Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

good market for their fish, and to buy salt for the next campaign in the salt marshes of its low Sand Islands.

In these southern ports, still warm with the sun, the hardy sailors scatter for a day or two,-eager for pleasure, and intoxicated by the remaining fragment of the summer, the touch of the earth, and the milder air.

And then with the first frosts of autumn they return to their homes in Paimpol, or in the country of Gaëlo round about, to busy themselves with love affairs and family affairs, with marriages and births. Almost always they find little new-comers, whom their fathers have never seen, waiting for their return to be christened. They have need of many children, this race of fisherman, whom Iceland devours.

II

A sun which no longer told the hour rested ever over the horizon as if presiding over the glittering, lifeless world; it seemed itself hardly more than a formless disk, immeasurably enlarged by the wavering halo which surrounded it.

Yann and Sylvestre, as they fished on beside each other, were singing “Jean François de Nantes,"—a song without an end,—enjoying its very monotony, looking at each other out of the corners of their eyes, and laughing at the childish fun they were getting out of repeating forever these same couplets, and trying to sing them with a different expression each time. Their cheeks. were ruddy with the salt freshness of the air they were breathing, which was pure and vivifying; and they filled their lungs full of it, as though from the fountain-head of life and vigor.

And yet all around them there was not a sign of life, but the semblance of a world that was dead, or of one not yet created; the light was without warmth, and everything seemed immovable, as if frozen stiff forever under the gaze of that great spectacle eye,-the

sun.

The Marie cast a long reflection over the surface of the sea, like an evening shadow which looked green on the white and polished mirror in which was reflected the glaring light of the sky. And in all that part which was covered by the shadow could be seen everything that was going on underneath, on account of the clearness of the water. Innumerable fishes, thousands on thousands all alike, were gliding quietly along in the same direction, as if they all had the same purpose in their never-ending journey. These were the cod, which were performing their evolutions together, stretching along in the same direction in strictly parallel lines, like gray clefts in the water,--and trembling constantly with a rapid movement which gave a look of fluidity to the mass of silent life. Sometimes, with a quick flip of their tails, they would all turn over at once, showing the glittering silver scales underneath; and with the same flip of the tail, they would all turn back again, communicating this motion through the entire school with slow undulations, as if thousands of metallic blades had Aashed for a moment in the sunlight between two waves.

The sun, already low in the sky, sank still lower; surely it must be evening. The lower it descended into the leaden banks of cloud which hung over the sea, the more yellow it became, and its shape grew more clear and defined, while one could bear to look at it, like the moon. It still shone; but you would have said that it was not so very far away, and that if you went in a boat only to the edge of the horizon, you would run up against this great melancholy balloon floating about in the air, two or three yards above the waters.

The fishing went on fast enough; looking into the still water you could see very clearly how it was done: the cod swam up and took the bait with a hungry snap, and then shook themselves a little, feeling the prick of the hook, only fastening it in more firmly, and then every few minutes the fishermen pulled in their lines, hand over hand, throwing over the fish to the man who split and flattened them down.

The little fleet of Paimpol fishing-boats was scattered over this tranquil mirror, enlivening the deserted waters. Here and there their small sails appeared in the distance, set as a matter of form,—for there was not a breath stirring,—and standing out white and clear against the gray

line of the horizon. To-day it seemed a very quiet and easy business, this Iceland fishing, only fit for girls.

"Jean François de Nantes!
Jean François !
Jean François !"

they sang,—the two big children.

Yann was not in the least conscious on account of his fine figure and his good looks; but he was never a child except with Sylvestre, and sang and joked with him alone. He was very reserved with others, and rather inclined to be serious and haughty,—very pleasant always, however, when anything was wanted of him, and always good and obliging as long as they did not annoy him.

While they were singing this song, the two others, a few yards away, were singing something else,-some other medley of drowsiness, good health, and vague melancholy.

They were busy and content, and the hours went quickly by

Down below in the cabin a little fire smouldered away at the bottom of the iron stove, and the hatchway was closed to make it seem like night for those who wanted to sleep. They needed very little air while they slept; men much less robust and brought up in cities would have required more. But when the lungs are expanded all day long with the air of this same limitless space, they too rest, as it were, and scarcely need to respire at all; so one can coil one's self up in no matter how small a place, like an animal.

The crew went to bed after their watch at odd times, just as the fancy took them, and their slumber was always healthy, quiet, and dreamless, and one in which they found complete repose.

"Jean François de Nantes!
Jean François !
Jean François!"

III

When Yann had gotten up on deck he looked about him with his half-opened eyes, out over the great familiar circle of the sea.

On that night, its grandeur wore an aspect of wonderful simplicity; and its neutral tints gave only the impression of depth and distance.

That horizon which marks no region of the earth, nor yet any geological period, must have worn this same look unnumbered times since the creation of the world, when the eye which seeks finds nothing,-nothing but the eternity of the material things that are and cannot choose but be.

The darkness of the night was relieved by a dim, vague radiance which came from one knew not whence, and about the vessel the wind was sighing its aimless, eternal lament.

And all around was a melting grayness which the eye could not penetrate; so does the slumbering sea love to veil, under quiet nameless tints, her mighty and mysterious repose. Vaporous clouds floated on high, as formless as material things can be, and in the dim light seeming to cover the sky like a great veil.

But at one point in the heavens, low down near the horizon, there appeared a sort of wavy brightness, distinct though distant,-an indefinite design, traced as by some careless hand; a work of chance, not meant to be looked at, fugitive and vanishing. And this alone, in all the circumference of sea and sky, seemed to have a meaning; one would almost have said that the melancholy thought of this vast silence was written there, whither the eye was at last unconsciously drawn.

The more Yann's quick eyes became accustomed to the dim light outside, the more he gazed at this single drawing in the sky, and it seemed to him to assume the shape of a vanishing figure with two outstretched arms; and now that he had begun to look at it, it seemed to him quite like a human shape magnified to a gigantic size from having come so far. And then in his imagination, where floated together inexpressible dreams and superstitious

« ForrigeFortsæt »