Click here to Download John Barleycorn PDF Book by Jack London Language English having PDF Size 1.4 MB and No of Pages 118.
It all came to me one election day. It was on a warm California afternoon, and I had ridden down into the Valley of the Moon from the ranch to the little village to vote Yes and No to a host of proposed amendments to the Constitution of the State of California. Because of the warmth of the day I had had several drinks before casting my ballot, and divers drinks after casting it.
John Barleycorn PDF Book by Jack London
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Then I had ridden up through the vine-clad hills and rolling pastures of the ranch, and arrived at the farm-house in time for another drink and supper. “How did you vote on the suffrage amendment?” Charmian asked. “I voted for it.” She uttered an exclamation of surprise. For, be it known, in my younger days, despite my ardent democracy, I had been opposed to woman suffrage.
In my later and more tolerant years I had been unenthusiastic in my acceptance of it as an inevitable social phenomenon. “Now just why did you vote for it?” Charmian asked. I answered. I answered at length. I answered indignantly. The more I answered, the more indignant I became. (No; I was not drunk. The horse I had ridden was well named “The Outlaw.” I’d like to see any drunken man ride her.
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And yet—how shall I say?—I was lighted up, I was feeling “good,” I was pleasantly jingled. “When the women get the ballot, they will vote for prohibition,” I said. “It is the wives, and sisters, and mothers, and they only, who will drive the nails into the coffin of John Barleycorn——” “But I thought you were a friend to John Barleycorn,” Charmian interpolated.
“I am. I was. I am not. I never am. I am never less his friend than when he is with me and when I seem most his friend. He is the king of liars. He is the frankest truthsayer. He is the august companion with whom one walks with the gods. He is also in league with the Noseless One. His way leads to truth naked, and to death.
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He gives clear vision, and muddy dreams. He is the enemy of life, and the teacher of wisdom beyond life’s wisdom. He is a red-handed killer, and he slays youth.” I was five years old the first time I got drunk. It was on a hot day, and my father was ploughing in the field. I was sent from the house, half a mile away, to carry to him a pail of beer.
“And be sure you don’t spill it,” was the parting injunction. It was, as I remember it, a lard pail, very wide across the top, and without a cover. As I toddled along, the beer slopped over the rim upon my legs. And as I toddled, I pondered. Beer was a very precious thing. Come to think of it, it must be wonderfully good.
Else why was I never permitted to drink of it in the house? Other things kept from me by the grown-ups I had found good. Then this, too, was good. Trust the grown-ups. They knew. And, anyway, the pail was too full. I was slopping it against my legs and spilling it on the ground. Why waste it? And no one would know whether I had drunk or spilled it. John Barleycorn PDF Book
I was so small that, in order to negotiate the pail, I sat down and gathered it into my lap. First I sipped the foam. I was disappointed. The preciousness evaded me. Evidently it did not reside in the foam. Besides, the taste was not good. Then I remembered seeing the grown-ups blow the foam away before they drank.
I buried my face in the foam and lapped the solid liquid beneath. It wasn’t good at all. But still I drank. The grown-ups knew what they were about. Considering my diminutiveness, the size of the pail in my lap, and my drinking out of it my breath held and my face buried to the ears in foam, it was rather difficult to estimate how much I drank.
Also, I was gulping it down like medicine, in nauseous haste to get the ordeal over. I shuddered when I started on, and decided that the good taste would come afterward. I tried several times more in the course of that long half-mile. Then, astounded by the quantity of beer that was lacking, and remembering having seen stale beer made to foam afresh, I took a stick and stirred what was left till it foamed to the brim. John Barleycorn PDF Book
And my father never noticed. He emptied the pail with the wide thirst of the sweating ploughman, returned it to me, and started up the plough. I endeavoured to walk beside the horses. I remember tottering and falling against their heels in front of the shining share, and that my father hauled back on the lines so violently that the horses nearly sat down on me.
He told me afterward that it was by only a matter of inches that I escaped disembowelling. Vaguely, too, I remember, my father carried me in his arms to the trees on the edge of the field, while all the world reeled and swung about me, and I was aware of deadly nausea mingled with an appalling conviction of sin.
I was barely turned fifteen, and working long hours in a cannery. Month in and month out, the shortest day I ever worked was ten hours. When to ten hours of actual work at a machine is added the noon hour; the walking to work and walking home from work; the getting up in the morning, dressing, and eating; the eating at night, undressing, and going to bed. John Barleycorn PDF Book
There remains no more than the nine hours out of the twenty-four required by a healthy youngster for sleep. Out of those nine hours, after I was in bed and ere my eyes drowsed shut, I managed to steal a little time for reading. But many a night I did not knock off work until midnight. On occasion I worked eighteen and twenty hours on a stretch.
Once I worked at my machine for thirty-six consecutive hours. And there were weeks on end when I never knocked off work earlier than eleven o’clock, got home and in bed at half after midnight, and was called at halfpast five to dress, eat, walk to work, and be at my machine at seven o’clock whistle blow. No moments here to be stolen for my beloved books.
And what had John Barleycorn to do with such strenuous, Stoic toil of a lad just turned fifteen? He had everything to do with it. Let me show you. I asked myself if this were the meaning of life—to be a workbeast? I knew of no horse in the city of Oakland that worked the hours I worked. If this were living, I was entirely unenamoured of it. John Barleycorn PDF Book
I remembered my skiff, lying idle and accumulating barnacles at the boat-wharf; I remembered the wind that blew every day on the bay, the sunrises and sunsets I never saw; the bite of the salt air in my nostrils, the bite of the salt water on my flesh when I plunged overside; I remembered all the beauty and the wonder and the sense-delights of the world denied me.
