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Chapter 13

Chapter XIII:
The Combat.

De Wardes and De Guiche selected their horses, and saddled them with
their own hands, with holster saddles. De Guiche, having two pairs of
pistols, went to his apartments to get them; and after having loaded
them, gave the choice to De Wardes, who selected the pair he had made use
of twenty times before - the same, indeed, with which De Guiche had seen
him kill swallows flying. "You will not be surprised," he said, "if I
take every precaution. You know the weapons well, and, consequently, I
am only making the chances equal."

"Your remark was quite useless," replied De Guiche, "and you have done no
more than you are entitled to do."

"Now," said De Wardes, "I beg you to have the goodness to help me to
mount; for I still experience a little difficulty in doing so."

"In that case, we had better settle the matter on foot."

"No; once in the saddle, I shall be all right."

"Very good, then; we will not speak of it again," said De Guiche, as he
assisted De Wardes to mount his horse.

"And now," continued the young man, "in our eagerness to murder one
another, we have neglected one circumstance."

"What is that?"

"That it is quite dark, and we shall almost be obliged to grope about, in
order to kill."

"Oh!" said De Guiche, "you are as anxious as I am that everything should
be done in proper order."

"Yes; but I do not wish people to say that you have assassinated me, any
more than, supposing I were to kill you, I should myself like to be
accused of such a crime."

"Did any one make a similar remark about your duel with the Duke of
Buckingham?" said De Guiche; "it took place precisely under the same
conditions as ours."

"Very true; but there was still light enough to see by; and we were up to
our middles almost, in the water; besides, there were a good number of
spectators on shore, looking at
us."

De Guiche reflected for a moment; and the thought which had already
presented itself to him became more confirmed - that De Wardes wished to
have witnesses present, in order to bring back the conversation about
Madame, and to give a new turn to the combat. He avoided saying a word
in reply, therefore; and, as De Wardes once more looked at him
interrogatively, he replied, by a movement of the head, that it would be
best to let things remain as they were. The two adversaries consequently
set off, and left the chateau by the same gate, close to which we may
remember to have seen Montalais and Malicorne together. The night, as if
to counteract the extreme heat of the day, had gathered the clouds
together in masses which were moving slowly along from the west to the
east. The vault above, without a clear spot anywhere visible, or without
the faintest indication of thunder, seemed to hang heavily over the
earth, and soon began, by the force of the wind, to split into streamers,
like a huge sheet torn to shreds. Large and warm drops of rain began to
fall heavily, and gathered the dust into globules, which rolled along the
ground. At the same time, the hedges, which seemed conscious of the
approaching storm, the thirsty plants, the drooping branches of the
trees, exhaled a thousand aromatic odors, which revived in the mind
tender recollections, thoughts of youth, endless life, happiness, and
love. "How fresh the earth smells," said De Wardes; "it is a piece of
coquetry to draw us to her."

"By the by," replied De Guiche, "several ideas have just occurred to me;
and I wish to have your opinion upon them."

"Relative to - "

"Relative to our engagement."

"It is quite some time, in fact, that we should begin to arrange matters."

"Is it to be an ordinary combat, and conducted according to established
custom?"

"Let me first know what your established custom is."

"That we dismount in any particular open space that may suit us, fasten
our horses to the nearest object, meet, each without our pistols in our
hands, and afterwards retire for a hundred and fifty paces, in order to
advance on each other."

"Very good; that is precisely the way in which I killed poor Follivent,
three weeks ago, at Saint-Denis."

"I beg your pardon, but you forgot one circumstance."

"What is that?"

"That in your duel with Follivent you advanced towards each other on
foot, your swords between your teeth, and your pistols in your hands."

"True."

"While now, on the contrary, as you cannot walk, you yourself admit that
we shall have to mount our horses again, and charge; and the first who
wishes to fire will do so."

"That is the best course, no doubt; but it is quite dark; we must make
allowances for more missed
shots than would be the case in the daytime."

"Very well; each will fire three times; the pair of pistols already
loaded, and one reload."

"Excellent! Where shall our engagement take place?"

"Have you any preference?"

"No."

"You see that small wood which lies before us?"

"The wood which is called Rochin?"

"Exactly."

"You know it?"

"Perfectly."

"You know that there is an open glade in the center?"

"Yes."

"Well, this glade is admirably adapted for such a purpose, with a variety
of roads, by-places, paths, ditches, windings, and avenues. We could not
find a better spot."

"I am perfectly satisfied, if you are so. We are at our destination, if
I am not mistaken."

