“While awaiting the other seconds, who are to find us here,” he said, with a glance at his watch, “Freccia and I have arranged a few preliminaries. It is now nearly midnight. We propose that the affair should come off in the morning at six precisely. Will that suit you?”
“As the insulted party you have the choice of weapons. Shall we say--”
“Pistols,” I replied briefly.
“A la bonne heure! Then, suppose we fix upon the plot of open ground just behind the hill to the left of the Casa Ghirlande—between that and the Villa Romani—it is quiet and secluded, and there will be no fear of interruption.”
I bowed again.
“Thus it stands,” continued the marquis, affably—“the hour of six— the weapons pistols—the paces to be decided hereafter when the other seconds arrive.”
I professed myself entirely satisfied with these arrangements, and shook hands with my amiable coadjutor. I then looked round at the rest of the assembled company with a smile at their troubled faces.
“Gentlemen,” I said, “our feast has broken up in a rather disagreeable manner—and I am sorry for it, the more especially as it compels me to part from you. Receive my thanks for your company, and for the friendship you have displayed toward me! I do not believe that this is the last time I shall have the honor of entertaining you—but if it should be so, I shall at any rate carry a pleasant remembrance of you into the next world! If on the contrary I should survive the combat of the morning, I hope to see you all again on my marriage-day, when nothing shall occur to mar our merriment. In the meantime—good-night!”
They closed round me, pressing my hands warmly and assuring me of their entire sympathy with me in the quarrel that had occurred. The duke was especially cordial, giving me to understand that had the others failed in their services, he himself, in spite of his dignity and peace-loving disposition, would have volunteered as my second. I escaped from them all at last and reached the quiet of my own apartments. There I sat alone for more than an hour, waiting for the return of Vincenzo, whom I had sent to track Ferrari. I heard the departing footsteps of my guests as they left the hotel by twos and threes—I heard the equable voices of the marquis and Captain Freccia ordering hot coffee to be served to them in a private room where they were to await the other seconds—now and then I caught a few words of the excited language of the waiters who were volubly discussing the affair as they cleared away the remains of the superb feast at which, though none knew it save myself, death had been seated. Thirteen at table! One was a traitor and one must die. I knew which one. No presentiment lurked in my mind as to the doubtful result of the coming combat. It was not my lot to fall—my time had not come yet—I felt certain of that! No! All the fateful forces of the universe would help me to keep alive