At about five leagues out, in the open sea, to the south of Guernsey, opposite Pleinmont Point, and between the Channel Islands and St. Malo, there is a group of rocks, called the Douvres. The spot is dangerous.
This term Douvres, applied to rocks and cliffs, is very common. There is, for example, near the Côtes du Nord, a Douvre, on which a lighthouse is now being constructed, a dangerous reef; but one which must not be confounded with the rock above referred to.
The nearest point on the French coast to the Douvres is Cape Bréhat. The Douvres are a little further from the coast of France than from the nearest of the Channel Islands. The distance from Jersey may be pretty nearly measured by the extreme length of Jersey. If the island of Jersey could be turned round upon Corbière, as upon a hinge, St. Catherine’s Point would almost touch the Douvres, at a distance of more than four leagues.
In these civilised regions the wildest rocks are rarely desert places. Smugglers are met with at Hagot, custom-house men at Binic, Celts at Bréhat, oyster-dredgers at Cancale, rabbit-shooters at Césambre or Cæsar’s Island, crab-gatherers at Brecqhou, trawlers at the Minquiers, dredgers at Ecréhou, but no one is ever seen upon the Douvres.
The sea birds alone make their home there.
No spot in the ocean is more dreaded. The Casquets, where it is said the Blanche Nef was lost; the Bank of Calvados; the Needles in the Isle of Wight; the Ronesse, which makes the coast of Beaulieu so dangerous; the sunken reefs at Préel, which block the entrance to Merquel, and which necessitates the red-painted beacon in twenty fathoms of water, the treacherous approaches to Etables and Plouha; the two granite Druids to the south of Guernsey, the Old Anderlo and the Little Anderlo, the Corbière, the Hanways, the Isle of Ras, associated with terror in the proverb:
“Si jamais tu passes le Ras,
Si tu ne meurs, tu trembleras.”
the Mortes–Femmes, the Déroute between Guernsey and Jersey, the Hardent between the Minquiers and Chousey, the Mauvais Cheval between Bouley Bay and Barneville, have not so evil a reputation. It would be preferable to have to encounter all these dangers, one after the other, than the Douvres once.
In all that perilous sea of the Channel, which is the Egean of the West, the Douvres have no equal in their terrors, except the Paternoster between Guernsey and Sark.
From the Paternoster, however, it is possible to give a signal — a ship in distress there may obtain succour. To the north rises Dicard or D’Icare Point, and to the south Grosnez. From the Douvres you can see nothing.
Its associations are the storm, the cloud, the wild sea, the desolate waste, the uninhabited coast. The blocks of granite are hideous and enormous — everywhere perpendicular wall — the severe inhospitality of the abyss.
It is in the open sea; the water about is very deep. A rock completely isolated like the Douvres attracts and shelters creatures which shun the haunts of men. It is a sort of vast submarine cave of fossil coral branches — a drowned labyrinth. There, at a depth to which divers would find it difficult to descend, are caverns, haunts, and dusky mazes, where monstrous creatures multiply and destroy each other. Huge crabs devour fish and are devoured in their turn. Hideous shapes of living things, not created to be seen by human eyes, wander in this twilight. Vague forms of antennæ, tentacles, fins, open jaws, scales, and claws, float about there, quivering, growing larger, or decomposing and perishing in the gloom, while horrible swarms of swimming things prowl about seeking their prey.
To gaze into the depths of the sea is, in the imagination, like beholding the vast unknown, and from its most terrible point of view. The submarine gulf is analogous to the realm of night and dreams. There also is sleep, unconsciousness, or at least apparent unconsciousness, of creation. There, in the awful silence and darkness, the rude first forms of life, phantom-like, demoniacal, pursue their horrible instincts.
Forty years ago, two rocks of singular form signalled the Douvres from afar to passers on the ocean. They were two vertical points, sharp and curved — their summits almost touching each other. They looked like the two tusks of an elephant rising out of the sea; but they were tusks, high as tall towers, of an elephant huge as a mountain. These two natural towers, rising out of the obscure home of marine monsters, only left a narrow passage between them, where the waves rushed through. This passage, tortuous and full of angles, resembled a straggling street between high walls. The two twin rocks are called the Douvres. There was the Great Douvre and the Little Douvre; one was sixty feet high, the other forty. The ebb and flow of the tide had at last worn away part of the base of the towers, and a violent equinoctial gale on the 26th of October, 1859, overthrew one of them. The smaller one, which still remains, is worn and tottering.
One of the most singular of the Douvres is a rock known as “The Man.” This still exists. Some fisherman in the last century visiting this spot found on the height of the rock a human body. By its side were a number of empty sea-shells. A sailor escaped from shipwreck had found a refuge there; had lived some time upon rock limpets, and had died. Hence its name of “The Man.”
The solitudes of the sea are peculiarly dismal. The things which pass there seem to have no relation to the human race; their objects are unknown. Such is the isolation of the Douvres. All around, as far as eye can reach, spreads the vast and restless sea.
On the Friday morning, the day after the departure of the Tamaulipas, the Durande started again for Guernsey.
She left St. Malo at nine o’clock. The weather was fine; no haze. Old Captain Gertrais–Gaboureau was evidently in his dotage.
Sieur Clubin’s numerous occupations had decidedly been unfavourable to the collection of freight for the Durande. He had only taken aboard some packages of Parisian articles for the fancy shops of St. Peter’s Port; three cases for the Guernsey hospital, one containing yellow soap and long candles, and the other French shoe leather for soles, and choice Cordovan skins. He brought back from his last cargo a case of crushed sugar and three chests of congou tea, which the French custom-house would not permit to pass. He had embarked very few cattle; some bullocks only. These bullocks were in the hold loosely tethered.
There were six passengers aboard; a Guernsey man, two inhabitants of St. Malo, dealers in cattle: a “tourist,”— a phrase already in vogue at this period — a Parisian citizen, probably travelling on commercial affairs, and an American, engaged in distributing Bibles.
Without reckoning Clubin, the crew of the Durande amounted to seven men; a helmsman, a stoker, a ship’s carpenter, and a cook — serving as sailors in case of need — two engineers, and a cabin boy. One of the two engineers was also a practical mechanic. This man, a bold and intelligent Dutch negro, who had originally escaped from the sugar plantations of Surinam, was named Imbrancam. The negro, Imbrancam, understood and attended admirably to the engine. In the early days of the “Devil Boat,” his black face, appearing now and then at the top of the engine-room stairs, had contributed not a little to sustain its diabolical reputation.
The helmsman, a native of Guernsey, but of a family originally from Cotentin, bore the name of Tangrouille. The Tangrouilles were an old noble family.
