The Sea Wolf
Part 7 out of 7
I had devised an automatic jib-sheet which passed the jib across of
itself, so there was no need for Maud to attend to that; but she
was still hoisting the jib when I put the wheel hard down. It was
a moment of anxiety, for the Ghost was rushing directly upon the
beach, a stone's throw distant. But she swung obediently on her
heel into the wind. There was a great fluttering and flapping of
canvas and reef-points, most welcome to my ears, then she filled
away on the other tack.
Maud had finished her task and come aft, where she stood beside me,
a small cap perched on her wind-blown hair, her cheeks flushed from
exertion, her eyes wide and bright with the excitement, her
nostrils quivering to the rush and bite of the fresh salt air. Her
brown eyes were like a startled deer's. There was a wild, keen
look in them I had never seen before, and her lips parted and her
breath suspended as the Ghost, charging upon the wall of rock at
the entrance to the inner cove, swept into the wind and filled away
into safe water.
My first mate's berth on the sealing grounds stood me in good
stead, and I cleared the inner cove and laid a long tack along the
shore of the outer cove. Once again about, and the Ghost headed
out to open sea. She had now caught the bosom-breathing of the
ocean, and was herself a-breath with the rhythm of it as she
smoothly mounted and slipped down each broad-backed wave. The day
had been dull and overcast, but the sun now burst through the
clouds, a welcome omen, and shone upon the curving beach where
together we had dared the lords of the harem and slain the
holluschickie. All Endeavour Island brightened under the sun.
Even the grim south-western promontory showed less grim, and here
and there, where the sea-spray wet its surface, high lights flashed
and dazzled in the sun.
"I shall always think of it with pride," I said to Maud.
She threw her head back in a queenly way but said, "Dear, dear
Endeavour Island! I shall always love it."
"And I," I said quickly.
It seemed our eyes must meet in a great understanding, and yet,
loath, they struggled away and did not meet.
There was a silence I might almost call awkward, till I broke it,
"See those black clouds to windward. You remember, I told you last
night the barometer was falling."
"And the sun is gone," she said, her eyes still fixed upon our
island, where we had proved our mastery over matter and attained to
the truest comradeship that may fall to man and woman.
"And it's slack off the sheets for Japan!" I cried gaily. "A fair
wind and a flowing sheet, you know, or however it goes."
Lashing the wheel I ran forward, eased the fore and mainsheets,
took in on the boom-tackles and trimmed everything for the
quartering breeze which was ours. It was a fresh breeze, very
fresh, but I resolved to run as long as I dared. Unfortunately,
when running free, it is impossible to lash the wheel, so I faced
an all-night watch. Maud insisted on relieving me, but proved that
she had not the strength to steer in a heavy sea, even if she could
have gained the wisdom on such short notice. She appeared quite
heart-broken over the discovery, but recovered her spirits by
coiling down tackles and halyards and all stray ropes. Then there
were meals to be cooked in the galley, beds to make, Wolf Larsen to
be attended upon, and she finished the day with a grand house-
cleaning attack upon the cabin and steerage.
All night I steered, without relief, the wind slowly and steadily
increasing and the sea rising. At five in the morning Maud brought
me hot coffee and biscuits she had baked, and at seven a
substantial and piping hot breakfast put new lift into me.
Throughout the day, and as slowly and steadily as ever, the wind
increased. It impressed one with its sullen determination to blow,
and blow harder, and keep on blowing. And still the Ghost foamed
along, racing off the miles till I was certain she was making at
least eleven knots. It was too good to lose, but by nightfall I
was exhausted. Though in splendid physical trim, a thirty-six-hour
trick at the wheel was the limit of my endurance. Besides, Maud
begged me to heave to, and I knew, if the wind and sea increased at
the same rate during the night, that it would soon be impossible to
heave to. So, as twilight deepened, gladly and at the same time
reluctantly, I brought the Ghost up on the wind.
But I had not reckoned upon the colossal task the reefing of three
sails meant for one man. While running away from the wind I had
not appreciated its force, but when we ceased to run I learned to
my sorrow, and well-nigh to my despair, how fiercely it was really
blowing. The wind balked my every effort, ripping the canvas out
of my hands and in an instant undoing what I had gained by ten
minutes of severest struggle. At eight o'clock I had succeeded
only in putting the second reef into the foresail. At eleven
o'clock I was no farther along. Blood dripped from every finger-
end, while the nails were broken to the quick. From pain and sheer
exhaustion I wept in the darkness, secretly, so that Maud should
Then, in desperation, I abandoned the attempt to reef the mainsail
and resolved to try the experiment of heaving to under the close-
reefed foresail. Three hours more were required to gasket the
mainsail and jib, and at two in the morning, nearly dead, the life
almost buffeted and worked out of me, I had barely sufficient
consciousness to know the experiment was a success. The close-
reefed foresail worked. The Ghost clung on close to the wind and
betrayed no inclination to fall off broadside to the trough.
