|A deputation came in the evening and conferred upon Wilson the welcome honor of a nomination for mayor; for the village has just been converted into a city by charter. Tom skulks out of challenging the twins. Judge Driscoll thereupon challenges Angelo (accused by Tom of doing the kicking); he declines, but Luigi accepts in his place against Angelo’s timid protest.|
IT WAS late Saturday night nearing eleven.
The judge and his second found the rest of the war party at the further end of the vacant ground, near the haunted house. Pudd’nhead Wilson advanced to meet them, and said anxiously:
“I must say a word in behalf of my principal’s proxy, Count Luigi, to whom you have kindly granted the privilege of fighting my principal’s battle for him. It is growing late, and Count Luigi is in great trouble lest midnight shall strike before the finish.”
“It is another testimony,” said Howard, approvingly. “That young man is fine all through. He wishes to save his brother the sorrow of fighting on the Sabbath, and he is right; it is the right and manly feeling and does him credit. We will make all possible haste.”
Wilson said: “There is also another reason—a consideration, in fact, which deeply concerns Count Luigi himself. These twins have command of their mutual legs turn about. Count Luigi is in command now; but at midnight, possession will pass to my principal, Count Angelo, and——well, you can foresee what will happen. He will march straight off the field, and carry Luigi with him.”
“Why! sure enough!” cried the judge, “we have heard something about that extraordinary law of their being, already—nothing very definite, it is true, as regards dates and durations of power, but I see it is definite enough as regards to-night. Of course we must give Luigi every chance. Omit all the ceremonial possible, gentlemen, and place us in position.”
The seconds at once tossed up a coin; Howard won the choice. He placed the judge sixty feet from the haunted house and facing it; Wilson placed the twins within fifteen feet of the house and facing the judge—necessarily. The pistol-case was opened and the long slim tubes taken out; when the moonlight glinted from them a shiver went through Angelo. The doctor was a fool, but a thoroughly well-meaning one, with a kind heart and a sincere disposition to oblige, but along with it an absence of tact which often hurt its effectiveness. He brought his box of lint and bandages, and asked Angelo to feel and see how soft and comfortable they were. Angelo’s head fell over against Luigi’s in a faint, and precious time was lost in bringing him to; which provoked Luigi into expressing his mind to the doctor with a good deal of vigor and frankness. After Angelo came to he was still so weak that Luigi was obliged to drink a stiff horn of brandy to brace him up.
The seconds now stepped at once to their posts, halfway between the combatants, one of them on each side of the line of fire. Wilson was to count, very deliberately, “One-two-three-fire!—stop!” and the duelists could bang away at any time they chose during that recitation, but not after the last word. Angelo grew very nervous when he saw Wilson’s hand rising slowly into the air as a sign to make ready, and he leaned his head against Luigi’s and said:
“Oh, please take me away from here, I can’t stay, I know I can’t!”
“What in the world are you doing? Straighten up! What’s the matter with you?—you’re in no danger—nobody’s going to shoot at you. Straighten up, I tell you!”
Angelo obeyed, just in time to hear:
“Bang!” Just one report, and a little tuft of white hair floated slowly to the judge’s feet in the moonlight. The judge did not swerve; he still stood erect and motionless, like a statue, with his pistol-arm hanging straight down at his side. He was reserving his fire.
Up came the pistol-arm instantly—Angelo dodged with the report. He said “Ouch!” and fainted again.
The doctor examined and bandaged the wound.
It was of no consequence, he said—bullet through fleshy part of arm—no bones broken the gentleman was still able to fight let the duel proceed.
Next time Angelo jumped just as Luigi fired, which disordered his aim and caused him to cut a chip off of Howard’s ear. The judge took his time again, and when he fired Angelo jumped and got a knuckle skinned. The doctor inspected and dressed the wounds. Angelo now spoke out and said he was content with the satisfaction he had got, and if the judge—but Luigi shut him roughly up, and asked him not to make an ass of himself; adding:
“And I want you to stop dodging. You take a great deal too prominent a part in this thing for a person who has got nothing to do with it. You should remember that you are here only by courtesy, and are without official recognition; officially you are not here at all; officially you do not even exist. To all intents and purposes you are absent from this place, and you ought for your own modesty’s sake to reflect that it cannot become a person who is not present here to be taking this sort of public and indecent prominence in a matter in which he is not in the slightest degree concerned. Now, don’t dodge again; the bullets are not for you, they are for me; if I want them dodged I will attend to it myself. I never saw a person act so.”
