Bob Burkeís Duel by Dr. Maginn

From “Tales from Blackwood.”

How Bob Burke, after Consultation with Wooden-Leg Waddy, Fought the Duel with Ensign Brady for the sake of Miss Theodosia MacNamara, Supposed Heiress to her Old Bachelor Uncle, Mick MacNamara of Kawleash.

“At night I had fallen asleep fierce in the determination of exterminating Brady; but with the morrow, cool reflection came—made probably cooler by the aspersion I had suffered. How could I fight him, when he had never given me the slightest affront? To be sure, picking a quarrel is not hard, thank God, in any part of Ireland; but unless I was quick about it, he might get so deep into the good graces of Dosy, who was as flammable as tinder, that even my shooting him might not be of any practical advantage to myself. Then, besides, he might shoot me; and, in fact, I was not by any means so determined in the affair at seven o’clock in the morning as I was at twelve o’clock at night. I got home, however, dressed, shaved, etc., and turned out. ‘I think,’ said I to myself, ‘the best thing I can do, is to go and consult Wooden-Leg Waddy; and, as he is an early man, I shall catch him now.’ The thought was no sooner formed than executed; and in less than five minutes I was walking with Wooden-Leg Waddy in his garden, at the back of his house, by the banks of the Blackwater.

“Waddy had been in the Hundred-and-First, and had seen much service in that distinguished corps.

“Waddy had served a good deal, and lost his leg somehow, for which he had a pension besides his half-pay, and he lived in ease and affluence among the Bucks of Mallow. He was a great hand at settling and arranging duels, being what we generally call in Ireland a judgmatical sort of man—a word which, I think, might be introduced with advantage into the English vocabulary. When I called on him, he was smoking his meerschaum, as he walked up and down his garden in an old undressed coat, and a fur cap on his head. I bade him good morning; to which salutation he answered by a nod, and a more prolonged whiff.

“‘I want to speak to you, Wooden-Leg,’ said I, ‘on a matter which nearly concerns me,’ to which I received another nod, and another whiff in reply.

“‘The fact is,’ said I, ‘that there is an Ensign Brady of the 48th Quartered here, with whom I have some reason to be angry, and I am thinking of calling him out. I have come to ask your advice whether I should do so or not. He has deeply injured me, by interfering between me and the girl of my affection. What ought I to do in such a case?’

“‘Fight him, by all means,’ said Wooden-Leg Waddy.

“‘But the difficulty is this—he has offered me no affront, direct or indirect—we have no quarrel whatever—and he has not paid any addresses to the lady. He and I have scarcely been in contact at all. I do not see how I can manage it immediately with any propriety. What then can I do now?’

“‘Do not fight him, by any means,’ said Wooden-Leg Waddy.

“‘Still, these are the facts of the case. He, whether intentionally or not, is coming between me and my mistress, which is doing me an injury perfectly equal to the grossest insult. How should I act?’

“‘Fight him by all means,’ said Wooden-Leg Waddy.

“‘But then, I fear if I were to call him out on a groundless quarrel, or one which would appear to be such, that I should lose the good graces of the lady, and be laughed at by my friends, or set down as a dangerous and quarrelsome companion.’

“‘Do not fight him, by any means,’ said Wooden-Leg Waddy.

“‘Yet, as he is a military man, he must know enough of the etiquette of these affairs to feel perfectly confident that he has affronted me; and the opinion of the military man, standing, as of course, he does, in the rank and position of a gentleman, could not, I think, be overlooked without disgrace.’

“‘Fight him, by all means,’ said Wooden-Leg Waddy.

“‘But then, talking of gentlemen, I own he is an officer of the 48th, but his father is a fish-tackle seller in John Street, Kilkenny, who keeps a three-halfpenny shop, where you may buy everything from a cheese to a cheese-toaster, from a felt hat to a pair of brogues, from a pound of brown soap to a yard of huckaback towels. He got his commission by his father’s retiring from the Ormonde Interest, and acting as whipper-in to the sham freeholders from Castlecomer; and I am, as you know, of the best blood of the Burkes—straight from the De Burgos themselves—and when I think of that I really do not like to meet this Mr. Brady.’

“‘Do not fight him, by all means,’ said Wooden-Leg Waddy.

“‘Why,’ said I, ‘Wooden-Leg, my friend, this is like playing battledore and shuttlecock; what is knocked forward with one hand is knocked back with the other. Come, tell me what I ought to do.’

“‘Well,’ said Wooden-Leg, taking the meerschaum out of his mouth, ‘in dubiis auspice, etc. Let us decide by tossing a halfpenny. If it comes down ‘head,’ you fight—if ‘harp’ you do not. Nothing can be fairer.’

“I assented.

