I am astonished that M. Fourtou should ever have agreed to so strange an innovation. Go at once and require a later hour."
I ran downstairs, threw open the front door, and almost plunged into the arms of M. Fourtou's second. He said:
"I have the honor to say that my principal strenuously objects to the hour chosen, and begs you will consent to change it to half past nine."
"Any courtesy, sir, which it is in our power to extend is at the service of your excellent principal. We agree to the proposed change of time."
"I beg you to accept the thanks of my client." Then he turned to a person behind him, and said, "You hear, M. Noir, the hour is altered to half past nine." Whereupon M. Noir bowed, expressed his thanks, and went away. My accomplice continued:
"If agreeable to you, your chief surgeons and ours shall proceed to the field in the same carriage as is customary."
"It is entirely agreeable to me, and I am obliged to you for mentioning the surgeons, for I am afraid I should not have thought of them. How many shall I want? I supposed two or three will be enough?"
"Two is the customary number for each party. I refer to 'chief' surgeons; but considering the exalted positions occupied by our clients, it will be well and decorous that each of us appoint several consulting surgeons, from among the highest in the profession. These will come in their own private carriages. Have you engaged a hearse?"
"Bless my stupidity, I never thought of it! I will attend to it right away. I must seem very ignorant to you; but you must try to overlook that, because I have never had any experience of such a swell duel as this before. I have had a good deal to do with duels on the Pacific coast, but I see now that they were crude affairs. A hearse--sho! we used to leave the elected lying around loose, and let anybody cord them up and cart them off that wanted to. Have you anything further to suggest?"
"Nothing, except that the head undertakers shall ride together, as is usual. The subordinates and mutes will go on foot, as is also usual. I will see you at eight o'clock in the morning, and we will then arrange the order of the procession. I have the honor to bid you a good day."
I returned to my client, who said, "Very well; at what hour is the engagement to begin?"
"Half past nine."
"Very good indeed.; Have you sent the fact to the newspapers?"
"SIR! If after our long and intimate friendship you can for a moment deem me capable of so base a treachery--"
"Tut, tut! What words are these, my dear friend? Have I wounded you? Ah, forgive me; I am overloading you with labor. Therefore go on with the other details, and drop this one from your list. The bloody-minded Fourtou will be sure to attend to it. Or I myself--yes, to make certain, I will drop a note to my journalistic friend, M. Noir--"
"Oh, come to think of it, you may save yourself the trouble; that other second has informed M. Noir."
"H'm! I might have known it. It is just like that Fourtou, who always wants to make a display."
At half past nine in the morning the procession approached the field of Plessis-Piquet in the following order: first came our carriage--nobody in it but M. Gambetta and myself; then a carriage containing M. Fourtou and his second; then a carriage containing two poet-orators who did not believe in God, and these had MS. funeral orations projecting from their breast pockets; then a carriage containing the head surgeons and their cases of instruments; then eight private carriages containing consulting surgeons; then a hack containing a coroner; then the two hearses; then a carriage containing the head undertakers; then a train of assistants and mutes on foot; and after these came plodding through the fog a long procession of camp followers, police, and citizens generally. It was a noble turnout, and would have made a fine display if we had had thinner weather.
There was no conversation. I spoke several times to my principal, but I judge he was not aware of it, for he always referred to his note-book and muttered absently, "I die that France might live."
Arrived on the field, my fellow-second and I paced off the thirty-five yards, and then drew lots for choice of position.