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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Sea Wolf - Chapter XXI
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The Sea Wolf - Chapter XXI Post by :cliffsbiz Category :Long Stories Author :Jack London Date :April 2011 Read :3339

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The Sea Wolf - Chapter XXI

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 aerial 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.

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The remainder of the day passed uneventfully. The young slip of agale, having wetted our gills, proceeded to moderate. The fourthengineer and the three oilers, after a warm interview with WolfLarsen, were furnished with outfits from the slop-chests, assignedplaces under the hunters in the various boats and watches on thevessel, and bundled forward into the forecastle. They wentprotestingly, but their voices were not loud. They were awed bywhat they had already seen of Wolf Larsen's character, while thetale of woe they speedily heard in the forecastle took the last bitof rebellion out of them.Miss Brewster - we
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