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Title: The Pit of the Serpent
Author: Robert E. Howard
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0607341.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: September 2006
Date most recently updated: September 2006

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The Pit of the Serpent
Robert E. Howard

THE MINUTE I stepped ashore from the Sea Girl, merchantman, I had
a hunch that there would be trouble. This hunch was caused by seeing
some of the crew of the Dauntless. The men on the Dauntless have
disliked the Sea Girl's crew ever since our skipper took their captain
to a cleaning on the wharfs of Zanzibar--them being narrow-minded that
way. They claimed that the old man had a knuckle-duster on his right,
which is ridiculous and a dirty lie. He had it on his left.

Seeing these roughnecks in Manila, I had no illusions about them,
but I was not looking for no trouble. I am heavyweight champion of the
Sea Girl, and before you make any wisecracks about the non-importance
of that title, I want you to come down to the forecastle and look over
Mushy Hansen and One-Round Grannigan and Flat-Face O'Toole and Swede
Hjonning and the rest of the man-killers that make up the Sea Girl's
crew. But for all that, no one can never accuse me of being
quarrelsome, and so instead of following my natural instinct and
knocking seven or eight of these bezarks for a row, just to be ornery,
I avoided them and went to the nearest American bar.

After a while I found myself in a dance hall, and while it is kind
of hazy just how I got there, I assure you I had not no great amount
of liquor under my belt--some beer, a few whiskeys, a little brandy,
and maybe a slug of wine for a chaser like. No, I was the perfect
chevalier in all my actions, as was proven when I found myself dancing
with the prettiest girl I have yet to see in Manila or elsewhere. She
had red lips and black hair, and oh, what a face!

"Say, miss," said I, the soul of politeness, "where have you been
all my life?"

"Oooh, la!" said she, with a silvery ripple of laughter. "You
Americans say such theengs. Oooh, so huge and strong you are, senyor!"

I let her feel of my biceps, and she give squeals of surprise and
pleasure, clapping her little white hands just like a child what has
found a new pretty.

"Oooh! You could just snatch little me oop and walk away weeth me,
couldn't you, senyor?"

"You needn't not be afraid," said I, kindly. "I am the soul of
politeness around frails, and never pull no rough stuff. I have never
soaked a woman in my life, not even that dame in Suez that throwed a
knife at me. Baby, has anybody ever give you a hint about what
knockouts your eyes is?"

"Ah, go 'long," said she, coyly--"Ouch!"

"Did somebody step on your foot?" I ask, looking about for
somebody to crown.

"Yes--let's sit theese one out, senyor. Where did you learn to
dance?"

"It comes natural, I reckon," I admitted modestly. "I never knew I
could till now. This is the first time I ever tried."

From the foregoing you will see that I am carrying on a quiet
conversation, not starting nothing with nobody. It is not my fault,
what happened.

Me and this girl, whose name is Raquel La Costa, her being Spanish
that way, are sitting peacefully at a table and I am just beginning to
get started good telling her how her eyes are like dark pools of night
(pretty hot, that one; I got it offa Mushy Hansen, who is all poetical
like), when I notice her looking over my shoulder at somebody. This
irritates me slightly, but I ignore it, and having forgotten what I
was saying, my mind being slightly hazy for some reason, I continue:

"Listen, cutey--hey, who are you winkin' at? Oh, somethin' in your
eye, you say? All right, as I was sayin', we got a feller named Hansen
on board the Sea Girl what writes po'try. Listen to this:

"Oh, the road to glory lay

Over old Manila Bay.

Where the Irish whipped the Spanish

On a sultry summer day."

At this moment some bezark came barging up to our table and,
ignoring me, leaned over and leered engagingly at my girl.

"Let's shake a hoof, baby," said this skate, whom I recognized
instantly as Bat Slade, champion box fighter of the Dauntless.

Miss La Costa said nothing, and I arose and shoved Slade back from
the table.

"The lady is engaged at present, stupid," says I, poking my jaw
out. "If you got any business, you better 'tend to it."

