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The Duel (The Point Of Honor: A Military Tale)
by [?]

I

NAPOLEON I., whose career had the quality of a duel against the whole of Europe, disliked duelling between the officers of his army. The great military emperor was not a swashbuckler, and had little respect for tradition.

Nevertheless, a story of duelling, which became a legend in the army, runs through the epic of imperial wars. To the surprise and admiration of their fellows, two officers, like insane artists trying to gild refined gold or paint the lily, pursued a private contest through the years of universal carnage. They were officers of cavalry, and their connection with the high-spirited but fanciful animal which carries men into battle seems particularly appropriate. It would be difficult to imagine for heroes of this legend two officers of infantry of the line, for example, whose fantasy is tamed by much walking exercise, and whose valour necessarily must be of a more plodding kind. As to gunners or engineers, whose heads are kept cool on a diet of mathematics, it is simply unthinkable.

The names of the two officers were Feraud and D’Hubert, and they were both lieutenants in a regiment of hussars, but not in the same regiment.

Feraud was doing regimental work, but Lieut. D’Hubert had the good fortune to be attached to the person of the general commanding the division, as officier d’ordonnance. It was in Strasbourg, and in this agreeable and important garrison they were enjoying greatly a short interval of peace. They were enjoying it, though both intensely warlike, because it was a sword-sharpening, firelock-cleaning peace, dear to a military heart and undamaging to military prestige, inasmuch that no one believed in its sincerity or duration.

Under those historical circumstances, so favourable to the proper appreciation of military leisure, Lieut. D’Hubert, one fine afternoon, made his way along a quiet street of a cheerful suburb towards Lieut. Feraud’s quarters, which were in a private house with a garden at the back, belonging to an old maiden lady.

His knock at the door was answered instantly by a young maid in Alsatian costume. Her fresh complexion and her long eyelashes, lowered demurely at the sight of the tall officer, caused Lieut. D’Hubert, who was accessible to esthetic impressions, to relax the cold, severe gravity of his face. At the same time he observed that the girl had over her arm a pair of hussar’s breeches, blue with a red stripe.

“Lieut. Feraud in?” he inquired, benevolently.

“Oh, no, sir! He went out at six this morning.”

The pretty maid tried to close the door. Lieut. D’Hubert, opposing this move with gentle firmness, stepped into the ante-room, jingling his spurs.

“Come, my dear! You don’t mean to say he has not been home since six o’clock this morning?”

Saying these words, Lieut. D’Hubert opened without ceremony the door of a room so comfortably and neatly ordered that only from internal evidence in the shape of boots, uniforms, and military accoutrements did he acquire the conviction that it was Lieut. Feraud’s room. And he saw also that Lieut. Feraud was not at home. The truthful maid had followed him, and raised her candid eyes to his face.

“H’m!” said Lieut. D’Hubert, greatly disappointed, for he had already visited all the haunts where a lieutenant of hussars could be found of a fine afternoon. “So he’s out? And do you happen to know, my dear, why he went out at six this morning?”

“No,” she answered, readily. “He came home late last night, and snored. I heard him when I got up at five. Then he dressed himself in his oldest uniform and went out. Service, I suppose.”

“Service? Not a bit of it!” cried Lieut. D’Hubert. “Learn, my angel, that he went out thus early to fight a duel with a civilian.”

She heard this news without a quiver of her dark eyelashes. It was very obvious that the actions of Lieut. Feraud were generally above criticism. She only looked up for a moment in mute surprise, and Lieut. D’Hubert concluded from this absence of emotion that she must have seen Lieut. Feraud since the morning. He looked around the room.