Part 1 out of 8
all of which are in the Public Domain in the United States, unless a
copyright notice is included. Therefore, we do NOT keep these books
in compliance with any particular paper edition, usually otherwise.
The one opened the door with a latch-key and went in, followed by a
young fellow who awkwardly removed his cap. He wore rough clothes
that smacked of the sea, and he was manifestly out of place in the
spacious hall in which he found himself. He did not know what to
do with his cap, and was stuffing it into his coat pocket when the
other took it from him. The act was done quietly and naturally,
and the awkward young fellow appreciated it. "He understands," was
his thought. "He'll see me through all right."
He walked at the other's heels with a swing to his shoulders, and
his legs spread unwittingly, as if the level floors were tilting up
and sinking down to the heave and lunge of the sea. The wide rooms
seemed too narrow for his rolling gait, and to himself he was in
terror lest his broad shoulders should collide with the doorways or
sweep the bric-a-brac from the low mantel. He recoiled from side
to side between the various objects and multiplied the hazards that
in reality lodged only in his mind. Between a grand piano and a
centre-table piled high with books was space for a half a dozen to
walk abreast, yet he essayed it with trepidation. His heavy arms
hung loosely at his sides. He did not know what to do with those
arms and hands, and when, to his excited vision, one arm seemed
liable to brush against the books on the table, he lurched away
like a frightened horse, barely missing the piano stool. He
watched the easy walk of the other in front of him, and for the
first time realized that his walk was different from that of other
men. He experienced a momentary pang of shame that he should walk
so uncouthly. The sweat burst through the skin of his forehead in
tiny beads, and he paused and mopped his bronzed face with his
"Hold on, Arthur, my boy," he said, attempting to mask his anxiety
with facetious utterance. "This is too much all at once for yours
truly. Give me a chance to get my nerve. You know I didn't want
to come, an' I guess your fam'ly ain't hankerin' to see me
"That's all right," was the reassuring answer. "You mustn't be
frightened at us. We're just homely people - Hello, there's a
letter for me."
He stepped back to the table, tore open the envelope, and began to
read, giving the stranger an opportunity to recover himself. And
the stranger understood and appreciated. His was the gift of
sympathy, understanding; and beneath his alarmed exterior that
sympathetic process went on. He mopped his forehead dry and
glanced about him with a controlled face, though in the eyes there
was an expression such as wild animals betray when they fear the
trap. He was surrounded by the unknown, apprehensive of what might
happen, ignorant of what he should do, aware that he walked and
bore himself awkwardly, fearful that every attribute and power of
him was similarly afflicted. He was keenly sensitive, hopelessly
self-conscious, and the amused glance that the other stole privily
at him over the top of the letter burned into him like a dagger-
thrust. He saw the glance, but he gave no sign, for among the
things he had learned was discipline. Also, that dagger-thrust
went to his pride. He cursed himself for having come, and at the
same time resolved that, happen what would, having come, he would
carry it through. The lines of his face hardened, and into his
eyes came a fighting light. He looked about more unconcernedly,
sharply observant, every detail of the pretty interior registering
itself on his brain. His eyes were wide apart; nothing in their
field of vision escaped; and as they drank in the beauty before
them the fighting light died out and a warm glow took its place.
He was responsive to beauty, and here was cause to respond.
An oil painting caught and held him. A heavy surf thundered and
burst over an outjutting rock; lowering storm-clouds covered the
sky; and, outside the line of surf, a pilot-schooner, close-hauled,
heeled over till every detail of her deck was visible, was surging
along against a stormy sunset sky. There was beauty, and it drew
him irresistibly. He forgot his awkward walk and came closer to
the painting, very close. The beauty faded out of the canvas. His
face expressed his bepuzzlement. He stared at what seemed a
careless daub of paint, then stepped away. Immediately all the
beauty flashed back into the canvas. "A trick picture," was his
thought, as he dismissed it, though in the midst of the
multitudinous impressions he was receiving he found time to feel a
prod of indignation that so much beauty should be sacrificed to
make a trick. He did not know painting. He had been brought up on
chromos and lithographs that were always definite and sharp, near
or far. He had seen oil paintings, it was true, in the show
windows of shops, but the glass of the windows had prevented his
eager eyes from approaching too near.
He glanced around at his friend reading the letter and saw the
books on the table. Into his eyes leaped a wistfulness and a
yearning as promptly as the yearning leaps into the eyes of a
starving man at sight of food. An impulsive stride, with one lurch
to right and left of the shoulders, brought him to the table, where
he began affectionately handling the books. He glanced at the
titles and the authors' names, read fragments of text, caressing
the volumes with his eyes and hands, and, once, recognized a book
he had read. For the rest, they were strange books and strange
authors. He chanced upon a volume of Swinburne and began reading
steadily, forgetful of where he was, his face glowing. Twice he
closed the book on his forefinger to look at the name of the
author. Swinburne! he would remember that name. That fellow had
eyes, and he had certainly seen color and flashing light. But who
was Swinburne? Was he dead a hundred years or so, like most of the
poets? Or was he alive still, and writing? He turned to the
title-page . . . yes, he had written other books; well, he would go
to the free library the first thing in the morning and try to get
hold of some of Swinburne's stuff. He went back to the text and
lost himself. He did not notice that a young woman had entered the
room. The first he knew was when he heard Arthur's voice saying:-
"Ruth, this is Mr. Eden."
The book was closed on his forefinger, and before he turned he was
thrilling to the first new impression, which was not of the girl,
but of her brother's words. Under that muscled body of his he was
a mass of quivering sensibilities. At the slightest impact of the
outside world upon his consciousness, his thoughts, sympathies, and
emotions leapt and played like lambent flame. He was
extraordinarily receptive and responsive, while his imagination,
pitched high, was ever at work establishing relations of likeness
and difference. "Mr. Eden," was what he had thrilled to - he who
had been called "Eden," or "Martin Eden," or just "Martin," all his
life. And "MISTER!" It was certainly going some, was his internal
comment. His mind seemed to turn, on the instant, into a vast
camera obscura, and he saw arrayed around his consciousness endless
pictures from his life, of stoke-holes and forecastles, camps and
beaches, jails and boozing-kens, fever-hospitals and slum streets,
wherein the thread of association was the fashion in which he had
been addressed in those various situations.
And then he turned and saw the girl. The phantasmagoria of his
brain vanished at sight of her. She was a pale, ethereal creature,
with wide, spiritual blue eyes and a wealth of golden hair. He did
not know how she was dressed, except that the dress was as
wonderful as she. He likened her to a pale gold flower upon a
slender stem. No, she was a spirit, a divinity, a goddess; such
sublimated beauty was not of the earth. Or perhaps the books were
right, and there were many such as she in the upper walks of life.
She might well be sung by that chap, Swinburne. Perhaps he had had
somebody like her in mind when he painted that girl, Iseult, in the
book there on the table. All this plethora of sight, and feeling,
and thought occurred on the instant. There was no pause of the
realities wherein he moved. He saw her hand coming out to his, and
she looked him straight in the eyes as she shook hands, frankly,
like a man. The women he had known did not shake hands that way.
For that matter, most of them did not shake hands at all. A flood
of associations, visions of various ways he had made the
acquaintance of women, rushed into his mind and threatened to swamp
it. But he shook them aside and looked at her. Never had he seen
such a woman. The women he had known! Immediately, beside her, on
either hand, ranged the women he had known. For an eternal second
he stood in the midst of a portrait gallery, wherein she occupied
the central place, while about her were limned many women, all to
be weighed and measured by a fleeting glance, herself the unit of
weight and measure. He saw the weak and sickly faces of the girls
of the factories, and the simpering, boisterous girls from the
south of Market. There were women of the cattle camps, and swarthy
cigarette-smoking women of Old Mexico. These, in turn, were
crowded out by Japanese women, doll-like, stepping mincingly on
wooden clogs; by Eurasians, delicate featured, stamped with
degeneracy; by full-bodied South-Sea-Island women, flower-crowned
and brown-skinned. All these were blotted out by a grotesque and
terrible nightmare brood - frowsy, shuffling creatures from the
pavements of Whitechapel, gin-bloated hags of the stews, and all
the vast hell's following of harpies, vile-mouthed and filthy, that
under the guise of monstrous female form prey upon sailors, the
scrapings of the ports, the scum and slime of the human pit.
"Won't you sit down, Mr. Eden?" the girl was saying. "I have been
looking forward to meeting you ever since Arthur told us. It was
brave of you - "
He waved his hand deprecatingly and muttered that it was nothing at
all, what he had done, and that any fellow would have done it. She
noticed that the hand he waved was covered with fresh abrasions, in
the process of healing, and a glance at the other loose-hanging
hand showed it to be in the same condition. Also, with quick,
critical eye, she noted a scar on his cheek, another that peeped
out from under the hair of the forehead, and a third that ran down
and disappeared under the starched collar. She repressed a smile
at sight of the red line that marked the chafe of the collar
against the bronzed neck. He was evidently unused to stiff
collars. Likewise her feminine eye took in the clothes he wore,
the cheap and unaesthetic cut, the wrinkling of the coat across the
shoulders, and the series of wrinkles in the sleeves that
advertised bulging biceps muscles.
While he waved his hand and muttered that he had done nothing at
all, he was obeying her behest by trying to get into a chair. He
found time to admire the ease with which she sat down, then lurched
toward a chair facing her, overwhelmed with consciousness of the
awkward figure he was cutting. This was a new experience for him.
All his life, up to then, he had been unaware of being either
graceful or awkward. Such thoughts of self had never entered his
mind. He sat down gingerly on the edge of the chair, greatly
worried by his hands. They were in the way wherever he put them.
Arthur was leaving the room, and Martin Eden followed his exit with
longing eyes. He felt lost, alone there in the room with that pale
spirit of a woman. There was no bar-keeper upon whom to call for
drinks, no small boy to send around the corner for a can of beer
and by means of that social fluid start the amenities of friendship
"You have such a scar on your neck, Mr. Eden," the girl was saying.
"How did it happen? I am sure it must have been some adventure."
"A Mexican with a knife, miss," he answered, moistening his parched
lips and clearing hip throat. "It was just a fight. After I got
the knife away, he tried to bite off my nose."
Baldly as he had stated it, in his eyes was a rich vision of that
hot, starry night at Salina Cruz, the white strip of beach, the
lights of the sugar steamers in the harbor, the voices of the
drunken sailors in the distance, the jostling stevedores, the
flaming passion in the Mexican's face, the glint of the beast-eyes
in the starlight, the sting of the steel in his neck, and the rush
of blood, the crowd and the cries, the two bodies, his and the
Mexican's, locked together, rolling over and over and tearing up
the sand, and from away off somewhere the mellow tinkling of a
guitar. Such was the picture, and he thrilled to the memory of it,
wondering if the man could paint it who had painted the pilot-
schooner on the wall. The white beach, the stars, and the lights
of the sugar steamers would look great, he thought, and midway on
the sand the dark group of figures that surrounded the fighters.
