Part 2 out of 8
strange expressions. Then there was a black-eyed restaurant waiter
who was a theosophist, a union baker who was an agnostic, an old
man who baffled all of them with the strange philosophy that WHAT
IS IS RIGHT, and another old man who discoursed interminably about
the cosmos and the father-atom and the mother-atom.
Martin Eden's head was in a state of addlement when he went away
after several hours, and he hurried to the library to look up the
definitions of a dozen unusual words. And when he left the
library, he carried under his arm four volumes: Madam Blavatsky's
"Secret Doctrine," "Progress and Poverty," "The Quintessence of
Socialism," and, "Warfare of Religion and Science." Unfortunately,
he began on the "Secret Doctrine." Every line bristled with many-
syllabled words he did not understand. He sat up in bed, and the
dictionary was in front of him more often than the book. He looked
up so many new words that when they recurred, he had forgotten
their meaning and had to look them up again. He devised the plan
of writing the definitions in a note-book, and filled page after
page with them. And still he could not understand. He read until
three in the morning, and his brain was in a turmoil, but not one
essential thought in the text had he grasped. He looked up, and it
seemed that the room was lifting, heeling, and plunging like a ship
upon the sea. Then he hurled the "Secret Doctrine" and many curses
across the room, turned off the gas, and composed himself to sleep.
Nor did he have much better luck with the other three books. It
was not that his brain was weak or incapable; it could think these
thoughts were it not for lack of training in thinking and lack of
the thought-tools with which to think. He guessed this, and for a
while entertained the idea of reading nothing but the dictionary
until he had mastered every word in it.
Poetry, however, was his solace, and he read much of it, finding
his greatest joy in the simpler poets, who were more
understandable. He loved beauty, and there he found beauty.
Poetry, like music, stirred him profoundly, and, though he did not
know it, he was preparing his mind for the heavier work that was to
come. The pages of his mind were blank, and, without effort, much
he read and liked, stanza by stanza, was impressed upon those
pages, so that he was soon able to extract great joy from chanting
aloud or under his breath the music and the beauty of the printed
words he had read. Then he stumbled upon Gayley's "Classic Myths"
and Bulfinch's "Age of Fable," side by side on a library shelf. It
was illumination, a great light in the darkness of his ignorance,
and he read poetry more avidly than ever.
The man at the desk in the library had seen Martin there so often
that he had become quite cordial, always greeting him with a smile
and a nod when he entered. It was because of this that Martin did
a daring thing. Drawing out some books at the desk, and while the
man was stamping the cards, Martin blurted out:-
"Say, there's something I'd like to ask you."
The man smiled and paid attention.
"When you meet a young lady an' she asks you to call, how soon can
Martin felt his shirt press and cling to his shoulders, what of the
sweat of the effort.
"Why I'd say any time," the man answered.
"Yes, but this is different," Martin objected. "She - I - well,
you see, it's this way: maybe she won't be there. She goes to the
"Then call again."
"What I said ain't what I meant," Martin confessed falteringly,
while he made up his mind to throw himself wholly upon the other's
mercy. "I'm just a rough sort of a fellow, an' I ain't never seen
anything of society. This girl is all that I ain't, an' I ain't
anything that she is. You don't think I'm playin' the fool, do
you?" he demanded abruptly.
"No, no; not at all, I assure you," the other protested. "Your
request is not exactly in the scope of the reference department,
but I shall be only too pleased to assist you."
Martin looked at him admiringly.
"If I could tear it off that way, I'd be all right," he said.
"I beg pardon?"
"I mean if I could talk easy that way, an' polite, an' all the
"Oh," said the other, with comprehension.
"What is the best time to call? The afternoon? - not too close to
meal-time? Or the evening? Or Sunday?"
"I'll tell you," the librarian said with a brightening face. "You
call her up on the telephone and find out."
"I'll do it," he said, picking up his books and starting away.
He turned back and asked:-
"When you're speakin' to a young lady - say, for instance, Miss
Lizzie Smith - do you say 'Miss Lizzie'? or 'Miss Smith'?"
"Say 'Miss Smith,'" the librarian stated authoritatively. "Say
'Miss Smith' always - until you come to know her better."
So it was that Martin Eden solved the problem.
"Come down any time; I'll be at home all afternoon," was Ruth's
reply over the telephone to his stammered request as to when he
could return the borrowed books.
She met him at the door herself, and her woman's eyes took in
immediately the creased trousers and the certain slight but
indefinable change in him for the better. Also, she was struck by
his face. It was almost violent, this health of his, and it seemed
to rush out of him and at her in waves of force. She felt the urge
again of the desire to lean toward him for warmth, and marvelled
again at the effect his presence produced upon her. And he, in
turn, knew again the swimming sensation of bliss when he felt the
contact of her hand in greeting. The difference between them lay
in that she was cool and self-possessed while his face flushed to
the roots of the hair. He stumbled with his old awkwardness after
her, and his shoulders swung and lurched perilously.
Once they were seated in the living-room, he began to get on easily
- more easily by far than he had expected. She made it easy for
him; and the gracious spirit with which she did it made him love
her more madly than ever. They talked first of the borrowed books,
of the Swinburne he was devoted to, and of the Browning he did not
understand; and she led the conversation on from subject to
subject, while she pondered the problem of how she could be of help
to him. She had thought of this often since their first meeting.
She wanted to help him. He made a call upon her pity and
tenderness that no one had ever made before, and the pity was not
so much derogatory of him as maternal in her. Her pity could not
be of the common sort, when the man who drew it was so much man as
to shock her with maidenly fears and set her mind and pulse
thrilling with strange thoughts and feelings. The old fascination
of his neck was there, and there was sweetness in the thought of
laying her hands upon it. It seemed still a wanton impulse, but
she had grown more used to it. She did not dream that in such
guise new-born love would epitomize itself. Nor did she dream that
the feeling he excited in her was love. She thought she was merely
interested in him as an unusual type possessing various potential
excellencies, and she even felt philanthropic about it.
She did not know she desired him; but with him it was different.
He knew that he loved her, and he desired her as he had never
before desired anything in his life. He had loved poetry for
beauty's sake; but since he met her the gates to the vast field of
love-poetry had been opened wide. She had given him understanding
even more than Bulfinch and Gayley. There was a line that a week
before he would not have favored with a second thought - "God's own
mad lover dying on a kiss"; but now it was ever insistent in his
mind. He marvelled at the wonder of it and the truth; and as he
gazed upon her he knew that he could die gladly upon a kiss. He
felt himself God's own mad lover, and no accolade of knighthood
could have given him greater pride. And at last he knew the
meaning of life and why he had been born.
As he gazed at her and listened, his thoughts grew daring. He
reviewed all the wild delight of the pressure of her hand in his at
the door, and longed for it again. His gaze wandered often toward
her lips, and he yearned for them hungrily. But there was nothing
gross or earthly about this yearning. It gave him exquisite
delight to watch every movement and play of those lips as they
enunciated the words she spoke; yet they were not ordinary lips
such as all men and women had. Their substance was not mere human
clay. They were lips of pure spirit, and his desire for them
seemed absolutely different from the desire that had led him to
other women's lips. He could kiss her lips, rest his own physical
lips upon them, but it would be with the lofty and awful fervor
with which one would kiss the robe of God. He was not conscious of
this transvaluation of values that had taken place in him, and was
unaware that the light that shone in his eyes when he looked at her
was quite the same light that shines in all men's eyes when the
desire of love is upon them. He did not dream how ardent and
masculine his gaze was, nor that the warm flame of it was affecting
the alchemy of her spirit. Her penetrative virginity exalted and
disguised his own emotions, elevating his thoughts to a star-cool
chastity, and he would have been startled to learn that there was
that shining out of his eyes, like warm waves, that flowed through
her and kindled a kindred warmth. She was subtly perturbed by it,
and more than once, though she knew not why, it disrupted her train
of thought with its delicious intrusion and compelled her to grope
for the remainder of ideas partly uttered. Speech was always easy
with her, and these interruptions would have puzzled her had she
not decided that it was because he was a remarkable type. She was
very sensitive to impressions, and it was not strange, after all,
that this aura of a traveller from another world should so affect
The problem in the background of her consciousness was how to help
him, and she turned the conversation in that direction; but it was
Martin who came to the point first.
"I wonder if I can get some advice from you," he began, and
received an acquiescence of willingness that made his heart bound.
"You remember the other time I was here I said I couldn't talk
about books an' things because I didn't know how? Well, I've ben
doin' a lot of thinkin' ever since. I've ben to the library a
whole lot, but most of the books I've tackled have ben over my
head. Mebbe I'd better begin at the beginnin'. I ain't never had
no advantages. I've worked pretty hard ever since I was a kid, an'
since I've ben to the library, lookin' with new eyes at books - an'
lookin' at new books, too - I've just about concluded that I ain't
ben reading the right kind. You know the books you find in cattle-
camps an' fo'c's'ls ain't the same you've got in this house, for
instance. Well, that's the sort of readin' matter I've ben
accustomed to. And yet - an' I ain't just makin' a brag of it -
I've ben different from the people I've herded with. Not that I'm
any better than the sailors an' cow-punchers I travelled with, - I
was cow-punchin' for a short time, you know, - but I always liked
books, read everything I could lay hands on, an' - well, I guess I
think differently from most of 'em.
"Now, to come to what I'm drivin' at. I was never inside a house
like this. When I come a week ago, an' saw all this, an' you, an'
your mother, an' brothers, an' everything - well, I liked it. I'd
heard about such things an' read about such things in some of the
books, an' when I looked around at your house, why, the books come
true. But the thing I'm after is I liked it. I wanted it. I want
it now. I want to breathe air like you get in this house - air
that is filled with books, and pictures, and beautiful things,
where people talk in low voices an' are clean, an' their thoughts
are clean. The air I always breathed was mixed up with grub an'
house-rent an' scrappin' an booze an' that's all they talked about,
too. Why, when you was crossin' the room to kiss your mother, I
thought it was the most beautiful thing I ever seen. I've seen a
whole lot of life, an' somehow I've seen a whole lot more of it
than most of them that was with me. I like to see, an' I want to
see more, an' I want to see it different.
"But I ain't got to the point yet. Here it is. I want to make my
way to the kind of life you have in this house. There's more in
life than booze, an' hard work, an' knockin' about. Now, how am I
goin' to get it? Where do I take hold an' begin? I'm willin' to
work my passage, you know, an' I can make most men sick when it
comes to hard work. Once I get started, I'll work night an' day.
