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The master's house

a tale of Southern life




Page 346


When Col. Lee rode over to Heritage Place with “the
note,” from Mr. Moreton, Mildmay accidentally met him
in the road, near the house; and the colonel internally congratulated
himself upon the fact, as he did not care to be
embarrassed in his errand, by the appearance of Mrs.
Mildmay. After a few general remarks, the colonel presented
the missive.

Mildmay, in his letter to Mr. Moreton, had assumed
the tone of one who had a right to speak, as to a friend;
he clearly expressed the obligations he was under to Mr.
Moreton, from the first evening he landed at Heritage
Place, up to the moment of his writing. He assumed that
as the challenge from Hickman was evidently instigated
by malice, that Mr. Moreton would see the person interested,
and by a few words, put an end to the matter.
Yet he was not altogether, in his own communings, passive
under the infliction. With his usual good sense, he
made all allowance for Mr. Moreton's presumed education


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in favor of the “code of honor,” and yet he felt deeply
touched, that that gentleman would condescend to make a
fellow like Hickman, so much an equal, as to act as his second;
and after revolving the matter in his mind, he came
to the conclusion, that it evinced, on the part of Mr.
Moreton, a want of that proper appreciation for himself,
that he felt he was entitled to, and there was, consequently,
a blow struck to his self-esteem, which he deeply felt.

When, therefore, he read the challenge borne by Col.
Lee, he felt the blood rushing to his head, and then came
over him the defiant spirit of an injured man at bay. Remembering
that he had already appealed to Mr. Moreton's
friendship in vain, the truth flashed upon him, that he was
surrounded with toils, that would require, to escape from
with self-respect, the most consummate address; he, therefore,
after a few moments' hesitation, informed Col. Lee,
that at the earliest possible moment, through the hands of
a friend, he would be honored with an answer, whereupon
the two gentlemen courteously bade each other adieu, and

Mildmay rode toward his home, with a struggle in
his mind that gave him the first intense misery he had
ever felt in his life. By a train of circumstances over
which he had no control, and by the connivance of persons
the least expected, he found himself in one of the most
difficult positions in which a man of feeling and high sense
of self-respect could be placed. He had always denounced
duelling; his early teachings, and his own religious sentiments,
condemned the practice; yet, as he rode along, his
ears would burn, and his face flush, at the thought of having


Page 348
Col. Lee, Mr. Moreton, and “the world!” apply to
him an opprobrious epithet.

Mildmay was in the garden of temptation,—the bitter
cup was at his lips; his moral principles were now to be
tested: how ignorant was he up to that moment of his
real nature. Mr. Moreton would have made friends with
Mildmay; his calm judgment and better feelings dictated
that he should, but he was so brave, that he was afraid of
Col. Lee's censure. Mildmay cared as little for the good
or bad opinion of the people in and about Beechland, as
perfectly independent circumstances, superior education,
and want of sympathy, could make one; yet, strange as it
may seem, he cowered under the idea of having these
same people, for whom he really felt so little respect, condemn
him, for doing what he knew to be right,—to be
just,—to be Christian,—refuse to take part in a duel; he
therefore wavered, and finally placed his peace of mind,
and his life, out of his keeping,—surrendered to a bloody
Moloch, the noble attribute of self-apprecience, and for
the time, trembled more from the fear of corrupt man,
than he did at the just anger of his God.

After a long and most painful conversation with Gen.
Bledsoe, Mildmay, as he was about retiring, remarked, “See
Mr. Moreton, do every thing proper to have this matter,
as it should be, amicably arranged; if it cannot be, I leave
all future arrangements in your hands.”

Never did a more genial day dawn upon the luxuriant
fields of the South than was ushered in on the morning
appointed for the duel. Through the live-long night, a
gentle sea-breeze had graciously cooled the atmosphere, as


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if moved by the fanning wings of some protecting angel.
Mildmay rose just at the dawn of day, possessed with but
one idea, and that was, how he could best account to
Annie for his early morning ride. Supposing that he had
escaped from his room unobserved by her watchful eyes,
he had already prepared himself for departure; and had
just taken his musket from its hangings, when her light
footsteps were heard upon the stairs.

Mildmay at the sound pressed the deadly weapon
against his heart, and casting his eyes upward, muttered,
“God of Heaven! have mercy on me!” and then assuming
his usually quiet expression, he stepped quickly
but with painful feelings of embarrassment into the hall.

Annie that morning looked even more than usually charming.
Her flowing robe was but negligently closed at the
throat, which displayed her beautiful neck to its greatest
advantage; her smile was most enchanting,—her step free,
—and she appeared the very personification of genial goodness
and wifely beauty.

“Upon my word,” said she, with a merry laugh, as
her eyes met Mildmay's,—“upon my word, Graham, I shall
begin to be jealous of the goddess Diana, if you thus steal
away to her retreats.”

