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Part 2 In The Breton Land Chapter 3

She had been walking for the last hour, lightly yet oppressed,inhaling the healthy open breeze whistling up the roads to where theycrossed and /Calvaires/ were erected, ghastly highway ornaments of ourSaviour on His cross, to which Bretons are given.

  From time to time she passed through small fishing villages, which arebeaten about by the winds the whole year through till of the colour ofthe rocks. In one of these hamlets, where the path narrows suddenlybetween dark walls, and between the whitewashed roofs, high andpointed like Celtic huts, a tavern sign-board made her smile. It was"The Chinese Cider Cellars." On it were painted two grotesque figures,dressed in green and pink robes, with pigtails, drinking cider. Nodoubt the whim of some old sailor who had been in China. She saw allon her way; people who are greatly engrossed in the object of ajourney always find more amusement than others in its thousanddetails.

  The tiny village was far behind her now, and as she advanced in thislast promontory of the Breton land, the trees around her became morescarce, and the country more mournful.

  The ground was undulating and rocky, and from all the heights the opensea could be seen. No more trees now; nothing but the shorn heathswith their green reeds, and here and there the consecrated crossesrose, their outstretched arms outlined against the sky, giving thewhole country the aspect of a cemetery.

  At one of the cross-ways, guarded by a colossal image of Christ, shehesitated between two roads running among thorny slopes.

  A child happening to pass, came to her rescue: "Good-day, MademoiselleGaud!"It was one of the little Gaoses, one of Yann's wee sisters. Gaudkissed her and asked her if her parents were at home.

  "Father and mother are, yes. But brother Yann," said the little one,without intent, of course, "has gone to Loguivy; but I don't thinkhe'll be very late home again."So he was not there? Again destiny was between them, everywhere andalways. She thought at first of putting off her visit to another day.

  But the little lass who had met her might mention the fact. What wouldthey think at Pors-Even? So she decided to go on, but loitering so asto give Yann time to return.

  As she neared his village, in this lost country, all things seemedrougher and more desolate. Sea breezes that made men stronger, madeshorter and more stubbly plants. Seaweeds of all kinds were scatteredover the paths, leaves from growths in another element, proving theexistence of a neighbouring world; their briny odour mingled with theperfume of the heather.

  Now and again Gaud met passers-by, sea-folk, who could be seen a longway off, over the bare country, outlined and magnified against thehigh sea-line. Pilots or fishers, seeming to watch the great sea, inpassing her wished her good-day. Broad sun-burnt faces were theirs,manly and determined under their easy caps.

  Time did not go quickly enough, and she really did not know what to doto lengthen the way; these people seemed surprised at seeing her walkso slowly.

  What could Yann be doing at Loguivy? Courting the girls, perhaps.

  Ah! if she only had known how little he troubled his head about them!

  He had simply gone to Loguivy to give an order to a basket-maker, whowas the only one in the country knowing how to weave lobster pots. Hismind was very free from love just now.

  She passed a chapel, at such a height it could be seen remotely. Itwas a little gray old chapel in the midst of the barren. A clump oftrees, gray too, and almost leafless, seemed like hair to it, pushedby some invisible hand all on one side.

  It was that same hand that had wrecked the fishers' boats, the eternalhand of the western winds, and had twisted all the branches of thecoast trees in the direction of the waves and of the off-sea breezes.

  The old trees had grown awry and dishevelled, bending their backsunder the time-honoured strength of that hand.

  Gaud was almost at the end of her walk, as the chapel in sight wasthat of Pors-Even; so she stopped there to win a little more time.

  A petty mouldering wall ran round an enclosure containing tombstones.

  Everything was of the same colour, chapel, trees, and graves; thewhole spot seemed faded and eaten into by the sea-wind; the stones,the knotty branches, and the granite saints, placed in the wallniches, were covered by the same grayish lichen, splashed pale yellow.

  On one of the wooden crosses this name was written in large letters:

  "GAOS.--GAOS, JOEL, 80 years."Yes, this was the old grandfather--she knew that--for the sea had notwanted this old sailor. And many of Yann's relatives, besides, slepthere; it was only natural, and she might have expected it;nevertheless, the name upon the tomb had made a sad impression.

