her fingers in his hair, tugged at his
head. Why she should choose to hinder him at this precise moment he
could not in the least understand. He did not try. It was all like
a very wicked and harassing dream. Twice, to save himself from being
pulled over, he had to rise and throw her off. He did this stoically,
without a word, kneeling down again at once to go on with his work. But
when the work was done he seized both her arms and held them down. Her
cap was half off, her face was red, her eyes glared with crazy boldness.
He looked mildly into them while she called him a wretch, a traitor and
a murderer many times in succession. This did not annoy him so much as
the conviction that in her scurries she had managed to scratch his face
abundantly. Ridicule would be added to the scandal of the story. He
imagined it making its way through the garrison, through the whole army,
with every possible distortion of motive and sentiment and circumstance,
spreading a doubt upon the sanity of his conduct and the distinction of
his taste even into the very bosom of his honourable family. It was all
very well for that fellow Feraud, who had no connections, no family
to speak of, and no quality but courage which, anyhow, was a matter
of course, and possessed by every single trooper in the whole mass of
French cavalry. Still holding the wrists of the girl in a strong grip,
Lieutenant D'Hubert looked over his shoulder. Lieutenant Feraud had
opened his eyes. He did not move. Like a man just waking from a deep
sleep he stared with a drowsy expression at the evening sky.

Lieutenant D'Hubert's urgent shouts to the old gardener produced no
effect--not so much as to make him shut his toothless mouth. Then
he remembered that the man was stone deaf. All that time the girl,
attempting to free her wrists, struggled, not with maidenly coyness but
like a sort of pretty dumb fury, not even refraining from kicking
his shins now and then. He continued to hold her as if in a vice, his
instinct telling him that were he to let her go she would fly at his
eyes. But he was greatly humiliated by his position. At last she gave
up, more exhausted than appeased, he feared. Nevertheless he attempted
to get out of this wicked dream by way of negotiation.

"Listen to me," he said as calmly as he could. "Will you promise to run
for a surgeon if I let you go?"

He was profoundly afflicted when, panting, sobbing, and choking, she
made it clear that she would do nothing of the kind. On the contrary,
her incoherent intentions were to remain in the garden and fight with
her nails and her teeth for the protection of the prostrate man. This
was horrible.

"My dear child," he cried in despair, "is it possible that you think me
capable of murdering a wounded adversary? Is it.... Be quiet, you little
wildcat, you," he added.

She struggled. A thick sleepy voice said behind him:

"What are you up to with that girl?"

Lieutenant Feraud had raised himself on his good arm. He was looking
sleepily at his other arm, at the mess of blood on his uniform, at a
small red pool on the ground, at his sabre lying a foot away on the
path. Then he laid himself down gently again to think it all out as far
as a thundering headache would permit of mental operations.

Lieutenant D'Hubert released the girl's wrists. She flew away down the
path and crouched wildly by the side of the vanquished warrior. The
shades of night were falling on the little trim garden with this
touching group whence proceeded low murmurs of sorrow and compassion
with other feeble sounds of a different character as if an imperfectly
awake invalid were trying to swear. Lieutenant D'Hubert went away, too
exasperated to care what would happen.

He passed through the silent house and congratulated himself upon the
dusk concealing his gory hands and scratched face from the passers-by.
But this story could by no means be concealed. He dreaded the discredit
and ridicule above everything, and was painfully aware of sneaking
through the back streets to his quarters. In one of these quiet side
streets the sounds of a flute coming out of the open window of a lighted
upstairs room in a modest house interrupted his dismal reflections. It
was being played with a deliberate, persevering virtuosity, and through
the _fioritures_ of the tune one could even hear the thump of the foot
beating time on the floor.

Lieutenant D'Hubert shouted a name which was that of an army surgeon
whom he knew fairly well. The sounds of the flute ceased and the
musician appeared at the window, his instrument still in his hand,
peering into the street.

"Who calls? You, D'Hubert! What brings you this way?"

He did not like to be disturbed when he was playing the flute. He was a
man whose hair had turned gray already in the thankless task of tying up
wounds on battlefields where others reaped advancement and glory.

"I want you to go at once and see Feraud. You know Lieutenant Feraud? He
lives down the second street. It's but a step from here."

"What's the matter with him?"

"Wounded."

"Are you sure?"

"Sure!" cried D'Hubert. "I come from there."

"That's amusing," said the elderly surgeon. Amusing was his favourite
word; but the expression of his face when he pronounced it never
corresponded. He was a stolid man. "Come in," he added. "I'll get ready
in a moment."

"Thanks. I will. I want to wash my hands in your room."

Lieutenant D'Hubert found the surgeon occupied in unscrewing his flute
and packing the pieces methodically in a velvet-lined case. He turned
his head.

"Water there--in the corner. Your hands do want washing."

"I've stopped the bleeding," said Lieutenant D'Hubert. "But you had
better make haste. It's rather more than ten minutes ago, you know."

The surgeon did not hurry his movements.

"What's the matter? Dressing came off? That's amusing. I've been busy
in the hospital all day, but somebody has told me that he hadn't a
scratch."

"Not the same duel probably," growled moodily Lieutenant D'Hubert,
wiping his hands on a coarse towel.

"Not the same.... What? Another? It would take the very devil to make
me go out twice in one day." He looked narrowly at Lieutenant
D'Hubert. "How did you come by that scratched face? Both sides too--and
symmetrical. It's amusing."

"Very," snarled Lieutenant D'Hubert. "And you will find his slashed arm
amusing too. It will keep both of you amused for quite a long time."

The doctor was mystified and impressed by the brusque bitterness of
Lieutenant D'Hubert's tone. They left the house together, and in the
street he was still more mystified by his conduct.

