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Chapter 8

THE CHALLENGE


Benedict's prediction was duly fulfilled. He had hardly opened his eyes the next morning when Lenhart, who had assumed the duties of valet, appeared, bearing a magnificent silver salver which he had borrowed from the landlord. On it were displayed two cards.

The cards bore the respective names of "Major Frederic von Bülow" and "Georges Kleist, Editor of the 'Kreuz Zeitung.'" Two different classes of Prussian society were therefore represented desiring satisfaction.

Benedict enquired where these gentlemen were to be found, and hearing that they were both at his own hotel, sent a hasty message to Colonel Anderson, begging him to come at once. When he appeared Benedict gave him the cards, requesting him to deal with the owners in due order of precedence, beginning with Major von Bülow, and to agree to whatever terms were proposed whether as to weapons, time, or place. The colonel would have protested, but Benedict declared he would have it his own way or not at all, and Anderson had no choice but to agree.

He returned at the end of half-an-hour. Von Bülow had chosen swords. But, having been sent officially to Frankfort, and having come out of his way in order to accept M. Turpin's challenge, he would be greatly obliged if the meeting might take place as soon as possible.

"The sooner the better," said Benedict. "It is the very least I can do to oblige a man who comes out of his way in order to oblige me."

"All he wants, seemingly, is to be able to continue his journey this evening," observed Anderson.

"Ah!" said Benedict. "But I cannot answer for his ability to do that, however early we meet!"

"That would be a pity," said the colonel. "Major von Bülow is very much a gentleman. It seems that three Prussian officers interfered to protect you from the mob on condition that you cried 'Vive King William!' 'Vive la Prusse!'"

"Pardon me, there were no conditions."

"Not on your side, but they undertook it for you."

"I did not prevent them from crying it as much as they liked."

"Doubtless, only, instead of doing it yourself—"

"I recited one of Alfred de Musset's finest poems; what more could they want?"

"They consider that you treated them with disrespect."

"Perhaps I did. Well, what next?"

"When they read your letter they decided that one of them must accept the challenge and the other two act as seconds. They drew lots, and the lot fell on von Bülow. That very moment he received orders to go on this mission to Frankfort. The others wished that one of them should take his place in the duel. But he refused, saying that if he were killed or badly wounded, one of them could take on the dispatches which would not be much delayed. So I then arranged the meeting for one o'clock."

"Very well. What about the other man?"

"Herr Georges Kleist is not remarkable in any way: he is a typical German journalist. He chooses pistols and wants to fire at close quarters on account of his defective eyesight. I believe it is quite good enough, but, however, he does wear glasses, so you are to be at forty-five paces—"

"Good gracious! Do you call that close quarters?"

"Have a little patience! You may each advance fifteen paces nearer, which reduces the ultimate distance to fifteen. But we had a discussion. His seconds say that he is the aggrieved party and has the right to fire first. I say, nothing of the kind; you ought to fire together, at a given signal. You must decide; it is a serious matter, and I decline the responsibility."

"It is soon decided; he must fire first. I hope you fixed an early time for him also? We could then kill two birds with one stone."

"That is just what I have done. At one o'clock you meet von Bülow with swords, and at a quarter-past, Herr Kleist, with pistols."

"Well then, my dear colonel, I will go and order breakfast, and will you be so good as to tell Herr Kleist that he can have first shot? And," he added, "let it be understood that I don't provide any arms myself; I will use the swords and pistols they bring with them."

It was then eleven o'clock. Benedict promptly ordered breakfast. Colonel Anderson returned in ten minutes and announced that all was settled. Whereupon they applied themselves to their repast until the clock struck twelve.

"Colonel," said Benedict, "do not let us be late."

"We have no great distance to go. It is a pretty place, as you will see. Are you influenced by surroundings?"

"I would rather fight on grass than on cultivated ground."

"We are going to Eilenriede; it is a sort of Hanoverian Bois de Boulogne. In the middle of the wood there is a little open glade with a spring in it, which might have been made for this sort of encounter. I have been there once or twice on my own account and three or four times on other people's. By the way, have you secured another second?"

"There are five on the other side, one of them will oblige me."

"But suppose they refused?"

"Not likely! But, even if they did, you alone would be sufficient. And, as they seem anxious to finish the affair one way or another, there will be no difficulties."

Lenhart had already announced the carriage. The colonel explained the way to him. In half-an-hour they arrived at the little glade, with ten minutes to spare.

"A lovely spot," said Benedict. "As the others are not yet here, I will sketch it."

And, producing a sketch-book from his pocket, he dashed off a very accurate view of the place with remarkable rapidity and skill.

Presently a carriage appeared in the distance. As they drew near Benedict rose and took off his hat. The three officers, the editor, and a surgeon they had brought, occupied it. In the officers, Benedict at once recognized his three protectors at Berlin.

His adversaries left their carriage at a little distance and courteously returned his salute. Colonel Anderson went to meet them and explained that his principal, being a stranger, had no second but himself, and asked if one of his opponents would supply the deficiency. They consulted a moment, then one of the officers crossed over and bowed to Benedict.

"I am much obliged by your courtesy, sir," said Benedict.

"We will agree to anything, sir—rather than lose time," replied the officer.

Benedict bit his lip.

"Will you at once select the weapons," he said to Colonel Anderson in English, "we must not keep these gentlemen waiting."

Von Bülow had already divested himself of helmet, coat, waistcoat, and cravat. Benedict studied him carefully as he did so. He appeared to be about thirty-three and to have lived in his uniform until he felt uncomfortable out of it. He was dark, with glossy black hair cut quite short, a straight nose, black moustache and very decided chin. Both courage and loyalty could be read in the frank and open glance of his dark eyes.

Von Bülow, having provided the swords, Benedict was offered his choice of them. He simply took the first that came, and immediately passed his left hand along the edge and felt the point. The edge was keen as a razor. The point sharp as a needle. The major's second observed his action, and, beckoning Colonel Anderson aside.

"Will you," he said, "kindly explain to your principal that in German duels we use only the edge of the sword? To thrust with the point is inadmissible."

"The devil!" said Benedict when this information was repeated to him, "it is well you told me. In France, where duels, especially military ones, are usually serious, we use every stroke we can, and our sword-play is actually called 'counterpoint.'"

"But indeed," exclaimed von Bülow, "I beg, sir, that you will use your sword in whatever way you find best."

Benedict bowed in acknowledgment. Having fought several duels at Heidelberg he was well acquainted with German methods of fencing and placed himself with apparent indifference. As the affronted person has the right of attack, and a challenge may be considered an affront, he waited, standing simply on guard.

Alexandre Dumas pere