Part 2 out of 7
As I understood it, there were two ways of getting it cleared,--
first, by lowering the foresail, which was comparatively easy and
without danger; and second, by climbing out the peak-halyards to
the end of the gaff itself, an exceedingly hazardous performance.
Johansen called out to Harrison to go out the halyards. It was
patent to everybody that the boy was afraid. And well he might be,
eighty feet above the deck, to trust himself on those thin and
jerking ropes. Had there been a steady breeze it would not have
been so bad, but the Ghost was rolling emptily in a long sea, and
with each roll the canvas flapped and boomed and the halyards
slacked and jerked taut. They were capable of snapping a man off
like a fly from a whip-lash.
Harrison heard the order and understood what was demanded of him,
but hesitated. It was probably the first time he had been aloft in
his life. Johansen, who had caught the contagion of Wolf Larsen's
masterfulness, burst out with a volley of abuse and curses.
"That'll do, Johansen," Wolf Larsen said brusquely. "I'll have you
know that I do the swearing on this ship. If I need your
assistance, I'll call you in."
"Yes, sir," the mate acknowledged submissively.
In the meantime Harrison had started out on the halyards. I was
looking up from the galley door, and I could see him trembling, as
if with ague, in every limb. He proceeded very slowly and
cautiously, an inch at a time. Outlined against the clear blue of
the sky, he had the appearance of an enormous spider crawling along
the tracery of its web.
It was a slight uphill climb, for the foresail peaked high; and the
halyards, running through various blocks on the gaff and mast, gave
him separate holds for hands and feet. But the trouble lay in that
the wind was not strong enough nor steady enough to keep the sail
full. When he was half-way out, the Ghost took a long roll to
windward and back again into the hollow between two seas. Harrison
ceased his progress and held on tightly. Eighty feet beneath, I
could see the agonized strain of his muscles as he gripped for very
life. The sail emptied and the gaff swung amid-ships. The
halyards slackened, and, though it all happened very quickly, I
could see them sag beneath the weight of his body. Then the gag
swung to the side with an abrupt swiftness, the great sail boomed
like a cannon, and the three rows of reef-points slatted against
the canvas like a volley of rifles. Harrison, clinging on, made
the giddy rush through the air. This rush ceased abruptly. The
halyards became instantly taut. It was the snap of the whip. His
clutch was broken. One hand was torn loose from its hold. The
other lingered desperately for a moment, and followed. His body
pitched out and down, but in some way he managed to save himself
with his legs. He was hanging by them, head downward. A quick
effort brought his hands up to the halyards again; but he was a
long time regaining his former position, where he hung, a pitiable
"I'll bet he has no appetite for supper," I heard Wolf Larsen's
voice, which came to me from around the corner of the galley.
"Stand from under, you, Johansen! Watch out! Here she comes!"
In truth, Harrison was very sick, as a person is sea-sick; and for
a long time he clung to his precarious perch without attempting to
move. Johansen, however, continued violently to urge him on to the
completion of his task.
"It is a shame," I heard Johnson growling in painfully slow and
correct English. He was standing by the main rigging, a few feet
away from me. "The boy is willing enough. He will learn if he has
a chance. But this is--" He paused awhile, for the word "murder"
was his final judgment.
"Hist, will ye!" Louis whispered to him, "For the love iv your
mother hold your mouth!"
But Johnson, looking on, still continued his grumbling.
"Look here," the hunter Standish spoke to Wolf Larsen, "that's my
boat-puller, and I don't want to lose him."
"That's all right, Standish," was the reply. "He's your boat-
puller when you've got him in the boat; but he's my sailor when I
have him aboard, and I'll do what I damn well please with him."
"But that's no reason--" Standish began in a torrent of speech.
"That'll do, easy as she goes," Wolf Larsen counselled back. "I've
told you what's what, and let it stop at that. The man's mine, and
I'll make soup of him and eat it if I want to."
There was an angry gleam in the hunter's eye, but he turned on his
heel and entered the steerage companion-way, where he remained,
looking upward. All hands were on deck now, and all eyes were
aloft, where a human life was at grapples with death. The
callousness of these men, to whom industrial organization gave
control of the lives of other men, was appalling. I, who had lived
out of the whirl of the world, had never dreamed that its work was
carried on in such fashion. Life had always seemed a peculiarly
sacred thing, but here it counted for nothing, was a cipher in the
arithmetic of commerce. I must say, however, that the sailors
themselves were sympathetic, as instance the case of Johnson; but
the masters (the hunters and the captain) were heartlessly
indifferent. Even the protest of Standish arose out of the fact
that he did not wish to lose his boat-puller. Had it been some
other hunter's boat-puller, he, like them, would have been no more
But to return to Harrison. It took Johansen, insulting and
reviling the poor wretch, fully ten minutes to get him started
again. A little later he made the end of the gaff, where, astride
the spar itself, he had a better chance for holding on. He cleared
the sheet, and was free to return, slightly downhill now, along the
halyards to the mast. But he had lost his nerve. Unsafe as was
his present position, he was loath to forsake it for the more
unsafe position on the halyards.
He looked along the airy path he must traverse, and then down to
the deck. His eyes were wide and staring, and he was trembling
violently. I had never seen fear so strongly stamped upon a human
face. Johansen called vainly for him to come down. At any moment
he was liable to be snapped off the gaff, but he was helpless with
fright. Wolf Larsen, walking up and down with Smoke and in
conversation, took no more notice of him, though he cried sharply,
once, to the man at the wheel:
"You're off your course, my man! Be careful, unless you're looking
"Ay, ay, sir," the helmsman responded, putting a couple of spokes
He had been guilty of running the Ghost several points off her
course in order that what little wind there was should fill the
foresail and hold it steady. He had striven to help the
unfortunate Harrison at the risk of incurring Wolf Larsen's anger.
The time went by, and the suspense, to me, was terrible. Thomas
Mugridge, on the other hand, considered it a laughable affair, and
was continually bobbing his head out the galley door to make jocose
remarks. How I hated him! And how my hatred for him grew and
grew, during that fearful time, to cyclopean dimensions. For the
first time in my life I experienced the desire to murder--"saw
red," as some of our picturesque writers phrase it. Life in
general might still be sacred, but life in the particular case of
Thomas Mugridge had become very profane indeed. I was frightened
when I became conscious that I was seeing red, and the thought
flashed through my mind: was I, too, becoming tainted by the
brutality of my environment?--I, who even in the most flagrant
crimes had denied the justice and righteousness of capital
Fully half-an-hour went by, and then I saw Johnson and Louis in
some sort of altercation. It ended with Johnson flinging off
Louis's detaining arm and starting forward. He crossed the deck,
sprang into the fore rigging, and began to climb. But the quick
eye of Wolf Larsen caught him.
"Here, you, what are you up to?" he cried.
Johnson's ascent was arrested. He looked his captain in the eyes
and replied slowly:
"I am going to get that boy down."
"You'll get down out of that rigging, and damn lively about it!
D'ye hear? Get down!"
Johnson hesitated, but the long years of obedience to the masters
of ships overpowered him, and he dropped sullenly to the deck and
went on forward.
At half after five I went below to set the cabin table, but I
hardly knew what I did, for my eyes and my brain were filled with
the vision of a man, white-faced and trembling, comically like a
bug, clinging to the thrashing gaff. At six o'clock, when I served
supper, going on deck to get the food from the galley, I saw
Harrison, still in the same position. The conversation at the
table was of other things. Nobody seemed interested in the
wantonly imperilled life. But making an extra trip to the galley a
little later, I was gladdened by the sight of Harrison staggering
weakly from the rigging to the forecastle scuttle. He had finally
summoned the courage to descend.
Before closing this incident, I must give a scrap of conversation I
had with Wolf Larsen in the cabin, while I was washing the dishes.
"You were looking squeamish this afternoon," he began. "What was
I could see that he knew what had made me possibly as sick as
Harrison, that he was trying to draw me, and I answered, "It was
because of the brutal treatment of that boy."
He gave a short laugh. "Like sea-sickness, I suppose. Some men
are subject to it, and others are not."
"Not so," I objected.
"Just so," he went on. "The earth is as full of brutality as the
sea is full of motion. And some men are made sick by the one, and
some by the other. That's the only reason."
"But you, who make a mock of human life, don't you place any value
upon it whatever?" I demanded.
"Value? What value?" He looked at me, and though his eyes were
steady and motionless, there seemed a cynical smile in them. "What
kind of value? How do you measure it? Who values it?"
"I do," I made answer.
"Then what is it worth to you? Another man's life, I mean. Come
now, what is it worth?"
The value of life? How could I put a tangible value upon it?
Somehow, I, who have always had expression, lacked expression when
with Wolf Larsen. I have since determined that a part of it was
due to the man's personality, but that the greater part was due to
his totally different outlook. Unlike other materialists I had met
and with whom I had something in common to start on, I had nothing
in common with him. Perhaps, also, it was the elemental simplicity
of his mind that baffled me. He drove so directly to the core of
the matter, divesting a question always of all superfluous details,
and with such an air of finality, that I seemed to find myself
struggling in deep water, with no footing under me. Value of life?
How could I answer the question on the spur of the moment? The
sacredness of life I had accepted as axiomatic. That it was
intrinsically valuable was a truism I had never questioned. But
when he challenged the truism I was speechless.
"We were talking about this yesterday," he said. "I held that life
was a ferment, a yeasty something which devoured life that it might
live, and that living was merely successful piggishness. Why, if
there is anything in supply and demand, life is the cheapest thing
in the world. There is only so much water, so much earth, so much
air; but the life that is demanding to be born is limitless.
Nature is a spendthrift. Look at the fish and their millions of
eggs. For that matter, look at you and me. In our loins are the
possibilities of millions of lives. Could we but find time and
opportunity and utilize the last bit and every bit of the unborn
life that is in us, we could become the fathers of nations and
populate continents. Life? Bah! It has no value. Of cheap
things it is the cheapest. Everywhere it goes begging. Nature
spills it out with a lavish hand. Where there is room for one
life, she sows a thousand lives, and it's life eats life till the
strongest and most piggish life is left."
"You have read Darwin," I said. "But you read him
misunderstandingly when you conclude that the struggle for
existence sanctions your wanton destruction of life."
