Jack London

The Sea Wolf

Part II


By the following morning the storm had blown itself quite out and the Ghost was rolling slightly on a calm sea without a breath of wind. Occasional light airs were felt, however, and Wolf Larsen patrolled the poop constantly, his eyes ever searching the sea to the north-eastward, from which direction the great trade-wind must blow.

The men were all on deck and busy preparing their various boats for the season’s hunting. There are seven boats aboard, the captain’s dingey, and the six which the hunters will use. Three, a hunter, a boat-puller, and a boat-steerer, compose a boat’s crew. On board the schooner the boat-pullers and steerers are the crew. The hunters, too, are supposed to be in command of the watches, subject, always, to the orders of Wolf Larsen.

All this, and more, I have learned. The Ghost is considered the fastest schooner in both the San Francisco and Victoria fleets. In fact, she was once a private yacht, and was built for speed. Her lines and fittings—though I know nothing about such things—speak for themselves. Johnson was telling me about her in a short chat I had with him during yesterday’s second dog-watch. He spoke enthusiastically, with the love for a fine craft such as some men feel for horses. He is greatly disgusted with the outlook, and I am given to understand that Wolf Larsen bears a very unsavoury reputation among the sealing captains. It was the Ghost herself that lured Johnson into signing for the voyage, but he is already beginning to repent.

As he told me, the Ghost is an eighty-ton schooner of a remarkably fine model. Her beam, or width, is twenty-three feet, and her length a little over ninety feet. A lead keel of fabulous but unknown weight makes her very stable, while she carries an immense spread of canvas. From the deck to the truck of the maintopmast is something over a hundred feet, while the foremast with its topmast is eight or ten feet shorter. I am giving these details so that the size of this little floating world which holds twenty-two men may be appreciated. It is a very little world, a mote, a speck, and I marvel that men should dare to venture the sea on a contrivance so small and fragile.

Wolf Larsen has, also, a reputation for reckless carrying on of sail. I overheard Henderson and another of the hunters, Standish, a Californian, talking about it. Two years ago he dismasted the Ghost in a gale on Bering Sea, whereupon the present masts were put in, which are stronger and heavier in every way. He is said to have remarked, when he put them in, that he preferred turning her over to losing the sticks.

Every man aboard, with the exception of Johansen, who is rather overcome by his promotion, seems to have an excuse for having sailed on the Ghost. Half the men forward are deep-water sailors, and their excuse is that they did not know anything about her or her captain. And those who do know, whisper that the hunters, while excellent shots, were so notorious for their quarrelsome and rascally proclivities that they could not sign on any decent schooner.

I have made the acquaintance of another one of the crew,—Louis he is called, a rotund and jovial-faced Nova Scotia Irishman, and a very sociable fellow, prone to talk as long as he can find a listener. In the afternoon, while the cook was below asleep and I was peeling the everlasting potatoes, Louis dropped into the galley for a “yarn.”  His excuse for being aboard was that he was drunk when he signed. He assured me again and again that it was the last thing in the world he would dream of doing in a sober moment. It seems that he has been seal-hunting regularly each season for a dozen years, and is accounted one of the two or three very best boat-steerers in both fleets.

“Ah, my boy,” he shook his head ominously at me, “’tis the worst schooner ye could iv selected, nor were ye drunk at the time as was I. ’Tis sealin’ is the sailor’s paradise—on other ships than this. The mate was the first, but mark me words, there’ll be more dead men before the trip is done with. Hist, now, between you an’ meself and the stanchion there, this Wolf Larsen is a regular devil, an’ the Ghost’ll be a hell-ship like she’s always ben since he had hold iv her. Don’t I know?  Don’t I know?  Don’t I remember him in Hakodate two years gone, when he had a row an’ shot four iv his men?  Wasn’t I a-layin’ on the Emma L., not three hundred yards away?  An’ there was a man the same year he killed with a blow iv his fist. Yes, sir, killed ’im dead-oh. His head must iv smashed like an eggshell. An’ wasn’t there the Governor of Kura Island, an’ the Chief iv Police, Japanese gentlemen, sir, an’ didn’t they come aboard the Ghost as his guests, a-bringin’ their wives along—wee an’ pretty little bits of things like you see ’em painted on fans. An’ as he was a-gettin’ under way, didn’t the fond husbands get left astern-like in their sampan, as it might be by accident?  An’ wasn’t it a week later that the poor little ladies was put ashore on the other side of the island, with nothin’ before ’em but to walk home acrost the mountains on their weeny-teeny little straw sandals which wouldn’t hang together a mile?  Don’t I know?  ’Tis the beast he is, this Wolf Larsen—the great big beast mentioned iv in Revelation; an’ no good end will he ever come to. But I’ve said nothin’ to ye, mind ye. I’ve whispered never a word; for old fat Louis’ll live the voyage out if the last mother’s son of yez go to the fishes.”

“Wolf Larsen!” he snorted a moment later. “Listen to the word, will ye!  Wolf—’tis what he is. He’s not black-hearted like some men. ’Tis no heart he has at all. Wolf, just wolf, ’tis what he is. D’ye wonder he’s well named?”

“But if he is so well-known for what he is,” I queried, “how is it that he can get men to ship with him?”

“An’ how is it ye can get men to do anything on God’s earth an’ sea?” Louis demanded with Celtic fire. “How d’ye find me aboard if ’twasn’t that I was drunk as a pig when I put me name down?  There’s them that can’t sail with better men, like the hunters, and them that don’t know, like the poor devils of wind-jammers for’ard there. But they’ll come to it, they’ll come to it, an’ be sorry the day they was born. I could weep for the poor creatures, did I but forget poor old fat Louis and the troubles before him. But ’tis not a whisper I’ve dropped, mind ye, not a whisper.”

“Them hunters is the wicked boys,” he broke forth again, for he suffered from a constitutional plethora of speech. “But wait till they get to cutting up iv jinks and rowin’ ’round. He’s the boy’ll fix ’em. ’Tis him that’ll put the fear of God in their rotten black hearts. Look at that hunter iv mine, Horner. ‘Jock’ Horner they call him, so quiet-like an’ easy-goin’, soft-spoken as a girl, till ye’d think butter wouldn’t melt in the mouth iv him. Didn’t he kill his boat-steerer last year?  ’Twas called a sad accident, but I met the boat-puller in Yokohama an’ the straight iv it was given me. An’ there’s Smoke, the black little devil—didn’t the Roosians have him for three years in the salt mines of Siberia, for poachin’ on Copper Island, which is a Roosian preserve?  Shackled he was, hand an’ foot, with his mate. An’ didn’t they have words or a ruction of some kind?—for ’twas the other fellow Smoke sent up in the buckets to the top of the mine; an’ a piece at a time he went up, a leg to-day, an’ to-morrow an arm, the next day the head, an’ so on.”

“But you can’t mean it!” I cried out, overcome with the horror of it.

“Mean what!” he demanded, quick as a flash. “’Tis nothin’ I’ve said. Deef I am, and dumb, as ye should be for the sake iv your mother; an’ never once have I opened me lips but to say fine things iv them an’ him, God curse his soul, an’ may he rot in purgatory ten thousand years, and then go down to the last an’ deepest hell iv all!”

