As she was evidently backward in falling into his arms, Fougas imitated Mahomet, and ran to the mountain.
“Oh, Clementine!” said he, covering her with kisses, “the friendly Fates give you back to my devotion. I clasp once more the partner of my life and the mother of my child!”
The young lady was so astounded, that she did not even dream of defending herself. Happily, Leon Renault extricated her from the hands of the Colonel, and placed himself between them, determined to defend his own.
“Monsieur,” cried he, clenching his fists, “you deceive yourself entirely, if you think you know Mademoiselle. She is not a person of your time, but of ours; she is not your fiancée, but mine; she has never been the mother of your child, and I trust that she will be the mother of mine!”
Fougas was iron. He seized his rival by the arm, sent him off spinning like a top, and put himself face to face with the young girl.
“Are you Clementine?” he demanded of her.
“I call you all to witness that she is my Clementine!”
Leon returned to the charge, and seized the Colonel by the collar, at the risk of getting himself dashed against the walls.
“We’ve had joking enough!” said he. “Possibly you don’t pretend to monopolize all the Clementines in the world? Mademoiselle’s name is Clementine Sambucco; she was born at Martinique, where you never set your foot, if I am to believe what you have said within an hour. She is eighteen years old ——”
“So was the other!”
“Eh! The other is sixty-four to-day, since she was eighteen in 1813. Mlle. Sambucco is of an honorable and well-known family. Her father, M. Sambucco, was a magistrate; her grandfather was a functionary of the war department. You see, she is in no way connected with you, nearly or remotely; and good sense and politeness, to say nothing of gratitude, make it your duty to leave her in peace.”
He gave the Colonel a shove, in his turn, and made him tumble between the arms of a sofa.
Fougas bounded up as if he had been thrown on a million springs. But Clementine stopped him, with a gesture and a smile.
“Monsieur,” said she in her most caressing voice, “do not get angry with him; he loves me.”
“So much the more reason why I should! Damnation!”
He cooled down, nevertheless, made the young lady sit down beside him, and regarded her from head to foot with the most absorbed attention.
“This is surely she,” said he. “My memory, my eyes, my heart, everything in me, recognizes her, and tells me that it is she. And nevertheless the testimony of mankind, the calculation of times and distances, in a word, the very soul of evidence, seems to have made it a special point to convict me of error.
“Is it possible, then, that two women should so resemble each other? Am I the victim of an illusion of the senses? Have I recovered life only to lose reason? No; I know myself, I find myself the same; my judgment is firm and accurate, and can make its way in this world so new and topsy-turvy. It is on but one point that my reason wavers — Clementine! — I seem to see you again, and you are not you! Well, what’s the difference, after all? If the Destiny which snatched me from the tomb has taken care to present to my awaking sense the image of her I loved, it must be because it had resolved to give me back, one after another, all the blessings which I had lost. In a few days, my epaulettes; to-morrow, the flag of the 23d of the line; to-day this adorable presence which made my heart beat for the first time! Living image of all that is sweetest and clearest in the past, I throw myself at your feet! Be my wife!”
The devil of a fellow joined the deed to the word, and the witnesses of the unexpected scene opened their eyes to the widest. But Clementine’s aunt, the austere Mlle. Sambucco, thought that it was time to show her authority. She stretched out her big, wrinkled hands, seized Fougas, jerked him sharply to his feet, and cried in her shrillest voice:
“Enough, sir; it is time to put an end to this scandalous farce! My niece is not for you; I have promised her and given her away. Know that, day after to-morrow, the 19th of this month, at ten o’clock in the morning, she will marry M. Leon Renault, your benefactor!”
“And I forbid it — do you hear, Madame Aunt? And if she pretends to marry this boy ——”
“What will you do?”
“I’ll curse her!”
Leon could not help laughing. The malediction of this twenty-five-year-old Colonel appeared rather more comic than terrible. But Clementine grew pale, burst into tears, and fell, in her turn, at the feet of Fougas.
