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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Shipwreck
By Bernardin de Saint-Pierre (1737–1814)
 
From ‘Paul and Virginia’

INDEED, everything presaged the near approach of the hurricane. The clouds in the zenith were of a frightful blackness, and their edges copper-colored. The air resounded with the cries of the tropic birds,—frigate-birds, cutwaters, and a multitude of other marine birds, which, notwithstanding the fogginess of the atmosphere, came from all points of the horizon, seeking shelter on the island.  1
  About nine in the morning, we heard in the direction of the ocean the most terrific noise, like the sound of thunder mingled with that of torrents rushing down the steeps of lofty mountains. Every one exclaimed, “There is the hurricane!” and in an instant a furious gust of wind dispelled the fog which covered the Isle of Amber and its channel. The Saint Géran was presented to our view,—her deck crowded with people, her yards and topmast lowered to the deck, her flag at half-mast; she was moored by four cables at the bow and one at the stern, anchored between the Isle of Amber and the mainland,—within that belt of reefs which encircles the Isle of France, and which she had passed through in a place where no vessel had ever passed before. She presented her front to the waves, which rolled in from the open sea; and as each billow rushed into the narrow strait, her prow was so lifted that the keel could be seen,—the stern plunging into the sea, disappearing from view as if it were swallowed by the surges. In this position, driven by the wind and waves toward the land, it was equally impossible for her to return through the passage by which she had entered, or by cutting her cables to strand herself upon the beach, from which she was separated by sand-banks and reefs of rock. Every billow which broke upon the coast advanced roaring to the bottom of the bay, throwing up the shingle to the distance of fifty feet on the land; then rushing back, laid bare its sandy bed, rolling down the stones with a harsh and frightful sound. The sea, swollen by the violence of the wind, rose higher every moment; and the whole channel between this island and the Isle of Amber was one vast sheet of white foam full of yawning black depths. Heaps of this foam more than six feet high were piled up at the lower part of the bay, and the wind which swept the surface carried masses of it over the steep sea bank on to the land to the distance of half a league. These innumerable white flakes, driven horizontally even to the foot of the mountains, looked like snow issuing from the bosom of the sea. The horizon showed all the signs of a long tempest; the sky and the water seemed blended together. Dense, horrifying clouds swept across the zenith with the swiftness of birds, while others seemed motionless as rocks. Not a spot of blue sky could be seen in the whole firmament; a wan olive light alone made visible the earth, the sea, and the skies.  2
  In the violent rolling of the vessel, what we all dreaded happened. The cables which held her bow broke; and then, held only by a single hawser, she was dashed upon the rocks at half a cable’s length from the shore. One cry of horror burst from us all. Paul rushed forward to throw himself into the sea, when I seized him by the arm. “My son,” said I, “would you perish?” “Let me go to save her,” cried he, “or let me die!” Seeing that despair had deprived him of reason, Domingo and I, in order to preserve him, fastened a long cord around his waist and held it fast by the end. Paul precipitated himself toward the vessel, sometimes swimming, sometimes walking on the rocks. Sometimes he had hopes of reaching it; for the sea, by the reflux of its waves, left it at times almost dry, so that one could walk around it; but immediately returning with renewed fury, buried it beneath mountains of water, raising it again upon its keel and throwing the unfortunate Paul far upon the shore, his legs bleeding, his breast torn and wounded, and himself half dead. When the youth had scarcely recovered the use of his senses, he would arise and return with new ardor toward the vessel, whose joints the sea was now opening by the terrible blows of its waves.  3
  The crew, despairing then of safety, precipitated themselves in crowds into the sea upon yards, planks, hen-coops, tables, and barrels. At this moment we saw an object worthy of infinite pity: a young girl in the gallery of the stern of the Saint-Géran, stretching out her arms toward him who made so many efforts to join her. It was Virginia. She had recognized her lover by his intrepidity. The sight of this lovely girl exposed to such horrible danger filled us with grief and despair. As for Virginia, with a noble and dignified bearing, she waved her hand to us as if bidding us an eternal adieu. All the sailors had thrown themselves into the sea except one who remained upon the deck, who was naked, and strong as Hercules. He approached Virginia with respect; we saw him kneeling at her feet, and attempt to force her to throw off her clothes; but she repulsed him with dignity and turned away her head. Then were heard redoubled cries from the spectators, “Save her! save her! do not leave her!” But at that moment a mountain of water of frightful size was compressed between the Isle of Amber and the coast, and advanced roaring toward the vessel, which it menaced with its black flanks and foaming summit. At this terrible sight the sailor flung himself alone into the sea; and Virginia, seeing death inevitable, with one hand held her robe about her, pressing the other upon her heart, and raising upward her serene eyes, seemed an angel ready to take her flight to the skies.  4
