"Good evening gentlemen," and sat down.
There was no response. He flushed to the temples but forced himself to maintain silence. He sat there in this uncomfortable stillness some time, then got up and went out.
The moment he had disappeared he heard a prodigious shout of laughter break forth. He saw that their plain purpose had been to insult him. He ascended to the flat roof, hoping to be able to cool down his spirit there and get back his tranquility. He found the young tinner up there, alone and brooding, and entered into conversation with him. They were pretty fairly matched, now, in unpopularity and general ill-luck and misery, and they had no trouble in meeting upon this common ground with advantage and something of comfort to both. But Tracy's movements had been watched, and in a few minutes the tormentors came straggling one after another to the roof, where they began to stroll up and down in an apparently purposeless way. But presently they fell to dropping remarks that were evidently aimed at Tracy, and some of them at the tinner. The ringleader of this little mob was a short-haired bully and amateur prize-fighter named Allen, who was accustomed to lording it over the upper floor, and had more than once shown a disposition to make trouble with Tracy. Now there was an occasional cat-call, and hootings, and whistlings, and finally the diversion of an exchange of connected remarks was introduced:
"How many does it take to make a pair?"
"Well, two generally makes a pair, but sometimes there ain't stuff enough in them to make a whole pair." General laugh.
"What were you saying about the English a while ago?"
"Oh, nothing, the English are all right, only--I--" What was it you said about them?"
"Oh, I only said they swallow well."
"Swallow better than other people?"
"Oh, yes, the English swallow a good deal better than other people."
"What is it they swallow best?"
"Oh, insults." Another general laugh.
"Pretty hard to make 'em fight, ain't it?"
"No, taint hard to make 'em fight."
"Ain't it, really?"
"No, taint hard. It's impossible." Another laugh.
"This one's kind of spiritless, that's certain."
"Couldn't be the other way--in his case."
"Don't you know the secret of his birth?"
"No! has he got a secret of his birth?"
"You bet he has."
"What is it?"
"His father was a wax-figger."
Allen came strolling by where the pair were sitting; stopped, and said to the tinner;
"How are you off for friends, these days?"
"Well enough off."
"Got a good many?"
"Well, as many as I need."
"A friend is valuable, sometimes-as a protector, you know. What do you reckon would happen if I was to snatch your cap off and slap you in the face with it?"
"Please don't trouble me, Mr. Allen, I ain't doing anything to you."
You answer me! What do you reckon would happen?"
"Well, I don't know."
Tracy spoke up with a good deal of deliberation and said:
"Don't trouble the young fellow, I can tell you what would happen."
"Oh, you can, can you? Boys, Johnny Bull can tell us what would happen if I was to snatch this chump's cap off and slap him in the face with it. Now you'll see."
He snatched the cap and struck the youth in the face, and before he could inquire what was going to happen, it had already happened, and he was warming the tin with the broad of his back. Instantly there was a rush, and shouts of:
"A ring, a ring, make a ring! Fair play all round! Johnny's grit; give him a chance."
The ring was quickly chalked on the tin, and Tracy found himself as eager to begin as he could have been if his antagonist had been a prince instead of a mechanic. At bottom he was a little surprised at this, because although his theories had been all in that direction for some time, he was not prepared to find himself actually eager to measure strength with quite so common a man as this ruffian. In a moment all the windows in the neighborhood were filled with people, and the roofs also. The men squared off, and the fight began.