Nobody knew his history — they of the Junta least of all. He was their “little mystery,” their “big patriot,” and in his way he worked as hard for the coming Mexican Revolution as did they. They were tardy in recognizing this, for not one of the Junta liked him. The day he first drifted into their crowded, busy rooms, they all suspected him of being a spy–one of the bought tools of the Diaz secret service. Too many of the comrades were in civil an military prisons scattered over the United States, and others of them, in irons, were even then being taken across the border to be lined up against adobe walls and shot.
At the first sight the boy did not impress them favorably. Boy he was, not more than eighteen and not over large for his years. He announced that he was Felipe Rivera, and that it was his wish to work for the Revolution. That was all–not a wasted word, no further explanation. He stood waiting. There was no smile on his lips, no geniality in his eyes. Big dashing Paulino Vera felt an inward shudder. Here was something forbidding, terrible, inscrutable. There was something venomous and snakelike in the boy’s black eyes. They burned like cold fire, as with a vast, concentrated bitterness. He flashed them from the faces of the conspirators to the typewriter which little Mrs. Sethby was industriously operating. His eyes rested on hers but an instant–she had chanced to look up–and she, too, sensed the nameless something that made her pause. She was compelled to read back in order to regain the swing of the letter she was writing.
Paulino Vera looked questioningly at Arrellano and Ramos, and questioningly they looked back and to each other. The indecision of doubt brooded in their eyes. This slender boy was the Unknown, vested with all the menace of the Unknown. He was unrecognizable, something quite beyond the ken of honest, ordinary revolutionists whose fiercest hatred for Diaz and his tyranny after all was only that of honest and ordinary patriots. Here was something else, they knew not what. But Vera, always the most impulsive, the quickest to act, stepped into the breach.
“Very well,” he said coldly. “You say you want to work for the Revolution. Take off your coat. Hang it over there. I will show you, come–where are the buckets and cloths. The floor is dirty. You will begin by scrubbing it, and by scrubbing the floors of the other rooms. The spittoons need to be cleaned. Then there are the windows.”
“Is it for the Revolution?” the boy asked.
“It is for the Revolution,” Vera answered.
Rivera looked cold suspicion at all of them, then proceeded to take off his coat.
“It is well,” he said.
And nothing more. Day after day he came to his work–sweeping, scrubbing, cleaning. He emptied the ashes from the stoves, brought up the coal and kindling, and lighted the fires before the most energetic one of them was at his desk.
Ah, ha! So that was it–the hand of Diaz showing through! To sleep in the rooms of the Junta meant access to their secrets, to the lists of names, to the addresses of comrades down on Mexican soil. The request was denied, and Rivera never spoke of it again. He slept they knew not where, and ate they knew not where nor how. Once, Arrellano offered him a couple of dollars. Rivera declined the money with a shake of the head. When Vera joined in and tried to press it upon him, he said:
“I am working for the Revolution.”
It takes money to raise a modern revolution. and always the Junta was pressed. The members starved and toiled, and the longest day was none too long, and yet there were times when it appeared as if the Revolution stood or fell on no more than the matter of a few dollars. Once, the first time, when the rent of the house was two months behind and the landlord was threatening dispossession, it was Felipe Rivera, the scrub-boy in the poor, cheap clothes, worn and threadbare, who laid sixty dollars in gold on May Sethby’s desk. There were other times. Three hundred letters, clicked out on the busy typewriters (appeals for assistance, for sanctions from the organized labor groups, requests for square news deals to the editors of newspapers, protests against the high-handed treatment of revolutionists by the United States courts), lay unmailed, awaiting postage. Vera’s watch had disappeared–the old-fashioned gold repeater that had been his father’s. Likewise had gone the plain gold band from May Setbby’s third finger. Things were desperate. Ramos and Arrellano pulled their long mustaches in despair. The letters must go off, and the Post Office allowed no credit to purchasers of stamps. Then it was that Rivera put on his hat and went out. When he came back he laid a thousand two-cent stamps on May Sethby’s desk.
“I wonder if it is the cursed gold of Diaz?” said Vera to the comrades.
They elevated their brows and could not decide. And Felipe Rivera, the scrubber for the Revolution, continued, as occasion arose, to lay down gold and silver for the Junta’s use.
And still they could not bring themselves to like him. They did not know him. His ways were not theirs. He gave no confidences. He repelled all probing. Youth that he was, they could never nerve themselves to dare to question him.
“A great and lonely spirit, perhaps, I do not know, I do not know,” Arrellano said helplessly.
“He is not human,” said Ramos.
“His soul has been seared,” said May Sethby. “Light and laughter have been burned out of him. He is like one dead, and yet he is fearfully alive.”
“He has been through hell,” said Vera. “No man could look like that who has not been through hell–and he is only a boy.”
Yet they could not like him. He never talked, never inquired, never suggested. He would stand listening, expressionless, a thing dead, save for his eyes, coldly burning, while their talk of the Revolution ran high and warm. From face to face and speaker to speaker his eyes would turn, boring like gimlets of incandescent ice, disconcerting and perturbing.
“He is no spy,” Vera confided to May Sethby. “He is a patriot–mark me, the greatest patriot of us all. I know it, I feel it, here in my heart and head I feel it. But him I know not at all.”
“He has a bad temper,” said May Sethby.
“I know,” said Vera, with a shudder. “He has looked at me with those eyes of his. They do not love; they threaten; they are savage as a wild tiger’s. I know, if I should prove unfaithful to the Cause, that he would kill me. He has no heart. He is pitiless as steel, keen and cold as frost. He is like moonshine in a winter night when a man freezes to death on some lonely mountain top. I am not afraid of Diaz and all his killers; but this boy, of him am I afraid. I tell you true. I am afraid. He is the breath of death.”
