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The Sea Wolf 2

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Martin Eden

The Pickwick Papers

The Sea Wolf

to us from out of the fog. "Thats a ferry-boat of some sort," the new-comer said, indicating a whistle off to the right. "And there! Dye hear that? Blown by mouth. Some scow schooner, most likely. Better watch out, Mr. Schooner-man. Ah, I thought so. Now hells a poppin for somebody!" The unseen ferry-boat was blowing blast after blast, and the mouth- blown horn was tooting in terror-stricken fashion. "And now theyre payin their respects to each other and tryin to get clear," the red-faced man went on, as the hurried whistling ceased. His face was shining, his eyes flashing with excitement as he translated into articulate language the speech of the horns and sirens. "Thats a steam-siren a-goin it over there to the left. And you hear that fellow with a frog in his throat--a steam schooner as near as I can judge, crawlin in from the Heads against the tide." A shrill little whistle, piping as if gone mad, came from directly ahead and from very near at hand. Gongs sounded on the Martinez. Our paddle-wheels stopped, their pulsing beat died away, and then they started again. The shrill little whistle, like the chirping of a cricket amid the cries of great beasts, shot through the fog from more to the side and swiftly grew faint and fainter. I looked to my companion for enlightenment. "One of them dare-devil launches," he said. "I almost wish wed sunk him, the little rip! Theyre the cause of more trouble. And what good are they? Any jackass gets aboard one and runs it from hell to breakfast, blowin his whistle to beat the band and tellin the rest of the world to look out for him, because hes comin and cant look out for himself! Because hes comin! And youve got to look out, too! Right of way! Common decency! They dont know the meanin of it!" I felt quite amused at his unwarranted choler, and while he stumped indignantly up and down I fell to dwelling upon the romance of the fog. And romantic it certainly was--the fog, like the grey shadow of infinite mystery, brooding over the whirling speck of earth; and men, mere motes of light and sparkle, cursed with an insane relish for work, riding their steeds of wood and steel through the heart of the mystery, groping their way blindly through the Unseen, and clamouring and clanging in confident speech the while their hearts are heavy with incertitude and fear. The voice of my companion brought me back to myself with a laugh. I too had been groping and floundering, the while I thought I rode clear-eyed through the mystery. "Hello! somebody comin our way," he was saying. "And dye hear that? Hes comin fast. Walking right along. Guess he dont hear us yet. Winds in wrong direction." The fresh breeze was blowing right down upon us, and I could hear the whistle plainly, off to one side and a little ahead. "Ferry-boat?" I asked. He nodded, then added, "Or he wouldnt be keepin up such a clip." He gave a short chuckle. "Theyre gettin anxious up there." I glanced up. The captain had thrust his head and shoulders out of the pilot-house, and was staring intently into the fog as though by sheer force of will he could penetrate it. His face was anxious, as was the face of my companion, who had stumped over to the rail and was gazing with a like intentness in the direction of the invisible danger. Then everything happened, and with inconceivable rapidity. The fog seemed to break away as though split by a wedge, and the bow of a steamboat emerged, trailing fog-wreaths on either side like seaweed on the snout of Leviathan. I could see the pilot-house and a white-bearded man leaning partly out of it, on his elbows. He was clad in a blue uniform, and I remember noting how trim and quiet he was. His quietness, under the circumstances, was terrible. He accepted Destiny, marched hand in hand with it, and coolly measured the stroke. As he leaned there, he ran a calm and speculative eye over us, as though to determine the precise point of the collision, and took no notice whatever when our pilot, white with rage, shouted, "Now youve done it!" On looking back, I realize that the remark was too obvious to make rejoinder necessary. "Grab hold of

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