Part 3 out of 4
that grisly thing and its impending visitors. Lo! these others,
terrified also, put out large beams to repel them likewise.
But there came only a very faint creaking in the topmasts, as both
standing gears momentarily entangled became disentangled without the
least damage; the shock, very gentle in such a calm had been almost
wholly deadened; indeed, it was so feeble that it really seemed as if
the other ship had no substance, that it was a mere pulp, almost
When the fright was over, the men began to laugh; they had recognised
"/La Marie/, ahoy! how are ye, lads?"
"Halloa! Gaos, Laumec, Guermeur!"
The spectre ship was the /Reine-Berthe/, also of Paimpol, and so the
sailors were from neighbouring villages; that thick, tall fellow with
the huge, black beard, showing his teeth when he laughed, was
Kerjegou, one of the Ploudaniel boys, the others were from Plounes or
"Why didn't you blow your fog-horn, and be blowed to you, you herd of
savages?" challenged Larvoer of the /Reine-Berthe/.
"If it comes to that, why didn't you blow yours, you crew of pirates--
you rank mess of toad-fish?"
"Oh, no! with us, d'ye see, the sea-law differs. /We're forbidden to
make any noise!/"
He made this reply with the air of giving a dark hint, and a queer
smile, which afterward came back to the memory of the men of the
/Marie/, and caused them a great deal of thinking. Then, as if he
thought he had said too much, he concluded with a joke:
"Our fog-horn, d'ye see, was burst by this rogue here a-blowing too
hard into it." He pointed to a sailor with a face like a Triton, a man
all bull-neck and chest, extravagantly broad-shouldered, low-set upon
his legs, with something unspeakably grotesque and unpleasant in the
deformity of strength.
While they were looking at each other, waiting for breeze or
undercurrent to move one vessel faster than the other and separate
them, a general palaver began. Leaning over the side, but holding each
other off at a respectable distance with their long wooden props, like
besieged pikemen repelling an assault, they began to chat about home,
the last letters received, and sweethearts and wives.
"I say! my old woman," said Kerjegou, "tells me she's had the little
boy we were looking for; that makes half-score-two now!"
Another had found himself the father of twins; and a third announced
the marriage of pretty Jenny Caroff, a girl well known to all the
Icelanders, with some rich and infirm old resident of the Commune of
Plourivo. As they were eyeing each other as if through white gauze,
this also appeared to alter the sound of the voices, which came as if
muffled and from far away.
Meanwhile Yann could not take his eyes off one of those brother
fishermen, a little grizzled fellow, whom he was quite sure he never
had seen before, but who had, nevertheless, straightway said to him,
"How d'o, long Yann?" with all the familiarity of bosom acquaintance.
He wore the provoking ugliness of a monkey, with an apish twinkling of
mischief too in his piercing eyes.
"As for me," said Larvoer, of the /Reine-Berthe/, "I've been told of
the death of the grandson of old Yvonne Moan, of Ploubazlanec--who was
serving his time in the navy, you know, in the Chinese squadron--a
very great pity."
On hearing this, all the men of /La Marie/ turned towards Yann to
learn if he already knew anything of the sad news.
"Ay," he answered in a low voice, but with an indifferent and haughty
air, "it was told me in the last letter my father sent me." They still
kept on looking at him, curious at finding out the secret of his
grief, and it made him angry.
These questions and answers were rapidly exchanged through the pallid
mists, so the moments of this peculiar colloquy skipped swiftly by.
"My wife wrote me at the same time," continued Larvoer, "that Monsieur
Mevel's daughter has left the town to live at Ploubazlanec and take
care of her old grand-aunt--Granny Moan. She goes out to needlework by
the day now--to earn her living. Anyhow, I always thought, I did, that
she was a good, brave girl, in spite of her fine-lady airs and her
Then again they all stared at Yann, which made him still more angry; a
red flush mounted to his cheeks, under their tawny tan.
With Larvoer's expression of opinion about Gaud ended this parley with
the crew of the /Reine-Berthe/, none of whom were ever again to be
seen by human eyes. For a moment their faces became more dim, their
vessel being already farther away; and then, all at once, the men of
the /Marie/ found they had nothing to push against, nothing at the end
of their poles--all spars, oars, odds and ends of deck-lumber, were
groping and quivering in emptiness, till they fell heavily, one after
the other, down into the sea, like their own arms, lopped off and
They pulled all the useless defences on board. The /Reine-Berthe/,
melting away into the thick fog, had disappeared as suddenly as a
painted ship in a dissolving view. They tried to hail her, but the
only response was a sort of mocking clamour--as of many voices--ending
in a moan, that made them all stare at each other in surprise.
This /Reine-Berthe/ did not come back with the other Icelandic
fishers; and as the men of the /Samuel-Azenide/ afterward picked up in
some fjord an unmistakable waif (part of her taffrail with a bit of
her keel), all ceased to hope; in the month of October the names of
all her crew were inscribed upon black slabs in the church.
From the very time of that apparition--the date of which was well
remembered by the men of the /Marie/--until the time of their return,
there had been no really dangerous weather on the Icelandic seas, but
a great storm from the west had, three weeks before, swept several
sailors overboard, and swallowed up two vessels. The men remembered
Larvoer's peculiar smile, and putting things together many strange
conjectures were made. In the dead of night, Yann, more than once,
dreamed that he again saw the sailor who blinked like an ape, and some
of the men of the /Marie/ wondered if, on that remembered morning,
they had not been talking with ghosts.
THE STRANGE COUPLE
Summer advanced, and, at the end of August, with the first autumnal
mists, the Icelanders came home.
For the last three months the two lone women had lived together at
Ploubazlanec in the Moan's cottage. Gaud filled a daughter's place in
the poor birthplace of so many dead sailors. She had sent hither all
that remained from the sale of her father's house; her grand bed in
the town fashion, and her fine, different coloured dresses. She had
made herself a plainer black dress, and like old Yvonne, wore a
mourning cap, of thick white muslin, adorned merely with simple
plaits. Every day she went out sewing at the houses of the rich people
in the town, and returned every evening without being detained on her
way home by any sweetheart. She had remained as proud as ever, and was
still respected as a fine lady; and as the lads bade her good-night,
they always raised a hand to their caps.
Through the sweet evening twilight, she walked home from Paimpol, all
along the cliff road inhaling the fresh, comforting sea air. Constant
sitting at needlework had not deformed her like many others, who are
always bent in two over their work--and she drew up her beautiful
supple form perfectly erect in looking over the sea, fairly across to
where Yann was it seemed.
The same road led to his home. Had she walked on much farther, towards
a well-known rocky windswept nook, she would come to that hamlet of
Pors-Even, where the trees, covered with gray moss, grew crampedly
between the stones, and are slanted over lowly by the western gales.
Perhaps she might never more return there, although it was only a
league away; but once in her lifetime she had been there, and that was
enough to cast a charm over the whole road; and, besides, Yann would
certainly often pass that way, and she could fancy seeing him upon the
bare moor, stepping between the stumpy reeds.
She loved the whole region of Ploubazlanec, and was almost happy that
fate had driven her there; she never could have become resigned to
live in any other place.
Towards this end of August, a southern warmth, diffusing languor,
rises and spreads towards the north, with luminous afterglows and
stray rays from a distant sun, which float over the Breton seas. Often
the air is calm and pellucid, without a single cloud on high.
At the hour of Gaud's return journey, all things had already begun to
fade in the nightfall, and become fused into close, compact groups.
Here and there a clump of reeds strove to make way between stones,
like a battle-torn flag; in a hollow, a cluster of gnarled trees
formed a dark mass, or else some straw-thatched hamlet indented the
moor. At the cross-roads the images of Christ on the cross, which
watch over and protect the country, stretched out their black arms on
their supports like real men in torture; in the distance the Channel
appeared fair and calm, one vast golden mirror, under the already
darkened sky and shade-laden horizon.
In this country even the calm fine weather was a melancholy thing;
notwithstanding, a vague uneasiness seemed to hover about; a palpable
dread emanating from the sea to which so many lives are intrusted, and
whose everlasting threat only slumbered.
Gaud sauntered along as in a dream, and never found the way long
enough. The briny smell of the shore, and a sweet odour of flowerets
growing along the cliffs amid thorny bushes, perfumed the air. Had it
not been for Granny Yvonne waiting for her at home, she would have
loitered along the reed-strewn paths, like the beautiful ladies in
stories, who dream away the summer evenings in their fine parks.
Many thoughts of her early childhood came back to her as she passed
through the country; but they seemed so effaced and far away now,
eclipsed by her love looming up between.
In spite of all, she went on thinking of Yann as engaged in a degree--
a restless, scornful betrothed, whom she never would really have, but
to whom she persisted in being faithful in mind, without speaking
about it to any one. For the time, she was happy to know that he was
off Iceland; for there, at least, the sea would keep him lonely in her
deep cloisters, and he would belong to no other woman.
True, he would return one of these days, but she looked upon that
return more calmly than before. She instinctively understood that her
poverty would not be a reason for him to despise her; for he was not
as other men. Moreover, the death of poor Sylvestre would draw them
closer together. Upon his return, he could not do otherwise than come
to see his friend's old granny; and Gaud had decided to be present at
that visit; for it did not seem to her that it would be undignified.
Appearing to remember nothing, she would talk to him as to a long-
known friend; she would even speak with affection, as was due to
Sylvestre's brother, and try to seem easy and natural. And who knows?
Perhaps it would not be impossible to be as a sister to him, now that
she was so lonely in the world; to rely upon his friendship, even to
ask it as a support, with enough preliminary explanation for him not
to accuse her of any after-thought of marriage.
She judged him to be untamed and stubborn in his independent ideas,
yet tender and loyal, and capable of understanding the goodness that
comes straight from the heart.
How would he feel when he met her again, in her poor ruined home?
Very, very poor she was--for Granny Moan was not strong enough now to
go out washing, and only had her small widow's pension left; granted,
she ate but little, and the two could still manage to live, not
dependent upon others.
