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"The Great Timascheff-Servadac Duel" from Appleton's Magazine

by Ellis Parker Butler
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from Appleton's Magazine
The Great Timascheff-Servadac Duel
by Ellis Parker Butler

From a letter from the author: "One of the things I have been meaning, for several years, to do, is to write a series of unwritten chapters of famous novels. In a number of novels there comes a point where the author develops an opportunity for the ridiculous that he is above utilizing. He builds up the situation, and then abandons it, and goes and does something sane and different. I am going to write these unwritten chapters. They have no connection, one with the other. Each is complete and foolish in itself."


The captain's orderly was now some yards ahead of his master, and had reached a ditch full of water, and about ten feet wide. With the intention of clearing it, he made a spring, when a loud cry burst from Captain Servadac:

"Ben Zoof, you idiot! What are you about? You'll break your back!"

And well he might be alarmed, for Ben Zoof had sprung to a height of forty feet in the air. Fearful of the consequences that would attend the descent of his servant to terra firma, Servadac bounded forward, to be on the other side of the ditch in time to break his fall. But the muscular effort that he made carried him in his turn to an altitude of thirty feet; in his ascent he passed Ben Zoof, who had already commenced his downward course; and then, obedient to the laws of gravitation, he descended with increasing rapidity, and alighted on the earth without experiencing a shock greater than if he had merely made a bound of four or five feet high. Ben Zoof burst into a roar of laughter. But the captain was inclined to take a more serious view of the matter. For a few seconds he stood lost in thought; then, laying his hand upon the orderly's shoulder, he said solemnly:

"Nevertheless, Ben Zoof, Count Timascheff is awaiting our arrival on the appointed dueling ground. Onward, then! Honor does not permit us to keep him waiting."

Such, indeed, was the indomitable spirit of Captain Hector Servadac, a true Frenchman. Although he knew that a comet had, since the previous day (when he had arranged for the duel with Count Timascheff) struck the earth and had carried away the greater portion, displacing the cardinal points of the compass, diminishing gravity and shortening the day to six hours; although, in fact, he knew all these things, as well as that the small portion of the earth on which he stood was being whirled along the comet's orbit at the rate of 30,400,000 leagues a month, he had no thought but for his honor. His only fear was that Count Timascheff might have gone off on the other portion of the earth.

Beyond the ditch which the captain and Ben Zoof had leaped lay a small piece of meadow land, about an acre in extent. A soft and delicious verdure carpeted the soil, while trees of about fifty years' growth formed a charming framework to the whole. No spot could have been chosen more suitable for the meeting.

Servadac cast a hasty glance around the meadow. No one was in sight.

"We are the first on the field," he said.

"Not so sure of that, sir," said Ben Zoof. "Look up there, sir. If I am not mistaken I see Count Timascheff"

The ground was getting full of holes.

"Nonsense!" exclaimed Servadac, but he cast his eye toward the top of a giant breadfruit tree to which Ben Zoof had pointed. The next moment he had unslung his field glasses and was gazing through them at the top of the tree.

"Ben Zoof," he said, handing the glasses to his servant, "what do you make of it?"

Ben Zoof stared long and steadily at the tree, and then handed the glasses to the captain. A broad grin covered the honest fellow's face, but Captain Servadac maintained his usual composure.

"Climb the tree and get him down, Ben Zoof," he said.

With his usual perspicuity the captain had at once guessed the strange predicament of Count Timascheff when he saw his two long legs waving above the greenery of the breadfruit tree. The Count, fearful of being late, had come to the dueling ground in haste, and had leaped the ditch at the opposite side of the field, rising into the air as had Servadac himself, but the Count had descended in the tree. As Ben Zoof hastily climbed the tree the captain puzzled his brain as to the reason the Count had allowed himself to remain in the tree, but as Ben Zoof slid down the tree trunk with the Count following closely after, the puzzle was solved. The Count wore upon his head a heavy steel helmet the weight of which far overbalanced his dainty small feet and ladylike boots, and it was evident that, having achieved the extreme of his upward course, the weight of the helmet had turned the Count over, like a spent rocket, and that in descending he had become wedged in an upper crotch of the breadfruit tree, head downward, leaving his legs free to wave in the air.

Having, through the exertions of Ben Zoof, once more regained the earth, the Count strode forward toward the captain, and upon nearing him, bowed gracefully. Captain Servadac returned the salutation, and good Ben Zoof, not knowing the laws of dueling, and seeing nothing better to do, put his heels together and bowed low to each of the rivals. Had the moment not been one of such serious import Captain Servadac would have smiled. Instead he spoke to the Count with a tinge of haughtiness.

"Your second?"

"Unfortunately --" began the Count with a reddening face.

"Proceed!" said Captain Servadac sternly.

"-- he was carried away by the other portion of the earth!"

