Back from sea Martin Eden came, homing
for California with a lover’s desire.
His store of money exhausted, he had shipped before
the mast on the treasure-hunting schooner; and the
Solomon Islands, after eight months of failure to
find treasure, had witnessed the breaking up of the
expedition. The men had been paid off in Australia,
and Martin had immediately shipped on a deep-water
vessel for San Francisco. Not alone had those
eight months earned him enough money to stay on land
for many weeks, but they had enabled him to do a great
deal of studying and reading.
His was the student’s mind,
and behind his ability to learn was the indomitability
of his nature and his love for Ruth. The grammar
he had taken along he went through again and again
until his unjaded brain had mastered it. He
noticed the bad grammar used by his shipmates, and
made a point of mentally correcting and reconstructing
their crudities of speech. To his great joy
he discovered that his ear was becoming sensitive
and that he was developing grammatical nerves.
A double negative jarred him like a discord, and
often, from lack of practice, it was from his own
lips that the jar came. His tongue refused to
learn new tricks in a day.
After he had been through the grammar
repeatedly, he took up the dictionary and added twenty
words a day to his vocabulary. He found that
this was no light task, and at wheel or lookout he
steadily went over and over his lengthening list of
pronunciations and definitions, while he invariably
memorized himself to sleep. “Never did
anything,” “if I were,” and “those
things,” were phrases, with many variations,
that he repeated under his breath in order to accustom
his tongue to the language spoken by Ruth. “And”
and “ing,” with the “d” and
“g” pronounced emphatically, he went over
thousands of times; and to his surprise he noticed
that he was beginning to speak cleaner and more correct
English than the officers themselves and the gentleman-adventurers
in the cabin who had financed the expedition.
The captain was a fishy-eyed Norwegian
who somehow had fallen into possession of a complete
Shakespeare, which he never read, and Martin had washed
his clothes for him and in return been permitted access
to the precious volumes. For a time, so steeped
was he in the plays and in the many favorite passages
that impressed themselves almost without effort on
his brain, that all the world seemed to shape itself
into forms of Elizabethan tragedy or comedy and his
very thoughts were in blank verse. It trained
his ear and gave him a fine appreciation for noble
English; withal it introduced into his mind much that
was archaic and obsolete.
The eight months had been well spent,
and, in addition to what he had learned of right speaking
and high thinking, he had learned much of himself.
Along with his humbleness because he knew so little,
there arose a conviction of power. He felt a
sharp gradation between himself and his shipmates,
and was wise enough to realize that the difference
lay in potentiality rather than achievement.
What he could do, they could do; but within
him he felt a confused ferment working that told him
there was more in him than he had done. He was
tortured by the exquisite beauty of the world, and
wished that Ruth were there to share it with him.
He decided that he would describe to her many of the
bits of South Sea beauty. The creative spirit
in him flamed up at the thought and urged that he
recreate this beauty for a wider audience than Ruth.
And then, in splendor and glory, came the great idea.
He would write. He would be one of the eyes
through which the world saw, one of the ears through
which it heard, one of the hearts through which it
felt. He would write everything poetry
and prose, fiction and description, and plays like
Shakespeare. There was career and the way to
win to Ruth. The men of literature were the
world’s giants, and he conceived them to be
far finer than the Mr. Butlers who earned thirty thousand
a year and could be Supreme Court justices if they
Once the idea had germinated, it mastered
him, and the return voyage to San Francisco was like
a dream. He was drunken with unguessed power
and felt that he could do anything. In the midst
of the great and lonely sea he gained perspective.
Clearly, and for the first lime, he saw Ruth and
her world. It was all visualized in his mind
as a concrete thing which he could take up in his
two hands and turn around and about and examine.
There was much that was dim and nebulous in that world,
but he saw it as a whole and not in detail, and he
saw, also, the way to master it. To write!
The thought was fire in him. He would begin
as soon as he got back. The first thing he would
do would be to describe the voyage of the treasure-hunters.
He would sell it to some San Francisco newspaper.
