Part 3 out of 7
from the effects of the beating. On the fourth day, lame and sore,
scarcely able to see, so closed were his eyes, he was haled from
his bunk by the nape of the neck and set to his duty. He sniffled
and wept, but Wolf Larsen was pitiless.
"And see that you serve no more slops," was his parting injunction.
"No more grease and dirt, mind, and a clean shirt occasionally, or
you'll get a tow over the side. Understand?"
Thomas Mugridge crawled weakly across the galley floor, and a short
lurch of the Ghost sent him staggering. In attempting to recover
himself, he reached for the iron railing which surrounded the stove
and kept the pots from sliding off; but he missed the railing, and
his hand, with his weight behind it, landed squarely on the hot
surface. There was a sizzle and odour of burning flesh, and a
sharp cry of pain.
"Oh, Gawd, Gawd, wot 'ave I done?" he wailed; sitting down in the
coal-box and nursing his new hurt by rocking back and forth. "W'y
'as all this come on me? It mykes me fair sick, it does, an' I try
so 'ard to go through life 'armless an' 'urtin' nobody."
The tears were running down his puffed and discoloured cheeks, and
his face was drawn with pain. A savage expression flitted across
"Oh, 'ow I 'ate 'im! 'Ow I 'ate 'im!" he gritted out.
"Whom?" I asked; but the poor wretch was weeping again over his
misfortunes. Less difficult it was to guess whom he hated than
whom he did not hate. For I had come to see a malignant devil in
him which impelled him to hate all the world. I sometimes thought
that he hated even himself, so grotesquely had life dealt with him,
and so monstrously. At such moments a great sympathy welled up
within me, and I felt shame that I had ever joyed in his
discomfiture or pain. Life had been unfair to him. It had played
him a scurvy trick when it fashioned him into the thing he was, and
it had played him scurvy tricks ever since. What chance had he to
be anything else than he was? And as though answering my unspoken
thought, he wailed:
"I never 'ad no chance, not 'arf a chance! 'Oo was there to send
me to school, or put tommy in my 'ungry belly, or wipe my bloody
nose for me, w'en I was a kiddy? 'Oo ever did anything for me,
heh? 'Oo, I s'y?"
"Never mind, Tommy," I said, placing a soothing hand on his
shoulder. "Cheer up. It'll all come right in the end. You've
long years before you, and you can make anything you please of
"It's a lie! a bloody lie!" he shouted in my face, flinging off the
hand. "It's a lie, and you know it. I'm already myde, an' myde
out of leavin's an' scraps. It's all right for you, 'Ump. You was
born a gentleman. You never knew wot it was to go 'ungry, to cry
yerself asleep with yer little belly gnawin' an' gnawin', like a
rat inside yer. It carn't come right. If I was President of the
United Stytes to-morrer, 'ow would it fill my belly for one time
w'en I was a kiddy and it went empty?
"'Ow could it, I s'y? I was born to sufferin' and sorrer. I've
had more cruel sufferin' than any ten men, I 'ave. I've been in
orspital arf my bleedin' life. I've 'ad the fever in Aspinwall, in
'Avana, in New Orleans. I near died of the scurvy and was rotten
with it six months in Barbadoes. Smallpox in 'Onolulu, two broken
legs in Shanghai, pnuemonia in Unalaska, three busted ribs an' my
insides all twisted in 'Frisco. An' 'ere I am now. Look at me!
Look at me! My ribs kicked loose from my back again. I'll be
coughin' blood before eyght bells. 'Ow can it be myde up to me, I
arsk? 'Oo's goin' to do it? Gawd? 'Ow Gawd must 'ave 'ated me
w'en 'e signed me on for a voyage in this bloomin' world of 'is!"
This tirade against destiny went on for an hour or more, and then
he buckled to his work, limping and groaning, and in his eyes a
great hatred for all created things. His diagnosis was correct,
however, for he was seized with occasional sicknesses, during which
he vomited blood and suffered great pain. And as he said, it
seemed God hated him too much to let him die, for he ultimately
grew better and waxed more malignant than ever.
Several days more passed before Johnson crawled on deck and went
about his work in a half-hearted way. He was still a sick man, and
I more than once observed him creeping painfully aloft to a
topsail, or drooping wearily as he stood at the wheel. But, still
worse, it seemed that his spirit was broken. He was abject before
Wolf Larsen and almost grovelled to Johansen. Not so was the
conduct of Leach. He went about the deck like a tiger cub, glaring
his hatred openly at Wolf Larsen and Johansen.
"I'll do for you yet, you slab-footed Swede," I heard him say to
Johansen one night on deck.
The mate cursed him in the darkness, and the next moment some
missile struck the galley a sharp rap. There was more cursing, and
a mocking laugh, and when all was quiet I stole outside and found a
heavy knife imbedded over an inch in the solid wood. A few minutes
later the mate came fumbling about in search of it, but I returned
it privily to Leach next day. He grinned when I handed it over,
yet it was a grin that contained more sincere thanks than a
multitude of the verbosities of speech common to the members of my
Unlike any one else in the ship's company, I now found myself with
no quarrels on my hands and in the good graces of all. The hunters
possibly no more than tolerated me, though none of them disliked
me; while Smoke and Henderson, convalescent under a deck awning and
swinging day and night in their hammocks, assured me that I was
better than any hospital nurse, and that they would not forget me
at the end of the voyage when they were paid off. (As though I
stood in need of their money! I, who could have bought them out,
bag and baggage, and the schooner and its equipment, a score of
times over!) But upon me had devolved the task of tending their
wounds, and pulling them through, and I did my best by them.
Wolf Larsen underwent another bad attack of headache which lasted
two days. He must have suffered severely, for he called me in and
obeyed my commands like a sick child. But nothing I could do
seemed to relieve him. At my suggestion, however, he gave up
smoking and drinking; though why such a magnificent animal as he
should have headaches at all puzzles me.
"'Tis the hand of God, I'm tellin' you," is the way Louis sees it.
"'Tis a visitation for his black-hearted deeds, and there's more
behind and comin', or else--"
"Or else," I prompted.
"God is noddin' and not doin' his duty, though it's me as shouldn't
I was mistaken when I said that I was in the good graces of all.
Not only does Thomas Mugridge continue to hate me, but he has
discovered a new reason for hating me. It took me no little while
to puzzle it out, but I finally discovered that it was because I
was more luckily born than he--"gentleman born," he put it.
"And still no more dead men," I twitted Louis, when Smoke and
Henderson, side by side, in friendly conversation, took their first
exercise on deck.
Louis surveyed me with his shrewd grey eyes, and shook his head
portentously. "She's a-comin', I tell you, and it'll be sheets and
halyards, stand by all hands, when she begins to howl. I've had
the feel iv it this long time, and I can feel it now as plainly as
I feel the rigging iv a dark night. She's close, she's close."
"Who goes first?" I queried.
"Not fat old Louis, I promise you," he laughed. "For 'tis in the
bones iv me I know that come this time next year I'll be gazin' in
the old mother's eyes, weary with watchin' iv the sea for the five
sons she gave to it."
"Wot's 'e been s'yin' to yer?" Thomas Mugridge demanded a moment
"That he's going home some day to see his mother," I answered
"I never 'ad none," was the Cockney's comment, as he gazed with
lustreless, hopeless eyes into mine.
It has dawned upon me that I have never placed a proper valuation
upon womankind. For that matter, though not amative to any
considerable degree so far as I have discovered, I was never
outside the atmosphere of women until now. My mother and sisters
were always about me, and I was always trying to escape them; for
they worried me to distraction with their solicitude for my health
and with their periodic inroads on my den, when my orderly
confusion, upon which I prided myself, was turned into worse
confusion and less order, though it looked neat enough to the eye.
I never could find anything when they had departed. But now, alas,
how welcome would have been the feel of their presence, the frou-
frou and swish-swish of their skirts which I had so cordially
detested! I am sure, if I ever get home, that I shall never be
irritable with them again. They may dose me and doctor me morning,
noon, and night, and dust and sweep and put my den to rights every
minute of the day, and I shall only lean back and survey it all and
be thankful in that I am possessed of a mother and some several
All of which has set me wondering. Where are the mothers of these
twenty and odd men on the Ghost? It strikes me as unnatural and
unhealthful that men should be totally separated from women and
herd through the world by themselves. Coarseness and savagery are
the inevitable results. These men about me should have wives, and
sisters, and daughters; then would they be capable of softness, and
tenderness, and sympathy. As it is, not one of them is married.
In years and years not one of them has been in contact with a good
woman, or within the influence, or redemption, which irresistibly
radiates from such a creature. There is no balance in their lives.
Their masculinity, which in itself is of the brute, has been over-
developed. The other and spiritual side of their natures has been
dwarfed--atrophied, in fact.
They are a company of celibates, grinding harshly against one
another and growing daily more calloused from the grinding. It
seems to me impossible sometimes that they ever had mothers. It
would appear that they are a half-brute, half-human species, a race
apart, wherein there is no such thing as sex; that they are hatched
out by the sun like turtle eggs, or receive life in some similar
and sordid fashion; and that all their days they fester in
brutality and viciousness, and in the end die as unlovely as they
Rendered curious by this new direction of ideas, I talked with
Johansen last night--the first superfluous words with which he has
favoured me since the voyage began. He left Sweden when he was
eighteen, is now thirty-eight, and in all the intervening time has
not been home once. He had met a townsman, a couple of years
before, in some sailor boarding-house in Chile, so that he knew his
mother to be still alive.
"She must be a pretty old woman now," he said, staring meditatively
into the binnacle and then jerking a sharp glance at Harrison, who
was steering a point off the course.
"When did you last write to her?"
He performed his mental arithmetic aloud. "Eighty-one; no--eighty-
two, eh? no--eighty-three? Yes, eighty-three. Ten years ago.
From some little port in Madagascar. I was trading.
"You see," he went on, as though addressing his neglected mother
across half the girth of the earth, "each year I was going home.
So what was the good to write? It was only a year. And each year
something happened, and I did not go. But I am mate, now, and when
I pay off at 'Frisco, maybe with five hundred dollars, I will ship
myself on a windjammer round the Horn to Liverpool, which will give
me more money; and then I will pay my passage from there home.
Then she will not do any more work."
"But does she work? now? How old is she?"
"About seventy," he answered. And then, boastingly, "We work from
the time we are born until we die, in my country. That's why we
live so long. I will live to a hundred."
