Toilers of the Sea by Victor Hugo
First Part-Sieur Clubin
Book VII. The Danger of Opening a Book at Random.
III. A Quotation from the Bible.
DURING the twenty-four hours which followed Mess Lethierry slept not, ate nothing, drank nothing. He kissed Deruchette on the forehead, asked after Clubin, of whom there was as yet no news, signed a declaration certifying that he had no intention of preferring a charge against any one, and set Tangrouille at liberty.
All the morning of the next day he remained half supporting himself on the table of the office of the Durande, neither standing nor sitting-answering kindly when any one spoke to him. Curiosity being satisfied, the Bravees had become a solitude. There is a good deal of curiosity generally mingled with the haste of condolences. The door had closed again, and left the old man again alone with Deruchette. The strange light that had shone in Lethierry's eyes was extinguished. The mournful look which filled them after the first news of the disaster had returned.
Deruchette, anxious for his sake, had, on the advice of Grace and Douce, laid silently beside him a pair of stockings, which he had been knitting, sailor fashion, when the bad news had arrived.
He smiled bitterly, and said,-
"They must think me foolish,'
After a quarter of an hour's silence he added,-
"These things are well when you are happy."
Deruchette carried away the stockings, and took advantage of the opportunity to remove also the compass and the ship's papers which Lethierry had been brooding over too long.
In the afternoon, a little before tea-time, the door opened, and two strangers entered, attired in black. One was old, the other young.
The young one has, perhaps, already been observed in the course of this story. The two men had each a grave air; but their gravity appeared different. The old man possessed what might be called state gravity; the gravity of the young man was in his nature. Habit engenders the one; thought the other.
They were, as their costume indicated, two clergymen, each belonging to the Established Church.
The first fact in the appearance of the younger man which might have first struck the observer was that his gravity, though conspicuous in the expression of his features, and evidently springing from the mind, was not indicated by his person. Gravity is not inconsistent with passion, which it exalts by purifying it; but the idea of gravity could with difficulty be associated with an exterior remarkable above all for personal beauty. Being in holy orders, he must have been at least four-and-twenty, but he seemed scarcely more than eighteen. He possessed those gifts at once in harmony with, and in opposition to, each other: a soul which seemed created for exalted passion, and a body created for love. He was fair, rosy-fresh, slim, and elegant in his severe attire, and he had the cheeks of a young girl, and delicate hands. His movements were natural and lively, though subdued. Everything about him was pleasing, elegant, almost voluptuous. The beauty of his expression served to correct this excess of personal attraction. His open smile, which showed his teeth, regular and white as those of a child, had something in it pensive, even devotional. He had the gracefulness of a page, mingled with the dignity of a bishop.
His fair hair, so fair and golden as to be almost effeminate, clustered over his white forehead, which was high and well-formed. A slight double line between the eyebrows awakened associations with studious thought.
Those who saw him felt themselves in the presence of one of those natures, benevolent' innocent, and pure, whose progress is in inverse sense with that of vulgar minds; natures whom illusion renders wise, and whom experience makes enthusiasts.
His older companion was no other than Doctor Jaquemin Herode. Doctor Jaquemin Herode belonged to the High Church-a party whose system is a sort of popery without a pope. The Church of England was at that epoch labouring with the tendencies which have since become strengthened and condensed in the form of Puseyism. Doctor Jaquemin Herode belonged to that shade of Anglicanism which is almost a variety of the Church of Rome. He was haughty, precise, stiff, and commanding. His inner sight scarcely penetrated outwardly. He possessed the letter in the place of the spirit. His manner was arrogant; his presence imposing. He had less the appearance of a "Reverend" than of a Monsignore. His frock coat was cut somewhat in the fashion of a cassock. His true centre would have been Rome. He was a born Prelate of the Antechamber. He seemed to have been created expressly to fill a part in the Papal Court, to walk behind the Pontifical litter, with all the Court of Rome in abitto paonazzo. The accident of his English birth and his theological education, directed more towards the Old than the New Testament, had deprived him of that destiny. All his splendours were comprised in his preferments as Rector of St. Peter's Port, Dean of the Island of Guernsey, and Surrogate of the Bishop of Winchester. These were, undoubtedly, not without their glories. These glories did not prevent M. Jaquemin Herode being, on the whole, a worthy man.
As a theologian he was esteemed by those who were able to judge of such matters; he was almost an authority in the Court of Arches-that Sorbonne of England.
He had the true air of erudition; a learned contraction of the eyes; bristling nostrils; teeth which showed themselves at all times; a thin upper lip and a thick lower one. He was the possessor of several learned degrees, a valuable prebend, titled friends, the confidence of the bishop, and a Bible which he carried always in his pocket.
