He succeeded in this object no better than the rest of the garrison and
the whole of society. The two young officers, of no especial consequence
till then, became distinguished by the universal curiosity as to the
origin of their quarrel. Madame de Lionne's salon was the centre of
ingenious surmises; that lady herself was for a time assailed with
inquiries as the last person known to have spoken to these unhappy and
reckless young men before they went out together from her house to
a savage encounter with swords, at dusk, in a private garden. She
protested she had noticed nothing unusual in their demeanour. Lieutenant
Feraud had been visibly annoyed at being called away. That was natural
enough; no man likes to be disturbed in a conversation with a lady
famed for her elegance and sensibility» But, in truth, the subject
bored Madame de Lionne since her personality could by no stretch of
imagination be connected with this affair. And it irritated her to hear
it advanced that there might have been some woman in the case. This
irritation arose, not from her elegance or sensibility, but from a more
instinctive side of her nature. It became so great at last that she
peremptorily forbade the subject to be mentioned under her roof. Near
her couch the prohibition was obeyed, but farther off in the salon
the pall of the imposed silence continued to be lifted more or less. A
diplomatic personage with a long pale face resembling the countenance
of a sheep, opined, shaking his head, that it was a quarrel of long
standing envenomed by time. It was objected to him that the men
themselves were too young for such a theory to fit their proceedings.
They belonged also to different and distant parts of France. A
subcommissary of the Intendence, an agreeable and cultivated bachelor
in keysermere breeches, Hessian boots and a blue coat embroidered with
silver lace, who affected to believe in the transmigration of souls,
suggested that the two had met perhaps in some previous existence.
The feud was in the forgotten past. It might have been something quite
inconceivable in the present state of their being; but their souls
remembered the animosity and manifested an instinctive antagonism. He
developed his theme jocularly. Yet the affair was so absurd from the
worldly, the military, the honourable, or the prudential point of view,
that this weird explanation seemed rather more reasonable than any
The two officers had confided nothing definite to any one. Resentment,
humiliation at having been worsted arms in hand, and an uneasy feeling
of having been involved into a scrape by the injustice of fate, kept
Lieutenant Feraud savagely dumb. He mistrusted the sympathy of mankind.
That would of course go to that dandified staff officer. Lying in bed he
raved to himself in his mind or aloud to the pretty maid who ministered
to his needs with devotion and listened to his horrible imprecations
with alarm. That Lieutenant D'Hubert should be made to "pay for it,"
whatever it was, seemed to her just and natural. Her principal concern
was that Lieutenant Feraud should not excite himself. He appeared so
wholly admirable and fascinating to the humility of her heart that her
only concern was to see him get well quickly even if it were only to
resume his visits to Madame de Lionne's salon.
Lieutenant D'Hubert kept silent for the immediate reason that there was
no one except a stupid young soldier servant to speak to. But he was not
anxious for the opportunities of which his severe arrest deprived him.
He would have been uncommunicative from dread of ridicule. He was aware
that the episode, so grave professionally, had its comic side. When
reflecting upon it he still felt that he would like to wring Lieutenant
Feraud's neck for him. But this formula was figurative rather than
precise, and expressed more a state of mind than an actual physical
impulse. At the same time there was in that young man a feeling of
comradeship and kindness which made him unwilling to make the position
of Lieutenant Feraud worse than it was.
He did not want to talk at large about this wretched affair. At the
inquiry he would have, of course, to speak the truth in self-defence.
This prospect vexed him.
But no inquiry took place. The army took the field instead. Lieutenant
D'Hubert, liberated without remark, returned to his regimental duties,
and Lieutenant Feraud, his arm still in a sling, rode unquestioned with
his squadron to complete his convalescence in the smoke of battlefields
and the fresh air of night bivouacs. This bracing treatment suited his
case so well that at the first rumour of an armistice being signed he
could turn without misgivings to the prosecution of his private warfare.
This time it was to be regular warfare. He dispatched two friends to
Lieutenant D'Hubert, whose regiment was stationed only a few miles away.
