We waited all day for Wolf Larsen to come ashore. It was an intolerable period of anxiety. Each moment one or the other of us cast expectant glances toward the Ghost. But he did not come. He did not even appear on deck.
“Perhaps it is his headache,” I said. “I left him lying on the poop. He may lie there all night. I think I’ll go and see.”
Maud looked entreaty at me.
“It is all right,” I assured her. “I shall take the revolvers. You know I collected every weapon on board.”
“But there are his arms, his hands, his terrible, terrible hands!” she objected. And then she cried, “Oh, Humphrey, I am afraid of him! Don’t go—please don’t go!”
She rested her hand appealingly on mine, and sent my pulse fluttering. My heart was surely in my eyes for a moment. The dear and lovely woman! And she was so much the woman, clinging and appealing, sunshine and dew to my manhood, rooting it deeper and sending through it the sap of a new strength. I was for putting my arm around her, as when in the midst of the seal herd; but I considered, and refrained.
“I shall not take any risks,” I said. “I’ll merely peep over the bow and see.”
She pressed my hand earnestly and let me go. But the space on deck where I had left him lying was vacant. He had evidently gone below. That night we stood alternate watches, one of us sleeping at a time; for there was no telling what Wolf Larsen might do. He was certainly capable of anything.
The next day we waited, and the next, and still he made no sign.
“These headaches of his, these attacks,” Maud said, on the afternoon of the fourth day; “Perhaps he is ill, very ill. He may be dead.”
“Or dying,” was her afterthought when she had waited some time for me to speak.
“Better so,” I answered.
“But think, Humphrey, a fellow-creature in his last lonely hour.”
“Perhaps,” I suggested.
“Yes, even perhaps,” she acknowledged. “But we do not know. It would be terrible if he were. I could never forgive myself. We must do something.”
“Perhaps,” I suggested again.
I waited, smiling inwardly at the woman of her which compelled a solicitude for Wolf Larsen, of all creatures. Where was her solicitude for me, I thought,—for me whom she had been afraid to have merely peep aboard?
She was too subtle not to follow the trend of my silence. And she was as direct as she was subtle.
“You must go aboard, Humphrey, and find out,” she said. “And if you want to laugh at me, you have my consent and forgiveness.”
I arose obediently and went down the beach.
“Do be careful,” she called after me.
I waved my arm from the forecastle head and dropped down to the deck. Aft I walked to the cabin companion, where I contented myself with hailing below. Wolf Larsen answered, and as he started to ascend the stairs I cocked my revolver. I displayed it openly during our conversation, but he took no notice of it. He appeared the same, physically, as when last I saw him, but he was gloomy and silent. In fact, the few words we spoke could hardly be called a conversation. I did not inquire why he had not been ashore, nor did he ask why I had not come aboard. His head was all right again, he said, and so, without further parley, I left him.
Maud received my report with obvious relief, and the sight of smoke which later rose in the galley put her in a more cheerful mood. The next day, and the next, we saw the galley smoke rising, and sometimes we caught glimpses of him on the poop. But that was all. He made no attempt to come ashore. This we knew, for we still maintained our night-watches. We were waiting for him to do something, to show his hand, so to say, and his inaction puzzled and worried us.
A week of this passed by. We had no other interest than Wolf Larsen, and his presence weighed us down with an apprehension which prevented us from doing any of the little things we had planned.
But at the end of the week the smoke ceased rising from the galley, and he no longer showed himself on the poop. I could see Maud’s solicitude again growing, though she timidly—and even proudly, I think—forbore a repetition of her request. After all, what censure could be put upon her? She was divinely altruistic, and she was a woman. Besides, I was myself aware of hurt at thought of this man whom I had tried to kill, dying alone with his fellow-creatures so near. He was right. The code of my group was stronger than I. The fact that he had hands, feet, and a body shaped somewhat like mine, constituted a claim which I could not ignore.
So I did not wait a second time for Maud to send me. I discovered that we stood in need of condensed milk and marmalade, and announced that I was going aboard. I could see that she wavered. She even went so far as to murmur that they were non-essentials and that my trip after them might be inexpedient. And as she had followed the trend of my silence, she now followed the trend of my speech, and she knew that I was going aboard, not because of condensed milk and marmalade, but because of her and of her anxiety, which she knew she had failed to hide.
I took off my shoes when I gained the forecastle head, and went noiselessly aft in my stocking feet. Nor did I call this time from the top of the companion-way. Cautiously descending, I found the cabin deserted. The door to his state-room was closed. At first I thought of knocking, then I remembered my ostensible errand and resolved to carry it out. Carefully avoiding noise, I lifted the trap-door in the floor and set it to one side. The slop-chest, as well as the provisions, was stored in the lazarette, and I took advantage of the opportunity to lay in a stock of underclothing.
As I emerged from the lazarette I heard sounds in Wolf Larsen’s state-room. I crouched and listened. The door-knob rattled. Furtively, instinctively, I slunk back behind the table and drew and cocked my revolver. The door swung open and he came forth. Never had I seen so profound a despair as that which I saw on his face,—the face of Wolf Larsen the fighter, the strong man, the indomitable one. For all the world like a woman wringing her hands, he raised his clenched fists and groaned. One fist unclosed, and the open palm swept across his eyes as though brushing away cobwebs.
“God! God!” he groaned, and the clenched fists were raised again to the infinite despair with which his throat vibrated.
It was horrible. I was trembling all over, and I could feel the shivers running up and down my spine and the sweat standing out on my forehead. Surely there can be little in this world more awful than the spectacle of a strong man in the moment when he is utterly weak and broken.
But Wolf Larsen regained control of himself by an exertion of his remarkable will. And it was exertion. His whole frame shook with the struggle. He resembled a man on the verge of a fit. His face strove to compose itself, writhing and twisting in the effort till he broke down again. Once more the clenched fists went upward and he groaned. He caught his breath once or twice and sobbed. Then he was successful. I could have thought him the old Wolf Larsen, and yet there was in his movements a vague suggestion of weakness and indecision. He started for the companion-way, and stepped forward quite as I had been accustomed to see him do; and yet again, in his very walk, there seemed that suggestion of weakness and indecision.
I was now concerned with fear for myself. The open trap lay directly in his path, and his discovery of it would lead instantly to his discovery of me. I was angry with myself for being caught in so cowardly a position, crouching on the floor. There was yet time. I rose swiftly to my feet, and, I know, quite unconsciously assumed a defiant attitude. He took no notice of me. Nor did he notice the open trap. Before I could grasp the situation, or act, he had walked right into the trap. One foot was descending into the opening, while the other foot was just on the verge of beginning the uplift. But when the descending foot missed the solid flooring and felt vacancy beneath, it was the old Wolf Larsen and the tiger muscles that made the falling body spring across the opening, even as it fell, so that he struck on his chest and stomach, with arms outstretched, on the floor of the opposite side. The next instant he had drawn up his legs and rolled clear. But he rolled into my marmalade and underclothes and against the trap-door.
The expression on his face was one of complete comprehension. But before I could guess what he had comprehended, he had dropped the trap-door into place, closing the lazarette. Then I understood. He thought he had me inside. Also, he was blind, blind as a bat. I watched him, breathing carefully so that he should not hear me. He stepped quickly to his state-room. I saw his hand miss the door-knob by an inch, quickly fumble for it, and find it. This was my chance. I tiptoed across the cabin and to the top of the stairs. He came back, dragging a heavy sea-chest, which he deposited on top of the trap. Not content with this he fetched a second chest and placed it on top of the first. Then he gathered up the marmalade and underclothes and put them on the table. When he started up the companion-way, I retreated, silently rolling over on top of the cabin.
He shoved the slide part way back and rested his arms on it, his body still in the companion-way. His attitude was of one looking forward the length of the schooner, or staring, rather, for his eyes were fixed and unblinking. I was only five feet away and directly in what should have been his line of vision. It was uncanny. I felt myself a ghost, what of my invisibility. I waved my hand back and forth, of course without effect; but when the moving shadow fell across his face I saw at once that he was susceptible to the impression. His face became more expectant and tense as he tried to analyze and identify the impression. He knew that he had responded to something from without, that his sensibility had been touched by a changing something in his environment; but what it was he could not discover. I ceased waving my hand, so that the shadow remained stationary. He slowly moved his head back and forth under it and turned from side to side, now in the sunshine, now in the shade, feeling the shadow, as it were, testing it by sensation.
I, too, was busy, trying to reason out how he was aware of the existence of so intangible a thing as a shadow. If it were his eyeballs only that were affected, or if his optic nerve were not wholly destroyed, the explanation was simple. If otherwise, then the only conclusion I could reach was that the sensitive skin recognized the difference of temperature between shade and sunshine. Or, perhaps,—who can tell?—it was that fabled sixth sense which conveyed to him the loom and feel of an object close at hand.
Giving over his attempt to determine the shadow, he stepped on deck and started forward, walking with a swiftness and confidence which surprised me. And still there was that hint of the feebleness of the blind in his walk. I knew it now for what it was.
To my amused chagrin, he discovered my shoes on the forecastle head and brought them back with him into the galley. I watched him build the fire and set about cooking food for himself; then I stole into the cabin for my marmalade and underclothes, slipped back past the galley, and climbed down to the beach to deliver my barefoot report.
