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Produced by David Widger





THE POINT OF HONOR

BY

A MILITARY TALE

BY

JOSEPH CONRAD



ILLUSTRATIONS BY DAN SAYRE GROESBECK


NEW YORK

THE MCCLURE COMPANY

MCMVIII

Copyright, 1908, by The McClure Company

Copyright, 1907, 1908, by Joseph Conrad



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

"You will fight no more duels now" Frontispiece

"Bowing before a sylph-like form reclining on a couch"

"The angry clash of arms filled that prim garden"

"You take the nearest brute, Colonel D'Hubert"




I

Napoleon the First, 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 their 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 artillery,
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 Lieutenant 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 Lieutenant D'Hubert could have been
seen one fine afternoon making his way along the street of a cheerful
suburb towards Lieutenant 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, which she lowered
modestly at the sight of the tall officer, caused Lieutenant D'Hubert,
who was accessible to esthetic impressions, to relax the cold, on-duty
expression of his face. At the same time he observed that the girl had
over her arm a pair of hussar's breeches, red with a blue stripe.

"Lieutenant Feraud at home?" he inquired benevolently.

"Oh, no, sir. He went out at six this morning."

And the little maid tried to close the door, but Lieutenant D'Hubert,
opposing this move with gentle firmness, stepped into the anteroom
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, Lieutenant D'Hubert opened without ceremony the
door of a room so comfortable 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 Lieutenant Feraud's room. And he
saw also that Lieutenant Feraud was not at home. The truthful maid had
followed him and looked up inquisitively.

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

"No," she answered readily. "He came home late at 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 Lieutenant D'Hubert. "Learn, my child,
that he went out so early to fight a duel with a civilian."

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

"Come," he insisted, with confidential familiarity. "He's perhaps
somewhere in the house now?"

She shook her head.

"So much the worse for him," continued Lieutenant D'Hubert, in a tone of
anxious conviction. "But he has been home this morning?"

This time the pretty maid nodded slightly.

"He has!" cried Lieutenant D'Hubert. "And went out again? What for?
Couldn't he keep quietly indoors? What a lunatic! My dear child...."

Lieutenant D'Hubert's natural kindness of disposition and strong sense
of comradeship helped his powers of observation, which generally were
not remarkable. He changed his tone to a most insinuating softness; and
gazing at the hussar's breeches hanging over the arm of the girl, he
appealed to the interest she took in Lieutenant Feraud's comfort and
happiness. He was pressing and persuasive. He used his eyes, which were
large and fine, with excellent effect. His anxiety to get hold at
once of Lieutenant Feraud, for Lieutenant Feraud's own good, seemed so
genuine that at last it overcame the girl's discretion. Unluckily she
had not much to tell. Lieutenant Feraud had returned home shortly before
ten; had walked straight into his room and had thrown himself on his
bed to resume his slumbers. She had heard him snore rather louder than
before far into the afternoon. Then he got up, put on his best uniform
and went out. That was all she knew.

She raised her candid eyes up to Lieutenant D'Hubert, who stared at her
incredulously.

"It's incredible. Gone parading the town in his best uniform! My dear
child, don't you know that he ran that civilian through this morning?
Clean through as you spit a hare."

She accepted this gruesome intelligence without any signs of distress.
But she pressed her lips together thoughtfully.

"He isn't parading the town," she remarked, in a low tone. "Far from
it."

"The civilian's family is making an awful row," continued Lieutenant
D'Hubert, pursuing his train of thought. "And the general is very angry.
It's one of the best families in the town. Feraud ought to have kept
close at least...."

"What will the general do to him?" inquired the girl anxiously.

"He won't have his head cut off, to be sure," answered Lieutenant
D'Hubert. "But his conduct is positively indecent. He's making no end of
trouble for himself by this sort of bravado."

"But he isn't parading the town," the maid murmured again.

"Why, yes! Now I think of it. I haven't seen him anywhere. What on earth
has he done with himself?"

"He's gone to pay a call," suggested the maid, after a moment of
silence.

Lieutenant D'Hubert was surprised. "A call! Do you mean a call on a
lady? The cheek of the man. But how do you know this?"

Without concealing her woman's scorn for the denseness of the masculine
mind, the pretty maid reminded him that Lieutenant Feraud had arrayed
himself in his best uniform before going out. He had also put on his
newest dolman, she added in a tone as if this conversation were getting
on her nerves and turned away brusquely. Lieutenant D'Hubert, without
questioning the accuracy of the implied deduction, did not see that it
advanced him much on his official quest. For his quest after Lieutenant
Feraud had an official character. He did not know any of the women this
fellow who had run a man through in the morning was likely to call on in
the afternoon. The two officers knew each other but slightly. He bit his
gloved finger in perplexity.

