Jean-Claude and his sister Christine, Philippe, a friend of Jean-Claude, and Véronique, a friend of Christine, were spending a two-week vacation in Brittany. Véronique's parents had invited their daughter's friends. For the month of July, they had rented an old house from the fisherfolk. It was in a quiet port.
One Tuesday morning, Véronique and Christine went with Véronique's mom to the market. After having done some shopping, she asked the two girls to bring the groceries back to the house so they could put them in the fridge.
As they made their way home through the quiet village streets, the two girls heard the sound of a flute. "Well, where could this be coming from?" they asked themselves.
Continuing on their way, the two girls spotted the flautist, a boy of about their own age perched up on a wall. His brown hair was a bit long and quite dishevelled. That, combined with his light blue eyes, made the girls perk up when they saw him. He had neither shoes nor shirt, and was only wearing some old jean cutoffs that had been badly cut and were now worn and dirty. Véronique thought he played the flute very well. She played herself. She couldn't take her eyes off him.
The boy stopped and looked at the two friends.
"Hello," said Christine. "What's your name?"
"I'm Christine and this is my friend Véronique. You live here?"
"Yes," said the boy, "in the village."
"You play very well," Véronique commented. "I also play a bit. I'd really like to play something with you."
"If you'd like," Yannick murmured.
"We have to bring this food to where we're staying and then we can come back."
The two girls ran back to the house. They dropped the fresh food in the fridge and went back to the old wall as fast as they could. But Yannick had disappeared.
That afternoon, our four friends were strolling through the village. In the port, there was a jetty. It was to protect boats when there was a storm. At the end of the jetty stood a lighthouse. All four of them started heading there. As they went forwards, the girls spotted Yannick. He was there, working among the hurly-burly, the chaos of the fishing boats, now returned for the day, unloading their catch.
Christine and Véronique pointed him out to Jean-Claude and Philippe.
"Look, that's the guy we met this morning. There, he was getting off a boat with a container of fish in his hands."
The boy worked in the suffocating heat, unloading the boats. Our four friends watched him for a while.
"I don't think that's fair," Jean-Claude said. "We get to enjoy our holidays. We don't have anything more to do than to swim, have fun. And him, he's our age and he has to work hard."
At that exact moment, the bottom of the heavy container that Yannick was carrying in his hands broke and all the fish spilled out all over the dock. One of the sailors started hectoring the boy and making fun of him as though what had happened had been due to his clumsiness.
Yannick dared to reply:
"I'm not clumsy. The case broke."
"Oh shut up! You're about as much good as that useless father of yours!"
Yannick lowered his head, but the friends noticed that his face had become crestfallen and that he was on the verge of tears. All four of them stepped over the little barrier around the jetty, jumped onto the dock and got down to help the boy gather the fish up into another container. While they collected the fish, they asked him if he would like to have an ice cream with them, after his work.
"I would love to, but I don't have any money," Yannick said simply.
"That doesn't matter, we'll share. Come on. We'll be waiting for you. You'll come?"
They enjoyed their ice cream together, in the harbour. As they talked, they asked their new friend if he had to work all day long. He explained that he only came to the docks in the afternoons. As they left him, they made plans to meet the next day on the beach. Their friend quietly moved away from them. He seemed down. Unhappy.
The next morning, Jean-Claude, Christine, Philippe, and Véronique were out on the sand early. Yannick was there already. They could see him nearly a quarter mile off, at the end of the beach, where the height of the cliffs dominated the shore heading towards the Rock of Saint-Pierre. This huge rocky outcrop jutted out into the sea, a buttress overhanging from a drop of some 120 feet up.
Our friends called and waved to him, but the boy, who had seen them as he turned around, continued moving away without saying a word.
"Let's catch up to him," Jean-Claude suggested.
"Sure," the others replied.
They followed him.
"I don't know why, but it seems like he doesn't really want to see us," Véronique said quietly. "He's walking so fast, it's like he wants to avoid us."
"We're going to find out soon. The beach ends at the foot of those cliffs," Christine commented. "It's impossible to go further without climbing them."
"Yes, you're right," Philippe said. "Look there. He's trapped."
