Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

beliefs, this melancholy shadow, sunk in the edge of the cloudy sky, intermingled itself gradually with the memory of his dead brother like a last manifestation of his spirit. He was accustomed to the strange association of images which is characteristic of the early part of life and of childish minds; but words, however vague, are still too definite to express such thoughts, and one needs that uncertain language which we sometimes speak in dreams, and of which nothing remains to us on waking, but puzzling, incoherent fragments. As he watched this cloud, he felt a deep sadness come over him,-a sadness agonizing, mysterious, and hitherto unknown, which stopped the beating of his heart; and now for the first time he seemed really to understand that he should never, never see his little brother again. The sorrow which had been long in piercing that hard stern heart of his had entered now and filled it full. He saw once more the sweet face of Sylvestre with its innocent, childish eyes, and when he thought of that meeting and embracing which never more would be, something like a veil suddenly fell before his eyes in spite of himself. At first he did not know what it was, having never wept since he was a child; but the great tears began to rain down his cheeks, and his deep chest heaved with sobs.

He went on fishing very rapidly, without stopping or saying a word; and the others, who heard him in the silence, refrained from showing that they noticed him, for fear of annoying him, knowing how proud and reserved he was. According to his idea, death was the end of everything. He had always been accustomed, out of deference, to join in the prayers for the dead at home; but he had no belief in the immortality of the soul.

When sailors talk among one another, they all say the same thing in a short and decided way, as if everybody knew it; nevertheless, it does not prevent them from having a vague dread of ghosts and fear of cemeteries, and an entire confidence in saints and protecting images, or an instinctive veneration for the sacred ground around churches.

And then Yann always expected that the sea would claim him, and that then he would be lost in utter annihilation; and the thought that Sylvestre was away over there in that distant land made his sorrow still more hopeless and profound.

With his disregard of other people, he wept without shame or constraint, as if he had been alone.

Outside, it was getting lighter over the empty sea, although it was hardly more than two o'clock, and at the same time the distances seemed to extend immeasurably

In this strange false dawn, the eyes open still wider, and the awakening mind better understands the immensity of the distances; and the limits of visible space retreat still more, fleeing ever before the sight.

It was a pale, pale light, which gradually grew brighter, seeming to come in little jets, with slight and sudden shocks; it made the heavens look as if they were being illuminated like a transparency, and as if lamps with white flames were being raised, little by little, little by little, behind the shapeless gray clouds,-carefully raised with mysterious caution, for fear of disturbing the mournful repose of the sea.

That great white lamp over there, over the horizon, was the sun, weakly dragging itself along before making its slow cold journey over the icy waters, which it

was over.

must begin in the early morning. But that morning there were no rosy tints of dawn in all the sad pale sky, and on board the Marie a strong man was weeping.

These tears shed by his wild brother and the deep melancholy of the outside world were the only tribute of grief paid to the memory of the poor, obscure little hero on these Iceland seas where half his life had been spent.

At daybreak Yann roughly dried his eyes with the sleeve of his woollen jersey, and wept no more. It

He seemed to become absorbed again in his fishing, by the monotonous habits of every-day life, and to think no more about his grief. And they were in the midst of a large shoal of fish just then, and their arms were hardly strong enough to pull them in.

Round about the fishermen, in the deep distances, the aspect of the world was again changing. The mighty unveiling of the universe, the great spectacle of dawn, was finished.

Now, on the contrary, the visible space seemed to contract and to be closing in. How could one, just before, have thought the sea so limitless ? The horizon appeared now quite close, and it seemed as if there was hardly room enough. The open sky was soon filled with those floating veils,—some more vague than clouds, and some with fringed outlines just distinguishable. They fell softly, like white and airy gauze, into the infinite stillness; but they were falling all the same, and very soon closed thickly about them, until the atmosphere became almost oppressively overcharged.

It was the first August fog which was coming up, and in a few minutes the mist became everywhere equally thick and impenetrable; and about the Marie there was nothing to be seen but a pale white dampness, through which the daylight filtered dimly, and through which they could scarcely see the masts and rigging. "Here's the sea fog come at last," the men said.

They had long been acquainted with this inevitable accompaniment of the second period of fishing; but it meant also the end of the Iceland season, and that the time had come for them to start on their way back to Brittany.

It gathered on their beards in bright little drops, and made their bronzed faces shine with moisture; and when they looked at one another from opposite ends of the vessel, they seemed like phantoms, while on the other hand, objects which were quite near by appeared larger than ever in the dull white light.

They took care not to breathe with their mouths open, for then a feeling of cold and wet penetrated the lungs.

At the same time the fishing proceeded faster than ever, and not a word was spoken as the heavy haul went on.

Every moment heavy large fish were pulled in and thrown on the deck with a sound like the lash of a whip, madly flapping their tails about, until everything was splashed with salt water and covered with the fine silver scales they shed in struggling.

The sailor who was cutting them open with his great knife gashed his fingers in his hurry, and the bright red blood mingled with the salt and the brine.

IV

They stayed there this time ten days together, caught in the thick fog, and seeing nothing. The fishing continued good, and they were too busy to talk. From time to time, at regular intervals, one of them blew on a fog-horn, which gave out a sound like the bellow of a wild beast.

And sometimes, from far in the depth of the white mist, another bellowing like it would answer to their call. And then the man on the lookout was more watchful than ever; and if the sound came nearer, all ears listened for the unknown neighbor, whom they would probably never be able to see, but whose proximity was nevertheless a danger.

And they would make conjectures as to what ship it could be, and that made an occupation for them; it seemed a sort of company for them, and they tried hard in their eagerness to see something, to look through the impalpable white muslin curtains which hung everywhere about them in the air.

Then the sound would retreat, and the bellowings of the trumpet die away and be lost in the dull distance; and they would find themselves alone again in the deep stillness, in the midst of the infinite motionless mist. Everything became impregnated with water and dripped with salt and brine. The cold became more penetrating; the sun hung still lower over the horizon; and they began to have two or three hours of real night, which closed in over them with a gray and sombre chill. Every morning they took soundings for fear lest the Marie might drift upon some island on the Iceland coast; but all the lines on board the Marie put together did not touch bottom, and so they knew that they were well out to sea in good deep water.

Their life, though rough, was a healthy one; and the biting cold made their evenings seem more comfortable,

« ForrigeFortsæt »