Somehow, in spite of Major O’Teague’s promise of secrecy, the rumour of the impending duel went round Bath, and Dick had to use all his adroitness in replying to those of his friends who questioned him on the subject in the course of the evening. But of course people were not nearly so certain about this encounter as they had been about the previous one—the one which did not take place. Young Mr. Sheridan’s imagination was quite equal to the strain put upon it by his interrogators, and he was able to give each of them a different answer. He assured some of them that he had excellent authority for believing that there was to be a meeting between Mr. Long and Captain Mathews, and that, in order to assure complete secrecy, it was to take place in the Pump Room before the arrival of the visitors some morning—he hoped to be able to find out the exact morning. Others he informed that it had been agreed by the friends of Mr. Long and Captain Mathews that they were to fight with pistols across the Avon at the next full moon; while to such persons as wanted circumstantial news on the subject, he gave the information in an undertone in a corner, that the fight was to come off on the following Thursday, on the lawn at Bath-Easton, Captain Mathews having declared that he would not be satisfied unless the same people who had witnessed the insult that had been put upon him were present to see him wipe it out. Dick even went the length of quoting the first two lines of a poem which he himself was composing for Lady Miller’s urn, feeling convinced that the prize would be awarded to him on account of its appropriateness. He meant to leave a blank in the final line, he said, to be filled up at the last moment with the name of the survivor.

The result of this unscrupulous exercise of his imagination was to alienate from him several of his friends and to mystify the others; so that, when he drove out with Mr. Long the next morning to the paddock by the Gloucester Road, it was plain that the secret as to the place of meeting had been well kept. Whatever might be said about Major O’Teague, he had respected the plea for secrecy advanced by Dick, though Dick knew that it must have gone to his heart to be deprived of the crowd of spectators on whom he had reckoned.

Dick saw that the ground lent itself to secrecy. At one part of the paddock there was a small plantation, and this screened off the greater part of it from the road. Here the ground was flat, but only for about half an acre; beyond this space there was a gradual rise into a wooded knoll, which could also be reached by a narrow lane leading off the road. Opposite the entrance to the paddock was the iron gate, behind which Mr. Long had retreated on the night when he was attacked; and now that Dick saw the place by daylight, he noticed that the gate gave access to the weedy carriage drive of an unoccupied house.

“A capital covert for footpads,” said Dick, when he stood by the side of Mr. Long beyond the plantation in the paddock. “I daresay it was just here that the fellows lay in wait for the approach of a victim.”

“That was the conclusion to which I came,” said Mr. Long. “And now here are we waiting for them.”

“For them?” said Dick.

“Well, for Mathews and his friend,” said Mr. Long with a quiet laugh.

“Worse than any footpads,” growled Dick, examining the ground just beyond the belt of trees.

“I promise you that they shall have neither my money nor my life, friend Dick,” said Mr. Long, looking round as if in expectation of seeing some one.

“We are before the appointed time,” said Dick, framing an answer to his inquiring look.

“We shall have the longer space to admire the prospect from yon knoll,” said his friend. “I am minded to have a stroll round the paddock. I promise you that I shall not disgrace you by running away.”

He waved his hand to Dick, who accepted the gesture as an indication that he desired to be alone. He busied himself about the ground while Mr. Long strolled toward the hedge that ran alongside the narrow lane skirting the paddock.

Dick fancied that he understood his desire to be alone for the brief space left to him before the probable arrival of Mathews and O’Teague. Could Mr. Long doubt for a moment that Mathews would do his best to kill him? Surely not.

So, then, the next quarter of an hour would decide the question whether he was to live or die. Dick remembered what Mr. Long had told him respecting his early life—his early love—his enduring love. What had his words been at that time?

Those who die young have been granted the gift of perpetual youth.

He watched Mr. Long walking slowly and with bent head up the sloping ground by the bramble hedge. He could believe that he was communing with the one of whom he had never ceased to think as his companion—the one who walked unseen by his side—whose gracious presence had never ceased to influence him throughout his life. And then, all at once the younger man became conscious of that invisible presence. Never before had he been aware of such an impression. It was not shadowy. It was not vague. It was not a suggestion of the imagination. It was an impression as real as that of the early morning air which exhilarated him—as vivid as that of the song of the skylark which had left its nest at the upper part of the green meadow, and was singing while it floated into the azure overhead. He felt as if he were standing beneath outspread wings, and the consciousness was infinitely gracious to him. All through the night and so far into the morning he had been in great trouble of thought. The shocking possibilities of this duel had suggested themselves to him every moment, and it was with a feeling of profound depression that he had taken the case of pistols from the carriage and entered the paddock.

But now, with the suddenness of entering a wide space of free air, out of a narrow room of suffocating vapours—with the suddenness of stepping into the sunlight out of a cell, his depression vanished. He felt safe beneath the shadow of those gracious, outstretched wings. Every suggestion that had come to him during the night, every thought of the likelihood of disaster, disappeared.

The dead are mightier than the living.

