The Point of Honor
by Joseph Conrad
NAPOLEON I, whose career had the quality of duel against
the whole of Europe, disliked duelling between the officers
of his army. The great military emperor was not a
swashbuckler, and had little respect for tradition.
Nevertheless, a story of duelling, which
became a legend in the army, runs through the epic of
imperial wars. To the surprise and admiration of their
fellows, two officers, like insane artists trying to gild
refined gold or paint the lily, pursued a private contest
through the years of universal carnage. They were officers
of cavalry, and their connection with the high-spirited but
fanciful animal which carries men into battle seems
particularly appropriate. It would be difficult to imagine
for heroes of this legend two officers of infantry of the
line, for example, whose fantasy is tamed by much walking
exercise, and whose valour necessarily must be of a more
plodding kind. As to gunners or engineers, whose heads are
kept cool on a diet of mathematics, it is simply
The names of the two officers were Feraud and
D'Hubert, and they were both lieutenants in a regiment of
hussars, but not in the same regiment.
Feraud was doing regimental work, but
Lieutenant D'Hubert had the good fortune to be attached to
the person of the general commanding the division, as
officier d'ordonnance. It was in Strasbourg, and in
this agreeable and important garrison they were enjoying
greatly a short interval of peace. They were enjoying it,
though both intensely warlike, because it was a
sword-sharpening, firelock-cleaning peace, dear to a
military heart and undamaging to military prestige, inasmuch
that no one believed in its sincerity or duration.
Under those historical circumstances, so
favourable to the proper appreciation of military leisure,
Lieutenant D'Hubert, one fine afternoon, made his way along
a quiet street of a cheerful suburb toward Lieutenant
Feraud's quarters, which were in a private house with a
garden at the back, belonging to an old maiden lady.
His knock at the door was answered instantly
by a young maid in Alsatian costume. Her fresh complexion
and her long eyelashes, lowered demurely at the sight of the
tall officer, caused Lieutenant D'Hubert, who was accessible
to esthetic impressions, to relax the cold, severe gravity
of his face. At the same time he observed that the girl had
over her arm a pair of hussars breeches, blue with a red
"Lieutenant Feraud in?" he inquired
"Oh, no, sir! He went out at six this
The pretty maid tried to close the door.
Lieutenant D'Hubert, opposing this move with gentle
firmness, stepped into the ante-room, jingling his spurs.
"Come, my dear! You don't mean to say he
has not been home since six o'clock this morning?"
Saying these words, Lieutenant D'Hubert
opened without ceremony the door of a room so comfortably
and neatly ordered that only from internal evidence in the
shape of boots, uniforms, and military accoutrements did he
acquire the conviction that it was Lieutenant Feraud's room.
And he saw also that Lieutenant Feraud was not at home. The
truthful maid had followed him, and raised her candid eyes
to his face.
"H'm!" said Lieutenant D'Hubert,
greatly disappointed, for he had already visited all the
haunts where a lieutenant of hussars could be found of a
fine afternoon. "So he's out? And do you happen to
know, my dear, why he went out at six this morning?"
"No," she answered readily.
"He came home late last night, and snored. I heard him
when I got up at five. Then he dressed himself in his oldest
uniform and went out. Service, I suppose."
"Service? Not a bit of it!" cried
Lieutenant D'Hubert. "Learn, my angel, that he went out
thus early to fight a duel with a civilian."
She heard this news without a quiver of her
dark eyelashes. It was very obvious that the actions of
Lieutenant Feraud were generally above criticism. She only
looked up for a moment in mute surprise, and Lieutenant
D'Hubert concluded from this absence of emotion that she
must have seen Lieutenant Feraud since that morning. He
looked around the room.
"Come!" he insisted, with
confidential familiarity. "He's perhaps somewhere in
the house now?"
She shook her head.
"So much the worse for him!"
continued Lieutenant D'Hubert, in a tone of anxious
conviction. "But he has been home this morning."
This time the pretty maid nodded slightly.
"He has!" cried Lieutenant
D'Hubert. "And went out again? What for? Couldn't he
keep quietly indoors! What a lunatic! My dear girl
Lieutenant D'Hubert's natural kindness of
disposition and strong sense of comradeship helped his
powers of observation. He changed his tone to a most
insinuating softness, and, gazing at the hussars breeches
hanging over the arm of the girl, he appealed to the
interest she took in Lieutenant Feraud's comfort and
happiness. He was pressing and persuasive. He used his eyes,
which were kind and fine, with excellent effect. His anxiety
to get hold at once of Lieutenant Feraud, for Lieutenant
Feraud's own good, seemed so genuine that at last it
overcame the girl's unwillingness to speak. Unluckily she
had not much to tell. Lieutenant Feraud had returned home
shortly before ten, had walked straight into his room, and
had thrown himself on his bed to resume his slumbers. She
had heard him snore rather louder than before far into the
afternoon. Then he got up, put on his best uniform, and went
out. That was all she knew.
She raised her eyes, and Lieutenant D'Hubert
stared into them incredulously.
"It's incredible! Gone parading the town
in his best uniform! My dear child, don't you know he ran
that civilian through this morning? Clean through, as you
spit a hare."
The pretty maid heard the gruesome
intelligence without any signs of distress. But she pressed
her lips together thoughtfully.
"He isn't parading the town," she
remarked in a low tone. "Far from it."
"The civilian's family is making an
awful row," continued Lieutenant D'Hubert, pursuing his
train of thought. "And the general is very angry. It's
one of the best families in the town. Feraud ought to have
kept close at least
"What will the general do to him?"
inquired the girl anxiously.
"He won't have his head cut off, to be
sure," grumbled Lieutenant D'Hubert. "His conduct
is positively indecent. He's making no end of trouble for
himself by this sort of bravado."
"But he isn't parading the town,"
the maid insisted in a shy murmur.
"Why, yes! Now I think of it, I haven't
seen him anywhere about. What on earth has he done with
"He's gone to pay a call,"
suggested the maid, after a moment of silence.
Lieutenant D'Hubert started.
"A call! Do you mean a call on a lady?
The cheek of the man! And how do you know this, my
Without concealing her woman's scorn for the
denseness of the masculine mind, the pretty maid reminded
him that Lieutenant Feraud had arrayed himself in his best
uniform before going out. He had also put on his newest
dolman, she added, in a tone as if this conversation were
getting on her nerves, and turned away brusquely.
Lieutenant D'Hubert, without questioning the
accuracy of the deduction, did not see that it advanced him
much on his official quest. For his quest after Lieutenant
Feraud had an official character. He did not know any of the
women this fellow, who had run a man through in the morning,
was likely to visit in the afternoon. The two young men knew
each other but slightly. He bit his gloved finger in
"Call!" he exclaimed. "Call on
The girl, with her back to him, and folding
the hussars breeches on a chair, protested with a vexed
"Oh, dear, no! On Madame de
Lieutenant D'Hubert whistled softly. Madame
de Lionne was the wife of a high official who had a
well-known salon and some pretensions to sensibility and
elegance. The husband was a civilian, and old; but the
society of the salon was young and military. Lieutenant
D'Hubert had whistled, not because the idea of pursuing
Lieutenant Feraud into that very salon was disagreeable to
him, but because, having arrived in Strasbourg only lately,
he had not had the time as yet to get an introduction to
Madame de Lionne. And what was that swashbuckler Feraud
doing there, he wondered. He did not seem the sort of man
"Are you certain of what you say?"
asked Lieutenant D'Hubert.
The girl was perfectly certain. Without
turning round to look at him, she explained that the
coachman of their next door neighbours knew the
maître-d'hôtel of Madame de Lionne. In
this way she had her information. And she was perfectly
certain. In giving this assurance she sighed. Lieutenant
Feraud called there nearly every afternoon, she added.
"Ah, bah!" exclaimed D'Hubert
ironically. His opinion of Madame de Lionne went down
several degrees. Lieutenant Feraud did not seem to him
specially worthy of attention on the part of a woman with a
reputation for sensibility and elegance. But there was no
saying. At bottom they were all alike--very practical rather
than idealistic. Lieutenant D'Hubert, however, did not allow
his mind to dwell on these considerations.
"By thunder!" he reflected aloud.
"The General goes there sometimes. If he happens to
find the fellow making eyes at the lady there will be the
devil to pay! Our General is not a very accommodating
person, I can tell you."
"Go quickly, then! Don't stand here now
I've told you where he is!" cried the girl, colouring
to the eyes.
"Thanks, my dear! I don't know what I
would have done without you."
After manifesting his gratitude in an
aggressive way, which at first was repulsed violently, and
then submitted to with a sudden and still more repellent
indifference, Lieutenant D'Hubert took his departure.
He clanked and jingled along the streets with
a martial swagger. To run a comrade to earth in a
drawing-room where he was not known did not trouble him in
the least. A uniform is a passport. His position as
officier d'ordonnance of the general added to his
assurance. Moreover, now that he knew where to find
Lieutenant Feraud, he had no option. It was a service
Madame de Lionne's house had an excellent
appearance. A man in livery, opening the door of a large
drawing-room with a waxed Moor, shouted his name and stood
aside to let him pass. It was a reception day. The ladies
wore big hats surcharged with a profusion of feathers; their
bodies, sheathed in clinging white gowns from the armpits to
the tips of the low satin shoes, looked sylphlike and cool
in a great display of bare necks and arms. The men who
talked with them, on the contrary, were arrayed heavily in
multi-coloured garments with collars up to their ears and
thick sashes round their waists. Lieutenant D'Hubert made
his unabashed way across the room and, bowing low before a
sylphlike form reclining on a couch, offered his apologies
for this intrusion, which nothing could excuse but the
extreme urgency of the service order he had to communicate
to his comrade Feraud. He proposed to himself to return
presently in a more regular manner and beg forgiveness for
interrupting the interesting conversation. . . A bare arm
was extended toward him with gracious nonchalance even
before he had finished speaking. He pressed the hand
respectfully to his lips, and made the mental remark that it
was bony. Madame de Lionne was a blonde, with too fine a
skin and a long face. "C'est ça!"
she said, with an ethereal smile, disclosing a set of large
teeth. "Come this evening to plead for your
"I will not fail, madame."
Meantime Lieutenant Feraud, splendid in his
new dolman and the extremely polished boots of his calling,
sat on a chair within a foot of the couch, one hand resting
on his thigh, the other twirling his moustache to a point.
At a significant glance from D'Hubert he rose without
alacrity, and followed him into the recess of a window.
"What is it you want with me?" he
asked, with astonishing indifference. Lieutenant D'Hubert
could not imagine that in the innocence of his heart and
simplicity of his conscience Lieutenant Feraud took a view
of his duel in which neither remorse nor yet a rational
apprehension of consequences had any place. Though he had no
clear recollection how the quarrel had originated (it was
begun in an establishment where beer and wine are drunk late
at night), he had not the slightest doubt of being himself
the outraged party. He had had two experienced friends for
his seconds. Everything had been done according to the rules
governing that sort of adventures. And a duel is obviously
fought for the purpose of some one being at least hurt, if
not killed outright. The civilian got hurt. That also was in
order. Lieutenant Feraud was perfectly tranquil; but
Lieutenant D'Hubert took it for affectation, and spoke with
a certain vivacity.
"I am directed by the General to give
you the order to go at once to your quarters, and remain
there under close arrest."
It was now the turn of Lieutenant Feraud to
be astonished. "What the devil are you telling me
there?" he murmured faintly, and fell into such
profound wonder that he could only follow mechanically the
motions of Lieutenant D'Hubert. The two officers, one tall,
with an interesting face and moustache the colour of ripe
corn, the other short and sturdy, with a hooked nose and a
thick crop of black curly hair, approached the mistress of
the house to take their leave. Madame de Lionne, a woman of
eclectic taste, smiled upon these armed young men with
impartial sensibility and an equal share of interest. Madame
de Lionne took her delight in the infinite variety of the
human species. All the other eyes in the drawing-room
followed the departing officers; and when they had gone out
one or two men, who had already heard of the duel, imparted
the information to the sylphlike ladies, who received it
with faint shrieks of humane concern.
Meantime the two hussars walked side by side,
Lieutenant Feraud trying to master the hidden reason of
things which in this instance eluded the grasp of his
intellect; Lieutenant D'Hubert feeling annoyed at the part
he had to play, because the general's instructions were that
he should see personally that Lieutenant Feraud carried out
his orders to the letter, and at once.
"The chief seems to know this
animal," he thought, eying his companion, whose round
face, the round eyes, and even the twisted-up jet black
little moustache seemed animated by a mental exasperation
against the incomprehensible. And aloud he observed rather
reproachfully, "The General is in a devilish fury with
you!" Lieutenant Feraud stopped short on the edge of
the pavement, and cried in the accents of unmistakable
sincerity, "What on earth for?" The innocence of
the fiery Gascon soul was depicted in the manner in which he
seized his head in both hands as if to prevent it bursting
"For the duel," said Lieutenant
D'Hubert curtly. He was annoyed greatly at this sort of
"The duel! The . . ."
Lieutenant Feraud passed from one paroxysm of
astonishment into another. He dropped his hands and walked
on slowly, trying to reconcile this information with the
state of his own feelings. It was impossible. He burst out
indignantly, "Was I to let that sauerkraut-eating
civilian wipe his boots on the uniform of the Seventh
Lieutenant D'Hubert could not remain
altogether unmoved by that simple sentiment. This little
fellow was a lunatic, he thought to himself, but there was
something in what he said.
"Of course I don't know how far you were
justified," he began soothingly. "And the General
himself may not be exactly informed. Those people have been
deafening him with their lamentations."
"Ah! the General is not exactly
informed," mumbled Lieutenant Feraud, walking faster
and faster as his choler at the injustice of his fate began
to rise. "He is not exactly . . . And he orders me
under close arrest, with God knows what afterward!"
"Don't excite yourself like this,"
remonstrated the other. "Your adversary's people are
very influential, you know, and it looks bad enough on the
face of it. The General had to take notice of their
complaint at once. I don't think he means to be over-severe
with you. It's the best thing for you to be kept out of
sight for a while."
"I am very much obliged to the
General," muttered Lieutenant Feraud through his teeth.
"And perhaps you would say I ought to be grateful to
you, too, for the trouble you have taken to hunt me up in
the drawing-room of a lady who----"
"Frankly," interrupted Lieutenant
D'Hubert, with an innocent laugh, "I think you ought to
be. I had no end of trouble to find out where you were. It
wasn't exactly the place for you to disport yourself in
under the circumstances. If the General had caught you there
making eyes at the goddess of the temple . . . oh, my word!
. . . He hates to be bothered with complaints against his
officers, you know. And it looked uncommonly like sheer
The two officers had arrived now at the
street door of Lieutenant Feraud's lodgings. The latter
turned toward his companion. "Lieutenant
D'Hubert," he said, "I have something to say to
you which can't be said very well in the street. You can't
refuse to come up."
The pretty maid had opened the door.
Lieutenant Feraud brushed past her brusquely, and she raised
her scared and questioning eyes to Lieutenant D'Hubert, who
could do nothing but shrug his shoulders slightly as he
followed with marked reluctance.
In his room Lieutenant Feraud unhooked the
clasp, hung his new dolman on the bed, and, folding his arms
across his chest, turned to the other hussar.
"Do you imagine I am a man to submit
tamely to injustice?" he inquired in a boisterous
"Oh, do be reasonable!"
remonstrated Lieutenant D'Hubert.
"I am reasonable! I am perfectly
reasonable!" retorted the other with ominous restraint.
"I can't call the General to account for his behaviour,
but you are going to answer to me for yours."
"I can't listen to this nonsense,"
murmured Lieutenant D'Hubert, making a slightly contemptuous
"You call this nonsense? It seems to me
a perfectly plain statement. Unless you don't understand
"What on earth do you mean?"
"I mean," screamed suddenly
Lieutenant Feraud, "to cut off your ears to teach you
to disturb me with the General's orders when I am talking to
A profound silence followed this mad
declaration; and through the open window Lieutenant D'Hubert
heard the little birds singing sanely in the garden. He
said, preserving his calm, "Why! If you take that tone,
of course I shall hold myself at your disposition whenever
you are at liberty to attend to this affair; but I don't
think you will cut my ears off."
"I am going to attend to it at
once," declared Lieutenant Feraud, with extreme
truculence. "If you are thinking of displaying your
airs and graces to-night in Madame de Lionne's salon
you are very much mistaken."
"Really!" said Lieutenant D'Hubert,
who was beginning to feel irritated, "you are an
impracticable sort of fellow. The General's orders to me
were to put you under arrest, not to carve you into small
pieces. Good-morning!" And turning his back on the
little Gascon, who, always sober in his potations, was as
though born intoxicated with the sunshine of his
vine-ripening country, the Northman, who could drink hard on
occasion, but was born sober under the watery skies of
Picardy, made for the door. Hearing, however, the
unmistakable sound behind his back of a sword drawn from the
scabbard, he had no option but to stop.
"Devil take this mad Southerner!"
he thought, spinning round and surveying with composure the
warlike posture of Lieutenant Feraud, with a bare sword in
"At once--at once!" stuttered
Feraud, beside himself."
"You had my answer," said the
other, keeping his temper very well.
At first he had been only vexed, and somewhat
amused; but now his face got clouded. He was asking himself
seriously how he could manage to get away. It was impossible
to run from a man with a sword, and as to fighting him, it
seemed completely out of the question. He waited a while,
then said exactly what was in his heart.
"Drop this! I won't fight with you. I
won't be made ridiculous."
"Ah, you won't?" hissed the Gascon.
"I suppose you prefer to be made infamous. Do you hear
what I say? . . . Infamous! Infamous! Infamous!" he
shrieked, rising and falling on his toes and getting very
red in the face.
Lieutenant D'Hubert on the contrary became
very pale at the sound of the unsavoury word for a moment,
then flushed pink to the roots of his fair hair. "But
you can't go out to fight; you are under arrest, you
lunatic!" he objected, with angry scorn.
"There's the garden: it's big enough to
lay out your long carcass in," spluttered the other,
with such ardour that somehow the anger of the cooler man
"This is perfectly absurd," he
said, glad enough to think he had found a way out of it for
the moment. "We shall never get any of our comrades to
serve as seconds. It's preposterous."
"Seconds! Damn the seconds! We don't
want any seconds. Don't you worry about any seconds. I shall
send word to your friends to come and bury you when I am
done. And if you want any witnesses, I'll send word to the
old girl to put her head out of a window at the back. Stay!
