It is impossible to say how first the idea entered my brain; but once conceived, it haunted me day and night. Object there was none. Passion there was none. I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire. I think it was his eye! yes, it was this! He had the eye of a vulture —a pale blue eye, with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold; and so by degrees —very gradually —I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye forever.
Now this is the point. You fancy me mad. Madmen know nothing. But you should have seen me. You should have seen how wisely I proceeded —with what caution —with what foresight —with what dissimulation I went to work! I was never kinder to the old man than during the whole week before I killed him. And every night, about midnight, I turned the latch of his door and opened it —oh so gently! And then, when I had made an opening sufficient for my head, I put in a dark lantern, all closed, closed, that no light shone out, and then I thrust in my head. Oh, you would have laughed to see how cunningly I thrust it in! I moved it slowly —very, very slowly, so that I might not disturb the old man’s sleep. It took me an hour to place my whole head within the opening so far that I could see him as he lay upon his bed. Ha! would a madman have been so wise as this, And then, when my head was well in the room, I undid the lantern cautiously-oh, so cautiously —cautiously (for the hinges creaked) —I undid it just so much that a single thin ray fell upon the vulture eye. And this I did for seven long nights —every night just at midnight —but I found the eye always closed; and so it was impossible to do the work; for it was not the old man who vexed me, but his Evil Eye.
And every morning, when the day broke, I went boldly into the chamber, and spoke courageously to him, calling him by name in a hearty tone, and inquiring how he has passed the night. So you see he would have been a very profound old man, indeed, to suspect that every night, just at twelve, I looked in upon him while he slept.
Upon the eighth night I was more than usually cautious in opening the door. ...
Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly. There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth. That is nothing. I never seen anybody but lied, one time or another, without it was Aunt Polly, or the widow, or maybe Mary. Aunt Polly- Tom’s Aunt Polly, she is- and Mary, and the Widow Douglas, is all told about in that book- which is mostly a true book; with some stretchers, as I said before.
Now the way that the book winds up, is this: Tom and me found the money that the robbers hid in the cave, and it made us rich. We got six thousand dollars apiece- all gold. It was an awful sight of money when it was piled up. Well, Judge Thatcher, he took it and put it out at interest, and it fetched us a dollar a day apiece, all the year round- more than a body could tell what to do with. The Widow Douglas, she took me for her son, and allowed she would sivilize me; but it was rough living in the house all the time, considering how dismal regular and decent the widow was in all her ways; and so when I couldn’t stand it no longer, I lit out. I got into my old rags, and my sugar-hogshead again, and was free and satisfied. But Tom Sawyer, he hunted me up and said he was going to start a band of robbers and I might join if I would go back to the widow and be respectable. So I went back.
The widow she cried over me, and called me a poor lost lamb, and she called me a lot of other names, too, but she never meant no harm by it. She put me in them new clothes again, and I couldn’t do nothing but sweat and sweat, and feel all cramped up. Well, then, the old thing commenced again. The widow rung a bell for supper, and you had to come to time. When you got to the table you couldn’t go right to eating, but you had to wait for the widow to tuck down her head and grumble a little over the victuals, though there wasn’t really anything the matter with them. That is, nothing only everything was cooked by itself. In a barrel of odds and ends it is different; things get mixed up, and the juice kind of swaps around, and the things go better.
After supper she got out her book and learned me about Moses and the(Bulrushers; and I was in a sweat to find out all about him; but by-and-by she let it out that Moses had been dead a considerable long time; so then I didn’t care no more about him; because I don’t take no stock in dead people.
Pretty soon I wanted to smoke, and asked the widow to let me. But she wouldn’t. She said it was a mean practice and wasn’t clean, and I must try to not do it any more. That is just the way with some people. They get down on the thing when they don’t know nothing about it. Here she was a bothering about Moses, which was no kin to her, and no use to anybody, being gone, you see, yet finding a power of fault with me for doing a thing that had some good in it. And she took snuff too; of course that was all right, because she done it herself.
