The remainder of the day passed uneventfully. The young slip of a gale, having wetted our gills, proceeded to moderate. The fourth engineer and the three oilers, after a warm interview with Wolf Larsen, were furnished with outfits from the slop-chests, assigned places under the hunters in the various boats and watches on the vessel, and bundled forward into the forecastle. They went protestingly, but their voices were not loud. They were awed by what they had already seen of Wolf Larsen’s character, while the tale of woe they speedily heard in the forecastle took the last bit of rebellion out of them.
Miss Brewster—we had learned her name from the engineer—slept on and on. At supper I requested the hunters to lower their voices, so she was not disturbed; and it was not till next morning that she made her appearance. It had been my intention to have her meals served apart, but Wolf Larsen put down his foot. Who was she that she should be too good for cabin table and cabin society? had been his demand.
But her coming to the table had something amusing in it. The hunters fell silent as clams. Jock Horner and Smoke alone were unabashed, stealing stealthy glances at her now and again, and even taking part in the conversation. The other four men glued their eyes on their plates and chewed steadily and with thoughtful precision, their ears moving and wobbling, in time with their jaws, like the ears of so many animals.
Wolf Larsen had little to say at first, doing no more than reply when he was addressed. Not that he was abashed. Far from it. This woman was a new type to him, a different breed from any he had ever known, and he was curious. He studied her, his eyes rarely leaving her face unless to follow the movements of her hands or shoulders. I studied her myself, and though it was I who maintained the conversation, I know that I was a bit shy, not quite self-possessed. His was the perfect poise, the supreme confidence in self, which nothing could shake; and he was no more timid of a woman than he was of storm and battle.
“And when shall we arrive at Yokohama?” she asked, turning to him and looking him squarely in the eyes.
There it was, the question flat. The jaws stopped working, the ears ceased wobbling, and though eyes remained glued on plates, each man listened greedily for the answer.
“In four months, possibly three if the season closes early,” Wolf Larsen said.
She caught her breath and stammered, “I—I thought—I was given to understand that Yokohama was only a day’s sail away. It—” Here she paused and looked about the table at the circle of unsympathetic faces staring hard at the plates. “It is not right,” she concluded.
“That is a question you must settle with Mr. Van Weyden there,” he replied, nodding to me with a mischievous twinkle. “Mr. Van Weyden is what you may call an authority on such things as rights. Now I, who am only a sailor, would look upon the situation somewhat differently. It may possibly be your misfortune that you have to remain with us, but it is certainly our good fortune.”
He regarded her smilingly. Her eyes fell before his gaze, but she lifted them again, and defiantly, to mine. I read the unspoken question there: was it right? But I had decided that the part I was to play must be a neutral one, so I did not answer.
“What do you think?” she demanded.
“That it is unfortunate, especially if you have any engagements falling due in the course of the next several months. But, since you say that you were voyaging to Japan for your health, I can assure you that it will improve no better anywhere than aboard the Ghost.”
I saw her eyes flash with indignation, and this time it was I who dropped mine, while I felt my face flushing under her gaze. It was cowardly, but what else could I do?
“Mr. Van Weyden speaks with the voice of authority,” Wolf Larsen laughed.
I nodded my head, and she, having recovered herself, waited expectantly.
“Not that he is much to speak of now,” Wolf Larsen went on, “but he has improved wonderfully. You should have seen him when he came on board. A more scrawny, pitiful specimen of humanity one could hardly conceive. Isn’t that so, Kerfoot?”
Kerfoot, thus directly addressed, was startled into dropping his knife on the floor, though he managed to grunt affirmation.
“Developed himself by peeling potatoes and washing dishes. Eh, Kerfoot?”
Again that worthy grunted.
“Look at him now. True, he is not what you would term muscular, but still he has muscles, which is more than he had when he came aboard. Also, he has legs to stand on. You would not think so to look at him, but he was quite unable to stand alone at first.”
The hunters were snickering, but she looked at me with a sympathy in her eyes which more than compensated for Wolf Larsen’s nastiness. In truth, it had been so long since I had received sympathy that I was softened, and I became then, and gladly, her willing slave. But I was angry with Wolf Larsen. He was challenging my manhood with his slurs, challenging the very legs he claimed to be instrumental in getting for me.
“I may have learned to stand on my own legs,” I retorted. “But I have yet to stamp upon others with them.”
He looked at me insolently. “Your education is only half completed, then,” he said dryly, and turned to her.
“We are very hospitable upon the Ghost. Mr. Van Weyden has discovered that. We do everything to make our guests feel at home, eh, Mr. Van Weyden?”
“Even to the peeling of potatoes and the washing of dishes,” I answered, “to say nothing to wringing their necks out of very fellowship.”
“I beg of you not to receive false impressions of us from Mr. Van Weyden,” he interposed with mock anxiety. “You will observe, Miss Brewster, that he carries a dirk in his belt, a—ahem—a most unusual thing for a ship’s officer to do. While really very estimable, Mr. Van Weyden is sometimes—how shall I say?—er—quarrelsome, and harsh measures are necessary. He is quite reasonable and fair in his calm moments, and as he is calm now he will not deny that only yesterday he threatened my life.”
I was well-nigh choking, and my eyes were certainly fiery. He drew attention to me.
“Look at him now. He can scarcely control himself in your presence. He is not accustomed to the presence of ladies anyway. I shall have to arm myself before I dare go on deck with him.”
He shook his head sadly, murmuring, “Too bad, too bad,” while the hunters burst into guffaws of laughter.
The deep-sea voices of these men, rumbling and bellowing in the confined space, produced a wild effect. The whole setting was wild, and for the first time, regarding this strange woman and realizing how incongruous she was in it, I was aware of how much a part of it I was myself. I knew these men and their mental processes, was one of them myself, living the seal-hunting life, eating the seal-hunting fare, thinking, largely, the seal-hunting thoughts. There was for me no strangeness to it, to the rough clothes, the coarse faces, the wild laughter, and the lurching cabin walls and swaying sea-lamps.
As I buttered a piece of bread my eyes chanced to rest upon my hand. The knuckles were skinned and inflamed clear across, the fingers swollen, the nails rimmed with black. I felt the mattress-like growth of beard on my neck, knew that the sleeve of my coat was ripped, that a button was missing from the throat of the blue shirt I wore. The dirk mentioned by Wolf Larsen rested in its sheath on my hip. It was very natural that it should be there,—how natural I had not imagined until now, when I looked upon it with her eyes and knew how strange it and all that went with it must appear to her.
But she divined the mockery in Wolf Larsen’s words, and again favoured me with a sympathetic glance. But there was a look of bewilderment also in her eyes. That it was mockery made the situation more puzzling to her.
“I may be taken off by some passing vessel, perhaps,” she suggested.
“There will be no passing vessels, except other sealing-schooners,” Wolf Larsen made answer.
“I have no clothes, nothing,” she objected. “You hardly realize, sir, that I am not a man, or that I am unaccustomed to the vagrant, careless life which you and your men seem to lead.”
“The sooner you get accustomed to it, the better,” he said.
“I’ll furnish you with cloth, needles, and thread,” he added. “I hope it will not be too dreadful a hardship for you to make yourself a dress or two.”
She made a wry pucker with her mouth, as though to advertise her ignorance of dressmaking. That she was frightened and bewildered, and that she was bravely striving to hide it, was quite plain to me.
“I suppose you’re like Mr. Van Weyden there, accustomed to having things done for you. Well, I think doing a few things for yourself will hardly dislocate any joints. By the way, what do you do for a living?”
She regarded him with amazement unconcealed.
“I mean no offence, believe me. People eat, therefore they must procure the wherewithal. These men here shoot seals in order to live; for the same reason I sail this schooner; and Mr. Van Weyden, for the present at any rate, earns his salty grub by assisting me. Now what do you do?”
She shrugged her shoulders.
“Do you feed yourself? Or does some one else feed you?”
“I’m afraid some one else has fed me most of my life,” she laughed, trying bravely to enter into the spirit of his quizzing, though I could see a terror dawning and growing in her eyes as she watched Wolf Larsen.
“And I suppose some one else makes your bed for you?”
“I have made beds,” she replied.
She shook her head with mock ruefulness.
“Do you know what they do to poor men in the States, who, like you, do not work for their living?”
“I am very ignorant,” she pleaded. “What do they do to the poor men who are like me?”
“They send them to jail. The crime of not earning a living, in their case, is called vagrancy. If I were Mr. Van Weyden, who harps eternally on questions of right and wrong, I’d ask, by what right do you live when you do nothing to deserve living?”
“But as you are not Mr. Van Weyden, I don’t have to answer, do I?”
She beamed upon him through her terror-filled eyes, and the pathos of it cut me to the heart. I must in some way break in and lead the conversation into other channels.
“Have you ever earned a dollar by your own labour?” he demanded, certain of her answer, a triumphant vindictiveness in his voice.
“Yes, I have,” she answered slowly, and I could have laughed aloud at his crestfallen visage. “I remember my father giving me a dollar once, when I was a little girl, for remaining absolutely quiet for five minutes.”
He smiled indulgently.
“But that was long ago,” she continued. “And you would scarcely demand a little girl of nine to earn her own living.”
“At present, however,” she said, after another slight pause, “I earn about eighteen hundred dollars a year.”
With one accord, all eyes left the plates and settled on her. A woman who earned eighteen hundred dollars a year was worth looking at. Wolf Larsen was undisguised in his admiration.
“Salary, or piece-work?” he asked.
“Piece-work,” she answered promptly.
“Eighteen hundred,” he calculated. “That’s a hundred and fifty dollars a month. Well, Miss Brewster, there is nothing small about the Ghost. Consider yourself on salary during the time you remain with us.”
She made no acknowledgment. She was too unused as yet to the whims of the man to accept them with equanimity.
“I forgot to inquire,” he went on suavely, “as to the nature of your occupation. What commodities do you turn out? What tools and materials do you require?”
“Paper and ink,” she laughed. “And, oh! also a typewriter.”
“You are Maud Brewster,” I said slowly and with certainty, almost as though I were charging her with a crime.
Her eyes lifted curiously to mine. “How do you know?”
“Aren’t you?” I demanded.
She acknowledged her identity with a nod. It was Wolf Larsen’s turn to be puzzled. The name and its magic signified nothing to him. I was proud that it did mean something to me, and for the first time in a weary while I was convincingly conscious of a superiority over him.
“I remember writing a review of a thin little volume—” I had begun carelessly, when she interrupted me.
“You!” she cried. “You are—”
She was now staring at me in wide-eyed wonder.
I nodded my identity, in turn.
“Humphrey Van Weyden,” she concluded; then added with a sigh of relief, and unaware that she had glanced that relief at Wolf Larsen, “I am so glad.”
“I remember the review,” she went on hastily, becoming aware of the awkwardness of her remark; “that too, too flattering review.”
“Not at all,” I denied valiantly. “You impeach my sober judgment and make my canons of little worth. Besides, all my brother critics were with me. Didn’t Lang include your ‘Kiss Endured’ among the four supreme sonnets by women in the English language?”
“But you called me the American Mrs. Meynell!”
“Was it not true?” I demanded.
“No, not that,” she answered. “I was hurt.”
“We can measure the unknown only by the known,” I replied, in my finest academic manner. “As a critic I was compelled to place you. You have now become a yardstick yourself. Seven of your thin little volumes are on my shelves; and there are two thicker volumes, the essays, which, you will pardon my saying, and I know not which is flattered more, fully equal your verse. The time is not far distant when some unknown will arise in England and the critics will name her the English Maud Brewster.”