Getting to the place where the high rocks of the cliff cut the beach off as they jutted out into the water, Yannick walked into the cold water and kept going through the waves. He set off going to pass them, swimming around the rocky outcrop.
Our friends, made more curious by this strange behaviour, did an about-face and took a path that led them up to the rocky buttress and then alongside the edge of the precipice. They crossed a band of earth above and alongside the immense cove that went from the Rock of Saint-Pierre, on the left, all the way to Men-du on the right. This was another black rock that loomed over the beach, half a mile from there. Between these two great promontories was an untouched beach, cut off from the world, where the breakers crashed on the rocks, the shore covered in white foam and froth.
"Look at that!" Christine cried, pointing.
"Yes!" Véronique joined in, watching him jump from rock to rock.
With a stunning agility, Yannick moved easily from rock to rock, letting himself be splattered by the crashing waves as if they weren't there. He got to an odd spot that our friends could see from above. Old hulls of boats were strewn about. Clearly, they had been there a very long time. There were all sorts of boats, simple rowboats, skiffs, fishing boats, even two trawlers, all abandoned. Truly a watercraft graveyard. This wasn't the only one that the children would see in Brittany.
Then the boy disappeared at the foot of the cliff. Our friends could no longer see him.
"Come on," Philippe said, "let's run over to the Men-du point. From there, we'll be able to see the rocks at the foot of the cliff."
"Yes, let's get going," Christine answered.
While they were walking towards Men-du, a mist rose up from the ocean. It crept up the cliff sides and became thicker, turning into a full fog that filled the whole cove. They could hardly see the path. The sun had been shining up until then, but was now shrunken into a small, glowing disk until it vanished behind the clouds coming in from the Atlantic.
Just as the four friends were thinking of turning around, a shadow fell across their path. They stopped in their tracks. An old sailor. He approached, coming from the other direction, and he stopped right in front of them.
"What are you children up to? Don't stay here! Go back home! It's dangerous here."
"Why, sir? What's the danger?"
"You're from Paris. No, you're not from around here. Haven't you ever heard of the foghorns of the dead?"
"The foghorns of the dead!" Philippe said, astonished.
"That's what I said. You've never heard of the shipwreckers on our coast? The people living here, mostly poor, who at one time, during the great fogs or storms, lit fires on the tops of the great rocks. That fooled the ships. The sailors headed towards them, thinking they had reached the port. In fact, they ended up crashing on the rocks, most of all on the Rock of Saint-Pierre. Almost always the Rock of Saint-Pierre."
The four friends listened in silence, captivated by the old man's story.
"The next day, the shipwreckers would go down onto the beach and collect the goods and supplies - furniture - anything! All that was lying on the beach amidst the wreckage of the boats - all that had belonged to the sailors and to the passengers. All drowned."
The man stood in silence for a minute. All that could be heard was the quiet of the sea mist.
"And yet, one day, when they'd done their grim work, these shipwreckers, they'd caught a bigger than ever ship. An ocean liner sank. With all the passengers aboard. Men, women, children. And all of their things. The fog had been very dense. The boat's alarms sounded right up until the moment it sank into the sea. The alarms kept shrieking even once the ship was on the bottom of the ocean."
The children shivered.
"And, since then, on certain stormy or foggy days, we again hear the foghorns of the dead. We say that they attract the living. Out of revenge. So, don't stay here. Listen!"
At that very moment, through the fog they could hear an ominous, "DOOOOON....DOOOOON."
"My God," Véronique whispered," let's go - let's get out of here!"
"Yes, let's turn around," Philippe said under his breath and taking his friend by the hand.
The four friends made their way back to the village.
Behind them, through the fog coming from the ocean, they heard the dire, "DOOOOON," the sound, they were now sure, that was the timeless echo of the foghorns of the dead that the old seaman had told them about.
Just as they arrived back home, they all had the same thought at once, "Yannick!" Why is he working? What is he doing there, between the Rock of Saint-Pierre and the Men-du, in a graveyard of boats, in that place no one can get to without swimming? Why is he so standoffish and solitary?
They decided to try to get some information from the village. The little general store would be their first stop. There, they also sold toys for the beach. It wasn't just giving in to their nosiness. The boy seemed to be having some troubles and our friends wanted to help him as much as they could.
