Book Excerpt: The Beggar

The ecstasy of love fades and the frenzy of sex is too ephemeral to have any effect. What can we do when we find no food to satisfy our hunger? You’ll be swept into the tornado and annihilated. There is no way to bring back stability after it has died.

A brunette dancer at the New Paris attracted him with her gaiety and lithe body, so he went after her. He saw Margaret on the stage, returned her smile, then invited the brunette to his table. To Margaret it must have seemed a clumsy play in the game of love, but in the storm he’d lost all sense of humor. The brunette left with him, enticed by money. It didn’t really make things better, but he thought his heart stirred slightly as she laughed. If his heart didn’t stir, it would die. Poetry, wine, love – none of them could call forth the elusive ecstasy.

Every night he picked up a woman, from one club or another, sometimes from the streets. At the Capri he sat with a dancer called Muna. Yazbeck rushed over to greet him, exhibiting obvious pleasure. It angered Omar, for he saw it as a kind of death notice of his frustrated hopes.

“My good man. Did….?”

Omar looked at him sternly and left with Muna. As he pressed her to him, he trembled with an unaccountable urge to kill her. He imagined himself ripping open her chest with a knife, and suddenly finding what he’d been looking for all along. Killing is the complement of creation, the completion of the silent, mysterious cycle.

“What’s wrong?” Muna whispered.

He awoke, startled. “Nothing, just the dark.”

“But there’s no one around.”

He raced the car at such a speed that she grasped his arm and threatened to scream. Later, as he was undressing, he felt that the end was coming – the answer to his search – insanity or death. Warda sat on the bed. “I’m going away,” she said.

He answered gently, “I feel responsible for you.”

“I don’t want anything.” After a moment’s silence, she spoke again. “What’s sad is that I’ve really loved you.”

He said wearily, “But you’re not patient with me.”

“My patience is at an end.”

He felt such revulsion toward her in his soul that he didn’t comment.

Finding no trace of her when he returned the next night, he smiled in relief and lay down in his suit on the divan to enjoy the silent, empty flat. Every night he brought a new woman to it.

Mustapha laughed and said, “Hail to the greatest Don Juan on the African continent.”

Omar smiled lamely as Mustapha continued. “It’s no secret anymore. Several of my colleagues have spoken about you. The news has also reached your cronies at the club. They wonder what’s the story behind your rejuvenation.”

He said with distaste, “Honestly, I hate women.”

“That’s obvious!” Then he continued more seriously. “Empty your heart of what’s troubling you so you can settle down, once and for all.”

In the spring it was a relief to sit outdoors in the nightclub gardens, rather than in the closed halls. But the agitation remained, and he was exhausted by his dreams. Occasionally he found solace in reading, especially the poems of India and Persia.

His nighttime adventures took him once more to the Capri. As he sat under the trellis, sipping his drink and receiving the spring breeze, Warda appeared again on the stage. He felt no emotion, surprise, agitation, or pleasure. In autumn it had started. Ecstasy, love, then aversion; when will the grieved heart smash these vicious cycles? When will it break through the barrier of no return? She sees him, then continues dancing, while Yazbeck steals worried glances. He felt no determination. But after the show, noticing Warda not far from him, he invited her to his table. She approached with a smile, as though nothing had happened. He ordered the usual – the drink which had earned him renown in the clubs – and said with sincerity, “I”m really sorry, Warda.”

Smiling enigmatically, she said, “You shouldn’t regret what has passed.” Then gaily: “And the experience of love is precious even if it brings suffering.”

He said, biting his lip, “I’m not well.”

She whispered, “Then let’s pray to God for your recovery.”

He felt the glances of the other women who’d gone with him, night after night. As Warda smiled, he muttered, “I didn’t desire them.”

She raised her eyebrows.

“I know them all, without exception, but there was never any desire.”

“Then why?”

“Hoping the divine moment would unlock the answer.”

She said resentfully, “How cruel you were. You men don’t believe in love unless we disbelieve in it.”

“Perhaps, but that’s not my problem.”

The scent of orange blossoms drifting from the dark fields suggested secret worlds of delight. Feeling suddenly light and unfettered, he asked her fervently, “Tell me, Warda, why do you live?”

She shrugged her shoulders and finished her drink, but when he repeated the question, he was so clearly in earnest that she replied, “Does that question have any meaning?”

“It doesn’t hurt to ask it once in a while.”

“I live, that’s all.”

“I’m waiting for a better answer.”

She thought a moment, then said, “I love to dance, and to be admired, and I hope to find true love.”

“To you, then, life means love.”

“Why not?”

“After loving once, weren’t you disillusioned?”

She said with annoyance, “That may be true of others.”

“And as for you?”


“How many times have you loved?”

“I told you once…”

He interrupted her. “What you told me once doesn’t matter; let’s discuss things openly now.”

“Your violent nature is getting the better of you.”

“Don’t you want to talk?”

“I’ve said all that I…”

He sighed, then continued feverishly. “And God, what do you think of Him?”

She looked at him distrustfully, but he entreated, “Please answer me, Warda.”

“I believe in Him.”

“With certainty?”

“Of course.”

“How does such certainty arise?”

“It exists, that’s all.”

“Do you think about HIm often?”

Her laugh was a bit forced. “When in need or adversity.”

“And other than that?”

She said sharply, “You love to torture others, don’t you?”

He stayed in the club till 3 a.m. and then raced out in the car to the Pyramids Road. Going out alone that night, he reflected, was an interesting development. He parked the car along the side of the deserted road and got out. The darkness, unrelieved by ground lights, was peculiarly dense, unlike any night he could remember. The earth and space itself seemed to have disappeared and he was lost in blackness. Raising his head to the gigantic dome overhead, he was assaulted by thousands of stars, alone, in clusters, and in constellations. A gentle breeze blew, dry and refreshing, harmonizing the parts of the universe. The desert sands, clothed in darkness, hid the whispers, as numberless as the grains, of past generations – their hopes, their suffering, and all their lost questions. There’s no pain without cause, something told him, and somewhere this enchanted, ephemeral moment will endure. Here I am, beseeching the silence to utter, for if that happened, all would change. If only the sands would loosen their hidden powers, and liberate me from this oppressive impotence. What prevents me from shouting, knowing that no echo will reverberate? He leaned against the car and gazed for a long time at the horizon. Slowly it changed as the darkness relented and a line appeared, diffusing a strange luminosity like a fragrance or a secret. Then it grew more pronounced, sending forth waves of light and splendor. His heart danced with an intoxicated joy, and his fears and miseries were swept away. His eyes seemed drawn out of their very sockets by the marvelous light, but he kept is head raised with unyielding determination. A delirious, entrancing happiness overwhelmed him, a dance of joy which embraced all earth’s creatures. All his limbs were alive, all his senses intoxicated. Doubts, fears, and hardships were buried. He was shadowed by a strange, heavy certitude, one of peace and contentment, and a sense of confidence, never felt before, that he would achieve what he wanted. But he was raised above all desire, the earth fell beneath him like a handful of dust, and he wanted nothing. I don’t ask for health, peace, security, glory, or old age. Let the end come now, for this is my best moment.

The delirium had left him panting, his body twisted crazily toward the horizon. He took a deep breath, as if trying to regain his strength after a stiff race, and felt a creeping sensation from afar, from the depths of his being, pulling him earthward. He tried to fight it, or delay it, but in vain. It was as deep-rooted as fate, as sly as a fox, as ironic as death. He revived with a sigh to the waves of sadness and the laughing lights.

He returned to the car and drove off. Looking at the road dispiritedly, he said, as if addressing someone else, “This is ecstasy.” He paused before continuing. “Certainly, without argumentation or logic.” Then in a more forceful voice: “Breaths of the unknown, whispers of the secret.” Accelerating the car, he asked, “Isn’t it worth giving up everything for its sake?”

– The Beggar by Naguib Mafouz


The Beggar
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Book Excerpt: Chance

The absurd temptation to remain and see what would come of it got over my better judgment. I hung about irresolute, wondering how long an embassy of that sort would take, and whether Fyne on coming out would consent to be communicative. I feared he would be shocked at finding me there, would consider my conduct incorrect, conceivably treat me with contempt. I walked off a few paces. Perhaps it would be possible to read something on Fyne’s face as he came out; and, if necessary, I could always eclipse myself discreetly through the door of one of the bars. The ground floor of the Eastern Hotel was an unabashed pub, with plate-glass fronts, a display of brass rails, and divided into many compartments each having its own entrance.

But of course all this was silly. The marriage, the love, the affairs of Captain Anthony were none of my business. I was on the point of moving down the street for good when my attention was attracted by a girl approaching the hotel entrance from the west. She was dressed very modestly in black. It was the white straw hat of a good form and trimmed with a bunch of pale roses which had caught my eye. The whole figure seemed familiar. Of course! Flora de Barral. She was making for the hotel, she was going in. And Fyne was with Captain Anthony! To meet him could not be pleasant for her. I wished to save her from the awkwardness, and as I hesitated what to do she looked up and our eyes happened to meet just as she was turning off the pavement into the hotel doorway. Instinctively I extended my arm. It was enough to make her stop. I suppose she had some faint notion that she had seen me before somewhere. She walked slowly forward, prudent and attentive, watching my faint smile.

“Excuse me,” I said directly she had approached me near enough. “Perhaps you would like to know that Mr. Fyne is upstairs with Captain Anthony at this moment.”

She uttered a faint “Ah! Mr. Fyne!” I could read in her eyes that she had recognized me now. Her serious expression extinguished the imbecile grin of which I was conscious. I raised my hat. She responded with a slow inclination of the head while her luminous, mistrustful, maiden’s glance seemed to whisper, “What is this one doing here?”

“I came up to town with Fyne this morning,” I said in a businesslike tone. “I have to see a friend in East India Dock. Fyne and I parted this moment at the door here . . . ” The girl regarded me with darkening eyes . . . “Mrs. Fyne did not come with her husband,” I went on, then hesitated before that white face so still in the pearly shadow thrown down by the hat-brim. “But she sent him,” I murmured by way of warning.

Her eyelids fluttered slowly over the fixed stare. I imagine she was not much disconcerted by this development. “I live a long way from here,” she whispered.

I said perfunctorily, “Do you?” And we remained gazing at each other. The uniform paleness of her complexion was not that of an anaemic girl. It had a transparent vitality and at that particular moment the faintest possible rosy tinge, the merest suspicion of colour; an equivalent, I suppose, in any other girl to blushing like a peony while she told me that Captain Anthony had arranged to show her the ship that morning.

It was easy to understand that she did not want to meet Fyne. And when I mentioned in a discreet murmur that he had come because of her letter she glanced at the hotel door quickly, and moved off a few steps to a position where she could watch the entrance without being seen. I followed her. At the junction of the two thoroughfares she stopped in the thin traffic of the broad pavement and turned to me with an air of challenge. “And so you know.”

I told her that I had not seen the letter. I had only heard of it. She was a little impatient. “I mean all about me.”

Yes. I knew all about her. The distress of Mr. and Mrs. Fyne–especially of Mrs. Fyne–was so great that they would have shared it with anybody almost–not belonging to their circle of friends. I happened to be at hand–that was all.

“You understand that I am not their friend. I am only a holiday acquaintance.”

“She was not very much upset?” queried Flora de Barral, meaning, of course, Mrs. Fyne. And I admitted that she was less so than her husband–and even less than myself. Mrs. Fyne was a very self-possessed person which nothing could startle out of her extreme theoretical position. She did not seem startled when Fyne and I proposed going to the quarry.

“You put that notion into their heads,” the girl said.

I advanced that the notion was in their heads already. But it was much more vividly in my head since I had seen her up there with my own eyes, tempting Providence.

She was looking at me with extreme attention, and murmured:

“Is that what you called it to them? Tempting . . . “

“No. I told them that you were making up your mind and I came along just then. I told them that you were saved by me. My shout checked you . . .” She moved her head gently from right to left in negation . . . “No? Well, have it your own way.”

I thought to myself: She has found another issue. She wants to forget now. And no wonder. She wants to persuade herself that she had never known such an ugly and poignant minute in her life. “After all,” I conceded aloud, “things are not always what they seem.”

Her little head with its deep blue eyes, eyes of tenderness and anger under the black arch of fine eyebrows was very still. The mouth looked very red in the white face peeping from under the veil, the little pointed chin had in its form something aggressive. Slight and even angular in her modest black dress she was an appealing and–yes–she was a desirable little figure.

Her lips moved very fast asking me:

“And they believed you at once?”

“Yes, they believed me at once. Mrs. Fyne’s word to us was “Go!”

A white gleam between the red lips was so short that I remained uncertain whether it was a smile or a ferocious baring of little even teeth. The rest of the face preserved its innocent, tense and enigmatical expression. She spoke rapidly.

“No, it wasn’t your shout. I had been there some time before you saw me. And I was not there to tempt Providence, as you call it. I went up there for–for what you thought I was going to do. Yes. I climbed two fences. I did not mean to leave anything to Providence. There seem to be people for whom Providence can do nothing. I suppose you are shocked to hear me talk like that?”

I shook my head. I was not shocked. What had kept her back all that time, till I appeared on the scene below, she went on, was neither fear nor any other kind of hesitation. One reaches a point, she said with appalling youthful simplicity, where nothing that concerns one matters any longer. But something did keep her back. I should have never guessed what it was. She herself confessed that it seemed absurd to say. It was the Fyne dog.

