Chapter 11
5 mins to read
1266 words

She found Campion downstairs in the deserted lobby.

“I saw you go upstairs,” he said excitedly. “Is he all right? When is the duel going to be?”

“I don’t know.” She resented his speaking of it as a circus, with McKisco as the tragic clown.

“Will you go with me?” he demanded, with the air of having seats. “I’ve hired the hotel car.”

“I don’t want to go.”

“Why not? I imagine it’ll take years off my life but I wouldn’t miss it for words. We could watch it from quite far away.”

“Why don’t you get Mr. Dumphry to go with you?”

His monocle fell out, with no whiskers to hide in—he drew himself up.

“I never want to see him again.”

“Well, I’m afraid I can’t go. Mother wouldn’t like it.”

As Rosemary entered her room Mrs. Speers stirred sleepily and called to her:

“Where’ve you been?”

“I just couldn’t sleep. You go back to sleep, Mother.”

“Come in my room.” Hearing her sit up in bed, Rosemary went in and told her what had happened.

“Why don’t you go and see it?” Mrs. Speers suggested. “You needn’t go up close and you might be able to help afterwards.”

Rosemary did not like the picture of herself looking on and she demurred, but Mrs. Speer’s consciousness was still clogged with sleep and she was reminded of night calls to death and calamity when she was the wife of a doctor. “I like you to go places and do things on your own initiative without me—you did much harder things for Rainy’s publicity stunts.”

Still Rosemary did not see why she should go, but she obeyed the sure, clear voice that had sent her into the stage entrance of the Odéon in Paris when she was twelve and greeted her when she came out again.

She thought she was reprieved when from the steps she saw Abe and McKisco drive away—but after a moment the hotel car came around the corner. Squealing delightedly Luis Campion pulled her in beside him.

“I hid there because they might not let us come. I’ve got my movie camera, you see.”

She laughed helplessly. He was so terrible that he was no longer terrible, only dehumanized.

“I wonder why Mrs. McKisco didn’t like the Divers?” she said. “They were very nice to her.”

“Oh, it wasn’t that. It was something she saw. We never did find exactly what it was because of Barban.”

“Then that wasn’t what made you so sad.”

“Oh, no,” he said, his voice breaking, “that was something else that happened when we got back to the hotel. But now I don’t care—I wash my hands of it completely.”

They followed the other car east along the shore past Juan les Pins, where the skeleton of the new Casino was rising. It was past four and under a blue-gray sky the first fishing boats were creaking out into a glaucous sea. Then they turned off the main road and into the back country.

“It’s the golf course,” cried Campion. “I’m sure that’s where it’s going to be.”

He was right. When Abe’s car pulled up ahead of them the east was crayoned red and yellow, promising a sultry day. Ordering the hotel car into a grove of pines Rosemary and Campion kept in the shadow of a wood and skirted the bleached fairway where Abe and McKisco were walking up and down, the latter raising his head at intervals like a rabbit scenting. Presently there were moving figures over by a farther tee and the watchers made out Barban and his French second—the latter carried the box of pistols under his arm.

Somewhat appalled, McKisco slipped behind Abe and took a long swallow of brandy. He walked on choking and would have marched directly up into the other party, but Abe stopped him and went forward to talk to the Frenchman. The sun was over the horizon.

Campion grabbed Rosemary’s arm.

“I can’t stand it,” he squeaked, almost voiceless. “It’s too much. This will cost me——”

“Let go,” Rosemary said peremptorily. She breathed a frantic prayer in French.

The principals faced each other, Barban with the sleeve rolled up from his arm. His eyes gleamed restlessly in the sun, but his motion was deliberate as he wiped his palm on the seam of his trousers. McKisco, reckless with brandy, pursed his lips in a whistle and pointed his long nose about nonchalantly, until Abe stepped forward with a handkerchief in his hand. The French second stood with his face turned away. Rosemary caught her breath in terrible pity and gritted her teeth with hatred for Barban; then:

“One—two—three!” Abe counted in a strained voice.

They fired at the same moment. McKisco swayed but recovered himself. Both shots had missed.

“Now, that’s enough!” cried Abe.

The duellists walked in, and everyone looked at Barban inquiringly.

“I declare myself unsatisfied.”

“What? Sure you’re satisfied,” said Abe impatiently. “You just don’t know it.”

“Your man refuses another shot?”

“You’re damn right, Tommy. You insisted on this and my client went through with it.”

Tommy laughed scornfully.

“The distance was ridiculous,” he said. “I’m not accustomed to such farces—your man must remember he’s not now in America.”

“No use cracking at America,” said Abe rather sharply. And then, in a more conciliatory tone, “This has gone far enough, Tommy.” They parleyed briskly for a moment—then Barban nodded and bowed coldly to his late antagonist.

“No shake hand?” suggested the French doctor.

“They already know each other,” said Abe.

He turned to McKisco.

“Come on, let’s get out.”

As they strode off, McKisco, in exultation, gripped his arm.

“Wait a minute!” Abe said. “Tommy wants his pistol back. He might need it again.”

McKisco handed it over.

“To hell with him,” he said in a tough voice. “Tell him he can——”

“Shall I tell him you want another shot?”

“Well, I did it,” cried McKisco, as they went along. “And I did it pretty well, didn’t I? I wasn’t yellow.”

“You were pretty drunk,” said Abe bluntly.

“No, I wasn’t.”

“All right, then, you weren’t.”

“Why would it make any difference if I had a drink or so?”

As his confidence mounted he looked resentfully at Abe.

“What difference does that make?” he repeated.

“If you can’t see it, there’s no use going into it.”

“Don’t you know everybody was drunk all the time during the war?”

“Well, let’s forget it.”

But the episode was not quite over. There were urgent footsteps in the heather behind them and the doctor drew up alongside.

“Pardon, Messieurs,” he panted. “Voulez-vous régler mes honorairies? Naturellement c’est pour soins médicaux seulement. M. Barban n’a qu’un billet de mille et ne peut pas les régler et l’autre a laissé son porte-monnaie chez lui.”

“Trust a Frenchman to think of that,” said Abe, and then to the doctor. “Combien?”

“Let me pay this,” said McKisco.

“No, I’ve got it. We were all in about the same danger.”

Abe paid the doctor while McKisco suddenly turned into the bushes and was sick there. Then paler than before he strutted on with Abe toward the car through the now rosy morning.

Campion lay gasping on his back in the shrubbery, the only casualty of the duel, while Rosemary suddenly hysterical with laughter kept kicking at him with her espadrille. She did this persistently until she roused him—the only matter of importance to her now was that in a few hours she would see the person whom she still referred to in her mind as “the Divers” on the beach.

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Chapter 12
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1820 words
Return to Tender is the Night