Ray grew up in the gracious old Brooklyn of Henry Ward Beecher, in which prizefighting was as much against the law as cocking mains or dogfights, but less frowned upon, since there were no Humane Societies needling the police to stop the fist fighters. Left to their own devices the police were lenient. "A fellow named Hughie Bart ran a great place around 1882," Mr. Ray said. "It was right across the street from Calvary Cemetery and there would be dogfights in the basement, rooster fights on an upper floor, and we would be fighting on the ground floor, all at the same time. Mourners would stop in on their way back, to take their mind off their loss. The gravediggers were old tads with beards. They'd sit in Hughie's drinking between jobs, and when they were watching a fight you dassn't quit, because they would split your skull with a spade." Sometimes Mr. Ray and other Brooklyn fighters, like the original Jack Dempsey, the Nonpareil—"He was the real gentleman fighter," Mr. Ray said—would invade Henry James's New York and show at Owney Geoghegan's or Harry Hill's or the Bucket of Blood, all sporting establishments that ran variety shows and pickup fights. "You would fight on a stage against a house heavyweight," the old gentleman said. "And the idea was to go 15 minutes without being knocked out. I weighed around 120. If you stayed you got $3. If you looked like making it, the game was to back you up against the stage curtain and a fellow would hit you on the back of the head with a hammer. If you knew it, though, you would try to work the house fighter up against the curtain. Then he had to come straight at you, so you could measure him for a counter. It was a nice easy touch, not like a finish fight. It took the place of sparring, and you got paid good for it."
Mr. Ray and his purse-bearer walked out to spread more invitations; Billy waltzed out as brisk as if he heard the gong for his 91st year. Mr. Goldman laughed happily. "It makes me feel young when an old guy like that comes in that was around when I just started boxing," he said. "I remember him when I was with McGovern, and he was already saying: 'You should have seen the Belfast Spider.' "
One thing you have to grant the Sweet Science, it is joined onto the past like a man's arm to his shoulder.