He shrugged his shoulders. "You know you only mean that in
relation to human life, for of the flesh and the fowl and the fish
you destroy as much as I or any other man. And human life is in no
wise different, though you feel it is and think that you reason why
it is. Why should I be parsimonious with this life which is cheap
and without value? There are more sailors than there are ships on
the sea for them, more workers than there are factories or machines
for them. Why, you who live on the land know that you house your
poor people in the slums of cities and loose famine and pestilence
upon them, and that there still remain more poor people, dying for
want of a crust of bread and a bit of meat (which is life
destroyed), than you know what to do with. Have you ever seen the
London dockers fighting like wild beasts for a chance to work?"
He started for the companion stairs, but turned his head for a
final word. "Do you know the only value life has is what life puts
upon itself? And it is of course over-estimated since it is of
necessity prejudiced in its own favour. Take that man I had aloft.
He held on as if he were a precious thing, a treasure beyond
diamonds or rubies. To you? No. To me? Not at all. To himself?
Yes. But I do not accept his estimate. He sadly overrates
himself. There is plenty more life demanding to be born. Had he
fallen and dripped his brains upon the deck like honey from the
comb, there would have been no loss to the world. He was worth
nothing to the world. The supply is too large. To himself only
was he of value, and to show how fictitious even this value was,
being dead he is unconscious that he has lost himself. He alone
rated himself beyond diamonds and rubies. Diamonds and rubies are
gone, spread out on the deck to be washed away by a bucket of sea-
water, and he does not even know that the diamonds and rubies are
gone. He does not lose anything, for with the loss of himself he
loses the knowledge of loss. Don't you see? And what have you to
"That you are at least consistent," was all I could say, and I went
on washing the dishes.
At last, after three days of variable winds, we have caught the
north-east trades. I came on deck, after a good night's rest in
spite of my poor knee, to find the Ghost foaming along, wing-and-
wing, and every sail drawing except the jibs, with a fresh breeze
astern. Oh, the wonder of the great trade-wind! All day we
sailed, and all night, and the next day, and the next, day after
day, the wind always astern and blowing steadily and strong. The
schooner sailed herself. There was no pulling and hauling on
sheets and tackles, no shifting of topsails, no work at all for the
sailors to do except to steer. At night when the sun went down,
the sheets were slackened; in the morning, when they yielded up the
damp of the dew and relaxed, they were pulled tight again--and that
Ten knots, twelve knots, eleven knots, varying from time to time,
is the speed we are making. And ever out of the north-east the
brave wind blows, driving us on our course two hundred and fifty
miles between the dawns. It saddens me and gladdens me, the gait
with which we are leaving San Francisco behind and with which we
are foaming down upon the tropics. Each day grows perceptibly
warmer. In the second dog-watch the sailors come on deck,
stripped, and heave buckets of water upon one another from
overside. Flying-fish are beginning to be seen, and during the
night the watch above scrambles over the deck in pursuit of those
that fall aboard. In the morning, Thomas Mugridge being duly
bribed, the galley is pleasantly areek with the odour of their
frying; while dolphin meat is served fore and aft on such occasions
as Johnson catches the blazing beauties from the bowsprit end.
Johnson seems to spend all his spare time there or aloft at the
crosstrees, watching the Ghost cleaving the water under press of
sail. There is passion, adoration, in his eyes, and he goes about
in a sort of trance, gazing in ecstasy at the swelling sails, the
foaming wake, and the heave and the run of her over the liquid
mountains that are moving with us in stately procession.
The days and nights are "all a wonder and a wild delight," and
though I have little time from my dreary work, I steal odd moments
to gaze and gaze at the unending glory of what I never dreamed the
world possessed. Above, the sky is stainless blue--blue as the sea
itself, which under the forefoot is of the colour and sheen of
azure satin. All around the horizon are pale, fleecy clouds, never
changing, never moving, like a silver setting for the flawless
I do not forget one night, when I should have been asleep, of lying
on the forecastle-head and gazing down at the spectral ripple of
foam thrust aside by the Ghost's forefoot. It sounded like the
gurgling of a brook over mossy stones in some quiet dell, and the
crooning song of it lured me away and out of myself till I was no
longer Hump the cabin-boy, nor Van Weyden, the man who had dreamed
away thirty-five years among books. But a voice behind me, the
unmistakable voice of Wolf Larsen, strong with the invincible
certitude of the man and mellow with appreciation of the words he
was quoting, aroused me.
"'O the blazing tropic night, when the wake's a welt of light
That holds the hot sky tame,
And the steady forefoot snores through the planet-powdered floors
Where the scared whale flukes in flame.
Her plates are scarred by the sun, dear lass,
And her ropes are taut with the dew,
For we're booming down on the old trail, our own trail, the out
We're sagging south on the Long Trail--the trail that is always
"Eh, Hump? How's it strike you?" he asked, after the due pause
which words and setting demanded.
I looked into his face. It was aglow with light, as the sea
itself, and the eyes were flashing in the starshine.
"It strikes me as remarkable, to say the least, that you should
show enthusiasm," I answered coldly.
"Why, man, it's living! it's life!" he cried.
"Which is a cheap thing and without value." I flung his words at
He laughed, and it was the first time I had heard honest mirth in
"Ah, I cannot get you to understand, cannot drive it into your
head, what a thing this life is. Of course life is valueless,
except to itself. And I can tell you that my life is pretty
valuable just now--to myself. It is beyond price, which you will
acknowledge is a terrific overrating, but which I cannot help, for
it is the life that is in me that makes the rating."
He appeared waiting for the words with which to express the thought
that was in him, and finally went on.
"Do you know, I am filled with a strange uplift; I feel as if all
time were echoing through me, as though all powers were mine. I
know truth, divine good from evil, right from wrong. My vision is
clear and far. I could almost believe in God. But," and his voice
changed and the light went out of his face,--"what is this
condition in which I find myself? this joy of living? this
exultation of life? this inspiration, I may well call it? It is
what comes when there is nothing wrong with one's digestion, when
his stomach is in trim and his appetite has an edge, and all goes
well. It is the bribe for living, the champagne of the blood, the
effervescence of the ferment--that makes some men think holy
thoughts, and other men to see God or to create him when they
cannot see him. That is all, the drunkenness of life, the stirring
and crawling of the yeast, the babbling of the life that is insane
with consciousness that it is alive. And--bah! To-morrow I shall
pay for it as the drunkard pays. And I shall know that I must die,
at sea most likely, cease crawling of myself to be all a-crawl with
the corruption of the sea; to be fed upon, to be carrion, to yield
up all the strength and movement of my muscles that it may become
strength and movement in fin and scale and the guts of fishes.
Bah! And bah! again. The champagne is already flat. The sparkle
and bubble has gone out and it is a tasteless drink."
He left me as suddenly as he had come, springing to the deck with
the weight and softness of a tiger. The Ghost ploughed on her way.
I noted the gurgling forefoot was very like a snore, and as I
listened to it the effect of Wolf Larsen's swift rush from sublime
exultation to despair slowly left me. Then some deep-water sailor,
from the waist of the ship, lifted a rich tenor voice in the "Song
of the Trade Wind":
"Oh, I am the wind the seamen love--
I am steady, and strong, and true;
They follow my track by the clouds above,
O'er the fathomless tropic blue.
* * * * *
Through daylight and dark I follow the bark
I keep like a hound on her trail;
I'm strongest at noon, yet under the moon,
I stiffen the bunt of her sail."
Sometimes I think Wolf Larsen mad, or half-mad at least, what of
his strange moods and vagaries. At other times I take him for a
great man, a genius who has never arrived. And, finally, I am
convinced that he is the perfect type of the primitive man, born a
thousand years or generations too late and an anachronism in this
culminating century of civilization. He is certainly an
individualist of the most pronounced type. Not only that, but he
is very lonely. There is no congeniality between him and the rest
of the men aboard ship. His tremendous virility and mental
strength wall him apart. They are more like children to him, even
the hunters, and as children he treats them, descending perforce to
their level and playing with them as a man plays with puppies. Or
else he probes them with the cruel hand of a vivisectionist,
groping about in their mental processes and examining their souls
as though to see of what soul-stuff is made.
I have seen him a score of times, at table, insulting this hunter
or that, with cool and level eyes and, withal, a certain air of
interest, pondering their actions or replies or petty rages with a
curiosity almost laughable to me who stood onlooker and who
understood. Concerning his own rages, I am convinced that they are
not real, that they are sometimes experiments, but that in the main
they are the habits of a pose or attitude he has seen fit to take
toward his fellow-men. I know, with the possible exception of the
incident of the dead mate, that I have not seen him really angry;
nor do I wish ever to see him in a genuine rage, when all the force
of him is called into play.
While on the question of vagaries, I shall tell what befell Thomas
Mugridge in the cabin, and at the same time complete an incident
upon which I have already touched once or twice. The twelve
o'clock dinner was over, one day, and I had just finished putting
the cabin in order, when Wolf Larsen and Thomas Mugridge descended
the companion stairs. Though the cook had a cubby-hole of a state-
room opening off from the cabin, in the cabin itself he had never
dared to linger or to be seen, and he flitted to and fro, once or
twice a day, a timid spectre.
"So you know how to play 'Nap,'" Wolf Larsen was saying in a
pleased sort of voice. "I might have guessed an Englishman would
know. I learned it myself in English ships."
Thomas Mugridge was beside himself, a blithering imbecile, so
pleased was he at chumming thus with the captain. The little airs
he put on and the painful striving to assume the easy carriage of a
man born to a dignified place in life would have been sickening had
they not been ludicrous. He quite ignored my presence, though I
credited him with being simply unable to see me. His pale, wishy-
washy eyes were swimming like lazy summer seas, though what
blissful visions they beheld were beyond my imagination.
"Get the cards, Hump," Wolf Larsen ordered, as they took seats at
the table. "And bring out the cigars and the whisky you'll find in
I returned with the articles in time to hear the Cockney hinting
broadly that there was a mystery about him, that he might be a
gentleman's son gone wrong or something or other; also, that he was
a remittance man and was paid to keep away from England--"p'yed
'ansomely, sir," was the way he put it; "p'yed 'ansomely to sling
my 'ook an' keep slingin' it."
I had brought the customary liquor glasses, but Wolf Larsen
frowned, shook his head, and signalled with his hands for me to
bring the tumblers. These he filled two-thirds full with undiluted
whisky--"a gentleman's drink?" quoth Thomas Mugridge,--and they
clinked their glasses to the glorious game of "Nap," lighted
cigars, and fell to shuffling and dealing the cards.