Johnson, the man who had chafed me raw when I first came aboard, seemed the least equivocal of the men forward or aft. In fact, there was nothing equivocal about him. One was struck at once by his straightforwardness and manliness, which, in turn, were tempered by a modesty which might be mistaken for timidity. But timid he was not. He seemed, rather, to have the courage of his convictions, the certainty of his manhood. It was this that made him protest, at the commencement of our acquaintance, against being called Yonson. And upon this, and him, Louis passed judgment and prophecy.

“’Tis a fine chap, that squarehead Johnson we’ve for’ard with us,” he said. “The best sailorman in the fo’c’sle. He’s my boat-puller. But it’s to trouble he’ll come with Wolf Larsen, as the sparks fly upward. It’s meself that knows. I can see it brewin’ an’ comin’ up like a storm in the sky. I’ve talked to him like a brother, but it’s little he sees in takin’ in his lights or flyin’ false signals. He grumbles out when things don’t go to suit him, and there’ll be always some tell-tale carryin’ word iv it aft to the Wolf. The Wolf is strong, and it’s the way of a wolf to hate strength, an’ strength it is he’ll see in Johnson—no knucklin’ under, and a ‘Yes, sir, thank ye kindly, sir,’ for a curse or a blow. Oh, she’s a-comin’!  She’s a-comin’!  An’ God knows where I’ll get another boat-puller!  What does the fool up an’ say, when the old man calls him Yonson, but ‘Me name is Johnson, sir,’ an’ then spells it out, letter for letter. Ye should iv seen the old man’s face!  I thought he’d let drive at him on the spot. He didn’t, but he will, an’ he’ll break that squarehead’s heart, or it’s little I know iv the ways iv men on the ships iv the sea.”

Thomas Mugridge is becoming unendurable. I am compelled to Mister him and to Sir him with every speech. One reason for this is that Wolf Larsen seems to have taken a fancy to him. It is an unprecedented thing, I take it, for a captain to be chummy with the cook; but this is certainly what Wolf Larsen is doing. Two or three times he put his head into the galley and chaffed Mugridge good-naturedly, and once, this afternoon, he stood by the break of the poop and chatted with him for fully fifteen minutes. When it was over, and Mugridge was back in the galley, he became greasily radiant, and went about his work, humming coster songs in a nerve-racking and discordant falsetto.

“I always get along with the officers,” he remarked to me in a confidential tone. “I know the w’y, I do, to myke myself uppreci-yted. There was my last skipper—w’y I thought nothin’ of droppin’ down in the cabin for a little chat and a friendly glass. ‘Mugridge,’ sez ’e to me, ‘Mugridge,’ sez ’e, ‘you’ve missed yer vokytion.’  ‘An’ ’ow’s that?’ sez I. ‘Yer should ’a been born a gentleman, an’ never ’ad to work for yer livin’.’  God strike me dead, ’Ump, if that ayn’t wot ’e sez, an’ me a-sittin’ there in ’is own cabin, jolly-like an’ comfortable, a-smokin’ ’is cigars an’ drinkin’ ’is rum.”

This chitter-chatter drove me to distraction. I never heard a voice I hated so. His oily, insinuating tones, his greasy smile and his monstrous self-conceit grated on my nerves till sometimes I was all in a tremble. Positively, he was the most disgusting and loathsome person I have ever met. The filth of his cooking was indescribable; and, as he cooked everything that was eaten aboard, I was compelled to select what I ate with great circumspection, choosing from the least dirty of his concoctions.

My hands bothered me a great deal, unused as they were to work. The nails were discoloured and black, while the skin was already grained with dirt which even a scrubbing-brush could not remove. Then blisters came, in a painful and never-ending procession, and I had a great burn on my forearm, acquired by losing my balance in a roll of the ship and pitching against the galley stove. Nor was my knee any better. The swelling had not gone down, and the cap was still up on edge. Hobbling about on it from morning till night was not helping it any. What I needed was rest, if it were ever to get well.

Rest!  I never before knew the meaning of the word. I had been resting all my life and did not know it. But now, could I sit still for one half-hour and do nothing, not even think, it would be the most pleasurable thing in the world. But it is a revelation, on the other hand. I shall be able to appreciate the lives of the working people hereafter. I did not dream that work was so terrible a thing. From half-past five in the morning till ten o’clock at night I am everybody’s slave, with not one moment to myself, except such as I can steal near the end of the second dog-watch. Let me pause for a minute to look out over the sea sparkling in the sun, or to gaze at a sailor going aloft to the gaff-topsails, or running out the bowsprit, and I am sure to hear the hateful voice, “’Ere, you, ’Ump, no sodgerin’. I’ve got my peepers on yer.”

There are signs of rampant bad temper in the steerage, and the gossip is going around that Smoke and Henderson have had a fight. Henderson seems the best of the hunters, a slow-going fellow, and hard to rouse; but roused he must have been, for Smoke had a bruised and discoloured eye, and looked particularly vicious when he came into the cabin for supper.

A cruel thing happened just before supper, indicative of the callousness and brutishness of these men. There is one green hand in the crew, Harrison by name, a clumsy-looking country boy, mastered, I imagine, by the spirit of adventure, and making his first voyage. In the light baffling airs the schooner had been tacking about a great deal, at which times the sails pass from one side to the other and a man is sent aloft to shift over the fore-gaff-topsail. In some way, when Harrison was aloft, the sheet jammed in the block through which it runs at the end of the gaff. As I understood it, there were two ways of getting it cleared,—first, by lowering the foresail, which was comparatively easy and without danger; and second, by climbing out the peak-halyards to the end of the gaff itself, an exceedingly hazardous performance.

Johansen called out to Harrison to go out the halyards. It was patent to everybody that the boy was afraid. And well he might be, eighty feet above the deck, to trust himself on those thin and jerking ropes. Had there been a steady breeze it would not have been so bad, but the Ghost was rolling emptily in a long sea, and with each roll the canvas flapped and boomed and the halyards slacked and jerked taut. They were capable of snapping a man off like a fly from a whip-lash.

Harrison heard the order and understood what was demanded of him, but hesitated. It was probably the first time he had been aloft in his life. Johansen, who had caught the contagion of Wolf Larsen’s masterfulness, burst out with a volley of abuse and curses.

“That’ll do, Johansen,” Wolf Larsen said brusquely. “I’ll have you know that I do the swearing on this ship. If I need your assistance, I’ll call you in.”

“Yes, sir,” the mate acknowledged submissively.

In the meantime Harrison had started out on the halyards. I was looking up from the galley door, and I could see him trembling, as if with ague, in every limb. He proceeded very slowly and cautiously, an inch at a time. Outlined against the clear blue of the sky, he had the appearance of an enormous spider crawling along the tracery of its web.