Flora de Barral paused, looking at me, with a peculiar expression and then went on. You see, she imagined the dog had become extremely attached to her. She took it into her head that he might fall over or jump down after her. She tried to drive him away. She spoke sternly to him. It only made him more frisky. He barked and jumped about her skirt in his usual, idiotic, high spirits. He scampered away in circles between the pines charging upon her and leaping as high as her waist. She commanded, “Go away. Go home.” She even picked up from the ground a bit of a broken branch and threw it at him. At this his delight knew no bounds; his rushes became faster, his yapping louder; he seemed to be having the time of his life. She was convinced that the moment she threw herself down he would spring over after her as if it were part of the game. She was vexed almost to tears. She was touched too. And when he stood still at some distance as if suddenly rooted to the ground wagging his tail slowly and watching her intensely with his shining eyes another fear came to her. She imagined herself gone and the creature sitting on the brink, its head thrown up to the sky and howling for hours. This thought was not to be borne. Then my shout reached her ears.

She told me all this with simplicity. My voice had destroyed her poise–the suicide poise of her mind. Every act of ours, the most criminal, the most mad presupposes a balance of thought, feeling and will, like a correct attitude for an effective stroke in a game. And I had destroyed it. She was no longer in proper form for the act. She was not very much annoyed. Next day would do. She would have to slip away without attracting the notice of the dog. She thought of the necessity almost tenderly. She came down the path carrying her despair with lucid calmness. But when she saw herself deserted by the dog, she had an impulse to turn round, go up again and be done with it. Not even that animal cared for her–in the end.

“I really did think that he was attached to me. What did he want to pretend for, like this? I thought nothing could hurt me any more. Oh yes. I would have gone up, but I felt suddenly so tired. So tired. And then you were there. I didn’t know what you would do. You might have tried to follow me and I didn’t think I could run–not up hill–not then.”

She had raised her white face a little, and it was queer to hear her say these things. At that time of the morning there are comparatively few people out in that part of the town. The broad interminable perspective of the East India Dock Road, the great perspective of drab brick walls, of grey pavement, of muddy roadway rumbling dismally with loaded carts and vans lost itself in the distance, imposing and shabby in its spacious meanness of aspect, in its immeasurable poverty of forms, of colouring, of life–under a harsh, unconcerned sky dried by the wind to a clear blue. It had been raining during the night. The sunshine itself seemed poor. From time to time a few bits of paper, a little dust and straw whirled past us on the broad flat promontory of the pavement before the rounded front of the hotel.

Flora de Barral was silent for a while. I said:

“And next day you thought better of it.”

Again she raised her eyes to mine with that peculiar expression of informed innocence; and again her white cheeks took on the faintest tinge of pink–the merest shadow of a blush.

“Next day,” she uttered distinctly, “I didn’t think. I remembered. That was enough. I remembered what I should never have forgotten. Never. And Captain Anthony arrived at the cottage in the evening.”

“Ah yes. Captain Anthony,” I murmured. And she repeated also in a murmur, “Yes! Captain Anthony.” The faint flush of warm life left her face. I subdued my voice still more and not looking at her: “You found him sympathetic?” I ventured.

Her long dark lashes went down a little with an air of calculated discretion. At least so it seemed to me. And yet no one could say that I was inimical to that girl. But there you are! Explain it as you may, in this world the friendless, like the poor, are always a little suspect, as if honesty and delicacy were only possible to the privileged few.

“Why do you ask?” she said after a time, raising her eyes suddenly to mine in an effect of candour which on the same principle (of the disinherited not being to be trusted) might have been judged equivocal.

– Chance by Joseph Conrad

Chance is available in print and electronic editions from

Book Excerpt: Mere Christianity

God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on petrol, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.

That is the key to history. Terrific energy is expended – civilizations are built up – excellent institutions devised; but each time something goes wrong. Some fatal flaw always brings the selfish and cruel people to the top and it all slides back into misery and ruin. In fact, the machine conks. It seems to start up all right and runs a few yards, and then it breaks down. They are trying to run it on the wrong juice. That is what Satan has done to us humans.

And what did God do? First of all he left us conscience, the sense of right and wrong: and all through history there have been people trying (some of them very hard) to obey it. None of them ever quite succeeded. Secondly, He sent the human race what I call good dreams: I mean those queer stories scattered all through the heathen religions about a god who dies and comes to life again and, by his death, has somehow given new life to men. Thirdly, He selected one particular people and spent several centuries hammering into their heads the sort of God He was – that there was only one of Him and that He cared about right conduct. Those people were the Jews, and the Old Testament gives an account of the hammering process.

Then comes the real shock. Among these Jews there suddenly turns up a man who goes about talking as if He was God. He claims to forgive sins. He says Has has always existed. He says His is coming to judge the world at the end of time. Now let us get this clear. Among Pantheists, like the Indians, anyone might say that he was a part of God, or one with God: there would be nothing very odd about it. But this man, since he was a Jew, could not mean that kind of God. God, in their language, meant the Being outside the world, who had made it and was infinitely different from anything else. And when you grasped that, you will see that what this man said was, quite simply, the most shocking thing that has ever been uttered by human lips.

One part of the claim tends to slip past us unnoticed because we have heard it so often that we no longer see what it amounts to. I mean the claim to forgive sins: any sins. Now unless the speaker is God, this is really so preposterous as to be comic. We can all understand how a man forgives offences against himself. You tread on my toes and I forgive you, you steal my money and I forgive you. But what should we make of a man, himself unrolled and untrodden on, who announced that he forgave you for treading on other men’s toes and stealing other men’s money? Asinine fatuity is the kindest description we should give of his conduct. Yet this is what Jesus did. He told people that their sins were forgiven, and never waited to consult all the other people whom their sins undoubtedly injured. He unhesitatingly behaved as if He was the party chiefly concerned, the person chiefly offended in all offences. This makes sense only is He really was the God whose laws are broken and whose love is wounded in every sin. In the mouth of any speaker who is not God, these words would imply what I can only regard as a silliness and conceit unrivaled by any the character in history.

Yet (and this is the strange, significant thing) even His enemies, when they read the Gospels, do not usually get the impression of silliness or conceit. Still less do unprejudiced readers. Christ says that He is “humble and meek” and we believe Him; no noticing that, if He were merely a man, humility and meekness are the very last characteristics we could attribute some of His sayings.

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit on Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.

– Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

Mere Christianity
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Short Story: A Piece of Steak

With the last morsel of bread Tom King wiped his plate clean of the last particle of flour gravy and chewed the resulting mouthful in a slow and meditative way. When he arose from the table he was oppressed by the feeling that he was distinctly hungry. Yet he alone had eaten. The two children in the other room had been sent early to bed in order that in sleep they might forget they had gone supperless. His wife had touched nothing, and had sat silently and watched him with solicitous eyes. She was a thin, worn woman of the working class, though signs of an earlier prettiness were not wanting in here face. The flour for the gravy she had borrowed from the neighbor across the hall. The last two ha’pennies had gone to buy the bread.

He sat down by the window on a rickety chair that protested under his weight, and quite mechanically he put his pipe in his mouth and dipped into the side pocket of his coat. The absence of any tobacco made him aware of his action and, with a scowl for his forgetfulness, he put the pipe away. His movements were slow, almost hulking, as though he were burdened by the heavy weight of his muscles. He was a solid-bodied, stolid-looking man, and his appearance did not suffer from being overprepossessing. His rough clothes were old and slouchy. The uppers of his shoes were too weak to carry the heavy resoling that was itself of no recent date. And his cotton shirt, a cheap, two-shilling affair, showed a frayed collar and ineradicable paint stains.

But it was Tom King’s face that advertised him unmistakably for what it was. It was the face of a typical prizefighter; of one who had put in long years of service in the squared ring, by that means, developed and emphasized all the marks of the fighting beast. It was distinctly a lowering countenance, and, that no feature of it might escape notice, it was clean-shaven. The lips were shapeless and constituted a mouth harsh to excess, that was like a gash in his face. The jaw was aggressive, brutal, heavy. The eyes, slow of movement and heavy-lidded, were almost expressionless under the shaggy, indrawn brows. Sheer animal that he was, the eyes were the most animal-like feature about him. They were sleepy, lion-like—the eyes of a fighting animal. The forehead slanted quickly back to the hair, which clipped close, showed every bump of the villainous-looking head. A nose, twice broken and moulded variously by countless blows, and a cauliflower ear, permanently swollen and distorted to twice its size, completed his adornment, while the beard, fresh-shaven as it was, sprouted in the skin and gave the face a blue-black stain.

Altogether, it was the face of a man to be afraid of in a dark alley or lonely place. And yet Tom King was not a criminal, nor had he ever done anything criminal. Outside of brawls, common to his walk in life, he had harmed no one. Nor had he ever been known to pick a quarrel. He was a professional, and all the fighting brutishness of him was reserved for his professional appearances. Outside the ring he was slow-going, easy-natured, and, in his younger days when money was flush, too open-handed for his own good. He bore no grudges and had few enemies. Fighting was a business with him. In the ring he struck to hurt, struck to maim, struck to destroy; but there was no animus in it. It was a plain business proposition. Audiences assembled and paid for the spectacle of men knocking each other out. The winner took the big end of the purse. When Tom King faced the Woolloomoolloo Gouger, twenty years before, he knew that Gouger’s jaw was only four months healed after having been broken in a Newcastle bout. And he played for that jaw and broken it again in the ninth round, not because he bore the Gouger any ill will, but because that was the surest way to put the Gouger out and win the big end of the purse. Nor had the Gouger borne him any ill will for it. It was the game, and both knew the game and played it.

Tom King had never been a talker, and he sat by the window, morosely silent, staring at his hands. The veins stood out on the backs of the hands, large and swollen; and the knuckles, smashed and battered and malformed, testified to the use to which they had been put. He had never heard that a man’s life was the life of his arteries, but well he knew the meaning of those big, upstanding veins. His heart had pumped too much blood through them at top pressure. They no longer did the work. He had stretched the elasticity out of them, and with their distention had passed his endurance. He tired easily now. No longer could he do a fast twenty rounds, hammer and tongs, fight, fight, fight, from gong to gong, with fierce rally on top of fierce rally, beaten to the ropes and in turn beating his opponent to the ropes, and rallying fiercest and fastest of all in that last, twentieth round, with the house on its feet and yelling, himself rushing, striking, ducking, raining showers of blows upon showers of blows and receiving showers of blows in return, and all the time the heart faithfully pumping the surging blood through the adequate veins. The veins, swollen at the time, had always shrunk down again, though not quite—neach time, imperceptibly at first, remaining just a trifle larger than before. He stared at them and at his battered knuckles, and, for the moment, caught a vision of the youthful excellence of those hands before the first knuckle had been smashed on the head of Benny Jones, otherwise known as the Welsh Terror.

The impression of his hunger came back on him.

“Blimey, but couldn’t I go a piece of steak!” he muttered aloud, clenching his huge fists and spitting out a smothered oath.

“I tried both Burke’s an’ Sawley’s,” his wife said half apologetically.

“An’ they wouldn’t?” he demanded.

“Not a ha’penny. Burke said ——” She faltered.

“G’wan! Wot ‘d he say?”

“As how ‘e was thinkin’ Sandel ud do ye tonight, an’ as how yer score was comfortable big as it was.”

Tom King grunted, but did not reply. He was busy thinking of the bull terrier he had kept in his younger days to which he had fed steaks without end. Burke would have given him credit for a thousand steaks—then. But times had changed. Tom King was getting old; and old men, fighting before second-rate clubs, couldn’t expect to run bills of any size with the tradesmen.

He got up in the morning with a longing for a piece of steak, and the longing had not abated. He had not had a fair training for this fight. It was a drought year in Australia, times were hard and even the most irregular work was difficult to find. He had had no sparring partner and his food had not been of the best nor always sufficient. He had done a few days’ navvy work when he could get it, and he had run around the Domain in the early mornings to get his legs in shape. But it was hard training without a partner and with a wife and two kiddies that must be fed. Credit with the tradesmen had undergone very slight expansion when he was matched with Sandel. The secretary of the Gayety Club had advanced him three pounds—the loser’s end of the purse—and beyond that had refused to go. Now and again he had managed to borrow a few shillings from old pals, who would have leant more only that it was a drought year and they were hard put themselves. No—and there was no use in disguising the fact—his training had not been satisfactory. He should have had better food and no worries. Besides, when a man is forty it is harder to get into condition than when he is twenty.

“What time is it, Lizzie?” he asked.

His wife went across the hall to inquire and came back. “Quarter before eight.”

“They’ll be startin’ the first bout in a few minutes,” he said. “Only a try-out. Then there’s a four-round spar ‘tween Dealer Wells an’ Gridley, an’ a ten-round go ‘tween Starlight an’ some sailor bloke. I don’t come on for over an hour.”

At the end of another silent ten minutes he rose to his feet.

“Truth is, Lizzie, I ain’t had proper trainin’.”

He reached for his hat and started for the door. He did not offer to kiss her—he never did on going out—but on this night she dared to kiss him, throwing her arms around him and compelling him to bend down to her face. She looked quite small against the massive bulk of the man.

“Good luck, Tom,” she said. “You gotter do ‘im.”

