Toilers of the Sea by Victor Hugo
Book III. The Departure of the Cashmere.
II. Despair Confronts Despair.
IT was a little before ten o'clock in the morning. The crowd at St. Sampson, according to all appearance, was increasing. The multitude, feverish with curiosity, was moving towards the north; and the Havelet, which is in the south, was more deserted than ever.
Notwithstanding this, there was a boat there and a boatman. In the boat was a travelling-bag. The boatman seemed to be waiting for some one.
The Cashmere was visible at anchor in roads, as she did not start till midday; there was as yet no sign of moving aboard.
A passer-by, who had listened from one of the ladder-paths up the cliffs overhead, would have heard a murmur of words in the Havelet, and if he had leaned over the overhanging cliff might have seen, at some distance from the boat, in a corner among the rocks and branches, where the eye of the boatman could not reach them, a man and a woman. It was Caudray and Deruchette.
These obscure nooks on the seashore, the chosen places of lady bathers, are not always so solitary as is believed. Persons are sometimes observed and heard there. Those who seek shelter and solitude in them may easily be followed through the thick bushes, and, thanks to the multiplicity and entanglement of the paths, the granite and the shrubs which favour the stolen interview may also favour the witness.
Caudray and Deruchette stood face to face, looking into each other's eyes, and holding each other by the hand. Deruchette was speaking. Caudray was silent. A tear that had gathered upon his eyelash hung there and did not fall.
Grief and strong passion were imprinted in his calm, religious countenance. A painful resignation was there too-a resignation hostile to faith, though springing from it. Upon that face, simply devout until then, there was the commencement of a fatal expression. He who had hitherto meditated only on doctrine, had begun to meditate on Fate-an unhealthy meditation for a priest. Faith dissolves under its action. Nothing disturbs the religious mind more than that bending under the weight of the unknown. Life seems a perpetual succession of events to which man submits. We never know from which direction the sudden blow will come. Misery and happiness enter or make their exit, like unexpected guests. Their laws, their orbit, their principle of gravitation, are beyond man's grasp. Virtue conducts not to happiness, nor crime to retribution; conscience has one logic, fate another; and neither coincide. Nothing is foreseen. We live confusedly, and from hand to mouth. Conscience is the straight line, life is the whirlwind, which creates above man's head either black chaos or the blue sky. Fate does not practice the art of gradations. Her wheel turns sometimes so fast that we can scarcely distinguish the interval between one revolution and another, or the link between yesterday and today. Caudray was a believer whose faith did not exclude reason, and whose priestly training did not shut him out from passion. Those religious systems which impose celibacy on the priesthood are not without reason for it. Nothing really destroys the individuality of the priest more than love. All sorts of clouds seemed to darken Caudray's soul. He looked too long into Deruchette's eyes. These two beings worshipped each other.
There was in Caudray's eye the mute adoration of despair.
"You must not leave me. I shall not have strength. I thought I could bid you farewell. I cannot. Why did you come yesterday? You should not have come if you were going so soon. I never spoke to you. I loved you, but knew it not. Only that day, when M. Herode read to us the story of Rebecca, and when your eyes met mine. my cheeks were like fire, and I thought only of how Rebecca's face must have burnt like mine; and yet, if any one had told me yesterday that I loved you, I might have laughed at it. This is what is so terrible. It has been like a treason. I did not take heed. I went to the church, I saw you, I thought everybody there was like myself. I do not reproach you; you did nothing to make me love you; you did nothing but look at me; it is not your fault if you look at people; and yet that made me love you so much. I did not even suspect it. When you took up the book it was a flood of light; when others took it, it was but a book. You raised your eyes sometimes; you spoke of archangels; oh! you were my archangel. What you said penetrated my thoughts at once. Before then I know not even whether I believed in God. Since I have known you I have learnt to pray. I used to say to Douce, ‘Dress me quickly, lest I should be late at the service'; and I hastened to the church. Such it was with me to love some one. I did not know the cause. I said to myself, ‘How devout I am becoming!' It is from you that I have learnt that I do not go to church for God's service. It is true; I went for your sake. You spoke so well, and when you raised your arms to heaven you seemed to hold my heart within your two white hands. I was foolish, but I did not know it. Shall I tell you your fault? It was your coming to me in the garden; it was your speaking to me. If you had said nothing, I should have known nothing. If you had gone, I should, perhaps, have been sad, but now I should die. Since I know that I love you, you cannot leave me. Of what are you thinking? You do not seem to listen to me."