“You are very kind, I am sure,” she murmured; and the very conventionality of her tones and words, with the host of associations it aroused of the old life on the other side of the world, gave me a quick thrill—rich with remembrance but stinging sharp with home-sickness.
“And you are Maud Brewster,” I said solemnly, gazing across at her.
“And you are Humphrey Van Weyden,” she said, gazing back at me with equal solemnity and awe. “How unusual! I don’t understand. We surely are not to expect some wildly romantic sea-story from your sober pen.”
“No, I am not gathering material, I assure you,” was my answer. “I have neither aptitude nor inclination for fiction.”
“Tell me, why have you always buried yourself in California?” she next asked. “It has not been kind of you. We of the East have seen to very little of you—too little, indeed, of the Dean of American Letters, the Second.”
I bowed to, and disclaimed, the compliment. “I nearly met you, once, in Philadelphia, some Browning affair or other—you were to lecture, you know. My train was four hours late.”
And then we quite forgot where we were, leaving Wolf Larsen stranded and silent in the midst of our flood of gossip. The hunters left the table and went on deck, and still we talked. Wolf Larsen alone remained. Suddenly I became aware of him, leaning back from the table and listening curiously to our alien speech of a world he did not know.
I broke short off in the middle of a sentence. The present, with all its perils and anxieties, rushed upon me with stunning force. It smote Miss Brewster likewise, a vague and nameless terror rushing into her eyes as she regarded Wolf Larsen.
He rose to his feet and laughed awkwardly. The sound of it was metallic.
“Oh, don’t mind me,” he said, with a self-depreciatory wave of his hand. “I don’t count. Go on, go on, I pray you.”
But the gates of speech were closed, and we, too, rose from the table and laughed awkwardly.
The chagrin Wolf Larsen felt from being ignored by Maud Brewster and me in the conversation at table had to express itself in some fashion, and it fell to Thomas Mugridge to be the victim. He had not mended his ways nor his shirt, though the latter he contended he had changed. The garment itself did not bear out the assertion, nor did the accumulations of grease on stove and pot and pan attest a general cleanliness.
“I’ve given you warning, Cooky,” Wolf Larsen said, “and now you’ve got to take your medicine.”
Mugridge’s face turned white under its sooty veneer, and when Wolf Larsen called for a rope and a couple of men, the miserable Cockney fled wildly out of the galley and dodged and ducked about the deck with the grinning crew in pursuit. Few things could have been more to their liking than to give him a tow over the side, for to the forecastle he had sent messes and concoctions of the vilest order. Conditions favoured the undertaking. The Ghost was slipping through the water at no more than three miles an hour, and the sea was fairly calm. But Mugridge had little stomach for a dip in it. Possibly he had seen men towed before. Besides, the water was frightfully cold, and his was anything but a rugged constitution.
As usual, the watches below and the hunters turned out for what promised sport. Mugridge seemed to be in rabid fear of the water, and he exhibited a nimbleness and speed we did not dream he possessed. Cornered in the right-angle of the poop and galley, he sprang like a cat to the top of the cabin and ran aft. But his pursuers forestalling him, he doubled back across the cabin, passed over the galley, and gained the deck by means of the steerage-scuttle. Straight forward he raced, the boat-puller Harrison at his heels and gaining on him. But Mugridge, leaping suddenly, caught the jib-boom-lift. It happened in an instant. Holding his weight by his arms, and in mid-air doubling his body at the hips, he let fly with both feet. The oncoming Harrison caught the kick squarely in the pit of the stomach, groaned involuntarily, and doubled up and sank backward to the deck.
Hand-clapping and roars of laughter from the hunters greeted the exploit, while Mugridge, eluding half of his pursuers at the foremast, ran aft and through the remainder like a runner on the football field. Straight aft he held, to the poop and along the poop to the stern. So great was his speed that as he curved past the corner of the cabin he slipped and fell. Nilson was standing at the wheel, and the Cockney’s hurtling body struck his legs. Both went down together, but Mugridge alone arose. By some freak of pressures, his frail body had snapped the strong man’s leg like a pipe-stem.
Parsons took the wheel, and the pursuit continued. Round and round the decks they went, Mugridge sick with fear, the sailors hallooing and shouting directions to one another, and the hunters bellowing encouragement and laughter. Mugridge went down on the fore-hatch under three men; but he emerged from the mass like an eel, bleeding at the mouth, the offending shirt ripped into tatters, and sprang for the main-rigging. Up he went, clear up, beyond the ratlines, to the very masthead.
Half-a-dozen sailors swarmed to the crosstrees after him, where they clustered and waited while two of their number, Oofty-Oofty and Black (who was Latimer’s boat-steerer), continued up the thin steel stays, lifting their bodies higher and higher by means of their arms.
It was a perilous undertaking, for, at a height of over a hundred feet from the deck, holding on by their hands, they were not in the best of positions to protect themselves from Mugridge’s feet. And Mugridge kicked savagely, till the Kanaka, hanging on with one hand, seized the Cockney’s foot with the other. Black duplicated the performance a moment later with the other foot. Then the three writhed together in a swaying tangle, struggling, sliding, and falling into the arms of their mates on the crosstrees.
The a‘rial battle was over, and Thomas Mugridge, whining and gibbering, his mouth flecked with bloody foam, was brought down to deck. Wolf Larsen rove a bowline in a piece of rope and slipped it under his shoulders. Then he was carried aft and flung into the sea. Forty,—fifty,—sixty feet of line ran out, when Wolf Larsen cried “Belay!” Oofty-Oofty took a turn on a bitt, the rope tautened, and the Ghost, lunging onward, jerked the cook to the surface.
It was a pitiful spectacle. Though he could not drown, and was nine-lived in addition, he was suffering all the agonies of half-drowning. The Ghost was going very slowly, and when her stern lifted on a wave and she slipped forward she pulled the wretch to the surface and gave him a moment in which to breathe; but between each lift the stern fell, and while the bow lazily climbed the next wave the line slacked and he sank beneath.
I had forgotten the existence of Maud Brewster, and I remembered her with a start as she stepped lightly beside me. It was her first time on deck since she had come aboard. A dead silence greeted her appearance.
“What is the cause of the merriment?” she asked.
“Ask Captain Larsen,” I answered composedly and coldly, though inwardly my blood was boiling at the thought that she should be witness to such brutality.
She took my advice and was turning to put it into execution, when her eyes lighted on Oofty-Oofty, immediately before her, his body instinct with alertness and grace as he held the turn of the rope.
“Are you fishing?” she asked him.
He made no reply. His eyes, fixed intently on the sea astern, suddenly flashed.
“Shark ho, sir!” he cried.
“Heave in! Lively! All hands tail on!” Wolf Larsen shouted, springing himself to the rope in advance of the quickest.
Mugridge had heard the Kanaka’s warning cry and was screaming madly. I could see a black fin cutting the water and making for him with greater swiftness than he was being pulled aboard. It was an even toss whether the shark or we would get him, and it was a matter of moments. When Mugridge was directly beneath us, the stern descended the slope of a passing wave, thus giving the advantage to the shark. The fin disappeared. The belly flashed white in swift upward rush. Almost equally swift, but not quite, was Wolf Larsen. He threw his strength into one tremendous jerk. The Cockney’s body left the water; so did part of the shark’s. He drew up his legs, and the man-eater seemed no more than barely to touch one foot, sinking back into the water with a splash. But at the moment of contact Thomas Mugridge cried out. Then he came in like a fresh-caught fish on a line, clearing the rail generously and striking the deck in a heap, on hands and knees, and rolling over.
But a fountain of blood was gushing forth. The right foot was missing, amputated neatly at the ankle. I looked instantly to Maud Brewster. Her face was white, her eyes dilated with horror. She was gazing, not at Thomas Mugridge, but at Wolf Larsen. And he was aware of it, for he said, with one of his short laughs:
“Man-play, Miss Brewster. Somewhat rougher, I warrant, than what you have been used to, but still-man-play. The shark was not in the reckoning. It—”
But at this juncture, Mugridge, who had lifted his head and ascertained the extent of his loss, floundered over on the deck and buried his teeth in Wolf Larsen’s leg. Wolf Larsen stooped, coolly, to the Cockney, and pressed with thumb and finger at the rear of the jaws and below the ears. The jaws opened with reluctance, and Wolf Larsen stepped free.
“As I was saying,” he went on, as though nothing unwonted had happened, “the shark was not in the reckoning. It was—ahem—shall we say Providence?”
She gave no sign that she had heard, though the expression of her eyes changed to one of inexpressible loathing as she started to turn away. She no more than started, for she swayed and tottered, and reached her hand weakly out to mine. I caught her in time to save her from falling, and helped her to a seat on the cabin. I thought she might faint outright, but she controlled herself.
“Will you get a tourniquet, Mr. Van Weyden,” Wolf Larsen called to me.
I hesitated. Her lips moved, and though they formed no words, she commanded me with her eyes, plainly as speech, to go to the help of the unfortunate man. “Please,” she managed to whisper, and I could but obey.
By now I had developed such skill at surgery that Wolf Larsen, with a few words of advice, left me to my task with a couple of sailors for assistants. For his task he elected a vengeance on the shark. A heavy swivel-hook, baited with fat salt-pork, was dropped overside; and by the time I had compressed the severed veins and arteries, the sailors were singing and heaving in the offending monster. I did not see it myself, but my assistants, first one and then the other, deserted me for a few moments to run amidships and look at what was going on. The shark, a sixteen-footer, was hoisted up against the main-rigging. Its jaws were pried apart to their greatest extension, and a stout stake, sharpened at both ends, was so inserted that when the pries were removed the spread jaws were fixed upon it. This accomplished, the hook was cut out. The shark dropped back into the sea, helpless, yet with its full strength, doomed—to lingering starvation—a living death less meet for it than for the man who devised the punishment.
I knew what it was as she came toward me. For ten minutes I had watched her talking earnestly with the engineer, and now, with a sign for silence, I drew her out of earshot of the helmsman. Her face was white and set; her large eyes, larger than usual what of the purpose in them, looked penetratingly into mine. I felt rather timid and apprehensive, for she had come to search Humphrey Van Weyden’s soul, and Humphrey Van Weyden had nothing of which to be particularly proud since his advent on the Ghost.
We walked to the break of the poop, where she turned and faced me. I glanced around to see that no one was within hearing distance.
“What is it?” I asked gently; but the expression of determination on her face did not relax.
“I can readily understand,” she began, “that this morning’s affair was largely an accident; but I have been talking with Mr. Haskins. He tells me that the day we were rescued, even while I was in the cabin, two men were drowned, deliberately drowned—murdered.”
There was a query in her voice, and she faced me accusingly, as though I were guilty of the deed, or at least a party to it.
“The information is quite correct,” I answered. “The two men were murdered.”
“And you permitted it!” she cried.
“I was unable to prevent it, is a better way of phrasing it,” I replied, still gently.
“But you tried to prevent it?” There was an emphasis on the “tried,” and a pleading little note in her voice.
“Oh, but you didn’t,” she hurried on, divining my answer. “But why didn’t you?”