“It’s too bad the Ghost has lost her masts. Why we could sail away in her. Don’t you think we could, Humphrey?”
I sprang excitedly to my feet.
“I wonder, I wonder,” I repeated, pacing up and down.
Maud’s eyes were shining with anticipation as they followed me. She had such faith in me! And the thought of it was so much added power. I remembered Michelet’s “To man, woman is as the earth was to her legendary son; he has but to fall down and kiss her breast and he is strong again.” For the first time I knew the wonderful truth of his words. Why, I was living them. Maud was all this to me, an unfailing, source of strength and courage. I had but to look at her, or think of her, and be strong again.
“It can be done, it can be done,” I was thinking and asserting aloud. “What men have done, I can do; and if they have never done this before, still I can do it.”
“What? for goodness’ sake,” Maud demanded. “Do be merciful. What is it you can do?”
“We can do it,” I amended. “Why, nothing else than put the masts back into the Ghost and sail away.”
“Humphrey!” she exclaimed.
And I felt as proud of my conception as if it were already a fact accomplished.
“But how is it possible to be done?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” was my answer. “I know only that I am capable of doing anything these days.”
I smiled proudly at her—too proudly, for she dropped her eyes and was for the moment silent.
“But there is Captain Larsen,” she objected.
“Blind and helpless,” I answered promptly, waving him aside as a straw.
“But those terrible hands of his! You know how he leaped across the opening of the lazarette.”
“And you know also how I crept about and avoided him,” I contended gaily.
“And lost your shoes.”
“You’d hardly expect them to avoid Wolf Larsen without my feet inside of them.”
We both laughed, and then went seriously to work constructing the plan whereby we were to step the masts of the Ghost and return to the world. I remembered hazily the physics of my school days, while the last few months had given me practical experience with mechanical purchases. I must say, though, when we walked down to the Ghost to inspect more closely the task before us, that the sight of the great masts lying in the water almost disheartened me. Where were we to begin? If there had been one mast standing, something high up to which to fasten blocks and tackles! But there was nothing. It reminded me of the problem of lifting oneself by one’s boot-straps. I understood the mechanics of levers; but where was I to get a fulcrum?
There was the mainmast, fifteen inches in diameter at what was now the butt, still sixty-five feet in length, and weighing, I roughly calculated, at least three thousand pounds. And then came the foremast, larger in diameter, and weighing surely thirty-five hundred pounds. Where was I to begin? Maud stood silently by my side, while I evolved in my mind the contrivance known among sailors as “shears.” But, though known to sailors, I invented it there on Endeavour Island. By crossing and lashing the ends of two spars, and then elevating them in the air like an inverted “V,” I could get a point above the deck to which to make fast my hoisting tackle. To this hoisting tackle I could, if necessary, attach a second hoisting tackle. And then there was the windlass!
Maud saw that I had achieved a solution, and her eyes warmed sympathetically.
“What are you going to do?” she asked.
“Clear that raffle,” I answered, pointing to the tangled wreckage overside.
Ah, the decisiveness, the very sound of the words, was good in my ears. “Clear that raffle!” Imagine so salty a phrase on the lips of the Humphrey Van Weyden of a few months gone!
There must have been a touch of the melodramatic in my pose and voice, for Maud smiled. Her appreciation of the ridiculous was keen, and in all things she unerringly saw and felt, where it existed, the touch of sham, the overshading, the overtone. It was this which had given poise and penetration to her own work and made her of worth to the world. The serious critic, with the sense of humour and the power of expression, must inevitably command the world’s ear. And so it was that she had commanded. Her sense of humour was really the artist’s instinct for proportion.
“I’m sure I’ve heard it before, somewhere, in books,” she murmured gleefully.
I had an instinct for proportion myself, and I collapsed forthwith, descending from the dominant pose of a master of matter to a state of humble confusion which was, to say the least, very miserable.
Her hand leapt out at once to mine.
“I’m so sorry,” she said.
“No need to be,” I gulped. “It does me good. There’s too much of the schoolboy in me. All of which is neither here nor there. What we’ve got to do is actually and literally to clear that raffle. If you’ll come with me in the boat, we’ll get to work and straighten things out.”
“‘When the topmen clear the raffle with their clasp-knives in their teeth,’” she quoted at me; and for the rest of the afternoon we made merry over our labour.
Her task was to hold the boat in position while I worked at the tangle. And such a tangle—halyards, sheets, guys, down-hauls, shrouds, stays, all washed about and back and forth and through, and twined and knotted by the sea. I cut no more than was necessary, and what with passing the long ropes under and around the booms and masts, of unreeving the halyards and sheets, of coiling down in the boat and uncoiling in order to pass through another knot in the bight, I was soon wet to the skin.
The sails did require some cutting, and the canvas, heavy with water, tried my strength severely; but I succeeded before nightfall in getting it all spread out on the beach to dry. We were both very tired when we knocked off for supper, and we had done good work, too, though to the eye it appeared insignificant.
Next morning, with Maud as able assistant, I went into the hold of the Ghost to clear the steps of the mast-butts. We had no more than begun work when the sound of my knocking and hammering brought Wolf Larsen.
“Hello below!” he cried down the open hatch.
The sound of his voice made Maud quickly draw close to me, as for protection, and she rested one hand on my arm while we parleyed.
“Hello on deck,” I replied. “Good-morning to you.”
“What are you doing down there?” he demanded. “Trying to scuttle my ship for me?”
“Quite the opposite; I’m repairing her,” was my answer.
“But what in thunder are you repairing?” There was puzzlement in his voice.
“Why, I’m getting everything ready for re-stepping the masts,” I replied easily, as though it were the simplest project imaginable.
“It seems as though you’re standing on your own legs at last, Hump,” we heard him say; and then for some time he was silent.
“But I say, Hump,” he called down. “You can’t do it.”
“Oh, yes, I can,” I retorted. “I’m doing it now.”
“But this is my vessel, my particular property. What if I forbid you?”
“You forget,” I replied. “You are no longer the biggest bit of the ferment. You were, once, and able to eat me, as you were pleased to phrase it; but there has been a diminishing, and I am now able to eat you. The yeast has grown stale.”
He gave a short, disagreeable laugh. “I see you’re working my philosophy back on me for all it is worth. But don’t make the mistake of under-estimating me. For your own good I warn you.”
“Since when have you become a philanthropist?” I queried. “Confess, now, in warning me for my own good, that you are very consistent.”
He ignored my sarcasm, saying, “Suppose I clap the hatch on, now? You won’t fool me as you did in the lazarette.”
“Wolf Larsen,” I said sternly, for the first time addressing him by this his most familiar name, “I am unable to shoot a helpless, unresisting man. You have proved that to my satisfaction as well as yours. But I warn you now, and not so much for your own good as for mine, that I shall shoot you the moment you attempt a hostile act. I can shoot you now, as I stand here; and if you are so minded, just go ahead and try to clap on the hatch.”
“Nevertheless, I forbid you, I distinctly forbid your tampering with my ship.”
“But, man!” I expostulated, “you advance the fact that it is your ship as though it were a moral right. You have never considered moral rights in your dealings with others. You surely do not dream that I’ll consider them in dealing with you?”
I had stepped underneath the open hatchway so that I could see him. The lack of expression on his face, so different from when I had watched him unseen, was enhanced by the unblinking, staring eyes. It was not a pleasant face to look upon.
“And none so poor, not even Hump, to do him reverence,” he sneered.
The sneer was wholly in his voice. His face remained expressionless as ever.
“How do you do, Miss Brewster,” he said suddenly, after a pause.
I started. She had made no noise whatever, had not even moved. Could it be that some glimmer of vision remained to him? or that his vision was coming back?
“How do you do, Captain Larsen,” she answered. “Pray, how did you know I was here?”
“Heard you breathing, of course. I say, Hump’s improving, don’t you think so?”
“I don’t know,” she answered, smiling at me. “I have never seen him otherwise.”
“You should have seen him before, then.”
“Wolf Larsen, in large doses,” I murmured, “before and after taking.”
“I want to tell you again, Hump,” he said threateningly, “that you’d better leave things alone.”
“But don’t you care to escape as well as we?” I asked incredulously.
“No,” was his answer. “I intend dying here.”
“Well, we don’t,” I concluded defiantly, beginning again my knocking and hammering.
Next day, the mast-steps clear and everything in readiness, we started to get the two topmasts aboard. The maintopmast was over thirty feet in length, the foretopmast nearly thirty, and it was of these that I intended making the shears. It was puzzling work. Fastening one end of a heavy tackle to the windlass, and with the other end fast to the butt of the foretopmast, I began to heave. Maud held the turn on the windlass and coiled down the slack.
We were astonished at the ease with which the spar was lifted. It was an improved crank windlass, and the purchase it gave was enormous. Of course, what it gave us in power we paid for in distance; as many times as it doubled my strength, that many times was doubled the length of rope I heaved in. The tackle dragged heavily across the rail, increasing its drag as the spar arose more and more out of the water, and the exertion on the windlass grew severe.
But when the butt of the topmast was level with the rail, everything came to a standstill.
“I might have known it,” I said impatiently. “Now we have to do it all over again.”
“Why not fasten the tackle part way down the mast?” Maud suggested.
“It’s what I should have done at first,” I answered, hugely disgusted with myself.
