That fate so unlooked for and mysterious freed

To-morrow? O, that’s sudden! Spare him:
He’s not prepared for death! Even for our kitchens
We kill the fowl of season. Shall we serve Heaven
With less respect than we do minister
To our gross selves? Good, good, my lord, bethink you:
Who is it that hath died for this offence?
There’s many have committed it.
SHAKSPEARE.

“I have been on board the yacht, Newton. I have seen Berkeley and
Scriven there, and the matter is all but arranged,” said Studhome, as he
tossed aside his whip and forage-cap, seated himself on the edge of my
camp bed, and proceeded to light a cigar.

Much though I longed for it, the information gave me a species of
nervous start.

“Thanks, Jack. He will come to the scratch, then?”

“Like the muff, or rather the knave he is, in a fashion of his own. I
found him surrounded by every luxury on board his yacht, and she is a
beauty—the _Seapink_ of Cowes. He was lounging indolently on a rich
sofa, in a velvet smoking-cap and gorgeous brocade dressing-gown, tied
with yellow silk tassels. By Jove, the fellow was as grandly got up as
a Highland piper, or Solomon in all his glory; and he and Scriven were
having tiffin—not as we do here, on green coffee and pounded biscuit,
but on preserved grouse pie, with iced hock and seltzer water. They
asked me to join them, and offered me the chair, which had just been
vacated by a—a—pretty Greek girl whom he has on board. His countenance
fell rather when he heard my spurs rattling on the steps of the
companion-way, and lower still when he discovered my errand. Before our
Sybarite of a brother officer, with his bandolined moustaches and
exquisite toilette, I was weak enough to feel almost ashamed of my
tattered blue surtout, with its frayed frog lace.”

“You reminded him of the arrangement made between you and Scriven at
Maidstone barracks?”

“Word for word.”

“And what did he say?”

“He grew rather pale and nervous, and so forth, and muttered,
’Aw—aw—doocid odd sort of thing. A demmed noosance to fight a fellah
when he had just that morning got his leave to return home on—aw,
aw—urgent private affairs.’ And then he eyed me superciliously and
defiantly through his eyeglass, stroking his bandolined moustache the
while, till I felt inclined to punch his well-oiled head.”

“Confounded puppy!” I exclaimed.

“One might as well sing psalms to a dead horse as appeal to the honour
of such as he—the most contemptible fellow one could meet with in the
longest day’s march.”

“So he has actually got his leave for England, then?”

“Yes; so I was not a moment too late. The yacht’s crew were taking in
water, prior to getting under weigh again. He hummed and hawed, and
puffed himself out like a pouter pigeon for a time; but ’a change came
o’er the spirit of his dream,’ when Scriven, his own peculiar chum,
acknowledged that all our mess knew of, and tacitly acquiesced in, the
scheme for a hostile meeting within the French lines, or rather within
range of Sebastopol, to account for any mishap that might occur. You
should have seen how he winced at the word ’mishap!’ Scriven and I then
retired together on deck for a few minutes, and there arranged that,
after sunset to-morrow night, at seven o’clock, as there will no doubt
be a brilliant moon, we are to meet on the hilly ground midway between
the British left attack and the right of the French entrenchments, about
a mile from the South Fort of Sebastopol. There, if necessary, two shots
are to be exchanged at twelve paces each, after which we will allow no
more firing. The first shot to be tossed for; the others to follow in
succession.”

“Enough, Jack,” said I, trembling with fierce eagerness, as I shook his
hand. “When I remember all his perfidy towards me, his cool insolence
at Calderwood, the mode in which he sought to compromise me with that
poor girl at the Reculvers, his subsequent slanders at Maidstone, his
act of treachery at the Balbeck, and his crowning it by the cool
assertion that I, and not he, shot my own horse, to fall into the
enemy’s hands—I shall shoot him if I can, like the dog he is.”