Mebbe you think it's funny, me askin' you about all this. I know
you're the last person in the world I ought to ask, but I don't
know anybody else I could ask - unless it's Arthur. Mebbe I ought
to ask him. If I was - "
His voice died away. His firmly planned intention had come to a
halt on the verge of the horrible probability that he should have
asked Arthur and that he had made a fool of himself. Ruth did not
speak immediately. She was too absorbed in striving to reconcile
the stumbling, uncouth speech and its simplicity of thought with
what she saw in his face. She had never looked in eyes that
expressed greater power. Here was a man who could do anything, was
the message she read there, and it accorded ill with the weakness
of his spoken thought. And for that matter so complex and quick
was her own mind that she did not have a just appreciation of
simplicity. And yet she had caught an impression of power in the
very groping of this mind. It had seemed to her like a giant
writhing and straining at the bonds that held him down. Her face
was all sympathy when she did speak.
"What you need, you realize yourself, and it is education. You
should go back and finish grammar school, and then go through to
high school and university."
"But that takes money," he interrupted.
"Oh!" she cried. "I had not thought of that. But then you have
relatives, somebody who could assist you?"
He shook his head.
"My father and mother are dead. I've two sisters, one married, an'
the other'll get married soon, I suppose. Then I've a string of
brothers, - I'm the youngest, - but they never helped nobody.
They've just knocked around over the world, lookin' out for number
one. The oldest died in India. Two are in South Africa now, an'
another's on a whaling voyage, an' one's travellin' with a circus -
he does trapeze work. An' I guess I'm just like them. I've taken
care of myself since I was eleven - that's when my mother died.
I've got to study by myself, I guess, an' what I want to know is
where to begin."
"I should say the first thing of all would be to get a grammar.
Your grammar is - " She had intended saying "awful," but she
amended it to "is not particularly good."
He flushed and sweated.
"I know I must talk a lot of slang an' words you don't understand.
But then they're the only words I know - how to speak. I've got
other words in my mind, picked 'em up from books, but I can't
pronounce 'em, so I don't use 'em."
"It isn't what you say, so much as how you say it. You don't mind
my being frank, do you? I don't want to hurt you."
"No, no," he cried, while he secretly blessed her for her kindness.
"Fire away. I've got to know, an' I'd sooner know from you than
"Well, then, you say, 'You was'; it should be, 'You were.' You say
'I seen' for 'I saw.' You use the double negative - "
"What's the double negative?" he demanded; then added humbly, "You
see, I don't even understand your explanations."
"I'm afraid I didn't explain that," she smiled. "A double negative
is - let me see - well, you say, 'never helped nobody.' 'Never' is
a negative. 'Nobody' is another negative. It is a rule that two
negatives make a positive. 'Never helped nobody' means that, not
helping nobody, they must have helped somebody."
"That's pretty clear," he said. "I never thought of it before.
But it don't mean they MUST have helped somebody, does it? Seems
to me that 'never helped nobody' just naturally fails to say
whether or not they helped somebody. I never thought of it before,
and I'll never say it again."
She was pleased and surprised with the quickness and surety of his
mind. As soon as he had got the clew he not only understood but
corrected her error.
"You'll find it all in the grammar," she went on. "There's
something else I noticed in your speech. You say 'don't' when you
shouldn't. 'Don't' is a contraction and stands for two words. Do
you know them?"
He thought a moment, then answered, "'Do not.'"
She nodded her head, and said, "And you use 'don't' when you mean
He was puzzled over this, and did not get it so quickly.
"Give me an illustration," he asked.
"Well - " She puckered her brows and pursed up her mouth as she
thought, while he looked on and decided that her expression was
most adorable. "'It don't do to be hasty.' Change 'don't' to 'do
not,' and it reads, 'It do not do to be hasty,' which is perfectly
He turned it over in his mind and considered.
"Doesn't it jar on your ear?" she suggested.
"Can't say that it does," he replied judicially.
"Why didn't you say, 'Can't say that it do'?" she queried.
"That sounds wrong," he said slowly. "As for the other I can't
make up my mind. I guess my ear ain't had the trainin' yours has."
"There is no such word as 'ain't,'" she said, prettily emphatic.
Martin flushed again.
"And you say 'ben' for 'been,'" she continued; "'come' for 'came';
and the way you chop your endings is something dreadful."
"How do you mean?" He leaned forward, feeling that he ought to get
down on his knees before so marvellous a mind. "How do I chop?"
"You don't complete the endings. 'A-n-d' spells 'and.' You
pronounce it 'an'.' 'I-n-g' spells 'ing.' Sometimes you pronounce
it 'ing' and sometimes you leave off the 'g.' And then you slur by
dropping initial letters and diphthongs. 'T-h-e-m' spells 'them.'
You pronounce it - oh, well, it is not necessary to go over all of
them. What you need is the grammar. I'll get one and show you how
As she arose, there shot through his mind something that he had
read in the etiquette books, and he stood up awkwardly, worrying as
to whether he was doing the right thing, and fearing that she might
take it as a sign that he was about to go.
"By the way, Mr. Eden," she called back, as she was leaving the
room. "What is BOOZE? You used it several times, you know."
"Oh, booze," he laughed. "It's slang. It means whiskey an' beer -
anything that will make you drunk."
"And another thing," she laughed back. "Don't use 'you' when you
are impersonal. 'You' is very personal, and your use of it just
now was not precisely what you meant."
"I don't just see that."
"Why, you said just now, to me, 'whiskey and beer - anything that
will make you drunk' - make me drunk, don't you see?"
"Well, it would, wouldn't it?"
"Yes, of course," she smiled. "But it would be nicer not to bring
me into it. Substitute 'one' for 'you' and see how much better it
When she returned with the grammar, she drew a chair near his - he
wondered if he should have helped her with the chair - and sat down
beside him. She turned the pages of the grammar, and their heads
were inclined toward each other. He could hardly follow her
outlining of the work he must do, so amazed was he by her
delightful propinquity. But when she began to lay down the
importance of conjugation, he forgot all about her. He had never
heard of conjugation, and was fascinated by the glimpse he was
catching into the tie-ribs of language. He leaned closer to the
page, and her hair touched his cheek. He had fainted but once in
his life, and he thought he was going to faint again. He could
scarcely breathe, and his heart was pounding the blood up into his
throat and suffocating him. Never had she seemed so accessible as
now. For the moment the great gulf that separated them was
bridged. But there was no diminution in the loftiness of his
feeling for her. She had not descended to him. It was he who had
been caught up into the clouds and carried to her. His reverence
for her, in that moment, was of the same order as religious awe and
fervor. It seemed to him that he had intruded upon the holy of
holies, and slowly and carefully he moved his head aside from the
contact which thrilled him like an electric shock and of which she
had not been aware.
Several weeks went by, during which Martin Eden studied his
grammar, reviewed the books on etiquette, and read voraciously the
books that caught his fancy. Of his own class he saw nothing. The
girls of the Lotus Club wondered what had become of him and worried
Jim with questions, and some of the fellows who put on the glove at
Riley's were glad that Martin came no more. He made another
discovery of treasure-trove in the library. As the grammar had
shown him the tie-ribs of language, so that book showed him the
tie-ribs of poetry, and he began to learn metre and construction
and form, beneath the beauty he loved finding the why and wherefore
of that beauty. Another modern book he found treated poetry as a
representative art, treated it exhaustively, with copious
illustrations from the best in literature. Never had he read
fiction with so keen zest as he studied these books. And his fresh
mind, untaxed for twenty years and impelled by maturity of desire,
gripped hold of what he read with a virility unusual to the student
When he looked back now from his vantage-ground, the old world he
had known, the world of land and sea and ships, of sailor-men and
harpy-women, seemed a very small world; and yet it blended in with
this new world and expanded. His mind made for unity, and he was
surprised when at first he began to see points of contact between
the two worlds. And he was ennobled, as well, by the loftiness of
thought and beauty he found in the books. This led him to believe
more firmly than ever that up above him, in society like Ruth and
her family, all men and women thought these thoughts and lived
them. Down below where he lived was the ignoble, and he wanted to
purge himself of the ignoble that had soiled all his days, and to
rise to that sublimated realm where dwelt the upper classes. All
his childhood and youth had been troubled by a vague unrest; he had
never known what he wanted, but he had wanted something that he had
hunted vainly for until he met Ruth. And now his unrest had become
sharp and painful, and he knew at last, clearly and definitely,
that it was beauty, and intellect, and love that he must have.
During those several weeks he saw Ruth half a dozen times, and each
time was an added inspiration. She helped him with his English,
corrected his pronunciation, and started him on arithmetic. But
their intercourse was not all devoted to elementary study. He had
seen too much of life, and his mind was too matured, to be wholly
content with fractions, cube root, parsing, and analysis; and there
were times when their conversation turned on other themes - the
last poetry he had read, the latest poet she had studied. And when
she read aloud to him her favorite passages, he ascended to the
topmost heaven of delight. Never, in all the women he had heard
speak, had he heard a voice like hers. The least sound of it was a
stimulus to his love, and he thrilled and throbbed with every word
she uttered. It was the quality of it, the repose, and the musical
modulation - the soft, rich, indefinable product of culture and a
gentle soul. As he listened to her, there rang in the ears of his
memory the harsh cries of barbarian women and of hags, and, in
lesser degrees of harshness, the strident voices of working women
and of the girls of his own class. Then the chemistry of vision
would begin to work, and they would troop in review across his
mind, each, by contrast, multiplying Ruth's glories. Then, too,
his bliss was heightened by the knowledge that her mind was
comprehending what she read and was quivering with appreciation of
the beauty of the written thought. She read to him much from "The
Princess," and often he saw her eyes swimming with tears, so finely
was her aesthetic nature strung. At such moments her own emotions
elevated him till he was as a god, and, as he gazed at her and
listened, he seemed gazing on the face of life and reading its
deepest secrets. And then, becoming aware of the heights of
exquisite sensibility he attained, he decided that this was love
and that love was the greatest thing in the world. And in review
would pass along the corridors of memory all previous thrills and
burnings he had known, - the drunkenness of wine, the caresses of
women, the rough play and give and take of physical contests, - and
they seemed trivial and mean compared with this sublime ardor he
The situation was obscured to Ruth. She had never had any
experiences of the heart. Her only experiences in such matters
were of the books, where the facts of ordinary day were translated
by fancy into a fairy realm of unreality; and she little knew that
this rough sailor was creeping into her heart and storing there
pent forces that would some day burst forth and surge through her
in waves of fire. She did not know the actual fire of love. Her
knowledge of love was purely theoretical, and she conceived of it
as lambent flame, gentle as the fall of dew or the ripple of quiet
water, and cool as the velvet-dark of summer nights. Her idea of
love was more that of placid affection, serving the loved one
softly in an atmosphere, flower-scented and dim-lighted, of
ethereal calm. She did not dream of the volcanic convulsions of
love, its scorching heat and sterile wastes of parched ashes. She
knew neither her own potencies, nor the potencies of the world; and
the deeps of life were to her seas of illusion. The conjugal
affection of her father and mother constituted her ideal of love-
affinity, and she looked forward some day to emerging, without
shock or friction, into that same quiet sweetness of existence with
a loved one.