There's the gardener. He'll do. He's as deaf as a post, but
he has two eyes in his head. Come along! I will teach you,
my staff officer, that the carrying about of a general's
orders is not always child's play."
While thus discoursing he had unbuckled his
empty scabbard. He sent it flying under the bed, and,
lowering the point of the sword, brushed past the perplexed
Lieutenant D'Hubert, exclaiming, "Follow me!"
Directly he had flung open the door a faint shriek was
heard, and the pretty maid, who had been listening at the
keyhole, staggered away, putting the backs of her hands over
her eyes. Feraud did not seem to see her, but she ran after
him and seized his left arm. He shook her off, and then she
rushed toward Lieutenant D'Hubert and clawed at the sleeve
of his uniform.
"Wretched man!" she sobbed.
"Is this what you wanted to find him for?"
"Let me go," entreated Lieutenant
D'Hubert, trying to disengage himself gently. "It's
like being in a mad-house," he protested, with
exasperation. "Do let me go! I won't do him any
A fiendish laugh from Lieutenant Feraud
commented that assurance. "Come along!" he
shouted, with a stamp of his foot.
And Lieutenant D'Hubert did follow. He could
do nothing else. Yet in vindication of his sanity it must be
recorded that as he passed through the anteroom the notion
of opening the street door and bolting out presented itself
to this brave youth, only of course to be instantly
dismissed, for he felt sure that the other would pursue him
without shame or compunction. And the prospect of an officer
of hussars being chased along the street by another officer
of hussars with a naked sword could not be for a moment
entertained. Therefore he followed into the garden. Behind
them the girl tottered out, too. With ashy lips and wild
scared eyes, she surrendered herself to a dreadful
curiosity. She had also the notion of rushing if need be
between Lieutenant Feraud and death.
The deaf gardener, utterly unconscious of
approaching footsteps, went on watering his flowers till
Lieutenant Feraud thumped him on the back. Beholding
suddenly an enraged man flourishing a big sabre, the old
chap trembling in all his limbs dropped the watering-pot. At
once Lieutenant Feraud kicked it away with great animosity,
and, seizing the gardener by the throat, backed him against
a tree. He held him there, shouting in his ear, "Stay
here, and look on! You understand? You've got to look on!
Don't dare budge from the spot!"
Lieutenant D'Hubert came slowly down the
walk, unclasping his dolman with unconcealed disgust. Even
then, with his hand already on the hilt of his sword, he
hesitated to draw till a roar, "En garde,
fichtre. What do you think you came here for?" and
the rush of his adversary forced him to put himself as
quickly as possible in a posture of defence.
The clash of arms filled that prim garden,
which hitherto had known no more warlike sound than the
click of clipping shears; and presently the upper part of an
old lady's body was projected out of a window upstairs. She
tossed her arms above her white cap, scolding in a cracked
voice. The gardener remained glued to the tree, his
toothless mouth open in idiotic astonishment, and a little
farther up the path the pretty girl, as if spellbound to a
small grass plot, ran a few steps this way and that,
wringing her hands and muttering crazily. She did not rush
between the combatants: the onslaughts of Lieutenant Feraud
were so fierce that her heart failed her. Lieutenant
D'Hubert, his faculties concentrated upon defence, needed
all his skill and science of the sword to stop the rushes of
his adversary. Twice already he had to break ground. It
bothered him to feel his foothold made insecure by the
round, dry gravel of the path rolling under the hard soles
of his boots. This was most unsuitable ground, he thought,
keeping a watchful, narrowed gaze, shaded by long eyelashes,
upon the fiery stare of his thick-set adversary. This absurd
affair would ruin his reputation of a sensible,
well-behaved, promising young officer. It would damage at
any rate his immediate prospects, and lose him the good-will
of his general. These worldly preoccupations were no doubt
misplaced in view of the solemnity of the moment. A duel,
whether regarded as a ceremony in the cult of honour, or
even when reduced in its moral essence to a form of manly
sport, demands a perfect singleness of intention, a
homicidal austerity of mood. On the other hand, this vivid
concern for his future had not a bad effect inasmuch as it
began to rouse the anger of Lieutenant D'Hubert. Some
seventy seconds had elapsed since they had crossed blades,
and Lieutenant D'Hubert had to break ground again in order
to avoid impaling his reckless adversary like a beetle for a
cabinet of specimens. The result was that, misapprehending
the motive, Lieutenant Feraud with a triumphant sort of
snarl pressed his attack.
"This enraged animal will have me
against the wall directly," thought Lieutenant
D'Hubert. He imagined himself much closer to the house than
he was, and he dared not turn his head; it seemed to him
that he was keeping his adversary off with his eyes rather
more than with his point. Lieutenant Feraud crouched and
bounded with a fierce tigerish agility fit to trouble the
stoutest heart. But what was more appalling than the fury of
a wild beast, accomplishing in all innocence of heart a
natural function, was the fixity of savage purpose man alone
is capable of displaying. Lieutenant D'Hubert in the midst
of his worldly preoccupations perceived it at last. It was
an absurd and damaging affair to be drawn into, but whatever
silly intention the fellow had started with, it was clear
enough that by this time he meant to kill--nothing less. He
meant it with an intensity of will utterly beyond the
inferior faculties of a tiger.
As is the case with constitutionally brave
men, the full view of the danger interested Lieutenant
D'Hubert. And directly he got properly interested, the
length of his arm and the coolness of his head told in his
favour. It was the turn of Lieutenant Feraud to recoil, with
a bloodcurdling grunt of baffled rage. He made a swift
feint, and then rushed straight forward.
"Ah! you would, would you?"
Lieutenant D'Hubert exclaimed mentally. The combat had
lasted nearly two minutes, time enough for any man to get
embittered, apart from the merits of the quarrel. And all at
once it was over. Trying to close breast to breast under his
adversary's guard, Lieutenant Feraud received a slash on his
shortened arm. He did not feel it in the least, but it
checked his rush, and his feet slipping on the gravel he
fell backward with great violence. The shock jarred his
boiling brain into the perfect quietude of insensibility.
Simultaneously with his fall the pretty servant-girl
shrieked; but the old maiden lady at the window ceased her
scolding, and began to cross herself piously.
Beholding his adversary stretched out
perfectly still, his face to the sky, Lieutenant D'Hubert
thought he had killed him outright. The impression of having
slashed hard enough to cut his man clean in two abode with
him for a while in an exaggerated memory of the right good
will he had put into the blow. He dropped on his knees
hastily by the side of the prostrate body. Discovering that
not even the arm was severed, a slight sense of
disappointment mingled with the feeling of relief. The
fellow deserved the worst. But truly he did not want the
death of that sinner. The affair was ugly enough as it
stood, and Lieutenant D'Hubert addressed himself at once to
the task of stopping the bleeding. In this task it was his
fate to be ridiculously impeded by the pretty maid. Rending
the air with screams of horror, she attacked him from behind
and, twining her fingers in his hair, tugged back at his
head. Why she should choose to hinder him at this precise
moment he could not in the least understand. He did not try.
It was all like a very wicked and harassing dream. Twice to
save himself from being pulled over he had to rise and fling
her off. He did this stoically, without a word, kneeling
down again at once to go on with his work. But the third
time, his work being done, he seized her and held her arms
pinned to her body. Her Cap was half off, her face was red,
her eyes blazed with crazy boldness. He looked mildly into
them while she called him a wretch, a traitor, and a
murderer many times in succession. This did not annoy him so
much as the conviction that she had managed to scratch his
face abundantly. Ridicule would be added to the scandal of
the story. He imagined the adorned tale making its way
through the garrison of the town, through the whole army on
the frontier, with every possible distortion of motive and
sentiment and circumstance, spreading a doubt upon the
sanity of his conduct and the distinction of his taste even
to the very ears of his honourable family. It was all very
well for that fellow Feraud, who had no connections, no
family to speak of, and no quality but courage, which,
anyhow, was a matter of course, and possessed by every
single trooper in the whole mass of French cavalry. Still
holding down the arms of the girl in a strong grip,
Lieutenant D'Hubert glanced over his shoulder. Lieutenant
Feraud had opened his eyes. He did not move. Like a man just
waking from a deep sleep he stared without any expression at
the evening sky.
Lieutenant D'Hubert's urgent shouts to the
old gardener produced no effect--not so much as to make him
shut his toothless mouth. Then he remembered that the man
was stone deaf.. All that time the girl struggled, not with
maidenly coyness, but like a pretty dumb fury, kicking his
shins now and then. He continued to hold her as if in a
vise, his instinct telling him that were he to let her go
she would fly at his eyes. But he was greatly humiliated by
his position. At last she gave up. She was more exhausted
than appeased he feared. Nevertheless, he attempted to get
out of this wicked dream by way of negotiation.
"Listen to me," he said, as calmly
as he could. "Will you promise to run for a surgeon if
I let you go?"
With real affliction he heard her declare
that she would do nothing of the kind. On the contrary, her
sobbed out intention was to remain in the garden, and fight
tooth and nail for the protection of the vanquished man.
This was shocking.
"My dear child!" he cried in
despair, "is it possible that you think me capable of
murdering a wounded adversary? Is it . . . . Be quiet, you
little wild-cat, you!"
They struggled. A thick, drowsy voice said
behind him, "What are you after with that girl?"
Lieutenant Feraud had raised himself on his
good arm. He was looking sleepily at his other arm, at the
mess of blood on his uniform, at a small red pool on the
ground, at his sabre lying a foot away on the path. Then he
laid himself down gently again to think it all out, as far
as a thundering headache would permit of mental operations.
Lieutenant D'Hubert released the girl, who
crouched at once by the side of the other lieutenant. The
shades of night were falling on the little trim garden with
this touching group, whence proceeded low murmurs of sorrow
and compassion, with other feeble sounds of a different
character, as if an imperfectly awake invalid were trying to
swear. Lieutenant D'Hubert went away.
He passed through the silent house, and
congratulated himself upon the dusk concealing his gory
hands and scratched face from the passers-by. But this story
could by no means be concealed. He dreaded the discredit and
ridicule above everything, and was painfully aware of
sneaking through the back streets in the manner of a
murderer. Presently the sounds of a flute coming out of the
open window of a lighted upstairs room in a modest house
interrupted his dismal reflections. It was being played with
a persevering virtuosity, and through the fioritures
of the tune one could hear the regular thumping of the foot
beating time on the floor.
Lieutenant D'Hubert shouted a name, which was
that of an army surgeon whom he knew fairly well. The sounds
of the flute ceased, and the musician appeared at the
window, his instrument still in his hand, peering into the
"Who calls? You, D'Hubert? What brings
you this way?"
He did not like to be disturbed at the hour
when he was playing the flute. He was a man whose hair had
turned gray already in the thankless task of tying up wounds
on battlefields where others reaped advancement and glory.
"I want you to go at once and see
Feraud. You know Lieutenant Feraud? He lives down the second
street. It's but a step from here."
"What's the matter with him?"
"Are you sure?"
"Sure!" cried D'Hubert. "I
come from there."
"That's amusing," said the elderly
surgeon. Amusing was his favourite word; but the expression
of his face when he pronounced it never corresponded. He was
a stolid man. "Come in," he added. "I'll get
ready in a moment."
"Thanks! I will. I want to wash my hands
in your room."
Lieutenant D'Hubert found the surgeon
occupied in unscrewing his flute, and packing the pieces
methodically in a case. He turned his head.
"Water there--in the corner. Your hands
do want washing."
"I've stopped the bleeding," said
Lieutenant D'Hubert. "But you had better make haste.
It's rather more than ten minutes ago, you know."
The surgeon did not hurry his movements.
"What's the matter? Dressing came off?
That's amusing. I've been at work in the hospital all day,
but I've been told this morning by somebody that he had come
off without a scratch."
"Not the same duel probably,"
growled moodily Lieutenant D'Hubert, wiping his hands on a
"Not the same.... What? Another. It
would take the very devil to make me go out twice in one
day." The surgeon looked narrowly at Lieutenant
D'Hubert. "How did you come by that scratched face?
Both sides, too--and symmetrical. It's amusing."
"Very!" snarled Lieutenant
D'Hubert. "And you will find his slashed arm amusing,
too. It will keep both of you amused for quite a long
The doctor was mystified and impressed by the
brusque bitterness of Lieutenant D'Hubert's tone. They left
the house together, and in the street he was still more
mystified by his conduct.
"Aren't you coming with me?" he
"No," said Lieutenant D'Hubert.
"You can find the house by yourself. The front door
will be standing open very likely."
"All right. Where's his room?"
"Ground floor. But you had better go
right through and look in the garden first."
This astonishing piece of information made
the surgeon go off without further parley. Lieutenant
D'Hubert regained his quarters nursing a hot and uneasy
indignation. He dreaded the chaff of his comrades almost as
much as the anger of his superiors. The truth was
confoundedly grotesque and embarrassing, even putting aside
the irregularity of the combat itself, which made it come
abominably near a criminal offence. Like all men without
much imagination, a faculty which helps the processes of
reflective thought, Lieutenant D'Hubert became frightfully
harassed by the obvious aspects of his predicament. He was
certainly glad that he had not killed Lieutenant Feraud
outside all rules, and without the regular witnesses proper
to such a transaction. Uncommonly glad. At the same time he
felt as though he would have liked to wring his neck for him
He was still under the sway of these
contradictory sentiments when the surgeon amateur of the
flute came to see him. More than three days had elapsed.
Lieutenant D'Hubert was no longer of officier
d'ordonnance to the general commanding the division. He
had been sent back to his regiment. And he was resuming his
connection with the soldiers' military family by being shut
up in close confinement, not at his own quarters in town,
but in a room in the barracks. Owing to the gravity of the
incident, he was forbidden to see any one. He did not know
what had happened, what was being said, or what was being
thought. The arrival of the surgeon was a most unexpected
thing to the worried captive. The amateur of the flute began
by explaining that he was there only by a special favour of
"I represented to him that it would be
only fair to let you have some authentic news of your
adversary," he continued. "You'll be glad to hear
he's getting better fast."
Lieutenant D'Hubert's face exhibited no
conventional signs of gladness. He continued to walk the
floor of the dusty bare room.
"Take this chair, Doctor," he
The doctor sat down.
"This affair is variously
appreciated--in town and in the army. In fact, the diversity
of opinions is amusing."
"Is it?" mumbled Lieutenant
D'Hubert, tramping steadily from wall to wall. But within
himself he marvelled that there could be two opinions on the
matter. The surgeon continued:
"Of course, as the real facts are not
"I should have thought,"
interrupted D'Hubert, "that the fellow would have put
you in possession of the facts."
"He said something," admitted the
other, "the first time I saw him. And, by the by, I did
find him in the garden. The thump on the back of his head
had made him a little incoherent then. Afterward he was
rather reticent than otherwise."
"Didn't think he would have the grace to
be ashamed!" mumbled D'Hubert, resuming his pacing,
while the doctor murmured: "It's very amusing. Ashamed!
Shame was not exactly his frame of mind. However, you may
look at the matter otherwise."
"What are you talking about? What
matter?" asked D'Hubert, with a sidelong look at the
heavy-faced, gray-haired figure seated on a wooden chair.
"Whatever it is," said the surgeon
a little impatiently. "I don't want to pronounce any
opinion on your conduct----"
"By heavens, you had better not!"
burst out D'Hubert.
"There!--there! Don't be so quick in
flourishing the sword. It doesn't pay in the long run.
Understand once for all that I would not carve any of you
youngsters except with the tools of my trade. But my advice
is good. If you go on like this you will make for yourself
an ugly reputation."
"Go on like what?" demanded
Lieutenant D'Hubert, stopping short, quite startled.
"I!--I!--make for myself a reputation. . . . . What do
"I told you I don't wish to judge of the
rights and wrongs of this incident. It's not my business.
"What on earth has he been telling
you?" interrupted Lieutenant D'Hubert, in a sort of
"I told you already, that at first, when
I picked him up in the garden, he was incoherent. Afterward
he was naturally reticent. But I gather at least that he
could not help himself."
"He couldn't?" shouted Lieutenant
D'Hubert in a great voice. Then, lowering his tone
impressively, "And what about me? Could I help
The surgeon stood up. His thoughts were
running upon the flute, his constant companion with a
consoling voice. In the vicinity of field ambulances, after
twenty-four hours' hard work, he had been known to trouble
with its sweet sounds the horrible stillness of battlefields
given over to silence and the dead. The solacing hour of his
daily life was approaching, and in peace time he held on to
the minutes as a miser to his hoard.
"Of course!--of course!" he said
perfunctorily. "You would think so. It's amusing.
However, being perfectly neutral and friendly to you both, I
have consented to deliver his message to you. Say that I am
humouring an invalid if you like. He wants you to know that
this affair is by no means at an end. He intends to send you
his seconds directly he has regained his
strength--providing, of course, the army is not in the field
at that time."
"He intends, does he? Why,
certainly," spluttered Lieutenant D'Hubert in a
The secret of his exasperation was not
apparent to the visitor; but this passion confirmed the
surgeon in the belief which was gaining ground outside that
some very serious difference had arisen between these two
young men, something serious enough to wear an air of
mystery, some fact of the utmost gravity. To settle their
urgent difference about that fact, those two young men had
risked being broken and disgraced at the outset almost of
their career. The surgeon feared that the forthcoming
inquiry would fail to satisfy the public curiosity. They
would not take the public into their confidence as to that
something which had passed between them of a nature so
outrageous as to make them face a charge of murder--neither
more nor less. But what could it be?
The surgeon was not very curious by
temperament; but that question haunting his mind caused him
twice that evening to hold the instrument off his lips and
sit silent for a whole minute--right in the middle of a
tune--trying to form a plausible conjecture.
He succeeded in this object no better than
the rest of the garrison and the whole of society. The two
young officers, of no especial consequence till then, became
distinguished by the universal curiosity as to the origin of
their quarrel. Madame de Lionne's salon was the
centre of ingenious surmises; that lady herself was for a
time assailed by inquiries as being the last person known to
have spoken to these unhappy and reckless young men before
they went out together from her house to a savage encounter
with swords, at dusk, in a private garden. She protested she
had not observed anything unusual in their demeanour.
