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Book of Scottish Story
The Desperate Duel


“Nae , never shake thy gory locks at me;
Thou canst not say I did it!” – Macbeth.

It was on a fine summer morning, somewhere about four o’clock, when I waukened from my night’s rest, and was about thinking to bestir mysel, that I heard the sound of voices in the kail-yard, stretching south frae our back windows. I listened—and I listened—and I better listened—and still the sound of the argle-bargling became more distinct, now in a fleeching way, and now in harsh angry tones, as if some quarrelsome disagreement had ta’en place. I hadna the comfort of my wife’s company in this dilemma; she being awa, three days before, on the top of Tammy Trundle the carrier’s cart, to Lauder, on a visit to her folks there; her mother (my gudemother, like) having been for some time ill, with an income in her leg, which threatened to make a lameter of her in her old age; the twa doctors there, no speaking of the blacksmith, and sundry skeely old women, being able to mak naething of the business; so nane happened to be wi' me in the room, saving wee Benjie, who was lying asleep at the back of the bed, with his little Kilmarnock on his head, as sound as a top. Nevertheless, I lookit for my claes; and opening one-half of the window-shutter, I saw four young birkies well dressed; indeed three of them customers of my ain, all belanging to the toun ; twa of them young doctors; ane of them a writer’s clerk; and the ither a grocer; the hale looking very fierce and fearsome, like turkey cocks; swaggering about with their hands and arms as if they had been the king’s dragoons; and priming a pair of pistols, which ane of the surgeons, a speerity, out-spoken lad, Maister Blister, was haddin’ in his grip.

I jaloused at ance what they were after, being now a wee up to firearms ; so I saw that skaith was to come o’t, and that I wad be wanting in my duty on four heads—first, as a Christian; second, as a man ; third, as a subject; and fourth, as a father, if I withheld mysel frae the scene, nor lifted up my voice, however fruitlessly, against such crying iniquity as the wanton lefting out of human blood; sae furth I hastened—half-dressed with my gray stockings rolled up my thighs, over my corduroys, and my auld hat aboon my cowl—to the kail-yard of contention.

I was just in the nick of time, and my presence checked the effusion of blood for a little;—but wait a wee. So high and furious were at least three of the party, that I saw it was catching water in a sieve to waste words on them, knowing, as clearly as the sun serves the world, that interceding would be of no avail. Howsomever, I made a feint, and threatened to bowl awa for a magistrait, if they wadna desist, and stop from their barbarous and bluidy purpose; but, i’fegs, I had better have keepit my counsel till it was asked for.

"Tailor Mansie," quoth Maister Thomas Blister, with a furious cock of his eye (he was a queer Eirish birkie, come ower for his yedication), "since ye have ventured to thrust your nose," said he, " where nobody invited ye, you must just stay," said he, "and abide by the consequences. This is an affair of honour," quoth he; "and if ye venture to stir one foot from the spot, och then," said he, "by the poker of St Patrick, but whisk through ye goes one of these leaden playthings, as sure as ye ever spoiled a coat, or cabbaged broadcloth. Ye have now come out, ye observe, hark ye," said ye, "and are art and part in the business;—and, if one, or both, of the principals be killed, poor devils," said he, "we are all alike liable to take our trial before the Justiciary Court, hark ye; and, by the powers,” said he, "I doubt not but that, on proper consideration, they will allow us to get off mercifully, on this side of hanging, by a verdict of man-slaughter."

`Od, I fund mysel immediately in a scrape ; but how to get out of it bathed my gumption. It set me all a shivering; yet I thought that, come the warst when it wad, they surely wad not hang the faither of a helpless sma family, that had naething but his needle for their support, if I made a proper affidavy, about having tried to make peace between the youths. So, conscience being a brave supporter, I abode in silence, though not without many queer and qualmish thochts, and a pit-patting of the heart, no unco pleasant in the tholing.

