Authors: Georgette Heyer
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Historical, #Regency, #Short Stories (Single Author)
Copyright © 1960 by Georgette Heyer
Cover and internal design © 2012 by Sourcebooks, Inc.
Cover design by Dawn Adams/Sourcebooks
Cover image Crossing the Threshold, the New Bride, 1886 (w/c), Glindoni, Henry Gillard (1852-1913)/Private Collection/Photo © Bonhams, London, UK/The Bridgeman Art Library
Sourcebooks and the colophon are registered trademarks of Sourcebooks, Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems—except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews—without permission in writing from its publisher, Sourcebooks, Inc.
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca, an imprint of Sourcebooks, Inc.
P.O. Box 4410, Naperville, Illinois 60567-4410
FAX: (630) 961-2168
Originally published in the United Kingdom in 1960 by William Heinemann Ltd
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Pistols for two, and other stories / by Georgette Heyer.
1. England—Social life and customs—19th century—Fiction. I. Title.
In the end, the quarrel, smouldering for so many weeks, flared up over such a trifle that anyone, Tom reflected, would have laughed to have known the cause. Only they had not really reached pistol-point because Jack had stepped backward in a doorway, and cannoned into him, making him spill his glass of champagne, and treading on his foot. Nor had Jack turned pale and tight-lipped with anger because he had cursed him for being a clumsy oaf. If you had known a fellow from the cradle, had played with him, gone to school with him, shot, fished, and hunted with him, you could curse him with impunity, and either it ended in a bout of fisticuffs or in laughter: not in a meeting in the chill morning, attended by seconds. Even had they not been such close friends that sort of thing was out of date: rubbishing stuff, fit only for the stage! Tom’s grandfather, of course, had been out five times, if the family legends were to be believed, on the most trifling provocation. He had once fought Jack’s great-uncle George – and very comical they must have looked, Jack and he had often thought, giggling over it, with their shaven polls (for they had worn wigs, both of them), and the absurd ruffles they affected in place of wristbands, and had to tuck up, and their bare feet probably much bruised by the unkind ground. Nowadays, if one fought a duel, one chose pistols, and one didn’t make a cake of oneself over the business. But very few people did fight duels, and certainly not because they had been jostled in doorways.
Only it wasn’t that. This unthinkable situation had arisen out of something far more serious. Not that one could call Marianne Treen serious: she was the gayest and most light-hearted of all possible causes of dissension.
Strange what changes a few years could wreak in a female! There had been nothing remarkable in little Marianne Treen before she went south to boarding-school: in fact Tom could distinctly recall that he and Jack and Harry Denver had thought her a silly creature, with freckles on her nose, and a tiresome way of intruding where girls were not wanted. Her departure from Yorkshire left their withers unwrung; and since she spent her holidays in London, with her grandmama, they were very soon able to forget her.
But she had come back to Yorkshire. She had enjoyed a brilliant London season, and when most of the
had gone to Brighton, Mrs Treen had brought her home to Treen Hall, and the neighbourhood had renewed their acquaintance with her at one of the assemblies at High Harrowgate. A stunning shock that had been to all the young gentlemen for miles around, for who would have supposed that this dazzling beauty was none other than freckled little Marianne, who was used to whine: ‘Let me come with you! Oh, pray, let me come too!’
They rarely had let her, and now she had her revenge on them. Only she was too sweet and too gay to care for that, and if she did favour some more than others it was easy to see that she used her best endeavours to be impartial.
Jack and Tom were her favourites, as they were certainly the most assiduous, of her courtiers. Everyone laughed at this, and they were roasted a little for doing everything together, even when it came to falling in love for the first time. That did nothing to soothe exacerbated tempers. It was a strange and a deplorable circumstance that one’s relatives were unable to see when one was in earnest, but, on the contrary, laboured under the delusion that if one had not yet come down from Oxford one was too young to think of marriage.
Each knew himself to be an eligible suitor. Perhaps Jack had a little the advantage over Tom, for his father was a baronet. But Tom’s father was the Squire, which counted for something, and Tom was his only son, whereas Jack had two younger brothers to be provided for.
At first their courtship had been unattended by any rancour. They were agreed that Marianne was incomparable, and their rivalry had been conducted in the friendliest spirit. Perhaps neither knew when the change had crept into their relationship with one another. Perhaps Jack was jealous of Tom’s superior height, and breadth of shoulder (sure to appeal to a female!); perhaps Tom envied Jack his air of elegance, and his handsome profile. Whatever the cause, the rift appeared between them. They had become hostile, each eyeing the other with suspicion, each on the watch for any cause for offence. A dozen times they had come within an ace of indulging in a maul; but never until this disastrous night had they considered the possibility of settling their quarrel at dawn, in Stanhope’s Clearing – by tradition an honourable meeting-place.
