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Early next morning, I found myself at the State Historic Park again. I walked along crisp gravel roads, enjoying the smell of fresh grass and young leaves. I stopped and recorded my thoughts on the tape recorder: "Can you hear this silence on the ranch of Jack London? I am walking toward the house of Charmian, which was built after the death of the writer." Charmian was free from the weaknesses but kept the dignity of the Victorian Age. In other words, she was a woman of the new 20th century. She was a good swimmer and a wonderful horseback rider. She enjoyed playing the piano, typing, riding her bicycle, and even fencing. Three years older than Jack, she attracted him by her fitness and pragmatism, by her readiness to always be a reliable companion and loyal helper in his travels, as well as in everyday life. She was also a member of the Socialist Party.
Jack and Charmian had hopes of having a child together. Jack was dreaming of a son. On July 19, 1910, Charmian gave birth to a girl. The happy parents came up with an appropriate name for such an occasion—Joy. She lived only 38 hours. This was a terrible shock for both. Moreover, Charmian's second pregnancy ended in miscarriage. Charmian was the author of the first biography of Jack London, published in 1921 in two volumes. She also published two memorial books: The Log of the Snark and Our Hawaii. Charmian named her new abode a "House of Happy Walls," in contrast to the unhappy "Wolf House," which burned to the ground just before its owners moved in. This impressive stone structure sank in the shadows of surrounding trees. Although the building process was not completed by the end of 1920s, Charmian had no plans of moving in for a while. It was difficult for her to overcome feelings associated with the best, happiest years of her life with Jack in their house.
It was only in the beginning of the 1930s that she finally took courage to move into the "House of Happy Walls," which she left not too long before her death for the old, cozy cottage. I entered the wide hall, which exposed the writer's literary surroundings. On the wall was a portrait of Charmian's mother. Next to it, on the door to the living room and the kitchen, was a ladder that led to the second floor. On the walls were weapons from foreign countries, jewelry and household miscellaneous that Jack brought from his trips. The large living room had a fireplace, a grand piano, shelves, a large table, and couches along the wide windows. From the windows located on both sides of the wall, one could appreciate a good view of the woods. "Jack's room" was adjacent to the living room. There was a bed, on which, as it is told, he spent more time reading than sleeping, and on which he was found unconscious in the early morning hours of November 22, 1916. Beside the bed stood a chair, a recliner, bookshelves and a small table — all original belongings of the writer. Everything was arranged to convey the atmosphere of the cottage. There was even a disk on the door, resembling the face of the clock, which Jack used to indicate the time he wanted to be awakened.
I saw Charmian's boudoir: a looking-glass, a dressing table; a framed picture of her and Jack; a marble statue of three Graces; a dressing closet; a bust of Nefertti. After her husband's death, Charmian never remarried but she traveled and wrote frequently. Even though the household items were mixed with museum exemplars, the atmosphere of warmth and coziness of the "House of the Happy Walls" was still present.
In the bookcase, among other rare publications, I saw, much to my surprise, a thirteen-volume publication of the Collected Works of Jack London, published by "Pravda" company and presented to the museum by the General Consulate of the Soviet Union in San Francisco in November 1978. Also in the room were suitcases and chests that belonged to Jack London, with pictures from different years placed on them. I noticed that among the portraits of London's friends and literary contemporaries, there was not a single picture of his friend and co-author, Anna Strunsky.
I returned to the first floor, near Charmian's library and office. I saw London's bureau, where he had stored all of his business papers. On the bureau was a miniature statue of Charmian. A desk was placed next to the bureau. There were other items in the room: a gramophone, a typewriter, a box for manuscripts, a bust of Lincoln, as well as illustrations from London's works and his death mask. His books published during his lifetime, together with publications released after his death, were also in the room. Little was left here from his original library: the majority of the books had been sold to the Huntington Library. The house stood enclosed in a tight circle of trees. I tried to find the door which led to a secret staircase that connected all the floors in the house. Finally, I located it. Two doors were placed next to each other, in the back of the building. One of the doors was used by workers and the other was the secret passage from the house.
Greg has already returned from the ranch. I saw him talking to several young women who worked there. I presented him with my book "In the Steps of Jack London." With great interest he looked at the pictures in the book, which were taken on the ranch a long time ago, near the end of 1950s, when the idea of Jack London's museum was just a dream. He looked at the portrait of Anna Strunsky. For him, those times were long past. Greg was born so much later than the year her picture was taken. He led me to the secret door. At the light touch of his hand, the bookshelves slid to the side, opening the way to a steep staircase. In a matter of minutes, we were on the first floor of the building, then in the kitchen, and then in the basement that was used for storage. Among the various things kept there, I quickly noticed Edison's phonograph, Charmian's old umbrella and other things of some interest. There was a model of a Russian boat (a gift from someone?), Hawaiian wicker chairs and several things that, according to Greg, were not listed in the catalog of belongings from the house of I. Shepard. In the corner stood rolls of topographic maps made on the ranch and sketches of the Wolf House. Greg said that the majority of the visitors were careful and considerate with the exhibit items and to the buildings in the park. He did not mean, however, that the park administration need not be on guard. The year before that, someone stole a kerosene lamp that belonged to Jack London.
