Toilers of the Sea by Victor Hugo
Book III. The Departure of the Cashmere.
V. The Great Tomb.
GILLIATT walked along the water-side, passed rapidly through St. Peter's Port, and then turned towards St. Sampson by the seashore. In his anxiety to meet no one whom he knew, he avoided the highways now filled with foot-passengers by his great achievement.
For a long time, as the reader knows, he had had a peculiar manner of traversing the country in all parts without being observed. He knew the bypaths, and favoured solitary and winding routes; he had the shy habits of a wild beast who knows that he is disliked, and keeps at a distance. When quite a child, he had been quick to feel how little welcome men showed in their faces at his approach, and he had gradually contracted that habit of being alone which had since become an instinct.
He passed through the Esplanade, then by the Salerie. Now and then he turned and looked behind him at the Cashmere in the roads, which was beginning to set her sails. There was little wind; Gilliatt went faster than the Cashmere. He walked with downcast eyes among the lower rocks at the water's edge. The tide was beginning to rise.
Suddenly he stopped, and, turning his back, contemplated for some minutes a group of oaks beyond the rocks which concealed the road to Vale. They were the oaks at the spot called the Basses Maisons. It was there that Deruchette once wrote with her finger the name of Gilliatt in the snow. Many a day had passed since that snow had melted away.
Then he pursued his way.
The day was beautiful-more beautiful than any that had yet been seen that year. It was one of those spring days when May suddenly pours forth all its beauty, and when nature seems to have no thought but to rejoice and be happy. Amidst the many murmurs from forest and village, from the sea and the air, a sound of cooing could be distinguished. The first butterflies of the year were resting on the early roses. Everything in nature seemed new-the grass, the mosses, the leaves, the perfumes, the rays of light. The sun shone as if it had never shone before. The pebbles seemed bathed in coolness. Birds but lately fledged sang out their deep notes from the trees, Or fluttered among the boughs in their attempts to use their new-found wings. There was a chattering all together of goldfinches, pewits, towtits, woodpeckers, bullfinches, and thrushes. The blossoms of lilacs, May lilies, daphnes, and melilots mingled their various hues in the thickets. A beautiful kind of water-weed peculiar to Guernsey covered the pools with an emerald green, where the kingfishers and the water-wagtails, which make such graceful little nests, came down to bathe their wings. Through every opening in the branches appeared the deep blue sky. A few lazy clouds followed each other in the azure depths. The ear seemed to catch the sound of kisses sent from invisible lips. Every old wall had its tufts of wallflowers. The plum-trees and laburnums were in blossom; their white and yellow masses gleamed through the interlacing boughs. The spring showered all her gold and silver on the woods. The new shoots and leaves were green and fresh. Calls of welcome were in the air; the approaching summer opened her hospitable doors for birds coming from afar. It was the time of the arrival of the swallows. The clusters of furze bushes bordered the steep sides of hollow roads in anticipation of the clusters of the hawthorn. The pretty and the beautiful reigned side by side; the magnificent and the graceful, the great and the little, had each their place. No note in the great concert of nature was lost. Green microscoplc beauties took their place in the vast universal plan in which all seemed distinguishable as in limpid water. Everywhere a divine fullness, a mysterious sense of expansion, suggested the unseen effort of the sap in movement. Glittering things glittered more than ever; loving natures became more tender. There was a hymn in the flowers, and a radiance in the sounds of the air. The wide-diffused harmony of nature burst forth on every side. All things which felt the dawn of life invited others to put forth shoots. A movement coming from below, and also from above, stirred vaguely all hearts susceptible to the scattered and subterranean influence of germination. The flower shadowed forth the fruit; young maidens dreamed of love. It was nature's universal bridal. It was fine, bright, and warm; through the hedges in the meadows children were seen laughing and playing at their games. The fruit-trees filled the orchards with their heaps of white and pink blossom. In the fields were primroses, cowslips, milfoil. daffodils, daisies, speedwell, jacinths, and violets. Blue borage and yellow irises swarmed with those beautiful little pink stars which flower always in groups, and are hence called "companions." Creatures with golden scales glided between the stones. The flowering houseleek covered the thatched roofs with purple patches. Women were plaiting hives in the open air; and the bees were abroad, mingling their humming with the murmurs from the sea. When Gilliatt arrived at St. Sampson the water had not yet risen at the farther end of the harbour, and he was able to cross it dry-footed, unperceived behind the hulls of vessels fixed for repair. A number of flat stones were placed there at regular distances to make a cause-way.
