Toilers of the Sea by Victor Hugo
First Part-Sieur Clubin
Book VI. The Drunken Steersman and the Sober Captain.
II. An Unexpected Flask of Brandy.
ON the Friday morning, the day after the departure of the Tamaulipas, the Durande started again for Guernsey.
She left St. Malo at nine o'clock. The weather was fine; no haze. Old Captain Gertrais-Gaboureau was evidently in his dotage.
Sieur Clubin's numerous occupations had decidedly been unfavourable to the collection of freight for the Durande. He had only taken aboard some packages of Parisian articles for the fancy shops of St. Peter's Port; three cases for the Guernsey hospital, one containing yellow soap and long candles, and the other French shoe leather for soles, and choice Cordovan skins. He brought back from his last cargo a case of crushed sugar and three chests of congou tea, which the French custom-house would not permit to pass. He had embarked very few cattle; some bullocks only. These bullocks were in the hold loosely tethered.
There were six passengers aboard; a Guernsey man, two inhabitants of St. Malo, dealers in cattle: a "tourist"-a phrase already in vogue at this period-a Parisian citizen, probably travelling on commercial affairs, and an American, engaged in distributing Bibles.
Without reckoning Clubin, the crew of the Durande amounted to seven men; a helmsman, a stoker, a ship's carpenter, and a cook-serving as sailors in case of need-two engineers, and a cabin boy. One of the two engineers was also a practical mechanic. This man, a bold and intelligent Dutch negro, who had originally escaped from the sugar plantations of Surinam, was named Imbrancam. The negro, Imbrancam, understood and attended admirably to the engine. In the early days of the "Devil Boat," his black face, appearing now and then at the top of the engine-room stairs, had contributed not a little to sustain its diabolical reputation.
The helmsman, a native of Guernsey, but of a family originally from Cotentin, bore the name of Tangrouille. The Tangrouilles were an old noble family.
This was strictly true. The Channel Islands are like England, an aristocratic region. Castes exist there still. The castes have their peculiar ideas, which are, in fact, their protection. These notions of caste are everywhere similar-in Hindoostan, as in Germany, nobility is won by the sword; lost by soiling the hands with labour: but preserved by idleness. To do nothing is to live nobly; whoever abstains from work is honoured. A trade is fatal. In France, in old times, there was no exception to this rule, except in the case of glass manufacturers. Emptying bottles being then one of the glories of gentlemen, making them was probably, for that reason, not considered dishonourable. In the Channel archipelago, as in Great Britain, he who would remain noble must contrive to be rich. A working man cannot possibly be a gentleman. If he has ever been one, he is so no longer. Yonder sailor, perhaps, descends from the Knights Bannerets, but is nothing but a sailor. Thirty years ago, a real Gorges, who would have had rights over the Seigniory of Gorges, confiscated by Philip Augustus, gathered seaweed, naked-footed, in the sea. A Carteret is a waggoner in Sark. There are at Jersey a draper, and at Guernsey a shoemaker, named Gruchy, who claim to be Grouchys, and cousins of the Marshal of Waterloo. The old registers of the Bishopric of Coutances make mention of a Seigniory of Tangroville, evidently from Tancarville on the lower Seine, which is identical with Montmorency. In the fifteenth century, Johan de Heroudeville, archer and etoffe of the Sire de Tangroville, bore behind him "son corset et ses autres harnois." In May 1371, at Pontorson, at the review of Bertrand du Guesclin, Monsieur de Tangroville rendered his homage as Knight Bachelor. In the Norman islands, if a noble falls into poverty he is soon eliminated from the order. A mere change of pronunciation is enough. Tangroville becomes Tangrouille: and the thing is done.
This had been the fate of the helmsman of the Durande.
At the Bordage of St. Peter's Port there is a dealer in old iron named Ingrouille, who is probably an Ingroville. Under Lewis le Gros the Ingrovilles possessed three parishes in the district of Valognes. A certain Abbe Trigan has written an Ecclesiastical History of Normandy. This chronicler Trigan was the curé of the Seigniory of Digoville. The Sire of Digoville, if he had sunk grade, would have been called Digouille.
Tangrouille, this probable Tancarville, and possible Montmorency, had an ancient noble quality, but a grave failing for a steersman: he got drunk occasionally.
Sieur Clubin had obstinately determined to retain him. He answered for his conduct to Mess Lethierry.
Tangrouille the helmsman never left the vessel; he slept aboard.
On the eve of their departure, when Sieur Clubin came at a late hour to inspect the vessel, the steersman was in his hammock asleep.
In the night Tangrouille awoke. It was his nightly habit. Every drunkard who is not his own master has his secret hiding-place. Tangrouille had his, which he called his store. The secret store of Tangrouille was in the hold. He had placed it there to put others off the scent. He thought it certain that his hiding-place was known only to himself. Captain Clubin, being a sober man himself, was strict. The little rum or gin which the helmsman could conceal from the vigilant eyes of the captain, he kept in reserve in this mysterious corner of the hold, and nearly every night he had a stolen interview with the contents of this store. The surveillance was rigorous, the orgie was a poor one, and Tangrouille's nightly excesses were generally confined to two or three furtive draughts. Sometimes it happened that the store was empty. This night Tangrouille had found there an unexpected bottle of brandy. His joy was great; but his astonishment greater. From what cloud had it fallen? He could not remember when or how he had ever brought it into the ship. He soon, however, consumed the whole of it; partly from motives of prudence, and partly from a fear that the brandy might be discovered and seized. The bottle he threw overboard. In the morning, when he took the helm, Tangrouille exhibited a slight oscillation of the body. He steered, however, pretty nearly as usual.
With regard to Clubin, he had gone, as the reader knows, to sleep at the Jean Auberge.
Clubin always wore, under his shirt, a leathern travelling belt, in which he kept a reserve of twenty guineas; he took this belt off only at night. Inside the belt was his name "Clubin," written by himself on the rough leather, with thick lithographer's ink, which is indelible.
On rising, just before his departure, he put into this girdle the iron box containing the seventy-five thousand francs in bank notes; then, as he was accustomed to do, he buckled the belt round his body.