This was strictly true. The Channel Islands are like England, an aristocratic region. Castes exist there still. The castes have their peculiar ideas, which are, in fact, their protection. These notions of caste are everywhere similar; in Hindostan, as in Germany, nobility is won by the sword; lost by soiling the hands with labour: but preserved by idleness. To do nothing, is to live nobly; whoever abstains from work is honoured. A trade is fatal. In France, in old times, there was no exception to this rule, except in the case of glass manufacturers. Emptying bottles being then one of the glories of gentlemen, making them was probably, for that reason, not considered dishonourable. In the Channel archipelago, as in Great Britain, he who would remain noble must contrive to be rich. A working man cannot possibly be a gentleman. If he has ever been one, he is so no longer. Yonder sailor, perhaps, descends from the Knights Bannerets, but is nothing but a sailor. Thirty years ago, a real Gorges, who would have had rights over the Seigniory of Gorges, confiscated by Philip Augustus, gathered seaweed, naked-footed, in the sea. A Carteret is a waggoner in Sark. There are at Jersey a draper, and at Guernsey a shoemaker, named Gruchy, who claim to be Grouchys, and cousins of the Marshal of Waterloo. The old registers of the Bishopric of Coutances make mention of a Seigniory of Tangroville, evidently from Tancarville on the lower Seine, which is identical with Montmorency. In the fifteenth century, Johan de Héroudeville, archer and étoffe of the Sire de Tangroville, bore behind him “son corset et ses autres harnois.” In May, 1371, at Pontorson, at the review of Bertrand du Guesclin, Monsieur de Tangroville rendered his homage as Knight Bachelor. In the Norman islands, if a noble falls into poverty, he is soon eliminated from the order. A mere change of pronunciation is enough. Tangroville becomes Tangrouille: and the thing is done.
This had been the fate of the helmsman of the Durande.
At the Bordagé of St. Peter’s Port, there is a dealer in old iron named Ingrouille, who is probably an Ingroville. Under Lewis le Gros the Ingrovilles possessed three parishes in the district of Valognes. A certain Abbé Trigan has written an Ecclesiastical History of Normandy. This chronicler Trigan was the curé of the Seigniory of Digoville. The Sire of Digoville, if he had sunk to a lower grade, would have been called Digouille.
Tangrouille, this probable Tancarville, and possible Montmorency, had an ancient noble quality, but a grave failing for a steersman; he got drunk occasionally.
Sieur Clubin had obstinately determined to retain him. He answered for his conduct to Mess Lethierry.
Tangrouille the helmsman never left the vessel; he slept aboard.
On the eve of their departure, when Sieur Clubin came at a late hour to inspect the vessel, the steersman was in his hammock asleep.
In the night Tangrouille awoke. It was his nightly habit. Every drunkard who is not his own master has his secret hiding-place. Tangrouille had his, which he called his store. The secret store of Tangrouille was in the hold. He had placed it there to put others off the scent. He thought it certain that his hiding-place was known only to himself. Captain Clubin, being a sober man himself, was strict. The little rum or gin which the helmsman could conceal from the vigilant eyes of the captain, he kept in reserve in this mysterious corner of the hold, and nearly every night he had a stolen interview with the contents of this store. The surveillance was rigorous, the orgie was a poor one, and Tangrouille’s nightly excesses were generally confined to two or three furtive draughts. Sometimes it happened that the store was empty. This night Tangrouille had found there an unexpected bottle of brandy. His joy was great; but his astonishment greater. From what cloud had it fallen? He could not remember when or how he had ever brought it into the ship. He soon, however, consumed the whole of it; partly from motives of prudence, and partly from a fear that the brandy might be discovered and seized. The bottle he threw overboard. In the morning, when he took the helm, Tangrouille exhibited a slight oscillation of the body.
He steered, however, pretty nearly as usual.
With regard to Clubin, he had gone, as the reader knows, to sleep at the Jean Auberge.
Clubin always wore, under his shirt, a leathern travelling belt, in which he kept a reserve of twenty guineas; he took this belt off only at night. Inside the belt was his name “Clubin,” written by himself on the rough leather, with thick lithographer’s ink, which is indelible.
On rising, just before his departure, he put into this girdle the iron box containing the seventy-five thousand francs in bank-notes; then, as he was accustomed to do, he buckled the belt round his body.
The Durande started pleasantly. The passengers, as soon as their bags and portmanteaus were installed upon and under the benches, took that customary survey of the vessel which seems indispensable under the circumstances. Two of the passengers — the tourist and the Parisian — had never seen a steam-vessel before, and from the moment the paddles began to revolve, they stood admiring the foam. Then they looked with wonderment at the smoke. Then they examined one by one, and almost piece by piece upon the upper and lower deck, all those naval appliances such as rings, grapnels, hooks and bolts, which, with their nice precision and adaptation, form a kind of colossal bijouterie— a sort of iron jewellery, fantastically gilded with rust by the weather. They walked round the little signal gun upon the upper deck. “Chained up like a sporting dog,” observed the tourist. “And covered with a waterproof coat to prevent its taking cold,” added the Parisian. As they left the land further behind, they indulged in the customary observations upon the view of St. Malo. One passenger laid down the axiom that the approach to a place by sea is always deceptive; and that at a league from the shore, for example, nothing could more resemble Ostend than Dunkirk. He completed his series of remarks on Dunkirk by the observation that one of its two floating lights painted red was called Ruytingen, and the other Mardyck.
St. Malo, meanwhile, grew smaller in the distance, and finally disappeared from view.
The aspect of the sea was a vast calm. The furrow left in the water by the vessel was a long double line edged with foam, and stretching straight behind them as far as the eye could see.
A straight line drawn from St. Malo in France to Exeter in England would touch the island of Guernsey. The straight line at sea is not always the one chosen. Steam-vessels, however, have, to a certain extent, a power of following the direct course denied to sailing ships.
The wind in co-operation with the sea is a combination of forces. A ship is a combination of appliances. Forces are machines of infinite power. Machines are forces of limited power. That struggle which we call navigation is between these two organisations, the one inexhaustible, the other intelligent.
Mind, directing the mechanism, forms the counterbalance to the infinite power of the opposing forces. But the opposing forces, too, have their organisation. The elements are conscious of where they go, and what they are about. No force is merely blind. It is the function of man to keep watch upon these natural agents, and to discover their laws.
While these laws are still in great part undiscovered, the struggle continues, and in this struggle navigation, by the help of steam, is a perpetual victory won by human skill every hour of the day, and upon every point of the sea. The admirable feature in steam navigation is, that it disciplines the very ship herself. It diminishes her obedience to the winds, and increases her docility to man.
The Durande had never worked better at sea than on that day. She made her way marvellously.
Towards eleven o’clock, a fresh breeze blowing from the nor’-nor’-west, the Durande was off the Minquiers, under little steam, keeping her head to the west, on the starboard tack, and close up to the wind. The weather was still fine and clear. The trawlers, however, were making for shore.
By little and little, as if each one was anxious to get into port, the sea became clear of the boats.
It could not be said that the Durande was keeping quite her usual course. The crew gave no thought to such matters. The confidence in the captain was absolute; yet, perhaps through the fault of the helmsman, there was a slight deviation. The Durande appeared to be making rather towards Jersey than Guernsey. A little after eleven the captain rectified the vessel’s course, and put her head fair for Guernsey. It was only a little time lost, but in short days time lost has its inconveniences. It was a February day, but the sun shone brightly.
Tangrouille, in his half-intoxicated state, had not a very sure arm, nor a very firm footing. The result was, that the helmsman lurched pretty often, which also retarded progress.
The wind had almost entirely fallen.
The Guernsey passenger, who had a telescope in his hand, brought it to bear from time to time upon a little cloud of grey mist, lightly moved by the wind, in the extreme western horizon. It resembled a fleecy down sprinkled with dust.
Captain Clubin wore his ordinary austere, Puritan-like expression of countenance. He appeared to redouble his attention.
All was peaceful and almost joyous on board the Durande. The passengers chatted. It is possible to judge of the state of the sea in a passage with the eyes closed, by noting the tremolo of the conversation about you. The full freedom of mind among the passengers answers to the perfect tranquillity of the waters.
