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- Mr. Midshipman Easy - 30/78 -
would argue in this instance: had he believed all the confused assertions of the gunner, he would have been as puzzled as the gunner himself. They never met without an argument and a reference, and as Jack was put right in the end, he only learnt the faster. By the time that he did know something about navigation, he discovered that his antagonist knew nothing. Before they arrived at Malta, Jack could fudge a day's work.
But at Malta Jack got into another scrape. Although Mr Smallsole could not injure him, he was still Jack's enemy; the more so as Jack had become very popular: Vigors also submitted, planning revenge; but the parties in this instance were the boatswain and purser's steward. Jack still continued his forecastle conversations with Mesty: and the boatswain and purser's steward, probably from their respective ill-will towards our hero, had become great allies. Mr Easthupp now put on his best jacket to walk the dog-watches with Mr Biggs, and they took every opportunity to talk at our hero.
"It's my peculiar hopinion," said Mr Easthupp, one evening, pulling at the frill of his shirt, "that a gentleman should behave as a gentleman, and that if a gentleman professes opinions of inequality and such liberal sentiments, that he is bound as a gentleman to hact up to them."
"Very true, Mr Easthupp; he is bound to act up to them; and not because a person, who was a gentleman as well as himself, happens not to be on the quarter-deck, to insult him because he only has perfessed opinions like his own."
Hereupon Mr Biggs struck his rattan against the funnel, and looked at our hero.
"Yes," continued the purser's steward, "I should like to see the fellow who would have done so on shore; however, the time will come when I can hagain pull on my plain coat, and then the insult shall be vashed out in blood, Mr Biggs."
"And I'll be cursed if I don't some day teach a lesson to the black-guard who stole my trousers."
"Vas hall your money right, Mr Biggs?" inquired the purser's steward.
"I didn't count," replied the boatswain magnificently. "No--gentlemen are habove that," replied Easthupp; "but there are many light-fingered gentry about. The quantity of vatches and harticles of value vich were lost ven I valked Bond Street in former times is incredible."
"I can say this, at all events," replied the boatswain, "that I should be always ready to give satisfaction to any person beneath me in rank, after I had insulted him. I don't stand upon my rank, although I don't talk about equality, damme--no, nor consort with niggers."
All this was too plain for our hero not to understand, so Jack walked up to the boatswain, and taking his hat off, with the utmost politeness, said to him--
"If I mistake not, Mr Biggs, your conversation refers to me."
"Very likely it does," replied the boatswain. "Listeners hear no good of themselves."
"It appears that gentlemen can't converse without being vatched," continued Mr Easthupp, pulling up his shirt collar.
"It is not the first time that you have thought proper to make very offensive remarks, Mr Biggs; and as you appear to consider yourself ill-treated in the affair of the trousers--for I tell you at once that it was I who brought them on board--I can only say," continued our hero, with a very polite bow, "that I shall be most happy to give you satisfaction."
"I am your superior officer, Mr Easy," replied the boatswain. "Yes, by the rules of the service; but you just now asserted that you would waive your rank--indeed, I dispute it on this occasion; I am on the quarter-deck, and you are not."
"This is the gentleman whom you have insulted, Mr Easy," replied the boatswain, pointing to the purser's steward.
"Yes, Mr Heasy, quite as good a gentleman as yourself although I av ad misfortunes--I ham of as old a family as hany in the country," replied Mr Easthupp, now backed by the boatswain; "many the year did I valk Bond Street, and I ave as good blood in my weins as you, Mr Heasy, halthough I have been misfortunate--I've had Admirals in my family."
"You have grossly insulted this gentleman," said Mr Biggs, in continuation; "and notwithstanding all your talk of equality, you are afraid to give him satisfaction--you shelter yourself under your quarter-deck."
"Mr Biggs," replied our hero, who was now very wroth, "I shall go on shore directly we arrive at Malta. Let you and this fellow put on plain clothes, and I will meet you both--and then I'll show you whether I am afraid to give satisfaction."
"One at a time," said the boatswain. "No, sir, not one at a time, but both at the same time--I will fight both, or none. If you are my superior officer, you must descend," replied Jack, with an ironical sneer, "to meet me, or I will not descend to meet that fellow, whom I believe to have been little better than a pickpocket."
