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CHAPTER XIV THE BOYS’ DUEL
Sam Payson felt perfectly safe in challenging Tony to single combat. He had seen that he was two inches shorter and probably twenty pounds lighter. But appearances were deceitful, and he had no idea that Tony had received special training which he lacked.

In the course of his wanderings Tony had attracted the attention of a pugilist.

I’ll tell you what, Rudolph,” said the pugilist, “you can make something of that boy?”

“How?” asked the tramp.

I’ll teach him to box, and you can get an engagement for him in a circus.”

“Do it if you like,” said the tramp.

So Tony received a gratuitous course of lessons in boxing, which were at last interrupted by a little difficulty between his teacher and the officers of the law, resulting in the temporary confinement of the former. The lessons were never resumed, but they had gone so far that Tony was a skillful boxer for a boy.

He, too, had measured Sam and felt quite sure of being able to conquer him, and that with ease. He did not, however, mention the grounds of his confidence to James, when the latter expressed some apprehension that he would find Sam too much for him.

“Don’t be alarmed, James,” said Tony quietly.

He’s bigger than you,” said James doubtfully.

I know that, but he’s clumsy.”

“He’s slow, but he’s pretty strong.”

“So am I.”

“You’ve got pluck, and you deserve to win, Tony.”

“I mean to,” answered Tony. “Come along and see that it’s all fair.”

“I will if I can get away. Will you give up your place if you are licked?”

“Yes,” replied Tony. “I’ll give up my place and leave the village.”

“I don’t believe Mr. Porter will take Sam back.”

“I see you are expecting I will be whipped,” said Tony, laughing; “but you’re mistaken. Sam isn’t able to do it.”

Meanwhile Sam had made known the duel which was about to take place. He confidently anticipated victory, and wanted the village boys to be witnesses of the manner in which he was going to polish off the interloper.

I’ll learn him to cut me out of my place,” he said boastfully: “I’ll learn him to mind his own business.”

“Will you get your place again if you lick him?” asked one of his companions.

Of course, I will.”

“Suppose he won’t give it up?”

“Then I’ll lick him every day till he’s glad to clear out. All you boys know I don’t stand no nonsense.”

The result of Sam’s boastful talk was that about a hundred boys collected behind the schoolhouse.

Many of them who had suffered from Sam’s bullying disposition would have been glad to see him worsted, but none anticipated it.

Nothing was known of Tony except that he was considerably smaller and lighter, and probably weaker.

Tony tried to be on hand at the time appointed, but he had more than usual to do, and it was five minutes past seven before he entered the field.

There had been various speculations as to the cause of his delay.

He won’t come,” said Sam, with a sneer.

What’ll you do if he don’t come?” asked John Nolan.

What will I do? I’ll pitch into him wherever I see him.”

“There he comes!” shouted a small boy.

All eyes were turned upon Tony, as he entered the field, with James at his side.

I’m sorry to have kept you waiting, boys,” said our hero politely.

We concluded you’d backed out,” said Sam.

That isn’t my style,” returned Tony, with a quiet smile. “I had more to do than usual to-night.”

“You’ve still more to do,” said Sam jeeringly. “I pity you.”

“Do you? You’re very kind,” said Tony, unmoved.

Oh, don’t thank me too soon.”

“Then I won’t. When are the exercises to commence?”

“He takes it cool,” said Nolan.

Oh, it’s only show off,” said Sam. “You’ll see how he’ll wilt down when I get hold of him.”

The two boys stripped off coat and vest and faced each other. Tony was wary and looked into the eyes of his adversary, showing no disposition to begin.

Sam swung heavily with his right. With scarcely an effort, Tony blocked the blow and returned it quick as lightning, striking Sam full in the nose.

Sam was not only maddened but disagreeably surprised, especially when he discovered that blood was trickling from the injured organ. He was still more incensed by the murmur of applause which followed from the crowd of boys.

He breathed an audible curse, and losing all prudence began to swing at Tony with each fist in rapid succession, with the intention of overpowering him. But unfortunately for him this exposed him to attack, and a couple of heavy blows in his face warned him that this was too dangerous.

Tony stood upright, as cool and collected as at first. He had warded off every blow of his adversary.

There was a murmur of surprise among the boys. They had come to see Tony used up, and all the using up proved to be from the other side. James was as much delighted as surprised. He could not repress clapping his hands and was quickly imitated by the boys.

Tony knows how to take care of himself,” he thought. “That’s why he took matters so coolly.”

Sam felt humiliated and maddened. He regretted now that he had undertaken a task which seemed every moment more formidable. What! was it possible that he, Sam Payson, the crack fighter of the village, was being ignominiously whipped, and that by a smaller boy? He felt that if he permitted this, his prestige would be forever gone, and with it the influence which he so much prized. He must make one desperate effort.

If I can only get hold of him,” he thought. “I can shake the life out of him.”

He tried to grasp Tony round the body intending to throw him; but our hero was too quick for him, and showered the blows upon him with such rapidity that, blinded and overwhelmed, Sam himself staggered and fell on his back.

Instead of following up the victory, Tony drew off and let his adversary rise. Sam renewed the attack so wildly that in two minutes he was again lying flat.

That’s enough, Sam! You’re whipped!” shouted the boys.

He got up sullenly, and, in a voice nearly choked with rage, said:

“I’ll be even with you yet, see if I don’t.”

“Hurrah for the stranger!” shouted the boys, enthusiastically, as they crowded around our hero.

Boys,” said Tony modestly, “I’m much obliged to you for your congratulations. Was it a fair fight?”

“Yes, yes!”

“Then it’s all right. Don’t say anything to him about it. He feels bad, as I should in his place. I haven’t any ill will toward him, and I hope he hasn’t toward me.”

This speech made Tony a still greater favorite, and the boys, making a rush, took him on their shoulders, and bore him in triumph to the inn. Poor Sam slunk home, suffering keener mortification than he had ever before experienced in his life.



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