Ding! dong!—hook, jab, uppercut, block, and swing; in and out, back and forth, side-stepping and head-work—one long exhausting round. Flesh and blood could not stand the pace—though it was Redmond now who forced it. Neither of the men was in training and the long strain began to tell upon them both cruelly—especially upon the veteran Yorke. Still, with frosted hair and streaming faces, the sweat-soaked, bruised and bleeding combatants staggered against each other and strove to make play with their weary arms, until utter exhaustion rang the time gong.
Gasping and swaying to and fro, his puffed lips wreathed into a ghastly semblance of his old scornful smile, Yorke dropped his guard and stuck out his chin. He mouthed and pointed to it tauntingly. In spite of himself, a sorry grin flickered over George’s battered, weary young face. He mouthed back—speech was beyond either; sagging at the knees he reeled forward and his right arm went poking out in a wobbling, uncertain punch.
It glanced harmlessly over Yorke’s shoulder, but the violent impact of his body sent the other heavily to the ground. An ineffectual struggle to maintain his equilibrium and he, too, fell—face downwards, with his head pillowed on Yorke’s heaving chest.
We’re poor little lambs who’ve
lost our way,
Baa! Baa! Baa!
We’re little black sheep who’ve gone astray,
Gentlemen-rankers out on the spree,
Damned from here to Eternity,
God ha’ mercy on such as we,
Baa! Yah! Bah!
A great peace lay upon the frozen landscape—the deep, wintry peace of the vast, snow-bound Nor’West. A light breeze murmured over the crisping snow, and moaned amongst the pines in the timber-lined spurs of the foothills. High overhead in the sunny, dazzling blue vault of heaven a huge solitary hawk slowly circled with wide-spread, motionless wings, uttering intermittently its querulous, eerie whistle.
Awhile the two exhausted men lay gasping for breath—absolutely and utterly spent. Suddenly Yorke shivered violently and sighed. Redmond raised himself off the prostrate form of his late opponent and, staggering over to the pile of their discarded habiliments, slowly and painfully he donned his fur coat and cap; then, picking up Yorke’s, he stumbled over to the latter. The senior constable was now sitting up, with arms drooping loosely over his knees. George wrapped the coat around the bowed shoulders and put on the cap.
“You’re cold, old man!” he said simply. “We’d best get our things on now, and beat it.”
Wearily Yorke raised his head, and, at something he beheld in that disfigured, but unalterably-handsome face, Redmond’s heart smote him.