Chapter 7 A Duel with an End

Charles’s absence gave Duroy a more important position on “La Vie Francaise.” Only one matter arose to annoy him, otherwise his sky was cloudless.

An insignificant paper, “La Plume,” attacked him constantly, or rather attacked the editor of the “Echoes” of “La Vie Francaise.”

Jacques Rival said to him one day: “You are very forbearing.”

“What should I do? It is no direct attack.”

But, one afternoon when he entered the office, Boisrenard handed him a number of “La Plume.”

“See, here is another unpleasant remark for you.”

“Relative to what?”

“To the arrest of one Dame Aubert.”

Georges took the paper and read a scathing personal denunciation. Duroy, it seems, had written an item claiming that Dame Aubert who, as the editor of “La Plume,” claimed, had been put under arrest, was a myth. The latter retaliated by accusing Duroy of receiving bribes and of suppressing matter that should be published.

As Saint-Potin entered, Duroy asked him: “Have you seen the paragraph in ‘La Plume’?”

“Yes, and I have just come from Dame Aubert’s; she is no myth, but she has not been arrested; that report has no foundation.”

Duroy went at once to M. Walter’s office. After hearing the case, the manager bade him go to the woman’s house himself, find out the details, and reply, to the article.

Duroy set out upon his errand and on his return to the office, wrote the following:

“An anonymous writer in ‘La Plume’ is trying to pick a quarrel

with me on the subject of an old woman who, he claims, was

arrested for disorderly conduct, which I deny. I have myself

seen Dame Aubert, who is sixty years old at least; she told me

the particulars of her dispute with a butcher as to the weight

of some cutlets, which dispute necessitated an explanation

before a magistrate. That is the whole truth in a nutshell. As

for the other insinuations I scorn them. One never should reply

to such things, moreover, when they are written under a mask.

GEORGES DUROY.”

M. Walter and Jacques Rival considered that sufficient, and it was decided that it should be published in that day’s issue.

Duroy returned home rather agitated and uneasy. What would this opponent reply? Who was he? Why that attack? He passed a restless night. When he re-read his article in the paper the next morning, he thought it more aggressive in print than it was in writing. He might, it seemed to him, have softened certain terms. He was excited all day and feverish during-the night. He rose early to obtain an issue of “La Plume” which should contain the reply to his note. He ran his eyes over the columns and at first saw nothing. He was beginning to breathe more freely when these words met his eye:

“M. Duroy of ‘La Vie Francaise’ gives us the lie! In doing so,

he lies. He owns, however, that a woman named Aubert exists,

and that she was taken before a magistrate by an agent. Two

words only remain to be added to the word ‘agent,’ which are

‘of morals’ and all is told. But the consciences of certain

journalists are on a par with their talents.”

“I sign myself, Louis Langremont.”

Georges’s heart throbbed violently, and he returned home in order to dress himself. He had been insulted and in such a manner that it was impossible to hesitate. Why had he been insulted? For nothing! On account of an old woman who had quarreled with her butcher.

He dressed hastily and repaired to M. Walter’s house, although it was scarcely eight o’clock. M. Walter was reading “La Plume.”

“Well,” he said gravely, on perceiving Duroy, “you cannot let that pass.” The young man did not reply.

The manager continued: “Go at once in search of Rival, who will look after your interests.”

Duroy stammered several vague words and set out for Rival’s house. Jacques was still in bed, but he rose when the bell rang, and having read the insulting paragraph, said: “Whom would you like to have besides me?”

“I do not know.”

“Boisrenard?”

“Yes.”

“Are you a good swordsman?”

“No.”

“A good shot?”

“I have used a pistol a good deal.”

“Good! Come and exercise while I attend to everything. Wait a moment.”

He entered his dressing-room and soon reappeared, washed, shaven, and presentable.

“Come with me,” said he. He lived on the ground floor, and he led Duroy into a cellar converted into a room for the practice of fencing and shooting. He produced a pair of pistols and began to give his orders as briefly as if they were on the dueling ground. He was well satisfied with Duroy’s use of the weapons, and told him to remain there and practice until noon, when he would return to take him to lunch and tell him the result of his mission. Left to his own devices, Duroy aimed at the target several times and then sat down to reflect.

Such affairs were abominable anyway! What would a respectable man gain by risking his life? And he recalled Norbert de Varenne’s remarks, made to him a short while before. “He was right!” he declared aloud. It was gloomy in that cellar, as gloomy as in a tomb. What o’clock was it? The time dragged slowly on. Suddenly he heard footsteps, voices, and Jacques Rival reappeared accompanied by Boisrenard. The former cried on perceiving Duroy: “All is settled!”

Duroy thought the matter had terminated with a letter of apology; his heart gave a bound and he stammered: “Ah — thank you!”

Rival continued: “M. Langremont has accepted every condition. Twenty-five paces, fire when the pistol is leveled and the order given.” Then he added: “Now let us lunch; it is past twelve o’clock.”

They repaired to a neighboring restaurant. Duroy was silent. He ate that they might not think he was frightened, and went in the afternoon with Boisrenard to the office, where he worked in an absent, mechanical manner. Before leaving, Jacques Rival shook hands with him and warned him that he and Boisrenard would call for him in a carriage the next morning at seven o’clock to repair to the wood at Vesinet, where the meeting was to take place.

All had been settled without his saying a word, giving his opinion, accepting or refusing, with such rapidity that his brain whirled and he scarcely knew what was taking place. He returned home about nine o’clock in the evening after having dined with Boisrenard, who had not left him all day. When he was alone, he paced the floor; he was too confused to think. One thought alone filled his mind and that was: a duel to-morrow! He sat down and began to meditate. He had thrown upon his table his adversary’s card brought him by Rival. He read it for the twentieth time that day:

“Louis LANGREMONT,

176 Rue Montmartre.”

Nothing more! Who was the man? How old was he? How tall? How did he look? How odious that a total stranger should without rhyme or reason, out of pure caprice, annoy him thus on account of an old, woman’s quarrel with her butcher! He said aloud: “The brute!” and glared angrily at the card.

He began to feel nervous; the sound of his voice made him start; he drank a glass of water and laid down. He turned from his right side to his left uneasily. He was thirsty; he rose, he felt restless

“Am I afraid?” he asked himself.