Lieutenant Feraud had been visibly annoyed at being called
away. That was natural enough; no man likes to be disturbed
in a conversation with a lady famed for her elegance and
sensibility. But in truth the subject bored Madame de
Lionne, since her personality could by no stretch of
reckless gossip be connected with this affair. And it
irritated her to hear it advanced that there might have been
some woman in the case. This irritation arose, not from her
elegance or sensibility, but from a more instinctive side of
her nature. It became so great at last that she peremptorily
forbade the subject to be mentioned under her roof. Near her
couch the prohibition was obeyed, but farther off in the
salon the pall of the imposed silence continued to be
lifted more or less. A personage with a long, pale face,
resembling the countenance of a sheep, opined, shaking his
head, that it was a quarrel of long standing envenomed by
time. It was objected to him that the men themselves were
too young for such a theory. They belonged also to different
and distant parts of France. There were other physical
impossibilities, too. A subcommissary of the Intendence, an
agreeable and cultivated bachelor in kerseymere breeches,
Hessian boots, and a blue coat embroidered with silver lace,
who affected to believe in the transmigration of souls,
suggested that the two had met perhaps in some previous
existence. The feud was in the forgotten past. It might have
been something quite inconceivable in the present state of
their being; but their souls remembered the animosity, and
manifested an instinctive antagonism. He developed this
theme jocularly. Yet the affair was so absurd from the
worldly, the military, the honourable, or the prudential
point of view, that this weird explanation seemed rather
more reasonable than any other.
The two officers had confided nothing
definite to any one. Humiliation at having been worsted arms
in hand, and an uneasy feeling of having been involved in a
scrape by the injustice of fate, kept Lieutenant Feraud
savagely dumb. He mistrusted the sympathy of mankind. That
would, of course, go to that dandified staff officer. Lying
in bed, he raved aloud to the pretty maid who administered
to his needs with devotion, and listened to his horrible
imprecations with alarm. That Lieutenant D'Hubert should be
made to "pay for it," seemed to her just and
natural. Her principal care was that Lieutenant Feraud
should not excite himself. He appeared so wholly admirable
and fascinating to the humility of her heart that her only
concern was to see him get well quickly, even if it were
only to resume his visits to Madame de Lionne's
Lieutenant D'Hubert kept silent for the
immediate reason that there was no one, except a stupid
young soldier servant, to speak to. Further, he was aware
that the episode, so grave professionally, had its comic
side. When reflecting upon it, he still felt that he would
like to wring Lieutenant Feraud's neck for him. But this
formula was figurative rather than precise, and expressed
more a state of mind than an actual physical impulse. At the
same time, there was in that young man a feeling of
comradeship and kindness which made him unwilling to make
the position of Lieutenant Feraud worse than it was. He did
not want to talk at large about this wretched affair. At the
inquiry he would have, of course, to speak the truth in
self-defence. This prospect vexed him.
But no inquiry took place. The army took the
field instead. Lieutenant D'Hubert, liberated without
remark, took up his regimental duties; and Lieutenant
Feraud, his arm just out of the sling, rode unquestioned
with his squadron to complete his convalescence in the smoke
of battlefields and the fresh air of night bivouacs. This
bracing treatment suited him so well that at the first
rumour of an armistice being signed he could turn without
misgivings to the thoughts of his private warfare.
This time it was to be regular warfare. He
sent two friends to Lieutenant D'Hubert, whose regiment was
stationed only a few miles away. Those friends had asked no
questions of their principal. "I owe him one, that
pretty staff officer," he had said grimly, and they
went away quite contentedly on their mission. Lieutenant
D'Hubert had no difficulty in finding two friends equally
discreet and devoted to their principal. "There's a
crazy fellow to whom I must give a lesson," he had
declared curtly; and they asked for no better reasons.
On these grounds an encounter with
duelling-swords was arranged one early morning in a
convenient field. At the third set-to Lieutenant D'Hubert
found himself lying on his back on the dewy grass with a
hole in his side. A serene sun rising over a landscape of
meadows and woods hung on his left. A surgeon--not the flute
player, but another--was bending over him, feeling around
"Narrow squeak. But it will be
nothing," he pronounced.
Lieutenant D'Hubert heard these words with
pleasure. One of his seconds, sitting on the wet grass, and
sustaining his head on his lap, said, "The fortune of
war, mon pauvre vieux. What will you have? You had
better make it up like two good fellows. Do!"
"You don't know what you ask,"
murmured Lieutenant D'Hubert, in a feeble voice.
"However, if he . . ."
In another part of the meadow the seconds of
Lieutenant Feraud were urging him to go over and shake hands
with his adversary.
"You have paid him off now--que
diable. It's the proper thing to do. This D'Hubert is a
"I know the decency of these generals'
pets," muttered Lieutenant Feraud through his teeth,
and the sombre expression of his face discouraged further
efforts at reconciliation. The seconds, bowing from a
distance, took their men off the field. In the afternoon
Lieutenant D'Hubert, very popular as a good comrade uniting
great bravery with a frank and equable temper, had many
visitors. It was remarked that Lieutenant Feraud did not, as
is customary, show himself much abroad to receive the
felicitations of his friends. They would not have failed
him, because he, too, was liked for the exuberance of his
southern nature and the simplicity of his character. In all
the places where officers were in the habit of assembling at
the end of the day, the duel of the morning was talked over
from every point of view. Though Lieutenant D'Hubert had got
worsted this time, his sword play was commended. No one
could deny that it was very close, very scientific. It was
even whispered that if he got touched it was because he
wished to spare his adversary. But by many the vigour and
dash of Lieutenant Feraud's attack were pronounced
The merits of the two officers as combatants
were frankly discussed; but their attitude to each other
after the duel was criticised lightly and with caution. It
was irreconcilable, and that was to be regretted. But after
all they knew best what the care of their honour dictated.
It was not a matter for their comrades to pry into
over-much. As to the origin of the quarrel, the general
impression was that it dated from the time they were holding
garrison in Strasbourg. The musical surgeon shook his head
at that. It went much farther back, he thought.
"Why, of course! You must know the whole
story," cried several voices, eager with curiosity.
"What was it?"
He raised his eyes from his glass
deliberately. "Even if I knew ever so well, you can't
expect me to tell you, since both the principals choose to
He got up and went out, leaving the sense of
mystery behind him. He could not stay any longer, because
the witching hour of flute-playing was drawing near.
After he had gone a very young officer
observed solemnly, "Obviously! His lips are
Nobody questioned the high correctness of
that remark. Somehow it added to the impressiveness of the
affair. Several older officers of both regiments, prompted
by nothing but sheer kindness and love of harmony, proposed
to form a Court of Honour, to which the two young men would
leave the task of their reconciliation. Unfortunately, they
began by approaching Lieutenant Feraud, on the assumption
that, having just scored heavily, he would be found placable
and disposed to moderation.
The reasoning was sound enough. Nevertheless,
the move turned out unfortunate. In that relaxation of moral
fibre, which is brought about by the ease of soothed vanity,
Lieutenant Feraud had condescended in the secret of his
heart to review the case, and even had come to doubt not the
justice of his cause, but the absolute sagacity of his
conduct. This being so, he was disinclined to talk about it.
The suggestion of the regimental wise men put him in a
difficult position. He was disgusted at it, and this
disgust, by a paradoxical logic, reawakened his animosity
against Lieutenant D'Hubert. Was he to be pestered by this
fellow forever--the fellow who had an infernal knack of
getting round people somehow? And yet it was difficult to
refuse point blank that mediation sanctioned by the code of
He met the difficulty by an attitude of grim
reserve. He twisted his moustache and used vague words. His
case was perfectly clear. He was not ashamed to state it
before a proper Court of Honour, neither was he afraid to
defend it on the ground. He did not see any reason to jump
at the suggestion before ascertaining how his adversary was
likely to take it.
Later in the day, his exasperation growing
upon him, he was heard in a public place saying
sardonically, "that it would be the very luckiest thing
for Lieutenant D'Hubert, because the next time of meeting he
need not hope to get off with the mere trifle of three weeks
This boastful phrase might have been prompted
by the most profound Machiavellism. Southern natures often
hide, under the outward impulsiveness of action and speech,
a certain amount of astuteness.
Lieutenant Feraud, mistrusting the justice of
men, by no means desired a Court of Honour; and the above
words, according so well with his temperament, had also the
merit of serving his turn. Whether meant so or not, they
found their way in less than four-and-twenty hours into
Lieutenant D'Hubert's bedroom In consequence Lieutenant
D'Hubert, sitting propped up with pillows, received the
overtures made to him next day by the statement that the
affair was of a nature which could not bear discussion.
The pale face of the wounded officer, his
weak voice, which he had yet to use cautiously, and the
courteous dignity of his tone had a great effect on his
hearers Reported outside, all this did more for deepening
the mystery than the vapourings of Lieutenant Feraud. This
last was greatly relieved at the issue. He began to enjoy
the state of general wonder, and was pleased to add to it by
assuming an attitude of fierce discretion.
The colonel of Lieutenant D'Hubert's regiment
was a gray-haired, weather-beaten warrior, who took a simple
view of his responsibilities. "I can't," he said
to himself, "let the best of my subalterns get damaged
like this for nothing. I must get to the bottom of this
affair privately. He must speak out if the devil were in it.
The colonel should be more than a father to these
youngsters." And indeed he loved all his men with as
much affection as a father of a large family can feel for
every individual member of it. If human beings by an
oversight of Providence came into the world as mere
civilians, they were born again into a regiment as infants
are born into a family, and it was that military birth alone
At the sight of Lieutenant D'Hubert standing
before him very bleached and hollow-eyed the heart of the
old warrior felt a pang of genuine compassion. All his
affection for the regiment--that body of men which he held
in his hand to launch forward and draw back, who ministered
to his pride and commanded all his thoughts--seemed centred
for a moment on the person of the most promising subaltern.
He cleared his throat in a threatening manner, and frowned
terribly. "You must understand," he began,
"that I don't care a rap for the life of a single man
in the regiment. I would send the eight hundred and
forty-three of you men and horses galloping into the pit of
perdition with no more compunction than I would kill a
"Yes, Colonel. You would be riding at
our head," said Lieutenant D'Hubert with a wan smile.
The colonel, who felt the need of being very
diplomatic, fairly roared at this. "I want you to know,
Lieutenant D'Hubert, that I could stand aside and see you
all riding to Hades if need be. I am a man to do even that
if the good of the service and my duty to my country
required it from me. But that's unthinkable, so don't you
even hint at such a thing." He glared awfully, but his
tone softened. "There's some milk yet about that
moustache of yours, my boy. You don't know what a man like
me is capable of. I would hide behind a haystack if . . .
Don't grin at me, sir! How dare you? If this were not a
private conversation, I would . . . Look here! I am
responsible for the proper expenditure of lives under my
command for the glory of our country and the honour of the
regiment. Do you understand that? Well, then, what the devil
(lo you mean by letting yourself be spitted like this by
that fellow of the Seventh Hussars? It's simply
Lieutenant D'Hubert felt vexed beyond
measure. His shoulders moved slightly. He made no other
answer. He could not ignore his responsibility.
The colonel veiled his glance and lowered his
voice still more. "It's deplorable!" he murmured.
And again he changed his tone. "Come!" he went on
persuasively, but with that note of authority which dwells
in the throat of a good leader of men, "this affair
must be settled. I desire to be told plainly what it is all
about. I demand, as your best friend, to know."
The compelling power of authority, the
persuasive influence of kindness, affected powerfully a man
just risen from a bed of sickness. Lieutenant D'Hubert's
hand, which grasped the knob of a stick, trembled slightly.
But his northern temperament, sentimental yet cautious, and
clear-sighted, too, in its idealistic way, checked his
impulse to make a clean breast of the whole deadly
absurdity. According to the precept of transcendental
wisdom, he turned his tongue seven times in his mouth before
he spoke. He made then only a speech of thanks.
The colonel listened, interested at first,
then looked mystified. At last he frowned. "You
hesitate?--mille tonnerres! Haven't I told you that I
will condescend to argue with you--as a friend?"
"Yes, Colonel!" answered Lieutenant
D'Hubert gently. "But I am afraid that after you have
heard me out as a friend you will take action as my superior
The attentive colonel snapped his jaws.
"Well, what of that?" he said frankly. "Is it
so damnably disgraceful?"
"It is not," negatived Lieutenant
D'Hubert, in a faint but firm voice.
"Of course I shall act for the good of
the service. Nothing can prevent me doing that. What do you
think I want to be told for?"
"I know it is not from idle
curiosity," protested Lieutenant D'Hubert. "I know
you will act wisely. But what about the good fame of the
"It cannot be affected by any youthful
folly of a lieutenant," said the colonel severely.
"No It cannot be. But it can be by evil
tongues. It will be said that a lieutenant of the Fourth
Hussars, afraid of meeting his adversary, is hiding behind
his colonel. And that would be worse than hiding behind a
haystack--for the good of the service. I cannot afford to do
"Nobody would dare to say anything of
the kind," began the colonel very fiercely, but ended
the phrase on an uncertain note. The bravery of Lieutenant
D'Hubert was well known. But the colonel was well aware that
the duelling courage, the single combat courage, is rightly
or wrongly supposed to be courage of a special sort. And it
was eminently necessary that an officer of his regiment
should possess every kind of courage and prove it, too. The
colonel stuck out his lower lip, and looked far away with a
peculiar glazed stare. This was the expression of his
perplexity--an expression practically unknown in his
regiment; for perplexity is a sentiment which is
incompatible with the rank of colonel of cavalry. The
colonel himself was overcome by the un~ pleasant novelty of
the sensation. As he was not accustomed to think except on
professional matters connected with the welfare of men and
horses, and the proper use thereof on the field of glory,
his intellectual efforts degenerated into mere mental
repetitions of profane language. "Mille tonnerres! .
. . Sacré nom de nom . . ." he thought.
Lieutenant D'Hubert coughed painfully, and
added in a weary voice: "There will be plenty of evil
tongues to say that I've been cowed. And I am sure you will
not expect me to pass that over. I may find myself suddenly
with a dozen duels on my hands instead of this one
The direct simplicity of this argument came
home to the colonel's understanding. He looked at his
subordinate fixedly. "Sit down, Lieutenant!" he
said gruffly. "This is the very devil of a . . . Sit
"Mon Colonel," D'Hubert
began again, "I am not afraid of evil tongues. There's
a way of silencing them. But there's my peace of mind, too.
I wouldn't be able to shake off the notion that I've ruined
a brother officer. Whatever action you take, it is bound to
go farther. The inquiry has been dropped--let it rest now.
It would have been absolutely fatal to Feraud."
"Hey! What! Did he behave so
"Yes. It was pretty bad," muttered
Lieutenant D'Hubert. Being still very weak, he felt a
disposition to cry.
As the other man did not belong to his own
regiment, the colonel had no difficulty in believing this.
He began to pace up and down the room. He was a good chief,
a man capable of discreet sympathy. But he was human in
other ways, too, and this became apparent because he was not
capable of artifice.
"The very devil, Lieutenant," he
blurted out, in the innocence of his heart, "is that I
have declared my intention to get to the bottom of this
affair. And when a colonel says something . . . You see . .
Lieutenant D'Hubert broke in earnestly:
"Let me entreat you, Colonel, to be satisfied with
taking my word of honour that I was put into a damnable
position where I had no option; I had no choice whatever,
consistent with my dignity as a man and an officer. After
all, Colonel, this fact is the very bottom of this affair.
Here you've got it. The rest is mere detail. . . . "
The colonel stopped short. The reputation of
Lieutenant D'Hubert for good sense and good temper weighed
in the balance. A cool head, a warm heart, open as the day.
Always correct in his behaviour. One had to trust him. The
colonel repressed manfully an immense curiosity. "H'm!
You affirm that as a man and an officer. . . . No option?
"As an officer--an officer of the Fourth
Hussars, too," insisted Lieutenant D'Hubert, "I
had not. And that is the bottom of the affair,
"Yes. But still I don't see why, to
one's colonel. . . . A colonel is a father--que
Lieutenant D'Hubert ought not to have been
allowed out as yet. He was becoming aware of his physical
insufficiency with humiliation and despair. But the morbid
obstinacy of an invalid possessed him, and at the same time
he felt with dismay his eyes filling with water. This
trouble seemed too big to handle. A tear fell down the thin
pale cheek of Lieutenant D'Hubert.
The colonel turned his back on him hastily.
You could have heard a pin drop. "This is some silly
woman story--is it not?"
Saying these words the chief spun round to
seize the truth, which is not a beautiful shape living in a
well, but a shy bird best caught by stratagem. This was the
last move of the colonel's diplomacy. He saw the truth
shining unmistakably in the gesture of Lieutenant D'Hubert
raising his weak arms and his eyes to heaven in supreme
"Not a woman affair--eh?" growled
the colonel, staring hard. "I don't ask you who or
where. All I want to know is whether there is a woman in it?
Lieutenant D'Hubert's arms dropped, and his
weak voice was pathetically broken.
"Nothing of the kind, mon
"On your honour?" insisted the old
"On my honour."
"Very well," said the colonel
thoughtfully, and bit his lip. The arguments of Lieutenant
D'Hubert, helped by his liking for the man, had convinced
him. On the other hand, it was highly improper that his
intervention, of which he had made no secret, should produce
no visible effect. He kept Lieutenant D'Hubert a few minutes
longer, and dismissed him kindly..
"Take a few days more in bed,
Lieutenant. What the devil does the surgeon mean by
reporting you fit for duty?"
On coming out of the colonel's quarters,
Lieutenant D'Hubert said nothing to the friend who was
waiting outside to take him home. He said nothing to
anybody. Lieutenant D'Hubert made no confidences. But on the
evening of that day the colonel, strolling under the elms
growing near his quarters, in the company of his second in
command, opened his lips.
"I've got to the bottom of this
affair," he remarked.
The lieutenant-colonel, a dry, brown chip of
a man with short side-whiskers, pricked up his ears at that
without letting a sign of curiosity escape him.
"It's no trifle," added the colonel
oracularly. The other waited for a long while before he
"No trifle," repeated the colonel,
looking straight before him. "I've however forbidden
D'Hubert either to send to or receive a challenge from
Feraud for the next twelve months."
He had imagined this prohibition to save the
prestige a colonel should have. The result of it was to give
an official seal to the mystery surrounding this deadly
quarrel. Lieutenant D'Hubert repelled by an impassive
silence all attempts to worm the truth out of him.
Lieutenant Feraud, secretly uneasy at first, regained his
assurance as time went on. He disguised his ignorance of the
meaning of the imposed truce by slight, sardonic laughs, as
though he were amused by what he intended to keep to
himself. "But what will you do?" his chums used to
ask him. He contented himself by replying: "Qui
vivra verra" with a little truculent air. And
everybody admired his discretion.