Slipping off a turn, I lowered the mast back into the water and fastened the tackle a third of the way down from the butt. In an hour, what of this and of rests between the heaving, I had hoisted it to the point where I could hoist no more. Eight feet of the butt was above the rail, and I was as far away as ever from getting the spar on board. I sat down and pondered the problem. It did not take long. I sprang jubilantly to my feet.
“Now I have it!” I cried. “I ought to make the tackle fast at the point of balance. And what we learn of this will serve us with everything else we have to hoist aboard.”
Once again I undid all my work by lowering the mast into the water. But I miscalculated the point of balance, so that when I heaved the top of the mast came up instead of the butt. Maud looked despair, but I laughed and said it would do just as well.
Instructing her how to hold the turn and be ready to slack away at command, I laid hold of the mast with my hands and tried to balance it inboard across the rail. When I thought I had it I cried to her to slack away; but the spar righted, despite my efforts, and dropped back toward the water. Again I heaved it up to its old position, for I had now another idea. I remembered the watch-tackle—a small double and single block affair—and fetched it.
While I was rigging it between the top of the spar and the opposite rail, Wolf Larsen came on the scene. We exchanged nothing more than good-mornings, and, though he could not see, he sat on the rail out of the way and followed by the sound all that I did.
Again instructing Maud to slack away at the windlass when I gave the word, I proceeded to heave on the watch-tackle. Slowly the mast swung in until it balanced at right angles across the rail; and then I discovered to my amazement that there was no need for Maud to slack away. In fact, the very opposite was necessary. Making the watch-tackle fast, I hove on the windlass and brought in the mast, inch by inch, till its top tilted down to the deck and finally its whole length lay on the deck.
I looked at my watch. It was twelve o’clock. My back was aching sorely, and I felt extremely tired and hungry. And there on the deck was a single stick of timber to show for a whole morning’s work. For the first time I thoroughly realized the extent of the task before us. But I was learning, I was learning. The afternoon would show far more accomplished. And it did; for we returned at one o’clock, rested and strengthened by a hearty dinner.
In less than an hour I had the maintopmast on deck and was constructing the shears. Lashing the two topmasts together, and making allowance for their unequal length, at the point of intersection I attached the double block of the main throat-halyards. This, with the single block and the throat-halyards themselves, gave me a hoisting tackle. To prevent the butts of the masts from slipping on the deck, I nailed down thick cleats. Everything in readiness, I made a line fast to the apex of the shears and carried it directly to the windlass. I was growing to have faith in that windlass, for it gave me power beyond all expectation. As usual, Maud held the turn while I heaved. The shears rose in the air.
Then I discovered I had forgotten guy-ropes. This necessitated my climbing the shears, which I did twice, before I finished guying it fore and aft and to either side. Twilight had set in by the time this was accomplished. Wolf Larsen, who had sat about and listened all afternoon and never opened his mouth, had taken himself off to the galley and started his supper. I felt quite stiff across the small of the back, so much so that I straightened up with an effort and with pain. I looked proudly at my work. It was beginning to show. I was wild with desire, like a child with a new toy, to hoist something with my shears.
“I wish it weren’t so late,” I said. “I’d like to see how it works.”
“Don’t be a glutton, Humphrey,” Maud chided me. “Remember, to-morrow is coming, and you’re so tired now that you can hardly stand.”
“And you?” I said, with sudden solicitude. “You must be very tired. You have worked hard and nobly. I am proud of you, Maud.”
“Not half so proud as I am of you, nor with half the reason,” she answered, looking me straight in the eyes for a moment with an expression in her own and a dancing, tremulous light which I had not seen before and which gave me a pang of quick delight, I know not why, for I did not understand it. Then she dropped her eyes, to lift them again, laughing.
“If our friends could see us now,” she said. “Look at us. Have you ever paused for a moment to consider our appearance?”
“Yes, I have considered yours, frequently,” I answered, puzzling over what I had seen in her eyes and puzzled by her sudden change of subject.
“Mercy!” she cried. “And what do I look like, pray?”
“A scarecrow, I’m afraid,” I replied. “Just glance at your draggled skirts, for instance. Look at those three-cornered tears. And such a waist! It would not require a Sherlock Holmes to deduce that you have been cooking over a camp-fire, to say nothing of trying out seal-blubber. And to cap it all, that cap! And all that is the woman who wrote ‘A Kiss Endured.’”
She made me an elaborate and stately courtesy, and said, “As for you, sir—”
And yet, through the five minutes of banter which followed, there was a serious something underneath the fun which I could not but relate to the strange and fleeting expression I had caught in her eyes. What was it? Could it be that our eyes were speaking beyond the will of our speech? My eyes had spoken, I knew, until I had found the culprits out and silenced them. This had occurred several times. But had she seen the clamour in them and understood? And had her eyes so spoken to me? What else could that expression have meant—that dancing, tremulous light, and a something more which words could not describe. And yet it could not be. It was impossible. Besides, I was not skilled in the speech of eyes. I was only Humphrey Van Weyden, a bookish fellow who loved. And to love, and to wait and win love, that surely was glorious enough for me. And thus I thought, even as we chaffed each other’s appearance, until we arrived ashore and there were other things to think about.
“It’s a shame, after working hard all day, that we cannot have an uninterrupted night’s sleep,” I complained, after supper.
“But there can be no danger now? from a blind man?” she queried.
“I shall never be able to trust him,” I averred, “and far less now that he is blind. The liability is that his part helplessness will make him more malignant than ever. I know what I shall do to-morrow, the first thing—run out a light anchor and kedge the schooner off the beach. And each night when we come ashore in the boat, Mr. Wolf Larsen will be left a prisoner on board. So this will be the last night we have to stand watch, and because of that it will go the easier.”
We were awake early and just finishing breakfast as daylight came.
“Oh, Humphrey!” I heard Maud cry in dismay and suddenly stop.
I looked at her. She was gazing at the Ghost. I followed her gaze, but could see nothing unusual. She looked at me, and I looked inquiry back.
“The shears,” she said, and her voice trembled.
I had forgotten their existence. I looked again, but could not see them.
“If he has—” I muttered savagely.
She put her hand sympathetically on mine, and said, “You will have to begin over again.”
“Oh, believe me, my anger means nothing; I could not hurt a fly,” I smiled back bitterly. “And the worst of it is, he knows it. You are right. If he has destroyed the shears, I shall do nothing except begin over again.”
“But I’ll stand my watch on board hereafter,” I blurted out a moment later. “And if he interferes—”
“But I dare not stay ashore all night alone,” Maud was saying when I came back to myself. “It would be so much nicer if he would be friendly with us and help us. We could all live comfortably aboard.”
“We will,” I asserted, still savagely, for the destruction of my beloved shears had hit me hard. “That is, you and I will live aboard, friendly or not with Wolf Larsen.”
“It’s childish,” I laughed later, “for him to do such things, and for me to grow angry over them, for that matter.”
But my heart smote me when we climbed aboard and looked at the havoc he had done. The shears were gone altogether. The guys had been slashed right and left. The throat-halyards which I had rigged were cut across through every part. And he knew I could not splice. A thought struck me. I ran to the windlass. It would not work. He had broken it. We looked at each other in consternation. Then I ran to the side. The masts, booms, and gaffs I had cleared were gone. He had found the lines which held them, and cast them adrift.
Tears were in Maud’s eyes, and I do believe they were for me. I could have wept myself. Where now was our project of remasting the Ghost? He had done his work well. I sat down on the hatch-combing and rested my chin on my hands in black despair.
“He deserves to die,” I cried out; “and God forgive me, I am not man enough to be his executioner.”
But Maud was by my side, passing her hand soothingly through my hair as though I were a child, and saying, “There, there; it will all come right. We are in the right, and it must come right.”
I remembered Michelet and leaned my head against her; and truly I became strong again. The blessed woman was an unfailing fount of power to me. What did it matter? Only a set-back, a delay. The tide could not have carried the masts far to seaward, and there had been no wind. It meant merely more work to find them and tow them back. And besides, it was a lesson. I knew what to expect. He might have waited and destroyed our work more effectually when we had more accomplished.
“Here he comes now,” she whispered.
I glanced up. He was strolling leisurely along the poop on the port side.
“Take no notice of him,” I whispered. “He’s coming to see how we take it. Don’t let him know that we know. We can deny him that satisfaction. Take off your shoes—that’s right—and carry them in your hand.”
And then we played hide-and-seek with the blind man. As he came up the port side we slipped past on the starboard; and from the poop we watched him turn and start aft on our track.
He must have known, somehow, that we were on board, for he said “Good-morning” very confidently, and waited, for the greeting to be returned. Then he strolled aft, and we slipped forward.
“Oh, I know you’re aboard,” he called out, and I could see him listen intently after he had spoken.
It reminded me of the great hoot-owl, listening, after its booming cry, for the stir of its frightened prey. But we did not fir, and we moved only when he moved. And so we dodged about the deck, hand in hand, like a couple of children chased by a wicked ogre, till Wolf Larsen, evidently in disgust, left the deck for the cabin. There was glee in our eyes, and suppressed titters in our mouths, as we put on our shoes and clambered over the side into the boat. And as I looked into Maud’s clear brown eyes I forgot the evil he had done, and I knew only that I loved her, and that because of her the strength was mine to win our way back to the world.
