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THE CHIMNEY CORNER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 2, Issue 230, 31 December 1880
THE CHIMNEY CORNER.
THE DUEL. In the year 1807, when the peace of Tilsit put a stop to the conquest of Napoleon in Germany, the King of Prussia, exhausted by his astonishing efforts to maintain the war against France, reduced his army to the peace establishment. Consequently, many officers who were stationed at Hamburg received a furlough, or were dismissed from the service for a short time, and a life of military danger and activity gave place to habits of idleness and dissipa-
tion. ( In the early part of the summer, several of these officers, having dined together, and sacrificed rather freely at the shrine of the jolly god, adjourned towards evening to the Exchange Coffee House, the most noted hotel in the city. They entered singing and shouting in the most tumultuous manner, setting at defiance the rules of propriety and decorum. The youngest of the joyous band, the Baron de V , who bore the commission of a lieutenant in the army, was about twenty-five years of age, wealthy, handsome, and, elegantly formed. But his mind did
not correspond with his person ; he was vain, insolent, self-conceited, and presuming. When they entered the room they observed an individual of small stature, in a dark suit, seated . alone at a table. Fie held in his left hand the journal of the day, while his right hand supported a pipe. He paid little attention to the entrance of this formidable host of blackguards, scarcely deigning to raise his eyes from the paper he was perusing. The young baron, doubtlessly offended at an appearance of indifference, which he thought bordered on contempt, approached the man in black and said, with a smile of bitter irony, “ Ah, my friend, good evening. From your appearance I should take you to be a schoolmaster, or perhaps a tailor. Am I right ? Where is your goose ? ” The citizen raised his eyes and fixed them for a moment on the countenance of his interrogator, and then resumed the perusal of the journal. “God forgive my sins,” continued the baron, “ he will not answer me. Come, my little fellow, we must be more sociable. Ah, I perceive the reason of your silence ; the pipe incommodes you. As I must hear the sound of your voice, allow me to relieve you.” So saying he snatched the pipe from the hands of the stranger, and dashed it to pieces on the floor, a piece of wit which his companions applauded with shouts of laughter. Without laying down the journal, the insulted individual turned towards the entrance of the inner room, and coolly said : “ Waiter, another pipe.” “ Well done,” replied the young impertinent, “ I have gained something, however; I made him open his mouth.” The pipe was brought, filled and lighted, and the citizen continued to peruse the journal as if nothing had happened. “ My little man,” said the baron, “ where do you belong ? In what village do you exercise your talents ? What, no answer 1 Flave you resolved not to enter into conversation with me ?” Here the insulted person again raised his head and looked the young officer in the face, at the same time puffing out an immense volume of smoke ; he then deliberately resumed his former occupation. “ Perhaps I was mistaken in your character,” interrupted the baron; “ you may be the quid nunc of a village, and perhaps endeavoring to commit to memory the news which that paper contains, to impart it correctly to your friends and neighbors. But you smoke like a Swiss. That pipe causes you much inconvenience.” It was a second time broken. Without evincing by a gesture, or any visible sign of countenance, the least appearance of anger, the man in black coolly repeated the first demand, “ Waiter, another pipe.” “ What a. melodious voice !” resumed the baron. “ Such patience must be the attribute of an angel or a devil. I would give a thousand florins to see you in a passion ; it would be delicious sport.” An old major, whose embroidered coat was decorated with military orders, and on whose German physiognomy was depicted frankness, true courage, and loyalty, who entered the coffeehouse with the hair-brained youths, now addressed the baron in a low voice, but which, notwithstanding, could be heard in all parts of the room : “ My young friend, you are insulting a stranger without provocation; you are foolishly guilty of a great impertinence, and your conduct, with that of your applauding comrades, begins to disgust me. I beg you will pursue this foolish joke no longer.” The baron, with his companions, accordingly adjourned to a neighboring room, and commenced playing cards. To judge from their numerous jokes, followed by loud peals of laughter, it would seem that the young officer’s folly and imprudence was already forgotten. An hour passed away ; all was mirth and jollity, the baron had gained a considerable sum, and his spirits were proportionately buoyant, when the little man in black entered the room, and slowly approached his chair, tapped him gently on the shoulder, and requested to speak to him in another apartment. The baron regarded him with a look of disdain over his shoulder, utteredanill-timedjest, and laughed in his face. “ Sir,” said the man in black, in a decided and manly tone, “you labor under a trifling mistake, which I must take the liberty to correct. I am neither a tailor nor a schoolmaster. I have the honor to be a post-captain in the English navy, very much at your service. You have insulted me, and I demand satisfaction, 10-morrow morning, at ,7. o’clock, I shall await you here. Bring pistols with you.” The astonished baron, who during this address had risen from' his chair, changed countenance more than once, and then answered only by a low bow of acquiescence; he dared not trust himself to speak, lest his tongue should betray his terror.. The captain politely saluted the rest of the company and left the house. With him departed all the gaiety of the lieutenant. Fie became thoughtful
