Man Who Laughs (Estes and Lauriat 1869)/Chapter 14
THE appearance of the clouds was becoming ominous. In the west as in the east the sky was now nearly covered with dark, angry clouds, which were rapidly advancing in the teeth of the wind. These contradictions are part of the wind's vagaries. The sea, which had been clothed in scales a moment before, now wore a skin,—for such is the nature of this aquatic monster. It was no longer a crocodile, it was a boa-constrictor. Its lead-coloured skin looked immensely thick, and was crossed by heavy wrinkles. Here and there, on its surface, bubbles of froth, like pustules, gathered and then burst. The foam was like leprosy. It was at this moment that the hooker, still seen from afar by the child, lighted her signal.
A quarter of an hour elapsed. The captain looked around for the doctor; he was no longer on deck. Directly the captain left him, the doctor bent his somewhat ungainly form and entered the cabin, where he sat down near the stove, on a block. He took a shagreen ink-bottle and a cordwain pocket-book from his pocket; extracted from the pocket-book a parchment folded four times, old, stained, and yellow; opened the sheet, took a pen out of his ink-case, laid the pocket-book flat on his knee and the parchment on the pocket-book, and by the rays of the lantern, which was lighting the cook, set to writing on the back of the parchment. Though the rolling of the waves inconvenienced him, he wrote on thus for some time.
As he wrote, the doctor noticed the gourd of aguardiente, which the Provençal tasted every time he added a grain of pimento to the puchero, as if he were consulting with reference to the seasoning. The doctor noticed the gourd, not because it was a flask of brandy, but because of a name which was plaited in the wicker-work, with red rushes on a white background. There was light enough in the cabin to permit of his reading the name. The doctor paused and spelled it in a low voice: "Hardquanonne." Then he addressed the cook:—
"I never observed this gourd before; did it belong to Hardquanonne?"
"Yes," the cook answered,—"to our poor comrade, Hardquanonne."
"To Hardquanonne, the Fleming of Flanders?"
"The same who is in prison?"
"In the dungeon at Chatham?"
"Yes, it is his gourd," replied the cook. "He is a friend of mine, and I keep it in remembrance of him. When shall we see him again? It is the bottle he used to wear slung over his hip."
The doctor took up his pen again, and continued laboriously tracing somewhat straggling lines on the parchment. He was evidently anxious that his hand-writing should be very legible. At last, notwithstanding the tremulousness of the vessel and the tremulousness of age, he finished what he wanted to write.
It was time; for suddenly a sea struck the craft, a mighty rush of waters besieged the hooker, and they felt her break into that fearful dance in which ships lead off with the tempest.
The doctor rose and approached the stove, meeting the ship's motion with his knees dexterously bent, dried as best he could, at the stove where the pot was boiling, the lines he had written, refolded the parchment in the pocket-book, and replaced the pocket-book and the ink-horn in his pocket.
The stove was not the least ingenious piece of interior economy in the hooker. It was judiciously isolated, yet the pot oscillated wildly. The Provencal watched it closely.
"Fish broth," said he.
"For the fishes," replied the doctor, as he went on deck again.