Her sister, Miss Watson, a tolerable slim old maid, with goggles on, had just come to live with her, and took a set at me now, with a spelling-book. She worked me middling hard for about an hour, and then the widow made her ease up. I couldn’t stood it much longer. Then for an hour it was deadly dull, and I was fidgety. Miss Watson would say, “Don’t put your feet up there, Huckleberry”; and “don’t scrunch up like that, Huckleberry- set up straight”; and pretty soon she would say, “Don’t gap and stretch like that, Huckleberry- why don’t you try to behave?” Then she told me all about the bad place, and I said I wished I was there. She got mad, then, but I didn’t mean no harm. All I wanted was to go somewheres; all I wanted was a change, I warn’t particular. She said it was wicked to say what I said; said she wouldn’t say it for the whole world; she was going to live so as to go to the good place. Well, I couldn’t see no advantage in going where she was going, so I made up my mind I wouldn’t try for it. But I never said so, because it would only make trouble, and wouldn’t do no good.
Now she had got a start, and she went on and told me all about the good place. She said all a body would have to do there was to go around all day long with a harp and sing, forever and ever. So I didn’t think much of it. But I never said so. I asked her if she reckoned Tom Sawyer would go there, and, she said, not by a considerable sight. I was glad about that, because I wanted him and me to be together.
Miss Watson she kept pecking at me, and it got tiresome and lonesome. Byand-by they fetched the niggers in and had prayers, and then everybody was off
to bed. I went up to my room with a piece of candle and put it on the table. Then I set down in a chair by the window and tried to think of something cheerful, but it warn’t no use. I felt so lonesome I most wished I was dead. The stars was shining, and the leaves rustled in the woods ever so mournful; and I heard an owl, away off, who-whooing about somebody that was dead, and a whippowill and a dog crying about somebody that was going to die; and the wind was trying to whisper something to me and I couldn’t make out what it was, and so it made the cold shivers run over me.
I remember him as if it were yesterday, as he came plodding to the inn door, his sea-chest following behind him in a hand-barrow; a tall, strong, heavy, nutbrown man; his tarry pigtail falling over the shoulders of his soiled blue coat; his hands fagged and scarred, with black, broken nails; and the sabre cut across one cheek, a dirty, livid white. I remember him looking round the cove and whistling to himself as he did so, and then breaking out in that old sea-song that he sang sooften afterwards:
“Fifteen men on The Dead Man’s ChestYo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!"
in the high, old tottering voice that seemed to have been tuned and broken at the capstan bars. Then he rapped on the door with a bit of stick like a handspike that he carried, and when my father appeared, called roughly for a glass of rum.
This, when it was brought to him, he drank slowly, like a connoisseur, lingering on the taste, and still looking about him at the cliffs and up at our signboard.
“This is a handy cove,” says he, at length; “and a pleasant sittyated grog-shop.
Much company, mate?” My father told him no very little company, the more was the pity.
“Well, then,” said he, “this is the berth for me. Here you, matey,” he cried to the man who trundled the barrow; “bring up alongside and help up my chest. I’ll stay here a bit,” he continued. “I’m a plain man; rum and bacon and eggs is what I want, and that head up there for to watch ships off. What you mought call me? You mought call me captain. Oh, I see what you’re at- there;” and he threw down three or four gold pieces on the threshold. “You can tell me when I’ve worked through that,” says he, looking as fierce as a commander.
And, indeed, bad as his clothes were, and coarsely as he spoke, he had none of the appearance of a man who sailed before the mast; but seemed like a mate or skipper, accustomed to be obeyed or to strike. The man who came with the barrow told us the mail had set him down the morning before at the “Royal George;” that he had inquired what inns there were along the coast, and hearing ours well spoken of, I suppose, and described as lonely, had chosen it from the others for his place of residence. And that was all we could learn of our guest.
