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bage-board carved in a walrus-tusk, a Chinese screen of washed-out gold pagodas on faded, weary black. We climbed a narrow stair over which jutted, like a secret trap-door, the corner of a mysterious chamber above. My companion opened a door on the upper hall and croaked, "In there."
I went in slowly. I am not sure now, after two years, but I think I planned to run out again, to flee downstairs, to defend myself with that ivory tusk if I should be attacked bywhatever was lurking in that shadowy, silent place. As I edged in, about me crept an odor of stale air and vile medicines and ancient linen. The shutters were fast; the light was grudging. I was actually relieved when I saw in the four-poster bed a pitiful, vellum-faced old man, and the worst monster I had to face was normal illness.
I have learned that Byron Sanders was only seventy-one then, but he seemed ninety. He was enormous. He must have been hard to care for. His shoulders, in the mended linen. nightgown thrust up above the patchwork comforter, were bulky; his neck was thick; his head a shiny domean Olympian, majestic even in dissolution.
The room had been lived in too long. It was a whirl of useless things: staggering chairs, clothes in piles, greasy medicine-bottles, and a vast writingdesk pouring out papers, and dingy books with bindings of speckled brown. Amid the litter, so still that she seemed part of it, I was startled to discern another woman. Who she may have been I have never learned.
The man was ponderously turning in bed, peering at me through the shaky light.
"You are a professor?" he wheezed.
"That depends upon what you mean, sir. I teach English. I am not"You understand poetry, essays, literary history?”
"I am supposed to."
"I'm kind of a colleague of yours. Byron-" He stopped, choked frightfully. The repressed woman beside the bed, moving with stingy patience, wiped his lips. "My name is Byron Sanders. For forty years, till a year ago, I edited the 'Kennuit Beacon.""
The nauseating vanity of man! In that reverent hour, listening to the entreaties of a dying man, I was yet piqued at having my stripped athletic scholarship compared to editing the "Beacon," with its patent-medicine advertisements, its two straggly columns of news about John Brown's cow and Jim White's dory.
His eyes trusting me, Byron Sanders went on:
"Can't last long. It's come quicker -no time to plan. I want you to take the literary remains of my father. He was not a good man, but he was a genius. I have his poetry here, and the letters. I have n't read them for years, and too late-give them to world. You must"
He was desperately choking. The still woman crept up, thrust into my hands a box of papers and a pile of note-books which had been lying on the bed.
"You must go," she muttered. "Say, 'Yes,' and go. He can't stand any more.'
"Will you?" the broken giant wailed to me, a stranger!
"Yes, yes, indeed; I 'll give them to the world," I mumbled, while the woman pushed me toward the door.
I fled down the stairs, through the coppery pine-woods, up to the blithe
headland that was swept by the seabreeze.
I knew, of course, what the "poetry" of that poor "genius" his father would be-Christmas doggerel and ditties about "love" and "dove," "heart" and "must part." I was, to be honest, irritated. I wanted to take this debris back to Mr. Sanders, and that was the one thing I could not do. For once I was sensible: I took it home and tried to forget it.
In the next week's "Kennuit Beacon," discovered on Mrs. Nickerson's parlor-table, crowning a plush album, I read that Byron Sanders, "the founder and for many years the highly esteemed editor of this paper," had died.
I sought relatives to whom I could turn over his father's oddments. There was no one; he was a widower and childless. For months the bothersome papers were lost in my desk, back at the university. On the opening day of the Christmas vacation I remembered that I had not read a word of them. I was to go to Quinta Gates's for tea at a quarter to five, and to her serene companionship I looked forward as, in a tired, after-term desultoriness, I sat down to glance at Jason Sanders's caterwaulings. That was at four. It was after nine when the flabby sensation of hunger brought me back to my room and the dead fire.
In those five hours I had discovered a genius. The poetry at which I had so abominably sneered was minted glory.
I stood up, and in that deserted dormitory I shouted, and listened to the tremor of the lone sound and defiantly shouted again. That I was "excited" is too pallid a word. My life of Jonson could go hang! I was selfish about it: it meant fame for me. But I think
something higher than selfishness had already come into my devotion to Jason Sanders; something of the creator's passion and the father's pride.
I was hungry enough, but I walked the room contemptuous of it. I felt unreal. 1918 was fantastically unreal. I had for hours been veritably back in 1850. It was all there; manuscripts which had not been touched since 1850, which still held in their wrinkles the very air of seventy years ago: a diary; daguerreotypes; and letters, preserved like new in the darkness, from Poe, Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, and the young Tennyson!