I shrugged my shoulders. “You must remember, Miss Brewster, that you are a new inhabitant of this little world, and that you do not yet understand the laws which operate within it. You bring with you certain fine conceptions of humanity, manhood, conduct, and such things; but here you will find them misconceptions. I have found it so,” I added, with an involuntary sigh.
She shook her head incredulously.
“What would you advise, then?” I asked. “That I should take a knife, or a gun, or an axe, and kill this man?”
She half started back.
“No, not that!”
“Then what should I do? Kill myself?”
“You speak in purely materialistic terms,” she objected. “There is such a thing as moral courage, and moral courage is never without effect.”
“Ah,” I smiled, “you advise me to kill neither him nor myself, but to let him kill me.” I held up my hand as she was about to speak. “For moral courage is a worthless asset on this little floating world. Leach, one of the men who were murdered, had moral courage to an unusual degree. So had the other man, Johnson. Not only did it not stand them in good stead, but it destroyed them. And so with me if I should exercise what little moral courage I may possess.
“You must understand, Miss Brewster, and understand clearly, that this man is a monster. He is without conscience. Nothing is sacred to him, nothing is too terrible for him to do. It was due to his whim that I was detained aboard in the first place. It is due to his whim that I am still alive. I do nothing, can do nothing, because I am a slave to this monster, as you are now a slave to him; because I desire to live, as you will desire to live; because I cannot fight and overcome him, just as you will not be able to fight and overcome him.”
She waited for me to go on.
“What remains? Mine is the role of the weak. I remain silent and suffer ignominy, as you will remain silent and suffer ignominy. And it is well. It is the best we can do if we wish to live. The battle is not always to the strong. We have not the strength with which to fight this man; we must dissimulate, and win, if win we can, by craft. If you will be advised by me, this is what you will do. I know my position is perilous, and I may say frankly that yours is even more perilous. We must stand together, without appearing to do so, in secret alliance. I shall not be able to side with you openly, and, no matter what indignities may be put upon me, you are to remain likewise silent. We must provoke no scenes with this man, nor cross his will. And we must keep smiling faces and be friendly with him no matter how repulsive it may be.”
She brushed her hand across her forehead in a puzzled way, saying, “Still I do not understand.”
“You must do as I say,” I interrupted authoritatively, for I saw Wolf Larsen’s gaze wandering toward us from where he paced up and down with Latimer amidships. “Do as I say, and ere long you will find I am right.”
“What shall I do, then?” she asked, detecting the anxious glance I had shot at the object of our conversation, and impressed, I flatter myself, with the earnestness of my manner.
“Dispense with all the moral courage you can,” I said briskly. “Don’t arouse this man’s animosity. Be quite friendly with him, talk with him, discuss literature and art with him—he is fond of such things. You will find him an interested listener and no fool. And for your own sake try to avoid witnessing, as much as you can, the brutalities of the ship. It will make it easier for you to act your part.”
“I am to lie,” she said in steady, rebellious tones, “by speech and action to lie.”
Wolf Larsen had separated from Latimer and was coming toward us. I was desperate.
“Please, please understand me,” I said hurriedly, lowering my voice. “All your experience of men and things is worthless here. You must begin over again. I know,—I can see it—you have, among other ways, been used to managing people with your eyes, letting your moral courage speak out through them, as it were. You have already managed me with your eyes, commanded me with them. But don’t try it on Wolf Larsen. You could as easily control a lion, while he would make a mock of you. He would—I have always been proud of the fact that I discovered him,” I said, turning the conversation as Wolf Larsen stepped on the poop and joined us. “The editors were afraid of him and the publishers would have none of him. But I knew, and his genius and my judgment were vindicated when he made that magnificent hit with his ‘Forge.’”
“And it was a newspaper poem,” she said glibly.
“It did happen to see the light in a newspaper,” I replied, “but not because the magazine editors had been denied a glimpse at it.”
“We were talking of Harris,” I said to Wolf Larsen.
“Oh, yes,” he acknowledged. “I remember the ‘Forge.’ Filled with pretty sentiments and an almighty faith in human illusions. By the way, Mr. Van Weyden, you’d better look in on Cooky. He’s complaining and restless.”
Thus was I bluntly dismissed from the poop, only to find Mugridge sleeping soundly from the morphine I had given him. I made no haste to return on deck, and when I did I was gratified to see Miss Brewster in animated conversation with Wolf Larsen. As I say, the sight gratified me. She was following my advice. And yet I was conscious of a slight shock or hurt in that she was able to do the thing I had begged her to do and which she had notably disliked.
Brave winds, blowing fair, swiftly drove the Ghost northward into the seal herd. We encountered it well up to the forty-fourth parallel, in a raw and stormy sea across which the wind harried the fog-banks in eternal flight. For days at a time we could never see the sun nor take an observation; then the wind would sweep the face of the ocean clean, the waves would ripple and flash, and we would learn where we were. A day of clear weather might follow, or three days or four, and then the fog would settle down upon us, seemingly thicker than ever.
The hunting was perilous; yet the boats, lowered day after day, were swallowed up in the grey obscurity, and were seen no more till nightfall, and often not till long after, when they would creep in like sea-wraiths, one by one, out of the grey. Wainwright—the hunter whom Wolf Larsen had stolen with boat and men—took advantage of the veiled sea and escaped. He disappeared one morning in the encircling fog with his two men, and we never saw them again, though it was not many days when we learned that they had passed from schooner to schooner until they finally regained their own.
This was the thing I had set my mind upon doing, but the opportunity never offered. It was not in the mate’s province to go out in the boats, and though I manoeuvred cunningly for it, Wolf Larsen never granted me the privilege. Had he done so, I should have managed somehow to carry Miss Brewster away with me. As it was, the situation was approaching a stage which I was afraid to consider. I involuntarily shunned the thought of it, and yet the thought continually arose in my mind like a haunting spectre.
I had read sea-romances in my time, wherein figured, as a matter of course, the lone woman in the midst of a shipload of men; but I learned, now, that I had never comprehended the deeper significance of such a situation—the thing the writers harped upon and exploited so thoroughly. And here it was, now, and I was face to face with it. That it should be as vital as possible, it required no more than that the woman should be Maud Brewster, who now charmed me in person as she had long charmed me through her work.
No one more out of environment could be imagined. She was a delicate, ethereal creature, swaying and willowy, light and graceful of movement. It never seemed to me that she walked, or, at least, walked after the ordinary manner of mortals. Hers was an extreme lithesomeness, and she moved with a certain indefinable airiness, approaching one as down might float or as a bird on noiseless wings.
She was like a bit of Dresden china, and I was continually impressed with what I may call her fragility. As at the time I caught her arm when helping her below, so at any time I was quite prepared, should stress or rough handling befall her, to see her crumble away. I have never seen body and spirit in such perfect accord. Describe her verse, as the critics have described it, as sublimated and spiritual, and you have described her body. It seemed to partake of her soul, to have analogous attributes, and to link it to life with the slenderest of chains. Indeed, she trod the earth lightly, and in her constitution there was little of the robust clay.
She was in striking contrast to Wolf Larsen. Each was nothing that the other was, everything that the other was not. I noted them walking the deck together one morning, and I likened them to the extreme ends of the human ladder of evolution—the one the culmination of all savagery, the other the finished product of the finest civilization. True, Wolf Larsen possessed intellect to an unusual degree, but it was directed solely to the exercise of his savage instincts and made him but the more formidable a savage. He was splendidly muscled, a heavy man, and though he strode with the certitude and directness of the physical man, there was nothing heavy about his stride. The jungle and the wilderness lurked in the uplift and downput of his feet. He was cat-footed, and lithe, and strong, always strong. I likened him to some great tiger, a beast of prowess and prey. He looked it, and the piercing glitter that arose at times in his eyes was the same piercing glitter I had observed in the eyes of caged leopards and other preying creatures of the wild.
But this day, as I noted them pacing up and down, I saw that it was she who terminated the walk. They came up to where I was standing by the entrance to the companion-way. Though she betrayed it by no outward sign, I felt, somehow, that she was greatly perturbed. She made some idle remark, looking at me, and laughed lightly enough; but I saw her eyes return to his, involuntarily, as though fascinated; then they fell, but not swiftly enough to veil the rush of terror that filled them.
It was in his eyes that I saw the cause of her perturbation. Ordinarily grey and cold and harsh, they were now warm and soft and golden, and all a-dance with tiny lights that dimmed and faded, or welled up till the full orbs were flooded with a glowing radiance. Perhaps it was to this that the golden colour was due; but golden his eyes were, enticing and masterful, at the same time luring and compelling, and speaking a demand and clamour of the blood which no woman, much less Maud Brewster, could misunderstand.
Her own terror rushed upon me, and in that moment of fear—the most terrible fear a man can experience—I knew that in inexpressible ways she was dear to me. The knowledge that I loved her rushed upon me with the terror, and with both emotions gripping at my heart and causing my blood at the same time to chill and to leap riotously, I felt myself drawn by a power without me and beyond me, and found my eyes returning against my will to gaze into the eyes of Wolf Larsen. But he had recovered himself. The golden colour and the dancing lights were gone. Cold and grey and glittering they were as he bowed brusquely and turned away.
“I am afraid,” she whispered, with a shiver. “I am so afraid.”
I, too, was afraid, and what of my discovery of how much she meant to me my mind was in a turmoil; but, I succeeded in answering quite calmly:
“All will come right, Miss Brewster. Trust me, it will come right.”
She answered with a grateful little smile that sent my heart pounding, and started to descend the companion-stairs.
For a long while I remained standing where she had left me. There was imperative need to adjust myself, to consider the significance of the changed aspect of things. It had come, at last, love had come, when I least expected it and under the most forbidding conditions. Of course, my philosophy had always recognized the inevitableness of the love-call sooner or later; but long years of bookish silence had made me inattentive and unprepared.
And now it had come! Maud Brewster! My memory flashed back to that first thin little volume on my desk, and I saw before me, as though in the concrete, the row of thin little volumes on my library shelf. How I had welcomed each of them! Each year one had come from the press, and to me each was the advent of the year. They had voiced a kindred intellect and spirit, and as such I had received them into a camaraderie of the mind; but now their place was in my heart.
My heart? A revulsion of feeling came over me. I seemed to stand outside myself and to look at myself incredulously. Maud Brewster! Humphrey Van Weyden, “the cold-blooded fish,” the “emotionless monster,” the “analytical demon,” of Charley Furuseth’s christening, in love! And then, without rhyme or reason, all sceptical, my mind flew back to a small biographical note in the red-bound Who’s Who, and I said to myself, “She was born in Cambridge, and she is twenty-seven years old.” And then I said, “Twenty-seven years old and still free and fancy free?” But how did I know she was fancy free? And the pang of new-born jealousy put all incredulity to flight. There was no doubt about it. I was jealous; therefore I loved. And the woman I loved was Maud Brewster.
I, Humphrey Van Weyden, was in love! And again the doubt assailed me. Not that I was afraid of it, however, or reluctant to meet it. On the contrary, idealist that I was to the most pronounced degree, my philosophy had always recognized and guerdoned love as the greatest thing in the world, the aim and the summit of being, the most exquisite pitch of joy and happiness to which life could thrill, the thing of all things to be hailed and welcomed and taken into the heart. But now that it had come I could not believe. I could not be so fortunate. It was too good, too good to be true. Symons’s lines came into my head:
“I wandered all these years among
A world of women, seeking you.”