He was a very silent man by custom. All day he hung round the cove, or upon the cliffs, with a brass telescope; all evening he sat in a corner of the parlour next the fire, and drank rum and water very strong. Mostly he would not speak when spoken to; only look up sudden and fierce, and blow through his nose like a foghorn; and we and the people who came about our house soon learned to let him be. Every day, when he came back from his stroll, he would ask if any seafaring men had gone by along the road? At first we thought it was the want of company of his own kind that made him ask this question; but at last we began to see he was desirous to avoid them. When a seaman put up at the “Admiral Benbow” (as now and then some did, making by the coast road for Bristol), he would look in at him through the curtained door before he entered the parlour; and he was always sure to be as silent as a mouse when any such was present. For me, at least, there was no secret about the matter; for I was, in a way, a sharer in his alarms. He had taken me aside one day, and promised me a silver fourpenny on the first of every month if I would only keep my “weather-eye open for a seafaring man with one leg,” and let him know the moment he appeared. Often enough, when the first of the month came round, and I applied to him for my wage, he would only blow through his nose at me, and stare me down; but before the week was out he was sure to think better of it, bring me my fourpenny piece, and repeat his orders to look out for “the seafaring man with one leg.” How that personage haunted my dreams, I need scarcely tell you. On stormy nights, when the wind shook the four corners of the house, and the surf roared along the cove and up the cliffs, I would see him in a thousand forms, and with a thousand diabolical expressions. Now the leg would be cut off at the knee, now at the hip; now he was a monstrous kind of a creature who had but the one leg, and that in the middle of his body. To see him leap and run and pursue me over hedge and ditch was the worst of nightmares. And altogether I paid pretty dear for my monthly fourpenny piece, in the shape of these abominable fancies.
But though I was so terrified by the idea of the seafaring man with one leg, I was far less afraid of the captain himself than anybody else who knew him. There were nights when he took a deal more rum and water than his head would carry; and then he would sometimes sit and sing his wicked, old, wild sea songs, minding nobody; but sometimes he would call for glasses round, and force all the trembling company to listen to his stories or bear a chorus to his singing. Often I have heard the house shaking with “Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum;” all the neighbours joining in each singing louder than the other, to avoid remark. For in these fits he was the most over-riding companion ever known; he would slap his hand on the table for silence all round; he would fly up in a passion of anger at a question, or sometimes because none was put, and so he judged the company was not following his story. Nor would he allow anyone to leave the inn till he had drunk himself sleepy and reeled off to bed.
His stories were what frightened people worst of all. Dreadful stories they were; about hanging, and walking the plank, and storms at sea, and the Dry Tortugas, and wild deeds and places on the Spanish Main. By his own account he must have lived his life among some of the wickedest men that God ever allowed upon the sea; and the language in which he told these stories shocked our plain country people almost as much as the crimes that he described. My father was always saying the inn would be ruined, for people would soon cease coming there to be tyrannised over and put down, and sent shivering to their beds; but I really believe his presence did us good. People were frightened at the time, but on looking back they rather liked it; it was a fine excitement in a quiet country life; and there was even a party of the younger men who pretended to admire him, calling him a “true sea-dog,” and a “real old salt,” and such like names, and saying there was the sort of man that made England terrible at sea.
In one way, indeed, he bade fair to ruin us; for he kept on staying week after week, and at last month after month, so that all the money had been long exhausted, and still my father never plucked up the heart to insist on having more. If ever he mentioned it, the captain blew through his nose so loudly, that you might say he roared, and stared my poor father out of the room. I have seen him wringing his hands after such a rebuff, and I am sure the annoyance and the terror he lived in must have greatly hastened his early and unhappy death.
All the time he lived with us the captain made no change whatever in his dress but to buy some stockings from a hawker. One of the cocks of his hat having fallen down, he let it hang from that day forth, though it was a great annoyance when it blew. I remember the appearance of his coat, which he patched himself upstairs in his room, and which, before the end, was nothing but patches.
He never wrote or received a letter, and he never spoke with any but the neighbours, and with these, for the most part, only when drunk on rum. The great seachest none of us had ever seen open. ...
“So, Watson,” said he, suddenly, “you do not propose to invest in South African securities?” I gave a start of astonishment. Accustomed as I was to Holmes’s curious faculties, this sudden intrusion into my most intimate thoughts was utterly inexplicable.
“How on earth do you know that?” I asked.
He wheeled round upon his stool, with a steaming test-tube in his hand, and a gleam of amusement in his deep-set eyes.