The diary had been intermittently kept for fifteen years. It was outline enough for me to reconstruct the story of Jason Sanders, born at Kennuit in 1825, probably died in Greece in 1853.
Between Cape Cod and the ocean is a war sinister and incessant. Here and there the ocean has gulped a farm, or a lighthouse reared on a cliff, but at Kennuit the land has been the victor. To-day there are sandy flats and tepid channels where a hundred years ago was an open harbor brilliant with a hundred sails, crackling with tidings from the Banks, proud of whalers back from years of cruising off Siberia and of West Indiamen pompous with rum and sugar and the pest.
Captain Bethuel Sanders, master and owner of the Sally S., was on a voyage out of Kennuit to Pernambuco when his only child, Jason Sanders, was born. He never came back. In every Cape Cod burying-ground, beside the meeting-house, there are a score of headstones with "Lost at sea." There is one, I know now, at Kennuit for Bethuel Sanders.
His widow, daughter of a man of God who for many years had been pastor at Truro, was a tight, tidy, capable woman. Bethuel left her a competence. She devoted herself to keeping house and to keeping her son from going to sea. He was not to die as his father had, perhaps alone, last man on a wave-smashed brig. Theirs was a neat, unkindly cottage with no windows on the harbor side. The sailors' women-folks did not greatly esteem the view to sea, for thither went the strong sons who would never return. In a cottage with a low wall blank toward the harbor lived Mrs. Sanders, ardently loving her son, bitterly restraining him. Jason was obsessed by her. She was mother, father, sweetheart, teacher, tyrant. He stroked her cheeks, and he feared her eye, which was a frozen coal when she caught him lying.
In the first pages of Jason's diary, when he was only thirteen, he raged that while his schoolmates were already off to the Banks or beholding, as cabin-boys, the shining Azores, he was kept at his lessons, unmanned, in apron-strings. Resources of books he had from his parson grandsire: Milton, Jeremy Taylor, Pope. If the returned adventurers sneered at him, he dusted their jackets. He must have been hardy and reasonably vicious. He curtly records that he beat Peter Williams, son of the Reverend Abner Williams, "till he could scarce move," and that for this ferocity he was read out of meeting. He became a hermit, the village "bad boy."
He was at once scorned as a "softy" by his mates because he did not go to sea, dreaded by their kin because he was a marking fighter, bombarded by his Uncle Ira because he would not
become a grocer, and chided by his mother because he had no calling to the ministry. Nobody, apparently, took the trouble to understand him. The combination of reading and solitude led him inevitably to scribbling. On new-washed Cape Cod afternoons, when grasses rustled on the creamshadowed dunes, he sat looking out to sea, chin in hand, staring at ardent little waves and lovely sails that bloomed and vanished as the schooners tacked; and through evenings rhythmic with the surf he sought with words which should make him enviable to justify himself and his mocked courage.
At twenty he ran off to sea on a fishing schooner.
Twenty he was and strong, but when he returned his mother larruped him. Apparently he submitted; his comment in the famous diary is: "Mother kissed me in welcome, then, being a woman of whimsies somewhat distasteful to a man of my sober nature, she stripped off my jacket and lashed me with a strip of whalebone long and surprisingly fanged. I shall never go a-whaling if so very little of a whale can be so very unamiable.”
This process neatly finished, Mrs. Sanders-she was a swift and diligent woman-immediately married married the young bandit off to a neighbor woman four years his senior, a comely woman, pious, and gifted with dullness. Within the year was born a son, the Byron Sanders whom I saw dying as a corpulent elder.
That was in 1847, and Jason was twenty-two.
He went to work-dreaming and the painful carving of beautiful words not being work-in the Mammoth Store
and Seamen's Outfitters. He was discharged for, imprimis, being drunk and abusive; further, stealing a knife of the value of two shillings. For five or six years he toiled in a sail-loft. I fancy that between stitchings of thick canvas he read poetry, a small book hidden in the folds of a topsail, and with a four-inch needle he scratched on shingles a plan of Troy. He was discharged now and then for roistering, and now and then was grudgingly hired again.
I hope that nothing I have said implies that I consider Jason a young man of virtue. I do not. He drank Jamaica rum, he stole strawberries, his ways with the village girls were neither commendable nor in the least commended, and his temper was such that he occasionally helped himself to a fight with sailors, and regularly, with or without purpose, thrashed the unfortunate Peter Williams, son of the Reverend Abner.
