I tossed with Vercoe for corners, and when I won, I chose the favourite corner, the one King had when he fought Sellers with a broken wrist, and beat him, too; which Cooper had when he stood up to Miller for one whole half-holiday, and though beaten three or four times over, never knew it, and won in the end, which mills and the causes thereof, if some one would write about them, would make capital reading. Anyhow, it is a lucky corner, from the legends connected with it, and I thought we should need any luck that might be knocking about so early in the morning.
Phil was as cool and calm as though he were going to gently tund a small fag for shirking. Acton was outwardly calm, but inwardly seething with hate, rage, and blood-thirstiness. His proud soul lusted for the opportunity to repay the flick on the face he had received from Phil, with interest. I watched the sparkling fire in his eye, the unaffected eagerness for the fray in his pose, and thought that even Acton had not quite the skill to cater for such a large and lusty appetite. Vercoe and I set our watches, and agreed to call time together, and then we moved each to our corner. Phil peeled as quietly as though he were going to bed, Acton with feverish haste, which perhaps was his foreign blood working out; beside Acton’s swift, impulsive movements Phil’s leisurely arrangements seemed sluggish indeed.
“Time!” said Vercoe and I in chorus, and I added in an undertone to my man, “Go in and win.”
It was obvious from the start that Phil was not as good a man as Acton as far as skill was concerned, but when it came to well-knit strength there was no doubt that Phil had the pull. Acton’s eagerness was a disadvantage against one so cool as Bourne. In the very first round, Acton, in his overwhelming desire to knock Phil out in as short a space as possible, neglected every ordinary precaution, and, after a spirited rally, Phil broke through Acton’s slovenly guard, and sent him spinning into Vercoe’s arms. We called time together, and to my intense satisfaction the first round resulted in our favour.
After that, thoroughly steadied by Phil’s gentle reminder, Acton dropped all looseness, and began to treat Phil with the greatest respect, never taking any risks, but working in a scientific fashion, which poor Phil found hard enough to parry, and when he could not do that, hard enough to bear. But he never faltered; he took all that Acton could give him in imperturbable good temper, working in his dogged fashion as though he were absolutely confident of winning in the long run, and as disregarding present inconveniences because they were expected, and because the ultimate reward would repay all a hundred-fold.
There was also something else I noticed. Acton did not do so much damage as he ought to have done, and I found him constantly “short,” but when Phil did score there was the unmistakable ring of a telling blow. I was puzzled in my mind why Acton was so “short,” but I think now it was because he had never done anything but with gloves on, and fisticuffs, which were more or less familiar with Phil, were unknown to him. They don’t fight, I believe, in France or Germany with Nature’s weapons, but occasional turn-ups with the farmers’ sons and the canal men had, of course, fallen to Phil’s share.