and taciturn ; his mind wandered from the game, and he soon lost more than he had gained. He was unnerved with terror, while reflecting on the consequences ot his foil}'. What an advantage must an adversary possess over him who could bear with so much calmness a series of degrading insults, and who could propose a duel with such imperturbable sang froid ! Such an antagonist must be singularly endowed with courage and skill. Such were the ideas that continually passed through his mind. When the company separated they all agreed to meet at the same place at the appointed hour. But it is not supposed that all slept equally well during the night. When they assembled next morning at the coffeehouse they found the Englishman before them at the rendezvous ; but he was now dressed in a splendid suit of the naval uniform of his nation. He was
attended by a valet, who carried his case under his arm. He requested the officers to accept of some refreshments, and they entered into conversation, when the Englishman gave indications of possessing a cultivated mind and good breeding. About 8 o’clock he rose from his chair and begged the Prussian officer to select the spot* where the quarrel must be decided, adding that he was a stranger in the city and that all places were alike to him. The baron named the open pasture lying between Ham- ■ burg and Altoona. ■ When they arrived on the ground the Englishman asked the Prussian what distance he would prefer ; he answered “ Fifteen paces.” “ The distance is too great,” resumed the Englishman, “ you will miss me. Call it ten, if you please.” And his proposition was accepted. The major now made the observation that the captain had no seconds. “That is of little consequence,” said the Englishman. “If I fall my valet has ray orders.” The major represented that such a proceeeding was contrary to the usage in affairs of this kind, and that if such a formality was neglected the duel could not take place, but he
politely offered to assist in that capacity. When the ground was marked out and each of the principals had taken his station, the captain asked his antagonist significantly if he had good pistols a for,’ : said he, “ I have a pair which I often use, and which never miss their man. I will give you a proof of their excellence. He then called his servant and ordered him to throw something in the air. The man took a handkerchief from his pocket. “ This is too large,” said the captain ; find something else.” He took from his pocket a dried prune. “ r l hat will ao,” exclaimed his master. The fruit was thrown into the air, the pistol was fired, and the prune was battered into pieces. At this extraordinary proof of address, the spectators were , struck with astonishment. As to the poor lieutenant, he was more dead than alive.
The captain then resumed_ his station, and requested his antagonist to fire; but the major interposed, stating that it was contrary to the custom of their country; that the offended party had an undoubted right to make the first essay, and after his fire was returned, the rest should be decided by chance. “My friend,” replied the captain, “if I should suffer myself to be influenced by your opinion, this young gentleman would never have an opportunity to test the quality of his pistols. I must have my own way in this particular, and after I have settled the affair with this gentleman, each of his companions who amused themselves last evening at my expense, and who, instead of restraining the impertinence of their friend, laughed at his ridiculous follies, must one after another front the muzzle of my pistol. Now, sir, I am read}'. Take good aim, for if you miss me you are a dead man.” The lieutenant presented his weapon, drew the trigger, and the ball passed through the Englishman’s hat. “ Now, sir, it is my turn,” said the captain. “ I was last night a butt for your railleries and your sarcasms. Without provocation you insulted me, covered me with humiliation. I- was a schoolmaster, a tailor, a village babbler. What am I now? A man. And what are you ? A miserable poltroon, trembling with fear. 1 hat death, which in a few minutes you will receive from my hand, already surrounds you with shadows. The grim tyrant’s icy hand is already extended over you. Your lips rre livid, your eyes are glazed, and your visage is as pale as the windingsheet which in a few hours will envelop your body. Your feeble limbs can hardly support you ; insolence and cowardice go hand in hand together. But before my bullet pierces your heart, tell me have you any arrangements to make ? Have you a last adieu to send a father, a mother, or sister, or any other person who is dearer to you ? I have here the materials for writing; and willingly grant you time to make any arrangements which you may think necessary ” ■ The young man muttered something, of which a humble “ I thank you,” was all that was intelligible. “ In that case,” replied the Englishman, “ since reconciliation between us is absolutely impossible and it is necessary that your blood should wash out the affronts which I have received, 1 beg you to implore, by a fervent but brief prayer, the mercy of the Eternal Power.”
Then, taking off his hat, he looked round upon the mute, terrified spectators of this closing scene, who, by spontaneous impulse, uncovered themselves m like manner. For a minute or two there reigned amongst the group a religious and solemn silence, which was only interrupted by the hard breathings of the suffering lieutenant. At length, seizing his pistol, and pointing it towards the lieutenant, he kept him for a minute in a state of the most horrible suspense; then, suddenly raising the weapon, he turned towards the valet,who stood near him, and handed him the pistol. “ Take it,” said he; “this offiicer is not worthy the honor of dying by the hand of an Englishman.” The next day the Baron de V quitted that part of the country, and never again resumed his station in the regiment.
THE CHIMNEY CORNER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 2, Issue 230, 31 December 1880
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