The Macdermots of Ballycloran, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 26.

The Duel.

Mr. Jonas Brown was in a towering passion, when he left the meeting at which he had listened to, but had not ventured to answer, Counsellor Webb’s remarks respecting Thady Macdermot and the supposed intimacy between Ussher and the inmates of Brown Hall. He had so openly expressed his wish that the young man might be capitally punished — and this joined to the fact that Ussher had not been as intimate at any other house as he had been at Brown Hall, could leave no doubt on the mind of any one who had been present, that Webb’s allusion had been intended for him. His first impulse was to challenge his foe at once; but his ardour on that point soon cooled a little, and he came to the conclusion of sleeping on the matter, or, at any rate, of drinking a bottle or two of wine over it with his sons.

As soon as the servant had withdrawn after dinner he began his grievance.

“By G——d, Fred, that ruffian Webb is passing all bounds. He’s not only forgotten the opinions and notions of a gentleman, but he has lain down the manners of one too.”

“Why, what has he done now? With all his queer ideas, Webb can be a gentleman if he pleases,” said Fred.

“I must say,” said George, “the Counsellor is a good fellow on the course. I don’t care how seldom I see him anywhere else.”

“I don’t know what you may call being a good fellow or a gentleman,” replied the father; “but I know he has insulted me publicly, and that in the most gross way, and before half the country. I don’t know whether that’s your idea of acting like a gentleman or a good fellow.”

“It’s what many a gentleman and many a good fellow has done before him,” said George; “but if he has insulted you, of course he must apologize — or do the other thing.”

“What — let it alone?” rejoined Fred.

“No; fight — and that’s what he’s a deal the most likely to do,” said George.

“Be d —— d,” said old Brown, “but I think both of you seem glad to hear that your father has been insulted! you’ve neither of you a grain of proper feeling.”

“It’s with a grain or two of gunpowder, I’d take it,” said George, “and I’d advise you, father, to do the same; a precious deal better thing than good feeling to settle an insult with.”

“But you’ve not told us what it’s all about?” said Fred; “what was the quarrel about?”

“Quarrel! there was no quarrel at all in the matter — I couldn’t quarrel with him for I wouldn’t speak to him. It was about that infernal friend of yours, Fred, that Ussher; I wish he’d never darkened this door.”

“Poor devil!” answered Fred; “there’s no use abusing him now he’s dead. I suppose the row wasn’t his fault.”

“It was about him though, and the low blackguard that murdered him. Webb was talking about him, making a speech in the public-room, taking the fellow’s part, as I’m told he’s always doing, and going on with all the clap-trap story about protecting his sister; — as if every one in the country didn’t know that she’d been Ussher’s mistress for months back. Well, that was all nothing to me — only he’ll be rightly served when he finds every man on his estate has become a ribbonman, and every other tenant ready to turn murderer. But this wasn’t enough for him, but at the end of the whole he must declare — I forget what it was he said — but something about Ussher’s intimacy here — that it was a shameful thing of me to be wishing on that account that this Macdermot should be hanged, as he deserves.”

“Did he actually mention Brown Hall?” asked Fred.

“No; but he put it so that there could be no mistake about it; he said he didn’t envy my state of mind.”

“Well, tell him you don’t envy his. I don’t think you could call him out for that,” said George.

“By heavens you’re enough to provoke a saint!” continued the father. “Can’t you believe me, when I tell you, he made as direct a cut at Brown Hall as he could, because I can’t repeat all his words like a newspaper? By G——d the pluck’s gone out of the country entirely! if as much had been said to my father, when I was your age, I’d have had the fellow who said it out, if he’d been the best shot in Connaught.”

“Don’t say another word, father,” said George, “if that’s what you’re after. I thought, may be, you’d like the fun yourself, or I’d have offered. I’d call him out with a heart and a half; there’s nothing I’d like better. May be I’d be able to make up a match between Diamond and the Counsellor’s brown mare, when it’s done. He’d be a little soft, would Webb, after such a job as that, and wouldn’t stand for a few pounds difference.”

