Project Gutenberg Australia
a treasure-trove of literature
treasure found hidden with no evidence of ownership




Title: Circus Fists
Author: Robert E. Howard
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0609081.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: December 2006
Date most recently updated: December 2006

This eBook was produced by: Richard Scott

Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions
which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice
is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular
paper edition.

Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the
copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this
file.

This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions
whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms
of the Project Gutenberg of Australia License which may be viewed online at
http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html


To contact Project Gutenberg of Australia go to http://gutenberg.net.au



Circus Fists
Robert E. Howard


ME AND THE Old Man had a most violent row whilst the _Sea Girl_
was tied up at the docks of a small seaport on the West Coast.
Somebody put a pole-cat in the Old Man's bunk, and he accused me of
doing it. I denied it indignantly, and asked him where he reckoned I
would get a pole-cat, and he said well, it was a cinch _somebody_ had
got a pole-cat, because there it was, and it was his opinion that I
was the only man of the crew which was low-down enough to do a trick
like that.

This irritated me, and I told him he oughta know it wasn't me,
because I had the reputation of being kind to animals, and I wouldn't
put a decent skunk where it would have to associate with a critter
like the Old Man.

This made him so mad that he busted a bottle of good rye whiskey
over my head. Annoyed at such wanton waste of good licker, I grabbed
the old walrus and soused him in a horse-trough--us being on the docks
at the time.

The Old Man ariz like Neptune from the deep, and, with whiskers
dripping, he shook his fists at me and yelled, "Don't never darken my
decks again, Steve Costigan. If you ever try to come aboard the _Sea
Girl,_ I'll fill you fulla buckshot, you mutineerin' pirate!"

"Go set on a marlin-spike," I sneered. "I wouldn't sail with you
again for ten bucks a watch and plum duff every mess. I'm through with
the sea, anyhow. You gimme a bad taste for the whole business. A
landman's life is the life for me, by golly. Me and Mike is goin' to
fare forth and win fame and fortune ashore."

And so saying, I swaggered away with my white bulldog, follered
clean outa sight by the Old Man's sincere maledictions.

Casting about for amusement, I soon come onto a circus which was
going full blast at the edge of town. I seen a side-show poster which
said, _Battling Bingo, Champion of the West Coast._ So I went in and
they was considerable of a crowd there and a big dumb-looking mutt in
tights standing up in a ring, flexing his arms and showing off his
muscles.

"Gents," yelled the barker, a flashy-dressed young feller with a
diamond horse-shoe stick-pin, "the management offers fifty dollars to
any man which can stay four rounds with this tiger of the ring! Five
minutes ago I made the same offer on the platform outside, and some
gent took me up. But now he seems to have got cold feet, and is
nowhere to be found. So here and now I again make the original
proposition--fifty round, bright iron men to any guy which can stay
four rounds with this man-killin' terror, this fire-breathin'
murderer, this iron-fisted man-mountain, Battling Bingo, the Terror of
the Rockies!"

The crowd whooped, and three or four fellers made a move like they
was going to take up the challenge, but I brushed 'em scornfully aside
and bellered, "I'll take that dough, mate!"

I bounced into the ring, and the barker said, "You realize that
the management ain't responsible for life or limb?"

"Aw, stow that guff and gimme them gloves," I roared, ripping off
my shirt. "Get ready, champeen. I'm goin' to knock your crown off!"

The gong sounded, and we went for each other. They wasn't no
canvas stretched across the back of the ring where Bingo couldst shove
me up against to be blackjacked by somebody behind it, so I knowed
very well he had a iron knuckle-duster on one of his hands, and, from
the way he dangled his right, I knowed that was the hand. So I watched
his right, and, when he throwed it, I stepped inside of his swing and
banged him on the whiskers with a left and a right hook which tucked
him away for the evening.

The crowd roared in huge approval, and I jerked the wad of
greenbacks outa the barker's hand and started away when he stopped me.

"Say," he said, "I reckernize you now. You're Sailor Costigan.
How'd you like to take this tramp's place? We'll pay you good wages."

"All I got to do is flatten jobbies?" I said, and he said it was.
So that's how I come to start working in Flash Larney's Gigantic
Circus and Animal Show.

Each night I'd appear in fighting tights before the multitude, and
the barker, Joe Beemer, wouldst go through the usual ballyhoo, and
then all I had to do was to knock the blocks offa the saps which tried
to collect the fifty. I wouldn't use the knuckle-duster. I wouldn't of
used it even if I'd of needed it, which I didn't. If I can't sock a
palooka to sleep, fair and above-board, with my own personal knuckles,
then they ain't no use in trying to dint him with a load of iron.