They played for money. They increased the amounts of the bets.
They drank whisky, they drank it neat, and I fetched more. I do
not know whether Wolf Larsen cheated or not,--a thing he was
thoroughly capable of doing,--but he won steadily. The cook made
repeated journeys to his bunk for money. Each time he performed
the journey with greater swagger, but he never brought more than a
few dollars at a time. He grew maudlin, familiar, could hardly see
the cards or sit upright. As a preliminary to another journey to
his bunk, he hooked Wolf Larsen's buttonhole with a greasy
forefinger and vacuously proclaimed and reiterated, "I got money, I
got money, I tell yer, an' I'm a gentleman's son."
Wolf Larsen was unaffected by the drink, yet he drank glass for
glass, and if anything his glasses were fuller. There was no
change in him. He did not appear even amused at the other's
In the end, with loud protestations that he could lose like a
gentleman, the cook's last money was staked on the game--and lost.
Whereupon he leaned his head on his hands and wept. Wolf Larsen
looked curiously at him, as though about to probe and vivisect him,
then changed his mind, as from the foregone conclusion that there
was nothing there to probe.
"Hump," he said to me, elaborately polite, "kindly take Mr.
Mugridge's arm and help him up on deck. He is not feeling very
"And tell Johnson to douse him with a few buckets of salt water,"
he added, in a lower tone for my ear alone.
I left Mr. Mugridge on deck, in the hands of a couple of grinning
sailors who had been told off for the purpose. Mr. Mugridge was
sleepily spluttering that he was a gentleman's son. But as I
descended the companion stairs to clear the table I heard him
shriek as the first bucket of water struck him.
Wolf Larsen was counting his winnings.
"One hundred and eighty-five dollars even," he said aloud. "Just
as I thought. "The beggar came aboard without a cent."
"And what you have won is mine, sir," I said boldly.
He favoured me with a quizzical smile. "Hump, I have studied some
grammar in my time, and I think your tenses are tangled. 'Was
mine,' you should have said, not 'is mine.'"
"It is a question, not of grammar, but of ethics," I answered.
It was possibly a minute before he spoke.
"D'ye know, Hump," he said, with a slow seriousness which had in it
an indefinable strain of sadness, "that this is the first time I
have heard the word 'ethics' in the mouth of a man. You and I are
the only men on this ship who know its meaning."
"At one time in my life," he continued, after another pause, "I
dreamed that I might some day talk with men who used such language,
that I might lift myself out of the place in life in which I had
been born, and hold conversation and mingle with men who talked
about just such things as ethics. And this is the first time I
have ever heard the word pronounced. Which is all by the way, for
you are wrong. It is a question neither of grammar nor ethics, but
"I understand," I said. "The fact is that you have the money."
His face brightened. He seemed pleased at my perspicacity. "But
it is avoiding the real question," I continued, "which is one of
"Ah," he remarked, with a wry pucker of his mouth, "I see you still
believe in such things as right and wrong."
"But don't you?--at all?" I demanded.
"Not the least bit. Might is right, and that is all there is to
it. Weakness is wrong. Which is a very poor way of saying that it
is good for oneself to be strong, and evil for oneself to be weak--
or better yet, it is pleasurable to be strong, because of the
profits; painful to be weak, because of the penalties. Just now
the possession of this money is a pleasurable thing. It is good
for one to possess it. Being able to possess it, I wrong myself
and the life that is in me if I give it to you and forego the
pleasure of possessing it."
"But you wrong me by withholding it," I objected.
"Not at all. One man cannot wrong another man. He can only wrong
himself. As I see it, I do wrong always when I consider the
interests of others. Don't you see? How can two particles of the
yeast wrong each other by striving to devour each other? It is
their inborn heritage to strive to devour, and to strive not to be
devoured. When they depart from this they sin."
"Then you don't believe in altruism?" I asked.
He received the word as if it had a familiar ring, though he
pondered it thoughtfully. "Let me see, it means something about
cooperation, doesn't it?"
"Well, in a way there has come to be a sort of connection," I
answered unsurprised by this time at such gaps in his vocabulary,
which, like his knowledge, was the acquirement of a self-read,
self-educated man, whom no one had directed in his studies, and who
had thought much and talked little or not at all. "An altruistic
act is an act performed for the welfare of others. It is
unselfish, as opposed to an act performed for self, which is
He nodded his head. "Oh, yes, I remember it now. I ran across it
"Spencer!" I cried. "Have you read him?"
"Not very much," was his confession. "I understood quite a good
deal of First Principles, but his Biology took the wind out of my
sails, and his Psychology left me butting around in the doldrums
for many a day. I honestly could not understand what he was
driving at. I put it down to mental deficiency on my part, but
since then I have decided that it was for want of preparation. I
had no proper basis. Only Spencer and myself know how hard I
hammered. But I did get something out of his Data of Ethics.
There's where I ran across 'altruism,' and I remember now how it
I wondered what this man could have got from such a work. Spencer
I remembered enough to know that altruism was imperative to his
ideal of highest conduct. Wolf Larsen, evidently, had sifted the
great philosopher's teachings, rejecting and selecting according to
his needs and desires.
"What else did you run across?" I asked.
His brows drew in slightly with the mental effort of suitably
phrasing thoughts which he had never before put into speech. I
felt an elation of spirit. I was groping into his soul-stuff as he
made a practice of groping in the soul-stuff of others. I was
exploring virgin territory. A strange, a terribly strange, region
was unrolling itself before my eyes.
"In as few words as possible," he began, "Spencer puts it something
like this: First, a man must act for his own benefit--to do this
is to be moral and good. Next, he must act for the benefit of his
children. And third, he must act for the benefit of his race."
"And the highest, finest, right conduct," I interjected, "is that
act which benefits at the same time the man, his children, and his
"I wouldn't stand for that," he replied. "Couldn't see the
necessity for it, nor the common sense. I cut out the race and the
children. I would sacrifice nothing for them. It's just so much
slush and sentiment, and you must see it yourself, at least for one
who does not believe in eternal life. With immortality before me,
altruism would be a paying business proposition. I might elevate
my soul to all kinds of altitudes. But with nothing eternal before
me but death, given for a brief spell this yeasty crawling and
squirming which is called life, why, it would be immoral for me to
perform any act that was a sacrifice. Any sacrifice that makes me
lose one crawl or squirm is foolish,--and not only foolish, for it
is a wrong against myself and a wicked thing. I must not lose one
crawl or squirm if I am to get the most out of the ferment. Nor
will the eternal movelessness that is coming to me be made easier
or harder by the sacrifices or selfishnesses of the time when I was
yeasty and acrawl."
"Then you are an individualist, a materialist, and, logically, a
"Big words," he smiled. "But what is a hedonist?"
He nodded agreement when I had given the definition. "And you are
also," I continued, "a man one could not trust in the least thing
where it was possible for a selfish interest to intervene?"
"Now you're beginning to understand," he said, brightening.
"You are a man utterly without what the world calls morals?"
"A man of whom to be always afraid--"
"That's the way to put it."
"As one is afraid of a snake, or a tiger, or a shark?"
"Now you know me," he said. "And you know me as I am generally
known. Other men call me 'Wolf.'"
"You are a sort of monster," I added audaciously, "a Caliban who
has pondered Setebos, and who acts as you act, in idle moments, by
whim and fancy."
His brow clouded at the allusion. He did not understand, and I
quickly learned that he did not know the poem.
"I'm just reading Browning," he confessed, "and it's pretty tough.
I haven't got very far along, and as it is I've about lost my
Not to be tiresome, I shall say that I fetched the book from his
state-room and read "Caliban" aloud. He was delighted. It was a
primitive mode of reasoning and of looking at things that he
understood thoroughly. He interrupted again and again with comment
and criticism. When I finished, he had me read it over a second
time, and a third. We fell into discussion--philosophy, science,
evolution, religion. He betrayed the inaccuracies of the self-read
man, and, it must be granted, the sureness and directness of the
primitive mind. The very simplicity of his reasoning was its
strength, and his materialism was far more compelling than the
subtly complex materialism of Charley Furuseth. Not that I--a
confirmed and, as Furuseth phrased it, a temperamental idealist--
was to be compelled; but that Wolf Larsen stormed the last
strongholds of my faith with a vigour that received respect, while
not accorded conviction.
Time passed. Supper was at hand and the table not laid. I became
restless and anxious, and when Thomas Mugridge glared down the
companion-way, sick and angry of countenance, I prepared to go
about my duties. But Wolf Larsen cried out to him:
"Cooky, you've got to hustle to-night. I'm busy with Hump, and
you'll do the best you can without him."
And again the unprecedented was established. That night I sat at
table with the captain and the hunters, while Thomas Mugridge
waited on us and washed the dishes afterward--a whim, a Caliban-
mood of Wolf Larsen's, and one I foresaw would bring me trouble.
In the meantime we talked and talked, much to the disgust of the
hunters, who could not understand a word.
Three days of rest, three blessed days of rest, are what I had with
Wolf Larsen, eating at the cabin table and doing nothing but
discuss life, literature, and the universe, the while Thomas
Mugridge fumed and raged and did my work as well as his own.
"Watch out for squalls, is all I can say to you," was Louis's
warning, given during a spare half-hour on deck while Wolf Larsen
was engaged in straightening out a row among the hunters.
"Ye can't tell what'll be happenin'," Louis went on, in response to
my query for more definite information. "The man's as contrary as
air currents or water currents. You can never guess the ways iv
him. 'Tis just as you're thinkin' you know him and are makin' a
favourable slant along him, that he whirls around, dead ahead and
comes howlin' down upon you and a-rippin' all iv your fine-weather
sails to rags."
So I was not altogether surprised when the squall foretold by Louis
smote me. We had been having a heated discussion,--upon life, of
course,--and, grown over-bold, I was passing stiff strictures upon
Wolf Larsen and the life of Wolf Larsen. In fact, I was
vivisecting him and turning over his soul-stuff as keenly and
thoroughly as it was his custom to do it to others. It may be a
weakness of mine that I have an incisive way of speech; but I threw
all restraint to the winds and cut and slashed until the whole man
of him was snarling. The dark sun-bronze of his face went black
with wrath, his eyes were ablaze. There was no clearness or sanity
in them--nothing but the terrific rage of a madman. It was the
wolf in him that I saw, and a mad wolf at that.
