He was astonished, but by no means dismayed. It is extraordinary how cool any party but the principal can be in such cases. Mr. Winkle had forgotten this. He had judged of his friend's feelings by his own.
'The consequences may be dreadful,' said Mr. Winkle.
'I hope not,' said Mr. Snodgrass.
'The doctor, I believe, is a very good shot,' said Mr. Winkle.
'Most of these military men are,' observed Mr. Snodgrass calmly; 'but so are you, ain't you?' Mr. Winkle replied in the affirmative; and perceiving that he had not alarmed his companion sufficiently, changed his ground.
'Snodgrass,' he said, in a voice tremulous with emotion, 'if I fall, you will find in a packet which I shall place in your hands a note for my — for my father.'
This attack was a failure also. Mr. Snodgrass was affected, but he undertook the delivery of the note as readily as if he had been a twopenny postman.
'If I fall,' said Mr. Winkle, 'or if the doctor falls, you, my dear friend, will be tried as an accessory before the fact. Shall I involve my friend in transportation — possibly for life!' Mr. Snodgrass winced a little at this, but his heroism was invincible. 'In the cause of friendship,' he fervently exclaimed, 'I would brave all dangers.'
How Mr. Winkle cursed his companion's devoted friendship internally, as they walked silently along, side by side, for some minutes, each immersed in his own meditations! The morning was wearing away; he grew desperate.
'Snodgrass,' he said, stopping suddenly, 'do not let me be balked in this matter — do not give information to the local authorities — do not obtain the assistance of several peace officers, to take either me or Doctor Slammer, of the 97th Regiment, at present quartered in Chatham Barracks, into custody, and thus prevent this duel! — I say, do not.'
Mr. Snodgrass seized his friend's hand warmly, as he enthusiastically replied, 'Not for worlds!'
A thrill passed over Mr. Winkle's frame as the conviction that he had nothing to hope from his friend's fears, and that he was destined to become an animated target, rushed forcibly upon him.
The state of the case having been formally explained to Mr. Snodgrass, and a case of satisfactory pistols, with the satisfactory accompaniments of powder, ball, and caps, having been hired from a manufacturer in Rochester, the two friends returned to their inn; Mr. Winkle to ruminate on the approaching struggle, and Mr. Snodgrass to arrange the weapons of war, and put them into proper order for immediate use.
it was a dull and heavy evening when they again sallied forth on their awkward errand. Mr. Winkle was muffled up in a huge cloak to escape observation, and Mr. Snodgrass bore under his the instruments of destruction.
'Have you got everything?' said Mr. Winkle, in an agitated tone.
'Everything,' replied Mr. Snodgrass; 'plenty of ammunition, in case the shots don't take effect. There's a quarter of a pound of powder in the case, and I have got two newspapers in my pocket for the loadings.'
These were instances of friendship for which any man might reasonably feel most grateful. The presumption is, that the gratitude of Mr. Winkle was too powerful for utterance, as he said nothing, but continued to walk on — rather slowly.
'We are in excellent time,' said Mr. Snodgrass, as they climbed the fence of the first field;'the sun is just going down.' Mr. Winkle looked up at the declining orb and painfully thought of the probability of his 'going down' himself, before long.
'There's the officer,' exclaimed Mr. Winkle, after a few minutes walking. 'Where?' said Mr. Snodgrass.
'There — the gentleman in the blue cloak.' Mr. Snodgrass looked in the direction indicated by the forefinger of his friend, and observed a figure, muffled up, as he had described. The officer evinced his consciousness of their presence by slightly beckoning with his hand; and the two friends followed him at a little distance, as he walked away.
The evening grew more dull every moment, and a melancholy wind sounded through the deserted fields, like a distant giant whistling for his house-dog. The sadness of the scene imparted a sombre tinge to the feelings of Mr. Winkle. He started as they passed the angle of the trench — it looked like a colossal grave.
The officer turned suddenly from the path, and after climbing a paling, and scaling a hedge, entered a secluded field. Two gentlemen were waiting in it; one was a little, fat man, with black hair; and the other — a portly personage in a braided surtout — was sitting with perfect equanimity on a camp-stool.
'The other party, and a surgeon, I suppose,' said Mr. Snodgrass; 'take a drop of brandy.' Mr. Winkle seized the wicker bottle which his friend proffered, and took a lengthened pull at the exhilarating liquid.
'My friend, Sir, Mr. Snodgrass,' said Mr. Winkle, as the officer approached. Doctor Slammer's friend bowed, and produced a case similar to that which Mr. Snodgrass carried.
'We have nothing further to say, Sir, I think,' he coldly remarked, as he opened the case; 'an apology has been resolutely declined.'
'Nothing, Sir,' said Mr. Snodgrass, who began to feel rather uncomfortable himself.
'Will you step forward?' said the officer.
'Certainly,' replied Mr. Snodgrass. The ground was measured, and preliminaries arranged. 'You will find these better than your own,' said the opposite second, producing his pistols. 'You saw me load them. Do you object to use them?'
'Certainly not,' replied Mr. Snodgrass. The offer relieved him from considerable embarrassment, for his previous notions of loading a pistol were rather vague and undefined.
'We may place our men, then, I think,' observed the officer, with as much indifference as if the principals were chess-men, and the seconds players.
'I think we may,' replied Mr. Snodgrass; who would have assented to any proposition, because he knew nothing about the matter. The officer crossed to Doctor Slammer, and Mr. Snodgrass went up to Mr. Winkle.
'It's all ready,' said he, offering the pistol. 'Give me your cloak.'
'You have got the packet, my dear fellow,' said poor Winkle. 'All right,' said Mr. Snodgrass. 'Be steady, and wing him.'
It occurred to Mr. Winkle that this advice was very like that which bystanders invariably give to the smallest boy in a street fight, namely, 'Go in, and win' — an admirable thing to recommend, if you only know how to do it. He took off his cloak, however, in silence — it always took a long time to undo that cloak — and accepted the pistol. The seconds retired, the gentleman on the camp-stool did the same, and the belligerents approached each other.
Mr. Winkle was always remarkable for extreme humanity. It is conjectured that his unwillingness to hurt a fellow-creature intentionally was the cause of his shutting his eyes when he arrived at the fatal spot; and that the circumstance of his eyes being closed, prevented his observing the very extraordinary and unaccountable demeanour of Doctor Slammer. That gentleman started, stared, retreated, rubbed his eyes, stared again, and, finally, shouted, 'Stop, stop!'
'What's all this?' said Doctor Slammer, as his friend and Mr. Snodgrass came running up; 'that's not the man.'
'Not the man!' said Doctor Slammer's second.
'Not the man!' said Mr. Snodgrass.
'Not the man!' said the gentleman with the camp-stool in his hand.
'Certainly not,' replied the little doctor. 'That's not the person who insulted me last night.'
'Very extraordinary!' exclaimed the officer.
'Very,' said the gentleman with the camp-stool. 'The only question is, whether the gentleman, being on the ground, must not be considered, as a matter of form, to be the individual who insulted our friend, Doctor Slammer, yesterday evening, whether he is really that individual or not;' and having delivered this suggestion, with a very sage and mysterious air, the man with the camp-stool took a large pinch of snuff, and looked profoundly round, with the air of an authority in such matters.
Now Mr. Winkle had opened his eyes, and his ears too, when he heard his adversary call out for a cessation of hostilities; and perceiving by what he had afterwards said that there was, beyond all question, some mistake in the matter, he at once foresaw the increase of reputation he should inevitably acquire by concealing the real motive of his coming out; he therefore stepped boldly forward, and said —
'I am not the person. I know it.'