"Don't get gay with me, Costigan," says he, nastily. "Since when
is dames choosin' gorillas instead of humans?"

By this time quite a crowd had formed, and I restrained my natural
indignation and said, "Listen, bird, take that map outa my line uh
vision before I bust it."

Bat is a handsome galoot who has a way with the dames, and I knew
if he danced one dance with my girl he would figure out some way to do
me dirt. I did not see any more of the Dauntless men; on the other
hand, I was the only one of the Sea Girl's crew in the joint.

"Suppose we let the lady choose between us," said Bat. Can you
beat that for nerve? Him butting in that way and then giving himself
equal rights with me. That was too much. With a bellow, I started my
left from the hip, but somehow he wasn't there--the shifty crook! I
miss by a yard, and he slams me with a left to the nose that knocks me
over a chair.

My brain instantly cleared, and I realized that I had been
slightly lit. I arose with an irritated roar, but before hostilities
could be renewed, Miss La Costa stepped between us.

"Zut," said she, tapping us with her fan. "Zut! What is theese? Am
I a common girl to be so insult' by two great tramps who make fight
over me in public? Bah! Eef you wanta fight, go out in ze woods or
some place where no one make scandal, and wham each other all you
want. May ze best man win! I will not be fight over in public, no
sir!"

AND WITH THAT she turned back and walked away. At the same time,
up came an oily-looking fellow, rubbing his hands together. I mistrust
a bird what goes around rubbing his hands together like he was in a
state of perpetual self-satisfaction.

"Now, now, boys," said this bezark, "le's do this right! You boys
wanta fight. Tut! Tut! Too bad, too bad! But if you gotta fight, le's
do it right, that's what I say! Let fellers live together in peace and
enmity if they can, but if they gotta fight, let it be did right!"

"Gi' me leeway--and I'll do this blankety-blank right," says I,
fairly shaking with rage. It always irritates me to be hit on the nose
without a return and in front of ladies.

"Oh, will you?" said Bat, putting up his mitts. "Let's see you get
goin', you--"

"Now, now, boys," said the oily bird, "le's do this right!
Costigan, will you and Slade fight for me in my club?"

"Anywheres!" I roar. "Bare-knuckles, gloves, or marlin-spikes!"

"Fine," says the oily bird, rubbing his hands worse than ever.
"Ah, fine! Ah--um--ah, Costigan, will you fight Slade in the pit of
the serpent?"

Now, I should have noticed that he didn't ask Slade if he'd fight,
and I saw Slade grin quietly, but I was too crazy with rage to think
straight.

"I'll fight him in the pit of Hades with the devil for a referee!"
I roared. "Bring on your fight club--ring, deck, or whatever! Let's
get goin'."

"That's the way to talk!" says the oily bird. "Come on."

He turned around and started for the exit, and me and Slade and a
few more followed him. Had I of thought, I would have seen right off
that this was all working too smooth to have happened impromptu, as it
were. But I was still seething with rage and in no shape to think
properly.

Howthesomever, I did give a few thoughts as to the chances I had
against Slade. As for size, I had the advantage. I'm six feet, and
Slade is two inches shorter; I am also a few pounds heavier but not
enough to make much difference, us being heavyweights that way. But
Slade, I knew, was the shiftiest, trickiest leather-slinger in the
whole merchant marine. I had never met him for the simple reason that
no match-maker in any port would stage a bout between a Sea Girl man
and a Dauntless tramp, since that night in Singapore when the bout
between Slade and One-Round Grannigan started a free-for-all that
plumb wrecked the Wharfside A. C. Slade knocked Grannigan out that
night, and Grannigan was then champion slugger aboard the Sea Girl.
Later, I beat Grannigan.

As for dope, you couldn't tell much, as usual. I'd won a decision
over Boatswain Hagney, the champion of the British Asiatic naval
fleet, who'd knocked Slade out in Hong Kong, but on the other hand,
Slade had knocked out Mike Leary of the Blue Whale, who'd given me a
terrible beating at Bombay.

