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Title: Champ of the Forecastle
Author: Robert E. Howard
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0609071.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: December 2006
Date most recently updated: December 2006

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Champ of the Forecastle
Robert E. Howard


I DON'T HAVE to have a man tell me he craves war. I can tell it by
the set of his jaw, the glare in his eyes. So, when Sven Larson raised
his huge frame on his bunk and accused me of swiping his tobaccer, I
knowed very well what his idee was. But I didn't want to fight Sven.
Havin' licked the big cheese three or four times already, I seen no
need in mauling him any more. So somewhat to the surprise of the rest
of the crew, I said:

"Sven, that's purty crude. You didn't need to think up no lie to
pick a fight with me. I know you crave to be champion of the _Sea
Girl,_ but they ain't a chance, and I don't want to hurt you--"

I got no further, because with a bull's beller he heaved hisself
offa his bunk and come for me like a wild man. Gosh, what a familiar
scene that was--the fierce, hard faces ringing us, the rough bunks
along the wall, the dim light of the lantern swinging overhead, and me
standing in the middle, barefooted and stripped to the waist, holding
my only title against all comers! They ain't a inch of that forecastle
floor that I ain't reddened with my blood. They ain't a edge of a
upper bunk that I ain't had my head smashed against. And since I been
a man grown they ain't a sailor on the Seven Seas that can say he
stood up to me in that forecastle and beat me down.

The lurching of the ship and the unsteady footing don't bother me
none, nor the close space and foul, smoke-laden air. That's my
element, and if I couldst fight in the ring like I can in the
forecastle, with nothing barred, I'd be champion of something besides
a tramp wind-jammer.

Well, Sven come at me with his old style--straight up, wide open,
with a wild swinging right. I ducked inside it and smashed my left
under his heart, following instantly with a blasting right hook to the
jaw as he sagged. He started falling and a lurch of the ship throwed
him half under a opposite bunk. They's no mercy ast, give or expected
in a forecastle fight; it's always to the finish. I was right after
him, and no sooner hadst he got to his feet than I smashed him down
again before he could get his hands up.

"Let's call it a day, Sven," I growled. "I don't want to punch you
no more."

But he come weaving up, spitting blood and roaring in his own
tongue. He tried to clinch and gouge, but another right hook to the
jaw sent him down and out. I shook the sweat outa my eyes and glared
down at him in some irritation, which was mixed with the satisfaction
of knowing that again I hadst proved my right to the title of champion
of the toughest ship afloat. Maybe you think that's a mighty small
thing, but it's the only title I got and I'm proud of it.

But I couldn't get onto Sven. Me and him was good friends
ordinarily, but ever so often he'd get the idee he couldst lick me. So
the next day I looked him up between watches and found him sulking and
brooding. I looked over his enormous frame and shook my head in wonder
to think that I hadst gotten no further in the legitimate ring than I
have, when I can lay out such incredible monsters as Sven so easy.

Six feet four he was in his socks, and his two hundred and forty-
five pounds was all muscle. I can bend coins between my fingers, tear
up decks of cards and twist horseshoes in two, but Sven's so much
stronger'n me they's no comparison. But size and strength ain't
everything.

"Sven," said I, "how come you forever got to be fightin' me?"

Well, at first he wouldn't say, but at last it come out.

"AYE BANE GOT girl at Stockholm. She bane like me purty good, but
they bane another faller. His name bane Olaf Ericson and he own
fishing smack. Always when Aye go out with my girl, he bane yump on me
and he always lick me. Aye tank if Aye ever lick you, Aye can lick
Olaf."

"So you practice on me, hey?" I said. "Well, Sven, you never will
lick me nor Olaf nor any man which can use his hands unless you change
your style. Oh, uh course, you're a bear-cat when it comes to fightin'
ignorant dock-wallopers and deck-hands which never seen a glove and
can't do nothin' but bite and gouge. But you see what happens when you
get up against a real fightin' man. Sven," said I on a sudden impulse,
like I usually do, "far be it from me to see a deep water seaman get
beat up regular by a Baltic fish-grabber. It's a reflection on the
profession and on the ship. Sven," said I, "I'm goin' to train you to
lick this big cheese."