"Blood and wounds!" bawled Maister Thomas Blister, "it would be a disgrace for ever on the honourable profession of physic," egging on puir Maister Willie Magneezhy, whose face was as white as double-bleached linen, “to make any apology for such an insult. You not fit to doctor a cat,—you not fit to bleed a calf—you not fit to poultice a pig, —after three years apprenticeship," said he, "and a winter with Doctor Monro? By the cupping-glasses of ’Pocrates,” said he, "and by the pistol of Gallon, but I would have caned him on the spot, if he had just let out half as much to me. Look ye, man," said he, “look ye, man, he is all shaking" (this was the truth); "he’ll turn tail. At him like fire, Willie."

Magneezhy, though sadly frightened, looked a thocht brighter, and made a kind o’ half stap forrit, "Say that ye’ll ask my pardon once more, and if no," said the puir lad, with a voice broken and trembling, "then we must just shoot one another."

"Devil a bit," answered Mr Bloatsheet, "devil a bit. No, sir; you must down on your bare knees, and beg ten thousand pardons for calling me out here, in a raw morning; or l’ll have a shot at you, whether you will or no."

"Will you stand that?" said Blister, with eyes like burning coals. "By the living jingo and the holy poker, Magneezhy, if you stand that—if you stand that, I say, I stand no longer your second, but leave you to disgrace, and a caning. If he likes to shoot you like a dog, and not as a gentleman, then let him do it and be done."

"No, sir," replied Magneezhy, with a quivering voice, which he tried in vain, puir fellow, to render warlike (he had never been in the volunteers, like me). "Hand us the pistols, then and let us do or die!”

"Spoken like a hero, and brother of the lancet: as little afraid at the sight of your own blood, as at that of your patients;" said Blister. "Hand over the pistols."

It was an awfu' business. Gude save us, such goings on in a Christian land!

While Mr Bloatsheet, the young writer, was in the act of doing what he was bid, I again, but to no purpose, endeavoured to slip in a word edgeways. Magneezhy was in an awfu' case; if he had been already shot, he could not have looked mair clay and corpse-like; so I took a kind of whispering, while the stramash was drawing to a bloody conclusion, with Maister Harry Molasses, the fourth in the spree, who was standing behind Bloatsheet, with a large mahogany box under his arm, something in shape like that of a licensed packman, ganging about from house to house through the country-side, selling toys and trinkets, or niffering plated ear-rings and sic like, wi’ young lasses, for auld silver coins or cracked tea-spoons.

"Oh!" answered he, very composedly, as if it had been a canister fu’ of black rappee, or blackguard. that he had just lifted down from his tap shelf, "it’s just Doctor Blister’s saws, whittles, and big knives, in case ony of their legs or arms be blawn away, that he may cut them off." Little wad have prevented me sinking down through the ground, had I not remembered, at the preceese moment, that I myself was a soldier, and liable, when the hour of danger threatened, to be called out, in marching order, to the field of battle. But by this time the pistols were handed to the two infatuated young men—Mr Bloatsheet, as fierce as a hussar dragoon, and Magneezhy, as supple in the knees as if he was all on oiled hinges; so the next consideration was to get weel out of the way, the lookers-on running nearly as great a chance of being shot as the principals, they no being accustomed, like me, for instance, to the use of arms ; on which account, I scougged mysel behind a big pear-tree; baith being to fire when Blister gied the word "Off!”

I had hardly jouked into my hidy-hole, when "crack, crack" played the pistols like lightning, and as soon as I got my cowl ta’en from my een, and looked about, wae’s me, I saw Magneezhy clap his hand to his brow, wheel round like a peerie, or a sheep seized wi’ the sturdie, and then play flap down on his braidside, breaking the necks of half a dozen cabbage-stocks, three of which were afterwards clean lost, as we couldna pit them all into the pat at ae time. The hale o’ us ran forrit, but foremost was Bloatsheet, who, seizing Magneezhy by the hand, said wi’ a mournful face, "I hope you forgive me?—Only say this as long as you have breath, for I am off to Leith harbour in half a minute."

