Lord Aspenly made one or two eager passes at his opponent, which were parried with perfect ease and coolness; and before he had well recovered his position from the last of those lunges, a single clanging sweep of the major's sword, taking his adversary's blade from the point to the hilt with irresistible force, sent his lordship's weapon whirring through the air some eight or ten yards away.
Take your life, my lord, said the major, contemptuously; I give it to you freely, only wishing the present were more valuable. What do you say now, my lord, to the terms?
I say, sirwhat do I say? echoed his lordship, not very coherently. Major O'Leary, you have disarmed me, sir, and you ask me what I say to your terms. What do I say? Why, sir, I say again what I said before, that I cannot and will not subscribe to them.
Lord Aspenly, having thus delivered himself, looked half astonished and half frightened at his own valour.
Everyone to his tasteyour lordship has an uncommon inclination for slaughter, observed the major coolly, walking to the spot where lay the little gentleman's sword, raising it, and carelessly presenting it to him: take it, my lord, and use it more cautiously than you have donedefend yourself!
Little expecting another encounter, yet ashamed to decline it, his lordship, with a trembling hand, grasped the weapon once more, and again their blades were crossed in deadly combat. This time his lordship prudently forbore to risk his safety by an impetuous attack upon an adversary so cool and practised as the major, and of whose skill he had just had so convincing a proof. Major O'Leary, therefore, began the attack; and pressing his opponent with some slight feints and passes, followed him closely as he retreated for some twenty yards, and then, suddenly striking up to the point of his lordship's sword with his own, he seized the little nobleman's right arm at the wrist with a grasp like a vice, and once more held his life at his disposal.
Take your life for the second and the last time, said the major, having suffered the wretched little gentleman for a brief pause to fully taste the bitterness of death; mind, my lord, for the last time; and so saying, he contemptuously flung his lordship from him by the arm which he grasped.
Now, my lord, before we begin for the last time, listen to me, said the major, with a sternness, which commanded all
p.141the attention of the affrighted peer; I desire that you should fully understand what I propose. I would not like to kill you under a mistakethere is nothing like a clear, mutual understanding during a quarrel. Such an understanding being once established, bloodshed, if it unfortunately occurs, can scarcely, even in the most scrupulous bosom, excite the mildest regret. I wish, my lord, to have nothing whatever to reproach myself with in the catastrophe which you appear to have resolved shall overtake you; and, therefore, I'll state the whole case for your dying consolation in as few words as possible. Don't be in a hurry, my lord, I'll not detain you more than five minutes in this miserable world. Now, my lord, you have two strong, indeed I may call them in every sense fatal, objections to my proposal. The first is, that if you write the letter I propose, you must fight Sir Richard and young Henry Ashwoode. Now, I pledge myself, my soul, and honour, as a Christian, a soldier, and a gentleman, that I will stand between you and themthat I will protect you completely from all responsibility upon that scoreand that if anyone is to fight with either of them, it shall
p.142not be you. Your second objection is, that having been fool enough to tell the world that you were coming here for a wife, you are ashamed to go away without one. Now, without meaning to be offensive, I never heard anything more idiotic in the whole course of my life. But if it must be so, and that you cannot go away without a wife, why the dl don't you ask Emily Coplanda fine girl with some thousands of pounds, I believe, and at all events dying for love of you, as I am sure you see yourself? You can't care for one more than the other, and why the deuce need you trouble your head about their gossip, if anyone wonders at the change? And now, my lord, mark me, I have said all that is to be said in the way of commentary or observation upon my proposal, and I must add a word or two about the consequences of finally rejecting it. I have spared your life twice, my lord, within these five minutes. If you refuse the accommodation I have proposed, I will a third time give you an opportunity of disembarrassing yourself of the whole affair by running me through the bodyin which, if you fail, so sure as you are this moment alive and breathing before me, you shall, at the end of the next five, be a corpse. So help me God!
Major O'Leary paused, leaving Lord Aspenly in a state of confusion and horror, scarcely short of distraction.
There was no mistaking the major's manner, and the old beau garçon already felt in imagination the cold steel busy with his intestines.
But, Major O'Leary, said he, despairingly, will you engagecan you pledge yourself that no mischief shall follow from my withdrawing as you say? not that I would care to avoid a duel when occasion required; but no one likes to unnecessarily risk himself. Will you indeed prevent all unpleasantness?
Did I pledge my soul and honour that I would? inquired the major sternly.
Well, I am satisfied. I do agree, replied his lordship. But is there any occasion for me to remove to-night?
Every occasion, replied the major, coolly. You must come directly with me, and write the letterand this evening, before supper, you must leave Morley Court. And, above all things, just remember this, let there be no trickery or treachery in this matter. So sure as I see the smallest symptom of anything of the kind, I will bring about such another piece of work as has not been for many a long day. Am I fully understood?
Perfectlyperfectly, my dear sir, replied the nobleman. Clearly understood. And believe me, Major, when I say that nothing but the fact that I myself, for private reasons, am not unwilling to break the matter off, could have induced
p.143me to co-operate with you in this business. Believe me, sir, otherwise I should have fought until one or other of us had fallen to rise no more.
To be sure you would, my lord, rejoined the major, with edifying gravity. And in the meantime your lordship will much oblige me by walking up to the house. There's pen and paper in Sir Richard's study; and between us we can compose something worthy of the occasion. Now, my lord, if you please.
Thus, side by side, walked the two elderly gentlemen, like the very best friends, towards the old house. And shrewd indeed would have been that observer who could have gathered from the manner of either (whatever their flushed faces and somewhat ruffled exterior might have told), as with formal courtesy they threaded the trim arbours together, that but a few minutes before each had sought the other's life.