Книга Adventure. Содержание - CHAPTER XXVII-MODERN DUELLING
«I don't mean a fight with fists,» he said slowly. «I mean to a finish, to the death. You're a good shot with revolver and rifle. So am I. That's the way we'll settle it.»
«You have gone clean mad. You are a lunatic.»
«No, I'm not,» Tudor retorted. «I'm a man in love. And once again I ask you to go outside and settle it, with any weapons you choose.»
Sheldon regarded him for the first time with genuine seriousness, wondering what strange maggots could be gnawing in his brain to drive him to such unusual conduct.
«But men don't act this way in real life,» Sheldon remarked.
«You'll find I'm pretty real before you're done with me. I'm going to kill you to-day.»
«Bosh and nonsense, man.» This time Sheldon had lost his temper over the superficial aspects of the situation. «Bosh and nonsense, that's all it is. Men don't fight duels in the twentieth century. It's-it's antediluvian, I tell you.»
«Speaking of Joan-«
«Please keep her name out of it,» Sheldon warned him.
«I will, if you'll fight.»
Sheldon threw up his arms despairingly.
«Speaking of Joan-«
«Look out,» Sheldon warned again.
«Oh, go ahead, knock me down. But that won't close my mouth. You can knock me down all day, but as fast as I get to my feet I'll speak of Joan again. Now will you fight?»
«Listen to me, Tudor,» Sheldon began, with an effort at decisiveness. «I am not used to taking from men a tithe of what I've already taken from you.»
«You'll take a lot more before the day's out,» was the answer. «I tell you, you simply must fight. I'll give you a fair chance to kill me, but I'll kill you before the day's out. This isn't civilization. It's the Solomon Islands, and a pretty primitive proposition for all that. King Edward and law and order are represented by the Commissioner at Tulagi and an occasional visiting gunboat. And two men and one woman is an equally primitive proposition. We'll settle it in the good old primitive way.»
As Sheldon looked at him the thought came to his mind that after all there might be something in the other's wild adventures over the earth. It required a man of that calibre, a man capable of obtruding a duel into orderly twentieth century life, to find such wild adventures.
«There's only one way to stop me,» Tudor went on. «I can't insult you directly, I know. You are too easy-going, or cowardly, or both, for that. But I can narrate for you the talk of the beach– ah, that grinds you, doesn't it? I can tell you what the beach has to say about you and this young girl running a plantation under a business partnership.»
«Stop!» Sheldon cried, for the other was beginning to vibrate and oscillate before his eyes. «You want a duel. I'll give it to you.» Then his common-sense and dislike for the ridiculous asserted themselves, and he added, «But it's absurd, impossible.»
«Joan and David-partners, eh? Joan and David-partners,» Tudor began to iterate and reiterate in a malicious and scornful chant.
«For heaven's sake keep quiet, and I'll let you have your way,» Sheldon cried. «I never saw a fool so bent on his folly. What kind of a duel shall it be? There are no seconds. What weapons shall we use?»
Immediately Tudor's monkey-like impishness left him, and he was once more the cool, self-possessed man of the world.
«I've often thought that the ideal duel should be somewhat different from the conventional one,» he said. «I've fought several of that sort, you know-«
«French ones,» Sheldon interrupted.
«Call them that. But speaking of this ideal duel, here it is. No seconds, of course, and no onlookers. The two principals alone are necessary. They may use any weapons they please, from revolvers and rifles to machine guns and pompoms. They start a mile apart, and advance on each other, taking advantage of cover, retreating, circling, feinting-anything and everything permissible. In short, the principals shall hunt each other-«
«Like a couple of wild Indians?»
«Precisely,» cried Tudor, delighted. «You've got the idea. And Berande is just the place, and this is just the right time. Miss Lackland will be taking her siesta, and she'll think we are. We've got two hours for it before she wakes. So hurry up and come on. You start out from the Balesuna and I start from the Berande. Those two rivers are the boundaries of the plantation, aren't they? Very well. The field of the duel will be the plantation. Neither principal must go outside its boundaries. Are you satisfied?»
«Quite. But have you any objections if I leave some orders?»
«Not at all,» Tudor acquiesced, the pink of courtesy now that his wish had been granted.
Sheldon clapped his hands, and the running house-boy hurried away to bring back Adamu Adam and Noa Noah.
«Listen,» Sheldon said to them. «This man and me, we have one big fight to-day. Maybe he die. Maybe I die. If he die, all right. If I die, you two look after Missie Lackalanna. You take rifles, and you look after her daytime and night-time. If she want to talk with Mr. Tudor, all right. If she not want to talk, you make him keep away. Savvee?»
They grunted and nodded. They had had much to do with white men, and had learned never to question the strange ways of the strange breed. If these two saw fit to go out and kill each other, that was their business and not the business of the islanders, who took orders from them. They stepped to the gun-rack, and each picked a rifle.
«Better all Tahitian men have rifles,» suggested Adamu Adam. «Maybe big trouble come.»
«All right, you take them,» Sheldon answered, busy with issuing the ammunition.
They went to the door and down the steps, carrying the eight rifles to their quarters. Tudor, with cartridge-belts for rifle and pistol strapped around him, rifle in hand, stood impatiently waiting.
«Come on, hurry up; we're burning daylight,» he urged, as Sheldon searched after extra clips for his automatic pistol.
Together they passed down the steps and out of the compound to the beach, where they turned their backs to each other, and each proceeded toward his destination, their rifles in the hollows of their arms, Tudor walking toward the Berande and Sheldon toward the Balesuna.
CHAPTER XXVII-MODERN DUELLING
Barely had Sheldon reached the Balesuna, when he heard the faint report of a distant rifle and knew it was the signal of Tudor, giving notice that he had reached the Berande, turned about, and was coming back. Sheldon fired his rifle into the air in answer, and in turn proceeded to advance. He moved as in a dream, absent– mindedly keeping to the open beach. The thing was so preposterous that he had to struggle to realize it, and he reviewed in his mind the conversation with Tudor, trying to find some clue to the common-sense of what he was doing. He did not want to kill Tudor. Because that man had blundered in his love-making was no reason that he, Sheldon, should take his life. Then what was it all about? True, the fellow had insulted Joan by his subsequent remarks and been knocked down for it, but because he had knocked him down was no reason that he should now try to kill him.
In this fashion he covered a quarter of the distance between the two rivers, when it dawned upon him that Tudor was not on the beach at all. Of course not. He was advancing, according to the terms of the agreement, in the shelter of the cocoanut trees. Sheldon promptly swerved to the left to seek similar shelter, when the faint crack of a rifle came to his ears, and almost immediately the bullet, striking the hard sand a hundred feet beyond him, ricochetted and whined onward on a second flight, convincing him that, preposterous and unreal as it was, it was nevertheless sober fact. It had been intended for him. Yet even then it was hard to believe. He glanced over the familiar landscape and at the sea dimpling in the light but steady breeze. From the direction of Tulagi he could see the white sails of a schooner laying a tack across toward Berande. Down the beach a horse was grazing, and he idly wondered where the others were. The smoke rising from the copra-drying caught his eyes, which roved on over the barracks, the tool-houses, the boat– sheds, and the bungalow, and came to rest on Joan's little grass house in the corner of the compound.