Part 8 out of 8
of the bourgeoisie it was not clear to him how it could possibly
appreciate or comprehend what he had written. His intrinsic beauty
and power meant nothing to the hundreds of thousands who were
acclaiming him and buying his books. He was the fad of the hour,
the adventurer who had stormed Parnassus while the gods nodded.
The hundreds of thousands read him and acclaimed him with the same
brute non-understanding with which they had flung themselves on
Brissenden's "Ephemera" and torn it to pieces - a wolf-rabble that
fawned on him instead of fanging him. Fawn or fang, it was all a
matter of chance. One thing he knew with absolute certitude:
"Ephemera" was infinitely greater than anything he had done. It
was infinitely greater than anything he had in him. It was a poem
of centuries. Then the tribute the mob paid him was a sorry
tribute indeed, for that same mob had wallowed "Ephemera" into the
mire. He sighed heavily and with satisfaction. He was glad the
last manuscript was sold and that he would soon be done with it
Mr. Morse met Martin in the office of the Hotel Metropole. Whether
he had happened there just casually, intent on other affairs, or
whether he had come there for the direct purpose of inviting him to
dinner, Martin never could quite make up his mind, though he
inclined toward the second hypothesis. At any rate, invited to
dinner he was by Mr. Morse - Ruth's father, who had forbidden him
the house and broken off the engagement.
Martin was not angry. He was not even on his dignity. He
tolerated Mr. Morse, wondering the while how it felt to eat such
humble pie. He did not decline the invitation. Instead, he put it
off with vagueness and indefiniteness and inquired after the
family, particularly after Mrs. Morse and Ruth. He spoke her name
without hesitancy, naturally, though secretly surprised that he had
had no inward quiver, no old, familiar increase of pulse and warm
surge of blood.
He had many invitations to dinner, some of which he accepted.
Persons got themselves introduced to him in order to invite him to
dinner. And he went on puzzling over the little thing that was
becoming a great thing. Bernard Higginbotham invited him to
dinner. He puzzled the harder. He remembered the days of his
desperate starvation when no one invited him to dinner. That was
the time he needed dinners, and went weak and faint for lack of
them and lost weight from sheer famine. That was the paradox of
it. When he wanted dinners, no one gave them to him, and now that
he could buy a hundred thousand dinners and was losing his
appetite, dinners were thrust upon him right and left. But why?
There was no justice in it, no merit on his part. He was no
different. All the work he had done was even at that time work
performed. Mr. and Mrs. Morse had condemned him for an idler and a
shirk and through Ruth had urged that he take a clerk's position in
an office. Furthermore, they had been aware of his work performed.
Manuscript after manuscript of his had been turned over to them by
Ruth. They had read them. It was the very same work that had put
his name in all the papers, and, it was his name being in all the
papers that led them to invite him.
One thing was certain: the Morses had not cared to have him for
himself or for his work. Therefore they could not want him now for
himself or for his work, but for the fame that was his, because he
was somebody amongst men, and - why not? - because he had a hundred
thousand dollars or so. That was the way bourgeois society valued
a man, and who was he to expect it otherwise? But he was proud.
He disdained such valuation. He desired to be valued for himself,
or for his work, which, after all, was an expression of himself.
That was the way Lizzie valued him. The work, with her, did not
even count. She valued him, himself. That was the way Jimmy, the
plumber, and all the old gang valued him. That had been proved
often enough in the days when he ran with them; it had been proved
that Sunday at Shell Mound Park. His work could go hang. What
they liked, and were willing to scrap for, was just Mart Eden, one
of the bunch and a pretty good guy.
Then there was Ruth. She had liked him for himself, that was
indisputable. And yet, much as she had liked him she had liked the
bourgeois standard of valuation more. She had opposed his writing,
and principally, it seemed to him, because it did not earn money.
That had been her criticism of his "Love-cycle." She, too, had
urged him to get a job. It was true, she refined it to "position,"
but it meant the same thing, and in his own mind the old
nomenclature stuck. He had read her all that he wrote - poems,
stories, essays - "Wiki-Wiki," "The Shame of the Sun," everything.
And she had always and consistently urged him to get a job, to go
to work - good God! - as if he hadn't been working, robbing sleep,
exhausting life, in order to be worthy of her.
So the little thing grew bigger. He was healthy and normal, ate
regularly, slept long hours, and yet the growing little thing was
becoming an obsession. WORK PERFORMED. The phrase haunted his
brain. He sat opposite Bernard Higginbotham at a heavy Sunday
dinner over Higginbotham's Cash Store, and it was all he could do
to restrain himself from shouting out:-
"It was work performed! And now you feed me, when then you let me
starve, forbade me your house, and damned me because I wouldn't get
a job. And the work was already done, all done. And now, when I
speak, you check the thought unuttered on your lips and hang on my
lips and pay respectful attention to whatever I choose to say. I
tell you your party is rotten and filled with grafters, and instead
of flying into a rage you hum and haw and admit there is a great
deal in what I say. And why? Because I'm famous; because I've a
lot of money. Not because I'm Martin Eden, a pretty good fellow
and not particularly a fool. I could tell you the moon is made of
green cheese and you would subscribe to the notion, at least you
would not repudiate it, because I've got dollars, mountains of
them. And it was all done long ago; it was work performed, I tell
you, when you spat upon me as the dirt under your feet."
But Martin did not shout out. The thought gnawed in his brain, an
unceasing torment, while he smiled and succeeded in being tolerant.
As he grew silent, Bernard Higginbotham got the reins and did the
talking. He was a success himself, and proud of it. He was self-
made. No one had helped him. He owed no man. He was fulfilling
his duty as a citizen and bringing up a large family. And there
was Higginbotham's Cash Store, that monument of his own industry
and ability. He loved Higginbotham's Cash Store as some men loved
their wives. He opened up his heart to Martin, showed with what
keenness and with what enormous planning he had made the store.
And he had plans for it, ambitious plans. The neighborhood was
growing up fast. The store was really too small. If he had more
room, he would be able to put in a score of labor-saving and money-
saving improvements. And he would do it yet. He was straining
every effort for the day when he could buy the adjoining lot and
put up another two-story frame building. The upstairs he could
rent, and the whole ground-floor of both buildings would be
Higginbotham's Cash Store. His eyes glistened when he spoke of the
new sign that would stretch clear across both buildings.
Martin forgot to listen. The refrain of "Work performed," in his
own brain, was drowning the other's clatter. The refrain maddened
him, and he tried to escape from it.
"How much did you say it would cost?" he asked suddenly.
His brother-in-law paused in the middle of an expatiation on the
business opportunities of the neighborhood. He hadn't said how
much it would cost. But he knew. He had figured it out a score of
"At the way lumber is now," he said, "four thousand could do it."
"Including the sign?"
"I didn't count on that. It'd just have to come, onc't the
buildin' was there."
"And the ground?"
"Three thousand more."
He leaned forward, licking his lips, nervously spreading and
closing his fingers, while he watched Martin write a check. When
it was passed over to him, he glanced at the amount-seven thousand
"I - I can't afford to pay more than six per cent," he said
Martin wanted to laugh, but, instead, demanded:-
"How much would that be?"
"Lemme see. Six per cent - six times seven - four hundred an'
"That would be thirty-five dollars a month, wouldn't it?"