"Call!" he exclaimed. "Call on the devil." The girl, with her back to
him and folding the hussar's breeches on a chair, said with a vexed
little laugh:

"Oh, no! On Madame de Lionne." Lieutenant D'Hubert whistled softly.
Madame de Lionne, the wife of a high official, had a well-known salon
and some pretensions to sensibility and elegance. The husband was a
civilian and old, but the society of the salon was young and military
for the greater part. Lieutenant D'Hubert had whistled, not because the
idea of pursuing Lieutenant Feraud into that very salon was in the least
distasteful to him, but because having but lately arrived in Strasbourg
he had not the time as yet to get an introduction to Madame de Lionne.
And what was that swashbuckler Feraud doing there? He did not seem the
sort of man who...

"Are you certain of what you say?" asked Lieutenant D'Hubert.

The girl was perfectly certain. Without turning round to look at him
she explained that the coachman of their next-door neighbours knew
the _maitre-d'hôtel_ of Madame de Lionne. In this way she got her
information. And she was perfectly certain. In giving this assurance she
sighed. Lieutenant Feraud called there nearly every afternoon.

"Ah, bah!" exclaimed D'Hubert ironically. His opinion of Madame de
Lionne went down several degrees. Lieutenant Feraud did not seem to him
specially worthy of attention on the part of a woman with a reputation
for sensibility and elegance. But there was no saying. At bottom they
were all alike - very practical rather than idealistic. Lieutenant
D'Hubert, however, did not allow his mind to dwell on these
considerations. "By thunder!" he reflected aloud. "The general goes
there sometimes. If he happens to find the fellow making eyes at
the lady there will be the devil to pay. Our general is not a very
accommodating person, I can tell you."

"Go quickly then. Don't stand here now I've told you where he is," cried
the girl, colouring to the eyes.

"Thanks, my dear. I don't know what I would have done without you."

After manifesting his gratitude in an aggressive way which at first was
repulsed violently and then submitted to with a sudden and still more
repellent indifference, Lieutenant D'Hubert took his departure.

He clanked and jingled along the streets with a martial swagger. To
run a comrade to earth in a drawing-room where he was not known did not
trouble him in the least. A uniform is a social passport. His position
as _officier d'ordonnance_ of the general added to his assurance.
Moreover, now he knew where to find Lieutenant Feraud, he had no option.
It was a service matter.

Madame de Lionne's house had an excellent appearance. A man in livery
opening the door of a large drawing-room with a waxed floor, shouted his
name and stood aside to let him pass. It was a reception day. The
ladies wearing hats surcharged with a profusion of feathers, sheathed in
clinging white gowns from their armpits to the tips of their low satin
shoes, looked sylphlike and cool in a great display of bare necks
and arms. The men who talked with them, on the contrary, were arrayed
heavily in ample, coloured garments with stiff collars up to their
ears and thick sashes round their waists. Lieutenant D'Hubert made his
unabashed way across the room, and bowing low before a sylphlike form
reclining on a couch, offered his apologies for this intrusion, which
nothing could excuse but the extreme urgency of the service order he
had to communicate to his comrade Feraud. He proposed to himself to come
presently in a more regular manner and beg forgiveness for interrupting
this interesting conversation....

A bare arm was extended to him with gracious condescension even before
he had finished speaking. He pressed the hand respectfully to his lips
and made the mental remark that it was bony. Madame de Lionne was a
blonde with too fine a skin and a long face.

"_C'est ça!_" she said, with an ethereal smile, disclosing a set of
large teeth. "Come this evening to plead for your forgiveness."

"I will not fail, madame."

Meantime Lieutenant Feraud, splendid in his new dolman and the extremely
polished boots of his calling, sat on a chair within a foot of the couch
and, one hand propped on his thigh, with the other twirled his moustache
to a point without uttering a sound. At a significant glance from
D'Hubert he rose without alacrity and followed him into the recess of a
window.

"What is it you want with me?" he asked in a tone of annoyance, which
astonished not a little the other. Lieutenant D'Hubert could not imagine
that in the innocence of his heart and simplicity of his conscience
Lieutenant Feraud took a view of his duel in which neither remorse
nor yet a rational apprehension of consequences had any place. Though
Lieutenant Feraud had no clear recollection how the quarrel had
originated (it was begun in an establishment where beer and wine are
drunk late at night), he had not the slightest doubt of being himself
the outraged party. He had secured two experienced friends or his
seconds. Everything had been done according to the rules governing that
sort of adventure. And a duel is obviously fought for the purpose of
someone being at least hurt if not killed outright. The civilian got
hurt. That also was in order. Lieutenant Feraud was perfectly tranquil.
But Lieutenant D'Hubert mistook this simple attitude for affectation and
spoke with some heat.

"I am directed by the general to give you the order to go at once to
your quarters and remain there under close arrest."

It was now the turn of Lieutenant Feraud to be astonished.

