Toilers of the Sea by Victor Hugo
First Part-Sieur Clubin
Book VII. The Danger of Opening a Book at Random.
II. Much Astonishment on the Western Coast.
THE full moon rose at ten o'clock on the following night; but however fine the night, however favourable the wind and sea, no fisherman thought of going out that evening either from Hogue la Perre, or Bourdeaux harbour. or Houmet Benet, or Platon, or Port Grat, or Vazon Bay or Perrelle Bay, or Pezeries, or the Tielles or Saints' Bay, or Little Go, or any other port or little harbour in Guernsey; and the reason was very simple. A cock had been heard to crow at noonday.
When the cock is heard to crow at an extraordinary hour, fishing is suspended.
At dusk on that evening, however, a fisherman returning to Omptolle, met with a remarkable adventure. On the height above Houmet Paradis, beyond the Two Brayes and the Two Grunes, stands to the left the beacon of the Plattes Tougeres, representing a tub reversed; and to the right, the beacon of St. Sampson, representing the face of a man. Between these two, the fisherman thought that he perceived for the first time a third beacon. What could be the meaning of this beacon? When had it been erected on that point? What shoal did it indicate? The beacon responded immediately to these interrogations. It moved; it was a mast. The astonishment of the fisherman did not diminish. A beacon would have been remarkable; a mast was still more so: it could not be a fishing-boat. When everybody else was returning, some boat was going out. Who could it be, and what was he about?
Ten minutes later the vessel, moving slowly, came within a short distance of the Omptolle fisherman. He did not recognise it. He heard the sound of rowing: there were evidently only two oars. There was probably then, only one man aboard. The wind was northerly. The man, therefore, was evidently padding along in order to take the wind off Point Fontenelle. There he would probably take to his sails. He intended then to double the Ancresse and Mount Crevel. What could that mean?
The vessel passed, the fisherman returned home. On that same night, at different hours and at different points, various persons scattered and isolated on the western coast of Guernsey observed certain facts.
As the Omptolle fisherman was mooring his bark, a carter of seaweed about half a mile off, whipping his horses along the lonely road from the Clotures near the Druid stones, and in the neighbourhood of the Martello Towers 6 and 7, saw far off at sea, in a part little frequented, because it requires much knowledge of the waters, and in the direction of North Rock and the Jablonneuse, a sail being hoisted. He paid little attention to the circumstance, not being a seamen, but a carter of seaweed.
Half an hour had perhaps elapsed since the carter had perceived this vessel, when a plasterer returning from his work in the town, and passing round Pelee Pool, found himself suddenly opposite a vessel sailing boldly among the rocks of the Quenon, the Rousse de Mer, and the Gripe de Rousse. The night was dark, but the sky was light over the sea-an effect common enough-and he could distinguish a great distance in every direction. There was no sail visible except this vessel.
A little lower, a gatherer of cray-fish, preparing his fish wells on the beach which separates Port Soif from the Port Enfer, was puzzled to make out the movements of a vessel between the Boue Corneille and the Moubrete. The man must have been a good pilot, and in great haste to reach some destination, to risk his boat there.
Just as eight o'clock was striking at the Catel, the tavernkeeper at Cobo Bay observed with astonishment a sail out beyond the Boue du Jardin and the Grunettes, and very near the Susanne and the Western Grunes.
Not far from Cobo Bay, upon the solitary point of the Houtmet of Vason Bay, two lovers were lingering, hesitating before they parted for the night. The young woman addressed the young man with the words, "I am not going because I don't care to stay with you: I've a great deal to do." Their farewell kiss was interrupted by a good-sized sailing boat which passed very near them making for the direction of the Messellettes.
Monsieur le Peyre des Norgiots, an inhabitant of Cotillon Pipet, was engaged about nine o'clock in the evening in examining a hole made by some trespassers in the hedge of his property called La Jennerotte, and his "friquet planted with trees." Even while ascertaining the amount of the damage, he could not help observing a fishing-boat audaciously making its way round the Crocq Point at that hour of night.
On the morrow of a tempest, when there is always some agitation upon the sea, that route was extremely unsafe. It was rash to choose it, at least, unless the steersman knew all the channels by heart.
