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A Foolish Duel

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Seventeen years ago I was a student at the University of Paris. We were a gay set, wbo frequented the restaurant of my esteemed f riend Adolphe Bauleau, who has now been dead some five years. Poor Adolphe ! The politest of Frenchmen and most obliging of landlords; his wines were always good, and his dishes unexceptionable. Peace to his ashes 1 I well remember the last dinner I took at his house, not so much f rom the delicacy of the viands and the perfection of the cookery, which latter exceeded anything in the Quartier Latiu, as from an occnrrence of which I was an unwilling spectator, and to a certain extent a participant ia. It was the last day of my university life; and, in commemoration of three years of companionship with some of the noblest hearts I had ever met, I gave an entertainment to my intimates, and Bauleau's was the place sclected for the meeting. Our party consisted of but twelve, myself included; and 6 o'clock was named for sitting down to the table. At 5:30 o'clock we were mostly all assembled, as I had specially infïsted on punctuality, and no one wished to disappoint me. The intervening moments passed away in pleasant chat concerning the manifo'ld incidents of our student life - forever past on my part - until the bands of the clock pioclaiined the hour appointed, at which instant the head waiter entered the apartment and announced dinner. Upon counting noses we found there was but one absentee, Víctor Lemoyne; and, as he was generally behindhand in everything, I was not much surprised, although a little vexed. " Well," said Jules Laroque, "are we to wait for Lemoyne until the soup gets cold?" "By no means," replied Maurice Delavigne. "Victor Lemoyne merely stays away to be consistent. Were he to arrive in time his tardinesa would be lost," There was a general laugh at this sally, which, however, had hardly died away when the door opened, and in stalked Lemoyne, and with him a stranger, a young man of about his own age, whom he introduced as the Count de Vautrin. There was no necessity for further delay, and we immediately adjourned to the dinner-table, which I had ordered to be set in the second story back room overlooking the garden, where our festivity would not be interrupted by the noise and bustle of the street. We reached the room, and had all taken our seats, with the exception of Maurice Delavigne, who remained standing, and with good reason, too - every place was occupied. " How now, waiter," exclaimed he, with mock gravity; " am I to eat on my feet ?" "Amistakeof mine, monsieur," replied that worthy functionary; "I thought I had covers for twelve." "So you did," anuwered Maurice, " but there are thirteon of us." The fresh cover was brought. Delavigne ensconced himself snugly upon my left, and the dinner then proceeded. Frenchmen are the most companionable fellows in the world, and by the time the second basket of champagne had been opened no happier party oould have been found within the walls of Paris. As the liquor began to take effect, the f un became fast and furious. At first we contented ourselves with singing and shouting; but gradually became more and more reckless; we threw the fruit, of which Adolphe had provided a plentiful supply, at the pictures which adorned the walls. Finally, Delavigne leaped apon the table with a champagne bottle in eaeh hand, and commenced a wild, extravagant dance, in which he was joined by several others, while the rest indnlged in the same fantastic gyrations on the floor, yelling all the time at the top of their voices. It was at this moment that Banleau (the landlord) entered. He said nothing about the destruction of bis china and pictures, for which he knew he would be paid, but he besought us in tha most heartrending tones to moderate our glee. The gendarmes, he said, would be in the house in five minuten, and, af ter arrest ing us, would revokehis ] icense. The poor fellow was actual lypale with fright; and, heated as l was, I deemed it my duty to second his exhortation, and had already begun, whon Maurice Dolavigne, with an air of drunken gravily perfectly irresistible, advanced to the side of the trembling bonifacc, and, seizing him by the ear with a íirm hand, led him to the door, and, having placed him outside, locked it and put the kcy in his pocket. Poor Adolphe piteously murmured something about his wifc and children as he was being f-;jected, but it availed him nothing. The little episode which I have just described had the effect of momentarily arresting our frenzy, aud wlieu vigne returned to the table and demanded our aitention there was a profoimd silenoe. "Gentlemen," said he, "are you nware of the superstition which attaches to a dineer party of thirteen?" No ono spoke, and he continued: "It is this, that bef ore the year is out one of the number will die a