The Duel

Timothy Shay Arthur, 1851
 

Two young men, one with a leather cap on his head and military buttons on his coat, sat in close conversation, long years ago, in the bar-room of the town hotel. The subject that occupied their attention seemed to be a very exciting one, at least to him of the military buttons and black cap, for he very emphatic, knit his brow awfully, and at last went so far as to swear a terrible oath.

"Don't permit yourself to get so excited, Tom," interposed a friend. "It won't help the matter at all."

"But I've got no patience!"

"Then it is time you had some," coolly returned the friend. "If you intend pushing your way into the good graces of my lady Mary Clinton, you must do something more than fume about the little matter of rivalry that has sprung up."

"Yes; but to think of a poor milk-sop of an author author? pah! scribbler! to think, I say, of a spiritless creature like Blake thrusting himself between me and such a girl as Mary Clinton; and worse, gaining her notice, is too bad! He has sonneted her eyebrows, no doubt flattered her in verse until she doesn't know who or where she is, and in this way become a formidable rival. But I won't bear it I'll I'll"

"What will you do?"

"Do? I'll I'll kill him! that's what I'll do. I'll challenge the puppy and shoot him."

And the young lieutenant, for such he was, flourished his right arm and looked pistol-balls and death.

"But he won't fight, Tom."

"Won't he?" and the lieutenant's face brightened. "Then I'll post him for a coward; that'll finish him. All women hate cowards. I'll post him yes, and cowhide him in the bargain, if necessary."

"Posting will do," half sarcastically replied his friend. "But upon what pretext will you challenge him?"

"I'll make one. I'll insult him the first time I meet him and then, if he says anything, challenge and shoot him."

"That would be quite gentlemanly, quite according to the code of honor," returned the friend, quietly.

The young military gentleman we have introduced was named Redmond. The reader has already penetrated his character. In person he was quite good-looking, though not the Adonis he deemed himself. He had fallen deeply in love with the "many charms" possessed by a certain Miss Clinton, and was making rapid inroad upon her heart at least he thought so when a young man well known in the literary circles made his appearance, and was received with a degree of favor that confounded the officer, who had already begun to think himself sure of the prize.

Blake had a much readier tongue and a great deal more in his head than Redmond, and could therefore, in the matter of mind at least, appear to much better advantage than his rival. He had also written and published a couple of popular works; this gave him a standing as an author. Take him all in all, he was a rival to be feared, and Redmond was not long in making the discovery. What was to be done? A military man must not be put down or beaten off by a mere civilian. The rival must be gotten rid of in some manner; the duel was, as has been seen, thought of first. Blake must be challenged and killed off, and then the course would be clear.

A few days after this brave and dishonorable determination, the officer met the author in a public place, and purposely jostled him rudely. Blake said nothing, thinking it possible that it was an accident; but he remained near Redmond, to give him a chance to repeat the insult, if such had been his intention. It was not long before the author was again jostled in a still ruder manner than before, at the same time some offensive word was muttered by the officer. This was in the presence of a number of respectable people, who could not help hearing, seeing, and understanding all. Satisfied that an insult was intended, Blake looked him in the face for a moment, and then asked, loud enough to be heard by all around "Did you intend to jostle me?"

"I did," was the angry retort.

"Gentlemen never do such things."

As Blake said this with marked emphasis, he looked steadily into the officer's face.

"You'll hear from me, sir!" And as the officer said this, menacingly, he turned and walked away with a military air.

"There's trouble for you now, Blake; he'll challenge you," said two or three friends who instantly gathered around him.

"Do you think so?"

"Certainly; he is an officer fighting is his trade."

"Well, let him."

"What'll you do?"

"Accept the challenge, of course."

"And fight?"

"Certainly."

"He'll shoot you."

"I'm not afraid."

Blake returned with his friend to his lodgings, where he found a billet already from Redmond, who was all eagerness to kill his rival.

On the next morning, the two seconds, friends of the combatants, conferred for the purpose of arranging the preliminaries for the fight.

"The weapon?" asked the friend of the military man. "Your friend, by the laws of honor, has the choice; as, also, to name time and place, etc."

"Yes, I understand. All is settled."

"He will fight, then?"

"Fight? Oh, certainly; Blake is no coward!"

"Well, then, name the weapons."

"A pair of goose-quills."

"Sir!" in profound astonishment.

"The weapons are to be a pair of good Russia quills, opaque, manufactured into pens of approved quality. The place of meeting, the Gazette lobby; the time, tomorrow morning, bright and early."

