Toilers of the Sea by Victor Hugo
First Part-Sieur Clubin
Book III. Durande and Deruchette.
X. Long Yarns.
MESS LETHIERRY, for the sake of his own ease, always wore his seafaring clothes, and preferred his tarpaulin overcoat to his pilot jacket. Deruchette felt vexed occasionally about this peculiarity. Nothing is prettier than a pouting beauty. She laughed and scolded. "My dear father," she would say, "what a smell of pitch!" and she would give him a gentle tap upon his broad shoulders.
This good old seaman had gathered from his voyages many wonderful stories. He had seen at Madagascar birds' feathers three of which sufficed to make a roof of a house. He had seen in India field sorrel the stalks of which were nine inches high. In New Holland he had seen troops of turkeys and geese led about and guarded by a bird, like a flock by a shepherd's dog: this bird was called the Agami. He had visited elephants' cemeteries. In Africa he had encountered gorillas, a terrible species of man-monkey. He knew the ways of all the ape tribe, from the wild dog-faced monkey, which he called the Macaco-bravo, to the howling monkey or Macaco-barbado. In Chili he had seen a pouched monkey move the compassion of the huntsman by showing its little one. He had seen in California a hollow trunk of a tree fall to the ground, so vast that a man on horseback could ride one hundred paces inside. In Morocco he had seen the Mozabites and the Bisskris fighting with matraks and bars of iron-the Bisskris, because they had been called kelbs, which means dogs; and the Mozabites because they had been treated as khamsi, which means people of the fifth sect. He had seen in China the pirate Chanh-thong-quan-larh-Quoi cut to pieces for having assassinated the Ap of a village. At Thu-dan-mot he had seen a lion carry off an old woman in the open market-place. He was present at the arrival of the Great Serpent brought from Canton to Saigon to celebrate in the pagoda of Cho-len the fête of Quan-nam, the goddess of navigators. He had beheld the great Quan-Su among the Moi. At Rio de Janeiro he had seen the Brazilian ladies in the evening put little balls of gauze into their hair, each containing a beautiful kind of firefly; and the whole forming a headdress of little twinkling lights. He had combated in Paraguay with swarms of enormous ants and spiders, big and downy as an infant's head, and compassing with their long legs a third of a yard, and attacking men by pricking them with their bristles, which enter the skin as sharp as arrows, and raise painful blisters. On the river Arinos, a tributary of the Tocantins, in the virgin forests to the north of Diamantina, he had determined the existence of the famous bat-shaped people, the Murcilagos, or men who are born with white hair and red eyes, who live in the shady solitudes of the woods, sleep by day, awake by night, and fish and hunt in the dark. seeing better then than by the light of the moon. He told how, near Beyrout, once in an encampment of an expedition of which he formed part, a rain gauge belonging to one of the party happened to be stolen from a tent. A wizard, wearing two or three strips of leather only, and looking like a man having nothing on but his braces, thereupon rang a bell at the end of a horn so violently that a hyena finally answered the summons by bringing back the missing instrument. The hyena was, in fact, the thief. These veritable histories bore a strong resemblance to fictions; but they amused Deruchette.
The poupee or "doll" of the Durande, as the people of the Channel Islands call the figurehead of a ship, was the connecting link between the vessel and Lethierry's niece.
The poupee of the Durande was particularly dear to Mess Lethierry. He had instructed the carver to make it resemble Deruchette. It looked like a rude attempt to cut out a face with a hatchet; or like a clumsy log trying hard to look like a girl.
This unshapely block produced a great effect upon Mess Lethierry's imagination. He looked upon it with an almost superstitious admiration. His faith in it was complete. He was able to trace in it an excellent resemblance to Deruchette. Thus the dogma resembles the truth, and the idol the deity.
Mess Lethierry had two grand fête days in every week; one was Tuesday, the other Friday. His first delight consisted in seeing the Durande weigh anchor; his second in seeing her enter the port again. He leaned upon his elbows at the window contemplating his work, and was happy.
On Fridays, the presence of Mess Lethierry at his window was a signal. When people passing the Bravees saw him lighting his pipe; they said, "Ay! the steamboat is in sight." One kind of smoke was the herald of the other.
The Durande, when she entered the port, made her cable fast to a huge iron ring under Mess Lethierry's window, and fixed in the basement of the house. On those nights Lethierry slept soundly in his hammock, with a soothing consciousness of the presence of Deruchette asleep in her room near him, and of the Durande moored opposite.
The moorings of the Durande were close to the great bell of the port. A little strip of quay passed thence before the door of the Bravees.
The quay, the Bravees and its house, the garden, the alleys bordered with edges, and the greater part even of the surrounding houses, no longer exist. The demand for Guernsey granite has invaded these too. The whole of this part of the town is now occupied by stonecutters' yards.