Before the end of the truce Lieutenant
D'Hubert got his troop. The promotion was well earned, but
somehow no one seemed to expect the event. When Lieutenant
Feraud heard of it at a gathering of officers, he muttered
through his teeth, "Is that so?" At once he
unhooked his sabre from a peg near the door, buckled it on
carefully, and left the company without another word He
walked home with measured steps, struck a light with his
flint and steel, and lit his tallow candle. Then snatching
an unlucky glass tumbler off the mantel-piece, he dashed it
violently on the floor.
Now that D'Hubert was an officer of superior
rank there could be no question of a duel. Neither of them
could send or receive a challenge without rendering himself
amenable to a court-martial. It was not to be thought of.
Lieutenant Feraud, who for many days now had experienced no
real desire to meet Lieutenant D'Hubert arms in hand, chafed
again at the systematic injustice of fate. "Does he
think he will escape me in that way?" he thought
indignantly. He saw in this promotion an intrigue, a
conspiracy, a cowardly manoeuvre. That colonel knew what he
was doing. He had hastened to recommend his favourite for a
step. It was outrageous that a man should be able to avoid
the consequences of his acts in such a dark and tortuous
Of a happy-go-lucky disposition, of a
temperament more pugnacious than military, Lieutenant Feraud
had been content to give and receive blows for sheer love of
armed strife, and without much thought of advancement; but
now an urgent desire to get on sprang up in his breast. This
fighter by vocation resolved in his mind to seize showy
occasions and to court the favourable opinion of his chiefs
like a mere worldling. He knew he was as brave as any one,
and never doubted his personal charm. Nevertheless, neither
the bravery nor the charm seemed to work very swiftly.
Lieutenant Feraud's engaging, careless truculence of a
beau sabreur underwent a change. He began to make
bitter allusions to "clever fellows who stick at
nothing to get on." The army was full of them, he would
say; you had only to look round. But all the time he had in
view one person only, his adversary, D'Hubert. Once he
confided to an appreciative friend. "You see, I don't
know how to fawn on the right side of people. It isn't in my
He did not get his step till a week after
Austerlitz. The Light Cavalry of the Grand Army had its
hands very full of interesting work for a little while.
Directly the pressure of professional occupation had been
eased, Captain Feraud took measures to arrange a meeting
without loss of time. "I know my bird," he
observed grimly. "If I don't look sharp he will take
care to get himself promoted over the heads of a dozen
better men than himself. He's got the knack for that sort of
This duel was fought in Silesia. If not
fought to a finish, it was, at any rate, fought to a
standstill. The weapon was the cavalry sabre, and the skill,
the science, the vigour, and the determination displayed by
the adversaries compelled the admiration of the beholders.
It became the subject of talk on both shores of the Danube,
and as far as the garrisons of Gratz and Laybach. They
crossed blades seven times. Both had many cuts which bled
profusely. Both refused to have the combat stopped, time
after time, with what appeared the most deadly animosity.
This appearance was caused on the part of Captain D'Hubert
by a rational desire to be done once for all with this
worry; on the part of Captain Feraud by a tremendous
exaltation of his pugnacious instincts and the incitement of
wounded vanity. At last, dishevelled, their shirts in rags,
covered with gore, and hardly able to stand, they were led
away forcibly by their marvelling and horrified seconds.
Later on, besieged by comrades avid of details, these
gentlemen declared that they could not have allowed that
sort of hacking to go on indefinitely. Asked whether the
quarrel was settled this time, they gave it out as their
conviction that it was a difference which could only be
settled by one of the parties remaining lifeless on the
ground. The sensation spread from army corps to army corps,
and penetrated at last to the smallest detachments of the
troops cantoned between the Rhine and the Save. In the
cafés in Vienna it was generally estimated, from
details to hand, that the adversaries would be able to meet
again in three weeks' time on the outside. Something really
transcendent in the way of duelling was expected.
These expectations were brought to nought by
the necessities of the service which separated the two
officers. No official notice had been taken of their
quarrel. It was now the property of the army, and not to be
meddled with lightly. But the story of the duel, or rather
their duelling propensities, must have stood somewhat in the
way of their advancement, because they were still captains
when they came together again during the war with Prussia.
Detached north after Jena, with the army commanded by
Marshal Bernadotte, Prince of Ponte Corvo, they entered
It was only after the occupation of that town
that Captain Feraud found leisure to consider his future
conduct in view of the fact that Captain D'Hubert had been
given the position of third aide-de-camp to the marshal. He
considered it a great part of a night, and in the morning
summoned two sympathetic friends.
"I've been thinking it over
calmly," he said, gazing at them with bloodshot, tired
eves. "I see that I must get rid of that intriguing
personage. Here he's managed to sneak on to the personal
staff of the marshal. It's a direct provocation to me. I
can't tolerate a situation in which I am exposed any day to
receive an order through him. And God knows what order, too!
That sort of thing has happened once before and that's once
too often. He understands this perfectly, never fear. I
can't tell you any more. Now you know what it is you have to
This encounter took place outside the town of
Lübeck, on very open ground, selected with special care
in deference to the general sentiment of the cavalry
division belonging to the army corps, that this time the two
officers should meet on horseback. After all, this duel was
a cavalry affair, and to persist in fighting on foot would
look like a slight on one's own arm of the service. The
seconds, startled by the unusual nature of the suggestion,
hastened to refer to their principals. Captain Feraud jumped
at it with alacrity. For some obscure reason, depending, no
doubt, on his psychology, he imagined himself invincible on
horseback. All alone within the four walls of his room he
rubbed his hands and muttered triumphantly: "Aha! my
pretty staff officer, I've got you now."
Captain D'Hubert on his side, after staring
hard for a considerable time at his friends, shrugged his
shoulders slightly. This affair had hopelessly and
unreasonably complicated his existence for him. One
absurdity more or less in the development did not
matter--all absurdity was distasteful to him; but, urbane as
ever, he produced a faintly ironic smile, and said in his
calm voice: "It certainly will do away to some extent
with the monotony of the thing."
When left alone, he sat down at a table and
took his head into his hands. He had not spared himself of
late, and the marshal had been working all his aides-de-camp
particularly hard. The last three weeks of campaigning in
horrible weather had affected his health. When overtired he
suffered from a stitch in his wounded side, and that
uncomfortable sensation always depressed him. "It's
that brute's doing, too," he thought bitterly.
The day before he had received a letter from
home, announcing that his only sister was going to be
married. He reflected that from the time she was nineteen
and he twenty-six, when he went away to garrison life in
Strasbourg, he had had but two short glimpses of her. They
had been great friends and confidants; and now she was going
to be given away to a man whom he did not know--a very
worthy fellow no doubt, but not half good enough for her. He
would never see his old Léonie again. She had a
capable little head, and plenty of tact; she would know how
to manage the fellow, to be sure. He was easy in his mind
about her happiness, but he felt ousted from the first place
in her thoughts, which had been his ever since the girl
could speak. A melancholy regret of the days of his
childhood settled upon Captain D'Hubert, third aide-de-camp
to the Prince of Ponte Corvo.
He threw aside the letter of congratulation
he had begun to write as in duty bound, but without
enthusiasm. He took a fresh piece of paper, and traced on it
the words: "This is my last will and testament."
Looking at these words, he gave himself up to unpleasant
reflection; a presentiment that he would never see the
scenes of his childhood weighed down the equable spirits of
Captain D'Hubert. He jumped up, pushing his chair back,
yawned elaborately in sign that he didn't care anything for
presentiments, and throwing himself on the bed went to
sleep. During the night he shivered from time to time
without waking up. In the morning he rode out of town
between his two seconds, talking of indifferent things, and
looking right and left with apparent detachment into the
heavy morning mists shrouding the flat green fields bordered
by hedges. He leaped a ditch, and saw the forms of many
mounted men moving in the fog. "We are to fight before
a gallery, it seems," he muttered to himself bitterly.
His seconds were rather concerned at the
state of the atmosphere, but presently a pale, sickly sun
struggled out of the low vapours, and Captain D'Hubert made
out, in the distance, three horsemen riding a little apart
from the others. It was Captain Feraud and his seconds. He
drew his sabre, and assured himself that it was properly
fastened to his wrist. And now the seconds, who had been
standing in close group with the heads of their horses
together, separated at an easy canter, leaving a large,
clear field between him and his adversary. Captain D'Hubert
looked at the pale sun, at the dismal fields, and the
imbecility of the impending fight filled him with
desolation. From a distant part of the field a stentorian
voice shouted commands at proper intervals: Au pas--Au
trot--Charrrgez! . . . Presentiments of death don't come
to a man for nothing, he thought at the very moment he put
spurs to his horse.
And therefore he was more than surprised
when, at the very first set-to, Captain Feraud laid himself
open to a cut over the forehead, which, blinding him with
blood, ended the combat almost before it had fairly begun.
It was impossible to go on. Captain D'Hubert, leaving his
enemy swearing horribly and reeling in the saddle between
his two appalled friends, leaped the ditch again into the
road and trotted home with his two seconds, who seemed
rather awestruck at the speedy issue of that encounter. In
the evening Captain D'Hubert finished the congratulatory
letter on his sister's marriage.
He finished it late. It was a long letter.
Captain D'Hubert gave reins to his fancy. He told his sister
that he would feel rather lonely after this great change in
her life; but then the day would come for him, too, to get
married. In fact, he was thinking already of the time when
there would be no one left to fight with in Europe, and the
epoch of wars would be over. "I expect then," he
wrote, "to be within measurable distance of a marshal's
baton, and you will be an experienced married woman. You
shall look out a wife for me. I will be, probably, bald by
then, and a little blasé. I shall require a
young girl, pretty of course, and with a large fortune,
which should help me to close my glorious career in the
splendour befitting my exalted rank." He ended with the
information that he had just given a lesson to a worrying,
quarrelsome fellow who imagined he had a grievance against
him. "But if you, in the depths of your province,"
he continued, "ever hear it said that your brother is
of a quarrelsome disposition, don't you believe it on any
account. There is no saying what gossip from the army may
reach your innocent ears. Whatever you hear you may rest
assured that your ever-loving brother is not a
duellist." Then Captain D'Hubert crumpled up the blank
sheet of paper headed with the words "This is my last
will and testament," and threw it in the fire with a
great laugh at himself. He didn't care a snap for what that
lunatic could do. He had suddenly acquired the conviction
that his adversary was utterly powerless to affect his life
in any sort of way; except, perhaps, in the way of putting a
special excitement into the delightful, gay intervals
between the campaigns.
From this on there were, however, to be no
peaceful intervals in the career of Captain D'Hubert. He saw
the fields of Eylau and Friedland, marched and
countermarched in the snow, in the mud, in the dust of
Polish plains, picking up distinction and advancement on all
the roads of Northeastern Europe. Meantime Captain Feraud,
dispatched southward with his regiment, made unsatisfactory
war in Spain. It was only when the preparations for the
Russian campaign began that he was ordered north again. He
left the country of mantillas and oranges without regret.
The first signs of a not unbecoming baldness
added to the lofty aspect of Colonel D'Hubert's forehead.
This feature was no longer white and smooth as in the days
of his youth; the kindly open glance of his blue eyes had
grown a little hard as if from much peering through the
smoke of battles. The ebony crop on Colonel Feraud's head,
coarse and crinkly like a cap of horsehair, showed many
silver threads about the temples. A detestable warfare of
ambushes and inglorious surprises had not improved his
temper. The beaklike curve of his nose was unpleasantly set
off by a deep fold on each side of his mouth. The round
orbits of his eyes radiated wrinkles. More than ever he
recalled an irritable and staring bird--something like a
cross between a parrot and an owl. He was still extremely
outspoken in his dislike of "intriguing fellows."
He seized every opportunity to state that he did not pick up
his rank in the anterooms of marshals. The unlucky persons,
civil or military, who, with an intention of being pleasant,
begged Colonel Feraud to tell them how he came by that very
apparent scar on the forehead, were astonished to find
themselves snubbed in various ways, some of which were
simply rude and others mysteriously sardonic. Young officers
were warned kindly by their more experienced comrades not to
stare openly at the colonel's scar. But indeed an officer
need have been very young in his profession not to have
heard the legendary tale of that duel originating in a
mysterious, unforgivable offence.
The retreat from Moscow submerged all private
feelings in a sea of disaster and misery. Colonels without
regiments, D'Hubert and Feraud carried the musket in the
ranks of the so-called sacred battalion--a battalion
recruited from officers of all arms who had no longer any
troops to lead.
In that battalion promoted colonels did duty
as sergeants; the generals captained the companies; a
marshal of France, Prince of the Empire, commanded the
whole. All had provided themselves with muskets picked up on
the road, and with cartridges taken from the dead. In the
general destruction of the bonds of discipline and duty
holding together the companies, the battalions, the
regiments, the brigades, and divisions of an armed host,
this body of men put its pride in pre serving some semblance
of order and formation. The only stragglers were those who
fell out to give up to the frost their exhausted souls. They
plodded on, and their passage did not disturb the mortal
silence of the plains, shining with the livid light of snows
under a sky the colour of ashes. Whirlwinds ran along the
fields, broke against the dark column, enveloped it in a
turmoil of flying icicles, and subsided, disclosing it
creeping on its tragic way without the swing and rhythm of
the military pace. It struggled onward, the men exchanging
neither word nor looks; whole ranks marched touching elbow,
day after day, and never raising their eyes from the ground,
as if lost in despairing reflections. In the dumb, black
forests of pines the cracking of overloaded branches was the
only sound they heard. Often from daybreak to dusk no one
spoke in the whole column. It was like a macabre
march of struggling corpses toward a distant grave. Only an
alarm of Cossacks could restore to their eyes a semblance of
martial resolution. The battalion faced about and deployed,
or formed square under the endless fluttering of snowflakes.
A cloud of horsemen with fur caps on their heads levelled
long lances, and yelled "Hurrah! Hurrah!" around
their menacing immobility whence, with muffled detonations,
hundreds of dark red flames darted through the air thick
with falling snow. In a very few moments the horsemen would
disappear, as if carried off yelling in the gale, and the
sacred battalion standing still, alone in the blizzard,
heard only the howling of the wind, whose blasts searched
their very hearts. Then, with a cry or two of Vive
l'Empereur! it would resume its march, leaving behind a
few lifeless bodies lying huddled up, tiny black specks on
the white immensity of the snows.
Though often marching in the ranks, or
skirmishing in the woods side by side, the two officers
ignored each other; this not so much from inimical intention
as from a very real indifference. All their store of moral
energy was expended in resisting the terrific enmity of
nature and the crushing sense of irretrievable disaster. To
the last they counted among the most active, the least
demoralized of the battalion; their vigorous vitality
invested them both with the appearance of an heroic pair in
the eyes of their comrades. And they never exchanged more
than a casual word or two, except one day, when skirmishing
in front of the battalion against a worrying attack of
cavalry, they found themselves cut off in the woods by a
small party of Cossacks. A score of fur-capped, hairy
horsemen rode to and fro, brandishing their lances in
ominous silence; but the two officers had no mind to lay
down their arms, and Colonel Feraud suddenly spoke up in a
hoarse, growling voice, bringing his firelock to the
shoulder: "You take the nearest brute, Colonel
D'Hubert; I'll settle the next one. I am a better shot than
you are." Colonel D'Hubert nodded over his levelled
musket. Their shoulders were pressed against the trunk of a
large tree; on their front enormous snowdrifts protected
them from a direct charge. Two carefully aimed shots rang
out in the frosty air, two Cossacks reeled in their saddles.
The rest, not thinking the game good enough, closed round
their wounded comrades and galloped away out of range. The
two officers managed to rejoin their battalion halted for
the night. During that afternoon they had leaned upon each
other more than once, and toward the end, Colonel D'Hubert,
whose long legs gave him an advantage in walking through
soft snow, peremptorily took the musket of Colonel Feraud
from him and carried it on his shoulder, using his own as a
On the outskirts of a village half buried in
the snow an old wooden barn burned with a clear and an
immense flame. The sacred battalion of skeletons, muffled in
rags, crowded greedily the windward side, stretching
hundreds of numbed, bony hands to the blaze. Nobody had
noted their approach. Before entering the circle of light
playing on the sunken, glassy-eyed, starved faces, Colonel
D'Hubert spoke in his turn:
"Here's your musket, Colonel Feraud. I
can walk better than you."
Colonel Feraud nodded, and pushed on toward
the warmth of the fierce flames. Colonel D'Hubert was more
deliberate. but not the less bent on getting a place in the
front rank. Those they shouldered aside tried to greet with
a faint cheer the reappearance of the two indomitable
companions in activity and endurance. Those manly qualities
had never perhaps received a higher tribute than this feeble
This is the faithful record of speeches
exchanged during the retreat from Moscow by Colonels Feraud
and D'Hubert. Colonel Feraud's taciturnity was the outcome
of concentrated rage. Short, hairy, black-faced, with layers
of grime and the thick sprouting of a wiry beard, a
frost-bitten hand wrapped up in filthy rags carried in a
sling, he accused fate of unparalleled perfidy toward the
sublime Man of Destiny. Colonel D'Hubert, his long
moustaches pendent in icicles on each side of his cracked
blue lips, his eyelids inflamed with the glare of snows, the
principal part of his costume consisting of a sheepskin coat
looted with difficulty from the frozen corpse of a camp
follower found in an abandoned cart, took a more thoughtful
view of events. His regularly handsome features, now reduced
to mere bony lines and fleshless hollows, looked out of a
woman's black velvet hood, over which was rammed forcibly a
cocked hat picked up under the wheels of an empty army
fourgon, which must have contained at one time some general
officer's luggage. The sheepskin coat being short for a man
of his inches ended very high up, and the skin of his legs
blue with the cold showed through the tatters of his nether
garments. This under the circumstances provoked neither
jeers nor pity. No one cared how the next man felt or
looked. Colonel D'Hubert himself, hardened to exposure,
suffered mainly in his self-respect from the lamentable
indecency of his costume. A thoughtless person may think
that with a whole host of inanimate bodies bestrewing the
path of retreat there could not have been much difficulty in
supplying the deficiency. But to loot a pair of breeches
from a frozen corpse is not so easy as it may appear to a
mere theorist. It requires time and labour. You must remain
behind while your companions march on. Colonel D'Hubert had
his scruples as to falling out. Once he had stepped aside he
could not be sure of ever rejoining his battalion; and the
ghastly intimacy of a wrestling match with the frozen dead
opposing the unyielding rigidity of iron to your violence
was repugnant to the delicacy of his feelings. Luckily, one
day, grubbing in a mound of snow between the huts of a
village in the hope of finding there a frozen potato or some
vegetable garbage he could put between his long and shaky
teeth, Colonel D'Hubert uncovered a couple of mats of the
sort Russian peasants use to line the sides of their carts
with. These, beaten free of frozen snow, bent about his
elegant person and fastened solidly round his waist, made a
bellshaped nether garment, a sort of stiff petticoat, which
rendered Colonel D'Hubert a perfectly decent, but a much
more noticeable figure than before.
