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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Sea Wolf - Chapter XXVI
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The Sea Wolf - Chapter XXVI Post by :willytan Category :Long Stories Author :Jack London Date :April 2011 Read :3363

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The Sea Wolf - Chapter XXVI

Wolf Larsen took the distribution of the whisky off my hands, and
the bottles began to make their appearance while I worked over the
fresh batch of wounded men in the forecastle. I had seen whisky
drunk, such as whisky-and-soda by the men of the clubs, but never
as these men drank it, from pannikins and mugs, and from the
bottles - great brimming drinks, each one of which was in itself a
debauch. But they did not stop at one or two. They drank and
drank, and ever the bottles slipped forward and they drank more.

Everybody drank; the wounded drank; Oofty-Oofty, who helped me,
drank. Only Louis refrained, no more than cautiously wetting his
lips with the liquor, though he joined in the revels with an
abandon equal to that of most of them. It was a saturnalia. In
loud voices they shouted over the day's fighting, wrangled about
details, or waxed affectionate and made friends with the men whom
they had fought. Prisoners and captors hiccoughed on one another's
shoulders, and swore mighty oaths of respect and esteem. They wept
over the miseries of the past and over the miseries yet to come
under the iron rule of Wolf Larsen. And all cursed him and told
terrible tales of his brutality.

It was a strange and frightful spectacle - the small, bunk-lined
space, the floor and walls leaping and lurching, the dim light, the
swaying shadows lengthening and fore-shortening monstrously, the
thick air heavy with smoke and the smell of bodies and iodoform,
and the inflamed faces of the men - half-men, I should call them.
I noted Oofty-Oofty, holding the end of a bandage and looking upon
the scene, his velvety and luminous eyes glistening in the light
like a deer's eyes, and yet I knew the barbaric devil that lurked
in his breast and belied all the softness and tenderness, almost
womanly, of his face and form. And I noticed the boyish face of
Harrison, - a good face once, but now a demon's, - convulsed with
passion as he told the newcomers of the hell-ship they were in and
shrieked curses upon the head of Wolf Larsen.

Wolf Larsen it was, always Wolf Larsen, enslaver and tormentor of
men, a male Circe and these his swine, suffering brutes that
grovelled before him and revolted only in drunkenness and in
secrecy. And was I, too, one of his swine? I thought. And Maud
Brewster? No! I ground my teeth in my anger and determination
till the man I was attending winced under my hand and Oofty-Oofty
looked at me with curiosity. I felt endowed with a sudden
strength. What of my new-found love, I was a giant. I feared
nothing. I would work my will through it all, in spite of Wolf
Larsen and of my own thirty-five bookish years. All would be well.
I would make it well. And so, exalted, upborne by a sense of
power, I turned my back on the howling inferno and climbed to the
deck, where the fog drifted ghostly through the night and the air
was sweet and pure and quiet.

The steerage, where were two wounded hunters, was a repetition of
the forecastle, except that Wolf Larsen was not being cursed; and
it was with a great relief that I again emerged on deck and went
aft to the cabin. Supper was ready, and Wolf Larsen and Maud were
waiting for me.

While all his ship was getting drunk as fast as it could, he
remained sober. Not a drop of liquor passed his lips. He did not
dare it under the circumstances, for he had only Louis and me to
depend upon, and Louis was even now at the wheel. We were sailing
on through the fog without a look-out and without lights. That
Wolf Larsen had turned the liquor loose among his men surprised me,
but he evidently knew their psychology and the best method of
cementing in cordiality, what had begun in bloodshed.

His victory over Death Larsen seemed to have had a remarkable
effect upon him. The previous evening he had reasoned himself into
the blues, and I had been waiting momentarily for one of his
characteristic outbursts. Yet nothing had occurred, and he was now
in splendid trim. Possibly his success in capturing so many
hunters and boats had counteracted the customary reaction. At any
rate, the blues were gone, and the blue devils had not put in an
appearance. So I thought at the time; but, ah me, little I knew
him or knew that even then, perhaps, he was meditating an outbreak
more terrible than any I had seen.

