George Sterling--As I Knew Him

By Charmian Kittredge London

"Aldebran and Mars,—Ask Greek."

I find the penciled note, laid weeks ago on the writing table in Jack London's workroom.  It is one of many jottings made aboard the big gray cargoboat from Stockholm.  As times before on starhung nights of wonder under tropic skies there had to come to mind George Sterling's first published book of poems, "The Testimony of the Suns."  We liked to refer astronmical questions to him.

"—Ask Greek."  Jack's "Greek."  Once, after Jack's death, I said to George, "May I, now, call you Greek?"  And George:  "I wish you would, Charm!"  What was it I would now ask Greek?  Shall I ever remember?  Numberless are the nvoluntary questions I have deired to put to Jack, the Greek's "Wolf."  They, only, those friends, know the answers.

So short a time ago I sent George an old Carmel magazine, on its first page a poem by himself, "the Sea Gardens of Carmel."  The remainder of its contents was variously signed by otherday neighbors of his and Carrie's, since grown famous, who pattered to their brown door through the redolent pine forest that mumured to the Carmel surf.  For the first time since my late year in Europ, George and I met, when dropped in after the P.E.N. Club dinner at the Red Room of the Bohemian Club.  He looked everything fit—younger and stronger, more keenly sentient than a year ago.  It was a good old-fashioned gossip we had, all else forgot—though I did catch,from Gertrude Atherton, enthroned on a davenport near by, and appreciate white-and-gold gleam for our enthusiasm.  George's voice was one of boyish awe in raving over his niece, Cecily Cunha, having won to championship among girl swimmers of the Pacific Coast.

He had called at the Ranch, he told me, shortly after my arrival from the long voyage.  I had been away horseback on the mountain.  "but come again, as soon as the quail season open, and bring whoever you want," I begged.  He lighted with warm pleasure at that and what I next suggested:  "As soon as I am settled a bit, we'll get Carlt and Lora up and have as near a real old party as is possible now..."  He met my eyes, for the same thought was with us—the season of anniversary.  Jac Lond died ten years ago.  Too, it was the very eve of our wedding date.

"Aldebaran and Mars.—Ask Greek."  He was here.  He is not here.  He is away somewhere, and we have not his address.  I can never know what memories were called by the verse and story in that Carmel magazine.  Our gossiping was only begun...  So much left to say.  Nor talk with him about Aldeberan and Mars and other deep and dazzling things.

A letter from Cloudesley Johns in the East is on my desk.  I had written him when George Sterling went out.  "I was shocked," Cloudesley says, "and oppressed by a sense of loneliness.  Illogical; but genuine.  I had not seen George for years, and talked with him at the Lamb's Club, over the 'phone from the Press Club, and was to have met him in a day or two, when Carrie's death impelled him to return to California.  That was my last word with him.  But Jack and he and I together were in the midst and part of much colorful life years ago."

"Why illogical?"  I return (well knowing that Coudesley will come back with "Logic is logic").  "It seems to me the most logical thing in the world to be lonely when the old guard, the Piedmont-Carmel 'crowd' salutes life and passes, one by one, out of our sight.  I feel logically lonely!"

Very close were these three; closest, literally and figuratively, aboard Jack's little sloop Spray up the northern bays and rivers Sacramento and San Joaquin with their connecting cuts and sloughs. Good days, those, all three young men so different yet fadelessly congenial, working forenoon,—George and Jack with tongues and nostrils reminiscent of Cloudesley's talented cuisine prepared on a battered and rusty "Primus" in the restricted cabin.  They sailed afternoons; they fished; they hunted, ducks and geese; in the evening it was cards, mostly pedro, the Spray riding at anchor or tied to reedy banks in scenes strange and foreign as anywhere to be found.  I know it all.  In another small yacht during my own fortunate days to follow, one of these three comrades revisited with me those places of their comings and goings.  Yes, Cloudesley, we are lonely for lost companionship by land and sea.

"The fleeting systems lapse like foam," wrote the Poet. Now he, the Poet, has lapsed like his starry foam.

Memories jostle.  At this moment I think of that other death.  Long before it, Jack had said:  "If I should die first, Mate—my ashes on the little hill of old graves on the Ranch.  I don't want many there.  You might ask George to come."  George, sadder than grief, sad beyond despair, walked alone and laid his sprig of rueful cypress and lauren upon the unthinkable grave.  Followed a holy hour, in the room where his friend had died.  We spoke low.  I recall George said with a question rising in this throat:  "They think, in the city, that you many not see this through, Charmian."  To him I replied:  "There is too much to do, George.  You wouldn't expect me to be a quitter?  Even now, I feel strong to go on."

