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 The regimental inspection2 was to take place at the end of the month. The major had ten days before him. On the very next morning, however, he crawled, limping, as far as the Café de Paris, where he ordered some beer. Melanie grew pale when she saw him enter, and it was with a lively recollection of a certain slap that Phrosine hastened to serve him. The major seemed very calm, however; he called for a second chair to rest his bad leg upon and drank his beer quietly like any other thirsty man. He had sat there for about an hour when he saw two officers crossing the Place du Palais—Morandot, who commanded one of the battalions3 of the regiment1, and Captain Doucet. Thereupon he excitedly waved his cane5 and shouted: “Come in and have a glass of beer with me!”  
The officers dared not refuse, but when the maid had brought the beer Morandot said to the major: “So you patronize this place now?”
“Yes—the beer is good.”
Captain Doucet winked6 and asked archly: “Do you belong to the divan7, Major?”
Laguitte chuckled8 but did not answer. Then the others began to chaff9 him about Melanie, and he took their remarks good-naturedly, simply shrugging his shoulders. The widow was undoubtedly10 a fine woman, however much people might talk. Some of those who disparaged11 her would, in reality, be only too pleased to win her good graces. Then turning to the little counter and assuming an engaging air, he shouted:
“Three more glasses, madame.”
Melanie was so taken aback that she rose and brought the beer herself. The major detained her at the table and forgot himself so far as to softly pat the hand which she had carelessly placed on the back of a chair. Used as she was to alternate brutality12 and flattery, she immediately became confident, believing in a sudden whim13 of gallantry on the part of the “old wreck,” as she was wont14 to style the major when talking with Phrosine. Doucet and Morandot looked at each other in surprise. Was the major actually stepping into Petticoat Burle’s shoes? The regiment would be convulsed if that were the case.
Suddenly, however, Laguitte, who kept his eye on the square, gave a start.
“Hallo, there’s Burle!” he exclaimed.
“Yes, it is his time,” explained Phrosine. “The captain passes every afternoon on his way from the office.”
In spite of his lameness15 the major had risen to his feet, pushing aside the chairs as he called out: “Burle! I say—come along and have a glass.”
The captain, quite aghast and unable to understand why Laguitte was at the widow’s, advanced mechanically. He was so perplexed16 that he again hesitated at the door.
“Another glass of beer,” ordered the major, and then turning to Burle, he added, “What’s the matter with you? Come in. Are you afraid of being eaten alive?”
The captain took a seat, and an awkward pause followed. Melanie, who brought the beer with trembling hands, dreaded17 some scene which might result in the closing of her establishment. The major’s gallantry made her uneasy, and she endeavored to slip away, but he invited her to drink with them, and before she could refuse he had ordered Phrosine to bring a liqueur glass of anisette, doing so with as much coolness as if he had been master of the house. Melanie was thus compelled to sit down between the captain and Laguitte, who exclaimed aggressively: “I WILL have ladies respected. We are French officers! Let us drink Madame’s health!”
Burle, with his eyes fixed18 on his glass, smiled in an embarrassed way. The two officers, shocked at the proceedings19, had already tried to get off. Fortunately the cafe was deserted20, save that the domino players were having their afternoon game. At every fresh oath which came from the major they glanced around, scandalized by such an unusual accession of customers and ready to threaten Melanie that they would leave her for the Café de la Gare if the soldiery was going to invade her place like flies that buzzed about, attracted by the stickiness of the tables which Phrosine scoured21 only on Saturdays. She was now reclining behind the counter, already reading a novel again.
“How’s this—you are not drinking with Madame?” roughly said the major to Burle. “Be civil at least!”
Then as Doucet and Morandot were again preparing to leave, he stopped them.
“Why can’t you wait? We’ll go together. It is only this brute22 who never knows how to behave himself.”
The two officers looked surprised at the major’s sudden bad temper. Melanie attempted to restore peace and with a light laugh placed her hands on the arms of both men. However, Laguitte disengaged himself.
“No,” he roared, “leave me alone. Why does he refuse to chink glasses with you? I shall not allow you to be insulted—do you hear? I am quite sick of him.”
Burle, paling under the insult, turned slightly and said to Morandot, “What does this mean? He calls me in here to insult me. Is he drunk?”
With a wild oath the major rose on his trembling legs and struck the captain’s cheek with his open hand. Melanie dived and thus escaped one half of the smack23. An appalling24 uproar25 ensued. Phrosine screamed behind the counter as if she herself had received the blow; the domino players also entrenched26 themselves behind their table in fear lest the soldiers should draw their swords and massacre27 them. However, Doucet and Morandot pinioned28 the captain to prevent him from springing at the major’s throat and forcibly let him to the door. When they got him outside they succeeded in quieting him a little by repeating that Laguitte was quite in the wrong. They would lay the affair before the colonel, having witnessed it, and the colonel would give his decision. As soon as they had got Burle away they returned to the cafe where they found Laguitte in reality greatly disturbed, with tears in his eyes but affecting stolid29 indifference30 and slowly finishing his beer.
“Listen, Major,” began Morandot, “that was very wrong on your part. The captain is your inferior in rank, and you know that he won’t be allowed to fight you.”
“That remains31 to be seen,” answered the major.
“But how has he offended you? He never uttered a word. Two old comrades too; it is absurd.”
The major made a vague gesture. “No matter. He annoyed me.”
He could never be made to say anything else. Nothing more as to his motive32 was ever known. All the same, the scandal was a terrible one. The regiment was inclined to believe that Melanie, incensed33 by the captain’s defection, had contrived34 to entrap35 the major, telling him some abominable36 stories and prevailing37 upon him to insult and strike Burle publicly. Who would have thought it of that old fogy Laguitte, who professed38 to be a woman hater? they said. So he, too, had been caught at last. Despite the general indignation against Melanie, this adventure made her very conspicuous39, and her establishment soon drove a flourishing business.
On the following day the colonel summoned the major and the captain into his presence. He censured40 them sternly, accusing them of disgracing their uniform by frequenting unseemly haunts. What resolution had they come to, he asked, as he could not authorize41 them to fight? This same question had occupied the whole regiment for the last twenty-four hours. Apologies were unacceptable on account of the blow, but as Laguitte was almost unable to stand, it was hoped that, should the colonel insist upon it, some reconciliation42 might be patched up.
“Come,” said the colonel, “will you accept me as arbitrator?”
“I beg your pardon, Colonel,” interrupted the major; “I have brought you my resignation. Here it is. That settles everything. Please name the day for the duel43.”
Burle looked at Laguitte in amazement44, and the colonel thought it his duty to protest.
“This is a most serious step, Major,” he began. “Two years more and you would be entitled to your full pension.”
But again did Laguitte cut him short, saying gruffly, “That is my own affair.”
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