WE WORKED UP and down the West Coast and inland, and it was mostly
easy. The men which tried to lick me was practically all alley-
fighters--big strong fellers, but they didn't know nothing. Mostly
farmers, blacksmiths, sailors, longshoremen, miners, cowpunchers, bar-
room bouncers. All I had to do was to hit 'em. More'n once I knocked
out three or four men in one night.

I always got action because the crowd was always against me, just
like they was against Battling Bingo when I flattened him. A crowd is
always against the carnival fighter, whether they know his opponent or
not. And when the opponent is some well-known local boy, they nearly
have hydrophobia in their excitement.

You oughta heered the cheers they'd give their home-town pride,
and the dirty remarks they'd yell at me. No matter how hard I was
fighting, I generally found time to reply to their jeers with choice
insults I had picked up all over the seven seas, with the result that
the maddened mob wouldst spew forth more raging sluggers to be
slaughtered. Some men can't fight their best when the crowd's against
'em, but I always do better, if anything. It makes me mad, and I take
it out on my opponent.

When I wasn't performing in the ring, I was driving stakes,
setting up or taking down tents, and fighting with my circus-mates.
Larney's outfit had the name of being the toughest on the Coast, and
it was. The fights I had in the ring wasn't generally a stitch to them
I had on the lot.

Well, I always makes it a point to be the champeen of whatever
outfit I'm with, and I done so in this case. The first day I was with
the show I licked three razor-backs, the lion-tamer and a side-show
barker, and from then on it was a battle practically every day till
them mutts realized I was the best man on the lot.

Fighting all the time like I was, I got so hard and mean I
surprised myself. They wasn't a ounce of flesh on me that wasn't like
iron, and I believe I could of run ten miles at top speed without
giving out. The Dutch weight-lifter figgered to give me a close
scrimmage, but he was way too slow. The toughest scrap I had was with
a big Japanese acrobat. We fought all over the lot one morning, and
everybody postponed the parade for a hour to watch. I was about all in
when I finally put the heathen away, but, with my usual recuperative
powers, I was able to go on that night as usual, and flatten a farm-
hand, a piano-mover and a professional football player.

Some trouble was had with Mike, which always set in my corner and
bit anybody which tried to hit me through the ropes, as often happened
when the local boy started reeling. Larney wanted to shave him and
tattoo him and put him in a sideshow.

"The tattooed dog!" said Larney. "That would draw 'em! A novelty!
Can't you see the crowds flockin' through the gates for a look at
him?"

"I can see me bustin' you in the snoot," I growled. "You let Mike
alone."

"Well," said Larney, "we got to make him more presentable. He
looks kinda crude and uncultured alongside our trained poodles."

So the lion-trainer bathed Mike and combed him and perfumed him,
and put on a little fool dog-blanket with straps and gilt buckles, and
tied a big bow ribbon on his stump tail. But Mike seen himself in a
mirror and tore off all that rigging and bit the lion-tamer.

Well, they had a old decrepit lion by the name of Oswald which
didn't have no teeth, and Mike got to sleeping in his cage. So they
fixed a place where Mike couldst get in and out without Oswald getting
out, and made a kind of act out of it.

Larney advertised Mike as the dog which laid down with the lion,
and wouldst have Mike and Oswald in the cage together, and spiel about
how ferocious Oswald was, and how unusual it was for a friendship to
spring up between such natural enemies. But the reason Mike slept in
the cage was that they put more straw in it than they did in the other
cages on account of Oswald being old and thin-blooded, and Mike liked
a soft bed.

Larney was afraid Mike would hurt Oswald, but the only critters
Mike couldn't get along with was Amir, a big African leopard which had
already kilt three men, and Sultan, the man-eating tiger. They was the
meanest critters in the show, and was always trying to get out and
claw Mike up. But he wasn't afeard of 'em.

WELL, I WAS having a lot of fun. I thrives in a rough environment
like that, though I'll admit I sometimes got kinda homesick for the
_Sea Girl_ and the sea, and wondered what Bill O'Brien and Mushy
Hanson and Red O'Donnell was doing. But I got my pride, and I wouldn't
go back after the Old Man had pratically kicked me out to shift for
myself.

Anyway, it was a lot of fun. I'd stand out on the platform in
front of the tent with my massive arms folded and a scowl on my
battered face, whilst Joe Beemer wouldst cock his derby back on his
head and start the ballyhoo.

