Part 3 out of 8
he unified the universe and held it up and looked at it, or
wandered through its byways and alleys and jungles, not as a
terrified traveller in the thick of mysteries seeking an unknown
goal, but observing and charting and becoming familiar with all
there was to know. And the more he knew, the more passionately he
admired the universe, and life, and his own life in the midst of it
"You fool!" he cried at his image in the looking-glass. "You
wanted to write, and you tried to write, and you had nothing in you
to write about. What did you have in you? - some childish notions,
a few half-baked sentiments, a lot of undigested beauty, a great
black mass of ignorance, a heart filled to bursting with love, and
an ambition as big as your love and as futile as your ignorance.
And you wanted to write! Why, you're just on the edge of beginning
to get something in you to write about. You wanted to create
beauty, but how could you when you knew nothing about the nature of
beauty? You wanted to write about life when you knew nothing of
the essential characteristics of life. You wanted to write about
the world and the scheme of existence when the world was a Chinese
puzzle to you and all that you could have written would have been
about what you did not know of the scheme of existence. But cheer
up, Martin, my boy. You'll write yet. You know a little, a very
little, and you're on the right road now to know more. Some day,
if you're lucky, you may come pretty close to knowing all that may
be known. Then you will write."
He brought his great discovery to Ruth, sharing with her all his
joy and wonder in it. But she did not seem to be so enthusiastic
over it. She tacitly accepted it and, in a way, seemed aware of it
from her own studies. It did not stir her deeply, as it did him,
and he would have been surprised had he not reasoned it out that it
was not new and fresh to her as it was to him. Arthur and Norman,
he found, believed in evolution and had read Spencer, though it did
not seem to have made any vital impression upon them, while the
young fellow with the glasses and the mop of hair, Will Olney,
sneered disagreeably at Spencer and repeated the epigram, "There is
no god but the Unknowable, and Herbert Spencer is his prophet."
But Martin forgave him the sneer, for he had begun to discover that
Olney was not in love with Ruth. Later, he was dumfounded to learn
from various little happenings not only that Olney did not care for
Ruth, but that he had a positive dislike for her. Martin could not
understand this. It was a bit of phenomena that he could not
correlate with all the rest of the phenomena in the universe. But
nevertheless he felt sorry for the young fellow because of the
great lack in his nature that prevented him from a proper
appreciation of Ruth's fineness and beauty. They rode out into the
hills several Sundays on their wheels, and Martin had ample
opportunity to observe the armed truce that existed between Ruth
and Olney. The latter chummed with Norman, throwing Arthur and
Martin into company with Ruth, for which Martin was duly grateful.
Those Sundays were great days for Martin, greatest because he was
with Ruth, and great, also, because they were putting him more on a
par with the young men of her class. In spite of their long years
of disciplined education, he was finding himself their intellectual
equal, and the hours spent with them in conversation was so much
practice for him in the use of the grammar he had studied so hard.
He had abandoned the etiquette books, falling back upon observation
to show him the right things to do. Except when carried away by
his enthusiasm, he was always on guard, keenly watchful of their
actions and learning their little courtesies and refinements of
The fact that Spencer was very little read was for some time a
source of surprise to Martin. "Herbert Spencer," said the man at
the desk in the library, "oh, yes, a great mind." But the man did
not seem to know anything of the content of that great mind. One
evening, at dinner, when Mr. Butler was there, Martin turned the
conversation upon Spencer. Mr. Morse bitterly arraigned the
English philosopher's agnosticism, but confessed that he had not
read "First Principles"; while Mr. Butler stated that he had no
patience with Spencer, had never read a line of him, and had
managed to get along quite well without him. Doubts arose in
Martin's mind, and had he been less strongly individual he would
have accepted the general opinion and given Herbert Spencer up. As
it was, he found Spencer's explanation of things convincing; and,
as he phrased it to himself, to give up Spencer would be equivalent
to a navigator throwing the compass and chronometer overboard. So
Martin went on into a thorough study of evolution, mastering more
and more the subject himself, and being convinced by the
corroborative testimony of a thousand independent writers. The
more he studied, the more vistas he caught of fields of knowledge
yet unexplored, and the regret that days were only twenty-four
hours long became a chronic complaint with him.
One day, because the days were so short, he decided to give up
algebra and geometry. Trigonometry he had not even attempted.
Then he cut chemistry from his study-list, retaining only physics.
"I am not a specialist," he said, in defence, to Ruth. "Nor am I
going to try to be a specialist. There are too many special fields
for any one man, in a whole lifetime, to master a tithe of them. I
must pursue general knowledge. When I need the work of
specialists, I shall refer to their books."
"But that is not like having the knowledge yourself," she
"But it is unnecessary to have it. We profit from the work of the
specialists. That's what they are for. When I came in, I noticed
the chimney-sweeps at work. They're specialists, and when they get
done, you will enjoy clean chimneys without knowing anything about
the construction of chimneys."
"That's far-fetched, I am afraid."
She looked at him curiously, and he felt a reproach in her gaze and
manner. But he was convinced of the rightness of his position.
"All thinkers on general subjects, the greatest minds in the world,
in fact, rely on the specialists. Herbert Spencer did that. He
generalized upon the findings of thousands of investigators. He
would have had to live a thousand lives in order to do it all
himself. And so with Darwin. He took advantage of all that had
been learned by the florists and cattle-breeders."
"You're right, Martin," Olney said. "You know what you're after,
and Ruth doesn't. She doesn't know what she is after for herself
" - Oh, yes," Olney rushed on, heading off her objection, "I know
you call it general culture. But it doesn't matter what you study
if you want general culture. You can study French, or you can
study German, or cut them both out and study Esperanto, you'll get
the culture tone just the same. You can study Greek or Latin, too,
for the same purpose, though it will never be any use to you. It
will be culture, though. Why, Ruth studied Saxon, became clever in
it, - that was two years ago, - and all that she remembers of it
now is 'Whan that sweet Aprile with his schowers soote' - isn't
that the way it goes?"
"But it's given you the culture tone just the same," he laughed,
again heading her off. "I know. We were in the same classes."
"But you speak of culture as if it should be a means to something,"
Ruth cried out. Her eyes were flashing, and in her cheeks were two
spots of color. "Culture is the end in itself."
"But that is not what Martin wants."
"How do you know?"
"What do you want, Martin?" Olney demanded, turning squarely upon
Martin felt very uncomfortable, and looked entreaty at Ruth.
"Yes, what do you want?" Ruth asked. "That will settle it."
"Yes, of course, I want culture," Martin faltered. "I love beauty,
and culture will give me a finer and keener appreciation of
She nodded her head and looked triumph.
"Rot, and you know it," was Olney's comment. "Martin's after
career, not culture. It just happens that culture, in his case, is
incidental to career. If he wanted to be a chemist, culture would
be unnecessary. Martin wants to write, but he's afraid to say so
because it will put you in the wrong."
"And why does Martin want to write?" he went on. "Because he isn't
rolling in wealth. Why do you fill your head with Saxon and
general culture? Because you don't have to make your way in the
world. Your father sees to that. He buys your clothes for you,
and all the rest. What rotten good is our education, yours and
mine and Arthur's and Norman's? We're soaked in general culture,
and if our daddies went broke to-day, we'd be falling down to-
morrow on teachers' examinations. The best job you could get,
Ruth, would be a country school or music teacher in a girls'
"And pray what would you do?" she asked.
"Not a blessed thing. I could earn a dollar and a half a day,
common labor, and I might get in as instructor in Hanley's cramming
joint - I say might, mind you, and I might be chucked out at the
end of the week for sheer inability."
Martin followed the discussion closely, and while he was convinced
that Olney was right, he resented the rather cavalier treatment he
accorded Ruth. A new conception of love formed in his mind as he
listened. Reason had nothing to do with love. It mattered not
whether the woman he loved reasoned correctly or incorrectly. Love
was above reason. If it just happened that she did not fully
appreciate his necessity for a career, that did not make her a bit
less lovable. She was all lovable, and what she thought had
nothing to do with her lovableness.
"What's that?" he replied to a question from Olney that broke in
upon his train of thought.
"I was saying that I hoped you wouldn't be fool enough to tackle
"But Latin is more than culture," Ruth broke in. "It is
"Well, are you going to tackle it?" Olney persisted.
Martin was sore beset. He could see that Ruth was hanging eagerly
upon his answer.
"I am afraid I won't have time," he said finally. "I'd like to,
but I won't have time."
"You see, Martin's not seeking culture," Olney exulted. "He's
trying to get somewhere, to do something."
"Oh, but it's mental training. It's mind discipline. It's what
makes disciplined minds." Ruth looked expectantly at Martin, as if
waiting for him to change his judgment. "You know, the foot-ball
players have to train before the big game. And that is what Latin
does for the thinker. It trains."
"Rot and bosh! That's what they told us when we were kids. But
there is one thing they didn't tell us then. They let us find it
out for ourselves afterwards." Olney paused for effect, then
added, "And what they didn't tell us was that every gentleman
should have studied Latin, but that no gentleman should know
"Now that's unfair," Ruth cried. "I knew you were turning the
conversation just in order to get off something."
"It's clever all right," was the retort, "but it's fair, too. The
only men who know their Latin are the apothecaries, the lawyers,
and the Latin professors. And if Martin wants to be one of them, I
miss my guess. But what's all that got to do with Herbert Spencer
anyway? Martin's just discovered Spencer, and he's wild over him.
Why? Because Spencer is taking him somewhere. Spencer couldn't
take me anywhere, nor you. We haven't got anywhere to go. You'll
get married some day, and I'll have nothing to do but keep track of
the lawyers and business agents who will take care of the money my
father's going to leave me."
Onley got up to go, but turned at the door and delivered a parting
"You leave Martin alone, Ruth. He knows what's best for himself.
Look at what he's done already. He makes me sick sometimes, sick
and ashamed of myself. He knows more now about the world, and
life, and man's place, and all the rest, than Arthur, or Norman, or
I, or you, too, for that matter, and in spite of all our Latin, and
French, and Saxon, and culture."
"But Ruth is my teacher," Martin answered chivalrously. "She is
responsible for what little I have learned."
