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首页 » 经典英文小说 » 冰岛垂钓者 An Iceland Fisherman » Part 1 On The Icy Sea Chapter 3
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Part 1 On The Icy Sea Chapter 3

At Paimpol, one fine evening of this same year, upon a Sunday in June,two women were deeply busy in writing a letter. This took place beforea large open window, with a row of flowerpots on its heavy old granitesill.

  As well as could be seen from their bending over the table, both wereyoung. Once wore a very large old-fashioned cap; the other quite asmall one, in the new style adopted by the women of Paimpol. Theymight have been taken for two loving lasses writing a tender missiveto some handsome Icelander.

  The one who dictated--the one with the large head-dress--drew up herhead, wool-gathering. Oh, she was old, very old, notwithstanding herlook from behind, in her small brown shawl--we mean downright old. Asweet old granny, seventy at least. Very pretty, though, and stillfresh-coloured, with the rosy cheeks some old people have. Her/coiffe/ was drawn low upon the forehead and upon the top of the head,was composed of two or three large rolls of muslin that seemed totelescope out of one another, and fell on to the nape. Her venerableface, framed in the pure white pleats, had almost a man's look, whileher soft, tender eyes wore a kindly expression. She had not thevestige of a tooth left, and when she laughed she showed her roundgums, which had still the freshness of youth.

  Although her chin had become as pointed "as the toe of a /sabot/" (asshe was in the habit of saying), her profile was not spoiled by time;and it was easily imagined that in her youth it had been regular andpure, like the saints' adorning a church.

  She looked through the window, trying to think of news that mightamuse her grandson at sea. There existed not in the whole country ofPaimpol another dear old body like her, to invent such funny storiesupon everybody, and even upon nothing. Already in this letter therewere three or four merry tales, but without the slightest mischief,for she had nothing ill-natured about her.

  The other woman, finding that the ideas were getting scarce, began towrite the address carefully:

  "TO MONSIEUR MOAN, SYLVESTRE,ABOARD THE /MARIE/,c/o CAPTAIN GUERMEUR,IN THE SEA OF ICELAND, NEAR RYKAWYK."Here she lifted her head to ask: "Is that all, Granny Moan?"The querist was young, adorably young, a girl of twenty in fact; veryfair--a rare complexion in this corner of Brittany, where the raceruns swarthy--very fair, we say, with great grey eyes between almostblack lashes; her brows, as fair as the hair, seemed as if they had adarker streak in their midst, which gave a wonderful expression ofstrength and will to the beautiful face. The rather short profile wasvery dignified, the nose continuing the line of the brow with absoluterectitude, as in a Greek statue. A deep dimple under the lower lipfoiled it up delightfully; and from time to time, when she wasabsorbed by a particular idea, she bit this lower lip with her whiteupper teeth, making the blood run in tiny red veins under the delicateskin. In her supple form there was no little pride, with gravity also,which she inherited from the bold Icelandic sailors, her ancestors.

  The expression of her eyes was both steady and gentle.

  Her cap was in the shape of a cockle-shell, worn low on the brow, anddrawn back on either side, showing thick tresses of hair about theears, a head-dress that has remained from remote times and gives quitean olden look to the women of Paimpol.

  One felt instinctively that she had been reared differently than thepoor old woman to whom she gave the name of grandmother, but who isreality was but a distant great-aunt.

  She was the daughter of M. Mevel, a former Icelander, a bit of afreebooter, who had made a fortune by bold undertakings out at sea.

  The fine room where the letter had been just written was hers; a newbed, such as townspeople have, with muslin lace-edged curtains, and onthe stone walls a light-coloured paper, toning down the irregularitiesof the granite; overhead a coating of whitewash covered the greatbeams that revealed the antiquity of the abode; it was the home ofwell-to-do folk, and the windows looked out upon the old gray market-place of Paimpol, where the /pardons/ are held.

  "Is it done, Granny Yvonne? Have you nothing else to tell him?""No, my lass, only I would like you to add a word of greeting to youngGaos.""Young Gaos" was otherwise called Yann. The proud beautiful girl hadblushed very red when she wrote those words. And as soon as they wereadded at the bottom of the page, in a running hand, she rose andturned her head aside as if to look at some very interesting objectout on the market-place.

  Standing, she was rather tall; her waist was modelled in a clingingbodice, as perfectly fitting as that of a fashionable dame. In spiteof her cap, she looked like a real lady. Even her hands, without beingconventionally small, were white and delicate, never having touchedrough work.

