The first thing Martin did next morning was to go counter both to Brissenden’s advice and command. “The Shame of the Sun” he wrapped and mailed to The Acropolis. He believed he could find magazine publication for it, and he felt that recognition by the magazines would commend him to the book-publishing houses. “Ephemera” he likewise wrapped and mailed to a magazine. Despite Brissenden’s prejudice against the magazines, which was a pronounced mania with him, Martin decided that the great poem should see print. He did not intend, however, to publish it without the other’s permission. His plan was to get it accepted by one of the high magazines, and, thus armed, again to wrestle with Brissenden for consent.
Martin began, that morning, a story which he had sketched out a number of weeks before and which ever since had been worrying him with its insistent clamor to be created. Apparently it was to be a rattling sea story, a tale of twentieth-century adventure and romance, handling real characters, in a real world, under real conditions. But beneath the swing and go of the story was to be something else—something that the superficial reader would never discern and which, on the other hand, would not diminish in any way the interest and enjoyment for such a reader. It was this, and not the mere story, that impelled Martin to write it. For that matter, it was always the great, universal motif that suggested plots to him. After having found such a motif, he cast about for the particular persons and particular location in time and space wherewith and wherein to utter the universal thing. “Overdue” was the title he had decided for it, and its length he believed would not be more than sixty thousand words—a bagatelle for him with his splendid vigor of production. On this first day he took hold of it with conscious delight in the mastery of his tools. He no longer worried for fear that the sharp, cutting edges should slip and mar his work. The long months of intense application and study had brought their reward. He could now devote himself with sure hand to the larger phases of the thing he shaped; and as he worked, hour after hour, he felt, as never before, the sure and cosmic grasp with which he held life and the affairs of life. “Overdue” would tell a story that would be true of its particular characters and its particular events; but it would tell, too, he was confident, great vital things that would be true of all time, and all sea, and all life—thanks to Herbert Spencer, he thought, leaning back for a moment from the table. Ay, thanks to Herbert Spencer and to the master-key of life, evolution, which Spencer had placed in his hands.
He was conscious that it was great stuff he was writing. “It will go! It will go!” was the refrain that kept, sounding in his ears. Of course it would go. At last he was turning out the thing at which the magazines would jump. The whole story worked out before him in lightning flashes. He broke off from it long enough to write a paragraph in his note-book. This would be the last paragraph in “Overdue”; but so thoroughly was the whole book already composed in his brain that he could write, weeks before he had arrived at the end, the end itself. He compared the tale, as yet unwritten, with the tales of the sea-writers, and he felt it to be immeasurably superior. “There’s only one man who could touch it,” he murmured aloud, “and that’s Conrad. And it ought to make even him sit up and shake hands with me, and say, ‘Well done, Martin, my boy.’”
He toiled on all day, recollecting, at the last moment, that he was to have dinner at the Morses’. Thanks to Brissenden, his black suit was out of pawn and he was again eligible for dinner parties. Down town he stopped off long enough to run into the library and search for Saleeby’s books. He drew out “The Cycle of Life,” and on the car turned to the essay Norton had mentioned on Spencer. As Martin read, he grew angry. His face flushed, his jaw set, and unconsciously his hand clenched, unclenched, and clenched again as if he were taking fresh grips upon some hateful thing out of which he was squeezing the life. When he left the car, he strode along the sidewalk as a wrathful man will stride, and he rang the Morse bell with such viciousness that it roused him to consciousness of his condition, so that he entered in good nature, smiling with amusement at himself. No sooner, however, was he inside than a great depression descended upon him. He fell from the height where he had been up-borne all day on the wings of inspiration. “Bourgeois,” “trader’s den”—Brissenden’s epithets repeated themselves in his mind. But what of that? he demanded angrily. He was marrying Ruth, not her family.
It seemed to him that he had never seen Ruth more beautiful, more spiritual and ethereal and at the same time more healthy. There was color in her cheeks, and her eyes drew him again and again—the eyes in which he had first read immortality. He had forgotten immortality of late, and the trend of his scientific reading had been away from it; but here, in Ruth’s eyes, he read an argument without words that transcended all worded arguments. He saw that in her eyes before which all discussion fled away, for he saw love there. And in his own eyes was love; and love was unanswerable. Such was his passionate doctrine.
The half hour he had with her, before they went in to dinner, left him supremely happy and supremely satisfied with life. Nevertheless, at table, the inevitable reaction and exhaustion consequent upon the hard day seized hold of him. He was aware that his eyes were tired and that he was irritable. He remembered it was at this table, at which he now sneered and was so often bored, that he had first eaten with civilized beings in what he had imagined was an atmosphere of high culture and refinement. He caught a glimpse of that pathetic figure of him, so long ago, a self-conscious savage, sprouting sweat at every pore in an agony of apprehension, puzzled by the bewildering minutiae of eating-implements, tortured by the ogre of a servant, striving at a leap to live at such dizzy social altitude, and deciding in the end to be frankly himself, pretending no knowledge and no polish he did not possess.
He glanced at Ruth for reassurance, much in the same manner that a passenger, with sudden panic thought of possible shipwreck, will strive to locate the life preservers. Well, that much had come out of it—love and Ruth. All the rest had failed to stand the test of the books. But Ruth and love had stood the test; for them he found a biological sanction. Love was the most exalted expression of life. Nature had been busy designing him, as she had been busy with all normal men, for the purpose of loving. She had spent ten thousand centuries—ay, a hundred thousand and a million centuries—upon the task, and he was the best she could do. She had made love the strongest thing in him, increased its power a myriad per cent with her gift of imagination, and sent him forth into the ephemera to thrill and melt and mate. His hand sought Ruth’s hand beside him hidden by the table, and a warm pressure was given and received. She looked at him a swift instant, and her eyes were radiant and melting. So were his in the thrill that pervaded him; nor did he realize how much that was radiant and melting in her eyes had been aroused by what she had seen in his.
Across the table from him, cater-cornered, at Mr. Morse’s right, sat Judge Blount, a local superior court judge. Martin had met him a number of times and had failed to like him. He and Ruth’s father were discussing labor union politics, the local situation, and socialism, and Mr. Morse was endeavoring to twit Martin on the latter topic. At last Judge Blount looked across the table with benignant and fatherly pity. Martin smiled to himself.
“You’ll grow out of it, young man,” he said soothingly. “Time is the best cure for such youthful distempers.” He turned to Mr. Morse. “I do not believe discussion is good in such cases. It makes the patient obstinate.”
“That is true,” the other assented gravely. “But it is well to warn the patient occasionally of his condition.”
Martin laughed merrily, but it was with an effort. The day had been too long, the day’s effort too intense, and he was deep in the throes of the reaction.
“Undoubtedly you are both excellent doctors,” he said; “but if you care a whit for the opinion of the patient, let him tell you that you are poor diagnosticians. In fact, you are both suffering from the disease you think you find in me. As for me, I am immune. The socialist philosophy that riots half-baked in your veins has passed me by.”
“Clever, clever,” murmured the judge. “An excellent ruse in controversy, to reverse positions.”
“Out of your mouth.” Martin’s eyes were sparkling, but he kept control of himself. “You see, Judge, I’ve heard your campaign speeches. By some henidical process—henidical, by the way is a favorite word of mine which nobody understands—by some henidical process you persuade yourself that you believe in the competitive system and the survival of the strong, and at the same time you indorse with might and main all sorts of measures to shear the strength from the strong.”
“My young man—”
“Remember, I’ve heard your campaign speeches,” Martin warned. “It’s on record, your position on interstate commerce regulation, on regulation of the railway trust and Standard Oil, on the conservation of the forests, on a thousand and one restrictive measures that are nothing else than socialistic.”
“Do you mean to tell me that you do not believe in regulating these various outrageous exercises of power?”
“That’s not the point. I mean to tell you that you are a poor diagnostician. I mean to tell you that I am not suffering from the microbe of socialism. I mean to tell you that it is you who are suffering from the emasculating ravages of that same microbe. As for me, I am an inveterate opponent of socialism just as I am an inveterate opponent of your own mongrel democracy that is nothing else than pseudo-socialism masquerading under a garb of words that will not stand the test of the dictionary.”
“I am a reactionary—so complete a reactionary that my position is incomprehensible to you who live in a veiled lie of social organization and whose sight is not keen enough to pierce the veil. You make believe that you believe in the survival of the strong and the rule of the strong. I believe. That is the difference. When I was a trifle younger,—a few months younger,—I believed the same thing. You see, the ideas of you and yours had impressed me. But merchants and traders are cowardly rulers at best; they grunt and grub all their days in the trough of money-getting, and I have swung back to aristocracy, if you please. I am the only individualist in this room. I look to the state for nothing. I look only to the strong man, the man on horseback, to save the state from its own rotten futility.”
“Nietzsche was right. I won’t take the time to tell you who Nietzsche was, but he was right. The world belongs to the strong—to the strong who are noble as well and who do not wallow in the swine-trough of trade and exchange. The world belongs to the true nobleman, to the great blond beasts, to the noncompromisers, to the ‘yes-sayers.’ And they will eat you up, you socialists—who are afraid of socialism and who think yourselves individualists. Your slave-morality of the meek and lowly will never save you.—Oh, it’s all Greek, I know, and I won’t bother you any more with it. But remember one thing. There aren’t half a dozen individualists in Oakland, but Martin Eden is one of them.”
