“All serene. I’m mum, of course.”
“Thanks. You watch the Coon, and you’ll pick up no end of wrinkles.”
The Coon came out from behind the stall dressed in a vest, trousers, and thin boots; his black arms were bare, and he had exchanged his cigar for a straw, which he chewed vigorously. Acton changed his shoes and took off his coat, and the lesson began.
Acton’s opinion of the Coon’s knowledge was, in Jack’s mind, absolutely corroborated by the display. His marvellous parrying of Acton’s attentions; his short step inwards, which invariably followed a mis-hit by Acton; his baits to lure his opponent to deliver himself a gift into his hands; his incredible ducking and lightning returns, held Bourne fascinated. Everything was done so easily, so lithely, so lightly, and so surely, that Jack gasped in admiration. Acton in the hands of the nigger was a lamb indeed.
“This is an eye-opener,” said Jack. “I’ll try that left feint on Rogers, the cocky ass!”
The negro stopped now and then to show Acton where and how to avail himself of opportunities; and Acton, who was in grim earnest, applied himself whole-heartedly to the business in hand, and, in consequence, as Jack afterwards told us, “you could almost hear old Acton travelling on the right road.”
After about half an hour of instruction, Acton said—
“That is enough of jawing for the afternoon, Coon. Let us have three rounds to finish up with. Take the time, young ’un.”
Jack, with immense pride, took out his watch and prepared to act as timekeeper.
“Better take it easily first two, sir, and put in all you know for the last. A little hurricane in the third round is my advice.”
Jack had an ecstatic ten minutes, the final round putting him in the seventh heaven of enjoyment.
“All I could make out was Acton’s white arms mixed with Alabama’s black ones, and the sand flying in all directions. Stunning isn’t the word for it!”
As Acton and young Bourne pedalled leisurely home for roll call, Jack said—
“I think Jarvis’ chance of collaring the Heavy for his place is a trifle ‘rocky.’”
“I hope so.”
“Crumbs! How Alabama does get home!”
TODD PAYS THE BILL
Another youth had come back to St. Amory’s with resolutions as fixed and steady, though more legitimate than Acton’s. Augustus Vernon Robert Todd returned to school with pockets more scantily lined than ever from the parental source, with his mind constantly fixed on the conversation which he had had with his house-master on that awful concluding day last term, and his chin still thrust out valiantly. Gus’s square chin meant an undeviating attention to serious study, and Gus, armed cap-a-pie, against all his old friends.