I had been to see Monsieur Louis de Franchi that evening at eight o’clock, to ask him if he had any orders or instructions to give me; but he requested me to wait until the following morning, adding with a strange air —
“Night brings counsel.”
Accordingly, on the following morning, instead of calling for him at eight o’clock, which would have left us plenty of time to be at the rendezvous at nine, I was at de Franchi’s residence at half-past seven.
He was in his cabinet, writing.
At the noise which I made in opening the door, he turned round. He was very pale.
“Excuse me,” he said; “I am just finishing a letter to my mother. Sit down and take a paper, if to-day’s papers have come yet. There’s la Presse for instance — it contains a charming feuilleton of Mons. Méry.
I took the paper which he designated, observing with astonishment the contrast between the almost livid paleness of the young man, and his voice, so sweet, grave, and calm.
I tried to read; but I merely followed the words with my eyes, without their presenting any distinct idea to my mind. In a few minutes he rang the bell for his valet.
“I have finished,” said he. Then speaking to his servant —
“Joseph,” continued he, “I am not at home for any body, not even for Giordano. If he should come, invite him into the salon; I wish to be alone with this gentleman for a few minutes, without any interruption whatever.
The servant went out and shut the door.
“Well, now, my dear Alexander,” began he to me, “Giordano is a Corsican, and has Corsican ideas. I cannot, therefore, confide to him all my wishes. I shall ask him to keep the secret, that is all. As for you, you must promise me to fulfill my instructions to the very letter!”
“Certainly; is that not the duty of a second?”
“Yes; but yours is so much more important, as, by fulfilling it, you will perhaps spare my family a second misfortune.”
“A second misfortune?” exclaimed I, in astonishment.
“Hold!” said he, “read this letter I have written to my mother.”
I took the letter from de Franchi’s hand, and read in increasing amazement:
“MY GOOD MOTHER:
“If I did not know you to be both strong as a Spartan and submissive as a Christian woman, I should employ all possible means to prepare you for the dreadful event which is about to overwhelm you. When you receive this letter, you will have but one son!
“Lucien, my excellent brother, love my mother for both of us.
“The day before yesterday I was attacked with a cerebral fever, and paid but little attention to the first symptoms. The doctor has been called in too late. my dear mother, there is no hope left for me. Nothing less than a miracle could save me, and what right have I to expect that God would work such a wonder for me?
“I write to you in a lucid interval.”
“If I die, this letter will be put in the post-office a quarter of an hour after my death. For, in the egotism of my love for you, I wish you to know that I have died, regretting nothing in the whole world, but your tenderness and my brother’s love.
“Farewell, my mother! Do not weep! It was my soul that loved you, and not my body; and wherever my spirit may go, it will never cease to love you!
“Farewell, Lucien! Never leave our mother! and remember that she has none left but you!
“Your son and brother,
“LOUIS DE FRANCHI.”
After reading these last words, I looked up to him who had written them.
“Well,” said I, “what is the meaning of all this ‘”
“Don’t you understand?”
“I shall be killed at ten minutes after nine!”
“You will be killed ”
“But you are foolish; why do you indulge in such an idea?”
“I am not foolish; nor do I indulge in any weakness, my dear friend. I have been informed, that’s all.”
“Informed! and by whom?”
“Has not my brother told you,” said Louis, with a smile, “that the males in our family enjoy a peculiar privilege?”
“He has,” replied I, trembling in spite of myself; “he spoke of visions.”
“Exactly! Well, my father appeared to me last night; that is the reason you have found me so pale. The sight of the dead makes the living pale.”
I looked at him with an astonishment which was not free from terror. “You have seen your father last night, you say?”
“And he has spoken to you?”
“He announced my death to me!”
“That was some terrific dream?”
“It was a terrific reality.”
“I was awake. Don’t you believe that a father can appear to his son?”
“I bowed my head; for, in the depths of my heart, I believed in such a possibility.
“How did it happen?” asked I again.
“In the most simple and natural manner. I was reading while waiting for my father, for I knew, if I was in any danger, that he would appear to me. At midnight my lamp, without any apparent cause, became dim, the door opened slowly, and my father appeared.”