“Monsieur,” cried she, kissing his hands, “do not overwhelm a poor girl who venerates you, who loves you, who will sacrifice her happiness if you demand it! By all the marks of tenderness which I have lavished upon you for a month, by the tears I have poured upon your coffin, by the respectful zeal with which I have urged on your resuscitation, I conjure you to pardon our offences. I will not marry Leon if you forbid me; I will do anything to please you; I will obey you in everything; but, for God’s sake, do not pour upon me your maledictions!”
“Embrace me,” said Fougas. “You yield; I pardon.”
Clementine raised herself, all radiant with joy, and held up her beautiful forehead. The stupefaction of the spectators, especially of those most interested, can be better imagined than described. An old mummy dictating laws, breaking off marriages, and imposing his desires on the whole house! Pretty little Clementine, so reasonable, so obedient, so happy in the prospect of marrying Leon Renault, sacrificing, all at once, her affections, her happiness, and almost her duty, to the caprice of an interloper. M. Nibor declared that it was madness. As for Leon, he would have butted his head into all the walls, if his mother had not held him back.
“Ah, my poor child!” said she, “why did you bring that thing from Berlin?”
“It’s my fault!” cried old Monsieur Renault.
“No,” interrupted Dr. Martout, “it’s mine.”
The members of the Parisian committee discussed with M. Rollon the new aspect of the case. “Had they resuscitated a madman? Had the revivification produced some disorder of the nervous system? Had the abuse of wine and other drinkables during the first repast caused a delirium? What an interesting autopsy it would be, if they could dissect M. Fougas at the next regular meeting!”
“You would do very well as far as you would go, gentlemen,” said the Colonel of the 23d. “The autopsy might explain the delirium of our unfortunate friend, but it would not account for the impression produced upon the young lady. Is it fascination, magnetism, or what?”
While the friends and relations were weeping, counselling, and buzzing around him, Fougas, serene and smiling, gazed at himself in Clementine’s eyes, while they, too, regarded him tenderly.
“This must be brought to an end!” cried Mlle. Sambucco the severe. “Come, Clementine!”
Fougas seemed surprised.
“She doesn’t live here, then?”
“No, sir; she lives with me.”
“Then I will escort her home. Angel! will you take my arm?”
“Oh, yes, Monsieur, with great pleasure!”
Leon gnashed his teeth.
“This is admirable! He presumes on such familiarity, and she takes it all as a matter of course!”
He went to get his hat, for the purpose of, at least, going home with the aunt, but his hat was not in its place; Fougas, who had not yet one of his own, had helped himself to it without ceremony. The poor lover crowded his head into a cap, and followed Fougas and Clementine, with the respectable Virginie, whose arm cut like a scythe.
By an accident which happened almost daily, the Colonel of cuirassiers met Clementine on the way home. The young lady directed Fougas’ attention to him.
“That’s M. du Marnet,” said she. “His restaurant is at the end of our street, and his room at the side of the park. I think he is very much taken with my little self, but he has never even bowed to me. The only man for whom my heart has ever beaten is Leon Renault.”
“Ah, indeed! And me?” said Fougas.
“Oh! as for you, that’s another matter. I respect you, and stand in awe of you. It seems to me as if you were a good and respectable parent.”
“I’m telling you the truth, as far as I can read it in my heart. All this is not very clear, I confess, but I do not understand myself.”
“Azure flower of innocence, I adore your sweet perplexity! Let love take care of itself; it will speak to you in master tones.”
“I don’t know anything about that; it’s possible! Here we are at home. Good evening, Monsieur; embrace me. — Good night, Leon; don’t quarrel with M. Fougas. I love him with all my heart, but I love you in a different way!”
The aunt Virginie made no response to the “Good evening” of Fougas. When the two men were alone in the street, Leon marched along without saying a word, till they reached the next lamp-post. There, planting himself resolutely opposite the Colonel, he said,
“Well, sir, now that we are alone, we had better have an explanation. I don’t know by what philter or incantation you have obtained such prodigious influence over my betrothed; but I know that I love her, that I have been loved by her more than four years, and that I will not stop at any means of retaining and protecting her.”
“Friend,” answered Fougas, “you can brave me with impunity; my arm is chained by gratitude. It shall never be written in history that Pierre Fougas was an ingrate!”
