Guy de Maupassant Fullscreen Dear friend (1885)

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He meant to fight, his mind was firmly made up to do so, and yet it seemed to him that, despite every effort of will, he could not retain strength enough to go to the place appointed for the meeting.

From time to time his teeth absolutely chattered, and he asked himself:

"Has my adversary been out before?

Is he a frequenter of the shooting galleries?

Is he known and classed as a shot?"

He had never heard his name mentioned.

And yet, if this man was not a remarkably good pistol shot, he would scarcely have accepted that dangerous weapon without discussion or hesitation.

Then Duroy pictured to himself their meeting, his own attitude, and the bearing of his opponent.

He wearied himself in imagining the slightest details of the duel, and all at once saw in front of him the little round black hole in the barrel from which the ball was about to issue.

He was suddenly seized with a fit of terrible despair.

His whole body quivered, shaken by short, sharp shudderings.

He clenched his teeth to avoid crying out, and was assailed by a wild desire to roll on the ground, to tear something to pieces, to bite.

But he caught sight of a glass on the mantelpiece, and remembered that there was in the cupboard a bottle of brandy almost full, for he had kept up a military habit of a morning dram.

He seized the bottle and greedily drank from its mouth in long gulps.

He only put it down when his breath failed him.

It was a third empty.

A warmth like that of flame soon kindled within his body, and spreading through his limbs, buoyed up his mind by deadening his thoughts.

He said to himself: "I have hit upon the right plan."

And as his skin now seemed burning he reopened the window.

Day was breaking, calm and icy cold.

On high the stars seemed dying away in the brightening sky, and in the deep cutting of the railway, the red, green, and white signal lamps were paling.

The first locomotives were leaving the engine shed, and went off whistling, to be coupled to the first trains.

Others, in the distance, gave vent to shrill and repeated screeches, their awakening cries, like cocks of the country.

Duroy thought: "Perhaps I shall never see all this again."

But as he felt that he was going again to be moved by the prospect of his own fate, he fought against it strongly, saying:

"Come, I must not think of anything till the moment of the meeting; it is the only way to keep up my pluck."

And he set about his toilet.

He had another moment of weakness while shaving, in thinking that it was perhaps the last time he should see his face.

But he swallowed another mouthful of brandy, and finished dressing.

The hour which followed was difficult to get through.

He walked up and down, trying to keep from thinking.

When he heard a knock at the door he almost dropped, so violent was the shock to him.

It was his seconds.

Already!

They were wrapped up in furs, and Rival, after shaking his principal's hand, said:

"It is as cold as Siberia."

Then he added: "Well, how goes it?"

"Very well."

"You are quite steady?"

"Quite."

"That's it; we shall get on all right.

Have you had something to eat and drink?"

"Yes; I don't need anything."

Boisrenard, in honor of the occasion, sported a foreign order, yellow and green, that Duroy had never seen him display before.

They went downstairs.

A gentleman was awaiting them in the carriage.

Rival introduced him as "Doctor Le Brument."

Duroy shook hands, saying, "I am very much obliged to you," and sought to take his place on the front seat. He sat down on something hard that made him spring up again, as though impelled by a spring.

It was the pistol case.

Rival observed: "No, the back seat for the doctor and the principal, the back seat."