"Martin!" said the school-master, in a severe tone,
looking up from the book with which he was engaged, "don't look out
at the window, sir; turn your back to it."
"Please, sir, I can't help it," replied the boy,
trembling with eagerness as he stared across the fields.
"Turn your back on it, I say!" reiterated the
master in a loud tone, at the same time striking the desk violently
with his cane.
"Oh, sir, let me out! There's Bob Croaker with my
kitten. He's going to drown it. I know he is,—he said he would; and
if he does aunty will die, for she loves it next to me; and I
must save it, and—and, if you don't let me
out—you'll be a murderer!"
At this concluding burst, Martin sprang forward and
stood before his master with clenched fists and a face blazing with
excitement. The schoolmaster's gaze of astonishment gradually gave
place to a dark frown strangely mingled with a smile, and, when the
boy concluded, he said quietly—"You may go."
No second bidding was needed. The door flew open
with a bang; and the gravel of the play-ground, spurned right and
left, dashed against the window panes as Martin flew across it. The
paling that fenced it off from the fields beyond was low, but too
high for a jump. Never a boy in all the school had crossed that
paling at a spring, without laying his hands upon it; but Martin
did. We do not mean to say that he did anything superhuman; but he
rushed at it like a charge of cavalry, sprang from the ground like
a deer, kicked away the top bar, tumbled completely over, landed on
his head, and rolled down the slope on the other side as fast as he
could have run down,—perhaps faster.
It would have required sharper eyes than yours or
mine to have observed how Martin got on his legs again, but he did
it in a twinkling, and was half across the field almost before you
could wink, and panting on the heels of Bob Croaker. Bob saw him
coming and instantly started off at a hard run, followed by the
whole school. A few minutes brought them to the banks of the
stream, where Bob Croaker halted, and, turning round, held the
white kitten up by the nape of the neck.
"O spare it! spare it, Bob!—don't do it—please
don't, don't do it!" gasped Martin, as he strove in vain to run
"There you go!" shouted Bob, with a coarse laugh,
sending the kitten high into the air, whence it fell with a loud
splash into the water.
It was a dreadful shock to feline nerves, no doubt,
but that white kitten was no ordinary animal. Its little heart beat
bravely when it rose to the surface, and, before its young master
came up, it had regained the bank. But, alas! what a change! It
went into the stream a fat, round, comfortable ball of eider-down.
It came out—a scraggy blotch of white paint, with its black eyes
glaring like two great glass beads! No sooner did it crawl out of
the water than Bob Croaker seized it, and whirled it round his
head, amid suppressed cries of "Shame!" intending to throw it in
again; but at that instant Martin Rattler seized Bob by the collar
of his coat with both hands, and, letting himself drop suddenly,
dragged the cruel boy to the ground, while the kitten crept humbly
away and hid itself in a thick tuft of grass.
A moment sufficed to enable Bob Croaker, who was
nearly twice Martin's weight, to free himself from the grasp of his
panting antagonist, whom he threw on his back, and doubled his
fist, intending to strike Martin on the face; but a general rush of
the boys prevented this.
"Shame, shame, fair play!" cried several; "don't
hit him when he's down!"
"Then let him rise up and come on!" cried Bob,
fiercely, as he sprang up and released Martin.
"Ay, that's fair. Now then, Martin, remember the
"Strike men of your own size!" cried several of the
bigger boys, as they interposed to prevent Martin from rushing into
the unequal contest.
"So I will," cried Bob Croaker, glaring round with
passion. "Come on any of you that likes. I don't care a button for
the biggest of you."
No one accepted this challenge, for Bob was the
oldest and the strongest boy in the school, although, as is usually
the case with bullies, by no means the bravest.
Seeing that no one intended to fight with him, and
that a crowd of boys strove to hold Martin Rattler back, while they
assured him that he had not the smallest chance in the world, Bob
turned towards the kitten, which was quietly and busily employed in
licking itself dry, and said, "Now, Martin, you coward, I'll give
it another swim for your impudence."
