by Jack London
Many patterns of carpet lay rolled out before them on the floor--two
of Brussels showed the beginning of their quest, and its ending in
that direction; while a score of ingrains lured their eyes and
prolonged the debate between desire pocket-book. The head of the
department did them the honor of waiting upon them himself--or did
Joe the honor, as she well knew, for she had noted the open-mouthed
awe of the elevator boy who brought them up. Nor had she been blind
to the marked respect shown Joe by the urchins and groups of young
fellows on corners, when she walked with him in their own
neighborhood down at the west end of the town.
But the head of the department was called away to the telephone, and
in her mind the splendid promise of the carpets and the irk of the
pocket-book were thrust aside by a greater doubt and anxiety.
"But I don't see what you find to like in it, Joe," she said softly,
the note of insistence in her words betraying recent and
For a fleeting moment a shadow darkened his boyish face, to be
replaced by the glow of tenderness. He was only a boy, as she was
only a girl--two young things on the threshold of life, house-
renting and buying carpets together.
"What's the good of worrying?" he questioned. "It's the last go,
the very last."
He smiled at her, but she saw on his lips the unconscious and all
but breathed sigh of renunciation, and with the instinctive monopoly
of woman for her mate, she feared this thing she did not understand
and which gripped his life so strongly.
"You know the go with O'Neil cleared the last payment on mother's
house," he went on. "And that's off my mind. Now this last with
Ponta will give me a hundred dollars in bank--an even hundred,
that's the purse--for you and me to start on, a nest-egg."
She disregarded the money appeal. "But you like it, this--this
'game' you call it. Why?"
He lacked speech-expression. He expressed himself with his hands,
at his work, and with his body and the play of his muscles in the
squared ring; but to tell with his own lips the charm of the squared
ring was beyond him. Yet he essayed, and haltingly at first, to
express what he felt and analyzed when playing the Game at the
supreme summit of existence.
"All I know, Genevieve, is that you feel good in the ring when
you've got the man where you want him, when he's had a punch up both
sleeves waiting for you and you've never given him an opening to
land 'em, when you've landed your own little punch an' he's goin'
groggy, an' holdin' on, an' the referee's dragging him off so's you
can go in an' finish 'm, an' all the house is shouting an' tearin'
itself loose, an' you know you're the best man, an' that you played
m' fair an' won out because you're the best man. I tell you--"
He ceased brokenly, alarmed by his own volubility and by Genevieve's
look of alarm. As he talked she had watched his face while fear
dawned in her own. As he described the moment of moments to her, on
his inward vision were lined the tottering man, the lights, the
shouting house, and he swept out and away from her on this tide of
life that was beyond her comprehension, menacing, irresistible,
making her love pitiful and weak. The Joe she knew receded, faded,
became lost. The fresh boyish face was gone, the tenderness of the
eyes, the sweetness of the mouth with its curves and pictured
corners. It was a man's face she saw, a face of steel, tense and
immobile; a mouth of steel, the lips like the jaws of a trap; eyes
of steel, dilated, intent, and the light in them and the glitter
were the light and glitter of steel. The face of a man, and she had
known only his boy face. This face she did not know at all.
And yet, while it frightened her, she was vaguely stirred with pride
in him. His masculinity, the masculinity of the fighting male, made
its inevitable appeal to her, a female, moulded by all her heredity
to seek out the strong man for mate, and to lean against the wall of
his strength. She did not understand this force of his being that
rose mightier than her love and laid its compulsion upon him; and
yet, in her woman's heart she was aware of the sweet pang which told
her that for her sake, for Love's own sake, he had surrendered to
her, abandoned all that portion of his life, and with this one last
fight would never fight again.
"Mrs. Silverstein doesn't like prize-fighting," she said. "She's
down on it, and she knows something, too."
He smiled indulgently, concealing a hurt, not altogether new, at her
persistent inappreciation of this side of his nature and life in
which he took the greatest pride. It was to him power and
achievement, earned by his own effort and hard work; and in the
moment when he had offered himself and all that he was to Genevieve,
it was this, and this alone, that he was proudly conscious of laying
at her feet. It was the merit of work performed, a guerdon of
manhood finer and greater than any other man could offer, and it had
been to him his justification and right to possess her. And she had
not understood it then, as she did not understand it now, and he
might well have wondered what else she found in him to make him
"Mrs. Silverstein is a dub, and a softy, and a knocker," he said
good-humoredly. "What's she know about such things, anyway? I tell
you it IS good, and healthy, too,"--this last as an afterthought.
"Look at me. I tell you I have to live clean to be in condition
like this. I live cleaner than she does, or her old man, or anybody
you know--baths, rub-downs, exercise, regular hours, good food and
no makin' a pig of myself, no drinking, no smoking, nothing that'll
hurt me. Why, I live cleaner than you, Genevieve--"
"Honest, I do," he hastened to add at sight of her shocked face. "I
don't mean water an' soap, but look there." His hand closed
reverently but firmly on her arm. "Soft, you're all soft, all over.
Not like mine. Here, feel this."
He pressed the ends of her fingers into his hard arm-muscles until
she winced from the hurt.
"Hard all over just like that," he went on. "Now that's what I call
clean. Every bit of flesh an' blood an' muscle is clean right down
to the bones--and they're clean, too. No soap and water only on the
skin, but clean all the way in. I tell you it feels clean. It
knows it's clean itself. When I wake up in the morning an' go to
work, every drop of blood and bit of meat is shouting right out that
it is clean. Oh, I tell you--"
He paused with swift awkwardness, again confounded by his unwonted
flow of speech. Never in his life had he been stirred to such
utterance, and never in his life had there been cause to be so
stirred. For it was the Game that had been questioned, its verity
and worth, the Game itself, the biggest thing in the world--or what
had been the biggest thing in the world until that chance afternoon
and that chance purchase in Silverstein's candy store, when
Genevieve loomed suddenly colossal in his life, overshadowing all
other things. He was beginning to see, though vaguely, the sharp
conflict between woman and career, between a man's work in the world
and woman's need of the man. But he was not capable of
generalization. He saw only the antagonism between the concrete,
flesh-and-blood Genevieve and the great, abstract, living Game.
Each resented the other, each claimed him; he was torn with the
strife, and yet drifted helpless on the currents of their
His words had drawn Genevieve's gaze to his face, and she had
pleasured in the clear skin, the clear eyes, the cheek soft and
smooth as a girl's. She saw the force of his argument and disliked
it accordingly. She revolted instinctively against this Game which
drew him away from her, robbed her of part of him. It was a rival
she did not understand. Nor could she understand its seductions.
Had it been a woman rival, another girl, knowledge and light and
sight would have been hers. As it was, she grappled in the dark
with an intangible adversary about which she knew nothing. What
truth she felt in his speech made the Game but the more formidable.
A sudden conception of her weakness came to her. She felt pity for
herself, and sorrow. She wanted him, all of him, her woman's need
would not be satisfied with less; and he eluded her, slipped away
here and there from the embrace with which she tried to clasp him.
Tears swam into her eyes, and her lips trembled, turning defeat into
victory, routing the all-potent Game with the strength of her
"Don't, Genevieve, don't," the boy pleaded, all contrition, though
he was confused and dazed. To his masculine mind there was nothing
relevant about her break-down; yet all else was forgotten at sight
of her tears.
She smiled forgiveness through her wet eyes, and though he knew of
nothing for which to be forgiven, he melted utterly. His hand went
out impulsively to hers, but she avoided the clasp by a sort of
bodily stiffening and chill, the while the eyes smiled still more
"Here comes Mr. Clausen," she said, at the same time, by some
transforming alchemy of woman, presenting to the newcomer eyes that
showed no hint of moistness.
"Think I was never coming back, Joe?" queried the head of the
department, a pink-and-white-faced man, whose austere side-whiskers
were belied by genial little eyes.
"Now let me see--hum, yes, we was discussing ingrains," he continued
briskly. "That tasty little pattern there catches your eye, don't
it now, eh? Yes, yes, I know all about it. I set up housekeeping
when I was getting fourteen a week. But nothing's too good for the
little nest, eh? Of course I know, and it's only seven cents more,
and the dearest is the cheapest, I say. Tell you what I'll do,
Joe,"--this with a burst of philanthropic impulsiveness and a
confidential lowering of voice,--"seein's it's you, and I wouldn't
do it for anybody else, I'll reduce it to five cents. Only,"--here
his voice became impressively solemn,--"only you mustn't ever tell
how much you really did pay."
"Sewed, lined, and laid--of course that's included," he said, after
Joe and Genevieve had conferred together and announced their
"And the little nest, eh?" he queried. "When do you spread your
wings and fly away? To-morrow! So soon? Beautiful! Beautiful!"
He rolled his eyes ecstatically for a moment, then beamed upon them
with a fatherly air.
Joe had replied sturdily enough, and Genevieve had blushed prettily;
but both felt that it was not exactly proper. Not alone because of
the privacy and holiness of the subject, but because of what might
have been prudery in the middle class, but which in them was the
modesty and reticence found in individuals of the working class when
they strive after clean living and morality.
