A Duel Arranged
“Who am I fighting?”
“Does it matter?” His second replied.
“It may.” Ceurôtte shrugged. “No, I suppose it does not. Pistol or sword? In this drizzle, sword would be my preference.”
“Sword is always your preference. Pistol is what was agreed upon.”
“See if they will consider sword.”
“I will ask, but you are not duelling with a member. He is the principal and I believe quite inexperienced.”
“Tsk tsk. He must be inexperienced to do his own fighting in this day and age. It is not acceptable. It will end my affairs. Tell him the air is too damp. Pistols will likely misfire.”
“Very good.” Jean-Denis Ceurôtte waited patiently while his second strode to the small encampment nearer the river’s edge. As a solicitor acts for a barrister, for the duelling club, so was the second to the duellist: the second arranged the duel and collected the fee, keeping his share and giving the remainder to the duellist.
Ceurôtte’s interest was not in whom he fought or for what reason. It was not even in his share of the fee, although he was glad to have his own money and not to rely on his stepfather for funds. His interest was the duel and his preference was the sword. He wanted to stand facing the man he was to kill. He wanted to feel the vibration of clashed steel through his arm. He wanted to test his own skills against his opponent’s.
The second returned and shook his head. “It is to be pistols.”
“So be it.” Jean-Denis nodded and his second walked back toward the other camp. Halfway between, Ceurôtte’s second and that of his opponent watched while the Árbitro prepared the weapons.
When all was readied, the Árbitro signalled and the duellists walked toward one another until they were separated by less than a metre. The opponent was a young man, perhaps of ages with Jean-Denis who was in the twenty-second year of his life. “Who are you?” He asked in a demanding tone that failed to hide the nervous quaver of his voice. He spoke in Spanish, but with an accent born of France and not the Winter Capital.
“No one of consequence.” Ceurôtte answered in French, surprised that the question should be asked.
“Where is Don Bartolo?” Without thinking, the opponent slipped into French.
“I do not know Don Bartolo. But I am, I suppose, . . . his friend.”
“You are his friend, but you do not know him?”
“That is correct, m’sieur.”
“Are you here to offer his apology?”
Jean-Denis shook his head. He was the member of a duelling club whose business it was to settle disputes of honour. These clubs did have members who acted as lawyers and negotiators rather than fighters, arranging equitable solutions by which both principals saved face and no blood was shed. Such was not Jean-Denis Ceurôtte. “I would not be here were there an apology.”
Anger and confusion flashed across his opponent’s eyes. Jean-Denis turned away and stood before the Árbitro, examining each pistol in turn. One appeared much as the other and there was no telling if one would fail to spark over the other. He returned them to the box and gave his satisfaction to the Árbitro.
His opponent looked at the pistols uncomprehendingly, as if he did not know which end to examine. It made little difference to Jean-Denis. Under the rules, his time to declare one weapon unequal to another had expired when he placed both back in the box. Had one weapon been superior to another or if one of the caps appeared defective, he could not say so now.
His opponent did not seem familiar with the rules. Instead of examining both weapons and then choosing one, he turned to Jean-Denis directly. “No. This is not right. I do not know what sort of bizarre customs you play at in this part of the world, but honour is not satisfied by your death. This is between Don Bartolo and myself. You have no part in this but to kill me. That may serve Don Bartolo’s purpose, but it does not serve mine.” He spoke quickly, all within one breath, running his words together.
Jean-Denis shrugged. “You may hire your own duellist. Señor Cadeaz . . .” he indicated that this was the name of his second, “ . . .can arrange it. Then I will fight your man. You need not die or come to any harm to settle the affair. You need not even be present.”
The opponent, disgusted that a matter so personal and important should be so reduced, spat and walked away. A few heavy drops fell. The drizzle would soon be a proper thorough rain.
“It is too late for pistols, m’sieur.” Said Jean-Denis at his opponent’s back. But, the opponent did not turn. He continued walking along the embankment and up the stone stairs to the street. “Are we fighting? Are we fighting?” The latter directed at his second. “I could have stayed in bed.”