"Yes. Look at the beautiful open space in the center. The faint light
which the stars afford seems concentrated in this spot; the woods which
surround it seem, with their barriers, to form its natural limits."

"Very good. Do as you say."

"Let us first settle the conditions."

"These are mine; if you have any objection to make you will state it."

"I am listening."

"If the horse be killed, its rider will be obliged to fight on foot."

"That is a matter of course, since we have no change of horses here."

"But that does not oblige his adversary to dismount."

"His adversary will, in fact, be free to act as he likes."

"The adversaries, having once met in close contact, cannot quit each
other under any circumstances, and may, consequently, fire muzzle to
muzzle."

"Agreed."

"Three shots and no more will do, I suppose?"

"Quite sufficient, I think. Here are powder and balls for your pistols;
measure out three charges, take three balls, I will do the same; then we
will throw the rest of the powder and balls away."

"And we will solemnly swear," said De Wardes, "that we have neither balls
nor powder about us?"

"Agreed; and I swear it," said De Guiche, holding his hand towards
heaven, a gesture which De Wardes imitated.

"And now, my dear comte," said De Wardes, "allow me to tell you that I am
in no way your dupe. You already are, or soon will be, the accepted
lover of Madame. I have detected your secret, and you are afraid I shall
tell others of it. You wish to kill me, to insure my silence; that is
very clear; and in your place, I should do the same." De Guiche hung
down his head. "Only," continued De Wardes, triumphantly, "was it really
worth while, tell me, to throw this affair of Bragelonne's on my
shoulders? But, take care, my dear fellow; in bringing the wild boar to
bay, you enrage him to madness; in running down the fox, you endow him
with the ferocity of the jaguar. The consequence is, that brought to bay
by you, I shall defend myself to the very last."

"You will be quite right to do so."

"Yes; but take care; I shall work more harm than you think. In the first
place, as a beginning, you will readily suppose that I have not been
absurd enough to lock up my secret, or your secret rather, in my own
breast. There is a friend of mine, who resembles me in every way, a man
whom you know very well, who shares my secret with me; so, pray
understand, that if you kill me, my death will not have been of much
service to you; whilst, on the contrary, if I kill you - and everything
is possible, you know - you understand?" De Guiche shuddered. "If I
kill you," continued De Wardes, "you will have secured two mortal enemies
to Madame, who will do their very utmost to ruin her."

"Oh! monsieur," exclaimed De Guiche, furiously, "do not reckon upon my
death so easily. Of the two enemies you speak of, I trust most heartily
to dispose of one immediately, and the other at the earliest opportunity."

The only reply De Wardes made was a burst of laughter, so diabolical in
its sound, that a superstitious man would have been terrified. But De
Guiche was not so impressionable as that. "I think," he said, "that
everything is now settled, Monsieur de Wardes; so have the goodness to
take your place first, unless you would prefer me to do so."