Night was always fallen when she arrived home; before she could enter
she had to go down a little over the worn rocks, for the cottage was
placed on an incline towards the beach, below the level of the
Ploubazlanec roadside. It was almost hidden under its thick brown
straw thatch, and looked like the back of some huge beast, shrunk down
under its bristling fur. Its walls were sombre and rough like the
rocks, but with tiny tufts of green moss and lichens over them. There
were three uneven steps before the threshold, and the inside latch was
opened by a length of rope-yarn run through a hole. Upon entering, the
first thing to be seen was the window, hollowed out through the wall
as in the substance of a rampart, and giving view of the sea, whence
inflowed a dying yellow light. On the hearth burned brightly the
sweet-scented branches of pine and beechwood that old Yvonne used to
pick up along the way, and she herself was sitting there, seeing to
their bit of supper; indoors she wore a kerchief over her head to save
her cap. Her still beautiful profile was outlined in the red flame of
her fire. She looked up at Gaud. Her eyes, which formerly were brown,
had taken a faded look, and almost appeared blue; they seemed no
longer to see, and were troubled and uncertain with old age. Each day
she greeted Gaud with the same words:
"Oh, dear me! my good lass, how late you are to-night!"
"No, Granny," answered Gaud, who was used to it. "This is the same
time as other days."
"Eh? It seemed to me, dear, later than usual."
They sat down to supper at their table, which had almost become
shapeless from constant use, but was still as thick as the generous
slice of a huge oak. The cricket began its silver-toned music again.
One of the sides of the cottage was filled up by roughly sculptured,
worm-eaten woodwork, which had an opening wherein were set the
sleeping bunks, where generations of fishers had been born, and where
their aged mothers had died.
Quaint old kitchen utensils hung from the black beams, as well as
bunches of sweet herbs, wooden spoons, and smoked bacon; fishing-nets,
which had been left there since the shipwreck of the last Moans, their
meshes nightly bitten by the rats.
Gaud's bed stood in an angle under its white muslin draperies; it
seemed like a very fresh and elegant modern invention brought into the
hut of a Celt.
On the granite wall hung a photograph of Sylvestre in his sailor
clothes. His grandmother had fixed his military medal to it, with his
own pair of those red cloth anchors that French men-of-wars-men wear
on their right sleeve; Gaud had also brought one of those funereal
crowns, of black and white beads, placed round the portraits of the
dead in Brittany. This represented Sylvestre's mausoleum, and was all
that remained to consecrate his memory in his own land.
On summer evenings they did not sit up late, to save the lights; when
the weather was fine, they sat out a while on a stone bench before the
door, and looked at passers-by in the road, a little over their heads.
Then old Yvonne would lie down on her cupboard shelf; and Gaud on her
fine bed, would fall asleep pretty soon, being tired out with her
day's work, and walking, and dreaming of the return of the Icelanders.
Like a wise, resolute girl, she was not too greatly apprehensive.
But one day in Paimpol, hearing that /La Marie/ had just got in, Gaud
felt possessed with a kind of fever. All her quiet composure
disappeared; she abruptly finished up her work, without quite knowing
why, and set off home sooner than usual.
Upon the road, as she hurried on, she recognised /him/, at some
distance off, coming towards her. She trembled and felt her strength
giving way. He was now quite close, only about twenty steps off, his
head erect and his hair curling out from beneath his fisher's cap. She
was so taken by surprise at this meeting, that she was afraid she
might fall, and then he would understand all; she would die of very
shame at it. She thought, too, she was not looking well, but wearied
by the hurried work. She would have done anything to be hidden away
under the reeds or in one of the ferret-holes.
He also had taken a backward step, as if to turn in another direction.
But it was too late now. Both met in the narrow path. Not to touch
her, he drew up against the bank, with a side swerve like a skittish
horse, looking at her in a wild, stealthy way.
She, too, for one half second looked up, and in spite of herself
mutely implored him, with an agonized prayer. In that involuntary
meeting of their eyes, swift as the firing of a gun, these gray pupils
of hers had appeared to dilate and light up with some grand noble
thought, which flashed forth in a blue flame, while the blood rushed
crimson even to her temples beneath her golden tresses.
As he touched his cap he faltered. "Wish you good-day, Mademoiselle
"Good-day, Monsieur Yann," she answered.
That was all. He passed on. She went on her way, still quivering, but
feeling, as he disappeared, that her blood was slowly circulating
again and her strength returning.
At home, she found Granny Moan crouching in a corner with her head
held between her hands, sobbing with her childish "he, he!" her hair
dishevelled and falling from beneath her cap like thin skeins of gray
"Oh, my kind Gaud! I've just met young Gaos down by Plouherzel as I
came back from my wood-gathering; we spoke of our poor lad, of course.
They arrived this morning from Iceland, and in the afternoon he came
over to see me while I was out. Poor lad, he had tears in his eyes,
too. He came right up to my door, my kind Gaud, to carry my little
She listened, standing, while her heart seemed almost to break; so
this visit of Yann's, upon which she had so much relied for saying so
many things, was already over, and would doubtless not occur again. It
was all done. Her poor heart seemed more lonely than ever. Her misery
harder, and the world more empty; and she hung her head with a wild
desire to die.
THE GRANDAM BREAKING UP
Slowly the winter drew nigh, and spread over all like a shroud
leisurely drawn. Gray days followed one another, but Yann appeared no
more, and the two women lived on in their loneliness. With the cold,
their daily existence became harder and more expensive.
Old Yvonne was difficult to tend, too; her poor mind was going. She
got into fits of temper now, and spoke wicked, insulting speeches once
or twice every week; it took her so, like a child, about mere
Poor old granny! She was still so sweet in her lucid days, that Gaud
did not cease to respect and cherish her. To have always been so good
and to end by being bad, and show towards the close a depth of malice
and spitefulness that had slumbered during her whole life, to use a
whole vocabulary of coarse words that she had hidden; what mockery of
the soul! what a derisive mystery! She began to sing, too, which was
still more painful to hear than her angry words, for she mixed
everything up together--the /oremus/ of a mass with refrains of loose
songs heard in the harbour from wandering sailors. Sometimes she sang
"/Les Fillettes de Paimpol/" (The Lasses of Paimpol), or, nodding her
head and beating time with her foot, she would mutter:
"Mon mari vient de partir;
Pour la peche d'Islande, mon mari vient de partir,
Il m'a laissee sans le sou,
Mais--trala, trala la lou,
J'en gagne, j'en gagne."
(My husband went off sailing
Upon the Iceland cruise,
But never left me money,
Not e'en a couple sous.
But--ri too loo! ri tooral loo!
I know what to do!)
She always stopped short, while her eyes opened wide with a lifeless
expression, like those dying flames that suddenly flash out before
fading away. She hung her head and remained speechless for a great
length of time, her lower jaw dropping as in the dead.
One day she could remember nothing of her grandson. "Sylvestre?
Sylvestre?" repeated she, wondering whom Gaud meant; "oh! my dear,
d'ye see, I've so many of them, that now I can't remember their
So saying she threw up her poor wrinkled hands, with a careless,
almost contemptuous toss. But the next day she remembered him quite
well; mentioning several things he had said or done, and that whole
day long she wept.
Oh! those long winter evenings when there was not enough wood for
their fire; to work in the bitter cold for one's daily bread, sewing
hard to finish the clothes brought over from Paimpol.
Granny Yvonne, sitting by the hearth, remained quiet enough, her feet
stuck in among the smouldering embers, and her hands clasped beneath
her apron. But at the beginning of the evening, Gaud always had to
talk to her to cheer her a little.
"Why don't ye speak to me, my good girl? In my time I've known many
girls who had plenty to say for themselves. I don't think it 'ud seem
so lonesome, if ye'd only talk a bit."
So Gaud would tell her chit-chat she had heard in town, or spoke of
the people she had met on her way home, talking of things that were
quite indifferent to her, as indeed all things were now; and stopping
in the midst of her stories when she saw the poor old woman was
There seemed nothing lively or youthful around her, whose fresh youth
yearned for youth. Her beauty would fade away, lonely and barren. The
wind from the sea came in from all sides, blowing her lamp about, and
the roar of the waves could be heard as in a ship. Listening, the
ever-present sad memory of Yann came to her, the man whose dominion
was these battling elements; through the long terrible nights, when
all things were unbridled and howling in the outer darkness, she
thought of him with agony.
Always alone as she was, with the sleeping old granny, she sometimes
grew frightened and looked in all dark corners, thinking of the
sailors, her ancestors, who had lived in these nooks, but perished in
the sea on such nights as these. Their spirits might possibly return;
and she did not feel assured against the visit of the dead by the
presence of the poor old woman, who was almost as one of them herself.
Suddenly she shivered from head to foot, as she heard a thin, cracked
voice, as if stifled under the earth, proceed from the chimney corner.
In a chirping tone, which chilled her very soul, the voice sang:
"Pour la peche d'Islande, mon mari vient de partir,
Il m'a laissee sans le sou,
Mais--trala, trala la lou!"
Then she was seized with that peculiar terror that one has of mad
The rain fell with an unceasing, fountain-like gush, and streamed down
the walls outside. There were oozings of water from the old moss-grown
roof, which continued dropping on the self-same spots with a
monotonous sad splash. They even soaked through into the floor inside,
which was of hardened earth studded with pebbles and shells.
Dampness was felt on all sides, wrapping them up in its chill masses;
an uneven, buffeting dampness, misty and dark, and seeming to isolate
the scattered huts of Ploubazlanec still more.
But the Sunday evenings were the saddest of all, because of the
relative gaiety in other homes on that day, for there are joyful
evenings even among those forgotten hamlets of the coast; here and
there, from some closed-up hut, beaten about by the inky rains,
ponderous songs issued. Within, tables were spread for drinkers;
sailors sat before the smoking fire, the old ones drinking brandy and
the young ones flirting with the girls; all more or less intoxicated
and singing to deaden thought. Close to them, the great sea, their
tomb on the morrow, sang also, filling the vacant night with its
immense profound voice.
On some Sundays, parties of young fellows who came out of the taverns
or back from Paimpol, passed along the road, near the door of the
Moans; they were such as lived at the land's end of Pors-Even way.
