It could be felt that something awful was about to happen, and Penrod, as he rose from the floor, suffered an unexpected twinge of apprehension and remorse: he hoped that Rupe wouldn’t really hurt Herman. A sudden dislike of Rupe and Rupe’s ways rose within him, as he looked at the big boy overwhelming the little darky with that ferocious scowl. Penrod, all at once, felt sorry about something indefinable; and, with equal vagueness, he felt foolish. “Come on, Rupe,” he suggested, feebly, “let Herman go, and let’s us make our billies out of the rake handle.”
The rake handle, however, was not available, if Rupe had inclined to favour the suggestion. Verman had discarded his lath for the rake, which he was at this moment lifting in the air.
“You ole black nigger,” the fat-faced boy said venomously to Herman, “I’m agoin’ to——”
But he had allowed his nose to remain too long near Herman’s.
Penrod’s familiar nose had been as close with only a ticklish spinal effect upon the not very remote descendant of Congo man-eaters. The result produced by the glare of Rupe’s unfamiliar eyes, and by the dreadfully suggestive proximity of Rupe’s unfamiliar nose, was altogether different. Herman’s and Verman’s Bangala great-grandfathers never considered people of their own jungle neighbourhood proper material for a meal, but they looked upon strangers especially truculent strangers—as distinctly edible.
Penrod and Sam heard Rupe suddenly squawk and bellow; saw him writhe and twist and fling out his arms like flails, though without removing his face from its juxtaposition; indeed, for a moment, the two heads seemed even closer.
Then they separated—and battle was on!
CHAPTER XXIII COLOURED TROOPS IN ACTION
How neat and pure is the task of the chronicler who has the tale to tell of a “good rousing fight” between boys or men who fight in the “good old English way,” according to a model set for fights in books long before Tom Brown went to Rugby. There are seconds and rounds and rules of fair-play, and always there is great good feeling in the end—though sometimes, to vary the model, “the Butcher” defeats the hero—and the chronicler who stencils this fine old pattern on his page is certain of applause as the stirrer of “red blood.” There is no surer recipe.
But when Herman and Verman set to ’t the record must be no more than a few fragments left by the expurgator. It has been perhaps sufficiently suggested that the altercation in Mr. Schofield’s stable opened with mayhem in respect to the aggressor’s nose. Expressing vocally his indignation and the extremity of his pained surprise, Mr. Collins stepped backward, holding his left hand over his nose, and striking at Herman with his right. Then Verman hit him with the rake.
Verman struck from behind. He struck as hard as he could. And he struck with the tines down—For, in his simple, direct African way he wished to kill his enemy, and he wished to kill him as soon as possible. That was his single, earnest purpose.