Toilers of the Sea, by Victor Hugo

Book ii

Gratitude and Despotism

i

Joy Surrounded by Tortures

Mess Lethierry pulled the bell furiously, then stopped abruptly. A man had just turned the corner of the quay. It was Gilliatt.

Lethierry ran towards him, or rather flung himself upon him; seized his hand between his own, and looked him in the face for a moment, silent. It was the silence of an explosion struggling to find an issue.

Then pulling and shaking him with violence, and squeezing him in his arms, he compelled him to enter the lower room of the Bravées, pushed back with his heel the door which had remained half opened, sat down, or sank into a chair beside a great table lighted by the moon, the reflection of which gave a vague pallor to Gilliatt’s face, and with a voice of intermingled laughter and tears, cried:

“Ah! my son; my player of the bagpipe! I knew well that it was you. The sloop, parbleu! Tell me the story. You went there, then. Why, they would have burnt you a hundred years ago! It is magic! There isn’t a screw missing. I have looked at everything already, recognised everything, handled everything. I guessed that the paddles were in the two cases. And here you are once more! I have been looking for you in the little cabin. I rang the bell. I was seeking for you. I said to myself, ‘Where is he, that I may devour him?’ You must admit that wonderful things do come to pass. He has brought back life to me. Tonnerre! you are an angel! Yes, yes; it is my engine. Nobody will believe it; people will see it, and say, ‘It can’t be true.’ Not a tap, not a pin missing. The feed-pipe has never budged an inch. It is incredible that there should have been no more damage. We have only to put a little oil. But how did you accomplish it? To think that the Durande will be moving again. The axle of the wheels must have been taken to pieces by some watchmaker. Give me your word that I am not crazy.”

He sprang to his feet, breathed a moment, and continued:

“Assure me of that. What a revolution! I pinched myself to be certain I was not dreaming. You are my child, you are my son, you are my Providence. Brave lad! To go and fetch my good old engine. In the open sea, among those cut-throat rocks. I have seen some strange things in my life; nothing like that. I have known Parisians, who were veritable demons, but I’ll defy them to have done that. It beats the Bastille. I have seen the gauchos labouring in the Pampas, with a crooked branch of a tree for a plough and a bundle of thorn-bushes for a harrow, dragged by a leathern strap; they get harvests of wheat that way, with grains as big as hedgenuts. But that is a trifle compared with your feats. You have performed a miracle — a real one. Ah! gredin! let me hug you. How they will gossip in St. Sampson. I shall set to work at once to build the boat. It is astonishing that the crank is all right. Gentlemen, he has been to the Douvres; I say to the Douvres. He went alone. The Douvres! I defy you to find a worse spot. Do you know, have they told you, that it’s proved that Clubin sent the Durande to the bottom to swindle me out of money which he had to bring me? He made Tangrouille drunk. It’s a long story. I’ll tell you another day of his piratical tricks. I, stupid idiot, had confidence in Clubin. But he trapped himself, the villain, for he couldn’t have got away. There is a God above, scoundrel! Do you see, Gilliatt, bang! bang! the irons in the fire; we’ll begin at once to rebuild the Durande. We’ll have her twenty feet longer. They build them longer now than they did. I’ll buy the wood from Dantzic and Brême. Now I have got the machinery they will give me credit again. They’ll have confidence now.”

Mess Lethierry stopped, lifted his eyes with that look which sees the heavens through the roof, and muttered, “Yes, there is a power on high!”

Then he placed the middle finger of his right hand between his two eyebrows, and tapped with his nail there, an action which indicates a project passing through the mind, and he continued:

“Nevertheless, to begin again, on a grand scale, a little ready money would have been useful. Ah! if I only had my three bank-notes, the seventy-five thousand francs that that robber Rantaine returned, and that vagabond Clubin stole.”

Gilliatt silently felt in his pocket, and drew out something which he placed before him. It was the leathern belt that he had brought back. He opened, and spread it out upon the table; in the inside the word “Clubin” could be deciphered in the light of the moon. He then took out of the pocket of the belt a box, and out of the box three pieces of paper, which he unfolded and offered to Lethierry.

