A Winter Amid the Ice by Jules Verne Chapter 2

Jean Cornbutte’s Project.

As soon as the young girl, confided to the care of the sympathizing friends, had left the ship, André Vasling, the mate, apprised Jean Cornbutte of the dreadful event which had deprived him of his son, narrated in the ship’s journal as follows:—
“At the height of the Maëlstrom, on the 26th of April, the ship, putting for the cape, by reason of bad weather and south-west winds, perceived signals of distress made by a schooner to the leeward. This schooner, deprived of its mizzen-mast, was running towards the whirlpool, under bare poles. Captain Louis Cornbutte, seeing that this vessel was hastening into imminent danger, resolved to go on board her. Despite the remonstrances of his crew, he had the long-boat lowered into the sea, and got into it, with the sailor Courtois and the helmsman Pierre Nouquet. The crew watched them until they disappeared in the fog. Night came on. The sea became more and more boisterous. The “Jeune–Hardie”, drawn by the currents in those parts, was in danger of being engulfed by the Maëlstrom. She was obliged to fly before the wind. For several days she hovered near the place of the disaster, but in vain. The long-boat, the schooner, Captain Louis, and the two sailors did not reappear. André Vasling then called the crew together, took command of the ship, and set sail for Dunkirk.”

After reading this dry narrative, Jean Cornbutte wept for a long time; and if he had any consolation, it was the thought that his son had died in attempting to save his fellow-men. Then the poor father left the ship, the sight of which made him wretched, and returned to his desolate home.

The sad news soon spread throughout Dunkirk. The many friends of the old sailor came to bring him their cordial and sincere sympathy. Then the sailors of the “Jeune–Hardie” gave a more particular account of the event, and André Vasling told Marie, at great length, of the devotion of her betrothed to the last.

When he ceased weeping, Jean Cornbutte thought over the matter, and the next day after the ship’s arrival, when Andre came to see him, said —

“Are you very sure, André, that my son has perished?”

“Alas, yes, Monsieur Jean,” replied the mate.

“And you made all possible search for him?”

“All, Monsieur Cornbutte. But it is unhappily but too certain that he and the two sailors were sucked down in the whirlpool of the Maëlstrom.”

“Would you like, André, to keep the second command of the ship?”

“That will depend upon the captain, Monsieur Cornbutte.”

“I shall be the captain,” replied the old sailor. “I am going to discharge the cargo with all speed, make up my crew, and sail in search of my son.”

“Your son is dead!” said André obstinately.

“It is possible, Andre,” replied Jean Cornbutte sharply, “but it is also possible that he saved himself. I am going to rummage all the ports of Norway whither he might have been driven, and when I am fully convinced that I shall never see him again, I will return here to die!”

André Vasling, seeing that this decision was irrevocable, did not insist further, but went away.

Jean Cornbutte at once apprised his niece of his intention, and he saw a few rays of hope glisten across her tears. It had not seemed to the young girl that her lover’s death might be doubtful; but scarcely had this new hope entered her heart, than she embraced it without reserve.

The old sailor determined that the “Jeune–Hardie” should put to sea without delay. The solidly built ship had no need of repairs. Jean Cornbutte gave his sailors notice that if they wished to re-embark, no change in the crew would be made. He alone replaced his son in the command of the brig. None of the comrades of Louis Cornbutte failed to respond to his call, and there were hardy tars among them — Alaine Turquiette, Fidèle Misonne the carpenter, Penellan the Breton, who replaced Pierre Nouquet as helmsman, and Gradlin, Aupic, and Gervique, courageous and well-tried mariners.

Jean Cornbutte again offered André Vasling his old rank on board. The first mate was an able officer, who had proved his skill in bringing the “Jeune–Hardie” into port. Yet, from what motive could not be told, André made some difficulties and asked time for reflection.

“As you will, André Vasling,” replied Cornbutte. “Only remember that if you accept, you will be welcome among us.”

