Qualified Entry, Second pixelhose Writing Competition. Fiction Category.
By Robert Walsh
‘Reader, have you ever seen a fight? If not, you have a pleasure to come…’
Moulsey Hurst, August 1798.
The spectators came from miles around. This was a day they’d all anxiously been waiting for the subject of anxious, often heated debate around the taverns, bawdy-houses and drawing rooms of all England in the preceding weeks. The Fancy, sporting gentlemen of the upper classes, had turned out in force for what promised to be an excellent day’s sport, an exhibition of fistic artistry and the manly English spirit that had defeated the recent Irish Rebellion. The lower orders were there, naturally. Pushing, shoving, cheering and cursing, jostling for position like vultures round a carcass.
Traders passed among the crowd hawking their wares. Tobacco, ale, and gin flowed freely in the sweltering August sun. Criminals and assorted ne’er do wells were at work and play. Pickpockets slipped silently through the throng, plying their trade carefully as the judges of the day would swiftly send them to Newgate to publicly swing for palming so much as a handkerchief. The bigger names nodded cheerily to their fellow villains, joking and laughing, safe in the knowledge that no officer of the law was present, for they too were very much wanted men.
The bookmakers were out in force. Taking bets, offering odds on everything from the first man to draw blood, first knockdown, first serious injury and so on, they did brisk business as usual. All the heavy betting was on the experienced Englishman to make short work of an arrogant Irish pup who dared to think he might upset the odds.
Suddenly near-calm descended among the crowd. Someone shouted:
“They be comin!’”
Heads turned as William Fewterell, a broad-shouldered, thick-skinned brute whose face bore the scars of many previous battles, made his way to the centre. Six feet of muscle and bone spoke of a savage brawler who much preferred to fight than talk. His seconds followed. They were fit looking, lean, muscular men who would tend Fewterell’s wounds and lance and stitch his eyebrows, giving advice (and, if necessary, neat brandy) between rounds.
Another shout came as his opponent entered the circle. Patrick Lanigan was just starting out. He lacked Fewterell’s experience, but made up for it with strength and courage, what fight-watchers called ‘bottom’. Lanigan had arrived in England only weeks before, having had a minor role in the Irish Rebellion of that year. He’d since made a very hasty departure for England, only one jump ahead of the magistrate, the prison ship and probably the gallows.
Since arriving his two fights had been valuable lessons, with one victory and a hard-fought draw to his credit only two weeks before. He surveyed the scene and, looking over at Fewterell and his seconds, called rashly:
“There’s twenty guinea says I’ll send him to the floor or his maker in twelve rounds or less. Either that or he’ll do for me first!”
“I’ll take that bet, young fellow!”
Lord Camelford was a member of the Fancy, a well-known member at that.
“I’ll offer odds of ten to one. That’s twenty guineas to win two hundred. Hope that’s not too rich for you..?”
“No, your Lordship…”
Lanigan cursed inwardly, knowing that he could never afford to lose against such odds, and had no option but to beat his man and hopefully avoid being gaoled for debt.
“I’ll take your bet and win it too!”
Camelford turned to one of his many cronies, chuckling quietly.
“I do like a confident young fellow, even if he is bog-Irish.”
His cronies sniggered among themselves at the upcoming battle.
“The bogman doesn’t stand a chance against one as seasoned as Fewterell, My Lord. Your stake is quite safe today.”
Camelford’s manservant and bodyguard, the respected and retired pugilist Bill Richmond, called one of the bookmakers over to him and addressed him in superior tones.
“His Lordship wishes to place bets upon the first drawing of blood and the first knockdown. Two hundred guineas to be placed on Fewterell to draw first blood and a second two hundred upon Fewterell to score the first knockdown of the day.”
The bookmaker, a small, nervy-looking man named Berks, looked carefully at Camelford, knowing his knowledge of the noble art and his seemingly bottomless pockets. He doffed his cap in the direction of Lord Camelford.
“I’ll give His Lordship three-to-one on Fewterell for both bets. I can’t go any higher than that.”