violent death." The silence seemed to grow more intense, and after a short pause he spoke again : "I propose that we ad journ f rom this apartment to the nearest billiard saloon, and thero pair off in couples for the purpose of playing. At the end of the flrst series of games there will be six losers. Let them pair off and play again, and so continue in the same manner until only ore is left, who shall play the final game with the odd man, and the loser, whoever he may be, shall challenge sonie stranger to fight him a duel this very night. By so doing we give destiny a chance to settle the affair at once; and if she fails to do so, why, it's her iault, not ours. What say you, gentlemen, to the proposition ?" "Agreed! agreed!" resounded on every side, and we sprung at once for our bats. " Open the door, Maurice !" shouted a dozen voices; " you have the key 1" ' Gentlemen," responded he, " have yon no regard for the feelings of our host? Whatl would you rush down stairs skelter, at the imminent risk of disturbing the virtuous slumbers of. Madame Bauleau and her charming inf ant ? For shame I Observe me, 'and profit by my example." Even as he spoke, he rushed to one of the Windows, toro down the curtains, threw up the sash, and leaped out fearlessly into the gloom. We all followed him, and in the twinkling of an eye found ourselves in the garden. It was a clear f all of f ourteen f eet, but, the soil being moist and soft, luckily no one was hurt. We struggled on, still following the leadership of Maurice, over a wilderness of vines and flowerbeds, until we reached the low wall upon our right; and, scrambling over it, we found ourselves in a narrow alley which led out into the thoroughfare upon which Bauleau's restaurant fronted. "Select your partners!" exclaimed Maurice, in his clear, ringing tones; and each one locked arms with whoever chanced to be nearest to him. Delavigne himself being my most immediate neighbor, I took his, and so reached the open street. Once there, I bethought me of his great skill as a billiard player, whioh I had once or twice been a witness of, and regretted that I had not selected some ono else; but it was too lato to repent, and so I said nothing. On consulting our watches we found that it was half-past 11, being a full hour later than any of us had supposed. A walk of ten minutes brought us to Toisón d'Or, at that time one of the most elegant saloons in Paris. It was j in the secoud story of the building, the floor above being occupied as a fencing gallery. Once inside, no time was lost in idle preparation, but, selecting six contiguous tables, we began our play at once. Delavigne, who knew that I was no match for him, insisted upon giving me odds; but, as I r.solutely refused to accept of any, he was perforce obliged to play me even. I was in that state of nervous excitoment which, so far from diminishing my skill, actually assiated it, and I exceeded myself ; while Maurice, although to all appearance playing with great care, counted very slowly. The consequence was that, much to my surprise, I won the game. Por his second trial he paired off with Laroque, who was even a worse player than myself; and yet, strange to say, Delavigne was again beaten. He experienced a similar fate at the hands of each of his antagonists, and finally was left alone to play the last game of the series with tne " odd man," which unenviable position hal been selected, from choice, by the young stranger whom Lemoyne had introduced as the Count de Vautrin. The chances had narrowed down to two men. It was to be eithcr the stranger or my friend, and a strong forboding as to the result took possession of me, when the Oourit, having taken off his coat and selected a cue, advanced to the head of the table and spoke thus: " Monsieur Delavigne, I hayenarrowly observed your play, and feel convinced that to equalize the contest between us you should have the odds of at least one-half the game, which I beg you will allow me to give you." He ceased, and there was a murmur of approbation among the studente at this generosity - the more commendable when the stake which depended on the issue of the game was taken into consideration. Maurice bowed, and replied: " Sir, I thank you for your conrfcesy, but I cannot -accept of any odds, and, notwithstanding your estimato of my play, I think you will find that I need none." Not a word more was spoken, but the balls were placed in position and the game began. It did not require half-adozen shots for me to perceive that the Count was one of the flnest amateurs I had ever seen. His conception and execution were both excellent, and would have reflected no discredit upon the first professional in France. But what positively afitonished me was that in every respect Delavigne seemed to be his equal. His play was magnificent; and in a few moments the table was completely surrounded by spectators, attracted by the extraordinary skill displayed