The knife occupied a place in the picture, he decided, and would
show well, with a sort of gleam, in the light of the stars. But of
all this no hint had crept into his speech. "He tried to bite off
my nose," he concluded.
"Oh," the girl said, in a faint, far voice, and he noticed the
shock in her sensitive face.
He felt a shock himself, and a blush of embarrassment shone faintly
on his sunburned cheeks, though to him it burned as hotly as when
his cheeks had been exposed to the open furnace-door in the fire-
room. Such sordid things as stabbing affrays were evidently not
fit subjects for conversation with a lady. People in the books, in
her walk of life, did not talk about such things - perhaps they did
not know about them, either.
There was a brief pause in the conversation they were trying to get
started. Then she asked tentatively about the scar on his cheek.
Even as she asked, he realized that she was making an effort to
talk his talk, and he resolved to get away from it and talk hers.
"It was just an accident," he said, putting his hand to his cheek.
"One night, in a calm, with a heavy sea running, the main-boom-lift
carried away, an' next the tackle. The lift was wire, an' it was
threshin' around like a snake. The whole watch was tryin' to grab
it, an' I rushed in an' got swatted."
"Oh," she said, this time with an accent of comprehension, though
secretly his speech had been so much Greek to her and she was
wondering what a LIFT was and what SWATTED meant.
"This man Swineburne," he began, attempting to put his plan into
execution and pronouncing the I long.
"Swineburne," he repeated, with the same mispronunciation. "The
"Swinburne," she corrected.
"Yes, that's the chap," he stammered, his cheeks hot again. "How
long since he died?"
"Why, I haven't heard that he was dead." She looked at him
curiously. "Where did you make his acquaintance?"
"I never clapped eyes on him," was the reply. "But I read some of
his poetry out of that book there on the table just before you come
in. How do you like his poetry?"
And thereat she began to talk quickly and easily upon the subject
he had suggested. He felt better, and settled back slightly from
the edge of the chair, holding tightly to its arms with his hands,
as if it might get away from him and buck him to the floor. He had
succeeded in making her talk her talk, and while she rattled on, he
strove to follow her, marvelling at all the knowledge that was
stowed away in that pretty head of hers, and drinking in the pale
beauty of her face. Follow her he did, though bothered by
unfamiliar words that fell glibly from her lips and by critical
phrases and thought-processes that were foreign to his mind, but
that nevertheless stimulated his mind and set it tingling. Here
was intellectual life, he thought, and here was beauty, warm and
wonderful as he had never dreamed it could be. He forgot himself
and stared at her with hungry eyes. Here was something to live
for, to win to, to fight for - ay, and die for. The books were
true. There were such women in the world. She was one of them.
She lent wings to his imagination, and great, luminous canvases
spread themselves before him whereon loomed vague, gigantic figures
of love and romance, and of heroic deeds for woman's sake - for a
pale woman, a flower of gold. And through the swaying, palpitant
vision, as through a fairy mirage, he stared at the real woman,
sitting there and talking of literature and art. He listened as
well, but he stared, unconscious of the fixity of his gaze or of
the fact that all that was essentially masculine in his nature was
shining in his eyes. But she, who knew little of the world of men,
being a woman, was keenly aware of his burning eyes. She had never
had men look at her in such fashion, and it embarrassed her. She
stumbled and halted in her utterance. The thread of argument
slipped from her. He frightened her, and at the same time it was
strangely pleasant to be so looked upon. Her training warned her
of peril and of wrong, subtle, mysterious, luring; while her
instincts rang clarion-voiced through her being, impelling her to
hurdle caste and place and gain to this traveller from another
world, to this uncouth young fellow with lacerated hands and a line
of raw red caused by the unaccustomed linen at his throat, who, all
too evidently, was soiled and tainted by ungracious existence. She
was clean, and her cleanness revolted; but she was woman, and she
was just beginning to learn the paradox of woman.
"As I was saying - what was I saying?" She broke off abruptly and
laughed merrily at her predicament.
"You was saying that this man Swinburne failed bein' a great poet
because - an' that was as far as you got, miss," he prompted, while
to himself he seemed suddenly hungry, and delicious little thrills
crawled up and down his spine at the sound of her laughter. Like
silver, he thought to himself, like tinkling silver bells; and on
the instant, and for an instant, he was transported to a far land,
where under pink cherry blossoms, he smoked a cigarette and
listened to the bells of the peaked pagoda calling straw-sandalled
devotees to worship.
"Yes, thank you," she said. "Swinburne fails, when all is said,
because he is, well, indelicate. There are many of his poems that
should never be read. Every line of the really great poets is
filled with beautiful truth, and calls to all that is high and
noble in the human. Not a line of the great poets can be spared
without impoverishing the world by that much."
"I thought it was great," he said hesitatingly, "the little I read.
I had no idea he was such a - a scoundrel. I guess that crops out
in his other books."
"There are many lines that could be spared from the book you were
reading," she said, her voice primly firm and dogmatic.
"I must 'a' missed 'em," he announced. "What I read was the real
goods. It was all lighted up an' shining, an' it shun right into
me an' lighted me up inside, like the sun or a searchlight. That's
the way it landed on me, but I guess I ain't up much on poetry,
He broke off lamely. He was confused, painfully conscious of his
inarticulateness. He had felt the bigness and glow of life in what
he had read, but his speech was inadequate. He could not express
what he felt, and to himself he likened himself to a sailor, in a
strange ship, on a dark night, groping about in the unfamiliar
running rigging. Well, he decided, it was up to him to get
acquainted in this new world. He had never seen anything that he
couldn't get the hang of when he wanted to and it was about time
for him to want to learn to talk the things that were inside of him
so that she could understand. SHE was bulking large on his
"Now Longfellow - " she was saying.
"Yes, I've read 'm," he broke in impulsively, spurred on to exhibit
and make the most of his little store of book knowledge, desirous
of showing her that he was not wholly a stupid clod. "'The Psalm
of Life,' 'Excelsior,' an' . . . I guess that's all."
She nodded her head and smiled, and he felt, somehow, that her
smile was tolerant, pitifully tolerant. He was a fool to attempt
to make a pretence that way. That Longfellow chap most likely had
written countless books of poetry.
"Excuse me, miss, for buttin' in that way. I guess the real facts
is that I don't know nothin' much about such things. It ain't in
my class. But I'm goin' to make it in my class."
It sounded like a threat. His voice was determined, his eyes were
flashing, the lines of his face had grown harsh. And to her it
seemed that the angle of his jaw had changed; its pitch had become
unpleasantly aggressive. At the same time a wave of intense
virility seemed to surge out from him and impinge upon her.
"I think you could make it in - in your class," she finished with a
laugh. "You are very strong."
Her gaze rested for a moment on the muscular neck, heavy corded,
almost bull-like, bronzed by the sun, spilling over with rugged
health and strength. And though he sat there, blushing and humble,
again she felt drawn to him. She was surprised by a wanton thought
that rushed into her mind. It seemed to her that if she could lay
her two hands upon that neck that all its strength and vigor would
flow out to her. She was shocked by this thought. It seemed to
reveal to her an undreamed depravity in her nature. Besides,
strength to her was a gross and brutish thing. Her ideal of
masculine beauty had always been slender gracefulness. Yet the
thought still persisted. It bewildered her that she should desire
to place her hands on that sunburned neck. In truth, she was far
from robust, and the need of her body and mind was for strength.
But she did not know it. She knew only that no man had ever
affected her before as this one had, who shocked her from moment to
moment with his awful grammar.
"Yes, I ain't no invalid," he said. "When it comes down to hard-
pan, I can digest scrap-iron. But just now I've got dyspepsia.
Most of what you was sayin' I can't digest. Never trained that
way, you see. I like books and poetry, and what time I've had I've
read 'em, but I've never thought about 'em the way you have.
That's why I can't talk about 'em. I'm like a navigator adrift on
a strange sea without chart or compass. Now I want to get my
bearin's. Mebbe you can put me right. How did you learn all this
you've ben talkin'?"
"By going to school, I fancy, and by studying," she answered.
"I went to school when I was a kid," he began to object.
"Yes; but I mean high school, and lectures, and the university."
"You've gone to the university?" he demanded in frank amazement.
He felt that she had become remoter from him by at least a million
"I'm going there now. I'm taking special courses in English."
He did not know what "English" meant, but he made a mental note of
that item of ignorance and passed on.
"How long would I have to study before I could go to the
university?" he asked.
She beamed encouragement upon his desire for knowledge, and said:
"That depends upon how much studying you have already done. You
have never attended high school? Of course not. But did you
finish grammar school?"
"I had two years to run, when I left," he answered. "But I was
always honorably promoted at school."
The next moment, angry with himself for the boast, he had gripped
the arms of the chair so savagely that every finger-end was
stinging. At the same moment he became aware that a woman was
entering the room. He saw the girl leave her chair and trip
swiftly across the floor to the newcomer. They kissed each other,
and, with arms around each other's waists, they advanced toward
him. That must be her mother, he thought. She was a tall, blond
woman, slender, and stately, and beautiful. Her gown was what he
might expect in such a house. His eyes delighted in the graceful
lines of it. She and her dress together reminded him of women on
the stage. Then he remembered seeing similar grand ladies and
gowns entering the London theatres while he stood and watched and
the policemen shoved him back into the drizzle beyond the awning.
Next his mind leaped to the Grand Hotel at Yokohama, where, too,
from the sidewalk, he had seen grand ladies. Then the city and the
harbor of Yokohama, in a thousand pictures, began flashing before
his eyes. But he swiftly dismissed the kaleidoscope of memory,
oppressed by the urgent need of the present. He knew that he must
stand up to be introduced, and he struggled painfully to his feet,
where he stood with trousers bagging at the knees, his arms loose-
hanging and ludicrous, his face set hard for the impending ordeal.
The process of getting into the dining room was a nightmare to him.
Between halts and stumbles, jerks and lurches, locomotion had at
times seemed impossible. But at last he had made it, and was
seated alongside of Her. The array of knives and forks frightened
him. They bristled with unknown perils, and he gazed at them,
fascinated, till their dazzle became a background across which
moved a succession of forecastle pictures, wherein he and his mates
sat eating salt beef with sheath-knives and fingers, or scooping
thick pea-soup out of pannikins by means of battered iron spoons.
The stench of bad beef was in his nostrils, while in his ears, to
the accompaniment of creaking timbers and groaning bulkheads,
echoed the loud mouth-noises of the eaters. He watched them
eating, and decided that they ate like pigs. Well, he would be
careful here. He would make no noise. He would keep his mind upon
it all the time.
