THE MINUTE I stepped ashore from the Sea Girl, merchantman, I had a hunch that there would be trouble. This hunch was caused by seeing some of the crew of the Dauntless. The men on the Dauntless have disliked the Sea Girl's crew ever since our skipper took their captain to a cleaning on the wharfs of Zanzibar--them being narrow-minded that way. They claimed that the old man had a knuckle-duster on his right, which is ridiculous and a dirty lie. He had it on his left.
Seeing these roughnecks in Manila, I had no illusions about them, but I was not looking for no trouble. I am heavyweight champion of the Sea Girl, and before you make any wisecracks about the non-importance of that title, I want you to come down to the forecastle and look over Mushy Hansen and One-Round Grannigan and Flat-Face O'Toole and Swede Hjonning and the rest of the man-killers that make up the Sea Girl's crew. But for all that, no one can never accuse me of being quarrelsome, and so instead of following my natural instinct and knocking seven or eight of these bezarks for a row, just to be ornery, I avoided them and went to the nearest American bar.
After a while I found myself in a dance hall, and while it is kind of hazy just how I got there, I assure you I had not no great amount of liquor under my belt--some beer, a few whiskeys, a little brandy, and maybe a slug of wine for a chaser like. No, I was the perfect chevalier in all my actions, as was proven when I found myself dancing with the prettiest girl I have yet to see in Manila or elsewhere. She had red lips and black hair, and oh, what a face!
"Say, miss," said I, the soul of politeness "where have you been all my life?"
"Oooh, la!" said she, with a silvery ripple of laughter. "You Americans say such theengs. Oooh, so huge and strong you are, seņor!"
I let her feel of my biceps, and she give squeals of surprise and pleasure, clapping her little white hands just like a child what has found a new pretty.
"Oooh! You could just snatch little me oop and walk away weeth me, couldn't you, seņor?"
"You needn't not be afraid," said I, kindly. "I am the soul of politeness around frails, and never pull no rough stuff. I have never soaked a woman in my life, not even that dame in Suez that throwed a knife at me. Baby, has anybody ever give you a hint about what knockouts your eyes is?"
"Ah, go 'long," said she, coyly--"Ouch!"
"Did somebody step on your foot?" I ask, looking about for somebody to crown.
"Yes--let's sit theese one out, seņor. Where did you learn to dance?"
"It comes natural, I reckon," I admitted modestly. "I never knew I could till now. This is the first time I ever tried."
From the foregoing you will see that I am carrying on a quiet conversation, not starting nothing with nobody. It is not my fault, what happened.
Me and this girl, whose name is Raquel La Costa, her being Spanish that way, are sitting peacefully at a table and I am just beginning to get started good telling her how her eyes are like dark pools of night (pretty hot, that one; I got it offa Mushy Hansen, who is all poetical like), when I notice her looking over my shoulder at somebody. This irritates me slightly, but I ignore it, and having forgotten what I was saying, my mind being slightly hazy for some reason, I continue:
"Listen, cutey--hey, who are you winkin' at? Oh, somethin' in your eye, you say? All right, as I was sayin', we got a feller named Hansen on board the Sea Girl what writes poetry. Listen to this:
"Oh, the road to glory lay
Over old Manila Bay,
Where the Irish whipped the Spanish
On a sultry summer day."
At this moment some bezark came barging up to our table and, ignoring me, leaned over and leered engagingly at my girl.
"Let's shake a hoof, baby," said this skate, whom I recognized instantly as Bat Slade, champion box fighter of the Dauntless.
Miss La Costa said nothing, and I arose and shoved Slade back from the table.
"The lady is engaged at present, stupid," says I, poking my jaw out. "If you got any business, you better 'tend to it."
"Don't get gay with me, Costigan," says he, nastily. "Since when is dames choosin' gorillas instead of humans?"
By this time quite a crowd had formed, and I restrained my natural indignation and said "Listen, bird, take that map outa my line uh vision before I bust it."
Bat is a handsome galoot who has a way with the dames, and I knew if he danced one dance with my girl he would figure out some way to do me dirt. I did not see any more of the Dauntless men; on the other hand, I was the only one of the Sea Girl's crew in the joint.
Suppose we let the lady choose between us," said Bat. Can you beat that for nerve? Him butting in that way and then giving himself equal rights with me. That was too much. With a bellow, I started my left from the hip, but somehow he wasn't there--the shifty crook! I miss by a yard, and he slams me with a left to the nose that knocks me over a chair.
My brain instantly cleared, and I realized that I had been slightly lit. I arose with an irritated roar, but before hostilities could be renewed, Miss La Costa stepped between us. "Zut," said she, tapping us with her fan.
"Zut! What is theese? Am I a common girl to be so insult by two great tramps who make fight over me in public? Bah! Eef you wanta fight, go out in ze woods or some place where no one make scandal, and wham each other all you want. May ze best man win! I will not be fight over in public, no sir!"