"You heard what was said last night?"
"What can I do against that?"
They were silent for a moment. Caudray continued,-
"There is but one duty left to me. It is to depart."
"And mine to die. Oh, how I wish there was no sea, but only sky! It seems to me as if that would settle all and that our departure would be the same. It was wrong to speak to me; why did you sneak to me? Do not go. What will become of me? I tell you I shall die. You will be far off when I shall be in my grave. Oh, my heart will break! I am very wretched; yet my uncle is not unkind."
It was the first time in her life that Deruchette had ever said "my uncle." Until then she had always said "my father."
Caudray stepped back and made a sign to the boatman. Deruchette heard the sound of the boat-hook among the shingle, and the step of the man on the gunwale of the boat.
"No! no!" cried Deruchette.
"It must be, Deruchette," replied Caudray.
"No, never! For the sake of an engine-impossible. Did you see that horrible man last night? You cannot abandon me thus. You are wise; you can find a means. It is impossible that you bade me come here this morning with the idea of leaving me. I have never done anything to deserve this; you can have no reproach to make me. Is it by that vessel that you intended to sail? I will not let you go. You shall not leave me. Heaven does not open thus to close so soon. I know you will remain. Besides, it is not yet time. Oh, how I love you!"
And pressing closely to him, she interlaced the finders of each hand behind his neck, as if partly to make a bond of her two arms for detaining him, and partly with her joined hands to pray. He moved away this gentle restraint, while Deruchette resisted as long as she could.
Deruchette sank upon a projection of the rock covered with ivy, lifting by an unconscious movement the sleeve of her dress up to the elbow, and exhibiting her graceful arm. A pale suffused light was in her eyes. The boat was approaching.
Caudray held her head between his hands. He touched her hair with a sort of religious care, fixed his eyes upon her for some moments, then kissed her on the forehead fervently, and in an accent trembling with anguish, and in which might have been traced the uprooting of his soul, he uttered the word which has so often resounded in the depths of the human heart, "Farewell!"
Deruchette burst into loud sobs.
At this moment they heard a voice near them, which said solemnly and deliberately,-
"Why should you not be man and wife?"
Caudray raised his head. Deruchette looked up.
Gilliatt stood before them.
He had approached by a bypath.
He was no longer the same man that he had appeared on the previous night. He had arranged his hair, shaved his beard, put on shoes, and a white shirt, with a large collar turned over, sailor fashion. He wore a sailor's costume, but all was new. A gold ring was on his little finger. He seemed profoundly calm. His sunburnt skin had become pale; a hue of sickly bronze overspread it.
They looked at him astonished. Though so changed, Deruchette recognised him. But the words which he had spoken were so far from what was passing in their minds at that moment that they had left no distinct impression.
Gilliatt spoke again.
"Why should you say farewell? Be man and wife, and be together."
Deruchette started. A trembling seized her from head to foot.
"Miss Lethierry is a woman. She is of age. It depends only on herself. Her uncle is but her uncle. You love each other-"
Deruchette interrupted in a gentle voice, and asked, "How came you here? "
"Make yourselves one." repeated Gilliatt.
Deruchette began to have a sense of the meaning of his words. She stammered out,-
"My poor uncle!"
"If the marriage was yet to be," said Gilliatt, "he would refuse. When it is over he will consent. Besides, you are going to leave here. When you return he will forgive."
Gilliatt added, with a slight touch of bitterness, "And then he is thinking of nothing just now but the rebuilding of his boat. This will occupy his mind during your absence. The Durande will console him."
