THE KID SAT IN THE SPRING SUNLIGHT on the low veranda of the Wheatsheaf Hotel at Green Plains, reading lazily through a copy of a New York evening paper, which had just come in. The tenth page was half filled with sketches of a humorous nature. He caught sight of his own name, and glanced at them; they were flattering in motive, but candid in detail. They caricatured the Kid, but represented him in the act of performing great feats. One of them pictured certain typical inhabitants of Green Plains coming down from a mountain hut, leading cows and pigs, which, according to the legend beneath, they purposed to wager on the Kid’s success in his next fight. In another sketch, Peter Salt was represented flying through the air on receiving one of the champion’s scientific drives.
“Up at Green Plains,” said the paper, “there is a man who will own the whole town if he wins his next fight. His name is Kid Brady, and to the inhabitants of that noble joint there is not a bigger man in the world. He went up there the other day to train for his fight with Jimmy Garvis, which takes place at Philadelphia on the 14th; and now every man, woman, and child for miles around talks about him. Between whiles the Kid takes photographs with his nice new snap-shotter. As views of representatives of American beauty, his photographs of Mike Mulroon and Peter Salt have Burr Intosh beat to a standstill every time.”
In short, the Kid was on active service again, and glad to be there. His old opponent, Jimmy Garvis, had been very busy of late. He had fought two fights, and won both with ease; and the public began to talk about a return match with the Kid. The champion was delighted to meet them half way.
So Jimmy Garvis threw down his glove, and the Kid picked it up with alacrity. The two met in the most friendly fashion at dinner at a sporting restaurant, and signed the articles. A “play or pay” match, either party not putting in an appearance in the ring to forfeit his money, and the loser to get a proportion of the purse. Having settled these weighty matters, the pair shook hands, and parted, Jimmy Garvis to Atlantic City, the Kid to his favorite Green Plains.
He loved to train at Green Plains. The writer of the newspaper report had added picturesque touches here and there, but in the main his statements were correct. Green Plains was fond and proud of the Kid, and was backing his chances at Philadelphia with more than it could afford to lose with any comfort. Whenever the Kid walked abroad in the village, groups of gray-bearded, slouch-hatted farmers rallied around to inquire after his health. Later, they usually retired to drink it.
They were certainly justified in risking their belongings on the champion’s chances. The Kid had one very important advantage over a great many of his rivals. He did not drink. In or out of training, he touched no alcohol of any description. On one occasion a hearty person, who had come all the way from Denver to see him, burst into his saloon with a cheery “What’s yours, Mr. Brady?” The Kid had ordered a lithia water, and the man from Denver was nearly a fortnight getting over the shock of it. Jimmy Garvis, on the other hand, was in the habit of running loose when not in training. Fur coats and cigars a foot long were Jimmy’s simple pleasures, together with divers “small bottles.” The consequence was that he needed stricter handling than the Kid when a ?ght was in preparation. The Kid’s training was merely a development of his everyday life.
Mike Mulroon was charmed with his man's progress. As he explained volubly to Peter Salt every evening when the Kid had gone to bed, the boy trained himself. He never showed signs of even wanting to do the things which he ought not to do. He abandoned smoking without a murmur. He took Peter Salt’s hardest blows with unruffled cheerfulness. He never lost his appetite. Twelve miles go-as-you-please along the country roads never wearied him. His conversation, though there was not much of it— he was never garrulous when training had once begun seriously—was bright. He never lay awake at nights. And now, two days before the battle, he was down to the prescribed weight, and as full of life as a kitten. What was not steel was india-rubber.
“Kid,” said Mike Mulroon, as he rubbed him down after his brine bath, “yer a fool. An archangel couldn’t have trained better. Faith, afther ye’ve put ]immy to sleep, ye’ll have to give an exhibition spar, or the people will be afther complainin’ that they have not had the worth of their money. It won't go into a second round."
And even Peter Salt had been moved from his wonted silence, and had congratulated the Kid in measured speech.
The Kid dropped the paper beside his chair, and looked around about him. The grass-grown square was empty. The veranda was empty. A sudden desire came over him to talk to some one. Mike and Peter had gone for a stroll through the town. There was nobody near. But as he looked down the road, he was aware of a man walking in the direction of the hotel. His eyes lit up as he perceived that the man carried a camera. The Kid had only recently been bitten by the craze for taking photographs, and he was at the stage where the victim's chief pleasure is to foregather with another victim, and talk camera to him.
