Capitola Defends Her Honor

Excerpt from “The Hidden Hand” 1859

By E.D.E.N. Southworth

     Taking advantage of the time when she knew he would be absorbed in a game of chess with John Stone, and she should be safe from interruption for several hours if she wished, she went to Major Warfield’s little armory in the closet adjoining his room, opened his pistol case, and took from it a pair of revolvers, closed and locked the case, and withdrew and hid the key that they might not chance to be missed until she should have time to replace them.

     Then she hurried back to her own chamber, locked the pistols up in her own drawer, and wearied out with so much excitement, prepared to go to rest. Here a grave and unexpected obstacle met her, she had always been accustomed to kneel and offer up to heaven her evening’s tribute of praise and thanks giving for the mercies of the day, and prayers for protection and blessing through the night.

     Now she knelt as usual, but thanksgiving and prayer seemed frozen on her lips! How could she praise or pray with such a purpose as she had in her heart?

     For the first time Capitola doubted the perfect righteousness of that purpose which was of a character to arrest her prayers upon her lips.

     With a start or impatience and a heavy sigh, she sprang up and hurried to bed.

     She did not sleep, but lay tossing from side to side in feverish excitement the whole night -- having, in fact, a terrible battle between her own fierce passion and her newly awakened conscience.

     Nevertheless, she arose by daybreak in the morning, dressed herself, went and unlocked her drawer, took out the pistols, carefully loaded them, and laid them down for service.

     Then she went downstairs, where the servants were only just beginning to stir, and sent for her groom, Jem, whom she ordered to saddle her pony and also to get a horse for himself, to attend her in a morning ride.

     After which she returned upstairs, put-on her riding habit, and buckled around her waist a morocco belt, into which she stuck the two revolvers. She then threw around her shoulders a short circular cape that concealed the weapons, and put on her hat and gloves and went below.

     She found her little groom already at the door with the horses. She sprang into her saddle, and, bidding Jem follow her, took the road toward Tip-Top.

     She knew that Mr. Le Noir was in the habit of riding to the village every morning, and she determined to meet him. She knew, from the early hour of the day, that he could not possibly be ahead of her, and she rode on slowly, to give him an opportunity to overtake her.

     Probably Craven Le Noir was later that morning than usual, for Capitola had reached the entrance of the village before she heard the sound of his horse’s feet approaching behind her.

     She did not wish that their encounter should be in the streets of the village, so she instantly wheeled her horse and galloped back to meet him.

     As both were riding at full speed, they soon met.

     She first drew rein, and, standing in his way, accosted him with:

     “Mr. Le Noir!”

     “Your most obedient, Miss Black!” he said, with a deep bow.

     “I happen to be without father or brother to protect me from affront sir, and my uncle is an invalid veteran whom I will not trouble! I am, therefore, under the novel necessity of fighting my own battles! Yesterday sir, I sent you a note demanding satisfaction for a heinous slander you circulated against me! You replied by an insulting note. You do not escape punishment so! Here are two pistols, both are loaded, take either one of them, for, sir, we have met, and now we do not part until one of us falls from the horse!”

     And so saying, she rode up to him and offered him the choice of the pistols.

     He laughed -- partly in surprise and partly in admiration, as he said, with seeming good humor:

     “Miss Black, you are a very charming young woman, and delightfully original and piquant in all your ideas, but you outrage all the laws that govern the duello. I have the right to the choice of time, place and arms. I made that choice yesterday. I renew it to-day. When you accede to the terms of the meeting I shall endeavor to give you all the satisfaction you demand! Good-morning, miss.”

     And with a deep bow, even to the flaps of the saddle, he rode past her “That base insult again!” cried Capitola, with the blood rushing to her face.

     The lifting her voice, she again accosted him:

     “Mr. Le Noir!”

     He turned, with a smile.

     She threw one of the pistols on the ground near him, saying:

     “Take that up and defend yourself.”

     He waved his hand in negation, bowed, smiled, and rode on.

     “Mr. Le Noir!” she called, in a peremptory tone.

     Once more he turned.

     She raised her pistol, took deliberate aim at his white forehead, and fired—

     Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang!