It was about half a mile to the writer's grave. A dirt road led through the woods to the Wolf House. On one of the meadows was a little exhibition of the farming tools that Jack London, the farmer, used. At the beginning of the path a sign warned about danger from poison oak. This type of oak had very poisonous leaves. If the leaves touched the skin, they caused redness and itching all over the body, far worse than stinging nettle. The place was a broken terrain. Hills and slopes were covered with young tender grass and flowers. A loud noise from the stream that runs nearby interrupted the consoling silence. I walked up and down the hills. Trees hung lower but their tops were spread wider. I heard the chatter of another stream. This part of the road was covered with asphalt. I turned off the road to the left, climbed the hill and observed the area. From the top of the hill, I could clearly see rows of grapevines and a mountain range, covered with famous California redwood trees, other ancient trees of various kinds, and those planted by Jack.
The Ranch had practically no even horizontal areas. You really could not ride a bicycle here, which Jack London loved to do in his youth. The only transportation used was horses. I had to slow down; it became difficult to breathe. I realized that this was the effect of lower air density due to the increased altitude. During his trip to Korea, where he was a news reporter the years of the Russo-Japanese War, Jack learned about terracing, which allowed farmers to keep water in the ground. He practiced this knowledge on his ranch. The Valley of the Moon was ideal for growing grapes: a lot of sun, but not too much heat, and a plenitude of mountain water.
I approached the legendary ruins of the Wolf House. Years ago, the writer's grandson Bart Abbott, his daughter Tarnel and her son, and I had a meal there, on a soft carpet of fallen needles of conifer. Now, a picnic table with the benches marked that very place. The ruins of the house itself were fenced with barbed wire. The stones of the building, especially those on the first floor, were covered with moss. Wooden steps of the passage made specifically for tourists went upward. Five people were already at the top. Among the adults, there were two children, ten and twelve years of age. They inspected the stone walls, the reflecting pool, and the structures towering above the ruins. One of these towers had housed a bedroom, while another had been used as an observation room.
I looked upon the fireplace—I had taken a picture of it in 1959. Jack London never had the opportunity to light this fireplace. A little hummingbird flew off a tree and froze in the air, fluttering her wings. The ancient redwood trees stretched high in the sky, almost reaching the clouds. From the ruins, I walked to the grave. I saw a mountain rock with the wooden fence around it: his grave. "I greet you, Jack, on behalf of all the Soviet readers! You can rest peacefully. Your books are read all over the world, even in our country. Dozens of books are written about you. Interest in your works is so great in Russia that it is impossible to get a book about you. They are sold literally in one day's time."
Jack London wanted his ashes to be spread all over the ranch, but Charmian and Eliza were not able to do it. They just did not have the heart to do such a thing. Under their instruction, the grave was dug and a cement burial-vault was built here, on the slope of the hill. The urn with the ashes of this great man was put into the burial-vault. They covered the grave with soil and put a rock that was not used in the building of the Wolf House on top of the grave, together with a wreath made of ferns and Jack's favorite flowers—primrose and Hawaiian lilies. At the day of the burial, schoolgirls of Glen Ellen were throwing flowers at the feet of the horse that carried the casket with the ashes of Jack London.
A group of people came to the grave and silently read the text on the rock. The ashes of Charmian, who died in January of 1955, were buried next to the grave. The path that led to the burial place of one of the great sons of America was made by those who came to visit and pay respect to his talent. Unfortunately, the only way of getting to this place was by automobile. Glen Ellen once had two railroad stations but became so provincial that it did not even have a bus stop. I saw about twenty cars in one of the parking lots of the State Historic Park. The majority of the people who came there already knew and loved London's writing. For some, however, the visit to the museum would serve as a stimulus to become better acquainted with his works.
I have to admit that, until then, I was not very fond of Charmian. Of course, she was an extraordinary woman. It was significant that the Oakland Tribune devoted a special section to her in 1921, referring to her as to a person who, better than anyone, represents "the spirit of California." A picture of her, on a horse, was even put on the cover. However, her virtues did not impress me. She was allegedly a reason for the conflict that caused London to leave his family. Moreover, according to the Abbotts, after the death of the writer, she did not provide necessary attention to London's daughters from his first marriage—his only direct heirs. Joan and Becky did not receive any inheritance.
Now, however, I could not help feeling grateful to her for keeping the ranch and London's belongings in good condition. I thanked her as much as I thanked Irving Shepard for being able to keep a lot of historical heritage and turn it, with the help of the state, into the impressive State Historic Park. With satisfaction, I remembered my modest contribution to the organization of the State Historic Park. I also recall my visits to the ranch in the years of 1958 and 1959, a postgraduate from the Soviet Union, a Jack London student of Moscow State University and UC-Berkeley, together with Vice-Chancellor of the University James Hart and famous literary scholar Franklin Walker. These visits, to a certain extent, hurried up the long-postponed negotiations of Irving Shepard with the State of California about the acquisition of part of the writer's ranch. The next year, the state bought forty acres of land with London's grave and the ruins of the Wolf House and began the work on creating the State Historic Park.
Copyright © 2004 by Vil M. Bykov
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