The Croxley Master – A Great Tale of the Prize Ring

The medical assistant had a good basis to start from. He was 5 feet 11 inches—tall enough for anything on two legs, as the old ring men used to say—lithe and spare, with the activity of a panther, and a strength which had hardly yet ever found its limitations. His muscular development was finely hard, but his power came rather from that higher nerve-energy which counts for nothing upon a measuring tape. He had the well-curved nose, and the widely-opened eye which never yet were seen upon the face of a craven, and behind everything he had the driving force, which came from the knowledge that his whole career was at stake upon the contest. The three backers rubbed their hands when they saw him at work punching the ball in the gymnasium next morning; and Fawcett, the horsebreaker, who had written to Leeds to hedge his bets, sent a wire to cancel the letter, and to lay another fifty at the market price of seven to one.

Montgomery’s chief difficulty was to find time for his training without any interference from the doctor. His work took him a large part of the day, but as the visiting was done on foot, and considerable distances had to be traversed, it was a training in itself. For the rest, he punched the swinging ball and worked with the dumb-bells for an hour every morning and evening, and boxed twice a day with Ted Barton in the gymnasium, gaining as much profit as could be got from a rushing, two-handed slogger. Barton was full of admiration for his cleverness and quickness, but doubtful about his strength. Hard hitting was the feature of his own style, and he exacted it from others.

“Lord, sir, that’s a turble poor poonch for an eleven-stone man!” he would cry. “Thou wilt have to hit harder than that afore t’ Master will know that thou art theer. Ah, thot’s better, mon, thot’s fine!” he would add, as his opponent lifted him across the room on the end of a right counter. “Thot’s how I likes to feel ’em. Happen thou’lt pull through yet.” He chuckled with joy when Montgomery knocked him into a corner. “Eh, mon, thou art comin’ along grand. Thou hast fair yarked me off my legs. Do it again, lad, do it again!”

The only part of Montgomery’s training which came within the doctor’s observation was his diet, and that puzzled him considerably.

“You will excuse my remarking, Mr. Montgomery, that you are becoming rather particular in your tastes. Such fads are not to be encouraged in one’s youth. Why do you eat toast with every meal?”

“I find that it suits me better than bread, sir.”

“It entails unnecessary work upon the cook. I observe, also, that you have turned against potatoes.”

“Yes, sir; I think that I am better without them.”

“And you no longer drink your beer?”

“No, sir.”

“These causeless whims and fancies are very much to be deprecated, Mr. Montgomery. Consider how many there are to whom these very potatoes and this very beer would be most acceptable.”

“No doubt, sir. But at present I prefer to do without them.”

They were sitting alone at lunch, and the assistant thought that it would be a good opportunity of asking leave for the day of the fight.

“I should be glad if you could let me have leave for Saturday, Doctor Oldacre.”

“It is very inconvenient upon so busy a day.”

“I should do a double day’s work on Friday so as to leave everything in order. I should hope to be back in the evening.”

“I am afraid I cannot spare you, Mr. Montgomery.”

This was a facer. If he could not get leave he would go without it.

“You will remember, Doctor Oldacre, that when I came to you it was understood that I should have a clear day every month. I have never claimed one. But now there are reasons why I wish to have a holiday upon Saturday.”

Doctor Oldacre gave in with a very bad grace.

“Of course, if you insist upon your formal rights, there is no more to be said, Mr. Montgomery, though I feel that it shows a certain indifference to my comfort and the welfare of the practice. Do you still insist?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Very good. Have your way.”

The doctor was boiling over with anger, but Montgomery was a valuable assistant—steady, capable, and hard-working—and he could not afford to lose him. Even if he had been prompted to advance those class fees, for which his assistant had appealed, it would have been against his interests to do so, for he did not wish him to qualify, and he desired him to remain in his subordinate position, in which he worked so hard for so small a wage. There was something in the cool insistence of the young man, a quiet resolution in his voice as he claimed his Saturday, which aroused his curiosity.

“I have no desire to interfere unduly with your affairs, Mr. Montgomery, but were you thinking of having a day in Leeds upon Saturday?”

“No, sir.”

“In the country?”

“Yes, sir.”