Those friends had asked no questions of their principal. "I must pay him
off, that pretty staff officer," he had said grimly, and they went
away quite contentedly on their mission. Lieutenant D'Hubert had no
difficulty in finding two friends equally discreet and devoted to their
principal. "There's a sort of crazy fellow to whom I must give another
lesson," he had curtly declared, and they asked for no better reasons.
On these grounds an encounter with duelling swords was arranged one
early morning in a convenient field. At the third set-to, Lieutenant
D'Hubert found himself lying on his back on the dewy grass, with a hole
in his side. A serene sun, rising over a German landscape of meadows
and wooded hills, hung on his left. A surgeon--not the flute-player but
another--was bending over him, feeling around the wound.
"Narrow squeak. But it will be nothing," he pronounced.
Lieutenant D'Hubert heard these words with pleasure. One of his
seconds--the one who, sitting on the wet grass, was sustaining his head
on his lap-said:
"The fortune of war, _mon pauvre vieux_. What will you have? You had
better make it up, like two good fellows. Do!"
"You don't know what you ask," murmured Lieutenant D'Hubert in a feeble
voice. "However, if he..."
In another part of the meadow the seconds of Lieutenant Feraud were
urging him to go over and shake hands with his adversary.
"You have paid him off now--_que diable_. It's the proper thing to do.
This D'Hubert is a decent fellow."
"I know the decency of these generals' pets," muttered Lieutenant Feraud
through his teeth for all answer. The sombre expression of his face
discouraged further efforts at reconciliation. The seconds, bowing from
a distance, took their men off the field. In the afternoon, Lieutenant
D'Hubert, very popular as a good comrade uniting great bravery with
a frank and equable temper, had many visitors. It was remarked that
Lieutenant Feraud did not, as customary, show himself much abroad to
receive the felicitations of his friends. They would not have failed
him, because he, too, was liked for the exuberance of his southern
nature and the simplicity of his character. In all the places where
officers were in the habit of assembling at the end of the day the
duel of the morning was talked over from every point of view. Though
Lieutenant D'Hubert had got worsted this time, his sword-play was
commended. No one could deny that it was very close, very scientific.
If he got touched, some said, it was because he wished to spare his
adversary. But by many the vigour and dash of Lieutenant Feraud's attack
were pronounced irresistible.
The merits of the two officers as combatants were frankly discussed; but
their attitude to each other after the duel was criticised lightly and
with caution. It was irreconcilable, and that was to be regretted. After
all, they knew best what the care of their honour dictated. It was not a
matter for their comrades to pry into overmuch. As to the origin of the
quarrel, the general impression was that it dated from the time they
were holding garrison in Strasburg. Only the musical surgeon shook his
head at that. It went much farther back, he hinted discreetly.
"Why! You must know the whole story," cried several voices, eager with
curiosity. "You were there! What was it?"
He raised his eyes from his glass deliberately and said:
"Even if I knew ever so well, you can't expect me to tell you, since
both the principals choose to say nothing."
He got up and went out, leaving the sense of mystery behind him. He
could not stay longer because the witching hour of flute-playing was
drawing near. After he had gone a very young officer observed solemnly:
"Obviously! His lips are sealed."
Nobody questioned the high propriety of that remark. Somehow it added
to the impressiveness of the affair. Several older officers of both
regiments, prompted by nothing but sheer kindness and love of harmony,
proposed to form a Court of Honour to which the two officers would
leave the task of their reconciliation. Unfortunately, they began by
approaching Lieutenant Feraud. The assumption was, that having just
scored heavily, he would be found placable and disposed to moderation.
The reasoning was sound enough; nevertheless, the move turned out
unfortunate. In that relaxation of moral fibre which is brought about
by the ease of soothed vanity, Lieutenant Feraud had condescended in
the secret of his heart to review the case, and even to doubt not the
justice of his cause, but the absolute sagacity of his conduct. This
being so, he was disinclined to talk about it. The suggestion of the
regimental wise men put him in a difficult position. He was disgusted,
and this disgust by a sort of paradoxical logic reawakened his animosity
against Lieutenant D'Hubert. Was he to be pestered with this fellow
for ever--the fellow who had an infernal knack of getting round people
somehow? On the other hand, it was difficult to refuse point-blank that
sort of mediation sanctioned by the code of honour.