Lethierry examined them. It was light enough to read the figures “1000,” and the word “thousand” was also perfectly visible. Mess Lethierry took the three notes, placed them on the table one beside the other, looked at them, looked at Gilliatt, stood for a moment dumb; and then began again, like an eruption after an explosion:

“These too! You are a marvel. My bank-notes! all three. A thousand pounds each. My seventy-five thousand francs. Why, you must have gone down to the infernal regions. It is Clubin’s belt. Pardieu! I can read his vile name. Gilliatt has brought back engine and money too. There will be something to put in the papers. I will buy some timber of the finest quality. I guess how it was; you found his carcase; Clubin mouldering away in some corner. We’ll have some Dantzic pine and Brême oak; we’ll have a first-rate planking — oak within and pine without. In old times they didn’t build so well, but their work lasted longer; the wood was better seasoned, because they did not build so much. We’ll build the hull perhaps of elm. Elm is good for the parts in the water. To be dry sometimes, and sometimes wet, rots the timbers; the elm requires to be always wet; it’s a wood that feeds upon water. What a splendid Durande we’ll build. The lawyers will not trouble me again. I shall want no more credit. I have some money of my own. Did ever any one see a man like Gilliatt. I was struck down to the ground, I was a dead man. He comes and sets me up again as firm as ever. And all the while I was never thinking about him. He had gone clean out of my mind; but I recollect everything now. Poor lad! Ah! by the way, you know you are to marry Déruchette.”

Gilliatt leaned with his back against the wall, like one who staggers, and said in a tone very low, but distinct:

“No.”

Mess Lethierry started.

“How, no!”

Gilliatt replied:

“I do not love her.”

Mess Lethierry went to the window, opened and reclosed it, took the three bank-notes, folded them, placed the iron box on top, scratched his head, seized Clubin’s belt, flung it violently against the wall, and exclaimed:

“You must be mad.”

He thrust his fists into his pockets, and exclaimed:

“You don’t love Déruchette? What! was it at me, then, that you used to play the bagpipe?”

Gilliatt, still supporting himself by the wall, turned pale, as a man near his end. As he became pale, Lethierry became redder.

“There’s an idiot for you! He doesn’t love Déruchette. Very good; make up your mind to love her, for she shall never marry any but you. A devilish pretty story that; and you think that I believe you. If there is anything really the matter with you, send for a doctor; but don’t talk nonsense. You can’t have had time to quarrel, or get out of temper with her. It is true that lovers are great fools sometimes. Come now, what are your reasons? If you have any, say. People don’t make geese of themselves without reasons. But, I have wool in my ears; perhaps I didn’t understand. Repeat to me what you said.”

Gilliatt replied:

“I said, No!”

“You said, No. He holds to it, the lunatic! You must be crazy. You said, No. Here’s a stupidity beyond anything ever heard of. Why, people have had their heads shaved for much less than that. What! you don’t like Déruchette? Oh, then, it was out of affection for the old man that you did all these things? It was for the sake of papa that you went to the Douvres, that you endured cold and heat, and was half dead with hunger and thirst, and ate the limpets off the rocks, and had the fog, the rain, and the wind for your bedroom, and brought me back my machine, just as you might bring a pretty woman her little canary that had escaped from its cage. And the tempest that we had three days ago. Do you think I don’t bear it in mind? You must have had a time of it! It was in the midst of all this misery, alongside of my old craft, that you shaped, and cut, and turned, and twisted, and dragged about, and filed, and sawed, and carpentered, and schemed, and performed more miracles there by yourself than all the saints in paradise. Ah! you annoyed me enough once with your bagpipe. They call it a biniou in Brittany. Always the same tune too, silly fellow. And yet you don’t love Déruchette? I don’t know what is the matter with you. I recollect it all now. I was there in the corner; Déruchette said, ‘He shall be my husband;’ and so you shall. You don’t love her! Either you must be mad, or else I am mad. And you stand there, and speak not a word. I tell you you are not at liberty to do all the things you have done, and then say, after all, ‘I don’t love Déruchette.’ People don’t do others services in order to put them in a passion. Well; if you don’t marry her, she shall be single all her life. In the first place, I shall want you. You must be the pilot of the Durande. Do you imagine I mean to part with you like that? No, no, my brave boy; I don’t let you go. I have got you now; I’ll not even listen to you. Where will they find a sailor like you? You are the man I want. But why don’t you speak?”