That Marianne would choose one or other of them before the summer ended neither doubted. The only question was which it would be, and this made it of paramount importance that neither should steal an unfair advantage over the other. After one or two squabbles they had agreed to this – or so Tom had believed, until on this night of the Treens’ Dress Party he had beheld with his own eyes the proof of Jack’s perfidy. Both had meant to send Marianne a posy of flowers to carry at the ball, with a suitable message attached to the holder: which posy she chose would clearly indicate her heart’s preference. Tom had bullied the Squire’s head gardener into making up an exquisite bouquet of pink roses and sweet-peas. He had ridden over to Treen Hall himself that morning, to leave the tribute with the Treens’ quelling butler, and the most shocking mischance had occurred. The mare had been stung by a horsefly, and Tom, that bruising rider, lost in some beatific dream, and riding with a loose rein and his head in the clouds, had abruptly parted company with Bess. Alas for the delicate bouquet grasped in his right hand! A shower of petals in the road, a dismal array of broken stalks in the filigree holder: that was all that remained of it.
He had only just caught Bess when, as ill-fortune would have it, Jack came driving along the road from Melbury Court in his smart new tilbury. A bouquet of yellow roses lay on the seat beside him, so that there was no need to enquire his errand.
Three months earlier Jack would have roared with laughter at Tom’s mishap; today Jack was politeness itself, and not even the sight of that abject posy did more than make his lip quiver. Jack had had the infernal impudence to behave with magnanimity. He had said that since misfortune had overtaken Tom he should not present his own bouquet. This was precisely what Tom had been about to demand as his due, under the terms of their agreement. He said so, hating Jack for his punctiliousness. So Jack smiled in a slighting way, and had more than hinted that only a cork-brained fellow like Tom would have thought of offering pink roses to a goddess whose hair was a glorious Titian red.
Tom had brooded over it all the afternoon, but it was not then that the thought of calling Jack out had even remotely occurred to him. It hadn’t really occurred to him when, on arriving at Treen Hall that evening, he had seen Marianne, adorable in a cloud of jonquil gauze over a white satin robe, holding in one gloved hand a posy of yellow roses. If any reasoned thought found room in his brain, it was merely a vague resolve to give Jack a leveller at the first convenient opportunity – if (for Jack was a clever boxer) Jack did not first plant him a heavy facer.
It was a very grand party, with several London swells, who were staying at Treen Hall, much in evidence. At any other time, Tom, aspiring to fashion, would have taken careful note of the folds of the neckcloth worn by the Tulip talking to Mrs Treen, or regarded with envy the cut of the coat moulded across the shoulders of the gentleman from London who was dancing with Marianne. He would not have been jealous of this personage, for all his handsome face, and exquisite bearing, for he was quite old – thirty at least, Tom judged – and probably already the father of a hopeful family.
All his jealousy, all his seething rancour, was reserved for Jack, his closest friend. Mr Treen’s excellent champagne did nothing to assuage it. Before an hour had elapsed it must have been a very obtuse person who failed to realize that the two handsome boys from the Manor and Melbury Court were itching to be at one another’s throats.
And then Jack, stepping back politely for an elderly gentleman to pass him, trod on Tom’s toes, and made him spill his champagne.
Somehow they were confronting one another in the small saloon that led out of the ballroom, and Tom was cursing Jack, and Jack, instead of punching him in the ribs, or meekly apologizing for his clumsiness, was standing straight and stiff, white-faced and close-lipped, his pleasant grey eyes as cold and as hard as the granite of the country. Then Tom had uttered the words from which there could be no retreat. ‘I shall send my friends to wait on yours!’ he said, in a grand way that was only marred by his shaking voice of fury.
Dear, good Harry Denver, who had seen the encounter, and had followed the injured parties into the saloon, tried to make peace, urging them not to be gudgeons, to remember where they were.
‘Harry, will you act for me?’ demanded Tom.
Poor Harry stuttered and floundered. ‘Now, Tom, you know this is the outside of enough! Jack meant no harm! Jack, for God’s sake – !’
‘I am perfectly ready to meet Mr Crawley, when and where he pleases!’ replied Jack, in a chill, brittle voice.
‘Be good enough to name your friends, Mr Frith!’ said Tom, not to be outdone in formality.
not three parts foxed!’ Harry said urgently. ‘Don’t be such a damned fool, man!’
Then he saw that they were no longer alone. The gentleman from London, who had been waltzing with Marianne, had come into the saloon, and closed the door behind him. All three young men glared at him, the hostility of the native towards the stranger patent in their eyes.
