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Title: A Tale of Brittany - (Mon frère Yves)
Author: Loti, Pierre
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "A Tale of Brittany - (Mon frère Yves)" ***

Literature (Images generously made available by Hathi









Chapter I
Chapter II
Chapter III
Chapter IV
Chapter V
Chapter VI
Chapter VII
Chapter VIII
Chapter IX
Chapter X
Chapter XI
Chapter XII
Chapter XIII
Chapter XIV
Chapter XV
Chapter XVI
Chapter XVII
Chapter XVIII
Chapter XIX
Chapter XX
Chapter XXI
Chapter XXII
Chapter XXIII
Chapter XXIV
Chapter XXV
Chapter XXVI
Chapter XXVII
Chapter XXVIII
Chapter XXIX
Chapter XXX
Chapter XXXI
Chapter XXXII
Chapter XXXIII
Chapter XXXIV
Chapter XXXV
Chapter XXXVI
Chapter XXXVII
Chapter XXXIX
Chapter XL
Chapter XLI
Chapter XLII
Chapter XLIII
Chapter XLIV
Chapter XLV
Chapter XLVI
Chapter XLVII
Chapter XLVIII
Chapter XLIX
Chapter L
Chapter LI
Chapter LII
Chapter LIII
Chapter LIV
Chapter LV
Chapter LVI
Chapter LVII
Chapter LVIII
Chapter LIX
Chapter LX
Chapter LXI
Chapter LXII
Chapter LXIII
Chapter LXIV
Chapter LXV
Chapter LXVI
Chapter LXVII
Chapter LXVIII
Chapter LXIX
Chapter LXX
Chapter LXXI
Chapter LXXII
Chapter LXXIII
Chapter LXXIV
Chapter LXXV
Chapter LXXVI
Chapter LXXVII
Chapter LXXIX
Chapter LXXX
Chapter LXXXI
Chapter LXXXII
Chapter LXXXIV
Chapter LXXXV
Chapter LXXXVI
Chapter LXXXIX
Chapter XC
Chapter XCI
Chapter XCII
Chapter XCIII
Chapter XCIV
Chapter XCV
Chapter XCVI
Chapter XCVII
Chapter XCVIII
Chapter XCIX
Chapter C
Chapter CI
Chapter CII



Here is a little tale which I wish to dedicate to you. Accept it, I
pray, with my affection.

It has been urged against my books that there is always in them too much
of the trouble of love. This time there is only a little love and that
an honest love and it comes only towards the end.

It was you who gave me the idea of writing the life story of a sailor
and of putting into it the immense monotony of the sea.

It may be that this book will make me enemies, although I have touched
as lightly as possible on the regulations of the service. But you who
love everything connected with the sea, even the wind and the fog and
the great waves--yes, and the brave and simple sailors--you, assuredly,
will understand me. And in that I shall find my recompense.




The pay-book of my brother Yves differs in no wise from the pay-book of
all other sailors.

It is covered with a yellow-coloured parchment paper and, as it has
travelled much about the sea, in many a ship's locker, it is absolutely
wanting in freshness.

In large letters on the cover appears:

KERMADEC, 2091. P.

Kermadec is his family name; 2091, his number in the army of the sea;
and P., the initial letter of Paimpol, the port at which he was

Opening the book, one finds, on the first page, the following

"Kermadec (Yves-Marie), son of Yves-Marie and Jeanne Danveoch. Born 28
August, 1851, at Saint Pol-de-Léon (Finistère). Height 5 ft. 11
inches. Hair brown, eyebrows brown, eyes brown, nose ordinary, chin
ordinary, forehead ordinary, face oval.

"Distinctive marks: tattooed on the left breast with an anchor and, on
the right wrist, with a bracelet in the form of a fish."

These tattooings were still the fashion, some ten years ago, for your
true sailor. Executed on board the _Flore_ by a friend in an hour of
idleness, they became an object of mortification for Yves, who many a
time had tortured himself in an effort to obliterate them. The idea that
he was marked in this indelible manner, and that he might be recognized
always and everywhere by these little blue designs was to him absolutely

Turning over the page one comes across a series of printed leaves
setting out, in a clear and concise form, all the shortcomings to which
sailors are subject, with, opposite them, the tariff of the penalties
incurred--from insignificant irregularities which may be expiated by a
few nights in irons to the dire rebellions which are punished by death.

Unhappily this quotidian reading has never sufficed to inspire the
salutary awe which it should, either in sailors in general, or in my
poor Yves in particular.

Follow several pages of manuscript containing the names of ships, with
blue stamp impressions, figures and dates. The quartermasters, men of
taste as they are, have decorated this part of the book with elegant
flourishes. It is here that particulars of his voyages are set out and
details of the pay he has received.

The first years, in which he earned fifteen francs a month, ten of which
he saved for his mother; years passed in the onrush of the wind, in
which he lived half naked at the top of those great oscillating shafts
which are the masts of ships; years in which he wandered without a care
in the world over the changing desert of the sea; then the more troubled
years in which love was born and took shape in the virgin and untutored
heart--to be translated into brutal orgies or into dreams naïvely pure
according to the hazard of the places to which the wind drove him,
according to the hazard of the women thrown into his arms; terrible
awakenings of the heart and senses, wild excesses, and then the return
to the ascetic life of the ocean, to the sequestration on the floating
monastery; all this may be divined behind these figures and these names
and dates which accumulate, year by year, in the poor little pay-book of
a sailor. A whole poem of strange adventures and sufferings lies within
its yellow pages.


The 28th of August, 1851, was, it seems, a fine summer's day at Saint
Pol-de-Léon, in Finistère.

The pale sun of Brittany smiled and made festival for this little
newcomer, who later on was to love the sun so much, and to love Brittany
so much.

Yves made his entrance into the world in the form of a large baby, very
round and very brown. The good women present at his arrival gave him the
name of _Bugel-Du_, which in English means: little black boy. This
bronzed colouring was, for that matter, characteristic of the family,
the Kermadecs from father to son, having been ocean-going sailors and
men deeply bitten by the tan of the sea.

A fine summer's day in Saint Pol-de-Léon is a rare thing in this region
of fogs: a kind of melancholy radiance is shed over everything; the old
town of the Middle Ages is, as it were, awakened out of its mournful
slumber in the mist and made young again; the old granite warms itself
in the sun; the tower of Creizker, the giant of Breton towers, bathes in
the blue sky, in the full light, its delicate grey fretwork marbled with
yellow lichens. And all around is the wild moorland, with its pink
heather, its golden gorse, exhaling a soft perfume of flowering broom.

At the baptism were a young girl, the godmother; a sailor, the
godfather; and, behind, the two little brothers, Goulven and Gildas,
holding by the hand the two little sisters, Yvonne and Marie, who
carried flowers.

When the little company entered the old church of the bishops of Léon,
the verger, hanging on the rope of a bell, made ready to start the
joyous carillon called for by the occasion. But the Curé, coming on the
scene, said to him harshly:

"Be quiet, Marie Bervrac'h, for the love of God! These Kermadecs are
people who never give anything to the Church, and the father wastes all
his substance in the tavern. We'll have no ringing, if you please, for
people of that sort."

And that is how my brother Yves made his entrance into the world in the
guise of poverty.

Jeanne Danveoch, from her bed, listened with uneasiness, waited with a
foreboding of ill, for the vibrations of the bell which were so slow to
begin. For a long time she listened and heard nothing. Then she
understood the public affront and wept.

Her eyes were wet with tears when the party returned, crestfallen, to
the house.

All his life this humiliation weighed upon the heart of Yves; he was
never able to forgive this unkind reception at his entrance into the
world, nor the cruel tears shed by his mother; and as a result he
preserved for the Roman clergy an unforgetting rancour and closed his
Breton heart to Our Mother the Church.


It was twenty-four years later, on an evening of December, at Brest.

A fine rain was falling, cold, penetrating, continuous; it streamed down
the walls, rendering deeper in colour the high-pitched roofs of slate,
and the tall houses of granite; it watered with calm indifference the
noisy crowd of the Sunday, which swarmed nevertheless, wet and
bedraggled, in the narrow streets, beneath the mournful grey of the

This Sunday crowd consisted of inebriated sailors singing, of soldiers
who stumbled, making with their sabres a clatter of steel, of people of
the lower class adrift--workers of the town looking drawn and miserable;
women in little merino shawls and pointed muslin head-dresses, who
walked along with shining eyes and reddened cheek bones, exhaling an
odour of brandy; of old men and old women in a disgusting state of
drunkenness, who had fallen and been picked up, and were lurching
forward, on their way, with backs covered with mud.

The rain continued to fall, wetting everything, the silver-buckled hats
of the Bretons, the tilted bonnets of the sailors, the laced shakos and
the white head-dresses, and the umbrellas.

There was something so wan, so dead, about the air, that it was
difficult to imagine that there could be anywhere a sun . . . the notion
of it had gone. There was a feeling that you were imprisoned under
layers and thicknesses of dense, humid clouds which were deluging you.
It did not seem that they would ever be able to break, or that behind
them there could be a sky. You breathed water. You were no longer
conscious of the hour, and knew not whether the darkness was the
darkness of all this rain or whether the real winter's night was closing

The sailors brought into the streets a certain rather surprising note of
gaiety and youth, with their cheery faces and their songs, with their
large bright collars and their red pompoms standing out in sharp
contrast with the navy blue of their uniform. They went and came from
one tavern to another, jostling the crowd, saying things which had no
sense but which made them laugh. And sometimes they stopped on the
footpath, before the stalls of the shops where were retailed the hundred
and one things they needed for their use: red handkerchiefs, in the
middle of which were imprinted designs of famous ships, _Bretagne,
Triomphante, Devastation_; ribbons for their bonnets with handsome
inscriptions in gold; cords of complicated workmanship destined to close
securely those canvas sacks which they have on board for storing their
kit; elegant attachments in plaited thread for suspending from the neck
of the topmen their large knives; silver whistles for the
petty-officers, and finally, red belts and little combs and little

From time to time came heavy squalls which sent bonnets flying and made
the drunken passers-by stagger. And then the rain came down more
heavily, more torrentially, and whipped like hail.

The crowd of sailors steadily increased. They could be seen coming on in
groups at the end of the Rue de Siam; they ascended from the port and
from the lower town by the great granite stairways, and spread singing
into the streets.

Those who came from the roadstead were wetter than the others, dripping
with sea-water as well as with rain. The sailing cutters, bending to the
cold squalls, leaping amid waves deep-edged with spray, had brought them
quickly into port. And joyously they climbed the steps which led to the
town, shaking themselves as cats do which have been sprinkled with

The wind rushed through the long drab streets, and the night promised to
be a wild one.

In the roadstead--on board a ship which had arrived that very morning
from South America--on the stroke of four o'clock, a petty officer had
given a prolonged whistle, followed by cleverly executed trills, which
signified in the language of the sea: "Man the launch!" Then a murmur of
joy was heard in the ship, where the sailors were penned, on account of
the rain, in the gloom of the spar-deck. For there had been a fear for a
time that the sea might be too rough for communication with Brest, and
the men had been waiting anxiously for this whistle which set their
doubts at rest. For the first time, after three years of voyage, they
were about to set foot on the land of France, and impatience was great.

When the men appointed, clothed in little costumes of yellow oilskin,
were all embarked in the launch and had taken their places in correct
and symmetrical order, the same petty officer whistled again and said:
"Liberty-men, fall in!"

The wind and the sea made a great noise; the distances of the roadstead
were drowned in a whitish fog made of spray and rain.

The sailors who had received permission to go ashore ascended quickly,
issued from the hatches and took their places in line, as their numbers
and names were called, with faces beaming with the joy of seeing Brest
again. They had put on their Sunday clothes; they completed, under the
torrential downpour, the last details of their toilet, setting one
another right with airs of coquetry.

When "218: Kermadec!" was called, Yves appeared, a strapping youngster
of twenty-four, grave in mien, looking very well in his ribbed woollen
jersey and his large blue collar.

Tall, lean with the leanness of the ancients, with the muscular arms and
the neck and shoulders of an athlete, his whole appearance gave an
impression of tranquil and slightly disdainful strength. His face,
beneath its uniform coat of bronze, was colourless; in some subtle way
impossible to define, a Breton face, with the complexion of an Arab.
Curt in speech, with the accent of Finistère; a low voice curiously
vibrant, recalling those instruments of very powerful sound, which one
touches only very lightly for fear of making too much noise.

Hazel eyes, rather close together and very deep-set beneath the frontal
bone, with the impassive expression of a regard turned inwards; the nose
small and regular in shape; the lower lip protruding slightly as if in

The face immobile, marmorean, save in those rare moments when he smiles.
Then the whole face is transformed, and one sees that Yves is very
young. The smile itself is the smile of those who have suffered: it has
a childlike gentleness and lights up the hardened features a little as
the rays of the sun, falling by chance, light up the cliffs of Brittany.

When Yves appeared the other sailors who were there regarded him with
good-humoured smiles and an unusual air of respect.

This was because he wore for the first time on his sleeve the two red
stripes of a petty officer, which had just been awarded him. And on
board ship a petty officer is a person of consequence. These poor
woollen stripes, which, in the army, are given so quickly to the first
comer, represent in the navy years of hardship; they represent the
strength and the life of young men, expended at every hour of the day
and night, high up in the crow's nest, that domain of the topmen which
is shaken by all the winds of heaven.

The boatswain, coming up, held out his hand to Yves. Formerly he also
had been a topmen inured to hardness, and he was a shrewd judge of
strong and courageous men.

"Well, Kermadec," he said. "You are going to water those stripes of
yours, I suppose?"

"Yes, bo'sun," replied Yves in a low voice, but preserving a grave and
abstracted air.

It was not the rain from heaven that the old boatswain had in mind; for,
as far as that went, the watering was assured. No, in the navy, to water
your stripes means to get drunk in order to do them honour on the first
day they are worn.

Yves remained thoughtful in the face of the necessity of this ceremony,
because he had just sworn to me very solemnly that he would be sober,
and he wanted to keep his promise.

And then he had had enough, at last, of these tavern scenes which had
been repeated so many times in all the countries of the world. To spend
one's nights in low pot-houses, at the head of the wildest and most
drunken of the crew, and to be picked up in the gutter in the
morning--one tires of these pleasures after a time, however good a
sailor one may be. Besides the mornings following are painful and are
always the same; and Yves knew that and wanted no more of them.

It was very gloomy, this December weather, for a day of return. Of no
avail was it to be carefree and young, the weather cast over the joy of
homecoming a kind of sinister night. Yves experienced this impression,
which caused him, in spite of himself, a mournful surprise; for all
this, in sum, was his own Brittany; he felt it in the air and recognised
it despite this darkness of dreamland.

The launch moved off, carrying them all towards the shore. It travelled
aslant under the west wind; it bounded over the waves with the hollow
sound of a drum, and, at each leap that it made, a mass of water broke
over them, as if it had been hurled by furious hands.

They made their way very rapidly in a kind of cloud of water, the large
salt drops of which lashed their faces. They bowed their heads before
this deluge, huddled close one against the other, like sheep in a storm.

They did not speak, all concentrated as they were on the prospect of the
pleasure that awaited them. There were among them young men, who, for a
year past, had not set foot on land; the pockets of all of them were
well-lined with money, and fierce desires bubbled in their blood.

Yves himself thought a little of the women who were waiting for them in
Brest, and from among whom presently they would be able to choose. But,
nevertheless, he was gloomy, he alone of all the band. Never had so many
thoughts at one time troubled the head of this poor simpleton.

It is true that he had had melancholy moods of this kind sometimes,
during the silence of the nights at sea; but then the return had
appeared to him from the distance in colours of rose and gold. And here,
to-day, was the return and, on the contrary, his heart was sadder now
than it had ever been before. And this he did not understand, for he had
the habit, as the simple and as children have, of suffering his
impressions without attempting to interpret them.

With head turned towards the wind, heedless of the water which streamed
down his blue collar, he had remained standing, supported by the group
of sailors who pressed close against him.

All this coast-line of Brest, which could be distinguished in vague
contours through the veil of the rain, awoke in him memories of his
years as ship-boy, passed here on this great misty roadstead, pining for
his mother. . . . This past had been rough, and, for the first time in
his life, his thoughts turned to what the future might be.

His mother! ... It was true indeed that for nearly two years he had not
written to her. But that is the way with sailors; and, in spite of all,
these mothers of theirs are very dear to them. What usually happens is
this: they disappear for a few years, and then, one happy day, they
return, without warning, to the village, with stripes on their sleeve
and pockets full of hard-earned money, and bring back happiness and
comfort to the old forsaken home.

They sped on through the freezing rain, leaping over the grey waves,
pursued by the whistling of the wind and the roar of the water.

Yves was thinking of many things, and his fixed eyes now saw nothing.
The image of his mother had all at once taken on an infinite tenderness;
he felt that she was now quite near to him, in a little Breton village,
under this same winter twilight which enveloped him; in two or three
days from now, he would go, with an overmastering joy, to surprise her
and take her in his arms.

The tossing of the sea, the wind and speed, rendered his changing
thoughts incoherent. At one moment he was disconcerted to find his
country under a sky so gloomy. During his voyage he had become used to
the heat and blue clearness of the tropics, and, here, it seemed that
there was a shroud casting a sinister night over the world.

And a little later he was telling himself that he did not want to drink
any more, not that there was any harm in it after all, and, in any case,
it was the custom among Breton sailors; but, first of all, he had given
me his word, and secondly, at twenty-four, one is a grown man and has
had a full draught of pleasure, and it seems that one feels the need of
becoming a little more steady.

Then he thought of the astonished looks of the others on board,
especially of Barrada, his great friend, when they saw him return
to-morrow morning, upright and walking straight. At this comical idea, a
childlike smile passed suddenly over his grave and manly face.

They had now arrived almost under the Castle of Brest and, in the
shelter of the enormous masses of granite, there was suddenly calm. The
cutter no longer rocked; it proceeded tranquilly through the rain; its
sails were hauled down, and the men in yellow oilskins took over its
management with rhythmic strokes of their long oars.

Before them opened that deep and dismal bay which is the naval port; on
the quays were alignments of cannon and of formidable-looking maritime
things. All around nothing but high and interminable constructions of
granite, all alike, overhanging the dark water and staged one above the
other with rows of little doors and little windows. Above these again,
the first houses of Brest and Recouvrance showed their wet roofs, from
which issued little trails of white smoke. They proclaimed their damp
and cold misery, and the wind rushed all about with a great dismal

It was now quite dark and the little gas flames began to pink with
bright yellow dots these accumulations of dark things. The sailors could
already hear the rumbling of the traffic and the noise of the town which
came to them from above the deserted dockyard, mingled with the songs of
drunken men.

Yves, out of prudence, had entrusted to his friend Barrada on board all
his money, which he was saving for his mother, keeping in his pocket
only fifty francs for his night ashore.


"And my husband also, Madame Quéméneur, when he is drunk, sleeps all
day long."

"So you have come out too, Madame Kervella?"

"Yes, I also am waiting for my husband, who arrived to-day on the

"And my man, Madame Kerdoncuff, the day he returned from China, slept
for two whole days; and I, you know, got drunk too, Madame Kerdoncuff.
Oh! and how ashamed of myself I was! And my daughter, also, she fell
down the stairs!"

And these things, spoken in the singing and musical accent of Brest, are
exchanged under old umbrellas straining in the wind, between women in
waterproofs and pointed muslin head-dresses, who are waiting above, at
the top of the wide granite steps.

Their husbands have come on that same boat which has brought Yves, and
their wives are waiting for them; fortified already by a little brandy,
they are on the watch, their eyes half merry and half tender.

These old sailors whom they await were once perhaps gallant topmen
inured to hardship; but demoralized by their sojourns in Brest and by
drunkenness, they have married these creatures and sunk into the sordid
slums of the town.

Behind these women there are other groups again on which the eye rests
with pleasure; young women of quiet mien, real sailors' wives these,
wrapt in the joy of seeing once more a sweetheart or a husband, and
gazing with anxiety into the great yawning cavern of the port, out of
which their beloved ones will come to them. And there are mothers, come
from the villages, wearing their pretty Breton festival dresses, the
wide coif and the gown of black silk embroidered cloth; the rain will
spoil them to be sure, these fine trappings, which are renewed perhaps
not more than twice in a lifetime; but it is necessary to do honour to
this son whom presently they will embrace before the others.

"See there! The men from the _Magicien_ are now entering the harbour,
Madame Kerdoncuff!"

"And those from the _Catinat_ also, do you see! They are following one
another, Madame Quéméneur!"

Below, deep down, the launches come alongside the black quay, and those
who are awaited are among the first to ascend.

First the husbands of these good ladies. Way for the seniors, let them
pass out first! Tar, and wind and sun and brandy have given them the
wrinkled physiognomies of monkeys. . . . And they go their way, arm in
arm, in the direction of Recouvrance, to some gloomy old street of tall
granite houses; presently they will climb to a damp room which smells of
gutters and the mustiness of poverty, where on the furniture are shell
ornaments covered with dust and bottles pell-mell with strange
knick-knacks. And thanks to the alcohol bought at the tavern below, they
will find oblivion of this cruel separation in a renewal of their youth.

Then come the others, the young men for whom sweethearts are waiting,
and wives and old mothers, and, at last, four by four, climbing the
granite steps, the whole band of wild lads, whom Yves is taking to
celebrate his stripes.

And those who are waiting for them, for this little band of hot-blooded
youth, are in the Rue de Sept Saints, already at their door and on the
watch: women whose hair is worn with a fringe combed down to the
eyebrows--with tipsy voices and horrible gestures.

Before the night is out, these women will have their strength, their
restrained passions--and their money. For your sailormen pay well on the
day of their return, and over and above what they give, there is what
one may take afterwards, when by good luck they are quite drunk.

They look about them undecided, almost bewildered, drunk already merely
from finding themselves on shore.

Where should they go? How should they begin their pleasures? This wind,
this cold rain of winter and this sinister fall of the night--for those
who have a home, a fireside, all that adds to the joy of the return. To
these poor fellows it brought the need for a shelter, for somewhere
where they could warm themselves; but they were without a home, these
returning exiles.

At first they wandered at hazard, linked arm in arm, laughing at
nothing, at everything, walking obliquely from right and left--with the
movements of captive beasts which have just been set free.

Then they entered _À la Descente des Navires_, presided over by Madame

_À la Descente des Navires_ was a low tavern in the Rue de Siam.

The warm atmosphere savoured of alcohol. There was a coal fire in a
brazier, and Yves sat down in front of it. This was the first time, for
two or three years past, that he had sat in a chair. And a real fire!
How he revelled in the quite unusual luxury of drying himself before
glowing coals. On board ship, there was never a chance of it; not even
in the great cold of Cape Horn or of Iceland; not even in the
persistent, penetrating rains of the high latitudes were they ever able
to dry themselves. For days and nights on end, they remained wet
through; doing their best to keep on the move, until the sun should

She was a real mother to the sailors, was this Madame Creachcadec; all
who knew her could vouch for it. And she was very exact, too, in the
prices she charged for their dinners and their feastings.

Besides, she knew them. Her large red face flushed already with alcohol,
she tried to repeat their names, which she heard them saying among
themselves; she remembered quite well having seen them when they were
boatmen on board the _Bretagne_; she even thought she could recall their
boyhood, when they were ship-boys on the _Inflexible._ But what tall,
fine fellows they had grown since those days! Truly it was only an eye
like hers that could recognize them, altered as they were. . . .

And, at the back of the tavern, the dinner was cooking, on stoves which
already sent out an appetising odour of soup.

From the street came sounds of a great uproar. A band of sailors was
approaching, singing, scanning at the top of their voices, to a
frivolous air, these words of the Church: '_Kyrie Christe, Dominum
nostrum; Kyrie eleison_. . . .

They entered, upsetting the chairs, and at the same time a gust of wind
laid low the flame of the lamps.

_Kyrie Christe, Dominum nostrum_. . . . The Bretons did not like this
kind of song, brought no doubt from the back streets of some great city.
But the discordance between the words and the music was so droll, it
made them laugh.

The newcomers, however, were from the _Gauloise_, and recognized, and
were recognized by, the others; they had all been ship-boys together.
One of them hastened to embrace Yves: it was Kerboul who had slept in
the next hammock to him on board the _Inflexible._ He, too, had become
tall and strong; he was on the flagship, and, as he was a steady sort of
fellow, he had for a long time worn red stripes on his sleeve.

The air in the tavern was oppressive and there was a great deal of
noise. Madame Creachcadec brought hot wine all steaming, the preliminary
to the dinner that had been ordered, and heads began to swim.

There was commotion this night in Brest: the patrols were kept busy.

In the Rue de Sept Saints and in the Rue de Saint Yves, singing and
shouting went on until the morning; it was as if barbarians had been
loosed there, bands escaped from ancient Gaul; there were scenes of
rejoicing that recalled the boisterousness of primitive times.

The sailors sang. And the women, their fingers itching for the pieces of
gold--agitated, dishevelled in this great excitation of the sailors'
homecoming--mingled their shrill voices with the deep voices of the men.

The latest arrivals from the sea might be recognized by their deeper
tint of bronze, by their freer carriage; and then they carried with them
objects of foreign origin; some of them passed with bedraggled parakeets
in cages; others with monkeys.

They sang, these sailors, at the top of their voices, with a kind of
naïve expression, things that made one shudder, or perhaps little airs
of the south, songs of the Basque country, and, above all, they sang
mournful Breton melodies which seemed like old bagpipe airs bequeathed
from Celtic antiquity.

The simple, the good, sang part songs together; they remained grouped by
village, and repeated in their native tongue the long laments of the
country, preserving even in their drunkenness their fine resonant young
voices. Others stuttered like little children and embraced one another;
unconscious of their strength they smashed doors and knocked down

The night was advancing; only places of ill-repute remained open; and in
the streets the rain continued to fall on the exuberance of these wild


Six o'clock on the following morning. A dark mass having the form of a
man in the gutter--by the side of a kind of deserted street overhung by
ramparts. It is still dark. The rain still falls, fine and cold; and the
winter wind continues to roar. It had "watched," as they say in the
navy, and passed the night in groaning.

It was in the lower part of the town, a little below the bridge of
Brest, at the foot of the great walls, in that locality where sailors
commonly find themselves, who are without a home and who have had the
vague intention, blind drunk as they were, of returning to their ship
and have fallen en route.

There is already a kind of half light in the air; a wan, pallid light,
the light of a winter's day rising on granite. Water was streaming over
this human form which lay on the ground, and, right at its side, poured
in a cascade into the opening of a drain.

It began to get a little brighter; a sort of light made up its mind to
descend along the high granite walls. The dark thing in the gutter was
now clearly seen to be the body of a tall man, a sailor, lying with arms
outstretched in the form of a cross.

A first passer-by made a sound of wooden sabots on the hard pavé, as of
someone staggering. Then another, then many. They followed all the same
direction in a lower street which led to the gate of the naval dockyard.

Soon this tapping of sabots became a thing extraordinary; a fatiguing,
continuous noise, hammering the silence like a nightmare music.

Hundreds and hundreds of sabots, tramping before daylight, coming from
everywhere, and passing along the street below; a kind of early morning
procession of evil import: it was the workers returning to the dockyard,
still staggering from having drank so much the night before, the gait
unsteady, the eyes lustreless.

And there were women also, ugly, pale, and wet, who went to right and
left as if seeking someone: in the half light they peered into the faces
of the men--waiting and watching there, to see if the husband, or the
son, had at last come out of the taverns, if he was going to do his
day's work.

The man lying in the gutter was also examined by them; two or three bent
over him so that they might better distinguish his face. They saw
features youthful but weatherbeaten, and set now in a corpse-like
fixity, the lips contracted, the teeth clenched. No, they did not know
him. And in any case he was not a workman, this man; he wore the large
blue collar of a sailor.

One of them, nevertheless, who had a son a sailor, tried, out of
kindness of heart, to drag him from the water. He was too heavy.

"What a big corpse!" she said as she let his arms drop.

This body on which had fallen all the rain of the night was Yves.

A little later, when it was full daylight, his comrades, who were
passing, recognized him and carried him away.

They laid him, all soaked with the water of the gutter, at the bottom of
the cutter, itself wet from the spray of the sea, and quickly they put
off with canvas spread.

The sea was rough; there was a head wind. They beat to windward for a
long time, and were hard put to it to reach their ship.


Yves awoke slowly towards evening. He had first of all sensations of
suffering, which came one by one, as after a kind of death. He was cold,
cold to the marrow of his bones.

Above all he was bruised and battered and benumbed--stretched for some
hours now on a hard bed: and he made a first effort, scarcely conscious,
to turn over. But his left foot, in which suddenly he felt a sharp pain,
was caught in a rigid thing against which he realized at once it was
vain to struggle. And he recognized the sensation: he understood now: he
was in irons.

He was already familiar with the inevitable morrow of wild nights of
pleasure: to be shackled by a ring to an iron bar for days on end! And
this place in which he must be, he divined it without taking the trouble
to open his eyes, this recess narrow as a cupboard, and dark, and damp,
with its fusty smell, and its dim pale light falling from an opening
above: the hold of the _Magicien._

But he confused this to-morrow with others which had been spent
elsewhere--far away, at the other side of the earth, in America, or in
the ports of China. . . . Was this for thrashing the alguazils of Buenos
Ayres? Or was it that sanguinary fight at Rosario which had brought him
to this? Or, again, the affair with the Russian sailors at Hong-Kong? He
was not very clear, to a thousand miles or so, having forgotten in what
part of the world he was.

All the winds and all the waves of the sea had carried the _Magicien_ to
all the countries of the world; they had shaken it, rolled it, battered
it from without, but without succeeding in disturbing the various things
which were within this hold--without displacing the diver's dress which
must be there hanging behind him, with its great eyes and morse-like
head, and without changing the smell of rats, of damp, and tar.

He still felt very cold, so horribly cold that it was like a pain in his
bones. And he realized that his clothes were wet and his body also. The
pitiless rain of the preceding night, the wind, the darkling sky,
returned vaguely to his memory. . . . He was not after all in the blue
countries of the Equator! He remembered now. He was in France, in
Brittany. This was the return of which he had so long dreamed.

But what had he done to be in irons already, almost before he had set
foot on his native land? He tried to remember but could not. Then
suddenly a recollection came to him, as of a dream: when they were
hoisting him on board, he pulled himself together a little, and said
that he would climb unaided, and then, as ill-luck would have it, he
found himself face to face with a certain old warrant officer whom he
held in aversion. And straightway he had fallen to abusing him most
vilely; then there had been some sort of scuffle and what happened
afterwards he did not know, for at that moment he had fallen inert again
and lost consciousness.

But then ... the leave that had been promised him to go to his village
of Plouherzel would not now be given him! . . . All the things for which
he had hoped, for which he had longed, during three years of misery,
were lost! He thought of his mother and his heart smote him sorely; his
eyes opened bewildered, seeing only what was within, dilated in a
strange fixity by a tumult of interior things. And, in the hope that it
was only an evil dream, he tried to shake his tortured foot in its iron

Then a burst of laughter, deep and resonant, went off like a firework in
the dark hold: a man, clothed in a woollen jersey fitting close to his
body, was standing beside Yves and looking at him. As he laughed he
threw back his handsome head and showed his white teeth with a feline

"Hello! so you are waking up?" asked the man in a sarcastic voice, which
vibrated with the accent of Bordeaux.

Yves recognized his friend Jean Barrada, the gunner, and looking up at
him he asked _if I knew._

"Tut! Tut!" said Barrada in his chaffing Gascon way. "Does he know? He
has been down three times and even brought the doctor here to have a
look at you; you were like a log and we were frightened about you. And I
am on duty here to let him know if you move."

"What for? I don't want him or anyone. Don't go, Barrada, do you
understand, I forbid you!"

And so it had happened again. He had come to grief once more, and once
more through his old failing. And, on every one of the rare occasions on
which he set foot on shore, it fell out thus and it seemed that he could
not help it. It must be true, what had been said to him, that this habit
was a terrible and a fatal one, and that a man was lost indeed when once
it had taken hold of him. In rage against himself he twisted his
muscular arms until they cracked; he half raised himself, grinding his
teeth; and then he fell back striking his head against the hard planks.
Oh! his poor mother, she was now quite near to him and he would not see
her, despite his longing of the last three years! . . . And this was his
return to France! What anguish and what misery!

"At least you must change your clothes," said Barrada. "To remain wet
through as you are won't do you any good. You will be ill."

"So much the better, Barrada! Leave me alone."

He spoke harshly, his eyes dark and menacing; and Barrada, who knew him
well, realized that the best thing to do was to leave him.

Yves turned his head and for a time buried his face in his upraised
arms. Then, fearful lest Barrada should imagine he was weeping, out of
pride he altered his position and gazed straight in front of him. His
eyes, in their wearied atony, kept a fierce fixity, and his lower lip,
protruded more than usual, expressed the savage defiance which in his
heart he was hurling at all the world. He was forming evil projects in
his head; ideas which he had already conceived in former days, in hours
of rebellion and despair, returned to him.

Yes, he would go away, like his brother Goulven, like both his brothers.
This time he had made up his mind, irrevocably. The life of those
sea-rovers whom he had encountered on the whale-boats of Oceania, or in
places of pleasure in the towns of La Plata, that life lived in the
hazard of the sea without law and without restraint, had for a long time
attracted him. It was in his blood for that matter; it was a thing

To desert and sail the sea in a trading ship abroad, or to take part in
the ocean fishing, that is ever the dream which obsesses sailors, and
the best of them especially, in their moments of revolt.

There are good times in America for deserters. He would not be
successful, of that, in his bitterness, he felt sure; for he was
ordained to toil and misfortune; but, if poverty must be his lot, out
there at least he would be free!

His mother! Yes, in his dash for freedom, he would steal as far as
Plouherzel, in the night, and embrace her. In this again like his
brother Goulven, who had done the same thing many years before. He
remembered having seen him arrive one night, like a fugitive; he had
remained concealed during the day of farewell which he had spent at his
home. Their poor mother had wept bitterly, it is true. But what was
there to do? It was fate. And this brother Goulven, how forceful he
looked and how manly!

Except his mother, Yves at this moment held all the world in hate. He
thought of those years of his life spent in the service, in the
confinement of ships of war, under the whip of discipline; he asked
himself for whose profit and why. His heart overflowed with the
bitterness of despair, with desire for vengeance, with a rage to be
free. . . . And, as I was the cause of his re-engaging for five years in
the navy, he fumed against me and included me in his resentment against
the world in general.

Barrada had left him and the darkness of a December night came on.
Through the hatch of the hold the grey light of day was no longer to be
seen; only a damp mist now descended, which was icy cold.

A patrol had come and lit a lantern in a wire cage, and the objects in
the hold were illumined confusedly. Yves heard above him the evening
assembly, the slinging of the hammocks, and then the first cry of the
men of the watch marking the half-hours of the night.

Outside the wind was still blowing, and as gradually silence overtook
the business of men, the great unconscious voices of things became more
perceptible. High up there was a continuous roaring in the rigging; and
one heard the sea which lay all about us and which, from time to time,
shook everything, as if in impatience. At every shock, it rolled Yves'
head on the damp wood, and he put his hands underneath so that he might
suffer less.

Even the sea, this night, was angry and vicious; it beat against the
sides of the ship with a continuous noise.

At this hour no one, surely, would descend again into the hold. Yves was
alone, stretched on the floor, fettered, his foot in the iron ring, and
his teeth now were chattering.


Nevertheless, an hour afterwards, Jean Barrada reappeared, ostensibly to
arrange one of those tackles which are used for the guns.

And this time, Yves called him in a low voice:

"Barrada, you might, like a good fellow, get me a drink of water."

Barrada went quickly to fetch his little mug, which during the day he
carried on his belt and which he put away at night in a gun; he poured
into it some water which was of the colour of rust, having been brought
from La Plata in an iron tank, and a little wine stolen from the
steward's room, and a little sugar stolen from the Commander's office.

And then with much kindness and very gently, he raised Yves' head and
gave him to drink.

"And now," he said, "won't you change your clothes?"

"Yes," replied Yves, in a meek voice, which had become almost childlike,
and sounded odd by contrast with his manner of a short time before.

He helped him to undress, humouring him as one might a child. He dried
his chest, his shoulders and his arms, put him on dry clothes, and made
him lie down again, first placing a sack under his head so that he might
be able to sleep easier.

When Yves murmured his thanks, an amiable smile, the first, passed over
his face, changing its whole expression. It was over now. His heart was
softened and he was himself again. To-day the change had come more
quickly than usual.

He felt an infinite tenderness as he thought of his mother, and he
wanted to cry; something like a tear even came into his eyes, which were
not used to yield to this weakness. . . . Perhaps after all a little
indulgence would again be shown him, on account of his good conduct on
board, on account of his endurance in hardship, and of his arduous work
in rough weather. If it were possible--if he was not given too harsh a
punishment, it was certain he would not repeat his offence and that he
would earn forgiveness.

It was a strong resolution this time. It needed but a single glass of
brandy, after the long abstinences of the sea, to make him lose his head
at once; and then the devil in him drove him to drink another, and
another again. But if he did not begin, if he never drank again, he
would have a sure means of keeping steady.

His repentance had the sincerity of the repentance of a child, and he
persuaded himself that, if he escaped this time from the dread court
martial which consigns sailors to prison, this would be his last great

He hoped also in me and, above all, wanted earnestly to see me. He
begged Barrada to go up and fetch me.


Yves had been my friend for seven years when he celebrated in this way
his return to his native land.

We had entered the navy by different doors: he two years before I did,
although he was some months younger.

The day on which I arrived at Brest, to don there that first naval
uniform, which I see still, I met Yves Kermadec by chance at the house
of a patron of his, an old Commander who had known his father. Yves was
then a boy of sixteen. I was told that he was about to become a
probationer after two years as a ship-boy. He had just returned from his
home, on the expiration of eight days' leave which had been given him;
his heart seemed to be very full of the good-byes he had lately bidden
his mother. This and our age, which was almost the same, were two points
we had in common.

A little later, having become a midshipman, I came across him again on
my first ship. He was then grown into a man and serving as a topman. And
I chose him for my hammock man.

For a midshipman, the hammock man is the sailor allotted to hang each
evening his little suspended bed and to take it down in the morning.

Before removing the hammock, it is naturally necessary to awaken the
sleeper within it and to ask him to get out. This is usually done by
saying to him:

"It is réveillé, captain."

This phrase has to be repeated many times before it produces its effect.
Afterwards, the hammock man carefully rolls up the little bed and takes
it away.

Yves performed this service very tactfully. I used also to meet him
daily for the drill, aloft on the main top.

There was a solidarity at that time between the midshipmen and the
topmen; and, during the long voyages especially, such as those we were
making, the relations between us became very cordial. On shore, in the
strange places in which sometimes, at night, we came across our topmen,
we were used to call them to our aid when there was danger or an
adventure took an ugly look, and then, thus united, we could lay down
the law.

In such cases, Yves was our most valuable ally.

His service records, however, were not excellent. "Exemplary on board; a
most capable and sailor-like man; but his conduct on shore is
impossible." Or: "Has shown admirable pluck and devotion," and then:
"Undisciplined, uncontrollable." Elsewhere: "Zeal, honour, and
fidelity," with "Incorrigible" in regard, etc. His nights in irons, his
days in prison were beyond counting.

Morally as well as physically, large, strong, and handsome, but with
some irregularities in details.

On board he was an indefatigable topman, always at work, always
vigilant, always quick, always clean.

On shore, if there was a sailor out of hand, riotous, drunk, it was
always he; if a sailor was picked up in the morning in the gutter, half
naked, stripped of his clothes as one might strip a corpse, by negroes
sometimes, at other times by Indians or Chinese, again it was always he.
The sailor absent without leave, who fought with the police, or used his
knife against the alguazils, again and always it was he. ... All kinds
of mad escapades were familiar to him.

At first I was amused at the things this Kermadec did. When he went
ashore with his friends it would be asked in the midshipmen's quarters:
"What fresh tale shall we hear to-morrow morning? In what condition will
they return?" And I used to say to myself: "My hammock will not be fixed
for me for two days at least."

It did not matter about the hammock. But this fellow Kermadec was so
devoted, he seemed so good-hearted, that I began to be genuinely
attached to him, rough sea-rover as he seemed to be and tipsy as he so
often was. I no longer laughed at his more serious misdeeds, and would
gladly have prevented them.

When this first voyage together was ended and we separated, it happened
that chance brought us together again on another ship. And then I grew
almost to love him.

There were, moreover, two circumstances in this second voyage which
helped greatly to unite us.

The first was at Montevideo one morning before daybreak. Yves had been
on shore since the previous evening, and I was approaching the quay in a
pinnace manned by sixteen men, for the purpose of laying in a supply of
fresh water.

I can recall the bleak half light of the dawn, the sky already luminous
but still starry, the deserted quay, alongside which we rowed slowly,
looking for the watering place; the large town, which had a false air of
Europe, with I know not what of primitive civilization.

As we passed we saw the long straight streets, immensely wide, opening
one after the other on the whitening sky. At this uncertain hour when
the night was gradually being dissipated, not a light, not a sound; here
and there, some straggler without a home, moving with aimless
hesitation; along the sea front, evil-looking taverns, large wooden
buildings, smelling of spices and alcohol, but closed and dark as tombs.

We stopped before one called the tavern _de la Independancia._

A Spanish song coming from within, more or less stifled; a door,
half-opened on the street; two men outside fighting with knives; a
drunken woman, who could be heard vomiting against the wall. On the
quay, heaps of bullock skins freshly flayed, infecting the sweet pure
air with an odour of venison. . . .