Why did his heart palpitate so wildly at the slightest sound? He began to reason philosophically on the possibility of being afraid. No, certainly he was not, since he was ready to fight. Still he felt so deeply moved that he wondered if one could be afraid in spite of oneself. What would happen if that state of things should exist? If he should tremble or lose his presence of mind? He lighted his candle and looked in the glass; he scarcely recognized his own face, it was so changed.

Suddenly he thought: “To-morrow at this time I may be dead.” He turned to his couch and saw himself stretched lifeless upon it. He hastened to the window and opened it; but the night air was so chilly that he closed it, lighted a fire, and began to pace the floor once more, saying mechanically: “I must be more composed. I will write to my parents, in case of accident.” He took a sheet of paper and after several attempts began:

“My dear father and mother:”

“At daybreak I am going to fight a duel, and as something

might happen —”

He could write no more, he rose with a shudder. It seemed to him that notwithstanding his efforts, he would not have the strength necessary to face the meeting. He wondered if his adversary had ever fought before; if he were known? He had never heard his name. However, if he had not been a remarkable shot, he would not have accepted that dangerous weapon without hesitation. He ground his teeth to prevent his crying aloud. Suddenly he remembered that he had a bottle of brandy; he fetched it from the cupboard and soon emptied it. Now he felt his blood course more warmly through his veins. “I have found a means,” said he.

Day broke. He began to dress; when his heart failed him, he took more brandy. At length there was a knock at the door. His friends had come; they were wrapped in furs. After shaking hands, Rival said: “It is as cold as Siberia. Is all well?”

“Yes.”

“Are you calm?”

“Very calm.”

“Have you eaten and drunk something?”

“I do not need anything.”

They descended the stairs. A gentleman was seated in the carriage. Rival said: “Dr. Le Brument.” Duroy shook hands with him and stammered: “Thank you,” as he entered the carriage. Jacques Rival and Boisrenard followed him, and the coachman drove off. He knew where to go.

The conversation flagged, although the doctor related a number of anecdotes. Rival alone replied to him. Duroy tried to appear self- possessed, but he was haunted continually by the fear of showing his feelings or of losing his self-possession. Rival addressed him, saying: “I took the pistols to Gastine Renette. He loaded them. The box is sealed.”

Duroy replied mechanically: “Thank you.”

Then Rival proceeded to give him minute directions, that he might make no mistakes. Duroy repeated those directions as children learn their lessons in order to impress them upon his memory. As he muttered the phrases over and over, he almost prayed that some accident might happen to the carriage; if he could only break his leg!

At the end of a glade he saw a carriage standing and four gentlemen stamping their feet in order to keep them warm, and he was obliged to gasp in order to get breath. Rival and Boisrenard alighted first, then the doctor and the combatant.

Rival took the box of pistols, and with Boisrenard approached the two strangers, who were advancing toward them. Duroy saw them greet one another ceremoniously, then walk through the glade together as they counted the paces.

Dr. Le Brument asked Duroy: “Do you feel well? Do you not want anything?”

“Nothing, thank you.” It seemed to him that he was asleep, that he was dreaming. Was he afraid? He did not know. Jacques Rival returned and said in a low voice: “All is ready. Fortune has favored us in the drawing of the pistols.” That was a matter of indifference to Duroy. They helped him off with his overcoat, led him to the ground set apart for the duel, and gave him his pistol. Before him stood a man, short, stout, and bald, who wore glasses. That was his adversary. A voice broke the silence — a voice which came from afar: “Are you ready, sirs?”

Georges cried: “Yes.”

The same voice commanded: “Fire!”

Duroy heard nothing more, saw nothing more; he only knew that he raised his arm and pressed with all his strength upon the trigger. Soon he saw a little smoke before him; his opponent was still standing in the same position, and there was a small white cloud above his head. They had both fired. All was over! His second and the doctor felt him, unbuttoned his garments, and asked anxiously: “Are you wounded?” He replied: “No, I think not.”

Langremont was not wounded either, and Jacques Rival muttered discontentedly: “That is always the way with those cursed pistols, one either misses or kills one’s opponent”

Duroy was paralyzed with surprise and joy. All was over! He felt that he could fight the entire universe. All was over! What bliss! He felt brave enough to provoke anyone. The seconds consulted several moments, then the duelists and their friends entered the carriages and drove off. When the official report was drawn up, it was handed to Duroy who was to insert it in the “Echoes.” He was surprised to find that two balls had been fired.

He said to Rival: “We only fired once!”

The latter smiled: “Yes — once — once each — that makes twice!”

And Duroy, satisfied with that explanation, asked no more questions. M. Walter embraced him.

“Bravo! you have defended the colors of ‘La Vie Francaise’! Bravo!”

The following day at eleven o’clock in the forenoon, Duroy received a telegram:

“My God! I have been frightened. Come at once to Rue de Constantinople that I may embrace you, my love. How brave you are. I adore you. Clo.”

He repaired to the place appointed, and Mme. de Marelle rushed into his arms, covering him with kisses.

“Oh, my darling, if you only knew how I felt when I read the morning papers! Tell me, tell me all about it.”

Duroy was obliged to give her a detailed account.

“You must have had a terrible night before the duel!”

“Why, no; I slept very well.”

“I should not have closed my eyes. Tell me what took place on the ground.”

Forthwith he proceeded to give her a graphic description of the duel. When he had concluded, she said to him: “I cannot live without you! I must see you, and with my husband in Paris it is not very convenient. I often have an hour early in the morning when I could come and embrace you, but I cannot enter that horrible house of yours! What can we do?”

He asked abruptly: “How much do you pay here?”

“One hundred francs a month.”

“Very well, I will take the apartments on my own account, and I will move at once. Mine are not suitable anyway for me now.”

She thought a moment and then replied: “No I do not want you to.”

He asked in surprise: “Why not?”

“Because!”

“That is no reason. These rooms suit me very well. I am here; I shall remain.” He laughed. “Moreover, they were hired in my name!”

But she persisted: “No, no, I do not wish you to.”

“Why not, then?”

She whispered softly, tenderly: “Because you would bring others here, and I do not wish you to.”

Indignantly he cried: “Never, I promise you!”

“You would do so in spite of your promise.”

“I swear I will not.”

“Truly?”

“Truly — upon my word of honor. This is our nest — ours alone!”

