Toilers of the Sea by Victor Hugo
Book I. Malicious Gilliatt.
III. Sound, but not Safe.
GILLIATT did not expect to find only a portion of the ship existing. Nothing in the description, in other respects so precise, of the captain of the Shealtiel had led him to anticipate this division of the vessel in the centre. It was probable that the "diabolical crash" heard by the captain of the Shealtiel marked the moment when this destruction had taken place under the blows of a tremendous sea. The captain had, doubtless, worn ship just before this last heavy squall; and what he had taken for a great sea was probably a waterspout. Later, when he drew nearer to observe the wreck, he had only been able to see the stern of the vessel-the remainder, that is to say. the large opening where the forepart had given way, having been concealed from him among the masses of rock.
With that exception, the information given by the captain of the Shealtiel was strictly correct. The hull was useless, but the engine remained intact.
Such chances are common in the history of shipwreck. The logic of disaster at sea is beyond the grasp of human science.
The masts having snapped short, had fallen over the side; the chimney was not even bent. The great iron plating which supported the machinery had kept it together, and in one piece. The planks of the paddle-boxes were disjointed, like the leaves of wooden sun-blinds; but through their apertures the paddles themselves could be seen in good condition. A few of their floats only were missing.
Besides the machinery, the great stern capstan had resisted the destruction. Its chain was there, and, thanks to its firm fixture in a frame of joists, might still be of service, unless the strain of the voyal should break away the planking. The flooring of the deck bent at almost every point and was tottering throughout.
On the other hand, the trunk of the hull, fixed between the Douvres, held together, as we have already said, and it appeared strong.
There was something like derision in this preservation of the machinery; something which added to the irony of the misfortune. The sombre malice of the unseen powers of mischief displays itself sometimes in such bitter mockeries. The machinery was saved, but its preservation did not make it any the less lost. The ocean seemed to have kept it only to demolish it at leisure. It was like the playing of the cat with her prey.
Its fate was to suffer there and to be dismembered day by day. It was to be the plaything of the savage amusements of the sea. It was slowly to dwindle, and, as it were, to melt away. For what could be done? That this vast block of mechanism and gear, at once massive and delicate, condemned to fixity by its weight, delivered up in that solitude to the destructive elements, exposed in that grip of the rock to the action of the wind and wave, could the frown of that implacable spot, escape from slow destruction, seemed a madness even to imagine.
The Durande was the captive of the Douvres.
How could she be extricated from that position?
How could she be delivered from her bondage?
The escape of a man is, difficult; but what a problem was this-the escape of a vast and cumbrous machine.