He'd whoop and yell and interjuice me to the crowd as "Sailor
Costigan, the Massive Man-mauler of the Seven Seas!" And I'd do
strong-man stunts--twisting horse-shoes in two and bending coins
between my fingers and etc. Then he'd rare back and holler, "Is they
any man in this fair city courageous enough to try and stay four
rounds with this slashin' slugger? Take a chance, boys--he's been
drivin' stakes all day and maybe he's tired and feeble--heh! heh!
heh!"

Then generally some big ham wouldst jump outa the crowd and roar,
"I'll fight the so-and-so." And Joe wouldst rub his hands together and
say under his breath, "Money, roll in! I need groceries!" And he'd
holler, "Right this way, gents! Right through the door to the left.
Ten cents admission--one dime! See the battle of the century! Don't
crowd, folks. Don't crowd."

The tent was nearly always packed with raging fans which honed at
the top of their voices for their local hope to knock my iron skull
off. However small a tank-town might be, it generally had at least one
huge roughneck with a reputation of some kind.

One time we hit a town in the throes of a rassling carnival.
Nobody couldst be found to box with me, but a big Polack came forward
claiming to be the rassling champeen of the West--I ain't never seen a
rassler which wasn't champeen of something--and wanted me to rassle
him. Beemer refused, and the crowd hissed, and the rassler said I was
yeller.

I seen red and told him I wasn't no rassler but I'd give him
more'n he could tote home. He figgered I was easy, but he got fooled.
I don't know a lot about scientific rassling, but I know plenty rough-
and-tumble, and I was so incredibly hard and tough, and played so
rough that I broke his arm and dislocated his shoulder. And after that
nobody ast me to rassle.

IT WASN'T LONG after that when we blowed into a mining town by the
name of Ironville, up in the Nevada hills, and from the looks of the
populace I figgered I'd have plenty of competition that night. I
wasn't fooled none, neither, believe me.

Long before we was ready to start the show, a huge crowd of tough-
looking mugs in boots and whiskers was congregated around the
athaletic tent, which wasn't showing no interest whatever in the main-
top nor the freaks nor the animals.

Joe hadn't hardly got started on his ballyhoo when through the
crowd come a critter which looked more like a grizzly than a man--a
big black-headed feller with shoulders as broad as a door, and arms
like a bear's paw. From the way the crowd all swarmed around him, I
figgered he was a man of some importance in Ironville.

I was right.

"You don't need to say no more, pard," he rumbled in a voice like
a bull. "I'll take a whirl at yore tramp!"

Joe looked at the black-browed giant, and he kinda got cold feet
for the first time in his career.

"Who are you?" he demanded, uneasily.

The big feller grinned woIfishly and said, "Who, me? Oh, I'm just
a blacksmith around here." And the crowd all whooped and yelled and
laughed like he'd said something very funny.

"Somethin's fishy about this, Steve," whispered Joe to me. "I
don't like the looks of it."

About that time the crowd begun to hiss and boo, and the big
feller said nastily, "Well, what's the matter--you hombres gettin'
yeller?"

I seen red. "Get into this tent, you black-muzzled palooka!" I
roared. "I'll show you who's yeller! Shut up, Joe. Ain't I always said
I barred nobody? What's the matter with you, anyhow?"

"I tell you, Steve," he said, wiping his forehead with his
bandanner, "I seen this big punk somewheres, and if he's a simple
blacksmith I'm a Bohemian!"

"Gahhh!" I snorted disgustfully. "When I get through with him,
he'll look like a carpet. Have I lost you a penny since I joined the
show? Naw! Come on!"

And so saying, I swaggered into the tent and bounded into the ring
while the crowd gathered around, packing the place solid, applauding
their man and howling insults at me, which I returned with interest,
that being a game at which I ain't no amateur myself.

JOE STARTED TO lead the big feller to the dressing-room which was
partitioned off with a curtain in one corner of the tent, but he
snorted and began ripping off his clothes then and there, revealing
ring togs under 'em. Ah, thought I, he come here with the intention of
going on with me. Some local battler, no doubtless.

When he clumb into the ring, they was several men with him--one a
tall cold-faced man which looked like a high-class gambler, and who
they called Brelen, and three or four tough mugs which was to act as
seconds. They had the game writ all over their flat noses and tin
ears. In fact, it looked to me like the big feller had a right
elaborate follering, even if he was a local white hope.

"Who referee's?" asked Brelen, the poker-faced gent.

"Oh, I referee," said Joe.

"Not this time you don't," said Brelen. "The crowd chooses a
referee who'll give my boy a square deal, see?"