Yet Vera it was who persuaded the others to give the first trust to Rivera. The line of communication between Los Angeles and Lower California had broken down. Three of the comrades had dug their own graves and been shot into them. Two more were United States prisoners in Los Angeles. Juan Alvarado, the Federal commander, was a monster. All their plans did he checkmate. They could no longer gain access to the active revolutionists, and the incipient ones, in Lower California.
Young Rivera was given his instructions and dispatched south. When he returned, the line of communication was reestablished, and Juan Alvarado was dead. He had been found in bed, a knife hilt-deep in his breast. This had exceeded Rivera’s instructions, but they of the Junta knew the times of his movements. They did not ask him. He said nothing. But they looked at one another and conjectured.
“I have told you,” said Vera. “Diaz has more to fear from this youth than from any man. He is implacable. He is the hand of God.”
The bad temper, mentioned by May Sethby, and sensed by them all, was evidenced by physical proofs. Now he appeared with a cut lip, a blackened cheek, or a swollen ear. It was patent that he brawled, somewhere in that outside world where he ate and slept, gained money, and moved in ways unknown to them. As the time passed, he had come to set type for the little revolutionary sheet they published weekly. There were occasions when he was unable to set type, when his knuckles were bruised and battered, when his thumbs were injured and helpless, when one arm or the other hung wearily at his side while his face was drawn with unspoken pain.
“A wastrel,” said Arrellano.
“A frequenter of low places,” said Ramos.
“But where does he get the money?” Vera demanded. “Only to-day, just now, have I learned that he paid the bill for white paper–one hundred and forty dollars.”
“There are his absences,” said May Sethby. “He never explains them.”
“We should set a spy upon him,” Ramos propounded.
“I should not care to be that spy,” said Vera. “I fear you would never see me again, save to bury me. He has a terrible passion. Not even God would he permit to stand between him and the way of his passion.”
“I feel like a child before him,” Ramos confessed.
“To me he is power–he is the primitive, the wild wolf, the striking rattlesnake, the stinging centipede,” said Arrellano.
“He is the Revolution incarnate,” said Vera. “He is the flame and the spirit of it, the insatiable cry for vengeance that makes no cry but that slays noiselessly. He is a destroying angel in moving through the still watches of the night.”
“I could weep over him,” said May Sethby. “He knows nobody. He hates all people. Us he tolerates, for we are the way of his desire. He is alone. . . . lonely.” Her voice broke in a half sob and there was dimness in her eyes.
Rivera’s ways and times were truly mysterious. There were periods when they did not see him for a week at a time. Once, he was away a month. These occasions were always capped by his return, when, without advertisement or speech, he laid gold coins on May Sethby’s desk. Again, for days and weeks, he spent all his time with the Junta. And yet again, for irregular periods, he would disappear through the heart of each day, from early morning until late afternoon. At such times he came early and remained late. Arrellano had found him at midnight, setting type with fresh swollen knuckles, or mayhap it was his lip, new-split, that still bled.
The time of the crisis approached. Whether or not the Revolution would be depended upon the Junta, and the Junta was hard-pressed. The need for money was greater than ever before, while money was harder to get. Patriots had given their last cent and now could give no more. Section gang laborers-fugitive peons from Mexico–were contributing half their scanty wages. But more than that was needed. The heart-breaking, conspiring, undermining toil of years approached fruition. The time was ripe. The Revolution hung on the balance. One shove more, one last heroic effort, and it would tremble across the scales to victory. They knew their Mexico. Once started, the Revolution would take care of itself. The whole Diaz machine would go down like a house of cards. The border was ready to rise. One Yankee, with a hundred I.W.W. men, waited the word to cross over the border and begin the conquest of Lower California. But he needed guns. And clear across to the Atlantic, the Junta in touch with them all and all of them needing guns, mere adventurers, soldiers of fortune, bandits, disgruntled American union men, socialists, anarchists, rough-necks, Mexican exiles, peons escaped from bondage, whipped miners from the bull-pens of Coeur d’Alene and Colorado who desired only the more vindictively to fight–all the flotsam and jetsam of wild spirits from the madly complicated modern world. And it was guns and ammunition, ammunition and guns–the unceasing and eternal cry.
Fling this heterogeneous, bankrupt, vindictive mass across the border, and the Revolution was on. The custom house, the northern ports of entry, would be captured. Diaz could not resist. He dared not throw the weight of his armies against them, for he must hold the south. And through the south the flame would spread despite. The people would rise. The defenses of city after city would crumple up. State after state would totter down. And at last, from every side, the victorious armies of the Revolution would close in on the City of Mexico itself, Diaz’s last stronghold.
But the money. They had the men, impatient and urgent, who would use the guns. They knew the traders who would sell and deliver the guns. But to culture the Revolution thus far had exhausted the Junta. The last dollar had been spent, the last resource and the last starving patriot milked dry, and the great adventure still trembled on the scales. Guns and ammunition! The ragged battalions must be armed. But how? Ramos lamented his confiscated estates. Arrellano wailed the spendthriftness of his youth. May Sethby wondered if it would have been different had they of the Junta been more economical in the past.
“To think that the freedom of Mexico should stand or fall on a few paltry thousands of dollars,” said Paulino Vera.
Despair was in all their faces. Jose Amarillo, their last hope, a recent convert, who had promised money, had been apprehended at his hacienda in Chihuahua and shot against his own stable wall. The news had just come through.
Rivera, on his knees, scrubbing, looked up, with suspended brush, his bare arms flecked with soapy, dirty water.
“Will five thousand do it?” he asked.
They looked their amazement. Vera nodded and swallowed. He could not speak, but he was on the instant invested with a vast faith.