“You are very wise. You will find a quiet day among the wild flowers a very valuable restorative. Had you thought of any particular direction?”

“I am going over Croxley way.”

“Well, there is no prettier country when once you are past the iron-works. What could be more delightful than to lie upon the Fells, basking in the sunshine, with perhaps some instructive and elevating book as your companion? I should recommend a visit to the ruins of St. Bridget’s Church, a very interesting relic of the early Norman era. By the way, there is one objection which I see to your going to Croxley on Saturday. It is upon that date, as I am informed, that that ruffianly glove-fight takes place. You may find yourself molested by the blackguards whom it will attract.”

“I will take my chance of that, sir,” said the assistant.

On the Friday night, which was the last before the fight, Montgomery’s three backers assembled in the gymnasium and inspected their man as he went through some light exercises to keep his muscles supple. He was certainly in splendid condition, his skin shining with health, and his eyes with energy and confidence. The three walked round him and exulted.

“He’s simply ripping!” said the undergraduate. “By gad, you’ve come out of it splendidly. You’re as hard as a pebble, and fit to fight for your life.”

“Happen he’s a trifle on the fine side,” said the publican. “Runs a bit light at the loins, to my way of thinkin’.”

“What weight to-day?”

“Ten stone eleven,” the assistant answered.

“That’s only three pund off in a week’s trainin’,” said the horsebreaker. “He said right when he said that he was in condition. Well, it’s fine stuff all there is of it, but I’m none so sure as there is enough.” He kept poking his finger into Montgomery, as if he were one of his horses. “I hear that the Master will scale a hundred and sixty odd at the ring-side.”

“But there’s some of that which he’d like well to pull off and leave behind wi’ his shirt,” said Purvis. “I hear they’ve had a rare job to get him to drop his beer, and if it had not been for that great red-headed wench of his they’d never ha’ done it. She fair scratted the face off a potman that had brought him a gallon from t’ Chequers. They say the hussy is his sparrin’ partner, as well as his sweetheart, and that his poor wife is just breakin’ her heart over it. Hullo, young ‘un, what do you want?”

The door of the gymnasium had opened, and a lad about sixteen, grimy and black with soot and iron, stepped into the yellow glare of the oil-lamp. Ted Barton seized him by the collar.

“See here, thou yoong whelp, this is private, and we want noan o’ thy spyin’!”

“But I maun speak to Mr. Wilson.”

The young Cantab stepped forward.

“Well, my lad, what is it?”

“It’s aboot t’ fight, Mr. Wilson, sir. I wanted to tell your mon somethin’ aboot t’ Maister.”

“We’ve no time to listen to gossip, my boy. We know all about the Master.”

“But thou doant, sir. Nobody knows but me and mother, and we thought as we’d like thy mon to know, sir, for we want him to fair bray him.”

“Oh, you want the Master fair brayed, do you? So do we. Well, what have you to say?”

“Is this your mon, sir?”

“Well, suppose it is?”

“Then it’s him I want to tell aboot it. T’ Maister is blind o’ the left eye.”


“It’s true, sir. Not stone blind, but rarely fogged. He keeps it secret, but mother knows, and so do I. If thou slip him on the left side he can’t cop thee. Thou’ll find it right as I tell thee. And mark him when he sinks his right. ‘Tis his best blow, his right upper-cut. T’ Maister’s finisher, they ca’ it at t’ works. It’s a turble blow, when it do come home.”

“Thank you, my boy. This is information worth having about his sight,” said Wilson. “How came you to know so much? Who are you?”

“I’m his son, sir.”

Wilson whistled.

“And who sent you to us?”

“My mother. I maun get back to her again.”

“Take this half-crown.”

“No, sir, I don’t seek money in comin’ here. I do it——”

“For love?” suggested the publican.

“For hate!” said the boy, and darted off into the darkness.

“Seems to me t’ red-headed wench may do him more harm than good, after all,” remarked the publican. “And now,” Mr. Montgomery, sir, you´ve done enough for this evenin’, an’ a nine hours’ sleep is the best trainin’ before a battle. Happen this time to-morrow night you’ll be safe back again with your £100 in your pocket.”

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