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To The Death
by [?]

(In the Twentieth Century manner)

“Cauliflower!” shrieked Gaspard Volauvent across the little table in the estaminet. His face bristled with rage.

“Serpent!” replied Jacques Rissole, bristling with equal dexterity.

The two stout little men glared ferociously at each other. Then Jacques picked up his glass and poured the wine of the country over his friend’s head.

“Drown, serpent!” he said magnificently. He beckoned to the waiter. “Another bottle,” he said. “My friend has drunk all this.”

Gaspard removed the wine from his whiskers with the local paper and leant over the table towards Jacques.

“This must be wiped out in blood,” he said slowly. “You understand?”

“Perfectly,” replied the other. “The only question is whose.”

“Name your weapons,” said Gaspard Volauvent grandly.

“Aeroplanes,” replied Jacques Rissole after a moment’s thought.

“Bah! I cannot fly.”

“Then I win,” said Jacques simply.

The other looked at him in astonishment.

“What! You fly?”

“No; but I can learn.”

“Then I will learn too,” said Gaspard with dignity. “We meet–in six months?”

“Good.” Jacques pointed to the ceiling. “Say three thousand feet up.”

“Three thousand four hundred,” said Gaspard for the sake of disagreeing.

“After all, that is for our seconds to arrange. My friend Epinard of the Roullens Aerodrome will act for me. He will also instruct me how to bring serpents to the ground.”

“With the idea of cleansing the sky of cauliflowers,” said Gaspard, “I shall proceed to the flying-ground at Dormancourt; Blanchaille, the instructor there, will receive your friend.”

He bowed and walked out.

Details were soon settled. On a date six months ahead the two combatants would meet three thousand two hundred feet above the little town in which they lived, and fight to the death. In the event of both crashing, the one who crashed last would be deemed the victor. It was Gaspard’s second who insisted on this clause; Gaspard himself felt that it did not matter greatly.

The first month of instruction went by. At the end of it Jacques Rissole had only one hope. It was that when he crashed he should crash on some of Gaspard’s family. Gaspard had no hope, but one consolation. It was that no crash could involve his stomach, which he invariably left behind him as soon as the aeroplane rose.

At the end of the second month Gaspard wrote to Jacques.

“My friend,” he wrote, “the hatred of you which I nurse in my bosom, and which fills me with the desire to purge you from the sky, is in danger of being transferred to my instructor. Let us therefore meet and renew our enmity.”

Jacques Rissole wrote back to Gaspard.

“My enemy,” he wrote, “there is nobody in the whole of the Roullens Aerodrome whom I do not detest with a detestation beside which my hatred for you seems as maudlin adoration. This is notwithstanding the fact that I make the most marvellous progress in the art of flying. It is merely something in their faces which annoys me. Let me therefore see yours again, in the hope that it will make me think more kindly of theirs.”

They met, poured wine over each other and parted. After another month the need of a further stimulant was felt. They met again, and agreed to insult each other weekly.

On the last day of his training Gaspard spoke seriously to his instructor.

“You see that I make nothing of it,” he said. “My thoughts are ever with the stomach that I leave behind. Not once have I been in a position to take control. How then can I fight? My friend, I arrange it all. You shall take my place.”

“Is that quite fair to Rissole?” asked Blanchaille doubtfully.

“Do not think that I want you to hurt him. That is not necessary. He will hurt himself. Keep out of his way until he has finished with himself, and then fly back here. It is easy.”

It seemed the best way; indeed the only way. Gaspard Volauvent could never get to the rendezvous alone, and it would be fatal to his honour if Jacques arrived there and found nobody to meet him. Reluctantly Blanchaille agreed.

At the appointed hour Gaspard put his head cautiously out of his bedroom window and gazed up into the heavens. He saw two aeroplanes straight above him. At the thought that he might have been in one of them he shuddered violently. Indeed, he felt so unwell that the need for some slight restorative became pressing. He tripped off to the estaminet.

It was empty save for one table. Gaspard walked towards it, hoping for a little conversation. The occupant lowered the newspaper from in front of his face and looked up.

It was too much for Gaspard.

“Coward!” he shrieked.

Jacques, who had been going to say the same thing, hastily substituted “Serpent!”

“I know you,” cried Gaspard. “You send your instructor up in your place. Poltroon!”

Jacques picked up his glass and poured the wine of the country over his friend’s head.

“Drown, serpent,” he said magnificently. He beckoned to the waiter. “Another bottle,” he said. “My friend has drunk all this.”

Gaspard removed the wine from his whiskers with Jacques’ paper, and leant over him.

“This must be wiped out in blood,” he said slowly. “Name your weapons.”

“Submarines,” said Jacques after a moment’s thought.