I shall never forget this conversation. The words were the last I
ever heard him utter. Perhaps they were the last he did utter,
too. For, going down into the cabin to turn in, I decided that it
was too stuffy to sleep below. It was a calm night. We were out
of the Trades, and the Ghost was forging ahead barely a knot an
hour. So I tucked a blanket and pillow under my arm and went up on
As I passed between Harrison and the binnacle, which was built into
the top of the cabin, I noticed that he was this time fully three
points off. Thinking that he was asleep, and wishing him to escape
reprimand or worse, I spoke to him. But he was not asleep. His
eyes were wide and staring. He seemed greatly perturbed, unable to
reply to me.
"What's the matter?" I asked. "Are you sick?"
He shook his head, and with a deep sign as of awakening, caught his
"You'd better get on your course, then," I chided.
He put a few spokes over, and I watched the compass-card swing
slowly to N.N.W. and steady itself with slight oscillations.
I took a fresh hold on my bedclothes and was preparing to start on,
when some movement caught my eye and I looked astern to the rail.
A sinewy hand, dripping with water, was clutching the rail. A
second hand took form in the darkness beside it. I watched,
fascinated. What visitant from the gloom of the deep was I to
behold? Whatever it was, I knew that it was climbing aboard by the
log-line. I saw a head, the hair wet and straight, shape itself,
and then the unmistakable eyes and face of Wolf Larsen. His right
cheek was red with blood, which flowed from some wound in the head.
He drew himself inboard with a quick effort, and arose to his feet,
glancing swiftly, as he did so, at the man at the wheel, as though
to assure himself of his identity and that there was nothing to
fear from him. The sea-water was streaming from him. It made
little audible gurgles which distracted me. As he stepped toward
me I shrank back instinctively, for I saw that in his eyes which
"All right, Hump," he said in a low voice. "Where's the mate?"
I shook my head.
"Johansen!" he called softly. "Johansen!"
"Where is he?" he demanded of Harrison.
The young fellow seemed to have recovered his composure, for he
answered steadily enough, "I don't know, sir. I saw him go for'ard
a little while ago."
"So did I go for'ard. But you will observe that I didn't come back
the way I went. Can you explain it?"
"You must have been overboard, sir."
"Shall I look for him in the steerage, sir?" I asked.
Wolf Larsen shook his head. "You wouldn't find him, Hump. But
you'll do. Come on. Never mind your bedding. Leave it where it
I followed at his heels. There was nothing stirring amidships.
"Those cursed hunters," was his comment. "Too damned fat and lazy
to stand a four-hour watch."
But on the forecastle-head we found three sailors asleep. He
turned them over and looked at their faces. They composed the
watch on deck, and it was the ship's custom, in good weather, to
let the watch sleep with the exception of the officer, the
helmsman, and the look-out.
"Who's look-out?" he demanded.
"Me, sir," answered Holyoak, one of the deep-water sailors, a
slight tremor in his voice. "I winked off just this very minute,
sir. I'm sorry, sir. It won't happen again."
"Did you hear or see anything on deck?"
"No, sir, I--"
But Wolf Larsen had turned away with a snort of disgust, leaving
the sailor rubbing his eyes with surprise at having been let of so
"Softly, now," Wolf Larsen warned me in a whisper, as he doubled
his body into the forecastle scuttle and prepared to descend.
I followed with a quaking heart. What was to happen I knew no more
than did I know what had happened. But blood had been shed, and it
was through no whim of Wolf Larsen that he had gone over the side
with his scalp laid open. Besides, Johansen was missing.
It was my first descent into the forecastle, and I shall not soon
forget my impression of it, caught as I stood on my feet at the
bottom of the ladder. Built directly in the eyes of the schooner,
it was of the shape of a triangle, along the three sides of which
stood the bunks, in double-tier, twelve of them. It was no larger
than a hall bedroom in Grub Street, and yet twelve men were herded
into it to eat and sleep and carry on all the functions of living.
My bedroom at home was not large, yet it could have contained a
dozen similar forecastles, and taking into consideration the height
of the ceiling, a score at least.
It smelled sour and musty, and by the dim light of the swinging
sea-lamp I saw every bit of available wall-space hung deep with
sea-boots, oilskins, and garments, clean and dirty, of various
sorts. These swung back and forth with every roll of the vessel,
giving rise to a brushing sound, as of trees against a roof or
wall. Somewhere a boot thumped loudly and at irregular intervals
against the wall; and, though it was a mild night on the sea, there
was a continual chorus of the creaking timbers and bulkheads and of
abysmal noises beneath the flooring.
The sleepers did not mind. There were eight of them,--the two
watches below,--and the air was thick with the warmth and odour of
their breathing, and the ear was filled with the noise of their
snoring and of their sighs and half-groans, tokens plain of the
rest of the animal-man. But were they sleeping? all of them? Or
had they been sleeping? This was evidently Wolf Larsen's quest--to
find the men who appeared to be asleep and who were not asleep or
who had not been asleep very recently. And he went about it in a
way that reminded me of a story out of Boccaccio.
He took the sea-lamp from its swinging frame and handed it to me.
He began at the first bunks forward on the star-board side. In the
top one lay Oofty-Oofty, a Kanaka and splendid seaman, so named by
his mates. He was asleep on his back and breathing as placidly as
a woman. One arm was under his head, the other lay on top of the
blankets. Wolf Larsen put thumb and forefinger to the wrist and
counted the pulse. In the midst of it the Kanaka roused. He awoke
as gently as he slept. There was no movement of the body whatever.
The eyes, only, moved. They flashed wide open, big and black, and
stared, unblinking, into our faces. Wolf Larsen put his finger to
his lips as a sign for silence, and the eyes closed again.
In the lower bunk lay Louis, grossly fat and warm and sweaty,
asleep unfeignedly and sleeping laboriously. While Wolf Larsen
held his wrist he stirred uneasily, bowing his body so that for a
moment it rested on shoulders and heels. His lips moved, and he
gave voice to this enigmatic utterance:
"A shilling's worth a quarter; but keep your lamps out for
thruppenny-bits, or the publicans 'll shove 'em on you for
Then he rolled over on his side with a heavy, sobbing sigh, saying:
"A sixpence is a tanner, and a shilling a bob; but what a pony is I
Satisfied with the honesty of his and the Kanaka's sleep, Wolf
Larsen passed on to the next two bunks on the starboard side,
occupied top and bottom, as we saw in the light of the sea-lamp, by
Leach and Johnson.
As Wolf Larsen bent down to the lower bunk to take Johnson's pulse,
I, standing erect and holding the lamp, saw Leach's head rise
stealthily as he peered over the side of his bunk to see what was
going on. He must have divined Wolf Larsen's trick and the
sureness of detection, for the light was at once dashed from my
hand and the forecastle was left in darkness. He must have leaped,
also, at the same instant, straight down on Wolf Larsen.
The first sounds were those of a conflict between a bull and a
wolf. I heard a great infuriated bellow go up from Wolf Larsen,
and from Leach a snarling that was desperate and blood-curdling.
Johnson must have joined him immediately, so that his abject and
grovelling conduct on deck for the past few days had been no more
than planned deception.
I was so terror-stricken by this fight in the dark that I leaned
against the ladder, trembling and unable to ascend. And upon me
was that old sickness at the pit of the stomach, caused always by
the spectacle of physical violence. In this instance I could not
see, but I could hear the impact of the blows--the soft crushing
sound made by flesh striking forcibly against flesh. Then there
was the crashing about of the entwined bodies, the laboured
breathing, the short quick gasps of sudden pain.
There must have been more men in the conspiracy to murder the
captain and mate, for by the sounds I knew that Leach and Johnson
had been quickly reinforced by some of their mates.
"Get a knife somebody!" Leach was shouting.
"Pound him on the head! Mash his brains out!" was Johnson's cry.
But after his first bellow, Wolf Larsen made no noise. He was
fighting grimly and silently for life. He was sore beset. Down at
the very first, he had been unable to gain his feet, and for all of
his tremendous strength I felt that there was no hope for him.
The force with which they struggled was vividly impressed on me;
for I was knocked down by their surging bodies and badly bruised.
But in the confusion I managed to crawl into an empty lower bunk
out of the way.
"All hands! We've got him! We've got him!" I could hear Leach
"Who?" demanded those who had been really asleep, and who had
wakened to they knew not what.
"It's the bloody mate!" was Leach's crafty answer, strained from
him in a smothered sort of way.
This was greeted with whoops of joy, and from then on Wolf Larsen
had seven strong men on top of him, Louis, I believe, taking no
part in it. The forecastle was like an angry hive of bees aroused
by some marauder.
"What ho! below there!" I heard Latimer shout down the scuttle, too
cautious to descend into the inferno of passion he could hear
raging beneath him in the darkness.
"Won't somebody get a knife? Oh, won't somebody get a knife?"
Leach pleaded in the first interval of comparative silence.
The number of the assailants was a cause of confusion. They
blocked their own efforts, while Wolf Larsen, with but a single
purpose, achieved his. This was to fight his way across the floor
to the ladder. Though in total darkness, I followed his progress
by its sound. No man less than a giant could have done what he
did, once he had gained the foot of the ladder. Step by step, by
the might of his arms, the whole pack of men striving to drag him
back and down, he drew his body up from the floor till he stood
erect. And then, step by step, hand and foot, he slowly struggled
up the ladder.
The very last of all, I saw. For Latimer, having finally gone for
a lantern, held it so that its light shone down the scuttle. Wolf
Larsen was nearly to the top, though I could not see him. All that
was visible was the mass of men fastened upon him. It squirmed
about, like some huge many-legged spider, and swayed back and forth
to the regular roll of the vessel. And still, step by step with
long intervals between, the mass ascended. Once it tottered, about
to fall back, but the broken hold was regained and it still went
"Who is it?" Latimer cried.
In the rays of the lantern I could see his perplexed face peering
"Larsen," I heard a muffled voice from within the mass.
Latimer reached down with his free hand. I saw a hand shoot up to
clasp his. Latimer pulled, and the next couple of steps were made
with a rush. Then Wolf Larsen's other hand reached up and clutched
the edge of the scuttle. The mass swung clear of the ladder, the
men still clinging to their escaping foe. They began to drop of,
to be brushed off against the sharp edge of the scuttle, to be
knocked off by the legs which were now kicking powerfully. Leach
was the last to go, falling sheer back from the top of the scuttle
and striking on head and shoulders upon his sprawling mates
beneath. Wolf Larsen and the lantern disappeared, and we were left
There was a deal of cursing and groaning as the men at the bottom
of the ladder crawled to their feet.