“Would it have been more ungrateful in you to cut my throat, than to rob me of my wife?”
“Oh, my benefactor! Learn to understand and pardon! God forbid that I should marry Clementine in spite of you, in spite of herself. It is through her consent and your own that I hope to win her. Realize that she has been dear to me, not for four years, as to you, but for nearly half a century. Reflect that I am alone on earth, and that her sweet face is my only consolation. Will you, who have given me life, prevent my spending it happily? Have you called me back to the world only to deliver me over to despair? — Tiger! Take back, then, the life you gave me, if you will not permit me to consecrate it to the adorable Clementine!”
“Upon my soul, my dear fellow, you are superb! The habit of victory must have totally twisted your wits. My hat is on your head:— keep it; so far so good. But because my betrothed happens to remind you vaguely of a girl in Nancy, must I give her up to you? I can’t see it!”
“Friend, I will give you back your hat just as soon as you’ve bought me another one; but do not ask me to give up Clementine. In the first place, do you know that she will reject me?”
“I’m sure of it.”
“She loves me.”
“You’ve seen her at my feet.”
“What of that? It was from fear, from respect, from superstition, from anything in the devil’s name you choose to call it; but it was not from love.”
“We’ll see about that pretty clearly, after six months of married life.”
“But,” cried Leon Renault, “have you the right to dispose of yourself? There is another Clementine, the true one; she has sacrificed everything for you; you are engaged, in honor, to her. Is Colonel Fougas deaf to the voice of honor?”
“Are you mocking me? What! I marry a woman sixty-four years old?”
“You ought to; if not for her sake, at least for your child’s .”
“My child is a pretty big boy. He’s forty-six years old; he has no further need of my care.”
“He does need your name, though.”
“I’ll adopt him.”
“The law is opposed to it. You’re not fifty years old, and he’s not fifteen years younger than you are; quite the reverse!”
“Very well; I’ll legitimize him by marrying the young Clementine.”
“How can you expect her to acknowledge a child twice as old as she is herself?”
“But then I can’t acknowledge him any better; so there’s no need of my marrying the old woman. Moreover, I’d be excessively accommodating to break my head for a child who is very likely dead. What do I say? It is possible that he never saw the light. I love and am loved — that much is substantial and certain; and you shall be my groomsman.”
“Not yet awhile. Mlle. Sambucco is a minor, and her guardian is my father.”
“Your father is an honorable man; and he will not have the baseness to refuse her to me.”
“At least he will ask you if you have any position, any rank, any fortune to offer to his ward.”
“My position? colonel; my rank? colonel; my fortune? the pay of a colonel. And the millions at Dantzic — I mustn’t forget them! — Here we are at home; let me have the will of that good old gentleman who wore the lilac wig. Give me some books on history, too — a big pile of them — all that have anything to say about Napoleon.”
Young Renault sadly obeyed the master he had given himself. He conducted Fougas to a fine chamber, brought him Herr Meiser’s will and a whole shelf of books, and bid his mortal enemy “Good night.” The Colonel embraced him impetuously, and said to him,
“I will never forget that to you I owe life and Clementine. Farewell till to-morrow, noble and generous child of my native land! farewell!”
Leon went back to the ground floor, passed the dining-room, where Gothon was wiping the glasses and putting the silver in order, and rejoined his father and mother, who were waiting for him in the parlor. The guests were gone, the candles extinguished. A single lamp lit up the solitude. The two mandarins on the étagère were motionless in their obscure corner, and seemed to meditate gravely on the caprices of fortune.
“Well?” demanded Mme. Renault.
“I left him in his room, crazier and more obstinate than ever. However, I’ve got an idea.”
“So much the better,” said the father, “for we have none left. Sadness has made us stupid. But, above all things, no quarrelling. These soldiers of the empire used to be terrible swordsmen.”
“Oh, I’m not afraid of him! It’s Clementine that makes me anxious. With what sweetness and submission she listened to the confounded babbler!”
“The heart of woman is an unfathomable abyss. Well, what do you think of doing?”
Leon developed in detail the project he had conceived in the street, during his conversation with Fougas.