“Just as he did while living, and dressed in the coat he usually wore; only, he was very pale and his eyes were without life.”
“He then slowly approached my bed. I raised myself upon my elbow.
“You are welcome, father,” said I.
“He came nearer, looked fixedly at me, and it seemed to me that his lifeless eye animated itself by the force of paternal affection.”
“Continue — this is terrible!”
“Then his lips moved, and strange to say, although his words did not produce any sound, I felt them resounding all through me, distinct and vibrating like an echo.”
“And what did he say to you?”
“Think of God! my son.”
“I am then going to be killed in this duel? asked I.”
“I saw two tears from those lifeless eyes, roll down the pale face of the spectre.
“And at what hour? continued I.
“He pointed with his finger to the pendule. I followed the direction he indicated. The clock showed ten minutes past nine.
“Very well! my father, replied I, then God’s will be done! It is true I must leave my mother, but I come to rejoin you.
“A feeble smile passed over his pale lips, and making me a farewell sign, he left me. The door opened of itself before him, he disappeared, and the door closed.”
This recital was made in such a simple and natural manner, that it was evident to me the scene he had described must actually have taken place, or that, in the pre-occupation of his mind, he had been the sport of an illusion, which, having been taken for a reality, was equally as terrible in its consequences.
I wiped off the sweat, which was running down from my forehead.
“Now,” continued Louis, “you know my brother, do you not?”
“What do you think he would do if he should learn that I have been killed in a duel?”
“He will that very instant leave Sullacaro, to come here and fight with him who has caused your death.”
“Exactly! and if he is killed in his turn; my mother will be three times widow. A widow for her husband — a widow for her two sons.”
“Oh! I understand — that is horrible!”
“Well! it must be avoided! for that purpose I hare written this letter to my mother. Believing that I have died in a brain fever, my brother will not seek revenge upon any body, and my mother will be more easily consoled if she thinks I have been stricken by the will of God, than if she knew I had been destroyed by the hand of man. Unless —”
“Unless?” repeated I.
“Oh, no!” said Louis, “I hope that that will not be the case.”
I saw that he answered his own fears, and did not insist any further.
At this moment, the door opened.
“My dear de Franchi,” said Baron de Giordano, “I have respected your orders as long as it was possible; but it is eight o’clock, the rendezvous is at nine, and we have a league and a half to travel. We must start.”
“I am ready, my dear friend,” said Louis. “Come in. I have told this gentleman all I had to say to him.” He put his finger on his lips and looked at me. “This is for you, my friend,” continued he, returning to the table, and taking a sealed letter from it; “here are your instructions. If I should be unfortunate, read this, and pray do what I have requested of you.”
“To the very letter! You have taken upon yourself to furnish the weapons?” asked the Baron Giordano, “are they in the carriage?”
“Yes,” replied I, “but just when I was ready to leave home, I noticed that one of the hammers did not work well. We will take a box of pistols at Devisme’s, as we pass there.”
Louis looked at me with a smile, and offered me his hand. He seemed to understand that I did not wish him to be killed with one of my pistols.
“Have you a carriage,” said Louis, “or shall Joseph go out and get one?”
“I have my coupé,” said the Baron, “and if we press a little, we can all three sit very well; besides, as we are rather behind our time, we will be able to go quicker with my horses than with hacks.”
“Let us go, then,” said Louis.
We went down to the door. Joseph was waiting for us.
“Shall I go with monsieur?” asked he.
“No, Joseph, that’s unnecessary, I shall not need you.”
Then remaining a little behind —
“Here, my friend,” said he, putting a small rouleau of gold into his hand, “if sometimes in my moments of ill humor I have offended you, pardon me.”
“Oh! monsieur!” exclaimed Joseph, his eyes filling with tears, “what do you mean?”
“Hush!” said Louis, and advancing rapidly to the carriage, he placed himself between us.
“He was a good servant,” said he, throwing a last look at Joseph, “and if either of you can be useful to him, I shall feel very grateful for it.”
“Do you dismiss him?” asked the Baron.
“No,” said Louis, smiling, “I leave him, that’s all.”
We stopped at Devisme’s door, and had barely time to take a box of pistols, powder and bullets; we then started again at the greatest speed of our horses.