"Do you mean to insult me?"

"By no means."

"You cannot be serious."

"Never was more serious in my life. By the code of honor, the challenged party has the right to choose weapons, place of meeting, and time. Is it not so?"

"Certainly."

"Very well. Your principal has challenged mine. All these rights are of course his; and he is justified in choosing those weapons with which he is most familiar. The weapon he can use best is the pen, and he chooses that. If Lieut. Redmond had been the challenged party, he would, of course, have named pistols, with which he is familiar, and Mr. Blake would have been called a coward, or something as bad, if, after sending a challenge, he had objected to the weapons. Will your principal find himself in a different position, if he declines this meeting on like grounds? I think not. Pens are as good as pistols at any time, and will do as much."

"Fighting with pens! Preposterous!"

"Not quite so preposterous as you may think. Mr. Barton has more than insinuated that Mr. Redmond is no gentleman. For this he is challenged to a single combat that is to prove him to be a gentleman or not one. Surely the most sensible weapon with which to do this, is the pen. Pistols won't demonstrate the matter; only the pen can do it, so the pen is chosen. In the Gazette lobby of tomorrow morning my friend stands ready to prove that he is a gentleman; and your friend that he is one, and that a gentleman has a right to insult publicly and without provocation whoever he pleases. Depend upon it, you will find this quite as serious an affair as if pistols were used."

"I did not come here, sir, to be trifled with."

"No trifling in the matter at all; I am in sober earnest. Pens are the weapons; the Gazette lobby, the battle-ground; time, as early as you please tomorrow morning. Are you prepared for the meeting?"

"No."

"Do you understand the consequences?"

"What consequences?"

"Your principal will be posted as a coward before night."

"Are you mad?"

"No, cool and earnest. We fully understand what we are about."

The officer's second was baffled; he did not know what to say or think. He was unprepared for such a position of affairs.

"I'll see you in the course of an hour," he at length said, rising.

"Very well; you will find me here."

"Is all settled?" asked the valiant lieutenant, as his second came into his room at the hotel, where he was pacing the floor.

"Settled? No; nor likely to be. I objected to the weapons, and, indeed, the whole proposed arrangement."

"Objected to the weapons! What did he name? A blunderbuss?"

"No; nor a duck gun, with trumpet muzzle; but an infernal pen!"

"A what?"

"Why, curse the fellow, a pen! You are to use pens; the place of meeting, the Gazette lobby; the time, tomorrow morning. He is to prove you are no gentleman, and you are to prove you are one, and that a gentleman is at all times privileged to insult whoever he pleases without provocation."

"He's a cowardly fool!"

"If his terms are not accepted, he threatens to post you for a coward before night!"

"What?"

"You must accept or be posted. Think of that!"

The precise terms in which the principal swore, and the manner in which he fumed for the next five minutes, need not be told. He was called back to more sober feelings by the question "Do you accept the terms of the meeting?"

"No, of course not the fellow's a fool!"

"Then you consent to be posted as a coward. How will that sound?"

"I'll cut off the rascal's ears, if he dare do such a thing."

"That won't secure Mary Clinton, the cause of this contest."

"Hang it, no!"

"With pens for weapons, he will cut you a little too quick."

"No doubt. But the public won't bear such an outrage such a violation of all the rules of honor."

"By the code of honor, the challenged party has the right to choose the weapons, etc."

"I know."

"And you are afraid to meet the man you have challenged upon the terms he proposes. That is all plain and simple enough. The world will understand it all."

"But what is to be done?"

"You must fight, apologize, or be posted; there is no alternative. To be posted won't do; the ridicule would be too strongly against you."

"It will be as bad, and even worse, to fight as he proposes."

"True. What then?"

"It must be made up somehow or other."

"So I think. Will you write an apology?"

"I don't know; that's too humiliating."

"It's the least of the three evils."

So, at last, thought the valiant Lieut. Redmond. When the seconds again met, it was to arrange a settlement of differences. This could only be done by a very humbly written apology, which was made. On the next day the young officer left the city, a little wiser than he came. Blake and his second said but little about the matter. A few choice friends were let into the secret, which afforded many a hearty laugh. Among these friends was Mary Clinton, who not long after gave her heart and hand to the formidable author.

As for the lieutenant, he declares that he had as soon come in contact with a lion as an author with his "infernal pen." He understands pistols, swords, rifles, and even cannons but he can't stand up when pen-work is the order of the day. The odds would be too much against him!