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ford, disappearing over the hill, our steps and faces turned to London town, that seething whirlpool of human woe and pleasure.
The air was cold and the country roads were rutty and muddy, but the autumn landscape was beautiful, in its gray and purple garb, while the notes of flitting wild birds chirped and sang from bush, hedge, field and forest, in a mournful monotone to the fading glory of the year.
The various birds chattered in clumps along the highway, and then would rise over our heads in flitting flocks, steering their course to the south and seemingly accompanying us on our wandering way to the great metropolis.
In our zigzag course we passed through the towns of Ettington, Oxhill, Wroxton, Woodstock, EverIsham and Oxford.
It was near sunset when the lofty towers and steeples of ancient Oxford, the great site of classic lore, met our view. In our haste to enter the city before dark, we jumped a hedge fence and stone wall, making a short cross-cut over the lordly domain of the Earl of Norfolk, and just as we were again emerging into the great road, a gamekeeper was seen approaching with a huge mastiff, who rushed upon us like a lion.
We were near a rough wall, and it appeared to both of us that unless we stood for immediate fight the dog would tear us to pieces.
The gamekeeper urged the dog in his barking, mad career, but just as he made a grand leap at William's throat, his blackthorn cudgel came down with a whirl and broke the forelegs of the mastiff, sending him to earth with a growl and
roar that could be heard over the castle walls that loomed up in the evening gray. The gamekeeper aimed a blunderbuss at the Bard, but ere he could fire the deadly weapon, I jumped on the petty tyrant whelp, and cudgeled his face into a macerated beefsteak.
We then leaped the garden wall and rushed into the city crowd where the curtains of night screened us from dogs and licentious lords.
We found our way to the Crown Tavern, kept by Richard Devanant and his buxom black-eyed
The old Boniface was jolly, but was in his physical and spiritual dotage, yet "Nell," his second wife, was the life of the place, being immensely popular with the Oxford students, who circled about the "Crown" in midnight hours, with hilarious independence, that defied the raids of beadles, watchmen and armed constabulary.
Those were gay and roystering days and nights when the greatest yeoman, tradesman, student, or lord, was the one who "drank his comrade under the table" and went away at sunrise like a lark, fluttering with dew from his downy wing, and soaring into the sky of beauty and action.
It was Saturday night when we pulled up at the old tavern, and there seemed to be a great crowd of town people celebrating some local event.
We soon found that the senior class of Oxonian students had conquered the senior class of Cambridge at a great game of inter-college football and the cheers and yells of Oxford bloods permeated the atmosphere until midnight.
A round table spread in the tavern hall was
loaded with food and liquors, while songs and speeches were given with a vim, all boasting of the prowess and patriotism of Oxford.
A number of strolling players and boxers were introduced during the evening.
A young lord named Bob Burleigh, was president of the club, while Mat Monmouth was the spokesman, who called on the various students and actors to entertain the town roysters who dropped in to see the free and easy celebration of the football victory.
While drowning our grief and loneliness in pewter pots of ale at a side table, in snug corner, who should slap William on the shoulder but Ned Sadler, our old schoolmate from Stratford. Ned was a jolly rake, and had been in London sporting with theatrical companies, and, as a citizen of the world, was perfectly at home wherever night overtook him.
At the height of the college banquet Mat Monmouth announced that the president of the Cambridge Boxing Club had just challenged the president of the Oxford Club to fight, under the King's rule, for a purse of twenty guineas.
A wild cheer rent the room, and instanter the chairs and tables were pushed aside, when Dick Milton and Jack Norfolk stepped into the improvised prize ring, made by the circling arms of the students.
Five rounds with gloves were to be fought, and the champion who knocked out his opponent three times, should be the victor.
Dick Milton, the Cambridge athlete, when "time" was called, rushed on Jack Norfolk, the
Oxford man, with a blow that sent him over the circling arms and into the chairs.
Score one for Dick.
Time was called, and Jack, although a little dazed, leaped at his opponent, who dodged the rush, and with a quick turn got in a left-hander on Jack's neck, and pastured him again among the yelling bloods.
Score two for Dick.
When time was called for the third round, the Oxford man looked bleary and tremulous, but with that bull-dog courage that never deserts an Englishman, he threw himself on the Cambridge man with great force and both went down with a crash.
Dick shook his opponent off like a terrier would a rat, and standing erect at the end of the room, waited for the call of time.
Jack Norfolk did not respond to the call.
Then the yell of the Cambridge students could be heard among the turrets and gables of classic Oxford, a recompense for their defeat at the afternoon football game.
Dick Milton, flushed with wine and victory, held aloft the purse of guineas, and challenged any man in the room to fight him three rounds.
There seemed to be no immediate response, but I noticed a flush in the face of William, who modestly rose in his six-foot form and asked if the challenge included outside citizens?
Dick immediately replied, "You, or anybody in England." William said he did not know much about fighting with gloves, but if the gentleman
would consent to three rounds with bare knuckles he would be pleased to accommodate him at once. "All right, toe the mark!"
Mat Monmouth called time.
Dick Milton made a tiger leap at William, and landed with his right eye on the right knuckles of the Stratford citizen. The quickness and science of the Bard was a great surprise to the Cambridge athlete, and when time was called he came up groggy with a funeral eye, on the defense, and not on the tiger attack.
Considerable sparring for place, and dodging about the human ring, was indulged in by Dick, but William foiled each blow, and as the Cambridge man inadvertently rubbed his swollen eye, the Bard landed a stinging blow on the left optic of Milton and sent him into the arms of the landlord.
When time was called, no response from the Cambridge champion was heard, and Mat Monmouth handed over the prize purse to William, when the Oxford lads cheered the Stratford stranger to the echo, and made him an honorary member of their athletic club.
"Screw your courage to the sticking place, And we will not fail."
'At the second crow of the cock William and myself bid good-bye to the jolly Boniface and his fantastic spouse, who made a deep impression on the Bard. In fact, he was easily impressed when youth, beauty and pleasure reigned around, and had he been born in Kentucky, no blue ribbon