At half-past nine o'clock, at L'Equerrier, a trawler carrying home his net stopped for a time to observe between Colombelle and the Souderesse something which looked like a boat. The boat was in a dangerous position. Sudden gusts of wind of a very dangerous kind are very common in that spot. The Soufleresse, or Blower, derives its name from the sudden gusts of wind which it seems to direct upon the vessels which by rare chance find their way thither.
At the moment when the moon was rising, the tide being high and the sea being quiet, in the little strait of Li-Hou, the solitary keeper of the island of Li-Hou was considerably startled. A long black object slowly passed between the moon and him. This dark form, high and narrow, resembled a winding-sheet spread out and moving. It glided along the line of the top of the wall formed by the ridges of rock. The keeper of Li-Hou fancied that he had beheld the Black Lady.
The White Lady inhabits the Tau de Pez d'Amont; the Gray Lady, the Tau de Pez d'Aval; the Red Lady, the Silleuse, to the north of the Marquis Bank; and the Black Lady, the Grand Etacre, to the west of Li-Houment. At night, when the moon shines, these ladies stalk abroad, and sometimes meet.
That dark form might undoubtedly be a sail. The long groups of rocks on which she appeared to be walking might in fact be concealing the hull of a bark navigating behind them, and allowing only her sail to be seen. But the keeper asked himself, what bark would dare, at that hour, to venture herself between Li-Hou and the Pecheresses, and the Anguillieres and Leree Point? And what object could she have? It seemed to him much more probable that it was the Black Lady.
As the moon was passing the clock-tower of St. Peter in the Wood, the sergeant at Castle Rocquaine, while in the act of raising the drawbridge of the castle, distinguished at the end of the bay beyond the Haute Canee, but nearer than the Sambule, a sailing-vessel which seemed to be steadily dropping down from north to south.
On the southern coast of Guernsey behind Pleinmont, in the curve of a bay composed entirely of precipices and rocky walls rising peak-shaped from the sea, there is a singular landing-place, to which a French gentleman, a resident of the island since 1855, has given the name of "The Port on the Fourth Floor," a name now generally adopted. This port, or landing-place, which was then called the Mole, is a rocky plateau half formed by nature, half by art, raised about forty feet above the level of the waves, and communicating with the water by two large beams laid parallel in the form of an inclined plane. The fishing-vessels are hoisted up there by chains and pulleys from the sea, and are let down again in the same way along these beams, which are like two rails. For the fishermen there is a ladder. The port was, at the time of our story, much frequented by the smugglers. Being difficult of access, it was well suited to their purposes.
Towards eleven o'clock, some smugglers-perhaps the same upon whose aid Clubin had counted-stood with their bales of goods on the summit of this platform of the Mole. A smuggler is necessarily a man on the look out; it is part of his business to watch. They were astonished to perceive a sail suddenly make its appearance beyond the dusky outline of Cape Pleinmont. It was moonlight. The smugglers observed the sail narrowly, suspecting that it might be some coast-guard cutter about to lie in ambush behind the Great Hanway. But the sail left the Hanways behind, passed to the north-west of the Boue Blondel, and was lost in the pale mists of the horizon out at sea.
"Where the devil can that boat be sailing," asked the smuggler.
That same evening, a little after sunset, some one had been heard knocking at the door of the old house of the Bu de la Rue. It was a boy wearing brown clothes and yellow stockings, a fact that indicated that he was a little Parish clerk. An old fisherwoman prowling about the shore with a lantern in her hand had called to the boy, and this dialogue ensued between the fisherwoman and the little clerk, before the entrance to the Bu de la Rue:-
"What d'ye want, lad,"
"The man of this place."
"He's not here."
"Where is he?"
"I don't know."
"Will he be there to-morrow?"
"I don't know."
"Is he gone away?"
"I don't know."
"I've come, good woman, from the new rector of the parish, the Reverend Ebenezer Caudray, who desires to pay him a visit."
"I don't know where he is."
"The rector sent me to ask if the man who lives at the Bu de la Rue would be at home to-morrow morning."
"I don't know."