Once he betrayed a vice far meaner. A certain Boston matron, consort of a highly esteemed merchant, came summering to Kennuit, first of the tennisyelping hordes who now infest the cape and interrupt the meditations of associate professors. This worthy lady was literary, and doubtless musical and artistic. She discovered that Jason was a poet. She tried to patronize him; in a highfalutin way she commanded him to appear next Sunday, to read aloud and divert her cousins from Boston. For this she would give him a shilling and what was left of the baked chicken. He gravely notes: "I told her to go to the devil. She seemed put out." The joke is that three weeks later he approached the good matron with a petition to be permitted to do what he had scorned. She rightly, he
records without comment, "showed me the door."
No, he was not virtuous save in bellicose courage, and he was altogether casual about deserting his wife and child when, the year after his mother died, he ran away to the Crimean War. But I think one understands that better in examining, as I have examined with microscope and aching eye, the daguerreotypes of Jason and his wife and boy.
Straight-nosed and strong-lipped was Jason at twenty-six or seven. Over his right temple hung an impatient lock. He wore the high, but open and flaring, collar of the day, the space in front filled with the soft folds of a stock. A fluff of side-whiskers along the jaw set off his resoluteness of chin and brow. His coat was longskirted and heavy, with great collar and wide lapels, a cumbrous garment, yet on him as graceful as a cloak. But his wife! Her eyes stared, and her lips, though for misery and passionate prayer they had dark power, seem in the mirrory old picture to have had no trace of smiles. Their son was dumpy. As I saw him dying there in the pine woods, Byron Sanders appeared a godly man and intelligent; but at six or seven he was puddingfaced, probably with a trick of howling. In any case, with or without reason, Jason foully deserted them.
In 1853, at the beginning of the struggle between Russia and Turkey that was to develop into the Crimean War, Greece planned to invade Turkey. Later, to prevent alliance between Greece and Russia, the French and English forces held Piræus; but for a time Greece seemed liberated.
Jason's diary closes with a note:
To-morrow I leave this place of sand and sandy brains; make by friend Bearse's porgy boat for Long Island, thence to New York and ship for Piræus, for the glory of Greece and the memory of Byron. How better can a man die? And perhaps some person of intelligence there will comprehend me. Thank fortune my amiable spouse knows naught. If ever she finds this, may she grant forgiveness, as I grant it to her!
That is all—all save a clipping from the "Lynmouth News Letter" of seven years later announcing that as no word of Mr. Jason Sanders had come since his evanishment, his widow was petitioning the court to declare him legally dead.
This is the pinchbeck life of Jason Sanders. He lived not in life, but in his writing, and that is tinct with genius. Five years before Whitman was known he was composing what today we call "free verse.' There are in it impressions astoundingly like Amy Lowell. The beauty of a bitter tide-scourged garden and of a bitter sea-scourged woman who walks daily in that sterile daintiness is one of his themes, and the poem is as radiant and as hard as ice.
Then the letters.
Jason had sent his manuscripts to the great men of the day. From most of them he had non-committal acknowledgments. His only encouragement came from Edgar Allan Poe, who in 1849, out of the depths of his own last discouragement, wrote with sympathy:
I pledge you my heart that you have talent. You will go far if you can endure hatred and disgust, forgetfulness and bitter bread, blame for your most valorous and for your weakness and
meekness, the praise of matrons and the ladylike.
That letter was the last thing I read before dawn on Christmas day.
On the first train after Christmas I hastened down to the winter-clutched
As Jason had died sixty-five years before, none but persons of eighty or more would remember him. One woman of eighty-six I found, but beyond, "Heh? Whas sat?" she confided only: "Jassy Sanders was a terror to snakes. Run away from his family, that 's what he done! Poetry? Him write poetry? Why, he was a sailmaker!"
I heard then of Abiathar Gould, eighty-seven years old, and already become a myth streaked with blood and the rust of copper bottoms. He had been a wrecker, suspected of luring ships ashore with false lights in order that he might plunder them with his roaring mates. He had had courage enough, plunging in his whaleboat through the long swells after a storm, but mercy he had not known. He was not in Kennuit itself; he lived down by the Judas Shoals, on a lean spit of sand running seven miles below Lobster Pot Neck.
How could one reach him? I asked Mrs. Nickerson.
Oh, that was easy enough: one could walk! Yes, and one did walk, five miles against a blast whirling with snow, grinding with teeth of sand. I cursed with surprising bitterness, and planned to give up cigarettes and to do patent chest exercises. I wore Mr. Aaron Bloomer's coonskin coat, Mrs. Nickerson's gray flannel muffler, David