Ms Erin teaches Language Arts Classes
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Ms Erin teaches English classes at Glen School.
Guy de Maupassant
Society called him Handsome Signoles. His name was Viscount Gontran-Joseph de Signoles.
orphan, and possessed of an adequate income, he cut a dash, as the
saying is. He had a good figure and a good carriage, a sufficient flow
of words to pass for wit, a certain natural grace, an air of nobility
and pride, a gallant moustache and an eloquent eye, attributes which
He was in demand in drawing-rooms, sought after for
valses, and in men he inspired that smiling hostility which is reserved
for vital and attractive rivals. He had been suspected of several
love-affairs of a sort calculated to create a good opinion of a
youngster. He lived a happy, care-free life, in the most complete
well-being of body and mind. He was known to be a fine swordsman and a
still finer shot with the pistol.
"When I come to fight a duel," he would say, "I shall choose pistols. With that weapon, I'm sure of killing my man."
evening, he went to the theatre with two ladies, quite young, friends
of his, whose husbands were also of the party, and after the performance
he invited them to take ices at Tortoni's.
They had been sitting
there for a few minutes when he noticed a gentleman at a neighbouring
table staring obstinately at one of the ladies of the party. She seemed
embarrassed and ill at ease, and bent her head. At last she said to her
"There's a man staring at me. I don't know him; do you?"
The husband, who had seen nothing, raised his eyes, but declared:
"No, not in the least."
Half smiling, half in anger, she replied:
"It's very annoying; the creature's spoiling my ice."
Her husband shrugged his shoulders.
take him, don't appear to notice it. If we had to deal with all the
discourteous people one meets, we'd never have done with them."
the Viscount had risen abruptly. He could not permit this stranger to
spoil an ice of his giving. It was to him that the insult was addressed,
since it was at his invitation and on his account that his friends had
come to the cafe. The affair was no business of anyone but himself.
He went up to the man and said:
have a way of looking at those ladies, sir, which I cannot stomach.
Please be so good as to set a limit to your persistence."
"You hold your tongue," replied the other.
"Take care, sir," retorted the Viscount, clenching his teeth;" you'll force me to overstep the bounds of common politeness."
gentleman replied with a single word, a vile word which rang across the
cafe from one end to the other, and, like the release of a spring,
jerked every person present into an abrupt movement. All those with
their backs towards him turned round, all the rest raised their heads;
three waiters spun round on their heels like tops; the two ladies behind
the counter started, then the whole upper half of their bodies twisted
round, as though they were a couple of automata worked by the same
There was a profound silence. Then suddenly a sharp noise
resounded in the air. The Viscount had boxed his adversary's ears. Every
one rose to intervene. Cards were exchanged.
Back in his home,
the Viscount walked for several minutes up and down his room with long
quick strides. He was too excited to think. A solitary idea dominated
his mind: "a duel"; but as yet the idea stirred in him no emotion of any
kind. He had done what he was compelled to do; he had shown himself to
be what he ought to be. People would talk of it, would approve of him,
congratulate him. He repeated aloud, speaking as a man speaks in severe
"What a hound the fellow is!"
Then he sat
down and began to reflect. In the morning he must find seconds. Whom
should he choose? He searched his mind for the most important and
celebrated names of his acquaintance. At last he decided on the Marquis
de la Tour-Noire and Colonel Bourdin, an aristocrat and a soldier; they
would do excellently. Their names would look well in the papers. He
realised that he was thirsty, and drank three glasses of water one after
the other; then he began to walk up and down again. He felt full of
energy. If he played the gallant, showed himself determined, insisted on
the most strict and dangerous arrangements, demanded a serious duel, a
thoroughly serious duel, a positively terrible duel, his adversary would
probably retire an apologist.
He took up once more the card which
he had taken from his pocket and thrown down upon the table, and read
it again as he had read it before, in the cafe, at a glance, and in the
cab, by the light of each gas-lamp, on his way home.
"Georges Lamil, 51 rue Moncey." Nothing more.
examined the grouped letters; they seemed to him mysterious, full of
confused meaning. Georges Lamil? Who was this man? What did he do? Why
had he looked at the woman in that way? Was it not revolting that a
stranger, an unknown man, could thus disturb a man's life, without
warning, just because he chose to fix his insolent eyes upon a woman?
Again the Viscount repeated aloud:
"What a hound!"
remained standing stock-still, lost in thought, his eyes still fixed
upon the card. A fury against this scrap of paper awoke in him, a fury
of hatred in which was mingled a queer sensation of uneasiness. This
sort of thing was so stupid! He took up an open knife which lay close at
hand and thrust it through the middle of the printed name, as though he
had stabbed a man.
