“It is the sound of cannon,” cried Dupont, rising; “no doubt a ship in distress, or signaling for a pilot.”
“My dear,” said the bailiffs wife, entering abruptly, “from the terrace, we can see a steamer and a large ship nearly dismasted—they are drifting right upon the shore—the ship is firing minute gulls—it will be lost.”
“Oh, it is terrible!” cried the bailiff, taking his hat and preparing to go out, “to look on at a shipwreck, and be able to do nothing!”
“Can no help be given to these vessels?” asked M. Rodin.
“If they are driven upon the reefs, no human power can save them; since the last equinox two ships have been lost on this coast.”
“Lost with all on board?—Oh, very frightful,” said M. Rodin.
“In such a storm, there is but little chance for the crew; no matter,” said the bailiff, addressing his wife, “I will run down to the rocks with the people of the farm, and try to save some of them, poor creatures!—Light large fires in several rooms—get ready linen, clothes, cordials—I scarcely dare hope to save any, but we must do our best. Will you come with me, M. Rodin?”
“I should think it a duty, if I could be at all useful, but I am too old and feeble to be of any service,” said M. Rodin, who was by no means anxious to encounter the storm. “Your good lady will be kind enough to show me the Green Chamber, and when I have found the articles I require, I will set out immediately for Paris, for I am in great haste.”
“Very well, sir. Catherine will show you. Ring the big bell,” said the bailiff to his servant; “let all the people of the farm meet me at the foot of the cliff, with ropes and levers.”
“Yes, my dear,” replied Catherine; “but do not expose yourself.”
“Kiss me—it will bring me luck,” said the bailiff; and he started at a full run, crying: “Quick! quick; by this time not a plank may remain of the vessels.”
“My dear madam,” said Rodin, always impassible, “will you be obliging enough to show me the Green Chamber?”
“Please to follow me, sir,” answered Catherine, drying her tears—for she trembled on account of her husband, whose courage she well knew.
The sea is raging. Mountainous waves of dark green, marbled with white foam, stand out, in high, deep undulations, from the broad streak of red light, which extends along the horizon. Above are piled heavy masses of black and sulphurous vapor, whilst a few lighter clouds of a reddish gray, driven by the violence of the wind, rush across the murky sky.
The pale winter sun, before he quite disappears in the great clouds, behind which he is slowly mounting, casts here and there some oblique rays upon the troubled sea, and gilds the transparent crest of some of the tallest waves. A band of snow-white foam boils and rages as far as the eye can reach, along the line of the reefs that bristle on this dangerous coast.