That afternoon, the four friends made their way to the general store. What with the mist or the fog from before, it was raining. The shopkeeper saw to her new customers. She'd been alone in her store. The rain had put off her other customers. Our friends made the best of this by asking some questions.
"You want to find out more about Yannick," replied the woman. "I'll tell you something.
"That boy lived in the lighthouse with his father right up until last fall. His father had been the lighthouse keeper. An important job around here. Lots of responsibility. Of course there was the basic maintenance. Then the lighting of the beacon in the evening and the extinguishing of it in the morning. But he also had to decide if the boats could leave to sea or not. If he believed that there was a storm coming, a weather system or some waves that could prove dangerous, he had to light up the distress signal. Likewise, he had to give the
fishing boats either an order to return to port or one barring them from leaving.
"Two sailors, brothers, didn't get along at all with Yannick's father. On the day of the storm, they left the bar, boarded their boat and left to sea. They'd had a bit too much to drink, but, after all, they were tough men. Drinking a little wouldn't have done them so much harm ..." the shopkeeper made clear.
"That day, the father of your friend hadn't lighted the emergency lamp. Out of revenge, almost certainly. The two men went out to sea, guided by the lighthouse, and left the port. Those two men died at sea.
"When the people of the village heard this news, they gathered together then ran to the police. The police went to the lighthouse to find Yannick's father. They had planned to interrogate him and then take him to jail. But when they arrived, they only found the boy. His father had fled, cowardly abandoning his son.
"No one ever recovered the ship's log, the book where sailors record all the details of their voyages and what happens at sea. It's like the black box for an airplane, if you want to think about it that way," the woman added. "Yannick's father must have discovered it and destroyed it to avoid providing even more overwhelming evidence for what he'd done.
"Since then, the boy has lived with his grandmother. She's nearly blind. He'd lost his mother when he was only five. He lives there like a wild thing. Children, you must not play with him - not at all a good friend for you. You are all well-behaved children, raised properly. Run along, dears. I have to let you go now. I have work to do."
Our friends left the store.
The next morning, there were spring tides. This is what we call the days when the tide is at its lowest ebb and then rises to its highest levels. This happens once a month. It's at its most extreme at the equinox, of course.
With a very low tide, we can come across some lovely seashells, collect clams, oysters, sometimes even find things stuck in the sand, there on the sea floor.
Jean-Claude told everyone that he would go down there with Véronique's father at dawn. Philippe said he would rather sleep in. The girls agreed. So, in the evening, before going to bed, their friend arranged a meeting.
"Tomorrow, I'm going to mark a trail, with the giant rocks where we were today as the starting point. You can follow it to catch up with me ... when you manage to get out of bed. I'll try to spot Yannick. He'll probably be there. And we'll wait for you."
Jean-Claude left at dawn. His friends woke up later and, after breakfast, made their way to the beach.
They got to the little pointed rock, the starting point. There they found that Jean-Claude had in fact marked a trail that stretched out from the village and headed towards the Rock of Saint-Pierre.
Soon they were all walking along the beach. Philippe, Christine and Véronique could only see two tracks in front of them. One set of prints from bare feet and the other from sneakers. The sneakers were Jean-Claude's, without a doubt. In some spots, the sneaker prints covered over the prints of the bare feet, halfway erasing them. So Jean-Claude was following Yannick.
At the foot of the Rock of Saint-Pierre, the prints disappeared. Some little waves started to reclaim the beach, abandoned when the tides went out. But just there, on a flat rock, our friends spotted Jean-Claude's T-shirt, folded into an arrow and pointing to the headland of the great rock.
"He's telling us to go into the water and pick up the trail on the other side of the cliffs. I guess we'll go, girls?" Philippe suggested.
"Without our swimsuits?"
"Our shorts will dry. C'mon let's go!"
They took Jean-Claude's shirt and headed into the water. Getting to the headland of the Rock of Saint-Pierre, hadn't required swimming, just wading waist deep. As they were on their way, Véronique asked Philippe how he figured they'd get back, seeing as how the tide was rising.
"I have no idea," Philippe said. "But if Jean-Claude is waiting for us on the other side, I trust him. It shouldn't last too long anyway. Look. The mist is coming up."
In fact, a thick fog was coming in slowly from the horizon. It was carried by the wind that had started to blow towards the cliff.