"Somebody strike a light, my thumb's out of joint," said one of the
men, Parsons, a swarthy, saturnine man, boat-steerer in Standish's
boat, in which Harrison was puller.
"You'll find it knockin' about by the bitts," Leach said, sitting
down on the edge of the bunk in which I was concealed.
There was a fumbling and a scratching of matches, and the sea-lamp
flared up, dim and smoky, and in its weird light bare-legged men
moved about nursing their bruises and caring for their hurts.
Oofty-Oofty laid hold of Parsons's thumb, pulling it out stoutly
and snapping it back into place. I noticed at the same time that
the Kanaka's knuckles were laid open clear across and to the bone.
He exhibited them, exposing beautiful white teeth in a grin as he
did so, and explaining that the wounds had come from striking Wolf
Larsen in the mouth.
"So it was you, was it, you black beggar?" belligerently demanded
one Kelly, an Irish-American and a longshoreman, making his first
trip to sea, and boat-puller for Kerfoot.
As he made the demand he spat out a mouthful of blood and teeth and
shoved his pugnacious face close to Oofty-Oofty. The Kanaka leaped
backward to his bunk, to return with a second leap, flourishing a
"Aw, go lay down, you make me tired," Leach interfered. He was
evidently, for all of his youth and inexperience, cock of the
forecastle. "G'wan, you Kelly. You leave Oofty alone. How in
hell did he know it was you in the dark?"
Kelly subsided with some muttering, and the Kanaka flashed his
white teeth in a grateful smile. He was a beautiful creature,
almost feminine in the pleasing lines of his figure, and there was
a softness and dreaminess in his large eyes which seemed to
contradict his well-earned reputation for strife and action.
"How did he get away?" Johnson asked.
He was sitting on the side of his bunk, the whole pose of his
figure indicating utter dejection and hopelessness. He was still
breathing heavily from the exertion he had made. His shirt had
been ripped entirely from him in the struggle, and blood from a
gash in the cheek was flowing down his naked chest, marking a red
path across his white thigh and dripping to the floor.
"Because he is the devil, as I told you before," was Leach's
answer; and thereat he was on his feet and raging his
disappointment with tears in his eyes.
"And not one of you to get a knife!" was his unceasing lament.
But the rest of the hands had a lively fear of consequences to come
and gave no heed to him.
"How'll he know which was which?" Kelly asked, and as he went on he
looked murderously about him--"unless one of us peaches."
"He'll know as soon as ever he claps eyes on us," Parsons replied.
"One look at you'd be enough."
"Tell him the deck flopped up and gouged yer teeth out iv yer jaw,"
Louis grinned. He was the only man who was not out of his bunk,
and he was jubilant in that he possessed no bruises to advertise
that he had had a hand in the night's work. "Just wait till he
gets a glimpse iv yer mugs to-morrow, the gang iv ye," he chuckled.
"We'll say we thought it was the mate," said one. And another, "I
know what I'll say--that I heered a row, jumped out of my bunk, got
a jolly good crack on the jaw for my pains, and sailed in myself.
Couldn't tell who or what it was in the dark and just hit out."
"An' 'twas me you hit, of course," Kelly seconded, his face
brightening for the moment.
Leach and Johnson took no part in the discussion, and it was plain
to see that their mates looked upon them as men for whom the worst
was inevitable, who were beyond hope and already dead. Leach stood
their fears and reproaches for some time. Then he broke out:
"You make me tired! A nice lot of gazabas you are! If you talked
less with yer mouth and did something with yer hands, he'd a-ben
done with by now. Why couldn't one of you, just one of you, get me
a knife when I sung out? You make me sick! A-beefin' and
bellerin' 'round, as though he'd kill you when he gets you! You
know damn well he wont. Can't afford to. No shipping masters or
beach-combers over here, and he wants yer in his business, and he
wants yer bad. Who's to pull or steer or sail ship if he loses
yer? It's me and Johnson have to face the music. Get into yer
bunks, now, and shut yer faces; I want to get some sleep."
"That's all right all right," Parsons spoke up. "Mebbe he won't do
for us, but mark my words, hell 'll be an ice-box to this ship from
All the while I had been apprehensive concerning my own
predicament. What would happen to me when these men discovered my
presence? I could never fight my way out as Wolf Larsen had done.
And at this moment Latimer called down the scuttles:
"Hump! The old man wants you!"
"He ain't down here!" Parsons called back.
"Yes, he is," I said, sliding out of the bunk and striving my
hardest to keep my voice steady and bold.
The sailors looked at me in consternation. Fear was strong in
their faces, and the devilishness which comes of fear.
"I'm coming!" I shouted up to Latimer.
"No you don't!" Kelly cried, stepping between me and the ladder,
his right hand shaped into a veritable strangler's clutch. "You
damn little sneak! I'll shut yer mouth!"
"Let him go," Leach commanded.
"Not on yer life," was the angry retort.
Leach never changed his position on the edge of the bunk. "Let him
go, I say," he repeated; but this time his voice was gritty and
The Irishman wavered. I made to step by him, and he stood aside.
When I had gained the ladder, I turned to the circle of brutal and
malignant faces peering at me through the semi-darkness. A sudden
and deep sympathy welled up in me. I remembered the Cockney's way
of putting it. How God must have hated them that they should be
"I have seen and heard nothing, believe me," I said quietly.
"I tell yer, he's all right," I could hear Leach saying as I went
up the ladder. "He don't like the old man no more nor you or me."
I found Wolf Larsen in the cabin, stripped and bloody, waiting for
me. He greeted me with one of his whimsical smiles.
"Come, get to work, Doctor. The signs are favourable for an
extensive practice this voyage. I don't know what the Ghost would
have been without you, and if I could only cherish such noble
sentiments I would tell you her master is deeply grateful."
I knew the run of the simple medicine-chest the Ghost carried, and
while I was heating water on the cabin stove and getting the things
ready for dressing his wounds, he moved about, laughing and
chatting, and examining his hurts with a calculating eye. I had
never before seen him stripped, and the sight of his body quite
took my breath away. It has never been my weakness to exalt the
flesh--far from it; but there is enough of the artist in me to
appreciate its wonder.
I must say that I was fascinated by the perfect lines of Wolf
Larsen's figure, and by what I may term the terrible beauty of it.
I had noted the men in the forecastle. Powerfully muscled though
some of them were, there had been something wrong with all of them,
an insufficient development here, an undue development there, a
twist or a crook that destroyed symmetry, legs too short or too
long, or too much sinew or bone exposed, or too little. Oofty-
Oofty had been the only one whose lines were at all pleasing,
while, in so far as they pleased, that far had they been what I
should call feminine.
But Wolf Larsen was the man-type, the masculine, and almost a god
in his perfectness. As he moved about or raised his arms the great
muscles leapt and moved under the satiny skin. I have forgotten to
say that the bronze ended with his face. His body, thanks to his
Scandinavian stock, was fair as the fairest woman's. I remember
his putting his hand up to feel of the wound on his head, and my
watching the biceps move like a living thing under its white
sheath. It was the biceps that had nearly crushed out my life
once, that I had seen strike so many killing blows. I could not
take my eyes from him. I stood motionless, a roll of antiseptic
cotton in my hand unwinding and spilling itself down to the floor.
He noticed me, and I became conscious that I was staring at him.
"God made you well," I said.
"Did he?" he answered. "I have often thought so myself, and
"Purpose--" I began.
"Utility," he interrupted. "This body was made for use. These
muscles were made to grip, and tear, and destroy living things that
get between me and life. But have you thought of the other living
things? They, too, have muscles, of one kind and another, made to
grip, and tear, and destroy; and when they come between me and
life, I out-grip them, out-tear them, out-destroy them. Purpose
does not explain that. Utility does."
"It is not beautiful," I protested.
"Life isn't, you mean," he smiled. "Yet you say I was made well.
Do you see this?"
He braced his legs and feet, pressing the cabin floor with his toes
in a clutching sort of way. Knots and ridges and mounds of muscles
writhed and bunched under the skin.
"Feel them," he commanded.
They were hard as iron. And I observed, also, that his whole body
had unconsciously drawn itself together, tense and alert; that
muscles were softly crawling and shaping about the hips, along the
back, and across the shoulders; that the arms were slightly lifted,
their muscles contracting, the fingers crooking till the hands were
like talons; and that even the eyes had changed expression and into
them were coming watchfulness and measurement and a light none
other than of battle.
"Stability, equilibrium," he said, relaxing on the instant and
sinking his body back into repose. "Feet with which to clutch the
ground, legs to stand on and to help withstand, while with arms and
hands, teeth and nails, I struggle to kill and to be not killed.
Purpose? Utility is the better word."
I did not argue. I had seen the mechanism of the primitive
fighting beast, and I was as strongly impressed as if I had seen
the engines of a great battleship or Atlantic liner.
I was surprised, considering the fierce struggle in the forecastle,
at the superficiality of his hurts, and I pride myself that I
dressed them dexterously. With the exception of several bad
wounds, the rest were merely severe bruises and lacerations. The
blow which he had received before going overboard had laid his
scalp open several inches. This, under his direction, I cleansed
and sewed together, having first shaved the edges of the wound.
Then the calf of his leg was badly lacerated and looked as though
it had been mangled by a bulldog. Some sailor, he told me, had
laid hold of it by his teeth, at the beginning of the fight, and
hung on and been dragged to the top of the forecastle ladder, when
he was kicked loose.
"By the way, Hump, as I have remarked, you are a handy man," Wolf
Larsen began, when my work was done. "As you know, we're short a
mate. Hereafter you shall stand watches, receive seventy-five
dollars per month, and be addressed fore and aft as Mr. Van
"I--I don't understand navigation, you know," I gasped.
"Not necessary at all."
"I really do not care to sit in the high places," I objected. "I
find life precarious enough in my present humble situation. I have
no experience. Mediocrity, you see, has its compensations."
He smiled as though it were all settled.
"I won't be mate on this hell-ship!" I cried defiantly.
I saw his face grow hard and the merciless glitter come into his
eyes. He walked to the door of his room, saying:
"And now, Mr. Van Weyden, good-night."
"Good-night, Mr. Larsen," I answered weakly.