Well, I hadn't never give much thought to Sven before, only in a
general way--you can't pay close attention to every square-head which
comes and goes aboard a trading ship--but in the weeks which followed
I done my best to make a fighting man of him. I rigged up a punching
bag for him and sparred with him between watches. When him or me
wasn't doing our trick at the wheel or holystoning the deck, or
scraping the cable or hauling on a rope, or trimming sail or
exchanging insults with the mates, I tried to teach him all I knowed.

Understand, I didn't try to make no boxing wizard outa him. The
big slob couldn't of learned even if I could of taught him. And I
didn't know how myself. I ain't a clever boxer. I'm a rough and
willing mixer in the ring, but compared to such rough-house scrappers
as Sven, I'm a wonder. The simple ducking, slipping and blocking,
which even the crudest slugger does in the ring, is beyond the ken of
the average untrained man, and as for scientific hitting, they never
heard of it. They just draw back the right and let it go without any
aim, timing nor nothing. Well, I just taught Sven the fundamentals--to
stand with his left foot forward and not get his legs crossed, to lead
with his left and to time and aim a little. I got him outa the habit
of swinging wild and wide open with his right all the time, and by
constant drilling I taught him the knack of hooking and hitting
straight. I also give him a lot of training to harden his body
muscles, which was his weak spot.

Well, the big Swede took to it like a duck takes to water, and
after I'd explained each simple move upwards of a thousand times, he'd
understand it and apply it and he wouldn't forget. Like lots of
square-heads, he was slow to learn, but once he had learned, he
remembered what he'd learned. And his great size and strength was a
big asset.

Bill O'Brien says, "Steve, you're trainin' the big sap to take
your title away from you." But I merely laughed with great merriment
at the idee.

Sven had a wallop like a mule's kick in either hand, and when he
learned to use it, he was dangerous to any man. He was pretty tough,
too, or got so before I got through with him. He wasn't very fast, and
I taught him a kind of deep defensive crouch like Jeffries used. He
took to it natural and developed a surprising left for the body.

After six months of hard work on him, I felt sure that he could
lick the average alley-fighter easy. And about this time we was
cruising Baltic waters and headed for Stockholm.

As we approached his native heath, Sven grew impatient and
restless. He had a lot more self-confidence now and he craved another
chance at Olaf, the demon rival. Sven wasn't just a big unwieldy slob
no more. Constant sparring with me and Bill O'Brien had taught him how
to handle hisself and how to use his bulk and strength. A few days
outa Stockholm he had a row with Mushy Hansen, which was two hundred
pounds of fighting man, and he knocked the Dane so cold it took us a
hour and a half to bring him to.

Well, that cheered Sven up considerable and when we docked, he
said to me: "Aye go see Segrida, my girl, and find out if Olaf bane in
port. He bane hang out at dey Fisherman's Tavern. Aye go past with
Segrida and he come out and yump on me, like usual. Only diss time Aye
bane lick him."

Well, at the appointed time me and Bill and Mushy was loafing
around the Fisherman's Tavern, a kind of bar where a lot of tough
Swedish fishermen hung out, and pretty soon, along come Sven.

He had his girl with him, all right, a fine, big blonde girl--one
of these tall, slender yet well-built girls which is overflowing with
health and vitality. She was so pretty I was plumb astounded as to
what she seen in a big boob like Sven. But women is that way. They
fall for the dubs and pass up the real prizes--like me, for instance.

Segrida looked kind of worried just now and as they neared the
Tavern, she cast a apprehensive eye that way. Well, they was abreast
of the door when a kind of irritated roar sounded from within and out
bulged what could of been nobody but Olaf the Menace, hisself, in
person.

THERE WAS A man for you! He was fully as tall as Sven, though not
as heavy. Tall, lithe and powerful he was, like a big, blond tiger. He
was so handsome I couldst easily see why Segrida hesitated between him
and Sven--or rather I couldn't see why she hesitated at all! Olaf
looked like one of these here Vikings you read about which rampaged
around in old times, licking everybody. But he had a hard, cruel eye,
which I reckon goes with that kind of nature.

