Page:O Henry Prize Stories of 1924.djvu/179

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been done to him. Here on earth his plaints went unheeded, for the crowd was split wide apart as though a battering ram had struck it. With Hardtack in the lead, they burst through the press and arrived, pell-mell and panting, at the scene of strife.

In a cabaret below the level of the sidewalk a party of American gobs was debating who won the war with a party of English bluejackets. Hardtack gave tongue to a battle whoop and the five plunged into the fray. The maelstrom ingulfed them.

Now they’ve been singing the heroes of antiquity long enough in Greece. A petty skirmish like Marathon, where one hundred and ninety-two Athenians fell, goes echoing down the corridors of time. Xenophon mentions, as important, a battle at Corinth where eight of the contestants were slain!

We do better than that nowadays in a riot. And there was Phayllus’ celebrated jump of forty-nine feet! So I submit that the poets did most of the valorous deeds for those old birds, and from the standpoint of fights they were tame affairs. Legend and literary skill have exalted them.

But this was the real thing. No talky-talk here, with each side shoving forth champions to brag and boast and crack their heels together in the hope of scaring the enemy. No, sir, just an honest, sincere knock-down-and-drag-out. Seldom in its history has Athens staged a sweeter fight.

Not that much could be seen. The lights danced and flickered and the dust welled up in choking clouds, obliterating individuals, so that some of the combatants struck out blindly at any one within reach. But Hardtack selected an antagonist and closed and stayed with him. He was a hairy-chested guy with a Gibraltarized skull, and the two livened up the party considerably.

Shouts of encouragement and bellowings of rage; the scraping of feet striving desperately for a hold; thud and grunt of impact. From time to time the surge of the struggling mass propelled a group up the steps and into the street. They promptly fought their way back again. It seemed to be a point of honour not to leave the floor.

Twice Hardtack and his opponent found themselves in the cool night air, where there was plenty of room for their