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CHAPTER XVIII


THE BOXING BOUT


"A boxing match!"

"I think Dave Porter will win."

"I don't know about that. Link Merwell has been doing a great deal of boxing lately and has it down pretty fine."

"That may be, but Dave is as quick as they make them."

So the talk ran on, as the boys in the gymnasium gathered around the would-be contestants. They felt that, no matter who won, they were going to see something worth while. Many secretly hoped that the boxing match would degenerate into a regular fight, for they knew that Dave and Merwell were bitter enemies, and the majority wanted to see the big bully soundly whipped.

"We'll have to have a referee and a timekeeper," said Dave. "Who shall they be?"

"A referee and a timekeeper?" repeated Link Merwell. "Why don't you start her up and have done with it?"

"This is to be no prize fight, Merwell. I shall box you for points only."

"Oh!" The bully put as much of a sneer into the exclamation as possible. "Afraid to finish it up, eh?"

"Perhaps you'll get all you want before we stop," answered Dave, calmly.

"What kind of gloves do you want? The thickest in the place, I suppose."

"No, a medium glove will do for me. Mr. Dodsworth recommends the number five."

"Humph! I'm willing to box with a number one if you wish!"

"We might as well box without gloves as with number ones. This is to be no slugging match, as I intimated before. If you are afraid to box for points say so."

"Oh, I'll box you any way you please. Who do you want for timekeeper and referee?"

"Any boy with a good watch can keep time. I think Mr. Dodsworth ought to be the referee."

"Nat Poole can judge it all right," growled Merwell.

"He's not acceptable to me," answered Dave, promptly.

"The gym. teacher is all right," said Roger. "He'll know just what every move counts."

Link Merwell wished to argue, but Dave would not listen, and in the end the services of the new gymnasium teacher were called in. Mr. Dodsworth smiled when told of what was on foot.

"Very well, I'll be referee," he said. "Now, let me warn you against all foul moves. You both know the rules. Let this be a purely scientific struggle for points. Length of each round two minutes, with two minutes intermission. How many rounds do you want to have?"

"To a finish," said Link Merwell, and he glared wickedly at Dave.

"No, I'll not allow that, for it is too exhausting. Let us say ten rounds. That will give you twenty minutes of hot work. Here, I will give my watch to Lambertson and he can keep he time."

And he passed the watch over to the student mentioned. The way matters had been arranged did not suit Link Merwell at all, yet he felt forced to submit or acknowledge that he was afraid of Dave. He had wished for a free-and-easy match and had hoped, on the sly, to get in a foul blow or two which might knock Dave out. Now, under the keen eyes of the gymnasium instructor, he knew he would have to be careful of his every movement.

The preliminaries arranged, the two boxers faced each other, while the students gathered thickly in a large circle around them. The circle was protected by benches, giving to the scene something of the air of a professional boxing ring.

"Ready!" called out Mr. Dodsworth. "Go!" he cried.

But there was very little "go" at the start. Both boxers were on the alert and they circled around slowly, looking for an opening. Then Merwell made a pass, which Dave warded off easily. Then Dave landed on his opponent's breast, Merwell came back with a blow in the shoulder, and Dave, ducking, sent in two in quick succession on the bully's neck and ear. Then time was called.

"How does that stand?" asked some of the boys.

"I'll tell you later," said Mr. Dodsworth, as he penciled something on a bit of paper.

"Oh, tell us now!" they pleaded.

But the instructor was obdurate. And while the lads were pleading round two was called.

The contestants were now warming up, and blows were given and taken freely. Link Merwell was forced back twice, and was glad when time was called by Lambertson.

"Don't get too anxious," said the instructor, during the recess. "Remember, this is for points."

Again the two boys went at it, and the third, fourth, and fifth rounds were mixed up freely. All present had to acknowledge that Link Merwell boxed quite well, but they saw that the points were in Dave's favor. Dave had perfect control of himself, while the bully was getting excited.

"I'll show you something now!" cried Merwell as they came up for round six. He flew at Dave like a wild animal. But Dave was on the alert and dodged and ducked in a manner that brought constant applause. Then, almost before anybody knew it, he landed on the bully's jaw, his cheek, and then his nose.

"Omy! Look at that!"

"Say, that was swift, wasn't it?"

The three blows had thrown Merwell off his balance, and he recovered with difficulty.

"He—he fouled me!" he panted.

"No foul!" answered the gymnasium instructor, and just then time was called.

"Maybe Merwell would like to call it off," suggested Dave.

"Not much! I'll show you yet!" roared the bully. "I'll have you to know——"

"Merwell, you'll do better if you'll keep your excitement down," advised the instructor. "'Keep cool,' is an excellent motto."

"Dave, you're doing well," whispered Roger. "Keep it up and Merwell won't know where he is at by the end of the tenth round."

"I intend to keep it up," was the answer. "I started out to teach that bully a lesson and I'll do it—if it is in me."