As I say, he discovered himself in splendid trim when I entered the
cabin. He had had no headaches for weeks, his eyes were clear blue
as the sky, his bronze was beautiful with perfect health; life
swelled through his veins in full and magnificent flood. While
waiting for me he had engaged Maud in animated discussion.
Temptation was the topic they had hit upon, and from the few words
I heard I made out that he was contending that temptation was
temptation only when a man was seduced by it and fell.

"For look you," he was saying, "as I see it, a man does things
because of desire. He has many desires. He may desire to escape
pain, or to enjoy pleasure. But whatever he does, he does because
he desires to do it."

"But suppose he desires to do two opposite things, neither of which
will permit him to do the other?" Maud interrupted.

"The very thing I was coming to," he said.

"And between these two desires is just where the soul of the man is
manifest," she went on. "If it is a good soul, it will desire and
do the good action, and the contrary if it is a bad soul. It is
the soul that decides."

"Bosh and nonsense!" he exclaimed impatiently. "It is the desire
that decides. Here is a man who wants to, say, get drunk. Also,
he doesn't want to get drunk. What does he do? How does he do it?
He is a puppet. He is the creature of his desires, and of the two
desires he obeys the strongest one, that is all. His soul hasn't
anything to do with it. How can he be tempted to get drunk and
refuse to get drunk? If the desire to remain sober prevails, it is
because it is the strongest desire. Temptation plays no part,
unless - " he paused while grasping the new thought which had come
into his mind - "unless he is tempted to remain sober.

"Ha! ha!" he laughed. "What do you think of that, Mr. Van Weyden?"

"That both of you are hair-splitting," I said. "The man's soul is
his desires. Or, if you will, the sum of his desires is his soul.
Therein you are both wrong. You lay the stress upon the desire
apart from the soul, Miss Brewster lays the stress on the soul
apart from the desire, and in point of fact soul and desire are the
same thing.

"However," I continued, "Miss Brewster is right in contending that
temptation is temptation whether the man yield or overcome. Fire
is fanned by the wind until it leaps up fiercely. So is desire
like fire. It is fanned, as by a wind, by sight of the thing
desired, or by a new and luring description or comprehension of the
thing desired. There lies the temptation. It is the wind that
fans the desire until it leaps up to mastery. That's temptation.
It may not fan sufficiently to make the desire overmastering, but
in so far as it fans at all, that far is it temptation. And, as
you say, it may tempt for good as well as for evil."

I felt proud of myself as we sat down to the table. My words had
been decisive. At least they had put an end to the discussion.

But Wolf Larsen seemed voluble, prone to speech as I had never seen
him before. It was as though he were bursting with pent energy
which must find an outlet somehow. Almost immediately he launched
into a discussion on love. As usual, his was the sheer
materialistic side, and Maud's was the idealistic. For myself,
beyond a word or so of suggestion or correction now and again, I
took no part.

He was brilliant, but so was Maud, and for some time I lost the
thread of the conversation through studying her face as she talked.
It was a face that rarely displayed colour, but to-night it was
flushed and vivacious. Her wit was playing keenly, and she was
enjoying the tilt as much as Wolf Larsen, and he was enjoying it
hugely. For some reason, though I know not why in the argument, so
utterly had I lost it in the contemplation of one stray brown lock
of Maud's hair, he quoted from Iseult at Tintagel, where she says:


"Blessed am I beyond women even herein,
That beyond all born women is my sin,
And perfect my transgression."


As he had read pessimism into Omar, so now he read triumph,
stinging triumph and exultation, into Swinburne's lines. And he
read rightly, and he read well. He had hardly ceased reading when
Louis put his head into the companion-way and whispered down:

"Be easy, will ye? The fog's lifted, an' 'tis the port light iv a
steamer that's crossin' our bow this blessed minute."

Wolf Larsen sprang on deck, and so swiftly that by the time we
followed him he had pulled the steerage-slide over the drunken
clamour and was on his way forward to close the forecastle-scuttle.
The fog, though it remained, had lifted high, where it obscured the
stars and made the night quite black. Directly ahead of us I could
see a bright red light and a white light, and I could hear the
pulsing of a steamer's engines. Beyond a doubt it was the
Macedonia.