That was the thought which came to him now. He knew that the sense of perfect security of which he was now aware, could not have been imparted to him by any earthly presence; and looking across the green meadow to where Mr. Long was standing motionless, Dick knew that he also was living in this consciousness. And the cool scent of the meadow grass filled the morning air, and high overhead the wings of song spread forth by the ecstasy of the skylark winnowed the air. The feeling of exhilaration of which Dick Sheridan was conscious, was such as he had never known before.

Looking up the paddock, Dick fancied that he saw a figure moving stealthily among the fringe of trees; but he was not quite certain that some one was there. A few sheep were in the meadow at the other side of the hedge, and he thought it was quite possible that one of the flock had strayed through a gap and had wandered among the trees. At any rate he failed to see again any moving object in the same direction, and he did not think it worth his while going across the ground to make further investigations. He reflected that, after all, assuming that some one was among the trees, it was out of his power to insist on the withdrawal of such a person. He felt that, if it were to turn out that the owner of the ground was there, the combatants might find themselves ordered off the ground, for assuredly they were trespassers. And then his reflections were broken by the noise of carriage wheels on the road—sounds which ceased quite suddenly just when they were being heard most distinctly. After a pause came the sound of voices and a laugh or two. In a few moments Major O’Teague, with Mathews by his side, and followed by two gentlemen—one of them was recognised by him as Mr. Ditcher, the surgeon—appeared beyond the plantation.

Dick advanced to meet the party, but Mr. Long made no move. He was still on the slope of the meadow, apparently giving a good deal of attention to the distant view of the city of Bath.

“Sir,” said Major O’Teague, “we’re a trifle late, and an apology is jew to you. I promise you that ’twill not occur again.”

Dick had been extremely punctilious in the matter of taking off his hat to the party, and he declined to replace it until every one was covered. He assured Major O’Teague that no apology was necessary; he did not believe that it was yet five minutes past the appointed hour. Then Major O’Teague presented the only stranger of the party—a gentleman named MacMahon—“a brother Irishman, Mr. Sheridan,” he said, in discharging this act of courtesy; “a lineal descendant of the great FitzUrse who killed St. Thomas à Becket some years back; you may have heard of the occurrence. ’Tis not every day that one has a chance of killing a saint. Faith, I’m inclined to think that the practice has become obsolete owing to the want of material. Any way, Bath is not the place for any man to come to who seeks to emulate such a feat.”

Mr. MacMahon said he was modest; he sought to kill neither saint nor sinner. He hoped that Mr. Sheridan would not consider him an obtruder upon the scene; if Mr. Sheridan took such a view of the case, he would, he assured him, retire without a word of complaint.

Dick acknowledged his civility, and said that no friend of Major O’Teague’s would be out of place where an affair of honour was being settled.

While these courtesies were being exchanged, Mathews stood silently by, his teeth set, and his eyes fixed upon the distant figure of Mr. Long. He turned suddenly while Dick and Mr. MacMahon were bowing to each other, hat in hand.

“Is this a fête champêtre or the rehearsal of a comedy?” he said. “If my time is to be wasted—— Where is your man, Mr. Sheridan?—produce your man, sir, if he be not afraid to show his face.”

“I trust that no suggestion will be made to that effect, sir,” said Dick.

“No one will make it while I am on the ground, Mr. Sheridan,” said Major O’Teague. “If anybody here sees anything inappropriate in Mr. Long spending a few minutes in meditation, that person differs from me. Come, Mr. Sheridan, ’tis only for you and me to make any remarks. Egad, sir! I compliment your friend on his choice of the ground. It seems made for a jewel, so it does. That belt of trees shuts off the road entirely, and if we place our men on the flat, that hill behind us will give neither of them an unjew advantage. Sir, for one who is unfortunate enough to have had no experience of these affairs, you have shown an aptitude for the business that falls little short of jaynius.”

He glanced at the ground and its surroundings with the easy confidence of a general, and then marching to the right and left, cocked an eye in the direction of the sun.

“There’s no choice of places, that I can see; what do you say, Mr. Sheridan?” he asked.

“So far as I can judge there is no question of choice,” said Dick. “That is, of course, with pistols; it would be another matter with swords.”

“I agree with you, sir. Then, with your leave, we will measure the ground twenty paces from the line of trees.”

A considerable space of time was occupied in these formalities, and then came the question of the weapons. This was settled without discussion—Major O’Teague proving as courteous as he had promised to be; in fact, he thought it necessary to excuse his constant agreement with Dick.

“If there was anything to disagree about, you may be sure that I’d do it in the interest of Mr. Mathews, sir,” he said; “but I give you my word that there’s nothing to allow any side the smallest advantage. And now, sir, though it seems a pity to disturb the meditations of your friend, I am afraid that the time has come for you to take that step. I hope to Hivins that he won’t think it in bad taste. But you’re spared the trouble: he is coming to us.”

Mr. Long was walking quickly down the meadow, and when still a few paces away, he raised his hat to Major O’Teague, but ignored Mathews, who was standing some yards off.

“Major O’Teague,” he said, “I have to inform you that I have been giving the question of the projected duel my earnest thought, and the conclusion that I have come to is that I am not called on to fight Mr. Mathews.”

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