It was a slight uphill climb, for the foresail peaked high; and the halyards, running through various blocks on the gaff and mast, gave him separate holds for hands and feet. But the trouble lay in that the wind was not strong enough nor steady enough to keep the sail full. When he was half-way out, the Ghost took a long roll to windward and back again into the hollow between two seas. Harrison ceased his progress and held on tightly. Eighty feet beneath, I could see the agonized strain of his muscles as he gripped for very life. The sail emptied and the gaff swung amid-ships. The halyards slackened, and, though it all happened very quickly, I could see them sag beneath the weight of his body. Then the gag swung to the side with an abrupt swiftness, the great sail boomed like a cannon, and the three rows of reef-points slatted against the canvas like a volley of rifles. Harrison, clinging on, made the giddy rush through the air. This rush ceased abruptly. The halyards became instantly taut. It was the snap of the whip. His clutch was broken. One hand was torn loose from its hold. The other lingered desperately for a moment, and followed. His body pitched out and down, but in some way he managed to save himself with his legs. He was hanging by them, head downward. A quick effort brought his hands up to the halyards again; but he was a long time regaining his former position, where he hung, a pitiable object.

“I’ll bet he has no appetite for supper,” I heard Wolf Larsen’s voice, which came to me from around the corner of the galley. “Stand from under, you, Johansen!  Watch out!  Here she comes!”

In truth, Harrison was very sick, as a person is sea-sick; and for a long time he clung to his precarious perch without attempting to move. Johansen, however, continued violently to urge him on to the completion of his task.

“It is a shame,” I heard Johnson growling in painfully slow and correct English. He was standing by the main rigging, a few feet away from me. “The boy is willing enough. He will learn if he has a chance. But this is—”  He paused awhile, for the word “murder” was his final judgment.

“Hist, will ye!” Louis whispered to him, “For the love iv your mother hold your mouth!”

But Johnson, looking on, still continued his grumbling.

“Look here,” the hunter Standish spoke to Wolf Larsen, “that’s my boat-puller, and I don’t want to lose him.”

“That’s all right, Standish,” was the reply. “He’s your boat-puller when you’ve got him in the boat; but he’s my sailor when I have him aboard, and I’ll do what I damn well please with him.”

“But that’s no reason—” Standish began in a torrent of speech.

“That’ll do, easy as she goes,” Wolf Larsen counselled back. “I’ve told you what’s what, and let it stop at that. The man’s mine, and I’ll make soup of him and eat it if I want to.”

There was an angry gleam in the hunter’s eye, but he turned on his heel and entered the steerage companion-way, where he remained, looking upward. All hands were on deck now, and all eyes were aloft, where a human life was at grapples with death. The callousness of these men, to whom industrial organization gave control of the lives of other men, was appalling. I, who had lived out of the whirl of the world, had never dreamed that its work was carried on in such fashion. Life had always seemed a peculiarly sacred thing, but here it counted for nothing, was a cipher in the arithmetic of commerce. I must say, however, that the sailors themselves were sympathetic, as instance the case of Johnson; but the masters (the hunters and the captain) were heartlessly indifferent. Even the protest of Standish arose out of the fact that he did not wish to lose his boat-puller. Had it been some other hunter’s boat-puller, he, like them, would have been no more than amused.

But to return to Harrison. It took Johansen, insulting and reviling the poor wretch, fully ten minutes to get him started again. A little later he made the end of the gaff, where, astride the spar itself, he had a better chance for holding on. He cleared the sheet, and was free to return, slightly downhill now, along the halyards to the mast. But he had lost his nerve. Unsafe as was his present position, he was loath to forsake it for the more unsafe position on the halyards.

He looked along the airy path he must traverse, and then down to the deck. His eyes were wide and staring, and he was trembling violently. I had never seen fear so strongly stamped upon a human face. Johansen called vainly for him to come down. At any moment he was liable to be snapped off the gaff, but he was helpless with fright. Wolf Larsen, walking up and down with Smoke and in conversation, took no more notice of him, though he cried sharply, once, to the man at the wheel:

“You’re off your course, my man!  Be careful, unless you’re looking for trouble!”

“Ay, ay, sir,” the helmsman responded, putting a couple of spokes down.

He had been guilty of running the Ghost several points off her course in order that what little wind there was should fill the foresail and hold it steady. He had striven to help the unfortunate Harrison at the risk of incurring Wolf Larsen’s anger.

The time went by, and the suspense, to me, was terrible. Thomas Mugridge, on the other hand, considered it a laughable affair, and was continually bobbing his head out the galley door to make jocose remarks. How I hated him!  And how my hatred for him grew and grew, during that fearful time, to cyclopean dimensions. For the first time in my life I experienced the desire to murder—“saw red,” as some of our picturesque writers phrase it. Life in general might still be sacred, but life in the particular case of Thomas Mugridge had become very profane indeed. I was frightened when I became conscious that I was seeing red, and the thought flashed through my mind: was I, too, becoming tainted by the brutality of my environment?—I, who even in the most flagrant crimes had denied the justice and righteousness of capital punishment?

Fully half-an-hour went by, and then I saw Johnson and Louis in some sort of altercation. It ended with Johnson flinging off Louis’s detaining arm and starting forward. He crossed the deck, sprang into the fore rigging, and began to climb. But the quick eye of Wolf Larsen caught him.

“Here, you, what are you up to?” he cried.

Johnson’s ascent was arrested. He looked his captain in the eyes and replied slowly:

“I am going to get that boy down.”

“You’ll get down out of that rigging, and damn lively about it!  D’ye hear?  Get down!”

Johnson hesitated, but the long years of obedience to the masters of ships overpowered him, and he dropped sullenly to the deck and went on forward.

At half after five I went below to set the cabin table, but I hardly knew what I did, for my eyes and my brain were filled with the vision of a man, white-faced and trembling, comically like a bug, clinging to the thrashing gaff. At six o’clock, when I served supper, going on deck to get the food from the galley, I saw Harrison, still in the same position. The conversation at the table was of other things. Nobody seemed interested in the wantonly imperilled life. But making an extra trip to the galley a little later, I was gladdened by the sight of Harrison staggering weakly from the rigging to the forecastle scuttle. He had finally summoned the courage to descend.

Before closing this incident, I must give a scrap of conversation I had with Wolf Larsen in the cabin, while I was washing the dishes.

“You were looking squeamish this afternoon,” he began. “What was the matter?”

I could see that he knew what had made me possibly as sick as Harrison, that he was trying to draw me, and I answered, “It was because of the brutal treatment of that boy.”

He gave a short laugh. “Like sea-sickness, I suppose. Some men are subject to it, and others are not.”

“Not so,” I objected.

“Just so,” he went on. “The earth is as full of brutality as the sea is full of motion. And some men are made sick by the one, and some by the other. That’s the only reason.”

“But you, who make a mock of human life, don’t you place any value upon it whatever?” I demanded.

“Value?  What value?”  He looked at me, and though his eyes were steady and motionless, there seemed a cynical smile in them. “What kind of value?  How do you measure it?  Who values it?”

“I do,” I made answer.

“Then what is it worth to you?  Another man’s life, I mean. Come now, what is it worth?”

The value of life?  How could I put a tangible value upon it?  Somehow, I, who have always had expression, lacked expression when with Wolf Larsen. I have since determined that a part of it was due to the man’s personality, but that the greater part was due to his totally different outlook. Unlike other materialists I had met and with whom I had something in common to start on, I had nothing in common with him. Perhaps, also, it was the elemental simplicity of his mind that baffled me. He drove so directly to the core of the matter, divesting a question always of all superfluous details, and with such an air of finality, that I seemed to find myself struggling in deep water, with no footing under me. Value of life?  How could I answer the question on the spur of the moment?  The sacredness of life I had accepted as axiomatic. That it was intrinsically valuable was a truism I had never questioned. But when he challenged the truism I was speechless.

