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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 6
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Part 1 On The Icy Sea Chapter 6

About a month later, around Iceland, the weather was of that rare kindthat the sailors call a dead calm; in other words, in the air nothingmoved, as if all the breezes were exhausted and their task done.

  The sky was covered with a white veil, which darkened towards itslower border near the horizon, and gradually passed into dull grayleaden tints; over this the still waters threw a pale light, whichfatigued the eyes and chilled the gazer through and through. All atonce, liquid designs played over the surface, such light evanescentrings as one forms by breathing on a mirror. The sheen of the watersseemed covered with a net of faint patterns, which intermingled andreformed, rapidly disappearing. Everlasting night or everlasting day,one could scarcely say what it was; the sun, which pointed to nospecial hour, remained fixed, as if presiding over the fading glory ofdead things; it appeared but as a mere ring, being almost withoutsubstance, and magnified enormously by a shifting halo.

  Yann and Sylvestre, leaning against one another, sang "Jean-Francoisde Nantes," the song without an end; amused by its very monotony,looking at one another from the corner of their eyes as if laughing atthe childish fun, with which they began the verses over and overagain, trying to put fresh spirit into them each time. Their cheekswere rosy under the sharp freshness of the morning: the pure air theybreathed was strengthening, and they inhaled it deep down in theirchests, the very fountain of all vigorous existence. And yet, aroundthem, was a semblance of non-existence, of a world either finished ornot yet created; the light itself had no warmth; all things seemedwithout motion, and as if chilled for eternity under the great ghostlyeye that represented the sun.

  The /Marie/ projected over the sea a shadow long and black as night,or rather appearing deep green in the midst of the polished surface,which reflected all the purity of the heavens; in this shadowed part,which had no glitter, could be plainly distinguished through thetransparency, myriads upon myriads of fish, all alike, gliding slowlyin the same direction, as if bent towards the goal of their perpetualtravels. They were cod, performing their evolutions all as parts of asingle body, stretched full length in the same direction, exactlyparallel, offering the effect of gray streaks, unceasingly agitated bya quick motion that gave a look of fluidity to the mass of dumb lives.

  Sometimes, with a sudden quick movement of the tail, all turned roundat the same time, showing the sheen of their silvered sides; and thesame movement was repeated throughout the entire shoal by slowundulations, as if a thousand metal blades had each thrown a tinyflash of lightning from under the surface.

  The sun, already very low, lowered further; so night had decidedlycome. As the great ball of flame descended into the leaden-colouredzones that surrounded the sea, it grew yellow, and its outer rimbecame more clear and solid. Now it could be looked straight at, as ifit were but the moon. Yet it still gave out light and looked quitenear in the immensity; it seemed that by going in a ship, only so faras the edge of the horizon, one might collide with the great mournfulglobe, floating in the air just a few yards above the water.

  Fishing was going on well; looking into the calm water, one could seeexactly what took place; how the cod came to bite, with a greedyspring; then, feeling themselves hooked, wriggled about, as if to hookthemselves still firmer. And every moment, with rapid action, thefishermen hauled in their lines, hand overhand, throwing the fish tothe man who was to clean them and flatten them out.

  The Paimpol fleet were scattered over the quiet mirror, animating thedesert. Here and there appeared distant sails, unfurled for mereform's sake, considering there was no breeze. They were like clearwhite outlines upon the greys of the horizon. In this dead calm,fishing off Iceland seemed so easy and tranquil a trade that ladies'

  yachting was no name for it.

  "Jean Francois de Nantes;Jean Francois,Jean Francois!"So they sang, like a couple of children.

  Yann little troubled whether or no he was handsome and good-looking.

  He was boyish only with Sylvestre, it is true, and sang and joked withno other; on the contrary, he was rather distant with the others andproud and disdainful--very willing though, when his help was required,and always kind and obliging when not irritated.

  So the twain went on singing their song, with two others, a few stepsoff, singing another, a dirge--a clashing of sleepiness, health, andvague melancholy. But they did not feel dull, and the hours flew by.

  Down in the cabin a fire still smouldered in the iron range, and thehatch was kept shut, so as to give the appearance of night there forthose who needed sleep. They required but little air to sleep; indeed,less robust fellows, brought up in towns, would have wanted more. Theyused to go to bed after the watch at irregular times, just when theyfelt inclined, hours counting for little in this never-fading light.

  And they always slept soundly and peacefully without restlessness orbad dreams.

  "Jean Francois de Nantes;Jean Francois,Jean Francois!"They looked attentively at some almost imperceptible object, far offon the horizon, some faint smoke rising from the waters like a tinyjot of another gray tint slightly darker than the sky's. Their eyeswere used to plumbing depths, and they had seen it.

