A Winter Amid the Ice by Jules Verne Chapter 1

The Black Flag.

The curé of the ancient church of Dunkirk rose at five o’clock on the 12th of May, 18 — to perform, according to his custom, low mass for the benefit of a few pious sinners.

Attired in his priestly robes, he was about to proceed to the altar, when a man entered the sacristy, at once joyous and frightened. He was a sailor of some sixty years, but still vigorous and sturdy, with, an open, honest countenance.

“Monsieur the curé,” said he, “stop a moment, if you please.”
“What do you want so early in the morning, Jean Cornbutte?” asked the curé.

“What do I want? Why, to embrace you in my arms, i’ faith!”

“Well, after the mass at which you are going to be present —”

“The mass?” returned the old sailor, laughing. “Do you think you are going to say your mass now, and that I will let you do so?”

“And why should I not say my mass?” asked the curé. “Explain yourself. The third bell has sounded —”

“Whether it has or not,” replied Jean Cornbutte, “it will sound many more times today, monsieur the curé, for you have promised me that you will bless, with your own hands, the marriage of my son Louis and my niece Marie!”

“He has arrived, then,” said the curé “joyfully.

“It is nearly the same thing,” replied Cornbutte, rubbing his hands. “Our brig was signalled from the look out at sunrise — our brig, which you yourself christened by the good name of the ‘Jeune–Hardie’!”

“I congratulate you with all my heart, Cornbutte,” said the curé, taking off his chasuble and stole. “I remember our agreement. The vicar will take my place, and I will put myself at your disposal against your dear son’s arrival.”

“And I promise you that he will not make you fast long,” replied the sailor. “You have already published the banns, and you will only have to absolve him from the sins he may have committed between sky and water, in the Northern Ocean. I had a good idea, that the marriage should be celebrated the very day he arrived, and that my son Louis should leave his ship to repair at once to the church.”

“Go, then, and arrange everything, Cornbutte.”

“I fly, monsieur the curé. Good morning!”

The sailor hastened with rapid steps to his house, which stood on the quay, whence could be seen the Northern Ocean, of which he seemed so proud.

Jean Cornbutte had amassed a comfortable sum at his calling. After having long commanded the vessels of a rich shipowner of Havre, he had settled down in his native town, where he had caused the brig “Jeune–Hardie” to be constructed at his own expense. Several successful voyages had been made in the North, and the ship always found a good sale for its cargoes of wood, iron, and tar. Jean Cornbutte then gave up the command of her to his son Louis, a fine sailor of thirty, who, according to all the coasting captains, was the boldest mariner in Dunkirk.

Louis Cornbutte had gone away deeply attached to Marie, his father’s niece, who found the time of his absence very long and weary. Marie was scarcely twenty. She was a pretty Flemish girl, with some Dutch blood in her veins. Her mother, when she was dying, had confided her to her brother, Jean Cornbutte. The brave old sailor loved her as a daughter, and saw in her proposed union with Louis a source of real and durable happiness.

The arrival of the ship, already signalled off the coast, completed an important business operation, from which Jean Cornbutte expected large profits. The “Jeune–Hardie,” which had left three months before, came last from Bodoë, on the west coast of Norway, and had made a quick voyage thence.

On returning home, Jean Cornbutte found the whole house alive. Marie, with radiant face, had assumed her wedding-dress.

“I hope the ship will not arrive before we are ready!” she said.

“Hurry, little one,” replied Jean Cornbutte, “for the wind is north, and she sails well, you know, when she goes freely.”

“Have our friends been told, uncle?” asked Marie.

“They have.”

“The notary, and the curé?”

“Rest easy. You alone are keeping us waiting.”

At this moment Clerbaut, an old crony, came in.

“Well, old Cornbutte,” cried he, “here’s luck! Your ship has arrived at the very moment that the government has decided to contract for a large quantity of wood for the navy!”

“What is that to me?” replied Jean Cornbutte. “What care I for the government?”

“You see, Monsieur Clerbaut,” said Marie, “one thing only absorbs us — Louis’s return.”

“I don’t dispute that,” replied Clerbaut. “But — in short — this purchase of wood —”

“And you shall be at the wedding,” replied Jean Cornbutte, interrupting the merchant, and shaking his hand as if he would crush it.

“This purchase of wood —”

“And with all our friends, landsmen and seamen, Clerbaut. I have already informed everybody, and I shall invite the whole crew of the ship.”

“And shall we go and await them on the pier?” asked Marie.

“Indeed we will,” replied Jean Cornbutte. “We will defile, two by two, with the violins at the head.”

Jean Cornbutte’s invited guests soon arrived. Though it was very early, not a single one failed to appear. All congratulated the honest old sailor whom they loved. Meanwhile Marie, kneeling down, changed her prayers to God into thanksgivings. She soon returned, lovely and decked out, to the company; and all the women kissed her on the check, while the men vigorously grasped her by the hand. Then Jean Cornbutte gave the signal of departure.

It was a curious sight to see this joyous group taking its way, at sunrise, towards the sea. The news of the ship’s arrival had spread through the port, and many heads, in nightcaps, appeared at the windows and at the half-opened doors. Sincere compliments and pleasant nods came from every side.

The party reached the pier in the midst of a concert of praise and blessings. The weather was magnificent, and the sun seemed to take part in the festivity. A fresh north wind made the waves foam; and some fishing-smacks, their sails trimmed for leaving port, streaked the sea with their rapid wakes between the breakwaters.

The two piers of Dunkirk stretch far out into the sea. The wedding-party occupied the whole width of the northern pier, and soon reached a small house situated at its extremity, inhabited by the harbour-master. The wind freshened, and the “Jeune–Hardie” ran swiftly under her topsails, mizzen, brigantine, gallant, and royal. There was evidently rejoicing on board as well as on land. Jean Cornbutte, spy-glass in hand, responded merrily to the questions of his friends.

“See my ship!” he cried; “clean and steady as if she had been rigged at Dunkirk! Not a bit of damage done — not a rope wanting!”

“Do you see your son, the captain?” asked one.

“No, not yet. Why, he’s at his business!”

“Why doesn’t he run up his flag?” asked Clerbaut.

“I scarcely know, old friend. He has a reason for it, no doubt.”

“Your spy-glass, uncle?” said Marie, taking it from him. “I want to be the first to see him.”

“But he is my son, mademoiselle!”

“He has been your son for thirty years,” answered the young girl, laughing, “and he has only been my betrothed for two!”

The “Jeune–Hardie” was now entirely visible. Already the crew were preparing to cast anchor. The upper sails had been reefed. The sailors who were among the rigging might be recognized. But neither Marie nor Jean Cornbutte had yet been able to wave their hands at the captain of the ship.

“Faith! there’s the first mate, André Vasling,” cried Clerbaut.

“And there’s Fidèle Misonne, the carpenter,” said another.

“And our friend Penellan,” said a third, saluting the sailor named.

The “Jeune–Hardie” was only three cables’ lengths from the shore, when a black flag ascended to the gaff of the brigantine. There was mourning on board!

A shudder of terror seized the party and the heart of the young girl.

The ship sadly swayed into port, and an icy silence reigned on its deck. Soon it had passed the end of the pier. Marie, Jean Cornbutte, and all their friends hurried towards the quay at which she was to anchor, and in a moment found themselves on board.

“My son!” said Jean Cornbutte, who could only articulate these words.

The sailors, with uncovered heads, pointed to the mourning flag.

Marie uttered a cry of anguish, and fell into old Cornbutte’s arms.

André Vasling had brought back the “Jeune–Hardie,” but Louis Cornbutte, Marie’s betrothed, was not on board.