“Now, Watson, confess yourself utterly taken aback,” said he.
“I am.” “I ought to make you sign a paper to that effect.” “Why?” “Because in five minutes you will say that it is all so absurdly simple.” “I am sure that I shall say nothing of the kind.”
“You see, my dear Watson”- he propped his test-tube in the rack, and began to lecture with the air of a professor addressing his class- “it is not really difficult to construct a series of inferences, each dependent upon its predecessor and each simple in itself. If, after doing so, one simply knocks out all the central inferences and presents one’s audience with the starting-point and the conclusion, one may produce a startling, though possibly a meretricious, effect. Now, it was not really difficult, by an inspection of the groove between your left forefinger and thumb, to feel sure that you did not propose to invest your small capital in the gold fields.” “I see no connection.” “Very likely not; but I can quickly show you a close connection. Here are the missing links of the very simple chain: 1. You had chalk between your left finger and thumb when you returned from the club last night. 2. You put chalk there when you play billiards, to steady the cue. 3. You never play billiards except with Thurston. 4. You told me, four weeks ago, that Thurston had an option on some South African property which would expire in a month, and which he desired you to share with him. 5. Your check book is locked in my drawer, and you have not asked for the key. 6. You do not propose to invest your money in this manner.”
“How absurdly simple!” I cried.
“Quite so!” said he, a little nettled. “Every problem becomes very childish when once it is explained to you. Here is an unexplained one. See what you can
make of that, friend Watson.” He tossed a sheet of paper upon the table, and turned once more to his chemical analysis.
I looked with amazement at the absurd hieroglyphics upon the paper.
“Why, Holmes, it is a child’s drawing,” I cried.
“Oh, that’s your idea!” “What else should it be?” “That is what Mr. Hilton Cubitt, of Riding Thorpe Manor, Norfolk, is very anxious to know. This little conundrum came by the first post, and he was to follow by the next train. There’s a ring at the bell, Watson. I should not be very much surprised if this were he.” A heavy step was heard upon the stairs, and an instant later there entered a tall, ruddy, clean-shaven gentleman, whose clear eyes and florid cheeks told of a life led far from the fogs of Baker Street. He seemed to bring a whiff of his strong, fresh, bracing, east-coast air with him as he entered. Having shaken hands with each of us, he was about to sit down, when his eye rested upon the paper with the curious markings, which I had just examined and left upon the table.
“Well, Mr. Holmes, what do you make of these?” he cried. “They told me that you were fond of queer mysteries, and I don’t think you can find a queerer one than that. I sent the paper on ahead, so that you might have time to study it before I came.”
“It is certainly rather a curious production,” said Holmes. “At first sight it would appear to be some childish prank. It consists of a number of absurd little figures dancing across the paper upon which they are drawn. Why should you attribute any importance to so grotesque an object?” “I never should, Mr. Holmes. But my wife does. It is frightening her to death.
She says nothing, but I can see terror in her eyes. That’s why I want to sift the matter to the bottom.” Holmes held up the paper so that the sunlight shone full upon it. It was a page torn from a notebook. The markings were done in pencil, and ran in this way:
But a change came over the face of the dream, for a dream I told myself it must be. My rhythm grew shorter and shorter. I was jerked from swing to counterswing with irritating haste. I could scarcely catch my breath, so fiercely was I impelled through the heavens. The gong thundered more frequently and more furiously. I grew to await it with a nameless dread. Then it seemed as though I were being dragged over rasping sands, white and hot in the sun. This gave place to a sense of intolerable anguish. My skin was scorching in the torment of fire.
The gong clanged and knelled. The sparkling points of light flashed past me in an interminable stream, as though the whole sidereal system were dropping into the void. I gasped, caught my breath painfully, and opened my eyes. Two men were kneeling beside me, working over me. My mighty rhythm was the lift and forward plunge of a ship on the sea. The terrific gong was a frying-pan, hanging on the wall, that rattled and clattered with each leap of the ship. The rasping, scorching sands were a man’s hard hands chafing my naked chest. I squirmed under the
pain of it and half lifted my head. My chest was raw and red, and I could see tiny blood-globules starting through the torn and inflamed cuticle.