He glanced around the table. Opposite him was Arthur, and Arthur's
brother, Norman. They were her brothers, he reminded himself, and
his heart warmed toward them. How they loved each other, the
members of this family! There flashed into his mind the picture of
her mother, of the kiss of greeting, and of the pair of them
walking toward him with arms entwined. Not in his world were such
displays of affection between parents and children made. It was a
revelation of the heights of existence that were attained in the
world above. It was the finest thing yet that he had seen in this
small glimpse of that world. He was moved deeply by appreciation
of it, and his heart was melting with sympathetic tenderness. He
had starved for love all his life. His nature craved love. It was
an organic demand of his being. Yet he had gone without, and
hardened himself in the process. He had not known that he needed
love. Nor did he know it now. He merely saw it in operation, and
thrilled to it, and thought it fine, and high, and splendid.
He was glad that Mr. Morse was not there. It was difficult enough
getting acquainted with her, and her mother, and her brother,
Norman. Arthur he already knew somewhat. The father would have
been too much for him, he felt sure. It seemed to him that he had
never worked so hard in his life. The severest toil was child's
play compared with this. Tiny nodules of moisture stood out on his
forehead, and his shirt was wet with sweat from the exertion of
doing so many unaccustomed things at once. He had to eat as he had
never eaten before, to handle strange tools, to glance
surreptitiously about and learn how to accomplish each new thing,
to receive the flood of impressions that was pouring in upon him
and being mentally annotated and classified; to be conscious of a
yearning for her that perturbed him in the form of a dull, aching
restlessness; to feel the prod of desire to win to the walk in life
whereon she trod, and to have his mind ever and again straying off
in speculation and vague plans of how to reach to her. Also, when
his secret glance went across to Norman opposite him, or to any one
else, to ascertain just what knife or fork was to be used in any
particular occasion, that person's features were seized upon by his
mind, which automatically strove to appraise them and to divine
what they were - all in relation to her. Then he had to talk, to
hear what was said to him and what was said back and forth, and to
answer, when it was necessary, with a tongue prone to looseness of
speech that required a constant curb. And to add confusion to
confusion, there was the servant, an unceasing menace, that
appeared noiselessly at his shoulder, a dire Sphinx that propounded
puzzles and conundrums demanding instantaneous solution. He was
oppressed throughout the meal by the thought of finger-bowls.
Irrelevantly, insistently, scores of times, he wondered when they
would come on and what they looked like. He had heard of such
things, and now, sooner or later, somewhere in the next few
minutes, he would see them, sit at table with exalted beings who
used them - ay, and he would use them himself. And most important
of all, far down and yet always at the surface of his thought, was
the problem of how he should comport himself toward these persons.
What should his attitude be? He wrestled continually and anxiously
with the problem. There were cowardly suggestions that he should
make believe, assume a part; and there were still more cowardly
suggestions that warned him he would fail in such course, that his
nature was not fitted to live up to it, and that he would make a
fool of himself.
It was during the first part of the dinner, struggling to decide
upon his attitude, that he was very quiet. He did not know that
his quietness was giving the lie to Arthur's words of the day
before, when that brother of hers had announced that he was going
to bring a wild man home to dinner and for them not to be alarmed,
because they would find him an interesting wild man. Martin Eden
could not have found it in him, just then, to believe that her
brother could be guilty of such treachery - especially when he had
been the means of getting this particular brother out of an
unpleasant row. So he sat at table, perturbed by his own unfitness
and at the same time charmed by all that went on about him. For
the first time he realized that eating was something more than a
utilitarian function. He was unaware of what he ate. It was
merely food. He was feasting his love of beauty at this table
where eating was an aesthetic function. It was an intellectual
function, too. His mind was stirred. He heard words spoken that
were meaningless to him, and other words that he had seen only in
books and that no man or woman he had known was of large enough
mental caliber to pronounce. When he heard such words dropping
carelessly from the lips of the members of this marvellous family,
her family, he thrilled with delight. The romance, and beauty, and
high vigor of the books were coming true. He was in that rare and
blissful state wherein a man sees his dreams stalk out from the
crannies of fantasy and become fact.
Never had he been at such an altitude of living, and he kept
himself in the background, listening, observing, and pleasuring,
replying in reticent monosyllables, saying, "Yes, miss," and "No,
miss," to her, and "Yes, ma'am," and "No, ma'am," to her mother.
He curbed the impulse, arising out of his sea-training, to say
"Yes, sir," and "No, sir," to her brothers. He felt that it would
be inappropriate and a confession of inferiority on his part -
which would never do if he was to win to her. Also, it was a
dictate of his pride. "By God!" he cried to himself, once; "I'm
just as good as them, and if they do know lots that I don't, I
could learn 'm a few myself, all the same!" And the next moment,
when she or her mother addressed him as "Mr. Eden," his aggressive
pride was forgotten, and he was glowing and warm with delight. He
was a civilized man, that was what he was, shoulder to shoulder, at
dinner, with people he had read about in books. He was in the
books himself, adventuring through the printed pages of bound
But while he belied Arthur's description, and appeared a gentle
lamb rather than a wild man, he was racking his brains for a course
of action. He was no gentle lamb, and the part of second fiddle
would never do for the high-pitched dominance of his nature. He
talked only when he had to, and then his speech was like his walk
to the table, filled with jerks and halts as he groped in his
polyglot vocabulary for words, debating over words he knew were fit
but which he feared he could not pronounce, rejecting other words
he knew would not be understood or would be raw and harsh. But all
the time he was oppressed by the consciousness that this
carefulness of diction was making a booby of him, preventing him
from expressing what he had in him. Also, his love of freedom
chafed against the restriction in much the same way his neck chafed
against the starched fetter of a collar. Besides, he was confident
that he could not keep it up. He was by nature powerful of thought
and sensibility, and the creative spirit was restive and urgent.
He was swiftly mastered by the concept or sensation in him that
struggled in birth-throes to receive expression and form, and then
he forgot himself and where he was, and the old words - the tools
of speech he knew - slipped out.
Once, he declined something from the servant who interrupted and
pestered at his shoulder, and he said, shortly and emphatically,
On the instant those at the table were keyed up and expectant, the
servant was smugly pleased, and he was wallowing in mortification.
But he recovered himself quickly.
"It's the Kanaka for 'finish,'" he explained, "and it just come out
naturally. It's spelt p-a-u."
He caught her curious and speculative eyes fixed on his hands, and,
being in explanatory mood, he said:-
"I just come down the Coast on one of the Pacific mail steamers.
She was behind time, an' around the Puget Sound ports we worked
like niggers, storing cargo-mixed freight, if you know what that
means. That's how the skin got knocked off."
"Oh, it wasn't that," she hastened to explain, in turn. "Your
hands seemed too small for your body."
His cheeks were hot. He took it as an exposure of another of his
"Yes," he said depreciatingly. "They ain't big enough to stand the
strain. I can hit like a mule with my arms and shoulders. They
are too strong, an' when I smash a man on the jaw the hands get
He was not happy at what he had said. He was filled with disgust
at himself. He had loosed the guard upon his tongue and talked
about things that were not nice.
"It was brave of you to help Arthur the way you did - and you a
stranger," she said tactfully, aware of his discomfiture though not
of the reason for it.
He, in turn, realized what she had done, and in the consequent warm
surge of gratefulness that overwhelmed him forgot his loose-worded
"It wasn't nothin' at all," he said. "Any guy 'ud do it for
another. That bunch of hoodlums was lookin' for trouble, an'
Arthur wasn't botherin' 'em none. They butted in on 'm, an' then I
butted in on them an' poked a few. That's where some of the skin
off my hands went, along with some of the teeth of the gang. I
wouldn't 'a' missed it for anything. When I seen - "
He paused, open-mouthed, on the verge of the pit of his own
depravity and utter worthlessness to breathe the same air she did.
And while Arthur took up the tale, for the twentieth time, of his
adventure with the drunken hoodlums on the ferry-boat and of how
Martin Eden had rushed in and rescued him, that individual, with
frowning brows, meditated upon the fool he had made of himself, and
wrestled more determinedly with the problem of how he should
conduct himself toward these people. He certainly had not
succeeded so far. He wasn't of their tribe, and he couldn't talk
their lingo, was the way he put it to himself. He couldn't fake
being their kind. The masquerade would fail, and besides,
masquerade was foreign to his nature. There was no room in him for
sham or artifice. Whatever happened, he must be real. He couldn't
talk their talk just yet, though in time he would. Upon that he
was resolved. But in the meantime, talk he must, and it must be
his own talk, toned down, of course, so as to be comprehensible to
them and so as not to shook them too much. And furthermore, he
wouldn't claim, not even by tacit acceptance, to be familiar with
anything that was unfamiliar. In pursuance of this decision, when
the two brothers, talking university shop, had used "trig" several
times, Martin Eden demanded:-
"What is TRIG?"
"Trignometry," Norman said; "a higher form of math."
"And what is math?" was the next question, which, somehow, brought
the laugh on Norman.
"Mathematics, arithmetic," was the answer.
Martin Eden nodded. He had caught a glimpse of the apparently
illimitable vistas of knowledge. What he saw took on tangibility.
His abnormal power of vision made abstractions take on concrete
form. In the alchemy of his brain, trigonometry and mathematics
and the whole field of knowledge which they betokened were
transmuted into so much landscape. The vistas he saw were vistas
of green foliage and forest glades, all softly luminous or shot
through with flashing lights. In the distance, detail was veiled
and blurred by a purple haze, but behind this purple haze, he knew,
was the glamour of the unknown, the lure of romance. It was like
wine to him. Here was adventure, something to do with head and
hand, a world to conquer - and straightway from the back of his
consciousness rushed the thought, CONQUERING, TO WIN TO HER, THAT
LILY-PALE SPIRIT SITTING BESIDE HIM.
The glimmering vision was rent asunder and dissipated by Arthur,
who, all evening, had been trying to draw his wild man out. Martin
Eden remembered his decision. For the first time he became
himself, consciously and deliberately at first, but soon lost in
the joy of creating in making life as he knew it appear before his
listeners' eyes. He had been a member of the crew of the smuggling
schooner Halcyon when she was captured by a revenue cutter. He saw
with wide eyes, and he could tell what he saw. He brought the
pulsing sea before them, and the men and the ships upon the sea.
He communicated his power of vision, till they saw with his eyes
what he had seen. He selected from the vast mass of detail with an
artist's touch, drawing pictures of life that glowed and burned
with light and color, injecting movement so that his listeners
surged along with him on the flood of rough eloquence, enthusiasm,
and power. At times he shocked them with the vividness of the
narrative and his terms of speech, but beauty always followed fast
upon the heels of violence, and tragedy was relieved by humor, by
interpretations of the strange twists and quirks of sailors' minds.