"We could get lost," Véronique cried out.
"Yes, in the fog. We could miss my brother," Christine added.
"It can't be far. Shush. Don't speak too loud in the mist. Voices carry."
As they advanced, they could see a shadow coming towards them. The three of them stopped, worried. The shadow got closer. It was Jean-Claude!
"It's good to see you."
"Hi! Why did you have us come here?"
"Follow me. I made a really amazing discovery," the boy explained.
"And above all, no noise. The mist carries your voice like you wouldn't believe."
"Yes, I know," Philippe commented. "I just warned the girls."
"Come on, follow me," Jean-Claude repeated in a low voice.
The four children got out of the water as they walked towards the cliff that rose over the untamed stretch of the coast. They made their way over this usually inaccessible beach. Their friend guided them over to the imposing mass of a hull washed up on the sand. It was just underneath the looming overhang of the great rocks.
"We're going to do the guided tour," the boy muttered.
They circled the hull, half-buried and tilted in the sand. A few little waves crashed and died against the prow of the boat. It was quiet, with only the gentle lapping of the water.
All of a sudden, coming out of the mists, they could hear the moaning of the foghorn. "DOOOOON. DOOOOON."
"The foghorns of the dead!" said Véronique, worried. "They are trying to call us in."
"Don't make too much of it," Jean-Claude said firmly. "Come, check out my find."
A rope ladder hung the length of the boat's hull.
"You've gone up?" Philippe asked his friend.
"No, not yet. I was waiting for you. C'mon. Let's go see."
The foghorn still resounded. The fog thickened. All around them, it was dark, ghostly, eerie. A light wind blew, coming off the Atlantic.
Jean-Claude climbed up first, followed by his sister, then Véronique; Philippe brought up the rear. All four of them put foot on the deck of the vessel, a little fishing boat like so many others abandoned there. There was some light in the bridge cockpit.
"Follow me," Jean-Claude whispered. "Let's look in the window."
All four gathered up close to the porthole.
Yannick was there, sitting at a table. He had a book in one hand and, in the other, he tugged on a cord at intervals. Each time he pulled the cord, the foghorn sounded ...
"He's working the foghorns of the dead," Véronique gasped.
"It's not the foghorns of the dead," Philippe pointed out. "He's working the foghorn of this boat. C'mon, let's say hello."
They entered the narrow bridge. Right away, the boy stood up and grabbed a fishing knife that had been lying beside him. He pointed it right at our friends. He leapt at them.
Jean-Claude had just enough time to duck out of the way. Philippe jumped at Yannick, did a judo move on him and made him fall to the deck. His friend pinned him against the deck while the girls surrounded him, ready to jump in the fray.
"Listen!" Jean-Claude shouted. "We don't want to hurt you. We just wanted to be friends. I'm taking away your knife and you can get up. But don't attack us again."
"Okay," Yannick said, winded.
Everyone calmed down. The boy sat surrounded by our friends and started talking.
"I'll explain everything. I'm going to trust you. My father was the lighthouse keeper."
Our friends listened. They knew the story but surely their new friend would tell it in another way.
"My father was in charge of the lighthouse. Some sailors didn't like him because my father was very strict. In bad weather, he didn't allow them to put out to sea. Thanks to him, there was never an accident.
"Two sailors, two brothers, had a boat. I said two sailors but I should have said two drunks. Those two brothers spent more time drinking at the bar there in the port than on their boat. One stormy day, they tottered out of the bar, totally drunk. They started to get their boat ready, unmooring it and casting off. They had a terrible time of it.
"Now, you've got to understand that my father wanted to stop them from setting sail. But the distress signal wasn't working. It was broken. So my father took his big blackboard and he wrote on it in chalk, "EXIT FORBIDDEN." Just when the boat passed by the lighthouse, he held up his blackboard so they could clearly see his orders.
"The two sailors looked at the blackboard and flipped him off. They went out to sea. Their boat sank.
"Everyone said it was my father's fault. That, out of revenge, he let them go out in the storm, so they'd die at sea. When the police came to take him to jail, he ran. Staying there didn't make any sense. But how could he prove his honesty? Because no one found the ship's log, my father couldn't show himself. He couldn't prove his innocence.
