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Chapter 36

"WAIT AND SEE"


When Karl and Helen had been laid in their place of eternal rest, Benedict considered that the time had now arrived when, having no more services to perform for the family to which he had devoted himself, he might remind Sturm that he was Frederic von Bülow's executor.

Always obedient to convention he dressed himself with the greatest care, hung the Cross of the Legion of Honour and the Guelphic Order to his buttonhole by a line gold chain and sent in his name to General Sturm. The general was in his study. He ordered Benedict to be shown in at once, and as he entered rose from his seat, showed him a chair, and sat down again. Benedict indicated that he preferred to stand.

"Sir," said he, "the succession of misfortunes which has befallen the Chandroz family leaves me free, earlier than I expected, to come and remind you that Frederic, when he was dying, bequeathed to me a sacred duty—that of vengeance."

The general bowed and Benedict returned his bow.

"Nothing now keeps me in Frankfort but my wish to fulfil my friend's last injunction. You know what that injunction was, for I have told you; from this moment I shall have the honour of holding myself at your disposal."

"That is to say, sir," said General Sturm, striking his fist upon the writing-table before him, "that you come here to challenge me?"

"Yes, sir," answered Benedict. "A dying man's wishes are sacred, and Frederic von Bülow's wish was that one of us—either you or I—should disappear from this world. I deliver it to you the more readily because I know you, sir, to be brave, skilful in all bodily exercises, and a first-rate swordsman and shot. I am not an officer in the Prussian army; you are in no sense my chief. I am a Frenchman, you are a Prussian; we have Jena behind us and you have Leipzig; we are therefore enemies. All this makes me hope that you will place no difficulty in my way, and will consent to send me two seconds to-morrow, who will find mine at my house between seven and eight in the morning, and will do me the pleasure of announcing to them the hour, place, and weapons that you have chosen. Everything will be acceptable to me; make what conditions you like in the best way you can. I hope that you are satisfied."

General Sturm had shown frequent signs of impatience during Benedict's speech; but had controlled himself like a well-bred man.

"Sir," said he, "I promise you that you shall hear from me by the hour you name, and perhaps earlier."

This was all that Benedict wanted. He bowed and withdrew, delighted that everything had passed off so properly. He was already at the door when he remembered that he had omitted to give the general his new address, at Lenhart's. He went to a table and wrote the street and number below his name on his card.

"Excuse me," said he, "I must not fail to let your Excellency know where I am to be found."

"Are you not my neighbour?" asked the general.

"No," said Benedict. "I have left this house since the day before yesterday."

On the same evening, since he expected to leave Frankfort immediately after next day's duel—unless, indeed, some wound should detain him—Benedict left cards of farewell at all the houses where he had visited, withdrew his money from the bank, and, his banker having detained him, remained at his house until eleven o'clock, and then took leave to return to Lenhart's. But, as he was crossing the corner of the Ross Market an officer accosted him and, saying that he had a communication to make on behalf of the officer in command of the town, begged Benedict to accompany him. The latter made no difficulty about entering the market place where military were quartered, and there, at a sign from the officer, soldiers surrounded him.

"Sir," said the officer, "will you kindly read this paper, which concerns you."

Benedict took the paper and read it:


"By order of the colonel in command of the town and as a measure of public safety, M. Benedict Turpin is instructed to leave Frankfort instantly upon receipt of the present order. Should he refuse to obey willingly, force is to be employed. Six privates and an officer will accompany him to the station, enter the same carriage in the Cologne train and only leave him at the frontier of the Prussian territory.

"This order to be carried out before midnight.

"Signed ***."


Benedict looked round; he had no possible means of resistance.

"Sir," said he, "if I had any way of escaping from the order that I have just read, I declare to you that I would do anything in the world to get out of your hands. The great man who is your minister, and whom I admire although I do not like him, has said 'Might is right.' I am ready to yield to force. But I should be greatly obliged if one of you would go to 17, Beckenheim Street, to a man who lets out carriages, named Lenhart, and kindly ask him to bring me my dog, of which I am very fond. I will take occasion to give him some orders in your presence that are of no particular consequence, but rather important to a man who has been living in a town for three months and is leaving when he had no expectation of doing so."

The officer ordered a soldier to fulfil Benedict's wish.

"Sir," said he, "I know that you were intimate with a man to whom we were all attached, Herr Frederic von Bülow; although I have not the honour of your personal acquaintance, I should be sorry that you should carry away a bad impression of me. I was ordered to arrest you in the manner that I have done. I hope you will pardon an action entirely outside my own wishes, and which I have tried to perform with as much courtesy as possible."