For two days Maud and I ranged the sea and explored the beaches in search of the missing masts. But it was not till the third day that we found them, all of them, the shears included, and, of all perilous places, in the pounding surf of the grim south-western promontory. And how we worked! At the dark end of the first day we returned, exhausted, to our little cove, towing the mainmast behind us. And we had been compelled to row, in a dead calm, practically every inch of the way.
Another day of heart-breaking and dangerous toil saw us in camp with the two topmasts to the good. The day following I was desperate, and I rafted together the foremast, the fore and main booms, and the fore and main gaffs. The wind was favourable, and I had thought to tow them back under sail, but the wind baffled, then died away, and our progress with the oars was a snail’s pace. And it was such dispiriting effort. To throw one’s whole strength and weight on the oars and to feel the boat checked in its forward lunge by the heavy drag behind, was not exactly exhilarating.
Night began to fall, and to make matters worse, the wind sprang up ahead. Not only did all forward motion cease, but we began to drift back and out to sea. I struggled at the oars till I was played out. Poor Maud, whom I could never prevent from working to the limit of her strength, lay weakly back in the stern-sheets. I could row no more. My bruised and swollen hands could no longer close on the oar handles. My wrists and arms ached intolerably, and though I had eaten heartily of a twelve-o’clock lunch, I had worked so hard that I was faint from hunger.
I pulled in the oars and bent forward to the line which held the tow. But Maud’s hand leaped out restrainingly to mine.
“What are you going to do?” she asked in a strained, tense voice.
“Cast it off,” I answered, slipping a turn of the rope.
But her fingers closed on mine.
“Please don’t,” she begged.
“It is useless,” I answered. “Here is night and the wind blowing us off the land.”
“But think, Humphrey. If we cannot sail away on the Ghost, we may remain for years on the island—for life even. If it has never been discovered all these years, it may never be discovered.”
“You forget the boat we found on the beach,” I reminded her.
“It was a seal-hunting boat,” she replied, “and you know perfectly well that if the men had escaped they would have been back to make their fortunes from the rookery. You know they never escaped.”
I remained silent, undecided.
“Besides,” she added haltingly, “it’s your idea, and I want to see you succeed.”
Now I could harden my heart. As soon as she put it on a flattering personal basis, generosity compelled me to deny her.
“Better years on the island than to die to-night, or to-morrow, or the next day, in the open boat. We are not prepared to brave the sea. We have no food, no water, no blankets, nothing. Why, you’d not survive the night without blankets: I know how strong you are. You are shivering now.”
“It is only nervousness,” she answered. “I am afraid you will cast off the masts in spite of me.”
“Oh, please, please, Humphrey, don’t!” she burst out, a moment later.
And so it ended, with the phrase she knew had all power over me. We shivered miserably throughout the night. Now and again I fitfully slept, but the pain of the cold always aroused me. How Maud could stand it was beyond me. I was too tired to thrash my arms about and warm myself, but I found strength time and again to chafe her hands and feet to restore the circulation. And still she pleaded with me not to cast off the masts. About three in the morning she was caught by a cold cramp, and after I had rubbed her out of that she became quite numb. I was frightened. I got out the oars and made her row, though she was so weak I thought she would faint at every stroke.
Morning broke, and we looked long in the growing light for our island. At last it showed, small and black, on the horizon, fully fifteen miles away. I scanned the sea with my glasses. Far away in the south-west I could see a dark line on the water, which grew even as I looked at it.
“Fair wind!” I cried in a husky voice I did not recognize as my own.
Maud tried to reply, but could not speak. Her lips were blue with cold, and she was hollow-eyed—but oh, how bravely her brown eyes looked at me! How piteously brave!
Again I fell to chafing her hands and to moving her arms up and down and about until she could thrash them herself. Then I compelled her to stand up, and though she would have fallen had I not supported her, I forced her to walk back and forth the several steps between the thwart and the stern-sheets, and finally to spring up and down.
“Oh, you brave, brave woman,” I said, when I saw the life coming back into her face. “Did you know that you were brave?”
“I never used to be,” she answered. “I was never brave till I knew you. It is you who have made me brave.”
“Nor I, until I knew you,” I answered.
She gave me a quick look, and again I caught that dancing, tremulous light and something more in her eyes. But it was only for the moment. Then she smiled.
“It must have been the conditions,” she said; but I knew she was wrong, and I wondered if she likewise knew. Then the wind came, fair and fresh, and the boat was soon labouring through a heavy sea toward the island. At half-past three in the afternoon we passed the south-western promontory. Not only were we hungry, but we were now suffering from thirst. Our lips were dry and cracked, nor could we longer moisten them with our tongues. Then the wind slowly died down. By night it was dead calm and I was toiling once more at the oars—but weakly, most weakly. At two in the morning the boat’s bow touched the beach of our own inner cove and I staggered out to make the painter fast. Maud could not stand, nor had I strength to carry her. I fell in the sand with her, and, when I had recovered, contented myself with putting my hands under her shoulders and dragging her up the beach to the hut.
The next day we did no work. In fact, we slept till three in the afternoon, or at least I did, for I awoke to find Maud cooking dinner. Her power of recuperation was wonderful. There was something tenacious about that lily-frail body of hers, a clutch on existence which one could not reconcile with its patent weakness.
“You know I was travelling to Japan for my health,” she said, as we lingered at the fire after dinner and delighted in the movelessness of loafing. “I was not very strong. I never was. The doctors recommended a sea voyage, and I chose the longest.”
“You little knew what you were choosing,” I laughed.
“But I shall be a different women for the experience, as well as a stronger woman,” she answered; “and, I hope a better woman. At least I shall understand a great deal more life.”
Then, as the short day waned, we fell to discussing Wolf Larsen’s blindness. It was inexplicable. And that it was grave, I instanced his statement that he intended to stay and die on Endeavour Island. When he, strong man that he was, loving life as he did, accepted his death, it was plain that he was troubled by something more than mere blindness. There had been his terrific headaches, and we were agreed that it was some sort of brain break-down, and that in his attacks he endured pain beyond our comprehension.
I noticed as we talked over his condition, that Maud’s sympathy went out to him more and more; yet I could not but love her for it, so sweetly womanly was it. Besides, there was no false sentiment about her feeling. She was agreed that the most rigorous treatment was necessary if we were to escape, though she recoiled at the suggestion that I might some time be compelled to take his life to save my own—“our own,” she put it.
In the morning we had breakfast and were at work by daylight. I found a light kedge anchor in the fore-hold, where such things were kept; and with a deal of exertion got it on deck and into the boat. With a long running-line coiled down in the stem, I rowed well out into our little cove and dropped the anchor into the water. There was no wind, the tide was high, and the schooner floated. Casting off the shore-lines, I kedged her out by main strength (the windlass being broken), till she rode nearly up and down to the small anchor—too small to hold her in any breeze. So I lowered the big starboard anchor, giving plenty of slack; and by afternoon I was at work on the windlass.
Three days I worked on that windlass. Least of all things was I a mechanic, and in that time I accomplished what an ordinary machinist would have done in as many hours. I had to learn my tools to begin with, and every simple mechanical principle which such a man would have at his finger ends I had likewise to learn. And at the end of three days I had a windlass which worked clumsily. It never gave the satisfaction the old windlass had given, but it worked and made my work possible.
In half a day I got the two topmasts aboard and the shears rigged and guyed as before. And that night I slept on board and on deck beside my work. Maud, who refused to stay alone ashore, slept in the forecastle. Wolf Larsen had sat about, listening to my repairing the windlass and talking with Maud and me upon indifferent subjects. No reference was made on either side to the destruction of the shears; nor did he say anything further about my leaving his ship alone. But still I had feared him, blind and helpless and listening, always listening, and I never let his strong arms get within reach of me while I worked.
On this night, sleeping under my beloved shears, I was aroused by his footsteps on the deck. It was a starlight night, and I could see the bulk of him dimly as he moved about. I rolled out of my blankets and crept noiselessly after him in my stocking feet. He had armed himself with a draw-knife from the tool-locker, and with this he prepared to cut across the throat-halyards I had again rigged to the shears. He felt the halyards with his hands and discovered that I had not made them fast. This would not do for a draw-knife, so he laid hold of the running part, hove taut, and made fast. Then he prepared to saw across with the draw-knife.
“I wouldn’t, if I were you,” I said quietly.
He heard the click of my pistol and laughed.
“Hello, Hump,” he said. “I knew you were here all the time. You can’t fool my ears.”
“That’s a lie, Wolf Larsen,” I said, just as quietly as before. “However, I am aching for a chance to kill you, so go ahead and cut.”
“You have the chance always,” he sneered.
“Go ahead and cut,” I threatened ominously.
“I’d rather disappoint you,” he laughed, and turned on his heel and went aft.
“Something must be done, Humphrey,” Maud said, next morning, when I had told her of the night’s occurrence. “If he has liberty, he may do anything. He may sink the vessel, or set fire to it. There is no telling what he may do. We must make him a prisoner.”
“But how?” I asked, with a helpless shrug. “I dare not come within reach of his arms, and he knows that so long as his resistance is passive I cannot shoot him.”
“There must be some way,” she contended. “Let me think.”
“There is one way,” I said grimly.