He sprang for me with a half-roar, gripping my arm. I had steeled
myself to brazen it out, though I was trembling inwardly; but the
enormous strength of the man was too much for my fortitude. He had
gripped me by the biceps with his single hand, and when that grip
tightened I wilted and shrieked aloud. My feet went out from under
me. I simply could not stand upright and endure the agony. The
muscles refused their duty. The pain was too great. My biceps was
being crushed to a pulp.
He seemed to recover himself, for a lucid gleam came into his eyes,
and he relaxed his hold with a short laugh that was more like a
growl. I fell to the floor, feeling very faint, while he sat down,
lighted a cigar, and watched me as a cat watches a mouse. As I
writhed about I could see in his eyes that curiosity I had so often
noted, that wonder and perplexity, that questing, that everlasting
query of his as to what it was all about.
I finally crawled to my feet and ascended the companion stairs.
Fair weather was over, and there was nothing left but to return to
the galley. My left arm was numb, as though paralysed, and days
passed before I could use it, while weeks went by before the last
stiffness and pain went out of it. And he had done nothing but put
his hand upon my arm and squeeze. There had been no wrenching or
jerking. He had just closed his hand with a steady pressure. What
he might have done I did not fully realize till next day, when he
put his head into the galley, and, as a sign of renewed
friendliness, asked me how my arm was getting on.
"It might have been worse," he smiled.
I was peeling potatoes. He picked one up from the pan. It was
fair-sized, firm, and unpeeled. He closed his hand upon it,
squeezed, and the potato squirted out between his fingers in mushy
streams. The pulpy remnant he dropped back into the pan and turned
away, and I had a sharp vision of how it might have fared with me
had the monster put his real strength upon me.
But the three days' rest was good in spite of it all, for it had
given my knee the very chance it needed. It felt much better, the
swelling had materially decreased, and the cap seemed descending
into its proper place. Also, the three days' rest brought the
trouble I had foreseen. It was plainly Thomas Mugridge's intention
to make me pay for those three days. He treated me vilely, cursed
me continually, and heaped his own work upon me. He even ventured
to raise his fist to me, but I was becoming animal-like myself, and
I snarled in his face so terribly that it must have frightened him
back. It is no pleasant picture I can conjure up of myself,
Humphrey Van Weyden, in that noisome ship's galley, crouched in a
corner over my task, my face raised to the face of the creature
about to strike me, my lips lifted and snarling like a dog's, my
eyes gleaming with fear and helplessness and the courage that comes
of fear and helplessness. I do not like the picture. It reminds
me too strongly of a rat in a trap. I do not care to think of it;
but it was elective, for the threatened blow did not descend.
Thomas Mugridge backed away, glaring as hatefully and viciously as
I glared. A pair of beasts is what we were, penned together and
showing our teeth. He was a coward, afraid to strike me because I
had not quailed sufficiently in advance; so he chose a new way to
intimidate me. There was only one galley knife that, as a knife,
amounted to anything. This, through many years of service and
wear, had acquired a long, lean blade. It was unusually cruel-
looking, and at first I had shuddered every time I used it. The
cook borrowed a stone from Johansen and proceeded to sharpen the
knife. He did it with great ostentation, glancing significantly at
me the while. He whetted it up and down all day long. Every odd
moment he could find he had the knife and stone out and was
whetting away. The steel acquired a razor edge. He tried it with
the ball of his thumb or across the nail. He shaved hairs from the
back of his hand, glanced along the edge with microscopic
acuteness, and found, or feigned that he found, always, a slight
inequality in its edge somewhere. Then he would put it on the
stone again and whet, whet, whet, till I could have laughed aloud,
it was so very ludicrous.
It was also serious, for I learned that he was capable of using it,
that under all his cowardice there was a courage of cowardice, like
mine, that would impel him to do the very thing his whole nature
protested against doing and was afraid of doing. "Cooky's
sharpening his knife for Hump," was being whispered about among the
sailors, and some of them twitted him about it. This he took in
good part, and was really pleased, nodding his head with direful
foreknowledge and mystery, until George Leach, the erstwhile cabin-
boy, ventured some rough pleasantry on the subject.
Now it happened that Leach was one of the sailors told off to douse
Mugridge after his game of cards with the captain. Leach had
evidently done his task with a thoroughness that Mugridge had not
forgiven, for words followed and evil names involving smirched
ancestries. Mugridge menaced with the knife he was sharpening for
me. Leach laughed and hurled more of his Telegraph Hill
Billingsgate, and before either he or I knew what had happened, his
right arm had been ripped open from elbow to wrist by a quick slash
of the knife. The cook backed away, a fiendish expression on his
face, the knife held before him in a position of defence. But
Leach took it quite calmly, though blood was spouting upon the deck
as generously as water from a fountain.
"I'm goin' to get you, Cooky," he said, "and I'll get you hard.
And I won't be in no hurry about it. You'll be without that knife
when I come for you."
So saying, he turned and walked quietly forward. Mugridge's face
was livid with fear at what he had done and at what he might expect
sooner or later from the man he had stabbed. But his demeanour
toward me was more ferocious than ever. In spite of his fear at
the reckoning he must expect to pay for what he had done, he could
see that it had been an object-lesson to me, and he became more
domineering and exultant. Also there was a lust in him, akin to
madness, which had come with sight of the blood he had drawn. He
was beginning to see red in whatever direction he looked. The
psychology of it is sadly tangled, and yet I could read the
workings of his mind as clearly as though it were a printed book.
Several days went by, the Ghost still foaming down the trades, and
I could swear I saw madness growing in Thomas Mugridge's eyes. And
I confess that I became afraid, very much afraid. Whet, whet,
whet, it went all day long. The look in his eyes as he felt the
keen edge and glared at me was positively carnivorous. I was
afraid to turn my shoulder to him, and when I left the galley I
went out backwards--to the amusement of the sailors and hunters,
who made a point of gathering in groups to witness my exit. The
strain was too great. I sometimes thought my mind would give way
under it--a meet thing on this ship of madmen and brutes. Every
hour, every minute of my existence was in jeopardy. I was a human
soul in distress, and yet no soul, fore or aft, betrayed sufficient
sympathy to come to my aid. At times I thought of throwing myself
on the mercy of Wolf Larsen, but the vision of the mocking devil in
his eyes that questioned life and sneered at it would come strong
upon me and compel me to refrain. At other times I seriously
contemplated suicide, and the whole force of my hopeful philosophy
was required to keep me from going over the side in the darkness of
Several times Wolf Larsen tried to inveigle me into discussion, but
I gave him short answers and eluded him. Finally, he commanded me
to resume my seat at the cabin table for a time and let the cook do
my work. Then I spoke frankly, telling him what I was enduring
from Thomas Mugridge because of the three days of favouritism which
had been shown me. Wolf Larsen regarded me with smiling eyes.
"So you're afraid, eh?" he sneered.
"Yes," I said defiantly and honestly, "I am afraid."
"That's the way with you fellows," he cried, half angrily,
"sentimentalizing about your immortal souls and afraid to die. At
sight of a sharp knife and a cowardly Cockney the clinging of life
to life overcomes all your fond foolishness. Why, my dear fellow,
you will live for ever. You are a god, and God cannot be killed.
Cooky cannot hurt you. You are sure of your resurrection. What's
there to be afraid of?
"You have eternal life before you. You are a millionaire in
immortality, and a millionaire whose fortune cannot be lost, whose
fortune is less perishable than the stars and as lasting as space
or time. It is impossible for you to diminish your principal.
Immortality is a thing without beginning or end. Eternity is
eternity, and though you die here and now you will go on living
somewhere else and hereafter. And it is all very beautiful, this
shaking off of the flesh and soaring of the imprisoned spirit.
Cooky cannot hurt you. He can only give you a boost on the path
you eternally must tread.
"Or, if you do not wish to be boosted just yet, why not boost
Cooky? According to your ideas, he, too, must be an immortal
millionaire. You cannot bankrupt him. His paper will always
circulate at par. You cannot diminish the length of his living by
killing him, for he is without beginning or end. He's bound to go
on living, somewhere, somehow. Then boost him. Stick a knife in
him and let his spirit free. As it is, it's in a nasty prison, and
you'll do him only a kindness by breaking down the door. And who
knows?--it may be a very beautiful spirit that will go soaring up
into the blue from that ugly carcass. Boost him along, and I'll
promote you to his place, and he's getting forty-five dollars a
It was plain that I could look for no help or mercy from Wolf
Larsen. Whatever was to be done I must do for myself; and out of
the courage of fear I evolved the plan of fighting Thomas Mugridge
with his own weapons. I borrowed a whetstone from Johansen.
Louis, the boat-steerer, had already begged me for condensed milk
and sugar. The lazarette, where such delicacies were stored, was
situated beneath the cabin floor. Watching my chance, I stole five
cans of the milk, and that night, when it was Louis's watch on
deck, I traded them with him for a dirk as lean and cruel-looking
as Thomas Mugridge's vegetable knife. It was rusty and dull, but I
turned the grindstone while Louis gave it an edge. I slept more
soundly than usual that night.
Next morning, after breakfast, Thomas Mugridge began his whet,
whet, whet. I glanced warily at him, for I was on my knees taking
the ashes from the stove. When I returned from throwing them
overside, he was talking to Harrison, whose honest yokel's face was
filled with fascination and wonder.
"Yes," Mugridge was saying, "an' wot does 'is worship do but give
me two years in Reading. But blimey if I cared. The other mug was
fixed plenty. Should 'a seen 'im. Knife just like this. I stuck
it in, like into soft butter, an' the w'y 'e squealed was better'n
a tu-penny gaff." He shot a glance in my direction to see if I was
taking it in, and went on. "'I didn't mean it Tommy,' 'e was
snifflin'; 'so 'elp me Gawd, I didn't mean it!' "'I'll fix yer
bloody well right,' I sez, an' kept right after 'im. I cut 'im in
ribbons, that's wot I did, an' 'e a-squealin' all the time. Once
'e got 'is 'and on the knife an' tried to 'old it. 'Ad 'is fingers
around it, but I pulled it through, cuttin' to the bone. O, 'e was
a sight, I can tell yer."
