THE KNIFE. THROWER.
It was on Earlestown Market that I first saw the knife thrower, you know, where a woman stands against a board with arms outstretched, and a man throws axes and knives around her form from head to toe. When this knife-throwing business was in fashion on the music-hall stage this little chestnut derived its being from it. The performance was being given as a turn in a music-hall in Lancashire. The curtain went up and the orchestra struck up with a loud clash heralding the two performers on the stage. In this case it looked impossible to get a more disreputable-looking woman, bleared-eyed, no doubt with drink, red faced and blotchy. A regular apples and pears or lemons. She stands against the boards with arms outstretched, while the man takes up the first knife to throw. The orchestra ceases and a death-like silence prevails. Whizz, goes the knife through the air, and ping, it sticks in the board ; then a rough voice shouted from the gallery: “Good God, hes missed her!”
THE BOXING SHOWS.
The boxing booths were always a great attraction. Many a good battle have I seen, and many a surprise have I seen, in the manner of one of the men belonging to the show being taken in. Most of you know the usual routine of the boxing booth.
The proprietor has his men arrayed on a raised platform outside the show, introduces them to the crowd, then issues invitations for anyone to come and have the mits on with any of his lads. On one occasion an officer of the Salvation Army was standing on the fringe of the crowd, appearing to be listening to the talk of the show. The proprietor thought he had a chance of making a bit of capital at the expense of the “Army ” man, so he called out: “Gentlemen, we have a captain of the Salvation Army amongst us, wouldnt it be fun to see him in the ring. Now, captain, what do you say about coming in and having three rounds with the Slogger? He wont hurt you.” The officer took not the slightest notice of him, and this seemed to get the showmans “goat.”
“Ill tell you what Ill do with you, if you will only just come in and have three rounds. Ill give you half-a-crown and throw you two shillings on the drum.” At the mention of the drum, the captain appeared to become interested in the showman. If the showman could only get the Salvationist into the show he was assured of a good gate, and thats what he was after. Once more he appealed to the captain, but it didnt come off, and he then started ridiculing the ” Army ” and, of course, even Salvation Army officers are only human and apt to stray like the rest of us.
The showman wasnt slow in noticing that his ridiculing the ” Army ” was having effect on the captain, and it was here the showman made the mistake of daring the captain to have a go. “Who are you to dare anyone? You have said quite sufficient against the Army, now Im coming in to show you what the Army can do.” Just what the proprietor wanted. You had a job to get in the show. The captain said he would like to have a go at his best man. ” You will be obliged, captain,” said the showman, in rather a sarcastic manner.
Into the ring the captain climbed, and what a contrast he looked with his uniform on, compared with the “Slogger,” who was already in the ring. What made the contrast more marked was that the captain was a good-looking chap and had a pleasant smile, whereas the “Slogger” was a typical old-time fighter, with the usual kink in the bridge of his nose, and nostrils spread over his face. A real work of art.
“THE FALLEN CRUSADER.”
When the captain quietly divested himself of his coat and hat he said to the proprietor: ” Will you be as quick as you can, please?” “Anything to oblige a captain,” he replied. Then turning to the ” Slogger ” he said, ” Now, ` Slogger, attend to this gentlemans wants as soon as you possibly can.”
I must give the “Slogger” credit for being able to smile, as with a smile all over his tender-skinned face, he answered: ” Jam on both sides of it this time, boss.”
Of course, that remark suited most of the audience, knowing that they were going to enjoy a real slam. On the other hand, it didnt suit one or two of us who knew the captain for the good fellow he was, and we had no desire to see him knocked about by this regular bruiser. Often had we stood on the Market, round the captains ring, listening to his testimony of his fighting the Devil, and little did I think we would stand round the ring watching him fight the “Slogger.”
The gloves were put on the captain in no time and, my word, they were gloves compared with the ” Sloggers “; they looked three times the size. Into the middle of the ring the proprietor called them both for the introduction. When asked for his name, the captain replied, ” You had better call me the Fallen Crusader. ” How the proprietor laughed at that, and he could hardly keep his face straight as he called out: “Gentlemen, on my right, I have Jim Muldoon, alias The Slogger, 10-stone champion of Ireland, hero of a hundred fights and never been knocked out.”
Of course, in those days in the boxing booths they were always introduced as champions. The only real champion that ever I saw introduced on Earlestown Market was Jem Mace. “On my left, I have The Fallen Crusader. ” At that quite a laugh came from the audience, which swelled into a roar on hearing ” The Slogger ” start singing in a jocular manner, “Yes, let me like a soldier fall.”
That just about put the “tin hat” on the captain, as I took particular notice of his face, and I saw his lips tighten, which made me think ” The Slogger” wasnt going to have it all his own way.