Wolf Larsen had returned to the poop, and we stood in a silent
group, watching the lights rapidly cross our bow.

"Lucky for me he doesn't carry a searchlight," Wolf Larsen said.

"What if I should cry out loudly?" I queried in a whisper.

"It would be all up," he answered. "But have you thought upon what
would immediately happen?"

Before I had time to express any desire to know, he had me by the
throat with his gorilla grip, and by a faint quiver of the muscles
- a hint, as it were - he suggested to me the twist that would
surely have broken my neck. The next moment he had released me and
we were gazing at the Macedonia's lights.

"What if I should cry out?" Maud asked.

"I like you too well to hurt you," he said softly - nay, there was
a tenderness and a caress in his voice that made me wince.

"But don't do it, just the same, for I'd promptly break Mr. Van
Weyden's neck."

"Then she has my permission to cry out," I said defiantly.

"I hardly think you'll care to sacrifice the Dean of American
Letters the Second," he sneered.

We spoke no more, though we had become too used to one another for
the silence to be awkward; and when the red light and the white had
disappeared we returned to the cabin to finish the interrupted
supper.

Again they fell to quoting, and Maud gave Dowson's "Impenitentia
Ultima." She rendered it beautifully, but I watched not her, but
Wolf Larsen. I was fascinated by the fascinated look he bent upon
Maud. He was quite out of himself, and I noticed the unconscious
movement of his lips as he shaped word for word as fast as she
uttered them. He interrupted her when she gave the lines:


"And her eyes should be my light while the sun went out behind me,
And the viols in her voice be the last sound in my ear."


"There are viols in your voice," he said bluntly, and his eyes
flashed their golden light.

I could have shouted with joy at her control. She finished the
concluding stanza without faltering and then slowly guided the
conversation into less perilous channels. And all the while I sat
in a half-daze, the drunken riot of the steerage breaking through
the bulkhead, the man I feared and the woman I loved talking on and
on. The table was not cleared. The man who had taken Mugridge's
place had evidently joined his comrades in the forecastle.

If ever Wolf Larsen attained the summit of living, he attained it
then. From time to time I forsook my own thoughts to follow him,
and I followed in amaze, mastered for the moment by his remarkable
intellect, under the spell of his passion, for he was preaching the
passion of revolt. It was inevitable that Milton's Lucifer should
be instanced, and the keenness with which Wolf Larsen analysed and
depicted the character was a revelation of his stifled genius. It
reminded me of Taine, yet I knew the man had never heard of that
brilliant though dangerous thinker.

"He led a lost cause, and he was not afraid of God's thunderbolts,"
Wolf Larsen was saying. "Hurled into hell, he was unbeaten. A
third of God's angels he had led with him, and straightway he
incited man to rebel against God, and gained for himself and hell
the major portion of all the generations of man. Why was he beaten
out of heaven? Because he was less brave than God? less proud?
less aspiring? No! A thousand times no! God was more powerful,
as he said, Whom thunder hath made greater. But Lucifer was a free
spirit. To serve was to suffocate. He preferred suffering in
freedom to all the happiness of a comfortable servility. He did
not care to serve God. He cared to serve nothing. He was no
figure-head. He stood on his own legs. He was an individual."

"The first Anarchist," Maud laughed, rising and preparing to
withdraw to her state-room.

"Then it is good to be an anarchist!" he cried. He, too, had
risen, and he stood facing her, where she had paused at the door of
her room, as he went on:


"'Here at least
We shall be free; the Almighty hath not built
Here for his envy; will not drive us hence;
Here we may reign secure; and in my choice
To reign is worth ambition, though in hell:
Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven."


It was the defiant cry of a mighty spirit. The cabin still rang
with his voice, as he stood there, swaying, his bronzed face
shining, his head up and dominant, and his eyes, golden and
masculine, intensely masculine and insistently soft, flashing upon
Maud at the door.