She embraced him in a transport of delight. “Then I agree, my dearest. But if you deceive me once — just once, that will end all between us forever.”

He protested, and it was agreed that he should settle in the rooms that same day. She said to him:

“You must dine with us Sunday. My husband thinks you charming.”

He was flattered. “Indeed?”

“Yes, you have made a conquest. Did you not tell me that your home was in the country?”

“Yes; why?”

“Then you know something about agriculture?”

“Yes.”

“Very well; talk to him of gardening and crops; he enjoys those subjects.”

“All right. I shall not forget.”

She left him, after lavishing upon him innumerable caresses.

  查理走后,杜洛瓦在《法兰西生活报》编辑部的担子也就更重了。他现在不仅负责社会新闻栏,而且常要撰写一些重要文章。文章发表之前,总要署上自己的名字,因为老板要求每人必须文责自负。这期间,虽然他同外界有过几次争论,但都被他巧妙地应付过去了。由于他同政治家的接触日趋频繁,他也渐渐成了一个目光敏锐、作风干练的政治编辑。

  然而杜洛瓦在其前进道路上,如今仍有一块心病。这就是一张名叫《笔杆报》的小报有意同他过不去,天天对他口诛笔伐,矛头直指他这个《法兰西生活报》社会新闻栏负责人。用小报一位匿名编辑的话说,他们要打的,就是他这个天天替瓦尔特先生制造耸人听闻消息的祸首。因此每天都有一些指桑骂槐、尖酸刻薄的文章出现在小报上,对杜洛瓦大加挞伐。

  对此,雅克·里瓦尔一天向杜洛瓦说道:

  “你可真是沉得住气。”

  杜洛瓦有气无力地答道:

  “有什么办法?他又没有指名道姓地攻击我。”

  然而一天下午,当杜洛瓦走进他那间办公室时,布瓦勒纳递给他一份当天的《笔杆报》,说道:

  “瞧,今天又有一篇骂你的文章。”

  “是吗?为的是什么?”

  “什么也不为,仅仅是为了一篇有关一个名叫奥贝尔的女人被风化警察逮捕的报道。”

  杜洛瓦一把接过报纸,见这篇题为《杜洛瓦玩世不恭》的文章写道:

  《法兰西生活报》名闻四方的杜洛瓦先生今日声称,被臭名昭著的风化警察逮捕的奥贝尔女士——有关详情,本报已在前几天作了报道——纯属子虚乌有,现实生活中并无此人。然而实际情况是,此人就住在蒙马特区埃居勒伊大街十八号。警察局对瓦尔特银行的经营活动,一向是睁一只眼闭一只眼的;该行雇员为何也如此卖力地庇护警察局,个中道理不言自明,我们对此自然非常清楚。至于本文提到的杜洛瓦先生,这位外勤记者的所有报道是皆以“瓦尔特的利益”为出发点的,如头天说某某人命归黄泉,第二天便遭辟谣;或是煞有介事地宣称,某某地方战事如何激烈,实际上当地战场却是一片平静;再或是郑重其事地抛出某某国王的重要谈话,事实上这位国王却是什么也没有讲。因此,他不妨还是报道这些耸人听闻、只有他洞悉内情的消息为好,甚至报道一些晚会上传出的交际花风流韵事,或宣传一下能给我们这些同行中某些人带来巨大收益的某类产品性能如何优良,也未始不可。

  读罢此文,杜洛瓦气得目瞪口呆,不过心里却很清楚,文中有些话对他十分不利。

  呆在一旁的布瓦勒纳这时问道:

  “这条消息是谁向你提供的?”

  杜洛瓦搜尽枯肠,怎么也想不起来,不想突然间心头一亮:

  “啊!想起来了,是圣波坦提供的。”

  他把《笔杆报》的文章又读了一遍,看到文章指责他被人收买,不禁气得满脸通红,大声嚷道:

  “什么?竟然说我是因为得了好处,才……”

  布瓦勒纳打断了他:

  “是呀,这件事是够你头疼的。老板对这类事情一向十分重视。这在我们这个栏目已是司空见惯的了……”

  恰在这时,圣波坦走了进来。杜洛瓦立即迎了上去:

  “《笔杆报》今天的文章,你看了没有?”

  “看了,我刚从奥贝尔家来。这个女人还确实有,不过她并未被捕,有关报道毫无根据。”

  杜洛瓦于是跑去面见老板。老板脸色阴沉,目光中带有狐疑的神色。听完事情的前后经过,他对杜洛瓦说道:

  “你马上去一趟这个女人家,然后对有关事实予以澄清,务使人家不要再抓着你不放。以后行事,应尤须谨慎。发生这种事,不论对报馆还是对你我,都很烦人。一家报馆,应像恺撒的妻子一样,不能让人有一句话说。”

  杜洛瓦让圣波坦为他带路,随即跳上一辆出租马车,一边向车夫喊道:

  “蒙马特区埃居勒伊大街十八号。”

  车子停在一幢大楼前。嗣后,他们一连爬了六层楼梯。前来开门的是一个穿着粗羊毛上衣的老女人。见圣波坦出现在门边,她立即问道:

  “您又有什么事要找我?”

  圣波坦回道:

  “这位先生是警官,他想了解一下有关于您的那件事情。”

  老女人于是把他们让进屋内,一面说道:

  “您走后又来了两个人,说他们是一家报馆的,我也不知道是哪一家。”

  说着,她转向杜洛瓦:

  “这么说,先生您想了解一点情况吗?”

  “是的,请说一说,风化警察是否逮捕了您?”

  老女人举起双臂,神情激动地说道:

  “这是从何说起?啊,先生,这可是绝对没有的事。事情经过是这样的:附近一家卖肉的平时态度挺好,只是常常缺斤少两。我已数次发现,但什么也没有说。那天,我女儿女婿要来,便去让他给我称两斤排骨。没有想到,他给我称的尽是些零碎玩意儿。话说回来,虽然零碎,倒还是排骨,但不是我要的那种。说实在的,他给我的那些,只能做杂烩,而我要的是排骨,不是卖剩下的零碎。所以我没有要,他张口骂我老耗子,我也就骂他老骗子。这样你一句我一句,双方也就大吵了起来,铺子前面围了一百多人,嘻嘻哈哈地看热闹。后来来了一名警察,要我们到局子里去把事情说清楚。我们就去了,但没过多久便把我们赶了出来。自那以后,我总在别的铺子买肉,甚至不再从他门前经过,以免又吵起来。”

  见老女人停了下来,杜洛瓦问道;

  “就是这些吗?”

