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- Cashel Byron's Profession - 5/49 -


but a senseless effigy, provided for that purpose. Meanwhile the champion looked on and laughed, being too lazy to redeem his promise of teaching the novice to defend himself. The latter, however, watched the lessons which he saw daily given to others, and, before the end of a month, he so completely turned the tables on the amateur pugilists of Melbourne that Skene one day took occasion to remark that he was growing uncommon clever, but that gentlemen liked to be played easy with, and that he should be careful not to knock them about too much. Besides these bodily exertions, he had to keep account of gloves and foils sold and bought, and of the fees due both to Mr. and Mrs. Skene. This was the most irksome part of his duty; for he wrote a large, schoolboy hand, and was not quick at figures. When he at last began to assist his master in giving lessons the accounts had fallen into arrear, and Mrs. Skene had to resume her former care of them; a circumstance which gratified her husband, who regarded it as a fresh triumph of her superior intelligence. Then a Chinaman was engaged to do the more menial work of the establishment. "Skene's novice," as he was now generally called, was elevated to the rank of assistant professor to the champion, and became a person of some consequence in the gymnasium.

He had been there more than nine months, and had developed from an active youth into an athletic young man of eighteen, when an important conversation took place between him and his principal. It was evening, and the only persons in the gymnasium were Ned Skene, who sat smoking at his ease with his coat off, and the novice, who had just come down-stairs from his bedroom, where he had been preparing for a visit to the theatre.

"Well, my gentleman," said Skene, mockingly; "you're a fancy man, you are. Gloves too! They're too small for you. Don't you get hittin' nobody with them on, or you'll mebbe sprain your wrist."

"Not much fear of that," said the novice, looking at his watch, and, finding that he had some minutes to spare, sitting down opposite Skene.

"No," assented the champion. "When you rise to be a regular professional you won't care to spar with nobody without you're well paid for it."

"I may say I am in the profession already. You don't call me an amateur, do you?"

"Oh, no," said Skene, soothingly; "not so bad as that. But mind you, my boy, I don't call no man a fighting-man what ain't been in the ring. You're a sparrer, and a clever, pretty sparrer; but sparring ain't the real thing. Some day, please God, we'll make up a little match for you, and show what you can do without the gloves."

"I would just as soon have the gloves off as on," said the novice, a little sulkily.

"That's because you have a heart as big as a lion," said Skene, patting him on the shoulder. But the novice, who was accustomed to hear his master pay the same compliment to his patrons whenever they were seized with fits of boasting (which usually happened when they got beaten), looked obdurate and said nothing.

"Sam Ducket, of Milltown, was here to-day while you was out giving Captain Noble his lesson," continued Skene, watching his apprentice's face cunningly. "Now Sam is a real fighting-man, if you like."

"I don't think much of him. He's a liar, for one thing."

"That's a failing of the profession. I don't mind telling YOU so," said Skene, mournfully. Now the novice had found out this for himself, already. He never, for instance, believed the accounts which his master gave of the accidents and conspiracies which had led to his being defeated three times in the ring. However, as Skene had won fifteen battles, his next remark was undeniable. "Men fight none the worse for being liars. Sam Ducket bet Ebony Muley in twenty minutes."

"Yes," said the novice, scornfully; "and what is Ebony Muley? A wretched old nigger nearly sixty years old, who is drunk seven days in the week, and would sell a fight for a glass of brandy! Ducket ought to have knocked him out of time in seventy seconds. Ducket has no science."

"Not a bit," said Ned. "But he has lots of game."

"Pshaw! Come, now, Ned; you know as well as I do that that is one of the stalest commonplaces going. If a fellow knows how to box, they always say he has science but no pluck. If he doesn't know his right hand from his left, they say that he isn't clever but that he is full of game."

Skene looked with secret wonder at his pupil, whose powers of observation and expression sometimes seemed to him almost to rival those of Mrs. Skene. "Sam was saying something like that to-day," he remarked. "He says you're only a sparrer, and that you'd fall down with fright if you was put into a twenty-four-foot ring."

The novice flushed. "I wish I had been here when Sum Ducket said that."