And while he talked, the girl looked at him with startled eyes.
His fire warmed her. She wondered if she had been cold all her
days. She wanted to lean toward this burning, blazing man that was
like a volcano spouting forth strength, robustness, and health.
She felt that she must lean toward him, and resisted by an effort.
Then, too, there was the counter impulse to shrink away from him.
She was repelled by those lacerated hands, grimed by toil so that
the very dirt of life was ingrained in the flesh itself, by that
red chafe of the collar and those bulging muscles. His roughness
frightened her; each roughness of speech was an insult to her ear,
each rough phase of his life an insult to her soul. And ever and
again would come the draw of him, till she thought he must be evil
to have such power over her. All that was most firmly established
in her mind was rocking. His romance and adventure were battering
at the conventions. Before his facile perils and ready laugh, life
was no longer an affair of serious effort and restraint, but a toy,
to be played with and turned topsy-turvy, carelessly to be lived
and pleasured in, and carelessly to be flung aside. "Therefore,
play!" was the cry that rang through her. "Lean toward him, if so
you will, and place your two hands upon his neck!" She wanted to
cry out at the recklessness of the thought, and in vain she
appraised her own cleanness and culture and balanced all that she
was against what he was not. She glanced about her and saw the
others gazing at him with rapt attention; and she would have
despaired had not she seen horror in her mother's eyes - fascinated
horror, it was true, but none the less horror. This man from outer
darkness was evil. Her mother saw it, and her mother was right.
She would trust her mother's judgment in this as she had always
trusted it in all things. The fire of him was no longer warm, and
the fear of him was no longer poignant.
Later, at the piano, she played for him, and at him, aggressively,
with the vague intent of emphasizing the impassableness of the gulf
that separated them. Her music was a club that she swung brutally
upon his head; and though it stunned him and crushed him down, it
incited him. He gazed upon her in awe. In his mind, as in her
own, the gulf widened; but faster than it widened, towered his
ambition to win across it. But he was too complicated a plexus of
sensibilities to sit staring at a gulf a whole evening, especially
when there was music. He was remarkably susceptible to music. It
was like strong drink, firing him to audacities of feeling, - a
drug that laid hold of his imagination and went cloud-soaring
through the sky. It banished sordid fact, flooded his mind with
beauty, loosed romance and to its heels added wings. He did not
understand the music she played. It was different from the dance-
hall piano-banging and blatant brass bands he had heard. But he
had caught hints of such music from the books, and he accepted her
playing largely on faith, patiently waiting, at first, for the
lifting measures of pronounced and simple rhythm, puzzled because
those measures were not long continued. Just as he caught the
swing of them and started, his imagination attuned in flight,
always they vanished away in a chaotic scramble of sounds that was
meaningless to him, and that dropped his imagination, an inert
weight, back to earth.
Once, it entered his mind that there was a deliberate rebuff in all
this. He caught her spirit of antagonism and strove to divine the
message that her hands pronounced upon the keys. Then he dismissed
the thought as unworthy and impossible, and yielded himself more
freely to the music. The old delightful condition began to be
induced. His feet were no longer clay, and his flesh became
spirit; before his eyes and behind his eyes shone a great glory;
and then the scene before him vanished and he was away, rocking
over the world that was to him a very dear world. The known and
the unknown were commingled in the dream-pageant that thronged his
vision. He entered strange ports of sun-washed lands, and trod
market-places among barbaric peoples that no man had ever seen.
The scent of the spice islands was in his nostrils as he had known
it on warm, breathless nights at sea, or he beat up against the
southeast trades through long tropic days, sinking palm-tufted
coral islets in the turquoise sea behind and lifting palm-tufted
coral islets in the turquoise sea ahead. Swift as thought the
pictures came and went. One instant he was astride a broncho and
flying through the fairy-colored Painted Desert country; the next
instant he was gazing down through shimmering heat into the whited
sepulchre of Death Valley, or pulling an oar on a freezing ocean
where great ice islands towered and glistened in the sun. He lay
on a coral beach where the cocoanuts grew down to the mellow-
sounding surf. The hulk of an ancient wreck burned with blue
fires, in the light of which danced the HULA dancers to the
barbaric love-calls of the singers, who chanted to tinkling
UKULELES and rumbling tom-toms. It was a sensuous, tropic night.
In the background a volcano crater was silhouetted against the
stars. Overhead drifted a pale crescent moon, and the Southern
Cross burned low in the sky.
He was a harp; all life that he had known and that was his
consciousness was the strings; and the flood of music was a wind
that poured against those strings and set them vibrating with
memories and dreams. He did not merely feel. Sensation invested
itself in form and color and radiance, and what his imagination
dared, it objectified in some sublimated and magic way. Past,
present, and future mingled; and he went on oscillating across the
broad, warm world, through high adventure and noble deeds to Her -
ay, and with her, winning her, his arm about her, and carrying her
on in flight through the empery of his mind.
And she, glancing at him across her shoulder, saw something of all
this in his face. It was a transfigured face, with great shining
eyes that gazed beyond the veil of sound and saw behind it the leap
and pulse of life and the gigantic phantoms of the spirit. She was
startled. The raw, stumbling lout was gone. The ill-fitting
clothes, battered hands, and sunburned face remained; but these
seemed the prison-bars through which she saw a great soul looking
forth, inarticulate and dumb because of those feeble lips that
would not give it speech. Only for a flashing moment did she see
this, then she saw the lout returned, and she laughed at the whim
of her fancy. But the impression of that fleeting glimpse
lingered, and when the time came for him to beat a stumbling
retreat and go, she lent him the volume of Swinburne, and another
of Browning - she was studying Browning in one of her English
courses. He seemed such a boy, as he stood blushing and stammering
his thanks, that a wave of pity, maternal in its prompting, welled
up in her. She did not remember the lout, nor the imprisoned soul,
nor the man who had stared at her in all masculineness and
delighted and frightened her. She saw before her only a boy, who
was shaking her hand with a hand so calloused that it felt like a
nutmeg-grater and rasped her skin, and who was saying jerkily:-
"The greatest time of my life. You see, I ain't used to things. .
. " He looked about him helplessly. "To people and houses like
this. It's all new to me, and I like it."
"I hope you'll call again," she said, as he was saying good night
to her brothers.
He pulled on his cap, lurched desperately through the doorway, and
"Well, what do you think of him?" Arthur demanded.
"He is most interesting, a whiff of ozone," she answered. "How old
"Twenty - almost twenty-one. I asked him this afternoon. I didn't
think he was that young."
And I am three years older, was the thought in her mind as she
kissed her brothers goodnight.
As Martin Eden went down the steps, his hand dropped into his coat
pocket. It came out with a brown rice paper and a pinch of Mexican
tobacco, which were deftly rolled together into a cigarette. He
drew the first whiff of smoke deep into his lungs and expelled it
in a long and lingering exhalation. "By God!" he said aloud, in a
voice of awe and wonder. "By God!" he repeated. And yet again he
murmured, "By God!" Then his hand went to his collar, which he
ripped out of the shirt and stuffed into his pocket. A cold
drizzle was falling, but he bared his head to it and unbuttoned his
vest, swinging along in splendid unconcern. He was only dimly
aware that it was raining. He was in an ecstasy, dreaming dreams
and reconstructing the scenes just past.
He had met the woman at last - the woman that he had thought little
about, not being given to thinking about women, but whom he had
expected, in a remote way, he would sometime meet. He had sat next
to her at table. He had felt her hand in his, he had looked into
her eyes and caught a vision of a beautiful spirit; - but no more
beautiful than the eyes through which it shone, nor than the flesh
that gave it expression and form. He did not think of her flesh as
flesh, - which was new to him; for of the women he had known that
was the only way he thought. Her flesh was somehow different. He
did not conceive of her body as a body, subject to the ills and
frailties of bodies. Her body was more than the garb of her
spirit. It was an emanation of her spirit, a pure and gracious
crystallization of her divine essence. This feeling of the divine
startled him. It shocked him from his dreams to sober thought. No
word, no clew, no hint, of the divine had ever reached him before.
He had never believed in the divine. He had always been
irreligious, scoffing good-naturedly at the sky-pilots and their
immortality of the soul. There was no life beyond, he had
contended; it was here and now, then darkness everlasting. But
what he had seen in her eyes was soul - immortal soul that could
never die. No man he had known, nor any woman, had given him the
message of immortality. But she had. She had whispered it to him
the first moment she looked at him. Her face shimmered before his
eyes as he walked along, - pale and serious, sweet and sensitive,
smiling with pity and tenderness as only a spirit could smile, and
pure as he had never dreamed purity could be. Her purity smote him
like a blow. It startled him. He had known good and bad; but
purity, as an attribute of existence, had never entered his mind.
And now, in her, he conceived purity to be the superlative of
goodness and of cleanness, the sum of which constituted eternal
And promptly urged his ambition to grasp at eternal life. He was
not fit to carry water for her - he knew that; it was a miracle of
luck and a fantastic stroke that had enabled him to see her and be
with her and talk with her that night. It was accidental. There
was no merit in it. He did not deserve such fortune. His mood was
essentially religious. He was humble and meek, filled with self-
disparagement and abasement. In such frame of mind sinners come to
the penitent form. He was convicted of sin. But as the meek and
lowly at the penitent form catch splendid glimpses of their future
lordly existence, so did he catch similar glimpses of the state he
would gain to by possessing her. But this possession of her was
dim and nebulous and totally different from possession as he had
known it. Ambition soared on mad wings, and he saw himself
climbing the heights with her, sharing thoughts with her,
pleasuring in beautiful and noble things with her. It was a soul-
possession he dreamed, refined beyond any grossness, a free
comradeship of spirit that he could not put into definite thought.
He did not think it. For that matter, he did not think at all.
Sensation usurped reason, and he was quivering and palpitant with
emotions he had never known, drifting deliciously on a sea of
sensibility where feeling itself was exalted and spiritualized and
carried beyond the summits of life.
He staggered along like a drunken man, murmuring fervently aloud:
"By God! By God!"
A policeman on a street corner eyed him suspiciously, then noted
his sailor roll.
"Where did you get it?" the policeman demanded.
Martin Eden came back to earth. His was a fluid organism, swiftly
adjustable, capable of flowing into and filling all sorts of nooks
and crannies. With the policeman's hail he was immediately his
ordinary self, grasping the situation clearly.
"It's a beaut, ain't it?" he laughed back. "I didn't know I was
talkin' out loud."
"You'll be singing next," was the policeman's diagnosis.
"No, I won't. Gimme a match an' I'll catch the next car home."