Lieutenant Feraud met the difficulty by an attitude of fierce reserve.
He twisted his moustache and used vague words. His case was perfectly
clear. He was not ashamed to present it, neither was he afraid to defend
it personally. He did not see any reason to jump at the suggestion
before ascertaining how his adversary was likely to take it.
Later in the day, his exasperation growing upon him, he was heard in
a public place saying sardonically "that it would be the very luckiest
thing for Lieutenant D'Hubert, since next time of meeting he need not
hope to get off with a mere trifle of three weeks in bed."
This boastful phrase might have been prompted by the most profound
Machiavelism. Southern natures often hide under the outward
impulsiveness of action and speech a certain amount of astuteness.
Lieutenant Feraud, mistrusting the justice of men, by no means desired
a Court of Honour. And these words, according so well with his
temperament, had also the merit of serving his turn. Whether meant for
that purpose or not, they found their way in less than four-and-twenty
hours into Lieutenant D'Hubert's bedroom. In consequence, Lieutenant
D'Hubert, sitting propped up with pillows, received the overtures made
to him next day by the statement that the affair was of a nature which
could not bear discussion.
The pale face of the wounded officer, his weak voice which he had yet
to use cautiously, and the courteous dignity of his tone, had a great
effect on his hearers. Reported outside, all this did more for deepening
the mystery than the vapourings of Lieutenant Feraud. This last was
greatly relieved at the issue. He began to enjoy the state of general
wonder, and was pleased to add to it by assuming an attitude of moody
The colonel of Lieutenant D'Hubert's regiment was a gray-haired,
weather-beaten warrior who took a simple view of his responsibilities.
"I can't"--he thought to himself--"let the best of my subalterns get
damaged like this for nothing. I must get to the bottom of this affair
privately. He must speak out, if the devil were in it. The colonel
should be more than a father to these youngsters." And, indeed, he loved
all his men with as much affection as a father of a large family can
feel for every individual member of it. If human beings by an oversight
of Providence came into the world in the state of civilians, they were
born again into a regiment as infants are born into a family, and it was
that military birth alone which really counted.
At the sight of Lieutenant D'Hubert standing before him bleached and
hollow-eyed, the heart of the old warrior was touched with genuine
compassion. All his affection for the regiment--that body of men which
he held in his hand to launch forward and draw back, who had given him
his rank, ministered to his pride and commanded his thoughts--seemed
centred for a moment on the person of the most promising subaltern. He
cleared his throat in a threatening manner and frowned terribly.
"You must understand," he began, "that I don't care a rap for the life
of a single man in the regiment. You know that I would send the 748
of you men and horses galloping into the pit of perdition with no more
compunction than I would kill a fly."
"Yes, colonel. You would be riding at our head," said Lieutenant
D'Hubert with a wan smile.
The colonel, who felt the need of being very diplomatic, fairly roared
"I want you to know, Lieutenant D'Hubert, that I could stand aside and
see you all riding to Hades, if need be. I am a man to do even that, if
the good of the service and my duty to my country required it from me.
But that's unthinkable, so don't you even hint at such a thing."
He glared awfully, but his voice became gentle. "There's some milk yet
about that moustache of yours, my boy. You don't know what a man like
me is capable of. I would hide behind a haystack if... Don't grin at me,
sir. How dare you? If this were not a private conversation, I would...
Look here. I am responsible for the proper expenditure of lives under my
command for the glory of our country and the honour of the regiment. Do
you understand that? Well, then, what the devil do you mean by letting
yourself be spitted like this by that fellow of the Seventh Hussars?
It's simply disgraceful!"
Lieutenant D'Hubert, who expected another sort of conclusion, felt vexed
beyond measure. His shoulders moved slightly. He made no other answer.
He could not ignore his responsibility. The colonel softened his glance
and lowered his voice.