Mess Lethierry was so completely absorbed that the entrance of the two priests produced no effect upon him. save a slight movement of the eyebrows.
M. Jaquemin Herode advanced, bowed, alluded in a few sober and dignified words to his recent promotion, and mentioned that he came according to custom to introduce among the inhabitants, and to Mess Lethierry in particular, his successor in the parish, the new Rector of St. Sampson, the Rev. Ebenezer Caudray, henceforth the pastor of Mess Lethierry.
The young clergyman, who was the Rev. Ebenezer, saluted her.
Mess Lethierry regarded Monsieur Ebenezer Caudray, and muttered, "A bad sailor."
Grace placed chairs. The two visitors seated themselves near the table.
Doctor Herode commenced a discourse. It had reached his ears that a serious misfortune had befallen his host. The Durande had been lost. He came as Lethiery's pastor to offer condolence and advice. This shipwreck was unfortunate, and yet not without compensations. Let us examine our own hearts. Are we not puffed up with prosperity? The waters of felicity are dangerous. Troubles must be submitted to cheerfully. The ways of Providence are mysterious. Mess Lethierry was ruined, perhaps. But riches were a danger. You may have false friends; poverty will disperse them, and leave you alone. The Durande was reported to have brought a revenue of one thousand pounds sterling per annum. It was more than enough for the wise. Let us fly from temptations; put not our faith in gold; bow the head to losses and neglect. Isolation is full of good-fruits. It was in solitude that Ajah discovered the warm springs while leading the asses of his father Zibeon. Let us not rebel against the inscrutable decrees of Providence. The holy man Job, after his misery, had put faith in riches. Who can say that the loss of the Durande may not have its advantages even of a temporal kind? He, for instance, Doctor Jaquemin Herode, had invested some money in an excellent enterprise, now in progress at Sheffield. If Mess Lethierry, with the wealth which might still remain to him, should choose to embark in the same affair, he might transfer his capital to that town. It was an extensive manufactory of arms for the supply of the Czar, now engaged in repressing insurrection in Poland. There was a good prospect of obtaining three hundred per cent profit.
The word Czar Appeared to awaken Lethierry. He interrupted Dr. Herode.
"I want nothing to do with the Czar."
The Reverend Jaquemin Herode replied,-
"Mess Lethierry, princes are recognised by God. It is written, ‘Render unto Cæsar the things which are Cæsar's.' The Czar is Cæsar."
Lethierry partly relapsed into his dream and muttered: Cæsar? who is Cæsar? I don't know."
The Rev. Jaquemin Herode continued his exhortations. He did not press the question of Sheffield.
To condemn a Cæsar was republicanism. He could understand a man being a republican. In that case he could turn his thoughts towards a republic. Mess Lethierry might repair his fortune in the United States. even better than in England. If he desired to invest what remained to him at great profit, he had only to take shares in the great company for developing the resources of Texas, which employed more than twenty thousand negroes.
"I want nothing to do with slavery," said Lethierry.
"Slavery," replied the Reverend Herode. "is an institution recognised by Scripture. It is written, ‘If a man smite his slave, he shall not be punished, for he is his money'."
Grace and Douce at the door of the room listened in a sort of ecstasy to the words of the Reverend Doctor.
The Doctor continued. He was, all things considered, as we have said, a worthy man; and whatever his differences, personal or connected with caste, with Mess Lethierry, he had come very sincerely to offer him that spiritual and even temporal aid which he, Doctor Jaquemin Herode, dispensed.
If Mess Lethierry's fortune had been diminished to that point that he was unable to take a beneficial part in any speculation, Russian or American, why should he not obtain some government appointment suited to him? There were many very respectable places open to him, and the reverend gentleman was ready to recommend him. The office of Deputy-Vicomte was just vacant. Mess Lethierry was popular and respected, and the Reverend Jaquemin Herode, Dean of Guernsey and Surrogate of the Bishop, would make an effort to obtain for Mess Lethierry this post. The Deputy-Vicomte is an important officer. He is present as the representative of His Majesty at the holding of the Sessions, at the debates of the Cobue, and at executions of justice.
Lethierry fixed his eye upon Doctor Herode.
"I don't like hanging," he said.
Doctor Herode, who up to this point had pronounced his words with the same intonation, had now a fit of severity; his tone became slightly changed.
"Mess Lethierry, the pain of death is of divine ordination. God has placed the sword in the hands of governors. It is written, ‘An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth'."
The Reverend Ebenezer imperceptibly drew his chair nearer to the Reverend Doctor, and said, so as to be heard only by him,-
"What this man says is dictated to him."
"By whom? By what?" demanded the Reverend Jaquemin Herode. in the same tone.
