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Martin Eden 64

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Martin Eden

The Pickwick Papers

The Sea Wolf

received, racked his soul; after that things grew numb, and he fought on blindly, seeing as in a dream, dancing and wavering, the large features and burning, animal- like eyes of Cheese-Face. He concentrated upon that face; all else about him was a whirling void. There was nothing else in the world but that face, and he would never know rest, blessed rest, until he had beaten that face into a pulp with his bleeding knuckles, or until the bleeding knuckles that somehow belonged to that face had beaten him into a pulp. And then, one way or the other, he would have rest. But to quit,--for him, Martin, to quit,--that was impossible! Came the day when he dragged himself into the Enquirer alley, and there was no Cheese-Face. Nor did Cheese-Face come. The boys congratulated him, and told him that he had licked Cheese-Face. But Martin was not satisfied. He had not licked Cheese-Face, nor had Cheese-Face licked him. The problem had not been solved. It was not until afterward that they learned that Cheese-Faces father had died suddenly that very day. Martin skipped on through the years to the night in the nigger heaven at the Auditorium. He was seventeen and just back from sea. A row started. Somebody was bullying somebody, and Martin interfered, to be confronted by Cheese-Faces blazing eyes. "Ill fix you after de show," his ancient enemy hissed. Martin nodded. The nigger-heaven bouncer was making his way toward the disturbance. "Ill meet you outside, after the last act," Martin whispered, the while his face showed undivided interest in the buck-and-wing dancing on the stage. The bouncer glared and went away. "Got a gang?" he asked Cheese-Face, at the end of the act. "Sure." "Then I got to get one," Martin announced. Between the acts he mustered his following--three fellows he knew from the nail works, a railroad fireman, and half a dozen of the Boo Gang, along with as many more from the dread Eighteen-and-Market Gang. When the theatre let out, the two gangs strung along inconspicuously on opposite sides of the street. When they came to a quiet corner, they united and held a council of war. "Eighth Street Bridge is the place," said a red-headed fellow belonging to Cheese-Faces Gang. "You kin fight in the middle, under the electric light, an whichever way the bulls come in we kin sneak the other way." "Thats agreeable to me," Martin said, after consulting with the leaders of his own gang. The Eighth Street Bridge, crossing an arm of San Antonio Estuary, was the length of three city blocks. In the middle of the bridge, and at each end, were electric lights. No policeman could pass those end-lights unseen. It was the safe place for the battle that revived itself under Martins eyelids. He saw the two gangs, aggressive and sullen, rigidly keeping apart from each other and backing their respective champions; and he saw himself and Cheese-Face stripping. A short distance away lookouts were set, their task being to watch the lighted ends of the bridge. A member of the Boo Gang held Martins coat, and shirt, and cap, ready to race with them into safety in case the police interfered. Martin watched himself go into the centre, facing Cheese-Face, and he heard himself say, as he held up his hand warningly:- "They aint no hand-shakin in this. Understand? They aint nothin but scrap. No throwin up the sponge. This is a grudge-fight an its to a finish. Understand? Somebodys goin to get licked." Cheese-Face wanted to demur,--Martin could see that,--but Cheese-Faces old perilous pride was touched before the two gangs. "Aw, come on," he replied. "Wots the good of chewin de rag about it? Im wit cheh to de finish." Then they fell upon each other, like young bulls, in all the glory of youth, with naked fists, with hatred, with desire to hurt, to maim, to destroy. All the painful, thousand years gains of man in his upward climb through creation were lost. Only the electric light remained, a milestone on the path of the great human adventure. Martin and Cheese- Face were two savages, of the stone age, of the squatting place and the tree refuge. They sank lower and lower into the muddy abyss, back into the dregs of the raw beginnings of life, striving blindly and chemically, as atoms strive, as the star-dust if the

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