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CHAPTER III. A MEMORABLE BATTLE.
Daniel, as well as his father, had a love of fun, and a sportive humor, which he always preserved. It is said that “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” It is certainly a mistake when a boy is shut out from the innocent sports which boys delight in. John Stuart Mill, who was set to learning while little more than an infant, and who actually began to study Greek at four years of age—lamented in after years that he had never known what boyhood was.

It was not so with Daniel. Though his father’s poverty made it necessary for all to work, Daniel, partly because of his early delicacy, had plenty of time allowed him for amusement. The favorite companion of his leisure hours was not a boy, but a veteran soldier and near neighbor, named Robert Wise. He had built a little cottage in the corner of the Webster farm, and there with his wife he lived till extreme old age. He was born in Yorkshire, had fought on both sides in the Revolutionary struggle, had travelled in various parts of Europe, and had a thousand stories to tell, to all of which the boy listened with avidity. Though he had twice deserted from the English king, his heart still thrilled with pride when Daniel read to him from the newspaper accounts of battles in which the English arms were victorious. He had never learned to read, and Daniel became his favorite because he was always ready to read to him as they sat together at nightfall at the cottage door.

“Why don’t you learn to read yourself, Robert?” asked Daniel one day.

“It’s too late, Dan. I’m gettin’ an old man now, and I couldn’t do it.”

“What will you do when I am grown up, and gone away?”

“I don’t know, Dan. It will be dull times for me.”

When that time came the old man picked up a fatherless boy, and gave him a home and a chance to secure an education, in order that he might have some one to read the newspaper to him.

Whenever Daniel had a day or a few hours to himself he ran across the fields to his humble neighbor’s house.

“Come, Robert,” he would say, “I’ve got nothing to do. Let us go fishing.”

So the two would go down to the banks of the Merrimac, and embark in a boat which belonged to the old man, and paddle up and down the river, sometimes for an entire day. Daniel never lost his love of fishing, but in after years, when the cares of statesmanship were upon him, dressed in suitable style he would take his fishing pole and lie in wait for his finny victims, while perhaps he was mentally composing some one of his famous speeches, destined to thrill the hearts of thousands, or direct the policy of the government. These happy days spent in the open air corrected his native delicacy, and gradually imparted physical strength and vigor, and in time knit the vigorous frame which seemed a fitting temple for his massive intellect.

Even the most trivial circumstances in the boyhood of such a man as Daniel Webster are noteworthy, and I am sure my boy-readers will read with interest and sympathy the account of a signal victory which the boy gained, though it was only over a feathered bully.

Belonging to a neighbor was a cock of redoubtable prowess, a champion whose fame was in all the farmyards for miles around. One day Daniel, coming home from school, beheld with mortification the finish of a contest in which a favorite fowl of his own came off decidedly second best. The victorious rooster strutted about in conscious and complacent triumph.

“It’s too bad, Zeke!” said Daniel in genuine vexation, as he saw the crestfallen look of his own vanquished fowl. “I should like to see that impudent bully get well whipped.”

“There isn’t a rooster about here that can whip him, Dan.”

“I know that, but he will meet his match some time.”

“At any rate I’ll drive him away. He’ll have to run from me.”

Dan picked up a stone, and pelted the victor out of the yard, but the feathered bully, even in his flight, raised a crow of victory which vexed the boy.

“I’d give all the money I’ve got, Zeke, for a rooster that would whip him,” said Dan.

There came a time when Daniel had his wish.

He was visiting a relation at some distance when mention was made casually of a famous fighting cock who had never been beaten.

“Where is he to be found?” asked the boy eagerly.

“Why do you ask?”

“I would like to see him,” said Dan.

“Oh, well, he belongs to Mr.——.”

“Where does he live?”

The desired information was given.

Shortly after Daniel was missed. He found his way to the farm where the pugnacious fowl resided. In the yard he saw the owner, a farmer.

“Good morning, sir,” said Dan.

“Good morning, boy. What can I do for you?” was the reply.

“I hear you have a cock who is a famous fighter.”

“Yes, he’s never been beaten yet!” said the farmer complacently.

“Can I see him?”

“There he is,” said the owner, pointing out the feathered champion.

Daniel surveyed the rooster with great interest.

“Will you sell him?” he asked.

“I don’t know. Why do you want to buy him?”

Daniel explained his object frankly.

“How much are you willing to give?” asked the farmer, for he was a Yankee, and ready for a trade.

Daniel drew from his pocket half a dollar. It represented his entire cash capital.

“Here is half a dollar,” he said. “I’ll give you that.”

“Haven’t you got anymore money?” asked the farmer, who had a keen scent for a bargain.

“No, sir; it is all I have. I’d give you more if I had it.”

Half a dollar in those days was a considerable sum of money, particularly in the eyes of a farmer, who handled very little money, his income being for the most part in the shape of corn, hay and vegetables. Having satisfied himself that it was all he could get, he gave a favorable answer to the boy’s application.

Daniel’s eyes sparkled with delight, and he promptly handed over his fifty cent piece.

“When do you want to take it?” asked the farmer.

“Now,” answered Dan.

“Very well.”

The fowl was caught, and Daniel carried it back to the house of his relative in triumph.

“I’m going home,” he said abruptly.

“Going home? Why, you have only just come.”

“I’ll come again soon, but I want to take this cock home, and see if he can’t whip Mr. ——-’s. I want to teach the little bully a lesson.”

So in spite of all that could be said Daniel started on his way home.

When he had gone a short distance he passed a yard stocked with poultry, where a large cock was strutting about defiantly, as if throwing down the gage of battle to any new comers.

A boy was standing near the fence.

“Will your cock fight?” asked Dan.

“He can whip yours,” was the reply.

“Are you willing to try it?”

“Yes, come along.”

The trial was made, and Dan’s new purchase maintained his reputation, by giving a sound drubbing to his feathered rival.

Dan surveyed the result with satisfaction.

“I guess he’ll do,” he said to himself.

He kept on his way till he got within sight of home.

“What brings you home so soon, Dan?” asked Zeke.

“See here, Zeke!” said Dan eagerly.” Here is a cock that will whip Mr. ——’s all to pieces.”

“Don’t be too sure of it!”

“I’ve tried him once, and he’s game.”

The boys did not have long to wait for the trial.

Over came the haughty intruder, strutting about with his usual boastful air.

Dan let loose his new fowl, and a battle royal commenced. Soon the tyrant of the barnyard found that he had met a foe worthy of his spur. For a time the contest was an open one, but in ten minutes the feathered bully was ignominiously defeated, and led about by the comb in a manner as humiliating as had ever happened when he was himself the victor.

Daniel witnessed the defeat of the whilom tyrant with unbounded delight, and felt abundantly repaid for his investment of all his spare cash, as well as the cutting short of his visit. Probably in the famous passage at arms which he had many years after with Mr. Hayne, of South Carolina, his victory afforded him less satisfaction than this boyish triumph.


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