The young man replied in a whisper, "By his conscience."
The Reverend Jaquemin Herode felt in his pocket, drew out a thick little bound volume with clasps, and said aloud,-
"Conscience is here."
The book was a Bible.
Then Doctor Herode's tone became softer. "His wish was to render a service to Mess Lethierry, whom he respected much. As his pastor, it was his right and duty to offer counsel. Mess Lethierry' however, was free."
Mess Lethierry, plunged once more in his overwhelming absorption, no longer listened. Deruchette, seated near him, and thoughtful, also did not raise her eyes, and by her silent presence somewhat increased the embarrassment of a conversation not very animated. A witness who says nothing is a species of indefinable weight. Doctor Herode, however, did not appear to feel it.
Lethierry no longer replying, Doctor Herode expatiated freely. Counsel is from man; inspiration is from God. In the counsels of the priests there is inspiration. It is good to accept, dangerous to refuse them. Sochoh was seized by eleven devils for disdaining the exhortations of Nathaniel. Tiburianus was struck with a leprosy for having driven from his house the Apostle Andrew. Barjesus, a magician though he was, was punished with blindness for having mocked at the words of St. Paul. Elxai and his sisters, Martha and Martena, are in eternal torments for despising the warnings of Valentianus. who proved to them clearly that their Jesus Christ, thirty-eight leagues in height, was a demon. Aholibamah, who is also called Judith, obeyed the Councils; Reuben and Peniel listened to the counsels from on high, as their names indeed indicate. Reuben signifies son of the vision; and Peniel, the face of God.
Mess Lethierry struck the table with his fist.
"Parbleu!" he cried; "it was my fault."
"What do you mean," asked M. Jaquemin Herode.
"I say that it is my fault."
"Your fault? Why?"
Because I allowed the Durande to return on Fridays."
M. Jaquemin Herode whispered in Caudray's ear,-
"This man is superstitious."
He resumed, raising his voice, and in a didactic tone,- "Mess Lethierry, it is puerile to believe in Fridays. You ought not to put faith in fables. Friday is a day just like any other. It is very often a propitious day. Melendez founded the city of Saint Augustin on a Friday; it was on a Friday that Henry the Seventh gave his commission to John Cabot, the Pilgrims of the Mayflower landed at Province Town on a Friday. Washington was born on Friday, the 22nd of February 1732; Christopher Columbus discovered America on Friday, the 12th of October 1492."
Having delivered himself of these remarks, he rose. Caudray, whom he had brought with him, rose also.
Grace and Douce, perceiving that the two clergymen were about to take their leave, opened the folding-doors. Mess Lethierry saw nothing, heard nothing.
M. Jaquemin Herode said, apart to M. Caudray,-
"He does not even salute us. This is not sorrow; it is vacancy. He must have lost his reason."
He took his little Bible, however, from the table, and held it between his hands outstretched, as one holds a bird in fear that it may fly away. This attitude awakened among the persons present a certain amount of attention. Grace and Douce leaned forward eagerly.
His voice assumed all the solemnity of which it was capable.
"Mess Lethierry," he began, "let us not part without reading a page of the Holy Book. It is from books that wise men derive consolation in the troubles of life. The profane have their oracles; but believers have their ready resource in the Bible. The first book which comes to hand, opened by chance, may afford counsel; but the Bible, opened at any page, yields a revelation. It is, above all, a boon to the afflicted. Yes, Holy Scripture is an unfailing balm for their wounds. In the presence of affliction it is good to consult its sacred pages-to open even without choosing the place, and to read with faith the passage which we find. What man does not choose is chosen by God. He knoweth best what suited us. His finger pointeth invisibly to that which we read. Whatever be the page, it will infallibly enlighten. Let us seek, then, no other light; but hold fast to His. It is the word from on high. In the text which is evoked with confidence and reverence, often do we find a mysterious significance in our present troubles. Let us hearken, then, and obey. Mess Lethierry, you are in affliction; but I hold here the book of consolation. You are sick at heart; but I have here the book of spiritual health."
The Reverend Jaquemin Herode touched the spring of the clasp and let his finger slip between the leaves. Then he placed his hand a moment upon the open volume, collected his thoughts, and, raising his eyes impressively, began to read in a loud voice.
The passage which he had lighted on was as follows:-
"And Isaac went out to meditate in the field at the eventide: and he lifted up his eyes, and saw, and, behold, the camels were coming.
"And Rebekah lifted up her eyes, and when she saw Isaac she lighted off the camel.
"For she had said unto the servant, What man is this that walketh in the field to meet us?
"And Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah's tent, and took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her; and Isaac was comforted after his mother's death." Caudray and Deruchette glanced at each other.