On the other side of the hedge was a strip of meadow bounded by the brook I have mentioned; now across this stream was a small rustic bridge, and on this bridge was a man. Midway between this man and myself stood a group of four gentlemen, all talking very earnestly together, to judge by their actions, while somewhat apart from these, his head bent, his hands still thrust deep in his pockets, stood Sir Jasper. And from him, for no apparent reason, my eyes wandered to the man upon the bridge—a tall, broad-shouldered fellow, in a buff-colored greatcoat, who whistled to himself, and stared down into the stream, swinging his tasselled riding-boot to and fro. All at once, as if in response to some signal, he rose, and unbuttoning his surtout, drew it off and flung it across the handrail of the bridge.
Mr. Chester was on his knees before the oblong box, and I saw the glint of the pistols as he handed them up. The distance had already been paced and marked out, and now each man took his ground—Sir Jasper, still in his greatcoat, his hat over his eyes, his neckerchief loose and dangling, one hand in his pocket, the other grasping his weapon; his antagonist, on the contrary, jaunty and debonnair, a dandy from the crown of his hat to the soles of his shining boots.
Their arms were raised almost together. The man Selby glanced from one to the other, a handkerchief fluttered, fell, and in that instant came the report of a pistol. I saw Sir Jasper reel backward, steady himself, and fire in return; then, while the blue smoke yet hung in the still air, he staggered blindly, and fell.
Mr. Chester, and two or three more, ran forward and knelt beside him, while his opponent shrugged his shoulders, and, taking off his hat, pointed out the bullet hole to his white-faced second.
And in a little while they lifted Sir Jasper in their arms, but seeing how his head hung, a sudden sickness came upon me, for I knew, indeed, that he would go walking back nevermore. Yet his eyes were wide and staring—staring up at the blue heaven with the same fixed intensity as they had done at the inn.
Then I, too, looked up at the cloudless sky, and round upon the fair earth; and, in that moment, I, for one, remembered his prophecy of an hour ago. And, indeed, the day was glorious.
WHICH RELATES A BRIEF PASSAGE-AT-ARMS AT “THE CHEQUERS” INN
In due season I came into Tonbridge town, and following the High Street, presently observed a fine inn upon the right-hand side of the way, which, as I remember, is called “The Chequers.” And here were divers loiterers, lounging round the door, or seated upon the benches; but the eyes of all were turned the one way.
And presently, as I paused before the inn, to look up at its snow-white plaster, and massive cross-beams, there issued from the stable yard one in a striped waistcoat, with top-boots and a red face, who took a straw from behind his ear, and began to chew it meditatively; to whom I now addressed myself.