(Essentials of European Literature)

In the foc’s’l head, a hollow, pointed room like the inside of a gigantic sea gull, five men were sitting around the massive table which filled almost all the space between the bulkheads. They were waiting to take their turn on watch, for it was nearly midnight. They had cracked some biscuit with a hammer and had eaten. Now they were drinking water and cider.

Around the room little pigeonholes near the ceiling served as bedchambers, for these fishermen were outside so much they seemed to need no air while they slept. A murky lamp swung back and forth with the gentle swell of the sea.

Sylvester, who was only seventeen years old, was impatient for the appearance of Yann. They were celebrating in honor of their patron, the Virgin Mary, and Yann had to take part in the toasts. Finally Yann opened the little hatch in the deck and came down the narrow ladder. Yann, in his late twenties, and a giant of a man, was a hero to Sylvester. The whole company brightened on his arrival.

It was midnight. The toasts were quickly drunk. Then the watch went on deck for their turn to fish. Outside it was daylight, for in those latitudes it never got dark in summer. It was monotonous and soothing to fish in the daylight.

At the rail, Yann and Sylvester baited their hooks and dropped their lines. William waited behind them with sheath knife and salt. Regularly, in turn, Yann and Sylvester brought up their hooks, passed the plump cod to William, and rebaited. William quickly slit the fish, cleaned them, and packed them in the salt barrel. The pile of kegs in the hold represented the income of whole Breton families for a year. For his share of the catch, Yann would bring home fifteen hundred francs to his mother.

While they were fishing, Sylvester talked of marriage. Although still a boy, he was already engaged to Yann’s sister. He did his best, as he had done all summer, to talk Yann into the idea of marriage with Gaud. Yann always shook his head; he was engaged to the sea, he said, and some day he would celebrate that wedding.

Gentle and serious Gaud, Sylvester’s cousin, was attracted to Yann. She was, however, a mademoiselle with fine hands and good clothes. Her father was rich. Yann could scarcely help knowing that Gaud liked him, but with Breton stubbornness and simplicity he could not think of pretending seriously to a young woman of the upper class.

In September, the fishing boat returned to Paimpol in Brittainy. The return of the Iceland fleet was the signal for quickened life among these simple folk. The women and children and the old men spent the whole spring and summer raising small gardens and waiting. Then in the fall, when the men came back, there were weddings and engagements and feasts and pardons. Too often a ship did not return, and several families would wear black that winter.

That fall there was a big wedding with the traditional procession to the seashore and afterward a ball. Yann went to the ball and danced the whole evening with Gaud. Yann told her of his life at sea and of his big family in Pors-Even. Part of the time Yann watched his little sister, who danced with Sylvester. The...

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