Meanwhile the harbour bell had aroused the household and the neighbourhood. Douce and Grace had risen, and had just entered the lower room, silent and astonished. Grace had a candle in her hand. A group of neighbours, townspeople, sailors, and peasants, who had rushed out of their houses, were outside on the quay, gazing in wonderment at the funnel of the Durande in the sloop. Some, hearing Lethierry’s voice in the lower room, began to glide in by the half-opened door. Between the faces of two worthy old women appeared that of Sieur Landoys, who had the good fortune always to find himself where he would have regretted to have been absent.

Men feel a satisfaction in having witnesses of their joys. The sort of scattered support which a crowd presents pleases them at such times; their delight draws new life from it. Mess Lethierry suddenly perceived that there were persons about him; and he welcomed the audience at once.

“Ah! you are here, my friends? I am very glad to see you. You know the news? That man has been there, and brought it back. How d’ye do, Sieur Landoys? When I woke up just now, the first thing I spied was the funnel. It was under my window. There’s not a nail missing. They make pictures of Napoleon’s deeds; but I think more of that than of the battle of Austerlitz. You have just left your beds, my good friends. The Durande has found you sleeping. While you are putting on your night-caps and blowing out your candles there are others working like heroes. We are a set of cowards and do-nothings; we sit at home rubbing our rheumatisms; but happily that does not prevent there being some of another stamp. The man of the Bû de la Rue has arrived from the Douvres rocks. He has fished up the Durande from the bottom of the sea; and fished up my money out of Clubin’s pocket, from a greater depth still. But how did you contrive to do it? All the powers of darkness were against you — the wind and the sea — the sea and the wind. It’s true enough that you are a magician. Those who say that are not so stupid after all. The Durande is back again. The tempests may rage now; that cuts the ground from under them. My friends, I can inform you that there was no shipwreck after all. I have examined all the machinery. It is like new, perfect. The valves go as easily as rollers. You would think them made yesterday. You know that the waste water is carried away by a tube inside another tube, through which come the waters from the boilers; this was to economise the heat. Well; the two tubes are there as good as ever. The complete engine, in fact. She is all there, her wheels and all. Ah! you shall marry her.”

“Marry the complete engine?” asked Sieur Landoys.

“No; Déruchette; yes; the engine. Both of them. He shall be my double son-in-law. He shall be her captain. Good day, Captain Gilliatt; for there will soon be a captain of the Durande. We are going to do a world of business again. There will be trade, circulation, cargoes of oxen and sheep. I wouldn’t give St. Sampson for London now. And there stands the author of all this. It was a curious adventure, I can tell you. You will read about it on Saturday in old Mauger’s Gazette. Malicious Gilliatt is very malicious. What’s the meaning of these Louis-d’ors here?”

Mess Lethierry had just observed, through the opening of the lid, that there was some gold in the box upon the notes. He seized it, opened and emptied it into the palm of his hand, and put the handful of guineas on the table.