So it was that she looked upon Martin Eden as a novelty, a strange
individual, and she identified with novelty and strangeness the
effects he produced upon her. It was only natural. In similar
ways she had experienced unusual feelings when she looked at wild
animals in the menagerie, or when she witnessed a storm of wind, or
shuddered at the bright-ribbed lightning. There was something
cosmic in such things, and there was something cosmic in him. He
came to her breathing of large airs and great spaces. The blaze of
tropic suns was in his face, and in his swelling, resilient muscles
was the primordial vigor of life. He was marred and scarred by
that mysterious world of rough men and rougher deeds, the outposts
of which began beyond her horizon. He was untamed, wild, and in
secret ways her vanity was touched by the fact that he came so
mildly to her hand. Likewise she was stirred by the common impulse
to tame the wild thing. It was an unconscious impulse, and
farthest from her thoughts that her desire was to re-thumb the clay
of him into a likeness of her father's image, which image she
believed to be the finest in the world. Nor was there any way, out
of her inexperience, for her to know that the cosmic feel she
caught of him was that most cosmic of things, love, which with
equal power drew men and women together across the world, compelled
stags to kill each other in the rutting season, and drove even the
elements irresistibly to unite.
His swift development was a source of surprise and interest. She
detected unguessed finenesses in him that seemed to bud, day by
day, like flowers in congenial soil. She read Browning aloud to
him, and was often puzzled by the strange interpretations he gave
to mooted passages. It was beyond her to realize that, out of his
experience of men and women and life, his interpretations were far
more frequently correct than hers. His conceptions seemed naive to
her, though she was often fired by his daring flights of
comprehension, whose orbit-path was so wide among the stars that
she could not follow and could only sit and thrill to the impact of
unguessed power. Then she played to him - no longer at him - and
probed him with music that sank to depths beyond her plumb-line.
His nature opened to music as a flower to the sun, and the
transition was quick from his working-class rag-time and jingles to
her classical display pieces that she knew nearly by heart. Yet he
betrayed a democratic fondness for Wagner, and the "Tannhauser"
overture, when she had given him the clew to it, claimed him as
nothing else she played. In an immediate way it personified his
life. All his past was the VENUSBURG motif, while her he
identified somehow with the PILGRIM'S CHORUS motif; and from the
exalted state this elevated him to, he swept onward and upward into
that vast shadow-realm of spirit-groping, where good and evil war
Sometimes he questioned, and induced in her mind temporary doubts
as to the correctness of her own definitions and conceptions of
music. But her singing he did not question. It was too wholly
her, and he sat always amazed at the divine melody of her pure
soprano voice. And he could not help but contrast it with the weak
pipings and shrill quaverings of factory girls, ill-nourished and
untrained, and with the raucous shriekings from gin-cracked throats
of the women of the seaport towns. She enjoyed singing and playing
to him. In truth, it was the first time she had ever had a human
soul to play with, and the plastic clay of him was a delight to
mould; for she thought she was moulding it, and her intentions were
good. Besides, it was pleasant to be with him. He did not repel
her. That first repulsion had been really a fear of her
undiscovered self, and the fear had gone to sleep. Though she did
not know it, she had a feeling in him of proprietary right. Also,
he had a tonic effect upon her. She was studying hard at the
university, and it seemed to strengthen her to emerge from the
dusty books and have the fresh sea-breeze of his personality blow
upon her. Strength! Strength was what she needed, and he gave it
to her in generous measure. To come into the same room with him,
or to meet him at the door, was to take heart of life. And when he
had gone, she would return to her books with a keener zest and
fresh store of energy.
She knew her Browning, but it had never sunk into her that it was
an awkward thing to play with souls. As her interest in Martin
increased, the remodelling of his life became a passion with her.
"There is Mr. Butler," she said one afternoon, when grammar and
arithmetic and poetry had been put aside.
"He had comparatively no advantages at first. His father had been
a bank cashier, but he lingered for years, dying of consumption in
Arizona, so that when he was dead, Mr. Butler, Charles Butler he
was called, found himself alone in the world. His father had come
from Australia, you know, and so he had no relatives in California.
He went to work in a printing-office, - I have heard him tell of it
many times, - and he got three dollars a week, at first. His
income to-day is at least thirty thousand a year. How did he do
it? He was honest, and faithful, and industrious, and economical.
He denied himself the enjoyments that most boys indulge in. He
made it a point to save so much every week, no matter what he had
to do without in order to save it. Of course, he was soon earning
more than three dollars a week, and as his wages increased he saved
more and more.
"He worked in the daytime, and at night he went to night school.
He had his eyes fixed always on the future. Later on he went to
night high school. When he was only seventeen, he was earning
excellent wages at setting type, but he was ambitious. He wanted a
career, not a livelihood, and he was content to make immediate
sacrifices for his ultimate again. He decided upon the law, and he
entered father's office as an office boy - think of that! - and got
only four dollars a week. But he had learned how to be economical,
and out of that four dollars he went on saving money."
She paused for breath, and to note how Martin was receiving it.
His face was lighted up with interest in the youthful struggles of
Mr. Butler; but there was a frown upon his face as well.
"I'd say they was pretty hard lines for a young fellow," he
remarked. "Four dollars a week! How could he live on it? You can
bet he didn't have any frills. Why, I pay five dollars a week for
board now, an' there's nothin' excitin' about it, you can lay to
that. He must have lived like a dog. The food he ate - "
"He cooked for himself," she interrupted, "on a little kerosene
"The food he ate must have been worse than what a sailor gets on
the worst-feedin' deep-water ships, than which there ain't much
that can be possibly worse."
"But think of him now!" she cried enthusiastically. "Think of what
his income affords him. His early denials are paid for a thousand-
Martin looked at her sharply.
"There's one thing I'll bet you," he said, "and it is that Mr.
Butler is nothin' gay-hearted now in his fat days. He fed himself
like that for years an' years, on a boy's stomach, an' I bet his
stomach's none too good now for it."
Her eyes dropped before his searching gaze.
"I'll bet he's got dyspepsia right now!" Martin challenged.
"Yes, he has," she confessed; "but - "
"An' I bet," Martin dashed on, "that he's solemn an' serious as an
old owl, an' doesn't care a rap for a good time, for all his thirty
thousand a year. An' I'll bet he's not particularly joyful at
seein' others have a good time. Ain't I right?"
She nodded her head in agreement, and hastened to explain:-
"But he is not that type of man. By nature he is sober and
serious. He always was that."
"You can bet he was," Martin proclaimed. "Three dollars a week,
an' four dollars a week, an' a young boy cookin' for himself on an
oil-burner an' layin' up money, workin' all day an' studyin' all
night, just workin' an' never playin', never havin' a good time,
an' never learnin' how to have a good time - of course his thirty
thousand came along too late."
His sympathetic imagination was flashing upon his inner sight all
the thousands of details of the boy's existence and of his narrow
spiritual development into a thirty-thousand-dollar-a-year man.
With the swiftness and wide-reaching of multitudinous thought
Charles Butler's whole life was telescoped upon his vision.
"Do you know," he added, "I feel sorry for Mr. Butler. He was too
young to know better, but he robbed himself of life for the sake of
thirty thousand a year that's clean wasted upon him. Why, thirty
thousand, lump sum, wouldn't buy for him right now what ten cents
he was layin' up would have bought him, when he was a kid, in the
way of candy an' peanuts or a seat in nigger heaven."
It was just such uniqueness of points of view that startled Ruth.
Not only were they new to her, and contrary to her own beliefs, but
she always felt in them germs of truth that threatened to unseat or
modify her own convictions. Had she been fourteen instead of
twenty-four, she might have been changed by them; but she was
twenty-four, conservative by nature and upbringing, and already
crystallized into the cranny of life where she had been born and
formed. It was true, his bizarre judgments troubled her in the
moments they were uttered, but she ascribed them to his novelty of
type and strangeness of living, and they were soon forgotten.
Nevertheless, while she disapproved of them, the strength of their
utterance, and the flashing of eyes and earnestness of face that
accompanied them, always thrilled her and drew her toward him. She
would never have guessed that this man who had come from beyond her
horizon, was, in such moments, flashing on beyond her horizon with
wider and deeper concepts. Her own limits were the limits of her
horizon; but limited minds can recognize limitations only in
others. And so she felt that her outlook was very wide indeed, and
that where his conflicted with hers marked his limitations; and she
dreamed of helping him to see as she saw, of widening his horizon
until it was identified with hers.
"But I have not finished my story," she said. "He worked, so
father says, as no other office boy he ever had. Mr. Butler was
always eager to work. He never was late, and he was usually at the
office a few minutes before his regular time. And yet he saved his
time. Every spare moment was devoted to study. He studied book-
keeping and type-writing, and he paid for lessons in shorthand by
dictating at night to a court reporter who needed practice. He
quickly became a clerk, and he made himself invaluable. Father
appreciated him and saw that he was bound to rise. It was on
father's suggestion that he went to law college. He became a
lawyer, and hardly was he back in the office when father took him
in as junior partner. He is a great man. He refused the United
States Senate several times, and father says he could become a
justice of the Supreme Court any time a vacancy occurs, if he wants
to. Such a life is an inspiration to all of us. It shows us that
a man with will may rise superior to his environment."
"He is a great man," Martin said sincerely.
But it seemed to him there was something in the recital that jarred
upon his sense of beauty and life. He could not find an adequate
motive in Mr. Butler's life of pinching and privation. Had he done
it for love of a woman, or for attainment of beauty, Martin would
have understood. God's own mad lover should do anything for the
kiss, but not for thirty thousand dollars a year. He was
dissatisfied with Mr. Butler's career. There was something paltry
about it, after all. Thirty thousand a year was all right, but
dyspepsia and inability to be humanly happy robbed such princely
income of all its value.
Much of this he strove to express to Ruth, and shocked her and made
it clear that more remodelling was necessary. Hers was that common
insularity of mind that makes human creatures believe that their
color, creed, and politics are best and right and that other human
creatures scattered over the world are less fortunately placed than
they. It was the same insularity of mind that made the ancient Jew
thank God he was not born a woman, and sent the modern missionary
god-substituting to the ends of the earth; and it made Ruth desire
to shape this man from other crannies of life into the likeness of
the men who lived in her particular cranny of life.
