his limbs and body.
“I don’t want it,” he said, trying a pleasant smile that twitched and failed.
The thickset man advanced his face, and the bread became a physical threat in his hand. Denton’s mind rushed together to the one problem of his antagonist’s eyes.
“Eat it,” said the swart man.
There came a pause, and then they both moved quickly. The cube of bread described a complicated path, a curve that would have ended in Denton’s face; and then his fist hit the wrist of the hand that gripped it, and it flew upward, and out of the conflict—its part played.
He stepped back quickly, fists clenched and arms tense. The hot, dark countenance receded, became an alert hostility, watching its chance. Denton for one instant felt confident, and strangely buoyant and serene. His heart beat quickly. He felt his body alive, and glowing to the tips.
“Scrap, boys!” shouted some one, and then the dark figure had leapt forward, ducked back and sideways, and come in again. Denton struck out, and was hit. One of his eyes seemed to him to be demolished, and he felt a soft lip under his fist just before he was hit again—this time under the chin. A huge fan of fiery needles shot open. He had a momentary persuasion that his head was knocked to pieces, and then something hit his head and back from behind, and the fight became an uninteresting, an impersonal thing.
He was aware that time—seconds or minutes—had passed, abstract, uneventful time. He was lying with his head in a heap of ashes, and something wet and warm ran swiftly into his neck. The first shock broke up into discrete sensations. All his head throbbed; his eye and his chin throbbed exceedingly, and the taste of blood was in his mouth.
“He’s all right,” said a voice. “He’s opening his eyes.”
“Serve him——well right,” said a second.
His mates were standing about him. He made an effort and sat up. He put his hand to the back of his head, and his hair was wet and full of cinders. A laugh greeted the gesture. His eye was partially closed. He perceived what had happened. His momentary anticipation of a final victory had vanished.
“Looks surprised,” said some one.
“‘Ave any more?” said a wit; and then, imitating Denton’s refined accent.
“No, thank you.”
Denton perceived the swart man with a blood-stained handkerchief before his face, and somewhat in the background.
“Where’s that bit of bread he’s got to eat?” said a little ferret-faced creature; and sought with his foot in the ashes of the adjacent bin.
Denton had a moment of internal debate. He knew the code of honour requires a man to pursue a fight he has begun to the bitter end; but this was his first taste of the bitterness. He was resolved to rise again, but he felt no passionate impulse. It occurred to him—and the thought was no very violent spur—that he was perhaps after all a coward. For a moment his will was heavy, a lump of lead.