I picked up a seal-club.
“It won’t kill him,” I said. “And before he could recover I’d have him bound hard and fast.”
She shook her head with a shudder. “No, not that. There must be some less brutal way. Let us wait.”
But we did not have to wait long, and the problem solved itself. In the morning, after several trials, I found the point of balance in the foremast and attached my hoisting tackle a few feet above it. Maud held the turn on the windlass and coiled down while I heaved. Had the windlass been in order it would not have been so difficult; as it was, I was compelled to apply all my weight and strength to every inch of the heaving. I had to rest frequently. In truth, my spells of resting were longer than those of working. Maud even contrived, at times when all my efforts could not budge the windlass, to hold the turn with one hand and with the other to throw the weight of her slim body to my assistance.
At the end of an hour the single and double blocks came together at the top of the shears. I could hoist no more. And yet the mast was not swung entirely inboard. The butt rested against the outside of the port rail, while the top of the mast overhung the water far beyond the starboard rail. My shears were too short. All my work had been for nothing. But I no longer despaired in the old way. I was acquiring more confidence in myself and more confidence in the possibilities of windlasses, shears, and hoisting tackles. There was a way in which it could be done, and it remained for me to find that way.
While I was considering the problem, Wolf Larsen came on deck. We noticed something strange about him at once. The indecisiveness, or feebleness, of his movements was more pronounced. His walk was actually tottery as he came down the port side of the cabin. At the break of the poop he reeled, raised one hand to his eyes with the familiar brushing gesture, and fell down the steps—still on his feet—to the main deck, across which he staggered, falling and flinging out his arms for support. He regained his balance by the steerage companion-way and stood there dizzily for a space, when he suddenly crumpled up and collapsed, his legs bending under him as he sank to the deck.
“One of his attacks,” I whispered to Maud.
She nodded her head; and I could see sympathy warm in eyes.
We went up to him, but he seemed unconscious, breathing spasmodically. She took charge of him, lifting his head to keep the blood out of it and despatching me to the cabin for a pillow. I also brought blankets, and we made him comfortable. I took his pulse. It beat steadily and strong, and was quite normal. This puzzled me. I became suspicious.
“What if he should be feigning this?” I asked, still holding his wrist.
Maud shook her head, and there was reproof in her eyes. But just then the wrist I held leaped from my hand, and the hand clasped like a steel trap about my wrist. I cried aloud in awful fear, a wild inarticulate cry; and I caught one glimpse of his face, malignant and triumphant, as his other hand compassed my body and I was drawn down to him in a terrible grip.
My wrist was released, but his other arm, passed around my back, held both my arms so that I could not move. His free hand went to my throat, and in that moment I knew the bitterest foretaste of death earned by one’s own idiocy. Why had I trusted myself within reach of those terrible arms? I could feel other hands at my throat. They were Maud’s hands, striving vainly to tear loose the hand that was throttling me. She gave it up, and I heard her scream in a way that cut me to the soul, for it was a woman’s scream of fear and heart-breaking despair. I had heard it before, during the sinking of the Martinez.
My face was against his chest and I could not see, but I heard Maud turn and run swiftly away along the deck. Everything was happening quickly. I had not yet had a glimmering of unconsciousness, and it seemed that an interminable period of time was lapsing before I heard her feet flying back. And just then I felt the whole man sink under me. The breath was leaving his lungs and his chest was collapsing under my weight. Whether it was merely the expelled breath, or his consciousness of his growing impotence, I know not, but his throat vibrated with a deep groan. The hand at my throat relaxed. I breathed. It fluttered and tightened again. But even his tremendous will could not overcome the dissolution that assailed it. That will of his was breaking down. He was fainting.
Maud’s footsteps were very near as his hand fluttered for the last time and my throat was released. I rolled off and over to the deck on my back, gasping and blinking in the sunshine. Maud was pale but composed,—my eyes had gone instantly to her face,—and she was looking at me with mingled alarm and relief. A heavy seal-club in her hand caught my eyes, and at that moment she followed my gaze down to it. The club dropped from her hand as though it had suddenly stung her, and at the same moment my heart surged with a great joy. Truly she was my woman, my mate-woman, fighting with me and for me as the mate of a caveman would have fought, all the primitive in her aroused, forgetful of her culture, hard under the softening civilization of the only life she had ever known.
“Dear woman!” I cried, scrambling to my feet.
The next moment she was in my arms, weeping convulsively on my shoulder while I clasped her close. I looked down at the brown glory of her hair, glinting gems in the sunshine far more precious to me than those in the treasure-chests of kings. And I bent my head and kissed her hair softly, so softly that she did not know.
Then sober thought came to me. After all, she was only a woman, crying her relief, now that the danger was past, in the arms of her protector or of the one who had been endangered. Had I been father or brother, the situation would have been in nowise different. Besides, time and place were not meet, and I wished to earn a better right to declare my love. So once again I softly kissed her hair as I felt her receding from my clasp.
“It was a real attack this time,” I said: “another shock like the one that made him blind. He feigned at first, and in doing so brought it on.”
Maud was already rearranging his pillow.
“No,” I said, “not yet. Now that I have him helpless, helpless he shall remain. From this day we live in the cabin. Wolf Larsen shall live in the steerage.”
I caught him under the shoulders and dragged him to the companion-way. At my direction Maud fetched a rope. Placing this under his shoulders, I balanced him across the threshold and lowered him down the steps to the floor. I could not lift him directly into a bunk, but with Maud’s help I lifted first his shoulders and head, then his body, balanced him across the edge, and rolled him into a lower bunk.
But this was not to be all. I recollected the handcuffs in his state-room, which he preferred to use on sailors instead of the ancient and clumsy ship irons. So, when we left him, he lay handcuffed hand and foot. For the first time in many days I breathed freely. I felt strangely light as I came on deck, as though a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I felt, also, that Maud and I had drawn more closely together. And I wondered if she, too, felt it, as we walked along the deck side by side to where the stalled foremast hung in the shears.
At once we moved aboard the Ghost, occupying our old state-rooms and cooking in the galley. The imprisonment of Wolf Larsen had happened most opportunely, for what must have been the Indian summer of this high latitude was gone and drizzling stormy weather had set in. We were very comfortable, and the inadequate shears, with the foremast suspended from them, gave a business-like air to the schooner and a promise of departure.
And now that we had Wolf Larsen in irons, how little did we need it! Like his first attack, his second had been accompanied by serious disablement. Maud made the discovery in the afternoon while trying to give him nourishment. He had shown signs of consciousness, and she had spoken to him, eliciting no response. He was lying on his left side at the time, and in evident pain. With a restless movement he rolled his head around, clearing his left ear from the pillow against which it had been pressed. At once he heard and answered her, and at once she came to me.
Pressing the pillow against his left ear, I asked him if he heard me, but he gave no sign. Removing the pillow and, repeating the question he answered promptly that he did.
“Do you know you are deaf in the right ear?” I asked.
“Yes,” he answered in a low, strong voice, “and worse than that. My whole right side is affected. It seems asleep. I cannot move arm or leg.”
“Feigning again?” I demanded angrily.
He shook his head, his stern mouth shaping the strangest, twisted smile. It was indeed a twisted smile, for it was on the left side only, the facial muscles of the right side moving not at all.
“That was the last play of the Wolf,” he said. “I am paralysed. I shall never walk again. Oh, only on the other side,” he added, as though divining the suspicious glance I flung at his left leg, the knee of which had just then drawn up, and elevated the blankets.
“It’s unfortunate,” he continued. “I’d liked to have done for you first, Hump. And I thought I had that much left in me.”
“But why?” I asked; partly in horror, partly out of curiosity.
Again his stern mouth framed the twisted smile, as he said:
“Oh, just to be alive, to be living and doing, to be the biggest bit of the ferment to the end, to eat you. But to die this way.”
He shrugged his shoulders, or attempted to shrug them, rather, for the left shoulder alone moved. Like the smile, the shrug was twisted.
“But how can you account for it?” I asked. “Where is the seat of your trouble?”
“The brain,” he said at once. “It was those cursed headaches brought it on.”
“Symptoms,” I said.
He nodded his head. “There is no accounting for it. I was never sick in my life. Something’s gone wrong with my brain. A cancer, a tumour, or something of that nature,—a thing that devours and destroys. It’s attacking my nerve-centres, eating them up, bit by bit, cell by cell—from the pain.”
“The motor-centres, too,” I suggested.
“So it would seem; and the curse of it is that I must lie here, conscious, mentally unimpaired, knowing that the lines are going down, breaking bit by bit communication with the world. I cannot see, hearing and feeling are leaving me, at this rate I shall soon cease to speak; yet all the time I shall be here, alive, active, and powerless.”
“When you say you are here, I’d suggest the likelihood of the soul,” I said.
“Bosh!” was his retort. “It simply means that in the attack on my brain the higher psychical centres are untouched. I can remember, I can think and reason. When that goes, I go. I am not. The soul?”
He broke out in mocking laughter, then turned his left ear to the pillow as a sign that he wished no further conversation.
Maud and I went about our work oppressed by the fearful fate which had overtaken him,—how fearful we were yet fully to realize. There was the awfulness of retribution about it. Our thoughts were deep and solemn, and we spoke to each other scarcely above whispers.