Graham breathed more freely, as he found Annie had
suggested a reason for his conduct, and quickly replied:
“You know that the deer are early risers, Annie, and
if caught at all, it must be while the dew is on the

“Perhaps so,” said the young wife, “perhaps so; but
do you know, Graham,” placing her arm upon his shoulder,


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as they walked towards the lawn, “that I could not
have the heart to shoot any thing; “even the looks of
that poor buck you brought home the other day, made me
feel sad,—its glazed and liquid eyes haunt me even now.”

It seemed to Graham that iron hooks had a hold upon
his heart, tearing it asunder, and then crushing it with
the weight; but he maintained himself, and replied:

“There is enough of the savage life in us, Annie, in
spite of our civilization, to make the sports of the field
sometimes agreeable; I think, perhaps, a dash of the wild
man forms a useful alloy for even the noblest natures.”

“What you prove by example,” said Annie, “leaves
no room for argument; but you will come back soon, will
you not?” and as the tender-hearted woman, all innocent
of the fearful precipice upon which she was standing,
asked this question, she looked at Mildmay a world of unutterable

“I will, Annie,” said he, determined to fall dead at
his wife's feet before he would betray himself, or awaken
by any extraordinary emotion on his part her sensibilities
to the awful ordeal through which she, in his person, was
about to pass.

“And so do,” said Annie, stepping aside and gathering
a white half-blown rose; and returning to Mildmay,
she took a pin from her dress, and fastened the bud to one
of the button-holes of his coat,—“And so do,” she repeated,
standing back, as if to take in the effect of the
flower; “and come home soon, for I shall wait breakfast
for you, and Clemmy and I will see what good thing we
can invent to appease that hunter's appetite I know you


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will find in the woods;” and kissing Mildmay, she stood
transfixed as long as he remained in sight.

Graham looked back but once,—waved his hand, and
turning away, pressed it against his forehead, and stared
wildly into the heavens. Who, but the Infinite, could
fathom his thoughts!—who, save the Creator, comprehend
the awful struggle in his mind between his moral
feelings and the participation of crime, which would violate
them all. How there came rushing upon him the
precepts of peace, that had so often been enforced and illustrated
in his early education; how the form of his Saviour
rose in his view, preaching peace and good-will to
all mankind; how Annie's misery, if he fell: all these
things rushed through his brain and heart, yet the spell
of the demon of the duello was upon him; the heathen Ajax
defied but the lightning,—a Christian now invoked the
wrath of Almighty God!

As Mildmay rode slowly down the road, his faithful
body-servant followed in the rear; and tired of the silence,
he took advantage of a favorable opportunity, and said,
“Master, I seed a buck in de old field yesterday; I
think you'd better turn in de lower bars, and we can pass
right by his tracks in comin up where de hands are at

“I'm not after bucks this morning, nor am I going to
the field,” replied Mildmay, relieved perhaps to hear a
voice of sympathy; and then turning suddenly to the boy,
who had come nearly alongside, he inquired, “Did you
ever see a duel?”

“No, master,” replied Governor, his eyes popping out


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of his head, as if the very suggestion of such a thing had
swelled his brain.

“You will probably see one this morning,” returned
Mildmay, with solemnity; “and I charge you, as you
value your life, never to speak of it at the Heritage until
I tell you.”

“Yes, master,” echoed Governor, the very picture of

“Master, who's going to fou't?” inquired Governor,
his curiosity finally overcoming his other emotions.

“You will learn in due time,” returned Mildmay; and
in another instant, he caught the sight of Gen. Bledsoe,
who, with one or two friends, were leaping their horses
over the partially let-down fence, showing that they had
reached the place by coming across the fields.

Graham saluted Gen. Bledsoe and his friends with the
carelessness, and yet the studied courtesy, of every-day
meetings; and then riding up to the general, he grasped
him firmly by the hand, and by consent the two rode ahead,
and side by side.

“You are blessed with a fine morning, Mildmay,”
said the general, cheerfully; “all yesterday it looked like
rain; and I was very glad to see it come off clear in
the west, and give promise of this splendid day. And
now,” said the general, taking out his watch, “it is within
a few minutes of the time of meeting,—did you practise,
Mildmay, that hint I gave you about turning your body,
without moving your feet?”

“I did not,” returned Mildmay, in an emphatic


Page 353

“But you should have done it,” said Gen. Bledsoe,
naturally assuming the responsible position of second, and
therefore for the time speaking with more than usual freedom.
“You should have done it; it was an easy movement,
and has saved life.”

“To tell you the truth, general, I did go out a day or
two since, and, according to your direction, I placed the
heel of my right foot in the hollow of the left, and went
through the pantomime of firing over my left shoulder at
an imaginary human being in my rear.”

“And what success did you have?” inquired the general,
with animation.

“Why,” answered Mildmay, “I came home ignorant
of what success I might have had by practice.”

A cloud passed over Gen. Bledsoe's face; he seemed
to be angry, mortified, and filled with pity, by turns.
Mildmay noticed it, and for the first and only time on that
memorable day, did his eyes flash malignant fire; but he
rode on in silence.