We were standing beside my case of Jack's first editions, each with its inscription—my most priceless possession.  George broke a silence:

"I've wanted to tell you something.  It was, oh, maybe two or three years ago, Jack said to me that if anything should happen to you, he would not go on."

It seemed most natural to hear that.  "Look!"  I took down "The Abysmal Brute" and read what Jack had written in the flyleaf.  The date was in May, 1913, in what I have called his bad year.  And what Jack had set down shadowed forth that which George was now telling me.  Then I said:  "It is different with me, Greek.  So many things broken—to mend.  Jack would count on me...  Being so made, as Jack would say, working I shall come to be...not unhappy."

"Dear Chumalums," I heard George say as he turned away.  He understood.  One cannot forget such moments, when one felt his abiding tenderness.  Long afterward, I tried him out concerning his own outlook:

"I think you and I shall see it through, Greek?"

"I think we shall," he mused.  "at any rate," brightly, "I shall never give up while there is sex in the world!"

His last verse, found in the death chamber, seems to have been upon the theme of Woman.  He adored Woman at her best.  Be she treacherous to him or friend of him, never could she retrieve her place.  Making little noise about it, back to the wall with the injured he would fight.  I know.

When air breathes of death so lately mourned, it is good to turn to life and inhale red-blood memories, I write of vivid days and nights when George and Carrie, his wife, together made their home in Piedmont.  there are, still about, only a few of us who were familiar in that colorful household which Carrie kept so sweet for her man.  But he was not her man; he was no one's man—not even his own man.  He was forever searching into himself to be sure, but also "lonely for some one I shall never know."  Most of those who in press and periodical have timely and admiringly recalled acquaintance with George Sterling, know of a later period than that which springs out of my heart to my pen.  To them, his wife is a mere incident, a person of hearsay—a pale wraith of whom they have been reminded when scanning the career of the man; a woman, who, sadly enough, took her own life "after long grief and pain."

To friends of longer standing the two cannot be dissociated.  I think it was shortly after their marriage that they went to Hawaii.  It was a disappointing experience.  George was from some cause thoroughly discontented.  When told where they had made headquarters, I naturally asked their impressions of the neighborhood which I well know—of this and that thrilling gorge or strand or crater, things of tremendous beauty and easily accessible.  "We never went there, " answered Carrie.  The reason given was that George was not interested.  More than once I have heard him insist that travel books were sufficient.  One needed no travel experience.

My earliest meetings with the tall and handsome pair, George and his wife, were in their Piedmont circle. Jack, already a friend of my family, was about twenty-seven, George older.  They were in and out of each other's houses on the hill, and sometimes came to mine in Berkeley.  The voiceless relationship of the two boys, still in its infancy, went on to the end of life—basically an unquestioning friendship.  Neither was too prosperous at the time.  Voiceless their friendship?  Take the following, related to me years afterward by Jack.  It is a small matter in actuality, but marked the beginning fo an eloquent spiritual comprehension they did not pause to analyze at the moment.  Never a word was uttered on a night when the Poet, walking part-way home with the young story-teller to his bungalow on the eucalyptus steep, slipped something into the other's pocket.  Never a word was uttered when, upon a like occasion some months thence, an equivalent something was slipped back into the Poet's.  Jack, "being so made," was the first to analyze.  George seldom analyzed anything, apparently, except when challenged.  No matter what the subject or whether he had ever before considered it, with corrugated brows between narrowed, introverted eyes, he pondered briefly.  He would then, under modest demeanor, come out with rounded and satisfying exposition.  "Now that is genius!" Jack marveled with shining eyes.  "I have it not; I must pod!"  And so, the "plodder," evidently deep in melancholy at the time, addressed George in this wise:

"...This I know, that in these later days you have frequently given me cause for honest envy.  And you have made me speculate a great deal.  You know that I do not know you—no more than you know me.  We have really never touched the intimately personal note in all the time of our friendship.  I suppose we never shall.