  Oh, day of horror! alas! all was engulfed. The wave threw some of the spectators, whom an impulse of humanity had prompted to advance toward Virginia, far up on the beach, as well as the sailor who had wished to save her in swimming. This man, who had escaped from almost certain death, kneeled on the sand, saying, “O my God, thou hast saved my life, but I would have given it gladly for that noble young lady.” Domingo and I drew the unfortunate Paul from the waves senseless, the blood flowing from his mouth and ears. The governor put him in the hands of the surgeons, while we searched along the shore, hoping that the sea might have thrown up the body of Virginia. But the wind having suddenly changed, as it often does in hurricanes, we had the grief of feeling that we could not even bestow upon the unfortunate girl the last rites of sepulture. We retired from the spot, overwhelmed with consternation; our minds wholly occupied by a single loss, although in the shipwreck so many had perished. Many went away doubting, after witnessing such a terrible fate for this virtuous girl, whether there was a Providence; for there are evils so terrible and unmerited that even the faith of the wise is shaken.  5
  In the mean time Paul, who had begun to return to consciousness, had been carried into a neighboring house, till he was in a fit state to be taken to his own home. Thither I bent my way with Domingo, to prepare Virginia’s mother and her friend for the disastrous event. When we were at the entrance of the valley of the river of Fan Palms, some negroes informed us that the sea had thrown many pieces of the wreck into the opposite bay. We descended to it, and one of the first objects I saw upon the beach was the body of Virginia; it was half covered with sand, and lay in the attitude in which we had seen her perish. Her features were not changed; her eyes were closed, but her brow still retained its expression of serenity, and on her cheeks the livid hue of death blended with the blush of virgin modesty. One hand still held her robe; and the other, which was pressed upon her heart, was firmly closed and stiffened. With difficulty I disengaged from its grasp a small case: how great was my emotion when I saw that it was the picture of St. Paul, which she had promised never to part with while she lived. At the sight of this last evidence of the constancy and love of the unfortunate girl I wept bitterly. As for Domingo, he beat his breast and pierced the air with his cries of grief. We carried the body of Virginia to a fisherman’s hut, and gave it in charge to some poor Malabar women to wash away the sand.  6
  While they were performing this sad office, we ascended the hill with trembling steps to the plantation. We found Madame de la Tour and Margaret in prayer, awaiting news from the vessel. As soon as Madame de la Tour saw me, she cried, “Where is my daughter—my dear daughter—my child?” My silence and my tears leaving her no doubt as to her misfortune, she was instantly seized with a convulsive stopping of the breath and agonizing pain, and her voice was no longer heard but in sighs and sobs. Margaret cried, “Where is my son? I do not see my son!” and fainted. We ran to her assistance, and I assured her that Paul was living, and cared for by the governor. As soon as she recovered consciousness, she devoted herself to the care of her friend, who was roused from one fainting fit only to fall into another. Madame de la Tour passed the whole night in the most cruel sufferings, which caused me to feel that there is no grief like a mother’s grief. When she returned to consciousness she turned a sad fixed look toward heaven. In vain her friend and I pressed her hand in ours; in vain we called her by the tenderest names. She appeared wholly insensible to these testimonials of our affection, and no sound issued from her oppressed bosom but deep hollow moans.  7
  In the morning Paul was brought home in a palanquin; he had recovered the use of his reason, but was unable to utter a word. His interview with his mother and Madame de la Tour, which I had dreaded, produced a better effect than all my cares. A ray of consolation appeared on the countenances of these two unfortunate mothers. They pressed close to him, clasped him in their arms, and kissed him; and their tears, which had been held back by their excessive grief, began to flow. Paul mingled his tears with theirs; and nature having thus found relief in these three unfortunate creatures, a long stupor succeeded the convulsive expression of their grief, and afforded them a lethargic repose, resembling in truth that of death.  8
  M. de la Bourdonnais sent privately to inform me that the corpse of Virginia had been by his order carried to the town, from whence it would be transferred to the church of Shaddock Grove. I immediately went down to Port Louis, where I found a multitude assembled from all parts of the island in order to be present at the funeral, as if the island had lost in her that which was most dear. The vessels in the harbor had their yards crossed and their flags at half-mast, and they fired guns at short intervals. A body of grenadiers led the funeral procession, with their muskets reversed, and the drums covered with crape giving only muffled, mournful sounds. Dejection was depicted on the countenances of these warriors, who had so often faced death in battle without a change of countenance. Eight young ladies of the principal families of the island, dressed in white, carrying palm branches in their hands, bore the body of their young companion covered with flowers. They were followed by a choir of children chanting hymns. After them came the governor, his staff, and all the principal inhabitants of the island, and an immense crowd of people.  9
  This was what had been ordered by the administration to do honor to the virtues of Virginia. But when the corpse arrived at the foot of this mountain, in sight of those cottages of which she had been so long the joy, and that her death filled now with despair, all the funeral pomp was interrupted; the hymns and chants ceased, and nothing was heard throughout the plain but sighs and sobs. Then many young girls from the neighboring habitations were seen running to touch the coffin of Virginia with handkerchiefs, chaplets, and crowns of flowers, invoking her as a saint. Mothers asked of Heaven a daughter like Virginia; lovers, a heart as faithful; the poor, a friend as tender; slaves, a mistress as good.  10
 
 
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