"Rats!" Olney looked at Ruth, and his expression was malicious.
"I suppose you'll be telling me next that you read Spencer on her
recommendation - only you didn't. And she doesn't know anything
more about Darwin and evolution than I do about King Solomon's
mines. What's that jawbreaker definition about something or other,
of Spencer's, that you sprang on us the other day - that
indefinite, incoherent homogeneity thing? Spring it on her, and
see if she understands a word of it. That isn't culture, you see.
Well, tra la, and if you tackle Latin, Martin, I won't have any
respect for you."
And all the while, interested in the discussion, Martin had been
aware of an irk in it as well. It was about studies and lessons,
dealing with the rudiments of knowledge, and the schoolboyish tone
of it conflicted with the big things that were stirring in him -
with the grip upon life that was even then crooking his fingers
like eagle's talons, with the cosmic thrills that made him ache,
and with the inchoate consciousness of mastery of it all. He
likened himself to a poet, wrecked on the shores of a strange land,
filled with power of beauty, stumbling and stammering and vainly
trying to sing in the rough, barbaric tongue of his brethren in the
new land. And so with him. He was alive, painfully alive, to the
great universal things, and yet he was compelled to potter and
grope among schoolboy topics and debate whether or not he should
"What in hell has Latin to do with it?" he demanded before his
mirror that night. "I wish dead people would stay dead. Why
should I and the beauty in me be ruled by the dead? Beauty is
alive and everlasting. Languages come and go. They are the dust
of the dead."
And his next thought was that he had been phrasing his ideas very
well, and he went to bed wondering why he could not talk in similar
fashion when he was with Ruth. He was only a schoolboy, with a
schoolboy's tongue, when he was in her presence.
"Give me time," he said aloud. "Only give me time."
Time! Time! Time! was his unending plaint.
It was not because of Olney, but in spite of Ruth, and his love for
Ruth, that he finally decided not to take up Latin. His money
meant time. There was so much that was more important than Latin,
so many studies that clamored with imperious voices. And he must
write. He must earn money. He had had no acceptances. Twoscore
of manuscripts were travelling the endless round of the magazines.
How did the others do it? He spent long hours in the free reading-
room, going over what others had written, studying their work
eagerly and critically, comparing it with his own, and wondering,
wondering, about the secret trick they had discovered which enabled
them to sell their work.
He was amazed at the immense amount of printed stuff that was dead.
No light, no life, no color, was shot through it. There was no
breath of life in it, and yet it sold, at two cents a word, twenty
dollars a thousand - the newspaper clipping had said so. He was
puzzled by countless short stories, written lightly and cleverly he
confessed, but without vitality or reality. Life was so strange
and wonderful, filled with an immensity of problems, of dreams, and
of heroic toils, and yet these stories dealt only with the
commonplaces of life. He felt the stress and strain of life, its
fevers and sweats and wild insurgences - surely this was the stuff
to write about! He wanted to glorify the leaders of forlorn hopes,
the mad lovers, the giants that fought under stress and strain,
amid terror and tragedy, making life crackle with the strength of
their endeavor. And yet the magazine short stories seemed intent
on glorifying the Mr. Butlers, the sordid dollar-chasers, and the
commonplace little love affairs of commonplace little men and
women. Was it because the editors of the magazines were
commonplace? he demanded. Or were they afraid of life, these
writers and editors and readers?
But his chief trouble was that he did not know any editors or
writers. And not merely did he not know any writers, but he did
not know anybody who had ever attempted to write. There was nobody
to tell him, to hint to him, to give him the least word of advice.
He began to doubt that editors were real men. They seemed cogs in
a machine. That was what it was, a machine. He poured his soul
into stories, articles, and poems, and intrusted them to the
machine. He folded them just so, put the proper stamps inside the
long envelope along with the manuscript, sealed the envelope, put
more stamps outside, and dropped it into the mail-box. It
travelled across the continent, and after a certain lapse of time
the postman returned him the manuscript in another long envelope,
on the outside of which were the stamps he had enclosed. There was
no human editor at the other end, but a mere cunning arrangement of
cogs that changed the manuscript from one envelope to another and
stuck on the stamps. It was like the slot machines wherein one
dropped pennies, and, with a metallic whirl of machinery had
delivered to him a stick of chewing-gum or a tablet of chocolate.
It depended upon which slot one dropped the penny in, whether he
got chocolate or gum. And so with the editorial machine. One slot
brought checks and the other brought rejection slips. So far he
had found only the latter slot.
It was the rejection slips that completed the horrible
machinelikeness of the process. These slips were printed in
stereotyped forms and he had received hundreds of them - as many as
a dozen or more on each of his earlier manuscripts. If he had
received one line, one personal line, along with one rejection of
all his rejections, he would have been cheered. But not one editor
had given that proof of existence. And he could conclude only that
there were no warm human men at the other end, only mere cogs, well
oiled and running beautifully in the machine.
He was a good fighter, whole-souled and stubborn, and he would have
been content to continue feeding the machine for years; but he was
bleeding to death, and not years but weeks would determine the
fight. Each week his board bill brought him nearer destruction,
while the postage on forty manuscripts bled him almost as severely.
He no longer bought books, and he economized in petty ways and
sought to delay the inevitable end; though he did not know how to
economize, and brought the end nearer by a week when he gave his
sister Marian five dollars for a dress.
He struggled in the dark, without advice, without encouragement,
and in the teeth of discouragement. Even Gertrude was beginning to
look askance. At first she had tolerated with sisterly fondness
what she conceived to be his foolishness; but now, out of sisterly
solicitude, she grew anxious. To her it seemed that his
foolishness was becoming a madness. Martin knew this and suffered
more keenly from it than from the open and nagging contempt of
Bernard Higginbotham. Martin had faith in himself, but he was
alone in this faith. Not even Ruth had faith. She had wanted him
to devote himself to study, and, though she had not openly
disapproved of his writing, she had never approved.
He had never offered to show her his work. A fastidious delicacy
had prevented him. Besides, she had been studying heavily at the
university, and he felt averse to robbing her of her time. But
when she had taken her degree, she asked him herself to let her see
something of what he had been doing. Martin was elated and
diffident. Here was a judge. She was a bachelor of arts. She had
studied literature under skilled instructors. Perhaps the editors
were capable judges, too. But she would be different from them.
She would not hand him a stereotyped rejection slip, nor would she
inform him that lack of preference for his work did not necessarily
imply lack of merit in his work. She would talk, a warm human
being, in her quick, bright way, and, most important of all, she
would catch glimpses of the real Martin Eden. In his work she
would discern what his heart and soul were like, and she would come
to understand something, a little something, of the stuff of his
dreams and the strength of his power.
Martin gathered together a number of carbon copies of his short
stories, hesitated a moment, then added his "Sea Lyrics." They
mounted their wheels on a late June afternoon and rode for the
hills. It was the second time he had been out with her alone, and
as they rode along through the balmy warmth, just chilled by she
sea-breeze to refreshing coolness, he was profoundly impressed by
the fact that it was a very beautiful and well-ordered world and
that it was good to be alive and to love. They left their wheels
by the roadside and climbed to the brown top of an open knoll where
the sunburnt grass breathed a harvest breath of dry sweetness and
"Its work is done," Martin said, as they seated themselves, she
upon his coat, and he sprawling close to the warm earth. He
sniffed the sweetness of the tawny grass, which entered his brain
and set his thoughts whirling on from the particular to the
universal. "It has achieved its reason for existence," he went on,
patting the dry grass affectionately. "It quickened with ambition
under the dreary downpour of last winter, fought the violent early
spring, flowered, and lured the insects and the bees, scattered its
seeds, squared itself with its duty and the world, and - "
"Why do you always look at things with such dreadfully practical
eyes?" she interrupted.
"Because I've been studying evolution, I guess. It's only recently
that I got my eyesight, if the truth were told."
"But it seems to me you lose sight of beauty by being so practical,
that you destroy beauty like the boys who catch butterflies and rub
the down off their beautiful wings."
He shook his head.
"Beauty has significance, but I never knew its significance before.
I just accepted beauty as something meaningless, as something that
was just beautiful without rhyme or reason. I did not know
anything about beauty. But now I know, or, rather, am just
beginning to know. This grass is more beautiful to me now that I
know why it is grass, and all the hidden chemistry of sun and rain
and earth that makes it become grass. Why, there is romance in the
life-history of any grass, yes, and adventure, too. The very
thought of it stirs me. When I think of the play of force and
matter, and all the tremendous struggle of it, I feel as if I could
write an epic on the grass.
"How well you talk," she said absently, and he noted that she was
looking at him in a searching way.
He was all confusion and embarrassment on the instant, the blood
flushing red on his neck and brow.
"I hope I am learning to talk," he stammered. "There seems to be
so much in me I want to say. But it is all so big. I can't find
ways to say what is really in me. Sometimes it seems to me that
all the world, all life, everything, had taken up residence inside
of me and was clamoring for me to be the spokesman. I feel - oh, I
can't describe it - I feel the bigness of it, but when I speak, I
babble like a little child. It is a great task to transmute
feeling and sensation into speech, written or spoken, that will, in
turn, in him who reads or listens, transmute itself back into the
selfsame feeling and sensation. It is a lordly task. See, I bury
my face in the grass, and the breath I draw in through my nostrils
sets me quivering with a thousand thoughts and fancies. It is a
breath of the universe I have breathed. I know song and laughter,
and success and pain, and struggle and death; and I see visions
that arise in my brain somehow out of the scent of the grass, and I
would like to tell them to you, to the world. But how can I? My
tongue is tied. I have tried, by the spoken word, just now, to
describe to you the effect on me of the scent of the grass. But I
have not succeeded. I have no more than hinted in awkward speech.
My words seem gibberish to me. And yet I am stifled with desire to
tell. Oh! - " he threw up his hands with a despairing gesture -
"it is impossible! It is not understandable! It is
"But you do talk well," she insisted. "Just think how you have
improved in the short time I have known you. Mr. Butler is a noted
public speaker. He is always asked by the State Committee to go
out on stump during campaign. Yet you talked just as well as he
the other night at dinner. Only he was more controlled. You get
too excited; but you will get over that with practice. Why, you
would make a good public speaker. You can go far - if you want to.