These cogitations was interrupted at that minute by the oily bird.
We had come out of the joint and was standing on the curb. Several
autos was parked there, and the crowd piled into them. The oily bird
motioned me to get in one, and I done so.

Next, we was speeding through the streets, where the lights was
beginning to glow, and I asked no questions, even when we left the
business section behind and then went right on through the suburbs and
out on a road which didn't appear to be used very much. I said
nothing, however.

AT LAST WE stopped at a large building some distance outside the
city, which looked more like an ex-palace than anything else. All the
crowd alighted, and I done likewise, though I was completely
mystified. There was no other houses near, trees grew dense on all
sides, the house itself was dark and gloomy-looking. All together I
did not like the looks of things but would not let on, with Bat Slade
gazing at me in his supercilious way. Anyway, I thought, they are not
intending to assassinate me because Slade ain't that crooked, though
he would stop at nothing else.

We went up the walk, lined on each side by tropical trees, and
into the house. There the oily bird struck a light and we went down in
the basement. This was a large, roomy affair, with a concrete floor,
and in the center was a pit about seven feet deep, and about ten by
eight in dimensions. I did not pay no great attention to it at that
time, but I did later, I want to tell you.

"Say," I says, "I'm in no mood for foolishness. What you bring me
away out here for? Where's your arena?"

"This here's it," said the oily bird.

"Huh! Where's the ring? Where do we fight?"

"Down in there," says the oily bird, pointing at the pit.

"What!" I yell. "What are you tryin' to hand me?"

"Aw, pipe down," interrupted Bat Slade. "Didn't you agree to fight
me in the serpent pit? Stop grouchin' and get your duds off."

"All right," I says, plumb burned up by this deal. "I don't know
what you're tryin' to put over, but lemme get that handsome map in
front of my right and that's all I want!"

"Grahhh!" snarled Slade, and started toward the other end of the
pit. He had a couple of yeggs with him as handlers. Shows his caliber,
how he always knows some thug; no matter how crooked the crowd may be,
he's never without acquaintances. I looked around and recognized a
pickpocket I used to know in Cuba, and asked him to handle me. He said
he would, though, he added, they wasn't much a handler could do under
the circumstances.

"What kind of a deal have I got into?" I asked him as I stripped.
"What kind of a joint is this?"

"This house used to be owned by a crazy Spaniard with more mazuma
than brains," said the dip, helping me undress. "He yearned for bull
fightin' and the like, and he thought up a brand new one. He rigged up
this pit and had his servants go out and bring in all kinds of snakes.
He'd put two snakes in the pit and let 'em fight till they killed each
other."

"What! I got to fight in a snake den?"

"Aw, don't worry. They ain't been no snakes in there for years.
The Spaniard got killed, and the old place went to ruin. They held
cock fights here and a few years ago the fellow that's stagin' this
bout got the idea of buyin' the house and stagin' grudge fights."

"How's he make any money? I didn't see nobody buyin' tickets, and
they ain't more'n thirty or forty here."

"Aw, he didn't have no time to work it up. He'll make his money
bettin'. He never picks a loser! And he always referees himself. He
knows your ship sails tomorrow, and he didn't have no time for
ballyhooin'. This fight club is just for a select few who is too sated
or too vicious to enjoy a ordinary legitimate prize fight. They ain't
but a few in the know--all this is illegal, of course--just a few
sports which don't mind payin' for their pleasure. The night Slade
fought Sailor Handler they was forty-five men here, each payin' a
hundred and twenty-five dollars for admission. Figure it out for
yourself."

"Has Slade fought here before?" I ask, beginning to see a light.

"Sure. He's the champion of the pit. Only last month he knocked
out Sailor Handler in nine rounds."

Gerusha! And only a few months ago me and the Sailor--who stood
six-four and weighed two-twenty--had done everything but knife each
other in a twenty-round draw.

