A Coward (Maupassant)

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A Coward
Summary of the Short Story
Microsummary: A man, known for his charm and skill with weapons, faced a duel after defending a lady's honor, but struggled with overwhelming fear and ultimately chose to end his life rather than face the duel.

Viscount Gontran-Joseph de Signoles, a young orphan with a good income, was known for his good looks and charm. He was popular among women and had a reputation for being a skilled swordsman and an excellent shot with a pistol. One evening, he went to the theater with two female friends and their husbands. After the performance, he invited them to have ices at Tortoni's café.

While they were enjoying their ices, Viscount noticed a man staring at one of the ladies, making her uncomfortable. He confronted the man, who insulted him in response.

You have a way of looking at those ladies, sir, which I cannot stomach. Please be so good as to set a limit to your persistence.

Viscount Gontran-Joseph de Signoles — narrator; orphan with an income; charming, skilled with weapons, but overwhelmed by fear.

Viscount slapped the man, and they exchanged cards to arrange a duel. Back at home, Viscount struggled with fear and anxiety about the upcoming duel. He decided to use pistols, hoping that his opponent might back down.

The next day, Viscount's witnesses arranged the duel according to his conditions: twenty paces apart, raising their arms at the signal, and exchanging shots until one was seriously wounded.

Twenty paces; at the signal, raising the arm, and not lowering it. Exchange of shots till one is seriously wounded.

Viscount tried to calm his nerves by drinking rum, but his fear only grew stronger. He imagined himself dead, lying in his bed, and felt an overwhelming sense of dread.

On the day of the duel, Viscount's fear had become unbearable. He knew he could not face his opponent in his current state, but he also could not bear the thought of the disgrace and humiliation he would face if he backed down. In a moment of desperation, he took a loaded pistol and shot himself in the throat, ending his life before the duel could take place.