"Martin!" said the school-master, in a severe tone, looking up from the boo_ith which he was engaged, "don't look out at the window, sir; turn your bac_o it."
"Please, sir, I can't help it," replied the boy, trembling with eagerness a_e stared across the fields.
"Turn your back on it, I say!" reiterated the master in a loud tone, at th_ame time striking the desk violently with his cane.
"Oh, sir, let me out! There's Bob Croaker with my kitten. He's going to drow_t. I know he is,—he said he would; and if he does aunty will die, for sh_oves it next to me; and I _must_ save it, and—and, if you _don't_ let m_ut—you'll be a murderer!"
At this concluding burst, Martin sprang forward and stood before his maste_ith clenched fists and a face blazing with excitement. The schoolmaster'_aze of astonishment gradually gave place to a dark frown strangely mingle_ith a smile, and, when the boy concluded, he said quietly—"You may go."
No second bidding was needed. The door flew open with a bang; and the grave_f the play-ground, spurned right and left, dashed against the window panes a_artin flew across it. The paling that fenced it off from the fields beyon_as low, but too high for a jump. Never a boy in all the school had crosse_hat paling at a spring, without laying his hands upon it; but Martin did. W_o not mean to say that he did anything superhuman; but he rushed at it like _harge of cavalry, sprang from the ground like a deer, kicked away the to_ar, tumbled completely over, landed on his head, and rolled down the slope o_he other side as fast as he could have run down,—perhaps faster.
It would have required sharper eyes than yours or mine to have observed ho_artin got on his legs again, but he did it in a twinkling, and was hal_cross the field almost before you could wink, and panting on the heels of Bo_roaker. Bob saw him coming and instantly started off at a hard run, followe_y the whole school. A few minutes brought them to the banks of the stream,
where Bob Croaker halted, and, turning round, held the white kitten up by th_ape of the neck.
"O spare it! spare it, Bob!—don't do it—please don't, don't do it!" gaspe_artin, as he strove in vain to run faster.
"There you go!" shouted Bob, with a coarse laugh, sending the kitten high int_he air, whence it fell with a loud splash into the water.
It was a dreadful shock to feline nerves, no doubt, but that white kitten wa_o ordinary animal. Its little heart beat bravely when it rose to the surface,
and, before its young master came up, it had regained the bank. But, alas!
what a change! It went into the stream a fat, round, comfortable ball o_ider-down. It came out—a scraggy blotch of white paint, with its black eye_laring like two great glass beads! No sooner did it crawl out of the wate_han Bob Croaker seized it, and whirled it round his head, amid suppresse_ries of "Shame!" intending to throw it in again; but at that instant Marti_attler seized Bob by the collar of his coat with both hands, and, lettin_imself drop suddenly, dragged the cruel boy to the ground, while the kitte_rept humbly away and hid itself in a thick tuft of grass.
A moment sufficed to enable Bob Croaker, who was nearly twice Martin's weight,
to free himself from the grasp of his panting antagonist, whom he threw on hi_ack, and doubled his fist, intending to strike Martin on the face; but _eneral rush of the boys prevented this.
"Shame, shame, fair play!" cried several; "don't hit him when he's down!"
"Then let him rise up and come on!" cried Bob, fiercely, as he sprang up an_eleased Martin.
"Ay, that's fair. Now then, Martin, remember the kitten!"
"Strike men of your own size!" cried several of the bigger boys, as the_nterposed to prevent Martin from rushing into the unequal contest.
"So I will," cried Bob Croaker, glaring round with passion. "Come on any o_ou that likes. I don't care a button for the biggest of you."
No one accepted this challenge, for Bob was the oldest and the strongest bo_n the school, although, as is usually the case with bullies, by no means th_ravest.
Seeing that no one intended to fight with him, and that a crowd of boys strov_o hold Martin Rattler back, while they assured him that he had not th_mallest chance in the world, Bob turned towards the kitten, which was quietl_nd busily employed in licking itself dry, and said, "Now, Martin, you coward,
I'll give it another swim for your impudence."
"Stop, stop!" cried Martin earnestly. "Bob Croaker, I would rather do anythin_han fight. I would give you everything I have to save my kitten; but if yo_on't spare it unless I fight, I'll do it. If you throw it in before you figh_e, you're the greatest coward that ever walked. Just give me five minutes t_reathe and a drink of water, and I'll fight you as long as I can stand."
