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Jack London - Martin Eden

Jack London - Martin Eden

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Published by kam-sergius

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Published by: kam-sergius on Jul 30, 2010
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04/17/2013

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Martin Eden
by Jack London
CHAPTER IThe one opened the door with a latch-key and went in, followed by ayoung fellow who awkwardly removed his cap. He wore rough clothesthat smacked of the sea, and he was manifestly out of place in thespacious hall in which he found himself. He did not know what todo with his cap, and was stuffing it into his coat pocket when theother took it from him. The act was done quietly and naturally,and the awkward young fellow appreciated it. "He understands," washis thought. "He'll see me through all right."He walked at the other's heels with a swing to his shoulders, andhis legs spread unwittingly, as if the level floors were tilting upand sinking down to the heave and lunge of the sea. The wide roomsseemed too narrow for his rolling gait, and to himself he was interror lest his broad shoulders should collide with the doorways orsweep the bric-a-brac from the low mantel. He recoiled from sideto side between the various objects and multiplied the hazards thatin reality lodged only in his mind. Between a grand piano and acentre-table piled high with books was space for a half a dozen towalk abreast, yet he essayed it with trepidation. His heavy armshung loosely at his sides. He did not know what to do with thosearms and hands, and when, to his excited vision, one arm seemedliable to brush against the books on the table, he lurched awaylike a frightened horse, barely missing the piano stool. Hewatched the easy walk of the other in front of him, and for thefirst time realized that his walk was different from that of othermen. He experienced a momentary pang of shame that he should walkso uncouthly. The sweat burst through the skin of his forehead intiny beads, and he paused and mopped his bronzed face with hishandkerchief.
 
 "Hold on, Arthur, my boy," he said, attempting to mask his anxietywith facetious utterance. "This is too much all at once for yourstruly. Give me a chance to get my nerve. You know I didn't wantto come, an' I guess your fam'ly ain't hankerin' to see meneither.""That's all right," was the reassuring answer. "You mustn't befrightened at us. We're just homely people - Hello, there's aletter for me."He stepped back to the table, tore open the envelope, and began toread, giving the stranger an opportunity to recover himself. Andthe stranger understood and appreciated. His was the gift of sympathy, understanding; and beneath his alarmed exterior thatsympathetic process went on. He mopped his forehead dry andglanced about him with a controlled face, though in the eyes therewas an expression such as wild animals betray when they fear thetrap. He was surrounded by the unknown, apprehensive of what mighthappen, ignorant of what he should do, aware that he walked andbore himself awkwardly, fearful that every attribute and power of him was similarly afflicted. He was keenly sensitive, hopelesslyself-conscious, and the amused glance that the other stole privilyat him over the top of the letter burned into him like a dagger-thrust. He saw the glance, but he gave no sign, for among thethings he had learned was discipline. Also, that dagger-thrustwent to his pride. He cursed himself for having come, and at thesame time resolved that, happen what would, having come, he wouldcarry it through. The lines of his face hardened, and into hiseyes came a fighting light. He looked about more unconcernedly,sharply observant, every detail of the pretty interior registeringitself on his brain. His eyes were wide apart; nothing in theirfield of vision escaped; and as they drank in the beauty beforethem the fighting light died out and a warm glow took its place.He was responsive to beauty, and here was cause to respond.An oil painting caught and held him. A heavy surf thundered andburst over an outjutting rock; lowering storm-clouds covered thesky; and, outside the line of surf, a pilot-schooner, close-hauled,
 
heeled over till every detail of her deck was visible, was surgingalong against a stormy sunset sky. There was beauty, and it drewhim irresistibly. He forgot his awkward walk and came closer tothe painting, very close. The beauty faded out of the canvas. Hisface expressed his bepuzzlement. He stared at what seemed acareless daub of paint, then stepped away. Immediately all thebeauty flashed back into the canvas. "A trick picture," was histhought, as he dismissed it, though in the midst of themultitudinous impressions he was receiving he found time to feel aprod of indignation that so much beauty should be sacrificed tomake a trick. He did not know painting. He had been brought up onchromos and lithographs that were always definite and sharp, nearor far. He had seen oil paintings, it was true, in the showwindows of shops, but the glass of the windows had prevented hiseager eyes from approaching too near.He glanced around at his friend reading the letter and saw thebooks on the table. Into his eyes leaped a wistfulness and ayearning as promptly as the yearning leaps into the eyes of astarving man at sight of food. An impulsive stride, with one lurchto right and left of the shoulders, brought him to the table, wherehe began affectionately handling the books. He glanced at thetitles and the authors' names, read fragments of text, caressingthe volumes with his eyes and hands, and, once, recognized a bookhe had read. For the rest, they were strange books and strangeauthors. He chanced upon a volume of Swinburne and began readingsteadily, forgetful of where he was, his face glowing. Twice heclosed the book on his forefinger to look at the name of theauthor. Swinburne! he would remember that name. That fellow hadeyes, and he had certainly seen color and flashing light. But whowas Swinburne? Was he dead a hundred years or so, like most of thepoets? Or was he alive still, and writing? He turned to thetitle-page . . . yes, he had written other books; well, he would goto the free library the first thing in the morning and try to gethold of some of Swinburne's stuff. He went back to the text andlost himself. He did not notice that a young woman had entered theroom. The first he knew was when he heard Arthur's voice saying:-"Ruth, this is Mr. Eden."

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