Martin Eden HTML version

Chapter 25
Maria Silva was poor, and all the ways of poverty were clear to her. Poverty, to
Ruth, was a word signifying a not-nice condition of existence. That was her total
knowledge on the subject. She knew Martin was poor, and his condition she
associated in her mind with the boyhood of Abraham Lincoln, of Mr. Butler, and
of other men who had become successes. Also, while aware that poverty was
anything but delectable, she had a comfortable middle-class feeling that poverty
was salutary, that it was a sharp spur that urged on to success all men who were
not degraded and hopeless drudges. So that her knowledge that Martin was so
poor that he had pawned his watch and overcoat did not disturb her. She even
considered it the hopeful side of the situation, believing that sooner or later it
would arouse him and compel him to abandon his writing.
Ruth never read hunger in Martin's face, which had grown lean and had enlarged
the slight hollows in the cheeks. In fact, she marked the change in his face with
satisfaction. It seemed to refine him, to remove from him much of the dross of
flesh and the too animal- like vigor that lured her while she detested it.
Sometimes, when with her, she noted an unusual brightness in his eyes, and she
admired it, for it made him appear more the poet and the scholar - the things he
would have liked to be and which she would have liked him to be. But Maria Silva
read a different tale in the hollow cheeks and the burning eyes, and she noted
the changes in them from day to day, by them following the ebb and flow of his
fortunes. She saw him leave the house with his overcoat and return without it,
though the day was chill and raw, and promptly she saw his cheeks fill out
slightly and the fire of hunger leave his eyes. In the same way she had seen his
wheel and watch go, and after each event she had seen his vigor bloom again.
Likewise she watched his toils, and knew the measure of the midnight oil he
burned. Work! She knew that he outdid her, though his work was of a different
order. And she was surprised to behold that the less food he had, the harder he
worked. On occasion, in a casual sort of way, when she thought hunger pinched
hardest, she would send him in a loaf of new baking, awkwardly covering the act
with banter to the effect that it was better than he could bake. And again, she
would send one of her toddlers in to him with a great pitcher of hot soup,
debating inwardly the while whether she was justified in taking it from the mouths
of her own flesh and blood. Nor was Martin ungrateful, knowing as he did the
lives of the poor, and that if ever in the world there was charity, this was it.
On a day when she had filled her brood with what was left in the house, Maria
invested her last fifteen cents in a gallon of cheap wine. Martin, coming into her
kitchen to fetch water, was invited to sit down and drink. He drank her very-good
health, and in return she drank his. Then she drank to prosperity in his
undertakings, and he drank to the hope that James Grant would show up and