“Order the guns,” Rivera said, and thereupon was guilty of the longest flow of words they had ever heard him utter. “The time is short. In three weeks I shall bring you the five thousand. It is well. The weather will be warmer for those who fight. Also, it is the best I can do.”
Vera fought his faith. It was incredible. Too many fond hopes had been shattered since he had begun to play the revolution game. He believed this threadbare scrubber of the Revolution, and yet he dared not believe.
“You are crazy,” he said.
“In three weeks,” said Rivera. “Order the guns.”
He got up, rolled down his sleeves, and put on his coat.
“Order the guns,” he said.
“I am going now.”
After hurrying and scurrying, much telephoning and bad language, a night session was held in Kelly’s office. Kelly was rushed with business; also, he was unlucky. He had brought Danny Ward out from New York, arranged the fight for him with Billy Carthey, the date was three weeks away, and for two days now, carefully concealed from the sporting writers, Carthey had been lying up, badly injured. There was no one to take his place. Kelly had been burning the wires East to every eligible lightweight, but they were tied up with dates and contracts. And now hope had revived, though faintly.
“You’ve got a hell of a nerve,” Kelly addressed Rivera, after one look, as soon as they got together.
Hate that was malignant was in Rivera’s eyes, but his face remained impassive.
“I can lick Ward,” was all he said.
“How do you know? Ever see him fight?”
Rivera shook his head.
“He can beat you up with one hand and both eyes closed.”
Rivera shrugged his shoulders.
“Haven’t you got anything to say?” the fight promoter snarled.
“I can lick him.”
“Who’d you ever fight, anyway!” Michael Kelly demanded. Michael was the promotor’s brother, and ran the Yellowstone pool rooms where he made goodly sums on the fight game.
Rivera favored him with a bitter, unanswering stare.
The promoter’s secretary, a distinctively sporty young man, sneered audibly.
“Well, you know Roberts,” Kelly broke the hostile silence. “He ought to be here. I’ve sent for him. Sit down and wait, though from the looks of you, you haven’t got a chance. I can’t throw the public down with a bum fight. Ringside seats are selling at fifteen dollars, you know that.”
When Roberts arrived, it was patent that he was mildly drunk. He was a tall, lean, slack-jointed individual, and his walk, like his talk, was a smooth and languid drawl.
Kelly went straight to the point.
“Look here, Roberts, you’ve been bragging you discovered this little Mexican. You know Carthey’s broke his arm. Well, this little yellow streak has the gall to blow in to-day and say he’ll take Carthey’s place. What about it?”
“It’s all right, Kelly,” came the slow response. “He can put up a fight.”
“I suppose you’ll be sayin’ next that he can lick Ward,” Kelly snapped.
Roberts considered judicially.
“No, I won’t say that. Ward’s a top-notcher and a ring general. But he can’t hashhouse Rivera in short order. I know Rivera. Nobody can get his goat. He ain’t got a goat that I could ever discover. And he’s a two-handed fighter. He can throw in the sleep-makers from any position.”
“Never mind that. What kind of a show can he put up? You’ve been conditioning and training fighters all your life. I take off my hat to your judgment. Can he give the public a run for its money?”
“He sure can, and he’ll worry Ward a mighty heap on top of it. You don’t know that boy. I do. I discovered him. He ain’t got a goat. He’s a devil. He’s a wizzy-wooz if anybody should ask you. He’ll make Ward sit up with a show of local talent that’ll make the rest of you sit up. I won’t say he’ll lick Ward, but he’ll put up such a show that you’ll all know he’s a comer.”
“All right.” Kelly turned to his secretary. “Ring up Ward. I warned him to show up if I thought it worth while. He’s right across at the Yellowstone, throwin’ chests and doing the popular.”
Kelly turned back to the conditioner. “Have a drink?”
Roberts sipped his highball and unburdened himself.
“Never told you how I discovered the little cuss. It was a couple of years ago he showed up out at the quarters. I was getting Prayne ready for his fight with Delaney. Prayne’s wicked. He ain’t got a tickle of mercy in his make-up. I chopped up his pardner’s something cruel, and I couldn’t find a willing boy that’d work with him. I’d noticed this little starved Mexican kid hanging around, and I was desperate. So I grabbed him, shoved on the gloves and put him in. He was tougher’n rawhide, but weak. And he didn’t know the first letter in the alphabet of boxing. Prayne chopped him to ribbons. But he hung on for two sickening rounds, when he fainted. Starvation, that was all. Battered! You couldn’t have recognized him. I gave him half a dollar and a square meal. You oughta seen him wolf it down. He hadn’t had the end of a bite for a couple of days. That’s the end of him, thinks I. But next day he showed up, stiff an’ sore, ready for another half and a square meal. And he done better as time went by. Just a born fighter, and tough beyond belief. He hasn’t a heart. He’s a piece of ice. And he never talked eleven words in a string since I know him. He saws wood and does his work.”
“I’ve seen ‘m,” the secretary said. “He’s worked a lot for you.”
“All the big little fellows has tried out on him,” Roberts answered. “And he’s learned from ’em. I’ve seen some of them he could lick. But his heart wasn’t in it. I reckoned he never liked the game. He seemed to act that way.”
“He’s been fighting some before the little clubs the last few months,” Kelly said.
“Sure. But I don’t know what struck ‘m. All of a sudden his heart got into it. He just went out like a streak and cleaned up all the little local fellows. Seemed to want the money, and he’s won a bit, though his clothes don’t look it. He’s peculiar. Nobody knows his business. Nobody knows how he spends his time. Even when he’s on the job, he plumb up and disappears most of each day soon as his work is done. Sometimes he just blows away for weeks at a time. But he don’t take advice. There’s a fortune in it for the fellow that gets the job of managin’ him, only he won’t consider it. And you watch him hold out for the cash money when you get down to terms.”
