It was near daybreak, and the storm was lulling, but still no change occurred at the bedside. Once or twice, as Perrine knelt near Gabriel, still vainly endeavoring to arouse him to a sense of her presence, she thought she heard the old man breathing feebly, and stretched out her hand toward the coverlet; but she could not summon courage to touch him or to look at him. This was the first time she had ever been present at a death-bed; the stillness in the room, the stupor of despair that had seized on Gabriel, so horrified her, that she was almost as helpless as the two children by her side. It was not till the dawn looked in at the cottage window—so coldly, so drearily, and yet so re-assuringly—that she began to recover her self-possession at all. Then she knew that her best resource would be to summon assistance immediately from the nearest house. While she was trying to persuade the two children to remain alone in the cottage with Gabriel during her temporary absence, she was startled by the sound of footsteps outside the door. It opened, and a man appeared on the threshold, standing still there for a moment in the dim, uncertain light.
She looked closer—looked intently at him. It was Francois Sarzeau himself.
The fisherman was dripping with wet; but his face, always pale and inflexible, seemed to be but little altered in expression by the perils through which he must have passed during the night. Young Pierre lay almost insensible in his arms. In the astonishment and fright of the first moment, Perrine screamed as she recognized him.
“There, there, there!” he said, peevishly, advancing straight to the hearth with his burden; “don’t make a noise. You never expected to see us alive again, I dare say. We gave ourselves up as lost, and only escaped after all by a miracle.”
He laid the boy down where he could get the full warmth of the fire; and then, turning round, took a wicker-covered bottle from his pocket, and said, “If it hadn’t been for the brandy—” He stopped suddenly—started—put down the bottle on the bench near him—and advanced quickly to the bedside.
Perrine looked after him as he went; and saw Gabriel, who had risen when the door was opened, moving back from the bed as Francois approached. The young man’s face seemed to have been suddenly struck to stone—its blank, ghastly whiteness was awful to look at. He moved slowly backward and backward till he came to the cottage wall—then stood quite still, staring on his father with wild, vacant eyes, moving his hands to and fro before him, muttering, but never pronouncing one audible word.
Francois did not appear to notice his son; he had the coverlet of the bed in his hand.
“Anything the matter here?” he asked, as he drew it down.
Still Gabriel could not speak. Perrine saw it, and answered for him.