He had some fellers with him, but they stayed back in the doorway
while he swaggered out and stopped square in front of Sven. He had a
most contemptuous sneer and he said something which of course I
couldn't understand, but as Mushy later translated the conversation to
me, I'll give it like Mushy told to me and Bill.

"Well, well," said Olaf, "looking for another licking, eh? Your
deep sea boy friend is back in port looking for his usual trouncing,
eh, Segrida?"

"Olaf, please," said Segrida, frightened. "Don't fight, please!"

"I warned you what would happen to him," said Olaf, "if you went
out with him--"

At this moment Sven, who had said nothing, shocked his bold rival
by growling: "Too much talk; put up your hands!"

Olaf, though surprised, immediately done so, and cut Sven's lip
with a flashing straight left before the big boy couldst get in
position. Segrida screamed but no cops was in sight and the battle was
on.

Olaf had learned boxing some place, and was one of the fastest men
for his size I ever seen. For the first few seconds he plastered Sven
plenty, but from the way the big fellow hunched his shoulders and
surged in, I hadst no doubt about the outcome.

Sven dropped into the deep, defensive crouch I'd taught him, and I
seen Olaf was puzzled. He hisself fought in the straight-up English
sparring position and this was the first time he'd ever met a man who
fought American style, I could see. With Sven's crouch protecting his
body and his big right arm curved around his jaw, all Olaf couldst see
to hit was his eyes glaring over the arm.

He battered away futilely at Sven's hard head, doing no damage
whatever, and then Sven waded in and drove his ponderous left to the
wrist in Olaf's midriff. Olaf gasped, went white, swayed and shook
like a leaf. He sure couldn't take it there and I yelled for Sven to
hit him again in the same place, but the big dumb-bell tried a heavy
swing for the jaw, half straightening out of his crouch as he swung
and Olaf ducked and staggered him with a sizzling right to the ear.
Sven immediately went back into his shell and planted another
battering-ram left under Olaf's heart.

Olaf broke ground gasping and his knees trembling, but Sven kept
right on top of him in his plodding sort of way. Olaf jarred him with
a dying-effort swing to the jaw, but them months of punching hadst
toughened Sven and the big fellow shook his head and leaned on a right
to the ribs.

That finished Olaf; his knees give way and he started falling,
grabbing feebly at Sven as he done so. But Sven, with one of the few
laughs I ever heard him give, pushed him away and crashed a tremendous
right-hander to his jaw. Olaf straightened out on the board-walk and
he didn't even quiver.

A LOW RUMBLE of fury warned us and we turned to see Olaf's amazed
but wrathful cronies surging towards the victor. But me and Bill and
Mushy and Mike kind of drifted in between and at the sight of three
hard-eyed American seamen and a harder-eyed Irish bulldog, they
stopped short and signified their intention of merely taking Olaf into
the Tavern and bringing him to.

At this Sven, grinning placidly and turning to Segrida with open
arms, got the shock of his life. Instead of falling on to his manly
bosom, Segrida, who hadst stood there like she was froze, woke up all
at once and bust into a perfect torrent of speech. I would of give a
lot to understand it. Sven stood gaping with his mouth wide open and
even the rescue party which had picked up Olaf, stood listening. Then
with one grand burst of oratory, she handed Sven a full-armed, open-
handed slap that cracked like a bull-whip, and busting into tears, she
run forward to help with Olaf. They vanished inside the Tavern.

"What'd she say? What's the idee?" I asked, burnt up with
curiosity.

"She say she bane through with me," Sven answered dazedly. "She
say Aye bane a brute. She say she ain't bane want to see me no more."

"Well, keel-haul me," said I profanely. "Can ya beat that? First
she wouldn't choose Sven because he got licked by Olaf all the time;
now she won't have him because he licked Olaf. Women are all crazy."

"Never mind, old timer," said Bill, slapping the dejected Sven on
the back. "Anyway, you licked Olaf to a fare-you-well. Come along, and
we'll buy you a drink."

