FICTION

Blanc-Mange

J. CECIL NELSON June 15 1933
FICTION

Blanc-Mange

J. CECIL NELSON June 15 1933

Blanc-Mange

J. CECIL NELSON

PEAVIE" PETE was a high-rigger.

Do you know what a high-rigger is? Of course you don’t, so I’ll tell you. A highrigger is a lumberjack who earns his living climbing trees and lopping off the tops. It’s a tough racket. The trees out West, where the high-riggers work, are no toothpicks; some of them are 300 feet high. It’s bad enough to climb them, but when you have to swing a full-sized axe when you get there— well, you’ve got to know your stuff. If you don’t, that tree tip is as likely as not to drop its butt into your lap and wipe you out clean as a whistle.

Well, that’s what Peavie Pete has been doing for a living ever since he was eighteen.

The camp belonged to a man named Steve Wilson, and a whiter man you never met. Steve was a widower, and his daughter, Ann— a big, buxom dame with romantic ideas—was boss of the camp kitchen. How she cooked victuals and handled her heathen Chinee helper. So Lung, is nobody’s business.

This girl Ann was the life of the place. You know how lumberjacks work—slave for six months, collect their dough and head out for town and a big “bust.” There was nothing like that at Clear Water— the name of Wilson’s place. It ’s on Vancouver Island among the big sticks.

No, sir. The “jacks” of the Wilson camp stuck. Some of them had been there for years. Why? Because of the grub. Ann may not have been a Greta Garbo, but when it came to handling peas and potatoes and making beans behave, I never saw her equal. Anyhow, that’s why the men stuck by Wilson. Partly that, and partly because he was such a good scout himself.

Young Peavie Pete had been with him since the year one, and they were great pals. Like a son, Pete was, and I think he had a share in the business.

Pete’s big fight at the Forum in Montreal really started at that camp. It was about six years ago.

DANDY” DINMONT was king of the heavyweight fighters that year. He’s out hunting at the coast with his manager, little Ike Rabinowitz, getting in shape for the training grind before a title match with a challenger named Caplan in the fall.

Ike and Dandy hit Wilson’s camp one day toward the end of July. They intend to stay one night. They park for a week. It’s the grub again.

Ann, who reads her sporting news like girls used to read their Bibles, knows all about Dandy. He’s a handsome bird for a pug and she goes ga-ga over him, but instead of making a play for him in the usual way she aims at his heart through his stomach. She is not so dumb, at that.

Funny how love strikes different women. Ann didn't have much “it,” and she knew it; so she proceeds to do her stuff in the kitchen, and while Dandy is there, the boys eat like kings.

A couple of days before the pug pulls out, Ann dishes up her masterpiece. It’s a blanc-mange pudding. Now don’t sniff. When Ann makes a pudding, it’s none of your anaemic milk and custard affairs. This is the real thing, with all kinds of fancy stuff in it, including a touch of rum and some junk on top, with sliced cherries all round.

Well, friend Dinmont, who is a good-hearted boy, realizes that the girl is doing all this for his benefit, and he figures the least he can do is softsoap Ann a bit. So he offers to help wash up, and she and he have a real gabfest over the kitchen sink.

The fighter has a good line and gives her a lot of eyewash about life in Montreal, New York and points east, and draws her a lurid picture of his training camps. Ann has never been farther than Victoria, and she thinks from the way he talks that Montreal must be a fairyland. What the pug leaves out, she fills in with her imagination.

It’s a casual remark of Dandy’s that starts all the trouble. “You know', Ann,” he says, meaning nothing serious, “I haven’t tasted a pudding like that one of yours since I left home. You sure know' how to cook. We could use a girl like you at the training camp this fall. With grub like that, a man could lick his weight in wildcats.”

“Oh, Mr. Dinmont.” purrs Ann, blushing a shell pink. “Sure. I mean it,” says Dandy. “You could make a barrel of money cooking down East.”

Well, what Dandy tells her simmers in her noodle all night; and, as luck w'ould have it, she spills it all to Pete next day.

Pete may have been in love with the wench. It’s a wonder if he wasn't, because they had been together in that camp for years and there are darned few skirts of any kind m that neck of the woods. Anyhow, when he hears what Dandy has proposed. Pete’s plenty mad. He knows the camp will go to pieces if Ann pulls out and leaves the cooking to So Lung. It’s partly enlightened self-interest, too, because Pete’s fond of his grub. ' .

