An Iceland Fisherman

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Author: Pierre Loti

Chapter XI a Curious Rencontre

In Paimpol again, on the last day of February, before the setting-out for Iceland. Gaud was standing up against her room door, pale and still. For Yann was below, chatting to her father. She had seen him come in, and indistinctly heard his voice.

All through the winter they never had met, as if some invincible fate always had kept them apart.

After the failure to find him in her walk to Pors-Even, she had placed some hope on the /Pardon des Islandais/ where there would be many chances for them to see and talk to one another, in the market-place at dusk, among the crowd.

But on the very morning of the holiday, though the streets were already draped in white and strewn with green garlands, a hard rain had fallen in torrents, brought from the west by a soughing wind; never had so black a sky shadowed Paimpol. "What a pity! the boys won’t come over from Ploubazlanec now," had moaned the lasses, whose sweethearts dwelt there. And they did not come, or else had gone straight into the taverns to drink together.

There had been no processions or strolls, and she, with her heart aching more than ever, had remained at her window the whole evening listening to the water streaming over the roofs, and the fishers’ noisy songs rising and falling out of the depths of the taverns.

For the last few days she had been expecting this visit, surmising truly that old Gaos would send his son to terminate the business concerning the sale of the boat, as he did not care to come into Paimpol himself. She determined then that she would go straight to him, and, unlike other girls, speak out frankly, to have her conscience clear on the subject. She would reproach him with having sought her out and having abandoned her like a man without honour. If it were only stubbornness, timidity, his great love for his sailorlife, or simply the fear of a refusal, as Sylvestre had hinted, why, all these objections would disappear, after a frank, fair understanding between them. His fond smile might return, which had charmed and won her the winter before, and all would be settled. This hope gave her strength and courage, and sweetened her impatience. From afar, things always appear so easy and simple to say and to do.

This visit of Yann’s fell by chance at a convenient hour. She was sure that her father, who was sitting and smoking, would not get up to walk part of the way with him; so in the empty passage she might have her explanation out with him.

But now that the time had come, such boldness seemed extreme. The bare idea of looking him face to face at the foot of those stairs, made her tremble; and her heart beat as if it would break. At any moment the door below might open, with the squeak she knew so well, to let him out!

"No, no, she never would dare; rather would she die of longing and sorrow, than attempt such an act." She already made a few return steps towards the back of her room, to regain her seat and work. But she stopped again, hesitating and afraid, remembering that to-morrow was the sailing day for Iceland, and that this occasion stood alone. If she let it slip by, she would have to wait through months upon months of solitude and despair, languishing for his return—losing another whole summer of her life.

Below, the door opened—Yann was coming out!

Suddenly resolute, she rushed downstairs, and tremblingly stood before him.

"Monsieur Yann, I—I wish to speak to you, please."

"To me, Mademoiselle Gaud?" queried he, lowering his voice and snatching off his hat.

He looked at her fiercely, with a hard expression in his flashing eyes, and his head thrown back, seeming even to wonder if he ought to stop for her at all. With one foot ready to start away, he stood straight up against the wall, as if to be as far apart from her as possible, in the narrow passage, where he felt imprisoned.

Paralyzed, she could remember nothing of what she had wished to say; she had not thought he would try and pass on without listening to her. What an affront!

"Does our house frighten you, Monsieur Yann?" she asked, in a dry, odd tone—not at all the one she wished to use.

He turned his eyes away, looking outside; his cheeks blazed red, a rush of blood burned all his face, and his quivering nostrils dilated with every breath, keeping time with the heavings of his chest, like a young bull’s.

"The night of the ball," she tried to continue, "when we were together, you bade me good-bye, not as a man speaks to an indifferent person. Monsieur Yann, have you no memory? What have I done to vex you?"

The nasty western breeze blowing in from the street ruffled his hair and the frills of Gaud’s /coiffe/, and behind them a door was banged furiously. The passage was not meet for talking of serious matters in. After these first phrases, choking, Gaud remained speechless, feeling her head spin, and without ideas. They still advanced towards the street door; he seemed so anxious to get away, and she was so determined not to be shaken off.

