Yann and Sylvestre took their breakfast of biscuits, which they had to break with a mallet, and began to munch noisily, laughing at their being so very hard. They had become quite merry again at the idea of going down to sleep, snugly and warmly in their berths; and clasping each other round the waist they danced up to the hatchway to an old song-tune.
Before disappearing through the aperture they stopped to play with Turc, the ship’s dog, a young Newfoundland with great clumsy paws. They sparred at him, and he pretended to bite them like a young wolf, until he bit too hard and hurt them, whereupon Yann, with a frown and anger in his quick-changing eyes, pushed him aside with an impatient blow that sent him flying and made him howl. Yann had a kind heart enough, but his nature remained rather untamed, and when his physical being was touched, a tender caress was often more like a manifestation of brutal violence.
Their smack was named La Marie, and her master was Captain Guermeur. Every year she set sail for the big dangerous fisheries, in the frigid regions where the summers have no night. She was a very old ship, as old as the statuette of her patron saint itself. Her heavy, oaken planks were rough and worn, impregnated with ooze and brine, but still strong and stout, and smelling strongly of tar. At anchor she looked an old unwieldy tub from her so massive build, but when blew the mighty western gales, her lightness returned, like a sea-gull awakened by the wind. Then she had her own style of tumbling over the rollers, and rebounding more lightly than many newer ones, launched with all your new fangles.
As for the crew of six men and the boy, they were “Icelanders,” the valiant race of seafarers whose homes are at Paimpol and Treguier, and who from father to son are destined for the cod fisheries.
They hardly ever had seen a summer in France. At the end of each winter they, with other fishers, received the parting blessing in the harbour of Paimpol. And for that fete-day an altar, always the same, and imitating a rocky grotto, was erected on the quay; and over it, in the midst of anchors, oars and nets, was enthroned the Virgin Mary, calm, and beaming with affection, the patroness of sailors; she would be brought from her chapel for the occasion, and had looked upon generation after generation with her same lifeless eyes, blessing the happy for whom the season would be lucky, and the others who never more would return.
The Host, followed by a slow procession of wives, mothers, sweethearts, and sisters, was borne round the harbour, where the boats bound for Iceland, bedecked in all colours, saluted it on its way. The priest halted before each, giving them his holy blessing; and then the fleet started, leaving the country desolate of husbands, lovers, and sons; and as the shores faded from their view, the crews sang together in low, full voices, the hymns sacred to “the Star of the Ocean.” And every year saw the same ceremonies, and heard the same good-byes.