While on the subject of duels I may, perhaps, as well disburden my memory of two or three more which happened about this period; exact chronological order not being quite essential in such matters. I have before mentioned the formation of a kind of guard of honor composed of the sons of respectable persons, which corps was afterwards called the Veliti a cavallo, and greatly distinguished themselves in Poland and Russia. Out of six hundred and sixty, only thirty-seven returned to Naples! When this corps was first formed, the scampish portion of the French officers used frequently to crack jokes upon their “raw” appearance, and some duels took place, always to the discomfiture of the French. The “esprit de corps” became roused, and one evening four of the officers of the “Guard of Honor,” happening to be taking their ices at a coffeehouse opposite the palace, some French officers who were present in great numbers began their sneers, speaking more at, than to, the Neapolitans. Words ensued, and at length such was the language of the French reflecting on the corps, on its founder, and on its commander, that two of the four Neapolitans left the place to report the matter to their colonel, who happened to be the very identical Durand whom we have just seen fighting with Roccaromana. Durand, who was a brave, just, and impartial man, indignant at the conduct of the French officers, immediately left the royal box at the opera where he happened to be, and accompanied his officers to the coffee-house. Addressing himself to the four Neapolitans, he desired them to point out the Frenchmen who had used the sweeping expressions of abuse complained of. They were indicated, and happened to be just four; whereupon, walking up to each of them, he gave them one after the other a slap in the face, and told them that each of his four officers would give them satisfaction, and if after that they desired more, he was ready to supply it. The Neapolitans were Ferdinando Colonna, eldest son of the Prince Colonna Stigliano; the Marquis Rivelli, Diego Pignatelli Monteleone, Marco Caracciolo, and the Marquis Campomele. The circumstance took place on a Sunday, and the quadruple duel was fixed for the Wednesday following. Three of the parties agreed to fight with small swords; Colonna, to whom I was second, chose the sabre. Colonna and I had often fenced together, and also played with the basket-hilted stick. I had learnt a particular decoy to engage a point thrust from my adversary which led to a risposta of fatal certainty: we called this cut, “La Mamalucca.”
Early on Monday morning, my friend and I began to practice with our sticks, and so continued, with scarcely any other intermission but for meals and sleep, which I took at his palace, not forgetting ever-and-anon to practice the Mamalucca, from which I anticipated success. Our adversary was an experienced lieutenant of French light cavalry.
On the appointed day we all met in a garden at Capo di Monte, each principal being attended by two seconds, so that together we were twenty-four men all armed and stripped for combat. In fact the seconds had much cause to fear being called upon to use their weapons, as the French are not celebrated for fairness in duels, when advantage can be taken with impunity. In my remarks on coroners’ inquests, page 249, I have given an instance of a sly murder committed at a duel, and I could muster up more would my space allow of it. All the seconds then on this occasion were stripped, with weapons bound in hand, as though they had to fight themselves.*
The play began; three pair with small swords (spade), one with sabres. A description of the thrusts, parries, feints, passes, &c., &c., would be given in a romance, but it is not possible for me to detail them here were I ever so inclined. Moreover, all my anxiety was directed to my friend. He was active, strong, dexterous, and cool as a cucumber: I felt that he had a good chance, but, alas, three of the Frenchmen fell one after the other! Having heard of the “theory of chances,” fear flashed across my heart for the odds against my friend. I saw that he was equal, and more, to the Frenchman, but it was hard to expect four victories out of four matches. However, I kept close beside him and urged him to the Mamalucca, a word of which the other did not understand our application. The Prince held out the bait—the Frenchman took it,—and instantly his abdomen was opened, so that his bowels protruded. Had it not been for the edge of the sabre taking a button of his trousers, the wound would have been worse and mortal; but, as it happened, I am joyed to say the man recovered, as also did two others of the Frenchmen wounded with swords, though one of them limped ever after, having been wounded in the joint at the groin. One only died, and that only six days afterwards. Only one of the Neapolitans received a scratch; and that was so small as to have escaped the notice of the seconds, which would have saved his adversary’s life, who happened to be the one who died.
* In duel fighting, either with swords or sabres, the weapon is, or ought to be, firmly bound by a wet handkerchief round his hand and wrist. [Maceroni’s note]