Mr. Clausen accompanied them to the elevator, all smiles, patronage,
and beneficence, while the clerks turned their heads to follow Joe's
"And to-night, Joe?" Mr. Clausen asked anxiously, as they waited at
the shaft. "How do you feel? Think you'll do him?"
"Sure," Joe answered. "Never felt better in my life."
"You feel all right, eh? Good! Good! You see, I was just a-
wonderin'--you know, ha! ha!--goin' to get married and the rest--
thought you might be unstrung, eh, a trifle?--nerves just a bit off,
you know. Know how gettin' married is myself. But you're all
right, eh? Of course you are. No use asking YOU that. Ha! ha!
Well, good luck, my boy! I know you'll win. Never had the least
doubt, of course, of course."
"And good-by, Miss Pritchard," he said to Genevieve, gallantly
handing her into the elevator. "Hope you call often. Will be
charmed--charmed--I assure you."
"Everybody calls you 'Joe'," she said reproachfully, as the car
dropped downward. "Why don't they call you 'Mr. Fleming'? That's
no more than proper."
But he was staring moodily at the elevator boy and did not seem to
"What's the matter, Joe?" she asked, with a tenderness the power of
which to thrill him she knew full well.
"Oh, nothing," he said. "I was only thinking--and wishing."
"Wishing?--what?" Her voice was seduction itself, and her eyes
would have melted stronger than he, though they failed in calling
his up to them.
Then, deliberately, his eyes lifted to hers. "I was wishing you
could see me fight just once."
She made a gesture of disgust, and his face fell. It came to her
sharply that the rival had thrust between and was bearing him away.
"I--I'd like to," she said hastily with an effort, striving after
that sympathy which weakens the strongest men and draws their heads
to women's breasts.
Again his eyes lifted and looked into hers. He meant it--she knew
that. It seemed a challenge to the greatness of her love.
"It would be the proudest moment of my life," he said simply.
It may have been the apprehensiveness of love, the wish to meet his
need for her sympathy, and the desire to see the Game face to face
for wisdom's sake,--and it may have been the clarion call of
adventure ringing through the narrow confines of uneventful
existence; for a great daring thrilled through her, and she said,
just as simply, "I will."
"I didn't think you would, or I wouldn't have asked," he confessed,
as they walked out to the sidewalk.
"But can't it be done?" she asked anxiously, before her resolution
"Oh, I can fix that; but I didn't think you would."
"I didn't think you would," he repeated, still amazed, as he helped
her upon the electric car and felt in his pocket for the fare.
Genevieve and Joe were working-class aristocrats. In an environment
made up largely of sordidness and wretchedness they had kept
themselves unsullied and wholesome. Theirs was a self-respect, a
regard for the niceties and clean things of life, which had held
them aloof from their kind. Friends did not come to them easily;
nor had either ever possessed a really intimate friend, a heart-
companion with whom to chum and have things in common. The social
instinct was strong in them, yet they had remained lonely because
they could not satisfy that instinct and at that same time satisfy
their desire for cleanness and decency.
If ever a girl of the working class had led the sheltered life, it
was Genevieve. In the midst of roughness and brutality, she had
shunned all that was rough and brutal. She saw but what she chose
to see, and she chose always to see the best, avoiding coarseness
and uncouthness without effort, as a matter of instinct. To begin
with, she had been peculiarly unexposed. An only child, with an
invalid mother upon whom she attended, she had not joined in the
street games and frolics of the children of the neighbourhood. Her
father, a mild-tempered, narrow-chested, anaemic little clerk,
domestic because of his inherent disability to mix with men, had
done his full share toward giving the home an atmosphere of
sweetness and tenderness.
An orphan at twelve, Genevieve had gone straight from her father's
funeral to live with the Silversteins in their rooms above the candy
store; and here, sheltered by kindly aliens, she earned her keep and
clothes by waiting on the shop. Being Gentile, she was especially
necessary to the Silversteins, who would not run the business
themselves when the day of their Sabbath came round.
And here, in the uneventful little shop, six maturing years had
slipped by. Her acquaintances were few. She had elected to have no
girl chum for the reason that no satisfactory girl had appeared.
Nor did she choose to walk with the young fellows of the
neighbourhood, as was the custom of girls from their fifteenth year.
"That stuck-up doll-face," was the way the girls of the
neighbourhood described her; and though she earned their enmity by
her beauty and aloofness, she none the less commanded their respect.
"Peaches and cream," she was called by the young men--though softly
and amongst themselves, for they were afraid of arousing the ire of
the other girls, while they stood in awe of Genevieve, in a dimly
religious way, as a something mysteriously beautiful and
For she was indeed beautiful. Springing from a long line of
American descent, she was one of those wonderful working-class
blooms which occasionally appear, defying all precedent of forebears
and environment, apparently without cause or explanation. She was a
beauty in color, the blood spraying her white skin so deliciously as
to earn for her the apt description, "peaches and cream." She was a
beauty in the regularity of her features; and, if for no other
reason, she was a beauty in the mere delicacy of the lines on which
she was moulded. Quiet, low-voiced, stately, and dignified, she
somehow had the knack of dress, and but befitted her beauty and
dignity with anything she put on. Withal, she was sheerly feminine,
tender and soft and clinging, with the smouldering passion of the
mate and the motherliness of the woman. But this side of her nature
had lain dormant through the years, waiting for the mate to appear.
Then Joe came into Silverstein's shop one hot Saturday afternoon to
cool himself with ice-cream soda. She had not noticed his entrance,
being busy with one other customer, an urchin of six or seven who
gravely analyzed his desires before the show-case wherein truly
generous and marvellous candy creations reposed under a cardboard
announcement, "Five for Five Cents."
She had heard, "Ice-cream soda, please," and had herself asked,
"What flavor?" without seeing his face. For that matter, it was not
a custom of hers to notice young men. There was something about
them she did not understand. The way they looked at her made her
uncomfortable, she knew not why; while there was an uncouthness and
roughness about them that did not please her. As yet, her
imagination had been untouched by man. The young fellows she had
seen had held no lure for her, had been without meaning to her. In
short, had she been asked to give one reason for the existence of
men on the earth, she would have been nonplussed for a reply.
As she emptied the measure of ice-cream into the glass, her casual
glance rested on Joe's face, and she experienced on the instant a
pleasant feeling of satisfaction. The next instant his eyes were
upon her face, her eyes had dropped, and she was turning away toward
the soda fountain. But at the fountain, filling the glass, she was
impelled to look at him again--but for no more than an instant, for
this time she found his eyes already upon her, waiting to meet hers,
while on his face was a frankness of interest that caused her
quickly to look away.
That such pleasingness would reside for her in any man astonished
her. "What a pretty boy," she thought to herself, innocently and
instinctively trying to ward off the power to hold and draw her that
lay behind the mere prettiness. "Besides, he isn't pretty," she
thought, as she placed the glass before him, received the silver
dime in payment, and for the third time looked into his eyes. Her
vocabulary was limited, and she knew little of the worth of words;
but the strong masculinity of his boy's face told her that the term
"He must be handsome, then," was her next thought, as she again
dropped her eyes before his. But all good-looking men were called
handsome, and that term, too, displeased her. But whatever it was,
he was good to see, and she was irritably aware of a desire to look
at him again and again.
As for Joe, he had never seen anything like this girl across the
counter. While he was wiser in natural philosophy than she, and
could have given immediately the reason for woman's existence on the
earth, nevertheless woman had no part in his cosmos. His
imagination was as untouched by woman as the girl's was by man. But
his imagination was touched now, and the woman was Genevieve. He
had never dreamed a girl could be so beautiful, and he could not
keep his eyes from her face. Yet every time he looked at her, and
her eyes met his, he felt painful embarrassment, and would have
looked away had not her eyes dropped so quickly.
But when, at last, she slowly lifted her eyes and held their gaze
steadily, it was his own eyes that dropped, his own cheek that
mantled red. She was much less embarrassed than he, while she
betrayed her embarrassment not at all. She was aware of a flutter
within, such as she had never known before, but in no way did it
disturb her outward serenity. Joe, on the contrary, was obviously
awkward and delightfully miserable.
Neither knew love, and all that either was aware was an overwhelming
desire to look at the other. Both had been troubled and roused, and
they were drawing together with the sharpness and imperativeness of
uniting elements. He toyed with his spoon, and flushed his
embarrassment over his soda, but lingered on; and she spoke softly,
dropped her eyes, and wove her witchery about him.
But he could not linger forever over a glass of ice-cream soda,
while he did not dare ask for a second glass. So he left her to
remain in the shop in a waking trance, and went away himself down
the street like a somnambulist. Genevieve dreamed through the
afternoon and knew that she was in love. Not so with Joe. He knew
only that he wanted to look at her again, to see her face. His
thoughts did not get beyond this, and besides, it was scarcely a
thought, being more a dim and inarticulate desire.
The urge of this desire he could not escape. Day after day it
worried him, and the candy shop and the girl behind the counter
continually obtruded themselves. He fought off the desire. He was
afraid and ashamed to go back to the candy shop. He solaced his
fear with, "I ain't a ladies' man." Not once, nor twice, but scores
of times, he muttered the thought to himself, but it did no good.
