“No, I don’t understand you in the least,” said I, “nor do I think it at all necessary; all that I care about is the guinea in question.”
“Come, Tom,” cried one of the company, “knock ’is ’ead off to begin with.”
“Ay, set about ‘m, Tom—cut your gab an’ finish ’im,” and here came the clatter of chairs as the company rose.
“Can’t be done,” said Cragg, shaking his head, “leastways—not ’ere.”
“I’m not particular,” said I, “if you prefer, we might manage it very well in the stable with a couple of lanthorns.”
“The barn would be the very place,” suggested the landlord, bustling eagerly forward and wiping his hands on his apron, “the very place—plenty of room and nice and soft to fall on. If you would only put off your fightin’ till to-morrow, we might cry it through the villages; ’twould be a big draw. Ecod! we might make a purse o’ twenty pound—if you only would! Think it over—think it over.”
“To-morrow I hope to be a good distance from here,” said I; “come, the sooner it is over the better, show us your barn.” So the landlord called for lanthorns and led the way to a large outbuilding at the back of the inn, into which we all trooped.
“It seems to be a good place and very suitable,” said I.
“You may well say that,” returned the landlord; “it’s many a fine bout as has been brought off in ’ere; the time Jem Belcher beat ‘The Young Ruffian’ the Prince o’ Wales sat in a cheer over in that theer corner—ah, that was a day, if you please!”
“If Tom Cragg is ready,” said I, turning up the wristbands of my shirt, “why, so am I.” Here it was found to every one’s surprise, and mine in particular, that Tom Cragg was not in the barn. Surprise gave place to noisy astonishment when, after much running to and fro, it was further learned that he had vanished altogether. The inn itself, the stables, and even the haylofts were ransacked without avail. Tom Cragg was gone as completely as though he had melted into thin air, and with him all my hopes of winning the guinea and a comfortable bed.
It was with all my old dejection upon me, therefore, that I returned to the tap-room, and, refusing the officious aid of the One-Eyed Man, put on my coat, readjusted my knapsack and crossed to the door. On the threshold I paused, and looked back.
“If,” said I, glancing round the ring of faces, “if there is any man here who is at all willing to fight for a guinea, ten shillings, or even five, I should be very glad of the chance to earn it.” But, seeing how each, wilfully avoiding my eye, held his peace, I sighed, and turning my back upon them, set off along the darkening road.
OF THE FURTHER PUZZLING BEHAVIOR OF TOM CRAGG, THE PUGILIST
Evening had fallen, and I walked along in no very happy frame of mind, the more so, as the rising wind and flying wrack of clouds above (through which a watery moon had peeped at fitful intervals) seemed to presage a wild night. It needed but this to make my misery the more complete, for, as far as I could tell, if I slept at all (and I was already very weary), it must, of necessity, be beneath some hedge or tree.