It is impossible, for example, that a conversation like the following could take place otherwise than on a very calm sea.
“Observe that pretty green and red fly.”
“It has lost itself out at sea, and is resting on the ship.”
“Flies do not soon get tired.”
“No doubt; they are light; the wind carries them.”
“An ounce of flies was once weighed, and afterwards counted; and it was found to comprise no less than six thousand two hundred and sixty-eight.”
The Guernsey passenger with the telescope had approached the St. Malo cattle dealers; and their talk was something in this vein:
“The Aubrac bull has a round and thick buttock, short legs, and a yellowish hide. He is slow at work by reason of the shortness of his legs.”
“In that matter the Salers beats the Aubrac.”
“I have seen, sir, two beautiful bulls in my life. The first has the legs low, the breast thick, the rump full, the haunches large, a good length of neck to the udder, withers of good height, the skin easy to strip. The second had all the signs of good fattening, a thick-set back, neck and shoulders strong, coat white and brown, rump sinking.”
“That’s the Cotentin race.”
“Yes; with a slight cross with the Angus or Suffolk bull.”
“You may believe it if you please, sir, but I assure you in the south they hold shows of donkeys.”
“Shows of donkeys?”
“Of donkeys, on my honour. And the ugliest are the most admired.”
“Ha! it is the same as with the mule shows. The ugly ones are considered best.”
“Exactly. Take also the Poitevin mares; large belly, thick legs.”
“The best mule known is a sort of barrel upon four posts.”
“Beauty in beasts is a different thing from beauty in men.”
“And particularly in women.”
“That is true.”
“As for me, I like a woman to be pretty.”
“I am more particular about her being well dressed.”
“Yes; neat, clean, and well set off.”
“Looking just new. A pretty girl ought always to appear as if she had just been turned out by a jeweller.”
“To return to my bulls; I saw these two sold at the market at Thouars.”
“The market at Thouars; I know it very well. The Bonneaus of La Rochelle, and the Babas corn merchants at Marans, I don’t know whether you have heard of them attending that market.”
The tourist and the Parisian were conversing with the American of the Bibles.
“Sir,” said the tourist, “I will tell you the tonnage of the civilised world. France 716,000 tons; Germany 1,000,000; the United States, 5,000,000; England, 5,500,000; add the small vessels. Total 12,904,000 tons, carried in 145,000 vessels scattered over the waters of the globe.”
The American interrupted:
“It is the United States, sir, which have 5,500,000.”
“I agree,” said the tourist. “You are an American?”
“I agree again.”
There was a pause. The American missionary was considering whether this was a case for the offer of a Bible.
“Is it true, sir,” asked the tourist, “that you have a passion for nicknames in America, so complete, that you confer them upon all your celebrated men, and that you call your famous Missouri banker, Thomas Benton, ‘Old Lingot’?”
“Yes; just as we call Zachary Taylor ‘Old Zach.’”
“And General Harrison, ‘Old Tip;’ am I right? and General Jackson, ‘Old Hickory?’”
“Because Jackson is hard as hickory wood; and because Harrison beat the redskins at Tippecanoe.”
“It is an odd fashion that of yours.”
“It is our custom. We call Van Buren ‘The Little Wizard;’ Seward, who introduced the small bank-notes, ‘Little Billy;’ and Douglas, the democrat senator from Illinois, who is four feet high and very eloquent, ‘The Little Giant.’ You may go from Texas to the State of Maine without hearing the name of Mr. Cass. They say the ‘Great Michiganer.’ Nor the name of Clay; they say ‘The miller’s boy with the scar.’ Clay is the son of a miller.”
“I should prefer to say ‘Clay’ or ‘Cass,’” said the Parisian. “It’s shorter.”
“Then you would be out of the fashion. We call Corwin, who is the Secretary of the Treasury, ‘The Waggoner-boy;’ Daniel Webster, ‘Black Dan.’ As to Winfield Scott, as his first thought after beating the English at Chippeway, was to sit down to dine, we call him ‘Quick — a basin of soup.’”
The small white mist perceived in the distance had become larger. It filled now a segment of fifteen degrees above the horizon. It was like a cloud loitering along the water for want of wind to stir it. The breeze had almost entirely died away. The sea was glassy. Although it was not yet noon, the sun was becoming pale. It lighted but seemed to give no warmth.
“I fancy,” said the tourist, “that we shall have a change of weather.”
“Probably rain,” said the Parisian.
“Or fog,” said the American.
“In Italy,” remarked the tourist, “Molfetta is the place where there falls the least rain; and Tolmezzo, where there falls the most.”
At noon, according to the usage of the Channel Islands, the bell sounded for dinner. Those dined who desired. Some passengers had brought with them provisions, and were eating merrily on the after-deck. Clubin did not eat.
While this eating was going on, the conversations continued.
The Guernsey man, having probably a scent for Bibles, approached the American. The latter said to him:
“You know this sea?”
“Very well; I belong to this part.”
“And I, too,” said one of the St. Malo men.
The native of Guernsey followed with a bow and continued:
“We are fortunately well out at sea now; I should not have liked a fog when we were off the Minquiers.”
The American said to the St. Malo man:
“Islanders are more at home on the sea than the folks of the coast.”
“True; we coast people are only half dipped in salt water.”
“What are the Minquiers?” asked the American.
The St. Malo man replied:
“They are an ugly reef of rocks.”
“There are also the Grelets,” said the Guernsey man.
“Parblus!” ejaculated the other.
“And the Chouas,” added the Guernsey man.
The inhabitant of St. Malo laughed.
“As for that,” said he, “there are the Savages also.”
“And the Monks,” observed the Guernsey man.
“And the Duck,” cried the St. Maloite.
“Sir,” remarked the inhabitant of Guernsey, “you have an answer for everything.”
The tourist interposed with a question:
“Have we to pass all that legion of rocks?”
“No; we have left it to the sou’-south-east. It is behind us.”
And the Guernsey passenger continued:
“Big and little rocks together, the Grelets have fifty-seven peaks.”
“And the Minquiers forty-eight,” said the other.
The dialogue was now confined to the St. Malo and the Guernsey passenger.
“It strikes me, Monsieur St. Malo, that there are three rocks which you have not included.”
“I mentioned all.”
“From the Derée to the Maître Ile.”
“And Les Maisons?”
“Yes; seven rocks in the midst of the Minquiers.”
“I see you know the very stones.”
“If I didn’t know the stones, I should not be an inhabitant of St. Malo.”
“It is amusing to hear French people’s reasonings.”
The St. Malo man bowed in his turn, and said:
“The Savages are three rocks.”
“And the Monks two.”
“And the Duck one.”
“The Duck; this is only one, of course.”
“No: for the Suarde consists of four rocks.”
“What do you mean by the Suarde?” asked the inhabitant of Guernsey.
“We call the Suarde what you call the Chouas.”
“It is a queer passage, that between the Chouas and the Duck.”
“It is impassable except for the birds.”
“And the fish.”
“Scarcely: in bad weather they give themselves hard knocks against the walls.”
“There is sand near the Minquiers?”
“Around the Maisons.”
“There are eight rocks visible from Jersey.”
“Visible from the strand of Azette; that’s correct: but not eight; only seven.”
“At low water you can walk about the Minquiers?”