You are masterly. You can lead men, I am sure, and there is no
reason why you should not succeed at anything you set your hand to,
just as you have succeeded with grammar. You would make a good
lawyer. You should shine in politics. There is nothing to prevent
you from making as great a success as Mr. Butler has made. And
minus the dyspepsia," she added with a smile.
They talked on; she, in her gently persistent way, returning always
to the need of thorough grounding in education and to the
advantages of Latin as part of the foundation for any career. She
drew her ideal of the successful man, and it was largely in her
father's image, with a few unmistakable lines and touches of color
from the image of Mr. Butler. He listened eagerly, with receptive
ears, lying on his back and looking up and joying in each movement
of her lips as she talked. But his brain was not receptive. There
was nothing alluring in the pictures she drew, and he was aware of
a dull pain of disappointment and of a sharper ache of love for
her. In all she said there was no mention of his writing, and the
manuscripts he had brought to read lay neglected on the ground.
At last, in a pause, he glanced at the sun, measured its height
above the horizon, and suggested his manuscripts by picking them
"I had forgotten," she said quickly. "And I am so anxious to
He read to her a story, one that he flattered himself was among his
very best. He called it "The Wine of Life," and the wine of it,
that had stolen into his brain when he wrote it, stole into his
brain now as he read it. There was a certain magic in the original
conception, and he had adorned it with more magic of phrase and
touch. All the old fire and passion with which he had written it
were reborn in him, and he was swayed and swept away so that he was
blind and deaf to the faults of it. But it was not so with Ruth.
Her trained ear detected the weaknesses and exaggerations, the
overemphasis of the tyro, and she was instantly aware each time the
sentence-rhythm tripped and faltered. She scarcely noted the
rhythm otherwise, except when it became too pompous, at which
moments she was disagreeably impressed with its amateurishness.
That was her final judgment on the story as a whole - amateurish,
though she did not tell him so. Instead, when he had done, she
pointed out the minor flaws and said that she liked the story.
But he was disappointed. Her criticism was just. He acknowledged
that, but he had a feeling that he was not sharing his work with
her for the purpose of schoolroom correction. The details did not
matter. They could take care of themselves. He could mend them,
he could learn to mend them. Out of life he had captured something
big and attempted to imprison it in the story. It was the big
thing out of life he had read to her, not sentence-structure and
semicolons. He wanted her to feel with him this big thing that was
his, that he had seen with his own eyes, grappled with his own
brain, and placed there on the page with his own hands in printed
words. Well, he had failed, was his secret decision. Perhaps the
editors were right. He had felt the big thing, but he had failed
to transmute it. He concealed his disappointment, and joined so
easily with her in her criticism that she did not realize that deep
down in him was running a strong undercurrent of disagreement.
"This next thing I've called 'The Pot'," he said, unfolding the
manuscript. "It has been refused by four or five magazines now,
but still I think it is good. In fact, I don't know what to think
of it, except that I've caught something there. Maybe it won't
affect you as it does me. It's a short thing - only two thousand
"How dreadful!" she cried, when he had finished. "It is horrible,
He noted her pale face, her eyes wide and tense, and her clenched
hands, with secret satisfaction. He had succeeded. He had
communicated the stuff of fancy and feeling from out of his brain.
It had struck home. No matter whether she liked it or not, it had
gripped her and mastered her, made her sit there and listen and
"It is life," he said, "and life is not always beautiful. And yet,
perhaps because I am strangely made, I find something beautiful
there. It seems to me that the beauty is tenfold enhanced because
it is there - "
"But why couldn't the poor woman - " she broke in disconnectedly.
Then she left the revolt of her thought unexpressed to cry out:
"Oh! It is degrading! It is not nice! It is nasty!"
For the moment it seemed to him that his heart stood still. NASTY!
He had never dreamed it. He had not meant it. The whole sketch
stood before him in letters of fire, and in such blaze of
illumination he sought vainly for nastiness. Then his heart began
to beat again. He was not guilty.
"Why didn't you select a nice subject?" she was saying. "We know
there are nasty things in the world, but that is no reason - "
She talked on in her indignant strain, but he was not following
her. He was smiling to himself as he looked up into her virginal
face, so innocent, so penetratingly innocent, that its purity
seemed always to enter into him, driving out of him all dross and
bathing him in some ethereal effulgence that was as cool and soft
and velvety as starshine. WE KNOW THERE ARE NASTY THINGS IN THE
WORLD! He cuddled to him the notion of her knowing, and chuckled
over it as a love joke. The next moment, in a flashing vision of
multitudinous detail, he sighted the whole sea of life's nastiness
that he had known and voyaged over and through, and he forgave her
for not understanding the story. It was through no fault of hers
that she could not understand. He thanked God that she had been
born and sheltered to such innocence. But he knew life, its
foulness as well as its fairness, its greatness in spite of the
slime that infested it, and by God he was going to have his say on
it to the world. Saints in heaven - how could they be anything but
fair and pure? No praise to them. But saints in slime - ah, that
was the everlasting wonder! That was what made life worth while.
To see moral grandeur rising out of cesspools of iniquity; to rise
himself and first glimpse beauty, faint and far, through mud-
dripping eyes; to see out of weakness, and frailty, and
viciousness, and all abysmal brutishness, arising strength, and
truth, and high spiritual endowment -
He caught a stray sequence of sentences she was uttering.
"The tone of it all is low. And there is so much that is high.
Take 'In Memoriam.'"
He was impelled to suggest "Locksley Hall," and would have done so,
had not his vision gripped him again and left him staring at her,
the female of his kind, who, out of the primordial ferment,
creeping and crawling up the vast ladder of life for a thousand
thousand centuries, had emerged on the topmost rung, having become
one Ruth, pure, and fair, and divine, and with power to make him
know love, and to aspire toward purity, and to desire to taste
divinity - him, Martin Eden, who, too, had come up in some amazing
fashion from out of the ruck and the mire and the countless
mistakes and abortions of unending creation. There was the
romance, and the wonder, and the glory. There was the stuff to
write, if he could only find speech. Saints in heaven! - They were
only saints and could not help themselves. But he was a man.
"You have strength," he could hear her saying, "but it is untutored
"Like a bull in a china shop," he suggested, and won a smile.
"And you must develop discrimination. You must consult taste, and
fineness, and tone."
"I dare too much," he muttered.
She smiled approbation, and settled herself to listen to another
"I don't know what you'll make of this," he said apologetically.
"It's a funny thing. I'm afraid I got beyond my depth in it, but
my intentions were good. Don't bother about the little features of
it. Just see if you catch the feel of the big thing in it. It is
big, and it is true, though the chance is large that I have failed
to make it intelligible."
He read, and as he read he watched her. At last he had reached
her, he thought. She sat without movement, her eyes steadfast upon
him, scarcely breathing, caught up and out of herself, he thought,
by the witchery of the thing he had created. He had entitled the
story "Adventure," and it was the apotheosis of adventure - not of
the adventure of the storybooks, but of real adventure, the savage
taskmaster, awful of punishment and awful of reward, faithless and
whimsical, demanding terrible patience and heartbreaking days and
nights of toil, offering the blazing sunlight glory or dark death
at the end of thirst and famine or of the long drag and monstrous
delirium of rotting fever, through blood and sweat and stinging
insects leading up by long chains of petty and ignoble contacts to
royal culminations and lordly achievements.
It was this, all of it, and more, that he had put into his story,
and it was this, he believed, that warmed her as she sat and
listened. Her eyes were wide, color was in her pale cheeks, and
before he finished it seemed to him that she was almost panting.
Truly, she was warmed; but she was warmed, not by the story, but by
him. She did not think much of the story; it was Martin's
intensity of power, the old excess of strength that seemed to pour
from his body and on and over her. The paradox of it was that it
was the story itself that was freighted with his power, that was
the channel, for the time being, through which his strength poured
out to her. She was aware only of the strength, and not of the
medium, and when she seemed most carried away by what he had
written, in reality she had been carried away by something quite
foreign to it - by a thought, terrible and perilous, that had
formed itself unsummoned in her brain. She had caught herself
wondering what marriage was like, and the becoming conscious of the
waywardness and ardor of the thought had terrified her. It was
unmaidenly. It was not like her. She had never been tormented by
womanhood, and she had lived in a dreamland of Tennysonian poesy,
dense even to the full significance of that delicate master's
delicate allusions to the grossnesses that intrude upon the
relations of queens and knights. She had been asleep, always, and
now life was thundering imperatively at all her doors. Mentally
she was in a panic to shoot the bolts and drop the bars into place,
while wanton instincts urged her to throw wide her portals and bid
the deliciously strange visitor to enter in.
Martin waited with satisfaction for her verdict. He had no doubt
of what it would be, and he was astounded when he heard her say:
"It is beautiful."
"It is beautiful," she repeated, with emphasis, after a pause.
Of course it was beautiful; but there was something more than mere
beauty in it, something more stingingly splendid which had made
beauty its handmaiden. He sprawled silently on the ground,
watching the grisly form of a great doubt rising before him. He
had failed. He was inarticulate. He had seen one of the greatest
things in the world, and he had not expressed it.
"What did you think of the - " He hesitated, abashed at his first
attempt to use a strange word. "Of the MOTIF?" he asked.
"It was confused," she answered. "That is my only criticism in the
large way. I followed the story, but there seemed so much else.
It is too wordy. You clog the action by introducing so much
"That was the major MOTIF," he hurriedly explained, "the big
underrunning MOTIF, the cosmic and universal thing. I tried to
make it keep time with the story itself, which was only superficial
after all. I was on the right scent, but I guess I did it badly.
I did not succeed in suggesting what I was driving at. But I'll
learn in time."
She did not follow him. She was a bachelor of arts, but he had
gone beyond her limitations. This she did not comprehend,
attributing her incomprehension to his incoherence.
"You were too voluble," she said. "But it was beautiful, in
He heard her voice as from far off, for he was debating whether he
would read her the "Sea Lyrics." He lay in dull despair, while she
watched him searchingly, pondering again upon unsummoned and
wayward thoughts of marriage.
"You want to be famous?" she asked abruptly.