"And so I speculate and speculate, trying to make you out, trying to lay hands on the inner side of you—what you are to yourself in short.  Sometimes, I conclude that you have a cunning and deep philosophy of life, for yourself alone, worked out on a basis of disappointment and disillusion.  Sometimes I say, I am firmly convinced fo this, and then it all goes glimmering, and I think that you don't want to think, or that you have thought no more than partly, if at all, and are living your lie out blindly and naturally.

"So I do not know you, George, and for that matter I do not know how I came to write this."

A year later when George presented his first book, in the fly-leaf he wrote:

"To our genius, Jack London:  Here's my book, my heart you have already."

George Sterling's advancing reputation brought men and women from afar to his house.  But it was Caroline Rand Sterling, "Carrie" and "Caddie" to her intimates, who equally, with her superior faculty for home-making, drew them to come again or to remember always the abounding harmony of that informal cottage.  And she was beautiful, moving through those years with a subtle grace tinged with childlike sunny humor spontaneous as her mischievous smile.  Some sculptor should have modeled her, body and face.  The subtlety of her beauty was enhance by a trick of smiling with her brown eyes and that fascinating, mystic mouth.  It was small, with deep-cornered lips parting over the teeth with an elfin, tantalizing sweetness of expression.

"Oh, Georgie, look—she is so pretty," once I nudged him at a lull in card.  But he was already looking at her.

"She's a very fascinating young person, Chumalums de Chums," he whispered in return, and his eyes searched mine dimly for a moment, as if to exchange an elusive something that could not be worded.  Those silent instants curiously stand out the clearest in retrospect.

It was shortly after this, I think, that he wrote "To My Wife":

Not beauty of the marble set
To art's intensest line
Nor depth of light and color met
Tho' all indeed are thine—

Not these thy loveliness impart
For, wrought by wiser Hands,
The charm that makes thee although art,
Beyond transition stands.

And surer fealty to thee,
O fairest! I confess,
For that beyond all fair I see
The grace of tenderness.

Past Art's endeavor to portray
Or poet's word to reach;
For all that Beauty seems to say
Is told in feeble speech."

Caroline seemed an ideal helpmeet for a genius.  She could engage with him merrily, or solace an inexplicable mood.  Work hard Carrie did, as a woman must who plays her part in such wholehearted hospitality out of a modest income.  But no trace of fatigue or untidiness ever bothered a lucky guest.

Sometimes precariously rickety bridges had to be crossed.  Luckily, if not a fairy godmother, there was a fairy sister who came to the rescue when matters became acute, as happens in the households of poets!  The sister was always at their backs, though few knew this.  No benefactress ever more successfully hid her light under a bushel than Mrs. Frank C. Havens.  I hope she will forgive me for removing the "bushel."  It was mainly through her interest and generosity that George and Carrie were able to capture their paradisal dream at Carmel-by-the-Sea.  They had long yearned to build there.  And one of George's most ardent ambitions was to raise potatoes in a lush meadow overlooked by their redwood-pillared portico.  But that is another story.

Carrie was quick in the tongue and could on occasion throw unnecessary decorum to the winds and romp with the best fo the tomboy rout.  I linger through old albums that picture the fancy-dress and dress that is not fancy but pure characterization by a clever company of souls on the lark!  Carrie was often the Queen of fun among them all.  Yes, she and her husband contributed equally in their different ways to a congenial ménage that held together the mob.

And some who were blind to other than Marthan attainments on Caddie's part had their eyes opened when she tackled the concise statement fo some scientific or philosophical subject which she had studied.

Some of us, painfully observant in the time of separation that was to come could not but hold that the two should have remained together. They were, most things considered, in the long run each other's best fortune.  When tidings of Carrie's shocking if poetic suicide in Piedmont came to George, who was more or less reveling in Greenwich Village, he returned swiftly to California, never to leave.  Not more beautifully than Carrie did The Lady of Shallott lay herself to sleep and wake no more.  And George Sterling never ceased to regret.  He had learned that in some strong and enduring kinships passion is the passing part.  I defy those few who knew George and Carrie and all that was, to read with steady eyes and lips "Spring in Carmel," from "Sails and Mirage."  It was written upon his first retracing after her death of the path to the Carmel cottage in the pine forest.  In it I find:

"So like a ghost your fragrance lies
On the path that once led home."

George, who, it may be, was not made to encompass a grand passion for one woman, could divine and express love as few men or women, knowing love, can do.