From the embankment, a pair of men approached the stairs. They wore blue kepis and coats with long flaps about the shoulders meant to look like the capes worn by the colonial forbearers from whom they took their name. Ever vigilant for this sort of intrusion, one of the árbitros yelled, “Encapotados! Run!”
Marcel Tresvaille was only just learning the culture and custom of this distant land. He knew nothing of duelling and what he thought he knew did not fit with this bizarre and commercial ritual. But, he did know when it was time to run from the police.
* * *
Luis Agritaro walked the cypress lined Avenida de Nelson within Barrio Ingles. Small cones and needles littered the cobblestones and crunched under foot. ‘Little London’ was the name given the district by its residents and it was not a barrio into which Agritaro or his encapotados normally ventured. Here, the peace was kept by the Cazadores de Mar, who in the days of the old United Republics were known as the Sailors of the High Shore, and were the vaunted sea soldiers of President Bonaparte’s navy. Although the programme of les equipages de haut bord was begun in Bonaparte’s Imperial France, its success here was due almost singly to Admiral don Henri Ceurôtte, the late father of the boy Agritaro had this morning arrested.
Near to the corner where Barrio Ingles joined Barrio Instituto, Agritaro found the building that was his destination and handed his card to the footman who answered the rear door. He waited only a moment before another footman returned for him.
The building housed El Compañía de El Cabrío and at this time of day had only one member in residence. Don Arturo sat near the fireplace, but not directly next to it; that place was reserved for don Ilígus. Above the fireplace was don Ilígus’ portrait, painted when he was in his prime, right after the Battle off Cape Horn, which was fought nearly thirty years ago. For his victory over the British, Eligus Bronsan received the Award for Meritorious Service to the Republics and the title ‘don’ Ilígus and all that it entailed. In the painting’s background was not the grand l’Aurore Tonnerre, the first class steam frigate from which don Ilígus commanded his squadron, but rather the ignominious little steam packet, the Goat, from which this Society derived its name.
The resemblance between the man in the portrait and don Arturo was strong. The resemblance between the man in the portrait and the young man in the palace dungeon was stronger.
“Señor Luis Farmer y Agritaro, Capitán de Encapotados de Concepción.” The footman announced with cold formality.
Don Arturo was a man who had fully embraced his middle years. He drank well and ate better. He did not take exercise except for the short walk between his home and this building and it was a rare day that he could not be found in one or the other. Giving an involuntary grunt, he stood and greeted the encapotado warmly. “Ah, Luis, how is your mother?”
“Very well, thank you don Arturo.”
“Good, good. Be sure to let her know I asked for her.” Agritaro’s mother was a very fine woman who could not now find a proper husband because she was the white widow of a former slave, even one with as prominent a standing as Agritaro’s father. Agritaro’s father had been an officer aboard l’Aurore Tonnerre during the Battle off the Horn. That notoriety translated into a very prosperous career with interest enough to gain his son a position with the encapotados. It began as a lowly position, but Agritaro’s loyalty, quick-wits and earnest disposition ensured he did not stay there for long.
“I thought you should know, Jean-Denis is in the palace.”
“Well then, unless the boy’s head has taken an unexpected turn to politics, who has he killed?”
“Marcel Tresvaille of the French Imperial Legate.”
“The name is familiar.” Don Arturo lied calmly but uneasily. Don Ilígus had built truth into his psyche, but also an understanding of its time and place. “Is he a duellist? Please, sit.” With the last, he indicated that the encapotado take don Ilígus’ chair, the only one at reasonable distance for a quiet conversation.
“Oh, I could not.”
“Come now, it is only a chair. My father, above all, abhors waste. The chair is left empty except for his use and he does not use it.” Don Arturo laughed and shook his head. He doubted his father knew of the damn thing’s existence – the chair, not the Society. Of the Society he knew well and cared less.
Agritaro sat next to don Arturo, his kepi in hand. “It was no duel. A duel was arranged, but not fought. To that we have witnesses and accused participants who will say nothing and account for themselves with the flimsiest of excuses.”