"It's deplorable," he murmured. And again he changed his tone. "Come,"
he went on persuasively, but with that note of authority which dwells
in the throat of a good leader of men, "this affair must be settled. I
desire to be told plainly what it is all about. I demand, as your best
friend, to know."
The compelling power of authority, the softening influence of the
kindness affected deeply a man just risen from a bed of sickness.
Lieutenant D'Hubert's hand, which grasped the knob of a stick, trembled
slightly. But his northern temperament, sentimental but cautious and
clear-sighted, too, in its idealistic way, predominated over his impulse
to make a clean breast of the whole deadly absurdity. According to the
precept of transcendental wisdom, he turned his tongue seven times in
his mouth before he spoke. He made then only a speech of thanks, nothing
more. The colonel listened interested at first, then looked mystified.
At last he frowned.
"You hesitate--_mille tonerres!_ Haven't I told you that I will
condescend to argue with you--as a friend?"
"Yes, colonel," answered Lieutenant D'Hubert softly, "but I am afraid
that after you have heard me out as a friend, you will take action as my
The attentive colonel snapped his jaws.
"Well, what of that?" he said frankly. "Is it so damnably disgraceful?"
"It is not," negatived Lieutenant D'Hubert in a faint but resolute
"Of course I shall act for the good of the service--nothing can prevent
me doing that. What do you think I want to be told for?"
"I know it is not from idle curiosity," tested Lieutenant D'Hubert. "I
know you will act wisely. But what about the good fame of the regiment?"
"It cannot be affected by any youthful folly of a lieutenant," the
colonel said severely.
"No, it cannot be; but it can be by evil tongues. It will be said that
a lieutenant of the Fourth Hussars, afraid of meeting his adversary, is
hiding behind his colonel. And that would be worse than hiding behind
a haystack--for the good of the service. I cannot afford to do that,
"Nobody would dare to say anything of the kind," the colonel, beginning
very fiercely, ended on an uncertain note. The bravery of Lieutenant
D'Hubert was well known; but the colonel was well aware that the
duelling courage, the single combat courage, is, rightly or wrongly,
supposed to be courage of a special sort; and it was eminently
necessary that an officer of his regiment should possess every kind
of courage--and prove it, too. The colonel stuck out his lower lip and
looked far away with a peculiar glazed stare. This was the expression of
his perplexity, an expression practically unknown to his regiment, for
perplexity is a sentiment which is incompatible with the rank of colonel
of cavalry. The colonel himself was overcome by the unpleasant
novelty of the sensation. As he was not accustomed to think except on
professional matters connected with the welfare of men and horses and
the proper use thereof on the field of glory, his intellectual efforts
degenerated into mere mental repetitions of profane language. "_Mille
tonerres!... Sacré nom de nom..._" he thought.
Lieutenant D'Hubert coughed painfully and went on, in a weary voice:
"There will be plenty of evil tongues to say that I've been cowed. And
I am sure you will not expect me to pass that sort of thing over. I may
find myself suddenly with a dozen duels on my hands instead of this one
The direct simplicity of this argument came home to the colonel's
understanding. He looked at his subordinate fixedly.
"Sit down, lieutenant," he said gruffly. "This is the very devil of a...
"_Mon colonel_" D'Hubert began again. "I am not afraid of evil tongues.
There's a way of silencing them. But there's my peace of mind too. I
wouldn't be able to shake off the notion that I've ruined a brother
officer. Whatever action you take it is bound to go further. The
inquiry has been dropped--let it rest now. It would have been the end of
"Hey? What? Did he behave so badly?"
"Yes, it was pretty bad," muttered Lieutenant D'Hubert. Being still very
weak, he felt a disposition to cry.
As the other man did not belong to his own regiment the colonel had no
difficulty in believing this. He began to pace up and down the room.
He was a good chief and a man capable of discreet sympathy. But he was
human in other ways, too, and they were apparent because he was not
capable of artifice.
"The very devil, lieutenant!" he blurted out in the innocence of his
heart, "is that I have declared my intention to get to the bottom of
this affair. And when a colonel says something... you see..."
