WE reached Vincennes at five minutes to nine.
Another carriage, that of Chateau Renaud, arrived at the same time.
We proceeded into the wood by different paths. Our carriages were to await us in the broad avenue. A few minutes later we met at the rendezvous.
"Gentlemen," said Louis, "recollect that no arrangement is possible now."
"Nevertheless----," I said
"Oh, my dear sir," he replied, "after what I have told you, you should be the last person to think that any reconciliation is possible."
I bowed before this absolute will, which for me was supreme.
We left Louis near the carriages, and advanced towards M. de Boissy and M. de Chateaugrand.
The Baron de Giordano carried the case of pistols.
The seconds exchanged salutes.
"Gentlemen," said the Baron, "under these circumstances the shortest compliments are the best, for we may be interrupted any moment. We were requested to provide weapons--here they are. Examine them if you please. We have just procured them from the gunsmith, and we give you our word of honour that M. Louis de Franchi has not even seen them."
"Such an assurance is unnecessary, gentlemen," replied Chateaugrand, "we know with whom we have to deal," and taking one pistol, while M. de Boissy took the other, the seconds examined the bore.
"These are ordinary pistols, and have never been used," said the Baron; "now the question is, how shall the principals fire."
"My advice," said M. de Boissy, "is that they should fire just as they are accustomed to do, together."
"Very well," said the Baron Giordano, "then all chances are equalized."
"Will you advise M. de Franchi, then, and we will tell M. de Chateau Renaud, monsieur."
"Now that is settled, will you have the goodness to load the pistols?"
Each one took a pistol, measured carefully the charges of powder, took two bullets at hazard, and rammed them home.
While the weapons were being loaded, I approached Louis, who received me with a smile.
"You won't forget what I asked you?" he said, "and you will obtain from Giordano a promise that he will say nothing to my mother, or even to my brother. Will you take care, also, that this affair does not get into the papers, or, if it does, that no names are mentioned."
"You are still of opinion, then, this duel will prove fatal to you?" I said.
"I am more than ever convinced of it," he replied, "but you will do me this justice at least, that I met death like a true Corsican."
"My dear de Franchi, your calmness is so astounding that it gives me hopes that you yourself are not convinced on this point."
Louis took out his watch.
"I have but seven minutes to live," he said; "here is my watch, keep it, I beg of you, in remembrance of me." I took the watch, and shook my friend's hand.
"In eight minutes I hope to restore it to you," I said.
"Don't speak of that," he replied. "See, here are the others."
"Gentlemen," said the Viscount de Chateaugrand, "a little distance from here, on the right, is an open space where I had a little practice of my own last year; shall we proceed thither--we shall be less liable to interruption."
"If you will lead the way," said the Baron Giordano, "we will follow."
The Viscount preceded us to the spot indicated. It was about thirty paces distant, at the bottom of a gentle slope surrounded on all sides by a screen of brushwood, and seemed fitted by nature as the theatre of such an event as was about to take place.
"M. Martelli," said the Viscount, "will you measure the distance by me?" The Baron assented, and thus side by side he and M. de Chateaugrand measured twenty ordinary paces.
I was then left for a few seconds alone with M. de Franchi.
"_Apropos,_" he said, "you will find my will on the table where I was writing when you came in this morning."
"Good," I replied, "you may rest quite easy on that score."
"When you are ready, gentlemen," said the Viscount de Chateaugrand.
"I am here," replied Louis. "Adieu, dear friend! thank you for all the trouble you have taken for me, without counting all you will have to do for me later on." I pressed his hand. It was cold, but perfectly steady.
"Now," I said, "forget the apparition of last night, and aim your best."
"You remember de Freyschutz?"
"Well, you know, then, that every bullet has its billet. Adieu!"
He met the Baron Giordano, who handed him the pistol; he took it, and, without looking at it, went and placed himself at the spot marked by the handkerchief.
M. de Chateau Renaud had already taken up his position.
There was a moment of mournful silence, during which the young men saluted their seconds, then their adversary's seconds, and finally each other.
M. de Chateau Renaud appeared perfectly accustomed to these affairs, and was smiling like a man sure of success; perhaps, also, he was aware that Louis de Franchi never had fired a pistol in his life.
Louis was calm and collected, his fine head looked almost like a marble bust.
"Well, gentlemen," said Chateau Renaud, "you see we are waiting."
Louis gave me one last glance, and smiling, raised his eyes to heaven.
"Now, gentlemen, make ready," said Chateaugrand. Then, striking his hands one against the other, he cried--
"One! Two! Three!"
The two shots made but one detonation.
An instant afterwards I saw Louis de Franchi turn round twice and then fall upon one knee.
M. de Chateau Renaud remained upright. The lappel of his coat had been shot through.
I rushed towards Louis de Franchi.
"You are wounded?" I said.
He attempted to reply, but in vain. A red froth appeared upon his lips.
At the same moment he let fall his pistol, and pressed his hand against his right side.
On looking closely, we perceived a tiny hole not large enough for the point of a little finger.
I begged the Baron to hasten to the barracks, and bring the surgeon of the regiment.
But de Franchi collected all his strength, and stopping Giordano, signed that all assistance would be useless. This exertion caused him to fall on both knees.
M. de Chateau Renaud kept at a distance, but his seconds now approached the wounded man.
Meanwhile, we had opened his coat and torn away his waistcoat and shirt.
The ball had entered the right side, below the sixth rib, and had come out a little above the left hip.
At each breath the wounded man drew, the blood welled out. It was evident he was mortally hurt.
"M. de Franchi," said the Viscount de Chateaugrand, "we regret extremely the issue of this sad affair. We trust you bear no malice against M. de Chateau Renaud."
"Yes, yes," murmured the wounded man, "I forgive him."
Then turning towards me with an effort he said,
"Remember your promise!"
"I swear to you I will do all you wish."
"And now," he said, smiling, "look at the watch!"
He breathed a long sigh, and fell back. That sigh was his last.
I looked at the watch, it was exactly ten minutes past nine.
I turned to Louis de Franchi--he was dead.
We took back the body to the Rue de Helder, and while the Baron went to make the usual declaration to the Commissary of Police, I went upstairs with Joseph.
The poor lad was weeping bitterly.
As I entered, my eyes unconsciously turned towards the timepiece; it marked ten minutes past nine.
No doubt he had forgotten to wind it, and it had stopped at that hour.
The Baron Giordano returned almost immediately with the officers, who put the seals on the property.
The Baron wished to advise the relatives and friends of the affair, but I begged him, before he did so, to read the letter that Louis had handed to him before we set out that morning.
The letter contained his request that the cause of his death should be concealed from his brother, and that his funeral should be as quiet as possible.
The Baron Giordano charged himself with these details, and I sought MM. de Boissy and de Chateaugrand, to request their silence respecting the unhappy affair, and to induce Chateau Renaud to leave Paris for a time, without mentioning my reason for this last suggestion.
They promised me to do all they could to meet my views, and as I walked to Chateau Renaud's house I posted the letter to Madame de Franchi, informing her that her son had died of brain fever.