A call from the mate interrupted the gory narrative, and Harrison
went aft. Mugridge sat down on the raised threshold to the galley
and went on with his knife-sharpening. I put the shovel away and
calmly sat down on the coal-box facing him. He favoured me with a
vicious stare. Still calmly, though my heart was going pitapat, I
pulled out Louis's dirk and began to whet it on the stone. I had
looked for almost any sort of explosion on the Cockney's part, but
to my surprise he did not appear aware of what I was doing. He
went on whetting his knife. So did I. And for two hours we sat
there, face to face, whet, whet, whet, till the news of it spread
abroad and half the ship's company was crowding the galley doors to
see the sight.
Encouragement and advice were freely tendered, and Jock Horner, the
quiet, self-spoken hunter who looked as though he would not harm a
mouse, advised me to leave the ribs alone and to thrust upward for
the abdomen, at the same time giving what he called the "Spanish
twist" to the blade. Leach, his bandaged arm prominently to the
fore, begged me to leave a few remnants of the cook for him; and
Wolf Larsen paused once or twice at the break of the poop to glance
curiously at what must have been to him a stirring and crawling of
the yeasty thing he knew as life.
And I make free to say that for the time being life assumed the
same sordid values to me. There was nothing pretty about it,
nothing divine--only two cowardly moving things that sat whetting
steel upon stone, and a group of other moving things, cowardly and
otherwise, that looked on. Half of them, I am sure, were anxious
to see us shedding each other's blood. It would have been
entertainment. And I do not think there was one who would have
interfered had we closed in a death-struggle.
On the other hand, the whole thing was laughable and childish.
Whet, whet, whet,--Humphrey Van Weyden sharpening his knife in a
ship's galley and trying its edge with his thumb! Of all
situations this was the most inconceivable. I know that my own
kind could not have believed it possible. I had not been called
"Sissy" Van Weyden all my days without reason, and that "Sissy" Van
Weyden should be capable of doing this thing was a revelation to
Humphrey Van Weyden, who knew not whether to be exultant or
But nothing happened. At the end of two hours Thomas Mugridge put
away knife and stone and held out his hand.
"Wot's the good of mykin' a 'oly show of ourselves for them mugs?"
he demanded. "They don't love us, an' bloody well glad they'd be
a-seein' us cuttin' our throats. Yer not 'arf bad, 'Ump! You've
got spunk, as you Yanks s'y, an' I like yer in a w'y. So come on
Coward that I might be, I was less a coward than he. It was a
distinct victory I had gained, and I refused to forego any of it by
shaking his detestable hand.
"All right," he said pridelessly, "tyke it or leave it, I'll like
yer none the less for it." And to save his face he turned fiercely
upon the onlookers. "Get outa my galley-doors, you bloomin'
This command was reinforced by a steaming kettle of water, and at
sight of it the sailors scrambled out of the way. This was a sort
of victory for Thomas Mugridge, and enabled him to accept more
gracefully the defeat I had given him, though, of course, he was
too discreet to attempt to drive the hunters away.
"I see Cooky's finish," I heard Smoke say to Horner.
"You bet," was the reply. "Hump runs the galley from now on, and
Cooky pulls in his horns."
Mugridge heard and shot a swift glance at me, but I gave no sign
that the conversation had reached me. I had not thought my victory
was so far-reaching and complete, but I resolved to let go nothing
I had gained. As the days went by, Smoke's prophecy was verified.
The Cockney became more humble and slavish to me than even to Wolf
Larsen. I mistered him and sirred him no longer, washed no more
greasy pots, and peeled no more potatoes. I did my own work, and
my own work only, and when and in what fashion I saw fit. Also I
carried the dirk in a sheath at my hip, sailor-fashion, and
maintained toward Thomas Mugridge a constant attitude which was
composed of equal parts of domineering, insult, and contempt.
My intimacy with Wolf Larsen increases--if by intimacy may be
denoted those relations which exist between master and man, or,
better yet, between king and jester. I am to him no more than a
toy, and he values me no more than a child values a toy. My
function is to amuse, and so long as I amuse all goes well; but let
him become bored, or let him have one of his black moods come upon
him, and at once I am relegated from cabin table to galley, while,
at the same time, I am fortunate to escape with my life and a whole
The loneliness of the man is slowly being borne in upon me. There
is not a man aboard but hates or fears him, nor is there a man whom
he does not despise. He seems consuming with the tremendous power
that is in him and that seems never to have found adequate
expression in works. He is as Lucifer would be, were that proud
spirit banished to a society of soulless, Tomlinsonian ghosts.
This loneliness is bad enough in itself, but, to make it worse, he
is oppressed by the primal melancholy of the race. Knowing him, I
review the old Scandinavian myths with clearer understanding. The
white-skinned, fair-haired savages who created that terrible
pantheon were of the same fibre as he. The frivolity of the
laughter-loving Latins is no part of him. When he laughs it is
from a humour that is nothing else than ferocious. But he laughs
rarely; he is too often sad. And it is a sadness as deep-reaching
as the roots of the race. It is the race heritage, the sadness
which has made the race sober-minded, clean-lived and fanatically
moral, and which, in this latter connection, has culminated among
the English in the Reformed Church and Mrs. Grundy.
In point of fact, the chief vent to this primal melancholy has been
religion in its more agonizing forms. But the compensations of
such religion are denied Wolf Larsen. His brutal materialism will
not permit it. So, when his blue moods come on, nothing remains
for him, but to be devilish. Were he not so terrible a man, I
could sometimes feel sorry for him, as instance three mornings ago,
when I went into his stateroom to fill his water-bottle and came
unexpectedly upon him. He did not see me. His head was buried in
his hands, and his shoulders were heaving convulsively as with
sobs. He seemed torn by some mighty grief. As I softly withdrew I
could hear him groaning, "God! God! God!" Not that he was
calling upon God; it was a mere expletive, but it came from his
At dinner he asked the hunters for a remedy for headache, and by
evening, strong man that he was, he was half-blind and reeling
about the cabin.
"I've never been sick in my life, Hump," he said, as I guided him
to his room. "Nor did I ever have a headache except the time my
head was healing after having been laid open for six inches by a
For three days this blinding headache lasted, and he suffered as
wild animals suffer, as it seemed the way on ship to suffer,
without plaint, without sympathy, utterly alone.
This morning, however, on entering his state-room to make the bed
and put things in order, I found him well and hard at work. Table
and bunk were littered with designs and calculations. On a large
transparent sheet, compass and square in hand, he was copying what
appeared to be a scale of some sort or other.
"Hello, Hump," he greeted me genially. "I'm just finishing the
finishing touches. Want to see it work?"
"But what is it?" I asked.
"A labour-saving device for mariners, navigation reduced to
kindergarten simplicity," he answered gaily. "From to-day a child
will be able to navigate a ship. No more long-winded calculations.
All you need is one star in the sky on a dirty night to know
instantly where you are. Look. I place the transparent scale on
this star-map, revolving the scale on the North Pole. On the scale
I've worked out the circles of altitude and the lines of bearing.
All I do is to put it on a star, revolve the scale till it is
opposite those figures on the map underneath, and presto! there you
are, the ship's precise location!"
There was a ring of triumph in his voice, and his eyes, clear blue
this morning as the sea, were sparkling with light.
"You must be well up in mathematics," I said. "Where did you go to
"Never saw the inside of one, worse luck," was the answer. "I had
to dig it out for myself."
"And why do you think I have made this thing?" he demanded,
abruptly. "Dreaming to leave footprints on the sands of time?" He
laughed one of his horrible mocking laughs. "Not at all. To get
it patented, to make money from it, to revel in piggishness with
all night in while other men do the work. That's my purpose.
Also, I have enjoyed working it out."
"The creative joy," I murmured.
"I guess that's what it ought to be called. Which is another way
of expressing the joy of life in that it is alive, the triumph of
movement over matter, of the quick over the dead, the pride of the
yeast because it is yeast and crawls."
I threw up my hands with helpless disapproval of his inveterate
materialism and went about making the bed. He continued copying
lines and figures upon the transparent scale. It was a task
requiring the utmost nicety and precision, and I could not but
admire the way he tempered his strength to the fineness and
delicacy of the need.
When I had finished the bed, I caught myself looking at him in a
fascinated sort of way. He was certainly a handsome man--beautiful
in the masculine sense. And again, with never-failing wonder, I
remarked the total lack of viciousness, or wickedness, or
sinfulness in his face. It was the face, I am convinced, of a man
who did no wrong. And by this I do not wish to be misunderstood.
What I mean is that it was the face of a man who either did nothing
contrary to the dictates of his conscience, or who had no
conscience. I am inclined to the latter way of accounting for it.
He was a magnificent atavism, a man so purely primitive that he was
of the type that came into the world before the development of the
moral nature. He was not immoral, but merely unmoral.
As I have said, in the masculine sense his was a beautiful face.
Smooth-shaven, every line was distinct, and it was cut as clear and
sharp as a cameo; while sea and sun had tanned the naturally fair
skin to a dark bronze which bespoke struggle and battle and added
both to his savagery and his beauty. The lips were full, yet
possessed of the firmness, almost harshness, which is
characteristic of thin lips. The set of his mouth, his chin, his
jaw, was likewise firm or harsh, with all the fierceness and
indomitableness of the male--the nose also. It was the nose of a
being born to conquer and command. It just hinted of the eagle
beak. It might have been Grecian, it might have been Roman, only
it was a shade too massive for the one, a shade too delicate for
the other. And while the whole face was the incarnation of
fierceness and strength, the primal melancholy from which he
suffered seemed to greaten the lines of mouth and eye and brow,
seemed to give a largeness and completeness which otherwise the
face would have lacked.
And so I caught myself standing idly and studying him. I cannot
say how greatly the man had come to interest me. Who was he? What
was he? How had he happened to be? All powers seemed his, all
potentialities--why, then, was he no more than the obscure master
of a seal-hunting schooner with a reputation for frightful
brutality amongst the men who hunted seals?
My curiosity burst from me in a flood of speech.
"Why is it that you have not done great things in this world? With
the power that is yours you might have risen to any height.
Unpossessed of conscience or moral instinct, you might have
mastered the world, broken it to your hand. And yet here you are,
at the top of your life, where diminishing and dying begin, living
an obscure and sordid existence, hunting sea animals for the
satisfaction of woman's vanity and love of decoration, revelling in
a piggishness, to use your own words, which is anything and
everything except splendid. Why, with all that wonderful strength,
have you not done something? There was nothing to stop you,
nothing that could stop you. What was wrong? Did you lack
ambition? Did you fall under temptation? What was the matter?
What was the matter?"