It was at this stage that Danny Ward arrived. Quite a party it was. His manager and trainer were with him, and he breezed in like a gusty draught of geniality, good-nature, and all-conqueringness. Greetings flew about, a joke here, a retort there, a smile or a laugh for everybody. Yet it was his way, and only partly sincere. He was a good actor, and he had found geniality a most valuable asset in the game of getting on in the world. But down underneath he was the deliberate, cold-blooded fighter and business man. The rest was a mask. Those who knew him or trafficked with him said that when it came to brass tacks he was Danny-on-the-Spot. He was invariably present at all business discussions, and it was urged by some that his manager was a blind whose only function was to serve as Danny’s mouth-piece.
Rivera’s way was different. Indian blood, as well as Spanish, was in his veins, and he sat back in a corner, silent, immobile, only his black eyes passing from face to face and noting everything.
“So that’s the guy,” Danny said, running an appraising eye over his proposed antagonist. “How de do, old chap.”
Rivera’s eyes burned venomously, but he made no sign of acknowledgment. He disliked all Gringos, but this Gringo he hated with an immediacy that was unusual even in him.
“Gawd!” Danny protested facetiously to the promoter. “You ain’t expectin’ me to fight a deef mute.” When the laughter subsided, he made another hit. “Los Angeles must be on the dink when this is the best you can scare up. What kindergarten did you get ‘m from?”
“He’s a good little boy, Danny, take it from me,” Roberts defended. “Not as easy as he looks.”
“And half the house is sold already,” Kelly pleaded. “You’ll have to take ‘m on, Danny. It is the best we can do.”
Danny ran another careless and unflattering glance over Rivera and sighed.
“I gotta be easy with ‘m, I guess. If only he don’t blow up.”
“You gotta be careful,” Danny’s manager warned. “No taking chances with a dub that’s likely to sneak a lucky one across.”
“Oh, I’ll be careful all right, all right,” Danny smiled. “I’ll get in at the start an’ nurse ‘im along for the dear public’s sake. What d’ ye say to fifteen rounds, Kelly–an’ then the hay for him?”
“That’ll do,” was the answer. “As long as you make it realistic.”
“Then let’s get down to biz.” Danny paused and calculated. “Of course, sixty-five per cent of the gate receipts, same as with Carthey. But the split’ll be different. Eighty will just about suit me.” And to his manager, “That right?”
The manager nodded.
“Here, you, did you get that?” Kelly asked Rivera.
Rivera shook his head.
“Well, it is this way,” Kelly exposited. “The purse’ll be sixty-five per cent of the gate receipts. You’re a dub, and an unknown. You and Danny split, twenty per cent goin’ to you, an’ eighty to Danny. That’s fair, isn’t it, Roberts?”
“Very fair, Rivera,” Roberts agreed.
“You see, you ain’t got a reputation yet.”
“What will sixty-five per cent of the gate receipts be?” Rivera demanded.
“Oh, maybe five thousand, maybe as high as eight thousand,” Danny broke in to explain. “Something like that. Your share’ll come to something like a thousand or sixteen hundred. Pretty good for takin’ a licking from a guy with my reputation. What d’ ye say?”
Then Rivera took their breaths away. “Winner takes all,” he said with finality.
A dead silence prevailed.
“It’s like candy from a baby,” Danny’s manager proclaimed.
Danny shook his head.
“I’ve been in the game too long,” he explained.
“I’m not casting reflections on the referee, or the present company. I’m not sayin’ nothing about book-makers an’ frame-ups that sometimes happen. But what I do say is that it’s poor business for a fighter like me. I play safe. There’s no tellin’. Mebbe I break my arm, eh? Or some guy slips me a bunch of dope?” He shook his head solemnly. “Win or lose, eighty is my split. What d’ ye say, Mexican?”
Rivera shook his head.
Danny exploded. He was getting down to brass tacks now.
“Why, you dirty little greaser! I’ve a mind to knock your block off right now.”
Roberts drawled his body to interposition between hostilities.
“Winner takes all,” Rivera repeated sullenly.
“Why do you stand out that way?” Danny asked.
“I can lick you,” was the straight answer.
Danny half started to take off his coat. But, as his manager knew, it was a grand stand play. The coat did not come off, and Danny allowed himself to be placated by the group. Everybody sympathized with him. Rivera stood alone.
“Look here, you little fool,” Kelly took up the argument. “You’re nobody. We know what you ve been doing the last few months–putting away little local fighters. But Danny is class. His next fight after this will be for the championship. And you’re unknown. Nobody ever heard of you out of Los Angeles.”
“They will,” Rivera answered with a shrug, “after this fight.”
“You think for a second you can lick me?” Danny blurted in.
“Oh, come; listen to reason,” Kelly pleaded. “Think of the advertising.”
“I want the money,” was Rivera’s answer.
“You couldn’t win from me in a thousand years,” Danny assured him.
“Then what are you holdin’ out for?” Rivera countered. “If the money’s that easy, why don’t you go after it?”
“I will, so help me!” Danny cried with abrupt conviction. “I’Il beat you to death in the ring, my boy–you monkeyin’ with me this way. Make out the articles, Kelly. Winner take all. Play it up in the sportin’ columns. Tell ’em it’s a grudge fight. I’ll show this fresh kid a few.”
Kelly’s secretary had begun to write, when Danny interrupted.
“Hold on!” He turned to Rivera.
“Ringside,” came the answer.
“Not on your life, Fresh Kid. If winner takes all, we weigh in at ten A.M.”
“And winner takes all?” Rivera queried.
Danny nodded. That settled it. He would enter the ring in his full ripeness of strength.
“Weigh in at ten,” Rivera said.
