Toilers of the Sea by Victor Hugo
First Part-Sieur Clubin
Book VI. The Drunken Steersman and the Sober Captain.
VII. An Unexpected Denouement.
CLUBIN, haggard, stared straight ahead.
It was indeed those terrible and solitary rocks.
It was impossible to mistake their misshapen outlines. The two twin Douvres reared their forms aloft, hideously revealing the passage between them, like a snare, a cut-throat in ambush in the ocean.
They were quite close to him. The fog, like an artful accomplice, had hidden them until now.
Clubin had mistaken his course in the dense mist. Not-withstanding all his pains, he had experienced the fate of two other great navigators, Gonzalez, who discovered Cape Blanco, and Fernandez, who discovered Cape Verd. The fog had bewildered him. It had seemed to him, in the confidence of his seamanship, to favour admirably the execution of his project; but it had its perils. In veering to westward he had lost his reckoning. The Guernsey man, who fancied that he recognised the Hanways, had decided his fate, and determined him to give the final turn to the tiller. Clubin had never doubted that he had steered the vessel on the Hanways.
The Durande, stove in by one of the sunken rocks of the group, was only separated from the two Douvres by a few cables lengths.
At two hundred fathoms further was a massive block of granite. Upon the steep sides of this rock were some hollows and small projections, which might help a man to climb. The square corners of those rude walls at right angles indicated the existence of a plateau on the summit. It was the height known by the name of "The Man."
"The Man" rock rose even higher still than the Douvres. Its platform commanded a view over their two inaccessible peaks. This platform, crumbling at its edges, had every kind of irregularity of shape. No place more desolate or more dangerous could be imagined. The hardly perceptible waves of the open sea lapped gently against the square sides of that dark enormous mass; a sort of resting-place for the vast spectres of the sea and darkness.
All around was calm. Scarcely a breath of air or a ripple. The mind guessed darkly the hidden life and vastness of the depths beneath that quiet surface.
Clubin had often seen the Douvres from afar.
He satisfied himself that he was indeed there.
He could not doubt it.
A sudden and hideous change of affairs. The Douvres instead of the Hanways. Instead of one mile, five leagues of sea! The Douvres to the solitary shipwrecked sailor is the visible and palpable presence of death, the extinction of all hope of reaching land.
Clubin shuddered. He had placed himself voluntarily in the jaws of destruction. No other refuge was left to him than "The Man" rock. It was probable that a tempest would arise in the night, and that the long-boat, overloaded as she was, would sink. No news of the shipwreck then would come to land. It would not even be known that Clubin had been left upon the Douvres. No prospect was now before him but death from cold and hunger. His seventy-five thousand francs would not purchase him a mouthful of bread. All the scaffolding he had built up had brought him only to this snare. He alone was the laborious architect of this crowning catastrophe. No resource-no possible escape; his triumph transformed into a fatal precipice. Instead of deliverance, a prison; instead of the long prosperous future, agony. In the glance of an eye, in the moment which the lightning occupies in passing all his construction had fallen into ruins. The paradise dreamed of by this demon had changed to its true form of a sepulchre.
Meanwhile there had sprang up a movement in the air. The wind was rising. The fog, shaken, driven in, and rent asunder, moved towards the horizon in vast shapeless masses. As quickly as it had disappeared before. the sea became once more visible.
The cattle, more and more invaded by the waters, continued to bellow in the hold.
Night was approaching, probably bringing with it a storm.
The Durande, filling slowly with the rising tide, swung from right to left, then from left to right, and began to turn upon the rock as upon a pivot.
The moment could be foreseen when a wave must move her from her fixed position, and probably roll her over on her beam-ends.
It was not even so dark as at the instant of her striking the rocks. Though the day was more advanced, it was possible to see more clearly. The fog had carried away with it some part of the darkness. The west was without a cloud. Twilight brings a pale sky. Its vast reflection glimmered on the sea.
The Durande's bows were lower than her stern. Her stern was, in fact, almost out of the water. Clubin mounted on the taffrail, and fixed his eyes on the horizon.
It is the nature of hypocrisy to be sanguine. The hypocrite is one who waits his opportunity. Hypocrisy is nothing, in fact, but a horrible hopefulness; the very foundation of its revolting falsehood is composed of that virtue transformed into a vice.
Strange contradiction. There is a certain trustfulness in hypocrisy. The hypocrite confides in some power, unrevealed even to himself, which permits the course of evil.
Clubin looked far and wide over the ocean.
The position was desperate, but that evil spirit did not yet despair.
He knew that after the fog, vessels that had been lying-to or riding at anchor would resume their course; and he thought that perhaps one would pass within the horizon.
And, as he had anticipated, a sail appeared.
She was coming from the east and steering towards the west.
As it approached the cut of the vessel became visible. It had but one mast, and was schooner rigged. Her bow-sprit was almost horizontal. It was a cutter.
Before a half-hour she must pass not very far from the Douvres.
Clubin said within himself, "I am saved!"
In a moment like this a man thinks at first of nothing but his life
The cutter was probably a strange craft. Might it not be one of the smuggling vessels on its way to Pleinmont? It might even be Blasquito himself. In that case, not only life, but fortune, would be saved; and the accident of the Douvres, by hastening the conclusion, by dispensing with the necessity for concealment in the haunted house, and by bringing the adventure to a denouement at sea, would be turned into a happy incident.
All his original confidence of success returned fanatically to his sombre mind.
It is remarkable how easily knaves are persuaded that they deserve to succeed.
There was but one course to take.
The Durande, entangled among the rocks, necessarily mingled her outline with them, and confounded herself with their irregular shapes, among which she formed only one more mass of lines. Thus become indistinct and lost, she would not suffice, in the little light which remained, to attract the attention of the crew of the vessel which was approaching.
But a human form standing up, black against the pale twilight of the sky, upon "the Man Rock," and making signs of distress, would doubtless be perceived, and the cutter would then send a boat to take the shipwrecked man aboard.
"The Man" was only two hundred fathoms off. To reach it by swimming was simple, to climb it easy.
There was not a minute to lose.
The bows of the Durande being low between the rocks, it was from the height of the poop where Clubin stood that he had to jump into the sea. He began by taking a sounding, and discovered that there was great depth just under the stern of the wrecked vessel. The microscopic shells of foraminifera which the adhesive matter on the lead-line brought up were intact, indicating the presence of very hollow caves under the rocks, in which the water was tranquil, however great the agitation of the surface.
He undressed, leaving his clothing on the deck. He knew that he would be able to get clothing when aboard the cutter.
He retained nothing but his leather belt.
As soon as he was stripped he placed his hand upon this belt, buckled it more securely, felt for the iron tobacco-box, took a rapid survey in the direction which he would have to follow among the breakers and the waves to gain "the Man Rock;" then precipitating himself head first, he plunged the sea.
As he dived from a height, he plunged heavily.
He sank deep in the water, touched the bottom, skirted for a moment the submarine rocks, then struck out to regain the surface.
At that moment he felt himself seized by one foot.