Chapter VI. Lethierry’s exaltation
The “Devil Boat” prospered. Mess Lethierry began to look forward to the time when he should be called “Monsieur.” At Guernsey, people do not become “Monsieurs” at one bound. Between the plain man and the gentleman, there is quite a scale to climb. To begin with, we have the simple name, plain “Peter,” let us suppose; the second step is “Neighbour Peter;” the third, “Father Peter;” the fourth, “Sieur Peter;” the fifth, “Mess Peter;” and then we reach the summit in “Monsieur Peter.”
This scale ascending thus from the ground is carried to still greater heights. All the upper classes of England join on and continue it. Here are the various steps, becoming more and more glorious. Above the Monsieur, or “Mr.,” there is the “Esquire;” above the squire, the knight; above the knight, still rising, we have the baronet, the Scotch laird, the baron, the viscount, the earl (called count in France, and jarl in Norway); the marquis, the duke, the prince of the blood royal, and the king: so, by degrees, we ascend from the people to the middle class, from the middle class to the baronetage, from the baronetage to the peerage, from the peerage to royalty.
Thanks to his successful ingenuity, thanks to steam, and his engines, and the “Devil Boat,” Mess Lethierry was fast becoming an important personage. When building his vessel he had been compelled to borrow money. He had become indebted at Brême, he had become indebted at St. Malo; but every year he diminished his obligations.
He had, moreover, purchased on credit, at the very entrance to the port of St. Sampson, a pretty stone-built house, entirely new, situate between the sea and a garden. On the corner of[Pg 51] this house was inscribed the name of the “Bravées.” Its front formed a part of the wall of the port itself, and it was remarkable for a double row of windows: on the north, alongside a little enclosure filled with flowers, and on the south commanding a view of the ocean. It had thus two façades, one open to the tempest and the sea, the other looking into a garden filled with roses.
These two frontages seemed made for the two inmates of the house – Mess Lethierry and Déruchette.
The “Bravées” was popular at St. Sampson, for Mess Lethierry had at length become a popular man. This popularity was due partly to his good nature, his devotedness, and his courage; partly to the number of lives he had saved; and a great deal to his success, and to the fact that he had awarded to St. Sampson the honour of being the port of the departure and arrival of the new steamboat. Having made the discovery that the “Devil Boat” was decidedly a success, St. Peter’s, the capital, desired to obtain it for that port, but Lethierry held fast to St. Sampson. It was his native town. “It was there that I was first pitched into the water,” he used to say; hence his great local popularity. His position as a small landed proprietor paying land-tax, made him, what they call in Guernsey, an unhabitant. He was chosen douzenier. The poor sailor had mounted five out of six steps of the Guernsey social scale; he had attained the dignity of “Mess”; he was rapidly approaching the Monsieur; and who could predict whether he might not even rise higher than that? who could say that they might not one day find in the almanack of Guernsey, under the heading of “Nobility and Gentry,” the astonishing and superb inscription,—Lethierry, Esq.?
But Mess Lethierry had nothing of vanity in his nature, or he had no sense of it; or if he had, disdained it: to know that he was useful was his greatest pleasure; to be popular touched him less than being necessary; he had, as we have already said, only two objects of delight, and consequently only two ambitions: the Durande and Déruchette.
However this may have been, he had embarked in the lottery of the sea, and had gained the chief prize.
This chief prize was the Durande steaming away in all her pride.