Delaying some time in a village, there was a great deal said about a certain Miss Vapour, who was the belle of the place. Her father had made a fortune by the purchase of public securities. A garrison having been at this place, and troops quartered here, he had been employed as an issuing commissary. When the commissioners sat to adjust unliquidated claims, he had a good deal in his power, by vouching for the accounts of the butcher and baker, and wood-cutter and water-drawer, and waggoner, and others of all occupations whatsoever, whose claims were purchased by himself in the mean time, and when the certificates issued in their names, they were to his use. The butcher and baker, no doubt, long before had been paid out of the flesh killed, or bread baked: because it is a good maxim, and a scriptural expression, Muzzle not the ox that treadeth out the corn. But the public has a broad back, and a little vouching, by a person interested, is not greatly felt. These certificates, though at first of little value, and issued by the commissioners with the liberality of those who give what is of little worth, yet by the funding acts of the government, having become, in value, equal to gold and silver, the commissary had a great estate thrown upon him; so that, from low beginnings, he had become a man of fortune and consequence. His family, and especially the eldest daughter, shared the advantage: for she had become the object of almost all wooers. The Captain, though an old bachelor, has we have said, had not wholly lost the idea of matrimony. Happening to be in a circle, one evening, where Miss Vapour was, he took a liking to her, in all respects save one, which was, that she seemed, on her part, to have taken a liking to a certain Mr. Jacko, who was there present; and to whose attention she discovered a facility of acquiescence. The Captain behaved for the present, as if he did not observe the preference, but the following day, waiting on the young lady at her fathers house, he drew her into conversation, and began to reason with her in the following manner:
Miss Vapour, said he, you are a young lady of great beauty, great sense, and fortune still greater than either. This was a sad blunder in a man of gallantry, but the lady not being of the greatest sensibility of nerve, did not perceive it.--On my part, said he, I am a man of years, but a man of some reflection; and it would be much more adviseable in you to trust my experience, and the mellowness of my disposition in a state of matrimony, than the vanity and petulance of this young fop Jacko, for whom you show partiality.
The colour coming into the young ladys face at this expression, she withdrew, and left him by himself. The Captain struck with the rudeness, withdrew also, and, calling Teague from the kitchen, mounted his horse and set off.
The next morning shortly after he had got out of bed, and had just come down stairs at his lodging, and was buttoning the knees of his breeches, a light airy looking young man, with much bowing and civility, entered the hall of the public house, and enquiring if this was not Captain Farrago to whom he had the honour to address himself, and deliver him a paper. On the perusal, it was found to be a challenge from Mr. Jacko.
The fact was, that Miss Vapour, in order the more to recommend herself to her suitor, had informed him of the language of the Captain. The young man, though he had no great stomach for the matter, yet according to the custom of these times, could do no less than challenge. The bearer was what is called his second.
The Captain having read the paper, and pausing a while, said, Mr. Second, for that I take to be your stile and character, is it consistent with reason or common sense, to be the aider or abettor of another mans folly; perhaps the prompter? For it is no uncommon thing with persons to inflame the passions of their friends, rather than allay them. This young woman, for I shall not call her lady, from vanity, or ill nature, or both, has become a tale-bearer to her lover, who, I will venture to say, thanks her but little for it; as she has thereby rendered it necessary for him to take this step. You, in the mean time, are not blameless, as it became you to have declined the office, and thereby furnished an excuse to your friend for not complying with the custom. For it would have been a sufficient apology with the lady to have said, although he was disposed to fight, yet he could get no one to be his armour-bearer or assistant. It could have been put upon the footing, that all had such regard for his life, that no one would countenance him in risking it. You would have saved him by this means, all that uneasiness which he feels at present, lest I should accept his challenge. I am not so unacquainted with human nature, as not to know how disagreeable it must be to think of having a pistol ball lodged in the groin or the left breast, or, to make the best of it, the pan of the knee broke, or the nose cut off or some wound less than mortal given; disagreeable, especially to a man in the bloom of life, and on the point of marriage with a woman to whose person or fortune he has no exception. I would venture to say, therefore, there will be no great difficulty in appeasing this Orlando Furioso, that has sent me the challenge. Did you know the state of his mind, you would find it to be his wish at this moment, that I would ease his fears, and make some apology. A very slight one would suffice. I dare say, his resentment against Miss Vapour is not slight, and that he would renounce her person and fortune both, to get quit of the duel. But the opinion of the world is against him, and he must fight. Do you think he has any great gratitude to you for your services on this occasion? He had much rather you had, in the freedom of friendship, given him a kick on the posteriors, when he made application to you; and told him, that it did not become him to quarrel about a woman, who had, probably, consulted but her own vanity, in giving him the information. In that case, he would have been more pleased with you a month hence, than he is at present. I do not know that he has an overstock of sense; nevertheless, he cannot be just such a fool, as not to consider, that you, yourself, may have pretensions to this belle, and be disposed to have him out of the way before you. He must be a fool, indeed, if he does not reflect, that you had much rather see us fight than not; from the very same principle that we take delight in seeing a cock-match, or a horse-race. The spectacle is new, and produces a brisk current of thought through the mind; which is a constituent of pleasure, the absence of all movement giving none at all.
What do you suppose I must think of you, Mr. Second; I, who have read books, and thought a little on the subject; have made up my mind in these matters, and account the squires that bring challenges from knights, as people of but very small desert? Thinking men have condemned the duel, and laws have prohibited it; but these miscreants still keep it up, by being the conductors of the fluid. My indignation, therefore, falls on such, and I have long ago fixed on the mode of treating them. It is this: a stout athletic man calls upon me, with a challenge in his hand, I knock him down, if I can, without saying a word. If the natural arm be not sufficient for this purpose, I avail myself of any stone, wooden, or iron instrument that I cast my eye upon, not just to take away his life, if I can help it; but to hit the line as exactly as possible, between actual homicide, and a very bad wound. For in this case, I should conceive, a battery would be justifiable, or at least excuseable, and the fine not very great; the bearing a challenge being a breach of the peace, in the first instance. This would be my conduct with a stout athletic man, whom I might think it dangerous to encounter with fair warning, and on equal terms. But in the present case, where--(Here the second began to show signs of fear, raising himself, and inclining backwards, opening his eyes wider, and casting a look towards the door)--where, continued the Captain, I have to do with a person of your slender make, I do not adopt that surprise, or use an artificial weapon; but with these fists, which have been used in early life to agricultural employments, I shall very deliberately impress a blow.
The second rising to his feet began to recede a little. Be under no apprehensions, said the Captain; I shall use no unfair method of biting, gouging, or wounding the private parts. Nay, as you appear to be a young man of a delicate constitution, I shall only choak a little. --You will give me leave to take you by the throat in as easy a manner as possible.
In the mean time the second had been withdrawing towards the door, and the Captain with outstretched arms, in a sideway direction, proceeded to intercept him. In an instant, he was seized by the neck, and the exclamation of murder which he made at the first grasp, began to die away in hoarse guttural murmurs of one nearly strangled, and labouring for breath. The Captain meaning that he should be more alarmed than hurt, dismissed him with a salutation of his foot on the posteriors, as a claude ostium, as he went out. You may be, said he, a gentleman in the opinion of the world; but you are a low person in mine; and so itshall be done to every one who shall come upon such an errand.