Part 4 out of 8
It would have been easy for him to get out of it; but his natural
impulse was for frankness, and he remembered his old resolve to be
frank, no matter what happened.
"Yes," he answered. "Just that. Several times."
She shivered and drew away from him.
"No man that I have ever known did that - ever did that."
"Then they never worked in the laundry at Shelly Hot Springs," he
laughed bitterly. "Toil is a good thing. It is necessary for
human health, so all the preachers say, and Heaven knows I've never
been afraid of it. But there is such a thing as too much of a good
thing, and the laundry up there is one of them. And that's why I'm
going to sea one more voyage. It will be my last, I think, for
when I come back, I shall break into the magazines. I am certain
She was silent, unsympathetic, and he watched her moodily,
realizing how impossible it was for her to understand what he had
"Some day I shall write it up - 'The Degradation of Toil' or the
'Psychology of Drink in the Working-class,' or something like that
for a title."
Never, since the first meeting, had they seemed so far apart as
that day. His confession, told in frankness, with the spirit of
revolt behind, had repelled her. But she was more shocked by the
repulsion itself than by the cause of it. It pointed out to her
how near she had drawn to him, and once accepted, it paved the way
for greater intimacy. Pity, too, was aroused, and innocent,
idealistic thoughts of reform. She would save this raw young man
who had come so far. She would save him from the curse of his
early environment, and she would save him from himself in spite of
himself. And all this affected her as a very noble state of
consciousness; nor did she dream that behind it and underlying it
were the jealousy and desire of love.
They rode on their wheels much in the delightful fall weather, and
out in the hills they read poetry aloud, now one and now the other,
noble, uplifting poetry that turned one's thoughts to higher
things. Renunciation, sacrifice, patience, industry, and high
endeavor were the principles she thus indirectly preached - such
abstractions being objectified in her mind by her father, and Mr.
Butler, and by Andrew Carnegie, who, from a poor immigrant boy had
arisen to be the book-giver of the world. All of which was
appreciated and enjoyed by Martin. He followed her mental
processes more clearly now, and her soul was no longer the sealed
wonder it had been. He was on terms of intellectual equality with
her. But the points of disagreement did not affect his love. His
love was more ardent than ever, for he loved her for what she was,
and even her physical frailty was an added charm in his eyes. He
read of sickly Elizabeth Barrett, who for years had not placed her
feet upon the ground, until that day of flame when she eloped with
Browning and stood upright, upon the earth, under the open sky; and
what Browning had done for her, Martin decided he could do for
Ruth. But first, she must love him. The rest would be easy. He
would give her strength and health. And he caught glimpses of
their life, in the years to come, wherein, against a background of
work and comfort and general well-being, he saw himself and Ruth
reading and discussing poetry, she propped amid a multitude of
cushions on the ground while she read aloud to him. This was the
key to the life they would live. And always he saw that particular
picture. Sometimes it was she who leaned against him while he
read, one arm about her, her head upon his shoulder. Sometimes
they pored together over the printed pages of beauty. Then, too,
she loved nature, and with generous imagination he changed the
scene of their reading - sometimes they read in closed-in valleys
with precipitous walls, or in high mountain meadows, and, again,
down by the gray sand-dunes with a wreath of billows at their feet,
or afar on some volcanic tropic isle where waterfalls descended and
became mist, reaching the sea in vapor veils that swayed and
shivered to every vagrant wisp of wind. But always, in the
foreground, lords of beauty and eternally reading and sharing, lay
he and Ruth, and always in the background that was beyond the
background of nature, dim and hazy, were work and success and money
earned that made them free of the world and all its treasures.
"I should recommend my little girl to be careful," her mother
warned her one day.
"I know what you mean. But it is impossible. He if; not - "
Ruth was blushing, but it was the blush of maidenhood called upon
for the first time to discuss the sacred things of life with a
mother held equally sacred.
"Your kind." Her mother finished the sentence for her.
"I did not want to say it, but he is not. He is rough, brutal,
strong - too strong. He has not - "
She hesitated and could not go on. It was a new experience,
talking over such matters with her mother. And again her mother
completed her thought for her.
"He has not lived a clean life, is what you wanted to say."
Again Ruth nodded, and again a blush mantled her face.
"It is just that," she said. "It has not been his fault, but he
has played much with - "
"Yes, with pitch. And he frightens me. Sometimes I am positively
in terror of him, when he talks in that free and easy way of the
things he has done - as if they did not matter. They do matter,
They sat with their arms twined around each other, and in the pause
her mother patted her hand and waited for her to go on.
"But I am interested in him dreadfully," she continued. "In a way
he is my protege. Then, too, he is my first boy friend - but not
exactly friend; rather protege and friend combined. Sometimes,
too, when he frightens me, it seems that he is a bulldog I have
taken for a plaything, like some of the 'frat' girls, and he is
tugging hard, and showing his teeth, and threatening to break
Again her mother waited.
"He interests me, I suppose, like the bulldog. And there is much
good in him, too; but there is much in him that I would not like in
- in the other way. You see, I have been thinking. He swears, he
smokes, he drinks, he has fought with his fists (he has told me so,
and he likes it; he says so). He is all that a man should not be -
a man I would want for my - " her voice sank very low - "husband.
Then he is too strong. My prince must be tall, and slender, and
dark - a graceful, bewitching prince. No, there is no danger of my
failing in love with Martin Eden. It would be the worst fate that
could befall me."
"But it is not that that I spoke about," her mother equivocated.
"Have you thought about him? He is so ineligible in every way, you
know, and suppose he should come to love you?"
"But he does - already," she cried.
"It was to be expected," Mrs. Morse said gently. "How could it be
otherwise with any one who knew you?"
"Olney hates me!" she exclaimed passionately. "And I hate Olney.
I feel always like a cat when he is around. I feel that I must be
nasty to him, and even when I don't happen to feel that way, why,
he's nasty to me, anyway. But I am happy with Martin Eden. No one
ever loved me before - no man, I mean, in that way. And it is
sweet to be loved - that way. You know what I mean, mother dear.
It is sweet to feel that you are really and truly a woman." She
buried her face in her mother's lap, sobbing. "You think I am
dreadful, I know, but I am honest, and I tell you just how I feel."
Mrs. Morse was strangely sad and happy. Her child-daughter, who
was a bachelor of arts, was gone; but in her place was a woman-
daughter. The experiment had succeeded. The strange void in
Ruth's nature had been filled, and filled without danger or
penalty. This rough sailor-fellow had been the instrument, and,
though Ruth did not love him, he had made her conscious of her
"His hand trembles," Ruth was confessing, her face, for shame's
sake, still buried. "It is most amusing and ridiculous, but I feel
sorry for him, too. And when his hands are too trembly, and his
eyes too shiny, why, I lecture him about his life and the wrong way
he is going about it to mend it. But he worships me, I know. His
eyes and his hands do not lie. And it makes me feel grown-up, the
thought of it, the very thought of it; and I feel that I am
possessed of something that is by rights my own - that makes me
like the other girls - and - and young women. And, then, too, I
knew that I was not like them before, and I knew that it worried
you. You thought you did not let me know that dear worry of yours,
but I did, and I wanted to - 'to make good,' as Martin Eden says."
It was a holy hour for mother and daughter, and their eyes were wet
as they talked on in the twilight, Ruth all white innocence and
frankness, her mother sympathetic, receptive, yet calmly explaining
"He is four years younger than you," she said. "He has no place in
the world. He has neither position nor salary. He is impractical.
Loving you, he should, in the name of common sense, be doing
something that would give him the right to marry, instead of
paltering around with those stories of his and with childish
dreams. Martin Eden, I am afraid, will never grow up. He does not
take to responsibility and a man's work in the world like your
father did, or like all our friends, Mr. Butler for one. Martin
Eden, I am afraid, will never be a money-earner. And this world is
so ordered that money is necessary to happiness - oh, no, not these
swollen fortunes, but enough of money to permit of common comfort
and decency. He - he has never spoken?"
"He has not breathed a word. He has not attempted to; but if he
did, I would not let him, because, you see, I do not love him."
"I am glad of that. I should not care to see my daughter, my one
daughter, who is so clean and pure, love a man like him. There are
noble men in the world who are clean and true and manly. Wait for
them. You will find one some day, and you will love him and be
loved by him, and you will be happy with him as your father and I
have been happy with each other. And there is one thing you must
always carry in mind - "
Mrs. Morse's voice was low and sweet as she said, "And that is the
"I - have thought about them," Ruth confessed, remembering the
wanton thoughts that had vexed her in the past, her face again red
with maiden shame that she should be telling such things.
"And it is that, the children, that makes Mr. Eden impossible,"
Mrs. Morse went on incisively. "Their heritage must be clean, and
he is, I am afraid, not clean. Your father has told me of sailors'
lives, and - and you understand."
Ruth pressed her mother's hand in assent, feeling that she really
did understand, though her conception was of something vague,
remote, and terrible that was beyond the scope of imagination.
"You know I do nothing without telling you," she began. " - Only,
sometimes you must ask me, like this time. I wanted to tell you,
but I did not know how. It is false modesty, I know it is that,
but you can make it easy for me. Sometimes, like this time, you
must ask me, you must give me a chance."
"Why, mother, you are a woman, too!" she cried exultantly, as they
stood up, catching her mother's hands and standing erect, facing
her in the twilight, conscious of a strangely sweet equality
between them. "I should never have thought of you in that way if
we had not had this talk. I had to learn that I was a woman to
know that you were one, too."
"We are women together," her mother said, drawing her to her and
kissing her. "We are women together," she repeated, as they went
out of the room, their arms around each other's waists, their
hearts swelling with a new sense of companionship.
"Our little girl has become a woman," Mrs. Morse said proudly to
her husband an hour later.
"That means," he said, after a long look at his wife, "that means
she is in love."
"No, but that she is loved," was the smiling rejoinder. "The
experiment has succeeded. She is awakened at last."
"Then we'll have to get rid of him." Mr. Morse spoke briskly, in
matter-of-fact, businesslike tones.
But his wife shook her head. "It will not be necessary. Ruth says
he is going to sea in a few days. When he comes back, she will not
be here. We will send her to Aunt Clara's. And, besides, a year
in the East, with the change in climate, people, ideas, and
everything, is just the thing she needs."