  “是的,先生,这就是事情的全部经过,”老女人答道。说着,她递给杜洛瓦一杯黑茶藨子酒,杜洛瓦没有喝。她要杜洛瓦在写报告时,不要忘了把肉铺老板的份量不足写进去。

  回到报馆后,杜洛瓦写了一篇短文,驳斥对方。

  《笔杆报》一位不愿透露姓名的蹩脚文人,从身上拔下一根毛①,洋洋洒洒,就其声称而遭我否定的一老妇人被风化警察逮捕一事,对我大兴问罪之师。这位名叫奥贝尔的老妇人,我已亲眼见到。她至少已有六十来岁。据她向我详细所谈,她那天是因买排骨而与肉铺老板发生了争吵,后去警察局对此情况作了一番说明。

  --------

  ①《笔杆报》,原文为plume,意即羽毛。在当时的欧洲,书写用的笔仍以鹅毛管削成。此处是将对方比作又蠢又笨的鹅。

  事情的全部经过就是这样。

  至于《笔杆报》这位先生的其他恶意中伤,恕我只能嗤之以鼻,就不一一驳斥了。况且对于这种又不署名的攻击文章,也无须作答。

  乔治·杜洛瓦

  雅克·里瓦尔此时也来了。他和瓦尔特都觉得这样写也就可以了。因此当下决定,这篇短文当天就发排,登在社会新闻栏后面。

  这一天,杜洛瓦很早就回到住处,心中有点焦灼不安。对方见了后,会怎样回答呢?此人会是谁呢?为何对他如此不讲情面?鉴于记者的脾气都相当暴躁,搞得不好,这种事会越闹越大,他因此一夜没有睡好。

  第二天,报纸拿来后,他把这篇短文又读了一遍,心中感到这印成文字的东西比刊印之前要更加咄咄逼人。他觉得,有些措词本来还可再和缓一点。

  整个白天,他都心神不定,夜里依然没有睡好。因此天一亮便爬起来去买会有答复的当天《竿杆报》。

  天气又忽然冷了起来。大街上,凛冽的寒风侵入肌骨。两边污水沟里的水,边流边冻,沿着人行道结成两条长长的冰带。

  报纸尚未送到报亭,杜洛瓦不由地想起他的处女作《非洲服役散记》发表时,他那天出来买报的情景。他的手脚此时已经冻僵,特别是手指尖,冻得生疼。他于是围着镶有玻璃门的报亭跑了起来,借以御寒。报亭里,老板娘以一袭羊斗篷将身子裹得严严实实,正伏在脚炉旁取暖。从小窗口望进去,只能见到她那冻得红红的鼻子和两颊。

  送报人终于来到报亭前,将一捆报纸从窗口塞了进去。接着,老板娘递给杜洛瓦一份打开的《笔杆报》。

  杜洛瓦先匆匆扫了一眼,看报上有没有自己的名字,但未能找到。他正要舒口气,突然发现在两个破折号之间,有这样一段文字:

  《法兰西生活报》的杜洛瓦先生发表了一篇辟谣声

  明。声明试图纠正我们的报道,但采用的伎俩却是撒谎。

  因为他承认,确实有个女人叫奥贝尔,也确实有个警察把她带到了警察局。这样,如果在“警察”两字前面加上“风化”一词,也就同我们原先的报道完全一样了。

  可见,有些记者的为人处世,同他们的才能一样糟

  糕。

  顺便说一句,我名叫路易·朗格勒蒙。

  杜洛瓦的心顿时怦怦直跳。他恍恍惚惚赶回家中漱洗,连自己也不知道在做些什么。对方污辱了他,而且言辞是如此狠毒,他已无任何犹豫可言。究竟为了什么呢?什么也不为。不过是为一个老女人同肉铺老板吵了一架。

  他很快穿好衣服,赶到瓦尔特家中,虽然此时还才是早上八点。

  瓦尔特已经起床,正在看《笔杆报》,见杜洛瓦进来,他神色庄重地问道;

  “怎么样,你不会后退吧?”

  杜洛瓦一声未吭,这位报馆经理又说道:

  “你马上去找里瓦尔,让他出面替你安排。”

  杜洛瓦嘟嘟嚷嚷地嘀咕了两句,随即去找里瓦尔。这位专栏编辑还在蒙头大睡。听到铃声,一骨碌爬了起来。他看完那篇短文后说道:

  “他妈的,现在也只有这条路了。另外一位证人你想找谁?”

  “我也不知道。”

  “你觉得布瓦勒纳怎样?”

  “行,就是他。”

  “你的剑术好吗?”

  “根本不行。”

  “真糟糕,枪法呢?”

  “以前打过。”

  “那好,你得抓紧练练,其他一切由我操办。现在请稍等片刻。”

  里瓦尔于是走进洗脸间,过了一会儿便走了出来,不但脸已洗过,胡子也刮了,而且穿得整整齐齐。

  “跟我来,”他向杜洛瓦说。

  他住在一家旅馆的底层。下面是一间很大的地下室,临街的窗口已全部堵死,改成一处供练习击剑和射击的场所。他把杜洛瓦带了下去。

  地下室分前后两部分。墙上挂着一排煤气灯,直达后半部最里边的墙角,那里立着一个涂了红蓝两色的铁制模拟人靶子。里瓦尔将煤气灯一一点着后,在一张桌子上放了两把从后面上子弹的新式手枪,接着开始喊口令,声音清脆而又响亮,好像就在决斗现场。

  “各就各位!预备……一、二、三、放!”