But Sven just shook his head sullen-like and moped off by hisself;
so after arguing with him unsuccessfully, me and Bill and Mushy betook
ourselves to a place where we couldst get some real whiskey and not
the stuff they make in them Scandinavian countries. The barkeep kicked
at first because I give my white bulldog, Mike, a pan-full of beer on
the floor, but we overcome that objection and fell to talking about
Sven.

"I don't savvy dames," I said. "If she gives Sven the bounce for
beatin' up Olaf, whyn't she give Olaf the bounce long ago for beatin'
up Sven so much?"

"It's Olaf she really loves," said Mushy.

"Maybe," said Bill. "And maybe he's just persistent. But women is
kind-hearted. They pities a poor boob which has just got punched in
the nose, and as long as Sven was gettin' licked all the time, he got
all her pity. But now her pity and affections is transferred to Olaf,
naturally."

Well, we didn't see no more of Sven till kind of late that night,
when in come one of our square-head ship-mates named Fritz to the bar
where me and Bill and Mushy was, and said he: "Steve, Sven he say
maybeso you bane come down to a place on Hjolmer Street; he bane got
something to show you."

"Now what could that Swede want now?" said Bill testily, but I
said, "Oh well, we got nothin' else to do." So we went to Hjolmer
Street, a kind of narrow street just out of the waterfront section. It
wasn't no particularly genteel place--kind of dirty and dingy for a
Swedish street, with little crumby shops along the way, all closed up
and deserted that time of night. The square-head, Fritz, led us to a
place which was lighted up, though the shutters was closed. He knocked
on the door and a short fat Swede opened it and closed it behind us.

To my surprise I seen the place was a kind of third-rate
gymnasium. They was a decrepit punching bag, a horizontal bar and a
lot of bar-bells, dumb-bells, kettle bells--in fact, all the lifting
weights you couldst imagine. They was also a rastling mat and, in the
middle of the floor, a canvas covered space about the size of a small
ring. And in the middle of this stood Sven, in fighting togs and with
his hands taped.

"Who you goin' to fight, Sven?" I asked curiously.

He scowled slightly, flexed his mighty arms kind of embarrassed-
like, swelled out his barrel chest and said: "You!"

You could of bowled me over with a jib boom.

"Me?" I said in amazement. "What kind of joke is this?"

"It bane no yoke," he answered stolidly. "Mine friend Knut bane
own diss gym and teach rastlin' and weight liftin'. He bane let us
fight here."

Knut, a stocky Swede with the massive arms and pot belly of a
retired weight lifter, give me a kind of apologetic look, but I glared
at him.

"But what you want to fight me for?" I snarled in perplexity.
"Ain't I taught you all you know? Didn't I teach you to lick Olaf? You
ungrateful--"

"Aye ain't got no grudge for you, Steve," the big cheese answered
placidly. "But Aye tank Aye like be champion of dass _Sea Girl._ Aye
got to lick you to be it, ain't it? Sure!"

Bill and Mushy was looking at me expectantly, but I was all at
sea. After you've worked six months teaching a man your trade and
built him up and made something outa him, you don't want to undo it
all by rocking him to sleep.

"Why're you so set on bein' champ of the _Sea Girl_?" I asked
irritably.

"Well," said the overgrown heathen, "Aye tank Aye lick you and
then Aye can lick Olaf, and Segrida she like me. But Aye lick Olaf,
and Segrida she give me dass gate. Dass bane your fault, for teach me
to lick Olaf. But Aye ain't blame you. Aye like you fine, Steve, but
now Aye tank Aye be champ of dass _Sea Girl._ Aye ain't got no girl no
more, so Aye got to be something. Aye lick Olaf so Aye can lick you.
Aye lick you and be champ and we be good friends, ya?"

"But I don't want to fight you, you big mutton-head!" I snarled in
wrathful perplexity.

"Then Aye fight you on the street or the fo'c's'le or wherever Aye
meet you," he said cheerfully.

At that my small stock of temper was plumb exhausted. With a blood
thirsty howl I ripped off my shirt. "Bring on the gloves, you square-
headed ape!" I roared. "If I got to batter some sense into your solid
ivory skull I might as well start now!"

