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Dr. Maturin's Defeat (3)

Dr. Stephen Maturin, recently of Trinity College, Dublin, could not with any justice have been described as an aggressive young man, but the recent announcement of the election of the Estates-General (last assembled in 1614, no less) had left him in a high state of excitement. His nerves were therefore very much on edge as he arrived late at the Comtesse de Polignac's musical salon and was forced to take the only seat remaining, a little gilt chair near the players. When the large, well-dressed negro gentleman seated next to him began beating the time on his knee, Dr. Maturin found the movement supremely irritating. After an unsuccessful attempt to shush the older man (twice the doctor's age, if a day), he finally resorted to driving his thin but distinctly pointed elbow into the black man's ribs. The man grunted slightly, but refused to desist.

The piece, a sprightly quartetto that reminded Stephen irresistibly of Mozart, ended; the audience applauded enthusiastically; and the negro stood up with a face of thunder. 'What is the meaning of this behavior, sir?' he demanded in curiously-accented French.

'I should have thought that was obvious, sir,' replied Stephen, standing up as well. Heads began to turn in the room.

'You are rude, sir. You are uncouth. I require an explanation.'

'Indeed? I hardly think that a man who beats the time upon his knee in such an ostentatious fashion need give lectures on deportment.'

The other man stared. 'Dr. Maturin!' hissed a voice behind them, but Stephen ignored it, determined not to retreat before the figure towering over him. 'Dr. Maturin! This is''

'I am a busy man, sir, and I do not have time for the ordinary formalities,' interrupted the black man. 'Shall we meet in the Jardin de Luxembourg, at dawn tomorrow morning?'


The following day found the two locked in combat, watched closely by a small number of their friends. The rapiers hissed, clicked, and occasionally struck sparks in the dimness beneath the trees. Although Maturin was an experienced duellist, he had met his match in the older man, who fought with a fluid grace the doctor had never encountered before. Stephen increased the pace of his attack; his opponent met it and replied with interest. Back and forth they went, each seeking an opening, neither finding it.

After half an hour both men began to tire, and by unspoken mutual consent, separated for a few moments to rest. 'You are an eminent swordsman, I find,' said Maturin, between deep breaths.

'I trained under La Boëssière,' replied his opponent.

Maturin looked puzzled. 'Indeed? And do you find that music and fighting are suitable companions? May I inquire as to your name, sir?'

'They are,' said the man impassively, 'as you may learn if you live out this day. And my name is Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges.'

Stephen gaped, slowly dropping his point. 'Mon Dieu! Le Mozart Noir?'

'The same,' replied the other. 'En garde!'

'Je me rends,' replied Stephen firmly, throwing down his rapier at his feet. 'I yield me, sir. I apologize unconditionally. To think that I should have given offense to the foremost musician in Paris—nay, in France! Such elegance! Such virtuosity! I am ashamed of myself.'

'That is well,' said the Chevalier, sheathing his sword with a click. 'Your apology is accepted. I think in future, Dr. Maturin, it would be wise for you to inquire into whose ribs you intend on driving your elbow before you do so. Good day to you, sir.' He bowed to the assembled company, and departed.

'I tried to tell you,' whispered Dupuytren angrily, as they walked back to the waiting carriage. 'He wasn't simply beating the time. He was conducting his own piece!'

© 2004 The Last of the True French Short Bastards