  魂不守舍的杜洛瓦只得依令而行,不断地举行胳臂,瞄准靶子射击。由于少年时代常用父亲的老式马枪在院子里打鸟,他数次击中模拟人靶的肚子。雅克·里瓦尔十分满意:

  “好……很好……很好……你看来会一切顺利……一切顺利。”

  他要走了,行前又向杜洛瓦叮嘱道:

  “你就这样一直练到中午。这儿有的是子弹,就是全部打完也没关系。我中午来接你去吃饭,并告诉你新的情况。”

  说完,他走了出去。

  地下室现在只剩下杜洛瓦一人了,他又打了几枪,也就再也没有劲了。他坐了下来,心里开始翻腾。

  不管怎样,这事闹成现在这样,实在拙劣透顶!再说它又能说明什么?一个恶棍经过一场决斗,身上的邪气难道就会少些?一个正派人因受到恶棍的污辱而以此种方式去同他拼命,又能得到什么?可见人的思想是多么地可怜,考虑问题是多么他庸俗,道德观念是多么地低下!这些话还是诺贝尔·德·瓦伦前不久对他说的,心情阴郁的他此刻不由地想了起来。

  杜洛瓦不觉大声喊道:

  “妈的,他的话真是对极了!”

  他忽然觉得口渴。听到身后有滴水声,他回头看了看,见那里有个淋浴装置,便走去对着喷头喝了两口。此后,他又陷入了沉思。地下室气氛阴森,同坟墓无异。地面上,不时有车辆走过发出的沉闷声,听来像是远方传来的隆隆雷鸣。现在会是几点钟了?这里时间过得简直同除了送饭狱卒的到来能给人一点时间概念,别无其他任何时间标志的监狱一样。杜洛瓦等了很久很久。

  随着一阵脚步声和说话声,里瓦尔终于出现在门边,他身后跟着布瓦勒纳。一见杜洛瓦,他便向他喊道:

  “问题已经解决!”

  杜洛瓦以为定是对方写了封道歉信,从而把事情了结了。

  他高兴得心都要跳了出来,结结巴巴地说道:

  “啊!……谢谢!”

  不想里瓦尔接着说道:

  “这个朗格勒蒙,办事倒还痛快。我们提出的条件,他全部接受。双方距离为二十五步,听到口令后才举起枪来各射一发子弹,而不是先举起枪,听到口令后由上往下移动。这样打要准得多。来,布瓦勒纳,你来看看我刚才的意思。”

  说着,他拿起枪来,一连射了几发,把由下往上举枪如何更能使胳臂保持平稳,做了一番示范。然后说道:

  “现在十二点都过了,咱们去吃饭吧。”

  他们于是进了隔壁一家餐馆。杜洛瓦一言不发,只是埋头吃饭,以免露出内心的恐惧。吃完饭,他同布瓦勒纳一起回到报馆,虽然心不在焉,但仍机械地做些日常工作。大家都觉得他很勇敢。

  过了一些时候,雅克·里瓦尔回来同他谈了谈,约定第二天早上七点,两位证人将乘一辆带篷的马车去他家接他,然后去决斗的地方——韦济内林苑。

  事情来得如此突然,转眼之间已一切准备就绪,谁也没有来听听他本人的意见,看他是同意还是不同意,总之他并未表示认可,一句话也没有说,而事情已经定下来了。因此他瞠目结舌,无言以对,怎么也弄不明白,这究竟是怎么回事。

  出于关心,布瓦勒纳整个下午一直没有离开他,并同他一起吃了晚饭。杜洛瓦于九点左右回到自己的住处。

  现在身边既已没有任何人,他迈开大步,急切地在房内来回踱了好几分钟。心里乱糟糟的,他的思想怎么也集中不起来。脑海中所充斥的,只有一件事:明天决斗。除此之外,便是茫开头绪的焦虑,一颗慌乱不已的心怎么也安定不下来。他曾当过兵,枪也开过,但那时候,枪口是对着阿拉伯人,很有点像是在狩猎场打野猪一样,对自己不会造成多大危险。

  不管怎样,这一次,他是该怎样做就怎样做了,该怎样表现也已怎样表现了。不久之后,人们将会谈到这一点,对他表示赞同和称赞。想到这里,他的思绪像是受到了巨大震动,不禁大声喊了起来:“这家伙怎么如此不通人性?”

  他坐了下来,开始认真思索。对手的一张名片,里瓦尔已交给他,让他记住上面的地址。他刚才回来后将此名片扔到了小桌上,现在,他又拿过来看了看。一天之中,他的目光停在这小纸片上,已不下二十次了。名字上只印了两行字:路易·朗格勒蒙。蒙马特街一七六号。此外便什么也没有了。

  他觉得,这组合在一起的字母,似乎十分神秘,个个充满令人不安的含义,因而对着它端详了好久。“路易·朗格勒蒙”,此人究竟是谁?今年多大年纪?身高如何?长相怎样?一个素昧平生的陌生人,完全因为心中的一时不快,只是为了一个老女人同肉铺老板吵了一架这种区区小事,而毫无道理地突然来把你平静的生活搅得一团糟,这怎叫人不气愤难平?

  “这是一个多么没有人性的家伙!”杜洛瓦又大声骂了一句。他眼睛盯着那张名片,依然一动不动地坐在那里,心里想着这场令人啼笑皆非的决斗,一股怒火不禁油然升起。除了憎恨,愤怒中还夹着一种难以言喻的不安。这件事实在太为荒唐!他倏地拿起放在桌上的一把修剪指甲的剪刀,对着名片上的名字狠狠戳了下去,好像在将一把匕首刺进对方的胸膛。

  这么说,他是真的要去决斗了,而且用的是手枪?他怎么没有想到用剑呢?如果用剑,充其量不过是手上或胳臂上受点伤,而用枪,那后果就难以预料了。

  “不管怎样,这个时候,我可不能装熊,”他自言自语道。

  听到自己的说话声,他一阵战栗,向四周看了看,觉得自己这样紧张下去是不行的,于是宽衣就寝。

  躺到床上后,他吹灭灯,合上了眼。

  房内很冷,虽然盖着一层薄被,他却觉得很热,怎么也不能入睡。他辗转反侧,平躺了一会儿又侧向左边,稍待片刻又侧向右边。

  他感到还是很渴,于是又爬起来喝水。

  “我是不是害怕了?”他有点不安起来。

  房内只要出现一点响动,他的心就怦怦直跳。连模仿杜鹃叫声的挂钟,每次在报时之前发条所发出的嘎吱声,也会把他吓得一哆嗦。他感到胸中憋闷,必须长长地舒口气,方可稍觉好些。他这是怎么啦?

