"But Tom beat the twin on the trial."
The judge looked at the man wonderingly, and said:
"The trial? What trial?"
"Why, Tom had him up before Judge Robinson for assault and battery."
The old man shrank suddenly together like one who has received a death stroke. Howard sprang for him as he sank forward in a swoon, and took him in his arms, and bedded him on his back in the boat. He sprinkled water in his face, and said to the startled visitor:
"Go, now--don't let him come to and find you here. You see what an effect your heedless speech has had; you ought to have been more considerate than to blurt out such a cruel piece of slander as that."
"I'm right down sorry I did it now, Mr. Howard, and I wouldn't have done it if I had thought; but it ain't slander; it's perfectly true, just as I told him."
He rowed away. Presently the old judge came out of his faint and looked up piteously into the sympathetic face that was bent over him.
"Say it ain't true, Pembroke; tell me it ain't true!" he said in a weak voice.
There was nothing weak in the deep organ tones that responded:
"You know it's a lie as well as I do, old friend. He is of the best blood of the Old Dominion."
"God bless you for saying it!" said the old gentleman, fervently. "Ah, Pembroke, it was such a blow!"
Howard stayed by his friend, and saw him home, and entered the house with him. It was dark, and past supper-time, but the judge was not thinking of supper; he was eager to hear the slander refuted from headquarters, and as eager to have Howard hear it, too. Tom was sent for, and he came immediately. He was bruised and lame, and was not a happy-looking object. His uncle made him sit down, and said:
"We have been hearing about your adventure, Tom, with a handsome lie added for embellishment. Now pulverize that lie to dust! What measures have you taken? How does the thing stand?"
Tom answered guilelessly: "It don't stand at all; it's all over. I had him up in court and beat him. Pudd'nhead Wilson defended him-- first case he ever had, and lost it. The judge fined the miserable hound five dollars for the assault."
Howard and the judge sprang to their feet with the opening sentence-- why, neither knew; then they stood gazing vacantly at each other. Howard stood a moment, then sat mournfully down without saying anything. The judge's wrath began to kindle, and he burst out:
"You cur! You scum! You vermin! Do you mean to tell me that blood of my race has suffered a blow and crawled to a court of law about it? Answer me!"
Tom's head drooped, and he answered with an eloquent silence. His uncle stared at him with a mixed expression of amazement and shame and incredulity that was sorrowful to see. At last he said:
"Which of the twins was it?"
"You have challenged him?"
"N--no," hesitated Tom, turning pale.
"You will challenge him tonight. Howard will carry it."
Tom began to turn sick, and to show it. He turned his hat round and round in his hand, his uncle glowering blacker and blacker upon him as the heavy seconds drifted by; then at last he began to stammer, and said piteously:
"Oh, please, don't ask me to do it, uncle! He is a murderous devil-- I never could--I--I'm afraid of him!"
Old Driscoll's mouth opened and closed three times before he could get it to perform its office; then he stormed out:
"A coward in my family! A Driscoll a coward! Oh, what have I done to deserve this infamy!" He tottered to his secretary in the corner, repeated that lament again and again in heartbreaking tones, and got out of a drawer a paper, which he slowly tore to bits, scattering the bits absently in his track as he walked up and down the room, still grieving and lamenting. At last he said:
"There it is, shreds and fragments once more--my will. Once more you have forced me to disinherit you, you base son of a most noble father! Leave my sight! Go--before I spit on you!"
The young man did not tarry. Then the judge turned to Howard:
"You will be my second, old friend?"
"There is pen and paper.