How the Gentlemen Spent the Evening, Which Proved Rather Warmer Than Hardress Expected
"Amen, with all my heart!" exclaimed Mr. Cregan, "although the cocks are well rid of him. But a better horseman never backed a hunter." "I drink him," said Hyland Creagh, "although I seldom care to toast a man who dies in his bed."
"That's all trash and braggery, Creagh," cried Connolly—"we'll have you yet upon the flat of your back, and roaring for a priest into the bargain."
"Upon my honour as a gentleman, I am serious," said Creagh. "They may talk of the field of battle and bloody breaches, forlorn hopes, and hollow squares, and such stuff; but what is the glory of a soldier after all! To drag through the fatigues of a whole campaign, with its concomitants of night-watches, marches in marshes, and bivouacs in rainy weather, and with no brighter prospect at the year's end, than that of making one among half a million of fighting fellows who are shot on a heap like larks. And, even then, you meet not hand to hand, but cloud to cloud, moving about in a flock, and waiting your turn to take your allowance of cold lead, and fill a pit with your neighbours. Glory? What glory is there in figuring in small types among a list of killed and wounded? the utmost distinction that a poor sub. can ever hope for. Why, a coward is no more ball proof than a gallant fellow, and both may often shine together upon the same list. No—my ambition should have a higher aim. While I live, let my life be that of a fearless fellow; and when I die, let my epitaph be found in a handsome paragraph, under the head of 'Domestic Intelligence,' in the county journal. "Affair of honour. Yesterday morning at five o'clock—meeting took place—Hyland Creagh, Esquire—attended by Blank Esquire—and Captain Blank attended by—Blank Esquire—regret to state—Mr. Creagh—third fire—mortally wounded—borne from the ground.—The affair, we understand, originated in a dispute respecting a lovely and accomplished young lady, celebrated as a reigning toast in that quarter."
"And grand-niece, we understand," added Hardress, laughing "to the unhappy old gentleman, whose fate we have just recorded."
There was a laugh at Creagh. "Nay, my young friend," he said, adjusting his ruffles with the air of a Chesterfield—"the journal that shall mention that circumstance must be dared many years hence."
"Adad, not so far off neither, Creagh," exclaimed Mr. Cregan, "and if you were to go out to-morrow morning, I should not like to see you go posting to the devil upon such a mission as that."
"Talking of the devil," said Hepton Connolly, "did you hear, Creagh, that the priest is to have us all upon the altar next Sunday, on account of that little squib we had in the mountains the day of the races?"
"It may be," said Creagh, with a supercilious smile; "mais ce n'est pas mon affaire. I have not the honour to belong to his communion."
"Oh," cried Mr. Cregan, "true enough. You belong to the genteel religion."
"There you have the whip hand of me," said Connolly, "for I am a papist. Well, Creagh, not meaning to impugn your gallantry now, I say this; a papist, to fight a duel, requires and possesses the courage of a protestant ten times over."
"Pray will you oblige me with a reason for that pleasant speech?"
"'Tis as clear as this glass. A protestant is allowed a wide discretionary range on most ethical, as well as theological points of opinion. A poor papist has none. The Council of Trent in its twenty-fifth session (I have it from the Bishop) excommunicates all duellists, and calls the practice an invention of the devil. And what can I say against it? I know something of the common law, and the rights of things, persons and so forth, but the canonical code to me is a fountain sealed. 'Tis something deeper than a cause before the petty sessions. 'Tis easier to come at Blackstone, or even Coke upon Lyttleton himself, than at Manochius, or Saint Augustine."
"Well, but how you run on! You were talking about the courage of a protestant and catholic."
"I say a papist must be the braver man; for in addition to his chance of being shot through the brains on a frosty morning in this world, (a cool prospect) it is no joke to be damned everlastingly in the next."
"That never struck me before," exclaimed Cregan.
"And if it had," said Creagh, "I confess I do not see what great disadvantage the reflection could have produced to our friend Connolly; for he knew, that whether he was to be shot yesterday in a duel, or physicked out of the world twenty years hence, that little matter of the other life will be arranged in precisely the same manner."