“No doubt; there would be sand above water.”
“And what of the Dirouilles?”
“The Dirouilles bear no resemblance to the Minquiers.”
“They are very dangerous.”
“They are near Granville.”
“I see that you St. Malo people, like us, enjoy sailing in these seas.”
“Yes,” replied the St. Malo man, “with the difference that we say, ‘We have the habit,’ you, ‘We are fond.’”
“You make good sailors.”
“I am myself a cattle merchant.”
“Who was that famous sailor born of St. Malo?”
Here the Parisian commercial man chimed in:
“Duguay–Trouin? He was captured by the English. He was as agreeable as he was brave. A young English lady fell in love with him. It was she who procured him his liberty.”
At this moment a voice like thunder was heard crying out:
“You are drunk, man!”
It was the captain calling to the helmsman.
Sieur Clubin’s tone and manner evidenced that he was extremely angry, or that he wished to appear so.
A well-timed burst of anger sometimes removes responsibility, and sometimes shifts it on to other shoulders.
The captain, standing on the bridge between the two paddle-boxes, fixed his eyes on the helmsman. He repeated, between his teeth, “Drunkard.” The unlucky Tangrouille hung his head.
The fog had made progress. It filled by this time nearly one-half of the horizon. It seemed to advance from every quarter at the same time. There is something in a fog of the nature of a drop of oil upon the water. It enlarged insensibly. The light wind moved it onward slowly and silently. By little and little it took possession of the ocean. It was coming chiefly from the north-west, dead ahead: the ship had it before her prow, like a line of cliff moving vast and vague. It rose from the sea like a wall. There was an exact point where the wide waters entered the fog, and were lost to sight.
This line of the commencement of the fog was still above half-a-league distant. The interval was visibly growing less and less. The Durande made way; the fog made way also. It was drawing nearer to the vessel, while the vessel was drawing nearer to it.
Clubin gave the order to put on more steam, and to hold off the coast.
Thus for some time they skirted the edge of the fog; but still it advanced. The vessel, meanwhile, sailed in broad sunlight.
Time was lost in these manoeuvres, which had little chance of success. Nightfall comes quickly in February. The native of Guernsey was meditating upon the subject of this fog. He said to the St. Malo men:
“It will be thick!”
“An ugly sort of weather at sea,” observed one of the St. Malo men.
The other added:
“A kind of thing which spoils a good passage.”
The Guernsey passenger approached Clubin, and said:
“I’m afraid, Captain, that the fog will catch us.”
“I wished to stay at St. Malo, but I was advised to go.”
“By some old sailors.”
“You were certainly right to go,” said the Guernsey man. “Who knows whether there will not be a tempest to-morrow? At this season you may wait and find it worse.”
A few moments later, the Durande entered the fog bank.
The effect was singular. Suddenly those who were on the after-deck could not see those forward. A soft grey medium divided the ship in two.
Then the entire vessel passed into the fog. The sun became like a dull red moon. Everybody suddenly shivered. The passengers put on their overcoats, and the sailors their tarpaulins. The sea, almost without a ripple, was the more menacing from its cold tranquillity. All was pale and wan. The black funnel and the heavy smoke struggled with the dewy mist which enshrouded the vessel.
Dropping to westward was now useless. The captain kept the vessel’s head again towards Guernsey, and gave orders to put on the steam.
The Guernsey passenger, hanging about the engine-room hatchway, heard the negro Imbrancam talking to his engineer comrade. The passenger listened. The negro said:
“This morning, in the sun, we were going half steam on; now, in the fog, we put on steam.”
The Guernsey man returned to Clubin.
“Captain Clubin, a look-out is useless; but have we not too much steam on?”
“What can I do, sir? We must make up for time lost through the fault of that drunkard of a helmsman.”
“True, Captain Clubin.”
And Clubin added:
“I am anxious to arrive. It is foggy enough by day: it would be rather too much at night.”
The Guernsey man rejoined his St. Malo fellow-passengers, and remarked:
“We have an excellent captain.”
At intervals, great waves of mist bore down heavily upon them, and blotted out the sun; which again issued out of them pale and sickly. The little that could be seen of the heavens resembled the long strips of painted sky, dirty and smeared with oil, among the old scenery of a theatre.
The Durande passed close to a cutter which had cast anchor for safety. It was the Shealtiel of Guernsey. The master of the cutter remarked the high speed of the steam-vessel. It struck him also, that she was not in her exact course. She seemed to him to bear to westward too much. The apparition of this vessel under full steam in the fog surprised him.
Towards two o’clock the weather had become so thick that the captain was obliged to leave the bridge, and plant himself near the steersman. The sun had vanished, and all was fog. A sort of ashy darkness surrounded the ship. They were navigating in a pale shroud. They could see neither sky nor water.
There was not a breath of wind.
The can of turpentine suspended under the bridge, between the paddle-boxes, did not even oscillate.
The passengers had become silent.
The Parisian, however, hummed between his teeth the song of Béranger —“Un jour le bon Dieu s’éveillant.”
One of the St. Malo passengers addressed him:
“You are from Paris, sir?”
“Yes, sir. Il mit la tête à la fenêtre.”
“What do they do in Paris?”
“Leur planète a péri, peut-être.— In Paris, sir, things are going on very badly.”
“Then it’s the same ashore as at sea.”
“It is true; we have an abominable fog here.”
“One which might involve us in misfortunes.”
The Parisian exclaimed:
“Yes; and why all these misfortunes in the world? Misfortunes! What are they sent for, these misfortunes? What use do they serve? There was the fire at the Odéon theatre, and immediately a number of families thrown out of employment. Is that just? I don’t know what is your religion, sir, but I am puzzled by all this.”
“So am I,” said the St. Malo man.
“Everything that happens here below,” continued the Parisian, “seems to go wrong. It looks as if Providence, for some reason, no longer watched over the world.”
The St. Malo man scratched the top of his head, like one making an effort to understand. The Parisian continued:
“Our guardian angel seems to be absent. There ought to be a decree against celestial absenteeism. He is at his country-house, and takes no notice of us; so all gets in disorder. It is evident that this guardian is not in the government; he is taking holiday, leaving some vicar — some seminarist angel, some wretched creature with sparrows’-wings — to look after affairs.”
Captain Clubin, who had approached the speakers during this conversation, laid his hand upon the shoulder of the Parisian.
“Silence, sir,” he said. “Keep a watch upon your words. We are upon the sea.”
No one spoke again aloud.
After a pause of five minutes, the Guernsey man, who had heard all this, whispered in the ear of the St. Malo passenger:
“A religious man, our captain.”
It did not rain, but all felt their clothing wet. The crew took no heed of the way they were making; but there was increased sense of uneasiness. They seemed to have entered into a doleful region. The fog makes a deep silence on the sea; it calms the waves, and stifles the wind. In the midst of this silence, the creaking of the Durande communicated a strange, indefinable feeling of melancholy and disquietude.
They passed no more vessels. If afar off, in the direction of Guernsey or in that of St. Malo, any vessels were at sea outside the fog, the Durande, submerged in the dense cloud, must have been invisible to them; while her long trail of smoke attached to nothing, looked like a black comet in the pale sky.
Suddenly Clubin roared out:
“Hang-dog! you have played us an ugly trick. You will have done us some damage before we are out of this. You deserve to be put in irons. Get you gone, drunkard!”