I cannot say that the position of mate carried with it anything
more joyful than that there were no more dishes to wash. I was
ignorant of the simplest duties of mate, and would have fared badly
indeed, had the sailors not sympathized with me. I knew nothing of
the minutiae of ropes and rigging, of the trimming and setting of
sails; but the sailors took pains to put me to rights,--Louis
proving an especially good teacher,--and I had little trouble with
those under me.
With the hunters it was otherwise. Familiar in varying degree with
the sea, they took me as a sort of joke. In truth, it was a joke
to me, that I, the veriest landsman, should be filling the office
of mate; but to be taken as a joke by others was a different
matter. I made no complaint, but Wolf Larsen demanded the most
punctilious sea etiquette in my case,--far more than poor Johansen
had ever received; and at the expense of several rows, threats, and
much grumbling, he brought the hunters to time. I was "Mr. Van
Weyden" fore and aft, and it was only unofficially that Wolf Larsen
himself ever addressed me as "Hump."
It was amusing. Perhaps the wind would haul a few points while we
were at dinner, and as I left the table he would say, "Mr. Van
Weyden, will you kindly put about on the port tack." And I would
go on deck, beckon Louis to me, and learn from him what was to be
done. Then, a few minutes later, having digested his instructions
and thoroughly mastered the manoeuvre, I would proceed to issue my
orders. I remember an early instance of this kind, when Wolf
Larsen appeared on the scene just as I had begun to give orders.
He smoked his cigar and looked on quietly till the thing was
accomplished, and then paced aft by my side along the weather poop.
"Hump," he said, "I beg pardon, Mr. Van Weyden, I congratulate you.
I think you can now fire your father's legs back into the grave to
him. You've discovered your own and learned to stand on them. A
little rope-work, sail-making, and experience with storms and such
things, and by the end of the voyage you could ship on any coasting
It was during this period, between the death of Johansen and the
arrival on the sealing grounds, that I passed my pleasantest hours
on the Ghost. Wolf Larsen was quite considerate, the sailors
helped me, and I was no longer in irritating contact with Thomas
Mugridge. And I make free to say, as the days went by, that I
found I was taking a certain secret pride in myself. Fantastic as
the situation was,--a land-lubber second in command,--I was,
nevertheless, carrying it off well; and during that brief time I
was proud of myself, and I grew to love the heave and roll of the
Ghost under my feet as she wallowed north and west through the
tropic sea to the islet where we filled our water-casks.
But my happiness was not unalloyed. It was comparative, a period
of less misery slipped in between a past of great miseries and a
future of great miseries. For the Ghost, so far as the seamen were
concerned, was a hell-ship of the worst description. They never
had a moment's rest or peace. Wolf Larsen treasured against them
the attempt on his life and the drubbing he had received in the
forecastle; and morning, noon, and night, and all night as well, he
devoted himself to making life unlivable for them.
He knew well the psychology of the little thing, and it was the
little things by which he kept the crew worked up to the verge of
madness. I have seen Harrison called from his bunk to put properly
away a misplaced paintbrush, and the two watches below haled from
their tired sleep to accompany him and see him do it. A little
thing, truly, but when multiplied by the thousand ingenious devices
of such a mind, the mental state of the men in the forecastle may
be slightly comprehended.
Of course much grumbling went on, and little outbursts were
continually occurring. Blows were struck, and there were always
two or three men nursing injuries at the hands of the human beast
who was their master. Concerted action was impossible in face of
the heavy arsenal of weapons carried in the steerage and cabin.
Leach and Johnson were the two particular victims of Wolf Larsen's
diabolic temper, and the look of profound melancholy which had
settled on Johnson's face and in his eyes made my heart bleed.
With Leach it was different. There was too much of the fighting
beast in him. He seemed possessed by an insatiable fury which gave
no time for grief. His lips had become distorted into a permanent
snarl, which at mere sight of Wolf Larsen broke out in sound,
horrible and menacing and, I do believe, unconsciously. I have
seen him follow Wolf Larsen about with his eyes, like an animal its
keeper, the while the animal-like snarl sounded deep in his throat
and vibrated forth between his teeth.
I remember once, on deck, in bright day, touching him on the
shoulder as preliminary to giving an order. His back was toward
me, and at the first feel of my hand he leaped upright in the air
and away from me, snarling and turning his head as he leaped. He
had for the moment mistaken me for the man he hated.
Both he and Johnson would have killed Wolf Larsen at the slightest
opportunity, but the opportunity never came. Wolf Larsen was too
wise for that, and, besides, they had no adequate weapons. With
their fists alone they had no chance whatever. Time and again he
fought it out with Leach who fought back always, like a wildcat,
tooth and nail and fist, until stretched, exhausted or unconscious,
on the deck. And he was never averse to another encounter. All
the devil that was in him challenged the devil in Wolf Larsen.
They had but to appear on deck at the same time, when they would be
at it, cursing, snarling, striking; and I have seen Leach fling
himself upon Wolf Larsen without warning or provocation. Once he
threw his heavy sheath-knife, missing Wolf Larsen's throat by an
inch. Another time he dropped a steel marlinspike from the mizzen
crosstree. It was a difficult cast to make on a rolling ship, but
the sharp point of the spike, whistling seventy-five feet through
the air, barely missed Wolf Larsen's head as he emerged from the
cabin companion-way and drove its length two inches and over into
the solid deck-planking. Still another time, he stole into the
steerage, possessed himself of a loaded shot-gun, and was making a
rush for the deck with it when caught by Kerfoot and disarmed.
I often wondered why Wolf Larsen did not kill him and make an end
of it. But he only laughed and seemed to enjoy it. There seemed a
certain spice about it, such as men must feel who take delight in
making pets of ferocious animals.
"It gives a thrill to life," he explained to me, "when life is
carried in one's hand. Man is a natural gambler, and life is the
biggest stake he can lay. The greater the odds, the greater the
thrill. Why should I deny myself the joy of exciting Leach's soul
to fever-pitch? For that matter, I do him a kindness. The
greatness of sensation is mutual. He is living more royally than
any man for'ard, though he does not know it. For he has what they
have not--purpose, something to do and be done, an all-absorbing
end to strive to attain, the desire to kill me, the hope that he
may kill me. Really, Hump, he is living deep and high. I doubt
that he has ever lived so swiftly and keenly before, and I honestly
envy him, sometimes, when I see him raging at the summit of passion
"Ah, but it is cowardly, cowardly!" I cried. "You have all the
"Of the two of us, you and I, who is the greater coward?" he asked
seriously. "If the situation is unpleasing, you compromise with
your conscience when you make yourself a party to it. If you were
really great, really true to yourself, you would join forces with
Leach and Johnson. But you are afraid, you are afraid. You want
to live. The life that is in you cries out that it must live, no
matter what the cost; so you live ignominiously, untrue to the best
you dream of, sinning against your whole pitiful little code, and,
if there were a hell, heading your soul straight for it. Bah! I
play the braver part. I do no sin, for I am true to the promptings
of the life that is in me. I am sincere with my soul at least, and
that is what you are not."
There was a sting in what he said. Perhaps, after all, I was
playing a cowardly part. And the more I thought about it the more
it appeared that my duty to myself lay in doing what he had
advised, lay in joining forces with Johnson and Leach and working
for his death. Right here, I think, entered the austere conscience
of my Puritan ancestry, impelling me toward lurid deeds and
sanctioning even murder as right conduct. I dwelt upon the idea.
It would be a most moral act to rid the world of such a monster.
Humanity would be better and happier for it, life fairer and
I pondered it long, lying sleepless in my bunk and reviewing in
endless procession the facts of the situation. I talked with
Johnson and Leach, during the night watches when Wolf Larsen was
below. Both men had lost hope--Johnson, because of temperamental
despondency; Leach, because he had beaten himself out in the vain
struggle and was exhausted. But he caught my hand in a passionate
grip one night, saying:
"I think yer square, Mr. Van Weyden. But stay where you are and
keep yer mouth shut. Say nothin' but saw wood. We're dead men, I
know it; but all the same you might be able to do us a favour some
time when we need it damn bad."
It was only next day, when Wainwright Island loomed to windward,
close abeam, that Wolf Larsen opened his mouth in prophecy. He had
attacked Johnson, been attacked by Leach, and had just finished
whipping the pair of them.
"Leach," he said, "you know I'm going to kill you some time or
other, don't you?"
A snarl was the answer.
"And as for you, Johnson, you'll get so tired of life before I'm
through with you that you'll fling yourself over the side. See if
"That's a suggestion," he added, in an aside to me. "I'll bet you
a month's pay he acts upon it."
I had cherished a hope that his victims would find an opportunity
to escape while filling our water-barrels, but Wolf Larsen had
selected his spot well. The Ghost lay half-a-mile beyond the surf-
line of a lonely beach. Here debauched a deep gorge, with
precipitous, volcanic walls which no man could scale. And here,
under his direct supervision--for he went ashore himself--Leach and
Johnson filled the small casks and rolled them down to the beach.
They had no chance to make a break for liberty in one of the boats.
Harrison and Kelly, however, made such an attempt. They composed
one of the boats' crews, and their task was to ply between the
schooner and the shore, carrying a single cask each trip. Just
before dinner, starting for the beach with an empty barrel, they
altered their course and bore away to the left to round the
promontory which jutted into the sea between them and liberty.
Beyond its foaming base lay the pretty villages of the Japanese
colonists and smiling valleys which penetrated deep into the
interior. Once in the fastnesses they promised, and the two men
could defy Wolf Larsen.
I had observed Henderson and Smoke loitering about the deck all
morning, and I now learned why they were there. Procuring their
rifles, they opened fire in a leisurely manner, upon the deserters.
It was a cold-blooded exhibition of marksmanship. At first their
bullets zipped harmlessly along the surface of the water on either
side the boat; but, as the men continued to pull lustily, they
struck closer and closer.
"Now, watch me take Kelly's right oar," Smoke said, drawing a more
I was looking through the glasses, and I saw the oar-blade shatter
as he shot. Henderson duplicated it, selecting Harrison's right
oar. The boat slewed around. The two remaining oars were quickly
broken. The men tried to row with the splinters, and had them shot
out of their hands. Kelly ripped up a bottom board and began
paddling, but dropped it with a cry of pain as its splinters drove
into his hands. Then they gave up, letting the boat drift till a
second boat, sent from the shore by Wolf Larsen, took them in tow
and brought them aboard.