Again that unnamable and unmistakable terror was in her eyes, and
she said, almost in a whisper, "You are Lucifer."

The door closed and she was gone. He stood staring after her for a
minute, then returned to himself and to me.

"I'll relieve Louis at the wheel," he said shortly, "and call upon
you to relieve at midnight. Better turn in now and get some
sleep."

He pulled on a pair of mittens, put on his cap, and ascended the
companion-stairs, while I followed his suggestion by going to bed.
For some unknown reason, prompted mysteriously, I did not undress,
but lay down fully clothed. For a time I listened to the clamour
in the steerage and marvelled upon the love which had come to me;
but my sleep on the Ghost had become most healthful and natural,
and soon the songs and cries died away, my eyes closed, and my
consciousness sank down into the half-death of slumber.


I knew not what had aroused me, but I found myself out of my bunk,
on my feet, wide awake, my soul vibrating to the warning of danger
as it might have thrilled to a trumpet call. I threw open the
door. The cabin light was burning low. I saw Maud, my Maud,
straining and struggling and crushed in the embrace of Wolf
Larsen's arms. I could see the vain beat and flutter of her as she
strove, pressing her face against his breast, to escape from him.
All this I saw on the very instant of seeing and as I sprang
forward.

I struck him with my fist, on the face, as he raised his head, but
it was a puny blow. He roared in a ferocious, animal-like way, and
gave me a shove with his hand. It was only a shove, a flirt of the
wrist, yet so tremendous was his strength that I was hurled
backward as from a catapult. I struck the door of the state-room
which had formerly been Mugridge's, splintering and smashing the
panels with the impact of my body. I struggled to my feet, with
difficulty dragging myself clear of the wrecked door, unaware of
any hurt whatever. I was conscious only of an overmastering rage.
I think I, too, cried aloud, as I drew the knife at my hip and
sprang forward a second time.

But something had happened. They were reeling apart. I was close
upon him, my knife uplifted, but I withheld the blow. I was
puzzled by the strangeness of it. Maud was leaning against the
wall, one hand out for support; but he was staggering, his left
hand pressed against his forehead and covering his eyes, and with
the right he was groping about him in a dazed sort of way. It
struck against the wall, and his body seemed to express a muscular
and physical relief at the contact, as though he had found his
bearings, his location in space as well as something against which
to lean.

Then I saw red again. All my wrongs and humiliations flashed upon
me with a dazzling brightness, all that I had suffered and others
had suffered at his hands, all the enormity of the man's very
existence. I sprang upon him, blindly, insanely, and drove the
knife into his shoulder. I knew, then, that it was no more than a
flesh wound, - I had felt the steel grate on his shoulder-blade, -
and I raised the knife to strike at a more vital part.

But Maud had seen my first blow, and she cried, "Don't! Please
don't!"

I dropped my arm for a moment, and a moment only. Again the knife
was raised, and Wolf Larsen would have surely died had she not
stepped between. Her arms were around me, her hair was brushing my
face. My pulse rushed up in an unwonted manner, yet my rage
mounted with it. She looked me bravely in the eyes.

"For my sake," she begged.

"I would kill him for your sake!" I cried, trying to free my arm
without hurting her.

"Hush!" she said, and laid her fingers lightly on my lips. I could
have kissed them, had I dared, even then, in my rage, the touch of
them was so sweet, so very sweet. "Please, please," she pleaded,
and she disarmed me by the words, as I was to discover they would
ever disarm me.

I stepped back, separating from her, and replaced the knife in its
sheath. I looked at Wolf Larsen. He still pressed his left hand
against his forehead. It covered his eyes. His head was bowed.
He seemed to have grown limp. His body was sagging at the hips,
his great shoulders were drooping and shrinking forward.

"Van, Weyden!" he called hoarsely, and with a note of fright in his
voice. "Oh, Van Weyden! where are you?"

I looked at Maud. She did not speak, but nodded her head.

"Here I am," I answered, stepping to his side. "What is the
matter?"

"Help me to a seat," he said, in the same hoarse, frightened voice.