A singular convoy came out of the tavern; four men carrying another, who
seemed to be very drunk, unconscious. They hurried towards the ships, as
if they were afraid of us.

We knew this game, which is common enough in the evil places along this
coast; to ply sailors with liquor, to make them sign some preposterous
engagement, and then to carry them on board by force when they can no
longer keep their legs. Then the ship puts to sea as quickly as may be,
and when the man comes to his senses he is far from shore; he is fairly
caught, under a yoke of iron, and borne away, like a slave, to the whale
fisheries, far from any inhabited land. And once there, his escape need
no longer be feared, for he is a _deserter_ from his country's service,
lost. . . .

And so this convoy passing along the quay excited our suspicion. They
pressed on like thieves, and I said to the sailors: "Let us follow
them!" Seeing our intention the men dropped their burden, which fell
heavily to the ground, and made off as fast as their legs would carry

And the burden was Kermadec. While we were occupied in picking him up
and establishing his identity, the others had made good their escape and
were now locked in the tavern. The sailors wanted to batter in the
doors, to take the place by assault, but that would have led to
diplomatic complications with Uruguay.

Besides, Yves was saved, and that was the essential thing. I brought him
back to the ship, wrapt in a cloak and lying on the goatskins which
contained our provision of fresh water.

And to have rendered him this service increased my attachment to him.

The second time was when we were at Pernambuco. I had given a promissory
note to some Portuguese in a gambling den. The next day I had to find
the money, and as I had none, and as my friends had none either, I was
in a difficulty.

Yves took the situation very tragically, and at once offered me the
money of his own which he had entrusted to my care, and which I kept in
a drawer of my desk.

"It would give me much pleasure. Captain, if you would take it! I have
no further need to go ashore and, as you know well, it would be better
for me if I could not go."

"Yves, my good fellow, I would accept your money gladly for a few days,
since you wish to lend it me; but, you know, it is short of what I want
by a hundred francs. So you see it's hardly worth while."

"Another hundred francs? I think I have that below in my kit-bag."

And he went away, leaving me very much astonished. That he should have
another hundred francs in his kit-bag seemed very unlikely.

He was a long time in returning. He had not found them. I had
anticipated that.

At length he reappeared.

"Here you are!" he said, handing me his poor sailor's purse, with a
happy smile.

Then a doubt came to me and, to resolve it, I said to him:

"Yves, lend me your watch, too, like a good fellow; I left mine in

He was very confused, and said it was broken. I had guessed right: to
get these hundred francs he had just sold it with the chain, for half
its value, to a petty officer on board.

And so Yves knew that he could call on me in any circumstances. And when
Barrada came for me on his behalf, I went down to him where he lay, in
irons, in the hold.

But this time, by striking this old warrant officer, he had got himself
in a very serious position; my intercession for him was in vain, and his
punishment was heavy. Four months afterwards he had to put to sea again
without having seen his mother.

When we were on the point of embarking together on the _Sibylle_ for a
voyage round the world in three hundred days, I took him on a Sunday to
Saint Pol-de-Léon, in order to console him.

It was all I could do for him, for his Plouherzel was a long way from
Brest, in the Côtes-du-Nord, in the depth of a remote part of the
country, and at that time there was no railway which could take us there
in a single day.


_5th May, 1875._

For many years Yves had been looking forward to seeing this Saint
Pol-de-Léon, the little town where he was born.

In the days when we sailed the misty northern waters together, often as
we passed in the offing, rocked in the grey swell, we had seen the
legendary tower of Creizker upreared in the dark distance, above the
mournful and monotonous stretch of land which, beyond, represented
Brittany, the country of Léon.

And in the night watch we used to sing together the Breton song:

Oh! I was born in Finistère,
And in Saint Pol first saw the day:
My bell tower is beyond compare
And I love my native land O.

. . . . .

Give me back my heather
And my old bell tower.

But there was as it were a fatality, a throw of the dice against us: we
had never succeeded in getting there, to this Saint Pol. At the last
moment when we were on the point of starting out, something interfered
to prevent us; our ship received unexpected orders and it was necessary
to leave at once. And at the end we had come to regard with a kind of
superstition this tower of Creizker, glimpsed only and always from a
distance, in silhouette, on the edge of the mournful horizon.

This time, however, the position seems assured, and we start off in good

In the coupé of the old country diligence, we take our places next to a
Breton Curé. The horses set off at a good pace towards Saint Pol, and
all looks very real.

It is early in the morning, in the first days of May; but it is raining,
a fine grey rain like a rain of winter. Ambling along the winding road,
ascending steep hills, descending into damp valleys, we make our way in
the midst of woods and rocks. The high ground is covered with dark fir
trees. In the valleys are oaks and beeches, the foliage of which, new
and wet, is of a tender green. By the roadside there are carpets of
Easter daisies and Breton flowers: the first pink silenes and the first

Turning a rocky corner we find that the rain and the wind have suddenly
ceased. And as if by magic the aspect of things is entirely changed.

We see before us as far as eye commands a great flat country, a barren
moor, bare as a desert: the old country of Léon, in the background of
which, far away, stands the granite shaft of the Creizker.

And yet this mournful country has a charm of its own, and Yves smiles as
he perceives his tower towards which we are moving.

The gorse is in blossom and the whole plain has a colour of gold, varied
in places by stretches pink with heather. A veil of pearl-grey mist, of
a tint peculiar to the north, very soft and subtle, entirely covers the
sky; and in the monotony of this pink and yellow country, on the extreme
edge of the far horizon, nothing but these outstanding points: the
silhouette of Saint Pol and the three dark towers.

Some little Breton girls are driving flocks of sheep before them through
the heather; some young lads, caracoling on horses which they ride
bareback, startle them; little traps pass laden with women in white
coifs who are on their way to hear mass in the town. The bells are
ringing, the road is gaily animated; we arrive.


After we had lunched together at the best inn, we found that the
winter's morning had yielded place to a fine May day. In the empty
little streets, branches of lilac, clusters of wistaria, pink foxgloves
which no one had sown brightened the grey walls; the sun was really
shining and all about was a savour of spring.

And Yves took in everything, marvelling that no recollection of his
early childhood came back to him, seeking, seeking in the dim background
of his memory, recognizing nothing, and then, little by little, becoming

On the grand'place of Saint Pol the crowd of the Sunday was assembled.
It seemed a picture of the Middle Ages. The cathedral of the old bishops
of Léon dominated the square, overwhelming it with its dark
denticulated mass, throwing over it a great shadow of bygone times.
Around were ancient houses with gables and little turrets; all the
drinkers of the Sunday, wearing aslant their wide felt hats, were
sitting at table before the doors. This crowd in its Breton dress,
living and alert here, this, too, might have been a crowd of olden days;
in the air, one heard vibrate only the harsh syllables, the northern
_ya_ of the Celtic tongue.

Yves passed rather distractedly into the church, over the memorial
stones and over the old bishops asleep beneath.

But he stopped, suddenly thoughtful, at the door, before the baptismal

"Look!" he said. "They held me above this. And we must have lived quite
near here; my poor mother has often told me that, on the day of my
baptism, on the day, you know, when they so cruelly insulted us by not
ringing the bell for me, she had heard, from her bed, the singing of the

Unfortunately Yves had omitted to obtain from his mother, at Plouherzel,
the information necessary to identify the house in which they used to

He had reckoned on his godmother, Yvonne Kergaoc by name, who, he
understood, lived quite close to the church. And on our arrival we had
asked for this Yvonne Kergaoc: "Kergaoc." . . . They remembered her

"But from where do you come, my good sirs? . . . She is dead these
twelve years!"

As for the Kermadecs no one had any recollection of them. And it was
scarcely to be wondered at: it was more than twenty years since they
left the town.

We climbed the tower of Creizker; naturally it was high, it seemed never
to end, this point in the air. We greatly disturbed the old crows who
had their nests in the granite.

A marvellous lace-work of grey stone, which mounted, mounted endlessly,
and was so slender it produced sensations of vertigo. We climbed within
it by a narrow and steep spiral staircase, discovering through all the
openings of the "open tower" infinite vistas.

At the top, isolated, the two of us, in the keen air and the blue sky,
we saw things as a hovering bird might see them. First, below our feet,
were the crows which whirled in a dark cloud, giving us a concert of
mournful cries; much lower, the old town of Saint Pol, all flattened
out, a Lilliputian crowd moving about in its little grey streets, like a
swarm of ants; as far as eye could see, to the south, stretched the
Breton country up to the Black Mountains; and, to the north, was the
port of Roscoff, with thousands of strange little rocks riddling with
their pointed tops the mirror of the sea--the mirror of the great pale
blue sea which stretched away to mingle in the farthest distance with
the similar blue of the sky.

It pleased us to have succeeded at last in climbing this Creizker, which
had so many times watched us pass in the midst of that infinity of
water; it was so calm, planted there, so permanent, so inaccessible and
unchanging, while we, poor waifs of the sea, were at the mercy of every
angry wind that blew.

This granite lace-work which supported us in the air had been smoothed
and worn by the winds and rains of four hundred winters. It was of a
grey deepened by warm pinkish tones; and over it, in patches, was that
yellow lichen, that moss peculiar to granite, which takes centuries to
grow and throws its golden tint over all the old Breton churches. The
ugly-faced gargoyles, the little monsters with irregular features, who
live high up there in the air, were making faces at our side in the sun,
as if they resented being looked at from so near, as if they were
surprised themselves to be so old, to have endured through so many
tempests and to find themselves once more in the sunlight. It was these
people who had presided from above over the birth of Yves; it was these
people also who from afar watched us with friendliness as we passed by
at sea, when we, for our part, saw only a vague black shaft. And now we
were making their acquaintance.

Yves was still very disappointed, however, that he had discovered no
trace of his old home nor of his father; no recollection, either in the
memory of others or his own. And he continued to gaze upon the grey
houses below, especially at those which were nearest the foot of the
tower, awaiting some intuition of the place where he was born.

We had now only half an hour to spend in Saint Pol before catching the
evening diligence. Tomorrow morning we should have to be back in Brest,
where our ship was waiting to take us once more very far from Brittany.

We sat down to drink some cider in an inn on the _Place de l'Église_,
and there again we questioned the hostess, who was a very old woman. And
she, as chance would have it, started suddenly on hearing Yves' name.

"You are Yves Kermadec's son?" she said. "Oh! Did I know your parents! I
should think so, indeed. We were neighbours in those days. Why, when you
arrived in the world, they sent to fetch me. But you are like your
father, you know! I watched you when you came in. But you are not so
handsome as he, bless me, though, to be sure, you are a fine-looking

Yves, at this compliment, glanced at me, repressing a strong inclination
to smile; and then the old woman, growing very talkative, began to tell
him a multitude of things over which more than twenty years had passed,
while he listened attentive and greatly moved.

Then she called some other old women, who also had been neighbours, and
they all began to talk.

"Bless my soul!" they said. "How is it that no one was able to answer
you sooner? Everybody remembers them, remembers your parents. But people
are stupid in these parts; and then, when strangers come in this way, it
isn't surprising that people should hesitate to talk."

Yves' father had left in the country round a reputation a little
legendary of a kind of giant of rare beauty, who was never able to
conform to the ways of others.

"What a pity, sir, that such a man should so often go astray! It was the
tavern that ruined him, your poor father; for all that, he was very fond
of his wife and children, he was very gentle with them, and in the
country round everybody loved him except M. le Curé."

"Except M. le Curé!" Yves repeated to me in a low voice, becoming
serious. "You see it is what I told you, on the subject of my baptism."

"One day, there was a battle, here on the square, in 1848, for the
revolution; your father withstood single-handed the market people and
saved the life of the Mayor."

"He had a big horse," said the hostess, "which was so wild that no one
dared to approach it. And people kept out of the way, I assure you, when
he passed mounted on the beast."

"Ah!" said Yves, struck suddenly with a recollection which seemed to
have come to him from a great distance. "I remember that horse, and I
recall that my father used to lift me up and sit me on it when it was
tied in the stable. It is the first recollection I have of my father and
I can just picture a little his face. The horse was black, was it not,
with white hoofs?"

"That's it! That's it," said the old woman. "Black with white hoofs. It
was a wild beast, and, bless my soul! what an idea for a sailor to have
a horse!"

The inn is full of men drinking cider. They make a cheerful noise of
glasses and Breton conversations. And gradually they gather round and
make a sort of circle about us.

The hostess has four granddaughters, all alike, and all ravishingly
pretty in their white coifs. They do not look like daughters of an inn.
They are the perfect type of the handsome Breton race of the north, and
they have the calm, thoughtful expression of those women of olden times
which the old portraits have preserved for us. They, too, gathered round
us, looking and listening.

We are questioned in our turn. Yves replies: "My mother is still living
at Plouherzel with my two sisters. My two brothers, Gildas and Goulven,
are at sea, on American whalers. I myself have been for the last ten
years in the Navy."

There is not much time to lose if we want to see before we go the old
home of the Kermadecs. It is quite near, by the very side of the church.
They show it to us from the door, and advise us to ask to be allowed to
see the room on the left, on the first floor; that is the room in which
Yves was born.

At the side of the house is the large abandoned park of the bishopric of
Léon, where, it seems, Yves, when he was quite a little child, used to
play every day in the grass with Goulven. It is very thick to-day, this
grass of May, and full of Easter daisies and silenes. In the park roses
and lilac are growing wild now, as in a wood.

We knock at the door of the house which the good women have pointed out
to us, and those who live there are a little surprised at the request we
make. But we do not inspire distrust, and they ask us only not to make a
noise when we enter the first floor room, on account of the old
grandmother who is sleeping there and is on the point of death. And
then, considerately, they leave us alone.

We enter on tiptoe. It is a large room, poor and almost empty. The
things in it seem to have a presentiment of the grim visitor who is
expected; one is tempted almost to ask whether he has not already
arrived, and our eyes glance uneasily at a bed, the curtains of which
are drawn. Yves looks all round, trying to stretch his intelligence into
the past, to force himself as it were to remember. But it is no use. It
is finished; and even here he can find nothing.

We were descending preparatory to leaving, when suddenly something came
back to him like a light in the distance.

"Ah!" he said, "I think now that I recognize this staircase. Wait! Below
there should be a door on that side leading into a yard, and a well on
the left with a large tree, and, at the back, the stable where we used
to keep the horse with the white hoofs."

It was as if there had suddenly come a break in the clouds. Yves stood
still on the stairs, gazing through this gap which had just been opened
on the past; he was thrilled to feel himself at grips with that
mysterious thing which men call memory.

Below, in the yard, we found everything as he had described it, the well
on the left, the tree, the stable. And Yves said to me with an emotion
of awe, removing his hat as if he were by a grave:

"Now I can see quite clearly my father's face."

It was high time to depart, and the diligence was waiting for us.

Throughout our journey over this golden-coloured moor, during the long
May twilight, our eyes were fixed on the Creizker tower which was
disappearing in the distance, and was lost at last in the depths of the
limpid darkness. We were bidding it adieu, for we were going to leave
to-morrow for very distant seas, where it would no longer be able to see
us pass.

"To-morrow morning," said Yves, "you must let me come into your room on
board very early, so that I may write at your desk. I want to tell all
that we have found out to my mother before leaving France. And, you
know, I am sure that tears will come into her eyes when my letter is
read to her."


_June, 1875._

It was now the twentieth parallel of latitude, in the region of the
trade winds. The hour was about six in the morning. On the deck of a
ship which rode solitary in the midst of the immense blue, was a group
of young men, stripped to the waist, in the warmth of the rising sun.

It was Yves' band, the topmen of the foremast and those of the bowsprit.

They had thrown over their shoulders, all of them, the handkerchiefs
which they had just washed, and they stood there gravely with back to
the sun to dry them. Their bronzed faces, their laughter, had still a
youthful, almost childlike, grace, and in their movements, in the
supple, flexible way in which they placed their bare feet there was
something catlike.

And every morning, at this same hour, in this same sunshine, in this
same costume, this group foregathered on these same boards which carried
them along, all heedless, in the midst of the infinity of the sea.

This particular morning they were talking about the moon, about its
human face, which had remained with them since the night as a pale,
persistent image graven in their memory. Throughout their watch they had
seen it on high, solitary and round, in the midst of the immense bluish
void; they had even been obliged to cover their faces (as they slept on
their backs in the open) on account of the maladies and evil spells it
casts on the eyes of sailors, when they sleep under its gaze.

There were some amongst them who preserved still, and in spite of all, a
great air of nobility, a something indescribably superb in their
expression and general appearance; and the contrast between their aspect
and the simple things they said was singular.

There was Jean Barrada, the sceptic of the company, who broke into the
discussion from time to time with a sarcastic burst of laughter, showing
his white teeth always and throwing back his handsome head. There was
Clet Kerzulec, a Breton from the island of Ushant, who was preoccupied
especially with the human features stamped on the pale disc. And then
big Barazère, who posed as a thinker and scholar, assuring them that it
was a world much larger than ours and inhabited by strange peoples.

They shook their heads, incredulous, at this, and Yves, very thoughtful,

"You know, Barazfère, there are things . . . there are things about
which I don't believe you know very much."

And then he added, with an air which cut short the discussion, that in
any case, he was going to find me and get me to explain to him what the
moon really was.

There was no doubt in their minds that I should be well-informed about
the moon as about everything else. For they had often seen me occupied
in watching its progress through a copper instrument in company with a
signalman who counted for me out loud, with the monotonous voice of a
clock, the tranquil minutes and seconds of the night.

Meanwhile, the little handkerchiefs were drying on the bare backs of the
men, and the sun was mounting in the wide blue sky.

Some of these little handkerchiefs were all uniformly white; others had
pictures on them in many colours; and some even had great ships printed
in the middle in a red frame.

I, whose watch it was, gave the order: "'Way aloft! Loose the topsail
reef!" And the boat-swain appeared among the talkers blowing his silver
whistle. Then suddenly, in the twinkling of an eye, like a band of cats
on whom a dog has been loosed, they all scattered, running, into the

Yves lived aloft in his top. Looking up, one was sure to see his tall,
slim silhouette against the sky. But one rarely met him below.

It was I who used to climb from time to time to visit him, although my
duty no longer required me to do so, since I had been promoted from the
rank of midshipman; but I was rather fond of this domain of Yves where
one was fanned by a still purer air.

In this top, he had his little belongings; a pack of playing cards in a
box, needles and thread for sewing, stolen bananas, greenstuffs taken
during the night from the Commander's store, anything he was able to
find in his nocturnal marauding that was fresh and green (sailors are
partial to these rare things which soothe gums parched by salt). And
then he had his "parrot" attached by a claw, its eyes blinking in the

The "parrot" was a large-headed owl of the pampas which had fallen on
board one day after a high wind.

There are some strange destinies on the earth, but few stranger than
that of this owl making the tour of the world at the top of a mast. How
unexpected a fate!

He knew his master and welcomed him with little joyous flappings of his
wings. Yves fed him regularly with his own ration of meat, although he
used to let him loose.

It amused him greatly to peer into its eyes from quite near, and to see
how it shrank away, and arched its back with an air of offended dignity,
nodding its head after the manner of a bear. Then he would burst out
laughing, and say to it in his Breton accent:

"Oh! but you are a stupid little fool, my old parrot!"

From aloft one dominated as from a great height the deck of the
_Sibylle_, a _Sibylle_ flattened out and tapering, very strange to see
from this domain of Yves, having the appearance of a long wooden fish,
whose colour of new spruce contrasted with the deep and infinite blues
of the sea.

And, through all these transparent blues, behind, in our wake, a little
grey thing having the same shape as the ship which it followed
unceasingly under water: the shark. It is always one shark which
follows, rarely two; but if the one is caught, another comes. For days
and nights it follows, follows without ever getting tired, waiting for
what may fall from the ship: debris of any kind, living men or dead men.

And now and then a number of quite small swallows came also to bear us
company, amusing themselves, for a while, in picking up the crumbs of
biscuits which we scattered behind us in this watery desert, and then
disappeared in the distance describing joyous curves. Little beasts of a
rare kind, reddish in colour with a white tail, which live one knows not
how, lost amid the great waters, always in the open sea.

Yves, who wanted one, set traps for them, but they were too shrewd to be

We were approaching the Equator, and the regular breath of the trade
wind began to die away. There were now erratic breezes which shifted
suddenly, followed by times of calm in which everything became
immobilized in a kind of immense blue splendour; and then the yards, the
tops, and the great white sails were reflected in the water in the form
of inverted pictures undulating and incomplete.

The _Sibylle_ scarcely moved, she was slow and lazy, she had the
movements of one half asleep. In the great moist heat, which even the
nights did not diminish, things, as well as men, seemed to be taken with
drowsiness. Gradually in the air a strange calm began to reign. And
presently clouds, heavy and obscure, gathered over the warm sea like
large dark curtains. The Equator was now quite near.

Sometimes flights of swallows, large ones these and strange in movement,
rose suddenly from the sea, taking flight in startled fashion with long
pointed wings of a glistening blue, and then settled again, and one saw
them no more. These were shoals of flying-fish which had lain in our
course and which we had disturbed.

The sails, the cordage hung limp, like dead things; we drifted lifeless
like a wreck.

Aloft, in Yves' domain, might still be felt some slow movements which
were no longer perceptible below. In this motionless air saturated with
rays, the crow's nest continued to rock with a tranquil regularity which
conduced to slumber. There were long slow oscillations accompanied
always by the same flappings of drooping sails, the same creakings of
dry wood.

It was intensely hot, and the light had a surprising splendour, and the
mournful sea was of a milky blue, of the colour of melted turquoise.

But when the strange dense clouds, which travelled low so as almost to
touch the water, passed over us, they brought us night and drenched us
with a deluge of rain.

We were now directly under the Equator; and it seemed that there was no
breath of air there to carry us forward.

They lasted for hours, sometimes for a whole day, this darkness and
these tropical storms. Then Yves and his friends assumed a uniform which
they called the "uniform of savages," and sat them down, all heedless,
under the warm downpour and let it rain as it would.

And then suddenly the weather changed. The black curtain of clouds drew
slowly away, continuing its sluggish progress, over the turquoise
coloured sea; and the splendid light reappeared more astonishing than
ever after the darkness; and the powerful equatorial sun proceeded to
drink up very quickly all this water that had been poured upon us; the
sails, the woodwork of the ship, the awnings recovered their whiteness
in the sunshine; the _Sibylle_ in its entirety took on once more its
normal clear colour in the midst of the vast blue monotony which
stretched everywhere around.

Looking down from the top in which Yves lived, one saw that this blue
world was without limit, that its clear depths were without end. One
felt that the horizon, the last line of the waters, was a great distance
away, although it did not differ at all from the immediate surroundings,
having always the same clearness, always the same colour, always the
same mirror-like polish. And one realized then the _roundness_ of the
earth, which alone set a limit to the vision.

At the hour of sunset there were in the air kinds of vaults formed of
successions of tiny golden clouds; they were repeated, in diminishing
perspective, until they almost disappeared in the empty distance; one
followed them to the point of vertigo; they were like the naves of
Apocalyptic temples having no end. And the air was so clear that it
needed the horizon of the sea to shut out the vista of these depths of
the sky; the last little golden clouds formed as it were a tangent to
the line of the waters, and seemed, in their remoteness, as delicate as
the finest of hatching.

At other times there were simply long bands which traversed the sky,
gold on gold: the clouds of a bright and as if incandescent gold, on a
Byzantine background of dull and tarnished gold. The sea below took on a
certain shade of peacock blue with reflections of molten metal.
Afterwards all this faded very quickly into deep transparencies, into
shadowy colours to which it was not possible to give a name.

And the nights which followed, even they were luminous; when everything
slept in heavy immobility, in a silence of death, the stars appeared
above more brilliant than in any other region of the world.

And the sea also was illumined in its depths. There was a kind of
immense diffused light in the waters. The slightest movements--of the
ship in its slow progress, of the shark as it turned about in our
wake--disclosed in the warm eddies lights like that of the glow-worm.
And, besides, on the great phosphorescent mirror of the sea, there were
thousands of fleeting flames; it was as if there were myriads of little
lamps which lit themselves everywhere, burnt for a few seconds and then
went out. These nights were aswoon with heat, full of phosphorus, and
all this dimmed immensity was pregnant with light, and all these waters
were replete with latent life in its rudimentary state as formerly the
mournful waters of the primitive world.


It was some days now since we had left behind us the tranquillities of
the Equator, and we were proceeding slowly towards the south, driven by
the south trade wind. One morning Yves entered my room full of business,
in order to prepare his lines for catching birds: "We have seen," he
said, "the first 'draught-boards' behind us."

These "draught-boards" are birds of the open sea, near relatives of the
sea-gull, and the most beautiful of all the tribe: snowy white, the
plumage soft and silky, with a black draught-board finely designed on
the wings.

The first "draught-boards!" Their appearance reminds us of the distance
we have travelled; it is a sign that we have left well behind us our
northern hemisphere, and that we are approaching the cold regions which
lie on the other side of the earth, in the far south.

They were before their due time nevertheless, these "draught-boards";
for we were still in the blue zone of the trade winds. And all day long,
and every day, and every night, was the same breeze, regular, warm, and
exquisite to respire; and the same transparent sea, and the same little
white fleecy clouds passing peacefully across the lofty heaven; and the
same bands of flying fish rising up in foolish alarm with their long wet
wings, and shining in the sun like birds of bluish steel.

There were quantities of these flying-fish; and when it happened that
one of them was foolish enough to alight on board, the topmen quickly
cut off its wings and ate it.

The time when Yves used to like to descend from his crow's nest and come
to visit me in my room was in the evening, especially after the assembly
at evening quarters. He would come very quietly, without making in his
bare feet any more noise than a cat. He would drink some fresh water
straight out of a water-cooler which hung at my port-hole, and then set
to work putting in order divers things which belonged to me; or, maybe,
he would read some novel. There was one especially of George Sand's
which enthralled him, "Le Marquis de Villemer." At the first reading I
had surprised him on the point of tears, towards the end.

Yves could sew very skilfully, as all good sailors can, and it was
quaint to see him engaged in this work, given his size and aspect.
During his evening visits he used to overhaul my uniform and do any
repairs which he judged were beyond the skill of my servant to attend to


We sailed steadily, fully rigged, towards the south. Now there were
clouds of "draught-boards" and other sea-birds in attendance upon us.
They followed us, wondering and confident, from morning until night,
crying, throwing themselves about, flying in erratic curves--as if in
welcome to us, another great bird with canvas wings, which was entering
their distant and infinite domain, the Southern Pacific Ocean.

And their numbers increased daily in measure as we progressed. With the
"draught-boards" there were pearl-grey petrels, the beak and claws
lightly tinted with blue and pink; and black molly-mawks; and great,
heavy albatrosses, dirty in colour, with their stupid sheepish air, with
their immense rigid wings, cleaving the air, whining after us. There was
one among them which the sailors pointed out to one another; an Admiral,
a bird of a rare and enormous kind, with _three stars_ marked in black
on its long wings.

The weather had changed and become calm, misty, mournful. The south
trade wind had died away in its turn, and the clearness of the tropics
was no more. A great damp cold surprised our senses. We were in August
and the winter of the southern hemisphere was beginning. When we looked
round the empty horizon, it seemed that the north, the side of the sun
and of living countries, was still blue and clear; while the south, the
side of the Pole and of the watery deserts, was dark and gloomy.

As a favour to me, Yves had obtained for his parrot a reserved
compartment in the Commander's hen coop, and he used to go every evening
to cover it with a piece of sailcloth in order to protect it from the
night air.

Every day the sailors used to "fish" with their lines for
"draught-boards" and petrels. There were rows of these birds, skinned
like rabbits, hanging all red in the foreshrouds, waiting their turn to
be eaten. After two or three days, when they had rendered all the oil in
their bodies, they were ready for cooking.

These foreshrouds were the larder of the topmen. By the side of the
"draught-boards" and the petrels, even rats might sometimes be seen,
stripped also of their skin, and hung by the tail.

One night we heard suddenly the rising of a great fearsome voice, and
everybody bestirred himself and took to running.

At the same time the _Sibylle_ leaned over, shuddering, as if in the
grip of a tenebrous power.

Then even those who were not of the watch, even those who were sleeping
on the spar deck, understood: it was the beginning of the great winds
and the great swell; we had now entered the stormy latitudes of the
south, amid which we should have to fight for our existence and at the
same time make headway.

And the farther we advanced into this sullen ocean, the colder became
the wind, and the more mountainous the swell.

The fall of the nights became sinister. We were in the neighbourhood of
Cape Horn: desolation on the only land that was anywhere near,
desolation on the sea, everywhere a desert. At this hour of the winter
twilight, when one felt more particularly the need of a shelter, of
getting near a fire, of covering under which to sleep--we had nothing,
nothing--we kept vigil, for ever on the alert, lost amid all these
moving things which made us dance in the darkness.

We tried hard to create an illusion of home in the little cabins rudely
shaken, where swung the suspended lamps. But it was no use; there was no
stability anywhere: we were in a little frail thing, lost, far from any
land, in the midst of the immense desert of the southern waters. And,
outside, we heard continuously the roar of the waves and the mournful
moaning of the wind which smote the heart.

And Yves, for his part, had no more than his poor swinging hammock, in
which, one night out of two, he was allowed the leisure to sleep a
little warmly.


It was one morning, as we were entering the Celebean Sea, that the owl
which was Yves' parrot died, a morning of high wind on which we took in
the second reef of the topsail. It was accidentally crushed between the
mast and the yard.

Yves, who heard its hoarse cry, rushed to its assistance, but too late.
He came down from the crow's nest carrying the poor thing in his hand,
dead, flattened out, having no longer the shape of a bird, a mash of
blood and grey feathers, out of which emerged, moving still, one poor
curled-up claw.

I could see that Yves was very much upset. But he did no more than show
it to me without a word, biting his disdainful underlip. Then he threw
it into the sea, and the shark which was following us swallowed it as if
it had been an ablet.


In Brittany, during the winter of 1876, the _Sibylle_ had been back at
Brest for two days--after having completed its voyage round the
world--and I was with Yves, one evening in February, in a country
diligence which was carrying us towards Plouherzel.

It was an out-of-the-way place, this village where Yves' mother lived.
The diligence in which we sat was due to take us in four hours from
Guincamp to Paimpol, where we counted on spending the night; and from
there we should have a long way to go on foot.

On we went, jolted over a rough little road, plunging deeper and deeper
into the silence of the mournful countryside. The winter's night
descended on us slowly, and a fine rain obscured things in a grey mist.
We passed trees and more trees, showing one after another their dead
silhouette. At wide intervals we passed villages also--Breton villages,
dark thatched cottages and old churches with slender granite
steeples--little groups of homesteads, isolated and melancholy, which
quickly disappeared behind us in the night.

"Do you know," said Yves, "I came this way, at night, eleven years
ago--I was then fourteen--and I wept bitterly. It was the first time I
had left home, and I was travelling alone to Brest to join the navy."

I was accompanying Yves on this journey to Plouherzel partly for want of
something to do. The leave granted me was short, and I had not time, on
this occasion, to visit my home, so I was going to visit his, and to see
this village of his which he loved so well.

And, at the moment, I was rather sorry I had come. Yves, absorbed in the
happiness of his return, kept up a conversation with me out of
deference, but his thoughts were elsewhere. I felt that I was a stranger
in this world for which we were bound, and this Brittany, which I had
not yet learned to love, oppressed me with its sadness.

_Paimpol!_ We roll over cobbles, between old dark houses, and the
diligence stops. People are waiting there with lanterns. Breton words
and French words are interchanged.

"Are there any travellers for the Hôtel Pendreff?" pipes a small boy's

The Hôtel Pendreff! Surely the name is familiar to me. And now I
remember that nine years before, during my first year in the navy, I had
rested there for an hour, on a day in June, when my ship, by chance, had
anchored in a bay near by. I recollect it well; an old manor house,
turreted and gabled, presided over by two aged sisters named Le
Pendreff, both alike, in large white bonnets, making a picture of bygone
days. We will get down at the Hôtel Pendreff.

In the house itself nothing is changed. But one of the Le Pendreff
sisters is dead. She who remains was already so old nine years ago that
she can scarcely have grown older since. Her type, her bonnet, the
placid dignity of her bearing, are of a past generation.

It is good to dine before the great roaring fire, and cheerfulness
returns to us.

Afterwards, the good dame Le Pendreff, armed with a copper candlestick,
leads the way up a stone staircase and ushers us into a very large room,
where there are two beds of an old-fashioned type hung with white

Yves, however, undresses himself very slowly and without conviction.

"Ah!" he says, suddenly putting on his blue collar again. "I am going to
continue the journey! In the first place, you understand, I should not
be able to sleep. It's true, I shall get home very late, I shall awaken
them after midnight, and that will startle them a little--I did that in
the year when I returned from the war. But I am so anxious to see them,
I cannot wait here."

And I, too, decided that I would follow his example.

Paimpol is asleep when we leave in the pale moonlight. I am accompanying
him for a part of his way, to help to pass the hours of the night. We
are now in the fields.

Yves walks very quickly; he is very excited, and goes over in his mind
the memories of his earlier returns.

"Yes," he said. "After the war I returned like this, about two o'clock
in the morning, and woke them up. I had walked from Saint Brieuc; I was
returning, very weary, from the siege of Paris. You will realize I was
quite young then. I had just become able seaman.

"And, I remember, I got a great fright that night: by the cross of
Kergrist, which we shall see in a minute at the turning of this road, I
came upon a little old man, very ugly, who stared at me with
outstretched arms, but without moving. And I am sure he was a ghost; for
he disappeared almost at once, beckoning with his finger as if he wanted
me to follow him."

Presently we reached this cross of Kergrist. We saw it rise up before us
as if it were someone approaching in the darkness. But there was no
ghost at its foot.

It was there I said good-bye to Yves and retraced my steps, for I, for
my part, was not going to Plouherzel. When we no longer heard the sound
of each other's footsteps in the silence of the winter's night, the
ghost of the little old man came back into our minds, and in spite of
ourselves we took to peering into the darkness of the undergrowth.


On the following morning I opened my eyes in the large room of the good
dame Le Pendreff. The Breton sun filtered gently through the windows.
The day, apparently, was very fine.

After the first few moments which I always spend in asking myself in
what corner of the world I am, I remembered Yves and I heard outside the
tramping of a crowd in sabots. There was a great fair that day in
Paimpol, and I dressed myself up in ordinary sailor's clothes in order
that I might not intimidate the many friends to whom I was going to be
presented as a south-country sailor. This had been arranged with Yves,
both the dressing up and the story attached to it.

I descended the steps of the hotel. The sun was shining and the square
was full of people: sailors, peasants, fishermen. Yves, too, was there;
he had returned in the early morning for the fête with all his
relations from Plouherzel; and he was waiting outside to conduct me to
his mother.

She was a very old woman, this mother of Yves, holding herself very
upright and rather proudly in her peasant dress. She resembled him a
little about the eyes, but her expression was hard. I was surprised to
find her so old. She looked over seventy. It is true, of course, that in
the country people age very quickly, especially when grief is added to

She did not understand a word of French and scarcely looked at me.

But there was a great number of cousins and friends who all welcomed me
warmly and with an air of good humour. They had come from afar, from
their little moss-grown cottages scattered about the wild countryside,
to assist at the great fête of the town. And with them I needs must
drink: cider, wine; there was no end to it.

The noise steadily increased and some hoarse-voiced pedlars of ballads
were singing now in Breton, under red umbrellas, woeful and heartrending

Presently a personage arrived of whom Yves had often spoken to me, his
childhood's friend, Jean; he lived in a neighbouring cottage, and Yves
had come across him again in the service, a sailor like himself. He was
of our own age, with an open and intelligent face. He embraced Yves
affectionately and then introduced us to Jeannie, who, for the last
fortnight, had been his wife.

Yves overwhelmed his mother with attentions and caresses; they had many
things to tell one another, and they both spoke at once. He made
apologies to us from time to time, but it was good to see them and to
hear them. Her eyes lost their hard expression when she looked at him.

The good people of the country have always interminable business to
transact with the notary; I left them as they all made their way to the
one at Paimpol to wait their turn.

In any case I had decided not to establish myself with them until
to-morrow, in order that I might not be in the way during their first
day, and I went off alone for a long walk.


I walked for about an hour. By chance I had taken the same road as
yesterday with Yves, and I had passed again the cross of Kergrist.

Now Paimpol and the sea, and the islands, and the headlands wooded with
dark fir trees, had disappeared behind a fold of the ground; a more
mournful country stretched before me.

This February day was calm and very dreary; the air was almost mild, and
in places the sky was blue, but mainly it was overclouded, as this
Breton sky always is.

I made my way along damp lanes, bordered, according to old usage, by
high banks of earth, which shut out the view sadly. The short grass, the
damp moss, the bare branches told of winter. At the corners of the road
old calvaries stretched out their grey arms; they bore simple carvings,
quaintly altered by the centuries: the instruments of the Passion, or
perhaps a distorted figure of Christ.

At wide intervals were straw-thatched cottages, green with moss, half
buried in the earth and the dead branches. The trees were stunted,
stripped by the winter, twisted by the wind from the sea. Not a soul in
sight and silence everywhere.

A chapel of grey granite with an enclosure of beeches and tombs. . . .
Ah! yes, I recognize it without ever having seen it, the chapel of
Plouherzel! Yves had often spoken of it to me on board during the night
watch, during the clear nights at the other side of the world, when we
used to dream of home. "When you reach the chapel," he used to say, "it
is quite near; you have but to turn into the path on the left, and two
hundred yards away is our home."

I turned to the left and, by the side of the little road, I saw the

It was solitary, quite low and overshadowed by old beech trees.

It looked out upon a mournful expanse of country, the distances of which
were shaded in dark grey. There were interminable, monotonous plains
with phantoms of trees; a salt water lake at the hour of low water, an
empty lake hollowed out of the granite strata, a deep meadow of seaweed,
with an island in the middle.

A strange island, formed of a single piece of polished granite, like a
back, having the shape of a large beast sitting. One looked about for
the sea, the real sea which with the returning tide must come to fill
these abandoned reservoirs, but there was no sign of it anywhere. A cold
dark mist was rising on the horizon, and the winter sunshine was
beginning to fade.

Poor Yves! So this is his home; a lonely cottage by the roadside; a poor
little Breton cottage, in a turning off a remote lane, low-pitched,
under a lowering sky, half buried in the earth, with ancient little
granite walls overgrown with parietaries and moss.

All his memories of childhood are centred here; it was his cradle, his
nest; a cherished home in which his mother lived, a home to which, in
far-off countries, in the great cities of America and Asia, his
imagination always brought him back. He thought of it with love, of this
little corner of the world, during the fine calm nights at sea and
during the riotous nights of brutal pleasure which made up his life of
adventure. A poor, lonely cottage, at the turning of a road, and that
was all.

In his dreams at sea it was this that he saw: under a threatening sky,
amid the mournful country of this land of Goëlo, these old damp little
walls overgrown with parietaries; and the neighbouring cottages in which
kind old women in white Breton head-dresses used to spoil him when he
was a child; and then, at the corner of the roads, the granite
calvaries, corroded by the centuries. . . .

Merciful heavens! How dreary this country is! How dreary and how

I knocked at the door and a young girl who resembled Yves appeared on
the threshold.

I asked her if this was indeed the house of the Kermadecs.

"Yes," she said, a little surprised and apprehensive. And then,

"Ah! you, sir, are the friend of my brother who arrived with him at
Brest yesterday evening?"

But she was rather concerned to see that I came alone.

I entered. I saw the cupboards, the Breton beds, the old plates in rows
on the plate stand. Everything looked clean and respectable; but the
cottage was very small and humble.

"All our relations are rich," Yves had often told me. "It is only we who
are poor."

I was shown one of those beds in the form of a cupboard, with two
places, which had been prepared for Yves and me. I was to occupy the
upper shelf, which was decorated with thick hangings of reddish cloth,
very clean and very stiff.

"Won't you sit down? They will be back from the town very soon now."

But no. I thanked her and went away.

Half-way to Paimpol, as night was falling, I perceived in the distance a
large blue collar, in a little trap which was being driven briskly in
the direction of Plouherzel: the little carriage of friend Jean bringing
back Yves and his mother. I had just time to hide myself behind a hedge;
if they had recognized me, there would have been no escape from them, of
that I was certain.

It was quite dark when I reached Paimpol, and the little street lamps
were lit. I tried to mingle in the crowd which moved about the square
and consisted for the most part of those sailors who are known in these
parts as Icelanders, men who exile themselves every summer, for six
months, in the dangerous fishing expeditions to the cold northern seas.

None of these men was alone. They perambulated the streets, singing,
with young women on their arm, sisters, sweethearts, mistresses. And
these pictures of happiness and life made me feel my own utter
loneliness. I walked about alone, miserable and unknown to them all, in
my borrowed clothes which resembled theirs. People stared at me. "Who is
that? A stranger in search of a ship? We have never seen him before."

I felt cold at heart and impulsively I turned away to take once more the
road to Plouherzel. After all, perhaps I should not be greatly in the
way of my simple friends there, if I went and warmed myself a little
among them.

I had forgotten all about dinner and walked rapidly, fearful lest I
should arrive too late, fearful lest I should find the cottage shut up
for the night and my friends in bed.


At the end of about an hour I was in the midst of fields, absolutely
lost. Around me nothing but darkness, and the silence of a winter's
night. I wandered along muddy lanes; not a soul of whom I could ask the
way, not a hamlet, not a light. But always the dark silhouettes of
trees, and, at intervals, calvaries; some of these calvaries were very
large, and I had no recollection of having seen them in my walk during
the day.