"Ho! So that's the way it is," said I. "Slade deliberately come
and started trouble with me, knowin' I wouldn't get a square deal
here, him bein' the favorite and--"

"No," said the dip, "I don't think so. He just fell for that
Spanish frail. Had they been any malice aforethought, word would have
circulated among the wealthy sports of the town. As it is, the fellow
that owns the joint is throwin' the party free of charge. He didn't
have time to work it up. Figure it out--he ain't losing nothin'.
Here's two tough sailors wanting to fight a grudge fight--willin' to
fight for nothin'. It costs him nothin' to stage the riot. It's a
great boost for his club, and he'll win plenty on bets."

The confidence with which the dip said that last gave me cold
shivers.

"And who will he bet on?" I asked.

"Slade, of course. Ain't he the pit champion?"

While I was considering this cheering piece of information, Bat
Slade yelled at me from the other end of the pit:

"Hey, you blankey dash-dot-blank, ain't you ready yet?"

He was in his socks, shoes and underpants, and no gloves on his
hands.

"Where's the gloves?" I asked. "Ain't we goin' to tape our hands?"

"They ain't no gloves," said Slade, with a satisfied grin. "This
little riot is goin' to be a bare-knuckle affair. Don't you know the
rules of the pit?"

"You see, Costigan," says the oily bird, kinda nervous, "in the
fights we put on here, the fighters don't wear no gloves--regular he-
man grudge stuff, see?"

"Aw, get goin'!" the crowd began to bellow, having paid nothing to
get in and wanting their money's worth. "Lessee some action! What do
you think this is? Start somethin'!"

"Shut up!" I ordered, cowing them with one menacing look. "What
kind of a deal am I getting here, anyhow?"

"Didn't you agree to fight Slade in the serpent pit?"

"Yes but--"

"Tryin' to back out," said Slade nastily, as usual. "That's like
you Sea Girl tramps, you--"

"Blank, exclamation point, and asterisk!" I roared, tearing off my
undershirt and bounding into the pit. "Get down in here you blank-
blank semicolon, and I'll make you look like the last rose of summer,
you--"

Slade hopped down into the pit at the other end, and the crowd
began to fight for places at the edge. It was a cinch that some of
them was not going to get to see all of it. The sides of the pit were
hard and rough, and the floor was the same way, like you'd expect a
pit in a concrete floor to be. Of course they was no stools or
anything.

"Now then," says the oily bird, "this is a finish fight between
Steve Costigan of the Sea Girl, weight one-eighty-eight, and Battling
Slade, one-seventy-nine, of the Dauntless, bare-knuckle champion of
the Philippine Islands, in as far as he's proved it in this here pit.
They will fight three-minute rounds, one minute rest, no limit to the
number of rounds. There will be no decision. They will fight till one
of 'em goes out. Referee, me.

"The rules is, nothing barred except hittin' below the belt--in
the way of punches, I mean. Break when I say so, and hit on the
breakaway if you wanta. Seconds will kindly refrain from hittin' the
other man with the water bucket. Ready?"

"A hundred I lay you like a rug", says Slade.

"I see you and raise you a hundred," I snarl.

The crowd began to yell and curse, the timekeeper hit a piece of
iron with a six-shooter stock, and the riot was on.

NOW, UNDERSTAND, THIS was a very different fight from any I ever
engaged in. It combined the viciousness of a rough-and-tumble with
that of a legitimate ring bout. No room for any footwork, concrete to
land on if you went down, the uncertain flare of the lights which was
hung on the ceiling over us, and the feeling of being crowded for
space, to say nothing of thinking about all the snakes which had
fought there. Ugh! And me hating snakes that way.

I had figured that I'd have the advantage, being heavier and
stronger. Slade couldn't use his shifty footwork to keep out of my
way. I'd pin him in a corner and smash him like a cat does a rat. But
the bout hadn't been on two seconds before I saw I was all wrong.
Slade was just an overgrown Young Griffo. His footwork was second to
his ducking and slipping. He had fought in the pit before, and had
found that kind of fighting just suited to his peculiar style. He
shifted on his feet just enough to keep weaving, while he let my
punches go under his arms, around his neck, over his head or across
his shoulder.