Camelford and his cronies surveyed the worried bookmaker and smiled at his timorous nature. This was obviously a man of low class and little money, scarcely worth their attention. They looked forward to relieving him of his money at the day’s end. It amused them to think of him destitute, without even the funds for his travel home to whatever hovel he lived in.
The two umpires stepped into the ring and called for silence, or as near as the bustling crowd would allow.
“This battle is to be fought under Broughton’s Rules. No hitting when a man be down, no holding or hitting below the waist, no biting and no gouging of the eyes! Nobody but umpires, fighters and their seconds to be within the squared circle while the bout is fought. If a man be down for more than half a minute, then he be considered beaten and the battle ended. Gentlemen, to your corners, and let’s to business!”
The fighters stripped to the waist and entered the ring, both staring grimly at one another as they did so. They tossed for corners, Lanigan winning and electing to fight with the sun at his back, lest its rays interfere with his aim, and tied their sashes to their corners, Lanigan wearing the green of Ireland and Fewterell the red of England. They both held their hands aloft with their palms open to show all present they concealed nothing illicit such as a small piece of metal, bullets or stones, and waited. The crowd fell into near silence.
“Gentlemen, begin!” came the cry from the umpires. The two men moved lightly on their feet as they circled each other. Then the first blow was struck. Fewterell smiled grimly as a straight left crashed into his nose with a sickening “Thwack!” Blood came almost immediately. A cheer rose from the crowd as the blood flew and the bookmaker smiled as he pocketed Lord Camelford’s two hundred guineas. Lord Camelford gave a grunt as he saw the monies disappear into the bookmaker’s capacious pocket.
“That was a good blow, young ‘un, but thee’ll pay for it yet!”
A snake-like right caught Lanigan below his left eye and almost immediately raised a purple-blue weal upon the Irishman’s fair skin.
Lanigan responded quickly, feinting the straight left but unleashing a low, looping right that sank deeply into Fewterell’s unprotected belly. Fewterell smiled as he returned the favour, catching Lanigan with a short left to the nose. Blood from both men sprayed feet into the air, splattering those nearest to the fray to the cheers of those at ringside.
They circled once more, bobbing, weaving, throwing and missing punches. And then it happened. Lanigan slipped on some fresh blood just as Fewterell drove a crushing right that flew straight through Lanigan’s guard and exploded into his unprotected jaw. With the knockdown the first round was over. Camelford smiled wolfishly and turned to the bookmaker.
“Mr Berks, I know you always honour your debts…”
Berks cursed as he dipped into his pockets and returned two hundred guineas, plus Lord Camelford’s winnings.
Lanigan tottered back to his corner, his seconds slapping his face and yelling at him to clear his head. “He were lucky, lad, but you’ll beat him yet!” Lanigan looked at his seconds, wiped blood from his face and replied testily “Do I have any choice?” He made his way back to the scratch mark, ready for the second round.
Fewterell came roaring out of his position, itching to finish the fight and claim his purse, swinging wildly. Lanigan felt the sting of a straight left and threw a looping right in return. First his fist and then his elbow cracked into Fewterell’s jaw, breaking his rhythm and halting him in mid-stride. More blood came from his mouth, with it came a couple of splintered teeth and an “Mmmph!” as the blow struck home. Fewterell stepped back and lashed out with a chopping blow aimed for Lanigan’s throat, a blow that could have ended fight and life together had it struck home…
Lanigan slipped the blow and pushed forward with renewed vigour, sinking a left and right into the pit of Fewterell’s belly. Fewterell winced as the blows struck home and went backward against the ropes. Lanigan followed him with further blows until he came forward again, grabbing Lanigan around the waist. The pressure on his ribs was enormous as Fewterell sought to crush the air from his lungs and render him unconscious. With both arms trapped, Lanigan drew back his head and butted Fewterell square on the nose, drawing a fresh spray of blood.
An umpire stepped between them, grabbing Lanigan’s shoulder.
“One more like that, boy, and you forfeit!”
The round ended then and there.