Benedict held out his hand.

"I have been a soldier, sir; and therefore I am obliged to you for an explanation that you might easily have refrained from making."

A minute or so later Lenhart arrived with Frisk.

"My dear Lenhart," said Benedict, "I am leaving Frankfort unexpectedly; be so kind as to collect any things belonging to me that you may have and send them to me, in two or three days, unless you prefer to bring them yourself to Paris, which you do not know and where I would try to make you spend a pleasant fortnight. I do not offer any terms; you know that you may safely leave such matters in my hands."

"Oh, I will go, sir, I will go," said. Lenhart. "You may be sure of that."

"And now," said Benedict, "I think it must be time for the train; no doubt you have a carriage waiting; let us go if you have nothing more to wait for, and if you have not a travelling companion to give me."

The soldiers lined up and Benedict passed between them to the carriage that was waiting. Frisk, always delighted to go from one place to another, leapt in first, as if to invite his master to follow. Benedict stepped in, the officer followed him; four privates followed the officer, a fifth seated himself beside the driver, a sixth jumped up behind, and the conveyance set out for the station.

The engine was just ready to start as the prisoner arrived; he had not even the trouble of waiting a few minutes. At the carriage door Frisk was, as usual, the first to jump in, and although it is not customary, especially in Prussia, for dogs to travel first-class, Benedict obtained for him the favour of remaining with them. Next morning they were at Cologne.

"Sir," said Benedict to the officer, "I am accustomed, every time that I pass through this town, to provide myself with Farina's eau-de-Cologne for my dressing-table. If you are not pressed for time I would propose two things to you: in the first place my word of honour to play fair and not give you the slip before reaching the frontier; in the second place, a good breakfast for these gentlemen and you, all breakfasting together at the same table without any distinction of rank, like brothers. Then we will take the midday train, unless you prefer to trust my word that I will go straight to Paris."

The officer smiled.

"Sir," said he, "we will do what you please. I should like you to carry away the impression that we are only uncivil and tormentors when we are ordered to be. You want to stay; then let us stay! You offer me your word; I accept it. You wish to have us all breakfast with you; although it does not conform either to Prussian habits or Prussian discipline, I accept. The only precaution we will take—and that rather to do you honour than because we doubt your word—will be to see you off at the station. Where do you wish us to meet you again?"

"At the Rhine Hotel, if you please, gentlemen, in an hour's time."

"I need not say," added the officer, speaking in French that the soldiers should not understand him, "that after the way I have behaved to you I ought to be cashiered."

Benedict bowed with an air that seemed to say "You need be under no uneasiness, sir."

Benedict went away to the cathedral square, where Jean Marie Parina's shop is situated, and the officer took off his men in another direction.

Benedict supplied himself with eau-de-Cologne, which he could the more easily do because, having no other luggage, he could carry his purchase with him, and then proceeded to the Rhine Hotel, where he was accustomed to stay. He ordered the best breakfast that the proprietor could promise him, and awaited his guests, who appeared at the agreed time.

The breakfast was a thoroughly cheerful one; the prosperity of France and the prosperity of Prussia were toasted, the Prussians courteously setting the example; and after breakfast Benedict was escorted to the station, and, by military order, had a carriage to himself, instead of sharing one with six private soldiers and an officer.

At the moment of the train's starting the officer put into Benedict's hand a letter, which the traveller opened as soon as the train had passed out of the station. He gave a glance at the signature. It came, as he expected, from General Sturm and contained these words:


"MY DEAR SIR,

"You will understand that it does not become a superior officer to set a bad example by accepting a challenge of which the object is to avenge an officer who was punished for disobedience to his chief. If I were to fight you for a reason so contrary to all military discipline I should be setting a fatal example to the army. I refuse, therefore, for the present, to meet you, and in order to avoid a scandal, I employ one of the most courteous measures at my disposal. You, yourself, were so good as to acknowledge that I had a reputation for courage, and you added that you knew me to be a first-rate shot and swordsman. You cannot, therefore, attribute my refusal to any fear of facing you. A proverb, common to all countries, says: 'Mountains do not meet, but men do.' If we meet anywhere else than in Prussia, and if you are still desirous of killing me, we will see about settling this little matter; but I warn you that the result is by no means a foregone conclusion, and that you will have more trouble than you expect in keeping your promise to your friend Frederic."


Benedict refolded the letter with the utmost care, placed it in his pocket-book and slipped his pocket-book into his pocket, arranged himself as comfortably as he could in a corner, and closing his eyes for sleep, murmured: "Well, well, we will wait and see!"

Alexandre Dumas pere