“what a lot of rot!” exclaimed cameron, as soon as the door closed behind benson.
the other members - stafford, yates, and gray - who had listened to benson’s tale , were shocked at cameron’s outburst.
“look here,” stafford addressed cameron, “you don’t mean to say you are questioning benson’s story?”
cameron laughed. “but, my dear fellow, it is the stuff of a thousand tales for schoolboys, to be read under the covers by flashlight . the curious message, the shrunken head - and above all, the woman! the mysterious woman! really, i ask you!”
but stafford was having none of it. “you are doubting the word of a fellow clubman! in plain english, calling him a liar.”
cameron laughed again, more softly this time. “well, i don’t know about that. poor benson might be , shall we say, a bit delusional. perhaps he has suffered some sort of shock… or maybe he just got carried away with a good story.”
“none of your damned parliamentary shilly-shallying!” retorted stafford. “the plain fact is, you have called a fellow member of the club a liar! i doubt if such a perfidious proceeding has ever taken place within these walls. i am forced to demand satisfaction, sir!”
yates and gray were aghast. satisfaction! between two members of the club!
at this time duels had almost disappeared in britain, though the occasional rumor or account of one still floated through the clubs of london from time to time.
the smile faded from cameron’s lips. “if you will have it, then, i guess there is nothing else for it.” he bowed to stafford. “yates, will you do me the honor of being my second?"
“of course, of course, “ yates stammered. “although - i mean, yes, of course.”
“and i, of course,” added gray, “would be happy to second you, stafford.”
the matter was quickly settled. pistols the following dawn, at a spot in st james wood that gray, who seemed to have the most knowledge of such matters, assured them was adequate to the purpose.
leaving the club, cameron slowly wended his way through the deserted streets towards his lodgings.
the fog was especially thick.
suddenly cameron’s reverie was broken by the sound of a melodious female voice.
“mister cameron! mister cameron, may i beg a word wth you?”
cameron turned, and beheld what was undoubtedly the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.
she was wearing a dark cloak and dark hat, causing her pale face to appear to float in the foggy air.
“how may i be of service, miss?” cameron managed to ask.
“my name is miss davis.”
miss davis! the name of the mysterious woman in benson’s tale!
“you must not - i beg you - go through with your terrible assignation with mister stafford,” the young woman entreated cameron, as she approached closer to him.
cameron did not know what to be most astonished by - that the woman from benson’s tale had materialized, that she somehow knew of the pending duel - or simply by her mesmerizing beauty.
she continued speaking, though her words barely registered on the dazed cameron. she was speaking perfect english, but her accent was none that cameron recognized. nor were her finely chiseled features assignable to any particular race or nation - she seemed the very distillation of all the beauty of all the races of womankind!
cameron was dimly aware that the story she was telling was identical or at least similar in most particulars to that related earlier in the evening by benson.
“and, so once again,” she was saying, “i beg you not to go through with your meeting with mister stafford this coming morning.”
“i am sorry, miss,” cameron replied with a smile. “but that is quite impossible. quite impossible.”
“i see. you must do what you must do. in that case, if you should survive the dawn, i think we should meet again, if that is agreeable to you.”
“of course. i am at our service.”
“let us say, then,” miss davis replied. “waterloo bridge. waterloo bridge, at eight o’clock tomorrow evening.”
“waterloo bridge it is then.”
they parted. cameron proceeded on his way with a light heart.
the duel would be a bother, but really, what were the chances of his even being injured? it was all just a formality, for the sake of saving face. they would shoot over each other’s heads and that would be the end of it. stafford for all his bluster had no more real desire of harming him than he, cameron, had of harming stafford.
when the duel was over cameron would apologize to poor old benson - who, of course, could hardly be kept in the dark about it - for doubting his story.
and then -
but events did not play out as cameron anticipated. stafford shot him through the heart, killing him instantly.
gray proved himself more than adept at keeping the matter from the attention of the authorities.
benson was quite distraught about the whole affair, feeling himself somehow at fault, but in time they all forgot about it, and the days and nights at the club resumed their natural ebb and flow.
none of them, including benson, ever heard from miss davis again.