"Yes, a little bit," he confessed. "That is part of the adventure.
It is not the being famous, but the process of becoming so, that
counts. And after all, to be famous would be, for me, only a means
to something else. I want to be famous very much, for that matter,
and for that reason."
"For your sake," he wanted to add, and might have added had she
proved enthusiastic over what he had read to her.
But she was too busy in her mind, carving out a career for him that
would at least be possible, to ask what the ultimate something was
which he had hinted at. There was no career for him in literature.
Of that she was convinced. He had proved it to-day, with his
amateurish and sophomoric productions. He could talk well, but he
was incapable of expressing himself in a literary way. She
compared Tennyson, and Browning, and her favorite prose masters
with him, and to his hopeless discredit. Yet she did not tell him
her whole mind. Her strange interest in him led her to temporize.
His desire to write was, after all, a little weakness which he
would grow out of in time. Then he would devote himself to the
more serious affairs of life. And he would succeed, too. She knew
that. He was so strong that he could not fail - if only he would
"I wish you would show me all you write, Mr. Eden," she said.
He flushed with pleasure. She was interested, that much was sure.
And at least she had not given him a rejection slip. She had
called certain portions of his work beautiful, and that was the
first encouragement he had ever received from any one.
"I will," he said passionately. "And I promise you, Miss Morse,
that I will make good. I have come far, I know that; and I have
far to go, and I will cover it if I have to do it on my hands and
knees." He held up a bunch of manuscript. "Here are the 'Sea
Lyrics.' When you get home, I'll turn them over to you to read at
your leisure. And you must be sure to tell me just what you think
of them. What I need, you know, above all things, is criticism.
And do, please, be frank with me."
"I will be perfectly frank," she promised, with an uneasy
conviction that she had not been frank with him and with a doubt if
she could be quite frank with him the next time.
"The first battle, fought and finished," Martin said to the
looking-glass ten days later. "But there will be a second battle,
and a third battle, and battles to the end of time, unless - "
He had not finished the sentence, but looked about the mean little
room and let his eyes dwell sadly upon a heap of returned
manuscripts, still in their long envelopes, which lay in a corner
on the floor. He had no stamps with which to continue them on
their travels, and for a week they had been piling up. More of
them would come in on the morrow, and on the next day, and the
next, till they were all in. And he would be unable to start them
out again. He was a month's rent behind on the typewriter, which
he could not pay, having barely enough for the week's board which
was due and for the employment office fees.
He sat down and regarded the table thoughtfully. There were ink
stains upon it, and he suddenly discovered that he was fond of it.
"Dear old table," he said, "I've spent some happy hours with you,
and you've been a pretty good friend when all is said and done.
You never turned me down, never passed me out a reward-of-unmerit
rejection slip, never complained about working overtime."
He dropped his arms upon the table and buried his face in them.
His throat was aching, and he wanted to cry. It reminded him of
his first fight, when he was six years old, when he punched away
with the tears running down his cheeks while the other boy, two
years his elder, had beaten and pounded him into exhaustion. He
saw the ring of boys, howling like barbarians as he went down at
last, writhing in the throes of nausea, the blood streaming from
his nose and the tears from his bruised eyes.
"Poor little shaver," he murmured. "And you're just as badly
licked now. You're beaten to a pulp. You're down and out."
But the vision of that first fight still lingered under his
eyelids, and as he watched he saw it dissolve and reshape into the
series of fights which had followed. Six months later Cheese-Face
(that was the boy) had whipped him again. But he had blacked
Cheese-Face's eye that time. That was going some. He saw them
all, fight after fight, himself always whipped and Cheese-Face
exulting over him. But he had never run away. He felt
strengthened by the memory of that. He had always stayed and taken
his medicine. Cheese-Face had been a little fiend at fighting, and
had never once shown mercy to him. But he had stayed! He had
stayed with it!
Next, he saw a narrow alley, between ramshackle frame buildings.
The end of the alley was blocked by a one-story brick building, out
of which issued the rhythmic thunder of the presses, running off
the first edition of the ENQUIRER. He was eleven, and Cheese-Face
was thirteen, and they both carried the ENQUIRER. That was why
they were there, waiting for their papers. And, of course, Cheese-
Face had picked on him again, and there was another fight that was
indeterminate, because at quarter to four the door of the press-
room was thrown open and the gang of boys crowded in to fold their
"I'll lick you to-morrow," he heard Cheese-Face promise; and he
heard his own voice, piping and trembling with unshed tears,
agreeing to be there on the morrow.
And he had come there the next day, hurrying from school to be
there first, and beating Cheese-Face by two minutes. The other
boys said he was all right, and gave him advice, pointing out his
faults as a scrapper and promising him victory if he carried out
their instructions. The same boys gave Cheese-Face advice, too.
How they had enjoyed the fight! He paused in his recollections
long enough to envy them the spectacle he and Cheese-Face had put
up. Then the fight was on, and it went on, without rounds, for
thirty minutes, until the press-room door was opened.
He watched the youthful apparition of himself, day after day,
hurrying from school to the ENQUIRER alley. He could not walk very
fast. He was stiff and lame from the incessant fighting. His
forearms were black and blue from wrist to elbow, what of the
countless blows he had warded off, and here and there the tortured
flesh was beginning to fester. His head and arms and shoulders
ached, the small of his back ached, - he ached all over, and his
brain was heavy and dazed. He did not play at school. Nor did he
study. Even to sit still all day at his desk, as he did, was a
torment. It seemed centuries since he had begun the round of daily
fights, and time stretched away into a nightmare and infinite
future of daily fights. Why couldn't Cheese-Face be licked? he
often thought; that would put him, Martin, out of his misery. It
never entered his head to cease fighting, to allow Cheese-Face to
And so he dragged himself to the ENQUIRER alley, sick in body and
soul, but learning the long patience, to confront his eternal
enemy, Cheese-Face, who was just as sick as he, and just a bit
willing to quit if it were not for the gang of newsboys that looked
on and made pride painful and necessary. One afternoon, after
twenty minutes of desperate efforts to annihilate each other
according to set rules that did not permit kicking, striking below
the belt, nor hitting when one was down, Cheese-Face, panting for
breath and reeling, offered to call it quits. And Martin, head on
arms, thrilled at the picture he caught of himself, at that moment
in the afternoon of long ago, when he reeled and panted and choked
with the blood that ran into his mouth and down his throat from his
cut lips; when he tottered toward Cheese-Face, spitting out a
mouthful of blood so that he could speak, crying out that he would
never quit, though Cheese-Face could give in if he wanted to. And
Cheese-Face did not give in, and the fight went on.
The next day and the next, days without end, witnessed the
afternoon fight. When he put up his arms, each day, to begin, they
pained exquisitely, and the first few blows, struck and received,
racked his soul; after that things grew numb, and he fought on
blindly, seeing as in a dream, dancing and wavering, the large
features and burning, animal-like eyes of Cheese-Face. He
concentrated upon that face; all else about him was a whirling
void. There was nothing else in the world but that face, and he
would never know rest, blessed rest, until he had beaten that face
into a pulp with his bleeding knuckles, or until the bleeding
knuckles that somehow belonged to that face had beaten him into a
pulp. And then, one way or the other, he would have rest. But to
quit, - for him, Martin, to quit, - that was impossible!
Came the day when he dragged himself into the ENQUIRER alley, and
there was no Cheese-Face. Nor did Cheese-Face come. The boys
congratulated him, and told him that he had licked Cheese-Face.
But Martin was not satisfied. He had not licked Cheese-Face, nor
had Cheese-Face licked him. The problem had not been solved. It
was not until afterward that they learned that Cheese-Face's father
had died suddenly that very day.
Martin skipped on through the years to the night in the nigger
heaven at the Auditorium. He was seventeen and just back from sea.
A row started. Somebody was bullying somebody, and Martin
interfered, to be confronted by Cheese-Face's blazing eyes.
"I'll fix you after de show," his ancient enemy hissed.
Martin nodded. The nigger-heaven bouncer was making his way toward
"I'll meet you outside, after the last act," Martin whispered, the
while his face showed undivided interest in the buck-and-wing
dancing on the stage.
The bouncer glared and went away.
"Got a gang?" he asked Cheese-Face, at the end of the act.
"Then I got to get one," Martin announced.
Between the acts he mustered his following - three fellows he knew
from the nail works, a railroad fireman, and half a dozen of the
Boo Gang, along with as many more from the dread Eighteen-and-
When the theatre let out, the two gangs strung along
inconspicuously on opposite sides of the street. When they came to
a quiet corner, they united and held a council of war.
"Eighth Street Bridge is the place," said a red-headed fellow
belonging to Cheese-Face's Gang. "You kin fight in the middle,
under the electric light, an' whichever way the bulls come in we
kin sneak the other way."
"That's agreeable to me," Martin said, after consulting with the
leaders of his own gang.
The Eighth Street Bridge, crossing an arm of San Antonio Estuary,
was the length of three city blocks. In the middle of the bridge,
and at each end, were electric lights. No policeman could pass
those end-lights unseen. It was the safe place for the battle that
revived itself under Martin's eyelids. He saw the two gangs,
aggressive and sullen, rigidly keeping apart from each other and
backing their respective champions; and he saw himself and Cheese-
Face stripping. A short distance away lookouts were set, their
task being to watch the lighted ends of the bridge. A member of
the Boo Gang held Martin's coat, and shirt, and cap, ready to race
with them into safety in case the police interfered. Martin
watched himself go into the centre, facing Cheese-Face, and he
heard himself say, as he held up his hand warningly:-
"They ain't no hand-shakin' in this. Understand? They ain't
nothin' but scrap. No throwin' up the sponge. This is a grudge-
fight an' it's to a finish. Understand? Somebody's goin' to get
Cheese-Face wanted to demur, - Martin could see that, - but Cheese-
Face's old perilous pride was touched before the two gangs.
"Aw, come on," he replied. "Wot's the good of chewin' de rag about
it? I'm wit' cheh to de finish."