The desire to write was stirring in Martin once more. Stories and
poems were springing into spontaneous creation in his brain, and he
made notes of them against the future time when he would give them
expression. But he did not write. This was his little vacation;
he had resolved to devote it to rest and love, and in both matters
he prospered. He was soon spilling over with vitality, and each
day he saw Ruth, at the moment of meeting, she experienced the old
shock of his strength and health.
"Be careful," her mother warned her once again. "I am afraid you
are seeing too much of Martin Eden."
But Ruth laughed from security. She was sure of herself, and in a
few days he would be off to sea. Then, by the time he returned,
she would be away on her visit East. There was a magic, however,
in the strength and health of Martin. He, too, had been told of
her contemplated Eastern trip, and he felt the need for haste. Yet
he did not know how to make love to a girl like Ruth. Then, too,
he was handicapped by the possession of a great fund of experience
with girls and women who had been absolutely different from her.
They had known about love and life and flirtation, while she knew
nothing about such things. Her prodigious innocence appalled him,
freezing on his lips all ardors of speech, and convincing him, in
spite of himself, of his own unworthiness. Also he was handicapped
in another way. He had himself never been in love before. He had
liked women in that turgid past of his, and been fascinated by some
of them, but he had not known what it was to love them. He had
whistled in a masterful, careless way, and they had come to him.
They had been diversions, incidents, part of the game men play, but
a small part at most. And now, and for the first time, he was a
suppliant, tender and timid and doubting. He did not know the way
of love, nor its speech, while he was frightened at his loved one's
In the course of getting acquainted with a varied world, whirling
on through the ever changing phases of it, he had learned a rule of
conduct which was to the effect that when one played a strange
game, he should let the other fellow play first. This had stood
him in good stead a thousand times and trained him as an observer
as well. He knew how to watch the thing that was strange, and to
wait for a weakness, for a place of entrance, to divulge itself.
It was like sparring for an opening in fist-fighting. And when
such an opening came, he knew by long experience to play for it and
to play hard.
So he waited with Ruth and watched, desiring to speak his love but
not daring. He was afraid of shocking her, and he was not sure of
himself. Had he but known it, he was following the right course
with her. Love came into the world before articulate speech, and
in its own early youth it had learned ways and means that it had
never forgotten. It was in this old, primitive way that Martin
wooed Ruth. He did not know he was doing it at first, though later
he divined it. The touch of his hand on hers was vastly more
potent than any word he could utter, the impact of his strength on
her imagination was more alluring than the printed poems and spoken
passions of a thousand generations of lovers. Whatever his tongue
could express would have appealed, in part, to her judgment; but
the touch of hand, the fleeting contact, made its way directly to
her instinct. Her judgment was as young as she, but her instincts
were as old as the race and older. They had been young when love
was young, and they were wiser than convention and opinion and all
the new-born things. So her judgment did not act. There was no
call upon it, and she did not realize the strength of the appeal
Martin made from moment to moment to her love-nature. That he
loved her, on the other hand, was as clear as day, and she
consciously delighted in beholding his love-manifestations - the
glowing eyes with their tender lights, the trembling hands, and the
never failing swarthy flush that flooded darkly under his sunburn.
She even went farther, in a timid way inciting him, but doing it so
delicately that he never suspected, and doing it half-consciously,
so that she scarcely suspected herself. She thrilled with these
proofs of her power that proclaimed her a woman, and she took an
Eve-like delight in tormenting him and playing upon him.
Tongue-tied by inexperience and by excess of ardor, wooing
unwittingly and awkwardly, Martin continued his approach by
contact. The touch of his hand was pleasant to her, and something
deliciously more than pleasant. Martin did not know it, but he did
know that it was not distasteful to her. Not that they touched
hands often, save at meeting and parting; but that in handling the
bicycles, in strapping on the books of verse they carried into the
hills, and in conning the pages of books side by side, there were
opportunities for hand to stray against hand. And there were
opportunities, too, for her hair to brush his cheek, and for
shoulder to touch shoulder, as they leaned together over the beauty
of the books. She smiled to herself at vagrant impulses which
arose from nowhere and suggested that she rumple his hair; while he
desired greatly, when they tired of reading, to rest his head in
her lap and dream with closed eyes about the future that was to be
theirs. On Sunday picnics at Shellmound Park and Schuetzen Park,
in the past, he had rested his head on many laps, and, usually, he
had slept soundly and selfishly while the girls shaded his face
from the sun and looked down and loved him and wondered at his
lordly carelessness of their love. To rest his head in a girl's
lap had been the easiest thing in the world until now, and now he
found Ruth's lap inaccessible and impossible. Yet it was right
here, in his reticence, that the strength of his wooing lay. It
was because of this reticence that he never alarmed her. Herself
fastidious and timid, she never awakened to the perilous trend of
their intercourse. Subtly and unaware she grew toward him and
closer to him, while he, sensing the growing closeness, longed to
dare but was afraid.
Once he dared, one afternoon, when he found her in the darkened
living room with a blinding headache.
"Nothing can do it any good," she had answered his inquiries. "And
besides, I don't take headache powders. Doctor Hall won't permit
"I can cure it, I think, and without drugs," was Martin's answer.
"I am not sure, of course, but I'd like to try. It's simply
massage. I learned the trick first from the Japanese. They are a
race of masseurs, you know. Then I learned it all over again with
variations from the Hawaiians. They call it LOMI-LOMI. It can
accomplish most of the things drugs accomplish and a few things
that drugs can't."
Scarcely had his hands touched her head when she sighed deeply.
"That is so good," she said.
She spoke once again, half an hour later, when she asked, "Aren't
The question was perfunctory, and she knew what the answer would
be. Then she lost herself in drowsy contemplation of the soothing
balm of his strength: Life poured from the ends of his fingers,
driving the pain before it, or so it seemed to her, until with the
easement of pain, she fell asleep and he stole away.
She called him up by telephone that evening to thank him.
"I slept until dinner," she said. "You cured me completely, Mr.
Eden, and I don't know how to thank you."
He was warm, and bungling of speech, and very happy, as he replied
to her, and there was dancing in his mind, throughout the telephone
conversation, the memory of Browning and of sickly Elizabeth
Barrett. What had been done could be done again, and he, Martin
Eden, could do it and would do it for Ruth Morse. He went back to
his room and to the volume of Spencer's "Sociology" lying open on
the bed. But he could not read. Love tormented him and overrode
his will, so that, despite all determination, he found himself at
the little ink-stained table. The sonnet he composed that night
was the first of a love-cycle of fifty sonnets which was completed
within two months. He had the "Love-sonnets from the Portuguese"
in mind as he wrote, and he wrote under the best conditions for
great work, at a climacteric of living, in the throes of his own
The many hours he was not with Ruth he devoted to the "Love-cycle,"
to reading at home, or to the public reading-rooms, where he got
more closely in touch with the magazines of the day and the nature
of their policy and content. The hours he spent with Ruth were
maddening alike in promise and in inconclusiveness. It was a week
after he cured her headache that a moonlight sail on Lake Merritt
was proposed by Norman and seconded by Arthur and Olney. Martin
was the only one capable of handling a boat, and he was pressed
into service. Ruth sat near him in the stern, while the three
young fellows lounged amidships, deep in a wordy wrangle over
The moon had not yet risen, and Ruth, gazing into the starry vault
of the sky and exchanging no speech with Martin, experienced a
sudden feeling of loneliness. She glanced at him. A puff of wind
was heeling the boat over till the deck was awash, and he, one hand
on tiller and the other on main-sheet, was luffing slightly, at the
same time peering ahead to make out the near-lying north shore. He
was unaware of her gaze, and she watched him intently, speculating
fancifully about the strange warp of soul that led him, a young man
with signal powers, to fritter away his time on the writing of
stories and poems foredoomed to mediocrity and failure.
Her eyes wandered along the strong throat, dimly seen in the
starlight, and over the firm-poised head, and the old desire to lay
her hands upon his neck came back to her. The strength she
abhorred attracted her. Her feeling of loneliness became more
pronounced, and she felt tired. Her position on the heeling boat
irked her, and she remembered the headache he had cured and the
soothing rest that resided in him. He was sitting beside her,
quite beside her, and the boat seemed to tilt her toward him. Then
arose in her the impulse to lean against him, to rest herself
against his strength - a vague, half-formed impulse, which, even as
she considered it, mastered her and made her lean toward him. Or
was it the heeling of the boat? She did not know. She never knew.
She knew only that she was leaning against him and that the
easement and soothing rest were very good. Perhaps it had been the
boat's fault, but she made no effort to retrieve it. She leaned
lightly against his shoulder, but she leaned, and she continued to
lean when he shifted his position to make it more comfortable for
It was a madness, but she refused to consider the madness. She was
no longer herself but a woman, with a woman's clinging need; and
though she leaned ever so lightly, the need seemed satisfied. She
was no longer tired. Martin did not speak. Had he, the spell
would have been broken. But his reticence of love prolonged it.
He was dazed and dizzy. He could not understand what was
happening. It was too wonderful to be anything but a delirium. He
conquered a mad desire to let go sheet and tiller and to clasp her
in his arms. His intuition told him it was the wrong thing to do,
and he was glad that sheet and tiller kept his hands occupied and
fended off temptation. But he luffed the boat less delicately,
spilling the wind shamelessly from the sail so as to prolong the
tack to the north shore. The shore would compel him to go about,
and the contact would be broken. He sailed with skill, stopping
way on the boat without exciting the notice of the wranglers, and
mentally forgiving his hardest voyages in that they had made this
marvellous night possible, giving him mastery over sea and boat and
wind so that he could sail with her beside him, her dear weight
against him on his shoulder.
When the first light of the rising moon touched the sail,
illuminating the boat with pearly radiance, Ruth moved away from
him. And, even as she moved, she felt him move away. The impulse
to avoid detection was mutual. The episode was tacitly and
secretly intimate. She sat apart from him with burning cheeks,
while the full force of it came home to her. She had been guilty
of something she would not have her brothers see, nor Olney see.
Why had she done it? She had never done anything like it in her
life, and yet she had been moonlight-sailing with young men before.
She had never desired to do anything like it. She was overcome
with shame and with the mystery of her own burgeoning womanhood.
She stole a glance at Martin, who was busy putting the boat about
on the other tack, and she could have hated him for having made her
do an immodest and shameful thing. And he, of all men! Perhaps
her mother was right, and she was seeing too much of him. It would
never happen again, she resolved, and she would see less of him in
the future. She entertained a wild idea of explaining to him the
first time they were alone together, of lying to him, of mentioning
casually the attack of faintness that had overpowered her just
before the moon came up. Then she remembered how they had drawn
mutually away before the revealing moon, and she knew he would know
it for a lie.