Back from sea Martin Eden came, homing for California with a
lover's desire. His store of money exhausted, he had shipped
before the mast on the treasure-hunting schooner; and the Solomon
Islands, after eight months of failure to find treasure, had
witnessed the breaking up of the expedition. The men had been paid
off in Australia, and Martin had immediately shipped on a deep-
water vessel for San Francisco. Not alone had those eight months
earned him enough money to stay on land for many weeks, but they
had enabled him to do a great deal of studying and reading.
His was the student's mind, and behind his ability to learn was the
indomitability of his nature and his love for Ruth. The grammar he
had taken along he went through again and again until his unjaded
brain had mastered it. He noticed the bad grammar used by his
shipmates, and made a point of mentally correcting and
reconstructing their crudities of speech. To his great joy he
discovered that his ear was becoming sensitive and that he was
developing grammatical nerves. A double negative jarred him like a
discord, and often, from lack of practice, it was from his own lips
that the jar came. His tongue refused to learn new tricks in a
After he had been through the grammar repeatedly, he took up the
dictionary and added twenty words a day to his vocabulary. He
found that this was no light task, and at wheel or lookout he
steadily went over and over his lengthening list of pronunciations
and definitions, while he invariably memorized himself to sleep.
"Never did anything," "if I were," and "those things," were
phrases, with many variations, that he repeated under his breath in
order to accustom his tongue to the language spoken by Ruth. "And"
and "ing," with the "d" and "g" pronounced emphatically, he went
over thousands of times; and to his surprise he noticed that he was
beginning to speak cleaner and more correct English than the
officers themselves and the gentleman-adventurers in the cabin who
had financed the expedition.
The captain was a fishy-eyed Norwegian who somehow had fallen into
possession of a complete Shakespeare, which he never read, and
Martin had washed his clothes for him and in return been permitted
access to the precious volumes. For a time, so steeped was he in
the plays and in the many favorite passages that impressed
themselves almost without effort on his brain, that all the world
seemed to shape itself into forms of Elizabethan tragedy or comedy
and his very thoughts were in blank verse. It trained his ear and
gave him a fine appreciation for noble English; withal it
introduced into his mind much that was archaic and obsolete.
The eight months had been well spent, and, in addition to what he
had learned of right speaking and high thinking, he had learned
much of himself. Along with his humbleness because he knew so
little, there arose a conviction of power. He felt a sharp
gradation between himself and his shipmates, and was wise enough to
realize that the difference lay in potentiality rather than
achievement. What he could do, - they could do; but within him he
felt a confused ferment working that told him there was more in him
than he had done. He was tortured by the exquisite beauty of the
world, and wished that Ruth were there to share it with him. He
decided that he would describe to her many of the bits of South Sea
beauty. The creative spirit in him flamed up at the thought and
urged that he recreate this beauty for a wider audience than Ruth.
And then, in splendor and glory, came the great idea. He would
write. He would be one of the eyes through which the world saw,
one of the ears through which it heard, one of the hearts through
which it felt. He would write - everything - poetry and prose,
fiction and description, and plays like Shakespeare. There was
career and the way to win to Ruth. The men of literature were the
world's giants, and he conceived them to be far finer than the Mr.
Butlers who earned thirty thousand a year and could be Supreme
Court justices if they wanted to.
Once the idea had germinated, it mastered him, and the return
voyage to San Francisco was like a dream. He was drunken with
unguessed power and felt that he could do anything. In the midst
of the great and lonely sea he gained perspective. Clearly, and
for the first lime, he saw Ruth and her world. It was all
visualized in his mind as a concrete thing which he could take up
in his two hands and turn around and about and examine. There was
much that was dim and nebulous in that world, but he saw it as a
whole and not in detail, and he saw, also, the way to master it.
To write! The thought was fire in him. He would begin as soon as
he got back. The first thing he would do would be to describe the
voyage of the treasure-hunters. He would sell it to some San
Francisco newspaper. He would not tell Ruth anything about it, and
she would be surprised and pleased when she saw his name in print.
While he wrote, he could go on studying. There were twenty-four
hours in each day. He was invincible. He knew how to work, and
the citadels would go down before him. He would not have to go to
sea again - as a sailor; and for the instant he caught a vision of
a steam yacht. There were other writers who possessed steam
yachts. Of course, he cautioned himself, it would be slow
succeeding at first, and for a time he would be content to earn
enough money by his writing to enable him to go on studying. And
then, after some time, - a very indeterminate time, - when he had
learned and prepared himself, he would write the great things and
his name would be on all men's lips. But greater than that,
infinitely greater and greatest of all, he would have proved
himself worthy of Ruth. Fame was all very well, but it was for
Ruth that his splendid dream arose. He was not a fame-monger, but
merely one of God's mad lovers.
Arrived in Oakland, with his snug pay-day in his pocket, he took up
his old room at Bernard Higginbotham's and set to work. He did not
even let Ruth know he was back. He would go and see her when he
finished the article on the treasure-hunters. It was not so
difficult to abstain from seeing her, because of the violent heat
of creative fever that burned in him. Besides, the very article he
was writing would bring her nearer to him. He did not know how
long an article he should write, but he counted the words in a
double-page article in the Sunday supplement of the SAN FRANCISCO
EXAMINER, and guided himself by that. Three days, at white heat,
completed his narrative; but when he had copied it carefully, in a
large scrawl that was easy to read, he learned from a rhetoric he
picked up in the library that there were such things as paragraphs
and quotation marks. He had never thought of such things before;
and he promptly set to work writing the article over, referring
continually to the pages of the rhetoric and learning more in a day
about composition than the average schoolboy in a year. When he
had copied the article a second time and rolled it up carefully, he
read in a newspaper an item on hints to beginners, and discovered
the iron law that manuscripts should never be rolled and that they
should be written on one side of the paper. He had violated the
law on both counts. Also, he learned from the item that first-
class papers paid a minimum of ten dollars a column. So, while he
copied the manuscript a third time, he consoled himself by
multiplying ten columns by ten dollars. The product was always the
same, one hundred dollars, and he decided that that was better than
seafaring. If it hadn't been for his blunders, he would have
finished the article in three days. One hundred dollars in three
days! It would have taken him three months and longer on the sea
to earn a similar amount. A man was a fool to go to sea when he
could write, he concluded, though the money in itself meant nothing
to him. Its value was in the liberty it would get him, the
presentable garments it would buy him, all of which would bring him
nearer, swiftly nearer, to the slender, pale girl who had turned
his life back upon itself and given him inspiration.
He mailed the manuscript in a flat envelope, and addressed it to
the editor of the SAN FRANCISCO EXAMINER. He had an idea that
anything accepted by a paper was published immediately, and as he
had sent the manuscript in on Friday he expected it to come out on
the following Sunday. He conceived that it would be fine to let
that event apprise Ruth of his return. Then, Sunday afternoon, he
would call and see her. In the meantime he was occupied by another
idea, which he prided himself upon as being a particularly sane,
careful, and modest idea. He would write an adventure story for
boys and sell it to THE YOUTH'S COMPANION. He went to the free
reading-room and looked through the files of THE YOUTH'S COMPANION.
Serial stories, he found, were usually published in that weekly in
five instalments of about three thousand words each. He discovered
several serials that ran to seven instalments, and decided to write
one of that length.
He had been on a whaling voyage in the Arctic, once - a voyage that
was to have been for three years and which had terminated in
shipwreck at the end of six months. While his imagination was
fanciful, even fantastic at times, he had a basic love of reality
that compelled him to write about the things he knew. He knew
whaling, and out of the real materials of his knowledge he
proceeded to manufacture the fictitious adventures of the two boys
he intended to use as joint heroes. It was easy work, he decided
on Saturday evening. He had completed on that day the first
instalment of three thousand words - much to the amusement of Jim,
and to the open derision of Mr. Higginbotham, who sneered
throughout meal-time at the "litery" person they had discovered in
Martin contented himself by picturing his brother-in-law's surprise
on Sunday morning when he opened his EXAMINER and saw the article
on the treasure-hunters. Early that morning he was out himself to
the front door, nervously racing through the many-sheeted
newspaper. He went through it a second time, very carefully, then
folded it up and left it where he had found it. He was glad he had
not told any one about his article. On second thought he concluded
that he had been wrong about the speed with which things found
their way into newspaper columns. Besides, there had not been any
news value in his article, and most likely the editor would write
to him about it first.
After breakfast he went on with his serial. The words flowed from
his pen, though he broke off from the writing frequently to look up
definitions in the dictionary or to refer to the rhetoric. He
often read or re-read a chapter at a time, during such pauses; and
he consoled himself that while he was not writing the great things
he felt to be in him, he was learning composition, at any rate, and
training himself to shape up and express his thoughts. He toiled
on till dark, when he went out to the reading-room and explored
magazines and weeklies until the place closed at ten o'clock. This
was his programme for a week. Each day he did three thousand
words, and each evening he puzzled his way through the magazines,
taking note of the stories, articles, and poems that editors saw
fit to publish. One thing was certain: What these multitudinous
writers did he could do, and only give him time and he would do
what they could not do. He was cheered to read in BOOK NEWS, in a
paragraph on the payment of magazine writers, not that Rudyard
Kipling received a dollar per word, but that the minimum rate paid
by first-class magazines was two cents a word. THE YOUTH'S
COMPANION was certainly first class, and at that rate the three
thousand words he had written that day would bring him sixty
dollars - two months' wages on the sea!
On Friday night he finished the serial, twenty-one thousand words
long. At two cents a word, he calculated, that would bring him
four hundred and twenty dollars. Not a bad week's work. It was
more money than he had ever possessed at one time. He did not know
how he could spend it all. He had tapped a gold mine. Where this
came from he could always get more. He planned to buy some more
clothes, to subscribe to many magazines, and to buy dozens of
reference books that at present he was compelled to go to the
library to consult. And still there was a large portion of the
four hundred and twenty dollars unspent. This worried him until
the thought came to him of hiring a servant for Gertrude and of
buying a bicycle for Marion.
He mailed the bulky manuscript to THE YOUTH'S COMPANION, and on
Saturday afternoon, after having planned an article on pearl-
diving, he went to see Ruth. He had telephoned, and she went
herself to greet him at the door. The old familiar blaze of health
rushed out from him and struck her like a blow. It seemed to enter
into her body and course through her veins in a liquid glow, and to
set her quivering with its imparted strength. He flushed warmly as
he took her hand and looked into her blue eyes, but the fresh
bronze of eight months of sun hid the flush, though it did not
protect the neck from the gnawing chafe of the stiff collar. She
noted the red line of it with amusement which quickly vanished as
she glanced at his clothes. They really fitted him, - it was his
first made-to-order suit, - and he seemed slimmer and better
modelled. In addition, his cloth cap had been replaced by a soft
hat, which she commanded him to put on and then complimented him on
his appearance. She did not remember when she had felt so happy.