I passed the night as I suppose most men do who have such a dreadful
business as a duel on their hands. It was all very well for Studhome to
urge me again and again to sleep soundly, to keep my hand steady and my
head cool; but strange thoughts _would_ come unbidden—thoughts of those
who were far away, and from whom I was now, perhaps, on the eve of
parting for ever. Yet I could not bring myself to wish that Berkeley
had sailed and escaped me.

Next morning ushered in the 17th of October, and with it the first
formal bombardment of Sebastopol, on which the breaching batteries
opened simultaneously from all quarters; and so terrible was the roar of
sound, that in the rifle pits the discharge of the muskets could
scarcely be heard. It seemed a mere snapping of caps.

I could not help smiling grimly when I heard the storm of war that was
raging in the distance.

“What is one human life amid the numbers that are passing away
there?—and such as Berkeley’s, too!” said I.

“Too true,” replied Jack. “But there go the trumpets for church parade.
We are to have divine service in the cavalry camp, it seems.”

“Why?”

“We missed sermon on two Sundays—the chaplains were so busy with burial
services for the cholera dead—so we are to have our minds enlightened
to-day.”

As the regiment was for patrol duty, it paraded on horseback, and the
whole formation of the parade—the lancers, with their fluttering
banneroles; the appearance of the chaplain, with his white surplice and
Crimean beard; the Bible on the kettledrums, which were improvised as a
pulpit; and, in short, the entire affair seemed to me a species of
phantasmagoria, for my thoughts and intentions were far away from that
strange and stirring, yet somewhat solemn, scene. I was rather struck
with the inconsistency of the text, however, on that a day of such
importance to me and to the history of Europe.

“Love thine enemy, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them
which despitefully use you and persecute you.”

Such was the text of our chaplain on that morning. I heard him praying
and expounding amid the thunder of the breaching batteries all round
Sebastopol, from the Tchernaya on the right to the Quarantine Point on
the left; but late events had turned my heart to stone, and with my mind
intent upon a duel to the death, I heard him preach in vain.

Though still unflinching in purpose, he somewhat softened me in one way:
and in the evening, after some reflection, and to be prepared for the
worst, I wrote a farewell letter to Sir Nigel, with a full explanation
of my conduct, and my dearest thanks for all his kindness. My sword,
pistols, saddle, and the Medjidie medal I left him as souvenirs, and to
Cora some little jewels which I named as remembrances of her old
boy-lover, Newton.

Then I turned me to compose a brief, bitter letter to Louisa. It
contained but two or three lines. As circumstances stood between us, I
could not trust myself to say more than “that I was called upon by the
rules of honour, and the duty I owed to myself, to have a hostile
meeting with one who had wronged me deeply; that God only could know the
sequel; and while at this moment I committed my soul into His hands, I
entreated her to be assured that, if I fell, I should die loving her,
and her only.”

This letter I had just sealed, addressed, and placed beside the other in
my tent, when Studhome arrived, cloaked, and ready to set out. Our
horses, with pistols in the holsters, were brought to the door.

It was long past five now, and the sun had set. I gave Pitblado the
letters, saying—

“I am going to the front this evening, Willie, and, as we know not what
may happen, if I don’t return, you will carefully see these letters
posted for Britain.”

My voice must have faltered, for Pitblado looked at me earnestly, and
said—

“Of course, sir—of course, sir; but, please, don’t talk that way.”

“Good-bye!” said I, clapping him kindly on the shoulder; and, as we
mounted and rode away in the dark, I could see my faithful adherent
looking alternately and wistfully at the superscription of the letters
and after us.

Like a mighty shield of gold, the moon had long since risen from the
Euxine, far across which its brightness came on the ripples, like a
shining path, from the horizon to the red marble cliffs of Balaclava and
Cape Phiolente, and now her disc grew smaller as she ascended into the
more rarefied atmosphere; but her brilliance gave promise of a clear and
lovely night as we quitted the cavalry camp at an easy walk—trotting
might shake my hand, Jack said—and took the road that leads direct from
Balaclava northward to Sebastopol.