“Ay, I gotter do ‘im,” he repeated. “That’s all there is to it. I jus’ gotter do ‘im.”

e laughed with an attempt at heartiness, while she pressed more closely against him. Across her shoulders he looked around the bare room. It was all he had in the world, with the rent overdue, and her and the kiddies. And he was leaving it to go out into the night to get meat for his mate and cubs—not like a modern workingman doing to his machine grind, but in the old, primitive, royal, animal way, by fighting for it.

“I gotter do ‘im,” he repeated, this time a hint of desperation in his voice. “If it’s a win it’s thirty quid—an’ I can pay all that’s owin’, with a lump o’ money left over. If it’s a lose I get naught—not even a penny for me to ride home on the tram. The secretary’s give all that’s comin’ from a loser’s end. Good-by, old woman. I’ll come straight home if it’s a win.”

“An’ I’ll be waitin’ up,” she called to him along the hall.

It was a full two miles to the Gayety, and as he walked along he remembered how in his palmy days—he had once been the heavyweight champion of New South Wales—he would have ridden in a cab to the fight, and how, most likely, some heavy backer would have paid for the cab and ridden with him. There were Tommy Burns and that Yankee nigger, Jack Johnson—they rode about in motor cars. And he walked! And, as any man knew, a hard two miles was not the best preliminary to a fight. He was an old un, and the world did not wag well with old uns. He was good for nothing now except navvy work, and his broken nose and swollen ear were against him even in that. He found himself wishing that he had learned a trade. It would have been better in the long run. But no one had told him, and he knew, deep down in his heart, that he would not have listened if they had. It had been so easy. Big money—sharp, glorious fights—periods of rest and loafing in between—a following of eager flatterers, the slaps on the back, the shakes of the hand, the toffs glad to buy him a drink for the privilege of five minutes’ talk—and the glory of it, the yelling houses, the whirlwind finish, the referee’s “King wins!” and his name in the sporting columns next day.

Those had been times! But he realized now, in his slow, ruminating way, that it was the old uns he had been putting away. He was Youth, rising; and they were Age, sinking. No wonder it had been easy—they with their swollen veins and battered knuckles and weary in the bones of them from the long battles they had already fought. He remembered the time he put out old Stowsher Bill, at Rush-Cutters Bay, in the eighteenth round, and how old Bill had cried afterward in the dressing-room like a baby. Perhaps old Bill’s rent had been overdue. Perhaps he’d had at home a missus an’ a couple of kiddies. And perhaps Bill, that very day of the fight, had had a hungering for a piece of steak. Bill had fought game and taken incredible punishment. He could see now, after he had gone through the mill himself, that Stowsher Bill had fought for a bigger stake, that night twenty years ago, than had young Tom King, who had fought for glory and easy money. No wonder Stowsher Bill had cried afterward in the dressing-room.

Well, a man had only so many fights in him, to begin with. It was the iron law of the game. One man might have a hundred hard fights in him, another man only twenty; each, according to the make of him and the quality of his fiber, had a definite number, and when he had fought them he was done. Yes, he had had more fights in him than most of them, and he had had far more than his share of the hard, grueling fights—the kind that worked the heart and lungs to bursting, that took the elastic out of the arteries and made hard knots of muscle out of youth’s sleek suppleness, that wore out nerve and stamina and made brain and bones weary from excess of effort and endurance overwrought. Yes, he had done better than all of them. There was none of his old fighting partners left. He was the last of the old guard. He had seen them all finished, and he had had a hand in finishing some of them.

They had tried him out against the old uns, and one after another he had put them away—laughing when, like old Stowsher Bill, they cried in the dressing-room. And now he was an old un, and they tried out the youngsters on him. There was the bloke, Sandel. He had come over from New Zealand with a record behind him. But nobody in Australia knew anything about him, so they put him up against old Tom King. If Sandel made a showing he would be given better men to fight, with bigger purses to win; so it was to be depended upon that he would put up a fierce battle. He had everything to win by it—money and glory and career; and Tom King was the grizzled old chopping-block that guarded the highway to fame and fortune. And he had nothing to win except thirty quid, to pay to the landlord and the tradesmen. And, as Tom King thus ruminated, there came to his stolid vision the form of Youth, glorious Youth, rising exultant and invincible, supple of muscle and silken of skin, with heart and lungs that had never been tired and torn and that laughed at limitation of effort. Yes, Youth was the Nemesis. It destroyed the old uns and recked not that, in so doing, it destroyed itself. It enlarged its arteries and smashed its knuckles, and was in turn destroyed by Youth. For Youth was ever youthful. It was only Age that grew older.

At Castlereagh Street he turned to the left, and three blocks along came to the Gayety. A crowd of young larrikins hanging outside the door made respectful way for him, and he heard one say to another: “That’s ‘im! That’s Tom King!”

“How are you feelin’, Tom?” he asked.

“Fit as a fiddle,” King answered, although he knew that he lied, and that if he had a quid he would give it right there for a good piece of steak.

When he emerged from the dressing-room, his seconds behind him, and came down the aisle to the squared ring in the center of the hall, a burst of greeting and applause went up from the waiting crowd. He acknowledged salutations right and left, though few of the faces did he know. Most of them were the faces of kiddies unborn when he was winning his first laurels in the squared ring. He leaped lightly to the raised platform and ducked through the ropes to his corner, where he sat down on a folding stool. Jack Ball, the referee, came over and shook his hand. Ball was a broken-down pugilist who for over ten years had not entered the ring as a principal. King was glad that he had him for referee. They were both old uns. If he should rough it with Sandel a bit beyond the rules he knew Ball could be depended upon to pass it by.

Aspiring young heavyweights, one after another, were climbing into the ring and being presented to the audience by the referee. Also, he issued their challenges for them.

“Young Pronto,” Ball announced, “from North Sydney, challenges the winner for fifty pounds side bet.”

The audience applauded, and applauded again as Sandel himself sprang through the ropes and sat down in his corner. Tom King looked across the ring at him curiously, for in a few minutes they would be locked together in merciless combat, each trying with all the force of him to knock the other into unconsciousness. But little could he see, for Sandel, like himself, had trousers and sweater on over his ring costume. His face was strongly handsome, crowned with a curly mop of yellow hair, while his thick muscular neck hinted at bodily magnificence.

Young Pronto went to one corner and then the other, shaking hands with the principals and dropping down out of the ring. The challenges went on. Ever Youth climbed through the ropes—Youth unknown, but insatiable—crying out to mankind that with strength and skill it would match issues with the winner. A few years before, in his own heyday of invincibleness, Tom King would have been amused and bored by these preliminaries. But now he sat fascinated, unable to shake the vision of Youth from his eyes. Always were these youngsters rising up in the boxing game, springing through the ropes and shouting their defiance; and always were the old uns going down before them. They climbed to success over the bodies of the old uns. And ever they came, more and more youngsters—Youth unquenchable and irresistible—and ever they put the old uns away, themselves becoming old uns and traveling the same downward path, while behind them, ever pressing on them, was Youth eternal—the new babies, grown lusty and dragging their elders down, with behind them more babies to the end of time—Youth that must have its will and that will never die.

King glanced over to the press box and nodded to Morgan, of the Sportsman, and Corbett, of the Referee. Then he held out his hands, while Sid Sullivan and Charley Bates, his seconds slipped on his gloves and laced them tight, closely watched by one of Sandel’s seconds, who first examined critically the tapes on King’s knuckles. A second of his own was in Sandel’s corner, performing a like office. Sandel’s trousers were pulled off and, as he stood up, his sweater was skinned over his head. And Tom King, looking, saw Youth incarnate, deep-chested, heavy-thewed, with muscles that slipped and slid like live things under the white satin skin. The whole body was acrawl with life, and Tom King knew that it was a life that had never oozed its freshness out though the aching pores during the long fights wherein Youth paid its toll and departed not quite so young as when it entered.

The two men advanced to meet each other and, as the gong sounded and the seconds clattered out of the ring with the folding stools, they shook hands with each other and instantly took their fighting attitudes. And instantly, like a mechanism of steel and springs balanced on a hair trigger, Sandel was in and out and in again, landing a left to the eyes, a right to the ribs, ducking a counter, dancing lightly away and dancing menacingly back again. He was swift and clever. It was a dazzling exhibition. The house yelled its approbation. But King was not dazzled. He had fought too many fights and too many youngsters. He knew the blows for what they were—too quick and too deft to be dangerous. Evidently Sandel was going to rush things from the start. It was to be expected. It was the way of Youth, expending its splendor and excellence in wild insurgence and furious onslaught, overwhelming opposition with its own unlimited glory of strength and desire.

Sandel was in and out, here, there and everywhere, light-footed and eager-hearted, a living wonder of white flesh and stinging muscle that wove itself into a dazzling fabric of attack, slipping and leaping like a flying shuttle from action to action through a thousand actions, all of them centered upon the destruction of Tom King, who stood between him and fortune. And Tom King patiently endured. He knew his business, and he knew Youth now that Youth was no longer his. There was nothing to do till the other lost some of his steam, was his thought, and he grinned to himself as he deliberately ducked so as to receive a heavy blow on the top of his head. It was a wicked thing to do, yet eminently fair according to the rules of the boxing game. A man was supposed to take care of his own knuckles, and if he insisted on hitting an opponent on the top of the head he did so at his own peril. King could have ducked lower and let the blow whiz harmlessly past, but he remembered his own early fights and how he smashed his first knuckle on the head of the Welsh Terror. He was but playing the game. That duck had accounted for one of Sandel’s knuckles. Not that Sandel would mind it now. He would go on, superbly regardless, hitting as hard as ever throughout the fight. But later on, when the long ring battles had begun to tell, he would regret that knuckle and look back and remember how he smashed it on Tom King’s head.

The first round was all Sandel’s, and he had the house yelling with the rapidity of his whirlwind rushes. He overwhelmed King with avalanches of punches, and Kind did nothing. He never struck once, contenting himself with covering up, blocking and ducking and clinching to avoid punishment. He occasionally feinted, shook his head when the weight of a punch landed, and moved stolidly about, never leaping or springing or wasting an ounce of strength. Sandel must foam the froth of Youth away before discreet Age could dare to retaliate. All King’s movements were slow and methodical, and his heavy-lidded, slow-moving eyes gave him the appearance of being half asleep or dazed. Yet they were eyes that saw everything, that had been trained to see everything thought all his twenty years and odd in the ring. They did not blink or waver before an impending blow, but that coolly saw and measured distance.

Seated in his corner for the minute’s rest at the end of the round, he lay back with outstretched legs, his arms resting on the right angle of the ropes, his chest and abdomen heaving frankly and deeply as he gulped down the air driven by the towels of his seconds. He listened with closed eyes to the voices of the house. “Why don’t yeh fight, Tom?” many were crying. “Yeh ain’t afraid of ‘im, are yeh?”

“Muscle-bound,” he heard a man on a front seat comment. “He can’t move quicker. Two to one on Sandel, in quids.”

The gong struck and the two men advanced from their corners. Sandel came forward fully three-quarters of the distance, eager to begin again; but King was content to advance the shorter distance. It was in line with his policy of economy. He had not been well trained and he had not had enough to eat, and every step counted. Besides, he had already walked two miles to the ringside. It was a repetition of the first round, with Sandel attacking like a whirlwind and with the audience indignantly demanding why King did not fight. Beyond feinting and several slowly-delivered and ineffectual blows he did nothing save block and stall and clinch. Sandel wanted to make the pace fast, while King, out of his wisdom, refused to accommodate him. He grinned with a certain wistful pathos in his ring-battered countenance, and went on cherishing his strength with the jealousy of which only Age is capable. Sandel was Youth, and he threw his strength away with the munificent abandon of Youth. To King belonged the ring generalship, the wisdom bred of long, aching fights. He watched with cool eyes and head, moving slowly and waiting for Sandel’s froth to foam away. To the majority of the onlookers it seemed as though King was hopelessly outclassed, and they voiced their opinion in offers of three to one on Sandel. But there were wise ones, a few, who knew King of old time and who covered what they considered easy money.

The third round began as usual, one-sided, with Sandel doing all the leading and delivering all the punishment. A half-minute has passed when Sandel, overconfident, left an opening. King’s eyes and right arm flashed in the same instant. It was his first real blow—a hook, with the twisted arch of the arm to make it rigid, and with all the weight of the half-pivoted body behind it. It was like a sleepy-seeming lion suddenly thrusting out a lightning paw. Sandel, caught on the side of the jaw, was felled like a bullock. The audience gasped and murmured awe-stricken applause. The man was not muscle-bound, after all, and he could drive a blow like a triphammer.

Sandel was shaken. He rolled over and attempted to rise, but the sharp yells form his seconds to take the count restrained him. He knelt on one knee, ready to rise, and waited, while the referee stood over him, counting the seconds loudly in his ear. At the ninth he rose in fighting attitude, and Tom King, facing him, knew regret that the blow had not been an inch nearer the point of the jaw. That would have been a knockout, and he could have carried the thirty quid home to the missus and the kiddies.

The round continued to the end of its three minutes, Sandel for the first time respectful of his opponent and King slow of movement and sleepy-eyed as ever. As the round neared its close King, warned of the fact by sight of the seconds crouching outside ready of the spring in through the ropes, worked the fight around to his own corner. And when the gong struck he sat down immediately on the waiting stool, while Sandel had to walk all the way across the diagonal of the square to his own corner. It was a little thing, but it was the sum of little things that counted. Sandel was compelled to walk that many more steps, to give up that much energy and to lose a part of the precious minute of rest. At the beginning of every round King loafed slowly out from his corner, forcing his opponent to advance the greater distance. The end of every round the fight manœuvered by King into his own corner so that he could immediately sit down.