“Cadeaz with the flimsiest of excuse while Jean-Denis says nothing.” Don Arturo surmised to which Agritaro confirmed. “And Jean-Denis and this Tresvaille were the only principals to the duel that never was?”
“And why was it not fought?”
“Someone forgot to bribe my encapotados.”
“I understand. Why was it to be fought?”
“The participants would not say.”
“Certainly they would not. If there was no duel, then the charge is murder.”
“Exactly. Tresvaille was seen with Señors Ceurôtte, Cadeaz, Wilkerson the surgeon, and at least two other men in the duel’s conduct yesterday at dawn. One of my patrols came upon them and they scattered to the winds. They had, however, arrested these men for duelling in the past and recognized them.
“Later, the same patrol found the Frenchman – dead – a pistol ball in the back of the head. They then assisted me in arresting the participants.”
“In the back of the head? And you believe Jean-Denis did this?”
“No, of course not. But Jean-Denis was seen in the conduct of the duel and that is enough to arrest him until the matter can be sorted out. And, thus far, he cannot account for his whereabouts and will not answer our questions in clarifying the matter. I have no other suspects.”
“And if he does not answer your questions he is guilty?”
“That is for the magistrates to decide. But, I would say yes, he would be found guilty.”
“‘Not proven’ at best.” Predicted don Arturo, referring to a trial’s three possible verdicts: ‘guilty,’ ‘not guilty,’ or ‘not proven.’
* * *
In the Palace of Justice, after a short walk through the stables, just beyond the smith’s stall, a tunnel led downward into the dungeon. It was dry and dark. Soldiers stood guard rather than encapotados. Encapotados patrolled the streets. Those they took from the streets were held in the dungeon until they could be tried.
One of the soldiers took a lantern from its sconce and led the don and the captain down into the dark. The tunnel levelled and turned sharply, where a pair of jailers sat at a small table before an iron gate. The turnkey opened the gate and pulled it closed behind them. Beyond the gate were cells, each filled with a dozen and more prisoners awaiting the courts that were conducted in the halls above.
The soldier and jailer banged on the bars, putting down the prisoner’s unruly jeers and calls. The cell at the end of the row held only a single occupant who lay face down on the cot’s edge. Don Arturo rapped sharply on the bars with the knob of his walking stick, a silver eagle’s head. Jean-Denis Ceurôtte, startled from half sleep, jumped from his skin. “God in His Kingdom, . . . Arthur.”
“Denis. You look well rested for a man who is to be put before the wall.”
“Do not be so dramatic. They would not shoot a man for duelling.” He spoke from first-hand knowledge. “Besides, the encapotados saw there was no duel. We both walked away.”
“Ran is what I heard and M’sieur Tresvaille is walking no more.” Said don Arturo. “And they will shoot a man for murder.
“If he is dead, it was not by my hand.”
“Can I talk with him alone?” Don Arturo asked the encapotado.
“In the cell.” Agritaro said, indicating that the turnkey should unlock the gate and allow the don his privacy. The door clanged shut behind him and the lock turned with a grim note of finality.
“I will be upstairs.” The captain said, nodding to Jean-Denis and then taking his leave.
“Shout when you are ready, señor.” Said the Turnkey, who then returned to his station at the end of the hall.
The cell was cool and dry. The straw on the floor was fresh and clean. There was a small table, a stool, and even a candle. A book lay on the floor, dropped when Ceurôtte fell asleep. The private cell and its comforts were all privileges bought from the jailer and paid for with the name ‘Ceurôtte.’
With a groan, don Arturo bent to retrieve the book and then placed it on the table. Shifting his bulk, he set himself on the cot, which creaked in mournful protest. “Now, Denis, what is all this?” He asked like a reproachful parent, which, in many respects, he was.
“There was no duel.” Said Ceurôtte. “And I committed no murder.”
“If you were to say there was a duel, you would rot here for a few months or, at most, a few years in exile, as don Ilígus did.”
“When he killed my father.”
Don Arturo rolled his eyes and tapped his cane. “What does it hurt to say there was a duel? No one will come forward to say otherwise, is that not the rule?”