And then I had ceased seeking. It was not for me, this greatest thing in the world, I had decided. Furuseth was right; I was abnormal, an “emotionless monster,” a strange bookish creature, capable of pleasuring in sensations only of the mind. And though I had been surrounded by women all my days, my appreciation of them had been aesthetic and nothing more. I had actually, at times, considered myself outside the pale, a monkish fellow denied the eternal or the passing passions I saw and understood so well in others. And now it had come! Undreamed of and unheralded, it had come. In what could have been no less than an ecstasy, I left my post at the head of the companion-way and started along the deck, murmuring to myself those beautiful lines of Mrs. Browning:
“I lived with visions for my company
Instead of men and women years ago,
And found them gentle mates, nor thought to know
A sweeter music than they played to me.”
But the sweeter music was playing in my ears, and I was blind and oblivious to all about me. The sharp voice of Wolf Larsen aroused me.
“What the hell are you up to?” he was demanding.
I had strayed forward where the sailors were painting, and I came to myself to find my advancing foot on the verge of overturning a paint-pot.
“Sleep-walking, sunstroke,—what?” he barked.
“No; indigestion,” I retorted, and continued my walk as if nothing untoward had occurred.
Among the most vivid memories of my life are those of the events on the Ghost which occurred during the forty hours succeeding the discovery of my love for Maud Brewster. I, who had lived my life in quiet places, only to enter at the age of thirty-five upon a course of the most irrational adventure I could have imagined, never had more incident and excitement crammed into any forty hours of my experience. Nor can I quite close my ears to a small voice of pride which tells me I did not do so badly, all things considered.
To begin with, at the midday dinner, Wolf Larsen informed the hunters that they were to eat thenceforth in the steerage. It was an unprecedented thing on sealing-schooners, where it is the custom for the hunters to rank, unofficially as officers. He gave no reason, but his motive was obvious enough. Horner and Smoke had been displaying a gallantry toward Maud Brewster, ludicrous in itself and inoffensive to her, but to him evidently distasteful.
The announcement was received with black silence, though the other four hunters glanced significantly at the two who had been the cause of their banishment. Jock Horner, quiet as was his way, gave no sign; but the blood surged darkly across Smoke’s forehead, and he half opened his mouth to speak. Wolf Larsen was watching him, waiting for him, the steely glitter in his eyes; but Smoke closed his mouth again without having said anything.
“Anything to say?” the other demanded aggressively.
It was a challenge, but Smoke refused to accept it.
“About what?” he asked, so innocently that Wolf Larsen was disconcerted, while the others smiled.
“Oh, nothing,” Wolf Larsen said lamely. “I just thought you might want to register a kick.”
“About what?” asked the imperturbable Smoke.
Smoke’s mates were now smiling broadly. His captain could have killed him, and I doubt not that blood would have flowed had not Maud Brewster been present. For that matter, it was her presence which enabled. Smoke to act as he did. He was too discreet and cautious a man to incur Wolf Larsen’s anger at a time when that anger could be expressed in terms stronger than words. I was in fear that a struggle might take place, but a cry from the helmsman made it easy for the situation to save itself.
“Smoke ho!” the cry came down the open companion-way.
“How’s it bear?” Wolf Larsen called up.
“Dead astern, sir.”
“Maybe it’s a Russian,” suggested Latimer.
His words brought anxiety into the faces of the other hunters. A Russian could mean but one thing—a cruiser. The hunters, never more than roughly aware of the position of the ship, nevertheless knew that we were close to the boundaries of the forbidden sea, while Wolf Larsen’s record as a poacher was notorious. All eyes centred upon him.
“We’re dead safe,” he assured them with a laugh. “No salt mines this time, Smoke. But I’ll tell you what—I’ll lay odds of five to one it’s the Macedonia.”
No one accepted his offer, and he went on: “In which event, I’ll lay ten to one there’s trouble breezing up.”
“No, thank you,” Latimer spoke up. “I don’t object to losing my money, but I like to get a run for it anyway. There never was a time when there wasn’t trouble when you and that brother of yours got together, and I’ll lay twenty to one on that.”
A general smile followed, in which Wolf Larsen joined, and the dinner went on smoothly, thanks to me, for he treated me abominably the rest of the meal, sneering at me and patronizing me till I was all a-tremble with suppressed rage. Yet I knew I must control myself for Maud Brewster’s sake, and I received my reward when her eyes caught mine for a fleeting second, and they said, as distinctly as if she spoke, “Be brave, be brave.”
We left the table to go on deck, for a steamer was a welcome break in the monotony of the sea on which we floated, while the conviction that it was Death Larsen and the Macedonia added to the excitement. The stiff breeze and heavy sea which had sprung up the previous afternoon had been moderating all morning, so that it was now possible to lower the boats for an afternoon’s hunt. The hunting promised to be profitable. We had sailed since daylight across a sea barren of seals, and were now running into the herd.
The smoke was still miles astern, but overhauling us rapidly, when we lowered our boats. They spread out and struck a northerly course across the ocean. Now and again we saw a sail lower, heard the reports of the shot-guns, and saw the sail go up again. The seals were thick, the wind was dying away; everything favoured a big catch. As we ran off to get our leeward position of the last lee boat, we found the ocean fairly carpeted with sleeping seals. They were all about us, thicker than I had ever seen them before, in twos and threes and bunches, stretched full length on the surface and sleeping for all the world like so many lazy young dogs.
Under the approaching smoke the hull and upper-works of a steamer were growing larger. It was the Macedonia. I read her name through the glasses as she passed by scarcely a mile to starboard. Wolf Larsen looked savagely at the vessel, while Maud Brewster was curious.
“Where is the trouble you were so sure was breezing up, Captain Larsen?” she asked gaily.
He glanced at her, a moment’s amusement softening his features.
“What did you expect? That they’d come aboard and cut our throats?”
“Something like that,” she confessed. “You understand, seal-hunters are so new and strange to me that I am quite ready to expect anything.”
He nodded his head. “Quite right, quite right. Your error is that you failed to expect the worst.”
“Why, what can be worse than cutting our throats?” she asked, with pretty naive surprise.
“Cutting our purses,” he answered. “Man is so made these days that his capacity for living is determined by the money he possesses.”
“’Who steals my purse steals trash,’” she quoted.
“Who steals my purse steals my right to live,” was the reply, “old saws to the contrary. For he steals my bread and meat and bed, and in so doing imperils my life. There are not enough soup-kitchens and bread-lines to go around, you know, and when men have nothing in their purses they usually die, and die miserably—unless they are able to fill their purses pretty speedily.”
“But I fail to see that this steamer has any designs on your purse.”
“Wait and you will see,” he answered grimly.
We did not have long to wait. Having passed several miles beyond our line of boats, the Macedonia proceeded to lower her own. We knew she carried fourteen boats to our five (we were one short through the desertion of Wainwright), and she began dropping them far to leeward of our last boat, continued dropping them athwart our course, and finished dropping them far to windward of our first weather boat. The hunting, for us, was spoiled. There were no seals behind us, and ahead of us the line of fourteen boats, like a huge broom, swept the herd before it.
Our boats hunted across the two or three miles of water between them and the point where the Macedonia’s had been dropped, and then headed for home. The wind had fallen to a whisper, the ocean was growing calmer and calmer, and this, coupled with the presence of the great herd, made a perfect hunting day—one of the two or three days to be encountered in the whole of a lucky season. An angry lot of men, boat-pullers and steerers as well as hunters, swarmed over our side. Each man felt that he had been robbed; and the boats were hoisted in amid curses, which, if curses had power, would have settled Death Larsen for all eternity—“Dead and damned for a dozen iv eternities,” commented Louis, his eyes twinkling up at me as he rested from hauling taut the lashings of his boat.
“Listen to them, and find if it is hard to discover the most vital thing in their souls,” said Wolf Larsen. “Faith? and love? and high ideals? The good? the beautiful? the true?”
“Their innate sense of right has been violated,” Maud Brewster said, joining the conversation.
She was standing a dozen feet away, one hand resting on the main-shrouds and her body swaying gently to the slight roll of the ship. She had not raised her voice, and yet I was struck by its clear and bell-like tone. Ah, it was sweet in my ears! I scarcely dared look at her just then, for the fear of betraying myself. A boy’s cap was perched on her head, and her hair, light brown and arranged in a loose and fluffy order that caught the sun, seemed an aureole about the delicate oval of her face. She was positively bewitching, and, withal, sweetly spirituelle, if not saintly. All my old-time marvel at life returned to me at sight of this splendid incarnation of it, and Wolf Larsen’s cold explanation of life and its meaning was truly ridiculous and laughable.
“A sentimentalist,” he sneered, “like Mr. Van Weyden. Those men are cursing because their desires have been outraged. That is all. What desires? The desires for the good grub and soft beds ashore which a handsome pay-day brings them—the women and the drink, the gorging and the beastliness which so truly expresses them, the best that is in them, their highest aspirations, their ideals, if you please. The exhibition they make of their feelings is not a touching sight, yet it shows how deeply they have been touched, how deeply their purses have been touched, for to lay hands on their purses is to lay hands on their souls.”
“’You hardly behave as if your purse had been touched,” she said, smilingly.
“Then it so happens that I am behaving differently, for my purse and my soul have both been touched. At the current price of skins in the London market, and based on a fair estimate of what the afternoon’s catch would have been had not the Macedonia hogged it, the Ghost has lost about fifteen hundred dollars’ worth of skins.”
“You speak so calmly—” she began.
“But I do not feel calm; I could kill the man who robbed me,” he interrupted. “Yes, yes, I know, and that man my brother—more sentiment! Bah!”
His face underwent a sudden change. His voice was less harsh and wholly sincere as he said:
“You must be happy, you sentimentalists, really and truly happy at dreaming and finding things good, and, because you find some of them good, feeling good yourself. Now, tell me, you two, do you find me good?”
“You are good to look upon—in a way,” I qualified.
“There are in you all powers for good,” was Maud Brewster’s answer.
“There you are!” he cried at her, half angrily. “Your words are empty to me. There is nothing clear and sharp and definite about the thought you have expressed. You cannot pick it up in your two hands and look at it. In point of fact, it is not a thought. It is a feeling, a sentiment, a something based upon illusion and not a product of the intellect at all.”
As he went on his voice again grew soft, and a confiding note came into it. “Do you know, I sometimes catch myself wishing that I, too, were blind to the facts of life and only knew its fancies and illusions. They’re wrong, all wrong, of course, and contrary to reason; but in the face of them my reason tells me, wrong and most wrong, that to dream and live illusions gives greater delight. And after all, delight is the wage for living. Without delight, living is a worthless act. To labour at living and be unpaid is worse than to be dead. He who delights the most lives the most, and your dreams and unrealities are less disturbing to you and more gratifying than are my facts to me.”
He shook his head slowly, pondering.
“I often doubt, I often doubt, the worthwhileness of reason. Dreams must be more substantial and satisfying. Emotional delight is more filling and lasting than intellectual delight; and, besides, you pay for your moments of intellectual delight by having the blues. Emotional delight is followed by no more than jaded senses which speedily recuperate. I envy you, I envy you.”
He stopped abruptly, and then on his lips formed one of his strange quizzical smiles, as he added:
“It’s from my brain I envy you, take notice, and not from my heart. My reason dictates it. The envy is an intellectual product. I am like a sober man looking upon drunken men, and, greatly weary, wishing he, too, were drunk.”
“Or like a wise man looking upon fools and wishing he, too, were a fool,” I laughed.