So he must fight. Should he choose swords or
pistols?--for he regarded himself as the insulted party. With swords
there would be less risk, but with pistols there was a chance that his
adversary might withdraw. It is very rare that a duel with swords is
fatal, for mutual prudence is apt to restrain combatants from engaging
at sufficiently close quarters for a point to penetrate deeply. With
pistols he ran a grave risk of death; but he might also extricate
himself from the affair with all the honours of the situation and
without actually coming to a meeting.
"I must be firm," he said. "He will take fright."
sound of his voice set him trembling, and he looked round. He felt very
nervous. He drank another glass of water, then began to undress for
As soon as he was in bed, he blew out the light and closed his eyes.
the whole of to-morrow," he thought, "in which to set my affairs in
order. I'd better sleep now, so that I shall be quite calm."
was very warm in the blankets, but he could not manage to compose
himself to sleep. He turned this way and that, lay for five minutes upon
his back, turned on to his left side, then rolled over on to his right.
He was still thirsty. He got up to get a drink. A feeling of uneasiness crept over him:
"Is it possible that I'm afraid?"
did his heart beat madly at each familiar sound in his room? When the
clock was about to strike, the faint squeak of the rising spring made
him start; so shaken he was that for several seconds afterwards he had
to open his mouth to get his breath.
He began to reason with himself on the possibility of his being afraid.
"Shall I be afraid?"
of course he would not be afraid, since he was resolved to see the
matter through, and had duly made up his mind to fight and not to
tremble. But he felt so profoundly distressed that he wondered:
"Can a man be afraid in spite of himself?"
was attacked by this doubt, this uneasiness, this terror; suppose a
force more powerful than himself, masterful, irresistible, overcame him,
what would happen? Yes, what might not happen? Assuredly he would go to
the place of the meeting, since he was quite ready to go. But supposing
he trembled? Supposing he fainted? He thought of the scene, of his
reputation, his good name.
There came upon him a strange need to
get up and look at himself in the mirror. He relit his candle. When he
saw his face reflected in the polished glass, he scarcely recognised it,
it seemed to him as though he had never yet seen himself. His eyes
looked to him enormous; and he was pale; yes, without doubt he was pale,
He remained standing in front of the mirror. He put
out his tongue, as though to ascertain the state of his health, and
abruptly the thought struck him like a bullet:
"The day after to-morrow, at this very hour, I may be dead."
His heart began again its furious beating.
day after to-morrow, at this very hour, I may be dead. This person
facing me, this me I see in the mirror, will be no more. Why, here I am,
I look at myself, I feel myself alive, and in twenty-four hours I shall
be lying in that bed, dead, my eyes closed, cold, inanimate, vanished."
turned back towards the bed, and distinctly saw himself lying on his
back in the very sheets he had just left. He had the hollow face of a
corpse, his hands had the slackness of hands that will never make
At that he was afraid of his bed, and, to get
rid of the sight of it, went into the smoking-room. Mechanically he
picked up a cigar, lit it, and began to walk up and down again. He was
cold; he went to the bell to wake his valet; but he stopped, even as he
raised his hand to the rope.
"He will see that I am afraid."
did not ring; he lit the fire. His hands shook a little, with a nervous
tremor, whenever they touched anything. His brain whirled, his troubled
thoughts became elusive, transitory, and gloomy; his mind suffered all
the effects of intoxication, as though he were actually drunk.
Over and over again he thought:
"What shall I do? What is to become of me?"
His whole body trembled, seized with a jerky shuddering; he got up and, going to the window, drew back the curtains.
was at hand, a summer dawn. The rosy sky touched the town, its roofs
and walls, with its own hue. A broad descending ray, like the caress of
the rising sun, enveloped the awakened world; and with the light,
hope--a gay, swift, fierce hope--filled the Viscount's heart! Was he
mad, that he had allowed himself to be struck down by fear, before
anything was settled even, before his seconds had seen those of this
Georges Lamil, before he knew whether he was going to fight?
He washed, dressed, and walked out with a firm step.
He repeated to himself, as he walked:
"I must be energetic, very energetic. I must prove that I am not afraid."
seconds, the Marquis and the Colonel, placed themselves at his
disposal, and after hearty handshakes discussed the conditions.
"You are anxious for a serious duel? " asked the Colonel.
"Yes, a very serious one," replied the Viscount.
"You still insist on pistols?" said the Marquis.
"You will leave us free to arrange the rest?"
In a dry, jerky voice the Viscount stated:
"Twenty paces; at the signal, raising the arm, and not lowering it. Exchange of shots till one is seriously wounded."