"What the devil are you telling me there?" he murmured faintly, and fell
into such profound wonder that he could only follow mechanically the
motions of Lieutenant D'Hubert. The two officers - one tall, with an
interesting face and a moustache the colour of ripe corn, the other
short and sturdy, with a hooked nose and a thick crop of black, curly
hair - approached the mistress of the house to take their leave. Madame
de Lionne, a woman of eclectic taste, smiled upon these armed young men
with impartial sensibility and an equal share of interest. Madame de
Lionne took her delight in the infinite variety of the human species.
All the eyes in the drawing-room followed the departing officers, one
strutting, the other striding, with curiosity. When the door had closed
after them one or two men who had already heard of the duel imparted the
information to the sylphlike ladies, who received it with little shrieks
of humane concern.

Meantime the two hussars walked side by side, Lieutenant Feraud trying
to fathom the hidden reason of things which in this instance eluded the
grasp of his intellect; Lieutenant D'Hubert feeling bored by the part he
had to play; because the general's instructions were that he should see
personally that Lieutenant Feraud carried out his orders to the letter
and at once.

"The chief seems to know this animal," he thought, eyeing his companion,
whose round face, the round eyes and even the twisted-up jet black
little moustache seemed animated by his mental exasperation before
the incomprehensible. And aloud he observed rather reproachfully, "The
general is in a devilish fury with you."

Lieutenant Feraud stopped short on the edge of the pavement and cried
in the accents of unmistakable sincerity: "What on earth for?" The
innocence of the fiery Gascon soul was depicted in the manner in which
he seized his head in both his hands as if to prevent it bursting with
perplexity.

"For the duel," said Lieutenant D'Hubert curtly. He was annoyed greatly
by this sort of perverse fooling.

"The duel! The..."

Lieutenant Feraud passed from one paroxysm of astonishment into another.
He dropped his hands and walked on slowly trying to reconcile this
information with the state of his own feelings. It was impossible. He
burst out indignantly:

"Was I to let that sauerkraut-eating civilian wipe his boots on the
uniform of the Seventh Hussars?"

Lieutenant D'Hubert could not be altogether unsympathetic toward that
sentiment. This little fellow is a lunatic, he thought to himself, but
there is something in what he says.

"Of course, I don't know how far you were justified," he said
soothingly. "And the general himself may not be exactly informed. A lot
of people have been deafening him with their lamentations."

"Ah, he is not exactly informed," mumbled Lieutenant Feraud, walking
faster and faster as his choler at the injustice of his fate began to
rise. "He is not exactly.... And he orders me under close arrest with
God knows what afterward."

"Don't excite yourself like this," remonstrated the other. "That young
man's people are very influential, you know, and it looks bad enough
on the face of it. The general had to take notice of their complaint at
once. I don't think he means to be over-severe with you. It is best for
you to be kept out of sight for a while."

"I am very much obliged to the general," muttered Lieutenant Feraud
through his teeth.

"And perhaps you would say I ought to be grateful to you too for the
trouble you have taken to hunt me up in the drawing-room of a lady
who..."

"Frankly," interrupted Lieutenant D'Hubert, with an innocent laugh, "I
think you ought to be. I had no end of trouble to find out where you
were. It wasn't exactly the place for you to disport yourself in under
the circumstances. If the general had caught you there making eyes at
the goddess of the temple.... Oh, my word!... He hates to be bothered
with complaints against his officers, you know. And it looked uncommonly
like sheer bravado."

The two officers had arrived now at the street door of Lieutenant
Feraud's lodgings. The latter turned toward his companion. "Lieutenant
D'Hubert," he said, "I have something to say to you which can't be said
very well in the street. You can't refuse to come in."

The pretty maid had opened the door. Lieutenant Feraud brushed past
her brusquely and she raised her scared, questioning eyes to Lieutenant
D'Hubert, who could do nothing but shrug his shoulders slightly as he
followed with marked reluctance.

In his room Lieutenant Feraud unhooked the clasp, flung his new dolman
on the bed, and folding his arms across his chest, turned to the other
hussar.

"Do you imagine I am a man to submit tamely to injustice?" he inquired
in a boisterous voice.

"Oh, do be reasonable," remonstrated Lieutenant D'Hubert.

"I am reasonable. I am perfectly reasonable," retorted the other,
ominously lowering his voice. "I can't call the general to account for
his behaviour, but you are going to answer to me for yours."

"I can't listen to this nonsense," murmured Lieutenant D'Hubert, making
a slightly contemptuous grimace.

"You call that nonsense. It seems to me perfectly clear. Unless you
don't understand French."

"What on earth do you mean?"

"I mean," screamed suddenly Lieutenant Feraud, "to cut off your ears to
teach you not to disturb me, orders or no orders, when I am talking to a
lady."