On top of that, Pete doesn’t like Dandy. The pug is a bit too slick for Pete. He doesn’t like Dandy’s swell high boots and whipcord trousers and soft yellow sweaters.

"Like a sissy," says Pete.

"Sissy,” comes back Ann, bridling, and she could bridle when necessary, believe me. “Say, he could lick all you jacks with one arm tied behind his back any wet week.” “Think so?” says Pete.

"Know so." says Ann.

“Well, I’ll show you, "says Pete, sore as a boil. "I hear he’s going to put on a show for the boys tomorrow. Tell him I'll take him on. It’ll be a pleasure.”

NOW, THAT WAS a fight worth travelling miles to see.

They clear a fiat spot behind the bunkhouse, and Wilson declares a half-holiday. And are they all there to see the show !

Dandy dons fighting trunks and Pete strips to his underpants in the bunkhouse. Wilson takes Pete’s comer; Ike handles Dandy. It’s intended to be a friendly sparring match to give Dandy a chance to strut his stuff, with Pete for the punching bag.

But Pete isn’t thinking that way at all. What Ann has told him rankles. He’s out for a real slugfest. The fact that Dandy has a string of knockouts behind him as long as your arm doesn’t phase Pete any.

They start calmly enough. Dandy does some fancy dancing, flicking his gloves into Pete’s face. Pete just stands there flat-footed, like a bull making up his mind to charge. All of a sudden he lets go and ties into Dandy with so much steam that the pug’s just a little bit surprised. Before Dandy knows what’s happened, Pete has landed a couple of stiff ones down around his tummy. And Pete’s punches are no child’s play. With his hamlike hands flailing around dangerously close to Dandy’s chin, the latter knows he has a fight on his hands.

So Dandy plays the kid a bit, and by smart footwork lays a couple up around Pete’s whiskers. That makes the lumberjack madder than ever. “This isn’t the way lumberjacks fight,” he says to himself, so he tears right in. lands a few' and takes plenty in return. He’s tough from climbing those trees of his, and he’s a hog for punishment.

Of course Dandy’s experience begins to tell, and it looks as though it won’t be long now'. But Pete’s got plenty left. He knows he can’t lick Dandy according to the rules laid down by the Marquis of Queensberry, so he shifts his tactics.

Watching his chance, he makes a dive, wraps his arms around Dandy’s middle and dumps him on the ground like a sack of sawdust. Then he takes aim, and before the boys can stop him has landed head first on Dandy’s breadbasket.

Well, no pug can stand a head-on collision with a 200pound lumberjack, and Dandy goes out like a lamp. Pete is proceeding with as nice a piece of throttling as you could wish when Wilson pries him loose and puts him under the pump.

That’s all the fighting there is that day, and little Ike is as sore as a boil because he’s afraid Pete has done his fighter permanent injury. Anyhow, they leave for the East next day.

A week later Ann disappears !

As expected, the camp starts to go to pieces almost at once. Those lumberjacks had been spoiled and, without Ann in the kitchen, start to make tracks for the city. Wilson’s in a tight spot and goes into a huddle w'ith Pete.

"I know' where she’s gone.” he says. “She told me that pug offered her a job as cook at his training camp, but I didn’t take her serious. We’ve got to get her back or close up the camp.”

“How?” says Pete.

“You go dow'n to Montreal and haul her back. I’ll stake you. Head for Dinmont’s camp and don’t come back without her. There’s a boat to Vancouver tonight. Start now and you’ll just make it.”

PETE REACHES Montreal about a week later with fifty bucks in his pocket, a carpet bag in his hand and one consuming ambition in his head. He’s still wearing his hobnailed boots, mackinaw shirt, heavy w'oollen pants, and a brand new hat he paid $1.50 for at a sale in Winnipeg. He’s a sight for sore eyes, and attracts as much attention as a movie star as he lumbers down the station platform.

^ ou couldn’t lose Pete in the w'oods in a fog, but he’s sure balled up by the noise and bustle of the city. When he gets to the street he hasn’t the faintest idea where he’s heading for, so when a taxi pirate grabs his bag and asks where he’s going, Pete greets him like a long-lost brother.

