Hugh was very good at ignoring people, but even he couldn’t hold out against this. “The hand’s not important?”
The surgeon rolled his tongue over his teeth, then made a sucking noise, presumably to dislodge some rancid piece of food. He shrugged. “It’s not the heart.”
He had a point, which needled. Hugh hated when annoying people had valid points. Still, if the surgeon had any sense, he’d shut the bloody hell up.
“Just don’t go for the head,” the surgeon said with a shudder. “No one wants that, and I’m not just talking about the poor sod who’s taken the bullet. There’ll be brains everywhere, faces shot open. Shoots the funeral straight to hell.”
“This is your choice of surgeon?” Marcus asked.
Hugh jerked his head toward Dunwoody. “He found him.”
“I’m a barber,” the surgeon said defensively.
Marcus shook his head and walked back to Daniel.
“Gentlemen at your ready!”
Hugh wasn’t sure who had called out the order. Someone who’d found out about the duel and wanted bragging rights, most probably. There weren’t many sentences in London more coveted than “I saw it myself.”
Hugh lifted his arm and aimed. Three inches to the right of Daniel’s shoulder.
Good God, he’d forgot about the counting.
His chest clenched. The counting. The yelling. It was the one time that numbers became the enemy. His father’s voice, hoarse in his triumph, and Hugh, trying not to hear . . .
And he pulled the trigger.
Hugh looked at Daniel in surprise.
“Bloody hell, you shot me!” Daniel yelled. He clutched his shoulder, his rumpled white shirt already oozing with red.
“What?” Hugh said to himself. “No.” He’d aimed to the side. Not far to the side, but he was a good shot, an excellent shot.
“Oh, Christ,” the surgeon muttered, and he took off along the side of the field at a run.
“You shot him,” Dunwoody gasped. “Why’d you do that?”
Hugh had no words. Daniel was hurt, perhaps even mortally, and he’d done it. He had done it. No one had forced him. And even now, as Daniel raised his bloody arm—his literally bloody arm—
Hugh screamed as he felt his leg tearing into pieces.
Why had he thought he’d hear the shot before he felt it? He knew how it worked. If Sir Isaac Newton was correct, sound traveled at a rate of 979 feet per second. Hugh was standing about twenty yards from Daniel, which meant that the bullet would have had to travel . . .
He thought. And thought.
He couldn’t work out the answer.
“Hugh! Hugh!” came Dunwoody’s frantic voice. “Hugh, are you all right?”
Hugh looked up at Charles Dunwoody’s blurry face. If he was looking up, then he must be on the ground. He blinked, trying to set his world back into focus. Was he still drunk? He’d had a staggering amount of alcohol the night before, both before and after the altercation with Daniel.
No, he wasn’t drunk. At least not very much. He had been shot. Or at least, he thought he’d been shot. It had felt as if he’d taken a bullet, but it didn’t really hurt so much any longer. Still, it would explain why he was lying on the ground.
He swallowed, trying to breathe. Why was it so hard to breathe? Hadn’t he been shot in the leg? If he’d been shot. He still wasn’t sure that was what had happened.
“Oh, dear God,” came a new voice. Marcus Holroyd, breathing hard. His face was ashen.
“Put pressure on it!” the surgeon barked. “And watch out for that bone.”
Hugh tried to speak.
“A tourniquet,” someone said. “Should we tie a tourniquet?”
“Bring me my bag!” the surgeon yelled.
Hugh tried to speak again.
“Don’t spend your energy,” Marcus said, taking his hand.
“But don’t fall asleep!” Dunwoody added frantically. “Keep your eyes open.”
“The thigh,” Hugh croaked.
“Tell the surgeon . . .” Hugh paused, gasping for breath. “The thigh. Bleeding like a pig.”
“What is he talking about?” Marcus asked.
“I— I—” Dunwoody was trying to say something, but it kept catching in his throat.
“What?” Marcus demanded.
Hugh looked over at Dunwoody. He looked ill.
“I believe he’s trying to make a joke,” Dunwoody said.
“God,” Marcus swore harshly, turning back to Hugh with an expression that Hugh found difficult to interpret. “You stupid, contrary . . . A joke. You’re making a joke.”
“Don’t cry,” Hugh said, because it looked like he might.
“Tie it tighter,” someone said, and Hugh felt something yanking on his leg, then squeezing it, hard, and then Marcus was saying, “You’d best stay baaaaaaack . . .”
And that was it.
When Hugh opened his eyes, it was dark. And he was in a bed. Had an entire day passed? Or more? The duel had been at dawn. The sky had still been pink.
Freddie? What was Freddie doing here? He couldn’t remember the last time his brother had stepped foot in their father’s house. Hugh wanted to say his name, wanted to tell him how happy he was to see him, but his throat was unbelievably dry.
“Don’t try to talk,” Freddie said. He leaned forward, his familiar blond head coming into the arc of the candlelight. They’d always looked alike, more than most brothers. Freddie was a little shorter, a little slighter, and a little blonder, but they had the same green eyes set in the same angular face. And the same smile.