"Everyone blamed him. In the village they judged him without giving him any chance of explaining himself. They all treated him like a liar and a coward. My father is not a liar or a coward. And I'm not either."
The four friends listened in silence to the terrible story.
"Since then, I've lived with my grandmother. She is poor and so I work during the holidays to help her. But, because in the village they make fun of me, sometimes, when there's a fog, I come here. I work the foghorn in this abandoned boat. And those fraidy-cats over there, they believe in the foghorns of the dead. This is my revenge. You all are brave. Even with the foghorn and the fog, you've come all the way here..."
"We wanted to understand," Jean-Claude explained. "We wanted to become
friends and maybe help you, if it were possible."
"Thanks," the boy murmured. "But, now, you have to go. You can't do anything for me."
"The tide is rising. Where are we supposed to go?" Philippe asked him.
"I'll show you a tunnel in the cliff," Yannick replied. "It goes to the ridge above. I'll show you the way, but keep it to yourselves. I'm counting on you not to tell anyone about it."
"Never. Nobody," Philippe repeated. "I swear to you."
"Me too, said Véronique. "I promise you."
"Same for me," Christine added. "Word of honour."
"And me too, of course," added Jean-Claude.
They disembarked from the boat, climbing down the rope ladder. The tunnel was hidden in a crevice between the fallen rocks. It had been formed by a series of interconnecting caves, and a kind of vertical chimney that was quite difficult to climb. Finally, they made it to the ridge above. Their friend said goodbye and our friends left.
They walked against the wind through the mist to get back home to the village. Still, Philippe couldn't help breaking the silence.
"You know guys, I don't think Yannick told us the whole truth back there."
"How do you mean?" the girls asked, stopping. "What are you talking about, Philippe?"
"Well, I've been asking myself a few things," Philippe explained. "So we know he lives with his grandmother. Fine. Why does he work?"
"Because she's poor," Jean-Claude said. "He works to help her out. He gives her all the money he earns and doesn't keep any for himself. He explained that."
"Maybe. But why does he come here anyhow?" Philippe added. "He claimed
that he likes to scare the villagers. And that he wanted keep the villagers away from the boat graveyard where there is ..."
"But why would he do that?" Véronique asked.
"Exactly," Philippe said, taking her by the hand, "very good question." "Why would he ever do that?"
"I can only think of one way to find out," Jean-Claude said, thinking aloud.
"Oh, yeah? What's that?" Philippe answered.
"We go back and visit the place when Yannick isn't there, some night."
"At night!" Christine said, worried.
"In the middle of the night?" Véronique added, removing her hand from her friend's.
"Yes, at night," the boy repeated. "We go back into the tunnel, back on the boat and we search it. We'll maybe find a clue, maybe discover some kind of explanation."
"Okay," seconded Christine. "I'm up for adventure."
"Me too," Philippe said firmly.
"Sure, fine, if you are all going," Véronique added, "I'll go along too."
"Why not tonight?" suggested Jean-Claude.
"Okay, fine. Tonight."
That night, our friends went to bed early. At about eight o'clock, they heard Véronique's parents settle into their room for the night. The boys chatted for a bit more, sitting on their beds. Then, at about a quarter to twelve, they got up. They dressed in dark clothes, jeans, black T-shirts, sneakers. Without a sound, they pushed open the door of their room and went into the hallway.
"Where are the girls?" whispered Jean-Claude.
"Can't we leave them behind?" Philippe whispered.
"No, they'd be furious if we went without them. Come on, let's go and wake them up."
"Let me do it," Philippe said quietly.
He opened the door of the girls' room. They were dressed, like the boys, but they were sleeping, each on her own bed. Philippe went over to Véronique. He looked at her first, in the moonlight. He thought she was very pretty, with her two long blond braids. So, like a prince charming in the stories, he bent over her and gave her a little kiss on the forehead to wake her up. Véronique opened her eyes.
"Oh! Philippe! What are you doing in our room?"
"We're going to the boat graveyard. And don't forget the flashlight," added the boy.
The girls left the room. The four children crossed the hallway. This staircase normally cracked with each step but they managed to go down without a sound. Now they found themselves in the street, lighted by several street lamps. Bad luck, a cold drizzle fell.