Two more rounds went by, in which King was parsimonious of effort and Sandel prodigal. The latter’s attempt to force a fast pace made King uncomfortable, for a fair percentage of the multitudinous blows showered upon him went home. Yet King persisted in his dogged slowness, despite the crying of the younger hotheads for him to go in and fight. Again, in the sixth round, Sandel was careless, again Tom King’s fearful right flashed out to the jaw, and again Sandel took the nine seconds’ count.

By the seventh round Sandel’s pink of condition was gone and he settled down to what he knew was to be the hardest fight in his experience. Tom King was an old un, but a better old un than he had ever encountered—an old un who never lost his head, who was remarkably able at defense, whose blows had the impact of a knotted club and who had a knockout in either hand. Nevertheless, Tom King dared not hit often. He never forgot his battered knuckles, and knew that every hit must count if the knuckles were to last out the fight. As he sat in his corner, glancing across at his opponent, the thought came to him that the sum of his wisdom and Sandel’s youth would constitute a world’s champion heavyweight. But that was the trouble. Sandel would never become a world champion. He lacked the wisdom, and the only way for him to get it was to buy it with Youth; and when wisdom was his, Youth would have been spent in buying it.

King took every advantage he knew. He never missed an opportunity to clinch, and in effecting most of the clinches his shoulder drove stiffly into the other’s ribs. In the philosophy of the ring a shoulder was as good as a punch so far as damage was concerned, and a great deal better so far as concerned expenditure of effort. Also, in the clinches King rested his weight on his opponent and was loth to let go. This compelled the interference of the referee, who tore them apart, always assisted by Sandel, who had not yet learned to rest. He could not refrain from using those glorious flying arms and writhing muscles of his, and when the other rushed into a clinch, striking shoulder against ribs and with head resting under Sandel’s left arm, Sandel almost invariably swung his right behind his own back and into the projecting face. It was a clever stroke, much admired by the audience, but it was not dangerous, and was, therefore, just that much wasted strength. But Sandel was tireless and unaware of limitations, and King grinned and doggedly endured.

Sandel developed a fierce right to the body, which made it appear that King was taking an enormous amount of punishment, and it was only the old ringsters who appreciated the deft touch of King’s left glove to the other’s biceps just before the impact of the blow. It was true, the blow landed each time; but each time it was robbed of its power by that touch on the biceps. In the ninth round, three times inside a minute, King’s right hooked its twisted arch to the jaw; and three times Sandel’s body, heavy as it was, was leveled to the mat. Each time he took the nine seconds allowed him and rose to his feet, shaken and jarred, but still strong. He had lost much of his speed and he wasted less effort. He was fighting grimly; but he continued to draw upon his chief asset, which was Youth. King’s chief asset was experience. As his vitality had dimmed and his vigor abated he had replaced them with cunning, with wisdom born of the long fights and with a careful shepherding of strength. Not alone had he learned never to make a superfluous movement, but he had learned how to seduce an opponent into throwing his strength away. Again and again, by feint of foot and hand and body he continued to inveigle Sandel into leaping back, ducking or countering. King rested, but he 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 left to the face, and Sandel, grown wary, responded by drawing the left, then by ducking it and delivering his right in a sweeping 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 slightest 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 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 defense, which was also a counter. Feinting with his left he took a half-step backward, at the same time uppercutting with the whole strength of his right. So accurate 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 knockout 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. Tonight 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 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, when, 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 uppercut 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 once 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, cooling 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 fiber 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 outgeneraled him, outfought him, outpointed him. Sandel reeled out of the clinch, balanced on the hairline 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 center 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 hairline 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 roped unaided and leaped heavily to the floor, following on their heels as they forced a passage for him down the crowded center 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.

– A Piece of Steak by Jack London

A Piece of Steak is a short story available in print and electronic editions of collected stories like When God Laughs from

Book Excerpt: The Heart of the Matter

They stood on the verandah at the D.C.’s bungalow at Pende and watched the torches move on the other side of the wide passive river. “So that’s France” Druce said, using the native term for it.

Mrs. Perrot said, “Before the war we used to picnic in France.”

Perrot joined them from the bungalow, a drink in either hand: bandy-legged, he wore his mosquito boots outside his trousers like riding boots, and gave the impression of
having only just got off a horse. “Here’s yours, Scobie.” He said, “Of course ye know I find it hard to think of the French as enemies. My family came over with the Huguenots. It makes a difference, ye know” His lean long yellow face cut in two by a nose like a wound was all the time arrogantly on the defensive: the importance of Perrot was an article of faith with Perrot doubters would be repelled, persecuted if he had the chance ‘ . . the faith would never cease to be proclaimed.

Scobie said, “If they ever joined the Germans, I suppose this is one of the points where they’d attack”

“Don’t I know it,” Perrot said, “I was moved here in 1939. The Government had a shrewd idea of what was coming. Everything’s prepared, ye know. Where’s the

“I think he’s taking a last look at the beds,” Mrs. Perrot said. “You must be thankful your wife’s arrived safely, Major Scobie. Those poor people over there. Forty days in
the boats. It shakes one up to think of it.”

“It’s the damned narrow channel between Dakar and Brazil that does it every time,” Perrot said.

The doctor came gloomily out onto the verandah.

Everything over the river was still and blank again: the torches were all out. The light burning on the small jetty below the bungalow showed a few feet of dark water sliding by. A piece of wood came out of the dark and floated so slowly through the patch of light that Scobie counted twenty before it went into darkness again.

“The Froggies haven’t behaved too badly this time” Druce said gloomily, picking a mosquito out of his glass.

“They’ve only brought the women, the old men, and the dying,” the doctor said, pulling at his beard. “They could hardly have done less.”

Suddenly like an invasion of insects the voices whined and burred upon the farther bank. Groups of torches moved like fire-flies here and there: Scobie lifting his binoculars caught a black face momentarily illuminated: a hammock pole: a white arm: an officer’s back. “I think they’ve arrived,” he said. A long line of lights was dancing along the water’s edge. “Well,” Mrs. Perrot said, “we may as well go in now.” The mosquitoes whirred steadily around them like sewing-machines: Druce exclaimed and struck his hand.

“Come in,” Mrs. Perrot said. “The mosquitoes here are all malarial.” The windows of the living-room were netted to keep them out: the stale air was heavy with the coming rains.

“The stretchers will be across at six A.M.,” the doctor said. “I think we are all set, Perrot. There’s one case of black water, and a few cases of fever, but most are just exhaustion the worst disease of all. It’s what most of us die of in the end”

“Scobie and I will see the walking cases,” Druce said. “You’ll have to tell us how much interrogation they can stand, Doctor. Your police will look after the carriers, Perrot, I suppose see that they all go back the way they came.”

“Of course,” Perrot said. “We’re stripped for action here. Have another drink?” Mrs. Perrot turned the nob of the radio and the organ of the Orpheum Cinema, Clapham, sailed to them over three thousand miles. From across the river the excited voices of the carriers rose and fell. Somebody knocked on the verandah door. Scobie shifted uncomfortably in his chair: the music of the Wurlitzer organ moaned and boomed. It seemed to him outrageously immodest. The verandah door opened and Wilson came in.

“Hello, Wilson,” Druce said. “I didn’t know you were here.”

“Mr. Wilson’s up to inspect the U.A.C. store,” Mrs. Perrot explained. “I hope the resthouse at the store is all right. It’s not often used.”

“Oh, yes, it’s very comfortable,” Wilson said. “Why, Major Scobie, I didn’t expect to see you.”

“I don’t know why you didn’t,” Perrot said. “I told you he’d be here. Sit down and have a drink.” Scobie remembered what Louise once had said to him about Wilson
phony, she had called him. He looked across at Wilson and saw the blush at Perrot’s betrayal fading from the boyish face, and the little wrinkles that gathered round the
eyes and gave the lie to his youth.

“Have you heard from Mrs. Scobie, sir?”

“She arrived safely last week”

“I’m glad. I’m so glad.”

“Well,” Perrot said, “what are the scandals from the big city?” The words “big city” came out with a sneer Perrot couldn’t bear the thought that there was a place where
people considered themselves important and where he was not regarded. Like a Huguenot imagining Rome, he built up a picture of frivolity, viciousness, and corruption. “We bush-folk,” Perrot went heavily on, “live very quietly.” Scobie felt sorry for Mrs. Perrot: she had heard these phrases so often: she must have forgotten long ago the time of courtship when she had believed in them. Now
she sat close up against the radio with the music turned low, listening or pretending to listen to the old Viennese melodies, while her mouth stiffened in the effort to ignore her husband in his familiar part. “Well, Scobie, what are our superiors doing in the city?”

“Oh,” said Scobie vaguely, watching Mrs. Perrot with pity, “nothing very much has been happening. People are too busy with the war …”

“Oh, yes,” Perrot said, “so many files to turn over in the Secretariat. I’d like to see them growing rice down here. They’d know what work was.”

“I suppose the greatest excitement recently” Wilson said, “would be the parrot, sir, wouldn’t it?”

“Tallit’s parrot?” Scobie asked.

“Or Yusef’s, according to Tallit,” Wilson said. “Isn’t that right, sir, or have I got the story wrong?”

“I don’t think we’ll ever know what’s right” Scobie said.

“But what is the story? We’re out of touch with the great world of affairs here. We have only the French to think about.”

“Well, about three weeks ago Tallit’s cousin was leaving for Lisbon on one of the Portuguese ships. We searched his baggage and found nothing, but I’d heard rumours that sometimes diamonds had been smuggled in a bird’s crop, so I kept the parrot back, and sure enough there were about a hundred pounds’ worth of industrial diamonds inside. The ship hadn’t sailed, so we fetched Tallit’s cousin back on shore. It seemed a perfect case.”

“But it wasn’t?”

“You can’t beat a Syrian,” the doctor said.

“Tallit’s cousin’s boy swore that it wasn’t Tallit’s cousin’s parrot and so of course did Tallit’s cousin. Their story was that the small boy had substituted another bird to frame Tallit.”

“On behalf of Yusef, I suppose,” the doctor said.

“Of course. The trouble was the small boy disappeared. Of course there are two explanations of that perhaps Yusef had given him his money and he’d cleared off, or
just as possibly Tallit had given him money to throw the blame on Yusef.”

“Down here,” Perrot said, “I’d have had ’em both in jail.”

“Up in town,” Scobie said, “we have to think about the law.”

Mrs. Perrot turned the nob of the radio and a voice shouted with unexpected vigour, “Kick him in the pants.”

“I’m for bed,” the doctor said. “Tomorrow’s going to be a hard day.”

Sitting up in bed under his mosquito net Scobie opened his diary. Night after night for more years than he could remember he had kept a record the barest possible record of his days. If anyone argued a date with him he could check up; if he wanted to know which day the rains had begun in any particular year, when the last-but-one Director of Public Works had been transferred to East Africa, the facts were all there, in one of the volumes stored in the tin box under his bed at home. Otherwise he never opened a volume particularly that volume where the barest fact of all was contained: C. died. He couldn’t have told himself why he stored up this record it was certainly not for posterity. Even if posterity were to be interested in the life
of an obscure policeman in an unfashionable colony, it would have learned nothing from these cryptic entries. Perhaps the reason was that forty years ago at a preparatory school he had been given a prize a copy of Allan Quatermain for keeping a diary throughout one summer holiday, and the habit had simply stayed. Even the form the diary took had altered very little. Had sausages for breakfast. Fine day. Walk in morning. Riding lesson in afternoon. Chicken for lunch. Treacle roll. Almost imperceptibly this record had changed into Louise left. Y. called in the evening. First typhoon 2 a.m. His pen was powerless to convey the importance of any entry: only he himself, if he had cared to read back, could have seen in the last phrase but one the enormous breach pity had blasted through his integrity. Y., not Yusef.

Scobie wrote: May 5. Arrived Pende to meet survivors of s.s. 43. He used the code number for security. Druce with me. He hesitated for a moment and then added, Wilson here. He closed the diary and lying flat on his back under the net he began to pray. This also was a habit. He said the Our Father, the Hail Mary, and then, as sleep began to clog his lids, he added an Act of Contrition. It was a formality not because he felt himself free from serious sin but because it had never occurred to him that his life was important enough one way or another. He didn’t drink, he didn’t fornicate, he didn’t even lie, but he never regarded this absence of sin as virtue. When he thought about it at all, he regarded himself as a man in the ranks, the member of an awkward squad, who had no opportunity to break the more serious military rules. “I missed Mass yesterday for insufficient reason. I neglected my evening prayers.” This was no more than admitting what every soldier did that he had avoided a fatigue when the occasion offered. “O God, bless ” but before he could mention names he was asleep.

They stood on the jetty next morning: the first light lay in cold strips along the eastern sky. The huts in the village were still shuttered with silver. At two that morning there had been a typhoon a wheeling pillar of black cloud driving up from the coast, and the air was cold yet with the rain. They stood with coat collars turned up watching the French shore, and the carriers squatted on the ground behind them. Mrs. Perrot came down the path from the bungalow wiping the white sleep from her eyes, and from across the water very faintly came the bleating of a goat. “Are they late?” Mrs. Perrot asked.