I retraced my steps hurriedly. For a long time I tried different
directions, running. An icy rain began to fall, driven by the wind which
had risen suddenly. It did not distress me much that I had lost my way,
but I felt the need of seeing someone friendly, and I made haste in my
efforts to find Yves.

It must have been very late when I recognized ahead of me the chapel of
Plouherzel and the sea-water lake, on which the moonlight was now
falling, and the dark mass of the granite isle on the pale water, the
back of the great couchant beast.

Near the chapel I heard voices. In the darkness two men, one of athletic
build, holding each other by the hand and talking to each other very
affectionately, in the manner of men in the early stage of intoxication:
Yves and Jean; and I hastened to them.

They were greatly surprised and pleased to see me. And Jean, taking each
of us by the arm, insisted that we should both accompany him to his

Jean's cottage, isolated also, was in the neighbourhood of Yves', but it
was much larger and better furnished.

You realized at once that you were in the home of people comfortably
off: the presses and the beds had clasps of figured steel which shone
like armour. At the farther end was a monumental fireplace, in which
blazed a large oak log.

Two women were sitting before this fire, Jeannie, the young wife, and
the old grandmother, in tall head-dress, busy at her spinning-wheel.

She would have made a fine study for an artist, this mother of Jean. She
had also, in some measure, brought up Yves, whom she called in Breton
"her other son," and whom she kissed very affectionately on both cheeks.

The women, for the past hour, had been sitting up anxiously for them.
They received them with indulgence, although they were tipsy (it was
what commonly happened when old friends met), scolded them just a
little, and then set to work to make pancakes and soup for the three of

A wild wind, which had begun to blow from the sea, roared outside, in
the darkness of the deserted countryside. From time to time, it rushed
down the chimney, driving before it the bright flames of the fire; and
then little flakes of ash, very light, began to dance a round-dance
about the hearth, very low, skimming the floor, like those unhappy souls
of dwarfs which circle the whole night long about the Great Rocks.

We were very comfortable before this fire which dried our clothes soaked
with rain, and we waited eagerly for the hot soup which was being
prepared for us.


The pancakes, which were being made for us, resembled the moon, so large
were they; they were passed to us in turn, piping hot, at the end of a
long oak spoon shaped like the oar of a cutter.

Yves let one fall on a large hen which we had not noticed on the floor.
The hen retreated hurriedly to a dark corner, shaking its feathers with
a peevish and offended air. I wanted to laugh and so did Jeannie, but we
dared not, knowing as we both did that it was a sign of misfortune.

"That old black one again!" said the old grandmother, letting go her
spinning-wheel, and looking at Yves with an air of consternation.
"Jeannie, you must remember to send it to market to-morrow morning; it
is for ever wandering about when all the others are in bed; it will end
by bringing unhappiness upon us."

We cut our pancakes in small pieces and put them in our soup-bowls, and
then we eat them, well-soaked, with our wooden spoons. And Jeannie made
us drink, all three out of the same large mug, some very good cider.

Afterwards, when we had eaten and drunk our fill, Jean began to sing, in
a fine tenor voice, a sea chanty known to all Breton sailors. Yves and I
sang bass, and the old grandmother beat time with her head and the pedal
of her spinning-wheel. We no longer heard the mournful refrains which
the wind sang, all alone, outside.

The ditty ran:

We were three sailor lads of Groix,
We were three sailor lads of Groix,
'A sailing on the _Saint François._
How the wind blows!
The wind is the plague o' the sailor.

Heave to! There's a man overboard;
Heave to! There's a man overboard;
The others are in sore distress.
How the wind blows!
The wind is the plague o' the sailor.

The others are in sore distress,
The others are in sore distress,
They hoist the white flag on the mast.
How the wind blows!
The wind is the plague o' the sailor.

They hoist the white flag on the mast,
They hoist the white flag on the mast,
But all they find is his poor hat.
How the wind blows!
The wind is the plague o' the sailor.

But all they find is his poor hat,
But all they find is his poor hat,
His 'baccy pipe and his jack-knife.
How the wind blows!
The wind is the plague o' the sailor.

The mother dear he left behind,
The mother dear he left behind,
She prays Saint Anne of Auray.
How the wind blows!
The wind is the plague of the sailor.

O! good Saint Anne send back my son,
O! good Saint Anne send back my son,
The good Saint Anne she makes reply.
How the wind blows!
The wind is the plague o' the sailor.

The good Saint Anne she makes reply,
The good Saint Anne she makes reply,
"You'll find him again in Paradise!"
How the wind blows!
The wind is the plague o' the sailor.

Home she goes to her cottage lone,
Home she goes to her cottage lone,
And dies, poor soul, on the morrow.
How the wind blows!
The wind is the plague o' the sailor.


When it was time to go, I found that Yves was much more tipsy than I
could have believed. Outside he stumbled up to his knees in puddles of
water, and reeled from side to side. To get him home I put my right arm
round his waist and his left arm over my shoulder and almost carried
him. We could see nothing but the intense blackness of the night; a
strong wind lashed our faces, and, in the dark lanes, Yves no longer
knew where he was.

They were uneasy in his cottage and were sitting up for him. His mother
scolded him, in her stern way, speaking loud and angrily as one might to
a naughty child; and he went very crestfallen and sat down in a corner.

However, we were forced to partake of a second supper; it is the custom
and there was no escape. An omelette, more pancakes, and slices of brown
bread and butter. Afterwards we proceeded to retire for the night, the
men first and then, the light having first been extinguished, the women.
Under our mattresses there were thick litters made of a mass of branches
of oaks and beeches; these subsided with a crackle of dry leaves when we
lay down, and we felt ourselves sink into a little hollow, which kept us

"Hoo! hoo-oo-oo! Hoo! hoo-oo-oo!" sang the wind outside, with a voice
like an owl's, as if it were angry, as if it were indignant, then as if
it were complaining and dying.

When the candle was put out and the cottage was in darkness, came the
sound of a small voice beginning a Breton prayer; it was the voice of a
little girl of four who had been adopted by the family; she was in fact
the child of Gildas by a girl in Plouherzel, begotten during his last
visit to his home.

A very long prayer, broken by solemn responses of the old grandmother;
all the Saints of Brittany: Saints Corentin and Allain, Saints
Thénénan and Thégonnec, Saints Tuginal and Tugdual, Saints Clet and
Gildas were invoked, and then there was silence.

Quite near me, the scarcely perceptible breathing of Yves, already sunk
in deep sleep. At the foot of our bed the hens at roost dreaming on
their high perch. A cricket giving out from time to time, in the still
warm hearth, a mysterious little crystal note. And outside, around the
solitary cottage, the continuous noise of the wind: an immense groaning
which swept over all the Breton country: an unceasing pressure which
came from the sea with the night and stirred the country to a monotonous
dark movement, at the hour when the dead appear and ghosts walk.


"Good morning, Yves!"

"Good morning, Pierre!"

And we throw open to the light of the morning the shutters of our

This "Good morning, Pierre!" preceded by a little smile of intelligence,
is said with hesitation, in a shy voice; it is "Good morning, Captain!"
that Yves is accustomed to say, and he is rather disconcerted at finding
himself on awakening, so near me and under the necessity of calling me
by my name. To impose upon the good people of Plouherzel and preserve
the character given me by my borrowed clothes, we had concerted this
show of intimacy.

The sunshine of yesterday had departed and the high wind of the night
was no more. It was typical Brittany weather and the whole country was
enveloped in the same immense grey cloud. The light was the light of
twilight, and was so pale and wan that it seemed that it had not
strength enough to enter through the little windows of the cottages. Of
distant things one could distinguish nothing; a fine drizzle, like a
watery dust, filled the air.

We had to make the promised round of visits to uncles, cousins, old
friends of boyhood; and these little homesteads were very scattered, for
Plouherzel is not a village, but a region around a chapel.

Often we had far to walk, along muddy lanes, between moss-covered banks,
under the vault of old dead beech trees and under the veil of the grey

And all these cottages were alike, low, sunk in the earth, gloomy; their
thatched roof, their rough granite walls, made green with scurvy grass,
with lichen and the fresh moss of winter. Within, dark, primitive, with
press-beds protected by pictures of the saints or statues of the Blessed

We were received everywhere in most cordial fashion, and everywhere we
needs must eat and drink. There were long conversations in Breton, with
which, in my honour, was mingled, with indifferent success, a little
French. It was of the childhood of Yves that these good people loved
most to talk. Dear old men and dear old women recounted with glee the
pranks he used to play; and, by all accounts, they were very numerous.

"Oh! he was a terrible fellow, you may take our word for it!"

Yves received these compliments with his big, placid air and drank at
every opportunity.

The devil-may-care sea-rover was taking shape already, it seemed, in the
heart of the little wild boy; the little Yves, who ran barefoot about
these lanes of Plouherzel, was the unconscious germ of the sailor of
later days, wild, truant, uncontrollable.

Towards evening, at low tide, we descended, Yves and I, into the bed of
the salt-water lake, into the meadow of brown seaweed. We carried, each
of us, a slice of black bread well buttered, and a large knife for
opening shell-fish. A feast of his boyhood which he wanted to renew with
me: shell-fish eaten raw with bread and butter.

The sea had receded for many miles, laying bare the vast fields of
seaweed, the deep meadow in which the herbage was brown and briny, with
strange living flowers. All around, granite walls enclosed this immense
pond, and the isle shaped like a couchant beast, stripped to its feet,
disclosed the bottom of its black base. There were many other granite
blocks also, which had been hidden under water at high tide and now were
visible, rising up, with their long trimmings of seaweed hanging like
wet bedraggled hair. On the mournful plain many of them might be seen
scattered all about, in strange attitudes of awakening.

The cold air was impregnated with the acrid odour of sea-wrack. Night
came on slowly, with silent stealth, and all these large backs of stone
began to take on the appearance of herds of monsters. We took the
shell-fish on the end of our knives and ate them as they were, all
living, with our slices of bread, being both hungry and in haste to be
done before the light should fail.

"It's not so good as it used to be," said Yves when he had finished
eating. "And somehow it seems to me melancholy here. . . . When I was
little, I remember, there were times when I had the same feeling, but
not so strongly as to-night. Let us go, shall we?"

Rather surprised by what he said, I replied to him:

"My poor Yves, I think you are becoming like me!"

"Like you, do you say?"

And he looked at me with a long melancholy smile, which revealed to me
new things in him, new and indefinable things. And I realized that
evening that he had in fact, much more than I should have thought, ways
of thinking, ideas, sensations, similar to mine.

"And do you know," he continued, as if following still the same train of
thought, "do you know there is one thing which troubles me often when we
are far away, at sea or in countries overseas? I scarcely dare to tell
you. . . . It is the idea that I might die perhaps and not be buried in
our cemetery here."

And he pointed to the steeple of Plouherzel Church, which could be seen
above the granite cliffs in the far distance, like a grey arrow.

"It is not from any religious feeling, as you will understand; for you
know that I have no love for the clergy. No, it is just an idea that
comes to me, I cannot tell you why. And when I am unhappy enough to
think of this thing, I cease somehow to be brave."


It was in the evening, after supper, that Yves' mother solemnly
recommended her son to my care. It was a trust that has endured until

She had understood, with her mother's instinct, that I was not what I
appeared to be, and that I should be able to exercise over the destiny
of her last son a very important influence.

"She says," translated her daughter, "that you are deceiving us, sir,
and that Yves, too, is deceiving us to please you; that you are not one
like ourselves. . . . And she asks, since you voyage together, if you
will look after him."

Then the old woman began to tell me the story of Yves' father, a story
which I had heard long before from Yves himself. I listened to it
willingly, nevertheless, recited by this young girl, before the wide
Breton fireplace where the flames danced over a beech log.

"She says that our father was a very handsome sailor, so handsome that
no one in the country had ever seen so handsome a man walk the earth. He
died, leaving thirteen of us, thirteen children. He died as many sailors
of our country die. One Sunday when he had been drinking he put to sea
at night in his boat, in spite of a strong wind that blew from the
north-west, and he never returned. Like his sons, he was a man without
fear; but his head was not good. . . ."

And the poor mother looked at her son Yves.

"She says," continued the daughter, "that my parents lived at Saint
Pol-de-Léon, in Finistère, that Yves was one year old, and that I was
not yet born when our father died, that she then left Saint Pol and
returned to Plouherzel in Goëlo, her native country. My father left his
affairs in great disorder; almost all the money that at one time we had
had been spent in the tavern, and my mother had no longer wherewithal to
feed us. It was then that my two elder brothers, Gildas and Goulven,
left to become ship-boys on ocean-going ships.

"We have not seen much of them in the country here since their
departure, and yet it cannot be said that they have ceased to care about
us. They many times surrendered their sailors' pay in order to help my
mother to bring us up, us younger ones, Yves, my sister who is here, and

"But Goulven deserted, sir, more than fifteen years ago, in a fit of

"They, too," said the old woman, "are handsome and brave sailors, their
heart is true as gold. . . . But they have their father's head, and
already they have taken to drinking heavily."

"My brother Gildas," the daughter went on, "served for seven years on
board an American ship engaged in whale fishing in the great ocean. That
voyage made him very rich; but it seems that it is a hard calling, is it
not, sir?"

"Yes, a hard calling indeed. . . ." I have seen them at work in the
great ocean, these sailors in question, half whale fishers and half
pirates, who pass years in the great swell of the southern seas without
ever touching inhabited land.

"He was so rich, my brother Gildas, when he returned from this fishing,
that he had a large sack filled full with pieces of gold."

"He poured them here on to my knees," said the old woman, holding out
the skirt of her dress as if to receive them again, "and my apron was
filled with them. Large golden coins of other countries, marked with all
sorts of heads of kings and birds.[1] There were some of them quite new,
with the portrait of a woman wearing a crown of feathers,[2] a single
one of which was worth more than a hundred francs. Never had we seen so
much gold. He gave a thousand francs to each of his sisters and a
thousand to me, his mother, and bought me this little house in which we
live. He squandered the rest in amusing himself at Paimpol and in doing
things which, certainly, were not good. But they are all like that, sir,
you know it better than I. For two months they spoke of none but him in
the town.

"Then he left us again and we have not seen him since. He is a brave
sailor, sir, is my son Gildas, but he has been ruined as his father was
by his fondness for liquor."

And the old woman bowed her head sadly as she spoke of this incurable
plague which destroys the families of Breton sailors.

There was silence for a time, and then she spoke again to her daughter
in an earnest voice, looking at me the while.

"She asks, sir, if you will make her this promise . . . about my
brother. . . ."

Her anxious, searching gaze, fixed on me, affected me strangely. It is
no doubt true that all mothers, however far apart in station they may
be, have, in certain hours, the same expression. . . . And now it seemed
to me that this mother of Yves had some resemblance to mine.

"Tell her that I swear to look after him _all my life, as if he were my

And the daughter repeated, translating slowly into Breton:

"He swears that he will look after him all his life as if he were his

The old mother had risen, upright as ever, stern and brusque; she had
taken from the wall a picture of Christ and had advanced towards me,
addressing me as if she wished to take me at my word, there and then,
with naïve, impulsive simplicity:

"It is on this, sir, that she asks you to swear."

"No, mother, no!" said Yves, in confusion, trying to interpose, to stop

But I held out my arm towards this picture of Christ, a little
surprised, a little moved, perhaps, and I repeated:

"I swear to do what I have said."

But my arm trembled a little because I foresaw that my responsibility
would be a heavy one in the future.

And then I took Yves' hand. His head was bowed in thought:

"And you will do what I tell you, you will follow me . . . _brother?_"

And he replied, in a low voice, hesitating, his eyes turned away, but
with the smile of a child:

"Why, yes . . . of course I will."

[Footnote 1: The Chilean _Condors._]

[Footnote 2: The twenty piastre piece of California (the whalers
usually turn their savings into this money).]


We had not long to sleep that night, _my brother and I_, in our little
beds in the cupboard.

As soon as the old cottage cuckoo had announced four o'clock in its
cracked voice, quickly, we had to get up. We were due at Paimpol before
daybreak, to catch there at six o'clock the diligence for Guincamp.

At half-past four, on this cold winter's morning, the poor little door
opened to let us out; it closed on a last kiss for Yves from his weeping
mother, on a last handshake for me. We set off in the cold rain and the
dark night, and for five years we saw them no more.

That is what happens in the families of sailors.

When we were half-way on our road we heard the Angelus sounding behind
us at Plouherzel. We thought we were late and began to run. Our faces
were bathed in perspiration when we reached Paimpol.

But we had been mistaken; the hour of the Angelus had been put forward.

We found a refuge in a tavern already open, where we had breakfast with
some Icelanders and other seafaring folk.

And on the night of the same day, at eleven o'clock, we arrived back in
Brest to put to sea once more.


I was aware that I had accepted a heavy responsibility in adopting this
refractory brother, the more so because I took my oath very seriously.

But fate separated us on the second day following, and soon we were half
the world apart.

Yves set sail for the Atlantic, and I left for the Levant, for Stamboul.

It was not until fifteen months later, in May, 1877, that we met again
on board the _Médée_, which was cruising between India and China.


On board the _Médée_, May, 1877.

"This suits me as gaiters suit a rabbit," said Yves, with a boyish air,
as he contemplated his pagoda sleeves and his blue robe of Burmese silk.

It was at Yé, a Siamese town, on the Bay of Bengal. He was sitting in
the background of a sailors' tavern on a stool of Chinese design.

He was very drunk, and after he had smiled thus to see himself clothed
in the fashion of a Chinese mandarin, his eyes became dull and
lustreless, his lip curled and disdainful. At such moments there was
nothing he might not do, as in his bad days of old.

By his side was big Kerboul, also a foresail topman, who had just had
brought to him fifteen glasses of a very expensive Singapore liquor, and
had drained them one after the other, breaking them afterwards with
blows of his fist, in the deadly serious way characteristic of the
drunken Breton. And the debris of these fifteen glasses covered the
table on which now he had put his feet.

And Barrada, the gunner, was there too, handsome and calm as usual,
smiling his feline smile. The topman had invited him, exceptionally, to
their feast. And Le Hello also, and Barazère, and half a dozen others
of the mainsail and four of the bow-sprit--all attitudinizing, with
superb airs, in their Eastern robes.

And even Le Hir was there, a half-witted fellow from the island of Sein,
whom they had brought as a laughing-stock, and who was drinking refuse
mixed with his bowl of rum. And, to complete the tale, two sea-rovers,
two blacklisted, deserters from every flag, old acquaintances of Yves',
who had found them, that evening, on the beach and, out of kindness,
brought them along.

It was to celebrate the feast of Saint Epissoire, the patron saint of
the topmen, that they had foregathered here, and custom required that I
should put in an appearance among them, as navigating officer.

For a year past they had not put foot on land. And the Commander, who
was well satisfied with his crew, had permitted them, as being the most
meritorious, to celebrate as in France the anniversary of their patron
saint. He had selected this town of Yé, because it seemed to him the
least dangerous for us, the people there being more inoffensive than
elsewhere and more easily appeased.

In this room, which was large and low-pitched, with paper walls, there
was, at the same time as us, a band of sailors from an American
merchantship, who were drinking with sandy-haired, long-toothed women
escaped from the brothels of British India.

And these intruders annoyed the topmen who wanted to be alone and let
them see it.

_Eleven o'clock._ The candles had just been renewed in the coloured
lanterns, and outside the Siamese town was asleep in the warm night.
Inside one felt that trouble was brewing, that arms and fists were
itching for a fight.

"Who are these fellows?" said one of the Americans, who spoke with a
Marseilles accent. "Who are these Frenchies who come here to lay down
the law? And that one who is with them"--this was meant for me--"the
youngest of them all, who gives himself airs and seems to be in

"That one," said Yves, with the air of one who did not deign to turn his
head, "that one--any one who touches him will need to be a man!"

"That one!" said Barrada. "Do you want to know who he is? Wait a moment
and we will tell you, without troubling him to speak for himself; and
you will see, my boys, _if that will enlighten you!_"

Yves had already hurled at them his Chinese stool, which had burst the
wall just above their heads, and Barrada, with a first blow, had knocked
over two of them. The others overthrown in turn on top of the first two,
all struggling on the ground. Kerboul began to belabour the mass
unmercifully with his table, scattering over his enemies the debris of
his fifteen glasses.

Then we heard outside the sounding of gongs and the ringing of bells,
rustlings of silk and shrill little laughs of women.

And the dancing-girls entered. (The topmen had asked for dancing-girls.)

The fighting stopped when they appeared, for they were strange to see.
Painted like Chinese idols, covered with gold and glistening stones, the
eyes half-closed, looking like little white slits, they advanced into
our midst with the smiles of dead women, holding their arms in the air
and spreading out their slender fingers, the long nails of which were
enclosed in golden sheaths.

At the same time came perfumes of balm and incense; little sticks had
been set alight in a warming-dish, and an odorous, languorous smoke
spread in a blue cloud.

The gongs sounded louder now and the phantoms began to dance, keeping
their feet motionless, executing a kind of rhythmic movement of the
stomach with twistings of the wrists. Always the same set smile, the
same white mask of death. It seemed that the only life there was in them
was concentrated in their rounded hips and arched stomachs which moved
with lascivious wrigglings; and in the rigid arms, the disturbing
outspread hands which writhed unceasingly.

Le Hello who, for some time past, had been asleep on the floor, hearing
the loud sounding of the gongs, woke up, startled.

"Why, you fool, it's the dancing-girls!" explained Barrada, jeering,
laughing at him.

"Oh! yes! the dancing-girls!"

He got up and with his large paw, which groped in the air, uncertain, he
tried to beat down these upraised arms and these gilded claws,
stuttering, thick-voiced.

"It's not good, you white faced guy, it's not good to move your hands
like that, it's vulgar. . . . I think it's . . . I think it's . . .
damnation!" And he sank to the floor again and went to sleep.

Barrada, who also this evening had drunk more than was usual with him,
reproached them for their yellow skin and told them about his, which was
white. "White! White! White!" He insisted over and over again on this
whiteness, which as a matter of fact he much exaggerated, and proceeded
presently to show it to them. First his arm, then his chest. "Look!" he
said. "Is it not true?"

The little yellow dolls of Asia continued their slow, lugubrious,
beast-like wrigglings, preserving always the mystery of their rictus and
of their white elongated eyes. And now Barrada, completely nude, was
dancing before them, looking like a Greek marble which had suddenly
taken life for some ancient bacchanal.

But the Burmese ladies, wound up like automata, danced on and on for
long after he was tired. And presently, when all was over and the gongs
were silent, the sailors were seized with fear at the idea that these
women, paid for their pleasure, were waiting for them. One after another
they slunk away in the direction of the shore, not daring to approach


This Barrada, who had "wangled" things so that he sailed for a third
time on the same ship with us, was the great friend of Yves.

An illegitimate child, born and reared in the open on the quays of
Bordeaux. Very vicious, but with a good heart; full of contrasts,
certain elementary notions of human dignity were entirely wanting in
him; it was his pride to be better-looking than the others, more agile,
stronger, and a more artful "wangler." ("Wangler" and "wangling" are two
words which resume in themselves almost the whole life of the navy; they
have no academic equivalent.)

In return for payment, Barrada taught on board every kind of exercise in
vogue among sailors: boxing, single-stick, fencing, with gymnastics into
the bargain, and singing and dancing. Supple as a clown; the friend of
all the travelling strongmen who posed in the studios of sculptors;
fighting for money in mountebank shows.

An outstanding personality at the sailors' feastings, but always as a
guest, drinking freely, but never paying; drinking freely, but never
beyond his capacity, and passing through all sorts of revelry, without
losing his upright carriage, his smile, or his freshness.

He was always ready with a mocking repartee which would never have
occurred to anyone else; his Gascon accent rendered his sallies more
comical; and then he used to punctuate his phrases with a kind of noise
that was peculiarly his own; a half laugh which sounded in his deep
chest like the hoarse yawning of a lion.

Withal, honest, grateful, obliging to everyone, and faithful to his
friends; unequivocal in speech and answering always with the
disconcerting frankness of a child.

And yet making money by any and every means, even by his beauty when the
occasion offered. And that, naïvely, with his unspoilt good nature, in
such a way that the others, who knew it, pardoned him as they would one
more like a child than themselves. Yves contented himself with saying:

"That's not good, Barrada, I assure you . . ." and loved him none the

And all this was amassed, was condensed as it were in the form of large
pieces of gold sewn about his waist in a leathern belt. And its object
was to enable him, after his five years' re-engagement, to marry a
little Spanish dressmaker at Bordeaux, who worked in a large shop in the
Passage Sainte Catherine; a refined little workwoman whose photograph he
always carried with him, a photograph showing her in profile with a
fringe and an elegant fur toque trimmed with a bird's wing.

"What can one do! She was my little sweetheart when I was a boy," he
used to say, as if it was necessary to make an excuse.

And, while he was waiting for this little sweetheart, he abandoned
himself to many others, deliberately often, but sometimes in sheer
goodness of heart in the manner of Yves, because he shrank from giving


AT SEA, _May, 1877._

For two days now, the great sinister voice had been groaning round us.
The sky was very dark. It was like the sky in that picture in which
Poussin has tried to paint the deluge; only all the clouds were moving,
tormented by a wind that awakened fear.

And this great voice continued to swell, growing deeper, incessant; it
was like a fury which was becoming exasperated. In our progress we ran
into enormous masses of water which came on in white-crested volutes and
passed as if in pursuit one of another; they rushed upon us with their
full force; and then there were mighty shocks and great dull sounds.

Sometimes the _Médée_ reared, mounted over them, as if she, too, in
turn, was seized with fury against them. And then she descended again,
head first, into the treacherous hollows which lurked behind; she
touched the bottom of these kinds of valleys which opened rapidly
between high walls of water; and then made haste to climb once more, to
escape from between these curved, glistening, greenish walls, which
threatened to overwhelm her.

An icy rain streaked the air with long white arrows, whipping, stinging,
like the blows of a lash. We had drawn nearer the north, in advancing
along the Chinese coast, and the unexpected cold bit into us.

Aloft, in the rigging, they were trying to take in the topsails already
close hauled; the stormsail was already hard to carry and now, it was
necessary, at any cost, to make head against the wind, on account of the
doubtful countries which lay behind us.

For two long hours the topmen were at work, blinded, lashed, stung by
all that fell over them, sheets of spray from the sea, sheets of rain
and hail from the sky; trying, with hands cramped with cold and
bleeding, to take in the stiff wet canvas which bellied in the furious

But one saw nothing, heard nothing.

It was difficult enough merely to prevent oneself from being swept away,
merely to hold fast to all these moving, wet and slippery things--but
they had besides to work high up in the air on their yards which,
swaying, had sudden, irregular movements, like the last beating of wings
of a great wounded bird in its death-throes.

Cries of pain came from aloft, from this kind of hanging bunch of human
grapes. Cries of men, hoarse cries, more ominous than those of women,
because one is less accustomed to hear them; cries of horrible
suffering: a hand caught somewhere, fingers jammed, from which the flesh
was torn as they were drawn away--or maybe, some unfortunate fellow,
less strong than the others, numbed with cold, who felt that he could
hold out no longer, that his head was beginning to swim, that he was
about to let go and fall. And the others, out of pity, bound him and
tried to lower him to the deck.

For two hours this lasted; they were exhausted, beat; flesh and blood
could do no more.

Then they were ordered down, and in their place were sent up the men of
the larboard watch, who had been resting and were not so cold.

They came down, pale, wet, with icy water streaming down their chest and
down their back, hands bleeding, nails torn, teeth chattering. For two
days they had lived in water, had scarcely eaten, had scarcely slept,
and their vitality was at an ebb.

It is this long watching, this long labour in the damp cold, which are
the true horrors of the sea. Often poor fellows die, who, before they
utter their last cry, their last sob of agony, have remained for days
and nights wet through, dirty, covered with a muddy coating of cold
sweat and salt, with a kind of veneer of death.

And still the wind increased. There were times when it whistled, shrill
and strident, as in a paroxysm of evil exasperation; and others again,
when its voice became deep, cavernous, powerful as the immense sounds of
cataclysm. And we continued to leap from wave to wave, and, save for the
sea which preserved still its unholy whiteness of foam and froth,
everything was becoming darker. A glacial twilight was falling upon us;
behind these dark curtains, behind all these masses of water which
climbed to the sky, the sun had disappeared at its due hour; it
abandoned us, and left us to find our way as best we could in the
darkness. . . .

Yves had climbed with the larboard men into the disarray of the rigging,
and then I kept my eyes aloft, blinded myself also, and only seeing
momentarily now the human cluster in the air.

And, suddenly, in a lurch more violent than any that had gone before,
the silhouette of this group was broken brusquely and changed its form;
two bodies broke away from it and fell with outspread arms into the
roaring volutes of the sea, while another crashed on the deck, without a
cry, falling as a man might who was already dead.

"The foot-rope broken again!" said the officer of the watch, stamping
his foot with rage. "Some rotten rope which they gave us in that damned
port of Brest! Big Kerboul in the sea. And the other one, who was he?"

Others, clinging to ropes, swung for some moments in the void and then
climbed, hand over hand, very rapidly, as monkeys might.

I recognized Yves as one of the climbers, and breathed again.

They threw out life-buoys as a matter of course for those who were in
the sea. But what was the use? The hope rather was that we should not
see them reappear, for if we did, on account of the danger of getting
broadside on to the rollers, we should not have been able to stop to
rescue them and should have needed the horrible courage to abandon them.
But a roll was called of those who remained in order to find out the
name of the second who had been lost: he was a very steady little
apprentice, whom his mother, a widow well on in years, had commended to
the care of the boatswain before the departure from France.

The other, the one who had crashed on the deck, they carried below as
best they could, with great difficulty, letting him fall again on the
way; and lay him in the infirmary which had become a foul sink in which
swirled two feet of filthy, dark water, with broken bottles and odours
of all sorts of spilt remedies. Not even a place where he might die in
peace, for the sea had no pity on the sufferer; it continued to make him
dance, to toss him more than ever. A kind of sound came now from his
throat, a rattling which persisted for some little time, lost in the
great uproar of things. One might have been able to succour him perhaps,
to prolong his agony, with a little calm. But he died there quickly
enough, in the hands of the sick-berth attendants who had become stupid
with fear, and tried to make him eat.

_Eight o'clock at night._ At this time the responsibility of the watch
was heavy and it was my turn to take it.

We carried on as best we might. We could see nothing now. We were in the
midst of so much noise that the voices of the men seemed no longer to
have any sound; the blasts of the whistles, blown with full might, came
faintly, like the flute-like pipings of very small birds.

We heard terrible blows struck against the sides of the ship, as by some
enormous battering-ram. And everywhere and always great hollows opened,
gaping wide; we felt ourselves being hurled into them, head lowered, in
the pitch darkness. And then a force struck us with a brutal strength,
carrying us high into the air, and the Médée vibrated in its whole
being, as it were, like a monstrous drum. In vain then we tried to hold
fast; we were forced to let go and quickly cling more strongly to
something else, shutting our mouths and eyes as we did so, because we
knew by instinct, without seeing, that it was the moment when a great
mass of water would sweep through the air and maybe sweep us away with

And this went on continuously, these headlong plunges, followed by these
leaps with their accompanying terrifying drum-like sounds.

And, after each of these shocks came again the streaming of water
pouring in from all sides; the sound of a thousand things breaking, a
thousand fragments rolling in the darkness. And all this prolonged in a
sinister trail the horror of the first concussion.

And the topmen and my poor Yves, what were they doing aloft? We could
see the masts, the yards, now and then in the darkness, in silhouette,
when the smarting pain caused by the hail allowed us to open our eyes
and look; we could see the shapes of the great crosses, with double
arms, after the fashion of Russian crosses, rocking in the darkness with
movements of distress, with crazy gestures.

"Bring them down," said the Commander, who preferred the danger of the
unfurled sail to the fear of losing more of his men.

I gave the order quickly, with a feeling of relief. But Yves, from
aloft, replied to me with the help of his whistle, that they had almost
finished; that they had only to replace one gasket which was broken, by
a makeshift knot, and then they would all come down, having taken in
their sail and completed their work.

Afterwards when they were all down I breathed more freely. No one now
aloft, nothing more to be done up there, nothing to be done now but to
watch and wait. Then it seemed to me that the weather was almost fair,
that it was almost comfortable on this bridge, now that I was relieved
of the heavy weight of my anxiety.


_Midnight._ The end of the watch; the hour when we could go and seek

Below, in the padded gun-room, one saw another aspect of the tempest,
the grim reality of the misery it caused in the entrails of the ship.

Seen from end to end it was a kind of long dark hall dimly lighted by
flickering lanterns. The big guns, supported on their mountings,
remained more or less in position by virtue of their lashings of iron
cables. And this whole place was in motion; it had the movements of a
thing which is shaken in a sieve, shaken without respite, without mercy,
perpetually, with a blind rage; it creaked everywhere, it trembled like
an animate thing in pain, racked, exhausted, as if it were about to
burst and die.

And the great waters outside, for ever seeking to enter, penetrated here
and there in little streams, in sinister spoutings.

You were lifted up so quickly that your knees gave way--and then
suddenly things slipped from under you, sank beneath your feet--and you
descended with them, stiffening in spite of yourself, as for a kind of

There were shrill, discordant, alarming noises which came from all
round; all this framework in the form of a fish which was the _Médée_
was loosening little by little, and groaning under the terrible strain.
And outside, on the other side of the wooden wall, always the same
immense deep sound, the same deep voice of horror.

But all held fast nevertheless. The long gun-room remained intact, one
saw it still from end to end, sometimes tilted, half-overturned,
sometimes rising almost upright in a concussion, looking longer still in
this darkness in which the lanterns were lost, seeming to change its
shape and grow larger, in all this noise, as if it were some vague place
of dreamland.

On the low ceiling were hung interminable rows of canvas pockets,
swollen all of them by their heavy contents, looking like the little
pockets which spiders hang to walls--grey pockets enclosing each a human
being, the sailors' hammocks.

Here and there one saw an arm hanging out, or a bare leg. Some slept
peacefully, exhausted by their labours; others moved restlessly and
talked aloud in bad dreams. And all their hammocks swung and jostled one
another in a perpetual movement, and sometimes came in violent collision
and heads suffered.

On the floor, beneath the hapless sleepers, was a lake of dark water
which swirled this way and that, carrying with it soiled articles of
clothing, pieces of bread and biscuit, spilt porridge, every sort of
debris and unclean refuse. And from time to time came men, pale,
exhausted, half-naked, shivering in their wet shirts, who wandered
beneath these rows of grey hammocks, seeking theirs, seeking their poor
little suspended bed, the only place where they might find a little
warmth, a little dryness, and what would have to serve for rest. They
stumbled as they passed, holding on to anything that offered to prevent
themselves from falling, and bumping their heads against those who
slept. Every man for himself in times such as this; none cared what
happened to another. Their feet slipped in the pools of water and filth;
they gave no more thought to their dirtiness than animals in distress.

A suffocating reek filled the gun-room; all this filth which slid about
the floor gave the impression of a lair of sick beasts, and one smelt
the acrid stench which is peculiar to the hold of a ship in times of bad

At midnight, Yves, in turn, descended into the gun-room with the other
men of the larboard watch; their spell of duty had been extended for an
hour on account of the necessity for securing the boats. They slid down
through the half-opened hatchway which closed upon them, and mingled
with this floating misery below.

They had spent five hours at their rough work, rocked in the void,
lashed by the furious winds above, and soaked to the skin by the
stinging rain which seared their faces. They made a grimace of disgust
as they entered this closed place where the atmosphere savoured of

And Yves said, in his big disdainful way:

"It's those Parisians[3] again, I'll bet, who have made this place

They were not ill, these fellows who were real sailors: their lungs were
still filled with the wind of the masthead, and the healthy fatigue
which they had just endured assured them now of a wholesome sleep.

They stepped on the rings, on the angle-blocks, on the ends of the
gun-carriages, with precaution, in order to avoid the dirty water and
the filth--placing their bare feet on any projection that offered, using
the precarious footholds of cats. Near their hammocks they undressed,
hung up their caps, hung up their large leather-chained knives, their
soaked clothing, hung up everything and hung up themselves; and when
they were stripped they brushed off with their hands the water which
trickled still down their muscular chests.

After that, they raised themselves to the ceiling with the lightness of
acrobats, and stretched themselves, against the white beams, in their
narrow little canvas beds. Overhead, above them, after each shock, one
heard what seemed the passage of a cataract: the waves, the great masses
of water which swept the bridge. But the row of their hammocks assumed
nevertheless the slow swinging motion of the neighbouring rows, grinding
on the iron hooks, and they slept soundly in the midst of the mighty

Soon, around Yves' hammock, the Burmese women came and danced. In the
midst of a cloud of incense, rendered more murky by his dream, they came
one after another with their dead smile, in strange silken costumes,
covered with glistening stones.

They swayed their haunches slowly, to the sound of the gong, their hands
upraised in the air, their fingers outspread, like so many phantoms.
They twisted their wrists in epileptic movements, and their long nails
enclosed in the golden sheaves became entangled.

The gong--it was the tempest which sounded it, outside, against the
sides. . . .

[Footnote 3: "Parisian" is a term of insult as used by sailors; it
means: no sailor, a weakling, a sick man.]


I, too, at midnight, when my watch was over and I had seen Yves descend,
returned to my room to try to sleep. After all, the fate of the ship
concerned us now no longer, me no more than them. We had done our spell
of watching and of work. We might sleep now with that absolute freedom
from care which one has at sea when the hours of duty are finished.

In my own room, which was on the bridge, there was no lack of air--on
the contrary. Through the broken panes the wind and the furious rain
entered freely: the curtains twisted themselves into spirals and mounted
to the ceiling with the sound of wings.

Like Yves, I hung up my wet clothes. The water streamed down my chest.

Although my little bed could scarcely be said to be comfortable I fell
quickly asleep nevertheless, worn out by fatigue. Rolled, shaken, half
thrown out of bed, I felt myself swung from right and from left, and my
head bumped against the wood, painfully. I was conscious of all this in
my sleep, but I slept on. I slept on and dreamt of Yves. Seeing him fall
during the day had left me with a kind of uneasiness, as if some
sinister thing had brushed against me in passing.

I dreamt I was lying in a hammock, as formerly during my first years at
sea. Yves' hammock was near mine. We were swinging violently and his
became unhooked. Beneath us there was a confused movement of something
dark which it seemed to me was deep water, and he, Yves, was about to
fall into it. I stretched out my hands to save him, but they seemed to
have no strength, they were nerveless as in dreams. I tried then to
seize him round the body, to knot my hands about his chest, remembering
that his mother had entrusted him to me; and I realized with anguish
that I could not do it, that I was no longer capable of it; he was going
to slip from me and to disappear in all this moving blackness which
roared beneath us. . . . And then, what struck me with a horror of fear,
was that he did not waken and he was icy cold, with a cold which
penetrated me also, to the marrow of my bones; and the canvas of his
hammock had become rigid like the sheath of a mummy. . . .

And I felt in my head the real concussions, the real pain of all these
shocks, I mixed the real with the imaginary of my dream, as happens in
conditions of extreme fatigue, and on this account the sinister vision
assumed all the more intensity and life.

Afterwards, I lost consciousness of everything, even of the movement and
noise, and then only did my rest begin.

When I awoke it was morning. The first light was of that yellow colour
which is peculiar to the sunrise on days of tempest; and the roaring of
the wind persisted still.

Yves came and opened my door a little and looked in. He propped himself
in the doorway, holding on by one hand, bending his body now this way
and now that, according to the needs of the moment, in order to preserve
his equilibrium. He had put on again his damp clothes, and was covered
with sea salt which was deposited in his hair, in his beard, in the form
of a white powder.

He smiled, looking very calm and good-humoured.

"I wanted to see you," he said, "for I dreamt about you a lot in the
night. All night long I saw those good Burmese ladies with their long
golden nails, you know. They surrounded you with their evil monkeyings,
and I could not drive them away. At last they wanted to eat you.
Fortunately the réveillé sounded then; I was in a cold sweat when I

"And I, too, am very glad to see you, my dear Yves, for I have dreamt a
lot about you also. Is it as rough as yesterday?"

"Perhaps a little more manageable. And, anyhow, it's day. As long as
it's light, you know, it's always easier to work at the masthead. But
when it's as black as the devil's pit, as last night, I don't like it at

Yves glanced with satisfaction all round my room, arranged by him in
anticipation of bad weather. Nothing had budged, thanks to his
contrivance. On the floor there was indeed a pool of salt water in which
divers things floated; but the objects to which I attached more or less
value had remained suspended or fixed, like furniture, to the panels of
the walls by bolts or angle-irons. Everything had been corded, tied,
secured with an extreme care by means of tarred rope of various
thicknesses. Arms and bronzes had been wrapped in articles of clothing
in a strange higgledly-piggledly. Japanese masks with long human hair
gazed at us through a network of tarred thread; they had the same remote
smile, the same tilting of the eyes as the golden-nailed Burmese women
who, in Yves' dream, had wanted to eat me. . . .

A bugle-call suddenly, brisk and joyful: the summons to "wash deck!"

The bugle sounded a little thin, a little silvery, in the formidable
bellowing of the wind.

To wash the deck when the seas were breaking over it might seem a
somewhat senseless operation to people who live on land. But we found
nothing very extraordinary in it; it was done every morning, without
fail and in all circumstances; it is one of the primordial rules of life
at sea. And Yves left me saying, as if it was the most natural thing in
the world:

"I must be off to my washing station."

