The Duel That Was Not Fought by Stephen Crane
Patsy Tulligan was not as wise as seven owls, but his courage could throw a shadow as long as the steeple of a cathedral. There were men on Cherry Street who had whipped him five times, but they all knew that Patsy would be as ready for the sixth time as if nothing had happened.
Once he and two friends had been away up on Eighth Avenue, far out of their country, and upon their return journey that evening they stopped frequently in saloons until they were as independent of their surroundings as eagles, and cared much less about thirty days on Blackwell’s.
On Lower Sixth Avenue they paused in a saloon where there was a good deal of lamp-glare and polished wood to be seen from the outside, and within, the mellow light shone on much furbished brass and more polished wood. It was a better saloon than they were in the habit of seeing, but they did not mind it. They sat down at one of the little tables that were in a row parallel to the bar and ordered beer. They blinked stolidly at the decorations, the bartender, and the other customers. When anything transpired they discussed it with dazzling frankness, and what they said of it was as free as air to the other people in the place.
At midnight there were few people in the saloon. Patsy and his friends still sat drinking. Two well-dressed men were at another table, smoking cigars slowly and swinging back in their chairs. They occupied themselves with themselves in the usual manner, never betraying by a wink of an eyelid that they knew that other folk existed. At another table directly behind Patsy and his companions was a slim little Cuban, with miraculously small feet and hands, and with a youthful touch of down upon his lip. As he lifted his cigarette from time to time his little finger was bended in dainty fashion, and there was a green flash when a huge emerald ring caught the light. The bartender came often with his little brass tray. Occasionally Patsy and his two friends quarrelled.
Once this little Cuban happened to make some slight noise and Patsy turned his head to observe him. Then Patsy made a careless and rather loud comment to his two friends. He used a word which is no more than passing the time of day down in Cherry Street, but to the Cuban it was a dagger-point. There was a harsh scraping sound as a chair was pushed swiftly back.
The little Cuban was upon his feet. His eyes were shining with a rage that flashed there like sparks as he glared at Patsy. His olive face had turned a shade of grey from his anger. Withal his chest was thrust out in portentous dignity, and his hand, still grasping his wine-glass, was cool and steady, the little finger still bended, the great emerald gleaming upon it. The others, motionless, stared at him.
“Sir,” he began ceremoniously. He spoke gravely and in a slow way, his tone coming in a marvel of self-possessed cadences from between those lips which quivered with wrath. “You have insult me. You are a dog, a hound, a cur. I spit upon you. I must have some of your blood.”
Patsy looked at him over his shoulder.
“What’s th’ matter wi’ che?” he demanded. He did not quite understand the words of this little man who glared at him steadily, but he knew that it was something about fighting. He snarled with the readiness of his class and heaved his shoulders contemptuously. “Ah, what’s eatin’ yeh? Take a walk! You hain’t got nothin’ t’ do with me, have yeh? Well, den, go sit on yerself.”
And his companions leaned back valorously in their chairs, and scrutinized this slim young fellow who was addressing Patsy.
“What’s de little Dago chewin’ about?”
“He wants t’ scrap!”
The Cuban listened with apparent composure. It was only when they laughed that his body cringed as if he was receiving lashes. Presently he put down his glass and walked over to their table. He proceeded always with the most impressive deliberation.
“Sir,” he began again. “You have insult me. I must have s-s-satisfac- shone. I must have your body upon the point of my sword. In my country you would already be dead. I must have s-s-satisfac-shone.”
Patsy had looked at the Cuban with a trifle of bewilderment. But at last his face began to grow dark with belligerency, his mouth curved in that wide sneer with which he would confront an angel of darkness. He arose suddenly in his seat and came towards the little Cuban. He was going to be impressive too.
“Say, young feller, if yeh go shootin’ off yer face at me, I’ll wipe d’ joint wid yeh. What’cher gaffin’ about, hey? Are yeh givin’ me er jolly? Say, if yeh pick me up fer a cinch, I’ll fool yeh. Dat’s what! Don’t take me fer no dead easy mug.” And as he glowered at the little Cuban, he ended his oration with one eloquent word, “Nit!”
The bartender nervously polished his bar with a towel, and kept his eyes fastened upon the men. Occasionally he became transfixed with interest, leaning forward with one hand upon the edge of the bar and the other holding the towel grabbed in a lump, as if he had been turned into bronze when in the very act of polishing.
