It was past nine o’clock when the old dealer, his sister, and Henrietta sat down to their modest meal. But in the interval a hopeful smile had reappeared on Henrietta’s face, and she looked almost happy, when, about midnight, Papa Ravinet left them with the words,—
“To-morrow evening I shall have news. I am going to the navy department.”
The next day he reappeared precisely at six o’clock, but in what a condition! He had in his hand a kind of carpet-bag; and his looks and gestures made him look almost insane.
“Money!” he cried out to his sister as he entered. “I am afraid I have not enough; and make haste. I have to be at the Lyons Railway at seven o’clock.”
And when his sister and Henrietta, terribly frightened, asked him,—
“What is the matter? What are you going to do?”
“Nothing,” he replied joyously, “but that Heaven itself declares in our favor. I went to the department. ‘The Conquest’ will remain another year in Cochin China; but M. Champcey is coming back to Europe. He was to have taken passage on board a merchant vessel, ‘The Saint Louis,’ which is expected in Marseilles every day, if she has not already come in. And I—I am going to Marseilles, I must see M. Champcey before anybody else can see him.”
When his sister had given him notes to the amount of four hundred dollars, he rushed out, exclaiming,—
“To-morrow I will send you a telegram!”
If there is in our civilized states a profession more arduous than others it is surely that of the sailor. So arduous is it, that we are almost disposed to ask how men can be found bold enough to embrace it, and firm enough in their resolution not to abandon it after having tried it. Not because of the hazards, the fatigues, and the dangers connected with it, but because it creates an existence apart, and because the conditions it imposes seem to be incompatible with free will.
Still no one is more attached to his home than the sailor. There are few among them who are not married. And by a kind of special grace they are apt to enjoy their short happiness as if it were for eternity, indifferent as to what the morning may bring.
But behold! one fine morning, all of a sudden, a big letter comes from the department.
It is an order to sail.
He must go, abandoning every thing and everybody,—mother, family, and friends, the wife he has married the day before, the young mother who sits smiling by the cradle of her first-born, the betrothed who was looking joyfully at her bridal veil. He must go, and stifle all those ominous voices which rise from the depth of his heart, and say to him, “Will you ever return? and, if you return, will you find them all, your dear ones? and, if you find them, will they not have changed? will they have preserved your memory as faithfully as you have preserved theirs?”