The two women advanced to meet each other, and, as the gong sounded and the seconds clattered out of the ring with the folding stools, they shook hands and instantly took their fighting attitudes. And instantly, like a mechanism of steel and springs balanced on a hair trigger, Sandra was in and out and in again, landing a left to the eyes, a right to the ribs, ducking a counter, dancing lightly away and dancing menacingly back again. She was swift and clever. It was a dazzling exhibition. The house yelled its approbation. But Queen was not dazzled. She had fought too many fights and too many youngsters. She knew the blows for what they were too quick and too deft to be dangerous. Evidently Sandra was going to rush things from the start. It was to be expected. It was the way of Youth, expending its splendour and excellence in wild insurgence and furious onslaught, overwhelming opposition with its own unlimited glory of strength and desire.
Sandra was in and out, here, there, and everywhere, light-footed and eager-hearted, a living wonder of white flesh and stinging muscle that wove itself into a dazzling fabric of attack, slipping and leaping like a flying shuttle from action to action through a thousand actions, all of them centered upon the destruction of Tamar Queen, who stood between her and fortune. And Tamar Queen patiently endured. She knew her business, and she knew Youth now that Youth was no longer her. There was nothing to do till the other lost some of her steam, was her thought, and she grinned to herself as she deliberately ducked so as to receive a heavy blow on the top of her head. It was a wicked thing to do, yet eminently fair according to the rules of the boxing game. A boxer was supposed to take care of her own knuckles, and, if she insisted on hitting an opponent on the top of the head, she did so at her own peril. Queen could have ducked lower and let the blow whiz harmlessly past, but she remembered her own early fights and how she smashed her first knuckle on the head of the Welsh Giantess. She was but playing the game. That duck had accounted for one of Sandra's knuckles.
The first round was all Sandra's, and she had the house yelling with the rapidity of her whirlwind rushes. She overwhelmed Queen with avalanches of punches, and Queen did nothing. She never struck once, contenting herself with covering up, bloc Queen and ducking and clinching to avoid punishment. She occasionally feinted, shook her head when the weight of a punch landed, and moved stolidly about, never leaping or springing or wasting an ounce of strength. Sandra must foam the froth of Youth away before discreet Age could dare to retaliate. All Queen's movements were slow and methodical, and her heavy-lidded, slow-moving eyes gave her the appearance of being half asleep or dazed. Yet they were eyes that saw everything, that had been trained to see everything through all her twenty years and odd in the ring. They were eyes that did not blink or waver before an impending blow, but that coolly saw and measured distance.
Seated in her corner for the minute's rest at the end of the round, she lay back with outstretched legs, her arms resting on the right angle of the ropes, her chest and abdomen heaving frankly and deeply as she gulped down the air driven by the towels of her seconds. She listened with closed eyes to the voices of the house, "Why don't yeh fight, Tamar?" many were crying. "Yeh ain't afraid of er, are yeh?"
"Muscle-bound," she heard a man on a front seat comment. "She can't move quicker. Two to one on Sandra, in quids."
The gong struck and the two women advanced from their corners. Sandra came forward fully three-quarters of the distance, eager to begin again; but Queen was content to advance the shorter distance. It was in line with her policy of economy - every step counted. Besides, she had already walked two miles to the ringside. It was a repetition of the first round, with Sandra attacking like a whirlwind and with the audience indignantly demanding why Queen did not fight. Beyond feinting and several slowly delivered and ineffectual blows she did nothing save block and stall and clinch. Sandra wanted to make the pace fast, while Queen, out of her wisdom, refused to accommodate her. She grinned with a certain wistful pathos in her ring- battered countenance, and went on cherishing her strength with the jealousy of which only Age is capable. Sandra was Youth, and she threw her strength away with the munificent abandon of Youth. To Queen belonged the ring veterans, the wisdom bred of long, aching fights. She watched with cool eyes and head, moving slowly and waiting for Sandra's froth to foam away. To the majority of the onlookers it seemed as though Queen was hopelessly outclassed, and they voiced their opinion in offers of three to one on Sandra. But there were wise ones, a few, who knew Queen of old time, and who covered what they considered easy money.
The third round began as usual, one-sided, with Sandra doing all the leading, and delivering all the punishment. A half-minute had passed when Sandra, over-confident, left an opening. Queen's eyes and right arm flashed in the same instant. It was her first real blow - a hook, with the twisted arch of the arm to make it rigid, and with all the weight of the half-pivoted body behind it. It was like a sleepy-seeming lioness suddenly thrusting out a lightning paw. Sandra, caught on the side of the jaw, was felled like a bullock. The audience gasped and murmured awe-stricken applause. The old woman was not muscle-bound, after all, and she could drive a blow like a trip-hammer.