Bob looked at his little foe in surprise. "Well, that's fair. I'm your man;
but if you don't lick me I'll drown the kitten, that's all." Having said this,
he quietly divested himself of his jacket and neckcloth, while several boy_ssisted Martin to do the same, and brought him a draught of water in th_rown of one of their caps. In five minutes all was ready, and the two boy_tood face to face and foot to foot, with their fists doubled and revolving,
and a ring of boys around them.
Just at this moment the kitten, having found the process of licking itself dr_ore fatiguing than it had expected, gave vent to a faint mew of distress. I_as all that was wanting to set Martin's indignant heart into a blaze o_nexpressible fury. Bob Croaker's visage instantly received a shower of sharp,
stinging blows, that had the double effect of taking that youth by surpris_nd throwing him down upon the green sward. But Martin could not hope to d_his a second time. Bob now knew the vigour of his assailant, and brace_imself warily to the combat, commencing operations by giving Martin _remendous blow on the point of his nose, and another on the chest. These ha_he effect of tempering Martin's rage with a salutary degree of caution, an_f eliciting from the spectators sundry cries of warning on the one hand, an_dmiration on the other, while the young champions revolved warily round eac_ther, and panted vehemently.
The battle that was fought that day was one of a thousand. It created as grea_ sensation in the village school as did the battle of Waterloo in England. I_as a notable fight; such as had not taken place within the memory of th_ldest boy in the village, and from which, in after years, events of juvenil_istory were dated,—especially pugilistic events, of which, when a good on_ame off, it used to be said that "such a battle had not taken place since th_ear of the _Great Fight_ " Bob Croaker was a noted fighter. Martin Rattle_as, up to this date, an untried hero. Although fond of rough play an_oisterous mischief, he had an unconquerable aversion to _earnest_ fighting,
and very rarely indeed returned home with a black eye,—much to th_atisfaction of Aunt Dorothy Grumbit, who objected to all fighting fro_rinciple, and frequently asserted, in gentle tones, that there should be n_oldiers or sailors (fighting sailors, she meant) at all, but that peopl_ught all to settle everything the best way they could without fighting, an_ive peaceably with one another, as the Bible told them to do. They would b_ar happier and better off, she was sure of that; and if everybody was of he_ay of thinking, there would be neither swords, nor guns, nor pistols, no_quibs, nor anything else at all! Dear old lady. It would indeed be a blessin_f her principles could be carried out in this warring and jarring world. Bu_s this is rather difficult, what we ought to be careful about is, that w_ever fight except in a good cause and with a clear conscience.
It was well for Martin Rattler, on that great day, that the formation of th_round favoured him. The spot on which the fight took place was uneven, an_overed with little hillocks and hollows, over which Bob Croaker stumbled, an_nto which he fell,—being a clumsy boy on his legs,—and did himsel_onsiderable damage; while Martin, who was firmly knit and active as a kitten,
scarcely ever fell, or, if he did, sprang up again like an India-rubber ball.
Fair-play was embedded deep in the centre of Martin's heart, so that h_corned to hit his adversary when he was down or in the act of rising; but th_hought of the fate that awaited the white kitten if he were conquered, acte_ike lightning in his veins, and scarcely had Bob time to double his fist_fter a fall, when he was knocked back again into the hollow out of which h_ad risen. There were no _rounds_ in this fight,—no pausing to recover breath.
Martin's anger rose with every blow, whether given or received; and althoug_e was knocked down flat four or five times, he rose again, and, without _econd's delay, rushed headlong at his enemy. Feeling that he was too littl_nd light to make much impression on Bob Croaker by means of mere blows, h_ndeavoured as much as possible to throw his weight against him at eac_ssault; but Bob stood his ground well, and after a time seemed even to b_ecovering strength a little.
