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An Unaccustomed Place

(A fragment from an early draft of "Post Captain," found among the materials left at Trinity College. The first passage begins as Stephen practices in the dunes on the night before his expected duel with Jack. The material as it appears in the published version is shown in plain type, the original draft material later omitted is in Italics.)

'I have never known such consistently accurate weapons,' he said aloud. 'I wonder, can I still do Dillon's old trick? He took a coin from his pocket, tossed it high, and shot it fair and square on the top if its rise, between climbing and falling. 'Charming instruments indeed: true to their purpose and indifferent to their target.' He stooped and retrieved the coin and looked at it with an almost hostile indifference. 'Can I do the more difficult trick? Can I become a mere mechanical, and pierce Jack's heart as easily as this shilling?'

After a moment, Stephen laid the discharged pistol on his coat, hefted its mate and resumed his practice with renewed determination. Shot after deadly shot fired as the light faded; loading, aiming, firing, the sand spurting, the handkerchief fluttering with each impact, a mortal enemy shot through and through. At last

The sun had set; the light had so far diminished that the red tongue of flame lit up the hollow at each discharge; the handkerchief was long ago reduced to its component threads. Finally he sat, his ears ringing, a feeling of clarity and lightness about his being intensifying into a calm resolution - he would carry out the duel, but he would not shoot Jack. Not for any insult real or imagined, nor for Diana, nor for anything he could imagine would he harm Jack, not even at the cost of his own life.

And with this determination, Stephen felt free and at peace.

'Lord, I shall sleep tonight. Oh, what a prodigious dew.'

(This next fragment appears to be the original ending of Chapter Eleven, after Jack, badly wounded, is carried below into the sick bay of the Fanciulla.)

'Stephen.' Jack struggled to raise his head, but found he could not, and as he tried to focus his eyes, it seemed that he was looking into a great dark tunnel. 'Stephen, are ye there?' Jack's eyes closed then, and he thought he was dying. After a time, he heard Stephen's voice, as if from a great way off 'Jack, what are you on about now?'

'Stephen' Jack forced his eyes open but could scarcely focus in the dim light. 'I doubt that I shall make it. But I want you to know that I'm damned sorry that I acted so unmanly. . that I was such a scrub about Diana. I . . . my apologies. As you see, there will be no need to shoot me, for I'm already well served.'

'Hush, brother, and rest, and let's have no talk of dying' was the last he heard for a great while.

© 2000 Warren Godfrey