Fred Rover realized that he was in an unenviable situation. Nappy Martell was thoroughly angry, and evidently Slugger Brown and Codfish were present to aid him in anything he might undertake to do.
Many another boy might have thought discretion the better part of valor and taken to his heels. But the youngest Rover was not built that way. He had been taught to stick up for his rights and defend himself whenever the cause was a just one.
"What do you propose to do, Martell?" he questioned as quietly as he could.
"I'll show you what I'll do," blustered the other. "You thought it was a fine joke to put most of my things under the mattress of my bed, didn't you?"
"Who told you I did that?"
"Never mind. I found it out, and that's enough. Do you dare to deny it?"
"I don't suppose there will be any use in denying it," was Fred's reply. "It was done as a joke, to square accounts over the missing suitcase."
"Bah! you needn't talk to me, Rover! I know the kind you and your cousins are. I'm going to fix you. How do you like that?" and as he uttered the last word, Nappy Martell hauled back and slapped Fred on the cheek.
It was a comparatively light blow, but it aroused all the fighting blood in the youngest Rover boy's nature, and without stopping to think twice, he doubled up his fists and hit the larger youth a stinging blow in the jaw.
"Gee! look at that!" murmured Codfish, who had not expected such an onslaught from the smaller cadet.
"Say, Nappy, he's coming back at you!" burst out Slugger Brown, in surprise.
"Coming back at me nothing!" roared Martell; and, leaping forward, he rained a succession of blows on Fred--hitting him in the shoulder, the chest and then the left ear.
In another moment the two cadets were at it "hammer and tongs." As they circled around, Codfish put out his foot, trying to trip Fred up. He failed in this, but a moment later Slugger Brown tried the trick with success, and the youngest Rover came down heavily and an instant later Nappy Martell landed on top of him.
"Get off of me! That wasn't fair!" exclaimed Fred. "Those other fellows tripped me up."
"Aw, shut up!" retorted Martell; and while he held Fred down with his body he continued to pommel the smaller youth with his fists.
"Don't go too far," said Slugger Brown presently, in alarm. "If you do that, he may squeal and get you into trouble."
"Somebody is coming!" screamed Codfish, suddenly, as he saw a number of forms running across the parade ground in the direction of the river road. "Four or five of 'em."
"It's Jack Rover and his chums," muttered Slugger Brown.
He was right. Jack was approaching, followed by Spouter, Fatty, Walt Baxter and Gif Garrison.
"I was sure they were up to no good--following Fred that way," Walt Baxter was saying.
"I'm glad you told me about this, Walt," answered Jack. "Three against one is no fair deal."
As the five cadets came rushing up, Codfish viewed their approach with alarm and then retreated several paces. Slugger Brown, however, stood his ground.
"Hi you! let my cousin alone!" cried Jack, and, leaping forward, he caught Nappy Martell by the collar and hurled him into some bushes.
"Say, this isn't any of your fight," put in Slugger Brown, uglily. While he spoke, Fred lost no time in leaping to his feet and there he stood, once more on the defensive.
"No one asked you to butt in, Jack Rover!" stormed Nappy Martell. "You keep out of this."
"Why did he attack you, Fred?"
"Huh! you know the reason as well as he does," burst out Martell. "You played a trick on me about that suitcase, and then you came and rough-housed my room."
"One trick was only played to square up for the other, Martell," answered Jack, calmly. "You ought to be man enough to cry quits and let it go at that."
"I won't cry quits--not until I've given this fellow a good licking!" roared Nappy Martell; and then before anyone could stop him he lunged another blow at Fred, who, however, was quick enough to dodge it.
"Stop!" Jack's voice was now unusually stern, and stepping up to Nappy Martell he caught the fellow by the arm and swung him around so that the pair faced each other. "If you want to fight, Martell, take somebody nearer your size."
"Oh, Jack! I'm not afraid of him," burst out Fred. Strange to say, the excitement of the occasion seemed to have chased his headache completely away.
"Maybe you want me to fight you," sneered Nappy Martell.
"You'll have to fight me if you don't leave my cousin Fred alone."
"See here, Rover! you've no right to butt in like this," interposed Slugger Brown. "Why don't you let the pair finish it?"