"By no means," said De Wardes. "I shall be delighted to save you the
slightest trouble." And spurring his horse to a gallop, he crossed the
wide open space, and took his stand at that point of the circumference of
the cross-road immediately opposite to where De Guiche was stationed. De
Guiche remained motionless. At this distance of a hundred paces, the two
adversaries were absolutely invisible to each other, being completely
concealed by the thick shade of elms and chestnuts. A minute elapsed
amidst the profoundest silence. At the end of the minute, each of them,
in the deep shade in which he was concealed, heard the double click of
the trigger, as they put the pistols on full cock. De Guiche, adopting
the usual tactics, put his horse to a gallop, persuaded that he should
render his safety doubly sure by the movement, as well as by the speed of
the animal. He directed his course in a straight line towards the point
where, in his opinion, De Wardes would be stationed; and he expected to
meet De Wardes about half-way; but in this he was mistaken. He continued
his course, presuming that his adversary was impatiently awaiting his
approach. When, however, he had gone about two-thirds of the distance,
he beheld the trees suddenly illuminated and a ball flew by, cutting the
plume of his hat in two. Nearly at the same moment, and as if the flash
of the first shot had served to indicate the direction of the other, a
second report was heard, and a second ball passed through the head of De
Guiche's horse, a little below the ear. The animal fell. These two
reports, proceeding from the very opposite direction in which he expected
to find De Wardes, surprised him a great deal; but as he was a man of
amazing self-possession, he prepared himself for his horse falling, but
not so completely, however, that the toe of his boot escaped being caught
under the animal as it fell. Very fortunately the horse in its dying
agonies moved so as to enable him to release the leg which was less
entangled than the other. De Guiche rose, felt himself all over, and
found that he was not wounded. At the very moment he had felt the horse
tottering under him, he placed his pistols in the holsters, afraid that
the force of the fall might explode one at least, if not both of them, by
which he would have been disarmed, and left utterly without defense.
Once on his feet, he took the pistols out of the holsters, and advanced
towards the spot where, by the light of the flash, he had seen De Wardes
appear. De Wardes had, at the first shot, accounted for the maneuver,
than which nothing could have been simpler. Instead of advancing to meet
De Guiche, or remaining in his place to await his approach, De Wardes
had, for about fifteen paces, followed the circle of the shadow which hid
him from his adversary's observation, and at the very moment when the
latter presented his flank in his career, he had fired from the place
where he stood, carefully taking aim, and assisted instead of being
inconvenienced by the horse's gallop. It has been seen that,
notwithstanding the darkness, the first ball passed hardly more than an
inch above De Guiche's head. De Wardes had so confidently relied upon
his aim, that he thought he had seen De Guiche fall; his astonishment was
extreme when he saw he still remained erect in his saddle. He hastened
to fire his second shot, but his hand trembled, and he killed the horse
instead. It would be a most fortunate chance for him if De Guiche were
to remain held fast under the animal. Before he could have freed
himself, De Wardes would have loaded his pistol and had De Guiche at his
mercy. But De Guiche, on the contrary, was up, and had three shots to
fire. De Guiche immediately understood the position of affairs. It
would be necessary to exceed De Wardes in rapidity of execution. He
advanced, therefore, so as to reach him before he should have had time to
reload his pistol. De Wardes saw him approaching like a tempest. The
ball was rather tight, and offered some resistance to the ramrod. To
load carelessly would be simply to lose his last chance; to take the
proper care in loading meant fatal loss of time, or rather, throwing away
his life. He made his horse bound on one side. De Guiche turned round
also, and, at the moment the horse was quiet again, fired, and the ball
carried off De Wardes's hat from his head. De Wardes now knew that he
had a moment's time at his own disposal; he availed himself of it in
order to finish loading his pistol. De Guiche, noticing that his
adversary did not fall, threw the pistol he had just discharged aside,
and walked straight towards De Wardes, elevating the second pistol as he
did so. He had hardly proceeded more than two or three paces, when De
Wardes took aim at him as he was walking, and fired. An exclamation of
anger was De Guiche's answer; the comte's arm contracted and dropped
motionless by his side, and the pistol fell from his grasp. His anxiety
was excessive. "I am lost," murmured De Wardes, "he is not mortally
wounded." At the very moment, however, De Guiche was about to raise his
pistol against De Wardes, the head, shoulders, and limbs of the comte
seemed to collapse. He heaved a deep-drawn sigh, tottered, and fell at
the feet of De Wardes's horse.

"That is all right," said De Wardes, and gathering up the reins, he
struck his spurs into the horse's sides. The horse cleared the comte's
motionless body, and bore De Wardes rapidly back to the chateau. When he
arrived there, he remained a quarter of an hour deliberating within
himself as to the proper course to be adopted. In his impatience to
leave the field of battle, he had omitted to ascertain whether De Guiche
were dead or not. A double hypothesis presented itself to De Wardes's
agitated mind; either De Guiche was killed, or De Guiche was wounded
only. If he were killed, why should he leave his body in that manner to
the tender mercies of the wolves; it was a perfectly useless piece of
cruelty, for if De Guiche were dead, he certainly could not breathe a
syllable of what had passed; if he were not killed, why should he, De
Wardes, in leaving him there uncared for, allow himself to be regarded as
a savage, incapable of one generous feeling? This last consideration
determined his line of conduct.

De Wardes immediately instituted inquires after Manicamp. He was told
that Manicamp had been looking after De Guiche, and, not knowing where to
find him, had retired to bed. De Wardes went and awoke the sleeper,
without any delay, and related the whole affair to him, which Manicamp
listened to in perfect silence, but with an expression of momentarily
increasing energy, of which his face could hardly have been supposed
capable. It was only when De Wardes had finished, that Manicamp uttered
the words, "Let us go."

As they proceeded, Manicamp became more and more excited, and in
proportion as De Wardes related the details of the affair to him, his
countenance assumed every moment a darker expression. "And so," he said,
when De Wardes had finished, "you think he is dead?"

"Alas, I do."

"And you fought in that manner, without witnesses?"

"He insisted upon it."

"It is very singular."

"What do you mean by saying it is singular?"

"That it is very unlike Monsieur de Guiche's disposition."

"You do not doubt my word, I suppose?"

"Hum! hum!"

