Towards midnight, being in that state of mind that is peculiar to seaman who are conscious of the time of day in their slumber, and quite clearly see the hour draw night when to awaken for the watch—he saw the funeral, and said to himself: “I am dreaming; luckily the mate will come and wake me up, and the vision will pass away.”
But when a heavy hand was laid upon him and a voice cried out: “Tumble out, Gaos! watch, boy!” he heard the slight rustling of paper at his breast, a fine ghastly music that affirmed the fact of the death. Yes, the letter! It was true, then? The more cruel, heartrending impression deepened, and he jumped up so quickly in his sudden start, that he struck his forehead against the overhead beam. He dressed and opened the hatchway to go up mechanically and take his place in the fishing.
When Yann was on deck, he looked around him with sleep-laden eyes, over the familiar circle of the sea. That night the illimitable immensity showed itself in its most astonishingly simple aspects, in neutral tints, giving only the impression of depth. This horizon, which indicated no recognisable region of the earth, or even any geological age, must have looked so many times the same since the origin of time, that, gazing upon it, one saw nothing save the eternity of things that exist and cannot help existing.
It was not the dead of night, for a patch of light, which seemed to ooze from no particular point, dimly lit up the scene. The wind sobbed as usual its aimless wail. All was gray, a fickle gray, which faded before the fixed gaze. The sea, during its mysterious rest, hid itself under feeble tints without a name.
Above floated scattered clouds; they had assumed various shapes, for, without form, things cannot exist; in the darkness they had blended together, so as to form one single vast veiling.
But in one particular spot of the sky, low down on the waters, they seemed a dark-veined marble, the streaks clearly defined although very distant; a tender drawing, as if traced by some dreamy hand—some chance effect, not meant to be viewed for long, and indeed hastening to die away. Even that alone, in the midst of this broad grandeur, appeared to mean something; one might think that the sad, undefined thought of the nothingness around was written there; and the sight involuntarily remained fixed upon it.
Yann’s dazzled eyes grew accustomed to the outside darkness, and gazed more and more steadily upon that veining in the sky; it had now taken the shape of a kneeling figure with arms outstretched. He began to look upon it as a human shadow rendered gigantic by the distance itself.
In his mind, where his indefinite dreams and primitive beliefs still lingered, the ominous shadow, crushed beneath the gloomy sky, slowly coalesced with the thought of his dead brother, as if it were a last token from him.