This change in him was her handiwork, and she was proud of it and
fired with ambition further to help him.
But the most radical change of all, and the one that pleased her
most, was the change in his speech. Not only did he speak more
correctly, but he spoke more easily, and there were many new words
in his vocabulary. When he grew excited or enthusiastic, however,
he dropped back into the old slurring and the dropping of final
consonants. Also, there was an awkward hesitancy, at times, as he
essayed the new words he had learned. On the other hand, along
with his ease of expression, he displayed a lightness and
facetiousness of thought that delighted her. It was his old spirit
of humor and badinage that had made him a favorite in his own
class, but which he had hitherto been unable to use in her presence
through lack of words and training. He was just beginning to
orientate himself and to feel that he was not wholly an intruder.
But he was very tentative, fastidiously so, letting Ruth set the
pace of sprightliness and fancy, keeping up with her but never
daring to go beyond her.
He told her of what he had been doing, and of his plan to write for
a livelihood and of going on with his studies. But he was
disappointed at her lack of approval. She did not think much of
"You see," she said frankly, "writing must be a trade, like
anything else. Not that I know anything about it, of course. I
only bring common judgment to bear. You couldn't hope to be a
blacksmith without spending three years at learning the trade - or
is it five years! Now writers are so much better paid than
blacksmiths that there must be ever so many more men who would like
to write, who - try to write."
"But then, may not I be peculiarly constituted to write?" he
queried, secretly exulting at the language he had used, his swift
imagination throwing the whole scene and atmosphere upon a vast
screen along with a thousand other scenes from his life - scenes
that were rough and raw, gross and bestial.
The whole composite vision was achieved with the speed of light,
producing no pause in the conversation, nor interrupting his calm
train of thought. On the screen of his imagination he saw himself
and this sweet and beautiful girl, facing each other and conversing
in good English, in a room of books and paintings and tone and
culture, and all illuminated by a bright light of steadfast
brilliance; while ranged about and fading away to the remote edges
of the screen were antithetical scenes, each scene a picture, and
he the onlooker, free to look at will upon what he wished. He saw
these other scenes through drifting vapors and swirls of sullen fog
dissolving before shafts of red and garish light. He saw cowboys
at the bar, drinking fierce whiskey, the air filled with obscenity
and ribald language, and he saw himself with them drinking and
cursing with the wildest, or sitting at table with them, under
smoking kerosene lamps, while the chips clicked and clattered and
the cards were dealt around. He saw himself, stripped to the
waist, with naked fists, fighting his great fight with Liverpool
Red in the forecastle of the Susquehanna; and he saw the bloody
deck of the John Rogers, that gray morning of attempted mutiny, the
mate kicking in death-throes on the main-hatch, the revolver in the
old man's hand spitting fire and smoke, the men with passion-
wrenched faces, of brutes screaming vile blasphemies and falling
about him - and then he returned to the central scene, calm and
clean in the steadfast light, where Ruth sat and talked with him
amid books and paintings; and he saw the grand piano upon which she
would later play to him; and he heard the echoes of his own
selected and correct words, "But then, may I not be peculiarly
constituted to write?"
"But no matter how peculiarly constituted a man may be for
blacksmithing," she was laughing, "I never heard of one becoming a
blacksmith without first serving his apprenticeship."
"What would you advise?" he asked. "And don't forget that I feel
in me this capacity to write - I can't explain it; I just know that
it is in me."
"You must get a thorough education," was the answer, "whether or
not you ultimately become a writer. This education is
indispensable for whatever career you select, and it must not be
slipshod or sketchy. You should go to high school."
"Yes - " he began; but she interrupted with an afterthought:-
"Of course, you could go on with your writing, too."
"I would have to," he said grimly.
"Why?" She looked at him, prettily puzzled, for she did not quite
like the persistence with which he clung to his notion.
"Because, without writing there wouldn't be any high school. I
must live and buy books and clothes, you know."
"I'd forgotten that," she laughed. "Why weren't you born with an
"I'd rather have good health and imagination," he answered. "I can
make good on the income, but the other things have to be made good
for - " He almost said "you," then amended his sentence to, "have
to be made good for one."
"Don't say 'make good,'" she cried, sweetly petulant. "It's slang,
and it's horrid."
He flushed, and stammered, "That's right, and I only wish you'd
correct me every time."
"I - I'd like to," she said haltingly. "You have so much in you
that is good that I want to see you perfect."
He was clay in her hands immediately, as passionately desirous of
being moulded by her as she was desirous of shaping him into the
image of her ideal of man. And when she pointed out the
opportuneness of the time, that the entrance examinations to high
school began on the following Monday, he promptly volunteered that
he would take them.
Then she played and sang to him, while he gazed with hungry
yearning at her, drinking in her loveliness and marvelling that
there should not be a hundred suitors listening there and longing
for her as he listened and longed.
He stopped to dinner that evening, and, much to Ruth's
satisfaction, made a favorable impression on her father. They
talked about the sea as a career, a subject which Martin had at his
finger-ends, and Mr. Morse remarked afterward that he seemed a very
clear-headed young man. In his avoidance of slang and his search
after right words, Martin was compelled to talk slowly, which
enabled him to find the best thoughts that were in him. He was
more at ease than that first night at dinner, nearly a year before,
and his shyness and modesty even commended him to Mrs. Morse, who
was pleased at his manifest improvement.
"He is the first man that ever drew passing notice from Ruth," she
told her husband. "She has been so singularly backward where men
are concerned that I have been worried greatly."
Mr. Morse looked at his wife curiously.
"You mean to use this young sailor to wake her up?" he questioned.
"I mean that she is not to die an old maid if I can help it," was
the answer. "If this young Eden can arouse her interest in mankind
in general, it will be a good thing."
"A very good thing," he commented. "But suppose, - and we must
suppose, sometimes, my dear, - suppose he arouses her interest too
particularly in him?"
"Impossible," Mrs. Morse laughed. "She is three years older than
he, and, besides, it is impossible. Nothing will ever come of it.
Trust that to me."
And so Martin's role was arranged for him, while he, led on by
Arthur and Norman, was meditating an extravagance. They were going
out for a ride into the hills Sunday morning on their wheels, which
did not interest Martin until he learned that Ruth, too, rode a
wheel and was going along. He did not ride, nor own a wheel, but
if Ruth rode, it was up to him to begin, was his decision; and when
he said good night, he stopped in at a cyclery on his way home and
spent forty dollars for a wheel. It was more than a month's hard-
earned wages, and it reduced his stock of money amazingly; but when
he added the hundred dollars he was to receive from the EXAMINER to
the four hundred and twenty dollars that was the least THE YOUTH'S
COMPANION could pay him, he felt that he had reduced the perplexity
the unwonted amount of money had caused him. Nor did he mind, in
the course of learning to ride the wheel home, the fact that he
ruined his suit of clothes. He caught the tailor by telephone that
night from Mr. Higginbotham's store and ordered another suit. Then
he carried the wheel up the narrow stairway that clung like a fire-
escape to the rear wall of the building, and when he had moved his
bed out from the wall, found there was just space enough in the
small room for himself and the wheel.
Sunday he had intended to devote to studying for the high school
examination, but the pearl-diving article lured him away, and he
spent the day in the white-hot fever of re-creating the beauty and
romance that burned in him. The fact that the EXAMINER of that
morning had failed to publish his treasure-hunting article did not
dash his spirits. He was at too great a height for that, and
having been deaf to a twice-repeated summons, he went without the
heavy Sunday dinner with which Mr. Higginbotham invariably graced
his table. To Mr. Higginbotham such a dinner was advertisement of
his worldly achievement and prosperity, and he honored it by
delivering platitudinous sermonettes upon American institutions and
the opportunity said institutions gave to any hard-working man to
rise - the rise, in his case, which he pointed out unfailingly,
being from a grocer's clerk to the ownership of Higginbotham's Cash
Martin Eden looked with a sigh at his unfinished "Pearl-diving" on
Monday morning, and took the car down to Oakland to the high
school. And when, days later, he applied for the results of his
examinations, he learned that he had failed in everything save
"Your grammar is excellent," Professor Hilton informed him, staring
at him through heavy spectacles; "but you know nothing, positively
nothing, in the other branches, and your United States history is
abominable - there is no other word for it, abominable. I should
advise you - "
Professor Hilton paused and glared at him, unsympathetic and
unimaginative as one of his own test-tubes. He was professor of
physics in the high school, possessor of a large family, a meagre
salary, and a select fund of parrot-learned knowledge.
"Yes, sir," Martin said humbly, wishing somehow that the man at the
desk in the library was in Professor Hilton's place just then.
"And I should advise you to go back to the grammar school for at
least two years. Good day."
Martin was not deeply affected by his failure, though he was
surprised at Ruth's shocked expression when he told her Professor
Hilton's advice. Her disappointment was so evident that he was
sorry he had failed, but chiefly so for her sake.
"You see I was right," she said. "You know far more than any of
the students entering high school, and yet you can't pass the
examinations. It is because what education you have is
fragmentary, sketchy. You need the discipline of study, such as
only skilled teachers can give you. You must be thoroughly
grounded. Professor Hilton is right, and if I were you, I'd go to
night school. A year and a half of it might enable you to catch up
that additional six months. Besides, that would leave you your
days in which to write, or, if you could not make your living by
your pen, you would have your days in which to work in some
But if my days are taken up with work and my nights with school,
when am I going to see you? - was Martin's first thought, though he
refrained from uttering it. Instead, he said:-
"It seems so babyish for me to be going to night school. But I
wouldn't mind that if I thought it would pay. But I don't think it
will pay. I can do the work quicker than they can teach me. It
would be a loss of time - " he thought of her and his desire to
have her - "and I can't afford the time. I haven't the time to
spare, in fact."
"There is so much that is necessary." She looked at him gently,
and he was a brute to oppose her. "Physics and chemistry - you
can't do them without laboratory study; and you'll find algebra and
geometry almost hopeless with instruction. You need the skilled
teachers, the specialists in the art of imparting knowledge."
He was silent for a minute, casting about for the least
vainglorious way in which to express himself.
"Please don't think I'm bragging," he began. "I don't intend it
that way at all. But I have a feeling that I am what I may call a
natural student. I can study by myself. I take to it kindly, like
a duck to water. You see yourself what I did with grammar. And
I've learned much of other things - you would never dream how much.
And I'm only getting started. Wait till I get - " He hesitated
and assured himself of the pronunciation before he said "momentum.
I'm getting my first real feel of things now. I'm beginning to
size up the situation - "
"Please don't say 'size up,'" she interrupted.
"To get a line on things," he hastily amended.
"That doesn't mean anything in correct English," she objected.
