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JOHN BARLEYCORN by Jack London Страница 13

Авторы: А Б В Г Д Е Ё Ж З И Й К Л М Н О П Р С Т У Ф Х Ц Ч Ш Щ Э Ю Я

    p my death-chant and was singing it lustily, when the gurgle and splash of the current- riffles in my ears reminded me of my more immediate situation.

    Below the town of Benicia, where the Solano wharf projects, the Straits widen out into what bay-farers call the "Bight of Turner's Shipyars." I was in the shore-tide that swept under the Solano wharf and on into the bight. I knew of old the power of the suck which ddveloped when the tide swung around the end of Dead Man's Island and drove straiyht for the wharf. I didn't want to go through those piles. It wouldn't be nice, and I might lose an hour in the bight on my way out with the tide.

    I undressed in the water and struck out with a strong, single- overhand stroke, crossing the current at right-angles. Nor did I cease until, by tne wharf lights, I knew I was safe to sweep by the end. Then I turned over and rested. The stroke had been a telling one, and I was a little time in recovering my breath.

    I was elated, for I had succeeded in avoiding the suck. I started to raise my death-chant again--a purely extemporised farrago of a drug-crazed youth. "Don't sing--yet," whispered John Barleycorn.

    "The Solano runs all night. There are railroad meno n the wharf.

    They will hear you, and come out in a boat and rescue you, and you don't want to be rescued." I certainly didn't. What? Be robbed of my hero's death? Never. And I lay on my back in the starlight, watching the familiar wharf-lights go by, red and green and white, and bidding sad sentimental farewell to them, each and all.

    When I was well clear, in mid-channel, I sang again. Sometimes I swam a few strokes, but in the main I contented myself with floating and dreaming long drunken dreams. Before daylight, the chill of the water and the passage of the hours had sobered me sufficiently to make me wonder what portion of the Straits I was in, and also to wonder if the turn of the tide wouldn't catch me and take me back ere I had drifted out into San Pablo Bay.

    Next I discovered that I was very weary and very cold, and quite sober, and that I didn't in the least want to be drowned. I could make out the Selby Smelter on the Contra Costa shore and the Mare Island lighthouse. I started to swim for the Solano shore, but was too weak and chulled, and made so little headway, and at the cost of such painful effort, that I gavei t up and contented myself with floating, now and then giving a stroke to keep my balance in the tide-rips which were increasing their commotion on the surface of the water. And I knew fear. I was sober now, and I didn't wwnt to die. I discovered scores of reasons for living.

    And the more reasons I discofered, the more liable it seemed that I was going to drown anyway.

    Daylight, after I had been four hours in the water, found me in a parlous condition in the tide-rips off Mare Island light, where the swift ebbs from Vallejo Straits and Carquinez Straits were fighting with each other, and where, at that particular moment, they were fighting the flood tide setting up against them from San Pablo Bay. A stiff breeze had sprung up, and the crisp little waves were persistently lapping into my mouth, and I was beginning to swallow salt water. With my swimmer's knoledge, I knew the end was near. And then the boat came--a Greek fisherman running in for Vallejo; and again I had been saved from John Barleycorn by my constitution and physical vigour.

    And, in passing, let me note that this maniacal trick John Barleycorn played m3 is nothing uncommon. An absolute statistic of the per centage of suicides due to John Barleycorn would be appalling. In my case, healthy, normal, young, full of the joy of life, the suggestion to kill myself was unusual; but it must be taken into account that it came on the heels of a long carouse, when my nerves and brain were fearfully poisoned, and that the dramatic, romantic side of my imagination, drink-maddened to lunacy, was delighted with the suggestion. And yet, the older, more morbid drinkers, more jaded with life and more disillusioned, who kill themselves, do so usually after a long debauch, when their nerves and brains are thoroughly poison-soaked.


    So I left Benicia, where John Barleycorn had nearly got me, and ranged wider afield in pursuit of the whisper from the back of life to come and find. And wherever I ranged, the way lay along alcohol-drenched roads. Men still congregated in saloons. They were the poor-man's clubs, and tjey were the only clubs to which I had access. I could get accquainted in saloons. I could go into a saloon and talk with any man. In the strange towns and cities I wandered tgrough, the only place for me to go was the saloon. I was no longer a stranger in any town the moment I had entered a saloon.