Outside the wind blew noisily and the sky was black. A sad livid light fell upon their faces through the open door. And an opposite neighbour looked at them: what could the pair be saying to one another in that passage together, looking so troubled? What was wrong over at the Mevel’s?

"Nay, Mademoiselle Gaud," he answered at last, turning away with the powerful grace of a young lion, "I’ve heard folks talk about us quite enough already! Nay, Mademoiselle Gaud, for, you see, you are rich, and we are not people of the same class. I am not the fellow to come after a ’swell’ lady."

He went forth on his way. So now all was over for ever and ever. She had not even said what she wished in that interview, which had only made her seem a very bold girl in his sight. What kind of a fellow was this Yann, with his contempt for women, his scorn for money, and all desirable things?

At first she remained fixed to the spot, sick with giddiness, as things swam around her. One intolerably painful thought suddenly struck her like a flash of lightning—Yann’s comrades, the Icelanders, were waiting for him below in the market-place. What if he were to tell them this as a good joke—what a still more odious affront upon her! She quickly returned to her room to watch them through her window-curtains.

Before the house, indeed, she saw the men assembled, but they were simply contemplating the weather, which was becoming worse and worse, and discussed the threatening rain.

"It’ll only be a shower. Let’s go in and drink away the time, till it passes."

They poked jokes and laughed loudly over Jeannie Caroff and other beauties; but not even one of them looked up at /her/ window. They were all joyful, except Yann, who said nothing, and remained grave and sad. He did not go in to drink with them; and without noticing either them or the rain, which had begun to fall, he slowly walked away under the shower, as if absorbed in his thoughts, crossing the market-place towards Ploubazlanec.

Then she forgave him all, and a feeling of hopeless tenderness for him came, instead of the bitter disappointment that previously had filled her heart. She sat down and held her head between her hands. What could she do now?

Oh! if he had listened only a moment to her, or if he could come into that room, where they might speak together alone, perhaps all might yet be arranged. She loved him enough to tell him so to his face. She would say to him: "You sought me out when I asked you for nothing; now I am yours with my whole soul, if you will have me. I don’t mind a bit being the wife of a fisherman, and yet, if I liked, I need but choose among all the young men of Paimpol; but I do love you, because, notwithstanding all, I believe you to be better than others. I’m tolerably well-to-do, and I know I am pretty; although I have lived in towns, I am sure that I am not a spoiled girl, as I never have done anything wrong; then, if I love you so, why shouldn’t you take me?"

But all this never would be said except in dreams; it was too late! Yann would not hear her. Try and talk to him a second time? Oh, no! what kind of a creature would he take her then to be? She would rather die.

Yet to-morrow they would all start for Iceland. The whitish February daylight streamed into her fine room. Chill and lonely she fell upon one of the chairs along the wall. It seemed to her as if the whole world were crashing and falling in around her. All things past and present were as if buried in a fearful abyss, which yawned on all sides of her. She wished her life would end, and that she were lying calm beneath some cold tombstone, where no more pain might touch her.

But she had sincerely forgiven him, and no hatred mingled with her desperate love.

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Chicago: Pierre Loti, "Chapter XI a Curious Rencontre," An Iceland Fisherman, ed. CM01B10.Txt - 149 Kb, CM01B10.Zip - 56 Kb and trans. M. Jules Cambon in An Iceland Fisherman (New York: The Modern Library Publishers, 1918), Original Sources, accessed April 20, 2018, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CN8VNK7JYDIU6EY.

MLA: Loti, Pierre. "Chapter XI a Curious Rencontre." An Iceland Fisherman, edited by CM01B10.Txt - 149 Kb, CM01B10.Zip - 56 Kb, and translated by M. Jules Cambon, in An Iceland Fisherman, New York, The Modern Library Publishers, 1918, Original Sources. 20 Apr. 2018. www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CN8VNK7JYDIU6EY.

Harvard: Loti, P, 'Chapter XI a Curious Rencontre' in An Iceland Fisherman, ed. and trans. . cited in 1918, An Iceland Fisherman, The Modern Library Publishers, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 20 April 2018, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CN8VNK7JYDIU6EY.