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The master's house

a tale of Southern life




Page 358


The place selected for “the duel” was a neck of land, or
rather “sand-bar,” made by a creek, which at times overflowed
the spot, and consequently it presented, at low water,
a smooth, sandy surface as level as a floor. Opposite, rose
the high bank of the stream, which circled round, holding
the place of meeting, as it were, in its embrace. Tall and
magnificent forest trees filled up the background, and some
majestic specimens, in solitary grandeur, rose here and
there, not only rich in their own unrivalled vegetation, but
bearing heavenward, gigantic grape and flower-bearing
vines. The birds sang merrily in the boughs, and the lowing
kine grazed contentedly about—all in nature was harmony
and peace.

Mr. Moreton and his friends were already upon the
ground, when Mildmay and Gen. Bledsoe came in sight.
The carriages in which they had come to the field, were ostentatiously
drawn up near by. On the ground was
snowy napery, upon which were the remains of a splendid
repast; in fact, Moreton and his party were at the instant
busily engaged in eating a hearty breakfast.


Page 359

“This theatrical display of eating and drinking, at a
time like this, is really disgusting!” said Gen. Bledsoe to
Mildmay—“I am sure that this was not Mr. Moreton's
suggestion; that gentleman has been badly advised.”

In a moment more the viands were dispensed with, and
Mr. Moreton's party shook hands with Gen. Bledsoe and
Mildmay as cordially as if they had met at a picnic, instead
of a hostile meeting. Mildmay went through this
part of the ceremony with coldness; he was not yet perfect
master of his feelings; dissembling was still difficult.

While considerable discussion was going on in subdued
tones, between the seconds, Mildmay had, entirely alone,
seated himself on a limb of a fallen tree; Mr. Moreton,
on the contrary, was surrounded by a number of young
men, who seemed to be very full of suppressed humor, for
it seemed that, if it were proper, they would be entirely
overcome with some excellent joke.

As Mildmay sat by himself, Governor, who had not
been upon the ground more than a moment before he comprehended
the purpose of the assembling, and who was
filled with alarm, came near, and stood behind his master—
an affecting statue of sorrowful interest, willing, could the
sacrifice have been made, to give up his life to save his protector
and friend.

In the course of a few moments Gen. Bledsoe walked
up to Mildmay, and announced to him, that the preliminaries
were arranged.

“General,” said Mildmay, in reply, “your kindness
to me on this occasion will ever be remembered with gratitude.
The course I have adopted may be right or wrong,


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still I must beg of you to bear with me, even if I demand
more than is conceded on occasions of this kind.” Gen.
Bledsoe bit his lip. Mildmay continued: “I this morning
make a sacrifice to public opinion, that, whatever may
be the result, will be reflected upon by me, with sorrow,
even to my grave. I therefore must ask of you, with most
solemn interest, has every thing been done, compatible
with honor, to peacefully arrange this difficulty between
myself and Mr. Moreton?”

“Mr. Mildmay,” said the general, with perceptible
sternness, and some undisguised feeling of disdain in his
face, “I have already assured you, over my own signature,
that every proposition for peace has been almost
rudely rejected; and I will add, that in respect to your
feelings, I have almost compromised myself—and you,
perhaps, by my active zeal to bring about a peaceful reconciliation.”

“'Tis well!” returned Graham. “I have no more
to say.”

Mr. Moreton and Mildmay, after again ceremoniously
shaking hands, at once took their appointed places, at
twenty paces apart. There was, in many respects, a difference
of appearance in the two combatants. Mr. Moreton
had the air of a perfect gentleman, in the maturity of
life; the slight tinge of gray that was discovered in his
hair, when illuminated in the sunshine, gave interest to his
face. He was perfectly self-possessed and affable. His
whole expression denoted a person of high education, who
was about to perform an important, but necessary act.

Mildmay, on the contrary, had evidently not yet reached


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perfect maturity. His face was noble, and full of deep,
abiding, solemn thought; it was painfully interesting, to
see so much responsibility marked upon so young a brow
As he rose to his full height, he was certainly as perfect
a specimen of manly beauty, as was ever seen.

Gen. Bledsoe, who, from the moment when he first saw
Mildmay, had conceived a high idea of his qualities in
every respect; when he came upon the ground, became so
solicitous that Mildmay should sustain himself by the
most approved bearing, that he unconsciously became affected
with the sentiments of Mr. Moreton's friends, and
feared that, possibly, Mildmay might at the critical moment,
“compromise himself,” and this feeling was somewhat
confirmed by Mildmay's just reiterated desire to know
“if every amicable proposition had been rejected?”

The principals were at their places, their weapons in
their hands—when Gen. Bledsoe, his face full of deep sympathy,
walked close up to Mildmay, and whispered in his

“Mildmay, if there be a doubt in your mind, about
your firmness on this occasion, if your conscientious scruples
overcome your courage, let me take your place. Remember
that the same blood courses through our veins.—
Hetty Bledsoe should not be disgraced upon the field.