Lieutenant D'Hubert broke in earnestly.
"Let me entreat you, colonel, to be satisfied with taking my word of
honour that I was put into a damnable position where I had no option.
I had no choice whatever consistent with my dignity as a man and an
officer.... After all, colonel, this fact is the very bottom of this
affair. Here you've got it. The rest is a mere detail...."
The colonel stopped short. The reputation of Lieutenant D'Hubert for
good sense and good temper weighed in the balance. A cool head, a warm
heart, open as the day. Always correct in his behaviour. One had to
trust him. The colonel repressed manfully an immense curiosity.
"H'm! You affirm that as a man and an officer.... No option? Eh?"
"As an officer, an officer of the Fourth Hussars, too," repeated
Lieutenant D'Hubert, "I had not. And that is the bottom of the affair,
"Yes. But still I don't see why to one's colonel... A colonel is a
Lieutenant D'Hubert ought not to have been allowed out as yet. He
was becoming aware of his physical insufficiency with humiliation and
despair--but the morbid obstinacy of an invalid possessed him--and at
the same time he felt, with dismay, his eyes filling with water. This
trouble seemed too big to handle. A tear fell down the thin, pale cheek
of Lieutenant D'Hubert. The colonel turned his back on him hastily. You
could have heard a pin drop.
"This is some silly woman story--is it not?"
The chief spun round to seize the truth, which is not a beautiful shape
living in a well but a shy bird best caught by stratagem. This was
the last move of the colonel's diplomacy, and he saw the truth shining
unmistakably in the gesture of Lieutenant D'Hubert, raising his weak
arms and his eyes to heaven in supreme protest.
"Not a woman affair--eh?" growled the colonel, staring hard. "I don't
ask you who or where. All I want to know is whether there is a woman in
Lieutenant D'Hubert's arms dropped and his weak voice was pathetically
"Nothing of the kind, mon colonel."
"On your honour?" insisted the old warrior.
"On my honour."
"Very well," said the colonel thoughtfully, and bit his lip. The
arguments of Lieutenant D'Hubert, helped by his liking for the person,
had convinced him. Yet it was highly improper that his intervention, of
which he had made no secret, should produce no visible effect. He kept
Lieutenant D'Hubert a little longer and dismissed him kindly.
"Take a few days more in bed, lieutenant. What the devil does the
surgeon mean by reporting you fit for duty?"
On coming out of the colonel's quarters, Lieutenant D'Hubert said
nothing to the friend who was waiting outside to take him home. He said
nothing to anybody. Lieutenant D'Hubert made no confidences. But in the
evening of that day the colonel, strolling under the elms growing near
his quarters in the company of his second in command opened his lips.
"I've got to the bottom of this affair," he remarked.
The lieutenant-colonel, a dry brown chip of a man with short
side-whiskers, pricked up his ears without letting a sound of curiosity
"It's no trifle," added the colonel oracularly. The other waited for a
long while before he murmured:
"No trifle," repeated the colonel, looking straight before him. "I've,
however, forbidden D'Hubert either to send to or receive a challenge
from Feraud for the next twelve months."
He had imagined this prohibition to save the prestige a colonel should
have. The result of it was to give an official seal to the mystery
surrounding this deadly quarrel. Lieutenant D'Hubert repelled by an
impassive silence all attempts to worm the truth out of him. Lieutenant
Feraud, secretly uneasy at first, regained his assurance as time went
on. He disguised his ignorance of the meaning of the imposed truce by
little sardonic laughs as though he were amused by what he intended to
keep to himself. "But what will you do?" his chums used to ask him. He
contented himself by replying, "_Qui vivra verra_," with a truculent
air. And everybody admired his discretion.
Before the end of the truce, Lieutenant D'Hubert got his promotion. It
was well earned, but somehow no one seemed to expect the event. When
Lieutenant Feraud heard of it at a gathering of officers, he muttered
through his teeth, "Is that so?" Unhooking his sword from a peg near the
door, he buckled it on carefully and left the company without another
word. He walked home with measured steps, struck a light with his flint
and steel, and lit his tallow candle. Then, snatching an unlucky glass
tumbler off the mantelpiece, he dashed it violently on the floor.
