When God Laughs and Other Stories - Jack London - ebook

When God Laughs and Other Stories ebook

Jack London

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A very wise story from the cycle about love. An inexhaustible topic, do not talk about it. No one has yet managed to beat the gods. Although Karkines met people who almost succeeded: Marvin Fisk and Ethel Baird. But the punishment of the gods overtook them at the end.

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Liczba stron: 256

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Contents

WHEN GOD LAUGHS (with compliments to Harry Cowell)

THE APOSTATE

A WICKED WOMAN

JUST MEAT

CREATED HE THEM

THE CHINAGO

MAKE WESTING

SEMPER IDEM

A NOSE FOR THE KING

THE “FRANCIS SPAIGHT” (A TRUE TALE RETOLD)

A CURIOUS FRAGMENT

A PIECE OF STEAK

WHEN GOD LAUGHS (with compliments to Harry Cowell)

“The gods, the gods are stronger; time Falls down before them, all men’s knees Bow, all men’s prayers and sorrows climb Like incense toward them; yea, for these Are gods, Felise.” Carquinez had relaxed finally. He stole a glance at the rattling windows, looked upward at the beamed roof, and listened for a moment to the savage roar of the south-easter as it caught the bungalow in its bellowing jaws. Then he held his glass between him and the fire and laughed for joy through the golden wine.

“It is beautiful,” he said. “It is sweetly sweet. It is a woman’s wine, and it was made for gray-robed saints to drink.”

“We grow it on our own warm hills,” I said, with pardonable California pride. “You rode up yesterday through the vines from which it was made.”

It was worth while to get Carquinez to loosen up. Nor was he ever really himself until he felt the mellow warmth of the vine singing in his blood. He was an artist, it is true, always an artist; but somehow, sober, the high pitch and lilt went out of his thought-processes and he was prone to be as deadly dull as a British Sunday–not dull as other men are dull, but dull when measured by the sprightly wight that Monte Carquinez was when he was really himself.

From all this it must not be inferred that Carquinez, who is my dear friend and dearer comrade, was a sot. Far from it. He rarely erred. As I have said, he was an artist. He knew when he had enough, and enough, with him, was equilibrium–the equilibrium that is yours and mine when we are sober.

His was a wise and instinctive temperateness that savoured of the Greek. Yet he was far from Greek. “I am Aztec, I am Inca, I am Spaniard,” I have heard him say. And in truth he looked it, a compound of strange and ancient races, what with his swarthy skin and the asymmetry and primitiveness of his features. His eyes, under massively arched brows, were wide apart and black with the blackness that is barbaric, while before them was perpetually falling down a great black mop of hair through which he gazed like a roguish satyr from a thicket. He invariably wore a soft flannel shirt under his velvet-corduroy jacket, and his necktie was red. This latter stood for the red flag (he had once lived with the socialists of Paris), and it symbolized the blood and brotherhood of man. Also, he had never been known to wear anything on his head save a leather-banded sombrero. It was even rumoured that he had been born with this particular piece of headgear. And in my experience it was provocative of nothing short of sheer delight to see that Mexican sombrero hailing a cab in Piccadilly or storm-tossed in the crush for the New York Elevated.

As I have said, Carquinez was made quick by wine–“as the clay was made quick when God breathed the breath of life into it,” was his way of saying it. I confess that he was blasphemously intimate with God; and I must add that there was no blasphemy in him. He was at all times honest, and, because he was compounded of paradoxes, greatly misunderstood by those who did not know him. He could be as elementally raw at times as a screaming savage; and at other times as delicate as a maid, as subtle as a Spaniard. And–well, was he not Aztec? Inca? Spaniard?

And now I must ask pardon for the space I have given him. (He is my friend, and I love him.) The house was shaking to the storm, as he drew closer to the fire and laughed at it through his wine. He looked at me, and by the added lustre of his eye, and by the alertness of it, I knew that at last he was pitched in his proper key.

“And so you think you’ve won out against the gods?” he demanded.

“Why the gods?”

“Whose will but theirs has put satiety upon man?” he cried.

“And whence the will in me to escape satiety?” I asked triumphantly.

“Again the gods,” he laughed. “It is their game we play. They deal and shuffle all the cards... and take the stakes. Think not that you have escaped by fleeing from the mad cities. You with your vine-clad hills, your sunsets and your sunrises, your homely fare and simple round of living!

“I’ve watched you ever since I came. You have not won. You have surrendered. You have made terms with the enemy. You have made confession that you are tired. You have flown the white flag of fatigue. You have nailed up a notice to the effect that life is ebbing down in you. You have run away from life. You have played a trick, shabby trick. You have balked at the game. You refuse to play. You have thrown your cards under the table and run away to hide, here amongst your hills.”

He tossed his straight hair back from his flashing eyes, and scarcely interrupted to roll a long, brown, Mexican cigarette.

“But the gods know. It is an old trick. All the generations of man have tried it... and lost. The gods know how to deal with such as you. To pursue is to possess, and to possess is to be sated. And so you, in your wisdom, have refused any longer to pursue. You have elected surcease. Very well. You will become sated with surcease. You say you have escaped satiety! You have merely bartered it for senility. And senility is another name for satiety. It is satiety’s masquerade. Bah!”

“But look at me!” I cried.

Carquinez was ever a demon for haling ones soul out and making rags and tatters of it.

He looked me witheringly up and down.

“You see no signs,” I challenged.

“Decay is insidious,” he retorted. “You are rotten ripe.”

I laughed and forgave him for his very deviltry. But he refused to be forgiven.

“Do I not know?” he asked. “The gods always win. I have watched men play for years what seemed a winning game. In the end they lost.”