They passed very late, caring little for the cold and wet, accustomed
as they were to frost and tempests. Gaud lent her ear to the medley of
their songs and shouts--soon lost in the uproar of the squalls or the
breakers--trying to distinguish Yann's voice, and then feeling
strangely perplexed if she thought she had heard it.
It really was too unkind of Yann not to have returned to see them
again, and to lead so gay a life so soon after the death of Sylvestre;
all this was unlike him. No, she really could not understand him now,
but in spite of all she could not forget him or believe him to be
The fact was that since his return he had been leading a most
dissipated life indeed. Three or four times, on the Ploubazlanec road,
she had seen him coming towards her, but she was always quick enough
to shun him; and he, too, in those cases, took the opposite direction
over the heath. As if by mutual understanding, now, they fled from
THE NEW SHIP
At Paimpol lives a large, stout woman named Madame Tressoleur. In one
of the streets that lead to the harbour she keeps a tavern, well known
to all the Icelanders, where captains and ship-owners come to engage
their sailors, and choose the strongest among them, men and masters
all drinking together.
At one time she had been beautiful, and was still jolly with the
fishers; she has a mustache, is as broad built as a Dutchman, and as
bold and ready of speech as a Levantine. There is a look of the
daughter of the regiment about her, notwithstanding her ample nun-like
muslin headgear; for all that, a religious halo of its sort floats
around her, for the simple reason that she is a Breton born.
The names of all the sailors of the country are written in her head as
in a register; she knows them all, good or bad, and knows exactly,
too, what they earn and what they are worth.
One January day, Gaud, who had been called in to make a dress, sat
down to work in a room behind the tap-room.
To go into the abode of our Madame Tressoleur, you enter by a broad,
massive-pillared door, which recedes in the olden style under the
first floor. When you go to open this door, there is always some
obliging gust of wind from the street that pushes it in, and the new-
comers make an abrupt entrance, as if carried in by a beach roller.
The hall is adorned by gilt frames, containing pictures of ships and
wrecks. In an angle a china statuette of the Virgin is placed on a
bracket, between two bunches of artificial flowers.
These olden walls must have listened to many powerful songs of
sailors, and witnessed many wild gay scenes, since the first far-off
days of Paimpol--all through the lively times of the privateers, up to
these of the present Icelanders, so very little different from their
ancestors. Many lives of men have been angled for and hooked there, on
the oaken tables, between two drunken bouts.
While she was sewing the dress, Gaud lent her ear to the conversation
going on about Iceland, behind the partition, between Madame
Tressoleur and two old sailors, drinking. They were discussing a new
craft that was being rigged in the harbour. She never would be ready
for the next season, so they said of this /Leopoldine/.
"Oh, yes, to be sure she will!" answered the hostess. "I tell 'ee the
crew was all made up yesterday--the whole of 'em out of the old
/Marie/ of Guermeur's, that's to be sold for breaking up; five young
fellows signed their engagement here before me, at this here table,
and with my own pen--so ye see, I'm right! And fine fellows, too, I
can tell 'ee; Laumec, Tugdual Caroff, Yvon Duff, young Keraez from
Treguier, and long Yann Gaos from Pors-Even, who's worth any three on
The /Leopoldine/! The half-heard name of the ship that was to carry
Yann away became suddenly fixed in her brain, as if it had been
hammered in to remain more ineffaceably there.
At night back again at Ploubazlanec, and finishing off her work by the
light of her pitiful lamp, that name came back to her mind, and its
very sound impressed her as a sad thing. The names of vessels, as of
things, have a significance in themselves--almost a particular meaning
of their own. The new and unusual word haunted her with an unnatural
persistency, like some ghastly and clinging warning. She had expected
to see Yann start off again on the /Marie/, which she knew so well and
had formerly visited, and whose Virgin had so long protected its
dangerous voyages; and the change to the /Leopoldine/ increased her
But she told herself that that was not her concern, and nothing about
him ought ever to affect her. After all, what could it matter to her
whether he were here or there, on this ship or another, ashore or not?
Would she feel less miserable with him back in Iceland, when the
summer would return over the deserted cottages, and lonely anxious
women--or when a new autumn came again, bringing home the fishers once
more? All that was alike indifferent to her, equally without joy or
hope. There was no link between them now, nothing ever to bring them
together, for was he not forgetting even poor little Sylvestre? So,
she had plainly to understand that this sole dream of her life was
over for ever; she had to forget Yann, and all things appertaining to
his existence, even the very name of Iceland, which still vibrated in
her with so painful a charm--because of him all such thoughts must be
swept away. All was indeed over, for ever and ever.
She tenderly looked over at the poor old woman asleep, who still
required all her attention, but who would soon die. Then, what would
be the good of living and working after that; of what use would she
Out of doors, the western wind had again risen; and, notwithstanding
its deep distant soughing, the soft regular patter of the eaves-
droppings could be heard as they dripped from the roof. And so the
tears of the forsaken one began to flow--tears running even to her
lips to impart their briny taste, and dropping silently on her work,
like summer showers brought by no breeze, but suddenly falling,
hurried and heavy, from the over-laden clouds; as she could no longer
see to work, and she felt worked out and discouraged before this great
hollowness of her life, she folded up the extra-sized body of Madame
Tressoleur and went to bed.
She shivered upon that fine, grand bed, for, like all things in the
cottage, it seemed also to be getting colder and damper. But as she
was very young, although she still continued weeping, it ended by her
growing warm and falling asleep.
LONE AND LORN
Other sad weeks followed on, till it was early February, fine,
temperate weather. Yann had just come from his shipowner's where he
had received his wages for the last summer's fishery, fifteen hundred
francs, which, according to the custom of the family, he carried to
his mother. The catch had been a good one, and he returned well
Nearing Ploubazlanec, he spied a crowd by the side of the road. An old
woman was gesticulating with her stick, while the street boys mocked
and laughed around her. It was Granny Moan. The good old granny whom
Sylvestre had so tenderly loved--her dress torn and bedraggled--had
now become one of those poor old women, almost fallen back in second
childhood, who are followed and ridiculed along their roads. The sight
hurt him cruelly.
The boys of Ploubazlanec had killed her cat, and she angrily and
despairingly threatened them with her stick. "Ah, if my poor lad had
only been here! for sure, you'd never dared do it, you young rascals!"
It appeared that as she ran after them to beat them, she had fallen
down; her cap was awry, and her dress covered with mud; they called
out that she was tipsy (as often happens to those poor old "grizzling"
people in the country who have met misfortune).
But Yann clearly knew that that was not true, and that she was a very
respectable old woman, who only drank water.
"Aren't you ashamed?" roared he to the boys.
He was very angry, and his voice and tone frightened them, so that in
the twinkling of an eye they all took flight, frightened and confused
before "Long Gaos."
Gaud, who was just returning from Paimpol, bringing home her work for
the evening, had seen all this from afar, and had recognised Granny in
the group. She eagerly rushed forward to learn what the matter was,
and what they had done to her; seeing the cat, she understood it all.
She lifted up her frank eyes to Yann, who did not look aside; neither
thought of avoiding each other now; but they both blushed deeply and
they gazed rather startled at being so near one another; but without
hatred, almost with affection, united as they were in this common
impulse of pity and protection.
The school-children had owed a grudge to the poor dead grimalkin for
some time, because he had a black, satanic look; though he was really
a very good cat, and when one looked closely at him, he was soft and
caress-inviting of coat. They had stoned him to death, and one of his
eyes hung out. The poor old woman went on grumbling, shaking with
emotion, and carrying her dead cat by the tail, like a dead rabbit.
"Oh, dear, oh, dear! my poor boy, my poor lad, if he were only here;
for sure, they'd never dared a-do it."
Tears were falling down in her poor wrinkles; and her rough blue-
veined hands trembled.
Gaud had put her cap straight again, and tried to comfort her with
soothing words. Yann was quite indignant to think that little children
could be so cruel as to do such a thing to a poor aged woman and her
pet. Tears almost came into his eyes, and his heart ached for the poor
old dame as he thought of Sylvestre, who had loved her so dearly, and
the terrible pain it would have been to him to see her thus, under
derision and in misery.
Gaud excused herself as if she were responsible for her state. "She
must have fallen down," she said in a low voice; " 'tis true her dress
isn't new, for we're not very rich, Monsieur Yann; but I mended it
again only yesterday, and this morning when I left home I'm sure she
was neat and tidy."
He looked at her steadfastly, more deeply touched by that simple
excuse than by clever phrases or self-reproaches and tears. Side by
side they walked on to the Moans' cottage. He always had acknowledged
her to be lovelier than any other girl, but it seemed to him that she
was even more beautiful now in her poverty and mourning. She wore a
graver look, and her gray eyes had a more reserved expression, and
nevertheless seemed to penetrate to the inner depth of the soul. Her
figure, too, was thoroughly formed. She was twenty-three now, in the
full bloom of her loveliness. She looked like a genuine fisher's
daughter, too, in her plain black gown and cap; yet one could not
precisely tell what gave her that unmistakable token of the lady; it
was involuntary and concealed within herself, and she could not be
blamed for it; only perhaps her bodice was a trifle nicer fitting than
the others, though from sheer inborn taste, and showed to advantage
her rounded bust and perfect arms. But, no! the mystery was revealed
in her quiet voice and look.
It was manifest that Yann meant to accompany them; perhaps all the way
home. They walked on, all three together, as if following the cat's
funeral procession; it was almost comical to watch them pass; and the
old folks on the doorsteps grinned at the sight. Old Yvonne, in the
middle, carried the dead pet; Gaud walked on her right, trembling and
blushing, and tall Yann on the left, grave and haughty.
The aged woman had become quiet now; she had tidied her hair up
herself and walked silently, looking alternately at them both from the
tail of her eyes, which had become clear again.
Gaud said nothing for fear of giving Yann the opportunity of taking
his leave; she would have liked to feel his kind, tender eyes
eternally on her, and to walk along with her own closed so as to think
of nothing else; to wander along thus by his side in the dream she was
weaving, instead of arriving so soon at their lonely, dark cottage,
where all must fade away.