And by the middle of the week, in the evening, after work, he came
into the shop. He tried to come in carelessly and casually, but his
whole carriage advertised the strong effort of will that compelled
his legs to carry his reluctant body thither. Also, he was shy, and
awkwarder than ever. Genevieve, on the contrary, was serener than
ever, though fluttering most alarmingly within. He was incapable of
speech, mumbled his order, looked anxiously at the clock, despatched
his ice-cream soda in tremendous haste, and was gone.
She was ready to weep with vexation. Such meagre reward for four
days' waiting, and assuming all the time that she loved! He was a
nice boy and all that, she knew, but he needn't have been in so
disgraceful a hurry. But Joe had not reached the corner before he
wanted to be back with her again. He just wanted to look at her.
He had no thought that it was love. Love? That was when young
fellows and girls walked out together. As for him--And then his
desire took sharper shape, and he discovered that that was the very
thing he wanted her to do. He wanted to see her, to look at her,
and well could he do all this if she but walked out with him. Then
that was why the young fellows and girls walked out together, he
mused, as the week-end drew near. He had remotely considered this
walking out to be a mere form or observance preliminary to
matrimony. Now he saw the deeper wisdom in it, wanted it himself,
and concluded therefrom that he was in love.
Both were now of the same mind, and there could be but the one
ending; and it was the mild nine days' wonder of Genevieve's
neighborhood when she and Joe walked out together.
Both were blessed with an avarice of speech, and because of it their
courtship was a long one. As he expressed himself in action, she
expressed herself in repose and control, and by the love-light in
her eyes--though this latter she would have suppressed in all maiden
modesty had she been conscious of the speech her heart printed so
plainly there. "Dear" and "darling" were too terribly intimate for
them to achieve quickly; and, unlike most mating couples, they did
not overwork the love-words. For a long time they were content to
walk together in the evenings, or to sit side by side on a bench in
the park, neither uttering a word for an hour at a time, merely
gazing into each other's eyes, too faintly luminous in the starshine
to be a cause for self-consciousness and embarrassment.
He was as chivalrous and delicate in his attention as any knight to
his lady. When they walked along the street, he was careful to be
on the outside,--somewhere he had heard that this was the proper
thing to do,--and when a crossing to the opposite side of the street
put him on the inside, he swiftly side-stepped behind her to gain
the outside again. He carried her parcels for her, and once, when
rain threatened, her umbrella. He had never heard of the custom of
sending flowers to one's lady-love, so he sent Genevieve fruit
instead. There was utility in fruit. It was good to eat. Flowers
never entered his mind, until, one day, he noticed a pale rose in
her hair. It drew his gaze again and again. It was HER hair,
therefore the presence of the flower interested him. Again, it
interested him because SHE had chosen to put it there. For these
reasons he was led to observe the rose more closely. He discovered
that the effect in itself was beautiful, and it fascinated him. His
ingenuous delight in it was a delight to her, and a new and mutual
love-thrill was theirs--because of a flower. Straightway he became
a lover of flowers. Also, he became an inventor in gallantry. He
sent her a bunch of violets. The idea was his own. He had never
heard of a man sending flowers to a woman. Flowers were used for
decorative purposes, also for funerals. He sent Genevieve flowers
nearly every day, and so far as he was concerned the idea was
original, as positive an invention as ever arose in the mind of man.
He was tremulous in his devotion to her--as tremulous as was she in
her reception of him. She was all that was pure and good, a holy of
holies not lightly to be profaned even by what might possibly be the
too ardent reverence of a devotee. She was a being wholly different
from any he had ever known. She was not as other girls. It never
entered his head that she was of the same clay as his own sisters,
or anybody's sister. She was more than mere girl, than mere woman.
She was--well, she was Genevieve, a being of a class by herself,
nothing less than a miracle of creation.
And for her, in turn, there was in him but little less of illusion.
Her judgment of him in minor things might be critical (while his
judgment of her was sheer worship, and had in it nothing critical at
all); but in her judgment of him as a whole she forgot the sum of
the parts, and knew him only as a creature of wonder, who gave
meaning to life, and for whom she could die as willingly as she
could live. She often beguiled her waking dreams of him with
fancied situations, wherein, dying for him, she at last adequately
expressed the love she felt for him, and which, living, she knew she
could never fully express.
Their love was all fire and dew. The physical scarcely entered into
it, for such seemed profanation. The ultimate physical facts of
their relation were something which they never considered. Yet the
immediate physical facts they knew, the immediate yearnings and
raptures of the flesh--the touch of finger tips on hand or arm, the
momentary pressure of a hand-clasp, the rare lip-caress of a kiss,
the tingling thrill of her hair upon his cheek, of her hand lightly
thrusting back the locks from above his eyes. All this they knew,
but also, and they knew not why, there seemed a hint of sin about
these caresses and sweet bodily contacts.
There were times when she felt impelled to throw her arms around him
in a very abandonment of love, but always some sanctity restrained
her. At such moments she was distinctly and unpleasantly aware of
some unguessed sin that lurked within her. It was wrong,
undoubtedly wrong, that she should wish to caress her lover in so
unbecoming a fashion. No self-respecting girl could dream of doing
such a thing. It was unwomanly. Besides, if she had done it, what
would he have thought of it? And while she contemplated so horrible
a catastrophe, she seemed to shrivel and wilt in a furnace of secret
Nor did Joe escape the prick of curious desires, chiefest among
which, perhaps, was the desire to hurt Genevieve. When, after long
and tortuous degrees, he had achieved the bliss of putting his arm
round her waist, he felt spasmodic impulses to make the embrace
crushing, till she should cry out with the hurt. It was not his
nature to wish to hurt any living thing. Even in the ring, to hurt
was never the intention of any blow he struck. In such case he
played the Game, and the goal of the Game was to down an antagonist
and keep that antagonist down for a space of ten seconds. So he
never struck merely to hurt; the hurt was incidental to the end, and
the end was quite another matter. And yet here, with this girl he
loved, came the desire to hurt. Why, when with thumb and forefinger
he had ringed her wrist, he should desire to contract that ring till
it crushed, was beyond him. He could not understand, and felt that
he was discovering depths of brutality in his nature of which he had
Once, on parting, he threw his arms around her and swiftly drew her
against him. Her gasping cry of surprise and pain brought him to
his senses and left him there very much embarrassed and still
trembling with a vague and nameless delight. And she, too, was
trembling. In the hurt itself, which was the essence of the
vigorous embrace, she had found delight; and again she knew sin,
though she knew not its nature nor why it should be sin.
Came the day, very early in their walking out, when Silverstein
chanced upon Joe in his store and stared at him with saucer-eyes.
Came likewise the scene, after Joe had departed, when the maternal
feelings of Mrs. Silverstein found vent in a diatribe against all
prize-fighters and against Joe Fleming in particular. Vainly had
Silverstein striven to stay the spouse's wrath. There was need for
her wrath. All the maternal feelings were hers but none of the
Genevieve was aware only of the diatribe; she knew a flood of abuse
was pouring from the lips of the Jewess, but she was too stunned to
hear the details of the abuse. Joe, her Joe, was Joe Fleming the
prize-fighter. It was abhorrent, impossible, too grotesque to be
believable. Her clear-eyed, girl-cheeked Joe might be anything but
a prize-fighter. She had never seen one, but he in no way resembled
her conception of what a prize-fighter must be--the human brute with
tiger eyes and a streak for a forehead. Of course she had heard of
Joe Fleming--who in West Oakland had not?--but that there should be
anything more than a coincidence of names had never crossed her
She came out of her daze to hear Mrs. Silverstein's hysterical
sneer, "keepin' company vit a bruiser." Next, Silverstein and his
wife fell to differing on "noted" and "notorious" as applicable to
"But he iss a good boy," Silverstein was contending. "He make der
money, an' he safe der money."
"You tell me dat!" Mrs. Silverstein screamed. "Vat you know? You
know too much. You spend good money on der prize-fighters. How you
know? Tell me dat! How you know?"
"I know vat I know," Silverstein held on sturdily--a thing Genevieve
had never before seen him do when his wife was in her tantrums.
"His fader die, he go to work in Hansen's sail-loft. He haf six
brudders an' sisters younger as he iss. He iss der liddle fader.
He vork hard, all der time. He buy der pread an' der meat, an' pay
der rent. On Saturday night he bring home ten dollar. Den Hansen
gif him twelve dollar--vat he do? He iss der liddle fader, he bring
it home to der mudder. He vork all der time, he get twenty dollar--
vat he do? He bring it home. Der liddle brudders an' sisters go to
school, vear good clothes, haf better pread an' meat; der mudder lif
fat, dere iss joy in der eye, an' she iss proud of her good boy Joe.
