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The Predator, the Prey, and the Protector (8th Installment)

March 01, 2018 01:53AM

Very early on the morning of his appointment with Rockwell, O’Brian went to the only Catholic church in the area (though, strictly speaking, it wasn’t quite legal to refer to it as a church, since it was a “non-conformist” place of worship, and therefore was entitled only to the appellation “chapel”), arriving about a half-hour before the daily Mass at dawn. He knocked on the door of the priest’s residence.

The door opened, and a young man in clerical garb stood at the doorway.

“Father,” said O'Brian, “I know you’re getting ready for the Mass. Do you have time for a short confession?”

“Certainly,” said the priest. “Please come in.”


They were seated across from each other in the parlor. Since O’Brian had already introduced himself, the use of confessionals seemed pointless. After saying the traditional “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned . . . ,” introduction, O’Brian explained that he was meeting someone who had challenged him to a duel. While he had refused the challenge, he was, nevertheless, agreeing to meet him, and, thus, putting himself in harm’s way for no real purpose.

“You do know,” said the young priest, “that, in a just war, the Church would approve of an agreement by both sides to single combat?”

“Would do you mean?” asked O’Brian.

“The two opposing factions would agree to settle a battle on the basis of single combat between two individuals, like David and Goliath in the Bible. Of course, this is no longer done in modern warfare, but it could be done, and it would not fall under the Church prohibition regarding dueling over a personal grudge. It would be regarded as legitimate military combat.”

“How does that apply here?”

“You are not meeting him to settle a personal grievance with deadly force, whatever his reasons are. You are meeting him in order to fulfill a duty to your country. You are, at least technically, both a soldier and a diplomat. You have an obligation to defend your nation’s interests. Applying Aquinas’s two-fold effect principle, I would say you are making the best decision you can under the circumstances.”

“How d’you figure?”

“Meeting someone, against whom you have no violent intentions, is not evil in itself. You don’t intend to allow yourself to be killed. You do intend to look out for the interests of your country. And, if he attacks, you do not intend to simply submit to the attack, but to defend yourself if, and only if, the Marquess makes it necessary. Throughout, it is the good effect, the defense of your country’s interests, and of your own life, and not the bad, the death of your attacker, that you are attempting to bring about.”

“Well, I guess I wasn’t applying the double effect correctly.”

“Understand, some of the other things you’ve confessed, like losing your temper and intending to seriously injure the marquess when he was subdued, were indeed sinful, though I understand the provocation was extreme. I, myself, would have been moved to violence at seeing a woman in a family way so viciously attacked. But you went a step or two past what was justified.”

“I agree. That’s why I confessed it.”

“Good. Make an Act of Contrition. Your penance will be to say a Rosary in the Presence of the Blessed Sacrament.”

With that, the young priest recited the words of Absolution while O’Brian recited the Act of Contrition, and the sacrament was completed.

As they stood up, Mike reached into his pocket.

“You have some families in the parish depending on you for help, I imagine, and any church is always in need of repairs. Will five pounds help?”

“Very much.”

O’Brian handed the priest five gold sovereigns.

“In exchange, Father, I’m going to request that you come out to this so-called ‘Field of Honor’ with me after you’ve said Mass. If the worst happens, I’ll need you there to give me Extreme Unction. If not, I’ll want you there to be an impartial witness to the events. Can you do that?”

“Of course.”

"And if the worst does happen . . . ”


“That lady I mentioned. Mrs. Bingley? Look her up and tell her what you told me about the double effect. I’m not sure whether or not the Church of England sets a lot of store by Thomas Aquinas, but he is pre-Reformation. And tell her I got all the final sacraments.”

“I promise I will do that, Mr. O’Brian.”


Peter Rockwell, by courtesy the Marquess of Sholto, eldest (and only) son of the Seventh Duke of Lessfordshire, had not expected to find a crowd when he arrived, with his designated “second,” Stickney, at the place designated as the “Field of Honor,” where his grievances with O’Brian would be settled. But a crowd, a comparative crowd at least, was just what he found.