"It's against the rules of the management--" began Joe, and the
crowd rumbled and begun to surge forward. "All right, all right," said
Joe, hurriedly. "It's okay with me."

Brelen grinned kinda thin-like, and turned to the crowd and said,
"Well, boys, who do you want to referee?"

"Honest Jim Donovan!" they roared, and pushed forward a bald-
headed old sea-lion which had the crookedest face I ever seen on a
human. Joe give him a look and clasped his head and groaned. The crowd
was nasty--itching for trouble. Joe was kinda white around the gills,
and my handlers was uneasy. I was glad I'd locked Mike up in Oswald's
cage before the show started, being suspicious of the customers. Mike
ain't got much discretion; when the crowd starts throwing things at
me, he's likely to go for 'em.

"Gents," yelled Joe, who, being a natural-born barker, couldn't
keep his mouth shut if he swung for it, "you are now about to witness
the battle of the centu-ree, wherein the Fighting Blacksmith of your
fair city endeavors to stay four actual rounds with Sailor Costigan,
the Terror of the Seven Seas--"

"Aw, shut up and get out of this ring," snarled Brelen. "Let the
massacre commence!"

THE GONG SOUNDED and the Blacksmith come swinging outa his corner.
Jerusha, he was a man! He stood six feet one and a quarter and weighed
not less than two hundred and ten pounds to my six feet and one
ninety. With a broad chest matted with black hair, arms knotted with
muscles like full-sized cables, legs like trees, a heavy jutting jaw,
a broad fighting face with wicked gray eyes glittering from under
thick black brows, and a shock of coarse black hair piled up on top of
his low, broad forehead--I wanta tell you I ain't never seen a more
formidable-looking fighter in my life!

We rushed together like a pair of mad bulls. _Bang!_ In a shower
of stars I felt myself flying through the air, and I landed on my
shoulders with a jolt that shook the ring. Zowie! I sprawled about,
almost petrified with dumfoundment. The crowd was whooping and
cheering and laughing like all get-out.

I glared in wild amazement at the black-headed giant which was
standing almost over me, with a nasty grin on his lips. A light
dawned.

"Blacksmith my eye!" I roared, leaping up at him. "They ain't but
one man in the world can hit a lick like that--_Bill Cairn!"_

I heard Joe's despairing howl as I slashed into my foe. _Wham!
Wham!_ I was on the resin again before I even got a chance to connect.
The yells sounded kinda jumbled this time, and I shook my head
violently, cussing fervently as I got my feet under me. Ironville. I
oughta knowed--Bill Cairn, which they called the Ironville Blacksmith,
the hardest hitter in the game! This was his home town, and this was
him!

Fighting mad, I bounded up, but Cairn was so close to me that he
reached me with one of his pile-driving left hooks before I was
balanced, and down I went again. Now the yelling was kinda dim and the
lights was quaking and rocking. I crouched, taking a count which
Honest Jim was reeling off a lot faster than necessary. Bill Cairn!
The kayo king of the heavyweights, with thirty or forty knockouts in a
row, and never been socked off his feet, himself. He was in line for a
crack at the champ--and I was supposed to flatten this grizzly in four
rounds!

I was up at nine, and, ducking a savage drive for the face, I
clinched. By golly, it was like tying up a grizzly. But I ain't no
chicken myself. I gripped him in a desperate bear-hug whilst him and
the referee cussed and strained, and the crowd begged him to shake me
loose and kill me.

"You side-show rat!" he gritted between his teeth. "Leggo whilst I
rip yore head off! How can I show my best stuff with you hangin' on
like a leech?"

"This is cheap stuff for a headliner like you!" I snarled, red-
eyed.

"Givin' my home town folks a free show," he grinned, nastily. "It
was just my luck to have a mug like you blow in whilst I was visitin'
back home."

Oh, I see the idee all right. It was a big joke with him to knock
me off and give his friends a treat--show off before the home-folks!
He was laughing at me and so was all them Ironville lubbers. Well, I
thought, grinding my teeth with red rage, they's many a good man
punched hisself into fistic oblivion on my iron jaw.

I let go of Cairn and throwed my right at his jaw like it was a
hammer. He pulled away from it and--_bang!_ It mighta been a left hook
to the head. It felt like a handspike. And the next instant, whilst my
eyes was still full of stars, I felt another jolt like a concentrated
earthquake.

