Nick, for instance, she had only to say so. But so long as she gave
him to understand that she preferred to have him for an escort, he did
not mean to be driven away by anybody, no matter if they were twice his
Somehow, when Hugh caught the drift of what Owen was saying, his heart
burned within him, for he realized that the boy was made of the right
kind of stuff. In build and muscular ability he was no match for Nick
Lang; but evidently his courage was equal to any test; and it is that
makes the man, not his physique alone.
"Bully for Owen!" Thad could be heard muttering between his pants as he
raced along; "if that big coward strikes him, he's going to answer to
me for it, no matter what happens."
Now that was just what was passing through Hugh's mind at the same
moment. True, a social hop might be one of the last places in the wide
world for a boy to allow himself to be drawn into a brutal fight; but
if his hand were forced by Nick Lang everything else must be forgotten,
Somehow, he felt better after that. He could even think of his mother
without any burning regret and shame, for had she not impressed it upon
his mind years back that no matter how averse a boy may be to entering
a fist fight, when it is in defense of a girl, or a smaller lad, he is
perfectly justified in so doing, putting aside all his scruples, even
his sacred promise to his mother.
Matters were now getting pretty close to the breaking point. They
could hear Nick ranting as to what he ought to do to a fellow who
played him such a trick as to come between him and the girl he had
always taken to hops and singing school.
"Do you know what I got a good mind to do to you, sonny?" he roared,
and doubtless added emphasis to his words by shaking that big fist of
his under Owen's nose.
"I haven't the least idea," replied Owen, steadily enough, considering
that he must surely know sufficient concerning Nick's ways to
understand the danger he was in. "All I say is that I had a perfect
right to ask any girl to come to the hop with me. Since she accepted,
you must look for an explanation from Peggy. I'm sure I don't feel
obliged to ask you whether I can breathe the same air as you do or not.
The country is big enough for both of us, Nick Lang. You go your way,
and I'll go mine."
"I'll go when I'm done with you, and not a minute before," snarled the
other. "So get ready to take your medicine. Mebbe when Peggy sees
your nose all bloody, and one eye closed up, with a black circle coming
around the other, she won't think you so pretty a sight."
"What's going on here?"
It was Hugh who asked this as he and Thad managed to arrive on the
scene, to discover a group of boys standing there on the moonlit road
surrounding the two principals in the heated argument, who were facing
each other so threateningly.
Nick turned his head to take a look. Even in the moonlight, the sudden
grin that came upon his red face was noticeable. Apparently it pleased
him to know that the boy whom he had never thus far been able to coax
into a row with him had arrived on the spot. He must have judged that
this was a piece of double luck, in that he might take revenge upon the
one who had interfered with his pleasure, and at the same time force
Hugh Morgan, who had never been known to engage in any rowdy practices,
to enter into a rough-and-tumble scrap with him.
"Hello! so you're there, are you, Hugh Morgan?" he called out, with a
ring of savage delight in his heavy voice. "Glad you've dropped in
just in time to see me give a good friend of yours a little lesson in
politeness. Here's Owen saying how he thinks it good taste to step in
between a fellow and his best girl. I'm meaning to knock a different
notion into his silly head. Sometimes you have to pound things into
some people, you understand."
"I'd advise you to try nothing of the sort, Nick," said Hugh, steadily.
At that the other laughed aloud.
"Why, you don't mean to tell me you'd stick in your little oar, Hugh,
and try to teach me a few tricks, do you? I could put you on your back
with one hand behind me. Fellers that are tied to their mother's apron
strings ain't apt to know a heap about how to take care of themselves
in a stand-up fight. Mebbe now you're meaning all of you to pick on
me? Well, I've got a few nervy pals hangin' around who'd like nothing
better than to have you try that game."
Owen had not attempted to escape while Nick's attention was thus taken
up with the newcomers, though possibly he might have been forgiven had
he done so, considering all the conditions. But evidently Owen had
plenty of nerve, even though he might be lacking in brawn equal to the
bully's larger figure.
Nick now turned again upon the other. His gestures became even more
offensive, as though despite Hugh's grave warning, he meant to attack
Owen, come what might, and give him the drubbing which according to
his, Nick's light, was long overdue.
