Chapter 16 – The Duel (Excerpt Part 1 of 2)

Dorian cut off as they came upon two gentleman along the roadway who were also mounted. They were well-equipped, though on lesser brown-Cob horseflesh.

Dorian was quite startled to see that the riders were none other than Lord Donohoe and his lesser-known brother. Lord Donohoe was dressed plainly in simple brown riding trousers and a matching coat. His greying hair was cut smartly in the military style. A door-knocker beard and mustache adorned his face. His brother attired himself in a comparable manner. All four of the horses slowed to a walk as they approached, with Dorian reigning up when they were a few meters away.

Dorian called out a greeting. “Good afternoon Lord Donohoe. I was unaware that you had a residence in Trouville.”

“There are many things you mistakenly think me unaware of—you cussed bedswerver!” With that insult, Lord Donohoe removed his riding glove and threw it to the ground before bellowing his challenge to Dorian. “I demand satisfaction for what you have done to my daughter!”

Dorian’s reply was smooth and in blatant disregard for the challenge to duel that was just laid before him. “My dear man, I believe there has been some case of mistaken identity. I do not even know your daughter.”

“Liar! Scoundrel! I know what you have done to her, corrupting her mind and body. It is by your hand that she has become nothing more than a common dollymop.”

“Take care with your insults sir. But I assure you, I have nothing to do with your daughter’s poor choices in life. I will not tolerate your slander any further.”

“Then you will face me today on the field of honor, and pistols will decide the truth of it!”

Dorian saw that Lord Donohoe was resolute in his challenge. He took stock of the older man’s frail stature, and the slight shaking of his pointing hand.

He sighed and lifted his hands in a gesture of compliance. “Very well. If you insist on this course we will play it out. But let it be known that I attempted to move you from it.” With that, Dorian swiftly dismounted in a fluid motion and beckoned to his friend. “Lord Crawley will act as my second, as I am sure your brother will act as yours. Since you have determined the choice of weapons and the time of the duel, I will determine the ground and the form to be followed.”

Dorian gestured towards a small clearing behind the group. “We will meet in the small field behind you and begin back-to-back. Following ten paces on my count, we will both turn and shoot. Are these terms acceptable to you sir?”

Lord Donohoe and his brother dismounted in response. They moved briskly to the prescribed field and the seconds began to inspect the pistols that Lord Donohoe produced from a cherry wood case, carried on his saddlebag. The selected weapons were brown-barrel, octagonal sighted, Percussion 14 bore pistols. They could be loaded with only one lead ball at a time.

Lord Crawley picked up the weapons and checked the firing mechanism on each one. “They are balanced and level, Dorian.  They appear adequate and should produce a straight shot.”

Dorian liked his chances in this contest, for he was no stranger to firearms and was an accomplished marksman. He regularly hit his target when shooting at cans or stuffed animals on the firing range and he had brought down many a stag and quail while hunting. His opponent was nearly two decades his senior and of questionable health. However, he had never before killed a man with a firearm. At that moment, Lord Donohoe began a coughing fit as he was preparing himself. Dorian smiled and offered his handkerchief, which was harshly refused. He confidently selected his weapon and assumed his position. There was always a chance that both combatants would miss. Then the matter would be concluded without bloodshed. When Lord Donohoe finally regained his breath, he approached with the second pistol in his hand and the two stood back-to-back.

“This is your last chance to withdraw your challenge,” whispered Dorian.

“And your last chance to pray to God for forgiveness,” Lord Donohoe responded curtly.

Dorian cocked his weapon and heard the sharp click as his opponent did the same. The gun felt strangely heavy in his hand. The grip seemed suddenly slick, as sweat began to form in his palm and along the top of his hand. Now was the moment for steely resolve.

In a scratchy voice he shouted out, “Begin!” and started counting off the ten paces in a measured voice. He was surprised at the trepidation he felt and the thundering of his heart beating in his ears. True, he had never fought in a duel before but surely it was not a difficult thing. He was young and strong and would certainly triumph. It was only a matter of breathing and aiming carefully. There was no chance of this old man besting him.

The wide field where they dueled was really a picturesque sight. It was framed by a small blue stream with two large weeping willows on either bank. They each dropped spiral-green strands into the gently flowing water. Stubborn wildflowers grew everywhere in whites, blues, and oranges. On the other side of a light-colored beech fence a herd of creamy-white cattle grazed, indifferent to the drama unfolding so close by. The sky was clear and filled with the bright-warmth of a bold, yellow sun. It seemed as if you could see for kilometers in every direction. What a beautiful place this would be to meet one’s end.

The count reached ten and Dorian began turning. As he spun he started to level his pistol as he raised his arm. He was startled to see that his aged opponent had already completed his turn by pivoting smartly on his heel and was expeditiously aiming his pistol in Dorian’s direction, unmistakably preparing to fire. Dorian struggled to make up the lost time—too late. Lord Donohoe fired his pistol with a crack like thunder, sending up an acrid cloud of black smoke.