"I cannot," said Deruchette, in a state of stupor which was not without its gleam of joy. "I must not leave him unhappy."
"It will be but for a short time,"' answered Gilliatt.
Caudray and Deruchette had been, as it were, bewildered. They recovered themselves now. The meaning of Gilliatt's words became plainer as their surprise diminished. There was a slight cloud still before them, but their part was not to resist. We yield easily to those who come to save. Objections to a return into Paradise are weak. There was something in the attitude of Deruchette, as she leaned imperceptibly upon her lover, which seemed to make common cause with Gilliatt's words. The enigma of the presence of this man, and of his utterances, which, in the mind of Deruchette in particular, produced various kinds of astonishment, was a thing apart. He said to them, "Be man and wife!" This was clear; if there was responsibility, it was his. Deruchette had a confused feeling that, for many reasons, he had the right to decide upon her fate. Caudray murmured, as if plunged in thought, "An uncle is not a father."
His resolution was corrupted by the sudden and happy turn in his ideas. The probable scruples of the clergyman melted, and dissolved in his heart's love for Deruchette.
Gilliatt's tone became abrupt and harsh, and like the pulsations of fever.
"There must be no delay," he said. "You have time, but that is all. Come."
Caudray observed him attentively, and suddenly exclaimed,-
"I recognise you. It was you who saved my life."
"I think not."
"Yonder," said Caudray, "at the extremity of the Banques."
"I do not know the place," said Gilliatt.
"It was on the very day that I arrived here."
"Let us lose no time," interrupted Gilliatt.
"And if I am not deceived, you are the man whom we met last night."
"What is your name?"
Gilliatt raised his voice,-
"Boatman! wait there for us. We shall return soon.- You asked me, Miss Lethierry, how I came to be here. The answer is very simple. I walked behind you. You are twenty-one. In this country, when persons are of age, and depend only on themselves, they may be married immediately. Let us take the path along the waterside. It is passable; the tide will not rise here till noon. But lose no time. Come with me."
Deruchette and Caudray seemed to consult each other by a glance. They were standing close together motionless. They were intoxicated with joy. There are strange hesitations sometimes on the edge of the abyss of happiness. They understood, as it were, without understanding.
"His name is Gilliatt," whispered Deruchette.
Gilliatt interrupted them with a sort of tone of authority.
"What do you linger for?" he asked. "I tell you to follow me."
"Whither?" asked Caudray.
And Gilliatt pointed with his finger towards the spire of the church.
Gilliatt walked on before, and they followed him. His step was firm; but they walked unsteadily.
As they approached the church, an expression dawned upon those two pure and beautiful countenances which was soon to become a smile. The approach to the church lighted them up. In the hollow eyes of Gilliatt there was the darkness of night. The beholder might have imagined that he saw a spectre leading two souls to Paradise.
Caudray and Deruchette scarcely took count of what had happened. The interposition of this man was like the branch clutched at by the drowning. They followed their guide with the docility of despair, leaning on the first comer. Those who feel themselves near death easily accept the accident which seems to save. Deruchette, more ignorant of life, was more confident. Caudray was thoughtful. Deruchette was of age, it was true. The English formalities of marriage are simple, especially in primitive parts, where the clergyman has almost a discretionary power; but would the Dean consent to celebrate the marriage without even inquiring whether the uncle consented? This was the question. Nevertheless they could learn. In any case there would be but a delay.
But what was this man? and if it was really he whom Lethierry the night before had declared should be his son-in-law, what could be the meaning of his actions? The very obstacle itself had become a providence. Caudray yielded; but his yielding was only the rapid and tacit assent of a man who feels himself saved from despair.
The pathway was uneven, and sometimes wet and difficult to pass. Caudray, absorbed in thought, did not observe the occasional pools of water or the heaps of shingle. But from time to time Gilliatt turned and said to him, "Take heed of those stones. Give her your hand."