Champ of the Forecastle by Robert E. Howard
[Champ of the Seven Seas]
A STEVE COSTIGAN STORY
First published in Fight Stories, November 1930
Also published as "The Champion Of The Forecastle" and "Champ Of The Seven
I DON'T have to have a man tell me he craves war. I
can tell it by the set of his jaw, the glare in his eyes. So, when Sven
Larson raised his huge frame on his bunk and accused me of swiping his
tobaccer, I knowed very well what his idee was. But I didn't want to fight
Sven. Havin' licked the big cheese three or four times already, I seen no
need in mauling him any more. So somewhat to the surprise of the rest of the
crew, I said:
"Sven, that's purty crude. You didn't need to think up no lie to pick a
fight with me. I know you crave to be champion of the Sea Girl, but
they ain't a chance, and I don't want to hurt you—"
I got no further, because with a bull's beller he heaved hisself offa his
bunk and come for me like a wild man. Gosh, what a familiar scene that was
—the fierce, hard faces ringing us, the rough bunks along the wall,
the dim light of the lantern swinging overhead, and me standing in the
middle, barefooted and stripped to the waist, holding my only title against
all comers! They ain't a inch of that forecastle floor that I ain't reddened
with my blood. They ain't a edge of a upper bunk that I ain't had my head
smashed against. And since I been a man grown they ain't a sailor on the
Seven Seas that can say he stood up to me in that forecastle and beat me
The lurching of the ship and the unsteady footing don't bother me none,
nor the close space and foul, smoke-laden air. That's my element, and if I
couldst fight in the ring like I can in the forecastle, with nothing barred,
I'd be champion of something besides a tramp wind-jammer.
Well, Sven come at me with his old style—straight up, wide open,
with a wild swinging right. I ducked inside it and smashed my left under his
heart, following instantly with a blasting right hook to the jaw as he
sagged. He started falling and a lurch of the ship throwed him half under a
opposite bunk. They's no mercy ast, give or expected in a forecastle fight;
it's always to the finish. I was right after him, and no sooner hadst he got
to his feet than I smashed him down again before he could get his hands
"Let's call it a day, Sven," I growled. "I don't want to punch you no
But he come weaving up, spitting blood and roaring in his own tongue. He
tried to clinch and gouge, but another right hook to the jaw sent him down
and out. I shook the sweat outa my eyes and glared down at him in some
irritation, which was mixed with the satisfaction of knowing that again I
hadst proved my right to the title of champion of the toughest ship afloat.
Maybe you think that's a mighty small thing, but it's the only title I got
and I'm proud of it.
But I couldn't get onto Sven. Me and him was good friends ordinarily, but
ever so often he'd get the idee he couldst lick me. So the next day I looked
him up between watches and found him sulking and brooding. I looked over his
enormous frame and shook my head in wonder to think that I hadst gotten no
further in the legitimate ring than I have, when I can lay out such
incredible monsters as Sven so easy.
Six feet four he was in his socks, and his two hundred and forty-five
pounds was all muscle. I can bend coins between my fingers, tear up decks of
cards and twist horseshoes in two, but Sven's so much stronger'n me they's no
comparison. But size and strength ain't everything.
"Sven," said I, "how come you forever got to be fightin' me?"
Well, at first he wouldn't say, but at last it come out.
"Aye bane got girl at Stockholm. She bane like me purty good, but they
bane another faller. His name bane Olaf Ericson and he own fishing smack.
Always when Aye go out with my girl, he bane yump on me and he always lick
me. Aye tank if Aye ever lick you, Aye can lick Olaf."
"So you practice on me, hey?" I said. "Well, Sven, you never will lick me
nor Olaf nor any man which can use his hands unless you change your style.
Oh, uh course, you're a bear-cat when it comes to fightin' ignorant
dock-wallopers and deck-hands which never seen a glove and can't do nothin'
but bite and gouge. But you see what happens when you get up against a real
fightin' man. Sven," said I on a sudden impulse, like I usually do, "far be
it from me to see a deep water seaman get beat up regular by a Baltic
fish-grabber. It's a reflection on the profession and on the ship. Sven,"
said I, "I'm goin' to train you to lick this big cheese."