on both sides. As the contest progressed, it was impossible to decide which had the advantage; first one was ahead, then the othsr; and, finally, as the termination drew near, so evenly wero they matched that the Count needed but one to complete his score, Maurice only wanted three. It was the crisis of the game, and the excitement of the students was terrible. That of the other spectaters seemed hardly less intensf, although we alono knew of the terrible duty devolving upoa the final loser. It was plain to me that Delavigne - the generous fellow- had purposoly allowed us to beat him, in order to take the wbolo burden upon his own shoulders. I blamcd myself deeply for not having disco vered it in time for remonstration, which was now too late, and so I held my peace. It was the Count de Vautrin's play ; and, as the balls werc rather awkwardly placed, he did not attempt to add to his score, but played what is technicnlly known as"safety," and left them in a position from which it is almofit impossible to effect a count. Maurice looked anxious, but, after a long and careful survey of the table, eeized liis cuo firmly, and, by oae of the most brilliant shots I had ever seen, made a carom on the two reda, and so ended the game. The Count laid his cue upon the table, and said, smilingly, "Monsieur, I must congratúlate you; I considered myself the first amateur player in Paris, but I find that I have, at least, one superior." His opponent bowed, and altributed his success more to good fortune than any superiority of skill. It was getting late, and tho frequentere had mostly departed, so that anumber scarcely greater than that of ourown party was all that remained in the entire saloon. De Vautrin replaced his coat, and hav ing lit a cigar strayed leisurely round the room, and eventually halted in front of a cavalry Major, who sat dozing in an arm-chair with an expression of somniferous bliss upon his bronzed features positively touching. " Sir !" said the Count. " Sir !" and he shook him violently by the shoulder. The warrior opened his blood-shot eyes and glared fiercely upon his interrogator. " I trust you will pardon mo, sir," resumed Count de Vautrin, " for this unseemly interruption ; but the fact of the matter is, I am under the necessity of fighting somebody, and attracted by the singular beauty of your features" (the Major was frightfully ugly) "I have made bold to disturb you in order that you become my opponent." " Sir, " responded the inoensed caralryman, " you are a fooi !" " Oh, I understand ; you wish a reason," retorted the Count, in the most courteous of tones. " You shall have it." And, without more ado, he reaehed forth his hand, and seizing the son of Mars by his nose, whicb was very prominent, gave it so vigoious a tweak that for a moment I verily believed he must have pulled a portion of it from his face. He immediately leaped to the further side of a billiard table ; and it was well he did so, for the now thoroughly aroused soldier sprung to his feet, and, had not some half dozen of us interfered, he would certainly have throttled his insulter on the spot. I never saw a man so enraged. He literally foamed at the mouth, and our united efforts were hardly sufficient to prevent his breaking away. FinaJly, seeing that his attempts to release himself were ineffectual, he gave his word to commit no immediate violence, and we loosened our hold. Count de Vautrin, who had been regarding the whole soene with the utmost nonchalance, now advanced, and said, exlending his card, " There, sir, you will find my name and addrcss. You shall have saiisfaction." " Here, sir - hcre, on this spot I" ' hissed the Major, trembling all over with passion. The proprietor of the establishment, attracted by the commotion, came up at this moment and interfered. Ho besought us to tako our differences somewhere else, and informed us, besides, that if we persisted in rnaking his saloon tho scène of a duel he would be under the necessity of sendicg for the pólice. During the harangue I noticed that Laroque spoke in an undertone to several of the students, who immediately went and posted themselves in front of the large doublé doors which constituted the only entrance to the place. At its conclusión he detained the landlord by the skirts of his coat, and thus addreesed the spectators of this singular scène, who did not number more than twenty-five, our own party included : "Messieurs," he said, " if a gentleman be insulted, is it nofc etniueritly just and proper that he should demand satisfaction upon tho very spot of the affront?" "Yes, yes!" shouted seyeral voices. "Yoix see the sentiment of the comrany, landlord," continued Jules, "af ter which I trust your good taste will prevent your calling for the pólice. Should you persist in so dotog we will be under the unpleasant necessity of gagging you. So make your choice." The proprietor, seeing no otlier alternativo, gracefully