The thought of the anonymous letter crossed Norbert’s mind, and he remembered that the writer of it must be acquainted with the coming of George de Croisenois. “What do you propose then?” asked he.
“Merely that each of us, without stating the grounds of our quarrel, write down the conditions and sign our names as having accepted them.”
“I agree; but use dispatch.”
The two men, after the conditions had been described, wrote two letters, dated from a foreign country, and the survivor of the combat was to post his dead adversary’s letter, which would not fail to stop any search after the vanished man. When this talk was concluded, Norbert rose to his feet.
“One word in conclusion,” said he: “a soldier is leading the horse on which I rode here up and down in the Place des Invalides. If you kill me, go and take the horse from the man, giving him the twenty francs I promised him.”
“Now let us go down.”
They left the room together. Norbert was stepping aside to permit Croisenois to descend the stairs first, when he felt his coat gently pulled, and, turning round, saw that the Duchess, too weak to rise to her feet, had crawled to him on her knees. The unhappy woman had heard everything, and in an almost inaudible voice she uttered an agonized prayer:
“Mercy, Norbert! Have mercy! I swear to you that I am guiltless. You never loved me, why should you fight for me. Have pity! To-morrow, by all that I hold sacred, I swear to you that I will enter a convent, and you shall never see my face again. Have pity!”
“Pray heaven, madame, that it may be your lover’s sword that pierces my heart. It is your only hope, for then you will be free.”
He tore his coat from her fingers with brutal violence, and the unhappy woman fell to the floor with a shriek as he closed the door upon her, and followed his antagonist downstairs.
Blade to Blade.
Several times in the course of this interview Norbert de Champdoce had been on the point of bursting into a furious passion, but he restrained himself from a motive of self-pride; but now that his wife was no longer present, he showed a savage intensity of purpose and a deadly earnestness that was absolutely appalling. As he followed Croisenois down the great staircase, he kept repeating the words, “Quick! quick! we have lost too much time already;” for he saw that a mere trifle might upset all his plans—such as a servant returning home before the others. When they reached the ground-floor, he led George into a by-room which looked like an armory, so filled was it with arms of all kinds and nations.
“Here,” said he, with a bitter sneer, “we can find, I think, what we want;” and placing the candle he carried on the mantelpiece, he leaped upon the cushioned seat that ran round the room, and took down from the wall several pairs of duelling swords, and, throwing them upon the floor, exclaimed, “Choose your own weapon.”