Purty soon I heered somebody say, "Seven!" and I instinctively
clumb up and looked about for my foe. I didn't locate him, as he was
evidently standing behind me, but I did locate a large gloved mauler
which crashed under my ear and nearly unjinted my neck. I done a
beautiful dive, ploughing my nose vigorously into the resin, whilst
the crowd wept with delight, and then I heered a noise like a sleigh-
bell and was aware of being dragged to my corner.

A SNIFTER OF ammonia brung me to myself, and I discovered I was
propped on my stool and being worked over by my handlers and Joe, who
was bleeding from a cut over the temple.

"How'd you get that?" I asked groggily.

"One of these eggs hit me with a bottle," he said. "They claim I
jerked the gong too soon. Listen at 'em! Toughest crowd I ever seen."

They sure was. They was rumbling and growling, just seething for a
scrap, but stopping now and then to cheer Cairn, which was bowing and
smirking in his corner.

"I knew I'd seen him," said Joe, "and Ace Brelen, his manager. The
lousy chiselers! You ain't got a chance, Steve--"

At this moment a rough-whiskered mug stuck his head through the
ropes and waved a coil of rope at Joe.

"We're on to you, you rat!" he bellered. "None of your side-show
tricks, understand? If you try anything dirty, we'll stretch your
neck. And that goes for you, too, you tin-eared gorilla!"

"So's your old man!" I roared, kicking out with all my might. My
heel crunched solid on his jaw, and he shot back into the first row
amongst a tangle of busted seats and cussing customers, from which he
emerged bleeding at the mouth and screaming with rage. He was fumbling
for a gun in his shirt, but just then the gong sounded and me and
Cairn went for each other.

I come in fast, and figgered on beating him to the punch, but he
was too quick for me. He wasn't so clever, but he moved like a big
cat, and the very power of his punches was a swell defense. No man
couldst keep his balance under them thundering smashes, even if they
didn't land on no vital spot. Just trying to block 'em numbed my arms.

_Zip!_ His left whizzed past my jaw like a red-hot brick.
_Zinggg!_ His right burned my ear as it went by. I seen a opening and
shot my right with everything I had. But I was too eager; my arm
looped over his shoulder and he banged his left into my ribs, which I
distinctly felt bend almost to the breaking point as my breath went
outa me in a explosive grunt.

I throwed my arms about him in a vain effort to clinch, but he
pushed me away and slammed a full-armed right to my jaw. _Crash!_ I
felt myself turning a complete somersault in the air, and I landed on
my belly with my head sticking out under the ropes and ogling glassily
down at the ecstatic customers. One of these riz up and slashed his
thigh with his hat and, sticking his face almost into mine, yelled,
"Well, you carnival punk, how do you like _those?"_

"Like this!" I roared, catching him on the whiskers with a
unexpected bash that sunk his nose in the sawdust. I then rolled over
on my back and, observing that the referee had rapidly counted up to
nine, I ariz and, abandoning my scanty boxing skill, started slugging
wild and ferocious in the hope of landing a haymaker.

But that was Cairn's game; he blocked my punches for a second or
so, then _bang!_ he caught me square on the chin with one of them
thunderbolt rights which shot me back into the ropes, and I rebounded
from 'em square into a whistling left hook that dropped me face-down
in the resin.

I couldst dimly hear the crowd yelling like wolves. When the
average man falls face-first he's through, but nobody never accused me
of being a average man. At nine I was up as usual, reeling, and Cairn
approached me with a look of disgust on his brutal face.

"Will you stay down?" he gritted, and, measuring me with a left,
he crashed his right square into my mouth, and I went down like a
pole-axed ox.

"That finishes him!" I heered somebody yelp, and evidently Cairn
thought so too, because he give a scornful laugh and started toward
his corner where his manager was getting his bathrobe ready. But I got
my legs under me and at nine I staggered up, as is my habit.

"Come back here, you big sissy!" I roared groggily, spitting out
fragments of a tooth. "This fight ain't over by a devil of a ways!"

The mob screamed with amazement, and Cairn, swearing ferociously,
turned and rushed at me like a tiger. But though I reeled on buckling
knees, I didn't go down under his smashing left hooks.

"Why don't you get a ax, you big false-alarm?" I sneered, trying
to shake the blood outa my eyes. "What you got in them gloves--powder
puffs?"

At that he give a roar which made the ring lights shimmy, and
brought one up from the canvas which hung me over the top rope just as
the gong sounded. Joe and his merry men untangled my limp carcass and
held me on the stool while they worked despairingly over me.

"Drop it, Steve," urged Joe. "Cairn will kill you."

"How many times was I on the canvas that round?" I asked.

"How should I know?" he returned, peevishly, wringing the gore out
of my towel. "I ain't no adding machine."