I was famished, but Maud tried vainly to get me to eat. I dozed
with my mouth full of food. I would fall asleep in the act of
carrying food to my mouth and waken in torment to find the act yet
uncompleted. So sleepily helpless was I that she was compelled to
hold me in my chair to prevent my being flung to the floor by the
violent pitching of the schooner.
Of the passage from the galley to the cabin I knew nothing. It was
a sleep-walker Maud guided and supported. In fact, I was aware of
nothing till I awoke, how long after I could not imagine, in my
bunk with my boots off. It was dark. I was stiff and lame, and
cried out with pain when the bed-clothes touched my poor finger-
Morning had evidently not come, so I closed my eyes and went to
sleep again. I did not know it, but I had slept the clock around
and it was night again.
Once more I woke, troubled because I could sleep no better. I
struck a match and looked at my watch. It marked midnight. And I
had not left the deck until three! I should have been puzzled had
I not guessed the solution. No wonder I was sleeping brokenly. I
had slept twenty-one hours. I listened for a while to the
behaviour of the Ghost, to the pounding of the seas and the muffled
roar of the wind on deck, and then turned over on my ride and slept
peacefully until morning.
When I arose at seven I saw no sign of Maud and concluded she was
in the galley preparing breakfast. On deck I found the Ghost doing
splendidly under her patch of canvas. But in the galley, though a
fire was burning and water boiling, I found no Maud.
I discovered her in the steerage, by Wolf Larsen's bunk. I looked
at him, the man who had been hurled down from the topmost pitch of
life to be buried alive and be worse than dead. There seemed a
relaxation of his expressionless face which was new. Maud looked
at me and I understood.
"His life flickered out in the storm," I said.
"But he still lives," she answered, infinite faith in her voice.
"He had too great strength."
"Yes," she said, "but now it no longer shackles him. He is a free
"He is a free spirit surely," I answered; and, taking her hand, I
led her on deck.
The storm broke that night, which is to say that it diminished as
slowly as it had arisen. After breakfast next morning, when I had
hoisted Wolf Larsen's body on deck ready for burial, it was still
blowing heavily and a large sea was running. The deck was
continually awash with the sea which came inboard over the rail and
through the scuppers. The wind smote the schooner with a sudden
gust, and she heeled over till her lee rail was buried, the roar in
her rigging rising in pitch to a shriek. We stood in the water to
our knees as I bared my head.
"I remember only one part of the service," I said, "and that is,
'And the body shall be cast into the sea.'"
Maud looked at me, surprised and shocked; but the spirit of
something I had seen before was strong upon me, impelling me to
give service to Wolf Larsen as Wolf Larsen had once given service
to another man. I lifted the end of the hatch cover and the
canvas-shrouded body slipped feet first into the sea. The weight
of iron dragged it down. It was gone.
"Good-bye, Lucifer, proud spirit," Maud whispered, so low that it
was drowned by the shouting of the wind; but I saw the movement of
her lips and knew.
As we clung to the lee rail and worked our way aft, I happened to
glance to leeward. The Ghost, at the moment, was uptossed on a
sea, and I caught a clear view of a small steamship two or three
miles away, rolling and pitching, head on to the sea, as it steamed
toward us. It was painted black, and from the talk of the hunters
of their poaching exploits I recognized it as a United States
revenue cutter. I pointed it out to Maud and hurriedly led her aft
to the safety of the poop.
I started to rush below to the flag-locker, then remembered that in
rigging the Ghost. I had forgotten to make provision for a flag-
"We need no distress signal," Maud said. "They have only to see
"We are saved," I said, soberly and solemnly. And then, in an
exuberance of joy, "I hardly know whether to be glad or not."
I looked at her. Our eyes were not loath to meet. We leaned
toward each other, and before I knew it my arms were about her.
"Need I?" I asked.
And she answered, "There is no need, though the telling of it would
be sweet, so sweet."
Her lips met the press of mine, and, by what strange trick of the
imagination I know not, the scene in the cabin of the Ghost flashed
upon me, when she had pressed her fingers lightly on my lips and
said, "Hush, hush."
"My woman, my one small woman," I said, my free hand petting her
shoulder in the way all lovers know though never learn in school.
"My man," she said, looking at me for an instant with tremulous
lids which fluttered down and veiled her eyes as she snuggled her
head against my breast with a happy little sigh.
I looked toward the cutter. It was very close. A boat was being
"One kiss, dear love," I whispered. "One kiss more before they
"And rescue us from ourselves," she completed, with a most adorable
smile, whimsical as I had never seen it, for it was whimsical with
Back to Full Books