‘That’ll do, Yonson,’ onm of the men said. ‘Carn’t yer see you’ve bloomin’ well rubbed all the gent’s skin off?’ The man addressed as Yonson, a man of the heavy Scandinavian type, ceased chafing me and arose awkwardly to his feet. The man who had spoken to him was clearly a Cockney, with the clean lines and weakly pretty, almost effeminate, face of the man who has absorbed the sound of Bow Bells with his mother’s milk. A draggled muslin cap on his head, and a dirty gunny-sack about his slim hips, proclaimed him cook of the decidedly dirty ship’s galley in which I found myself.
‘An’ ‘ow yer feelin’ now, sir?’ he asked, with the subservient smirk which comes only of generations of tip-seeking ancestors.
For reply, I twisted weakly into a sitting posture, and was helped by Yonson to my feet. The rattle and bang of the frying-pan was grating horribly on my nerves. I could not collect my thoughts. Clutching the woodwork of the galley for support,- and I confess the grease with which it was scummed put my teeth on edge,- I reached across a hot cooking-range to the offending utensil, unhooked it, and wedged it securely into the coal-box.
The cook grinned at my exhibition of nerves, and thrust into my hand a steaming mug with an ‘’Ere, this’ll do yer good.’
It was a nauseous mess,- ship’s coffee,- but the heat of it was revivifying. Between gulps of the molten stuff I glanced down at my raw and bleeding chest and turned to the Scandinavian.
‘Thank you, Mr. Yonson,’ I said; ‘but don’t you think your measures were rather heroic?’ It was because he understood the reproof of my action, rather than of my words, that he held up his palm for inspection. It was remarkably calloused. I passed my hand over the horny projections, and my teeth went on edge once more from the horrible rasping sensation produced.
‘My name is Johnson, not Yonson,’ he said in very good, though slow, English, with no more than a shade of accent to it.
There was mild protest in his pale-blue eyes, and, withal, a timid frankness and manliness that quite won me to him.
‘Thank you, Mr. Johnson,’ I corrected, and reached out my hand for his.
He hesitated, awkward and bashful, shifted his weight from one leg to the other, then blunderingly gripped my hand in a hearty shake.
‘Have you any dry clothes I may put on?’ I asked the cook.
‘Yes, sir,’ he answered, with cheerful alacrity. ‘I’ll run down an’ tyke a look
over my kit, if you’ve no objections, sir, to wearin’ my things.’
He dived out of the galley door, or glided, rather, with a swiftness and smoothness of gait that struck me as being not so much cat-like as oily. In fact, this oiliness, or greasiness, as I was later to learn, was probably the most salient expression of his personality.
‘And where am I?’ I asked Johnson, whom I took, and rightly, to be one of the sailors. ‘What vessel is this? And where is she bound?’ ‘Off the Farralones, heading about sou’west,’ he answered slowly and methodically, as though groping for his best English, and rigidly observing the order of my queries. ‘The schooner Ghost; bound seal-hunting to Japan.’ ‘And who is the captain? I must see him as soon as I am dressed?’ Johnson looked puzzled and embarrassed. He hesitated while he groped in his vocabulary and framed a complete answer. ‘The cap’n is Wolf Larsen, or so men call him. I never heard his other name. But you better speak soft with him. He is mad this morning. The mate-’ But he did not finish. The cook had glided in.
‘Better sling yer ‘ook out of ‘ere, Yonson,’ he said. ‘The Old Man’ll be wantin’ yer on deck, an’ this ayn’t no d’y to fall foul of ‘im.’ Johnson turned obediently to the door, at the same time, over the cook’s shoulder, favoring me with an amazingly solemn and portentous wink, as though to emphasize his interrupted remark and the need for me to be soft-spoken with the captain.
Hanging over the cook’s arm was a loose and crumpled array of evil-looking and sour-smelling garments.