“For the poor, Sieur Landoys. Give those sovereigns from me to the constable of St. Sampson. You recollect Rantaine’s letter. I showed it to you. Very well; I’ve got the bank-notes. Now we can buy some oak and fir, and go to work at carpentering. Look you! Do you remember the weather of three days ago? What a hurricane of wind and rain! Gilliatt endured all that upon the Douvres. That didn’t prevent his taking the wreck to pieces, as I might take my watch. Thanks to him, I am on my legs again. Old ‘Lethierry’s galley’ is going to run again, ladies and gentlemen. A nut-shell with a couple of wheels and a funnel. I always had that idea. I used to say to myself, one day I will do it. That was a good long time back. It was an idea that came in my head at Paris, at the coffee-house at the corner of the Rue Christine and the Rue Dauphine, when I was reading a paper which had an account of it. Do you know that Gilliatt would think nothing of putting the machine at Marly in his pocket, and walking about with it? He is wrought-iron, that man; tempered steel, a mariner of invaluable qualities, an excellent smith, an extraordinary fellow, more astonishing than the Prince of Hohenlohe. That is what I call a man with brains. We are children by the side of him. Sea-wolves we may think ourselves; but the sea-lion is there. Hurrah for Gilliatt! I do not know how he has done it; but certainly he must have been the devil. And how can I do other than give him Déruchette.”

For some minutes Déruchette had been in the room. She had not spoken or moved since she entered. She had glided in like a shadow, had sat down almost unperceived behind Mess Lethierry, who stood before her, loquacious, stormy, joyful, abounding in gestures, and talking in a loud voice. A little while after her another silent apparition had appeared. A man attired in black, with a white cravat, holding his hat in his hand, stood in the doorway. There were now several candles among the group, which had gradually increased in number. These lights were near the man attired in black. His profile and youthful and pleasing complexion showed itself against the dark background with the clearness of an engraving on a medal. He leaned with his shoulder against the framework of the door, and held his left hand to his forehead, an attitude of unconscious grace, which contrasted the breadth of his forehead with the smallness of his hand. There was an expression of anguish in his contracted lips, as he looked on and listened with profound attention. The standers-by having recognised M. Caudray, the rector of the parish, had fallen back to allow him to pass; but he remained upon the threshold. There was hesitation in his posture, but decision in his looks, which now and then met those of Déruchette. With regard to Gilliatt, whether by chance or design, he was in shadow, and was only perceived indistinctly.

At first Mess Lethierry did not observe Caudray, but he saw Déruchette. He went to her and kissed her fervently upon the forehead; stretching forth his hand at the same time towards the dark corner where Gilliatt was standing.

“Déruchette,” he said, “we are rich again; and there is your future husband.”

Déruchette raised her head, and looked into the dusky corner bewildered.

Mess Lethierry continued:

“The marriage shall take place immediately, if it can; they shall have a licence; the formalities here are not very troublesome; the dean can do what he pleases; people are married before they have time to turn round. It is not as in France, where you must have bans, and publications, and delays, and all that fuss. You will be able to boast of being the wife of a brave man. No one can say he is not. I thought so from the day when I saw him come back from Herm with the little cannon. But now he comes back from the Douvres with his fortune and mine, and the fortune of this country. A man of whom the world will talk a great deal more one day. You said once, ‘I will marry him;’ and you shall marry him, and you shall have little children, and I will be grandpapa; and you will have the good fortune to be the wife of a noble fellow, who can work, who can be useful to his fellow-men; a surprising fellow, worth a hundred others; a man who can rescue other people’s inventions, a providence! At all events, you will not have married, like so many other silly girls about here, a soldier or a priest, that is, a man who kills or a man who lies. But what are you doing there, Gilliatt? Nobody can see you. Douce, Grace, everybody there! Bring a light, I say. Light up my son-in-law for me. I betroth you to each other, my children: here stands your husband, here my son, Gilliatt of the Bû de la Rue, that noble fellow, that great seaman; I will have no other son-in-law, and you no other husband. I pledge my word to that once more in God’s name. Ah! you are there, Monsieur the Curé. You will marry these young people for us.”

Lethierry’s eye had just fallen upon Caudray.

Douce and Grace had done as they were directed. Two candles placed upon the table cast a light upon Gilliatt from head to foot.

“There’s a fine fellow,” said Mess Lethierry.

Gilliatt’s appearance was hideous.

He was in the condition in which he had that morning set sail from the rocks; in rags, his bare elbows showing through his sleeves; his beard long, his hair rough and wild; his eyes bloodshot, his skin peeling, his hands covered with wounds; his feet naked. Some of the blisters left by the devil-fish were still visible upon his arms.