“You might remove the handcuffs,” he said that night, as we stood in consultation over him. “It’s dead safe. I’m a paralytic now. The next thing to watch out for is bed sores.”
He smiled his twisted smile, and Maud, her eyes wide with horror, was compelled to turn away her head.
“Do you know that your smile is crooked?” I asked him; for I knew that she must attend him, and I wished to save her as much as possible.
“Then I shall smile no more,” he said calmly. “I thought something was wrong. My right cheek has been numb all day. Yes, and I’ve had warnings of this for the last three days; by spells, my right side seemed going to sleep, sometimes arm or hand, sometimes leg or foot.”
“So my smile is crooked?” he queried a short while after. “Well, consider henceforth that I smile internally, with my soul, if you please, my soul. Consider that I am smiling now.”
And for the space of several minutes he lay there, quiet, indulging his grotesque fancy.
The man of him was not changed. It was the old, indomitable, terrible Wolf Larsen, imprisoned somewhere within that flesh which had once been so invincible and splendid. Now it bound him with insentient fetters, walling his soul in darkness and silence, blocking it from the world which to him had been a riot of action. No more would he conjugate the verb “to do in every mood and tense.” “To be” was all that remained to him—to be, as he had defined death, without movement; to will, but not to execute; to think and reason and in the spirit of him to be as alive as ever, but in the flesh to be dead, quite dead.
And yet, though I even removed the handcuffs, we could not adjust ourselves to his condition. Our minds revolted. To us he was full of potentiality. We knew not what to expect of him next, what fearful thing, rising above the flesh, he might break out and do. Our experience warranted this state of mind, and we went about our work with anxiety always upon us.
I had solved the problem which had arisen through the shortness of the shears. By means of the watch-tackle (I had made a new one), I heaved the butt of the foremast across the rail and then lowered it to the deck. Next, by means of the shears, I hoisted the main boom on board. Its forty feet of length would supply the height necessary properly to swing the mast. By means of a secondary tackle I had attached to the shears, I swung the boom to a nearly perpendicular position, then lowered the butt to the deck, where, to prevent slipping, I spiked great cleats around it. The single block of my original shears-tackle I had attached to the end of the boom. Thus, by carrying this tackle to the windlass, I could raise and lower the end of the boom at will, the butt always remaining stationary, and, by means of guys, I could swing the boom from side to side. To the end of the boom I had likewise rigged a hoisting tackle; and when the whole arrangement was completed I could not but be startled by the power and latitude it gave me.
Of course, two days’ work was required for the accomplishment of this part of my task, and it was not till the morning of the third day that I swung the foremast from the deck and proceeded to square its butt to fit the step. Here I was especially awkward. I sawed and chopped and chiselled the weathered wood till it had the appearance of having been gnawed by some gigantic mouse. But it fitted.
“It will work, I know it will work,” I cried.
“Do you know Dr. Jordan’s final test of truth?” Maud asked.
I shook my head and paused in the act of dislodging the shavings which had drifted down my neck.
“Can we make it work? Can we trust our lives to it? is the test.”
“He is a favourite of yours,” I said.
“When I dismantled my old Pantheon and cast out Napoleon and Caesar and their fellows, I straightway erected a new Pantheon,” she answered gravely, “and the first I installed as Dr. Jordan.”
“A modern hero.”
“And a greater because modern,” she added. “How can the Old World heroes compare with ours?”
I shook my head. We were too much alike in many things for argument. Our points of view and outlook on life at least were very alike.
“For a pair of critics we agree famously,” I laughed.
“And as shipwright and able assistant,” she laughed back.
But there was little time for laughter in those days, what of our heavy work and of the awfulness of Wolf Larsen’s living death.
He had received another stroke. He had lost his voice, or he was losing it. He had only intermittent use of it. As he phrased it, the wires were like the stock market, now up, now down. Occasionally the wires were up and he spoke as well as ever, though slowly and heavily. Then speech would suddenly desert him, in the middle of a sentence perhaps, and for hours, sometimes, we would wait for the connection to be re-established. He complained of great pain in his head, and it was during this period that he arranged a system of communication against the time when speech should leave him altogether—one pressure of the hand for “yes,” two for “no.” It was well that it was arranged, for by evening his voice had gone from him. By hand pressures, after that, he answered our questions, and when he wished to speak he scrawled his thoughts with his left hand, quite legibly, on a sheet of paper.
The fierce winter had now descended upon us. Gale followed gale, with snow and sleet and rain. The seals had started on their great southern migration, and the rookery was practically deserted. I worked feverishly. In spite of the bad weather, and of the wind which especially hindered me, I was on deck from daylight till dark and making substantial progress.
I profited by my lesson learned through raising the shears and then climbing them to attach the guys. To the top of the foremast, which was just lifted conveniently from the deck, I attached the rigging, stays and throat and peak halyards. As usual, I had underrated the amount of work involved in this portion of the task, and two long days were necessary to complete it. And there was so much yet to be done—the sails, for instance, which practically had to be made over.
While I toiled at rigging the foremast, Maud sewed on canvas, ready always to drop everything and come to my assistance when more hands than two were required. The canvas was heavy and hard, and she sewed with the regular sailor’s palm and three-cornered sail-needle. Her hands were soon sadly blistered, but she struggled bravely on, and in addition doing the cooking and taking care of the sick man.
“A fig for superstition,” I said on Friday morning. “That mast goes in to-day.’
Everything was ready for the attempt. Carrying the boom-tackle to the windlass, I hoisted the mast nearly clear of the deck. Making this tackle fast, I took to the windlass the shears-tackle (which was connected with the end of the boom), and with a few turns had the mast perpendicular and clear.
Maud clapped her hands the instant she was relieved from holding the turn, crying:
“It works! It works! We’ll trust our lives to it!”
Then she assumed a rueful expression.
“It’s not over the hole,” she add. “Will you have to begin all over?”
I smiled in superior fashion, and, slacking off on one of the boom-guys and taking in on the other, swung the mast perfectly in the centre of the deck. Still it was not over the hole. Again the rueful expression came on her face, and again I smiled in a superior way. Slacking away on the boom-tackle and hoisting an equivalent amount on the shears-tackle, I brought the butt of the mast into position directly over the hole in the deck. Then I gave Maud careful instructions for lowering away and went into the hold to the step on the schooner’s bottom.
I called to her, and the mast moved easily and accurately. Straight toward the square hole of the step the square butt descended; but as it descended it slowly twisted so that square would not fit into square. But I had not even a moment’s indecision. Calling to Maud to cease lowering, I went on deck and made the watch-tackle fast to the mast with a rolling hitch. I left Maud to pull on it while I went below. By the light of the lantern I saw the butt twist slowly around till its sides coincided with the sides of the step. Maud made fast and returned to the windlass. Slowly the butt descended the several intervening inches, at the same time slightly twisting again. Again Maud rectified the twist with the watch-tackle, and again she lowered away from the windlass. Square fitted into square. The mast was stepped.
I raised a shout, and she ran down to see. In the yellow lantern light we peered at what we had accomplished. We looked at each other, and our hands felt their way and clasped. The eyes of both of us, I think, were moist with the joy of success.
“It was done so easily after all,” I remarked. “All the work was in the preparation.”
“And all the wonder in the completion,” Maud added. “I can scarcely bring myself to realize that that great mast is really up and in; that you have lifted it from the water, swung it through the air, and deposited it here where it belongs. It is a Titan’s task.”
“And they made themselves many inventions,” I began merrily, then paused to sniff the air.
I looked hastily at the lantern. It was not smoking. Again I sniffed.
“Something is burning,” Maud said, with sudden conviction.
We sprang together for the ladder, but I raced past her to the deck. A dense volume of smoke was pouring out of the steerage companion-way.
“The Wolf is not yet dead,” I muttered to myself as I sprang down through the smoke.
It was so thick in the confined space that I was compelled to feel my way; and so potent was the spell of Wolf Larsen on my imagination, I was quite prepared for the helpless giant to grip my neck in a strangle hold. I hesitated, the desire to race back and up the steps to the deck almost overpowering me. Then I recollected Maud. The vision of her, as I had last seen her, in the lantern light of the schooner’s hold, her brown eyes warm and moist with joy, flashed before me, and I knew that I could not go back.
I was choking and suffocating by the time I reached Wolf Larsen’s bunk. I reached my hand and felt for his. He was lying motionless, but moved slightly at the touch of my hand. I felt over and under his blankets. There was no warmth, no sign of fire. Yet that smoke which blinded me and made me cough and gasp must have a source. I lost my head temporarily and dashed frantically about the steerage. A collision with the table partially knocked the wind from my body and brought me to myself. I reasoned that a helpless man could start a fire only near to where he lay.
I returned to Wolf Larsen’s bunk. There I encountered Maud. How long she had been there in that suffocating atmosphere I could not guess.
“Go up on deck!” I commanded peremptorily.
“But, Humphrey—” she began to protest in a queer, husky voice.
“Please! please!” I shouted at her harshly.
She drew away obediently, and then I thought, What if she cannot find the steps? I started after her, to stop at the foot of the companion-way. Perhaps she had gone up. As I stood there, hesitant, I heard her cry softly:
“Oh, Humphrey, I am lost.”