Well, I hadn't never give much thought to Sven before, only in a general
way—you can't pay close attention to every square-head which comes
and goes aboard a trading ship—but in the weeks which followed I done
my best to make a fighting man of him. I rigged up a punching bag for him and
sparred with him between watches. When him or me wasn't doing our trick at
the wheel or holystoning the deck, or scraping the cable or hauling on a
rope, or trimming sail or exchanging insults with the mates, I tried to teach
him all I knowed.
Understand, I didn't try to make no boxing wizard outa him. The big slob
couldn't of learned even if I could of taught him. And I didn't know how
myself. I ain't a clever boxer. I'm a rough and willing mixer in the ring,
but compared to such rough-house scrappers as Sven, I'm a wonder. The simple
ducking, slipping and blocking, which even the crudest slugger does in the
ring, is beyond the ken of the average untrained man, and as for scientific
hitting, they never heard of it. They just draw back the right and let it go
without any aim, timing nor nothing. Well, I just taught Sven the
fundamentals—to stand with his left foot forward and not get his legs
crossed, to lead with his left and to time and aim a little. I got him outa
the habit of swinging wild and wide open with his right all the time, and by
constant drilling I taught him the knack of hooking and hitting straight. I
also give him a lot of training to harden his body muscles, which was his
Well, the big Swede took to it like a duck takes to water, and after I'd
explained each simple move upwards of a thousand times, he'd understand it
and apply it and he wouldn't forget. Like lots of square-heads, he was slow
to learn, but once he had learned, he remembered what he'd learned. And his
great size and strength was a big asset.
Bill O'Brien says, "Steve, you're trainin' the big sap to take your title
away from you." But I merely laughed with great merriment at the idee.
Sven had a wallop like a mule's kick in either hand, and when he learned
to use it, he was dangerous to any man. He was pretty tough, too, or got so
before I got through with him. He wasn't very fast, and I taught him a kind
of deep defensive crouch like Jeffries used. He took to it natural and
developed a surprising left for the body.
After six months of hard work on him, I felt sure that he could lick the
average alley-fighter easy. And about this time we was cruising Baltic waters
and headed for Stockholm.
As we approached his native heath, Sven grew impatient and restless. He
had a lot more self-confidence now and he craved another chance at Olaf, the
demon rival. Sven wasn't just a big unwieldy slob no more. Constant sparring
with me and Bill O'Brien had taught him how to handle hisself and how to use
his bulk and strength. A few days outa Stockholm he had a row with Mushy
Hansen, which was two hundred pounds of fighting man, and he knocked the Dane
so cold it took us a hour and a half to bring him to.
Well, that cheered Sven up considerable and when we docked, he said to me:
"Aye go see Segrida, my girl, and find out if Olaf bane in port. He bane hang
out at dey Fisherman's Tavern. Aye go past with Segrida and he come out and
yump on me, like usual. Only diss time Aye bane lick him."
Well, at the appointed time me and Bill and Mushy was loafing around the
Fisherman's Tavern, a kind of bar where a lot of tough Swedish fishermen hung
out, and pretty soon, along come Sven.
He had his girl with him, all right, a fine, big blonde girl—one
of these tall, slender yet well-built girls which is overflowing with health
and vitality. She was so pretty I was plumb astounded as to what she seen in
a big boob like Sven. But women is that way. They fall for the dubs and pass
up the real prizes—like me, for instance.
Segrida looked kind of worried just now and as they neared the Tavern, she
cast a apprehensive eye that way. Well, they was abreast of the door when a
kind of irritated roar sounded from within and out bulged what could of been
nobody but Olaf the Menace, hisself, in person.
There was a man for you! He was fully as tall as Sven, though not as
heavy. Tall, lithe and powerful he was, like a big, blond tiger. He was so
handsome I couldst easily see why Segrida hesitated between him and Sven
—or rather I couldn't see why she hesitated at all! Olaf looked like
one of these here Vikings you read about which rampaged around in old times,
licking everybody. But he had a hard, cruel eye, which I reckon goes with
that kind of nature.