"Stop, stop!" cried Martin earnestly. "Bob Croaker,
I would rather do anything than fight. I would give you everything
I have to save my kitten; but if you won't spare it unless I fight,
I'll do it. If you throw it in before you fight me, you're the
greatest coward that ever walked. Just give me five minutes to
breathe and a drink of water, and I'll fight you as long as I can
Bob looked at his little foe in surprise. "Well,
that's fair. I'm your man; but if you don't lick me I'll drown the
kitten, that's all." Having said this, he quietly divested himself
of his jacket and neckcloth, while several boys assisted Martin to
do the same, and brought him a draught of water in the crown of one
of their caps. In five minutes all was ready, and the two boys
stood face to face and foot to foot, with their fists doubled and
revolving, and a ring of boys around them.
Just at this moment the kitten, having found the
process of licking itself dry more fatiguing than it had expected,
gave vent to a faint mew of distress. It was all that was wanting
to set Martin's indignant heart into a blaze of inexpressible fury.
Bob Croaker's visage instantly received a shower of sharp, stinging
blows, that had the double effect of taking that youth by surprise
and throwing him down upon the green sward. But Martin could not
hope to do this a second time. Bob now knew the vigour of his
assailant, and braced himself warily to the combat, commencing
operations by giving Martin a tremendous blow on the point of his
nose, and another on the chest. These had the effect of tempering
Martin's rage with a salutary degree of caution, and of eliciting
from the spectators sundry cries of warning on the one hand, and
admiration on the other, while the young champions revolved warily
round each other, and panted vehemently.
The battle that was fought that day was one of a
thousand. It created as great a sensation in the village school as
did the battle of Waterloo in England. It was a notable fight; such
as had not taken place within the memory of the oldest boy in the
village, and from which, in after years, events of juvenile history
were dated,—especially pugilistic events, of which, when a good one
came off, it used to be said that "such a battle had not taken
place since the year of the Great Fight" Bob Croaker was a
noted fighter. Martin Rattler was, up to this date, an untried
hero. Although fond of rough play and boisterous mischief, he had
an unconquerable aversion to earnest fighting, and very
rarely indeed returned home with a black eye,—much to the
satisfaction of Aunt Dorothy Grumbit, who objected to all fighting
from principle, and frequently asserted, in gentle tones, that
there should be no soldiers or sailors (fighting sailors, she
meant) at all, but that people ought all to settle everything the
best way they could without fighting, and live peaceably with one
another, as the Bible told them to do. They would be far happier
and better off, she was sure of that; and if everybody was of her
way of thinking, there would be neither swords, nor guns, nor
pistols, nor squibs, nor anything else at all! Dear old lady. It
would indeed be a blessing if her principles could be carried out
in this warring and jarring world. But as this is rather difficult,
what we ought to be careful about is, that we never fight except in
a good cause and with a clear conscience.
It was well for Martin Rattler, on that great day,
that the formation of the ground favoured him. The spot on which
the fight took place was uneven, and covered with little hillocks
and hollows, over which Bob Croaker stumbled, and into which he
fell,—being a clumsy boy on his legs,—and did himself considerable
damage; while Martin, who was firmly knit and active as a kitten,
scarcely ever fell, or, if he did, sprang up again like an
India-rubber ball. Fair-play was embedded deep in the centre of
Martin's heart, so that he scorned to hit his adversary when he was
down or in the act of rising; but the thought of the fate that
awaited the white kitten if he were conquered, acted like lightning
in his veins, and scarcely had Bob time to double his fists after a
fall, when he was knocked back again into the hollow out of which
he had risen. There were no rounds in this fight,—no
pausing to recover breath. Martin's anger rose with every blow,
whether given or received; and although he was knocked down flat
four or five times, he rose again, and, without a second's delay,
rushed headlong at his enemy. Feeling that he was too little and
light to make much impression on Bob Croaker by means of mere
blows, he endeavoured as much as possible to throw his weight
against him at each assault; but Bob stood his ground well, and
after a time seemed even to be recovering strength a little.
Suddenly he made a rush at Martin, and, dealing him
a successful blow on the forehead, knocked him down; at the same
time he himself tripped over a molehill and fell upon his face.