High and broken ground rises on each side of that path which so many
trod never to return, and which was now thronged by mounted men pouring
down to Balaclava. A mile distant on our left, we passed the hamlet of
Karani, and on our right the long line of defence works and redoubts,
which lay two miles in rear of Khutor Karagatch, the British
head-quarters. Those of France were a mile farther on, to the left; and
then, diverging in the opposite direction, in rear of the breaching
batteries which crossed the roadway, we sought for a quiet path between
them and the extreme left of our army, to reach the broken ground
opposite to the bastions of the South Fort, the proposed scene of our
little operations.

So grand, so wild, and stirring was the scene, that for a moment I
reined in my horse, and, forgetful of the dreadful errand on which we
had come, surveyed it with a curious eye.

As I have said, on this night “the moon, sweet regent of the sky,”
full-orbed and glorious, shone with wonderful brilliance, eclipsing even
the fixed stars in the deep blue vault above, pouring ten thousand
silver rays over everything, bringing out some features in strong light,
or sinking others into deep, dark shadow.

The terrible panorama of Sebastopol lay before us. The noble harbour,
with its tremendous batteries, its outer and inner booms, and myriad
sunken ships, of all sorts and sizes, the mastheads of some, the mere
stumps, bowsprits, and poops of others, visible, showing where the
_Flora_ of forty-four guns, the _Oriel_ of eighty-four, the _Three
Godheads_ of one hundred and twenty, and all the rest of that vast
scuttled armament, mounting more than one thousand five hundred cannon,
lay, all sunk to bar our entrance.

We could see the white flag of Russia flying on its citadel; the cupola
of the great church; the glass windows of the houses—the entire city,
with all the domes and towers glittering in the moonlight, and girdled
by its vast and formidable bastions of earth and stone, from which, ever
and anon, came a red flash, and the boom of a heavy shot, or the clear,
bright fiery arc described by the whistling shell, as it curved in mid
air, on its ghastly errand, towards the French or British lines.

All this stirring panorama we saw extending for more than four miles,
from the lazaretto on the west to the light of Inkermann on the east,
which was glittering in the distance on its tower, four hundred feet
above the mouth of the Tchernaya.

Several dead bodies lying in the immediate foreground, and the turf all
torn to pieces and studded with cannon-balls and fragments of exploded
shell—a literal pavement of iron—did not “add enchantment to the view.”

That softer effects might not be wanting, between the booming of the
half-random cannonade that was dying away for the night, we could hear
the brass band of the Rifle Brigade playing an old familiar air, which
sounded sweetly in the distance. It was “Annie Laurie”—an air heard
daily and hourly among our tents in the Crimea.

“Of all songs, the favourite song at the camp,” says one of the lancers,
in a published letter, “is ’Annie Laurie.’ Words and music combine to
render it popular, for every soldier has a sweetheart, and almost every
soldier possesses the organ of tune. Every new draft from Britain
marches into camp playing this old Scottish melody. I once heard a
corporal of the Rifle Brigade start ’Annie Laurie.’ He had a tolerably
good tenor voice, and sang with expression; but the chorus was taken up
by the audience in a much lower key, and hundreds of voices, in the most
exact time and harmony, sang together—

And for bonnie Annie Laurie
I’d lay me doon and dee!

The effect was extraordinary. I never heard any chorus in oratorio
rendered with greater solemnity; and the heart of each singer was
evidently far away over the sea.”[*]

[*] Letter from the camp.

Just as we diverged from the main road, we heard the galloping of horses
in our rear.

“Thank God, we are _first_ on the ground,” said Studhome. “Here come
Scriven and his man, with our assistant-surgeon, Bob Hartshorn, on his
nagtailed bay.”

As he spoke, they reined in their horses a little. Then we all bowed,
touched our caps, and proceeded slowly along the eminence, towards a
quiet hollow, which Studhome and Scriven had previously inspected.

Berkeley was nervous and restless; his eyes wandered vaguely over the
moonlit scenery. I could see that he frequently passed his tongue over
his lips, as if to moisten them; he drew his gloves off and on, and
fidgeted with his stock and eyeglass a hundred times; yet he chatted
gaily enough to Scriven and the doctor, who told us that he had quite
patients enough on his list, without having them added to by fighting
duels.