Jean had a devoted sailor in Penellan the Breton, who had long been his fellow-voyager. In times gone by, little Marie was wont to pass the long winter evenings in the helmsman’s arms, when he was on shore. He felt a fatherly friendship for her, and she had for him ah affection quite filial. Penellan hastened the fitting out of the ship with all his energy, all the more because, according to his opinion, André Vasling had not perhaps made every effort possible to find the castaways, although he was excusable from the responsibility which weighed upon him as captain.

Within a week the “Jeune–Hardie” was ready to put to sea. Instead of merchandise, she was completely provided with salt meats, biscuits, barrels of flour, potatoes, pork, wine, brandy, coffee, tea, and tobacco.

The departure was fixed for the 22nd of May. On the evening before, André Vasling, who had not yet given his answer to Jean Cornbutte, came to his house. He was still undecided, and did not know which course to take.

Jean was not at home, though the house-door was open. André went into the passage, next to Marie’s chamber, where the sound of an animated conversation struck his ear. He listened attentively, and recognized the voices of Penellan and Marie.

The discussion had no doubt been going on for some time, for the young girl seemed to be stoutly opposing what the Breton sailor said.

“How old is my uncle Cornbutte?” said Marie.

“Something about sixty years,” replied Penellan.

“Well, is he not going to brave danger to find his son?”

“Our captain is still a sturdy man,” returned the sailor. “He has a body of oak and muscles as hard as a spare spar. So I am not afraid to have him go to sea again!’”

“My good Penellan,” said Marie, “one is strong when one loves! Besides, I have full confidence in the aid of Heaven. You understand me, and will help me.”

“No!” said Penellan. “It is impossible, Marie. Who knows whither we shall drift, or what we must suffer? How many vigorous men have I seen lose their lives in these seas!”

“Penellan,” returned the young girl, “if you refuse me, I shall believe that you do not love me any longer.”

André Vasling understood the young girl’s resolution. He reflected a moment, and his course was determined on.

“Jean Cornbutte,” said he, advancing towards the old sailor, who now entered, “I will go with you. The cause of my hesitation has disappeared, and you may count upon my devotion.”

“I have never doubted you, André Vasling,” replied Jean Cornbutte, grasping him by the hand. “Marie, my child!” he added, calling in a loud voice.

Marie and Penellan made their appearance.

“We shall set sail tomorrow at daybreak, with the outgoing tide,” said Jean. “My poor Marie, this is the last evening that we shall pass together.

“Uncle!” cried Marie, throwing herself into his arms.

“Marie, by the help of God, I will bring your lover back to you!”

“Yes, we will find Louis,” added André Vasling.

“You are going with us, then?” asked Penellan quickly.

“Yes, Penellan, André Vasling is to be my first mate,” answered Jean.

“Oh, oh!” ejaculated the Breton, in a singular tone.

“And his advice will be useful to us, for he is able and enterprising.

“And yourself, captain,” said André. “You will set us all a good example, for you have still as much vigour as experience.”

“Well, my friends, good-bye till tomorrow. Go on board and make the final arrangements. Good-bye, André; good-bye, Penellan.”

The mate and the sailor went out together, and Jean and Marie remained alone. Many bitter tears were shed during that sad evening. Jean Cornbutte, seeing Marie so wretched, resolved to spare her the pain of separation by leaving the house on the morrow without her knowledge. So he gave her a last kiss that evening, and at three o’clock next morning was up and away.

The departure of the brig had attracted all the old sailor’s friends to the pier. The curé, who was to have blessed Marie’s union with Louis, came to give a last benediction on the ship. Rough grasps of the hand were silently exchanged, and Jean went on board.

The crew were all there. André Vasling gave the last orders. The sails were spread, and the brig rapidly passed out under a stiff north-west breeze, whilst the cure, upright in the midst of the kneeling spectators, committed the vessel to the hands of God.

Whither goes this ship? She follows the perilous route upon which so many castaways have been lost! She has no certain destination. She must expect every peril, and be able to brave them without hesitating. God alone knows where it will be her fate to anchor. May God guide her!