“Gentlemen, will you not be reconciled?”
Morning sunlight streamed through the leaves of the trees in the little forest, dappling the world and the three people beneath the canopy.
The other men looked at each other.
“John, will you defer to me in the matter of the heart and hand of Elizabeth Parkwood?”
“Andrew, I fear I shall not do so. Will you defer to me in the said matter?”
“No, John, I fear I shall not do so, either. We are not reconciled.”
Morton sighed. As the mutually agreed second for both duelists, he opened the box containing the pistols and began preparing them for use. The pistols belonged to John’s family, and they had all shot with them for sport. Morton knew the guns to be exceptionally good ones; nothing within fifteen paces stood a chance of survival.
He was about to lose one of these friends.
Once the pistols were ready, Morton told his friends to stand back to back. “I will count off the paces. At ‘five,’ you will turn and fire.”
Morton drew a shaky breath. “One.”
The duelists began to walk.
“Two. Three. Four.”
Morton saw something he could not immediately understand: John turned and aimed his pistol at Andrew. Morton mechanically counted, “Five.”
As Andrew turned, John fired. The lead ball flew toward and through Andrew’s heart. His finger left his pistol’s trigger, and he collapsed slowly. The pistol, still cocked, came to rest on his bloody chest.
Morton ran over to Andrew, but the young man had already breathed his last. The eldest son of Baron Waitford was dead.
“What did you do?” Morton demanded of John, now looming over him.
“I won the duel.”
“But you turned early. You had an unfair advantage. This is a field of honor, and you are the son of a nobleman.”
John, eldest son of Earl Rexton, chuckled. “My father has taught me that nothing is more honorable than winning. That is why he is an earl and poor Andrew’s father is merely a baron.”
Morton’s father was also merely a baron.
“This is disgraceful!” Morton said. “I will report your foul behavior.”
“I think not, Morton. After all, you saw me turn and still counted ‘five.’ That makes you rather an assistant in my victory. Now, if you will excuse me, I must go tell Baron Waitford that his eldest son was a terrible shot, and then I fancy that I shall pay a call on Elizabeth to tell her the good news.” John turned and began to walk away.
Morton snatched up Andrew’s unused pistol.
John stopped and sighed. “What is it, Morton?” he asked, turning.
The pistol roared, propelling the ball through John’s forehead. He fell back, instantly dead.
Morton looked at Andrew. “Not so terrible a shot, after all, my dear friend.”
He retrieved John’s pistol and put both guns back in the box. He now had condolence calls to pay on two noblemen. And then, he thought, perhaps he would pay a call on Elizabeth Parkwood.