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Hector was not slow to accept the challenge conveyed by his antagonist's action. He, too, sprang to his feet, flung off his coat, and stood facing the bully.
Hector was three inches shorter, and more than as many years younger, than Jim. But his figure was well proportioned and strongly put together, as the boys could see. On the other hand; Jim Smith was loosely put together, and, though tall, he was not well proportioned. His arms were long and his movements were clumsy. His frame, however, was large, and he had considerable strength, but it had never been disciplined. He had never learned to box, and was ignorant of the first rudiments of the art of self-defense. But he was larger and stronger than any of his school-fellows, and he had thus far had no difficulty in overcoming opposition to his despotic rule.
The boys regarded the two combatants with intense interest. They could see that Hector was not alarmed, and meant to defend himself. So there was likely to be a contest, although they could not but anticipate an easy victory for the hitherto champion of the school.
Hector did not propose to make the attack. He walked forward to a favorable place and took his stand. The position he assumed would have assured the casual observer that he knew something of the art in which his larger antagonist was deficient.
"So you are ready to fight, are you?" said Jim.
"You can see for yourself."
Jim rushed forward, intending to bear down all opposition. He was whirling his long arms awkwardly, and it was clear to see that he intended to seize Hector about the body and fling him to the earth. Had he managed to secure the grip he desired, opposition would have been vain, and he would have compassed his design. But Hector was far too wary to allow anything of this kind. He evaded Jim's grasp by jumping backward, then dashing forward while his opponent was somewhat unsteady from the failure of his attempt, he dealt him a powerful blow in the face.
Jim Smith was unprepared for such prompt action. He reeled, and came near falling. It may safely be said, also, that his astonishment was as great as his indignation, and that was unbounded.
"So that's your game, is it?" he exclaimed, furiously. "I'll pay you for this, see if I don't."
Hector did not reply. He did not propose to carry on the battle by words. Already the matter had come to a sterner arbitrament, and he stood on the alert, all his senses under absolute control, watching his big antagonist, and, from the expression of his face, seeking to divine his next mode of attack. He had this advantage over Jim, that he was cool and collected, while Jim was angry and rendered imprudent by his anger. Notwithstanding his first repulse, he did not fully understand that the new boy was a much more formidable opponent than he anticipated. Nor did he appreciate the advantage which science gives over brute force. He, therefore, rushed forward again, with the same impetuosity as before, and was received in precisely the same way. This time the blood started from his nose and coursed over his inflamed countenance, while Hector was still absolutely unhurt.
Meanwhile the boys looked on in decided amazement. It had been as far as possible from their thoughts that Hector could stand up successfully against the bully even for an instant. Yet here two attacks had been made, and the champion was decidedly worsted. They could not believe the testimony of their eyes.
Carried away by the excitement of the moment, Wilkins, who, as we have said, was disposed to espouse the side of Hector, broke into a shout of encouragement.
"Good boy, Roscoe!" he exclaimed. "You're doing well!"
Two or three of the other boys, those who were least under the domination of Jim, and were only waiting for an opportunity of breaking away from their allegiance, echoed the words of Wilkins. If there was anything that could increase the anger and mortification of the tyrant it was these signs of failing allegiance. What! was he to lose his hold over these boys, and that because he was unable to cope with a boy much smaller and younger than himself? Perish the thought! It nerved him to desperation, and he prepared for a still more impetuous assault.
Somewhere in his Greek reader, Hector had met with a saying attributed to Pindar, that "boldness is the beginning of victory." He felt that the time had now come for a decisive stroke. He did not content himself, therefore, with parrying, or simply repelling the blow of his antagonist, but he on his part assumed the offensive. He dealt his blows with bewildering rapidity, pressed upon Jim, skillfully evading the grasp of his long arms, and in a trice the champion measured his length upon the greensward.
Of course, he did not remain there. He sprang to his feet, and renewed the attack. But he had lost his confidence. He was bewildered, and, to confess the truth, panic-stricken, and the second skirmish was briefer than the first.
When, for the third time, he fell back, with his young opponent standing erect and vigorous, the enthusiasm of the boys overcame the limits of prudence. There was a shout of approval, and the fallen champion, to add to his discomfiture, was forced to listen to his own hitherto subservient followers shouting, "Hurrah for the new boy! Hurrah for Hector Roscoe!"
This was too much for Jim.
He rose from the ground sullenly, looked about him with indignation which he could not control, and, shaking his fist, not at one boy in particular, but at the whole company, exclaimed: "You'll be sorry for this, you fellows! You can leave me, and stand by the new boy if you want to, but you'll be sorry for it. I'll thrash you one by one, as I have often done before."
"Try Roscoe first!" said one boy, jeeringly.
"I'll try you first!" said Jim; and too angry to postpone his intention, he made a rush for the offender.
The latter, who knew he was no match for the angry bully, turned and fled. Jim prepared to follow him, when he was brought to by Hector placing himself in his path.
"Let that boy alone!" he said, sternly.
"What business is it of yours?" demanded Jim, doggedly; but he did not offer to renew the attack, however.
"It will be my business to put an end to your tyranny and bullying," said Hector, undauntedly. "If you dare to touch one of these boys, you will have to meet me as well."
Jim had had enough of encountering Hector. He did not care to make a humiliating spectacle of himself any more before his old flatterers. But his resources were not at an end.
"You think yourself mighty smart!" he said, with what was intended to be withering sarcasm. "You haven't got through with me yet."
He did not, however, offer to pursue the boy who had been the first to break away from his allegiance. He put on his coat, and turned to walk toward the school, saying, "You'll hear from me again, and that pretty soon!"
None of his late followers offered to accompany him. He had come to the contest with a band of friends and supporters. He left it alone. Even Bates, his most devoted adherent, remained behind, and did not offer to accompany the discrowned and dethroned monarch.
"What's Jim going to do?" asked Talbot.
"He's going to tell old Sock, and get us all into trouble."
"It'll be a cowardly thing to do!" said Wilkins. "He's been fairly beaten in battle, and he ought to submit to it."
"He won't if he can help it."
"I say, boys, three cheers for the new boy!" exclaimed Wilkins.
They were given with a will, and the boys pressed forward to shake the hand of the boy whose prowess they admired.
"Thank you, boys!" said Hector, "but I'd rather be congratulated on something else. I would rather be a good scholar than a good fighter."
But the boys were evidently of a different opinion, and elevated Hector straightway to the rank of a hero.
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