The man paused opposite the veranda, and fanned himself with his handkerchief. When he removed his hat, the Kid saw that he had gray hair.
“Good afternoon,” said the man.
“Afternoon,” said the Kid.
“Can you tell me where I can find Mr. Brady?”
“Then may I ask you,” said the man with a friendly smile, “if you would mind sitting there while I take a photograph of you?”
“Sure,” replied the Kid. “I take photographs.”
“So I saw in the papers. I must show you my camera when I have taken you. It’s a new make. Now! Thank you, thank you. Poof! This is warm weather, sir, for the time of year.” The Kid agreed. The man entered the veranda and drew a chair up beside the champion’s. The next moment their heads were close together, inspecting the camera, which was of a new make.
The Kid noticed that his friend kept shooting sharp glances at him from time to time, as he explained the mechanism of his camera. Frequently he would catch his eye, and on such occasions he always detected something searching in his gaze, as though he were trying to read some secret there. It might have been a mere mannerism, but it embarrassed the Kid. The man with the camera quickly showed that there was method in what he did. He turned to the Kid with some abruptness.
“You will excuse me, sir,” he said, “but are you aware that there is something decidedly wrong with your eyes?”
The Kid stared.
“My eyes?” he repeated. “What’s the matter with them?”
“If you want the technical term,” said the man, “it’s amblyopia.”
“What’s that?” said the Kid.
“It is an affliction of the eyes. In your case very pronounced. I wonder you have not noticed it yourself.”
“My eyes are the best ever. I can see anything.”
“That, I fear, signi?es nothing. There is such a thing as seeing too well. Do your eyes get tired easily?”
“Not one. Not when I’m in training,” he added.
The man caught him up at once. “Ah, then you do have them when you’re out of training? How often?”
“Twice a year,” hazarded the Kid.
The man shook his head.
“Bad,” he muttered, “bad. I think I see now. You smoke when not in training?”
“But knock it off when you have a fight on hand?”
“Now I understand. You have tobacco amblyopia.
“I don’t know how much you smoke; but a man with your eyes ought never to have smoked at all. I am surprised that you have had no trouble with them before this. I attribute it to the fact that you are continually leaving off smoking for long periods at a time. That has acted as a check on the disease.”
“But what is it? Can’t it be cured?”
“That I cannot tell you from a cursory examination. I should say with care, yes. But I cannot say for certain unless I test your eyes carefully. Have you ever been to an oculist?”
“You should have gone. Well, fortunately, I am an oculist by profession myself. You may have heard my name? Theodore Shaw, of Boston. No?
“Well, well, it shows one how purely local a reputation of my kind is. If you wish it, I will examine your eyes, Mr. Brady. I cannot do it very thoroughly, of course; but it may enable me to give you some advice which will be valuable to you. Shall we go into the hotel?”
What followed was Greek to the Kid. In a little room at the back of the hotel Mr. Shaw put him through a series of what seemed to him meaningless maneuvers, asked him a good many apparently irrelevant questions, held a candle before his eyes, shook his head a great many times, and finally led him out into the sunlight once more.
“Well?” queried the Kid anxiously.
“The disease,” said the man slowly, as one who weighs his words, “has not gone too far. It can be cured. But you must be careful. Very careful. No more smoking, I need hardly say.”
“Not another cigar,” said the Kid fervently, “if Teddy Roosevelt offered it me himself.”
“You must take great care not to strain the eyes.”
“You bet I will.” “And there is another thing. And I am afraid,” added the man, “that this puts you in a very difficult position.”
“Yes,” said the Kid.
“It is this. In their present condition any blow, even the slightest, would have a very injurious effect on your eyes.”
The Kid’s jaw fell. He looked blankly at the speaker.
“Yes,” he went on, “a tap would injure them. A really severe blow would almost certainly destroy your eyesight altogether. I understand that in a few days you are to fight the ex-champion at Philadelphia. Well, I can only say that it will be suicidal for you to attempt any such thing. I am sincerely sorry for you; but it is necessary that you should know the truth before it is too late. It was providential that I happened to come here this afternoon.”
The Kid sat staring across the square with unseeing eyes. He hardly heard what was being said to him. A drummer drove past in his cart, and shouted a cheerful greeting to him. He returned it mechanically. There seemed to be a weight on his brain which deprived him of the power of thinking.