He signified that he was done with the discussion, and turned to Ruth.
“I’m wrought up to-day,” he said in an undertone. “All I want to do is to love, not talk.”
He ignored Mr. Morse, who said:-
“I am unconvinced. All socialists are Jesuits. That is the way to tell them.”
“We’ll make a good Republican out of you yet,” said Judge Blount.
“The man on horseback will arrive before that time,” Martin retorted with good humor, and returned to Ruth.
But Mr. Morse was not content. He did not like the laziness and the disinclination for sober, legitimate work of this prospective son-in-law of his, for whose ideas he had no respect and of whose nature he had no understanding. So he turned the conversation to Herbert Spencer. Judge Blount ably seconded him, and Martin, whose ears had pricked at the first mention of the philosopher’s name, listened to the judge enunciate a grave and complacent diatribe against Spencer. From time to time Mr. Morse glanced at Martin, as much as to say, “There, my boy, you see.”
“Chattering daws,” Martin muttered under his breath, and went on talking with Ruth and Arthur.
But the long day and the “real dirt” of the night before were telling upon him; and, besides, still in his burnt mind was what had made him angry when he read it on the car.
“What is the matter?” Ruth asked suddenly alarmed by the effort he was making to contain himself.
“There is no god but the Unknowable, and Herbert Spencer is its prophet,” Judge Blount was saying at that moment.
Martin turned upon him.
“A cheap judgment,” he remarked quietly. “I heard it first in the City Hall Park, on the lips of a workingman who ought to have known better. I have heard it often since, and each time the clap-trap of it nauseates me. You ought to be ashamed of yourself. To hear that great and noble man’s name upon your lips is like finding a dew-drop in a cesspool. You are disgusting.”
It was like a thunderbolt. Judge Blount glared at him with apoplectic countenance, and silence reigned. Mr. Morse was secretly pleased. He could see that his daughter was shocked. It was what he wanted to do—to bring out the innate ruffianism of this man he did not like.
Ruth’s hand sought Martin’s beseechingly under the table, but his blood was up. He was inflamed by the intellectual pretence and fraud of those who sat in the high places. A Superior Court Judge! It was only several years before that he had looked up from the mire at such glorious entities and deemed them gods.
Judge Blount recovered himself and attempted to go on, addressing himself to Martin with an assumption of politeness that the latter understood was for the benefit of the ladies. Even this added to his anger. Was there no honesty in the world?
“You can’t discuss Spencer with me,” he cried. “You do not know any more about Spencer than do his own countrymen. But it is no fault of yours, I grant. It is just a phase of the contemptible ignorance of the times. I ran across a sample of it on my way here this evening. I was reading an essay by Saleeby on Spencer. You should read it. It is accessible to all men. You can buy it in any book-store or draw it from the public library. You would feel ashamed of your paucity of abuse and ignorance of that noble man compared with what Saleeby has collected on the subject. It is a record of shame that would shame your shame.”
“‘The philosopher of the half-educated,’ he was called by an academic Philosopher who was not worthy to pollute the atmosphere he breathed. I don’t think you have read ten pages of Spencer, but there have been critics, assumably more intelligent than you, who have read no more than you of Spencer, who publicly challenged his followers to adduce one single idea from all his writings—from Herbert Spencer’s writings, the man who has impressed the stamp of his genius over the whole field of scientific research and modern thought; the father of psychology; the man who revolutionized pedagogy, so that to-day the child of the French peasant is taught the three R’s according to principles laid down by him. And the little gnats of men sting his memory when they get their very bread and butter from the technical application of his ideas. What little of worth resides in their brains is largely due to him. It is certain that had he never lived, most of what is correct in their parrot-learned knowledge would be absent.”
“And yet a man like Principal Fairbanks of Oxford—a man who sits in an even higher place than you, Judge Blount—has said that Spencer will be dismissed by posterity as a poet and dreamer rather than a thinker. Yappers and blatherskites, the whole brood of them! ‘“First Principles” is not wholly destitute of a certain literary power,’ said one of them. And others of them have said that he was an industrious plodder rather than an original thinker. Yappers and blatherskites! Yappers and blatherskites!”
Martin ceased abruptly, in a dead silence. Everybody in Ruth’s family looked up to Judge Blount as a man of power and achievement, and they were horrified at Martin’s outbreak. The remainder of the dinner passed like a funeral, the judge and Mr. Morse confining their talk to each other, and the rest of the conversation being extremely desultory. Then afterward, when Ruth and Martin were alone, there was a scene.
“You are unbearable,” she wept.
But his anger still smouldered, and he kept muttering, “The beasts! The beasts!”
When she averred he had insulted the judge, he retorted:-
“By telling the truth about him?”
“I don’t care whether it was true or not,” she insisted. “There are certain bounds of decency, and you had no license to insult anybody.”
“Then where did Judge Blount get the license to assault truth?” Martin demanded. “Surely to assault truth is a more serious misdemeanor than to insult a pygmy personality such as the judge’s. He did worse than that. He blackened the name of a great, noble man who is dead. Oh, the beasts! The beasts!”
His complex anger flamed afresh, and Ruth was in terror of him. Never had she seen him so angry, and it was all mystified and unreasonable to her comprehension. And yet, through her very terror ran the fibres of fascination that had drawn and that still drew her to him—that had compelled her to lean towards him, and, in that mad, culminating moment, lay her hands upon his neck. She was hurt and outraged by what had taken place, and yet she lay in his arms and quivered while he went on muttering, “The beasts! The beasts!” And she still lay there when he said: “I’ll not bother your table again, dear. They do not like me, and it is wrong of me to thrust my objectionable presence upon them. Besides, they are just as objectionable to me. Faugh! They are sickening. And to think of it, I dreamed in my innocence that the persons who sat in the high places, who lived in fine houses and had educations and bank accounts, were worth while!”
“Come on, let’s go down to the local.”
So spoke Brissenden, faint from a hemorrhage of half an hour before—the second hemorrhage in three days. The perennial whiskey glass was in his hands, and he drained it with shaking fingers.
“What do I want with socialism?” Martin demanded.
“Outsiders are allowed five-minute speeches,” the sick man urged. “Get up and spout. Tell them why you don’t want socialism. Tell them what you think about them and their ghetto ethics. Slam Nietzsche into them and get walloped for your pains. Make a scrap of it. It will do them good. Discussion is what they want, and what you want, too. You see, I’d like to see you a socialist before I’m gone. It will give you a sanction for your existence. It is the one thing that will save you in the time of disappointment that is coming to you.”
“I never can puzzle out why you, of all men, are a socialist,” Martin pondered. “You detest the crowd so. Surely there is nothing in the canaille to recommend it to your aesthetic soul.” He pointed an accusing finger at the whiskey glass which the other was refilling. “Socialism doesn’t seem to save you.”
“I’m very sick,” was the answer. “With you it is different. You have health and much to live for, and you must be handcuffed to life somehow. As for me, you wonder why I am a socialist. I’ll tell you. It is because Socialism is inevitable; because the present rotten and irrational system cannot endure; because the day is past for your man on horseback. The slaves won’t stand for it. They are too many, and willy-nilly they’ll drag down the would-be equestrian before ever he gets astride. You can’t get away from them, and you’ll have to swallow the whole slave-morality. It’s not a nice mess, I’ll allow. But it’s been a-brewing and swallow it you must. You are antediluvian anyway, with your Nietzsche ideas. The past is past, and the man who says history repeats itself is a liar. Of course I don’t like the crowd, but what’s a poor chap to do? We can’t have the man on horseback, and anything is preferable to the timid swine that now rule. But come on, anyway. I’m loaded to the guards now, and if I sit here any longer, I’ll get drunk. And you know the doctor says—damn the doctor! I’ll fool him yet.”
It was Sunday night, and they found the small hall packed by the Oakland socialists, chiefly members of the working class. The speaker, a clever Jew, won Martin’s admiration at the same time that he aroused his antagonism. The man’s stooped and narrow shoulders and weazened chest proclaimed him the true child of the crowded ghetto, and strong on Martin was the age-long struggle of the feeble, wretched slaves against the lordly handful of men who had ruled over them and would rule over them to the end of time. To Martin this withered wisp of a creature was a symbol. He was the figure that stood forth representative of the whole miserable mass of weaklings and inefficients who perished according to biological law on the ragged confines of life. They were the unfit. In spite of their cunning philosophy and of their antlike proclivities for coöperation, Nature rejected them for the exceptional man. Out of the plentiful spawn of life she flung from her prolific hand she selected only the best. It was by the same method that men, aping her, bred race-horses and cucumbers. Doubtless, a creator of a Cosmos could have devised a better method; but creatures of this particular Cosmos must put up with this particular method. Of course, they could squirm as they perished, as the socialists squirmed, as the speaker on the platform and the perspiring crowd were squirming even now as they counselled together for some new device with which to minimize the penalties of living and outwit the Cosmos.
