Tuesday, August 2, 2011

A Down East Duel, By G. W. Bradbury, written mid 1800s

This tale was found pasted into one of those early 1800s ledgers that youngsters in the mid and later 1800s, to my eternal horror, used as scrapbooks by overlaying the historic material below with various clippings, most of which have no historical or genealogical value.

I've been told  that the ledgers can be disbound, the pages soaked in water until the paste dissolves, for days if necessary, and then the pages, when dry again, set between sheets of heavy glass to flatten any wrinkles.  But I'm not feeling confident about that...

I doubt someone would write a tale today in which animals were purposely hurt, but this was another era.  And hopefully it was all blarney anyway.  

The author might have been the G.W. Bradbury who was editor of the Cincinnati, Ohio Sunday paper.  If you have any knowledge of the G. W. Bradbury who wrote this tale, please leave a comment.

The story had to have been written before November 1846, where I found it online in a digitized issue of a Batavia, New York newspaper. [yes, after I had already transcribed it...]


A Down East Duel.
By G. W. Bradbury

In a small country town in the eastern section of the Union, there resided some years since, a pair of rare harum scarum fellows, who were the champions of their respective home factions in any and in every game that could be started from "pitching coppers" up to celebrating the Fourth of July.  If there was a game of ball, or a "squiril hunt", or a "turkey shooting", or a "wrestling match", or any other affair where strength, skill, or agility could be brought into requisition, they were sure to have a prominent part in it, and to be pitted against the other generally.  Things had passed on this way for many ears, and neither was acknowledged to be "the big dog of the tan yard".  Innumerable had been the trials of skill between them in almost every imaginable manner - sometimes one was victorious, sometimes the other.  However, the "honors" were just about "divided", for it was generally considered a settled point that while SANDY MAT, as he was called, could pitch quoits a little the best, was rather the superior of his antagonist at "arm's length" wrestling and could catch more and better trout than any one in the region.  JOHN SHORT was unquestionably ahead when it came to ball-playing, gunning, and running a foot race.

Thus stood matters when one annual "June training" day arrived.  The spirit of rivalry was running pretty high, and John Short commenced boasting of his success in a shooting excursion the day previous.  Sandy Mat was a little nettled by the indiscreet exultation of his rival, and at last exclaimed: "You are tarnally jawing about you great shooting, John, but darn my skin if I don't think I could give you a pretty fair chase myself."
'Oh, no doubt - you'd make a great show', replied John with a broad laugh.
'Brag is a mighty good dog, but Holdfast is better', said Sandy - 'perhaps you would'nt mind betting your double barrel agin mine, that you can take more game between sunrise and sunset to-morrow than I can."
'Perhaps I wouldn't - just try it"
'Wal, it's a bet then?'
'Just as you say.'
'I should like to put in a condition,' said John Short - 'that is, that we hunt together, and that we carry each other's game.'
'Hain't no objection on arth to that,' said the other - 'put it down in writing, so that there can be no mistake, nor chance to back out.'

This was all agreed to, the requisite writings were made, and due preparations for the next day's work completed.  At the first 'break of the morn', the two hunters, fully equipped for their labors, made their appearance at the appointed rendezvous, and after taking a social dram together, started off in fine spirits.  They had travelled about three miles without firing a shot, and were a considerable distance from any habitation, when they came across a fine calf, some three or four months old.  When within half a rod of this innocent wanderer, John Short raised his run to his shoulder, and before his companion could suspect or imagine his intention, discharged its contents into the head of the poor beast, its maternal ancestor probably not being aware that it was out; it gave one bleat, tumbled over, kicked away for an instant with its hind legs, in a peculiar and extremely significant manner, and meekly gave up the ghost.

'That's a d----d smart trick', exclaimed Sandy Mat.  'What on arth did you want to do that for?  Old Hutchinson will kick up all sorts of a fuss about it - he wouldn't have taken ten dollars cash for that calf.'
'Time enough to settle that when we get home', said John, very quietly loading the barrel which he had discharged.  'Bag that game and let's go on.'
'Bag what game?'
'The calf there.'
'You don't mean'-
'I don't mean any thing but the agreement, Sandy; just look at the paper, you'll find you are bound to carry home all I kill.'
'But it aint fair.'
'That's to be agreed on by others - but according to that paper, if you don't carry home all I kill, you lose the gun you know.'
'Wal, this is a great business - however you never shall have a chance to say that I give in - so here goes.'