The secretary’s pen went on scratching.
“It means five pounds,” Roberts complained to Rivera.
“You’ve given too much away. You’ve thrown the fight right there. Danny’ll lick you sure. He’ll be as strong as a bull. You’re a fool. You ain’t got the chance of a dewdrop in hell.”
Rivera’s answer was a calculated look of hatred. Even this Gringo he despised, and him had he found the whitest Gringo of them all.
Barely noticed was Rivera as he entered the ring. Only a very slight and very scattering ripple of half-hearted hand-clapping greeted him. The house did not believe in him. He was the lamb led to slaughter at the hands of the great Danny. Besides, the house was disappointed. It had expected a rushing battle between Danny Ward and Billy Carthey, and here it must put up with this poor little tyro. Still further, it had manifested its disapproval of the change by betting two, and even three, to one on Danny. And where a betting audience’s money is, there is its heart.
The Mexican boy sat down in his corner and waited. The slow minutes lagged by. Danny was making him wait. It was an old trick, but ever it worked on the young, new fighters. They grew frightened, sitting thus and facing their own apprehensions and a callous, tobacco-smoking audience. But for once the trick failed. Roberts was right. Rivera had no goat. He, who was more delicately coordinated, more finely nerved and strung than any of them, had no nerves of this sort. The atmosphere of foredoomed defeat in his own corner had no effect on him. His handlers were Gringos and strangers. Also they were scrubs–the dirty driftage of the fight game, without honor, without efficiency. And they were chilled, as well, with certitude that theirs was the losing corner.
“Now you gotta be careful,” Spider Hagerty warned him. Spider was his chief second. “Make it last as long as you can–them’s my instructions from Kelly. If you don’t, the papers’ll call it another bum fight and give the game a bigger black eye in Los Angeles.”
All of which was not encouraging. But Rivera took no notice. He despised prize fighting. It was the hated game of the hated Gringo. He had taken up with it, as a chopping block for others in the training quarters, solely because he was starving. The fact that he was marvelously made for it had meant nothing. He hated it. Not until he had come in to the Junta, had he fought for money, and he had found the money easy. Not first among the sons of men had he been to find himself successful at a despised vocation.
He did not analyze. He merely knew that he must win this fight. There could be no other outcome. For behind him, nerving him to this belief, were profounder forces than any the crowded house dreamed. Danny Ward fought for money, and for the easy ways of life that money would bring. But the things Rivera fought for burned in his brain–blazing and terrible visions, that, with eyes wide open, sitting lonely in the corner of the ring and waiting for his tricky antagonist, he saw as clearly as he had lived them.
He saw the white-walled, water-power factories of Rio Blanco. He saw the six thousand workers, starved and wan, and the little children, seven and eight years of age, who toiled long shifts for ten cents a day. He saw the perambulating corpses, the ghastly death’s heads of men who labored in the dye-rooms. He remembered that he had heard his father call the dye-rooms the “suicide-holes,” where a year was death. He saw the little patio, and his mother cooking and moiling at crude housekeeping and finding time to caress and love him. And his father he saw, large, big-moustached and deep-chested, kindly above all men, who loved all men and whose heart was so large that there was love to overflowing still left for the mother and the little muchacho playing in the corner of the patio. In those days his name had not been Felipe Rivera. It had been Fernandez, his father’s and mother’s name. Him had they called Juan. Later, he had changed it himself, for he had found the name of Fernandez hated by prefects of police, jefes politicos, and rurales.
Big, hearty Joaquin Fernandez! A large place he occupied in Rivera’s visions. He had not understood at the time, but looking back he could understand. He could see him setting type in the little printery, or scribbling endless hasty, nervous lines on the much-cluttered desk. And he could see the strange evenings, when workmen, coming secretly in the dark like men who did ill deeds, met with his father and talked long hours where he, the muchacho, lay not always asleep in the corner.
As from a remote distance he could hear Spider Hagerty saying to him: “No layin’ down at the start. Them’s instructions. Take a beatin’ and earn your dough.”
Ten minutes had passed, and he still sat in his comer. There were no signs of Danny, who was evidently playing the trick to the limit.
But more visions burned before the eye of Rivera’s memory. The strike, or, rather, the lockout, because the workers of Rio Blanco had helped their striking brothers of Puebla. The hunger, the expeditions in the hills for berries, the roots and herbs that all ate and that twisted and pained the stomachs of all of them. And then, the nightmare; the waste of ground before the company’s store; the thousands of starving workers; General Rosalio Martinez and the soldiers of Porfirio Diaz, and the death-spitting rifles that seemed never to cease spitting, while the workers’ wrongs were washed and washed again in their own blood. And that night! He saw the flat cars, piled high with the bodies of the slain, consigned to Vera Cruz, food for the sharks of the bay. Again he crawled over the grisly heaps, seeking and finding, stripped and mangled, his father and his mother. His mother he especially remembered–only her face projecting, her body burdened by the weight of dozens of bodies. Again the rifles of the soldiers of Porfirio Diaz cracked, and again he dropped to the ground and slunk away like some hunted coyote of the hills.
To his ears came a great roar, as of the sea, and he saw Danny Ward, leading his retinue of trainers and seconds, coming down the center aisle. The house was in wild uproar for the popular hero who was bound to win. Everybody proclaimed him. Everybody was for him. Even Rivera’s own seconds warmed to something akin to cheerfulness when Danny ducked jauntily through the ropes and entered the ring. His face continually spread to an unending succession of smiles, and when Danny smiled he smiled in every feature, even to the laughter-wrinkles of the corners of the eyes and into the depths of the eyes themselves. Never was there so genial a fighter. His face was a running advertisement of good feeling, of good fellowship. He knew everybody. He joked, and laughed, and greeted his friends through the ropes. Those farther away, unable to suppress their admiration, cried loudly: “Oh, you Danny!” It was a joyous ovation of affection that lasted a full five minutes.