  True, she had been at first little /Gaud/ (Daisy), paddling bare-footed in the water, motherless, almost wholly neglected during theseason of the fisheries, which her father spent in Iceland; a pretty,untidy, obstinate girl, but growing vigorous and strong in the bracingsea-breeze. In those days she had been sheltered, during the finesummers, by poor Granny Moan, who used to give her Sylvestre to mindduring her days of hard work in Paimpol. Gaud felt the adoration of ayoung mother for the child confided to her tender care. She was hiselder by about eighteen months. He was as dark as she was fair, asobedient and caressing as she was hasty and capricious. She wellremembered that part of her life; neither wealth nor town life hadaltered it; and like a far-off dream of wild freedom it came back toher, or as the remembrance of an undefined and mysterious previousexistence, where the sandy shores seemed longer, and the cliffs higherand nobler.

  Towards the age of five or six, which seemed long ago to her, wealthhad befallen her father, who began to buy and sell the cargoes ofships. She had been taken to Saint-Brieuc, and later to Paris. Andfrom /la petite Gaud/ she had become Mademoiselle Marguerite, tall andserious, with earnest eyes. Always left to herself, in another kind ofsolitude than that of the Breton coast, she still retained theobstinate nature of her childhood.

  Living in large towns, her dress had become more modified thanherself. Although she still wore the /coiffe/ that Breton womendiscard so seldom, she had learned to dress herself in another way.

  Every year she had returned to Brittany with her father--in the summeronly, like a fashionable, coming to bathe in the sea--and lived againin the midst of old memories, delighted to hear herself called Gaud,rather curious to see the Icelanders of whom so much was said, whowere never at home, and of whom, each year, some were missing; on allsides she heard the name of Iceland, which appeared to her as adistant insatiable abyss. And there, now, was the man she loved!

  One fine day she had returned to live in the midst of these fishers,through a whim of her father, who had wished to end his days there,and live like a landsman in the market-place of Paimpol.

  The good old dame, poor but tidy, left Gaud with cordial thanks assoon as the letter had been read again and the envelope closed. Shelived rather far away, at the other end of Ploubazlanec, in a hamleton the coast, in the same cottage where she first had seen the lightof day, and where her sons and grandsons had been born. In the town,as she passed along, she answered many friendly nods; she was one ofthe oldest inhabitants of the country, the last of a worthy and highlyesteemed family.

  With great care and good management she managed to appear pretty welldressed, although her gowns were much darned, and hardly heldtogether. She always wore the tiny brown Paimpol shawl, which was forbest, and upon which the long muslin rolls of her white caps hadfallen for past sixty years; her own marriage shawl, formerly blue,had been dyed for the wedding of her son Pierre, and since then wornonly on Sundays, looked quite nice.

  She still carried herself very straight, not at all like an old woman;and, in spite of her pointed chin, her soft eyes and delicate profilemade all think her still very charming. She was held in great respect--one could see that if only by the nods that people gave her.

  On her way she passed before the house of her gallant, the sweetheartof former days, a carpenter by trade; now an octogenarian, who satoutside his door all the livelong day, while the young ones, his sons,worked in the shop. It was said that he never had consoled himself forher loss, for neither in first or second marriage would she have him;but with old age his feeling for her had become a sort of comicalspite, half friendly and half mischievous, and he always called out toher:

  "Aha, /la belle/, when must I call to take your measure?"But she declined with thanks; she had not yet quite decided to havethat dress made. The truth is, that the old man, with ratherquestionable taste, spoke of the suit in deal planks, which is thelast of all our terrestrial garments.

  "Well, whenever you like; but don't be shy in asking for it, you know,old lady."He had made this joke several times; but, to-day, she could scarcelytake it good-naturedly. She felt more tired than ever of her hard-working life, and her thoughts flew back to her dear grandson--thelast of them all, who, upon his return from Iceland, was to enter thenavy for five years! Perhaps he might have to go to China, to the war!

  Would she still be about, upon his return? The thought alone was agonyto her. No, she was surely not so happy as she looked, poor oldgranny!

  And was it really possible and true, that her last darling was to betorn from her? She, perhaps, might die alone, without seeing himagain! Certainly, some gentlemen of the town, whom she knew, had doneall they could to keep him from having to start, urging that he wasthe sole support of an old and almost destitute grandmother, who couldno longer work. But they had not succeeded--because of Jean Moan, thedeserter, an elder brother of Sylvestre's, whom no one in the familyever mentioned now, but who still lived somewhere over in America,thus depriving his younger brother of the military exemption.

  Moreover, it had been objected that she had her small pension, allowedto the widows of sailors, and the Admiralty could not deem her poorenough.

  When she returned home, she said her prayers at length for all herdead ones, sons and grandsons; then she prayed again with renewedstrength and confidence for her Sylvestre, and tried to sleep--thinking of the "suit of wood," her heart sadly aching at the thoughtof being so old, when this new parting was imminent.