“We were talking about this yesterday,” he said. “I held that life was a ferment, a yeasty something which devoured life that it might live, and that living was merely successful piggishness. Why, if there is anything in supply and demand, life is the cheapest thing in the world. There is only so much water, so much earth, so much air; but the life that is demanding to be born is limitless. Nature is a spendthrift. Look at the fish and their millions of eggs. For that matter, look at you and me. In our loins are the possibilities of millions of lives. Could we but find time and opportunity and utilize the last bit and every bit of the unborn life that is in us, we could become the fathers of nations and populate continents. Life?  Bah!  It has no value. Of cheap things it is the cheapest. Everywhere it goes begging. Nature spills it out with a lavish hand. Where there is room for one life, she sows a thousand lives, and it’s life eats life till the strongest and most piggish life is left.”

“You have read Darwin,” I said. “But you read him misunderstandingly when you conclude that the struggle for existence sanctions your wanton destruction of life.”

He shrugged his shoulders. “You know you only mean that in relation to human life, for of the flesh and the fowl and the fish you destroy as much as I or any other man. And human life is in no wise different, though you feel it is and think that you reason why it is. Why should I be parsimonious with this life which is cheap and without value?  There are more sailors than there are ships on the sea for them, more workers than there are factories or machines for them. Why, you who live on the land know that you house your poor people in the slums of cities and loose famine and pestilence upon them, and that there still remain more poor people, dying for want of a crust of bread and a bit of meat (which is life destroyed), than you know what to do with. Have you ever seen the London dockers fighting like wild beasts for a chance to work?”

He started for the companion stairs, but turned his head for a final word. “Do you know the only value life has is what life puts upon itself?  And it is of course over-estimated since it is of necessity prejudiced in its own favour. Take that man I had aloft. He held on as if he were a precious thing, a treasure beyond diamonds or rubies. To you?  No. To me?  Not at all. To himself?  Yes. But I do not accept his estimate. He sadly overrates himself. There is plenty more life demanding to be born. Had he fallen and dripped his brains upon the deck like honey from the comb, there would have been no loss to the world. He was worth nothing to the world. The supply is too large. To himself only was he of value, and to show how fictitious even this value was, being dead he is unconscious that he has lost himself. He alone rated himself beyond diamonds and rubies. Diamonds and rubies are gone, spread out on the deck to be washed away by a bucket of sea-water, and he does not even know that the diamonds and rubies are gone. He does not lose anything, for with the loss of himself he loses the knowledge of loss. Don’t you see?  And what have you to say?”

“That you are at least consistent,” was all I could say, and I went on washing the dishes.


At last, after three days of variable winds, we have caught the north-east trades. I came on deck, after a good night’s rest in spite of my poor knee, to find the Ghost foaming along, wing-and-wing, and every sail drawing except the jibs, with a fresh breeze astern. Oh, the wonder of the great trade-wind!  All day we sailed, and all night, and the next day, and the next, day after day, the wind always astern and blowing steadily and strong. The schooner sailed herself. There was no pulling and hauling on sheets and tackles, no shifting of topsails, no work at all for the sailors to do except to steer. At night when the sun went down, the sheets were slackened; in the morning, when they yielded up the damp of the dew and relaxed, they were pulled tight again—and that was all.

Ten knots, twelve knots, eleven knots, varying from time to time, is the speed we are making. And ever out of the north-east the brave wind blows, driving us on our course two hundred and fifty miles between the dawns. It saddens me and gladdens me, the gait with which we are leaving San Francisco behind and with which we are foaming down upon the tropics. Each day grows perceptibly warmer. In the second dog-watch the sailors come on deck, stripped, and heave buckets of water upon one another from overside. Flying-fish are beginning to be seen, and during the night the watch above scrambles over the deck in pursuit of those that fall aboard. In the morning, Thomas Mugridge being duly bribed, the galley is pleasantly areek with the odour of their frying; while dolphin meat is served fore and aft on such occasions as Johnson catches the blazing beauties from the bowsprit end.

Johnson seems to spend all his spare time there or aloft at the crosstrees, watching the Ghost cleaving the water under press of sail. There is passion, adoration, in his eyes, and he goes about in a sort of trance, gazing in ecstasy at the swelling sails, the foaming wake, and the heave and the run of her over the liquid mountains that are moving with us in stately procession.

The days and nights are “all a wonder and a wild delight,” and though I have little time from my dreary work, I steal odd moments to gaze and gaze at the unending glory of what I never dreamed the world possessed. Above, the sky is stainless blue—blue as the sea itself, which under the forefoot is of the colour and sheen of azure satin. All around the horizon are pale, fleecy clouds, never changing, never moving, like a silver setting for the flawless turquoise sky.

I do not forget one night, when I should have been asleep, of lying on the forecastle-head and gazing down at the spectral ripple of foam thrust aside by the Ghost’s forefoot. It sounded like the gurgling of a brook over mossy stones in some quiet dell, and the crooning song of it lured me away and out of myself till I was no longer Hump the cabin-boy, nor Van Weyden, the man who had dreamed away thirty-five years among books. But a voice behind me, the unmistakable voice of Wolf Larsen, strong with the invincible certitude of the man and mellow with appreciation of the words he was quoting, aroused me.

“‘O the blazing tropic night, when the wake’s a welt of light
That holds the hot sky tame,
And the steady forefoot snores through the planet-powdered floors
Where the scared whale flukes in flame.
Her plates are scarred by the sun, dear lass,
And her ropes are taut with the dew,
For we’re booming down on the old trail, our own trail, the out trail,
We’re sagging south on the Long Trail—the trail that is always new.’”

“Eh, Hump?  How’s it strike you?” he asked, after the due pause which words and setting demanded.

I looked into his face. It was aglow with light, as the sea itself, and the eyes were flashing in the starshine.

“It strikes me as remarkable, to say the least, that you should show enthusiasm,” I answered coldly.

“Why, man, it’s living! it’s life!” he cried.

“Which is a cheap thing and without value.”  I flung his words at him.

He laughed, and it was the first time I had heard honest mirth in his voice.

“Ah, I cannot get you to understand, cannot drive it into your head, what a thing this life is. Of course life is valueless, except to itself. And I can tell you that my life is pretty valuable just now—to myself. It is beyond price, which you will acknowledge is a terrific overrating, but which I cannot help, for it is the life that is in me that makes the rating.”

He appeared waiting for the words with which to express the thought that was in him, and finally went on.