"But he haf der beautiful body--ach, Gott, der beautiful body!--
stronger as der ox, k-vicker as der tiger-cat, der head cooler as
der ice-box, der eyes vat see eferytings, k-vick, just like dat. He
put on der gloves vit der boys at Hansen's loft, he put on der
gloves vit de boys at der varehouse. He go before der club; he
knock out der Spider, k-vick, one punch, just like dat, der first
time. Der purse iss five dollar--vat he do? He bring it home to
"He go many times before der clubs; he get many purses--ten dollar,
fifty dollar, one hundred dollar. Vat he do? Tell me dat! Quit
der job at Hansen's? Haf der good time vit der boys? No, no; he
iss der good boy. He vork efery day. He fight at night before der
clubs. He say, 'Vat for I pay der rent, Silverstein?'--to me,
Silverstein, he say dat. Nefer mind vat I say, but he buy der good
house for der mudder. All der time he vork at Hansen's and fight
before der clubs to pay for der house. He buy der piano for der
sisters, der carpets, der pictures on der vall. An' he iss all der
time straight. He bet on himself--dat iss der good sign. Ven der
man bets on himself dat is der time you bet too--"
Here Mrs. Silverstein groaned her horror of gambling, and her
husband, aware that his eloquence had betrayed him, collapsed into
voluble assurances that he was ahead of the game. "An' all because
of Joe Fleming," he concluded. "I back him efery time to vin."
But Genevieve and Joe were preeminently mated, and nothing, not even
this terrible discovery, could keep them apart. In vain Genevieve
tried to steel herself against him; but she fought herself, not him.
To her surprise she discovered a thousand excuses for him, found him
lovable as ever; and she entered into his life to be his destiny,
and to control him after the way of women. She saw his future and
hers through glowing vistas of reform, and her first great deed was
when she wrung from him his promise to cease fighting.
And he, after the way of men, pursuing the dream of love and
striving for possession of the precious and deathless object of
desire, had yielded. And yet, in the very moment of promising her,
he knew vaguely, deep down, that he could never abandon the Game;
that somewhere, sometime, in the future, he must go back to it. And
he had had a swift vision of his mother and brothers and sisters,
their multitudinous wants, the house with its painting and
repairing, its street assessments and taxes, and of the coming of
children to him and Genevieve, and of his own daily wage in the
sail-making loft. But the next moment the vision was dismissed, as
such warnings are always dismissed, and he saw before him only
Genevieve, and he knew only his hunger for her and the call of his
being to her; and he accepted calmly her calm assumption of his life
He was twenty, she was eighteen, boy and girl, the pair of them, and
made for progeny, healthy and normal, with steady blood pounding
through their bodies; and wherever they went together, even on
Sunday outings across the bay amongst people who did not know him,
eyes were continually drawn to them. He matched her girl's beauty
with his boy's beauty, her grace with his strength, her delicacy of
line and fibre with the harsher vigor and muscle of the male.
Frank-faced, fresh-colored, almost ingenuous in expression, eyes
blue and wide apart, he drew and held the gaze of more than one
woman far above him in the social scale. Of such glances and dim
maternal promptings he was quite unconscious, though Genevieve was
quick to see and understand; and she knew each time the pang of a
fierce joy in that he was hers and that she held him in the hollow
of her hand. He did see, however, and rather resented, the men's
glances drawn by her. These, too, she saw and understood as he did
not dream of understanding.
Genevieve slipped on a pair of Joe's shoes, light-soled and dapper,
and laughed with Lottie, who stooped to turn up the trousers for
her. Lottie was his sister, and in the secret. To her was due the
inveigling of his mother into making a neighborhood call so that
they could have the house to themselves. They went down into the
kitchen where Joe was waiting. His face brightened as he came to
meet her, love shining frankly forth.
"Now get up those skirts, Lottie," he commanded. "Haven't any time
to waste. There, that'll do. You see, you only want the bottoms of
the pants to show. The coat will cover the rest. Now let's see how
"Borrowed it from Chris; he's a dead sporty sport--little, but oh,
my!" he went on, helping Genevieve into an overcoat which fell to
her heels and which fitted her as a tailor-made over-coat should fit
the man for whom it is made.
Joe put a cap on her head and turned up the collar, which was
generous to exaggeration, meeting the cap and completely hiding her
hair. When he buttoned the collar in front, its points served to
cover the cheeks, chin and mouth were buried in its depths, and a
close scrutiny revealed only shadowy eyes and a little less shadowy
nose. She walked across the room, the bottom of the trousers just
showing as the bang of the coat was disturbed by movement.
"A sport with a cold and afraid of catching more, all right all
right," the boy laughed, proudly surveying his handiwork. "How much
money you got? I'm layin' ten to six. Will you take the short
"Who's short?" she asked.
"Ponta, of course," Lottie blurted out her hurt, as though there
could be any question of it even for an instant.
"Of course," Genevieve said sweetly, "only I don't know much about
This time Lottie kept her lips together, but the new hurt showed on
her face. Joe looked at his watch and said it was time to go. His
sister's arms went about his neck, and she kissed him soundly on the
lips. She kissed Genevieve, too, and saw them to the gate, one arm
of her brother about her waist.
"What does ten to six mean?" Genevieve asked, the while their
footfalls rang out on the frosty air.
"That I'm the long end, the favorite," he answered. "That a man
bets ten dollars at the ring side that I win against six dollars
another man is betting that I lose."
"But if you're the favorite and everybody thinks you'll win, how
does anybody bet against you?"
"That's what makes prize-fighting--difference of opinion," he
laughed. "Besides, there's always the chance of a lucky punch, an
accident. Lots of chance," he said gravely.
She shrank against him, clingingly and protectingly, and he laughed
"You wait, and you'll see. An' don't get scared at the start. The
first few rounds'll be something fierce. That's Ponta's strong
point. He's a wild man, with an kinds of punches,--a whirlwind,--
and he gets his man in the first rounds. He's put away a whole lot
of cleverer and better men than him. It's up to me to live through
it, that's all. Then he'll be all in. Then I go after him, just
watch. You'll know when I go after him, an' I'll get'm, too."
They came to the hall, on a dark street-corner, ostensibly the
quarters of an athletic club, but in reality an institution designed
for pulling off fights and keeping within the police ordinance. Joe
drew away from her, and they walked apart to the entrance.
"Keep your hands in your pockets whatever you do," Joe warned her,
"and it'll be all right. Only a couple of minutes of it."
"He's with me," Joe said to the door-keeper, who was talking with a
Both men greeted him familiarly, taking no notice of his companion.
"They never tumbled; nobody'll tumble," Joe assured her, as they
climbed the stairs to the second story. "And even if they did, they
wouldn't know who it was and they's keep it mum for me. Here, come
He whisked her into a little office-like room and left her seated on
a dusty, broken-bottomed chair. A few minutes later he was back
again, clad in a long bath robe, canvas shoes on his feet. She
began to tremble against him, and his arm passed gently around her.
"It'll be all right, Genevieve," he said encouragingly. "I've got
it all fixed. Nobody'll tumble."
"It's you, Joe," she said. "I don't care for myself. It's you."
"Don't care for yourself! But that's what I thought you were afraid
He looked at her in amazement, the wonder of woman bursting upon him
in a more transcendent glory than ever, and he had seen much of the
wonder of woman in Genevieve. He was speechless for a moment, and
"You mean me? And you don't care what people think? or anything?--
A sharp double knock at the door, and a sharper "Get a move on
yerself, Joe!" brought him back to immediate things.
"Quick, one last kiss, Genevieve," he whispered, almost holily.
"It's my last fight, an' I'll fight as never before with you lookin'
The next she knew, the pressure of his lips yet warm on hers, she
was in a group of jostling young fellows, none of whom seemed to
take the slightest notice of her. Several had their coats off and
their shirt sleeves rolled up. They entered the hall from the rear,
still keeping the casual formation of the group, and moved slowly up
a side aisle.
It was a crowded, ill-lighted hall, barn-like in its proportions,
and the smoke-laden air gave a peculiar distortion to everything.
She felt as though she would stifle. There were shrill cries of
boys selling programmes and soda water, and there was a great bass
rumble of masculine voices. She heard a voice offering ten to six
on Joe Fleming. The utterance was monotonous--hopeless, it seemed
to her, and she felt a quick thrill. It was her Joe against whom
everybody was to bet.
And she felt other thrills. Her blood was touched, as by fire, with
romance, adventure--the unknown, the mysterious, the terrible--as
she penetrated this haunt of men where women came not. And there
were other thrills. It was the only time in her life she had dared
the rash thing. For the first time she was overstepping the bounds
laid down by that harshest of tyrants, the Mrs. Grundy of the
working class. She felt fear, and for herself, though the moment
before she had been thinking only of Joe.
Before she knew it, the front of the hall had been reached, and she
had gone up half a dozen steps into a small dressing-room. This was
crowded to suffocation--by men who played the Game, she concluded,
in one capacity or another. And here she lost Joe. But before the
real personal fright could soundly clutch her, one of the young
fellows said gruffly, "Come along with me, you," and as she wedged
out at his heels she noticed that another one of the escort was
They came upon a sort of stage, which accommodated three rows of
men; and she caught her first glimpse of the squared ring. She was
on a level with it, and so near that she could have reached out and
touched its ropes. She noticed that it was covered with padded
canvas. Beyond the ring, and on either side, as in a fog, she could
see the crowded house.