"Then, if you've no objection, well arrange it this way." Martin
glanced at Gertrude. "You can have the principal to keep for
yourself, if you'll use the thirty-five dollars a month for cooking
and washing and scrubbing. The seven thousand is yours if you'll
guarantee that Gertrude does no more drudgery. Is it a go?"
Mr. Higginbotham swallowed hard. That his wife should do no more
housework was an affront to his thrifty soul. The magnificent
present was the coating of a pill, a bitter pill. That his wife
should not work! It gagged him.
"All right, then," Martin said. "I'll pay the thirty-five a month,
and - "
He reached across the table for the check. But Bernard
Higginbotham got his hand on it first, crying:
"I accept! I accept!"
When Martin got on the electric car, he was very sick and tired.
He looked up at the assertive sign.
"The swine," he groaned. "The swine, the swine."
When MACKINTOSH'S MAGAZINE published "The Palmist," featuring it
with decorations by Berthier and with two pictures by Wenn, Hermann
von Schmidt forgot that he had called the verses obscene. He
announced that his wife had inspired the poem, saw to it that the
news reached the ears of a reporter, and submitted to an interview
by a staff writer who was accompanied by a staff photographer and a
staff artist. The result was a full page in a Sunday supplement,
filled with photographs and idealized drawings of Marian, with many
intimate details of Martin Eden and his family, and with the full
text of "The Palmist" in large type, and republished by special
permission of MACKINTOSH'S MAGAZINE. It caused quite a stir in the
neighborhood, and good housewives were proud to have the
acquaintances of the great writer's sister, while those who had not
made haste to cultivate it. Hermann von Schmidt chuckled in his
little repair shop and decided to order a new lathe. "Better than
advertising," he told Marian, "and it costs nothing."
"We'd better have him to dinner," she suggested.
And to dinner Martin came, making himself agreeable with the fat
wholesale butcher and his fatter wife - important folk, they,
likely to be of use to a rising young man like Hermann Yon Schmidt.
No less a bait, however, had been required to draw them to his
house than his great brother-in-law. Another man at table who had
swallowed the same bait was the superintendent of the Pacific Coast
agencies for the Asa Bicycle Company. Him Von Schmidt desired to
please and propitiate because from him could be obtained the
Oakland agency for the bicycle. So Hermann von Schmidt found it a
goodly asset to have Martin for a brother-in-law, but in his heart
of hearts he couldn't understand where it all came in. In the
silent watches of the night, while his wife slept, he had
floundered through Martin's books and poems, and decided that the
world was a fool to buy them.
And in his heart of hearts Martin understood the situation only too
well, as he leaned back and gloated at Von Schmidt's head, in fancy
punching it well-nigh off of him, sending blow after blow home just
right - the chuckle-headed Dutchman! One thing he did like about
him, however. Poor as he was, and determined to rise as he was, he
nevertheless hired one servant to take the heavy work off of
Marian's hands. Martin talked with the superintendent of the Asa
agencies, and after dinner he drew him aside with Hermann, whom he
backed financially for the best bicycle store with fittings in
Oakland. He went further, and in a private talk with Hermann told
him to keep his eyes open for an automobile agency and garage, for
there was no reason that he should not be able to run both
With tears in her eyes and her arms around his neck, Marian, at
parting, told Martin how much she loved him and always had loved
him. It was true, there was a perceptible halt midway in her
assertion, which she glossed over with more tears and kisses and
incoherent stammerings, and which Martin inferred to be her appeal
for forgiveness for the time she had lacked faith in him and
insisted on his getting a job.
"He can't never keep his money, that's sure," Hermann von Schmidt
confided to his wife. "He got mad when I spoke of interest, an' he
said damn the principal and if I mentioned it again, he'd punch my
Dutch head off. That's what he said - my Dutch head. But he's all
right, even if he ain't no business man. He's given me my chance,
an' he's all right."
Invitations to dinner poured in on Martin; and the more they
poured, the more he puzzled. He sat, the guest of honor, at an
Arden Club banquet, with men of note whom he had heard about and
read about all his life; and they told him how, when they had read
"The Ring of Bells" in the TRANSCONTINENTAL, and "The Peri and the
Pearl" in THE HORNET, they had immediately picked him for a winner.
My God! and I was hungry and in rags, he thought to himself. Why
didn't you give me a dinner then? Then was the time. It was work
performed. If you are feeding me now for work performed, why did
you not feed me then when I needed it? Not one word in "The Ring
of Bells," nor in "The Peri and the Pearl" has been changed. No;
you're not feeding me now for work performed. You are feeding me
because everybody else is feeding me and because it is an honor to
feed me. You are feeding me now because you are herd animals;
because you are part of the mob; because the one blind, automatic
thought in the mob-mind just now is to feed me. And where does
Martin Eden and the work Martin Eden performed come in in all this?
he asked himself plaintively, then arose to respond cleverly and
wittily to a clever and witty toast.
So it went. Wherever he happened to be - at the Press Club, at the
Redwood Club, at pink teas and literary gatherings - always were
remembered "The Ring of Bells" and "The Peri and the Pearl" when
they were first published. And always was Martin's maddening and
unuttered demand: Why didn't you feed me then? It was work
performed. "The Ring of Bells" and "The Peri and the Pearl" are
not changed one iota. They were just as artistic, just as worth
while, then as now. But you are not feeding me for their sake, nor
for the sake of anything else I have written. You're feeding me
because it is the style of feeding just now, because the whole mob
is crazy with the idea of feeding Martin Eden.
And often, at such times, he would abruptly see slouch in among the
company a young hoodlum in square-cut coat and under a stiff-rim
Stetson hat. It happened to him at the Gallina Society in Oakland
one afternoon. As he rose from his chair and stepped forward
across the platform, he saw stalk through the wide door at the rear
of the great room the young hoodlum with the square-cut coat and
stiff-rim hat. Five hundred fashionably gowned women turned their
heads, so intent and steadfast was Martin's gaze, to see what he
was seeing. But they saw only the empty centre aisle. He saw the
young tough lurching down that aisle and wondered if he would
remove the stiff-rim which never yet had he seen him without.
Straight down the aisle he came, and up the platform. Martin could
have wept over that youthful shade of himself, when he thought of
all that lay before him. Across the platform he swaggered, right
up to Martin, and into the foreground of Martin's consciousness
disappeared. The five hundred women applauded softly with gloved
hands, seeking to encourage the bashful great man who was their
guest. And Martin shook the vision from his brain, smiled, and
began to speak.
The Superintendent of Schools, good old man, stopped Martin on the
street and remembered him, recalling seances in his office when
Martin was expelled from school for fighting.
"I read your 'Ring of Bells' in one of the magazines quite a time
ago," he said. "It was as good as Poe. Splendid, I said at the
Yes, and twice in the months that followed you passed me on the
street and did not know me, Martin almost said aloud. Each time I
was hungry and heading for the pawnbroker. Yet it was work
performed. You did not know me then. Why do you know me now?
"I was remarking to my wife only the other day," the other was
saying, "wouldn't it be a good idea to have you out to dinner some
time? And she quite agreed with me. Yes, she quite agreed with
"Dinner?" Martin said so sharply that it was almost a snarl.
"Why, yes, yes, dinner, you know - just pot luck with us, with your
old superintendent, you rascal," he uttered nervously, poking
Martin in an attempt at jocular fellowship.