“Quite so,” he said. “You are a blessed, bankrupt pair of fools. You have no facts in your pocketbook.”
“Yet we spend as freely as you,” was Maud Brewster’s contribution.
“More freely, because it costs you nothing.”
“And because we draw upon eternity,” she retorted.
“Whether you do or think you do, it’s the same thing. You spend what you haven’t got, and in return you get greater value from spending what you haven’t got than I get from spending what I have got, and what I have sweated to get.”
“Why don’t you change the basis of your coinage, then?” she queried teasingly.
He looked at her quickly, half-hopefully, and then said, all regretfully: “Too late. I’d like to, perhaps, but I can’t. My pocketbook is stuffed with the old coinage, and it’s a stubborn thing. I can never bring myself to recognize anything else as valid.”
He ceased speaking, and his gaze wandered absently past her and became lost in the placid sea. The old primal melancholy was strong upon him. He was quivering to it. He had reasoned himself into a spell of the blues, and within few hours one could look for the devil within him to be up and stirring. I remembered Charley Furuseth, and knew this man’s sadness as the penalty which the materialist ever pays for his materialism.
“You’ve been on deck, Mr. Van Weyden,” Wolf Larsen said, the following morning at the breakfast-table, “How do things look?”
“Clear enough,” I answered, glancing at the sunshine which streamed down the open companion-way. “Fair westerly breeze, with a promise of stiffening, if Louis predicts correctly.”
He nodded his head in a pleased way. “Any signs of fog?”
“Thick banks in the north and north-west.”
He nodded his head again, evincing even greater satisfaction than before.
“What of the Macedonia?”
“Not sighted,” I answered.
I could have sworn his face fell at the intelligence, but why he should be disappointed I could not conceive.
I was soon to learn. “Smoke ho!” came the hail from on deck, and his face brightened.
“Good!” he exclaimed, and left the table at once to go on deck and into the steerage, where the hunters were taking the first breakfast of their exile.
Maud Brewster and I scarcely touched the food before us, gazing, instead, in silent anxiety at each other, and listening to Wolf Larsen’s voice, which easily penetrated the cabin through the intervening bulkhead. He spoke at length, and his conclusion was greeted with a wild roar of cheers. The bulkhead was too thick for us to hear what he said; but whatever it was it affected the hunters strongly, for the cheering was followed by loud exclamations and shouts of joy.
From the sounds on deck I knew that the sailors had been routed out and were preparing to lower the boats. Maud Brewster accompanied me on deck, but I left her at the break of the poop, where she might watch the scene and not be in it. The sailors must have learned whatever project was on hand, and the vim and snap they put into their work attested their enthusiasm. The hunters came trooping on deck with shot-guns and ammunition-boxes, and, most unusual, their rifles. The latter were rarely taken in the boats, for a seal shot at long range with a rifle invariably sank before a boat could reach it. But each hunter this day had his rifle and a large supply of cartridges. I noticed they grinned with satisfaction whenever they looked at the Macedonia’s smoke, which was rising higher and higher as she approached from the west.
The five boats went over the side with a rush, spread out like the ribs of a fan, and set a northerly course, as on the preceding afternoon, for us to follow. I watched for some time, curiously, but there seemed nothing extraordinary about their behaviour. They lowered sails, shot seals, and hoisted sails again, and continued on their way as I had always seen them do. The Macedonia repeated her performance of yesterday, “hogging” the sea by dropping her line of boats in advance of ours and across our course. Fourteen boats require a considerable spread of ocean for comfortable hunting, and when she had completely lapped our line she continued steaming into the north-east, dropping more boats as she went.
“What’s up?” I asked Wolf Larsen, unable longer to keep my curiosity in check.
“Never mind what’s up,” he answered gruffly. “You won’t be a thousand years in finding out, and in the meantime just pray for plenty of wind.”
“Oh, well, I don’t mind telling you,” he said the next moment. “I’m going to give that brother of mine a taste of his own medicine. In short, I’m going to play the hog myself, and not for one day, but for the rest of the season,—if we’re in luck.”
“And if we’re not?” I queried.
“Not to be considered,” he laughed. “We simply must be in luck, or it’s all up with us.”
He had the wheel at the time, and I went forward to my hospital in the forecastle, where lay the two crippled men, Nilson and Thomas Mugridge. Nilson was as cheerful as could be expected, for his broken leg was knitting nicely; but the Cockney was desperately melancholy, and I was aware of a great sympathy for the unfortunate creature. And the marvel of it was that still he lived and clung to life. The brutal years had reduced his meagre body to splintered wreckage, and yet the spark of life within burned brightly as ever.
“With an artificial foot—and they make excellent ones—you will be stumping ships’ galleys to the end of time,” I assured him jovially.
But his answer was serious, nay, solemn. “I don’t know about wot you s’y, Mr. Van W’yden, but I do know I’ll never rest ’appy till I see that ’ell-’ound bloody well dead. ’E cawn’t live as long as me. ’E’s got no right to live, an’ as the Good Word puts it, ‘’E shall shorely die,’ an’ I s’y, ‘Amen, an’ damn soon at that.’”
When I returned on deck I found Wolf Larsen steering mainly with one hand, while with the other hand he held the marine glasses and studied the situation of the boats, paying particular attention to the position of the Macedonia. The only change noticeable in our boats was that they had hauled close on the wind and were heading several points west of north. Still, I could not see the expediency of the manoeuvre, for the free sea was still intercepted by the Macedonia’s five weather boats, which, in turn, had hauled close on the wind. Thus they slowly diverged toward the west, drawing farther away from the remainder of the boats in their line. Our boats were rowing as well as sailing. Even the hunters were pulling, and with three pairs of oars in the water they rapidly overhauled what I may appropriately term the enemy.
The smoke of the Macedonia had dwindled to a dim blot on the north-eastern horizon. Of the steamer herself nothing was to be seen. We had been loafing along, till now, our sails shaking half the time and spilling the wind; and twice, for short periods, we had been hove to. But there was no more loafing. Sheets were trimmed, and Wolf Larsen proceeded to put the Ghost through her paces. We ran past our line of boats and bore down upon the first weather boat of the other line.
“Down that flying jib, Mr. Van Weyden,” Wolf Larsen commanded. “And stand by to back over the jibs.”
I ran forward and had the downhaul of the flying jib all in and fast as we slipped by the boat a hundred feet to leeward. The three men in it gazed at us suspiciously. They had been hogging the sea, and they knew Wolf Larsen, by reputation at any rate. I noted that the hunter, a huge Scandinavian sitting in the bow, held his rifle, ready to hand, across his knees. It should have been in its proper place in the rack. When they came opposite our stern, Wolf Larsen greeted them with a wave of the hand, and cried:
“Come on board and have a ’gam’!”
“To gam,” among the sealing-schooners, is a substitute for the verbs “to visit,” “to gossip.” It expresses the garrulity of the sea, and is a pleasant break in the monotony of the life.
The Ghost swung around into the wind, and I finished my work forward in time to run aft and lend a hand with the mainsheet.
“You will please stay on deck, Miss Brewster,” Wolf Larsen said, as he started forward to meet his guest. “And you too, Mr. Van Weyden.”
The boat had lowered its sail and run alongside. The hunter, golden bearded like a sea-king, came over the rail and dropped on deck. But his hugeness could not quite overcome his apprehensiveness. Doubt and distrust showed strongly in his face. It was a transparent face, for all of its hairy shield, and advertised instant relief when he glanced from Wolf Larsen to me, noted that there was only the pair of us, and then glanced over his own two men who had joined him. Surely he had little reason to be afraid. He towered like a Goliath above Wolf Larsen. He must have measured six feet eight or nine inches in stature, and I subsequently learned his weight—240 pounds. And there was no fat about him. It was all bone and muscle.
A return of apprehension was apparent when, at the top of the companion-way, Wolf Larsen invited him below. But he reassured himself with a glance down at his host—a big man himself but dwarfed by the propinquity of the giant. So all hesitancy vanished, and the pair descended into the cabin. In the meantime, his two men, as was the wont of visiting sailors, had gone forward into the forecastle to do some visiting themselves.
Suddenly, from the cabin came a great, choking bellow, followed by all the sounds of a furious struggle. It was the leopard and the lion, and the lion made all the noise. Wolf Larsen was the leopard.
“You see the sacredness of our hospitality,” I said bitterly to Maud Brewster.
She nodded her head that she heard, and I noted in her face the signs of the same sickness at sight or sound of violent struggle from which I had suffered so severely during my first weeks on the Ghost.
“Wouldn’t it be better if you went forward, say by the steerage companion-way, until it is over?” I suggested.
She shook her head and gazed at me pitifully. She was not frightened, but appalled, rather, at the human animality of it.
“You will understand,” I took advantage of the opportunity to say, “whatever part I take in what is going on and what is to come, that I am compelled to take it—if you and I are ever to get out of this scrape with our lives.”
“It is not nice—for me,” I added.
“I understand,” she said, in a weak, far-away voice, and her eyes showed me that she did understand.
The sounds from below soon died away. Then Wolf Larsen came alone on deck. There was a slight flush under his bronze, but otherwise he bore no signs of the battle.
“Send those two men aft, Mr. Van Weyden,” he said.
I obeyed, and a minute or two later they stood before him. “Hoist in your boat,” he said to them. “Your hunter’s decided to stay aboard awhile and doesn’t want it pounding alongside.”
“Hoist in your boat, I said,” he repeated, this time in sharper tones as they hesitated to do his bidding.
“Who knows? you may have to sail with me for a time,” he said, quite softly, with a silken threat that belied the softness, as they moved slowly to comply, “and we might as well start with a friendly understanding. Lively now! Death Larsen makes you jump better than that, and you know it!”
Their movements perceptibly quickened under his coaching, and as the boat swung inboard I was sent forward to let go the jibs. Wolf Larsen, at the wheel, directed the Ghost after the Macedonia’s second weather boat.
Under way, and with nothing for the time being to do, I turned my attention to the situation of the boats. The Macedonia’s third weather boat was being attacked by two of ours, the fourth by our remaining three; and the fifth, turn about, was taking a hand in the defence of its nearest mate. The fight had opened at long distance, and the rifles were cracking steadily. A quick, snappy sea was being kicked up by the wind, a condition which prevented fine shooting; and now and again, as we drew closer, we could see the bullets zip-zipping from wave to wave.
The boat we were pursuing had squared away and was running before the wind to escape us, and, in the course of its flight, to take part in repulsing our general boat attack.
Attending to sheets and tacks now left me little time to see what was taking place, but I happened to be on the poop when Wolf Larsen ordered the two strange sailors forward and into the forecastle. They went sullenly, but they went. He next ordered Miss Brewster below, and smiled at the instant horror that leapt into her eyes.
“You’ll find nothing gruesome down there,” he said, “only an unhurt man securely made fast to the ring-bolts. Bullets are liable to come aboard, and I don’t want you killed, you know.”
Even as he spoke, a bullet was deflected by a brass-capped spoke of the wheel between his hands and screeched off through the air to windward.
“You see,” he said to her; and then to me, “Mr. Van Weyden, will you take the wheel?”
Maud Brewster had stepped inside the companion-way so that only her head was exposed. Wolf Larsen had procured a rifle and was throwing a cartridge into the barrel. I begged her with my eyes to go below, but she smiled and said:
“We may be feeble land-creatures without legs, but we can show Captain Larsen that we are at least as brave as he.”
