Toilers of the Sea by Victor Hugo
Book III. The Struggle.
I. Extremes Meet.
NOTHING is more threatening than a late equinox.
The appearance of the sea presents a strange phenomenon, resulting from what may be called the arrival of the ocean winds.
In all seasons, but particularly at the epoch of the Syzygies, at the moment when least expected, the sea sometimes becomes singularly tranquil. That vast perpetual movement ceases; a sort of drowsiness and languor overspreads it; and it seems weary and about to rest. Every rag of bunting, from the tiny streamer of the fishing-boat to the great flag of ships of war, droops against the mast. The admiral's flag, the Royal and Imperial ensigns sleep alike. Suddenly all these streamers begin to flutter gently.
If there happen to be clouds, the moment has then come for making the formation of the cirri; if the sun is setting. for observing the red tints of the horizon; or if it be night and there is a moon, for looking attentively for the halo.
It is then that the captain or commander of a squadron, if he happen to possess one of those storm indicators the inventor of which is unknown, notes his instrument carefully, and takes his precautions against the south wind, if the clouds have an appearance like dissolved sugar; or against the north if they exfoliate in crystallisations like brakes of brambles, or like fir woods. Then too, the poor Irish or Breton fisherman, after having consulted some mysterious gnomon engraved by the Romans or by demons upon one of those straight enigmatical stones, which are called in Brittany Menhir, and in Ireland Cruach hauls his boat up on the shore.
Meanwhile the serenity of sky and ocean continues. The day dawns radiant, and Aurora smiles. It was this which filled the old poets and seers with religious horror; for men dared to suspect the falsity of the sun. Solem quis dicere falsum audeat?
The sombre vision of nature's secret laws is interdicted to man by the fatal opacity of surrounding things. The most terrible and perfidious of her aspects is that which masks the convulsions of the deep.
Some hours, and even days sometimes, pass thus. Pilots raise their telescopes here and there. The faces of old seamen have always an expression of severity left upon them by the vexation of perpetually looking out for changes.
Suddenly a great confused murmur is heard. A sort of mysterious dialogue takes place in the air.
Nothing unusual is seen.
The wide expanse is tranquil.
Yet the noises increase. The dialogue becomes more audible.
There is something beyond the horizon.
Something terrible. It is the wind.
The wind; or rather that populace of Titans which we call the gale. The unseen multitude.
India knew them as the Maroubs, Judea as the Keroubim, Greece as the Aquilones. They are the invisible winged creatures of the Infinite. Their blasts sweep over the earth.