"Well, try to keep count, willya?" I requested. "It's important; I
can tell how much he's weakenin' if you check up on the knockdowns
from round to round."

Joe dropped the sponge he was fixing to throw into the ring.

"Ye gods! Are you figgerin' on continuin' the massakree?"

"He can't keep this pace all night," I growled. "Lookit Brelen
talkin' to his baby lamb!"

Ace was gesticulating purty emphatic, and Cairn was growling back
at him and glaring at me and kneading his gloves like he wisht it was
my goozle. I knowed that Brelen was telling him this scrap was getting
beyond the point of a joke, and that it wasn't helping his reputation
none for me to keep getting up on him, and for him to make it another
quick kayo. Ha, ha, thought I grimly, shaking the blood outa my
mangled ear, let's see how quick a kayo Bill Cairn can make where so
many other iron-fisted sluggers has failed.

At the gong I was still dizzy and bleeding copiously, but that's a
old story to me.

CAIRN, INFURIATED AT not having finished me, rushed outa his
corner and throwed over a terrible right, which I seen coming like a
cannonball, and ducked. His arm looped over my shoulder and his
shoulder rammed into my neck with such force that we both crashed to
the canvas.

Cairn untangled hisself with a snarl of irritation, and, assisted
by the fair-minded referee, arose, casually kicking me in the face as
he done so. I ariz likewise, and, enraged by my constant position on
the canvas, looped a whistling left at his head that would of
undoubtedly decapitated him hadst it landed--but luck was against me
as usual. My foot slipped in a smear of my own blood, my swing was
wild, and I run smack into his ripping right.

I fell into Cairn, ignoring an uppercut which loosened all my
lower teeth, and tied him up.

"Leggo, you tin-eared baboon!" he snarled, heaving and straining.
"Try to show me up, wouldja? Try to make a monkey outa me, wouldja?"

"Nature's already attended to that, you lily-fingered tap-dancer,"
I croaked. "A flapper with a powder-puff couldst do more damage than
you can with them chalk-knuckled bread-hooks."

"So!" he yelled, jerking away and crashing his right to my jaw
with every ounce of his huge frame behind it. I revolved in the air
like a spin-wheel, felt the ropes scrape my back, and realized that I
was falling through space. _Crash!_ My fall was cushioned by a mass of
squirming, cussing fans, else I would of undoubtedly broke my back.

I looked up, and high above me, it seemed, I seen the referee
leaning over the ropes and counting down at me. I began to kick and
struggle, trying to get up, and a number of willing hands--and a few
hob-nailed boots--hoisted me offa the squawking fans, and I grabbed
the ropes and swung up.

Somebody had a grip on my belt, and I heard a guy growl. "You're
licked, you fool! Take the count. Do you want to get slaughtered?"

"Leggo!" I roared, kicking out furiously. "I ain't never licked!"

I tore loose and crawled through the ropes--it looked like I'd
never make it--and hauled myself up just as the referee was lifting
his arm to bring it down on "Ten!" Cairn didn't rush this time; he was
scowling, and I noticed that sweat was streaming down his face, and
his huge chest was heaving.

Some of the crowd yelled, "Stop it!" but most of 'em whooped, "Now
you got him, Bill. Polish him off!"

Cairn measured me, and smashed his right into my face. The top-
rope snapped as I crashed back against it, but I didn't fall. Cairn
swore in amazement, and drawed back his right again, when the gong
sounded. He hesitated, then lemme have it anyway--a pile-driving smash
that nearly lifted me offa my feet. And the crowd cheered the big egg.
My handlers jostled him aside and, as they pulled me offa the ropes,
Cairn sneered and walked slowly to his corner.

SUPPORTED ON MY stool, I seen Joe pick up a sponge stealthily.

"Drop that sponge!" I roared, and Joe, seeing the baleful light in
my one good eye, done so like it was red-hot.

"Lemme catch you throwin' a sponge in for me!" I growled. "Gimme
ammonia! Dump that bucket of water over me! Slap the back of my neck
with a wet towel! One more round to go, and I gotta save that fifty
bucks!"

Swearing dumfoundedly, my handlers did as they was bid, and I felt
better and stronger every second. Even they couldn't understand how I
couldst take such a beating and come back for more. But any slugger
which depends on his ruggedness to win his fights understands it. We
got to be solid iron--and we are.

