‘I will wait for the officer’s visit till ten o’clock,’ he reflected next morning, as he dressed,’ and then let him come and look for me!’ But Germans rise early: it had not yet struck nine when the waiter informed Sanin that the Herr Seconde Lieutenant von Richter wished to see him. Sanin made haste to put on his coat, and told him to ask him up. Herr Richter turned out, contrary to Sanin’s expectation, to be a very young man, almost a boy. He tried to give an expression of dignity to his beardless face, but did not succeed at all: he could not even conceal his embarrassment, and as he sat down on a chair, he tripped over his sword, and almost fell. Stammering and hesitating, he announced to Sanin in bad French that he had come with a message from his friend, Baron von Dönhof; that this message was to demand from Herr von Sanin an apology for the insulting expressions used by him on the previous day; and in case of refusal on the part of Herr von Sanin, Baron von Dönhof would ask for satisfaction. Sanin replied that he did not mean to apologise, but was ready to give him satisfaction. Then Herr von Richter, still with the same hesitation, asked with whom, at what time and place, should he arrange the necessary preliminaries. Sanin answered that he might come to him in two hours’ time, and that meanwhile, he, Sanin, would try and find a second. (‘Who the devil is there I can have for a second?’ he was thinking to himself meantime.) Herr von Richter got up and began to take leave . . . but at the doorway he stopped, as though stung by a prick of conscience, and turning to Sanin observed that his friend, Baron von Dönhof, could not but recognise . . . that he had been . . . to a certain extent, to blame himself in the incident of the previous day, and would, therefore, be satisfied with slight apologies (‘des exghizes léchères.’) To this Sanin replied that he did not intend to make any apology whatever, either slight or considerable, since he did not consider himself to blame. ‘In that case,’ answered Herr von Richter, blushing more than ever,’ you will have to exchange friendly shots — des goups de bisdolet à l’amiaple!’
‘I don’t understand that at all,’ observed Sanin; ‘are we to fire in the air or what?’
‘Oh, not exactly that,’ stammered the sub-lieutenant, utterly disconcerted, ‘but I supposed since it is an affair between men of honour . . . I will talk to your second,’ he broke off, and went away.
Sanin dropped into a chair directly he had gone, and stared at the floor. ‘What does it all mean? How is it my life has taken such a turn all of a sudden? All the past, all the future has suddenly vanished, gone — and all that’s left is that I am going to fight some one about something in Frankfort.’ He recalled a crazy aunt of his who used to dance and sing:
‘O my lieutenant!
My little cucumber!
My little love!
Dance with me, my little dove!’
And he laughed and hummed as she used to: ‘O my lieutenant! Dance with me, little dove!’ ‘But I must act, though, I mustn’t waste time,’ he cried aloud — jumped up and saw Pantaleone facing him with a note in his hand.
‘I knocked several times, but you did not answer; I thought you weren’t at home,’ said the old man, as he gave him the note. ‘From Signorina Gemma.’
Sanin took the note, mechanically, as they say, tore it open, and read it. Gemma wrote to him that she was very anxious — about he knew what — and would be very glad to see him at once.
‘The Signorina is anxious,’ began Pantaleone, who obviously knew what was in the note, ‘she told me to see what you are doing and to bring you to her.’
Sanin glanced at the old Italian, and pondered. A sudden idea flashed upon his brain. For the first instant it struck him as too absurd to be possible.
‘After all . . . why not?’ he asked himself.
‘M. Pantaleone!’ he said aloud.
The old man started, tucked his chin into his cravat and stared at Sanin.
‘Do you know,’ pursued Sanin,’ what happened yesterday?’
Pantaleone chewed his lips and shook his immense top-knot of hair. ‘Yes.’
(Emil had told him all about it directly he got home.)
‘Oh, you know! Well, an officer has just this minute left me. That scoundrel challenges me to a duel. I have accepted his challenge. But I have no second. Will you be my second?’
Pantaleone started and raised his eyebrows so high that they were lost under his overhanging hair.
‘You are absolutely obliged to fight?’ he said at last in Italian; till that instant he had made use of French.
‘Absolutely. I can’t do otherwise — it would mean disgracing myself for ever.’
‘H’m. If I don’t consent to be your second you will find some one else.’
‘Yes . . . undoubtedly.’
Pantaleone looked down. ‘But allow me to ask you, Signor de Tsanin, will not your duel throw a slur on the reputation of a certain lady?’
‘I don’t suppose so; but in any case, there’s no help for it.’
‘H’m!’ Pantaleone retired altogether into his cravat. ‘Hey, but that ferroflucto Klüberio — what’s he about?’ he cried all of a sudden, looking up again.
‘Che!’ Pantaleone shrugged his shoulders contemptuously. ‘I have, in any case, to thank you,’ he articulated at last in an unsteady voice ‘that even in my present humble condition you recognise that I am a gentleman — un galant’uomo! In that way you have shown yourself to be a real galant’uomo. But I must consider your proposal.’
‘There’s no time to lose, dear Signor Ci . . . cippa . . . ’
‘Tola,’ the old man chimed in. ‘I ask only for one hour for reflection. . . . The daughter of my benefactor is involved in this. . . . And, therefore, I ought, I am bound, to reflect! . . . In an hour, in three-quarters of an hour, you shall know my decision.’
‘Very well; I will wait.’
‘And now . . . what answer am I to give to Signorina Gemma?’
Sanin took a sheet of paper, wrote on it, ‘Set your mind at rest, dear friend; in three hours’ time I will come to you, and everything shall be explained. I thank you from my heart for your sympathy,’ and handed this sheet to Pantaleone.
He put it carefully into his side-pocket, and once more repeating ‘In an hour!’ made towards the door; but turning sharply back, ran up to Sanin, seized his hand, and pressing it to his shirt-front, cried, with his eyes to the ceiling: ‘Noble youth! Great heart! (Nobil giovanotto! Gran cuore!) permit a weak old man (a un vecchiotto!) to press your valorous right hand (la vostra valorosa destra!)’ Then he skipped back a pace or two, threw up both hands, and went away.
Sanin looked after him . . . took up the newspaper and tried to read. But his eyes wandered in vain over the lines: he understood nothing.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14