To any, not so close to them, who think George's wife of many years acted hastily or unwisely in leaving her husband, let me say that she behaved most wisely and patiently preceding the divorce that came about. The first stern crisis took place in our house. In that and ones to follow, Carrie Sterling showed a poise and grandeur of spirit that could not be surpassed.

For a year or two before her end she became warped from ultimate bitterness that led toward estrangement of some of her most tried friends—as if deliberately to tear from her all association with the old life. That bitterness only waned in her self-inflicted death. She was not herself. So now there is a gladness in laying my wreath upon her memory, just as there is in calling attention to the tribute the essentially desolate poet rendered her in verse and speech. The pages of "Sails and Mirage" are drenched with its perfume. In my gift copy he wrote:

"For Charmian, with love, this book of memories and regrets."

But oh, let me now call upon pictures of those living holidays of hard-working artists, say picnicking in the old Dingee mansion grounds in the hills back of what was then a much smaller Piedmont than at present. Who was not there, at one time or another, or in Jack's and George's homes? They are scattered to the four quarters of the compass. Many are dead, many I still meet or hear from—like Cloudesley Johns in New York or George Herman Scheffauer in Berlin. There was George's flock of pretty sisters; the members of the Partington family—all distinguished, Gertrude, artist; Blanche, writer; Phyllis, later to be known as Frances Peralta of the Metropolitan Opera; Richard, noted portrait painter. And their beautiful sister, Kate, who with her husband, Fred Peterson, both dead too young, were close to the Sterlings' hearts. There were Jimmie Hopper, Harry Lafler, Carlton Bierce—nephew of Ambrose— and Lora, his wife, cherished friends to George's last hour; Rob Royce, Porter Garnett, Nora May French, exquisite poet; Lem Parton, Johannes Reimers, Henry Albright, Austin Lewis and Xavier Martinez were others of the fellowship. And Father Harvey, whose friendship was a benediction. I must not fail to mention the Singer of the Sierras, Joaquin Miller, striding bearded and booted into the scene, out of a romantic age, at request reciting his poems that were as the voice of Nature to set us a-dreaming of ungraspable loveliness. And publishers a-many were entertained at never-to-be-forgotten gatherings. Wild, clean fun was there, lusty sport and play, and exploits in eating. They flew kites, wrestled, boxed, and fenced—Jack, and Jim Whitaker. May I refer to my Book of Jack London for a brief picture of Jack's Wednesdays that weekly he saved for his friends.

"Indoors, in the large room that was the apple of his eye, games were played of intellectual as well as hilarious 'rough-house' varieties. All joined, boys and girls, men and women and children; and no one could surpass the joyous roar of Jack's fresh boyish lungs, nor out-invent him in bedevilment and sporting feats….Romping, they were all one to him….They had to 'take their medicine,' he vowed, and they knew he despised a coward….Those afternoons and evenings will never fade to the ones privileged to share in them, filled as they were with merriest and noisiest of jollity and sport, card games—whist, poker, pedro, 'black-jack,' 'red dog,' and rapid-fire of wits. And there was no lack of music—piano, and singing, ringing voices—and poetry. Arthur Symons, Le Gallienne, Swinburne, the Rosettis, Fitzgerald, Bierce, Henley; these and many another were read aloud around the long oaken table, or lolling about the roomy veranda….Now it would be George Sterling's hushed recitation or Jack's vibrant tone, or Anna Strunsky's mellow, golden throat—the rest hanging tremulous on the music of speech from these receptive ones who could not wait to make known their beloved of the poets.  Blessing it was to sit under the involuntary young teaches of good and gracious ways of the spirit."

Right here I am reminded of having heard that Sterling cared little for music. It would seem that no one, having read the exaltation of his "Music," in "The Testimony of the Suns" could make such a statement. However, a chance stranger may have based opinion upon observation of one of George's abstractions. His profundities were not for mere acquaintances. I can vouch that in other years at least he did not like to be confined in a theatre for either music or drama. But I well remember that in his own house or ours he listened or did not listen to the piano while he played cards with Carlt Bierce and Jack and the others. He often asked me to play, especially Chopin. Now I think of it, after the big Steinway came to the Ranch, he would sit peacefully and happily with Jack while I played what I could of their desire; and he had kind and gracious things to say. Just so he seemed to enjoy music in earlier days at Piedmont. I noticed some time ago that Redfern Mason praised "Music." And Jack London considered it as high poetic expression on the subject as any he knew. Did not George Sterling care for music? Read, if only the first movement:

"Her face we have a little, but her voice
Is not of our imagining nor time,
And her deep soul is one, perchance, with life,
Immortal, cosmic. Heritage of her
Is half the human birthright. She hath part
With Love and Death in the one mystery
Of being, lifted on eternal wings
From world to world. Her home is in our hearts.
She is that moon for which the sea of tears
Is ever a-tremble, and she seemeth ghost
Of all past beauty, haunting yet the dusk
Of unforgotten days; for of the lost,
The changeless, irrecoverable years,
Regret will waken in her gladdest voice,
And linger, as the sorrow of a dream
Hath shadow for a little in the morn."