Rivera was disregarded. For all that the audience noticed, he did not exist. Spider Lagerty’s bloated face bent down close to his.
“No gettin’ scared,” the Spider warned.
“An’ remember instructions. You gotta last. No layin’ down. If you lay down, we got instructions to beat you up in the dressing rooms. Savve? You just gotta fight.”
The house began to applaud. Danny was crossing the ring to him. Danny bent over, caught Rivera’s right hand in both his own and shook it with impulsive heartiness. Danny’s smile-wreathed face was close to his. The audience yelled its appreciation of Danny’s display of sporting spirit. He was greeting his opponent with the fondness of a brother. Danny’s lips moved, and the audience, interpreting the unheard words to be those of a kindly-natured sport, yelled again. Only Rivera heard the low words.
“You little Mexican rat,” hissed from between Danny’s gaily smiling lips, “I’ll fetch the yellow outa you.”
Rivera made no move. He did not rise. He merely hated with his eyes.
“Get up, you dog!” some man yelled through the ropes from behind.
The crowd began to hiss and boo him for his unsportsmanlike conduct, but he sat unmoved. Another great outburst of applause was Danny’s as he walked back across the ring.
When Danny stripped, there was ohs! and ahs! of delight. His body was perfect, alive with easy suppleness and health and strength. The skin was white as a woman’s, and as smooth. All grace, and resilience, and power resided therein. He had proved it in scores of battles. His photographs were in all the physical culture magazines.
A groan went up as Spider Hagerty peeled Rivera’s sweater over his head. His body seemed leaner, because of the swarthiness of the skin. He had muscles, but they made no display like his opponent’s. What the audience neglected to see was the deep chest. Nor could it guess the toughness of the fiber of the flesh, the instantaneousness of the cell explosions of the muscles, the fineness of the nerves that wired every part of him into a spendid fighting mechanism. All the audience saw was a brown-skinned boy of eighteen with what seemed the body of a boy. With Danny it was different. Danny was a man of twenty-four, and his body was a man’s body. The contrast was still more striking as they stood together in the center of the ring receiving the referee’s last instructions.
Rivera noticed Roberts sitting directly behind the newspaper men. He was drunker than usual, and his speech was correspondingly slower.
“Take it easy, Rivera,” Roberts drawled.
“He can’t kill you, remember that. He’ll rush you at the go-off, but don’t get rattled. You just cover up, and stall, and clinch. He can’t hurt you much. Just make believe to yourself that he’s choppin’ out on you at the trainin’ quarters.”
Rivera made no sign that he had heard.
“Sullen little devil,” Roberts muttered to the man next to him. “He always was that way.”
But Rivera forgot to look his usual hatred. A vision of countless rifles blinded his eyes. Every face in the audience, far as he could see, to the high dollar-seats, was transformed into a rifle. And he saw the long Mexican border arid and sun-washed and aching, and along it he saw the ragged bands that delayed only for the guns.
Back in his corner he waited, standing up. His seconds had crawled out through the ropes, taking the canvas stool with them. Diagonally across the squared ring, Danny faced him. The gong struck, and the battle was on. The audience howled its delight. Never had it seen a battle open more convincingly. The papers were right. It was a grudge fight. Three-quarters of the distance Danny covered in the rush to get together, his intention to eat up the Mexican lad plainly advertised. He assailed with not one blow, nor two, nor a dozen. He was a gyroscope of blows, a whirlwind of destruction. Rivera was nowhere. He was overwhelmed, buried beneath avalanches of punches delivered from every angle and position by a past master in the art. He was overborne, swept back against the ropes, separated by the referee, and swept back against the ropes again.
It was not a fight. It was a slaughter, a massacre. Any audience, save a prize fighting one, would have exhausted its emotions in that first minute. Danny was certainly showing what he could do–a splendid exhibition. Such was the certainty of the audience, as well as its excitement and favoritism, that it failed to take notice that the Mexican still stayed on his feet. It forgot Rivera. It rarely saw him, so closely was he enveloped in Danny’s man-eating attack. A minute of this went by, and two minutes. Then, in a separation, it caught a clear glimpse of the Mexican. His lip was cut, his nose was bleeding. As he turned and staggered into a clinch, the welts of oozing blood, from his contacts with the ropes, showed in red bars. across his back. But what the audience did not notice was that his chest was not heaving and that his eyes were coldly burning as ever. Too many aspiring champions, in the cruel welter of the training camps, had practiced this man-eating attack on him. He had learned to live through for a compensation of from half a dollar a go up to fifteen dollars a week–a hard school, and he was schooled hard.
Then happened the amazing thing. The whirling, blurring mix-up ceased suddenly. Rivera stood alone. Danny, the redoubtable Danny, lay on his back. His body quivered as consciousness strove to return to it. He had not staggered and sunk down, nor had he gone over in a long slumping fall. The right hook of Rivera had dropped him in midair with the abruptness of death. The referee shoved Rivera back with one hand, and stood over the fallen gladiator counting the seconds. It is the custom of prize-fighting audiences to cheer a clean knock-down blow. But this audience did not cheer. The thing had been too unexpected. It watched the toll of the seconds in tense silence, and through this silence the voice of Roberts rose exultantly:
“I told you he was a two-handed fighter!”
By the fifth second, Danny was rolling over on his face, and when seven was counted, he rested on one knee, ready to rise after the count of nine and before the count of ten. If his knee still touched the floor at “ten,” he was considered “down,” and also “out.” The instant his knee left the floor, he was considered “up,” and in that instant it was Rivera’s right to try and put him down again. Rivera took no chances. The moment that knee left the floor he would strike again. He circled around, but the referee circled in between, and Rivera knew that the seconds he counted were very slow. All Gringos were against him, even the referee.