Earl Fitzwilliam was there, along with his nephew, Darcy, whom Sholto understood was a magistrate in his home county. The earl’s son, General Fitzwilliam was also there, and his associate from the wooden world, Commodore Wentworth, as well as Grant, that Bow Street Runner O’Brian apparently worked with, and two other men in military garb. Two other guests of the Earl who were magistrates in their own boroughs. One of the local magistrates for the West Riding of Yorkshire was there. A clergyman was also present. And three men whose presence Rockwell couldn’t account for at all.

“What are all these men doing here?” he demanded of the referee.

The earl stepped forward, and provided the answer, “Most of us are here merely to bear witness if you succeed in killing Mr. O’Brian. That several of us are magistrates, one from this very county, will lend credence to our accounts of the events. Mr. Howard here is a curate at one of the parishes under my patronage. He is here to give you the Final Sacraments should you require them. I understand Mr. O’Brian is making his own arrangements in that regard. The two men in uniform standing with my son and Commodore Wentworth are military physicians trained in treating battle injuries. It is uncommon for physicians to also act as surgeons, but I think it will become less uncommon in the future. Those three,” indicating the men who presence had puzzled Rockwell the most, “are journalists from the three most popular and influential London papers, the Times, the Morning Chronicle, and the Morning Herald. Their eyewitness reports will become the definitive public accounts of this morning’s events.”

“But duels are supposed to be private!”

“This, as you have apparently forgotten, is not to be a duel. Mr. O’Brian, on conscientious grounds, has refused to fight a duel. Whatever happens here today, the facts will come out almost immediately, forestalling speculation and rumor.”

At that moment, O’Brian and another man in clerical garb arrived. The Earl walked over and greeted the priest.

“How are you, Father Chisholm?” he said, offering his hand

“In fine fettle, Your Lordship,” said the priest, taking it. “And most grateful for the donation you made to our school.”

“What’s he doing here?” said Rockwell, his distaste for even being in the presence of Catholic clergy evident in his voice.

“Same reason you’ve got one from your team here,” answered O’Brian. “I’ve already confessed, and received Communion. If you manage to carry out your threat, Father Chisholm’s going to see I get the third part of the Last Rites. And both of ‘em’ll be witnesses to what happens here this morning, should that become necessary.”

Rockwell grimaced. This was not turning out the way he thought it would. An army of witnesses, including magistrates and clergymen and newspapermen. But the die had been cast, and he now had no choice but to play the game out.

“Would you care to inspect the weapons, sir,” said the referee.

O’Brian pulled back his coat, displaying the matched set of Magnums under either arm.

“Brought my own, thanks,” he said.

“But, sir, the custom is for both parties to use identical weapons.”

“What are you doing here, anyway?” asked O’Brian.

“I am here to see to it that the rules of the Code Duello are adhered to.”

“I see. Well, since there’s not going to be a duel, you’re not going to be needed. If you’d like you can go over with the others and be an honest witness. Otherwise you’re free to leave, as far as I’m concerned.”

“Sir, I must protest . . . ”

“Go right ahead and protest. But wait until the festivities are over. In the meantime, either leave, or go wait with the others. If the Marquess there wants to use one of those pistols on me, he’s free to do so, if he’s willing to pay the consequences. And if he succeeds in killing me, there will be consequences. If he decides to let me walk away without trying to kill me, which is what I’m personally hoping for, then we can all go on to a long and happy life. If he tries to kill me with one of those pistols, and fails, then the consequences will be immediate.”

He turned to Mr. Darcy and said. “Did you bring those items I asked for, sir?”

“I did.”

“Then let’s get started. I want the Marquess here to understand just what the consequences will be if he tries and fails.”

Darcy walked toward a tree some thirty yards distant, pulled four playing cards from a coat pocket, and pinned them to the tree.

