The World of Jack London

The Kempton-Wace Letters

From Dane Kempton To Herbert Wace


Sanford University,
December 3, 19—.

NOT three weeks ago you were sitting opposite me and speaking of Hester. You admitted many things that night, amongst them that the girl never carried you off your feet. You stated over again with precision all you had written. You betrothed yourself, not because Hester is different from everybody else in the world, but because she is like. You took her for what is typical in her, not for what is individual. You preferred to walk toward her before your steps were impelled, because you feared that impulsion would preclude rational choice. With the hope of out-tricking nature, you reached for Hester Stebbins, in order that there might be a wall between your heart's fancy and yourself, should your heart become rebellious. I was to understand


that this is the new school, that so live the masters of matter and of self.

And as you spoke, I wondered about the woman Hester and the form of love-making which existed between you, and whether she was simple and without any charm despite her culture and her gift of song. "She either loves him too well to know or to have the strength to care, or she is, like him, of the new school," I thought. I sat and watched you, noting your youth, surprised by the scorn in your eyes and the sadness on your lips. You seemed hopeless and helpless. I closed my eyes." What has he left himself?" I kept asking. "How will he tread 'The paths gray heads abhor?' My own head bowed itself as before an irreparable loss. I had rejoined the child of my care only to find him blasted as by grief, the first sunshine smitten from his face and his heart weighted. One word, one ray lighting your looks in a wonted way, one uncontrolled movement of the hand, one little silence following the mention of her, would have led me to believe that I had not understood and that all was well. The night grew old with your plans and analyses. We


parted with a sense of shame upon us that we should have written and spoken so long and with such heat, and to such little purpose.

You do not see how this answers your last letter. I will tell you. It shows you that you have explained yourself fully the night we spoke face to face.

You say that Hester is the woman to complement your man. This sounds like a lover, only I happen to know that she is not the irresistible woman. I found it out quite by accident—a few words dropped into a letter, a corroboration of the fact and further committal, a protracted defence of your position, running through a correspondence of over a year, and, finally, a face-to-face declaration. What boots it now that you write prettily? You do not love Hester. You want her to mother your children, and you install her in your life for the purpose before the need.

Love is not lust, and it is good. The irresistible marriage, alone, is the right one. Upon it, alone, does the sacrament rest. The chivalry of your last letter refers less to the girl than to your own ends. It is not because Hester


is what she is, that "of all the walks in life that one is pleasantest wherein you may walk with her," but because that walk is the one you choose beyond any other for your wife to follow. The mother woman is legion, and you refuse to specialise.

Hester does not peer down at the scales to set if she is getting full value, yet she does look to her dignity, and, being poor, will not account herself rich. Hester has felt since you made known to her that you wished her to be yours, that she counted punily in your scheme, that you placed little of yourself in charge of her. She loved you and avowed it, but she has never been happy. The tragedy of love is not (what it is thought to be) the unreciprocated love, but the meagerly returned love. It is better to be re jected, equal turned from equal, than to be held with slim desire for slight purpose. Can you see this, Herbert? You are hurting the girl's life. She will ask for what you withhold, though not a word rise to her lips; will thirst for it through the years, will herself grow cramped with your denial till her own love seem a thing of dream, unstable and vague and illusive. And


all the time you are gentle. You are devoted to her interests, furthering her happiness to the best in your power; but your power cannot touch her happiness. It is not what you do; it is the motive to vour acts, and Hester would know that she has left you unmoved. You respect the function of motherhood, but you do not love Hester. Tell her this, and prevent her from entering a union in which she must feel herself half useful, half wifely, half happy, and therefore all unhappy.

It is not Hester's fault that you cannot love her, and perhaps it is not her misfortune. There is no need for panic. Of two persons, one loving and one loath, the indifferent one is in the right. Can a tree defend itself from the hewer's axe? What would avail it, then, to feel pain at the blows? It is beyond our control to love or not to love, and no effort that we may put forth can draw love to us when it is denied. It does not avail us to suffer from unrequited love.

This which I have just said is an article of faith which the doctrine of experience often contradicts, for there may be mistake, and the


one who does not love may be in the wrong. If only you could wait to see the beauty which is she before you call her! A year later and Hester may flower for you in a passionate blossoming; her face may challenge you to live. A year later and you may find that she is indeed the woman to guide you and to follow you; her voice a song; her eyes a light in the day. As yet, you have not gauged her, and you would put her to small uses. Stand aside, dear Herbert. It will be better.

I have played a surly part. I may be accused of having been to you both a Dmitri Roudin and an lago. I beg you to believe that it has not been easy for me. I have uttered the earnest word, have driven you on by the goad of friend ship, which drives far. I looked upon the days that came tripping toward you out of the blue-white horizon of time and saw them gray for a dear woman, gray and silent as the tomb over a dead love, and heavy hearted for a man who is my son.

Ever wholly yours,


Go Back To: Letter XXXVIII
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