Quite naturally, my brother regarded Jack as one of his greatest heroes, and whenever he heard of his being in our neighbourhood he would mount his horse and go off in search of him, to spend long hours in his company and persuade him to talk about that awful fight in a dark room with so many against him. One result of his intimacy with Jack was that he became dissatisfied with his own progress in the manly art of self-defence. It was all very well to make himself proficient with the foils and as a boxer, and to be a good shot, but he was living among people who had the knife for sole weapon, and if by chance he were attacked by a man with a knife, and had no pistol or other weapon, he would find himself in an exceedingly awkward position. There was then nothing to do but to practise with the knife, and he wanted Jack, who had been so successful with that weapon, to give him some lessons in its use.
Jack shook his head. If his young friend wanted to learn the gaucho way of fighting he could easily do so. The gaucho wrapped his poncho on his left arm to use it as a shield, and flourished his facon, or knife with a sword-like blade and a guard to the handle. This whirling about of the knife was quite an art, and had a fine look when two accomplished fighters stood up to each other and made their weapons look like shining wheels or revolving mirrors in the sun. Meanwhile, the object of each man was to find his opportunity for a sweeping blow which would lay his opponent's face open. Now all that was pretty to look at, but it was mere playing at fighting and he never wanted to practise it. He was not a fighter by inclination; he wanted to live with and be one with the gauchos, but not to fight. There were numbers of men among them who never fought and were never challenged to fight, and he would be of those if they would let him. He never had a pistol, he wore a knife like everybody else, but a short knife for use and not to fight. But when he found that, after all, he had to fight or else exist on sufferance as a despised creature among them, the butt of every fool and bully, he did fight in a way which he had never been taught and could not teach to another. It was nature: it was in him. When the dangerous moment came and knives flashed out, he was instantly transformed into a different being. He was on springs, he couldn't keep still or in one place for a second, or a fraction of a second; he was like a cat, like indiarubber, like steel—like anything you like, but something that flew round and about his opponent and was within striking distance one second and a dozen yards away the next, and when an onset was looked for it never came where it was expected but from another side, and in two minutes his opponent became confused, and struck blindly at him, and his opportunity came, not to slash and cut but to drive his knife with all his power to the heart in the other's body and finish him for ever. That was how he had fought and had killed, and because of that way of fighting he had got his desire and had been permitted to live in peace and quiet until he had grown grey, and no fighter or swashbuckler had said to him, "Do you still count yourself a killer of men? then kill me and prove your right to the title," and no one had jeered at or called him "gringo."
In spite of this discouragement my brother was quite determined to learn the art of defending himself with a knife, and he would often go out into the plantation and practise for an hour with a tree for an opponent, and try to capture Jack's unpremeditated art of darting hither and thither about his enemy and making his deadly strokes. But as the tree stood still and had no knife to oppose him, it was unsatisfactory, and one day he proposed to me and my younger brother to have a fight with knives, just to find out if he was making any progress. He took us out to the far end of the plantation, where no one would see us, and produced three very big knives, with blades like butchers' knives, and asked us to attack him with all our might and try our best to wound him, while he would act solely on the defensive. At first we declined, and reminded him that he had punished us terribly with gloves and foils and singlestick, and that it would be even worse with knives—he would cut us in pieces! No, he said, he would not dream of hurting us: it would be absolutely safe for us, and for him too, as he didn't for a moment believe that we could touch him with our weapons, no matter how hard we tried. And at last we were persuaded, and taking off our jackets and wrapping them, gaucho-fashion, on our left arms as a protection, we attacked him with the big knives, and getting excited we slashed and lunged at him with all our power, while he danced and jumped and flew about à la Jack the Killer, using his knife only to guard himself and to try and knock ours out of our hands; but in one such attempt at disarming me his weapon went too far and wounded my right arm about three inches below the shoulder. The blood rushed out and dyed my sleeve red, and the fight came to an end. He was greatly distressed, and running off to the house, quickly returned with a jug of water, sponge, towel, and linen to bind the wounded arm. It was a deep long cut, and the scar has remained to this day, so that I can never wash in the morning without seeing it and remembering that old fight with knives. Eventually he succeeded in stopping the flow of blood, and binding my arm tightly round; and then he made the desponding remark, "Of course they will have to know all about it now."
"Oh no," I returned, "why should they? My arm has stopped bleeding, and they won't find out. If they notice that I can't use it—well, I can just say I had a knock."
He was immensely relieved, and so pleased that he patted me on the back—the first time he had ever done so—and praised me for my manliness in taking it that way; and to be praised by him was such a rare and precious thing that I felt very proud, and began to think I was almost as good as a fighter myself. And when all traces of blood had been removed and we were back in the house and at the supper-table, I was unusually talkative and hilarious, not only to prevent any one from suspecting that I had just been seriously wounded in a fight with knives, but also to prove to my brother that I could take these knocks with proper fortitude. No doubt he was amused; but he didn't laugh at me, he was too delighted to escape being found out.
There were no more fights with knives, although when my wound was healed he did broach the subject again on two or three occasions, and was anxious to convince me that it would be greatly to our advantage to know how to defend ourselves with a knife while living among people who were always as ready on any slight provocation to draw a knife on you as a cat was to unsheathe its claws.