This accidental hit of Jack's made the purser's steward turn pale as a sheet, and then equally red. He raved and foamed amazingly, although he could not meet Jack's indignant look, who then turned round again.
"Now, Mr Biggs, is this to be understood, or do you shelter yourself under your forecastle?"
"I'm no dodger," replied the boatswain, "and we will settle the affair at Malta." At which reply Jack returned to Mesty.
"Massa Easy, I look at um face, dat fellow Eastop, he no like it. I go shore wid you, see fair play, anyhow--suppose I can?"
Mr Biggs having declared that he would fight, of course had to look out for a second, and he fixed upon Mr Tallboys, the gunner, and requested him to be his friend. Mr Tallboys, who had been latterly very much annoyed by Jack's victories over him in the science of navigation, and therefore felt ill-will towards him, consented; but he was very much puzzled how to arrange that three were to fight at the same time, for he had no idea of there being two duels; so he went to his cabin and commenced reading. Jack, on the other hand, dared not say a word to Jolliffe on the subject; indeed there was no one in the ship to whom he could confide but Gascoigne: he therefore went to him, and although Gascoigne thought it was excessively 'infra dig' of Jack to meet even the boatswain, as the challenge had been given there was no retracting: he therefore consented, like all midshipmen, anticipating fun, and quite thoughtless of the consequences.
The second day after they had been anchored in Valette Harbour, the boatswain and gunner, Jack and Gascoigne, obtained permission to go on shore. Mr Easthupp, the purser's steward, dressed in his best blue coat, with brass buttons and velvet collar, the very one in which he had been taken up when he had been vowing and protesting that he was a gentleman, at the very time that his hand was abstracting a pocket-book, went up on the quarter-deck, and requested the same indulgence, but Mr Sawbridge refused, as he required him to return staves and hoops at the cooperage. Mesty also, much to his mortification, was not to be spared. This was awkward, but it was got over by proposing that the meeting should take place behind the cooperage at a certain hour, on which Mr Easthupp might slip out, and borrow a portion of the time appropriated to his duty, to heal the breach in his wounded honour. So the parties all went on shore, and put up at one of the small inns to make the necessary arrangements.
Mr Tallboys then addressed Mr Gascoigne, taking him apart while the boatswain amused himself with a glass of grog, and our hero sat outside teasing a monkey.
"Mr Gascoigne," said the gunner, "I have been very much puzzled how this duel should be fought, but I have at last found it out. You see that there are three parties to fight; had there been two or four there would have been no difficulty, as the right line or square might guide us in that instance; but we must arrange it upon the triangle in this."
Gascoigne stared; he could not imagine what was coming.
"Are you aware, Mr Gascoigne, of the properties of an equilateral triangle?"
"Yes," replied the midshipman, "that it has three equal sides--but what the devil has that to do with the duel?"
"Everything, Mr Gascoigne," replied the gunner; "it has resolved the great difficulty: indeed, the duel between three can only be fought upon that principle. You observe," said the gunner, taking a piece of chalk out of his pocket, and making a triangle on the table, "in this figure we have three points, each equidistant from each other: and we have three combatants--so that, placing one at each point, it is all fair play for the three: Mr Easy, for instance, stands here, the boatswain here, and the purser's steward at the third corner. Now, if the distance is fairly measured, it will be all right."
"But then," replied Gascoigne, delighted at the idea; "how are they to fire?" "It certainly is not of much consequence," replied the gunner, "but still, as sailors, it appears to me that they should fire with the sun; that is, Mr Easy fires at Mr Biggs, Mr Biggs fires at Mr Easthupp, and Mr Easthupp fires at Mr Easy; so that you perceive that each party has his shot at one, and at the same time receives the fire of another."
Gascoigne was in ecstasies at the novelty of the proceeding, the more so as he perceived that Easy obtained every advantage by the arrangement.
"Upon my word, Mr Tallboys, I give you great credit; you have a profound mathematical head, and I am delighted with your arrangement. Of course, in these affairs, the principals are bound to comply with the arrangements of the seconds, and I shall insist upon Mr Easy consenting to your excellent and scientific proposal."
Gascoigne went out, and pulling Jack away from the monkey, told him what the gunner had proposed, at which Jack laughed heartily.
The gunner also explained it to the boatswain, who did not very well comprehend, but replied--
"I dare say it's all right--shot for shot, and d--n all favours." The
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