Then they fell upon each other, like young bulls, in all the glory
of youth, with naked fists, with hatred, with desire to hurt, to
maim, to destroy. All the painful, thousand years' gains of man in
his upward climb through creation were lost. Only the electric
light remained, a milestone on the path of the great human
adventure. Martin and Cheese-Face were two savages, of the stone
age, of the squatting place and the tree refuge. They sank lower
and lower into the muddy abyss, back into the dregs of the raw
beginnings of life, striving blindly and chemically, as atoms
strive, as the star-dust if the heavens strives, colliding,
recoiling, and colliding again and eternally again.
"God! We are animals! Brute-beasts!" Martin muttered aloud, as
he watched the progress of the fight. It was to him, with his
splendid power of vision, like gazing into a kinetoscope. He was
both onlooker and participant. His long months of culture and
refinement shuddered at the sight; then the present was blotted out
of his consciousness and the ghosts of the past possessed him, and
he was Martin Eden, just returned from sea and fighting Cheese-Face
on the Eighth Street Bridge. He suffered and toiled and sweated
and bled, and exulted when his naked knuckles smashed home.
They were twin whirlwinds of hatred, revolving about each other
monstrously. The time passed, and the two hostile gangs became
very quiet. They had never witnessed such intensity of ferocity,
and they were awed by it. The two fighters were greater brutes
than they. The first splendid velvet edge of youth and condition
wore off, and they fought more cautiously and deliberately. There
had been no advantage gained either way. "It's anybody's fight,"
Martin heard some one saying. Then he followed up a feint, right
and left, was fiercely countered, and felt his cheek laid open to
the bone. No bare knuckle had done that. He heard mutters of
amazement at the ghastly damage wrought, and was drenched with his
own blood. But he gave no sign. He became immensely wary, for he
was wise with knowledge of the low cunning and foul vileness of his
kind. He watched and waited, until he feigned a wild rush, which
he stopped midway, for he had seen the glint of metal.
"Hold up yer hand!" he screamed. "Them's brass knuckles, an' you
hit me with 'em!"
Both gangs surged forward, growling and snarling. In a second
there would be a free-for-all fight, and he would be robbed of his
vengeance. He was beside himself.
"You guys keep out!" he screamed hoarsely. "Understand? Say,
They shrank away from him. They were brutes, but he was the arch-
brute, a thing of terror that towered over them and dominated them.
"This is my scrap, an' they ain't goin' to be no buttin' in.
Gimme them knuckles."
Cheese-Face, sobered and a bit frightened, surrendered the foul
"You passed 'em to him, you red-head sneakin' in behind the push
there," Martin went on, as he tossed the knuckles into the water.
"I seen you, an' I was wonderin' what you was up to. If you try
anything like that again, I'll beat cheh to death. Understand?"
They fought on, through exhaustion and beyond, to exhaustion
immeasurable and inconceivable, until the crowd of brutes, its
blood-lust sated, terrified by what it saw, begged them impartially
to cease. And Cheese-Face, ready to drop and die, or to stay on
his legs and die, a grisly monster out of whose features all
likeness to Cheese-Face had been beaten, wavered and hesitated; but
Martin sprang in and smashed him again and again.
Next, after a seeming century or so, with Cheese-Face weakening
fast, in a mix-up of blows there was a loud snap, and Martin's
right arm dropped to his side. It was a broken bone. Everybody
heard it and knew; and Cheese-Face knew, rushing like a tiger in
the other's extremity and raining blow on blow. Martin's gang
surged forward to interfere. Dazed by the rapid succession of
blows, Martin warned them back with vile and earnest curses sobbed
out and groaned in ultimate desolation and despair.
He punched on, with his left hand only, and as he punched,
doggedly, only half-conscious, as from a remote distance he heard
murmurs of fear in the gangs, and one who said with shaking voice:
"This ain't a scrap, fellows. It's murder, an' we ought to stop
But no one stopped it, and he was glad, punching on wearily and
endlessly with his one arm, battering away at a bloody something
before him that was not a face but a horror, an oscillating,
hideous, gibbering, nameless thing that persisted before his
wavering vision and would not go away. And he punched on and on,
slower and slower, as the last shreds of vitality oozed from him,
through centuries and aeons and enormous lapses of time, until, in
a dim way, he became aware that the nameless thing was sinking,
slowly sinking down to the rough board-planking of the bridge. And
the next moment he was standing over it, staggering and swaying on
shaky legs, clutching at the air for support, and saying in a voice
he did not recognize:-
"D'ye want any more? Say, d'ye want any more?"
He was still saying it, over and over, - demanding, entreating,
threatening, to know if it wanted any more, - when he felt the
fellows of his gang laying hands on him, patting him on the back
and trying to put his coat on him. And then came a sudden rush of
blackness and oblivion.
The tin alarm-clock on the table ticked on, but Martin Eden, his
face buried on his arms, did not hear it. He heard nothing. He
did not think. So absolutely had he relived life that he had
fainted just as he fainted years before on the Eighth Street
Bridge. For a full minute the blackness and the blankness endured.
Then, like one from the dead, he sprang upright, eyes flaming,
sweat pouring down his face, shouting:-
"I licked you, Cheese-Face! It took me eleven years, but I licked
His knees were trembling under him, he felt faint, and he staggered
back to the bed, sinking down and sitting on the edge of it. He
was still in the clutch of the past. He looked about the room,
perplexed, alarmed, wondering where he was, until he caught sight
of the pile of manuscripts in the corner. Then the wheels of
memory slipped ahead through four years of time, and he was aware
of the present, of the books he had opened and the universe he had
won from their pages, of his dreams and ambitions, and of his love
for a pale wraith of a girl, sensitive and sheltered and ethereal,
who would die of horror did she witness but one moment of what he
had just lived through - one moment of all the muck of life through
which he had waded.
He arose to his feet and confronted himself in the looking-glass.
"And so you arise from the mud, Martin Eden," he said solemnly.
"And you cleanse your eyes in a great brightness, and thrust your
shoulders among the stars, doing what all life has done, letting
the 'ape and tiger die' and wresting highest heritage from all
powers that be."
He looked more closely at himself and laughed.
"A bit of hysteria and melodrama, eh?" he queried. "Well, never
mind. You licked Cheese-Face, and you'll lick the editors if it
takes twice eleven years to do it in. You can't stop here. You've
got to go on. It's to a finish, you know."
The alarm-clock went off, jerking Martin out of sleep with a
suddenness that would have given headache to one with less splendid
constitution. Though he slept soundly, he awoke instantly, like a
cat, and he awoke eagerly, glad that the five hours of
unconsciousness were gone. He hated the oblivion of sleep. There
was too much to do, too much of life to live. He grudged every
moment of life sleep robbed him of, and before the clock had ceased
its clattering he was head and ears in the washbasin and thrilling
to the cold bite of the water.
But he did not follow his regular programme. There was no
unfinished story waiting his hand, no new story demanding
articulation. He had studied late, and it was nearly time for
breakfast. He tried to read a chapter in Fiske, but his brain was
restless and he closed the book. To-day witnessed the beginning of
the new battle, wherein for some time there would be no writing.
He was aware of a sadness akin to that with which one leaves home
and family. He looked at the manuscripts in the corner. That was
it. He was going away from them, his pitiful, dishonored children
that were welcome nowhere. He went over and began to rummage among
them, reading snatches here and there, his favorite portions. "The
Pot" he honored with reading aloud, as he did "Adventure." "Joy,"
his latest-born, completed the day before and tossed into the
corner for lack of stamps, won his keenest approbation.
"I can't understand," he murmured. "Or maybe it's the editors who
can't understand. There's nothing wrong with that. They publish
worse every month. Everything they publish is worse - nearly
After breakfast he put the type-writer in its case and carried it
down into Oakland.
"I owe a month on it," he told the clerk in the store. "But you
tell the manager I'm going to work and that I'll be in in a month
or so and straighten up."
He crossed on the ferry to San Francisco and made his way to an
employment office. "Any kind of work, no trade," he told the
agent; and was interrupted by a new-comer, dressed rather
foppishly, as some workingmen dress who have instincts for finer
things. The agent shook his head despondently.
"Nothin' doin' eh?" said the other. "Well, I got to get somebody
He turned and stared at Martin, and Martin, staring back, noted the
puffed and discolored face, handsome and weak, and knew that he had
been making a night of it.
"Lookin' for a job?" the other queried. "What can you do?"
"Hard labor, sailorizing, run a type-writer, no shorthand, can sit
on a horse, willing to do anything and tackle anything," was the
The other nodded.
"Sounds good to me. My name's Dawson, Joe Dawson, an' I'm tryin'
to scare up a laundryman."
"Too much for me." Martin caught an amusing glimpse of himself
ironing fluffy white things that women wear. But he had taken a
liking to the other, and he added: "I might do the plain washing.
I learned that much at sea." Joe Dawson thought visibly for a
"Look here, let's get together an' frame it up. Willin' to
"This is a small laundry, up country, belongs to Shelly Hot
Springs, - hotel, you know. Two men do the work, boss and
assistant. I'm the boss. You don't work for me, but you work
under me. Think you'd be willin' to learn?"
Martin paused to think. The prospect was alluring. A few months
of it, and he would have time to himself for study. He could work
hard and study hard.
"Good grub an' a room to yourself," Joe said.
That settled it. A room to himself where he could burn the
midnight oil unmolested.
"But work like hell," the other added.
Martin caressed his swelling shoulder-muscles significantly. "That
came from hard work."
"Then let's get to it." Joe held his hand to his head for a
moment. "Gee, but it's a stem-winder. Can hardly see. I went
down the line last night - everything - everything. Here's the
frame-up. The wages for two is a hundred and board. I've ben
drawin' down sixty, the second man forty. But he knew the biz.
You're green. If I break you in, I'll be doing plenty of your work
at first. Suppose you begin at thirty, an' work up to the forty.
I'll play fair. Just as soon as you can do your share you get the
"I'll go you," Martin announced, stretching out his hand, which the
other shook. "Any advance? - for rail-road ticket and extras?"
"I blew it in," was Joe's sad answer, with another reach at his
aching head. "All I got is a return ticket."
"And I'm broke - when I pay my board."
"Jump it," Joe advised.
"Can't. Owe it to my sister."