At the sound of the gong I'd stepped forward, crouching, with both
hands going in the only way I knew.

Slade took my left on his shoulder, my right on his elbow, and,
blip-blip! his left landed twice to my face. Now I want to tell you
that a blow from a bare fist is much different than a blow from a
glove, and while less stunning, is more of a punisher in its way.
Still, I was used to being hit with bare knuckles, and I kept boring
in. I swung a left to the ribs that made Slade grunt, and missed a
right in the same direction.

This was the beginning of a cruel, bruising fight with no favor. I
felt like a wild animal, when I had time to feel anything but Slade's
left, battling down there in the pit, with a ring of yelling,
distorted faces leering down at us. The oily bird, referee, leaned
over the edge at the risk of falling on top of us, and when we
clinched he would yell, "Break, you blank-blanks!" and prod us with a
cane. He would dance around the edge of the pit trying to keep in
prodding distance, and cussing when the crowd got in his way, which
was all the time. There was no room in the pit for him; wasn't
scarcely room enough for us.

Following that left I landed, Slade tied me up in a clinch,
stamped on my instep, thumbed me in the eye, and swished a right to my
chin on the breakaway. Slightly infuriated at this treatment, I curled
my lip back and sank a left to the wrist in his midriff. He showed no
signs at all of liking this, and retaliated with a left to the body
and a right to the side of the head. Then he settled down to work.

He ducked a right and came in close, pounding my waist line with
short jolts. When, in desperation, I clinched, he shot a right
uppercut between my arms that set me back on my heels. And while I was
off balance he threw all his weight against me and scraped me against
the wall, which procedure removed a large area of hide from my
shoulder. With a roar, I tore loose and threw him the full length of
the pit, but, charging after him, he side-stepped somehow and I
crashed against the pit wall, head-first. Wham! I was on the floor,
with seventeen million stars flashing before me, and the oily bird was
counting as fast as he could, "Onetwothreefourfive--"

I bounded up again, not hurt but slightly dizzy. Wham, wham, wham!
Bat came slugging in to finish me. I swished loose a right that was
labeled T.N.T., but he ducked.

"Look out, Bat! That bird's dangerous!" yelled the oily bird in
fright.

"So am I!" snarled Bat, cutting my lip with a straight left and
weaving away from my right counter. He whipped a right to the wind
that made me grunt, flashed two lefts to my already battered face, and
somehow missed with a venomous right. All the time, get me, I was
swinging fast and heavy, but it was like hitting at a ghost. Bat had
maneuvered me into a corner, where I couldn't get set or defend
myself. When I drew back for a punch, my elbow hit the wall. Finally I
wrapped both arms around my jaw and plunged forward, breaking through
Slade's barrage by sheer weight. As we came together, I threw my arms
about him and together we crashed to the floor.

Slade, being the quicker that way, was the first up, and hit me
with a roundhouse left to the side of the head while I was still on
one knee.

"Foul!" yells some of the crowd.

"Shut up!" bellowed the oily bird. "I'm refereein' this bout!"

As I found my feet, Slade was right on me and we traded rights.
Just then the gong sounded. I went back to my end of the pit and sat
down on the floor, leaning my back against the wall. The dip peered
over the edge.

"Anything I can do?" said he.

"Yeah," said I, "knock the daylights out of the blank-blank that's
pretendin' to referee this bout."

Meanwhile the aforesaid blank-blank shoved his snoot over the
other end of the pit, and shouted anxiously, "Slade, you reckon you
can take him in a couple more rounds?"

"Sure," said Bat. "Double your bets; triple 'em. I'll lay him in
the next round."

"You'd better!" admonished this fair-minded referee.

"How can he get anybody to bet with him?" I asked.

"Oh," says the dip, handing me down a sponge to wipe off the
blood, "some fellers will bet on anything. For instance, I just laid
ten smackers on you, myself."

"That I'll win?"

"Naw; that you'll last five rounds."