And he seized the helm himself.
The steersman, humbled, shrunk away to take part in the duties forward.
The Guernsey man said:
“That will save us.”
The vessel was still making way rapidly.
Towards three o’clock, the lower part of the fog began to clear, and they could see the sea again.
A mist can only be dispersed by the sun or the wind. By the sun is well; by the wind is not so well. At three o’clock in the afternoon, in the month of February, the sun is always weak. A return of the wind at this critical point in a voyage is not desirable. It is often the forerunner of a hurricane.
If there was any breeze, however, it was scarcely perceptible.
Clubin with his eye on the binnacle, holding the tiller and steering, muttered to himself some words like the following, which reached the ears of the passengers:
“No time to be lost; that drunken rascal has retarded us.”
His visage, meanwhile, was absolutely without expression.
The sea was less calm under the mist. A few waves were distinguishable. Little patches of light appeared on the surface of the water. These luminous patches attract the attention of the sailors. They indicate openings made by the wind in the overhanging roof of fog. The cloud rose a little, and then sunk heavier. Sometimes the density was perfect. The ship was involved in a sort of foggy iceberg. At intervals this terrible circle opened a little, like a pair of pincers; showed a glimpse of the horizon, and then closed again.
Meanwhile the Guernsey man, armed with his spyglass, was standing like a sentinel in the fore part of the vessel.
An opening appeared for a moment, and was blotted out again.
The Guernsey man returned alarmed.
“What is the matter?”
“We are steering right upon the Hanways.”
“You are mistaken,” said Clubin, coldly.
The Guernsey man insisted.
“I am sure of it.”
“I have just seen the rock in the horizon.”
“It is the open sea there. Impossible.”
And Clubin kept the vessel’s head to the point indicated by the passenger.
The Guernsey man seized his spyglass again.
A moment later he came running aft again.
“I am certain of having seen a very high rock just ahead. It is the Great Hanway.”
“You have seen nothing but a thicker bank of fog.”
“It is the Great Hanway. Tack, in the name of Heaven!”
Clubin gave the helm a turn.
A crash was heard. The ripping of a vessel’s side upon a sunken reef in open sea is the most dismal sound of which man can dream. The Durande’s course was stopped short.
Several passengers were knocked down with the shock and rolled upon the deck.
The Guernsey man raised his hands to heaven:
“We are on the Hanways. I predicted it.”
A long cry went up from the ship.
“We are lost.”
The voice of Clubin, dry and short, was heard above all.
“No one is lost! Silence!”
The black form of Imbrancam, naked down to the waist, issued from the hatchway of the engine-room.
The negro said with self-possession:
“The water is gaining, Captain. The fires will soon be out.”
The moment was terrible.
The shock was like that of a suicide. If the disaster had been wilfully sought, it could not have been more terrible. The Durande had rushed upon her fate as if she had attacked the rock itself. A point had pierced her sides like a wedge. More than six feet square of planking had gone; the stem was broken, the prow smashed, and the gaping hull drank in the sea with a horrible gulping noise. It was an entrance for wreck and ruin. The rebound was so violent that it had shattered the rudder pendants; the rudder itself hung unhinged and flapping. The rock had driven in her keel. Round about the vessel nothing was visible except a thick, compact fog, now become sombre. Night was gathering fast.
The Durande plunged forward. It was like the effort of a horse pierced through the entrails by the horns of a bull. All was over with her.
Tangrouille was sobered. Nobody is drunk in the moment of a shipwreck. He came down to the quarter-deck, went up again, and said:
“Captain, the water is gaining rapidly in the hold. In ten minutes it will be up to the scupper-holes.”
The passengers ran about bewildered, wringing their hands, leaning over the bulwarks, looking down in the engine-room, and making every other sort of useless movement in their terror. The tourist had fainted.
Clubin made a sign with his hand, and they were silent. He questioned Imbrancam:
“How long will the engines work yet?”
“Five or six minutes, sir.”
Then he interrogated the Guernsey passenger:
“I was at the helm. You saw the rock. On which bank of the Hanways are we?”
“On the Mauve. Just now, in the opening in the fog, I saw it clearly.”
“If we’re on the Mauve,” remarked Clubin, “we have the Great Hanway on the port side, and the Little Hanway on the starboard bow; we are a mile from the shore.”
The crew and passengers listened, fixing their eyes anxiously and attentively on the captain.
Lightening the ship would have been of no avail, and indeed would have been hardly possible. In order to throw the cargo overboard, they would have had to open the ports and increase the chance of the water entering. To cast anchor would have been equally useless: they were stuck fast. Besides, with such a bottom for the anchor to drag, the chain would probably have fouled. The engines not being injured, and being workable while the fires were not extinguished, that is to say, for a few minutes longer, they could have made an effort, by help of steam and her paddles, to turn her astern off the rocks; but if they had succeeded, they must have settled down immediately. The rock, indeed, in some degree stopped the breach and prevented the entrance of the water. It was at least an obstacle; while the hole once freed, it would have been impossible to stop the leak or to work the pumps. To snatch a poniard from a wound in the heart is instant death to the victim. To free the vessel from the rock would have been simply to founder.
The cattle, on whom the water was gaining in the hold, were lowing piteously.
Clubin issued orders:
“Launch the long boat.”
Imbrancam and Tangrouille rushed to execute the order. The boat was eased from her fastenings. The rest of the crew looked on stupefied.
“All hands to assist,” cried Clubin.
This time all obeyed.
Clubin, self-possessed, continued to issue his orders in that old sea dialect, which French sailors of the present day would scarcely understand.
“Haul in a rope — Get a cable if the capstan does not work — Stop heaving — Keep the blocks clear — Lower away there —— Bring her down stern and bows — Now then, all together, lads — Take care she don’t lower stern first — There’s too much strain on there — Hold the laniard of the stock tackle — Stand by there!”
The long boat was launched.
At that instant the Durande’s paddles stopped, and the smoke ceased — the fires were drowned.
The passengers slipped down the ladder, and dropped hurriedly into the long boat. Imbrancam lifted the fainting tourist, carried him into the boat, and then boarded the vessel again.
The crew made a rush after the passengers — the cabin boy was knocked down, and the others were trampling upon him.
Imbrancam barred their passage.
“Not a man before the lad,” he said.
He kept off the sailors with his two black arms, picked up the boy, and handed him down to the Guernsey man, who was standing upright in the boat.
The boy saved, Imbrancam made way for the others, and said:
Meanwhile Clubin had entered his cabin, and had made up a parcel containing the ship’s papers and instruments. He took the compass from the binnacle, handed the papers and instruments to Imbrancam, and the compass to Tangrouille, and said to them:
“Get aboard the boat.”
They obeyed. The crew had taken their places before them.
“Now,” cried Clubin, “push off.”
A cry arose from the long boat.
“What about yourself, Captain?”
“I will remain here.”
Shipwrecked people have little time to deliberate, and not much for indulging in tender feeling. Those who were in the long boat and in comparative safety, however, felt an emotion which was not altogether selfish. All the voices shouted together:
“Come with us, Captain.”
“No: I remain here.”
The Guernsey man, who had some experience of the sea, replied:
“Listen to me, Captain. You are wrecked on the Hanways. Swimming, you would have only a mile to cross to Pleinmont. In a boat you can only land at Rocquaine, which is two miles. There are breakers, and there is the fog. Our boat will not get to Rocquaine in less than two hours. It will be a dark night. The sea is rising — the wind getting fresh. A squall is at hand. We are now ready to return and bring you off; but if bad weather comes on, that will be out of our power. You are lost if you stay there. Come with us.”