Nevertheless the bugle had sinned by excess of zeal, and sounded without
order, at its usual hour; for this morning the deck was not to be

One felt that things were more manageable, as Yves had said; the
movements were longer, more regular, more like the rollings of the
swell. The sea was less angry, and the deep, heavy-sounding concussions
were less frequent.

And then it was day--a vile day, it is true, with a strange livid
yellowness, but day nevertheless, less sinister than the night.

Our hour, it seemed, had not yet come, for on the second day following
we ran into calm water, in a port in China, at Hong Kong.


_September_, 1877.

The _Médée_ had been homeward bound for many a day.

Wind and current had favoured her. She sailed rapidly, so rapidly, for
days and nights on end, that one lost the notion of places and
distances. Vaguely we had seen pass the Straits of Malacca, taken in our
course; the Red Sea, ascended under steam in a blaze of sunlight; then
the point of Sicily, and at last the great couchant lion of Gibraltar.
Now we are watching the horizon and the first land, which may appear at
any moment, will be the land of Brittany.

I had joined the _Médée_ only during the latter part of the voyage
and, this time, my tour with Yves will have lasted less than five

Amid the grey expanse little white lines now appear; then a tower with
dark little islets scattered about: all this still very distant and
scarcely visible in the dull wan daylight which envelopes us.

We might imagine without any trouble that we were still at the other
side of the world, in that extreme Asia which we have lately left; for
things on board have not changed, nor faces either. We are still
encumbered with Chinese knick-knacks; we continue to eat fruits gathered
on the other side and still green; we carry with us odours, savours of

But no; our house has been translated very quickly; this tower and these
islets are the Pierres-Noires; Brest is there, quite near us, and before
night we shall have anchored there.

Always an emotion of remembrance, when this great roadstead of Brest
appears, imposing and solemn, and these great sailing ships which one
rarely sees elsewhere. All my first impressions of the navy, all my
first impressions of Brittany--and then, too, it is France.

There is the _Borda_ beyond; as I look at it, I can see again in my
mind's eye the desk over which I have pored in long hours of study; and
the blackboard on which I wrote feverishly, before the examination, the
complicated formulæ of mechanics and astronomy.

Yves at that time was a small boy with a very serious and thoughtful
air, a little round-faced Breton apprentice, who dwelt in the near-lying
ship, the _Bretagne_, the neighbour and companion of the _Borda._ We
were children then--to-day we are grown men--to-morrow . . . old
age--the day after, death.


Sunday, a day of great "boozing" in Brest.

_Ten o'clock._ A calm night, with a moonlit, tranquil sea; on board the
Médée the sailors have finished singing their endless songs and
silence has supervened.

Since the fall of darkness my eyes have been turned in the direction of
the lights of the town. I am awaiting with uneasiness the return of the
cutter of which Yves is in charge: it went ashore and has not returned.

At last I see its red light approaching, two hours late!

The sea is sonorous at night; in the distance I can hear cries mingling
with the sound of the oars; strange things seem to be happening in the

She has scarcely come alongside when three drunken petty officers, in a
state of fury, hasten on board and demand of me the head of Yves:

"He must be put in irons straightway; he must be tried and shot
afterwards, for he has struck his superior officers."

Yves was standing there, trembling from the conflict in which just now
he was engaged. These three petty officers have fought with him, or at
any rate have tried to make him fight.

"They wanted to put me in the wrong!" he said disdainfully; and he swore
that he had not returned the blows of the three men; for that matter he
could have knocked all three of them over with his open hand. No; he let
them lay hold of him and pull him about; they scratched his face and
tore his clothes into ribbons, because he refused to allow them to take
charge of the cutter, drunk as they were.

All the crew of the cutter were drunk also, by the fault of Yves, who
had allowed them to drink.

And the three petty officers remained standing there, quite near him,
continuing to shout, to revile, to threaten, three old drunkards,
grotesque in their stuttering fury, very ridiculous if discipline, that
implacable thing, had not been on their side to make the scene terribly

Yves, upright, his fists clenched, his hair over his forehead, his shirt
torn, his chest all bare, tried almost beyond endurance by these
insults, itching to strike, appealed to me with his eyes, in his

Oh! discipline, discipline! There are times when it is harsh indeed. I
am the officer of the watch and it is contrary to all rules that I
should interfere except to speak non-committal words, and to hand them
all over to the justice of the ship's police.

Contrary to all rules, however, I leap down from the bridge and throw
myself on Yves--it was none too soon!--I pass my arms round his arms,
and thus restrain him at the very moment when he is about to strike.

And I fix my eyes on the others, who then, in the presence of this turn
in the situation, beat a retreat in the manner of dogs before their

Happily it is dark--and there are no witnesses. Only the cutter's crew
and they are drunk--and, moreover, I am sure of them: they are good
fellows all and if it is necessary to go before a courtmartial, they
will not bear witness against us.

Then I take Yves by the shoulders and passing in front of his three
enemies, who fall back to let us pass, I lead him to my room and lock
him in. There for the moment he is safe.

I am summoned before the Commander who has been awakened by the noise.
Unfortunately I have to explain the matter to him.

And I explain, extenuating as much as possible the fault of my poor
Yves. I explain; and then, for some mortal minutes, I beg; I believe
that never in my life had I begged before, it seems to me that it is no
longer I who am speaking. And all I can say and all I can do breaks down
against the cold logic of this man who holds in his hands the very
existence of Yves, which has been entrusted to me.

I have, however, succeeded in removing the gravest of the matters, the
question of striking a superior officer; but the insults remain and the
refusal to obey. Yves has done these things: in substance, the charges
are unfair and revolting; in the letter, they are true.

He is ordered to be put in irons at once, to begin with, and to be sent
below under guard, on account of the disturbance and scandal.

Poor Yves! An unrelenting fatality has pursued him, for, this time, he
was not really culpable. And this misfortune came upon him at the very
time when he was becoming steadier, when he was making great efforts to
give up drinking and behave himself.


When I returned to my room to tell him that he was to be put in irons, I
found him sitting on my bed, his fists and teeth clenched with rage. His
passionate Breton temper had got possession of him.

Stamping his foot, he declared that he would not go--it was too
unjust!--unless they carried him by force, and that he would kill the
first man that came to take him.

Then I saw that he was lost indeed, and my heart ached for him. What
could be done? The guard was there, outside my door, waiting to lead him
away and I dared not open; seconds and minutes passed and I could find
no pretext for further delay.

An idea came to me, suddenly: I entreated him very gently, in the name
of his mother, reminding him of my oath and, for the second time in my
life, calling him brother.

Yves wept. It was over; he was vanquished and docile.

I threw some water over his forehead, adjusted his shirt a little and
opened my door. All this had not lasted three minutes.

The guard appeared. He rose and followed, meek as a child. He looked
back and smiled at me, went and replied with calmness to the
interrogatory of the Commander, and proceeded peacefully to the hold to
be put in irons.

About midnight, when this arduous watch was over, I went to bed, sending
to Yves a blanket and a cloak. (For the nights already were cold.) And
this in my helplessness was all that I could now do for him.


The next day, a Monday, the Commander sent for me early, and I entered
his room with a feeling of resentment in my heart, with bitter words
ready on my lips, which I would have uttered at the outset in revenge
for my supplications of yesterday, if I had not feared to aggravate
Yves' lot.

I was mistaken, however: he had been touched the previous night and had
understood me.

"You may go to your friend. Give him a good talking to, but say that I
pardon him. The affair will go no farther and will be put right by a
simple disciplinary punishment. He will remain eight days in irons, and
that will be all. I inflict on the three petty officers, at your
instance, the equivalent punishment of eight days' close arrest. I do
this for you, who look upon him as a brother, and for his sake also,
for, after all, he is the best man we have on board."

And I went away with feelings very different from those with which I had
come, regarding him indeed with gratitude and affection.


A corner of the hold of the _Médée_, in all the disarray of laying up.
A lantern illumines a vast medley of heterogeneous objects more or less
nibbled by rats.

A dozen or so sailors--Barrada, Guiaberry, Barazère, Le Hello, all the
little band of friends--are grouped about a man lying on the floor. It
is Yves in irons, stretched on the damp boards, his head supported on
his elbow, his foot in the padlocked ring of the "bar of justice."

The most implacable of his three enemies. Petty Officer Lagatut, stands
before him, threatening him in his old drunken voice. He threatens him
with revenge for that affair of the cutter, in which, to his mind, I had
taken too large a part.

He has quitted his close arrest to come and abuse him--and I, whose
watch it is and who am making a round, enter from behind and find him
there--the old rogue is very neatly caught! The sailors who saw me
enter, chuckle quietly in their sleeves, in anticipation of what is
about to happen. Yves makes no reply, contenting himself with turning
over and presenting his back to his tormentor with supreme insolence.
For he, too, had seen me enter.

"We have begun a game of écarté together," said Petty Officer Lagatut;
"you, Kermadec, boatswain; I, Lagatut, chief gunner, decorated with the
Legion of Honour. Thanks to certain officers who protect you, you have
taken the first two tricks: it remains to see who is going to take the
three others."

"Petty Officer Lagatut," said I from behind, "we will play a
three-handed game, if you are agreeable: a game of _rams_, that will be
more amusing. And you, my good Yves, take another trick."

A chicken finding a knife, a thief who stumbles against a policeman, a
mouse, which, by inadvertence, puts its paw on a cat, have not a longer
face than Petty Officer Lagatut at that moment.

This little pleasantry of mine was not perhaps in the best of form. But
the gallery, which was very friendly to us, greatly enjoyed this triumph
of Yves.


Eight days afterwards our frigate was completely disarmed and laid up in
a remote part of the dockyard, the crew was paid off and the _Médée_
might be described as a dead ship.

I was going away, and Yves accompanied me to the railway. The station
was crowded with sailors; all those of the _Médée_ who also were
leaving; and others again who, taking French leave, had come to see them

Amongst them were many old acquaintances of ours, protégés and friends
of Yves. And all these good fellows, rather tight, doffed their caps and
bade us good-bye with effusion. It was a scene such as is usual when a
ship is paid off; for a ship which finishes in this way is something
apart; it marks the end of so many acquaintances, so many rancours, so
many hates, so many sympathies.

At the entrance to the waiting-room, as I gripped Yves' hand, I said to

"You will write to me at any rate?"

And he replied:

"I was going to explain to you," and he hesitated still, with an
amiable, shamefaced smile. "Well, here goes! I was going to explain to
you that I do not know what to put at the beginning."

And it was true that the appellations "Captain, Dear Captain," and
others of the same kind, would scarcely any longer do. What should it
be, then? I replied:

"Why, but that's very simple," and I cast about for a long time for this
simple thing and could not find it. "That's very simple. Put . . . put:
'My dear brother'; that will be true in the first place, and, for the
purpose of a letter, very suitable."


It was about six weeks after the _Médée_ had been laid up at Brest and
I had separated from Yves, when one day, at Athens, I think, I received
this surprising letter:

"BREST, _15th September_, 1877.

"MY DEAR BROTHER,--I write you these few words, in haste to let you know
that I got married yesterday. And, you may be sure, I would have asked
your advice in advance, but, you must understand, I had no time to lose
having been named to join the _Cornélie_, and having only eight days
before me to spend with my wife.

"I think that you will find, you also, my dear brother, that this is
better than being always moving about, as you know, from one ship to
another. My wife's name is Marie Keremenen; I may tell you I am very
proud of her and think we shall get on very well together if only I can
settle down.

"I will write you a longer letter before I leave, my dear brother, and I
can assure you I am very sad at the idea of embarking without you.

"I end by embracing you with all my heart.

"Your loving brother,


"P.S.--I have just learnt that my destination is altered; I am embarking
on the _Ariane_ which does not leave until the middle of November. That
gives me nearly two months to spend with my wife. We shall have good
time in which to get to know one another, and you may be sure I am very

On their return from their voyages, sailors are wont to do all sorts of
stupid things with their money; it is a thing excused by tradition. And
seaport towns have reason to know their rather wild eccentricities.

Sometimes, even, they marry, by way of pastime, the first woman that
offers in order to have an occasion for donning a black coat.

And Yves, who had already in times past exhausted all kinds of
foolishness, he, too, for a change, had finished by marrying.

Yves married! And to whom in heaven's name? Perhaps some shameless hussy
of the town, picked up by chance in an hour when he was tipsy!

I had good reason to be uneasy, remembering a certain creature in a
feathered hat whom he had been on the point of marrying for a lark--when
he was twenty--in this same town of Brest.


Two months later, when the _Ariane_ was about to depart, fate decreed
that I, too, should be appointed, at the last moment, to join its staff.


At the moment of leaving I saw this Marie Keremenen, whom I had half
dreaded to meet. She was a young woman of about twenty years of age,
dressed in the costume of the village of Toulven, in lower Brittany.

Her fine dark eyes were clear and frank. Without being absolutely
pretty, she had a certain charm in her embroidered bodice, her white
wide-winged head-dress, and her large collarette recalling a Medici

There was about her something candid, something wholesome which it did
you good to see. It seemed to me that she was exactly what I should have
looked for if it had fallen to me to choose for my brother Yves.


Chance had brought the two together, one day when she was on a visit to
her godmother in Brest.

The lover lost no time, and she, won over by Yves' manly air, by his
honest, winning smile, had been induced to consent--not without a
certain uneasiness, nevertheless--to this precipitate marriage, which
was going, for a start, to make her a widow for some seven or eight

She had a little fortune as they say in the country, and was going to
return, as soon as we had left, to her parents' home in her village of

Yves confided to me that they were expecting the arrival of a child.

"You will see," he said. "I bet that he will arrive just in time for our

And he embraced his wife, who was weeping. We departed. Once more we
were going to cruise in the blue domain of the flying fish and dorados.


15_th November_, 1877.

On the day before we sailed, Yves had obtained a special permission to
go ashore during the day in order that he might see, in the naval
hospital, his eldest brother, Gildas, the fisher of whales, who had just
arrived in a half dead condition, and whom he had not seen for ten

Gildas Kermadec was a man of about forty, tall, with features more
regular than Yves'. In his eyes there was still a kind of dead fire. He
must at one time have been exceedingly handsome.

He was paralysed and dying, destroyed by alcohol and excess of all
kinds; he had lived a life of pleasure, sown his wild oats, and spent
his strength on all the world's highways.

He came forward slowly, leaning on a stick, upright and well-set still,
but dragging a leg, and with haggard eyes.

"Oh, Yves!" he said, and he repeated it three times: "Oh, Yves! Oh,

It was scarcely articulate; for he was paralysed in speech also. He
opened his arms to embrace Yves and tears ran down his bronzed cheeks.

There were tears in Yves' eyes also. . . . And then, quick, it was time
to go. The leave that had been given him was only for an hour.

For that matter, Gildas found nothing more to say. He had made Yves sit
down beside him on a hospital bench, and, holding his hand, looked at
him with bewildered eyes that were near to dying. At first indeed he did
try to say many things which seemed to press in his head; but there
issued from his lips only inarticulate sounds, hoarse, deep, painful to
hear. No, he could speak no more; and he contented himself with holding
Yves' hand and gazing at him with an infinite sadness.

. . . . . . . . . .

Yves carried away a profound impression of this last interview with his
brother Gildas. They had only seen each other twice since Gildas had
gone to sea. But they were brothers, brothers of the same cottage and of
the same blood, and in that there is something mysterious, a bond which
nothing can break.

A month later, at our first place of call, we learnt that Gildas was
dead. And Yves put a band of mourning on his woollen sleeve.


On board the _Ariane, May_, 1878.

The island of Teneriffe appears before us like a kind of large pyramidal
edifice, placed on an immense reflecting mirror which is the sea. The
rugged sides, the gigantic ridges of the mountains are brought near, in
little, by the extreme, unbelievable clearness of the air. One can
distinguish everything: the sharp angles touched with rose, the hollows
touched with blue. And the whole rests on the sea like a picture in a
child's scrap-book, infinitely light, weightless. A sharp line of clouds
pearly-grey in colour cuts Teneriffe horizontally in two, and, above,
the peak rears its great cone bathed in sunlight.

The gulls are making an extraordinary racket around us; they cry and
beat the air with their white wings in one of those accessions of
frenzy, which seize them sometimes for what reason it is impossible to

_Midday._ The crew had just finished dinner. The whistle had sounded:
"The port watch will clear away!" And Yves, who was on the port watch on
board the _Ariane_, came up on deck and approached me, blowing his
whistle softly to assure himself that it was still in good order.

"What is the matter with the gulls to-day? They were puling all the time
during dinner, did you hear them?"

To be sure I did not know what was the matter with the gulls. But, since
it was necessary, out of politeness, to make some sort of reply to Yves,
I answered him in this wise:

That the gulls had asked to speak to the officer of the watch, who to be
precise was myself. They wanted news of their little cousin Pierre
Kermadec; and I had replied to them: "My good sirs, little Pierre
Kermadec, my godson, is not yet born; you are too soon, come back in a
few days' time, when we are at Brest." On that, as you see, they have
departed. Look over there how they have all made off.

"You have given me a very pretty answer," said Yves, who did not often
smile. "But I tell you, I dreamt much about this again last night and,
do you know, a fear has come to me. It is that it may be a little girl."

It would indeed be a sad disappointment if the expected godson should
turn out to be a little girl! It would not then be possible to call the
newcomer Pierre.

This kinship of Yves' little child with the gulls was not of my
invention: "gull" was the name given to the topmen on board the
_Ariane_, and the name they gave to one another amongst themselves. It
was not surprising, therefore, that my little godson should be deemed a
blood relation of this bird of the sea.

And so, when we talked of him in our conversations at night, we used
always to say:

"When will the 'little seagull' arrive?"

And we never referred to him in any other way.


BREST, 13_th June_, 1878.

We are staying for to-day at a casual lodging in the Rue de Siam at
Brest, where the _Ariane_ anchored this morning.

In reply to the advice of his arrival, Yves received from Toulven, from
his wife's father, the following telegram:

"Little son born last night. Is going on very
well. Marie also.


When night came and we were in bed it was impossible to sleep. I heard
Yves turning in his bed, "going about" as he said in his Breton accent.
At the thought that on the morrow he would be on the road to Toulven to
see his little firstborn, his honest manly heart overflowed with all
kinds of sentiments which were quite new to him.

Two days after him, I, too, would be due at Toulven for the baptism.

And he made a thousand and one projects for this ceremony:

"I hardly dare to say it, but, if you would like, at Toulven, to stay
with us. . . . At my father-in-law's place, you know. . . . To be sure
it is not like the town, as I need not tell you. . . ."


BREST, 15_th June_, 1878.

In the early morning I set out for Toulven where Yves has been awaiting
me since yesterday.

The weather is magnificent. Old Brittany is green and decked with
flowers. Along the road are large woods and rocks.

Yves is waiting for me on the arrival of the diligence which I caught at
Bannalec. Beside him is a girl of eighteen or nineteen, who blushes,
looking very pretty in her large coif.

"This is Anne," says Yves to me, "my sister-in-law, the godmother."

There is still some distance between the little town and the cottage in
which they live at Trémeulé in Toulven.

Some village lads lift my luggage on their shoulders, and I set out to
make my visit to the sea-gull which has just been born; to make the
acquaintance also of this Breton family, into which Yves has entered in
his headlong way without very clearly knowing why.

What will they be like, these new relations of my brother Yves--and this
new country which is to become his?


We make our way all three along sunken lanes, which vanish in front of
us under the shade of beech trees and are overgrown with ferns.

It is evening; the sky is overcast, and in these lanes there is a kind
of night which is perfumed with honeysuckle.

Here and there, on the roadside, are grey cottages, very old and covered
with moss.

From one of them comes a lullaby, sung in slow cadence by a voice which
also is very old:

"Boudoul, boudoul, galaïchen![4]
Boudoul, boudoul, galaïch du!"

"It is _he_ they are rocking," said Yves, smiling. "Come in!"

This cottage of the old Keremenen people is half-buried and overgrown
with moss. Above it the oaks and beeches spread their green vault; it
seems as old as the earth of the lanes.

Inside the light is dim; one sees the press-beds in line with cupboards
along the rough granite of the walls.

A grandmother in a large white collarette is within, singing beside the
new-born son, singing an air of the time of her own childhood.

In an old-fashioned Breton cradle, which, before him, had rocked his
forbears, lies the little sea-gull: a fat baby three days old, very
round, very dark, already tanned like a mariner, and sleeping now with
his closed fists under his chin. He has a growth of short hair, which
appears below his bonnet on his forehead, like the coat of a mouse. I
kiss him affectionately, for he is Yves' baby.

"Poor little sea-gull!" I say as I touch as gently as possible the
little mouse's coat, "he has not so far got many feathers."

"That's true!" says Yves, smiling. "And look," he added, opening with
infinite precaution the little closed fist and spreading it on his rough
hand. "I have not been very successful: he is not web-footed."

We are told that Marie Keremenen is lying in one of the beds, the little
perforated wooden door of which has been closed on her, because she has
just fallen asleep; we lower our voices for fear of awakening her, and
Yves and I go out, for we have many things to see to in the village in
view of to-morrow's ceremony.

[Footnote 4: These words have no meaning in Breton, any more than
"mironton, mirontaine" in the old French lullaby. They were probably
invented by the old woman who sang them.]


It seems odd to us to find ourselves performing the formal duties of
citizens in the way of the world in general. At the Mairie, and at the
parish priest's house, we feel very awkward and at moments are hard put
to it not to laugh.

The little sea-gull is definitely registered in the records of Toulven
under the Christian names of Yves-Pierre--his father's name and mine, in
accordance with the custom of the country. And it is arranged with the
priest that he will await us at nine o'clock to-morrow morning, at the
church, and that there shall be a _Te Deum._

"And now let us go straight home," says Yves. "The old man is probably
in already and they will be waiting supper for us."


The June night was falling slowly, bringing peace and silence over the
Breton countryside. In the sunken lanes it was becoming difficult to

Old Corentin Keremenen had in fact returned from his work in the fields
and was waiting for us at his door. He had had time even to change his
clothes: he was wearing now his large silver-buckled hat and his
feast-day jacket of blue cloth ornamented with metal spangles and, on
the back, with an embroidery representing the Blessed Sacrament.

There is an air of joyous movement in the cottage, an air of
celebration. The copper candlesticks are on the table which has been
covered with a handsome cloth. The presses, the stools, the old oak
woodwork shine like mirrors. One guesses that Yves has been busy.

The candles illumine only the centre of the room, leaving the rest in
gloom. There are movements of large white things which are the
wide-winged coifs and pleated collarettes of the women; but otherwise
the backgrounds are dark; the light dies as it flickers on the granite
of the walls, on the irregular and time-blackened beams which support
the thatch of the roof. This thatch and this rough granite still
preserve in the Breton villages a note of the primitive epoch.

Supper is served and we take our places, Yves on my left, Anne on my

It is a plenteous repast: chickens served with different sauces, wheaten
cakes, savoury and sweet omelettes; and wine and golden cider which
foams in our glasses.

Yves says to me aside in a low voice:

"He is a very good man, my father-in-law; and my mother-in-law Marianne,
you cannot imagine what a good woman she is! I am very fond of them

During the evening a girl brings from the village clean starched things
of voluminous dimensions. Anne hastens to conceal them in a press, while
Yves, with a glance of intelligence, says:

"You see what preparations are being made in your honour!"

I had guessed what they were: the ceremonial head-dress and the immense,
embroidered, thousand-pleated collarette, with which she was going to
adorn herself for to-morrow's festival.

And I, on my side, have a number of little packets which I want to bring
out, unperceived, with Yves' help from my trunk: sweets, sugar-plums, a
gold cross for the godmother. But Anne has seen it all from the corner
of her eye and starts to laugh. So much the worse! After all it is
difficult to succeed in making mystery in a dwelling which has only one
door and only one room for everybody.

Little Pierre, round as ever, a little bronze baby, continues to sleep
in the same position, his closed fists under his chin. Never was a
new-born baby so beautiful and so good.

When I take my leave of them, Yves gets up also in order to accompany me
as far as the village, where I am going to sleep at the inn.

Outside, in the sunken lane, under the branches, it is now pitch dark;
we are enveloped by a double obscurity, that of the trees and that of
the night.

It is a kind of peace to which we are not accustomed, the peace of the
woods. And there is no sea; the country of Toulven is far away from it.
We listen; it seems to us still that we ought to hear in the distance
its familiar sound. But no; all about is silence. Nothing but scarcely
perceptible rustlings in the thick greenery, soft sounds of wings
opening, slight quiverings of birds dreaming in their sleep.

There is still the perfume of honeysuckle; but, with the night, have
come a penetrating freshness and odours of moss, of earth, of the
dampness of Brittany.

All this sleeping countryside, all these wooded hills which surround us,
all these slumbering trees, all these tranquillities oppress us. We feel
rather like strangers in the midst of it all, and we miss the sea, the
sea which, after all, is the great open space, the great unconfined
field over which we are accustomed to run.

Yves suffers these impressions and tells me of them in a naïve way, a
way peculiarly his own, which would scarcely be intelligible to anyone
but me. In the midst of his happiness, an uneasiness troubles him this
evening, almost a regret that he should unthinkingly have fixed his
destiny in this remote little cottage.

And presently we come upon a calvary, stretching out in the darkness its
two grey arms, and we think of all these old granite chapels which lie
here and there around us, isolated in the beech woods . . . in which the
souls of the dead keep vigil.


On the following day, Thursday, the 16th of June, 1878, in radiant
weather, the baptismal party gets ready in the cottage of the

Anne, her back turned towards me in a corner, adjusts her coif before a
mirror, a little embarrassed to be obliged to do so in my presence; but
the cottages of Brittany are not large, and they have no other
separations within than the little cupboards in which one sleeps.

Anne is dressed in a costume of black cloth, the open corsage of which
is embroidered with different coloured silks and silver spangles; she
wears an apron of blue moire, and, overflowing her shoulders, a white
thousand-pleated collarette which remains rigid like a ruff of the
sixteenth century. For my part, I have put on a uniform with bright gold
facings and, certainly, we shall make a pretty picture presently, arm in
arm, in the green lane.

In attendance on the baby this morning is a new personage, a very ugly
and very extraordinary old woman, who assumes an air of much importance
and receives general obedience: she is the nurse, it appears.

"She looks rather like a witch," says Anne, who guesses my thought. "But
she is really a very good woman."

"Oh! yes, a very good woman indeed," confirms old Corentin. "Her
appearance is not attractive, it is true, but she is attentive to her
religion and in fact, last year, obtained great blessings in the
pilgrimage of Saint Anne."

Bent double like Hecate, with a nose hooked like the beak of an owl and
little grey eyes rimmed with red, which blink very rapidly in the manner
of those of fowls, she goes this way and that, very busily, in her large
stiff ceremonial collarette; when she speaks, her voice startles like a
sound of the night; you might imagine you heard the brown owl of the

Yves and I at first did not like this old woman's attentions to the
newcomer; but we found consolation in the thought that, for fifty years,
she had been presiding at the birth of children in this region of
Toulven, without having brought harm to any one of them. Quite the
contrary in fact. Besides, she observes conscientiously all the ancient
rites, such as making the little one drink before the baptism a certain
wine in which its mother's wedding ring has been dipped, and many others
which must on no account be neglected.

In this little cottage, deep-sunken in the ground and very much in
shadow, one sees just as much as is necessary and no more. A little
daylight enters by the door; at the back there is also a dormer Window
sparingly contrived in the thickness of the granite, but the ferns have
invaded it. They are seen, in transparency, like the intricate figurings
of a green curtain.

At last little Pierre's toilet is finished and without so much as a cry.
I should have liked him better dressed as a little Breton; but no, this
son of Yves is all in white, with a long embroidered robe and bows of
ribbon, like a little gentleman of the town. He looks more vigorous and
browner than ever in this doll's dress; the poor little town babies, who
go to their baptism in similar attire, are not, as a rule, so strong and

Nevertheless, I am constrained to recognize that at present he is not a
beauty; probably he will improve as time goes on; but at the moment he
has the bloated look of a new-born kitten.

Outside, in the fern-clad lane, under the green vault, are moving
already several large white coifs and embroidered cloth bodices similar
to those of Anne. They belong to young women who have come out of
neighbouring cottages and are waiting to watch us pass.

Anne and I set out, arm in arm. Little Pierre leads the way, in the arms
of the old woman, with the birdlike beak, who hurries on with short
quick steps, waddling strangely like some old hag. And big Yves brings
up the rear, in his wedding clothes, very serious, a little surprised to
find himself at such a ceremony, a little shy, too, at having to walk
alone as custom, however, prescribes that he must.

In the fine June morning we make our way gaily down the Breton lane;
above our heads the covering of the oaks and beeches sifts little rounds
of light which fall in thousands, like a white rain, through the
verdure. The hanging clematis is intertwined with honeysuckle, and the
birds are singing a welcome to this little sea-gull who is making his
first appearance in the sun.

We are now in Toulven which is almost a little town. The good people are
at their doors and we pass slowly along the main street on our way to
the church.

It is very old, is Toulven church. It stands up all grey in the blue
sky, with its tall perforated granite steeple, which in places is
yellowed by lichen. It overlooks a large pond, motionless and
water-lilied, and a series of uniformly wooded hills which form, in the
background, an immemorial horizon.

All around, an ancient enclosure: the cemetery. Crosses border the
sacred pathway; they emerge from a carpet of flowers, carnations and
white Easter daisies. And in the more neglected parts where time has
levelled the little mounds of turf, there are still flowers for the
dead: silenes, and the foxgloves of the fields of Brittany; the ground
is pink with them. The tombs are thick near the door of the age-old
church, as on the mysterious threshold of eternity; this tall grey thing
rising up here, this steeple uplifted in eager aspiration, it seems as
if it does in fact protest a little against annihilation; in raising
itself into the sky, it appeals, it supplicates; it is like an eternal
prayer immobilized in granite. And the poor tombs buried in the grass
await there, with greater confidence, at this threshold of the church,
the sound of the last trump and the voice of the Apocalypse.

There, also, no doubt, when I am dead or broken by old age, there also
will they lay my brother Yves; he will give back to the Breton earth his
unbelieving head and the body which he had taken from it. Later again
little Pierre will find there his last resting-place--if the great sea
shall not have kept him from us--and, on their tombs the pink flowers of
the fields of Brittany, the wild foxgloves, the luxuriant grasses of
June, will flourish as they do to-day, in the warm summer sunshine.

In the porch of the church were all the children of the village looking
very solemn. And the parish priest was there too, awaiting us in his
ceremonial vestments.

The architecture of the porch was very primitive, and the stones had
been worn by many Breton generations; there were shapeless saints,
carved in the granite, who were aligned like so many gnomes.

There was a protracted ceremony at the door. The owl-faced old woman had
placed little Pierre in our hands and we held him between us, the
godmother, according to prescribed usage, holding the feet and I the
head. Yves, leaning against a granite pillar, watched us with an air of
reverie, and indeed Anne looked very pretty, in this grey porch, with
her handsome dress and her large ruff, caught in the full light of a ray
of the sun.

Little Pierre made a slight grimace and passed the end of his tiny
tongue over his lip with an air of distaste, when the salt, the emblem
of the sorrows of life, was put in his mouth.

The priest recited long _oremuses_ in Latin, after which he said in the
same language to the little seagull: _Ingredere, Petre, in domum
Domini._ And then we entered the church.

The saints there, in niches, dressed in the costume of the sixteenth
century, watched little Pierre make his entry, with the same placid and
mystic air with which they have seen born and die ten generations of

At the baptismal font there was again a very long ceremony and then Anne
and I had to take our places before the screen of the choir, kneeling
like a newly-wedded pair.

Finally it fell to me to take unaided this son of Yves, whom I was
fearful of breaking in my unaccustomed hands, and, climbing the steps of
the altar with this precious little burden, to make him kiss the white
cloth on which the Blessed Sacrament rests. I felt very awkward in
uniform; it seemed as if I were carrying a weight of great heaviness. I
had not imagined that it would be so difficult to hold a new-born babe;
and yet he was asleep: if he had been moving I should never have been
able to manage it.

All the children of the village were waiting for us as we came out,
little Bretons with shy looks, round cheeks and long hair.

The bells sounded joyously from the top of the old grey steeple and the
_Te Deum_ burst out behind us, sung lustily by little choir boys in red
cassocks and white surplices.

We were allowed to pass, still tranquil and devout, along the flowered
alley bordered by the tombs--but, afterwards, when we were outside!

Little Pierre, the cause of all this commotion, had gone on ahead,
carried away more and more quickly by the hook-nosed beldam and sleeping
still his innocent sleep. And the assault fell upon Anne and me: little
boys and little girls surrounded us, shouting and jumping; there were
some of these little girls who could be no more than five years old, and
who yet wore already large collars and large head-dresses similar to
those of their mothers; and they skipped around us like very comical
little dolls.

It was a strange thing, the joy of these little Breton people,
pink-cheeked with long curls of yellow silk; mere buds of life, and
dressed already in the costume and fashion of olden times--bubbling over
with a heedless joy--as once upon a time their forbears, and they are
dead! Joy of a new overflowing life, joy such as kittens have, and kids,
and, after ten years, they die; puppies and lambkins know this self-same
joy and gambol as these children here--and time passes and they are

We scattered among them handfuls of sugarplums, and our whole route was
sown with sweets. The baptism of the little sea-gull will be remembered
in Toulven for many a long year.

Afterwards, we found once more the quiet of the Breton lane, the long
green alley, and, at the end of it, the primitive hamlet.

It was now near noon; butterflies and flies made merry in the air all
along our road. The day was very warm for Brittany.

In broad daylight the roof of the cottage of the old Keremenens was a
veritable garden: a quantity of little flowers, white, yellow and red,
were installed there with a great variety of ferns, and the whole was
sprinkled with sunlight, which filtered through the overhanging oaks.

Inside it was still cool, in the slightly green half-light, under the
low black roof of the old beams.

Dinner was on the table, and Yves' wife, who had got up for the first
time, was awaiting us, seated in her place, in her brave holiday dress.
In the course of the last few days, her beauty had deserted her, and she
was pale and thin. Yves looked at her with an air of disillusionment
which did not escape her; and, realizing that this was not as it should
be, he went over to her and kissed her affectionately with rather a
lordly air. And I augured sad things from this glimpse of

Nevertheless this baptismal dinner was a gay affair. It consisted of a
great number of Breton dishes and lasted a very long time.

During the dessert, we heard outside two voices murmuring a kind of
litany very rapidly, in the language of lower Brittany. It was two old
women, two old beggar-women, linked arm in arm and leaning on sticks, in
the manner of the fairies when they take decrepit shape for the purpose
of disguise.

They asked to be allowed to enter, having come to wish good luck to
little Pierre. At the oaken cradle in which he was being gently rocked
they predicted very fortunate things, and then withdrew with a blessing
for everyone.

Generous alms were given them, and Anne cut them slices of bread and


In the afternoon there was a scene: my poor brother Yves was tipsy and
wanted to go to Bannalec and take train to rejoin his ship.

We had wandered some considerable distance and were in a wood, Anne,
Yves, and I, when suddenly, without apparent cause, the idea seized him.
He had turned back and left us, saying that he was going away for good;
and we had followed him in some anxiety fearful of what he might do.

When, a few minutes after him, we reached the cottage of the old
Keremenens, we found that he had thrown off his fine white shirt and his
wedding clothes, and, stripped to the waist, in the usual style of
sailors on board ship during the morning, he was looking everywhere for
his jersey which had been hidden from him.

"Good Lord Jesus, have pity on us," Marie, his wife, was saying, joining
her poor white invalid's hands. "How has this happened, Lord? For really
he has drunk but little! Oh, sir, prevent him," she begged, turning to
me. "What will people say in Toulven when he passes, when they see that
my husband will not stay with me!"

It was a fact that Yves had drunk very little; happiness, no doubt, had
turned his head at dinner, and, what made the matter worse, we had taken
him for a walk in the heat of the sun: it was not altogether his fault.

Sometimes, though rarely, it was possible to arrest these moods of his
by dint of kindness. I knew that, but I did not feel able to-day to use
this means. For really, it was too bad of him! Even here, in this place
of peace and on this happy day of festival, to introduce a scene of this

I said simply:

"Yves shall not leave!"

And to bar his way, I stood before the door, buttressing myself against
the old oak mullions which were massive and solid.

He did not dare to answer me. He moved this way and that, continuing to
look for his sailor's clothes, turning about like a wild beast which is
held captive. He muttered under his breath that nothing would prevent
him from going, as soon as he should have found his sailor's bonnet. But
all the same the idea that he would have to touch me before he could get
out served also to restrain him.

I, too, was in no very amiable mood, and I felt nothing now of the
affection which had lasted so many years and forgiven so many things. I
saw before me the drunken sea-rover, ungrateful and in revolt, and that
was all.

Deep down in every man there is always a hidden savage who keeps
vigil--especially perhaps amongst us who have lived on the sea. And it
was the savage in each of us who now confronted one another, who had
just come into collision one with the other, as in our worst days in the

Outside, all round us, was still the peace of the countryside, the shade
of the oaks, the tranquil _green night._

Poor old Keremenen was quite helpless, and the affair came very near to
being utterly odious and pitiful, when we heard Marie weeping; they were
the first tears of her wifehood, urgent, bitter tears, the forerunners,
no doubt, of many others; and sobs which were distressing to hear amid
the silence which we all preserved.

And presently Yves was vanquished and drew near slowly to embrace her:

"Come, come! I am wrong," he said, "and I ask you to forgive me."

And then he came to me and used a name which he had sometimes written,
but which until then he had never pronounced:

"You must forgive me again, _brother!_"

And he embraced me also.

Afterwards he begged forgiveness of the old Keremenens, who kissed him
in a fatherly and motherly way; and forgiveness also of his son, the
little sea-gull, as he pressed his lips against the little closed fists
which peeped out of the cradle.

He was quite sobered and the evil hour had passed; the real Yves, my
brother, had returned; there was as always in his repentance something
simple and childlike which won forgiveness without reserve, so that all
was forgotten.

He proceeded now to pick his clothes up from the floor, to brush them,
and to dress himself again, without saying a word, miserable, exhausted,
wiping his forehead which was beaded with a cold perspiration.

An hour later I watched Yves as he stooped, the very figure of an
athlete, over the cradle of his son; he had been rocking him and had
just succeeded in putting him to sleep; and now, little by little,
progressively, with many precautions, he was stopping the movement of
the little oak basket, to leave it at last motionless, seeing that sleep
had indeed come. Then he stooped lower still and gazed intently at his
son, examining him with much curiosity, as if he had never seen him
before, touching his little closed fists, his growth of little mouse's
hair which peeped still from beneath the little white bonnet.

And as he gazed his face assumed an expression of infinite tenderness;
and the hope came to me that this little child might one day be his
safeguard and salvation.


In the evening after supper, we went for a walk, Anne, Yves and I, a
walk much more peaceful than that of the day.

And, at nine o'clock, we sat down by the side of a wide road which
traversed the woods.

It was not yet dark, so prolonged in Brittany are the evenings in the
beautiful month of June; but we began, nevertheless, to talk of phantoms
and the dead.

Anne said:

"In winter when the wolves come we can hear them from our home; but
sometimes ghosts, too, utter cries like theirs."

On this particular evening, however, we only heard the passing of
cockchafers and stagbeetles which flew through the warm air in eccentric
curves, and the small buzzings of summer. And, also, from a distant part
of the wood: "Hoot! . . . Hoot . . ." a mournful call, given out very
softly in the voice of an owl.

And Yves said:

"Do you hear, brother? The parakeets of France are singing." (This was
an allusion to the _parakeet_ he had on the _Sibylle._)

The slender grasses, with their flowers of grey dust, spread over the
ground a deep, scarcely palpable covering into which the feet sank, and
the last moths, at the end of their evening's exercise, plunged one
after another into the thickness of this herbage, to take their sleeping
posts on the slender stems.

And darkness came, slow and tranquil, with an air of mystery.

Passed a young Breton lad who carried a knapsack on his shoulder. He was
returning rather tipsy from Lannildu, a peacock's feather in his hat. (I
do not know what this has to do with the story of Yves: I relate at
hazard things which have remained in my memory.) He stopped and began to
address us. Finally, by way of peroration, he showed us his knapsack,

"Look here! I have two cats in this." (This had no sort of relation to
what he had been saying to us before.)

He placed his burden on the ground and threw his hat upon it. Thereupon
the knapsack began to _swear_, with the strong voices of angry tom-cats,
and to move in somersaults along the road.

When he had convinced us in this way that they were indeed cats, he put
the whole on his shoulder again, saluted, and went his way.


17_th June_, 1878.

We rose early to go into the woods and gather "luzes" (little blue-black
fruits which are found in the deepest of the thickets, on plants which
resemble the mistletoe).

Anne no longer wore her gay festival attire: she had put on a large
smooth collarette and a simpler head-dress. Her Breton dress of blue
cloth was ornamented with yellow embroidery: on each side of her bodice
were designs imitating rows of eyes such as butterflies have on their

Along the sunken lanes, in the green night, we met women who were going
into Toulven to hear the early morning mass. From the end of these long
corridors of verdure, we saw them coming with their collarettes, their
tall white head-dresses, the sides of which fell symmetrically over
their ears, like the bonnets of the Egyptians. Their waists were tightly
compressed in bodices of blue cloth which resembled the corselets of
insects and on which were embroidered always the same designs, the same
rows of butterfly eyes. As they passed they gave us good-day in Breton
and their tranquil faces wore an expression of primitive times.