acquiesced, and took a chair to witness the proceedings. "Now, lads,"exclaimed Laroque, "no time is to be lost. Delavigne, in the fencing gallery above you will find plenty of f oils. Take the two whioh are crossed on the eastern wall. They have no buttons, and will suit your purpose better." Maurice sped away on his mission, while the rest of the students busied themselves closing the window curtains to prevent observation from the neighboring houses, and extinguishing all the gas jets except two very brilliant ones in the center of the room, distant from each other about twelve feet. Then, still acting under the direction of Jules Laroque, they gathered round one of the bilüard-tables, and, lifting it' bodily from the floor, placed it midwiiy between the two jets. It was uot until that moment I comprehended his intention. They weie to fight on the billiardtablo. Maurice by this time had retumed with the foils, which he delivered into the hands of Laroque, who, after examining them, offered one to the Count. But he declined, saying in a low, olear voice, whioh everyj ono heard, "No. Lot the Major choose first. I always give beauty the preference." Tho cavalryman grcrand his teeth, but said nothing, and, having seleoted one of the weapons, the other was handed to Count de Vautrin, who, after looking at it narrowly and bending it in various ways, threw off his coat, and, whispering a few words to Lemoyne - instructions, prol)ably, in case of the affair terminatingfatally for him - sprung lightly upon the table. The Major was in position equally as quick, and, as the two opponents stood confronting each other, I oould not help being struck at the immense disparity of size between them. The soldier was" a tall, powerfully-built fellow, certainly over six feet, with the arm and chest of a Hercules, while his antagonist wasaslight, elegnntly-shaped man of not more than five-feet-eight, with a face that would have been actually eff'eminate had not its softness of expression been redeemed by the firm eet of the upper lip, and the bold, foarless expression of tho eyes. "Gentlemen, are you ready?" exclaimed Laroque. A sharp, quick "Yes!" camo from their lips simultaneously. "Then," said he, "en garde!" And even as he spoke the two blades crossed with tho rapidity of thought, and the contest began. There was none of that graceful prolimmary play, so common among swordsmen, for the purpose of n-scerfcaining the etrong and weak points of an adveisary; but it waa a duel to the death from the firet thrust. To my mind the Major ggemed the better fencer, handling his wcapon as if it had been a feather, and tlirusting liither and thither at all parts of his opponent's body, with a fiereeness of rapidity which I liad neverseen surpassed. I marveled, in fact, how thcy could be avoided; and they were - parried every one with a neatness and address tliat ohallenged the admiration of all. The combat had been progressing somo four or five minutes, when the Major, carried away in the ardor of his attempt to break through his antagonist's guard, for a moment threw himself out of position. De Vautrin, -who pp to this moment had been acting principally on the defensive, now totally changed his tactics, and assaulted his huge antagonist with a vigor and ferocity more than equal to his own. His thrusts, which were principally for the face, were directed by a hand so strong and trae that twice he broke the skin of the Major's cheek and once pricked his neck. The moment was one of horrible interest to all. Suddenly, on returning from a lunge at tiercé, the Oount threw open his guard; whether designediy or not I never knew, but his opponent saw it, and, quick as thought, thrust for the undefended spot. De Vautrin did not attempt to parry, but, by a dexterous half-wheel of his body, received in his arm the point intended for his heart, and at the same moment struck his own hilt-deep through the cavalryman's broad breast. A convulsive shudder passed through the soldier's frame, and, straightening himself at his full height, he feil backward from the table into the gloom, which opened to receive himlike a grave. I shall never forget the dull, hoavy thud of his body as it smote the floor. Lemoyue assisted the Count from the table, and bandaged his arm with his handkerchief. Having hung his coat over his shoulders, Count de Vautrin advanced to the proprietor, and, putting his purse into his hand, desired him not to cali the pólice for ten minutes; having done which, he politely bado us good morning, and quitted the saloon in compány with Lemoyne. We examined the illfated Major, but he was stone-dead. The weapon had passed directly through his heart. Two days afterward I leffc France, nor have I erer visited it sicce ; bnt were I to live a thousand years I should never forget tñe awful solemnity of the scène associated with my last dinner in Paris.


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