The dressing-room she had left abutted upon one corner of the ring.
Squeezing her way after her guide through the seated men, she
crossed the end of the hall and entered a similar dressing-room at
the other corner of the ring.
"Now don't make a noise, and stay here till I come for you,"
instructed her guide, pointing out a peep-hole arrangement in the
wall of the room.
She hurried to the peep-hole, and found herself against the ring.
She could see the whole of it, though part of the audience was shut
off. The ring was well lighted by an overhead cluster of patent
gas-burners. The front row of the men she had squeezed past,
because of their paper and pencils, she decided to be reporters from
the local papers up-town. One of them was chewing gum. Behind
them, on the other two rows of seats, she could make out firemen
from the near-by engine-house and several policemen in uniform. In
the middle of the front row, flanked by the reporters, sat the young
chief of police. She was startled by catching sight of Mr. Clausen
on the opposite side of the ring. There he sat, austere, side-
whiskered, pink and white, close up against the front of the ring.
Several seats farther on, in the same front row, she discovered
Silverstein, his weazen features glowing with anticipation.
A few cheers heralded the advent of several young fellows, in shirt-
sleeves, carrying buckets, bottles, and towels, who crawled through
the ropes and crossed to the diagonal corner from her. One of them
sat down on a stool and leaned back against the ropes. She saw that
he was bare-legged, with canvas shoes on his feet, and that his body
was swathed in a heavy white sweater. In the meantime another group
had occupied the corner directly against her. Louder cheers drew
her attention to it, and she saw Joe seated on a stool still clad in
the bath robe, his short chestnut curls within a yard of her eyes.
A young man, in a black suit, with a mop of hair and a
preposterously tall starched collar, walked to the centre of the
ring and held up his hand.
"Gentlemen will please stop smoking," he said.
His effort was applauded by groans and cat-calls, and she noticed
with indignation that nobody stopped smoking. Mr. Clausen held a
burning match in his fingers while the announcement was being made,
and then calmly lighted his cigar. She felt that she hated him in
that moment. How was her Joe to fight in such an atmosphere? She
could scarcely breathe herself, and she was only sitting down.
The announcer came over to Joe. He stood up. His bath robe fell
away from him, and he stepped forth to the centre of the ring, naked
save for the low canvas shoes and a narrow hip-cloth of white.
Genevieve's eyes dropped. She sat alone, with none to see, but her
face was burning with shame at sight of the beautiful nakedness of
her lover. But she looked again, guiltily, for the joy that was
hers in beholding what she knew must be sinful to behold. The leap
of something within her and the stir of her being toward him must be
sinful. But it was delicious sin, and she did not deny her eyes.
In vain Mrs. Grundy admonished her. The pagan in her, original sin,
and all nature urged her on. The mothers of all the past were
whispering through her, and there was a clamour of the children
unborn. But of this she knew nothing. She knew only that it was
sin, and she lifted her head proudly, recklessly resolved, in one
great surge of revolt, to sin to the uttermost.
She had never dreamed of the form under the clothes. The form,
beyond the hands and the face, had no part in her mental processes.
A child of garmented civilization, the garment was to her the form.
The race of men was to her a race of garmented bipeds, with hands
and faces and hair-covered heads. When she thought of Joe, the Joe
instantly visualized on her mind was a clothed Joe--girl-cheeked,
blue-eyed, curly-headed, but clothed. And there he stood, all but
naked, godlike, in a white blaze of light. She had never conceived
of the form of God except as nebulously naked, and the thought-
association was startling. It seemed to her that her sin partook of
sacrilege or blasphemy.
Her chromo-trained aesthetic sense exceeded its education and told
her that here were beauty and wonder. She had always liked the
physical presentment of Joe, but it was a presentment of clothes,
and she had thought the pleasingness of it due to the neatness and
taste with which he dressed. She had never dreamed that this lurked
beneath. It dazzled her. His skin was fair as a woman's, far more
satiny, and no rudimentary hair-growth marred its white lustre.
This she perceived, but all the rest, the perfection of line and
strength and development, gave pleasure without her knowing why.
There was a cleanness and grace about it. His face was like a
cameo, and his lips, parted in a smile, made it very boyish.
He smiled as he faced the audience, when the announcer, placing a
hand on his shoulder, said: "Joe Fleming, the Pride of West
Cheers and hand-clappings stormed up, and she heard affectionate
cries of "Oh, you, Joe!" Men shouted it at him again and again.
He walked back to his corner. Never to her did he seem less a
fighter than then. His eyes were too mild; there was not a spark of
the beast in them, nor in his face, while his body seemed too
fragile, what of its fairness and smoothness, and his face too
boyish and sweet-tempered and intelligent. She did not have the
expert's eye for the depth of chest, the wide nostrils, the
recuperative lungs, and the muscles under their satin sheaths--
crypts of energy wherein lurked the chemistry of destruction. To
her he looked like a something of Dresden china, to be handled
gently and with care, liable to be shattered to fragments by the
first rough touch.
John Ponta, stripped of his white sweater by the pulling and hauling
of two of his seconds, came to the centre of the ring. She knew
terror as she looked at him. Here was the fighter--the beast with a
streak for a forehead, with beady eyes under lowering and bushy
brows, flat-nosed, thick-lipped, sullen-mouthed. He was heavy-
jawed, bull-necked, and the short, straight hair of the head seemed
to her frightened eyes the stiff bristles on a hog's back. Here
were coarseness and brutishness--a thing savage, primordial,
ferocious. He was swarthy to blackness, and his body was covered
with a hairy growth that matted like a dog's on his chest and
shoulders. He was deep-chested, thick-legged, large-muscled, but
unshapely. His muscles were knots, and he was gnarled and knobby,
twisted out of beauty by excess of strength.
"John Ponta, West Bay Athletic Club," said the announcer.
A much smaller volume of cheers greeted him. It was evident that
the crowd favored Joe with its sympathy.
"Go in an' eat 'm, Ponta! Eat 'm up!" a voice shouted in the lull.
This was received by scornful cries and groans. He did not like it,
for his sullen mouth twisted into a half-snarl as he went back to
his corner. He was too decided an atavism to draw the crowd's
admiration. Instinctively the crowd disliked him. He was an
animal, lacking in intelligence and spirit, a menace and a thing of
fear, as the tiger and the snake are menaces and things of fear,
better behind the bars of a cage than running free in the open.
And he felt that the crowd had no relish for him. He was like an
animal in the circle of its enemies, and he turned and glared at
them with malignant eyes. Little Silverstein, shouting out Joe's
name with high glee, shrank away from Ponta's gaze, shrivelled as in
fierce heat, the sound gurgling and dying in his throat. Genevieve
saw the little by-play, and as Ponta's eyes slowly swept round the
circle of their hate and met hers, she, too, shrivelled and shrank
back. The next moment they were past, pausing to centre long on
Joe. It seemed to her that Ponta was working himself into a rage.
Joe returned the gaze with mild boy's eyes, but his face grew
The announcer escorted a third man to the centre of the ring, a
genial-faced young fellow in shirt-sleeves.
"Eddy Jones, who will referee this contest," said the announcer.
"Oh, you, Eddy!" men shouted in the midst of the applause, and it
was apparent to Genevieve that he, too, was well beloved.
Both men were being helped into the gloves by their seconds, and one
of Ponta's seconds came over and examined the gloves before they
went on Joe's hands. The referee called them to the centre of the
ring. The seconds followed, and they made quite a group, Joe and
Ponta facing each other, the referee in the middle, the seconds
leaning with hands on one another's shoulders, their heads craned
forward. The referee was talking, and all listened attentively.
The group broke up. Again the announcer came to the front.
"Joe Fleming fights at one hundred and twenty-eight," he said; "John
Ponta at one hundred and forty. They will fight as long as one hand
is free, and take care of themselves in the break-away. The
audience must remember that a decision must be given. There are no
draws fought before this club."
He crawled through the ropes and dropped from the ring to the floor.
There was a scuttling in the corners as the seconds cleared out
through the ropes, taking with them the stools and buckets. Only
remained in the ring the two fighters and the referee. A gong
sounded. The two men advanced rapidly to the centre. Their right
hands extended and for a fraction of an instant met in a perfunctory
shake. Then Ponta lashed out, savagely, right and left, and Joe
escaped by springing back. Like a projectile, Ponta hurled himself
after him and upon him.
The fight was on. Genevieve clutched one hand to her breast and
watched. She was bewildered by the swiftness and savagery of
Ponta's assault, and by the multitude of blows he struck. She felt
that Joe was surely being destroyed. At times she could not see his
face, so obscured was it by the flying gloves. But she could hear
the resounding blows, and with the sound of each blow she felt a
sickening sensation in the pit of her stomach. She did not know
that what she heard was the impact of glove on glove, or glove on
shoulder, and that no damage was being done.
