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The Sea Wolf 13

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Martin Eden

The Pickwick Papers

The Sea Wolf

been granite for all the light and warmth of a human soul they contained. One may see the soul stir in some mens eyes, but his were bleak, and cold, and grey as the sea itself. "Well?" "Yes," I said. "Say yes, sir." "Yes, sir," I corrected. "What is your name?" "Van Weyden, sir." "First name?" "Humphrey, sir; Humphrey Van Weyden." "Age?" "Thirty-five, sir." "Thatll do. Go to the cook and learn your duties." And thus it was that I passed into a state of involuntary servitude to Wolf Larsen. He was stronger than I, that was all. But it was very unreal at the time. It is no less unreal now that I look back upon it. It will always be to me a monstrous, inconceivable thing, a horrible nightmare. "Hold on, dont go yet." I stopped obediently in my walk toward the galley. "Johansen, call all hands. Now that weve everything cleaned up, well have the funeral and get the decks cleared of useless lumber." While Johansen was summoning the watch below, a couple of sailors, under the captains direction, laid the canvas-swathed corpse upon a hatch-cover. On either side the deck, against the rail and bottoms up, were lashed a number of small boats. Several men picked up the hatch-cover with its ghastly freight, carried it to the lee side, and rested it on the boats, the feet pointing overboard. To the feet was attached the sack of coal which the cook had fetched. I had always conceived a burial at sea to be a very solemn and awe- inspiring event, but I was quickly disillusioned, by this burial at any rate. One of the hunters, a little dark-eyed man whom his mates called "Smoke," was telling stories, liberally intersprinkled with oaths and obscenities; and every minute or so the group of hunters gave mouth to a laughter that sounded to me like a wolf- chorus or the barking of hell-hounds. The sailors trooped noisily aft, some of the watch below rubbing the sleep from their eyes, and talked in low tones together. There was an ominous and worried expression on their faces. It was evident that they did not like the outlook of a voyage under such a captain and begun so inauspiciously. From time to time they stole glances at Wolf Larsen, and I could see that they were apprehensive of the man. He stepped up to the hatch-cover, and all caps came off. I ran my eyes over them--twenty men all told; twenty-two including the man at the wheel and myself. I was pardonably curious in my survey, for it appeared my fate to be pent up with them on this miniature floating world for I knew not how many weeks or months. The sailors, in the main, were English and Scandinavian, and their faces seemed of the heavy, stolid order. The hunters, on the other hand, had stronger and more diversified faces, with hard lines and the marks of the free play of passions. Strange to say, and I noted it all once, Wolf Larsens features showed no such evil stamp. There seemed nothing vicious in them. True, there were lines, but they were the lines of decision and firmness. It seemed, rather, a frank and open countenance, which frankness or openness was enhanced by the fact that he was smooth-shaven. I could hardly believe--until the next incident occurred--that it was the face of a man who could behave as he had behaved to the cabin- boy. At this moment, as he opened his mouth to speak, puff after puff struck the schooner and pressed her side under. The wind shrieked a wild song through the rigging. Some of the hunters glanced anxiously aloft. The lee rail, where the dead man lay, was buried in the sea, and as the schooner lifted and righted the water swept across the deck wetting us above our shoe-tops. A shower of rain drove down upon us, each drop stinging like a hailstone. As it passed, Wolf Larsen began to speak, the bare-headed men swaying in unison, to the heave and lunge of the deck. "I only remember one part of the service," he said, "and that is, And the body shall be cast into the sea. So cast it in." He ceased speaking. The men holding the hatch-cover seemed perplexed, puzzled no doubt by the briefness of the ceremony. He burst upon them in a fury. "Lift up that end there,

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