Thus accoutred, he continued to retreat,
never doubting of his personal escape, but full of other
misgivings. The early buoyancy of his belief in the future
was destroyed. If the road of glory led through such
unforeseen passages, he asked himself--for he was reflective
whether the guide was altogether trustworthy. It was a
patriotic sadness, not unmingled with some personal concern,
and quite unlike the unreasoning indignation against men and
things nursed by Colonel Feraud. Recruiting his strength in
a little German town for three weeks, Colonel D'Hubert was
surprised to discover within himself a love of repose. His
returning vigour was strangely pacific in its aspirations.
He meditated silently upon this bizarre change of mood. No
doubt many of his brother officers of field rank went
through the same moral experience. But these were not the
times to talk of it. In one of his letters home Colonel
D'Hubert wrote: "All your plans, my dear Léonie,
for marrying me to the charming girl you have discovered in
your neighbourhood, seem farther off than ever. Peace is not
yet. Europe wants another lesson. It will be a hard task for
us, but it shall be done, because the Emperor is
Thus wrote Colonel D'Hubert from Pomerania to
his married sister Léonie, settled in the south of
France. And so far the sentiments expressed would not have
been disowned by Colonel Feraud, who wrote no letters to
anybody, whose father had been in life an illiterate
blacksmith, who had no sister or brother, and whom no one
desired ardently to pair off for a life of peace with a
charming young girl. But Colonel D'Hubert's letter contained
also some philosophical generalities upon the uncertainty of
all personal hopes, when bound up entirely with the
prestigious fortune of one incomparably great it is true,
yet still remaining but a man in his greatness. This view
would have appeared rank heresy to Colonel Feraud. Some
melancholy forebodings of a military kind, expressed
cautiously, would have been pronounced as nothing short of
high treason by Colonel Feraud. But Léonie, the
sister of Colonel D'Hubert, read them with profound
satisfaction, and, folding the letter thoughtfully, remarked
to herself that "Armand was likely to prove eventually
a sensible fellow." Since her marriage into a Southern
family she had become a convinced believer in the return of
the legitimate king. Hopeful and anxious, she offered
prayers night and morning, and burnt candles in churches for
the safety and prosperity of her brother.
She had every reason to suppose that her
prayers were heard. Colonel D'Hubert passed through Lutzen,
Bautzen, and Leipsic losing no limb, and acquiring
additional reputation. Adapting his conduct to the needs of
that desperate time, he had never voiced his misgivings. He
concealed them under a cheerful courtesy of such pleasant
character that people were inclined to ask themselves with
wonder whether Colonel D'Hubert was aware of any disasters.
Not only his manners, but even his glances remained
untroubled. The steady amenity of his blue eyes disconcerted
all grumblers, and made despair itself pause.
This bearing was remarked favourably by the
Emperor himself; for Colonel D'Hubert, attached now to the
Major-General's staff, came on several occasions under the
imperial eye. But it exasperated the higher strung nature of
Colonel Feraud. Passing through Magdeburg on service, this
last allowed himself, while seated gloomily at dinner with
the Commandant de Place, to say of his life-long
adversary: "This man does not love the Emperor,"
and his words were received by the other guests in profound
silence. Colonel Feraud, troubled in his conscience at the
atrocity of the aspersion, felt the need to back it up by a
good argument. "I ought to know him," he cried,
adding some oaths. "One studies one's adversary. I have
met him on the ground half a dozen times, as all the army
knows. What more do you want? If that isn't opportunity
enough for any fool to size up his man, may the devil take
me if I can tell what is." And he looked around the
table obstinate and sombre.
Later on in Paris, while extremely busy
reorganizing his regiment, Colonel Feraud learned that
Colonel D'Hubert had been made a general. He glared at his
informant incredulously, then folded his arms and turned
away muttering: "Nothing surprises me on the part of
And aloud he added, speaking over his
shoulder: "You would oblige me greatly by telling
General D'Hubert at the first opportunity that his
advancement saves him for a time from a pretty hot
encounter. I was only waiting for him to turn up here."
The other officer remonstrated:
"Could you think of it, Colonel Feraud,
at this time, when every life should be consecrated to the
glory and safety of France?"
But the strain of unhappiness caused by
military reverses had spoiled Colonel Feraud's character.
Like many other men, he was rendered wicked by misfortune.
"I cannot consider General D'Hubert's
existence of any account either for the glory or safety of
France," he snapped viciously. "You don't pretend,
perhaps, to know him better than I do I who have met him
half a dozen times on the ground--do you?"
His interlocutor, a young man, was silenced.
Colonel Feraud walked up and down the room.
"This is not the time to mince
matters," he said. "I can't believe that that man
ever loved the Emperor. He picked up his general's stars
under the boots of Marshal Berthier. Very well. I'll get
mine in another fashion, and then we shall settle this
business which has been dragging on too long."
General D'Hubert, informed indirectly of
Colonel Feraud's attitude, made a gesture as if to put aside
an importunate person. His thoughts were solicited by graver
cares. He had had no time to go and see his family. His
sister, whose royalist hopes were rising higher every day,
though proud of her brother, regretted his recent
advancement in a measure, because it put on him a prominent
mark of the usurper's favour, which later on could have an
adverse influence upon his career. He wrote to her that no
one but an inveterate enemy could say he had got his
promotion by favour. As to his career, he assured her that
he looked no farther forward into the future than the next
Beginning the campaign of France in this
dogged spirit, General D'Hubert was wounded on the second
day of the battle under Laon. While being carried off the
field he heard that Colonel Feraud, promoted this moment to
general, had been sent to replace him at the head of his
brigade. He cursed his luck impulsively, not being able at
first glance to discern all the advantages of a nasty wound.
And yet it was by this heroic method that Providence was
shaping his future. Travelling slowly south to his sister's
country home, under the care of a trusty old servant,
General D'Hubert was spared the humiliating contacts and the
perplexities of conduct which assailed the men of Napoleonic
empire at the moment of its downfall. Lying in his bed, with
the windows of his room open wide to the sunshine of
Provence, he perceived the undisguised aspect of the
blessing conveyed by that jagged fragment of a Prussian
shell, which, killing his horse and ripping open his thigh,
saved him from an active conflict with his conscience. After
the last fourteen years spent sword in hand in the saddle,
and with the sense of his duty done to the very end, General
D'Hubert found resignation an easy virtue. His sister was
delighted with his reasonableness. "I leave myself
altogether in your hands, my dear Léonie," he
had said to her.
He was still laid up when, the credit of his
brother-in-law's family being exerted on his behalf, he
received from the royal government not only the confirmation
of his rank, but the assurance of being retained on the
active list. To this was added an unlimited convalescent
leave. The unfavourable opinion entertained of him in
Bonapartist circles, though it rested on nothing more solid
than the unsupported pronouncement of General Feraud, was
directly responsible for General D'Hubert's retention on the
active list. As to General Feraud, his rank was confirmed,
too. It was more than he dared to expect; but Marshal Soult,
then Minister of War to the restored king, was partial to
officers who had served in Spain. Only not even the
marshal's protection could secure for him active employment.
He remained irreconcilable, idle, and sinister. He sought in
obscure restaurants the company of other half-pay officers
who cherished dingy but glorious old tricolour cockades in
their breast-pockets, and buttoned with the forbidden eagle
buttons their shabby uniforms, declaring themselves too poor
to afford the expense of the prescribed change.
The triumphant return from Elba, a historical
fact as marvellous and incredible as the exploits of some
mythological demi-god, found General D'Hubert still quite
unable to sit a horse. Neither could he walk very well.
These disabilities, which Madame Léonie accounted
most lucky, helped to keep her brother out of all possible
mischief. His frame of mind at that time, she noted with
dismay, became very far from reasonable. This general
officer, still menaced by the loss of a limb, was discovered
one night in the stables of the ch�teau by a groom, who,
seeing a light, raised an alarm of thieves. His crutch was
lying half-buried in the straw of the litter, and the
General was hopping on one leg in a loose box around a
snorting horse he was trying to saddle. Such were the
effects of imperial magic upon a calm temperament and a
pondered mind. Beset in the light of stable lanterns, by the
tears, entreaties, indignation, remonstrances, and
reproaches of his family, he got out of the difficult
situation by fainting away there and then in the arms of his
nearest relatives, and was carried off to bed. Before he got
out of it again, the second reign of Napoleon, the Hundred
Days of feverish agitation and supreme effort, passed away
like a terrifying dream. The tragic year of 1815, begun in
the trouble and unrest of consciences, was ending in
How General Feraud escaped the clutches of
the Special Commission and the last offices of a firing
squad he never knew himself. It was partly due to the
subordinate position he was assigned during the Hundred
Days. The Emperor had never given him active command, but
had kept him busy at the cavalry depot in Paris, mounting
and dispatching hastily drilled troopers into the field.
Considering this task as unworthy of his abilities, he had
discharged it with no offensively noticeable zeal; but for
the greater part he was saved from the excesses of royalist
reaction by the interference of General D'Hubert.
This last, still on convalescent leave, but
able now to travel, had been dispatched by his sister to
Paris to present himself to his legitimate sovereign. As no
one in the capital could possibly know anything of the
episode in the stable, he was received there with
distinction. Military to the very bottom of his soul, the
prospect of rising in his profession consoled him from
finding himself the butt of Bonapartist malevolence, which
pursued him with a persistence he could not account for. All
the rancour of that embittered and persecuted party pointed
to him as the man who had never loved the Emperor--a sort of
monster essentially worse than a mere betrayer.
General D'Hubert shrugged his shoulders
without anger at this ferocious prejudice. Rejected by his
old friends, and mistrusting profoundly the advances of
Royalist society, the young and handsome General (he was
barely forty) adopted a manner of cold, punctilious
courtesy, which at the merest shadow of an intended slight
passed easily into harsh haughtiness. Thus prepared, General
D'Hubert went about his affairs in Paris feeling inwardly
very happy with the peculiar uplifting happiness of a man
very much in love. The charming girl looked out by his
sister had come upon the scene, and had conquered him in the
thorough manner in which a young girl by merely existing in
his sight can make a man of forty her own. They were going
to be married as soon as General D'Hubert had obtained his
official nomination to a promised command.
One afternoon, sitting on the terrasse
of the Café Tortoni, General D'Hubert learned
from the conversation of two strangers occupying a table
near his own that General Feraud, included in the batch of
superior officers arrested after the second return of the
king, was in danger of passing before the Special
Commission. Living all his spare moments, as is frequently
the case with expectant lovers, a day in advance of reality,
and in a state of bestarred hallucination, it required
nothing less than the name of his perpetual antagonist
pronounced in a loud voice to call the youngest of
Napoleon's generals away from the mental contemplation of
his betrothed. He looked round. The strangers wore civilian
clothes. Lean and weather-beaten, lolling back in their
chairs, they scowled at people with moody and defiant
abstraction from under their hats pulled low over their
eyes. It was not difficult to recognize them for two of the
compulsorily retired officers of the Old Guard. As from
bravado or carelessness they chose to speak in loud tones,
General D'Hubert, who saw no reason why he should change his
seat, heard every word. They did not seem to be the personal
friends of General Feraud. His name came up amongst others.
Hearing it repeated, General D'Hubert's tender anticipations
of a domestic future adorned with a woman's grace were
traversed by the harsh regret of his warlike past, of that
one long, intoxicating clash of arms, unique in the
magnitude of its glory and disaster--the marvellous work and
the special possession of his own generation . He felt an
irrational tenderness toward his old adversary, and
appreciated emotionally the murderous absurdity their
encounter had introduced into his life. It was like an
additional pinch of spice in a hot dish. He remembered the
flavour with sudden melancholy. He would never taste it
again. It was all over. "I fancy it was being left
lying in the garden that had exasperated him so against me
from the first," he thought indulgently.
The two strangers at the next table had
fallen silent after the third mention of General Feraud's
name. Presently the elder of the two, speaking again in a
bitter tone, affirmed that General Feraud's account was
settled. And why? Simply because he was not like some
bigwigs who loved only themselves. The Royalists knew they
could never make anything of him. He loved The
Other too well.
The Other was the man of St. Helena.
The two officers nodded and touched glasses before they
drank to an impossible return. Then the same who had spoken
before remarked with a sardonic laugh: "His adversary
showed more cleverness."
"What adversary?" asked the
younger, as if puzzled.
"Don't you know? They were two hussars.
At each promotion they fought a duel. Haven't you heard of a
duel going on ever since 1801?"
The other had heard of the duel, of course.
Now he understood the allusion. General Baron D'Hubert would
be able now to enjoy his fat king's favour in peace.
"Much good it may do him," mumbled
the elder. "They are both brave men. I never saw this
D'Hubert--a sort of intriguing dandy, I am told. But I can
well believe what I've heard Feraud say of him--that he
never loved the Emperor."
They rose and went away.
General D'Hubert experienced the horror of a
somnambulist who wakes up from a complacent dream of
activity to find himself walking on a quagmire. A profound
disgust of the ground over which he was making his way
overcame him. Even the image of the charming girl was swept
from his view in the flood of moral distress. Everything he
had ever been or hoped to be would taste of bitter ignominy
unless he could manage to save General Feraud from the fate
which threatened so many braves. Under the impulse of this
almost morbid need to attend to the safety of his adversary,
General D'Hubert worked so well with his hands and feet (as
the French saying is), that in less than twenty-four hours
he found means of obtaining an extraordinary private
audience from the Minister of Police.
General Baron D'Hubert was shown in suddenly
without preliminaries. In the dusk of the Minister's
cabinet, behind the forms of writing-desk, chairs, and
tables, between two bunches of wax candles blazing in
sconces, he beheld a figure in a gorgeous coat posturing
before a tall mirror. The old conventionnel
Fouché, Senator of the Empire, traitor to every man,
to every principle and motive of human conduct, Duke of
Otranto, and the wily artizan of the second Restoration, was
trying the fit of a court suit in which his young and
accomplished fiancée had declared her
intention to have his portrait painted on porcelain. It was
a caprice, a charming fancy which the first Minister of
Police of the second Restoration was anxious to gratify. For
that man, often compared in wiliness of conduct to a fox,
but whose ethical side could be worthily symbollized by
nothing less emphatic than a skunk, was as much possessed by
his love as General D'Hubert himself.
Startled to be discovered thus by the blunder
of a servant, he met this little vexation with the
characteristic impudence which had served his turn so well
in the endless intrigues of his self-seeking career. Without
altering his attitude a hair's breadth, one leg in a silk
stocking advanced, his hand twisted over his left shoulder,
he called out calmly: "This way, General. Pray
approach. Well? I am all attention."
While General D'Hubert, ill at ease as if one
of his own little weaknesses had been exposed, presented his
request as shortly as possible, the Duke of Otranto went on
feeling the fit of his collar, settling the lapels before
the glass, and buckling his back in an effort to behold the
set of the gold-embroidered coat-skirts behind. His still
face, his attentive eyes, could not have expressed a more
complete interest in those matters if he had been alone.
"Exclude from the operations of the
Special Court a certain Feraud, Gabriel Florian, General of
brigade of the promotion of 1814?" he repeated, in a
slightly wondering tone, and then turned away from the
glass. "Why exclude him precisely?"
"I am surprised that your Excellency, so
competent in the evaluation of men of his time, should have
thought worth while to have that name put down on the
"A rabid Bonapartist!"
"So is every grenadier and every trooper
of the army as your Excellency well knows. And the
individuality of General Feraud can have no more weight than
that of any casual grenadier. He is a man of no mental
grasp, of no capacity whatever. It is inconceivable that he
should ever have any influence."
"He has a well-hung tongue,
though," interjected Fouché.
"Noisy, I admit, but not
"I will not dispute with you. I know
next to nothing of him. Hardly his name, in fact."
"And yet your Excellency has the
presidency of the Commission charged by the king to point
out those who were to be tried," said General D'Hubert,
with an emphasis which did not miss the minister's ear.
"Yes, General," he said, walking
away into the dark part of the vast room, and throwing
himself into a deep armchair that swallowed him up, all but
the soft gleam of gold embroideries and the pallid patch of
the face--"yes, General. Take this chair there."
General D'Hubert sat down.
"Yes, General," continued the
arch-master in the arts of intrigue and betrayals, whose
duplicity, as if at times intolerable to his self-knowledge,
found relief in bursts of cynical openness. "I did
hurry on the formation of the proscribing Commission, and I
took its presidency. And do you know why? Simply from fear
that if I did not take it quickly into my hands my own name
would head the list of the proscribed. Such are the times in
which we live. But I am minister of the king yet, and I ask
you plainly why I should take the name of this obscure
Feraud off the list? You wonder how his name got there! Is
it possible that you should know men so little? My dear
General, at the very first sitting of the Commission names
poured on us like rain off the roof of the Tuileries. Names!
We had our choice of thousands. How do you know the name of this Feraud,
whose life or death don't matter to France, does not keep
out some other name?"
The voice out of the armchair stopped.
Opposite General D'Hubert sat still, shadowy and silent.
Only his sabre clinked slightly. The voice in the armchair
began again: "And we must try to satisfy the exigencies
of the Allied Sovereigns, too. The Prince de Talleyrand told
me only yesterday that Nesselrode had informed him
officially of His Majesty the Emperor Alexander's
dissatisfaction at the small number of examples the
Government of the king intends to make--especially amongst
military men. I tell you this confidentially."
"Upon my word!" broke out General
D'Hubert, speaking through his teeth, "if your
Excellency deigns to favour me with any more confidential
information I don't know what I will do. It's enough to
break one's sword over one's knee, and fling the pieces . .
"What government you imagined yourself
to be serving?" interrupted the minister sharply.
After a short pause the crestfallen voice of
General D'Hubert answered, "The Government of
"That's paying your conscience off with
mere words, General. The truth is that you are serving a
government of returned exiles, of men who have been without
country for twenty years. Of men also who have just got over
a very bad and humiliating fright. . . . Have no illusions
on that score."