I found her fumbling at the wall of the after bulkhead, and, half leading her, half carrying her, I took her up the companion-way. The pure air was like nectar. Maud was only faint and dizzy, and I left her lying on the deck when I took my second plunge below.
The source of the smoke must be very close to Wolf Larsen—my mind was made up to this, and I went straight to his bunk. As I felt about among his blankets, something hot fell on the back of my hand. It burned me, and I jerked my hand away. Then I understood. Through the cracks in the bottom of the upper bunk he had set fire to the mattress. He still retained sufficient use of his left arm to do this. The damp straw of the mattress, fired from beneath and denied air, had been smouldering all the while.
As I dragged the mattress out of the bunk it seemed to disintegrate in mid-air, at the same time bursting into flames. I beat out the burning remnants of straw in the bunk, then made a dash for the deck for fresh air.
Several buckets of water sufficed to put out the burning mattress in the middle of the steerage floor; and ten minutes later, when the smoke had fairly cleared, I allowed Maud to come below. Wolf Larsen was unconscious, but it was a matter of minutes for the fresh air to restore him. We were working over him, however, when he signed for paper and pencil.
“Pray do not interrupt me,” he wrote. “I am smiling.”
“I am still a bit of the ferment, you see,” he wrote a little later.
“I am glad you are as small a bit as you are,” I said.
“Thank you,” he wrote. “But just think of how much smaller I shall be before I die.”
“And yet I am all here, Hump,” he wrote with a final flourish. “I can think more clearly than ever in my life before. Nothing to disturb me. Concentration is perfect. I am all here and more than here.”
It was like a message from the night of the grave; for this man’s body had become his mausoleum. And there, in so strange sepulchre, his spirit fluttered and lived. It would flutter and live till the last line of communication was broken, and after that who was to say how much longer it might continue to flutter and live?
“I think my left side is going,” Wolf Larsen wrote, the morning after his attempt to fire the ship. “The numbness is growing. I can hardly move my hand. You will have to speak louder. The last lines are going down.”
“Are you in pain?” I asked.
I was compelled to repeat my question loudly before he answered:
“Not all the time.”
The left hand stumbled slowly and painfully across the paper, and it was with extreme difficulty that we deciphered the scrawl. It was like a “spirit message,” such as are delivered at sˇances of spiritualists for a dollar admission.
“But I am still here, all here,” the hand scrawled more slowly and painfully than ever.
The pencil dropped, and we had to replace it in the hand.
“When there is no pain I have perfect peace and quiet. I have never thought so clearly. I can ponder life and death like a Hindoo sage.”
“And immortality?” Maud queried loudly in the ear.
Three times the hand essayed to write but fumbled hopelessly. The pencil fell. In vain we tried to replace it. The fingers could not close on it. Then Maud pressed and held the fingers about the pencil with her own hand and the hand wrote, in large letters, and so slowly that the minutes ticked off to each letter:
It was Wolf Larsen’s last word, “bosh,” sceptical and invincible to the end. The arm and hand relaxed. The trunk of the body moved slightly. Then there was no movement. Maud released the hand. The fingers spread slightly, falling apart of their own weight, and the pencil rolled away.
“Do you still hear?” I shouted, holding the fingers and waiting for the single pressure which would signify “Yes.” There was no response. The hand was dead.
“I noticed the lips slightly move,” Maud said.
I repeated the question. The lips moved. She placed the tips of her fingers on them. Again I repeated the question. “Yes,” Maud announced. We looked at each other expectantly.
“What good is it?” I asked. “What can we say now?”
“Oh, ask him—”
“Ask him something that requires no for an answer,” I suggested. “Then we will know for certainty.”
“Are you hungry?” she cried.
The lips moved under her fingers, and she answered, “Yes.”
“Will you have some beef?” was her next query.
“No,” she announced.
“Yes, he will have some beef-tea,” she said, quietly, looking up at me. “Until his hearing goes we shall be able to communicate with him. And after that—”
She looked at me queerly. I saw her lips trembling and the tears swimming up in her eyes. She swayed toward me and I caught her in my arms.
“Oh, Humphrey,” she sobbed, “when will it all end? I am so tired, so tired.”
She buried her head on my shoulder, her frail form shaken with a storm of weeping. She was like a feather in my arms, so slender, so ethereal. “She has broken down at last,” I thought. “What can I do without her help?”
But I soothed and comforted her, till she pulled herself bravely together and recuperated mentally as quickly as she was wont to do physically.
“I ought to be ashamed of myself,” she said. Then added, with the whimsical smile I adored, “but I am only one, small woman.”
That phrase, the “one small woman,” startled me like an electric shock. It was my own phrase, my pet, secret phrase, my love phrase for her.
“Where did you get that phrase?” I demanded, with an abruptness that in turn startled her.
“What phrase?” she asked.
“One small woman.”
“Is it yours?” she asked.
“Yes,” I answered. “Mine. I made it.”
“Then you must have talked in your sleep,” she smiled.
The dancing, tremulous light was in her eyes. Mine, I knew, were speaking beyond the will of my speech. I leaned toward her. Without volition I leaned toward her, as a tree is swayed by the wind. Ah, we were very close together in that moment. But she shook her head, as one might shake off sleep or a dream, saying:
“I have known it all my life. It was my father’s name for my mother.”
“It is my phrase too,” I said stubbornly.
“For your mother?”
“No,” I answered, and she questioned no further, though I could have sworn her eyes retained for some time a mocking, teasing expression.
With the foremast in, the work now went on apace. Almost before I knew it, and without one serious hitch, I had the mainmast stepped. A derrick-boom, rigged to the foremast, had accomplished this; and several days more found all stays and shrouds in place, and everything set up taut. Topsails would be a nuisance and a danger for a crew of two, so I heaved the topmasts on deck and lashed them fast.
Several more days were consumed in finishing the sails and putting them on. There were only three—the jib, foresail, and mainsail; and, patched, shortened, and distorted, they were a ridiculously ill-fitting suit for so trim a craft as the Ghost.
“But they’ll work!” Maud cried jubilantly. “We’ll make them work, and trust our lives to them!”
Certainly, among my many new trades, I shone least as a sail-maker. I could sail them better than make them, and I had no doubt of my power to bring the schooner to some northern port of Japan. In fact, I had crammed navigation from text-books aboard; and besides, there was Wolf Larsen’s star-scale, so simple a device that a child could work it.
As for its inventor, beyond an increasing deafness and the movement of the lips growing fainter and fainter, there had been little change in his condition for a week. But on the day we finished bending the schooner’s sails, he heard his last, and the last movement of his lips died away—but not before I had asked him, “Are you all there?” and the lips had answered, “Yes.”
The last line was down. Somewhere within that tomb of the flesh still dwelt the soul of the man. Walled by the living clay, that fierce intelligence we had known burned on; but it burned on in silence and darkness. And it was disembodied. To that intelligence there could be no objective knowledge of a body. It knew no body. The very world was not. It knew only itself and the vastness and profundity of the quiet and the dark.
The day came for our departure. There was no longer anything to detain us on Endeavour Island. The Ghost’s stumpy masts were in place, her crazy sails bent. All my handiwork was strong, none of it beautiful; but I knew that it would work, and I felt myself a man of power as I looked at it.
“I did it! I did it! With my own hands I did it!” I wanted to cry aloud.
But Maud and I had a way of voicing each other’s thoughts, and she said, as we prepared to hoist the mainsail:
“To think, Humphrey, you did it all with your own hands?”
“But there were two other hands,” I answered. “Two small hands, and don’t say that was a phrase, also, of your father.”
She laughed and shook her head, and held her hands up for inspection.
“I can never get them clean again,” she wailed, “nor soften the weather-beat.”
“Then dirt and weather-beat shall be your guerdon of honour,” I said, holding them in mine; and, spite of my resolutions, I would have kissed the two dear hands had she not swiftly withdrawn them.
Our comradeship was becoming tremulous, I had mastered my love long and well, but now it was mastering me. Wilfully had it disobeyed and won my eyes to speech, and now it was winning my tongue—ay, and my lips, for they were mad this moment to kiss the two small hands which had toiled so faithfully and hard. And I, too, was mad. There was a cry in my being like bugles calling me to her. And there was a wind blowing upon me which I could not resist, swaying the very body of me till I leaned toward her, all unconscious that I leaned. And she knew it. She could not but know it as she swiftly drew away her hands, and yet, could not forbear one quick searching look before she turned away her eyes.
By means of deck-tackles I had arranged to carry the halyards forward to the windlass; and now I hoisted the mainsail, peak and throat, at the same time. It was a clumsy way, but it did not take long, and soon the foresail as well was up and fluttering.
“We can never get that anchor up in this narrow place, once it has left the bottom,” I said. “We should be on the rocks first.”
“What can you do?” she asked.
“Slip it,” was my answer. “And when I do, you must do your first work on the windlass. I shall have to run at once to the wheel, and at the same time you must be hoisting the jib.”
This manoeuvre of getting under way I had studied and worked out a score of times; and, with the jib-halyard to the windlass, I knew Maud was capable of hoisting that most necessary sail. A brisk wind was blowing into the cove, and though the water was calm, rapid work was required to get us safely out.
When I knocked the shackle-bolt loose, the chain roared out through the hawse-hole and into the sea. I raced aft, putting the wheel up. The Ghost seemed to start into life as she heeled to the first fill of her sails. The jib was rising. As it filled, the Ghost’s bow swung off and I had to put the wheel down a few spokes and steady her.
