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Chapter XXXIV My Prize Fight

MY comrade and I went on to New Orleans, and established winter quarters. We slept under the tarpaulins which covered the goods on the dock, and lived largely on fruit we picked up at the same place.

At Mississippi City we witnessed the fistic battle between John L. Sullivan and Paddy Ryan. We enjoyed it from a treetop where, hidden by the moss, we had a splendid view of it.

On our way back to town Jerry was enthusiastic over the champion, and he punctuated his praise with philosophical observations.

“Did yer notice, Injun, how th’ big feller got it on th’ jaw once in a while, en’ how he kep’ smilin’ en’ goin’ back f’r more? That’s th’ way a man ’ll win at anything. No matter what a feller goes at, ef he cain’t take a jolt on th’ jaw once in a while en’ smile back at it, he’d better not climb through th’ ropes.”

We walked awhile in silence. I broke it.

“Jerry, I can fight,” I said.

He looked down at me with an incredulous smile.

“Oh, I don’t mean a big feller like the two back there, but one of my size. Find me a man of my weight, and I’ll do to ’im what Sullivan did to Ryan,” I boasted.

Jerry grew thoughtful. Finally he agreed that I might be made into a prize fighter.

By the time we had reached New Orleans our plans were made. Then came the necessary preliminaries —the finding of a place in which to train; the securing of an expert boxer to instruct me in the art of fistiana; and, last of all, the matching of a suitable opponent. These details my partner arranged in due order.

My training-place was the back room of a saloon; my trainer a down and out ex-pugilist, who agreed to get me into shape for half of my part of the purse.

It taxed Jerry’s wits to get suitable stuff for me to train on, for our food was whatever my comrade could get by hook or by crook. He found what I needed, however. He said the “coming champion of the world,” as he frequently called me, must be fed.

I had plenty to eat, even when my appetite became voracious.

Jerry, no doubt, went hungry many days.

Almost at the start, my instructor told me I was an apt pupil, and after I had had about three weeks of constant training, he judged me ready for an opponent.

Jerry matched me to fight at catch weights with a fellow of some reputation—Bull Skillet by name.

The purse was to be whatever the spectators would chip in.

Came the day of the fight.

That morning Jerry took me to the French Market and treated me to a breakfast of wonderful coffee, fried steak, potatoes and rolls. Where he got the money is a mystery. He didn’t join in the feast—wasn’t hungry, he said.

I took but little exercise that day.

About the middle of the afternoon I had another beefsteak as thick as my foot. Ravenous as usual, I devoured the meal and all the other eatables Jerry had provided. All that he would eat was a banana which he dug out of his pocket.

I knew he lied when he said he wasn’t hungry, and I noticed that his face had grown thinner and more seamy. I had grown robust and as hard as nails.

While I was eating greedily, Jerry’s leathery old face twisted into a smile of pleasure as he pictured the good things we would have after the fight.

It was about nine o’clock that night when Jeriy and I appeared in the back room of the saloon. The place was packed with a crowd of whites and negroes—as tough a crowd as one would care to see. My trainer elbowed a way for us.

A broken-down old fighter was chosen for referee, and after some preliminary talk Jerry passed a hat among the crowd. The vagabonds tossed their coins into it.

There were no dressing rooms in the place, so I undressed in the ring. As I stood stripped down to a pair of old swimming trunks, Jerry tied a bright American flag around my waist.

We looked across the ring at my opponent. He stood stripped and ready for battle. The sight of him made Jerry’s hands shake as he fumbled with the flag.

Bull’s appearance was sufficient cause for apprehension. He was thick-set and short-necked and his muscles stood out in bunches and ridges—a striking contrast to my slim physique. He weighed about one hundred and sixty pounds. I was fully twenty pounds lighter.

Each of us was furnished with a soap-box for a resting-place, and we sat while waiting for the word.

Jerry was nervous. When the word came, he whispered cautiously,

“Keep away from ’im, Injun!”

As we shook hands in the centre of the ring a smile of contempt spread over Bull’s face, and his short pug nose turned up as far as it could go. A fire-flash of anger passed through me. The turn-up of that nose was a nerve tonic to me. I would make the pug point downwards very shortly.

During the first two rounds we sparred, each of us feeling out the other. I found he was much slower than I, but I also found I had plenty to do to keep clear of his tremendous swings. One catch, and it wouldn’t be well with me.

In the third round he got to my jaw with a right-hand hook, and I went down. But I kept my head and rested on my knee while the referee counted nine.

As I regained my feet Bull came at me with a rush and a roar. Down I went again under a sledge-hammer blow on the chin.

This time I did not wait for the count. I was up in an instant and like a flash shot my right to his jaw, and floored him.

Again I got to him with a left swing on that pug nose. He staggered and the pug nose bled.

Bull came at me with another of his rushes.

Above the raucous shouts of the onlookers, rose Jerry’s voice.

“Keep away, Injun/’ he yelled.

But I swung.

Bull ducked, and my right fist came into contact with the top of his head. It was like striking a rock. My right hand was broken.

While I sat in my corner for the precious two minutes’ rest, Jerry rubbed me down with a gunny sack.

“Keep away from ’im, I tell yeh/’ was all he could say.

My hand puffed up. It was all but useless, and we were fighting with bare knuckles.

We came together for the fifth round.

I silently prayed to win, and vowed, if winner, to devote to the Sun all of my food for two days. '

As we toed the mark I noticed that Bull’s lips were bleeding and his right eye bruised. But it was the pug nose that gave me encouragement. It looked like a piece of putty.

I went down with a clip on the side of the head. It made me see stars.

After that I lost consciousness. Indeed, during the next several rounds, I wasn’t conscious of what happened.

I came to myself for a while just before the last round. Jerry was squirting water out of his mouth into my face and rubbing my skin almost off with the gunny sacks.

“Yeh’ve shore got ’im goin’, Injun, en’ yeh’ve got t’ git ’im this round. Now, go to ’im,” he ordered, as I rose from my corner.

That last round is a blank to me. When I woke I couldn’t open my eyes; I couldn’t sit up; I couldn’t turn over; I couldn’t remember anything that had taken place for a while.

I stretched out my hand and touched Jerry. He was blubbering at my side.

“Yeh got ’im good and plenty,” he said, between sobs.

“I got ’im?” I repeated, as memory slowly returned, “but what did he do to me?”

“Not a thing but give yeh the damnedest lickin’ a man ever got,” he blurted. “But yeh knocked ’im clean aout—made ’im dead t’ th’ world—en’ you, yeh pore little cuss! yeh was aout y’rself f’r three rounds. But I couldn’t make yer quit fightin’, en’ yeh won,” he concluded, with a triumphant burst of weeping.

Poor, tender-hearted old partner! He was crying because of the mauling I had received.

Bull, who was in another corner of the room—the same in which we fought—was in no better plight than I. And he was swearing at his friend who was applying some healing lotion to his bruises.

When we parted he complimented me in most forcible language for my gameness. He had thought he could eat me up in one round, he said.

The purse, which consisted of four dollars and eighty-five cents, I never got. The rascal who held it vanished with it.

It was two days before I could get about. I was black and blue from the waist up, and the worst was —two knuckles broken and my nose flattened against my right cheek. Jerry didn’t succeed in getting it entirely straight.

Neither knuckles nor nose ever regained their normal condition.

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