At the door occurred one of those moments of indecision when the heart
seems to stop beating. The grandam went in without turning round, then
Gaud, hesitating, and Yann, behind, entered, too.
He was in their house for the first time in his life--probably without
any reason. What could he want? As he passed over the threshold he
touched his hat, and then his eyes fell and dwelt upon Sylvestre's
portrait in its small black-beaded frame. He went slowly up to it, as
to a tomb.
Gaud remained standing with her hands resting on the table. He looked
around him; she watched him take a silent inspection of their poverty.
Very poor looked this cottage of the two forsaken women. At least he
might feel some pity for her, seeing her reduced to this misery inside
its plain granite and whitewash. Only the fine white bed remained of
all past splendour, and involuntarily Yann's eyes rested there.
He said nothing. Why did he not go? The old grandmother, although
still so sharp in her lucid intervals, appeared not to notice him. How
odd! So they remained over against one another, seeming respectively
to question with a yearning desire. But the moments were flitting, and
each second seemed to emphasize the silence between them. They gazed
at one another more and more searchingly, as if in solemn expectation
of some wonderful, exquisite event, which was too long in coming.
"Gaud," he began, in a low grave voice, "if you're still of a mind
What was he going to say? She felt instinctively that he had suddenly
taken a mighty resolution--rapidly as he always did, but hardly dared
"If you be still of a mind--d'ye see, the fish has sold well this
year, and I've a little money ahead----"
"If she were still of a mind!" What was he asking of her? Had she
heard aright? She felt almost crushed under the immensity of what she
thought she premised.
All the while, old Yvonne, in her corner, pricked up her ears, feeling
"We could make a splice on it--a marriage, right off, Mademoiselle
Gaud, if you are still of the same mind?"
He listened here for her answer, which did not come. What could stop
her from pronouncing that "yes?" He looked astonished and frightened,
she could see that. Her hands clutched the table edge. She had turned
quite white and her eyes were misty; she was voiceless, and looked
like some maid dying in her flower.
"Well, Gaud, why don't you answer?" said Granny Yvonne, who had risen
and come towards them. "Don't you see, it rather surprises her,
Monsieur Yann. You must excuse her. She'll think it over and answer
you later on. Sit you down a bit, Monsieur Yann, and take a glass of
cider with us."
It was not the surprise, but ecstasy that prevented Gaud from
answering; no words at all came to her relief. So it really was true
that he was good and kind-hearted. She knew him aright--the same true
Yann, her own, such as she never had ceased to see him,
notwithstanding his sternness and his rough refusal. For a long time
he had disdained her, but now he accepted her, although she was poor.
No doubt it had been his wish all through; he may have had a motive
for so acting, which she would know hereafter; but, for the present,
she had no intention of asking him his meaning, or of reproaching him
for her two years of pining. Besides, all that was past, ay, and
forgotten now; in one single moment everything seemed carried away
before the delightful whirlwind that swept over her life!
Still speechless, she told him of her great love and adoration for him
by her sweet brimming eyes alone; she looked deeply and steadily at
him, while the copious shower of happy tears poured adown her roseate
"Well done! and God bless you, my children," said Granny Moan. "It's
thankful I be to Him, too, for I'm glad to have been let grow so old
to see this happy thing afore I go."
Still there they remained, standing before one another with clasped
hands, finding no words to utter; knowing of no word sweet enough, and
no sentence worthy to break that exquisite silence.
"Why don't ye kiss one another, my children? Lor'! but they're dumb!
Dear me, what strange grandchildren I have here! Pluck up, Gaud; say
some'at to him, my dear. In my time lovers kissed when they plighted
Yann raised his hat, as if suddenly seized with a vast, heretofore
unfelt reverence, before bending down to kiss Gaud. It seemed to him
that this was the first kiss worthy of the name he ever had given in
She kissed him also, pressing her fresh lips, unused to refinements of
caresses, with her whole heart, to his sea-bronzed cheek.
Among the stones the cricket sang of happiness, being right for this
time. And Sylvestre's pitiful insignificant portrait seemed to smile
on them out of its black frame. All things, in fact, seemed suddenly
to throb with life and with joy in the blighted cottage. The very
silence apparently burst into exquisite music; and the pale winter
twilight, creeping in at the narrow window, became a wonderful,
"So we'll go to the wedding when the Icelanders return; eh, my dear
Gaud hung her head. "Iceland," the "/Leopoldine/"--so it was all real!
while she had already forgotten the existence of those terrible things
that arose in their way.
"When the Icelanders return."
How long that anxious summer waiting would seem!
Yann drummed on the floor with his foot feverishly and rapidly. He
seemed to be in a great hurry to be off and back, and was telling the
days to know if, without losing time, they would be able to get
married before his sailing. So many days to get the official papers
filled and signed; so many for the banns: that would only bring them
up to the twentieth or twenty-fifth of the month for the wedding, and
if nothing rose in the way, they could have a whole honeymoon week
together before he sailed.
"I'm going to start by telling my father," said he, with as much haste
as if each moment of their lives were now numbered and precious.
YANN'S FIRST WEDDING
THE COURTING BY THE SEA
All sweethearts like to sit on the bench at their cottage door, when
Yann and Gaud did that likewise. Every evening they sat out together
before the Moans' cottage, on the old granite seat, and talked love.
Others have the spring-time, the soft shadow of the trees, balmy
evenings, and flowering rosebushes; they had only the February
twilight, which fell over the sea-beaten land, strewn with eel-grass
and stones. There was no branch of verdure above their heads or around
them; nothing but the immense sky, over which passed the slowly
wandering mists. And their flowers were brown sea-weeds, drawn up from
the beach by the fishers, as they dragged their nets along.
The winters are not very severe in this part of the country, being
tempered by currents of the sea; but, notwithstanding that, the
gloaming was often laden with invisible icy rain, which fell upon
their shoulders as they sat together. But they remained there, feeling
warm and happy. The bench, which was more than a hundred years old,
did not seem in the least surprised at their love, having seen many
other pairs in its time; it had listened to many soft words, which are
always the same on the lips of the young, from generation to
generation; and it had become used to seeing lovers sit upon it again,
when they returned to it old and trembling; but in the broad day, this
time, to warm themselves in the last sun they would see.
From time to time Granny Moan would put her head out at the door to
have a look at them, and try to induce them to come in. "You'll catch
cold, my good children," said she, "and then you'll fall ill--Lord
knows, it really isn't sensible to remain out so late."
Cold! they cold? Were they conscious of anything else besides the
bliss of being together.
The passers-by in the evening down their pathway, heard the soft
murmur of two voices mingling with the voice of the sea, down below at
the foot of the cliffs. It was a most harmonious music; Gaud's sweet,
fresh voice alternated with Yann's, which had soft, caressing notes in
the lower tones. Their profiles could be clearly distinguished on the
granite wall against which they reclined; Gaud with her white headgear
and slender black-robed figure, and beside her the broad, square
shoulders of her beloved. Behind and above rose the ragged dome of the
straw thatch, and the darkening, infinite, and colourless waste of the
sea and sky floated over all.
Finally, they did go in to sit down by the hearth, whereupon old
Yvonne immediately nodded off to sleep, and did not trouble the two
lovers very much. So they went on communing in a low voice, having to
make up for two years of silence; they had to hurry on their courtship
because it was to last so short a time.
It was arranged that they were to live with Granny Moan, who would
leave them the cottage in her will; for the present, they made no
alterations in it, for want of time, and put off their plan for
embellishing their poor lonely home until the fisherman's return from
THE SEAMAN'S SECRET
One evening Yann amused himself by relating to his affianced a
thousand things she had done, or which had happened to her since their
first meeting; he even enumerated to her the different dresses she had
had, and the jollifications to which she had been.
She listened in great surprise. How did he know all this? Who would
have thought of a man ever paying any attention to such matters, and
being capable of remembering so clearly?
But he only smiled at her in a mysterious way, and went on mentioning
other facts to her that she had altogether forgotten.
She did not interrupt him; nay, she but let him continue, while an
unexpected delicious joy welled up in her heart; she began, at length,
to divine and understand everything. He, too, had loved--loved her,
through that weary time. She had been his constant thought, as he was
guilelessly confessing. But, in this case, what had been his reason
for repelling her at first and making her suffer so long?
There always remained this mystery that he had promised to explain to
her--yet still seemed to elude--with a confused, incomprehensible
THE OMINOUS WEDDING-DRESS
One fine day, the loving pair went over to Paimpol, with Granny Moan,
to buy the wedding-dress.
Gaud could very easily have done over one of her former town-lady's
dresses for the occasion. But Yann had wanted to make her this
present, and she had not resisted too long the having a dress given by
her betrothed, and paid for by the money he had earned at his fishing;
it seemed as if she were already his wife by this act.
They chose black, for Gaud had not yet left off mourning for her
father; but Yann did not find any of the stuffs they placed before
them good enough. He was not a little overbearing with the shopman;
he, who formerly never would have set his foot inside a shop, wanted
to manage everything himself, even to the very fashion of the dress.
He wished it adorned with broad beads of velvet, so that it would be
very fine, in his mind.
FLOWER OF THE THORN
One evening as these lovers sat out on their stone bench in the
solitude over which the night fell, they suddenly perceived a hawthorn
bush, which grew solitarily between the rocks, by the side of the
road, covered with tiny flowered tufts.
"It looks as if 'twas in bloom," said Yann.
They drew near to inspect it. It was in full flower, indeed. As they
could not see very well in the twilight, they touched the tiny blooms,
wet with mist. Then the first impression of spring came to them at the
same time they noticed this; the days had already lengthened, the air
was warmer, and the night more luminous. But how forward this
particular bush was! They could not find another like it anywhere
around, not one! It had blossomed, you see, expressly for them, for
the celebration of their loving plight.
"Oh! let us gather some more," said Yann.
Groping in the dark, he cut a nosegay with the stout sailor's knife
that he always wore in his belt, and paring off all the thorns, he
placed it in Gaud's bosom.
"You look like a bride now," said he, stepping back to judge of the
effect, notwithstanding the deepening dusk.