So Martin thought, and so he spoke when Brissenden urged him to give them hell. He obeyed the mandate, walking up to the platform, as was the custom, and addressing the chairman. He began in a low voice, haltingly, forming into order the ideas which had surged in his brain while the Jew was speaking. In such meetings five minutes was the time allotted to each speaker; but when Martin’s five minutes were up, he was in full stride, his attack upon their doctrines but half completed. He had caught their interest, and the audience urged the chairman by acclamation to extend Martin’s time. They appreciated him as a foeman worthy of their intellect, and they listened intently, following every word. He spoke with fire and conviction, mincing no words in his attack upon the slaves and their morality and tactics and frankly alluding to his hearers as the slaves in question. He quoted Spencer and Malthus, and enunciated the biological law of development.
“And so,” he concluded, in a swift résumé, “no state composed of the slave-types can endure. The old law of development still holds. In the struggle for existence, as I have shown, the strong and the progeny of the strong tend to survive, while the weak and the progeny of the weak are crushed and tend to perish. The result is that the strong and the progeny of the strong survive, and, so long as the struggle obtains, the strength of each generation increases. That is development. But you slaves—it is too bad to be slaves, I grant—but you slaves dream of a society where the law of development will be annulled, where no weaklings and inefficients will perish, where every inefficient will have as much as he wants to eat as many times a day as he desires, and where all will marry and have progeny—the weak as well as the strong. What will be the result? No longer will the strength and life-value of each generation increase. On the contrary, it will diminish. There is the Nemesis of your slave philosophy. Your society of slaves—of, by, and for, slaves—must inevitably weaken and go to pieces as the life which composes it weakens and goes to pieces.
“Remember, I am enunciating biology and not sentimental ethics. No state of slaves can stand—”
“How about the United States?” a man yelled from the audience.
“And how about it?” Martin retorted. “The thirteen colonies threw off their rulers and formed the Republic so-called. The slaves were their own masters. There were no more masters of the sword. But you couldn’t get along without masters of some sort, and there arose a new set of masters—not the great, virile, noble men, but the shrewd and spidery traders and money-lenders. And they enslaved you over again—but not frankly, as the true, noble men would do with weight of their own right arms, but secretly, by spidery machinations and by wheedling and cajolery and lies. They have purchased your slave judges, they have debauched your slave legislatures, and they have forced to worse horrors than chattel slavery your slave boys and girls. Two million of your children are toiling to-day in this trader-oligarchy of the United States. Ten millions of you slaves are not properly sheltered nor properly fed.”
“But to return. I have shown that no society of slaves can endure, because, in its very nature, such society must annul the law of development. No sooner can a slave society be organized than deterioration sets in. It is easy for you to talk of annulling the law of development, but where is the new law of development that will maintain your strength? Formulate it. Is it already formulated? Then state it.”
Martin took his seat amidst an uproar of voices. A score of men were on their feet clamoring for recognition from the chair. And one by one, encouraged by vociferous applause, speaking with fire and enthusiasm and excited gestures, they replied to the attack. It was a wild night—but it was wild intellectually, a battle of ideas. Some strayed from the point, but most of the speakers replied directly to Martin. They shook him with lines of thought that were new to him; and gave him insights, not into new biological laws, but into new applications of the old laws. They were too earnest to be always polite, and more than once the chairman rapped and pounded for order.
It chanced that a cub reporter sat in the audience, detailed there on a day dull of news and impressed by the urgent need of journalism for sensation. He was not a bright cub reporter. He was merely facile and glib. He was too dense to follow the discussion. In fact, he had a comfortable feeling that he was vastly superior to these wordy maniacs of the working class. Also, he had a great respect for those who sat in the high places and dictated the policies of nations and newspapers. Further, he had an ideal, namely, of achieving that excellence of the perfect reporter who is able to make something—even a great deal—out of nothing.
He did not know what all the talk was about. It was not necessary. Words like revolution gave him his cue. Like a paleontologist, able to reconstruct an entire skeleton from one fossil bone, he was able to reconstruct a whole speech from the one word revolution. He did it that night, and he did it well; and since Martin had made the biggest stir, he put it all into his mouth and made him the arch-anarch of the show, transforming his reactionary individualism into the most lurid, red-shirt socialist utterance. The cub reporter was an artist, and it was a large brush with which he laid on the local color—wild-eyed long-haired men, neurasthenia and degenerate types of men, voices shaken with passion, clenched fists raised on high, and all projected against a background of oaths, yells, and the throaty rumbling of angry men.
Over the coffee, in his little room, Martin read next morning’s paper. It was a novel experience to find himself head-lined, on the first page at that; and he was surprised to learn that he was the most notorious leader of the Oakland socialists. He ran over the violent speech the cub reporter had constructed for him, and, though at first he was angered by the fabrication, in the end he tossed the paper aside with a laugh.
“Either the man was drunk or criminally malicious,” he said that afternoon, from his perch on the bed, when Brissenden had arrived and dropped limply into the one chair.
“But what do you care?” Brissenden asked. “Surely you don’t desire the approval of the bourgeois swine that read the newspapers?”
Martin thought for a while, then said:-
“No, I really don’t care for their approval, not a whit. On the other hand, it’s very likely to make my relations with Ruth’s family a trifle awkward. Her father always contended I was a socialist, and this miserable stuff will clinch his belief. Not that I care for his opinion—but what’s the odds? I want to read you what I’ve been doing to-day. It’s ‘Overdue,’ of course, and I’m just about halfway through.”
He was reading aloud when Maria thrust open the door and ushered in a young man in a natty suit who glanced briskly about him, noting the oil-burner and the kitchen in the corner before his gaze wandered on to Martin.
“Sit down,” Brissenden said.
Martin made room for the young man on the bed and waited for him to broach his business.
“I heard you speak last night, Mr. Eden, and I’ve come to interview you,” he began.
Brissenden burst out in a hearty laugh.
“A brother socialist?” the reporter asked, with a quick glance at Brissenden that appraised the color-value of that cadaverous and dying man.
“And he wrote that report,” Martin said softly. “Why, he is only a boy!”
“Why don’t you poke him?” Brissenden asked. “I’d give a thousand dollars to have my lungs back for five minutes.”
The cub reporter was a trifle perplexed by this talking over him and around him and at him. But he had been commended for his brilliant description of the socialist meeting and had further been detailed to get a personal interview with Martin Eden, the leader of the organized menace to society.
“You do not object to having your picture taken, Mr. Eden?” he said. “I’ve a staff photographer outside, you see, and he says it will be better to take you right away before the sun gets lower. Then we can have the interview afterward.”
“A photographer,” Brissenden said meditatively. “Poke him, Martin! Poke him!”
“I guess I’m getting old,” was the answer. “I know I ought, but I really haven’t the heart. It doesn’t seem to matter.”
“For his mother’s sake,” Brissenden urged.
“It’s worth considering,” Martin replied; “but it doesn’t seem worth while enough to rouse sufficient energy in me. You see, it does take energy to give a fellow a poking. Besides, what does it matter?”
“That’s right—that’s the way to take it,” the cub announced airily, though he had already begun to glance anxiously at the door.
“But it wasn’t true, not a word of what he wrote,” Martin went on, confining his attention to Brissenden.
“It was just in a general way a description, you understand,” the cub ventured, “and besides, it’s good advertising. That’s what counts. It was a favor to you.”
“It’s good advertising, Martin, old boy,” Brissenden repeated solemnly.
“And it was a favor to me—think of that!” was Martin’s contribution.
“Let me see—where were you born, Mr. Eden?” the cub asked, assuming an air of expectant attention.
“He doesn’t take notes,” said Brissenden. “He remembers it all.”
“That is sufficient for me.” The cub was trying not to look worried. “No decent reporter needs to bother with notes.”
“That was sufficient—for last night.” But Brissenden was not a disciple of quietism, and he changed his attitude abruptly. “Martin, if you don’t poke him, I’ll do it myself, if I fall dead on the floor the next moment.”
“How will a spanking do?” Martin asked.
Brissenden considered judicially, and nodded his head.
The next instant Martin was seated on the edge of the bed with the cub face downward across his knees.
“Now don’t bite,” Martin warned, “or else I’ll have to punch your face. It would be a pity, for it is such a pretty face.”
His uplifted hand descended, and thereafter rose and fell in a swift and steady rhythm. The cub struggled and cursed and squirmed, but did not offer to bite. Brissenden looked on gravely, though once he grew excited and gripped the whiskey bottle, pleading, “Here, just let me swat him once.”
“Sorry my hand played out,” Martin said, when at last he desisted. “It is quite numb.”
He uprighted the cub and perched him on the bed.
“I’ll have you arrested for this,” he snarled, tears of boyish indignation running down his flushed cheeks. “I’ll make you sweat for this. You’ll see.”
“The pretty thing,” Martin remarked. “He doesn’t realize that he has entered upon the downward path. It is not honest, it is not square, it is not manly, to tell lies about one’s fellow-creatures the way he has done, and he doesn’t know it.”
“He has to come to us to be told,” Brissenden filled in a pause.
“Yes, to me whom he has maligned and injured. My grocery will undoubtedly refuse me credit now. The worst of it is that the poor boy will keep on this way until he deteriorates into a first-class newspaper man and also a first-class scoundrel.”