In the days that swiftly followed she was no longer herself but a
strange, puzzling creature, wilful over judgment and scornful of
self-analysis, refusing to peer into the future or to think about
herself and whither she was drifting. She was in a fever of
tingling mystery, alternately frightened and charmed, and in
constant bewilderment. She had one idea firmly fixed, however,
which insured her security. She would not let Martin speak his
love. As long as she did this, all would be well. In a few days
he would be off to sea. And even if he did speak, all would be
well. It could not be otherwise, for she did not love him. Of
course, it would be a painful half hour for him, and an
embarrassing half hour for her, because it would be her first
proposal. She thrilled deliciously at the thought. She was really
a woman, with a man ripe to ask for her in marriage. It was a lure
to all that was fundamental in her sex. The fabric of her life, of
all that constituted her, quivered and grew tremulous. The thought
fluttered in her mind like a flame-attracted moth. She went so far
as to imagine Martin proposing, herself putting the words into his
mouth; and she rehearsed her refusal, tempering it with kindness
and exhorting him to true and noble manhood. And especially he
must stop smoking cigarettes. She would make a point of that. But
no, she must not let him speak at all. She could stop him, and she
had told her mother that she would. All flushed and burning, she
regretfully dismissed the conjured situation. Her first proposal
would have to be deferred to a more propitious time and a more
Came a beautiful fall day, warm and languid, palpitant with the
hush of the changing season, a California Indian summer day, with
hazy sun and wandering wisps of breeze that did not stir the
slumber of the air. Filmy purple mists, that were not vapors but
fabrics woven of color, hid in the recesses of the hills. San
Francisco lay like a blur of smoke upon her heights. The
intervening bay was a dull sheen of molten metal, whereon sailing
craft lay motionless or drifted with the lazy tide. Far Tamalpais,
barely seen in the silver haze, bulked hugely by the Golden Gate,
the latter a pale gold pathway under the westering sun. Beyond,
the Pacific, dim and vast, was raising on its sky-line tumbled
cloud-masses that swept landward, giving warning of the first
blustering breath of winter.
The erasure of summer was at hand. Yet summer lingered, fading and
fainting among her hills, deepening the purple of her valleys,
spinning a shroud of haze from waning powers and sated raptures,
dying with the calm content of having lived and lived well. And
among the hills, on their favorite knoll, Martin and Ruth sat side
by side, their heads bent over the same pages, he reading aloud
from the love-sonnets of the woman who had loved Browning as it is
given to few men to be loved.
But the reading languished. The spell of passing beauty all about
them was too strong. The golden year was dying as it had lived, a
beautiful and unrepentant voluptuary, and reminiscent rapture and
content freighted heavily the air. It entered into them, dreamy
and languorous, weakening the fibres of resolution, suffusing the
face of morality, or of judgment, with haze and purple mist.
Martin felt tender and melting, and from time to time warm glows
passed over him. His head was very near to hers, and when
wandering phantoms of breeze stirred her hair so that it touched
his face, the printed pages swam before his eyes.
"I don't believe you know a word of what you are reading," she said
once when he had lost his place.
He looked at her with burning eyes, and was on the verge of
becoming awkward, when a retort came to his lips.
"I don't believe you know either. What was the last sonnet about?"
"I don't know," she laughed frankly. "I've already forgotten.
Don't let us read any more. The day is too beautiful."
"It will be our last in the hills for some time," he announced
gravely. "There's a storm gathering out there on the sea-rim."
The book slipped from his hands to the ground, and they sat idly
and silently, gazing out over the dreamy bay with eyes that dreamed
and did not see. Ruth glanced sidewise at his neck. She did not
lean toward him. She was drawn by some force outside of herself
and stronger than gravitation, strong as destiny. It was only an
inch to lean, and it was accomplished without volition on her part.
Her shoulder touched his as lightly as a butterfly touches a
flower, and just as lightly was the counter-pressure. She felt his
shoulder press hers, and a tremor run through him. Then was the
time for her to draw back. But she had become an automaton. Her
actions had passed beyond the control of her will - she never
thought of control or will in the delicious madness that was upon
her. His arm began to steal behind her and around her. She waited
its slow progress in a torment of delight. She waited, she knew
not for what, panting, with dry, burning lips, a leaping pulse, and
a fever of expectancy in all her blood. The girdling arm lifted
higher and drew her toward him, drew her slowly and caressingly.
She could wait no longer. With a tired sigh, and with an impulsive
movement all her own, unpremeditated, spasmodic, she rested her
head upon his breast. His head bent over swiftly, and, as his lips
approached, hers flew to meet them.
This must be love, she thought, in the one rational moment that was
vouchsafed her. If it was not love, it was too shameful. It could
be nothing else than love. She loved the man whose arms were
around her and whose lips were pressed to hers. She pressed more,
tightly to him, with a snuggling movement of her body. And a
moment later, tearing herself half out of his embrace, suddenly and
exultantly she reached up and placed both hands upon Martin Eden's
sunburnt neck. So exquisite was the pang of love and desire
fulfilled that she uttered a low moan, relaxed her hands, and lay
half-swooning in his arms.
Not a word had been spoken, and not a word was spoken for a long
time. Twice he bent and kissed her, and each time her lips met his
shyly and her body made its happy, nestling movement. She clung to
him, unable to release herself, and he sat, half supporting her in
his arms, as he gazed with unseeing eyes at the blur of the great
city across the bay. For once there were no visions in his brain.
Only colors and lights and glows pulsed there, warm as the day and
warm as his love. He bent over her. She was speaking.
"When did you love me?" she whispered.
"From the first, the very first, the first moment I laid eye on
you. I was mad for love of you then, and in all the time that has
passed since then I have only grown the madder. I am maddest, now,
dear. I am almost a lunatic, my head is so turned with joy."
"I am glad I am a woman, Martin - dear," she said, after a long
He crushed her in his arms again and again, and then asked:-
"And you? When did you first know?"
"Oh, I knew it all the time, almost, from the first."
"And I have been as blind as a bat!" he cried, a ring of vexation
in his voice. "I never dreamed it until just how, when I - when I
"I didn't mean that." She drew herself partly away and looked at
him. "I meant I knew you loved almost from the first."
"And you?" he demanded.
"It came to me suddenly." She was speaking very slowly, her eyes
warm and fluttery and melting, a soft flush on her cheeks that did
not go away. "I never knew until just now when - you put your arms
around me. And I never expected to marry you, Martin, not until
just now. How did you make me love you?"
"I don't know," he laughed, "unless just by loving you, for I loved
you hard enough to melt the heart of a stone, much less the heart
of the living, breathing woman you are."
"This is so different from what I thought love would be," she
"What did you think it would be like?"
"I didn't think it would be like this." She was looking into his
eyes at the moment, but her own dropped as she continued, "You see,
I didn't know what this was like."
He offered to draw her toward him again, but it was no more than a
tentative muscular movement of the girdling arm, for he feared that
he might be greedy. Then he felt her body yielding, and once again
she was close in his arms and lips were pressed on lips.
"What will my people say?" she queried, with sudden apprehension,
in one of the pauses.
"I don't know. We can find out very easily any time we are so
"But if mamma objects? I am sure I am afraid to tell her."
"Let me tell her," he volunteered valiantly. "I think your mother
does not like me, but I can win her around. A fellow who can win
you can win anything. And if we don't - "
"Why, we'll have each other. But there's no danger not winning
your mother to our marriage. She loves you too well."
"I should not like to break her heart," Ruth said pensively.
He felt like assuring her that mothers' hearts were not so easily
broken, but instead he said, "And love is the greatest thing in the
"Do you know, Martin, you sometimes frighten me. I am frightened
now, when I think of you and of what you have been. You must be
very, very good to me. Remember, after all, that I am only a
child. I never loved before."
"Nor I. We are both children together. And we are fortunate above
most, for we have found our first love in each other."
"But that is impossible!" she cried, withdrawing herself from his
arms with a swift, passionate movement. "Impossible for you. You
have been a sailor, and sailors, I have heard, are - are - "
Her voice faltered and died away.
"Are addicted to having a wife in every port?" he suggested. "Is
that what you mean?"
"Yes," she answered in a low voice.
"But that is not love." He spoke authoritatively. "I have been in
many ports, but I never knew a passing touch of love until I saw
you that first night. Do you know, when I said good night and went
away, I was almost arrested."
"Yes. The policeman thought I was drunk; and I was, too - with
love for you."
"But you said we were children, and I said it was impossible, for
you, and we have strayed away from the point."
"I said that I never loved anybody but you," he replied. "You are
my first, my very first."
"And yet you have been a sailor," she objected.
"But that doesn't prevent me from loving you the first."
"And there have been women - other women - oh!"
And to Martin Eden's supreme surprise, she burst into a storm of
tears that took more kisses than one and many caresses to drive
away. And all the while there was running through his head
Kipling's line: "AND THE COLONEL'S LADY AND JUDY O'GRADY ARE
SISTERS UNDER THEIR SKINS." It was true, he decided; though the
novels he had read had led him to believe otherwise. His idea, for
which the novels were responsible, had been that only formal
proposals obtained in the upper classes. It was all right enough,
down whence he had come, for youths and maidens to win each other
by contact; but for the exalted personages up above on the heights
to make love in similar fashion had seemed unthinkable. Yet the
novels were wrong. Here was a proof of it. The same pressures and
caresses, unaccompanied by speech, that were efficacious with the
girls of the working-class, were equally efficacious with the girls
above the working-class. They were all of the same flesh, after
all, sisters under their skins; and he might have known as much
himself had he remembered his Spencer. As he held Ruth in his arms
and soothed her, he took great consolation in the thought that the
Colonel's lady and Judy O'Grady were pretty much alike under their
skins. It brought Ruth closer to him, made her possible. Her dear
flesh was as anybody's flesh, as his flesh. There was no bar to
their marriage. Class difference was the only difference, and
class was extrinsic. It could be shaken off. A slave, he had
read, had risen to the Roman purple. That being so, then he could
rise to Ruth. Under her purity, and saintliness, and culture, and
ethereal beauty of soul, she was, in things fundamentally human,
just like Lizzie Connolly and all Lizzie Connollys. All that was
possible of them was possible of her. She could love, and hate,
maybe have hysterics; and she could certainly be jealous, as she
was jealous now, uttering her last sobs in his arms.