Late that afternoon we hove up anchor and got away. Nothing was
before us but the three or four months' hunting on the sealing
grounds. The outlook was black indeed, and I went about my work
with a heavy heart. An almost funereal gloom seemed to have
descended upon the Ghost. Wolf Larsen had taken to his bunk with
one of his strange, splitting headaches. Harrison stood listlessly
at the wheel, half supporting himself by it, as though wearied by
the weight of his flesh. The rest of the men were morose and
silent. I came upon Kelly crouching to the lee of the forecastle
scuttle, his head on his knees, his arms about his head, in an
attitude of unutterable despondency.
Johnson I found lying full length on the forecastle head, staring
at the troubled churn of the forefoot, and I remembered with horror
the suggestion Wolf Larsen had made. It seemed likely to bear
fruit. I tried to break in on the man's morbid thoughts by calling
him away, but he smiled sadly at me and refused to obey.
Leach approached me as I returned aft.
"I want to ask a favour, Mr. Van Weyden," he said. "If it's yer
luck to ever make 'Frisco once more, will you hunt up Matt
McCarthy? He's my old man. He lives on the Hill, back of the
Mayfair bakery, runnin' a cobbler's shop that everybody knows, and
you'll have no trouble. Tell him I lived to be sorry for the
trouble I brought him and the things I done, and--and just tell him
'God bless him,' for me."
I nodded my head, but said, "We'll all win back to San Francisco,
Leach, and you'll be with me when I go to see Matt McCarthy."
"I'd like to believe you," he answered, shaking my hand, "but I
can't. Wolf Larsen 'll do for me, I know it; and all I can hope
is, he'll do it quick."
And as he left me I was aware of the same desire at my heart.
Since it was to be done, let it be done with despatch. The general
gloom had gathered me into its folds. The worst appeared
inevitable; and as I paced the deck, hour after hour, I found
myself afflicted with Wolf Larsen's repulsive ideas. What was it
all about? Where was the grandeur of life that it should permit
such wanton destruction of human souls? It was a cheap and sordid
thing after all, this life, and the sooner over the better. Over
and done with! I, too, leaned upon the rail and gazed longingly
into the sea, with the certainty that sooner or later I should be
sinking down, down, through the cool green depths of its oblivion.
Strange to say, in spite of the general foreboding, nothing of
especial moment happened on the Ghost. We ran on to the north and
west till we raised the coast of Japan and picked up with the great
seal herd. Coming from no man knew where in the illimitable
Pacific, it was travelling north on its annual migration to the
rookeries of Bering Sea. And north we travelled with it, ravaging
and destroying, flinging the naked carcasses to the shark and
salting down the skins so that they might later adorn the fair
shoulders of the women of the cities.
It was wanton slaughter, and all for woman's sake. No man ate of
the seal meat or the oil. After a good day's killing I have seen
our decks covered with hides and bodies, slippery with fat and
blood, the scuppers running red; masts, ropes, and rails spattered
with the sanguinary colour; and the men, like butchers plying their
trade, naked and red of arm and hand, hard at work with ripping and
flensing-knives, removing the skins from the pretty sea-creatures
they had killed.
It was my task to tally the pelts as they came aboard from the
boats, to oversee the skinning and afterward the cleansing of the
decks and bringing things ship-shape again. It was not pleasant
work. My soul and my stomach revolted at it; and yet, in a way,
this handling and directing of many men was good for me. It
developed what little executive ability I possessed, and I was
aware of a toughening or hardening which I was undergoing and which
could not be anything but wholesome for "Sissy" Van Weyden.
One thing I was beginning to feel, and that was that I could never
again be quite the same man I had been. While my hope and faith in
human life still survived Wolf Larsen's destructive criticism, he
had nevertheless been a cause of change in minor matters. He had
opened up for me the world of the real, of which I had known
practically nothing and from which I had always shrunk. I had
learned to look more closely at life as it was lived, to recognize
that there were such things as facts in the world, to emerge from
the realm of mind and idea and to place certain values on the
concrete and objective phases of existence.
I saw more of Wolf Larsen than ever when we had gained the grounds.
For when the weather was fair and we were in the midst of the herd,
all hands were away in the boats, and left on board were only he
and I, and Thomas Mugridge, who did not count. But there was no
play about it. The six boats, spreading out fan-wise from the
schooner until the first weather boat and the last lee boat were
anywhere from ten to twenty miles apart, cruised along a straight
course over the sea till nightfall or bad weather drove them in.
It was our duty to sail the Ghost well to leeward of the last lee
boat, so that all the boats should have fair wind to run for us in
case of squalls or threatening weather.
It is no slight matter for two men, particularly when a stiff wind
has sprung up, to handle a vessel like the Ghost, steering, keeping
look-out for the boats, and setting or taking in sail; so it
devolved upon me to learn, and learn quickly. Steering I picked up
easily, but running aloft to the crosstrees and swinging my whole
weight by my arms when I left the ratlines and climbed still
higher, was more difficult. This, too, I learned, and quickly, for
I felt somehow a wild desire to vindicate myself in Wolf Larsen's
eyes, to prove my right to live in ways other than of the mind.
Nay, the time came when I took joy in the run of the masthead and
in the clinging on by my legs at that precarious height while I
swept the sea with glasses in search of the boats.
I remember one beautiful day, when the boats left early and the
reports of the hunters' guns grew dim and distant and died away as
they scattered far and wide over the sea. There was just the
faintest wind from the westward; but it breathed its last by the
time we managed to get to leeward of the last lee boat. One by
one--I was at the masthead and saw--the six boats disappeared over
the bulge of the earth as they followed the seal into the west. We
lay, scarcely rolling on the placid sea, unable to follow. Wolf
Larsen was apprehensive. The barometer was down, and the sky to
the east did not please him. He studied it with unceasing
"If she comes out of there," he said, "hard and snappy, putting us
to windward of the boats, it's likely there'll be empty bunks in
steerage and fo'c'sle."
By eleven o'clock the sea had become glass. By midday, though we
were well up in the northerly latitudes, the heat was sickening.
There was no freshness in the air. It was sultry and oppressive,
reminding me of what the old Californians term "earthquake
weather." There was something ominous about it, and in intangible
ways one was made to feel that the worst was about to come. Slowly
the whole eastern sky filled with clouds that over-towered us like
some black sierra of the infernal regions. So clearly could one
see canon, gorge, and precipice, and the shadows that lie therein,
that one looked unconsciously for the white surf-line and bellowing
caverns where the sea charges on the land. And still we rocked
gently, and there was no wind.
"It's no square" Wolf Larsen said. "Old Mother Nature's going to
get up on her hind legs and howl for all that's in her, and it'll
keep us jumping, Hump, to pull through with half our boats. You'd
better run up and loosen the topsails."
"But if it is going to howl, and there are only two of us?" I
asked, a note of protest in my voice.
"Why we've got to make the best of the first of it and run down to
our boats before our canvas is ripped out of us. After that I
don't give a rap what happens. The sticks 'll stand it, and you
and I will have to, though we've plenty cut out for us."
Still the calm continued. We ate dinner, a hurried and anxious
meal for me with eighteen men abroad on the sea and beyond the
bulge of the earth, and with that heaven-rolling mountain range of
clouds moving slowly down upon us. Wolf Larsen did not seem
affected, however; though I noticed, when we returned to the deck,
a slight twitching of the nostrils, a perceptible quickness of
movement. His face was stern, the lines of it had grown hard, and
yet in his eyes--blue, clear blue this day--there was a strange
brilliancy, a bright scintillating light. It struck me that he was
joyous, in a ferocious sort of way; that he was glad there was an
impending struggle; that he was thrilled and upborne with knowledge
that one of the great moments of living, when the tide of life
surges up in flood, was upon him.
Once, and unwitting that he did so or that I saw, he laughed aloud,
mockingly and defiantly, at the advancing storm. I see him yet
standing there like a pigmy out of the Arabian Nights before the
huge front of some malignant genie. He was daring destiny, and he
He walked to the galley. "Cooky, by the time you've finished pots
and pans you'll be wanted on deck. Stand ready for a call."
"Hump," he said, becoming cognizant of the fascinated gaze I bent
upon him, "this beats whisky and is where your Omar misses. I
think he only half lived after all."
The western half of the sky had by now grown murky. The sun had
dimmed and faded out of sight. It was two in the afternoon, and a
ghostly twilight, shot through by wandering purplish lights, had
descended upon us. In this purplish light Wolf Larsen's face
glowed and glowed, and to my excited fancy he appeared encircled by
a halo. We lay in the midst of an unearthly quiet, while all about
us were signs and omens of oncoming sound and movement. The sultry
heat had become unendurable. The sweat was standing on my
forehead, and I could feel it trickling down my nose. I felt as
though I should faint, and reached out to the rail for support.
And then, just then, the faintest possible whisper of air passed
by. It was from the east, and like a whisper it came and went.
The drooping canvas was not stirred, and yet my face had felt the
air and been cooled.
"Cooky," Wolf Larsen called in a low voice. Thomas Mugridge turned
a pitiable scared face. "Let go that foreboom tackle and pass it
across, and when she's willing let go the sheet and come in snug
with the tackle. And if you make a mess of it, it will be the last
you ever make. Understand?"
"Mr. Van Weyden, stand by to pass the head-sails over. Then jump
for the topsails and spread them quick as God'll let you--the
quicker you do it the easier you'll find it. As for Cooky, if he
isn't lively bat him between the eyes."
I was aware of the compliment and pleased, in that no threat had
accompanied my instructions. We were lying head to north-west, and
it was his intention to jibe over all with the first puff.
"We'll have the breeze on our quarter," he explained to me. "By
the last guns the boats were bearing away slightly to the
He turned and walked aft to the wheel. I went forward and took my
station at the jibs. Another whisper of wind, and another, passed
by. The canvas flapped lazily.
"Thank Gawd she's not comin' all of a bunch, Mr. Van Weyden," was
the Cockney's fervent ejaculation.
And I was indeed thankful, for I had by this time learned enough to
know, with all our canvas spread, what disaster in such event
awaited us. The whispers of wind became puffs, the sails filled,
the Ghost moved. Wolf Larsen put the wheel hard up, to port, and
we began to pay off. The wind was now dead astern, muttering and
puffing stronger and stronger, and my head-sails were pounding
lustily. I did not see what went on elsewhere, though I felt the
sudden surge and heel of the schooner as the wind-pressures changed
to the jibing of the fore- and main-sails. My hands were full with
the flying-jib, jib, and staysail; and by the time this part of my
task was accomplished the Ghost was leaping into the south-west,
the wind on her quarter and all her sheets to starboard. Without
pausing for breath, though my heart was beating like a trip-hammer
from my exertions, I sprang to the topsails, and before the wind
had become too strong we had them fairly set and were coiling down.