Suddenly, without the least warning, his fist shot out. Owen
apparently was not expecting such a cowardly blow, and hence must have
been taken unawares. The consequence was that the blow landed on the
side of his head when he tried instinctively to duck. It sounded
horribly suggestive, and made Hugh's blood fairly boil as anger swept
over him in a wild wave.
Owen staggered and fell. Gamely, he attempted to scramble to his
knees, and before Nick could prevent him had even done this, trying to
strike back in return. The boy was furious because of having been
dealt such a foul blow; he would have leaped at the giant just then if
the necessity arose.
Nick was in his element. Scenes like this were so frequent in his life
that he fairly delighted in them, just as another boy less pugilistic
in his nature might glory in taking snap-shot pictures, catching fish,
or camping in the woods. Fighting and Nick Lang were synonymous terms,
it might almost be said.
Sweeping the threatening hand of Owen aside almost contemptuously, Nick
suddenly sent in another swift jolt, such as he knew so well how to
deliver, having taken a few lessons from some reformed prize fighter.
Poor Owen went down again in a pitiful heap. He did not have the
slightest chance against such a master in the art of delivering heavy
blows that could not be parried. As one of the boys who looked on with
staring eyes, too much afraid of the bully to interfere, was heard to
say, it was "like taking candy from the baby for Nick to strike that
boy, unacquainted with the art of self-defense."
This time the boy was really unable to do more than struggle to his
knees. There he knelt trying to recover his breath, and not yet wholly
conquered, though unable to make any further threatening gestures
toward his cruel oppressor.
Hugh had already started to quietly remove both his overcoat and the
under one. These he handed over to Thad for safe-keeping. Nick saw
his actions with keen delight. Apparently, the hope he had entertained
of forcing Hugh Morgan into meeting him in a clean-cut issue, to see
which would prove the better man, was about to be realized.
"It's just got to be done, I see," Hugh was saying, as he faced the
leering victor in the unequal affair just concluded. "You big coward,
I'm going to teach you that there's danger in picking on a boy smaller
than yourself. In other words, you're due for a thrashing you'll never
forget. Now look out for yourself!"
MAKING A GOOD JOB OF IT
A fight between two boys is not a very pleasant subject with which to
deal. In this particular circumstance there were, however, mitigating
conditions that would almost make it a pleasure to describe the battle.
Hugh was standing up for the rights of the weak, and had only plunged
into the scrimmage when he saw that Nick had treated Owen in a most
Once he started in and he meant business. There could be no half-way
measures in handling so crafty and unprincipled a customer as the town
bully. He must be carried off his feet with the impetuosity of the
attack; and while still bewildered thoroughly punished. As Hugh had
well said he needed a lasting lesson. Perhaps after this Nick would
think twice before attacking a weaker boy, who might have a friend
capable and willing to take up cudgels in his behalf.
Nick flourished those big fists of his, and commenced to dance
tauntingly around as though meaning to enlist the admiration of his
cronies, who had never yet seen him come out of a battle second-best,
and therefore deemed him invincible.
Hugh leaped at him with fury glowing in his eyes. Some powerful fever
seemed to have utterly overwhelmed the boy. Thad and those others
stared as though they could not believe their vision. Was this
impetuous boy who struck down Nick's guard as though nothing could
restrain his attack, the same Hugh Morgan who on numerous occasions had
been known to arbitrate a dispute, and declare that it was not worth
getting into a temper over? A miracle seemed to have happened. The
sight of Nick's brutal treatment of Owen Dugdale must have transformed
Hugh into a merciless avenger. In that supreme moment he had
constituted himself the champion of all those lads in Scranton who, in
times past, had suffered cruel wrongs at the hands of the sneering
There was a furious exchange of blows. Nick knew how to fight, but on
this occasion something seemed to go wrong with his customary
programme. Why, when he hit out his hardest, and expected to see his
antagonist reeling back before the blow, to his consternation, it was
cleverly warded off, and the next instant something crashed against his
own face that made a myriad of luminous stars, never indexed in the
galaxy of the heavens, flash before his eyes.