He had some fellers with him, but they stayed back in the doorway while he
swaggered out and stopped square in front of Sven. He had a most contemptuous
sneer and he said something which of course I couldn't understand, but as
Mushy later translated the conversation to me, I'll give it like Mushy told
to me and Bill.
"Well, well," said Olaf, "looking for another licking, eh? Your deep sea
boy friend is back in port looking for his usual trouncing, eh, Segrida?"
"Olaf, please," said Segrida, frightened. "Don't fight, please!"
"I warned you what would happen to him," said Olaf, "if you went out with
At this moment Sven, who had said nothing, shocked his bold rival by
growling: "Too much talk; put up your hands!"
Olaf, though surprised, immediately done so, and cut Sven's lip with a
flashing straight left before the big boy couldst get in position. Segrida
screamed but no cops was in sight and the battle was on.
Olaf had learned boxing some place, and was one of the fastest men for his
size I ever seen. For the first few seconds he plastered Sven plenty, but
from the way the big fellow hunched his shoulders and surged in, I hadst no
doubt about the outcome.
Sven dropped into the deep, defensive crouch I'd taught him, and I seen
Olaf was puzzled. He hisself fought in the straight-up English sparring
position and this was the first time he'd ever met a man who fought American
style, I could see. With Sven's crouch protecting his body and his big right
arm curved around his jaw, all Olaf couldst see to hit was his eyes glaring
over the arm.
He battered away futilely at Sven's hard head, doing no damage whatever,
and then Sven waded in and drove his ponderous left to the wrist in Olaf's
midriff. Olaf gasped, went white, swayed and shook like a leaf. He sure
couldn't take it there and I yelled for Sven to hit him again in the same
place, but the big dumb-bell tried a heavy swing for the jaw, half
straightening out of his crouch as he swung and Olaf ducked and staggered him
with a sizzling right to the ear. Sven immediately went back into his shell
and planted another battering-ram left under Olaf's heart.
Olaf broke ground gasping and his knees trembling, but Sven kept right on
top of him in his plodding sort of way. Olaf jarred him with a dying-effort
swing to the jaw, but them months of punching hadst toughened Sven and the
big fellow shook his head and leaned on a right to the ribs.
That finished Olaf; his knees give way and he started falling, grabbing
feebly at Sven as he done so. But Sven, with one of the few laughs I ever
heard him give, pushed him away and crashed a tremendous right-hander to his
jaw. Olaf straightened out on the board-walk and he didn't even quiver.
A low rumble of fury warned us and we turned to see Olaf's amazed but
wrathful cronies surging towards the victor. But me and Bill and Mushy and
Mike kind of drifted in between and at the sight of three hard-eyed American
seamen and a harder-eyed Irish bulldog, they stopped short and signified
their intention of merely taking Olaf into the Tavern and bringing him
At this Sven, grinning placidly and turning to Segrida with open arms, got
the shock of his life. Instead of falling on to his manly bosom, Segrida, who
hadst stood there like she was froze, woke up all at once and bust into a
perfect torrent of speech. I would of give a lot to understand it. Sven stood
gaping with his mouth wide open and even the rescue party which had picked up
Olaf, stood listening. Then with one grand burst of oratory, she handed Sven
a full-armed, open-handed slap that cracked like a bull-whip, and busting
into tears, she run forward to help with Olaf. They vanished inside the
"What'd she say? What's the idee?" I asked, burnt up with curiosity.
"She say she bane through with me," Sven answered dazedly. "She say Aye
bane a brute. She say she ain't bane want to see me no more."
"Well, keel-haul me," said I profanely. "Can ya beat that? First she
wouldn't choose Sven because he got licked by Olaf all the time; now she
won't have him because he licked Olaf. Women are all crazy."
"Never mind, old timer," said Bill, slapping the dejected Sven on the
back. "Anyway, you licked Olaf to a fare-you-well. Come along, and we'll buy
you a drink."
