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IN consenting to receive the General's representative, it is needless to
say that I merely desired to avoid provoking another quarrel. If those
persons were really impudent enough to call at the hotel, I had arranged
to threaten them with the interference of the police, and so to put an
end to the matter. Romayne expressed no opinion on the subject, one way
or the other. His conduct inspired me with a feeling of uneasiness. The
filthy insult of which he had been made the object seemed to be rankling
in his mind. He went away thoughtfully to his own room. "Have you
nothing to say to me?" I asked. He only answered: "Wait till to-morrow."
The next day the seconds appeared.
I had expected to see two of the men with whom we had dined. To my
astonishment, the visitors proved to be officers of the General's
regiment. They brought proposals for a hostile meeting the next morning;
the choice of weapons being left to Romayne as the challenged man.
It was now quite plain to me that the General's peculiar method of
card-playing had, thus far, not been discovered and exposed. He might
keep doubtful company, and might (as I afterward heard) be suspected in
certain quarters. But that he still had, formally-speaking, a reputation
to preserve, was proved by the appearance of the two gentlemen present
as his representatives. They declared, with evident sincerity, that
Romayne had made a fatal mistake; had provoked the insult offered to
him; and had resented it by a brutal and cowardly outrage. As a man and
a soldier, the General was doubly bound to insist on a duel. No apology
would be accepted, even if an apology were offered.
In this emergency, as I understood it, there was but one course to
follow. I refused to receive the challenge.
Being asked for my reasons, I found it necessary to speak within certain
limits. Though we knew the General to be a cheat, it was a delicate
matter to dispute his right to claim satisfaction, when he had found
two officers to carry his message. I produced the seized cards (which
Romayne had brought away with him in his pocket), and offered them as a
formal proof that my friend had not been mistaken.
The seconds--evidently prepared for this circumstance by their
principal--declined to examine the cards. In the first place, they said,
not even the discovery of foul play (supposing the discovery to have
been really made) could justify Romayne's conduct. In the second
place, the General's high character made it impossible, under any
circumstances, that he could be responsible. Like ourselves, he had
rashly associated with bad company; and he had been the innocent victim
of an error or a fraud, committed by some other person present at the
Driven to my last resource, I could now only base my refusal to receive
the challenge on the ground that we were Englishmen, and that the
practice of dueling had been abolished in England. Both the seconds at
once declined to accept this statement in justification of my conduct.
"You are now in France," said the elder of the two, "where a duel is
the established remedy for an insult, among gentlemen. You are bound
to respect the social laws of the country in which you are for the time
residing. If you refuse to do so, you lay yourselves open to a public
imputation on your courage, of a nature too degrading to be more
particularly alluded to. Let us adjourn this interview for three hours
on the ground of informality. We ought to confer with _two_ gentlemen,
acting on Mr. Romayne's behalf. Be prepared with another second to meet
us, and reconsider your decision before we call again."
The Frenchmen had barely taken their departure by one door, when Romayne
entered by another.
"I have heard it all," he said, quietly. "Accept the challenge."
I declare solemnly that I left no means untried of opposing my friend's
resolution. No man could have felt more strongly convinced than I did,
that nothing could justify the course he was taking. My remonstrances
were completely thrown away. He was deaf to sense and reason, from the
moment when he had heard an imputation on his courage suggested as a
possible result of any affair in which he was concerned.
"With your views," he said, "I won't ask you to accompany me to the
ground. I can easily find French seconds. And mind this, if you attempt
to prevent the meeting, the duel will take place elsewhere--and our
friendship is at an end from that moment."
After this, I suppose it is needless to add that I accompanied him to
the ground the next morning as one of his seconds.
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