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Synopsis of the Plot (Spoilers in it, of course.)
In Strasbourg in 1800, fervent Bonapartist and obsessive duelist Lieutenant Gabriel Feraud of the French 7th Hussars nearly kills the nephew of the city's mayor in a sword duel. Under pressure from the mayor, Brigadier-General Treillard sends a member of his staff, Lieutenant Armand d'Hubert of the 3rd Hussars, to put Feraud under house arrest. As the arrest takes place in the house of Mme. DeLeon, a prominent local lady, Feraud takes it as a personal insult from d'Hubert, and matters are made worse when Feraud asks d'Hubert if he would "let them spit on Napoleon" and d'Hubert doesn't immediately reply. Upon reaching his quarters, Feraud challenges d'Hubert to a duel. However, the duel is inconclusive; d'Hubert slashes Feraud's forearm but is unable to finish him because he is attacked by Feraud's housemaid. As a result of his part in the duel, d'Hubert is dismissed from the General's staff and returned to active duty with his unit.
The war intervenes in the men's quarrel and they do not meet again until six months later in Augsburg in 1801. Feraud immediately challenges d'Hubert to another duel and seriously wounds him. Recovering, d'Hubert takes lessons from a fencing master and in the next duel (held in a cellar with heavy sabres) the two men fight each other to a standstill. Soon afterwards, d'Hubert is relieved to learn he has been promoted to captain. Military protocol forbids officers of different ranks from fighting one another.
The action then moves forwards to 1806 when d'Hubert is serving in Lübeck. He is shocked to hear that the 7th Hussars have arrived in the city and that Feraud is now also a captain. Aware that in two weeks time he is himself to be promoted to major, d'Hubert attempts to slip away but is spotted by Feraud's perpetual second and Feraud challenges him to another duel which is to be fought on horseback with sabres. D'Hubert slashes his opponent across the forehead; Feraud, blinded because the cut bleeds heavily into his eyes, cannot continue the fight. D'Hubert considers himself the victor and leaves the field ebullient.
Soon afterwards, Feraud's regiment is posted to Spain. The pair do not meet again until they chance upon each other during the French Army's disastrous Retreat from Moscow in 1812. However before they can restart their quarrel, Cossacks attack forcing d'Hubert and Feraud to fight together rather than each other.
Two years later, after Napoleon's exile to Elba, d'Hubert is a brigadier-general recovering from a leg wound at the home of his sister Leonie in Tours. She introduces him to Adele, niece of her neighbour. The couple fall in love and are married. A Bonapartist agent attempts to recruit d'Hubert as rumours of Napoleon's imminent return from exile abound. But d'Hubert refuses to command a brigade if the Emperor returns from Elba. However when Feraud, who is now also a brigadier-general and a leading Bonapartist, hears this, he declares d'Hubert is a traitor to the Emperor. He claims that he always suspected d'Hubert's loyalty, which is why he challenged him to a duel in the first place.
After Napoleon is defeated at Waterloo, d'Hubert joins the army of Louis XVIII. Feraud is arrested and is expected to be executed for his part in the Hundred Days. However d'Hubert approaches the Minister of Police Joseph Fouché and persuades him to release Féraud (without revealing d'Hubert's part in his reprieve). Feraud is paroled to live under police supervision in a certain province.
After Féraud learns of d'Hubert's promotion in the new French Army, he sends two former officers to seek out d'Hubert so he can challenge him to a duel with pistols. Eventually the two men meet in a ruined château on a wooded hill. Feraud rapidly discharges both his pistols before being caught at point blank range by d'Hubert. However d'Hubert refuses to shoot him because tradition dictates he now owns Feraud's life. Instead he informs Feraud he must now submit to his decision that in all future dealings Feraud shall conduct himself "as a dead man".
The duel finally ends, d'Hubert returns to his life and happy marriage while Feraud returns to his provincial exile.
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