"As much as to say," replied Connolly, "that now or then, the devil is sure of his bargain."
"My idea precisely; but infinitely better expressed."
"Very good, Creagh. I suppose it was out of a filial affection for the sooty old gentleman you took so much pains to send me to him the other morning."
"You placed your honour in my hands, and I would have seen you raked fore and aft, fifty times, rather than let the pledge be tarnished. If you did go to the devil, it was my business to see, that you met him with clean hands."
"I feel indebted to you, Creagh."
"I have seen a dozen shots exchanged on a lighter quarrel. I was present myself at the duel between Hickman and Leake, on a somewhat similar dispute. They fired fourteen shots each, and when their ammunition was exhausted, actually remained on the ground until the seconds could fetch a new supply ftom the nearest market-town."
"And what use did they make of it when it came?"
"Give me time, and you shall hear. 'Twas Hickman's fire, and he put his lead an inch above Leake's right hip; (as pretty a shot as ever I saw in my life), Leake was not killed though, and he stood to his ground like a man. 1 never will forget the ghastly look he gave me, (I was his second), when he asked whether the laws of the duello would allow a wounded man a chair. I was confident they did, so long as he kept his feet upon the sod, and I said so. Well, the chair was brought. He took his seat somewhat in this manner, grasping the orifice of the wound closely with his disengaged hand. [Here the speaker moved his chair some feet from the table, in order to enact the scene with greater freedom]. There was a fatal steadiness in every motion. I saw Hickman's eye wink, and not without a cause. It winked again, and never opened after. The roof of his skull was literally blown away."
"And the other fellow?" said Hardress.
"The other gentleman fell from his chair, a corpse, at the same moment; after uttering a sentiment of savage satisfaction, too horrible, too blasphemous, to think of, much less to repeat."
"They were a murderous pair of ruffains," said Hardress, "and ought to have been impaled upon a cross-road."
"One of them," observed Hyland Creagh, sipping his punch, "one of them was a cousin of mine."
"Oh, and therefore utterly blameless, of course," said Hardress with an ironical laugh.
"I don't know," said Creagh; "I confess I think it a hard word to apply to a gentleman who is unfortunate enough to die in defence of his honour."
"Honour!" exclaimed Hardress, with indignant zeal, (for though he was no great devotee, he had yet some gleams of a half religious virtue shining through his character;) "Call you that honour? I say a duellist is a murderer, and worthy of the gallows, and I will prove it. The question lies in the justice or injustice of the mode of reparation. That cannot be a just one which subjects the aggressor and aggrieved to precisely the same punishment. if the duellist be the injured party, he is a suicide; and if he be the inflictor of the wrong, he is a murderer."
"Ay, Hardress," said his father, "but there are cases—"
"Oh, I know what you mean, sir. Fine, delicate, thin-spun modes of insult, that draw on heavier assaults, and leave both parties labouring under the sense of injury. But they are murderers still. If I filled a seat in the legislature, do you think I would give my voice in favour of a law that made it a capital offence to call a man a scoundrel in the streets? And shall I dare to inflict with my own hand, a punishment that I would shudder to see committed to the hangman?"
"But if public war be justifiable," said Connolly, "why should not private?"*
"Aye," exclaimed Hardress, "I see you have got that aphorism of Johnson's, the fat moralist, to support you; but I say, shame upon the recreant, for as mean and guilty a compliance with the prejudices of the world as ever parasite betrayed. I stigmatize it as a wilful sin, for how can I esteem the author of Rasselas a fool?"
"Very hardly," said Creagh, "and pray what is your counter argument?"
"This. Public war is never (when justifiable) a quarrel for sounds and conventual notions of honour. Public war is at best a social evil, and cannot be embraced without the full concurrence of society, expressed by its constituted authorities, and obtained only in obedience to the necessity of the case. But to private war, society has given no formal sanction, nor does it derive any advantage from the practice."
"Upon my word," said Creagh, "you have some very curious ideas."
"Well, Hardress," exclaimed Connolly, "if you have a mind to carry those notions into practice, I should recommend you to try it in some other country besides Ireland; you will never go through with it in this."