And it was in Dave—as the seventh and eighth rounds showed. In the latter round he practically had the bully at his mercy, and boxed him all around the ring. The calling of time found Merwell panting for breath and so confused he could hardly see.

"I think you had better give it up," said the gymnasium instructor. "Merwell, you have had enough."

"Say, are you going to give this boxing match to Porter?" roared the bully.

"Yes, for he has won it fairly. He already has twenty-six points to your seven."

"It ain't fair! I can lick him any day!"

"It is not a question of 'licking' anybody, Merwell. This was a boxing bout for points, and you are no longer in condition to box. I declare Porter the winner, and I congratulate him on his clean and clever work with the gloves."

"He—he fouled me."

"Not at all. If there was any fouling it was done by you in the sixth and seventh rounds. I might have disqualified you then if I had been very particular about it. But I saw that Porter was willing to let you go on."

This was the bitterest pill of all for Link Merwell to swallow. To think he might have been disqualified but that Dave Porter had been given the chance to continue hammering him! He wanted to argue, but no one except Nat Poole would listen to him, and so he strode out of the gymnasium in disgust, accompanied by his crony.

"It makes me sick," he muttered. "Everybody stands up for Porter, no matter what he does!"

"Well, you see he has a way of worming in with everybody," answered Nat Poole. " A decent chap wouldn't do it, but you couldn't expect anything different from a poorhouse boy, could you?"

When alone he and Merwell frequently referred to Dave as "a poorhouse boy," but both took good care not to use that term in public, remembering what punishment it had brought down on their heads.

"He'll crow over us worse than ever now," resumed Merwell. "Oh, but don't I wish I could square up with him and the rest of the Gee Eyes!"

"We'll do it some day,—when we get the chance," said Poole. "Come on and have a smoke; it will help to quiet you." And then he and the bully walked away from Oak Hall to a secluded spot, where they might indulge themselves in the forbidden pastime of smoking cigarettes. Both were inveterate smokers and had to exercise extreme caution that knowledge of the offense might not reach Doctor Clay or his assistants.

Finding a comfortable spot, the boys sat down on a fallen tree and there consumed one cigarette after another, trying to be real "mannish" by inhaling the smoke and blowing it through the nose. As they smoked they talked of many things, the conversation finally drifting around to Vera Rockwell and Mary Feversham.

"I understand Phil Lawrence is daffy over that Feversham girl," remarked Poole. "She is a fairly good sort, but she wouldn't suit me." He said this because Mary had snubbed him on several occasions when they had met in Oakdale.

"Well, I heard Roger Morr was daffy over that Rockwell girl," answered Merwell. "And I heard, too, that Porter was likely to cut him out."

"Porter cut him out!" exclaimed Nat Poole. "Who told you that? Why, Dave Porter is too thick with Jessie Wadsworth to think much of anybody else."

"Are you sure of that?"

"Yes. Why, when Porter is home the two are as thick as can be. I am sure that Jessie Wadsworth thinks the world of him, too, although why is beyond my comprehension," added the dudish student. He had not forgotten how Jessie had also snubbed him, when invitations were being sent out for her party.

"Humph!" Link Merwell puffed at his cigarette in silence for a moment. "You say they are thick,—and still he goes out with this Vera Rockwell. Kind of funny mix-up, eh?"

"Oh, I suppose he has a right to do as he pleases," drawled Nat.

"Say, we might——" Merwell stopped short and blew a quantity of cigarette smoke from his nose.

"Might what?"

"Oh, I was just thinking, Nat——" And the bully stopped again.

"If you don't want me to know, say so," returned the dudish student, crossly.

"I was thinking that perhaps we could put a spoke in Dave Porter's wheel in a manner that he'd never suspect. If he's somewhat sweet on that Wadsworth girl, and at the same time giving his attention to Vera Rockwell, we ought to be able to do something."

"What?"

"Supposing that Wadsworth girl heard he was running around with a girl up here, and supposing Vera Rockwell heard about the Crumville maiden? Maybe Dave Porter would have some work straightening matters out, eh?"

"By Jove, you're right!" cried Nat Poole. "It's a great scheme, Link! If we work it right, we can get him in the hottest kind of water—especially if he thinks a good deal of both girls."

"And that isn't all," added Link Merwell, lighting a fresh cigarette. "Don't forget Roger Morr. If he thinks a good deal of Vera Rockwell we'll manage to put a flea in his ear,—that Porter is trying to cut him out in an underhanded way. I reckon that will split up the friendship between Porter and Morr pretty quick."

"So it will!" Nat Poole's eyes fairly beamed. "This is the best plan yet, Link! Let us put it into execution at once. How shall we go at it?"

"That remains to be seen," said Merwell.

And then and there the pair plotted to get Dave and his friends into "the hottest kind of water," as the bully expressed it, and break up the closest of friendships.