FROM AN OLD MANUSCRIPT.
IN TWO PARTS.—PAKT I.
In the summer of 1770, my father, General—then Colonel—Tolmers Brandon, was commanding an infantry regiment quartered at Portsmouth. During the summer of that year, having obtained a short leave of absence, my father determined to take a trip to the north, to see some of the beautiful scenery of Cumberland, and to my great joy, took me with him as his traveling companion. I was then between ten and eleven; but having been trained entirely under my father’s eye, I was rather more advanced and manly, perhaps, than most boys of that age.
After traveling about Cumberland, we came upon a spot so especially beautiful, that the Colonel determined to halt for two or three days, although the only accommodation we could get was at a pretty little quiet inn, close to a village, on the top of a hill, about ten miles from Carlisle. How thoroughly well I remember it! A fine old elm grew on one side, under which was a horse-trough, and close by a tall post bearing the sign of the King’s Head. His most gracious Majesty George III., though then only thirty-two years of age, was represented as a coarse middle-aged man, with a red bloated face, an enormous Roman nose, and a vast pigtail, and dressed in scarlet regimentals, a huge cocked-hat and plume, with his drawn sword ‘sloped’ over his right shoulder—in fact, as fierce and savage-looking an ‘old’ weather-beaten soldier as could be desired. But the simple villagers always considered this to be a very good portrait of their sovereign lord and king.
The high-road passed in front of the inn, and just beyond, turned sharply to the right, where it entered the village. The little hostelry, though confined for space, was yet beautifully clean, comfortable, and well conducted. It possessed a very fine garden, from which the most enchanting views were obtained of mountain, lake, and valley. Part of it was arranged, and most carefully kept, as a bowling-green. This lay on one side of the house, and ran parallel with the high-road, from which it was only separated by a hedge. The best room was appropriated to my father; and I was accommodated in a small apartment next the kitchen, on the ground-floor, with a window opening upon the bowling-green.
The second night of our sojourn was unusually hot and close. We had retired early, according to my father’s wont; but my room was so stuffy that I could not sleep, or even rest; and after tossing about most uncomfortably for a long period, I got up, and putting on a few clothes, threw open the window and stepped out on to the bowling-green. The night was exquisite; the full moon was shining in all her glorious splendor—it was in fact nearly as light as day. After walking about the garden, I returned to the bowling-green, and sat down in a pretty arbor covered with creeping plants. The air was soft and deliciously cool, and everything seemed to induce to calm enjoyment, which was enhanced by the profound stillness that reigned around, broken only by the murmur of a distant waterfall. Whilst thoroughly enjoying this beautiful scene, the village church clock struck one, and I fancied I heard the sound of wheels and horses’ feet approaching. In a short time I saw a vehicle come in sight and pass slowly along the high-road; and as my arbor was on the opposite side of the green, I could readily observe, in the bright clear moonlight, that it was a large family coach—such as country squires often drove—drawn by two tall fat horses, and attended by coachman and footman in liveries and cocked-hats. It turned the corner before mentioned, to proceed through the village, as I supposed; not so, however, for it stopped immediately, and I heard the door open and the steps let down, and the sound of feet approaching the inn.
“Belated travelers,” thought I. “It’s little use your trying the King’s Head, for we certainly can’t take you in.”
But this was not the intention of the party. It was not the inn, but the inn garden which they required; for they all stopped at the end of the bowling-green farthest away from the house, where the hedge happened to be very loose and thin. One of the party instantly pushed himself through, and walking a few steps into the green, stood still and looked carefully round. From my having been brought up entirely amongst soldiers, all military uniforms were perfectly familiar to me; and I therefore instantly recognized the huge gold-laced three-cornered cocked-hat, scarlet cloak, jack-boots and spurs, and heavy sword worn by the intruder—who was an immensely tall and broad-chested man—as the uniform of an officer in one of His Majesty’s regiments of heavy dragoons. I observed that he was a very handsome man, with aristocratic well-cut features, and seemed to be under thirty years of age.