"Aren't you coming with me?" he asked.

"No," said Lieutenant D'Hubert. "You can find the house by yourself. The
front door will be open very likely."

"All right. Where's his room?"

"Ground floor. But you had better go right through and look in the
garden first."

This astonishing piece of information made the surgeon go off without
further parley. Lieutenant D'Hubert regained his quarters nursing a hot
and uneasy indignation. He dreaded the chaff of his comrades almost
as much as the anger of his superiors. He felt as though he had been
entrapped into a damaging exposure. The truth was confoundedly grotesque
and embarrassing to justify; putting aside the irregularity of the
combat itself which made it come dangerously near a criminal offence.
Like all men without much imagination, which is such a help in the
processes of reflective thought, Lieutenant D'Hubert became frightfully
harassed by the obvious aspects of his predicament. He was certainly
glad that he had not killed Lieutenant Feraud outside all rules and
without the regular witnesses proper to such a transaction. Uncommonly
glad. At the same time he felt as though he would have liked to wring
his neck for him without ceremony.

He was still under the sway of these contradictory sentiments when the
surgeon amateur of the flute came to see him. More than three days had
elapsed. Lieutenant D'Hubert was no longer _officier d'ordonnance_
to the general commanding the division. He had been sent back to his
regiment. And he was resuming his connection with the soldiers' military
family, by being shut up in close confinement not at his own quarters
in town, but in a room in the barracks. Owing to the gravity of the
incident, he was allowed to see no one. He did not know what had
happened, what was being said or what was being thought. The arrival
of the surgeon was a most unexpected event to the worried captive. The
amateur of the flute began by explaining that he was there only by a
special favour of the colonel who had thought fit to relax the general
isolation order for this one occasion.

"I represented to him that it would be only fair to give you authentic
news of your adversary," he continued. "You'll be glad to hear he's
getting better fast."

Lieutenant D'Hubert's face exhibited no conventional signs of gladness.
He continued to walk the floor of the dusty bare room.

"Take this chair, doctor," he mumbled.

The doctor sat down.

"This affair is variously appreciated in town and in the army. In fact
the diversity of opinions is amusing."

"Is it?" mumbled Lieutenant D'Hubert, tramping steadily from wall to
wall. But within himself he marvelled that there could be two opinions
on the matter. The surgeon continued:

"Of course as the real facts are not known--"

"I should have thought," interrupted D'Hubert, "that the fellow would
have put you in possession of the facts."

"He did say something," admitted the other, "the first time I saw him.
And, by-the-bye, I did find him in the garden. The thump on the back of
his head had made him a little incoherent then. Afterwards he was rather
reticent than otherwise."

"Didn't think he would have the grace to be ashamed," grunted D'Hubert,
who had stood still for a moment. He resumed his pacing while the doctor
murmured.

"It's very amusing. Ashamed? Shame was not exactly his frame of mind.
However, you may look at the matter otherwise----"

"What are you talking about? What matter?" asked D'Hubert with a
sidelong look at the heavy-faced, gray-haired figure seated on a wooden
chair.

"Whatever it is," said the surgeon, "I wouldn't pronounce an opinion on
your conduct...."

"By heavens, you had better not," burst out D'Hubert.

"There! There! Don't be so quick in flourishing the sword. It doesn't
pay in the long run. Understand once for all that I would not carve any
of you youngsters except with the tools of my trade. But my advice is
good. Moderate your temper. If you go on like this you will make for
yourself an ugly reputation."

"Go on like what?" demanded Lieutenant D'Hubert, stopping short,
quite startled. "I! I! make for myself a reputation.... What do you
imagine----"

"I told you I don't wish to judge of the rights and wrongs of this
incident. It's not my business. Nevertheless...."

"What on earth has he been telling you?" interrupted Lieutenant D'Hubert
in a sort of awed scare.

"I told, you already that at first when I picked him up in the garden
he was incoherent. Afterwards he was naturally reticent. But I gather at
least that he could not help himself...."

"He couldn't?" shouted Lieutenant D'Hubert. Then lowering his voice,
"And what about me? Could I help myself?"

The surgeon rose. His thoughts were running upon the flute, his constant
companion, with a consoling voice. In the vicinity of field ambulances,
after twenty-four hours' hard work, he had been known to trouble with
its sweet sounds the horrible stillness of battlefields given over
to silence and the dead. The solacing hour of his daily life was
approaching and in peace time he held on to the minutes as a miser to
his hoard.

"Of course! Of course!" he said perfunctorily. "You would think so. It's
amusing. However, being perfectly neutral and friendly to you both,
I have consented to deliver his message. Say that I am humouring an
invalid if you like. He says that this affair is by no means at an
end. He intends to send you his seconds directly he has regained his
strength--providing, of course, the army is not in the field at that
time."

"He intends--does he? Why certainly," spluttered Lieutenant D'Hubert
passionately. The secret of this exasperation was not apparent to the
visitor; but this passion confirmed him in the belief which was gaining
ground outside that some very serious difference had arisen between
these two young men. Something serious enough to wear an air of mystery.
Some fact of the utmost gravity. To settle their urgent difference
those two young men had risked being broken and disgraced at the outset,
almost, of their career. And he feared that the forthcoming inquiry
would fail to satisfy the public curiosity. They would not take the
public into their confidence as to that something which had passed
between them of a nature so outrageous as to make them face a charge of
murder--neither more nor less. But what could it be?

The surgeon was not very curious by temperament; but that question,
haunting his mind, caused him twice that evening to hold the instrument
off his lips and sit silent for a whole minute--right in the middle of a
tune--trying to form a plausible conjecture.

Joseph Conrad

Sorry, no summary available yet.