“I tell you Arthur and am free entirely to tell you, there was no duel. Had it occurred, I could not speak of it. It was arranged, so I cannot speak of the arrangements, but it did not occur, so I am at complete liberty to say as much.”
“You and this damned club. You really must find a better way to earn a living. Do you understand the scandal that would occur should don Ilígus become involved?”
“Arthur, . . .” Ceurôtte began, exasperated. “ . . . I involve neither the family nor the government in my affairs.”
“Whatever your intentions, both the family and the government are involved up to our eyeballs. But . . . no matter - don Ilígus’ wastrels must look after each other, eh?” Said don Arturo.
“I am a Ceurôtte, not one of don Ilígus’ wastrels.” He said with more than a tinge of indignation.
Don Arturo laughed sharply. “Look in a mirror and wake up, boy. You look more like my father than I do. Why do you think don Ilígus took you in after your father died? Why do you think he married your mother after my mother died?”
All thoughts of the duel and his current circumstances vanished as if don Arturo had just slapped him across the face. “Did . . . did your mother know? She was always so kind to us.”
“She was not so kind to your mother. And we do have more pressing matters to attend.” Afraid he had spoken out of turn on a subject that was none of his affair, don Arturo quickly returned to course. “What of this Tresvaille? What can you tell of him?”
“He was a foreigner. I do not think he had long been in the Winter Capital.”
“So why did you fight him?”
Ceurôtte told him, but only reluctantly. “Why do I fight anyone? My agent told me when, where, and how much I was to be paid.”
“And how much was the fee?”
“I cannot say, but there was nothing extraordinary in the arrangement.” After a pause to consider the matter further, he admitted, “I can tell you who paid it.”
“Can you? How is this?”
“When we are admitted to the society, we are sworn to secrecy.”
“Truly?” Don Arturo replied flippantly.
“Arrangements are to be kept private and are not to be spoken of during the duel’s conduct – by the duellists or their seconds.”
“Yes, this I know.”
“M’sieur Tresvaille was a principal, not a duellist and he did not know the rules. Tresvaille talked, so I am at liberty.”
“That is yet to be seen.”
“If he was foolish enough to disclose so much, there is no rule to say I cannot repeat it. He asked where Don Bartolo was.”
“Don Bartolo?” The name struck don Arturo as if between the eyes.
“He would not fight because I was not Don Bartolo.”
Don Arturo rubbed the head of his cane, which was worried smooth in spots. “Captain Agritaro said there was no duel because his encapotados interrupted it.”
“Tresvaille would not fight and the duel ended before the encapotados arrived.” Had it been ended by the encapotados, then it was merely an interruption and would resume when arrangements could be made. “The engagement ended without satisfactory conclusion.”
“You have fought for this Don Bartolo before, have you not?”
Ceurôtte said nothing.
“No . . . nothing comes to mind? Or, does too much come to mind? No matter, I do know a Don Bartolo and I think there be only the one.”
* * *
Southeast of the city, on the north bank of the Río Bío-Bío, several kilometres east of where the river emptied into the Pacific was the hacienda Nueva Cenzivado with its single small apple orchard, vast vineyards, and lucrative coal mine. It was a long walk from the Palace of Justice, a walk don Ilígus would have undertaken without hesitation. And so don Arturo, just as unhesitant, shared a carriage with Miss Pikerall, a young lady from the North American Carolinas. Her country was in the midst of its own civil war and her family had fled their plantation under naval bombardment, relocating to the Andean Republics, where one of her great-uncles had served as a senior captain in President Bonaparte’s fleet.
The Pikeralls were don Ilígus’ guests and Miss Pikerall was at the completion of a journey up and down the continent’s spine. She had spent a great deal of that time travelling with don Ilígus, steaming from the Protectorate of Panama to Punta Arenas and now returned to the Winter Capital.
She was young and pretty with no head for politics, duelling, or murder, and don Arturo engaged her in light conversation that filled the carriage ride, making it seem to pass with no time at all. The young lady was well educated and so spoke French, but she and don Arturo found it much easier to converse in English, which was the language of don Arturo’s youth and his profession.
