Once, up in his crow’s nest, he was gladdened by the sight of flocks of tiny birds, of an unknown species, which fell upon the ship like a whirlwind of coal dust. They allowed themselves to be taken and stroked, being worn out with fatigue. All the sailors had them as pets upon their shoulders. But soon the most exhausted among them began to die, and before long they died by thousands on the rigging, yards, ports, and sails—poor little things!—under the blasting sun of the Red Sea. They had come to destruction, off the Great Desert, fleeing before a sandstorm. And through fear of falling into the blue waters that stretched on all sides, they had ended their last feeble flight upon the passing ship. Over yonder, in some distant region of Libya, they had been fledged in masses. Indeed, there were so many of them, that their blind and unkind mother, Nature, had driven away before her this surplus, as unmoved as if they had been superabundant men. On the scorching funnels and ironwork of the ship they died away; the deck was strewn with their puny forms, only yesterday so full of life, songs, and love. Now, poor little black dots, Sylvestre and the others picked them up, spreading out their delicate blue wings, with a look of pity, and swept them overboard into the abysmal sea.
Next came hosts of locusts, the spawn of those conjured up by Moses, and the ship was covered with them. At length, though, it surged on a lifeless blue sea, where they saw no things around them, except from time to time the flying fish skimming along the level water.
CHAPTER X—THE ORIENT
Rain in torrents, under a heavy black sky. This was India. Sylvestre had just set foot upon land, chance selecting him to complete the crew of a whale boat. He felt the warm shower upon him through the thick foliage, and looked around, surprised at the novel sight. All was magnificently green; the leaves of the trees waved like gigantic feathers, and the people walking beneath them had large velvety eyes, which seemed to close under the weight of their lashes. The very wind that brought the rain had the odour of musk and flowers.
At a distance, dusky girls beckoned him to come to them. Some happy strain they sang, like the “Whist! here, you darling boy!” so often heard at Brest. But seductive as was their country, their call was imperious and exasperating, making his very flesh shudder. Their perfect bosoms rose and fell under transparent muslin, in which they were solely draped; they were glowing and polished as in bronze statues. Hesitating, fascinated by them, he wavered about, following them; but the boatswain’s sharp shrill whistle rent the air with bird-like trills, summoning him hurriedly back to his boat, about to push off.
He took his flight, and bade farewell to India’s beauties.
After a second week of the blue sea, they paused off another land of dewy verdure. A crowd of yellow men appeared, yelling out and pressing on deck, bringing coal in baskets.