"Enough!" exclaimed Servadac. "Ben Zoof shall second us both."

If I am not mistaken, I see Count Timascheff.

"And if," said the Count, "as is often the custom, the seconds desire to take up our quarrel and fight it out after the big show --"

"Ben Zoof will do his duty!" said Servadac shortly. "The French soldier can do anything -- he is ambidextrous. If it is necessary for Ben Zoof to fight himself he will do it."

The orderly's face paled, but he remained firm.

"Let us proceed," said Captain Servadac coolly.

The Count bowed and drew his sword.

"One moment, if you will pardon me!" said Servadac. "Are we to fight under French or Russian rules?"

"In Algeria," said the Count, "one supposes one will fight under French rules."

"Good!" exclaimed the captain. "But it is not, perhaps, customary under French rules to wear steel helmets!" Here he cast a glance at the Count's head. The Count looked at Servadac with a haughty glance.

"Captain Servadac," he said, "I am merely following my physician's orders. I am subject to colds in the head, and by his orders The Count had descended in the tree. I am compelled to wear this helmet whenever I am in the open air. Should you doubt this, you are at liberty to ask my physician."

"And he --" inquired Servadac.

"He," said the Count, "has gone off on the other part of the earth, which will reach its extreme distance from us in one year and will return to this general locality in one year more. But," he added, "I am willing to wait until you see him."

"Let us proceed," said Captain Servadac again and with hauteur. "Ready, Ben Zoof!"

The orderly took the two swords and measured them, blade for blade, and found them to be of the same length. He quickly chose a spot where the turf was smooth, and placed the two combatants so that neither should have the advantage of the sun, and then, drawing his own sword, he placed himself properly, and saluted.

"At it, then!" he said.

The keen blades swished against each other like the rustling of the skirts of the fair Madame de D----, the lady whose beauty was the cause of this unfortunate affair. The Count seemed to fight in the Russian way, with his head low and the steel helmet well to the front, but Captain Servadac stood erect, leaning, if anything, a little backward from the waist. Suddenly the Count made a lunge, and Servadac leaped nimbly backward. The Count, confident that his thrust would end the affair, had put his full strength into it, but not meeting the breast of Servadac he was overbalanced by his momentum and fell flat on the ground. He waited to feel the captain's sword enter his body, but as it did not he looked up. Captain Hector Servadac was nowhere to be seen! With such agility had he leaped backward that he had carried himself thirty feet into the air and one hundred feet backward, but even as the astonished Count gazed, the captain touched the earth and sprang forward again so eagerly that he arose forty feet in the air. He alighted with both feet on the small of the Count's back.

"Ugh!" said the Count.

Without a word Servadac stepped from the Count's back upon terra firma and assumed the first position. The Count arose and faced him. A look of deadly hatred shone from his eyes.

"Proceed, then, gentlemen!" said Ben Zoof.

The Count lunged again. Servadac stepped back, parried, and thrust. The Count recoiled, parried, and sprang lightly to one side. He arose eighteen feet into the air, made a graceful curve, and alighted with a thud on the top of his head.

"Foul!" cried Ben Zoof. He jumped forward to press up Servadac's sword, but Servadac had hopped to avoid the falling Timascheff, and as Ben Zoof started up into the air the captain was already up there.

"Wait until I come back, captain," said Ben Zoof, as he passed Servadac, "I will be down in a moment. Do not hit the Count while he is upside down. It would be a foul."

The Count, however, had jumped to his feet so nimbly that he was carried up some seventy feet. As he passed Ben Zoof the valiant second called to him:

"Come down as soon as you can," he said, "the captain is waiting for you."

He alighted with both feet on the small of the Count's back.

Timascheff came down immediately, head first, and with such impetuosity that Servadac wondered his neck was not broken. The top of his steel helmet made a dent in the soil the size of a bowl, and either the jar or the heat of the sun on the shining helmet seemed to have dazed the Count, for he no sooner struck the earth than he was up and away again with a great bound that carried him fully ninety feet skyward.

Ben Zoof approached the captain, who was standing idly, leaning on his sword and watching the parabola made by the Count. The orderly came with cautious, sliding steps. His face showed his honest concern.

"This time it will kill him," he said, pointing to where Timascheff was just turning head downward in the air.

"Say, rather," said Servadac, "that it would kill us, were we in his place, Ben Zoof. You forget that the Russians have a game, famous the world over, of diving from the cliffs to the ice of the rivers of that frozen land, thus breaking the ice and diving into the chill waters beneath. No doubt Count Timascheff has often played at the game. It is a good game, but it interrupts a duel considerably."

"And there he goes again!" said Ben Zoof, as the Count alighted on his head and immediately sprang into the air again. "If you will pardon me, captain, I will just jump up and have a word with him as referee of this fight."