He lighted his cigarette, said good night, and went on. "Now
wouldn't that rattle you?" he ejaculated under his breath. "That
copper thought I was drunk." He smiled to himself and meditated.
"I guess I was," he added; "but I didn't think a woman's face'd do
He caught a Telegraph Avenue car that was going to Berkeley. It
was crowded with youths and young men who were singing songs and
ever and again barking out college yells. He studied them
curiously. They were university boys. They went to the same
university that she did, were in her class socially, could know
her, could see her every day if they wanted to. He wondered that
they did not want to, that they had been out having a good time
instead of being with her that evening, talking with her, sitting
around her in a worshipful and adoring circle. His thoughts
wandered on. He noticed one with narrow-slitted eyes and a loose-
lipped mouth. That fellow was vicious, he decided. On shipboard
he would be a sneak, a whiner, a tattler. He, Martin Eden, was a
better man than that fellow. The thought cheered him. It seemed
to draw him nearer to Her. He began comparing himself with the
students. He grew conscious of the muscled mechanism of his body
and felt confident that he was physically their master. But their
heads were filled with knowledge that enabled them to talk her
talk, - the thought depressed him. But what was a brain for? he
demanded passionately. What they had done, he could do. They had
been studying about life from the books while he had been busy
living life. His brain was just as full of knowledge as theirs,
though it was a different kind of knowledge. How many of them
could tie a lanyard knot, or take a wheel or a lookout? His life
spread out before him in a series of pictures of danger and daring,
hardship and toil. He remembered his failures and scrapes in the
process of learning. He was that much to the good, anyway. Later
on they would have to begin living life and going through the mill
as he had gone. Very well. While they were busy with that, he
could be learning the other side of life from the books.
As the car crossed the zone of scattered dwellings that separated
Oakland from Berkeley, he kept a lookout for a familiar, two-story
building along the front of which ran the proud sign,
HIGGINBOTHAM'S CASH STORE. Martin Eden got off at this corner. He
stared up for a moment at the sign. It carried a message to him
beyond its mere wording. A personality of smallness and egotism
and petty underhandedness seemed to emanate from the letters
themselves. Bernard Higginbotham had married his sister, and he
knew him well. He let himself in with a latch-key and climbed the
stairs to the second floor. Here lived his brother-in-law. The
grocery was below. There was a smell of stale vegetables in the
air. As he groped his way across the hall he stumbled over a toy-
cart, left there by one of his numerous nephews and nieces, and
brought up against a door with a resounding bang. "The pincher,"
was his thought; "too miserly to burn two cents' worth of gas and
save his boarders' necks."
He fumbled for the knob and entered a lighted room, where sat his
sister and Bernard Higginbotham. She was patching a pair of his
trousers, while his lean body was distributed over two chairs, his
feet dangling in dilapidated carpet-slippers over the edge of the
second chair. He glanced across the top of the paper he was
reading, showing a pair of dark, insincere, sharp-staring eyes.
Martin Eden never looked at him without experiencing a sense of
repulsion. What his sister had seen in the man was beyond him.
The other affected him as so much vermin, and always aroused in him
an impulse to crush him under his foot. "Some day I'll beat the
face off of him," was the way he often consoled himself for
enduring the man's existence. The eyes, weasel-like and cruel,
were looking at him complainingly.
"Well," Martin demanded. "Out with it."
"I had that door painted only last week," Mr. Higginbotham half
whined, half bullied; "and you know what union wages are. You
should be more careful."
Martin had intended to reply, but he was struck by the hopelessness
of it. He gazed across the monstrous sordidness of soul to a
chromo on the wall. It surprised him. He had always liked it, but
it seemed that now he was seeing it for the first time. It was
cheap, that was what it was, like everything else in this house.
His mind went back to the house he had just left, and he saw,
first, the paintings, and next, Her, looking at him with melting
sweetness as she shook his hand at leaving. He forgot where he was
and Bernard Higginbotham's existence, till that gentleman
"Seen a ghost?"
Martin came back and looked at the beady eyes, sneering, truculent,
cowardly, and there leaped into his vision, as on a screen, the
same eyes when their owner was making a sale in the store below -
subservient eyes, smug, and oily, and flattering.
"Yes," Martin answered. "I seen a ghost. Good night. Good night,
He started to leave the room, tripping over a loose seam in the
"Don't bang the door," Mr. Higginbotham cautioned him.
He felt the blood crawl in his veins, but controlled himself and
closed the door softly behind him.
Mr. Higginbotham looked at his wife exultantly.
"He's ben drinkin'," he proclaimed in a hoarse whisper. "I told
you he would."
She nodded her head resignedly.
"His eyes was pretty shiny," she confessed; "and he didn't have no
collar, though he went away with one. But mebbe he didn't have
more'n a couple of glasses."
"He couldn't stand up straight," asserted her husband. "I watched
him. He couldn't walk across the floor without stumblin'. You
heard 'm yourself almost fall down in the hall."
"I think it was over Alice's cart," she said. "He couldn't see it
in the dark."
Mr. Higginbotham's voice and wrath began to rise. All day he
effaced himself in the store, reserving for the evening, with his
family, the privilege of being himself.
"I tell you that precious brother of yours was drunk."
His voice was cold, sharp, and final, his lips stamping the
enunciation of each word like the die of a machine. His wife
sighed and remained silent. She was a large, stout woman, always
dressed slatternly and always tired from the burdens of her flesh,
her work, and her husband.
"He's got it in him, I tell you, from his father," Mr. Higginbotham
went on accusingly. "An' he'll croak in the gutter the same way.
You know that."
She nodded, sighed, and went on stitching. They were agreed that
Martin had come home drunk. They did not have it in their souls to
know beauty, or they would have known that those shining eyes and
that glowing face betokened youth's first vision of love.
"Settin' a fine example to the children," Mr. Higginbotham snorted,
suddenly, in the silence for which his wife was responsible and
which he resented. Sometimes he almost wished she would oppose him
more. "If he does it again, he's got to get out. Understand! I
won't put up with his shinanigan - debotchin' innocent children
with his boozing." Mr. Higginbotham liked the word, which was a
new one in his vocabulary, recently gleaned from a newspaper
column. "That's what it is, debotchin' - there ain't no other name
Still his wife sighed, shook her head sorrowfully, and stitched on.
Mr. Higginbotham resumed the newspaper.
"Has he paid last week's board?" he shot across the top of the
She nodded, then added, "He still has some money."
"When is he goin' to sea again?"
"When his pay-day's spent, I guess," she answered. "He was over to
San Francisco yesterday looking for a ship. But he's got money,
yet, an' he's particular about the kind of ship he signs for."
"It's not for a deck-swab like him to put on airs," Mr.
Higginbotham snorted. "Particular! Him!"
"He said something about a schooner that's gettin' ready to go off
to some outlandish place to look for buried treasure, that he'd
sail on her if his money held out."
"If he only wanted to steady down, I'd give him a job drivin' the
wagon," her husband said, but with no trace of benevolence in his
voice. "Tom's quit."
His wife looked alarm and interrogation.
"Quit to-night. Is goin' to work for Carruthers. They paid 'm
more'n I could afford."
"I told you you'd lose 'm," she cried out. "He was worth more'n
you was giving him."
"Now look here, old woman," Higginbotham bullied, "for the
thousandth time I've told you to keep your nose out of the
business. I won't tell you again."
"I don't care," she sniffled. "Tom was a good boy." Her husband
glared at her. This was unqualified defiance.
"If that brother of yours was worth his salt, he could take the
wagon," he snorted.
"He pays his board, just the same," was the retort. "An' he's my
brother, an' so long as he don't owe you money you've got no right
to be jumping on him all the time. I've got some feelings, if I
have been married to you for seven years."
"Did you tell 'm you'd charge him for gas if he goes on readin' in
bed?" he demanded.
Mrs. Higginbotham made no reply. Her revolt faded away, her spirit
wilting down into her tired flesh. Her husband was triumphant. He
had her. His eyes snapped vindictively, while his ears joyed in
the sniffles she emitted. He extracted great happiness from
squelching her, and she squelched easily these days, though it had
been different in the first years of their married life, before the
brood of children and his incessant nagging had sapped her energy.
"Well, you tell 'm to-morrow, that's all," he said. "An' I just
want to tell you, before I forget it, that you'd better send for
Marian to-morrow to take care of the children. With Tom quit, I'll
have to be out on the wagon, an' you can make up your mind to it to
be down below waitin' on the counter."
"But to-morrow's wash day," she objected weakly.
"Get up early, then, an' do it first. I won't start out till ten
He crinkled the paper viciously and resumed his reading.
Martin Eden, with blood still crawling from contact with his
brother-in-law, felt his way along the unlighted back hall and
entered his room, a tiny cubbyhole with space for a bed, a wash-
stand, and one chair. Mr. Higginbotham was too thrifty to keep a
servant when his wife could do the work. Besides, the servant's
room enabled them to take in two boarders instead of one. Martin
placed the Swinburne and Browning on the chair, took off his coat,
and sat down on the bed. A screeching of asthmatic springs greeted
the weight of his body, but he did not notice them. He started to
take off his shoes, but fell to staring at the white plaster wall
opposite him, broken by long streaks of dirty brown where rain had
leaked through the roof. On this befouled background visions began
to flow and burn. He forgot his shoes and stared long, till his
lips began to move and he murmured, "Ruth."
"Ruth." He had not thought a simple sound could be so beautiful.
It delighted his ear, and he grew intoxicated with the repetition
of it. "Ruth." It was a talisman, a magic word to conjure with.
Each time he murmured it, her face shimmered before him, suffusing
the foul wall with a golden radiance. This radiance did not stop
at the wall. It extended on into infinity, and through its golden
depths his soul went questing after hers. The best that was in him
was out in splendid flood. The very thought of her ennobled and
purified him, made him better, and made him want to be better.
This was new to him. He had never known women who had made him
better. They had always had the counter effect of making him
beastly. He did not know that many of them had done their best,
bad as it was. Never having been conscious of himself, he did not
know that he had that in his being that drew love from women and
which had been the cause of their reaching out for his youth.
Though they had often bothered him, he had never bothered about
them; and he would never have dreamed that there were women who had
been better because of him. Always in sublime carelessness had he
lived, till now, and now it seemed to him that they had always
reached out and dragged at him with vile hands. This was not just
to them, nor to himself. But he, who for the first time was
becoming conscious of himself, was in no condition to judge, and he
burned with shame as he stared at the vision of his infamy.