The Duke of Otranto ceased. He had relieved
himself, and had attained his object of stripping some
self-respect off that man who had inconveniently discovered
him posturing in a gold-embroidered court costume before a
mirror. But they were a hot-headed lot in the army; it
occurred to him that it would be inconvenient if a
well-disposed general officer, received in audience on the
recommendation of one of the Princes, were to do something
rashly scandalous directly after a private interview with
the minister. In a changed tone he put a question to the
point: "Your relation--this Feraud?"
"No. No relation at all."
"Intimate friend? "
"Intimate . . . yes. There is between us
an intimate connection of a nature which makes it a point of
honour with me to try . . ."
The minister rang a bell without waiting for
the end of the phrase. When the servant had gone out, after
bringing in a pair of heavy silver candelabra for the
writing-desk, the Duke of Otranto rose, his breast
glistening all over with gold in the strong light, and
taking a piece of paper out of a drawer, held it in his hand
ostentatiously while he said with persuasive gentleness:
"You must not speak of breaking your sword across your
knee, General. Perhaps you would never get another. The
Emperor will not return this time. . . . Diable
d'homme! There was just a moment, here in Paris, soon
after Waterloo, when he frightened me. It looked as though
he were ready to begin all over again. Luckily one never
does begin all over again, really. You must not think of
breaking your sword, General."
General D'Hubert, looking on the ground,
moved slightly his hand in a hopeless gesture of
renunciation. The Minister of Police turned his eyes away
from him, and scanned deliberately the paper he had been
holding up all the time.
"There are only twenty general officers
selected to be made an example of. Twenty. A round number.
And let's see, Feraud. . . . Ah, he's there. Gabriel
Florian. Parfaitement. That's your man. Well, there
will be only nineteen examples made now."
General D'Hubert stood up feeling as though
he had gone through an infectious illness. "I must beg
your Excellency to keep my interference a profound secret. I
attach the greatest importance to his never learning . .
"Who is going to inform him, l should
like to know?" said Fouché, raising his eyes
curiously to General D'Hubert's tense, set face. "Take
one of these pens, and run it through the name yourself.
This is the only list in existence. If you are careful to
take up enough ink no one will be able to tell what was the
name struck out. But, par exemple, I am not
responsible for what Clarke will do with him afterward. If
he persists in being rabid he will be ordered by the
Minister of War to reside in some provincial town under the
supervision of the police."
A few days later General D'Hubert was saying
to his sister, after the first greetings had been got over:
"Ah, my dear Léonie! it seemed to me I couldn't
get away from Paris quick enough."
"Effect of love," she suggested,
with a malicious smile.
"And horror," added General
D'Hubert, with profound seriousness. "I have nearly
died there of . . . of nausea."
His face was contracted with disgust. And as
his sister looked at him attentively, he continued: "I
have had to see Fouché. I have had an audience. I
have been in his cabinet. There remains with one, who had
the misfortune to breathe the air of the same room with that
man, a sense of diminished dignity, an uneasy feeling of
being not so clean, after all, as one hoped one was. But you
She nodded quickly several times. She
understood very well on the contrary. She knew her brother
thoroughly, and liked him as he was. Moreover, the scorn and
loathing of mankind were the lot of the Jacobin
Fouché, who, exploiting for his own advantage every
weakness, every virtue, every generous illusion of mankind,
made dupes of his whole generation, and died obscurely as
Duke of Otranto.
"My dear Armand," she said
compassionately, "what could you want from that
"Nothing less than a life,"
answered General D'Hubert. "And I've got it. It had to
be done. But I feel yet as if I could never forgive the
necessity to the man I had to save "
General Feraud, totally unable (as is the
case with most of us) to comprehend what was happening to
him, received the Minister of War's order to proceed at once
to a small town of Central France with feelings whose
natural expression consisted in a fierce rolling of the eye
and savage grinding of the teeth. The passing away of the
state of war, the only condition of society he had ever
known, the horrible view of a world at peace, frightened
him. He went away to his little town firmly convinced that
this could not last. There he was informed of his retirement
from the army, and that his pension (calculated on the scale
of a colonel's rank) was made dependent on the correctness
of his conduct, and on the good reports of the police. No
longer in the army! He felt suddenly strange to the earth,
like a disembodied spirit. It was impossible to exist. But
at first he reacted from sheer incredulity. This could not
be. He waited for thunder, earthquakes, natural cataclysms;
but nothing happened. The leaden weight of an irremediable
idleness descended upon General Feraud, who having no
resources within himself sank into a state of awe-inspiring
hebetude. He haunted the streets of the little town, gazing
before him with lack-lustre eyes, disregarding the hats
raised on his passage; and people, nudging each other as he
went by, whispered: "That's poor General Feraud. His
heart is broken. Behold how he loved the Emperor."
The other living wreckage of Napoleonic
tempest clustered round General Feraud with infinite
respect. He, himself, imagined his soul to be crushed by
grief. He suffered from quickly succeeding impulses to weep,
to howl, to bite his fists till blood came, to spend days on
his bed with his head thrust under the pillow; but these
arose from sheer ennui, from the anguish of an immense,
indescribable, inconceivable boredom. His mental inability
to grasp the hopeless nature of his case as a whole saved
him from suicide. He never even thought of it once. He
thought of nothing. But his appetite abandoned him, and the
difficulty he experienced to express the overwhelming nature
of his feelings (the most furious swearing could do no
justice to it) induced gradually a habit of silence a sort
of death to a southern temperament.
Great, therefore, was the sensation amongst
the anciens militaires frequenting a certain little
café full of flies, when one stuffy afternoon
"that poor General Feraud" let out suddenly a
volley of formidable curses.
He had been sitting quietly in his own
privileged corner looking through the Paris gazettes with
just as much interest as a condemned man on the eve of
execution could be expected to show in the news of the day.
A cluster of martial, bronzed faces, amongst which there was
one lacking an eye, and another the tip of a nose
frost-bitten in Russia, surrounded him anxiously.
"What's the matter, General?"
General Feraud sat erect, holding the folded
newspaper at arm's length in order to make out the small
print better. He read to himself, over again, fragments of
the intelligence which had caused, what may be called, his
"We are informed that General
D'Hubert, till now on sick leave in the south, is to be
called to the command of the Fifth Cavalry brigade in . .
He dropped the paper stonily. . . .
"Called to the command" . . . and suddenly gave
his forehead a mighty slap. "I had almost forgotten
him," he muttered, in a conscience-stricken tone.
A deep-chested veteran shouted across the
café: "Some new villainy of the Government,
"The villainies of these
scoundrels," thundered General Feraud, "are
innumerable. One more one less!" . . . He lowered his
tone. "But I will set good order to one of them at
He looked all round the faces. "There's
a pomaded, curled staff officer, the darling of some of the
marshals who sold their father for a handful of English
gold. He will find out presently that I am alive yet,"
he declared, in a dogmatic tone. "However, this is a
private affair. An old affair of honour. Bah! Our honour
does not matter. Here we are driven off with a split ear
like a lot of cast troop horses--good only for a knacker's
yard. But it would be like striking a blow for the Emperor.
. . . Messieurs, I shall require the assistance of two of
Every man moved forward. General Feraud,
deeply touched by this demonstration, called with visible
emotion upon the one-eyed veteran cuirassier and the officer
of the Chasseurs à Cheval who had left the tip of his
nose in Russia. He excused his choice to the others.
"A cavalry affair this--you know."
He was answered with a varied chorus of
"Parfaitement mon Général. . . . C'est
juste. . . . Parbleu, c'est connu...." Everybody
was satisfied. The three left the café together,
followed by cries of "Bonne chance."
Outside they linked arms, the General in the
middle. The three rusty cocked hats worn en bataille
with a sinister forward slant barred the narrow street
nearly right across. The overheated little town of gray
stones and red tiles was drowsing away its provincial
afternoon under a blue sky. The loud blows of a cooper
hooping a cask reverberated regularly between the houses.
The General dragged his left foot a little in the shade of
the walls .
"This damned winter of 1813 has got into
my bones for good. Never mind. We must take pistols, that's
all. A little lumbago. We must have pistols. He's game for
my bag. My eyes are as keen as ever. You should have seen me
in Russia picking off the dodging Cossacks with a beastly
old infantry musket. I have a natural gift for
In this strain General Feraud ran on, holding
up his head, with owlish eyes and rapacious beak. A mere
fighter all his life, a cavalry man, a sabreur, he
conceived war with the utmost simplicity, as, in the main, a
massed lot of personal contests, a sort of gregarious
duelling. And here he had in hand a war of his own. He
revived. The shadow of peace passed away from him like the
shadow of death. It was the marvellous resurrection of the
named Feraud, Gabriel Florian, engagé
volontaire of 1793, General of 1814, buried without
ceremony by means of the service order signed by the War
Minister of the second Restoration.
No man succeeds in everything he undertakes.
In that sense we are all failures. The great point is not to
fail in ordering and sustaining the effort of our life. In
this matter vanity is what leads us astray. It hurries us
into situations from which we must come out damaged; whereas
pride is our safeguard, by the reserve it imposes on the
choice of our endeavour as much as by the virtue of its
General D'Hubert was proud and reserved. He
had not been damaged by his casual love affairs, successful
or otherwise. In his war-scarred body his heart at forty
remained unscratched. Entering with reserve into his
sister's matrimonial plans, he had felt himself falling
irremediably in love as one falls off a roof. He was too
proud to be frightened. Indeed, the sensation was too
delightful to be alarming.
The experience of a man of forty is a much
more serious thing than the inexperience of a youth of
twenty, for it is not helped out by the rashness of hot
blood. The girl was mysterious, as young girls are by the
mere effect of their guarded ingenuity; and to him the
mysteriousness of that young girl appeared exceptional and
fascinating. But there was nothing mysterious about the
arrangements of the match which Madame Léonie had
promoted. There was nothing peculiar, either. It was a very
appropriate match, commending itself extremely to the young
lady's mother (the father was dead) and tolerable to the
young lady's uncle--an old émigré
lately returned from Germany, and pervading, cane in hand, a
lean ghost of the ancien régime, the garden
walks of the young lady's ancestral home.
General D'Hubert was not the man to be
satisfied merely with the woman and the fortune when it came
to the point. His pride (and pride aims always at true
success) would be satisfied with nothing short of love. But
as true pride excludes vanity, he could not imagine any
reason why this mysterious creature with deep and brilliant
eyes of a violet colour should have any feeling for him
warmer than indifference. The young lady (her name was
Adèle) baffled every attempt at a clear understanding
on that point. It is true that the attempts were clumsy and
made timidly, because by then General D'Hubert had become
acutely aware of the number of his years, of his wounds, of
his many moral imperfections, of his secret
unworthiness--and had incidentally learned by experience the
meaning of the word funk. As far as he could make out she
seemed to imply that, with an unbounded confidence in her
mother's affection and sagacity, she felt no unsurmountable
dislike for the person of General D'Hubert; and that this
was quite sufficient for a well-brought-up young lady to
begin married life upon. This view hurt and tormented the
pride of General D'Hubert. And yet he asked himself, with a
sort of sweet despair, what more could he expect? She had a
quiet and luminous forehead. Her violet eyes laughed while
the lines of her lips and chin remained composed in
admirable gravity. All this was set off by such a glorious
mass of fair hair, by a complexion so marvellous, by such a
grace of expression, that General D'Hubert really never
found the opportunity to examine with sufficient detachment
the lofty exigencies of his pride. In fact he became shy of
that line of inquiry since it had led once or twice to a
crisis of solitary passion in which it was borne upon him
that he loved her enough to kill her rather than lose her.
From such passages, not unknown to men of forty, he would
come out broken, exhausted, remorseful, a little dismayed.
He derived, however, considerable comfort from the quietest
practice of sitting now and then half the night by an open
window and meditating upon the wonder of her existence, like
a believer lost in the mystic contemplation of his faith.
It must not be supposed that all these
variations of his inward state were made manifest to the
world. General D'Hubert found no difficulty in appearing
wreathed in smiles. Because, in fact, he was very happy. He
followed the established rules of his condition, sending
over flowers (from his sister's garden and hot-houses),
early every morning, and a little later following himself to
lunch with his intended, her mother, and her
émigré uncle. The middle of the day was
spent in strolling or sitting in the shade. A watchful
deference, trembling on the verge of tenderness, was the
note of their intercourse on his side with a playful turn of
the phrase concealing the profound trouble of his whole
being caused by her inaccessible nearness. Late in the
afternoon General D'Hubert walked home between the fields of
vines, sometimes intensely miserable, sometimes supremely
happy, sometimes pensively sad; but always feeling a special
intensity of existence, that elation common to artists,
poets, and lovers--to men haunted by a great passion, a
noble thought, or a new vision of plastic beauty.
The outward world at that time did not exist
with any special distinctness for General D'Hubert. One
evening, however, crossing a ridge from which he could see
both houses, General D'Hubert became aware of two figures
far down the road. The day had been divine. The festal
decoration of the inflamed sky lent a gentle glow to the
sober tints of the southern land. The gray rocks, the brown
fields, the purple, undulating distances harmonized in
luminous accord, exhaled already the scents of the evening.
The two figures down the road presented themselves like two
rigid and wooden silhouettes all black on the ribbon of
white dust. General D'Hubert made out the long, straight,
military capotes buttoned closely right up to the
black stocks, the cocked hats, the lean, carven brown
countenances--old soldiers--vieilles moustaches! The
taller of the two had a black patch over one eye; the
other's hard, dry countenance presented some bizarre,
disquieting peculiarity, which on nearer approach proved to
be the absence of the tip of the nose. Lifting their hands
one movement to salute the slightly lame civilian walking
with a thick stick, they inquired for the house where the
General Baron D'Hubert lived, and what was the best way to
get speech with him quietly.
"If you think this quiet enough,"
said General D'Hubert, looking round at the vine-fields,
framed in purple lines, and dominated by the nest of gray
and drab walls of a village clustering around the top of a
conical hill, so that the blunt church tower seemed but the
shape of a crowning rock--"if you think this spot quiet
enough, you can speak to him at once. And I beg you,
comrades, to speak openly, with perfect confidence."
They stepped back at this, and raised again
their hands to their hats with marked ceremoniousness. Then
the one with the chipped nose, speaking for both, remarked
that the matter was confidential enough, and to be arranged
discreetly. Their general quarters were established in that
village over there, where the infernal clodhoppers--damn
their false, Royalist hearts!--looked remarkably cross-eyed
at three unassuming military men. For the present he should
only ask for the name of General D'Hubert's friends.
"What friends?" said the astonished
General D'Hubert, completely off the track. "I am
staying with my brother-in-law over there."
"Well, he will do for one," said
the chipped veteran.
"We're the friends of General
Feraud," interjected the other, who had kept silent
till then, only glowering with his one eye at the man who
had never loved the Emperor. That was something to
look at. For even the gold-laced Judases who had sold him to
the English, the marshals and princes, had loved him at some
time or other. But this man had never loved the
Emperor. General Feraud had said so distinctly.
General D'Hubert felt an inward blow in his
chest. For an infinitesimal fraction of a second it was as
if the spinning of the earth had become perceptible with an
awful, slight rustle in the eternal stillness of space. But
this noise of blood in his ears passed off at once.
Involuntarily he murmured, "Feraud! I had forgotten his
"He's existing at present, very
uncomfortably, it is true, in the infamous inn of that nest
of savages up there," said the one-eyed cuirassier
dryly. "We arrived in your parts an hour ago on post
horses. He's awaiting our return with impatience. There is
hurry, you know. The General has broken the ministerial
order to obtain from you the satisfaction he's entitled to
by the laws of honour, and naturally he's anxious to have it
all over before the gendarmerie gets on his
The other elucidated the idea a little
further: "Get back on the quiet--you understand? Phitt.
No one the wiser. We have broken out, too. Your friend the
king would be glad to cut off our scurvy pittances at the
first chance. It's a risk. But honour before
General D'Hubert had recovered his powers of
speech. "So you come here like this along the road to
invite me to a throat-cutting match with that--that. . .
." A laughing sort of rage took possession of him.
"Ha! ha! ha! ha!"
His fists on his hips, he roared without
restraint, while they stood before him lank and straight, as
though they had been shot up with a snap through a trapdoor
in the ground. Only four-and-twenty months ago the masters
of Europe, they had already the air of antique ghosts, they
seemed less substantial in their faded coats than their own
narrow shadows falling so black across the white road: the
military and grotesque shadows of twenty years of war and
conquests. They had an outlandish appearance of two
imperturbable bonzes of the religion of the sword. And
General D'Hubert, also one of the ex-masters of Europe,
laughed at these serious phantoms standing in his way.
Said one, indicating the laughing General
with a jerk of the head: "A merry companion,
"There are some of us that haven't
smiled from the day The Other went away,"
remarked his comrade.
A violent impulse to set upon and beat those
unsubstantial wraiths to the ground frightened General
D'Hubert. He ceased laughing suddenly. His desire now was to
get rid of them, to get them away from his sight quickly
before he lost control of himself. He wondered at the fury
he felt rising in his breast. But he had no time to look
into that peculiarity just then.
"I understand your wish to be done with
me as quickly as possible. Don't let us waste time in empty
ceremonies. Do you see that wood there at the foot of that
slope? Yes, the wood of pines. Let us meet there to-morrow
at sunrise. I will bring with me my sword or my pistols, or
both if you like."
The seconds of General Feraud looked at each
"Pistols, General," said the
"So be it. Au revoir--to-morrow morning.
Till then let me advise you to keep close if you don't want
the gendarmerie making inquiries about you before it
gets dark. Strangers are rare in this part of the
They saluted in silence. General D'Hubert,
turning his back on their retreating forms, stood still in
the middle of the road for a long time, biting his lower lip
and looking on the ground. Then he began to walk straight
before him, thus retracing his steps till he found himself
before the park gate of his intended's house. Dusk had
fallen. Motionless he stared through the bars at the front
of the house, gleaming clear beyond the thickets and trees.
Footsteps scrunched on the gravel, and presently a tall
stooping shape emerged from the lateral alley following the
inner side of the park wall.
Le Chevalier de Valmassigue, uncle of the
adorable Adèle, ex-brigadier in the army of the
Princes, bookbinder in Altona, afterward shoemaker (with a
great reputation for elegance in the fit of ladies' shoes)
in another small German town, wore silk stockings on his
lean shanks, low shoes with silver buckles, a brocaded waist
coat. A long-skirted coat, à la
française, covered loosely his thin bowed back. A
small three-cornered hat rested on a lot of powdered hair,
tied in a queue.
"Monsieur le Chevalier,"
called General D'Hubert softly.