“Those are the Aces of Hearts, Clubs, Diamonds, and Spades from a standard deck of two and fifty playing cards, what y’all call a ‘French deck’ over here. I’m going to turn my back away from that tree, and, after Mr. Darcy gets out of my line of sight, and signals to me to fire, I’m going to turn, draw, fire, and hit each card dead center.”

Darcy stepped well away from the tree and, when he reckoned himself safe from a badly aimed shot, shouted, “Now!”

O’Brian spun, drew his revolvers, and fired four shots, two from each weapon, so swiftly that the four reports sounded like one. He reholstered the Magnums, while Darcy went over to inspect the cards.

“One round each in the heart, the club, the diamond, and the spade,” he shouted back to the crowd. He detached the four cards, brought them back and invited anyone interested to inspect the targets. All who did marveled at the American’s marksmanship.

“Course, those were stationary targets. Moving targets are another matter.”

He turned, this time to the two high-ranking military figures and said, “General, Commodore, if you brought those items, y’can help demonstrate the difficulty in hitting moving targets.”

The two officers stepped out into the open field, and each put both hands into a pocket, and pulled out a pair of billiard balls, two for each hand, for a total of eight.

O’Brian turned his back on them, and said, “Call out when you’ve tossed ‘em into the air.”

Fitzwilliam and Wentworth each threw the four pairs of billiard balls high into the air. Wentworth called out, “Now!”

O’Brian spun, drew his weapons, and fired eight times. Seven of the balls disintegrated into splinters, the eighth seemed to escape damage, but, when examined, was found to have been nicked by one of the rounds prior to landing.

“Can’t win ‘em all,” said O’Brian. “But, I’ll tell you what. Shooting at live targets who are shooting back is a whole lot different from shooting at billiard balls. See, shooting at a man who’s facing you, with a weapon in his hand, knowing that your life depends on that shot, well, that just flat-out rattles some folks, no matter how fast or accurate they are.”

He reloaded both Magnums, and replaced them both in their holsters. “But, as some of you know, and as Jack Grant there can attest, I’ve survived situations like that. As a law officer. As a soldier. I’m still here. Most of those who stood against me aren’t. And those that are have a scar from where my ball entered, and the reason they’re still alive is that they decided to give up instead of forcing me to kill ‘em.”

He walked over to Rockwell, stared at him for a few seconds until the latter, intimidated, turned away.

“You don’t scare me, Sholto,” he said. “You’re hell on pregnant women, and downstairs maids who are too small and weak to fight back. But I’m betting you haven’t got the, what do you British call it? Haven’t got the pluck to take on a man. Not even when his back’s turned. Not even when he’s walking away from you, not toward you. Not even when he’s got nothing but empty hands. But if you try, and you’re successful, there will, as I said, be consequences.”

He turned to the crowd again. “Any of you fellas that work as a magistrate, what’s the penalty for murder, when there’s no extenuation, and the victim has specifically refused to meet in a duel?”

“Death by hanging,” said Darcy.

“Preposterous,” said Rockwell

“Not at all,” said Darcy. “If you shoot and kill a man, who poses no immediate deadly threat to you, and who has specifically refused to fight a duel, you will certainly be charged with murder.”

“So,” said O’Brian, leaning closely to Rockwell, and speaking quietly, yet loudly enough to be heard by all the others, “I guess it comes down to one, single question. How badly do you want me dead?”

With that O’Brian turned his back on Rockwell.

“I’m leaving now,” he said. Holding his arms from his side as he walked away, he spread his fingers out. “All here can bear witness to the fact that, though I am carrying arms, my back is turned, and my hands are empty.”

Rockwell was furious. Here was this bog-trotting, Papist upstart walking away like a coward, yet he had contrived things to make himself look like the hero. This would not stand! Perhaps he would be charged if he shot down the part-Indian savage. But he was sure he would never be convicted. He picked up one of the pistols set on the table for examination, cocked back the hammer, and took aim.

“Gun!” yelled Jack Grant, but by then Rockwell had already squeezed the trigger.

