Read CHAPTER VII of A Diplomatic Adventure , free online book, by Silas Weir Mitchell, on

“As I turned to go he said: ’May I ask you to sit down? Now that I know you to be of your legation, and I being, as you are aware, in the Foreign Office, an affair between us would be for both services unadvisable. Having left myself in the hands of my friends, I am now doing, as you will understand, an unusual thing; but whatever may be the result, I feel that, as a gentleman, you will hold me excused. There was a woman in your carriage. Of course our police found the cabman and got it out of him. I have no direct personal interest in her none; nor can I explain myself further. I regret that in the annoyance of my failure to effect my purpose I was guilty of a grave discourtesy. If you had told me that you would send your seconds to me to-day, I should have felt that you were fully justified. I can very well afford to say that I owe you an apology; and, fortunately, my friends will have learned that I sent them to the wrong man and will return for instructions. If, however, you feel ’

“‘Oh, no,’ I said; ’pardon me, I am quite willing to forget an unfortunate incident, and to add that the lady, by the merest accident, took shelter from the rain in my carriage. I never met her before.’

“I saw at once that he had a look of what I took to be relief. He smiled, became quite cordial, and when I added that whatever I might have said or done the night before was really unavoidable, he returned that it was quite true that he had been hasty, and that, as he had said very little to his friends, it would rest between us.

“As I rose to go, I could not help saying that the remarkably good looks of the woman made my conduct the more excusable.

“‘Yes,’ he said; ‘at least she is handsome, but ’ and here he paused and then added, ’I hope before long to have the pleasure of presenting you to my wife.’

“I thanked him.”

“One moment,” said Merton, “before you go on. It is clear that the woman is a lady; that he was wildly eager to catch her, and especially at that time; that, being foiled, he lost his temper; that he believes you, or makes believe to do so; and, finally, that he is sensible enough to know that a duel with an American secretary is undesirable. You let him off easy.”

“I did, but I had the same kind of reason to avoid a hostile meeting that he has. Moreover, he is really a charming fellow, and it must have cost him something to apologize.”

“But about the woman who set all these pots a-boiling I beg pardon, simmering ”

“Oh, the woman. I hope I may never see her again.”

“You will. That fellow Alphonse will find her.”

“I hope not. But what a mess! cherchez la femme!

“That we must do,” laughed Merton. “The mosquitoes illustrate the proverb: only the females bite. Good, that, isn’t it? But what next? I interrupted you. You are out of it, but where do I come in? What about Porthos and that little red weasel Aramis?”

“And D’Artagnan?” I laughed.

“If you like, Greville. You are complimentary. Was that all?”

“No. The count said, ’I will at once write to Captain Merton and apologize, but I fancy my friends have already done so.’ I was about to take leave of the count when in walked the baron, behind the biggest mustache in Paris, a ponderous person. ‘Shade of Dumas!’ I muttered; ‘Porthos! Porthos!’ Behind him was a much-made-up little fellow, the colonel your Aramis.”

“Oh, drop him. He is what the arithmeticians call a negligible quantity. What next?”

“The count said, ’Allow me to present M. Greville of the American Legation the Baron la Garde, my cousin, and the Colonel St. Pierre.’ We bowed, and the count said, ’M. Greville is somewhat concerned in the affair in which you have been so kind as to act for me.’

“The two gentlemen looked a little bewildered, but bowed again and sat down, while the count added: ’You may speak freely. I suppose M. Merton explained that he was not the person.’”

“Oh, by all that’s jolly! what a situation for the stage! A match, please. What next?”

“The baron spoke first. ‘I do not understand you, my dear count.’

“The count said: ’Why not? It was very simple. I presume you to have said that you regretted the mistake, and then I suppose you apologized and came away to report to me. I am sorry to have sent you on a fruitless errand. Kindly tell us what passed.’

“The colonel sat up, and, as I thought, was a little embarrassed. He said: ’With your permission, baron, I shall have the honor to relate our conversation. We put the matter, count, as you desired. You had been insulted. What explanation had M. Merton to offer? Then this amazing American said that it was not true that he had insulted you; that he had not given you his card; that he had never seen you; that it was a droll mistake “that you were unfortunate in your friends.” I think I am correct, baron?’

“‘Yes. I so understood it.’

“’Then you said, as I recall it, baron, that that there was only one word to apply to a man who could insult another and try to escape the consequences. Then he said well, to cut it short, he would send his friends to us, and that, as he was the challenged party, it would save time if he now declared it must be rifles or revolvers or, yes, what he called bowie. What that is I know not.’”

“Lovely!” murmured Merton. “Go on.”

“I explained to the count’s friends that the bowie was a big knife with which our Western gentlemen chopped one another. The count sat still, with a look of repressed mirth, I choking with the fun of it, Aramis fidgeting, the baron swelling with rage. The count asked if that were all.

“Aramis went on: ’When I assured M. Merton that the methods proposed were barbarous, he made himself unpleasant, and I was forced to say that his language was of such incorrectness in fact, so monstrous that as a French soldier I held him personally responsible. The animal assured me that when he was through with you and the baron, he would attend to my own case. I grieve to admit, count, that our friend the baron, usually so amiable, had previously lost his temper. That was when our brigand proposed revolvers and the knife-bowie, and said we were difficult.’

“‘I did,’ said the baron; ’I, who am all that there is of amiable. Yes, I lost my temper.’ He stood up as he went on. ’I said it was uncivilized, that it was no jest, but a grave matter. Mon Dieu! That man, he told me that we fought with knitting-needles, that our duels were baby-play me me he said that to me! What could I reply? I said I should ask him to retract. That man laughed a faire peur the room shook. Then he said to excuse him, it was so what he called “damn nonsense.” I think, colonel, I am correct? What means that, M. Greville damn nonsense?’

