Martin Eden HTML version

Chapter 1
The one opened the door with a latch-key and went in, followed by a young
fellow who awkwardly removed his cap. He wore rough clothes that smacked of
the sea, and he was manifestly out of place in the spacious hall in which he
found himself. He did not know what to do with his cap, and was stuffing it into
his coat pocket when the other took it from him. The act was done quietly and
naturally, and the awkward young fellow appreciated it. "He understands," was
his thought. "He'll see me through all right."
He walked at the other's heels with a swing to his shoulders, and his legs spread
unwittingly, as if the level floors were tilting up and sinking down to the heave and
lunge of the sea. The wide rooms seemed too narrow for his rolling gait, and to
himself he was in terror lest his broad shoulders should collide with the doorways
or sweep the bric-a-brac from the low mantel. He recoiled from side to side
between the various objects and multiplied the hazards that in reality lodged only
in his mind. Between a grand piano and a centre-table piled high with books was
space for a half a dozen to walk abreast, yet he essayed it with trepidation. His
heavy arms hung loosely at his sides. He did not know what to do with those
arms and hands, and when, to his excited vision, one arm seemed liable to brush
against the books on the table, he lurched away like a frightened horse, barely
missing the piano stool. He watched the easy walk of the other in front of him,
and for the first time realized that his walk was different from that of other men.
He experienced a momentary pang of shame that he should walk so uncouthly.
The sweat burst through the skin of his forehead in tiny beads, and he paused
and mopped his bronzed face with his handkerchief.
"Hold on, Arthur, my boy," he said, attempting to mask his anxiety with facetious
utterance. "This is too much all at once for yours truly. Give me a chance to get
my nerve. You know I didn't want to come, an' I guess your fam'ly ain't hankerin'
to see me neither."
"That's all right," was the reassuring answer. "You mustn't be frightened at us.
We're just homely people - Hello, there's a letter for me."
He stepped back to the table, tore open the envelope, and began to read, giving
the stranger an opportunity to recover himself. And the stranger understood and
appreciated. His was the gift of sympathy, understanding; and beneath his
alarmed exterior that sympathetic process went on. He mopped his forehead dry
and glanced about him with a controlled face, though in the eyes there was an
expression such as wild animals betray when they fear the trap. He was
surrounded by the unknown, apprehensive of what might happen, ignorant of
what he should do, aware that he walked and bore himself awkwardly, fearful
that every attribute and power of him was similarly afflicted. He was keenly
sensitive, hopelessly self-conscious, and the amused glance that the other stole