We arrived at Vincennes at five minutes to nine. Another carriage arrived at the same moment as ours. It was Monsieur de Château-Renaud’s . We entered the forest by two different roads, our drivers having received orders to join each other in the great alley.
In a few minutes we were at the place of rendezvous.
“Gentlemen,” said Louis, while alighting, “you know no arrangement is possible.”
“But, however,” said I.
“Oh! mon cher, remember, that after the confidence I have reposed in you, you have less than any one else the fight to propose or receive any.”
I bowed my head before this absolute determination, which seemed to me like a supreme will.
We left Louis near the carriage and advanced towards M. de Boissy and de Châteaugrand. Baron Giordano carried the box of pistols.
We exchanged a salute.
“Gentlemen,” said the Baron, “in circumstances like these in which we find ourselves placed, the shortest compliments are the best, for every moment we may be interrupted. We have taken it upon us to furnish the weapons; here they are. Please to examine them. We have just got them from the gunsmith’s, and give you our word that M. de Franchi has not even seen them.”
“This assurance is unnecessary, sir,” replied the Viscount de Châteaugrand, “we know with whom we have to do; and taking one pistol, while Mons. de Boissy took the other, the two seconds tried the play of the springs and examined the calibre of them.
“They are common target pistols,” said the Baron, and have never been used. “Now, shall we have the liberty or not of using the double trigger?”
“But,” said M. de Boissy, “my opinion is, that every one should do as he pleases, or as he is accustomed to do.”
“Be it so,” replied Giordano. “All equal chances are agreeable.”
“You then inform Mons. de Franchi, and we will tell Mons. de Château-Renaud.”
“That’s all right now, sir. We have brought the pistols,” continued Giordano, ‘“and you must load them.”
The two gentlemen each took a pistol, measured rigorously the same quantity of powder, took at random two bullets, put them into the barrels, and rammed them down.
During this operation, in which I had not wished to take an active part, I went up to Louis, who received me with a smile.
“You will forget nothing that I have asked of you?” said he. “Obtain a promise from Giordano, that he will not mention any thing to my mother or brother. However, I have already made this request to him in the letter I gave him. See to it also, that the papers do not speak of it: or if they do, that no names are mentioned.”
“You have, then, still the horrible conviction that you will be killed in this duel?” asked I.
“I am more certain of it than ever. But you will at least give me the credit of having beheld the approach of death like a true Corsican?”
“Your calmness, my dear de Franchi, is so grand, that it makes me hope that you are not fully convinced yourself.” Louis took out his watch.
“I have yet seven minutes to live,” said he; “look here, this is my watch, keep it, I pray you, as a souvenir of me; it is an excellent Brequet.”
I took the watch and pressing de Franchi’s hand,
“In eight minutes,” said I, “I hope to give it back to you.”
“Let us not speak any more of that,” replied he, “the gentlemen are approaching.”
“Gentlemen,” said the Viscount de Châteaugrand, “there must be somewhere about here a glade, which I have used on my own account last year. Shall we seek it? We would be much better there than in a lane, where we could be seen and disturbed.”
“Guide us, sir,” said Giordano; “we follow you.”
The viscount walked first, we following, forming two separate groups. Indeed we soon found ourselves, after a gentle descent of about thirty steps, in the middle of a glade, which had no doubt formerly been a pond like that of Auteuil, and which being entirely dried up formed a sort of bog, surrounded on all sides by a gentle slope.
The ground seemed, therefore, expressly made to serve as the theatre of the scene which was about to take place here.
“Monsieur de Martelli,” said the viscount, “will you measure the steps with me?”
The baron answered by bowing an affirmative; then placing himself along side of M. de Châteaugrand, they measured twenty ordinary steps.
I was left a few seconds longer alone with de Franchi.
“Apropos,” said he, “you will find my will on the table, where I was writing when you came in.”
“Very well, replied I, be easy.”
“Gentlemen, whenever you please,” said the Viscount de Châteaugrand.
“I am ready,” said Louis. Then turning to me with a sad and melancholy smile, “Farewell! my dear friend,” continued he, “accept my thanks for all the trouble I have given you, and for that which I may yet occasion you.”
