A delay out at those islands to repair damages was a very likely event. She rose and brushed her hair, and then dressed as if she might fairly expect him. All then was not lost, if a seaman, his own father, did not yet despair. And for a few days, she resumed looking out for him again.
Autumn at last arrived, a late autumn too, its gloomy evenings making all things appear dark in the old cottage, and all the land looked sombre, too.
The very daylight seemed crepuscular; immeasurable clouds, passing slowly overhead, darkened the whole country at broad noon. The wind blew constantly with the sound of a great cathedral organ at a distance, but playing profane, despairing dirges; at other times the noise came close to the door, like the howling of wild beasts.
She had grown pale, aye, blanched, and bent more than ever, as if old age had already touched her with its featherless wing. Often did she finger the wedding clothes of her Yann, folding and unfolding them again and again like some maniac, especially one of his blue woolen jerseys, which still had preserved his shape; when she threw it gently on the table, it fell with the shoulders and chest well defined; so she placed it by itself on a shelf of their wardrobe, and left it there, so that it might for ever rest unaltered.
Every night the cold mists sank upon the land, as she gazed over the depressing heath through her little window, and watched the paltry puffs of white smoke arise from the chimneys of other cottages scattered here and there on all sides. There the husbands had returned, like wandering birds driven home by the frost. Before their blazing hearths the evenings passed, cosy and warm; for the spring-time of love had begun again in this land of North Sea fishermen.
Still clinging to the thought of those islands where he might perhaps have lingered, she was buoyed up by a kind hope and expected him home any day.
CHAPTER IX—WEDDED TO THE SEA
But he never returned. One August night, out off gloomy Iceland, mingled with the furious clamour of the sea, his wedding with the sea was performed. It had been his nurse; it had rocked him in his babyhood, and had afterward made him big and strong; then, in his superb manhood, it had taken him back again for itself alone. Profoundest mystery had surrounded this unhallowed union. While it went on, dark curtains hung pall-like over it as if to conceal the ceremony, and the ghoul howled in an awful deafening voice to stifle his cries. He, thinking of Gaud, his sole, darling wife, had battled with giant strength against this deathly rival, until he at last surrendered, with a deep death-cry like the roar of a dying bull, through a mouth already filled with water; and his arms were stretched apart and stiffened for ever.
All those he had invited in days of old were present at his wedding. All except Sylvestre, who had gone to sleep in the enchanted gardens far, far away, at the other side of the earth.