The third round began. This time, Fewterell grabbed almost immediately, knowing that Lanigan could ill-afford to butt again. Lanigan slid out of the attempted grab, dancing out of harm’s way, taunting his man and laughing as Fewterell swung wildly. Fewterell hissed with rage and, feinting a straight left to Lanigan’s head, sank a vicious right into his ribs instead. He followed with a left uppercut and a right cross before Lanigan, seeking relief, grabbed and held. Now it was Fewterell’s turn to fight for breath that was swiftly knocked out of him as Lanigan applied a brutal cross-buttock throw that would almost certainly have ended the fight had it landed cleanly.
As it was Fewterell landed heavily and Lanigan followed him down, crushing Fewterell’s chest, leaving him fighting for breath. Lanigan stepped back as the count began. Fewterell raised himself to his knees and growled
“I’m a long way from beat, Paddy, a long way from beat!”
At the start of the next round he lunged forward, checked by a stiff left that rocked him back on his heels. Lanigan began to dominate until Fewterell came back with a fluid series of punches. Left-right-left to the head and a vicious left-right to the body that crashed into Lanigan’s ribs, leaving him gasping. Lanigan, winded, sank to his knees as the count began. He rose with relative ease. The round was over.
Camelford surveyed the scene.
“This Irishman isn’t quite the weakling you thought he was. Just to be sure, I’ll offer two hundred guineas on Lanigan to keep his boast.”
“I’ll take your wager, My Lord,” cried a local moneylender.
“Two hundred guineas to win six hundred, the same as before My Lord.”
Camelford smiled contentedly. The apparent majesty of the bet didn’t matter to him, gambling being merely an indulgence to one of his limitless wealth. Just as long as he was seen to win, that was all that mattered.
The fighters left their corners and toed the scratch marks carved in the ground. Both showed signs of injury. Fewterell had a broken nose, swollen lips, missing teeth and bruised ribs. Lanigan looked only slightly better with a purple-blue weal under one eye, bruised ribs and a badly swollen nose. Both were now bleeding freely and stained both with their own and each others’ blood. Both were breathing heavily.
Lanigan scored early with a short, chopping right as Fewterell stormed forward. As Fewterell checked his stride, Lanigan wrestled him for another throw. Fewterell saw it coming, twisted out of Lanigan’s grip, came back with short body punches and a vicious right cross that staggered Lanigan. Fewterell attacked again, this time collecting a series of short, chopping blows that halted him mid-stride. He stepped back, grinning through broken teeth and bloodied lips.
“Come on, young ‘un! My little girl hits better than you!”
“Oh, does she now?”
Even as Lanigan spoke he launched a vicious right at Fewterell that could easily have killed him.
Which was exactly what Fewterell wanted. He countered the right with a straight left and followed through with a savage right that drew a spray of blood from Lanigan’s mouth. Lanigan swiftly stepped back, cursing himself as he slipped another blow, countering with a left and then a heavy right of his own.
Fewterell spun around, lashing out as he turned with a wild backhand that caught Lanigan flush on the jaw. Lanigan subsided to the floor. Fewterell used the time to clear his head as Lanigan stood at the count of twelve, raised his bloody fists and stepped back. The round was over and they returned to their corners.
“Capital fight, My Lord.”
“Indeed. Indeed it is. It looks to be an even match to me, although I’m surprised that the Irishman has lasted this long. Tell me, who is his patron?”
“The Irishman has none, My Lord.”
Camelford pursed his lips.
The sixth round began slowly. Both fighters were now wary of each other, both moved more cautiously than before. Suddenly Fewterell lunged forward, hammering a straight right into Lanigan’s mouth. Lanigan’s head rocked back as blood and a broken tooth splattered the stage floor. Fewterell grinned at Lanigan through his own broken teeth.
“How does it feel, Paddy? Like an elbow, maybe..?”
Lanigan grinned back, wiping fresh blood from his mouth. As he raised his hand he feinted a left to Fewterell’s body. Fewterell covered his ribs to anticipate the blow, Lanigan instead smashed a straight right into his left eyebrow. Almost immediately a savage cut opened, spraying Fewterell’s blood over the grass as his eye began to close.