He gave her a quick look of admiration.
“I like you a hundred per cent. better for that,” he said. “Books, and brains, and bravery. You are well-rounded, a blue-stocking fit to be the wife of a pirate chief. Ahem, we’ll discuss that later,” he smiled, as a bullet struck solidly into the cabin wall.
I saw his eyes flash golden as he spoke, and I saw the terror mount in her own.
“We are braver,” I hastened to say. “At least, speaking for myself, I know I am braver than Captain Larsen.”
It was I who was now favoured by a quick look. He was wondering if I were making fun of him. I put three or four spokes over to counteract a sheer toward the wind on the part of the Ghost, and then steadied her. Wolf Larsen was still waiting an explanation, and I pointed down to my knees.
“You will observe there,” I said, “a slight trembling. It is because I am afraid, the flesh is afraid; and I am afraid in my mind because I do not wish to die. But my spirit masters the trembling flesh and the qualms of the mind. I am more than brave. I am courageous. Your flesh is not afraid. You are not afraid. On the one hand, it costs you nothing to encounter danger; on the other hand, it even gives you delight. You enjoy it. You may be unafraid, Mr. Larsen, but you must grant that the bravery is mine.”
“You’re right,” he acknowledged at once. “I never thought of it in that way before. But is the opposite true? If you are braver than I, am I more cowardly than you?”
We both laughed at the absurdity, and he dropped down to the deck and rested his rifle across the rail. The bullets we had received had travelled nearly a mile, but by now we had cut that distance in half. He fired three careful shots. The first struck fifty feet to windward of the boat, the second alongside; and at the third the boat-steerer let loose his steering-oar and crumpled up in the bottom of the boat.
“I guess that’ll fix them,” Wolf Larsen said, rising to his feet. “I couldn’t afford to let the hunter have it, and there is a chance the boat-puller doesn’t know how to steer. In which case, the hunter cannot steer and shoot at the same time”
His reasoning was justified, for the boat rushed at once into the wind and the hunter sprang aft to take the boat-steerer’s place. There was no more shooting, though the rifles were still cracking merrily from the other boats.
The hunter had managed to get the boat before the wind again, but we ran down upon it, going at least two feet to its one. A hundred yards away, I saw the boat-puller pass a rifle to the hunter. Wolf Larsen went amidships and took the coil of the throat-halyards from its pin. Then he peered over the rail with levelled rifle. Twice I saw the hunter let go the steering-oar with one hand, reach for his rifle, and hesitate. We were now alongside and foaming past.
“Here, you!” Wolf Larsen cried suddenly to the boat-puller. “Take a turn!”
At the same time he flung the coil of rope. It struck fairly, nearly knocking the man over, but he did not obey. Instead, he looked to his hunter for orders. The hunter, in turn, was in a quandary. His rifle was between his knees, but if he let go the steering-oar in order to shoot, the boat would sweep around and collide with the schooner. Also he saw Wolf Larsen’s rifle bearing upon him and knew he would be shot ere he could get his rifle into play.
“Take a turn,” he said quietly to the man.
The boat-puller obeyed, taking a turn around the little forward thwart and paying the line as it jerked taut. The boat sheered out with a rush, and the hunter steadied it to a parallel course some twenty feet from the side of the Ghost.
“Now, get that sail down and come alongside!” Wolf Larsen ordered.
He never let go his rifle, even passing down the tackles with one hand. When they were fast, bow and stern, and the two uninjured men prepared to come aboard, the hunter picked up his rifle as if to place it in a secure position.
“Drop it!” Wolf Larsen cried, and the hunter dropped it as though it were hot and had burned him.
Once aboard, the two prisoners hoisted in the boat and under Wolf Larsen’s direction carried the wounded boat-steerer down into the forecastle.
“If our five boats do as well as you and I have done, we’ll have a pretty full crew,” Wolf Larsen said to me.
“The man you shot—he is—I hope?” Maud Brewster quavered.
“In the shoulder,” he answered. “Nothing serious, Mr. Van Weyden will pull him around as good as ever in three or four weeks.”
“But he won’t pull those chaps around, from the look of it,” he added, pointing at the Macedonia’s third boat, for which I had been steering and which was now nearly abreast of us. “That’s Horner’s and Smoke’s work. I told them we wanted live men, not carcasses. But the joy of shooting to hit is a most compelling thing, when once you’ve learned how to shoot. Ever experienced it, Mr. Van Weyden?”
I shook my head and regarded their work. It had indeed been bloody, for they had drawn off and joined our other three boats in the attack on the remaining two of the enemy. The deserted boat was in the trough of the sea, rolling drunkenly across each comber, its loose spritsail out at right angles to it and fluttering and flapping in the wind. The hunter and boat-puller were both lying awkwardly in the bottom, but the boat-steerer lay across the gunwale, half in and half out, his arms trailing in the water and his head rolling from side to side.
“Don’t look, Miss Brewster, please don’t look,” I had begged of her, and I was glad that she had minded me and been spared the sight.
“Head right into the bunch, Mr. Van Weyden,” was Wolf Larsen’s command.
As we drew nearer, the firing ceased, and we saw that the fight was over. The remaining two boats had been captured by our five, and the seven were grouped together, waiting to be picked up.
“Look at that!” I cried involuntarily, pointing to the north-east.
The blot of smoke which indicated the Macedonia’s position had reappeared.
“Yes, I’ve been watching it,” was Wolf Larsen’s calm reply. He measured the distance away to the fog-bank, and for an instant paused to feel the weight of the wind on his cheek. “We’ll make it, I think; but you can depend upon it that blessed brother of mine has twigged our little game and is just a-humping for us. Ah, look at that!”
The blot of smoke had suddenly grown larger, and it was very black.
“I’ll beat you out, though, brother mine,” he chuckled. “I’ll beat you out, and I hope you no worse than that you rack your old engines into scrap.”
When we hove to, a hasty though orderly confusion reigned. The boats came aboard from every side at once. As fast as the prisoners came over the rail they were marshalled forward to the forecastle by our hunters, while our sailors hoisted in the boats, pell-mell, dropping them anywhere upon the deck and not stopping to lash them. We were already under way, all sails set and drawing, and the sheets being slacked off for a wind abeam, as the last boat lifted clear of the water and swung in the tackles.
There was need for haste. The Macedonia, belching the blackest of smoke from her funnel, was charging down upon us from out of the north-east. Neglecting the boats that remained to her, she had altered her course so as to anticipate ours. She was not running straight for us, but ahead of us. Our courses were converging like the sides of an angle, the vertex of which was at the edge of the fog-bank. It was there, or not at all, that the Macedonia could hope to catch us. The hope for the Ghost lay in that she should pass that point before the Macedonia arrived at it.
Wolf Larsen was steering, his eyes glistening and snapping as they dwelt upon and leaped from detail to detail of the chase. Now he studied the sea to windward for signs of the wind slackening or freshening, now the Macedonia; and again, his eyes roved over every sail, and he gave commands to slack a sheet here a trifle, to come in on one there a trifle, till he was drawing out of the Ghost the last bit of speed she possessed. All feuds and grudges were forgotten, and I was surprised at the alacrity with which the men who had so long endured his brutality sprang to execute his orders. Strange to say, the unfortunate Johnson came into my mind as we lifted and surged and heeled along, and I was aware of a regret that he was not alive and present; he had so loved the Ghost and delighted in her sailing powers.
“Better get your rifles, you fellows,” Wolf Larsen called to our hunters; and the five men lined the lee rail, guns in hand, and waited.
The Macedonia was now but a mile away, the black smoke pouring from her funnel at a right angle, so madly she raced, pounding through the sea at a seventeen-knot gait—“’Sky-hooting through the brine,” as Wolf Larsen quoted while gazing at her. We were not making more than nine knots, but the fog-bank was very near.
A puff of smoke broke from the Macedonia’s deck, we heard a heavy report, and a round hole took form in the stretched canvas of our mainsail. They were shooting at us with one of the small cannon which rumour had said they carried on board. Our men, clustering amidships, waved their hats and raised a derisive cheer. Again there was a puff of smoke and a loud report, this time the cannon-ball striking not more than twenty feet astern and glancing twice from sea to sea to windward ere it sank.
But there was no rifle-firing for the reason that all their hunters were out in the boats or our prisoners. When the two vessels were half-a-mile apart, a third shot made another hole in our mainsail. Then we entered the fog. It was about us, veiling and hiding us in its dense wet gauze.
The sudden transition was startling. The moment before we had been leaping through the sunshine, the clear sky above us, the sea breaking and rolling wide to the horizon, and a ship, vomiting smoke and fire and iron missiles, rushing madly upon us. And at once, as in an instant’s leap, the sun was blotted out, there was no sky, even our mastheads were lost to view, and our horizon was such as tear-blinded eyes may see. The grey mist drove by us like a rain. Every woollen filament of our garments, every hair of our heads and faces, was jewelled with a crystal globule. The shrouds were wet with moisture; it dripped from our rigging overhead; and on the underside of our booms drops of water took shape in long swaying lines, which were detached and flung to the deck in mimic showers at each surge of the schooner. I was aware of a pent, stifled feeling. As the sounds of the ship thrusting herself through the waves were hurled back upon us by the fog, so were one’s thoughts. The mind recoiled from contemplation of a world beyond this wet veil which wrapped us around. This was the world, the universe itself, its bounds so near one felt impelled to reach out both arms and push them back. It was impossible, that the rest could be beyond these walls of grey. The rest was a dream, no more than the memory of a dream.
It was weird, strangely weird. I looked at Maud Brewster and knew that she was similarly affected. Then I looked at Wolf Larsen, but there was nothing subjective about his state of consciousness. His whole concern was with the immediate, objective present. He still held the wheel, and I felt that he was timing Time, reckoning the passage of the minutes with each forward lunge and leeward roll of the Ghost.
“Go for’ard and hard alee without any noise,” he said to me in a low voice. “Clew up the topsails first. Set men at all the sheets. Let there be no rattling of blocks, no sound of voices. No noise, understand, no noise.”
When all was ready, the word “hard-a-lee” was passed forward to me from man to man; and the Ghost heeled about on the port tack with practically no noise at all. And what little there was,—the slapping of a few reef-points and the creaking of a sheave in a block or two,—was ghostly under the hollow echoing pall in which we were swathed.
We had scarcely filled away, it seemed, when the fog thinned abruptly and we were again in the sunshine, the wide-stretching sea breaking before us to the sky-line. But the ocean was bare. No wrathful Macedonia broke its surface nor blackened the sky with her smoke.
Wolf Larsen at once squared away and ran down along the rim of the fog-bank. His trick was obvious. He had entered the fog to windward of the steamer, and while the steamer had blindly driven on into the fog in the chance of catching him, he had come about and out of his shelter and was now running down to re-enter to leeward. Successful in this, the old simile of the needle in the haystack would be mild indeed compared with his brother’s chance of finding him. He did not run long. Jibing the fore- and main-sails and setting the topsails again, we headed back into the bank. As we entered I could have sworn I saw a vague bulk emerging to windward. I looked quickly at Wolf Larsen. Already we were ourselves buried in the fog, but he nodded his head. He, too, had seen it—the Macedonia, guessing his manoeuvre and failing by a moment in anticipating it. There was no doubt that we had escaped unseen.
