The Sea Wolf
I scarcely know where to begin, though I sometimes facetiously place the cause of it all
to Charley Furuseth's credit. He kept a summer cottage in Mill Valley, under the shadow
of Mount Tamalpais, and never occupied it except when he loafed through the winter
mouths and read Nietzsche and Schopenhauer to rest his brain. When summer came on,
he elected to sweat out a hot and dusty existence in the city and to toil incessantly. Had it
not been my custom to run up to see him every Saturday afternoon and to stop over till
Monday morning, this particular January Monday morning would not have found me
afloat on San Francisco Bay.
Not but that I was afloat in a safe craft, for the Martinez was a new ferry-steamer, making
her fourth or fifth trip on the run between Sausalito and San Francisco. The danger lay in
the heavy fog which blanketed the bay, and of which, as a landsman, I had little
apprehension. In fact, I remember the placid exaltation with which I took up my position
on the forward upper deck, directly beneath the pilot-house, and allowed the mystery of
the fog to lay hold of my imagination. A fresh breeze was blowing, and for a time I was
alone in the moist obscurity - yet not alone, for I was dimly conscious of the presence of
the pilot, and of what I took to be the captain, in the glass house above my head.
I remember thinking how comfortable it was, this division of labour which made it
unnecessary for me to study fogs, winds, tides, and navigation, in order to visit my friend
who lived across an arm of the sea. It was good that men should be specialists, I mused.
The peculiar knowledge of the pilot and captain sufficed for many thousands of people
who knew no more of the sea and navigation than I knew. On the other hand, instead of
having to devote my energy to the learning of a multitude of things, I concentrated it
upon a few particular things, such as, for instance, the analysis of Poe's place in
American literature - an essay of mine, by the way, in the current Atlantic. Coming
aboard, as I passed through the cabin, I had noticed with greedy eyes a stout gentleman
reading the Atlantic, which was open at my very essay. And there it was again, the
division of labour, the special knowledge of the pilot and captain which permitted the
stout gentleman to read my special knowledge on Poe while they carried him safely from
Sausalito to San Francisco.
A red-faced man, slamming the cabin door behind him and stumping out on the deck,
interrupted my reflections, though I made a mental note of the topic for use in a projected
essay which I had thought of calling "The Necessity for Freedom: A Plea for the Artist."
The red-faced man shot a glance up at the pilot-house, gazed around at the fog, stumped
across the deck and back (he evidently had artificial legs), and stood still by my side, legs
wide apart, and with an expression of keen enjoyment on his face. I was not wrong when
I decided that his days had been spent on the sea.
"It's nasty weather like this here that turns heads grey before their time," he said, with a
nod toward the pilot-house.