Some of these Parisian ladies quite won her by their high-bred and distinguished manners, but she knew them to be inaccessible to her, while from others of a lower caste who would have been glad to make friends with her, she kept proudly aloof, judging them unworthy of her attention. Thus she had lived almost without friends, without other society than her father’s, who was engaged in business and often away. So she did not regret that life of estrangement and solitude.
But, none the less, on that day of arrival she had been painfully surprised by the bitterness of this Brittany, seen in full winter. And her heart sickened at the thought of having to travel another five or six hours in a jolting car—to penetrate still farther into the blank, desolate country to reach Paimpol.
All through the afternoon of that same grisly day, her father and herself had journeyed in a little old ramshackle vehicle, open to all the winds; passing, with the falling night, through dull villages, under ghostly trees, black-pearled with mist in drops. And ere long lanterns had to be lit, and she could perceive nothing else but what seemed two trails of green Bengal lights, running on each side before the horses, and which were merely the beams that the two lanterns projected on the never-ending hedges of the roadway. But how was it that trees were so green in the month of December? Astonished at first, she bent to look out, and then she remembered how the gorse, the evergreen gorse of the paths and the cliffs, never fades in the country of Paimpol. At the same time a warmer breeze began to blow, which she knew again and which smelt of the sea.
Towards the end of the journey she had been quite awakened and amused by the new notion that struck her, namely: “As this is winter, I shall see the famous fishermen of Iceland.”
For in December they were to return, the brothers, cousins, and lovers of whom all her friends, great and small, had spoken to her during the long summer evening walks in her holiday trips. And the thought had haunted her, though she felt chilled in the slow-going vehicle.
Now she had seen them, and her heart had been captured by one of them too.
The first day she had seen him, this Yann, was the day after his arrival, at the “Pardon des Islandais,” which is on the eighth of December, the fete-day of Our Lady of Bonne-Nouvelle, the patroness of fishers—a little before the procession, with the gray streets, still draped in white sheets, on which were strewn ivy and holly and wintry blossoms with their leaves.
At this Pardon the rejoicing was heavy and wild under the sad sky. Joy without merriment, composed chiefly of insouciance and contempt; of physical strength and alcohol; above which floated, less disguised than elsewhere, the universal warning of death.