She was suddenly aware that a change had come over the fight. Both
men were clutching each other in a tense embrace; no blows were
being struck at all. She recognized it to be what Joe had described
to her as the "clinch." Ponta was struggling to free himself, Joe
was holding on.
The referee shouted, "Break!" Joe made an effort to get away, but
Ponta got one hand free and Joe rushed back into a second clinch, to
escape the blow. But this time, she noticed, the heel of his glove
was pressed against Ponta's mouth and chin, and at the second
"Break!" of the referee, Joe shoved his opponent's head back and
sprang clear himself.
For a brief several seconds she had an unobstructed view of her
lover. Left foot a trifle advanced, knees slightly bent, he was
crouching, with his head drawn well down between his shoulders and
shielded by them. His hands were in position before him, ready
either to attack or defend. The muscles of his body were tense, and
as he moved about she could see them bunch up and writhe and crawl
like live things under the white skin.
But again Ponta was upon him and he was struggling to live. He
crouched a bit more, drew his body more compactly together, and
covered up with his hands, elbows, and forearms. Blows rained upon
him, and it looked to her as though he were being beaten to death.
But he was receiving the blows on his gloves and shoulders, rocking
back and forth to the force of them like a tree in a storm, while
the house cheered its delight. It was not until she understood this
applause, and saw Silverstein half out of his seat and intensely,
madly happy, and heard the "Oh, you, Joe's!" from many throats, that
she realized that instead of being cruelly punished he was
acquitting himself well. Then he would emerge for a moment, again
to be enveloped and hidden in the whirlwind of Ponta's ferocity.
The gong sounded. It seemed they had been fighting half an hour,
though from what Joe had told her she knew it had been only three
minutes. With the crash of the gong Joe's seconds were through the
ropes and running him into his corner for the blessed minute of
rest. One man, squatting on the floor between his outstretched feet
and elevating them by resting them on his knees, was violently
chafing his legs. Joe sat on the stool, leaning far back into the
corner, head thrown back and arms outstretched on the ropes to give
easy expansion to the chest. With wide-open mouth he was breathing
the towel-driven air furnished by two of the seconds, while
listening to the counsel of still another second who talked with low
voice in his ear and at the same time sponged off his face,
shoulders, and chest.
Hardly had all this been accomplished (it had taken no more than
several seconds), when the gong sounded, the seconds scuttled
through the ropes with their paraphernalia, and Joe and Ponta were
advancing against each other to the centre of the ring. Genevieve
had no idea that a minute could be so short. For a moment she felt
that this rest had been cut, and was suspicious of she knew not
Ponta lashed out, right and left, savagely as ever, and though Joe
blocked the blows, such was the force of them that he was knocked
backward several steps. Ponta was after him with the spring of a
tiger. In the involuntary effort to maintain equilibrium, Joe had
uncovered himself, flinging one arm out and lifting his head from
beneath the sheltering shoulders. So swiftly had Ponta followed
him, that a terrible swinging blow was coming at his unguarded jaw.
He ducked forward and down, Ponta's fist just missing the back of
his head. As he came back to the perpendicular, Ponta's left fist
drove at him in a straight punch that would have knocked him
backward through the ropes. Again, and with a swiftness an
inappreciable fraction of time quicker than Ponta's, he ducked
forward. Ponta's fist grazed the backward slope of the shoulder,
and glanced off into the air. Ponta's right drove straight out, and
the graze was repeated as Joe ducked into the safety of a clinch.
Genevieve sighed with relief, her tense body relaxing and a
faintness coming over her. The crowd was cheering madly.
Silverstein was on his feet, shouting, gesticulating, completely out
of himself. And even Mr. Clausen was yelling his enthusiasm, at the
top of his lungs, into the ear of his nearest neighbor.
The clinch was broken and the fight went on. Joe blocked, and
backed, and slid around the ring, avoiding blows and living somehow
through the whirlwind onslaughts. Rarely did he strike blows
himself, for Ponta had a quick eye and could defend as well as
attack, while Joe had no chance against the other's enormous
vitality. His hope lay in that Ponta himself should ultimately
consume his strength.
But Genevieve was beginning to wonder why her lover did not fight.
She grew angry. She wanted to see him wreak vengeance on this beast
that had persecuted him so. Even as she waxed impatient, the chance
came, and Joe whipped his fist to Ponta's mouth. It was a
staggering blow. She saw Ponta's head go back with a jerk and the
quick dye of blood upon his lips. The blow, and the great shout
from the audience, angered him. He rushed like a wild man. The
fury of his previous assaults was as nothing compared with the fury
of this one. And there was no more opportunity for another blow.
Joe was too busy living through the storm he had already caused,
blocking, covering up, and ducking into the safety and respite of
But the clinch was not all safety and respite. Every instant of it
was intense watchfulness, while the breakaway was still more
dangerous. Genevieve had noticed, with a slight touch of amusement,
the curious way in which Joe snuggled his body in against Ponta's in
the clinches; but she had not realized why, until, in one such
clinch, before the snuggling in could be effected, Ponta's fist
whipped straight up in the air from under, and missed Joe's chin by
a hair's-breadth. In another and later clinch, when she had already
relaxed and sighed her relief at seeing him safely snuggled, Ponta,
his chin over Joe's shoulder, lifted his right arm and struck a
terrible downward blow on the small of the back. The crowd groaned
its apprehension, while Joe quickly locked his opponent's arms to
prevent a repetition of the blow.
The gong struck, and after the fleeting minute of rest, they went at
it again--in Joe's corner, for Ponta had made a rush to meet him
clear across the ring. Where the blow had been over the kidneys,
the white skin had become bright red. This splash of color, the
size of the glove, fascinated and frightened Genevieve so that she
could scarcely take her eyes from it. Promptly, in the next clinch,
the blow was repeated; but after that Joe usually managed to give
Ponta the heel of the glove on the mouth and so hold his head back.
This prevented the striking of the blow; but three times more,
before the round ended, Ponta effected the trick, each time striking
the same vulnerable part.
Another rest and another round went by, with no further damage to
Joe and no diminution of strength on the part of Ponta. But in the
beginning of the fifth round, Joe, caught in a corner, made as
though to duck into a clinch. Just before it was effected, and at
the precise moment that Ponta was ready with his own body to receive
the snuggling in of Joe's body, Joe drew back slightly and drove
with his fists at his opponent's unprotected stomach. Lightning-
like blows they were, four of them, right and left; and heavy they
were, for Ponta winced away from them and staggered back, half
dropping his arms, his shoulders drooping forward and in, as though
he were about to double in at the waist and collapse. Joe's quick
eye saw the opening, and he smashed straight out upon Ponta's mouth,
following instantly with a half swing, half hook, for the jaw. It
missed, striking the cheek instead, and sending Ponta staggering
The house was on its feet, shouting, to a man. Genevieve could hear
men crying, "He's got 'm, he's got 'm!" and it seemed to her the
beginning of the end. She, too, was out of herself; softness and
tenderness had vanished; she exulted with each crushing blow her
But Ponta's vitality was yet to be reckoned with. As, like a tiger,
he had followed Joe up, Joe now followed him up. He made another
half swing, half hook, for Ponta's jaw, and Ponta, already
recovering his wits and strength, ducked cleanly. Joe's fist passed
on through empty air, and so great was the momentum of the blow that
it carried him around, in a half twirl, sideways. Then Ponta lashed
out with his left. His glove landed on Joe's unguarded neck.
Genevieve saw her lover's arms drop to his sides as his body lifted,
went backward, and fell limply to the floor. The referee, bending
over him, began to count the seconds, emphasizing the passage of
each second with a downward sweep of his right arm.
The audience was still as death. Ponta had partly turned to the
house to receive the approval that was his due, only to be met by
this chill, graveyard silence. Quick wrath surged up in him. It
was unfair. His opponent only was applauded--if he struck a blow,
if he escaped a blow; he, Ponta, who had forced the fighting from
the start, had received no word of cheer.
His eyes blazed as he gathered himself together and sprang to his
prostrate foe. He crouched alongside of him, right arm drawn back
and ready for a smashing blow the instant Joe should start to rise.
The referee, still bending over and counting with his right hand,
shoved Ponta back with his left. The latter, crouching, circled
around, and the referee circled with him, thrusting him back and
keeping between him and the fallen man.
"Four--five--six--" the count went on, and Joe, rolling over on his
face, squirmed weakly to draw himself to his knees. This he
succeeded in doing, resting on one knee, a hand to the floor on
either side and the other leg bent under him to help him rise.
"Take the count! Take the count!" a dozen voices rang out from the
"For God's sake, take the count!" one of Joe's seconds cried
warningly from the edge of the ring. Genevieve gave him one swift
glance, and saw the young fellow's face, drawn and white, his lips
unconsciously moving as he kept the count with the referee.
"Seven--eight--nine--" the seconds went.