     Six times without an instant’s intermission, until her revolver was spent.

     When the smoke cleared away, a terrible vision met her eyes!

     It was Craven Le Noir with his face covered with blood, reeling in his saddle, from which he soon dropped to the ground.

     In falling, his foot remained hanging in the stirrup. The well-trained cavalry horse stood perfectly still, though trembling in a panic of terror from which he might at any moment start to run, dragging the helpless body after him.

     Capitola saw this danger, and not being cruel, she tempered justice with mercy, threw down her spent pistol, dismounted from her horse, went up to the fallen man, disengaged his foot from the stirrup, and, taking hold of his shoulders, tried with all her might to drag the still breathing form from the dusty road where it lay in danger of being run over by wagons, to the green bank, where it might be in comparative safety.

     But that heavy form was too much for her single strength. And, calling her terrified groom to assist her, they removed the body.

     Capitola than remounted her horse and galloped rapidly into the village and came up to the “Ladies’ entrance” of the hotel, where, after sending for the proprietor, she said:

     “I have just been shooting Craven Le Noir for slandering me, he lies by the roadside at the entrance of the village, you had better send somebody to pick him up.”

     “Miss!” cried the astounded inn-keeper.

     Capitola distinctly repeated her words and then, leaving the innkeeper, transfixed with consternation, she crossed the street and entered a magistrate’s office, where a little, old gentleman, with a pair of green spectacles resting on his hooked nose, sat at a writing table, giving some directions to a constable, who was standing hat in hand before him.

     Capitola waited until this functionary had his orders and a written paper, and had left the office, and the magistrate was alone, before she walked up to the desk and stood before him.

     “Well, well, young woman! Well, well, what do you want?” inquired the old gentleman, impatiently looking up from folding his papers.

     “1 have come to give myself up for shooting Craven Le Noir, who slandered me,” answered Capitola, quietly.

     The old man let fall his hands full of papers, raised his head and stared at-her over the tops of his green spectacles.

     “What did you say, young woman?” he asked, in the tone of one who doubted his own ears.

     “I say that I have forestalled an arrest by coming here to give my-self up for the shooting of a-dastard who slandered, insulted and refused to give me satisfaction.” answered Capitola, very distinctly.

     “Am I awake? Do I hear aright? Do you mean to say that you have killed a man?” asked the-dismayed magistrate.

     “Oh, I can’t say as to the killing! I shot him off his horse and then sent Mr. Merry and his men to pick him up, while I came here to answer for myself!”

     “Unfortunate girl! And how can you answer for such a dreadful deed?” exclaimed the utterly confounded magistrate.

     “Oh, as to the dreadfulness of the deed that depends upon the circumstances,” said Cap, “and I can answer for it very well. He made addresses to me. I refused him. He slandered me. I challenged him. He insulted me. I shot him.”

     “Miserable young woman, if this be proved true, I shall have to commit you!”

     “Just as, you please,” said Cap, “but bless your soul, that won’t help Craven Le Noir a single bit!”

     As she spoke several persons entered the office in a state of high excitement--all talking at once, saying:

     “That is the girl!”

     “Yes, that is her!”

     “She is Miss Black, old Warfield’s niece.”

     “Yes, he said she was.” etc., etc., etc.

     “What’s all this, neighbors, what is all this?” inquired that troubled magistrate, rising in his place.

     “Why, sir, there’s been a gentleman, Mr. Craven Le Noir, Shot.

     He has been taken to the Antlers, where he lies in articulus mortis, and we wish him to-be confronted with Miss Capitola Black, the young woman here present, that he may identify her, whom he accuses of having shot six charges into him, before his death. She needn’t deny it, because he is ready to swear to her!” said Mr. Merry, who constituted himself spokesman.

     “She accuses herself.” said the magistrate, in dismay.

     “Then, sir, had she better not be taken at once to the presence of Mr. Le Noir, who may not have many minutes to live?”

     “Yes, come along,” said Cap, “I only gave myself up to wait for this, an as he is already at hand, let’s go and have it all over, for I have been riding about in this frosty morning air for three hours, and I want to go home to get breakfast.”