“But there is yet time,” quoth Brissenden. “Who knows but what you may prove the humble instrument to save him. Why didn’t you let me swat him just once? I’d like to have had a hand in it.”
“I’ll have you arrested, the pair of you, you b-b-big brutes,” sobbed the erring soul.
“No, his mouth is too pretty and too weak.” Martin shook his head lugubriously. “I’m afraid I’ve numbed my hand in vain. The young man cannot reform. He will become eventually a very great and successful newspaper man. He has no conscience. That alone will make him great.”
With that the cub passed out the door in trepidation to the last for fear that Brissenden would hit him in the back with the bottle he still clutched.
In the next morning’s paper Martin learned a great deal more about himself that was new to him. “We are the sworn enemies of society,” he found himself quoted as saying in a column interview. “No, we are not anarchists but socialists.” When the reporter pointed out to him that there seemed little difference between the two schools, Martin had shrugged his shoulders in silent affirmation. His face was described as bilaterally asymmetrical, and various other signs of degeneration were described. Especially notable were his thuglike hands and the fiery gleams in his blood-shot eyes.
He learned, also, that he spoke nightly to the workmen in the City Hall Park, and that among the anarchists and agitators that there inflamed the minds of the people he drew the largest audiences and made the most revolutionary speeches. The cub painted a high-light picture of his poor little room, its oil-stove and the one chair, and of the death’s-head tramp who kept him company and who looked as if he had just emerged from twenty years of solitary confinement in some fortress dungeon.
The cub had been industrious. He had scurried around and nosed out Martin’s family history, and procured a photograph of Higginbotham’s Cash Store with Bernard Higginbotham himself standing out in front. That gentleman was depicted as an intelligent, dignified businessman who had no patience with his brother-in-law’s socialistic views, and no patience with the brother-in-law, either, whom he was quoted as characterizing as a lazy good-for-nothing who wouldn’t take a job when it was offered to him and who would go to jail yet. Hermann Von Schmidt, Marian’s husband, had likewise been interviewed. He had called Martin the black sheep of the family and repudiated him. “He tried to sponge off of me, but I put a stop to that good and quick,” Von Schmidt had said to the reporter. “He knows better than to come bumming around here. A man who won’t work is no good, take that from me.”
This time Martin was genuinely angry. Brissenden looked upon the affair as a good joke, but he could not console Martin, who knew that it would be no easy task to explain to Ruth. As for her father, he knew that he must be overjoyed with what had happened and that he would make the most of it to break off the engagement. How much he would make of it he was soon to realize. The afternoon mail brought a letter from Ruth. Martin opened it with a premonition of disaster, and read it standing at the open door when he had received it from the postman. As he read, mechanically his hand sought his pocket for the tobacco and brown paper of his old cigarette days. He was not aware that the pocket was empty or that he had even reached for the materials with which to roll a cigarette.
It was not a passionate letter. There were no touches of anger in it. But all the way through, from the first sentence to the last, was sounded the note of hurt and disappointment. She had expected better of him. She had thought he had got over his youthful wildness, that her love for him had been sufficiently worth while to enable him to live seriously and decently. And now her father and mother had taken a firm stand and commanded that the engagement be broken. That they were justified in this she could not but admit. Their relation could never be a happy one. It had been unfortunate from the first. But one regret she voiced in the whole letter, and it was a bitter one to Martin. “If only you had settled down to some position and attempted to make something of yourself,” she wrote. “But it was not to be. Your past life had been too wild and irregular. I can understand that you are not to be blamed. You could act only according to your nature and your early training. So I do not blame you, Martin. Please remember that. It was simply a mistake. As father and mother have contended, we were not made for each other, and we should both be happy because it was discovered not too late.” . . “There is no use trying to see me,” she said toward the last. “It would be an unhappy meeting for both of us, as well as for my mother. I feel, as it is, that I have caused her great pain and worry. I shall have to do much living to atone for it.”
He read it through to the end, carefully, a second time, then sat down and replied. He outlined the remarks he had uttered at the socialist meeting, pointing out that they were in all ways the converse of what the newspaper had put in his mouth. Toward the end of the letter he was God’s own lover pleading passionately for love. “Please answer,” he said, “and in your answer you have to tell me but one thing. Do you love me? That is all—the answer to that one question.”
But no answer came the next day, nor the next. “Overdue” lay untouched upon the table, and each day the heap of returned manuscripts under the table grew larger. For the first time Martin’s glorious sleep was interrupted by insomnia, and he tossed through long, restless nights. Three times he called at the Morse home, but was turned away by the servant who answered the bell. Brissenden lay sick in his hotel, too feeble to stir out, and, though Martin was with him often, he did not worry him with his troubles.
For Martin’s troubles were many. The aftermath of the cub reporter’s deed was even wider than Martin had anticipated. The Portuguese grocer refused him further credit, while the greengrocer, who was an American and proud of it, had called him a traitor to his country and refused further dealings with him—carrying his patriotism to such a degree that he cancelled Martin’s account and forbade him ever to attempt to pay it. The talk in the neighborhood reflected the same feeling, and indignation against Martin ran high. No one would have anything to do with a socialist traitor. Poor Maria was dubious and frightened, but she remained loyal. The children of the neighborhood recovered from the awe of the grand carriage which once had visited Martin, and from safe distances they called him “hobo” and “bum.” The Silva tribe, however, stanchly defended him, fighting more than one pitched battle for his honor, and black eyes and bloody noses became quite the order of the day and added to Maria’s perplexities and troubles.
Once, Martin met Gertrude on the street, down in Oakland, and learned what he knew could not be otherwise—that Bernard Higginbotham was furious with him for having dragged the family into public disgrace, and that he had forbidden him the house.
“Why don’t you go away, Martin?” Gertrude had begged. “Go away and get a job somewhere and steady down. Afterwards, when this all blows over, you can come back.”
Martin shook his head, but gave no explanations. How could he explain? He was appalled at the awful intellectual chasm that yawned between him and his people. He could never cross it and explain to them his position,—the Nietzschean position, in regard to socialism. There were not words enough in the English language, nor in any language, to make his attitude and conduct intelligible to them. Their highest concept of right conduct, in his case, was to get a job. That was their first word and their last. It constituted their whole lexicon of ideas. Get a job! Go to work! Poor, stupid slaves, he thought, while his sister talked. Small wonder the world belonged to the strong. The slaves were obsessed by their own slavery. A job was to them a golden fetich before which they fell down and worshipped.
He shook his head again, when Gertrude offered him money, though he knew that within the day he would have to make a trip to the pawnbroker.
“Don’t come near Bernard now,” she admonished him. “After a few months, when he is cooled down, if you want to, you can get the job of drivin’ delivery-wagon for him. Any time you want me, just send for me an’ I’ll come. Don’t forget.”
She went away weeping audibly, and he felt a pang of sorrow shoot through him at sight of her heavy body and uncouth gait. As he watched her go, the Nietzschean edifice seemed to shake and totter. The slave-class in the abstract was all very well, but it was not wholly satisfactory when it was brought home to his own family. And yet, if there was ever a slave trampled by the strong, that slave was his sister Gertrude. He grinned savagely at the paradox. A fine Nietzsche-man he was, to allow his intellectual concepts to be shaken by the first sentiment or emotion that strayed along—ay, to be shaken by the slave-morality itself, for that was what his pity for his sister really was. The true noble men were above pity and compassion. Pity and compassion had been generated in the subterranean barracoons of the slaves and were no more than the agony and sweat of the crowded miserables and weaklings.
“Overdue” still continued to lie forgotten on the table. Every manuscript that he had had out now lay under the table. Only one manuscript he kept going, and that was Brissenden’s “Ephemera.” His bicycle and black suit were again in pawn, and the type-writer people were once more worrying about the rent. But such things no longer bothered him. He was seeking a new orientation, and until that was found his life must stand still.
After several weeks, what he had been waiting for happened. He met Ruth on the street. It was true, she was accompanied by her brother, Norman, and it was true that they tried to ignore him and that Norman attempted to wave him aside.
“If you interfere with my sister, I’ll call an officer,” Norman threatened. “She does not wish to speak with you, and your insistence is insult.”
“If you persist, you’ll have to call that officer, and then you’ll get your name in the papers,” Martin answered grimly. “And now, get out of my way and get the officer if you want to. I’m going to talk with Ruth.”
“I want to have it from your own lips,” he said to her.
She was pale and trembling, but she held up and looked inquiringly.
“The question I asked in my letter,” he prompted.
Norman made an impatient movement, but Martin checked him with a swift look.
She shook her head.
“Is all this of your own free will?” he demanded.
“It is.” She spoke in a low, firm voice and with deliberation. “It is of my own free will. You have disgraced me so that I am ashamed to meet my friends. They are all talking about me, I know. That is all I can tell you. You have made me very unhappy, and I never wish to see you again.”
“Friends! Gossip! Newspaper misreports! Surely such things are not stronger than love! I can only believe that you never loved me.”
A blush drove the pallor from her face.
“After what has passed?” she said faintly. “Martin, you do not know what you are saying. I am not common.”
“You see, she doesn’t want to have anything to do with you,” Norman blurted out, starting on with her.
Martin stood aside and let them pass, fumbling unconsciously in his coat pocket for the tobacco and brown papers that were not there.
