The Sea Wolf HTML version

Chapter 16
I cannot say that the position of mate carried with it anything more joyful than that there
were no more dishes to wash. I was ignorant of the simplest duties of mate, and would
have fared badly indeed, had the sailors not sympathized with me. I knew nothing of the
minutiae of ropes and rigging, of the trimming and setting of sails; but the sailors took
pains to put me to rights, - Louis proving an especially good teacher, - and I had little
trouble with those under me.
With the hunters it was otherwise. Familiar in varying degree with the sea, they took me
as a sort of joke. In truth, it was a joke to me, that I, the veriest landsman, should be
filling the office of mate; but to be taken as a joke by others was a different matter. I
made no complaint, but Wolf Larsen demanded the most punctilious sea etiquette in my
case, - far more than poor Johansen had ever received; and at the expense of several rows,
threats, and much grumbling, he brought the hunters to time. I was "Mr. Van Weyden"
fore and aft, and it was only unofficially that Wolf Larsen himself ever addressed me as
It was amusing. Perhaps the wind would haul a few points while we were at dinner, and
as I left the table he would say, "Mr. Van Weyden, will you kindly put about on the port
tack." And I would go on deck, beckon Louis to me, and learn from him what was to be
done. Then, a few minutes later, having digested his instructions and thoroughly mastered
the manoeuvre, I would proceed to issue my orders. I remember an early instance of this
kind, when Wolf Larsen appeared on the scene just as I had begun to give orders. He
smoked his cigar and looked on quietly till the thing was accomplished, and then paced
aft by my side along the weather poop.
"Hump," he said, "I beg pardon, Mr. Van Weyden, I congratulate you. I think you can
now fire your father's legs back into the grave to him. You've discovered your own and
learned to stand on them. A little rope-work, sail-making, and experience with storms and
such things, and by the end of the voyage you could ship on any coasting schooner."
It was during this period, between the death of Johansen and the arrival on the sealing
grounds, that I passed my pleasantest hours on the Ghost. Wolf Larsen was quite
considerate, the sailors helped me, and I was no longer in irritating contact with Thomas
Mugridge. And I make free to say, as the days went by, that I found I was taking a certain
secret pride in myself. Fantastic as the situation was, - a land-lubber second in command,
- I was, nevertheless, carrying it off well; and during that brief time I was proud of
myself, and I grew to love the heave and roll of the Ghost under my feet as she wallowed
north and west through the tropic sea to the islet where we filled our water-casks.
But my happiness was not unalloyed. It was comparative, a period of less misery slipped
in between a past of great miseries and a future of great miseries. For the Ghost, so far as
the seamen were concerned, was a hell-ship of the worst description. They never had a
moment's rest or peace. Wolf Larsen treasured against them the attempt on his life and