But Sven just shook his head sullen-like and moped off by hisself; so
after arguing with him unsuccessfully, me and Bill and Mushy betook ourselves
to a place where we couldst get some real whiskey and not the stuff they make
in them Scandinavian countries. The barkeep kicked at first because I give my
white bulldog, Mike, a pan-full of beer on the floor, but we overcome that
objection and fell to talking about Sven.
"I don't savvy dames," I said. "If she gives Sven the bounce for beatin'
up Olaf, whyn't she give Olaf the bounce long ago for beatin' up Sven so
"It's Olaf she really loves," said Mushy.
"Maybe," said Bill. "And maybe he's just persistent. But women is kind-
hearted. They pities a poor boob which has just got punched in the nose, and
as long as Sven was gettin' licked all the time, he got all her pity. But now
her pity and affections is transferred to Olaf, naturally."
Well, we didn't see no more of Sven till kind of late that night, when in
come one of our square-head ship-mates named Fritz to the bar where me and
Bill and Mushy was, and said he: "Steve, Sven he say maybeso you bane come
down to a place on Hjolmer Street; he bane got something to show you."
"Now what could that Swede want now?" said Bill testily, but I said, "Oh
well, we got nothin' else to do." So we went to Hjolmer Street, a kind of
narrow street just out of the waterfront section. It wasn't no particularly
genteel place—kind of dirty and dingy for a Swedish street, with
little crumby shops along the way, all closed up and deserted that time of
night. The square-head, Fritz, led us to a place which was lighted up, though
the shutters was closed. He knocked on the door and a short fat Swede opened
it and closed it behind us.
To my surprise I seen the place was a kind of third-rate gymnasium. They
was a decrepit punching bag, a horizontal bar and a lot of bar-bells, dumb-
bells, kettle bells—in fact, all the lifting weights you couldst
imagine. They was also a rastling mat and, in the middle of the floor, a
canvas covered space about the size of a small ring. And in the middle of
this stood Sven, in fighting togs and with his hands taped.
"Who you goin' to fight, Sven?" I asked curiously.
He scowled slightly, flexed his mighty arms kind of embarrassed-like,
swelled out his barrel chest and said: "You!"
You could of bowled me over with a jib boom.
"Me?" I said in amazement. "What kind of joke is this?"
"It bane no yoke," he answered stolidly. "Mine friend Knut bane own diss
gym and teach rastlin' and weight liftin'. He bane let us fight here."
Knut, a stocky Swede with the massive arms and pot belly of a retired
weight lifter, give me a kind of apologetic look, but I glared at him.
"But what you want to fight me for?" I snarled in perplexity. "Ain't I
taught you all you know? Didn't I teach you to lick Olaf? You
"Aye ain't got no grudge for you, Steve," the big cheese answered
placidly. "But Aye tank Aye like be champion of dass Sea Girl. Aye got
to lick you to be it, ain't it? Sure!"
Bill and Mushy was looking at me expectantly, but I was all at sea. After
you've worked six months teaching a man your trade and built him up and made
something outa him, you don't want to undo it all by rocking him to
"Why're you so set on bein' champ of the Sea Girl?" I asked
"Well," said the overgrown heathen, "Aye tank Aye lick you and then Aye
can lick Olaf, and Segrida she like me. But Aye lick Olaf, and Segrida she
give me dass gate. Dass bane your fault, for teach me to lick Olaf. But Aye
ain't blame you. Aye like you fine, Steve, but now Aye tank Aye be champ of
dass Sea Girl. Aye ain't got no girl no more, so Aye got to be
something. Aye lick Olaf so Aye can lick you. Aye lick you and be champ and
we be good friends, ya?"
"But I don't want to fight you, you big mutton-head!" I snarled in
"Then Aye fight you on the street or the fo'c's'le or wherever Aye meet
you," he said cheerfully.
At that my small stock of temper was plumb exhausted. With a blood thirsty
howl I ripped off my shirt. "Bring on the gloves, you square-headed ape!" I
roared. "If I got to batter some sense into your solid ivory skull I might as
well start now!"