At “nine” the referee gave Rivera a sharp thrust back. It was unfair, but it enabled Danny to rise, the smile back on his lips. Doubled partly over, with arms wrapped about face and abdomen, he cleverly stumbled into a clinch. By all the rules of the game the referee should have broken it, but he did not, and Danny clung on like a surf-battered barnacle and moment by moment recuperated. The last minute of the round was going fast. If he could live to the end, he would have a full minute in his corner to revive. And live to the end he did, smiling through all desperateness and extremity.
“The smile that won’t come off!” somebody yelled, and the audience laughed loudly in its relief.
“The kick that Greaser’s got is something God-awful,” Danny gasped in his corner to his adviser while his handlers worked frantically over him.
The second and third rounds were tame. Danny, a tricky and consummate ring general, stalled and blocked and held on, devoting himself to recovering from that dazing first-round blow. In the fourth round he was himself again. Jarred and shaken, nevertheless his good condition had enabled him to regain his vigor. But he tried no man-eating tactics. The Mexican had proved a tartar. Instead, he brought to bear his best fighting powers. In tricks and skill and experience he was the master, and though he could land nothing vital, he proceeded scientifically to chop and wear down his opponent. He landed three blows to Rivera’s one, but they were punishing blows only, and not deadly. It was the sum of many of them that constituted deadliness. He was respectful of this two-handed dub with the amazing short-arm kicks in both his fists.
In defense, Rivera developed a disconcerting straight-left. Again and again, attack after attack he straight-lefted away from him with accumulated damage to Danny’s mouth and nose. But Danny was protean. That was why he was the coming champion. He could change from style to style of fighting at will. He now devoted himself to infighting. In this he was particularly wicked, and it enabled him to avoid the other’s straight-left. Here he set the house wild repeatedly, capping it with a marvelous lockbreak and lift of an inside upper-cut that raised the Mexican in the air and dropped him to the mat. Rivera rested on one knee, making the most of the count, and in the soul of him he knew the referee was counting short seconds on him.
Again, in the seventh, Danny achieved the diabolical inside uppercut. He succeeded only in staggering Rivera, but, in the ensuing moment of defenseless helplessness, he smashed him with another blow through the ropes. Rivera’s body bounced on the heads of the newspaper men below, and they boosted him back to the edge of the platform outside the ropes. Here he rested on one knee, while the referee raced off the seconds. Inside the ropes, through which he must duck to enter the ring, Danny waited for him. Nor did the referee intervene or thrust Danny back.
The house was beside itself with delight.
“Kill’m, Danny, kill’m!” was the cry.
Scores of voices took it up until it was like a war-chant of wolves.
Danny did his best, but Rivera, at the count of eight, instead of nine, came unexpectedly through the ropes and safely into a clinch. Now the referee worked, tearing him away so that he could be hit, giving Danny every advantage that an unfair referee can give.
But Rivera lived, and the daze cleared from his brain. It was all of a piece. They were the hated Gringos and they were all unfair. And in the worst of it visions continued to flash and sparkle in his brain–long lines of railroad track that simmered across the desert; rurales and American constables, prisons and calabooses; tramps at water tanks–all the squalid and painful panorama of his odyssey after Rio Blanca and the strike. And, resplendent and glorious, he saw the great, red Revolution sweeping across his land. The guns were there before him. Every hated face was a gun. It was for the guns he fought. He was the guns. He was the Revolution. He fought for all Mexico.
The audience began to grow incensed with Rivera. Why didn’t he take the licking that was appointed him? Of course he was going to be licked, but why should he be so obstinate about it? Very few were interested in him, and they were the certain, definite percentage of a gambling crowd that plays long shots. Believing Danny to be the winner, nevertheless they had put their money on the Mexican at four to ten and one to three. More than a trifle was up on the point of how many rounds Rivera could last. Wild money had appeared at the ringside proclaiming that he could not last seven rounds, or even six. The winners of this, now that their cash risk was happily settled, had joined in cheering on the favorite.
Rivera refused to be licked. Through the eighth round his opponent strove vainly to repeat the uppercut. In the ninth, Rivera stunned the house again. In the midst of a clinch he broke the lock with a quick, lithe movement, and in the narrow space between their bodies his right lifted from the waist. Danny went to the floor and took the safety of the count. The crowd was appalled. He was being bested at his own game. His famous right-uppercut had been worked back on him. Rivera made no attempt to catch him as he arose at “nine.” The referee was openly blocking that play, though he stood clear when the situation was reversed and it was Rivera who desired to rise.
Twice in the tenth, Rivera put through the right-uppercut, lifted from waist to opponent’s chin. Danny grew desperate. The smile never left his face, but he went back to his man-eating rushes. Whirlwind as he would, be could not damage Rivera, while Rivera through the blur and whirl, dropped him to the mat three times in succession. Danny did not recuperate so quickly now, and by the eleventh round he was in a serious way. But from then till the fourteenth he put up the gamest exhibition of his career. He stalled and blocked, fought parsimoniously, and strove to gather strength. Also, he fought as foully as a successful fighter knows how. Every trick and device he employed, butting in the clinches with the seeming of accident, pinioning Rivera’s glove between arm and body, heeling his glove on Rivera’s mouth to clog his breathing. Often, in the clinches, through his cut and smiling lips he snarled insults unspeakable and vile in Rivera’s ear. Everybody, from the referee to the house, was with Danny and was helping Danny. And they knew what he had in mind. Bested by this surprise-box of an unknown, he was pinning all on a single punch. He offered himself for punishment, fished, and feinted, and drew, for that one opening that would enable him to whip a blow through with all his strength and turn the tide. As another and greater fighter had done before him, he might do a right and left, to solar plexus and across the jaw. He could do it, for he was noted for the strength of punch that remained in his arms as long as he could keep his feet.