Suddenly—was he listening to music unheard save by him?—there is pictured behind my eyes the slender, vigorous, wild grace of him limned with his telescope against a night-blue sky over the Piedmont hills. Or his lithe silhouette poised on a Lobos headland, harkening, who shall say not? to other music of the universe. What, compared with this cosmic intercourse, were mere violin and piano or human voice? Yet, one ma want to believe that in the strivings through these man-made instruments of beauty he likewise found communion with dream wisdoms, deathless, and true.

The Old Crowd! Their voices linger yet, those gay, thoughtful ones. George was seldom noisy, but inimitably witty. His quiet, often benevolent tones, sometimes with a laughing vibration at his own humorous ideas, evoked howls of mirth. Yet the tone could be sharply to the point as words when characterizing some one he did not like—though he was ordinarily tolerant. One evening in the Carmel home a chosen group was gathered around the wide hearth. I remember that in our midst sat a woman whose unbound gold-brown hair fell to the floor where it lay in pools and seemed to burn ruddily in the flame light. It was Mary Austin. George had come stepping lightly full-tilt into the long red-wooded room. His air was one of preoccupation and he seemed about to say something weighty. Abruptly his intention shifted, and he bethought himself—a habit of George's—of an inner pocketful of notes and clippings on every conceivable theme from an epitaph to the recipe for a new cocktail. We were regaled with the collection.  Silence fell at last. Then irascibly, out came the thing he had been suppressing:

"He reminds me of an obstetric stork!"

The person intended leaped like a monstrous cartoon into our minds as one, and the welkin rang to the clamor. George sat and basked pleasedly in our perception.

But practically the only times when I heard irascible speech from him were when he was at cards. Win or lose, it was the same. Losing, he plumbed despair from which no light glimmered to his scowling brow and jaundiced eye. At such moments he was led into strange sentiments. Perhaps, listening to loud derisive hoots that greeted the spectacle he was, a gleam of humor might pierce through in spite of him; to be as quickly smothered in gloom.

Winning, all he could see in a friendless universe was the bad luck sure to overtake one in turn! It apparently never had occurred to any of his faithful satellites and opponents to call him to task for these outbursts. They threatened to become chronic. I noticed that Jack paid no attention to them. So my surprise was great when one night in our Oakland house before we sailed on the delayed Snark, Jack announced to me, after the latest series of poker evenings: "I am not going to play anymore with George."

"No?"

"No. Because I am afraid of getting into the same way—having my temper spoiled, if I listen to him any longer." And what is more, Jack told his "ever blessed Greek" precisely the same. The Crowd prophesied some sort of unpleasantness to follow. Not at all. George, possibly, was so shaken to receive a sudden check from any of them, least of all Jack, that he saw the justice of the rebuke. However that may be, the games were resumed. And never did he, at any rate when playing with his friend Wolf, backslide into anything resembling his former vapors.

Certain of his harmless idiosyncrasies were as tonic in a torpid society. Now George Sterling was on one side of him the most unconventional of mortals, free, intolerant of niggling forms. The world at large is prone lightly to consider as idiosyncrasy any departure from established custom. But George's was the other way around. From committing deliriously outrageous pranks to the delighted horror of his circle, he balked consistently at being seen carrying any kind of parcel, no matter how neat and decorous.  But, and I can still hear Jack's irrepressible giggle, "Look, oh, look!" here would come Georgie up the street carrying a huge demijohn of whatsoever nectar, his whole aspect one of absorbing and prideful responsibility!

Or, regard the instance of his distinguished bartender. Preceding dinner and card-party at our Oakland home, I answered the telephone:

"Oh, that you, Chumalums? Say," with secretive intensity, "I've got Dave to promise to come tonight—tell Jack."

"Dave? Dave Who, Georgie? Will Jack know?"

