“M. le Marquis is in the right?” Andre-Louis let his arms fall helplessly. This man he loved above all other living men was caught in the snare of the world’s insanity. He was baring his breast to the knife for the sake of a vague, distorted sense of the honour due to himself. It was not that he did not see the trap. It was that his honour compelled him to disdain consideration of it. To Andre-Louis in that moment he seemed a singularly tragic figure. Noble, perhaps, but very pitiful.
It was M. de Vilmorin’s desire that the matter should be settled out of hand. In this he was at once objective and subjective. A prey to emotions sadly at conflict with his priestly vocation, he was above all in haste to have done, so that he might resume a frame of mind more proper to it. Also he feared himself a little; by which I mean that his honour feared his nature. The circumstances of his education, and the goal that for some years now he had kept in view, had robbed him of much of that spirited brutality that is the birthright of the male. He had grown timid and gentle as a woman. Aware of it, he feared that once the heat of his passion was spent he might betray a dishonouring weakness, in the ordeal.
M. le Marquis, on his side, was no less eager for an immediate settlement; and since they had M. de Chabrillane to act for his cousin, and Andre-Louis to serve as witness for M. de Vilmorin, there was nothing to delay them.
And so, within a few minutes, all arrangements were concluded, and you behold that sinisterly intentioned little group of four assembled in the afternoon sunshine on the bowling-green behind the inn. They were entirely private, screened more or less from the windows of the house by a ramage of trees, which, if leafless now, was at least dense enough to provide an effective lattice.
There were no formalities over measurements of blades or selection of ground. M. le Marquis removed his sword-belt and scabbard, but declined — not considering it worth while for the sake of so negligible an opponent — to divest himself either of his shoes or his coat. Tall, lithe, and athletic, he stood to face the no less tall, but very delicate and frail, M. de Vilmorin. The latter also disdained to make any of the usual preparations. Since he recognized that it could avail him nothing to strip, he came on guard fully dressed, two hectic spots above the cheek-bones burning on his otherwise grey face.
M. de Chabrillane, leaning upon a cane — for he had relinquished his sword to M. de Vilmorin — looked on with quiet interest. Facing him on the other side of the combatants stood Andre-Louis, the palest of the four, staring from fevered eyes, twisting and untwisting clammy hands.