"We'll be soaked," Christine remarked.
"Too bad," Philippe said under his breath. "We'll dry ourselves off later. We're not made of sugar."
They set off. They walked at a good pace towards the beach, then they followed the path that went up along the top of the cliff and brought them to the ridge. With some difficulty, they found the entry to the cave system again. They turned on the flashlight and then they started off into the depths of the Earth.
After having carefully descended the rocky chimney, they went through the caves, sometimes by advancing on all fours and squeezing through some tights spaces. Finally, they emerged out of the caves and onto the beach.
Between the clouds, the children could see the starry sky. Against this backdrop, the dark masses of the boats were ghostly in the marine graveyard. The tide was out, almost at its lowest ebb. They had no difficulty picking out the fishing boat with the rope ladder hanging off it. The rain had stopped.
"Turn off the flashlight," Jean-Claude said.
"Come on, let's climb up," Philippe urged.
All four climbed the rope ladder and hoisted it up onto the deck of the boat. The bridge was dark, completely black.
"I didn't think he'd be here," Jean-Claude whispered.
"Me neither. But we had to come check," Christine replied.
"Okay, I'm going in," whispered her brother.
They went into the bridge cockpit. No one. They found an envelope lying on the table. It wasn't sealed. It was addressed to Yannick.
Christine took it and looked at the others. Philippe turned on the flashlight. The girl opened it. Inside, she found a letter folded in four.
"My dear Yannick,
I won't be able to come before Tuesday or Wednesday. But after that, I will stay a few days with you. I am still searching for proof to establish my innocence. I thank you for all that you are doing for me. Thanks for the food, for the clothing, for your courage, for your silence. I give you a big hug, Father."
"My God!" Jean-Claude said under his breath. "I understand everything now."
"What a brave boy," the girls added.
"Our friend is working to feed his father, to clothe him. And he doesn't keep anything for himself. He gives it all to his father. So his father can try to prove his innocence. And they can see each other here, a shelter from prying eyes, thanks to the foghorn. So that was Yannick's terrible secret."
"Come on, let's put the letter back in the envelope and go," Christine insisted.
"Yes, but now at least we know the truth and we can perhaps help our friend," Philippe said.
They returned home, went to bed and slept, exhausted.
All the next day, a forceful storm stirred up the sea. The waves crashed furiously against the rocks along the cliff, covering them in froth and foam. The wind shrieked violently. The driving rain was cold. Our friends thought of going on a little walk up the ridge over the untamed beach, between the Rock of Saint-Pierre and Men-du so they could see the ocean spray bursting on the rocks.
"You want to go for a walk in this weather?" the adults remarked. "If that makes you happy. Take your rain gear and go."
Our friends got ready and left. They came to the point between the two gigantic buttresses, at the cliff side. The breakers were stronger there, the waves rolled and crashed with utmost power. The storm had transformed the untouched beach into a chaotic, whirling circus of white foam, swept with howling winds.
Suddenly, they spotted Yannick among the rocks. He was still barefoot,
shirtless. And in shorts, as usual. This despite the cold and the rain. He made a sign to them. He didn't move. Our friends watched him, astonished. The boy made another sign.
"He seems stuck or hurt," Jean-Claude cried. "Quick! Let's go down."
All four of them entered again into the cave system, going underground and coming out onto the beach. The waves crashed one after the other against the rocks. In an instant, our friends were soaked through from the seawater. But, threading their way around the hulls of the boats washed by the waves, they came to where Yannick was. Each breaking wave washed over him and drained away. He shivered with cold. He'd just slipped and was now stuck between two rocks.
"Quick! Take that iron bar over there or even that plank," Philippe shouted. "Move fast. We have to move that rock. We can make a lever. Hurry!"
The girls returned with a rusty iron bar. Levering the bar against one of the rocks, all four of them pulled with all their might. The rock moved a bit and Yannick could get his foot out. Jean-Claude took off his raincoat and helped his friend into it. A breaking wave covered all five of them. They were soaked from their heads to their toes.
"Let's go to the boat," Yannick urged. "It's been quite a while that I've been stuck there. Good thing you came! Without you, I don't know what would have happened to me ..."
They followed their friend to the abandoned boat. They all shook with cold, dripping with rain and seawater.