He became aware that his companion was bidding him good-by. He caught some remark about a train. He stood up, and shook hands, scarcely knowing what he did.
“And if you will take my advice,” the stranger concluded, “you will make arrangements at once for withdrawing from this fight. It is a large sum to forfeit; but what is it in comparison with sight?”
“But if I don’t fight....the bets! They’re bettin’ on me everywhere. If I quit, every one who has bet on me will lose their money.”
“That is true. But even that is surely not worth considering. Think of it. Think what blindness means! At your age! Well, I must go. Good-by again. I shall leave you to think it over.”
And the last the Kid saw of the man from Boston was the tail of his coat disappearing rapidly around the corner of the square, as he hurried off to the station.
The Kid sat on, thinking. His brain was clearer now, and he could weigh matters better. On the one hand, there was blindness. He shut his eyes, and tried to realize what this meant. Everlasting darkness. And all because he had done what every other man he had ever met had done. It was hard. Mike would be back soon. He would tell him everything, and the ?ght would be canceled. But the thought of Mike brought back to him the reverse side of the picture. Play or pay. Fight or forfeit. Mike, he knew, had betted heavily on him, as he always did. He could not sell him. And the thousands who had done the same. He could not sell them. There were farmers at Green Plains who had wagered their savings on him. It was his duty to go through with his contract. He could not draw back now. And yet—
Fumbling in his pocket, his fingers came in contact with a coin. An idea struck him, and he drew it out. Play or pay? Sudden death—
The coin spun up in the eye of the sun, and rolled across the white, dusty road. It was a nickel. If it fell with the V uppermost—no, with the head—no, the V—He wavered, undecided. Then he pulled himself together. The V it should be. If the head was underneath, he would fight.
His heart was beating fast, as he stepped into the road. Half way across he came upon it, almost buried in the dust.
It was the V.
“MIKE,” SAID THE KID next day, “I think I won’t put the gloves on with Peter. I’ve had enough sparring. I’ll take it out with the bag.”
“Very well, Kid,” said Mulroon. “Ye’re a quare boy with yer fancies. But yer down to the weight, so it don’t matter.”
A VOLLEY OF SHOUTS came from all corners of the hall as the ex-champion’s right glove neatly passed the Kid’s guard, and left an angry red mark on his side. There was a brief rally, and the fighters clinched.
“Get a move on, Jimmy,” cried a voice from near the door, “it’s all your own.”
“Clever, Kid; box clever!” This in the accent of New York.
“Silence there during the rounds.”
“Break away,” said the referee curtly, walking between the two men. Their arms relaxed their hold, and they stepped back a pace. The Kid had a swift sight of his antagonist’s flushed face as he dashed in in his hurricane style. His left flashed out, and met empty air; he was conscious of a great, but curiously vague, shock. Something seemed to snap at the back of his head.
A face appeared beside him, working violently. He recognized it as Mike Mulroon’s. He wondered idly why there should be no more of Mike but a head and shoulders. Then it struck him that he was lying on the stage. His eye was caught by a movement in the air above him. A man in evening dress was standing by his side, sawing rhythmically with his right arm. There was a great deal of noise. He heard his own name shouted. Some one was telling him to get up. Mike again. Why did Mike want him to get up? He felt very comfort able where he was; though something made it difficult for him to think coherently. Somebody was counting. He could just hear him through the din—“Seven . . Eight.” Then he realized.
The next moment the roar of the audience changed to a crescendo. The Kid was up again. Staggering, but on his feet. Hope still remained.
Jimmy Garvis, waiting with every muscle tense on the other side of the ring, sprang forward like a tiger to complete the work his cross-counter had begun. Instinct told the Kid to slip, and he was in the middle of the ring, with his opponent turning back to press him again. Another slip. This time he was by the ropes.
As his opponent rushed, there came from behind him the penetrating sound of a gong, and the applause broke out again. The third round was over.
“Where’s your three to two now?” said the Californian by the door triumphantly to his neighbor. The other, whose home was New York, did not reply. He was beginning to wish, like many others present that night, that he had kept his dollars safely in his pocket instead of wagering them on the champion. The Kid was filling his supporters with consternation. From the first round he had fought like a novice. All the dash and fire which had won him the championship were missing. His attitude was strained and awkward. His leads were hesitating, ineffective. If he had not been Kid Brady, whose gameness it was absurd to question, one would have said that he was afraid. And so he was. For the first time in his life, the Kid knew what fear meant. He was sick with the terror of receiving his opponent’s hurricane swings in his eyes. All his thoughts were concentrated on saving them. And so far he had been successful. But like a cold hand on his heart the thought haunted him that it could not last. Sooner or later the fatal blow must get through.