  “难道我害怕了?”他问自己,俨然一副哲学家刨根问底的样子。

  哪儿会呢?既然他已豁出去了,既然他主意已定,决心前往决斗场,显出一副男子汉的气概,他怎么会在这时候害怕起来呢?不过话虽如此,一个人在此情况下会不会不由自主地有所流露呢?这样一想,他又紧张起来,心中不禁因此疑虑而感到焦虑不安和深深的畏惧。是啊,要是他虽有坚强的意志,但仍不由自主地被这种强大无比、左右一切、无以抗拒的力量控制着,会出现什么情况呢?

  当然,他会去决斗场的,因为他主意已定。可是一旦临阵发抖,吓得晕倒过去,他的地位、名誉和前程也就全完了。

  他突然产生一种欲望,想爬起来去照照镜子,于是把蜡烛重新点燃。当他看到光洁的玻璃镜显现出自己的面庞时,他几乎认不出自己了,觉得自己从来不是这副模样。因为他的两眼好像忽然大了许多,而且面色苍白,简直白得怕人。

  一种不祥之感蓦然涌进他的心房:

  明天这时候,我也许已不在人世了。”

  他的心又突突地跳了起来。

  他回转身,向床上看了看,仿佛看到自己已直挺挺地躺在那里,身上盖着他刚才掀去的被子。两颊则深深凹陷,同他见过的死人面庞毫无二致,一双惨白的手动也不动。

  他因而对这张床怕得要命,为了不再看到它,只得打开窗户,把眼睛向着窗外。

  不想一股寒气袭来,冷彻肌骨。他不由地倒抽一口气,急忙后退了两步。

  于是想起生火,慢慢地总算把炉火烧得旺旺的,但仍不敢回过头去看那张床。由于过度紧张,一双手一碰到什么东西便颤抖起来,脑海中的思绪早已支离破碎,盘旋不定,难以把握,陷入深深的痛苦之中。因此,他现在简直是像喝醉了酒一样,晕晕糊糊。

  他所一心惦念的,如今只有一个问题:“我该怎么办?会不会死?”

  他又在房内大步走了起来,机械地反复说着一句话:“无论怎样,我该坚强起来,决不示弱。”

  接着,他自言自语道:

  “我该给父母写封信,把此事告诉他们,以免一旦发生意外……”

  他因而又坐下来,拿过一叠信纸,在上面写道:“亲爱的爸爸,亲爱的妈妈……”

  在此非常时刻,他觉得此种称呼未免不太协调,因而撕去一页,重新写道:“亲爱的父亲,亲爱的母亲:天一亮,我就要去同一个人决斗,我可能会……”

  下面的话,他怎么也写不下去,于是霍地一下又站了起来。

  现在,一想到这可能的结局,他便难以自制。是的,他要去决斗了,这已无法避免。可是他心里却怎么啦?不是他自己愿意的吗?他不是已拿定主意,下定了决心吗?然而他感到,尽管自己表现了坚强的意志,到时候恐怕仍没有足够的力气走到决斗场上去。

  他的上下牙不时因身子的颤抖而发生碰撞,声音虽小,但清晰可闻。他心里想:

  “我的对手以前决斗过吗?他是否常到靶场去练习射击?

  是不是一个有名的出色射手?”

  他从未听人提到过这个名字。不过他想,此人若不是一名出色的射手,是不会这样毫不犹豫地一口答应以手枪决斗的。

  这样,他的思绪忽而又转到了他即将前往的决斗场上,想象着他自己会是一种怎样的神态,对方又是一种怎样的表现。他想呀想,把决斗中可能遇到的细枝末节都想到了。突然间,他仿佛看到阴森乌黑的枪口正对着他,子弹就要从那里射出来。

  他顿时感到无比的绝望,心头笼罩在一片恐怖之中。他全身颤抖,并不时地抽搐着。他咬紧牙,不让自己喊出声来,恨不得倒在地上打滚,砸碎家什,或对着什么咬他几口。这当儿,他忽然发现壁炉上放着一只玻璃杯,想起柜子里还存着满满一瓶烧酒。因为他每天早上都要空腹喝他一杯,这个习惯还是在军队里养成的。

  他拿过酒瓶,就着瓶口贪婪地、大口大口地喝了起来,直到喝得喘不过气来方才放下。而这时,瓶里的酒已被他喝去三分之一了。

  他感到腹中火烧火燎,四肢也很快感到热乎乎的。由于酒的这一刺激,他的心反倒镇定了下来。

  “我总算有办法来对付这难耐的时刻了,”他想。他感到周身热得实在受不了,因此又打开窗户。

  天色微明,窗外寒气袭人,一片宁静。天穹深处,群星正随着晨光的显露而渐渐隐去。窗下铁路旁的红、绿、白信号灯,也已黯然失色。

  首批机车驶出车库,正带着长长的汽笛声,向当天的早班列车驶去。其他机车则呆在远处,仿佛刚从沉睡中醒来,像原野上的报晓晨鸡,在不断地发出尖利的叫声。

  “这一切,我恐怕很快就再也看不到了,”杜洛瓦心想。他感到自己又要伤感起来,于是立马煞住:“不行,在去决斗场之前,我什么也不能再想。只有这样,才不致于临阵胆怯。”

  他开始漱洗,但在刮胡子的时候有一刹那又有点挺不住了。因为他想,这也许是最后一次在镜中看到自己了。

  他又喝了口酒,然后穿好衣服。

  此后的时间就更难熬了。他在房内踱来踱去,努力使自己保持镇定。可是当门上传来敲门声时,他仍差一点仰面倒了下去。因为这对他脆弱的神经所造成的冲击,实在是太大了。出现在门边的,是两位证人:出发的时候终于到了!

  两位证人都穿着厚厚的皮大衣。里瓦尔握了握杜洛瓦的手,向他说道:

  “今天天气很冷。”

  接着又问道:

  “怎么样?夜里睡得好吗?”

  “很好。”

  “心情平静吗?”

  “非常平静。”

  “这就好。你吃了点东西没有?”