The ninth sounded and was gone, when the referee gave Ponta a last
backward shove and Joe came to his feet, bunched up, covered up,
weak, but cool, very cool. Ponta hurled himself upon him with
terrific force, delivering an uppercut and a straight punch. But
Joe blocked the two, ducked a third, stepped to the side to avoid a
fourth, and was then driven backward into a corner by a hurricane of
blows. He was exceedingly weak. He tottered as he kept his
footing, and staggered back and forth. His back was against the
ropes. There was no further retreat. Ponta paused, as if to make
doubly sure, then feinted with his left and struck fiercely with his
right with all his strength. But Joe ducked into a clinch and was
for a moment saved.
Ponta struggled frantically to free himself. He wanted to give the
finish to this foe already so far gone. But Joe was holding on for
life, resisting the other's every effort, as fast as one hold or
grip was torn loose finding a new one by which to cling. "Break!"
the referee commanded. Joe held on tighter. "Make 'm break! Why
the hell don't you make 'm break?" Ponta panted at the referee.
Again the latter commanded the break. Joe refused, keeping, as he
well knew, within his rights. Each moment of the clinch his
strength was coming back to him, his brain was clearing, the cobwebs
were disappearing from before his eyes. The round was young, and he
must live, somehow, through the nearly three minutes of it yet to
The referee clutched each by the shoulder and sundered them
violently, passing quickly between them as he thrust them backward
in order to make a clean break of it. The moment he was free, Ponta
sprang at Joe like a wild animal bearing down its prey. But Joe
covered up, blocked, and fell into a clinch. Again Ponta struggled
to get free, Joe held on, and the referee thrust them apart. And
again Joe avoided damage and clinched.
Genevieve realized that in the clinches he was not being beaten--
why, then, did not the referee let him hold on? It was cruel. She
hated the genial-faced Eddy Jones in those moments, and she partly
rose from her chair, her hands clenched with anger, the nails
cutting into the palms till they hurt. The rest of the round, the
three long minutes of it, was a succession of clinches and breaks.
Not once did Ponta succeed in striking his opponent the deadly final
blow. And Ponta was like a madman, raging because of his impotency
in the face of his helpless and all but vanquished foe. One blow,
only one blow, and he could not deliver it! Joe's ring experience
and coolness saved him. With shaken consciousness and trembling
body, he clutched and held on, while the ebbing life turned and
flooded up in him again. Once, in his passion, unable to hit him,
Ponta made as though to lift him up and hurl him to the floor.
"V'y don't you bite him?" Silverstein taunted shrilly.
In the stillness the sally was heard over the whole house, and the
audience, relieved of its anxiety for its favorite, laughed with an
uproariousness that had in it the note of hysteria. Even Genevieve
felt that there was something irresistibly funny in the remark, and
the relief of the audience was communicated to her; yet she felt
sick and faint, and was overwrought with horror at what she had seen
and was seeing.
"Bite 'm! Bite 'm!" voices from the recovered audience were
shouting. "Chew his ear off, Ponta! That's the only way you can
get 'm! Eat 'm up! Eat 'm up! Oh, why don't you eat 'm up?"
The effect was bad on Ponta. He became more frenzied than ever, and
more impotent. He panted and sobbed, wasting his effort by too much
effort, losing sanity and control and futilely trying to compensate
for the loss by excess of physical endeavor. He knew only the blind
desire to destroy, shook Joe in the clinches as a terrier might a
rat, strained and struggled for freedom of body and arms, and all
the while Joe calmly clutched and held on. The referee worked
manfully and fairly to separate them. Perspiration ran down his
face. It took all his strength to split those clinging bodies, and
no sooner had he split them than Joe fell unharmed into another
embrace and the work had to be done all over again. In vain, when
freed, did Ponta try to avoid the clutching arms and twining body.
He could not keep away. He had to come close in order to strike,
and each time Joe baffled him and caught him in his arms.
And Genevieve, crouched in the little dressing-room and peering
through the peep-hole, was baffled, too. She was an interested
party in what seemed a death-struggle--was not one of the fighters
her Joe?--but the audience understood and she did not. The Game had
not unveiled to her. The lure of it was beyond her. It was greater
mystery than ever. She could not comprehend its power. What
delight could there be for Joe in that brutal surging and straining
of bodies, those fierce clutches, fiercer blows, and terrible hurts?
Surely, she, Genevieve, offered more than that--rest, and content,
and sweet, calm joy. Her bid for the heart of him and the soul of
him was finer and more generous than the bid of the Game; yet he
dallied with both--held her in his arms, but turned his head to
listen to that other and siren call she could not understand.
The gong struck. The round ended with a break in Ponta's corner.
The white-faced young second was through the ropes with the first
clash of sound. He seized Joe in his arms, lifted him clear of the
floor, and ran with him across the ring to his own corner. His
seconds worked over him furiously, chafing his legs, slapping his
abdomen, stretching the hip-cloth out with their fingers so that he
might breathe more easily. For the first time Genevieve saw the
stomach-breathing of a man, an abdomen that rose and fell far more
with every breath than her breast rose and fell after she had run
for a car. The pungency of ammonia bit her nostrils, wafted to her
from the soaked sponge wherefrom he breathed the fiery fumes that
cleared his brain. He gargled his mouth and throat, took a suck at
a divided lemon, and all the while the towels worked like mad,
driving oxygen into his lungs to purge the pounding blood and send
it back revivified for the struggle yet to come. His heated body
was sponged with water, doused with it, and bottles were turned
mouth-downward on his head.
The gong for the sixth round struck, and both men advanced to meet
each other, their bodies glistening with water. Ponta rushed two-
thirds of the way across the ring, so intent was he on getting at
his man before full recovery could be effected. But Joe had lived
through. He was strong again, and getting stronger. He blocked
several vicious blows and then smashed back, sending Ponta reeling.
He attempted to follow up, but wisely forbore and contented himself
with blocking and covering up in the whirlwind his blow had raised.
The fight was as it had been at the beginning--Joe protecting, Ponta
rushing. But Ponta was never at ease. He did not have it all his
own way. At any moment, in his fiercest onslaughts, his opponent
was liable to lash out and reach him. Joe saved his strength. He
struck one blow to Ponta's ten, but his one blow rarely missed.
Ponta overwhelmed him in the attacks, yet could do nothing with him,
while Joe's tiger-like strokes, always imminent, compelled respect.
They toned Ponta's ferocity. He was no longer able to go in with
the complete abandon of destructiveness which had marked his earlier
But a change was coming over the fight. The audience was quick to
note it, and even Genevieve saw it by the beginning of the ninth
round. Joe was taking the offensive. In the clinches it was he who
brought his fist down on the small of the back, striking the
terrible kidney blow. He did it once, in each clinch, but with all
his strength, and he did it every clinch. Then, in the breakaways,
he began to upper-cut Ponta on the stomach, or to hook his jaw or
strike straight out upon the mouth. But at first sign of a coming
of a whirlwind, Joe would dance nimbly away and cover up.
Two rounds of this went by, and three, but Ponta's strength, though
perceptibly less, did not diminish rapidly. Joe's task was to wear
down that strength, not with one blow, nor ten, but with blow after
blow, without end, until that enormous strength should be beaten
sheer out of its body. There was no rest for the man. Joe followed
him up, step by step, his advancing left foot making an audible tap,
tap, tap, on the hard canvas. Then there would come a sudden leap
in, tiger-like, a blow struck, or blows, and a swift leap back,
whereupon the left foot would take up again its tapping advance.
When Ponta made his savage rushes, Joe carefully covered up, only to
emerge, his left foot going tap, tap, tap, as he immediately
Ponta was slowly weakening. To the crowd the end was a foregone
"Oh, you, Joe!" it yelled its admiration and affection.
"It's a shame to take the money!" it mocked. "Why don't you eat 'm,
Ponta? Go on in an' eat 'm!"
In the one-minute intermissions Ponta's seconds worked over him as
they had not worked before. Their calm trust in his tremendous
vitality had been betrayed. Genevieve watched their excited
efforts, while she listened to the white-faced second cautioning
"Take your time," he was saying. "You've got 'm, but you got to
take your time. I've seen 'm fight. He's got a punch to the end of
the count. I've seen 'm knocked out and clean batty, an' go on
punching just the same. Mickey Sullivan had 'm goin'. Puts 'm to
the mat as fast as he crawls up, six times, an' then leaves an
opening. Ponta reaches for his jaw, an two minutes afterward
Mickey's openin' his eyes an' askin' what's doin'. So you've got to
watch 'm. No goin' in an' absorbin' one of them lucky punches, now.
I got money on this fight, but I don't call it mine till he's
Ponta was being doused with water. As the gong sounded, one of his
seconds inverted a water bottle on his head. He started toward the
centre of the ring, and the second followed him for several steps,
keeping the bottle still inverted. The referee shouted at him, and
he fled the ring, dropping the bottle as he fled. It rolled over
and over, the water gurgling out upon the canvas till the referee,
with a quick flirt of his toe, sent the bottle rolling through the
In all the previous rounds Genevieve had not seen Joe's fighting
face which had been prefigured to her that morning in the department
store. Sometimes his face had been quite boyish; other times, when
taking his fiercest punishment, it had been bleak and gray; and
still later, when living through and clutching and holding on, it
had taken on a wistful expression. But now, out of danger himself
and as he forced the fight, his fighting face came upon him. She
saw it and shuddered. It removed him so far from her. She had
thought she knew him, all of him, and held him in the hollow of her
hand; but this she did not know--this face of steel, this mouth of
steel, these eyes of steel flashing the light and glitter of steel.
