The noise of the bar gradually dims and is replaced by the squawking of the seagulls from his youth as old Marcel’s eyes get heavier as the warmth of the fire draws him deeper back into his past. He sees the smiling face of his mother, a strong woman with warm chestnut eyes who seemed to hold all the kindness of the world when Marcel did well, but who could be piercing and capable of stretching out to his very soul when he was trying to hide some mischief from her. She would give him a big slice of bread and jam, and a bowl of hot milk before he took his little wooden boat, painted black and white and a big sail which is father made of a piece of cloth showing the white ermine, the symbol of Bretagne.
He was the proud captain of le “Marie-Jeanne Gabrielle”, a name he learned from an old song his mother used to sing. He remembers well that little boat; that vogue in every basin, every lake, every fountain, every beach in Brest, until he decided that it was time for it to have proper treatment, and take her place among its peers of the Port. One morning, after breakfast he took his boat as he usually did, but hid in his schoolbag a hammer he borrowed from his papa’s tool box, a couple of nails and a string. On his way he went by a shop of maritime supplies that he knew had a tar barrel at the door. He dipped the string into the sticky tar so it became black, and used a small nail to secure one end of the string to the boat. He then ran to the pier, and sitting on the the water’s edge, hammered the other nail between two stones until it was firmly in place. He had picked the perfect spot, near a big fishing ship, all new and shiny.
He attached his boat to the nail and watched it as he stood proudly, rolling slightly with the movement of the water near the wall. He then had to run for he was now very late for school and Mr. Trebuchet was on to him for some time on account of his sailing escapades. Of course he was caught and Mr. Trebuchet didn’t miss the opportunity to punish him with an extra hour after classes in the study room. When he finally left, rain was starting to fall, and although he missed his boat, he wouldn’t risk another punishment for getting home all wet, so he hurried home and managed to sneak in just as the rain became heavier – a storm was brewing on the sea.
That night in his bed, as the wind and rain raged outside, he worried for Marie-Jeanne and wondered if that string and nails would be enough to keep her safe from the storm. He had a terrible night, filled with nightmares of sea monsters and sinking ships, and the next morning he hardly could wait to get out and run to the pier to check on his little boat. His mother had to demand he come back and kiss her goodbye as he already was at the door.
Marcel ran as fast as his legs could carry him and almost fell on the wet cobbled streets near the harbor. He hurried down the stone stairs and stared in dismay at the place where the boat should be. Only the nail on the wall remained, and there was no sign of the Marie-Jeanne. He went all around the docks, searching in every corner, watching the dark water closely, but there was no sign of the little boat. Finally, Marcel had to give up and sat crying on the pier steps. He promised to himself that the next boat he would ever own would be a big one that would stay with him no matter how terrible the storm or how high the sea.
And the name of his boat? Well, that he knew for sure. It would be the Marie-Jeanne II, for Marcel was a headstrong boy and he did love that song…
A log on the fire shifts slightly, causing the flames to crackle and spark for a moment. The old man stirs in his slumber and settles more comfortably in his chair, his hand resting subconsciously on the fur of the contentedly purring cat on his lap. His restlessness subsides and he sinks back under the deep waves of his memory dreams.