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The Sea Wolf 37







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The Sea Wolf




for myself; and out of the courage of fear I evolved the plan of fighting Thomas Mugridge with his own weapons. I borrowed a whetstone from Johansen. Louis, the boat-steerer, had already begged me for condensed milk and sugar. The lazarette, where such delicacies were stored, was situated beneath the cabin floor. Watching my chance, I stole five cans of the milk, and that night, when it was Louiss watch on deck, I traded them with him for a dirk as lean and cruel-looking as Thomas Mugridges vegetable knife. It was rusty and dull, but I turned the grindstone while Louis gave it an edge. I slept more soundly than usual that night. Next morning, after breakfast, Thomas Mugridge began his whet, whet, whet. I glanced warily at him, for I was on my knees taking the ashes from the stove. When I returned from throwing them overside, he was talking to Harrison, whose honest yokels face was filled with fascination and wonder. "Yes," Mugridge was saying, "an wot does is worship do but give me two years in Reading. But blimey if I cared. The other mug was fixed plenty. Should a seen im. Knife just like this. I stuck it in, like into soft butter, an the wy e squealed was bettern a tu-penny gaff." He shot a glance in my direction to see if I was taking it in, and went on. "I didnt mean it Tommy, e was snifflin; so elp me Gawd, I didnt mean it! "Ill fix yer bloody well right, I sez, an kept right after im. I cut im in ribbons, thats wot I did, an e a-squealin all the time. Once e got is and on the knife an tried to old it. Ad is fingers around it, but I pulled it through, cuttin to the bone. O, e was a sight, I can tell yer." A call from the mate interrupted the gory narrative, and Harrison went aft. Mugridge sat down on the raised threshold to the galley and went on with his knife-sharpening. I put the shovel away and calmly sat down on the coal-box facing him. He favoured me with a vicious stare. Still calmly, though my heart was going pitapat, I pulled out Louiss dirk and began to whet it on the stone. I had looked for almost any sort of explosion on the Cockneys part, but to my surprise he did not appear aware of what I was doing. He went on whetting his knife. So did I. And for two hours we sat there, face to face, whet, whet, whet, till the news of it spread abroad and half the ships company was crowding the galley doors to see the sight. Encouragement and advice were freely tendered, and Jock Horner, the quiet, self-spoken hunter who looked as though he would not harm a mouse, advised me to leave the ribs alone and to thrust upward for the abdomen, at the same time giving what he called the "Spanish twist" to the blade. Leach, his bandaged arm prominently to the fore, begged me to leave a few remnants of the cook for him; and Wolf Larsen paused once or twice at the break of the poop to glance curiously at what must have been to him a stirring and crawling of the yeasty thing he knew as life. And I make free to say that for the time being life assumed the same sordid values to me. There was nothing pretty about it, nothing divine--only two cowardly moving things that sat whetting steel upon stone, and a group of other moving things, cowardly and otherwise, that looked on. Half of them, I am sure, were anxious to see us shedding each others blood. It would have been entertainment. And I do not think there was one who would have interfered had we closed in a death-struggle. On the other hand, the whole thing was laughable and childish. Whet, whet, whet,--Humphrey Van Weyden sharpening his knife in a ships galley and trying its edge with his thumb! Of all situations this was the most inconceivable. I know that my own kind could not have believed it possible. I had not been called "Sissy" Van Weyden all my days without reason, and that "Sissy" Van Weyden should be capable of doing this thing was a revelation

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