“How romantic!—how terribly grand is all this prospect!” exclaimed
Hartshorn, pointing to Sebastopol.

“Aw—haw—doocid good!” drawled my antagonist; “but, Bob, my dear boy, I
am an Englishman, and England has been too well fed, too d——d cosy, for
centuries, to have much romance about her! and so—aw—aw—I have none,
thank Heaven! It is behind the age, Bob—behind the age!”

“An Englishman?” said I to Studhome. “His worthy father was an honest
Scotch tradesman, who could little have foreseen the despicable figure
his son is cutting to-night.”

“I was up to the front before to-day,” said Scriven, “and got a rifle
ball through my shako.”

“It will serve for the—aw—aw—healthy purpose of ventilation,” said
Berkeley, with a laugh—a very little one, however.

“My old quarters in Balaclava have been nicely ventilated by three
bullet-holes in the roof,” said the doctor, a good-humoured, careless
young fellow.

“Bob is quartered there, on an old Turk, whose third wife is a female so
severely respectable, that she never feeds the hens without a veil on.”

“Why?” asked Scriven.

“Can’t you guess?” asked Berkeley.

“No.”

“Because there is—aw—aw—a d——d cock among them.”

This frivolous conversation was now interrupted by a hoarse voice in
front, challenging—

“Qui va là?”

“Friends!” I replied.

“_Anglaises_,” added the other, and we found ourselves face to face with
a French mounted officer and a small party of workmen, with pickaxes and
shovels. In the horseman I immediately recognised Colonel Giomar, of
the French 77th Regiment, who demanded whither we were going in that
remarkable direction.

“’Tis an affair of honour, _monsieur le colonel_, and we propose to
settle it here,” said I. “May we?”

“_Très bien!_ but you have chosen a droll place and hour,” replied the
colonel, a short, pot-bellied little man, in a scarlet kepi, which had a
great square peak, and who wore a frogged surtout, with a sabre in a
brass sheath.

“We cannot fight within our own lines, monsieur.”

“I comprehend. You don’t permit duelling in your service, I believe?”

“No.”

“Indeed—singular!”

“Public opinion is against it.”

“The King of France, Louis XIV., in 1700, tried to put down duelling, on
which an old field-officer said to him, ’_Tudieu_, sire! you have put
down gaming and stage-playing; now you wish to make an end of duelling.
How the devil are officers and gentlemen to amuse themselves?’ But,
with your permission, messieurs, I shall look and see how this affair
ends. I haven’t seen one since we marched out of Cambrai.”

Berkeley bowed, and gave him a ghastly smile. When viewed by the
moonlight, his face was so pale that even Scriven, his second, surveyed
him with disgust and annoyance. There was a clamorous fluttering about
my own heart. Thank that Heaven which I was about to face, my bearing
was very different from his!

We dismounted, and the soldiers of the French working-party led our
horses aside, as we had all come without grooms. The pot-bellied
Colonel Giomar seated himself on the turf, to enjoy a cigar and see the
sport; and the doctor, with professional _sang froid_, opened his case
of instruments, and drew forth lint and bandages from the pocket of the
Inverness cape which he wore over his uniform.

We now threw off our cloaks and swords. I wore an undress blue surtout;
but Berkeley was dressed in an entire suit of black—a sack-coat,
buttoned up to the neck, so that not a vestige of shirt was visible to
attract my eye, or fix an aim.

Let me hasten over what follows.

Apologies were neither asked nor offered. The affair was beyond such
amenities in the deadly game we were about to play. Twelve paces were
measured; we tossed up for the first fire, and it fell to—Berkeley!
Then I saw a smile of savage hope light up his eyes and curl his lip, as
he took his ground and carefully cocked his pistol, just feeling the
percussion-cap for a second with the fore-finger of his left hand.