A few minutes later I was clad in a dingy pair of trunks which Knut
dragged out of somewhere for me, and we was donning the gloves a set lighter
than the standard weight, which Knut hadst probably got as a present from
John L. Sullivan or somebody.
We agreed on Bill as referee, but Sven being afraid of Mike, made me agree
to have Mushy hold him, though I assured him Mike wouldn't interfere in a
glove fight. They was no ropes around the canvas space, no stools nor gong.
However, as it happened, they wasn't needed.
As we advanced toward each other I realized more'n ever how much of a man
Sven was. Six feet four—245 pounds—all bone and muscle. He
towered over me like a giant, and I musta looked kinda small beside him,
though I'm six feet tall and weigh 190 pounds. Under his white skin the great
muscles rolled and billowed like flexible iron, and his chest looked more
like a gorilla's than a human's.
But size ain't everything. Old Fitz used to flatten men which outweighed
him over a hundred pounds, and lookit what Dempsey and Sharkey used to do to
such like giants—and I'm as tough as Sharkey and can hit as hard as
either of them other palookas, even if I ain't quite as accurate or
No, I hadst no worries about Sven, but I'd got over being mad at him and I
seen his point of view. Sven wasn't sore at me, nor nothing. He just wanted
to be champ of his ship, which was a natural wish. Since his girl give him
the air, he wanted to more'n ever to kind of soothe his wounded vanity, as
No, I cooled down and kind of sympathized with Sven's point of view which
is a bad state of mind to enter into any kind of a scrap. They ain't nothing
more helpful than a good righteous anger and a feeling like the other bird is
a complete rascal and absolutely in the wrong.
As we come together, Sven said: "No rounds, Steve; we fight to dass
"All right," I said with very little enthusiasm. "But, Sven, for the last
time—have you just got to fight me?"
His reply was a left which he shot for my jaw so sudden like I just barely
managed to slip it. I come back with a slashing right which he blocked,
clumsy but effective. He then dropped into the deep crouch I'd taught him and
rammed his left for my wind. But I knowed the counter to that, having seen
pictures of the second Fitzsimmons-Jeffries riot. I stepped around and inside
his ramming left, slapping a left uppercut inside the crook of his right arm,
to his jaw, cracking his teeth together and rocking his head up and back for
a right hook which I opened a gash on his temple with.
He give a deafening roar and immediately abandoned his defensive posture
and come for me like a mad bull. I figured, here's where I end this scrap
quick, like always. But in half a second I seen my error.
Sven didn't rush wide open, flailing wild, like he used to. He come
plunging in, bunched in a compact bulk of iron muscles and fighting fury; he
hooked and hit straight, and he kept his chin clamped down on his hairy chest
and his shoulders hunched to guard it, half crouching to protect his body.
Even the rudiments of boxing science he'd learned, coupled with his enormous
size and strength made him plenty formidable to any man.
I don't know how to tin-can and back pedal. If Jeffries hisself was to
rush me, all I'd know to do wouldst be to stand up to him and trade punches
until I went out cold. I met Sven with a right smash that was high, but
stopped him in his tracks. Blood spattered and he swayed like a big tree
about to crash, but before I could follow up, he plunged in again, hitting
with both hands. He hit and he hit—and—he—hit!
He throwed both hands as fast as he could drive one after the other and
every blow had all his weight behind it. Outa the depths of his fighting fit
he'd conjured up amazing speed. It happens some time. I never seen a man his
size hit that fast before or since. It was just like being in a rain of
sledge- hammers that never quit coming. All I couldst see was his glaring
eyes, his big shoulders hunched and rocking as he hit—and a perfect
whirlwind of big glove-covered clubs.
He wasn't timing or aiming much—hitting too fast for that. But
even when he landed glancing-like, he shook me, with that advantage of fifty-
five pounds. And he landed solid too often to suit me.