Rivera’s seconds were not half-caring for him in the intervals between rounds. Their towels made a showing, but drove little air into his panting lungs. Spider Hagerty talked advice to him, but Rivera knew it was wrong advice. Everybody was against him. He was surrounded by treachery. In the fourteenth round he put Danny down again, and himself stood resting, hands dropped at side, while the referee counted. In the other corner Rivera had been noting suspicious whisperings. He saw Michael Kelly make his way to Roberts and bend and whisper. Rivera’s ears were a cat’s, desert-trained, and he caught snatches of what was said. He wanted to hear more, and when his opponent arose he maneuvered the fight into a clinch over against the ropes.
“Got to,” he could hear Michael, while Roberts nodded. “Danny’s got to win–I stand to lose a mint–I’ve got a ton of money covered–my own. If he lasts the fifteenth I’m bust–the boy’ll mind you. Put something across.”
And thereafter Rivera saw no more visions. They were trying to job him. Once again he dropped Danny and stood resting, his hands at his slide. Roberts stood up.
“That settled him,” he said.
“Go to your corner.”
He spoke with authority, as he had often spoken to Rivera at the training quarters. But Rivera looked hatred at him and waited for Danny to rise. Back in his corner in the minute interval, Kelly, the promoter, came and talked to Rivera.
“Throw it, damn you,” he rasped in, a harsh low voice. “You gotta lay down, Rivera. Stick with me and I’ll make your future. I’ll let you lick Danny next time. But here’s where you lay down.”
Rivera showed with his eyes that he heard, but he made neither sign of assent nor dissent.
“Why don’t you speak?” Kelly demanded angrily.
“You lose, anyway,” Spider Hagerty supplemented. “The referee’ll take it away from you. Listen to Kelly, and lay down.”
“Lay down, kid,” Kelly pleaded, “and I’ll help you to the championship.”
Rivera did not answer.
“I will, so help me, kid.”
At the strike of the gong Rivera sensed something impending. The house did not. Whatever it was it was there inside the ring with him and very close. Danny’s earlier surety seemed returned to him. The confidence of his advance frightened Rivera. Some trick was about to be worked. Danny rushed, but Rivera refused the encounter. He side-stepped away into safety. What the other wanted was a clinch. It was in some way necessary to the trick. Rivera backed and circled away, yet he knew, sooner or later, the clinch and the trick would come. Desperately he resolved to draw it. He made as if to effect the clinch with Danny’s next rush. Instead, at the last instant, just as their bodies should have come together, Rivera darted nimbly back. And in the same instant Danny’s corner raised a cry of foul. Rivera had fooled them. The referee paused irresolutely. The decision that trembled on his lips was never uttered, for a shrill, boy’s voice from the gallery piped, “Raw work!”
Danny cursed Rivera openly, and forced him, while Rivera danced away. Also, Rivera made up his mind to strike no more blows at the body. In this he threw away half his chance of winning, but he knew if he was to win at all it was with the outfighting that remained to him. Given the least opportunity, they would lie a foul on him. Danny threw all caution to the winds. For two rounds he tore after and into the boy who dared not meet him at close quarters. Rivera was struck again and again; he took blows by the dozens to avoid the perilous clinch. During this supreme final rally of Danny’s the audience rose to its feet and went mad. It did not understand. All it could see was that its favorite was winning, after all.
“Why don’t you fight?” it demanded wrathfully of Rivera.
“You’re yellow! You’re yellow!” “Open up, you cur! Open up!” “Kill’m, Danny! Kill ‘m!” “You sure got ‘m! Kill ‘m!”
In all the house, bar none, Rivera was the only cold man. By temperament and blood he was the hottest-passioned there; but he had gone through such vastly greater heats that this collective passion of ten thousand throats, rising surge on surge, was to his brain no more than the velvet cool of a summer twilight.
Into the seventeenth round Danny carried his rally. Rivera, under a heavy blow, drooped and sagged. His hands dropped helplessly as he reeled backward. Danny thought it was his chance. The boy was at, his mercy. Thus Rivera, feigning, caught him off his guard, lashing out a clean drive to the mouth. Danny went down. When he arose, Rivera felled him with a down-chop of the right on neck and jaw. Three times he repeated this. It was impossible for any referee to call these blows foul.
“Oh, Bill! Bill!” Kelly pleaded to the referee.
“I can’t,” that official lamented back. “He won’t give me a chance.”
Danny, battered and heroic, still kept coming up. Kelly and others near to the ring began to cry out to the police to stop it, though Danny’s corner refused to throw in the towel. Rivera saw the fat police captain starting awkwardly to climb through the ropes, and was not sure what it meant. There were so many ways of cheating in this game of the Gringos. Danny, on his feet, tottered groggily and helplessly before him. The referee and the captain were both reaching for Rivera when he struck the last blow. There was no need to stop the fight, for Danny did not rise.
“Count!” Rivera cried hoarsely to the referee.
And when the count was finished, Danny’s seconds gathered him up and carried him to his corner.
“Who wins?” Rivera demanded.
Reluctantly, the referee caught his gloved hand and held it aloft.
There were no congratulations for Rivera. He walked to his corner unattended, where his seconds had not yet placed his stool. He leaned backward on the ropes and looked his hatred at them, swept it on and about him till the whole ten thousand Gringos were included. His knees trembled under him, and he was sobbing from exhaustion. Before his eyes the hated faces swayed back and forth in the giddiness of nausea. Then he remembered they were the guns. The guns were his. The Revolution could go on.
The Maxican by Jack London