Chapter 36

“Come on, — I’ll show you the real dirt,” Brissenden said to him, one evening in January.

They had dined together in San Francisco, and were at the Ferry Building, returning to Oakland, when the whim came to him to show Martin the “real dirt.” He turned and fled across the water-front, a meagre shadow in a flapping overcoat, with Martin straining to keep up with him. At a wholesale liquor store he bought two gallon-demijohns of old port, and with one in each hand boarded a Mission Street car, Martin at his heels burdened with several quart-bottles of whiskey.

If Ruth could see me now, was his thought, while he wondered as to what constituted the real dirt.

“Maybe nobody will be there,” Brissenden said, when they dismounted and plunged off to the right into the heart of the working-class ghetto, south of Market Street. “In which case you’ll miss what you’ve been looking for so long.”

“And what the deuce is that?” Martin asked.

“Men, intelligent men, and not the gibbering nonentities I found you consorting with in that trader’s den. You read the books and you found yourself all alone. Well, I’m going to show you to-night some other men who’ve read the books, so that you won’t be lonely any more.”

“Not that I bother my head about their everlasting discussions,” he said at the end of a block. “I’m not interested in book philosophy. But you’ll find these fellows intelligences and not bourgeois swine. But watch out, they’ll talk an arm off of you on any subject under the sun.”

“Hope Norton’s there,” he panted a little later, resisting Martin’s effort to relieve him of the two demijohns. “Norton’s an idealist — a Harvard man. Prodigious memory. Idealism led him to philosophic anarchy, and his family threw him off. Father’s a railroad president and many times millionnaire, but the son’s starving in ’Frisco, editing an anarchist sheet for twenty-five a month.”

Martin was little acquainted in San Francisco, and not at all south of Market; so he had no idea of where he was being led.

“Go ahead,” he said; “tell me about them beforehand. What do they do for a living? How do they happen to be here?”

“Hope Hamilton’s there.” Brissenden paused and rested his hands. “Strawn-Hamilton’s his name — hyphenated, you know — comes of old Southern stock. He’s a tramp — laziest man I ever knew, though he’s clerking, or trying to, in a socialist cooperative store for six dollars a week. But he’s a confirmed hobo. Tramped into town. I’ve seen him sit all day on a bench and never a bite pass his lips, and in the evening, when I invited him to dinner — restaurant two blocks away — have him say, ’Too much trouble, old man. Buy me a package of cigarettes instead.’ He was a Spencerian like you till Kreis turned him to materialistic monism. I’ll start him on monism if I can. Norton’s another monist — only he affirms naught but spirit. He can give Kreis and Hamilton all they want, too.”

“Who is Kreis?” Martin asked.

“His rooms we’re going to. One time professor — fired from university — usual story. A mind like a steel trap. Makes his living any old way. I know he’s been a street fakir when he was down. Unscrupulous. Rob a corpse of a shroud — anything. Difference between him — and the bourgeoisie is that he robs without illusion. He’ll talk Nietzsche, or Schopenhauer, or Kant, or anything, but the only thing in this world, not excepting Mary, that he really cares for, is his monism. Haeckel is his little tin god. The only way to insult him is to take a slap at Haeckel.”

  By PanEris using Melati.

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