“He can’t keep this up,” Wolf Larsen said. “He’ll have to go back for the rest of his boats. Send a man to the wheel, Mr. Van Weyden, keep this course for the present, and you might as well set the watches, for we won’t do any lingering to-night.”
“I’d give five hundred dollars, though,” he added, “just to be aboard the Macedonia for five minutes, listening to my brother curse.”
“And now, Mr. Van Weyden,” he said to me when he had been relieved from the wheel, “we must make these new-comers welcome. Serve out plenty of whisky to the hunters and see that a few bottles slip for’ard. I’ll wager every man Jack of them is over the side to-morrow, hunting for Wolf Larsen as contentedly as ever they hunted for Death Larsen.”
“But won’t they escape as Wainwright did?” I asked.
He laughed shrewdly. “Not as long as our old hunters have anything to say about it. I’m dividing amongst them a dollar a skin for all the skins shot by our new hunters. At least half of their enthusiasm to-day was due to that. Oh, no, there won’t be any escaping if they have anything to say about it. And now you’d better get for’ard to your hospital duties. There must be a full ward waiting for you.”
Wolf Larsen took the distribution of the whisky off my hands, and the bottles began to make their appearance while I worked over the fresh batch of wounded men in the forecastle. I had seen whisky drunk, such as whisky-and-soda by the men of the clubs, but never as these men drank it, from pannikins and mugs, and from the bottles—great brimming drinks, each one of which was in itself a debauch. But they did not stop at one or two. They drank and drank, and ever the bottles slipped forward and they drank more.
Everybody drank; the wounded drank; Oofty-Oofty, who helped me, drank. Only Louis refrained, no more than cautiously wetting his lips with the liquor, though he joined in the revels with an abandon equal to that of most of them. It was a saturnalia. In loud voices they shouted over the day’s fighting, wrangled about details, or waxed affectionate and made friends with the men whom they had fought. Prisoners and captors hiccoughed on one another’s shoulders, and swore mighty oaths of respect and esteem. They wept over the miseries of the past and over the miseries yet to come under the iron rule of Wolf Larsen. And all cursed him and told terrible tales of his brutality.
It was a strange and frightful spectacle—the small, bunk-lined space, the floor and walls leaping and lurching, the dim light, the swaying shadows lengthening and fore-shortening monstrously, the thick air heavy with smoke and the smell of bodies and iodoform, and the inflamed faces of the men—half-men, I should call them. I noted Oofty-Oofty, holding the end of a bandage and looking upon the scene, his velvety and luminous eyes glistening in the light like a deer’s eyes, and yet I knew the barbaric devil that lurked in his breast and belied all the softness and tenderness, almost womanly, of his face and form. And I noticed the boyish face of Harrison,—a good face once, but now a demon’s,—convulsed with passion as he told the new-comers of the hell-ship they were in and shrieked curses upon the head of Wolf Larsen.
Wolf Larsen it was, always Wolf Larsen, enslaver and tormentor of men, a male Circe and these his swine, suffering brutes that grovelled before him and revolted only in drunkenness and in secrecy. And was I, too, one of his swine? I thought. And Maud Brewster? No! I ground my teeth in my anger and determination till the man I was attending winced under my hand and Oofty-Oofty looked at me with curiosity. I felt endowed with a sudden strength. What of my new-found love, I was a giant. I feared nothing. I would work my will through it all, in spite of Wolf Larsen and of my own thirty-five bookish years. All would be well. I would make it well. And so, exalted, upborne by a sense of power, I turned my back on the howling inferno and climbed to the deck, where the fog drifted ghostly through the night and the air was sweet and pure and quiet.
The steerage, where were two wounded hunters, was a repetition of the forecastle, except that Wolf Larsen was not being cursed; and it was with a great relief that I again emerged on deck and went aft to the cabin. Supper was ready, and Wolf Larsen and Maud were waiting for me.
While all his ship was getting drunk as fast as it could, he remained sober. Not a drop of liquor passed his lips. He did not dare it under the circumstances, for he had only Louis and me to depend upon, and Louis was even now at the wheel. We were sailing on through the fog without a look-out and without lights. That Wolf Larsen had turned the liquor loose among his men surprised me, but he evidently knew their psychology and the best method of cementing in cordiality, what had begun in bloodshed.
His victory over Death Larsen seemed to have had a remarkable effect upon him. The previous evening he had reasoned himself into the blues, and I had been waiting momentarily for one of his characteristic outbursts. Yet nothing had occurred, and he was now in splendid trim. Possibly his success in capturing so many hunters and boats had counteracted the customary reaction. At any rate, the blues were gone, and the blue devils had not put in an appearance. So I thought at the time; but, ah me, little I knew him or knew that even then, perhaps, he was meditating an outbreak more terrible than any I had seen.
As I say, he discovered himself in splendid trim when I entered the cabin. He had had no headaches for weeks, his eyes were clear blue as the sky, his bronze was beautiful with perfect health; life swelled through his veins in full and magnificent flood. While waiting for me he had engaged Maud in animated discussion. Temptation was the topic they had hit upon, and from the few words I heard I made out that he was contending that temptation was temptation only when a man was seduced by it and fell.
“For look you,” he was saying, “as I see it, a man does things because of desire. He has many desires. He may desire to escape pain, or to enjoy pleasure. But whatever he does, he does because he desires to do it.”
“But suppose he desires to do two opposite things, neither of which will permit him to do the other?” Maud interrupted.
“The very thing I was coming to,” he said.
“And between these two desires is just where the soul of the man is manifest,” she went on. “If it is a good soul, it will desire and do the good action, and the contrary if it is a bad soul. It is the soul that decides.”
“Bosh and nonsense!” he exclaimed impatiently. “It is the desire that decides. Here is a man who wants to, say, get drunk. Also, he doesn’t want to get drunk. What does he do? How does he do it? He is a puppet. He is the creature of his desires, and of the two desires he obeys the strongest one, that is all. His soul hasn’t anything to do with it. How can he be tempted to get drunk and refuse to get drunk? If the desire to remain sober prevails, it is because it is the strongest desire. Temptation plays no part, unless—” he paused while grasping the new thought which had come into his mind—“unless he is tempted to remain sober.
“Ha! ha!” he laughed. “What do you think of that, Mr. Van Weyden?”
“That both of you are hair-splitting,” I said. “The man’s soul is his desires. Or, if you will, the sum of his desires is his soul. Therein you are both wrong. You lay the stress upon the desire apart from the soul, Miss Brewster lays the stress on the soul apart from the desire, and in point of fact soul and desire are the same thing.
“However,” I continued, “Miss Brewster is right in contending that temptation is temptation whether the man yield or overcome. Fire is fanned by the wind until it leaps up fiercely. So is desire like fire. It is fanned, as by a wind, by sight of the thing desired, or by a new and luring description or comprehension of the thing desired. There lies the temptation. It is the wind that fans the desire until it leaps up to mastery. That’s temptation. It may not fan sufficiently to make the desire overmastering, but in so far as it fans at all, that far is it temptation. And, as you say, it may tempt for good as well as for evil.”
I felt proud of myself as we sat down to the table. My words had been decisive. At least they had put an end to the discussion.
But Wolf Larsen seemed voluble, prone to speech as I had never seen him before. It was as though he were bursting with pent energy which must find an outlet somehow. Almost immediately he launched into a discussion on love. As usual, his was the sheer materialistic side, and Maud’s was the idealistic. For myself, beyond a word or so of suggestion or correction now and again, I took no part.
He was brilliant, but so was Maud, and for some time I lost the thread of the conversation through studying her face as she talked. It was a face that rarely displayed colour, but to-night it was flushed and vivacious. Her wit was playing keenly, and she was enjoying the tilt as much as Wolf Larsen, and he was enjoying it hugely. For some reason, though I know not why in the argument, so utterly had I lost it in the contemplation of one stray brown lock of Maud’s hair, he quoted from Iseult at Tintagel, where she says:
“Blessed am I beyond women even herein,
That beyond all born women is my sin,
And perfect my transgression.”
As he had read pessimism into Omar, so now he read triumph, stinging triumph and exultation, into Swinburne’s lines. And he read rightly, and he read well. He had hardly ceased reading when Louis put his head into the companion-way and whispered down:
“Be easy, will ye? The fog’s lifted, an’ ’tis the port light iv a steamer that’s crossin’ our bow this blessed minute.”
Wolf Larsen sprang on deck, and so swiftly that by the time we followed him he had pulled the steerage-slide over the drunken clamour and was on his way forward to close the forecastle-scuttle. The fog, though it remained, had lifted high, where it obscured the stars and made the night quite black. Directly ahead of us I could see a bright red light and a white light, and I could hear the pulsing of a steamer’s engines. Beyond a doubt it was the Macedonia.
Wolf Larsen had returned to the poop, and we stood in a silent group, watching the lights rapidly cross our bow.
“Lucky for me he doesn’t carry a searchlight,” Wolf Larsen said.
“What if I should cry out loudly?” I queried in a whisper.
“It would be all up,” he answered. “But have you thought upon what would immediately happen?”
Before I had time to express any desire to know, he had me by the throat with his gorilla grip, and by a faint quiver of the muscles—a hint, as it were—he suggested to me the twist that would surely have broken my neck. The next moment he had released me and we were gazing at the Macedonia’s lights.
“What if I should cry out?” Maud asked.
“I like you too well to hurt you,” he said softly—nay, there was a tenderness and a caress in his voice that made me wince.
“But don’t do it, just the same, for I’d promptly break Mr. Van Weyden’s neck.”
“Then she has my permission to cry out,” I said defiantly.
“I hardly think you’ll care to sacrifice the Dean of American Letters the Second,” he sneered.
We spoke no more, though we had become too used to one another for the silence to be awkward; and when the red light and the white had disappeared we returned to the cabin to finish the interrupted supper.
Again they fell to quoting, and Maud gave Dowson’s “Impenitentia Ultima.” She rendered it beautifully, but I watched not her, but Wolf Larsen. I was fascinated by the fascinated look he bent upon Maud. He was quite out of himself, and I noticed the unconscious movement of his lips as he shaped word for word as fast as she uttered them. He interrupted her when she gave the lines:
“And her eyes should be my light while the sun went out behind me,
And the viols in her voice be the last sound in my ear.”
“There are viols in your voice,” he said bluntly, and his eyes flashed their golden light.
I could have shouted with joy at her control. She finished the concluding stanza without faltering and then slowly guided the conversation into less perilous channels. And all the while I sat in a half-daze, the drunken riot of the steerage breaking through the bulkhead, the man I feared and the woman I loved talking on and on. The table was not cleared. The man who had taken Mugridge’s place had evidently joined his comrades in the forecastle.
If ever Wolf Larsen attained the summit of living, he attained it then. From time to time I forsook my own thoughts to follow him, and I followed in amaze, mastered for the moment by his remarkable intellect, under the spell of his passion, for he was preaching the passion of revolt. It was inevitable that Milton’s Lucifer should be instanced, and the keenness with which Wolf Larsen analysed and depicted the character was a revelation of his stifled genius. It reminded me of Taine, yet I knew the man had never heard of that brilliant though dangerous thinker.
“He led a lost cause, and he was not afraid of God’s thunderbolts,” Wolf Larsen was saying. “Hurled into hell, he was unbeaten. A third of God’s angels he had led with him, and straightway he incited man to rebel against God, and gained for himself and hell the major portion of all the generations of man. Why was he beaten out of heaven? Because he was less brave than God? less proud? less aspiring? No! A thousand times no! God was more powerful, as he said, Whom thunder hath made greater. But Lucifer was a free spirit. To serve was to suffocate. He preferred suffering in freedom to all the happiness of a comfortable servility. He did not care to serve God. He cared to serve nothing. He was no figure-head. He stood on his own legs. He was an individual.”