“I’m looking for a place where the boxers do their training,” he says.

“Okay, son,” says the taxi driver. “I’ll get you there in no time.”

He drives Pete all around Mount Royal, and when he finally lets him get off at Madame Currie’s gymnasium, Pete’s collateral is down to $45.

Pete drops his bag just inside the entrance and heads straight for a door marked “Gymnasium.” There’s a couple of members of the cauliflower fraternity lolling around, and as Pete gets within hailing distance one of them says:

“Hold on a minute, son. Where you goin’?”

“I’m looking for a girl,” says Pete.

“Well, there ain’t no skirts in this camp,” the other comes back, “so just turn around and scram.”

“Not till I’ve found Ann,” says Pete. “I've travelled two thousand miles to get her and I know she’s here.”

“Well, now, ain’t that just too bad!” says the pug with a wink at his friend. “We ain’t got no jane here, so out you go. my lad.” And they start to give him the bum’s rush.

But they don’t get far. Before they’ve gone three feet Pete whips around, and one of those pugs is laid low with a wallop that would have felled an ox. As the other closes in, Pete tosses him half way across the room. And neither was a featherweight either.

Pete’s still standing there, viewing the scene of carnage when Caplan and his manager, Joe Brown, arrive on the scene. Brown takes a look at his two fighters reclining on the floor and, hiding a grin, he turns to Pete:

“Say, fella, what’s the idea, throwing my boys around like this?”

“They started it,’’

says Pete, looking ready and willing to take all comers.

“Started what?“ says Joe.

“Tried to throw me out.” replies Pete.

“And why not?” comes back Brown. “We don’t allow people to stray around here, spying on Caplan’s workouts.”

"I’m not interested in his workouts. I’m looking for Ann.”

“Never heard of the woman. What makes you think your sweetie's here?”

“She’s not my girl, if that’s what you mean.” says Pete. “She’s cook at Wilson’s camp out West and she run out on us to work for that guy, Dinmont. I’m looking for him, too. This is his camp, isn’t it?”

“No, son,” says Joe, laughing. “You’ve struck the wrong stable. We’re fighting Dinmont ourselves, three weeks from tomorrow. This boy here is Caplan. You know him. He’s the lad who knocked out Sailor Smith last month in two rounds. He’s going to do the same to Dandy when he meets him. And these boys you have thrown around so playfully are Caplan’s sparring partners,” continues Joe. “You ought to apologize to them.”

There’s a trace of sarcasm in Joe's tone. He hasn’t been too pleased with his sparring partners. Two have walked out on him, and Caplan, who carries a wicked punch, has put a third in the hospital. Neither of the remaining two is good enough to give the challenger half a workout, and already there’s an idea percolating through Joe’s head.

“Well, where is this Dinmont bird? He’s the guy I’m looking for,” says Pete.

“It’s no use, son,” says Joe, lying. “He’s away up in the mountains, finishing his training in secret. It would cost you a small fortune to get there, and even if you did you’d never get near the camp. It’s guarded like the Bank of England.”

Pete looks puzzled at this. His geography is shaky, and when Joe mentions mountains he doesn’t know whether he’s talking about the Rockies or the Laurentians. Joe sees that Pete’s in a stew, and goes ahead with the rest of his speech.

“Yeah, it would cost a lot of jack,” he says casually, “but I tell you what, son. The fight’s only three weeks off and if you could stick around till then.”

“I haven’t enough money to loaf around all that time,” says Pete.

“Oh, that’s easy,” says Joe. “You stick around here and spar with the boys. I’ll pay you good money, and it will put you in shape to dean up on Dinmont when you meet him. He'll be moving into town the day before the fight, and the girl will sure be with him. All you got to do is sock Dinmont, grab the girl and board a train for the West. And you’ll have a pocket full of dough besides. What about it, son?”

The upshot of the whole business is that Pete is convinced it*8 the only thing to do, so he signs on.