Lanigan saw the opening. He drove another straight right, then another. Fewterell began tottering then, just as he seemed at his weakest, he grasped Lanigan firmly around the waist and administered a wicked cross-buttock throw, giving it his every pounce of strength. He followed Lanigan down, emptying his lungs with an audible rush of air. Lanigan lay seemingly lifeless on the ground. He fought for air, gasped for breath, willed himself to respond as the count began. By the ten he was up on one knee, by fifteen he was standing and his seconds were helping him back to his corner. Another round was over, with more damage done. Further suffering beckoned in the seventh.
Camelford looked closely at both fighters as he surveyed the increasingly wild scene. The lower classes were normally of little interest to him, but both fighters held his attention. He’d backed Fewterell with considerable bets for some time, but now suspected that his champion’s time was passing. After all, why hadn’t he finished this novice by now? Camelford decided that, if Lanigan won, that it was time to back a new champion, enhancing his reputation as a discerning gentleman and lucky gambler. After all, in Camelford’s circles one had to keep up one’s reputation.
The fighters were in their corners, their seconds giving advice above the frenzied roar of the crowd. Fewterell’s seconds hissed:
“Throw him hard and go for those ribs! He ain’t able to take much more!”
Lanigan’s men roared:
“Bash that eye out! He cannot fight if he cannot see!”
The noise of the crowd rose in eager anticipation as both fighters took their places for the seventh round. Both were breathing hard.
Fewterell went straight for the grapple. Lanigan saw it coming and side-stepped, firing a stiff right cross into the injured left eye. Fresh blood burst from the eyebrow and Fewterell gasped as the bare knuckles rasped along the open wound. Lanigan went in again, driving Fewterell across the ring and leaving a gaping wound in his tattered eyebrow.
Lanigan was growing in confidence now. Again this was nearly his undoing. As he stepped forward to finish his day’s work he stopped a wild right cross, and then, as he reeled, a vicious backhanded right and a left to the belly that left him winded and dazed. Fewterell followed up, grasping Lanigan around the waist, again crushing his ribs.
Lanigan’s vision blurred as air was forced out of him. With darkness closing in, he forced Fewterell’s head back with one hand and smashed a series of four punches into his left eye. As Fewterell’s grip loosened Lanigan sucked in as much air as possible.
As the blows landed, Fewterell felt his grip on both Lanigan and the fight loosening. Pain from his left eyebrow maddened him. He was becoming increasingly desperate and seeing yet another punch coming he put his head down and stiffened himself…
There was an audible ‘Crunch!’ as Lanigan’s left fist crashed into Fewterell’s bony skull. He cried out as the knuckles gave way, pain shooting up his arm like a lightning bolt. Fewterell smiled evilly. A thumping left-right-left combination left Lanigan flat on the ground, cradling his injured left hand in his right and groaning with pain. The count began, and Lanigan was forced to dig deep into his reserves of strength and commitment to make it back to his corner as the count halted.
Lanigan’s seconds swiftly poured neat brandy down his throat and stifled his moans with a blood-soaked rag.
“I didn’t bring thee here to give out! I brought thee to win! You can beat him yet! Or are you just a lily-livered bogtrotter..?”
Anger flared in Lanigan’s eyes as he glared at his seconds.
“Bogtrotter? I’ll prove you wrong! I’ll flatten you both as soon as I’m done here!”
He strode out to face his man with renewed vigour. Lanigan wasn’t fighting simply to avoid prison; pride and honour were at stake. The pain in his hand diminished as his anger grew to fearsome intensity. He feinted forward, drawing a left that missed. With his man off-balance, Lanigan lashed out with a vicious ramrod-straight right.
Fewterell’s left eyebrow hung loose on his face and blood dripped freely into his eye, blinding him. He grimaced as the blow landed and immediately closed in, preparing for another attempt to throw Lanigan and perhaps gain a victory. Lanigan moved as if to grapple and then shouldered Fewterell in the left eye, finally closing the eye and rendering him half-blind. Fewterell reeled in pain as more blows smashed into his head and body. Stiff rights crashed into Fewterell’s face while Lanigan, favouring his injured left hand, drove it repeatedly into the softer body and ribs.
