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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

Military Punctilio

By John Howard Payne (1791–1852)

[From “The Lancers: An Interlude.” 1827?.]

SCENE.—A Drawing-Room.

CRUSTY, BELTON, LENOX, and PETER discovered.

CRUSTY.And now, gentlemen, as we’re beginning a new arrangement, we’ll settle the former one at once, if you please.[Feeling in his pocket.]I have supplied you with everything for the last fortnight; and, as I have a little bill to make up, should be very glad of your assistance.[Hands the bill.]

BEL.Upon my word, sir, you are too complimentary. In making up a bill, I know of no gentleman who stands so little in need of assistance as yourself.[Going to take the bill.]

LEN.Stop, Belton![Making a sign to him.]Allow me—it does not concern you—

BEL.How so?

LEN.You know ’tis my turn to pay, this month.

BEL.Not it; you paid last.

LEN.[To Crusty.]Don’t mind a word he says.

CRU.Oh! ’tis all one to me which pays.

BEL.[Twirling him to his side.]But not to me, Mr. Crusty.

LEN.[Twirling him to his own side.]Mr. Crusty, if you take his money, we shall quarrel.

CRU.I consent to take yours.

BEL.[Pulling him by the arm.]I insist on it, you shall not.

LEN.[Turning him.]I insist on it, you shall.

CRU.And I insist on having my money from one or the other.

LEN.[Stiffly.]Mr. Belton, I forbid you to pay that bill.

BEL.[In the same tone.]Mr. Lenox, I forbid you to pay that bill.

CRU.The devil you do! Where’s my money to come from, then?

LEN.This is my tenth quarrel with him on the same point. He never has his hand out of his pocket.

CRU.Pray, then, let him take it out for me.

BEL.Do you think I’ll suffer you to be always saddling yourself with my expenses?

CRU.Come, now, submit this time. See how it annoys him to be prevented.

LEN.This is beyond endurance!

BEL.Really, I could not have expected any man in his senses to be so absurd.

LEN.Absurd! I beg, sir, you will be less unguarded in your expressions!—Absurd!

CRU.Gentlemen, gentlemen, pray don’t quarrel—

LEN.It would seem, indeed, as if I could not pay my own debts, but must look to him for the means! Your presumption can be compared—to nothing—sir—

BEL.But your vaingloriousness!

CRU.Come, come, make an end of this.

LEN.Yes, Mr. Crusty, it shall have an end.[With great earnestness.]Peter, break the buttons off those foils.

BEL.Ay, Peter, leave the points sharp enough.

CRU.[Terrified.]Gentlemen, surely you will not attempt—

LEN.Attempt? Sir, we will do.

PET.[Aside.]They’ll do the landlord, at any rate.

BEL.Oh, don’t be alarmed, sir, ’twill be over in a minute.

LEN.And the survivor will pay your bill.

CRU.The survivor! Dear gentlemen—good gentlemen—if you insist on killing one another, for mercy’s sake, go somewhere else. ’Twill be very inconvenient to have you die here! Wouldn’t it be better to make a drawn battle of it, and each pay half?

LEN.All or nothing. We have gone too far for a compromise. Stand back! give us room!

BEL.[To Crusty.]Farther off. That’s no place for a second.

PET.[Places a chair.]There, sir, there’s a chair with its arms outspreading to receive you.

CRU.No, no—I’ll not quit your side—I’ll part you, and be paid—

LEN.I defy you!

BEL.Out of the way, or take the consequences.

CRU.Pray, gentlemen, think of my character—think of my carpet.

LEN.[Assuming great coolness and decision.]Mr. Crusty, be calm. I have been insulted—but, though I know what is due to honor, I know too well what is due to you—

CRU.Ay, now you talk sensibly.[Holding out his hand.]

LEN.And I therefore choose the only consistent course remaining.

Crosses to table, gravely takes up BELTON’S coat and puts it on.
BEL.[Aside to him.]Hang it, what are you about? Don’t take my coat.

LEN.[Aside to Belton.]Don’t be a fool. Don’t let him know we’ve only one coat between us.[Aloud.]And now, Mr. Belton, feeling, as I do—as I do, what honor exacts, I rely on your remembering it elsewhere, sir.[Takes Belton’s sword and hat.]

BEL.[Aside.]My hat and sword, too! Confusion!

LEN.[To Crusty.]And you, most respectable of your race, no language can express the extent of my esteem for you; but if you dare to take his money, sir, be certain not even that esteem shall prevent my cropping both your ears.

Exit, slamming door after him.
BEL.And let me warn you, sir, if you dare suffer him to pay—my sword shall let the daylight through your body.

Dashes into his chamber, and, slamming the door, locks it after him.
CRU.Mad! both mad! What shall I do? Perhaps I shall be able to manage him better by myself.—Sir!—Sir!—[Knocks at door.]

PET.[Aside.]If I stop he may turn upon me.

CRU.Was ever a landlord the victim of such extraordinary punctiliousness?