It happened before the fourth round had been in progress for thirty seconds. Jimmy Garvis feinted, drew the Kid’s counter, and got home heavily. The Kid staggered back on the ropes, with lights dancing before his eyes. Another second, and they had cleared. But the mischief was done.
And now there came over him a complete revulsion of feeling. The worst had happened. The suspense was over. He was conscious of no sensation other than of icy rage. He forgot that he was boxing for a prize. His opponent seemed to him inhuman, some relentless devil maliciously intent on destroying him. There was a moment's pause, while the two sparred for an opening; and then the Kid went in with a vicious fury which made this fight a topic of conversation for years afterward in the smoking-rooms of Philadelphia and New York. There was no staying such an onslaught. Twice the ex-champion fell, to rise gallant, but weak, to renew the contest. He reeled across the ring like a rudderless derelict. Every one was standing up now. It was plain that the end must come soon.
For the third time the Californian went to the floor. The Kid, standing over him, was forced back to the farther side of the ring. The referee’s hand rose and fell. A dead silence had gripped the spectators, and the referee’s voice sounded thin and clear as he counted out the ten seconds of grace.
Jimmy Garvis struggled to his knees. His gloved hand wandered out and clutched the ropes.
The hand relaxed, and he sank to the boards again.
“Ten,” said the referee, and waved his arm toward the Kid.
“Take me away, Mike,” said the Kid. “I must see an oculist.”
“BRADY,” SAID THE OCULIST. “Not Kid Brady, the champion?”
“I’m Kid Brady. Look at my eyes. Is there any hope?”
“While there is beefsteak,” said the oculist solemnly, “there is always hope. But it is certainly a very fine black eye. You’ve come to the wrong man, my boy. You should have gone to a butcher.”
“Will I go blind?”
The oculist looked at him curiously, and patted him on the shoulder.
“You’re unstrung, my boy. I don’t wonder, if you’ve come straight, from a championship fight. Sit down and rest a while. It will soon pass off.”
“I’ve got tobacco am—amblyopia,” said the Kid, “and I’m going blind. He said a hard blow would do it.”
“He? Who is he? And what do you know of amblyopia? But I’ll look at your eyes, if that will set your mind at rest. Now.” He rose, and turned on an electric light. “Sit down. Now look straight here where I am pointing. That’s right. Don’t move.”
A light flashed into the Kid’s eyes. The oculist was examining them through a small glass. Twice the light flashed, and then the oculist laid down the glass.
“Amblyopia!” he said. “You’ve no more got amblyopia”—he looked around him for a suitable simile—“than the table," he added.
“How on earth do you get these ideas into your head? My dear boy, don’t do that! Bear up.”
For under the strain of the fight and the fright and the relief of it all the Kid’s nerves had given away suddenly and completely, and he was sobbing like a child.
“Drink this,” said the oculist briefly. The Kid broke through his principles, and felt the better for it.
“Now, let me hear all about this. Who has been telling you that your eyes were wrong?”
“And who in the name of all the saints you have never heard of is Dr. Shaw?”
“Dr. Theodore Shaw, of Boston. A famous oculist.”
“Famous, is he?” said the other drily. He fumbled among the books on the table, and produced a red-backed volume. “Just glance through the S’s in this book, and if you find your friend Shaw there I’ll give you as many dollars as you won to-night.”
“It’s not there,” said the Kid, having searched.
“So I imagined. That book contains the names of all the oculists, known and unknown, in the country. You would think a famous man like Dr. Theodore Shaw, of Boston, would be there, wouldn't you?”
The Kid looked dazed.
“But——?” he began.
“My dear boy,” said the oculist, “I don’t know very much about the modern ring, but I do know that people bet on fights. And when people bet, there are apt to be shady tricks. If you cannot see now that this was a low dodge to induce you to give up the fight, you are blinder even than Dr. Theodore Shaw prophesied that you would be.”
Then the Kid saw.
His voice trembled when next he spoke.
“If I could find him—” he said, clenching his fists and breathing heavily.
“There was once,” said the oculist sententiously, “an optimistic gentleman who tried to find a needle in a haystack. He did not succeed.”
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