JOE HAS SEEN a lot of pretty athletes in his day. but when Pete strips for his first day’s work with Caplan the old manager stands with his mouth open. H*»’s never seen anything quite so beautiful as that body of Pete’s. In his pelt Pete looks like a young Greek god. brown and hard and permanent-looking, like the trees he grew up with. There’s nothing chunky about him. His lines are smooth like a race horse’s, running down in rippling undulations from his broad, well-set shoulders to his trim waist and long, slim thighs.

Joe knows he has a find. Pete’s already shown that he has a fighting heart that’s what attracted Joe to him in the first place but on top of that he had a fighter’s body; all the material with which to build a champion.

Pete learns fast. He likes the feel of his hard fists sinking into Caplan's mid-section, and he finds there is a real thrill in placing a well-timed cross to the jaw. And while he’s not so hot on science, he’s willing and trades punches with Caplan without backing away. That’s just what Caplan needs, and Joe is tickled pink. He figures three good weeks with Pete and Caplan will be on edge for Mr. Dinmont.

But fate decides otherwise. It’s the afternoon of Thursday, and the big fight’s due for Saturday night. Caplan’s in the pink, and they decide to ease up on Friday except for some setting-up exercises and maybe a turn on the road.

Pete goes in with Caplan for the final workout. They spar as usual for two rounds, but as they mill around Pete begins to brood about Dinmont and pictures to himself just what he’s going to do to him when he gets the chance. And the more he thinks of the dirty trick the pug played on Wilson, the harder he fights.

Joe, standing against the ropes, beams. He can’t help admiring the way Pete’s handing it out to the challenger. The pace gets hotter. All of a sudden Pete, coming out of a clinch, lets go a haymaker that catches Caplan unawares and lands him on his back. He gives his head an awful wallop as he hits the floor.

Joe takes a look at his meal-ticket and his face drops. What he sees doesn’t please him any. Caplan’s got a glazed look in his eyes.

Joe calls the doc, and it’s thumbs down for Caplan. The doc says he’s got a light concussion and another hard blow might finish him for keeps. Caplan, of course, wants to go on, but old saw-bones ties the can to that. And is Joe sore?

“What do you mean, handing out a clout like that? Who do you think you are? Dempsey?”

“I’m sorry, Mr. Brown,” says Pete and he means it. “I didn’t mean to hurt him, honest I didn’t.”

Boy, that kid didn’t know' his own strength.

“Sorry! Sure you’re sorry, but that doesn’t help me. There’s a fight Saturday night, you palooka a sell-out — and now I haven’t anyone to send in. What am I going to do about that?”

“I ’ll fight,” says Pete.

“You? Say, listen; you wouldn’t last a round with Dinmont. He’s the champion, you mug. and you’ve only been at the game three wreeks.”

“I licked him once, and I guess I can again,” returns Pete.

"Oh. You licked him once, did you, Dempsey?”

“Yes; out West, when he visited the camp,” says Pete, matter of fact.

“The devil you say,” exclaims Joe, now' realizing the kid’s not lying. “Wait a minute. Let me think.”

Joe goes into a huddle with his publicity manager and a couple of the boys. The publicity hound is all for letting Pete go in against Dinmont.

“Why,” says he, “it’s a wow of a story. The papers w'ould eat it up, and the fans always did fall for a fight over a girl. We could play up all that stuff about the girl being stolen by Dinmont, and our Lothario’s thirst for revenge. We could have Pete talk blood and thunder in the Friday papers and make it look like a .Spanish bull-fight. Go ahead, boss. It’s your only chance; and, besides, the boy’s good. He might spring a surprise.”

Well, they jaw a bit longer and finally convince Joe that Pete’s his best bet, particularly as his chances of getting any first-rater to meet Dinmont on such short notice are slim.

“All right, boys; spill it to the papers, but make it a good story. Believe me, it’s got to be good, with the house practically sold out.”

OF COURSE, the newspaper boys aren’t taken in.

They know the story is a lot of boloney, but it’s got sex appeal and they give it a swell play all over the sports pages. To read what they write, you’d think Ann was a Garbo, and Pete another Barrymore who had travelled 2,000 miles to avenge her honor.

The fans eat it up, just as the publicity hound predicted, and if a few ask for their money back when they learn that Caplan is definitely out. there are twñce as many other paying customers clamoring for tickets. When the gong rings for the second preliminary they’re hanging from the rafters.

And what a night that was !