Then Nick was seen to stagger, and fall down. That was perhaps the
first time he had ever taken a dose of his own medicine. How often had
he stood jeeringly over some wretched fellow whom he had sent to grass,
counting him out with monotonous chant, in which the joy of brutal
victory was prominent?
"Get up and try it again!" said a stern voice. "That is only a taste
of what is due you! I hope you have not had enough yet, you cowardly
Leon Disney and those two other cronies of Nick's were holding their
breath with dismay. They had never expected to see the time when any
one could knock their boastful leader out in this easy fashion. What
previous opinions they had entertained concerning Hugh Morgan's prowess
must now be reversed.
Stung by this taunt, Nick immediately scrambled to his feet. He seemed
a bit what he himself would have termed "groggy," being familiar with
the slang of the prize ring, but in spite of this he leaped wildly at
Thad Stevens feared for his chum when he saw the fury of this attack;
but he need not have worried. Hugh was able to look out for himself.
Although those boys had never known him to take part in a single
encounter, Hugh had apparently made a study of the art of self-defense.
There can be no harm in knowing _how_ to fight, if one is resolved
never to indulge in the game save as a very last resort. And whatever
reason it was by which Hugh had bound himself up to the present,
apparently the time had arrived when he could break his promise with
There was another brief struggle, exceedingly brief, to tell the truth.
Then, for the second time, Nick, the boss of all juvenile Scranton up
to this amazing hour, was thrown heavily to the ground, on which he
landed with a terrible crash.
"That's two for you!" said Hugh, in a hissing voice, as though he might
be speaking between his set teeth. "Now, if you're able get up again,
and give me a chance to finish my job, of which I'm already sick."
Nick was not yet defeated, though it took him longer to rise this time
than before. He was wary, too, and plainly disliked the idea of coming
in contact with those sturdy arms of Hugh Morgan. Seeing that Nick did
not mean to attack him, but had commenced to say harsh things in the
endeavor to force his rival to assume the aggressive, in hopes that the
advantage would fall to his share, Hugh lost no time in obliging him.
Vain were Nick's most desperate efforts to ward off the inevitable.
Hugh had decided to finish the bout with this third round, and the way
he pummeled staggering Nick almost dazed Leon Disney and those other
fellows, staring as though in the throes of a nightmare.
When for the third time clumsy Nick went down heavily before the attack
of the aroused Hugh, he refused to make the least effort to get on his
feet. Evidently Nick was a wise boy in one sense; he knew when he had
had enough of an unpleasant thing.
"Are you through?" demanded Hugh, sternly. "If you say the word I'll
have some of your crowd stand you up on your pegs again, so I may knock
you down. While I'm at it I want to make it a thorough job. Have you
had all you want for tonight?"
In deadly fear lest Hugh be tempted to put his threat into execution,
Nick managed to swallow his pride, and mumble that he guessed he must
be out of condition just then, a fact so evident that Thad had to laugh
"All right, then," said Hugh, stepping back, for he had been standing
over the fallen boy in a threatening attitude, like a Roman gladiator
who had thrown his rival, and was waiting to see what signal the
emperor gave so as to decide the vanquished man's fate.
He took one look around at Leon and those two other fellows. They
quailed before his fierce glance.
"If any of the rest of you feel like having a try with me while I'm in
the humor, now's your chance! Don't all speak at once, please," said
When they saw him take a step in their direction, they shrank back.
Although not averse to having a little entertainment of the sort at
times, none of them seemed to particularly fancy being made a scapegoat.
"We're satisfied, Hugh," said Leon, hurriedly. "Nick got trimmed neat
and good. It's been coming to him for a long time, I guess."
There is a saying to the effect that "rats desert a sinking ship"; and
when Nick's hour for defeat arrived, even these hitherto admiring
cronies threatened to turn their backs on him.
Aroused by this taunt, he scrambled to his feet. Nick was a sight
indeed with his face bloody, and one of his eyes giving evidence of
going into mourning. He snarled something at Leon with a degree of his
one-time ferocity, and the other turned back to assist him off the
field. Nick stopped to look back. He made no threat, but the
malevolence in that stare toward Hugh told better than words would have
done what bitterness was in his heart. No town bully is dethroned
without his hating the object of his humiliation. Hugh had better be
on his guard, for every one knew that Nick Lang would never rest until
he had at least tried to even up the score.