Now that D'Hubert was an officer of a rank superior to his own, there
could be no question of a duel. Neither could send nor receive a
challenge without rendering himself amenable to a court-martial. It
was not to be thought of. Lieutenant Feraud, who for many days now had
experienced no real desire to meet Lieutenant D'Hubert arms in hand,
chafed at the systematic injustice of fate. "Does he think he will
escape me in that way?" he thought indignantly. He saw in it an
intrigue, a conspiracy, a cowardly manoeuvre. That colonel knew what he
was doing. He had hastened to recommend his pet for promotion. It was
outrageous that a man should be able to avoid the consequences of his
acts in such a dark and tortuous manner.
Of a happy-go-lucky disposition, of a temperament more pugnacious than
military, Lieutenant Feraud had been content to give and receive blows
for sheer love of armed strife and without much thought of advancement.
But after this disgusting experience an urgent desire of promotion
sprang up in his breast. This fighter by vocation resolved in his mind
to seize showy occasions and to court the favourable opinion of his
chiefs like a mere worldling. He knew he was as brave as any one
and never doubted his personal charm. It would be easy, he thought.
Nevertheless, neither the bravery nor the charm seemed to work very
swiftly. Lieutenant Feraud's engaging, careless truculence of a "_beau
sabreur_" underwent a change. He began to make bitter allusions to
"clever fellows who stick at nothing to get on." The army was full of
them, he would say, you had only to look round. And all the time he had
in view one person only, his adversary D'Hubert. Once he confided to an
appreciative friend: "You see I don't know how to fawn on the right sort
of people. It isn't in me."
He did not get his step till a week after Austerlitz. The light cavalry
of the _Grande Armée_ had its hands very full of interesting work for a
little while. But directly the pressure of professional occupation had
been eased by the armistice, Captain Feraud took measures to arrange a
meeting without loss of time. "I know his tricks," he observed grimly.
"If I don't look sharp he will take care to get himself promoted over
the heads of a dozen better men than himself. He's got the knack of that
sort of thing." This duel was fought in Silesia. If not fought out to
a finish, it was at any rate fought to a standstill. The weapon was
the cavalry sabre, and the skill, the science, the vigour, and the
determination displayed by the adversaries compelled the outspoken
admiration of the beholders. It became the subject of talk on both
shores of the Danube, and as far south as the garrisons of Gratz
and Laybach. They crossed blades seven times. Both had many slight
cuts--mere scratches which bled profusely. Both refused to have the
combat stopped, time after time, with what appeared the most deadly
animosity. This appearance was caused on the part of Captain D'Hubert by
a rational desire to be done once for all with this worry; on the part
of Feraud by a tremendous exaltation of his pugnacious instincts and
the rage of wounded vanity. At last, dishevelled, their shirts in rags,
covered with gore and hardly able to stand, they were carried forcibly
off the field by their marvelling and horrified seconds. Later on,
besieged by comrades avid of details, these gentlemen declared that they
could not have allowed that sort of hacking to go on. Asked whether the
quarrel was settled this time, they gave it out as their conviction that
it was a difference which could only be settled by one of the parties
remaining lifeless on the ground. The sensation spread from army to army
corps, and penetrated at last to the smallest detachments of the troops
cantoned between the Rhine and the Save. In the cafés in Vienna where
the masters of Europe took their ease it was generally estimated from
details to hand that the adversaries would be able to meet again in
three weeks' time, on the outside. Something really transcendental in
the way of duelling was expected.
These expectations were brought to naught by the necessities of the
service which separated the two officers. No official notice had been
taken of their quarrel. It was now the property of the army, and not
to be meddled with lightly. But the story of the duel, or rather their
duelling propensities, must have stood somewhat in the way of their
advancement, because they were still captains when they came together
again during the war with Prussia. Detached north after Jena with
the army commanded by Marshal Bernadotte, Prince of Ponte-Corvo, they
entered Lubeck together. It was only after the occupation of that town
that Captain Feraud had leisure to consider his future conduct in view
of the fact that Captain D'Hubert had been given the position of third
aide-de-camp to the marshal. He considered it a great part of a night,
and in the morning summoned two sympathetic friends.
