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MY COUSIN'S BEAU.
Amb. Brother, dost mark
Car. Ay, do I.
Amb. l'll tell thee what, my brother,
WHISKERANDOS, a Tragedy.
DOROTHY MEREDITH was my cousin, my favourite cousin. Nay she was, most emphatically, my pet.
As for Major Abercrombie Crowbar, public opinion was unanimous ! A brave man, undoubtedly, but the last man in creation for a husband. He thought too much of his whiskers.
What could I do! To step between a lover and his mistress is generally speaking, no trifle. There are cases where it is literally coming“ between the dragon and his rage.” But Dorothy Meredith is the finest girl in Lancashire-and my cousin !
What could she see to love in that baboon, Crowbar? Not that the major was so insufferable, apart from his whiskers. But military men are anti-social; the worst of fathers ; the most negligent of husbands. They can't take a joke. Besides there was no chance of a war, and he would make a point of not dying these ten years.
It is needless to say that Dorothy Meredith was unrivalled in accomplishments. How could it be otherwise ? Six rich uncles had educated her, and she was the legatee of a round dozen of maiden aunts. Of course, there was no such match in the country.
Now for me to stand still and see such a sacrifice--this was manifestly impossible. Understand me: I should not take such ground in any ordinary case, but Major Crowbar's mustaches were a foot long.
It is true, the thing was not so easily done. Interference of this kind is a delicate business. Open expostulation is out of the question, and friendly remonstrance is only a declaration of war, sub rosa, It is surprising how a woman will stick to her betrothed "against the field.” If I knew that her lover had scraped his mother to death with an oyster-shell, I should only make her a foe for life by the really friendly act of giving her the information. A woman, in such a case, will doubt the testimony of a whole regiment under oath, and the evidence of her own senses into the bargain. Besides, if you could, by some miracle, convince her, you would accomplish nothing : for she forgives even more obstinately than she disbelieves ; and unless you can actually produce before her eyes a previous living wife and five children, all the bona-fide property of her suitor,) you had much better let her alone.
It is obvious, then, that whatever exists of interference, must occur between Major Crowbar and myself. The hope to prevail with Dorothy is altogether desperate.
To be sure, the major sings a good song; and I am told that he can split a man into three pieces with “cut one" of his broad-sword ; but he drinks like a fish, and his whiskers are absolutely terrific. He marry my cousin with five thousand a-year
“ Rather than so, come fate into the list,
And champion me to th' utterance." What can Dorothy Meredith possibly see in that fellow ? She is my cousin. If she would listen to reason for five minutes ! What am I talking about ? A woman in love, listen to reason ? Pob !
Come what will, it is very plain that this affair must be arbitrated between the major and myself. Talking to her is entirely out of the question. The fool! The silly jade! The good-for-nothing, obstinate hussy! Why didn't she fall in love with an ourang-outang, and have done with it?
Besides, these military chaps are so tremendous in the matter of despatch. They have no remote conception of delay. After the place is once fairly invested, nothing will do but a bombardment, an assault, a coup-de-main. They can't wait to starve out the garrison. If the thing is to be done at all, say they,
“ Then 'twere well 'twere done quickly." Thus situated, what could I do! To deliberate was ruin, absolute ruin. Yet, I paused.
Not that I was afraid of the major. I am afraid of no man, But there was a quiet ferocity in his upper lip, which I fancy few people would contravene, just for the fun of it.
Certainly, duels are things to be avoided. I have ever had but one opinion on that subject. This being shot down for
another man's benefit, is all wrong. I venture to say that duels never did any good. They give rise to scandal. They disturb the passions. They make awkward gaps in a family circle. I once knew three brothers out of five killed in duels, in the single month of April. They were April fools. For my own part, I would never sanction a duel, excepting, perhaps, in those very few cases, where really there's no getting away
om it. Yet it was unpleasant, very unpleasant-I acknowledge it. The wrong end of a pistol-barrel, levelled, as near as you can judge, at the fourth button, is, to say the least, no joke. And I was no shot. And I happened to know, on the other hand, that the major was no bungler. He had already been the “principal" canse of nine private funerals, and the “ second” of forty-odd. Things began to look serious. But what could I do? He had sworn matrimony on my cousin, and I could devise no other way of getting at him.
In short, I decided not to challenge him-(for that as you shall presently see, would have disconcerted my entire plan)but to make him challenge me. This was a nice point.