Sandra was shaken. She rolled over and attempted to rise, but the sharp yells from her seconds to take the count restrained her. She knelt on one knee, ready to rise, and waited, while the referee stood over her, counting the seconds loudly in her ear. At the ninth she rose in fighting attitude, and Tamar Queen, facing her, knew regret that the blow had not been an inch nearer the point of the jaw. That would have been a knock-out, and she could have carried the thirty quid home. The round continued to the end of its two minutes, Sandra for the first time respectful of her opponent and Queen slow of movement and sleepy-eyed as ever. As the round neared its close, Queen, warned of the fact by sight of the seconds crouching outside ready for the spring in through the ropes, worked the fight around to her own corner. And when the gong struck, she sat down immediately on the waiting stool, while Sandra had to walk all the way across the diagonal of the square to her own corner. It was a little thing, but it was the sum of little things that counted. Sandra was compelled to walk that many more steps, to give up that much energy, and to lose a part of the precious minute of rest. At the beginning of every round Queen loafed slowly out from her corner, forcing her opponent to advance the greater distance. The end of every round found the fight maneuvered by Queen into her own corner so that she could immediately sit down.
The next round went by, in which Queen was parsimonious of effort and Sandra prodigal. The latter's attempt to force a fast pace made Queen uncomfortable, for a fair percentage of the multitudinous blows showered upon her went home. Yet Queen persisted in her dogged slowness, despite the crying of the young hot-heads for her to go in and fight. Again, in the sixth round, Sandra was careless, again Tamar Queen’s fearful right flashed out to the jaw, and again Sandra took the nine seconds count.
By the fifth round Sandra's pink of condition was gone, and she settled down to what she knew was to be the hardest fight in her experience. Tamar Queen was an old un, but a better old un than she had ever encountered - an old un who never lost her head, who was remarkably able at defense, whose blows had the impact of a knotted club, and who had a knockout in either hand. Nevertheless, Tamar Queen dared not hit often. She never forgot her battered knuckles, and knew that every hit must count if the knuckles were to last out the fight. As she sat in her corner, glancing across at her opponent, the thought came to her that the sum of her wisdom and Sandra's youth would constitute a world's champion heavyweight. But that was the trouble. Sandra would never become a world champion. She lacked the wisdom, and the only way for her to get it was to buy it with Youth; and when wisdom was her, Youth would have been spent in buying it.
Queen took every advantage she knew. She never missed an opportunity to clinch, and in effecting most of the clinches her shoulder drove stiffly into the other's ribs and breasts. In the philosophy of the ring a shoulder was as good as a punch so far as damage was concerned, and a great deal better so far as concerned expenditure of effort. Also, in the clinches Queen rested her weight on her opponent, and was loath to let go. This compelled the interference of the referee, who tore them apart, always assisted by Sandra, who had not yet learned to rest. She could not refrain from using those glorious flying arms and writhing muscles of her, and when the other rushed into a clinch, striking shoulder against ribs, and with head resting under Sandra's left arm, Sandra almost invariably swung her right behind her own back and into the projecting face. It was a clever stroke, much admired by the audience, but it was not dangerous, and was, therefore, just that much wasted strength. But Sandra was tireless and unaware of limitations, and Queen grinned and doggedly endured. Sandra developed a fierce right to the body, which made it appear that Queen was taking an enormous amount of punishment, and it was only the old ringsters who appreciated the deft touch of Queen's left glove to the other's biceps just before the impact of the blow. It was true, the blow landed each time; but each time it was robbed of its power by that touch on the biceps.
In the sixth round, three times inside a minute, Queen's right hooked its twisted arch to the jaw; and three times Sandra's body, heavy as it was, was levelled to the mat. Each time she took the nine seconds allowed her and rose to her feet, shaken and jarred, but still strong. She had lost much of her speed, and she wasted less effort. She was fighting grimly; but she continued to draw upon her chief asset, which was Youth. Queen's chief asset was experience. As her vitality had dimmed and her vigor abated, she had replaced them with cunning, with wisdom born of the long fights and with a careful shepherding of strength. Not alone had she learned never to make a superfluous movement, but she had learned how to seduce an opponent into throwing her strength away. Again and again, by feint of foot and hand and body she continued to inveigle Sandra into leaping back, ducking, or countering. Queen rested, but she never permitted Sandra to rest. It was the strategy of Age.