The Parisian chimed in:
“The long boat is full — too full, it is true, and one more will certainly be one too many; but we are thirteen — a bad number for the boat, and it is better to overload her with a man than to take an ominous number. Come, Captain.”
“It was all my fault — not yours, Captain. It isn’t fair for you to be left behind.”
“I have decided to remain here,” said Clubin. “The vessel must inevitably go to pieces in the tempest to-night. I won’t leave her. When the ship is lost, the captain is already dead. People shall not say I didn’t do my duty to the end. Tangrouille, I forgive you.”
Then, folding his arms, he cried:
“Obey orders! Let go the rope, and push off.”
The long-boat swayed to and fro. Imbrancam had seized the tiller. All the hands which were not rowing were raised towards the captain — every mouth cried, “Cheers for Captain Clubin.”
“An admirable fellow!” said the American.
“Sir,” replied the Guernsey man, “he is one of the worthiest seamen afloat.”
Tangrouille shed tears.
“If I had had the courage,” he said, “I would have stayed with him.”
The long-boat pushed away, and was lost in the fog.
Nothing more was visible.
The beat of the oars grew fainter, and died away.
Clubin remained alone.
When Clubin found himself upon this rock, in the midst of the fog and the wide waters, far from all sound of human life, left for dead, alone with the tide rising around him, and night settling down rapidly, he experienced a feeling of profound satisfaction.
He had succeeded.
His dream was realised. The acceptance which he had drawn upon destiny at so long a date had fallen due at last.
With him, to be abandoned there was, in fact, to be saved.
He was on the Hanways, one mile from the shore; he had about him seventy-five thousand francs. Never was shipwreck more scientifically accomplished. Nothing had failed. It is true, everything had been foreseen. From his early years Clubin had had an idea to stake his reputation for honesty at life’s gaming-table; to pass as a man of high honour, and to make that reputation his fulcrum for other things; to bide his time, to watch his opportunity; not to grope about blindly, but to seize boldly; to venture on one great stroke, only one; and to end by sweeping off the stakes, leaving fools behind him to gape and wonder. What stupid rogues fail in twenty times, he meant to accomplish at the first blow; and while they terminated a career on the gallows, he intended to finish with a fortune. The meeting with Rantaine had been a new light to him. He had immediately laid his plan — to compel Rantaine to disgorge; to frustrate his threatened revelations by disappearing; to make the world believe him dead, the best of all modes of concealment; and for this purpose to wreck the Durande. The shipwreck was necessary to his designs. Lastly, he had the satisfaction of vanishing, leaving behind him a great renown, the crowning point of his existence. As he stood meditating on these things amid the wreck, Clubin might have been taken for some demon in a pleasant mood.
He had lived a lifetime for the sake of this one minute.
His whole exterior was expressive of the two words, “At last.” A devilish tranquillity reigned in that sallow countenance.
His dull eye, the depth of which generally seemed to be impenetrable, became clear and terrible. The inward fire of his dark spirit was reflected there.
Man’s inner nature, like that external world about him, has its electric phenomena. An idea is like a meteor; at the moment of its coming, the confused meditations which preceded it open a way, and a spark flashes forth. Bearing within oneself a power of evil, feeling an inward prey, brings to some minds a pleasure which is like a sparkle of light. The triumph of an evil purpose brightens up their visages. The success of certain cunning combinations, the attainment of certain cherished objects, the gratification of certain ferocious instincts, will manifest themselves in sinister but luminous appearances in their eyes. It is like a threatening dawn, a gleam of joy drawn out of the heart of a storm. These flashes are generated in the conscience in its states of cloud and darkness.
Some such signs were then exhibiting themselves in the pupils of those eyes. They were like nothing else that can be seen shining either above or here below.
All Clubin’s pent-up wickedness found full vent now.
He gazed into the vast surrounding darkness, and indulged in a low, irrepressible laugh, full of sinister significance.
He was rich at last! rich at last!
The unknown future of his life was at length unfolding; the problem was solved.
Clubin had plenty of time before him. The sea was rising, and consequently sustained the Durande, and even raised her at last a little. The vessel kept firmly in its place among the rocks; there was no danger of her foundering. Besides, he determined to give the long-boat time to get clear off — to go to the bottom, perhaps. Clubin hoped it might.
Erect upon the deck of the shipwrecked vessel, he folded his arms, apparently enjoying that forlorn situation in the dark night.
Hypocrisy had weighed upon this man for thirty years. He had been evil itself, yoked with probity for a mate. He detested virtue with the feeling of one who has been trapped into a hateful match. He had always had a wicked premeditation; from the time when he attained manhood he had worn the cold and rigid armour of appearances. Underneath this was the demon of self. He had lived like a bandit in the disguise of an honest citizen. He had been the soft-spoken pirate; the bond-slave of honesty. He had been confined in garments of innocence, as in oppressive mummy cloths; had worn those angel wings which the devils find so wearisome in their fallen state. He had been overloaded with public esteem. It is arduous passing for a shining light. To preserve a perpetual equilibrium amid these difficulties, to think evil, to speak goodness — here had been indeed a labour. Such a life of contradictions had been Clubin’s fate. It had been his lot — not the less onerous because he had chosen it himself — to preserve a good exterior, to be always presentable, to foam in secret, to smile while grinding his teeth. Virtue presented itself to his mind as something stifling. He had felt, sometimes, as if he could have gnawed those finger-ends which he was compelled to keep before his mouth.
To live a life which is a perpetual falsehood is to suffer unknown tortures. To be premeditating indefinitely a diabolical act, to have to assume austerity; to brood over secret infamy seasoned with outward good fame; to have continually to put the world off the scent; to present a perpetual illusion, and never to be one’s self — is a burdensome task. To be constrained to dip the brush in that dark stuff within, to produce with it a portrait of candour; to fawn, to restrain and suppress one’s self, to be ever on the qui vive; watching without ceasing to mask latent crimes with a face of healthy innocence: to transform deformity into beauty; to fashion wickedness into the shape of perfection; to tickle, as it were, with the point of a dagger, to put sugar with poison, to keep a bridle on every gesture and keep a watch over every tone, not even to have a countenance of one’s own — what can be harder, what can be more torturing. The odiousness of hypocrisy is obscurely felt by the hypocrite himself. Drinking perpetually of his own imposture is nauseating. The sweetness of tone which cunning gives to scoundrelism is repugnant to the scoundrel compelled to have it ever in the mouth; and there are moments of disgust when villainy seems on the point of vomiting its secret. To have to swallow that bitter saliva is horrible. Add to this picture his profound pride. There are strange moments in the history of such a life, when hypocrisy worships itself. There is always an inordinate egotism in roguery. The worm has the same mode of gliding along as the serpent, and the same manner of raising its head. The treacherous villain is the despot curbed and restrained, and only able to attain his ends by resigning himself to play a secondary part. He is summed-up littleness capable of enormities. The perfect hypocrite is a Titan dwarfed.
