Review: “The Friendship of Monsieur Jeynois”, William Hope Hodgson, 1913.
This is a well-done historical sea tale.
This is another of Hodgson’s tales about brutality at sea, rather like his “The Wild Man of the Sea”, narrated by a boy on a ship and about an adult he admires.
That man is Monsieur Jeynois targeted by jealous and brutal men aboard the Saucy Lady, and the time seems to be the Napoleonic Wars.
The narrator is one of twelve boys from Portsmouth aboard the ship, a privateer. No one aboard is known as more of a hater of the French than Jeynois, and he’s also known as a great seaman. He is hated, though, out of jealousy for his abilities and deeds and his quietness and aloofness. (One senses that Hodgson thought the last two were qualities of manliness.)
The narrator comes to Jeynois’s attention one night when Captain Drool and the other officers mistreat the boy. Jeynois shows quiet kindness towards the narrator.
The narrator learns the Captain and officers plan to kill Jeynois who is half owner of the ship with Drool.
Jeynois is a rather devout Christian. He puts his “trust in God, clean living, and a straight sword.” When the narrator warns him of the plot against him, Jeynois says he does not want to kill men and send their souls to hell. He would rather they found “heaven and a gladder wisdom” if he kills them. Understandably, the last remark puzzles the boy and us too.
The climax of the story is rather long and involves the narrator joining with Jeynois to fight off the attack of the officers and Captain. They don’t want to involve the crew in the attack so they don’t have to split any money with them. Again, we have one of Hodgson’s siege plots.
The narrator actually shots the Captain dead in the fight after the latter takes a swing at the him with a cutlass.
There is a nice bit where, as Jeynois lies dying and the narrator threatens to set the powder magazine alight if anyone breaks into the cabin, Jeynois tells him not to bluff, to prepare to do it: “’Open it, boy,’ he said gravely. ‘Nor tell a lie with a light tongue.’”
As he lays dying, Jeynois writes out a will giving his estate to the narrator. He also gives him his sword “to use only with honour.”
The story ends with the narrator with the estate and the bo’sun hung at a crossroads:
. . . when I passed the dried body of the bo’sun, I must stop and loose off my cap, and set up a prayer to God for him, for I knew Monsieur Jeynois would so have wished it.
I have said in previous posts that Hodgson rarely uses Christian themes or motifs in his stories, but I think you could say this is one of them.