Then began the life out upon the open sea, in the solitude of three or four rough companions, on the moving thin planks in the midst of the seething waters of the northern seas.
Until now La Marie followed the custom of many Icelanders, which is merely to touch at Paimpol, and then to sail down to the Gulf of Gascony, where fish fetches high prices, or farther on to the Sandy Isles, with their salty swamps, where they buy the salt for the next expedition. The crews of lusty fellows stay a few days in the southern, sun-kissed harbour-towns, intoxicated by the last rays of summer, by the sweetness of the balmy air, and by the downright jollity of youth.
With the mists of autumn they return home to Paimpol, or to the scattered huts of the land of Goelo, to remain some time in their families, in the midst of love, marriages, and births. Very often they find unseen babies upon their return, waiting for godfathers ere they can be baptized, for many children are needed to keep up this race of fishermen, which the Icelandic Moloch devours.
At Paimpol, one fine evening of this same year, upon a Sunday in June, two women were deeply busy in writing a letter. This took place before a large open window, with a row of flowerpots on its heavy old granite sill.
As well as could be seen from their bending over the table, both were young. Once wore a very large old-fashioned cap; the other quite a small one, in the new style adopted by the women of Paimpol. They might have been taken for two loving lasses writing a tender missive to some handsome Icelander.
The one who dictated—the one with the large head-dress—drew up her head, wool-gathering. Oh, she was old, very old, notwithstanding her look from behind, in her small brown shawl—we mean downright old. A sweet old granny, seventy at least. Very pretty, though, and still fresh-coloured, with the rosy cheeks some old people have. Her coiffe was drawn low upon the forehead and upon the top of the head, was composed of two or three large rolls of muslin that seemed to telescope out of one another, and fell on to the nape. Her venerable face, framed in the pure white pleats, had almost a man’s look, while her soft, tender eyes wore a kindly expression. She had not the vestige of a tooth left, and when she laughed she showed her round gums, which had still the freshness of youth.
Although her chin had become as pointed “as the toe of a sabot” (as she was in the habit of saying), her profile was not spoiled by time; and it was easily imagined that in her youth it had been regular and pure, like the saints’ adorning a church.
She looked through the window, trying to think of news that might amuse her grandson at sea. There existed not in the whole country of Paimpol another dear old body like her, to invent such funny stories upon everybody, and even upon nothing. Already in this letter there were three or four merry tales, but without the slightest mischief, for she had nothing ill-natured about her.