Try as I would, I couldn't get in a solid smash under the heart, or on the
jaw. He kept his head down, and my vicious uppercuts merely glanced off his
face, too high to do much good. Black and blue bruises showed on his ribs and
shoulders, but his awkward half crouch kept his vitals protected.
It's mighty hard to hammer a giant like him out of position—
especially when you're trying to keep him from tearing off your head at the
same time. I bored in close, letting Sven's blows go around my neck while I
blasted away with both hands. No—they was little science used on
either side. It was mostly a wild exchange of sledge-hammer wallops.
In one of our rare clinches, Sven lifted me off my feet and throwed me the
full width of the room where I hit the wall—wham!—like
I was going on through. This made Bill, as referee, very mad at Sven and he
cussed him and kicked him heartily in the pants, but the big cheese never
paid no attention.
I was landing the most blows and they rocked Sven from stem to stern, but
they wasn't vital ones. Already his face was beef. One eye was closed, his
lips were pulped and his nose was bleeding; his left side was raw, but, if
anything, he seemed to be getting stronger. My training hadst toughened him a
lot more than I'd realized!
Blim! A glancing slam on my jaw made me see plenty of stars.
Wham! His right met the side of my head and I shot back half-way
across the room to crash into the wall. Long ago we'd got off the canvas; we
was fighting all over the joint.
Sven was after me like a mad bull, and I braced myself and stopped him in
his tracks with a left hook that ripped his ear loose and made his knees sag
for a second. But the Swede had worked hisself into one of them berserk rages
where you got to mighty near kill a man to stop him. His right, curving up
from his hip, banged solid on my temple and I thought for a second my skull
was caved in like an egg-shell.
Blood gushed down my neck when he drawed his glove back, and, desperate, I
hooked my right to his body with everything I had behind it. I reckon that
was when I cracked his rib, because I heard something snap and he kind of
Both of us was terrible looking by this time and kind of in a dream like,
I saw Knut wringing his hands and begging Bill and Mushy and Fritz to stop it
—I reckon he'd never saw a real glove battle before and it was so
different from lifting weights! Naturally, they, who was clean goggle-eyed
and yelling theirselves deaf and dumb, paid no attention to him at all, and
so in a second Knut turned and run out into the street like he was going for
But I paid no heed. For the first time in many a day I was fighting with
my back to the wall against one of my own crew. Sven was inhuman—it
was like fighting a bull or an elephant. He was landing solid now, and even
if them blows was clumsy, with 245 pounds of crazy Swede behind them, they
was like the blows of a pile-driver.
He knowed only one kind of footwork—going forward. And he kept
plunging and hitting, plunging and hitting till the world was blind and red.
I shook my head and the blood flew like spray. The sheer weight of his
plunges hurtled me back in spite of myself.
Once more I tried to rock his head up for a solid shot to the jaw. My left
uppercut split his lips and rattled his teeth, but his bowed neck was like
iron. In desperation I banged him square on the side of the head where his
skull was hardest.
Blood spurted like I'd hit him with a hand spike, and he swayed drunkenly
—then he dropped into a deep crouch and shot his left to my midriff
with all his weight behind it. Judas! It was so unexpected I couldn't get
away from it. I was standing nearly upright and that huge fist sank into my
solar-plexus till I felt it banged against my spine. I dropped like a sack
and writhed on the floor like a snake with a busted back, fighting for air.
Bill said later I was purple in the face.
Like I was looking through a thick fog, I seen Bill, dazed and white-
faced, counting over me. I dunno how I got up again. I was sick—I
thought I was dying. But Sven was standing right over me, and looking up at
him, a lot of thoughts surged through my numbed and battered brain in a kind
The new champion of the Sea Girl, I thought, after all these years
I've held my title against all comers. After all the men I've fought and
licked to hold the only title I got. All the cruel punishment I've took, all
the blood I've spilt, now I lose my only title to this square-head that I've
licked half a dozen times. Like a dream it all come back—the
dim-lighted, smelly, dingy forecastle, the yelling, cursing seamen—
and me in the middle of it all—the bully of the forecastle. And now
—never no more to defend my title—never to hear folks along
the docks say: "That's Steve Costigan, champ of the toughest ship
With a kind of gasping sob, I grabbed Sven's legs and climbed up, up, till
I was on my feet, leaning against him chest to chest, till he shook me off
and smashed me down like he was driving a nail into the floor. I reeled up
just as Bill began to count, and this time I ducked Sven's swing and clinched
him with a grip even he couldn't break.