“That’s nonsense, George,” said the father, a little mollified by the son’s dutiful offer. “I don’t want any one to take the thing off my hands. I don’t want to be shelved that way — but I wish you to see the matter in the right light. I tell you the man was cursedly insolent, Fred; in fact, he said what I don’t mean to put up with; and the question is, what had I better do?”

“He didn’t say anything, did he,” asked Fred, “with your name, or Brown Hall in it?”

“No, he didn’t name them exactly.”

“Then I don’t think you can call for an apology; write him a civil note, and beg him to say that he intended no allusion to you or your family in what he said.”

“Fred’s right for once,” said George, “that’s all you can do as the matter stands now. If he won’t say that, call him out and have done with it.”

“I’ve no wish to be fighting,” said the father; “in fact, at my time of life I’d rather not. I was ready enough once, but I’d sooner settle it quietly.”

“Why, there’s no contenting you,” answered Fred; “just now nothing but pistols and coffee would do for you; and then you were in a passion because one of us wouldn’t take a challenge for you at once, without knowing anything about it; and now you’re just the other way; if you don’t like the business, there’s George will take it off your hands, he says.”

After a considerable quantity of squabbling among this family party it was at last decided that a civil note should be sent to Ardrum, in which Mr. Webb should be desired to state that he had made no allusion to Brown Hall; accordingly a servant on horseback was dispatched on the Monday morning with the following missive:—

Brown Hall, Sunday Evening.

Mr. Brown presents his compliments to Mr. Webb, and begs to inform him that certain expressions which fell from him at the meeting at Carrick on Saturday respecting the murder of Captain Ussher, have been thought by many to have had reference to the family at Brown Hall. Mr. Brown feels himself assured that Mr. Webb would not so far forget himself, as to make any such allusion in public to a neighbouring gentleman and magistrate; but as Mr. Webb’s words were certainly singular in their reference to Captain Ussher’s intimacy with some family in the neighbourhood, and as many conceive that they were directly pointed at Brown Hall, Mr. Brown must beg Mr. Webb to give him his direct assurance in writing that nothing which fell from him was intended to apply either to Mr. Brown or his family.

To W. WEBB, Esq., Ardrum.

Mr. Webb was at home when the servant arrived, and, only detaining him two minutes, sent him back with the following answer:—

Ardrum, Monday Morning.

Mr. Webb presents his compliments to Mr. Brown. Mr. Webb regrets that he cannot comply with the request made in Mr. Brown’s letter of yesterday’s date.

To JONAS BROWN, Esq., Brown Hall.

The conclave at Brown Hall, on receipt of this laconic epistle, unanimously declared that it was tantamount to a declaration of war, and that desperate measures must at once be adopted.

“The sod’s the only place now, father,” said George; “by heavens I like him the better for not recanting.”

“He’s a cursed good shot,” said Fred. “Would you like to send for Keegan before you go out?”

“Keegan be d —— d!” said George; “but have Blake by, for he’ll wing you as sure as Moses.”

“May be not,” said Fred. “Webb’s a d —— d good shot in a gallery; but may be he won’t allow for the wind on the sod; but it’ll be as well to have the sawbones.”

“No fear of your legs, governor, for he’ll fire high. The shoulder’s his spot; you may always tell from a man’s eye where he’ll fix the sight of a pistol. Webb always looks up. If his tool lifts a little, he’ll fire over you.”

“Yes, he might,” said Fred; “or take you on the head — which wouldn’t be so pleasant. I’m not particular — but I’d better run my chance myself with a chap that fired low.”

“There you’re out,” answered the brother. “The low shot’s the death-shot. Why man, if you did catch a ball in the head, you’d get over it — if it was in the mouth, or cheek, or neck, or anywhere but the temple; but your body’s all over tender bits. May heaven always keep lead out of my bowels — I’d sooner have it in my brains.”

The father fidgetted about very uneasily whilst enduring these pleasant remarks from his affectionate children, which, it is needless to say, they made for his particular comfort and amusement at the present moment. At last he lost his temper, and exclaimed —

“D—— your brains, you fool — I don’t believe you’ve got any! what’s the use of the two of you going on that way — you that were never out in your life. I tell you when a man’s standing to be fired at, he doesn’t know, nine times in ten, whether he fires high or low. Who’ll I get to go out with me?”