  To waste a little more time, she entered to say a prayer under the oldcramped porch, worn away and daubed over with whitewash. But shestopped again with a sharp pain at her heart. "Gaos"--again that name,engraved upon one of the slabs erected in memory of those who die atsea.

  She read this inscription:

  "To the Memory ofGAOS, JEAN-LOUIS,Aged 24 years; seaman on board the /Marguerite/.

  Disappeared off Iceland, August 3d, 1877.

  May he rest in peace!"Iceland--always Iceland! All over the porch were wooden slabs bearingthe names of dead sailors. It was the place reserved for theshipwrecked of Pors-Even. Filled with a dark foreboding she was sorryto have gone there.

  In Paimpol church she had seen many such inscriptions; but in thisvillage the empty tomb of the Iceland fishers seemed more sad becauseso lone and humble. On each side of the doorway was a granite seat forthe widows and mothers; and this shady spot, irregularly shaped like agrotto, was guarded by an old image of the Virgin, coloured red, withlarge staring eyes, looking most like Cybele--the first goddess of theearth.

  "Gaos!" Again!

  "To the Memory ofGAOS, FRANCOIS,Husband of Anne-Marie le Goaster,Captain on board the /Paimpolais/,Lost off Iceland, between the 1st and 3d of May, 1877,With the twenty-three men of his crew.

  May they rest in peace!"And, lower down, were two cross-bones under a black skull with greeneyes, a simple but ghastly emblem, reminding one of all the barbarismof a bygone age.

  "Gaos, Gaos!" The name was everywhere. As she read, thrills of sweettenderness came over her for this Yann of her choice, damped by afeeling of hopelessness. Nay, he would never be hers! How could shetear him from the sea where so many other Gaoses had gone down,ancestors and brothers, who must have loved the sea like he! Sheentered the chapel. It was almost dark, badly lit by low windows withheavy frames. And there, her heart full of tears that would betterhave fallen, she knelt to pray before the colossal saints, surroundedby common flowers, touching the vaulted roof with their massive heads.

  Outside, the rising wind began to sob as if it brought the death-gaspsof the drowned men back to their Fatherland.

  Night drew near; she rose and went on her way. After having asked inthe village, she found the home of the Gaos family, which was built upagainst a high cliff. A dozen granite steps led up to it. Trembling alittle at the thought that Yann might have returned, she crossed thesmall garden where chrysanthemums and veronicas grew.

  When she was indoors, she explained she had come to bring the moneyfor the boat, and they very politely asked her to sit down, to awaitthe father's return, as he was the one to sign the receipt for her.

  Amidst all, her eyes searched for Yann--but did not see him.

  They were very busy in the home. Already they were cutting out the newwaterproof cloth on the clean white table, and getting it ready forthe approaching Iceland season.

  "You see, Mademoiselle Gaud, it's like this: every man wants two newsuits."They explained to her how they set to work to make them, and to rendertheir seams waterproof with tar, for they were for wet weather wear.

  And while they worked, Gaud looked attentively around the home ofthese Gaoses.

  It was furnished after the traditional manner of all Breton cottages;an immense chimney-place took up one whole end, and on the sides ofthe walls the Breton beds, bunks, as on shipboard, were placed oneabove another. But it was not so sombre and sad as the cabins of otherpeasants, which are generally half-hidden by the wayside; it was allfresh and clean, as the homes of seamen usually are. Several littleGaoses were there, girls and boys, all sisters and brothers of Yann;without counting two big ones, who were already out at sea. And,besides, there was a little fair girl, neat, but sad, unlike theothers.

  "We adopted her last year," explained the mother; "we had enoughchildren as it was, of course, but what else could we do, MademoiselleGaud, for her daddy belonged to the /Maria-Dieu-t'aime/, lost lastseason off Iceland, as you know; so the neighbours divided the littleones between them, and this one fell to our lot."Hearing herself spoken of, the adopted child hung her pretty head andsmiled, hiding herself behind little Laumec Gaos, her favourite.

  There was a look of comfort all over the place, and radiant healthbloomed on all the children's rosy cheeks.