He would not tell Ruth anything about it, and she
would be surprised and pleased when she saw his name
in print. While he wrote, he could go on studying.
There were twenty-four hours in each day. He
was invincible. He knew how to work, and the
citadels would go down before him. He would
not have to go to sea again as a sailor;
and for the instant he caught a vision of a steam
yacht. There were other writers who possessed
steam yachts. Of course, he cautioned himself,
it would be slow succeeding at first, and for a time
he would be content to earn enough money by his writing
to enable him to go on studying. And then, after
some time, a very indeterminate time, when
he had learned and prepared himself, he would write
the great things and his name would be on all men’s
lips. But greater than that, infinitely greater
and greatest of all, he would have proved himself
worthy of Ruth. Fame was all very well, but it
was for Ruth that his splendid dream arose.
He was not a fame-monger, but merely one of God’s
Arrived in Oakland, with his snug
pay-day in his pocket, he took up his old room at
Bernard Higginbotham’s and set to work.
He did not even let Ruth know he was back.
He would go and see her when he finished the article
on the treasure-hunters. It was not so difficult
to abstain from seeing her, because of the violent
heat of creative fever that burned in him. Besides,
the very article he was writing would bring her nearer
to him. He did not know how long an article
he should write, but he counted the words in a double-page
article in the Sunday supplement of the San Francisco
Examiner, and guided himself by that. Three days,
at white heat, completed his narrative; but when he
had copied it carefully, in a large scrawl that was
easy to read, he learned from a rhetoric he picked
up in the library that there were such things as paragraphs
and quotation marks. He had never thought of
such things before; and he promptly set to work writing
the article over, referring continually to the pages
of the rhetoric and learning more in a day about composition
than the average schoolboy in a year. When he
had copied the article a second time and rolled it
up carefully, he read in a newspaper an item on hints
to beginners, and discovered the iron law that manuscripts
should never be rolled and that they should be written
on one side of the paper. He had violated the
law on both counts. Also, he learned from the
item that first-class papers paid a minimum of ten
dollars a column. So, while he copied the manuscript
a third time, he consoled himself by multiplying ten
columns by ten dollars. The product was always
the same, one hundred dollars, and he decided that
that was better than seafaring. If it hadn’t
been for his blunders, he would have finished the article
in three days. One hundred dollars in three
days! It would have taken him three months and
longer on the sea to earn a similar amount. A
man was a fool to go to sea when he could write, he
concluded, though the money in itself meant nothing
to him. Its value was in the liberty it would
get him, the presentable garments it would buy him,
all of which would bring him nearer, swiftly nearer,
to the slender, pale girl who had turned his life
back upon itself and given him inspiration.
He mailed the manuscript in a flat
envelope, and addressed it to the editor of the San
Francisco Examiner. He had an idea that anything
accepted by a paper was published immediately, and
as he had sent the manuscript in on Friday he expected
it to come out on the following Sunday. He conceived
that it would be fine to let that event apprise Ruth
of his return. Then, Sunday afternoon, he would
call and see her. In the meantime he was occupied
by another idea, which he prided himself upon as being
a particularly sane, careful, and modest idea.
He would write an adventure story for boys and sell
it to The Youth’s Companion. He went to
the free reading-room and looked through the files
of The Youth’s Companion. Serial stories,
he found, were usually published in that weekly in
five instalments of about three thousand words each.
He discovered several serials that ran to seven instalments,
and decided to write one of that length.
He had been on a whaling voyage in
the Arctic, once a voyage that was to have
been for three years and which had terminated in shipwreck
at the end of six months. While his imagination
was fanciful, even fantastic at times, he had a basic
love of reality that compelled him to write about
the things he knew. He knew whaling, and out
of the real materials of his knowledge he proceeded
to manufacture the fictitious adventures of the two
boys he intended to use as joint heroes. It was
easy work, he decided on Saturday evening. He
had completed on that day the first instalment of
three thousand words much to the amusement
of Jim, and to the open derision of Mr. Higginbotham,
who sneered throughout meal-time at the “litery”
person they had discovered in the family.
