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Martin Eden 20

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Martin Eden

The Pickwick Papers

The Sea Wolf

he demanded, as Martin dipped dolefully into the cold, half-cooked oatmeal mush. "Was you drunk again last night?" Martin shook his head. He was oppressed by the utter squalidness of it all. Ruth Morse seemed farther removed than ever. "I was," Jim went on with a boastful, nervous giggle. "I was loaded right to the neck. Oh, she was a daisy. Billy brought me home." Martin nodded that he heard,--it was a habit of nature with him to pay heed to whoever talked to him,--and poured a cup of lukewarm coffee. "Goin to the Lotus Club dance to-night?" Jim demanded. "Theyre goin to have beer, an if that Temescal bunch comes, therell be a rough-house. I dont care, though. Im takin my lady friend just the same. Cripes, but Ive got a taste in my mouth!" He made a wry face and attempted to wash the taste away with coffee. "Dye know Julia?" Martin shook his head. "Shes my lady friend," Jim explained, "and shes a peach. Id introduce you to her, only youd win her. I dont see what the girls see in you, honest I dont; but the way you win them away from the fellers is sickenin." "I never got any away from you," Martin answered uninterestedly. The breakfast had to be got through somehow. "Yes, you did, too," the other asserted warmly. "There was Maggie." "Never had anything to do with her. Never danced with her except that one night." "Yes, an thats just what did it," Jim cried out. "You just danced with her an looked at her, an it was all off. Of course you didnt mean nothin by it, but it settled me for keeps. Wouldnt look at me again. Always askin about you. Shed have made fast dates enough with you if youd wanted to." "But I didnt want to." "Wasnt necessary. I was left at the pole." Jim looked at him admiringly. "How dye do it, anyway, Mart?" "By not carin about em," was the answer. "You mean makin blieve you dont care about them?" Jim queried eagerly. Martin considered for a moment, then answered, "Perhaps that will do, but with me I guess its different. I never have cared--much. If you can put it on, its all right, most likely." "You should a ben up at Rileys barn last night," Jim announced inconsequently. "A lot of the fellers put on the gloves. There was a peach from West Oakland. They called m The Rat. Slick as silk. No one could touch m. We was all wishin you was there. Where was you anyway?" "Down in Oakland," Martin replied. "To the show?" Martin shoved his plate away and got up. "Comin to the dance to-night?" the other called after him. "No, I think not," he answered. He went downstairs and out into the street, breathing great breaths of air. He had been suffocating in that atmosphere, while the apprentices chatter had driven him frantic. There had been times when it was all he could do to refrain from reaching over and mopping Jims face in the mush- plate. The more he had chattered, the more remote had Ruth seemed to him. How could he, herding with such cattle, ever become worthy of her? He was appalled at the problem confronting him, weighted down by the incubus of his working-class station. Everything reached out to hold him down--his sister, his sisters house and family, Jim the apprentice, everybody he knew, every tie of life. Existence did not taste good in his mouth. Up to then he had accepted existence, as he had lived it with all about him, as a good thing. He had never questioned it, except when he read books; but then, they were only books, fairy stories of a fairer and impossible world. But now he had seen that world, possible and real, with a flower of a woman called Ruth in the midmost centre of it; and thenceforth he must know bitter tastes, and longings sharp as pain, and hopelessness that tantalized because it fed on hope. He had debated between the Berkeley Free Library and the Oakland Free Library, and decided upon the latter because Ruth lived in Oakland. Who could tell?--a library was a most likely place for her, and he might see her there. He did not know the way

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