“Do you know, I am filled with a strange uplift; I feel as if all time were echoing through me, as though all powers were mine. I know truth, divine good from evil, right from wrong. My vision is clear and far. I could almost believe in God. But,” and his voice changed and the light went out of his face,—“what is this condition in which I find myself? this joy of living? this exultation of life? this inspiration, I may well call it?  It is what comes when there is nothing wrong with one’s digestion, when his stomach is in trim and his appetite has an edge, and all goes well. It is the bribe for living, the champagne of the blood, the effervescence of the ferment—that makes some men think holy thoughts, and other men to see God or to create him when they cannot see him. That is all, the drunkenness of life, the stirring and crawling of the yeast, the babbling of the life that is insane with consciousness that it is alive. And—bah!  To-morrow I shall pay for it as the drunkard pays. And I shall know that I must die, at sea most likely, cease crawling of myself to be all a-crawl with the corruption of the sea; to be fed upon, to be carrion, to yield up all the strength and movement of my muscles that it may become strength and movement in fin and scale and the guts of fishes. Bah!  And bah! again. The champagne is already flat. The sparkle and bubble has gone out and it is a tasteless drink.”

He left me as suddenly as he had come, springing to the deck with the weight and softness of a tiger. The Ghost ploughed on her way. I noted the gurgling forefoot was very like a snore, and as I listened to it the effect of Wolf Larsen’s swift rush from sublime exultation to despair slowly left me. Then some deep-water sailor, from the waist of the ship, lifted a rich tenor voice in the “Song of the Trade Wind”:

“Oh, I am the wind the seamen love—
I am steady, and strong, and true;
They follow my track by the clouds above,
O’er the fathomless tropic blue.

* * * * *

Through daylight and dark I follow the bark
I keep like a hound on her trail;
I’m strongest at noon, yet under the moon,
I stiffen the bunt of her sail.”


Sometimes I think Wolf Larsen mad, or half-mad at least, what of his strange moods and vagaries. At other times I take him for a great man, a genius who has never arrived. And, finally, I am convinced that he is the perfect type of the primitive man, born a thousand years or generations too late and an anachronism in this culminating century of civilization. He is certainly an individualist of the most pronounced type. Not only that, but he is very lonely. There is no congeniality between him and the rest of the men aboard ship. His tremendous virility and mental strength wall him apart. They are more like children to him, even the hunters, and as children he treats them, descending perforce to their level and playing with them as a man plays with puppies. Or else he probes them with the cruel hand of a vivisectionist, groping about in their mental processes and examining their souls as though to see of what soul-stuff is made.

I have seen him a score of times, at table, insulting this hunter or that, with cool and level eyes and, withal, a certain air of interest, pondering their actions or replies or petty rages with a curiosity almost laughable to me who stood onlooker and who understood. Concerning his own rages, I am convinced that they are not real, that they are sometimes experiments, but that in the main they are the habits of a pose or attitude he has seen fit to take toward his fellow-men. I know, with the possible exception of the incident of the dead mate, that I have not seen him really angry; nor do I wish ever to see him in a genuine rage, when all the force of him is called into play.

While on the question of vagaries, I shall tell what befell Thomas Mugridge in the cabin, and at the same time complete an incident upon which I have already touched once or twice. The twelve o’clock dinner was over, one day, and I had just finished putting the cabin in order, when Wolf Larsen and Thomas Mugridge descended the companion stairs. Though the cook had a cubby-hole of a state-room opening off from the cabin, in the cabin itself he had never dared to linger or to be seen, and he flitted to and fro, once or twice a day, a timid spectre.

“So you know how to play ‘Nap,’” Wolf Larsen was saying in a pleased sort of voice. “I might have guessed an Englishman would know. I learned it myself in English ships.”

Thomas Mugridge was beside himself, a blithering imbecile, so pleased was he at chumming thus with the captain. The little airs he put on and the painful striving to assume the easy carriage of a man born to a dignified place in life would have been sickening had they not been ludicrous. He quite ignored my presence, though I credited him with being simply unable to see me. His pale, wishy-washy eyes were swimming like lazy summer seas, though what blissful visions they beheld were beyond my imagination.

“Get the cards, Hump,” Wolf Larsen ordered, as they took seats at the table. “And bring out the cigars and the whisky you’ll find in my berth.”

I returned with the articles in time to hear the Cockney hinting broadly that there was a mystery about him, that he might be a gentleman’s son gone wrong or something or other; also, that he was a remittance man and was paid to keep away from England—“p’yed ’ansomely, sir,” was the way he put it; “p’yed ’ansomely to sling my ’ook an’ keep slingin’ it.”

I had brought the customary liquor glasses, but Wolf Larsen frowned, shook his head, and signalled with his hands for me to bring the tumblers. These he filled two-thirds full with undiluted whisky—“a gentleman’s drink?” quoth Thomas Mugridge,—and they clinked their glasses to the glorious game of “Nap,” lighted cigars, and fell to shuffling and dealing the cards.

They played for money. They increased the amounts of the bets. They drank whisky, they drank it neat, and I fetched more. I do not know whether Wolf Larsen cheated or not,—a thing he was thoroughly capable of doing,—but he won steadily. The cook made repeated journeys to his bunk for money. Each time he performed the journey with greater swagger, but he never brought more than a few dollars at a time. He grew maudlin, familiar, could hardly see the cards or sit upright. As a preliminary to another journey to his bunk, he hooked Wolf Larsen’s buttonhole with a greasy forefinger and vacuously proclaimed and reiterated, “I got money, I got money, I tell yer, an’ I’m a gentleman’s son.”

Wolf Larsen was unaffected by the drink, yet he drank glass for glass, and if anything his glasses were fuller. There was no change in him. He did not appear even amused at the other’s antics.

In the end, with loud protestations that he could lose like a gentleman, the cook’s last money was staked on the game—and lost. Whereupon he leaned his head on his hands and wept. Wolf Larsen looked curiously at him, as though about to probe and vivisect him, then changed his mind, as from the foregone conclusion that there was nothing there to probe.

“Hump,” he said to me, elaborately polite, “kindly take Mr. Mugridge’s arm and help him up on deck. He is not feeling very well.”

“And tell Johnson to douse him with a few buckets of salt water,” he added, in a lower tone for my ear alone.

I left Mr. Mugridge on deck, in the hands of a couple of grinning sailors who had been told off for the purpose. Mr. Mugridge was sleepily spluttering that he was a gentleman’s son. But as I descended the companion stairs to clear the table I heard him shriek as the first bucket of water struck him.

Wolf Larsen was counting his winnings.

“One hundred and eighty-five dollars even,” he said aloud. “Just as I thought. “The beggar came aboard without a cent.”

“And what you have won is mine, sir,” I said boldly.

He favoured me with a quizzical smile. “Hump, I have studied some grammar in my time, and I think your tenses are tangled. ‘Was mine,’ you should have said, not ’is mine.’”

“It is a question, not of grammar, but of ethics,” I answered.

It was possibly a minute before he spoke.

“D’ye know, Hump,” he said, with a slow seriousness which had in it an indefinable strain of sadness, “that this is the first time I have heard the word ‘ethics’ in the mouth of a man. You and I are the only men on this ship who know its meaning.”

“At one time in my life,” he continued, after another pause, “I dreamed that I might some day talk with men who used such language, that I might lift myself out of the place in life in which I had been born, and hold conversation and mingle with men who talked about just such things as ethics. And this is the first time I have ever heard the word pronounced. Which is all by the way, for you are wrong. It is a question neither of grammar nor ethics, but of fact.”