He had lifted his eyes to me at the commencement of my outburst,
and followed me complacently until I had done and stood before him
breathless and dismayed. He waited a moment, as though seeking
where to begin, and then said:
"Hump, do you know the parable of the sower who went forth to sow?
If you will remember, some of the seed fell upon stony places,
where there was not much earth, and forthwith they sprung up
because they had no deepness of earth. And when the sun was up
they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered
away. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprung up and
"Well?" I said.
"Well?" he queried, half petulantly. "It was not well. I was one
of those seeds."
He dropped his head to the scale and resumed the copying. I
finished my work and had opened the door to leave, when he spoke to
"Hump, if you will look on the west coast of the map of Norway you
will see an indentation called Romsdal Fiord. I was born within a
hundred miles of that stretch of water. But I was not born
Norwegian. I am a Dane. My father and mother were Danes, and how
they ever came to that bleak bight of land on the west coast I do
not know. I never heard. Outside of that there is nothing
mysterious. They were poor people and unlettered. They came of
generations of poor unlettered people--peasants of the sea who
sowed their sons on the waves as has been their custom since time
began. There is no more to tell."
"But there is," I objected. "It is still obscure to me."
"What can I tell you?" he demanded, with a recrudescence of
fierceness. "Of the meagreness of a child's life? of fish diet and
coarse living? of going out with the boats from the time I could
crawl? of my brothers, who went away one by one to the deep-sea
farming and never came back? of myself, unable to read or write,
cabin-boy at the mature age of ten on the coastwise, old-country
ships? of the rough fare and rougher usage, where kicks and blows
were bed and breakfast and took the place of speech, and fear and
hatred and pain were my only soul-experiences? I do not care to
remember. A madness comes up in my brain even now as I think of
it. But there were coastwise skippers I would have returned and
killed when a man's strength came to me, only the lines of my life
were cast at the time in other places. I did return, not long ago,
but unfortunately the skippers were dead, all but one, a mate in
the old days, a skipper when I met him, and when I left him a
cripple who would never walk again."
"But you who read Spencer and Darwin and have never seen the inside
of a school, how did you learn to read and write?" I queried.
"In the English merchant service. Cabin-boy at twelve, ship's boy
at fourteen, ordinary seamen at sixteen, able seaman at seventeen,
and cock of the fo'c'sle, infinite ambition and infinite
loneliness, receiving neither help nor sympathy, I did it all for
myself--navigation, mathematics, science, literature, and what not.
And of what use has it been? Master and owner of a ship at the top
of my life, as you say, when I am beginning to diminish and die.
Paltry, isn't it? And when the sun was up I was scorched, and
because I had no root I withered away."
"But history tells of slaves who rose to the purple," I chided.
"And history tells of opportunities that came to the slaves who
rose to the purple," he answered grimly. "No man makes
opportunity. All the great men ever did was to know it when it
came to them. The Corsican knew. I have dreamed as greatly as the
Corsican. I should have known the opportunity, but it never came.
The thorns sprung up and choked me. And, Hump, I can tell you that
you know more about me than any living man, except my own brother."
"And what is he? And where is he?"
"Master of the steamship Macedonia, seal-hunter," was the answer.
"We will meet him most probably on the Japan coast. Men call him
"Death Larsen!" I involuntarily cried. "Is he like you?"
"Hardly. He is a lump of an animal without any head. He has all
"Brutishness," I suggested.
"Yes,--thank you for the word,--all my brutishness, but he can
scarcely read or write."
"And he has never philosophized on life," I added.
"No," Wolf Larsen answered, with an indescribable air of sadness.
"And he is all the happier for leaving life alone. He is too busy
living it to think about it. My mistake was in ever opening the
The Ghost has attained the southernmost point of the arc she is
describing across the Pacific, and is already beginning to edge
away to the west and north toward some lone island, it is rumoured,
where she will fill her water-casks before proceeding to the
season's hunt along the coast of Japan. The hunters have
experimented and practised with their rifles and shotguns till they
are satisfied, and the boat-pullers and steerers have made their
spritsails, bound the oars and rowlocks in leather and sennit so
that they will make no noise when creeping on the seals, and put
their boats in apple-pie order--to use Leach's homely phrase.
His arm, by the way, has healed nicely, though the scar will remain
all his life. Thomas Mugridge lives in mortal fear of him, and is
afraid to venture on deck after dark. There are two or three
standing quarrels in the forecastle. Louis tells me that the
gossip of the sailors finds its way aft, and that two of the
telltales have been badly beaten by their mates. He shakes his
head dubiously over the outlook for the man Johnson, who is boat-
puller in the same boat with him. Johnson has been guilty of
speaking his mind too freely, and has collided two or three times
with Wolf Larsen over the pronunciation of his name. Johansen he
thrashed on the amidships deck the other night, since which time
the mate has called him by his proper name. But of course it is
out of the question that Johnson should thrash Wolf Larsen.
Louis has also given me additional information about Death Larsen,
which tallies with the captain's brief description. We may expect
to meet Death Larsen on the Japan coast. "And look out for
squalls," is Louis's prophecy, "for they hate one another like the
wolf whelps they are." Death Larsen is in command of the only
sealing steamer in the fleet, the Macedonia, which carries fourteen
boats, whereas the rest of the schooners carry only six. There is
wild talk of cannon aboard, and of strange raids and expeditions
she may make, ranging from opium smuggling into the States and arms
smuggling into China, to blackbirding and open piracy. Yet I
cannot but believe for I have never yet caught him in a lie, while
he has a cyclopaedic knowledge of sealing and the men of the
As it is forward and in the galley, so it is in the steerage and
aft, on this veritable hell-ship. Men fight and struggle
ferociously for one another's lives. The hunters are looking for a
shooting scrape at any moment between Smoke and Henderson, whose
old quarrel has not healed, while Wolf Larsen says positively that
he will kill the survivor of the affair, if such affair comes off.
He frankly states that the position he takes is based on no moral
grounds, that all the hunters could kill and eat one another so far
as he is concerned, were it not that he needs them alive for the
hunting. If they will only hold their hands until the season is
over, he promises them a royal carnival, when all grudges can he
settled and the survivors may toss the non-survivors overboard and
arrange a story as to how the missing men were lost at sea. I
think even the hunters are appalled at his cold-bloodedness.
Wicked men though they be, they are certainly very much afraid of
Thomas Mugridge is cur-like in his subjection to me, while I go
about in secret dread of him. His is the courage of fear,--a
strange thing I know well of myself,--and at any moment it may
master the fear and impel him to the taking of my life. My knee is
much better, though it often aches for long periods, and the
stiffness is gradually leaving the arm which Wolf Larsen squeezed.
Otherwise I am in splendid condition, feel that I am in splendid
condition. My muscles are growing harder and increasing in size.
My hands, however, are a spectacle for grief. They have a
parboiled appearance, are afflicted with hang-nails, while the
nails are broken and discoloured, and the edges of the quick seem
to be assuming a fungoid sort of growth. Also, I am suffering from
boils, due to the diet, most likely, for I was never afflicted in
this manner before.
I was amused, a couple of evenings back, by seeing Wolf Larsen
reading the Bible, a copy of which, after the futile search for one
at the beginning of the voyage, had been found in the dead mate's
sea-chest. I wondered what Wolf Larsen could get from it, and he
read aloud to me from Ecclesiastes. I could imagine he was
speaking the thoughts of his own mind as he read to me, and his
voice, reverberating deeply and mournfully in the confined cabin,
charmed and held me. He may be uneducated, but he certainly knows
how to express the significance of the written word. I can hear
him now, as I shall always hear him, the primal melancholy vibrant
in his voice as he read:
"I gathered me also silver and gold, and the peculiar treasure of
kings and of the provinces; I gat me men singers and women singers,
and the delights of the sons of men, as musical instruments, and
that of all sorts.
"So I was great, and increased more than all that were before me in
Jerusalem; also my wisdom returned with me.
"Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought and on
the labour that I had laboured to do; and behold, all was vanity
and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun.
"All things come alike to all; there is one event to the righteous
and to the wicked; to the good and to the clean, and to the
unclean; to him that sacrificeth, and to him that sacrificeth not;
as is the good, so is the sinner; and he that sweareth, as he that
feareth an oath.
"This is an evil among all things that are done under the sun, that
there is one event unto all; yea, also the heart of the sons of men
is full of evil, and madness is in their heart while they live, and
after that they go to the dead.
"For to him that is joined to all the living there is hope; for a
living dog is better than a dead lion.
"For the living know that they shall die; but the dead know not
anything, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of
them is forgotten.
"Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now
perished; neither have they any more a portion for ever in anything
that is done under the sun."
"There you have it, Hump," he said, closing the book upon his
finger and looking up at me. "The Preacher who was king over
Israel in Jerusalem thought as I think. You call me a pessimist.
Is not this pessimism of the blackest?--'All is vanity and vexation
of spirit,' 'There is no profit under the sun,' 'There is one event
unto all,' to the fool and the wise, the clean and the unclean, the
sinner and the saint, and that event is death, and an evil thing,
he says. For the Preacher loved life, and did not want to die,
saying, 'For a living dog is better than a dead lion.' He
preferred the vanity and vexation to the silence and unmovableness
of the grave. And so I. To crawl is piggish; but to not crawl, to
be as the clod and rock, is loathsome to contemplate. It is
loathsome to the life that is in me, the very essence of which is
movement, the power of movement, and the consciousness of the power
of movement. Life itself is unsatisfaction, but to look ahead to
death is greater unsatisfaction."
"You are worse off than Omar," I said. "He, at least, after the
customary agonizing of youth, found content and made of his
materialism a joyous thing."
"Who was Omar?" Wolf Larsen asked, and I did no more work that day,
nor the next, nor the next.
In his random reading he had never chanced upon the Rubaiyat, and
it was to him like a great find of treasure. Much I remembered,
possibly two-thirds of the quatrains, and I managed to piece out
the remainder without difficulty. We talked for hours over single
stanzas, and I found him reading into them a wail of regret and a
rebellion which, for the life of me, I could not discover myself.
Possibly I recited with a certain joyous lilt which was my own,
for--his memory was good, and at a second rendering, very often the
first, he made a quatrain his own--he recited the same lines and
invested them with an unrest and passionate revolt that was well-
I was interested as to which quatrain he would like best, and was
not surprised when he hit upon the one born of an instant's
irritability, and quite at variance with the Persian's complacent
philosophy and genial code of life:
"What, without asking, hither hurried Whence?