He floundered for a fresh start.
"What I'm driving at is that I'm beginning to get the lay of the
Out of pity she forebore, and he went on.
"Knowledge seems to me like a chart-room. Whenever I go into the
library, I am impressed that way. The part played by teachers is
to teach the student the contents of the chart-room in a systematic
way. The teachers are guides to the chart-room, that's all. It's
not something that they have in their own heads. They don't make
it up, don't create it. It's all in the chart-room and they know
their way about in it, and it's their business to show the place to
strangers who might else get lost. Now I don't get lost easily. I
have the bump of location. I usually know where I'm at - What's
"Don't say 'where I'm at.'"
"That's right," he said gratefully, "where I am. But where am I at
- I mean, where am I? Oh, yes, in the chart-room. Well, some
people - "
"Persons," she corrected.
"Some persons need guides, most persons do; but I think I can get
along without them. I've spent a lot of time in the chart-room
now, and I'm on the edge of knowing my way about, what charts I
want to refer to, what coasts I want to explore. And from the way
I line it up, I'll explore a whole lot more quickly by myself. The
speed of a fleet, you know, is the speed of the slowest ship, and
the speed of the teachers is affected the same way. They can't go
any faster than the ruck of their scholars, and I can set a faster
pace for myself than they set for a whole schoolroom."
"'He travels the fastest who travels alone,'" she quoted at him.
But I'd travel faster with you just the same, was what he wanted to
blurt out, as he caught a vision of a world without end of sunlit
spaces and starry voids through which he drifted with her, his arm
around her, her pale gold hair blowing about his face. In the same
instant he was aware of the pitiful inadequacy of speech. God! If
he could so frame words that she could see what he then saw! And
he felt the stir in him, like a throe of yearning pain, of the
desire to paint these visions that flashed unsummoned on the mirror
of his mind. Ah, that was it! He caught at the hem of the secret.
It was the very thing that the great writers and master-poets did.
That was why they were giants. They knew how to express what they
thought, and felt, and saw. Dogs asleep in the sun often whined
and barked, but they were unable to tell what they saw that made
them whine and bark. He had often wondered what it was. And that
was all he was, a dog asleep in the sun. He saw noble and
beautiful visions, but he could only whine and bark at Ruth. But
he would cease sleeping in the sun. He would stand up, with open
eyes, and he would struggle and toil and learn until, with eyes
unblinded and tongue untied, he could share with her his visioned
wealth. Other men had discovered the trick of expression, of
making words obedient servitors, and of making combinations of
words mean more than the sum of their separate meanings. He was
stirred profoundly by the passing glimpse at the secret, and he was
again caught up in the vision of sunlit spaces and starry voids -
until it came to him that it was very quiet, and he saw Ruth
regarding him with an amused expression and a smile in her eyes.
"I have had a great visioning," he said, and at the sound of his
words in his own ears his heart gave a leap. Where had those words
come from? They had adequately expressed the pause his vision had
put in the conversation. It was a miracle. Never had he so
loftily framed a lofty thought. But never had he attempted to
frame lofty thoughts in words. That was it. That explained it.
He had never tried. But Swinburne had, and Tennyson, and Kipling,
and all the other poets. His mind flashed on to his "Pearl-
diving." He had never dared the big things, the spirit of the
beauty that was a fire in him. That article would be a different
thing when he was done with it. He was appalled by the vastness of
the beauty that rightfully belonged in it, and again his mind
flashed and dared, and he demanded of himself why he could not
chant that beauty in noble verse as the great poets did. And there
was all the mysterious delight and spiritual wonder of his love for
Ruth. Why could he not chant that, too, as the poets did? They
had sung of love. So would he. By God! -
And in his frightened ears he heard his exclamation echoing.
Carried away, he had breathed it aloud. The blood surged into his
face, wave upon wave, mastering the bronze of it till the blush of
shame flaunted itself from collar-rim to the roots of his hair.
"I - I - beg your pardon," he stammered. "I was thinking."
"It sounded as if you were praying," she said bravely, but she felt
herself inside to be withering and shrinking. It was the first
time she had heard an oath from the lips of a man she knew, and she
was shocked, not merely as a matter of principle and training, but
shocked in spirit by this rough blast of life in the garden of her
But she forgave, and with surprise at the ease of her forgiveness.
Somehow it was not so difficult to forgive him anything. He had
not had a chance to be as other men, and he was trying so hard, and
succeeding, too. It never entered her head that there could be any
other reason for her being kindly disposed toward him. She was
tenderly disposed toward him, but she did not know it. She had no
way of knowing it. The placid poise of twenty-four years without a
single love affair did not fit her with a keen perception of her
own feelings, and she who had never warmed to actual love was
unaware that she was warming now.
Martin went back to his pearl-diving article, which would have been
finished sooner if it had not been broken in upon so frequently by
his attempts to write poetry. His poems were love poems, inspired
by Ruth, but they were never completed. Not in a day could he
learn to chant in noble verse. Rhyme and metre and structure were
serious enough in themselves, but there was, over and beyond them,
an intangible and evasive something that he caught in all great
poetry, but which he could not catch and imprison in his own. It
was the elusive spirit of poetry itself that he sensed and sought
after but could not capture. It seemed a glow to him, a warm and
trailing vapor, ever beyond his reaching, though sometimes he was
rewarded by catching at shreds of it and weaving them into phrases
that echoed in his brain with haunting notes or drifted across his
vision in misty wafture of unseen beauty. It was baffling. He
ached with desire to express and could but gibber prosaically as
everybody gibbered. He read his fragments aloud. The metre
marched along on perfect feet, and the rhyme pounded a longer and
equally faultless rhythm, but the glow and high exaltation that he
felt within were lacking. He could not understand, and time and
again, in despair, defeated and depressed, he returned to his
article. Prose was certainly an easier medium.
Following the "Pearl-diving," he wrote an article on the sea as a
career, another on turtle-catching, and a third on the northeast
trades. Then he tried, as an experiment, a short story, and before
he broke his stride he had finished six short stories and
despatched them to various magazines. He wrote prolifically,
intensely, from morning till night, and late at night, except when
he broke off to go to the reading-room, draw books from the
library, or to call on Ruth. He was profoundly happy. Life was
pitched high. He was in a fever that never broke. The joy of
creation that is supposed to belong to the gods was his. All the
life about him - the odors of stale vegetables and soapsuds, the
slatternly form of his sister, and the jeering face of Mr.
Higginbotham - was a dream. The real world was in his mind, and
the stories he wrote were so many pieces of reality out of his
The days were too short. There was so much he wanted to study. He
cut his sleep down to five hours and found that he could get along
upon it. He tried four hours and a half, and regretfully came back
to five. He could joyfully have spent all his waking hours upon
any one of his pursuits. It was with regret that he ceased from
writing to study, that he ceased from study to go to the library,
that he tore himself away from that chart-room of knowledge or from
the magazines in the reading-room that were filled with the secrets
of writers who succeeded in selling their wares. It was like
severing heart strings, when he was with Ruth, to stand up and go;
and he scorched through the dark streets so as to get home to his
books at the least possible expense of time. And hardest of all
was it to shut up the algebra or physics, put note-book and pencil
aside, and close his tired eyes in sleep. He hated the thought of
ceasing to live, even for so short a time, and his sole consolation
was that the alarm clock was set five hours ahead. He would lose
only five hours anyway, and then the jangling bell would jerk him
out of unconsciousness and he would have before him another
glorious day of nineteen hours.
In the meantime the weeks were passing, his money was ebbing low,
and there was no money coming in. A month after he had mailed it,
the adventure serial for boys was returned to him by THE YOUTH'S
COMPANION. The rejection slip was so tactfully worded that he felt
kindly toward the editor. But he did not feel so kindly toward the
editor of the SAN FRANCISCO EXAMINER. After waiting two whole
weeks, Martin had written to him. A week later he wrote again. At
the end of the month, he went over to San Francisco and personally
called upon the editor. But he did not meet that exalted
personage, thanks to a Cerberus of an office boy, of tender years
and red hair, who guarded the portals. At the end of the fifth
week the manuscript came back to him, by mail, without comment.
There was no rejection slip, no explanation, nothing. In the same
way his other articles were tied up with the other leading San
Francisco papers. When he recovered them, he sent them to the
magazines in the East, from which they were returned more promptly,
accompanied always by the printed rejection slips.
The short stories were returned in similar fashion. He read them
over and over, and liked them so much that he could not puzzle out
the cause of their rejection, until, one day, he read in a
newspaper that manuscripts should always be typewritten. That
explained it. Of course editors were so busy that they could not
afford the time and strain of reading handwriting. Martin rented a
typewriter and spent a day mastering the machine. Each day he
typed what he composed, and he typed his earlier manuscripts as
fast as they were returned him. He was surprised when the typed
ones began to come back. His jaw seemed to become squarer, his
chin more aggressive, and he bundled the manuscripts off to new
The thought came to him that he was not a good judge of his own
work. He tried it out on Gertrude. He read his stories aloud to
her. Her eyes glistened, and she looked at him proudly as she
"Ain't it grand, you writin' those sort of things."
"Yes, yes," he demanded impatiently. "But the story - how did you
"Just grand," was the reply. "Just grand, an' thrilling, too. I
was all worked up."
He could see that her mind was not clear. The perplexity was
strong in her good-natured face. So he waited.
"But, say, Mart," after a long pause, "how did it end? Did that
young man who spoke so highfalutin' get her?"
And, after he had explained the end, which he thought he had made
artistically obvious, she would say:-
"That's what I wanted to know. Why didn't you write that way in
One thing he learned, after he had read her a number of stories,
namely, that she liked happy endings.
"That story was perfectly grand," she announced, straightening up
from the wash-tub with a tired sigh and wiping the sweat from her
forehead with a red, steamy hand; "but it makes me sad. I want to
cry. There is too many sad things in the world anyway. It makes
me happy to think about happy things. Now if he'd married her, and
- You don't mind, Mart?" she queried apprehensively. "I just
happen to feel that way, because I'm tired, I guess. But the story
was grand just the same, perfectly grand. Where are you goin' to
"That's a horse of another color," he laughed.
"But if you DID sell it, what do you think you'd get for it?"
"Oh, a hundred dollars. That would be the least, the way prices
"My! I do hope you'll sell it!"
"Easy money, eh?" Then he added proudly: "I wrote it in two days.
That's fifty dollars a day."
