The Game by Jack London


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Page 1

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 worthy.

"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--"

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Books | Photos | Paul Mutton | Fri 10th Jul 2020, 13:44