By the end of the ride he had established an easy familiarity with the girl, who was far worldlier than she let appear, and he was perfectly comfortable in offering, “A word of kind advice, Miss Pikerall. Doña Josefina will not be happy to hear of the time you spent with don Ilígus, particularly those hours that were not chaperoned. Mention them certainly, but have a care not to linger.”
“I will, thank you don Arturo.”
“Please dear, you must call me Arthur. And, should your stay at the Cinders prove less than hospitable, my sister lives in Little London and would be glad to spare a room.” Don Arturo went into the house and did not wait for a footman before proceeding upstairs to his stepmother’s room.
Before he could reach it, Mademoiselle Lucie, the lady’s maid, stepped from within and presented herself as a formidable barrier. Don Arturo had been acquainted with the doña Josefina since her family emigrated here from France after the Great War, nearly forty years ago. Mademoiselle Lucie had served the family even then. Time served Mademoiselle Lucie justly for she was neither more nor less aged than she was when don Arturo had been a young boy. The truth was probably seen through more distant eyes, but she seemed unchanged as the sour old crone of his youth.
“I will tell Madame Bronsan that you are awaiting her.” She said in French, indicating that he should wait at the bottom of the stairs.
“Merci.” Don Arturo replied jovially, stepping closer to the door, and planting himself firmly. He had no intention of waiting and when Mademoiselle Lucie announced him, he stepped straight through the doorway.
“Arthur!” The doña Josefina exclaimed, although she was not surprised. She had heard of her son’s dilemma and had been expecting don Arturo to attend to it. Wearing only a nightdress, even so late in the day, she feigned astonishment but did not bother to cover herself, openly flaunting her modesty.
Doña Josefina was four years older than don Arturo and time had not been so kind as it had to Mademoiselle Lucie, although perhaps it was perfectly just. Doña Josefina was a handsome woman, but no longer the stunning beauty that had captured the imagination of the Winter Capital and been coveted by the country’s most powerful men. Her intrigues were famous, both within her marriages and outside of them. In her youth, while she was both married to Admiral Ceurôtte and the mistress of don Ilígus, gossip still had her as the consort of President Bonaparte himself.
Whatever the truth of these many sordid tales she would not say, preferring to drape her reputation in their mystique. It was this and her current marriage to don Ilígus, the Minister of War that kept her within society.
“Doña Josefina.” Don Arturo bowed and closed the door behind them.
“Lock the door if you please and turn the clasp boldly enough so that Lucie may hear. She is going quite deaf I am afraid.” While the face she put to don Arturo’s disgrace was of disappointment, the incidents that lent to his ostracism only added to her notoriety and she secretly revelled in it. An hour alone in her private chambers would only contribute.
“You shared a carriage with Miss Pikerall?” She spoke in French; don Arturo could not recall ever having heard her speak otherwise.
“It is true.” His father’s wife remained seated at her dressing table while don Arturo remained standing – for the sake of propriety.
“She is very pretty.”
“Indeed she is.”
“And what word of your father?”
“Don Ilígus and Miss Pikerall parted company at Lota. Don Ilígus was riding inland to meet with Colonel Saavedra.”
“Riding off to fight Indians? Oh the old fool, taking such risks at his age. And, I suppose you are here because of Jean-Denis?”
“Arrested for duelling again?”
“It is more serious than that. He is accused of murder.”
“Who?” Doña Josefina gasped, but with a theatrical air that caused don Arturo to suspect that the news was not a complete surprise.
“Monsieur Tresvaille of the Imperial Legate, do you know him?”
“He has been introduced.”
“I have met with him although the nature of our relationship requires a certain discretion, which I trust you will keep for your son’s sake.” This piqued doña Josefina’s interest. “M’sieur Tresvaille is responsible . . . was responsible for the procurement of coal for the French navy.” Coal. Her interest waned almost immediately. “Of his ability to engage in a contract on behalf of the Emperor I have no doubt. As to any other detail of the man’s life, I have no clue. Denis claims not to know him before the duel and I have no reason to believe that he would.”
