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with yourself. My unhappy office will consist in giving the signal to fire. I would to God that my influence had been powerful enough with him to arrest his resolution at this point-"
“It could not have prevailed with me,” he exclaimed. “The madman's blow was needless. On what part of the yacht do we fight?"
“On the quarterdeck," I answered.
“As there are no seconds," he said, “I presume we load for ourselves ?"
“That is Sir Wilfrid Monson's suggestion,” I answered.
"Have you the pistols, sir?" “I will fetch them."
I went at once to Wilfrid's berth and knocked, and walked in without waiting for him to tell me to enter. He was writing in his diary; he instantly threw down pen and jumped from his chair.
"Is all ready, Charles ?” he asked.
"Then Colonel Hope-Kennedy's choice," said I, "cannot furnish him with any advantage over you, by his choosing, I mean, with a soldier's experience the preciser
“There is not an atom of difference between them," he exclaimed. “Yonder's the case, Charles. Take it, and let the scoundrel choose for himself."
He could not have spoken more coolly had he been giving me the most commonplace instructions. I remember wondering whilst I looked at him and listened to him whether he actually realised his own intention; yet I should have known better than this if only for the meaning his face conveyed, and for a note in his voice that made every accent hard and steady. He said, “When you are ready ring the hand-bell on the table; I will then join you."
"But you will charge your own pistol," said I, "so I must return with the weapon after the Colonel has made his choice."
"No," he exclaimed; "carry the case on deck and load for me."
“Very well,” said I, wearily and sick at heart, and devoutly wishing that some heavy black squall would come thundering down on the yacht as the precursor of a gale of wind and delay this wretched business, for the present anyway. I took the pistol-case, and returned it to Colonel Hope-Kennedy. He slightly glanced at the firearms, and said with a faint smile, “They are an elegant brace of weapons. Either will do for me."
"Will you load on deck or here, sir ?" said I. "Here, if you please.”
He extracted one of the pistols, poised it in his hand, toyed a moment or two with it, tried the trigger once or twice, then loaded it, fitting the cap to the nipple with fingers in which I could not discern the least tremor. He then returned the pistol to the case. Both of us would know which one he had handled very well, as it lay against the side upon which the lid locked.
"Have you a surgeon on board?" he inquired.
I answered No. He looked a little anxious, and exclaimed, “No one of any kind qualified to deal with a wound?” Again I answered No. He seemed to wince at this, the only expression of uneasiness I had witnessed in him. Finding he asked no more questions, I said, "If you are ready, sir, I will summon my cousin."
“I am ready," he replied.
On this I rang the little hand-bell that stood upon the table, and in a minute Wilfrid came out. In grim silence we mounted the companion steps, my cousin leading the way, the Colonel next, and I at his heels, with the pistol-case under my arm and a very lively sense of murder in my heart. All was hushed where the ladies were. Whether Miss Laura guessed what was going forward I know not, but I was very thankful that she remained hidden, since, in the face of the Colonel's coolness, it was most important that nothing should imperil Wilfrid's composure. The yacht's decks were deserted save by the figures of the men who it had been arranged were to remain. Forward at the hatch conducting to the forecastle stood the tall, burly figure of Cutbill; close beside the cabin skylight was Finn, pale, agitated, his mouth working in the middle of his face as though he were rehearsing a long speech; Crimp grasped the wheel. Heaven knows how it was that I should have found eyesight for small outside features of such a scene as this at that moment, but I clearly recollect observing that sour old Jacob, with a view, mayhap, of supporting his spirits, had thrust an immense quid into his cheek, the angle whereof stood out like a boil or a formidable bruise against the clear gleam of sky past him, up and down which the curtseying of the yacht slid his squab, homely figure, and I also observed that he gnawed upon this junk with an energy that suggested a mind in an advanced stage of distraction.
I said to the Colonel, “It will be satisfactory to myself, sir, if you will kindly measure the distance I have chalked.”'
His eye swiftly ran from line to line, and then giving me a slight bow he said, nonchalantly, “I am quite satisfied.'
"With regard to the light," I continued, looking from him to Wilfrid, "you will decide for yourselves, gentlemen, which end of the vessel you will face."
"It is immaterial,” said the Colonel, with a slight shrug.
“Then,” said Wilfrid, “I will have my back to the wheel."
I could not be sure that he was well advised, for the blue dazzle of sunshine past the awning would throw out his figure into clear relief, as I noticed Crimp's was projected, clean lined as a shadow cast by the moonlight on a white deck.
"It may be as well to toss for position,” I said. "No," cried Wilfrid, “I am content."
I loaded his pistol and handed the weapons to the men. My heart thumped like a coward's in my breast, but I strove hard to conceal my agitation for Wilfrid's sake. Each took up his respective post, and both held their pistols at level. The Colonel exclaimed: "Tell your mad relative to feather-edge himself. He is all front. 'Tis too irrational to take advantage of.”
Wilfrid heard him and cried out, “let him look to himself. Ready with the signal, Charles."
I pulled out my pocket-handkerchief, and as I did so old Crimp suddenly let go the wheel and came skimming up to Finn, rumbling out, in a voice half choked with tobacco-juice, that the gent's pistol (meaning the Colonel's) was upon him full, and that he wasn't going to be made cold beef of for any man.
"Ready, gentlemen I” I cried, and desirous of emphasising the signal, lest the Colonel's keener sight should witness the fall of the handkerchief before the flutter of it caught Wilfrid's eye, I called out "Now!” and the handkerchief fell to the deck.
There was one report only; it was like the sharp crack of a whip. For the instant I did not know which man's pistol had exploded, but the little curl of smoke at Wilfrid's end told me that it was his. I saw the Colonel fling his arms up, and his weapon flashed as he seemed to fire it straight into the air. “Good God! how generous !” was the thought that swept through me; "he will not fight.” He continued holding his pistol elevated whilst you could have counted ten, with a slight backward leaning posture and indescribable look in his face, absolutely as though he were endeavouring to follow the flight of the bullet; his weapon then fell to the deck, he made a clutch with both hands at his heart, with a deep groan sank-his knees yielding, and, with his hands still at his heart, dropped, as a wooden figure might, on his side and lay without motion.
Finn and I rushed up to him. Whilst the skipper freed his neck I grasped his wrist, but found it pulseless. Yet it was difficult to credit that he was dead. His face was as reposeful as that of a sleeper. There was no look whatever of pain in it-nay, such faint distinguishable expression as I remember had the air of a light smile. I opened his coat, and found a small perforation in the shirt under the right arm; the orifice was as cleanly clipped as though made with a pair of scissors. There was no blood.