Impressed by this speech, Sizer’s friends began to shake hands with him.
“All ready!” called West. “One—two—three——go!”
At the word the two, back to back, started for the opposite ends of the little street, and at once the crowd made a rush between the buildings to gain the rear, where they might witness the shooting in the lane when the duelists met. Arthur had been thinking seriously during these proceedings and had made up his mind it was in no degree his duty to be bored full of holes by a drunken countryman like Bill Sizer, just because there had been a typographical error in the Millville Tribune. So, when he got to the end of the street, instead of turning into the lane he made for the farm, holding the long dueling pistol gingerly in his hand and trotting at a good pace for home.
Footsteps followed him. In sudden panic he increased his run; but the other was faster. A heavy hand grasped his shoulder and swung him around, while old Bob West, panting for Breath, exclaimed:
“Stop, you fool—stop! The other one is running.”
“The other one!” echoed Arthur, wonderingly.
“Of course. Bill Sizer was sure to run; he’s a coward, as all bullies are. Quick, Weldon, save the day and your reputation or I’ll never stand your friend again.”
Arthur understood now. He turned and ran back faster than he had come, swung into the lane where the crowd was cautiously peering from the shelter of the buildings, and waving his pistol in a reckless way that made Bob West shudder, he cried out:
“Where is he? Where’s Sizer? Why don’t he show up and be shot, like a man?”
No Sizer appeared. He was even then headed cross-lots for home, leaving his friends to bemoan his cowardice. As for Arthur, the crowd gave him a cheer and condemned his opponent’s conduct in no measured terms. They were terribly disappointed by Big Bill’s defection, for while not especially bloodthirsty they hated to see the impending tragedy turn out a farce.
In the printing office Patsy was laughing hysterically as her horror dissolved and allowed her to discover the comic phase of the duel. She literally fell on Arthur’s neck as he entered, but the next moment pushed him away to face the hardware merchant.
“I beg your pardon, Mr. West,” said she with twinkling eyes. “I suspected you of being a cold-blooded ruffian, when you proposed this duel; but I now see that you understand human nature better than the whole caboodle of us put together! Arthur, thank Mr. West for saving you from a flogging.”
“I do, indeed!” said Arthur fervently.
THE DANGER SIGNAL