As usual, Dandy’s late, but Pete’s right on the dot. He stamps down the aisle looking like a Roman gladiator. Nobody seems to notice him till he climbs through the ropes and plumps himself down in his corner. They’re all looking for Dandy, who is a popular fighter. Besides, Pete isn’t wise to the fine art of ring showmanship, and even when a few start to clap he hasn’t sense enough to get up and bow gracefully.

“Where’s your manners?” says Joe. “Get up and bow.” You should have seen it—like a cross between a curtsy and a sw'an dance. It got a laugh anyhow.

Pretty soon Dandy hovers over the horizon, followed by a whole retinue of retainers. He’s wearing his famous black silk dressing gowrn with the skull and crossbones on the back. The crowd’s on its feet before he’s halfway to the ring, and when he climbs through the ropes they go wild.

He’s a great actor as well as a scrapper is Dandy, so he prances out to the centre of the ring, displays several gold teeth to the customers and shakes hands with himself several times. He believes in giving the fans their money's worth.

That's just where Pete made his second social blunder, and it's Ann who is at the bottom of it. Pete sees her come in with Dandy’s crow-d and take a seat at the ringside; and no sooner does he lay eyes on her than he’s across the ring and hanging over the ropes, giving the girl the worst tongue lacing she’s had since her mother died.

“It’s about time you showed up,” he yells at her just at the climax of Dandy’s solo act. “I’m sick of hanging around this burg looking for you and, believe me. when I’m through with this lily of the valley, you're coming back with me, do you hear?”

Of course she hears. Everybody in the Forum heard, and Pete’s stolen the spotlight from Dandy even if he doesn’t know it. And the girl hasn't a come-back. She’s too flabbergasted. Truth to tell, she’s feeling just a bit sorry for herself, too. Things at the training camp haven’t been too rosy. Dandy is so busy with his training that he has no time for his new cook, and she’s had to work pretty hard herself.

During the last couple of weeks she’s got to thinking about the old camp out West, about Wilson and the boys she lived with most of her life. She imagines what the trees smell like in the autumn as compared to the sweat of the training camp. Taken all in all, she's just about ready to pull stakes.

On top of that, there’s this stuff in the papers about Pete being in love with her. She has always had a soft spot in her heart for the boy. and so now she just naturally swallows it as gospel. She even begins to dream of a home of her own, a

family of kids and yards of clothesline weighted down with diapers, and she’s plumb homesick. So she just looks up at Pete with a calf look in her eyes and wishes somehow he didn't have to fight Dandy.

But Pete sure has spoiled Dandy's solo act. and the champ is raving. Pete is still in the middle of his impromptu oration when Dandy reaches him and whirls him around.

“Get back to your comer where you belong,” he hisses.“Try and put me there,” says Pete between his teeth. Well, the fight nearly starts right there. Pete makes a pass at Dandy and starts another on its w'ay, but Joe nabs him and leads him back to his comer.

“Say, what in blazes are you trying to celebrate?” says Joe. “Cool down. Save your steam till the gong.”

Pete’s in a fever of excitement. Joe’s never handled anybody quite like him before. He figures there’s going to be a crash, but he knows Pete will go down fighting. It’s only a question of how long he will last.

“Seconds out.”

They pull the stool from under Pete.

The gong !

PETE MAKES a wild dash across the ring and gets to Dandy before the latter is set. He nails the champ with a beauty right on the point. Down goes Dandy in a heap. He gets to his knees, shakes his head to clear out some of the stars, and is up again with rage written all over his face.

He’s not hurt much, but his pride is and he tears into Pete like a wild man. He plasters the boy all over the lot, arms working like triphammers, but Pete just leans against those wallops and lets go with some of his own. He takes plenty in that first round but he’s as hard as iron, and for every ter shots he aims at Dandy five of them land and some of them hurt. You can tell that from the look on Dandy’s face.

Before the round is over Fete’s been down for a count of three, and Dandy has been driven half through the ropes by one of Pete’s wild swings. The crowd’s gone crazy—everybody on their feet, yelling.

As Pete gets to his comer Joe grabs him by the shoulders and gives him some straight talk.

“Listen, you wild man,” he says, “there’s ten sessions of this. Slow up and keep your head or you won’t last another round. You won’t catch him like that again. A few more whirling dervish acts like the last one and he’ll nail you sure as shooting.”