"You do doubt it, then?"

"A little. But I shall doubt it more than ever, I warn you, if I find
the poor fellow is really dead."

"Monsieur Manicamp!"

"Monsieur de Wardes!"

"It seems you intend to insult me."

"Just as you please. The fact is, I never did like people who come and
say, 'I have killed such and such a gentleman in a corner; it is a great
pity, but I killed him in a perfectly honorable manner.' It has an ugly
appearance, M. de Wardes."

"Silence! we have arrived."

In fact, the glade could now be seen, and in the open space lay the
motionless body of the dead horse. To the right of the horse, upon the
dark grass, with his face against the ground, the poor comte lay, bathed
in his blood. He had remained in the same spot, and did not even seem to
have made the slightest movement. Manicamp threw himself on his knees,
lifted the comte in his arms, and found him quite cold, and steeped in
blood. He let him gently fall again. Then, stretching out his hand and
feeling all over the ground close to where the comte lay, he sought until
he found De Guiche's pistol.

"By Heaven!" he said, rising to his feet, pale as death and with the
pistol in his hand, "you are not mistaken, he is quite dead."

"Dead!" repeated De Wardes.

"Yes; and his pistol is still loaded," added Manicamp, looking into the
pan.

"But I told you that I took aim as he was walking towards me, and fired
at him at the very moment he was going to fire at me."

"Are you quite sure that you fought with him, Monsieur de Wardes? I
confess that I am very much afraid it has been a foul assassination.
Nay, nay, no exclamations! You have had your three shots, and his
pistol is still loaded. You have killed his horse, and he, De Guiche,
one of the best marksmen in France, has not touched even either your
horse or yourself. Well, Monsieur de Wardes, you have been very unlucky
in bringing me here; all the blood in my body seems to have mounted to my
head; and I verily believe that since so good an opportunity presents
itself, I shall blow your brains out on the spot. So, Monsieur de
Wardes, recommend yourself to Heaven."

"Monsieur Manicamp, you cannot think of such a thing!"

"On the contrary, I am thinking of it very strongly."

"Would you assassinate me?"

"Without the slightest remorse, at least for the present."

"Are you a gentleman?"

"I have given a great many proofs of that."

"Let me defend my life, then, at least."

"Very likely; in order, I suppose, that you may do to me what you have
done to poor De Guiche."

And Manicamp slowly raised his pistol to the height of De Wardes's
breast, and with arm stretched out, and a fixed, determined look on his
face, took a careful aim.

De Wardes did not attempt a flight; he was completely terrified. In the
midst, however, of this horrible silence, which lasted about a second,
but which seemed an age to De Wardes, a faint sigh was heard.

"Oh," exclaimed De Wardes, "he still lives! Help, De Guiche, I am about
to be assassinated!"

Manicamp fell back a step or two, and the two young men saw the comte
raise himself slowly and painfully upon one hand. Manicamp threw the
pistol away a dozen paces, and ran to his friend, uttering a cry of
delight. De Wardes wiped his forehead, which was covered with a cold
perspiration.

"It was just in time," he murmured.

"Where are you hurt?" inquired Manicamp of De Guiche, "and whereabouts
are you wounded?"

De Guiche showed him his mutilated hand and his chest covered with blood.

"Comte," exclaimed De Wardes, "I am accused of having assassinated you;
speak, I implore you, and say that I fought loyally."

"Perfectly so," said the wounded man; "Monsieur de Wardes fought quite
loyally, and whoever says the contrary will make an enemy of me."

"Then, sir," said Manicamp, "assist me, in the first place, to carry this
gentleman home, and I will afterwards give you every satisfaction you
please; or, if you are in a hurry, we can do better still; let us stanch
the blood from the comte's wounds here, with your pocket-handkerchief and
mine, and then, as there are two shots left, we can have them between us."

"Thank you," said De Wardes. "Twice already, in one hour, I have seen
death too close at hand to be agreeable; I don't like his look at all,
and I prefer your apologies."

Manicamp burst out laughing, and Guiche, too, in spite of his
sufferings. The two young men wished to carry him, but he declared he
felt quite strong enough to walk alone. The ball had broken his ring-
finger and his little finger, and then had glanced along his side, but
without penetrating deeply into his chest. It was the pain rather than
the seriousness of the wound, therefore, which had overcome De Guiche.
Manicamp passed his arm under one of the count's shoulders, and De Wardes
did the same with the other, and in this way they brought him back to
Fontainebleau, to the house of the same doctor who had been present at
the death of the Franciscan, Aramis's predecessor.

Alexandre Dumas pere