“No, we are early.” Scobie kept his glasses focussed on the opposite shore. He said, “They are stirring/ 1

“Those poor souls,” Mrs. Perrot said, and shivered with the morning chill.

“They are alive,” the doctor said.


“In my profession we have to consider that important.”

“Does one ever get over a shock like that? Forty days in open boats.”

“If you survive at all,” the doctor said, “you get over it. It’s failure people don’t get over, and this, you see, is a kind of success.”

“They are fetching them out o the huts” Scobie said. “I think I can count six stretchers. The boats are being brought in.”

“We were told to prepare for nine stretcher cases, and four walking ones,” the doctor said. “I suppose there’ve been some more deaths.”

“I may have counted wrong. They are carrying them down now. I think there are seven stretchers. I can’t distinguish the walking cases.”

The flat cold light, too feeble to clear the morning haze, made the distance across the river longer than it would seem at noon. A native dugout canoe bearing, one supposed, the walking cases came blackly out of the haze: it was suddenly very close to them. On the other shore they were having trouble with the motor of a launch: they could hear the irregular putter, like an animal out of breath.

First of the walking cases to come on shore was an elderly man with an arm in a sling. He wore a dirty white topee, and a native cloth was draped over his shoulders: his free hand tugged and scratched at the white stubble on his face. He said in an unmistakably Scotch accent, “Ah’m Loder, chief engineer.”

“Welcome home, Mr. Loder,” Scobie said. “Will you step up to the bungalow and the doctor will be with you in a few minutes?”

“Ah have no need of doctors.”

“Sit down and rest. I’ll be with you soon”

“Ah want to make ma report to a proper official”

“Would you take him up to the house, Perrot?”

“I’m the District Commissioner” Perrot said. “You can make your report to me.”

“What are we waitin’ for then?” the engineer said. “It’s nearly two months since the sinkin’. There’s an awful lot of responsibility on me, for the captain’s dead.” As they
moved up the hill to the bungalow, the persistent Scotch voice, as regular as the pulse of a dynamo, came back to them. “Ah’m responsible to the owners.”

The other three had come on shore, and across the river the tinkering in the launch went on: the sharp crack of a chisel, the clank of metal, and then again the spasmodic putter. Two of the new arrivals were the cannon fodder of all such occasions: elderly men with the appearance of plumbers who might have been brothers if they had not been called Forbes and Newall, uncomplaining men without authority, to whom things simply happened: one had a crushed foot and walked with a crutch; the other had his hand bound up with shabby strips of tropical shirt. They
stood on the jetty with as natural a lack of interest as they would have stood at a Liverpool street corner waiting for the local to open. A stalwart grey-headed woman in mosquito boots followed them out of the canoe.

“Your name, madam?” Druce asked, consulting a list.

“Are you Mrs. Rolt?”

“I am not Mrs. Rolt. I am Miss Malcott.”

“Will you go up to the house? The doctor . . .”

“The doctor has far more serious cases than me to attend to.”

Mrs. Perrot said, “You’d like to lie down”

“It’s the last thing I want to do,” Miss Malcott said. “I am not in the least tired.” She shut her mouth between every sentence. “I am not hungry. I am not nervous. I want to get on.”

“Where to?”

“To Lagos. To the Educational Department.”

“I’m afraid there will be a good many delays.”

“I’ve been delayed two months. I can’t stand delay. Work won’t wait.” Suddenly she lifted her face towards the sky and howled like a dog.

The doctor took her gently by the arm and said, “Well do what we can to get you there right away. Come up to the house and do some telephoning.”

“Certainly” Miss Malcott said, “there’s nothing that can’t be straightened on a telephone.”

The doctor said to Scobie, “Send those other two chaps up after us. They are all right. If you want to do some questioning, question them.”

Druce said, “I’ll take them along. You stay here, Scobie, in case the launch arrives. French isn’t my language.”

Scobie sat down on the rail of the jetty and looked across the water. Now that the haze was lifting, the other bank came closer: he could make out now with the naked eye the details of the scene: the white warehouse, the mud huts, the brasswork of the launch glittering in the sun: he could see the red fezzes of the native troops. He thought: Just such a scene as this and I might have been waiting for Louise to appear on a stretcher or perhaps not waiting. Somebody settled himself on the rail beside him, but Scobie didn’t turn his head.

“A penny for your thoughts, sir.”

“I was just thinking that Louise is safe, Wilson.”

“I was thinking that too, sir”

“Why do you always call me sir, Wilson? You are not in the police force. It makes me feel very old,”

“I’m sorry, Major Scobie.”

“What did Louise call you?”

“Wilson. I don’t think she liked my Christian name.”

“I believe they’ve got that launch to start at last, Wilson. Be a good chap and warn the doctor.”

A French officer in a stained white uniform stood in the bow: a soldier flung a rope and Scobie caught and fixed it. “Bon jour” he said, and saluted.

The French officer returned his salute & drained-out figure with a twitch in the left eyelid. He said in English, “Good morning. I have seven stretcher cases for you here”

“My signal says nine.”

“One died on the way and one last night. One from blackwater and one from from, my English is bad, do you say fatigue?”


“That is it.”

“If you will let my labourers come on board they will get the stretchers off.” Scobie said to the carriers, “Very softly. Go very softly.” It was an unnecessary command: no white hospital attendants could lift and carry more gently. “Won’t you stretch your legs on shore?” Scobie asked, “or come up to the house and have some coffee?”

“No. No coffee, thank you. I will just see that all is right here.” He was courteous and unapproachable, but all the time his left eyelid flickered a message of doubt and distress.

“I have some English papers if you would like to see them.”

“No, no thank you. I read English with difficulty.”‘

“You speak it very well.”

“That is a different thing.”

“Have a cigarette?”

“Thank you, no. I do not like American tobacco.”

The first stretcher came on shore the sheets were drawn up to the man’s chin and it was impossible to tell from the stiff vacant face what his age might be. The doctor came down the hill to meet the stretcher and led the carriers away to the Government rest-house where the beds had been prepared.

“I used to come over to your side,” Scobie said, “to shoot with your police chief. A nice fellow called Durand a Norman.”

“He is not here any longer,” the officer said.

“Gone home?”

“He’s in prison at Dakar,” the French officer replied, standing like a figure-head in the bows, but the eye twitching and twitching. The stretchers slowly passed Scobie and turned up the hill: a boy who couldn’t have been more than ten, with a feverish face and a twiglike arm thrown out from his blanket: an old lady with grey hair falling every way who twisted and turned and whispered: a man with a bottle nose a nob of scarlet and blue on a yellow face. One by one they turned up the hill, the carriers’ feet moving with the certainty of mules. “And Pre Brule?” Scobie said. “He was a good man.”

“He died last year of blackwater.”

“He was out here twenty years without leave, wasn’t he? He’ll be hard to replace.”

“He has not been replaced,” the officer said. He turned and gave a short savage order to one of his men. Scobie looked at the next stretcher load and looked away again. A small girl she couldn’t have been more than six lay on it. She was deeply and unhealthily asleep; her fair hair was tangled and wet with sweat; her open mouth was dry and cracked, and she shuddered regularly and spasmodically. “It’s terrible,” Scobie said.

“What is terrible?”

“A child like that.”

“Yes. Both parents were lost. But it is all right. She will die.”

Scobie watched the bearers go slowly up the hill, their bare feet very gently flapping the ground. He thought: It would need all Father Brule’s ingenuity to explain that. Not that the child would die: that needed no explanation. Even the pagans realized that the love of God might mean an early death, though the reason they ascribed was different; but that the child should have been allowed to survive the forty days and nights in the open boat that was the mystery, to reconcile that with the love of God.

And yet he could believe in no God who was not human enough to love what he had created. “How on earth did she survive till now?” he wondered aloud.

The officer said gloomily, “Of course they looked after her on the boat’ They gave up their own share of the water often. It was foolish, of course, but one cannot always be logical. And it gave them something to think about.” It was like the hint of an explanation too faint to be grasped. He said, “Here is another who makes one angry.”

The face was ugly with exhaustion: the skin looked as though it were ?bout to crack over the cheekbones: only the absence of lines showed that it was a young face. The French officer said, “She was just married before she sailed. Her husband was lost. Her passport says she is nineteen. She may live. You see, she still has some strength.” Her arms as thin as a child’s lay outside the blanket, and her fingers clasped a book firmly. Scobie could see the wedding-ring loose on her dried-up finger.

“What is it?”

“Timbres,” the French officer said. He added bitterly, “When this damned war started, she must have been still at school.”

Scobie always remembered how she was carried into his life on a stretcher, grasping a stamp-album, with her eyes fast shut.

In the evening they gathered together again for drinks, but they were subdued; even Perrot was no longer trying to impress them. Druce said, “Well, tomorrow I’m off. You coming, Scobie?”

“I suppose so.”

Mrs. Perrot said, “You got all you wanted?”

“All I needed. That chief engineer was a good fellow. He had it ready in his head. I could hardly write fast enough. When he stopped he went flat out. That was what was keeping him together ‘ma responsibility.’ You know, they’d walked the ones that could walk five days to get here.”

Wilson said, “Were they sailing without an escort?”

“They started out in convoy, but they had some engine trouble and you know the rule of the road nowadays: no waiting for lame ducks. They were twelve hours behind the convoy and were trying to pick up, when they were sniped. The submarine commander surfaced and gave them direction. He said he would have given them a tow, but there was a naval patrol out looking for him. You see, you can really blame nobody for this sort of thing,” and this sort of thing came at once to Scobie’s mind’s eye the child with the open mouth, the thin hands holding the stamp-album. He said, “I suppose the doctor will look in when he gets a chance?”

He went restlessly out onto the verandah, closing the netted door carefully behind him, and a mosquito immediately droned towards his ear. The skirring went on all the time, but when they drove to the attack they had the deeper tone of dive-bombers. The lights were showing in the temporary hospital, and the weight of all that misery lay on his shoulders. It was as if he had shed one responsibility only to take on another. This was a responsibility he shared with all human beings, but there was no comfort in that, for it sometimes seemed to him that he was the only one who recognized it. In the Cities of the Plain a single soul might have changed the mind of God.

The doctor came up the steps onto the verandah. “Hallo, Scobie,” he said in a voice as bowed as his shoulders, “taking the night air? It’s not healthy in this place.”

“How are they?” Scobie asked.

“There’ll be only two more deaths, I think. Perhaps only one.”

“The child?”

“She’ll be dead by morning,” the doctor said abruptly.

“Is she conscious?”

“Never completely. She asks for her father sometimes: she probably thinks she’s in the boat still. They’d kept it from her there said her parents were in one of the other boats. But of course they’d signalled to check up.”

“Won’t she take you for her father?”

“No, she won’t accept the beard.”

Scobie said, ” How’s the schoolteacher?”

“Miss Malcott? She’ll be all right. I’ve given her enough bromide to put her out of action till morning. That’s all she needs and the sense of getting somewhere. You haven’t got room for her in your police van, have you? She’d be better out of here.”

“There’s only just room for Druce and me with our boys and kit. We’ll be sending proper transport as soon as we get back. The walking cases all right?”

“Yes, they’ll manage.”

“The boy and the old lady?”

“They’ll pull through.”

“Who is the boy?”

“He was at a prep school in England. His parents in South Africa thought he’d be safer there.”

Scobie said reluctantly, “That young woman with the stamp-album?” It was the stamp-album and not the face that haunted his memory, for no reason that he could understand, and the wedding-ring loose on the finger, as though a child had dressed up.

“I don’t know,” the doctor said. “If she gets through tonight . . . perhaps . . .”

“You’re dead tired, aren’t you? Go in and have a drink.”

“Yes. I don’t want to be eaten by mosquitoes.” The doctor opened the verandah door, and a mosquito struck at Scobie’s neck. He didn’t bother to guard himself. Slowly, hesitatingly, he retraced the route the doctor had taken, down the steps onto the tough rocky ground. The loose stones turned under his boots. He thought of Pemberton. What an absurd thing it was to expect happiness in a world so full of misery. He had cut down his own needs to a minimum, photographs were put away in drawers, the dead were put out of mind: a razor strop, a pair of rusty handcuffs for decoration: but one still has one’s eyes, he thought, one’s ears. Point me out the happy man and I will point you out either egotism, selfishness, evil or else an absolute ignorance.

Outside the rest-house he stopped again. The lights inside would have given an extraordinary impression of peace if one hadn’t known, just as the stars on this clear night gave also an impression of remoteness, security, freedom. If one knew, he wondered, the facts, would one have to feel pity even for the planets? if one reached what they called the heart of the matter?

“Well, Major Scobie?” It was the wife of the local missionary speaking to him. She was dressed in white like a nurse, and her flint-grey hair lay back from her forehead in ridges like wind erosion. “Have you come to look on?” she asked forbiddingly.

“Yes,” he said. He had no other idea of what to say: he couldn’t describe to Mrs. Bowles the restlessness, the haunting images, the terrible impotent feeling of responsibility and pity.

“Come inside” Mrs. Bowles said, and he followed her obediently like a boy. There were three rooms in the resthouse. In the first the walking cases had been put: heavily dosed, they slept peacefully, as though they had been taking healthy exercise. In the second room were the stretcher cases for whom there was reasonable hope: the third room was a small one and contained only two beds divided by a screen: the six-year-old girl with the dry mouth, the young woman lying unconscious on her back, still grasping the stamp-album. A night-light burned in a saucer and cast thin shadows between the beds. “If you want to be useful,” Mrs. Bowles said, “stay here a moment. I want to go to the dispensary”

“The dispensary?”

