"Here are some more of our friends. How are you, Apreece? How are you, Colonel? Well, Jackson, you are looking vastly better. Good evening, Lade. I trust Lady Lade was none the worse for our pleasant drive. Ah, Mendoza, you look fit enough to throw your hat over the ropes this instant. Sir Lothian, I am glad to see you. You will find some old friends here."
Amid the stream of Corinthians and fighting-men who were thronging into the room I had caught a glimpse of the sturdy figure and broad, good-humoured face of Champion Harrison. The sight of him was like a whiff of South Down air coming into that low-roofed, oil-smelling room, and I ran forward to shake him by the hand.
"Why, Master Rodney--or I should say Mr. Stone, I suppose--you've changed out of all knowledge. I can't hardly believe that it was really you that used to come down to blow the bellows when Boy Jim and I were at the anvil. Well, you are fine, to be sure!"
"What's the news of Friar's Oak?" I asked eagerly.
"Your father was down to chat with me, Master Rodney, and he tells me that the war is going to break out again, and that he hopes to see you here in London before many days are past; for he is coming up to see Lord Nelson and to make inquiry about a ship. Your mother is well, and I saw her in church on Sunday."
"And Boy Jim?"
Champion Harrison's good-humoured face clouded over.
"He'd set his heart very much on comin' here to-night, but there were reasons why I didn't wish him to, and so there's a shadow betwixt us. It's the first that ever was, and I feel it, Master Rodney. Between ourselves, I have very good reason to wish him to stay with me, and I am sure that, with his high spirit and his ideas, he would never settle down again after once he had a taste o' London. I left him behind me with enough work to keep him busy until I get back to him."
A tall and beautifully proportioned man, very elegantly dressed, was strolling towards us. He stared in surprise and held out his hand to my companion.
"Why, Jack Harrison!" he cried. "This is a resurrection. Where in the world did you come from?"
"Glad to see you, Jackson," said my companion. "You look as well and as young as ever."
"Thank you, yes. I resigned the belt when I could get no one to fight me for it, and I took to teaching."
"I'm doing smith's work down Sussex way."
"I've often wondered why you never had a shy at my belt. I tell you honestly, between man and man, I'm very glad you didn't."
"Well, it's real good of you to say that, Jackson. I might ha' done it, perhaps, but the old woman was against it. She's been a good wife to me and I can't go against her. But I feel a bit lonesome here, for these boys are since my time."
"You could do some of them over now," said Jackson, feeling my friend's upper arm. "No better bit of stuff was ever seen in a twenty-four foot ring. It would be a rare treat to see you take some of these young ones on. Won't you let me spring you on them?"
Harrison's eyes glistened at the idea, but he shook his head.
"It won't do, Jackson. My old woman holds my promise. That's Belcher, ain't it--the good lookin' young chap with the flash coat?"
"Yes, that's Jem. You've not seen him! He's a jewel."
"So I've heard. Who's the youngster beside him? He looks a tidy chap."
"That's a new man from the West. Crab Wilson's his name."
Harrison looked at him with interest. "I've heard of him," said he. "They are getting a match on for him, ain't they?"
"Yes. Sir Lothian Hume, the thin-faced gentleman over yonder, has backed him against Sir Charles Tregellis's man. We're to hear about the match to-night, I understand. Jem Belcher thinks great things of Crab Wilson. There's Belcher's young brother, Tom. He's looking out for a match, too. They say he's quicker than Jem with the mufflers, but he can't hit as hard. I was speaking of your brother, Jem."
"The young 'un will make his way," said Belcher, who had come across to us. "He's more a sparrer than a fighter just at present, but when his gristle sets he'll take on anything on the list.