“Yes, and take your message,” said Fred; “you’ve a deal to do yet before you’re snug home again.”

“Well, who’ll I get to go to him?”

“Why wouldn’t I do?” suggested George. George, at any rate, had the merit of being a good son.

“Nonsense,” said Fred; “if the governor got shot you’d be considered a brute if you were cool; and a man should be cool then.”

“Cool,” said George; “I’d be as cool as a cucumber.”

“Nonsense,” said the father; “of course I couldn’t go out with my own son; there’s Theobald French; I went out with his cousin just after Waterloo.”

“He can’t show — he’s on his keeping. He’d be nabbed before he was on the ground.”

“Then I’ll have Larkin; I’ve known him since I was a boy.”

“Larkin’s too old for that game now; he’d be letting them have Webb up with his back to the sun.”

“Murphy, of Mullough; he’s used to these things — I’ll send over to him.”

“Murphy’s up to snuff; but since the affair of the bill he forged Dan Connolly’s name to, he’s queerly thought of. It wouldn’t do at all, governor, to send anyone that Webb’s friend could refuse to meet.”

“I’ll tell you, father, who’d be proud of the job — and he’s quite a gentleman now, since he got an estate of his own — and that’s Cynthy Keegan. It’d be great fun to see him stepping the ground, and he only with one foot.”

“By heavens, George, you’re a born fool; must you have your d —— d joke, when I’m talking so seriously?”

“Upon my soul, then, if it were myself, I’d send for Keegan. He’d think the compliment so great, he wouldn’t refuse, and it’d be such a joke to see him on the ground with his crutches. But if you don’t like the attorney, send to Fitzpatrick.”

“He’s so young,” said the father; “he’d do very well for either of you; but I’d want some one steadier.”

“Besides,” said Fred, “Webb and Fitz are bosom friends. I wouldn’t wonder if Fitz were Webb’s friend himself.”

“I tell you, father — Major Longsword’s exactly the boy,” said George; “send to Boyle for him; he wants to get a name in the country, and the job’ll just suit him.”

“You’re right for once, George,” said Jonas, “Longsword’s just the man that will answer.” And accordingly it was at last decided that Major Longsword was to be the honoured individual. He had dined once or twice at Brown Hall, and therefore there was some excuse for calling upon him; and a note was accordingly written to him, with a great deal of blarney about his station and experience, and the inexpediency of entrusting affairs of honour to inexperienced country gentlemen. This had the effect of immediately bringing him over to Brown Hall, and on the Tuesday morning he was dispatched to Ardrum, to make what arrangements he pleased with Mr. Webb.

To give Major Longsword his due, Mr. Brown could not have made a much better choice; for though he was a disciple of that school, which thoroughly entertained the now antiquated notion that the world — that is, the world of men in broad cloth — could not go on without duels, or a pretence of duels; still he was one who, as a second, would do all in his power to prevent an absolute effusion of lead. He was a great hand at an apology, and could regulate its proper degree of indifference or abjectness to the exact state of the case; he could make it almost satisfactory to the receiver, without being very disagreeable to the giver; he could twaddle about honour for ever without causing bloodshed; and would, if possible, protect a man’s reputation and body at the same time.

He started on his mission of peace with the determined intention of returning with some document in his pocket which would appease Mr. Brown’s irritated feelings, and add another laurel to the wreath which he considered his due as a peace-maker.

He was shown into Mr. Webb’s parlour, where that gentleman soon joined him, and he was not long in making known his business. Major Longsword plumed himself on his manners in such embassies, and today he was perfect.

“Now, Mr. Webb,” he continued after a long preamble, “of course I am not to judge of the propriety of any words you may think fit to use; but, I am afraid I must admit in this case, a somewhat — I must say a somewhat unwarranted allusion was made to my friend. Such I can assure you is the general opinion. Now, if you will allow me to say as much, I think — I cannot but think, you were right — perfectly right — in not disclaiming such an allusion, having once made it; but I trust, indeed I feel confident, that a man of your acknowledged sense, and general character as a man of the world, will not object to give me a line — a mere line will suffice — addressed to myself; I wouldn’t ask you in such a matter to write to Mr. Brown — a mere line, just stating that you regret having said anything in your fervour which should hurt any one’s feelings. The matter you know is now in my hands, and I pledge myself that shall suffice; I really think such a bagatelle as that cannot be objectionable to you. Were I in your place, I can assure you, Mr. Webb, as a man of honour, I should be delighted to do the same.”

