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 there.

'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 others——

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."

The other:

"Major Garnet Babelock Cannon,
                    Rifle Artillery."

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 never knows——

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!

What now?

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.