Jack London.

When God Laughs: and other stories online

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never permitted Sandel to rest. It was the strategy of Age.

Early in the tenth round King began stopping the other's rushes with
straight lefts to the face, and Sandel, grown wary, responded by drawing
the left, then by ducking it and delivering his right in a swinging hook
to the side of the head. It was too high up to be vitally effective; but
when first it landed, King knew the old, familiar descent of the black
veil of unconsciousness across his mind. For the instant, or for the
slighest fraction of an instant, rather, he ceased. In the one moment he
saw his opponent ducking out of his field of vision and the background
of white, watching faces; in the next moment he again saw his opponent
and the background of faces. It was as if he had slept for a time and
just opened his eyes again, and yet the interval of unconsciousness was
so microscopically short that there had been no time for him to fall.
The audience saw him totter and his knees give, and then saw him recover
and tuck his chin deeper into the shelter of his left shoulder.

Several times Sandel repeated the blow, keeping King partially dazed,
and then the latter worked out his defence, which was also a counter.
Feinting with his left he took a half-step backward, at the same time
upper cutting with the whole strength of his right. So accurately was
it timed that it landed squarely on Sandel's face in the full, downward
sweep of the duck, and Sandel lifted in the air and curled backward,
striking the mat on his head and shoulders. Twice King achieved this,
then turned loose and hammered his opponent to the ropes. He gave Sandel
no chance to rest or to set himself, but smashed blow in upon blow till
the house rose to its feet and the air was filled with an unbroken roar
of applause. But Sandel's strength and endurance were superb, and he
continued to stay on his feet. A knock-out seemed certain, and a captain
of police, appalled at the dreadful punishment, arose by the ringside
to stop the fight. The gong struck for the end of the round and Sandel
staggered to his corner, protesting to the captain that he was sound
and strong. To prove it, he threw two back-air-springs, and the police
captain gave in.

Tom King, leaning back in his corner and breathing hard, was
disappointed. If the fight had been stopped, the referee, perforce,
would have rendered him the decision and the purse would have been his.
Unlike Sandel, he was not fighting for glory or career, but for thirty
quid. And now Sandel would recuperate in the minute of rest.

Youth will be served - this saying flashed into King's mind, and he
remembered the first time he had heard it, the night when he had put
away Stowsher Bill. The toff who had bought him a drink after the fight
and patted him on the shoulder had used those words. Youth will be
served! The toff was right. And on that night in the long ago he had
been Youth. To-night Youth sat in the opposite corner. As for himself,
he had been fighting for half an hour now, and he was an old man. Had
he fought like Sandel, he would not have lasted fifteen minutes. But the
point was that he did not recuperate. Those upstanding arteries and
that sorely tried heart would not enable him to gather strength in the
intervals between the rounds. And he had not had sufficient strength in
him to begin with. His legs were heavy under him and beginning to cramp.
He should not have walked those two miles to the fight. And there was
the steak which he had got up longing for that morning. A great and
terrible hatred rose up in him for the butchers who had refused him
credit. It was hard for an old man to go into a fight without enough
to eat. And a piece of steak was such a little thing, a few pennies at
best; yet it meant thirty quid to him.

With the gong that opened the eleventh round, Sandel rushed, making a
show of freshness which he did not really possess. King knew it for what
it was - a bluff as old as the game itself. He clinched to save himself,
then, going free, allowed Sandel to get set. This was what King desired.
He feinted with his left, drew the answering duck and swinging upward
hook, then made the half-step backward, delivered the upper cut full to
the face and crumpled Sandel over to the mat. After that he never
let him rest, receiving punishment himself, but inflicting far more,
smashing Sandel to the ropes, hooking and driving all manner of
blows into him, tearing away from his clinches or punching him out of
attempted clinches, and ever when Sandel would have fallen, catching him
with one uplifting hand and with the other immediately smashing him into
the ropes where he could not fall.

The house by this time had gone mad, and it was his house, nearly every
voice yelling: "Go it, Tom!" "Get 'im! Get 'im!" "You've got 'im, Tom!
You've got 'im!" It was to be a whirlwind finish, and that was what a
ringside audience paid to see.

And Tom King, who for half an hour had conserved his strength, now
expended it prodigally in the one great effort he knew he had in him. It
was his one chance - now or not at all. His strength was waning fast, and
his hope was that before the last of it ebbed out of him he would have
beaten his opponent down for the count. And as he continued to strike
and force, coolly estimating the weight of his blows and the quality of
the damage wrought, he realized how hard a man Sandel was to knock out.
Stamina and endurance were his to an extreme degree, and they were the
virgin stamina and endurance of Youth. Sandel was certainly a coming
man. He had it in him. Only out of such rugged fibre were successful
fighters fashioned.

Sandel was reeling and staggering, but Tom King's legs were cramping
and his knuckles going back on him. Yet he steeled himself to strike the
fierce blows, every one of which brought anguish to his tortured hands.
Though now he was receiving practically no punishment, he was weakening
as rapidly as the other. His blows went home, but there was no longer
the weight behind them, and each blow was the result of a severe effort
of will. His legs were like lead, and they dragged visibly under
him; while Sandel's backers, cheered by this symptom, began calling
encouragement to their man.

King was spurred to a burst of effort. He delivered two blows in
succession - a left, a trifle too high, to the solar plexus, and a right
cross to the jaw. They were not heavy blows, yet so weak and dazed was
Sandel that he went down and lay quivering. The referee stood over him,
shouting the count of the fatal seconds in his ear. If before the tenth
second was called, he did not rise, the fight was lost. The house stood
in hushed silence. King rested on trembling legs. A mortal dizziness was
upon him, and before his eyes the sea of faces sagged and swayed, while
to his ears, as from a remote distance, came the count of the referee.
Yet he looked upon the fight as his. It was impossible that a man so
punished could rise.

