Marie’s words opened my eyes. I understood the persistence of Alexis in aspersing her character. He had probably remarked our mutual inclination, and was trying to turn us from each other. The words which had provoked our quarrel seemed to me the more infamous, as instead of being a vulgar joke, it was deliberate calumny. The desire to punish this shameless liar became so strong that I waited impatiently the favorable moment. I had not long to wait. The next day, occupied composing an elegy, biting my pen in the expectation of a rhyme, Alexis knocked at my window. I put down my pen, took my sword, and went out of the house.
“Why defer?” said Alexis, “we are no longer watched, let us go down to the river-side; there none will hinder us.”
We set out in silence, and having descended a steep path, we stopped at the water’s edge and crossed swords. Alexis was more skillful than I in the use of arms, but I was stronger and bolder. Mons. Beaupre, who had been, amongst other things, a soldier, had taught me fencing. Alexis did not expect to find in me an adversary of so dangerous a character.
For some minutes neither gained any advantage over the other, but at last noticing that Alexis was growing weak, I attacked him energetically, and almost drove him backward into the river, when suddenly I heard my name pronounced in a high voice. Turning my head rapidly, I saw Saveliitch running toward me down the path. As I turned my head, I felt a sharp thrust in the breast under the right shoulder, and I fell, unconscious.
When I came to myself, I neither knew what had happened nor where I was. I felt very weak; the room was strange, there was Saveliitch standing before me, a light in his hand, and some one arranging the bandages that bound my chest and shoulder. Gradually I recalled my duel, and easily divined that I had been wounded. The door at this instant moaned gently on its hinges.
“Well, how is he?” whispered a voice that made me start.
“Still in the same state,” sighed Saveliitch, “now unconscious four days.” I wanted to turn on my bed, but I had not the strength. “Where am I?” said I, with effort, “who is here?” Marie approached, and bending over me said, gently, “How do you feel?”
“Thank God, I am well. Is that Marie? tell me—?” I could not finish. Saveliitch uttered a cry of joy, his delight showing plainly in his face. “He recovers! he recovers! Thanks to thee, O God! Peter, how you frightened me!—four days! It is easy to talk—!”
Marie interrupted him: “Do not, Saveliitch, speak too much to him; he is still very weak.” She went out, shutting the door noiselessly. I must be in the Commandant’s house, or Marie could not come to see me. I wished to question Saveliitch, but the old man shook his head and put his fingers in his ears. I closed my eyes from ill-humor—and fell asleep.