I knocked the apple on the ground, and stamped on it. She slapped my cheek. In a minute we stood in a ring. I beheld the girl actually squaring at me.
‘Fight away,’ I said, to conceal my shame, and imagining I could slip from her hits as easily as the prizefighter did from big William’s. I was mistaken.
‘Oh! you think I can’t defend myself,’ said Kiomi; and rushed in with one, two, quick as a cat, and cool as a statue.
‘Fight, my merry one; she takes punishment,’ the prizefighter sang out. ’First blood to you, Kiomi; uncork his claret, my duck; straight at the nozzle, he sees more lamps than shine in London, I warrant. Make him lively, cook him; tell him who taught you; a downer to him, and I’ll marry you to-morrow!’
I conceived a fury against her as though she had injured me by appearing the man’s property—and I was getting the worst of it; her little fists shot straight and hard as bars of iron; she liked fighting; she was at least my match. To avoid the disgrace of seriously striking her, or of being beaten at an open exchange of blows, I made a feint, and caught her by the waist and threw her, not very neatly, for I fell myself in her grip. They had to pluck her from me by force.
‘And you’ve gone a course of tuition in wrestling, squire?’ the prizefighter said to me rather savagely.
The others were cordial, and did not snarl at me for going to the ropes, as he called it. Kiomi desired to renew the conflict. I said aloud:
‘I never fight girls, and I tell you I don’t like their licking me.’
‘Then you come down to the river and wash your face,’ said she, and pulled me by the fingers, and when she had washed my face clear of blood, kissed me. I thought she tasted of the prizefighter.
Late in the afternoon Osric proposed that he and I and the prizefighter should take a walk. I stipulated for Kiomi to be of the party, which was allowed, and the gipsy-women shook my hand as though I had been departing on a long expedition, entreating me not to forget them, and never to think evil of poor gipsy-folk.
‘Why, I mean to stay with you,’ said I.
They grinned delightedly, and said I must be back to see them break up camp in the evening. Every two or three minutes Kiomi nudged my elbow and pointed behind, where I saw the women waving their coloured neckerchiefs. Out of sight of our tents we came in view of the tramp. Kiomi said, ‘Hide!’ I dived into a furze dell. The tramp approached, calling out for news of me. Now at Rippenger’s school, thanks to Heriot, lying was not the fashion; still I had heard boys lie, and they can let it out of their mouths like a fish, so lively, simple, and solid, that you could fancy a master had asked them for it and they answered, ’There it is.’ But boys cannot lie in one key spontaneously, a number of them to the same effect, as my friends here did. I was off, they said; all swung round to signify