Read CHAPTER LIII of The Harbor , free online book, by Ernest Poole, on

One night about a month later, when we had ensconced ourselves for the evening out on the roof of our new home, where the summer’s night was cooled by a slight breeze from the river, our maid came up and told me there was a strange gentleman below. I went down and brought him up, I was deeply pleased and excited. For he was the English novelist whom I most admired these days. He had come to me during the strike and had been deeply interested in the great crowd spirit I had found. He was going back to England now.

“I’m curious,” he told me, “to see how much your striker friends have kept of what they got in the strike-what new ideas and points of view. How much are they really changed? That, I should think, is by far the most valuable part of it all.”

“It’s just what I’ve been trying to find out for myself,” I replied.

“Really? Will you tell me?”

I told him how on docks, on tugs and barges, in barrooms and in tenements, I was having talks with various types of men who had been strikers, how I was finding some dull and hopeless, others bitter, but more who simply felt that they had bungled this first attempt and were already looking forward to more and greater struggles. The socialists among them were already hard at work, urging them to carry their strike on into the political field, vote together in one solid mass and build up a government all their own. Through this ceaseless ferment I had gone in search of significant characters, incidents, new points of view. I was writing brief sketches of it all.

“How did you feel about all this,” the Englishman asked, “before you were drawn into the strike?” And turning from me to Eleanore, “And you?” he added.

Gradually he got the stories of our lives. I told how all my life I had been raising up gods to worship, and how the harbor had flowed silently in beneath, undermining each one and bringing it down.

“It seems to have such a habit of changing,” I ended, “that it won’t let a fellow stop.”

“Lucky people,” he answered, smiling, “to have found that out so soon-to have had all this modern life condensed so cozily into your harbor before your eyes-and to have discovered, while you are still young, that life is growth and growth is change. I believe the age we live in is changing so much faster than any age before it, that a man if he’s to be vital at all must give up the idea of any fixed creed-in his office, his church or his home-that if he does not, he will only wear himself out butting his indignant head against what is stronger and probably better than he. But if he does, if he holds himself open to change and knows that change is his very life, then he can get a serenity which is as much better than that of the monk as living is better than dying.”

We talked of books being written in England and France, in Germany and Russia, all dealing with deep changes in the views and beliefs and desires of men.

“Any man,” he said, “who thinks that modern Europe will go smoothly, quietly on, needs a dose of your harbor to open his eyes.”

He turned to me with a sudden thought.

“Why don’t you write a book,” he asked, “about this harbor you have known!”

Eleanore made a quick move in her chair.

“That’s just what you ought to do!” she exclaimed.

“I wonder if I could,” I said. “It would be hard to see it now, as it looked at all the different times.”

“You’ll hardly be able to do that,” the Englishman answered quietly. “Because to each one of us, I suppose, not only his present but his past is constantly changing to his view. But I wouldn’t let that bother you. What would interest me as a reader would be your view of your life as you look back upon it to-day-in this present stage of your growth.

“I was raised in the Alps myself,” he went on. “So my picture of life is the mountain path. As I climb and turn now and then to look back, the twisting little path below appears quite different each time. But still I keep on writing-my changing view of the slope behind and of the rising peaks ahead. And now and then by working my hardest I’ve felt the great joy of writing the truth. As you know, it isn’t easy. But year by year I’ve felt my readers grow in number. I believe they are going to grow and grow, not mine nor yours but the readers of all the chaps like ourselves, the readers who pick up each new book with the hope that one more fellow has done his best-not to please them but to please himself-by telling of life as he has seen it-his changing life through his changing eyes.”

After he left us there was a long silence. Both of us were thinking hard. And as Eleanore looked up to the stars I saw their brightness in her eyes.

“Yes,” she said at last, “I’m sure. I’m sure you’d better take his advice-and write as truthfully as you can the whole story as you see it now-of this strange harbor you have known.”

We talked long and eagerly that night.