“The cook-house. One has to make the best of things.”

Scobie felt cold and strange. A shiver moved his shoulders. He said, “Can’t I go for you?”

Mrs. Bowles said, “Don’t be absurd. Are you qualified to dispense? I’ll only be away a few minutes. If the child shows signs of going, call me.” If she had given him time,
he would have thought of some excuse, but she was already out of the room and he sat heavily down in the only chair. When he looked at the child, he saw a white communion veil over her head: it was a trick of the light on the pillow and a trick of his own mind. He put his head in his hands and wouldn’t look. He had been in Africa when his own child died. He had always thanked God that he had missed
that. It seemed after all that one never really missed a thing. To be a human being one had to drink the cup. If one were lucky on one day, or cowardly on another, it was presented on a third occasion. He prayed silently into his hands, “O God, don’t let anything happen before Mrs. Bowles comes back.” He could hear the heavy uneven breathing of the child. It was as if she were carrying a weight with great effort up a long hill: it was an inhuman situation not to be able to carry it for her. He thought: This is what parents feel year in and year out, and I am shrinking from a few minutes of it. They see their children dying slowly every hour they live. He prayed again, “Father, look after her. Give her peace.” The breathing broke, choked, began again with terrible effort. Looking between his fingers he could see the six-year-old face convulsed like a navvy’s with labour. “Father,” he prayed, “give her peace. Take away my peace for ever, but give her peace.” The sweat broke out on his hands. “Father . . .” He heard a small scraping voice repeat, “Father,” and looking up he saw the blue and bloodshot eyes watching him. He thought with horror: this is what I thought I’d missed. He would have called Mrs. Bowles, only he hadn’t the voice to call with. He could see the breast of the child struggling for breath to repeat the heavy word; he came over to the bed and said, “Yes, dear. Don’t speak, I’m here.” The nightlight cast the shadow of his clenched fist on the sheet and it caught the child’s eye. An effort to laugh convulsed her, and he moved his hand away. “Sleep, dear,” he said, “you are sleepy. Sleep.” A memory that he had carefully buried returned, and taking out his handkerchief he made the shadow of a rabbit’s head fall on the pillow beside her. “There’s your rabbit,” he said, “to go to sleep with. It will stay until you sleep. Sleep.” The sweat poured down his face and tasted in his mouth as salt as tears. “Sleep.” He moved the rabbit’s ears up and down, up and down. Then he heard Mrs. Bowies’ voice, speaking low just behind him. “Stop that,” she said harshly, “the child’s dead.”

– The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene

The Heart of the Matter
is available from

Book Excerpt: The Sun Also Rises

One morning I went down to breakfast and the Englishman, Harris, was already at the table. He was reading the paper through spectacles. He looked up and smiled.

“Good morning,” he said. “Letter for you. I stopped at the post and they gave it me with mine.”

The letter was at my place at the table, leaning against a coffeecup. Harris was reading the paper again. I opened the letter. It had been forwarded from Pamplona. It was dated San Sebastian, Sunday:

Dear Jake,

We got here Friday, Brett passed out on the train, so brought her here for 3 days rest with old friends of ours. We go to Montoya Hotel Pamplona Tuesday, arriving at I don’t know what hour. Will you send a note by the bus to tell us what to do to rejoin you all on Wednesday. All our love and sorry to be late, but Brett was really done in and will be quite all right by Tues. and is practically so now. I know her so well and try to look after her but it’s not so easy. Love to all the chaps,


“What day of the week is it?” I asked Harris.

“Wednesday, I think. Yes, quite. Wednesday. Wonderful how one loses track of the days up here in the mountains.”

“Yes. We’ve been here nearly a week.”

“I hope you’re not thinking of leaving?”

“Yes. We’ll go in on the afternoon bus, I’m afraid.”

“What a rotten business. I had hoped we’d all have another go at the Irati together.”

“We have to go into Pamplona. We’re meeting people there.”

“What rotten luck for me. We’ve had a jolly time here at Burguete.”

“Come on in to Pamplona. We can play some bridge there, and there’s going to be a damned fine fiesta.”

“I’d like to. Awfully nice of you to ask me. I’d best stop on here, though. I’ve not much more time to fish.”

“You want those big ones in the Irati.”

“I say, I do, you know. They’re enormous trout there.”

“I’d like to try them once more.”

“Do. Stop over another day. Be a good chap.”

“We really have to get into town,” I said.

“What a pity.”

After breakfast Bill and I were sitting warming in the sun on a bench out in front of the inn and talking it over. I saw a girl coming up the road from the centre of the town. She stopped in front of us and took a telegram out of the leather wallet that hung against her skirt.

“What does the word Cohn mean?” he asked.

“What a lousy telegram!” I said. “He could send ten words for the same price. ‘I come Thursday’. That gives you a lot of dope, doesn’t it?”

“It gives you all the dope that’s of interest to Cohn.”

“We’re going in, anyway,” I said. “There’s no use trying to move Brett and Mike out here and back before the fiesta. Should we answer it?”

“We might as well,” said Bill. “There’s no need for us to be snooty.”

We walked up to the post-office and asked for a telegraph blank.

“What will we say?” Bill asked.

” ‘Arriving to-night.’ That’s enough.”

We paid for the message and walked back to the inn. Harris was there and the three of us walked up to Roncesvalles. We went through the monastery.

“It’s remarkable place,” Harris said, when we came out. “But you know I’m not much on those sort of places.”

“Me either,” Bill said.

“It’s a remarkable place, though,” Harris said. “I wouldn’t not have seen it. I’d been intending coming up each day.”

“It isn’t the same as fishing, though, is it?” Bill asked. He liked Harris.

“I say not.”

We were standing in front of the old chapel of the monastery.

“Isn’t that a pub across the way?” Harris asked. “Or do my eyes deceive me?”

“It has the look of a pub,” Bill said.

“It looks to me like a pub,” I said.

“I say,” said Harris, “let’s utilize it.” He had taken up utilizing from Bill.

We had a bottle of wine apiece. Harris would not let us pay.

He talked Spanish quite well, and the innkeeper would not take our money.

“I say. You don’t know what it’s meant to me to have you chaps up here.”

“We’ve had a grand time, Harris.”

Harris was a little tight.

“I say. Really you don’t know how much it means. I’ve not had much fun since the war.”

“We’ll fish together again, some time. Don’t you forget it, Harris.”

“We must. We have had such a jolly good time.”

“How about another bottle around?”

“Jolly good idea,” said Harris.

“This is mine,” said Bill. “Or we don’t drink it.”

“I wish you’d let me pay for it. It does give me pleasure, you know.”

“This is going to give me pleasure,” Bill said.

The innkeeper brought in the fourth bottle. We had kept the same glasses. Harris lifted his glass.

“I say. You know this does utilize well.”

Bill slapped him on the back.

“Good old Harris.”

“I say. You know my name isn’t really Harris. It’s Wilson Harris. All one name. With a hyphen, you know.”

“Good old Wilson-Harris,” Bill said. “We call you Harris because we’re so fond of you.”

“I say, Barnes. You don’t know what this all means to me.”

“Come on and utilize another glass,” I said.

“Barnes. Really, Barnes, you can’t know. That’s all.”

“Drink up, Harris.”

We walked back down the road from Roncesvalles with Harris between us. We had lunch at the inn and Harris went with us to the bus. He gave us his card, with his address in London and his club and his business address, and as we got on the bus he handed us each an envelope. I opened mine and there were a dozen flies in it. Harris had tied them himself. He tied all his own flies.

“I say, Harris–” I began.

“No, no!” he said. He was climbing down from the bus. “They’re not first-rate flies at all. I only thought if you fished them some time it might remind you of what a good time we had.”

The bus started. Harris stood in front of the post-office. He waved. As we started along the road he turned and walked back toward the inn.

“Say, wasn’t that Harris nice?” Bill said.

“I think he really did have a good time.”

“Harris? You bet he did.”

“I wish he’d come into Pamplona.”

“He wanted to fish.”

“Yes. You couldn’t tell how English would mix with each other, anyway.”

“I suppose not.”

We got into Pamplona late in the afternoon and the bus stopped in front of the Hotel Montoya. Out in the plaza they were stringing electric-light wires to light the plaza for the fiesta. A few kids came up when the bus stopped, and a customs officer for the town made all the people getting down from the bus open their bundles on the sidewalk. We went into the hotel and on the stairs I met Montoya. He shook hands with us, smiling in his embarrassed way.

“Your friends are here,” he said.

“Mr. Campbell?”

“Yes. Mr. Cohn and Mr. Campbell and Lady Ashley.”

He smiled as though there were something I would hear about.

“When did they get in?”

“Yesterday. I’ve saved you the rooms you had.”

“That’s fine. Did you give Mr. Campbell the room on the plaza?”

“Yes. All the rooms we looked at.”

“Where are our friends now?”

“I think they went to the pelota.”

“And how about the bulls?”

Montoya smiled. “To-night,” he said. “To-night at seven o’clock they bring in the Villar bulls, and to-morrow come the Miuras. Do you all go down?”

“Oh, yes. They’ve never seen a desencajonada.”

Montoya put his hand on my shoulder.

“I’ll see you there.”

He smiled again. He always smiled as though bull-fighting were a very special secret between the two of us; a rather shocking but really very deep secret that we knew about. He always smiled as though there were something lewd about the secret to outsiders, but that it was something that we understood. It would not do to expose it to people who would not understand.

“Your friend, is he aficionado, too?” Montoya smiled at Bill.

“Yes. He came all the way from New York to see the San Fermines.”

“Yes?” Montoya politely disbelieved. “But he’s not aficionado like you.”

He put his hand on my shoulder again embarrassedly.

“Yes,” I said. “He’s a real aficionado.”

“But he’s not aficionado like you are.”

Aficion means passion. An aficionado is one who is passionate about the bull-fights. All the good bull-fighters stayed at Montoya’s hotel; that is, those with aficion stayed there. The commercial bullfighters stayed once, perhaps, and then did not come back. The good ones came each year. In Montoya’s room were their photographs. The photographs were dedicated to Juanito Montoya or to his sister. The photographs of bull-fighters Montoya had really believed in were framed. Photographs of bull-fighters who had been without aficion Montoya kept in a drawer of his desk. They often had the most flattering inscriptions. But they did not mean anything. One day Montoya took them all out and dropped them in the waste-basket. He did not want them around.

We often talked about bulls and bull-fighters. I had stopped at the Montoya for several years. We never talked for very long at a time. It was simply the pleasure of discovering what we each felt. Men would come in from distant towns and before they left Pamplona stop and talk for a few minutes with Montoya about bulls. These men were aficionados. Those who were aficionados could always get rooms even when the hotel was full. Montoya introduced me to some of them. They were always very polite at first, and it amused them very much that I should be an American. Somehow it was taken for granted that an American could not have aficion. He might simulate it or confuse it with excitement, but he could not really have it. When they saw that I had aficion, and there was no password, no set questions that could bring it out, rather it was a sort of oral spiritual examination with the questions always a little on the defensive and never apparent, there was this same embarrassed putting the hand on the shoulder, or a “Buen hombre.” But nearly always there was the actual touching. It seemed as though they wanted to touch you to make it certain.

Montoya could forgive anything of a bull-fighter who had aficion. He could forgive attacks of nerves, panic, bad unexplainable actions, all sorts of lapses. For one who had aficion he could forgive anything. At once he forgave me all my friends. Without his ever saying anything they were simply a little something shameful between us, like the spilling open of the horses in bull-fighting.

Bill had gone up-stairs as we came in, and I found him washing and changing in his room.
“Well,” he said, “talk a lot of Spanish?”

“He was telling me about the bulls coming in tonight.”

“Let’s find the gang and go down.”

“All right. They’ll probably be at the café.”

“Have you got tickets?”

“Yes. I got them for all the unloadings.”

“What’s it like?” He was pulling his cheek before the glass, looking to see if there were unshaved patches under the line of the jaw.

“It’s pretty good,” I said. “They let the bulls out of the cages one at a time, and they have steers in the corral to receive them and keep them from fighting, and the bulls tear in at the steers and the steers run around like old maids trying to quiet them down.”

“Do they ever gore the steers?”

“Sure. Sometimes they go right after them and kill them.”

“Can’t the steers do anything?”

“No. They’re trying to make friends.”

“What do they have them in for?”

“To quiet down the bulls and keep them from breaking their horns against the stone walls, or goring each other.”

“Must be swell being a steer.”

We went down the stairs and out of the door and walked across the square toward the café Iruña. There were two lonely looking ticket-houses standing in the square. Their windows, marked SOL, SOL Y SOMBRA, and SOMBRA, were shut. They would not open until the day before the fiesta.

Across the square the white wicker tables and chairs of the Iruña extended out beyond the Arcade to the edge of the street. I looked for Brett and Mike at the tables. There they were. Brett and Mike and Robert Cohn. Brett was wearing a Basque beret. So was Mike. Robert Cohn was bare-headed and wearing his spectacles. Brett saw us coming and waved. Her eyes crinkled up as we came up to the table.

“Hello, you chaps!” she called.

Brett was happy. Mike had a way of getting an intensity of feeling into shaking hands. Robert Cohn shook hands because we were back.

“Where the hell have you been?” I asked.