Having completed his survey, he strode across the green with that peculiar long swinging stride so common to cavalry-men, and went direct to the open window of my bedroom, and stood motionless for a few moments with his head bent down, apparently listening. Having satisfied himself, he returned to the gap, and said in a loud whisper, and a strong Irish accent: “Sure, and they’re all fast asleep; in with ye.” A second man now pushed through the hedge, dressed exactly like the first—clearly, another cavalry officer—and he was followed by two gentlemen wearing light-colored coats and cocked-hats richly ornamented with silver, lace ruffles and white silk stockings; and each carried, according to the fashion of the day, light rapiers. Without uttering a single syllable, the whole party came forward, and the two last-mentioned gentlemen at once began to divest themselves of their hats, coats, and waistcoats; both then rolled up the shirt-sleeves of their right arms, and drawing their rapiers, were immediately placed by the two officers, their seconds, in position; and I now comprehended that the object of this untimely visit was evidently to fight a duel. The combatants, after saluting, at once threw themselves on guard, and the fight began in profound silence.
Although I was not yet eleven, I had been instructed and drilled in many military exercises, but more especially in fencing; so I was peculiarly interested in the scene now transpiring before me—the first fencing in real deadly earnest I had ever witnessed; and I was not slow in discovering that both the gentlemen were “cunning masters of fence,” and thoroughly at home in the handling of their rapiers. The moon was so intensely bright that I could plainly see the faces of both. One was short and slightly built, but marvelously lithe and active. He was exceedingly dark and swarthy in complexion, his heavy thick black eye-brows almost meeting over the nose, contrasting strangely with his white powdered hair; and I somehow felt certain he was a foreigner. The other was taller and stouter, and not so active. He had a round full face, a very fair skin, a clear pink complexion, and was evidently a genuine Englishman.
The fight began by a succession of sharp rapid attacks on the part of the foreigner; which, however, the Englishman parried with consummate skill. For a long time this attack and defense went on, neither party obtaining the smallest advantage, and I rather fancied that the foreigner wag getting exhausted, from the ceaseless and amazing activity displayed by him; whilst the Englishman did little else than guard and parry. A thick cloud suddenly obscured the moon, when the dark man exclaimed, in an unmistakable foreign accent: “Holdt, holdt; ve can-not zee!” These few words, with those of the Irish officer already quoted, were all I heard uttered by any of the party throughout all that terrible time. Even during that fearful pause, whilst the combatants stood calm and still, almost like two statues, not a word was uttered; and when the cloud passed away, and the glorious moon again shed her calm and gentle light on this scene of deadly strife, at a sign from the seconds, the duel began again in profound silence, and was continued precisely as before, without wound or scratch to either party. During the whole of the fight, the seconds remained near their principals, standing almost motionless, with their arms folded beneath their long red cloaks. At length the foreigner began apparently to lose his temper at being so continually foiled, and was working himself into a violent passion; whilst the Englishman continued to preserve his cool and calm bearing. After some cautious maneuvering, a furious and desperate attack by the foreigner now commenced. The lightning-like rapidity of his thrusts and his wondrous activity of foot, were amazing; but I felt certain he was exhausting his strength. I did not fail to observe, also, the ease and the little exertion with which his attacks were parried. When this had gone on for five or six minutes with but little pause, the foreigner, suddenly advancing a step—apparently to make doubly sure—delivered a tremendous thrust, which must have instantly ended the fight, had not the Englishman very dexterously turned the blade aside, and throwing his whole weight forward in one sudden and powerful lunge, under his adversary’s guard, drove his rapier completely through his body, and with such extraordinary force, that two inches or more of the blade came out under his left shoulder. As the Englishman withdrew his sword with a jerk, the foreigner staggered forward a step, threw up his arms, and fell to the ground, dead! At this instant the village church clock struck two. Two o’clock in the morning of the 19th of July 1770, was a moment to be remembered by me to the last hour of my life.