Besides, my recent rough-and-ready life hadst got me into
condition such as few men ever gets in, even athaletes. This, coupled
with my amazing recuperative powers, made me just about unbeatable.
Cairn could, and had, battered me from pillar to post, knocked me down
repeatedly, and had me groggy and glassy-eyed, but he hadn't sapped
the real reservoir of my vitality. Being groggy and being weak is two
different things. Cairn hadn't weakened me. The minute my head cleared
under the cold water and ammonia, I was as good as ever. Well, just
about, anyhow.

So I come out for the fourth round raring to go. Cairn didn't rush
as usual. In fact, he looked a little bit sick of his job. He walked
out and lashed at my head with his left. He connected solid, but I
didn't go down. And for the first time I landed squarely. _Bang._ My
right smashed under his ear, and his head rocked on his bull's neck.

With a roar of fury, he come back with a thundering right to the
head, but it only knocked me to my knees, and I was up in a instant. I
was out-lasting him! His blows was losing their dynamite! This
realization electrified me, and I bored in, slashing with both hands.

A left to the face staggered but didn't stop me, and I ripped a
terrific left hook under his heart. He grunted and backed away. He
wasn't near as good at taking punishment as he was at handing it out.
I slashed both hands to his head, and the blood flew. With a deafening
roar, he sunk his right mauler clean outa sight in my belly.

I thought for a second that my spine was broke, as I curled up on
the canvas, gasping. The referee sprang forward and began counting,
and I looked for Cairn, expecting to see him standing almost astraddle
of me, as usual, waiting to slug me down as I got up. He wasn't; but
was over against the ropes, holding onto 'em with one mitt whilst he
wiped the blood and sweat outa his eyes with the other'n. And I seen
his great chest heaving, his belly billowing out and in, and his leg
muscles quivering.

Grinning wolfishly, I drawed in great gulps of air and beat the
count by a second. Cairn lurched offa the ropes at me, swinging a wide
left, but I went under it and crashed my right to his heart. He rolled
like a ship in a heavy gale, and I knowed I had him. That last punch
which had floored me had been his dying effort. He'd fought hisself
clean out on me, as so many a man had didst. Strategy, boy, strategy!

I went after him like a tiger after a bull, amid a storm of yells
and curses and threats. The crowd, at first dumfounded, was now
leaping up and down and shaking their fists and busting chairs and
threatening me with torture and sudden death if I licked their hero.
But I was seeing red. Wait'll you've took the beating I'd took and
then get a chance to even it up! I ripped both hands to Cairn's
quivering belly and swaying head, driving him to the ropes, off of
which he rolled drunkenly.

I HEERED A gong sounding frantically; Brelen hadst knocked the
time-keeper stiff with a blackjack and was trying to save his man.
Also the referee was grabbing at me, trying to push me away. But I
give no heed. A left and right under the heart buckled Cairn's knees,
and a blazing right to the temple glazed his eyes. He reeled, and a
trip-hammer left hook to the jaw that packed all my beef sent him
crashing to the canvas, just as the crowd come surging into the ring,
tearing down the ropes. I seen Joe take it on the run, ducking out
under the wall of the tent, and yelling, "Hey, Rube!"

Then me and the handlers was engulfed. Half a hundred hands
grabbed at me, and fists, boots and chairs swung for me. But I ducked,
ripping off my gloves, and come up fighting like a wild man.

I swung my fists like they was topping-mauls, and ribs snapped and
noses and jaw-bones cracked, whilst through the melee I caught
glimpses of Brelen and his men carrying out their battered gladiator.
He was still limp.

Just as the sheer number of maddened citizens was dragging me
down, a gang of frothing razor-backs come through the tent like a
whirlwind, swinging pick handles and tent-stakes.

Well, I ain't seen many free-for-alls to equal that 'un! The
circus war-whoop of "Hey, Rube!" mingled with the blood-thirsty yells
of the customers. The Iron-villians outnumbered us, but we give 'em a
bellyful. In about three seconds the ring was tore to pieces and the
storm of battle surged into the tent-wall, which collapsed under the
impact.

Knives was flashing and a few guns barking, and all I wonder is
that somebody wasn't kilt. The athaletic tent was literally ripped
plumb to ribbons, and the battle surged out onto the grounds and raged
around the other tents and booths.

Then a wild scream went up: "Fire!" And over everything was cast a
lurid glow. Somehow or other the main top hadst caught in the melee--
or maybe some fool set it on fire. A strong wind was fanning the
flames, which mounted higher each second. In a instant the fight was
abandoned. Everything was in a tumult, men running and yelling,
children squalling, women screaming. The circus-people was running and
hauling the cages and wagons outa the animal tent, which was just
catching. The critters was bellering and howling in a most hair-
raising way, and I remembered Mike in Oswald's cage. I started for
there on the run, when there riz a most fearful scream above all the
noise: "The animals are loose!"

