We’ve all been through high school. And we’ve all experienced the bully who will just not leave us alone, who makes our lives living hells for no reason we can discern. Nothing will stop them it seems. Not avoiding them, not standing up to them, nothing. Being in a Navy family had its advantages – I just had to endure until we moved away.
And so Lieutenant Armand D’Hubert, a staff officer assigned to the 7th Hussars in Strasbourg finds his nemesis, a fellow Lieutenant, Gabriel Feraud. Feraud has just gutted a native in a duel only this morning, an event that has caused his superiors great headaches (they have Napoleon’s growing empire to administer). So D’Hubert is sent to order Feraud to quarters. Feraud flies off the handle, feels oppressed and determines that D’Hubert, a staffer, represents this oppression. Nothing will satisfy him, he forces his fellow officer to duel him with swords (with the maid and the deaf gardener as seconds) and gets a nasty cut for his troubles. Honor should now be satisfied.
But Feraud is not satisfied.
As long as D’Hubert is of higher rank, or the Empire is at war, or he’s elsewhere, Feraud cannot touch him. But every so often the stars align, Feraud claws another promotion, and the two are forced to fight. D’Hubert gets run through at one point but Feraud is still not happy. Nothing will suffice save D’Hubert’s death.
Written by Joseph Conrad in 1908, the story sprawls across 15 years of Napoleon’s power, the protagonists rising to the rank of General. And over and over they fight, never landing that decisive blow. D’Hubert has faced death with Feraud, back to back against cossacks. He’s saved his life from the post-Napoleon purges. He’s done everything he can to get Feraud to leave him alone. But like any bully, Feraud is back, always back, his seconds seeking D’Hubert out for yet another resolution.
And finally D’Hubert comes up with a means to find his peace, a unique twist to free him of his eternal nemesis.
For those who would like to read this, its available on Project Gutenberg HERE, in all eformats. For those hotheaded Ferauds out there to whom reading is too slow, you can see a wonderful movie adaptation directed by Ridley Scott, The Duelists. Beautifully shot and somewhat well acted – worth a watch at any rate.
So have a look. Prime stuff, if only to see that we’re not the only ones who have to deal with unreasonable bullies.