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The Sea Wolf

Chapter 26
Wolf Larsen took the distribution of the whisky off my hands, and the bottles began to
make their appearance while I worked over the fresh batch of wounded men in the
forecastle. I had seen whisky drunk, such as whisky-and-soda by the men of the clubs,
but never as these men drank it, from pannikins and mugs, and from the bottles - great
brimming drinks, each one of which was in itself a debauch. But they did not stop at one
or two. They drank and drank, and ever the bottles slipped forward and they drank more.
Everybody drank; the wounded drank; Oofty-Oofty, who helped me, drank. Only Louis
refrained, no more than cautiously wetting his lips with the liquor, though he joined in the
revels with an abandon equal to that of most of them. It was a saturnalia. In loud voices
they shouted over the day's fighting, wrangled about details, or waxed affectionate and
made friends with the men whom they had fought. Prisoners and captors hiccoughed on
one another's shoulders, and swore mighty oaths of respect and esteem. They wept over
the miseries of the past and over the miseries yet to come under the iron rule of Wolf
Larsen. And all cursed him and told terrible tales of his brutality.
It was a strange and frightful spectacle - the small, bunk-lined space, the floor and walls
leaping and lurching, the dim light, the swaying shadows lengthening and fore-shortening
monstrously, the thick air heavy with smoke and the smell of bodies and iodoform, and
the inflamed faces of the men - half-men, I should call them. I noted Oofty-Oofty,
holding the end of a bandage and looking upon the scene, his velvety and luminous eyes
glistening in the light like a deer's eyes, and yet I knew the barbaric devil that lurked in
his breast and belied all the softness and tenderness, almost womanly, of his face and
form. And I noticed the boyish face of Harrison, - a good face once, but now a demon's, -
convulsed with passion as he told the newcomers of the hell-ship they were in and
shrieked curses upon the head of Wolf Larsen.
Wolf Larsen it was, always Wolf Larsen, enslaver and tormentor of men, a male Circe
and these his swine, suffering brutes that grovelled before him and revolted only in
drunkenness and in secrecy. And was I, too, one of his swine? I thought. And Maud
Brewster? No! I ground my teeth in my anger and determination till the man I was
attending winced under my hand and Oofty-Oofty looked at me with curiosity. I felt
endowed with a sudden strength. What of my new-found love, I was a giant. I feared
nothing. I would work my will through it all, in spite of Wolf Larsen and of my own
thirty-five bookish years. All would be well. I would make it well. And so, exalted,
upborne by a sense of power, I turned my back on the howling inferno and climbed to the
deck, where the fog drifted ghostly through the night and the air was sweet and pure and
quiet.
The steerage, where were two wounded hunters, was a repetition of the forecastle, except
that Wolf Larsen was not being cursed; and it was with a great relief that I again emerged
on deck and went aft to the cabin. Supper was ready, and Wolf Larsen and Maud were
waiting for me.
 
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