The Mucker

By Edgar Rice Burroughs

Page 129

was sufficient
to draw a fair house, and there were some there who had seen Billy in
other fights and looked for a good mill. When the "coming champion,"
as Billy's opponent was introduced, stepped into the ring he received
a hearty round of applause, whereas there was but a scattered ripple
of handclapping to greet the mucker. It was the first time he ever had
stepped into a ring with a first-rate fighter, and as he saw the huge
muscles of his antagonist and recalled the stories he had heard of
his prowess and science, Billy, for the first time in his life, felt a
tremor of nervousness.

His eyes wandered across the ropes to the sea of faces turned up toward
him, and all of a sudden Billy Byrne went into a blue funk. Professor
Cassidy, shrewd and experienced, saw it even as soon as Billy realized
it--he saw the fading of his high hopes--he saw his castles in Spain
tumbling in ruins about his ears--he saw his huge giant lying prone
within that squared circle as the hand of the referee rose and fell in
cadence to the ticking of seconds that would count his man out.

"Here," he whispered, "take a swig o' this," and he pressed a bottle
toward Billy's lips.

Billy shook his head. The stuff had kept him down all his life--he had
sworn never to touch another drop of it, and he never would, whether he
lost this and every other fight he ever fought. He had sworn to leave
it alone for HER sake! And then the gong called him to the center of the
ring.

Billy knew that he was afraid--he thought that he was afraid of the big,
trained fighter who faced him; but Cassidy knew that it was a plain case
of stage fright that had gripped his man. He knew, too, that it would
be enough to defeat Billy's every chance for victory, and after the big
"white hope" had felled Billy twice in the first minute of the first
round Cassidy knew that it was all over but the shouting.

The fans, many of them, were laughing, and yelling derogatory remarks at
Billy.

"Stan' up an' fight, yeh big stiff!" and "Back to de farm fer youse!"
and then, high above the others a shrill voice cried "Coward! Coward!"

The word penetrated Billy's hopeless, muddled brain. Coward! SHE had
called him that once, and then she had changed her mind. Theriere had
thought him a coward, yet as he died he had said that he was the bravest
man he ever had known.

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