  Meanwhile, the other victim of separation, the girl, had remainedseated at her window, gazing upon the golden rays of the setting sun,reflected on the granite walls, and the black swallows wheeling acrossthe sky above. Paimpol was always quiet on these long May evenings,even on Sundays; the lasses, who had not a single lad to make love tothem, sauntered along, in couples or three together, brooding of theirlovers in Iceland.

  "A word of greeting to young Gaos!" She had been greatly affected inwriting that sentence, and that name, which now she could not forget.

  She often spent her evenings here at the window, like a grand lady.

  Her father did not approve of her walking with the other girls of herage, who had been her early playmates. And as he left the cafe, andwalked up and down, smoking his pipe with old seamen like himself, hewas happy to look up at his daughter among her flowers, in his grandhouse.

  "Young Gaos!" Against her will she gazed seaward; it could not beseen, but she felt it was nigh, at the end of the tiny street crowdedwith fishermen. And her thoughts travelled through a fascinating anddelightful infinite, far, far away to the northern seas, where "/LaMarie/, Captain Guermeur," was sailing. A strange man was young Gaos!

  retiring and almost incomprehensible now, after having come forward soaudaciously, yet so lovingly.

  In her long reverie, she remembered her return to Brittany, which hadtaken place the year before. One December morning after a night oftravelling, the train from Paris had deposited her father and herselfat Guingamp. It was a damp, foggy morning, cold and almost dark. Shehad been seized with a previously unknown feeling; she could scarcelyrecognise the quaint little town, which she had only seen during thesummer--oh, that glad old time, the dear old times of the past! Thissilence, after Paris! This quiet life of people, who seemed of anotherworld, going about their simple business in the misty morning. But thesombre granite houses, with their dark, damp walls, and the Bretoncharm upon all things, which fascinated her now that she loved Yann,had seemed particularly saddening upon that morning. Early housewiveswere already opening their doors, and as she passed she could glanceinto the old-fashioned houses, with their tall chimney-pieces, wheresat the old grandmothers, in their white caps, quiet and dignified. Assoon as daylight had begun to appear, she had entered the church tosay her prayers, and the grand old aisle had appeared immense andshadowy to her--quite different from all the Parisian churches--withits rough pillars worn at the base by the chafing of centuries, andits damp, earthy smell of age and saltpetre.

  In a damp recess, behind the columns, a taper was burning, beforewhich knelt a woman, making a vow; the dim flame seemed lost in thevagueness of the arches. Gaud experienced there the feeling of a long-forgotten impression: that kind of sadness and fear that she had feltwhen quite young at being taken to mass at Paimpol Church on raw,wintry mornings.

  But she hardly regretted Paris, although there were many splendid andamusing sights there. In the first place she felt almost cramped fromhaving the blood of the vikings in her veins. And then, in Paris, shefelt like a stranger and an intruder. The /Parisiennes/ were tight-laced, artificial women, who had a peculiar way of walking; and Gaudwas too intelligent even to have attempted to imitate them. In herhead-dress, ordered every year from the maker in Paimpol, she felt outof her element in the capital; and did not understand that if thewayfarers turned round to look at her, it was only because she made avery charming picture.

  Some of these Parisian ladies quite won her by their high-bred anddistinguished manners, but she knew them to be inaccessible to her,while from others of a lower caste who would have been glad to makefriends with her, she kept proudly aloof, judging them unworthy of herattention. Thus she had lived almost without friends, without othersociety than her father's, who was engaged in business and often away.

  So she did not regret that life of estrangement and solitude.

  But, none the less, on that day of arrival she had been painfullysurprised by the bitterness of this Brittany, seen in full winter. Andher heart sickened at the thought of having to travel another five orsix hours in a jolting car--to penetrate still farther into the blank,desolate country to reach Paimpol.

  All through the afternoon of that same grisly day, her father andherself had journeyed in a little old ramshackle vehicle, open to allthe winds; passing, with the falling night, through dull villages,under ghostly trees, black-pearled with mist in drops. And ere longlanterns had to be lit, and she could perceive nothing else but whatseemed two trails of green Bengal lights, running on each side beforethe horses, and which were merely the beams that the two lanternsprojected on the never-ending hedges of the roadway. But how was itthat trees were so green in the month of December? Astonished atfirst, she bent to look out, and then she remembered how the gorse,the evergreen gorse of the paths and the cliffs, never fades in thecountry of Paimpol. At the same time a warmer breeze began to blow,which she knew again and which smelt of the sea.

  Towards the end of the journey she had been quite awakened and amusedby the new notion that struck her, namely: "As this is winter, I shallsee the famous fishermen of Iceland."For in December they were to return, the brothers, cousins, and loversof whom all her friends, great and small, had spoken to her during thelong summer evening walks in her holiday trips. And the thought hadhaunted her, though she felt chilled in the slow-going vehicle.

  Now she had seen them, and her heart had been captured by one of themtoo.


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