Then I went aft for orders.
Wolf Larsen nodded approval and relinquished the wheel to me. The
wind was strengthening steadily and the sea rising. For an hour I
steered, each moment becoming more difficult. I had not the
experience to steer at the gait we were going on a quartering
"Now take a run up with the glasses and raise some of the boats.
We've made at least ten knots, and we're going twelve or thirteen
now. The old girl knows how to walk."
I contested myself with the fore crosstrees, some seventy feet
above the deck. As I searched the vacant stretch of water before
me, I comprehended thoroughly the need for haste if we were to
recover any of our men. Indeed, as I gazed at the heavy sea
through which we were running, I doubted that there was a boat
afloat. It did not seem possible that such frail craft could
survive such stress of wind and water.
I could not feel the full force of the wind, for we were running
with it; but from my lofty perch I looked down as though outside
the Ghost and apart from her, and saw the shape of her outlined
sharply against the foaming sea as she tore along instinct with
life. Sometimes she would lift and send across some great wave,
burying her starboard-rail from view, and covering her deck to the
hatches with the boiling ocean. At such moments, starting from a
windward roll, I would go flying through the air with dizzying
swiftness, as though I clung to the end of a huge, inverted
pendulum, the arc of which, between the greater rolls, must have
been seventy feet or more. Once, the terror of this giddy sweep
overpowered me, and for a while I clung on, hand and foot, weak and
trembling, unable to search the sea for the missing boats or to
behold aught of the sea but that which roared beneath and strove to
overwhelm the Ghost.
But the thought of the men in the midst of it steadied me, and in
my quest for them I forgot myself. For an hour I saw nothing but
the naked, desolate sea. And then, where a vagrant shaft of
sunlight struck the ocean and turned its surface to wrathful
silver, I caught a small black speck thrust skyward for an instant
and swallowed up. I waited patiently. Again the tiny point of
black projected itself through the wrathful blaze a couple of
points off our port-bow. I did not attempt to shout, but
communicated the news to Wolf Larsen by waving my arm. He changed
the course, and I signalled affirmation when the speck showed dead
It grew larger, and so swiftly that for the first time I fully
appreciated the speed of our flight. Wolf Larsen motioned for me
to come down, and when I stood beside him at the wheel gave me
instructions for heaving to.
"Expect all hell to break loose," he cautioned me, "but don't mind
it. Yours is to do your own work and to have Cooky stand by the
I managed to make my way forward, but there was little choice of
sides, for the weather-rail seemed buried as often as the lee.
Having instructed Thomas Mugridge as to what he was to do, I
clambered into the fore-rigging a few feet. The boat was now very
close, and I could make out plainly that it was lying head to wind
and sea and dragging on its mast and sail, which had been thrown
overboard and made to serve as a sea-anchor. The three men were
bailing. Each rolling mountain whelmed them from view, and I would
wait with sickening anxiety, fearing that they would never appear
again. Then, and with black suddenness, the boat would shoot clear
through the foaming crest, bow pointed to the sky, and the whole
length of her bottom showing, wet and dark, till she seemed on end.
There would be a fleeting glimpse of the three men flinging water
in frantic haste, when she would topple over and fall into the
yawning valley, bow down and showing her full inside length to the
stern upreared almost directly above the bow. Each time that she
reappeared was a miracle.
The Ghost suddenly changed her course, keeping away, and it came to
me with a shock that Wolf Larsen was giving up the rescue as
impossible. Then I realized that he was preparing to heave to, and
dropped to the deck to be in readiness. We were now dead before
the wind, the boat far away and abreast of us. I felt an abrupt
easing of the schooner, a loss for the moment of all strain and
pressure, coupled with a swift acceleration of speed. She was
rushing around on her heel into the wind.
As she arrived at right angles to the sea, the full force of the
wind (from which we had hitherto run away) caught us. I was
unfortunately and ignorantly facing it. It stood up against me
like a wall, filling my lungs with air which I could not expel.
And as I choked and strangled, and as the Ghost wallowed for an
instant, broadside on and rolling straight over and far into the
wind, I beheld a huge sea rise far above my head. I turned aside,
caught my breath, and looked again. The wave over-topped the
Ghost, and I gazed sheer up and into it. A shaft of sunlight smote
the over-curl, and I caught a glimpse of translucent, rushing
green, backed by a milky smother of foam.
Then it descended, pandemonium broke loose, everything happened at
once. I was struck a crushing, stunning blow, nowhere in
particular and yet everywhere. My hold had been broken loose, I
was under water, and the thought passed through my mind that this
was the terrible thing of which I had heard, the being swept in the
trough of the sea. My body struck and pounded as it was dashed
helplessly along and turned over and over, and when I could hold my
breath no longer, I breathed the stinging salt water into my lungs.
But through it all I clung to the one idea--I MUST GET THE JIB
BACKED OVER TO WINDWARD. I had no fear of death. I had no doubt
but that I should come through somehow. And as this idea of
fulfilling Wolf Larsen's order persisted in my dazed consciousness,
I seemed to see him standing at the wheel in the midst of the wild
welter, pitting his will against the will of the storm and defying
I brought up violently against what I took to be the rail,
breathed, and breathed the sweet air again. I tried to rise, but
struck my head and was knocked back on hands and knees. By some
freak of the waters I had been swept clear under the forecastle-
head and into the eyes. As I scrambled out on all fours, I passed
over the body of Thomas Mugridge, who lay in a groaning heap.
There was no time to investigate. I must get the jib backed over.
When I emerged on deck it seemed that the end of everything had
come. On all sides there was a rending and crashing of wood and
steel and canvas. The Ghost was being wrenched and torn to
fragments. The foresail and fore-topsail, emptied of the wind by
the manoeuvre, and with no one to bring in the sheet in time, were
thundering into ribbons, the heavy boom threshing and splintering
from rail to rail. The air was thick with flying wreckage,
detached ropes and stays were hissing and coiling like snakes, and
down through it all crashed the gaff of the foresail.
The spar could not have missed me by many inches, while it spurred
me to action. Perhaps the situation was not hopeless. I
remembered Wolf Larsen's caution. He had expected all hell to
break loose, and here it was. And where was he? I caught sight of
him toiling at the main-sheet, heaving it in and flat with his
tremendous muscles, the stern of the schooner lifted high in the
air and his body outlined against a white surge of sea sweeping
past. All this, and more,--a whole world of chaos and wreck,--in
possibly fifteen seconds I had seen and heard and grasped.
I did not stop to see what had become of the small boat, but sprang
to the jib-sheet. The jib itself was beginning to slap, partially
filling and emptying with sharp reports; but with a turn of the
sheet and the application of my whole strength each time it
slapped, I slowly backed it. This I know: I did my best. I
pulled till I burst open the ends of all my fingers; and while I
pulled, the flying-jib and staysail split their cloths apart and
thundered into nothingness.
Still I pulled, holding what I gained each time with a double turn
until the next slap gave me more. Then the sheet gave with greater
ease, and Wolf Larsen was beside me, heaving in alone while I was
busied taking up the slack.
"Make fast!" he shouted. "And come on!"
As I followed him, I noted that in spite of rack and ruin a rough
order obtained. The Ghost was hove to. She was still in working
order, and she was still working. Though the rest of her sails
were gone, the jib, backed to windward, and the mainsail hauled
down flat, were themselves holding, and holding her bow to the
furious sea as well.
I looked for the boat, and, while Wolf Larsen cleared the boat-
tackles, saw it lift to leeward on a big sea an not a score of feet
away. And, so nicely had he made his calculation, we drifted
fairly down upon it, so that nothing remained to do but hook the
tackles to either end and hoist it aboard. But this was not done
so easily as it is written.
In the bow was Kerfoot, Oofty-Oofty in the stern, and Kelly
amidships. As we drifted closer the boat would rise on a wave
while we sank in the trough, till almost straight above me I could
see the heads of the three men craned overside and looking down.
Then, the next moment, we would lift and soar upward while they
sank far down beneath us. It seemed incredible that the next surge
should not crush the Ghost down upon the tiny eggshell.
But, at the right moment, I passed the tackle to the Kanaka, while
Wolf Larsen did the same thing forward to Kerfoot. Both tackles
were hooked in a trice, and the three men, deftly timing the roll,
made a simultaneous leap aboard the schooner. As the Ghost rolled
her side out of water, the boat was lifted snugly against her, and
before the return roll came, we had heaved it in over the side and
turned it bottom up on the deck. I noticed blood spouting from
Kerfoot's left hand. In some way the third finger had been crushed
to a pulp. But he gave no sign of pain, and with his single right
hand helped us lash the boat in its place.
"Stand by to let that jib over, you Oofty!" Wolf Larsen commanded,
the very second we had finished with the boat. "Kelly, come aft
and slack off the main-sheet! You, Kerfoot, go for'ard and see
what's become of Cooky! Mr. Van Weyden, run aloft again, and cut
away any stray stuff on your way!"
And having commanded, he went aft with his peculiar tigerish leaps
to the wheel. While I toiled up the fore-shrouds the Ghost slowly
paid off. This time, as we went into the trough of the sea and
were swept, there were no sails to carry away. And, halfway to the
crosstrees and flattened against the rigging by the full force of
the wind so that it would have been impossible for me to have
fallen, the Ghost almost on her beam-ends and the masts parallel
with the water, I looked, not down, but at almost right angles from
the perpendicular, to the deck of the Ghost. But I saw, not the
deck, but where the deck should have been, for it was buried
beneath a wild tumbling of water. Out of this water I could see
the two masts rising, and that was all. The Ghost, for the moment,
was buried beneath the sea. As she squared off more and more,
escaping from the side pressure, she righted herself and broke her
deck, like a whale's back, through the ocean surface.
