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   Chapter 4 THE DUEL

No Defense, Volume 1_ By Gilbert Parker Characters: 13779

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:02

It was a morning such as could only be brought into existence by the Maker of mornings in Ireland. It was a day such as Dublin placed away carefully into the pantechnicon of famous archives.

The city of Dublin was not always clean, but in the bright, gorgeous sun her natural filth was no menace to the eye, no repulse to the senses. Above the Liffey, even at so early an hour, the heat shimmers like a silver mist. The bells of churches were ringing, and the great cathedral bells boomed in thrilling monotony over the peaceful city. Here and there in the shabby yet renowned streets, horsemen moved along; now and then the costermonger raised his cry of fresh fruit, flowers, and "distinguished vegetables."

People moved into church doorways on their way to mass or confession- some bright and rather gorgeous beings, some in deep mourning, shy, reserved, and obscure. Here and there, also, in certain streets-where officials lived or worked-were soldiers afoot; soldiers with carbines and long bayonets, with tall, slightly peaked hats, smart red coats, belts crossing their breasts, knee-breeches and leggings, and all with epaulets shining. They were in marked contrast to the peasant folk with the high-peaked soft hat, knee-breeches, rough tail-coat, and stockings, some with rifles, some with pikes, some with powder-horns slung under their arms or in the small of the back.

Besides this show of foot-soldiers-that is, regulars and irregulars of the Cornwallis Regiment, and men of the Defenders and the Peep-o'-Day Boys-there were little groups of cavalry making their way to the parade- ground, the castle, the barracks, or the courts.

Beyond these there was the jaunting-car trundling over the rough cobblestone street, or bumping in and out of dangerous holes. Whips cracked, and the loud voices of jarveys shouted blatant humour and Irish fun at horse and passenger. Here and there, also, some stately coach, bedizened with arms of the quality, made its way through the chief streets, or across the bridges of the Liffey.

Then came the general population, moving cheerfully in the inspiriting sun; for Irishmen move so much in a moist atmosphere that on a sunshiny day all tristesse of life seems changed, as in a flash, into high spirits and much activity. Not that the country, at its worst, is slow-footed or depressed; for wit is always at the elbow of want.

Never in all Ireland's years had she a more beautiful day than that in which Dyck Calhoun and the Hon. Leonard Mallow met to settle their account in a secluded corner of Phoenix Park. It was not the usual place for duels. The seconds had taken care to keep the locale from the knowledge of the public; especially as many who had come to know of the event at the Breakneck Club were eager to be present.

The affair began an hour after sunrise. Neither Dyck nor Leonard Mallow slept at home the night before, but in separate taverns near Phoenix Park. Mallow came almost jauntily to the obscure spot. Both men had sensitiveness, and both entered the grounds with a certain sense of pleasure.

Dyck moved and spoke like a man charged with some fluid which had abstracted him from life's monotonous routine. He had to consider the chance of never leaving the grounds alive; yet as he entered the place, where smooth grass between the trees made good footing for the work to be done, the thrill of the greenery, the sound of the birds, the flick of a lizard across the path, and the distant gay leap of a young deer, brought to his senses a gust of joyous feeling.

"I never smelled such air!" he said to one of the seconds. "I never saw the sun so beautiful!" He sniffed the air and turned his face towards the sun. "Well, it's a day for Ireland," he added, in response to a gravely playful remark of Sir Almeric Foyle. "Ireland never was so sweet. Nature's provoking us!"

"Yes, it's a pity," said Sir Almeric. "But I'm not thinking of bad luck for you, Calhoun."

Dyck's smile seemed to come from infinite distance. He was not normal; he was submerged. He was in the great, consuming atmosphere of the bigger world, and the greater life. He even did not hate Mallow at the moment. The thing about to be done was to him a test of manhood. It was a call upon the courage of the soul, a challenge of life, strength, and will.

As Mallow entered the grounds, the thought of Sheila Llyn crossed Dyck's mind, and the mental sight of her gladdened the eyes of his soul. For one brief instant he stood lost in the mind's look; then he stepped forward, saluted, shook hands with Mallow, and doffed his coat and waistcoat.