“Were you in my place, Major Longsword,” replied the Counsellor, “you would, no doubt, act with more judgment than I shall do; but without wishing to say anything offensive to you, I may as well assure you at once that I will give no letter to any one on the subject.”

“But, Mr. Webb, you cannot deny or justify the allusion — the very pointed allusion?”

“I certainly shall not deny it; indeed to you, Major Longsword, I have no objection to acknowledge it.”

“And yet you’ll not just state your regret — in a note to myself mind! Why, Mr. Webb, you can’t but regret it; you can’t desire bloodshed.”

“Indeed, Major, I do not regret it. Your friend considered himself at liberty to accuse me in private — not by name, but by allusion, as you say — of certain feelings and opinions derogatory to me. I have retaliated in public. I believe now you will own that I consult your convenience best by telling you that Major Macdonnel, of Tramore, is my friend in this matter. He will make all arrangements with you for the immediate termination of this affair.”

“I shall be proud to see the Major; but still let me hope, Mr. Webb, that this little affair may be arranged. As a magistrate, and as a man, I may say, not exactly in your première jeunesse—”

“As a magistrate, and as a man not exactly, as you say, in my première jeunesse, for I was fifty yesterday, let me assure you that if Mr. Brown intends to call me out, I shall go out. If he intends to let me alone, I shall be better pleased to be let alone; as for a word, or a line of retractation or apology, I will not give it.”

“But, Mr. Webb —”

“Forgive me for interrupting you, but allow me to suggest that any further remarks you may have to make on the subject had better be made to my friend, Major Macdonnel.”

“Would you allow me to put it to you in another light? Suppose now —”

“Major Longsword, the idea of being uncourteous to any man in my own house is particularly grievous to me; but with your pardon I must say that I cannot continue this conversation with you. If you will allow me the honour of considering the remainder of your visit one of compliment, I shall be proud to increase my acquaintance with a gentleman for whom I entertain so profound a respect.”

The baffled Major was obliged to take the hint, to move himself off, and have recourse to his brother major. Major Macdonnel received his visitor with a very long face, assured him that his principal had left him nothing to do but to arrange the meeting, and that however willing he might be to agree to pacific measures himself, he had no power to do so. The Boyle Major, however, found a more willing listener in his colleague than in the Counsellor, and made many eloquent dissertations; but it was all to no purpose; he was obliged to return to Brown Hall, signally defeated as he felt himself, and with the tidings that a place had been agreed to, and that the meeting was to take place at eight, A.M., the next morning.

“I had really hoped, Mr. Brown, to have been able to settle this little matter amicably; indeed I had no doubt about it; but I must say a more impracticable gentleman to deal with than Mr. Webb, it was never my lot to meet upon such an occasion.”

The Major dined at Brown Hall, and could not but admire the solicitude which the two sons expressed for their father’s safety, and the filial manner in which they comforted him. During dinner he was somewhat silent and moody; but when he got to his wine he recovered his spirits, and seemed tolerably happy. Indeed he conducted himself wonderfully well, considering that during the whole evening Fred and George would talk of nothing but trepanned skulls, false knee-caps — cork legs — bullets that had come out of men’s backs ten years after they had entered men’s bellies — surgeon’s knives — pincers and tourniquets — wills — attorneys — leaden coffins, and the family vault. George expressed a great desire to go and see his parent shot. Fred said that eight o’clock was so damnation early, or else he’d be happy. George was so warm in his solicitude, that in spite of his father’s declining this mark of his affection, he insisted on attending him to the ground; and it was only when Major Longsword gravely assured him that if he, George, was there he, Major Longsword, would not be there too, that the anxious son was prevailed on to give up his project.

