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The Sea Wolf 125

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Martin Eden

The Pickwick Papers

The Sea Wolf

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 ones 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 worlds ear. And so it was that she had commanded. Her sense of humour was really the artists instinct for proportion. "Im sure Ive 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. "Im so sorry," she said. "No need to be," I gulped. "It does me good. Theres too much of the schoolboy in me. All of which is neither here nor there. What weve got to do is actually and literally to clear that raffle. If youll come with me in the boat, well 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

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