Fewterell staggered and fell, heavily. The count began. Grimly, Lanigan watched as Fewterell forced himself up onto his knees, first to both knees and then up on one. Fewterell groaned with pain as he dragged himself up, hissing a curse at the young Irishman.
“You’ve hurt me boy… Now I’ll hurt thee back and more!”
If looks could kill then Lanigan would have dropped in mid-stride. As it was, he smiled through his swollen, bleeding lips as he strode back to his corner.
Fewterell’s seconds forced a large brandy through his swollen lips and set about repairing his left eye. It was grotesquely swollen, needing both lancing and stitching. Fewterell hissed sharply as the needle slid into his flesh, cursing his seconds for clumsy fools who would kill as soon as cure. Lanigan’s seconds were smiling as he went to his corner.
“You see..? You’ve got him beat! Now start smashing that belly and ribs! He won’t last much longer!”
Lanigan was grim-faced as he looked across the ring. He would never admit it to them, but he had been near defeat until the jibe about his being only a “Lily-livered bogtrotter” had hurt him more than any of Fewterell’s blows. It had turned the fight, given him the heart to fight through the fatigue and pain.
Camelford was by now watching Lanigan intently. While he considered the young man to be little more than bog-Irish, he saw in him the opportunity for further fame and glory, an opportunity that only one from the privileged classes had the breeding to handle.
He looked at his current champion and saw only a tired man, fighting entirely on anger and desperate to avoid defeat. Lanigan on the other hand was an opportunity to further enhance his own Camelford’s reputation, and when Lanigan eventually succumbed Camelford would step over his body and greet his successor in the same relaxed fashion.
Fewterell’s seconds were urging him to give out, to submit and save himself further torment.
“No! Never! I’ll not give out to an Irish bogman! Let me up, he’ll have to kill me afore I’ll give out!”
With that, Fewterell limped out to his mark and the next round began.
Lanigan worked hard on Fewterell’s body. The pain in his left hand was receding, but still severe enough to make him avoid Fewterell’s bony skull and concentrate instead on his belly and ribs. Fewterell now winced every time the blows landed and his own punches began to lose their earlier sting. His mind, driven by fear of losing Lord Camelford’s patronage, willed him to continue. But his body betrayed him, was refusing to answer his commands.
He glared at Lanigan through his one good eye, summoning his reserves for one last, desperate throw of the dice. He seized Lanigan’s hair, swung a vicious right hand across his face and then another backhanded blow smashed into his bloodied features. The ferocity of the attack shocked Lanigan, and he spun away with the force of the blows.
Fewterell bored in relentlessly, attacking as though his life depended upon it. Unlike Lanigan, Fewterell was well aware of Camelford’s habit of replacing one fallen champion with another, for he himself had profited by it. Defeating Camelford’s previous favourite, the unfortunate Joe Bourke, had won him patronage, money and prestige and given him plenty to lose.
Lanigan had no idea. As far as he was concerned a beaten man had acquired the aggression of a cornered animal. He had been stung by Fewterell’s attack, and knew that he had to break his man’s momentum rather than take more punishment.
Lanigan closed in, grabbing Fewterell around the waist, getting in too close for him to strike cleanly. Fewterell didn’t see him coming and suddenly felt a vice-like grip around his ribs. The pain was intense. His head swam as lack of air fogged his judgement. He was trying desperately to force his way out of Lanigan’s grip as a couple of ribs finally gave way.
Lanigan changed his grip and applied another cross-buttock throw, although failing to match his earlier ones for power and style. Fewterell crashed to the ground shoulders-first, the air pouring from his lungs in an audible rush, The round was over and Fewterell barely made it up before the thirty seconds were counted.
Camelford was now certain that his current champion’s usefulness had all but expired. He sidled up to Lanigan’s seconds, who swiftly doffed their caps at his approach.
“Good day, Gentlemen. I come to offer your man my patronage.”
Lanigan’s eyes widened as he recognised Camelford from a previous bout.
“I need your patronage, My Lord. But I ask one favour. Let me get back out there and finish my work, then we can speak freely.”
Camelford was amused by Lanigan’s apparent impertinence to one of his high standing. He smiled wolfishly.