The blude was rinning ower puir Magneezhy’s een, and drib-dribbling frae the neb o’ his nose; so he was truly in a pitiful state ; but he said with more strength than I thocht he could have mustered,—"Yes, yes, fly for your life, I am dying without much pain—fly for your life, for I am a gone man!”

Bloatsheet bounced through the bit kail-yard like a maukin, clamb ower the bit wa’, and aff like mad; while Blister was feeling Magneezhy’s pulse with ane hand, and looking at his doctor’s watch, which he had in the ither.

"Do ye think that the puir lad will live, doctor?" said I till him.

He gave his head a wise shake, and only observed, "I dare say, it will be a hanging business amang us. In what direction do you think, Mansie, we should all take flight?”

But I answered bravely, "Flee them that will, I’se flee nane, If am ta’en prisoner, the town-officers maun haul me frae my ain house; but nevertheless I trust the visibility of my innocence will be as plain as a pikestaif to the een of the fifteen."

"What then, Mansie, will we do with poor Magneezhy? Give us your advice in need."

"Let us carry him down to my ain bed," answered I; "I wad not desert a fellow-creature in his dying hour! Help me down wi’ him, and then flee the country as fast as you are able!”

We immediately proceeded, and lifted the poor lad, wha had now dwaumed away, upon our wife’s handbarrow, Blister taking the feet, and me the oxters, whereby I got my waistcoat a’ japanned with blude ; so, when we got him laid right, we proceeded to carry him between us down the close, just asif he had been a stickit sheep, and in at the back door, which cost us some trouble, being narrow, and the barrow getting jammed in; but, at lang and last, we got him streeked out aboon the blankets, having previously shooken Benjie, and waukened him out of his morning’s nap.

A’ this being accomplished, and got ower, Blister decamped, leaving me my leeful lane, excepting Benjie, wha was next to naebody, in the house with the deein’ man. What a frightfu’ face he had, all smeared ower with blude and pouther! And I really jaloused, that if he deed in that room, it wad be haunted forever mair, he being in a manner a murdered man, so that, even should I be acquitted of art and part, his ghaist might still come to bother us, making our house a hell upon yirth, and frightening us out of our seven senses. But, in the midst of my dreadful surmeeses, when all was still, so that you might hae heard a pin fall, a knock-knock-knock cam to the door, on which, recovering my senses, I dreaded first that it was the death-chap, and syne that the affair had gotten wind, and that it was the beagles come in search of me; so I kissed little Benjie, wha was sitting on his creepie, blubbering and greeting for his parritch, while a tear stood in my ain ee, as I gaed forrit to lift the sneck, to let the officers, as I thocht, harry our house, by carrying aff me, its master; but it was—thank Heaven! —only Tammy Bodkin coming in whistling to his wark with some measuring-papers hinging round his neck.

"Ah, Tammy," said I to him, my heart warming at a kent face, and making the laddie, although my bounden servant by a regular indenture of five years, a friend in my need, " come in, my man. I fear ye’ll hae to tak charge of the business for some time to come. Mind what I tell’d ye about the shaping and the cutting, and no making the goose ower warm, as I doubt I am about to be harled awa to the Tolbooth."

Tammy’s heart louped to his mouth.

"Ay, maister," he said, "ye’re joking. What should ye have done that ye should be ta`en to sic an ill place?"

"Ah, Tammy, lad," answered I, "it is but ower true."

"Weel, weel," quo' Tammy—I really thought it a great deal of the laddie — “weel, weel, they canna prevent me coming to sew beside ye; and, if I can tak the measure of customers without, ye can cut the claith within. But what is’t for, maister?"

"Come in here,” said I to him, "and believe your ain een, Tammy, my man.”

"Losh me!" cried the puir laddie, glowering at the bluidy face of the man in the bed. "Ay—ay—ay! maister; save us, maister; ay—ay—ay—you have na cloured his harnpan wi’ the goose? Ay, maister, maister! What an unyirthly sight!! I doubt they’ll hang us a’ ;—you for doing’t, and me on suspicion, and Benjie as art and part, puir thing. But I’ll rin for a doctor. Will I, maister?”