‘They was put aw’y wet, sir,’ he vouchsafed explanation. ‘But you’ll ‘ave to make them do while I dry yours out by the fire.’ Clinging to the woodwork, staggering with the roll of the ship, and aided by the cook, I managed to slip into a rough woolen undershirt. On the instant my flesh was creeping and crawling from the harsh contact. He noticed my involun-tary twitching and grimacing, and smirked:
‘I only ‘ope yer don’t ever ‘ave to get used to such as that in this life, ‘cos you’ve got a bloomin’ soft skin, that you ‘ave, more like a lydy’s than any I know of. I was bloomin’ well sure you was a gentleman as soon as I set eyes on yer.’ I had taken a dislike to him at the first, and as he helped to dress me this dislike increased. There was something repulsive about his touch. I shrank from his hand; my flesh revolted. And between this and the smells arising from various pots boiling and bubbling on the galley fire, I was in haste to get out into the fresh air. Further, there was the need of seeing the captain about what arrangements could be made for getting me ashore.
A cheap cotton shirt, with frayed collar and a bosom discolored with what I took to be ancient bloodstains, was put on me amidst a running and apologetic fire of comment. A pair of workman’s brogans incased my feet, and for trousers I was furnished with a pair of pale-blue, washed-out overalls, one leg of which was
fully ten inches shorter than the other. The abbreviated leg looked as though the devil had there clutched for the Cockney’s soul and missed the shadow for the substance.
‘And whom have I to thank for this kindness?’ I asked, when I stood completely arrayed, a tiny boy’s cap on my head, and for coat a dirty, striped cotton jacket which ended at the small of my back, and the sleeves of which reached just below my elbows.
The cook drew himself up in smugly humble fashion, a deprecating smirk on his face. Out of my experience with stewards on the Atlantic liners at the end of the voyage, I could have sworn he was waiting for his tip. From my fuller knowledge of the creature I now know that the posture was unconscious. An hereditary servility, no doubt, was responsible.
‘Mugridge, sir,’ he fawned, his effeminate features running into a greasy smile. ‘Thomas Mugridge, sir, an’ at yer service.’ ‘All right, Thomas,’ I said. ‘I shall not forget you- when my clothes are dry.’ A soft light suffused his face, and his eyes glistened, as though somewhere in the deeps of his being his ancestors had quickened and stirred with dim memories of tips received in former lives.
‘Thank you, sir,’ he said very gratefully and very humbly indeed.
Precisely in the way that the door slid back, he slid aside, and I stepped out on deck. I was still weak from my prolonged immersion. A puff of wind caught me,
and I staggered across the moving deck to a corner of the cabin, to which I clung for support. The schooner, heeled over far out from the perpendicular, was bowing and plunging into the long Pacific roll. If she were heading southwest, as Johnson had said, the wind, then, I calculated, was blowing nearly from the south.
The fog was gone, and in its place the sun sparkled crisply on the surface of the water. I turned to the east, where I knew California must lie, but could see nothing save low-lying fog-banks- the same fog, doubtless, that had brought about the disaster to the Martinez and placed me in my present situation. To the north, not far away, a group of naked rocks thrust above the sea, on one of which I could distinguish a lighthouse. In the southwest, and almost in our course, I saw the pyramidal loom of some vessel’s sails.
Having completed my survey of the horizon, I turned to my more immediate surroundings. My first thought was that a man who had come through a collision and rubbed shoulders with death merited more attention than I received. Beyond a sailor at the wheel, who stared curiously across the top of the cabin, I attracted no notice whatever.
Everybody seemed interested in what was going on amidships. There, on a hatch, a large man was lying on his back. He was fully clothed, though his shirt was ripped open in front. Nothing was to be seen of his chest, however, for it was covered with a mass of black hair, in appearance like the furry coat of a dog. His face and neck were hidden beneath a black beard, intershot with gray, which would have been stiff and bushy had it not been limp and draggled and dripping
with water. His eyes were closed, and he was apparently unconscious; but his mouth was wide open, his breast heaving as though from suffocation as he labored noisily for breath. A sailor, from time to time and quite methodically, as a matter of routine, dropped a canvas bucket into the ocean at the end of a rope, hauled it in hand under hand, and sluiced its contents over the prostrate man.
