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Martin Eden 27







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Books:

Martin Eden

The Pickwick Papers

The Sea Wolf




for a while entertained the idea of reading nothing but the dictionary until he had mastered every word in it. Poetry, however, was his solace, and he read much of it, finding his greatest joy in the simpler poets, who were more understandable. He loved beauty, and there he found beauty. Poetry, like music, stirred him profoundly, and, though he did not know it, he was preparing his mind for the heavier work that was to come. The pages of his mind were blank, and, without effort, much he read and liked, stanza by stanza, was impressed upon those pages, so that he was soon able to extract great joy from chanting aloud or under his breath the music and the beauty of the printed words he had read. Then he stumbled upon Gayleys "Classic Myths" and Bulfinchs "Age of Fable," side by side on a library shelf. It was illumination, a great light in the darkness of his ignorance, and he read poetry more avidly than ever. The man at the desk in the library had seen Martin there so often that he had become quite cordial, always greeting him with a smile and a nod when he entered. It was because of this that Martin did a daring thing. Drawing out some books at the desk, and while the man was stamping the cards, Martin blurted out:- "Say, theres something Id like to ask you." The man smiled and paid attention. "When you meet a young lady an she asks you to call, how soon can you call?" Martin felt his shirt press and cling to his shoulders, what of the sweat of the effort. "Why Id say any time," the man answered. "Yes, but this is different," Martin objected. "She--I--well, you see, its this way: maybe she wont be there. She goes to the university." "Then call again." "What I said aint what I meant," Martin confessed falteringly, while he made up his mind to throw himself wholly upon the others mercy. "Im just a rough sort of a fellow, an I aint never seen anything of society. This girl is all that I aint, an I aint anything that she is. You dont think Im playin the fool, do you?" he demanded abruptly. "No, no; not at all, I assure you," the other protested. "Your request is not exactly in the scope of the reference department, but I shall be only too pleased to assist you." Martin looked at him admiringly. "If I could tear it off that way, Id be all right," he said. "I beg pardon?" "I mean if I could talk easy that way, an polite, an all the rest." "Oh," said the other, with comprehension. "What is the best time to call? The afternoon?--not too close to meal- time? Or the evening? Or Sunday?" "Ill tell you," the librarian said with a brightening face. "You call her up on the telephone and find out." "Ill do it," he said, picking up his books and starting away. He turned back and asked:- "When youre speakin to a young lady--say, for instance, Miss Lizzie Smith--do you say Miss Lizzie? or Miss Smith?" "Say Miss Smith," the librarian stated authoritatively. "Say Miss Smith always--until you come to know her better." So it was that Martin Eden solved the problem. "Come down any time; Ill be at home all afternoon," was Ruths reply over the telephone to his stammered request as to when he could return the borrowed books. She met him at the door herself, and her womans eyes took in immediately the creased trousers and the certain slight but indefinable change in him for the better. Also, she was struck by his face. It was almost violent, this health of his, and it seemed to rush out of him and at her in waves of force. She felt the urge again of the desire to lean toward him for warmth, and marvelled again at the effect his presence produced upon her. And he, in turn, knew again the swimming sensation of bliss when he felt the contact of her hand in greeting. The difference between them lay in that she was cool and self-possessed while his face flushed to the roots of the hair. He stumbled with his old awkwardness after her, and his shoulders swung and lurched perilously. Once they were seated in the living-room, he began to get on easily--more easily by far than he had expected.

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