Sometimes she was seized with the thought of a ship appearing suddenly upon the horizon; the Leopoldine hastening home. Then she would suddenly make an irreflected movement to rise, and rush to look out at the ocean, to see whether it were true.
But she would fall back. Alas! where was this Leopoldine now? Where could she be? Out afar, at that awful distance of Iceland, forsaken, crushed, and lost.
All ended by a never-fading vision appearing to her—an empty, sea-tossed wreck, slowly and gently rocked by the silent gray and rose-streaked sea; almost with soft mockery, in the midst of the vast calm of deadened waters.
CHAPTER VIII—THE FALSE ALARM
Two o’clock in the morning.
It was at night, especially, that she kept attentive to approaching footsteps; at the slightest rumour or unaccustomed noise her temples vibrated; by dint of being strained to outward things, they had become fearfully sensitive.
Two o’clock in the morning. On this night as on others, with her hands clasped and her eyes wide open in the dark, she listened to the wind, sweeping in never-ending tumult over the heath.
Suddenly a man’s footsteps hurried along the path! At this hour who would pass now? She drew herself up, stirred to the very soul, her heart ceasing to beat.
Some one stopped before the door, and came up the small stone steps.
He!—O God!—he! Some one had knocked—it could be no other than he! She was up now, barefooted; she, so feeble for the last few days, had sprung up as nimbly as a kitten, with her arms outstretched to wind round her darling. Of course the Leopoldine had arrived at night, and anchored in Pors-Even Bay, and he had rushed home; she arranged all this in her mind with the swiftness of lightning. She tore the flesh off her fingers in her excitement to draw the bolt, which had stuck.
She slowly moved backward, as if crushed, her head falling on her bosom. Her beautiful insane dream was over. She just could grasp that it was not her husband, her Yann, and that nothing of him, substantial or spiritual, had passed through the air; she felt plunged again into her deep abyss, to the lowest depths of her terrible despair.
Poor Fantec, for it was he, stammered many excuses, his wife was very ill, and their child was stifling in its cot, suddenly attacked with a malignant sore throat; so he had run over to beg for assistance on the road to fetch the doctor from Paimpol.
What did all this matter to her? She had gone mad in her own distress, and could give no thoughts to the troubles of others. Huddled on a bench, she remained before him with fixed, glazed eyes, like a dead woman’s; without listening to him or even answering at random or looking at him. What to her was the speech the man was making?
He understood it all; and guessed why the door had been opened so quickly to him, and feeling pity for the pain he had unwittingly caused, he stammered out an excuse.