“‘Which,’ said he, ‘is it to be—two out of three, as at Newmarket, or the first toss to decide?’

“‘Sudden death,’ said I, ‘and there will soon be an end of it.’

“Up went the halfpenny, and we looked with anxious eyes for its descent, when, unluckily, it stuck in a gooseberry bush.

“‘I don’t like that,’ said Wooden-Leg Waddy, ‘for it’s a token of bad luck. But here goes again.’

“Again the copper soared to the sky, and down it came—Head.

“‘I wish you joy, my friend’ said Waddy; ‘you are to fight. That was my opinion all along; though I did not like to commit myself. I can lend you a pair of the most beautiful duelling-pistols ever put into a man’s hand—Wogden’s, I swear. The last time they were out, they shot Joe Brown, of Mount Badger, as dead as Harry the Eight.’

“‘Will you be my second?’ said I.

“‘Why, no,’ replied Wooden-leg, ‘I cannot; for I am bound over by a rascally magistrate to keep the peace, because I nearly broke the head of a blackguard bailiff, who came here to serve a writ on a friend of mine,  with one of my spare legs. But I can get you a second at once. My nephew, Major Mug, has just come to me on a few days’ visit, and, as he is quite idle it will give him some amusement to be your second. Look up at his bedroom—you see he is shaving himself.’

“In a short time the Major made his appearance, dressed with a most military accuracy of costume. There was not a speck of dust on his well-brushed blue surtout—not a vestige of hair, except the regulation whiskers, on his closely-shaven countenance. His hat was brushed to the most glossy perfection—his boots shone in the jetty glow of Day and Martin. There was scarcely an ounce of flesh on his hard and weather-beaten face, and as he stood rigidly upright, you would have sworn that every sinew and muscle of his body was as stiff as whipcord. He saluted us in military style, and was soon put in possession of the case. Wooden-Leg Waddy insinuated that there were hardly, as yet, grounds for a duel.

“‘I differ,’ said Major Mug, ‘decidedly—the grounds are ample. I never saw a clearer case in my life, and I have been principal or second in seven-and-twenty. If I collect your story rightly, Mr. Burke, he gave you an abrupt answer in the field, which was highly derogatory to the lady in question, and impertinently rude to yourself?’

“‘He certainly,’ said I, ‘gave me what we call a short answer; but I did not notice it at the time, and he has since made friends with the young lady.’

“‘It matters nothing,’ observed Major Mug, ‘what you may think, or she may think. The business is now in my hands, and I must see you through it. The first thing to be done is to write him a letter. Send out  for paper—let it be gilt-edged, Waddy,—that we may do the thing genteelly. I’ll dictate, Mr. Burke, if you please.’

“And so he did. As well as I can recollect, the note was as follows:—

“‘Spa-Walk, Mallow, June 3, 18—

“‘Eight o’clock in the morning.

“‘Sir,—A desire for harmony and peace, which has at all times actuated my conduct, prevented me, yesterday, from asking you the meaning of the short and contemptuous message which you commissioned me to deliver to a certain young lady of our acquaintance whose name I do not choose to drag into a correspondence. But, now that there is no danger of its disturbing anyone, I must say that in your desiring me to tell that young lady she might consider herself as d——d, when she asked you to tea after inadvertently riding over you in the hunting field, you were guilty of conduct highly unbecoming of an officer and a gentleman, and subversive of the discipline of the hunt. I have the honour to be, sir,

“‘Your most obedient humble servant,
“‘Robert Burke.

“‘P.S.—This note will be delivered to you by my friend, Major Mug, of the 3rd West Indian; and you will, I trust, see the propriety of referring him to another gentleman without further delay.’

“‘That, I think, is neat,’ said the Major. ‘Now, seal it with wax, Mr. Burke, with wax—and let the seal be your arms. That’s right. Now direct it.’

“‘Ensign Brady?’

“‘No—no—the right thing would be, ‘Mr. Brady,  Ensign, 48th Foot,’ but custom allows ‘Esquire,’ that will do.—‘Thady Brady, Esquire, Ensign, 48th Foot, Barracks, Mallow.’ He shall have it in less than a quarter of an hour.’

“The Major was as good as his word, and in about half-an-hour he brought back the result of his mission. The Ensign, he told us, was extremely reluctant to fight, and wanted to be off on the ground that he meant no offence, did not even remember having used the expression, and offered to ask the lady if she conceived for a moment he had any idea of saying anything but what was complimentary to her.

