Martin Eden HTML version

Chapter 3
As Martin Eden went down the steps, his hand dropped into his coat pocket. It
came out with a brown rice paper and a pinch of Mexican tobacco, which were
deftly rolled together into a cigarette. He drew the first whiff of smoke deep into
his lungs and expelled it in a long and lingering exhalation. "By God!" he said
aloud, in a voice of awe and wonder. "By God!" he repeated. And yet again he
murmured, "By God!" Then his hand went to his collar, which he ripped out of the
shirt and stuffed into his pocket. A cold drizzle was falling, but he bared his head
to it and unbuttoned his vest, swinging along in splendid unconcern. He was only
dimly aware that it was raining. He was in an ecstasy, dreaming dreams and
reconstructing the scenes just past.
He had met the woman at last - the woman that he had thought little about, not
being given to thinking about women, but whom he had expected, in a remote
way, he would sometime meet. He had sat next to her at table. He had felt her
hand in his, he had looked into her eyes and caught a vision of a beautiful spirit; -
but no more beautiful than the eyes through which it shone, nor than the flesh
that gave it expression and form. He did not think of her flesh as flesh, - which
was new to him; for of the women he had known that was the only way he
thought. Her flesh was somehow different. He did not conceive of her body as a
body, subject to the ills and frailties of bodies. Her body was more than the garb
of her spirit. It was an emanation of her spirit, a pure and gracious crystallization
of her divine essence. This feeling of the divine startled him. It shocked him from
his dreams to sober thought. No word, no clew, no hint, of the divine had ever
reached him before. He had never believed in the divine. He had always been
irreligious, scoffing good-naturedly at the sky-pilots and their immortality of the
soul. There was no life beyond, he had contended; it was here and now, then
darkness everlasting. But what he had seen in her eyes was soul - immortal soul
that could never die. No man he had known, nor any woman, had given him the
message of immortality. But she had. She had whispered it to him the first
moment she looked at him. Her face shimmered before his eyes as he walked
along, - pale and serious, sweet and sensitive, smiling with pity and tenderness
as only a spirit could smile, and pure as he had never dreamed purity could be.
Her purity smote him like a blow. It startled him. He had known good and bad;
but purity, as an attribute of existence, had never entered his mind. And now, in
her, he conceived purity to be the superlative of goodness and of cleanness, the
sum of which constituted eternal life.
And promptly urged his ambition to grasp at eternal life. He was not fit to carry
water for her - he knew that; it was a miracle of luck and a fantastic stroke that
had enabled him to see her and be with her and talk with her that night. It was
accidental. There was no merit in it. He did not deserve such fortune. His mood
was essentially religious. He was humble and meek, filled with self-