“It’s a bad way of settling a dispute,” replied I, gravely.
“There is no other, Newland. How would society be held in check if it were not for duelling? We should all be a set of bears living in a bear-garden. I presume you have never been out?”
“Never,” replied I, “and had hoped that I never should have.”
“Then you must have better fortune, or better temper than most others, if you pass through life without an affair of this kind on your hands. I mean as principal, not as second. But, my dear fellow, I must give you a little advice, relative to your behaviour as a second; for I’m very particular on these occasions, and like that things should be done very correctly. It will never do, my dear Newland, that you appear on the ground with that melancholy face. I do not mean that you should laugh, or even smile, that would be equally out of character, but you should show yourself perfectly calm and indifferent. In your behaviour towards the other second, you must be most scrupulously polite, but, at the same time, never give up a point of dispute, in which my interest may be concerned. Even in your walk be slow, and move, as much as the ground will allow you, as if you were in a drawing-room. Never remain silent; offer even trivial remarks, rather than appear distract. There is one point of great importance—I refer to choosing the ground, in which, perhaps, you will require my unperceived assistance. Any decided line behind me would be very advantageous to my adversary, such as the trunk of a tree, post, &c.; even an elevated light or dark ground behind me is unadvisable. Choose, if you can, a broken light, as it affects the correctness of the aim; but as you will not probably be able to manage this satisfactorily, I will assist you. When on the ground, after having divided the sun fairly between us, I will walk about unconcernedly, and when I perceive a judicious spot, I will take a pinch of snuff and use my handkerchief, turning at the same time in the direction in which I wish my adversary to be placed. Take your cue from that, and with all suavity of manner, insist as much as you can upon our being so placed. That must be left to your own persuasive powers. I believe I have now stated all that is necessary, and I must prepare my instruments.”
The major then went into his own room, and I never felt more nervous or more unhinged than after this conversation. I had a melancholy foreboding—but that I believe every one has, when he, for the first time, has to assist at a mortal rencontre. I was in a deep musing when he returned with his pistols and all the necessary apparatus; and when the Major pointed out to me, and made me once or twice practice the setting of the hair triggers, which is the duty of the second, an involuntary shudder came over me.
“Why, Newland, what is the matter with you? I thought that you had more nerve.”
“I probably should show more, Carbonnell, were I the principal instead of the second, but I cannot bear the reflection that some accident should happen to you. You are the only one with whom I have been on terms of friendship, and the idea of losing you, is very, very painful.”