"Oh, yes, yes, with mild impatience. "He's the bar-keep at So-and-So's. He's hard to get and I was lucky. And he's an awfully nice fellow, Chums. He'll make the Tom-and Jerrys while we play."

He did, and good ones they were, I am told. George was boyishly happy over his contribution to the festivities, and far more at ease than was the Contribution himself—a very astute and courteous person, let me add.

Generosity personified was the Greek. He would give when he could. When he could not, he would borrow from those who had. In some instances, perhaps the lender believed George to be the beneficiary. "Well, you see," he would presently confess, "So-and-So, poor wretch, was abominably hard up—hasn't sold anything lately, and that big family you know. . . .I knew you wouldn't mind." And how could one quibble at such charitable guile based upon surety of his pure judgment as to merits. Guile in George should be trans-valued into its opposite. His maddest eccentricities seem proof of an utter Jack of guile.

George, living, was more fortunate than some Olympians in being gladly recognized by many of his contemporaries. George, dead, has called out repetitions of the encomiums given voice in his hearing. Jack London said he and Martinez were the only true Bohemians that he had ever known. The term carried its own wide signifigance.

There, were George's hasheesh picnics—two only, I think. He had acquired a small quantity of the hempen drug, I fail to recall who of the fellows indulged in a curious sandwich George had indicated as a befitting dose. But when I heard that my fiancé upon a certain holiday was to make the experiment at the Sterlings', I pounded over horseback post-hast from Berkeley. I was behind time to advise concerning the generous buttering of dream-past Jack had applied to a small slice of bread. When I entered, Carrie warned me, nervously, "Jack's in there on the couch—he insisted on taking too much!"

"Don't be worried, Charm," George called to me. "It can't hurt any one. The only danger from hasheesh is getting to like it too well—like lots of other pleasant habits."

One look at the excessively uncomfortable Jack banished my fears. The Greek was pacing the house in voluble disgust:

"I told him to spread only a thin layer of the stuff and he would have a lovely time. And look at him—stop that piano! to one of the girls. "Can't you see it's torturing the poor devil?"

Because of the blatant overdose, sensation in its victim was being magnified to nightmare proportions, and his nerves were on the rack. A reasonable amount would have made music and conversation become attenuated in some heavenly fashion.

When the thrall of some hours after began to wear off, Jack was afflicted with a plague of laughter. Everything seemed to him as comical, and his giggles and gales were infectious. George was hugely entertained by this phase, which lasted over another day, and spent much time peering at the patient with an expression of wonderment and low exclamations that were as funny as Jack's pointless explosions.

Once Sterling was of a group in San Francisco who undertook a progressive dinner.  From restaurant to restaurant they fared, eating and drinking heartily at each. I have heard the Greek marvel with bated breath at recollection of the number of large steaks he tucked away, and the quantity of red wine and other liquids. He was a prince of extremists. When he drank, he drank, anything and everything, without regard to the combination. When he went on the water-wagon, he did it thoroughly, perhaps a year or more at a time, and was very proud of himself at the ease of his experiment. When he "fell off," he fell off with forethought and cheerful deliberation.

But distaste for suffering or low condition kept him fit generally. He was interested in the latest physical exercises. One, which furnished us all with endless joy, was "massaging under tension." At any odd moment, while his companions talked, or danced, or made music, he might be seen advancing a rigid muscle of arm or leg or torso, and steadily, relentlessly, with set face and fixed eyes glassy and unseeing, manipulating it as if his life depended upon the operation. If the area under treatment happened to be on his side, or on solar plexus, the effect was startling and ludicrous. No funning about it disturbed him in the least. He might frown fiercely, but it would be at the exigency of his prepossession.

Pictures! I see George Sterling swimming, in the old Piedmont tank; at Carmel; at Glen Ellen. He swam exclusively at breast-stroke, and it was very beautiful with speed and power, his raised Greco-Roman face sensuous with the pleasure of free movement in the water that rippled along his sleek and fleeing sides. Who was it put George and his friends in debt by likening his visage to "a Greek coin run over by a Roman chariot?" Our Greek repeated this with hushed breath and wonderment in his softly explosive "God!" at the cleverness of the saying.

I see him with his square, spare Indian shoulders and stealthy tread, gliding noiseless into the woods, at Carmel, or at our Ranch, gun in hand. He gloried much more in prowess of outmaneuvering wild creatures in their own habitat than in the killing.

