Read CHAPTER V - Tommy Flynn, The Harlford Bruiser of My Brave and Gallant Gentleman, free online book, by Robert Watson, on ReadCentral.com.

I hurried down the avenue to where it joined the dusty roadway.

I stood for a few moments in indecision. To my left, down in the hollow, the way led through the village. To my right, it stretched far on the level until it narrowed to a grey point piercing a semi-circle of green; but I knew that miles beyond, at the end of that grey line, was the busy town of Grangeborough, with its thronging people, its railways and its steamships. That was the direction for me.

I waved my hand to sleepy little Brammerton and I swung to the right, for Grangeborough and the sea.

Soon the internal tumult, caused by what I had just gone through, began to subside, and my spirits rose attune to the glories of the afternoon.

Little I cared what my lot was destined to be a prince in a palace or a tramp under a hedge. Although, to say truth, the tramp’s existence held for me the greater fascination.

I was young, my lungs were sound and my heart beat well. I was big and endowed with greater strength than is allotted the average man.

Glad to be done with pomp, show and convention, my life was now my very own to plan and make, or to warp and spoil, as fancy, fortune and fate decreed.

I hankered for the undisturbed quiet of some small village by the sea, with work enough, but no more, to keep body nourished and covered; with books in plenty and my pipe well filled; with an open door to welcome the sunshine, the scented breeze, the salted spray from the ocean and my congenial fellow-man.

But, if I should be led in the paths of grubbing men, ’mid bustle, strife and quarrel, where the strong and the crafty alone survived, where the weaklings were thrust aside, I was ready and willing to take my place, to take my chance, to pit brawn against brawn, brain against brain, to strike blow for blow, to fail or to succeed, to live or die, as the gods might decree.

As I filled my lungs, I felt as if I had relieved myself of some great burden in cutting myself adrift from Brammerton, dear old spot as it was. And I whistled and hummed as I trudged along, trying to reach the point of grey at the rim of the semi-circle of green. On, on I went, on my seemingly unending endeavour. But I knew that ultimately the road would end, although merely to open up another and yet another path over which I would have to travel in the long journey of life which lay before me.

As I kept on, I saw the sun go down in a display of blood-red pyrotechnics. I heard the chatter of the birds in the hedgerows as they settled to rest. Now and again, I passed a tired toiler, with bent head and dragging feet, his drudgery over for the day, but weighted with the knowledge that it must begin all over again on the morrow and on each succeeding morrow till the crash of his doom.

The night breeze came up and darkness gathered round me. A few hours more, and the twinkling lights of Grangeborough came into view. They were welcome lights to me, for the pangs of a healthy hunger were clamouring to be appeased.

As it had been with the country some hours before, so was it now with Grangeborough. The town was settling down for the night. It was late. Most of the shops were closing, or already closed. Business was over for the day. People hurried homeward like shadows.

I looked about me for a place to dine, but failed, at first, in my quest. Down toward the docks there were brighter lights and correspondingly deeper darknesses. I went along a broad thoroughfare, turned down a narrower one until I found myself among lanes and alleys, jostled by drunken sailors and accosted by wanton women, as they staggered, blinking, from the brightly lighted saloons.

My finer sensibilities rose and protested within me, but I had no choice. If I wished to quell my craving for food, there was nothing left for me to do but to brave the foul air and the rough element of one of these sawdust-floored, glass-ornamented whisky palaces, where a snack and a glass of ale, at least, could be purchased.

I looked about me and pushed into what seemed the least disreputable one of its kind. I made through the haze of foul air and tobacco smoke to the counter, and stood idly by until the bar-tender should find it convenient to wait upon me.

The place was crowded with sea-faring men and the human sediment that is found in and around the docks of all shipping cities; it resounded with a babel of coarse, discordant voices.

The greater part of this coterie was gathered round a huge individual, with enormous hands and feet, a stubbly, blue chin, set, round and aggressive; a nose with a broken bridge spoiled the balance of his podgy face. He had beady eyes and a big, ugly mouth with stained, irregular teeth. From time to time, he laughed boisterously, and his laugh had an echo of hell in it.