The affair was to come off in the County Roscommon, about a mile and a half from Carrick, at the edge of a small copse, about a mile on the left-hand side of the Boyle road. A message had been conveyed to Doctor Blake to be near the spot with the different instruments that had been so freely named on the previous evening. At the hour appointed, the military Major and his friend arrived in the Brown Hall chariot, and a few minutes afterwards the exmilitary Major and his man appeared on the Counsellor’s car. Had any one walked about the ground with very scrutinising eyes, he might have espied Doctor Blake snugly ensconced under a bank with a cigar in his mouth, and a small mahogany box lying at his feet.

The carriages had been left a few hundred yards distant, and the two servants, well knowing what was going to happen, discussed cosily and leisurely the chance they either of them had of carrying home a dead master.

“Faix, Barney,” said the Brown Hall whip, “I believe we stand a baddish chance; they do be saying the Counsellor’s mighty handy with the powdher; would you plaze to try a blast this cowld morning?” and he handed him his pipe.

“And thank ye kindly too, Dan; it’s a mighty cowld place. Why thin it’s thrue for you — the masther is handy with the powdher; more power to his elbow this morning.”

“But whisper now, Barney, did he iver shoot many now to your knowing? did he shoot ’em dead? I wonder whether Mr. Fred will be keeping on the chariot; he’s more taste in the gig way, I’m fearing.”

“Why thin, the Counsellor mayn’t shoot him dead; that is, av he behaves himself, and don’t have no blusthering. Was old Jonas much afeard, now, Dan?”

“Afeard, is it! the divil wouldn’t fright him. Maybe, after all, it’s the Counsellor’ll be shot first.”

“Oh, in course he may,” said Barney; “oh musha, musha, wirrasthrue, how’d I ever be looking the misthress and the young ladies in the face, av I was taking him home dead and buried as he’s likely to be, av he don’t hit that owld masther of yours in the very first go off;” and then the man’s air of triumph at the idea of his master’s shooting Jonas Brown, turned to despondency as the thought struck him that the Counsellor might be shot himself. But he soon cheered up again at a brighter reflection.

“But that’d be the wake, Dan! My; there’d have been nothing like that in the counthry, since old Peyton was waked up at Castleboy; not a man in the county but would be there, nor a woman neither; and signs on, there’s not another in the counthry at all like the masther for a poor man.”

At this moment two shots were heard.

“Virgin Mary! — there they are at it,” said Dan; “now they’re oncet began in arnest, they’ll not lave it till they’re both dead, or there’s not a grain of powdher left. Bad cess to them Majors for bringing thim together; couldn’t they be fighting theyselles av they plazed, and not be setting the real gentry of the counthry at each other like game cocks?”

“Had they much powdher I wonder, Dan? Was there a dail of ammunition in the carriage?”

“Faix their war so; that Major, bad luck to him, had his own and Master George’s horns crammed with powdher, and as many bullets in a bag under his coat-tail as he could well-nigh carry.”

“Then they’re one or both as good as dead; they’re loading again now, I’ll go bail. Och! that I’d thrown the owld horse down coming over the bridge, and pitched the masther into the wather. I’d be a dail readier getting him out of that, than putting the life into him when he’s had three or four of them bullets through his skin.”

“It’s thrue for you, Barney,” said the good-natured Dan; “and as Mr. Fred couldn’t well be turning an owld servant like me off the place av he didn’t keep up the chariot, I wish it mayn’t be the Counsellor’s luck to be first kilt, for he’s as good a man as iver trod.”

In the meantime the two Majors had paced the ground with a good deal of official propriety, loaded the pistols, and exchanged a quantity of courtesies.

“Not so agreeable an occasion as when we last acted together in the field, Major Macdonnel; I’d sooner be clearing the course for my friend’s horse, than measuring the ground for his fire.”

“True, indeed, Major Longsword; true, indeed. Don’t you think you’re putting your friend a leetle too much under the shade? I don’t know — perhaps not — but a foot or two off the trees gives a more equal light; that’s it.”

“I believe we’re ready now — eh, Major?”

“Quite ready, Major. We’ll have it over in two minutes.”

“I say, Major,” and the other Major whispered; “Blake’s just under the small bush there, I hope you won’t want him.”

“Thank ye, Major, thank ye — I hope not.”

“And, Major, there can be no necessity for a second shot, I think — eh? Brown won’t want a second shot, will he?”