A FEW MINUTES later I was clad in a dingy pair of trunks which
Knut dragged out of somewhere for me, and we was donning the gloves a
set lighter than the standard weight, which Knut hadst probably got as
a present from John L. Sullivan or somebody.

We agreed on Bill as referee, but Sven being afraid of Mike, made
me agree to have Mushy hold him, though I assured him Mike wouldn't
interfere in a glove fight. They was no ropes around the canvas space,
no stools nor gong. However, as it happened, they wasn't needed.

As we advanced toward each other I realized more'n ever how much
of a man Sven was. Six feet four--245 pounds--all bone and muscle. He
towered over me like a giant, and I musta looked kinda small beside
him, though I'm six feet tall and weigh 190 pounds. Under his white
skin the great muscles rolled and billowed like flexible iron, and his
chest looked more like a gorilla's than a human's.

But size ain't everything. Old Fitz used to flatten men which
outweighed him over a hundred pounds, and lookit what Dempsey and
Sharkey used to do to such like giants--and I'm as tough as Sharkey
and can hit as hard as either of them other palookas, even if I ain't
quite as accurate or scientific.

No, I hadst no worries about Sven, but I'd got over being mad at
him and I seen his point of view. Sven wasn't sore at me, nor nothing.
He just wanted to be champ of his ship, which was a natural wish.
Since his girl give him the air, he wanted to more'n ever to kind of
soothe his wounded vanity, as they say.

No, I cooled down and kind of sympathized with Sven's point of
view which is a bad state of mind to enter into any kind of a scrap.
They ain't nothing more helpful than a good righteous anger and a
feeling like the other bird is a complete rascal and absolutely in the
wrong.

As we come together, Sven said: "No rounds, Steve; we fight to
dass finish, yes?"

"All right," I said with very little enthusiasm. "But, Sven, for
the last time--have you just got to fight me?"

His reply was a left which he shot for my jaw so sudden like I
just barely managed to slip it. I come back with a slashing right
which he blocked, clumsy but effective. He then dropped into the deep
crouch I'd taught him and rammed his left for my wind. But I knowed
the counter to that, having seen pictures of the second Fitzsimmons-
Jeffries riot. I stepped around and inside his ramming left, slapping
a left uppercut inside the crook of his right arm, to his jaw,
cracking his teeth together and rocking his head up and back for a
right hook which I opened a gash on his temple with.

He give a deafening roar and immediately abandoned his defensive
posture and come for me like a mad bull. I figured, here's where I end
this scrap quick, like always. But in half a second I seen my error.

Sven didn't rush wide open, flailing wild, like he used to. He
come plunging in, bunched in a compact bulk of iron muscles and
fighting fury; he hooked and hit straight, and he kept his chin
clamped down on his hairy chest and his shoulders hunched to guard it,
half crouching to protect his body. Even the rudiments of boxing
science he'd learned, coupled with his enormous size and strength made
him plenty formidable to any man.

I don't know how to tin-can and back pedal. If Jeffries hisself
was to rush me, all I'd know to do wouldst be to stand up to him and
trade punches until I went out cold. I met Sven with a right smash
that was high, but stopped him in his tracks. Blood spattered and he
swayed like a big tree about to crash, but before I could follow up,
he plunged in again, hitting with both hands. He hit and he hit--and--
he--hit!

He throwed both hands as fast as he could drive one after the
other and every blow had all his weight behind it. Outa the depths of
his fighting fit he'd conjured up amazing speed. It happens some time.
I never seen a man his size hit that fast before or since. It was just
like being in a rain of sledge-hammers that never quit coming. All I
couldst see was his glaring eyes, his big shoulders hunched and
rocking as he hit--and a perfect whirlwind of big glove-covered clubs.

He wasn't timing or aiming much--hitting too fast for that. But
even when he landed glancing-like, he shook me, with that advantage of
fifty-five pounds. And he landed solid too often to suit me.

Try as I would, I couldn't get in a solid smash under the heart,
or on the jaw. He kept his head down, and my vicious uppercuts merely
glanced off his face, too high to do much good. Black and blue bruises
showed on his ribs and shoulders, but his awkward half crouch kept his
vitals protected.