"Go, my honest fellow," said Servadac, and Ben Zoof at once sprang into the air. Servadac watched him as he curved toward the Count, and saw that after a few leaps Ben Zoof was able to pretty accurately gauge the leaps of the Count, and follow him about the field. In a few minutes Ben Zoof returned.

"He begs your pardon, captain," said the orderly, "and says he hopes you will not mind the way he is fighting --"

"Fighting!" exclaimed Servadac.

"Yes, fighting," said Ben Zoof. "He says he has not stopped fighting at all. The duel is still continuing. He says his dueling master made agility an important part of his lessons, and especially the art of springing to the feet quickly after a fall, and that is all he is doing now. He says you can see that he springs up, and that he falls, and he says he regrets as much as we do that he falls on the top of his head each time, but he is willing to keep on fighting as long as you. He remarked that blood alone could avenge his honor."

Their orbit crossed at about fifty feet in the air.

"Very well!" said the captain, taking his sword more firmly in his hands.

Servadac stood one moment until the Count had alighted, head down, as usual, and then, with a mighty bound he was after him. Their orbits crossed at about fifty feet in the air, and for the instant they were within reach of each other, and for that instant their swords rasped together, and then the Count turned the other end up and fell to the North and the captain fell to the West. Instantly they were in the air again, and there was the same instantaneous sword play. To Ben Zoof, who ran along beneath them, their swordsmanship seemed about equal, but he could see that his master was suffering less from exertion than the Count, for his master alighted on his feet, while the Count fell each time on his head, and this was exhausting. Still, while they were in the air the odds seemed to be about equal, for if his master was the lighter the Count gained more stability from the weight of the steel helmet. Ben Zoof himself suffered most, for he had to be constantly on the run to keep near the two combatants, and he had to keep a sharp eye, for the Count was quite untrustworthy as a jumper. Sometimes he would rise a hundred feet, and sometimes only ten, and sometimes he would merely pull his head out of the hole it had made and flop high enough to flop over and make another hole. There was no telling in what direction the Count would go, either. He was full of surprises, that way. Ben Zoof had to be ready to dodge in any direction, and what made it worse was that the field was getting full of holes that the helmet of the Count had punched, and many times Ben Zoof fell.

Suddenly Ben Zoof glanced at the sun, for a darkness had dulled its light. It could not be that the two had fought all day! Then he remembered that the day had been cut in half, and he realized that it must be nearly evening, but even as this thought came to him he saw that this was not the cause of the dimming of the sun. He remembered that in that latitude the sun sinks instantly without the twilight that charms his beloved Montmartre. It was the Simoon, the torrid wind that blows from the equatorial regions with unexampled fury at certain seasons.

At that instant it burst upon them in all its strength, and the captain and the Count were some seventy feet in the air! In vain the faithful fellow called to them to come down -- even as he spoke the wind caught them and bore them away over the thin fringe of trees that edged the field. With all his speed, which was greatly increased by the lack of gravitation and the wind which was full at his back, Ben Zoof ran between the trees, leaped over them, sped like a chamois or a hare, and in a moment he was at the edge of the ocean. He gave one agonized cry. High in the air, and borne along by the relentless Simoon, his beloved captain was fast disappearing beyond the horizon. Not so the Count Timascheff. In a graceful curve the Count descended head first into the ocean and passed from sight. He made quite a splash.

Slowly Ben Zoof returned to the field, and as he went he picked up the sword which Hector Servadac had dropped when the storm had first struck him. This was all he had left of his dear captain! Ben Zoof let two tears fall on the shining blade, but he instantly took out his handkerchief and wiped the blade dry. Even in his sorrow he remembered his duty to his master's sword. If he had had any metal polish he would have polished it.

"Ah, Ben Zoof!" he cried, "you have lost a good master, who could put up with your idiosyncrasies. But, courage, Ben Zoof! You have a duty to perform."

The good fellow had no doubt that he was in duty bound to continue the duel which was so rudely interrupted, but not ended. The twin dishonors of his two principals were not yet wiped out in blood, and Ben Zoof, as two seconds in one, must fight it out. He knew what the outcome would be. He knew he would never give in to himself until the death of the second of the Count or of the second of the captain had ensued. He bade himself a brave but touching farewell, kissed himself on both cheeks, and walking steadily to the center of the field took a sword in each hand. At a word from himself he crossed the swords.

He bade himself a brave but touching farewell.

"Proceed, then, gentlemen," he said firmly.

For a minute the two swords glided hissingly along each other, looking for an opening, but neither had the advantage. They seemed perfectly matched. Then, as his right hand pressed forward, Ben Zoof stepped quickly back with his left foot, and at that instant the sun sank like a ball of lead below the horizon, and Ben Zoof was in utter darkness.



Saturday, October 07 at 1:19:04am USA Central
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