The Cuban did not move when Patsy came toward him and delivered his oration. At its conclusion he turned his livid face toward where, above him, Patsy was swaggering and heaving his shoulders in a consummate display of bravery and readiness. The Cuban, in his clear, tense tones, spoke one word. It was the bitter insult. It seemed fairly to spin from his lips and crackle in the air like breaking glass.
Every man save the little Cuban made an electric movement. Patsy roared a black oath and thrust himself forward until he towered almost directly above the other man. His fists were doubled into knots of bone and hard flesh. The Cuban had raised a steady finger.
“If you touch me wis your hand, I will keel you.”
The two well-dressed men had come swiftly, uttering protesting cries. They suddenly intervened in this second of time in which Patsy had sprung forward and the Cuban had uttered his threat. The four men were now a tossing, arguing; violent group, one well-dressed man lecturing the Cuban, and the other holding off Patsy, who was now wild with rage, loudly repeating the Cuban’s threat, and maneuvering and struggling to get at him for revenge’s sake.
The bartender, feverishly scouring away with his towel, and at times pacing to and fro with nervous and excited tread, shouted out–
“Say, for heaven’s sake, don’t fight in here. If yeh wanta fight, go out in the street and fight all yeh please. But don’t fight in here.”
Patsy knew one only thing, and this he kept repeating:
“Well, he wants t’ scrap! I didn’t begin dis! He wants t’ scrap.”
The well-dressed man confronting him continually replied–
“Oh, well, now, look here, he’s only a lad. He don’t know what he’s doing. He’s crazy mad. You wouldn’t slug a kid like that.”
Patsy and his aroused companions, who cursed and growled, were persistent with their argument. “Well, he wants t’ scrap!” The whole affair was as plain as daylight when one saw this great fact. The interference and intolerable discussion brought the three of them forward, battleful and fierce.
“What’s eatin’ you, anyhow?” they demanded. “Dis ain’t your business, is it? What business you got shootin’ off your face?”
The other peacemaker was trying to restrain the little Cuban, who had grown shrill and violent.
“If he touch me wis his hand I will keel him. We must fight like gentlemen or else I keel him when he touch me wis his hand.”
The man who was fending off Patsy comprehended these sentences that were screamed behind his back, and he explained to Patsy.
“But he wants to fight you with swords. With swords, you know.”
The Cuban, dodging around the peacemakers, yelled in Patsy’s face–
“Ah, if I could get you before me wis my sword! Ah! Ah! A-a-ah!” Patsy made a furious blow with a swift fist, but the peacemakers bucked against his body suddenly like football players.
Patsy was greatly puzzled. He continued doggedly to try to get near enough to the Cuban to punch him. To these attempts the Cuban replied savagely–
“If you touch me wis your hand, I will cut your heart in two piece.”
At last Patsy said–“Well, if he’s so dead stuck on fightin’ wid swords, I’ll fight ‘im. Soitenly! I’ll fight ‘im.” All this palaver had evidently tired him, and he now puffed out his lips with the air of a man who is willing to submit to any conditions if he can only bring on the row soon enough. He swaggered, “I’ll fight ‘im wid swords. Let ‘im bring on his swords, an’ I’ll fight ‘im ’til he’s ready t’ quit.”
The two well-dressed men grinned. “Why, look here,” they said to Patsy, “he’d punch you full of holes. Why he’s a fencer. You can’t fight him with swords. He’d kill you in ’bout a minute.”
“Well, I’ll giv’ ‘im a go at it, anyhow,” said Patsy, stouthearted and resolute. “I’ll giv’ ‘im a go at it, anyhow, an’ I’ll stay wid ‘im as long as I kin.”
As for the Cuban, his lithe body was quivering in an ecstasy of the muscles. His face radiant with a savage joy, he fastened his glance upon Patsy, his eyes gleaming with a gloating, murderous light. A most unspeakable, animal-like rage was in his expression.
“Ah! ah! He will fight me! Ah!” He bended unconsciously in the posture of a fencer. He had all the quick, springy movements of a skilful swordsman. “Ah, the b-r-r-rute! The b-r-r-rute! I will stick him like a pig!”
The two peacemakers, still grinning broadly, were having a great time with Patsy.
“Why, you infernal idiot, this man would slice you all up. You better jump off the bridge if you want to commit suicide. You wouldn’t stand a ghost of a chance to live ten seconds.”