“Of course, my good man. Beat him for me and I’ll pay you double our earlier wager. That’s four hundred guineas for you.”
Lanigan grinned through his bloodied mouth, and stepped back out to do his new master’s bidding.
They stepped out to their marks, both nearly spent and clearly feeling the pain. Fewterell threw a left, grinning as the blow shook Lanigan’s head. He closed in, throwing short, chopping lefts and rights. Lanigan seemed shaken by the blows. He tottered and stumbled, Fewterell following him with further punches.
Lanigan’s seconds, not to mention Camelford, were increasingly concerned at their man’s apparent lack of fight. They screamed advice, trying in vain to make themselves heard above the frenzied roar of the crowd. Just as it seemed Fewterell had the round won, Lanigan exploded into life. He landed a barrage of vicious blows, shifting his attention from Fewterell’s now-closed left eye and smashing at his good right eye instead.
The pain in his left hand was forgotten, replaced by the smell of victory. He relentlessly hurled punches into Fewterell’s smashed features. Blood, spit and sweat sprayed Fewterell’s face as he felt an assault of previously-unrivalled aggression. His right eye began to swell and was almost closed when Lanigan, tiring dangerously now, hurled one final blow. It was not to the broken ribs or smashed face, but smashed straight into Fewterell’s neck.
Fewterell choked and gurgled, his hands reaching around his throat. He fought desperately to draw breath, failing, dropping to his knees, his heart pounding in his ears as his vision blurred and blessed unconsciousness set in. He slowly crumpled forward on to the ground.
In that single moment he lost it all. Prestige, patronage, money, all but his life.
The thirty seconds were up. Lanigan grinned through the pain, raising his bloodied fists in celebration. His hardest battle so far was over and better times beckoned. Camelford’s patronage, money and glory lay ahead and Camelford’s connections would see that his hasty departure from Ireland would not return to haunt him.
Fewterell lay almost unnoticed in the ring. It was his second loss in three months. Now he’d also lost Camelford’s patronage and all the privileges that came with it. He slowly picked himself up and slunk away, muttering hoarsely.
“I’m done… I’m done…”
Even as the young victor enjoyed the hard-won plaudits of the crowd, the loser hobbled away a beaten and broken man…
The pigeon men released their birds. The black pigeon signalling Fewterell’s defeat would arrive home long before the man himself, who would forever face the indignity of whispered comments and snide remarks. He would always, in the eyes of some, be the man who lost in under twelve rounds to a novice, and an Irishman at that. Of course, no one would say so to his face, but the shame, real and imagined, would long outlast the physical pain.
As Fewterell slunk away from the cheering mob, all-but forgotten except by his seconds, Camelford strode confidently over to Lanigan.
“Capital fight, young man! Simply capital! Of course I now owe you four hundred guineas, but we can settle accounts later. For now, we must head for London and find you lodging.”
Turning to Lanigan’s seconds, Lord Camelford said disdainfully:
“You ‘gentlemen’ may leave us now. Take this and leave us to our business.”
The two men accepted somewhat reluctantly until Richmond, Camelford’s manservant and bodyguard, tossed them a velvet bag. They doffed their caps, backing away, bowing as they went. Losing Lanigan had been a blow, but Camelford’s superior position and enough gold for even the most avaricious tavern-keeper had convinced them to give in gracefully.
Lanigan stood by swilling a large brandy offered him by Richmond. Losing his backers was regrettable, but Lanigan was shrewd enough to recognise the advantages offered by Camelford. Had he known of Camelford’s private disdain for him Lanigan would have been far less eager, but he knew nothing.
Camelford gestured expansively as he offered his patronage. Food, lodgings, clothes and a percentage of any winnings represented a life better than any Lanigan had ever known and, unaware of His Lordship’s relaxed attitude to personal loyalty, he eagerly accepted the bargain offered.
“Very well, my lad. Let us retire to London. We will begin our association there.”
“Certainly, My Lord.”
They pushed their way through the rapidly diminishing crowd. The day’s work was over.
*Photo Credit:This photo is used under the Generic Creative Commons license.