It seemed to her the passionless face of an avenging angel, stamped
only with the purpose of the Lord.
Ponta attempted one of his old-time rushes, but was stopped on the
mouth. Implacable, insistent, ever menacing, never letting him
rest, Joe followed him up. The round, the thirteenth, closed with a
rush, in Ponta's corner. He attempted a rally, was brought to his
knees, took the nine seconds' count, and then tried to clinch into
safety, only to receive four of Joe's terrible stomach punches, so
that with the gong he fell back, gasping, into the arms of his
Joe ran across the ring to his own corner.
"Now I'm going to get 'm," he said to his second.
"You sure fixed 'm that time," the latter answered. "Nothin' to
stop you now but a lucky punch. Watch out for it."
Joe leaned forward, feet gathered under him for a spring, like a
foot-racer waiting the start. He was waiting for the gong. When it
sounded he shot forward and across the ring, catching Ponta in the
midst of his seconds as he rose from his stool. And in the midst of
his seconds he went down, knocked down by a right-hand blow. As he
arose from the confusion of buckets, stools, and seconds, Joe put
him down again. And yet a third time he went down before he could
escape from his own corner.
Joe had at last become the whirlwind. Genevieve remembered his
"just watch, you'll know when I go after him." The house knew it,
too. It was on its feet, every voice raised in a fierce yell. It
was the blood-cry of the crowd, and it sounded to her like what she
imagined must be the howling of wolves. And what with confidence in
her lover's victory she found room in her heart to pity Ponta.
In vain he struggled to defend himself, to block, to cover up, to
duck, to clinch into a moment's safety. That moment was denied him.
Knockdown after knockdown was his portion. He was knocked to the
canvas backwards, and sideways, was punched in the clinches and in
the break-aways--stiff, jolty blows that dazed his brain and drove
the strength from his muscles. He was knocked into the corners and
out again, against the ropes, rebounding, and with another blow
against the ropes once more. He fanned the air with his arms,
showering savage blows upon emptiness. There was nothing human left
in him. He was the beast incarnate, roaring and raging and being
destroyed. He was smashed down to his knees, but refused to take
the count, staggering to his feet only to be met stiff-handed on the
mouth and sent hurling back against the ropes.
In sore travail, gasping, reeling, panting, with glazing eyes and
sobbing breath, grotesque and heroic, fighting to the last, striving
to get at his antagonist, he surged and was driven about the ring.
And in that moment Joe's foot slipped on the wet canvas. Ponta's
swimming eyes saw and knew the chance. All the fleeing strength of
his body gathered itself together for the lightning lucky punch.
Even as Joe slipped the other smote him, fairly on the point of the
chin. He went over backward. Genevieve saw his muscles relax while
he was yet in the air, and she heard the thud of his head on the
The noise of the yelling house died suddenly. The referee, stooping
over the inert body, was counting the seconds. Ponta tottered and
fell to his knees. He struggled to his feet, swaying back and forth
as he tried to sweep the audience with his hatred. His legs were
trembling and bending under him; he was choking and sobbing,
fighting to breathe. He reeled backward, and saved himself from
falling by a blind clutching for the ropes. He clung there,
drooping and bending and giving in all his body, his head upon his
chest, until the referee counted the fatal tenth second and pointed
to him in token that he had won.
He received no applause, and he squirmed through the ropes,
snakelike, into the arms of his seconds, who helped him to the floor
and supported him down the aisle into the crowd. Joe remained where
he had fallen. His seconds carried him into his corner and placed
him on the stool. Men began climbing into the ring, curious to see,
but were roughly shoved out by the policemen, who were already
Genevieve looked on from her peep-hole. She was not greatly
perturbed. Her lover had been knocked out. In so far as
disappointment was his, she shared it with him; but that was all.
She even felt glad in a way. The Game had played him false, and he
was more surely hers. She had heard of knockouts from him. It
often took men some time to recover from the effects. It was not
till she heard the seconds asking for the doctor that she felt
They passed his limp body through the ropes to the stage, and it
disappeared beyond the limits of her peep-hole. Then the door of
her dressing-room was thrust open and a number of men came in. They
were carrying Joe. He was laid down on the dusty floor, his head
resting on the knee of one of the seconds. No one seemed surprised
by her presence. She came over and knelt beside him. His eyes were
closed, his lips slightly parted. His wet hair was plastered in
straight locks about his face. She lifted one of his hands. It was
very heavy, and the lifelessness of it shocked her. She looked
suddenly at the faces of the seconds and of the men about her. They
seemed frightened, all save one, and he was cursing, in a low voice,
horribly. She looked up and saw Silverstein standing beside her.
He, too, seemed frightened. He rested a kindly hand on her
shoulder, tightening the fingers with a sympathetic pressure.
This sympathy frightened her. She began to feel dazed. There was a
bustle as somebody entered the room. The person came forward,
proclaiming irritably: "Get out! Get out! You've got to clear the
A number of men silently obeyed.
"Who are you?" he abruptly demanded of Genevieve. "A girl, as I'm
"That's all right, she's his girl," spoke up a young fellow she
recognized as her guide.
"And you?" the other man blurted explosively at Silverstein.
"I'm vit her," he answered truculently.
"She works for him," explained the young fellow. "It's all right, I
The newcomer grunted and knelt down. He passed a hand over the damp
head, grunted again, and arose to his feet.
"This is no case for me," he said. "Send for the ambulance."
Then the thing became a dream to Genevieve. Maybe she had fainted,
she did not know, but for what other reason should Silverstein have
his arm around her supporting her? All the faces seemed blurred and
unreal. Fragments of a discussion came to her ears. The young
fellow who had been her guide was saying something about reporters.
"You vill get your name in der papers," she could hear Silverstein
saying to her, as from a great distance; and she knew she was
shaking her head in refusal.
There was an eruption of new faces, and she saw Joe carried out on a
canvas stretcher. Silverstein was buttoning the long overcoat and
drawing the collar about her face. She felt the night air on her
cheek, and looking up saw the clear, cold stars. She jammed into a
seat. Silverstein was beside her. Joe was there, too, still on his
stretcher, with blankets over his naked body; and there was a man in
blue uniform who spoke kindly to her, though she did not know what
he said. Horses' hoofs were clattering, and she was lurching
somewhere through the night.
Next, light and voices, and a smell of iodoform. This must be the
receiving hospital, she thought, this the operating table, those the
doctors. They were examining Joe. One of them, a dark-eyed, dark-
bearded, foreign-looking man, rose up from bending over the table.
"Never saw anything like it," he was saying to another man. "The
whole back of the skull."
Her lips were hot and dry, and there was an intolerable ache in her
throat. But why didn't she cry? She ought to cry; she felt it
incumbent upon her. There was Lottie (there had been another change
in the dream), across the little narrow cot from her, and she was
crying. Somebody was saying something about the coma of death. It
was not the foreign-looking doctor, but somebody else. It did not
matter who it was. What time was it? As if in answer, she saw the
faint white light of dawn on the windows.
"I was going to be married to-day," she said to Lottie.
And from across the cot his sister wailed, "Don't, don't!" and,
covering her face, sobbed afresh.
This, then, was the end of it all--of the carpets, and furniture,
and the little rented house; of the meetings and walking out, the
thrilling nights of starshine, the deliciousness of surrender, the
loving and the being loved. She was stunned by the awful facts of
this Game she did not understand--the grip it laid on men's souls,
its irony and faithlessness, its risks and hazards and fierce
insurgences of the blood, making woman pitiful, not the be-all and
end-all of man, but his toy and his pastime; to woman his mothering
and caretaking, his moods and his moments, but to the Game his days
and nights of striving, the tribute of his head and hand, his most
patient toil and wildest effort, all the strain and the stress of
his being--to the Game, his heart's desire.
Silverstein was helping her to her feet. She obeyed blindly, the
daze of the dream still on her. His hand grasped her arm and he was
turning her toward the door.
"Oh, why don't you kiss him?" Lottie cried out, her dark eyes
mournful and passionate.
Genevieve stooped obediently over the quiet clay and pressed her
lips to the lips yet warm. The door opened and she passed into
another room. There stood Mrs. Silverstein, with angry eyes that
snapped vindictively at sight of her boy's clothes.
Silverstein looked beseechingly at his spouse, but she burst forth
"Vot did I tell you, eh? Vot did I tell you? You vood haf a
bruiser for your steady! An' now your name vill be in all der
papers! At a prize fight--vit boy's clothes on! You liddle
strumpet! You hussy! You--"
But a flood of tears welled into her eyes and voice, and with her
fat arms outstretched, ungainly, ludicrous, holy with motherhood,
she tottered over to the quiet girl and folded her to her breast.
She muttered gasping, inarticulate love-words, rocking slowly to and
fro the while, and patting Genevieve's shoulder with her ponderous hand.