Clubin had a genuine faith that he had been ill-used. Why had not he the right to have been born rich? It was from no fault of his that it was otherwise. Deprived as he had been of the higher enjoyments of life, why had he been forced to labour — in other words, to cheat, to betray, to destroy? Why had he been condemned to this torture of flattering, cringing, fawning; to be always labouring for men’s respect and friendship, and to wear night and day a face which was not his own? To be compelled to dissimulate was in itself to submit to a hardship. Men hate those to whom they have to lie. But now the disguise was at an end. Clubin had taken his revenge.
On whom? On all! On everything!
Lethierry had never done him any but good services; so much the greater his spleen. He was revenged upon Lethierry.
He was revenged upon all those in whose presence he had felt constraint. It was his turn to be free now. Whoever had thought well of him was his enemy. He had felt himself their captive long enough.
Now he had broken through his prison walls. His escape was accomplished. That which would be regarded as his death, would be, in fact, the beginning of his life. He was about to begin the world again. The true Clubin had stripped off the false. In one hour the spell was broken. He had kicked Rantaine into space; overwhelmed Lethierry in ruin; human justice in night, and opinion in error. He had cast off all humanity; blotted out the whole world.
The name of God, that word of three letters, occupied his mind but little.
He had passed for a religious man. What was he now?
There are secret recesses in hypocrisy; or rather the hypocrite is himself a secret recess.
When Clubin found himself quite alone, that cavern in which his soul had so long lain hidden, was opened. He enjoyed a moment of delicious liberty. He revelled for that moment in the open air. He gave vent to himself in one long breath.
The depth of evil within him revealed itself in his visage. He expanded, as it were, with diabolical joy. The features of Rantaine by the side of his at that moment would have shown like the innocent expression of a new-born child.
What a deliverance was this plucking off of the old mask. His conscience rejoiced in the sight of its own monstrous nakedness, as it stepped forth to take its hideous bath of wickedness. The long restraint of men’s respect seemed to have given him a peculiar relish for infamy. He experienced a certain lascivious enjoyment of wickedness. In those frightful moral abysses so rarely sounded, such natures find atrocious delights — they are the obscenities of rascality. The long-endured insipidity of the false reputation for virtue gave him a sort of appetite for shame. In this state of mind men disdain their fellows so much that they even long for the contempt which marks the ending of their unmerited homage. They feel a satisfaction in the freedom of degradation, and cast an eye of envy at baseness, sitting at its ease, clothed in ignominy and shame. Eyes that are forced to droop modestly are familiar with these stealthy glances at sin. From Messalina to Marie–Alacoque the distance is not great. Remember the histories of La Cadière and the nun of Louviers. Clubin, too, had worn the veil. Effrontery had always been the object of his secret admiration. He envied the painted courtesan, and the face of bronze of the professional ruffian. He felt a pride in surpassing her in artifices, and a disgust for the trick of passing for a saint. He had been the Tantalus of cynicism. And now, upon this rock, in the midst of this solitude, he could be frank and open. A bold plunge into wickedness — what a voluptuous sense of relief it brought with it. All the delights known to the fallen angels are summed up in this; and Clubin felt them in that moment. The long arrears of dissimulations were paid at last. Hypocrisy is an investment; the devil reimburses it. Clubin gave himself up to the intoxication of the idea, having no longer any eye upon him but that of Heaven. He whispered within himself, “I am a scoundrel,” and felt profoundly satisfied.
Never had human conscience experienced such a full tide of emotions.
He was glad to be entirely alone, and yet would not have been sorry to have had some one there. He would have been pleased to have had a witness of his fiendish joy; gratified to have had opportunity of saying to society, “Thou fool.”
The solitude, indeed, assured his triumph; but it made it less.
He was not himself to be spectator of his glory. Even to be in the pillory has its satisfaction, for everybody can see your infamy.
To compel the crowd to stand and gape is, in fact, an exercise of power. A malefactor standing upon a platform in the market-place, with the collar of iron around his neck, is master of all the glances which he constrains the multitude to turn towards him. There is a pedestal on yonder scaffolding. To be there — the centre of universal observation — is not this, too, a triumph? To direct the pupil of the public eye, is this not another form of supremacy? For those who worship an ideal wickedness, opprobrium is glory. It is a height from whence they can look down; a superiority at least of some kind; a pre-eminence in which they can display themselves royally. A gallows standing high in the gaze of all the world is not without some analogy with a throne. To be exposed is, at least, to be seen and studied.
Herein we have evidently the key to the wicked reigns of history. Nero burning Rome, Louis Quatorze treacherously seizing the Palatinate, the Prince Regent killing Napoleon slowly, Nicholas strangling Poland before the eyes of the civilised world, may have felt something akin to Clubin’s joy. Universal execration derives a grandeur even from its vastness.
To be unmasked is a humiliation; but to unmask one’s self is a triumph. There is an intoxication in the position, an insolent satisfaction in its contempt for appearances, a flaunting insolence in the nakedness with which it affronts the decencies of life.
These ideas in a hypocrite appear to be inconsistent, but in reality are not. All infamy is logical. Honey is gall. A character like that of Escobar has some affinity with that of the Marquis de Sade. In proof, we have Léotade. A hypocrite, being a personification of vice complete, includes in himself the two poles of perversity. Priest-like on one side, he resembles the courtesan on the other. The sex of his diabolical nature is double. It engenders and transforms itself. Would you see it in its pleasing shape? Look at it. Would you see it horrible? Turn it round.
All this multitude of ideas was floating confusedly in Clubin’s mind. He analysed them little, but he felt them much.
A whirlwind of flakes of fire borne up from the pit of hell into the dark night, might fitly represent the wild succession of ideas in his soul.
Clubin remained thus some time pensive and motionless. He looked down upon his cast-off virtues as a serpent on its old skin.
Everybody had had faith in that virtue; even he himself a little.
He laughed again.
Society would imagine him dead, while he was rich. They would believe him drowned, while he was saved. What a capital trick to have played off on the stupidity of the world.
Rantaine, too, was included in that universal stupidity. Clubin thought of Rantaine with an unmeasured disdain: the disdain of the marten for the tiger. The trick had failed with Rantaine; it had succeeded with him. — Rantaine had slunk away abashed; Clubin disappeared in triumph. He had substituted himself for Rantaine — stepped between him and his mistress, and carried off her favours.
As to the future, he had no well-settled plan. In the iron tobacco-box in his girdle he had the three bank-notes. The knowledge of that fact was enough. He would change his name. There are plenty of countries where sixty thousand francs are equal to six hundred thousand. It would be no bad solution to go to one of those corners of the world, and live there honestly on the money disgorged by that scoundrel Rantaine. To speculate, to embark in commerce, to increase his capital, to become really a millionaire, that, too, would be no bad termination to his career.
For example. The great trade in coffee from Costa Rica was just beginning to be developed. There were heaps of gold to be made. He would see.
It was of little consequence. He had plenty of time to think of it. The hardest part of the enterprise was accomplished. Stripping Rantaine, and disappearing with the wreck of the Durande, were the grand achievements. All the rest was for him simple. No obstacle henceforth was likely to stop him. He had nothing more to fear. He could reach the shore with certainty by swimming. He would land at Pleinmont in the darkness; ascend the cliffs; go straight to the old haunted house; enter it easily by the help of the knotted cord, concealed beforehand in a crevice of the rocks; would find in the house his travelling-bag containing provisions and dry clothing. There he could await his opportunity. He had information. A week would not pass without the Spanish smugglers, Blasquito probably, touching at Pleinmont. For a few guineas he would obtain a passage, not to Torbay — as he had said to Blasco, to confound conjecture, and put him off the scent — but to Bilbao or Passages. Thence he could get to Vera Cruz or New Orleans. But the moment had come for taking to the water. The long boat was far enough by this time. An hour’s swimming was nothing for Clubin. The distance of a mile only separated him from the land, as he was on the Hanways.
