October 30, 2011

Ten Paces From An Open Grave

From The Times of Richmond, Virginia on Friday, March 3, 1899:

A Tenderfoot Who Was Not Terrorized by a Border Ruffian. 
The Calmness of the Intended Victim Was Too Much for His Would Be Slayer, Who Apologized Most Abjectly. 

Captain Jacob Matthews died recently near Sidney, Neb.  He was a principal in one of the most singular, if bloodless duels ever fought in the West.  He emigrated from Pennsylvania early in the 60's, and settled at Omaha, where he began as a small merchant.  Of Quaker stock and peace-loving, he frequently declared he had fired a pistol only once in his life.  His title was entirely complimentary. 
The duel in which he engaged took place shortly after his arrival at Omaha City, when he aroused the animosity of Bull Tomey, a blackleg and an expert with the pistol.  Matthews refused to sell goods to Tomey on credit, whereupon the latter promptly challenged the young merchant to a duel.  As Tomey had participated in a dozen or more such affairs and had always come off victorious, great was the surprise and alarm of Matthews' friends when he promptly accepted the challenge. 
"I have never had a pistol in my hands in my life," said Matthews, "but I mean to meet him, though neither of us will be hit." 
The next day Matthews and Tomey met in a field south of the town.  The news of an impending duel had been well circulated and friends of both assembled, although the general conviction was that Matthews was as good as dead. 
To the amazement of the spectators, as well as Tomey and his second, when they reached the field they found a newly dug grave yawning for him who should fall in the duel.  Tomey made it the butt of his coarse wit. 
"That feller Matthews is a thoughtful one, he said to the crowd.  He comes out here to get me to pop him off and has his own grave ready, so we can hold the funeral without waste of time."
"On the contrary," answered Matthews, "I have that grave dug for you." 