“Not at all, Major, not at all; a trifling thing like this — we’ll have it over now in a double crack, eh?”

“True, Major, true; put your man up, and I’ll give the word.”

And the Majors put up their men with great dexterity, and the word was given. They both fired, each at his adversary, but each without attempting to cover the other. Brown’s ball whistled harmlessly away without approaching within any dangerous proximity of the Counsellor’s body; but not so Webb’s; it was very evident Jonas was hit, for his body gave a spasmodic jerk forwards, his knees bent under him, and his head became thrown back somewhat over his shoulders. He did not fall himself, but his hat did; he dropped his pistol to the ground, and inserted both his right and his left hand under the tails of his coat.

Mr. Brown indulged a notion, whether correctly or not I am unable to say, but one which I believe to be not uncommon, that by presenting his side instead of his front to his adversary’s fire, he exposed fewer vital parts to danger; and if destiny intended him to be wounded, he certainly, in the present instance, was benefited by the above arrangement, for he received the bullet in perhaps the least dangerous part of his body.

Mr. Brown was a stout, compact man, well developed and rounded in the fuller parts of his body; he piqued himself somewhat on the fair proportions of his nether man; he was also somewhat of a dandy; and had come out this morning, as, I believe, was the custom on such occasions, nearly full dressed; he had on a black dress coat, black waistcoat, and black well fitting trousers; and as he turned his side to the Counsellor, he displayed to advantage the whole of his comely figure.

But, alas! its comeliness was destined for a time to be destroyed. Mr. Webb’s fire passed directly under the tails of his coat; the ball just traversed along his trousers about a foot beneath the waistband, cutting them and his drawers and shirt, as it were, with a knife, and wounding the flesh in its course to the depth of perhaps the eighth part of an inch. Directly Major Longsword perceived that his man was hit, he vociferously called for Blake.

From the position which Mr. Brown assumed on receiving the fire, it was the general opinion of all the party that he was not mortally wounded. Blake was immediately on the spot, and lost no time in supporting him.

“Where is it, Mr. Brown, where is it? Can you stand? Can you walk? Allow me to support you to the bank. You can get a seat there; we must sit down at once. My dear sir, the first thing is to get you to a comfortable seat.”

“Comfortable seat, and be d —— d to you!” was the patient’s uncivil reply. “Go to hell, I tell, you!” as Blake continued to lift him. “I’m well enough; I can walk to the carriage!”

“My dear sir,” continued the doctor, “the ball must be in your side; at any rate allow me to discover where it is.”

“Ball be d —— d, I tell you!” and he hobbled a little way off from his tormentor; the portion of his trousers on the part affected annoyed him sorely when he attempted to walk.

“Permit me to hope,” said the Counsellor, coming up —“permit me to hope, now that this affair seems to be over, that you are not seriously hurt. Had you not better allow Doctor Blake to ascertain whether the bullet still remains in you? had you not better sit down?”

“Bother Doctor Blake, sir,” said Mr. Brown, with his hands still under his coat tails.

“Ah! I see now,” said the Doctor, stooping down; “I see the wound, I think. It’s bleeding now — and I think I may guarantee that there’s no danger; allow me one minute, for the ball may be lodged,” and he proceeded to lift up the tails of the coat.

“Doctor Blake, if you touch me again, by heavens I’ll kick you! when I want you, I’ll send for you. Major Longsword, will you do me the honour to accompany me to my carriage — ugh, d —— n it!”

This last exclamation was occasioned by his renewed attempt to walk. He managed, however, at last, to get to his carriage, and in that to Brown Hall. Major Longsword, who accompanied him, declared afterwards to his brother officers at Boyle, that Mr. Brown’s efforts to support himself by the arm-straps in the carriage were really disagreeable to witness. He got home safely, however; and though he was not competent to attend to his public duties for some considerable time, it is believed he was not a great sufferer. The Brown Hall livery servant was seen in the chemist’s shop the same morning, asking for a yard and a half of diaculum, which was supplied to him; and a new pair of dress trousers, somewhat fuller than the last, was ordered from the tailor. Doctor Blake was not called in, for Mr. Brown found himself, with his son’s assistance, equal to the cure of the wound he had received.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 18:43