“Time,” shouted the referee. When they advanced to meet, a wag in the audience called out, “Beauty and the Beast.” Another called out, ” Dont forget, Slogger, hes in a hurry.”The captain was in a hurry, as he explained afterwards to the audience. It certainly looked odds-on ” The Slogger,” but once more the ” dead cert ” failed to come up, and the fight turned out a complete frost. The captain made no more to do than walk (no not straight into ” The Sloggers ” deadly left)?straight up to ” The Slogger,” feinted with his left, which brought “The Slogger ” off his guard, then up came his right with as nice a timed clout as it has been my lot to see, and bump, on the floor “The Slogger ” lay.
I dont know whether it was the same wag who had called out, ” Beauty and the Beast,” but a voice somewhat similar started to sing as ” The Slogger ” fell: ” I saw the old homestead and faces I love.” The captain was the very first to attend to ” The Slogger,” helping to carry him to his corner. He then asked them to take his gloves off, and he put his hat and coat on.
I have missed one bit out. I should have told you, that when “The Slogger ” had had the ” shutters put up,” the referee started to count, when the captain said in a gentle voice, ” Not necessary, my friend.”
It was some little time before “The Slogger” came round, yet the captain remained in the ring until he hat, properly revived. There was no grievance between the captain and ” The Slogger,” as was plainly seen, when “The Slogger” came to, for he said to the captain, “You took me by surprise, mate.”
To which the captain replied smilingly, ” Theres nothing like doing it on em quick.” He then turned to the audience, and said: ” Brethren, I think it only right that I should explain matters in fairness to my opponent. He has just remarked that I surprised him, and I have. No doubt most of you have been surprised.” To which the audience readily assented. He then told them who he was. (I wont mention his name). He certainly had taken ” The Slogger ” by surprise, because he was an aspirant for the 10-stone championship of England, but on marrying a Salvation Army lassie he had thrown up fighting man and taken to fighting the Devil. ” I have fought a few times in various parts of England and I dare say, there may be one or two of you that have watched me,” continued the captain.
When I stood in front of the show listening to the proprietor expounding the abilities of his boxers, the old yearning came over me, and I thought, are they as good as he says they are? It was in that brief moment I was tempted by the Devil, and I fell. I struggled against it, but it was of no avail, and that is why I asked the referee to call me The Fallen Crusader. The reason why I asked him to hurry up with the preliminaries was because I had borrowed five minutes, and five minutes only, from God.” A round of applause greeted his little speech. and I musnt forget to tell you, that the showman turned out trumps.
While the captain was speaking, the showman quietly slipped out, went to the ” Army ” who were having service on the Market, explained his visit, brought one of the lassies back with her tambourine, and a bumping collection was taken.
Whilst I am on about boxing, I will tell you of one character, who not only visited Earlestown Market at race-time, but other times throughout the year. He was a coloured man, not a negro; nevertheless, if ever a white man lived, he was one. .He had a boxing booth in an assumed name, which was “FELIX SCOTT.”
I dont think there was anybody in Earlestown who didnt know him. He was our hero, and I will try and explain why he was. I would be about ten years old when I first recollect Felix coming to Earlestown, and I would be about eighteen when he last visited the Market. There were three of us, proper mates, Sam Lloyd, the policemans son (there was only one bobby then), my brother Jack and I, and whenever a circus, side-show, menagerie, cheap-jack or boxing booth came on the Market, we were always on the look-out for little jobs to do for them, such as bringing sawdust for the boxing ring, paraffin oil for their hanging blazers, or coke for the hot-pea man, and by so doing we got free admittance to most of the shows.
It was in this manner we got to know Felix. There was nothing we would not do for him and, true enough, he would let us in his show for nothing whenever we wanted. It wasnt so much the free admittance that attracted us to him, as the splendid tales he used to tell us. You know, any lad up to leaving school loves a tale, and generally on a Saturday morning he would tell us yarns in his tent. Many exciting episodes he told us, and only once does he remember ever having lost his. temper in real earnest in the boxing ring. He had been beaten many times during his career by noted boxers, but it wasnt a boxer that beat him on this occasion of his losing his temper.
It happened in South Wales, I believe in Pontypridd. Felix had been having crowded audiences at almost every show, and as he had some good lads, the Welshmen who were pitted against them generally came off second best. No one was ever afraid of having the gloves on with Felix, as it was known that throughout his whole career he was never known to take advantage of an opponent.
One night, a man wanted to have Felix a fight, but Felix refused, as he thought the man was not altogether sober. This annoyed the man and also his followers, who declared that Felix was afraid. “Nothing of the sort,” Felix assured them, “but come when he is sober and Ill oblige.” On the Saturday he came, and also brought a gang with him. It was these who beat Felix, for things got to such a pitch during the fight, with the gang throwing at Felix and threatening him, that he lost his temper and knocked the fellow out, and for so doing, he and his lads had to make a fight to get out of the show with whole skins. The police were powerless, and Felix had his show completely wrecked. In fact, they had to run for it to save their lives.
For the time being I will leave Felix, and tell you of one or two other characters who honoured the Market Place with. a visit.