AT THIS MOMENT the gong sounded and I rushed for the other end of
the pit, with the worthy intention of effacing Slade from the face of
the earth. But, as usual, I underestimated the force of my rush and
the length of the pit. There didn't seem to be room enough for Slade
to get out of my way, but he solved this problem by dropping on his
knees, and allowing me to fall over him, which I did.

"Foul!" yelled the dip. "He went down without bein' hit!"

"Foul my eye!" squawked the oily bird. "A blind man could tell he
slipped, accidental."

We arose at the same time, me none the better for my fiasco. Slade
took my left over his shoulder and hooked a left to the body. He
followed this with a straight right to the mouth and a left hook to
the side of the head. I clinched and clubbed him with my right to the
ribs until the referee prodded us apart.

Again Slade managed to get me into a corner. You see, he was used
to the dimensions whereas I, accustomed to a regular ring, kept
forgetting about the size of the blasted pit. It seemed like with
every movement I bumped my hip or shoulder or scraped my arms against
the rough cement of the walls. To date, Slade hadn't a mark to show
he'd been in a fight, except for the bruise on his ribs. What with his
thumbing and his straight lefts, both my eyes were in a fair way to
close, my lips were cut, and I was bunged up generally, but was not
otherwise badly hurt.

I fought my way out of the corner, and the gong found us slugging
toe to toe in the center of the pit, where I had the pleasure of
staggering Bat with a left to the temple. Not an awful lot of action
in that round; mostly clinching.

The third started like a whirlwind. At the tap of the gong Slade
bounded from his end and was in mine before I could get up. He slammed
me with a left and right that shook me clean to my toes, and ducked my
left. He also ducked a couple of rights, and then rammed a left to my
wind which bent me double. No doubt--this baby could hit!

I came up with a left swing to the head, and in a wild mix-up took
four right and left hooks to land my right to the ribs. Slade grunted
and tried to back-heel me, failing which he lowered his head and
butted me in the belly, kicked me on the shin, and would have did
more, likely, only I halted the proceedings temporarily by swinging an
overhand right to the back of his neck which took the steam out of him
for a minute.

We clinched, and I never saw a critter short of a octopus which
could appear to have so many arms when clinching. He always managed to
not only tie me up and render me helpless for the time being, but to
stamp on my insteps, thumb me in the eye and pound the back of my neck
with the edge of his hand. Add to this the fact that he frequently
shoved me against the wall, and you can get a idea what kind of a
bezark I was fighting. My superior weight and bulk did not have no
advantage. What was needed was skill and speed, and the fact that Bat
was somewhat smaller than me was an advantage to him.

Still, I was managing to hand out some I punishment. Near the end
of that round Bat had a beautiful black eye and some more bruises on
his ribs. Then it happened. I had plunged after him, swinging; he
sidestepped out of the corner, and the next instant was left-jabbing
me to death while I floundered along the wall trying to get set for a
smash.

I swished a right to his body, and while I didn't think it landed
solid, he staggered and dropped his hands slightly. I straightened out
of my defensive crouch and cocked my right, and, simultaneous, I
realized I had been took. Slade had tricked me. The minute I raised by
chin in this careless manner, he beat me to the punch with a right
that smashed my head back against the wall, laying open the scalp.
Dazed and only partly conscious of what was going on I rebounded right
into Slade, ramming my jaw flush into his left. Zam! At the same
instant I hooked a trip-hammer right under his heart, and we hit the
floor together.

Zowie! I could hear the yelling and cursing as if from a great
distance, and the lights on the ceiling high above seemed dancing in a
thick fog. All I knew was that I had to get back on my feet as quick
as I could.

"One--two--three--four," the oily bird was counting over the both
of us, "five--Bat, you blank-blank, get up!--Six--seven--Bat, blast
it, get your feet under you!--eight--Juan, hit that gong! What kind of
a timekeeper are you?"

"The round ain't over yet!" yelled the dip, seeing I had begun to
get my legs under me.

"Who's refereein' this?" roared the oily bird, jerking out a .45.
"Juan, hit that gong!--Nine!"