At their feet the calm sea rose and fell over the shingle with an
intermittent swash, regular as the breathing of a sleeper; for it
seemed indifferent or ever favourable to the love-making going on hard
In expectation of these evenings the days appeared long to them, and
when they bade each other good-bye at ten o'clock, they felt a kind of
discouragement, because it was all so soon over.
They had to hurry with the official documents for fear of not being
ready in time, and of letting their happiness slip by until the
autumn, or even uncertainty.
Their evening courtship in that mournful spot, lulled by the continual
even wash of the sea, with that feverish impression of the flight of
time, was almost gloomy and ominous. They were like no lovers; more
serious and restless were they in their love than the common run.
Yet Yann never told her what mysterious thing had kept him away from
her for these two lonely years; and after he returned home of a night,
Gaud grew uneasy as before, although he loved her perfectly--this she
knew. It is true that he had loved her all along, but not as now; love
grew stronger in his heart and mind, like a tide rising and
overbrimming. He never had known this kind of love before.
Sometimes on their stone seat he lay down, resting his head in Gaud's
lap like a caressing child, till, suddenly remembering propriety, he
would draw himself up erect. He would have liked to lie on the very
ground at her feet, and remain there with his brow pressed to the hem
of her garments. Excepting the brotherly kiss he gave her when he came
and went, he did not dare to embrace her. He adored that invisible
spirit in her, which appeared in the very sound of her pure, tranquil
voice, the expression of her smile, and in her clear eye.
THE COST OF OBSTINACY
One rainy evening they were sitting side by side near the hearth, and
Granny Moan was asleep opposite them. The fire flames, dancing over
the branches on the hearth, projected their magnified shadows on the
They spoke to one another in that low voice of all lovers. But upon
this particular evening their conversation was now and again broken by
long troubled silence. He, in particular, said very little and lowered
his head with a faint smile, avoiding Gaud's inquiring eyes. For she
had been pressing him with questions all the evening concerning that
mystery that he positively would not divulge; and this time he felt
himself cornered. She was too quick for him, and had fully made up her
mind to learn; no possible shifts could get him out of telling her
"Was it any bad tales told about me?" she asked.
He tried to answer "yes," and faltered: "Oh! there was always plenty
of rubbish babbled in Paimpol and Ploubazlanec."
She asked what, but he could not answer her; so then she thought of
something else. "Was it about my style of dress, Yann?"
Yes, of course, that had had something to do with it; at one time she
had dressed too grandly to be the wife of a simple fisherman. But he
was obliged to acknowledge that that was not all.
"Was it because at that time we passed for very rich people, and you
were afraid of being refused?"
"Oh, no! not that." He said this with such simple confidence that Gaud
Then fell another silence, during which the moaning of the sea-winds
was heard outside. Looking attentively at him, a fresh idea struck
her, and her expression changed.
"If not anything of that sort, Yann, /what/ was it?" demanded she,
suddenly, looking at him fair in the eyes, with the irresistible
questioning look of one who guesses the truth, and could dispense with
He turned aside, laughing outright.
So at last she had, indeed, guessed aright; he never could give her a
real reason, because there was none to give. He had simply "played the
mule" (as Sylvestre had said long ago). But everybody had teased him
so much about that Gaud, his parents, Sylvestre, his Iceland mates,
and even Gaud herself. Hence he had stubbornly said "no," but knew
well enough in the bottom of his heart that when nobody thought any
more about the hollow mystery it would become "yes."
So it was on account of Yann's childishness that Gaud had been
languishing, forsaken for two long years, and had longed to die.
At first Yann laughed, but now he looked at Gaud with kind eyes,
questioning deeply. Would she forgive him? He felt such remorse for
having made her suffer. Would she forgive him?
"It's my temper that does it, Gaud," said he. "At home with my folks,
it's the same thing. Sometimes, when I'm stubborn, I remain a whole
week angered against them, without speaking to anybody. Yet you know
how I love them, and I always end by doing what they wish, like a boy.
If you think that I was happy to live unmarried, you're mistaken. No,
it couldn't have lasted anyway, Gaud, you may be sure."
Of course, she forgave him. As she felt the soft tears fall, she knew
they were the outflow of her last pangs vanishing before Yann's
confession. Besides, the present never would have been so happy
without all her suffering; that being over, she was almost pleased at
having gone through that time of trial.
Everything was finally cleared up between them, in a very unexpected
though complete manner; there remained no clouds between their souls.
He drew her towards him, and they remained some time with their cheeks
pressed close, requiring no further explanations. So chaste was their
embrace, that the old grandam suddenly awaking, they remained before
her as they were without any confusion or embarrassment.
It was six days before the sailing for Iceland. Their wedding
procession was returning from Ploubazlanec Church, driven before a
furious wind, under a sombre, rain-laden sky.
They looked very handsome, nevertheless, as they walked along as in a
dream, arm-in-arm, like king and queen leading a long cortege. Calm,
reserved, and grave, they seemed to see nothing about them; as if they
were above ordinary life and everybody else. The very wind seemed to
respect them, while behind them their "train" was a jolly medley of
laughing couples, tumbled and buffeted by the angry western gale.
Many people were present, overflowing with young life; others turning
gray, but these still smiled as they thought of /their/ wedding-day
and younger years. Granny Yvonne was there and following, too, panting
a little, but something like happy, hanging on the arm of an old uncle
of Yann's, who was paying her old-fashioned compliments. She wore a
grand new cap, bought for the occasion, and her tiny shawl, which had
been dyed a third time, and black, because of Sylvestre.
The wind worried everybody; dresses and skirts, bonnets and /coiffes/,
were similarly tossed about mercilessly.
At the church door, the newly married couple, pursuant to custom, had
bought two nosegays of artificial flowers, to complete their bridal
attire. Yann had fastened his on anyhow upon his broad chest, but he
was one of those men whom anything becomes. As for Gaud, there was
still something of the lady about the manner in which she had placed
the rude flowers in her bodice, as of old very close fitting to her
The violin player, who led the whole band, bewildered by the wind,
played at random; his tunes were heard by fits and starts betwixt the
noisy gusts, and rose as shrill as the screaming of a sea-gull. All
Ploubazlanec had turned out to look at them. This marriage seemed to
excite people's sympathy, and many had come from far around; at each
turn of the road there were groups stationed to see them pass. Nearly
all Yann's mates, the Icelanders of Paimpol, were there. They cheered
the bride and bridegroom as they passed; Gaud returned their greeting,
bowing slightly like a town lady, with serious grace; and all along
the way she was greatly admired.
The darkest and most secluded hamlets around, even those in the woods,
had been emptied of all their beggars, cripples, wastrels, poor, and
idiots on crutches; these wretches scattered along the road, with
accordions and hurdy-gurdies; they held out their hands and hats to
receive the alms that Yann threw to them with his own noble look and
Gaud with her beautiful queenly smile. Some of these poor waifs were
very old and wore gray locks on heads that had never held much;
crouching in the hollows of the roadside, they were of the same colour
as the earth from which they seemed to have sprung, but so unformed as
soon to be returned without ever having had any human thoughts. Their
wandering glances were as indecipherable as the mystery of their
abortive and useless existences. Without comprehending, they looked at
the merrymakers' line pass by. It went on beyond Pors-Even and the
Gaoses' home. They meant to follow the ancient bridal tradition of
Ploubazlanec and go to the chapel of La Trinite, which is situated at
the very end of the Breton country.
At the foot of the outermost cliff, it rests on a threshold of low-
lying rocks close to the water, and seems almost to belong to the sea
already. A narrow goat's path leads down to it through masses of
The wedding party spread over the incline of the forsaken cape head;
and among the rocks and stones, happy words were lost in the roar of
the wind and the surf.
It was useless to try and reach the chapel; in this boisterous weather
the path was not safe, the sea came too close with its high rollers.
Its white-crested spouts sprang up in the air, so as to break over
everything in a ceaseless shower.
Yann, who had advanced the farthest with Gaud on his arm, was the
first to retreat before the spray. Behind, his wedding party had
remained strewn about the rocks, in a semicircle; it seemed as if he
had come to present his wife to the sea, which received her with
scowling, ill-boding aspect.
Turning round, he caught sight of the violinist perched on a gray
rock, trying vainly to play his dance tunes between gusts of wind.
"Put up your music, my lad," said Yann; "old Neptune is playing us a
livelier tune than yours."
A heavily beating shower, which had threatened since morning, began to
fall. There was a mad rush then, accompanied by outcries and laughter,
to climb up the bluff and take refuge at the Gaoses'.
THE DISCORDANT NOTE
The wedding breakfast was given at Yann's parents', because Gaud's
home was so poor. It took place upstairs in the great new room. Five-
and-twenty guests sat down round the newly married pair--sisters and
brothers, cousin Gaos the pilot, Guermeur, Keraez, Yvon Duff, all of
the old /Marie's/ crew, who were now the /Leopoldine's/; four very
pretty bridesmaids, with their hair-plaits wound round their ears,
like the empresses' in ancient Byzantium, and their modern white caps,
shaped like sea-shells; and four best men, all broad-shouldered
Icelanders, with large proud eyes.
Downstairs, of course, there was eating and cooking going on; the
whole train of the wedding procession had gathered there in disorder;
and the extra servants, hired from Paimpol, well-nigh lost their
senses before the mighty lumbering up of the capacious hearth with
pots and pans.
Yann's parents would have wished a richer wife for their son,
naturally, but Gaud was known now as a good, courageous girl; and
then, in spite of her lost fortune, she was the greatest beauty in the
country, and it flattered them to see the couple so well matched.
The old father was inclined to be merry after the soup, and spoke of
the bringing up of his fourteen little Gaoses; but they were all doing
well, thanks to the ten thousand francs that had made them well off.
Neighbour Guermeur related the tricks he played in the navy, yarns
about China, the West Indies, and Brazil, making the young ones who
would be off some day, open their eyes in wonderment.
"There is a cry against the sea-service," said the old sailor,
laughing, "but a man can have fine fun in it."