"What? You here again, mon ami? Have you
"By heavens! that's just it. I have
forgotten something. I am come to tell you of it.
No--outside. Behind this wall. It's too ghastly a thing to
be let in at all where she lives."
The Chevalier came out at once with that
benevolent resignation some old people display toward the
fugue of youth. Older by a quarter of a century than General
D'Hubert, he looked upon him in the secret of his heart as a
rather troublesome youngster in love. He had heard his
enigmatical words very well, but attached no undue
importance to what a mere man of forty so hard hit was
likely to do or say. The turn of mind of the generation of
Frenchmen grown up during the years of his exile was almost
unintelligible to him. Their sentiments appeared to him
unduly violent, lacking fineness and measure, their language
needlessly exaggerated. He joined calmly the General on the
road, and they made a few steps in silence, the General
trying to master his agitation, and get proper control of
"It is perfectly true; I forgot
something. I forgot till half an hour ago that I had an
urgent affair of honour on my hands. It's incredible, but it
All was still for a moment. Then in the
profound evening silence of the countryside the clear, aged
voice of the Chevalier was heard trembling slightly.
"Monsieur! That's an indignity."
It was his first thought. The girl born
during his exile, the posthumous daughter of his poor
brother murdered by a band of Jacobins, had grown since his
return very dear to his old heart, which had been starving
on mere memories of affection for so many years. "It is
an inconceivable thing, I say! A man settles such affairs
before he thinks of asking for a young girl's hand. Why! If
you had forgotten for ten days longer, you would have been
married before your memory returned to you. In my time men
did not forget such things--nor yet what is due to the
feelings of an innocent young woman. If I did not respect
them myself, I would qualify your conduct in a way which you
would not like."
General D'Hubert relieved himself frankly by
a groan. "Don't let that consideration prevent you. You
run no risk of offending her mortally."
But the old man paid no attention to this
lover's nonsense. It's doubtful whether he even heard.
"What is it?" he asked. "What's the nature of
. . . ?"
"Call it a youthful folly, Monsieur
le Chevalier. An inconceivable, incredible result of . .
." He stopped short. "He will never believe the
story," he thought. "He will only think I am
taking him for a fool, and get offended." General
D'Hubert spoke up again. "Yes, originating in youthful
folly, it has become . . ."
The Chevalier interrupted. "Well, then
it must be arranged."
"Yes, no matter at what cost to your
amour propre. You should have remembered you were
engaged. You forgot that, too, I suppose. And then you go
and forget your quarrel. It's the most hopeless exhibition
of levity I ever heard of."
"Good heavens, monsieur! You don't
imagine have been picking up this quarrel last time I was in
Paris, or anything of the sort, do you?"
"Eh! What matters the precise date of
your insane conduct," exclaimed the Chevalier testily.
"The principal thing is to arrange it."
Noticing General D'Hubert getting restive and
trying to place a word, the old émigré
raised his hand, and added with dignity, "I've been a
soldier? too. I would never dare suggest a doubtful step to
the man whose name my niece is to bear. I tell you that
entre galants hommes an affair can always be
"But, saperlotte, Monsieur le
Chevalier, it's fifteen or sixteen years ago. I was a
lieutenant of hussars then."
The old Chevalier seemed confounded by the
vehemently despairing tone of this information. "You
were a lieutenant of hussars sixteen years ago!" he
mumbled in a dazed manner.
"Why, yes! You did not suppose I was
made a general in my cradle like a royal prince."
In the deepening purple twilight of the
fields spread with vine leaves, backed by a low band of
sombre crimson in the west, the voice of the old ex-officer
in the army of the Princes sounded collected, punctiliously
"Do I dream? Is this a pleasantry? Or am
I to understand that you have been hatching an affair of
honour for sixteen years?"
"It has clung to me for that length of
time. That is my precise meaning. The quarrel itself is not
to be explained easily. We met on the ground several times
during that time, of course."
"What manners! What horrible pervasion
of manliness! Nothing can account for such inhumanity but
the sanguinary madness of the Revolution which has tainted a
whole generation," mused the returned
émigré in a low tone. "Who's your
adversary?" he asked a little louder.
"My adversary? His name is Feraud."
Shadowy in his tricorne and
old-fashioned clothes, like a bowed, thin ghost of the
ancien régime, the Chevalier voiced a ghostly
memory. "I can remember the feud about little Sophie
Derval, between Monsieur de Brissac, Captain in the
Bodyguards, and d'Anjorrant (not the pock-marked one, the
other--the Beau d'Anjorrant, as they called him). They met
three times in eighteen months in a most gallant manner. It
was the fault of that little Sophie, too, who would
keep on playing. . ."
"This is nothing of the kind,"
interrupted General D'Hubert. He laughed a little
sardonically. "Not at all so simple," he added.
"Nor yet half so reasonable," he finished
inaudibly between his teeth, and ground them with rage.
After this sound nothing troubled the silence
for a long time, till the Chevalier asked, without
animation: "What is he this Feraud?"
"Lieutenant of hussars, too--I mean he's
a general. A Gascon. Son of a blacksmith, I believe."
"There! I thought so. That Bonaparte had
a special predilection for the canaille. I don't mean
this for you, D'Hubert. You are one of us, though you have
served this usurper, who . . ."
"Let's leave him out of this,"
broke in General D'Hubert.
The Chevalier shrugged his peaked shoulders.
"Feraud of sorts. Offspring of a blacksmith and some
village troll. See what comes of mixing yourself up with
that sort of people."
"You have made shoes yourself,
"Yes. But I am not the son of a
shoemaker. Neither are you, Monsieur D'Hubert. You and I
have something that your Bonaparte's princes, dukes, and
marshals have not, because there's no power on earth that
could give it to them," retorted the
émigré, with the rising animation of a
man who has got hold of a hopeful argument. "Those
people don't exist--all these Ferauds. Feraud! What is
Feraud? A va-nu-pieds disguised into a general by a
Corsican adventurer masquerading as an emperor. There is no
earthly reason for a D'Hubert to s'encanailler by a
duel with a person of that sort. You can make your excuses
to him perfectly well. And if the manant takes into
his head to decline them, you may simply refuse to meet
"You say I may do that?"
"I do. With the clearest
"Monsieur le Chevalier! To what
do you think you have returned from you emigration?"
This was said in such a startling tone that
the old man raised sharply his bowed head, glimmering
silvery white under the points of the little
tricorne. For a time he made no sound.
"God knows!" he said at last,
pointing with a slow and grave gesture at a tall, roadside
cross mounted on a block of stone, and stretching its arms
of forged iron all black against the darkening red band in
the sky--"God knows! If it were not for this emblem,
which I remember seeing on this spot as a child, I would
wonder to what we who remained faithful to God and our king
have returned. The very voices of the people have
"Yes, it is a changed France," said
General D'Hubert. He seemed to have regained his calm. His
tone was slightly ironic. "Therefore I cannot take your
advice. Besides, how is one to refuse to be bitten by a dog
that means to bite? It's impracticable. Take my word for
it--Feraud isn't a man to be stayed by apologies or
refusals. But there are other ways. I could, for instance,
send a messenger with a word to the brigadier of the
gendarmerie in Senlac. He and his two friends are
liable to arrest on my simple order. It would make some talk
in the army, both the organized and the
disbanded--especially the disbanded. All canaille!
All once upon a time the companions in arms of Armand
D'Hubert. But what need a D'Hubert care what people that
don't exist may think. Or, better still, I might get my
brother-in-law to send for the mayor of the village and give
him a hint. No more would be needed to get the three
'brigands' set upon with flails and pitchforks and hunted
into some nice, deep, wet ditch--and nobody the wiser! It
has been done only ten miles from here to three poor devils
of the disbanded Red Lancers of the Guard going to their
homes. What says your conscience, Chevalier? Can a
D'Hubert do that thing to three men who do not exist?"
A few stars had come out on the blue
obscurity, clear as crystal, of the sky. The dry, thin voice
of the Chevalier spoke harshly: "Why are you telling me
The General seized the withered old hand with
a strong grip. "Because I owe you my fullest confidence
Who could tell Adèle but you? You understand why I
dare not trust my brother-in-law nor yet my own sister.
Chevalier! I have been so near doing these things
that I tremble yet. You don't know how terrible this duel
appears to me. And there's no escape from it."
He murmured after a pause, "It's a
fatality," dropped the Chevalier's passive hand, and
said in his ordinary conversational voice, "I shall
have to go without seconds. If it is my lot to remain on the
ground, you at least will know all that can be made known of
The shadowy ghost of the ancien
régime seemed to have become more bowed during
the conversation. "How am I to keep an indifferent face
this evening l, before these two women?" he groaned.
"General! I find it very difficult to forgive
General D'Hubert made no answer.
"Is your cause good, at least?"
"I am innocent."
This time he seized the Chevalier's ghostly
arm above the elbow, and gave it a mighty squeeze. "1
must kill him!" he hissed, and opening his hand strode
away down the road.
The delicate attentions of his adoring sister
had secured for the General perfect liberty of movement in
the house where he was a guest. He had even his own entrance
through a small door in one corner of the orangery. Thus he
was not exposed that evening to the necessity of dissembling
his agitation before the calm ignorance of the other
inmates. He was glad of it. It seemed to him that if he had
to open his lips he would break out into horrible and
aimless imprecations, start breaking furniture, smashing
china and glass. From the moment he opened the private door,
and while ascending the twenty-eight steps of a winding
staircase, giving access to the corridor on which his room
opened, he went through a horrible and humiliating scene in
which an infuriated madman with blood-shot eyes and a
foaming mouth played inconceivable havoc with everything
inanimate that may be found in a well-appointed dining-room.
When he opened the door of his apartment the fit was over,
and his bodily fatigue was so great that he had to catch at
the backs of the chairs while crossing the room to reach a
low and broad divan on which he let himself fall heavily.
His moral prostration was still greater. That brutality of
feeling which he had known only when charging the enemy,
sabre in hand. amazed this man of forty, who did not
recognize in it the instinctive fury of his menaced passion.
But in his mental and bodily exhaustion this passion got
cleared, distilled, refined into a sentiment of melancholy
despair at having, perhaps, to die before he had taught this
beautiful girl to love him.
That night, General D'Hubert stretched out on
his back with his hands over his eyes, or lying on his
breast with his face buried in a cushion, made the full
pilgrimage of emotions. Nauseating disgust at the absurdity
of the situation, doubt of his own fitness to conduct his
existence, and mistrust of his best sentiments (for what the
devil did he want to go to Fouché for?)--he knew them
all in turn. "I am an idiot, neither more nor
less," he thought--"A sensitive idiot. Because I
overheard two men talking in a café. . . . I am an
idiot afraid of lies--whereas in life it is only truth that
Several times he got up and, walking in his
socks in order not to be heard by anybody downstairs, drank
all the water he could find in the dark. And he tasted the
torments of jealousy, too. She would marry somebody else.
His very soul writhed. The tenacity of that Feraud, the
awful persistence of that imbecile brute, came to him with
the tremendous force of a relentless destiny. General
D'Hubert trembled as he put down the empty water ewer.
"He will have me," he thought. General D'Hubert
was tasting every emotion that life has to give. He had in
his dry mouth the faint sickly flavour of fear, not the
excusable fear before a young girl's candid and amused
glance, but the fear of death and the honourable man's fear
But if true courage consists in going out to
meet an odious danger from which our body, soul, and heart
recoil together, General D'Hubert had the opportunity to
practise it for the first time in his life. He had charged
exultingly at batteries and at infantry squares, and ridden
with messages through a hail of bullets without thinking
anything about it. His business now was to sneak out
unheard, at break of day, to an obscure and revolting death.
General D'Hubert never hesitated. He carried two pistols in
a leather bag which he slung over his shoulder. Before he
had crossed the garden his mouth was dry again. He picked
two oranges. It was only after shutting the gate after him
that he felt a slight faintness.
He staggered on, disregarding it, and after
going a few yards regained the command of his legs. In the
colourless and pellucid dawn the wood of pines detached its
columns of trunks and its dark green canopy very clearly
against the rocks of the gray hillside. He kept his eyes
fixed on it steadily, and sucked at an orange as he walked.
That temperamental good-humoured coolness in the face of
danger which had made him an officer liked by his men and
appreciated by his superiors was gradually asserting itself.
It was like going into battle. Arriving at the edge of the
wood, he sat down on a boulder holding the other orange in
his hand, and reproached himself for coming so ridiculously
early on the ground. Before very long, however, he heard the
swishing of bushes, footsteps on the hard ground, and the
sounds of a disjointed, loud conversation. A voice somewhere
behind him said boastfully: "He's game for my
He thought to himself: "Here they are.
What's this about game? Are they talking of me?" And
becoming aware of the other orange in his hand, he thought
further: "These are very good oranges. Léonie's
own tree. I may just as well eat this orange now instead of
flinging it away."
Emerging from a wilderness of rocks and
bushes, General Feraud and his seconds discovered General
D'Hubert engaged in peeling the orange. They stood still,
waiting till he looked up. Then the seconds raised their
hats, while General Feraud, putting his hand., behind his
back, walked aside a little way.
"I am compelled to ask one of you,
messieurs, to act for me. I have brought no friends. Will
The one-eyed cuirassier said judicially:
"That cannot be refused."
The other veteran remarked: "It's
awkward all the same."
"Owing to the state of the people's
minds in this part of the country there was no one I could
trust safely with the object of your presence here,"
explained General D'Hubert urbanely.
They saluted, looked round, and remarked both
"Why bother about ground, measurements,
and so on. Let us simplify matters. Load the two pairs of
pistols. I will take those of General Feraud, and let him
take mine. Or, better still, let us take a mixed pair. One
of each pair. Then let us go into the wood and shoot at
sight, while you remain outside. We did not come here for
ceremonies, but for war--war to the death. Any ground is
good enough for that. If I fall, you must leave me where I
lie and clear out. It wouldn't be healthy for you to be
found hanging about here after that."
It appeared after a short parley that General
Feraud was willing to accept these conditions. While the
seconds were loading the pistols, he could be heard
whistling, and was seen to rub his hands with perfect
contentment. He flung off his coat briskly, and General
D'Hubert took off his own and folded it carefully on a
"Suppose you take your principal to the
other side of the wood and let him enter exactly in ten
minutes from now," suggested General D'Hubert calmly,
but feeling as if he were giving directions for his own
execution. This, however, was his last moment of weakness.
"Wait. Let us compare watches first."
He pulled out his own. The officer with the
chipped nose went over to borrow the watch of General
Feraud. They bent their heads over them for a time.
"That's it. At four minutes to six by
yours. Seven to by mine."
It was the cuirassier who remained by the
side of General D'Hubert, keeping his one eye fixed
immovably on the white face of the watch he held in the palm
of his hand. He opened his mouth, waiting for the beat of
the last second long before he snapped out the word,
General D'Hubert moved on, passing from the
glaring sunshine of the Provençal morning into the
cool and aromatic shade of the pines. The ground was clear
between the reddish trunks, whose multitude, leaning at
slightly different angles, confused his eye at first. It was
like going into battle. The commanding quality of confidence
in himself woke up in his breast. He was all to his affair.
The problem was how to kill the adversary. Nothing short of
that would free him from this imbecile nightmare. "It's
no use wounding that brute," thought General D'Hubert.
He was known as a resourceful officer. His comrades years
ago used also to call him The Strategist. And it was a fact
that he could think in the presence of the enemy. Whereas
Feraud had been always a mere fighter--but a dead shot,
"I must draw his fire at the greatest
possible range," said General D'Hubert to himself.
At that moment he saw something white moving
far off between the trees--the shirt of his adversary. He
stepped out at once between the trunks, exposing himself
freely; then, quick as lightning, leaped back. It had been a
risky move, but it succeeded in its object. Almost
simultaneously with the pop of a shot a small piece of bark
chipped off by the bullet stung his ear painfully.
General Feraud, with one shot expended, was
getting cautious. Peeping round the tree, General D'Hubert
could not see him at all. This ignorance of the foe's
whereabouts carried with it a sense of insecurity. General
D'Hubert felt himself abominably exposed on his flank and
rear. Again something white fluttered in his sight. Ha! The
enemy was still on his front, then. He had feared a turning
movement. But apparently General Feraud was not thinking of
it. General D'Hubert saw him pass without special haste from
one tree to another in the straight line of approach. With
great firmness of mind General D'Hubert stayed his hand. Too
far yet. He knew he was no marksman. His must be a waiting
game to kill.
Wishing to take advantage of the greater
thickness of the trunk, he sank down to the ground. Extended
at full length, head on to his enemy, he had his person
completely protected. Exposing himself would not do now,
because the other was too near by this time. A conviction
that Feraud would presently do something rash was like balm
to General D'Hubert's soul. But to keep his chin raised off
the ground was irksome, and not much use, either. He peeped
round, exposing a fraction of his head with dread, but
really with little risk. His enemy, as a matter of fact, did
not expect to see anything of him so far down as that.
General D'Hubert caught a fleeting view of General Feraud
shifting trees again with deliberate caution. "He
despises my shooting," he thought, displaying that
insight into the mind of his antagonist which is of such
great help in winning battles. He was confirmed in his
tactics of immobility. "If I could only watch my rear
as well as my front!" he thought anxiously, longing for
It required some force of character to lay
his pistols down; but, on a sudden impulse, General D'Hubert
did this very gently--one on each side of him. In the army
he had been looked upon as a bit of a dandy because he used
to shave and put on a clean shirt on the days of battle. As
a matter of fact he had always been very careful of his
personal appearance. In a man of nearly forty, in love with
a young and charming girl, this praiseworthy self-respect
may run to such little weaknesses as, for instance, being
provided with an elegant little leather folding-case
containing a small ivory comb, and fitted with a piece of
looking-glass on the outside. General D'Hubert, his hands
being free, felt in his breeches pockets for that implement
of innocent vanity excusable in the possessor of long silky
moustaches. He drew it out, and then with the utmost
coolness and promptitude turned himself over on his back. In
this new attitude, his head a little raised, holding the
little looking-glass just clear of his tree, he squinted
into it with his left eye, while the right kept a direct
watch on the rear of his position. Thus was proved
Napoleon's saying, that "for a French soldier, the word
impossible does not exist." He had the right tree
nearly filling the field of his little mirror.
"If he moves from behind it," he
reflected with satisfaction, "I am bound to see his
legs. But in any case he can't come upon me unawares."