It's mighty hard to hammer a giant like him out of position--
especially when you're trying to keep him from tearing off your head
at the same time. I bored in close, letting Sven's blows go around my
neck while I blasted away with both hands. No--they was little science
used on either side. It was mostly a wild exchange of sledge-hammer
wallops.

In one of our rare clinches, Sven lifted me off my feet and
throwed me the full width of the room where I hit the wall--_wham!_--
like I was going on through. This made Bill, as referee, very mad at
Sven and he cussed him and kicked him heartily in the pants, but the
big cheese never paid no attention.

I WAS LANDING the most blows and they rocked Sven from stem to
stern, but they wasn't vital ones. Already his face was beef. One eye
was closed, his lips were pulped and his nose was bleeding; his left
side was raw, but, if anything, he seemed to be getting stronger. My
training hadst toughened him a lot more than I'd realized!

_Blim!_ A glancing slam on my jaw made me see plenty of stars.
_Wham!_ His right met the side of my head and I shot back half-way
across the room to crash into the wall. Long ago we'd got off the
canvas; we was fighting all over the joint.

Sven was after me like a mad bull, and I braced myself and stopped
him in his tracks with a left hook that ripped his ear loose and made
his knees sag for a second. But the Swede had worked hisself into one
of them berserk rages where you got to mighty near kill a man to stop
him. His right, curving up from his hip, banged solid on my temple and
I thought for a second my skull was caved in like an egg-shell.

Blood gushed down my neck when he drawed his glove back, and,
desperate, I hooked my right to his body with everything I had behind
it. I reckon that was when I cracked his rib, because I heard
something snap and he kind of grunted.

Both of us was terrible looking by this time and kind of in a
dream like, I saw Knut wringing his hands and begging Bill and Mushy
and Fritz to stop it--I reckon he'd never saw a real glove battle
before and it was so different from lifting weights! Naturally, they,
who was clean goggle-eyed and yelling theirselves deaf and dumb, paid
no attention to him at all, and so in a second Knut turned and run out
into the street like he was going for the cops.

But I paid no heed. For the first time in many a day I was
fighting with my back to the wall against one of my own crew. Sven was
inhuman--it was like fighting a bull or an elephant. He was landing
solid now, and even if them blows was clumsy, with 245 pounds of crazy
Swede behind them, they was like the blows of a pile-driver.

He knowed only one kind of footwork--going forward. And he kept
plunging and hitting, plunging and hitting till the world was blind
and red. I shook my head and the blood flew like spray. The sheer
weight of his plunges hurtled me back in spite of myself.

Once more I tried to rock his head up for a solid shot to the jaw.
My left uppercut split his lips and rattled his teeth, but his bowed
neck was like iron. In desperation I banged him square on the side of
the head where his skull was hardest.

Blood spurted like I'd hit him with a hand spike, and he swayed
drunkenly--then he dropped into a deep crouch and shot his left to my
midriff with all his weight behind it. Judas! It was so unexpected I
couldn't get away from it. I was standing nearly upright and that huge
fist sank into my solar-plexus till I felt it banged against my spine.
I dropped like a sack and writhed on the floor like a snake with a
busted back, fighting for air. Bill said later I was purple in the
face.

Like I was looking through a thick fog, I seen Bill, dazed and
white-faced, counting over me. I dunno how I got up again. I was
sick--I thought I was dying. But Sven was standing right over me, and
looking up at him, a lot of thoughts surged through my numbed and
battered brain in a kind of flash.

The new champion of the _Sea Girl_, I thought, after all these
years I've held my title against all comers. After all the men I've
fought and licked to hold the only title I got. All the cruel
punishment I've took, all the blood I've spilt, now I lose my only
title to this square-head that I've licked half a dozen times. Like a
dream it all come back--the dim-lighted, smelly, dingy forecastle, the
yelling, cursing seamen--and me in the middle of it all--the bully of
the forecastle. And now--never no more to defend my title--never to
hear folks along the docks say: "That's Steve Costigan, champ of the
toughest ship afloat!"

