What actually met my eye was very different from this childish expectation of mine. To the north there was a long low cape, the name of which has now escaped me. In the evening light it had been of the same greyish green tint as the other headlands; but now, as the darkness fell, it gradually broke into a dull glow, like a cooling iron. On that wild night, seen and lost with the heave and sweep of the boat, this lurid streak carried with it a vague but sinister suggestion. The red line splitting the darkness might have been a giant half-forged sword-blade with its point towards England.
‘What is it, then?’ I asked.
‘Just what I say, master,’ said he. ’It’s one of Boney’s armies, with Boney himself in the middle of it as like as not. Them is their camp fires, and you’ll see a dozen such between this and Ostend. He’s audacious enough to come across, is little Boney, if he could dowse Lord Nelson’s other eye; but there’s no chance for him until then, and well he knows it.’
‘How can Lord Nelson know what he is doing?’ I asked.
The man pointed out over my shoulder into the darkness, and far on the horizon I perceived three little twinkling lights.
‘Watch dog,’ said he, in his husky voice.
‘Andromeda. Forty-four,’ added his companion.
I have often thought of them since, the long glow upon the land, and the three little lights upon the sea, standing for so much, for the two great rivals face to face, for the power of the land and the power of the water, for the centuries-old battle, which may last for centuries to come. And yet, Frenchman as I am, do I not know that the struggle is already decided?—for it lies between the childless nation and that which has a lusty young brood springing up around her. If France falls she dies, but if England falls how many nations are there who will carry her speech, her traditions and her blood on into the history of the future?
The land had been looming darker, and the thudding of waves upon the sand sounded louder every instant upon my ears. I could already see the quick dancing gleam of the surf in front of me. Suddenly, as I peered through the deepening shadow, a long dark boat shot out from it, like a trout from under a stone, making straight in our direction.