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Martin Eden 141







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Books:

Martin Eden

The Pickwick Papers

The Sea Wolf




the other bulging with a quart bottle of whiskey.

CHAPTER XXXV

Brissenden gave no explanation of his long absence, nor did Martin pry into it. He was content to see his friends cadaverous face opposite him through the steam rising from a tumbler of toddy. "I, too, have not been idle," Brissenden proclaimed, after hearing Martins account of the work he had accomplished. He pulled a manuscript from his inside coat pocket and passed it to Martin, who looked at the title and glanced up curiously. "Yes, thats it," Brissenden laughed. "Pretty good title, eh? Ephemera--it is the one word. And youre responsible for it, what of your _man_, who is always the erected, the vitalized inorganic, the latest of the ephemera, the creature of temperature strutting his little space on the thermometer. It got into my head and I had to write it to get rid of it. Tell me what you think of it." Martins face, flushed at first, paled as he read on. It was perfect art. Form triumphed over substance, if triumph it could be called where the last conceivable atom of substance had found expression in so perfect construction as to make Martins head swim with delight, to put passionate tears into his eyes, and to send chills creeping up and down his back. It was a long poem of six or seven hundred lines, and it was a fantastic, amazing, unearthly thing. It was terrific, impossible; and yet there it was, scrawled in black ink across the sheets of paper. It dealt with man and his soul-gropings in their ultimate terms, plumbing the abysses of space for the testimony of remotest suns and rainbow spectrums. It was a mad orgy of imagination, wassailing in the skull of a dying man who half sobbed under his breath and was quick with the wild flutter of fading heart-beats. The poem swung in majestic rhythm to the cool tumult of interstellar conflict, to the onset of starry hosts, to the impact of cold suns and the flaming up of nebular in the darkened void; and through it all, unceasing and faint, like a silver shuttle, ran the frail, piping voice of man, a querulous chirp amid the screaming of planets and the crash of systems. "There is nothing like it in literature," Martin said, when at last he was able to speak. "Its wonderful!--wonderful! It has gone to my head. I am drunken with it. That great, infinitesimal question--I cant shake it out of my thoughts. That questing, eternal, ever recurring, thin little wailing voice of man is still ringing in my ears. It is like the dead-march of a gnat amid the trumpeting of elephants and the roaring of lions. It is insatiable with microscopic desire. I now Im making a fool of myself, but the thing has obsessed me. You are--I dont know what you are--you are wonderful, thats all. But how do you do it? How do you do it?" Martin paused from his rhapsody, only to break out afresh. "I shall never write again. I am a dauber in clay. You have shown me the work of the real artificer-artisan. Genius! This is something more than genius. It transcends genius. It is truth gone mad. It is true, man, every line of it. I wonder if you realize that, you dogmatist. Science cannot give you the lie. It is the truth of the sneer, stamped out from the black iron of the Cosmos and interwoven with mighty rhythms of sound into a fabric of splendor and beauty. And now I wont say another word. I am overwhelmed, crushed. Yes, I will, too. Let me market it for you." Brissenden grinned. "Theres not a magazine in Christendom that would dare to publish it--you know that." "I know nothing of the sort. I know theres not a magazine in Christendom that wouldnt jump at it. They dont get things like that every day. Thats no mere poem of the year. Its the poem of the century." "Id like to take you up on the proposition." "Now dont get cynical," Martin exhorted. "The magazine editors are not wholly fatuous. I know that. And Ill close with you on the bet. Ill wager anything you want that Ephemera is accepted either on

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