And, without asking, Whither hurried hence!
Oh, many a Cup of this forbidden Wine
Must drown the memory of that insolence!"
"Great!" Wolf Larsen cried. "Great! That's the keynote.
Insolence! He could not have used a better word."
In vain I objected and denied. He deluged me, overwhelmed me with
"It's not the nature of life to be otherwise. Life, when it knows
that it must cease living, will always rebel. It cannot help
itself. The Preacher found life and the works of life all a vanity
and vexation, an evil thing; but death, the ceasing to be able to
be vain and vexed, he found an eviler thing. Through chapter after
chapter he is worried by the one event that cometh to all alike.
So Omar, so I, so you, even you, for you rebelled against dying
when Cooky sharpened a knife for you. You were afraid to die; the
life that was in you, that composes you, that is greater than you,
did not want to die. You have talked of the instinct of
immortality. I talk of the instinct of life, which is to live, and
which, when death looms near and large, masters the instinct, so
called, of immortality. It mastered it in you (you cannot deny
it), because a crazy Cockney cook sharpened a knife.
"You are afraid of him now. You are afraid of me. You cannot deny
it. If I should catch you by the throat, thus,"--his hand was
about my throat and my breath was shut off,--"and began to press
the life out of you thus, and thus, your instinct of immortality
will go glimmering, and your instinct of life, which is longing for
life, will flutter up, and you will struggle to save yourself. Eh?
I see the fear of death in your eyes. You beat the air with your
arms. You exert all your puny strength to struggle to live. Your
hand is clutching my arm, lightly it feels as a butterfly resting
there. Your chest is heaving, your tongue protruding, your skin
turning dark, your eyes swimming. 'To live! To live! To live!'
you are crying; and you are crying to live here and now, not
hereafter. You doubt your immortality, eh? Ha! ha! You are not
sure of it. You won't chance it. This life only you are certain
is real. Ah, it is growing dark and darker. It is the darkness of
death, the ceasing to be, the ceasing to feel, the ceasing to move,
that is gathering about you, descending upon you, rising around
you. Your eyes are becoming set. They are glazing. My voice
sounds faint and far. You cannot see my face. And still you
struggle in my grip. You kick with your legs. Your body draws
itself up in knots like a snake's. Your chest heaves and strains.
To live! To live! To live--"
I heard no more. Consciousness was blotted out by the darkness he
had so graphically described, and when I came to myself I was lying
on the floor and he was smoking a cigar and regarding me
thoughtfully with that old familiar light of curiosity in his eyes.
"Well, have I convinced you?" he demanded. "Here take a drink of
this. I want to ask you some questions."
I rolled my head negatively on the floor. "Your arguments are too-
-er--forcible," I managed to articulate, at cost of great pain to
my aching throat.
"You'll be all right in half-an-hour," he assured me. "And I
promise I won't use any more physical demonstrations. Get up now.
You can sit on a chair."
And, toy that I was of this monster, the discussion of Omar and the
Preacher was resumed. And half the night we sat up over it.
The last twenty-four hours have witnessed a carnival of brutality.
From cabin to forecastle it seems to have broken out like a
contagion. I scarcely know where to begin. Wolf Larsen was really
the cause of it. The relations among the men, strained and made
tense by feuds, quarrels and grudges, were in a state of unstable
equilibrium, and evil passions flared up in flame like prairie-
Thomas Mugridge is a sneak, a spy, an informer. He has been
attempting to curry favour and reinstate himself in the good graces
of the captain by carrying tales of the men forward. He it was, I
know, that carried some of Johnson's hasty talk to Wolf Larsen.
Johnson, it seems, bought a suit of oilskins from the slop-chest
and found them to be of greatly inferior quality. Nor was he slow
in advertising the fact. The slop-chest is a sort of miniature
dry-goods store which is carried by all sealing schooners and which
is stocked with articles peculiar to the needs of the sailors.
Whatever a sailor purchases is taken from his subsequent earnings
on the sealing grounds; for, as it is with the hunters so it is
with the boat-pullers and steerers--in the place of wages they
receive a "lay," a rate of so much per skin for every skin captured
in their particular boat.
But of Johnson's grumbling at the slop-chest I knew nothing, so
that what I witnessed came with a shock of sudden surprise. I had
just finished sweeping the cabin, and had been inveigled by Wolf
Larsen into a discussion of Hamlet, his favourite Shakespearian
character, when Johansen descended the companion stairs followed by
Johnson. The latter's cap came off after the custom of the sea,
and he stood respectfully in the centre of the cabin, swaying
heavily and uneasily to the roll of the schooner and facing the
"Shut the doors and draw the slide," Wolf Larsen said to me.
As I obeyed I noticed an anxious light come into Johnson's eyes,
but I did not dream of its cause. I did not dream of what was to
occur until it did occur, but he knew from the very first what was
coming and awaited it bravely. And in his action I found complete
refutation of all Wolf Larsen's materialism. The sailor Johnson
was swayed by idea, by principle, and truth, and sincerity. He was
right, he knew he was right, and he was unafraid. He would die for
the right if needs be, he would be true to himself, sincere with
his soul. And in this was portrayed the victory of the spirit over
the flesh, the indomitability and moral grandeur of the soul that
knows no restriction and rises above time and space and matter with
a surety and invincibleness born of nothing else than eternity and
But to return. I noticed the anxious light in Johnson's eyes, but
mistook it for the native shyness and embarrassment of the man.
The mate, Johansen, stood away several feet to the side of him, and
fully three yards in front of him sat Wolf Larsen on one of the
pivotal cabin chairs. An appreciable pause fell after I had closed
the doors and drawn the slide, a pause that must have lasted fully
a minute. It was broken by Wolf Larsen.
"Yonson," he began.
"My name is Johnson, sir," the sailor boldly corrected.
"Well, Johnson, then, damn you! Can you guess why I have sent for
"Yes, and no, sir," was the slow reply. "My work is done well.
The mate knows that, and you know it, sir. So there cannot be any
"And is that all?" Wolf Larsen queried, his voice soft, and low,
"I know you have it in for me," Johnson continued with his
unalterable and ponderous slowness. "You do not like me. You--
"Go on," Wolf Larsen prompted. "Don't be afraid of my feelings."
"I am not afraid," the sailor retorted, a slight angry flush rising
through his sunburn. "If I speak not fast, it is because I have
not been from the old country as long as you. You do not like me
because I am too much of a man; that is why, sir."
"You are too much of a man for ship discipline, if that is what you
mean, and if you know what I mean," was Wolf Larsen's retort.
"I know English, and I know what you mean, sir," Johnson answered,
his flush deepening at the slur on his knowledge of the English
"Johnson," Wolf Larsen said, with an air of dismissing all that had
gone before as introductory to the main business in hand, "I
understand you're not quite satisfied with those oilskins?"
"No, I am not. They are no good, sir."
"And you've been shooting off your mouth about them."
"I say what I think, sir," the sailor answered courageously, not
failing at the same time in ship courtesy, which demanded that
"sir" be appended to each speech he made.
It was at this moment that I chanced to glance at Johansen. His
big fists were clenching and unclenching, and his face was
positively fiendish, so malignantly did he look at Johnson. I
noticed a black discoloration, still faintly visible, under
Johansen's eye, a mark of the thrashing he had received a few
nights before from the sailor. For the first time I began to
divine that something terrible was about to be enacted,--what, I
could not imagine.
"Do you know what happens to men who say what you've said about my
slop-chest and me?" Wolf Larsen was demanding.
"I know, sir," was the answer.
"What?" Wolf Larsen demanded, sharply and imperatively.
"What you and the mate there are going to do to me, sir."
"Look at him, Hump," Wolf Larsen said to me, "look at this bit of
animated dust, this aggregation of matter that moves and breathes
and defies me and thoroughly believes itself to be compounded of
something good; that is impressed with certain human fictions such
as righteousness and honesty, and that will live up to them in
spite of all personal discomforts and menaces. What do you think
of him, Hump? What do you think of him?"
"I think that he is a better man than you are," I answered,
impelled, somehow, with a desire to draw upon myself a portion of
the wrath I felt was about to break upon his head. "His human
fictions, as you choose to call them, make for nobility and
manhood. You have no fictions, no dreams, no ideals. You are a
He nodded his head with a savage pleasantness. "Quite true, Hump,
quite true. I have no fictions that make for nobility and manhood.
A living dog is better than a dead lion, say I with the Preacher.
My only doctrine is the doctrine of expediency, and it makes for
surviving. This bit of the ferment we call 'Johnson,' when he is
no longer a bit of the ferment, only dust and ashes, will have no
more nobility than any dust and ashes, while I shall still be alive
"Do you know what I am going to do?" he questioned.
I shook my head.
"Well, I am going to exercise my prerogative of roaring and show
you how fares nobility. Watch me."
Three yards away from Johnson he was, and sitting down. Nine feet!
And yet he left the chair in full leap, without first gaining a
standing position. He left the chair, just as he sat in it,
squarely, springing from the sitting posture like a wild animal, a
tiger, and like a tiger covered the intervening space. It was an
avalanche of fury that Johnson strove vainly to fend off. He threw
one arm down to protect the stomach, the other arm up to protect
the head; but Wolf Larsen's fist drove midway between, on the
chest, with a crushing, resounding impact. Johnson's breath,
suddenly expelled, shot from his mouth and as suddenly checked,
with the forced, audible expiration of a man wielding an axe. He
almost fell backward, and swayed from side to side in an effort to
recover his balance.
I cannot give the further particulars of the horrible scene that
followed. It was too revolting. It turns me sick even now when I
think of it. Johnson fought bravely enough, but he was no match
for Wolf Larsen, much less for Wolf Larsen and the mate. It was
frightful. I had not imagined a human being could endure so much
and still live and struggle on. And struggle on Johnson did. Of
course there was no hope for him, not the slightest, and he knew it
as well as I, but by the manhood that was in him he could not cease
from fighting for that manhood.
It was too much for me to witness. I felt that I should lose my
mind, and I ran up the companion stairs to open the doors and
escape on deck. But Wolf Larsen, leaving his victim for the
moment, and with one of his tremendous springs, gained my side and
flung me into the far corner of the cabin.
"The phenomena of life, Hump," he girded at me. "Stay and watch
it. You may gather data on the immortality of the soul. Besides,
you know, we can't hurt Johnson's soul. It's only the fleeting
form we may demolish."