He got up abruptly and tried to see himself in the dirty looking-
glass over the wash-stand. He passed a towel over it and looked
again, long and carefully. It was the first time he had ever
really seen himself. His eyes were made for seeing, but up to that
moment they had been filled with the ever changing panorama of the
world, at which he had been too busy gazing, ever to gaze at
himself. He saw the head and face of a young fellow of twenty,
but, being unused to such appraisement, he did not know how to
value it. Above a square-domed forehead he saw a mop of brown
hair, nut-brown, with a wave to it and hints of curls that were a
delight to any woman, making hands tingle to stroke it and fingers
tingle to pass caresses through it. But he passed it by as without
merit, in Her eyes, and dwelt long and thoughtfully on the high,
square forehead, - striving to penetrate it and learn the quality
of its content. What kind of a brain lay behind there? was his
insistent interrogation. What was it capable of? How far would it
take him? Would it take him to her?
He wondered if there was soul in those steel-gray eyes that were
often quite blue of color and that were strong with the briny airs
of the sun-washed deep. He wondered, also, how his eyes looked to
her. He tried to imagine himself she, gazing into those eyes of
his, but failed in the jugglery. He could successfully put himself
inside other men's minds, but they had to be men whose ways of life
he knew. He did not know her way of life. She was wonder and
mystery, and how could he guess one thought of hers? Well, they
were honest eyes, he concluded, and in them was neither smallness
nor meanness. The brown sunburn of his face surprised him. He had
not dreamed he was so black. He rolled up his shirt-sleeve and
compared the white underside if the arm with his face. Yes, he was
a white man, after all. But the arms were sunburned, too. He
twisted his arm, rolled the biceps over with his other hand, and
gazed underneath where he was least touched by the sun. It was
very white. He laughed at his bronzed face in the glass at the
thought that it was once as white as the underside of his arm; nor
did he dream that in the world there were few pale spirits of women
who could boast fairer or smoother skins than he - fairer than
where he had escaped the ravages of the sun.
His might have been a cherub's mouth, had not the full, sensuous
lips a trick, under stress, of drawing firmly across the teeth. At
times, so tightly did they draw, the mouth became stern and harsh,
even ascetic. They were the lips of a fighter and of a lover.
They could taste the sweetness of life with relish, and they could
put the sweetness aside and command life. The chin and jaw, strong
and just hinting of square aggressiveness, helped the lips to
command life. Strength balanced sensuousness and had upon it a
tonic effect, compelling him to love beauty that was healthy and
making him vibrate to sensations that were wholesome. And between
the lips were teeth that had never known nor needed the dentist's
care. They were white and strong and regular, he decided, as he
looked at them. But as he looked, he began to be troubled.
Somewhere, stored away in the recesses of his mind and vaguely
remembered, was the impression that there were people who washed
their teeth every day. They were the people from up above - people
in her class. She must wash her teeth every day, too. What would
she think if she learned that he had never washed his teeth in all
the days of his life? He resolved to get a tooth-brush and form
the habit. He would begin at once, to-morrow. It was not by mere
achievement that he could hope to win to her. He must make a
personal reform in all things, even to tooth-washing and neck-gear,
though a starched collar affected him as a renunciation of freedom.
He held up his hand, rubbing the ball of the thumb over the
calloused palm and gazing at the dirt that was ingrained in the
flesh itself and which no brush could scrub away. How different
was her palm! He thrilled deliciously at the remembrance. Like a
rose-petal, he thought; cool and soft as a snowflake. He had never
thought that a mere woman's hand could be so sweetly soft. He
caught himself imagining the wonder of a caress from such a hand,
and flushed guiltily. It was too gross a thought for her. In ways
it seemed to impugn her high spirituality. She was a pale, slender
spirit, exalted far beyond the flesh; but nevertheless the softness
of her palm persisted in his thoughts. He was used to the harsh
callousness of factory girls and working women. Well he knew why
their hands were rough; but this hand of hers . . . It was soft
because she had never used it to work with. The gulf yawned
between her and him at the awesome thought of a person who did not
have to work for a living. He suddenly saw the aristocracy of the
people who did not labor. It towered before him on the wall, a
figure in brass, arrogant and powerful. He had worked himself; his
first memories seemed connected with work, and all his family had
worked. There was Gertrude. When her hands were not hard from the
endless housework, they were swollen and red like boiled beef, what
of the washing. And there was his sister Marian. She had worked
in the cannery the preceding summer, and her slim, pretty hands
were all scarred with the tomato-knives. Besides, the tips of two
of her fingers had been left in the cutting machine at the paper-
box factory the preceding winter. He remembered the hard palms of
his mother as she lay in her coffin. And his father had worked to
the last fading gasp; the horned growth on his hands must have been
half an inch thick when he died. But Her hands were soft, and her
mother's hands, and her brothers'. This last came to him as a
surprise; it was tremendously indicative of the highness of their
caste, of the enormous distance that stretched between her and him.
He sat back on the bed with a bitter laugh, and finished taking off
his shoes. He was a fool; he had been made drunken by a woman's
face and by a woman's soft, white hands. And then, suddenly,
before his eyes, on the foul plaster-wall appeared a vision. He
stood in front of a gloomy tenement house. It was night-time, in
the East End of London, and before him stood Margey, a little
factory girl of fifteen. He had seen her home after the bean-
feast. She lived in that gloomy tenement, a place not fit for
swine. His hand was going out to hers as he said good night. She
had put her lips up to be kissed, but he wasn't going to kiss her.
Somehow he was afraid of her. And then her hand closed on his and
pressed feverishly. He felt her callouses grind and grate on his,
and a great wave of pity welled over him. He saw her yearning,
hungry eyes, and her ill-fed female form which had been rushed from
childhood into a frightened and ferocious maturity; then he put his
arms about her in large tolerance and stooped and kissed her on the
lips. Her glad little cry rang in his ears, and he felt her
clinging to him like a cat. Poor little starveling! He continued
to stare at the vision of what had happened in the long ago. His
flesh was crawling as it had crawled that night when she clung to
him, and his heart was warm with pity. It was a gray scene, greasy
gray, and the rain drizzled greasily on the pavement stones. And
then a radiant glory shone on the wall, and up through the other
vision, displacing it, glimmered Her pale face under its crown of
golden hair, remote and inaccessible as a star.
He took the Browning and the Swinburne from the chair and kissed
them. Just the same, she told me to call again, he thought. He
took another look at himself in the glass, and said aloud, with
"Martin Eden, the first thing to-morrow you go to the free library
an' read up on etiquette. Understand!"
He turned off the gas, and the springs shrieked under his body.
"But you've got to quit cussin', Martin, old boy; you've got to
quit cussin'," he said aloud.
Then he dozed off to sleep and to dream dreams that for madness and
audacity rivalled those of poppy-eaters.
He awoke next morning from rosy scenes of dream to a steamy
atmosphere that smelled of soapsuds and dirty clothes, and that was
vibrant with the jar and jangle of tormented life. As he came out
of his room he heard the slosh of water, a sharp exclamation, and a
resounding smack as his sister visited her irritation upon one of
her numerous progeny. The squall of the child went through him
like a knife. He was aware that the whole thing, the very air he
breathed, was repulsive and mean. How different, he thought, from
the atmosphere of beauty and repose of the house wherein Ruth
dwelt. There it was all spiritual. Here it was all material, and
"Come here, Alfred," he called to the crying child, at the same
time thrusting his hand into his trousers pocket, where he carried
his money loose in the same large way that he lived life in
general. He put a quarter in the youngster's hand and held him in
his arms a moment, soothing his sobs. "Now run along and get some
candy, and don't forget to give some to your brothers and sisters.
Be sure and get the kind that lasts longest."
His sister lifted a flushed face from the wash-tub and looked at
"A nickel'd ha' ben enough," she said. "It's just like you, no
idea of the value of money. The child'll eat himself sick."
"That's all right, sis," he answered jovially. "My money'll take
care of itself. If you weren't so busy, I'd kiss you good
He wanted to be affectionate to this sister, who was good, and who,
in her way, he knew, loved him. But, somehow, she grew less
herself as the years went by, and more and more baffling. It was
the hard work, the many children, and the nagging of her husband,
he decided, that had changed her. It came to him, in a flash of
fancy, that her nature seemed taking on the attributes of stale
vegetables, smelly soapsuds, and of the greasy dimes, nickels, and
quarters she took in over the counter of the store.
"Go along an' get your breakfast," she said roughly, though
secretly pleased. Of all her wandering brood of brothers he had
always been her favorite. "I declare I WILL kiss you," she said,
with a sudden stir at her heart.
With thumb and forefinger she swept the dripping suds first from
one arm and then from the other. He put his arms round her massive
waist and kissed her wet steamy lips. The tears welled into her
eyes - not so much from strength of feeling as from the weakness of
chronic overwork. She shoved him away from her, but not before he
caught a glimpse of her moist eyes.
"You'll find breakfast in the oven," she said hurriedly. "Jim
ought to be up now. I had to get up early for the washing. Now
get along with you and get out of the house early. It won't be
nice to-day, what of Tom quittin' an' nobody but Bernard to drive
Martin went into the kitchen with a sinking heart, the image of her
red face and slatternly form eating its way like acid into his
brain. She might love him if she only had some time, he concluded.
But she was worked to death. Bernard Higginbotham was a brute to
work her so hard. But he could not help but feel, on the other
hand, that there had not been anything beautiful in that kiss. It
was true, it was an unusual kiss. For years she had kissed him
only when he returned from voyages or departed on voyages. But this
kiss had tasted soapsuds, and the lips, he had noticed, were
flabby. There had been no quick, vigorous lip-pressure such as
should accompany any kiss. Hers was the kiss of a tired woman who
had been tired so long that she had forgotten how to kiss. He
remembered her as a girl, before her marriage, when she would dance
with the best, all night, after a hard day's work at the laundry,
and think nothing of leaving the dance to go to another day's hard
work. And then he thought of Ruth and the cool sweetness that must
reside in her lips as it resided in all about her. Her kiss would
be like her hand-shake or the way she looked at one, firm and
frank. In imagination he dared to think of her lips on his, and so
vividly did he imagine that he went dizzy at the thought and seemed
to rift through clouds of rose-petals, filling his brain with their
In the kitchen he found Jim, the other boarder, eating mush very
languidly, with a sick, far-away look in his eyes. Jim was a
plumber's apprentice whose weak chin and hedonistic temperament,
coupled with a certain nervous stupidity, promised to take him
nowhere in the race for bread and butter.
"Why don't you eat?" he demanded, as Martin dipped dolefully into
the cold, half-cooked oatmeal mush. "Was you drunk again last
Martin shook his head. He was oppressed by the utter squalidness
of it all. Ruth Morse seemed farther removed than ever.