It was a long walk to North Oakland, but it was not until he went up the steps and entered his room that he knew he had walked it. He found himself sitting on the edge of the bed and staring about him like an awakened somnambulist. He noticed “Overdue” lying on the table and drew up his chair and reached for his pen. There was in his nature a logical compulsion toward completeness. Here was something undone. It had been deferred against the completion of something else. Now that something else had been finished, and he would apply himself to this task until it was finished. What he would do next he did not know. All that he did know was that a climacteric in his life had been attained. A period had been reached, and he was rounding it off in workman-like fashion. He was not curious about the future. He would soon enough find out what it held in store for him. Whatever it was, it did not matter. Nothing seemed to matter.
For five days he toiled on at “Overdue,” going nowhere, seeing nobody, and eating meagrely. On the morning of the sixth day the postman brought him a thin letter from the editor of The Parthenon. A glance told him that “Ephemera” was accepted. “We have submitted the poem to Mr. Cartwright Bruce,” the editor went on to say, “and he has reported so favorably upon it that we cannot let it go. As an earnest of our pleasure in publishing the poem, let me tell you that we have set it for the August number, our July number being already made up. Kindly extend our pleasure and our thanks to Mr. Brissenden. Please send by return mail his photograph and biographical data. If our honorarium is unsatisfactory, kindly telegraph us at once and state what you consider a fair price.”
Since the honorarium they had offered was three hundred and fifty dollars, Martin thought it not worth while to telegraph. Then, too, there was Brissenden’s consent to be gained. Well, he had been right, after all. Here was one magazine editor who knew real poetry when he saw it. And the price was splendid, even though it was for the poem of a century. As for Cartwright Bruce, Martin knew that he was the one critic for whose opinions Brissenden had any respect.
Martin rode down town on an electric car, and as he watched the houses and cross-streets slipping by he was aware of a regret that he was not more elated over his friend’s success and over his own signal victory. The one critic in the United States had pronounced favorably on the poem, while his own contention that good stuff could find its way into the magazines had proved correct. But enthusiasm had lost its spring in him, and he found that he was more anxious to see Brissenden than he was to carry the good news. The acceptance of The Parthenon had recalled to him that during his five days’ devotion to “Overdue” he had not heard from Brissenden nor even thought about him. For the first time Martin realized the daze he had been in, and he felt shame for having forgotten his friend. But even the shame did not burn very sharply. He was numb to emotions of any sort save the artistic ones concerned in the writing of “Overdue.” So far as other affairs were concerned, he had been in a trance. For that matter, he was still in a trance. All this life through which the electric car whirred seemed remote and unreal, and he would have experienced little interest and less shook if the great stone steeple of the church he passed had suddenly crumbled to mortar-dust upon his head.
At the hotel he hurried up to Brissenden’s room, and hurried down again. The room was empty. All luggage was gone.
“Did Mr. Brissenden leave any address?” he asked the clerk, who looked at him curiously for a moment.
“Haven’t you heard?” he asked.
Martin shook his head.
“Why, the papers were full of it. He was found dead in bed. Suicide. Shot himself through the head.”
“Is he buried yet?” Martin seemed to hear his voice, like some one else’s voice, from a long way off, asking the question.
“No. The body was shipped East after the inquest. Lawyers engaged by his people saw to the arrangements.”
“They were quick about it, I must say,” Martin commented.
“Oh, I don’t know. It happened five days ago.”
“Five days ago?”
“Yes, five days ago.”
“Oh,” Martin said as he turned and went out.
At the corner he stepped into the Western Union and sent a telegram to The Parthenon, advising them to proceed with the publication of the poem. He had in his pocket but five cents with which to pay his carfare home, so he sent the message collect.
Once in his room, he resumed his writing. The days and nights came and went, and he sat at his table and wrote on. He went nowhere, save to the pawnbroker, took no exercise, and ate methodically when he was hungry and had something to cook, and just as methodically went without when he had nothing to cook. Composed as the story was, in advance, chapter by chapter, he nevertheless saw and developed an opening that increased the power of it, though it necessitated twenty thousand additional words. It was not that there was any vital need that the thing should be well done, but that his artistic canons compelled him to do it well. He worked on in the daze, strangely detached from the world around him, feeling like a familiar ghost among these literary trappings of his former life. He remembered that some one had said that a ghost was the spirit of a man who was dead and who did not have sense enough to know it; and he paused for the moment to wonder if he were really dead did unaware of it.
Came the day when “Overdue” was finished. The agent of the type-writer firm had come for the machine, and he sat on the bed while Martin, on the one chair, typed the last pages of the final chapter. “Finis,” he wrote, in capitals, at the end, and to him it was indeed finis. He watched the type-writer carried out the door with a feeling of relief, then went over and lay down on the bed. He was faint from hunger. Food had not passed his lips in thirty-six hours, but he did not think about it. He lay on his back, with closed eyes, and did not think at all, while the daze or stupor slowly welled up, saturating his consciousness. Half in delirium, he began muttering aloud the lines of an anonymous poem Brissenden had been fond of quoting to him. Maria, listening anxiously outside his door, was perturbed by his monotonous utterance. The words in themselves were not significant to her, but the fact that he was saying them was. “I have done,” was the burden of the poem.
“‘I have done—
Put by the lute.
Song and singing soon are over
As the airy shades that hover
In among the purple clover.
I have done—
Put by the lute.
Once I sang as early thrushes
Sing among the dewy bushes;
Now I’m mute.
I am like a weary linnet,
For my throat has no song in it;
I have had my singing minute.
I have done.
Put by the lute.’”
Maria could stand it no longer, and hurried away to the stove, where she filled a quart-bowl with soup, putting into it the lion’s share of chopped meat and vegetables which her ladle scraped from the bottom of the pot. Martin roused himself and sat up and began to eat, between spoonfuls reassuring Maria that he had not been talking in his sleep and that he did not have any fever.
After she left him he sat drearily, with drooping shoulders, on the edge of the bed, gazing about him with lack-lustre eyes that saw nothing until the torn wrapper of a magazine, which had come in the morning’s mail and which lay unopened, shot a gleam of light into his darkened brain. It is The Parthenon, he thought, the August Parthenon, and it must contain “Ephemera.” If only Brissenden were here to see!
He was turning the pages of the magazine, when suddenly he stopped. “Ephemera” had been featured, with gorgeous head-piece and Beardsley-like margin decorations. On one side of the head-piece was Brissenden’s photograph, on the other side was the photograph of Sir John Value, the British Ambassador. A preliminary editorial note quoted Sir John Value as saying that there were no poets in America, and the publication of “Ephemera” was The Parthenon’s. “There, take that, Sir John Value!” Cartwright Bruce was described as the greatest critic in America, and he was quoted as saying that “Ephemera” was the greatest poem ever written in America. And finally, the editor’s foreword ended with: “We have not yet made up our minds entirely as to the merits of “Ephemera”; perhaps we shall never be able to do so. But we have read it often, wondering at the words and their arrangement, wondering where Mr. Brissenden got them, and how he could fasten them together.” Then followed the poem.
“Pretty good thing you died, Briss, old man,” Martin murmured, letting the magazine slip between his knees to the floor.
The cheapness and vulgarity of it was nauseating, and Martin noted apathetically that he was not nauseated very much. He wished he could get angry, but did not have energy enough to try. He was too numb. His blood was too congealed to accelerate to the swift tidal flow of indignation. After all, what did it matter? It was on a par with all the rest that Brissenden had condemned in bourgeois society.
“Poor Briss,” Martin communed; “he would never have forgiven me.”
Rousing himself with an effort, he possessed himself of a box which had once contained type-writer paper. Going through its contents, he drew forth eleven poems which his friend had written. These he tore lengthwise and crosswise and dropped into the waste basket. He did it languidly, and, when he had finished, sat on the edge of the bed staring blankly before him.
How long he sat there he did not know, until, suddenly, across his sightless vision he saw form a long horizontal line of white. It was curious. But as he watched it grow in definiteness he saw that it was a coral reef smoking in the white Pacific surges. Next, in the line of breakers he made out a small canoe, an outrigger canoe. In the stern he saw a young bronzed god in scarlet hip-cloth dipping a flashing paddle. He recognized him. He was Moti, the youngest son of Tati, the chief, and this was Tahiti, and beyond that smoking reef lay the sweet land of Papara and the chief’s grass house by the river’s mouth. It was the end of the day, and Moti was coming home from the fishing. He was waiting for the rush of a big breaker whereon to jump the reef. Then he saw himself, sitting forward in the canoe as he had often sat in the past, dipping a paddle that waited Moti’s word to dig in like mad when the turquoise wall of the great breaker rose behind them. Next, he was no longer an onlooker but was himself in the canoe, Moti was crying out, they were both thrusting hard with their paddles, racing on the steep face of the flying turquoise. Under the bow the water was hissing as from a steam jet, the air was filled with driven spray, there was a rush and rumble and long-echoing roar, and the canoe floated on the placid water of the lagoon. Moti laughed and shook the salt water from his eyes, and together they paddled in to the pounded-coral beach where Tati’s grass walls through the cocoanut-palms showed golden in the setting sun.