  “我早上不吃东西。”

  布瓦勒纳胸前今天特意挂了枚黄绿两色的外国勋章,杜洛瓦还从未见他戴过这玩艺儿。

  三个人于是向楼下走去。门外的车内坐着一位先生。里瓦尔向杜洛瓦介绍道:“这位是勒布吕芒医生。”

  杜洛瓦同他握了握手,喃喃地说了声“谢谢”,然后想坐在车子前部的座位上,不想刚一落座,便有一件硬邦邦的东西使他像弹簧一样迅速缩了回来:原来是放手枪的匣子。里瓦尔连声说:“不,不!参加决斗的人和医生坐里边,请到里边去。”

  杜洛瓦好半天才明白他的意思,一屁股在医生身旁坐了下来。

  两个证人接着也上了车。车夫扬了一下鞭子,马车开始启动。此行目的地,车夫显然已经知道。

  大家都觉得手枪匣子放的不是地方,特别是杜洛瓦很不希望见到它。坐在前边的一人于是把它放到了身后边,但又硌着腰,竖放在里瓦尔和布瓦勒纳之间又总往下掉,最后只得放在脚下。

  车厢里的气氛总也活跃不起来。医生虽然说了几则笑话,但也只有里瓦尔不时答上一两句。杜洛瓦本想显示一下自己的机智,但又担心说起话来思想不连贯,露出内心的慌乱。他现在最为惶恐的是,生怕他的身子会不由自主地抖起来。

  车子很快到了郊外。现在已是九点左右。在这严冬的早晨,极目四顾,四周旷野酷似一块又硬又脆、闪闪发亮的水晶。树上覆盖的寒霜像是从树内渗出的冰雪。车轮走在路面上发出清脆的声响。由于空气干燥,只要有一点声音,也能传得很远很远。蔚蓝的天空像镜子一样光洁。太阳在天空游弋,虽然明亮耀眼,但似乎裹着一股寒气,并未给冰冻的大地带来一丝热气。

  里瓦尔这时向杜洛瓦说道:

  “这手枪是我在加斯蒂内—勒纳特的店里买来的。枪内的子弹是他亲自装上的。匣子已用火漆封好。不过谁会使用,一会儿还要将对方拿来的枪支放在一起抽签决定。”

  杜洛瓦木然地说了声谢谢。

  里瓦尔于是将该注意的地方向他一一作了叮嘱,因为他不希望杜洛瓦在任何环节上有所疏忽。因此每谈到一点,他都要强调好几遍:

  “当人家问你们:‘先生们,准备好了吗?’你要大声回答:

  ‘准备好了!’

  “人家一下令‘放!’,你就举起枪来,不等数到‘三’便开枪。”

  杜洛瓦接着将他的话在心里默念了几遍:

  “当人家一下令放,我就举起枪来;当人家一下令放,我就举起枪来;当人家一下令放,我就举起枪来。”

  “当人家一下令放,我就举起枪来。”他像课堂上的孩子一样,不厌其烦地背诵着,以便将这句话镌刻到脑海里去。

  马车驶入一座树林,向右拐进一条林荫道,然后又向右拐了过去。里瓦尔突然打开车门,向车夫喊道;“往这儿走,沿着这条小路过去。”车子走上一条车辙明显的大路,路两旁是低矮的树丛。边沿结着冰的枯叶在微风中抖动。

  杜洛瓦口中仍在没完没了地默念着:

  “当人家一下令放,我就举起枪来。”

  他想,要是车子此时出事,也就不用去了。啊,要是忽然翻了车,他摔断一条腿,该有多好!……

  可是他看到一林间空地的尽头已停着一辆车,四位先生正在那里踏着脚取暖。杜洛瓦感到气也喘不过来了,不得不张大了嘴。

  两个证人首先下了车,接着是医生和杜洛瓦。里瓦尔抱着手枪匣子,同布瓦勒纳一起向两个陌生人走了过去。这两人也正向他们走来。杜洛瓦见他们四人彬彬有礼地互相打了个招呼,然后一起在这块林中空地内走了走,同时一会儿看看地下,一会儿看看树上,仿佛在寻找什么由树上落下或飞走了的东西。接着,他们数了数脚步,费了很大的劲,把两根手杖插入冻得硬邦邦的泥土里。最后,他们走到一起,像小孩玩游戏一样,把一枚铜币抛向空中,猜它落下后是正面朝上,还是反面朝上。

  勒布吕芒医生这时向杜洛瓦问道:

  “您感觉好吗?是否需要什么?”

  “不,什么也不需要,谢谢。”

  他觉得自己的神志已不太清楚,好像在睡觉,也好像在做梦,处于一种突如其来的神奇境遇中。

  他是否害怕了?也许是,但他也说不上来。他所知道的是,周围的一切都已改变。

  雅克·里瓦尔走过来,十分满意地低声对他说道:

  “一切已准备就绪。我们的运气不错,在挑选枪这一方面占了点便宜。”

  此时此刻,杜洛瓦对此是毫无兴趣了。

  有人过来帮他脱下大衣,并摸了摸他的上衣口袋,看袋内是否装了什么可起防护作用的纸片和钱夹。他听任摆布。他像祈祷一样,依然在默诵着:“人家一下令放,我就举起枪来。”

  他被带到插在地上的一根手杖旁,手里接过一支手枪。这时,他才看到,前方不远处已站着一位身材矮小、大腹便便而又戴着一副眼镜的秃头男子。不言而喻,这就是他的对手了。此人他看得很清楚,然而他心里所想的,却依然是:“人家一下令放,我就举起枪来。”

  在一片寂静中,仿佛从很远的远方传来了一个人的说话声,“问道:

  “先生们,你们准备好了吗?”

  “准备好了,”杜洛瓦大声喊道。

  这同一个人于是下了口令:“放!……”

  发口令的人下面还喊了些什么,他是毫不理会了。他懵懵懂懂,眼前一片昏花,唯一能感到的是,自己举起枪,使劲扣动了扳机。

  响亮的枪声,他一点也没有听到。

  不过他看到,他那支枪的枪口,立即冒出一缕青烟。他对面的那个人,依然站在那里,保持着原有的姿势。他看到,对方的头顶上方也升起了一缕青烟。

  双方都开了枪,事情已经结束。

  他的两个证人和医生跑过来,在他身上摸了摸,拍了拍,并解开他的上衣扣子,焦虑地问道:

  “你伤着没有?”