“The most urgent thing,” said he, “is to relieve Clementine from this influence. If we could get him out of the way to-morrow, reason would resume its empire, and we would be married the day after to-morrow. That being done, I’ll answer for the rest.”
“But how is such a madman to be gotten rid of?”
“I see but one way, but it is almost infallible — to excite his dominant passion. These fellows sometimes imagine that they are in love, but, at the bottom, they love nothing but powder. The thing is, to fling Fougas back into the current of military ideas. His breakfast to-morrow with the colonel of the 23d will be a good preparation. I made him understand to-day that he ought, before all, to reclaim his rank and epaulettes, and he has become inoculated with the idea. He’ll go to Paris, then. Possibly he’ll find there some leather-breeches of his acquaintance. At all events, he’ll reënter the service. The occupations incident to his position will be a powerful diversion; he’ll no longer dream of Clementine, whom I will have fixed securely. We will have to furnish him the wherewithal to knock about the world; but all sacrifices of money are nothing in comparison with the happiness I wish to save.”
Madame Renault, who was a woman of thrift, blamed her son’s generosity a little.
“The Colonel is an ungrateful soul,” said she. “We’ve already done too much in giving him back his life. Let him take care of himself now!”
“No,” said the father; “we’ve not the right to send him forth entirely empty-handed. Decency forbids.”
This deliberation, which had lasted a good hour and a quarter, was interrupted by a tremendous racket. One would have declared that the house was falling down.
“There he is again!” cried Leon. “Undoubtedly a fresh paroxysm of raving madness!”
He ran, followed by his parents, and mounted the steps four at a time. A candle was burning at the sill of the chamber door. Leon took it, and pushed the door half open.
Must it be confessed? Hope and joy spoke louder to him than fear. He fancied himself already relieved of the Colonel. But the spectacle presented to his eyes suddenly diverted the course of his ideas, and the inconsolable lover began laughing like a fool. A noise of kicks, blows, and slaps; an undefined group rolling on the floor in the convulsions of a desperate struggle — so much was all he could see and understand at the first glance. Soon Fougas, lit up by the ruddy glow of the candle, discovered that he was struggling with Gothon, like Jacob with the angel, and went back, confused and pitiable, to bed.
The Colonel had gone to sleep over the history of Napoleon, without putting out the candle. Gothon, after finishing her work, saw the light under the door. Her thoughts recurred to that poor Baptiste, who, perhaps, was groaning in purgatory for having let himself tumble from a roof. Hoping that Fougas could give her some news of her lover, she rapped several times, at first softly, then much louder. The Colonel’s silence and the lighted candle made it seem to the servant that there was something wrong. The fire might catch the curtains, and from thence the whole building. She accordingly set down the candle, opened the door, and went, with cat-like steps, to put out the light. Possibly the eyes of the sleeper vaguely perceived the passage of a shadow; possibly Gothon, with her big, awkward figure, made a board in the floor creak. Fougas partially awoke, heard the rustling of a dress, dreamed it one of those adventures which were wont to spice garrison life under the first empire, and held out his arms blindly, calling Clementine. Gothon, on finding herself seized by the hair and shoulders, responded by such a masculine blow that the enemy supposed himself attacked by a man. The blow was returned with interest; further exchanges followed, and they finished by clinching and rolling on the floor.
If anybody ever did feel shamefaced, Fougas was certainly the man. Gothon went to bed, considerably bruised; the Renault family talked sense into the Colonel, and got out of him pretty much what they wanted. He promised to set out next day, accepted as a loan the money offered him, and swore not to return until he should have recovered his epaulettes and secured the Dantzic bequest.
“And then,” said he, “I’ll marry Clementine.”
On that point it was useless to argue with him; the idea was fixed.
Everybody slept soundly in the mansion of the Renaults; the heads of the house, because they had had three sleepless nights; Fougas and Gothon, because each had been unmercifully pummelled; and the young Célestin, because he had drunk the heeltaps from all the glasses.