  "A sail, a sail, thereaway!""I have an idea," said the skipper, staring attentively, "that it's agovernment cruiser coming on her inspection-round."This faint smoke brought news of home to the sailors, and amongothers, a letter we wrote of, from an old grandam, written by the handof a beautiful girl. Slowly the steamer approached till they perceivedher black hull. Yes, it was the cruiser, making the inspection inthese western fjords.

  At the same time, a slight breeze sprang up, fresher yet to inhale,and began to tarnish the surface of the still waters in patches; ittraced designs in a bluish green tint over the shining mirror, andscattering in trails, these fanned out or branched off like a coraltree; all very rapidly with a low murmur; it was like a signal ofawakening foretelling the end of this intense torpor. The sky, itsveil being rent asunder, grew clear; the vapours fell down on thehorizon, massing in heaps like slate-coloured wadding, as if to form asoft bank to the sea. The two ever-during mirrors between which thefishermen lived, the one on high and the one beneath, recovered theirdeep lucidity, as if the mists tarnishing them had been brushed away.

  The weather was changing in a rapid way that foretold no good. Smacksbegan to arrive from all points of the immense plane; first, all theFrench smacks in the vicinity, from Brittany, Normandy, Boulogne, orDunkirk. Like birds flocking to a call, they assembled round thecruiser; from the apparently empty corners of the horizon, othersappeared on every side; their tiny gray wings were seen till theypeopled the pallid waste.

  No longer slowly drifting, for they had spread out their sails to thenew and cool breeze, and cracked on all to approach.

  Far-off Iceland also reappeared, as if she would fain come near themalso; showing her great mountains of bare stones more distinctly thanever.

  And there arose a new Iceland of similar colour, which little bylittle took a more definite form, and none the less was purelyillusive, its gigantic mountains merely a condensation of mists. Thesun, sinking low, seemed incapable of ever rising over all things,though glowing through this phantom island so tangible that it seemedplaced in front of it. Incomprehensible sight! no longer was itsurrounded by a halo, but its disc had become firmly spread, ratherlike some faded yellow planet slowly decaying and suddenly checkedthere in the heart of chaos.

  The cruiser, which had stopped, was fully surrounded by the fleet ofIcelanders. From all boats were lowered, like so many nut-shells, andconveyed their strong, long-bearded men, in barbaric-looking dresses,to the steamer.

  Like children, all had something to beg for; remedies for pettyailments, materials for repairs, change of diet, and home letters.

  Others came, sent by their captains, to be clapped in irons, toexpiate some fault; as they had all been in the navy, they took thisas a matter of course. When the narrow deck of the cruiser wasblocked-up by four or five of these hulking fellows, stretched outwith the bilboes round their feet, the old sailor who had just chainedthem up called out to them, "Roll o' one side, my lads, to let uswork, d'ye hear?" which they obediently did with a grin.

  There were a great many letters this time for the Iceland fleet. Amongthe rest, two for "/La Marie/, Captain Guermeur"; one addressed to"Monsieur Gaos, Yann," the other to "Monsieur Moan, Sylvestre." Thelatter had come by way of Rykavyk, where the cruiser had taken it on.

  The purser, diving into his post-bags of sailcloth, distributed themall round, often finding it hard to read the addresses, which were notalways written very skilfully, while the captain kept on saying: "Lookalive there, look alive! the barometer is falling."He was rather anxious to see all the tiny yawls afloat, and so manyvessels assembled in that dangerous region.

  Yann and Sylvestre used to read their letters together. This time theyread them by the light of the midnight sun, shining above the horizon,still like a dead luminary. Sitting together, a little to one side, ina retired nook of the deck, their arms about each other's shoulders,they very slowly read, as if to enjoy more thoroughly the news sentthem from home.

  In Yann's letter Sylvestre got news of Marie Gaos, his littlesweetheart; in Sylvestre's, Yann read all Granny Moan's funny stories,for she had not her like for amusing the absent ones you willremember; and the last paragraph concerning him came up: the "word ofgreeting to young Gaos."When the letters were got through, Sylvestre timidly showed his to hisbig friend, to try and make him admire the writing of it.

  "Look, is it not pretty writing, Yann?"But Yann, who knew very well whose hand had traced it, turned aside,shrugging his shoulders, as much as to say that he was worried toooften about this Gaud girl.

  So Sylvestre carefully folded up the poor, rejected paper, put it intoits envelope and all in his jersey, next his breast, saying to himselfsadly: "For sure, they'll never marry. But what on earth can he haveto say against her?"Midnight was struck on the cruiser's bell. And yet our couple remainedsitting there, thinking of home, the absent ones, a thousand things inreverie. At this same moment the everlasting sun, which had dipped itslower edge into the waters, began slowly to reascend, and lo! this wasmorning.


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