Early in the seventh round Queen began stopping the other's rushes with straight lefts to the face, and Sandra, grown wary, responded by drawing the left, then by ducking it and delivering her right in a swinging hook to the side of the head. It was too high up to be vitally effective; but when first it landed, Queen knew the old, familiar descent of the black veil of unconsciousness across her mind. For the instant, or for the slightest fraction of an instant, rather, she ceased. In the one moment she saw her opponent ducking out of her field of vision and the background of white, watching faces; in the next moment she again saw her opponent and the background of faces. It was as if she had slept for a time and just opened her eyes again, and yet the interval of unconsciousness was so microscopically short that there had been no time for her to fall. The audience saw her totter and her knees give, and then saw her recover and tuck her chin deeper into the shelter of her left shoulder.
Several times Sandra repeated the blow, keeping Queen partially dazed, and then the latter worked out her defense, which was also a counter. Feinting with her left she took a half-step backward, at the same time upper cutting with the whole strength of her right. So accurately was it timed that it landed squarely on Sandra's face in the full, downward sweep of the duck, and Sandra lifted in the air and curled backward, striking the mat on her head and shoulders. Twice Queen achieved this, then turned loose and hammered her opponent to the ropes. She gave Sandra no chance to rest or to set herself, but smashed blow in upon blow till the house rose to its feet and the air was filled with an unbroken roar of applause. But Sandra's strength and endurance were superb, and she continued to stay on her feet. A knockout seemed certain, and a captain of police, appalled at the dreadful punishment, arose by the ringside to stop the fight. The gong struck for the end of the round and Sandra staggered to her corner, protesting to the captain that she was sound and strong. To prove it, she threw two back-air-springs, and the police captain gave in.
Tamar Queen, leaning back in her corner and breathing hard, was disappointed. If the fight had been stopped, the referee, perforce, would have rendered her the decision and the purse would have been her. Unlike Sandra, she was not fighting for glory or career, but for thirty quid. And now Sandra would recuperate in the minute of rest. Youth will be served - this saying flashed into Queen's mind, and she remembered the first time she had heard it, the night when she had put away Stella Bill. The toff who had bought her a drink after the fight and patted her on the shoulder had used those words. Youth will be served! The toff was right. And on that night in the long ago she had been Youth. Tonight Youth sat in the opposite corner. As for herself, she had been fighting for fifteen minutes now, and she was an old woman. Had she fought like Sandra, she would not have lasted five minutes. But the point was that she did not recuperate. Those upstanding arteries and that sorely tried heart would not enable her to gather strength in the intervals between the rounds. And she had not had sufficient strength in her to begin with. Her legs were heavy under her and beginning to cramp. She should not have walked those two miles to the fight.
With the gong that opened the eight round, Sandra rushed, making a show of freshness which she did not really possess. Queen knew it for what it was - a bluff as old as the game itself. She clinched to save herself, then, going free, allowed Sandra to get set. This was what Queen desired. She feinted with her left, drew the answering duck and swinging upward hook, then made the half-step backward, delivered the upper cut full to the face and crumpled Sandra over to the mat. After that she never let her rest, receiving punishment herself, but inflicting far more, smashing Sandra to the ropes, hooking and driving all manner of blows into her, tearing away from her clinches or punching her out of attempted clinches, and ever when Sandra would have fallen, catching her with one uplifting hand and with the other immediately smashing her into the ropes where she could not fall.
The house by this time had gone mad, and it was her house, nearly every voice yelling: "Go it, Tamar!" "Get 'er! Get 'er!" "You've got 'er, Tamar! You've got 'er!" It was to be a whirlwind finish, and that was what a ringside audience paid to see.
And Tamar Queen, who for half an hour had conserved her strength, now expended it prodigally in the one great effort she knew she had in her. It was her one chance - now or not at all. Her strength was waning fast, and her hope was that before the last of it ebbed out of her she would have beaten her opponent down for the count. And as she continued to strike and force, coolly estimating the weight of her blows and the quality of the damage wrought, she realized how hard a woman Sandra was to knock out. Stamina and endurance were her to an extreme degree, and they were the virgin stamina and endurance of Youth.
Sandra was certainly a coming girl. She had it in her. Only out of such rugged fibre were successful fighters fashioned. Sandra was reeling and staggering, but Tamar Queen’s legs were cramping and her knuckles going back on her. Yet she steeled herself to strike the fierce blows, every one of which brought anguish to her tortured hands. Though now she was receiving practically no punishment, she was weakening as rapidly as the other. Her blows went home, but there was no longer the weight behind them, and each blow was the result of a severe effort of will. Her legs were like lead, and they dragged visibly under her; while Sandra's backers, cheered by this symptom, began calling encouragement to their girl.