Patsy was as unshaken as granite. “Well, if he wants t’ fight wid swords, he’ll get it. I’ll giv’ ‘im a go at it, anyhow.”
One man said–“Well, have you got a sword? Do you know what a sword is? Have you got a sword?”
“No, I ain’t got none,” said Patsy honestly, “but I kin git one.” Then he added valiantly–“An’ quick, too.”
The two men laughed. “Why, can’t you understand it would be sure death to fight a sword duel with this fellow?”
“Dat’s all right! See? I know me own business. If he wants t’ fight one of dees d–n duels, I’m in it, understan'”
“Have you ever fought one, you fool?”
“No, I ain’t. But I will fight one, dough! I ain’t no muff. If he wants t’ fight a duel, by Gawd, I’m wid ‘im! D’yeh understan’ dat!” Patsy cocked his hat and swaggered. He was getting very serious.
The little Cuban burst out–“Ah, come on, sirs: come on! We can take cab. Ah, you big cow, I will stick you, I will stick you. Ah, you will look very beautiful, very beautiful. Ah, come on, sirs. We will stop at hotel–my hotel. I there have weapons.”
“Yeh will, will yeh? Yeh bloomin’ little black Dago!” cried Patsy in hoarse and maddened reply to the personal part of the Cuban’s speech. He stepped forward. “Git yer d–n swords,” he commanded. “Git yer swords. Git ’em quick! I’ll fight wi’ che! I’ll fight wid anyt’ing, too! See? I’ll fight yeh wid a knife an’ fork if yeh say so! I’ll fight yer standin’ up er sittin’ down!” Patsy delivered this intense oration with sweeping, intensely emphatic gestures, his hands stretched out eloquently, his jaw thrust forward, his eyes glaring.
“Ah!” cried the little Cuban joyously. “Ah, you are in very pretty temper. Ah, how I will cut your heart in two piece, my dear, d-e-a-r friend.” His eyes, too, shone like carbuncles, with a swift, changing glitter, always fastened upon Patsy’s face.
The two peacemakers were perspiring and in despair. One of them blurted out–
“Well, I’ll be blamed if this ain’t the most ridiculous thing I ever saw.”
The other said–“For ten dollars I’d be tempted to let these two infernal blockheads have their duel.”
Patsy was strutting to and fro, and conferring grandly with his friends.
“He took me for a muff. He t’ought he was goin’ t’ bluff me out, talkin’ ’bout swords. He’ll get fooled.” He addressed the Cuban–“You’re a fine little dirty picter of a scrapper, ain’t che? I’ll chew yez up, dat’s what I will!”
There began then some rapid action. The patience of well-dressed men is not an eternal thing. It began to look as if it would at last be a fight with six corners to it. The faces of the men were shining red with anger. They jostled each other defiantly, and almost every one blazed out at three or four of the others. The bartender had given up protesting. He swore for a time and banged his glasses. Then he jumped the bar and ran out of the saloon, cursing sullenly.
When he came back with a policeman, Patsy and the Cuban were preparing to depart together. Patsy was delivering his last oration–
“I’ll fight yer wid swords! Sure I will! Come ahead, Dago! I’ll fight yeh anywheres wid anyt’ing! We’ll have a large, juicy scrap, an’ don’t yeh forgit dat! I’m right wid yez. I ain’t no muff! I scrap with a man jest as soon as he ses scrap, an’ if yeh wanta scrap, I’m yer kitten. Understan’ dat?”
The policeman said sharply–“Come, now; what’s all this?” He had a distinctly business air.
The little Cuban stepped forward calmly. “It is none of your business.”
The policeman flushed to his ears. “What?”
One well-dressed man touched the other on the sleeve. “Here’s the time to skip,” he whispered. They halted a block away from the saloon and watched the policeman pull the Cuban through the door. There was a minute of scuffle on the sidewalk, and into this deserted street at midnight fifty people appeared at once as if from the sky to watch it.
At last the three Cherry Hill men came from the saloon, and swaggered with all their old valor toward the peacemakers.
“Ah,” said Patsy to them, “he was so hot talkin’ about this duel business, but I would a-given ‘im a great scrap, an’ don’t yeh forgit it.”
For Patsy was not as wise as seven owls, but his courage could throw a shadow as long as the steeple of a cathedral.