  “没有,我想没有,”他不假思索地答道。

  朗格勒蒙也同他一样,毫发未伤。

  “用这种鬼手枪决斗,结局一向如此,不是根本打不着,就是一枪致命。实在没办法!”雅克·里瓦尔嘀咕道,话音中透出一种不满。

  “事情已经完了!”杜洛瓦沉浸在一片惊喜中,身子动也不动。他手里仍旧紧紧地握着那把枪,别人只得把它拿了过去。他此刻感到,自己仿佛是同整个世界进行了一场决斗。事情已经结束,他心中别提有多高兴,突然觉得自己完全能够向任人何挑战。

  双方证人在一起谈了几分钟,约定当天再碰一下头,草拟现场报告。接着,大家便上了车。坐在驾辕位子的车夫笑了笑,把手中的鞭子一扬,马车又踏上了归程。

  他们四人进了大街上的一家餐馆,话题自然是今天这场决斗。杜洛瓦谈了谈他的感受:

  “我并没把它当回事,一点也没有。这你们想必也看到了。”

  里瓦尔说道:

  “是的,你确实表现非凡。”

  现场报告写好后便给杜洛瓦拿了来,由他在社会新闻栏发表。杜洛瓦见报告上写着,他同路易·朗格勒蒙打了两枪,不禁深为纳闷,甚至有点不安,便向里瓦尔问道:

  “我们每人不是只开了一枪吗?”

  里瓦尔笑道:

  “是一枪呀……每人一枪……不就是两枪吗?……”

  杜洛瓦觉得他言之有理,也就没再说什么。瓦尔特老头一见到他,便激动地同他拥抱在一起:

  “好样的,好样的,你为《法兰西生活报》立了大功,真是好样的!”

  当天晚上,杜洛瓦到各大报馆和大街上的各大咖啡馆走了走,并两次同他那也在公共场所露面的对手不期而遇。

  他们互相间没有打招呼,要是两人中有一人受伤,就会握手的。不过两人都一口咬定,曾听到对方的子弹从耳边呼啸而过。

  第二天上午十一点左右,杜洛瓦收到一张小蓝条:

  天哪,你可把我吓坏了!我的宝贝,让我亲吻你,望即来君士坦丁堡街一聚。你真勇敢,我爱你。——克洛。

  杜洛瓦随即到了君士坦丁堡街。德·马莱尔夫一下扑到到他的怀内,在他的脸上到处吻着:

  “啊!亲爱的,你知道吗?今天早上看到报上的消息,我不知有多激动。来给我讲讲事情经过,把一切都告诉我。我什么都想知道。”

  杜洛瓦只得把有关情况详细谈了谈。她叹道:

  “决斗前那天晚上,你一定非常难熬!”

  “不,我睡得很好。”

  “如果是我,就一夜不会合眼的,到了决斗场以后呢?你把那儿的情况也对我讲一讲。”

  杜洛瓦于是活龙活现地讲述了起来:

  “我们俩面对面地站着,彼此相距只有二十步,也就是这个房间长度的四倍。雅克问了问也们是否已准备好,接着便下了开枪的口令。我立即平稳地把枪举起来对准他的脑袋,问题就出在这里。我平常都用的是扳机灵活的手枪,而这把手枪的扳机却很紧,结果没有掌握好,而把子弹打飞了。不过倒也没有偏多少。我的那个死对头枪法也很不错。他射出的子弹从我太阳穴旁飞过时,我感到了一阵风。”

  德·马莱尔夫人坐在他的腿上,并用两手紧紧地搂着他,好像要分担他所经历的危险。她喃喃地说道:

  “啊,我可怜的宝贝,我可怜的心肝……”

  待杜洛瓦讲完后,她又说道:

  “你知道,我已离不开你,我希望能常常见到你。我丈夫在巴黎,这确实很不方便。不过在你早晨起床之前,我可以隔三岔五地抽出一小时,来同你相会。可是你住的那地方,实在可怕,我是不会再去的。这可怎么办呢?”

  杜洛瓦灵机一动,问道:

  “这套房间的租金是多少?”

  “每月一百法郎。”

  “那好,我干脆搬过来好了,租金由我付。以我现在的身份,那个房间已不合适。”

  德·马莱尔夫人想了想,说道:

  “不,不行。”

  杜洛瓦惊讶地看着她:

  “为什么不行?”

  “因为……”

  “别说了,这套房子对我很合适。我既然来了,也就不走了。”

  说罢,他哈哈大笑:

  “况且房子本来就是以我的名义租的。”

  然而德·马莱尔夫人仍旧不同意:

  “不,不行。”

  “究竟怎么不行?”

  她嗲声嗲气地在杜洛瓦耳边低声说道:

  “因为你会带别的女人到这儿来,我可不希望……”

  杜洛瓦满脸气愤:

  “我怎会这样呢?你放心……”

  “不,你会带来的。”

  “那好,我向你发誓……”

  “真的不带?”

  “当然是真的,我以名誉担保。这是我们的家,我们两人的家。”

  她情不自禁地紧紧搂着他:

  “既然这样,当然可以,亲爱的。不过我要告诉你,你只要欺骗了我,那怕只是一次,我们的关系也就从此完了,永远完了。”

  杜洛瓦又信誓旦旦地赌了一通咒。因此当下决定,他当天就搬过来。以后她从门前经过,便可进来看看他。

  后来,她又说道:

  “星期天,你还是来我家吃晚饭。我丈夫对你印象很好。”

  杜洛瓦不禁有点得意起来:

  “是吗?”

  “当然,他对你夸不绝口。还有,你不是说过,你是在乡下一座别墅里长大的吗?”

  “是呀,怎么啦?”

  “地里的农活,你应该知道点喽?”

  “是的。”

  “你可以同他谈谈蔬菜的栽培和庄稼的播种,他可喜欢这些了。”

  “好的,我知道了。”

  德·马莱尔夫人吻了他一遍又一遍,才恋恋不舍地离他而去。经过这场决斗,她对他的爱如今是更形炽烈了。

  在前往报馆途中,杜洛瓦心中却想的是:

  “一个多么古怪的尤物,真叫人百思不得其解!天晓得,她天天想的是什么,喜欢的是什么?这两口子实在举世少有!也不知道老家伙同这没心没肺的女人是怎么突发奇想而走到一起的?不知道这位铁路巡视员当初是出于什么考虑而娶了一个刚出校门的女孩?这一切都是谜,谁能知道?但这也许就叫爱情吧?”

  “不管怎样,作为一个情妇,她可是再好没有。我若把她丢掉,那可太愚蠢了,”杜洛瓦最后想。

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