"In every company and on every soil," said Hardress, "I will avow my sentiments. I never will fight a duel; and I will proclaim my purpose in the ears of all the duellists on earth."
"But society, young gentleman—"
"I bid society defiance; at least that reckless, godless, heartless crew, to whom you wrongfully apply the term. The greater portion of those who bow down before this bloody error, is composed of slaves and cowards, who are afraid to make their own conviction the guide of their conduct.
'Letting I dare not, wait upon I would.
Like the poor cat in the adage.'
"I am sure," said Creagh, "I had rather shoot a man for doubting my word than for taking my purse."
"Because you are as proud as Lucifer," exclaimed Hardress.—"Who but the great father of all injustice would say that he deserved to be shot for calling you a—(it is an unpleasant word to be sure)—a liar?"
"But he does more. He actually does strike at my life and property, for I lose both friends and fair repute, if I suffer such an insult to pass unnoticed."
In answer to this plea, Hardress made a speech, of which (as the newspapers say,) we regret that our space does not allow us to offer more than a mere outline. He contended that no consequences could justify a man in sacrificing his own persuasion of what was right to the error of his friends. The more general this error was, the more criminal it became to increase the number of its victims. The question was not whether society would disown or receive the passive gentleman, but whether society was in the wrong or in the right; and if the former, then he was bound to adopt the cause of justice at every hazard. He drew the usual distinction between moral and animal courage, and painted with force and feeling the heroism of a brave man encountering alone the torrent of general opinion, and taking more wounds upon his spirit than ever Horatius Coccles risked upon his person. He quoted the celebrated passage of the faithful seraph in Milton, alluded to the Athenian manners, and told the well-known story of Lucian Anacharsis, all which tended considerably more to exhaust the patience than to convince the understanding of his hearers.
"Finally," said he, "I denounce the system of private war, because it is the offspring of a barbarous pride. It was a barbarous pride that first suggested the expedient, and it is an intolerable pride that still sustains it. Talk of public war! The world could not exist if nation were to take up the sword against nation upon a point of honour, such as will call out for blood between man and man. The very word means pride. It is a measureless, bloody pride, that demands a reparation so excessive for every slight offence. Take any single quarrel of them all, and dissect its motive, and you will find every portion of it stained with pride, the child of selfishness— pride, the sin of the first devil—pride, the poor pitiful creature of folly and ignorance—pride, the—— "
"Oh, trash and stuff, man," exclaimed Connolly, losing patience, "if you are going to preach a sermon choose another time for it. Come, Creagh, send the bowl this way, and let us drink. Here, young gentleman, stop spouting, and give us a toast. You'll make a fool of yourself, Hardress, if you talk in that manner among gentlemen."
Without making any answer to this speech (which however he felt a little difficulty in digesting) Hardress proposed the health and future fame of young Kyrle Daly.
"With all my heart!" exclaimed both his father and Connolly.
"I'll not drink it," said Creagh, putting in his glass.
Hardress was just as proud (to borrow his own simile) as Lucifer himself; and probably it was on this account he held the quality so cheap. It must be admitted, likewise, that his ambitious love of singularity formed but too considerable a part of his motive in the line of argument which he had followed up; and he was by no means prepared to perform the heroic part which he had described with so much enthusiasm. Least of all could he be expected to do so at the present moment; for while he was speaking, he had also been drinking, and the warmth of dispute, encreased by the excitement of strong drink, left his reason still less at freedom than it might have been under the dominion of an ordinary passion. He insisted upon Creagh's drinking his toast.
"I shall not drink it," said Creagh; "I consider him as an impertinent puppy."
"He is my friend," said Hardress.
"Oh, then of course," said Fireball, with an ironical smile, (evidently intended as a retort,) "he is utterly blameless."
To use a vulgar but forcible expression, the blood of Hardress was now completely up. He set his teeth for a moment, and then discharged the contents of his own glass at the face of the offender. The fire-eater, who, from long experience, was able to anticipate this proceeding, evaded by a rapid motion the degrading missile; and then quietly resuming his seat, "Be prepared, sir," he said, "to answer this in the morning."