“I understand,” I said. “The fact is that you have the money.”

His face brightened. He seemed pleased at my perspicacity. “But it is avoiding the real question,” I continued, “which is one of right.”

“Ah,” he remarked, with a wry pucker of his mouth, “I see you still believe in such things as right and wrong.”

“But don’t you?—at all?” I demanded.

“Not the least bit. Might is right, and that is all there is to it. Weakness is wrong. Which is a very poor way of saying that it is good for oneself to be strong, and evil for oneself to be weak—or better yet, it is pleasurable to be strong, because of the profits; painful to be weak, because of the penalties. Just now the possession of this money is a pleasurable thing. It is good for one to possess it. Being able to possess it, I wrong myself and the life that is in me if I give it to you and forego the pleasure of possessing it.”

“But you wrong me by withholding it,” I objected.

“Not at all. One man cannot wrong another man. He can only wrong himself. As I see it, I do wrong always when I consider the interests of others. Don’t you see?  How can two particles of the yeast wrong each other by striving to devour each other?  It is their inborn heritage to strive to devour, and to strive not to be devoured. When they depart from this they sin.”

“Then you don’t believe in altruism?” I asked.

He received the word as if it had a familiar ring, though he pondered it thoughtfully. “Let me see, it means something about cošperation, doesn’t it?”

“Well, in a way there has come to be a sort of connection,” I answered unsurprised by this time at such gaps in his vocabulary, which, like his knowledge, was the acquirement of a self-read, self-educated man, whom no one had directed in his studies, and who had thought much and talked little or not at all. “An altruistic act is an act performed for the welfare of others. It is unselfish, as opposed to an act performed for self, which is selfish.”

He nodded his head. “Oh, yes, I remember it now. I ran across it in Spencer.”

“Spencer!” I cried. “Have you read him?”

“Not very much,” was his confession. “I understood quite a good deal of First Principles, but his Biology took the wind out of my sails, and his Psychology left me butting around in the doldrums for many a day. I honestly could not understand what he was driving at. I put it down to mental deficiency on my part, but since then I have decided that it was for want of preparation. I had no proper basis. Only Spencer and myself know how hard I hammered. But I did get something out of his Data of Ethics. There’s where I ran across ‘altruism,’ and I remember now how it was used.”

I wondered what this man could have got from such a work. Spencer I remembered enough to know that altruism was imperative to his ideal of highest conduct. Wolf Larsen, evidently, had sifted the great philosopher’s teachings, rejecting and selecting according to his needs and desires.

“What else did you run across?” I asked.

His brows drew in slightly with the mental effort of suitably phrasing thoughts which he had never before put into speech. I felt an elation of spirit. I was groping into his soul-stuff as he made a practice of groping in the soul-stuff of others. I was exploring virgin territory. A strange, a terribly strange, region was unrolling itself before my eyes.

“In as few words as possible,” he began, “Spencer puts it something like this: First, a man must act for his own benefit—to do this is to be moral and good. Next, he must act for the benefit of his children. And third, he must act for the benefit of his race.”

“And the highest, finest, right conduct,” I interjected, “is that act which benefits at the same time the man, his children, and his race.”

“I wouldn’t stand for that,” he replied. “Couldn’t see the necessity for it, nor the common sense. I cut out the race and the children. I would sacrifice nothing for them. It’s just so much slush and sentiment, and you must see it yourself, at least for one who does not believe in eternal life. With immortality before me, altruism would be a paying business proposition. I might elevate my soul to all kinds of altitudes. But with nothing eternal before me but death, given for a brief spell this yeasty crawling and squirming which is called life, why, it would be immoral for me to perform any act that was a sacrifice. Any sacrifice that makes me lose one crawl or squirm is foolish,—and not only foolish, for it is a wrong against myself and a wicked thing. I must not lose one crawl or squirm if I am to get the most out of the ferment. Nor will the eternal movelessness that is coming to me be made easier or harder by the sacrifices or selfishnesses of the time when I was yeasty and acrawl.”

“Then you are an individualist, a materialist, and, logically, a hedonist.”

“Big words,” he smiled. “But what is a hedonist?”

He nodded agreement when I had given the definition. “And you are also,” I continued, “a man one could not trust in the least thing where it was possible for a selfish interest to intervene?”

“Now you’re beginning to understand,” he said, brightening.

“You are a man utterly without what the world calls morals?”

“That’s it.”

“A man of whom to be always afraid—”

“That’s the way to put it.”

“As one is afraid of a snake, or a tiger, or a shark?”

“Now you know me,” he said. “And you know me as I am generally known. Other men call me ‘Wolf.’”

“You are a sort of monster,” I added audaciously, “a Caliban who has pondered Setebos, and who acts as you act, in idle moments, by whim and fancy.”

His brow clouded at the allusion. He did not understand, and I quickly learned that he did not know the poem.

“I’m just reading Browning,” he confessed, “and it’s pretty tough. I haven’t got very far along, and as it is I’ve about lost my bearings.”

Not to be tiresome, I shall say that I fetched the book from his state-room and read “Caliban” aloud. He was delighted. It was a primitive mode of reasoning and of looking at things that he understood thoroughly. He interrupted again and again with comment and criticism. When I finished, he had me read it over a second time, and a third. We fell into discussion—philosophy, science, evolution, religion. He betrayed the inaccuracies of the self-read man, and, it must be granted, the sureness and directness of the primitive mind. The very simplicity of his reasoning was its strength, and his materialism was far more compelling than the subtly complex materialism of Charley Furuseth. Not that I—a confirmed and, as Furuseth phrased it, a temperamental idealist—was to be compelled; but that Wolf Larsen stormed the last strongholds of my faith with a vigour that received respect, while not accorded conviction.

Time passed. Supper was at hand and the table not laid. I became restless and anxious, and when Thomas Mugridge glared down the companion-way, sick and angry of countenance, I prepared to go about my duties. But Wolf Larsen cried out to him:

“Cooky, you’ve got to hustle to-night. I’m busy with Hump, and you’ll do the best you can without him.”

And again the unprecedented was established. That night I sat at table with the captain and the hunters, while Thomas Mugridge waited on us and washed the dishes afterward—a whim, a Caliban-mood of Wolf Larsen’s, and one I foresaw would bring me trouble. In the meantime we talked and talked, much to the disgust of the hunters, who could not understand a word.


Three days of rest, three blessed days of rest, are what I had with Wolf Larsen, eating at the cabin table and doing nothing but discuss life, literature, and the universe, the while Thomas Mugridge fumed and raged and did my work as well as his own.

“Watch out for squalls, is all I can say to you,” was Louis’s warning, given during a spare half-hour on deck while Wolf Larsen was engaged in straightening out a row among the hunters.

“Ye can’t tell what’ll be happenin’,” Louis went on, in response to my query for more definite information. “The man’s as contrary as air currents or water currents. You can never guess the ways iv him. ’Tis just as you’re thinkin’ you know him and are makin’ a favourable slant along him, that he whirls around, dead ahead and comes howlin’ down upon you and a-rippin’ all iv your fine-weather sails to rags.”