Or on horseback. He loathed horses because he had no understanding of them except that their brains are small. Unlike many who, non-comprehending, mistreat animals, George was gentleness itself. His "Hands" were good, and he sat in the saddle at ease, with lean and elegant concave diaphragm. As for dogs, he was their warm friend and for them his pen was moved in sympathy and affection. For years their Skye terrier, Skeet, ruled Carrie and George like a royal, tyrannical child aware of power to command loving service. When Skeet disappeared, never to return, the man's grief was no less lasting than Carrie's.

I vision Jack returning here with George, Harry Leon Wilson and Jim Whitaker from the Bohemian Club Grove jinks. The Greek would be amiably morose with desire  for repose. Later, he would emerge refreshed and restless for action of some sort, perhaps pedro or red dog or whatnot. And "Oh, Chumalums! Oh, the Wolf, the shaggy, shaggy Wolf, the fierce predacious Wolf!" he chanted, pacing the floor in anticipation. I see him pointing a long, stern finger in my unoffending direction, with a chuckle in a lightly ferocious voice, "You—you are the Wolverine!"

"A loathsome beast, Georgie," I was fain to protest.

"You're right, de Chums. You're then the Wolfess!" He looked me over whimsically, and "…oh, the Wolf's Wolfess…de Chums, de Chums, de Chums!" he caroled his debonair and careless way out of sight among the trees that troop up-mountain, homing with penciled manuscript of a new thing of intangible magic in his pocket. An early draft of "Sails," one of my best loved of his jewels, he gave me. He had worked on it sitting by our lake among the redwoods and madronos. Always, I remember, and before as well as after Jack and I were associated in his world, George was so considerate of me, appreciative, kindly.

I see him, I hear him, out of contemplative silence at a long table, joining in discussion with his own or Jack's mixed company of guests—say Ed Morell, Professor Edgar Larkin, Emma Goldman, Finn Frolich, Ashton Stevens, Peter B. Kyne, Bob Fitzsimmons, Kathleen O'Brennan, George Horace Lorimer, Frederick Bechdolt, Michael Williams, Ernest Untermann, Sinclair Lewis, Dr. Arnold Genthe, Charles Rollo Peters, Frederick Irons Bamford, Henry Meade Bland…. One or most might storm, but George never. His modulated notes fell as if into a stillness involuntarily created for him by noisier ones.

It was working together in a mutual interest that drew George and myself into that good comradeship. Jack had written "The End" to his manuscript of "The Sea Wolf" before he sailed as newspaper correspondent to the Japanese-Russian war. And he left the proof reading, both for magazine-serial and book-publication, jointly to our mercy. We got on capitally together in this trust. It cannot be said which of us was the more pleased with Jack's expressed praise of our collaboration in his work. George's fine loyalty was put to a fine test in the case of two of his dearest men friends, Ambrose Bierce and Jack London. He sat between the horns of a dilemma because Bierce's attitude toward the younger writer was one of firm disapproval from every angle. They were as far apart as the poles in their philosophies, Ambrose and Jack. Because Jack had known phases of life which were untenable to the satirist's conventional niceties, the elder man seemed to deem the other as one not entitled to consideration in the brotherhood of polite society. Indeed, after he had read "The Road," Mr. Bierce was emphatic as to what summary fate should overtake George's youthful novelist. But Jack, far from taking up the gloves, hastened to write Sterling:

"For heaven's sake, don't you quarrel with Ambrose about me. He's too splendid a man to be diminished because he has lacked access to a later generation of science. He crystallized before you and I were born, and it is too magnificent a crystallization to quarrel with."

Bless us all, and the three of them. They have died, one in his own home bed with disease neglected; one in a far, unfriendly land, by assassination or his own hand; one by his own will, it would seem to escape the agony of the flesh.

In later years the opportunities for meeting with George Sterling became fewer and fewer, though the feeling among us never varied.

Jack and I were seldom home more than three or four months at a time. When we were, our house was crowded with people, and old cronies, what was left of them, infrequently got together to "hit things up" as of yore. If we were not on the other side of nowhere, we would be looked for in Hawaii, or New York, or, for several winters, threading the fabulous waterways of California in the little yawl Roamer that succeeded the Spray, which had been transportation for many a Crowd picnic on the Bay. Aboard, we worked and played as we always best loved, on the liquid part of the reeling earth's surface.

