An Iceland Fisherman

Author: Pierre Loti

Chapter XIII Home News

The home letters were being distributed on board the /Circe/, at anchor at Ha-Long, over on the other side of the earth. In the midst of a group of sailors, the purser called out, in a loud voice, the names of the fortunate men who had letters to receive. This went on at evening, on the ship’s side, all crushing round a funnel.

"Moan, Sylvestre!" There was one for him, postmarked "Paimpol," but it was not Gaud’s writing. What did that mean? from whom did it come else?

After having turned and flourished it about, he opened it fearingly, and read:

"PLOUBAZLANEC, March 5th, 1884.


So, it was from his dear old granny. He breathed free again. At the bottom of the letter she even had placed her signature, learned by heart, but trembling like a school-girl’s scribble: "Widow Moan."

"Widow Moan!" With a quick spontaneous movement he carried the paper to his lips and kissed the poor name, as a sacred relic. For this letter arrived at a critical moment of his life; to-morrow at dawn, he was to set out for the battlefield.

It was in the middle of April; Bac-Ninh and Hong-Hoa had just been taken. There was no great warfare going on in Tonquin, yet the reinforcements arriving were not sufficient; sailors were taken from all the ships to make up the deficit in the corps already disembarked. Sylvestre, who had languished so long in the midst of cruises and blockades, had just been selected with some others to fill up the vacancies.

It is true that now peace was spoken of, but something told them that they yet would disembarck in good time to fight a bit. They packed their bags, made all their other preparations, and said good-bye, and all the evening through they strolled about with their unfortunate mates who had to remain, feeling much grander and prouder than they. Each in his own way showed his impression at this departure—some were grave and serious, others exuberant and talkative.

Sylvestre was very quiet and thoughtful, though impatient; only, when they looked at him, his smile seemed to say, "Yes, I’m one of the fighting party, and huzza! the action is for to-morrow morning!"

Of gunshots and battle he formed but an incomplete idea as yet; but they fascinated him, for he came of a valiant race.

The strange writing of his letter made him anxious about Gaud, and he drew near a porthole to read the epistle through. It was difficult amid all those half-naked men pressing round, in the unbearable heat of the gundeck.

As he thought she would do, in the beginning of her letter Granny Moan explained why she had had to take recourse to the inexperienced hand of an old neighbour:

"My dear child, I don’t ask your cousin to write for me to-day, as
she is in great trouble. Her father died suddenly two days ago. It
appears that his whole fortune has been lost through unlucky
gambling last winter in Paris. So his house and furniture will
have to be sold. Nobody in the place was expecting this. I think,
dear child, that this will pain you as much as it does me.

"Gaos, the son, sends you his kind remembrance; he has renewed his
articles with Captain Guermeur of the /Marie/, and the departure
for Iceland was rather early this year, for they set sail on the
first of the month, two days before our poor Gaud’s trouble, and
he don’t know of it yet.

"But you can easily imagine that we shall not get them wed now,
for she will be obliged to work for her daily bread."

Sylvestre dwelt stupor-stricken; this bad news quite spoiled his glee at going out to fight.


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Chicago: Pierre Loti, "Chapter XIII Home News," 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 August 8, 2022,

MLA: Loti, Pierre. "Chapter XIII Home News." 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. 8 Aug. 2022.

Harvard: Loti, P, 'Chapter XIII Home News' in An Iceland Fisherman, ed. and trans. . cited in 1918, An Iceland Fisherman, The Modern Library Publishers, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 8 August 2022, from