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The Sea Wolf 53







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The Sea Wolf




the rail. A second hand took form in the darkness beside it. I watched, fascinated. What visitant from the gloom of the deep was I to behold? Whatever it was, I knew that it was climbing aboard by the log-line. I saw a head, the hair wet and straight, shape itself, and then the unmistakable eyes and face of Wolf Larsen. His right cheek was red with blood, which flowed from some wound in the head. He drew himself inboard with a quick effort, and arose to his feet, glancing swiftly, as he did so, at the man at the wheel, as though to assure himself of his identity and that there was nothing to fear from him. The sea-water was streaming from him. It made little audible gurgles which distracted me. As he stepped toward me I shrank back instinctively, for I saw that in his eyes which spelled death. "All right, Hump," he said in a low voice. "Wheres the mate?" I shook my head. "Johansen!" he called softly. "Johansen!" "Where is he?" he demanded of Harrison. The young fellow seemed to have recovered his composure, for he answered steadily enough, "I dont know, sir. I saw him go forard a little while ago." "So did I go forard. But you will observe that I didnt come back the way I went. Can you explain it?" "You must have been overboard, sir." "Shall I look for him in the steerage, sir?" I asked. Wolf Larsen shook his head. "You wouldnt find him, Hump. But youll do. Come on. Never mind your bedding. Leave it where it is." I followed at his heels. There was nothing stirring amidships. "Those cursed hunters," was his comment. "Too damned fat and lazy to stand a four-hour watch." But on the forecastle-head we found three sailors asleep. He turned them over and looked at their faces. They composed the watch on deck, and it was the ships custom, in good weather, to let the watch sleep with the exception of the officer, the helmsman, and the look-out. "Whos look-out?" he demanded. "Me, sir," answered Holyoak, one of the deep-water sailors, a slight tremor in his voice. "I winked off just this very minute, sir. Im sorry, sir. It wont happen again." "Did you hear or see anything on deck?" "No, sir, I--" But Wolf Larsen had turned away with a snort of disgust, leaving the sailor rubbing his eyes with surprise at having been let of so easily. "Softly, now," Wolf Larsen warned me in a whisper, as he doubled his body into the forecastle scuttle and prepared to descend. I followed with a quaking heart. What was to happen I knew no more than did I know what had happened. But blood had been shed, and it was through no whim of Wolf Larsen that he had gone over the side with his scalp laid open. Besides, Johansen was missing. It was my first descent into the forecastle, and I shall not soon forget my impression of it, caught as I stood on my feet at the bottom of the ladder. Built directly in the eyes of the schooner, it was of the shape of a triangle, along the three sides of which stood the bunks, in double-tier, twelve of them. It was no larger than a hall bedroom in Grub Street, and yet twelve men were herded into it to eat and sleep and carry on all the functions of living. My bedroom at home was not large, yet it could have contained a dozen similar forecastles, and taking into consideration the height of the ceiling, a score at least. It smelled sour and musty, and by the dim light of the swinging sea-lamp I saw every bit of available wall-space hung deep with sea-boots, oilskins, and garments, clean and dirty, of various sorts. These swung back and forth with every roll of the vessel, giving rise to a brushing sound, as of trees against a roof or wall. Somewhere a boot thumped loudly and at irregular intervals against the wall; and, though it was a mild night on the sea, there was a continual chorus of the creaking timbers and bulkheads and of abysmal noises beneath the flooring. The sleepers did not mind. There were eight of them,--the two watches below,--and the air was thick with the warmth and odour of their breathing, and the ear was filled

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