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The Sea Wolf 113

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Martin Eden

The Pickwick Papers

The Sea Wolf

had used eight shells for lighting fires before I hit upon the device of banking the embers with wet moss, and there remained not over a hundred shells in the box. "We must club the seals," I announced, when convinced of my poor marksmanship. "I have heard the sealers talk about clubbing them." "They are so pretty," she objected. "I cannot bear to think of it being done. It is so directly brutal, you know; so different from shooting them." "That roof must go on," I answered grimly. "Winter is almost here. It is our lives against theirs. It is unfortunate we havent plenty of ammunition, but I think, anyway, that they suffer less from being clubbed than from being all shot up. Besides, I shall do the clubbing." "Thats just it," she began eagerly, and broke off in sudden confusion. "Of course," I began, "if you prefer--" "But what shall I be doing?" she interrupted, with that softness I knew full well to be insistence. "Gathering firewood and cooking dinner," I answered lightly. She shook her head. "It is too dangerous for you to attempt alone." "I know, I know," she waived my protest. "I am only a weak woman, but just my small assistance may enable you to escape disaster." "But the clubbing?" I suggested. "Of course, you will do that. I shall probably scream. Ill look away when--" "The danger is most serious," I laughed. "I shall use my judgment when to look and when not to look," she replied with a grand air. The upshot of the affair was that she accompanied me next morning. I rowed into the adjoining cove and up to the edge of the beach. There were seals all about us in the water, and the bellowing thousands on the beach compelled us to shout at each other to make ourselves heard. "I know men club them," I said, trying to reassure myself, and gazing doubtfully at a large bull, not thirty feet away, upreared on his fore-flippers and regarding me intently. "But the question is, How do they club them?" "Let us gather tundra grass and thatch the roof," Maud said. She was as frightened as I at the prospect, and we had reason to be gazing at close range at the gleaming teeth and dog-like mouths. "I always thought they were afraid of men," I said. "How do I know they are not afraid?" I queried a moment later, after having rowed a few more strokes along the beach. "Perhaps, if I were to step boldly ashore, they would cut for it, and I could not catch up with one." And still I hesitated. "I heard of a man, once, who invaded the nesting grounds of wild geese," Maud said. "They killed him." "The geese?" "Yes, the geese. My brother told me about it when I was a little girl." "But I know men club them," I persisted. "I think the tundra grass will make just as good a roof," she said. Far from her intention, her words were maddening me, driving me on. I could not play the coward before her eyes. "Here goes," I said, backing water with one oar and running the bow ashore. I stepped out and advanced valiantly upon a long-maned bull in the midst of his wives. I was armed with the regular club with which the boat-pullers killed the wounded seals gaffed aboard by the hunters. It was only a foot and a half long, and in my superb ignorance I never dreamed that the club used ashore when raiding the rookeries measured four to five feet. The cows lumbered out of my way, and the distance between me and the bull decreased. He raised himself on his flippers with an angry movement. We were a dozen feet apart. Still I advanced steadily, looking for him to turn tail at any moment and run. At six feet the panicky thought rushed into my mind, What if he will not run? Why, then I shall club him, came the answer. In my fear I had forgotten that I was there to get the bull instead of to make him run. And just then he gave a snort and a snarl and rushed at me. His eyes were blazing, his mouth was wide open; the teeth gleamed cruelly white. Without shame, I confess that it was I who turned and footed it. He ran awkwardly, but he ran well.

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