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The Sea Wolf 33







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Books:

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The Sea Wolf




into his soul-stuff as he made a practice of groping in the soul-stuff of others. I was exploring virgin territory. A strange, a terribly strange, region was unrolling itself before my eyes. "In as few words as possible," he began, "Spencer puts it something like this: First, a man must act for his own benefit--to do this is to be moral and good. Next, he must act for the benefit of his children. And third, he must act for the benefit of his race." "And the highest, finest, right conduct," I interjected, "is that act which benefits at the same time the man, his children, and his race." "I wouldnt stand for that," he replied. "Couldnt see the necessity for it, nor the common sense. I cut out the race and the children. I would sacrifice nothing for them. Its just so much slush and sentiment, and you must see it yourself, at least for one who does not believe in eternal life. With immortality before me, altruism would be a paying business proposition. I might elevate my soul to all kinds of altitudes. But with nothing eternal before me but death, given for a brief spell this yeasty crawling and squirming which is called life, why, it would be immoral for me to perform any act that was a sacrifice. Any sacrifice that makes me lose one crawl or squirm is foolish,--and not only foolish, for it is a wrong against myself and a wicked thing. I must not lose one crawl or squirm if I am to get the most out of the ferment. Nor will the eternal movelessness that is coming to me be made easier or harder by the sacrifices or selfishnesses of the time when I was yeasty and acrawl." "Then you are an individualist, a materialist, and, logically, a hedonist." "Big words," he smiled. "But what is a hedonist?" He nodded agreement when I had given the definition. "And you are also," I continued, "a man one could not trust in the least thing where it was possible for a selfish interest to intervene?" "Now youre beginning to understand," he said, brightening. "You are a man utterly without what the world calls morals?" "Thats it." "A man of whom to be always afraid--" "Thats the way to put it." "As one is afraid of a snake, or a tiger, or a shark?" "Now you know me," he said. "And you know me as I am generally known. Other men call me Wolf." "You are a sort of monster," I added audaciously, "a Caliban who has pondered Setebos, and who acts as you act, in idle moments, by whim and fancy." His brow clouded at the allusion. He did not understand, and I quickly learned that he did not know the poem. "Im just reading Browning," he confessed, "and its pretty tough. I havent got very far along, and as it is Ive about lost my bearings." Not to be tiresome, I shall say that I fetched the book from his state-room and read "Caliban" aloud. He was delighted. It was a primitive mode of reasoning and of looking at things that he understood thoroughly. He interrupted again and again with comment and criticism. When I finished, he had me read it over a second time, and a third. We fell into discussion--philosophy, science, evolution, religion. He betrayed the inaccuracies of the self-read man, and, it must be granted, the sureness and directness of the primitive mind. The very simplicity of his reasoning was its strength, and his materialism was far more compelling than the subtly complex materialism of Charley Furuseth. Not that I--a confirmed and, as Furuseth phrased it, a temperamental idealist-- was to be compelled; but that Wolf Larsen stormed the last strongholds of my faith with a vigour that received respect, while not accorded conviction. Time passed. Supper was at hand and the table not laid. I became restless and anxious, and when Thomas Mugridge glared down the companion-way, sick and angry of countenance, I prepared to go about my duties. But Wolf Larsen cried out to him: "Cooky, youve got to hustle to-night. Im busy with Hump, and youll do the best you can without him." And again the unprecedented was established. That night I sat at table with the captain and the hunters, while Thomas Mugridge waited on us and washed the dishes afterward--a whim, a Caliban- mood of Wolf

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