Martin went down the street in a daze. He stopped at the corner
and looked about him vacantly.
"Well, I'll be damned!" he murmured at last. "The old fellow was
afraid of me."
Kreis came to Martin one day - Kreis, of the "real dirt"; and
Martin turned to him with relief, to receive the glowing details of
a scheme sufficiently wild-catty to interest him as a fictionist
rather than an investor. Kreis paused long enough in the midst of
his exposition to tell him that in most of his "Shame of the Sun"
he had been a chump.
"But I didn't come here to spout philosophy," Kreis went on. "What
I want to know is whether or not you will put a thousand dollars in
on this deal?"
"No, I'm not chump enough for that, at any rate," Martin answered.
"But I'll tell you what I will do. You gave me the greatest night
of my life. You gave me what money cannot buy. Now I've got
money, and it means nothing to me. I'd like to turn over to you a
thousand dollars of what I don't value for what you gave me that
night and which was beyond price. You need the money. I've got
more than I need. You want it. You came for it. There's no use
scheming it out of me. Take it."
Kreis betrayed no surprise. He folded the check away in his
"At that rate I'd like the contract of providing you with many such
nights," he said.
"Too late." Martin shook his head. "That night was the one night
for me. I was in paradise. It's commonplace with you, I know.
But it wasn't to me. I shall never live at such a pitch again.
I'm done with philosophy. I want never to hear another word of
"The first dollar I ever made in my life out of my philosophy,"
Kreis remarked, as he paused in the doorway. "And then the market
Mrs. Morse drove by Martin on the street one day, and smiled and
nodded. He smiled back and lifted his hat. The episode did not
affect him. A month before it might have disgusted him, or made
him curious and set him to speculating about her state of
consciousness at that moment. But now it was not provocative of a
second thought. He forgot about it the next moment. He forgot
about it as he would have forgotten the Central Bank Building or
the City Hall after having walked past them. Yet his mind was
preternaturally active. His thoughts went ever around and around
in a circle. The centre of that circle was "work performed"; it
ate at his brain like a deathless maggot. He awoke to it in the
morning. It tormented his dreams at night. Every affair of life
around him that penetrated through his senses immediately related
itself to "work performed." He drove along the path of relentless
logic to the conclusion that he was nobody, nothing. Mart Eden,
the hoodlum, and Mart Eden, the sailor, had been real, had been he;
but Martin Eden! the famous writer, did not exist. Martin Eden,
the famous writer, was a vapor that had arisen in the mob-mind and
by the mob-mind had been thrust into the corporeal being of Mart
Eden, the hoodlum and sailor. But it couldn't fool him. He was
not that sun-myth that the mob was worshipping and sacrificing
dinners to. He knew better.
He read the magazines about himself, and pored over portraits of
himself published therein until he was unable to associate his
identity with those portraits. He was the fellow who had lived and
thrilled and loved; who had been easy-going and tolerant of the
frailties of life; who had served in the forecastle, wandered in
strange lands, and led his gang in the old fighting days. He was
the fellow who had been stunned at first by the thousands of books
in the free library, and who had afterward learned his way among
them and mastered them; he was the fellow who had burned the
midnight oil and bedded with a spur and written books himself. But
the one thing he was not was that colossal appetite that all the
mob was bent upon feeding.
There were things, however, in the magazines that amused him. All
the magazines were claiming him. WARREN'S MONTHLY advertised to
its subscribers that it was always on the quest after new writers,
and that, among others, it had introduced Martin Eden to the
reading public. THE WHITE MOUSE claimed him; so did THE NORTHERN
REVIEW and MACKINTOSH'S MAGAZINE, until silenced by THE GLOBE,
which pointed triumphantly to its files where the mangled "Sea
Lyrics" lay buried. YOUTH AND AGE, which had come to life again
after having escaped paying its bills, put in a prior claim, which
nobody but farmers' children ever read. The TRANSCONTINENTAL made
a dignified and convincing statement of how it first discovered
Martin Eden, which was warmly disputed by THE HORNET, with the
exhibit of "The Peri and the Pearl." The modest claim of
Singletree, Darnley & Co. was lost in the din. Besides, that
publishing firm did not own a magazine wherewith to make its claim
The newspapers calculated Martin's royalties. In some way the
magnificent offers certain magazines had made him leaked out, and
Oakland ministers called upon him in a friendly way, while
professional begging letters began to clutter his mail. But worse
than all this were the women. His photographs were published
broadcast, and special writers exploited his strong, bronzed face,
his scars, his heavy shoulders, his clear, quiet eyes, and the
slight hollows in his cheeks like an ascetic's. At this last he
remembered his wild youth and smiled. Often, among the women he
met, he would see now one, now another, looking at him, appraising
him, selecting him. He laughed to himself. He remembered
Brissenden's warning and laughed again. The women would never
destroy him, that much was certain. He had gone past that stage.
Once, walking with Lizzie toward night school, she caught a glance
directed toward him by a well-gowned, handsome woman of the
bourgeoisie. The glance was a trifle too long, a shade too
considerative. Lizzie knew it for what it was, and her body tensed
angrily. Martin noticed, noticed the cause of it, told her how
used he was becoming to it and that he did not care anyway.
"You ought to care," she answered with blazing eyes. "You're sick.
That's what's the matter."
"Never healthier in my life. I weigh five pounds more than I ever
"It ain't your body. It's your head. Something's wrong with your
think-machine. Even I can see that, an' I ain't nobody."
He walked on beside her, reflecting.
"I'd give anything to see you get over it," she broke out
impulsively. "You ought to care when women look at you that way, a
man like you. It's not natural. It's all right enough for sissy-
boys. But you ain't made that way. So help me, I'd be willing an'
glad if the right woman came along an' made you care."
When he left Lizzie at night school, he returned to the Metropole.
Once in his rooms, he dropped into a Morris chair and sat staring
straight before him. He did not doze. Nor did he think. His mind
was a blank, save for the intervals when unsummoned memory pictures
took form and color and radiance just under his eyelids. He saw
these pictures, but he was scarcely conscious of them - no more so
than if they had been dreams. Yet he was not asleep. Once, he
roused himself and glanced at his watch. It was just eight
o'clock. He had nothing to do, and it was too early for bed. Then
his mind went blank again, and the pictures began to form and
vanish under his eyelids. There was nothing distinctive about the
pictures. They were always masses of leaves and shrub-like
branches shot through with hot sunshine.
A knock at the door aroused him. He was not asleep, and his mind
immediately connected the knock with a telegram, or letter, or
perhaps one of the servants bringing back clean clothes from the
laundry. He was thinking about Joe and wondering where he was, as
he said, "Come in."
He was still thinking about Joe, and did not turn toward the door.
He heard it close softly. There was a long silence. He forgot
that there had been a knock at the door, and was still staring
blankly before him when he heard a woman's sob. It was
involuntary, spasmodic, checked, and stifled - he noted that as he
turned about. The next instant he was on his feet.
"Ruth!" he said, amazed and bewildered.
Her face was white and strained. She stood just inside the door,
one hand against it for support, the other pressed to her side.