Hugh calmly put on his garments again. Thad and the others were
voicing their admiration for his recent gallant deed, but somehow their
praise seemed to grate on the boy's nerves.
"Please don't keep on saying those things, fellows," he begged them,
presently. "I know you mean it in kindness, but I'd rather try and
forget this unpleasant business. I had to break a promise tonight, and
it hurts ten times worse than any of the few cracks Nick got in at me.
But then my mother always told me she would not for worlds have me
stand by and see a bully injure one weaker than himself. I just had to
do it, that's all there is to it. And, Owen, old chap, I'm mighty glad
I happened to be around to give you a helping hand."
Owen Dugdale had watched all this exciting happening with varied
emotions. Each time his detested oppressor had gone crashing to the
earth, he seemed to feel his own injuries less and less. When the
fight was over, and Nick had received such a decided thrashing, Owen
felt like dancing around. He was a boy, every inch of him, with all a
boy's feelings; and Nick had humiliated him dreadfully, as well as
taken a mean advantage over him on account of his superior strength.
"I'm a thousand times obliged to you, Hugh!" cried the grateful Owen,
wringing the other's hand vigorously; "of course this winds up my
evening's pleasure, and I was enjoying myself more than any time in my
"Why should it put a stop to your fun?" demanded Hugh. "What if you
have got a bloody nose, and a lump on your forehead. See here how my
knuckles are badly skinned, will you; and I fancy I've something of a
scratch on my right cheek, where he got to me. We'll wash up back of
the farmhouse, you and I, Owen. Of course all the folks will have to
know what's happened; but then we needn't be ashamed of the part we
took in the little circus."
"Yes, be a sport, Owen," said Thad, encouragingly. "There isn't a
single girl at the hop but who will sing out 'good!' when they hear
that Nick Lang met his match tonight. And say, Owen, Peggy Noland will
likely clap her hands with joy when she learns of what's happened, and
then be extra nice when she sees how that brute marked you. Sympathy
is akin to love you know, they say, Owen."
Owen had to laugh at this good-natured "joshing," but he allowed
himself to be persuaded to accompany Hugh to the rear of the farmhouse.
Here Thad soon secured a basin, and some warm water, as well as soap
and a towel. The boys performed their ablusions, and in the end made
quite a respectable appearance.
"Why, both of you are all right," said Thad, gaily, after the job had
been completed. "Just think how Nick will look when he shows his face
again. Chances are he'll stick to his house all day Saturday and
Sunday; and when school opens on Monday prepare to listen to a tough
story of how he got up in the night and in the dark ran plumb up
against a half-open door, which would account for his black eye and
swollen face. Oh! I know, because I've spun that yarn myself once."
Supper was announced just then, and the boys trooped in to enjoy the
bountiful spread that had been provided for them. A buzz ran around
the room, and all eyes were fastened on Hugh and Owen in eager
curiosity. Thad thought it up to him to explain what had happened, so
that no one might rest under a misapprehension. And when he briefly
described how Hugh had so thoroughly whipped the hitherto invincible
town bully, every one applauded. It might be noticed also that pretty
Peggy Noland looked at her company with unshed tears in her eyes; and
she was unusually good to Owen the balance of the evening, so that he
had a jolly time of it, taken in all.
CALLED OUT FOR PRACTICE
When Monday saw the gathering of boys and girls at school, there were
two subjects that seemed to engross their conversation. One of these
concerned the royally good time enjoyed by those who had been at the
barn hop on Friday evening; and of course the other was connected with
the meeting held in the schoolhouse Saturday night, at which almost
every boy in town had been present, to hear the report of the Athletic
Committee, and learn who the lucky ones were.
Of course four-fifths of the aspirants entertained hopes that lightning
might be so kind as to strike the little rod which each had modestly
erected. There were doubtless burning regrets when the long list had
been finished, many disappointed fellows trying to laugh, and appear as
though they had never wanted the job anyway.