"I've been thinking it over calmly," he said, gazing at them with
bloodshot, tired eyes. "I see that I must get rid of that intriguing
personage. Here he's managed to sneak onto the personal staff of the
marshal. It's a direct provocation to me. I can't tolerate a situation
in which I am exposed any day to receive an order through him, and God
knows what order, too! That sort of thing has happened once before--and
that's once too often. He understands this perfectly, never fear. I
can't tell you more than this. Now go. You know what it is you have to
This encounter took place outside the town of Lubeck, on very open
ground selected with special care in deference to the general sense of
the cavalry division belonging to the army corps, that this time the two
officers should meet on horseback. After all, this duel was a cavalry
affair, and to persist in fighting on foot would look like a slight
on one's own arm of the service. The seconds, startled by the unusual
nature of the suggestion, hastened to refer to their principals. Captain
Feraud jumped at it with savage alacrity. For some obscure reason,
depending, no doubt, on his psychology, he imagined himself invincible
on horseback. All alone within the four walls of his room he rubbed his
hands exultingly. "Aha! my staff officer, I've got you now!"
Captain D'Hubert, on his side, after staring hard for a considerable
time at his bothered seconds, shrugged his shoulders slightly. This
affair had hopelessly and unreasonably complicated his existence for
him. One absurdity more or less in the development did not matter. All
absurdity was distasteful to him; but, urbane as ever, he produced a
faintly ironic smile and said in his calm voice:
"It certainly will do away to some extent with the monotony of the
But, left to himself, he sat down at a table and took his head into
his hands. He had not spared himself of late, and the marshal had been
working his aides-de-camp particularly hard. The last three weeks of
campaigning in horrible weather had affected his health. When overtired
he suffered from a stitch in his wounded side, and that uncomfortable
sensation always depressed him. "It's that brute's doing," he thought
The day before he had received a letter from home, announcing that his
only sister was going to be married. He reflected that from the time she
was sixteen, when he went away to garrison life in Strasburg, he had
had but two short glimpses of her. They had been great friends and
confidants; and now they were going to give her away to a man whom he
did not know--a very worthy fellow, no doubt, but not half good enough
for her. He would never see his old Léonie again. She had a capable
little head and plenty of tact; she would know how to manage the fellow,
to be sure. He was easy about her happiness, but he felt ousted from
the first place in her affection which had been his ever since the
girl could speak. And a melancholy regret of the days of his childhood
settled upon Captain D'Hubert, third aide-de-camp to the Prince of
He pushed aside the letter of congratulation he had begun to write, as
in duty bound but without pleasure. He took a fresh sheet of paper
and wrote: "This is my last will and testament." And, looking at these
words, he gave himself up to unpleasant reflection; a presentiment
that he would never see the scenes of his childhood overcame Captain
D'Hubert. He jumped up, pushing his chair back, yawned leisurely, which
demonstrated to himself that he didn't care anything for presentiments,
and, throwing himself on the bed, went to sleep. During the night he
shivered from time to time without waking up. In the morning he rode
out of town between his two seconds, talking of indifferent things and
looking right and left with apparent detachment into the heavy morning
mists, shrouding the flat green fields bordered by hedges. He leaped a
ditch, and saw the forms of many mounted men moving in the low fog. "We
are to fight before a gallery," he muttered bitterly.
His seconds were rather concerned at the state of the atmosphere,
but presently a pale and sympathetic sun struggled above the vapours.
