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Martin Eden 24

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Martin Eden

The Pickwick Papers

The Sea Wolf

two girls appeared. They were looking for him, he knew; and for the moment he could have cursed that in him which drew women. Their casual edging across the sidewalk to the curb, as they drew near, apprised him of discovery. They slowed down, and were in the thick of the crown as they came up with him. One of them brushed against him and apparently for the first time noticed him. She was a slender, dark girl, with black, defiant eyes. But they smiled at him, and he smiled back. "Hello," he said. It was automatic; he had said it so often before under similar circumstances of first meetings. Besides, he could do no less. There was that large tolerance and sympathy in his nature that would permit him to do no less. The black-eyed girl smiled gratification and greeting, and showed signs of stopping, while her companion, arm linked in arm, giggled and likewise showed signs of halting. He thought quickly. It would never do for Her to come out and see him talking there with them. Quite naturally, as a matter of course, he swung in along-side the dark- eyed one and walked with her. There was no awkwardness on his part, no numb tongue. He was at home here, and he held his own royally in the badinage, bristling with slang and sharpness, that was always the preliminary to getting acquainted in these swift-moving affairs. At the corner where the main stream of people flowed onward, he started to edge out into the cross street. But the girl with the black eyes caught his arm, following him and dragging her companion after her, as she cried: "Hold on, Bill! Whats yer rush? Youre not goin to shake us so sudden as all that?" He halted with a laugh, and turned, facing them. Across their shoulders he could see the moving throng passing under the street lamps. Where he stood it was not so light, and, unseen, he would be able to see Her as she passed by. She would certainly pass by, for that way led home. "Whats her name?" he asked of the giggling girl, nodding at the dark- eyed one. "You ask her," was the convulsed response. "Well, what is it?" he demanded, turning squarely on the girl in question. "You aint told me yours, yet," she retorted. "You never asked it," he smiled. "Besides, you guessed the first rattle. Its Bill, all right, all right." "Aw, go long with you." She looked him in the eyes, her own sharply passionate and inviting. "What is it, honest?" Again she looked. All the centuries of woman since sex began were eloquent in her eyes. And he measured her in a careless way, and knew, bold now, that she would begin to retreat, coyly and delicately, as he pursued, ever ready to reverse the game should he turn fainthearted. And, too, he was human, and could feel the draw of her, while his ego could not but appreciate the flattery of her kindness. Oh, he knew it all, and knew them well, from A to Z. Good, as goodness might be measured in their particular class, hard-working for meagre wages and scorning the sale of self for easier ways, nervously desirous for some small pinch of happiness in the desert of existence, and facing a future that was a gamble between the ugliness of unending toil and the black pit of more terrible wretchedness, the way whereto being briefer though better paid. "Bill," he answered, nodding his head. "Sure, Pete, Bill an no other." "No joshin?" she queried. "It aint Bill at all," the other broke in. "How do you know?" he demanded. "You never laid eyes on me before." "No need to, to know youre lyin," was the retort. "Straight, Bill, what is it?" the first girl asked. "Billll do," he confessed. She reached out to his arm and shook him playfully. "I knew you was lyin, but you look good to me just the same." He captured the hand that invited, and felt on the palm familiar markings and distortions. "Whend you chuck the cannery?" he asked. "Howd yeh know?" and, "My, aint cheh a mind-reader!" the girls chorussed. And while he exchanged the stupidities of stupid minds with them, before his inner sight towered the book-shelves of the library, filled with the wisdom of the ages. He smiled bitterly

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