Martin Eden HTML version

Chapter 4
Martin Eden, with blood still crawling from contact with his brother-in-law, felt his
way along the unlighted back hall and entered his room, a tiny cubbyhole with
space for a bed, a wash- stand, and one chair. Mr. Higginbotham was too thrifty
to keep a servant when his wife could do the work. Besides, the servant's room
enabled them to take in two boarders instead of one. Martin placed the
Swinburne and Browning on the chair, took off his coat, and sat down on the bed.
A screeching of asthmatic springs greeted the weight of his body, but he did not
notice them. He started to take off his shoes, but fell to staring at the white
plaster wall opposite him, broken by long streaks of dirty brown where rain had
leaked through the roof. On this befouled background visions began to flow and
burn. He forgot his shoes and stared long, till his lips began to move and he
murmured, "Ruth."
"Ruth." He had not thought a simple sound could be so beautiful. It delighted his
ear, and he grew intoxicated with the repetition of it. "Ruth." It was a talisman, a
magic word to conjure with. Each time he murmured it, her face shimmered
before him, suffusing the foul wall with a golden radiance. This radiance did not
stop at the wall. It extended on into infinity, and through its golden depths his soul
went questing after hers. The best that was in him was out in splendid flood. The
very thought of her ennobled and purified him, made him better, and made him
want to be better. This was new to him. He had never known women who had
made him better. They had always had the counter effect of making him beastly.
He did not know that many of them had done their best, bad as it was. Never
having been conscious of himself, he did not know that he had that in his being
that drew love from women and which had been the cause of their reaching out
for his youth. Though they had often bothered him, he had never bothered about
them; and he would never have dreamed that there were women who had been
better because of him. Always in sublime carelessness had he lived, till now, and
now it seemed to him that they had always reached out and dragged at him with
vile hands. This was not just to them, nor to himself. But he, who for the first time
was becoming conscious of himself, was in no condition to judge, and he burned
with shame as he stared at the vision of his infamy.
He got up abruptly and tried to see himself in the dirty looking- glass over the
wash-stand. He passed a towel over it and looked again, long and carefully. It
was the first time he had ever really seen himself. His eyes were made for
seeing, but up to that moment they had been filled with the ever changing
panorama of the world, at which he had been too busy gazing, ever to gaze at
himself. He saw the head and face of a young fellow of twenty, but, being unused
to such appraisement, he did not know how to value it. Above a square-domed
forehead he saw a mop of brown hair, nut-brown, with a wave to it and hints of
curls that were a delight to any woman, making hands tingle to stroke it and