What Happened Last Night! by F. B. Harrison
I cannot deceive myself—I was horribly tipsy last night.
Let him who has never been in the like case throw the first
empty bottle at me!
How did it happen? In this way. I, a civilian, reading law,
was invited to dine at the garrison mess. I had never been at
a similar entertainment, and I cannot but think, now that I look
back on it, that the officers played some trick on me. I only
knew that they were prodigiously polite, which always looks
suspicious. From a certain point, from the third course, I
remember very little; a sort of cloudy curtain intercepts the
view like the curtains that come down in a pantomime, and I
don't know whether I was Clown, or Pantaloon, or Columbine.
Yet something must have happened to me, a great many
things. I've been sleeping in my white tie; and then my face!
What a shockingly yellow, dissipated face! Upon my word, it
is a pretty affair! At my time, one-and-twenty, to be overcome
by wine like a schoolboy out for a holiday!
I cannot express what I think of it.
How am I to know what happened last night? Ask my
landlady? No; I cannot let her see how ashamed I am.
Besides, she would only know the condition in which I came
home; and that I can guess.
They say that from a single bone Professor Owen can reconstruct
an entire antediluvian animal; I must try and do something
similar to reconstruct my existence during the last twelve
or fourteen hours. I must get hold of two or three clues.
Where can I find them?
In my pockets, perhaps.
Since I was a small boy I have always had the habit of
stuffing them with all manner of things. Now, this is the time
for me to search them.
I tremble. What shall I find?
I have gently insinuated two fingers into my waistcoat-pocket,
and have brought out my purse. Empty! Hang it!
On picking up my overcoat I have found my pocket-book,
half open, and the papers fallen from it on the carpet.
The first of these papers which catches my eye is the carte of
last night's dinner. Well, who was there? How many of us?
Several of the fellows I knew, of course; but which of them?
Happy thought! The menu will remind me of their various
tastes and reveal their names to me.
'Oysters.' Well, I know that the Colonel is a tremendous
hand at oysters, so I am sure he was there.
'Mulligatawny.' That is Captain Simpkin's soup, or rather
liquid fire, so Simpkins was there. Two of them.
'Roast Beef.' Makes me think of little Dumerque, the
Jersey man, who wants to be a thorough Englishman. He was
'Saddle of Mutton.' Tom Horsley, the inveterate steeple-chaser.
'Charlotte Russe.' That is Ned Walker, who published his
travels from "Peterborough to Petersburg." Now I know
pretty well who some of my fellow-guests were. As for the
Hallo! were there women at the mess? No, certainly not.
Then we must have talked of women, and the men must have
given me photographs of their female relatives. Strange thing
to do! especially as I don't know the ladies. Here's an ancient
and fish-like personage in a blue jersey. Dumerque's grandmother,
I'll be bound. Here a stout, middle-aged dame, widow
probably. I know Simpkins wants to marry a widow, but why
give me her portrait?
And this—this is charming! Quite in the modern style—low
forehead, small nose, tiny mouth, all eyes, and what
splendid eyes! and such lashes! She is fair, as well as one
can judge from a photograph. And the little curls on her forehead
are like rings of gold. And so young, a mere child. A
lovely figure; our forefathers would have compared her to a
rose-tree, but then our forefathers were not strong in similes.
She has neither ear-rings nor necklace; perhaps that gives her
that look of disdain. Disdain! she knows nothing yet of life,
but tries to seem tired of it. They are all like that.
Who is she? She must be the Colonel's daughter; I've
heard that his daughter is a pretty girl. I must have expressed
my warm admiration of the photograph, and he must have
responded by giving it to me. Did I ask him for her hand?
Did he refuse it? or did he put off his reply? Perhaps that
was why I drank too much.
Now let me proceed. What further happened? Let me
continue my researches.
By Jingo! Two visiting cards! The first says:
"Captain Wellington Spearman,
First Royal Lancer Dragoons."
"Major Garnet Babelock Cannon,
Now, what does it all mean? I do not know those military
gentlemen. They must have been guests like myself. How
do I come to have their cards? There must have been some
dispute, some quarrel, some row. These two cards must have
been given in exchange for two of mine.
It all comes back to me!
A duel—perhaps two duels!
But duels about what? Whom did I affront? I know I'm
an awful fire-eater when I've drank too much. But was I the
challenger or the challenged? I think my left cheek is rather
swollen as if from a blow; but that is mere fancy. What
dreadful follies have I got myself into?
I can make out some pencil marks on the first card, that of
the Captain in the Lancer Dragoons. Yes. "Ten o'clock,
behind St. Martin's Church."
Ah, a hostile meeting, that is clear. I must run, perhaps I
shall be in time.
No, too late; it is half-past eleven.
I am dishonoured, branded as a coward! No one will believe
me when I say that I had a headache, and overslept myself on
the morning of a duel.
I have no energy to look further in my pocket. Still, one
A handkerchief—a very fine one—thin cambric. But it is
not one of mine. There is a coronet in the corner. How did I
come by this handkerchief? Could I have stolen it? I seem
to be on the road to the county gaol.
Oh, how my head aches!
A flower is in my button-hole. How did it come there?
Forget-me-nots; their blue eyes closed, all withered and drooping.
I could not have bought so humble a bouquet at the
flower-shop; it must have been given me. It was given me, it
came to me from the fair one with golden curls. Her father
gave it to me from her, knowing that I was about to risk my life—to
risk my life for her sake, no doubt.
Yes, that is it. My fears increase. I dread to know more.
I am afraid to prosecute my researches in my pockets. I may
find my hands full of forget-me-nots—or of blood!
Oh! ah! by jove!
This overcoat is not mine. No, mine is dark grey, this is
light grey. I have not travelled through my pockets, but
through the pockets of somebody else.
But then—if the coat is not mine, neither is the duel.
Not mine the carte.
Not mine the photographs.
Not mine the forget-me-nots.
Not mine the cards.
I have not stolen the handkerchief.
I am all right; thank goodness I am all right!
And my romance about the Colonel's lovely daughter—I am
sorry about it, upon my word. At least, I am sorry for her,
for I fear now she will never make my acquaintance.