“I brought them up here,” Cohn said.

“What rot,” Brett said. “We’d have gotten here earlier if you hadn’t come.”

“You’d never have gotten here.”

“What rot! You chaps are brown. Look at Bill.”

“Did you get good fishing?” Mike asked. “We wanted to join you.”

“It wasn’t bad. We missed you.”

“I wanted to come,” Cohn said, “but I thought I ought to bring them.”

“You bring us. What rot.”

“Was it really good?” Mike asked. “Did you take many?”

“Some days we took a dozen apiece. There was an Englishman up there.”

“Named Harris,” Bill said. “Ever know him, Mike? He was in the war, too.”

“Fortunate fellow,” Mike said. “What times we had. How I wish those dear days were back.”

“Don’t be an ass.”

“Were you in the war, Mike?” Cohn asked.

“Was I not.”

“He was a very distinguished soldier,” Brett said. “Tell them about the time your horse bolted down Piccadilly.”

“I’ll not. I’ve told that four times.”

“You never told me,” Robert Cohn said.

“I’ll not tell that story. It reflects discredit on me.”

“Tell them about your medals.”

“I’ll not. That story reflects great discredit on me.”

“What story’s that?”

“Brett will tell you. She tells all the stories that reflect discredit on me.”

“Go on. Tell it, Brett.”

“Should I?”

“I’ll tell it myself.”

“What medals have you got, Mike?”

“I haven’t got any medals.”

“You must have some.”

“I suppose I’ve the usual medals. But I never sent in for them. One time there was this whopping big dinner and the Prince of Wales was to be there, and the cards said medals will be worn. So naturally I had no medals, and I stopped at my tailor’s and he was impressed by the invitation, and I thought that’s a good piece of business, and I said to him: ‘You’ve got to fix me up with some medals.’ He said: ‘What medals, sir?’ And I said: ‘Oh, any medals. Just give me a few medals.’ So he said: ‘What medals have you, sir?’ And I said: ‘How should I know?’ Did he think I spent all my time reading the bloody gazette? ‘Just give me a good lot. Pick them out yourself.’ So he got me some medals, you know, miniature medals, and handed me the box, and I put it in my pocket and forgot it. Well, I went to the dinner, and it was the night they’d shot Henry Wilson, so the Prince didn’t come and the King didn’t come, and no one wore any medals, and all these coves were busy taking off their medals, and I had mine in my pocket.”
He stopped for us to laugh.

“Is that all?”

“That’s all. Perhaps I didn’t tell it right.”

“You didn’t,” said Brett. “But no matter.”

We were all laughing.

“Ah, yes,” said Mike. “I know now. It was a damn dull dinner, and I couldn’t stick it, so I left. Later on in the evening I found the box in my pocket. What’s this? I said. Medals? Bloody military medals? So I cut them all off their backing–you know, they put them on a strip–and gave them all around. Gave one to each girl. Form of souvenir. They thought I was hell’s own shakes of a soldier. Give away medals in a night club. Dashing fellow.”

“Tell the rest,” Brett said.

“Don’t you think that was funny?” Mike asked. We were all laughing. “It was. I swear it was. Any rate, my tailor wrote me and wanted the medals back. Sent a man around. Kept on writing for months. Seems some chap had left them to be cleaned. Frightfully military cove. Set hell’s own store by them.” Mike paused. “Rotten luck for the tailor,” he said.

“You don’t mean it,” Bill said. “I should think it would have been grand for the tailor.”

“Frightfully good tailor. Never believe it to see me now,” Mike said. “I used to pay him a hundred pounds a year just to keep him quiet. So he wouldn’t send me any bills. Frightful blow to him when I went bankrupt. It was right after the medals. Gave his letters rather a bitter tone.”

“How did you go bankrupt?” Bill asked.

“Two ways,” Mike said. “Gradually and then suddenly.”

“What brought it on?”

“Friends,” said Mike. “I had a lot of friends. False friends. Then I had creditors, too. Probably had more creditors than anybody in England.”

“Tell them about in the court,” Brett said.

“I don’t remember,” Mike said. “I was just a little tight.”

“Tight!” Brett exclaimed. “You were blind!”

“Extraordinary thing,” Mike said. “Met my former partner the other day. Offered to buy me a drink.”

“Tell them about your learned counsel,” Brett said.

“I will not,” Mike said. “My learned counsel was blind, too. I say this is a gloomy subject. Are we going down and see these bulls unloaded or not?”

“Let’s go down.”

We called the waiter, paid, and started to walk through the town. I started off walking with Brett, but Robert Cohn came up and joined her on the other side. The three of us walked along, past the Ayuntamiento with the banners hung from the balcony, down past the market and down past the steep street that led to the bridge across the Arga. There were many people walking to go and see the bulls, and carriages drove down the hill and across the bridge, the drivers, the horses, and the whips rising above the walking people in the street. Across the bridge we turned up a road to the corrals. We passed a wineshop with a sign in the window: Good Wine 30 Centimes A Liter.

“That’s where we’ll go when funds get low,” Brett said.

The woman standing in the door of the wine-shop looked at us as we passed. She called to some one in the house and three girls came to the window and stared. They were staring at Brett.

At the gate of the corrals two men took tickets from the people that went in. We went in through the gate. There were trees inside and a iow, stone house. At the far end was the stone wall of the corrals, with apertures in the stone that were like loop-holes running all along the face of each corral. A ladder led up to the top of the wall, and people were climbing up the ladder and spreading down to stand on the walls that separated the two corrals. As we came up the ladder, walking across the grass under the trees, we passed the big, gray painted cages with the bulls in them. There was one bull in each travelling-box. They had come by train from a bull-breeding ranch in Castile, and had been unloaded off flat-cars at the station and brought up here to be let out of their cages into the corrals. Each cage was stencilled with the name and the brand of the bull-breeder.

We climbed up and found a place on the wall looking down into the corral. The stone walls were whitewashed, and there was straw on the ground and wooden feed-boxes and water-troughs set against the wall.

“Look up there,” I said.

Beyond the river rose the plateau of the town. All along the old walls and ramparts people were standing. The three lines of fortifications made three black lines of people. Above the walls there were heads in the windows of the houses. At the far end of the plateau boys had climbed into the trees.

“They must think something is going to happen,” Brett said.

“They want to see the bulls.”

Mike and Bill were on the other wall across the pit of the corral. They waved to us. People who had come late were standing behind us, pressing against us when other people crowded them.
“Why don’t they start?” Robert Cohn asked.

A single mule was hitched to one of the cages and dragged it up against the gate in the corral wall. The men shoved and lifted it with crowbars into position against the gate. Men were standing on the wall ready to pull up the gate of the corral and then the gate of the cage. At the other end of the corral a gate opened and two steers came in, swaying their heads and trotting, their lean flanks swinging. They stood together at the far end, their heads toward the gate where the bull would enter.

“They don’t look happy,” Brett said.

The men on top of the wall leaned back and pulled up the door of the corral. Then they pulled up the door of the cage.

I leaned way over the wall and tried to see into the cage. It was dark. Some one rapped on the cage with an iron bar. Inside something seemed to explode. The bull, striking into the wood from side to side with his horns, made a great noise. Then I saw a dark muzzle and the shadow of horns, and then, with a clattering on the wood in the hollow box, the bull charged and came out into the corral, skidding with his forefeet in the straw as he stopped, his head up, the great hump of muscle on his neck swollen tight, his body muscles quivering as he looked up at the crowd on the stone walls. The two steers backed away against the wall, their heads sunken, their eyes watching the bull.

The bull saw them and charged. A man shouted from behind one of the boxes and slapped his hat against the planks, and the bull, before he reached the steer, turned, gathered himself and charged where the man had been, trying to reach him behind the planks with a half-dozen quick, searching drives with the right horn.

“My God, isn’t he beautiful?” Brett said. We were looking right down on him.

“Look how he knows how to use his horns,” I said. “He’s got a left and a right just like a boxer.”

“Not really?”

“You watch.”

“It goes too fast.”

“Wait. There’ll be another one in a minute.”

They had backed up another cage into the entrance. In the far corner a man, from behind one of the plank shelters, attracted the bull, and while the bull was facing away the gate was pulled up and a second bull came out into the corral.

He charged straight for the steers and two men ran out from behind the planks and shouted, to turn him. He did not change his direction and the men shouted: “Hah! Hah! Toro!” and waved their arms; the two steers turned sideways to take the shock, and the bull drove into one of the steers.

“Don’t look,” I said to Brett. She was watching, fascinated.

“Fine,” I said. “If it doesn’t buck you.”

“I saw it,” she said. “I saw him shift from his left to his right horn.”

“Damn good!”

The steer was down now, his neck stretched out, his head twisted, he lay the way he had fallen. Suddenly the bull left off and made for the other steer which had been standing at the far end, his head swinging, watching it all. The steer ran awkwardly and the bull caught him, hooked him lightly in the flank, and then turned away and looked up at the crowd on the walls, his crest of muscle rising. The steer came up to him and made as though to nose at him and the bull hooked perfunctorily. The next time he nosed at the steer and then the two of them trotted over to the other bull.

When the next bull came out, all three, the two bulls and the steer, stood together, their heads side by side, their horns against the newcomer. In a few minutes the steer picked the new bull up, quieted him down, and made him one of the herd. When the last two bulls had been unloaded the herd were all together.

The steer who had been gored had gotten to his feet and stood against the stone wall. None of the bulls came near him, and he did not attempt to join the herd.

We climbed down from the wall with the crowd, and had a last look at the bulls through the loopholes in the wall of the corral. They were all quiet now, their heads down. We got a carriage outside and rode up to the café. Mike and Bill came in half an hour later. They had stopped on the way for several drinks.

We were sitting in the café.

“That’s an extraordinary business,” Brett said.

“Will those last ones fight as well as the first?” Robert Cohn asked. “They seemed to quiet down awfully fast.”

“They all know each other,” I said. “They’re only dangerous when they’re alone, or only two or three of them together.”

“What do you mean, dangerous?” Bill said. “They all looked dangerous to me.”

“They only want to kill when they’re alone. Of course, if you went in there you’d probably detach one of them from the herd, and he’d be dangerous.”

“That’s too complicated,” Bill said. “Don’t you ever detach me from the herd, Mike.”

“I say,” Mike said, “they were fine bulls, weren’t they? Did you see their horns?”

“Did I not,” said Brett. “I had no idea what they were like.”

“Did you see the one hit that steer?” Mike asked. “That was extraordinary.”

“It’s no life being a steer,” Robert Cohn said.

“Don’t you think so?” Mike said. “I would have thought you’d loved being a steer, Robert.”

“What do you mean, Mike?”

“They lead such a quiet life. They never say anything and they’re always hanging about so.”

We were embarrassed. Bill laughed. Robert Cohn was angry. Mike went on talking.

“I should think you’d love it. You’d never have to say a word. Come on, Robert. Do say something. Don’t just sit there.”

“I said something, Mike. Don’t you remember? About the steers.”

“Oh, say something more. Say something funny. Can’t you see we’re all having a good time here?”

“Come off it, Michael. You’re drunk,” Brett said.

“I’m not drunk. I’m quite serious. Is Robert Cohn going to follow Brett around like a steer all the time?”

“Shut up, Michael. Try and show a little breeding.”

“Breeding be damned. Who has any breeding, anyway, except the bulls? Aren’t the bulls lovely? Don’t you like them, Bill? Why don’t you say something, Robert? Don’t sit there looking like a bloody funeral. What if Brett did sleep with you? She’s slept with lots of better people than you.”

“Shut up,” Cohn said. He stood up. “Shut up, Mike.”

“Oh, don’t stand up and act as though you were going to hit me. That won’t make any difference to me. Tell me, Robert. Why do you follow Brett around like a poor bloody steer? Don’t you know you’re not wanted? I know when I’m not wanted. Why don’t you know when you’re not wanted? You came down to San Sebastian where you weren’t wanted, and followed Brett around like a bloody steer. Do you think that’s right?”

“Shut up. You’re drunk.”

“Perhaps I am drunk. Why aren’t you drunk? Why don’t you ever get drunk, Robert? You know you didn’t have a good time at San Sebastian because none of our friends would invite you on any of the parties. You can’t blame them hardly. Can you? I asked them to. They wouldn’t do it. You can’t blame them, now. Can you? Now, answer me. Can you blame them?”

“Go to hell, Mike.”

“I can’t blame them. Can you blame them? Why do you follow Brett around? Haven’t you any manners? How do you think it makes me feel?”

“You’re a splendid one to talk about manners,” Brett said. “You’ve such lovely manners.”

“Come on, Robert,” Bill said.

“What do you follow her around for?”

Bill stood up and took hold of Cohn.

“Don’t go,” Mike said. “Robert Cohn’s going to buy a drink.”

Bill went off with Cohn. Cohn’s face was sallow. Mike went on talking. I sat and listened for a while. Brett looked disgusted.

“I say, Michael, you might not be such a bloody ass,” she interrupted. “I’m not saying he’s not right, you know.” She turned to me.

The emotion left Mike’s voice. We were all friends together.

“I’m not so damn drunk as I sounded,” he said.

“I know you’re not,” Brett said.

“We’re none of us sober,” I said.

“I didn’t say anything I didn’t mean.”

“But you put it so badly,” Brett laughed.

“He was an ass, though. He came down to San Sebastian where he damn well wasn’t wanted. He hung around Brett and just looked at her. It made me damned well sick.”