She extended both hands toward him piteously, and started forward
to meet him. As he caught her hands and led her to the Morris
chair he noticed how cold they were. He drew up another chair and
sat down on the broad arm of it. He was too confused to speak. In
his own mind his affair with Ruth was closed and sealed. He felt
much in the same way that he would have felt had the Shelly Hot
Springs Laundry suddenly invaded the Hotel Metropole with a whole
week's washing ready for him to pitch into. Several times he was
about to speak, and each time he hesitated.
"No one knows I am here," Ruth said in a faint voice, with an
"What did you say?"
He was surprised at the sound of his own voice.
She repeated her words.
"Oh," he said, then wondered what more he could possibly say.
"I saw you come in, and I waited a few minutes."
"Oh," he said again.
He had never been so tongue-tied in his life. Positively he did
not have an idea in his head. He felt stupid and awkward, but for
the life of him he could think of nothing to say. It would have
been easier had the intrusion been the Shelly Hot Springs laundry.
He could have rolled up his sleeves and gone to work.
"And then you came in," he said finally.
She nodded, with a slightly arch expression, and loosened the scarf
at her throat.
"I saw you first from across the street when you were with that
"Oh, yes," he said simply. "I took her down to night school."
"Well, aren't you glad to see me?" she said at the end of another
"Yes, yes." He spoke hastily. "But wasn't it rash of you to come
"I slipped in. Nobody knows I am here. I wanted to see you. I
came to tell you I have been very foolish. I came because I could
no longer stay away, because my heart compelled me to come, because
- because I wanted to come."
She came forward, out of her chair and over to him. She rested her
hand on his shoulder a moment, breathing quickly, and then slipped
into his arms. And in his large, easy way, desirous of not
inflicting hurt, knowing that to repulse this proffer of herself
was to inflict the most grievous hurt a woman could receive, he
folded his arms around her and held her close. But there was no
warmth in the embrace, no caress in the contact. She had come into
his arms, and he held her, that was all. She nestled against him,
and then, with a change of position, her hands crept up and rested
upon his neck. But his flesh was not fire beneath those hands, and
he felt awkward and uncomfortable.
"What makes you tremble so?" he asked. "Is it a chill? Shall I
light the grate?"
He made a movement to disengage himself, but she clung more closely
to him, shivering violently.
"It is merely nervousness," she said with chattering teeth. "I'll
control myself in a minute. There, I am better already."
Slowly her shivering died away. He continued to hold her, but he
was no longer puzzled. He knew now for what she had come.
"My mother wanted me to marry Charley Hapgood," she announced.
"Charley Hapgood, that fellow who speaks always in platitudes?"
Martin groaned. Then he added, "And now, I suppose, your mother
wants you to marry me."
He did not put it in the form of a question. He stated it as a
certitude, and before his eyes began to dance the rows of figures
of his royalties.
"She will not object, I know that much," Ruth said.
"She considers me quite eligible?"
"And yet I am not a bit more eligible now than I was when she broke
our engagement," he meditated. "I haven't changed any. I'm the
same Martin Eden, though for that matter I'm a bit worse - I smoke
now. Don't you smell my breath?"
In reply she pressed her open fingers against his lips, placed them
graciously and playfully, and in expectancy of the kiss that of old
had always been a consequence. But there was no caressing answer
of Martin's lips. He waited until the fingers were removed and
then went on.
"I am not changed. I haven't got a job. I'm not looking for a
job. Furthermore, I am not going to look for a job. And I still
believe that Herbert Spencer is a great and noble man and that
Judge Blount is an unmitigated ass. I had dinner with him the
other night, so I ought to know."
"But you didn't accept father's invitation," she chided.
"So you know about that? Who sent him? Your mother?"
She remained silent.
"Then she did send him. I thought so. And now I suppose she has
"No one knows that I am here," she protested. "Do you think my
mother would permit this?"
"She'd permit you to marry me, that's certain."
She gave a sharp cry. "Oh, Martin, don't be cruel. You have not
kissed me once. You are as unresponsive as a stone. And think
what I have dared to do." She looked about her with a shiver,
though half the look was curiosity. "Just think of where I am."
"I COULD DIE FOR YOU! I COULD DIE FOR YOU!" - Lizzie's words were
ringing in his ears.
"Why didn't you dare it before?" he asked harshly. "When I hadn't
a job? When I was starving? When I was just as I am now, as a
man, as an artist, the same Martin Eden? That's the question I've
been propounding to myself for many a day - not concerning you
merely, but concerning everybody. You see I have not changed,
though my sudden apparent appreciation in value compels me
constantly to reassure myself on that point. I've got the same
flesh on my bones, the same ten fingers and toes. I am the same.
I have not developed any new strength nor virtue. My brain is the
same old brain. I haven't made even one new generalization on
literature or philosophy. I am personally of the same value that I
was when nobody wanted me. And what is puzzling me is why they
want me now. Surely they don't want me for myself, for myself is
the same old self they did not want. Then they must want me for
something else, for something that is outside of me, for something
that is not I! Shall I tell you what that something is? It is for
the recognition I have received. That recognition is not I. It
resides in the minds of others. Then again for the money I have
earned and am earning. But that money is not I. It resides in
banks and in the pockets of Tom, Dick, and Harry. And is it for
that, for the recognition and the money, that you now want me?"
"You are breaking my heart," she sobbed. "You know I love you,
that I am here because I love you."
"I am afraid you don't see my point," he said gently. "What I mean
is: if you love me, how does it happen that you love me now so
much more than you did when your love was weak enough to deny me?"
"Forget and forgive," she cried passionately. "I loved you all the
time, remember that, and I am here, now, in your arms."
"I'm afraid I am a shrewd merchant, peering into the scales, trying
to weigh your love and find out what manner of thing it is."
She withdrew herself from his arms, sat upright, and looked at him
long and searchingly. She was about to speak, then faltered and
changed her mind.
"You see, it appears this way to me," he went on. "When I was all
that I am now, nobody out of my own class seemed to care for me.
When my books were all written, no one who had read the manuscripts
seemed to care for them. In point of fact, because of the stuff I
had written they seemed to care even less for me. In writing the
stuff it seemed that I had committed acts that were, to say the
least, derogatory. 'Get a job,' everybody said."
She made a movement of dissent.
"Yes, yes," he said; "except in your case you told me to get a
position. The homely word JOB, like much that I have written,
offends you. It is brutal. But I assure you it was no less brutal
to me when everybody I knew recommended it to me as they would
recommend right conduct to an immoral creature. But to return.
The publication of what I had written, and the public notice I
received, wrought a change in the fibre of your love. Martin Eden,
with his work all performed, you would not marry. Your love for
him was not strong enough to enable you to marry him. But your
love is now strong enough, and I cannot avoid the conclusion that
its strength arises from the publication and the public notice. In
your case I do not mention royalties, though I am certain that they
apply to the change wrought in your mother and father. Of course,
all this is not flattering to me. But worst of all, it makes me
question love, sacred love. Is love so gross a thing that it must
feed upon publication and public notice? It would seem so. I have
sat and thought upon it till my head went around."
"Poor, dear head." She reached up a hand and passed the fingers
soothingly through his hair. "Let it go around no more. Let us
begin anew, now. I loved you all the time. I know that I was weak
in yielding to my mother's will. I should not have done so. Yet I
have heard you speak so often with broad charity of the fallibility
and frailty of humankind. Extend that charity to me. I acted
mistakenly. Forgive me."