But Pete’s not listening. The gong goes again, and he’s after his man like a hungry lion after his dinner. Dandy tries to play him, but Pete keeps w'ading in, and it looks like it’s going to be just one grand slug party until somebodydrops from sheer exhaustion.

The next four rounds are the same—fast and furious. It’s a fight all right, and the fans know' it. How those boys stand up to it is a marvel. But by the seventh they’re both getting a little tired ; slowing dowrn. It’s a cinch there’s not much to choose between them so far. Joe’s given up trying to advise the kid. Pete’s got the bit in his teeth, and Joe’s wise enough to let him fight his own battle.

Things begin to happen in the seventh. Dandy’s been doing some tall thinking. He figures he’ll let Pete do all the work for a round and then give him the works in the eighth. Pete sees that Dandy is stalling, and he thinks the champ is worse off than he is. He goes after him, but Dandy’s not there. Most of Pete’s blows glance off Dandy’s gloves without doing any damage.

When Pete starts for his comer at the end of that round he finds his knees are a bit wobbly. One of his eyes is closing up, and his arms and legs don’t seem to synchronize.

Dandy comes up for the eighth pretty fresh, and he knows he has Pete where he wants him. Joe groans. He’s seen Dandy's plan of campaign.

Dandy feints Pete off balance and lets him have all he’s got. It looks like lights out for the kid. Before the round’s half over Pete looks helpless. Dandy measures him with a left and lets go a haymaker with his right. It catches the kid on the chin and he falls forward, out cold, just as if he’d been poleaxed. He hears the countseven, eight, nine—hears the roar of the crowd. He sees Ann’s scared eyes level with the floor of the ring. He manages to rise.

Dandy plays for his middle, and Pete’s almost out on his feet. One more punch and it’ll be all over but the shouting.

Punch drunk, Pete's mind plays him tricks. He imagines he’s back in camp in a rough-and-tumble with the boys. Dandy, dancing around out of reach, is just another lumber jack who has hurt him. He makes a final despairing dive at that nebulous figure and somehow gets in close. His great arms wrap themselves around the champion’s body. Pete lifts Dandy free of the floor and thumps him down in a comer. Through his one good eye he seer, the form at his feet and he dives at it.

Dandy manages to squirm to one side just as Pete drops. The kid goes through the ropes and crashes into a comer post.

Now' he’s really knocked out.

Pete lies there like a dead man. Before Joe or anyone else can get to him. Ann’s there in the ring, his head in her lap, mopping his bloody face with her handkerchief.

“Speak to me, Pete; speak to me,” she moans. ‘Til go

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back with you when you like. I swear I will.” But Pete was not doing any speaking, and i they cart him off to the dressing room.

The doc works on him, and pretty soon Pete opens his one good eye. He’s no sooner come to than he wants to have another sock at Dandy. You couldn’t stop that baby. They hold him down and eventually convince him the fight’s over.

Then he sees Ann and grins. She smiles ' hack and makes a grab for his hand.

"I'll go back with you. Pete,” she says. "I’m through with Dinmont and fighting for gcxxi.”

“It's about time.” says Pete from the ! table. "Pack your stuff. We’re leaving in the morning.”

AND THAT'S what happened. They ( had breakfast together in the station restaurant, and Pete’s as right as rain to judge from his appetite.

He orders a man-sized steak smothered with onions, about a pound of French fried ; potatoes, and mince pie. Ann just sits there

gazing at him tucking the food away and kind of hoping for the words that don't seem to come.

“Do I like beefsteak!” says Pete between mouthfuls. “Eat up, Ann. You won’t get another meal until noon.”

But Ann can’t eat. Her heart’s too full just now.

“Pete.” she whispers finally as he comes up for air.

“Isn’t there something you like better than beefsteak and spuds? Somebody—I j mean something—that’s not a bit like food?” And she drops her eyes to the tablecloth.

Pete scratches his head and thinks hard for a full minute. Finally he looks up, relieved.

‘A eah,” says Pete. “If there’s one thing I like better than beefsteak and F'rench fried, it s some of that blanc-mange pudding you used to make* at camp.” And he downs another cup of coffee.