He and his followers appeared to be enjoying some good joke. But whenever he spoke every one else became silent. Each coarse jest he mouthed was laughed at long and uproariously. He had a hold on his fellows. Even I was fascinated; but it was by the great similarity of some of the mannerisms of this uncouth man to those I had observed in the lower brute creation.

My attention was withdrawn from him, however, by the sound of the rattling of tin cans in another corner which was partly partitioned from the main bar-room. I followed the new sound.

A tattered individual was seated there, his feet among a cluster of pots and pans all strung together. His head was in his hands and his red-bearded face was a study of dejection and misery.

There was something strangely familiar in the appearance of the man.

Suddenly I remembered, and I laughed.

I went over and sat down opposite him, setting my golf clubs by my side. He ignored my arriving. That same old trick of his!

“Donald, Donald Robertson!” I exclaimed, laughing again.

Still he did not look across.

Suddenly he spoke, and in a voice that knew neither hope nor gladness.

“Ye laugh, ye name me by my Christian name, but ye don’t say, ‘Donald, will ye taste?’”

I leaned over and pulled his hands away from his head. He flopped forward, then glared at me. His eyes opened wide.

“It’s, it’s you, is it? The second son come to me in my hour o’ trial.”

“Why! Donald, what’s the trouble?” I asked.

“Trouble, ye may well say trouble. Have ye mind o’ the sixpence ye gied me on the roadside this mornin’.”

“Yes!”

“For thirteen long, unlucky hours I saved that six-pence against my time o’ need. I tied it in the tail o’ my sark for safety. I came in here an hour ago. I ordered a glass o’ whisky and a tumbler o’ beer. I sat doon here for a while wi’ them both before me, enjoying the sight o’ them and indulgin’ in the heavenly joy o’ anteecipation. Then I drank the speerits and was just settlin’ doon to the beer, tryin’ to make it spin oot as long as I could; for, ye ken, it’s comfortable in here, when an emissary o’ the deevil, wi’ hands like shovels and a leer in his e’e, came in and picked up the tumbler frae under my very nose and swallowed the balance o’ your six-pence before I could say squeak.”

I laughed at Donald’s rueful countenance and his more than rueful tale.

“Did the man have a broken nose and a heavy jaw?” I asked.

“Ay, ay!” said Donald, lowering his voice. “Do ye happen to ken him?”

“No! but he is still out there and he thinks it a fine joke that he played on you.”

“So would I,” said Donald, “if I had drunk his beer.”

“What did you do when he swallowed off your drink?” I asked.

“Do! what do ye think I did? I remonstrated wi’ a’ the vehemence that a Struan Robertson in anger is capable o’. But the vehemence o’ the Lord himsel’ couldna bring the beer back.”

“Why didn’t you fight, man? Why didn’t you knock the bully down?” I asked, pitying his wobegone appearance.

“Mister, whatever your name is, I’m a man o’ peace; and, forby I’m auld enough to ken it’s no’ wise to fight on an empty stomach. I havena had a bite since I saw ye last.”

“Never mind, Donald, cheer up. I am going to have some bread and cheese, and a glass of ale, so you can have some with me, at my expense.”

His face lit up like a Roman candle.

“Man, I’m wi’ ye. You’re a man o’ substance, and I’m fonder o’ substantial bread and cheese and beer than I am o’ the metapheesical drinks I was indulgin’ in for ten minutes before ye so providentially came.”

I could not help wondering at some of the remarks of this wise, yet good-for-little, old customer; but I did not press him for more enlightenment.

I thumped the hand-bell on the table, and was successful in obtaining more prompt attention from the bar-tender than I had been able to do across the counter.

When the food and drink were placed between us and paid for, Donald stuffed all but one slice of his bread and cheese inside his waistcoat, and he sighed contentedly as he contemplated the sparkling ale.

But, all at once, he startled me by springing to his feet, seizing his tumbler in his hand and emptying the contents down his gullet at two monstrous gulps.

“No, no! ye thievin’ deevil,” he shouted, as he regained his breath, “ye canna do that twice wi’ Donald Robertson.”

I looked toward the opening in the partition. Donald’s recent enemy, the man whom I had been studying at the other end of the bar-room, was shouldering himself into our company. Behind him, in a semi-circle, a dozen faces grinned in anticipation of some more fun at Donald’s expense.

The big bully glared down at me as I sat.