"Oh, I do forgive," he said impatiently. "It is easy to forgive
where there is really nothing to forgive. Nothing that you have
done requires forgiveness. One acts according to one's lights, and
more than that one cannot do. As well might I ask you to forgive
me for my not getting a job."
"I meant well," she protested. "You know that I could not have
loved you and not meant well."
"True; but you would have destroyed me out of your well-meaning."
"Yes, yes," he shut off her attempted objection. "You would have
destroyed my writing and my career. Realism is imperative to my
nature, and the bourgeois spirit hates realism. The bourgeoisie is
cowardly. It is afraid of life. And all your effort was to make
me afraid of life. You would have formalized me. You would have
compressed me into a two-by-four pigeonhole of life, where all
life's values are unreal, and false, and vulgar." He felt her stir
protestingly. "Vulgarity - a hearty vulgarity, I'll admit - is the
basis of bourgeois refinement and culture. As I say, you wanted to
formalize me, to make me over into one of your own class, with your
class-ideals, class-values, and class-prejudices." He shook his
head sadly. "And you do not understand, even now, what I am
saying. My words do not mean to you what I endeavor to make them
mean. What I say is so much fantasy to you. Yet to me it is vital
reality. At the best you are a trifle puzzled and amused that this
raw boy, crawling up out of the mire of the abyss, should pass
judgment upon your class and call it vulgar."
She leaned her head wearily against his shoulder, and her body
shivered with recurrent nervousness. He waited for a time for her
to speak, and then went on.
"And now you want to renew our love. You want us to be married.
You want me. And yet, listen - if my books had not been noticed,
I'd nevertheless have been just what I am now. And you would have
stayed away. It is all those damned books - "
"Don't swear," she interrupted.
Her reproof startled him. He broke into a harsh laugh.
"That's it," he said, "at a high moment, when what seems your
life's happiness is at stake, you are afraid of life in the same
old way - afraid of life and a healthy oath."
She was stung by his words into realization of the puerility of her
act, and yet she felt that he had magnified it unduly and was
consequently resentful. They sat in silence for a long time, she
thinking desperately and he pondering upon his love which had
departed. He knew, now, that he had not really loved her. It was
an idealized Ruth he had loved, an ethereal creature of his own
creating, the bright and luminous spirit of his love-poems. The
real bourgeois Ruth, with all the bourgeois failings and with the
hopeless cramp of the bourgeois psychology in her mind, he had
She suddenly began to speak.
"I know that much you have said is so. I have been afraid of life.
I did not love you well enough. I have learned to love better. I
love you for what you are, for what you were, for the ways even by
which you have become. I love you for the ways wherein you differ
from what you call my class, for your beliefs which I do not
understand but which I know I can come to understand. I shall
devote myself to understanding them. And even your smoking and
your swearing - they are part of you and I will love you for them,
too. I can still learn. In the last ten minutes I have learned
much. That I have dared to come here is a token of what I have
already learned. Oh, Martin! - "
She was sobbing and nestling close against him.
For the first time his arms folded her gently and with sympathy,
and she acknowledged it with a happy movement and a brightening
"It is too late," he said. He remembered Lizzie's words. "I am a
sick man - oh, not my body. It is my soul, my brain. I seem to
have lost all values. I care for nothing. If you had been this
way a few months ago, it would have been different. It is too
"It is not too late," she cried. "I will show you. I will prove
to you that my love has grown, that it is greater to me than my
class and all that is dearest to me. All that is dearest to the
bourgeoisie I will flout. I am no longer afraid of life. I will
leave my father and mother, and let my name become a by-word with
my friends. I will come to you here and now, in free love if you
will, and I will be proud and glad to be with you. If I have been
a traitor to love, I will now, for love's sake, be a traitor to all
that made that earlier treason."
She stood before him, with shining eyes.
"I am waiting, Martin," she whispered, "waiting for you to accept
me. Look at me."
It was splendid, he thought, looking at her. She had redeemed
herself for all that she had lacked, rising up at last, true woman,
superior to the iron rule of bourgeois convention. It was
splendid, magnificent, desperate. And yet, what was the matter
with him? He was not thrilled nor stirred by what she had done.
It was splendid and magnificent only intellectually. In what
should have been a moment of fire, he coldly appraised her. His
heart was untouched. He was unaware of any desire for her. Again
he remembered Lizzie's words.
"I am sick, very sick," he said with a despairing gesture. "How
sick I did not know till now. Something has gone out of me. I
have always been unafraid of life, but I never dreamed of being
sated with life. Life has so filled me that I am empty of any
desire for anything. If there were room, I should want you, now.
You see how sick I am."
He leaned his head back and closed his eyes; and like a child,
crying, that forgets its grief in watching the sunlight percolate
through the tear-dimmed films over the pupils, so Martin forgot his
sickness, the presence of Ruth, everything, in watching the masses
of vegetation, shot through hotly with sunshine that took form and
blazed against this background of his eyelids. It was not restful,
that green foliage. The sunlight was too raw and glaring. It hurt
him to look at it, and yet he looked, he knew not why.
He was brought back to himself by the rattle of the door-knob.
Ruth was at the door.
"How shall I get out?" she questioned tearfully. "I am afraid."
"Oh, forgive me," he cried, springing to his feet. "I'm not
myself, you know. I forgot you were here." He put his hand to his
head. "You see, I'm not just right. I'll take you home. We can
go out by the servants' entrance. No one will see us. Pull down
that veil and everything will be all right."
She clung to his arm through the dim-lighted passages and down the
"I am safe now," she said, when they emerged on the sidewalk, at
the same time starting to take her hand from his arm.
"No, no, I'll see you home," he answered.
"No, please don't," she objected. "It is unnecessary."
Again she started to remove her hand. He felt a momentary
curiosity. Now that she was out of danger she was afraid. She was
in almost a panic to be quit of him. He could see no reason for it
and attributed it to her nervousness. So he restrained her
withdrawing hand and started to walk on with her. Halfway down the
block, he saw a man in a long overcoat shrink back into a doorway.
He shot a glance in as he passed by, and, despite the high turned-
up collar, he was certain that he recognized Ruth's brother,
During the walk Ruth and Martin held little conversation. She was
stunned. He was apathetic. Once, he mentioned that he was going
away, back to the South Seas, and, once, she asked him to forgive
her having come to him. And that was all. The parting at her door
was conventional. They shook hands, said good night, and he lifted
his hat. The door swung shut, and he lighted a cigarette and
turned back for his hotel. When he came to the doorway into which
he had seen Norman shrink, he stopped and looked in in a
"She lied," he said aloud. "She made believe to me that she had
dared greatly, and all the while she knew the brother that brought
her was waiting to take her back." He burst into laughter. "Oh,
these bourgeois! When I was broke, I was not fit to be seen with
his sister. When I have a bank account, he brings her to me."
As he swung on his heel to go on, a tramp, going in the same
direction, begged him over his shoulder.
"Say, mister, can you give me a quarter to get a bed?" were the
But it was the voice that made Martin turn around. The next
instant he had Joe by the hand.
"D'ye remember that time we parted at the Hot Springs?" the other
was saying. "I said then we'd meet again. I felt it in my bones.
An' here we are."