"I am a sick man; a very sick man, Hump," he said, as he left my
sustaining grip and sank into a chair.

His head dropped forward on the table and was buried in his hands.
From time to time it rocked back and forward as with pain. Once,
when he half raised it, I saw the sweat standing in heavy drops on
his forehead about the roots of his hair.

"I am a sick man, a very sick man," he repeated again, and yet once
again.

"What is the matter?" I asked, resting my hand on his shoulder.
"What can I do for you?"

But he shook my hand off with an irritated movement, and for a long
time I stood by his side in silence. Maud was looking on, her face
awed and frightened. What had happened to him we could not
imagine.

"Hump," he said at last, "I must get into my bunk. Lend me a hand.
I'll be all right in a little while. It's those damn headaches, I
believe. I was afraid of them. I had a feeling - no, I don't know
what I'm talking about. Help me into my bunk."

But when I got him into his bunk he again buried his face in his
hands, covering his eyes, and as I turned to go I could hear him
murmuring, "I am a sick man, a very sick man."

Maud looked at me inquiringly as I emerged. I shook my head,
saying:

"Something has happened to him. What, I don't know. He is
helpless, and frightened, I imagine, for the first time in his
life. It must have occurred before he received the knife-thrust,
which made only a superficial wound. You must have seen what
happened."

She shook her head. "I saw nothing. It is just as mysterious to
me. He suddenly released me and staggered away. But what shall we
do? What shall I do?"

"If you will wait, please, until I come back," I answered.

I went on deck. Louis was at the wheel.

"You may go for'ard and turn in," I said, taking it from him.

He was quick to obey, and I found myself alone on the deck of the
Ghost. As quietly as was possible, I clewed up the topsails,
lowered the flying jib and staysail, backed the jib over, and
flattened the mainsail. Then I went below to Maud. I placed my
finger on my lips for silence, and entered Wolf Larsen's room. He
was in the same position in which I had left him, and his head was
rocking - almost writhing - from side to side.

"Anything I can do for you?" I asked.

He made no reply at first, but on my repeating the question he
answered, "No, no; I'm all right. Leave me alone till morning."

But as I turned to go I noted that his head had resumed its rocking
motion. Maud was waiting patiently for me, and I took notice, with
a thrill of joy, of the queenly poise of her head and her glorious,
calm eyes. Calm and sure they were as her spirit itself.

"Will you trust yourself to me for a journey of six hundred miles
or so?" I asked.

"You mean - ?" she asked, and I knew she had guessed aright.

"Yes, I mean just that," I replied. "There is nothing left for us
but the open boat."

"For me, you mean," she said. "You are certainly as safe here as
you have been."

"No, there is nothing left for us but the open boat," I iterated
stoutly. "Will you please dress as warmly as you can, at once, and
make into a bundle whatever you wish to bring with you."

"And make all haste," I added, as she turned toward her state-room.

The lazarette was directly beneath the cabin, and, opening the
trap-door in the floor and carrying a candle with me, I dropped
down and began overhauling the ship's stores. I selected mainly
from the canned goods, and by the time I was ready, willing hands
were extended from above to receive what I passed up.

We worked in silence. I helped myself also to blankets, mittens,
oilskins, caps, and such things, from the slop-chest. It was no
light adventure, this trusting ourselves in a small boat to so raw
and stormy a sea, and it was imperative that we should guard
ourselves against the cold and wet.

We worked feverishly at carrying our plunder on deck and depositing
it amidships, so feverishly that Maud, whose strength was hardly a
positive quantity, had to give over, exhausted, and sit on the
steps at the break of the poop. This did not serve to recover her,
and she lay on her back, on the hard deck, arms stretched out, and
whole body relaxed. It was a trick I remembered of my sister, and
I knew she would soon be herself again. I knew, also, that weapons
would not come in amiss, and I re-entered Wolf Larsen's state-room
to get his rifle and shot-gun. I spoke to him, but he made no
answer, though his head was still rocking from side to side and he
was not asleep.

"Good-bye, Lucifer," I whispered to myself as I softly closed the
door.