He longed to read his stories to Ruth, but did not dare. He would
wait till some were published, he decided, then she would
understand what he had been working for. In the meantime he toiled
on. Never had the spirit of adventure lured him more strongly than
on this amazing exploration of the realm of mind. He bought the
text-books on physics and chemistry, and, along with his algebra,
worked out problems and demonstrations. He took the laboratory
proofs on faith, and his intense power of vision enabled him to see
the reactions of chemicals more understandingly than the average
student saw them in the laboratory. Martin wandered on through the
heavy pages, overwhelmed by the clews he was getting to the nature
of things. He had accepted the world as the world, but now he was
comprehending the organization of it, the play and interplay of
force and matter. Spontaneous explanations of old matters were
continually arising in his mind. Levers and purchases fascinated
him, and his mind roved backward to hand-spikes and blocks and
tackles at sea. The theory of navigation, which enabled the ships
to travel unerringly their courses over the pathless ocean, was
made clear to him. The mysteries of storm, and rain, and tide were
revealed, and the reason for the existence of trade-winds made him
wonder whether he had written his article on the northeast trade
too soon. At any rate he knew he could write it better now. One
afternoon he went out with Arthur to the University of California,
and, with bated breath and a feeling of religious awe, went through
the laboratories, saw demonstrations, and listened to a physics
professor lecturing to his classes.
But he did not neglect his writing. A stream of short stories
flowed from his pen, and he branched out into the easier forms of
verse - the kind he saw printed in the magazines - though he lost
his head and wasted two weeks on a tragedy in blank verse, the
swift rejection of which, by half a dozen magazines, dumfounded
him. Then he discovered Henley and wrote a series of sea-poems on
the model of "Hospital Sketches." They were simple poems, of light
and color, and romance and adventure. "Sea Lyrics," he called
them, and he judged them to be the best work he had yet done.
There were thirty, and he completed them in a month, doing one a
day after having done his regular day's work on fiction, which
day's work was the equivalent to a week's work of the average
successful writer. The toil meant nothing to him. It was not
toil. He was finding speech, and all the beauty and wonder that
had been pent for years behind his inarticulate lips was now
pouring forth in a wild and virile flood.
He showed the "Sea Lyrics" to no one, not even to the editors. He
had become distrustful of editors. But it was not distrust that
prevented him from submitting the "Lyrics." They were so beautiful
to him that he was impelled to save them to share with Ruth in some
glorious, far-off time when he would dare to read to her what he
had written. Against that time he kept them with him, reading them
aloud, going over them until he knew them by heart.
He lived every moment of his waking hours, and he lived in his
sleep, his subjective mind rioting through his five hours of
surcease and combining the thoughts and events of the day into
grotesque and impossible marvels. In reality, he never rested, and
a weaker body or a less firmly poised brain would have been
prostrated in a general break-down. His late afternoon calls on
Ruth were rarer now, for June was approaching, when she would take
her degree and finish with the university. Bachelor of Arts! -
when he thought of her degree, it seemed she fled beyond him faster
than he could pursue.
One afternoon a week she gave to him, and arriving late, he usually
stayed for dinner and for music afterward. Those were his red-
letter days. The atmosphere of the house, in such contrast with
that in which he lived, and the mere nearness to her, sent him
forth each time with a firmer grip on his resolve to climb the
heights. In spite of the beauty in him, and the aching desire to
create, it was for her that he struggled. He was a lover first and
always. All other things he subordinated to love.
Greater than his adventure in the world of thought was his love-
adventure. The world itself was not so amazing because of the
atoms and molecules that composed it according to the propulsions
of irresistible force; what made it amazing was the fact that Ruth
lived in it. She was the most amazing thing he had ever known, or
dreamed, or guessed.
But he was oppressed always by her remoteness. She was so far from
him, and he did not know how to approach her. He had been a
success with girls and women in his own class; but he had never
loved any of them, while he did love her, and besides, she was not
merely of another class. His very love elevated her above all
classes. She was a being apart, so far apart that he did not know
how to draw near to her as a lover should draw near. It was true,
as he acquired knowledge and language, that he was drawing nearer,
talking her speech, discovering ideas and delights in common; but
this did not satisfy his lover's yearning. His lover's imagination
had made her holy, too holy, too spiritualized, to have any kinship
with him in the flesh. It was his own love that thrust her from
him and made her seem impossible for him. Love itself denied him
the one thing that it desired.
And then, one day, without warning, the gulf between them was
bridged for a moment, and thereafter, though the gulf remained, it
was ever narrower. They had been eating cherries - great,
luscious, black cherries with a juice of the color of dark wine.
And later, as she read aloud to him from "The Princess," he chanced
to notice the stain of the cherries on her lips. For the moment
her divinity was shattered. She was clay, after all, mere clay,
subject to the common law of clay as his clay was subject, or
anybody's clay. Her lips were flesh like his, and cherries dyed
them as cherries dyed his. And if so with her lips, then was it so
with all of her. She was woman, all woman, just like any woman.
It came upon him abruptly. It was a revelation that stunned him.
It was as if he had seen the sun fall out of the sky, or had seen
worshipped purity polluted.
Then he realized the significance of it, and his heart began
pounding and challenging him to play the lover with this woman who
was not a spirit from other worlds but a mere woman with lips a
cherry could stain. He trembled at the audacity of his thought;
but all his soul was singing, and reason, in a triumphant paean,
assured him he was right. Something of this change in him must
have reached her, for she paused from her reading, looked up at
him, and smiled. His eyes dropped from her blue eyes to her lips,
and the sight of the stain maddened him. His arms all but flashed
out to her and around her, in the way of his old careless life.
She seemed to lean toward him, to wait, and all his will fought to
hold him back.
"You were not following a word," she pouted.
Then she laughed at him, delighting in his confusion, and as he
looked into her frank eyes and knew that she had divined nothing of
what he felt, he became abashed. He had indeed in thought dared
too far. Of all the women he had known there was no woman who
would not have guessed - save her. And she had not guessed. There
was the difference. She was different. He was appalled by his own
grossness, awed by her clear innocence, and he gazed again at her
across the gulf. The bridge had broken down.
But still the incident had brought him nearer. The memory of it
persisted, and in the moments when he was most cast down, he dwelt
upon it eagerly. The gulf was never again so wide. He had
accomplished a distance vastly greater than a bachelorship of arts,
or a dozen bachelorships. She was pure, it was true, as he had
never dreamed of purity; but cherries stained her lips. She was
subject to the laws of the universe just as inexorably as he was.
She had to eat to live, and when she got her feet wet, she caught
cold. But that was not the point. If she could feel hunger and
thirst, and heat and cold, then could she feel love - and love for
a man. Well, he was a man. And why could he not be the man?
"It's up to me to make good," he would murmur fervently. "I will
be THE man. I will make myself THE man. I will make good."
Early one evening, struggling with a sonnet that twisted all awry
the beauty and thought that trailed in glow and vapor through his
brain, Martin was called to the telephone.
"It's a lady's voice, a fine lady's," Mr. Higginbotham, who had
called him, jeered.
Martin went to the telephone in the corner of the room, and felt a
wave of warmth rush through him as he heard Ruth's voice. In his
battle with the sonnet he had forgotten her existence, and at the
sound of her voice his love for her smote him like a sudden blow.
And such a voice! - delicate and sweet, like a strain of music
heard far off and faint, or, better, like a bell of silver, a
perfect tone, crystal-pure. No mere woman had a voice like that.
There was something celestial about it, and it came from other
worlds. He could scarcely hear what it said, so ravished was he,
though he controlled his face, for he knew that Mr. Higginbotham's
ferret eyes were fixed upon him.
It was not much that Ruth wanted to say - merely that Norman had
been going to take her to a lecture that night, but that he had a
headache, and she was so disappointed, and she had the tickets, and
that if he had no other engagement, would he be good enough to take
Would he! He fought to suppress the eagerness in his voice. It
was amazing. He had always seen her in her own house. And he had
never dared to ask her to go anywhere with him. Quite
irrelevantly, still at the telephone and talking with her, he felt
an overpowering desire to die for her, and visions of heroic
sacrifice shaped and dissolved in his whirling brain. He loved her
so much, so terribly, so hopelessly. In that moment of mad
happiness that she should go out with him, go to a lecture with him
- with him, Martin Eden - she soared so far above him that there
seemed nothing else for him to do than die for her. It was the
only fit way in which he could express the tremendous and lofty
emotion he felt for her. It was the sublime abnegation of true
love that comes to all lovers, and it came to him there, at the
telephone, in a whirlwind of fire and glory; and to die for her, he
felt, was to have lived and loved well. And he was only twenty-
one, and he had never been in love before.
His hand trembled as he hung up the receiver, and he was weak from
the organ which had stirred him. His eyes were shining like an
angel's, and his face was transfigured, purged of all earthly
dross, and pure and holy.
"Makin' dates outside, eh?" his brother-in-law sneered. "You know
what that means. You'll be in the police court yet."
But Martin could not come down from the height. Not even the
bestiality of the allusion could bring him back to earth. Anger
and hurt were beneath him. He had seen a great vision and was as a
god, and he could feel only profound and awful pity for this maggot
of a man. He did not look at him, and though his eyes passed over
him, he did not see him; and as in a dream he passed out of the
room to dress. It was not until he had reached his own room and
was tying his necktie that he became aware of a sound that lingered
unpleasantly in his ears. On investigating this sound he
identified it as the final snort of Bernard Higginbotham, which
somehow had not penetrated to his brain before.
As Ruth's front door closed behind them and he came down the steps
with her, he found himself greatly perturbed. It was not unalloyed
bliss, taking her to the lecture. He did not know what he ought to
do. He had seen, on the streets, with persons of her class, that
the women took the men's arms. But then, again, he had seen them
when they didn't; and he wondered if it was only in the evening
that arms were taken, or only between husbands and wives and
Just before he reached the sidewalk, he remembered Minnie. Minnie
had always been a stickler. She had called him down the second
time she walked out with him, because he had gone along on the
inside, and she had laid the law down to him that a gentleman
always walked on the outside - when he was with a lady. And Minnie
had made a practice of kicking his heels, whenever they crossed
from one side of the street to the other, to remind him to get over
on the outside. He wondered where she had got that item of
etiquette, and whether it had filtered down from above and was all
It wouldn't do any harm to try it, he decided, by the time they had
reached the sidewalk; and he swung behind Ruth and took up his
station on the outside. Then the other problem presented itself.
Should he offer her his arm? He had never offered anybody his arm
in his life. The girls he had known never took the fellows' arms.
For the first several times they walked freely, side by side, and
after that it was arms around the waists, and heads against the
fellows' shoulders where the streets were unlighted. But this was
different. She wasn't that kind of a girl. He must do something.