I took hold of his hand, it was cold but not agitated.
“Well now,” said I, “forget the vision of last night, and take the best aim you can.”
“Do you recollect the Freischutz?”
“Well then, you know that each bullet has its destination. Farewell!”
He met on his way the Baron de Giordano, who held in his hand the pistol which was destined for him. He took it, cocked it, and without even looking at it, went and took his position at the spot indicated by a handkerchief.
Mons. de Château-Renaud was already in his place.
There was a moment of grave silence, during which the two opponents saluted, first their own seconds, then the seconds of their adversary, and lastly each other.
Mons. de Château-Renaud appeared to be perfectly accustomed to this kind of affairs, and he smiled, like a man sure of his own skill. Besides, he knew perhaps, that this was the first time that Louis de Franchi had ever handled a pistol.
Louis was calm and cold; his fine head looked like a marble bust.
“Well, gentlemen,” said Château-Renaud, “you see we are waiting.”
Louis gave me a last look, and then with a smile raised his eyes to heaven.
“Allons! gentlemen,” said Châteaugrand, “prepare!”
Then clapping his hands together, cried out,
“One — two — three.”
The two shots gave only one report.
At the same moment I saw Louis de Franchi turn himself round twice and fall on his knee.
Mons. de Château-Renaud remained upright; the facing of his coat only was shot through.
I rushed up to Louis.
“You are wounded!” exclaimed I.
He tried to answer me, but in vain; a bloody foam appeared upon his lips. At the same time he let the pistol fall, and brought his hand up to the right side of his breast.
A hole, hardly large enough to admit the tip of the little finger, was visible in his overcoat.
“Baron,” cried I, “run to the barrack and bring the surgeon of the regiment here.”
But de Franchi summoning all his remaining strength, stopped Giordano, by making a sign with his head that it was unnecessary.
At the same time he fell upon his other knee.
Mons. de Château-Renaud left the place immediately, but the seconds approached the wounded man.
Meanwhile we had unbuttoned his overcoat and torn his vest and shirt open.
The bullet had entered under the sixth rib, on the right side, and gone out a little above the left hip.
At each respiration of the dying sufferer, the blood gushed out of the two wounds.
It was evident that the shot was fatal.
“Monsieur de Franchi,” said the Viscount de Châteaugrand, “I assure you we are all of us exceedingly sorry for the result of this unfortunate affair” and me hope you have no hatred against M. de Château-Renaud.”
“Yes, yes,” murmured the wounded man, “yes, I pardon him — but make him go — make him go.” Then turning towards me,
“Remember your promise,” said he.
“Oh! I swear to you, that all shall be done as you have desired.”
“And now,” said he smiling, “look at the watch.”
And he fell back, uttering a sigh!
It was his last.
I looked at the watch, it was just ten minutes past nine.
I then cast my eyes upon Louis de Franchi: he was dead.
We took the body home with us, and while the Baron de Giordano went to make the necessary notification to the commissary of police of the quarter, with the assistance of Joseph I carried it up into his room.
The poor fellow wept scalding tears. When I entered the room, my eyes involuntarily were turned towards the pendule. It pointed at ten minutes after nine.
No doubt he had forgotten to wind it up, and it had stopped just at this time.
A moment after, Baron Giordano entered accompanied by the officers of justice, who, informed by him, came to put their seals on his effects.
Giordano spoke of sending letters of information to the friends and acquaintances of the deceased.
But I requested him first to read the letter, which Louis de Franchi had given him before we started.
The letter contained a solemn charge to conceal from his brother the cause of his death. Moreover, in order that no one should be admitted into the secret, he requested Giordano to arrange the funeral himself, as privately as possible.
Baron Giordano charged himself with all these details; and I went immediately to make a double visit to M. de Boissy and M. de Châteaugrand, to beg them to be silent on this unfortunate affair, and to request Mons. de Château-Renaud to leave Paris, at least for a short time, but without telling him for what reason his absence was solicited.
They both promised to assist as much as lay in their power, in the accomplishment of my wishes: and while they were on their way to see Mons. de Château-Renaud on the subject, I went to the post-office to dispatch the letter which informed Madame de Franchi, that her son had died of a brain fever.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:53