EVERYBODY HOLLERED AND tore their hair and ran, and here come the
elephants like a avalanche! They crashed over wagons and cages and
booths, trumpeting like Judgment Day, and thundered on into the night.
How they got loose nobody never exactly knowed. Anything can happen in
a fire. But, in stampeding, they'd bumped into and busted open some
more cages, letting loose the critters inside.

And here _they_ come roaring--Sultan, the tiger, and Amir, the
leopard, killers both of 'em. A crowd of screaming children rushed by
me, and right after them come that striped devil, Sultan, his eyes
blazing. I grabbed up a heavy tent-stake and leaped betweenst him and
the kids. He roared and leaped with his talons spread wide, and I
braced my feet and met him in mid-air with a desperate smash that had
every ounce of my beef behind it. The impact nearly knocked me offa my
feet, and the stake splintered in my hand, but Sultan rolled to the
ground with a shattered skull.

And almost simultaneously a terrible cry from the people made me
wheel just in time to see Amir racing toward me like a black shadder
with balls of fire for eyes. And, just as I turned, he soared from the
ground straight at my throat. I didn't have time to do nothing. He
crashed full on my broad breast, and his claws ripped my hide as the
impact dashed me to the earth. And at the same instant I felt another
shock which knocked him clear of me.

I scrambled up to see a squat white form tearing and worrying at
the limp body of the big cat. Again Mike had saved my worthless life.
When Amir hit me, he hit Amir and broke his neck with one crunch of
his iron jaws. He'd squoze out between the bars of Oswald's cage and
come looking for me.

He lolled out his tongue, grinning, and vibrated his stump tail,
and all to once I heered my name called in a familiar voice. Looking
around, I seen a battered figger crawl out from under the ruins of a
band-wagon, and, in the lurid light of the burning tents, I
reckernized him.

"Jerusha!" I said. "The Old Man! What you doin' under that wagon?"

"I crawled under there to keep from bein' trampled by the mob," he
said, working his legs to see if they was broke. "And it was a good
idee, too, till a elephant run over the wagon. By gad, if I ever get
safe to sea once more I'll never brave the perils of the land again, I
wanta tell ya!"

"Did you see me lick Bill Cairn?" I asked.

"I ain't see nothin' but a passel of luneyticks," he snapped. "I
arrived just as the free-for-all was ragin'. I don't mind a rough-
house, but when they drags in a fire and a stampede of jungle-
critters, I'm ready to weigh anchor! And you!" he added, accusingly.
"A merry chase you've led me, you big sea-lion! I've come clean from
Frisco, and it looked for a while like I wouldn't never find this
blame circus."

"What you wanta find it for?" I growled, the thought of my wrongs
renewing itself.

"Steve," said the Old Man, "I done you a injustice! It was the
cabin-boy which put that pole-cat in my bunk--I found it out after he
jumped ship. Steve, as champeen of the old _Sea Girl,_ I asks you--let
bygones be gone-byes! Steve, me and the crew has need of your mallet-
like fists. At Seattle, a few weeks ago, I shipped on a fiend in human
form by the name of Monagan, which immediately set hisself up as the
bully of the fo'c'le. I had to put in Frisco because of shortage of
hands. Even now, Mate O'Donnell, Mushy Hanson and Jack Lynch lies
groanin' in their bunks from his man-handlin', and he has likewise
licked Bill O'Brien, Maxie Heimer and Sven Larsen. He has threatened
to hang me on my own bow-sprit by my whiskers. I dast not fire him,
for fear of my life. Steve!" the Old Man's voice trembled with
emotion, "I asks you--forgive and forget! Come back to the _Sea Girl_
and demonstrate the eternal brotherhood of man by knockin' the devil
outa this demon Monagan before he destroys us all! Show the monster
who's the real champeen of the craft!"

"Well," I said, "I got some money comin' to me from Larney--but
let it go. He'll need it repairin' his show. Monagan, of Seattle--bah!
I hammered him into a pulp in Tony Vitello's poolroom three years ago,
and I can do it again. Calls hisself champeen of the _Sea Girl,_ huh?
Well, when I kick his battered carcass onto the wharf, he'll know
who's champeen of the craft. They never was, and they ain't now, and
they never will be but one champeen of her, and that's Steve Costigan,
A.B. Let's go! I wasn't never cut out for no peaceful landlubber's
existence, nohow."



THE END



This site is full of FREE ebooks - Project Gutenberg Australia