And as I held on and drew in air in great racking gasps, I looked over his
straining shoulder and seen Knut come rushing in through the door with a
white-faced girl behind him—Segrida. But I was too near out to even
realize that Sven's ex-girl was there.
Sven pushed me away finally and dropped me once more with a punch that was
more a push than anything else. This time I took the count of nine, resting,
as my incredible vitality, the wonder of manys the sporting scribe, began to
I rose suddenly and beat Sven to the punch with a wild right that smashed
his nose. Like most sluggers, I never lose my punch, no matter how badly
beaten I am. I'm dangerous right to the last second, as better men than Sven
Larson has found out.
Sven wasn't going so strong hisself as he had been. He moved stiff and
mechanical and swung his arms awkwardly, like they was dead. He walked in
stolidly and smashed a club-like right to my face. Blood spattered and I went
back on my heels, but surged in and ripped my right under the heart, landing
square there for the first time.
Another right smashed full on Sven's already battered mouth, and, spitting
out the fragments of a tooth, he crashed a flailing left to my body, which I
distinctly felt bend my ribs to the breaking point.
I ripped a left to his temple, and he flattened my ear with a swinging
right, rocking drunkenly like a tall ship in the Trades with all sails set.
Another right glanced offa the top of my head as I ducked and for the first
time I seen his unguarded jaw as he loomed above me where I crouched.
I straightened, crashing my right from the hip, with every ounce of my
weight behind it, and all the drive they was in leg, waist, shoulder and arm.
I landed solid on the button with a jolt that burst my glove and numbed my
whole arm—I heard a scream—I seen Sven's eyes go blank
—I seen him sway like a falling mast—I seen him pitching
forward—bang! The lights went out.
I was propped up in a chair and Bill was sloshing me with water. I looked
around at the dingy gym; then I remember. A queer, sad, cold feeling come
over me. I felt old and worn out. After all, I wasn't a boy no more. All the
hard, bitter years of fighting the sea and fighting men come over me and
settled like a cold cloud on my shoulders. All the life kind of went out of
"Believe me, Steve," said Bill, slapping at me with his towel, "that fight
sure set Sven solid with Segrida. Right now she's weepin' over his busted
nose and black eye and the like, and huggin' him and kissin' him and vowin'
everlastin' love. I knowed I was right all the time. Knut run after her to
get her to stop the bout. Gosh, the Marines couldn't a stopped it! Mushy
clean chawed Mike's collar in two, he was that excited! Say, would you uh
thought a slob like Sven coulda made the fightin' man he has in six
"Yeah," I said listlessly, scratching Mike's ear as he licked my hand.
"Well, he had it comin'. He worked hard enough. And he was lucky havin'
somebody to teach him. All I know, I learned for myself in cruel hard
battles. But, Bill, I can't stay on the Sea Girl now; I just can't get
used to bein' just a contender on a ship where I was champion."
Bill dropped his towel and glared at me: "What you talkin' about?"
"Why, Sven's the new champ of the Sea Girl, lickin' me this way.
Strange, what a come-back he made just as I thought he was goin' down."
"You're clean crazy!" snorted Bill. "By golly, a rap on the dome has a
funny effect on some skates. Sven's just now comin' to. Mushy and Fritz and
Knut has been sloshin' him with water for ten minutes. You knocked him stiff
as a wedge with that last right hook."
I come erect with a bound! "What? Then I licked Sven? I'm still champion?
But if he didn't knock me out, who did?"
Bill grinned. "Don't you know no man can hit you hard enough with his fist
to knock you out? Swedish girls is impulsive. Segrida done that—with
a iron dumb-bell!"