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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Black Robe - Before The Story - Chapter 4
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The Black Robe - Before The Story - Chapter 4 Post by :Priscilla Category :Long Stories Author :Wilkie Collins Date :May 2012 Read :1590

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The Black Robe - Before The Story - Chapter 4

BEFORE THE STORY
CHAPTER IV

IN consenting to receive the General's representative, it is needless to say that I merely desired to avoid provoking another quarrel. If those persons were really impudent enough to call at the hotel, I had arranged to threaten them with the interference of the police, and so to put an end to the matter. Romayne expressed no opinion on the subject, one way or the other. His conduct inspired me with a feeling of uneasiness. The filthy insult of which he had been made the object seemed to be rankling in his mind. He went away thoughtfully to his own room. "Have you nothing to say to me?" I asked. He only answered: "Wait till to-morrow."

The next day the seconds appeared.

I had expected to see two of the men with whom we had dined. To my astonishment, the visitors proved to be officers of the General's regiment. They brought proposals for a hostile meeting the next morning; the choice of weapons being left to Romayne as the challenged man.

It was now quite plain to me that the General's peculiar method of card-playing had, thus far, not been discovered and exposed. He might keep doubtful company, and might (as I afterward heard) be suspected in certain quarters. But that he still had, formally-speaking, a reputation to preserve, was proved by the appearance of the two gentlemen present as his representatives. They declared, with evident sincerity, that Romayne had made a fatal mistake; had provoked the insult offered to him; and had resented it by a brutal and cowardly outrage. As a man and a soldier, the General was doubly bound to insist on a duel. No apology would be accepted, even if an apology were offered.

In this emergency, as I understood it, there was but one course to follow. I refused to receive the challenge.

Being asked for my reasons, I found it necessary to speak within certain limits. Though we knew the General to be a cheat, it was a delicate matter to dispute his right to claim satisfaction, when he had found two officers to carry his message. I produced the seized cards (which Romayne had brought away with him in his pocket), and offered them as a formal proof that my friend had not been mistaken.

The seconds--evidently prepared for this circumstance by their principal--declined to examine the cards. In the first place, they said, not even the discovery of foul play (supposing the discovery to have been really made) could justify Romayne's conduct. In the second place, the General's high character made it impossible, under any circumstances, that he could be responsible. Like ourselves, he had rashly associated with bad company; and he had been the innocent victim of an error or a fraud, committed by some other person present at the table.

Driven to my last resource, I could now only base my refusal to receive the challenge on the ground that we were Englishmen, and that the practice of dueling had been abolished in England. Both the seconds at once declined to accept this statement in justification of my conduct.

"You are now in France," said the elder of the two, "where a duel is the established remedy for an insult, among gentlemen. You are bound to respect the social laws of the country in which you are for the time residing. If you refuse to do so, you lay yourselves open to a public imputation on your courage, of a nature too degrading to be more particularly alluded to. Let us adjourn this interview for three hours on the ground of informality. We ought to confer with _two gentlemen, acting on Mr. Romayne's behalf. Be prepared with another second to meet us, and reconsider your decision before we call again."

The Frenchmen had barely taken their departure by one door, when Romayne entered by another.

"I have heard it all," he said, quietly. "Accept the challenge."

I declare solemnly that I left no means untried of opposing my friend's resolution. No man could have felt more strongly convinced than I did, that nothing could justify the course he was taking. My remonstrances were completely thrown away. He was deaf to sense and reason, from the moment when he had heard an imputation on his courage suggested as a possible result of any affair in which he was concerned.

"With your views," he said, "I won't ask you to accompany me to the ground. I can easily find French seconds. And mind this, if you attempt to prevent the meeting, the duel will take place elsewhere--and our friendship is at an end from that moment."

After this, I suppose it is needless to add that I accompanied him to the ground the next morning as one of his seconds.

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