Martin contented himself by picturing
his brother-in-law’s surprise on Sunday morning
when he opened his Examiner and saw the article on
the treasure-hunters. Early that morning he
was out himself to the front door, nervously racing
through the many-sheeted newspaper. He went
through it a second time, very carefully, then folded
it up and left it where he had found it. He
was glad he had not told any one about his article.
On second thought he concluded that he had been wrong
about the speed with which things found their way
into newspaper columns. Besides, there had not
been any news value in his article, and most likely
the editor would write to him about it first.
After breakfast he went on with his
serial. The words flowed from his pen, though
he broke off from the writing frequently to look up
definitions in the dictionary or to refer to the rhetoric.
He often read or re-read a chapter at a time, during
such pauses; and he consoled himself that while he
was not writing the great things he felt to be in
him, he was learning composition, at any rate, and
training himself to shape up and express his thoughts.
He toiled on till dark, when he went out to the reading-room
and explored magazines and weeklies until the place
closed at ten o’clock. This was his programme
for a week. Each day he did three thousand words,
and each evening he puzzled his way through the magazines,
taking note of the stories, articles, and poems that
editors saw fit to publish. One thing was certain:
What these multitudinous writers did he could do,
and only give him time and he would do what they could
not do. He was cheered to read in Book News,
in a paragraph on the payment of magazine writers,
not that Rudyard Kipling received a dollar per word,
but that the minimum rate paid by first-class magazines
was two cents a word. The Youth’s Companion
was certainly first class, and at that rate the three
thousand words he had written that day would bring
him sixty dollars two months’ wages
on the sea!
On Friday night he finished the serial,
twenty-one thousand words long. At two cents
a word, he calculated, that would bring him four hundred
and twenty dollars. Not a bad week’s work.
It was more money than he had ever possessed at one
time. He did not know how he could spend it all.
He had tapped a gold mine. Where this came from
he could always get more. He planned to buy
some more clothes, to subscribe to many magazines,
and to buy dozens of reference books that at present
he was compelled to go to the library to consult.
And still there was a large portion of the four hundred
and twenty dollars unspent. This worried him
until the thought came to him of hiring a servant for
Gertrude and of buying a bicycle for Marion.
He mailed the bulky manuscript to
The Youth’s Companion, and on Saturday afternoon,
after having planned an article on pearl-diving, he
went to see Ruth. He had telephoned, and she
went herself to greet him at the door. The old
familiar blaze of health rushed out from him and struck
her like a blow. It seemed to enter into her
body and course through her veins in a liquid glow,
and to set her quivering with its imparted strength.
He flushed warmly as he took her hand and looked into
her blue eyes, but the fresh bronze of eight months
of sun hid the flush, though it did not protect the
neck from the gnawing chafe of the stiff collar.
She noted the red line of it with amusement which quickly
vanished as she glanced at his clothes. They
really fitted him, it was his first made-to-order
suit, and he seemed slimmer and better modelled.
In addition, his cloth cap had been replaced by a
soft hat, which she commanded him to put on and then
complimented him on his appearance. She did not
remember when she had felt so happy. This change
in him was her handiwork, and she was proud of it
and fired with ambition further to help him.
But the most radical change of all,
and the one that pleased her most, was the change
in his speech. Not only did he speak more correctly,
but he spoke more easily, and there were many new
words in his vocabulary. When he grew excited
or enthusiastic, however, he dropped back into the
old slurring and the dropping of final consonants.
Also, there was an awkward hesitancy, at times, as
he essayed the new words he had learned. On the
other hand, along with his ease of expression, he displayed
a lightness and facetiousness of thought that delighted
her. It was his old spirit of humor and badinage
that had made him a favorite in his own class, but
which he had hitherto been unable to use in her presence
through lack of words and training. He was just
beginning to orientate himself and to feel that he
was not wholly an intruder. But he was very
tentative, fastidiously so, letting Ruth set the pace
of sprightliness and fancy, keeping up with her but
never daring to go beyond her.