At this point in Clubin’s meditations, a clear opening appeared in the fog bank, the formidable Douvres rocks stood before him.
Clubin, haggard, stared straight ahead.
It was indeed those terrible and solitary rocks.
It was impossible to mistake their misshapen outlines. The two twin Douvres reared their forms aloft, hideously revealing the passage between them, like a snare, a cut-throat in ambush in the ocean.
They were quite close to him. The fog, like an artful accomplice, had hidden them until now.
Clubin had mistaken his course in the dense mist. Notwithstanding all his pains, he had experienced the fate of two other great navigators, Gonzalez who discovered Cape Blanco, and Fernandez, who discovered Cape Verd. The fog had bewildered him. It had seemed to him, in the confidence of his seamanship, to favour admirably the execution of his project; but it had its perils. In veering to westward he had lost his reckoning. The Guernsey man, who fancied that he recognised the Hanways, had decided his fate, and determined him to give the final turn to the tiller. Clubin had never doubted that he had steered the vessel on the Hanways.
The Durande, stove in by one of the sunken rocks of the group, was only separated from the two Douvres by a few cables’ lengths.
At two hundred fathoms further was a massive block of granite. Upon the steep sides of this rock were some hollows and small projections, which might help a man to climb. The square corners of those rude walls at right angles indicated the existence of a plateau on the summit.
It was the height known by the name of “The Man.”
“The Man Rock” rose even higher still than the Douvres. Its platform commanded a view over their two inaccessible peaks. This platform, crumbling at its edges, had every kind of irregularity of shape. No place more desolate or more dangerous could be imagined. The hardly perceptible waves of the open sea lapped gently against the square sides of that dark enormous mass; a sort of rest-place for the vast spectres of the sea and darkness.
All around was calm. Scarcely a breath of air or a ripple. The mind guessed darkly the hidden life and vastness of the depths beneath that quiet surface.
Clubin had often seen the Douvres from afar.
He satisfied himself that he was indeed there.
He could not doubt it.
A sudden and hideous change of affairs. The Douvres instead of the Hanways. Instead of one mile, five leagues of sea! The Douvres to the solitary shipwrecked sailor is the visible and palpable presence of death, the extinction of all hope of reaching land.
Clubin shuddered. He had placed himself voluntarily in the jaws of destruction. No other refuge was left to him than “The Man Rock.” It was probable that a tempest would arise in the night, and that the long-boat, overloaded as she was, would sink. No news of the shipwreck then would come to land. It would not even be known that Clubin had been left upon the Douvres. No prospect was now before him but death from cold and hunger. His seventy-five thousand francs would not purchase him a mouthful of bread. All the scaffolding he had built up had brought him only to this snare. He alone was the laborious architect of this crowning catastrophe. No resource — no possible escape; his triumph transformed into a fatal precipice. Instead of deliverance, a prison; instead of the long prosperous future, agony. In the glance of an eye, in the moment which the lightning occupies in passing, all his construction had fallen into ruins. The paradise dreamed of by this demon had changed to its true form of a sepulchre.
Meanwhile there had sprung up a movement in the air. The wind was rising. The fog, shaken, driven in, and rent asunder, moved towards the horizon in vast shapeless masses. As quickly as it had disappeared before, the sea became once more visible.
The cattle, more and more invaded by the waters, continued to bellow in the hold.
Night was approaching, probably bringing with it a storm.
The Durande, filling slowly with the rising tide, swung from right to left, then from left to right, and began to turn upon the rock as upon a pivot.
The moment could be foreseen when a wave must move her from her fixed position, and probably roll her over on her beam-ends.
It was not even so dark as at the instant of her striking the rocks. Though the day was more advanced, it was possible to see more clearly. The fog had carried away with it some part of the darkness. The west was without a cloud. Twilight brings a pale sky. Its vast reflection glimmered on the sea.
The Durande’s bows were lower than her stern. Her stern was, in fact, almost out of the water. Clubin mounted on the taffrail, and fixed his eyes on the horizon.
It is the nature of hypocrisy to be sanguine. The hypocrite is one who waits his opportunity. Hypocrisy is nothing, in fact, but a horrible hopefulness; the very foundation of its revolting falsehood is composed of that virtue transformed into a vice.
Strange contradiction. There is a certain trustfulness in hypocrisy. The hypocrite confides in some power, unrevealed even to himself, which permits the course of evil.
Clubin looked far and wide over the ocean.
The position was desperate, but that evil spirit did not yet despair.
He knew that after the fog, vessels that had been lying-to or riding at anchor would resume their course; and he thought that perhaps one would pass within the horizon.
And, as he had anticipated, a sail appeared.
She was coming from the east and steering towards the west.
As it approached the cut of the vessel became visible. It had but one mast, and was schooner-rigged. Her bowsprit was almost horizontal. It was a cutter.
Before a half-hour she must pass not very far from the Douvres.
Clubin said within himself, “I am saved!”
In a moment like this, a man thinks at first of nothing but his life.
The cutter was probably a strange craft. Might it not be one of the smuggling vessels on its way to Pleinmont? It might even be Blasquito himself. In that case, not only life, but fortune, would be saved; and the accident of the Douvres, by hastening the conclusion, by dispensing with the necessity for concealment in the haunted house, and by bringing the adventure to a dénouement at sea, would be turned into a happy incident.
All his original confidence of success returned fanatically to his sombre mind.
It is remarkable how easily knaves are persuaded that they deserve to succeed.
There was but one course to take.
The Durande, entangled among the rocks, necessarily mingled her outline with them, and confounded herself with their irregular shapes, among which she formed only one more mass of lines. Thus become indistinct and lost, she would not suffice, in the little light which remained, to attract the attention of the crew of the vessel which was approaching.
But a human form standing up, black against the pale twilight of the sky, upon “the Man Rock,” and making signs of distress, would doubtless be perceived, and the cutter would then send a boat to take the shipwrecked man aboard.
“The Man” was only two hundred fathoms off. To reach it by swimming was simple, to climb it easy.
There was not a minute to lose.
The bows of the Durande being low between the rocks, it was from the height of the poop where Clubin stood that he had to jump into the sea. He began by taking a sounding, and discovered that there was great depth just under the stern of the wrecked vessel. The microscopic shells of foraminifera which the adhesive matter on the lead-line brought up were intact, indicating the presence of very hollow caves under the rocks, in which the water was tranquil, however great the agitation of the surface.
He undressed, leaving his clothing on the deck. He knew that he would be able to get clothing when aboard the cutter.
He retained nothing but his leather belt.
As soon as he was stripped he placed his hand upon this belt, buckled it more securely, felt for the iron tobacco-box, took a rapid survey in the direction which he would have to follow among the breakers and the waves to gain “the Man Rock;” then precipitating himself head first, he plunged into the sea.
As he dived from a height, he plunged heavily.
He sank deep in the water, touched the bottom, skirted for a moment the submarine rocks, then struck out to regain the surface.
At that moment he felt himself seized by one foot.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:09