“‘English for very interesting,’ said I, not wishing to aggravate the situation.

“‘Ah, thanks,’ said Aramis. ’This American he was pleasant of a sudden, and would be happy to hear from us all. He did regret that I came third, but that after he had killed you and the baron he would be most happy to kill me. Mon Dieu! we shall see. It remains to await his friends. I shall kill him.’

“‘Pardon me,’ said the baron; ‘he belongs to me.’

“Meanwhile the count’s face was a study. What it cost him not to explode into laughter I shall never guess except by my knowledge of the internal convulsions of my own organs of mirth. But Athos I like him. He said at last very quietly: ’Here, gentlemen, are three duels a fair morning’s work. May I ask you, M. Greville, if you know Captain Merton? I mean well.’”

“Lord, what a chance! What did you say?”

“I saw what he meant, and said you were a captain in our army, had been twice wounded, and were here to recruit your health; that you were of first force with the rifle and revolver, but knew nothing of the small sword.

“The baron’s shoulders were lifted and he spread out huge hands of disgust. ’But these weapons are impossible. Only a semi-civilized people could desire to employ the weapons of savages.’

“‘Pardon me,’ I said; ’I presume that the rifle and revolver are both used in your service; and, also, may I ask you to remember that I, too, am an American?’

“‘That does not alter my opinion. If monsieur ’

“‘Oh, stop, stop!’ cried the count. ’M. Greville is my guest. He will allow me to reply. Do you mean to create four duels in a day? My dear cousin will recall his words.’

“‘My dear cousin’ did not like it, but said stiffly, ’So far as M. Greville is concerned, I withdraw them.’

“I bowed and said: ’Permit me, count. These gentlemen, as it seems to me, have put you and themselves in the position of challengers, which everywhere gives to the challenged party the right to choose his weapon. As M. Merton’s friends will abide by his decision, your own seconds must, I fancy, accept what is or would be usual with us. They have no choice except to decline and allow their refusal to be made public, as it will be, or to choose one of the three weapons so generously offered.’

“The baron glared at me, the colonel was silent, and the count said: ’M. Greville is correct. I regret to have been the means of putting you in a false position. M. Greville has come to explain to me that in the darkness of the night, when our vehicles came together and we said some angry words, he gave me by mistake the card of M. Capitaine Merton. M. Greville and I you will pardon me have amicably arranged our little trouble, as I shall tell you more fully.’”

“Oh, joy!” cried Merton; “close of fourth act. Every one on but D’Artagnan and the woman. Athos, Porthos, Aramis! What next? Was there ever anything more dramatically all that could be desired? What next?”

“The count was very pleasant, and thought only a little explanation was required to reconcile his friends and the captain. This by no means satisfied Porthos.

“The baron said he would fight with a cannon if necessary, and he will. Aramis is degenerate. He observed that it would require consideration. Then the count said: ’The captain’s ideas are certainly somewhat original, and why not leave it to M. Greville and me and such others as we may choose?’

“I was well pleased. Whether they were or not, I cannot tell. They said, however, a variety of agreeable nothings, and I am to see the count to-morrow. He kept Porthos and Aramis and, I suspect, gave the two fools a lecture.”

“Well, well,” said Merton. “When I left the regiment I thought I was out of the world of adventure.”

“Oh, this is comic opera. I do not suppose that you really want to fight these idiots.”

“No; but I will, if they desire to be thus amused. Otherwise there will have to be some word-eating. I was not bluffing.”

“Porthos will stick it out. You won’t be too stiff-necked, I trust.”

“Oh, no. I leave myself in your hands I mean absolutely; and I want also to say, Greville, that this queer affair ought to make us friends.”

“It has,” I returned with warmth. “You dine with the minister next week, I believe.”

“Yes, Monday.”

We talked for a few minutes of the campaigns at home, and then he returned to the subject which just now more immediately interested him. “What about that woman? I have an impression that we are not at the end, but at the beginning, of an adventure. Are you not curious?”

“Yes, I am, and my curiosity has ripened. There may be some politics in the matter, just as you say. If, as is barely possible, it is our international affairs that are involved, it is my duty to follow it up and to know more. But how to follow it up? In what way an unknown American lady can be concerned in them, I am unable to imagine. This, however, is, I think, certain, the count did not want to be involved in an affair of honor about this lady. We were to be supposed to have quarreled over cards. He wanted her to disappear from the scene. But why?”

“Well, it is late,” said Merton, looking at the clock. “Good night. I shall stay at home to-morrow until I hear from you and the count.”

I may add that Merton at once accepted the count’s explanation and called on him. The affair of Baron Porthos and my friend proved more difficult. Both declined to apologize. Somehow, it got out at the clubs, and Paris was gaily amused over paragraphs about the Wild West man who would fight only with the knife-bowie. Merton was furious, and I had hard work to keep him within bounds.

Meanwhile the count and another gentleman met me, a friend of mine, Lieutenant West, a naval officer, and made vain efforts to bring about peace or a duel with swords; at which Merton only laughed, saying that when he went “a-cat-fishing, he went a-cat-fishing,” a piece of national wisdom which I found myself incompetent to make clear to my French friends. Aramis was easier to manage than his namesake. Meanwhile, our minister was very much troubled over the matter, and the count hardly less so. But Porthos was as inexorable as his namesake, and Merton merely obstinate. It was what the count described as an impasse.