“Don’t you ever make mistakes?” I asked.

He blew many meditative rings of smoke before replying.

“Yes, I was nearly fooled, once. Let me tell you. There was Marvin Fiske. You remember him? And his Dantesque face and poet’s soul, singing his chant of the flesh, the very priest of Love? And there was Ethel Baird, whom also you must remember.”

“A warm saint,” I said.

“That is she! Holy as Love, and sweeter! Just a woman, made for love; and yet–how shall I say?–drenched through with holiness as your own air here is with the perfume of flowers. Well, they married. They played a hand with the gods–”

“And they won, they gloriously won!” I broke in.

Carquinez looked at me pityingly, and his voice was like a funeral bell.

“They lost. They supremely, colossally lost.”

“But the world believes otherwise,” I ventured coldly.

“The world conjectures. The world sees only the face of things. But I know. Has it ever entered your mind to wonder why she took the veil, buried herself in that dolorous convent of the living dead?”

“Because she loved him so, and when he died...”

Speech was frozen on my lips by Carquinez’s sneer.

“A pat answer,” he said, “machine-made like a piece of cotton-drill. The world’s judgment! And much the world knows about it. Like you, she fled from life. She was beaten. She flung out the white flag of fatigue. And no beleaguered city ever flew that flag in such bitterness and tears.

“Now I shall tell you the whole tale, and you must believe me, for I know. They had pondered the problem of satiety. They loved Love. They knew to the uttermost farthing the value of Love. They loved him so well that they were fain to keep him always, warm and a-thrill in their hearts. They welcomed his coming; they feared to have him depart.

“Love was desire, they held, a delicious pain. He was ever seeking easement, and when he found that for which he sought, he died. Love denied was Love alive; Love granted was Love deceased. Do you follow me? They saw it was not the way of life to be hungry for what it has. To eat and still be hungry–man has never accomplished that feat. The problem of satiety. That is it. To have and to keep the sharp famine-edge of appetite at the groaning board. This was their problem, for they loved Love. Often did they discuss it, with all Love’s sweet ardours brimming in their eyes; his ruddy blood spraying their cheeks; his voice playing in and out with their voices, now hiding as a tremolo in their throats, and again shading a tone with that ineffable tenderness which he alone can utter.

“How do I know all this? I saw–much. More I learned from her diary. This I found in it, from Fiona Macleod: ‘For, truly, that wandering voice, that twilight-whisper, that breath so dewy-sweet, that flame-winged lute-player whom none sees but for a moment, in a rainbow-shimmer of joy, or a sudden lightning-flare of passion, this exquisite mystery we call Amor, comes, to some rapt visionaries at least, not with a song upon the lips that all may hear, or with blithe viol of public music, but as one wrought by ecstasy, dumbly eloquent with desire.’

“How to keep the flame-winged lute-player with his dumb eloquence of desire? To feast him was to lose him. Their love for each other was a great love. Their granaries were overflowing with plenitude; yet they wanted to keep the sharp famine-edge of their love undulled.

“Nor were they lean little fledglings theorizing on the threshold of Love. They were robust and realized souls. They had loved before, with others, in the days before they met; and in those days they had throttled Love with caresses, and killed him with kisses, and buried him in the pit of satiety.

“They were not cold wraiths, this man and woman. They were warm human. They had no Saxon soberness in their blood. The colour of it was sunset-red. They glowed with it. Temperamentally theirs was the French joy in the flesh. They were idealists, but their idealism was Gallic. It was not tempered by the chill and sombre fluid that for the English serves as blood. There was no stoicism about them. They were Americans, descended out of the English, and yet the refraining and self-denying of the English spirit-groping were not theirs.

“They were all this that I have said, and they were made for joy, only they achieved a concept. A curse on concepts! They played with logic, and this was their logic.–But first let me tell you of a talk we had one night. It was of Gautier’s Madeline de Maupin. You remember the maid? She kissed once, and once only, and kisses she would have no more. Not that she found kisses were not sweet, but that she feared with repetition they would cloy. Satiety again! She tried to play without stakes against the gods. Now this is contrary to a rule of the game the gods themselves have made. Only the rules are not posted over the table. Mortals must play in order to learn the rules.

“Well, to the logic. The man and the woman argued thus: Why kiss once only? If to kiss once were wise, was it not wiser to kiss not at all? Thus could they keep Love alive. Fasting, he would knock forever at their hearts.

“Perhaps it was out of their heredity that they achieved this unholy concept. The breed will out and sometimes most fantastically. Thus in them did cursed Albion array herself a scheming wanton, a bold, cold-calculating, and artful hussy. After all, I do not know. But this I know: it was out of their inordinate desire for joy that they forewent joy.

“As he said (I read it long afterward in one of his letters to her): ‘To hold you in my arms, close, and yet not close. To yearn for you, and never to have you, and so always to have you.’ And she: ‘For you to be always just beyond my reach. To be ever attaining you, and yet never attaining you, and for this to last forever, always fresh and new, and always with the first flush upon us.

“That is not the way they said it. On my lips their love-philosophy is mangled. And who am I to delve into their soul-stuff? I am a frog, on the dank edge of a great darkness, gazing goggle-eyed at the mystery and wonder of their flaming souls.

“And they were right, as far as they went. Everything is good... as long as it is unpossessed. Satiety and possession are Death’s horses; they run in span.

“’And time could only tutor us to eke Our rapture’s warmth with custom’s afterglow.’

“They got that from a sonnet of Alfred Austin’s. It was called ‘Love’s Wisdom.’ It was the one kiss of Madeline de Maupin. How did it run?

“’Kiss we and part; no further can we go; And better death than we from high to low Should dwindle, or decline from strong to weak.’

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