Pacing back and forth the length of the hatchway, and savagely chewing the end of a cigar, was the man whose casual glance had rescued me from the sea.
His height was probably five feet ten inches, or ten and a half; but my first impression or feel of the man was not of this, but of his strength. And yet, while he was of massive build, with broad shoulders and deep chest, I could not characterize his strength as massive. It was what might be termed a sinewy, knotty strength, of the kind we ascribe to lean and wiry men, but which, in him, because of his heavy build, partook more of the enlarged gorilla order. Not that in appearance he seemed in the least gorilla-like. What I am striving to express is this strength itself, more as a thing apart from his physical semblance. It was a strength we are wont to associate with things primitive, with wild animals and the creatures we imagine our tree-dwelling prototypes to have been- a strength savage, ferocious, alive in itself, the essence of life in that it is the potency of motion, the elemental stuff itself out of which the many forms of life have been molded.
Such was the impression of strength I gathered from this man who paced up and down. He was firmly planted on his legs; his feet struck the deck squarely and with surety: every movement of a muscle, from the heave of the shoulders to
the tightening of the lips about the cigar, was decisive and seemed to come out of a strength that was excessive and overwhelming. In fact, though this strength pervaded every action of his, it seemed but the advertisement of a greater strength that lurked within, that lay dormant and no more than stirred from time to time, but which might arouse at any moment, terrible and compelling, like the rage of a lion or the wrath of a storm.
The cook stuck his head out of the galley door and grinned encouragingly at me, at the same time jerking his thumb in the direction of the man who paced up and down by the hatchway. Thus I was given to understand that he was the captain, the ‘Old Man,’ in the cook’s vernacular, the person whom I must interview and put to the trouble of somehow getting me ashore. I had half started forward, to get over with what I was certain would be a stormy quarter of an hour, when a more violent suffocating paroxysm seized the unfortunate person who was lying on his back. He writhed about convulsively. The chin, with the damp black beard, pointed higher in the air as the back muscles stiffened and the chest swelled in an unconscious and instinctive effort to get more air.
The captain, or Wolf Larsen, as men called him, ceased pacing, and gazed down at the dying man. So fierce had this final struggle become that the sailor paused in the act of flinging more water over him, and stared curiously, the canvas bucket partly tilted and dripping its contents to the deck. The dying man beat a tattoo on the hatch with his heels, straightened out his legs, stiffened in one great, tense effort, and rolled his head from side to side. Then the muscles re-
laxed, the head stopped rolling, and a sigh, as of profound relief, floated upward from his lips. The jaw dropped, the upper lip lifted, and two rows of tobacco-discolored teeth appeared. It seemed as though his features had frozen into a diabolical grin at the world he had left and outwitted.
Then a most surprising thing occurred. The captain broke loose upon the dead man like a thunderclap. Oaths rolled from his lips in a continuous stream. And they were not namby-pamby oaths, or mere expressions of indecency. Each word was a blasphemy, and there were many words. They crisped and crackled like electric sparks. I had never heard anything like it in my life, nor could I have conceived it possible. With a turn for literary expression myself, and a penchant for forcible figures and phrases, I appreciated as no other listener, I dare say, the peculiar vividness and strength and absolute blasphemy of his metaphors. The cause of it all, as near as I could make out, was that the man, who was mate, had gone on a debauch before leaving San Francisco, and then had the poor taste to die at the beginning of the voyage and leave Wolf Larsen short-handed.
It should be unnecessary to state, at least to my friends, that I was shocked.
Oaths and vile language of any sort had always been unutterably repellent to me.
I felt a wilting sensation, a sinking at the heart, and, I might just as well say, a giddiness. To me death had always been invested with solemnity and dignity. It had been peaceful in its occurrence, sacred in its ceremonial. But death in its more sordid and terrible aspects was a thing with which I had been unacquainted till now.
As I say, while I appreciated the power of the terrific denunciation that swept out
of Wolf Larsen’s mouth, I was inexpressibly shocked. But the dead man continued to grin unconcernedly with a sardonic humor, a cynical mockery and defi-ance. He was master of the situation.