     “I am afraid, young woman, you will scarcely get home to breakfast this morning.” said Mr. Merry.

     “We’ll see that presently.” answered Cap, composedly, as they all left the office, and crossed the street to the Antlers.

     They were conducted by the landlord to a chamber on the first floor, where upon the bed lay stretched, almost without breath or motion, the form of Craven Le Noir. His face was still covered with blood that the by-stander had scrupulously refused to wash off until the arrival of the magistrate. His complexion, as far as it could be seen, was very pale. He was thoroughly prostrated, if not actually dying.

     Around his bed were gathered the village doctor, the landlady and several maid servants.

     “The squire has come, sir, are you able to speak to him?” asked the landlord, approaching the bed.

     “Yes, let him swear me,” feebly replied the wounded man, “and then send for a clergyman.”

     The landlady immediately left to send for Mr. Goodwin, and the magistrate approached the head of the bed, and, speaking solemnly, exhorted the wounded man, as he expected soon to give an account of the works done in his body, to speak the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, without reserve, malice, or exaggeration, both as to the deed, and the provocation.

     “I will -- I will -- for I have sent for a minister and I intend to try to make my peace with heaven.” replied Le Noir.

     The magistrate then directed Capitola to come and take her stand at the foot of the bed, where the wounded man, who was lying on his back, could see her without turning.

     Cap came as she was commanded and stood there with some irrepressible and incomprehensible mischief gleaming out from under her long eye lashes and from the corners of her dimpled lips.

     The magistrate then administered the oath to Carven Le Noir, and bade him look upon Capitola and give his evidence.

     He did so, and under the terrors of a guilty conscience and of expected death, his evidence partook more of the nature of a confession than an accusation. He testified that he had addressed Capitola, and had been rejected by her, then, under the influence of evil motives, he had circulated insinuations against her honor, which were utterly unjustifiable by fact, she, seeming to have heard of them, took the strange course of challenging him -- just as if she had been a man. He could not, of course, meet a lady in a duel, but he had taken advantage of the technical phraseology of the challenged party, as to time, place and weapons, to offer her a deep insult, then she had waylaid him on the highway, offered him his choice of a pair of revolvers, and told him that, having met, they should not part until one or the other fell from the horse, he had again laughingly refused the encounter except upon the insulting terms he had before proposed. She had then thrown him one of the pistols, bidding him defend himself. He had laughingly passed her when she called him by name, he had turned and she fired -- six time in succession and he fell. He knew no more until he was brought to his present room. He said in conclusion he did not wish that the girl should be prosecuted, as she had only avenged her own honor, and that he hoped his death would be taken by her and her friends as a sufficient expiation of his offenses against her, and lastly, he requested that he might be left alone with the minister.

     “Bring that unhappy young woman over to my officer, Ketchum.” said the magistrate, addressing himself to a constable. Then turning to the landlord, he said:

     “Sir, it would be a charity in you to put a messenger on horseback and send him to Hurricane Hall for Major Warfield, who will have to enter into a recognizance for Miss Black’s appearance at court.”

     “Stop,” said Cap, ”don’t be too certain of that! Be always sure you’re right -- then go ahead! Is not anyone here cool enough to reflect that if I had fired six bullets at a man’s forehead and every one had struck, it should have blown his head to the sky? Will not somebody at once wash his face and see how deep the wounds are?”

     The doctor who had been restrained by the others now took a sponge and water and cleaned the face of Le Noir which was found to-be well peppered with split peas!

     Cap looked around, and, seeing the astonished looks of the good people, burst into an irrepressible fit of laughter, saying, as soon as she had got breath enough:

     “Upon my word, neighbors, you look more shocked, if not actually more disappointed, to find that, after all, he is not killed, and there’ll be no spectacle, than you did at first when you thought murder had been done.”

     “Will you be good enough to explain this, young woman?” said the magistrate.