It seemed centuries--possibly it was no more than ten minutes that
the beating continued. Wolf Larsen and Johansen were all about the
poor fellow. They struck him with their fists, kicked him with
their heavy shoes, knocked him down, and dragged him to his feet to
knock him down again. His eyes were blinded so that he could not
set, and the blood running from ears and nose and mouth turned the
cabin into a shambles. And when he could no longer rise they still
continued to beat and kick him where he lay.
"Easy, Johansen; easy as she goes," Wolf Larsen finally said.
But the beast in the mate was up and rampant, and Wolf Larsen was
compelled to brush him away with a back-handed sweep of the arm,
gentle enough, apparently, but which hurled Johansen back like a
cork, driving his head against the wall with a crash. He fell to
the floor, half stunned for the moment, breathing heavily and
blinking his eyes in a stupid sort of way.
"Jerk open the doors,--Hump," I was commanded.
I obeyed, and the two brutes picked up the senseless man like a
sack of rubbish and hove him clear up the companion stairs, through
the narrow doorway, and out on deck. The blood from his nose
gushed in a scarlet stream over the feet of the helmsman, who was
none other than Louis, his boat-mate. But Louis took and gave a
spoke and gazed imperturbably into the binnacle.
Not so was the conduct of George Leach, the erstwhile cabin-boy.
Fore and aft there was nothing that could have surprised us more
than his consequent behaviour. He it was that came up on the poop
without orders and dragged Johnson forward, where he set about
dressing his wounds as well as he could and making him comfortable.
Johnson, as Johnson, was unrecognizable; and not only that, for his
features, as human features at all, were unrecognizable, so
discoloured and swollen had they become in the few minutes which
had elapsed between the beginning of the beating and the dragging
forward of the body.
But of Leach's behaviour-- By the time I had finished cleansing the
cabin he had taken care of Johnson. I had come up on deck for a
breath of fresh air and to try to get some repose for my
overwrought nerves. Wolf Larsen was smoking a cigar and examining
the patent log which the Ghost usually towed astern, but which had
been hauled in for some purpose. Suddenly Leach's voice came to my
ears. It was tense and hoarse with an overmastering rage. I
turned and saw him standing just beneath the break of the poop on
the port side of the galley. His face was convulsed and white, his
eyes were flashing, his clenched fists raised overhead.
"May God damn your soul to hell, Wolf Larsen, only hell's too good
for you, you coward, you murderer, you pig!" was his opening
I was thunderstruck. I looked for his instant annihilation. But
it was not Wolf Larsen's whim to annihilate him. He sauntered
slowly forward to the break of the poop, and, leaning his elbow on
the corner of the cabin, gazed down thoughtfully and curiously at
the excited boy.
And the boy indicted Wolf Larsen as he had never been indicted
before. The sailors assembled in a fearful group just outside the
forecastle scuttle and watched and listened. The hunters piled
pell-mell out of the steerage, but as Leach's tirade continued I
saw that there was no levity in their faces. Even they were
frightened, not at the boy's terrible words, but at his terrible
audacity. It did not seem possible that any living creature could
thus beard Wolf Larsen in his teeth. I know for myself that I was
shocked into admiration of the boy, and I saw in him the splendid
invincibleness of immortality rising above the flesh and the fears
of the flesh, as in the prophets of old, to condemn
And such condemnation! He haled forth Wolf Larsen's soul naked to
the scorn of men. He rained upon it curses from God and High
Heaven, and withered it with a heat of invective that savoured of a
mediaeval excommunication of the Catholic Church. He ran the gamut
of denunciation, rising to heights of wrath that were sublime and
almost Godlike, and from sheer exhaustion sinking to the vilest and
most indecent abuse.
His rage was a madness. His lips were flecked with a soapy froth,
and sometimes he choked and gurgled and became inarticulate. And
through it all, calm and impassive, leaning on his elbow and gazing
down, Wolf Larsen seemed lost in a great curiosity. This wild
stirring of yeasty life, this terrific revolt and defiance of
matter that moved, perplexed and interested him.
Each moment I looked, and everybody looked, for him to leap upon
the boy and destroy him. But it was not his whim. His cigar went
out, and he continued to gaze silently and curiously.
Leach had worked himself into an ecstasy of impotent rage.
"Pig! Pig! Pig!" he was reiterating at the top of his lungs.
"Why don't you come down and kill me, you murderer? You can do it!
I ain't afraid! There's no one to stop you! Damn sight better
dead and outa your reach than alive and in your clutches! Come on,
you coward! Kill me! Kill me! Kill me!"
It was at this stage that Thomas Mugridge's erratic soul brought
him into the scene. He had been listening at the galley door, but
he now came out, ostensibly to fling some scraps over the side, but
obviously to see the killing he was certain would take place. He
smirked greasily up into the face of Wolf Larsen, who seemed not to
see him. But the Cockney was unabashed, though mad, stark mad. He
turned to Leach, saying:
"Such langwidge! Shockin'!"
Leach's rage was no longer impotent. Here at last was something
ready to hand. And for the first time since the stabbing the
Cockney had appeared outside the galley without his knife. The
words had barely left his mouth when he was knocked down by Leach.
Three times he struggled to his feet, striving to gain the galley,
and each time was knocked down.
"Oh, Lord!" he cried. "'Elp! 'Elp! Tyke 'im aw'y, carn't yer?
Tyke 'im aw'y!"
The hunters laughed from sheer relief. Tragedy had dwindled, the
farce had begun. The sailors now crowded boldly aft, grinning and
shuffling, to watch the pummelling of the hated Cockney. And even
I felt a great joy surge up within me. I confess that I delighted
in this beating Leach was giving to Thomas Mugridge, though it was
as terrible, almost, as the one Mugridge had caused to be given to
Johnson. But the expression of Wolf Larsen's face never changed.
He did not change his position either, but continued to gaze down
with a great curiosity. For all his pragmatic certitude, it seemed
as if he watched the play and movement of life in the hope of
discovering something more about it, of discerning in its maddest
writhings a something which had hitherto escaped him,--the key to
its mystery, as it were, which would make all clear and plain.
But the beating! It was quite similar to the one I had witnessed
in the cabin. The Cockney strove in vain to protect himself from
the infuriated boy. And in vain he strove to gain the shelter of
the cabin. He rolled toward it, grovelled toward it, fell toward
it when he was knocked down. But blow followed blow with
bewildering rapidity. He was knocked about like a shuttlecock,
until, finally, like Johnson, he was beaten and kicked as he lay
helpless on the deck. And no one interfered. Leach could have
killed him, but, having evidently filled the measure of his
vengeance, he drew away from his prostrate foe, who was whimpering
and wailing in a puppyish sort of way, and walked forward.
But these two affairs were only the opening events of the day's
programme. In the afternoon Smoke and Henderson fell foul of each
other, and a fusillade of shots came up from the steerage, followed
by a stampede of the other four hunters for the deck. A column of
thick, acrid smoke--the kind always made by black powder--was
arising through the open companion-way, and down through it leaped
Wolf Larsen. The sound of blows and scuffling came to our ears.
Both men were wounded, and he was thrashing them both for having
disobeyed his orders and crippled themselves in advance of the
hunting season. In fact, they were badly wounded, and, having
thrashed them, he proceeded to operate upon them in a rough
surgical fashion and to dress their wounds. I served as assistant
while he probed and cleansed the passages made by the bullets, and
I saw the two men endure his crude surgery without anaesthetics and
with no more to uphold them than a stiff tumbler of whisky.
Then, in the first dog-watch, trouble came to a head in the
forecastle. It took its rise out of the tittle-tattle and tale-
bearing which had been the cause of Johnson's beating, and from the
noise we heard, and from the sight of the bruised men next day, it
was patent that half the forecastle had soundly drubbed the other
The second dog-watch and the day were wound up by a fight between
Johansen and the lean, Yankee-looking hunter, Latimer. It was
caused by remarks of Latimer's concerning the noises made by the
mate in his sleep, and though Johansen was whipped, he kept the
steerage awake for the rest of the night while he blissfully
slumbered and fought the fight over and over again.
As for myself, I was oppressed with nightmare. The day had been
like some horrible dream. Brutality had followed brutality, and
flaming passions and cold-blooded cruelty had driven men to seek
one another's lives, and to strive to hurt, and maim, and destroy.
My nerves were shocked. My mind itself was shocked. All my days
had been passed in comparative ignorance of the animality of man.
In fact, I had known life only in its intellectual phases.
Brutality I had experienced, but it was the brutality of the
intellect--the cutting sarcasm of Charley Furuseth, the cruel
epigrams and occasional harsh witticisms of the fellows at the
Bibelot, and the nasty remarks of some of the professors during my
That was all. But that men should wreak their anger on others by
the bruising of the flesh and the letting of blood was something
strangely and fearfully new to me. Not for nothing had I been
called "Sissy" Van Weyden, I thought, as I tossed restlessly on my
bunk between one nightmare and another. And it seemed to me that
my innocence of the realities of life had been complete indeed. I
laughed bitterly to myself, and seemed to find in Wolf Larsen's
forbidding philosophy a more adequate explanation of life than I
found in my own.
And I was frightened when I became conscious of the trend of my
thought. The continual brutality around me was degenerative in its
effect. It bid fair to destroy for me all that was best and
brightest in life. My reason dictated that the beating Thomas
Mugridge had received was an ill thing, and yet for the life of me
I could not prevent my soul joying in it. And even while I was
oppressed by the enormity of my sin,--for sin it was,--I chuckled
with an insane delight. I was no longer Humphrey Van Weyden. I
was Hump, cabin-boy on the schooner Ghost. Wolf Larsen was my
captain, Thomas Mugridge and the rest were my companions, and I was
receiving repeated impresses from the die which had stamped them
For three days I did my own work and Thomas Mugridge's too; and I
flatter myself that I did his work well. I know that it won Wolf
Larsen's approval, while the sailors beamed with satisfaction
during the brief time my regime lasted.
"The first clean bite since I come aboard," Harrison said to me at
the galley door, as he returned the dinner pots and pans from the
forecastle. "Somehow Tommy's grub always tastes of grease, stale
grease, and I reckon he ain't changed his shirt since he left
"I know he hasn't," I answered.
"And I'll bet he sleeps in it," Harrison added.
"And you won't lose," I agreed. "The same shirt, and he hasn't had
it off once in all this time."
But three days was all Wolf Larsen allowed him in which to recover