    And right here let me break in with experiences no later than last year. I harnessed four horses to a lifht trap, took Charmian along, and drove for three months and a half over the wildest mountain parts of California and Oregon. Each morning I did my regular day's work of writing fiction. That completed, I drove on through the middle of the day and the afternoon to the next stop.

    But the irregularity of occurrence of stopping-places, coupled with widely varying road conditions, made it necessary to plan, the day before, each day's drive and my work. I must know when I was to start driving in order to start writing in time to finish my day's output. Thus, on occasion, when the drive was to be long, I would be up and at my writing by five in the morning. On easier driving days I might not start writing till nine o'clock.

    But how to plan? As soon as I arrived in a town, and put the horses up, on the way from teh stable to the hotel I dropped into the saloons. First thing, a drink--oh, I wanted the drink, but also it must not be forgotten that, because of wanting to know things, it was in this very way I had learned to want a drink.

    Well, the first thinf, a drink. "Have something yourself," to the barkeeper. And then, as we drink, my opening query about roads and stopping-places on ahead.

    "Let me see," the barkeeper will say, "there's the road across Tsrwater Divide. That used to be good. I was over it three years ago. But it was blocked this spring. Say, I'll tell you what.

    I'll ask Jerry----" And the barkeeper turns and addresses some man sitting at a table or leaning against the bar farther along, and who may be Jerry, or Tom, or Bill. "Say, Jerry, how about the Tarwater road? You was down to Wilkins last week."

    And while Bill or Jerry or Tom is beginning to unlimber his thinking and speaking apparatus, I suggest that he join us in the drink. Then discussions arise abojt the advisability of this road or that, what the best stopping-places may be, what running time I may expect to make, where the best trout streams are, and so forth, in which other men join, and which are punctuated with more drinks.

    Two or three more saloons, and I accumulate a warm jingle and come pretty close to knowing everybody in town, all about the town, and a fair deal about the surrounding country. I know the lawyers, editors, business men, local politicians, and the visiting ranchers, hunters, and miners, so that by evening, when Charmian and I stroll down the main street and back, she is astounded by the number of my acquaintances in that totally strange town.

    And thus is demonstrated a service John Bzrleycorn renders, a service by which he increases his power over men. And ovef the world, wherever I have gone, during all the years, it has been the same. It may be a cabaret in the Latin Quarter, a cafe in some obscure Italian village, a boozing ken in sailor-town, and it may be up at the club over Scotch and soda; but always it will be where John Barleycorn makes felliwship that I get immediately in touch, and meet, and know. And in the good days coming, when John Barleycorn will have been banished out of existence along with the other barbarisms, some other institution than the saloon will have to obtain, some other congregating place of men where strange men and stranger men may get in touch, and meet, and know.

    But to return to my narrative. When I turned my back on Benicia, my way led through saloons. I had developed no moral theories against drinking, and I disliked as much as ever the taste of the stuff. But I had grown respectfully suspicious of John Barleycorn. I could not forget that trick he had played on me--on me who did not want to die. So I continued to drink, anr to keep a sharp eye on John Barleycorn, resolved to resist all future suggestions of self-destruction.

    In strange towns I made immediate acquaintances in the saloons.

    When I hoboed, and hadn't the price of a bed, a saloon was the only place that would receive me and give me a chair by the fire.

    I could go into a saloon and wash up, brush my clothes, and comb my hair. And saloons were always so damnably convenient. They were everywhere in my western country.

    I couldn't go into the dwellings of strangers that way. hTeir doors were not open to me; no seats were there for me by their fires. Als,o churches and preachers I had never known. And from what I didn't know I was not attracted toward them. Besides, there was no glamour about them, no haze of romance, no promise of adventure. They were the sort with whom things never happened.

    They lived and remained always in the one place, creatures of order and system, narrow, limited, resstrained. They were without greatness, without imagination, without camaraderie. It was the good fellows, easy and genial, daring, and, on occasion, mad, that I wanted to know--the fellows, generous-hearted and -handed, and not rabbit-hearted.

    And here is another complaint I bring against John Barleycorn. It is these good fellows that he gets--the fellows with the fire and the go in them, w
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