Both were on their legs in an instant. Martin grew desperate. The
white kitten swimming for its life seemed to rise before him, and
new energy was infused into his frame. He retreated a step or two,
and then darted forward like an arrow from a bow. Uttering a loud
cry, he sprang completely in the air and plunged—head and fists
together, as if he were taking a dive—into Bob Croaker's bosom! The
effect was tremendous. Bob went down like a shock of grain before
the sickle; and having, in their prolonged movements, approached
close to the brink of the stream, both he and Martin went with a
sounding splash into the deep pool and disappeared. It was but for
a moment, however, Martin's head emerged first, with eyes and mouth
distended to the utmost. Instantly, on finding bottom, he turned to
deal his opponent another blow; but it was not needed. When Bob
Croaker's head rose to the surface there was no motion in the
features, and the eyes were closed. The intended blow was changed
into a friendly grasp; and, exerting himself to the utmost, Martin
dragged his insensible school-fellow to the bank, where, in a few
minutes, he recovered sufficiently to declare in a sulky tone that
he would fight no more!
"Bob Croaker," said Martin, holding out his hand,
"I'm sorry we've had to fight. I wouldn't have done it, but to save
my kitten. You compelled me to do it, you know that. Come, let's be
Bob made no reply, but slowly and with some
difficulty put on his vest and jacket.
"I'm sure," continued Martin, "there's no reason in
bearing me ill-will. I've done nothing unfair, and I'm very sorry
we've had to fight. Won't you shake hands?"
Bob was silent.
"Come, come, Bob!" cried several of the bigger
boys, "don't be sulky, man; shake hands and be friends. Martin has
licked you this time, and you'll lick him next time, no doubt, and
that's all about it."
"Arrah, then, ye're out there, intirely. Bob
Croaker'll niver lick Martin Rattler though he wos to live to the
age of the great M'Thuselah!'" said a deep-toned voice close to the
spot where the fight had taken place.
All eyes were instantly turned in the direction
whence it proceeded, and the boys now became aware, for the first
time, that the combat had been witnessed by a sailor, who, with a
smile of approval beaming on his good-humoured countenance, sat
under the shade of a neighbouring tree smoking a pipe of that
excessive shortness and blackness that seems to be peculiarly
beloved by Irishmen in the humbler ranks of life. The man was very
tall and broad-shouldered, and carried himself with a free-and-easy
swagger, as he rose and approached the group of boys.
"He'll niver bate ye, Martin, avic, as long as
there's two timbers of ye houldin' togither."
The seaman patted Martin on the head as he spoke;
and, turning to Bob Croaker, continued: "Ye ought to be proud, ye
spalpeen, o' bein' wopped by sich a young hero as this. Come here
and shake hands with him: d'ye hear? Troth an' it's besmearin' ye
with too much honour that same. There, that'll do. Don't say ye're
sorry now, for it's lies ye'd be tellin' if ye did. Come along,
Martin, an' I'll convarse with ye as ye go home. Ye'll be a man
yet, as sure as my name is Barney O'Flannagan."
Martin took the white kitten in his arms and thrust
its wet little body into his equally wet bosom, where the warmth
began soon to exercise a soothing influence on the kitten's
depressed spirits, so that, ere long, it began to purr. He then
walked with the sailor towards the village, with his face black and
blue, and swelled and covered with blood, while Bob Croaker and his
companions returned to the school.
The distance to Martin's residence was not great,
but it was sufficient to enable the voluble Irishman to recount a
series of the most wonderful adventures and stories of foreign
lands, that set Martin's heart on fire with desire to go to sea,—a
desire which was by no means new to him, and which recurred
violently every time he paid a visit to the small sea-port of
Bilton, which lay about five miles to the southward of his native
village. Moreover, Barney suggested that it was time Martin should
be doing for himself (he was now ten years old), and said that if
he would join his ship, he could get him a berth, for he was much
in want of an active lad to help him with the coppers. But Martin
Rattler sighed deeply, and said that, although his heart was set
upon going to sea, he did not see how it was to be managed, for his
aunt would not let him go.
Before they separated, however, it was arranged
that Martin should pay the sailor's ship a visit, when he would
hear a good deal more about foreign lands; and that, in the
meantime, he should make another attempt to induce Aunt Dorothy
Grumbit to give her consent to his going to sea.