My seconds were young Eckart vom Hof, and the barely much older, though already famous Gregorius Bandelmeyer, a noted mathematician, a savage Republican, lean-faced, spectacled, and long, soft-fingered; a cat to look at, a tiger to touch. Both of them were animated by detestation of the Imperial uniform. They distrusted my skill in the management of the weapon I had chosen; for reasons of their own they carried a case of pistols to the field. Prince Otto was attended by Count Loepel and a Major Edelsheim of his army, fresh from the garrison fortress of Mainz, gentlemen perfectly conversant with the laws of the game, which my worthy comrades were not. Several minutes were spent in an altercation between Edelsheim and Bandelmeyer. The major might have had an affair of his own had he pleased. My feelings were concentrated within the immediate ring where I stood: I can compare them only to those of a gambler determined to throw his largest stake and abide the issue. I was not open to any distinct impression of the surrounding scenery; the hills and leafage seemed to wear an iron aspect. My darling, my saint’s face was shut up in my heart, and with it a little inaudible cry of love and pain. The prince declined to listen to apologies. ’He meant to teach me that this was not a laughing matter.’ Major Edelsheim had misunderstood Bandelmeyer; no offer of an apology had been made. A momentary human sensation of an unworthy sort beset me when I saw them standing together again, and contrasted the collectedness and good-humour of my adversary’s representative with the vexatious and unnecessary naggling of mine, the sight of whose yard-long pipe scandalized me.
At last the practical word was given. The prince did not reply to my salute. He was smoking, and kept his cigar in one corner of his mouth, as if he were a master fencer bidding his pupil to come on. He assumed that he had to do with a bourgeois Briton unused to arms, such as we are generally held to be on the Continent. After feeling my wrist for a while he shook the cigar out of his teeth.
The ‘cliquetis’ of the crossed steel must be very distant in memory, and yourself in a most dilettante frame of mind, for you to be accessible to the music of that thin skeleton’s clank. Nevertheless, it is better and finer even at the time of action, than the abominable hollow ogre’s eye of the pistol-muzzle. We exchanged passes, the prince chiefly attacking. Of all the things to strike my thoughts, can you credit me that the vividest was the picture of the old woman Temple and I had seen in our boyhood on the night of the fire dropping askew, like forks of brown flame, from the burning house in London city; I must have smiled. The prince cried out in French: ‘Laugh, sir; you shall have it!’ He had nothing but his impetuosity for an assurance of his promise, and was never able to force me back beyond a foot. I touched him on the arm and the shoulder, and finally pierced his arm above the elbow. I could have done nearly what I liked with him; his skill was that of a common regimental sabreur.