THE next day, or rather the same day, at ten o’clock, I called upon M. Louis de Franchi.
As I was ascending the staircase, I met two young men coming down. One was evidently a civilian, the other wore the Legion of Honour, and though in mufti I could see he was an officer.
I had, no doubt, that these gentlemen had just been with M. de Franchi, and I watched them downstairs. Then I continued my way to Louis’ apartments and rang the bell.
The servant opened the door. His master was in his study.
When the man announced me, Louis, who was writing, looked up and exclaimed—
“Ah, welcome! I was just writing to you. I am very glad to see you. Joseph, I am not at home to any one.”
The servant went out and left us alone.
“Didn’t you meet two gentlemen upon the stairs?” asked Louis, as he placed a chair.
“Yes, one of them was decorated.”
“I fancied they had called upon you.”
“You are quite right.”
“Did they come on behalf of M. de Chateau Renaud?”
“They are his seconds.”
“Ah! so he has taken this matter seriously it seems.”
“He could scarcely do otherwise,” replied Louis.
“So they came to——.”
“To request me to name two friends who would confer with them; I thought of you.”
“I am really honoured by your kindness. But I cannot go alone.”
“I have also written to ask an old friend, the Baron Giordano Martelli, to breakfast here. He will come at eleven. We will breakfast together, and at twelve, perhaps, you will be kind enough to go and see these gentlemen who have promised to remain at home until three o’clock. Here are their names and addresses.”
Louis handed me two cards as he spoke.
One card represented the Baron René de Chateaugrand, the other M. Adrien de Boissy.
The former lived in the Rue de la Paix, No. 12.
The latter, who I now saw, belonged to the army, was a lieutenant of Chasseurs d’Afrique, and lived in the Rue de Lille, No. 29.
I turned the cards over and over in my fingers.
“Well, what embarrasses you?” asked Louis.
“I should like to be told frankly if you look upon this as a serious matter. You know we must mould our conduct upon that.”
“Indeed, I do consider it a very serious matter. You heard me place myself at M. de Chateau Renaud’s disposal, he has sent to me. I must now go with the current.”
“Yes, of course, but after all——”
“Go on,” said Louis, smilingly.
“After all,” I continued, “we must know what you are going to fight for. We cannot put two men up to cut and slash each other without having some ground for the encounter.”
“Very well, let me tell you in as few words as possible, the head and front of the offending.
“When I first arrived in Paris I was introduced by a friend of mine, a captain in the navy, to his wife. She was young and beautiful. She made a deep impression upon me, and as I was really afraid I might end by falling in love with her, I very rarely went to my friend’s house, although frequently pressed to do so.
“My friend was rather piqued at my absence, and at last I frankly told him the truth, that his wife being so charming I was rather afraid to go to his house. He laughed, shook hands with me, and asked me, even pressed me, to dine with him that same evening.
“ ‘My dear Louis,’ said he, after dinner. ‘In a few weeks I shall sail for Mexico. I may be absent three months, perhaps six—or longer. We sailors sometimes know when we shall sail, but never when we may return. To you, I commend Emily during my absence. Emily, I beg of you to look upon M. Louis de Franchi as a brother.’
“The lady gave me her hand in token of agreement. I was stupefied! I did not know what to say, and I daresay I appeared very stupid to my future sister.
“Three weeks after this my friend sailed.
“During those three weeks he insisted that I should dine at least once a week with them en famille.
“Emily’s mother then came to live with her. I need scarcely say that her husband’s confidence was not abused, and though I loved her dearly I regarded her simply as a sister.
“Six months elapsed.
“Emily’s mother still remained with her, but when he went away, her husband had entreated her to receive as usual. There was nothing my poor friend had a greater horror of than to appear as a jealous husband. He adored Emily and had every confidence in her.
“So Emily continued to receive, and they were very friendly receptions. But her mother’s presence silenced all scandal or cause for it, and no one could say a word against her reputation.
“At the end of three months or so M. de Chateau Renaud appeared.
“You believe in presentiments, I daresay. When I first saw that man I disliked him and would not speak to him. I hated him.
“But why I disliked him I cannot tell you. I did!
“Most likely because I saw that even at his first appearance Emily seemed inclined to like him, and he evidently admired her. Perhaps I am mistaken, but, as at the bottom of my heart I had never ceased to love Emily, I suspect I was jealous.
“So on the next occasion I did not lose sight of M. de Chateau Renaud. Perhaps he noticed my looks and it seemed to me that he was chatting in undertones to Emily and holding me up to ridicule.
“Had I yielded to my feelings I would have challenged him that evening, but I reflected that such conduct would be absurd, and restrained myself.
“Every Wednesday thenceforth was a greater trial than the last.
“M. de Chateau Renaud is quite a man of the world, a dandy—a lion—I know how superior he is to me in many respects. But it seems to me that Emily values him more highly than he deserves.
“Soon I found out that I was not the only one who remarked her preference for M. de Chateau Renaud, and this preference increased to such an extent and became so obvious that one day Giordano, who like me was an habitué of the house, spoke to me about it.
“From that moment my resolution was taken. I determined to speak to Emily on the subject, convinced that she was only acting thoughtlessly and I had but to call her attention to the matter to have it remedied.
“But to my great astonishment she took my remonstrances in joke, pretended that I was mad, and that those who agreed with me were as stupid as I was.
“However, I insisted.
“Emily only replied, that she would leave to my own decision as to whether a man in love was not necessarily a prejudiced judge.
“I remained perfectly stupefied; her husband must have told her everything.
“Now you will understand that under these circumstances, and being an unhappy and jealous lover, and only making myself objectionable to the lady, I ceased to visit at the house.
“But although I did not go to her parties I did not the less hear the gossip that was afloat, nor was I the less unhappy, for these reports were assuming a tangible shape.
“I resolved therefore to write to her, and beg her in the strongest language of which I was capable, for her own and her husband’s sake, to be careful. She never answered my letter.
“Some time afterwards I heard it publicly stated that Emily was actually the mistress of Chateau Renaud. What I suffered I cannot express.
“It was then my poor brother became conscious of my grief.
“Then, after about a fortnight, you came back to Paris. The very day you called upon me I received an anonymous letter from a lady unknown appointing a meeting at the Opera Ball.
“This woman said that she had certain information to convey to me respecting a lady friend of mine, whose Christian name only she would mention.
“The name was Emily.
“My correspondent said I should recognize her by her carrying a bouquet of violets.
“I told you at the time that I did not wish to go to the ball, but I repeat I was hurried thither by fate.
“I went as you know. I found my domino at the place at the hour indicated. She confirmed what I had already heard respecting Chateau Renaud and Emily, and if I wished proof, she would give it me, for Chateau Renaud had made a bet that he would take his new mistress to supper at M. D——’s house that evening.
“Chance revealed to me that you knew M. D——, you suggested that I should accompany you. I accepted, you know the rest.”
“Now, what more could I do but await and accept the proposals that were made to me?”
“But,” I said, at length, as a sensation of fear crossed my mind, “I am afraid I heard your brother say that you had never handled a sword or a pistol.”
“That is quite true!”
“Then you are absolutely at the mercy of your adversary!”
“I cannot help it. I am in the hands of Providence.”