Lethierry gazed at him.

“This is my son-in-law,” he said. “How he has struggled with the sea. He is all in rags. What shoulders; what hands. There’s a splendid fellow!”

Grace ran to Déruchette and supported her head. She had fainted.

ii

The Leathern Trunk

At break of day St. Sampson was on foot, and all the people of St. Peter’s Port began to flock there. The resurrection of the Durande caused a commotion in the island not unlike what was caused by the Salette in the south of France. There was a crowd on the quay staring at the funnel standing erect in the sloop. They were anxious to see and handle the machinery; but Lethierry, after making a new and triumphant survey of the whole by daylight, had placed two sailors aboard with instructions to prevent any one approaching it. The funnel, however, furnished food enough for contemplation. The crowd gaped with astonishment. They talked of nothing but Gilliatt. They remarked on his surname of “malicious Gilliatt;” and their admiration wound up with the remark, “It is not pleasant to have people in the island who can do things like that.”

Mess Lethierry was seen from outside the house, seated at a table before the window, writing, with one eye on the paper and another on the sloop. He was so completely absorbed that he had only once stopped to call Douce and ask after Déruchette. Douce replied, “Mademoiselle has risen and is gone out.” Mess Lethierry replied, “She is right to take the air. She was a little unwell last night, owing to the heat. There was a crowd in the room. This and her surprise and joy, and the windows being all closed, overcame her. She will have a husband to be proud of.” And he had gone on with his writing. He had already finished and sealed two letters, addressed to the most important shipbuilders at Brême. He now finished the sealing of a third.

The noise of a wheel upon the quay induced him to look up. He leaned out of the window, and observed coming from the path which led to the Bû de la Rue a boy pushing a wheelbarrow. The boy was going towards St. Peter’s Port. In the barrow was a portmanteau of brown leather, studded with nails of brass and white metal.

Mess Lethierry called to the boy:

“Where are you going, my lad?”

The boy stopped, and replied:

“To the Cashmere.”

“What for?”

“To take this trunk aboard.”

“Very good; you shall take these three letters too.”

Mess Lethierry opened the drawer of his table, took a piece of string, tied the three letters which he had just written across and across, and threw the packet to the boy, who caught it between his hands.

“Tell the captain of the Cashmere they are my letters, and to take care of them. They are for Germany — Brême viâ London.”

“I can’t speak to the captain, Mess Lethierry.”

“Why not?”

“The Cashmere is not at the quay.”

“Ah!”

“She is in the roads.”

“Ay, true; on account of the sea.”

“I can only speak to the man who takes the things aboard.”

“You will tell him, then, to look to the letters.”

“Very well, Mess Lethierry.”

“At what time does the Cashmere sail?”

“At twelve.”

“The tide will flow at noon; she will have it against her.”

“But she will have the wind,” answered the lad.

“Boy,” said Mess Lethierry, pointing with his forefinger at the engine in the sloop, “do you see that? There is something which laughs at winds and tides.”

The boy put the letters in his pocket, took up the handles of the barrow again, and went on his way towards the town. Mess Lethierry called “Douce! Grace!”

Grace opened the door a little way.

“What is it, Mess?”

“Come in and wait a moment.”

Mess Lethierry took a sheet of paper, and began to write. If Grace, standing behind him, had been curious, and had leaned forward while he was writing, she might have read as follows:—

“I have written to Brême for the timber. I have appointments all the morning with carpenters for the estimate. The rebuilding will go on fast. You must go yourself to the Deanery for a licence. It is my wish that the marriage should take place as soon as possible; immediately would be better. I am busy about the Durande. Do you be busy about Déruchette.”

He dated it and signed “Lethierry.” He did not take the trouble to seal it, but merely folded it in four, and handed it to Grace, saying:

“Take that to Gilliatt.”

“To the Bû de la Rue?”

“To the Bû de la Rue.”

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 12:27