‘You must forgive me!’ he said affably. ‘An affair of honour, I collect? So much better to shut the door, don’t you agree? Can I be of service to either of you?’
They stared at him. Harry, in desperate need of an ally, blurted out the ostensible cause of the quarrel, and besought the gentleman from London to assure the sworn enemies that they were behaving like idiots.
Jack, who had been mentally passing in review his acquaintances in the district, and rejecting them all as being unsuitable candidates for the post of second, said haughtily: ‘I am persuaded no man of honour would advise another to refuse a challenge. Of course, if Mr Crawley cares to withdraw his rash words –’
This was a studied insult, as Tom well knew, for Jack was by far the better shot. He snapped out one word: ‘No!’
‘But they mustn’t fight!’ Harry protested, distress writ plain on his honest countenance. ‘Sir, tell them so!’
The gentleman from London said apologetically: ‘But I am in agreement with Mr Frith. A man of honour, sir, cannot refuse such a challenge.’
Jack looked at him with a certain approval, but said stiffly: ‘You have the advantage of me, sir.’
‘My name is Kilham,’ said the gentleman from London. ‘May I again offer my services? I shall be happy to act for you, Mr Frith.’
Three pairs of young eyes stared at him. One might live remote from London, but one was not such a Johnny Raw that one had not heard of Sir Gavin Kilham, friend of princes, member of the Bow Window set at White’s, amateur of sport, Nonesuch amongst whips, arbiter of fashion. No wonder the folds of his neckcloth baffled the closest scrutiny! no wonder his coat fitted him like a glove!
Jack, bemused at the thought of having such an exalted person for his second, swallowed, and only just managed to achieve a creditable bow; Tom ground his teeth in rage that Jack should yet again have all the luck; and Harry, in relief, supposed that Beau Kilham must know as well as any man what ought now to be done. He ventured to say: ‘I – I shall call upon you, sir, at your convenience!’
‘That might be a trifle awkward,’ said Sir Gavin, to whom the tragic situation seemed to be the merest commonplace. ‘I am only a guest in this house, you see. Let us settle it here and now!’
Harry, who had a dim notion that the correct behaviour of a second was to seek a reconciliation between the principals, looked doubtful, but the prospective duellists emphatically applauded the suggestion.
Sir Gavin, drawing out his snuff-box, flicked it open, and took a delicate pinch. ‘Since we, sir, have the choice, we shall elect to fight with pistols, at twenty-five yards, tomorrow, at an hour and a place which I shall ask you to suggest.’
Deep trouble was in Harry’s face, for the longer range gave all the advantage to the better shot. Before he could speak, Jack said, quite insufferably, Tom considered: ‘I prefer to fight Mr Crawley at a range of twelve yards, sir.’
‘Well, I won’t fight you at twelve yards!’ retorted Tom furiously. ‘Twenty-five, and be damned to you!’
‘Tom, do, for God’s sake – ! Now, listen, you crazy fools, this is nonsense! The quarrel can be composed in a trice!’ exclaimed Harry.
They rounded on him, all their pent-up feelings finding expression in the loathing with which they commanded him to hold his tongue.
So there was nothing for poor Harry to do but to appoint the time and the place, both of which Sir Gavin accepted with the utmost amiability.
Then a paralysing thought occurred to all three young gentlemen.
‘The – the weapons?’ uttered Harry, exchanging an anguished glance with Tom.
For a moment no one said anything. Sir Gavin’s lazy eyes were lowered to the contemplation of his charming snuff-box, and if his lips twitched it was so tiny a betrayal that it passed unnoticed. Bitter reflections on the ways of fathers, who kept under lock and key their duelling-pistols (if indeed they owned such things) possessed the minds of Jack and Tom. Anyone would have thought that a prudent parent would have given his son a good pair of Manton pistols instead of a pair of shot-guns, and would have taught him how to conduct himself in such a situation as this. Neither Sir John nor the Squire had made the least push to be of real service to their heirs; and intimate knowledge of both gentlemen could only lead those heirs to face the disagreeable fact that an appeal to them now would end in nothing but the summary end to their quarrel.
Harry, anxious though he might be to stop the affair, was not going to allow the gentleman from London to suppose that his principal owned no duelling-pistols. He said that unfortunately Tom’s pistols had been sent back to the maker for a trifling repair. Jack was not going to be outdone by this sort of thing, and since he could not think of any reason that was not grossly plagiaristic for failing to produce a pair of pistols of his own, he said, with an odiously curling lip: ‘Strange that I should not have been permitted to see Mr Crawley’s weapons!’