“‘In fact,’ said the Major, ‘he at first plumply refused to fight; but I soon brought him to reason. ‘Sir,’ said I, ‘you either consent to fight or refuse to fight. In the first case, the thing is settled to hand, and we are not called upon to inquire if there was an affront or not—in the second case, your refusal to comply with a gentleman’s request is, of itself, an offence for which he has a right to call you out. Put it, then, on the grounds, you must fight him, it is perfectly indifferent to me what the grounds may be; and I have only to request the name of your friend, as I too much respect the coat you wear to think that there can be any other alternative.’ This brought the chap to his senses, and he referred me to Captain Codd, of his own regiment, at which I felt much pleased, because Codd is an intimate friend of my own, he and I having fought a duel three years ago in Falmouth, in which I lost the top of this little finger, and he his left whisker. It was a near touch, he is as honourable a man as ever paced a ground; and I am sure that he will no more let his man off the field until business is done than I would myself.’

“I own,” continued Burke, “I did not half relish this announcement of the firm purpose to our seconds; but I was in for it, and could not get back. I sometimes thought Dosy a dear purchase at such an expense; but it was no use to grumble. Major Mug was sorry to say that there was a review to take place immediately at which the Ensign must attend, and it was impossible for him to meet me until the evening; ‘but,’ he added, ‘at this time of the year it can be of no great consequence. There will be plenty of light till nine, but I have fixed seven. In the meantime you may as well divert yourself with a little pistol practice, but do it on the sly, as, if they were shabby enough to have a trial it would not tell well before the jury.’

“Promising to take a quiet chop with me at five, the Major retired, leaving me not quite contented with the state of affairs. I sat down and wrote a letter to my cousin, Phil Burdon, of Kanturk, telling him what I was about and giving directions what was to be done in the case of any fatal event. I communicated to him the whole story—deplored my unhappy fate in being thus cut off in the flower of my youth—left him three pairs of buckskin breeches—and repented my sins. This letter I immediately packed off by a special messenger, and then began a half-a-dozen others, of various styles of tenderness and sentimentality, to be delivered after my melancholy decease. The day went off fast enough, I assure you; and at five the Major, and Wooden-Leg Waddy, arrived in high spirits.

“‘Here, my boy,’ said Waddy, handing me the pistols, ‘here are the flutes; and pretty music, I can tell you, they make.’

“‘As for dinner,’ said Major Mug, ‘I do not much  care; but, Mr. Burke, I hope it is ready, as I am rather hungry. We must dine lightly, however, and drink not much. If we come off with flying colours, we may crack a bottle together by-and-by; in case you shoot Brady, I have everything arranged for our keeping out of the way until the thing blows over—if he shoots you, I’ll see you buried. Of course, you would not recommend anything so ungenteel as a prosecution? No. I’ll take care it shall appear in the papers, and announced that Robert Burke, Esq., met his death with becoming fortitude, assuring the unhappy survivor that he heartily forgave him, and wished him health and happiness.’

“‘I must tell you,’ said Wooden-Leg Waddy, ‘it’s all over Mallow and the whole town will be on the ground to see it. Miss Dosy knows of it, and she is quite delighted—she says she will certainly marry the survivor. I spoke to the magistrate to keep out of the way, and he promised that, though it deprived him of a great pleasure he would go and dine five miles off—and know nothing about it. But here comes dinner, let us be jolly.’

“I cannot say that I played on that day as brilliant a part with the knife and fork as I usually do, and did not sympathise much in the speculations of my guests, who pushed the bottle about with great energy, recommending me, however, to refrain. At last the Major looked at his watch, which he had kept lying on the table before him from the beginning of dinner—started up—clapped me on the shoulder, and declaring it only wanted six minutes and thirty-five seconds of the time, hurried me off to the scene of action—a field close by the castle.

“There certainly was a miscellaneous assemblage  of the inhabitants of Mallow, all anxious to see the duel. They had pitted us like game-cocks, and bets were freely taken as to the chances of our killing one another, and the particular spots. One betted on my being hit in the jaw, another was so kind as to lay the odds on my knee. The tolerably general opinion appeared to prevail that one or other of us was to be killed; and much good-humoured joking took place among them while they were deciding which. As I was double the thickness of my antagonist, I was clearly the favourite for being shot, and I heard one fellow near me say, ‘Three to two on Burke, that he’s shot first—I bet in tenpennies.’

“Brady and Codd soon appeared, and the preliminaries were arranged with much punctilio between our seconds, who mutually and loudly extolled each other’s gentleman-like mood of doing business. Brady could scarcely stand with fright, and I confess that I did not feel quite as Hector of Troy, or the Seven Champions of Christendom are reported to have done on similar occasions. At last the ground was measured—the pistols handed to the principals—the handkerchief dropped—whiz! went the bullet within an inch of my ear—and crack! went mine exactly on Ensign Brady’s waistcoat pocket. By an unaccountable accident, there was a five shilling piece in that very pocket, and the ball glanced away, while Brady doubled himself down, uttering a loud howl that might be heard half-a-mile off. The crowd was so attentive as to give a huzza for my success.

