Over the place the lights go out, Except for the cluster above the ring; The crowd begins to thunder and shout; At the tap of the gong I whirl and spring. And I hear the snarl of my chargin' foe, The Cobra Kid from Old Mexico. And the ropes ain't there, and the crowd ain't there; It's me and him, in the ring lights' glare; Like cavemen foes in an age of stone, On the ridge of the silent world, alone. He ducks my lead as he surges in And his left hook crashes against my chin, And he shuts my eye with a roundhouse slam That feels like the bunt of a batterin' ram. The lights are swimmin' and so is the ring; Blind I fall in clinch and cling; The referee grunts as he tears us apart, And I ram a left in under the heart. As he batters me across the ring - Jab and uppercut, hook and swing - A torrent of smashes that never slack - I feel the ropes against my back. Hard to the head he cannonades And I hit the mat on my shoulder-blades. My brain's full of fog, my mouth's full of brine, But I hear the referee countin', "Nine!" And up I reel, though my legs won't work And the ring lights swim in a crimson murk. The Cobra rushes, set for the spill, Wild and wide open, blind for the kill. And desperate, reelin', I shoot my right The last blind blow of a losin' fight. And my right connects and his head goes back, Till it looks, begod, like his neck would crack. New strength surges through every vein And the panther wakes in my punch drunk brain. His knees, they buckle, his white lips part As I blast my right in under the heart. His jaw falls slack, his eyes, they blink, As deep in his belly my left I sink; Then every ounce of my beef goes in To the right I heave to his saggin' chin. The leather bursts and the hand gives way, But it's the end of a perfect day. He hasn't stirred at the count of ten, The referee lifts my hand and then I hear the yells of the crowd again.
The Pit of the Serpent
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, Se��or!"
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, Se��or?"
"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, se��or. 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 an 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 slipped 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 her 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 matchmaker 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!"
Excerpted from Boxing Storiesby Robert E. Howard Copyright © 2005 by University of Nebraska Press. Excerpted by permission.
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