When I'm in a quandary I always look at my watch. It was precisely half-past three. “ Ha! this is fortunate. The major takes soup at the Red Lion every day at half-past three.”
I laid my plan.
I seated myself within ear-shot of his favourite corner, and called for port.
Just at this moment who should come in but my friend Colonel
Eh, waiter ! double the port. Colonel, I am glad to see you."
“How are you ? how are you?" said the colonel, straining away at his left-hand glove. “ Warm day this ! what's the
“Umph! nothing special. Nothing but a little scandal about one of your professional brethren, Major Crowbar, I hear he's in a bad way!"
(There was a slight noise in the corner !)
(There was a sudden rap on the table in the corner, as of a man's knuckles : the waiter mistook it for a call, and said,
coming sir !")
“ Matter of fact, I assure you ; and that isn't the worst of it. A gentleman at the same table lost his purse in a very mysterious way, and it is whispered that some people could tell where it went."
(The noise in the corner rather increased than diminished !) “ You astonish me!" exclaimed the colonel.
“ Between ourselves, colonel, it does not astonish me. I know a little of that man's history.”
Why, my good sir, you do very much astonish me. I thought that he was to marry your
cousin.' “ He marry my cousin, the Algerine rascal! I should like to catch him making such a proposition.”
(Just here, there was a thundering crash in the aforesaid corner ! I believe every atom of crockery was dashed to pieces ! I raised my voice.)
" Colonel - if that mustached puppy should mention such a thing to my cousin, I'd challenge him !"
The colonel fairly rolled his eyes in wonder. I changed the subject. Enough, thought I, is as good as a feast.
I was hardly seated in my arm.chair, when the following note was placed before me.
“SIR-I scorn to reply to your scurrilous abuse by a superfluous word. Name your own time, place, weapons; and take the first shot at
A. CROWBAR." This was just what I wanted. My reply was equally brief, informal, and pointed :
“MAJOR CROWBAR's proposition is accepted. He will do me the favour to be at Blackheath to-morrow, at sun-rise, without weapons, as they will be furnished on the ground.
happened to know that the only weapon with which the major was wholly unacquainted, was a long rifle.
I happened to know that the only weapon with which I was perfectly acquainted, was a long rifle.
I bore the major no malice. A puppy he certainly was ; and, at any risk, I was determined to oppose his marrying my cousin. But I had no weasel-like longing for his blood. If it could be so, I would much rather not shed it. But he must not marry my cousin !
The morning was chilly, even for March. The sun had just risen ; cloudless, indeed, but the atmosphere was filled with a half-frozen vapour that attached itself like hoar-frost to our clothes, and gave to every mortal man of us the appearance of having just emerged from a snow-drift. I shall never forget the major's figure! His mustaches and whiskers seemed arranged on purpose to gather up this imitation snow, and it was so piled over his visage, that nothing was visible save his eyes, and the plentiful puffs of fog into which the keen air had converted his breath.
His manner was dignified to a fraction. He evidently thought, of nothing but the pleasure of submitting me to the care of an undertaker. He was quiet. But he was, nevertheless, ferocious !
When he saw the ground measured-thirty paces-he smiled in downright derision.
“Umph !” said he, some people have yet to learn that Crowbar's long shots are his best shots !”
But he laughed out of the other corner when he saw my two long rifles! This was unkind. He had no possible notion of anything but a pistol. But it was vain to protest. I being the party challenged, I had the undoubted right to my selection. Th
began to load the pieces. I watched them as a cat watches a mouse. The major's friend chose a ball that was absolutely perfect. I envied the major the luxury of firing that ball.
As Colonel was adjusting my bullet, I remarked that it had a flaw; a very small flaw, 'tis true, but still a flaw.
“Colonel," said I, “ excuse me ; that ball is a bad one."
And in a twinkling, I popped into the rifle a ball of my own preparation. It contained dry powder in the centre, and was bound up, tight and hard, with wet powder and tow. An odd thing to encounter that beautiful ball of the major's !-but you shall see ! In trying situations, it is a great thing for one to know one's
I knew the major. I knew that he was a brave man, but no shot with a rifle and he knew it too ! I never saw him cowed before.
At the word, we walked to our posts, and were to fire while my second counted one-two--three-four--five.
“ One,” was hardly pronounced, when my rifle gave its music. I watched the track of smoke and fire of my tow bul. let-it lodged in the very midst of the major's right whiskerit blazed—it blew up-he fired-he fell !--the two explosions were simultaneous, and what little he had of aim was entirely lost.