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The Sea Wolf 41







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The Sea Wolf




childs life? of fish diet and coarse living? of going out with the boats from the time I could crawl? of my brothers, who went away one by one to the deep-sea farming and never came back? of myself, unable to read or write, cabin-boy at the mature age of ten on the coastwise, old-country ships? of the rough fare and rougher usage, where kicks and blows were bed and breakfast and took the place of speech, and fear and hatred and pain were my only soul-experiences? I do not care to remember. A madness comes up in my brain even now as I think of it. But there were coastwise skippers I would have returned and killed when a mans strength came to me, only the lines of my life were cast at the time in other places. I did return, not long ago, but unfortunately the skippers were dead, all but one, a mate in the old days, a skipper when I met him, and when I left him a cripple who would never walk again." "But you who read Spencer and Darwin and have never seen the inside of a school, how did you learn to read and write?" I queried. "In the English merchant service. Cabin-boy at twelve, ships boy at fourteen, ordinary seamen at sixteen, able seaman at seventeen, and cock of the focsle, infinite ambition and infinite loneliness, receiving neither help nor sympathy, I did it all for myself--navigation, mathematics, science, literature, and what not. And of what use has it been? Master and owner of a ship at the top of my life, as you say, when I am beginning to diminish and die. Paltry, isnt it? And when the sun was up I was scorched, and because I had no root I withered away." "But history tells of slaves who rose to the purple," I chided. "And history tells of opportunities that came to the slaves who rose to the purple," he answered grimly. "No man makes opportunity. All the great men ever did was to know it when it came to them. The Corsican knew. I have dreamed as greatly as the Corsican. I should have known the opportunity, but it never came. The thorns sprung up and choked me. And, Hump, I can tell you that you know more about me than any living man, except my own brother." "And what is he? And where is he?" "Master of the steamship Macedonia, seal-hunter," was the answer. "We will meet him most probably on the Japan coast. Men call him Death Larsen." "Death Larsen!" I involuntarily cried. "Is he like you?" "Hardly. He is a lump of an animal without any head. He has all my--my--" "Brutishness," I suggested. "Yes,--thank you for the word,--all my brutishness, but he can scarcely read or write." "And he has never philosophized on life," I added. "No," Wolf Larsen answered, with an indescribable air of sadness. "And he is all the happier for leaving life alone. He is too busy living it to think about it. My mistake was in ever opening the books."

CHAPTER XI

The Ghost has attained the southernmost point of the arc she is describing across the Pacific, and is already beginning to edge away to the west and north toward some lone island, it is rumoured, where she will fill her water-casks before proceeding to the seasons hunt along the coast of Japan. The hunters have experimented and practised with their rifles and shotguns till they are satisfied, and the boat-pullers and steerers have made their spritsails, bound the oars and rowlocks in leather and sennit so that they will make no noise when creeping on the seals, and put their boats in apple-pie order--to use Leachs homely phrase. His arm, by the way, has healed nicely, though the scar will remain all his life. Thomas Mugridge lives in mortal fear of him, and is afraid to venture on deck after dark. There are two or three standing quarrels in the forecastle. Louis tells me that the gossip of the sailors finds its way aft, and that two of the telltales have been badly beaten by their mates. He shakes his head dubiously over the outlook for the man Johnson, who is boat- puller in the same boat with him. Johnson has been guilty of speaking his mind too freely, and has collided two or three times with Wolf

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