Joseph Conrad.

The Point Of Honor A Military Tale online

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and see if the carriage is ready. I must take this child to her mother
at once. It isn't proper for her to stay here a minute longer."

General D'Hubert did not move. It was as though he had heard nothing.
Madame Léonie changed her mind.

"I will go and see to it myself," she said. "I want also to get my
cloak... Adèle..." she began, but did not say "sit up." She went out
saying in a loud, cheerful tone: "I leave the door open."

General D'Hubert made a movement towards the divan, but then Adèle
sat up and that checked him dead. He thought, "I haven't washed this
morning. I must look like an old tramp. There's earth on the back of
my coat, and pine needles in my hair." It occurred to him that the
situation required a good deal of circumspection on his part.

"I am greatly concerned, mademoiselle," he began timidly, and abandoned
that line. She was sitting up on the divan with her cheeks
unusually pink, and her hair brilliantly fair, falling all over her
shoulders - which was a very novel sight to the general. He walked away
up the room and, looking out of the window for safety, said: "I fear you
must think I behaved like a madman," in accents of sincere despair....
Then he spun round and noticed that she had followed him with her eyes.
They were not cast down on meeting his glance. And the expression of her
face was novel to him also. It was, one might have said, reversed. Her
eyes looked at him with grave thoughtfulness, while the exquisite lines
of her mouth seemed to suggest a restrained smile. This change made her
transcendental beauty much less mysterious, much more accessible to a
man's comprehension. An amazing ease of mind came to the general - and
even some ease of manner. He walked down the room with as much
pleasurable excitement as he would have found in walking up to a battery
vomiting death, fire, and smoke, then stood looking down with smiling
eyes at the girl whose marriage with him (next week) had been so
carefully arranged by the wise, the good, the admirable Léonie.

"Ah, mademoiselle," he said in a tone of courtly deference. "If I could
be certain that you did not come here this morning only from a sense of
duty to your mother!"

He waited for an answer, imperturbable but inwardly elated. It came in a
demure murmur, eyelashes lowered with fascinating effect.

"You mustn't be _méchant_ as well as mad."

And then General D'Hubert made an aggressive movement towards the divan
which nothing could check. This piece of furniture was not exactly in
the line of the open door. But Madame Léonie, coming back wrapped up in
a light cloak and carrying a lace shawl on her arm for Adèle to hide
her incriminating hair under, had a vague impression of her brother
getting-up from his knees.

"Come along, my dear child," she cried from the doorway.

The general, now himself again in the fullest sense, showed the
readiness of a resourceful cavalry officer and the peremptoriness of a
leader of men.

"You don't expect her to walk to the carriage," he protested. "She isn't
fit. I will carry her downstairs."

This he did slowly, followed by his awed and respectful sister. But he
rushed back like a whirlwind to wash away all the signs of the night of
anguish and the morning of war, and to put on the festive garments of a
conqueror before hurrying over to the other house. Had it not been for
that, General D'Hubert felt capable of mounting a horse and pursuing his
late adversary in order simply to embrace him from excess of happiness.
"I owe this piece of luck to that stupid brute," he thought. "This duel
has made plain in one morning what might have taken me years to find
out - for I am a timid fool. No self-confidence whatever. Perfect coward.
And the Chevalier! Dear old man!" General D'Hubert longed to embrace
him, too.

The Chevalier was in bed. For several days he was much indisposed. The
men of the empire, and the post-revolution young ladies, were too much
for him. He got up the day before the wedding, and being curious by
nature, took his niece aside for a quiet talk. He advised her to find
out from her husband the true story of the affair of honour, whose claim
so imperative and so persistent had led her to within an ace of tragedy.
"It is very proper that his wife should know. And next month or so
will be your time to learn from him anything you ought to know, my dear
child."

Later on when the married couple came on a visit to the mother of the
bride, Madame la Générale D'Hubert made no difficulty in communicating
to her beloved old uncle what she had learned without any difficulty
from her husband. The Chevalier listened with profound attention to the
end, then took a pinch of snuff, shook the grains of tobacco off the
frilled front of his shirt, and said calmly: "And that's all what it
was."

"Yes, uncle," said Madame la Générale, opening her pretty eyes very
wide. "Isn't it funny? _C'est insensé_ - to think what men are capable
of."

"H'm," commented the old _émigré_. "It depends what sort of men. That
Bonaparte's soldiers were savages. As a wife, my dear, it is proper for
you to believe implicitly what your husband says."

But to Léonie's husband the Chevalier confided his true opinion.
"If that's the tale the fellow made up for his wife, and during the
honeymoon, too, you may depend on it no one will ever know the secret of
this affair."

Considerably later still, General D'Hubert judged the time come, and the
opportunity propitious to write a conciliatory letter to General Feraud.
"I have never," protested the General Baron D'Hubert, "wished for your
death during all the time of our deplorable quarrel. Allow me to give
you back in all form your forfeited life. We two, who have been partners
in so much military glory, should be friendly to each other publicly."

The same letter contained also an item of domestic information. It was
alluding to this last that General Feraud answered from a little village
on the banks of the Garonne:

"If one of your boy's names had been Napoleon, or Joseph, or even
Joachim, I could congratulate you with a better heart. As you have
thought proper to name him Charles Henri Armand I am confirmed in my
conviction that you never loved the emperor. The thought of that sublime
hero chained to a rock in the middle of a savage ocean makes life of so
little value that I would receive with positive joy your instructions to
blow my brains out. From suicide I consider myself in honour debarred.
But I keep a loaded pistol in my drawer."

Madame la Générale D'Hubert lifted up her hands in horror after perusing
that letter.

"You see? He won't be reconciled," said her husband. "We must take care
that he never, by any chance, learns where the money he lives on comes
from. It would be simply appalling."

"You are a _brave homme_, Armand," said Madame la Générale
appreciatively.

"My dear, I had the right to blow his brains out - strictly speaking.
But as I did not we can't let him starve. He has been deprived of his
pension for 'breach of military discipline' when he broke bounds to
fight his last duel with me. He's crippled with rheumatism. We are
bound to take care of him to the end of his days. And, after all, I
am indebted to him for the radiant discovery that you loved me a
little - you sly person. Ha! Ha! Two miles, running all the way!... It is
extraordinary how all through this affair that man has managed to engage
my deeper feelings."

THE END







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Online LibraryJoseph ConradThe Point Of Honor A Military Tale → online text (page 8 of 8)