“He did behave very badly,” Brett said.

“Mark you. Brett’s had affairs with men before. She tells me all about everything. She gave me this chap Cohn’s letters to read. I wouldn’t read them.”

“Damned noble of you.”

“No, listen, Jake. Brett’s gone off with men. But they weren’t ever Jews, and they didn’t come and hang about afterward.”

“Damned good chaps,” Brett said. “It’s all rot to talk about it. Michael and I understand each other.”

“She gave me Robert Cohn’s letters. I wouldn’t read them.”

“You wouldn’t read any letters, darling. You wouldn’t read mine.”

“I can’t read letters,” Mike said. “Funny, isn’t it?”

“You can’t read anything.”

“No. You’re wrong there. I read quite a bit. I read when I’m at home.”

“You’ll be writing next,” Brett said. “Come on, Michael. Do buck up. You’ve got to go through with this thing now. He’s here. Don’t spoil the fiesta.”

“Well, let him behave, then.”

“He’ll behave. I’ll tell him.”

“You tell him, Jake. Tell him either he must behave or get out.”

“Yes,” I said, “it would be nice for me to tell him.”

“Look, Brett. Tell Jake what Robert calls you. That is perfect, you know.”

“Oh, no. I can’t.”

“Go on. We’re all friends. Aren’t we all friends, Jake?”

“I can’t tell him. It’s too ridiculous.”

“I’ll tell him.”

“You won’t, Michael. Don’t be an ass.”

“He calls her Circe,” Mike said. “He claims she turns men into swine. Damn good. I wish I were one of these literary chaps.”

“He’d be good, you know,” Brett said. “He writes a good letter.”

“I know,” I said. “He wrote me from San Sebastian.”

“That was nothing,” Brett said. “He can write a damned amusing letter.”

“She made me write that. She was supposed to be ill.”

“I damned well was, too.”

“Come on,” I said, “we must go in and eat.”

“How should I meet Cohn?” Mike said.

“Just act as though nothing had happened.”

“It’s quite all right with me,” Mike said. “I’m not embarrassed.”

“If he says anything, just say you were tight.”

“Quite. And the funny thing is I think I was tight.”

“Come on,” Brett said. “Are these poisonous things paid for? I must bathe before dinner.”

We walked across the square. It was dark and all around the square were the lights from the cafés under the arcades. We walked across the gravel under the trees to the hotel.

They went up-stairs and I stopped to speak with Montoya.

“Well, how did you like the bulls?” he asked.

“Good. They were nice bulls.”

“They’re all right”–Montoya shook his head–“but they’re not too good.”

“What didn’t you like about them?”

“I don’t know. They just didn’t give me the feeling that they were so good.”

“I know what you mean.”

“They’re all right.”

“Yes. They’re all right.”

“How did your friends like them?”


“Good,” Montoya said.

I went up-stairs. Bill was in his room standing on the balcony looking out at the square. I stood beside him.

“Where’s Cohn?”

“Up-stairs in his room.”

“How does he feel?”

“Like hell, naturally. Mike was awful. He’s terrible when he’s tight.”

“He wasn’t so tight.”

“The hell he wasn’t. I know what we had before we came to the café.”

“He sobered up afterward.”

“Good. He was terrible. I don’t like Cohn, God knows, and I think it was a silly trick for him to go down to San Sebastian, but nobody has any business to talk like Mike.”

“How’d you like the bulls?”

“Grand. It’s grand the way they bring them out.”

“To-morrow come the Miuras.”

“When does the fiesta start?”

“Day after to-morrow.”

“We’ve got to keep Mike from getting so tight. That kind of stuff is terrible.”

“We’d better get cleaned up for supper.”

“Yes. That will be a pleasant meal.”

“Won’t it?”

As a matter of fact, supper was a pleasant meal. Brett wore a black, sleeveless evening dress. She looked quite beautiful. Mike acted as though nothing had happened. I had to go up and bring Robert Cohn down. He was reserved and formal, and his face was still taut and sallow, but he cheered up finally. He could not stop looking at Brett. It seemed to make him happy. It must have been pleasant for him to see her looking so lovely, and know he had been away with her and that every one knew it. They could not take that away from him. Bill was very funny. So was Michael. They were good together.

It was like certain dinners I remember from the war. There was much wine, an ignored tension, and a feeling of things coming that you could not prevent happening. Under the wine I lost the disgusted feeling and was happy. It seemed they were all such nice people.

– The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

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Book Excerpt: Samson Agonistes

A Little onward lend thy guiding hand
To these dark steps, a little further on;
For yonder bank hath choice of Sun or shade,
There I am wont to sit, when any chance
Relieves me from my task of servile toyl,
Daily in the common Prison else enjoyn’d me,
Where I a Prisoner chain’d, scarce freely draw
The air imprison’d also, close and damp,
Unwholsom draught: but here I feel amends,
The breath of Heav’n fresh-blowing, pure and sweet,
With day-spring born; here leave me to respire.
This day a solemn Feast the people hold
To Dagon thir Sea-Idol, and forbid
Laborious works, unwillingly this rest
Thir Superstition yields me; hence with leave
Retiring from the popular noise, I seek
This unfrequented place to find some ease,
Ease to the body some, none to the mind
From restless thoughts, that like a deadly swarm
Of Hornets arm’d, no sooner found alone,
But rush upon me thronging, and present
Times past, what once I was, and what am now.
O wherefore was my birth from Heaven foretold
Twice by an Angel, who at last in sight
Of both my Parents all in flames ascended
From off the Altar, where an Off’ring burn’d,
As in a fiery column charioting
His Godlike presence, and from some great act
Or benefit reveal’d to Abraham’s race?
Why was my breeding order’d and prescrib’d
As of a person separate to God,
Design’d for great exploits; if I must dye
Betray’d, Captiv’d, and both my Eyes put out,
Made of my Enemies the scorn and gaze;
To grind in Brazen Fetters under task
With this Heav’n-gifted strength? O glorious strength
Put to the labour of a Beast, debas’t
Lower then bondslave! Promise was that I
Should Israel from Philistian yoke deliver;
Ask for this great Deliverer now, and find him
Eyeless in Gaza at the Mill with slaves,
Himself in bonds under Philistian yoke;
Yet stay, let me not rashly call in doubt
Divine Prediction; what if all foretold
Had been fulfilld but through mine own default,
Whom have I to complain of but my self?
Who this high gift of strength committed to me,
In what part lodg’d, how easily bereft me,
Under the Seal of silence could not keep,
But weakly to a woman must reveal it
O’recome with importunity and tears.
O impotence of mind, in body strong!
But what is strength without a double share
Of wisdom, vast, unwieldy, burdensom,
Proudly secure, yet liable to fall
By weakest suttleties, not made to rule,
But to subserve where wisdom bears command.
God, when he gave me strength, to shew withal
How slight the gift was, hung it in my Hair.
But peace, I must not quarrel with the will
Of highest dispensation, which herein
Happ’ly had ends above my reach to know:
Suffices that to me strength is my bane,
And proves the sourse of all my miseries;
So many, and so huge, that each apart
Would ask a life to wail, but of all,
O loss of sight, of thee I most complain!
Blind among enemies, O worse then chains,
Dungeon, or beggery, or decrepit age!
Light the prime work of God to me is extinct,
And all her various objects of delight
Annull’d, which might in part my grief have eas’d,
Inferiour to the vilest now become
Of man or worm; the vilest here excel me,
They creep, yet see, I dark in light expos’d
To daily fraud, contempt, abuse and wrong,
Within doors, or without, still as a fool,
In power of others, never in my own;
Scarce half I seem to live, dead more then half.
O dark, dark, dark, dark, dark, amid the blaze of noon,
Irrecoverably dark, total Eclipse
Without all hope of day!
O first created Beam, and thou great Word,
Let there be light, and light was over all;
Why am I thus bereav’d thy prime decree?
The Sun to me is dark
And silent as the Moon,
When she deserts the night
Hid in her vacant interlunar cave.
Since light so necessary is to life,
And almost life itself, if it be true
That light is in the Soul,
She all in every part; why was the sight
To such a tender ball as th’ eye confin’d?
So obvious and so easie to be quench’t,
And not as feeling through all parts diffus’d,
That she might look at will through every pore?
Then had I not been thus exil’d from light;
As in the land of darkness yet in light,
To live a life half dead, a living death,
And buried; but O yet more miserable!
My self, my Sepulcher, a moving Grave,
Buried, yet not exempt
By priviledge of death and burial
From worst of other evils, pains and wrongs,
But made hereby obnoxious more
To all the miseries of life,
Life in captivity
Among inhuman foes.

– Samson Agonistes by John Milton

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Book Excerpt: White Fang

Dark spruce forest frowned on either side the frozen waterway. The trees had been stripped by a recent wind of their white covering of frost, and they seemed to lean towards each other, black and ominous, in the fading light. A vast silence reigned over the land. The land itself was a desolation, lifeless, without movement, so lone and cold that the spirit of it was not even that of sadness. There was a hint in it of laughter, but of a laughter more terrible than any sadness – a laughter that was mirthless as the smile of the sphinx, a laughter cold as the frost and partaking of the grimness of infallibility. It was the masterful and incommunicable wisdom of eternity laughing at the futility of life and the effort of life. It was the Wild, the savage, frozen- hearted Northland Wild.

But there WAS life, abroad in the land and defiant. Down the frozen waterway toiled a string of wolfish dogs. Their bristly fur was rimed with frost. Their breath froze in the air as it left their mouths, spouting forth in spumes of vapour that settled upon the hair of their bodies and formed into crystals of frost. Leather harness was on the dogs, and leather traces attached them to a sled which dragged along behind. The sled was without runners. It was made of stout birch-bark, and its full surface rested on the snow. The front end of the sled was turned up, like a scroll, in order to force down and under the bore of soft snow that surged like a wave before it. On the sled, securely lashed, was a long and narrow oblong box. There were other things on the sled – blankets, an axe, and a coffee-pot and frying-pan; but prominent, occupying most of the space, was the long and narrow oblong box.

In advance of the dogs, on wide snowshoes, toiled a man. At the rear of the sled toiled a second man. On the sled, in the box, lay a third man whose toil was over, – a man whom the Wild had conquered and beaten down until he would never move nor struggle again. It is not the way of the Wild to like movement. Life is an offence to it, for life is movement; and the Wild aims always to destroy movement. It freezes the water to prevent it running to the sea; it drives the sap out of the trees till they are frozen to their mighty hearts; and most ferociously and terribly of all does the Wild harry and crush into submission man – man who is the most restless of life, ever in revolt against the dictum that all movement must in the end come to the cessation of movement.

But at front and rear, unawed and indomitable, toiled the two men who were not yet dead. Their bodies were covered with fur and soft-tanned leather. Eyelashes and cheeks and lips were so coated with the crystals from their frozen breath that their faces were not discernible. This gave them the seeming of ghostly masques, undertakers in a spectral world at the funeral of some ghost. But under it all they were men, penetrating the land of desolation and mockery and silence, puny adventurers bent on colossal adventure, pitting themselves against the might of a world as remote and alien and pulseless as the abysses of space.

They travelled on without speech, saving their breath for the work of their bodies. On every side was the silence, pressing upon them with a tangible presence. It affected their minds as the many atmospheres of deep water affect the body of the diver. It crushed them with the weight of unending vastness and unalterable decree. It crushed them into the remotest recesses of their own minds, pressing out of them, like juices from the grape, all the false ardours and exaltations and undue self-values of the human soul, until they perceived themselves finite and small, specks and motes, moving with weak cunning and little wisdom amidst the play and inter-play of the great blind elements and forces.

An hour went by, and a second hour. The pale light of the short sunless day was beginning to fade, when a faint far cry arose on the still air. It soared upward with a swift rush, till it reached its topmost note, where it persisted, palpitant and tense, and then slowly died away. It might have been a lost soul wailing, had it not been invested with a certain sad fierceness and hungry eagerness. The front man turned his head until his eyes met the eyes of the man behind. And then, across the narrow oblong box, each nodded to the other.

A second cry arose, piercing the silence with needle-like shrillness. Both men located the sound. It was to the rear, somewhere in the snow expanse they had just traversed. A third and answering cry arose, also to the rear and to the left of the second cry.

“They’re after us, Bill,” said the man at the front.

His voice sounded hoarse and unreal, and he had spoken with apparent effort.

“Meat is scarce,” answered his comrade. “I ain’t seen a rabbit sign for days.”

Thereafter they spoke no more, though their ears were keen for the hunting-cries that continued to rise behind them.

– White Fang by Jack London

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a question of doors?

He stands there all the day long, knocking sometimes, but always there. He is a storyteller, and all His stories are about how to live forever. Father told you the same stories, every night before you fell asleep. Stories about how to live forever.

But before you can live forever you must go back to before the beginning. Before you were born. Before the world was born. There was only God. There was only His son. There was only the Spirit. And the angels were there and they were divided. It was the evil one that divided them. He was the highest of the angels, glorious in countenance, before he was cast out of heaven and became Satan, the evil one. Before he made many of the angels believe they were as good as God. That they were as important as the Son. He lied to them. That is what the evil one does. He lies, and lies are behind everything that goes wrong in the world. Because the world is where the evil one went next. Into the world he came for almost forever. But forever is saved for you, for those that won’t listen to his lies.

– a question of doors? by Paul B Womack

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