 There was even greater cause for astonishment when Matthews' second--Williams--strode on the field.  He was known to be one of the most desperate men in Omaha.  His fame as a dead shot was as great as that of Tomey, while his daring and wickedness were held in far higher repute by the rough edement, of which he was a ruling spirit.  Some trifling kindness had won this desperado to Matthews, and he had sworn to see him through the fight and secure fair play, if he had to clean out a score of his own tribe. 
The duelists were to stand and fire at ten paces, and Williams, who immediately took charge of all arrangements without much deference to the wishes or views of his fellow second, so managed it that the grave came directly between them.  To this arrangement Tomey and his second strenuously objected, but Williams, with an ugly frown, overruled them, saying tersely that, as the challenged party, his principal had the right to select the ground, so long as no obstacles intervened.  The dirt from the grave had been removed to a distance, so there could be no complaint on that score.  Tomey and his second appealed to the crowd, but soon found themselves a helpless minority, for the predominating rough element were afraid of Williams, and so of course, sided with him.  The respectable spectators naturally agreed with any proposition made in the interest of Matthews, whether the benefit was apparent or not.  Finding it of no avail to protest further, Tomey's second placed his man on his side of the grave, and Williams did likewise with Matthews.  Then Williams stepped some paces to the right of his principal, and made a brief address. 
"You men are to have one shot apeice," he began, looking straight at Tomey, who stood at careless ease with a smile on his repulsive face.
"That's all I want," he retorted; "I don't believe in tear' 'im all to pieces." 
"All you want?" repeated Williams; "well see that you don't try to take more.  And another thing I want you to bear carefully in mind, Bull Tomey, that I'm standin' here with my gun in my good right hand, and if you fire before I give the word of command, why, I'll blow the heart out of you; and I reckon from what you know of me, you will believe I'm in earnest when I caution you." 
"Tomey scowled darkley, but made no answer.  Relations between the two men were strained, but Williams was much too strong in the esteem of the rough element for Tomey to declare for an open breach. 
"Don't worry about me shootin' ahead of time," he replied surlily, "but hurry up these proceedings.  I want to get back to down and take a drink with the boys to celebrate this funeral." 
"Very well, we're ready.  I will count one, two, three, and then you are both to blaze away at the word 'Fire!'" went on Williams, at the time leveling his pistol at Tomey's breast. 
"I'm going to keep you under cover," said he, as Tomey drew back with a start, "to make you sure you don't fire at my man till the proper time.  Your second may also cover my man, is he likes to make certain his gun don't go off too soon, and that will even up the covern' business all around." 
Tomey's second, not to be outdone by Williams, and acting on his advice, promptly drew a bead on Matthews, and thus the seconds stood.  The crowd began to insinuate that there were too many hifalutin novelties being introduced at that duel, but Williams silenced all dissension by the ferocity of his rebuking glance. 
"Now, then, ready!" he called, and the principals brought their weapons to bear upon each other. "One!" he continued, and paused abruptly.  Tomey aimed at his antagonist's head, holding his pistol motionless and true.  Matthews covered the entire anatomical range of the ruffian and fastened his eyes unflinchingly upon the [?] little [?, too faded to read]. 
One minute, two minutes, three minutes passed, but Williams, cooly disregarding the lapse of time, refrained from continuing the count.  Instead, he leisurely surveyed Tomey and kept his pistol barrel on a line with the latter's heart.  Matthews who was still covered by Tomey's second, remained serene and totally indifferent as to aim.  Tomey was beginning to show signs of nervousness and tension.  His pistol arm twitched perceptibly once or twice, and he shifted his aim from Matthews' head to his heart.  The spectators muttered impatiently at the delay, but William paid no heed.  He waited five minutes, then announced in sepulchral tones: 
Matthews now took careful aim, pointing his weapon directly at Tomey's brain.  Tomey was plainly ill at ease and eager to let fly at his opponent.  Once Matthews withdrew his glance from Tomey's eyes and allowed it to rest upon the yawning grave.  Unconsciously Tomey's glance followed suit; but the suggestions that grisly chasm inspired in his mind must have been unpleasant, for his pistol arm was observed to twitch again, and his aim became unsteady and fluctuating.  Matthews, however, brought his eyes to bear once more upon Tomey's.  But the latter found it difficult to return the piercing gaze.  Insead, he shifted his glance from the grave to Matthew's rigidly held pistol. 
The time dragged horribly, yet the relentless Williams remained silent.  The mutterings of the spectators gave place to a settled hush--deep, significant, awful.  Tomey's face grew pallid and began to work spasmodically.  Perspiration broke out on his brow and ran in tiny streams down his cheek.  He gulped several times like a famished creature. 
"Three!" roared Williams.  His principal extended his weapon half an inch forward and ran his eye along the barrel.  But Tomey was fairly palsied.  His eyes were staring and bloodshot; his pistol barrel was swinging from side to side like a pendulum run mad.  He was gasping and panting and frightened within an inch of his life.  The silence was maddening, yet Williams seemed in no hurry to break it with the fatal word. 
The terrible delay was too much for the cowardly ruffian, who suddenly gave a hoarse cry, fired his pistol wildly, an leaped into the grave.  Williams and the spectators made a dash for him.  The shot had passed harmlessly over Matthews' head, but the crowd was eager to avenge the treachery which had prompted it.  The grave was deep but they got the poltroon out, and by no gentle means either.  His second, in the meantime, under cover of the confusion, decamped. 
"Now, you miserable cur," said Williams, when Tomey had been set on his feet, still quivering and sick from terror, "you may take your choice--either Mr. Matthews here shall kilt you (as he has first call) or I shall do the job, as I promised you." 
Tomey begged hard for his life, but Williams was obdurate, and the crowd--even his former friends--were anxious to attend his funeral at once.  Matthews pleaded for him.  He said he was content to accept the cringing apology, which the coward poured out in a torrent, and let him go.  His entreaties finally gained the day, but not, however, until the spectators had ridden the disgraced duelist around on a rail and kicked him over a fence, with the injunction to vanish and never return on pain of death.

The Times of Richmond, Virginia on Mar 3, 1899

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...