The weather did not clear up; on the contrary, the wind and rain raged
through the gloomy night; and in spite of the care taken, some of the
guests were fidgety about their smacks anchored in the harbour, and
spoke of getting up to go and see if all was right. But here a more
jovial sound than ever was heard from downstairs, where the younger
members of the party were supping together; cheers of joy and peals of
laughter ascended. The little cousins were beginning to feel
exhilarated by the cider.
Boiled and roasted meats had been served up with poultry, different
kinds of fish, omelets and pancakes.
The debate had turned upon fishery and smuggling, and the best means
of fooling the coast-guardsmen, who, as we all know, are the sworn
enemies of honest seafarers.
Upstairs, at the grand table, old circumnavigators went so far as to
relate droll stories, in the vernacular.
But the wind was raging altogether too strong; for the windows shook
with a terrible clatter, and the man telling the tale had hurriedly
ended to go and see to his smack.
Then another went on: "When I was bo's'n's mate aboard of the
/Zenobie/, a-lying at Aden, and a-doing the duty of a corporal of
marines, by the same token, you ought to ha' seen the ostridge feather
traders a-trying to scramble up over the side. [/Imitating the broken
talk/] 'Bon-joo, cap'n! we're not thiefs--we're honest merchants'--
Honest, my eye! with a sweep of the bucket, a purtending to draw some
water up, I sent 'em all flying back an oar's length. 'Honest
merchants, are ye,' says I, 'then send us up a bunch of honest
feathers first--with a hard dollar or two in the core of it, d'ye see,
and then I'll believe in your honesty!' Why, I could ha' made my
fortun' out of them beggars, if I hadn't been born and brought up
honest myself, and but a sucking-dove in wisdom, saying nothing of my
having a sweetheart at Toulon in the millinery line, who could have
used any quantity of feathers----"
Ha! here's one of Yann's little brothers, a future Iceland fisherman,
with a fresh pink face and bright eyes, who is suddenly taken ill from
having drunk too much cider. So little Laumec has to be carried off,
which cuts short the story of the milliner and the feathers.
The wind wailed in the chimney like an evil spirit in torment; with
fearful strength, it shook the whole house on its stone foundation.
"It strikes me the wind is stirred up, acos we're enjoying of
ourselves," said the pilot cousin.
"No, it's the sea that's wrathy," corrected Yann, smiling at Gaud,
"because I'd promised I'd be wedded to /her/."
A strange languor seemed to envelop them both; they spoke to one
another in a low voice, apart, in the midst of the general gaiety.
Yann, knowing thoroughly the effect of wine, did not drink at all. Now
and then he turned dull too, thinking of Sylvestre. It was an
understood thing that there was to be no dancing, on account of him
and of Gaud's dead father.
It was the dessert now; the singing would soon begin. But first there
were the prayers to say, for the dead of the family; this form is
never omitted, at all wedding-feasts, and is a solemn duty. So when
old Gaos rose and uncovered his white head, there was a dead silence
"This," said he, "is for Guillaume Gaos, my father." Making the sign
of the cross, he began the Lord's prayer in Latin: "/Pater noster, qui
es in coelis, sanctificetur nomen tumm/----"
The silence included all, even to the joyful little ones downstairs,
and every voice was repeating in an undertone the same eternal words.
"This is for Yves and Jean Gaos, my two brothers, who were lost in the
Sea of Iceland. This is for Pierre Gaos, my son, shipwrecked aboard
the /Zelie/." When all the dead Gaoses had had their prayers, he
turned towards grandmother Moan, saying, "This one is for Sylvestre
Yann wept as he recited another prayer.
"/Sed libera nos a malo. Amen/!"
Then the songs began; sea-songs learned in the navy, on the
forecastle, where we all know there are rare good vocalists.
"/Un noble corps, pas moins que celui des Zouaves/," etc.
A noble and a gallant lad
The Zouave is, we know,
But, capping him for bravery,
The sailor stands, I trow.
Hurrah, hurrah! long life to him,
Whose glory never can grow dim!
This was sung by one of the bride's supporters, in a feeling tone that
went to the soul; and the chorus was taken up by other fine, manly
But the newly wedded pair seemed to listen as from a distance. When
they looked at one another, their eyes shone with dulled brilliance,
like that of transparently shaded lamps. They spoke in even a lower
voice, and still held each other's hands. Gaud bent her head, too,
gradually overcome by a vast, delightful terror, before her master.
The pilot cousin went around the table, serving out a wine of his own;
he had brought it with much care, hugging and patting the bottle,
which ought not to be shaken, he said. He told the story of it. One
day out fishing they saw a cask a-floating; it was too big to haul on
board, so they had stove in the head and filled all the pots and pans
they had, with most of its contents. It was impossible to take all, so
they had signalled to other pilots and fishers, and all the sails in
sight had flocked round the flotsam.
"And I know more than one old sobersides who was gloriously topheavy
when we got back to Pors-Even at night!" he chuckled liquorishly.
The wind still went on with its fearful din.
Downstairs the children were dancing in rings; except some of the
youngest, sent to bed; but the others, who were romping about, led by
little Fantec (Francis) and Laumec (Guillaume), wanted to go and play
outside. Every minute they were opening the door and letting in
furious gusts, which blew out the candles.
The pilot cousin went on with his story. Forty bottles had fallen to
his lot, he said. He begged them all to say nothing about it, because
of "/Monsieur le Commissaire de l'Inscription Maritime/," who would
surely make a fuss over the undeclared find.
"But, d'ye see," he went on, "it sarved the lubbers right to heave
over such a vallyble cask or let it 'scape the lashings, for it's
superior quality, with sartinly more jinywine grape-juice in it than
in all the wine-merchants' cellars of Paimpol. Goodness knows whence
it came--this here castaway liquor."
It was very strong and rich in colour, dashed with sea-water, and had
the flavour of cod-pickle, but in spite of that, relishable; and
several bottles were emptied.
Some heads began to spin; the Babel of voices became more confused,
and the lads kissed the lasses less surreptitiously.
The songs joyously continued; but the winds would not moderate, and
the seamen exchanged tokens of apprehension about the bad weather
The sinister clamour without was indeed worse than ever. It had become
one continuous howl, deep and threatening, as if a thousand mad
creatures were yelling with full throats and out-stretched necks.
One might imagine heavy sea-guns shooting out their deafening boom in
the distance, but that was only the sea hammering the coast of
Ploubazlanec on all points; undoubtedly it did not appear contented,
and Gaud felt her heart shrink at this dismal music, which no one had
ordered for their wedding-feast.
Towards midnight, during a calm, Yann, who had risen softly, beckoned
his wife to come to speak with him.
It was to go home. She blushed, filled with shame, and confused at
having left her seat so promptly. She said it would be impolite to go
away directly and leave the others.
"Not a bit on it," replied Yann, "my father allows it; we may go," and
away he carried her.
They hurried away stealthily. Outside they found themselves in the
cold, the bitter wind, and the miserable, agitated night. They began
to run hand-in-hand.
From the height of the cliff-path, one could imagine, without seeing
it, the furious open sea, whence arose all this hubbub. They ran
along, the wind cutting their faces, both bowed before the angry
gusts, and obliged to put their hands over their mouths to cover their
breathing, which the wind had completely taken away at first.
He held her up by the waist at the outset, to keep her dress from
trailing on the ground, and her fine new shoes from being spoiled in
the water, which streamed about their feet, and next he held her round
the neck, too, and continued to run on still faster. He could hardly
realize that he loved her so much! To think that she was now twenty-
three and he nearly twenty-eight; that they might have been married
two years ago, and as happy then as to-night!
At last they arrived at home, that poor lodging, with its damp
flooring and moss-grown roof. They lit the candle, which the wind blew
Old grandam Moan, who had been taken home before the singing began,
was there. She had been sleeping for the last two hours in her bunk,
the flaps of which were shut. They drew near with respect and peeped
through the fretwork of her press, to bid her good-night, if by chance
she were not asleep. But they only perceived her still venerable face
and closed eyes; she slept, or she feigned to do so, not to disturb
They felt they were alone then. Both trembled as they clasped hands.
He bent forward to kiss her lips; but Gaud turned them aside, through
ignorance of that kind of kiss; and as chastely as on the evening of
their betrothal, she pressed hers to Yann's cheek, which was chilled,
almost frozen, by the wind.
It was bitterly cold in their poor, low-roofed cottage. If Gaud had
only remained rich, what happiness she would have felt in arranging a
pretty room, not like this one on the bare ground! She was scarcely
yet used to these rugged granite walls, and the rough look of all
things around; but her Yann was there now, and by his presence
everything was changed and transfigured. She saw only her husband.
Their lips met now; no turning aside. Still standing with their arms
intertwined tightly to draw themselves together, they remained dumb,
in the perfect ecstasy of a never-ending kiss. Their fluttering breath
commingled, and both quivered as if in a burning fever. They seemed
without power to tear themselves apart, and knew nothing and desired
nothing beyond that long kiss of consecrated love.
She drew herself away, suddenly agitated. "Nay, Yann! Granny Yvonne
might see us," she faltered.
But he, with a smile, sought his wife's lips again and fastened his
own upon them, like a thirsty man whose cup of fresh water had been
taken from him.
The movement they had made broke the charm of delightful hesitation.
Yann, who, at the first, was going to kneel to her as before a saint,
felt himself fired again. He glanced stealthily towards the old oaken
bunk, irritated at being so close to the old woman, and seeking some
way not to be spied upon, but ever without breaking away from those
He stretched forth his arm behind him, and with the back of his hand
dashed out the light, as if the wind had done it. Then he snatched her
up in his arms. Still holding her close, with his mouth continually
pressed to hers, he seemed like a wild lion with his teeth embedded in
his prey. For her part she gave herself up entirely, to that body and
soul seizure that was imperious and without possible resistance, even
though it remained soft as a great all-comprising embrace.
Around them, for their wedding hymn, the same invisible orchestra,
played on---- "Hoo-ooh-hoo!" At times the wind bellowed out in its
deep noise, with a /tremolo/ of rage; and again repeated its threats,
as if with refined cruelty, in low sustained tones, flute-like as the
hoot of an owl.