“That there is uncommon good beer, young un,” he growled, “and that there is most uncommon good bread and cheese.”

I glanced at him with half-shut eyelids, then I broke off another piece of bread.

“Maybe you didn’t ’ear me?” he shouted again, “I said that was uncommon good beer.”

“I shall be better able to judge of that, my man, after I have tasted it,” I replied.

“Not that beer, little boy, you ain’t going to taste that,” he thundered, “because I ’appens to want it, see! I ’appens to ’ave a most aggrawating thirst in my gargler.”

A burst of laughter followed this ponderous attempt at humour.

“’And it over, sonny, I wants it.”

I merely raised my head and ran my eyes over him.

He was an ugly brute, and no mistake. A man of tremendous girth.

Although I had no real fear of him, for, already I had been schooled to the knowledge that fear and its twin brother worry are man’s worst opponents. I was a little uncertain as to what the outcome would be if I got him thoroughly angered. However, I was in no mind to be interfered with.

He thumped his heavy fist on the table.

“’And that over, quick,” he roared.

His great jaws clamped together and his thick, discoloured lips became compressed.

“Why! certainly, my friend,” I remarked easily, rising with slow deliberation. “Which will you have first: the bread and cheese, or the ale?”

“‘Twere the ale I arst and it’s th’ ale I wants, and blamed quick about it or I’ll know the reason w’y.”

“Stupid of me!” I remarked. “I should have known you wanted the ale first. Here you are, my good, genial, handsome fellow.”

I picked up the foaming tumbler and offered it to him. When he stretched out his great, grimy paw to take it, I tossed the stuff smack into his face, sending showers of the liquid into the gaping countenances of his supporters.

He staggered back among them, momentarily blinded, and, as he staggered, I sent the tumbler on the same errand as the ale. It smashed in a hundred pieces on the side of his broken nose, opening up an old gash there and sending a stream of blood oozing down over his mouth.

There was no more laughter, nor grinning. The place was as quiet as a church during prayer. I pushed into the open saloon, with the remonstrating Donald at my heels. Then the bull began to roar. He pulled off his coat, while half a dozen of his own kind endeavoured with dirty handkerchiefs and rags to mop the blood from his face.

“Shut the door. Don’t let ’im away from ’ere,” he shouted. “I’ll push his windpipe into his boots, I will. Watch me!”

As I stood with my back against the partition, the bar-tender slipped round the end of the counter.

“Look here, guv’nor,” he whispered with good intent, “the back door’s open, run like the devil.”

I turned to him in mild surprise.

“Don’t be an ijit,” he went on. “Git. Why! he’s Tommy Flynn, the champion rib cracker and face pusher of Harlford, here on his holidays.”

“Tommy Flynn,” I answered, “Tommy Rot fits him better.”

“You ain’t a-going to stand up and get hit, are you?”

“What else is there for me to do?” I asked.

He threw up his arms despairingly.

“Lor’ lumme! then I bids you good-bye and washes my hands clean of you.” And he went round behind the counter in disgust, spitting among the sawdust.

By this time, Tommy Flynn, the champion rib cracker and face pusher, was rolling up his sleeves businesslike and thrusting off his numerous seconds in his anxiety to get at me.

“’Ere, Splotch,” he cried to a one-eyed bosom friend of his, “’old my watch, while I joggles the puddins out of this kid with a left ’ander. My heye! ’e won’t be no blooming golfing swell in another ’alf minute.”

He grinned at me a few times in order to hypnotise me with his beauty and to instil in me the necessary amount of frightfulness, before he got to work in earnest. Then, by way of invitation, he thrust forward his jaw almost into my face. I took advantage of his offer somewhat more quickly than he anticipated. I struck him on the chin with my left and drew my right to his body. But his chin was hard as flint and it bruised my knuckles; while his great body was podgy and of an india-rubberlike flexibility.

For my pains, he brushed my ear and drew a little blood, with the grin of an ape on his brutish face.

He threw up his arms to guard, feinted at me, and rushed in.

I parried his blows successfully, much to his surprise, for I could see his eyes widening and a wrinkle in his brow.

“Careful, Tommy! careful,” cautioned Splotch of the one eye. “He’s a likely looking young bloke.”