He told her of what he had been doing,
and of his plan to write for a livelihood and of going
on with his studies. But he was disappointed
at her lack of approval. She did not think much
of his plan.
“You see,” she said frankly,
“writing must be a trade, like anything else.
Not that I know anything about it, of course.
I only bring common judgment to bear. You couldn’t
hope to be a blacksmith without spending three years
at learning the trade or is it five years!
Now writers are so much better paid than blacksmiths
that there must be ever so many more men who would
like to write, who try to write.”
“But then, may not I be peculiarly
constituted to write?” he queried, secretly
exulting at the language he had used, his swift imagination
throwing the whole scene and atmosphere upon a vast
screen along with a thousand other scenes from his
life scenes that were rough and raw, gross
The whole composite vision was achieved
with the speed of light, producing no pause in the
conversation, nor interrupting his calm train of thought.
On the screen of his imagination he saw himself and
this sweet and beautiful girl, facing each other and
conversing in good English, in a room of books and
paintings and tone and culture, and all illuminated
by a bright light of steadfast brilliance; while ranged
about and fading away to the remote edges of the screen
were antithetical scenes, each scene a picture, and
he the onlooker, free to look at will upon what he
wished. He saw these other scenes through drifting
vapors and swirls of sullen fog dissolving before
shafts of red and garish light. He saw cowboys
at the bar, drinking fierce whiskey, the air filled
with obscenity and ribald language, and he saw himself
with them drinking and cursing with the wildest, or
sitting at table with them, under smoking kerosene
lamps, while the chips clicked and clattered and the
cards were dealt around. He saw himself, stripped
to the waist, with naked fists, fighting his great
fight with Liverpool Red in the forecastle of the
Susquehanna; and he saw the bloody deck of the John
Rogers, that gray morning of attempted mutiny, the
mate kicking in death-throes on the main-hatch, the
revolver in the old man’s hand spitting fire
and smoke, the men with passion-wrenched faces, of
brutes screaming vile blasphemies and falling about
him and then he returned to the central
scene, calm and clean in the steadfast light, where
Ruth sat and talked with him amid books and paintings;
and he saw the grand piano upon which she would later
play to him; and he heard the echoes of his own selected
and correct words, “But then, may I not be peculiarly
constituted to write?”
“But no matter how peculiarly
constituted a man may be for blacksmithing,”
she was laughing, “I never heard of one becoming
a blacksmith without first serving his apprenticeship.”
“What would you advise?”
he asked. “And don’t forget that
I feel in me this capacity to write I can’t
explain it; I just know that it is in me.”
“You must get a thorough education,”
was the answer, “whether or not you ultimately
become a writer. This education is indispensable
for whatever career you select, and it must not be
slipshod or sketchy. You should go to high school.”
“Yes ” he began;
but she interrupted with an afterthought:-
“Of course, you could go on with your writing,
“I would have to,” he said grimly.
“Why?” She looked at
him, prettily puzzled, for she did not quite like
the persistence with which he clung to his notion.
“Because, without writing there
wouldn’t be any high school. I must live
and buy books and clothes, you know.”
“I’d forgotten that,”
she laughed. “Why weren’t you born
with an income?”
“I’d rather have good
health and imagination,” he answered. “I
can make good on the income, but the other things
have to be made good for ” He almost
said “you,” then amended his sentence to,
“have to be made good for one.”
“Don’t say ‘make
good,’” she cried, sweetly petulant.
“It’s slang, and it’s horrid.”
He flushed, and stammered, “That’s
right, and I only wish you’d correct me every
“I I’d like
to,” she said haltingly. “You have
so much in you that is good that I want to see you
He was clay in her hands immediately,
as passionately desirous of being moulded by her as
she was desirous of shaping him into the image of her
ideal of man. And when she pointed out the opportuneness
of the time, that the entrance examinations to high
school began on the following Monday, he promptly
volunteered that he would take them.
Then she played and sang to him, while
he gazed with hungry yearning at her, drinking in
her loveliness and marvelling that there should not
be a hundred suitors listening there and longing for
her as he listened and longed.