He crooked the arm next to her - crooked it very slightly and with
secret tentativeness, not invitingly, but just casually, as though
he was accustomed to walk that way. And then the wonderful thing
happened. He felt her hand upon his arm. Delicious thrills ran
through him at the contact, and for a few sweet moments it seemed
that he had left the solid earth and was flying with her through
the air. But he was soon back again, perturbed by a new
complication. They were crossing the street. This would put him
on the inside. He should be on the outside. Should he therefore
drop her arm and change over? And if he did so, would he have to
repeat the manoeuvre the next time? And the next? There was
something wrong about it, and he resolved not to caper about and
play the fool. Yet he was not satisfied with his conclusion, and
when he found himself on the inside, he talked quickly and
earnestly, making a show of being carried away by what he was
saying, so that, in case he was wrong in not changing sides, his
enthusiasm would seem the cause for his carelessness.
As they crossed Broadway, he came face to face with a new problem.
In the blaze of the electric lights, he saw Lizzie Connolly and her
giggly friend. Only for an instant he hesitated, then his hand
went up and his hat came off. He could not be disloyal to his
kind, and it was to more than Lizzie Connolly that his hat was
lifted. She nodded and looked at him boldly, not with soft and
gentle eyes like Ruth's, but with eyes that were handsome and hard,
and that swept on past him to Ruth and itemized her face and dress
and station. And he was aware that Ruth looked, too, with quick
eyes that were timid and mild as a dove's, but which saw, in a look
that was a flutter on and past, the working-class girl in her cheap
finery and under the strange hat that all working-class girls were
wearing just then.
"What a pretty girl!" Ruth said a moment later.
Martin could have blessed her, though he said:-
"I don't know. I guess it's all a matter of personal taste, but
she doesn't strike me as being particularly pretty."
"Why, there isn't one woman in ten thousand with features as
regular as hers. They are splendid. Her face is as clear-cut as a
cameo. And her eyes are beautiful."
"Do you think so?" Martin queried absently, for to him there was
only one beautiful woman in the world, and she was beside him, her
hand upon his arm.
"Do I think so? If that girl had proper opportunity to dress, Mr.
Eden, and if she were taught how to carry herself, you would be
fairly dazzled by her, and so would all men."
"She would have to be taught how to speak," he commented, "or else
most of the men wouldn't understand her. I'm sure you couldn't
understand a quarter of what she said if she just spoke naturally."
"Nonsense! You are as bad as Arthur when you try to make your
"You forget how I talked when you first met me. I have learned a
new language since then. Before that time I talked as that girl
talks. Now I can manage to make myself understood sufficiently in
your language to explain that you do not know that other girl's
language. And do you know why she carries herself the way she
does? I think about such things now, though I never used to think
about them, and I am beginning to understand - much."
"But why does she?"
"She has worked long hours for years at machines. When one's body
is young, it is very pliable, and hard work will mould it like
putty according to the nature of the work. I can tell at a glance
the trades of many workingmen I meet on the street. Look at me.
Why am I rolling all about the shop? Because of the years I put in
on the sea. If I'd put in the same years cow-punching, with my
body young and pliable, I wouldn't be rolling now, but I'd be bow-
legged. And so with that girl. You noticed that her eyes were
what I might call hard. She has never been sheltered. She has had
to take care of herself, and a young girl can't take care of
herself and keep her eyes soft and gentle like - like yours, for
"I think you are right," Ruth said in a low voice. "And it is too
bad. She is such a pretty girl."
He looked at her and saw her eyes luminous with pity. And then he
remembered that he loved her and was lost in amazement at his
fortune that permitted him to love her and to take her on his arm
to a lecture.
Who are you, Martin Eden? he demanded of himself in the looking-
glass, that night when he got back to his room. He gazed at
himself long and curiously. Who are you? What are you? Where do
you belong? You belong by rights to girls like Lizzie Connolly.
You belong with the legions of toil, with all that is low, and
vulgar, and unbeautiful. You belong with the oxen and the drudges,
in dirty surroundings among smells and stenches. There are the
stale vegetables now. Those potatoes are rotting. Smell them,
damn you, smell them. And yet you dare to open the books, to
listen to beautiful music, to learn to love beautiful paintings, to
speak good English, to think thoughts that none of your own kind
thinks, to tear yourself away from the oxen and the Lizzie
Connollys and to love a pale spirit of a woman who is a million
miles beyond you and who lives in the stars! Who are you? and what
are you? damn you! And are you going to make good?
He shook his fist at himself in the glass, and sat down on the edge
of the bed to dream for a space with wide eyes. Then he got out
note-book and algebra and lost himself in quadratic equations,
while the hours slipped by, and the stars dimmed, and the gray of
dawn flooded against his window.
It was the knot of wordy socialists and working-class philosophers
that held forth in the City Hall Park on warm afternoons that was
responsible for the great discovery. Once or twice in the month,
while riding through the park on his way to the library, Martin
dismounted from his wheel and listened to the arguments, and each
time he tore himself away reluctantly. The tone of discussion was
much lower than at Mr. Morse's table. The men were not grave and
dignified. They lost their tempers easily and called one another
names, while oaths and obscene allusions were frequent on their
lips. Once or twice he had seen them come to blows. And yet, he
knew not why, there seemed something vital about the stuff of these
men's thoughts. Their logomachy was far more stimulating to his
intellect than the reserved and quiet dogmatism of Mr. Morse.
These men, who slaughtered English, gesticulated like lunatics, and
fought one another's ideas with primitive anger, seemed somehow to
be more alive than Mr. Morse and his crony, Mr. Butler.
Martin had heard Herbert Spencer quoted several times in the park,
but one afternoon a disciple of Spencer's appeared, a seedy tramp
with a dirty coat buttoned tightly at the throat to conceal the
absence of a shirt. Battle royal was waged, amid the smoking of
many cigarettes and the expectoration of much tobacco-juice,
wherein the tramp successfully held his own, even when a socialist
workman sneered, "There is no god but the Unknowable, and Herbert
Spencer is his prophet." Martin was puzzled as to what the
discussion was about, but when he rode on to the library he carried
with him a new-born interest in Herbert Spencer, and because of the
frequency with which the tramp had mentioned "First Principles,"
Martin drew out that volume.
So the great discovery began. Once before he had tried Spencer,
and choosing the "Principles of Psychology" to begin with, he had
failed as abjectly as he had failed with Madam Blavatsky. There
had been no understanding the book, and he had returned it unread.
But this night, after algebra and physics, and an attempt at a
sonnet, he got into bed and opened "First Principles." Morning
found him still reading. It was impossible for him to sleep. Nor
did he write that day. He lay on the bed till his body grew tired,
when he tried the hard floor, reading on his back, the book held in
the air above him, or changing from side to side. He slept that
night, and did his writing next morning, and then the book tempted
him and he fell, reading all afternoon, oblivious to everything and
oblivious to the fact that that was the afternoon Ruth gave to him.
His first consciousness of the immediate world about him was when
Bernard Higginbotham jerked open the door and demanded to know if
he thought they were running a restaurant.
Martin Eden had been mastered by curiosity all his days. He wanted
to know, and it was this desire that had sent him adventuring over
the world. But he was now learning from Spencer that he never had
known, and that he never could have known had he continued his
sailing and wandering forever. He had merely skimmed over the
surface of things, observing detached phenomena, accumulating
fragments of facts, making superficial little generalizations - and
all and everything quite unrelated in a capricious and disorderly
world of whim and chance. The mechanism of the flight of birds he
had watched and reasoned about with understanding; but it had never
entered his head to try to explain the process whereby birds, as
organic flying mechanisms, had been developed. He had never
dreamed there was such a process. That birds should have come to
be, was unguessed. They always had been. They just happened.
And as it was with birds, so had it been with everything. His
ignorant and unprepared attempts at philosophy had been fruitless.
The medieval metaphysics of Kant had given him the key to nothing,
and had served the sole purpose of making him doubt his own
intellectual powers. In similar manner his attempt to study
evolution had been confined to a hopelessly technical volume by
Romanes. He had understood nothing, and the only idea he had
gathered was that evolution was a dry-as-dust theory, of a lot of
little men possessed of huge and unintelligible vocabularies. And
now he learned that evolution was no mere theory but an accepted
process of development; that scientists no longer disagreed about
it, their only differences being over the method of evolution.
And here was the man Spencer, organizing all knowledge for him,
reducing everything to unity, elaborating ultimate realities, and
presenting to his startled gaze a universe so concrete of
realization that it was like the model of a ship such as sailors
make and put into glass bottles. There was no caprice, no chance.
All was law. It was in obedience to law that the bird flew, and it
was in obedience to the same law that fermenting slime had writhed
and squirmed and put out legs and wings and become a bird.
Martin had ascended from pitch to pitch of intellectual living, and
here he was at a higher pitch than ever. All the hidden things
were laying their secrets bare. He was drunken with comprehension.
At night, asleep, he lived with the gods in colossal nightmare; and
awake, in the day, he went around like a somnambulist, with absent
stare, gazing upon the world he had just discovered. At table he
failed to hear the conversation about petty and ignoble things, his
eager mind seeking out and following cause and effect in everything
before him. In the meat on the platter he saw the shining sun and
traced its energy back through all its transformations to its
source a hundred million miles away, or traced its energy ahead to
the moving muscles in his arms that enabled him to cut the meat,
and to the brain wherewith he willed the muscles to move to cut the
meat, until, with inward gaze, he saw the same sun shining in his
brain. He was entranced by illumination, and did not hear the
"Bughouse," whispered by Jim, nor see the anxiety on his sister's
face, nor notice the rotary motion of Bernard Higginbotham's
finger, whereby he imparted the suggestion of wheels revolving in
his brother-in-law's head.
What, in a way, most profoundly impressed Martin, was the
correlation of knowledge - of all knowledge. He had been curious
to know things, and whatever he acquired he had filed away in
separate memory compartments in his brain. Thus, on the subject of
sailing he had an immense store. On the subject of woman he had a
fairly large store. But these two subjects had been unrelated.
Between the two memory compartments there had been no connection.
That, in the fabric of knowledge, there should be any connection
whatever between a woman with hysterics and a schooner carrying a
weather-helm or heaving to in a gale, would have struck him as
ridiculous and impossible. But Herbert Spencer had shown him not
only that it was not ridiculous, but that it was impossible for
there to be no connection. All things were related to all other
things from the farthermost star in the wastes of space to the
myriads of atoms in the grain of sand under one's foot. This new
concept was a perpetual amazement to Martin, and he found himself
engaged continually in tracing the relationship between all things
under the sun and on the other side of the sun. He drew up lists
of the most incongruous things and was unhappy until he succeeded
in establishing kinship between them all - kinship between love,
poetry, earthquake, fire, rattlesnakes, rainbows, precious gems,
monstrosities, sunsets, the roaring of lions, illuminating gas,
cannibalism, beauty, murder, lovers, fulcrums, and tobacco. Thus,