"Besides, I am older than you," she remarked suddenly, opening her
eyes and looking up at him, "three years older."
"Hush, you are only a child, and I am forty years older than you,
in experience," was his answer.
In truth, they were children together, so far as love was
concerned, and they were as naive and immature in the expression of
their love as a pair of children, and this despite the fact that
she was crammed with a university education and that his head was
full of scientific philosophy and the hard facts of life.
They sat on through the passing glory of the day, talking as lovers
are prone to talk, marvelling at the wonder of love and at destiny
that had flung them so strangely together, and dogmatically
believing that they loved to a degree never attained by lovers
before. And they returned insistently, again and again, to a
rehearsal of their first impressions of each other and to hopeless
attempts to analyze just precisely what they felt for each other
and how much there was of it.
The cloud-masses on the western horizon received the descending
sun, and the circle of the sky turned to rose, while the zenith
glowed with the same warm color. The rosy light was all about
them, flooding over them, as she sang, "Good-by, Sweet Day." She
sang softly, leaning in the cradle of his arm, her hands in his,
their hearts in each other's hands.
Mrs. Morse did not require a mother's intuition to read the
advertisement in Ruth's face when she returned home. The flush
that would not leave the cheeks told the simple story, and more
eloquently did the eyes, large and bright, reflecting an
unmistakable inward glory.
"What has happened?" Mrs. Morse asked, having bided her time till
Ruth had gone to bed.
"You know?" Ruth queried, with trembling lips.
For reply, her mother's arm went around her, and a hand was softly
caressing her hair.
"He did not speak," she blurted out. "I did not intend that it
should happen, and I would never have let him speak - only he
"But if he did not speak, then nothing could have happened, could
"But it did, just the same."
"In the name of goodness, child, what are you babbling about?" Mrs.
Morse was bewildered. "I don't think know what happened, after
all. What did happen?"
Ruth looked at her mother in surprise.
"I thought you knew. Why, we're engaged, Martin and I."
Mrs. Morse laughed with incredulous vexation.
"No, he didn't speak," Ruth explained. "He just loved me, that was
all. I was as surprised as you are. He didn't say a word. He
just put his arm around me. And - and I was not myself. And he
kissed me, and I kissed him. I couldn't help it. I just had to.
And then I knew I loved him."
She paused, waiting with expectancy the benediction of her mother's
kiss, but Mrs. Morse was coldly silent.
"It is a dreadful accident, I know," Ruth recommenced with a
sinking voice. "And I don't know how you will ever forgive me.
But I couldn't help it. I did not dream that I loved him until
that moment. And you must tell father for me."
"Would it not be better not to tell your father? Let me see Martin
Eden, and talk with him, and explain. He will understand and
"No! no!" Ruth cried, starting up. "I do not want to be released.
I love him, and love is very sweet. I am going to marry him - of
course, if you will let me."
"We have other plans for you, Ruth, dear, your father and I - oh,
no, no; no man picked out for you, or anything like that. Our
plans go no farther than your marrying some man in your own station
in life, a good and honorable gentleman, whom you will select
yourself, when you love him."
"But I love Martin already," was the plaintive protest.
"We would not influence your choice in any way; but you are our
daughter, and we could not bear to see you make a marriage such as
this. He has nothing but roughness and coarseness to offer you in
exchange for all that is refined and delicate in you. He is no
match for you in any way. He could not support you. We have no
foolish ideas about wealth, but comfort is another matter, and our
daughter should at least marry a man who can give her that - and
not a penniless adventurer, a sailor, a cowboy, a smuggler, and
Heaven knows what else, who, in addition to everything, is hare-
brained and irresponsible."
Ruth was silent. Every word she recognized as true.
"He wastes his time over his writing, trying to accomplish what
geniuses and rare men with college educations sometimes accomplish.
A man thinking of marriage should be preparing for marriage. But
not he. As I have said, and I know you agree with me, he is
irresponsible. And why should he not be? It is the way of
sailors. He has never learned to be economical or temperate. The
spendthrift years have marked him. It is not his fault, of course,
but that does not alter his nature. And have you thought of the
years of licentiousness he inevitably has lived? Have you thought
of that, daughter? You know what marriage means."
Ruth shuddered and clung close to her mother.
"I have thought." Ruth waited a long time for the thought to frame
itself. "And it is terrible. It sickens me to think of it. I
told you it was a dreadful accident, my loving him; but I can't
help myself. Could you help loving father? Then it is the same
with me. There is something in me, in him - I never knew it was
there until to-day - but it is there, and it makes me love him. I
never thought to love him, but, you see, I do," she concluded, a
certain faint triumph in her voice.
They talked long, and to little purpose, in conclusion agreeing to
wait an indeterminate time without doing anything.
The same conclusion was reached, a little later that night, between
Mrs. Morse and her husband, after she had made due confession of
the miscarriage of her plans.
"It could hardly have come otherwise," was Mr. Morse's judgment.
"This sailor-fellow has been the only man she was in touch with.
Sooner or later she was going to awaken anyway; and she did awaken,
and lo! here was this sailor-fellow, the only accessible man at the
moment, and of course she promptly loved him, or thought she did,
which amounts to the same thing."
Mrs. Morse took it upon herself to work slowly and indirectly upon
Ruth, rather than to combat her. There would be plenty of time for
this, for Martin was not in position to marry.
"Let her see all she wants of him," was Mr. Morse's advice. "The
more she knows him, the less she'll love him, I wager. And give
her plenty of contrast. Make a point of having young people at the
house. Young women and young men, all sorts of young men, clever
men, men who have done something or who are doing things, men of
her own class, gentlemen. She can gauge him by them. They will
show him up for what he is. And after all, he is a mere boy of
twenty-one. Ruth is no more than a child. It is calf love with
the pair of them, and they will grow out of it."
So the matter rested. Within the family it was accepted that Ruth
and Martin were engaged, but no announcement was made. The family
did not think it would ever be necessary. Also, it was tacitly
understood that it was to be a long engagement. They did not ask
Martin to go to work, nor to cease writing. They did not intend to
encourage him to mend himself. And he aided and abetted them in
their unfriendly designs, for going to work was farthest from his
"I wonder if you'll like what I have done!" he said to Ruth several
days later. "I've decided that boarding with my sister is too
expensive, and I am going to board myself. I've rented a little
room out in North Oakland, retired neighborhood and all the rest,
you know, and I've bought an oil-burner on which to cook."
Ruth was overjoyed. The oil-burner especially pleased her.
"That was the way Mr. Butler began his start," she said.
Martin frowned inwardly at the citation of that worthy gentleman,
and went on: "I put stamps on all my manuscripts and started them
off to the editors again. Then to-day I moved in, and to-morrow I
start to work."
"A position!" she cried, betraying the gladness of her surprise in
all her body, nestling closer to him, pressing his hand, smiling.
"And you never told me! What is it?"
He shook his head.
"I meant that I was going to work at my writing." Her face fell,
and he went on hastily. "Don't misjudge me. I am not going in
this time with any iridescent ideas. It is to be a cold, prosaic,
matter-of-fact business proposition. It is better than going to
sea again, and I shall earn more money than any position in Oakland
can bring an unskilled man."
"You see, this vacation I have taken has given me perspective. I
haven't been working the life out of my body, and I haven't been
writing, at least not for publication. All I've done has been to
love you and to think. I've read some, too, but it has been part
of my thinking, and I have read principally magazines. I have
generalized about myself, and the world, my place in it, and my
chance to win to a place that will be fit for you. Also, I've been
reading Spencer's 'Philosophy of Style,' and found out a lot of
what was the matter with me - or my writing, rather; and for that
matter with most of the writing that is published every month in
"But the upshot of it all - of my thinking and reading and loving -
is that I am going to move to Grub Street. I shall leave
masterpieces alone and do hack-work - jokes, paragraphs, feature
articles, humorous verse, and society verse - all the rot for which
there seems so much demand. Then there are the newspaper
syndicates, and the newspaper short-story syndicates, and the
syndicates for the Sunday supplements. I can go ahead and hammer
out the stuff they want, and earn the equivalent of a good salary
by it. There are free-lances, you know, who earn as much as four
or five hundred a month. I don't care to become as they; but I'll
earn a good living, and have plenty of time to myself, which I
wouldn't have in any position."
"Then, I'll have my spare time for study and for real work. In
between the grind I'll try my hand at masterpieces, and I'll study
and prepare myself for the writing of masterpieces. Why, I am
amazed at the distance I have come already. When I first tried to
write, I had nothing to write about except a few paltry experiences
which I neither understood nor appreciated. But I had no thoughts.
I really didn't. I didn't even have the words with which to think.
My experiences were so many meaningless pictures. But as I began
to add to my knowledge, and to my vocabulary, I saw something more
in my experiences than mere pictures. I retained the pictures and
I found their interpretation. That was when I began to do good
work, when I wrote 'Adventure,' 'Joy,' 'The Pot,' 'The Wine of
Life,' 'The Jostling Street,' the 'Love-cycle,' and the 'Sea
Lyrics.' I shall write more like them, and better; but I shall do
it in my spare time. My feet are on the solid earth, now. Hack-
work and income first, masterpieces afterward. Just to show you, I
wrote half a dozen jokes last night for the comic weeklies; and
just as I was going to bed, the thought struck me to try my hand at
a triolet - a humorous one; and inside an hour I had written four.
They ought to be worth a dollar apiece. Four dollars right there
for a few afterthoughts on the way to bed."
"Of course it's all valueless, just so much dull and sordid
plodding; but it is no more dull and sordid than keeping books at
sixty dollars a month, adding up endless columns of meaningless
figures until one dies. And furthermore, the hack-work keeps me in
touch with things literary and gives me time to try bigger things."
"But what good are these bigger-things, these masterpieces?" Ruth
demanded. "You can't sell them."
"Oh, yes, I can," he began; but she interrupted.
"All those you named, and which you say yourself are good - you
have not sold any of them. We can't get married on masterpieces
that won't sell."
"Then we'll get married on triolets that will sell," he asserted
stoutly, putting his arm around her and drawing a very unresponsive
sweetheart toward him.
"Listen to this," he went on in attempted gayety. "It's not art,
but it's a dollar.
"He came in
When I was out,
To borrow some tin
Was why he came in,
And he went without;
So I was in
And he was out."
The merry lilt with which he had invested the jingle was at
variance with the dejection that came into his face as he finished.
He had drawn no smile from Ruth. She was looking at him in an
earnest and troubled way.