He was not observed. The crowd was at the other end of the port, near the narrow entrance, by the Bravees. There his name was in every mouth. They were, in fact, speaking about him so much that none paid attention to him. He passed, sheltered in some degree by the very commotion that he had caused.
He saw from afar the sloop in the place where he had moored it, with the funnel standing between its four chains; observed a movement of carpenters at their work, and confused outlines of figures passing to and fro; and he could distinguish the loud and cheery voice of Mess Lethierry giving orders.
He threaded the narrow alleys behind the Bravees. There was no one there beside him. All curiosity was concentrated on the front of the house. He chose the footpath alongside the low wall of the garden, but stopped at the angle where the wild mallow grew. He saw once more the stone where he used to pass his time; saw, once more the wooden garden seat where Deruchette was accustomed to sit, and glanced again at the pathway of the alley where he had seen the embrace of two shadows which had vanished.
He soon went on his way, climbed the hill of Vale Castle, descended again, and directed his steps towards the Bu de la Rue.
The Houmet-Paradis was a solitude.
His house was in the same state in which he had left it in the morning after dressing himself to go to St. Peter's Port.
A window was open, through which his bagpipe might have been seen hanging to a nail upon the wall.
Upon the table was the little Bible given to him in token of gratitude by the stranger whom he now knew as Caudray.
The key was in the door. He approached, placed his hand upon it, turned it twice in the lock, put the key In his pocket, and departed.
He walked not in the direction of the town, but towards the sea.
He traversed his garden diagonally, taking the shortest way, without regard to the beds, but taking care not to tread upon the plants which he placed there, because he had heard that they were favourites with Deruchette.
He crossed the parapet wall, and let himself down upon the rocks.
Going straight on, he began to follow the long ridge of rocks which connected the Bu de la Rue with the great natural obelisk of granite rising erect from the sea, which was known as the Beast's Horn. This was the place of the Gild-Holm-'Ur seat.
He strode on from block to block like a giant among mountains. To make long strides upon a row of breakers is like walking upon the ridge of a roof.
A fisherwoman with dredge-nets, who had been walking naked-footed among the pools of sea-water at some distance, and had just regained the shore, called to him, "Take care; the tide is coming." But he held on his way.
Having arrived at the great rock of the point, the Horn, which rises like a pinnacle from the sea, he stopped. It was the extremity of the promontory.
He looked around.
Out at sea a few sailing-boats at anchor were fishing now and then rivulets of silver glittered among them in the sun: It was the water running from the nets. The Cashmere was not yet off St. Sampson. She had set her maintopsail, and was between Herm and Jethou.
Gilliatt rounded the rock, and came under the Gild-Holm-'Ur seat, at the foot of that kind of abrupt stairs where, less than three months before, he had assisted Caudray to come down. He ascended.
The greater number of the steps were already under water. Two or three only were still dry, by which he climbed.
The steps led up to the Gild-Holm-'Ur seat. He reached the niche contemplated it for a moment, pressed his hand upon his eyes, and let it glide gently from one eyelid to the other-a gesture by which he seemed to obliterate the memory of the past-then sat down in the hollow, with the perpendicular wall behind him. and the ocean at his feet.
The Cashmere at that moment was passing the great round half-submerged tower, defended by one sergeant and a cannon, which marks the half-way in the roads between Herm and St. Peter's Port.
A few flowers stirred among the crevices in the rock about Gilliatt's head. The sea was blue as far as eye could reach. The wind came from the east; there was a little surf in the direction of the island of Sark, of which only the western side is visible from Guernsey. In the distance appeared the coast of France like a mist, with the long yellow strips of sand about Carteret. Now and then a white butterfly fluttered by. The butterflies frequently fly out to sea.
The breeze was very slight. The blue expanse, both above and below, was tranquil. Not a ripple agitated those species of serpents, of an azure more or less dark, which indicate on the surface of the sea the lines of sunken rocks.
The Cashmere, little moved by the wind, had set her topsail and studdingsails to catch the breeze. All her canvas was spread, but the wind being a side one, her studdingsails only compelled her to hug the Guernsey coast more closely. She had passed the beacon of St. Sampson, and was off the hill of Vale Castle. The moment was approaching when she would double the point of the Bu de la Rue.
Gilliatt watched her approach.
The air and sea were still. The tide rose, not by waves, but by an imperceptible swell. The level of the water crept upward without a palpitation. The subdued murmur from the open sea was soft as the breathing of a child.