The picture faded, and before his eyes stretched the disorder of his squalid room. He strove in vain to see Tahiti again. He knew there was singing among the trees and that the maidens were dancing in the moonlight, but he could not see them. He could see only the littered writing-table, the empty space where the type-writer had stood, and the unwashed window-pane. He closed his eyes with a groan, and slept.
He slept heavily all night, and did not stir until aroused by the postman on his morning round. Martin felt tired and passive, and went through his letters aimlessly. One thin envelope, from a robber magazine, contained for twenty-two dollars. He had been dunning for it for a year and a half. He noted its amount apathetically. The old-time thrill at receiving a publisher’s check was gone. Unlike his earlier checks, this one was not pregnant with promise of great things to come. To him it was a check for twenty-two dollars, that was all, and it would buy him something to eat.
Another check was in the same mail, sent from a New York weekly in payment for some humorous verse which had been accepted months before. It was for ten dollars. An idea came to him, which he calmly considered. He did not know what he was going to do, and he felt in no hurry to do anything. In the meantime he must live. Also he owed numerous debts. Would it not be a paying investment to put stamps on the huge pile of manuscripts under the table and start them on their travels again? One or two of them might be accepted. That would help him to live. He decided on the investment, and, after he had cashed the checks at the bank down in Oakland, he bought ten dollars’ worth of postage stamps. The thought of going home to cook breakfast in his stuffy little room was repulsive to him. For the first time he refused to consider his debts. He knew that in his room he could manufacture a substantial breakfast at a cost of from fifteen to twenty cents. But, instead, he went into the Forum Café and ordered a breakfast that cost two dollars. He tipped the waiter a quarter, and spent fifty cents for a package of Egyptian cigarettes. It was the first time he had smoked since Ruth had asked him to stop. But he could see now no reason why he should not, and besides, he wanted to smoke. And what did the money matter? For five cents he could have bought a package of Durham and brown papers and rolled forty cigarettes—but what of it? Money had no meaning to him now except what it would immediately buy. He was chartless and rudderless, and he had no port to make, while drifting involved the least living, and it was living that hurt.
The days slipped along, and he slept eight hours regularly every night. Though now, while waiting for more checks, he ate in the Japanese restaurants where meals were served for ten cents, his wasted body filled out, as did the hollows in his cheeks. He no longer abused himself with short sleep, overwork, and overstudy. He wrote nothing, and the books were closed. He walked much, out in the hills, and loafed long hours in the quiet parks. He had no friends nor acquaintances, nor did he make any. He had no inclination. He was waiting for some impulse, from he knew not where, to put his stopped life into motion again. In the meantime his life remained run down, planless, and empty and idle.
Once he made a trip to San Francisco to look up the “real dirt.” But at the last moment, as he stepped into the upstairs entrance, he recoiled and turned and fled through the swarming ghetto. He was frightened at the thought of hearing philosophy discussed, and he fled furtively, for fear that some one of the “real dirt” might chance along and recognize him.
Sometimes he glanced over the magazines and newspapers to see how “Ephemera” was being maltreated. It had made a hit. But what a hit! Everybody had read it, and everybody was discussing whether or not it was really poetry. The local papers had taken it up, and daily there appeared columns of learned criticisms, facetious editorials, and serious letters from subscribers. Helen Della Delmar (proclaimed with a flourish of trumpets and rolling of tomtoms to be the greatest woman poet in the United States) denied Brissenden a seat beside her on Pegasus and wrote voluminous letters to the public, proving that he was no poet.
The Parthenon came out in its next number patting itself on the back for the stir it had made, sneering at Sir John Value, and exploiting Brissenden’s death with ruthless commercialism. A newspaper with a sworn circulation of half a million published an original and spontaneous poem by Helen Della Delmar, in which she gibed and sneered at Brissenden. Also, she was guilty of a second poem, in which she parodied him.
Martin had many times to be glad that Brissenden was dead. He had hated the crowd so, and here all that was finest and most sacred of him had been thrown to the crowd. Daily the vivisection of Beauty went on. Every nincompoop in the land rushed into free print, floating their wizened little egos into the public eye on the surge of Brissenden’s greatness. Quoth one paper: “We have received a letter from a gentleman who wrote a poem just like it, only better, some time ago.” Another paper, in deadly seriousness, reproving Helen Della Delmar for her parody, said: “But unquestionably Miss Delmar wrote it in a moment of badinage and not quite with the respect that one great poet should show to another and perhaps to the greatest. However, whether Miss Delmar be jealous or not of the man who invented ‘Ephemera,’ it is certain that she, like thousands of others, is fascinated by his work, and that the day may come when she will try to write lines like his.”
Ministers began to preach sermons against “Ephemera,” and one, who too stoutly stood for much of its content, was expelled for heresy. The great poem contributed to the gayety of the world. The comic verse-writers and the cartoonists took hold of it with screaming laughter, and in the personal columns of society weeklies jokes were perpetrated on it to the effect that Charley Frensham told Archie Jennings, in confidence, that five lines of “Ephemera” would drive a man to beat a cripple, and that ten lines would send him to the bottom of the river.
Martin did not laugh; nor did he grit his teeth in anger. The effect produced upon him was one of great sadness. In the crash of his whole world, with love on the pinnacle, the crash of magazinedom and the dear public was a small crash indeed. Brissenden had been wholly right in his judgment of the magazines, and he, Martin, had spent arduous and futile years in order to find it out for himself. The magazines were all Brissenden had said they were and more. Well, he was done, he solaced himself. He had hitched his wagon to a star and been landed in a pestiferous marsh. The visions of Tahiti—clean, sweet Tahiti—were coming to him more frequently. And there were the low Paumotus, and the high Marquesas; he saw himself often, now, on board trading schooners or frail little cutters, slipping out at dawn through the reef at Papeete and beginning the long beat through the pearl-atolls to Nukahiva and the Bay of Taiohae, where Tamari, he knew, would kill a pig in honor of his coming, and where Tamari’s flower-garlanded daughters would seize his hands and with song and laughter garland him with flowers. The South Seas were calling, and he knew that sooner or later he would answer the call.
In the meantime he drifted, resting and recuperating after the long traverse he had made through the realm of knowledge. When The Parthenon check of three hundred and fifty dollars was forwarded to him, he turned it over to the local lawyer who had attended to Brissenden’s affairs for his family. Martin took a receipt for the check, and at the same time gave a note for the hundred dollars Brissenden had let him have.
The time was not long when Martin ceased patronizing the Japanese restaurants. At the very moment when he had abandoned the fight, the tide turned. But it had turned too late. Without a thrill he opened a thick envelope from The Millennium, scanned the face of a check that represented three hundred dollars, and noted that it was the payment on acceptance for “Adventure.” Every debt he owed in the world, including the pawnshop, with its usurious interest, amounted to less than a hundred dollars. And when he had paid everything, and lifted the hundred-dollar note with Brissenden’s lawyer, he still had over a hundred dollars in pocket. He ordered a suit of clothes from the tailor and ate his meals in the best cafés in town. He still slept in his little room at Maria’s, but the sight of his new clothes caused the neighborhood children to cease from calling him “hobo” and “tramp” from the roofs of woodsheds and over back fences.
“Wiki-Wiki,” his Hawaiian short story, was bought by Warren’s Monthly for two hundred and fifty dollars. The Northern Review took his essay, “The Cradle of Beauty,” and Mackintosh’s Magazine took “The Palmist”—the poem he had written to Marian. The editors and readers were back from their summer vacations, and manuscripts were being handled quickly. But Martin could not puzzle out what strange whim animated them to this general acceptance of the things they had persistently rejected for two years. Nothing of his had been published. He was not known anywhere outside of Oakland, and in Oakland, with the few who thought they knew him, he was notorious as a red-shirt and a socialist. So there was no explaining this sudden acceptability of his wares. It was sheer jugglery of fate.
After it had been refused by a number of magazines, he had taken Brissenden’s rejected advice and started, “The Shame of the Sun” on the round of publishers. After several refusals, Singletree, Darnley & Co. accepted it, promising fall publication. When Martin asked for an advance on royalties, they wrote that such was not their custom, that books of that nature rarely paid for themselves, and that they doubted if his book would sell a thousand copies. Martin figured what the book would earn him on such a sale. Retailed at a dollar, on a royalty of fifteen per cent, it would bring him one hundred and fifty dollars. He decided that if he had it to do over again he would confine himself to fiction. “Adventure,” one-fourth as long, had brought him twice as much from The Millennium. That newspaper paragraph he had read so long ago had been true, after all. The first-class magazines did not pay on acceptance, and they paid well. Not two cents a word, but four cents a word, had The Millennium paid him. And, furthermore, they bought good stuff, too, for were they not buying his? This last thought he accompanied with a grin.
He wrote to Singletree, Darnley & Co., offering to sell out his rights in “The Shame of the Sun” for a hundred dollars, but they did not care to take the risk. In the meantime he was not in need of money, for several of his later stories had been accepted and paid for. He actually opened a bank account, where, without a debt in the world, he had several hundred dollars to his credit. “Overdue,” after having been declined by a number of magazines, came to rest at the Meredith-Lowell Company. Martin remembered the five dollars Gertrude had given him, and his resolve to return it to her a hundred times over; so he wrote for an advance on royalties of five hundred dollars. To his surprise a check for that amount, accompanied by a contract, came by return mail. He cashed the check into five-dollar gold pieces and telephoned Gertrude that he wanted to see her.