Captain D'Hubert made out in the distance three horsemen riding a little
apart; it was his adversary and his seconds. He drew his sabre and
assured himself that it was properly fastened to his wrist. And now the
seconds, who had been standing in a close group with the heads of their
horses together, separated at an easy canter, leaving a large, clear
field between him and his adversary. Captain D'Hubert looked at the pale
sun, at the dismal landscape, and the imbecility of the impending
fight filled him with desolation. From a distant part of the field
a stentorian voice shouted commands at proper intervals: _Au pas--Au
trot--Chargez!_ Presentiments of death don't come to a man for nothing
he thought at the moment he put spurs to his horse.
And therefore nobody was more surprised than himself when, at the very
first set-to, Captain Feraud laid himself open to a cut extending over
the forehead, blinding him with blood, and ending the combat almost
before it had fairly begun. The surprise of Captain Feraud might have
been even greater. Captain D'Hubert, leaving him swearing horribly and
reeling in the saddle between his two appalled friends, leaped the ditch
again and trotted home with his two seconds, who seemed rather awestruck
at the speedy issue of that encounter. In the evening, Captain D'Hubert
finished the congratulatory letter on his sister's marriage.
He finished it late. It was a long letter. Captain D'Hubert gave reins
to his fancy. He told his sister he would feel rather lonely after this
great change in her life. But, he continued, "the day will come for me,
too, to get married. In fact, I am thinking already of the time when
there will be no one left to fight in Europe, and the epoch of wars
will be over. I shall expect then to be within measurable distance of a
marshal's baton and you will be an experienced married woman. You shall
look out a nice wife for me. I will be moderately bald by then, and a
little blasé; I will require a young girl--pretty, of course, and with
a large fortune, you know, to help me close my glorious career with the
splendour befitting my exalted rank." He ended with the information
that he had just given a lesson to a worrying, quarrelsome fellow, who
imagined he had a grievance against him. "But if you, in the depth of
your province," he continued, "ever hear it said that your brother is of
a quarrelsome disposition, don't you believe it on any account. There
is no saying what gossip from the army may reach your innocent ears;
whatever you hear, you may assure our father that your ever loving
brother is not a duellist." Then Captain D'Hubert crumpled up the sheet
of paper with the words, "This is my last will and testament," and threw
it in the fire with a great laugh at himself. He didn't care a snap
for what that lunatic fellow could do. He had suddenly acquired the
conviction that this man was utterly powerless to affect his life in any
sort of way, except, perhaps, in the way of putting a certain special
excitement into the delightful gay intervals between the campaigns.
From this on there were, however, to be no peaceful intervals in the
career of Captain D'Hubert. He saw the fields of Eylau and Friedland,
marched and countermarched in the snow, the mud, and the dust of Polish
plains, picking up distinction and advancement on all the roads of
northeastern Europe. Meantime, Captain Feraud, despatched southward with
his regiment, made unsatisfactory war in Spain. It was only when the
preparations for the Russian campaign began that he was ordered north
again. He left the country of mantillas and oranges without regret.
The first signs of a not unbecoming baldness added to the lofty aspect
of Colonel D'Hubert's forehead. This feature was no longer white and
smooth as in the days of his youth, and the kindly open glance of his
blue eyes had grown a little hard, as if from much peering through the
smoke of battles. The ebony crop on Colonel Feraud's head, coarse and
crinkly like a cap of horsehair, showed many silver threads about the
temples. A detestable warfare of ambushes and inglorious surprises had
not improved his temper. The beaklike curve of his nose was unpleasantly
set off by deep folds on each side of his mouth. The round orbits of his
eyes radiated fine wrinkles. More than ever he recalled an irritable
and staring fowl--something like a cross between a parrot and an owl.
He still manifested an outspoken dislike for "intriguing fellows." He
seized every opportunity to state that he did not pick up his rank in
the anterooms of marshals.
The unlucky persons, civil or military, who, with an intention of being
pleasant, begged Colonel Feraud to tell them how he came by that very
apparent scar on the forehead, were astonished to find themselves
snubbed in various ways, some of which were simply rude and others
mysteriously sardonic. Young officers were warned kindly by their more
experienced comrades not to stare openly at the colonel's scar. But,
indeed, an officer need have been very young in his profession not
to have heard the legendary tale of that duel originating in some
mysterious, unforgivable offence.