The Companions of Jehu
4. The Duel
The road was passable only from Avignon to l'Isle. They covered the nine miles
between the two places in an hour. During this hour Roland, as he resolved to
shorten the time for his travelling companion, was witty and animated, and their
approach to the duelling ground only served to redouble his gayety. To one
unacquainted with the object of this drive, the menace of dire peril impending
over this young man, with his continuous flow of conversation and incessant
laughter, would have seemed incredible.
At the village of l'Isle they were obliged to leave the carriage. Finding on inquiry
that they were the first to arrive, they entered the path which led to the fountain.
"Oh! oh!" exclaimed Roland, "there ought to be a fine echo here." And he gave
one or two cries to which Echo replied with perfect amiability.
"By my faith!" said the young man, "this is a marvellous echo. I know none save
that of the Seinonnetta, at Milan, which can compare with it. Listen, my lord."
And he began, with modulations which revealed an admirable voice and an
excellent method, to sing a Tyrolean song which seemed to bid defiance to the
human throat with its rebellious music. Sir John watched Roland, and listened to
him with an astonishment which he no longer took the trouble to conceal. When
the last note had died away among the cavities of the mountain, he exclaimed:
"God bless me! but I think your liver is out of order."
Roland started and looked at him interrogatively. But seeing that Sir John did not
intend to say more, he asked:
"Good! What makes you think so?"
"You are too noisily gay not to be profoundly melancholy."
"And that anomaly astonishes you?"
"Nothing astonishes me, because I know that it has always its reason for
"True, and it's all in knowing the secret. Well, I'm going to enlighten you."
"Oh! I don't want to force you."
"You're too polite to do that; still, you must admit you would be glad to have your
mind set at rest about me."
"Because I'm interested in you."
"Well, Sir John, I am going to tell you the secret of the enigma, something I have
never done with any one before. For all my seeming good health, I am suffering
from a horrible aneurism that causes me spasms of weakness and faintness so
frequent as to shame even a woman. I spend my life taking the most ridiculous
precautions, and yet Larrey warns me that I am liable to die any moment, as the
diseased artery in my breast may burst at the least exertion. Judge for yourself
how pleasant for a soldier! You can understand that, once I understood my
condition, I determined incontinently to die with all the glory possible. Another
more fortunate than I would have succeeded a hundred times already. But I'm
bewitched; I am impervious alike to bullets and balls; even the swords seem to
fear to shatter themselves upon my skin. Yet I never miss an opportunity; that
you must see, after what occurred at dinner. Well, we are going to fight. I'll