"I am ready now," exclaimed Hardress. "Connolly, lend me your sword, and be my friend. Father, do you second that gentleman, and you will oblige me.
Mr. Barnaby Cregan rose to interfere, but in doing so, he betrayed a secret which had till that moment lain with himself; he was the first who fell.
"No, no swords," said Connolly, "there are a pretty pair of pistols over the chimney-piece. Let them decide the quarrel." I
t was so agreed. Hardress and Creagh took their places in the two-corners of the room, upon the understanding, that both were to approach step by step, and fire when they pleased. Hepton Connolly took his place out of harm's way in a distant corner, while Cregan crept along the floor, muttering in an indistinct tone. "Drunk? aye, but not dead drunk. I call no man dead drunk while he lies on the high road, with sense enough to roll out of the way when a carriage is driving towards him."
Hardress fired, after having made two paces. Creagh, who was unhurt, reserved his shot until he put the pistol up to the head of his opponent. Hardress never flinched, although he really believed that Creagh was about to shoot him.
"Come," said he loudly, "fire your shot and have done with it. I would have met you at the end of a handkerchief upon my friend's quarrel."
Hyland Creagh, after enjoying for a moment the advantage he possessed, uncocked his pistol and laid it on the table.
"Hardress," said he, "you are a brave fellow. I believe I was wrong. I ask your pardon, and am ready to drink your toast."
"Oh, well," said Hardress, with a laugh; "if that be the case, I cannot, of course, think of pursuing the affair any farther." And he reached his hand to his opponent with the air of one who was exercising, rather than receiving, a kindness.
The company once more resumed their places at the table, somewhat sobered by this incident, which though not unusual at the period, was yet calculated to excite a little serious feeling. It was not long, however, before they made amends for what was lost in the way of intoxication. The immense blue jug, which stood inside the fender, was replenished to the brim, and the bowl flew round more rapidly than ever. Creagh told stories of the Hell-fire Club in the sweating and pinking days. Connolly overflowed with anecdotes of attornies outdone, of plates well won, of bailiffs maimed and beaten; and Cregan (whose tongue was the last member of his frame that became accessory to the sin of intoxication) filled up his share in the conversation, with accounts of cocks, and of ghosts, in the appearance of which last, he was a firm, though not a fearful believer. Hardress remained with the company until the sound of a vehicle, drawing up at the hall door, announced the return of his mother and cousin. He then left the room and hurried to his own apartment, in order to avoid meeting them under circumstances which he well supposed were not calculated to create any impression in his own favour.
We cannot better illustrate the habits of the period, than by transcribing an observation made in Mr. Cregan's kitchen at the moment of the dispute above detailed. Old Nancy was preparing the mould candles for poor Dalton's wake, when she heard the shot fired in the dining parlour.
"Run into the gentlemen, Mike, eroo," she exclaimed, without even laying aside the candle, which she was paring with a knife, in order to make it fit the socket more exactly. "I lay my life the gentlemen are fighting a jewel."
"It can't be a jewel," said Mike the servant boy, who was courting slumber in a low chair before the blazing fire. "It can't be a jewel, when there was only one shot."
"But it isn't long from 'em, I'll be bail, till they'll fire another if they don't be hindered; for 'tis shot for shot with 'em. Run in, eroo.
The servant stretched his limbs out lazily, and rubbed his eyes. "Well," said he,"fair play all the world over. If one fired, you wouldn't have the other put up with it, without havin' his fair revinge?"
"But may be one of 'em is kilt already!" observed Nancy.
"E'then, d'ye hear this? Sure you know, well, that if there was any body shot, the master would ring the bell!"
This observation was conclusive. Old Nancy proceeded with her gloomy toil in silence, and the persuasive Mike, letting his head hang back from his shoulders, and crossing his hands upon his lap, slept soundly on, undisturbed by any idle conjectures on the cause of the noise which they had heard.
* I am sorry the Author of Guy Mannering should have thought proper to adopt the same mode of reasoning. Will posterity remove that bar sinister from his literary escutcheon?