The next morning M. Rollon came to know if Fougas were in a condition to breakfast with him; he feared, just the least bit, that he would find him under a shower bath. Far from it! The madman of yesterday was as calm as a picture and as fresh as a rosebud. He shaved with Leon’s razors, while humming an air of Nicolo. With his hosts, he was charming, and he promised to settle a pension on Gothon out of Herr Meiser’s legacy.
As soon as he had set off for the breakfast, Leon ran to the dwelling of his sweetheart.
“Everything is going better,” said he. “The Colonel is much more reasonable. He has promised to leave for Paris this very day; so we can get married to-morrow.”
Mlle. Virginie Sambucco praised this plan of proceeding highly, not only because she had made great preparations for the wedding, but because the postponement of the marriage would be the talk of the town. The cards were already out, the mayor notified, and the Virgin’s chapel, in the parish church, engaged. To revoke all this at the caprice of a ghost and a fool, would be to sin against custom, common sense, and Heaven itself.
Clementine only replied with tears. She could not be happy without marrying Leon, but she would rather die, she said, than give her hand without the sanction of M. Fougas. She promised to implore him, on her knees if necessary, and wring from him his consent.
“But if he refuses? And it’s too likely that he will!”
“I will beseech him again and again, until he says yes.”
Everybody conspired to convince her that she was unreasonable — her aunt, Leon, M. and Mme. Renault, M. Martout, M. Bonnivet, and all the friends of the two families. At length she yielded, but, at almost the same instant, the door flew open, and M. Audret rushed into the parlor, crying out,
“Well, well! here is a piece of news! Colonel Fougas is going to fight M. du Marnet to-morrow.”
The young girl fell, thunderstruck, into the arms of Leon Renault.
“God punishes me!” cried she; “and the chastisement for my impiety is not delayed. Will you still force me to obey you? Shall I be dragged to the altar, in spite of myself, at the very hour he’s risking his life?”
No one dared to insist longer, on seeing her in so pitiable a state. But Leon offered up earnest prayers that victory might side with the colonel of cuirassiers. He was wrong, I confess; but what lover would have been sinless enough to cast the first stone at him?
And here is an account of how the precious Fougas had spent his day.
At ten o’clock in the morning, the youngest two captains of the 23d came to conduct him in proper style to the residence of the Colonel. M. Rollon occupied a little palace of the imperial epoch. A marble tablet, inserted over the porte-cochère, still bore the words, Ministère des Finances— a souvenir of the glorious time when Napoleon’s court followed its master to Fontainebleau.
Colonel Rollon, the lieutenant-colonel, the major-in-chief, the three majors of battalions, the surgeon-major, and ten or a dozen officers were outside, awaiting the arrival of the illustrious guest from the other world. The flag was placed in the middle of the court, under guard of the ensign and a squad of non-commissioned officers selected for the honor. The band of the regiment, at the entrance of the garden, filled up the background of the picture. Eight panoplies of arms, which had been improvised the same morning by the armorers of the corps, embellished the walls and railings. A company of grenadiers, with their arms at rest, were in attendance.
At the entrance of Fougas, the band played the famous ”Partant pour la Syrie;“ the grenadiers presented arms; the drums beat a salute; the non-commissioned officers and soldiers cried, ”Vive le Colonel Fougas!“ the officers, in a body, approached the patriarch of their regiment. All this was neither regular nor according to discipline, but we can well allow a little latitude to these brave soldiers on finding their ancestor. For them it seemed a little debauch in glory.
The hero of the fête grasped the hands of the colonel and officers with as much emotion as if he had found his old comrades again. He cordially saluted the non-commissioned officers and soldiers, approached the flag, bent one knee to the earth, raised himself loftily, grasped the staff, turned toward the attentive crowd, and said,
“My friends, under the shadow of the flag, a soldier of France, after forty-six years of exile, finds his family again to-day. All honor to thee, symbol of our fatherland, old partner in our victories, and heroic support in our misfortunes! Thy radiant eagle has hovered over prostrate and trembling Europe. Thy bruised eagle has again dashed obstinately against misfortune, and terrified the sons of Power. Honor to thee, thou who hast led us to glory, and fortified us against the clamor of despair! I have seen thee ever foremost in the fiercest dangers, proud flag of my native land! Men have fallen around thee like grain before the reaper; while thou alone hast shown to the enemy thy front unbending and superb. Bullets and cannon-shot have torn thee with wounds, but never upon thee has the audacious stranger placed his hand. May the future deck thy front with new laurels! Mayst thou conquer new and far-extending realms, which no fatality shall rob thee of! The day of great deeds is being born again; believe a warrior, who has risen from the tomb to tell thee so. ‘Forward!’ Yes, I swear it by the spirit of him who led us at Wagram. There shall be great days for France when thou shalt shelter with thy glorious folds the fortunes of the brave 23d!”
