Bristol's as full o' young fightin'-men now as a bin is of bottles. We've got two more comin' up--Gully and Pearce--who'll make you London milling coves wish they was back in the west country again."
"Here's the Prince," said Jackson, as a hum and bustle rose from the door.
I saw George come bustling in, with a good-humoured smile upon his comely face. My uncle welcomed him, and led some of the Corinthians up to be presented.
"We'll have trouble, gov'nor," said Belcher to Jackson. "Here's Joe Berks drinkin' gin out of a mug, and you know what a swine he is when he's drunk."
"You must put a stopper on 'im gov'nor," said several of the other prize-fighters. "'E ain't what you'd call a charmer when 'e's sober, but there's no standing 'im when 'e's fresh."
Jackson, on account of his prowess and of the tact which he possessed, had been chosen as general regulator of the whole prize- fighting body, by whom he was usually alluded to as the Commander- in-Chief. He and Belcher went across now to the table upon which Berks was still perched. The ruffian's face was already flushed, and his eyes heavy and bloodshot.
"You must keep yourself in hand to-night, Berks," said Jackson. "The Prince is here, and--"
"I never set eyes on 'im yet," cried Berks, lurching off the table. "Where is 'e, gov'nor? Tell 'im Joe Berks would like to do 'isself proud by shakin' 'im by the 'and."
"No, you don't, Joe," said Jackson, laying his hand upon Berks's chest, as he tried to push his way through the crowd. "You've got to keep your place, Joe, or we'll put you where you can make all the noise you like."
"Where's that, gov'nor?"
"Into the street, through the window. We're going to have a peaceful evening, as Jem Belcher and I will show you if you get up to any of your Whitechapel games."
"No 'arm, gov'nor," grumbled Berks. "I'm sure I've always 'ad the name of bein' a very genelman-like man."
"So I've always said, Joe Berks, and mind you prove yourself such. But the supper is ready for us, and there's the Prince and Lord Sole going in. Two and two, lads, and don't forget whose company you are in."
The supper was laid in a large room, with Union Jacks and mottoes hung thickly upon the walls. The tables were arranged in three sides of a square, my uncle occupying the centre of the principal one, with the Prince upon his right and Lord Sele upon his left. By his wise precaution the seats had been allotted beforehand, so that the gentlemen might be scattered among the professionals and no risk run of two enemies finding themselves together, or a man who had been recently beaten falling into the company of his conqueror. For my own part, I had Champion Harrison upon one side of me and a stout, florid-faced man upon the other, who whispered to me that he was "Bill Warr, landlord of the One Tun public-house, of Jermyn Street, and one of the gamest men upon the list."
"It's my flesh that's beat me, sir," said he. "It creeps over me amazin' fast. I should fight at thirteen-eight, and 'ere I am nearly seventeen. It's the business that does it, what with loflin' about behind the bar all day, and bein' afraid to refuse a wet for fear of offendin' a customer. It's been the ruin of many a good fightin'-man before me."
"You should take to my job," said Harrison. "I'm a smith by trade, and I've not put on half a stone in fifteen years."
"Some take to one thing and some to another, but the most of us try to 'ave a bar-parlour of our own. There's Will Wood, that I beat in forty rounds in the thick of a snowstorm down Navestock way, 'e drives a 'ackney. Young Firby, the ruffian, 'e's a waiter now. Dick 'Umphries sells coals--'e was always of a genelmanly disposition. George Ingleston is a brewer's drayman. We all find our own cribs. But there's one thing you are saved by livin' in the country, and that is 'avin' the young Corinthians and bloods about town smackin' you eternally in the face."
This was the last inconvenience which I should have expected a famous prize-fighter to be subjected to, but several bull-faced fellows at the other side of the table nodded their concurrence.