Mr. Moreton's friends—and there were several who
took a deep and actively expressed interest in “the affair”
—together with Col. Lee, had staid at Mr. Moreton's house
the night before the duel. Previous to retiring, the arrangements
were made for the following morning; and it was
agreed that the party should rise early, and after a cup of
coffee proceed at once to the ground, and there take a substantial
breakfast, in picnic fashion,—Col. Lee suggesting,
“that the display would have a fine moral effect upon the opposing
party; and that there was nothing so well calculated


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to shake a man's courage as to find his opponent early in
the field.”

These things were freely talked over in the evening,
as the gentlemen smoked their cigars on the gallery, after
the children and Aunt Margaret had retired.

Mrs. Moreton had been from the beginning perfectly
conversant with the progress of the difficulty. At first she
acted as a peacemaker, although she said but little; after
a while, she commenced sympathizing with the sentiments
of her husband and his friends, and very soon showed even
more excitement on the subject than Mr. Moreton himself.

Danger to those she loved never entered her mind.
The contemplated duel, therefore, from her early education,
had no terrors, because she had wrought herself up
to the notion, that it could amount to nothing more than a
triumph for her husband; but how it was to be accomplished
had never troubled her thoughts.

Just before the party separated for the night, Mrs.
Moreton, who had silently for a long while listened to the
general remarks, asked:

“You think, then, Col. Lee, that Mr. Mildmay will
not fight?”

“Most decidedly,” said the colonel, with a wave of the
hand; “most decidedly,” echoed the younger gentlemen,
looking triumphantly at Mrs. Moreton.

“Madam,” continued the colonel, “if Mr. Mildmay
had any courage at all, it has been destroyed by those
Yankees, who unfortunately had charge of his education.”

“There cannot be a doubt of that,” said a young gentleman,
named Beauchamp; “he seems so afraid of a


Page 355
fight, that he has made up a half-dozen difficulties to my
knowledge. Look how he interfered to save Toadvine
from lynching, although the fellow had killed one of his
best niggers; and, besides that, Mildmay said he was
willing to trust to the law for redress. In my opinion,”
continued Beauchamp, with energy, “any man that will
refer to the law to get satisfaction for a personal wrong, is
a coward.”

“Not always,” said Mr. Moreton, thoughtfully, roused
by the sound of the offensive word used by Beauchamp;
“not always, but it is difficult to overcome early education.”

“And you think, Colonel Lee, that Mr. Mildmay will
make an apology on the ground, do you?” asked Mrs.
Moreton, drawing her shawl closely round her shoulders,
as she was preparing to leave.

“I most certainly do,” replied the colonel, rising with
the other gentlemen to bid the lady good night; and he
continued, in a playful way, “We shall not be hard upon
Mildmay; if he don't beg off too much, we will dismiss
him with very little ceremony, and leave him to the degradation
of his own thoughts.”

Mrs. Moreton cast a meaning look at her husband; her
bright dark eye flashed with triumph, and with a stately
tread, unusual to her manner, she waved her adieus—and
leaning upon the arm of Mr. Moreton, disappeared from
the presence of the gentlemen.

“I hope,” said Beauchamp, with an oath, “I hope
this Mildmay will stand fire, for I should hate to be disappointed,
after all the trouble we have had.'


Page 356

“If he will,” said Col. Lee, walking pompously up and
down, “if he will, there will be displayed the handsomest
piece of finessing on the part of Moreton that ever distinguished
an honorable meeting. Mildmay will undoubtedly
shoot quick,—he has learnt the habit from
deer-hunting; and by the arrangements of the duello,
Moreton will thus draw his fire, and will have time to
shoot Mildmay down at his leisure.”

“Excellent!” cried Beauchamp, now full of enthusiasm;
“excellent! and woe to the spectators that are in
the way of Mildmay's bullet, for nobody will be safe except
they stand close up to Moreton.”

This sally was received with a suppressed laugh by all
the party; and helping themselves liberally to the liquors
that stood upon the sideboard, they, one by one, preceded
by servants bearing candles, retired for the night to their

The following morning they met early in the dining-hall;
the carriages, four in number, were at the door.
Into one of the vehicles, under the more immediate charge
of Beauchamp, was placed the “lunch,” packed in champagne
baskets. Every body was in surprising spirits;
Mr. Moreton was himself more than usually agreeable,—
Col. Lee never appeared to better advantage,—and Beauchamp
said, “that this was the most agreeable excitement
he ever had in his life.”

As the carriages were about leaving, Mrs. Moreton
made her appearance; there was a flush on her cheek, that
made her naturally handsome face, almost radiant. She
was exceedingly animated,—laughed at Beauchamp because


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he displayed so much interest about the breakfast
basket; and as the carriages were about to move from
the lawn, she stepped into the parlor, and brought out
Mr. Moreton's rifle.

Walking to the carriage window, she handed it to her
husband, exclaiming, “I would do more than that for the
honor of my family.” Mr. Moreton took the deadly weapon,
gallantly kissed his wife's hand, and as the carriage
dashed away, he continued to wave his tokens of adieu,
which the lady returned, until a bend in the road caused
the party to disappear from her sight.