"It may be a dollar," she said, "but it is a jester's dollar, the
fee of a clown. Don't you see, Martin, the whole thing is
lowering. I want the man I love and honor to be something finer
and higher than a perpetrator of jokes and doggerel."
"You want him to be like - say Mr. Butler?" he suggested.
"I know you don't like Mr. Butler," she began.
"Mr. Butler's all right," he interrupted. "It's only his
indigestion I find fault with. But to save me I can't see any
difference between writing jokes or comic verse and running a type-
writer, taking dictation, or keeping sets of books. It is all a
means to an end. Your theory is for me to begin with keeping books
in order to become a successful lawyer or man of business. Mine is
to begin with hack-work and develop into an able author."
"There is a difference," she insisted.
"What is it?"
"Why, your good work, what you yourself call good, you can't sell.
You have tried, you know that, - but the editors won't buy it."
"Give me time, dear," he pleaded. "The hack-work is only
makeshift, and I don't take it seriously. Give me two years. I
shall succeed in that time, and the editors will be glad to buy my
good work. I know what I am saying; I have faith in myself. I
know what I have in me; I know what literature is, now; I know the
average rot that is poured out by a lot of little men; and I know
that at the end of two years I shall be on the highroad to success.
As for business, I shall never succeed at it. I am not in sympathy
with it. It strikes me as dull, and stupid, and mercenary, and
tricky. Anyway I am not adapted for it. I'd never get beyond a
clerkship, and how could you and I be happy on the paltry earnings
of a clerk? I want the best of everything in the world for you,
and the only time when I won't want it will be when there is
something better. And I'm going to get it, going to get all of it.
The income of a successful author makes Mr. Butler look cheap. A
'best-seller' will earn anywhere between fifty and a hundred
thousand dollars - sometimes more and sometimes less; but, as a
rule, pretty close to those figures."
She remained silent; her disappointment was apparent.
"Well?" he asked.
"I had hoped and planned otherwise. I had thought, and I still
think, that the best thing for you would be to study shorthand -
you already know type-writing - and go into father's office. You
have a good mind, and I am confident you would succeed as a
That Ruth had little faith in his power as a writer, did not alter
her nor diminish her in Martin's eyes. In the breathing spell of
the vacation he had taken, he had spent many hours in self-
analysis, and thereby learned much of himself. He had discovered
that he loved beauty more than fame, and that what desire he had
for fame was largely for Ruth's sake. It was for this reason that
his desire for fame was strong. He wanted to be great in the
world's eyes; "to make good," as he expressed it, in order that the
woman he loved should be proud of him and deem him worthy.
As for himself, he loved beauty passionately, and the joy of
serving her was to him sufficient wage. And more than beauty he
loved Ruth. He considered love the finest thing in the world. It
was love that had worked the revolution in him, changing him from
an uncouth sailor to a student and an artist; therefore, to him,
the finest and greatest of the three, greater than learning and
artistry, was love. Already he had discovered that his brain went
beyond Ruth's, just as it went beyond the brains of her brothers,
or the brain of her father. In spite of every advantage of
university training, and in the face of her bachelorship of arts,
his power of intellect overshadowed hers, and his year or so of
self-study and equipment gave him a mastery of the affairs of the
world and art and life that she could never hope to possess.
All this he realized, but it did not affect his love for her, nor
her love for him. Love was too fine and noble, and he was too
loyal a lover for him to besmirch love with criticism. What did
love have to do with Ruth's divergent views on art, right conduct,
the French Revolution, or equal suffrage? They were mental
processes, but love was beyond reason; it was superrational. He
could not belittle love. He worshipped it. Love lay on the
mountain-tops beyond the valley-land of reason. It was a
sublimates condition of existence, the topmost peak of living, and
it came rarely. Thanks to the school of scientific philosophers he
favored, he knew the biological significance of love; but by a
refined process of the same scientific reasoning he reached the
conclusion that the human organism achieved its highest purpose in
love, that love must not be questioned, but must be accepted as the
highest guerdon of life. Thus, he considered the lover blessed
over all creatures, and it was a delight to him to think of "God's
own mad lover," rising above the things of earth, above wealth and
judgment, public opinion and applause, rising above life itself and
"dying on a kiss."
Much of this Martin had already reasoned out, and some of it he
reasoned out later. In the meantime he worked, taking no
recreation except when he went to see Ruth, and living like a
Spartan. He paid two dollars and a half a month rent for the small
room he got from his Portuguese landlady, Maria Silva, a virago and
a widow, hard working and harsher tempered, rearing her large brood
of children somehow, and drowning her sorrow and fatigue at
irregular intervals in a gallon of the thin, sour wine that she
bought from the corner grocery and saloon for fifteen cents. From
detesting her and her foul tongue at first, Martin grew to admire
her as he observed the brave fight she made. There were but four
rooms in the little house - three, when Martin's was subtracted.
One of these, the parlor, gay with an ingrain carpet and dolorous
with a funeral card and a death-picture of one of her numerous
departed babes, was kept strictly for company. The blinds were
always down, and her barefooted tribe was never permitted to enter
the sacred precinct save on state occasions. She cooked, and all
ate, in the kitchen, where she likewise washed, starched, and
ironed clothes on all days of the week except Sunday; for her
income came largely from taking in washing from her more prosperous
neighbors. Remained the bedroom, small as the one occupied by
Martin, into which she and her seven little ones crowded and slept.
It was an everlasting miracle to Martin how it was accomplished,
and from her side of the thin partition he heard nightly every
detail of the going to bed, the squalls and squabbles, the soft
chattering, and the sleepy, twittering noises as of birds. Another
source of income to Maria were her cows, two of them, which she
milked night and morning and which gained a surreptitious
livelihood from vacant lots and the grass that grew on either side
the public side walks, attended always by one or more of her ragged
boys, whose watchful guardianship consisted chiefly in keeping
their eyes out for the poundmen.
In his own small room Martin lived, slept, studied, wrote, and kept
house. Before the one window, looking out on the tiny front porch,
was the kitchen table that served as desk, library, and type-
writing stand. The bed, against the rear wall, occupied two-thirds
of the total space of the room. The table was flanked on one side
by a gaudy bureau, manufactured for profit and not for service, the
thin veneer of which was shed day by day. This bureau stood in the
corner, and in the opposite corner, on the table's other flank, was
the kitchen - the oil-stove on a dry-goods box, inside of which
were dishes and cooking utensils, a shelf on the wall for
provisions, and a bucket of water on the floor. Martin had to
carry his water from the kitchen sink, there being no tap in his
room. On days when there was much steam to his cooking, the
harvest of veneer from the bureau was unusually generous. Over the
bed, hoisted by a tackle to the ceiling, was his bicycle. At first
he had tried to keep it in the basement; but the tribe of Silva,
loosening the bearings and puncturing the tires, had driven him
out. Next he attempted the tiny front porch, until a howling
southeaster drenched the wheel a night-long. Then he had retreated
with it to his room and slung it aloft.
A small closet contained his clothes and the books he had
accumulated and for which there was no room on the table or under
the table. Hand in hand with reading, he had developed the habit
of making notes, and so copiously did he make them that there would
have been no existence for him in the confined quarters had he not
rigged several clothes-lines across the room on which the notes
were hung. Even so, he was crowded until navigating the room was a
difficult task. He could not open the door without first closing
the closet door, and VICE VERSA. It was impossible for him
anywhere to traverse the room in a straight line. To go from the
door to the head of the bed was a zigzag course that he was never
quite able to accomplish in the dark without collisions. Having
settled the difficulty of the conflicting doors, he had to steer
sharply to the right to avoid the kitchen. Next, he sheered to the
left, to escape the foot of the bed; but this sheer, if too
generous, brought him against the corner of the table. With a
sudden twitch and lurch, he terminated the sheer and bore off to
the right along a sort of canal, one bank of which was the bed, the
other the table. When the one chair in the room was at its usual
place before the table, the canal was unnavigable. When the chair
was not in use, it reposed on top of the bed, though sometimes he
sat on the chair when cooking, reading a book while the water
boiled, and even becoming skilful enough to manage a paragraph or
two while steak was frying. Also, so small was the little corner
that constituted the kitchen, he was able, sitting down, to reach
anything he needed. In fact, it was expedient to cook sitting
down; standing up, he was too often in his own way.
In conjunction with a perfect stomach that could digest anything,
he possessed knowledge of the various foods that were at the same
time nutritious and cheap. Pea-soup was a common article in his
diet, as well as potatoes and beans, the latter large and brown and
cooked in Mexican style. Rice, cooked as American housewives never
cook it and can never learn to cook it, appeared on Martin's table
at least once a day. Dried fruits were less expensive than fresh,
and he had usually a pot of them, cooked and ready at hand, for
they took the place of butter on his bread. Occasionally he graced
his table with a piece of round-steak, or with a soup-bone.
Coffee, without cream or milk, he had twice a day, in the evening
substituting tea; but both coffee and tea were excellently cooked.
There was need for him to be economical. His vacation had consumed
nearly all he had earned in the laundry, and he was so far from his
market that weeks must elapse before he could hope for the first
returns from his hack-work. Except at such times as he saw Ruth,
or dropped in to see his sister Gertude, he lived a recluse, in
each day accomplishing at least three days' labor of ordinary men.
He slept a scant five hours, and only one with a constitution of
iron could have held himself down, as Martin did, day after day, to
nineteen consecutive hours of toil. He never lost a moment. On
the looking-glass were lists of definitions and pronunciations;
when shaving, or dressing, or combing his hair, he conned these
lists over. Similar lists were on the wall over the oil-stove, and
they were similarly conned while he was engaged in cooking or in
washing the dishes. New lists continually displaced the old ones.
Every strange or partly familiar word encountered in his reading
was immediately jotted down, and later, when a sufficient number
had been accumulated, were typed and pinned to the wall or looking-
glass. He even carried them in his pockets, and reviewed them at
odd moments on the street, or while waiting in butcher shop or
grocery to be served.