  They received Gaud very profusely, like a great lady whose visit wasan honour to the family. She was taken upstairs, up a newly-builtwooden staircase, to see the room above, which was the glory of thehome. She remembered the history of its construction; it was after thefinding of a derelict vessel in the channel, which luck had befallenYann's father and his cousin the pilot.

  The room was very gay and pretty in its whiteness; there were two townbeds in it, with pink chintz curtains, and a large table in themiddle. Through the window the whole of Paimpol could be seen, withthe Icelanders at anchor off shore, and the channel through which theypassed.

  She did not dare question, but she would have liked to have knownwhere Yann slept; probably as a child he had slept downstairs in oneof the antique cupboard-beds. But perhaps now he slept under thosepink draperies. She would have loved to have known all the details ofhis life, especially what he did in the long winter evenings.

  A heavy footstep on the stairs made her tremble. But it was not Yann,though a man much like him; notwithstanding his white hair, as talland as straight. It was old father Gaos returning from fishing.

  After he had saluted her and asked her the object of her visit, hesigned her receipt for her which was rather a long operation, as hishand was not very steady, he explained.

  But he would not accept the hundred francs as a final payment, butonly as an instalment; he would speak to M. Mevel again about it.

  Whereupon Gaud, to whom money was nothing, smiled imperceptibly; shehad fancied the business was not quite terminated, and this justsuited her.

  They made something like excuses for Yann's absence; as if they foundit more orthodox for the whole family to assemble to receive her.

  Perhaps the father had guessed, with the shrewdness of an old salt,that his son was not indifferent to this beautiful heiress; for herather insisted upon talking about him.

  "It's very queer," said he, "the boy's never so late out. He went overto Loguivy, Mademoiselle Gaud, to buy some lobster baskets; as youknow, lobster-catching is our main winter fishery."She dreamily lengthened out her call, although conscious that it wastoo long already, and feeling a tug at her heart at the idea that shewould not see him after all.

  "A well-conducted young man like Yann--what can he be doing? Surelyhe's not at the inn. We don't fear that for our lad. I don't say thatnow and then, of a Sunday, with his mates---- You know, MademoiselleGaud, what them sailors are. Eh! ye know, he's but a young chap, andmust have some liberty now and again. But it's very rare with him tobreak out, for he's a straight-goer; we can say that."But night was falling, and the work had been folded up. The littleones on the benches around drew closer to one another, saddened by thegrey dismal gloaming, and eyed Gaud hard, seeming to say--"Why doesn't she go now?"On the hearth, the flames burned redder in the midst of the fallingshadows.

  "You ought to stay and have a bit o' supper with us, MademoiselleGaud.""Oh, no! I couldn't think of it!" The blood rushed to her face at theidea of having remained so late. She got up and took her leave.

  Yann's father also rose to accompany her part of the way, anyhow asfar as a lonely nook where the old trees make a dark lane.

  As they walked along together, she felt a sudden sympathy of respectand tenderness towards him; she would have liked to have spoken as toa father in the sudden gushes of feeling that came over her; but thewords were stifled in her throat, and she said not a word.

  And so they went their way, in the cold evening wind, full of theodour of the sea, passing here and there, on the barren heath, somepoor hovels, where beach-combers dwelt and had already sealedthemselves up for the night; dark and neglected they looked under theweather-beaten roofs; these crosses, clumps of reeds, and bouldersthey left behind.

  What a great way off Pors-Even was, and what a time she had remained!

  Now and then they met folks returning from Paimpol or Loguivy; and asshe watched the shadows approach, each time she thought it was Yann;but it was easy to recognise him at a good distance off, and so shewas quickly undeceived. Every moment her feet caught in the browntrailing plants, tangled like hair, which were sea-weeds littering thepathway.

  At the Cross of Plouezoc'h she bade good-bye to the old man, andbegged him to return. The lights of Paimpol were already in view, andthere was no more occasion to be afraid.

  So hope was over for this time. Who could tell her when she might seeYann again?

  An excuse to return to Pors-Even would have been easy; but it wouldreally look too bad to begin her quest all over again. She would haveto be braver and prouder than that. If only her little confidantSylvestre had been there, she might have asked him to go and fetchYann, so that there could be some explanation. But he was gone now,and for how many years?


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