And at the doors of old grey granite cottages which were almost hidden
in the trees, we found old women sitting and minding little children;
old women with long unkempt white hair, in tattered blue cloth cut in
the fashion of long ago, with the remains of Breton embroideries and
rows of eyes: the poverty and primitiveness of olden times.

Ferns, ferns, all along these lanes--ferns of the most elaborate kind,
the finest, the rarest, which have flourished there in the damp shade,
forming sheaves and carpets--and pink foxgloves, too, shooting up like
pink rockets, and, pinker even than the foxgloves, the silenes of
Brittany, scattering over all this fresh verdure their little
carmine-coloured stars.

To us, maybe, the verdure seems greener, the woods more silent, the
perfumes more penetrating, to us who live in wooden houses in the midst
of the sound of the sea.

"It seems to me very pleasant here," said Yves. "A little later on when
little Pierre is big enough for me to lead him by the hand, we will go
together to pick all kinds of things in the woods--and, later again, we
can shoot. To be sure! I will buy a gun, as soon as I have saved a
little money, to kill the wolves. I don't think I shall ever be bored in
this country here."

I knew well, alas! that sooner or later he would weary of it; but it
served no purpose to tell him so and it was better to let him, as one
lets children, cherish his illusion.

Besides, he also was about to depart; two days after me, he was due at
Brest, to embark once more. This was only a very brief rest in our life,
this sojourn at Toulven, only a little interlude of Brittany, after
which we must resume once more our business of the sea.

We were in the heart of the woods. No pathways now, no cottages. Nothing
but a succession of hills following one another into the distance,
covered with beeches, with brushwood, with oaks and heather. And
flowers, a profusion of flowers; the whole countryside was flowered like
an Eden: honeysuckle, tall asphodels with white distaffs and foxgloves
with pink distaffs.

In the distance, the song of cuckoos in the trees, and, around us, the
humming of bees.

The berries grew thick here and there, on the stony soil, mingled with
flowering heather. Anne always found the best and gave them to me in
handfuls. And big Yves watched us with a grave smile, conscious that he
was playing, for the first time, a kind of rôle of mentor, and finding
it very surprising.

The place had a wild air. These wooded hills, these carpets of lichen,
resembled a landscape of olden times, though bearing the mark of no
precise epoch. But Anne's costume was clearly of the Middle Ages and the
impression that one had was of that period.

Not the gloomy and twilight Middle Ages as understood by Gustave Doré,
but the Middle Ages sunlit and full of flowers, of these same eternal
flowers of the fields of Gaul, which bloomed as now for our ancestors.

It was eleven o'clock when we returned to the cottage of the old
Keremenens for dinner. It was very warm that summer in Brittany; the
ferns and the little red flowers of the roadside bowed down under the
unaccustomed sun, which exhausted them, tempered though it was by the
green branches.

_One o'clock._ For me, the hour of departure. I went first of all to
kiss little Pierre, asleep still in his old oaken cradle, as if these
four days had not sufficed him for recovering from the fatigue he had
suffered in coming into the world.

I bade good-bye to all. Yves, thoughtful, leaning against the door, was
waiting to accompany me as far as Toulven, whence the diligence would
take me to the station at Bannalec. Anne and old Corentin also insisted
on escorting me.

And, when I saw Toulven disappearing in the distance, its grey steeple
and its mournful pond, my heart contracted. How many years would it be
before I should return to Brittany? Once more we were separating, my
brother and I, and both of us were going away into the unknown. I was
uneasy about his future, over which I saw dark clouds gathering. . . .
And I thought also of these Keremenens whose welcome had touched me. I
asked myself whether my poor Yves, with his terrible failings and his
uncontrollable character, was not going to bring unhappiness upon them,
under their roof of thatch covered with little red flowers.


_November_, 1880.

A little more than two years later.

Little Pierre was cold. He cried as he clasped his two little hands,
which he tried to hide under his pinafore. He was in a street in Brest,
before daybreak, on a November morning. A fine rain was falling. He
pressed close to his mother who, also, was weeping.

There, at a street corner, Marie Kermadec was waiting, loitering in the
darkness like some unfortunate. Would Yves come home? . . . Where was
he? . . . Where had he spent the night? In what low tavern? Would he
return to his ship at any rate, when the gun sounded, in time for the

And other women were waiting also.

One passed with her husband, a petty officer like Yves; he came out of a
tavern which had just been opened. He was drunk. He tried to walk,
staggered a few steps and then fell heavily to the ground. His head made
a sickening sound as it struck the hard granite.

"Oh! my God!" wailed his wife. "Jesus, Holy Virgin Mary, have pity on
us! Never have I seen him like this before! . . ."

Marie Kermadec helped her to get him on his feet again. He was a good
looking man, kindly and serious.

"Thank you, madam!"

And his wife contrived to make him walk, supporting him with all her

Little Pierre was crying quietly, as if he understood already that
something shameful overshadowed them and that it behoved him not to make
a noise. He bowed his little head and continued to hide under his
pinafore his little hands which were so cold. He was well enough wrapped
up, but he had been standing for a long time, without moving, at this
damp street corner. The gas lamps had just been extinguished and it was
very dark. Poor little plant, healthy and fresh, born in the woods of
Toulven, how came it, to be stranded in the misery of this town? For his
part he saw no sense in the change; he could not understand why his
mother had wanted to follow her husband to this Brest, and to live in a
cold and dismal lodging, at the end of a court, in one of the low-lying
streets abutting on the harbour.

Another passed; he was struggling with his wife, this one, he was not
going to be taken home. It was a horrible sight. Marie uttered a cry as
she heard the dull sound of a blow struck by a fist; and covered her
face, unable to bear more. Yves at any rate had never done that! But
would it come to that in time? Would it come to pass, one of these days,
that they would sink to this last misery?


Yves appeared at last, walking straight, carrying himself well, his head
high, but his eye lustreless, bewildered. He saw his wife, but pretended
that he did not, throwing on her as he passed an angry, troubled glance.

_It was not he_--as he used to say himself afterwards, in the good
moments of repentance which still came to him.

In fact, it was not he: it was the savage beast within him which
drunkenness awakened, when his real self was obscured and submerged.

Marie refrained from saying a word, not only from uttering a reproach,
but even from an entreaty. It was better not to speak to Yves in these
moments when his head was gone: he would go away again. She knew that;
she was forced into this silence.

She followed, with downbent head, in the rain, dragging by the hand her
little Pierre who was trying to cry even more quietly now since he had
seen his father, and whose poor little feet were getting wet in the mud
of the gutter.

How could she let him walk thus? How could she even have brought him out
like this, before daybreak? What was she thinking of? Had she gone mad?
. . . And she picked him up and hugged him to her breast, warming him
against her body, kissing him in passionate affection.

Yves pretended to pass his door, by way of aggravation--a piteous piece
of brutish foolery--and then looked back at his wife with a stupid smile
which was not good to see, as one who should say: "That was a little
joke of mine, but you see I am going in."

She followed at a distance, hugging the wall of the dark staircase so as
not to be seen, making herself small, lowly. Happily it was not yet
daylight, and the neighbours no doubt would still be abed, and so would
not be witnesses of this disgrace.

She followed him into their room and shut the door.

There was no fire and the room had an air of poverty which smote the

When the candle was lit, Marie saw that Yves had again torn his new
clothes, which once already she had mended with so much care; and his
big blue collar was crumpled and stained and his jersey unravelled, the
broken stitches gaping on his chest.

He walked up and down, turning about like a caged beast, making
confusion, upsetting brusquely things which she had arranged, pieces of
bread which she had saved up.

And she, having put their child in his cradle and covered him up,
pretended to occupy herself with domestic duties. At times such as these
it was necessary to appear as if nothing had happened; otherwise, if one
seemed to be taking too much thought of him, he would become suddenly
exasperated, like a wild beast which has scented blood; and he would
want to go out again. And when once he had said: "I am going out! I am
going out to join my friends!" out he would go with the obstinacy of a
brute; not force, nor prayers, nor tears were able to restrain him.


Sometimes Yves would fall suddenly like a log and sleep for several
hours; and then it would be over. This depended on the particular kind
of liquor he had taken.

At other times he held out, somehow or other, and returned to his ship
in the harbour.

On this particular morning, at seven o'clock, Yves, a little sobered,
had the idea unprompted of bathing his head in cold water. Then he went
out and took the road to the dockyard.


Then Marie sat down, broken, utterly powerless, beside the cradle in
which their little son was sleeping.

Through the curtainless windows a whitish light began to enter, a pale,
pale light which made one feel cold.

Another day! In the street below could be heard the characteristic sound
of the lower quarters of Brest at the hour of the return to work:
thousands of wooden sabots hammering on the hard granite pavé. The
workers were returning to the dockyard, stopping on their way for one
last drink, in the taverns but just now opened which mingled with the
growing daylight the yellow light of their little lamps.

Marie remained there, motionless, perceiving with a painful acuteness
all these already familiar sounds of the winter mornings which ascended
from the street, voices husky with alcohol and the rumblings of sabots.
It was in one of those old many-storeyed houses, tall, immense, with
dark yards, rough granite walls as thick as ramparts, sheltering all
sorts of people, workmen, pensioners, sailors; at least thirty families
of drunkards. It was now four months since--on Yves' return from the
Antilles--she had left Toulven to come and live there.

A growing light entered through the windows, fell on the dirty,
dilapidated walls, penetrated little by little the whole of the large
room in which their modest little household furniture, now in disorder,
seemed lost. Clearly the day had come; and, out of thriftiness, she went
and blew out the candle, and then returned to sit by the window.

What was she going to do with this new day; should she work? No, she had
not the heart, and, then, what was the use?

Another day to be passed without a fire, with a heart that was dead,
watching the rain falling, watching and waiting! Waiting, waiting in an
anxiety that grew from hour to hour, waiting for the coming of the
darkness, for the moment when the hammering of the sabots would begin
once more in the grey street below, when the workers' day was done. For
Yves and the other sailors whose ships were in the port were released at
the same time as the workers in the dockyard; and then, every evening,
leaning out of her window, she would watch the flood of humanity pass,
searching, with anxious eyes, among all these groups, looking for him
who had taken from her her life.

She could recognize him from afar, by his tall figure and his bearing;
his blue collar towered over the others. When she had discovered him,
walking quickly, hastening towards their lodging, it seemed to her that
her poor heart overflowed, that she breathed better; and when she saw
him at last beneath her, entering the old low doorway, she was almost
happy. He had come--and when he was there and had embraced them both,
her and little Pierre, the danger was past, he would not go out again.

But if he was late, gradually she felt herself wrung with anguish. . . .
And when the hour was passed, and night came and the crowd had dispersed
and he had not returned, oh! then began those sinister evenings she knew
so well, those mortal evenings of waiting which she spent, the door
open, seated in a chair, her hands joined, saying her prayers, her ear
straining at all the sailors' songs which came from outside, trembling
at every sound of footsteps which she heard on the dark staircase.

And then, very late, when others, her neighbours, were in bed and could
no longer see her, she descended; in the cold, in the rain, she went out
like one possessed to wait at street corners, listen at the doors of
pot-houses where men were drinking still, press her pallid cheek against
the window-panes of taverns.


Little Pierre was still asleep in his cradle, making up for the sleep he
had lost in the early morning. And this morning his mother also dozed
near him in her chair, exhausted as she was by fatigue and watching.

It was broad daylight when she awoke, her limbs numb with cold. And with
returning consciousness came once more the weight of her anxiety.

Why had she left Toulven? Why did she marry? Daughter of the country as
she was what was she doing in this Brest where people stared at her
peasant's dress? Why had she come to wear in the streets of the town her
large white collarette, often soaked with rain, which in despair, in
utter weariness, she allowed now to hang crumpled and limp on her

She had done everything she could to reform Yves. He was still so kind,
so good, he was so fond of his little Pierre in his sober hours, that
often she was encouraged still to hope! He had moods of repentance that
were quite sincere and lasted for several days; and those days were days
of happiness.

"You must forgive me," he used to say, "for you can see that I was not

And she forgave him. Then he would stay at home, and when by chance the
weather was reasonably fine, they dressed little Pierre in his new
clothes, and went for a walk, the three of them, in Brest.

And then, one fine evening Yves would not return, and all was to be
begun again, and she fell back into despair.

Things went from bad to worse; the stay at Brest exerted over him the
same influence as it usually does over all sailors. Every week now
almost, the dread thing happened; it was becoming a habit. What room was
there for hope?

There was no money left in their drawer. What was to be done? Borrow
from these women, her neighbours, who from time to time used to drink
also, and whom she disdained to know! Of that she was ashamed!
Nevertheless she was at her wits' end to know how to hide her distress
from her parents, who knew nothing, and had taken Yves to their heart as
if he had been their own son.

Very well then, she would tell them, tell them he was unworthy of them.
She was in revolt at last. She would leave him; he had gone too far, and
he had no heart.


And yet, yes!--something told her that he had a heart, but that he was
just a big boy whom the life of the sea had spoilt. And with a great
tenderness she recalled his handsome, gentle face, his voice, his smile
in those hours when he was sober. . . .

Abandon him? . . . At the idea that he should go his ways alone, utterly
lost then, and throwing care to the devil, delivered up to his vices and
to the vices of others, to begin again his life of debauchery with other
women, to sail distant seas, and then to grow old alone, forsaken,
exhausted by alcohol! . . . Oh! at this idea of leaving him, she was
seized with an anguish more terrible than all: she felt that she was
bound to him now by a bond stronger than any reason, than any human
will. She loved him passionately, without realizing the strength of her
love. . . . No, rather than that, if she was not able to draw him back,
she would let herself sink with him to the last degradation in order
that she might still hold him in her arms, until the hour of death.


Little Pierre, for his part, did not like Brest at all. He found it a
most uncomfortable place, ugly and dark.

He had lived there only for four months, and already his round cheeks
had paled a little under their bronze. Before, they were like those ripe
nectarines of the south country which are of a warm golden colour, a red
stained with sun.

His eyes were black and shone with the sparkle of jet, like those of his
mother, from between beautiful long eyelashes. In his little eyebrows
there was already a suggestion of seriousness, which came from Yves.

He would have made a pretty picture, with his thoughtful expression and
the manly and forceful little air which he had already like a grown lad.

Now and then he had still his moments of noisy gaiety; he jumped and
skipped about the gloomy room, making a great commotion.

But this did not happen so often as at Toulven. He missed, in his
already vague baby memory, he missed the little playmates of the
beech-bordered lane, and the petting of his grandparents, and the songs
of his old great-grandmother. There, everybody took notice of him, while
here he was nearly always alone.

No, he did not like the town. And then he was always cold, in this bare
room and on these old stone staircases.


"You must forgive me; you can see that I am not myself."

When once Yves had said that, the storm was finally over; but it was
often a long time before he said it. When the fit of drunkenness had
passed, for two or three days, he would remain gloomy, depressed,
without speaking; until suddenly, at some quite negligible thing, his
smile would appear once more with an expression of childlike
embarrassment. Then the clouds would break for poor Marie and she would
smile too, a smile of her own, without ever uttering a word of reproach;
and that was the end of the ordeal.

Once she dared very softly to ask him:

"But what is the need for sulking for three days, when it is over."

And he, more softly still, with a naïve half-smile, looking at her
sideways, in obvious embarrassment: "What is the need for sulking for
three days, do you say? Why, Marie, do you think I am pleased with
myself when I have these bouts. . . . Oh! but it's not against you, my
poor Marie, I assure you." Then she came very close to him and leaned
against his shoulder, and he, answering her silent appeal, kissed her.

"Oh! drink! drink!" he said slowly, averting his half-closed eyes with a
savage expression. "My father! my brothers! Now it's my turn!"

He had never said anything like this before. He had never alluded to the
terrible vice which possessed him, nor given any sign that he realized
its consequences.

How was it possible not to have still brief moments of hope seeing him
afterwards so sensible, so dutiful, playing at the fireside with his
son; dropping then all his domineering ways, alert with a thousand
kindly thoughts for his wife, in his effort to make her forget her

And how believe that this same Yves would presently and fatally become
once more that _other_, the Yves of the bad days, the Yves of the vacant
gaze, the Yves depressed and brutal, the beast bewildered by alcohol,
whom nothing could move? Then Marie surrounded him with tenderness,
concentrated on him all the force of her will, watched over him as over
a child, trembling as she followed him with her eyes whenever he so much
as descended into the street where his blue-collared comrades passed and
where the taverns opened their doors.

On shore Yves was lost; he knew it well himself, and used to say sadly
that he would have to try to get to sea again.

He had grown up on the sea, at random, as wild plants grow. It had been
nobody's business to give him notions of duty or conduct, nor of
anything in the world. I alone perhaps, whom fate and his mother's
prayer had put in his way, had been able to speak to him of these new
things, but too late no doubt, and too vaguely. The discipline of the
ship, that was the great and only curb which had directed his material
life, maintaining it in that rude and healthy austerity which makes
sailors strong.

The _shore_ had for long been for him but a place of passage, where for
a time he was free from restraint and where there were women; he
descended on it as on a conquered country, between long voyages; and he
came well supplied with money and found, in the quarters of pleasure,
everything compliant to his whim and will.

But to live a regular life in a little household, to reckon up each
day's expenses, to behave himself and have thought for the morrow, his
sailor's ways could no longer adapt themselves to these unexpected
obligations. Besides, around him, in this corrupt, degenerate Brest,
alcohol seemed to ooze from the walls with the unwholesome damp. And he
sank to the depths like so many others, who also once had been good and
brave; he became debased, slipping down little by little to the level of
this population of drunkards; and his excesses became repulsive and
vulgar like those of a workman.


One day, I received a letter which called me to his assistance.

It was very simple, very much like a letter from a child:

"MY DEAR BROTHER,--I do not know how to tell you, but it is true, I have
taken to drink again. Also I do not want to remain in Brest, as you will
understand, for I am afraid of this thing.

"I have already been punished three times with irons in the Reserve, and
now I do not know how to get away from the ship, for I realize that if I
remain on board some misfortune will happen to me.

"But it seems to me that if I could embark once more with you, that
would be exactly what I need. My dear brother, since you will soon be
going away again, if you would come to Brest and take me with you, it
would be much better for me than here, and I feel sure that that would
save me.

"You have done me a great wrong in saying in your letter that I did not
love my wife or my son; because for her and little Pierre there is
nothing I would not do.

"Yes, my dear brother, I have wept and I am weeping now as I write, and
I cannot see for the tears that are in my eyes.

"I only hope that you will be able to come. I embrace you with all my
heart, and beg you not to forget your brother, in spite of all the
disappointments he has caused you.

"Ever yours,



One Sunday in December I returned to Brest unannounced and made my way
into the low-lying quarters of the Grand 'Rue, looking for Yves' house.
Reading the numbers on the doors, I passed all those high granite
buildings which once were houses of the rich and now are fallen into the
hands of the people; below, everywhere open taverns; above, the
curtained windows of poverty, with last sickly flowers on the sills;
dead chrysanthemums in pots.

It was morning. Bands of sailors were about already, looking very smart
in their clean clothes, singing, beginning already the Sunday holiday.

One breathed a white mist, a damp coldness--a first sensation of winter.
Newly-arrived as I was from the Adriatic, where the sun was still
shining, the colours of Brest seemed to me greyer than ever.

At number 154--above the sign: _À la pensée du beau canonnier_--I
climbed three flights of stairs in an old wide staircase, and came upon
the room of the Kermadecs.

I could hear through the door the regular sound of a cradle. Little
Pierre, very spoilt in spite of all, had retained this habit of being
rocked to sleep, and Yves, alone with his son, was sitting near him,
rocking the cradle with one hand, very slowly.

He raised pathetic eyes, moved at seeing me, but hesitating to come to
me, his expression saying:

"Ah, yes, brother, I know. You have come to take me away; it is true
that this is what I asked of you; but . . . but I did not expect you
perhaps so soon; and to go away . . . that will be very hard to
bear. . . ."

Physically, Yves had greatly changed. He had become paler, sheltered as
he had been from the tanning of the sea; his expression was different,
less assured, almost mournful. It was plain that he had suffered; but on
his face, marmorean still and colourless, vice had not succeeded yet in
imprinting any trace.

I looked around with an impression of surprise, and a contraction of the
heart. I had not, in fact, foreseen what the dwelling of my brother
Yves, on shore and in a town, would be like. It was very different from
that sea dwelling in which I had so long known him: the masthead, full
of wind and sun. Here, now, amid this reality of poverty I felt as he no
doubt felt himself, out of place and ill at ease.

Marie was outside, at the pump, and little Pierre was sound asleep, his
long baby's eyelashes resting on his cheeks. We were alone together and
as he was uncomfortable in my presence, he began hurriedly to talk of
embarking, of departure.

A change in the list had called me to Brest prepared for immediate
departure: two or three ships were about to be put into commission--for
the China station, for the Southern Seas, for the Levant--and it was
necessary to hold myself in readiness, from hour to hour, for one of
these destinations.

The week which followed was one of those agitated periods which are
common enough in a sailor's life: living at the hotel as in a flying
camp, amid the disorder of half-unpacked trunks, not knowing to-morrow's
destination; busy with a number of things, official business at the port
and preparations for the voyage;--and then these comings and goings,
applications on Yves' behalf, in order to secure his withdrawal from the
Reserve, and to keep him near me, ready to depart with me.

The December days, very short, very gloomy, sped quickly. I climbed
often, three steps at a time, the sordid old staircase of the Kermadecs;
and Marie, anxious always about the first words I might say, smiled at
me sadly, with a respectful and resigned confidence, awaiting the
decision I should bring.


23_rd December_, 1880.

A night in December, clear and cold; a great calm over the sea, a great
silence on board.

In a little ship's cabin, which is painted white and has iron walls,
Yves is sitting near me amid open trunks and cases. We are still in the
disarray of arrival; we have yet to instal ourselves, to make a little
home, in this iron box which presently is going to carry us through the
waves and storms of winter.

All the embarcations we had foreseen, all the long voyages we had
projected, had come to nothing. And I find myself simply on board this
_Sèvre_ which is not going to leave the Brittany coast. Yves is among
the crew and we shall be together again, in all human probability, for a
year. Given our calling it is a stroke of good luck; it might have
happened to us at any moment to be separated for ever. And Yves has very
gladly given a hundred francs out of his purse to the sailor who
consented to give up his place to him.

Let us make the best of this _Sèvre_, since fate will have it so. It
will remind us at any rate of the times already distant when we sailed
together over the misty northern sea under the protecting eye of the
Creizker tower.

But I should have liked it better if we had been sent elsewhere, to
somewhere in the sun; for Yves' sake especially, I should have preferred
to be going farther from Brest, farther from his evil companions and the
taverns of the coast.


AT SEA 25_th December, Christmas Day._

It was the second day following, very early, at daybreak. I came up on
deck, having scarcely slept a moment, after a very trying watch from
midnight to four o'clock: we had been buffeted throughout the night by a
gale of wind and a heavy sea.

Yves was there, wet through, but in his element and very much at ease;
and, as soon as he saw me appear, he pointed out to me, smiling, a
singular country which we were approaching.

Grey cliffs walled the distant horizon like a long rampart. A kind of
calm fell upon the waters, although the wind continued to buffet us
furiously. In the sky, dark heavy clouds slid one over the other, very
rapidly: a leaden vault in movement; immense, dark things, which changed
shape, which seemed in haste to pass, to reach a goal elsewhere, as if
seized with the vertigo of some impending and formidable convulsion.
Around us, thousands of reefs, dark heads which rose up everywhere amid
this other silvered commotion made by the waves; they seemed like
immense herds of sea monsters. They stretched as far as eye could see,
these dangerous dark heads, the sea was covered with them. And then,
beyond, on the distant cliff, the silhouettes of three very old towers,
looking as if they had been planted alone there in the midst of a desert
of granite, one of them greatly overtopping the two others, and rearing
its tall figure like a giant who watches and presides. . . .

Yes! I recognize it well, and, like Yves, salute it with a smile;
somewhat puzzled, nevertheless, to see it reappear so close to us, and
in the midst of this festival of shadows, on a morning when I was not
expecting it. . . . What were we going to do there, in its
neighbourhood? This was no part of our original plan and I could not
understand it.

It was a sudden decision of the captain, taken during my hour of sleep:
to make for the entrance to the roadstead of Taureau, hard by Saint Pol,
and seek a shelter there from the south wind, the open sea being now too
rough for us.

And that was how it came about that, on his return to the northern
waters, Yves' first visit was to the Creizker tower.


CHERBOURG, 27_th December_, 1880.

At seven o'clock in the morning word is brought to me that Yves,
dead-drunk, is in a boat alongside. Some old friends of his, topmen on
the _Vénus_, have kept him drinking through the night in low
taverns--to celebrate their return from the Antilles.

I am of the watch. There is no one yet on deck, save some sailors busy
with their furbishing--but devoted fellows these, known for many a day
and to be counted on. Four men get him aboard, and furtively carry him
down a hatch and hide him in my room.

A bad beginning, truly, on board this _Sèvre_, where I had taken him
under my charge as on a kind of probation, and where he had promised to
be exemplary. And the black thought came to me for the first time that
he was lost, beyond redemption, no matter what I might do to save him
from himself. And also this other thought, more desolating still, that
perhaps he was deficient in certain qualities of heart.

Throughout the day Yves was like a dead man.

He had lost his bonnet, his purse, his silver whistle, and there was a
dent in his head.

It was not until about six o'clock in the evening that he showed sign of
life. Then, like a child awakening, he smiled--a sign this that he was
still drunk, for otherwise he would not smile--and asked for food.

Then I said to Jean-Marie, my faithful servant, a fisherman from

"Go to the ward-room kitchen and see if you can get him some soup."

Jean-Marie brought the soup, and Yves began to turn his spoon this way
and that, as if he did not remember which way to hold it:

"Come on, Jean-Marie, make him eat it!"

"It is too salty!" said Yves suddenly, lying back, making a wry face,
his accent very Breton, his eyes again half-closed.

"Too salty! Too salty!" . . .

Then he fell asleep again, and Jean-Marie and I burst out laughing.

I was in no frame of mind for laughter, but this notion and this spoilt
child's air were too comical. . . .

Later, at ten o'clock, Yves came round, got up furtively, and

For two days he remained hidden in the crews' quarters in the bow of the
ship, only showing himself for his watch and for drill, hanging his
head, not daring to look at me.

Oh! these resolutions taken twenty times and as many times broken. . . .
We dare not take them again or at any rate dare not say that we have
taken them. The will flags, and the days slip by while we wait inert for
the return of courage and self-respect.

Slowly, however, we came back to our normal manner of existence. I used
to call him in the evenings and we would walk up and down the deck
together for hours on end, talking almost in the old way, in the
mournful wind and the fine rain. He had still the same fashion of
thinking and speaking as before, very naïve and at the same time very
profound; it was the same, but with just the least suggestion of
constraint; there was something frigid between us which would not thaw.
I waited for a word of repentance which did not come.

Winter was advancing, the winter of the Channel, which envelopes
everything--thoughts, and men, and things--in the same grey twilight.
The cold dark days had come, and our evening walk was taken at a quicker
pace in the damp wind of the sea.

There were times when I wanted to grip his hand and say to him: "Come,
brother, I have forgiven you; let us forget all about it." But I checked
the words on my lips; after all it was for him to ask forgiveness; and
there remained a kind of haughty coldness in my manner which kept him at
a distance from me.

This _Sèvre_ was not a success for us at all, that was clear.


Little Pierre is at Plouherzel, trying to play in front of his
grandmother's door--quite lost as he looks at the motionless sheet of
water before him, with the large beastlike shape which seems to be
asleep in the centre, behind a veil of mist. There is free air and open
sky here, to be sure, but the wind is keener than at Toulven, and the
country more desolate; and children feel these things by instinct; in
the presence of things forlorn, they have involuntary melancholies and
silences--as birds have.

Here now are two little comrades who have come from a neighbouring
cottage to take stock of him, the little new-comer. But they are not
those of Toulven; they do not know the same games; the few little words
which they are able to speak are not of the same Breton. And, therefore,
not venturing much on one side or the other, they remain all three at
gaze, with shy smiles and comical little airs.

It was yesterday that little Pierre arrived at Plouherzel with Marie
Kermadec. Yves had written to his wife bidding her make this journey as
soon as she could; the thought had come to him suddenly, the hope
indeed, that this might reconcile them with his mother. For the old
woman, always hard and headstrong, after having in the first instance
flatly refused her consent to their marriage, had accepted it
subsequently with bad grace, and, since, had not even troubled to answer
their letters.

Poor forsaken old woman! Of thirteen children whom God had given her,
three had died in infancy. Of the eight sons who had reached manhood,
all of them sailors, the sea had taken seven--seven who had been lost in
shipwreck, or else had disappeared abroad, like Gildas and Goulven.

Her daughters, too, had left her. One of them had married an Icelander,
who had taken her away to Tréquier; the other, her head turned by
religion, had entered the convent of the Sisters of Saint Gildas du

There remained only the little grandchild, the forsaken little daughter
of Goulven. And all the old woman's love was centred in her--an
illegitimate child, it is true, but the last survivor of that long
shipwreck which had bereft her, one after another, of the others. This
little child loved to watch the incoming tide from the shore of the sea
water lake. She had been forbidden to do it, but one day she went
thither alone and did not return. The next tide brought in a stiff
little corpse, a little body of white wax, which was laid to rest near
the chapel, under a wooden cross and a mound of green turf.

She still cherished a hope in her son Yves, the last, the best beloved,
because he had remained the longest at home. . . . Perhaps he, at least,
would return one day to live near her!

But it was not to be. This Marie Keremenen had stolen him from her; and,
at the same time--a thing which counted in her rancour--she had taken
from her also the money which this son had previously sent to help her
to live.

And for two years now, she had been alone, quite alone, and would be
alone to her last day.

In obedience to Yves, Marie had come yesterday, after two days'
journeying, and knocked at this door with her child. An old,
hard-featured woman, whom she recognized at once without ever having
seen her, had opened to her.

"I am Marie, Yves' wife. . . . How do you do, mother?"

"Yves' wife! Yves' wife! So this then is little Pierre? This is my
little grandson?"

Her eye had softened as she looked at the little grandson. She had made
them enter, given them to eat, seen that they were warm and comfortable,
and prepared for them her best bed. But for all that there was a
coldness, an ice which nothing could thaw.

In the corner, surreptitiously, the grandmother embraced her grandchild
with affection. But before Marie she gave no sign and remained always
stiff and hard.

Now and then they spoke of Yves, and Marie said timidly that, since
their marriage, he had reformed greatly.

"Tra la la! . . . Reformed!" repeated the old woman, assuming her
ill-tempered air. "Tra la la! my child! . . . Reformed! . . . He has his
father's head, they are all the same, they are all alike, and you have
not seen the last of it in him; mark my words!"

Then poor Marie, her heart heavy, not knowing what to reply, nor what
else to say during the long day, nor what to do with herself, waited
impatiently for the time fixed by Yves for their departure. Very surely
she would not return.


At Paimpol Marie, with her son, has climbed into the diligence which
moves off and is bearing them away. Through the door she watches her
mother-in-law who has had the grace to accompany them from Plouherzel to
see them off, but who has said good-bye briefly and coldly, a good-bye
to chill the heart.

She watches her and is puzzled; for the old woman is running now,
running after the diligence--and her face, too, is working; she seems to
be making some kind of grimace. What can she want of them? And as she
watches Marie becomes almost afraid. For she is grimacing still. And
see! now she is crying! Her poor features are quite contorted, and her
tears fall fast. . . . And now she understands!

"For the love of heaven! stop the diligence, sir, if you please," says
Marie to an Icelander, who is sitting near her and who, too, has
understood; for he passes his arm through the little window in front and
pulls the conductor by the sleeve.

The diligence stops. The grandmother, who has continued to run, is at
the back, almost on the step; she stretches out her hands to them, and
her face is bathed in tears.

Marie gets down and the old woman throws her arms round her, embraces
her, embraces little Pierre.

"My dear child! may God in His goodness be with you."

And she weeps and sobs.

"My child, with Yves, you know, you must be very gentle, you must take
him by the heart; you will see that you can be happy with him. Perhaps
I was too hard with his poor father. God bless you, my dear daughter!"

And there they stand, united in the same love for Yves, and weeping

"Now then, my good women!" cries the conductor, "when will you have
finished rubbing noses?"

They had to drag them apart. And Marie, seated once more in her corner,
watches as she draws away, with eyes filled with tears, the old woman,
who has sunk down, sobbing, on a milestone, while little Pierre waves
good-bye with his plump little hand from the window.


1_st January_, 1881.

In the heart of the docks at Brest, a little before dawn, on the first
morning of the year 1881. A mournful place, these docks; the _Sèvre_
has been moored there now for a week.

Above, the sky has begun to brighten between the high granite walls
which enclose us. The lamps, few and far between, shed in the mist their
last meagre yellow light. And already one may discern the silhouettes of
formidable things which are taking shape, awakening ideas of a grim and
cruel rigidity; machines high perched, enormous anchors upturning their
black arms; all sorts of vague and ugly shapes; and, in addition,
laid-up ships, with their outline of gigantic fishes, motionless on
their chains, like large dead monsters.

A great silence prevails and a deadly cold. There is no solitude
comparable with that of a naval dockyard at night, especially on a night
of holiday. As the time approaches for the gun to sound the signal to
cease work, everybody flees as from a place of pestilence; thousands of
men issue from every point, swarming like ants, hastening towards the
gates. The last of them run, actuated by a fear lest they should arrive
too late and find the iron gates closed. Then calm descends. Then night.
And there is no longer a soul, no longer a sound.

From time to time a patrol passes on his round, challenged by the
sentries, giving in a low voice the password. And then the silent
population of rats debouches from all the holes, takes possession of the
deserted ships, the empty yards.

On duty on board since the previous day I had got to sleep very late, in
my icy, iron-walled room. I was worried about Yves, and the songs, the
shoutings of sailors which came to me in the night from the distance,
from the low quarters of the town, filled me with foreboding.

Marie and little Pierre were to make their journey to Plouherzel in
Goello, and Yves had wanted, nevertheless, to spend the night on shore
in Brest, to celebrate the New Year with some old friends. I could have
stopped him by asking him to stay and keep me company; but the coldness
between us persisted; and I had let him go. And this night of the 31st
December is of all nights perhaps the most dangerous, a night when Brest
gives itself up wholly to a riot of alcohol.

As I climbed on deck, I saluted rather sadly this first morning of the
New Year, and I began the mechanical promenade, the hundred paces of the
watch, thinking of many past things.

And especially I thought of Yves, who was my present preoccupation.
During the last fortnight, on this _Sèvre_, it seemed to me that the
affection of this simple brother who had long been the only real friend
I had in the world, was slowly, hour by hour, drifting from me. And
then, also, I was angry with him for not behaving himself better, and it
seemed to me, that, for my part, too, I loved him less. . . .

A black bird passed above my head, uttering a mournful croaking.

"Good luck to you!" said a sailor who was making his morning ablution in
cold water. "Here's some one come to wish us a happy New Year! . . . You
ugly croaker! Anyhow, you are a sign that better things are to follow."

Yves returned at seven o'clock, walking very straight, and answered the
roll-call. Afterwards he came to me, as usual, to wish me good morning.

I quickly saw, from his eyes slightly dulled and his voice slightly
altered, that he had not been as abstemious as he should. And I said to
him in the tone of a curt order:

"Yves, you will not return to shore to-day."

And then I affected to speak to others, conscious that I had been unduly
severe and none too pleased with myself.

_Midday._ The dockyard, the ships are emptying, becoming deserted as on
days of holiday. Everywhere the sailors may be seen on their way out for
the day, all very smart in their clean Sunday clothes, brushing off with
eager hand the least trace of dust, adjusting for one another their
large blue collars. Walking briskly they soon reach the gates and press
forward into Brest.

When it comes to the turn of those on the _Sèvre_ Yves appears with the
others, well brushed, well washed, and very bare about the neck, in his
best clothes.

"Yves, where are you going?"

He gave me an angry glance such as I had not had from him before. It
seemed to defy me and I read in it still the fever and bewilderment of

"I am going to join my friends," he said. "Sailors from my country, whom
I have arranged to meet, and who are expecting me."

Then I attempted to reason with him, taking him aside, obliged to say
what I had to say very quickly, for time pressed, obliged to speak low
and to maintain an appearance of complete calm, for it was necessary
that the others who were standing quite near us should not know what was
passing. And I began to feel that I had taken a wrong road, that I was
no longer myself, that my patience was exhausted. I spoke in the tone
which irritates and does not persuade.

"I am going, I am going, I tell you," he said at the end, trembling, his
teeth clenched. "Unless you put me in irons to-day, you will not stop

He turned away, defying me to my face for the first time in his life,
and moved to rejoin the others.

"In irons? Very well then, Yves; in irons you shall be."

And I called a sergeant-at-arms, and gave him out loud the order to lead
him away.

Oh! the glance he gave me as he turned away, obliged to follow the
sergeant-at-arms who prepared to take him below, before all his fellows,
to descend into the hold in his brave Sunday clothes! He was sobered,
assuredly; for his gaze was penetrating and his eyes were clear. It was
I who hung my head under this expression of reproach, of sorrowful and
supreme amazement, of sudden disillusion and disdain.

And then I went back to my room.

Was it all over between us? I thought it was. This time I had lost him

I knew that Yves, with his obstinate Breton character, would not return;
his heart, once closed, would never open again.

I had abused my authority over him, and he was of those, who, before
force, rebel and will not yield.

I had begged the officer on duty to let me continue in charge for this
day, not having the courage to leave the ship--and I continued my
endless walk up and down the deck.

The dockyard was deserted within its high walls. There was no one on
deck. The sound of distant singing came from the low-lying streets of
Brest. And, from the crew's quarters below, the voices of the sailors of
the watch calling at regular intervals the _Loto_ numbers with the
little jokes usual among sailors, which are very old and always gain a

"--22, the two quartermasters out for a walk!"

"--33, the legs of the ship's cook!"

And my poor Yves was below them, at the bottom of the hold, in the dark,
stretched on the floor in the cold, with his foot in an iron ring.

What should I do? . . . Order him to be set free and sent to me? I
foresaw perfectly well how this interview might turn out: He standing
before me, impassive, sullen, his bonnet, respectfully doffed, braving
me by his silence, his eyes downcast.

And, if he refused to come--and he was quite capable of this in his
present mood--what then? . . . How could I save him from the
consequences of such a refusal of obedience? How could I then extricate
him from the mess I should have made between our own private affairs and
the blind rules of discipline?

Now, night was falling and Yves had been nearly five hours in irons. I
thought of little Pierre and of Marie, of the good folk of Toulven, who
had put their hope in me, and then of an oath I had sworn to an old
mother in Plouherzel.

And above all, I realized that I still loved my poor Yves as a brother.
. . . I went back to my room and began hurriedly to write to him; for
this must be the only means of communication between us; with our
characters, explanations would never be successful. I wrote quickly, in
large letters, so that he could still read them: darkness was coming on
quickly, and, in the dockyard, a light is a thing forbidden.

Then I said to the sergeant-at-arms:

"Bring Kermadec to speak to _the Officer of the Watch_, here in my

I had written:

"DEAR BROTHER,--I forgive you and I ask that you too will forgive me.
You know well that we are now brothers, and that, in spite of
everything, we must stick together through thick and thin. Are you
willing that all that we have done and said on the _Sèvre_ should be
forgotten, and are you willing to make one more firm resolution to be
sober? I ask this of you in the name of your mother. If you will write
'Yes' at the bottom of this paper, all will be over and we will not
speak of it again.


When Yves came in, without looking at him, and without waiting for a
reply, I said to him simply:

"Read this which I have just written for you." And I went out, leaving
him alone.

He came out quickly, as if he had been afraid of my return, and, as soon
as I heard that he was some distance away, I re-entered my room to see
what he had answered.

At the bottom of my letter--in letters still larger than mine, for it
was growing darker--he had written: "Yes, brother," and signed: "YVES."


"Jean-Marie, go as quickly as you can and tell Yves that I am waiting
for him on shore, on the quay."

This was ten minutes later. It was clearly necessary that we should
meet--after having written one another thus--in order to make the
reconciliation complete.

When Yves arrived, his face had changed and he was smiling as I had not
seen him smile for many a long day. I took his hand, his poor topman's
hand, in mine; it was necessary to squeeze it very hard to make it feel
the pressure, for work had greatly hardened it.

"But why did you do that? It wasn't kind, you know."

And this was all he found to say to me by way of reproach.

The guard at night on the _Sèvre_ was not very strict.

"Look here, Yves, we are going to spend this first night of the New Year
on shore, in Brest, and you are going to have dinner with me, as my
guest. That is a thing we have never done and it will be fun. Quickly,
go and brush your clothes (for he had got very dirty in irons in the
hold), and let us go."

"Oh! but we must be quick, though. Let me rather brush myself when we
get on shore. The gun will sound directly, and we shall not have time to
get out."

We were in a remote part of the docks, very far from the gates, and we
started off at once almost running.

But, as luck would have it, when we were but half-way, the gun sounded
and we were too late.

There was nothing for it but to return to the _Sèvre_, where it was
cold and dark.

In the wardroom there was a pitiful lantern in a wire cage, which had
been lit by the fireman patrol, but no fire. And it was there we passed
the first night of the new year, dinnerless through our own fault, but
content nevertheless that we had found each other again and had made

Nevertheless something still worried Yves.

"I did not think of it before: but perhaps it would have been better if
you had left me in irons until the morning, on account of the others,
you know, who won't be able to make out what has happened. . . ."