“The first Anarchist,” Maud laughed, rising and preparing to withdraw to her state-room.
“Then it is good to be an anarchist!” he cried. He, too, had risen, and he stood facing her, where she had paused at the door of her room, as he went on:
“‘Here at least
We shall be free; the Almighty hath not built
Here for his envy; will not drive us hence;
Here we may reign secure; and in my choice
To reign is worth ambition, though in hell:
Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven.”
It was the defiant cry of a mighty spirit. The cabin still rang with his voice, as he stood there, swaying, his bronzed face shining, his head up and dominant, and his eyes, golden and masculine, intensely masculine and insistently soft, flashing upon Maud at the door.
Again that unnamable and unmistakable terror was in her eyes, and she said, almost in a whisper, “You are Lucifer.”
The door closed and she was gone. He stood staring after her for a minute, then returned to himself and to me.
“I’ll relieve Louis at the wheel,” he said shortly, “and call upon you to relieve at midnight. Better turn in now and get some sleep.”
He pulled on a pair of mittens, put on his cap, and ascended the companion-stairs, while I followed his suggestion by going to bed. For some unknown reason, prompted mysteriously, I did not undress, but lay down fully clothed. For a time I listened to the clamour in the steerage and marvelled upon the love which had come to me; but my sleep on the Ghost had become most healthful and natural, and soon the songs and cries died away, my eyes closed, and my consciousness sank down into the half-death of slumber.
I knew not what had aroused me, but I found myself out of my bunk, on my feet, wide awake, my soul vibrating to the warning of danger as it might have thrilled to a trumpet call. I threw open the door. The cabin light was burning low. I saw Maud, my Maud, straining and struggling and crushed in the embrace of Wolf Larsen’s arms. I could see the vain beat and flutter of her as she strove, pressing her face against his breast, to escape from him. All this I saw on the very instant of seeing and as I sprang forward.
I struck him with my fist, on the face, as he raised his head, but it was a puny blow. He roared in a ferocious, animal-like way, and gave me a shove with his hand. It was only a shove, a flirt of the wrist, yet so tremendous was his strength that I was hurled backward as from a catapult. I struck the door of the state-room which had formerly been Mugridge’s, splintering and smashing the panels with the impact of my body. I struggled to my feet, with difficulty dragging myself clear of the wrecked door, unaware of any hurt whatever. I was conscious only of an overmastering rage. I think I, too, cried aloud, as I drew the knife at my hip and sprang forward a second time.
But something had happened. They were reeling apart. I was close upon him, my knife uplifted, but I withheld the blow. I was puzzled by the strangeness of it. Maud was leaning against the wall, one hand out for support; but he was staggering, his left hand pressed against his forehead and covering his eyes, and with the right he was groping about him in a dazed sort of way. It struck against the wall, and his body seemed to express a muscular and physical relief at the contact, as though he had found his bearings, his location in space as well as something against which to lean.
Then I saw red again. All my wrongs and humiliations flashed upon me with a dazzling brightness, all that I had suffered and others had suffered at his hands, all the enormity of the man’s very existence. I sprang upon him, blindly, insanely, and drove the knife into his shoulder. I knew, then, that it was no more than a flesh wound,—I had felt the steel grate on his shoulder-blade,—and I raised the knife to strike at a more vital part.
But Maud had seen my first blow, and she cried, “Don’t! Please don’t!”
I dropped my arm for a moment, and a moment only. Again the knife was raised, and Wolf Larsen would have surely died had she not stepped between. Her arms were around me, her hair was brushing my face. My pulse rushed up in an unwonted manner, yet my rage mounted with it. She looked me bravely in the eyes.
“For my sake,” she begged.
“I would kill him for your sake!” I cried, trying to free my arm without hurting her.
“Hush!” she said, and laid her fingers lightly on my lips. I could have kissed them, had I dared, even then, in my rage, the touch of them was so sweet, so very sweet. “Please, please,” she pleaded, and she disarmed me by the words, as I was to discover they would ever disarm me.
I stepped back, separating from her, and replaced the knife in its sheath. I looked at Wolf Larsen. He still pressed his left hand against his forehead. It covered his eyes. His head was bowed. He seemed to have grown limp. His body was sagging at the hips, his great shoulders were drooping and shrinking forward.
“Van, Weyden!” he called hoarsely, and with a note of fright in his voice. “Oh, Van Weyden! where are you?”
I looked at Maud. She did not speak, but nodded her head.
“Here I am,” I answered, stepping to his side. “What is the matter?”
“Help me to a seat,” he said, in the same hoarse, frightened voice.
“I am a sick man; a very sick man, Hump,” he said, as he left my sustaining grip and sank into a chair.
His head dropped forward on the table and was buried in his hands. From time to time it rocked back and forward as with pain. Once, when he half raised it, I saw the sweat standing in heavy drops on his forehead about the roots of his hair.
“I am a sick man, a very sick man,” he repeated again, and yet once again.
“What is the matter?” I asked, resting my hand on his shoulder. “What can I do for you?”
But he shook my hand off with an irritated movement, and for a long time I stood by his side in silence. Maud was looking on, her face awed and frightened. What had happened to him we could not imagine.
“Hump,” he said at last, “I must get into my bunk. Lend me a hand. I’ll be all right in a little while. It’s those damn headaches, I believe. I was afraid of them. I had a feeling—no, I don’t know what I’m talking about. Help me into my bunk.”
But when I got him into his bunk he again buried his face in his hands, covering his eyes, and as I turned to go I could hear him murmuring, “I am a sick man, a very sick man.”
Maud looked at me inquiringly as I emerged. I shook my head, saying:
“Something has happened to him. What, I don’t know. He is helpless, and frightened, I imagine, for the first time in his life. It must have occurred before he received the knife-thrust, which made only a superficial wound. You must have seen what happened.”
She shook her head. “I saw nothing. It is just as mysterious to me. He suddenly released me and staggered away. But what shall we do? What shall I do?”
“If you will wait, please, until I come back,” I answered.
I went on deck. Louis was at the wheel.
“You may go for’ard and turn in,” I said, taking it from him.
He was quick to obey, and I found myself alone on the deck of the Ghost. As quietly as was possible, I clewed up the topsails, lowered the flying jib and staysail, backed the jib over, and flattened the mainsail. Then I went below to Maud. I placed my finger on my lips for silence, and entered Wolf Larsen’s room. He was in the same position in which I had left him, and his head was rocking—almost writhing—from side to side.
“Anything I can do for you?” I asked.
He made no reply at first, but on my repeating the question he answered, “No, no; I’m all right. Leave me alone till morning.”
But as I turned to go I noted that his head had resumed its rocking motion. Maud was waiting patiently for me, and I took notice, with a thrill of joy, of the queenly poise of her head and her glorious, calm eyes. Calm and sure they were as her spirit itself.
“Will you trust yourself to me for a journey of six hundred miles or so?” I asked.
“You mean—?” she asked, and I knew she had guessed aright.
“Yes, I mean just that,” I replied. “There is nothing left for us but the open boat.”
“For me, you mean,” she said. “You are certainly as safe here as you have been.”
“No, there is nothing left for us but the open boat,” I iterated stoutly. “Will you please dress as warmly as you can, at once, and make into a bundle whatever you wish to bring with you.”
“And make all haste,” I added, as she turned toward her state-room.
The lazarette was directly beneath the cabin, and, opening the trap-door in the floor and carrying a candle with me, I dropped down and began overhauling the ship’s stores. I selected mainly from the canned goods, and by the time I was ready, willing hands were extended from above to receive what I passed up.
We worked in silence. I helped myself also to blankets, mittens, oilskins, caps, and such things, from the slop-chest. It was no light adventure, this trusting ourselves in a small boat to so raw and stormy a sea, and it was imperative that we should guard ourselves against the cold and wet.
We worked feverishly at carrying our plunder on deck and depositing it amidships, so feverishly that Maud, whose strength was hardly a positive quantity, had to give over, exhausted, and sit on the steps at the break of the poop. This did not serve to recover her, and she lay on her back, on the hard deck, arms stretched out, and whole body relaxed. It was a trick I remembered of my sister, and I knew she would soon be herself again. I knew, also, that weapons would not come in amiss, and I re-entered Wolf Larsen’s state-room to get his rifle and shot-gun. I spoke to him, but he made no answer, though his head was still rocking from side to side and he was not asleep.
“Good-bye, Lucifer,” I whispered to myself as I softly closed the door.
Next to obtain was a stock of ammunition,—an easy matter, though I had to enter the steerage companion-way to do it. Here the hunters stored the ammunition-boxes they carried in the boats, and here, but a few feet from their noisy revels, I took possession of two boxes.
Next, to lower a boat. Not so simple a task for one man. Having cast off the lashings, I hoisted first on the forward tackle, then on the aft, till the boat cleared the rail, when I lowered away, one tackle and then the other, for a couple of feet, till it hung snugly, above the water, against the schooner’s side. I made certain that it contained the proper equipment of oars, rowlocks, and sail. Water was a consideration, and I robbed every boat aboard of its breaker. As there were nine boats all told, it meant that we should have plenty of water, and ballast as well, though there was the chance that the boat would be overloaded, what of the generous supply of other things I was taking.
While Maud was passing me the provisions and I was storing them in the boat, a sailor came on deck from the forecastle. He stood by the weather rail for a time (we were lowering over the lee rail), and then sauntered slowly amidships, where he again paused and stood facing the wind, with his back toward us. I could hear my heart beating as I crouched low in the boat. Maud had sunk down upon the deck and was, I knew, lying motionless, her body in the shadow of the bulwark. But the man never turned, and, after stretching his arms above his head and yawning audibly, he retraced his steps to the forecastle scuttle and disappeared.
A few minutes sufficed to finish the loading, and I lowered the boat into the water. As I helped Maud over the rail and felt her form close to mine, it was all I could do to keep from crying out, “I love you! I love you!” Truly Humphrey Van Weyden was at last in love, I thought, as her fingers clung to mine while I lowered her down to the boat. I held on to the rail with one hand and supported her weight with the other, and I was proud at the moment of the feat. It was a strength I had not possessed a few months before, on the day I said good-bye to Charley Furuseth and started for San Francisco on the ill-fated Martinez.
As the boat ascended on a sea, her feet touched and I released her hands. I cast off the tackles and leaped after her. I had never rowed in my life, but I put out the oars and at the expense of much effort got the boat clear of the Ghost. Then I experimented with the sail. I had seen the boat-steerers and hunters set their spritsails many times, yet this was my first attempt. What took them possibly two minutes took me twenty, but in the end I succeeded in setting and trimming it, and with the steering-oar in my hands hauled on the wind.
“There lies Japan,” I remarked, “straight before us.”
“Humphrey Van Weyden,” she said, “you are a brave man.”
“Nay,” I answered, “it is you who are a brave woman.”
We turned our heads, swayed by a common impulse to see the last of the Ghost. Her low hull lifted and rolled to windward on a sea; her canvas loomed darkly in the night; her lashed wheel creaked as the rudder kicked; then sight and sound of her faded away, and we were alone on the dark sea.