The purser, diving into his post-bags of sailcloth, distributed them all round, often finding it hard to read the addresses, which were not always written very skilfully, while the captain kept on saying: “Look alive there, look alive! the barometer is falling.”
He was rather anxious to see all the tiny yawls afloat, and so many vessels assembled in that dangerous region.
Yann and Sylvestre used to read their letters together. This time they read them by the light of the midnight sun, shining above the horizon, still like a dead luminary. Sitting together, a little to one side, in a retired nook of the deck, their arms about each other’s shoulders, they very slowly read, as if to enjoy more thoroughly the news sent them from home.
In Yann’s letter Sylvestre got news of Marie Gaos, his little sweetheart; in Sylvestre’s, Yann read all Granny Moan’s funny stories, for she had not her like for amusing the absent ones you will remember; and the last paragraph concerning him came up: the “word of greeting to young Gaos.”
When the letters were got through, Sylvestre timidly showed his to his big friend, to try and make him admire the writing of it.
“Look, is it not pretty writing, Yann?”
But Yann, who knew very well whose hand had traced it, turned aside, shrugging his shoulders, as much as to say that he was worried too often about this Gaud girl.
So Sylvestre carefully folded up the poor, rejected paper, put it into its envelope and all in his jersey, next his breast, saying to himself sadly: “For sure, they’ll never marry. But what on earth can he have to say against her?”
Midnight was struck on the cruiser’s bell. And yet our couple remained sitting there, thinking of home, the absent ones, a thousand things in reverie. At this same moment the everlasting sun, which had dipped its lower edge into the waters, began slowly to reascend, and lo! this was morning.
PART II — IN THE BRETON LAND
CHAPTER I—THE PLAYTHING OF THE STORM
The Northern sun had taken another aspect and changed its colour, opening the new day by a sinister morn. Completely free from its veil, it gave forth its grand rays, crossing the sky in fitful flashes, foretelling nasty weather. During the past few days it had been too fine to last. The winds blew upon that swarm of boats, as if to clear the sea of them; and they began to disperse and flee, like an army put to rout, before the warning written in the air, beyond possibility to misread. Harder and harder it blew, making men and ships quake alike.