Steadily I looked at him. I could see how he restrained his breathing,
lest the aim might waver; how a white glare came into his eye, as it
glanced along the barrel of the pistol, which he levelled full at my
head, in the pale moonlight.

“_Gardez la bombe!_” shouted Colonel Giomar, as he rolled away over the
turf like a butter-firkin. It was a moment of thrilling suspense, and,
bewildered by the interruption, Berkeley permitted his pistol to
explode, the ball going Heaven knows where! There was a whistling in
the air overhead, with a rushing sound and then a heavy thud, as there
lighted, almost at Berkeley’s feet, a five-inch shell, shot from the
South Fort by the Russians, who must have seen our group in the
moonlight; and there it lay on the turf, half-imbedded by its own
weight, with its red fuse hissing and burning furiously.

For a moment I saw its upward glare, as it shone on the pale face of the
terrified man, who was too much paralyzed by emotion to move; but, just
as I flung myself flat on the earth to escape the explosion, there was a
blaze of yellow light, a crash as of thunder, and I felt a kind of hot
wind sweep over me. The shell had burst, and Berkeley lay a heap of
mutilated blood and bones beside it!

We rushed towards him. Both legs were broken in many places, a large
fragment was buried deep in his chest, and the man was dead!

“Poor fellow!” said I, after our first exclamations of astonishment and
commiseration had subsided.

Berkeley had long and systematically wronged me deeply; and now the
angry lust for vengeance passed away, and I felt ashamed of the
bitterness of the emotions which had inspired me but a few moments
before. I forgave him all now, and almost felt sorry for the sudden
fate that had, perhaps, saved me—I say sorry, but I could feel no more.

That fate so unlooked for and mysterious freed me from all further
trouble or responsibility. I could pardon him for all he had ever done
to me, and to his dead victim too—poor Agnes Auriol.

“_C’est la fortune de guerre, camarades_,” said Colonel Giomar,
shrugging his shoulders.

Stretched on the grass, which was soaked and sodden with his yet warm
blood, there lay De Warr Berkeley, the coxcomb of Rotten Row, the
epicurean of the mess and dinner-table, the Sybarite of the clubs, the
sensualist whom poor Agnes Auriol loved—not too wisely, but too well;
the sporting man, whose splendid drag presented the gayest show, the
best company, the brightest parasols, bonnets, and fans, with the
loveliest faces and the most expensive champagnes on the Derby-day, or
the yearly inspection at Maidstone—there he lay dead, mangled, like a
very beggar’s dog!

It was the fortune of war, as Giomar said; but a fortune on which he had
never calculated—his mother’s pet from childhood, “clad in purple and
fine linen.”

Bundled in a cloak, his remains were borne to the rear by the Frenchmen
of the 77th; and full of much thought, and with many a surmise as to how
the corps would view the story of the night, Studhome, Scriven, the
doctor and I, rode slowly back to quarters, leading with us a riderless
horse.

I entered my tent, bewildered, giddy with the startling episode in which
I had been involved. I had but one satisfaction—his blood was not on my
hands. My brain swam, my heart was beating fast, and I had an intense
thirst. A bottle of Cliquot stood near. Studhome adroitly struck off
the top with his sword, and gave me a generous draught.

Then, by the light of a stable lantern that hung glimmering on the
tent-pole, I saw the two letters I had so recently penned lying on the
top of a baggage trunk; but a third epistle, addressed to myself, was
beside them.

It was from Sir Nigel: the mail from Constantinople had come in that
afternoon. I tore my missive open, and almost the first words that met
my eyes were—

“Compose yourself, my dear boy. Louisa Loftus, the tricky jade, is now
a marchioness. I send you herewith the _Morning Post_, which details
her marriage at full length.”

“Read that, Jack!” said I, in a hoarse voice, while the miserable tent
swam round and round me.

Studhome scanned the letter hurriedly.

“Oh, Jack! what do you think of all this?”

“Think!” said he with an oath. “I think Sir Walter Scott did well to
call the world ’an admirable compound of folly and knavery.’”

So all her studied silence was accounted for now!

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