Eloquence so martial and patriotic stirred all hearts. Fougas was applauded, fêted, embraced, and almost carried in triumph into the banquet hall.
Seated at table opposite M. Rollon, as if he were a second master of the house, he breakfasted heartily, talked a great deal, and drank more yet. You may occasionally meet, in the world, people who get drunk without drinking. Fougas was far from being one of them. He never felt his equanimity seriously disturbed short of three bottles. Often, in fact, he went much further without yielding.
The toasts presented at dessert were distinguished for pith and cordiality. I would like to recount them in order, but am forced to admit that they would take up too much room, and that the last, which were the most touching, were not of a lucidity absolutely Voltairian.
They arose from the table at two o’clock, and betook themselves in a body to the Café Militaire, where the officers of the 23d placed a punch before the two colonels. They had invited, with a feeling of eminent propriety, the superior officers of the regiment of cuirassiers.
Fougas, who was drunker, in his own proper person, than a whole battalion of Suisses, distributed a great many hand-shakings. But across the storm which disturbed his spirit, he recognized the person and name of M. du Marnet, and made a grimace. Between officers, and, above all, between officers of different arms of the service, politeness is a little excessive, etiquette rather severe, amour-propre somewhat susceptible. M. du Marnet, who was preëminently a man of the world, understood at once, from the attitude of M. Fougas, that he was not in the presence of a friend.
The punch appeared, blazing, went out with its strength unimpaired, and was dispensed, with a big ladle, into threescore glasses. Fougas drank with everybody, except M. du Marnet. The conversation, which was erratic and noisy, imprudently raised a question of comparative merits. An officer of cuirassiers asked Fougas if he had seen Bordesoulle’s splendid charge, which flung the Austrians into the valley of Plauen. Fougas had known General Bordesoulle personally, and had seen with his own eyes the beautiful heavy cavalry manoeuvre which decided the victory of Dresden. But he chose to be disagreeable to M. du Marnet, by affecting an air of ignorance or indifference.
“In our time,” said he, “the cavalry was always brought into action after the battle; we employed it to bring in the enemy after we had routed them.”
Here a great outcry arose, and the glorious name of Murat was thrown into the balance.
“Oh, doubtless — doubtless!” said he, shaking his head. “Murat was a good general in his limited sphere; he answered perfectly for all that was wanted of him. But if the cavalry had Murat, the infantry had Napoleon.”
M. du Marnet observed, judiciously, that Napoleon, if he must be seized upon for the credit of any single arm of the service, would belong to the artillery.
“With all my heart, monsieur,” replied Fougas; “the artillery and the infantry. Artillery at a distance, infantry at close quarters — cavalry off at one side.”
“Once more I beg your pardon,” answered M. du Marnet; “you mean to say, at the sides, which is a very different matter.”
“At the sides, or at one side, I don’t care! As for me, if I were commander-in-chief, I would set the cavalry aside.”
Several cavalry officers had already flung themselves into the discussion. M. du Marnet held them back, and made a sign that he wanted to answer Fougas alone.
“And why, then, if you please, would you set the cavalry aside?”
“Because the dragoon is an incomplete soldier.”
“Yes, sir; and the proof is, that the Government has to buy four or five hundred francs’ worth of horse in order to complete him. And when the horse receives a ball or a bayonet thrust, the dragoon is no longer good for anything. Have you ever seen a cavalryman on foot? It would be a pretty sight!”
“I see myself on foot every day, and I don’t see anything particularly ridiculous about it.”