He went farther in the matter. Reading the works of men who had
arrived, he noted every result achieved by them, and worked out the
tricks by which they had been achieved - the tricks of narrative,
of exposition, of style, the points of view, the contrasts, the
epigrams; and of all these he made lists for study. He did not
ape. He sought principles. He drew up lists of effective and
fetching mannerisms, till out of many such, culled from many
writers, he was able to induce the general principle of mannerism,
and, thus equipped, to cast about for new and original ones of his
own, and to weigh and measure and appraise them properly. In
similar manner he collected lists of strong phrases, the phrases of
living language, phrases that bit like acid and scorched like
flame, or that glowed and were mellow and luscious in the midst of
the arid desert of common speech. He sought always for the
principle that lay behind and beneath. He wanted to know how the
thing was done; after that he could do it for himself. He was not
content with the fair face of beauty. He dissected beauty in his
crowded little bedroom laboratory, where cooking smells alternated
with the outer bedlam of the Silva tribe; and, having dissected and
learned the anatomy of beauty, he was nearer being able to create
He was so made that he could work only with understanding. He
could not work blindly, in the dark, ignorant of what he was
producing and trusting to chance and the star of his genius that
the effect produced should be right and fine. He had no patience
with chance effects. He wanted to know why and how. His was
deliberate creative genius, and, before he began a story or poem,
the thing itself was already alive in his brain, with the end in
sight and the means of realizing that end in his conscious
possession. Otherwise the effort was doomed to failure. On the
other hand, he appreciated the chance effects in words and phrases
that came lightly and easily into his brain, and that later stood
all tests of beauty and power and developed tremendous and
incommunicable connotations. Before such he bowed down and
marvelled, knowing that they were beyond the deliberate creation of
any man. And no matter how much he dissected beauty in search of
the principles that underlie beauty and make beauty possible, he
was aware, always, of the innermost mystery of beauty to which he
did not penetrate and to which no man had ever penetrated. He knew
full well, from his Spencer, that man can never attain ultimate
knowledge of anything, and that the mystery of beauty was no less
than that of life - nay, more that the fibres of beauty and life
were intertwisted, and that he himself was but a bit of the same
nonunderstandable fabric, twisted of sunshine and star-dust and
In fact, it was when filled with these thoughts that he wrote his
essay entitled "Star-dust," in which he had his fling, not at the
principles of criticism, but at the principal critics. It was
brilliant, deep, philosophical, and deliciously touched with
laughter. Also it was promptly rejected by the magazines as often
as it was submitted. But having cleared his mind of it, he went
serenely on his way. It was a habit he developed, of incubating
and maturing his thought upon a subject, and of then rushing into
the type-writer with it. That it did not see print was a matter a
small moment with him. The writing of it was the culminating act
of a long mental process, the drawing together of scattered threads
of thought and the final generalizing upon all the data with which
his mind was burdened. To write such an article was the conscious
effort by which he freed his mind and made it ready for fresh
material and problems. It was in a way akin to that common habit
of men and women troubled by real or fancied grievances, who
periodically and volubly break their long-suffering silence and
"have their say" till the last word is said.
The weeks passed. Martin ran out of money, and publishers' checks
were far away as ever. All his important manuscripts had come back
and been started out again, and his hack-work fared no better. His
little kitchen was no longer graced with a variety of foods.
Caught in the pinch with a part sack of rice and a few pounds of
dried apricots, rice and apricots was his menu three times a day
for five days hand-running. Then he startled to realize on his
credit. The Portuguese grocer, to whom he had hitherto paid cash,
called a halt when Martin's bill reached the magnificent total of
three dollars and eighty-five cents.
"For you see," said the grocer, "you no catcha da work, I losa da
And Martin could reply nothing. There was no way of explaining.
It was not true business principle to allow credit to a strong-
bodied young fellow of the working-class who was too lazy to work.
"You catcha da job, I let you have mora da grub," the grocer
assured Martin. "No job, no grub. Thata da business." And then,
to show that it was purely business foresight and not prejudice,
"Hava da drink on da house - good friends justa da same."
So Martin drank, in his easy way, to show that he was good friends
with the house, and then went supperless to bed.
The fruit store, where Martin had bought his vegetables, was run by
an American whose business principles were so weak that he let
Martin run a bill of five dollars before stopping his credit. The
baker stopped at two dollars, and the butcher at four dollars.
Martin added his debts and found that he was possessed of a total
credit in all the world of fourteen dollars and eighty-five cents.
He was up with his type-writer rent, but he estimated that he could
get two months' credit on that, which would be eight dollars. When
that occurred, he would have exhausted all possible credit.
The last purchase from the fruit store had been a sack of potatoes,
and for a week he had potatoes, and nothing but potatoes, three
times a day. An occasional dinner at Ruth's helped to keep
strength in his body, though he found it tantalizing enough to
refuse further helping when his appetite was raging at sight of so
much food spread before it. Now and again, though afflicted with
secret shame, he dropped in at his sister's at meal-time and ate as
much as he dared - more than he dared at the Morse table.
Day by day he worked on, and day by day the postman delivered to
him rejected manuscripts. He had no money for stamps, so the
manuscripts accumulated in a heap under the table. Came a day when
for forty hours he had not tasted food. He could not hope for a
meal at Ruth's, for she was away to San Rafael on a two weeks'
visit; and for very shame's sake he could not go to his sister's.
To cap misfortune, the postman, in his afternoon round, brought him
five returned manuscripts. Then it was that Martin wore his
overcoat down into Oakland, and came back without it, but with five
dollars tinkling in his pocket. He paid a dollar each on account
to the four tradesmen, and in his kitchen fried steak and onions,
made coffee, and stewed a large pot of prunes. And having dined,
he sat down at his table-desk and completed before midnight an
essay which he entitled "The Dignity of Usury." Having typed it
out, he flung it under the table, for there had been nothing left
from the five dollars with which to buy stamps.
Later on he pawned his watch, and still later his wheel, reducing
the amount available for food by putting stamps on all his
manuscripts and sending them out. He was disappointed with his
hack-work. Nobody cared to buy. He compared it with what he found
in the newspapers, weeklies, and cheap magazines, and decided that
his was better, far better, than the average; yet it would not
sell. Then he discovered that most of the newspapers printed a
great deal of what was called "plate" stuff, and he got the address
of the association that furnished it. His own work that he sent in
was returned, along with a stereotyped slip informing him that the
staff supplied all the copy that was needed.
In one of the great juvenile periodicals he noted whole columns of
incident and anecdote. Here was a chance. His paragraphs were
returned, and though he tried repeatedly he never succeeded in
placing one. Later on, when it no longer mattered, he learned that
the associate editors and sub-editors augmented their salaries by
supplying those paragraphs themselves. The comic weeklies returned
his jokes and humorous verse, and the light society verse he wrote
for the large magazines found no abiding-place. Then there was the
newspaper storiette. He knew that he could write better ones than
were published. Managing to obtain the addresses of two newspaper
syndicates, he deluged them with storiettes. When he had written
twenty and failed to place one of them, he ceased. And yet, from
day to day, he read storiettes in the dailies and weeklies, scores
and scores of storiettes, not one of which would compare with his.
In his despondency, he concluded that he had no judgment whatever,
that he was hypnotized by what he wrote, and that he was a self-
The inhuman editorial machine ran smoothly as ever. He folded the
stamps in with his manuscript, dropped it into the letter-box, and
from three weeks to a month afterward the postman came up the steps
and handed him the manuscript. Surely there were no live, warm
editors at the other end. It was all wheels and cogs and oil-cups
- a clever mechanism operated by automatons. He reached stages of
despair wherein he doubted if editors existed at all. He had never
received a sign of the existence of one, and from absence of
judgment in rejecting all he wrote it seemed plausible that editors
were myths, manufactured and maintained by office boys,
typesetters, and pressmen.
The hours he spent with Ruth were the only happy ones he had, and
they were not all happy. He was afflicted always with a gnawing
restlessness, more tantalizing than in the old days before he
possessed her love; for now that he did possess her love, the
possession of her was far away as ever. He had asked for two
years; time was flying, and he was achieving nothing. Again, he
was always conscious of the fact that she did not approve what he
was doing. She did not say so directly. Yet indirectly she let
him understand it as clearly and definitely as she could have
spoken it. It was not resentment with her, but disapproval; though
less sweet-natured women might have resented where she was no more
than disappointed. Her disappointment lay in that this man she had
taken to mould, refused to be moulded. To a certain extent she had
found his clay plastic, then it had developed stubbornness,
declining to be shaped in the image of her father or of Mr. Butler.
What was great and strong in him, she missed, or, worse yet,
misunderstood. This man, whose clay was so plastic that he could
live in any number of pigeonholes of human existence, she thought
wilful and most obstinate because she could not shape him to live
in her pigeonhole, which was the only one she knew. She could not
follow the flights of his mind, and when his brain got beyond her,
she deemed him erratic. Nobody else's brain ever got beyond her.
She could always follow her father and mother, her brothers and
Olney; wherefore, when she could not follow Martin, she believed
the fault lay with him. It was the old tragedy of insularity
trying to serve as mentor to the universal.
"You worship at the shrine of the established," he told her once,
in a discussion they had over Praps and Vanderwater. "I grant that
as authorities to quote they are most excellent - the two foremost
literary critics in the United States. Every school teacher in the
land looks up to Vanderwater as the Dean of American criticism.
Yet I read his stuff, and it seems to me the perfection of the
felicitous expression of the inane. Why, he is no more than a
ponderous bromide, thanks to Gelett Burgess. And Praps is no
better. His 'Hemlock Mosses,' for instance is beautifully written.
Not a comma is out of place; and the tone - ah! - is lofty, so
lofty. He is the best-paid critic in the United States. Though,
Heaven forbid! he's not a critic at all. They do criticism better
"But the point is, they sound the popular note, and they sound it
so beautifully and morally and contentedly. Their reviews remind
me of a British Sunday. They are the popular mouthpieces. They
back up your professors of English, and your professors of English
back them up. And there isn't an original idea in any of their
skulls. They know only the established, - in fact, they are the
established. They are weak minded, and the established impresses
itself upon them as easily as the name of the brewery is impressed
on a beer bottle. And their function is to catch all the young
fellows attending the university, to drive out of their minds any
glimmering originality that may chance to be there, and to put upon
them the stamp of the established."
"I think I am nearer the truth," she replied, "when I stand by the
established, than you are, raging around like an iconoclastic South
"It was the missionary who did the image breaking," he laughed.
"And unfortunately, all the missionaries are off among the heathen,
so there are none left at home to break those old images, Mr.
Vanderwater and Mr. Praps."
"And the college professors, as well," she added.