“Codd ran up to his principal, who was writhing as if he had ten thousand colics, and soon ascertained that no harm was done.

“‘What do you propose,’ said he to my second—‘What do you propose to do, Major?’

“‘As there is neither blood drawn nor bone broken,’ said the Major, ‘I think that shot goes for nothing.’

“‘I agree with you,’ said Captain Codd.

“‘If your party will apologise,’ said Major Mug, ‘I’ll take my man off the ground.’

“‘Certainly,’ said Captain Codd, ‘you are quite right, Major, in asking the apology, but you know that it is my duty to refuse it.’

“‘You are correct, Captain,’ said the Major; ‘I then formally require that Ensign Brady apologise to Mr. Burke.’

“‘I, as formally, refuse it,’ said Captain Codd.

“‘We must have another shot then,’ said the Major.

“‘Another shot, by all means,’ said the Captain.

“‘Captain Codd,’ said the Major, ‘you have shown yourself in this, as in every transaction of your life, a perfect gentleman.’

“‘He who would dare to say,’ replied the Captain, ‘that Major Mug is not among the most gentleman-like men in the service, would speak what is untrue.’

“Our seconds bowed, took a pinch of snuff together, and proceeded to load the pistols. Neither Brady nor I were particularly pleased at these complimentary speeches of the gentlemen, and, I am sure, had we been left to ourselves, would have declined the second shot. As it was, it appeared inevitable.

“Just, however, as the process of loading was completing, there appeared on the ground my cousin Phil Purdon, rattling in on his black mare as hard as he could lick—

“‘I want to speak to the plaintiff in this action—I  mean, to one of the parties in this duel. I want to speak to you, Bob Burke.’

“‘The thing is impossible, sir,’ said Major Mug.

“‘Perfectly impossible, sir,’ said Codd.

“‘Possible or impossible is nothing to the question,’ shouted Purdon; ‘Bob, I must speak to you.’

“‘It is contrary to all regulation,’ said the Major.

“‘Quite contrary,’ said the Captain.

“Phil, however, persisted, and approached me: ‘Are you fighting about Dosy Mac?’ said he to me, in a whisper.

“‘Yes,’ I replied.

“‘And she is to marry the survivor, I understand?’

“‘So I am told,’ said I.

“‘Back out, Bob, then; back out, at the rate of a hunt. Old Mick MacNamara is married.’

“‘Married!’ I exclaimed.

“‘Poz,’ said he. ‘I drew the articles myself. He married his housemaid, a girl of eighteen; and,’ here he whispered.

“‘What,’ I cried, ‘six months!’

“‘Six months,’ said he, ‘an’ no mistake.’

“‘Ensign Brady,’ said I, immediately coming forward, ‘there has been a strange misconception in this business. I here declare, in presence of this honourable company, that you have acted throughout like a man of honour, and a gentleman; and you leave the ground without a stain on your character.’

“Brady hopped three feet off the ground with joy at the unexpected deliverance. He forgot all etiquette, and came forward to shake me by the hand.

“‘My dear Burke,’ said he, ‘it must have been a mistake: let us swear eternal friendship.’

“‘For ever,’ said I. ‘I resign you Miss Theodosia.’

“‘You are too generous,’ he said, ‘but I cannot abuse your generosity.’

“‘It is unprecedented conduct,’ growled Major Mug. ‘I’ll never be second to a Pekin again.’

“‘My principal leaves the ground with honour,’ said Captain Codd, looking melancholy, nevertheless.

“‘Humph!’ grunted Wooden-Leg Waddy, lighting his meerschaum.

“The crowd dispersed much displeased, and I fear my reputation for valour did not rise among them. I went off with Purdon to finish a jug at Carmichael’s, and Brady swaggered off to Miss Dosy’s. His renown for valour won her heart. It cannot be denied that I sunk deeply in her opinion. On that very evening Brady broke his love, and was accepted. Mrs. Mac. opposed, but the red-coat prevailed.

“‘He may rise to be a general,’ said Dosy, ‘and be a knight, and then I will be Lady Brady.’

“‘Or, if my father should be made an earl, angelic Theodosia, you would be Lady Thady Brady,’ said the Ensign.

“‘Beautiful prospect!’ cried Dosy, ‘Lady Thady Brady! What a harmonious sound!’

“But why dally over the detail of my unfortunate loves? Dosy and the Ensign were married before the accident which had befallen her uncle was discovered; and if they were not happy, why, then, you and I may. They have had eleven children, and, I understand, he now keeps a comfortable eating-house close by Cumberland Basin, in Bristol. Such was my duel with Ensign Brady of the 48th.”