Only Youth could rise, and Sandel rose. At the fourth second he rolled
over on his face and groped blindly for the ropes. By the seventh second
he had dragged himself to his knee, where he rested, his head rolling
groggily on his shoulders. As the referee cried "Nine!" Sandel stood
upright, in proper stalling position, his left arm wrapped about his
face, his right wrapped about his stomach. Thus were his vital points
guarded, while he lurched forward toward King in the hope of effecting a
clinch and gaining more time.

At the instant Sandel arose, King was at him, but the two blows he
delivered were muffled on the stalled arms. The next moment Sandel was
in the clinch and holding on desperately while the referee strove to
drag the two men apart. King helped to force himself free. He knew the
rapidity with which Youth recovered, and he knew that Sandel was his if
he could prevent that recovery. One stiff punch would do it. Sandel
was his, indubitably his. He had out-generalled him, out-fought him,
out-pointed him. Sandel reeled out of the clinch, balanced on the hair
line between defeat or survival. One good blow would topple him over
and down and out. And Tom King, in a flash of bitterness, remembered
the piece of steak and wished that he had it then behind that necessary
punch he must deliver. He nerved himself for the blow, but it was
not heavy enough nor swift enough. Sandel swayed, but did not fall,
staggering back to the ropes and holding on. King staggered after him,
and, with a pang like that of dissolution, delivered another blow.
But his body had deserted him. All that was left of him was a fighting
intelligence that was dimmed and clouded from exhaustion. The blow that
was aimed for the jaw struck no higher than the shoulder. He had willed
the blow higher, but the tired muscles had not been able to obey. And,
from the impact of the blow, Tom King himself reeled back and nearly
fell. Once again he strove. This time his punch missed altogether, and,
from absolute weakness, he fell against Sandel and clinched, holding on
to him to save himself from sinking to the floor.

King did not attempt to free himself. He had shot his bolt. He was
gone. And Youth had been served. Even in the clinch he could feel Sandel
growing stronger against him. When the referee thrust them apart, there,
before his eyes, he saw Youth recuperate. From instant to instant Sandel
grew stronger. His punches, weak and futile at first, became stiff and
accurate. Tom King's bleared eyes saw the gloved fist driving at his
jaw, and he willed to guard it by interposing his arm. He saw the
danger, willed the act; but the arm was too heavy. It seemed burdened
with a hundredweight of lead. It would not lift itself, and he strove to
lift it with his soul. Then the gloved fist landed home. He experienced
a sharp snap that was like an electric spark, and, simultaneously, the
veil of blackness enveloped him.

When he opened his eyes again he was in his corner, and he heard the
yelling of the audience like the roar of the surf at Bondi Beach. A wet
sponge was being pressed against the base of his brain, and Sid Sullivan
was blowing cold water in a refreshing spray over his face and chest.
His gloves had already been removed, and Sandel, bending over him, was
shaking his hand. He bore no ill-will toward the man who had put him
out and he returned the grip with a heartiness that made his battered
knuckles protest. Then Sandel stepped to the centre of the ring and
the audience hushed its pandemonium to hear him accept young Pronto's
challenge and offer to increase the side bet to one hundred pounds. King
looked on apathetically while his seconds mopped the streaming water
from him, dried his face, and prepared him to leave the ring. He felt
hungry. It was not the ordinary, gnawing kind, but a great faintness,
a palpitation at the pit of the stomach that communicated itself to all
his body. He remembered back into the fight to the moment when he had
Sandel swaying and tottering on the hair-line balance of defeat. Ah,
that piece of steak would have done it! He had lacked just that for
the decisive blow, and he had lost. It was all because of the piece of
steak.

His seconds were half-supporting him as they helped him through the
ropes. He tore free from them, ducked through the ropes unaided, and
leaped heavily to the floor, following on their heels as they forced a
passage for him down the crowded centre aisle. Leaving the dressing-room
for the street, in the entrance to the hall, some young fellow spoke to
him.

"W'y didn't yuh go in an' get 'im when yuh 'ad 'im?" the young fellow
asked.

"Aw, go to hell!" said Tom King, and passed down the steps to the
sidewalk.

The doors of the public-house at the corner were swinging wide, and
he saw the lights and the smiling barmaids, heard the many voices
discussing the fight and the prosperous chink of money on the bar.
Somebody called to him to have a drink. He hesitated perceptibly, then
refused and went on his way.

He had not a copper in his pocket, and the two-mile walk home seemed
very long. He was certainly getting old. Crossing the Domain, he sat
down suddenly on a bench, unnerved by the thought of the missus sitting
up for him, waiting to learn the outcome of the fight. That was harder
than any knockout, and it seemed almost impossible to face.

He felt weak and sore, and the pain of his smashed knuckles warned him
that, even if he could find a job at navvy work, it would be a week
before he could grip a pick handle or a shovel. The hunger palpitation
at the pit of the stomach was sickening. His wretchedness overwhelmed
him, and into his eyes came an unwonted moisture. He covered his face
with his hands, and, as he cried, he remembered Stowsher Bill and how
he had served him that night in the long ago. Poor old Stowsher Bill!
He could understand now why Bill had cried in the dressing-room.







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Online LibraryJack LondonWhen God Laughs: and other stories → online text (page 12 of 12)