The broad, fathomless grave of all sailors lay nigh to them, restless
and ravenous, drumming against the cliffs with its muffled boom.
One night or another Yann would have to be caught in that maw, and
battle with it in the midst of the terror of ice as well. Both knew
But what mattered that now to them on land, sheltered from the sea's
futile fury. In their poor gloomy cottage, over which tempest rushed,
they scorned all that was hostile, intoxicated and delightfully
fortified against the whole by the eternal magic of love.
THE BLISSFUL WEEK
For six days they were husband and wife. In this time of leave-taking
the preparations for the Iceland season occupied everybody. The women
heaped up the salt for the pickle in the holds of the vessels; the men
saw to the masts and rigging. Yann's mother and sisters worked from
morning till night at the making of the sou'westers and oilskin
The weather was dull, and the sea, forefeeling the approach of the
equinoctial gales, was restless and heaving.
Gaud went through these inexorable preparations with agony; counting
the fleeting hours of the day, and looking forward to the night, when
the work was over, and she would have her Yann to herself.
Would he leave her every year in this way?
She hoped to be able to keep him back, but she did not dare to speak
to him about this wish as yet. He loved her passionately, too; he
never had known anything like this affection before; it was such a
fresh, trusting tenderness that the same caresses and fondlings always
seemed as if novel and unknown heretofore; and their intoxication of
love continued to increase, and never seemed--never was satiated.
What charmed and surprised her in her mate was his tenderness and
boyishness. This the Yann in love, whom she had sometimes seen at
Paimpol most contemptuous towards the girls. On the contrary, to her
he always maintained that kindly courtesy that seemed natural to him,
and she adored that beautiful smile that came to him whenever their
eyes met. Among these simple folk there exists the feeling of absolute
respect for the dignity of the wife; there is an ocean between her and
the sweetheart. Gaud was essentially the wife. She was sorely troubled
in her happiness, however, for it seemed something too unhoped for, as
unstable as a joyful dream. Besides, would this love be lasting in
Yann? She remembered sometimes his former flames, his fancies and
different love adventures, and then she grew fearful. Would he always
cherish that infinite tenderness and sweet respect for her?
Six days of a wedded life, for such a love as theirs, was nothing;
only a fevered instalment taken from the married life term, which
might be so long before them yet! They had scarcely had leisure to be
together at all and understand that they really belonged to one
another. All their plans of life together, of peaceful joy, and
settling down, was forcedly put off till the fisherman's return.
No! at any price she would stop him from going to this dreadful
Iceland another year! But how should she manage? And what could they
do for a livelihood, being both so poor? Then again he so dearly loved
the sea. But in spite of all, she would try and keep him home another
season; she would use all her power, intelligence, and heart to do so.
Was she to be the wife of an Icelander, to watch each spring-tide
approach with sadness, and pass the whole summer in painful anxiety?
no, now that she loved him, above everything that she could imagine,
she felt seized with an immense terror at the thought of years to come
thus robbed of the better part.
They had one spring day together--only one. It was the day before the
sailing; all the stores had been shipped, and Yann remained the whole
day with her. They strolled along, arm-in-arm, through the lanes, like
sweethearts again, very close to one another, murmuring a thousand
tender things. The good folk smiled, as they saw them pass, saying:
"It's Gaud, with long Yann from Pors-Even. They were married only
This last day was really spring. It was strange and wonderful to
behold this universal serenity. Not a single cloud marred the lately
flecked sky. The wind did not blow anywhere. The sea had become quite
tranquil, and was of a pale, even blue tint. The sun shone with
glaring white brilliancy, and the rough Breton land seemed bathed in
its light, as in a rare, delicate ether; it seemed to brighten and
revive even in the utmost distance. The air had a delicious, balmy
scent, as of summer itself, and seemed as if it were always going to
remain so, and never know any more gloomy, thunderous days. The capes
and bays over which the changeful shadows of the clouds no longer
passed, were outlined in strong steady lines in the sunlight, and
appeared to rest also in the long-during calm. All this made their
loving festival sweeter and longer drawn out. The early flowers
already appeared: primroses, and frail, scentless violets grew along
When Gaud asked: "How long then are you going to love me, Yann?"
He answered, surprisedly, looking at her full in the face with his
frank eyes: "Why, for ever, Gaud."
That word, spoken so simply by his fierce lips, seemed to have its
true sense of eternity.
She leaned on his arm. In the enchantment of her realized dream, she
pressed close to him, always anxious, feeling that he was as flighty
as a wild sea-bird. To-morrow he would take his soaring on the open
sea. And it was too late now, she could do nothing to stop him.
From the cliff-paths where they wandered, they could see the whole of
this sea-bound country; which seems almost treeless, strewn with low,
stunted bush and boulders. Here and there fishers' huts were scattered
over the rocks, their high battered thatches made green by the
cropping up of new mosses; and in the extreme distance, the sea, like
a boundless transparency, stretched out in a never-ending horizon,
which seemed to encircle everything.
She enjoyed telling him about all the wonderful things she had seen in
Paris, but he was very contemptuous, and was not interested.
"It's so far from the coast," said he, "and there is so much land
between, that it must be unhealthy. So many houses and so many people,
too, about! There must be lots of ills and ails in those big towns;
no, I shouldn't like to live there, certain sure!"
She smiled, surprised to see this giant so simple a fellow.
Sometimes they came across hollows where trees grew and seemed to defy
the winds. There was no view here, only dead leaves scattered beneath
their feet and chilly dampness; the narrow way, bordered on both sides
by green reeds, seemed very dismal under the shadow of the branches;
hemmed in by the walls of some dark, lonely hamlet, rotting with old
age, and slumbering in this hollow.
A crucifix arose inevitably before them, among the dead branches, with
its colossal image of Our Saviour in weather-worn wood, its features
wrung with His endless agony.
Then the pathway rose again, and they found themselves commanding the
view of immense horizons--and breathed the bracing air of sea-heights
He, to match her, spoke of Iceland, its pale, nightless summers and
sun that never set. Gaud did not understand and asked him to explain.
"The sun goes all round," said he, waving his arm in the direction of
the distant circle of the blue waters. "It always remains very low,
because it has no strength to rise; at midnight, it drags a bit
through the water, but soon gets up and begins its journey round
again. Sometimes the moon appears too, at the other side of the sky;
then they move together, and you can't very well tell one from
t'other, for they are much alike in that queer country."
To see the sun at midnight! How very far off Iceland must be for such
marvels to happen! And the fjords? Gaud had read that word several
times written among the names of the dead in the chapel of the
shipwrecked, and it seemed to portend some grisly thing.
"The fjords," said Yann, "they are not broad bays, like Paimpol, for
instance; only they are surrounded by high mountains--so high that
they seem endless, because of the clouds upon their tops. It's a sorry
country, I can tell you, darling. Nothing but stones. The people of
Iceland know of no such things as trees. In the middle of August, when
our fishery is over, it's quite time to return, for the nights begin
again then, and they lengthen out very quickly; the sun falls below
the earth without being able to get up, and that night lasts all the
winter through. Talking of night," he continued, "there's a little
burying-ground on the coast in one of the fjords, for Paimpol men who
have died during the season or went down at sea; it's consecrated
earth, just like at Pors-Even, and the dead have wooden crosses just
like ours here, with their names painted on them. The two Goazdious
from Ploubazlanec lie there, and Guillaume Moan, Sylvestre's
She could almost see the little churchyard at the foot of the solitary
capes, under the pale rose-coloured light of those never-ending days,
and she thought of those distant dead, under the ice and dark winding
sheets of the long night-like winters.
"Do you fish the whole time?" she asked, "without ever stopping?"
"The whole time, though we somehow get on with work on deck, for the
sea isn't always fine out there. Well! of course we're dead beat when
the night comes, but it gives a man an appetite--bless you, dearest,
we regularly gobble down our meals."
"Do you never feel sick of it?"
"Never," returned he, with an air of unshaken faith which pained her;
"on deck, on the open sea, the time never seems long to a man--never!"
She hung her head, feeling sadder than ever, and more and more
vanquished by her only enemy, the sea.
THE SECOND WEDDING
After the spring day they had enjoyed, the falling night brought back
the impression of winter, and they returned to dine before their fire,
which was flaming with new branches. It was their last meal together;
but they had some hours yet, and were not saddened.
After dinner, they recovered the sweet impression of spring again, out
on the Pors-Even road; for the air was calm, almost genial, and the
twilight still lingered over the land.
They went to see the family--for Yann to bid good-bye--and returned
early, as they wished to rise with break of day.
The next morning the quay of Paimpol was crowded with people. The
departures for Iceland had begun the day before, and with each tide
there was a fresh fleet off. On this particular morning, fifteen
vessels were to start with the /Leopoldine/, and the wives or mothers
of the sailors were all present at the getting under sail.
Gaud, who was now the wife of an Icelander, was much surprised to find
herself among them all, and brought thither for the same fateful
purpose. Her position seemed to have become so intensified within the
last few days, that she had barely had time to realize things as they
were; gliding irresistibly down an incline, she had arrived at this
inexorable conclusion that she must bear up for the present, and do as
the others did, who were accustomed to it.
She never before had been present at these farewells; hence all was
new to her. Among these women was none like her, and she felt her
difference and isolation. Her past life, as a lady, was still
remembered, and caused her to be set aside as one apart.
The weather had remained fine on this parting-day; but out at sea a
heavy swell came from the west, foretelling wind, and the sea, lying
in wait for these new adventurers, burst its crests afar.
Around Gaud stood many good-looking wives like her, and touching, with
their eyes big with tears; others were thoughtless and lively; these
had no heart or were not in love. Old women, threatened nearly by
death, wept as they clung to their sons; sweethearts kissed each
other; half-maudlin sailors sang to cheer themselves up, while others
went on board with gloomy looks as to their execution.
Many sad incidents could be marked; there were poor luckless fellows
who had signed their contracts unconsciously, when in liquor in the
grog-shop, and they had to be dragged on board by force; their own
wives helping the gendarmes. Others, noted for their great strength,
had been drugged in drink beforehand, and were carried like corpses on
stretchers, and flung down in the forecastles.
