Captain Hobbs now interfered. He knew the position of Nissard, among dangerous sandbanks, between which a boat could only venture at the higher tides, and by daylight. To go the six miles thither at present would make it almost impossible to return to the THROSTLE that night, and it was absolutely necessary that he at least should do this. He therefore wished the young gentleman to return with him on board, sleep there, and be put ashore at Nissard as soon as it should be possible in the morning. But Berenger shook his head. He could not rest for a moment till he had ascertained the fate of Eustacie’s child. Action alone could quench the horror of what he had recognized as her own lot, and the very pursuit of this one thread of hope seemed needful to him to make it substantial. He would hear of nothing but walking at once to Nissard; and Captain Hobbs, finding it impossible to debate the point with one so dazed and crushed with grief, and learning from the fishermen that not only was the priest one of the kindest and most hospitable men living, but that there was a tolerable caberet not far from the house, selected from the loiterers who had accompanied them from St. Julien a trustworthy-looking, active lad as a guide, and agreed with the high tide on the morrow, either to concert measures for obtaining possession of the lost infant, or, if all were in vain, to fetch them off. Then he, with the mass of stragglers from St. Julien, went off direct for the coast, while the two young brothers, their two attendants, and the fishermen, turned southwards along the summit of the dreary sandbanks.
CHAPTER XXIV. THE GOOD PRIEST OF NISSARD
Till at the set of sun all tracks and ways
In darkness lay enshrouded. And e’en thus
The utmost limit of the great profound
At length we reach’d, where in dark gloom and mist
Cimmeria’s people and their city lie
Enveloped ever.—ODYSSEY (MUSGROVE)
The October afternoon had set in before the brothers were the way to Nissard; and in spite of Berenger’s excited mood, the walk through the soft, sinking sand could not be speedily performed. It was that peculiar sand-drift which is the curse of so many coasts, slowly, silently, irresistibly flowing, blowing, creeping in, and gradually choking all vegetation and habitation. Soft and almost impalpable, it lay heaped in banks yielding as air, and yet far more than deep enough to swallow up man and horse. Nay, tops of trees, summits of chimneys, told what it had already swallowed. The whole scene far and wide presented nothing but the lone, tame undulations, liable to be changed by every wind, and solitary beyond expression—a few rabbits scudding hither and thither, or a sea-gull floating with white, ghostly wings in the air, being the only living things visible. On the one hand a dim, purple horizon showed that the inhabited country lay miles inland; on the other lay the pale, gray, misty expanse of sea, on which Philip’s eyes could lovingly discern the THROSTLE’S masts.