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The Sea Wolf 82







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The Sea Wolf




The shark, a sixteen-footer, was hoisted up against the main-rigging. Its jaws were pried apart to their greatest extension, and a stout stake, sharpened at both ends, was so inserted that when the pries were removed the spread jaws were fixed upon it. This accomplished, the hook was cut out. The shark dropped back into the sea, helpless, yet with its full strength, doomed--to lingering starvation--a living death less meet for it than for the man who devised the punishment.

CHAPTER XXII

I knew what it was as she came toward me. For ten minutes I had watched her talking earnestly with the engineer, and now, with a sign for silence, I drew her out of earshot of the helmsman. Her face was white and set; her large eyes, larger than usual what of the purpose in them, looked penetratingly into mine. I felt rather timid and apprehensive, for she had come to search Humphrey Van Weydens soul, and Humphrey Van Weyden had nothing of which to be particularly proud since his advent on the Ghost. We walked to the break of the poop, where she turned and faced me. I glanced around to see that no one was within hearing distance. "What is it?" I asked gently; but the expression of determination on her face did not relax. "I can readily understand," she began, "that this mornings affair was largely an accident; but I have been talking with Mr. Haskins. He tells me that the day we were rescued, even while I was in the cabin, two men were drowned, deliberately drowned--murdered." There was a query in her voice, and she faced me accusingly, as though I were guilty of the deed, or at least a party to it. "The information is quite correct," I answered. "The two men were murdered." "And you permitted it!" she cried. "I was unable to prevent it, is a better way of phrasing it," I replied, still gently. "But you tried to prevent it?" There was an emphasis on the "tried," and a pleading little note in her voice. "Oh, but you didnt," she hurried on, divining my answer. "But why didnt you?" I shrugged my shoulders. "You must remember, Miss Brewster, that you are a new inhabitant of this little world, and that you do not yet understand the laws which operate within it. You bring with you certain fine conceptions of humanity, manhood, conduct, and such things; but here you will find them misconceptions. I have found it so," I added, with an involuntary sigh. She shook her head incredulously. "What would you advise, then?" I asked. "That I should take a knife, or a gun, or an axe, and kill this man?" She half started back. "No, not that!" "Then what should I do? Kill myself?" "You speak in purely materialistic terms," she objected. "There is such a thing as moral courage, and moral courage is never without effect." "Ah," I smiled, "you advise me to kill neither him nor myself, but to let him kill me." I held up my hand as she was about to speak. "For moral courage is a worthless asset on this little floating world. Leach, one of the men who were murdered, had moral courage to an unusual degree. So had the other man, Johnson. Not only did it not stand them in good stead, but it destroyed them. And so with me if I should exercise what little moral courage I may possess. "You must understand, Miss Brewster, and understand clearly, that this man is a monster. He is without conscience. Nothing is sacred to him, nothing is too terrible for him to do. It was due to his whim that I was detained aboard in the first place. It is due to his whim that I am still alive. I do nothing, can do nothing, because I am a slave to this monster, as you are now a slave to him; because I desire to live, as you will desire to live; because I cannot fight and overcome him, just as you will not be able to fight and overcome him." She waited for me to go on. "What remains? Mine is the role of the weak. I remain silent and suffer ignominy, as you will remain silent and suffer ignominy. And it is well. It is the best we can do if we wish to live. The battle is not

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