But about his future conduct, he had no misgiving at all; to-night he
felt very sure of himself.

"In the first place," he said, "I have found a sure method; I will never
go ashore again except with you, and you will take me where you will. In
that way, you see. . . ."


_Sunday_, 31_st March_, 1881.

Toulven, in spring; the lanes full of primroses. A first warm breeze
stirs the air, a surprise and a delight; it stirs the branches of the
oaks and beeches, and the great leafless woods; it brings us, in this
grey Brittany, the scent of distant places, memories of sunlit lands. A
pale summer is at hand, with long, mild evenings.

We are all outside at the cottage door, the two old Keremenens, Yves,
his wife, and Anne, little Corentine, and little Pierre. Religious
chants, which we had first heard in the distance, are slowly drawing
near. It is the procession coming with rhythmic step, the first
procession of spring. It is now in the green lane. It is going to pass
in front of us.

"Lift me, godfather, lift me!" says little Pierre, holding out his hands
for me to take him in my arms, so that he may see better.

But Yves forestalls me and raising him very high, places him standing on
his shoulders; and little Pierre smiles to find himself so tall and
thrusts his hands into the mossy branches of the old trees.

The banner of the Virgin passes, borne by two young men, thoughtful and
grave of mien. All the men of Trémeulé and of Toulven follow it,
bareheaded, young and old, hat in hand, with long hair, brown or
whitened by age, which falls on Breton jackets ornamented with old

And the women come after: black corselets embroidered with eyes, a
little restrained hubbub of voices pronouncing Celtic words, a movement
of large white things of muslin on the heads. The old nurse follows
last, bent and hobbling, always with her witch-like movements; she gives
us a sign of recognition and threatens little Pierre, in fun, with the
end of her stick.

It passes on and the noise with it.

Now, from behind and from a distance, we see the long procession as it
ascends between the narrow walls of moss, a long lane of white
wide-winged head-dresses and white collarettes.

It moves on, in zigzags, ascending always towards Saint Eloi of Toulven.
It is a strange sight, this long procession.

"Oh! what a lot of coifs!" says Anne, who is the first to finish her
rosary, and who begins to laugh, struck with the effect of all these
white heads enlarged by the muslin wings.

And now it has disappeared--lost in the distances of the vault of beech
trees--and one sees only the tender green of the lane and the tufts of
primroses scattered everywhere: eager growths which have not waited for
the sun, and which cluster on the moss in large compact masses, of a
pale sulphur yellow, a milky amber colour. The Bretons called them "milk

I take little Pierre's hand and lead him with me into the woods, in
order to leave Yves alone with his relations. They have very serious
matters, it seems, to discuss together: those interminable questions of
profits and distribution which, in the country, take so large a place in

This time it has to do with a dream Yves and his wife have dreamt
together: to realize all their possessions and build a little house,
covered with slate, in Toulven. I am to have my room there in this
little house, and in it are to be put the old-fashioned Breton things I
love, and flowers and ferns. They do not want to live any more in the
large towns, not in Brest particularly--_it is not good for Yves._

"It is true," he says, "that I shall not often be at home; but when I
am, we shall all be very happy there. And then, you know, later on when
I take my pension . . . it is for then really; I shall settle down very
nicely in my house and my little garden."

His pension! That is ever the sailor's dream. It begins in early youth,
as if the present life were only a time of trial. To take his pension,
at about forty; after having traversed the world from pole to pole, to
possess a little plot of earth of his own, to live there very soberly
and to leave it no more; to become someone of standing in his village,
in his parish church--a churchwarden after having been a sea-rover; the
devil turned monk and a very peaceful one. . . . How many of them are
mown down before they reach it, this more peaceful hour of ripe age? And
yet, if you ask them, they are all thinking of it.

This _sure method_ which Yves had discovered for keeping sober had
succeeded very well; on board he was the exemplary sailor he had always
been, and, on shore, we were never apart.

Since that miserable day which began the year 1881, the relations
between us had completely changed, and I treated him now in every
respect as a brother.

On board this _Sèvre_, a very small boat, we officers lived in a very
cordial intimacy. Yves was now of our band. At the theatre, in our box;
sharing our enterprises which for the most part were insignificant
enough. Rather shy at first, refusing, slipping away, he had ended by
accepting the position, because he felt that he was loved by us all. And
I hoped by this new and perhaps unusual means to attach him to me as
much as possible, and to raise him out of his past life and win him from
his former friends.

That thing which it is usual to call education, that kind of polish
which is applied thickly enough, it is true, on so many others, was
entirely wanting in my brother Yves; but he had naturally a kind of
tact, a delicacy much rarer, which cannot be assumed. When he was in our
company, he kept himself always so well in his place, that in the end he
himself began to feel at ease. He spoke very little, and never to say
those banal things which everybody says. And when he put off his
sailor's clothes and dressed himself in a well-fitting grey suit with
grey suede gloves to match, then, though preserving still his careless
sea-rover's carriage, his high-held head and his bronzed skin, he had
all at once quite a distinguished air.

It used to amuse us to take him with us and present him to smart people
upon whom his silence and bearing imposed and who found him rather
haughty. And it was comical, next day, to see him once more a sailor, as
good a topman as before.

Little Pierre and I, then, were in the woods of Toulven, looking for
flowers during the family council.

We found a great many, pale yellow primroses, violet periwinkles, blue
borage, and even red silenes, the first of the spring.

Little Pierre gathered as many as he could, in a state of great
excitement, not knowing which way to run, panting hard, as if in the
throes of a very important work; he brought them to me very eagerly in
little handfuls, very badly picked, half-crushed in his little fingers,
and too short in the stalk.

From the height we had reached we could see woods as far as eye could
command; the blackthorns were already in flower; all the branches, all
the reddish sprigs, full of buds, were waiting for the spring. And, in
the distance, in the midst of this country of trees, Toulven church
raised its grey spire.

We had been out so long that Corentine had been placed on the look out
in the green lane to announce our return. We saw her from a distance,
jumping, dancing, playing all sorts of tricks alone, her big head-dress
and her collarette fluttering in the wind. And she shouted loud:

"They are coming, big Peter and little Peter, hand in hand."

And she turned it into a rhyme and sang it to a lively Breton air as she
danced in time:

"See here they come together
And they hold each other's hand,
Peter big and Peter little
Are coming hand in hand."

Her big head-dress and her collarette aflutter in the breeze, she danced
like some little doll which had become possessed. And night was falling,
a night of March, always mournful, under the leafless roof of the old
trees. A sudden chill passed like a shudder of death over the woods,
after the sunny warmth of the day:

"And they hold each other's hand,
Peter big and Peter little!
And little black man Peter!"

"Little black man" was the nickname Yves had borne, and she gave it now
to her little cousin Pierre, on account of the bronzed colouring of the
Kermadecs. Thereupon I called her "Little Miss Golden Locks," and the
name stuck to her; it suited her well, on account of the curls which
were for ever escaping from her head-dress, curls like skeins of golden

Everybody in the cottage seemed very pleased, and Yves took me aside and
told me that matters had been arranged very satisfactorily. Old Corentin
was giving them two thousand francs and an aunt was lending them another
thousand. With that they would be able to buy a piece of land for a term
of years and begin to build immediately.

We had to leave immediately after dinner in order to catch the diligence
at Toulven and the train at Bannalec. For Yves and I were returning to
Lorient, where our ship was waiting for us in the harbour.

At about eleven o'clock, when we had got back to the chance lodging we
had booked in the town, Yves, before going to bed, began to arrange in
vases the flowers we had gathered in the woods of Toulven.

It was the first time in his life that he had ever done anything of the
kind; he was surprised at himself that he should find pleasure in these
poor little flowers to which he had never before given a thought.

"Well, well!" he said. "When I have my own little house at Toulven, I
shall have flowers in it, for it seems to me that they look very well.
But it is you, you know, who have given me the idea of these
things. . . ."


At sea, on the following day, the first of April. Bound for Saint
Nazaire. A full spread of canvas; a strong breeze from the north-west:
the weather bad; the lighthouses no longer visible. We came into dock in
the small hours, with a damaged bow and a broken foretopmast.

The 2nd is pay day. Drunken men stumble in the hold in the dark and
there are broken heads.

A little liberty of two days, quite unexpected. On the road with Yves
for Trémeulé in Toulven. This _Sèvre_ is a good boat which never
takes us away for long.

At ten o'clock at night, in the moonlight, we knock at the door of the
old Keremenens and of Marie, who were not expecting us.

They wake up little Pierre in our honour, and sit him on our knees.
Surprised in his first sleep he smiles and says how do you do to us very
low, but afterwards does not make much ado about our visit. His eyes
close in spite of himself and he cannot hold up his head. And Yves,
disturbed at this, seeing him hanging his head, and looking at us in
sidelong fashion, his hair in his eyes:

"You know, it seems to me that he has . . . that he has . . . a sly

And he looks at me anxious to know what I think of it, conceiving
already a grave misgiving about the future.

Nobody in the world but my dear old Yves would have felt concern on such
ludicrous grounds. I shake little Pierre, who thereupon becomes wide
awake and bursts out laughing, his fine big eyes well opened between
their long lashes. Yves is reassured and finds that in fact he does not
look at all sly.

When his mother strips him, he looks like a classic baby, like the Greek
statues of Cupid.


Toulven, 30_th April._

The cottage of the old Keremenens, as darkness is falling on an evening
of April. Our little party has just returned from a walk: Yves, Marie,
Anne, little Corentine "golden locks," and "little black man" Pierre.

_Four_ candles are burning in the cottage (_three_ would be unlucky).

On an old table of massive oak, polished by the years, there are paper,
pens and sand. Benches have been placed round. Very solemn things are
about to happen.

We put down our harvest of herbs and flowers, which shed a perfume of
April in the old cottage, and take our places.

Presently two dear old women enter with an important air: they say good
evening with a curtsey, which makes their large starched collarettes
stand upright, and sit down in a corner. Then Pierre Kerbras, who is
engaged to Anne. At last everybody is placed and we are all complete.

It is the great evening for the settlement of the family arrangements,
when the old Keremenens are going to fulfil the promise they have made
to their children. The two of them rise and open an old chest on which
the carvings represent Sacred Hearts alternating with cocks; they remove
papers, clothing, and from the bottom, take a little sack which seems
heavy. Then they go to their bed, lift up the mattress and search
beneath: a second sack!

They empty the sacks on the table, in front of their son Yves, and then
appear all those shining pieces of gold and silver, stamped with ancient
effigies, which, for the last half century, have been amassed one by one
and put in hiding. They are counted out in little piles; the two
thousand francs promised are there.

Now comes the turn of the old aunt who rises and empties a third little
sack; another thousand francs in gold.

The old neighbour comes last; she brings five hundred in a stocking
foot. And all this is lent to Yves, all this is heaped before him. He
signs two little receipts on white paper and hands them to the two old
lenders who make their curtsey preparatory to leaving, but who are
detained, as custom ordains, and made to drink a glass of cider with us.

It is over. All this has been done without a notary, without a deed,
without discussion, with a confidence and a simple honesty that are
things of Toulven.

"Rat-tat-tat!" at the door. It is the contractor for the building, and
he arrives in the nick of time.

But with this gentleman it is desirable to use stamped paper. He is an
old rogue from Quimper, with only a smattering of French, but he seems
cunning enough for all that, with his town manners.

It is given to me to explain to him a plan which we had thought out
during our evenings on board, and in which a room is provided for me. I
discuss the construction in the smallest details and the price of all
the materials, with an air of knowledge which imposes on the old man,
but which makes Yves and me laugh, when by ill-luck our eyes chance to

On a sheet bearing a twelve sou stamp I write two pages of clauses and

"A house built of granite, cemented with sand from the seashore,
limewashed, joinered in chestnut wood, with skylit attic, shutters
painted green, etc., etc., the whole to be finished before the 1st May
of next year and at the price fixed in advance of two thousand nine
hundred and fifty francs."

This work and this concentration of mind have made me quite tired; I am
surprised at myself, and I can see that they all are amazed at my
foresight and my economy. It is unbelievable what these good people have
made me do.

At last it is signed and sealed. We drink cider and shake hands all
round. And Yves now is a landowner in Toulven. They look so happy, Yves
and his wife, that I regret no part of the trouble I have taken for

The two old ladies make their final curtsey, and all the others, even
little Pierre, who has been allowed to stay up, come with me, in the
fine moonlit night, as far as the inn.

Toulven, 1_st May_, 1881.

We are very busy, Yves and I, assisted by old Corentin Keremenen,
measuring with string the land to be acquired.

First of all we had to select it, and that took us all yesterday
morning. For Yves it was a very serious matter this fixing of the site
of his little house, in which he pictured, in the background of a
melancholy and strange distance, his retirement, his old age and death.

After many goings and comings we had decided on this spot. It is in the
outskirts of Toulven, on the road which leads to Rosporden, on high
ground, facing a little village square which is brightened this morning
by a population of noisy fowls and red-cheeked children. On one side is
Toulven and its church, on the other the great woods.

At the moment it is just an oatfield very green. We have measured it
carefully in all directions; reckoned by the square yard it will cost
fourteen hundred and ninety francs, without counting the lawyer's fees.

How steady Yves will have to be, and how he will have to save to pay all
that! He becomes very serious when he thinks of it.


ON BOARD THE _Sèvre, May_, 1881.

Yves, who will soon be thirty years old, begs me to bring him from the
town a bound manuscript book in order that he may commence to record his
impressions, after my manner. He regrets even that he can no longer
recall very clearly dates and past events so that he might make his
record retrospective.

His intelligence is opening to a crowd of new conceptions; he models
himself on me and perhaps makes himself more "complex" than he need. But
our intimacy brings in its train another and quite unexpected result,
namely that I am becoming much simpler in contact with him; I also am
changing, and almost as much as he.

BREST, _June_, 1881.

At six o'clock, on the evening of the feast of St. John, I was returning
with Yves from the "pardon" of Plougastel on the outside of a country

In May the _Sèvre_ had been as far as Algiers, and we appreciated, by
contrast, the special charm of the Breton country.

The horses were going at full gallop, beribboned, with streamers and
green branches on their heads.

The folk inside were singing, and, on top, next to us, three drunken
sailors were dancing, their bonnets on one side, flowers in their
button-holes, with streamers and trumpets, and, in mockery of those
unfortunate enough to be short-sighted, blue spectacles--three young
men, smart of bearing and intelligent in face, who were taking a last
French leave before their departure for China.

Any ordinary man would have broken his neck. But they, drunk as they
were, kept their feet, nimble as goats, while the omnibus careered at
full speed, swinging from right to left in the ruts, driven by a driver
who was as drunk as they.

At Plougastel we had found the uproar of a village fête, wooden horses,
a female dwarf, a female giant, a fat lady, and a boneless man, and
games and drinking stalls. And, in an isolated square, the Breton
bagpipes played a rapid and monotonous air of olden times, and people in
old-fashioned costume danced to this age-old music; men and women,
holding hands, ran, ran like the wind, like a lot of mad folk, in a long
frenzied file. It was a relic of old Brittany, retaining still its note
of primitiveness, even at the gates of Brest, amid the uproar of a fair.

At first we tried, Yves and I, to calm the three sailors and make them
sit down.

And then it struck us as rather comical that we, of all people, should
assume the rôle of preacher.

"After all," I said to Yves, "it's not the first sermon of the kind
we've preached."

"To be sure, no," he replied with conviction.

And we contented ourselves with holding on to the iron rails to prevent
ourselves from falling.

The roads and the villages are full of people returning from the
"pardon," and all these people are amazed at seeing pass this
carriage-load of madmen with the three sailors dancing on the top.

The splendour of June throws over this Brittany its charm and its life;
the breeze is mild and warm beneath the grey sky; the tall grass, full
of red flowers; the trees, of an emerald green, filled with cockchafers.

And the three sailors continue to dance and sing, and at each couplet,
the others, inside, take up the refrain:

"Oh! He set out with the wind behind him,
He'll find it harder coming back."

The windows of our carriage rattle with it. This air, which never
changes and is repeated over and over again for some six miles of our
journey, is a very ancient air of France, so old and so young, of so
frank a gaiety and so good a quality, that in a very few minutes we too
are singing it with the rest.

How beautiful Brittany looks, beautiful and rejuvenated and green, in
the June sunshine!

We poor followers of the sea, when we find spring in our path, rejoice
in it more than other people, on account of the sequestered life we lead
in the wooden monasteries. It was eight years since Yves had seen a
Breton spring, and we both had long grown weary of the winter, and of
that eternal summer which in other parts reigns resplendent over the
great blue sea; and these green fields, these soft perfumes, all this
charm of June which words cannot describe held us entranced.

Life still holds hours that are worth the living, hours of youth and
forgetfulness. Away with all melancholy dreams, all the morbid fancies
of long-faced poets! It is good to sail, in the face of the wind, in the
company of the most lighthearted among the children of the earth. Health
and youth comprise all there is of truth in the world, with simple and
boisterous merriment and the songs of sailors!

And we continued to travel very quickly and very erratically, zigzagging
over the road among these crowds of people, between very tall hawthorns
forming green hedges, and under the tufted vault of the trees.

And presently Brest appeared, with its great solemn air, its great
granite ramparts, its great grey walls, on which also grass and pink
foxgloves were growing. It was as it were intoxicated, this mournful
town, at having by chance a real summer's day, an evening clear and
warm; it was full of noise and movement and people, of white
head-dresses and sailors singing.


5_th July_, 1881.

_At Sea._--We are returning from the Channel. The _Sèvre_ is proceeding
very slowly in a thick fog, blowing every now and then its whistle which
sounds like a cry of distress in this damp shroud which envelops us. The
grey solitudes of the sea are all about us and we feel them without
seeing them. It seems as if we were dragging with us long veils of
darkness; we long to break through them; we are oppressed as it were to
feel that we have been so long enclosed within them, and the impression
grows that this curtain is immense, infinite, that it stretches for
league on league without end, in the same dull greyness, in the same
watery atmosphere. And then there is the endless roll of the waters,
slow, smooth, regular, patient, exasperating. It is as if great polished
and shining backs heaved and pushed us with their shoulders, raising us
up and letting us fall.

Suddenly in the evening the fog lifts and there appears before us a dark
thing, surprising, unexpected, like a tall phantom emerging from the

"Ar Men Du (the Black Rocks)!" says our old Breton pilot.

And, at the same time, the veil is rent all round us. Ushant appears:
all its dark rocks, all its reefs are outlined in dark grey, beaten by
high-flung showers of white foam, under a sky which seems as heavy as a
globe of lead.

Immediately we straighten our course, and taking advantage of the
clearing, the _Sèvre_ stands in for Brest, whistling no longer, but
hastening and with every hope of reaching port. But the curtain slowly
closes again and falls. We can see no longer, darkness comes, and we
have to stand out for the open sea.

And for three long days we continue thus, unable to see anything. Our
eyes are weary with watching.

This is my last voyage on the _Sèvre_, which I am due to leave as soon
as we reach Brest. Yves, with his Breton superstition, sees something
unnatural in this fog, which persists in midsummer as if to delay my

It seems to him a warning and a bad omen.


BREST, 9_th July_, 1881.

We reach port at last, however, and this is my last day of duty on
board. I disembark to-morrow.

We are in the heart of the Brest docks, where the _Sèvre_ comes from
time to time to rest between two high walls. High gloomy-looking
buildings overlook us; around us courses of native rock support the
ramparts, a roundway, a whole heavy pile of granite, oozing sadness and
humidity. I know all these things by heart.

And as we are now in July there are foxgloves, and tufts of silenes
clinging here and there to the grey stones. These red plants growing on
the walls strike a note of summer in this sunless Brest.

I have a kind of pleasure, nevertheless, in going away. This Brittany
always causes me, in spite of everything, a melancholy sense of
oppression; I feel it now, and when I think of the novelty and the
unknown which await me, it seems to me that I am about to awaken with
the passing of a kind of night. . . . Whither shall I be sent? Who
knows? In what particular corner of the earth shall I have to
acclimatize myself to-morrow? No doubt in some country of the sun where
I shall become another person altogether, with different senses, and
where I shall forget, alas! the beloved things I am now about to leave
behind me.

But my poor Yves and my little Pierre, I shall not part from either of
them without a pang.

Poor Yves, who has so often himself had to be treated like a spoilt and
capricious child, it is he now, at the hour of my departure, who
surrounds me with a thousand kind attentions, almost childlike, at a
loss to know what he can do to show sufficiently his affection. And this
attitude in him has the greater charm, because it is not in his ordinary

The time we have just passed together, in a daily fraternal intimacy,
has not been without its storms. He still deserved in some degree,
unfortunately, the epithets "undisciplined, uncontrollable," inscribed
long ago in his sailor's pay-book; but he had improved very much, and,
if I had been able to keep him near me, I should have saved him.

After dinner we came up on deck for our usual evening promenade.

I say for a last time:

"Yves, make me a cigarette."

And we begin our regular little walk up and down the wooden deck of the
_Sèvre._ We know by heart all the little hollows where the water
collects, all the angle blocks in which one's feet may be caught, all
the rings over which one may stumble.

The sky is overcast for our last walk together, the moon hidden, and the
air damp. In the distance, from the direction of Recouvrance, come as
usual the eternal songs of the sailors.

We speak of many things. I give Yves much advice, and he, very
submissive, makes many promises; and it is very late when he leaves me
to seek his hammock.

At noon on the following day, my trunks scarcely packed and many visits
unpaid, I am at the station with Yves and my friends of the wardroom who
have come to see me off. I shake hands with them all, I think even that
I embrace them, and then I depart.

A little before dark I reach Toulven, where I propose to stop for a
couple of hours to make my adieux.

How green it is and decked with flowers, this Toulven, this fresh and
shady region, the most delightful in Brittany!

There I find them waiting for me to cut little Pierre's hair. The idea
that anyone would entrust me with such a task had never occurred to me.
They told me "that I was the only one who could keep him quiet." The
previous week, they had brought in the barber from Toulven, and little
Pierre had made such a fuss that the first thing the scissors did was to
cut his little ears; and it had been necessary to abandon the project. I
made the attempt, however, in order to please them, hard put to it not
to laugh.

Then when I had done, the notion came to me to keep one of the little
brown curls which I had cut off, and I took it away with me, surprised
that I should set so much store by it.


_A Letter from Yves_

"On board the _Sèvre_, Lisbon,
"1_st August_, 1881.

"DEAR BROTHER,--I am sending you this short letter in reply on the same
day that I have received yours. I write in haste and am taking advantage
of the luncheon hour. I am on the stand of the main mast.

"We put into Lisbon yesterday evening. Dear brother, we have had very
bad weather this time; we have lost our head sails, the mizzen and the
whaler. I may tell you also, that, in the heavy rolling of the ship, my
kit-bag and my locker have disappeared, and all my possessions with
them; I have suffered a loss of nearly a hundred francs in this way.

"You asked me what I did on the Sunday, a fortnight ago. My good
brother, I remained quietly on board and finished reading 'Capitaine
Fracasse.' And, since your departure, I have only been ashore once, on
Sunday last; and I was very sober, for in the first place, I had sent
home the whole of my month's money; I had drawn sixty-nine francs and
sent sixty-five of them to my wife.

"I have had news from Toulven and it is all good. Little Pierre is very
sharp and he can now run about very well. Only he is very naughty when
he gets _his little sea-gull mood on him_, like me, you know; from what
his mother says, he upsets everything he can get hold of. The walls of
our house are already more than six feet above ground; I shall be very
happy when it is quite finished, and especially when I see you installed
in your little room.

"Dear brother, you bid me think of you often; I assure you that never an
hour passes in which I do not think of you, and often many times in the
hour. Besides, now, you understand, I have no longer anyone to talk to
in the evening--and sometimes I have no cigarettes.

"I cannot tell you when we are leaving here, but please write to me at
Oran. I hear we shall be paid at Oran, so that we may be able to go
ashore and buy tobacco.

"I end, my dear brother, in embracing you with all my heart.

"Your affectionate brother who loves you. Ever yours,


"P.S.--If I have enough money at Oran, I will lay in a large supply of
tobacco, and, especially for you, of that sort which is like the Turkish
tobacco, which you are fond of smoking.

"The Captain has given me for you a table-napkin, the last you used on
board. I have washed it, and, in doing so, I have torn it a little.

"As regards the manuscript book you gave me for writing my notes, that
too was spoilt by the storm and I have laid it aside.

"Dear brother, I embrace you again with all my heart,


"P.S.--On board, things are just the same and the Captain has not
changed his habit of insisting on the tidiness of the deck. There was a
great dispute between him and the lieutenant, once more about the
_cacatois_, you know. But they were good friends again, afterwards.

"I have also to tell you that in seven or eight months, I think we shall
have another little child. A thing, however, which does not altogether
please me, for I think it is a little too soon.

"Your brother,



I was in the Near East when these little letters of Yves reached me;
they brought me, in their simplicity, the already far-off perfume of the
Breton country.

My memories of Brittany were fading fast. Even now I seemed to see them
as through a mist of dreamland; the reefs I had known so well, the
lights on the coast, Cape Finistère with its great dark rocks; and the
dangerous approaches to Ushant on winter evenings, and the west wind
blowing under a mournful sky, in the fall of December nights. From where
I was now, it all seemed a vision of a sunless country.

And the poor little cottage at Toulven! How small it seemed, lost at the
side of a Breton lane! But it was the region of deep beech woods, of
grey rocks, of lichens and mosses; of old granite chapels and
high-growing grass speckled with red flowers. Here, sand and white
minarets under a vault surpassingly blue, and sunshine, eternal,
enchanting sunshine!


_Another Letter from Yves_

"BREST, 10_th September_, 1881.

"MY DEAR BROTHER,--I have to tell you that our _Sèvre_ is being
disarmed; we handed her over yesterday to the authorities at the docks;
and, I can assure you, I am not very grieved about it.

"I reckon on remaining for some time on shore, in the neighbourhood;
also (since our little house is not very far advanced, as you will
understand) my wife has come to live with me in Brest until it is
finished. I think you will agree, dear brother, that we have done the
right thing. This time we have taken rooms almost in the country, at
Recouvrance, on the way to Pontaniou.

"Dear brother, I have to tell you that little Pierre was taken ill with
colic as a result of eating too many berries in the woods, on that last
Sunday when we were at Toulven; but he got over it. He is becoming a
dear little chap, and I spend hours playing with him. In the evening all
three of us go for a walk together; we never go out now unless we go
together, and when one returns the other two return also!

"Dear brother, if only you were back in Brest, I should have everything
I want; and you would see me now as I am, and you would be very pleased
with me; for never have I been so peaceful.

"I should like to go away with you again, my dear brother, and to find
myself on a ship bound for the Levant where I might find you. This is
not to say that I do not want to continue the life I am now living, for
I assure you I do. But that is not possible, because I am too happy.

"I end in embracing you with all my heart. Little Pierre sends his love;
my wife and all my relations at Toulven ask to be remembered to you.
They look forward to seeing you and I can promise you so do I.

"Your brother,



TOULVEN, _October_, 1881.

Pale Brittany once more in autumn sunshine! Once more the old Breton
lanes, the beech trees and the heather! I thought I had said good-bye to
this country for many a long day, and coming back to it I am filled with
a strange melancholy. My return has been sudden, unexpected, as the
returns and the departures of sailors so often are.

A fine October day, a warm sun, a thin white mist spread like a veil
over the countryside. All about is that immense peace which is peculiar
to the fine days of autumn; in the air a savour of dampness and of
fallen leaves, a pervading sense of the dying year. I am in the
well-known woods of Trémeulé, on the height overlooking all the region
of Toulven. Below me, the lake, motionless under this floating mist,
and, in the distance, wooded horizons, as they must have been in the
ancient days of Gaul.

And those who are with me, sitting among the thousand little flowerets
of the heather, are my Breton friends, my brother Yves and little
Pierre, his son.

It has become in some sort my own country, this Toulven. A few short
years ago it was unknown to me, and Yves, for all that even then I
called him brother, scarcely counted for me. The aspects of life change,
things happen, are transformed, and pass.

The heather is so thick that, in the distance, it looks as if the ground
were covered with a reddish carpet. The tardy scabious are still in
flower, on the top of their long stalks; and the first of the heavy
rains have already littered the earth with dead leaves.

It was true, what Yves had written to me; he had become very steady. He
had just been taken on board one of the ships in the Brest roadstead,
which seemed to assure for him a stay of two years in his native
country. Marie, his wife, was installed near him in the suburb of
Recouvrance, waiting for the little house at Toulven, which was growing
slowly, with very thick and solid walls, in the manner of olden times.
She had welcomed my unexpected return as a blessing from heaven; for my
presence in Brest, near them, reassured her greatly.

That Yves should have become so steady, and so suddenly, when so far as
one could see there was no decisive circumstance to account for the
change in him, was a thing scarcely to be believed! And Marie, in
confirming her happiness to me, did so very timidly; she spoke of it as
one speaks of unstable, fugitive things, with a fear lest their mere
expression in words should break the spell and frighten them away.


And then one day the demon of alcohol crossed their path again. Yves
came in with the sullen troubled look Marie had such cause to dread.

It was a Sunday in October. He arrived from his ship, where he had been
ordered to irons, so he said; and he had escaped because it was unjust.
He seemed very exasperated; his blue jersey was torn and his shirt open.

She spoke soothingly to him, trying to calm him. It so happened that the
day was beautifully fine; it was one of those rare days of late autumn
which have an exquisite and peaceful melancholy, which are as it were a
last resting place of summer before the winter comes. She had on her
best dress and her embroidered collarette, and had dressed little Pierre
in all his finery, thinking they would all three go for a walk together
in the soft sunshine. In the street, couples passed, in their Sunday
clothes, making their way along the roads or into the woods as in the

But no, it was not to be; Yves had pronounced the terrifying phrase she
knew so well: "I am going to find my friends!" It was all over!

Then, almost distracted with grief, she had ventured on an extreme
measure: while he was looking out of the window, she had shut and locked
the door and hidden the key in her bodice. And he, who knew very well
what she had done, turned round and said, hanging his head, his eyes

"Open the door! Open it! Do you hear me? I tell you to open the door."

He went and shook the door on its hinges; something restrained him yet
from breaking it--which he could have done without any trouble. And
then, no; he would make his wife, who had locked it, come and open it

And he walked up and down the room, with the air of a wild beast,

"Open the door! Do you hear me? I tell you to open it."

The joyous sounds of the Sunday came up from the street. Women in wide
head-dresses passed on the arm of their husbands or their lovers. The
autumn sun illumined them with its tranquil light.

He stamped his foot and repeated again in a low voice:

"Open! I tell you to open!"

It was the first time she had attempted to retain him by force, and she
saw that she was succeeding badly and she was strangely afraid. Without
looking at him, she flung herself on her knees in a corner, and began to
pray, out loud and very quickly, like one possessed. It seemed to her
that she was approaching a terrible moment, that what was going to
happen was more dreadful than anything that had happened before. And
little Pierre, standing up, opened very wide his serious eyes, afraid
also, but not understanding.

"You won't? You won't open it for me? . . . I will break it, then! You
will see!"

There was a thud on the floor, then a heavy, horrible sound. Yves had
fallen from his full height. The handle by which he had seized the door
remained in his hand, broken, and he had been thrown backwards on his
son, whose little head had struck against the corner of an iron fire-dog
in the fireplace.

And then there was a sudden change. Marie ceased her praying. She got
up, her eyes dilated and wild, and snatched her little Pierre from the
hands of Yves, who was attempting to raise him. He had fallen without a
cry, overcome at being hurt by his father. Blood trickled from his
forehead and he uttered no word. Marie pressed him close to her breast,
took the key from her bodice, unlocked the door with one hand and threw
it wide open. . . . Yves watched her, frightened in his turn; she shrank
away from him, crying:

"Go! Go! Go!"

Poor Yves! He hesitated now to pass out! He was trying to understand
what had happened. This door which had now been opened for him, he had
no longer use for it; he had a vague notion that this threshold was
going, in some way, to be a fatal one to cross. And then, this blood he
saw on the face of his little son and on his little collar. . . . Yes he
wanted to know what had happened, to come near to them. He passed his
hand over his forehead, feeling that he was drunk, making a great effort
to understand what the matter was . . . God! No, he could not; he
understood nothing. Drink, the friends who were waiting for him below,
that was all.

She repeated once more, her son clasped close to her heart:

"Go! Go, I tell you!"

Then turning about he went downstairs and out.


"Hello! Is that you, Kermadec."

"Yes, Monsieur Kerjean."

"And on French leave, I bet?"

"Yes, Monsieur Kerjean."

So much indeed might have been guessed from his appearance.

"And so, I understand you are married, Yves? Someone from Paimpol, that
big fellow Lisbatz, I think, told me you were a family man."

Yves shrugged his shoulders with a movement of bad-tempered
carelessness, and said:

"If you are looking for men. Monsieur Kerjean . . . it will suit me very
well to join your ship."

It was not the first time that this Captain Kerjean had enrolled a
deserter. He understood. He knew how to take them and afterwards how to
manage them. His ship, _la Belle-Rose_, which sailed under the American
flag, was leaving on the following day for California. Yves was
acceptable to him; he was indeed an excellent acquisition to a crew such
as his.

The two moved aside and discussed, in a low voice, their treaty of

This took place in the Mercantile docks, on the morning of the second
day after he had left his home.

The day before he had been to Recouvrance, skirting the walls, in an
attempt to get news of his little Pierre. From a distance, he had seen
him looking out of the window at the people passing below, with a little
bandage round his head. And then he had returned on his tracks,
sufficiently reassured, in the half-muddled condition of drunkenness in
which he still was; he had returned on his tracks to "go and find his

On this morning he had awakened at daybreak, in a hangar on the quay
where his _friends_ had left him. His drunkenness had now passed,
completely passed. The fine October weather continued, fresh and pure;
things wore their customary aspects, as if nothing had happened, and his
first thoughts were thoughts of tenderness for his son and for Marie;
and he was on the point of rising and going back to them and asking them
to forgive him. Some minutes passed before he realized the extent of his
misfortune, realized that all was over, that he was lost. . . .

For how could he go back to them now? It was impossible! For very shame
he could not.

Besides, he had escaped from the ship after being ordered to irons and,
since, had absented himself for three whole days. These were not matters
easily dismissed. And then to take once more those same resolutions,
taken twenty times before, to make once more those same promises, to say
once more those same words of repentance. . . . It did not bear thinking
on. He smiled bitterly in self-pity and disgust.

And then again his wife had bidden him to "go!" He remembered that
vividly, and her look of hate, as she showed him the door. No matter
that he had deserved it a thousand times, he could never forgive her
that, he who was so used to being lord and master. She had driven him
away. So be it then, he had gone, he was following his destiny, she
would never see him again.

This backsliding was all the more repugnant to him, in that it followed
upon this period of decent peace during which he had caught a glimpse of
and begun to realize a higher life; and this return to misery seemed to
him a thing decisive and fatal. He observed now that he was covered with
dust and mud and filth of other sort, and he began to dust himself,
raising his head, and gradually assuming an expression of grimness and

That he should have fallen like a senseless brute on his little son and
injured his poor little forehead! He became to himself a miserable,
repulsive thing at the thought of it.

He began to break with his hands the sides of a wooden box which lay
near him, and under his breath, after an instinctive glance round to see
that he was alone, he called himself, with a bitter, mocking smile, vile
names such as sailors use.

Now he was on his feet, looking determined and dangerous.

To desert! If he could join some ship and get away at once! There should
be one in the docks; in fact that day there were many. Yes, he would
desert at any price and disappear for ever!

His decision had been taken with an implacable resolve. He walked
towards where the ships lay, his shoulders well back, his head high, the
Breton self-will in his half-closed eyes, in his frowning brows.

He said to himself: "I am worthless, I know it, I always knew it, and
they had far better let me go my ways. I have done my best, but I am
what I am and it is not my fault."

And he was right perhaps: _it was not his fault._ As he was now he was
not responsible; he yielded to mysterious influences which had their
origin in the remote past and came to him with his blood; he was a
victim of the law of heredity working through a whole family, a whole


At two o'clock on this same day on which he had concluded his bargain
with Captain Kerjean, Yves, having bought some ordinary seaman's
clothes, and changed clandestinely in a tavern on the quay, went on
board the _Belle-Rose._

He went all over the ship, which was badly kept and had aspects of
primitive roughness, but which nevertheless seemed a stout and handy
vessel, built for speed and the hazards of the sea.

Compared with the ships of the navy it looked small, short, and, above
all, empty; an air of abandonment with scarce a soul on board; even at
anchor this kind of solitude struck a chill to the heart. Three or four
rough-looking seamen lounged about the deck; they composed the whole
crew, and were about to become, for some years perhaps, Yves' only

They began by staring at one another before speaking.

Throughout the day the fine weather continued, warm and peaceful; a sort
of melancholy summer persisting into the autumn and bringing with it a
kind of tranquillity. And on Yves, too, his decision irrevocably taken,
a calm descended.

They showed him his little locker, but he had scarcely anything to put
in it. He washed himself in cold water, adjusted his new clothes, with
an air of something like vanity; he wore no longer the livery of the
state which he had often found so irksome; he felt at ease, freed from
all the bonds of the past, almost as much as by death itself. He began
to rejoice in his independence.

On the following morning, with the tide, the _Belle-Rose_ was going to
put off. Yves scented the ocean, the life of the sea which was about to
commence in the new fashion so long desired. For years this idea of
deserting had obsessed him in a strange way, and now it was a thing
accomplished. The decision he had taken raised him in his own eyes; he
grew bigger as he felt himself outside the law; he was no longer
ashamed, now that he was a deserter, of presenting himself before his
wife; he even told himself that he would have the coinage to go to her
that very night, before he went away, if only to take her the money he
had received.

At certain moments, when the face of little Pierre passed before his
eyes, his heart ached horribly; it seemed to him that this ship, silent
and empty, was as it were a bier on which he was about to be carried
living to his grave; he almost choked, tears welled into his eyes, but
he checked them in time, with his strong will, by thinking of something
else; and quickly he began to talk to his new-found friends. They
discussed the method of manœuvring the ship with so small a crew, and
the working of the large pulleys which had been multiplied everywhere to
replace the arms of men, and which, so Yves thought, made the gear of
the _Belle-Rose_ unduly heavy.

In the evening, when it was dark, he went to Recouvrance and climbed
noiselessly to his door.

He listened first before opening it; there was no sound. He entered

A lamp was burning on the table. His son was alone, asleep. He leaned
over his wicker cradle, which had the scent of a bird's nest, and placed
his lips very gently on those of his child in order to feel once more
his soft breathing. Then he sat down near him and remained still, so
that his face might be calm again when his wife should enter.


Marie had seen him coming, and climbed the stairs after him, trembling.

In the last two days she had had time to consider in all its aspects the
misfortune which had come upon them.

She had shrunk from questioning the other sailors, as the poor wives of
absentees commonly do, to ascertain from them whether Yves had returned
to his ship. She knew nothing of him, and she was waiting, prepared for
the worst.

Perhaps he would not come back; she was prepared for that as for
everything else, and was surprised that she could think of it with so
much calmness. In that case her plans were made; she would not return to
Toulven, for fear of seeing their partly built house, for fear also of
hearing the name of her husband execrated daily in the home of her
parents, to which she would have to go. Not to Toulven; but to the
country of Goëlo, where there was an old woman who resembled Yves, and
whose features suddenly assumed for her an infinite kindliness. It was
at her door she would knock. She would be indulgent to him, for she was
his mother. They would be able to speak without hatred of the absent
one; they would live there, the two deserted women, together, and watch
over little Pierre, uniting their efforts to keep him, their last hope,
with them, so that he at least should not be a sailor.

And it seemed to her, too, that if one day, after many years perhaps,
Yves, the deserter, should return seeking those who belonged to him it
was to that little corner of the world, to Plouherzel, that he would

The night before, she had had a strange dream of Yves' return; it seemed
to her that many years had passed and that she was already old. Yves
arrived at the cottage in Plouherzel in the evening; he too was old,
altered, wretched. He came asking forgiveness. Behind him Goulven and
Gildas entered, and _another Yves_, taller than them all, with hair
quite white, trailing behind him long fringes of seaweed.

The old mother received them with her stern face. In a voice infinitely
sad she asked:

"How comes it that they are all here? My husband was lost at sea more
than sixty years ago. . . . Goulven is in America. . . . Gildas in his
grave in the cemetery. . . . How comes it that they are all here?"

Then Marie awoke in fear, understanding that she had been surrounded by
the dead.

But this evening Yves had returned alive and young; she had recognized
in the darkness of the street his tall figure and active step. At the
thought that she was going to see him again and to determine her lot,
all her courage and all her plans had deserted her. She trembled more
and more as she ascended the staircase. . . . Perhaps after all he had
simply passed the last two days on board and was now returning in the
ordinary way. Perhaps they would settle down once more. . . . She paused
on the stairs and prayed God that this might be true, a quick, heartfelt

When she opened the door, he was indeed there, sitting by the cradle and
looking at his sleeping son.

Poor little Pierre was sleeping peacefully, the bandage still on his
forehead where the fire-iron had cut it.

As soon as she entered, pale, her heart beating so violently as almost
to hurt her, she saw at once that Yves had not been drinking: he raised
his eyes to her and his gaze was clear; but he lowered them quickly
again and remained bent over his son.

"Is he much hurt?" he asked in an undertone, slowly, with a calmness
that surprised and frightened her.

"No, I have been to the doctor for the dressing. He says that it will
not leave a mark. He did not cry at all."