The ball smacked into O’Brian’s back, knocking him forward a few steps, but against all odds, not felling him. He turned, one of the Magnums already held in his right hand, and aimed at Rockwell while he reached for his back with his left. When he found what he was looking for he grabbed hold and held it up for all to see. It was a pistol ball that had lodged between his coat and his waistcoat.

“Looks like whoever loaded that pistol for you didn’t use quite enough powder. That’s why I only trust my own weapons when my life’s on the line.”

“I suppose now you’ll shoot me down,” said Rockwell, “since I’ve had my shot.”

“How can I shoot you down, sport? That pistol’s only got one shot. It’s empty now. My life’s no longer in danger. I’m not justified in shooting you. I’m just going to put you under arrest for attempted murder.”

“Go ahead,” said the defiant Rockwell. “The House of Lords would never convict me for trying to shoot down a jumped-up Yankee brisket-beater.”

“House of Lords?” said Earl Fitzwilliam, chuckling. “What on earth has the House of Lords to do with it?”

“I am the Marquess of Sholto,” said Rockwell.

“Your father, the Duke of Lessfordshire, is the Marquess of Sholto,” said the Earl. “You are, as a courtesy only, allowed to use one of his subordinate titles, but you aren’t a lord yourself until, if, and when you succeed your father upon his death. To that point, if you are accused of a crime, you are judged by twelve good men and true, like any other English commoner.”

“Moreover,” said his nephew, “if convicted, the guilty verdict will carry with it the additional penalty of attainder, making it impossible for you to inherit anything from anyone, let alone the title from your father. It is, in fact, quite likely that the title would be eliminated due to the ‘corruption of blood’ displayed by the violent crime. The title of Duke of Lessfordshire, and all subordinate titles, would simply cease to exist as part of the British Peerage.”

No!” screamed Rockwell. He threw away the now-useless pistol and picked up the other from the table, As he put his forefinger on the trigger and started to cock back the hammer with his thumb, O’Brian fired his revolver.

The round smacked into Rockwell’s nether regions, causing copious bleeding, and pain of a level and intensity he had never even imagined before. He fell to his knees.

“Well, what do you know?” said O’Brian. “I missed. Like I said, it sometimes happens when what you’re shooting at is a man trying to kill you. Looks like you lucked out, Sholto. I was aiming for your head. You still have a chance to get out of this alive. Course you won’t be able to rape any more servant girls that catch your fancy, and you might have to switch to the soprano section, if you’re in your church choir. But you’ll still be alive. All you have to do is put down that pistol and let those two doctors have a look at you.”

Focusing all his strength and will on killing the man he had come to hate above all others, he placed his left hand on the hammer of the flintlock and tried to cock it back by bracing the pistol on the ground, and using his weight to lock back the hammer.

“Don’t try it, Marquess. I missed the first time, but I’ve got dead aim now. Raise that pistol against me, and I’ll put the next one between your eyes. You’ll be shaking hands with Lucifer before you can squeeze off the shot. Be sensible. Put the gun down, let those docs have a look at you, and let that curate pray over you in case there’s nothing the docs can do.”

The hammer finally locked back. Rockwell started to raise the pistol, using both hands to steady it. O’Brian fired his revolver once. The round entered a little toward the right of Rockwell’s nose. The Marquess of Sholto swayed back as the round entered, then fell forward, dead.

O’Brian shook his head, took a deep breath, exhaled, and holstered his weapon.


Later that evening, in the spacious room they were sharing at Wentworth Woodhouse, Grant said to O’Brian, “‘Ardly fair, was it? 'Avin a Regency-era waistcoat lined with Kevlar.”

“He could’ve shot me in the head,” said O’Brian. “And in a deadly force situation, ‘fair’ has nothing to do with it. You attack a cop, he uses whatever he has at hand to survive. You use a knife. The cop uses a gun. You use a pistol, the cop uses a shotgun. You shoot him in the chest, or in this case the back, and the cop turns out to be wearing a vest, he cuts you down as quick as he can before you decide you better make your next round a head shot. All you have to do to avoid all that is give up quietly. Rockwell didn’t even have to do that. All he had to do is let me walk away.”