The call had gone forth for every boy selected to appear on the field
immediately after school that same Monday afternoon, for initial
practice. There was considerable speculation as to who would finally
bear off the honors, and make the first string of players. Being a
substitute was as much as some of them had any desire for, for as such
they might share in the glory, and have only a small measure of the
When just before school took up, Nick Lang came along, he was the
"cynosure of every eye," as Reggie Van Alstyne was heard to remark in
his elegant way.
Nick had evidently made up his mind to just "grin and stand it." He
could scowl in his old fashion, and thus restrain others from being
"too fresh." These fellows need not begin to imagine themselves all
Hugh Morgans, and they had better leave him alone unless they were
Dr. Carmack thought it his duty that morning, at general exercises, to
speak of the meeting which he had attended on Saturday night.
"It was a thoroughly representative meeting of Scranton young people,"
he went on to say in his cordial way, which always endeared him to the
students of all the schools under his jurisdiction. "The committee
carried out their business in a commendable manner, and submitted a
list of names of acceptable candidates that in my opinion could not be
excelled. Let every one who is given the opportunity to contest for
the prizes, do his level best; and when later on the nine has been
selected we all hope and believe they will bring great honor to Old
Of course the good doctor had been told about the little affair on the
road at the time the barn hop was in progress; but he was a wise
pedagogue, and made no mention of it in his address. Nick writhed in
his seat every time he saw the principal look his way, his guilty
conscience causing his fears to rise, with the thought that he might be
further humiliated before the entire school.
But the encounter had taken place far beyond the jurisdiction of the
school rules; and Dr. Carmack was usually satisfied to let his boys
settle these things among themselves. Besides, doubtless, he grimly
concluded that Nick, whose reputation as a universal bully of course he
knew full well, had been pretty well punished already, since his
bruised face and dark-rimmed eye spoke eloquently.
Later on that morning, when Hugh had occasion to go to the office of
the Head on some errand, he met with an unusually warm reception.
"Pardon me for speaking about what I know must be a sore subject with
you, Hugh," remarked the principal, as the boy was about to depart
after concluding his errand. "But I have had a graphic account of that
miserable affair Friday night. Permit me to say that you acted quite
right, and I commend you for it. The boys of Scranton are deeply
indebted to you for punishing a brutal bully. I understand that it has
always been much against your principles to engage in a fight; which
makes your championing the cause of a weaker boy all the more
"Oh! you are giving me far too much credit, Doctor Carmack," said Hugh,
reddening with confusion. "I could hardly claim I had any great
scruples about not engaging in such things that are almost universal
among boys. But years ago I promised my mother never to let my temper
get the better of me; and under no conditions to strike a companion in
anger, unless it was to save myself from a beating, or to whip a bully
who was abusing some one weaker than himself."
"Then you have a very wise mother, Hugh, let me tell you!" declared the
gentleman, who knew boys "like a book," from long association with
thousands of them. "She doubtless had her reasons for asking you to
take that pledge."
"I have never told even my chum, Thad Stevens, what it meant, sir,"
said the boy, eagerly, "but I do not mind speaking of it to you."
"Please don't do it, Hugh, if it brings up any memories that you would
rather forget," exclaimed the principal, "though I feel honored by what
"But I do not mind telling you, sir; indeed, I would rather do so, for
it must seem strange to you that when I can use my fists so well,
apparently, I should all this while have avoided every chance for
trouble with others. The fact of the matter is, Doctor Carmack, that I
am constituted very like my father was; and once upon a time his temper
got the better of him, so that he attacked a man who had insulted him,
and seriously injured him. That man always had a limp through the
remainder of his life. He and my father became good friends, but my
dad could never forgive himself for what he did. He used to say that
it was a mercy he had not actually killed the man in his blind passion.
And after he died, my good mother, seeing that I had just the same
Morgan temper, once I was thoroughly aroused, feared that it might get
me into some dreadful trouble. And so she told me about my father, and
I made her that solemn promise which, until Friday night, had never
There was a suspicious moisture in the eyes of the doctor. He squeezed