Two rounds of this went by, and three, but Ponta’s strength, though perceptibly less, did not diminish rapidly. Joe’s task was to wear down that strength, not with one blow, nor ten, but with blow after blow, without end, until that enormous strength should be beaten sheer out of its body. There was no rest for the man. Joe followed him up, step by step, his advancing left foot making an audible tap, tap, tap, on the hard canvas. Then there would come a sudden leap in, tiger-like, a blow struck, or blows, and a swift leap back, whereupon the left foot would take up again its tapping advance. When Ponta made his savage rushes, Joe carefully covered up, only to emerge, his left foot going tap, tap, tap, as he immediately followed up.
Ponta was slowly weakening. To the crowd the end was a foregone conclusion.
“Oh, you, Joe!” it yelled its admiration and affection.
“It’s a shame to take the money!” it mocked. “Why don’t you eat ’m, Ponta? Go on in an’ eat ’m!”
In the one-minute intermissions Ponta’s seconds worked over him as they had not worked before. Their calm trust in his tremendous vitality had been betrayed. Genevieve watched their excited efforts, while she listened to the white-faced second cautioning Joe.
“Take your time,” he was saying. “You’ve got ’m, but you got to take your time. I’ve seen ’m fight. He’s got a punch to the end of the count. I’ve seen ‘m knocked out and clean batty, an’ go on punching just the same. Mickey Sullivan had ‘m goin’. Puts ’m to the mat as fast as he crawls up, six times, an’ then leaves an opening. Ponta reaches for his jaw, an two minutes afterward Mickey’s openin’ his eyes an’ askin’ what’s doin’. So you’ve got to watch ‘m. No goin’ in an’ absorbin’ one of them lucky punches, now. I got money on this fight, but I don’t call it mine till he’s counted out.”
Ponta was being doused with water. As the gong sounded, one of his seconds inverted a water bottle on his head. He started toward the centre of the ring, and the second followed him for several steps, keeping the bottle still inverted. The referee shouted at him, and he fled the ring, dropping the bottle as he fled. It rolled over and over, the water gurgling out upon the canvas till the referee, with a quick flirt of his toe, sent the bottle rolling through the ropes.
In all the previous rounds Genevieve had not seen Joe’s fighting face which had been prefigured to her that morning in the department store. Sometimes his face had been quite boyish; other times, when taking his fiercest punishment, it had been bleak and gray; and still later, when living through and clutching and holding on, it had taken on a wistful expression. But now, out of danger himself and as he forced the fight, his fighting face came upon him. She saw it and shuddered. It removed him so far from her. She had thought she knew him, all of him, and held him in the hollow of her hand; but this she did not know—this face of steel, this mouth of steel, these eyes of steel flashing the light and glitter of steel. It seemed to her the passionless face of an avenging angel, stamped only with the purpose of the Lord.