They remained there, silent, one before the other, he still sitting near
the little cradle, she standing, white-faced and trembling. There was no
ill-will between them now; perhaps they loved each other still; but now
the irreparable was accomplished and it was too late. She looked at the
clothes he wore, which she had never seen him in before: a black woollen
jersey and a cloth cap. Why these clothes? And this little parcel near
him on the floor, out of which the end of a blue collar peeped? It
seemed to contain his sailor's effects, put aside for ever, as if the
real Yves was dead.

She found courage to ask:

"The other day, did you return to the ship?"

There was silence again. She was conscious of a growing anxiety.

"During the last three days, you have not returned?"


Then she did not dare to speak again, fearing to hear the dreadful
truth; trying to prolong the minutes, even these minutes compact of
uncertainty and anguish, because he was still there, before her, perhaps
for the last time.

At last the poignant question fell from her lips:

"What are you going to do then?"

And he, in a low voice, simply, with the calmness of an unalterable
resolve, let fall the fatal word:


Desert! . . . Yes, she had divined it only too well in the last few
moments, when she saw his altered clothing, and this little parcel of
sailor's kit carefully folded in a handkerchief.

She recoiled under the weight of the word, supporting herself with her
hands against the wall behind her, almost choking. Deserter! Yves! lost!
The thought of Goulven, his brother, passed through her mind, and of
distant seas from which sailors never return. And, feeling her
helplessness against this fate which crushed her, she remained silent,
utterly overwhelmed.

Yves began to speak to her very kindly, pointing with sorrowful calm to
the little parcel which he had brought.

"I want you, my poor Marie, to-morrow, when my ship has left, to send
that on board, you understand. You never can tell! . . . If I am caught
. . . It is always more serious to take away the property of the State!
And this is the advance payment they have given me. . . . You will
return to Toulven. . . . Oh! I will send you money, all I earn; you
know, I shall not want much myself. We shall not see each other again,
but you will not be too unfortunate . . . as long as I live."

She wanted to throw her arms round him, to hold him with all her
strength, to struggle, to cling to him when he was going away, if needs
be to let herself be dragged down the staircase, and even into the
street. . . . But no, something held her bound where she stood: first
the knowledge that all that she might do could be of no avail, and then
a sense of dignity, there, where their son lay asleep. . . . And she
remained against the wall, without a movement.

He had placed two hundred francs in large silver pieces on the table
near him. They represented the payment that had been made to him in
advance, all that remained of it, after he had paid for his clothes. He
looked at her now very thoughtfully, very kindly, and with his woollen
sleeve brushed off some tears that were rolling down his cheeks.

But he had nothing more to say to her. And now the last minute had come
and all was over.

He bent again for a last time over his little son, then straightened
himself and got up to go.


And the Celts mourned three barren rocks under a lowering sky, in the
heart of a gulf dotted with islets.


The Coral Sea! At the Antipodes of our old world. Nothing but blue
anywhere. Around the ship which proceeds slowly, the infinite blue
spreads its perfect circle. The surface shines and glitters under the
eternal sun.

Yves is there, alone, carried high in the air in a thing which
oscillates slowly; he passes, in his top.

He gazes, with unseeing eyes at the limitless circle; he is as it were
dazed with space and light. His expressionless eyes come to rest at
hazard, for, everywhere, all is alike.

Everywhere, all is alike. . . . It is the great blind, unconscious
splendour of things which men believe have been made for them. Over the
surface of the waters pass life-giving breezes which no one breathes;
warmth and light are poured out in abundance; all the sources of life
are open on the silent solitudes of the sea and fill them with a strange

The surface shines and glitters under the eternal sun. The great blaze
of noon falls into the blue desert in a useless and wasted magnificence.

Presently Yves thinks he can discern in the distance a trail less blue,
and his attention, which just now wandered idly over the sparkling and
tranquil monotony, is concentrated upon it: it is no doubt the sea
breaking into foam over the whiteness of coral, breaking on isles
unknown, level with the water, which no map has yet shown.

How far away is Brittany--and the green lanes of Toulven--and his little

Yves has come out of his dream, and is watching, his hand shading his
eyes, that distant trail which still shows white.

He does not look like a deserter, for he is wearing still the blue
collar of the navy.

Now he can distinguish the breakers and the coral quite clearly, and he
leans over a little in the air, and calls out to those below: "Reefs on
the port bow."

No, Yves has not deserted, for the ship he is on is the warship

He has not deserted, for he is still with me, and when he announced from
aloft the approach of the reefs it was I who climbed up to him in his
top, to reconnoitre with him.

At Brest on that unhappy day when he had decided to leave us, I had seen
him pass in common seaman's garb, carrying his sailor's kit so neatly
folded in a handkerchief, and I had followed him at a distance as far as
Recouvrance. I had let Marie enter and then I had entered too, after
them; and as he came out he had found me waiting outside his door,
barring his passage with my outspread arms--as, once before, at Toulven.
Only this time it was not merely a matter of checking a childish
caprice; I was about to engage in a supreme struggle with him.

And long and cruel the struggle was, and there was a moment when I
almost lost heart and abandoned him to the gloomy destiny which was
carrying him away. And then, abruptly, it had ended. Tears came to save
him, tears that had been wanting to come for the last two days--but
could not, so little used were his eyes to this form of weakness. Then
we put little Pierre, who had just awakened, on his knee; his little
Pierre bore him no ill-will at all, but put his arms straightway round
his neck. And Yves, at last, had said to me:

"Very well, brother, I will do anything you tell me to do. But, no
matter what, you must see now that I am done for. . . ."

His case was indeed very serious and I did not know myself what course
to take: it was a sort of rebellion, to have escaped from the ship after
having been sentenced to irons, and then to have absented himself for
three days! I had been tempted to say to them, after I had made them
embrace: "Desert both of you, all three of you, my dear friends; for it
is too late now to do anything better. Let Yves go away on the
_Belle-Rose_ and do you go and join him in America."

But no, that was too desperate a remedy, to abandon for ever their
Breton land, and the little house at Toulven, and their old parents!

So, trembling a little at my responsibility, I had taken the contrary
decision: to return that very evening the advance already received, to
free Yves from the hands of this Captain Kerjean, and, when morning
came, as soon as the port should open, to hand him over to the naval
authorities. Anxious days had followed, days of applications and of
waiting, and at last, with much leniency and kindness, the matter had
been settled in this way: a month in irons and six months' suspension
from the rating of petty officer, with return to the pay of a simple

That is how my poor Yves, embarked once more with me on this
_Primauguet_, finds himself back in the crow's nest, again a topman as
before, and performing the rough work he knew of old.

Standing, both of us, on the yard of the foresail, our bodies swung out
into the void, with one hand shading our eyes, with the other holding on
to the cordage, we watched together, in the distance of the resplendent
blue solitudes, the white line of breakers growing ever more distinct;
the continuous noise they made was like the distant sound of a church
organ in the midst of the silence of the sea.

It was in fact a large coral island which no navigator had hitherto
discovered; it had risen slowly from the depths below; century after
century it had put forth patiently its branches of stone; even now it
was only an immense crown of white foam, making, amid the infinite calm
of the sea, the noise of a living thing, a kind of mysterious and
eternal murmuring.

Everywhere else the blue expanse was uniform, safe, deep, infinite; we
could proceed on our way without misgiving.

"You have won _the double_, brother," I said to Yves.

I meant: the double ration of wine at dinner. On board, this _double_ is
the usual recompense for a sailor who has been the first to sight land
or to announce a danger--or for him who catches a rat without the
help of a trap--or even for him who has turned himself out more smartly
than the others for the Sunday inspection.

Yves smiled, but with the air of one who suddenly has a sombre thought.

"You know very well that now wine and I . . . But that's no matter, I
can give it to the topmen at my table. They will drink it willingly

It was the fact that since the day when he had pushed little Pierre
against the fire-irons in the grate, far away, in Brest, he had drunk
only water. He had sworn this on the poor little wounded head, and it
was the first solemn oath of his life.

We were talking together, in the pure virgin air, among the loosely
hanging sails, which looked very white in the sun, when the sound of a
whistle came from below, a quite distinctive whistle which meant in
nautical language: "The leader of the foresail top is wanted below. Let
him come down quickly!"

It was Yves who was leader of the foresail top; he descended in great
haste to see what was wanted of him. The second-in-command had asked to
see him in his room; and I knew very well why.

In the remote and tranquil seas in which we were cruising the sailors
became rather hazy about the seasons, the months and the days; they lost
the sense of the passage of time in the monotony of the days.

And in fact summer and winter had lost their qualities; they were no
longer recognizable, for the climate was different. Nor did the things
of nature serve now to mark them out. There was always this infinity of
water, always this wooden house in which we dwelt, and, in the spring,
there came no touch of green.

Yves had resumed without difficulty his former occupation, his habits of
topman, his life in the crow's nest, well-nigh naked, exposed to wind
and sun, with his knife and his "mooring." He had ceased to count the
days because they were all alike, merged one into another by the
regularity of the watches, by the alternation of a sun that was always
hot with nights that were always clear. He had accepted this time of
exile without measuring it.

But to-day was the day when his six months of punishment expired; and
the captain had to tell him to take back his stripes, his silver whistle
and his authority as petty officer. He did so with much cordiality and
shook him by the hand; for Yves, while his punishment had lasted, had
shown himself exemplary in conduct and courage and no top had ever been
kept like his.

Yves came back to me with a broad smile of happiness:

"Why didn't you tell me it was to-day?"

He had been promised that, if he went on as he was going, his punishment
would soon be quite forgotten. Clearly, the oath he had taken on the
wounded head of his little Pierre, at the end of that dreadful evening,
was succeeding beyond his hope.


The afternoon of the same day. Yves is in my room, busy putting his
stripes on his sleeves, in haste to finish before darkness falls,
looking comical as always, with his big air of sea-rover, when he is
engaged in sewing.

They are not very elegant, his poor clothes; they show signs of hard
wear. For he was not rich when he left Brest with his reduced pay; and,
so as not to break into his allowance, he had refrained from drawing too
many things from the store. But they are so clean, the little woollen
stripes are so neatly placed one above the other, on each forearm and on
the bottom of each sleeve, that he will pass muster very well. These new
stripes give them even a certain lustre of youth. Besides, Yves looks
well in anything; and then, too, one wears very little clothing on
board, and as he will put them on but rarely, they will certainly serve
him until the end of the voyage. As for money, Yves has none; he has
forgotten even the use and value of it, as often happens to sailors--for
he allots to his wife, at Brest, his pay and his stripe-money, all that
he earns.

By the time it is dark, his work is finished. He carefully folds his
coat and then sweeps away the little ends of thread which he has let
fall on the floor. Then he informs himself very exactly of the month and
the date, lights a candle, and begins to write.

"AT SEA, ON BOARD THE _Primauguet_,

"23_rd April_, 1882.

"MY DEAR WIFE,--I am writing these few words in advance to-day in M.
Pierre's room. I will post them next month when we touch at the Hawaii
Islands (a country . . . but I don't suppose you will know where it is).

"I want to tell you that I have recovered my stripes to-day and that you
may set your mind at rest, I shall not lose them again; I have sewn them
on _very tight_ this time.

"Dear wife, this reminds me that it is only six months since we parted,
and that it will be a long time yet before we see each other again. But
I assure you that I should dearly love to be back for a time at Toulven,
to give you a hand in getting our house ready; and yet, it is not simply
for that, you know, but above all, to spend some time with you, and to
see our little Pierre running about. They will have to give me a long
leave when we return, at least fifteen or twenty days; indeed I do not
think twenty will be enough and I shall ask for as many as thirty.

"Dear Marie, I can tell you, however, that I am very happy on board,
especially because I have been able to embark with M. Pierre. It is what
I had hoped for for a very long time. It has been a very fine voyage and
a very economical one for me who have need to save a lot of money as you
know. Perhaps I may get another promotion before we disembark, seeing
that I am on very good terms with all the officers.

"I have also to tell you that the flying fish . . ."

Crack! On deck someone whistles: "Aloft everyone!" Yves hurries away;
and no one has ever heard the end of the story of the flying fish.

He has preserved with his wife his childlike manner of being and
writing. With me, he is changed, he has become a new Yves, more complex,
more sophisticated than the Yves of old.


The night which follows is clear and exquisite. We are moving very
slowly, in the Coral sea, before a light, warm breeze, advancing with
precaution, in fear of encountering white islands, listening to the
silence, in fear of hearing the murmur of reefs.

From midnight to four o'clock in the morning, the time of the watch has
passed in vigil, amid the great, strange peace of the southern waters.

Everything is of a blue-green, of a blue of night, of a colour of
infinite depth; the moon, which at first sails high in the heaven,
throws little flickering reflections on the sea, as if everywhere, on
the immense empty plain, mysterious hands were agitating silently
thousands of little mirrors.

The half-hours pass one after another, undisturbed, the breeze steady,
the sails very lightly stretched. The sailors of the watch, in their
linen clothes, are asleep on the bare deck, in rows, all on the same
side, fitted in one with another, like rows of white mummies.

At each half-hour a bell rings, startlingly; and two voices come from
the bow of the ship, singing out one after the other, in a kind of slow
rhythm: "Keep a look out on the port bow!" says one. "Keep a look out on
the starboard bow!" replies the other. The noise is surprising,
producing the impression of a formidable clamour in all this silence;
and then the vibrations of the voices and of the bell die away and there
is no longer a sound.

Meanwhile the moon is slowly sinking and its blue light grows wan; it is
much nearer the water now and its reflection in it makes a long trail of

It becomes yellower, scarcely giving any light, like a dying lamp.

Slowly, it begins to get larger, disproportionately larger; then it
becomes red, loses its shape, and is swallowed up, strange, terrifying.
And then what one sees has no longer a name: on the horizon is a great
dull fire, blood-red. It is too large to be the moon, and, besides,
distant things now mass in front of it in large dark shadows; colossal
towers, toppling mountains, palaces, Babels!

One feels as it were a veil of darkness weighing upon the senses. There
comes to you an impression of apocalyptic cities, of clouds heavy with
blood, of suspended maledictions; a conception of gigantic horrors, of
chaotic destructions, of the end of the world. . . .

For a moment the mind has slept, involuntarily; and a waking dream has
come and gone, very quickly.

Mirage! And now it is over and the moon has set. There was nothing
beyond save the infinite sea and floating mists announcing the approach
of dawn; now that the moon is no longer behind them, they are not even
discernible. All has vanished and the darkness has returned, the real
darkness of night, clear and calm as ever.

They are far away from us, those countries of the Apocalypse: for we are
in the Coral Sea, on the other side of the world, and there is nothing
here but the immense circle, the limitless mirror of the waters. . . .

A signalman has gone to see the time by the chronometer. Out of
deference to the moon, he is going to note in the large register, always
open, which is the ship's log, the precise moment at which it set.

Then he comes to me and says:

"Captain, it is time to call the watch." My four hours of the night
watch are already finished, then, and the officer to relieve me will
shortly make his appearance.

I give the order:

"Master-gunners and loaders, call the watch!"[5]

Then, some of those who were sleeping on the deck, like white mummies,
get up and awaken some of the others; they move off in a group and go
below. And then, from the spar-deck, comes the sound of twenty voices,
singing one after the other--in the manner of glee-singing--a very
ancient air, at once joyous and mocking.

They sing:

"Have you heard, you larboard men, get up for the watch, get up, get up,
get up! . . . Have you heard, you larboard men, get up for the watch,
get up, get up, get up! . . ."

They move hither and thither, stooping under the suspended hammocks,
and, as they pass, shake the sleepers with thrusts of their powerful

And presently, inexorable, I give the order:

"Fall in on deck, the larboard watch!"

And they come up half-naked; there are some who yawn, others who stretch
themselves, who stumble. They line up in groups, while a man, with a
lantern, peers into their faces and counts them. The others who were
sleeping on deck go below and sleep in their place.

Yves has come up with the men of the larboard watch who have just been
awakened. I recognize at once his way of whistling which I had not heard
now for a year. And presently I recognize his voice which rings out in
command for the first time on the deck of the _Primauguet._

Then I call him very officially by the title which has just been
restored to him: "Master of the Watch."

It was only to shake him by the hand, to wish him good luck and good
night before I went to bed.

[Footnote 5: The regulation order. On board the crew is divided into a
number of groups, each forming a gun's crew. The master-gunner and the
loaders escort the men of their group and awaken those who replace them
for the watch.]


"Haul away there, Goulven!"

It was a difficult boarding. I had come, in a cutter from the
_Primauguet_, to examine a suspicious-looking whaling ship, which showed
no flag.

In the southern ocean, still; near the Isle of Tonga, and to windward of
it. The _Primauguet_ itself was anchored in a bay of the island, within
the line of reefs, in the shelter of a coral bank. The whaler lay
off-shore almost in the open sea, as if in readiness for flight, and the
swell was heavy about her.

I had been sent with a party to reconnoitre her, to "speak" to her as we
say in the navy.

"Haul away there, Goulven! Haul!"

I looked up at the man who was called Goulven; he was the one, who, on
the deck of the equivocal craft, held the rope which had just been
thrown to me. And I was struck by his face, by his familiar look: he was
another Yves, not so young, more sunburnt and more athletic
perhaps--harsher in feature, as one who had suffered more--but he was so
like him in the eyes, in the expression, that he looked to me like his

I had sometimes thought that we might come across this brother Goulven,
on one of these whaling boats which we found, now and then, in the
anchorages of the southern seas, and which we "spoke" to when we did not
like their look.

I went straight to him, without worrying about the captain, who was a
huge American, headed like a pirate, with a long, thick, seaweed-like
beard. I entered there as on conquered territory and etiquette mattered
little to me.

"So it's you, Goulven Kermadec?"

And I advanced towards him holding out my hand, so sure was I of his

But he, for his part, paled under his tan, and shrank back. He was

And I saw him, in an instinct of uncivilized man, clenching his fists,
stiffening his muscles, as if prepared to resist to the utmost, in a
desperate struggle.

Poor Goulven! The surprise of hearing me call him by his name--and then
my uniform--and the sixteen armed sailors who accompanied me, had been
too much for him. He thought that I had come in the name of the law of
France, to seize him, and, like Yves, he became exasperated under the
threat of force.

It took a minute or two to reassure him; and then when he was persuaded
that his _little brother_ had become mine, and that he was hard by, on
the warship from which I had come, he asked my pardon for his fear with
the same frank smile I knew so well in Yves.

It was a singular looking crew. The boat itself had the movements and
the appearance of a pirate-ship. Licked and fretted by the sea, during
the three years in which it had wandered in the swell of the great ocean
without having once touched any civilized country, but solid still, and
built for the seas' highways. In its shrouds, from bottom to top, on
each ratline, hung whale's fins, looking like long dark fringes. One
would have said that it had passed under the water and become covered
with seaweed.

Within, it was laden with the fats and oils from the bodies of all the
great beasts which they had slain. There was enough there to make a
small fortune, and the captain was reckoning on returning shortly to
America, to California where his home was.

A mixed crew: two Frenchmen, two Americans, three Spaniards, a German,
an Indian "boy," and a Chinese cook. In addition a Peruvian
_chola_--half-naked like the men--who was the wife of the captain and
was suckling a baby two months old conceived and born at sea.

The living quarters of this family, in the stern, had oak walls as thick
as ramparts, and doors barred with iron. Within was a veritable arsenal
of revolvers, knuckle-dusters, and life-preservers. Precautions had been
taken; if occasion arose one would be able there to stand a siege by the
whole crew.

For the rest, her papers were in order. She had not hoisted a flag for
the simple reason that she had not got one; beetles had eaten the last,
of which they showed me the rags to substantiate their excuse; it had
the American colours right enough, red and white stripes, with the
starred Jack. There was nothing to be said; everything was, in fact,

. . . Goulven asked me if I knew Plouherzel; and I told him how I had
slept one night under his mother's roof.

"And you," I said, "are you never going to return."

I could see that he was much moved.

"It is too late now. I should have my punishment to do for the State,
and I am married in California. I have two children in Sacramento."

"Will you come with me to see Yves?"

"Come with you?" he repeated darkly, in a low voice. He seemed
astonished at what I proposed to him. "Come with you? But you know . . .
I am a deserter?"

At this moment he was so like Yves, he said this so exactly as Yves
might have said it, that I felt a pang.

After all, I understood his fears of a man free and jealous of his
liberty; I respected his terrors of French territory--for the deck of a
warship is French territory--on board the _Primauguet._ We should have
the right to arrest him; that was the law.

"At any rate you would like to see him?"

"Like to see him! . . . My poor little Yves!"

"Very well, then, I will bring him to you. When he comes, all I ask of
you is that you will advise him to be steady. You understand . . .

It was he then who took my hand and pressed it in his.


I had accepted an invitation to dinner on the following day with the
captain of the whaler. We had got on famously together. His manners were
not those of polite society, but there was nothing vulgar or commonplace
about him. And besides it was the only way in which I could get Yves on
board his ship.

I half expected on the following morning, at daybreak, to find that the
whaler had disappeared, flown during the night like a wild bird. But no;
there it was in its position off-shore, with all its black fringes in
its shrouds, standing out against the great circular mirror of the
waters; which, on that morning, were motionless, and heavy, and
gleaming, like coulées of silver.

The invitation was seriously meant, therefore, and they were waiting for
me. As a precaution, the captain had decided that the crew of the cutter
which took me should be armed and should remain with me throughout. This
fitted in admirably so far as Yves was concerned, and I took him with me
as coxswain.


The captain received me on his quarter-deck, dressed in reasonably
correct American fashion; the _chola_, transformed, wore a red silk
dress with a magnificent collar of pearls collected on the Pomoto
islands; I was struck by her good looks and her perfect figure.

We repair together to the room of the formidable iron-barred walls. It
is dark and gloomy there; but, through the little deep-set windows, we
see the splendour of what look like enchanted things: a sea of a milky
blue, and with the polish of a turquoise, a distant island, of a purple
iris colour, and a multitude of little orange-tinted clouds floating in
a golden green sky.

Afterwards when we turn our eyes from these little open windows, from
the contemplation of all this light, the low-pitched cabin seems
stranger than before, with its irregular shape and its massive beams,
its arsenal of revolvers, of knuckle-dusters, leather thongs and whips.

The dinner consists of tinned foods from San Francisco, exquisite fruits
from the Isle of Tonga-Taboo, needle-fish, slim little inhabitants of
the warm seas; and we drink French wines, Peruvian _pisco_ and English

The Chinaman who waits upon us wears a silk robe of episcopal violet and
slippers with thick paper soles. The _chola_ sings a _zamacuéca_ of
Chile, playing, on a _diguhela_, a sort of accompaniment which sounds
like the monotonous little clatter of a trotting mule. The doors of the
fortress are wide open. Thanks to the presence of my sixteen armed men,
a sense of security reigns, a peaceful intimacy, which are really very

In the bow the men from the _Primauguet_ are drinking and singing with
the crew of the whaler. It is a general holiday on board. And, from the
distance, I see Yves and Goulven, who, for their part, are not drinking,
walking up and down in conversation. Goulven, the taller of the two, has
passed his arm round the shoulders of his brother, who holds him, in
turn, round the waist. Isolated from the rest they continued their
stroll, talking together in a low voice.

The glasses were emptied everywhere in strange toasts. The captain, who
at first resembled the impassive statue of a marine or river god, woke
up, and began to laugh a powerful laugh which shook his whole body; his
mouth opened like that of a cetacean, and he started to talk of strange
things in English, forgetting himself so far in his confidences as to
tell me things for which he might well have been hanged; his
conversation turns into a pretty tale of unmitigated piracy. . . .

The _chola_ retires to her cabin, and a tattooed sailor is brought in
and undressed during the dessert. The object of this is to show me the
tattooing which represents a fox hunt.

It begins at the neck: horsemen, hounds, in full cry, wind in a spiral
round his body.

"You haven't yet seen the fox?" the captain asks me with a boisterous

The discovery of the fox, it seems, is going to be a very funny
business, for he is ready to die with laughter at the thought of it. And
he makes the man, who is already tipsy, turn round and round several
times so that we may follow the hunt which continues its downward
course. In the neighbourhood of his loins, the hunt thickens and one
foresees the end is near.

"See! there he is!" cries the captain with the head of a river god, at
the height of his savage merriment, throwing himself back, transported
with satisfaction and laughter.

The hunted beast has gone to earth; only half of it can be seen. And
that is the great culminating surprise. The sailor is invited to drink
with us, as a reward for letting us see him.

It was time to go on deck and get a little pure air, the fresh and
delicious air of the evening. The sea, which still was motionless and
heavy, gleamed in the distance, reflecting the last lights that came
from the west. And now the men began to dance to a jig-like air played
on a flute.

As they danced the men cast sidelong glances at us, half in shy
curiosity, half in scornful disdain. They had some of those tricks of
physiognomy which sea-going men have preserved from our primitive
ancestors; and comical gestures at every turn, an excessive mimicry,
like animals in the wild state. Sometimes they threw themselves back,
cambering their bodies; sometimes, by virtue of natural suppleness and
their habits of stratagem, they crouched down, arching their backs, in
the manner of wild beasts when they walk in the light of day. Round and
round they went, to the sound of the fluted music, of the little
jigging, infantine tol-de-rol-lol; very serious, dancing very well, with
graceful poses of arms and circular movements of legs.

But Yves and Goulven continued to walk up and down together. They had
many things still to say to each other, and they were making the most of
these last final minutes, for they knew that I was about to leave. They
had seen each other once, fifteen years before, while Yves was still
quite a little fellow, on that day which Goulven had spent at
Plouherzel, in hiding like a fugitive, and, as far as could be seen,
they would never meet again.

Suddenly, we saw two of the dancers seize each other round the waist,
throw themselves to the ground, still close grappled one with the other,
and then begin to fight, to throttle one another, taken with a sudden
rage; they tried to use their knives and already there were red marks of
blood on the deck.

The captain with the river god head separated them by lashing them both
with a whip of hippopotamus hide.

"No matter," he said in English; "they are drunk!"

It was time to go. Goulven and Yves embraced each other, and I saw tears
in Goulven's eyes.

As we were returning over the tranquil sea, the first southern stars
enkindling on high, Yves spoke to me of his brother:

"He is not very happy. Although he earns a good deal of money and has a
little house in California, to which he hopes to return. But there it
is; it is the longing for his home country which is killing him."

This captain promised to bring his _chola_ to have dinner with me on the
following day on my ship. But, during the night, the whaler put to sea,
vanished into the empty immensity; we never saw her again.


"And so you have come to get your allowance, too Madame Quéméneur?"

"And you, too, Madame Kerdoncuff?"

"And where is your husband now, Madam Quéméneur?"

"In China, Madame Kerdoncuff, on the _Kerguelen_."

"And mine, too, you know, Madame Quéméneur; he is there, too, on the

It is in the Rue des Voutes, in Brest, with a fine rain falling, that
this dialogue of strangely shrill, falsetto voices takes place.

The street is full of women who have been waiting there since the
morning, outside an ugly granite building: the sailors' pay office.
Women of Brest, deterred in no wise by the cold rain, they are talking
querulously, their feet in water, hugging the walls of the mournful
little street, in the grey mist.

It is the first day of the quarter. They form a queue to get their money
and none too soon, for money is wanting in all the dark dwellings of the

Wives of sailors far away at sea, they are waiting to draw their
allowances, the pay which those sailors have allotted them.

And when they have drawn it they will spend it on drink. There is,
opposite, a tavern which has been established specially for their
convenience. It is called _À la mère de famille_ and the proprietress
is one Madame Pétavin. It is known in Brest as _le cabaret de la
délégue_ (the tavern of the allowance).

Madame Quéméneur, pug-faced, square-jawed, big-bellied, wears a
waterproof and a bonnet of black tulle trimmed with blue shells.

Madame Kerdoncuff, sickly, greenish, with a look of a blue-bottle, shows
a mean, sly-looking face under a hat trimmed with two roses with their

As the hour approaches the crowd of inebriates increases. The paying
office is besieged; there are disputes at the doors. The cashier's desk
is about to open.

And Marie, the wife of Yves, is there too, in this unclean
promiscuousness, holding little Pierre by the hand. Timid, depressed,
filled with a vague fear of all these women, she allows the more
impatient to pass and waits against the wall on the side sheltered from
the rain.

"Come in, my good woman, instead of letting the dear little fellow get
wet like this."

It is Madame Pétavin who speaks. She has just appeared at her door, her
face wreathed in smiles.

"Can I get you anything? A little of the best?"

"No, thank you; I do not drink," replies Marie, who, however, seeing
that the tavern is empty, enters for fear lest her little Pierre should
catch cold. "But if I am in your way. . . ."

Surely not, she was not in Madame Pétavin's way at all. Madame Pétavin
had a kind heart and made her sit down.

Presently Madame Quéméneur and Madame Kerdoncuff, among the first to
be paid, enter, shut up their umbrellas, and sit down.

"Madame! Madame! Bring us half a pint in two glasses."

No need to ask half a pint of what. Brandy, and raw brandy at that, is
what they crave.

These good ladies begin to talk:

"What did you say your husband was, on the _Kerguelen_, Madame

"He's a leading seaman, Madame Kerdoncuff."

"And mine, too, you know, is a leading seaman, Madame Quéméneur! Wives
of leading seamen ought to be friends! Here's to you, Victoire-Yvonne!"

The women were already addressing each other by their Christian names.
The glasses were emptied.

Marie turned upon them big, serious eyes, examining them suddenly with
much curiosity, as one might animals in a menagerie. And she had an
impulse to leave, to get away. But, outside, it was raining heavily, and
there was a crowd still at the door of the paying office.

"Your health, Victoire-Yvonne!"

"Your health, Françoise!"

Glasses are replenished again.

The women now begin to talk of their domestic affairs: it is difficult
enough to make ends meet! But it can't be helped! The baker, this time,
will have to wait until next quarter day. The butcher will have to be
satisfied with something on account. To-day, pay day, may not one have a
little enjoyment?

"But I, you know," says Madame Kerdoncuff, with a coquettish smile full
of suggestion, "I am not too badly off, because, you see, I let a
furnished room to an old sailor, who is a petty officer in the port."

There is no need to be more explicit. The face of Madame Quéméneur
wears a smile of comprehension.

"And I, too, I have a quartermaster. . . . Here's to you,
Françoise! . . ." (The women whisper to each other.) "He's a gay dog, my
quartermaster, I can tell you! . . ."

And the chapter of intimate confidences begins.

Marie Kermadec gets up. Has she heard aright? Many of the words used are
unknown to her, it is true, but the meaning of them is transparent and
gestures make it doubly clear. Are there really women who can bring
themselves to say such things? And she goes out, without looking back,
without a word of thanks, red, conscious of her burning cheeks.

"Did you see her? We have shocked her!"

"Oh well, you know, she's from the country; she still wears the coif of
Bannalec; she's green yet."

"Here's to you, Victoire-Yvonne!"

The tavern is filling. At the door, umbrellas are closed, old
waterproofs are shaken; many more women come in, liquor flows.

And, at home, are little mites puling with the voices of jackals in
distress; emaciated children whimpering from cold and hunger. So much
the worse, here's to you, for is it not pay day!

When Marie got outside, she saw a group of women in large coifs who were
standing aside to make way for the press of the brazen ones; and she
went quickly and took her place amongst them so that she might once more
be in honest company. Amongst them were dear old women from the villages
who had come to draw the allowance of their sons, and who were waiting
under their cotton umbrellas, with the dignified, prim faces, which
peasant women assume in the town.

As she was waiting her turn, she entered into conversation with an old
woman from Kermézeau, who told her the history of her son, a gunner on
the _Astrée._ It appeared that in his early youth he had had bouts
similar to those of Yves, but afterwards, as he got older, he had quite
settled down; one need never despair of a sailor. . . .

Nevertheless in her indignation against these women of Brest, Marie had
come to a momentous decision: to return to Toulven at whatever cost, and
to-morrow if possible.

As soon as she got back to her room, she began to write a long letter to
Yves giving the reasons for her decision. It was true, their tenancy of
the lodgings at Récouvrance had still three months to run and that the
little house at Toulven would not be finished for a long time yet; but
she would make up for all that by working and strict economy; she would
take in mending for the neighbours, and would goffer the large native
collarettes, work of some difficulty, which she knew how to do very
perfectly by the skilful use of very fine reeds.

And she went on to tell him all the new things which little Pierre had
learnt to say and do; in very naïve terms, she told of her great love
for the absent one; she enclosed a curl, cut from a certain little brown
and very restless head; and put the whole in an envelope of thin paper
which she superscribed thus:

"To Monsieur Kermadec, Yves, Leading Seaman on board the _Primauguet_,
in the southern seas, c/o the French Consul at Panama, to be forwarded."

Poor little letter! Will it ever be delivered? Who can tell? It is not
impossible, more unlikely things have happened. In five months, six
months, travel-stained and covered with American postmarks, it will be
delivered, perhaps, faithfully to Yves, and bring him the deep love of
his wife and the brown curl of his son.


_May_, 1882.

In the evening, in the southern solitudes. The wind was rising. Over all
this moving immensity in which the _Primauguet_ dwelt long dark blue
waves were chasing one another. It was a damp wind and struck chill.

Below on the spar-deck, Le Hir the idiot was hastening, before darkness
fell, to sew up a corpse in pieces of grey canvas which were the remains
of sails.

Yves and Barrada, standing, were watching him with a kind of horror.
They had perforce to remain close to him, in a very small mortuary
chamber, which had been made by suspending other sails and which was
guarded by a gunner, cutlass in hand.

It was Barazère who was being sewn up in these grey remnants. He had
died of a disease contracted long before in Algiers--on a night of
pleasure. . . . Many times he had believed himself cured; but the deadly
poison remained in his blood, reappeared from time to time, and at last
had killed him. Towards the end he had been covered with hideous sores
and his friends had avoided him.

It fell to Le Hir to sew him up, for all the others had refused, out of
fear of his malady. Le Hir had accepted on the strength of a promise of
a pint of wine.

The rolling of the ship worried him, hampered him in his work, kept
shifting the corpse out of position; and he was eager to be done and to
get the wine that was waiting for him.

First, the feet; he had been told to bind them tight on account of the
cannon-ball which is attached to the dead body to make it sink. Then the
legs; and presently the body was entirely hidden, enveloped in many
thicknesses of coarse canvas; only the pale face was now visible,
tranquil in death, and looking strangely handsome with a peaceful smile.
And then roughly, with a brutal indifference, Le Hir drew over it an end
of the grey canvas and the face was veiled for ever.

In a French village the old parents of this Barazère were looking
forward to the day of his return.

When the job was done Yves and Barrada came out of the mortuary chamber
pushing Le Hir before them by the shoulders, to see that he washed his
hands before he drank his wine.

They had been exchanging ideas about death apparently, for Barrada, as
he came out, said in his Bordeaux accent:

"Ah! Nonsense! It is with men as with beasts; others will come, but
those who die . . ."

And he finished by laughing that curious laugh of his, which sounded
deep and hollow like a roar.

From his lips, there was nothing impious in the phrase; it was simply
that he knew nothing better to say.

They were both, as a matter of fact, much moved; they grieved for
Barazère. Now, the malady which had caused them fear was covered up,
forgotten; in their memory, the dead man had emerged from that final
impurity and become suddenly ennobled; they saw him again as in the time
of his strength, and in thinking of him they were moved to pity.


"There's no foppery in a sailor who has washed his skin in the waters of
five or six oceans."

On the following morning, when the sun rose, the wind was still fresh.
The _Primauguet_ was moving very quickly, rocking in its course with the
supple and vigorous movement of a mighty runner. In the bow the men
released from the watch were singing as they made their morning toilet,
stripped, resembling, with their muscular arms and shoulders, the
statues of ancient Greece; they were washing themselves liberally in
cold water; they plunged their head and shoulders into tubs, covered
their chests with a white foam of soap and then, turn and turn about,
rubbed one another down.

Suddenly they remembered the dead man and their blythe song subsided.
For they had just seen the men of the other watch assembling at the
order of their officer and lining up in the stern, as if for an
inspection. They guessed why and drew near.

A long new plank had been placed crosswise on the nettings, overhanging,
making a kind of see-saw over the water, and a sinister thing which
seemed very heavy, a sheath of grey canvas which betrayed a human form,
had just been brought up from below.

When Barazère was laid on the long new plank, suspended in mid air over
the foaming waves, the bonnets of the sailors were all removed in a last
salute; a signalman recited a prayer, hands made the sign of the
cross--and then, at my command, the plank was tilted and there came the
dull sound of a heavy thing plunging into the water.

The _Primauguet_ passed on its way, and the body of Barazère sank into
the abyss, immense in depth and extent, of the great ocean.

Then, very softly, as a reproach, I repeated to Yves who was near me,
the phrase of the night before:

"It is with men as with beasts: more will come, but . . ."

"Oh!" he replied; "it was not I who said that; it was he." (_He_--that
is to say, Barrada--heard him and turned his head towards us. There were
tears in his eyes.)

We looked behind us with uneasiness, at the wake; for it happens
sometimes, when the following shark is there, that a stain of blood
appears on the surface of the sea.

But no, there was nothing; he had descended in peace into the depths

An infinite descent, first rapid as in a fall; then slow, slow, petering
out little by little in the ever-increasing density of the deeper
waters. A mysterious journey of many leagues into unplumbed abysms;
during which the darkened sun shows first like a pale moon, then turns
green, then trembles, and finally is effaced. And then the eternal
darkness begins; the waters rise, rise, gathering over the head of the
dead traveller like the waters of a deluge which should reach up to the

But, below, the dead body has lost its loathsomeness; matter is never
unclean in an absolute sense. In the darkness the invisible animals of
the deep waters will come and encompass it; the mysterious madrepores
will put forth upon it their branches, eating it very slowly with the
thousand little mouths of their living flowers.

This grave of sailors cannot be violated by any human hand. He who has
descended to sleep below is more dead than any other dead man; nothing
of him will ever appear again; never will he mingle with that old dust
of men which, on the surface of the earth, is for ever seeking to
recombine in an eternal effort to live again. He belongs to the life of
the world below; he is going to pass into plants of colourless stone,
into sluggish animals which are without shape and without eyes. . . .


On the evening of the burial of Barazère, Yves had brought his friend
Jean Barrada with him to my room. They were now the only survivors of
the old band: Kerboul, Le Hello, had been sleeping for many a long day
at the bottom of the sea, to which they too had descended in the
fullness of youth; the others had left to join the merchant service, or
had returned to their villages: all were scattered.

Yves and Barrada were very old friends. On shore, when they were
together, it was not good to cross them in their whims.

I can still see the two of them sitting there before me, sharing the
same chair on account of the limited space of the room, holding on with
one hand in the habit learnt from the rolling of the ship, and looking
at me with attentive eyes. For I was endeavouring to prove to them on
this evening that _it was not with men as with beasts_, and to speak to
them of the mysterious _beyond_. . . . And they, with Barazère's death
fresh in their memory, were listening to me surprised, fascinated, in
the midst of that very special peacefulness of calm evenings at sea, a
peacefulness which predisposes to the comprehension of the

Old arguments repeated over and over again at school which I developed
to them and which it seemed to me might still make an impression on
their young minds. . . . It was perhaps very stupid, this discourse on
immortality; but it did them no harm; on the contrary.


These seas in which the _Primauguet_ was were almost always of the same
lapis blue; it was the region of the trade winds and of fine weather
without an end.

Sometimes, in our passage from one group of islands to another, we had
to cross the Equator, to pass through the motionless immensities and
mournful splendours.

And afterwards, when, in one hemisphere or the other, we ran into the
life-giving trade wind again, when the awakened _Primauguet_ began once
more to gather speed, then one realized better, by contrast, the charm
of moving quickly, the charm of being on this great, inclined, quivering
thing which seemed to be alive, and which obeyed you, alert and supple,
as it sped onwards.

When we sailed eastward in these regions of the trade winds, we sailed
close to the wind; and then the _Primauguet_ rushed upon the regular,
crisped waves of the tropics for whole days, without ever getting tired,
with little joyous flutterings such as sportive fishes might have.

Afterwards, when we returned on our course, with the wind behind us,
fully rigged, every inch of our white canvas spread, our progress, rapid
as it was, became so easy, so effortless, that we no longer felt that we
were moving; we were lifted up as it were in a kind of flight and our
movement was like the soaring of a bird.

As far as the sailors were concerned one day was very much like another.

Every morning there was first of all a kind of frenzy of cleaning which
began with the réveillé. One saw them, half-awake, jump up and start
running to commence as quickly as might be the great diurnal washing.
Naked, in their pompomed bonnets, or maybe wearing a "tricot de combat"
(a little knitted thing for the neck, not unlike a baby's bib) they set
to work to swill the deck. Water spurted from hosepipes; water was flung
by hand from buckets. Wasting no time they threw it over legs and over
backs until they were all besplashed, all streaming; they overturned
everything in order to wash everything; afterwards, scouring the deck,
already clean and white, with mops and scrapers to make it cleaner and
whiter still.

Sometimes they would be ordered to break off and go aloft to make some
alteration in the rigging, to shake out a reef or trim the sails; then
they would dress themselves hastily, for decency's sake, before
climbing, and quickly carry out the manœuvre ordered, eager to get down
again and amuse themselves in the water.

This is the work which makes arms strong and chests round; and the feet,
too, from being used to climbing bare, become in some measure
prehensile, like those of monkeys.