Very often we spoke of George and followed his successes with joy and pride. Of course we corresponded. Exclusive of his letters and autographed books, one set for each, I have a boxful of typewritten poems that he sent to one or the other of us, some published, some not. And all signed by his pen or pencil. "The ever-blessed Greek," Jack would murmur. And among the few nicknames he answered, he best liked the Greek's "Wolf." Once, not long before his own death, Jack suddenly enlightened me: "I wish," he remarked wistfully, "that you had more often called me 'Wolf.' You did, at one time, when I called you my Wild Mate."

"But it was George's especial one for you—I did not want to usurp—that's why I did not go on with it."

He smiled appreciation of that, but repeated: "Still, I wish you had."

Pictures—pictures a-many. But I must come to the last…

I lift "The Caged Eagle." I mean to find "In Autumn," am stayed by the handwriting that first I come upon. Its author gave the book to me in October of 1916, just preceding Jack's death. The inscription is a poem and has never been book-published. I take space to quote it as an impression of the essence of what the Wolf's friend saw and sensed here on our mountainside:

"High on Sonoma Mountain
The poison-oak is red;
Along the colored vineyards
The quail's shy brood is led;
Past the delivered orchards
And round the hawk's green hold,
The spendthrift maples squander
The year's unhoarded gold;
Low o'er this land of Beauty
Robed in her royal stains
The swallow dip, forecasting
November and the rains.
By all that makes you charming,
By all that makes you dear,
Sweet lady of the manor,
Long be your loving here!"

When again I touch the pages, they fall open at "To Twilight," another beloved of mine:

"Linger, we pray,
Shy mother of the white and earliest star,
For in thy keeping are
The Dreams that suffer not the light of day—"

And pinned to the margin, O holy, are the Poet's original dim notes that he gave me. I can hardly bear to read; nor to turn on to "In Autumn," when memory tracks backward down the ten years' trail to Jack lying beside the Tyrian-dyed reef-waters off Waikiki. The mail had just come from the mainland. I am about to take to the breakers, but Jack is indolent in the heat—often, these days, he is too indolent to exercise, and doctor friends have warned him. "Stay one moment, Mate—let's see what's here."

Nothing loth, I sink into another hammock under the ancient hau tree. He idly rustles the leaves of "The Caged Eagle," just from George. He dips in here and there and reads aloud a line, a phrase, a stanza. Comes a longer pause between. Silently he reads two pages, then raises great eyes to mine in a look I know presages the sharing of something special. "Listen, this is 'In Autumn.' There are viols in his voice. He hesitates slightly throughout and I know he is profoundly moved by the sheer intangible gift of the sonneteer:

"Mine eyes fill, and I know not why at all.
  Lies there a country not of time and space—
  Some fair and irrecoverable place
I roamed ere birth and cannot now recall?—
  A land where petals fall
On paths that I shall nevermore retract ?

Something is lacking from the wistful bow'rs,
  And I have last that which I never had.
  The sea cries, and the heavens and sea are sad,
And Love goes desolate, yet is not ours.
  Brown Earth alone is glad,
Rubing her breast with fallen leaves and flow'rs.

High memories stir; the spirit's feet are slow,
  In nameless fields where tears alone are fruit,
  And voices of the wind alone transmute
The music that I lost so long ago."

Jack cannot go on for a little, then at length he finishes steadily:

"I stand irresolute,
Lonely for some one I shall never know."

But his lips are trembling, as are my own, and the sea-gray eyes purple with sea-reflections, glistening with inner tears. So shaken is he with Beauty, and reverence and love for the soul that wove its strands.

"Mate," at last he said cryptically, "one could forgive George anything!" They twain have sailed into the twilight, but have left their beauty for us. Holding it in our thankful hands, even in the silence we are comforted. Once more, "Sails":

"(Captain! Captain! What of the seas
  of death?)

  *************

But I hear a naiad sing,
And softer now in my vision the vans of silk
Glimmer on eastern shallops, by dusk adrift
On waters of legend; and webs as white as milk
Are waiting a murdered queen to her island tomb,
  Where the cypress columns lift.
  And ghostly now on the gloom
The shrouded spars of the Flying Dutchman go
  To harbors that none shall know;
Foamless the ripples of her passing die
Across the dark, and then from the dark, a cry!

 

 

The Overland Monthly and Out West Magazine, March 1927, Vol LXXXV, No 3, pg 0003.