As he did so, he was conscious of a curious coldness, even of dampness, in the hand which had shaken that of Mallow. Mallow's hand had a clammy touch-clammy, but firm and sure. There was no tremor in the long, thin fingers nor at the lips-the thin, ascetic lips, as of a secret-service man-but in his eyes was a dark fire of purpose. The morning had touched him, but not as it had thrown over Dyck its mantle of peace. Mallow also had enjoyed the smell and feeling of it all, but with this difference-it had filled him with such material joy that he could not bear the thought of leaving it. It gave him strength of will, which would add security to his arm and wrist. Yet, as he looked at Dyck, he saw that his work was cut out for him; for in all his days he had never seen a man so well- possessed, so surely in hand.

Dyck had learned swordsmanship with as skilled a master as Ireland had known, and he had shown, in getting knowledge of the weapon, a natural instinct and a capacity worthy of the highest purpose. He had handled the sword since he was six, and his play was better than that of most men; but this was, in fact, his first real duel. In the troubled state of Ireland, with internal discord, challenge, and attack, he had more than once fought, and with success; but that was in the rough-and-tumble of life's chances, as it were, with no deliberate plan to fight according to the rules. Many times, of course, in the process of his training, he had fought as men fight in duels, but with this difference-that now he was permitted to disable or kill his foe.

It was clear that one or the other would not leave this ground-this verdant, beautiful piece of mother earth-exactly as he entered it. He would leave it wounded, incapable, or dead. Indeed, both might leave it wounded, and the chances of success were with the older man, Mallow, whose experience would give him an advantage.

Physically, there was not a vast deal to choose between the two men. Mallow was lank and tall, nervously self-contained, finely concentrated, and vigorous. Dyck was broad of shoulder, well set up, muscular, and with a steadier eye than that of his foe. Also, as the combat developed, it was clear that he had a hand as steady as his eye. What was more, his wr

ist had superb strength and flexibility; it was as enduring and vital as the forefoot and ankle of a tiger. As a pair they were certainly notable, and would give a good account of themselves.

No one of temperament who observed the scene could ever forget it. The light was perfect-evenly distributed, clear enough to permit accuracy of distance in a stroke. The air was still, gently bracing, and, like most Irish air, adorably sweet.

The spot chosen for the fight was a sort of avenue between great trees, whose broad leaves warded off the direct sun, and whose shade had as yet no black shadows. The turf was as elastic to the foot as a firm mattress. In the trees, birds were singing with liveliness; in the distance, horned cattle browsed, and a pair of horses stood gazing at the combatants, startled, no doubt, by this invasion of their pasturage. From the distance came the faint, mellow booming of church-bells.

The two men fighting had almost the air of gladiators. Their coats were off, and the white linen of their shirts looked gracious; while the upraised left hand of the fighters balancing the sword-thrust and the weight of the body had an almost singular beauty. Of the two, Dyck was the more graceful, the steadier, the quicker in his motions.

Vigilant Dyck was, but not reckless. He had made the first attack, on the ground that the aggressor gains by boldness, if that boldness is joined to skill; and Dyck's skill was of the best. His heart was warm. His momentary vision of Sheila Llyn remained with him-not as a vision, rather as a warmth in his inmost being, something which made him intensely alert, cheerful, defiant, exactly skilful.

He had need of all his skill, for Mallow was set to win the fight. He felt instinctively what was working in Dyck's mind. He had fought a number of duels, and with a certain trick or art he had given the end to the lives of several. He became conscious, however, that Dyck had a particular stroke in mind, which he himself was preventing by masterful methods. It might be one thing or another, but in view of Dyck's training it would perhaps be the Enniscorthy touch.

Again and again Dyck pressed his antagonist backward, seeking to muddle his defence and to clear an opening for his own deadly stroke; but the other man also was a master, and parried successfully.

