It was a question of Honor between gentlemen at the prep school I retired from. Back then, I was the head of school, on my way out with French lessons occupying my time rather than my governing duties. I had become tired, no, exhausted, from the continuous demands parents made on me and their children. In my last year, they were calling me a child, so that I put my head down, endured the humiliation, and walked the fine line between fantasy and reality before my permanent vacation to the south of France. The blue Mediterranean and topless beaches would be where I reentered my teenage years; it’s funny to think I spent 10 years as a monk, in a monastery. I was old when I was young and now, I am young as I approach old age. My entire life has been an anachronism.
Stranger still was the teaching staff we hired on during my last year. We had the reputation of preparing young men for Harvard, so the teachers needed to be exemplary. We had two history teachers who made dead time come back to life. The fencing club began to enact scenes from The Three Musketeers, and the teachers got so into character commanding their troops, that I was worried someone might get hurt, but the kids were having such a good time, that I thought I’d just leave things alone.
Then we had the Teacher’s Teatime on the 1st of October. We were only a month into the school year with parents threatening lawsuits due to safety violations and the history teachers who seemed to be increasingly losing touch with reality. Oddly enough, they were both married. Their wives were as strange as they were and exceedingly beautiful, and that’s when I noticed the danger. I had been drinking, which was my custom at these after-school soirees. I didn’t care how I was remembered, knowing that no principal lasts in the minds of their staff, unless they’re hated. I was neither liked, nor disliked, so my name would vanish within a year, just like the mission statements I came up with.
The history teachers were drinking brandy, which gave their faces a ruddy color, and may have been a forecast for their boiling rage.
“Sir! You are mistaken!”
“I am not!”
“Your smartphone will tell you otherwise, idiot! You need technology, whereas, I have educated myself with the right books!”
“How dare you!”
The Renaissance Man who taught post-medieval history pushed the Medieval Man who taught about the knights of the round table.
“You touched me! A smack on my honor! A duel and may your wife mourn your death, as you have murdered my reputation!” If they had access to pistols, they would’ve drawn arms in the company of their sponsors and students. As it was, the scene was so outrageous that many of the guests thought it was only a bit of entertainment, some impromptu acting, by the faculty.
The next Monday was routine, as if the events of that weekend belonged to some drunken revelry masquerading as a tea party. I even got to many of the papers on my desk when a mass email went out to all the staff at Heritage Academy. “Mr. Bills has offended my honor, and I ask any noble man to be my Second. He only needs to apply to get the job.” Moments later, Mr. Seeley responded, “Mr. Bills is a nincompoop, a third-rate teacher, and coward. He does not have the nerve to face me on the field of open combat.”
The messages even got circulated to some of the students. It was a mechanism set into motion that I was powerless to stop, like a watch that is perpetually wrong and still tries to tell the right time. Emails went back and forth with more jabs, and our students wrote an article in the newspaper giving gambling odds and reporting the best insults. “It’s only a matter of weapons… which ones will they choose?”
Mr. Bills was fencing champion in college, so he had the clear advantage. No, this duel would be a test of raw nerves, so it would be pistols at close range. Mr. Seeley had a pair of dueling pistols, flintlocks; and it was a small wonder they were being used to fight a duel over the disagreement of facts, in the information age.
The Seconds were in my opinion, sniveling weasels: Randy, the Science Teacher and Mr. Kelley, the Math Teacher. Things were heating up, so that nobody could concentrate; the SATs were in two weeks and the practice tests were so bad, it would be a miracle if the students could even make it into the top State schools. Parents were agitated and I kept fielding their phone calls, demanding to know what was going on. It would all be over tomorrow. The dawn rose. I had upgraded my drip coffee maker to an espresso machine which emanated regal smells as I slung a pair of spyglasses about my neck. The fog made the forest road difficult to see as I parked in my reserved spot. There were already students standing on the field of battle where the history teachers were checking their peep sights.
“I will count 1, 2, 3, fire. There will not be a 4. Are you ready?” Mr. Sias asked. He was a short man, so he had to yell a bit louder. Pace it out 30. Turn when I give the command and meet your fate.”
“They’re really going to do it,” the students were whispering. I looked at Mr. Bills and Mr. Seeley. There was such iron resolve, such arrogance, such courage. It was beautiful to watch. The school nurse had the bandages ready. It was total madness; such craziness I couldn’t believe I was watching.
“AND TURN! 1, 2, 3 and…”
“Wait, wait a second,” Mr. Seeley said.
“I told you he was a coward,” Mr. Bills laughed.
“No, that’s not it, I just wanted to say you are a cheeky fellow.”
“How dare you, sir!”
“FIRE AND BE DONE WITH IT!”
Both pistols exploded and the two men stood their ground. It was magnificent.
“Since you both missed, you have the option to fire again or you can sort out your honor with swords.
“It’ll be swords,” Mr. Bills said before Mr. Seeley could protest.
And steel crashed against steel.
I couldn’t watch. I’d had enough of education. Later I was told they’d both wounded each other and shook hands. I reflected on the moment from an airplane landing in Nice. That life was behind me now. I had enough of male boobs, and I wanted to see the real thing, that is… on females, if you know what I mean?
When I landed, I went straight to the beach and the beach did not disappoint. It never does…
“Monsieur, would you put some tanning lotion on my back?”