Gaud was frightened by all this; what companions were these for her
Yann? and what a fearful thing was this Iceland, to inspire men with
such terror of it?
Yet there were sailors who smiled, and were happy; who, doubtless,
like Yann, loved the untrammelled life and hard fishing work; those
were the sound, able seamen, who had fine noble countenances; if they
were unmarried they went off recklessly, merely casting a last look on
the lasses; and if they were married, they kissed their wives and
little ones, with fervent sadness and deep hopefulness as to returning
home all the richer.
Gaud was a little comforted when she saw that all the /Leopoldines/
were of the latter class, forming really a picked crew.
The vessels set off two by two, or four by four, drawn out by the
tugs. As soon as they moved the sailors raised their caps and, full-
voiced, struck up the hymn to the Virgin: "/Salut, Etoile-de-la-Mer/!"
(All Hail! Star of the Sea!), while on the quay, the women waved their
hands for a last farewell, and tears fell upon the lace strings of the
As soon as the /Leopoldine/ started, Gaud quickly set off towards the
house of the Gaoses. After an hour and a half's walk along the coast,
through the familiar paths of Ploubazlanec, she arrived there, at the
very land's end, within the home of her new family.
The /Leopoldine/ was to cast anchor off Pors-Even before starting
definitely in the evening, so the married pair had made a last
appointment here. Yann came to land in the yawl, and stayed another
three hours with her to bid her good-bye on firm land. The weather was
still beautiful and spring-like, and the sky serene.
They walked out on the high road arm-in-arm, and it reminded them of
their walk the day before. They strolled on towards Paimpol without
any apparent object in view, and soon came to their own house, as if
unconsciously drawn there; they entered together for the last time.
Grandam Moan was quite amazed at seeing them together again.
Yann left many injunctions with Gaud concerning several of his things
in his wardrobe, especially about his fine wedding clothes; she was to
take them out occasionally and air them in the sun, and so on. On
board ship the sailors learn all these household-like matters; but
Gaud was amused to hear it. Her husband might have been sure, though,
that all his things would be kept and attended to, with loving care.
But all these matters were very secondary for them; they spoke of them
only to have something to talk about, and to hide their real feelings.
They went on speaking in low, soft tones, as if fearing to frighten
away the moments that remained, and so make time flit by more swiftly
still. Their conversation was as a thing that had inexorably to come
to an end; and the most insignificant things that they said seemed, on
this day, to become wondrous, mysterious, and important.
At the very last moment Yann caught up his wife in his arms, and
without saying a word, they were enfolded in a long and silent
He embarked; the gray sails were unfurled and spread out to the light
wind that rose from the west. He, whom she still could distinguish,
waved his cap in a particular way agreed on between them. And with her
figure outlined against the sea, she gazed for a long, long time upon
her departing love.
That tiny, human-shaped speck, appearing black against the bluish gray
of the waters, was still her husband, even though already it became
vague and indefinable, lost in the distance, where persistent sight
becomes baffled, and can see no longer.
As the /Leopoldine/ faded out of vision, Gaud, as if drawn by a
magnet, followed the pathway all along the cliffs till she had to
stop, because the land came to an end; she sat down at the foot of a
tall cross, which rises amidst the gorse and stones. As it was rather
an elevated spot, the sea, as seen from there, appeared to be rimmed,
as in a bowl, and the /Leopoldine/, now a mere point, appeared sailing
up the incline of that immense circle. The water rose in great slow
undulations, like the upheavals of a submarine combat going on
somewhere beyond the horizon; but over the great space where Yann
still was, all dwelt calm.
Gaud still gazed at the ship, trying to fix its image well in her
brain, so that she might recognise it again from afar, when she
returned to the same place to watch for its home-coming.
Great swells now rolled in from the west, one after another, without
cessation, renewing their useless efforts, and ever breaking over the
same rocks, foaming over the same places, to wash the same stones. The
stifled fury of the sea appeared strange, considering the absolute
calmness of the air and sky; it was as if the bed of the sea were too
full and would overflow and swallow up the strand.
The /Leopoldine/ had grown smaller and smaller, and was lost in the
distance. Doubtless the under-tow carried her along, for she moved
swiftly and yet the evening breezes were very faint. Now she was only
a tiny, gray touch, and would soon reach the extreme horizon of all
visible things, and enter those infinite regions, whence darkness was
beginning to come.
Going on seven o'clock, night closed, and the boat had disappeared.
Gaud returned home, feeling withal rather brave, notwithstanding the
tears that uncontainably fell. What a difference it would have been,
and what still greater pain, if he had gone away, as in the two
preceding years, without even a good-bye! While now everything was
softened and bettered between them. He was really her own Yann, and
she knew herself to be so truly loved, notwithstanding this
separation, that, as she returned home alone, she felt at least
consoled by the thought of the delightful waiting for that "soon
again!" to be realized to which they had pledged themselves for the
THE FIRST OF THE FLEET
The summer passed sadly, being hot and uneventful. She watched
anxiously for the first yellowed leaves, and the first gathering of
the swallows, and blooming of the chrysanthemums. She wrote to Yann
several times by the boats bound for Rykawyk, and by the government
cruisers, but one never can be sure of such letters reaching their
Towards the end of July, she received a letter from him, however. He
told her that his health was good, that the fishing season promised to
be excellent, and that he already had 1500 fish for his share. From
beginning to end, it was written in the simple conventional way of all
these Icelanders' home letters. Men educated like Yann completely
ignore how to write the thousand things they think, feel, or fancy.
Being more cultivated than he, Gaud could understand this, and read
between the lines that deep affection that was unexpressed. Several
times in the four-paged letter, he called her by the title of "wife,"
as if happy in repeating the word. And the address above: "/A Madame
Marguerite Gaos, maison Moan, en Ploubazlanec/"--she was "Madame
Marguerite Gaos" since so short a time.
She worked hard during these summer months. The ladies of Paimpol had,
at first, hardly believed in her talent as an amateur dressmaker,
saying her hands were too fine-ladyish; but they soon perceived that
she excelled in making dresses that were very nice-fitting, so she had
become almost a famous dressmaker.
She spent all her earnings in embellishing their home against his
return. The wardrobe and old-shelved beds were all done up afresh,
waxed over, and bright new fastenings put on; she had put a pane of
glass into their little window towards the sea, and hung up a pair of
curtains; and she had bought a new counterpane for the winter, with
new chairs and table.
She had kept the money untouched that her Yann had left her, carefully
put by in a small Chinese box, to show him when he returned. During
the summer evenings, by the fading light, she sat out before the
cottage door with Granny Moan, whose head was much better in the warm
weather, and knitted a fine new blue wool jersey for her Yann; round
the collar and cuffs were wonderful open-work embroideries. Granny
Yvonne had been a very clever knitter in her day, and now she taught
all she knew to Gaud. The work took a great deal of wool; for it had
to be a large jersey to fit Yann.
But soon, especially in the evenings, the shortening of the days could
be perceived. Some plants, which had put forth all their blossoms in
July, began to look yellow and dying, and the violet scabious by the
wayside bloomed for the second time, smaller now, and longer-stalked;
the last days of August drew nigh, and the first return-ship from
Iceland hove in sight one evening at the cape of Pors-Even. The feast
of the returners began.
Every one pressed in a crowd on the cliff to welcome it. Which one was
It was the /Samuel-Azenide/, always the first to return.
"Surely," said Yann's old father, "the /Leopoldine/ won't be long now;
I know how 'tis out yonder: when one of 'em begins to start homeward,
the others can't hang back in any peace."
ALL BUT TWO
The Icelanders were all returning now. Two ships came in the second
day, four the next, and twelve during the following week. And, all
through the country, joy returned with them, and there was happiness
for the wives and mothers; and junkets in the taverns where the
beautiful barmaids of Paimpol served out drink to the fishers.
The /Leopoldine/ was among the belated; there were yet another ten
expected. They would not be long now, and allowing a week's delay so
as not to be disappointed, Gaud waited in happy, passionate joy for
Yann, keeping their home bright and tidy for his return. When
everything was in good order there was nothing left for her to do, and
besides she could think of nothing else but her husband in her
Three more ships appeared; then another five. There were only two
"Come, come," they said to her cheerily, "this year the /Leopoldine/
and the /Marie-Jeanne/ will be the last, to pick up all the brooms
fallen overboard from the other craft."
Gaud laughed also. She was more animated and beautiful than ever, in
her great joy of expectancy.
STILL AT SEA
But the days succeeded one another without result. She still dressed
herself every day, and with a joyful look, went down to the harbour to
gossip with the other wives. She said that this delay was but natural;
was it not the same event every year? These were such safe boats, and
had such capital sailors.
But when at home alone, at night, a nervous, anxious shiver of anguish
would run through her whole frame.
Was it right to be frightened already? Was there even a single reason
to be so? But she began to tremble at the mere idea of grounds for
SHARING THE DREAD
The tenth of September came. How swiftly the days flew by!
One morning, a true autumn morning, with cold mist falling over the
earth, in the rising sun, she sat under the porch of the chapel of the
shipwrecked mariners, where the widows go to pray, with eyes fixed and
glassy, throbbing temples tightened as by an iron hand.
These sad morning mists had begun two days before, and on this
particular day Gaud had awakened with a still more bitter uneasiness,
caused by the forecast of advancing winter. Why did this day, this
hour, this very moment, seem to her more painful than the preceding?
Often ships are delayed a fortnight, even a month, for that matter.
But surely there was something different about this particular
morning, for she had come to-day for the first time to sit in the
porch of this chapel and read the names of the dead sailors, perished
in their prime.
"In memory of
Lost at sea
Near the Norden-Fjord."
Like a great shudder, a gust of wind rose from the sea, and at the
same time something fell like rain upon the roof above. It was only
the dead leaves though; many were blown in at the porch; the old wind-
tossed trees of the graveyard were losing their foliage in this rising
gale, and winter was marching nearer.
"Lost at sea,
Near the Norden-Fjord,