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The Sea Wolf

Chapter 17
Strange to say, in spite of the general foreboding, nothing of especial moment happened
on the Ghost. We ran on to the north and west till we raised the coast of Japan and picked
up with the great seal herd. Coming from no man knew where in the illimitable Pacific, it
was travelling north on its annual migration to the rookeries of Bering Sea. And north we
travelled with it, ravaging and destroying, flinging the naked carcasses to the shark and
salting down the skins so that they might later adorn the fair shoulders of the women of
the cities.
It was wanton slaughter, and all for woman's sake. No man ate of the seal meat or the oil.
After a good day's killing I have seen our decks covered with hides and bodies, slippery
with fat and blood, the scuppers running red; masts, ropes, and rails spattered with the
sanguinary colour; and the men, like butchers plying their trade, naked and red of arm
and hand, hard at work with ripping and flensing-knives, removing the skins from the
pretty sea-creatures they had killed.
It was my task to tally the pelts as they came aboard from the boats, to oversee the
skinning and afterward the cleansing of the decks and bringing things ship-shape again. It
was not pleasant work. My soul and my stomach revolted at it; and yet, in a way, this
handling and directing of many men was good for me. It developed what little executive
ability I possessed, and I was aware of a toughening or hardening which I was
undergoing and which could not be anything but wholesome for "Sissy" Van Weyden.
One thing I was beginning to feel, and that was that I could never again be quite the same
man I had been. While my hope and faith in human life still survived Wolf Larsen's
destructive criticism, he had nevertheless been a cause of change in minor matters. He
had opened up for me the world of the real, of which I had known practically nothing and
from which I had always shrunk. I had learned to look more closely at life as it was lived,
to recognize that there were such things as facts in the world, to emerge from the realm of
mind and idea and to place certain values on the concrete and objective phases of
existence.
I saw more of Wolf Larsen than ever when we had gained the grounds. For when the
weather was fair and we were in the midst of the herd, all hands were away in the boats,
and left on board were only he and I, and Thomas Mugridge, who did not count. But
there was no play about it. The six boats, spreading out fan-wise from the schooner until
the first weather boat and the last lee boat were anywhere from ten to twenty miles apart,
cruised along a straight course over the sea till nightfall or bad weather drove them in. It
was our duty to sail the Ghost well to leeward of the last lee boat, so that all the boats
should have fair wind to run for us in case of squalls or threatening weather.
It is no slight matter for two men, particularly when a stiff wind has sprung up, to handle
a vessel like the Ghost, steering, keeping look-out for the boats, and setting or taking in
sail; so it devolved upon me to learn, and learn quickly. Steering I picked up easily, but
 
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