Just then, at the break of day, an old French sailor lay twisting and turning in his hammock, unable to rest. There was quite a sea on, and the ship’s timbers creaked incessantly; but it was certainly not this that kept him from falling asleep. He and his mates occupied a large but exceedingly low compartment between decks. It was lighted by a couple of lanterns, so that he could see the gray hammocks, which hung in close rows, slowly swinging to and fro with their slumbering occupants. Now and again a strong gust of wind swept in through one of the hatches, which was so searchingly cold and damp that it brought to his mind’s eye a vivid picture of the vast sea around him, rolling its grayish green waves beneath its veil of mists.
“There’s nothing like the sea!” thought the old sailor.
As he lay there musing, all at once everything became strangely still around him, he heard neither the churning of the propeller, nor the rattling of the rudder chains, nor the lapping of the waves, nor the whistling of the wind, nor any other sound. It seemed to him that the ship had suddenly gone to the bottom, and that he and his mates would never be shrouded or laid in their coffins, but must remain hanging in their gray hammocks in the depths of the sea till the Day of Judgment.
Before, he had always dreaded the thought that his end might be a watery grave, but now the idea of it was pleasing to him. He was glad it was the moving and transparent water that covered him, and not the heavy, black, suffocating mould of the churchyard. “There’s nothing like the sea,” he thought again.
Then he fell to thinking of something that made him uneasy. He wondered whether his lying at the bottom of the ocean without having received Extreme Unction would not be bad for his soul; he began to fear that now his soul would never be able to find its way up to Heaven.
At that moment his eye caught a faint glimmer of light coming from the forecastle. He raised himself, and leaned over the side of the hammock to see what it was. Presently he saw two persons coming, each of whom was carrying a lighted candle. He bent still farther forward so as to see who they were. The hammocks were hung so close together and so near to the floor that any one wanting to pass through the room, without pushing or knocking against those who were sleeping there, would have to crawl on hands and knees. The old seaman wondered who the persons could be that were able to pass in this crowded place. He soon discovered that they were two diminutive acolytes, in surplice and cassock, each bearing a lighted candle.
The sailor was not at all surprised. It seemed only natural that such little folk should be able to walk with burning candles under hammocks. “I wonder if there is a priest with them?” he said. Immediately he heard the tinkling sound of a little bell, and saw some one following them. However, it was no priest, but an old woman who was not much bigger than the boys.