So I was not altogether surprised when the squall foretold by Louis smote me. We had been having a heated discussion,—upon life, of course,—and, grown over-bold, I was passing stiff strictures upon Wolf Larsen and the life of Wolf Larsen. In fact, I was vivisecting him and turning over his soul-stuff as keenly and thoroughly as it was his custom to do it to others. It may be a weakness of mine that I have an incisive way of speech; but I threw all restraint to the winds and cut and slashed until the whole man of him was snarling. The dark sun-bronze of his face went black with wrath, his eyes were ablaze. There was no clearness or sanity in them—nothing but the terrific rage of a madman. It was the wolf in him that I saw, and a mad wolf at that.

He sprang for me with a half-roar, gripping my arm. I had steeled myself to brazen it out, though I was trembling inwardly; but the enormous strength of the man was too much for my fortitude. He had gripped me by the biceps with his single hand, and when that grip tightened I wilted and shrieked aloud. My feet went out from under me. I simply could not stand upright and endure the agony. The muscles refused their duty. The pain was too great. My biceps was being crushed to a pulp.

He seemed to recover himself, for a lucid gleam came into his eyes, and he relaxed his hold with a short laugh that was more like a growl. I fell to the floor, feeling very faint, while he sat down, lighted a cigar, and watched me as a cat watches a mouse. As I writhed about I could see in his eyes that curiosity I had so often noted, that wonder and perplexity, that questing, that everlasting query of his as to what it was all about.

I finally crawled to my feet and ascended the companion stairs. Fair weather was over, and there was nothing left but to return to the galley. My left arm was numb, as though paralysed, and days passed before I could use it, while weeks went by before the last stiffness and pain went out of it. And he had done nothing but put his hand upon my arm and squeeze. There had been no wrenching or jerking. He had just closed his hand with a steady pressure. What he might have done I did not fully realize till next day, when he put his head into the galley, and, as a sign of renewed friendliness, asked me how my arm was getting on.

“It might have been worse,” he smiled.

I was peeling potatoes. He picked one up from the pan. It was fair-sized, firm, and unpeeled. He closed his hand upon it, squeezed, and the potato squirted out between his fingers in mushy streams. The pulpy remnant he dropped back into the pan and turned away, and I had a sharp vision of how it might have fared with me had the monster put his real strength upon me.

But the three days’ rest was good in spite of it all, for it had given my knee the very chance it needed. It felt much better, the swelling had materially decreased, and the cap seemed descending into its proper place. Also, the three days’ rest brought the trouble I had foreseen. It was plainly Thomas Mugridge’s intention to make me pay for those three days. He treated me vilely, cursed me continually, and heaped his own work upon me. He even ventured to raise his fist to me, but I was becoming animal-like myself, and I snarled in his face so terribly that it must have frightened him back. It is no pleasant picture I can conjure up of myself, Humphrey Van Weyden, in that noisome ship’s galley, crouched in a corner over my task, my face raised to the face of the creature about to strike me, my lips lifted and snarling like a dog’s, my eyes gleaming with fear and helplessness and the courage that comes of fear and helplessness. I do not like the picture. It reminds me too strongly of a rat in a trap. I do not care to think of it; but it was elective, for the threatened blow did not descend.

Thomas Mugridge backed away, glaring as hatefully and viciously as I glared. A pair of beasts is what we were, penned together and showing our teeth. He was a coward, afraid to strike me because I had not quailed sufficiently in advance; so he chose a new way to intimidate me. There was only one galley knife that, as a knife, amounted to anything. This, through many years of service and wear, had acquired a long, lean blade. It was unusually cruel-looking, and at first I had shuddered every time I used it. The cook borrowed a stone from Johansen and proceeded to sharpen the knife. He did it with great ostentation, glancing significantly at me the while. He whetted it up and down all day long. Every odd moment he could find he had the knife and stone out and was whetting away. The steel acquired a razor edge. He tried it with the ball of his thumb or across the nail. He shaved hairs from the back of his hand, glanced along the edge with microscopic acuteness, and found, or feigned that he found, always, a slight inequality in its edge somewhere. Then he would put it on the stone again and whet, whet, whet, till I could have laughed aloud, it was so very ludicrous.

It was also serious, for I learned that he was capable of using it, that under all his cowardice there was a courage of cowardice, like mine, that would impel him to do the very thing his whole nature protested against doing and was afraid of doing. “Cooky’s sharpening his knife for Hump,” was being whispered about among the sailors, and some of them twitted him about it. This he took in good part, and was really pleased, nodding his head with direful foreknowledge and mystery, until George Leach, the erstwhile cabin-boy, ventured some rough pleasantry on the subject.

Now it happened that Leach was one of the sailors told off to douse Mugridge after his game of cards with the captain. Leach had evidently done his task with a thoroughness that Mugridge had not forgiven, for words followed and evil names involving smirched ancestries. Mugridge menaced with the knife he was sharpening for me. Leach laughed and hurled more of his Telegraph Hill Billingsgate, and before either he or I knew what had happened, his right arm had been ripped open from elbow to wrist by a quick slash of the knife. The cook backed away, a fiendish expression on his face, the knife held before him in a position of defence. But Leach took it quite calmly, though blood was spouting upon the deck as generously as water from a fountain.

“I’m goin’ to get you, Cooky,” he said, “and I’ll get you hard. And I won’t be in no hurry about it. You’ll be without that knife when I come for you.”

So saying, he turned and walked quietly forward. Mugridge’s face was livid with fear at what he had done and at what he might expect sooner or later from the man he had stabbed. But his demeanour toward me was more ferocious than ever. In spite of his fear at the reckoning he must expect to pay for what he had done, he could see that it had been an object-lesson to me, and he became more domineering and exultant. Also there was a lust in him, akin to madness, which had come with sight of the blood he had drawn. He was beginning to see red in whatever direction he looked. The psychology of it is sadly tangled, and yet I could read the workings of his mind as clearly as though it were a printed book.

Several days went by, the Ghost still foaming down the trades, and I could swear I saw madness growing in Thomas Mugridge’s eyes. And I confess that I became afraid, very much afraid. Whet, whet, whet, it went all day long. The look in his eyes as he felt the keen edge and glared at me was positively carnivorous. I was afraid to turn my shoulder to him, and when I left the galley I went out backwards—to the amusement of the sailors and hunters, who made a point of gathering in groups to witness my exit. The strain was too great. I sometimes thought my mind would give way under it—a meet thing on this ship of madmen and brutes. Every hour, every minute of my existence was in jeopardy. I was a human soul in distress, and yet no soul, fore or aft, betrayed sufficient sympathy to come to my aid. At times I thought of throwing myself on the mercy of Wolf Larsen, but the vision of the mocking devil in his eyes that questioned life and sneered at it would come strong upon me and compel me to refrain. At other times I seriously contemplated suicide, and the whole force of my hopeful philosophy was required to keep me from going over the side in the darkness of night.

Several times Wolf Larsen tried to inveigle me into discussion, but I gave him short answers and eluded him. Finally, he commanded me to resume my seat at the cabin table for a time and let the cook do my work. Then I spoke frankly, telling him what I was enduring from Thomas Mugridge because of the three days of favouritism which had been shown me. Wolf Larsen regarded me with smiling eyes.