A profound silence followed this mad declaration - and through the open
window Lieutenant D'Hubert heard the little birds singing sanely in the
garden. He said coldly:

"Why! If you take that tone, of course I will hold myself at your
disposal whenever you are at liberty to attend to this affair. But I
don't think you will cut off my ears."

"I am going to attend to it at once," declared Lieutenant Feraud, with
extreme truculence. "If you are thinking of displaying your airs and
graces to-night in Madame de Lionne's salon you are very much mistaken."

"Really," said Lieutenant D'Hubert, who was beginning to feel irritated,
"you are an impracticable sort of fellow. The general's orders to
me were to put you under arrest, not to carve you into small pieces.
Good-morning." Turning his back on the little Gascon who, always sober
in his potations, was as though born intoxicated, with the sunshine
of his wine-ripening country, the northman, who could drink hard on
occasion, but was born sober under the watery skies of Picardy, made
calmly for the door. Hearing, however, the unmistakable sound, behind
his back, of a sword drawn from the scabbard, he had no option but to
stop.

"Devil take this mad Southerner," he thought, spinning round and
surveying with composure the warlike posture of Lieutenant Feraud with
the unsheathed sword in his hand.

"At once. At once," stuttered Feraud, beside himself.

"You had my answer," said the other, keeping his temper very well.

At first he had been only vexed and somewhat amused. But now his face
got clouded. He was asking himself seriously how he could manage to get
away. Obviously it was impossible to run from a man with a sword, and as
to fighting him, it seemed completely out of the question.

He waited awhile, then said exactly what was in his heart:

"Drop this; I won't fight you now. I won't be made ridiculous."

"Ah, you won't!" hissed the Gascon. "I suppose you prefer to be made
infamous. Do you hear what I say?... Infamous! Infamous! Infamous!" he
shrieked, raising and falling on his toes and getting very red in the
face. Lieutenant D'Hubert, on the contrary, became very pale at the
sound of the unsavoury word, then flushed pink to the roots of his fair
hair.

"But you can't go out to fight; you are under arrest, you lunatic," he
objected, with angry scorn.

"There's the garden. It's big enough to lay out your long carcass in,"
spluttered out Lieutenant Feraud with such ardour that somehow the anger
of the cooler man subsided.

"This is perfectly absurd," he said, glad enough to think he had found a
way out of it for the moment. "We will never get any of our comrades to
serve as seconds. It's preposterous."

"Seconds! Damn the seconds! We don't want any seconds. Don't you worry
about any seconds. I will send word to your friends to come and bury
you when I am done. This is no time for ceremonies. And if you want
any witnesses, I'll send word to the old girl to put her head out of a
window at the back. Stay! There's the gardener. He'll do. He's as deaf
as a post, but he has two eyes in his head. Come along. I will teach
you, my staff officer, that the carrying about of a general's orders is
not always child's play."

While thus discoursing he had unbuckled his empty scabbard. He sent it
flying under the bed, and, lowering the point of the sword, brushed past
the perplexed Lieutenant D'Hubert, crying: "Follow me." Directly he had
flung open the door a faint shriek was heard, and the pretty maid, who
had been listening at the keyhole, staggered backward, putting the backs
of her hands over her eyes. He didn't seem to see her, but as he was
crossing the anteroom she ran after him and seized his left arm. He
shook her off and then she rushed upon Lieutenant D'Hubert and clawed at
the sleeve of his uniform.

"Wretched man," she sobbed despairingly. "Is this what you wanted to
find him for?"

"Let me go," entreated Lieutenant D'Hubert, trying to disengage himself
gently. "It's like being in a madhouse," he protested with exasperation.
"Do let me go, I won't do him any harm."

A fiendish laugh from Lieutenant Feraud commented that assurance. "Come
along," he cried impatiently, with a stamp of his foot.

And Lieutenant D'Hubert did follow. He could do nothing else. But in
vindication of his sanity it must be recorded that as he passed out
of the anteroom the notion of opening the street door and bolting out
presented itself to this brave youth, only, of course, to be instantly
dismissed: for he felt sure that the other would pursue him without
shame or compunction. And the prospect of an officer of hussars being
chased along the street by another officer of hussars with a naked sword
could not be for a moment entertained. Therefore he followed into the
garden. Behind them the girl tottered out too. With ashy lips and wild,
scared eyes, she surrendered to a dreadful curiosity. She had also
a vague notion of rushing, if need be, between Lieutenant Feraud and
death.

The deaf gardener, utterly unconscious of approaching footsteps, went
on watering his flowers till Lieutenant Feraud thumped him on the back.
Beholding suddenly an infuriated man, flourishing a big sabre, the old
chap, trembling in all his limbs, dropped the watering pot. At once
Lieutenant Feraud kicked it away with great animosity; then seizing the
gardener by the throat, backed him against a tree and held him there
shouting in his ear:



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