“An apology—in public—on your knees...”
The boy had become more and more excited. He had suffered humiliation after humiliation. He was a mere lad, spoilt, adulated, pampered from his boyhood: the wine had got into his head, the intoxication of rage and hatred blinded his saner judgment.
“Coward!” he shouted again and again.
His seconds tried to interpose, but he waved them feverishly aside. He would listen to no one. He saw no one save the man who had insulted Adele, and who was heaping further insults upon her, by refusing this public acknowledgment of her virtues.
De Marny hated Deroulede at this moment with the most deadly hatred the heart of man can conceive. The older man’s calm, his chivalry, his consideration only enhanced the boy’s anger and shame.
The hubbub had become general. Everyone seemed carried away with this strange fever of enmity, which was seething in the Vicomte’s veins. Most of the young men crowded round De Marny, doing their best to pacify him. The Marquis de Villefranche declared that the matter was getting quite outside the rules.
No one took much notice of Deroulede. In the remote corners of the saloon a few elderly dandies were laying bets as to the ultimate issue of the quarrel.
Deroulede, however, was beginning to lose his temper. He had no friends in that room, and therefore there was no sympathetic observer there, to note the gradual darkening of his eyes, like the gathering of a cloud heavy with the coming storm.
“I pray you, messieurs, let us cease the argument,” he said at last, in a loud, impatient voice. “M. le Vicomte de Marny desires a further lesson, and, by God! he shall have it. En garde, M. le Vicomte!”
The crowd quickly drew back. The seconds once more assumed the bearing and imperturbable expression which their important function demanded. The hubbub ceased as the swords began to clash.
Everyone felt that farce was turning to tragedy.
And yet it was obvious from the first that Deroulede merely meant once more to disarm his antagonist, to give him one more lesson, a little more severe perhaps than the last. He was such a briljant swordsman, and De Marny was so excited, that the advantage was with him from the very first.
How it all happened, nobody afterwards could say. There is no doubt that the little Vicomte’s sword-play had become more and more wild: that he uncovered himself in the most reckless way, whilst lunging wildly at his opponent’s breast, until at last, in one of these mad, unguarded moments, he seemed literally to throw himself upon Deroulede’s weapon.
The latter tried with lightning-swift motion of the wrist to avoid the fatal issue, but it was too late, and without a sigh or groan, scarce a tremor, the Vicomte de Marny fell.
The sword dropped out of his hand, and it was Deroulede himself who caught the boy in his arms.