“I’m too polite to contradict you.”
“And for me, sir, I am too just to combat one paradox with another. What would you think of my logic, if I were to say to you (the idea is not mine — I found it in a book), if I were to say to you, ‘I entertain a high regard for infantry, but, after all, the foot soldier is an incomplete soldier, deprived of his birthright, an inefficient body deprived of that natural complement of the soldier, called a horse! I admire his courage, I perceive that he makes himself useful in battle; but, after all, the poor devil has only two feet at his command, while we have four!’ You see fit to consider a dragoon on foot ridiculous; but does the foot-soldier always make a very brilliant appearance when one sticks a horse between his legs? I have seen excellent infantry captains cruelly embarrassed when the minister of war made them majors. They said, scratching their heads, ‘It’s not over when we’ve mounted a grade; we’ve got to mount a horse in the bargain!’”
This crude pleasantry amused the audience for a moment. They laughed, and the mustard mounted higher and higher in Fougas’ nose.
“In my time,” said he, “a foot soldier became a dragoon in twenty-four hours; and if any one would like to make a match with me on horseback, sabre in hand, I’ll show him what infantry is!”
“Monsieur,” coolly replied M. du Marnet, “I hope that opportunities will not be lacking to you in the field of battle. It is there that a true soldier displays his talents and bravery. Infantry and cavalry, we alike belong to France. I drink to her, Monsieur, and I hope you will not refuse to touch glasses with me. — To France!”
This was certainly well spoken and well settled. The clicking of glasses applauded M. du Marnet. Fougas himself approached his adversary and drank with him without reserve. But he whispered in his ear, speaking very thickly:
“I hope, for my part, that you will not refuse the sabre-match which I had the honor to propose to you?”
“As you please,” said the colonel of cuirassiers.
The gentleman from the other world, drunker than ever, went out of the crowd with two officers whom he had picked up haphazard. He declared to them that he considered himself insulted by M. du Marnet, that a challenge had been given and accepted, and that the affair was going on swimmingly.
“Especially,“added he in confidence, “since there is a lady in the case! These are my conditions — they are all in accordance with the honor of the infantry, the army, and France: we will fight on horseback, stripped to the waist, mounted bareback on two stallions. The weapon — the cavalry sabre. First blood. I want to chastise a puppy. I am far from wishing to rob France of a soldier.”
These conditions were pronounced absurd by M. du Marnet’s seconds. They accepted them, nevertheless, for the military code requires one to face all dangers, however absurd.
Fougas devoted the rest of the day to worrying the poor Renaults. Proud of the control he exercised over Clementine, he declared his wishes; swore he would take her for his wife as soon as he had recovered his rank, family, and fortune, and prohibited her to dispose of herself before that time. He broke openly with Leon and his parents, refused to accept their good offices any longer, and quitted their house after a serious passage of high words. Leon concluded by saying that he would only give up his betrothed with life itself. The Colonel shrugged his shoulders and turned his back, carrying off, without stopping to consider what he was doing, the father’s clothes and the son’s hat. He asked M. Rollon for five hundred francs, engaged a room at the Hotel du Cadron-bleu, went to bed without any supper, and slept straight through until the arrival of his seconds.
There was no necessity for giving him an account of what had passed the previous day. The fogs of punch and sleep dissipated themselves in an instant. He plunged his head and hands into a basin of fresh water, and said:
“So much for my toilet! Now, Vive l’Empereur! Let’s go and get “into line!”
The field selected by common consent was the parade-ground — a sandy plain enclosed in the forest, at a good distance from the town. All the officers of the garrison betook themselves there of their own accord; there would have been no need of inviting them. More than one soldier went secretly and billeted himself in a tree. The gendarmerie itself ornamented the little family fête, with its presence. People went to see an encounter in chivalric tourney, not merely between the infantry and the cavalry, but between the old army and the young. The exhibition fully satisfied public expectation. No one was tempted to hiss the piece, and everybody had his money’s worth.
Precisely at nine o’clock, the combatants entered the lists, attended by their four seconds and the umpire of the field. Fougas, naked to the waist, was as handsome as a young god. His lithe and agile figure, his proud and radiant features, the manly grace of his movements, assured him a flattering reception. He made his English horse caper, and saluted the lookers-on with the point of his sword.