Then we raced, and wildly, across the wild sea, the while I hung
like a fly in the crosstrees and searched for the other boats. In
half-an-hour I sighted the second one, swamped and bottom up, to
which were desperately clinging Jock Horner, fat Louis, and
Johnson. This time I remained aloft, and Wolf Larsen succeeded in
heaving to without being swept. As before, we drifted down upon
it. Tackles were made fast and lines flung to the men, who
scrambled aboard like monkeys. The boat itself was crushed and
splintered against the schooner's side as it came inboard; but the
wreck was securely lashed, for it could be patched and made whole
Once more the Ghost bore away before the storm, this time so
submerging herself that for some seconds I thought she would never
reappear. Even the wheel, quite a deal higher than the waist, was
covered and swept again and again. At such moments I felt
strangely alone with God, alone with him and watching the chaos of
his wrath. And then the wheel would reappear, and Wolf Larsen's
broad shoulders, his hands gripping the spokes and holding the
schooner to the course of his will, himself an earth-god,
dominating the storm, flinging its descending waters from him and
riding it to his own ends. And oh, the marvel of it! the marvel of
it! That tiny men should live and breathe and work, and drive so
frail a contrivance of wood and cloth through so tremendous an
As before, the Ghost swung out of the trough, lifting her deck
again out of the sea, and dashed before the howling blast. It was
now half-past five, and half-an-hour later, when the last of the
day lost itself in a dim and furious twilight, I sighted a third
boat. It was bottom up, and there was no sign of its crew. Wolf
Larsen repeated his manoeuvre, holding off and then rounding up to
windward and drifting down upon it. But this time he missed by
forty feet, the boat passing astern.
"Number four boat!" Oofty-Oofty cried, his keen eyes reading its
number in the one second when it lifted clear of the foam, and
It was Henderson's boat and with him had been lost Holyoak and
Williams, another of the deep-water crowd. Lost they indubitably
were; but the boat remained, and Wolf Larsen made one more reckless
effort to recover it. I had come down to the deck, and I saw
Horner and Kerfoot vainly protest against the attempt.
"By God, I'll not be robbed of my boat by any storm that ever blew
out of hell!" he shouted, and though we four stood with our heads
together that we might hear, his voice seemed faint and far, as
though removed from us an immense distance.
"Mr. Van Weyden!" he cried, and I heard through the tumult as one
might hear a whisper. "Stand by that jib with Johnson and Oofty!
The rest of you tail aft to the mainsheet! Lively now! or I'll
sail you all into Kingdom Come! Understand?"
And when he put the wheel hard over and the Ghost's bow swung off,
there was nothing for the hunters to do but obey and make the best
of a risky chance. How great the risk I realized when I was once
more buried beneath the pounding seas and clinging for life to the
pinrail at the foot of the foremast. My fingers were torn loose,
and I swept across to the side and over the side into the sea. I
could not swim, but before I could sink I was swept back again. A
strong hand gripped me, and when the Ghost finally emerged, I found
that I owed my life to Johnson. I saw him looking anxiously about
him, and noted that Kelly, who had come forward at the last moment,
This time, having missed the boat, and not being in the same
position as in the previous instances, Wolf Larsen was compelled to
resort to a different manoeuvre. Running off before the wind with
everything to starboard, he came about, and returned close-hauled
on the port tack.
"Grand!" Johnson shouted in my ear, as we successfully came through
the attendant deluge, and I knew he referred, not to Wolf Larsen's
seamanship, but to the performance of the Ghost herself.
It was now so dark that there was no sign of the boat; but Wolf
Larsen held back through the frightful turmoil as if guided by
unerring instinct. This time, though we were continually half-
buried, there was no trough in which to be swept, and we drifted
squarely down upon the upturned boat, badly smashing it as it was
Two hours of terrible work followed, in which all hands of us--two
hunters, three sailors, Wolf Larsen and I--reefed, first one and
then the other, the jib and mainsail. Hove to under this short
canvas, our decks were comparatively free of water, while the Ghost
bobbed and ducked amongst the combers like a cork.
I had burst open the ends of my fingers at the very first, and
during the reefing I had worked with tears of pain running down my
cheeks. And when all was done, I gave up like a woman and rolled
upon the deck in the agony of exhaustion.
In the meantime Thomas Mugridge, like a drowned rat, was being
dragged out from under the forecastle head where he had cravenly
ensconced himself. I saw him pulled aft to the cabin, and noted
with a shock of surprise that the galley had disappeared. A clean
space of deck showed where it had stood.
In the cabin I found all hands assembled, sailors as well, and
while coffee was being cooked over the small stove we drank whisky
and crunched hard-tack. Never in my life had food been so welcome.
And never had hot coffee tasted so good. So violently did the
Ghost, pitch and toss and tumble that it was impossible for even
the sailors to move about without holding on, and several times,
after a cry of "Now she takes it!" we were heaped upon the wall of
the port cabins as though it had been the deck.
"To hell with a look-out," I heard Wolf Larsen say when we had
eaten and drunk our fill. "There's nothing can be done on deck.
If anything's going to run us down we couldn't get out of its way.
Turn in, all hands, and get some sleep."
The sailors slipped forward, setting the side-lights as they went,
while the two hunters remained to sleep in the cabin, it not being
deemed advisable to open the slide to the steerage companion-way.
Wolf Larsen and I, between us, cut off Kerfoot's crushed finger and
sewed up the stump. Mugridge, who, during all the time he had been
compelled to cook and serve coffee and keep the fire going, had
complained of internal pains, now swore that he had a broken rib or
two. On examination we found that he had three. But his case was
deferred to next day, principally for the reason that I did not
know anything about broken ribs and would first have to read it up.
"I don't think it was worth it," I said to Wolf Larsen, "a broken
boat for Kelly's life."
"But Kelly didn't amount to much," was the reply. "Good-night."
After all that had passed, suffering intolerable anguish in my
finger-ends, and with three boats missing, to say nothing of the
wild capers the Ghost was cutting, I should have thought it
impossible to sleep. But my eyes must have closed the instant my
head touched the pillow, and in utter exhaustion I slept throughout
the night, the while the Ghost, lonely and undirected, fought her
way through the storm.
The next day, while the storm was blowing itself out, Wolf Larsen
and I crammed anatomy and surgery and set Mugridge's ribs. Then,
when the storm broke, Wolf Larsen cruised back and forth over that
portion of the ocean where we had encountered it, and somewhat more
to the westward, while the boats were being repaired and new sails
made and bent. Sealing schooner after sealing schooner we sighted
and boarded, most of which were in search of lost boats, and most
of which were carrying boats and crews they had picked up and which
did not belong to them. For the thick of the fleet had been to the
westward of us, and the boats, scattered far and wide, had headed
in mad flight for the nearest refuge.
Two of our boats, with men all safe, we took off the Cisco, and, to
Wolf Larsen's huge delight and my own grief, he culled Smoke, with
Nilson and Leach, from the San Diego. So that, at the end of five
days, we found ourselves short but four men--Henderson, Holyoak,
Williams, and Kelly,--and were once more hunting on the flanks of
As we followed it north we began to encounter the dreaded sea-fogs.
Day after day the boats lowered and were swallowed up almost ere
they touched the water, while we on board pumped the horn at
regular intervals and every fifteen minutes fired the bomb gun.
Boats were continually being lost and found, it being the custom
for a boat to hunt, on lay, with whatever schooner picked it up,
until such time it was recovered by its own schooner. But Wolf
Larsen, as was to be expected, being a boat short, took possession
of the first stray one and compelled its men to hunt with the
Ghost, not permitting them to return to their own schooner when we
sighted it. I remember how he forced the hunter and his two men
below, a riffle at their breasts, when their captain passed by at
biscuit-toss and hailed us for information.
Thomas Mugridge, so strangely and pertinaciously clinging to life,
was soon limping about again and performing his double duties of
cook and cabin-boy. Johnson and Leach were bullied and beaten as
much as ever, and they looked for their lives to end with the end
of the hunting season; while the rest of the crew lived the lives
of dogs and were worked like dogs by their pitiless master. As for
Wolf Larsen and myself, we got along fairly well; though I could
not quite rid myself of the idea that right conduct, for me, lay in
killing him. He fascinated me immeasurably, and I feared him
immeasurably. And yet, I could not imagine him lying prone in
death. There was an endurance, as of perpetual youth, about him,
which rose up and forbade the picture. I could see him only as
living always, and dominating always, fighting and destroying,
One diversion of his, when we were in the midst of the herd and the
sea was too rough to lower the boats, was to lower with two boat-
pullers and a steerer and go out himself. He was a good shot, too,
and brought many a skin aboard under what the hunters termed
impossible hunting conditions. It seemed the breath of his
nostrils, this carrying his life in his hands and struggling for it
against tremendous odds.
I was learning more and more seamanship; and one clear day--a thing
we rarely encountered now--I had the satisfaction of running and
handling the Ghost and picking up the boats myself. Wolf Larsen
had been smitten with one of his headaches, and I stood at the
wheel from morning until evening, sailing across the ocean after
the last lee boat, and heaving to and picking it and the other five
up without command or suggestion from him.
Gales we encountered now and again, for it was a raw and stormy
region, and, in the middle of June, a typhoon most memorable to me
and most important because of the changes wrought through it upon
my future. We must have been caught nearly at the centre of this
circular storm, and Wolf Larsen ran out of it and to the southward,
first under a double-reefed jib, and finally under bare poles.
Never had I imagined so great a sea. The seas previously
encountered were as ripples compared with these, which ran a half-
mile from crest to crest and which upreared, I am confident, above
our masthead. So great was it that Wolf Larsen himself did not
dare heave to, though he was being driven far to the southward and
out of the seal herd.
We must have been well in the path of the trans-Pacific steamships
when the typhoon moderated, and here, to the surprise of the
hunters, we found ourselves in the midst of seals--a second herd,
or sort of rear-guard, they declared, and a most unusual thing.
But it was "Boats over!" the boom-boom of guns, and the pitiful
slaughter through the long day.
It was at this time that I was approached by Leach. I had just
finished tallying the skins of the last boat aboard, when he came
to my side, in the darkness, and said in a low tone:
"Can you tell me, Mr. Van Weyden, how far we are off the coast, and
what the bearings of Yokohama are?"
My heart leaped with gladness, for I knew what he had in mind, and
I gave him the bearings--west-north-west, and five hundred miles
"Thank you, sir," was all he said as he slipped back into the
Next morning No. 3 boat and Johnson and Leach were missing. The
water-breakers and grub-boxes from all the other boats were
likewise missing, as were the beds and sea bags of the two men.
Wolf Larsen was furious. He set sail and bore away into the west-
north-west, two hunters constantly at the mastheads and sweeping
the sea with glasses, himself pacing the deck like an angry lion.
