In Iceland, too, where it was morning, it was shining at that same moment of death. Much paler there, it seemed as if it only showed its face by some miracle. Sadly it shed its rays over the fjord where La Marie floated; and now its sky was lit up by a pure northern light, which always gives the idea of a frozen planet’s reflection, without an atmosphere. With a cold accuracy, it outlined all the essentials of that stony chaos that is Iceland; the whole of the country as seen from La Marie seemed fixed in one same perspective and held upright. Yann was there, lit up by a strange light, fishing, as usual, in the midst of this lunar-like scenery.
As the beam of fiery flame that came through the port-hole faded, and the sun disappeared completely under the gilded billows, the eyes of the grandson rolled inward toward his brow as if to fall back into his head.
They closed his eyelids with their own long lashes, and Sylvestre became calm and beautiful again, like a reclining marble statue of manly repose.
I cannot refrain from telling you about Sylvestre’s funeral, which I conducted myself in Singapore. We had thrown enough other dead into the Sea of China, during the early days of the home voyage; and as the Malay land was quite near, we decided to keep his remains a few hours longer; to bury him fittingly.
It was very early in the morning, on account of the terrible sun. In the boat that carried him ashore, his corpse was shrouded in the national flag. The city was in sleep as we landed. A wagonette, sent by the French Consul, was waiting on the quay; we laid Sylvestre upon it, with a wooden cross made on board—the paint still wet upon it, for the carpenter had to hurry over it, and the white letters of his name ran into the black ground.
We crossed that Babel in the rising sun. And then it was such an emotion to find the serene calm of an European place of worship in the midst of the distasteful turmoil of the Chinese country. Under the high white arch, where I stood alone with my sailors, the “Dies Iroe,” chanted by a missionary priest, sounded like a soft magical incantation. Through the open doors we could see sights that resembled enchanted gardens, exquisite verdure and immense palm-trees, the wind shook the large flowering shrubs and their perfumed crimson petals fell like rain, almost to the church itself. Thence we marched to the ceremony, very far off. Our little procession of sailors was very unpretentious, but the coffin remained conspicuously wrapped in the flag of France. We had to traverse the Chinese quarter, through seething crowds of yellow men; and then the Malay and Indian suburbs, where all types of Asiatic faces looked upon us with astonishment.