Joe whistled a long, perplexed whistle, and racked his brains to
"I've got the price of the drinks," he said desperately. "Come on,
an' mebbe we'll cook up something."
This time Martin nodded, and Joe lamented, "Wish I was."
"But I somehow just can't," he said in extenuation. "After I've
ben workin' like hell all week I just got to booze up. If I
didn't, I'd cut my throat or burn up the premises. But I'm glad
you're on the wagon. Stay with it."
Martin knew of the enormous gulf between him and this man - the
gulf the books had made; but he found no difficulty in crossing
back over that gulf. He had lived all his life in the working-
class world, and the CAMARADERIE of labor was second nature with
him. He solved the difficulty of transportation that was too much
for the other's aching head. He would send his trunk up to Shelly
Hot Springs on Joe's ticket. As for himself, there was his wheel.
It was seventy miles, and he could ride it on Sunday and be ready
for work Monday morning. In the meantime he would go home and pack
up. There was no one to say good-by to. Ruth and her whole family
were spending the long summer in the Sierras, at Lake Tahoe.
He arrived at Shelly Hot Springs, tired and dusty, on Sunday night.
Joe greeted him exuberantly. With a wet towel bound about his
aching brow, he had been at work all day.
"Part of last week's washin' mounted up, me bein' away to get you,"
he explained. "Your box arrived all right. It's in your room.
But it's a hell of a thing to call a trunk. An' what's in it?
Joe sat on the bed while Martin unpacked. The box was a packing-
case for breakfast food, and Mr. Higginbotham had charged him half
a dollar for it. Two rope handles, nailed on by Martin, had
technically transformed it into a trunk eligible for the baggage-
car. Joe watched, with bulging eyes, a few shirts and several
changes of underclothes come out of the box, followed by books, and
"Books clean to the bottom?" he asked.
Martin nodded, and went on arranging the books on a kitchen table
which served in the room in place of a wash-stand.
"Gee!" Joe exploded, then waited in silence for the deduction to
arise in his brain. At last it came.
"Say, you don't care for the girls - much?" he queried.
"No," was the answer. "I used to chase a lot before I tackled the
books. But since then there's no time."
"And there won't be any time here. All you can do is work an'
Martin thought of his five hours' sleep a night, and smiled. The
room was situated over the laundry and was in the same building
with the engine that pumped water, made electricity, and ran the
laundry machinery. The engineer, who occupied the adjoining room,
dropped in to meet the new hand and helped Martin rig up an
electric bulb, on an extension wire, so that it travelled along a
stretched cord from over the table to the bed.
The next morning, at quarter-past six, Martin was routed out for a
quarter-to-seven breakfast. There happened to be a bath-tub for
the servants in the laundry building, and he electrified Joe by
taking a cold bath.
"Gee, but you're a hummer!" Joe announced, as they sat down to
breakfast in a corner of the hotel kitchen.
With them was the engineer, the gardener, and the assistant
gardener, and two or three men from the stable. They ate hurriedly
and gloomily, with but little conversation, and as Martin ate and
listened he realized how far he had travelled from their status.
Their small mental caliber was depressing to him, and he was
anxious to get away from them. So he bolted his breakfast, a
sickly, sloppy affair, as rapidly as they, and heaved a sigh of
relief when he passed out through the kitchen door.
It was a perfectly appointed, small steam laundry, wherein the most
modern machinery did everything that was possible for machinery to
do. Martin, after a few instructions, sorted the great heaps of
soiled clothes, while Joe started the masher and made up fresh
supplies of soft-soap, compounded of biting chemicals that
compelled him to swathe his mouth and nostrils and eyes in bath-
towels till he resembled a mummy. Finished the sorting, Martin
lent a hand in wringing the clothes. This was done by dumping them
into a spinning receptacle that went at a rate of a few thousand
revolutions a minute, tearing the matter from the clothes by
centrifugal force. Then Martin began to alternate between the
dryer and the wringer, between times "shaking out" socks and
stockings. By the afternoon, one feeding and one, stacking up,
they were running socks and stockings through the mangle while the
irons were heating. Then it was hot irons and underclothes till
six o'clock, at which time Joe shook his head dubiously.
"Way behind," he said. "Got to work after supper." And after
supper they worked until ten o'clock, under the blazing electric
lights, until the last piece of under-clothing was ironed and
folded away in the distributing room. It was a hot California
night, and though the windows were thrown wide, the room, with its
red-hot ironing-stove, was a furnace. Martin and Joe, down to
undershirts, bare armed, sweated and panted for air.
"Like trimming cargo in the tropics," Martin said, when they went
"You'll do," Joe answered. "You take hold like a good fellow. If
you keep up the pace, you'll be on thirty dollars only one month.
The second month you'll be gettin' your forty. But don't tell me
you never ironed before. I know better."
"Never ironed a rag in my life, honestly, until to-day," Martin
He was surprised at his weariness when he act into his room,
forgetful of the fact that he had been on his feet and working
without let up for fourteen hours. He set the alarm clock at six,
and measured back five hours to one o'clock. He could read until
then. Slipping off his shoes, to ease his swollen feet, he sat
down at the table with his books. He opened Fiske, where he had
left off to read. But he found trouble began to read it through a
second time. Then he awoke, in pain from his stiffened muscles and
chilled by the mountain wind that had begun to blow in through the
window. He looked at the clock. It marked two. He had been
asleep four hours. He pulled off his clothes and crawled into bed,
where he was asleep the moment after his head touched the pillow.
Tuesday was a day of similar unremitting toil. The speed with
which Joe worked won Martin's admiration. Joe was a dozen of
demons for work. He was keyed up to concert pitch, and there was
never a moment in the long day when he was not fighting for
moments. He concentrated himself upon his work and upon how to
save time, pointing out to Martin where he did in five motions what
could be done in three, or in three motions what could be done in
two. "Elimination of waste motion," Martin phrased it as he
watched and patterned after. He was a good workman himself, quick
and deft, and it had always been a point of pride with him that no
man should do any of his work for him or outwork him. As a result,
he concentrated with a similar singleness of purpose, greedily
snapping up the hints and suggestions thrown out by his working
mate. He "rubbed out' collars and cuffs, rubbing the starch out
from between the double thicknesses of linen so that there would be
no blisters when it came to the ironing, and doing it at a pace
that elicited Joe's praise.
There was never an interval when something was not at hand to be
done. Joe waited for nothing, waited on nothing, and went on the
jump from task to task. They starched two hundred white shirts,
with a single gathering movement seizing a shirt so that the
wristbands, neckband, yoke, and bosom protruded beyond the circling
right hand. At the same moment the left hand held up the body of
the shirt so that it would not enter the starch, and at the moment
the right hand dipped into the starch - starch so hot that, in
order to wring it out, their hands had to thrust, and thrust
continually, into a bucket of cold water. And that night they
worked till half-past ten, dipping "fancy starch" - all the
frilled and airy, delicate wear of ladies.
"Me for the tropics and no clothes," Martin laughed.
"And me out of a job," Joe answered seriously. "I don't know
nothin' but laundrying."
"And you know it well."
"I ought to. Began in the Contra Costa in Oakland when I was
eleven, shakin' out for the mangle. That was eighteen years ago,
an' I've never done a tap of anything else. But this job is the
fiercest I ever had. Ought to be one more man on it at least. We
work to-morrow night. Always run the mangle Wednesday nights -
collars an' cuffs."
Martin set his alarm, drew up to the table, and opened Fiske. He
did not finish the first paragraph. The lines blurred and ran
together and his head nodded. He walked up and down, batting his
head savagely with his fists, but he could not conquer the numbness
of sleep. He propped the book before him, and propped his eyelids
with his fingers, and fell asleep with his eyes wide open. Then he
surrendered, and, scarcely conscious of what he did, got off his
clothes and into bed. He slept seven hours of heavy, animal-like
sleep, and awoke by the alarm, feeling that he had not had enough.
"Doin' much readin'?" Joe asked.
Martin shook his head.
"Never mind. We got to run the mangle to-night, but Thursday we'll
knock off at six. That'll give you a chance."
Martin washed woollens that day, by hand, in a large barrel, with
strong soft-soap, by means of a hub from a wagon wheel, mounted on
a plunger-pole that was attached to a spring-pole overhead.
"My invention," Joe said proudly. "Beats a washboard an' your
knuckles, and, besides, it saves at least fifteen minutes in the
week, an' fifteen minutes ain't to be sneezed at in this shebang."
Running the collars and cuffs through the mangle was also Joe's
idea. That night, while they toiled on under the electric lights,
he explained it.
"Something no laundry ever does, except this one. An' I got to do
it if I'm goin' to get done Saturday afternoon at three o'clock.
But I know how, an' that's the difference. Got to have right heat,
right pressure, and run 'em through three times. Look at that!"
He held a cuff aloft. "Couldn't do it better by hand or on a
Thursday, Joe was in a rage. A bundle of extra "fancy starch" had
"I'm goin' to quit," he announced. "I won't stand for it. I'm
goin' to quit it cold. What's the good of me workin' like a slave
all week, a-savin' minutes, an' them a-comin' an' ringin' in fancy-
starch extras on me? This is a free country, an' I'm to tell that
fat Dutchman what I think of him. An' I won't tell 'm in French.
Plain United States is good enough for me. Him a-ringin' in fancy
"We got to work to-night," he said the next moment, reversing his
judgment and surrendering to fate.
And Martin did no reading that night. He had seen no daily paper
all week, and, strangely to him, felt no desire to see one. He was
not interested in the news. He was too tired and jaded to be
interested in anything, though he planned to leave Saturday
afternoon, if they finished at three, and ride on his wheel to
Oakland. It was seventy miles, and the same distance back on
Sunday afternoon would leave him anything but rested for the second
week's work. It would have been easier to go on the train, but the
round trip was two dollars and a half, and he was intent on saving
Martin learned to do many things. In the course of the first week,
in one afternoon, he and Joe accounted for the two hundred white
shirts. Joe ran the tiler, a machine wherein a hot iron was hooked
on a steel string which furnished the pressure. By this means he
ironed the yoke, wristbands, and neckband, setting the latter at
right angles to the shirt, and put the glossy finish on the bosom.
