The Sea Wolf HTML version

Chapter 12
The last twenty-four hours have witnessed a carnival of brutality. From cabin to
forecastle it seems to have broken out like a contagion. I scarcely know where to begin.
Wolf Larsen was really the cause of it. The relations among the men, strained and made
tense by feuds, quarrels and grudges, were in a state of unstable equilibrium, and evil
passions flared up in flame like prairie- grass.
Thomas Mugridge is a sneak, a spy, an informer. He has been attempting to curry favour
and reinstate himself in the good graces of the captain by carrying tales of the men
forward. He it was, I know, that carried some of Johnson's hasty talk to Wolf Larsen.
Johnson, it seems, bought a suit of oilskins from the slop-chest and found them to be of
greatly inferior quality. Nor was he slow in advertising the fact. The slop-chest is a sort of
miniature dry-goods store which is carried by all sealing schooners and which is stocked
with articles peculiar to the needs of the sailors. Whatever a sailor purchases is taken
from his subsequent earnings on the sealing grounds; for, as it is with the hunters so it is
with the boat-pullers and steerers - in the place of wages they receive a "lay," a rate of so
much per skin for every skin captured in their particular boat.
But of Johnson's grumbling at the slop-chest I knew nothing, so that what I witnessed
came with a shock of sudden surprise. I had just finished sweeping the cabin, and had
been inveigled by Wolf Larsen into a discussion of Hamlet, his favourite Shakespearian
character, when Johansen descended the companion stairs followed by Johnson. The
latter's cap came off after the custom of the sea, and he stood respectfully in the centre of
the cabin, swaying heavily and uneasily to the roll of the schooner and facing the captain.
"Shut the doors and draw the slide," Wolf Larsen said to me.
As I obeyed I noticed an anxious light come into Johnson's eyes, but I did not dream of
its cause. I did not dream of what was to occur until it did occur, but he knew from the
very first what was coming and awaited it bravely. And in his action I found complete
refutation of all Wolf Larsen's materialism. The sailor Johnson was swayed by idea, by
principle, and truth, and sincerity. He was right, he knew he was right, and he was
unafraid. He would die for the right if needs be, he would be true to himself, sincere with
his soul. And in this was portrayed the victory of the spirit over the flesh, the
indomitability and moral grandeur of the soul that knows no restriction and rises above
time and space and matter with a surety and invincibleness born of nothing else than
eternity and immortality.
But to return. I noticed the anxious light in Johnson's eyes, but mistook it for the native
shyness and embarrassment of the man. The mate, Johansen, stood away several feet to
the side of him, and fully three yards in front of him sat Wolf Larsen on one of the pivotal
cabin chairs. An appreciable pause fell after I had closed the doors and drawn the slide, a
pause that must have lasted fully a minute. It was broken by Wolf Larsen.