"I was," Jim went on with a boastful, nervous giggle. "I was
loaded right to the neck. Oh, she was a daisy. Billy brought me
Martin nodded that he heard, - it was a habit of nature with him to
pay heed to whoever talked to him, - and poured a cup of lukewarm
"Goin' to the Lotus Club dance to-night?" Jim demanded. "They're
goin' to have beer, an' if that Temescal bunch comes, there'll be a
rough-house. I don't care, though. I'm takin' my lady friend just
the same. Cripes, but I've got a taste in my mouth!"
He made a wry face and attempted to wash the taste away with
"D'ye know Julia?"
Martin shook his head.
"She's my lady friend," Jim explained, "and she's a peach. I'd
introduce you to her, only you'd win her. I don't see what the
girls see in you, honest I don't; but the way you win them away
from the fellers is sickenin'."
"I never got any away from you," Martin answered uninterestedly.
The breakfast had to be got through somehow.
"Yes, you did, too," the other asserted warmly. "There was
"Never had anything to do with her. Never danced with her except
that one night."
"Yes, an' that's just what did it," Jim cried out. "You just
danced with her an' looked at her, an' it was all off. Of course
you didn't mean nothin' by it, but it settled me for keeps.
Wouldn't look at me again. Always askin' about you. She'd have
made fast dates enough with you if you'd wanted to."
"But I didn't want to."
"Wasn't necessary. I was left at the pole." Jim looked at him
admiringly. "How d'ye do it, anyway, Mart?"
"By not carin' about 'em," was the answer.
"You mean makin' b'lieve you don't care about them?" Jim queried
Martin considered for a moment, then answered, "Perhaps that will
do, but with me I guess it's different. I never have cared - much.
If you can put it on, it's all right, most likely."
"You should 'a' ben up at Riley's barn last night," Jim announced
inconsequently. "A lot of the fellers put on the gloves. There
was a peach from West Oakland. They called 'm 'The Rat.' Slick as
silk. No one could touch 'm. We was all wishin' you was there.
Where was you anyway?"
"Down in Oakland," Martin replied.
"To the show?"
Martin shoved his plate away and got up.
"Comin' to the dance to-night?" the other called after him.
"No, I think not," he answered.
He went downstairs and out into the street, breathing great breaths
of air. He had been suffocating in that atmosphere, while the
apprentice's chatter had driven him frantic. There had been times
when it was all he could do to refrain from reaching over and
mopping Jim's face in the mush-plate. The more he had chattered,
the more remote had Ruth seemed to him. How could he, herding with
such cattle, ever become worthy of her? He was appalled at the
problem confronting him, weighted down by the incubus of his
working-class station. Everything reached out to hold him down -
his sister, his sister's house and family, Jim the apprentice,
everybody he knew, every tie of life. Existence did not taste good
in his mouth. Up to then he had accepted existence, as he had
lived it with all about him, as a good thing. He had never
questioned it, except when he read books; but then, they were only
books, fairy stories of a fairer and impossible world. But now he
had seen that world, possible and real, with a flower of a woman
called Ruth in the midmost centre of it; and thenceforth he must
know bitter tastes, and longings sharp as pain, and hopelessness
that tantalized because it fed on hope.
He had debated between the Berkeley Free Library and the Oakland
Free Library, and decided upon the latter because Ruth lived in
Oakland. Who could tell? - a library was a most likely place for
her, and he might see her there. He did not know the way of
libraries, and he wandered through endless rows of fiction, till
the delicate-featured French-looking girl who seemed in charge,
told him that the reference department was upstairs. He did not
know enough to ask the man at the desk, and began his adventures in
the philosophy alcove. He had heard of book philosophy, but had
not imagined there had been so much written about it. The high,
bulging shelves of heavy tomes humbled him and at the same time
stimulated him. Here was work for the vigor of his brain. He
found books on trigonometry in the mathematics section, and ran the
pages, and stared at the meaningless formulas and figures. He
could read English, but he saw there an alien speech. Norman and
Arthur knew that speech. He had heard them talking it. And they
were her brothers. He left the alcove in despair. From every side
the books seemed to press upon him and crush him.
He had never dreamed that the fund of human knowledge bulked so
big. He was frightened. How could his brain ever master it all?
Later, he remembered that there were other men, many men, who had
mastered it; and he breathed a great oath, passionately, under his
breath, swearing that his brain could do what theirs had done.
And so he wandered on, alternating between depression and elation
as he stared at the shelves packed with wisdom. In one
miscellaneous section he came upon a "Norrie's Epitome." He turned
the pages reverently. In a way, it spoke a kindred speech. Both
he and it were of the sea. Then he found a "Bowditch" and books by
Lecky and Marshall. There it was; he would teach himself
navigation. He would quit drinking, work up, and become a captain.
Ruth seemed very near to him in that moment. As a captain, he
could marry her (if she would have him). And if she wouldn't, well
- he would live a good life among men, because of Her, and he would
quit drinking anyway. Then he remembered the underwriters and the
owners, the two masters a captain must serve, either of which could
and would break him and whose interests were diametrically opposed.
He cast his eyes about the room and closed the lids down on a
vision of ten thousand books. No; no more of the sea for him.
There was power in all that wealth of books, and if he would do
great things, he must do them on the land. Besides, captains were
not allowed to take their wives to sea with them.
Noon came, and afternoon. He forgot to eat, and sought on for the
books on etiquette; for, in addition to career, his mind was vexed
by a simple and very concrete problem: WHEN YOU MEET A YOUNG LADY
AND SHE ASKS YOU TO CALL, HOW SOON CAN YOU CALL? was the way he
worded it to himself. But when he found the right shelf, he sought
vainly for the answer. He was appalled at the vast edifice of
etiquette, and lost himself in the mazes of visiting-card conduct
between persons in polite society. He abandoned his search. He
had not found what he wanted, though he had found that it would
take all of a man's time to be polite, and that he would have to
live a preliminary life in which to learn how to be polite.
"Did you find what you wanted?" the man at the desk asked him as he
"Yes, sir," he answered. "You have a fine library here."
The man nodded. "We should be glad to see you here often. Are you
"Yes, sir," he answered. "And I'll come again."
Now, how did he know that? he asked himself as he went down the
And for the first block along the street he walked very stiff and
straight and awkwardly, until he forgot himself in his thoughts,
whereupon his rolling gait gracefully returned to him.
A terrible restlessness that was akin to hunger afflicted Martin
Eden. He was famished for a sight of the girl whose slender hands
had gripped his life with a giant's grasp. He could not steel
himself to call upon her. He was afraid that he might call too
soon, and so be guilty of an awful breach of that awful thing
called etiquette. He spent long hours in the Oakland and Berkeley
libraries, and made out application blanks for membership for
himself, his sisters Gertrude and Marian, and Jim, the latter's
consent being obtained at the expense of several glasses of beer.
With four cards permitting him to draw books, he burned the gas
late in the servant's room, and was charged fifty cents a week for
it by Mr. Higginbotham.
The many books he read but served to whet his unrest. Every page
of every book was a peep-hole into the realm of knowledge. His
hunger fed upon what he read, and increased. Also, he did not know
where to begin, and continually suffered from lack of preparation.
The commonest references, that he could see plainly every reader
was expected to know, he did not know. And the same was true of
the poetry he read which maddened him with delight. He read more
of Swinburne than was contained in the volume Ruth had lent him;
and "Dolores" he understood thoroughly. But surely Ruth did not
understand it, he concluded. How could she, living the refined
life she did? Then he chanced upon Kipling's poems, and was swept
away by the lilt and swing and glamour with which familiar things
had been invested. He was amazed at the man's sympathy with life
and at his incisive psychology. PSYCHOLOGY was a new word in
Martin's vocabulary. He had bought a dictionary, which deed had
decreased his supply of money and brought nearer the day on which
he must sail in search of more. Also, it incensed Mr.
Higginbotham, who would have preferred the money taking the form of
He dared not go near Ruth's neighborhood in the daytime, but night
found him lurking like a thief around the Morse home, stealing
glimpses at the windows and loving the very walls that sheltered
her. Several times he barely escaped being caught by her brothers,
and once he trailed Mr. Morse down town and studied his face in the
lighted streets, longing all the while for some quick danger of
death to threaten so that he might spring in and save her father.
On another night, his vigil was rewarded by a glimpse of Ruth
through a second-story window. He saw only her head and shoulders,
and her arms raised as she fixed her hair before a mirror. It was
only for a moment, but it was a long moment to him, during which
his blood turned to wine and sang through his veins. Then she
pulled down the shade. But it was her room - he had learned that;
and thereafter he strayed there often, hiding under a dark tree on
the opposite side of the street and smoking countless cigarettes.
One afternoon he saw her mother coming out of a bank, and received
another proof of the enormous distance that separated Ruth from
him. She was of the class that dealt with banks. He had never
been inside a bank in his life, and he had an idea that such
institutions were frequented only by the very rich and the very
In one way, he had undergone a moral revolution. Her cleanness and
purity had reacted upon him, and he felt in his being a crying need
to be clean. He must be that if he were ever to be worthy of
breathing the same air with her. He washed his teeth, and scrubbed
his hands with a kitchen scrub-brush till he saw a nail-brush in a
drug-store window and divined its use. While purchasing it, the
clerk glanced at his nails, suggested a nail-file, and so he became
possessed of an additional toilet-tool. He ran across a book in
the library on the care of the body, and promptly developed a
penchant for a cold-water bath every morning, much to the amazement
of Jim, and to the bewilderment of Mr. Higginbotham, who was not in
sympathy with such high-fangled notions and who seriously debated
whether or not he should charge Martin extra for the water.
Another stride was in the direction of creased trousers. Now that
Martin was aroused in such matters, he swiftly noted the difference
between the baggy knees of the trousers worn by the working class
and the straight line from knee to foot of those worn by the men
above the working class. Also, he learned the reason why, and
invaded his sister's kitchen in search of irons and ironing-board.
He had misadventures at first, hopelessly burning one pair and
buying another, which expenditure again brought nearer the day on
which he must put to sea.