As fast as he finished them, he flung the shirts on a rack between
him and Martin, who caught them up and "backed" them. This task
consisted of ironing all the unstarched portions of the shirts.
It was exhausting work, carried on, hour after hour, at top speed.
Out on the broad verandas of the hotel, men and women, in cool
white, sipped iced drinks and kept their circulation down. But in
the laundry the air was sizzling. The huge stove roared red hot
and white hot, while the irons, moving over the damp cloth, sent up
clouds of steam. The heat of these irons was different from that
used by housewives. An iron that stood the ordinary test of a wet
finger was too cold for Joe and Martin, and such test was useless.
They went wholly by holding the irons close to their cheeks,
gauging the heat by some secret mental process that Martin admired
but could not understand. When the fresh irons proved too hot,
they hooked them on iron rods and dipped them into cold water.
This again required a precise and subtle judgment. A fraction of a
second too long in the water and the fine and silken edge of the
proper heat was lost, and Martin found time to marvel at the
accuracy he developed - an automatic accuracy, founded upon
criteria that were machine-like and unerring.
But there was little time in which to marvel. All Martin's
consciousness was concentrated in the work. Ceaselessly active,
head and hand, an intelligent machine, all that constituted him a
man was devoted to furnishing that intelligence. There was no room
in his brain for the universe and its mighty problems. All the
broad and spacious corridors of his mind were closed and
hermetically sealed. The echoing chamber of his soul was a narrow
room, a conning tower, whence were directed his arm and shoulder
muscles, his ten nimble fingers, and the swift-moving iron along
its steaming path in broad, sweeping strokes, just so many strokes
and no more, just so far with each stroke and not a fraction of an
inch farther, rushing along interminable sleeves, sides, backs, and
tails, and tossing the finished shirts, without rumpling, upon the
receiving frame. And even as his hurrying soul tossed, it was
reaching for another shirt. This went on, hour after hour, while
outside all the world swooned under the overhead California sun.
But there was no swooning in that superheated room. The cool
guests on the verandas needed clean linen.
The sweat poured from Martin. He drank enormous quantities of
water, but so great was the heat of the day and of his exertions,
that the water sluiced through the interstices of his flesh and out
at all his pores. Always, at sea, except at rare intervals, the
work he performed had given him ample opportunity to commune with
himself. The master of the ship had been lord of Martin's time;
but here the manager of the hotel was lord of Martin's thoughts as
well. He had no thoughts save for the nerve-racking, body-
destroying toil. Outside of that it was impossible to think. He
did not know that he loved Ruth. She did not even exist, for his
driven soul had no time to remember her. It was only when he
crawled to bed at night, or to breakfast in the morning, that she
asserted herself to him in fleeting memories.
"This is hell, ain't it?" Joe remarked once.
Martin nodded, but felt a rasp of irritation. The statement had
been obvious and unnecessary. They did not talk while they worked.
Conversation threw them out of their stride, as it did this time,
compelling Martin to miss a stroke of his iron and to make two
extra motions before he caught his stride again.
On Friday morning the washer ran. Twice a week they had to put
through hotel linen, - the sheets, pillow-slips, spreads, table-
cloths, and napkins. This finished, they buckled down to "fancy
starch." It was slow work, fastidious and delicate, and Martin did
not learn it so readily. Besides, he could not take chances.
Mistakes were disastrous.
"See that," Joe said, holding up a filmy corset-cover that he could
have crumpled from view in one hand. "Scorch that an' it's twenty
dollars out of your wages."
So Martin did not scorch that, and eased down on his muscular
tension, though nervous tension rose higher than ever, and he
listened sympathetically to the other's blasphemies as he toiled
and suffered over the beautiful things that women wear when they do
not have to do their own laundrying. "Fancy starch" was Martin's
nightmare, and it was Joe's, too. It was "fancy starch" that
robbed them of their hard-won minutes. They toiled at it all day.
At seven in the evening they broke off to run the hotel linen
through the mangle. At ten o'clock, while the hotel guests slept,
the two laundrymen sweated on at "fancy starch" till midnight, till
one, till two. At half-past two they knocked off.
Saturday morning it was "fancy starch," and odds and ends, and at
three in the afternoon the week's work was done.
"You ain't a-goin' to ride them seventy miles into Oakland on top
of this?" Joe demanded, as they sat on the stairs and took a
"Got to," was the answer.
"What are you goin' for? - a girl?"
"No; to save two and a half on the railroad ticket. I want to
renew some books at the library."
"Why don't you send 'em down an' up by express? That'll cost only
a quarter each way."
Martin considered it.
"An' take a rest to-morrow," the other urged. "You need it. I
know I do. I'm plumb tuckered out."
He looked it. Indomitable, never resting, fighting for seconds and
minutes all week, circumventing delays and crushing down obstacles,
a fount of resistless energy, a high-driven human motor, a demon
for work, now that he had accomplished the week's task he was in a
state of collapse. He was worn and haggard, and his handsome face
drooped in lean exhaustion. He pulled his cigarette spiritlessly,
and his voice was peculiarly dead and monotonous. All the snap and
fire had gone out of him. His triumph seemed a sorry one.
"An' next week we got to do it all over again," he said sadly.
"An' what's the good of it all, hey? Sometimes I wish I was a
hobo. They don't work, an' they get their livin'. Gee! I wish I
had a glass of beer; but I can't get up the gumption to go down to
the village an' get it. You'll stay over, an' send your books dawn
by express, or else you're a damn fool."
"But what can I do here all day Sunday?" Martin asked.
"Rest. You don't know how tired you are. Why, I'm that tired
Sunday I can't even read the papers. I was sick once - typhoid.
In the hospital two months an' a half. Didn't do a tap of work all
that time. It was beautiful."
"It was beautiful," he repeated dreamily, a minute later.
Martin took a bath, after which he found that the head laundryman
had disappeared. Most likely he had gone for a glass of beer
Martin decided, but the half-mile walk down to the village to find
out seemed a long journey to him. He lay on his bed with his shoes
off, trying to make up his mind. He did not reach out for a book.
He was too tired to feel sleepy, and he lay, scarcely thinking, in
a semi-stupor of weariness, until it was time for supper. Joe did
not appear for that function, and when Martin heard the gardener
remark that most likely he was ripping the slats off the bar,
Martin understood. He went to bed immediately afterward, and in
the morning decided that he was greatly rested. Joe being still
absent, Martin procured a Sunday paper and lay down in a shady nook
under the trees. The morning passed, he knew not how. He did not
sleep, nobody disturbed him, and he did not finish the paper. He
came back to it in the afternoon, after dinner, and fell asleep
So passed Sunday, and Monday morning he was hard at work, sorting
clothes, while Joe, a towel bound tightly around his head, with
groans and blasphemies, was running the washer and mixing soft-
"I simply can't help it," he explained. "I got to drink when
Saturday night comes around."
Another week passed, a great battle that continued under the
electric lights each night and that culminated on Saturday
afternoon at three o'clock, when Joe tasted his moment of wilted
triumph and then drifted down to the village to forget. Martin's
Sunday was the same as before. He slept in the shade of the trees,
toiled aimlessly through the newspaper, and spent long hours lying
on his back, doing nothing, thinking nothing. He was too dazed to
think, though he was aware that he did not like himself. He was
self-repelled, as though he had undergone some degradation or was
intrinsically foul. All that was god-like in him was blotted out.
The spur of ambition was blunted; he had no vitality with which to
feel the prod of it. He was dead. His soul seemed dead. He was a
beast, a work-beast. He saw no beauty in the sunshine sifting down
through the green leaves, nor did the azure vault of the sky
whisper as of old and hint of cosmic vastness and secrets trembling
to disclosure. Life was intolerably dull and stupid, and its taste
was bad in his mouth. A black screen was drawn across his mirror
of inner vision, and fancy lay in a darkened sick-room where
entered no ray of light. He envied Joe, down in the village,
rampant, tearing the slats off the bar, his brain gnawing with
maggots, exulting in maudlin ways over maudlin things,
fantastically and gloriously drunk and forgetful of Monday morning
and the week of deadening toil to come.
A third week went by, and Martin loathed himself, and loathed life.
He was oppressed by a sense of failure. There was reason for the
editors refusing his stuff. He could see that clearly now, and
laugh at himself and the dreams he had dreamed. Ruth returned his
"Sea Lyrics" by mail. He read her letter apathetically. She did
her best to say how much she liked them and that they were
beautiful. But she could not lie, and she could not disguise the
truth from herself. She knew they were failures, and he read her
disapproval in every perfunctory and unenthusiastic line of her
letter. And she was right. He was firmly convinced of it as he
read the poems over. Beauty and wonder had departed from him, and
as he read the poems he caught himself puzzling as to what he had
had in mind when he wrote them. His audacities of phrase struck
him as grotesque, his felicities of expression were monstrosities,
and everything was absurd, unreal, and impossible. He would have
burned the "Sea Lyrics" on the spot, had his will been strong
enough to set them aflame. There was the engine-room, but the
exertion of carrying them to the furnace was not worth while. All
his exertion was used in washing other persons' clothes. He did
not have any left for private affairs.
He resolved that when Sunday came he would pull himself together
and answer Ruth's letter. But Saturday afternoon, after work was
finished and he had taken a bath, the desire to forget overpowered
him. "I guess I'll go down and see how Joe's getting on," was the
way he put it to himself; and in the same moment he knew that he
lied. But he did not have the energy to consider the lie. If he
had had the energy, he would have refused to consider the lie,
because he wanted to forget. He started for the village slowly and
casually, increasing his pace in spite of himself as he neared the
"I thought you was on the water-wagon," was Joe's greeting.
Martin did not deign to offer excuses, but called for whiskey,
filling his own glass brimming before he passed the bottle.
"Don't take all night about it," he said roughly.
The other was dawdling with the bottle, and Martin refused to wait
for him, tossing the glass off in a gulp and refilling it.
"Now, I can wait for you," he said grimly; "but hurry up."
Joe hurried, and they drank together.
"The work did it, eh?" Joe queried.
Martin refused to discuss the matter.
"It's fair hell, I know," the other went on, "but I kind of hate to
see you come off the wagon, Mart. Well, here's how!"