I had devised an automatic jib-sheet which passed the jib across of itself, so there was no need for Maud to attend to that; but she was still hoisting the jib when I put the wheel hard down. It was a moment of anxiety, for the Ghost was rushing directly upon the beach, a stone’s throw distant. But she swung obediently on her heel into the wind. There was a great fluttering and flapping of canvas and reef-points, most welcome to my ears, then she filled away on the other tack.
Maud had finished her task and come aft, where she stood beside me, a small cap perched on her wind-blown hair, her cheeks flushed from exertion, her eyes wide and bright with the excitement, her nostrils quivering to the rush and bite of the fresh salt air. Her brown eyes were like a startled deer’s. There was a wild, keen look in them I had never seen before, and her lips parted and her breath suspended as the Ghost, charging upon the wall of rock at the entrance to the inner cove, swept into the wind and filled away into safe water.
My first mate’s berth on the sealing grounds stood me in good stead, and I cleared the inner cove and laid a long tack along the shore of the outer cove. Once again about, and the Ghost headed out to open sea. She had now caught the bosom-breathing of the ocean, and was herself a-breath with the rhythm of it as she smoothly mounted and slipped down each broad-backed wave. The day had been dull and overcast, but the sun now burst through the clouds, a welcome omen, and shone upon the curving beach where together we had dared the lords of the harem and slain the holluschickie. All Endeavour Island brightened under the sun. Even the grim south-western promontory showed less grim, and here and there, where the sea-spray wet its surface, high lights flashed and dazzled in the sun.
“I shall always think of it with pride,” I said to Maud.
She threw her head back in a queenly way but said, “Dear, dear Endeavour Island! I shall always love it.”
“And I,” I said quickly.
It seemed our eyes must meet in a great understanding, and yet, loath, they struggled away and did not meet.
There was a silence I might almost call awkward, till I broke it, saying:
“See those black clouds to windward. You remember, I told you last night the barometer was falling.”
“And the sun is gone,” she said, her eyes still fixed upon our island, where we had proved our mastery over matter and attained to the truest comradeship that may fall to man and woman.
“And it’s slack off the sheets for Japan!” I cried gaily. “A fair wind and a flowing sheet, you know, or however it goes.”
Lashing the wheel I ran forward, eased the fore and mainsheets, took in on the boom-tackles and trimmed everything for the quartering breeze which was ours. It was a fresh breeze, very fresh, but I resolved to run as long as I dared. Unfortunately, when running free, it is impossible to lash the wheel, so I faced an all-night watch. Maud insisted on relieving me, but proved that she had not the strength to steer in a heavy sea, even if she could have gained the wisdom on such short notice. She appeared quite heart-broken over the discovery, but recovered her spirits by coiling down tackles and halyards and all stray ropes. Then there were meals to be cooked in the galley, beds to make, Wolf Larsen to be attended upon, and she finished the day with a grand house-cleaning attack upon the cabin and steerage.
All night I steered, without relief, the wind slowly and steadily increasing and the sea rising. At five in the morning Maud brought me hot coffee and biscuits she had baked, and at seven a substantial and piping hot breakfast put new lift into me.
Throughout the day, and as slowly and steadily as ever, the wind increased. It impressed one with its sullen determination to blow, and blow harder, and keep on blowing. And still the Ghost foamed along, racing off the miles till I was certain she was making at least eleven knots. It was too good to lose, but by nightfall I was exhausted. Though in splendid physical trim, a thirty-six-hour trick at the wheel was the limit of my endurance. Besides, Maud begged me to heave to, and I knew, if the wind and sea increased at the same rate during the night, that it would soon be impossible to heave to. So, as twilight deepened, gladly and at the same time reluctantly, I brought the Ghost up on the wind.
But I had not reckoned upon the colossal task the reefing of three sails meant for one man. While running away from the wind I had not appreciated its force, but when we ceased to run I learned to my sorrow, and well-nigh to my despair, how fiercely it was really blowing. The wind balked my every effort, ripping the canvas out of my hands and in an instant undoing what I had gained by ten minutes of severest struggle. At eight o’clock I had succeeded only in putting the second reef into the foresail. At eleven o’clock I was no farther along. Blood dripped from every finger-end, while the nails were broken to the quick. From pain and sheer exhaustion I wept in the darkness, secretly, so that Maud should not know.
Then, in desperation, I abandoned the attempt to reef the mainsail and resolved to try the experiment of heaving to under the close-reefed foresail. Three hours more were required to gasket the mainsail and jib, and at two in the morning, nearly dead, the life almost buffeted and worked out of me, I had barely sufficient consciousness to know the experiment was a success. The close-reefed foresail worked. The Ghost clung on close to the wind and betrayed no inclination to fall off broadside to the trough.
I was famished, but Maud tried vainly to get me to eat. I dozed with my mouth full of food. I would fall asleep in the act of carrying food to my mouth and waken in torment to find the act yet uncompleted. So sleepily helpless was I that she was compelled to hold me in my chair to prevent my being flung to the floor by the violent pitching of the schooner.
Of the passage from the galley to the cabin I knew nothing. It was a sleep-walker Maud guided and supported. In fact, I was aware of nothing till I awoke, how long after I could not imagine, in my bunk with my boots off. It was dark. I was stiff and lame, and cried out with pain when the bed-clothes touched my poor finger-ends.
Morning had evidently not come, so I closed my eyes and went to sleep again. I did not know it, but I had slept the clock around and it was night again.
Once more I woke, troubled because I could sleep no better. I struck a match and looked at my watch. It marked midnight. And I had not left the deck until three! I should have been puzzled had I not guessed the solution. No wonder I was sleeping brokenly. I had slept twenty-one hours. I listened for a while to the behaviour of the Ghost, to the pounding of the seas and the muffled roar of the wind on deck, and then turned over on my ride and slept peacefully until morning.
When I arose at seven I saw no sign of Maud and concluded she was in the galley preparing breakfast. On deck I found the Ghost doing splendidly under her patch of canvas. But in the galley, though a fire was burning and water boiling, I found no Maud.
I discovered her in the steerage, by Wolf Larsen’s bunk. I looked at him, the man who had been hurled down from the topmost pitch of life to be buried alive and be worse than dead. There seemed a relaxation of his expressionless face which was new. Maud looked at me and I understood.
“His life flickered out in the storm,” I said.
“But he still lives,” she answered, infinite faith in her voice.
“He had too great strength.”
“Yes,” she said, “but now it no longer shackles him. He is a free spirit.”
“He is a free spirit surely,” I answered; and, taking her hand, I led her on deck.
The storm broke that night, which is to say that it diminished as slowly as it had arisen. After breakfast next morning, when I had hoisted Wolf Larsen’s body on deck ready for burial, it was still blowing heavily and a large sea was running. The deck was continually awash with the sea which came inboard over the rail and through the scuppers. The wind smote the schooner with a sudden gust, and she heeled over till her lee rail was buried, the roar in her rigging rising in pitch to a shriek. We stood in the water to our knees as I bared my head.
“I remember only one part of the service,” I said, “and that is, ‘And the body shall be cast into the sea.’”
Maud looked at me, surprised and shocked; but the spirit of something I had seen before was strong upon me, impelling me to give service to Wolf Larsen as Wolf Larsen had once given service to another man. I lifted the end of the hatch cover and the canvas-shrouded body slipped feet first into the sea. The weight of iron dragged it down. It was gone.
“Good-bye, Lucifer, proud spirit,” Maud whispered, so low that it was drowned by the shouting of the wind; but I saw the movement of her lips and knew.
As we clung to the lee rail and worked our way aft, I happened to glance to leeward. The Ghost, at the moment, was uptossed on a sea, and I caught a clear view of a small steamship two or three miles away, rolling and pitching, head on to the sea, as it steamed toward us. It was painted black, and from the talk of the hunters of their poaching exploits I recognized it as a United States revenue cutter. I pointed it out to Maud and hurriedly led her aft to the safety of the poop.
I started to rush below to the flag-locker, then remembered that in rigging the Ghost. I had forgotten to make provision for a flag-halyard.
“We need no distress signal,” Maud said. “They have only to see us.”
“We are saved,” I said, soberly and solemnly. And then, in an exuberance of joy, “I hardly know whether to be glad or not.”
I looked at her. Our eyes were not loath to meet. We leaned toward each other, and before I knew it my arms were about her.
“Need I?” I asked.
And she answered, “There is no need, though the telling of it would be sweet, so sweet.”
Her lips met the press of mine, and, by what strange trick of the imagination I know not, the scene in the cabin of the Ghost flashed upon me, when she had pressed her fingers lightly on my lips and said, “Hush, hush.”
“My woman, my one small woman,” I said, my free hand petting her shoulder in the way all lovers know though never learn in school.
“My man,” she said, looking at me for an instant with tremulous lids which fluttered down and veiled her eyes as she snuggled her head against my breast with a happy little sigh.
I looked toward the cutter. It was very close. A boat was being lowered.
“One kiss, dear love,” I whispered. “One kiss more before they come.”
“And rescue us from ourselves,” she completed, with a most adorable smile, whimsical as I had never seen it, for it was whimsical with love.