He knew too well my sympathy for the runaways to send me aloft as
The wind was fair but fitful, and it was like looking for a needle
in a haystack to raise that tiny boat out of the blue immensity.
But he put the Ghost through her best paces so as to get between
the deserters and the land. This accomplished, he cruised back and
forth across what he knew must be their course.
On the morning of the third day, shortly after eight bells, a cry
that the boat was sighted came down from Smoke at the masthead.
All hands lined the rail. A snappy breeze was blowing from the
west with the promise of more wind behind it; and there, to
leeward, in the troubled silver of the rising sun, appeared and
disappeared a black speck.
We squared away and ran for it. My heart was as lead. I felt
myself turning sick in anticipation; and as I looked at the gleam
of triumph in Wolf Larsen's eyes, his form swam before me, and I
felt almost irresistibly impelled to fling myself upon him. So
unnerved was I by the thought of impending violence to Leach and
Johnson that my reason must have left me. I know that I slipped
down into the steerage in a daze, and that I was just beginning the
ascent to the deck, a loaded shot-gun in my hands, when I heard the
"There's five men in that boat!"
I supported myself in the companion-way, weak and trembling, while
the observation was being verified by the remarks of the rest of
the men. Then my knees gave from under me and I sank down, myself
again, but overcome by shock at knowledge of what I had so nearly
done. Also, I was very thankful as I put the gun away and slipped
back on deck.
No one had remarked my absence. The boat was near enough for us to
make out that it was larger than any sealing boat and built on
different lines. As we drew closer, the sail was taken in and the
mast unstepped. Oars were shipped, and its occupants waited for us
to heave to and take them aboard.
Smoke, who had descended to the deck and was now standing by my
side, began to chuckle in a significant way. I looked at him
"Talk of a mess!" he giggled.
"What's wrong?" I demanded.
Again he chuckled. "Don't you see there, in the stern-sheets, on
the bottom? May I never shoot a seal again if that ain't a woman!"
I looked closely, but was not sure until exclamations broke out on
all sides. The boat contained four men, and its fifth occupant was
certainly a woman. We were agog with excitement, all except Wolf
Larsen, who was too evidently disappointed in that it was not his
own boat with the two victims of his malice.
We ran down the flying jib, hauled the jib-sheets to wind-ward and
the main-sheet flat, and came up into the wind. The oars struck
the water, and with a few strokes the boat was alongside. I now
caught my first fair glimpse of the woman. She was wrapped in a
long ulster, for the morning was raw; and I could see nothing but
her face and a mass of light brown hair escaping from under the
seaman's cap on her head. The eyes were large and brown and
lustrous, the mouth sweet and sensitive, and the face itself a
delicate oval, though sun and exposure to briny wind had burnt the
She seemed to me like a being from another world. I was aware of a
hungry out-reaching for her, as of a starving man for bread. But
then, I had not seen a woman for a very long time. I know that I
was lost in a great wonder, almost a stupor,--this, then, was a
woman?--so that I forgot myself and my mate's duties, and took no
part in helping the new-comers aboard. For when one of the sailors
lifted her into Wolf Larsen's downstretched arms, she looked up
into our curious faces and smiled amusedly and sweetly, as only a
woman can smile, and as I had seen no one smile for so long that I
had forgotten such smiles existed.
"Mr. Van Weyden!"
Wolf Larsen's voice brought me sharply back to myself.
"Will you take the lady below and see to her comfort? Make up that
spare port cabin. Put Cooky to work on it. And see what you can
do for that face. It's burned badly."
He turned brusquely away from us and began to question the new men.
The boat was cast adrift, though one of them called it a "bloody
shame" with Yokohama so near.
I found myself strangely afraid of this woman I was escorting aft.
Also I was awkward. It seemed to me that I was realizing for the
first time what a delicate, fragile creature a woman is; and as I
caught her arm to help her down the companion stairs, I was
startled by its smallness and softness. Indeed, she was a slender,
delicate woman as women go, but to me she was so ethereally slender
and delicate that I was quite prepared for her arm to crumble in my
grasp. All this, in frankness, to show my first impression, after
long denial of women in general and of Maud Brewster in particular.
"No need to go to any great trouble for me," she protested, when I
had seated her in Wolf Larsen's arm-chair, which I had dragged
hastily from his cabin. "The men were looking for land at any
moment this morning, and the vessel should be in by night; don't
you think so?"
Her simple faith in the immediate future took me aback. How could
I explain to her the situation, the strange man who stalked the sea
like Destiny, all that it had taken me months to learn? But I
"If it were any other captain except ours, I should say you would
be ashore in Yokohama to-morrow. But our captain is a strange man,
and I beg of you to be prepared for anything--understand?--for
"I--I confess I hardly do understand," she hesitated, a perturbed
but not frightened expression in her eyes. "Or is it a
misconception of mine that shipwrecked people are always shown
every consideration? This is such a little thing, you know. We
are so close to land."
"Candidly, I do not know," I strove to reassure her. "I wished
merely to prepare you for the worst, if the worst is to come. This
man, this captain, is a brute, a demon, and one can never tell what
will be his next fantastic act."
I was growing excited, but she interrupted me with an "Oh, I see,"
and her voice sounded weary. To think was patently an effort. She
was clearly on the verge of physical collapse.
She asked no further questions, and I vouchsafed no remark,
devoting myself to Wolf Larsen's command, which was to make her
comfortable. I bustled about in quite housewifely fashion,
procuring soothing lotions for her sunburn, raiding Wolf Larsen's
private stores for a bottle of port I knew to be there, and
directing Thomas Mugridge in the preparation of the spare state-
The wind was freshening rapidly, the Ghost heeling over more and
more, and by the time the state-room was ready she was dashing
through the water at a lively clip. I had quite forgotten the
existence of Leach and Johnson, when suddenly, like a thunderclap,
"Boat ho!" came down the open companion-way. It was Smoke's
unmistakable voice, crying from the masthead. I shot a glance at
the woman, but she was leaning back in the arm-chair, her eyes
closed, unutterably tired. I doubted that she had heard, and I
resolved to prevent her seeing the brutality I knew would follow
the capture of the deserters. She was tired. Very good. She
There were swift commands on deck, a stamping of feet and a
slapping of reef-points as the Ghost shot into the wind and about
on the other tack. As she filled away and heeled, the arm-chair
began to slide across the cabin floor, and I sprang for it just in
time to prevent the rescued woman from being spilled out.
Her eyes were too heavy to suggest more than a hint of the sleepy
surprise that perplexed her as she looked up at me, and she half
stumbled, half tottered, as I led her to her cabin. Mugridge
grinned insinuatingly in my face as I shoved him out and ordered
him back to his galley work; and he won his revenge by spreading
glowing reports among the hunters as to what an excellent "lydy's-
myde" I was proving myself to be.
She leaned heavily against me, and I do believe that she had fallen
asleep again between the arm-chair and the state-room. This I
discovered when she nearly fell into the bunk during a sudden lurch
of the schooner. She aroused, smiled drowsily, and was off to
sleep again; and asleep I left her, under a heavy pair of sailor's
blankets, her head resting on a pillow I had appropriated from Wolf
I came on deck to find the Ghost heading up close on the port tack
and cutting in to windward of a familiar spritsail close-hauled on
the same tack ahead of us. All hands were on deck, for they knew
that something was to happen when Leach and Johnson were dragged
It was four bells. Louis came aft to relieve the wheel. There was
a dampness in the air, and I noticed he had on his oilskins.
"What are we going to have?" I asked him.
"A healthy young slip of a gale from the breath iv it, sir," he
answered, "with a splatter iv rain just to wet our gills an' no
"Too bad we sighted them," I said, as the Ghost's bow was flung off
a point by a large sea and the boat leaped for a moment past the
jibs and into our line of vision.
Louis gave a spoke and temporized. "They'd never iv made the land,
sir, I'm thinkin'."
"Think not?" I queried.
"No, sir. Did you feel that?" (A puff had caught the schooner,
and he was forced to put the wheel up rapidly to keep her out of
the wind.) "'Tis no egg-shell'll float on this sea an hour come,
an' it's a stroke iv luck for them we're here to pick 'em up."
Wolf Larsen strode aft from amidships, where he had been talking
with the rescued men. The cat-like springiness in his tread was a
little more pronounced than usual, and his eyes were bright and
"Three oilers and a fourth engineer," was his greeting. "But we'll
make sailors out of them, or boat-pullers at any rate. Now, what
of the lady?"
I know not why, but I was aware of a twinge or pang like the cut of
a knife when he mentioned her. I thought it a certain silly
fastidiousness on my part, but it persisted in spite of me, and I
merely shrugged my shoulders in answer.
Wolf Larsen pursed his lips in a long, quizzical whistle.
"What's her name, then?" he demanded.
"I don't know," I replied. "She is asleep. She was very tired.
In fact, I am waiting to hear the news from you. What vessel was
"Mail steamer," he answered shortly. "The City of Tokio, from
'Frisco, bound for Yokohama. Disabled in that typhoon. Old tub.
Opened up top and bottom like a sieve. They were adrift four days.
And you don't know who or what she is, eh?--maid, wife, or widow?
He shook his head in a bantering way, and regarded me with laughing
"Are you--" I began. It was on the verge of my tongue to ask if he
were going to take the castaways into Yokohama.
"Am I what?" he asked.
"What do you intend doing with Leach and Johnson?"
He shook his head. "Really, Hump, I don't know. You see, with
these additions I've about all the crew I want."
"And they've about all the escaping they want," I said. "Why not
give them a change of treatment? Take them aboard, and deal gently
with them. Whatever they have done they have been hounded into
"By you," I answered steadily. "And I give you warning, Wolf
Larsen, that I may forget love of my own life in the desire to kill
you if you go too far in maltreating those poor wretches."
"Bravo!" he cried. "You do me proud, Hump! You've found your legs
with a vengeance. You're quite an individual. You were
unfortunate in having your life cast in easy places, but you're
developing, and I like you the better for it."
His voice and expression changed. His face was serious. "Do you
believe in promises?" he asked. "Are they sacred things?"
"Of course," I answered.
"Then here's a compact," he went on, consummate actor. "If I
promise not to lay my hands upon Leach will you promise, in turn,
not to attempt to kill me?"
"Oh, not that I'm afraid of you, not that I'm afraid of you," he
hastened to add.
I could hardly believe my ears. What was coming over the man?
"Is it a go?" he asked impatiently.