Angelo saw the reasonableness of what his brother had said, and he did try to reform, but it was of no use; both pistols went off at the same instant, and he jumped once more; he got a sharp scrape along his cheek from the judge’s bullet, and so deflected Luigi’s aim that his ball went wide and chipped flake of skin from Pudd’nhead Wilson’s chin. The doctor attended to the wounded.
By the terms, the duel was over. But Luigi was entirely out of patience, and begged for one exchange of shots, insisting that he had had no fair chance, on account of his brother’s indelicate behavior. Howard was opposed to granting so unusual a privilege, but the judge took Luigi’s part, and added that indeed he himself might fairly be considered entitled to another trial, because although the proxy on the other side was in no way to blame for his (the judge’s) humiliatingly resultless work, the gentleman with whom he was fighting this duel was to blame for it, since if he had played no advantages and had held his head still, his proxy would have been disposed of early. He added:
“Count Luigi’s request for another exchange is another proof that he is a brave and chivalrous gentleman, and I beg that the courtesy he asks may be accorded him.”
“I thank you most sincerely for this generosity, Judge Driscoll,” said Luigi, with a polite bow, and moving to his place. Then he added to Angelo, “Now hold your grip, hold your grip, I tell you, and I’ll land him sure!”
The men stood erect, their pistol-arms at their sides, the two seconds stood at their official posts, the doctor stood five paces in Wilson’s rear with his instruments and bandages in his hands. The deep stillness, the peaceful moonlight, the motionless figures, made an impressive picture and the impending fatal possibilities augmented this impressiveness solemnity. Wilson’s hand began to rise—slowly—still higher—still higher—in another moment:
“Boom!”—the first stroke of midnight swung up out of the distance; Angelo was off like a deer!
“Oh, you unspeakable traitor!” wailed his brother, as they went soaring over the fence.
The others stood astonished and gazing; and so stood, watching that strange spectacle until distance dissolved it and swept it from their view. Then they rubbed their eyes like people waking out of a dream,
“Well, I’ve never seen anything like that before!” said the judge. “Wilson, I am going to confess now, that I wasn’t quite able to believe in that leg business, and had a suspicion that it was a put-up convenience between those twins; and when Count Angelo fainted I thought I saw the whole scheme—thought it was pretext No. 2, and would be followed by others till twelve o’clock should arrive, and Luigi would get off with all the credit of seeming to want to fight and yet not have to fight, after all. But I was mistaken. His pluck proved it. He’s a brave fellow and did want to fight.”
“There isn’t any doubt about that,” said Howard, and added, in a grieved tone, “but what an unworthy sort of Christian that Angelo is—I hope and believe there are not many like him. It is not right to engage in a duel on the Sabbath—I could not approve of that myself; but to finish one that has been begun—that is a duty, let the day be what it may.”
They strolled along, still wondering, still talking.
“It is a curious circumstance,” remarked the surgeon, halting Wilson a moment to paste so more court-plaster on his chin, which had gone to leaking blood again, “that in this duel neither of the parties who handled the pistols lost blood while nearly all the persons present in the mere capacity of guests got hit. I have not heard of such a thing before. Don’t you think it unusual?”
“Yes,” said the Judge, “it has struck me as peculiar. Peculiar and unfortunate. I was annoyed at it, all the time. In the case of Angelo it made no great difference, because he was in a measure concerned, though not officially; but it troubled me to see the seconds compromised, and yet I knew no way to mend the matter.
“There was no way to mend it,” said Howard, whose ear was being readjusted now by the doctor; “the code fixes our place, and it would not have been lawful to change it. If we could have stood at your side, or behind you, or in front of you, it—but it would not have been legitimate and the other parties would have had a just right to complain of our trying to protect ourselves from danger; infractions of the code are certainly not permissible in any case whatever.”
Wilson offered no remarks. It seemed to him that there was very little place here for so much solemnity, but he judged that if a duel where nobody was in danger or got crippled but the seconds and the outsiders had nothing ridiculous about it for these gentlemen, his pointing out that feature would probably not help them to see it.
He invited them in to take a nightcap, and Howard and the judge accepted, but the doctor said he would have to go and see how Angelo’s principal wound was getting on.
|[It was now Sunday, and in the afternoon Angelo was to be received into the Baptist communion by immersion—a doubtful prospect, the doctor feared.]|