She arrived at the house panting and short of breath from the haste she had made. Apprehensive of trouble, she had stuffed the few dollars she possessed into her hand-satchel; and so sure was she that disaster had overtaken her brother, that she stumbled forward, sobbing, into his arms, at the same time thrusting the satchel mutely at him.
“I’d have come myself,” he said. “But I didn’t want a row with Mr. Higginbotham, and that is what would have surely happened.”
“He’ll be all right after a time,” she assured him, while she wondered what the trouble was that Martin was in. “But you’d best get a job first an’ steady down. Bernard does like to see a man at honest work. That stuff in the newspapers broke ’m all up. I never saw ’m so mad before.”
“I’m not going to get a job,” Martin said with a smile. “And you can tell him so from me. I don’t need a job, and there’s the proof of it.”
He emptied the hundred gold pieces into her lap in a glinting, tinkling stream.
“You remember that fiver you gave me the time I didn’t have carfare? Well, there it is, with ninety-nine brothers of different ages but all of the same size.”
If Gertrude had been frightened when she arrived, she was now in a panic of fear. Her fear was such that it was certitude. She was not suspicious. She was convinced. She looked at Martin in horror, and her heavy limbs shrank under the golden stream as though it were burning her.
“It’s yours,” he laughed.
She burst into tears, and began to moan, “My poor boy, my poor boy!”
He was puzzled for a moment. Then he divined the cause of her agitation and handed her the Meredith-Lowell letter which had accompanied the check. She stumbled through it, pausing now and again to wipe her eyes, and when she had finished, said:-
“An’ does it mean that you come by the money honestly?”
“More honestly than if I’d won it in a lottery. I earned it.”
Slowly faith came back to her, and she reread the letter carefully. It took him long to explain to her the nature of the transaction which had put the money into his possession, and longer still to get her to understand that the money was really hers and that he did not need it.
“I’ll put it in the bank for you,” she said finally.
“You’ll do nothing of the sort. It’s yours, to do with as you please, and if you won’t take it, I’ll give it to Maria. She’ll know what to do with it. I’d suggest, though, that you hire a servant and take a good long rest.”
“I’m goin’ to tell Bernard all about it,” she announced, when she was leaving.
Martin winced, then grinned.
“Yes, do,” he said. “And then, maybe, he’ll invite me to dinner again.”
“Yes, he will—I’m sure he will!” she exclaimed fervently, as she drew him to her and kissed and hugged him.
One day Martin became aware that he was lonely. He was healthy and strong, and had nothing to do. The cessation from writing and studying, the death of Brissenden, and the estrangement from Ruth had made a big hole in his life; and his life refused to be pinned down to good living in cafés and the smoking of Egyptian cigarettes. It was true the South Seas were calling to him, but he had a feeling that the game was not yet played out in the United States. Two books were soon to be published, and he had more books that might find publication. Money could be made out of them, and he would wait and take a sackful of it into the South Seas. He knew a valley and a bay in the Marquesas that he could buy for a thousand Chili dollars. The valley ran from the horseshoe, land-locked bay to the tops of the dizzy, cloud-capped peaks and contained perhaps ten thousand acres. It was filled with tropical fruits, wild chickens, and wild pigs, with an occasional herd of wild cattle, while high up among the peaks were herds of wild goats harried by packs of wild dogs. The whole place was wild. Not a human lived in it. And he could buy it and the bay for a thousand Chili dollars.
The bay, as he remembered it, was magnificent, with water deep enough to accommodate the largest vessel afloat, and so safe that the South Pacific Directory recommended it to the best careening place for ships for hundreds of miles around. He would buy a schooner—one of those yacht-like, coppered crafts that sailed like witches—and go trading copra and pearling among the islands. He would make the valley and the bay his headquarters. He would build a patriarchal grass house like Tati’s, and have it and the valley and the schooner filled with dark-skinned servitors. He would entertain there the factor of Taiohae, captains of wandering traders, and all the best of the South Pacific riffraff. He would keep open house and entertain like a prince. And he would forget the books he had opened and the world that had proved an illusion.
To do all this he must wait in California to fill the sack with money. Already it was beginning to flow in. If one of the books made a strike, it might enable him to sell the whole heap of manuscripts. Also he could collect the stories and the poems into books, and make sure of the valley and the bay and the schooner. He would never write again. Upon that he was resolved. But in the meantime, awaiting the publication of the books, he must do something more than live dazed and stupid in the sort of uncaring trance into which he had fallen.
He noted, one Sunday morning, that the Bricklayers’ Picnic took place that day at Shell Mound Park, and to Shell Mound Park he went. He had been to the working-class picnics too often in his earlier life not to know what they were like, and as he entered the park he experienced a recrudescence of all the old sensations. After all, they were his kind, these working people. He had been born among them, he had lived among them, and though he had strayed for a time, it was well to come back among them.
“If it ain’t Mart!” he heard some one say, and the next moment a hearty hand was on his shoulder. “Where you ben all the time? Off to sea? Come on an’ have a drink.”
It was the old crowd in which he found himself—the old crowd, with here and there a gap, and here and there a new face. The fellows were not bricklayers, but, as in the old days, they attended all Sunday picnics for the dancing, and the fighting, and the fun. Martin drank with them, and began to feel really human once more. He was a fool to have ever left them, he thought; and he was very certain that his sum of happiness would have been greater had he remained with them and let alone the books and the people who sat in the high places. Yet the beer seemed not so good as of yore. It didn’t taste as it used to taste. Brissenden had spoiled him for steam beer, he concluded, and wondered if, after all, the books had spoiled him for companionship with these friends of his youth. He resolved that he would not be so spoiled, and he went on to the dancing pavilion. Jimmy, the plumber, he met there, in the company of a tall, blond girl who promptly forsook him for Martin.
“Gee, it’s like old times,” Jimmy explained to the gang that gave him the laugh as Martin and the blonde whirled away in a waltz. “An’ I don’t give a rap. I’m too damned glad to see ’m back. Watch ’m waltz, eh? It’s like silk. Who’d blame any girl?”
But Martin restored the blonde to Jimmy, and the three of them, with half a dozen friends, watched the revolving couples and laughed and joked with one another. Everybody was glad to see Martin back. No book of his been published; he carried no fictitious value in their eyes. They liked him for himself. He felt like a prince returned from excile, and his lonely heart burgeoned in the geniality in which it bathed. He made a mad day of it, and was at his best. Also, he had money in his pockets, and, as in the old days when he returned from sea with a pay-day, he made the money fly.
Once, on the dancing-floor, he saw Lizzie Connolly go by in the arms of a young workingman; and, later, when he made the round of the pavilion, he came upon her sitting by a refreshment table. Surprise and greetings over, he led her away into the grounds, where they could talk without shouting down the music. From the instant he spoke to her, she was his. He knew it. She showed it in the proud humility of her eyes, in every caressing movement of her proudly carried body, and in the way she hung upon his speech. She was not the young girl as he had known her. She was a woman, now, and Martin noted that her wild, defiant beauty had improved, losing none of its wildness, while the defiance and the fire seemed more in control. “A beauty, a perfect beauty,” he murmured admiringly under his breath. And he knew she was his, that all he had to do was to say “Come,” and she would go with him over the world wherever he led.
Even as the thought flashed through his brain he received a heavy blow on the side of his head that nearly knocked him down. It was a man’s fist, directed by a man so angry and in such haste that the fist had missed the jaw for which it was aimed. Martin turned as he staggered, and saw the fist coming at him in a wild swing. Quite as a matter of course he ducked, and the fist flew harmlessly past, pivoting the man who had driven it. Martin hooked with his left, landing on the pivoting man with the weight of his body behind the blow. The man went to the ground sidewise, leaped to his feet, and made a mad rush. Martin saw his passion-distorted face and wondered what could be the cause of the fellow’s anger. But while he wondered, he shot in a straight left, the weight of his body behind the blow. The man went over backward and fell in a crumpled heap. Jimmy and others of the gang were running toward them.
Martin was thrilling all over. This was the old days with a vengeance, with their dancing, and their fighting, and their fun. While he kept a wary eye on his antagonist, he glanced at Lizzie. Usually the girls screamed when the fellows got to scrapping, but she had not screamed. She was looking on with bated breath, leaning slightly forward, so keen was her interest, one hand pressed to her breast, her cheek flushed, and in her eyes a great and amazed admiration.
The man had gained his feet and was struggling to escape the restraining arms that were laid on him.
“She was waitin’ for me to come back!” he was proclaiming to all and sundry. “She was waitin’ for me to come back, an’ then that fresh guy comes buttin’ in. Let go o’ me, I tell yeh. I’m goin’ to fix ’m.”
“What’s eatin’ yer?” Jimmy was demanding, as he helped hold the young fellow back. “That guy’s Mart Eden. He’s nifty with his mits, lemme tell you that, an’ he’ll eat you alive if you monkey with ’m.”
“He can’t steal her on me that way,” the other interjected.