“Likely be blowed,” said Tommy shortly, as he toyed with me. “Watch this!”

I saw that it would be for my own good, the less I let my antagonist know of my ability at his own game, and I knew also I would have to play caution with my strength all the way, owing to the trying ordeals I had already gone through that day.

Once, my antagonist tried to draw me as he would draw a novice. I ignored the body bait he opened up for me and, instead, I swung in quickly with my right on to his bruised nose, with all the energy I could muster. He staggered and reeled like a drunken man. In fact, had he not been half-besotted by dear-only-knows how many days of debauchery, it might have gone hard with me, but now he positively howled with pain.

I had hit on his most vulnerable part, right at the beginning.

Something inside of me chuckled, for, if there was one special place in any man’s anatomy that I always had been able to reach, it was his nose.

Flynn rushed on me again and again. I was lucky indeed in beating back his onslaughts.

Once, a spent blow got me on the cheek; yet, spent as it was, it made me numb and dizzy for the moment. Once, he caught me squarely on the chest right over the wound my brother had given me. The pain of that was like the cut of a red-hot knife, but it passed quickly. I staggered and reeled several times, as flashes of weakness seemed to pass over me. I began to fear that my strength would give out.

I pulled myself together with an effort. Then, once, twice, thrice, in a succession bewildering to myself, I smashed that broken nose of Flynn’s, sending him sick and wobbling among his following.

He became maddened with rage. His companions commenced to voice cautions and instructions. He swore back at them in a muddy torrent of abuse.

Already, the fight was over; I could feel it in my bones; over, far sooner and more satisfactory to me than I had expected. And, more by good luck than by ability, I was, to all intents and purposes, unscathed.

Tommy Flynn could fight. But he was not the fighter he would have been had he been away from drink and in strict training, as I was. It was my good fortune to meet him when he was out of condition. He spat out a mouthful of blood and returned to the conflict, defending his nose with all the ferocity of a lioness defending her whelps.

“Look out! Take care!” a timely voice whispered on my left.

Something flashed in my opponent’s hands in the gaslight. I backed to the partition. We had a terrible mix-up just then. Blow and counterblow rained. He broke down my guard once and drove with fierce force for my face. I ducked, just in time, for he missed me by a mere hair’s-breadth. His fist smashed into a metal bolt in the woodwork. Sparks flew and there was a loud ring of metal against metal.

“You cowardly brute!” I shouted, breaking away as it dawned on me that he had attacked me with heavy knuckle-dusters. My blood fairly danced with madness. I sprang in on him in a positive frenzy. He became a child in my hands. Never had I been roused as I was then. I struck and struck again at his hideous face until it sagged away from me.

He was blind with his own blood. I followed up, raining punch upon punch, pitilessly, relentlessly. His feet slipped in the slither of bloody sawdust. I struck again and he crashed to the floor, striking his head against the iron pedestal of a round table in the corner.

He lay all limp and senseless, with his mouth wide open and his breath coming roaring and gurgling from his clotted throat.

As his friends endeavoured to raise him, as I stood back against the counter, panting, I heard a battering at the main door of the saloon which had been closed at the commencement of the scuffle.

“Here, sir, quick!” cried the sympathetic bartender to me. “The cops! Out the back door like hell!”

I had no desire to be mixed up in a police affair, especially in the company of such scum as I was then among. I picked up my golf bag and swung my knapsack on to my back once more. Then I remembered about Donald. I could not leave him. I searched in corners and under the tables. He was nowhere in sight.

“Is it the tinker?” asked the bar-tender excitedly.

“Yes, yes!”

“He’s gone. He slunk out with his tin cans, through the back way, as soon as you got started in this scrap.”

I did not wait for anything more, for some one was unlocking the front door. I darted out the back exit and into the lane. Down the lane, in the darkness, I tore like a hurricane, then along the waterfront until there was a mile between me and the scene of my late encounter.

I slowed up at a convenient horse-trough, splashed my hands and face in the cooling water and adjusted my clothing as best I could, then I strolled into the shipping shed, where stevedores and dock labourers were busy, by electric light, completing the loading of a smart-looking little cargo boat.

A notion seized me. It was a coaster, so I knew I could not be going very far away.

I walked up the gang-plank, and aboard.