He shook his head emphatically. "No; the science professors should
live. They're really great. But it would be a good deed to break
the heads of nine-tenths of the English professors - little,
Which was rather severe on the professors, but which to Ruth was
blasphemy. She could not help but measure the professors, neat,
scholarly, in fitting clothes, speaking in well-modulated voices,
breathing of culture and refinement, with this almost indescribable
young fellow whom somehow she loved, whose clothes never would fit
him, whose heavy muscles told of damning toil, who grew excited
when he talked, substituting abuse for calm statement and
passionate utterance for cool self-possession. They at least
earned good salaries and were - yes, she compelled herself to face
it - were gentlemen; while he could not earn a penny, and he was
not as they.
She did not weigh Martin's words nor judge his argument by them.
Her conclusion that his argument was wrong was reached -
unconsciously, it is true - by a comparison of externals. They,
the professors, were right in their literary judgments because they
were successes. Martin's literary judgments were wrong because he
could not sell his wares. To use his own phrase, they made good,
and he did not make good. And besides, it did not seem reasonable
that he should be right - he who had stood, so short a time before,
in that same living room, blushing and awkward, acknowledging his
introduction, looking fearfully about him at the bric-a-brac his
swinging shoulders threatened to break, asking how long since
Swinburne died, and boastfully announcing that he had read
"Excelsior" and the "Psalm of Life."
Unwittingly, Ruth herself proved his point that she worshipped the
established. Martin followed the processes of her thoughts, but
forbore to go farther. He did not love her for what she thought of
Praps and Vanderwater and English professors, and he was coming to
realize, with increasing conviction, that he possessed brain-areas
and stretches of knowledge which she could never comprehend nor
In music she thought him unreasonable, and in the matter of opera
not only unreasonable but wilfully perverse.
"How did you like it?" she asked him one night, on the way home
from the opera.
It was a night when he had taken her at the expense of a month's
rigid economizing on food. After vainly waiting for him to speak
about it, herself still tremulous and stirred by what she had just
seen and heard, she had asked the question.
"I liked the overture," was his answer. "It was splendid."
"Yes, but the opera itself?"
"That was splendid too; that is, the orchestra was, though I'd have
enjoyed it more if those jumping-jacks had kept quiet or gone off
Ruth was aghast.
"You don't mean Tetralani or Barillo?" she queried.
"All of them - the whole kit and crew."
"But they are great artists," she protested.
"They spoiled the music just the same, with their antics and
"But don't you like Barillo's voice?" Ruth asked. "He is next to
Caruso, they say."
"Of course I liked him, and I liked Tetralani even better. Her
voice is exquisite - or at least I think so."
"But, but - " Ruth stammered. "I don't know what you mean, then.
You admire their voices, yet say they spoiled the music."
"Precisely that. I'd give anything to hear them in concert, and
I'd give even a bit more not to hear them when the orchestra is
playing. I'm afraid I am a hopeless realist. Great singers are
not great actors. To hear Barillo sing a love passage with the
voice of an angel, and to hear Tetralani reply like another angel,
and to hear it all accompanied by a perfect orgy of glowing and
colorful music - is ravishing, most ravishing. I do not admit it.
I assert it. But the whole effect is spoiled when I look at them -
at Tetralani, five feet ten in her stocking feet and weighing a
hundred and ninety pounds, and at Barillo, a scant five feet four,
greasy-featured, with the chest of a squat, undersized blacksmith,
and at the pair of them, attitudinizing, clasping their breasts,
flinging their arms in the air like demented creatures in an
asylum; and when I am expected to accept all this as the faithful
illusion of a love-scene between a slender and beautiful princess
and a handsome, romantic, young prince - why, I can't accept it,
that's all. It's rot; it's absurd; it's unreal. That's what's the
matter with it. It's not real. Don't tell me that anybody in this
world ever made love that way. Why, if I'd made love to you in
such fashion, you'd have boxed my ears."
"But you misunderstand," Ruth protested. "Every form of art has
its limitations." (She was busy recalling a lecture she had heard
at the university on the conventions of the arts.) "In painting
there are only two dimensions to the canvas, yet you accept the
illusion of three dimensions which the art of a painter enables him
to throw into the canvas. In writing, again, the author must be
omnipotent. You accept as perfectly legitimate the author's
account of the secret thoughts of the heroine, and yet all the time
you know that the heroine was alone when thinking these thoughts,
and that neither the author nor any one else was capable of hearing
them. And so with the stage, with sculpture, with opera, with
every art form. Certain irreconcilable things must be accepted."
"Yes, I understood that," Martin answered. "All the arts have
their conventions." (Ruth was surprised at his use of the word.
It was as if he had studied at the university himself, instead of
being ill-equipped from browsing at haphazard through the books in
the library.) "But even the conventions must be real. Trees,
painted on flat cardboard and stuck up on each side of the stage,
we accept as a forest. It is a real enough convention. But, on
the other hand, we would not accept a sea scene as a forest. We
can't do it. It violates our senses. Nor would you, or, rather,
should you, accept the ravings and writhings and agonized
contortions of those two lunatics to-night as a convincing
portrayal of love."
"But you don't hold yourself superior to all the judges of music?"
"No, no, not for a moment. I merely maintain my right as an
individual. I have just been telling you what I think, in order to
explain why the elephantine gambols of Madame Tetralani spoil the
orchestra for me. The world's judges of music may all be right.
But I am I, and I won't subordinate my taste to the unanimous
judgment of mankind. If I don't like a thing, I don't like it,
that's all; and there is no reason under the sun why I should ape a
liking for it just because the majority of my fellow-creatures like
it, or make believe they like it. I can't follow the fashions in
the things I like or dislike."
"But music, you know, is a matter of training," Ruth argued; "and
opera is even more a matter of training. May it not be - "
"That I am not trained in opera?" he dashed in.
"The very thing," he agreed. "And I consider I am fortunate in not
having been caught when I was young. If I had, I could have wept
sentimental tears to-night, and the clownish antics of that
precious pair would have but enhanced the beauty of their voices
and the beauty of the accompanying orchestra. You are right. It's
mostly a matter of training. And I am too old, now. I must have
the real or nothing. An illusion that won't convince is a palpable
lie, and that's what grand opera is to me when little Barillo
throws a fit, clutches mighty Tetralani in his arms (also in a
fit), and tells her how passionately he adores her."
Again Ruth measured his thoughts by comparison of externals and in
accordance with her belief in the established. Who was he that he
should be right and all the cultured world wrong? His words and
thoughts made no impression upon her. She was too firmly
intrenched in the established to have any sympathy with
revolutionary ideas. She had always been used to music, and she
had enjoyed opera ever since she was a child, and all her world had
enjoyed it, too. Then by what right did Martin Eden emerge, as he
had so recently emerged, from his rag-time and working-class songs,
and pass judgment on the world's music? She was vexed with him,
and as she walked beside him she had a vague feeling of outrage.
At the best, in her most charitable frame of mind, she considered
the statement of his views to be a caprice, an erratic and
uncalled-for prank. But when he took her in his arms at the door
and kissed her good night in tender lover-fashion, she forgot
everything in the outrush of her own love to him. And later, on a
sleepless pillow, she puzzled, as she had often puzzled of late, as
to how it was that she loved so strange a man, and loved him
despite the disapproval of her people.
And next day Martin Eden cast hack-work aside, and at white heat
hammered out an essay to which he gave the title, "The Philosophy
of Illusion." A stamp started it on its travels, but it was
destined to receive many stamps and to be started on many travels
in the months that followed.
Maria Silva was poor, and all the ways of poverty were clear to
her. Poverty, to Ruth, was a word signifying a not-nice condition
of existence. That was her total knowledge on the subject. She
knew Martin was poor, and his condition she associated in her mind
with the boyhood of Abraham Lincoln, of Mr. Butler, and of other
men who had become successes. Also, while aware that poverty was
anything but delectable, she had a comfortable middle-class feeling
that poverty was salutary, that it was a sharp spur that urged on
to success all men who were not degraded and hopeless drudges. So
that her knowledge that Martin was so poor that he had pawned his
watch and overcoat did not disturb her. She even considered it the
hopeful side of the situation, believing that sooner or later it
would arouse him and compel him to abandon his writing.
Ruth never read hunger in Martin's face, which had grown lean and
had enlarged the slight hollows in the cheeks. In fact, she marked
the change in his face with satisfaction. It seemed to refine him,
to remove from him much of the dross of flesh and the too animal-
like vigor that lured her while she detested it. Sometimes, when
with her, she noted an unusual brightness in his eyes, and she
admired it, for it made him appear more the poet and the scholar -
the things he would have liked to be and which she would have liked
him to be. But Maria Silva read a different tale in the hollow
cheeks and the burning eyes, and she noted the changes in them from
day to day, by them following the ebb and flow of his fortunes.
She saw him leave the house with his overcoat and return without
it, though the day was chill and raw, and promptly she saw his
cheeks fill out slightly and the fire of hunger leave his eyes. In
the same way she had seen his wheel and watch go, and after each
event she had seen his vigor bloom again.
Likewise she watched his toils, and knew the measure of the
midnight oil he burned. Work! She knew that he outdid her, though
his work was of a different order. And she was surprised to behold
that the less food he had, the harder he worked. On occasion, in a
casual sort of way, when she thought hunger pinched hardest, she
would send him in a loaf of new baking, awkwardly covering the act
with banter to the effect that it was better than he could bake.
And again, she would send one of her toddlers in to him with a
great pitcher of hot soup, debating inwardly the while whether she
was justified in taking it from the mouths of her own flesh and
blood. Nor was Martin ungrateful, knowing as he did the lives of
the poor, and that if ever in the world there was charity, this was
On a day when she had filled her brood with what was left in the
house, Maria invested her last fifteen cents in a gallon of cheap
wine. Martin, coming into her kitchen to fetch water, was invited
to sit down and drink. He drank her very-good health, and in
return she drank his. Then she drank to prosperity in his
undertakings, and he drank to the hope that James Grant would show
up and pay her for his washing. James Grant was a journeymen
carpenter who did not always pay his bills and who owed Maria three
Both Maria and Martin drank the sour new wine on empty stomachs,
and it went swiftly to their heads. Utterly differentiated
creatures that they were, they were lonely in their misery, and
though the misery was tacitly ignored, it was the bond that drew
them together. Maria was amazed to learn that he had been in the
Azores, where she had lived until she was eleven. She was doubly
amazed that he had been in the Hawaiian Islands, whither she had
migrated from the Azores with her people. But her amazement passed
all bounds when he told her he had been on Maui, the particular
island whereon she had attained womanhood and married. Kahului,
where she had first met her husband, - he, Martin, had been there
twice! Yes, she remembered the sugar steamers, and he had been on
them - well, well, it was a small world. And Wailuku! That place,
too! Did he know the head-luna of the plantation? Yes, and had
had a couple of drinks with him.