Presently, with a quick move, Mallow took the offensive, and tried to unsettle Dyck's poise and disorganize his battle-plan. For an instant the tempestuous action, the brilliant, swift play of the sword, the quivering flippancy of the steel, gave Dyck that which almost disconcerted him. Yet he had a grip of himself, and preserved his defence intact; though once his enemy's steel caught his left shoulder, making it bleed. The seconds, however, decided that the thrust was not serious, and made no attempt to interrupt the combat.

Dyck kept singularly cool. As Mallow's face grew flushed, his own grew paler, but it was the paleness of intensity and not of fear. Each man's remarkable skill in defence was a good guarantee against disaster due to carelessness. Seldom have men fought so long and accomplished so little in the way of blood-letting. At length, however, Dyck's tactics changed. Once again he became aggressive, and he drove his foe to a point where the skill of both men was tried to the uttermost. It was clear the time had come for something definite. Suddenly Dyck threw himself back with an agile step, lunged slightly to one side, and then in a gallant foray got the steel point into the sword-arm of his enemy. That was the Enniscorthy stroke, which had been taught him by William Tandy, the expert swordsman, and had been made famous by Lord Welling, of Enniscorthy. It succeeded, and it gave Dyck the victory, for Mallow's sword dropped from his hand.

A fatigued smile came to Mallow's lips. He clasped the wounded arm with his left hand as the surgeon came forward.

"Well, you got it home," he said to Dyck; "and it's deftly done."

"I did my best," answered Dyck. "Give me your hand, if you will."

With a wry look Mallow, now seated on the old stump of a tree, held out his left hand. It was covered with blood.

"I think we'll have to forego that courtesy, Calhoun," he said. "Look at the state of my hand! It's good blood," he added grimly. "It's damned good blood, but-but it won't do, you see."

"I'm glad it was no worse," said Dyck, not touching the bloody hand. "It's a clean thrust, and you'll be better from it soon. These great men"-he smiled towards the surgeons-"will soon put you right. I got my chance with the stroke, and took it, because I knew if I didn't you'd have me presently."

"You'll have a great reputation in Dublin town now, and you'll deserve it," Mallow added adroitly, the great paleness of his features, however, made ghastly by the hatred in his eyes.

Dyck did not see this look, but he felt a note of malice-a distant note -in Mallow's voice. He saw that what Mallow had said was fresh evidence of the man's arrogant character. It did not offend him, however, for he was victor, and could enter the Breakneck Club or Dublin society with a tranquil eye.

Again Mallow's voice was heard.

"I'd have seen you damned to hell, Calhoun, before I'd have apologized at the Breakneck Club; but after a fight with one of the best swordsmen in Ireland I've learned a lot, and I'll apologize now-completely."

The surgeon had bound up the slight wound in Dyck's shoulder, had stopped the bleeding, and was now helping him on with his coat. The operation had not been without pain, but this demonstration from his foe was too much for him. It drove the look of pain from his face; it brought a smile to his lips. He came a step nearer.

"I'm as obliged to you as if you'd paid for my board and lodging, Mallow," he said; "and that's saying a good deal in these days. I'll never have a bigger fight. You're a greater swordsman than your reputation. I must have provoked you beyond reason," he went on gallantly. "I think we'd better forget the whole thing."

"I'm a Loyalist," Mallow replied. "I'm a Loyalist, and if you're one, too, what reason should there be for our not being friends?"

A black cloud flooded Calhoun's face.

"If-if I'm a Loyalist, you say! Have you any doubt of it?

If you have-"

"You wish your sword had gone into my heart instead of my arm, eh?" interrupted Mallow. "How easily I am misunderstood! I meant nothing by that 'if.'" He smiled, and the smile had a touch of wickedness. "I meant nothing by it-nothing at all. As we are both Loyalists, we must be friends. Good-bye, Calhoun!"

Dyck's face cleared very slowly. Mallow was maddening, but the look of the face was not that of a foe. "Well, let us be friends," Dyck answered with a cordial smile. "Good-bye," he added. "I'm damned sorry we had to fight at all. Good-bye!"

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