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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Sea Wolf - Chapter XXXIII
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The Sea Wolf - Chapter XXXIII Post by :styles98 Category :Long Stories Author :Jack London Date :April 2011 Read :888

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The Sea Wolf - Chapter XXXIII

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.

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