The Man Who Was Thursday
10. The Duel
SYME sat down at a cafe table with his companions, his blue eyes sparkling like
the bright sea below, and ordered a bottle of Saumur with a pleased impatience.
He was for some reason in a condition of curious hilarity. His spirits were already
unnaturally high; they rose as the Saumur sank, and in half an hour his talk was
a torrent of nonsense. He professed to be making out a plan of the conversation
which was going to ensue between himself and the deadly Marquis. He jotted it
down wildly with a pencil. It was arranged like a printed catechism, with questions
and answers, and was delivered with an extraordinary rapidity of utterance.
"I shall approach. Before taking off his hat, I shall take off my own. I shall say,
'The Marquis de Saint Eustache, I believe.' He will say, 'The celebrated Mr.
Syme, I presume.' He will say in the most exquisite French, 'How are you?' I shall
reply in the most exquisite Cockney, 'Oh, just the Syme--' "
"Oh, shut it," said the man in spectacles. "Pull yourself together, and chuck away
that bit of paper. What are you really going to do?"
"But it was a lovely catechism," said Syme pathetically. "Do let me read it you. It
has only forty-three questions and answers, and some of the Marquis's answers
are wonderfully witty. I like to be just to my enemy."
"But what's the good of it all?" asked Dr. Bull in exasperation.
"It leads up to my challenge, don't you see," said Syme, beaming. "When the
Marquis has given the thirty-ninth reply, which runs--"
"Has it by any chance occurred to you," asked the Professor, with a ponderous
simplicity, "that the Marquis may not say all the forty-three things you have put
down for him? In that case, I understand, your own epigrams may appear
somewhat more forced."
Syme struck the table with a radiant face.
"Why, how true that is," he said, "and I never thought of it. Sir, you have an
intellect beyond the common. You will make a name."
"Oh, you're as drunk as an owl!" said the Doctor.
"It only remains," continued Syme quite unperturbed, "to adopt some other
method of breaking the ice (if I may so express it) between myself and the man I
wish to kill. And since the course of a dialogue cannot be predicted by one of its
parties alone (as you have pointed out with such recondite acumen), the only