“He licked the Flyin’ Dutchman, an’ you know him,” Jimmy went on expostulating. “An’ he did it in five rounds. You couldn’t last a minute against him. See?”
This information seemed to have a mollifying effect, and the irate young man favored Martin with a measuring stare.
“He don’t look it,” he sneered; but the sneer was without passion.
“That’s what the Flyin’ Dutchman thought,” Jimmy assured him. “Come on, now, let’s get outa this. There’s lots of other girls. Come on.”
The young fellow allowed himself to be led away toward the pavilion, and the gang followed after him.
“Who is he?” Martin asked Lizzie. “And what’s it all about, anyway?”
Already the zest of combat, which of old had been so keen and lasting, had died down, and he discovered that he was self-analytical, too much so to live, single heart and single hand, so primitive an existence.
Lizzie tossed her head.
“Oh, he’s nobody,” she said. “He’s just ben keepin’ company with me.”
“I had to, you see,” she explained after a pause. “I was gettin’ pretty lonesome. But I never forgot.” Her voice sank lower, and she looked straight before her. “I’d throw ’m down for you any time.”
Martin looking at her averted face, knowing that all he had to do was to reach out his hand and pluck her, fell to pondering whether, after all, there was any real worth in refined, grammatical English, and, so, forgot to reply to her.
“You put it all over him,” she said tentatively, with a laugh.
“He’s a husky young fellow, though,” he admitted generously. “If they hadn’t taken him away, he might have given me my hands full.”
“Who was that lady friend I seen you with that night?” she asked abruptly.
“Oh, just a lady friend,” was his answer.
“It was a long time ago,” she murmured contemplatively. “It seems like a thousand years.”
But Martin went no further into the matter. He led the conversation off into other channels. They had lunch in the restaurant, where he ordered wine and expensive delicacies and afterward he danced with her and with no one but her, till she was tired. He was a good dancer, and she whirled around and around with him in a heaven of delight, her head against his shoulder, wishing that it could last forever. Later in the afternoon they strayed off among the trees, where, in the good old fashion, she sat down while he sprawled on his back, his head in her lap. He lay and dozed, while she fondled his hair, looked down on his closed eyes, and loved him without reserve. Looking up suddenly, he read the tender advertisement in her face. Her eyes fluttered down, then they opened and looked into his with soft defiance.
“I’ve kept straight all these years,” she said, her voice so low that it was almost a whisper.
In his heart Martin knew that it was the miraculous truth. And at his heart pleaded a great temptation. It was in his power to make her happy. Denied happiness himself, why should he deny happiness to her? He could marry her and take her down with him to dwell in the grass-walled castle in the Marquesas. The desire to do it was strong, but stronger still was the imperative command of his nature not to do it. In spite of himself he was still faithful to Love. The old days of license and easy living were gone. He could not bring them back, nor could he go back to them. He was changed—how changed he had not realized until now.
“I am not a marrying man, Lizzie,” he said lightly.
The hand caressing his hair paused perceptibly, then went on with the same gentle stroke. He noticed her face harden, but it was with the hardness of resolution, for still the soft color was in her cheeks and she was all glowing and melting.
“I did not mean that—” she began, then faltered. “Or anyway I don’t care.”
“I don’t care,” she repeated. “I’m proud to be your friend. I’d do anything for you. I’m made that way, I guess.”
Martin sat up. He took her hand in his. He did it deliberately, with warmth but without passion; and such warmth chilled her.
“Don’t let’s talk about it,” she said.
“You are a great and noble woman,” he said. “And it is I who should be proud to know you. And I am, I am. You are a ray of light to me in a very dark world, and I’ve got to be straight with you, just as straight as you have been.”
“I don’t care whether you’re straight with me or not. You could do anything with me. You could throw me in the dirt an’ walk on me. An’ you’re the only man in the world that can,” she added with a defiant flash. “I ain’t taken care of myself ever since I was a kid for nothin’.”
“And it’s just because of that that I’m not going to,” he said gently. “You are so big and generous that you challenge me to equal generousness. I’m not marrying, and I’m not—well, loving without marrying, though I’ve done my share of that in the past. I’m sorry I came here to-day and met you. But it can’t be helped now, and I never expected it would turn out this way.”
“But look here, Lizzie. I can’t begin to tell you how much I like you. I do more than like you. I admire and respect you. You are magnificent, and you are magnificently good. But what’s the use of words? Yet there’s something I’d like to do. You’ve had a hard life; let me make it easy for you.” (A joyous light welled into her eyes, then faded out again.) “I’m pretty sure of getting hold of some money soon—lots of it.”
In that moment he abandoned the idea of the valley and the bay, the grass-walled castle and the trim, white schooner. After all, what did it matter? He could go away, as he had done so often, before the mast, on any ship bound anywhere.
“I’d like to turn it over to you. There must be something you want—to go to school or business college. You might like to study and be a stenographer. I could fix it for you. Or maybe your father and mother are living—I could set them up in a grocery store or something. Anything you want, just name it, and I can fix it for you.”
She made no reply, but sat, gazing straight before her, dry-eyed and motionless, but with an ache in the throat which Martin divined so strongly that it made his own throat ache. He regretted that he had spoken. It seemed so tawdry what he had offered her—mere money—compared with what she offered him. He offered her an extraneous thing with which he could part without a pang, while she offered him herself, along with disgrace and shame, and sin, and all her hopes of heaven.
“Don’t let’s talk about it,” she said with a catch in her voice that she changed to a cough. She stood up. “Come on, let’s go home. I’m all tired out.”
The day was done, and the merrymakers had nearly all departed. But as Martin and Lizzie emerged from the trees they found the gang waiting for them. Martin knew immediately the meaning of it. Trouble was brewing. The gang was his body-guard. They passed out through the gates of the park with, straggling in the rear, a second gang, the friends that Lizzie’s young man had collected to avenge the loss of his lady. Several constables and special police officers, anticipating trouble, trailed along to prevent it, and herded the two gangs separately aboard the train for San Francisco. Martin told Jimmy that he would get off at Sixteenth Street Station and catch the electric car into Oakland. Lizzie was very quiet and without interest in what was impending. The train pulled in to Sixteenth Street Station, and the waiting electric car could be seen, the conductor of which was impatiently clanging the gong.
“There she is,” Jimmy counselled. “Make a run for it, an’ we’ll hold ’em back. Now you go! Hit her up!”
The hostile gang was temporarily disconcerted by the manoeuvre, then it dashed from the train in pursuit. The staid and sober Oakland folk who sat upon the car scarcely noted the young fellow and the girl who ran for it and found a seat in front on the outside. They did not connect the couple with Jimmy, who sprang on the steps, crying to the motorman:-
“Slam on the juice, old man, and beat it outa here!”
The next moment Jimmy whirled about, and the passengers saw him land his fist on the face of a running man who was trying to board the car. But fists were landing on faces the whole length of the car. Thus, Jimmy and his gang, strung out on the long, lower steps, met the attacking gang. The car started with a great clanging of its gong, and, as Jimmy’s gang drove off the last assailants, they, too, jumped off to finish the job. The car dashed on, leaving the flurry of combat far behind, and its dumfounded passengers never dreamed that the quiet young man and the pretty working-girl sitting in the corner on the outside seat had been the cause of the row.
Martin had enjoyed the fight, with a recrudescence of the old fighting thrills. But they quickly died away, and he was oppressed by a great sadness. He felt very old—centuries older than those careless, care-free young companions of his others days. He had travelled far, too far to go back. Their mode of life, which had once been his, was now distasteful to him. He was disappointed in it all. He had developed into an alien. As the steam beer had tasted raw, so their companionship seemed raw to him. He was too far removed. Too many thousands of opened books yawned between them and him. He had exiled himself. He had travelled in the vast realm of intellect until he could no longer return home. On the other hand, he was human, and his gregarious need for companionship remained unsatisfied. He had found no new home. As the gang could not understand him, as his own family could not understand him, as the bourgeoisie could not understand him, so this girl beside him, whom he honored high, could not understand him nor the honor he paid her. His sadness was not untouched with bitterness as he thought it over.
“Make it up with him,” he advised Lizzie, at parting, as they stood in front of the workingman’s shack in which she lived, near Sixth and Market. He referred to the young fellow whose place he had usurped that day.
“I can’t—now,” she said.
“Oh, go on,” he said jovially. “All you have to do is whistle and he’ll come running.”
“I didn’t mean that,” she said simply.
And he knew what she had meant.
She leaned toward him as he was about to say good night. But she leaned not imperatively, not seductively, but wistfully and humbly. He was touched to the heart. His large tolerance rose up in him. He put his arms around her, and kissed her, and knew that upon his own lips rested as true a kiss as man ever received.
“My God!” she sobbed. “I could die for you. I could die for you.”
She tore herself from him suddenly and ran up the steps. He felt a quick moisture in his eyes.
“Martin Eden,” he communed. “You’re not a brute, and you’re a damn poor Nietzscheman. You’d marry her if you could and fill her quivering heart full with happiness. But you can’t, you can’t. And it’s a damn shame.”
“‘A poor old tramp explains his poor old ulcers,’” he muttered, remembering his Henly. “‘Life is, I think, a blunder and a shame.’ It is—a blunder and a shame.”