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The Sea Wolf 22

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Martin Eden

The Pickwick Papers

The Sea Wolf

was once a private yacht, and was built for speed. Her lines and fittings--though I know nothing about such things--speak for themselves. Johnson was telling me about her in a short chat I had with him during yesterdays second dog-watch. He spoke enthusiastically, with the love for a fine craft such as some men feel for horses. He is greatly disgusted with the outlook, and I am given to understand that Wolf Larsen bears a very unsavoury reputation among the sealing captains. It was the Ghost herself that lured Johnson into signing for the voyage, but he is already beginning to repent. As he told me, the Ghost is an eighty-ton schooner of a remarkably fine model. Her beam, or width, is twenty-three feet, and her length a little over ninety feet. A lead keel of fabulous but unknown weight makes her very stable, while she carries an immense spread of canvas. From the deck to the truck of the maintopmast is something over a hundred feet, while the foremast with its topmast is eight or ten feet shorter. I am giving these details so that the size of this little floating world which holds twenty-two men may be appreciated. It is a very little world, a mote, a speck, and I marvel that men should dare to venture the sea on a contrivance so small and fragile. Wolf Larsen has, also, a reputation for reckless carrying on of sail. I overheard Henderson and another of the hunters, Standish, a Californian, talking about it. Two years ago he dismasted the Ghost in a gale on Bering Sea, whereupon the present masts were put in, which are stronger and heavier in every way. He is said to have remarked, when he put them in, that he preferred turning her over to losing the sticks. Every man aboard, with the exception of Johansen, who is rather overcome by his promotion, seems to have an excuse for having sailed on the Ghost. Half the men forward are deep-water sailors, and their excuse is that they did not know anything about her or her captain. And those who do know, whisper that the hunters, while excellent shots, were so notorious for their quarrelsome and rascally proclivities that they could not sign on any decent schooner. I have made the acquaintance of another one of the crew,--Louis he is called, a rotund and jovial-faced Nova Scotia Irishman, and a very sociable fellow, prone to talk as long as he can find a listener. In the afternoon, while the cook was below asleep and I was peeling the everlasting potatoes, Louis dropped into the galley for a "yarn." His excuse for being aboard was that he was drunk when he signed. He assured me again and again that it was the last thing in the world he would dream of doing in a sober moment. It seems that he has been seal-hunting regularly each season for a dozen years, and is accounted one of the two or three very best boat-steerers in both fleets. "Ah, my boy," he shook his head ominously at me, "tis the worst schooner ye could iv selected, nor were ye drunk at the time as was I. Tis sealin is the sailors paradise--on other ships than this. The mate was the first, but mark me words, therell be more dead men before the trip is done with. Hist, now, between you an meself and the stanchion there, this Wolf Larsen is a regular devil, an the Ghostll be a hell-ship like shes always ben since he had hold iv her. Dont I know? Dont I know? Dont I remember him in Hakodate two years gone, when he had a row an shot four iv his men? Wasnt I a-layin on the Emma L., not three hundred yards away? An there was a man the same year he killed with a blow iv his fist. Yes, sir, killed im dead-oh. His head must iv smashed like an eggshell. An wasnt there the Governor of Kura Island, an the Chief iv Police, Japanese gentlemen, sir, an didnt they come aboard the Ghost as his guests, a-bringin their wives along-- wee an pretty little bits of things like you see em painted on fans. An as he was a-gettin under way, didnt the fond husbands get left astern-like in their sampan, as it might be by accident? An

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