Queen was spurred to a burst of effort. She delivered two blows in succession - a left, a trifle too high, to the breasts (instead of solar plexus), and a right cross to the jaw. They were not heavy blows, yet so weak and dazed was Sandra that she went down and lay quivering. The referee stood over her, shouting the count of the fatal seconds in her ear. If before the tenth second was called, she did not rise, the fight was lost. The house stood in hushed silence. Queen rested on trembling legs. A mortal dizziness was upon her, and before her eyes the sea of faces sagged and swayed, while to her ears, as from a remote distance, came the count of the referee. Yet she looked upon the fight as her. It was impossible that a girl so punished could rise.
Only Youth could rise, and Sandra rose. At the fourth second she rolled over on her face and groped blindly for the ropes. By the seventh second she had dragged herself to her knee, where she rested, her head rolling groggily on her shoulders. As the referee cried "Nine!" Sandra stood upright, in proper stalling position, her left arm wrapped about her face, her right wrapped about her stomach. Thus were her vital points guarded, while she lurched forward toward Queen in the hope of effecting a clinch and gaining more time. At the instant Sandra arose, Queen was at her, but the two blows she delivered were muffled on the stalled arms. The next moment Sandra was in the clinch and holding on desperately while the referee strove to drag the two women apart. Queen helped to force herself free. She knew the rapidity with which Youth recovered, and she knew that Sandra was her if she could prevent that recovery. One stiff punch would do it. Sandra was her, indubitably her. She had out-generalled her, out-fought her out-pointed her. Sandra reeled out of the clinch, balanced on the hair line between defeat or survival. One good blow would topple her over and down and out. She nerved herself for the blow, but it was not heavy enough nor swift enough. Sandra swayed, but did not fall, staggering back to the ropes and holding on. Queen staggered after her, and, with a pang like that of dissolution, delivered another blow. But her body had deserted her. All that was left of her was a fighting intelligence that was dimmed and clouded from exhaustion. The blow that was aimed for the jaw struck no higher than the shoulder. She had willed the blow higher, but the tired muscles had not been able to obey. And, from the impact of the blow, Tamar Queen herself reeled back and nearly fell. Once again she strove. This time her punch missed altogether, and, from absolute weakness, she fell against Sandra and clinched, holding on to her to save herself from sinking to the floor.
Queen did not attempt to free herself. She had shot her bolt. She was gone. And Youth had been served. Even in the clinch she could feel Sandra growing stronger against her. When the referee thrust them apart, there, before her eyes, she saw Youth recuperate. From instant to instant Sandra grew stronger. Her punches, weak and futile at first, became stiff and accurate. Tamar Queen’s bleared eyes saw the gloved fist driving at her jaw, and she willed to guard it by interposing her arm. She saw the danger, willed the act; but the arm was too heavy. It seemed burdened with a hundredweight of lead. It would not lift itself, and she strove to lift it with her soul. Then the gloved fist landed home. She experienced a sharp snap that was like an electric spark, and, simultaneously, the veil of blackness enveloped her.
When she opened her eyes again she was in her corner, and she heard the yelling of the audience like the roar of a sea surf. A wet sponge was being pressed against the base of her brain, and Sid Sullivan was blowing cold water in a refreshing spray over her face and chest. Her gloves had already been removed, and Sandra, bending over her, was shaking her hand. She bore no ill-will toward the girl who had put her out and she returned the grip with a heartiness that made her battered knuckles protest.
Then Sandra stepped to the centre of the ring and the audience hushed its pandemonium to hear her accept the challenge by young boxing star Jenny the Babe and offer to increase the side bet to one hundred pounds. Queen looked on apathetically while her seconds mopped the streaming water from her, dried her face, and prepared her to leave the ring. She remembered back into the fight to the moment when she had Sandra swaying and tottering on the hair-line balance of defeat.
Her seconds were half-supporting her as they helped her through the ropes. She tore free from them, ducked through the ropes unaided, and leaped heavily to the floor, following on their heels as they forced a passage for her down the crowded centre aisle.
Leaving the dressing-room for the street, in the entrance to the hall, some young fellow spoke to her. "W'y didn't yuh go in an' get 'er when yuh 'ad 'er?" the young fellow asked. "Aw, go to hell!" said Tamar Queen, and passed down the steps to the sidewalk.
Her wretchedness overwhelmed her, and into her eyes came an unwonted moisture. She covered her face with her hands, and, as she cried, she remembered Stella Bill and how she had served her that night in the long ago. Poor old Stella Bill! She could understand now why Bill had cried in the dressing-room…