And sure enough he saw the boots of General
Feraud flash in and out, eclipsing for an instant everything
else reflected in the little mirror. He shifted its position
accordingly. But having to form his judgment of the change
from that indirect view, he did not realize that now his
feet and a portion of his legs were in plain sight of
General Feraud had been getting gradually
impressed by the amazing cleverness with which his enemy was
keeping cover. He had spotted the right tree with
bloodthirsty precision. He was absolutely certain of it. And
yet he had not been able to glimpse as much as the tip of an
ear. As he had been looking for it at the height of about
five feet ten inches from the ground, it was no great
wonder--but it seemed very wonderful to General Feraud.
The first view of these feet and legs
determined a rush of blood to his head. He literally
staggered behind his tree, and had to steady himself against
it with his hand. The other was lying on the ground, then!
On the ground! Perfectly still, too! Exposed! What could it
mean? . . . The notion that he had knocked over his
adversary at the first shot entered then General Feraud's
head. Once there it grew with every second of attentive
gazing, overshadowing every other supposition--irresistible,
"What an ass I was to think I could have
missed him," he muttered to himself. "He was
exposed en plein--the fool!--for quite a couple of
General Feraud gazed at the motionless limbs,
the last vestiges of surprise fading before an unbounded
admiration of his own deadly skill with the pistol.
"Turned up his toes! By the god of war,
that was a shot!" he exulted mentally. "Got it
through the head, no doubt, just where I aimed, staggered
behind that tree, rolled over on his back and died."
And he stared! He stared, forgetting to move,
almost awed, almost sorry. But for nothing in the world
would he have had it undone. Such a shot!--such a shot!
Rolled over on his back and died!
For it was this helpless position, lying on
the back, that shouted its direct evidence at General
Feraud! It never occurred to him that it might have been
deliberately assumed by a living man. It was inconceivable!
It was beyond the range of sane supposition. There was no
possibility to guess the reason for it. And it must be said,
too, that General D'Hubert's turned-up feet looked
thoroughly dead. General Feraud expanded his lungs for a
stentorian shout to his seconds, but, from what he felt to
be an excessive scrupulousness, refrained for a while.
"I will just go and see first whether he
breathes yet," he mumbled to himself, leaving
carelessly the shelter of his tree. This move was
immediately perceived by the resourceful General D'Hubert.
He concluded it to be another shift, but when he lost the
boots out of the field of the mirror he became uneasy.
General Feraud had only stepped a little out of the line,
but his adversary could not possibly have supposed him
walking up with perfect unconcern. General D'Hubert,
beginning to wonder at what had become of the other, was
taken unawares so completely that the first warning of
danger consisted in the long, early-morning shadow of his
enemy falling aslant on his outstretched legs. He had not
even heard a footfall on the soft ground between the trees!
It was too much even for his coolness. He
jumped up thoughtlessly, leaving the pistols on the ground.
The irresistible instinct of an average man (unless totally
paralyzed by discomfiture) would have been to stoop for his
weapons, exposing himself to the risk of being shot down in
that position. Instinct, of course, is irreflective. It is
its very definition. But it may be an inquiry worth pursuing
whether in reflective mankind the mechanical promptings of
instinct are not affected by the customary mode of thought.
In his young days, Armand D'Hubert, the reflective,
promising officer, had emitted the opinion that in warfare
one should "never cast back on the lines of a
mistake." This idea, defended and developed in many
discussions, had settled into one of the stock notions of
his brain, had become a part of his mental individuality.
Whether it had gone so inconceivably deep as to affect the
dictates of his instinct, or simply because, as he himself
declared afterward, he was "too scared to remember the
confounded pistols," the fact is that General D'Hubert
never attempted to stoop for them. Instead of going back on
his mistake, he seized the rough trunk with both hands, and
swung himself behind it with such impetuosity that, going
right round in the very flash and report of the pistol-shot,
he reappeared on the other side of the tree face to face
with General Feraud. This last, completely unstrung by such
a show of agility on the part of a dead man, was trembling
yet. A very faint mist of smoke hung before his face which
had an extraordinary aspect, as if the lower jaw had come
"Not missed!" he croaked hoarsely
from the depths of a dry throat.
This sinister sound loosened the spell that
had fallen on General D'Hubert's senses. "Yes,
missed--à bout portant," he heard himself
saying, almost before he had recovered the full command of
his faculties. The revulsion of feeling was accompanied by a
gust of homicidal fury, resuming in its violence the
accumulated resentment of a lifetime. For years General
D'Hubert had been exasperated and humiliated by an atrocious
absurdity imposed upon him by this man's savage caprice.
Besides, General D'Hubert had been in this last instance too
unwilling to confront death for the reaction of his anguish
not to take the shape of a desire to kill. "And I have
my two shots to fire yet," he added pitilessly.
General Feraud snapped-to his teeth, and his
face assumed an irate, undaunted expression. "Go
on!" he said grimly.
These would have been his last words if
General D'Hubert had been holding the pistols in his hands.
But the pistols were lying on the ground at the foot of a
pine. General D'Hubert had the second of leisure necessary
to remember that he had dreaded death not as a man, but as a
lover; not as a danger, but as a rival; not as a foe to
life, but as an obstacle to marriage. And behold! there was
the rival defeated!--utterly defeated, crushed, done for!
He picked up the weapons mechanically, and,
instead of firing them into General Feraud's breast, he gave
expression to the thought uppermost in his mind, "You
will fight no more duels now."
His tone of leisurely, ineffable satisfaction
was too much for General Feraud's stoicism. "Don't
dawdle, then, damn you for a cold-blooded
staff-coxcomb!" he roared out suddenly, out of an
impassive face held erect on a rigidly still body.
General D'Hubert uncocked the pistols
carefully. This proceeding was observed with mixed feelings
by the other general. "You missed me twice," the
victor said coolly, shifting both pistols to one hand;
"the last time within a foot or so. By every rule of
single combat your life belongs to me. That does not mean
that I want to take it now."
"I have no use for your
forbearance," muttered General Feraud gloomily.
"Allow me to point out that this is no
concern of mine," said General D'Hubert, whose every
word was dictated by a consummate delicacy of feeling. In
anger he could have killed that man, but in cold blood he
recoiled from humiliating by a show of generosity this
unreasonable being--a fellow-soldier of the Grande
Armée, a companion in the wonders and terrors of
the great military epic. "You don't set up the
pretension of dictating to me what I am to do with what's my
General Feraud looked startled, and the other
continued: "You've forced me on a point of honour to
keep my life at your disposal, as it were, for fifteen
years. Very well. Now that the matter is decided to my
advantage, I am going to do what I like with your life on
the same principle. You shall keep it at my disposal as long
as I choose. Neither more nor less. You are on your honour
till I say the word."
"I am! But, sacrebleu! This is an
absurd position for a General of the Empire to be placed
in!" cried General Feraud, in accents of profound and
dismayed conviction. "It amounts to sitting all the
rest of my life with a loaded pistol in a drawer waiting for
your word. It's--it's idiotic; I shall be an object
"Absurd?--idiotic? Do you think
so?" queried General D'Hubert with sly gravity.
"Perhaps. But I don't see how that can be helped.
However, I am not likely to talk at large of this adventure.
Nobody need ever know anything about it. Just as no one to
this day, I believe, knows the origin of our quarrel. . . .
Not a word more," he added hastily. "I can't
really discuss this question with a man who, as far as I am
concerned, does not exist."
When the two duellists came out into the
open, General Feraud walking a little behind, and rather
with the air of walking in a trance, the two seconds hurried
toward them, each from his station at the edge of the wood.
General D'Hubert addressed them, speaking loud and
distinctly: "Messieurs, I make it a point of declaring
to you solemnly, in the presence of General Feraud, that our
difference is at last settled for good. You may inform all
the world of that fact."
"A reconciliation, after all!" they
"Reconciliation? Not that exactly. It is
something much more binding. Is it not so, General?"
General Feraud only lowered his head in sign
of assent. The two veterans looked at each other. Later in
the day, when they found themselves alone out of their moody
friend's earshot, the cuirassier remarked suddenly:
"Generally speaking, I can see with my one eye as far
as most people; but this beats me. He won't say
"In this affair of honour I understand
there has been from first to last always something that no
one in the army could quite make out," declared the
chasseur with the imperfect nose. "In mystery it began,
in mystery it went on, in mystery it is to end,
General D'Hubert walked home with long, hasty
strides, by no means uplifted by a sense of triumph. He had
conquered, yet it did not seem to him that he had gained
very much by his conquest. The night before he had grudged
the risk of his life which appeared to him magnificent,
worthy of preservation as an opportunity to win a girl's
love. He had known moments when, by a marvellous illusion,
this love seemed to be already his, and his threatened life
a still more magnificent opportunity of devotion. Now that
his life was safe it had suddenly lost its special
magnificence. It had acquired instead a specially alarming
aspect as a snare for the exposure of unworthiness. As to
the marvellous illusion of conquered love that had visited
him for a moment in the agitated watches of the night, which
might have been his last on earth, he comprehended now its
true nature. It had been merely a paroxysm of delirious
conceit. Thus to this man, sobered by the victorious issue
of a duel, life appeared robbed of its charm, simply because
it was no longer menaced.
Approaching the house from the back, through
the orchard and the kitchen garden, he could not notice the
agitation which reigned in front. He never met a single
soul. Only while walking softly along the corridor, he
became aware that the house was awake and more noisy that
usual. Names of servants were being called out down below in
a confused noise of coming and going. With some concern he
noticed that the door of his own room stood ajar, though the
shutters had not been opened yet. He had hoped that his
early excursion would have passed unperceived. He expected
to find some servant just gone in; but the sunshine
filtering through the usual cracks enabled him to see lying
on the low divan something bulky, which had the appearance
of two women clasped in each other's arms. Tearful and
desolate murmurs issued mysteriously from that appearance.
General D'Hubert pulled open the nearest pair of shutters
violently. One of the women then jumped up. It was his
sister. She stood for a moment with her hair hanging down
and her arms raised straight up above her head, and then
flung herself with a stifled cry into his arms. He returned
her embrace, trying at the same time to disengage himself
from it. The other woman had not risen. She seemed, on the
contrary, to cling closer to the divan, hiding her face in
the cushions. Her hair was also loose; it was admirably
fair. General D'Hubert recognized it with staggering
emotion. Mademoiselle de Valmassigue! Adèle! In
He became greatly alarmed, and got rid of his
sister's hug definitely. Madame Léonie then extended
her shapely bare arm out of her peignoir, pointing
dramatically at the divan. "This poor, terrified child
has rushed here from home, on foot, two miles--running all
"What on earth has happened?" asked
General D'Hubert in a low, agitated voice.
But Madame Léonie was speaking loudly.
"She rang the great bell at the gate and roused all the
household--we were all asleep yet. You may imagine what a
terrible shock.... Adèle, my dear child, sit
General D'Hubert's expression was not that of
a man who "imagines" with facility. He did,
however, fish out of the chaos of surmises the notion that
his prospective mother-in-law had died suddenly, but only to
dismiss it at once. He could not conceive the nature of the
event or the catastrophe which could induce Mademoiselle de
Valmassigue, living in a house full of servants, to bring
the news over the fields herself, two miles, running all the
"But why are you in this room?" he
whispered, full of awe.
"Of course, I ran up to see, and this
child . . . I did not notice it . . . she followed me. It's
that absurd Chevalier," went on Madame Léonie,
looking toward the divan. . . . "Her hair is all come
down. You may imagine she did not stop to call her maid to
dress it before she started. . . . Adèle, my dear,
sit up. . . . He blurted it all out to her at half-past five
in the morning. She woke up early and opened her shutters to
breathe the fresh air, and saw him sitting collapsed on a
garden bench at the end of the great alley. At that
hour--you may imagine! And the evening before he had
declared himself indisposed. She hurried on some clothes and
flew down to him. One would be anxious for less. He loves
her, but not very intelligently. He had been up all night,
fully dressed, the poor old man, perfectly exhausted. He
wasn't in a state to invent a plausible story. . . . What a
confidant you chose there! My husband was furious. He said:
'We can't interfere now.' So we sat down to wait. It was
awful! And this poor child running with her hair loose over
here publicly! She has been seen by some people in the
fields. She has roused the whole household, too. It's
awkward for her. Luckily you are to be married next week. .
. . Adèle, sit up. He has come home on his own legs.
. . . We expected to see you coming on a stretcher,
perhaps--what do I know? Go and see if the carriage is
ready. I must take this child home at once. It isn't proper
for her to stay here a minute longer."
General D'Hubert did not move. It was as
though he had heard nothing. Madame Léonie changed
her mind. "I will go and see myself," she cried.
"I want also my cloak. Adèle--" she began,
but did not add "sit up." She went out saying, in
a very loud and cheerful tone: "I leave the door
General D'Hubert made a movement toward the
divan, but then Adèle sat up, and that checked him
dead. He thought, "I haven't washed this morning. I
must look like an old tramp. There's earth on the back of my
coat and pine-needles in my hair." It occurred to him
that the situation required a good deal of circumspection on
"I am greatly concerned,
mademoiselle," he began vaguely, and abandoned that
line. She was sitting up on the divan with her cheeks
unusually pink and her hair, brilliantly fair, falling over
her shoulders--which was a very novel sight to the General.
He walked away up the room, and looking out of the window
for safety, said: "I fear you must think I behaved like
a madman," in accents of sincere despair. Then he spun
round, and noticed that she had followed him with her eyes.
They were not cast down on meeting his glance. And the
expression of her face was novel to him also. It was, one
might have said, reversed. Those eyes looked at him with
grave thoughtfulness, while the exquisite lines of her mouth
seemed to suggest a restrained smile. This change made her
transcendental beauty much less mysterious, much more
accessible to a man's comprehension. An amazing ease of mind
came to the General--and even some ease of manner. He walked
down the room with as much pleasurable excitement as he
would have found in walking up to a battery vomiting death,
fire, and smoke; then stood looking down with smiling eyes
at the girl whose marriage with him (next week) had been so
carefully arranged by the wise, the good, the admirable
"Ah! mademoiselle," he said, in a
tone of courtly regret, "if only I could be certain
that you did not come here this morning, two miles, running
all the way, merely from affection for your mother."
He waited for an answer imperturbable but
inwardly elated. It came in a demure murmur, eyelashes
lowered with fascinating effect: "You must not be
méchant as well as mad."
And then General D'Hubert made an aggressive
movement toward the divan which nothing could check That
piece of furniture was not exactly in the line of the open
door. But Madame Léonie, coming back wrapped up in a
light cloak and carrying a lace shawl on her arm for
Adèle to hide her incriminating hair under, had a
swift impression of her brother getting up from his knees.
"Come along, my dear child," she
cried from the doorway.
The General, now himself again in the fullest
sense, showed the readiness of a resourceful cavalry officer
and the peremptoriness of a leader of men. "You don't
expect her to walk to the carriage," he said
indignantly. "She isn't fit. I shall carry her
This he did slowly, followed by his awed and
respectful sister; but he rushed back like a whirlwind to
wash off all the signs of the night of anguish and the
morning of war, and to put on the festive garments of a
conqueror before hurrying over to the other house. Had it
not been for that, General D'Hubert felt capable of mounting
a horse and pursuing his late adversary in order simply to
embrace him from excess of happiness. "I owe it all to
this stupid brute," he thought. "He has made plain
in a morning what might have taken me years to find out--for
I am a timid fool. No self-confidence whatever. Perfect
coward. And the Chevalier! Delightful old man!" General
D'Hubert longed to embrace him also.
The Chevalier was in bed. For several days he
was very unwell. The men of the Empire and the
post-revolution young ladies were too much for him. He got
up the day before the wedding, and, being curious by nature,
took his niece aside for a quiet talk. He advised her to
find out from her husband the true story of the affair of
honour, whose claim, so imperative and so persistent, had
led her to within an ace of tragedy. "It is right that
his wife should be told. And next month or so will be your
time to learn from him anything you want to know, my dear
Later on, when the married couple came on a
visit to the mother of the bride, Madame la
Générale D'Hubert communicated to her beloved
old uncle the true story she had obtained without any
difficulty from her husband.
The Chevalier listened with deep attention to
the end, took a pinch of snuff, flicked the grains of
tobacco from the frilled front of his shirt, and asked
calmly, "And that's all it was!"
"Yes, uncle," replied Madame la
Générale, opening her pretty eyes very wide.
"Isn't it funny? C'est insensé--to think
what men are capable of!"
"H'm!" commented the old
émigré. "It depends what sort of men.
That Bonaparte's soldiers were savages. It is
insensé. As a wife, my dear, you must believe
implicitly what your husband says."
But to Léonie's husband the Chevalier
confided his true opinion. "If that's the tale the
fellow made up for his wife, and during the honeymoon, too,
you may depend on it that no one will ever know now the
secret of this affair."
Considerably later still, General D'Hubert
judged the time come, and the opportunity propitious to
write a letter to General Feraud. This letter began by
disclaiming all animosity. "I've never," wrote the
General Baron D'Hubert, "wished for your death during
all the time of our deplorable quarrel. Allow me," he
continued, "to give you back in all form your forfeited
life. It is proper that we two, who have been partners in so
much military glory, should be friendly to each other
The same letter contained also an item of
domestic information. It was in reference to this last that
General Feraud answered from a little village on the banks
of the Garonne, in the following words:
"If one of your boy's names had been
Napoleon--or Joseph--or even Joachim, I could congratulate
you on the event with a better heart. As you have thought
proper to give him the names of Charles Henri Armand, I am
confirmed in my conviction that you never loved the
Emperor. The thought of that sublime hero chained to a rock
in the middle of a savage ocean makes life of so little
value that I would receive with positive joy your
instructions to blow my brains out. From suicide I consider
myself in honour debarred. But I keep a loaded pistol in my
Madame la Générale D'Hubert
lifted up her hands in despair after perusing that answer.
"You see? He won't be
reconciled," said her husband. "He must never, by
any chance, be allowed to guess where the money comes from.
It wouldn't do. He couldn't bear it."
"You are a brave homme,
Armand," said Madame la Générale
"My dear, I had the right to blow his
brains out; but as I didn't, we can't let him starve. He has
lost his pension and he is utterly incapable of doing
anything in the world for himself. We must take care of him,
secretly, to the end of his days. Don't I owe him the most
ecstatic moment of my life? . . . Ha! ha! ha! Over the
fields, two miles, running all the way! couldn't believe my
ears! . . . But for his stupid ferocity, it would have taken
me years to find you out. It's extraordinary how in one way
or another this man has managed to fasten himself on my