"Why, what could you ha' done to him?" said Skene, his small eyes twinkling.

"I'd have punched his head; that's what I could and would have done to him."

"Why, man, he'd eat you."

"He might. And he might eat you too, Ned, if he had salt enough with you. He talks big because he knows I have no money; and he pretends he won't strip for less than fifty pounds a side."

"No money!" cried Skene. "I know them as'll make up fifty pound before twelve to-morrow for any man as I will answer for. There'd be a start for a young man! Why, my fust fight was for five shillings in Tott'nam Fields; and proud I was when I won it. I don't want to set you on to fight a crack like Sam Ducket anyway against your inclinations; but don't go for to say that money isn't to be had. Let Ned Skene pint to a young man and say, 'That's the young man as Ned backs,' and others will come for'ard--ay, crowds of 'em."

The novice hesitated. "Do you think I ought to, Ned?" he said.

"That ain't for me to say," said Skene, doggedly. "I know what I would ha' said at your age. But perhaps you're right to be cautious. I tell you the truth, I wouldn't care to see you whipped by the like of Sam Ducket."

"Will you train me if I challenge him?"

"Will I train you!" echoed Skene, rising with enthusiasm. "Ay will I train you, and put my money on you, too; and you shall knock fireworks out of him, my boy, as sure as my name's Ned Skene."

"Then," cried the novice, reddening with excitement, "I'll fight him. And if I lick him you will have to hand over your belt as champion of the colonies to me."

"So I will," said Skene, affectionately. "Don't out late; and don't for your life touch a drop of liquor. You must go into training to-morrow."

This was Cashel Byron's first professional engagement.

CHAPTER I

Wiltstoken Castle was a square building with circular bastions at the corners, each bastion terminating skyward in a Turkish minaret. The southwest face was the front, and was pierced by a Moorish arch fitted with glass doors, which could be secured on occasion by gates of fantastically hammered iron. The arch was enshrined by a Palladian portico, which rose to the roof, and was surmounted by an open pediment, in the cleft of which stood a black-marble figure of an Egyptian, erect, and gazing steadfastly at the midday sun. On the ground beneath was an Italian terrace with two great stone elephants at the ends of the balustrade. The windows on the upper story were, like the entrance, Moorish; but the principal ones below were square bays, mullioned. The castle was considered grand by the illiterate; but architects and readers of books on architecture condemned it as a nondescript mixture of styles in the worst possible taste. It stood on an eminence surrounded by hilly woodland, thirty acres of which were enclosed as Wiltstoken Park. Half a mile south was the little town of Wiltstoken, accessible by rail from London in about two hours.

Most of the inhabitants of Wiltstoken were Conservatives. They stood in awe of the castle; and some of them would at any time have cut half a dozen of their oldest friends to obtain an invitation to dinner, or oven a bow in public, from Miss Lydia Carew, its orphan mistress. This Miss Carew was a remarkable person. She had inherited the castle and park from her aunt, who had considered her niece's large fortune in railways and mines incomplete without land. So many other legacies had Lydia received from kinsfolk who hated poor relations, that she was now, in her twenty-fifth year, the independent possessor of an annual income equal to the year's earnings of five hundred workmen, and under no external compulsion to do anything in return for it. In addition to the advantage of being a single woman in unusually easy circumstances, she enjoyed a reputation for vast learning and exquisite culture. It was said in Wiltstoken that she knew forty-eight living languages and all dead ones; could play on every known musical instrument; was an accomplished painter, and had written poetry. All this might as well have been true as far as the Wiltstokeners were concerned, since she knew more than they. She had spent her life travelling with her father, a man of active mind and bad digestion, with a taste for sociology, science in general, and the fine arts. On these subjects he had written books, by which he had earned a considerable reputation as a critic and philosopher. They were the outcome of much reading, observation of men and cities, sight-seeing, and theatre-going, of which his daughter had done her share, and indeed, as she grew more competent and he weaker and older, more than her share. He had had to combine health-hunting with pleasure-seeking; and, being very irritable and fastidious, had schooled her in


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