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1940s Archive

Yogurt and the Bulgarian Colonel

continued (page 4 of 5)

I was happy, but not entirely. I had never met Clarissa's parents. God knows, I suggested many times that I meet them, but whenever I mentioned them, Clarissa would become extremely nervous and exclaim, "Oh, my father'd kill you!" I would inquire why he should want to terminate my life, and then Clarissa would answer that, since I was a foreigner, I was not eligible, and furthermore I hadn't met her in the proper way.

But fate took care of the necessary introduction. One evening, as we walked arm in arm on little winding streets off the main avenues, I suddenly saw before me a man of tremendous build, sporting a musical comedy uniform freely embroidered with golden frogs. It was the Colonel! He was beside himself with rage and even his waxed mustachios trembled as he machine-gunned me with questions: "Who are you? Where did you come from? Where do you live?"

I answered very politely, showing as little emotion as was possible under the circumstances. The Colonel then grabbed Clarissa, and away he stamped, with the little maid trotting after them. Over his huge shoulder he shouted grimly, "You will hear from me!"

I did. The next day two Bulgarian gentlemen woke me up. One was dressed in black, and I couldn't help thinking that he looked like a funeral director. The other fellow was an officer from the Colonel's regiment. They told me that the Colonel considered his honor outraged because I had walked with his daughter without his permission, and that only blood could remove the stain. In other words, I was challenged to a duel. I pleaded with the two men and tried to explain that we didn't duel in the United States, but it was to no avail. I had to name two friends as seconds, and the four of them together sealed my fate in a few days. In the meantime I found out that the Colonel had been a one-time Olympic fencing champion.

It was at dawn that I got into a horse-drawn carriage with my seconds, and we drove off at a quick trot toward the barracks. We passed the spot where I used to meet Clarissa at nine-fifteen each morning, and I sighed wistfully but assured myself that I had no regrets.

We went up a winding staircase to the gymnasium in the barracks, and as we reached a landing I almost fell. "Pardon me, I stumbled …" I apologized to my seconds. "Stumbled nothing—here is some cognac."

In a dressing room I stripped and put on a pair of black shorts which were handed to me by the attendant. Then I was led out to the large gymnasium. The Colonel was already there, surrounded by his funeral directors. I began to tremble slightly, despite the Greek brandy. The officer who was leading the duel stiffly stepped forward and pointed out four swords laid on a table. "The pair to the left are the Colonel's own sabres. The pair to the right belong to the regiment. Please make your choice. But I advise you"—and his eyes bored into mine suggestively—"to fight with the Colonel's. They are of the finest Damascus steel and can easily cut a gun barrel in two. …"

I glanced at the swords and since they looked very much alike, at least to a layman, I agreed to use the pair belonging to my assassin-to-be. I had very little resistance left in me; I would have agreed to anything at that point.

The seconds measured and counter-measured and then drew chalk marks on the floor, and I suddenly found myself face to face with my beloved's father. I was frail at that time—today I am portly, as an honest middle-aged gourmet should be—and didn't weigh much more than a borzoi after a hard day's hare-catching. The Colonel was twice as big as I, and neatly padded—he was already a middle-aged gourmet. Before I knew what was happening the leading second shouted—"En garde!" And in a further split second "Go!"

I moved a step forward but I seemed to be paralyzed with fear. Suddenly I felt three lightning-quick stinging blows on my face, one on the right cheek, one on the left, and one on my nose, as though someone had slapped me thrice very hard. My God, I thought, this devil has cut my nose off! The leading second thrust himself between us in his well-padded fencing armor, and another second tore the sword out of my hand. The duel was halted. The attending surgeon ran to me and examined me minutely. "He's all right; it was the flat of the Colonel's blade that hit him."

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