WITH A KIND of gasping sob, I grabbed Sven's legs and climbed up,
up, till I was on my feet, leaning against him chest to chest, till he
shook me off and smashed me down like he was driving a nail into the
floor. I reeled up just as Bill began to count, and this time I ducked
Sven's swing and clinched him with a grip even he couldn't break.

And as I held on and drew in air in great racking gasps, I looked
over his straining shoulder and seen Knut come rushing in through the
door with a white-faced girl behind him--Segrida. But I was too near
out to even realize that Sven's ex-girl was there.

Sven pushed me away finally and dropped me once more with a punch
that was more a push than anything else. This time I took the count of
nine, resting, as my incredible vitality, the wonder of manys the
sporting scribe, began to assert itself.

I rose suddenly and beat Sven to the punch with a wild right that
smashed his nose. Like most sluggers, I never lose my punch, no matter
how badly beaten I am. I'm dangerous right to the last second, as
better men than Sven Larson has found out.

Sven wasn't going so strong hisself as he had been. He moved stiff
and mechanical and swung his arms awkwardly, like they was dead. He
walked in stolidly and smashed a club-like right to my face. Blood
spattered and I went back on my heels, but surged in and ripped my
right under the heart, landing square there for the first time.

Another right smashed full on Sven's already battered mouth, and,
spitting out the fragments of a tooth, he crashed a flailing left to
my body, which I distinctly felt bend my ribs to the breaking point.

I ripped a left to his temple, and he flattened my ear with a
swinging right, rocking drunkenly like a tall ship in the Trades with
all sails set. Another right glanced offa the top of my head as I
ducked and for the first time I seen his unguarded jaw as he loomed
above me where I crouched.

I straightened, crashing my right from the hip, with every ounce
of my weight behind it, and all the drive they was in leg, waist,
shoulder and arm. I landed solid on the button with a jolt that burst
my glove and numbed my whole arm--I heard a scream--I seen Sven's eyes
go blank--I seen him sway like a falling mast--I seen him pitching
forward--_bang!_ The lights went out.

I WAS PROPPED up in a chair and Bill was sloshing me with water. I
looked around at the dingy gym; then I remember. A queer, sad, cold
feeling come over me. I felt old and worn out. After all, I wasn't a
boy no more. All the hard, bitter years of fighting the sea and
fighting men come over me and settled like a cold cloud on my
shoulders. All the life kind of went out of me.

"Believe me, Steve," said Bill, slapping at me with his towel,
"that fight sure set Sven solid with Segrida. Right now she's weepin'
over his busted nose and black eye and the like, and huggin' him and
kissin' him and vowin' everlastin' love. I knowed I was right all the
time. Knut run after her to get her to stop the bout. Gosh, the
Marines couldn't a stopped it! Mushy clean chawed Mike's collar in
two, he was that excited! Say, would you uh thought a slob like Sven
coulda made the fightin' man he has in six months?"

"Yeah," I said listlessly, scratching Mike's ear as he licked my
hand. "Well, he had it comin'. He worked hard enough. And he was lucky
havin' somebody to teach him. All I know, I learned for myself in
cruel hard battles. But, Bill, I can't stay on the _Sea Girl_ now; I
just can't get used to bein' just a contender on a ship where I was
champion."

Bill dropped his towel and glared at me: "What you talkin' about?"

"Why, Sven's the new champ of the _Sea Girl_, lickin' me this way.
Strange, what a come-back he made just as I thought he was goin'
down."

"You're clean crazy!" snorted Bill. "By golly, a rap on the dome
has a funny effect on some skates. Sven's just now comin' to. Mushy
and Fritz and Knut has been sloshin' him with water for ten minutes.
You knocked him stiff as a wedge with that last right hook."

I come erect with a bound! "What? Then I licked Sven? I'm still
champion? But if he didn't knock me out, who did?"

Bill grinned. "Don't you know no man can hit you hard enough with
his fist to knock you out? Swedish girls is impulsive. Segrida done
that--with a iron dumb-bell!"

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THE END



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