Suddenly he made a rush at Martin, and, dealing him a successful blow on th_orehead, knocked him down; at the same time he himself tripped over _olehill and fell upon his face. Both were on their legs in an instant. Marti_rew desperate. The white kitten swimming for its life seemed to rise befor_im, and new energy was infused into his frame. He retreated a step or two,
and then darted forward like an arrow from a bow. Uttering a loud cry, h_prang completely in the air and plunged—head and fists together, as if h_ere taking a dive—into Bob Croaker's bosom! The effect was tremendous. Bo_ent down like a shock of grain before the sickle; and having, in thei_rolonged movements, approached close to the brink of the stream, both he an_artin went with a sounding splash into the deep pool and disappeared. It wa_ut for a moment, however, Martin's head emerged first, with eyes and mout_istended to the utmost. Instantly, on finding bottom, he turned to deal hi_pponent another blow; but it was not needed. When Bob Croaker's head rose t_he surface there was no motion in the features, and the eyes were closed. Th_ntended blow was changed into a friendly grasp; and, exerting himself to th_tmost, Martin dragged his insensible school-fellow to the bank, where, in _ew minutes, he recovered sufficiently to declare in a sulky tone that h_ould fight no more!
"Bob Croaker," said Martin, holding out his hand, "I'm sorry we've had t_ight. I wouldn't have done it, but to save my kitten. You compelled me to d_t, you know that. Come, let's be friends again."
Bob made no reply, but slowly and with some difficulty put on his vest an_acket.
"I'm sure," continued Martin, "there's no reason in bearing me ill-will. I'v_one nothing unfair, and I'm very sorry we've had to fight. Won't you shak_ands?"
Bob was silent.
"Come, come, Bob!" cried several of the bigger boys, "don't be sulky, man;
shake hands and be friends. Martin has licked you this time, and you'll lic_im next time, no doubt, and that's all about it."
"Arrah, then, ye're out there, intirely. Bob Croaker'll niver lick Marti_attler though he wos to live to the age of the great M'Thuselah!'" said _eep-toned voice close to the spot where the fight had taken place.
All eyes were instantly turned in the direction whence it proceeded, and th_oys now became aware, for the first time, that the combat had been witnesse_y a sailor, who, with a smile of approval beaming on his good-humoure_ountenance, sat under the shade of a neighbouring tree smoking a pipe of tha_xcessive shortness and blackness that seems to be peculiarly beloved b_rishmen in the humbler ranks of life. The man was very tall and broad-
shouldered, and carried himself with a free-and-easy swagger, as he rose an_pproached the group of boys.
"He'll niver bate ye, Martin, avic, as long as there's two timbers of y_ouldin' togither."
The seaman patted Martin on the head as he spoke; and, turning to Bob Croaker,
continued: "Ye ought to be proud, ye spalpeen, o' bein' wopped by sich a youn_ero as this. Come here and shake hands with him: d'ye hear? Troth an' it'_esmearin' ye with too much honour that same. There, that'll do. Don't sa_e're sorry now, for it's lies ye'd be tellin' if ye did. Come along, Martin,
an' I'll convarse with ye as ye go home. Ye'll be a man yet, as sure as m_ame is Barney O'Flannagan."
Martin took the white kitten in his arms and thrust its wet little body int_is equally wet bosom, where the warmth began soon to exercise a soothin_nfluence on the kitten's depressed spirits, so that, ere long, it began t_urr. He then walked with the sailor towards the village, with his face blac_nd blue, and swelled and covered with blood, while Bob Croaker and hi_ompanions returned to the school.
The distance to Martin's residence was not great, but it was sufficient t_nable the voluble Irishman to recount a series of the most wonderfu_dventures and stories of foreign lands, that set Martin's heart on fire wit_esire to go to sea,—a desire which was by no means new to him, and whic_ecurred violently every time he paid a visit to the small sea-port of Bilton,
which lay about five miles to the southward of his native village. Moreover,
Barney suggested that it was time Martin should be doing for himself (he wa_ow ten years old), and said that if he would join his ship, he could get hi_ berth, for he was much in want of an active lad to help him with th_oppers. But Martin Rattler sighed deeply, and said that, although his hear_as set upon going to sea, he did not see how it was to be managed, for hi_unt would not let him go.
Before they separated, however, it was arranged that Martin should pay th_ailor's ship a visit, when he would hear a good deal more about foreig_ands; and that, in the meantime, he should make another attempt to induc_unt Dorothy Grumbit to give her consent to his going to sea.