Martin drank on silently, biting out his orders and invitations and
awing the barkeeper, an effeminate country youngster with watery
blue eyes and hair parted in the middle.
"It's something scandalous the way they work us poor devils," Joe
was remarking. "If I didn't bowl up, I'd break loose an' burn down
the shebang. My bowlin' up is all that saves 'em, I can tell you
But Martin made no answer. A few more drinks, and in his brain he
felt the maggots of intoxication beginning to crawl. Ah, it was
living, the first breath of life he had breathed in three weeks.
His dreams came back to him. Fancy came out of the darkened room
and lured him on, a thing of flaming brightness. His mirror of
vision was silver-clear, a flashing, dazzling palimpsest of
imagery. Wonder and beauty walked with him, hand in hand, and all
power was his. He tried to tell it to Joe, but Joe had visions of
his own, infallible schemes whereby he would escape the slavery of
laundry-work and become himself the owner of a great steam laundry.
"I tell yeh, Mart, they won't be no kids workin' in my laundry -
not on yer life. An' they won't be no workin' a livin' soul after
six P.M. You hear me talk! They'll be machinery enough an' hands
enough to do it all in decent workin' hours, an' Mart, s'help me,
I'll make yeh superintendent of the shebang - the whole of it, all
of it. Now here's the scheme. I get on the water-wagon an' save
my money for two years - save an' then - "
But Martin turned away, leaving him to tell it to the barkeeper,
until that worthy was called away to furnish drinks to two farmers
who, coming in, accepted Martin's invitation. Martin dispensed
royal largess, inviting everybody up, farm-hands, a stableman, and
the gardener's assistant from the hotel, the barkeeper, and the
furtive hobo who slid in like a shadow and like a shadow hovered at
the end of the bar.
Monday morning, Joe groaned over the first truck load of clothes to
"I say," he began.
"Don't talk to me," Martin snarled.
"I'm sorry, Joe," he said at noon, when they knocked off for
Tears came into the other's eyes.
"That's all right, old man," he said. "We're in hell, an' we can't
help ourselves. An', you know, I kind of like you a whole lot.
That's what made it - hurt. I cottoned to you from the first."
Martin shook his hand.
"Let's quit," Joe suggested. "Let's chuck it, an' go hoboin'. I
ain't never tried it, but it must be dead easy. An' nothin' to do.
Just think of it, nothin' to do. I was sick once, typhoid, in the
hospital, an' it was beautiful. I wish I'd get sick again."
The week dragged on. The hotel was full, and extra "fancy starch"
poured in upon them. They performed prodigies of valor. They
fought late each night under the electric lights, bolted their
meals, and even got in a half hour's work before breakfast. Martin
no longer took his cold baths. Every moment was drive, drive,
drive, and Joe was the masterful shepherd of moments, herding them
carefully, never losing one, counting them over like a miser
counting gold, working on in a frenzy, toil-mad, a feverish
machine, aided ably by that other machine that thought of itself as
once having been one Martin Eden, a man.
But it was only at rare moments that Martin was able to think. The
house of thought was closed, its windows boarded up, and he was its
shadowy caretaker. He was a shadow. Joe was right. They were
both shadows, and this was the unending limbo of toil. Or was it a
dream? Sometimes, in the steaming, sizzling heat, as he swung the
heavy irons back and forth over the white garments, it came to him
that it was a dream. In a short while, or maybe after a thousand
years or so, he would awake, in his little room with the ink-
stained table, and take up his writing where he had left off the
day before. Or maybe that was a dream, too, and the awakening
would be the changing of the watches, when he would drop down out
of his bunk in the lurching forecastle and go up on deck, under the
tropic stars, and take the wheel and feel the cool tradewind
blowing through his flesh.
Came Saturday and its hollow victory at three o'clock.
"Guess I'll go down an' get a glass of beer," Joe said, in the
queer, monotonous tones that marked his week-end collapse.
Martin seemed suddenly to wake up. He opened the kit bag and oiled
his wheel, putting graphite on the chain and adjusting the
bearings. Joe was halfway down to the saloon when Martin passed
by, bending low over the handle-bars, his legs driving the ninety-
six gear with rhythmic strength, his face set for seventy miles of
road and grade and dust. He slept in Oakland that night, and on
Sunday covered the seventy miles back. And on Monday morning,
weary, he began the new week's work, but he had kept sober.
A fifth week passed, and a sixth, during which he lived and toiled
as a machine, with just a spark of something more in him, just a
glimmering bit of soul, that compelled him, at each week-end, to
scorch off the hundred and forty miles. But this was not rest. It
was super-machinelike, and it helped to crush out the glimmering
bit of soul that was all that was left him from former life. At
the end of the seventh week, without intending it, too weak to
resist, he drifted down to the village with Joe and drowned life
and found life until Monday morning.
Again, at the week-ends, he ground out the one hundred and forty
miles, obliterating the numbness of too great exertion by the
numbness of still greater exertion. At the end of three months he
went down a third time to the village with Joe. He forgot, and
lived again, and, living, he saw, in clear illumination, the beast
he was making of himself - not by the drink, but by the work. The
drink was an effect, not a cause. It followed inevitably upon the
work, as the night follows upon the day. Not by becoming a toil-
beast could he win to the heights, was the message the whiskey
whispered to him, and he nodded approbation. The whiskey was wise.
It told secrets on itself.
He called for paper and pencil, and for drinks all around, and
while they drank his very good health, he clung to the bar and
"A telegram, Joe," he said. "Read it."
Joe read it with a drunken, quizzical leer. But what he read
seemed to sober him. He looked at the other reproachfully, tears
oozing into his eyes and down his cheeks.
"You ain't goin' back on me, Mart?" he queried hopelessly.
Martin nodded, and called one of the loungers to him to take the
message to the telegraph office.
"Hold on," Joe muttered thickly. "Lemme think."
He held on to the bar, his legs wobbling under him, Martin's arm
around him and supporting him, while he thought.
"Make that two laundrymen," he said abruptly. "Here, lemme fix
"What are you quitting for?" Martin demanded.
"Same reason as you."
"But I'm going to sea. You can't do that."
"Nope," was the answer, "but I can hobo all right, all right."
Martin looked at him searchingly for a moment, then cried:-
"By God, I think you're right! Better a hobo than a beast of toil.
Why, man, you'll live. And that's more than you ever did before."
"I was in hospital, once," Joe corrected. "It was beautiful.
Typhoid - did I tell you?"
While Martin changed the telegram to "two laundrymen," Joe went
"I never wanted to drink when I was in hospital. Funny, ain't it?
But when I've ben workin' like a slave all week, I just got to bowl
up. Ever noticed that cooks drink like hell? - an' bakers, too?
It's the work. They've sure got to. Here, lemme pay half of that
"I'll shake you for it," Martin offered.
"Come on, everybody drink," Joe called, as they rattled the dice
and rolled them out on the damp bar.
Monday morning Joe was wild with anticipation. He did not mind his
aching head, nor did he take interest in his work. Whole herds of
moments stole away and were lost while their careless shepherd
gazed out of the window at the sunshine and the trees.
"Just look at it!" he cried. "An' it's all mine! It's free. I
can lie down under them trees an' sleep for a thousan' years if I
want to. Aw, come on, Mart, let's chuck it. What's the good of
waitin' another moment. That's the land of nothin' to do out
there, an' I got a ticket for it - an' it ain't no return ticket,
A few minutes later, filling the truck with soiled clothes for the
washer, Joe spied the hotel manager's shirt. He knew its mark, and
with a sudden glorious consciousness of freedom he threw it on the
floor and stamped on it.
"I wish you was in it, you pig-headed Dutchman!" he shouted. "In
it, an' right there where I've got you! Take that! an' that! an'
that! damn you! Hold me back, somebody! Hold me back!"
Martin laughed and held him to his work. On Tuesday night the new
laundrymen arrived, and the rest of the week was spent breaking
them into the routine. Joe sat around and explained his system,
but he did no more work.
"Not a tap," he announced. "Not a tap. They can fire me if they
want to, but if they do, I'll quit. No more work in mine, thank
you kindly. Me for the freight cars an' the shade under the trees.
Go to it, you slaves! That's right. Slave an' sweat! Slave an'
sweat! An' when you're dead, you'll rot the same as me, an' what's
it matter how you live? - eh? Tell me that - what's it matter in
the long run?"
On Saturday they drew their pay and came to the parting of the
"They ain't no use in me askin' you to change your mind an' hit the
road with me?" Joe asked hopelessly:
Martin shook his head. He was standing by his wheel, ready to
start. They shook hands, and Joe held on to his for a moment, as
"I'm goin' to see you again, Mart, before you an' me die. That's
straight dope. I feel it in my bones. Good-by, Mart, an' be good.
I like you like hell, you know."
He stood, a forlorn figure, in the middle of the road, watching
until Martin turned a bend and was gone from sight.
"He's a good Indian, that boy," he muttered. "A good Indian."
Then he plodded down the road himself, to the water tank, where
half a dozen empties lay on a side-track waiting for the up
Ruth and her family were home again, and Martin, returned to
Oakland, saw much of her. Having gained her degree, she was doing
no more studying; and he, having worked all vitality out of his
mind and body, was doing no writing. This gave them time for each
other that they had never had before, and their intimacy ripened
At first, Martin had done nothing but rest. He had slept a great
deal, and spent long hours musing and thinking and doing nothing.
He was like one recovering from some terrible bout if hardship.
The first signs of reawakening came when he discovered more than
languid interest in the daily paper. Then he began to read again -
light novels, and poetry; and after several days more he was head
over heels in his long-neglected Fiske. His splendid body and
health made new vitality, and he possessed all the resiliency and
rebound of youth.
Ruth showed her disappointment plainly when he announced that he
was going to sea for another voyage as soon as he was well rested.
"Why do you want to do that?" she asked.
"Money," was the answer. "I'll have to lay in a supply for my next
attack on the editors. Money is the sinews of war, in my case -
money and patience."
"But if all you wanted was money, why didn't you stay in the
"Because the laundry was making a beast of me. Too much work of
that sort drives to drink."
She stared at him with horror in her eyes.
"Do you mean - ?" she quavered.