The thocht had never struck me before, being in a sort of a manner dung stupid; but catching up the word, I said wi’ a’ my pith and birr, "Rin, rin, Tammy, rin for life and death!"

Tammy bolted like a nine-year-auld, never looking ahint his tail: so, in less than ten minutes, he returned, hauling alang auld Doctor Gripes, whom he had wakened out o’ his bed by the lug and horn, at the very time I was trying to quiet young Benjie, wha was following me up and doun the house, as I was pacing to and fro in distraction, girning and whinging for his breakfast.

"Bad business, bad business; bless us, what is this?" said the auld doctor, staring at Magneezhy’s bluidy face through his silver spectacles—"What’s the matter?"

The puir patient knew at once his maister’s tongue, and, lifting up ane of his eyes—the other being stiff and barkened down—said in a melancholy voice, "Ah, master, do ye think I’ll get better?"

Doctor Gripes, auld man as he was, started back, as if he had been a French dancing-master, or had strampit on a het bar of iron. "Tom, Tom, is this you? What, in the name of wonder, has done this?” Then feeling his wrist—

"But your pulse is quite good. Have you fallen, boy? Where is the blood coming from?"

"Somewhere about the hairy scaup,” answered Magneezhy, in his own sort of lingo. "I doubt some artery’s cut through!”

The doctor immediately bade him lie quiet, and hush, as he was getting a needle and silken thread ready to sew it up; ordering me to get a basin and water ready, to wash the puir lad’s physog. I did so as hard as I was able, though I wasna sure about the blude just; auld Doctor Gripes watching ower my shouther, wi’ a lighted penny candle in ae hand, and the needle and thread in the ither, to see where the bluid spouted frae. But we were as daft as wise; so I he bade me tak my big shears, and cut out a’ the hair on the fore part of the head as bare as my loof ; and syne we washed, and better washed; so Magneezhy got the ither ee up, when the barkened blude was loosed, looking, though as pale as a clean shirt, mair frighted than hurt; until it became plain to us all, first to the doctor, syne to me, and syne to Tammy Bodkin, and last of a’ to Magneezhy himsel, that his skin was na sae much as peeled; so we helped him out of the bed, and blithe was I to see the lad standing on the floor, without a haud, on his ain feet.

I did my best to clean his neckcloth and sark-neck of the blude, making him look as decentish as possible, considering circumstances; and lending him, as the Scripture commands, my tartan mantle to hide the infirmity of his bluidy breeks and waistcoat. Hame gaed he and his maister thegither, me standing at our close mouth, wishing them a gude moming, and blithe to see their backs. Indeed, a condemned thief with the rope about his neck, and the white cowl tied ower his een, to say naething of his hands yerked thegither behind his back, and on the nick of being thrown ower, couldna been mair thankfu’ for a reprieve than I was, at the same blessed moment. It was like Adam seeing the deil’s rear marching out o’ Paradise, if ane may be allowed to think sic a thing.

The hale business—tag, rag, and bobtail—soon, however, spunkit out, and was the town talk for mair than ae day. But ye’ll hear.

At the first I pitied the puir lads, that I thocht had fled for ever and aye from their native country to Bengal, Seringapatam, Copenhagen, Botany Bay, or Jamaica; leaving behint them all their friends and auld Scotland, as they might never hear o’ the gudeness of Providence in their behalf. But—wait a wee.

Wad ye believe it? As sure’s death, the hale was but a wicked trick played by that mischievous loon Blister and his cronies, upon ane that was a simple and saft-headed callant. Deil a haet was in the ae pistol but a pluff o' pouther; and, in the ither, a cartridge paper, fu’ o’ bull’s blood, was rammed down upon the charge, the which, hitting Magneezhy on the ee-bree, had caused a business that seemed to have put him out o’ life, and nearly put me (though ane of the volunteers) out of my seven senses.
— From ‘Mansie Wauch’.


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