M. du Marnet, a man rather of the German type, hardy, quite hairy, moulded like the Indian Bacchus, and not like Achilles, showed in his countenance a slight shade of disgust. It was not necessary to be a magician to understand that this duel in naturalibus, under the eyes of his own officers, appeared to him useless and even ridiculous. His horse was a half-blood from Perche, a vigorous beast and full of fire.
Fougas’ seconds rode badly enough. They divided their attention between the combat and their stirrups. M. du Marnet had chosen the best two horsemen in his regiment, a major and captain. The umpire of the field was Colonel Rollon, an excellent rider.
At a signal given by Colonel Rollon, Fougas rode directly at his adversary, presenting the point of his sabre in the position of “prime,” like a cavalry soldier charging infantry in a hollow square. But he reined up about three lengths from M. du Marnet, and described around him seven or eight rapid circles, like an Arab in a play. M. du Marnet, being forced to turn in the same spot and defend himself on all sides, clapped both spurs to his horse, broke the circle, took to the field, and threatened to commence the same manoeuvre about Fougas. But the gentleman from the other world did not wait for him. He rushed off at a full gallop, and made a round of the hippodrome, always followed by M. du Marnet. The cuirassier, being heavier, and mounted on a slower horse, was distanced. He revenged himself by calling out to Fougas:
“Oh, Monsieur! I must say that this looks more like a race than a battle. I ought to have brought a riding-whip instead of a sword!”
But Fougas, panting and furious, had already turned upon him.
“Hold on there!” cried he; “I have shown you the horseman; now I will show you the soldier!”
He lanched a thrust at him, which would have gone through him like a hoop if M. du Marnet had not been as prompt as at parade. He retorted by a fine cut en quarte, powerful enough to cut the invincible Fougas in two. But the other was nimbler than a monkey. He wholly shielded his body by letting himself slide to the ground, and then remounted his horse in the same second.
“My compliments!” said M. du Marnet. “They don’t do any better than that in the circus.”
“No more do they in war,” rejoined the other. “Ah, scoundrel! so you revile the old army? Here’s at you! A miss! Thanks for the retort, but it’s not good enough yet. I’ll not die from any such thrust as that! How do you like that? — and that?-and that? Ah, you claim that the foot-soldier is an incomplete man! Now we’re going to make your assortment of limbs a little incomplete. Look out for your boot! He’s parried it! Perhaps he expects to indulge in a little promenade under Clementine’s windows this evening. Take care! Here’s for Clementine! And here’s for the infantry! Will you parry that? So, traitor! And that? So he does! Perhaps you’ll parry them all, then, by Heavens! Victory! Ah, Monsieur! Your blood is flowing! What have I done? Devil take the sword, the horse, and all! Major! major! come quickly! Monsieur, let yourself rest in my arms. Beast that I am! As if all soldiers were not brothers! Oh, forgive me, my friend! Would that I could redeem each drop of your blood with all of mine! Miserable Fougas, incapable of mastering his fierce passions! Ah, you Esculapian Mars, I beg you tell me that the thread of his days is not to be clipped! I will not survive him, for he is a brave!”
M. du Marnet had received a magnificent cut which traversed the left arm and breast, and the blood was streaming from it at a rate to make one shudder. The surgeon, who had provided himself with hemostatic preparations, hastened to arrest the hemorrhage. The wound was long rather than deep, and could be cured in a few days. Fougas himself carried his adversary to the carriage, but that did not satisfy him. He firmly insisted on joining the two officers who took M. du Marnet home; he overwhelmed the wounded man with his protestations, and was occupied during most of the ride in swearing eternal friendship to him. On reaching the house, he put him to bed, embraced him, bathed him with tears, and did not leave him for a moment until he heard him snoring.
When six o’clock struck, he went to dine at the hotel, in company with his seconds and the referee, all of whom he had invited after the fight. He treated them magnificently, and got drunk himself, as usual.
Last updated Monday, December 15, 2014 at 23:19