Monday morning, Joe groaned over the first truck load of clothes to the washer.
"I say," he began.
"Don't talk to me," Martin snarled.
"I'm sorry, Joe," he said at noon, when they knocked off for dinner.
Tears came into the other's eyes.
"That's all right, old man," he said. "We're in hell, an' we can't help ourselves. An',
you know, I kind of like you a whole lot. That's what made it - hurt. I cottoned to
you from the first."
Martin shook his hand.
"Let's quit," Joe suggested. "Let's chuck it, an' go hoboin'. I ain't never tried it, but
it must be dead easy. An' nothin' to do. Just think of it, nothin' to do. I was sick
once, typhoid, in the hospital, an' it was beautiful. I wish I'd get sick again."
The week dragged on. The hotel was full, and extra "fancy starch" poured in
upon them. They performed prodigies of valor. They fought late each night under
the electric lights, bolted their meals, and even got in a half hour's work before
breakfast. Martin no longer took his cold baths. Every moment was drive, drive,
drive, and Joe was the masterful shepherd of moments, herding them carefully,
never losing one, counting them over like a miser counting gold, working on in a
frenzy, toil-mad, a feverish machine, aided ably by that other machine that
thought of itself as once having been one Martin Eden, a man.
But it was only at rare moments that Martin was able to think. The house of
thought was closed, its windows boarded up, and he was its shadowy caretaker.
He was a shadow. Joe was right. They were both shadows, and this was the
unending limbo of toil. Or was it a dream? Sometimes, in the steaming, sizzling
heat, as he swung the heavy irons back and forth over the white garments, it
came to him that it was a dream. In a short while, or maybe after a thousand
years or so, he would awake, in his little room with the ink- stained table, and
take up his writing where he had left off the day before. Or maybe that was a
dream, too, and the awakening would be the changing of the watches, when he
would drop down out of his bunk in the lurching forecastle and go up on deck,
under the tropic stars, and take the wheel and feel the cool tradewind blowing
through his flesh.
Came Saturday and its hollow victory at three o'clock.