At about eight o'clock, at the roll of a drum, the washing would be
done. Then, while the hot sun was quickly drying all these things which
they had made wet, they would begin to furbish; the copper-work, the
iron-work, even the ordinary rings were made to shine like mirrors. Each
one would address himself to the little pulley, the little object, the
toilet of which had been specially entrusted to him and would polish it
with solicitude, stepping back every now and then with a critical air to
see how it looked, to see whether it did him credit. And, around these
great children, was still and always the blue circle, the inexorable
blue circle, the resplendent solitude, profound, having no end, where
nothing ever changed and nothing ever passed.

Nothing passed save the madcap bands of flying fish, moving like arrows,
so rapidly that one had time only to see the glistening of their wings
and they were gone. They were of several kinds; some large, which were
steel-blue in colour; some smaller and rarer which seemed to have
colours of mauve and peony; they surprised you by their rosy flight,
and, when you tried to distinguish them, it was too late; a little patch
of water eddied still and sparkled in the sunshine as if under a hail of
bullets; it was there they had made their plunge, but they were no
longer there.

Sometimes a frigate bird--a great mysterious bird which is always
alone--crossed, at a great height, the regions of the air, flying
straight with its narrow wings and scissor-like tail, hastening as if it
had a goal. Then the sailors pointed out to one another the strange
traveller, following it with their eyes as long as it remained in sight,
and its passage was recorded in the ship's log.

But a ship, never; they are too large, these southern seas; there are no
meetings there.

Once, however, we came across a little oceanic island surrounded by a
white belt of coral. Some women who dwelt there approached in canoes,
and the captain allowed them to clamber on board, guessing why they had
come. They all had admirable figures, eyes of true savages, scarcely
opened and fringed with very heavy lashes, and teeth of wonderful
whiteness which their laugh revealed to their whole extent. On their
skin, which was of the colour of reddish copper, were very complicated
tattooings resembling a network of blue lace.

Their passage had broken for a day the continence which the sailors
preserved. And then the island, barely seen, had vanished with its white
beach and its green palms, a very little thing amid the immense desert
of the waters, and we thought of it no more.

But there was no boredom on board. The days were quite adequately filled
with duties and amusements.

At certain hours, on certain days fixed in advance, the sailors were
allowed to open the canvas sacks in which their treasures were stored
(it was known as "getting out the sacks"). Then they spread out all
their little belongings, which had been folded inside with a comical
care, and the deck of the _Primauguet_ took on all at once the
appearance of a bazaar. They opened their needle-work boxes, and sewed
little patches very neatly on holes in their clothes, which the
continual play of strong muscles soon wore out. There were some of them
who stripped to the skin and sat gravely mending their shirts; others,
who pressed their big collars in a rather extraordinary way (by sitting
on them for a long time); others who took from their writing cases poor
little faded yellow papers, bearing the postmarks of remote little
corners of Brittany or of the Basque country, and settled down to read:
they were letters from mothers, sisters, sweethearts, who dwelt in
villages at the other side of the earth.

And, later on, at the sound of a particular whistle, which signified:
"Pack up the sacks!" all this disappeared as by enchantment, folded,
packed and re-consigned once more to the bottom of the hold, in the
numbered lockers which the terrible sergeants-at-arms came and locked
with little iron chains.

Looking at them, one might have been deceived by their wise and patient
airs, if one had not known them better; seeing them so absorbed in these
occupations of little girls, in these unpackings of dolls, it was
impossible to imagine what these same young men might become capable of
once they were allowed on shore.

There was only one hour of inevitable melancholy; it was when the
evening prayer had been said, when the Bretons had finished making the
sign of the cross and the sun had set: at that hour, assuredly, many of
them thought of home.

Even in the regions of wonderful light, there is still that vague hour
between day and night, which brings always and everywhere a touch of
sadness; then one might see sailors' heads turned involuntarily in the
direction of that last band of light which persisted in the west, very
low, touching the line of the waters.

A variegated band always; on the horizon there was first a dull red,
above, a little orange, above again, a little pale green, a trail of
phosphorescence, and then it merged with the dull greys above, with the
shades of darkness and obscurity. Some last reflections of a mournful
yellow lingered on the sea, which glistened still here and there before
taking on the neutral colours of night; this last oblique glance of day,
cast on the deserted depths, had something a little sinister, and, in
spite of oneself, there came a sense of desolation in the immensity of
the waters. It was the hour of secret revolts and wringing of hearts. It
was the hour when the sailors had the vague notion that their life was
strange and against nature, when they thought of their sequestrated and
wasted youth. Some far-off image of a woman passed before their eyes,
wreathed in a languishing charm, in a delectable sweetness. Or perhaps
there came to them, with a sudden trouble of the senses, a dream of some
senseless orgy of lust and alcohol, in which they would seek
compensation and appeasement when next they were let loose on
shore. . . .

But, afterwards, came night itself, warm, full of stars, and the
fleeting impression was forgotten; and the sailors gathered in the bow
of the ship and, sitting or lying there, began to sing.

There were some among the topmen who knew long and very pleasing songs,
the choruses of which were readily learnt by heart. And in the sonorous
silence of the night the voices sounded fine and vibrant.

There was, too, an old petty officer who never tired of telling to a
certain attentive little circle interminable stories; stories of
adventures which had really happened once upon a time to some handsome
topmen whom amorous princesses had carried away to their castles.

And still the _Primauguet_ sped on, tracing behind her, in the darkness,
a vague white trail which gradually disappeared like the trail of a
meteor. All night long she sped, without resting or sleeping; only, her
large wings lost at night their sea-gull whiteness and outlined then, in
fantastic shadow against the diffused light of the sky, the points and
scallops of a bat's wing.

But speed on as she might, she was always in the middle of the same
great circle, which seemed eternally to reform, to widen and to follow

Sometimes this circle was dark and traced all round its clean-cut
inexorable line which stopped at the first stars in the sky. Sometimes
the immense contour was softened by mists which mingled sea and sky
together; and then it seemed as if we were sailing in a kind of
grey-blue globe, spangled with stars, and the wonder was that we never
encountered its fugitive walls.

The expanse was full of the soft sounds of water; it rustled
continuously and to infinity, but in a restrained and almost silent
manner; it gave out a powerful, unseizable sound, such as might be made
by an orchestra of thousands of strings touched by bows very, very
lightly and with great mystery.

At times, the southern stars shone out with surprising brilliancy; the
great nebulæ sparkled like a dust of mother-of-pearl, all the colours
of the night seemed to be illumined, in transparency, by strange lights.
One might have imagined oneself, at these moments, in a fairyland where
everything was lit up for some immense apotheosis; and one asked
oneself: "What is the meaning of all this splendour, what is going to
happen, what is the matter?" . . . But no, there was nothing, ever; it
was simply the region of the tropics and this was its way. There was
nothing but the deserted seas, and everlastingly the circular expanse,
absolutely empty. . . .

These nights were indeed exquisite summer nights, mild, infinitely mild,
milder than the mildest of our nights of June. And they troubled a
little all these men, the eldest of whom was not yet thirty years of

The warm darkness brought thoughts of love which were not of their
seeking. There were moments when they came near to weakening again in a
troubling dream; they felt the need of opening their arms to some
desired human form, of clasping it with a strong and forceful infinite
tenderness. But no, no one, nothing. . . . It was necessary to pull
themselves together, to remain alone, to turn over on the hard planks of
the wooden deck, and to think of something else, to begin to sing again.
. . . And then the songs, merry or sad, rang out more strongly than
before, in the emptiness of the sea.

Nevertheless it was very pleasant on this forecastle during these
evenings at sea. The fresh wind of the night blew in our faces, the
virgin breezes which had never passed over land, which bore no living
effluvium, which were without odour. Lying there, one lost little by
little all notion of time and place, all notion of everything but speed,
which is always a pleasing thing, even when you are without a goal and
know not whither you are going.

They had no goal, these sailors, and they knew not whither they were
going. What did it matter anyhow since nowhere were they allowed to set
foot on shore? They were ignorant of the direction of this rapid course
and of the infinite extent of the solitudes in which they were; but it
amused them, nevertheless, to be going full speed ahead in the bluish
darkness, to feel that they were moving very rapidly. As they sang their
evening songs, their eyes were on the bowsprit, ever thrusting forward,
with its two little horns and shape of drawn cross bow, which leapt over
the sea, skimming the noisy waters in the lightsome fashion of a flying


On the _Primauguet_, my dear Yves was above reproach, as he had promised
us. The officers treated him with a rather special consideration on
account of his general bearing and manner which were no longer those of
the others. But he remained, nevertheless, in the first rank of that
hardy band of which the chief boatswain said with pride:

"It is half shark; it knows no fear."

He had resumed his old-time habit of coming, silent-footed, to my room
in the evening, in the hours when I abandoned it to him. He would settle
down to read my letters and my papers, knowing well that he was at
liberty to look at them all; he learnt to understand the marine charts,
and amused himself by marking points on them and measuring distances.
Very often he used to write to his wife, and it happened that his little
letters, interrupted by a call aloft, remained mixed with my papers. I
found one one day which was intended no doubt to be placed in a second
envelope and on which he had put this quaint address:

"To Madame Marie Kermadec, c/o her parents, at Trémeulé in Toulven,
Country of Brittany, Commune of Wolves, Parish of Squirrels, on the
right, under the largest oak."

It was hard to imagine my great big Yves writing these childish things.

This was his first long absence since his marriage. Half a world away,
he fell to thinking much of his young wife who already had suffered so
sorely on his account and who had loved him so well; she appeared to him
now, at this great distance, under a new aspect.


In July--the worst month of the southern winter--we left the region of
the trade winds and made our way to Valparaiso.

There, I was due to leave the _Primauguet_ and to embark on a large
sailing ship which was returning to Brest after a tour round the world.

It was called the _Navarin_; all the men of our ship who had finished
their term of service were embarking on it also: among others, Barrada,
who was going to Bordeaux, with his belt lined with gold, to marry his
little Spanish sweetheart.

Very abruptly, as always, I said good-bye to Yves, recommending him once
more to all, and left for France by way of Cape Horn.


20_th October_, 1882.

I remember very well this day passed in Brittany. We three, under the
grey sky, roaming the woods of Toulven, Marie, Anne and I.

My eyes still dazzled by sun and blue sea, and this Brittany, seen again
so quickly and so suddenly for a few brief hours, absolutely as in the
dreams we had of it at sea. . . . It seemed to me that I understood its
charm for the first time.

And Yves was at the other side of the world, in the great ocean. How
strange it was to feel that he was so far away and that I was here
without him in these Toulven lanes!

We rushed about, all three, like people possessed, in the green lanes,
under the grey sky, the large coifs of Marie and Anne blown back by the
wind. For night was closing in and we wanted during this last hour to
gather the harvest of ferns and heather, which, on the following
morning, I was going to carry off to Paris. Oh! these departures, always
coming too soon, changing everything, casting a sadness over the things
you are about to leave, and plunging you afterwards into the unknown!

This time again, there was the pervading melancholy of the late autumn:
the air was still mild, the verdure admirable, with almost the intense
green of the tropics, but the Breton sky was there, grey and sombre, and
already the savour of dead leaves and of winter. . . .

We had left little Pierre in the house so that we might walk more
quickly. On our way we picked the last foxgloves, the last red silenes,
the last scabious.

In the sunken lanes, in the green darkness, we passed long-haired old
men, and women in cloth bodices embroidered with rows of eyes.

There were mysterious crossways in the woods. In the distance one could
see the wooded hills ranged in monotonous lines, the unchanging ageless
horizon of the country of Toulven, the same horizon as the Celts must
have seen, the farthest planes losing themselves in the grey
obscurities, in bluish tones tending to black.

And with what pleasure I had greeted my little Pierre, as I came along
this road of Toulven! I had seen the little fellow in the distance and
failed to recognize him; and he had run to meet me, skipping like a
young goat. They had told him: "That is your godfather coming yonder,"
and he had rushed off at once. He had grown and improved in looks and
had a more enterprising not to say boisterous air.

It was at this visit I saw for the first and last time little Yvonne,
Yves' little daughter who was born after our departure, and who made on
this earth only a brief appearance of a few months. She was very like
him; the same eyes, the same expression. It was strange to see this
resemblance of a small girl-baby to a man.

One day she returned to the mysterious regions whence she had come,
called away suddenly by a childish malady, which neither the old nurse
nor the learned woman brought in from Toulven had understood. And they
laid her in the churchyard, the eyes that were so like Yves' closed for

We had spent in the woods our two hours of daylight. It was not until
after supper that Marie and I went to see, in the moonlight, what was to
be their new home.

On the site of the oat field which we had measured in June of the
preceding year stood now the four walls of Yves' house; it had yet no
shutters, no floor, no roof, and, in the moonlight, looked like a ruin.

We sat down on some stones inside, alone together for the first time.

It was of Yves we talked, needless to say. She asked me anxiously about
him, about his future, imagining that I knew better than she this
husband whom she adored with a kind of fear, without understanding him.
And I reassured her, for I was very hopeful: the sea-rover had a good
and honest heart; and if we could touch him there, we ought in the end
to succeed.

Anne appeared suddenly, having approached noiselessly in order to
startle us:

"Oh, Marie!" she said, "move away quickly! See what an ugly shadow you
are making behind you!"

We had not noticed it, but in the moonlight her head, with the wings of
her coif moving in the wind, cast behind her, on the new wall, a shadow
in the form of a very large and very ugly bat. It was enough to bring us

In Toulven there was a music of bagpipes. To reach the inn, to which
they were both escorting me, we had to pass through an unexpected fête,
going on in the moonlight. It was the wedding of a well-to-do couple and
there was dancing in the open, on the square. I stopped, with Anne and
Marie, to watch the long chain of the gavotte whirl and pass, led by the
shrill voice of the pipes. The full moon made whiter the coifs of the
women which flitted past us as if carried away by wind and speed; on the
breasts of the men we caught the fleeting glitter of embroidered gorgets
and silver spangles.

At the farther end of Toulven we came upon another concourse. It did not
seem natural, this animation in the village, at night; more coifs again,
hurrying, pressing forward in order to get a better view; for a band of
pilgrims was returning from Lourdes. They entered the village singing

"There have been two miracles, sir; we heard so this morning by

I turned round and saw that it was Pierre Kerbras, Anne's sweetheart,
who vouchsafed us this information.

The pilgrims passed, their large rosaries about their necks; behind came
two infirm old women, who, for their part, had not been cured, and who
were being carried in men's arms.

The following morning old Corentin, Anne and little Pierre, in their
Sunday clothes, accompanied me in Pierre Kerbras' wagonette to the
station at Bannalec.

In the compartment I entered two English women were already installed.

Little Pierre, his happy face the colour of a ripe peach, was lifted up
to the carriage window to kiss me good-bye, and he burst out laughing at
the sight of a little bulldog which the women carried in their blazoned
travelling-bag. He was sorry enough that I was going away; but this
little dog in the bag seemed to him so comical that he could not get
over it. And the old ladies smiled also, and said that little Pierre was
"a very beautiful baby."

And this was the last of Brittany for a long time; I had spent some
twenty hours there, and, on the following morning, it was already far
away from me.


_A Letter from Yves_

"MELBOURNE, _September_, 1882.

"DEAR BROTHER,--I write to let you know we have reached Australia; we
have had a very fine voyage and to-morrow we are to leave for Japan;
for, you know, we have had instructions to pay a visit to that country.

"I found here two letters from you and two also from my wife; but I am
looking forward to the one you will write me when you have been to

"Dear brother, your successor on board is just like you; he is very
considerate with the sailors. As regards Mr. Plunkett's successor, he is
rather severe, but not with me; on the contrary. Mr. Plunkett told me he
would recommend me to him when he left and I think he must have done so.
The others and the second-in-command are still the same; they often
speak to me of you and ask me for news of you.

"The captain has called upon me to act as boatswain since we buried poor
Marsano, of Nice, who was found dead one morning in his hammock at the
réveillé. And I like the work very much.

"Dear brother, the men have twice been allowed to go ashore, at San
Francisco, and you will be glad to know that, with you away, I have not
even given in my name to go with them. As a matter of fact, on the
second night, the topmen had a great row with some Germans, and knives
were used.

"I have also to tell you, dear brother, that your name has not yet been
removed from above the door of your room, and I think it must have been
quite forgotten. And in the evening I make my way along the spar-deck
for the pleasure of seeing it.

"Next year, when we return, I hope I may have a long leave to go and see
my wife and my little Pierre and my little daughter; but it will be all
too short in any case, and I shall never have any real leisure until I
get my pension. On the other hand, when I am old enough to put aside the
blue collar, my little Pierre will be thinking of going to sea himself
in his turn; or perhaps there will be a place for me a little farther
away, in the direction of the pond, near the church; you know what place
I mean.

"Dear brother, you think I am taking my note from you? But no, I think
as I have always thought.

"As for the 'coco-nut heads'[6] I fear I must give up all idea of them,
for we shall not touch Caledonia; but perhaps, later on, I may be able
to return and buy some. If you should pass by the Gulf of Juan, you
would give me great pleasure if you would go to Vallauris and obtain for
me two of those candlesticks which they make there, and which have owls'
heads on them (the _parrots of France_, you know). I should like very
much to have some in my home. I am very eager, brother, to furnish my
little house.

"Among the many things which make me sad when I awaken in the morning,
that which grieves me most is the thought that my mother cannot be
persuaded to come and live at Toulven. It seems to me that if I could
get leave and go to see her, I should certainly be able to induce her to
come. But, against this, I should then have no one belonging to me at
Plouherzel; and that again is a thing I cannot bear to contemplate; for
after all Plouherzel is our home, you know. If I could believe what you
have often told me on the subject of a life after death, then,
assuredly, I could still be contented enough. But it seems to me that
you yourself do not believe very much in it. Funnily enough, though, I
am afraid of ghosts, and I rather think, brother, that you are afraid of
them, too.

"I ask you to forgive these dirty sheets I am sending you, but it is not
altogether my fault that they are in this condition. As you know I no
longer have your desk now to write my letters on like an officer. I was
writing to you peacefully enough at the end of my night watch on the
lockers in the bow, when the idiot Le Hir came and knocked over my
candle. I have not time to copy out my letter neatly as sometimes I do,
in the way you have praised. I am writing hurriedly and I ask you to
forgive the hasty scrawl.

"We are leaving at daybreak to-morrow for Japan; but I will send my
letter by the pilot who is coming to take us out.

"Your affectionate brother,


"Dear brother, I cannot tell you how much I love you."

[Footnote 6: Very ugly human heads made by the convicts in Caledonia out
of coco-nuts, in which they fix eyes and teeth and hair. Yves wanted
them for his staircase at Toulven.]


_December_, 1882.

I was walking on the quay at Bordeaux. A very smart person came up to
me, hat doffed, holding out his hand: Barrada! A Barrada transformed,
having shed his beard and his one-and-thirty years at the same time, no
doubt, as he laid aside his blue collar, with cheeks carefully shaved, a
budding moustache, and the air of a young lover of twenty.

The old distinction and beauty of line were still there, but his face
now was happier and kinder, as if brightened by a deep joy.

He had married at last his little Spanish sweetheart. The gold he used
to carry in his belt had furnished their home; and he had found
occupation as a stevedore, a very lucrative calling, it seems, in which
he could use to perfection his great strength and instinctive
"handiness." He made me promise solemnly that on the return of the
_Primauguet_ I would call at Bordeaux with Yves and come and see him.

He, at any rate, was happy!

And the end of this wanderer over the sea made me think. I asked myself
whether my poor Yves, who, with a heart as good, had offended far less
against the laws of decent society, might not also find one day a little
happiness. . . .


_Telegram_: "Toulon, 3rd April, 1883.--To Yves Kermadec, on board the
_Primauguet_, Brest. You have been appointed mate. All good wishes.


It was his joyous welcome, his home-coming feast, for, only twenty-four
hours before, the _Primauguet_, returned from its distant cruise in the
Pacific, had come to anchor in the waters of France.

And these golden stripes which I sent to Yves by telegraph, he did not
water them, as he had watered formerly his stripes of wool. No, times
had changed; he took refuge in the spar-deck, in the corner where his
sack and locker were, which he regarded as his little home; he hurried
down to this quiet spot in order that he might be alone to contemplate
this happiness which had come to him, to read and read again this
blessed little blue paper which had opened before him an entirely new

It was so wonderful, so unexpected, after his past bad conduct!

I had been to Paris to ask this favour, intriguing hard for my adopted
brother, and making myself answerable for his future conduct. A woman
friend had been good enough to exert in my cause her very powerful
influence, and, with her help, the promotion of Yves was carried by
assault, difficult though it was.

And Yves could not cease from contemplating his good fortune in all its
aspects. . . . First, instead of asking for a short leave which might
perhaps have been given to him very grudgingly, now, with his gold
stripes he could depart straightway for Toulven; he would be put on the
reserve list for three months at least, perhaps for four; he would have
the whole summer to spend with his wife and son, in the little house
which was now completed, and where they were only waiting for him to
enter into occupation. . . . And secondly, they were quite rich, which
was by no means a drawback. . . .

Never in the life of this poor wandering toiler had there come an hour
so happy, a joy so deep as that which his brother Pierre had just sent
him by telegraph. . . .


When the winds brought me back to Brittany again, it was in the last
days of May, when the Breton spring was at its fairest.

Yves had already been six weeks in his little house at Toulven,
arranging my room, and preparing everything for my arrival.

The ship on which I had embarked had left the Mediterranean and was
going north in the Atlantic, bound for the northern ports and Brest
where it was to be laid up.

18_th May, at sea._ Already one feels that Brittany is near. It is fine
still, but the day is one of those fine Breton days which are calm and
melancholy. The smooth sea is of a pale blue, the salt air is fresh and
smells of seaweed; over everything there is a veil of bluish mist, very
transparent and very tenuous.

At eight o'clock in the morning we round the point of Penmarc'h. The
Celtic rocks, the tall sad cliffs become visible little by little and
draw nearer.

Now there are real banks of mist--but very light still, summer
mists--which rest everywhere on the distances of the horizon.

At one o'clock, the channel of the Toulinguets, and then we enter Brest.

19_th May._ Eight days' leave. At midday I am in the train, on my way to

Rain all the way over the Breton countryside. The meadows, the shady
valleys are full of water.

From Bannalec to Toulven is an hour's drive through the woods. With my
eyes fixed in front of me I watch for the granite steeple of the church
in the distance of the green horizon.

And now it appears reflected deep below in the mournful pool. The
weather has cleared and the sky is blue again, a pale blue.

Toulven! . . . The diligence stops. Yves is there waiting for me,
holding little Pierre by the hand.

We look at each other--and our first impulse is to laugh, on account of
our moustaches. Our faces are altered, and we seem odd to each other. We
had not seen each other since permission had been given to sailors to
leave the upper lip unshaved. Yves expressed the opinion that it made us
look much more knowing.

Then we shook hands.

And what a fine little fellow Pierre has become! So tall, so strong! We
set off together, going through Toulven, where the good folk know me and
come to their doors to watch us pass. We make our way through the narrow
grey street, between the ancient houses, between the walls of massive
granite. I recognize the old woman with the owl-like profile who
presided at the birth of my godson; she nods to me from an open window.
The large coifs, the collarettes, the spangles on the bodices, stand
out, in the deep embrasures against the dark backgrounds, and the
impression I receive as I pass by is one peculiar to Brittany, of olden
times, of days remote and dead.

Little Pierre, whose hands we hold, walks now like a man. He had said
nothing at first, a little overcome at seeing me again, but presently he
begins to talk; upturning towards me his round face he looks at me as at
a friend with whom he may share his thoughts, and a sweet small voice
with which I am not yet very familiar pipes out with a strong Breton

"Godfather, have you brought me my sheep?"

Fortunately I had remembered my promise of a year ago; this sheep on
wheels for little Pierre is in my trunk. And I have brought also some
candlesticks with owls' heads on them (heads of the _parrots of France_)
which I had promised to my other baby--Yves.

And here is the house, gay and white and new, with its Breton window
frames, its green shutters, its attic store-room, and, behind, the
horizon of the woods.

We enter. Below in the open-hearthed kitchen, Marie and little Corentine
are waiting for us.

But, immediately, Yves hurries me away, impatient that I should see
their handsome white room upstairs, with its muslin curtains and its
cherry wood furniture.

And then he opens another door.

"And now, brother, you are in your own room?"

And he looks at me, anxious to see the effect produced, after all the
pains his wife and he have taken to ensure that I should find everything
to my taste.

I enter, touched, moved. It is all white, my room, and filled with a
delicious fragrance. There are flowers everywhere, flowers which they
have gone very far to find for me; in vases on the mantelpiece, bunches
of mignonette and large bouquets of sweetpeas; in the fireplace, a mass
of heather.

But they could not bring themselves to put in my room the old furniture,
the old Breton odds and ends, and they excused themselves saying they
had found nothing that seemed to them nice enough and suitable enough;
and so they had gone to Quimper and bought me a bed like their own, in
cherry wood, a light wood, bright and slightly reddish in colour. The
tables and chairs are of the same wood. The smallest details have been
arranged with tender thought; on the walls, in gilt frames, are drawings
which I had made in earlier days and a large photograph of the tower of
Saint Pol-de-Léon, which I had given Yves at the time when we were
together in the misty waters of the North.

The boards of the floor are as clean as newly-sawn wood.

"You see, brother, everything is as spotless as on board," says Yves,
who himself has taken the greatest pains to make it so, and who removes
his shoes whenever he goes up so that he may not dirty the stairs.

And I must see everything, go everywhere, even into the store-room where
the potatoes are laid by, and the logs of wood for the winter; even into
the little vestibule of the staircase where is suspended, like the
_ex-voto_ of a sailor in a chapel of the Virgin, a miniature ship which
Yves had made during his spare time in the crow's nest of the
_Primauguet_; and finally into the garden where the strawberries and
various green things are beginning to push up their fresh shoots in long
neat rows.

Now we sit down at the table, Yves, Marie, little Corentine, little
Pierre and I, round the spotless white cloth on which the dinner has
been placed. And Yves, my brother Yves, becomes self-conscious and
nervous all at once in his rôle of master of the house. And so it is I
who have to carve, and, as it is the first time in my life, I get a
little confused too.

At this dinner, I eat to please them; but this great happiness which I
feel here near me and of which in some small measure I am the cause,
this deep gratitude which surrounds me, all this moves me very
strangely. To be in the midst of these rare things brings me the
surprise of a new, delightful experience.

"You know," Yves says to me, low as if in confidence, "I go with her to
mass now every Sunday."

And he makes in the direction of his wife a little grimace of childlike
submission, very comical to see in one so serious. But his manner with
Marie has quite changed, and I saw as soon as I entered that love had
come at last to make its home for good and all in the new house. And my
dear friends, therefore, have attained all that is best on earth. As
Yves said "All that was wanted now was that the pendulum of time should
stop so that this great happiness of their fulfilled dreams might never
leave them."

They also are silent in their happiness, as if they feared they might
frighten it away if they spoke too loud or too lightheartedly about it.

Besides we have to speak of the dead, of that little Yvonne who departed
last autumn without waiting for the return of the _Primauguet_ and whom
Yves never saw; of old Corentin, her grandfather, who had found the cold
weather of December too much for him.

It is Marie who speaks:

"He became very difficult towards the end, he who had always been so
considerate. He said we did not know how to look after him, and he asked
continually for his son Yves: 'Oh! if Yves were here he would help me;
he would lift me in his strong arms and turn me over in my bed.' On the
last night he called him without ceasing."

And Yves replied:

"What grieves me most when I think of our father, is that we were a
little angry with each other on the day I went away, in connection with
the settlement, you know. You cannot believe how often the recollection
of that dispute with him comes into my mind."

Dinner is finished. It is evening, the long mild evening of May. We are
walking, Yves and I, towards the church, to pay a visit to a white cross
which stands there on a little flower-decked mound:

_Yvonne Kermadec, thirteen months._

"They say that she was very like me," says Yves.

And this resemblance of the dead infant to him makes him very

As we look at the cross, the mound and the flowers, we both think of
this mystery: a little baby girl who was of his blood, his issue, who
had his eyes, and . . . probably, too, his nature, and who was given
back so soon to the Breton earth. It is as if something of himself had
already gone from him to mingle with the dust; it was like an
earnest-money which he had already given to eternal nothingness. . . .

In four years, this little cross which may be seen now from the
distance, will exist no longer; Yvonne and her mound and her flowers
will be swept away. Even her little bones will be gathered up and mixed
with the others, the bones of those long dead, under the church, in the

For four years still the cross will remain, and those who pass may read
this name of a little child. . . .

It stands on the edge of the pond. It is reflected in the deep, stagnant
water, by the side of the tall grey steeple. On the mound the blooming
carnations make white tufts, already indistinct in the oncoming
darkness. The pond is like a mirror, pale yellow, of the colour of the
dying daylight, of the sunset sky; and, all round, is the line, already
dark, of the woods.

The flowers of the tombs give out their soft perfumes of the evening. A
mild stillness surrounds us and seems to close in upon us. . . .

In the distance we hear the hooting of the owls, and we cannot
distinguish now little Yvonne's white carnations. . . . The summer night
has come.

Suddenly a loud noise startles us, amid this silence in which we were
thinking of the dead. It is the Angelus sounding, very close, above us,
in the steeple; and the air is filled with the deep vibrations of the

Yet we had seen no one enter the church which is shut and dark.

"Who is ringing?" asks Yves anxiously. "Who can be ringing? I would not
do it, ever. . . . I would not enter the church at this hour, not even
for all the gold in the world!"

. . . We leave the cemetery; there is too much noise and the Angelus
sounds strange there; it awakens unexpected echoes, in the waters of the
pond, in the enclosure of the dead, in the darkness. Not that we are
afraid of the poor little tomb with the white carnations; but there are
the others, these mounds of turf which are all about us, these graves of
men and women unknown. . . .

_Ten o'clock._ I am going to sleep for the first time under the roof of
my brother Yves.

_Later._ We have already said good night, but he returns and opens my

"The flowers. They may not be good for you; it has just occurred to us.
. . ."

And he takes them all away, the mignonette, the sweetpeas, even the
bunches of heather.


The "pendulum of time" has continued its swing. It even seems that it
has moved more quickly than usual, for the week's leave which had been
given me is almost over.

Every day we spend in the woods. The weather is splendid. The heather,
the foxgloves, the red silenes, all are in flower.

There had been a great "pardon" on Sunday, one of the most famous of
this region of Brittany: it was held near the chapel of _Our Lady of
Good Tidings_--which stands alone in the heart of the woods as if it had
been sleeping there, forgotten, since the middle ages.

It happened that the day before, the Saturday, we had sat down in the
shade, Yves, little Pierre and I, near the church, in the hour of the
great calm of noon. A very silent spot, above which the ancient oaks and
beeches linked, as if they had been arms, their great moss-grown

Two women had come, one young, the other old and decrepit; they wore the
costume of Rosporden and seemed to have travelled far. They carried
large keys.

And they opened the old sanctuary, which remains closed throughout the
year, and began to prepare the altar for the feast of the following day.

In the green half-light of the windows and the trees, we saw them
busying themselves about the statues of the old saints, dusting them,
wiping them; and then sweeping the flagstones covered with dust and

At the foot of Our Lady someone, out of piety, had placed a skull,
found, no doubt, in the earth of the wood. Greenish-looking, the cranium
staved in, it gazed at us from the bottom of the chapel, with its two
black eye sockets.

"Tell me, godfather, what is that? . . . Did someone find that face in
the earth? . . ."

Little Pierre is vaguely disturbed by this thing, the like of which he
had never seen; as if it was for him the first revelation of an order of
sinister objects dwelling under the earth. . . .

The weather, for this day of pardon, was a little dull, but delightful

For ten hours, the bagpipes played in front of the chapel, under the
great oaks, and gavottes were danced on the mossy turf.

That indescribable quality of Breton summers, which is somehow
melancholy, is, if one may so express it, a compound of many things: the
charm of the long, warm days, rarer here than elsewhere and sooner over;
the tall-growing herbage fresh and green, with the extreme profusion of
red flowers; and then the sentiment of olden times, which seems to
slumber here, to permeate everything.

Old land of Toulven, great woods where the black fir trees, trees of the
north, mingle already with the oaks and beeches; Breton countrysides,
which seem to be wrapt still in the past. . . .

Great rocks covered with grey lichen, as fine as an old man's beard;
plains in which the granite crops out of the ancient soil, plains of
purple heather. . . .

They are impressions of tranquillity, of appeasement, which this country
brings me; and also an aspiration towards a more complete repose under
the mossy turf, at the foot of the chapels which are in the woods. And,
with Yves, all this is vaguer, more inexpressible, but more intense
also, as with me when I was a child.

To see us sitting together in the woods in the calm of these fine summer
days, one would never imagine what our youth had been, what life we had
lived, nor what terrible scenes there had been between us formerly, when
first our two natures, very different and very alike, had come in
conflict one with the other.

Every evening before we go to bed, we play with little Pierre a Toulven
game, amusing enough, which consists in holding one another by the chin
and reciting, without laughing, a long rigmarole: "By the beard of
Minette I hold you. The first of us two who shall laugh . . . etc." At
this game little Pierre is always caught.

After that come the gymnastics. Yves goes through the performance with
his son, turning him over, making him "go about," head down, legs in the
air, at arm's length, then raising him very high. "Tell me, little
Pierre, when will you have arms like mine? Tell me! Oh, never; never
arms like yours, father; I shall not suffer hardship enough for that, I
am sure."

And when Yves, dishevelled, tired from having romped so much, says, as
he readjusts his clothes, in his most serious way: "Now then, little
Pierre has finished his gymnastics for the present," little Pierre comes
to me with that smile which always gets for him what he wants: "It is
your turn, godfather; come!" And the gymnastics begin again.


The pendulum of time, inexorable, swings on. In a few hours I shall have
to leave, and soon my brother Yves will depart also, both of us for
distant parts, for the unknown.

It is the last day, the last evening. Yves, little Pierre and I are on
our way to the cottage of the old Keremenens, where I am to say good-bye
to grandmother Marianne.

She lives alone, now, under her moss-grown roof, under the spreading
vault of the great oaks. Pierre Kerbras and Anne, who were married in
the spring, are building in the village a proper house in granite, like
that of Yves. All the children have departed.

Poor little cottage in which the white coifs and collarettes moved about
so joyously on the day of the baptism! All that is over; now, the
cottage is empty and silent. We sit down on the old oak benches, resting
our elbows on the table on which the great baptismal feast was served.
The old grandmother is on a stool, spinning at her distaff, her head
bowed, looking already decrepit and forlorn.

Although the sun is not yet very low, inside the cottage it is dark.

Around us, none but old-fashioned things, poor and primitive. Large
rosaries are hung on the rough granite of the walls; in corners, lost in
shadow, one sees the oak logs amassed for the winter, and old household
utensils, blackened and dusty, in ancient and simple forms.

Never had we realized so clearly that all this is of the past and far
from us.

It is the old Brittany of an earlier time, almost dead.

Through the chimney filters the light of the sky, green tones fall from
above on the stones of the hearth, and through the open door appears the
Breton lane, with a ray of the setting sun on the honeysuckle and the

We become dreamers, Yves and I, on this visit we have come to pay to the
dwelling of the grandparents.

Besides, grandmother Marianne speaks only Breton. From time to time Yves
addresses her in this language of the past; she replies, smiles, seems
pleased to see us; but the conversation quickly flags and silence

Vague melancholy of the evening, dreams of far-off days in this old
dwelling which soon will collapse by the roadside, which will fall into
ruin like its old inmates, and which no one will ever rebuild.

Little Pierre is with us. He is very fond of this little cottage and of
this old grandmother, who spoils him with adoration. He loves especially
the little oaken cradle, a work of another century, in which he was put
when he was born. He is longer than his cradle now and uses it, sitting
within, as a see-saw, looking about him with his wide-open dark eyes.
And now his grandmother, stooping near him, her back bent under her
frilled collarette, begins to rock him herself to amuse him. And as she
rocks she sings, and he, every now and then, interrupts the quavering
notes with a burst of his child's laughter.

Boudoul galaïchen! boudoul galaïch du!

Sing, poor old woman, with your broken, trembling voice, sing the
ancient lullaby, the air which comes from the distant night of dead
generations, and which your grandchildren will no longer know!

Boudoul, boudoul! Galaïchen, galaïch du!

One expects to see gnomes and fairies descend by the wide chimney, with
the light that comes from above.

Outside, the sun gilds stills the branches of the oaks, the honeysuckle
and the ferns.

Inside, in the lonely cottage, all is mysterious and dark.

Boudoul, boudoul! Galaïchen, galaïch du!

Rock your little grandson, rock him still, old woman in white frilled
collar! Soon the Breton songs, and the old Bretons who sing them, will
be no more!

And little Pierre joins his hands to say his evening prayer.

Word for word, in a very sweet voice which has a strong Toulven accent,
he repeats, watching us the while, all that his grandmother knows of

"Oh God, and blessed Virgin Mary, and good Saint Anne, I pray to you for
my father, for my mother, for my godfather, for my grandparents, for my
little sister Yvonne. . . ."

"For my Uncle Goulven who is far away at sea," adds Yves in a grave

And still more solemnly:

"For my grandmother at Plouherzel."

"For my grandmother at Plouherzel," repeats little Pierre.

And then he waits for something more to repeat, keeping his hands

But Yves is almost in tears at the poignant recollection which has
suddenly come to him of his mother, of the cottage in which he was born,
of his village of Plouherzel, which his son scarcely knows and which he
himself will perhaps never see again. Life is like that for the children
of the coast, for sailors; they go away, the exigencies of their calling
separate them from beloved parents who scarcely know how to write to
them and whom afterwards they never see.

I look at Yves, and, as we understand each other without speaking, I can
imagine very well what is passing in his mind.

To-day he is happy beyond his dream, many sombre things have been
distanced and conquered, and yet, and yet . . . and afterwards? Here he
is now plunged suddenly into I know not what dream of past and future,
into a strange and unexpected melancholy! And afterwards?

Boudoul galaïchen! boudoul galaïch du!

sings the old woman, her back bent under her white frilled collar.

And afterwards? . . . Only little Pierre is inclined to laugh. He turns
from one side to the other his vivacious head, bronzed and vigorous;
merriment, the flame of a life quite new are still in his large dark

And afterwards? . . . All is dark in the abandoned cottage; it seems as
if the objects there are talking mysteriously among themselves of the
past; night is closing in around us on the great woods.

And afterwards? . . . Little Pierre will grow up and sail the seas, and
we, my brother, we shall pass away and all that we have loved with
us--our old mothers first--then everything and we ourselves, the old
mothers of the Breton cottages as those of the towns, and old Brittany
also, and everything, all the things of this world!

Boudoul galaïchen! boudoul galaïch du!

Night falls and a sadness unexpected, profound, weighs upon our hearts.
. . . And yet, to-day we are happy.


And the Celts mourned three barren rocks, under a lowering sky, in the
heart of a gulf dotted with islets.


Yves and I take our departure, leaving little Pierre with his
grandmother. We follow the green lane, under the vault of oaks and
beeches, hearing in the distance, in the sonorousness of the evening,
the noise of the rocking of the ancient cradle and the old lullaby and
the outburst of child's laughter.

Outside, there is still daylight; the sun, very low, gilds the tranquil

"Let us go as far as the chapel of Saint Eloi," says Yves.

The chapel is on the top of the hill; very old it is, and corroded with
moss, bearded with lichen, alone always, closed and mysterious in the
midst of the woods.

It opens but once in the year, for the "pardon" of the horses, which are
brought hither in great numbers, at the hour of a low mass which is said
here for them. This "pardon" was held quite recently and the grass is
still trodden down by the hoofs of the beasts which came.

This evening there is a strange tranquillity round the chapel. The
wooded horizons, stretching out into the distance, are very peaceful, as
if they were about to fall asleep. It seems also that it might be the
evening of our own life, and that all that we had to do now was to rest
here for ever, watching the night descend on the Breton countrysides, to
let ourselves sink gently into this sleep of nature.

"All the same," says Yves, very thoughtful, "I feel sure that it will be
to somewhere over there (_over there_ means Plouherzel) that I shall
return when I get old, so that they may lay me near Kergrist Chapel; you
know, where I showed you? Yes, I am sure I shall find my way there to

Kergrist Chapel, in the district of Goëlo, under a lowering sky; the
sea-water lake, and, in the middle, the granite islets, the great
squatting beast asleep on the grey plain. . . . I can see the place now,
as it appeared to me, many years ago already, on a winter's day. And I
remember that there is Yves' native land, there is the earth which
awaits him. When he is far away at sea, at night, in hours of danger,
there is the grave of which he dreams.

"Yves, my dear brother, we are two great children, I assure you. Often
very merry when there is no cause, here now we are sad and talking
nonsense at a moment when peace and happiness by rare good fortune have
come to us. I doubt very much if the newness of the experience is
sufficient excuse.

"For who to look at us would imagine we were capable of dreaming these
foolish things in our waking hours, simply because the night is falling
and there is stillness in the woods?

"Think of it! We are neither of us more than thirty-two years old.
Before us yet there should be many more years of life, years that will
be filled with travel, with danger, with suffering. To each of us will
come sunshine, and beauty, and love . . . and, perhaps, who
knows?--between us there may be again scenes, rebellions, struggles!"

In many fewer words than there are above all this crossed his dream.

And he answered me with an air of sad reproach:

"But you know well, brother, that I am altered now, and that there is
_one thing_ which is finished for ever. There is no need to speak to me of

And I grip the hand of my brother Yves trying to smile as one who had
completest confidence.

The stories of real life ought to be able to be finished at will like
the stories in books. . . .


*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "A Tale of Brittany - (Mon frère Yves)" ***

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