"They are excellent conditions," declared the Colonel in a tone of satisfaction. "You shoot well, you have every chance."
departed. The Viscount went home to wait for them. His agitation,
momentarily quietened, was now growing minute by minute. He felt a
strange shivering, a ceaseless vibration, down his arms, down his legs,
in his chest; he could not keep still in one place, neither seated nor
standing. There was not the least moistening of saliva in his mouth, and
at every instant he made a violent movement of his tongue, as though to
prevent it sticking to his palate.
He was eager to have
breakfast, but could not eat. Then the idea came to him to drink in
order to give himself courage, and he sent for a decanter of rum, of
which he swallowed six liqueur glasses full one after the other.
A burning warmth flooded through his body, followed immediately by a sudden dizziness of the mind and spirit.
"Now I know what to do," he thought. "Now it is all right."
by the end of an hour he had emptied the decanter, and his state of
agitation had once more become intolerable. He was conscious of a wild
need to roll on the ground, to scream, to bite. Night was falling.
The ringing of a bell gave him such a shock that he had not strength to rise and welcome his seconds.
did not even dare to speak to them, to say "Good evening" to them, to
utter a single word, for fear they guessed the whole thing by the
alteration in his voice.
"Everything is arranged in accordance
with the conditions you fixed," observed the Colonel. "At first your
adversary claimed the privileges of the insulted party, but he yielded
almost at once, and has accepted everything. His seconds are two
"Thank you," said the Viscount.
interposed the Marquis, "if we merely come in and leave again
immediately, but we have a thousand things to see to. We must have a
good doctor, since the combat is not to end until a serious wound is
inflicted, and you know that pistol bullets are no laughing-matter. We
must appoint the ground, near a house to which we may carry the wounded
man if necessary, etc. In fact, we shall be occupied for two or three
hours arranging all that there is to arrange."
"Thank you," said the Viscount a second time.
"You are all right?" asked the Colonel. "You are calm?"
"Yes, quite calm, thank you."
The two men retired.
he realised that he was once more alone, he thought that he was going
mad. His servant had lit the lamps, and he sat down at the table to
write letters. After tracing, at the head of a sheet: "This is my will,"
he rose shivering and walked away, feeling incapable of connecting two
ideas, of taking a resolution, of making any decision whatever.
he was going to fight! He could no longer avoid it. Then what was the
matter with him? He wished to fight, he had absolutely decided upon this
plan of action and taken his resolve, and he now felt clearly, in spite
of every effort of mind and forcing of will, that he could not retain
even the strength necessary to get him to the place of meeting. He tried
to picture the duel, his own attitude and the bearing of his adversary.
time to time his teeth chattered in his mouth with a slight clicking
noise. He tried to read, and took down Chateauvillard's code of
duelling. Then he wondered:
"Does my adversary go to shooting-galleries? Is he well known? Is he classified anywhere? How can I find out?"
bethought himself of Baron Vaux's book on marksmen with the pistol, and
ran through it from end to end. Georges Lamil was not mentioned in it.
Yet if the man were not a good shot, he would surely not have promptly
agreed to that dangerous weapon and those fatal conditions?
opened, in passing, a case by Gastinne Renette standing on a small
table, and took out one of the pistols, then placed himself as though to
shoot and raised his arm. But he was trembling from head to foot and
the barrel moved in every direction.
At that, he said to himself:
"It's impossible. I cannot fight in this state."
looked at the end of the barrel, at the little, black, deep hole that
spits death; he thought of the disgrace, of the whispers at the club, of
the laughter in drawing-rooms, of the contempt of women, of the
allusions in the papers, of the insults which cowards would fling at
He was still looking at the weapon, and, raising the hammer,
caught a glimpse of a cap gleaming beneath it like a tiny red flame. By
good fortune or forgetfulness, the pistol had been left loaded. At the
knowledge, he was filled with a confused inexplicable sense of joy.
when face to face with the other man, he did not show a proper
gallantry and calm, he would be lost for ever. He would be sullied,
branded with a mark of infamy, hounded out of society. And he would not
be able to achieve that calm, that swaggering poise; he knew it, he felt
it. Yet he was brave, since he wanted to fight I ... He was brave,
The thought which hovered in him did not even fulfil
itself in his mind; but, opening his mouth wide, he thrust in the barrel
of his pistol with savage gesture until it reached his throat, and
pressed on the trigger.
When his valet ran in, at the sound of the
report, he found him lying dead upon his back. A shower of blood had
splashed the white paper on the table, and made a great red mark beneath
these four words:
"This is my will."