“Then it was a duel?”
“No, but a duel was arranged.”
“If Denis arranged to duel with the man, how could he not know him?”
“An unfortunate misunderstanding.” Although Josefina Ceurôtte knew of her son’s proclivity to duel, she did not know that he did so as a hired agent. Defending one’s honour, justly or no, was one matter. To fight as a profession without so much as a Presidential commission, was entirely another.
“Denis has many of those. It is strange. He is such a reserved boy, unlike his brother, Henri. Of duelling, I would expect it of Henri, but for Denis to have such unfortunate misunderstandings . . .”
“Certainly. Of this unfortunate misunderstanding there arose a duel that was never fought. Within less than a day of it, Marcel Tresvaille was found shot. Denis claims to know nothing of it, that he left M’sieur Tresvaille in a healthy if agitated state, and had not seen him since.”
“Utter nonsense. If Denis were to kill the man, he would have run him through, never a pistol.”
“My thoughts precisely. The evidence against Denis is circumstantial. To obtain a verdict of ‘not proven,’ I need merely show that there were others who would want for M’sieur Tresvaille’s demise and had the opportunity to bring it about. To satisfy the French, I will need to serve them a more substantial dish.”
“Then you are engaged as Denis’ barrister?”
“No one else, Arthur, no one else.”
Doña Josefina nodded courteously. She had not always been kind to Arthur. As a child she had played cruel pranks upon him. In recent years she had turned her back to him along with the rest of society. As her husband was not available, she could think of no one else more able to look after her youngest son. “Bartolo Escobar.”
“Don Bartolo.” He merely stated the name. It did not strike him as it had while sitting in Jean-Denis’ cell.
“Monsieur Tresvaille was said to be in company with Don Bartolo’s wife.”
“Doña Manuela is a very pious woman, not to mention old and ugly.” Don Arturo stated the last very bluntly.
“They say love sees beyond the surface; ambition ignores it. Curiously, there was no gossip concerning Monsieur Tresvaille prior to that and he did not seem of a disposition that there should be stories of this sort. Still, he was new to the Winter Capital, so, I suppose . . .
“As to Doña Manuela’s piety, she has attended the penitent’s convent for the most trivial offences – never any involving marital indiscretions.”
“And who spread these stories?”
“I heard it directly from Mademoiselle Lucie, a very reliable authority. Doña Manuela’s maid overheard Don Bartolo talking to a colleague. He was arranging a duel to settle the matter. Jean-Denis had nothing to do with this, did he? There are so many stories of his fights.”
“Of course not, madam. Jean-Denis’ involvement in any of those fights was an affair of honour. Of all people, you should know the merit of the stories that fly through the Winter Capital.” And of the people who foster them.
* * *
Napoleon’s Winter Capital – such was the name given to Concepción in general, and most particularly to the set of buildings in the city’s northeast quarter, where stood the halls of his government. There are several stories as to how the name was given, but don Arturo’s favourite was that it was named for the task undertaken by the great man in the waning days, the winter, of his life. Bonaparte had passed. This government, this country, little resembled the vision he brought to it four decades ago, but the Winter Capital remained.
Bonaparte’s legend still attracted men who fought for power in his halls, men afraid to leave the limestone blocks lest they miss something of consequence that could further their ambition. These men lived in the Winter Capital, keeping apartments so that they could sleep close to the seat of power.
Don Bartolo was one such. It was after midnight when he entered his apartment and found that the maid had failed to light all the lamps. The entry was dark and the front room danced in shadow from the glow of but two small flickering flames.
Don Bartolo’s anger and frustration flashed into fear as one of the shadows moved forward into the light. When it did, there was a sharp noise from behind. Don Bartolo twisted the head of his cane, clicking a latch, and half turned toward the noise, letting the momentum of his turn carry the stick across the room so he was left holding a long, thin blade.
The noise that had come from behind was the closing of the door, blocking the corridor’s bright light and further plunging the apartment into darkness. He could see nothing but black where the door had been and where the presumed threat now lay.
