Oh! how her heart ached at the thought that it was all over, and that in a few moments she must leave him! Was he really to go out so far, to China, perhaps to slaughter. She still had him there with her, quite close, her poor hands could yet grasp him—and yet he must go; all the strength of her will, all her tears, and all her great heartrending despair—all! would nothing be of avail to keep him back?
With her ticket, and her lunch-basket, and her mittens in her grasp, agitated, she gave him her last blessing and advice, and he answered her with an obedient “Ay, ay,” bending his head tenderly towards her and gazing lovingly at her, in his soft childish way.
“Now then, old lady, you must make up your mind plaguey quick if you want to go by this train!”
The engine whistled. Suddenly terrified at the idea of losing the train, she bore her box from Sylvestre’s grasp, and flinging it down, threw her arms round his neck in a last and supreme embrace.
Many people on the platform stared at them, but not one smiled. Hustled about by the porters, worn out and full of pain, she pressed into the first carriage near; the door was banged quickly upon her, while Sylvestre, with all the speed of a young sailor, rushed out of the station to the rails beside the line to see the train pass.
A shrill screeching whistle, a noisy grinding of the wheels, and his grandmother passed away, leaving him leaning against the gate and swinging up his cap with its flying ribbons, while she, hanging out of the window of her third-class carriage, made an answering signal with her handkerchief; and for as long as she could see the dark blue-clad figure, that was her child, followed him with her eyes, throwing her whole soul into that “good-bye!” kept back to the last, and always uncertain of realization when sailors are concerned.
Look long at your little Sylvestre, poor old woman; until the very latest moment, do not lose sight of his fleeting shadow, which is fading away for ever.
When she could see him no longer, she fell back, completely crushing her still clean unrumpled cap, weeping and sobbing in the agony of death itself.
He had turned away slowly, with his head bent, and big tears falling down his cheeks. The autumn night had closed in; everywhere the gas was flaring, and the sailors’ riotous feasts had begun anew. Paying no heed to anything about him, he passed through Brest and over the Recouvrance Bridge, to the barracks.
“Whist! here, you darling boy!” called out some nocturnal prowlers to him; but he passed on, and entering the barracks, flung himself down in his hammock, weeping, all alone, and hardly sleeping until dawn.
CHAPTER IX—THE EASTERN VOYAGE
Sylvestre was soon out on the ocean, rapidly whisked away over the unknown seas, far more blue than Iceland’s. The ship that carried him off to the confines of Asia was ordered to go at full speed and stop nowhere. Ere long he felt that he was far away, for the speed was unceasing, and even without a care for the sea or the wind. As he was a topman, he lived perched aloft, like a bird, avoiding the soldiers crowded upon the deck.