So swinging the carcass across his shoulder, poor Sandy again started very demurely upon the excursion.  After trudging along for half a mile or so, John took off towards the edge of the woods, ostensibly for the purpose of looking for game, but really to lay down and take a hearty guffaw over the predicament of his worthy antagonist.  It was scarcely five minutes after he had left his companion, still intending to keep him in sight, when he heard the discharge of both barrels in quick succession, and his name called in rather triumphant tones.
'John! Ho, John!'
John quickly cleared the bit of knoll between him and Sandy, and found the latter reloading his gun, and surveying with a singular complacency, the body of an old gray horse, just in his last agonies.
'I've put an end to this old fellow's existence, John, much I guess to his satisfaction - just naturally took him on the wing, he must have been tired of life about a dozen years ago - pretty fair shooting, wasn't it?  Wal, he's done kicking,' said Sandy, again quietly shouldering the calf, 'pick up my game and let's go ahead.'
'You don't imagine that I'm going to undertake to carry that old horse, do ye?'
'Sartain - you'll find it all in the paper you've got - you carry my game, I carry yours.'
'Yes, but'-
'There's no but about this business, John Short; this calf was your game, and I've stuck to my part of the agreement - this horse is my game, and you have got to stick to your part of the agreement.'
'But I can't carry him.'
'But you MUST,' answered Sandy.
'O! look here', said John soothingly, 'let's quit and call even, and say nothing more about it.'
'If you don't shoulder that help of bones in double quick time', said Sandy, "I'll jest serve you as I served him - d'ye think I have to carry this carcass a mile for nothin'?'
'Oh, if you want to fight, let't have a fair fight, Sandy,' said John, doggedly.
'Certainly, if you say so, let's have a fair fight.  I never wanted any thing else with you - I'll fight a regular out and out duel, if you say so.'
'Enough said.'
'But there's no witnesses, 'spose I should hapen to kill you or you me - I guess we'd better have some writing about it.'
'Very well.'
So the two belligerents, surrounded by their 'game, sat down on the grass, and by the aid of a bit of red chalk, they drew up the following articles of regulation:
'This agreement made this 20th of June, between me, John Short, on one side, and me, Matthew Wilson, on the other side, is to be a witness: That we have agreed to fight a duel with shot guns at thirty steps apart, to throw the copper for the first shot, to fire both barrels close together, and if either one is hurt or killed, the one that is not hurt or killed is to be allowed to go free.
Witness our hand and seals - 
'Now throw up the copper, John, the best two in three; throw up high.'
Heads or tails?' asked John, casting the copper whirling in the air.
'Heads,' exclaimed Sandy, as the coin descended.
'Just look at that - that's tails.'
"Well, throw again, John.'
John threw again and won, and they each marched off fifteen paces and took their positions.
'Nw when I say take aim, John, you can raise your gun, and when I say one, two, three, you can just blaze away.'
'O hang it, Sandy, let's quit this; I'll pay for the calf and the horse, and give up the bet, too.'
"No sir-ee.  Don't be a coward; take aim - one, two, THREE, let 'er rip!"
Bringing his gun to his shoulder, Short discharged both barrels with quick aim, but as he brought the butt of his musket to the ground, he was astonished to see that his antagonist, evidently unharmed, was examining his percussion caps.
'It's your turn to give the word now, John,' said Sandy; 'perhaps I can make better shooting than yours.'
'Perhaps you can; but I'm d----d if I stay to see it.'
Suiting the action to the word, he dropped his gun and took to his heels.  Sandy Mat was for a half instant paralyzed by the operation, but he lustily started in pursuit.  Probably a prettier foot race was never seen, or will be seen again.  The fugitive, be it remembered, was the best runner, and moreover fear lent speed to his heels.  His pursuer, too carried 'extra weight' for he had no notion of leaving his gun behind.  John worked his way like a quarter horse, for he had a pretty good knowledge of the track.  For about a quarter of a mile he kept along the brow of a slight declivity, pasture, but finding that would bring him into some woods where there was a thick undergrowth, he struck down into a meadow where the grass was troublesome, and by this change his pursuer recovered several rods of the ground he had lost.  The same obstacle retarded the progress of the latter, however, and the gap between the combatants was again pretty smartly widened.  John had sense enough to see in time, that the course he was now following would bring him to a small stream which meandered through the bottom, and he changed his direction so as to 'make a landing' at a place used for fording, where the water was not over two feet in depth.  But any body who has ever tried the experiment of running in just about that depth of water, can probably remember that it is a job not altogether unattended with difficulties.  John bounded into the stream like a frightened deer, but at about the third jump, he exhibited one of the fine possible specimens of 'ground and lofty tumbling.  It was then that Sandy Mat called out, as at the distance of forty or fifty rods he came weaving through the long grass:
'I've got you now, you cowardly scoundrel!'
John was soon on his feet again, and managed without further disaster to make the opposite bank but not until the distance between him and his exasperated pursuer had been frightfully decreased.  Sandy Mat reached the brink of the brook just as his prey, some three or four rods ahead, placed his hands upon a board fence, in the act of springing over, when his course through a clear pasture would have soon placed him beyond pursuit.  Seeing it was his last chance, Sandy raised his gun, and with a sure and steady aim, fired both barrels just as a most prominent nether part of the person of John Short, offered a splendid mark, in the act of vaulting over the fence.
Like a log, John dropped the other side of the fence, with a howl which could have been heard for a mile.
How Sandy Mat 'made tracks' across the field and did not happen to be sen again down east - or how John Short happened to find his way home, are positions of this veritable history which ti is not necessary to inflict upon our patient readers.  The last that we ever saw of Sandy Mat, he was a fireman on the New Orleans and Nashville railroad, before that project was 'knocked into a cocked up hat' - while John Short has often been heard to declare, that although the business of paying for shooting horses and calves, was bad enough in all conscience, was 'fun alive' compared with the process of extracting fifty bird-shot from the fabled 'seat of honor'.
Cincinnati Sunday Times

Thanks for stopping by!

1 comment:

  1. I think kin of this man was at Comic-Con and his son is now writing in his place. Not sure but I read Ray Bradbury books for years.