Juan hit the gong and Bat's seconds hopped down into the pit and
dragged him to his end, where they started working over him. I crawled
back to mine. Splash! The dip emptied a bucket of water over me. That
freshened me up a lot.

"How you comin'?" he asked.

"Great!" said I, still dizzy. "I'll lay this bird like a rug in
the next round! For honor and the love of a dame! 'Oh, the road to
glory lay--'"

"I've seen 'em knocked even more cuckoo," said the dip, tearing
off a cud of tobacco.

THE FOURTH! SLADE came up weakened, but with fire in his eye. I
was all right, but my legs wouldn't work like they should. Slade was
in far better condition. Seeing this, or probably feeling that he was
weakening, he threw caution to the winds and rushed in to slug with
me.

The crowd went crazy. Left-right-left-right! I was taking four to
one, but mine carried the most steam. It couldn't last long at this
rate.

The oily bird was yelling advice and dashing about the pit's edge
like a lunatic. We went into a clinch, and he leaned over to prod us
apart as usual. He leaned far over, and I don't know if he slipped or
somebody shoved him. Anyway, he crashed down on top of us just as we
broke and started slugging. He fell between us, stopped somebody's
right with his chin, and flopped, face down--through for the night!

By mutual consent, Bat and me suspended hostilities, grabbed the
fallen referee by his neck and the slack of his pants, and hove him up
into the crowd. Then, without a word, we began again. The end was in
sight.

Bat suddenly broke and backed away. I followed, swinging with both
hands. Now I saw the wall was at his back. Ha! He couldn't duck now! I
shot my right straight for his face. He dropped to his knees. Wham! My
fist just cleared the top of his skull and crashed against the
concrete wall.

I heard the bones shatter and a dark tide of agony surged up my
arm, which dropped helpless at my side. Slade was up and springing for
me, but the torture I was in made me forget all about him. I was
nauseated, done up--out on my feet, if you get what I mean. He swung
his left with everything he had--my foot slipped in some blood on the
floor--his left landed high on the side of my skull instead of my jaw.
I went down, but I heard him squawk and looked up to see him dancing
and wringing his left hand.

The knockdown had cleared my brain somewhat. My hand was numb and
not hurting so much, and I realized that Bat had broke his left hand
on my skull like many a man has did. Fair enough! I came surging up,
and Bat, with the light of desperation in his eyes, rushed in wide
open, staking everything on one right swing.

I stepped inside it, sank my left to the wrist in his midriff, and
brought the same hand up to his jaw. He staggered, his arms fell, and
I swung my left flush to the button with everything I had behind it.
Bat hit the floor.

About eight men shoved their snoots over the edge and started
counting, the oily bird being still out. They wasn't all counting
together, so somehow I managed to prop myself up against the wall, not
wanting to make no mistake, until the last man had said "ten!" Then
everything began to whirl, and I flopped down on top of Slade and went
out like a candle.

LET'S PASS OVER the immediate events. I don't remember much about
them anyhow. I slept until the middle of the next afternoon, and I
know the only thing that dragged me out of the bed where the dip had
dumped me was the knowledge that the Sea Girl sailed that night and
that Raquel La Costa probably would be waiting for the victor--me.

Outside the joint where I first met her, who should I come upon
but Bat Slade!

"Huh!" says I, giving him the once over. "Are you able to be out?"

"You ain't no beauty yourself," he retorted.

I admit it. My right was in a sling, both eyes was black, and I
was generally cut and bruised. Still, Slade had no right to give
himself airs. His left was all bandaged, he too had a black eye, and
moreover his features was about as battered as mine. I hope it hurt
him as much to move as it did me. But he had the edge on me in one
way--he hadn't rubbed as much hide off against the walls.

"Where's that two hundred we bet?" I snarled.

"Heh, heh!" sneered he. "Try and get it! They told me I wasn't
counted out officially. The referee didn't count me out. You didn't
whip me."

"Let the money go, you dirty, yellow crook," I snarled, "but I
whipped you, and I can prove it by thirty men. What you doin' here,
anyway?"