Next to obtain was a stock of ammunition, - an easy matter, though
I had to enter the steerage companion-way to do it. Here the
hunters stored the ammunition-boxes they carried in the boats, and
here, but a few feet from their noisy revels, I took possession of
two boxes.

Next, to lower a boat. Not so simple a task for one man. Having
cast off the lashings, I hoisted first on the forward tackle, then
on the aft, till the boat cleared the rail, when I lowered away,
one tackle and then the other, for a couple of feet, till it hung
snugly, above the water, against the schooner's side. I made
certain that it contained the proper equipment of oars, rowlocks,
and sail. Water was a consideration, and I robbed every boat
aboard of its breaker. As there were nine boats all told, it meant
that we should have plenty of water, and ballast as well, though
there was the chance that the boat would be overloaded, what of the
generous supply of other things I was taking.

While Maud was passing me the provisions and I was storing them in
the boat, a sailor came on deck from the forecastle. He stood by
the weather rail for a time (we were lowering over the lee rail),
and then sauntered slowly amidships, where he again paused and
stood facing the wind, with his back toward us. I could hear my
heart beating as I crouched low in the boat. Maud had sunk down
upon the deck and was, I knew, lying motionless, her body in the
shadow of the bulwark. But the man never turned, and, after
stretching his arms above his head and yawning audibly, he retraced
his steps to the forecastle scuttle and disappeared.

A few minutes sufficed to finish the loading, and I lowered the
boat into the water. As I helped Maud over the rail and felt her
form close to mine, it was all I could do to keep from crying out,
"I love you! I love you!" Truly Humphrey Van Weyden was at last
in love, I thought, as her fingers clung to mine while I lowered
her down to the boat. I held on to the rail with one hand and
supported her weight with the other, and I was proud at the moment
of the feat. It was a strength I had not possessed a few months
before, on the day I said good-bye to Charley Furuseth and started
for San Francisco on the ill-fated Martinez.

As the boat ascended on a sea, her feet touched and I released her
hands. I cast off the tackles and leaped after her. I had never
rowed in my life, but I put out the oars and at the expense of much
effort got the boat clear of the Ghost. Then I experimented with
the sail. I had seen the boat-steerers and hunters set their
spritsails many times, yet this was my first attempt. What took
them possibly two minutes took me twenty, but in the end I
succeeded in setting and trimming it, and with the steering-oar in
my hands hauled on the wind.

"There lies Japan," I remarked, "straight before us."

"Humphrey Van Weyden," she said, "you are a brave man."

"Nay," I answered, "it is you who are a brave woman."

We turned our heads, swayed by a common impulse to see the last of
the Ghost. Her low hull lifted and rolled to windward on a sea;
her canvas loomed darkly in the night; her lashed wheel creaked as
the rudder kicked; then sight and sound of her faded away, and we
were alone on the dark sea.

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The Sea Wolf - Chapter XXVII The Sea Wolf - Chapter XXVII

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Day broke, grey and chill. The boat was close-hauled on a freshbreeze and the compass indicated that we were just making thecourse which would bring us to Japan. Though stoutly mittened, myfingers were cold, and they pained from the grip on the steering-oar. My feet were stinging from the bite of the frost, and I hopedfervently that the sun would shine.Before me, in the bottom of the boat, lay Maud. She, at least, waswarm, for under her and over her were thick blankets. The top oneI had drawn over her face to shelter it from the
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"You've been on deck, Mr. Van Weyden," Wolf Larsen said, thefollowing morning at the breakfast-table, "How do things look?""Clear enough," I answered, glancing at the sunshine which streameddown the open companion-way. "Fair westerly breeze, with a promiseof stiffening, if Louis predicts correctly."He nodded his head in a pleased way. "Any signs of fog?""Thick banks in the north and north-west."He nodded his head again, evincing even greater satisfaction thanbefore."What of the Macedonia?""Not sighted," I answered.I could have sworn his face fell at the intelligence, but why heshould be disappointed I could not conceive.I was soon to learn. "Smoke ho!"
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