"Those two fellows," cried Fred, pointing to Slugger Brown and Codfish, "tripped me up. It wasn't fair--three against one."
"We didn't trip him up at all," came from the two accused ones simultaneously.
"They did, Jack. First Codfish tried it, and then Brown put out his foot and I went down, and Martell at once pounced on me."
"That's no way to fight!" broke out Spouter.
"It was certainly a mean trick," was Gif's comment.
"If there is any fighting to be done, I guess we're on hand to see that it's done fairly," came from Walt Baxter.
A perfect war of words followed, in the midst of which Nappy Martell seemed to lose complete control of his temper. He rushed at Jack and hit the youth two quick blows, one in the chest and the other on the chin. The oldest Rover was not looking for this attack, and he staggered backward into some bushes, all but losing his balance.
"That's the way to do it, Nappy!" cried Slugger Brown, excitedly. "Give it to him!"
Jack was as much surprised as Fred had been when first hit, but he was able to recover much more quickly than his cousin. He leaped forward from the bushes, doubled up his fists, and the next instant sent in a crashing blow that landed straight on Martell's nose. He followed up this blow with another on the other youth's chin which sent Martell sprawling flat on his back.
"Hurrah! that's the way to do it, Jack!" cried Spouter.
"Say! has he got to fight two of you Rovers?" questioned Slugger Brown.
"No. He's got to fight me only," answered Jack, quickly. He turned to his cousin. "Fred, you keep out of this."
"But he started on me," pleaded the youngest Rover. "And now that you are here to see fair play, I'm not afraid of him."
"Never mind. It's my fight, anyway," went on Jack. "I owe him one for the way he treated me down in Wall Street that day."
While this talk was going on, Nappy Martell had scrambled to his feet. His nose was swollen and bleeding profusely.
"You imp!" he howled, and lunged another attack at Jack.
He was able to land two blows on Jack's chest, but they were not powerful enough to do harm. Then, as Martell circled around, the oldest Rover boy managed to get in another blow, this time on his opponent's mouth, loosening two of Nappy's teeth.
"That's the way to do it, Jack!"
"Give him a few more like that and he'll soon quit."
"Go for him, Nappy! You can do him up if you'll only try," bellowed Slugger Brown in excitement.
"You keep back, Slugger," warned Walt Baxter. "Don't you interfere."
"I didn't interfere."
"Well, you're too close, anyway. Keep back like the rest of us."
"That's just what I say," broke out Spouter.
Realizing that the others were in the majority, Slugger Brown kept his distance from the pair who were fighting. Codfish was trembling like a leaf, and cowered well in the background.
Around and around circled the two contestants, and for a few minutes neither of them seemed to have the advantage. Jack was hit in the arm, and returned by landing another blow, this time on Nappy's chest. Then the big youth aimed a kick at the Rover boy's stomach.
"Hi! that's no way to fight!" cried Gif, indignantly.
Jack had managed to escape the kick, and he had put down one hand so quickly that Nappy Martell had been in great danger of being caught and thrown on his back.
In the midst of the contest several forms could be seen hurrying across the campus and the parade ground, and in a moment more Andy and Randy came into view, followed by Bart White and some other cadets.
"It's a fight!"
"Why, what do you know about this! Jack is fighting Nappy Martell!"
"Martell tackled me first, but Jack took the fight out of my hands," explained Fred to his cousins.
"Who has got the best of it?" questioned Bart White, excitedly.
"I think Jack has the best of it so far," answered Gif; "but the fight isn't finished yet," he added, a bit anxiously.
"You're right it isn't finished yet!" retorted Slugger Brown. "Just you wait until Nappy gets his second wind, and then you'll see what he'll do to Rover."
Once more the two contestants were circling around, each trying to get in some kind of telling blow. Various passes were made, and in the excitement the pair left the roadway and began to circle around on the grassy bank of the river.
"Look out there, or you'll both go overboard!" sang out Spouter in alarm.
The cadets who were fighting were too engrossed to pay attention to this warning. They kept on circling about, and then Nappy Martell made a wild and vicious pass for Jack's head. The latter dodged like lightning, came up under his opponent's arm, and the next instant landed a swinging blow on Martell's ear which sent him staggering backward several paces, to fall with a splash into the river.
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