"I come to see my girl."

"Your girl? What was we fightin' about last night?"

"Just because you had the sap's luck to knock me stiff don't mean
Raquel chooses you," he answered savagely. "This time, she names the
man she likes, see? And when she does, I want you to get out!"

"All right," I snarled. "I whipped you fair and can prove it. Come
in here; she'll get a chance to choose between us, and if she don't
pick the best man, why, I can whip you all over again. Come on, you--"

Saying no more, we kicked the door open and went on in. We swept
the interior with a eagle glance, and then sighted Raquel sitting at a
table, leaning on her elbows and gazing soulfully into the eyes of a
handsome bird in the uniform of a Spanish naval officer.

We barged across the room and come to a halt at her table. She
glanced up in some surprise, but she could not have been blamed had
she failed to recognize us.

"Raquel," said I, "we went forth and fought for your fair hand
just like you said. As might be expected, I won. Still, this
incomprehensible bezark thinks that you might still have some lurkin'
fondness for him, and he requires to hear from your own rosy lips that
you love another--meanin' me, of course. Say the word and I toss him
out. My ship sails tonight, and I got a lot to say to you."

"Santa Maria!" said Raquel. "What ees theese? What kind of a
bizness is theese, you two tramps coming looking like theese and
talking gibberish? Am I to blame eef two great tramps go pound each
other's maps, ha? What ees that to me?"

"But you said--" I began, completely at sea, "you said, go fight
and the best man--"

"I say, may the best man win! Bah! Did I geeve any promise? What
do I care about Yankee tramps what make the fist-fight? Bah! Go home
and beefsteak the eye. You insult me, talking to me in public with the
punch' nose and bung' up face."

"Then you don't love either of us?" said Bat.

"Me love two gorillas? Bah! Here is my man--Don Jose y Balsa Santa
Maria Gonzales."

She then gave a screech, for at that moment Bat and me hit Don
Jose y Balsa Santa Maria Gonzales simultaneous, him with the right and
me with the left. And then, turning our backs on the dumfounded
Raquel, we linked arms and, stepping over the fallen lover, strode
haughtily to the door and vanished from her life.

"AND THAT," SAID I, as we leaned upon the bar to which we had made
our mutual and unspoke agreement, "ends our romance, and the glory
road leads only to disappointment and hokum."

"Women," said Bat gloomily, "are the bunk."

"Listen," said I, remembering something, "how about that two
hundred you owe me?"

"What for?"

"For knockin' you cold."

"Steve," said Bat, laying his hand on my shoulder in brotherly
fashion, "you know I been intendin' to pay you that all along. After
all, Steve, we are seamen together, and we have just been did dirt by
a woman of another race. We are both American sailors, even if you are
a harp, and we got to stand by each other. Let bygones be bygones,
says I. The fortunes of war, you know. We fought a fair, clean fight,
and you was lucky enough to win. Let's have one more drink and then
part in peace an' amity."

"You ain't holdin' no grudge account of me layin' you out?" I
asked, suspiciously.

"Steve," said Bat, waxing oratorical, "all men is brothers, and
the fact that you was lucky enough to crown me don't alter my
admiration and affection. Tomorrow we will be sailin' the high seas,
many miles apart. Let our thoughts of each other be gentle and
fraternal. Let us forgit old feuds and old differences. Let this be
the dawn of a new age of brotherly affection and square dealin'."

"And how about my two hundred?"

"Steve, you know I am always broke at the end of my shore leave. I
give you my word I'll pay you them two hundred smackers. Ain't the
word of a comrade enough? Now le's drink to our future friendship and
the amicable relations of the crews of our respective ships. Steve,
here's my hand! Let this here shake be a symbol of our friendship. May
no women ever come between us again! Good-bye, Steve! Good luck! Good
luck!"

And so saying, we shook and turned away. That is, I turned and
then whirled back as quick as I could--just in time to duck the right
swing he'd started the minute my back was turned, and to knock him
cold with a bottle I snatched off the bar.



THE END




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