As they warmed up, little by little, they watched the waves and the storm hammering away all around them, just feet away.
"Oh, look," Philippe blurted out. "There - at the point - a boat in trouble!"
In fact, towards the point of the Rock of Saint-Pierre, a dinghy, come loose from a ship, without anyone in it, balanced and batted around by the furious waves.
"As usual," explained Yannick. "It's going to crash against the Rock of Saint-Pierre. It's always there that the ships come in and crash headlong against the Rock. And sink. That's why for the last month I've been searching there every day. Or almost. Water and land. I've been trying to find the locker where they would have had their ship's log. The one from the two drunks who died at sea. Look, the dinghy is going to hit now."
Our friends had their eyes glued to the frail craft. At the last minute, a spiral current, a whirlpool of sorts caused the tender to turn around on itself. Then it crashed - not against the Rock of Saint-Pierre - but half a mile further on, against the Rock of Men-du.
"There," Jean-Claude blurted out, "have you searched there yet?"
"No, no," the boy said thoughtfully, "never. ..."
"But what if the sailors' boat did the same thing as just happened? With the whirlpool? And went into Men-du?"
"Maybe you're right. ..."
"C'mon, let's go, let's get going. Can you make it?"
"Yeah, I'm okay," Yannick said. "Your jacket helped a lot. What about you?"
Our friends, soaked, dripping wet, took off their rain gear to be more agile. In blue jeans, T-shirts and sneakers, they confronted the waves. The wind howled with rage. Hopping from rock to rock, they made their way over to Men-du, at the heart of the storm. There, still under the rain and the winds, dancing among the mighty waves, these waves that sometimes gave them another bath, they got to searching in earnest. All of a sudden, in the midst of the chaos, Véronique cried out:
The others came near.
"Look, there, among those rocks! Do you see the little corner of a locker, pinned there!"
They reached out, trying to dislodge the box from between the rocks. To do this, they had to use the precious moments between the waves, after one washed in and before the next could.
Once they got it, Christine, who always kept a penknife on her, tried to open the box. It took some work but, at last, she pried it open. When the lock finally gave way, they discovered a bound notebook with the words "LOGBOOK" written in big block letters on the dark cover of the book.
"The ship's log of the two sailors' boat!" Yannick exclaimed.
They turned the pages feverishly. On the last written pages, they found the confession of the two sailors, once they'd sobered up:
"We left the port despite the warnings from the lighthouse keeper. We were sick of his stubbornness, always in control and always too careful. We're paying for it dearly now. As I write these lines, the boat is sinking. Whosoever recovers this log must know that the lighthouse keeper did all he could but we ignored him due to a personal grudge. If our deaths caused him any distress or trouble, let it be known that he did his utmost and is not guilty for our sad end. God save our souls! Forgive us ..."
There, the two sailors signed their names.
"This proves your father's innocence," Philippe said.
"Yes, completely. Thanks to you, my friends."
The boy had tears in his eyes as he hugged his friends.
Just then, the door of a little makeshift cabin opened. A man walked out.
"Dad!" Yannick cried out.
The man looked at our friends:
"Who are all of you?" he asked, with a worried look.
"Friends," shouted Yannick. "Real friends, the best friends I've ever had in my whole life, Dad. Look what they found."
"The ship's logbook! I'm saved," the father said, visibly emotional.
Our four friends, Yannick and his father made their way to the tunnel, to climb back up to the ridge. For the first time in a long time, the boy's father dared cross through the village. He made his way directly to the police station, under the accusatory eyes of the villagers. They watched his every step.
Reaching the police station together, they were received by the chief of police. He looked at the ship's log carefully and read the final confession of the sailors. He recognized their handwriting.
Then he turned to Yannick's father:
"It looks like this clears you, my friend. You did everything you could. You can return to your work in the lighthouse. As of today, you are, once again, in charge of the port. We entrust you with all of our confidence. Please excuse us for having unjustly suspected you."
From that day forwards, Yannick's father resumed his responsibilities at the lighthouse. His son no longer had to work. He could finally spend his vacations, real vacations, with his four new friends, Jean-Claude, Christine, Philippe and Véronique.
Translation : Andrew Gordon Middleton