“Stand back!” said Mildmay, with impassioned
energy. “Do your duty, my friend!” continued he, in a
calmer tone, “I will not forget mine.

“God bless you for that!” said Bledsoe, the tear
struggling in his eye. “Now Mildmay, my boy!” added
he, with vivacity, “tear that flower from your breast; it


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is a better mark, against your dark dress, than ever was a
`bull's eye' on a target.”

Mildmay looked down, and there, in all its innocent
loveliness, was Annie's last tribute of affection, still fresh
in the morning dews; the young husband plucked it from
its place, and thrusting it into his breast, so that it rested
upon his heart, he turned to his second, and with a firm
voice said:

“I am ready.”

Col. Lee, who had the ordering of the preliminaries,
the moment he heard Mildmay's remark, with professional
solemnity asked:

“Gentlemen, are you ready?”

“We are ready!” was mutually answered.

“Then, gentlemen,” said Col. Lee, with a loud voice,
“upon my repeating again the question, `Are you ready,'
you are to answer `Yes.' I shall then say, fire, one—

At this instant, Mildmay, who was standing with his
musket resting in the hollow of his left arm, to the astonishment
of all present, dropped the butt upon the ground
and said:

“Col. Lee, I desire some information.”

Gen. Bledsoe, who was now of course compelled to be
a silent spectator, felt a sickness come over him, when
Mildmay appeared thus so unnecessarily to interrupt the
proceedings, while a look of sarcastic significance passed
between Moreton's friends, Beauchamp whispering, “Mildmay's
going to faint.”


Page 363

“What is it, sir?” said Col, Lee, impatiently, at the
same time, turning to the questioner.

“Do I understand aright, Col. Lee,” said Mildmay,
with an affectedly slow emphasis, “that I can fire at any
time between the counts of `one—two—three.'”

“You can, sir!” answered Col. Lee, waving his hand
with authority.

Upon hearing which, Mildmay very slowly stooped
down, and pinching up some dry dust between the thumb
and fore-finger of his right hand,—without speaking, signified
that he understood the arrangement, and instantly
assumed his proper position.

Gen. Bledsoe, whose confidence in Mildmay's firmness
had been so terribly shaken, by what appeared to be his
ill-opportuned interruption; instantly caught the deep intent
of Mildmay's question, and the reason of his apparent
desire to fortify his finger against the possibility of slipping
on the trigger; it flashed upon him, like lightning,
that it was all to derange Moreton's calculations about
Mildmay's making a quick fire, and Gen. Bledsoe, whose
heart, a moment before, was near collapsing with fear; with
a thrill of admiration, could now with difficulty restrain himself
from falling on Mildmay's neck, and bursting into tears

Both Moreton and Mildmay now seemed conscious that
the instant of action had arrived, for they simultaneously
and courteously raised their weapons, as if “presenting
arms.” Col. Lee again, in a solemn voice asked:

“Gentlemen, are you ready?”

The combatants simultaneously answered, “We are!”
Then said Col. Lee:


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The numeral had hardly escaped the lips of Lee, before
the crashing sound of Mildmay's musket echoed far
and wide, and Moreton, with his weapon undischarged,
sprang perpendicularly in the air, and then fell lumbering
to the earth; for an instant, his body trembled like an aspen
leaf; he essayed to raise himself, and amid gurgling
sounds, could be faintly distinguished the words, “My
wife—my children!” and then, with a long-drawn sigh, he
fell back—a corpse.

Mildmay, still standing in his place, gazed sadly at the
group now kneeling about the lifeless form of the once
splendid Mr. Moreton; and then, handing his weapon to
Governor, who could scarce conceal his exultation at the
result, he mechanically moved toward his horse.

But ere he reached his place of destination, Gen. Bledsoe,
who had instinctively rushed toward the dying man,
now turned to Mildmay; and seizing him by the hand, he
shook it convulsively, and looking him affectionately in the
face, said:

Mildmay, thank God you are safe, and you have, this
day, added lustre to the bearing of a gentleman.”

Col. Lee next came forward, and with a most courtly
salute, he said: “Mr. Mildmay, I have had the extreme
pleasure of acting as `a friend,' on many similar occasions,
and in none, that I can remember, or that I have
heard of, have the strict rules of honor been more faithfully
preserved; your conduct to-day is above all praise.”

Mildmay listened to these strangely sounding congratulations,
as if he were in a dream, but rallying his thoughts,


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he bade all present a general adieu; mounted his horse, and
closely followed by Governor, slowly rode away.

“What a trump he is!” said Beauchamp, the moment
Mildmay was out of hearing. “What a trump! he has,
this morning, established himself in society; every honor
and office is henceforth open to him. I wonder whether
he will decide to go to Congress?”