     “Certainly, for your worship seems as much disappointed as the others!” said Cap. Then turning toward the group around the bed, she said:

     “You have heard Mr. Le Noir’s last dying speech and confession as he supposed it to be, and you know the maddening provocations that inflamed my temper against him. Last night, after having renewed his insulting answer to my challenge, there was evil in my heart. I do assure you! I possessed myself of my uncle’s revolvers and resolved to waylay him this morning and force him to give me satisfaction, or if he refused -- well, no matter! I tell you, there was danger in me! But, before retiring to bed at night, it is my habit to say my prayers, now the practice of prayer and the purpose of red-handed violence cannot exist in the same person at the same time! I wouldn’t sleep without praying, and I couldn’t pray without giving up my thoughts of fatal vengeance upon Craven Le Noir. So at last I made up my mind to spare his life, and teach him a lesson. The next morning I drew the charges of the revolvers and reloaded them with poor powder and dried peas! Everything else has happened just as he told you! He has received no harm, except in being terribly frightened, and in having his beauty spoiled! And as for that, didn’t I offer him one of the pistols, and expose my own face to similar damage? For I’d scorn to take advantage of anyone!” said Cap, laughing.

     Craven Le Noir had now raised himself up in a sitting position and was looking around with an expression of countenance which was a strange blending of relief at this unexpected respite from the grave and intense mortification at finding himself in the ridiculous position which the address of Capitola and his own weak cowardice and credulity had placed him.

     Cap went up to him and said, in a consoling voice:

     “Come thank heaven that you are not going to die this bout! I’m glad you repented and told the truth, and I hope you may live long enough be offer heaven a truer repentance than that which is the more effect of fright! For I tell you plainly that if it had not been for the Grace of the Lord, acting upon my heart last night, your soul might have been in Hades now!”

     Craven Le Noir shut his eyes, groaned and fell back Over-powered by the reflection.

     “Now, please your worship, may I go home?” asked Cap, demurely, popping down a mock courtesy to the magistrate.

     “Yes -- Go! Go! Go! Go! Go!” said that officer, with an expression as though he considered our Cap an individual of the animal kingdom whom neither Buffon nor, any other natural philosopher had ever classified, and who, as a creature of unknown habits, might sometimes be dangerous.

     Cap immediately availed herself of the permission, and went out to look for her servant and horses.

     But Jem, the first moment he had found himself unwatched, had put out as fast as he could fly to Hurricane Hall, to inform Major Warfield of what had occurred.

     And Capitola after losing a great deal of time in looking for him, mounted her horse and was just about to start, when who should ride up in hot haste but Old Hurricane, attended by Wool.

     “Stop there!” he shouted, as he saw Cap.

     She obeyed, and he sprang from his horse with agility of youth, and helped her to descend from hers.

     Then drawing her arm within his own, he led her into the parlor, and putting an unusual restraint upon himself, he ordered her to tell him all about the affair.

     Cap sat down and gave him the whole history from beginning to end.

     Old Hurricane could not sit still to hear. He strode up and down the room, striking his stick upon the floor, and uttering inarticulate sounds of rage and defiance.

     When Cap had finished her story he suddenly stopped before her, brought down the point of his stick with a resounding thump upon the floor and exclaimed:

     “Demmy, you New York newsboy! Will you never be a woman? Why the demon didn’t you tell me, Sirrah? I would have called the fellow out and chastised him to your heart’s content! Hang-it, miss, answer-me and say!”

     “Because you are on the invalid list and I am in sound condition and capable of taking my own part!” said Cap.

     “Then, answer me this, while you were taking your own part, why the foul fiend didn’t you pepper him with something sharper than dried peas?”

     “I think he is quite as severely punished in suffering from extreme terror and intense mortification and public ridicule.” said Cap.

     “And now, uncle, I have not eaten a single blessed mouthful this morning, and I am hungry enough to eat up Cyp, or to satisfy Patty.”

     Old Hurricane, permitting his excitement to subside in a few expiring grunts, rang the bell and gave orders for breakfast to be served.

     And after that meal was over he set out with his niece for Hurricane Hall.


"The Scribbling Women"
Copyright ~ Estate of Andre Norton
Online Rights -
Donated by - Estate of Andre Norton

 Digitized and edited by Jay Watts aka: “Lots-a-watts” ~ May 2015

Duplication (in whole or parts) of this story for profit of any kind NOT permitted.