And so they reminiscenced and drowned their hunger in the raw, sour
wine. To Martin the future did not seem so dim. Success trembled
just before him. He was on the verge of clasping it. Then he
studied the deep-lined face of the toil-worn woman before him,
remembered her soups and loaves of new baking, and felt spring up
in him the warmest gratitude and philanthropy.
"Maria," he exclaimed suddenly. "What would you like to have?"
She looked at him, bepuzzled.
"What would you like to have now, right now, if you could get it?"
"Shoe alla da roun' for da childs - seven pairs da shoe."
"You shall have them," he announced, while she nodded her head
gravely. "But I mean a big wish, something big that you want."
Her eyes sparkled good-naturedly. He was choosing to make fun with
her, Maria, with whom few made fun these days.
"Think hard," he cautioned, just as she was opening her mouth to
"Alla right," she answered. "I thinka da hard. I lika da house,
dis house - all mine, no paya da rent, seven dollar da month."
"You shall have it," he granted, "and in a short time. Now wish
the great wish. Make believe I am God, and I say to you anything
you want you can have. Then you wish that thing, and I listen."
Maria considered solemnly for a space.
"You no 'fraid?" she asked warningly.
"No, no," he laughed, "I'm not afraid. Go ahead."
"Most verra big," she warned again.
"All right. Fire away."
"Well, den - " She drew a big breath like a child, as she voiced
to the uttermost all she cared to demand of life. "I lika da have
one milka ranch - good milka ranch. Plenty cow, plenty land,
plenty grass. I lika da have near San Le-an; my sister liva dere.
I sella da milk in Oakland. I maka da plentee mon. Joe an' Nick
no runna da cow. Dey go-a to school. Bimeby maka da good
engineer, worka da railroad. Yes, I lika da milka ranch."
She paused and regarded Martin with twinkling eyes.
"You shall have it," he answered promptly.
She nodded her head and touched her lips courteously to the wine-
glass and to the giver of the gift she knew would never be given.
His heart was right, and in her own heart she appreciated his
intention as much as if the gift had gone with it.
"No, Maria," he went on; "Nick and Joe won't have to peddle milk,
and all the kids can go to school and wear shoes the whole year
round. It will be a first-class milk ranch - everything complete.
There will be a house to live in and a stable for the horses, and
cow-barns, of course. There will be chickens, pigs, vegetables,
fruit trees, and everything like that; and there will be enough
cows to pay for a hired man or two. Then you won't have anything
to do but take care of the children. For that matter, if you find
a good man, you can marry and take it easy while he runs the
And from such largess, dispensed from his future, Martin turned and
took his one good suit of clothes to the pawnshop. His plight was
desperate for him to do this, for it cut him off from Ruth. He had
no second-best suit that was presentable, and though he could go to
the butcher and the baker, and even on occasion to his sister's, it
was beyond all daring to dream of entering the Morse home so
He toiled on, miserable and well-nigh hopeless. It began to appear
to him that the second battle was lost and that he would have to go
to work. In doing this he would satisfy everybody - the grocer,
his sister, Ruth, and even Maria, to whom he owed a month's room
rent. He was two months behind with his type-writer, and the
agency was clamoring for payment or for the return of the machine.
In desperation, all but ready to surrender, to make a truce with
fate until he could get a fresh start, he took the civil service
examinations for the Railway Mail. To his surprise, he passed
first. The job was assured, though when the call would come to
enter upon his duties nobody knew.
It was at this time, at the lowest ebb, that the smooth-running
editorial machine broke down. A cog must have slipped or an oil-
cup run dry, for the postman brought him one morning a short, thin
envelope. Martin glanced at the upper left-hand corner and read
the name and address of the TRANSCONTINENTAL MONTHLY. His heart
gave a great leap, and he suddenly felt faint, the sinking feeling
accompanied by a strange trembling of the knees. He staggered into
his room and sat down on the bed, the envelope still unopened, and
in that moment came understanding to him how people suddenly fall
dead upon receipt of extraordinarily good news.
Of course this was good news. There was no manuscript in that thin
envelope, therefore it was an acceptance. He knew the story in the
hands of the TRANSCONTINENTAL. It was "The Ring of Bells," one of
his horror stories, and it was an even five thousand words. And,
since first-class magazines always paid on acceptance, there was a
check inside. Two cents a word - twenty dollars a thousand; the
check must be a hundred dollars. One hundred dollars! As he tore
the envelope open, every item of all his debts surged in his brain
- $3.85 to the grocer; butcher $4.00 flat; baker, $2.00; fruit
store, $5.00; total, $14.85. Then there was room rent, $2.50;
another month in advance, $2.50; two months' type-writer, $8.00; a
month in advance, $4.00; total, $31.85. And finally to be added,
his pledges, plus interest, with the pawnbroker - watch, $5.50;
overcoat, $5.50; wheel, $7.75; suit of clothes, $5.50 (60 %
interest, but what did it matter?) - grand total, $56.10. He saw,
as if visible in the air before him, in illuminated figures, the
whole sum, and the subtraction that followed and that gave a
remainder of $43.90. When he had squared every debt, redeemed
every pledge, he would still have jingling in his pockets a
princely $43.90. And on top of that he would have a month's rent
paid in advance on the type-writer and on the room.
By this time he had drawn the single sheet of type-written letter
out and spread it open. There was no check. He peered into the
envelope, held it to the light, but could not trust his eyes, and
in trembling haste tore the envelope apart. There was no check.
He read the letter, skimming it line by line, dashing through the
editor's praise of his story to the meat of the letter, the
statement why the check had not been sent. He found no such
statement, but he did find that which made him suddenly wilt. The
letter slid from his hand. His eyes went lack-lustre, and he lay
back on the pillow, pulling the blanket about him and up to his
Five dollars for "The Ring of Bells" - five dollars for five
thousand words! Instead of two cents a word, ten words for a cent!
And the editor had praised it, too. And he would receive the check
when the story was published. Then it was all poppycock, two cents
a word for minimum rate and payment upon acceptance. It was a lie,
and it had led him astray. He would never have attempted to write
had he known that. He would have gone to work - to work for Ruth.
He went back to the day he first attempted to write, and was
appalled at the enormous waste of time - and all for ten words for
a cent. And the other high rewards of writers, that he had read
about, must be lies, too. His second-hand ideas of authorship were
wrong, for here was the proof of it.
The TRANSCONTINENTAL sold for twenty-five cents, and its dignified
and artistic cover proclaimed it as among the first-class
magazines. It was a staid, respectable magazine, and it had been
published continuously since long before he was born. Why, on the
outside cover were printed every month the words of one of the
world's great writers, words proclaiming the inspired mission of
the TRANSCONTINENTAL by a star of literature whose first
coruscations had appeared inside those self-same covers. And the
high and lofty, heaven-inspired TRANSCONTINENTAL paid five dollars
for five thousand words! The great writer had recently died in a
foreign land - in dire poverty, Martin remembered, which was not to
be wondered at, considering the magnificent pay authors receive.
Well, he had taken the bait, the newspaper lies about writers and
their pay, and he had wasted two years over it. But he would
disgorge the bait now. Not another line would he ever write. He
would do what Ruth wanted him to do, what everybody wanted him to
do - get a job. The thought of going to work reminded him of Joe -
Joe, tramping through the land of nothing-to-do. Martin heaved a
great sigh of envy. The reaction of nineteen hours a day for many
days was strong upon him. But then, Joe was not in love, had none
of the responsibilities of love, and he could afford to loaf
through the land of nothing-to-do. He, Martin, had something to
work for, and go to work he would. He would start out early next
morning to hunt a job. And he would let Ruth know, too, that he
had mended his ways and was willing to go into her father's office.
Five dollars for five thousand words, ten words for a cent, the
market price for art. The disappointment of it, the lie of it, the
infamy of it, were uppermost in his thoughts; and under his closed
eyelids, in fiery figures, burned the "$3.85" he owed the grocer.
He shivered, and was aware of an aching in his bones. The small of
his back ached especially. His head ached, the top of it ached,
the back of it ached, the brains inside of it ached and seemed to
be swelling, while the ache over his brows was intolerable. And
beneath the brows, planted under his lids, was the merciless
"$3.85." He opened his eyes to escape it, but the white light of
the room seemed to sear the balls and forced him to close his eyes,
when the "$3.85" confronted him again.
Five dollars for five thousand words, ten words for a cent - that
particular thought took up its residence in his brain, and he could
no more escape it than he could the "$3.85" under his eyelids. A
change seemed to come over the latter, and he watched curiously,
till "$2.00" burned in its stead. Ah, he thought, that was the
baker. The next sum that appeared was "$2.50." It puzzled him,
and he pondered it as if life and death hung on the solution. He
owed somebody two dollars and a half, that was certain, but who was
it? To find it was the task set him by an imperious and malignant
universe, and he wandered through the endless corridors of his
mind, opening all manner of lumber rooms and chambers stored with
odds and ends of memories and knowledge as he vainly sought the
answer. After several centuries it came to him, easily, without
effort, that it was Maria. With a great relief he turned his soul
to the screen of torment under his lids. He had solved the
problem; now he could rest. But no, the "$2.50" faded away, and in
its place burned "$8.00." Who was that? He must go the dreary
round of his mind again and find out.
How long he was gone on this quest he did not know, but after what
seemed an enormous lapse of time, he was called back to himself by
a knock at the door, and by Maria's asking if he was sick. He
replied in a muffled voice he did not recognize, saying that he was
merely taking a nap. He was surprised when he noted the darkness
of night in the room. He had received the letter at two in the
afternoon, and he realized that he was sick.
Then the "$8.00" began to smoulder under his lids again, and he
returned himself to servitude. But he grew cunning. There was no
need for him to wander through his mind. He had been a fool. He
pulled a lever and made his mind revolve about him, a monstrous
wheel of fortune, a merry-go-round of memory, a revolving sphere of
wisdom. Faster and faster it revolved, until its vortex sucked him
in and he was flung whirling through black chaos.
Quite naturally he found himself at a mangle, feeding starched
cuffs. But as he fed he noticed figures printed in the cuffs. It
was a new way of marking linen, he thought, until, looking closer,
he saw "$3.85" on one of the cuffs. Then it came to him that it
was the grocer's bill, and that these were his bills flying around
on the drum of the mangle. A crafty idea came to him. He would