'It was not an affair of honour, then?' he asked.
'What was not? I do not follow,' said I.
He gave no sign of impatience; simply sat awhile silent, and began again in the same placid and good-natured voice: 'The court and I were at one in setting aside your evidence. It could not deceive a child. But there was a difference between myself and the other officers, because _I_ KNEW MY MAN and they did not. They saw in you a common soldier, and I knew you for a gentleman. To them your evidence was a leash of lies, which they yawned to hear you telling. Now, I was asking myself, how far will a gentleman go? Not surely so far as to help hush a murder up? So that--when I heard you tell how you knew nothing of the matter, and were only awakened by the corporal, and all the rest of it--I translated your statements into something else. Now, Champdivers,' he cried, springing up lively and coming towards me with animation, 'I am going to tell you what that was, and you are going to help me to see justice done: how, I don't know, for of course you are under oath--but somehow. Mark what I'm going to say.'
At that moment he laid a heavy, hard grip upon my shoulder; and whether he said anything more or came to a full stop at once, I am sure I could not tell you to this day. For, as the devil would have it, the shoulder he laid hold of was the one Goguelat had pinked. The wound was but a scratch; it was healing with the first intention; but in the clutch of Major Chevenix it gave me agony. My head swam; the sweat poured off my face; I must have grown deadly pale.
He removed his hand as suddenly as he had laid it there. 'What is wrong with you?' said he.
'It is nothing,' said I. 'A qualm. It has gone by.'
'Are you sure?' said he. 'You are as white as a sheet.'
'Oh no, I assure you! Nothing whatever. I am my own man again,' I said, though I could scarce command my tongue.
'Well, shall I go on again?' says he. 'Can you follow me?'
'Oh, by all means!' said I, and mopped my streaming face upon my sleeve, for you may be sure in those days I had no handkerchief.
'If you are sure you can follow me. That was a very sudden and sharp seizure,' he said doubtfully. 'But if you are sure, all right, and here goes. An affair of honour among you fellows would, naturally, be a little difficult to carry out, perhaps it would be impossible to have it wholly regular. And yet a duel might be very irregular in form, and, under the peculiar circumstances of the case, loyal enough in effect. Do you take me? Now, as a gentleman and a soldier.'
His hand rose again at the words and hovered over me. I could bear no more, and winced away from him. 'No,' I cried, 'not that. Do not put your hand upon my shoulder. I cannot bear it. It is rheumatism,' I made haste to add. 'My shoulder is inflamed and very painful.'
He returned to his chair and deliberately lighted a cigar.
'I am sorry about your shoulder,' he said at last. 'Let me send for the doctor.'
'Not in the least,' said I. 'It is a trifle. I am quite used to it. It does not trouble me in the smallest. At any rate, I don't believe in doctors.'
'All right,' said he, and sat and smoked a good while in a silence which I would have given anything to break. 'Well,' he began presently, 'I believe there is nothing left for me to learn. I presume I may say that I know all.'
'About what?' said I boldly.
'About Goguelat,' said he.
'I beg your pardon. I cannot conceive,' said I.
'Oh,' says the major, 'the man fell in a duel, and by your hand! I am not an infant.'
'By no means,' said I. 'But you seem to me to be a good deal of a theorist.'
'Shall we test it?' he asked. 'The doctor is close by. If there is not an open wound on your shoulder, I am wrong. If there is--' He waved his hand. 'But I advise you to think twice. There is a deuce of a nasty drawback to the experiment--that what might have remained private between us two becomes public property.'
'Oh, well!' said I, with a laugh, 'anything rather than a doctor! I cannot bear the breed.'
His last words had a good deal relieved me, but I was still far from comfortable.