“So you don’t feel the least bit guilty, eh?”

“Didn’t say that. But I sure don’t feel guilty for wearing a Kevlar vest.”

“So what do you feel guilty about?”

O’Brian paused a second, before answering, then said, “I didn’t really miss that first shot.”

“Never thought you did, mate.”

“On top of that I had a Glaser round set to come up under the hammer. If he decided to do a Cody Jarrett, I was going to make him hurt for all those women he abused.”

“Frangible round, eh! That must’ve been painful. Makes me ‘urt just to think about it! That what you were talking about when you and the priest went off by yourselves, afterwards, then.”

“Yeah. First time I ever went to confession twice in the same day.”

“Well, Sholto made ‘is own decisions. You gave ‘im a lot more chances’n ‘e ‘ad coming, mate. And, if you’re right about the ‘ereafter, whatever pain you put ‘im through with that Glaser slug’s probably nothing to what ‘e’s suffering now. Me, I wouldn’t waste any guilt on a yob like Sholto.”


The next morning, Jane saw O’Brian at breakfast, and sat down across from him.

“You are unhurt, Mr. O’Brian. I prayed you would be.”

“A little heartsick, perhaps, Mrs. Bingley. But physically unharmed, yes. I’d gotten you as far as ‘Michael,’ the other night. Are we back to ‘Mr. O’Brian’ now.”

“I have, I confess, been thinking of you as ‘Michael.’ But the proprieties are my armor. Please don’t think it’s because you have lost any of my regard. I heard about what happened. Your Father Chisholm sought me out and explained. There were certain things he told me he couldn’t reveal.”

“Seal of confession.”

“Yes. The custom is not as readily accepted in the Church of England, but I see its usefulness as a way of purging oneself of guilt.”

O’Brian nodded.

“But what he could reveal was all to your credit. He said you asked him to seek me out if you died. He thought it would be useful for him to do so even though you survived. You had a difficult decision to make, Mr. O’Brian, and you made the best decision circumstances allowed. You may still not be able to approve of the actions you took - . . . ”

“I don’t,” he said.

“And that is because you are a decent, honorable man. And, more than that, a compassionate man. But, even if you can’t approve of your own actions I want you to know, that, upon reflection . . . I do.”

“You do?”

“You make decisions no one else wants to face. Perhaps they are not always the right decisions, but they are decisions that have to be made. And, right or wrong, it is to your credit that you are willing to make them.”

Some of the sadness left O’Brian’s eyes and he looked at Jane gently smiling at him.


The Seventh Duke of Lessfordshire did not long survive his son. Informed of his heir’s death, he was overcome by a heart attack (referred to by practitioners of the day as “an apoplexy”), and died a few days later.

Some six weeks after that, Mrs. Peter Rockford (it was unclear whether she was the Dowager Marchioness or the Dowager Duchess) gave birth to a healthy red-headed boy, who was baptized (in a Catholic ceremony) as Patrick Michael Rockwell, the Eighth Duke of Lessfordshire.

Retreating to an estate the Lessfordshire family owned in Ireland, one that the marriage articles designated as hers absolutely should her husband predecease her, she raised her son to be a decent, God-fearing, charitable man who would, in young adulthood, become a champion for Catholic Emancipation in Great Britain.

His father and grandfather were undoubtedly doing tailspins in their respective graves.


The Predator, the Prey, and the Protector (8th Installment)

Jim D.March 01, 2018 01:53AM

Re: The Predator, the Prey, and the Protector (8th Installment)

AlidaMarch 01, 2018 09:59PM

Re: The Predator, the Prey, and the Protector (8th Installment)

KarenteaMarch 01, 2018 08:47PM

Re: The Predator, the Prey, and the Protector (8th Installment)

KateBMarch 01, 2018 05:10PM

Re: The Predator, the Prey, and the Protector (8th Installment)

Shannon KMarch 01, 2018 04:42AM


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