The Englishman, as soon as he had sheathed his sword, cast one steady look at his fallen foe, and then turning, gathered up his clothes under his arm, and at once retreated through the gap in the hedge, followed by one of the officers; whilst the other—the tall one—knelt down by the prostrate form of the foreigner, first, apparently, to make sure that he was dead; and secondly, to search for something seemingly hidden inside the breast of his shirt. At length he pulled out what looked like some papers, tied with ribbon, which he thrust into his pocket, and hastily followed his companions, leaving the dead man just where he fell. Immediately afterwards, I heard the door of the carriage violently shut to; and the vehicle was rapidly driven away—not past the inn, but through the village.
All this time, I must honestly confess I was so deeply interested in what, according to the military teaching of that day, I considered a perfectly fair and honorable proceeding between two gentlemen, that I never, for a moment, thought I any right or business to interfere or cause interruption by raising an alarm in the little inn. But as soon as the party had retired through the gap in the hedge, I rushed from my hiding-place in the arbor, and knelt down by the fallen duellist, to ascertain if he was really dead. He was lying on his back, with his arms out; and I could see, boy though I was, that he was indeed dead. I therefore ran back to the inn, and at once awoke my father, telling him in a few hasty words what had happened, and begging him to get up instantly. The Colonel, without a moment’s delay, threw on his dressing-gown, and descended to the bowling-green; and after carefully examining the body, satisfied himself beyond doubt that the man was really dead. We then roused the landlord; and ordering lights to be lit in the little coffee-room, which contained a large table, my father directed the hostler to go at once and fetch the nearest medical man and the constable of the village. Then with the assistance of the landlord, he carefully raised the corpse, and carried it indoors, to await the arrival of the representatives of surgery and law; whilst I followed with the coat, vest, and hat of the deceased. The medical gentleman soon made his appearance; and after a regular and very careful examination, it was found that the poor fellow had been run completely through the heart, the sword coming out—as I had seen—at his back. The hemorrhage had been excessive, as a matter of course; his clothing was entirely saturated, and a large pool of blood remained in the garden. The deceased was slightly built, but of very good proportions. His face was singularly swarthy, with dark eyes and heavy black eyebrows, that gave altogether a hard and stern appearance to the features. His hair was fashionably dressed, powdered of course, and tied behind in a queue. We came to the conclusion that he was either Spanish or Portuguese, for the few words I had heard him speak clearly showed by his accent that he was not English.
When the constable arrived, my father proposed to search the pockets, to ascertain if possible the name of the deceased. First, a large silk purse was found, containing a considerable sum of money in gold and notes; next, a splendid gold watch, chain, and seals, one of which bore a crest with the initial “G.” under it; and my father on opening the watch discovered it was French make, and bore the name of the most celebrated Paris manufacturer of that day. In the coat pocket were a gold snuff-box, also bearing the single initial “G.” in brilliants on the lid within a wreath of myrtles beautifully enameled; a heavy old-fashioned gold pencil-case; a small gold pouncet-box or vinaigrette, beautifully chased; a very fine cambric handkerchief; and a pair of white kid gloves. On each hand he wore a massive ring; that on his right set with diamonds, and the one on his left with rubies. His right hand, when he was lifted from the ground, still grasped an elegant silver-mounted rapier, such as was then usually carried by men of fashion. The weapon, like the watch, bore the name of a Paris maker. His linen was of the finest description, marked, like the snuff-box, with the initial “G.”; and his lace cravat was secured by a brooch set with brilliants; whilst his knee and shoe-buckles were of elegant chased gold. The coat and breeches were of fine light-blue cloth, richly laced with silver; and his long waistcoat was of embroidered white satin. The large and jaunty cocked-hat was also laced with silver, and bore the name of a Paris hatter. This was all we could discover. Had he possessed a card-case or pocket-book, or papers of any sort, they must have been removed by the tall officer when he took what looked like a packet from the bosom of the dead man, as already related.
At the request of the constable my father took charge of the valuables and clothing, and ordered that functionary to communicate with the nearest magistrate and the coroner as speedily as possible. So well were these orders carried out, that by eight o’clock in the morning the magistrate arrived. He was a fine genial man about fifty, a Colonel of militia, an admirable specimen of a thorough English country gentleman. He received my father in the most courtly manner; and this curious incident of the mysterious encounter originated an acquaintance between them which ripened into a lasting lifelong friendship.