“So you’re afraid, eh?” he sneered.

“Yes,” I said defiantly and honestly, “I am afraid.”

“That’s the way with you fellows,” he cried, half angrily, “sentimentalizing about your immortal souls and afraid to die. At sight of a sharp knife and a cowardly Cockney the clinging of life to life overcomes all your fond foolishness. Why, my dear fellow, you will live for ever. You are a god, and God cannot be killed. Cooky cannot hurt you. You are sure of your resurrection. What’s there to be afraid of?

“You have eternal life before you. You are a millionaire in immortality, and a millionaire whose fortune cannot be lost, whose fortune is less perishable than the stars and as lasting as space or time. It is impossible for you to diminish your principal. Immortality is a thing without beginning or end. Eternity is eternity, and though you die here and now you will go on living somewhere else and hereafter. And it is all very beautiful, this shaking off of the flesh and soaring of the imprisoned spirit. Cooky cannot hurt you. He can only give you a boost on the path you eternally must tread.

“Or, if you do not wish to be boosted just yet, why not boost Cooky?  According to your ideas, he, too, must be an immortal millionaire. You cannot bankrupt him. His paper will always circulate at par. You cannot diminish the length of his living by killing him, for he is without beginning or end. He’s bound to go on living, somewhere, somehow. Then boost him. Stick a knife in him and let his spirit free. As it is, it’s in a nasty prison, and you’ll do him only a kindness by breaking down the door. And who knows?—it may be a very beautiful spirit that will go soaring up into the blue from that ugly carcass. Boost him along, and I’ll promote you to his place, and he’s getting forty-five dollars a month.”

It was plain that I could look for no help or mercy from Wolf Larsen. Whatever was to be done I must do for myself; and out of the courage of fear I evolved the plan of fighting Thomas Mugridge with his own weapons. I borrowed a whetstone from Johansen. Louis, the boat-steerer, had already begged me for condensed milk and sugar. The lazarette, where such delicacies were stored, was situated beneath the cabin floor. Watching my chance, I stole five cans of the milk, and that night, when it was Louis’s watch on deck, I traded them with him for a dirk as lean and cruel-looking as Thomas Mugridge’s vegetable knife. It was rusty and dull, but I turned the grindstone while Louis gave it an edge. I slept more soundly than usual that night.

Next morning, after breakfast, Thomas Mugridge began his whet, whet, whet. I glanced warily at him, for I was on my knees taking the ashes from the stove. When I returned from throwing them overside, he was talking to Harrison, whose honest yokel’s face was filled with fascination and wonder.

“Yes,” Mugridge was saying, “an’ wot does ’is worship do but give me two years in Reading. But blimey if I cared. The other mug was fixed plenty. Should ’a seen ’im. Knife just like this. I stuck it in, like into soft butter, an’ the w’y ’e squealed was better’n a tu-penny gaff.”  He shot a glance in my direction to see if I was taking it in, and went on. “‘I didn’t mean it Tommy,’ ’e was snifflin’; ‘so ’elp me Gawd, I didn’t mean it!’  “‘I’ll fix yer bloody well right,’ I sez, an’ kept right after ’im. I cut ’im in ribbons, that’s wot I did, an’ ’e a-squealin’ all the time. Once ’e got ’is ’and on the knife an’ tried to ’old it. ‘Ad ’is fingers around it, but I pulled it through, cuttin’ to the bone. O, ’e was a sight, I can tell yer.”

A call from the mate interrupted the gory narrative, and Harrison went aft. Mugridge sat down on the raised threshold to the galley and went on with his knife-sharpening. I put the shovel away and calmly sat down on the coal-box facing him. He favoured me with a vicious stare. Still calmly, though my heart was going pitapat, I pulled out Louis’s dirk and began to whet it on the stone. I had looked for almost any sort of explosion on the Cockney’s part, but to my surprise he did not appear aware of what I was doing. He went on whetting his knife. So did I. And for two hours we sat there, face to face, whet, whet, whet, till the news of it spread abroad and half the ship’s company was crowding the galley doors to see the sight.

Encouragement and advice were freely tendered, and Jock Horner, the quiet, self-spoken hunter who looked as though he would not harm a mouse, advised me to leave the ribs alone and to thrust upward for the abdomen, at the same time giving what he called the “Spanish twist” to the blade. Leach, his bandaged arm prominently to the fore, begged me to leave a few remnants of the cook for him; and Wolf Larsen paused once or twice at the break of the poop to glance curiously at what must have been to him a stirring and crawling of the yeasty thing he knew as life.

And I make free to say that for the time being life assumed the same sordid values to me. There was nothing pretty about it, nothing divine—only two cowardly moving things that sat whetting steel upon stone, and a group of other moving things, cowardly and otherwise, that looked on. Half of them, I am sure, were anxious to see us shedding each other’s blood. It would have been entertainment. And I do not think there was one who would have interfered had we closed in a death-struggle.

On the other hand, the whole thing was laughable and childish. Whet, whet, whet,—Humphrey Van Weyden sharpening his knife in a ship’s galley and trying its edge with his thumb!  Of all situations this was the most inconceivable. I know that my own kind could not have believed it possible. I had not been called “Sissy” Van Weyden all my days without reason, and that “Sissy” Van Weyden should be capable of doing this thing was a revelation to Humphrey Van Weyden, who knew not whether to be exultant or ashamed.

But nothing happened. At the end of two hours Thomas Mugridge put away knife and stone and held out his hand.

“Wot’s the good of mykin’ a ’oly show of ourselves for them mugs?” he demanded. “They don’t love us, an’ bloody well glad they’d be a-seein’ us cuttin’ our throats. Yer not ’arf bad, ’Ump!  You’ve got spunk, as you Yanks s’y, an’ I like yer in a w’y. So come on an’ shyke.”

Coward that I might be, I was less a coward than he. It was a distinct victory I had gained, and I refused to forego any of it by shaking his detestable hand.

“All right,” he said pridelessly, “tyke it or leave it, I’ll like yer none the less for it.”  And to save his face he turned fiercely upon the onlookers. “Get outa my galley-doors, you bloomin’ swabs!”

This command was reinforced by a steaming kettle of water, and at sight of it the sailors scrambled out of the way. This was a sort of victory for Thomas Mugridge, and enabled him to accept more gracefully the defeat I had given him, though, of course, he was too discreet to attempt to drive the hunters away.

“I see Cooky’s finish,” I heard Smoke say to Horner.

“You bet,” was the reply. “Hump runs the galley from now on, and Cooky pulls in his horns.”

Mugridge heard and shot a swift glance at me, but I gave no sign that the conversation had reached me. I had not thought my victory was so far-reaching and complete, but I resolved to let go nothing I had gained. As the days went by, Smoke’s prophecy was verified. The Cockney became more humble and slavish to me than even to Wolf Larsen. I mistered him and sirred him no longer, washed no more greasy pots, and peeled no more potatoes. I did my own work, and my own work only, and when and in what fashion I saw fit. Also I carried the dirk in a sheath at my hip, sailor-fashion, and maintained toward Thomas Mugridge a constant attitude which was composed of equal parts of domineering, insult, and contempt.