"You're looking good," Martin said admiringly, "and you've put on
"I sure have." Joe's face was beaming. "I never knew what it was
to live till I hit hoboin'. I'm thirty pounds heavier an' feel
tiptop all the time. Why, I was worked to skin an' bone in them
old days. Hoboin' sure agrees with me."
"But you're looking for a bed just the same," Martin chided, "and
it's a cold night."
"Huh? Lookin' for a bed?" Joe shot a hand into his hip pocket and
brought it out filled with small change. "That beats hard graft,"
he exulted. "You just looked good; that's why I battered you."
Martin laughed and gave in.
"You've several full-sized drunks right there," he insinuated.
Joe slid the money back into his pocket.
"Not in mine," he announced. "No gettin' oryide for me, though
there ain't nothin' to stop me except I don't want to. I've ben
drunk once since I seen you last, an' then it was unexpected, bein'
on an empty stomach. When I work like a beast, I drink like a
beast. When I live like a man, I drink like a man - a jolt now an'
again when I feel like it, an' that's all."
Martin arranged to meet him next day, and went on to the hotel. He
paused in the office to look up steamer sailings. The Mariposa
sailed for Tahiti in five days.
"Telephone over to-morrow and reserve a stateroom for me," he told
the clerk. "No deck-stateroom, but down below, on the weather-
side, - the port-side, remember that, the port-side. You'd better
write it down."
Once in his room he got into bed and slipped off to sleep as gently
as a child. The occurrences of the evening had made no impression
on him. His mind was dead to impressions. The glow of warmth with
which he met Joe had been most fleeting. The succeeding minute he
had been bothered by the ex-laundryman's presence and by the
compulsion of conversation. That in five more days he sailed for
his loved South Seas meant nothing to him. So he closed his eyes
and slept normally and comfortably for eight uninterrupted hours.
He was not restless. He did not change his position, nor did he
dream. Sleep had become to him oblivion, and each day that he
awoke, he awoke with regret. Life worried and bored him, and time
was a vexation.
"Say, Joe," was his greeting to his old-time working-mate next
morning, "there's a Frenchman out on Twenty-eighth Street. He's
made a pot of money, and he's going back to France. It's a dandy,
well-appointed, small steam laundry. There's a start for you if
you want to settle down. Here, take this; buy some clothes with it
and be at this man's office by ten o'clock. He looked up the
laundry for me, and he'll take you out and show you around. If you
like it, and think it is worth the price - twelve thousand - let me
know and it is yours. Now run along. I'm busy. I'll see you
"Now look here, Mart," the other said slowly, with kindling anger,
"I come here this mornin' to see you. Savve? I didn't come here
to get no laundry. I come a here for a talk for old friends' sake,
and you shove a laundry at me. I tell you, what you can do. You
can take that laundry an' go to hell."
He was out of the room when Martin caught him and whirled him
"Now look here, Joe," he said; "if you act that way, I'll punch
your head. An for old friends' sake I'll punch it hard. Savve? -
you will, will you?"
Joe had clinched and attempted to throw him, and he was twisting
and writhing out of the advantage of the other's hold. They reeled
about the room, locked in each other's arms, and came down with a
crash across the splintered wreckage of a wicker chair. Joe was
underneath, with arms spread out and held and with Martin's knee on
his chest. He was panting and gasping for breath when Martin
"Now we'll talk a moment," Martin said. "You can't get fresh with
me. I want that laundry business finished first of all. Then you
can come back and we'll talk for old sake's sake. I told you I was
busy. Look at that."
A servant had just come in with the morning mail, a great mass of
letters and magazines.
"How can I wade through that and talk with you? You go and fix up
that laundry, and then we'll get together."
"All right," Joe admitted reluctantly. "I thought you was turnin'
me down, but I guess I was mistaken. But you can't lick me, Mart,
in a stand-up fight. I've got the reach on you."
"We'll put on the gloves sometime and see," Martin said with a
"Sure; as soon as I get that laundry going." Joe extended his arm.
"You see that reach? It'll make you go a few."
Martin heaved a sigh of relief when the door closed behind the
laundryman. He was becoming anti-social. Daily he found it a
severer strain to be decent with people. Their presence perturbed
him, and the effort of conversation irritated him. They made him
restless, and no sooner was he in contact with them than he was
casting about for excuses to get rid of them.
He did not proceed to attack his mail, and for a half hour he
lolled in his chair, doing nothing, while no more than vague, half-
formed thoughts occasionally filtered through his intelligence, or
rather, at wide intervals, themselves constituted the flickering of
He roused himself and began glancing through his mail. There were
a dozen requests for autographs - he knew them at sight; there were
professional begging letters; and there were letters from cranks,
ranging from the man with a working model of perpetual motion, and
the man who demonstrated that the surface of the earth was the
inside of a hollow sphere, to the man seeking financial aid to
purchase the Peninsula of Lower California for the purpose of
communist colonization. There were letters from women seeking to
know him, and over one such he smiled, for enclosed was her receipt
for pew-rent, sent as evidence of her good faith and as proof of
Editors and publishers contributed to the daily heap of letters,
the former on their knees for his manuscripts, the latter on their
knees for his books - his poor disdained manuscripts that had kept
all he possessed in pawn for so many dreary months in order to find
them in postage. There were unexpected checks for English serial
rights and for advance payments on foreign translations. His
English agent announced the sale of German translation rights in
three of his books, and informed him that Swedish editions, from
which he could expect nothing because Sweden was not a party to the
Berne Convention, were already on the market. Then there was a
nominal request for his permission for a Russian translation, that
country being likewise outside the Berne Convention.
He turned to the huge bundle of clippings which had come in from
his press bureau, and read about himself and his vogue, which had
become a furore. All his creative output had been flung to the
public in one magnificent sweep. That seemed to account for it.
He had taken the public off its feet, the way Kipling had, that
time when he lay near to death and all the mob, animated by a mob-
mind thought, began suddenly to read him. Martin remembered how
that same world-mob, having read him and acclaimed him and not
understood him in the least, had, abruptly, a few months later,
flung itself upon him and torn him to pieces. Martin grinned at
the thought. Who was he that he should not be similarly treated in
a few more months? Well, he would fool the mob. He would be away,
in the South Seas, building his grass house, trading for pearls and
copra, jumping reefs in frail outriggers, catching sharks and
bonitas, hunting wild goats among the cliffs of the valley that lay
next to the valley of Taiohae.
In the moment of that thought the desperateness of his situation
dawned upon him. He saw, cleared eyed, that he was in the Valley
of the Shadow. All the life that was in him was fading, fainting,
making toward death.
He realized how much he slept, and how much he desired to sleep.
Of old, he had hated sleep. It had robbed him of precious moments
of living. Four hours of sleep in the twenty-four had meant being
robbed of four hours of life. How he had grudged sleep! Now it
was life he grudged. Life was not good; its taste in his mouth was
without tang, and bitter. This was his peril. Life that did not
yearn toward life was in fair way toward ceasing. Some remote
instinct for preservation stirred in him, and he knew he must get
away. He glanced about the room, and the thought of packing was
burdensome. Perhaps it would be better to leave that to the last.
In the meantime he might be getting an outfit.