But the reform went deeper than mere outward appearance. He still
smoked, but he drank no more. Up to that time, drinking had seemed
to him the proper thing for men to do, and he had prided himself on
his strong head which enabled him to drink most men under the
table. Whenever he encountered a chance shipmate, and there were
many in San Francisco, he treated them and was treated in turn, as
of old, but he ordered for himself root beer or ginger ale and
good-naturedly endured their chaffing. And as they waxed maudlin
he studied them, watching the beast rise and master them and
thanking God that he was no longer as they. They had their
limitations to forget, and when they were drunk, their dim, stupid
spirits were even as gods, and each ruled in his heaven of
intoxicated desire. With Martin the need for strong drink had
vanished. He was drunken in new and more profound ways - with
Ruth, who had fired him with love and with a glimpse of higher and
eternal life; with books, that had set a myriad maggots of desire
gnawing in his brain; and with the sense of personal cleanliness he
was achieving, that gave him even more superb health than what he
had enjoyed and that made his whole body sing with physical well-
One night he went to the theatre, on the blind chance that he might
see her there, and from the second balcony he did see her. He saw
her come down the aisle, with Arthur and a strange young man with a
football mop of hair and eyeglasses, the sight of whom spurred him
to instant apprehension and jealousy. He saw her take her seat in
the orchestra circle, and little else than her did he see that
night - a pair of slender white shoulders and a mass of pale gold
hair, dim with distance. But there were others who saw, and now
and again, glancing at those about him, he noted two young girls
who looked back from the row in front, a dozen seats along, and who
smiled at him with bold eyes. He had always been easy-going. It
was not in his nature to give rebuff. In the old days he would
have smiled back, and gone further and encouraged smiling. But now
it was different. He did smile back, then looked away, and looked
no more deliberately. But several times, forgetting the existence
of the two girls, his eyes caught their smiles. He could not re-
thumb himself in a day, nor could he violate the intrinsic
kindliness of his nature; so, at such moments, he smiled at the
girls in warm human friendliness. It was nothing new to him. He
knew they were reaching out their woman's hands to him. But it was
different now. Far down there in the orchestra circle was the one
woman in all the world, so different, so terrifically different,
from these two girls of his class, that he could feel for them only
pity and sorrow. He had it in his heart to wish that they could
possess, in some small measure, her goodness and glory. And not
for the world could he hurt them because of their outreaching. He
was not flattered by it; he even felt a slight shame at his
lowliness that permitted it. He knew, did he belong in Ruth's
class, that there would be no overtures from these girls; and with
each glance of theirs he felt the fingers of his own class
clutching at him to hold him down.
He left his seat before the curtain went down on the last act,
intent on seeing Her as she passed out. There were always numbers
of men who stood on the sidewalk outside, and he could pull his cap
down over his eyes and screen himself behind some one's shoulder so
that she should not see him. He emerged from the theatre with the
first of the crowd; but scarcely had he taken his position on the
edge of the sidewalk when the two girls appeared. They were
looking for him, he knew; and for the moment he could have cursed
that in him which drew women. Their casual edging across the
sidewalk to the curb, as they drew near, apprised him of discovery.
They slowed down, and were in the thick of the crown as they came
up with him. One of them brushed against him and apparently for
the first time noticed him. She was a slender, dark girl, with
black, defiant eyes. But they smiled at him, and he smiled back.
"Hello," he said.
It was automatic; he had said it so often before under similar
circumstances of first meetings. Besides, he could do no less.
There was that large tolerance and sympathy in his nature that
would permit him to do no less. The black-eyed girl smiled
gratification and greeting, and showed signs of stopping, while her
companion, arm linked in arm, giggled and likewise showed signs of
halting. He thought quickly. It would never do for Her to come
out and see him talking there with them. Quite naturally, as a
matter of course, he swung in along-side the dark-eyed one and
walked with her. There was no awkwardness on his part, no numb
tongue. He was at home here, and he held his own royally in the
badinage, bristling with slang and sharpness, that was always the
preliminary to getting acquainted in these swift-moving affairs.
At the corner where the main stream of people flowed onward, he
started to edge out into the cross street. But the girl with the
black eyes caught his arm, following him and dragging her companion
after her, as she cried:
"Hold on, Bill! What's yer rush? You're not goin' to shake us so
sudden as all that?"
He halted with a laugh, and turned, facing them. Across their
shoulders he could see the moving throng passing under the street
lamps. Where he stood it was not so light, and, unseen, he would
be able to see Her as she passed by. She would certainly pass by,
for that way led home.
"What's her name?" he asked of the giggling girl, nodding at the
"You ask her," was the convulsed response.
"Well, what is it?" he demanded, turning squarely on the girl in
"You ain't told me yours, yet," she retorted.
"You never asked it," he smiled. "Besides, you guessed the first
rattle. It's Bill, all right, all right."
"Aw, go 'long with you." She looked him in the eyes, her own
sharply passionate and inviting. "What is it, honest?"
Again she looked. All the centuries of woman since sex began were
eloquent in her eyes. And he measured her in a careless way, and
knew, bold now, that she would begin to retreat, coyly and
delicately, as he pursued, ever ready to reverse the game should he
turn fainthearted. And, too, he was human, and could feel the draw
of her, while his ego could not but appreciate the flattery of her
kindness. Oh, he knew it all, and knew them well, from A to Z.
Good, as goodness might be measured in their particular class,
hard-working for meagre wages and scorning the sale of self for
easier ways, nervously desirous for some small pinch of happiness
in the desert of existence, and facing a future that was a gamble
between the ugliness of unending toil and the black pit of more
terrible wretchedness, the way whereto being briefer though better
"Bill," he answered, nodding his head. "Sure, Pete, Bill an' no
"No joshin'?" she queried.
"It ain't Bill at all," the other broke in.
"How do you know?" he demanded. "You never laid eyes on me
"No need to, to know you're lyin'," was the retort.
"Straight, Bill, what is it?" the first girl asked.
"Bill'll do," he confessed.
She reached out to his arm and shook him playfully. "I knew you
was lyin', but you look good to me just the same."
He captured the hand that invited, and felt on the palm familiar
markings and distortions.
"When'd you chuck the cannery?" he asked.
"How'd yeh know?" and, "My, ain't cheh a mind-reader!" the girls
And while he exchanged the stupidities of stupid minds with them,
before his inner sight towered the book-shelves of the library,
filled with the wisdom of the ages. He smiled bitterly at the
incongruity of it, and was assailed by doubts. But between inner
vision and outward pleasantry he found time to watch the theatre
crowd streaming by. And then he saw Her, under the lights, between
her brother and the strange young man with glasses, and his heart
seemed to stand still. He had waited long for this moment. He had
time to note the light, fluffy something that hid her queenly head,
the tasteful lines of her wrapped figure, the gracefulness of her
carriage and of the hand that caught up her skirts; and then she
was gone and he was left staring at the two girls of the cannery,
at their tawdry attempts at prettiness of dress, their tragic
efforts to be clean and trim, the cheap cloth, the cheap ribbons,
and the cheap rings on the fingers. He felt a tug at his arm, and
heard a voice saying:-
"Wake up, Bill! What's the matter with you?"
"What was you sayin'?" he asked.
"Oh, nothin'," the dark girl answered, with a toss of her head. "I
was only remarkin' - "
"Well, I was whisperin' it'd be a good idea if you could dig up a
gentleman friend - for her" (indicating her companion), "and then,
we could go off an' have ice-cream soda somewhere, or coffee, or
He was afflicted by a sudden spiritual nausea. The transition from
Ruth to this had been too abrupt. Ranged side by side with the
bold, defiant eyes of the girl before him, he saw Ruth's clear,
luminous eyes, like a saint's, gazing at him out of unplumbed
depths of purity. And, somehow, he felt within him a stir of
power. He was better than this. Life meant more to him than it
meant to these two girls whose thoughts did not go beyond ice-cream
and a gentleman friend. He remembered that he had led always a
secret life in his thoughts. These thoughts he had tried to share,
but never had he found a woman capable of understanding - nor a
man. He had tried, at times, but had only puzzled his listeners.
And as his thoughts had been beyond them, so, he argued now, he
must be beyond them. He felt power move in him, and clenched his
fists. If life meant more to him, then it was for him to demand
more from life, but he could not demand it from such companionship
as this. Those bold black eyes had nothing to offer. He knew the
thoughts behind them - of ice-cream and of something else. But
those saint's eyes alongside - they offered all he knew and more
than he could guess. They offered books and painting, beauty and
repose, and all the fine elegance of higher existence. Behind
those black eyes he knew every thought process. It was like
clockwork. He could watch every wheel go around. Their bid was
low pleasure, narrow as the grave, that palled, and the grave was
at the end of it. But the bid of the saint's eyes was mystery, and
wonder unthinkable, and eternal life. He had caught glimpses of
the soul in them, and glimpses of his own soul, too.
"There's only one thing wrong with the programme," he said aloud.
"I've got a date already."
The girl's eyes blazed her disappointment.
"To sit up with a sick friend, I suppose?" she sneered.
"No, a real, honest date with - " he faltered, "with a girl."
"You're not stringin' me?" she asked earnestly.
He looked her in the eyes and answered: "It's straight, all right.
But why can't we meet some other time? You ain't told me your name
yet. An' where d'ye live?"
"Lizzie," she replied, softening toward him, her hand pressing his
arm, while her body leaned against his. "Lizzie Connolly. And I
live at Fifth an' Market."
He talked on a few minutes before saying good night. He did not go
home immediately; and under the tree where he kept his vigils he
looked up at a window and murmured: "That date was with you, Ruth.
I kept it for you."
A week of heavy reading had passed since the evening he first met
Ruth Morse, and still he dared not call. Time and again he nerved
himself up to call, but under the doubts that assailed him his
determination died away. He did not know the proper time to call,
nor was there any one to tell him, and he was afraid of committing
himself to an irretrievable blunder. Having shaken himself free
from his old companions and old ways of life, and having no new
companions, nothing remained for him but to read, and the long
hours he devoted to it would have ruined a dozen pairs of ordinary
eyes. But his eyes were strong, and they were backed by a body
superbly strong. Furthermore, his mind was fallow. It had lain
fallow all his life so far as the abstract thought of the books was
concerned, and it was ripe for the sowing. It had never been jaded
by study, and it bit hold of the knowledge in the books with sharp
teeth that would not let go.
It seemed to him, by the end of the week, that he had lived
centuries, so far behind were the old life and outlook. But he was
baffled by lack of preparation. He attempted to read books that
required years of preliminary specialization. One day he would
read a book of antiquated philosophy, and the next day one that was
ultra-modern, so that his head would be whirling with the conflict
and contradiction of ideas. It was the same with the economists.
On the one shelf at the library he found Karl Marx, Ricardo, Adam
Smith, and Mill, and the abstruse formulas of the one gave no clew
that the ideas of another were obsolete. He was bewildered, and
yet he wanted to know. He had become interested, in a day, in
economics, industry, and politics. Passing through the City Hall
Park, he had noticed a group of men, in the centre of which were
half a dozen, with flushed faces and raised voices, earnestly
carrying on a discussion. He joined the listeners, and heard a
new, alien tongue in the mouths of the philosophers of the people.
One was a tramp, another was a labor agitator, a third was a law-
school student, and the remainder was composed of wordy workingmen.
For the first time he heard of socialism, anarchism, and single
tax, and learned that there were warring social philosophies. He
heard hundreds of technical words that were new to him, belonging
to fields of thought that his meagre reading had never touched
upon. Because of this he could not follow the arguments closely,
and he could only guess at and surmise the ideas wrapped up in such
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