There was only one way to escape my deadening toil. I must get out and away on the water. I must earn my bread on the water. And the way of the water led inevitably to John Barleycorn. I did not know this. And when I did learn it, I was courageous enough not to retreat back to my bestial life at the machine. I wanted to be where the winds of adventure blew.
And the winds of adventure blew the oyster pirate sloops up and down San Francisco Bay, from raided oyster-beds and fights at night on shoal and flat, to markets in the morning against city wharves, where peddlers and saloon-keepers came down to buy. Every raid on an oyster-bed was a felony. The penalty was State imprisonment, the stripes and the lockstep. John Barleycorn PDF Book Download
And what of that? The men in stripes worked a shorter day than I at my machine. And there was vastly more romance in being an oyster pirate or a convict than in being a machine slave. And behind it all, behind all of me with youth abubble, whispered Romance, Adventure. So I interviewed my Mammy Jennie, my old nurse at whose black breast I had suckled.
She was more prosperous than my folks. She was nursing sick people at a good weekly wage. Would she lend her “white child” the money? WOULD SHE? What she had was mine. Then I sought out French Frank, the oyster pirate, who wanted to sell, I had heard, his sloop, the Razzle Dazzle.
I found him lying at anchor on the Alameda side of the estuary near the Webster Street bridge, with visitors aboard, whom he was entertaining with afternoon wine. He came on deck to talk business. He was willing to sell. But it was Sunday. Besides, he had guests. On the morrow he would make out the bill of sale and I could enter into possession. John Barleycorn PDF Book Download
And in the meantime I must come below and meet his friends. They were two sisters, Mamie and Tess; a Mrs. Hadley, who chaperoned them; “Whisky” Bob, a youthful oyster pirate of sixteen; and “Spider” Healey, a blackwhiskered wharf-rat of twenty. Mamie, who was Spider’s niece, was called the Queen of the Oyster Pirates, and, on occasion, presided at their revels.
French Frank was in love with her, though I did not know it at the time; and she steadfastly refused to marry him. Then Whisky Bob and Nicky the Greek arrived, sober, indignant, outraged in that their fellow pirates had raised their plant. French Frank, aided by John Barleycorn, orated hypocritically about virtue and honesty, and, despite his fifty years, got Whisky Bob out on the sand and proceeded to lick him.
When Nicky the Greek jumped in with a short-handled shovel to Whisky Bob’s assistance, short work was made of him by Hans. And of course, when the bleeding remnants of Bob and Nicky were sent packing in their skiff, the event must needs be celebrated in further carousal. John Barleycorn PDF Book Download
By this time, our visitors being numerous, we were a large crowd compounded of many nationalities and diverse temperaments, all aroused by John Barleycorn, all restraints cast off. Old quarrels revived, ancient hates flared up. Fight was in the air. And whenever a longshoreman remembered something against a scow-schooner sailor, or vice versa.
Or an oyster pirate remembered or was remembered, a fist shot out and another fight was on. And every fight was made up in more rounds of drinks, wherein the combatants, aided and abetted by the rest of us, embraced each other and pledged undying friendship. And, of all times, Soup Kennedy selected this time to come and retrieve an old shirt of his, left aboard the Reindeer from the trip he sailed with Clam.
He had espoused Clam’s side of the quarrel with Nelson. Also, he had been drinking in the St. Louis House, so that it was John Barleycorn who led him to the sandspit in quest of his old shirt. Few words started the fray. He locked with Nelson in the cockpit of the Reindeer, and in the mix-up barely escaped being brained by an iron bar wielded by irate French Frank. John Barleycorn PDF Book Free
Irate because a two-handed man had attacked a one-handed man. (If the Reindeer still floats, the dent of the iron bar remains in the hard-wood rail of her cockpit.) But Nelson pulled his bandaged hand, bullet-perforated, out of its sling, and, held by us, wept and roared his Berserker belief that he could lick Soup Kennedy one-handed.
And we let them loose on the sand. Once, when it looked as if Nelson were getting the worst of it, French Frank and John Barleycorn sprang unfairly into the fight. Scotty protested and reached for French Frank, who whirled upon him and fell on top of him in a pummelling clinch after a sprawl of twenty feet across the sand.
In the course of separating these two, half a dozen fights started amongst the rest of us. These fights were finished, one way or the other, or we separated them with drinks, while all the time Nelson and Soup Kennedy fought on. Occasionally we returned to them and gave advice, such as, when they lay exhausted in the sand, unable to strike a blow, “Throw sand in his eyes.” John Barleycorn PDF Book Free
And they threw sand in each other’s eyes, recuperated, and fought on to successive exhaustions. And now, of all this that is squalid, and ridiculous, and bestial, try to think what it meant to me, a youth not yet sixteen, burning with the spirit of adventure, fancy-filled with tales of buccaneers and sea-rovers, sacks of cities and conflicts of armed men, and imagination-maddened by the stuff I had drunk.
It was life raw and naked, wild and free —the only life of that sort which my birth in time and space permitted me to attain. And more than that. It carried a promise. It was the beginning. From the sandspit the way led out through the Golden Gate to the vastness of adventure of all the world, where battles would be fought, not for old shirts and over stolen salmon boats, but for high purposes and romantic ends.