He put on his hat and went out, stopping in at a gun-store, where
he spent the remainder of the morning buying automatic rifles,
ammunition, and fishing tackle. Fashions changed in trading, and
he knew he would have to wait till he reached Tahiti before
ordering his trade-goods. They could come up from Australia,
anyway. This solution was a source of pleasure. He had avoided
doing something, and the doing of anything just now was unpleasant.
He went back to the hotel gladly, with a feeling of satisfaction in
that the comfortable Morris chair was waiting for him; and he
groaned inwardly, on entering his room, at sight of Joe in the
Joe was delighted with the laundry. Everything was settled, and he
would enter into possession next day. Martin lay on the bed, with
closed eyes, while the other talked on. Martin's thoughts were far
away - so far away that he was rarely aware that he was thinking.
It was only by an effort that he occasionally responded. And yet
this was Joe, whom he had always liked. But Joe was too keen with
life. The boisterous impact of it on Martin's jaded mind was a
hurt. It was an aching probe to his tired sensitiveness. When Joe
reminded him that sometime in the future they were going to put on
the gloves together, he could almost have screamed.
"Remember, Joe, you're to run the laundry according to those old
rules you used to lay down at Shelly Hot Springs," he said. "No
overworking. No working at night. And no children at the mangles.
No children anywhere. And a fair wage."
Joe nodded and pulled out a note-book.
"Look at here. I was workin' out them rules before breakfast this
A.M. What d'ye think of them?"
He read them aloud, and Martin approved, worrying at the same time
as to when Joe would take himself off.
It was late afternoon when he awoke. Slowly the fact of life came
back to him. He glanced about the room. Joe had evidently stolen
away after he had dozed off. That was considerate of Joe, he
thought. Then he closed his eyes and slept again.
In the days that followed Joe was too busy organizing and taking
hold of the laundry to bother him much; and it was not until the
day before sailing that the newspapers made the announcement that
he had taken passage on the Mariposa. Once, when the instinct of
preservation fluttered, he went to a doctor and underwent a
searching physical examination. Nothing could be found the matter
with him. His heart and lungs were pronounced magnificent. Every
organ, so far as the doctor could know, was normal and was working
"There is nothing the matter with you, Mr. Eden," he said,
"positively nothing the matter with you. You are in the pink of
condition. Candidly, I envy you your health. It is superb. Look
at that chest. There, and in your stomach, lies the secret of your
remarkable constitution. Physically, you are a man in a thousand -
in ten thousand. Barring accidents, you should live to be a
And Martin knew that Lizzie's diagnosis had been correct.
Physically he was all right. It was his "think-machine" that had
gone wrong, and there was no cure for that except to get away to
the South Seas. The trouble was that now, on the verge of
departure, he had no desire to go. The South Seas charmed him no
more than did bourgeois civilization. There was no zest in the
thought of departure, while the act of departure appalled him as a
weariness of the flesh. He would have felt better if he were
already on board and gone.
The last day was a sore trial. Having read of his sailing in the
morning papers, Bernard Higginbotham, Gertrude, and all the family
came to say good-by, as did Hermann von Schmidt and Marian. Then
there was business to be transacted, bills to be paid, and
everlasting reporters to be endured. He said good-by to Lizzie
Connolly, abruptly, at the entrance to night school, and hurried
away. At the hotel he found Joe, too busy all day with the laundry
to have come to him earlier. It was the last straw, but Martin
gripped the arms of his chair and talked and listened for half an
"You know, Joe," he said, "that you are not tied down to that
laundry. There are no strings on it. You can sell it any time and
blow the money. Any time you get sick of it and want to hit the
road, just pull out. Do what will make you the happiest."
Joe shook his head.
"No more road in mine, thank you kindly. Hoboin's all right,
exceptin' for one thing - the girls. I can't help it, but I'm a
ladies' man. I can't get along without 'em, and you've got to get
along without 'em when you're hoboin'. The times I've passed by
houses where dances an' parties was goin' on, an' heard the women
laugh, an' saw their white dresses and smiling faces through the
windows - Gee! I tell you them moments was plain hell. I like
dancin' an' picnics, an' walking in the moonlight, an' all the rest
too well. Me for the laundry, and a good front, with big iron
dollars clinkin' in my jeans. I seen a girl already, just
yesterday, and, d'ye know, I'm feelin' already I'd just as soon
marry her as not. I've ben whistlin' all day at the thought of it.
She's a beaut, with the kindest eyes and softest voice you ever
heard. Me for her, you can stack on that. Say, why don't you get
married with all this money to burn? You could get the finest girl
in the land."
Martin shook his head with a smile, but in his secret heart he was
wondering why any man wanted to marry. It seemed an amazing and
From the deck of the Mariposa, at the sailing hour, he saw Lizzie
Connolly hiding in the skirts of the crowd on the wharf. Take her
with you, came the thought. It is easy to be kind. She will be
supremely happy. It was almost a temptation one moment, and the
succeeding moment it became a terror. He was in a panic at the
thought of it. His tired soul cried out in protest. He turned
away from the rail with a groan, muttering, "Man, you are too sick,
you are too sick."
He fled to his stateroom, where he lurked until the steamer was
clear of the dock. In the dining saloon, at luncheon, he found
himself in the place of honor, at the captain's right; and he was
not long in discovering that he was the great man on board. But no
more unsatisfactory great man ever sailed on a ship. He spent the
afternoon in a deck-chair, with closed eyes, dozing brokenly most
of the time, and in the evening went early to bed.
After the second day, recovered from seasickness, the full
passenger list was in evidence, and the more he saw of the
passengers the more he disliked them. Yet he knew that he did them
injustice. They were good and kindly people, he forced himself to
acknowledge, and in the moment of acknowledgment he qualified -
good and kindly like all the bourgeoisie, with all the
psychological cramp and intellectual futility of their kind, they
bored him when they talked with him, their little superficial minds
were so filled with emptiness; while the boisterous high spirits
and the excessive energy of the younger people shocked him. They
were never quiet, ceaselessly playing deck-quoits, tossing rings,
promenading, or rushing to the rail with loud cries to watch the
leaping porpoises and the first schools of flying fish.
He slept much. After breakfast he sought his deck-chair with a
magazine he never finished. The printed pages tired him. He
puzzled that men found so much to write about, and, puzzling, dozed
in his chair. When the gong awoke him for luncheon, he was
irritated that he must awaken. There was no satisfaction in being
Once, he tried to arouse himself from his lethargy, and went
forward into the forecastle with the sailors. But the breed of
sailors seemed to have changed since the days he had lived in the
forecastle. He could find no kinship with these stolid-faced, ox-
minded bestial creatures. He was in despair. Up above nobody had
wanted Martin Eden for his own sake, and he could not go back to
those of his own class who had wanted him in the past. He did not
want them. He could not stand them any more than he could stand
the stupid first-cabin passengers and the riotous young people.
Life was to him like strong, white light that hurts the tired eyes
of a sick person. During every conscious moment life blazed in a
raw glare around him and upon him. It hurt. It hurt intolerably.
It was the first time in his life that Martin had travelled first
class. On ships at sea he had always been in the forecastle, the
steerage, or in the black depths of the coal-hold, passing coal.