In the direction of the harbour of St. Sampson faint echoes could be heard of carpenters' hammers. The carpenters were probably the workmen constructing the tackle, gear, and apparatus for removing the engine from the sloop. The sounds, however, scarcely reached Gilliatt by reason of the mass of granite at his back.
The Cashmere approached with the slowness of a phantom.
Gilliatt watched it still.
Suddenly a touch and a sensation of cold caused him to look down. The sea had reached his feet.
He lowered his eyes, then raised them again.
The Cashmere was quite near
The rock in which the rains had hollowed out the Gild-Holm-'Ur seat was so completely vertical, and there was so much water at its base, that in calm weather vessels were able to pass without danger within a few cables' lengths.
The Cashmere was abreast of the rock. It rose straight upwards as if it had grown out of the water, or like the lengthening out of a shadow. The rigging showed black against the heavens and in the magnificent expanse of the sea. The long sails, passing for a moment over the sun, became lighted up with a singular glory and transparence. The water murmured indistinctly; but no other noise marked the majestic gliding of that outline. The deck was as visible as if he had stood upon it. The steersman was at the helm; a cabin-boy was climbing the shrouds; a few passengers, leaning on the bulwarks, were contemplating the beauty of the scene. The captain was smoking; but nothing of all this was seen by Gilliatt.
There was a spot on the deck on which the broad sun light fell. It was on this corner that his eyes were fixed. In this sunlight were Deruchette and Caudray. They were sitting together side by side, like two birds, warming themselves in the noonday sun, upon one of those covered seats with a little awning which well-ordered packet-boats provided for passengers, and upon which was the inscription, when it happened to be an English vessel, "For ladies only." Deruchette's head was leaning upon Caudray's shoulder, his arm was around her waist; they held each other's hands with their fingers interwoven. A celestial light was discernible in those two faces formed by innocence. Their chaste embrace was expressive of their earthly union and their purity of soul. The seat was a sort of alcove, almost a nest: it was at the same time a glory round them-the tender aureola of love passing into a cloud.
The silence was like the calm of heaven.
Caudray's gaze was fixed in contemplation. Deruchette s lips moved; and, amidst that perfect silence, as the wind carried the vessel near shore, and it glided within a few fathoms of the Gild-Holm-'Ur seat Gilliatt heard the tender and musical voice of Deruchette exclaiming,-
"Look yonder. It seems as if there were a man upon the rock."
The vessel passed.
Leaving the promontory of the Bu de la Rue behind. the Cashmere glided on upon the waters. In less than a quarter of an hour her masts and sails formed only a white obelisk, gradually decreasing against the horizon. Gilliatt felt that the water had reached his knees.
He contemplated the vessel speeding on her way.
The breeze freshened out at sea. He could see the Cashmere run out her lower studding-sails and her stay-sails, to take advantage of the rising wind. She was already clear of the waters of Guernsey. Gilliatt followed the vessel with his eyes.
The waves had leached his waist.
The tide was rising: time was passing away.
The sea-mews and cormorants flew about him restlessly, as if anxious to warn him of his danger. It seemed as if some of his old companions of the Douvres rocks flying there had recognised him.
An hour had passed.
The wind from the sea was scarcely felt in the roads; but the form of the Cashmere was rapidly growing less. The sloop, according to all appearance, was sailing fast. It was already nearly off the Casquets.
There was no foam around the Gild-Holm-'Ur; no wave beat against its granite sides. The water rose peacefully. It was nearly level with Gilliatt's shoulders.
Another hour had passed.
The Cashmere was beyond the waters of Aurigny. The Ortach rock concealed it for a moment; it passed behind it, and came forth again as from an eclipse. The sloop was veering to the north upon the open sea. It was now only a point glittering in the sun.
The birds were hovering about Gilliatt, uttering short cries. Only his head was now visible. The tide was nearly at the full. Evening was approaching. Behind him, in the roads, a few fishing-boats were making for the harbour.
Gilliatt's eyes continued fixed upon the vessel in the horizon. Their expression resembled nothing earthly. A strange lustre shone in their calm and tragic depths. There was in them the peace of vanished hopes, the calm but sorrowful acceptance of an end far different from his dreams. By degrees the dusk of heaven began to darken in them, though gazing still upon the point in space. At the same moment the wide waters round the Gild-Holm-'Ur and the vast gathering twilight closed upon them.
The Cashmere, now scarcely perceptible, had become a mere spot in the thin haze.
Gradually the spot, which was but a shape, grew paler.
Then it dwindled, and finally disappeared.
At the moment when the vessel vanished on the line of the horizon the head of Gilliatt disappeared. Nothing was visible now but the sea.