“Quick as ever Escobar, quick as ever.” Don Bartolo turned back to the shadow and the light, rapier poised, prepared to strike or block. “Which makes me wonder why you would hire a duellist. Don Bartolo has never backed away from a duel, particularly one involving his wife’s honour. Although never do I recall hearing any question of the good lady Escobar’s honour.”
“Bronsan?” Don Bartolo recognized the voice and his eyes were now adjusting to the dark. He could clearly see the hulking shadow as being don Arturo. “Agritaro?” Stepping from one side, the man who had closed the door was the captain of the night watch.
And, standing opposite don Arturo was a young man who Don Bartolo had never met, but who he knew must be Jean-Denis Ceurôtte. “He . . .” Don Bartolo pointed the sword cane’s tip accusatorily. “ . . . should be locked away. I’ll see you stripped for this.” The last was said to the encapotado, who Don Bartolo was sure was responsible for the boy’s release. “This is none of your affair don Arturo.”
“None of my affair? Jean-Denis and his brother Henri were raised almost to be my brothers. Certainly they were under the same care given to me by my father. Why would I not defend the name of Ceurôtte as if it were my very own? It is, in fact, my honour to do so.”
His eyes adjusted to the dark and Don Bartolo could see that don Arturo held something other than a walking stick in his hand. It was a sabre sheathed in metal. Its pommel was a silver eagle’s head of the same design as don Arturo’s walking stick.
“You are not fit to carry that sword don Arturo.”
“Here, it is yours.” Don Arturo casually threw the sword to Don Bartolo, who stepped away from it, keeping a hold of his sword cane and posturing him self at the ready. It caused a jarring racket, clattering over table and couch before hitting the floor. “As to my fitness to carry it, the President thought I was worthy.”
“What President? Not your President.”
“Neither yours, but the one we now serve nonetheless.”
“Only until the next elections.”
“Which was rather the point of the thing if you recall, whether the duly elected government would stand or be replaced at the Senate’s whim.” In the civil war, don Arturo had chosen badly. He had sided with Bartolo Escobar, standing against his father and the Republics. That, however, was a choice he could have weathered. His true undoing was his change of heart. Who knows how the war could have gone had he not reconciled with his father? Don Arturo would have been wealthy and a man of great influence as was Bartolo Escobar, whose fortunes did not seem diminished for having fought on the losing side.
Having turned against his cause, Arthur Bronsan was awarded the title ‘don’ by the very President he had once fought to oust. Instead of influence and respect, the title marked him as a traitor and a social outcast. Unwelcome in the houses courting influence, don Arturo marked his time managing don Ilígus’ business affairs, including the Nueva Cenzivado coal interests.
“I cannot imagine Don Alberto was greatly pleased when you told him that Nueva Cenzivado would now be providing coal to the French in the Pacific.” Don Bartolo stared at him coldly, letting the tip of the sword cane drop only slightly. “Aha, you have not told the syphilitic old bastard. Better to murder Tresvaille and put the blame on a Ceurôtte, eh?”
Bartolo Escobar, caught unaware and not knowing how much information don Arturo possessed, chose to remain silent. “Your wife’s supposed dalliance was an mere excuse. Arranging for a duel through a reputable club was a simple means by which you could anonymously remove Tresvaille. It is an old story - many times told.
“Unfortunately, it has probably worked. M’sieur Tresvaille and I had not come to terms. With his demise, the deal will likely not proceed and Don Alberto’s interests will be secure. Such is life.” This seemed to bring Don Bartolo some consolation, for a slight grin came to his full lips.
Ceurôtte, who carried his own sword, drew it from its scabbard. The blade rasped menacingly against the metal throat. “Now, can we come to some equitable settlement of the matter; one that provides don Ilígus a fair profit and leaves the good name of Ceurôtte untarnished? Or, shall you and Jean-Denis finish what was started? Afterwards, should your wife’s honour still need defence, Jean-Denis will be more than happy to do so. I will be more than happy to pay his fee.”
Copyright 2005, Scott Langley
Click here to buy Scott Langley's books directly from Third Millennium Publishing
Comments and criticism, constructive or
otherwise, are appreciated. Please