In those days, climbing up the iron ladders out the pit of stifling
heat, he had often caught glimpses of the passengers, in cool
white, doing nothing but enjoy themselves, under awnings spread to
keep the sun and wind away from them, with subservient stewards
taking care of their every want and whim, and it had seemed to him
that the realm in which they moved and had their being was nothing
else than paradise. Well, here he was, the great man on board, in
the midmost centre of it, sitting at the captain's right hand, and
yet vainly harking back to forecastle and stoke-hole in quest of
the Paradise he had lost. He had found no new one, and now he
could not find the old one.
He strove to stir himself and find something to interest him. He
ventured the petty officers' mess, and was glad to get away. He
talked with a quartermaster off duty, an intelligent man who
promptly prodded him with the socialist propaganda and forced into
his hands a bunch of leaflets and pamphlets. He listened to the
man expounding the slave-morality, and as he listened, he thought
languidly of his own Nietzsche philosophy. But what was it worth,
after all? He remembered one of Nietzsche's mad utterances wherein
that madman had doubted truth. And who was to say? Perhaps
Nietzsche had been right. Perhaps there was no truth in anything,
no truth in truth - no such thing as truth. But his mind wearied
quickly, and he was content to go back to his chair and doze.
Miserable as he was on the steamer, a new misery came upon him.
What when the steamer reached Tahiti? He would have to go ashore.
He would have to order his trade-goods, to find a passage on a
schooner to the Marquesas, to do a thousand and one things that
were awful to contemplate. Whenever he steeled himself
deliberately to think, he could see the desperate peril in which he
stood. In all truth, he was in the Valley of the Shadow, and his
danger lay in that he was not afraid. If he were only afraid, he
would make toward life. Being unafraid, he was drifting deeper
into the shadow. He found no delight in the old familiar things of
life. The Mariposa was now in the northeast trades, and this wine
of wind, surging against him, irritated him. He had his chair
moved to escape the embrace of this lusty comrade of old days and
The day the Mariposa entered the doldrums, Martin was more
miserable than ever. He could no longer sleep. He was soaked with
sleep, and perforce he must now stay awake and endure the white
glare of life. He moved about restlessly. The air was sticky and
humid, and the rain-squalls were unrefreshing. He ached with life.
He walked around the deck until that hurt too much, then sat in his
chair until he was compelled to walk again. He forced himself at
last to finish the magazine, and from the steamer library he culled
several volumes of poetry. But they could not hold him, and once
more he took to walking.
He stayed late on deck, after dinner, but that did not help him,
for when he went below, he could not sleep. This surcease from
life had failed him. It was too much. He turned on the electric
light and tried to read. One of the volumes was a Swinburne. He
lay in bed, glancing through its pages, until suddenly he became
aware that he was reading with interest. He finished the stanza,
attempted to read on, then came back to it. He rested the book
face downward on his breast and fell to thinking. That was it.
The very thing. Strange that it had never come to him before.
That was the meaning of it all; he had been drifting that way all
the time, and now Swinburne showed him that it was the happy way
out. He wanted rest, and here was rest awaiting him. He glanced
at the open port-hole. Yes, it was large enough. For the first
time in weeks he felt happy. At last he had discovered the cure of
his ill. He picked up the book and read the stanza slowly aloud:-
"'From too much love of living,
From hope and fear set free,
We thank with brief thanksgiving
Whatever gods may be
That no life lives forever;
That dead men rise up never;
That even the weariest river
Winds somewhere safe to sea.'"
He looked again at the open port. Swinburne had furnished the key.
Life was ill, or, rather, it had become ill - an unbearable thing.
"That dead men rise up never!" That line stirred him with a
profound feeling of gratitude. It was the one beneficent thing in
the universe. When life became an aching weariness, death was
ready to soothe away to everlasting sleep. But what was he waiting
for? It was time to go.
He arose and thrust his head out the port-hole, looking down into
the milky wash. The Mariposa was deeply loaded, and, hanging by
his hands, his feet would be in the water. He could slip in
noiselessly. No one would hear. A smother of spray dashed up,
wetting his face. It tasted salt on his lips, and the taste was
good. He wondered if he ought to write a swan-song, but laughed
the thought away. There was no time. He was too impatient to be
Turning off the light in his room so that it might not betray him,
he went out the port-hole feet first. His shoulders stuck, and he
forced himself back so as to try it with one arm down by his side.
A roll of the steamer aided him, and he was through, hanging by his
hands. When his feet touched the sea, he let go. He was in a
milky froth of water. The side of the Mariposa rushed past him
like a dark wall, broken here and there by lighted ports. She was
certainly making time. Almost before he knew it, he was astern,
swimming gently on the foam-crackling surface.
A bonita struck at his white body, and he laughed aloud. It had
taken a piece out, and the sting of it reminded him of why he was
there. In the work to do he had forgotten the purpose of it. The
lights of the Mariposa were growing dim in the distance, and there
he was, swimming confidently, as though it were his intention to
make for the nearest land a thousand miles or so away.
It was the automatic instinct to live. He ceased swimming, but the
moment he felt the water rising above his mouth the hands struck
out sharply with a lifting movement. The will to live, was his
thought, and the thought was accompanied by a sneer. Well, he had
will, - ay, will strong enough that with one last exertion it could
destroy itself and cease to be.
He changed his position to a vertical one. He glanced up at the
quiet stars, at the same time emptying his lungs of air. With
swift, vigorous propulsion of hands and feet, he lifted his
shoulders and half his chest out of water. This was to gain
impetus for the descent. Then he let himself go and sank without
movement, a white statue, into the sea. He breathed in the water
deeply, deliberately, after the manner of a man taking an
anaesthetic. When he strangled, quite involuntarily his arms and
legs clawed the water and drove him up to the surface and into the
clear sight of the stars.
The will to live, he thought disdainfully, vainly endeavoring not
to breathe the air into his bursting lungs. Well, he would have to
try a new way. He filled his lungs with air, filled them full.
This supply would take him far down. He turned over and went down
head first, swimming with all his strength and all his will.
Deeper and deeper he went. His eyes were open, and he watched the
ghostly, phosphorescent trails of the darting bonita. As he swam,
he hoped that they would not strike at him, for it might snap the
tension of his will. But they did not strike, and he found time to
be grateful for this last kindness of life.
Down, down, he swam till his arms and leg grew tired and hardly
moved. He knew that he was deep. The pressure on his ear-drums
was a pain, and there was a buzzing in his head. His endurance was
faltering, but he compelled his arms and legs to drive him deeper
until his will snapped and the air drove from his lungs in a great
explosive rush. The bubbles rubbed and bounded like tiny balloons
against his cheeks and eyes as they took their upward flight. Then
came pain and strangulation. This hurt was not death, was the
thought that oscillated through his reeling consciousness. Death
did not hurt. It was life, the pangs of life, this awful,
suffocating feeling; it was the last blow life could deal him.
His wilful hands and feet began to beat and churn about,
spasmodically and feebly. But he had fooled them and the will to
live that made them beat and churn. He was too deep down. They
could never bring him to the surface. He seemed floating languidly
in a sea of dreamy vision. Colors and radiances surrounded him and
bathed him and pervaded him. What was that? It seemed a
lighthouse; but it was inside his brain - a flashing, bright white
light. It flashed swifter and swifter. There was a long rumble of
sound, and it seemed to him that he was falling down a vast and
interminable stairway. And somewhere at the bottom he fell into
darkness. That much he knew. He had fallen into darkness. And at
the instant he knew, he ceased to know.
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