(translated by Barry Scherr)
     Alexander Grin, "The Seeker of Adventure, Selected Stories",
     М., Прогресс, 1978, 484 с.
     Origin: "Корабли в Лиссе"
     OCR: Ivi

     There are people who remind you  of an old-fashioned snuffbox. When you
pick  up  such  an object,  you  ponder  it  fruitfully.  It  is  an  entire
generation,  and  we are alien  to it. The snuffbox  is  placed  among other
appropriate little objects and is shown to guests, but rarely does its owner
use  it as an everyday  item. Why? Do the centuries  daunt  him?  Or are the
forms of another time, so deceptively similar to modern forms geometrically,
so  different in essence that  to  see them  constantly,  to be in  constant
contact with them, means to live imperceptibly in the past?  Is this perhaps
a shallow thought about a complex disparity?  Hard to tell. But, as  I began
to say, there are people who remind you of an ancient everyday item, and the
spiritual essence of these people is as  alien to the manner  of life around
them  as  the above-mentioned snuffbox  to  a  price  gouger from the  Hotel
Lisbon. Whether in childhood, or at one of those turning points in life when
the developing character seems to be like a liquid saturated with  a mineral
solution  --  disturb it just a  little and it will all  irreversibly congeal
into crystals that form with the speed of lightning-maybe  at such a turning
point, thanks to a chance impression or something else, their soul  adopts a
steadfast  form  once  and for  all. Its needs  are  naive  and  poetic: the
integrity, completeness,  and  the  charm of the  habitual, where  daydreams
dwell  so  serenely  and comfortably, free of  the  moment's cavils. Such  a
person prefers horses to trains, candles to electric bulbs, the downy  plait
of a  girl to her artful coiffure with its smell of burning and musk,  roses
to  chrysanthemums,  and the ungainly sailing vessel with its lofty mass  of
white  sails that reminds you of a jawly  face with  a clear brow above blue
eyes,  to  th steamship pretty as a  toy.  His inner life  is  of  necessity
guarded, while his external life consists of mutual repulsions.

     Just as there are such  people, so are  there families houses, and even
cities and harbours that are guided by a spirit all their own.
     There is no port more disorderly  and marvellous than  Liss, except  of
course Zurbagan. The international,  multilingual city  strongly reminds one
of  a tramp who  has finally decided to bury himself in the fog of a settled
life. The  homes  straggle  helter-skelter  along  the vague  suggestions of
streets,  but streets  in the proper sense  of the  word could  not exist in
Liss, if  only because the city  emerged on the sides of  cliffs and  hills,
connected  by steps, bridges, and spiral-shaped pathways.  All  of  this  is
covered  by a  solid mass of tropical greenery, in the fan-shaped  shadow of
which glitter  the childlike, blazing eyes of women.  A yellow rock, a  blue
shadow, and picturesque cracks in  old walls; in some  kno.ll-shaped yard  a
huge boat is being repaired by a barefoot, unsociable person smoking a pipe;
there is distant singing and its echo in a ravine; a market on piles beneath
tents  and huge umbrellas; a weapon's gleam, bright frocks, the fragrance of
flowers and greenery that gives rise  to a dull yearning, as in a dream, for
love  and  trysts;  the harbour, as  filthy  as a young chimney sweep; sails
furled in sleep and  a  winged morning, green  water, coves, and the ocean's
expanse;  at  night, the  magnetic  conflagration  of stars  and  boats with
laughing  voices-such is Liss. There are two hotels here: the Prickly Pillow
and the Heaven Help Us.  The  sailors naturally  crowded more thickly in the
one that  was nearer  at  hand. It is  hard  to  say which was nearer in the
beginning, but as a result of their competition these venerable institutions
began  to skip towards the harbour- in  the  literal sense of the word. They
moved, rented new  quarters, and even built them. The Heaven Help Us won.  A
deft move on its part left the Prickly Pillow rooted
     amidst some barely negotiable ravines, while the triumphant Heaven Help
Us,  after  a ten-year struggle and having  been the  ruin  of three  eating
houses, settled down to reign right beside the harbour.
     Liss's population  consists of adventurers, smugglers, and sailors. The
women are  divided into  angels and shrews; the angels of course are  young,
searingly  beautiful and tender, while the shrews are old-but  one must  not
forget that even a shrew  can be useful.  Take for instance a  happy wedding
during which  a  shrew  who had  previously  concocted infernal machinations
repents and begins a better life.
     We  will  not  investigate  the reasons why  Liss was  and  is  visited
exclusively  by  sailing  vessels. These reasons  are  of  a  geographic and
hydrographic nature; altogether, every-' thing in this town  produced  on us
precisely that impression of independence and poetic rhythm that we tried to
elucidate through the example of a person with pure and clear needs.


     At the time our story begins four people were sitting at a table on the
top floor of the hotel  Heaven Help Us  before  a  window with a picturesque
view of Liss's  harbour.  They  were  Captain  Duke, a quite  corpulent  and
effusive individual; Captain Robert  Estamp; Captain Renior;  and  a captain
better  known by the nickname "I  know you",  because he greeted  everybody,
even  strangers, with just this phrase if the person evinced  an inclination
to go on a spree. His name, though, was Chinchar.
     Such a  glittering,  even aristocratic  company  could  not,  naturally
enough, be  gathered  round an  empty  table.  On  it were standing  various
festive  bottles brought  out by  the  proprietor  of  the  hotel on special
occasions-namely  those like the  present one, when captains,  who generally
had no love lost for each other  for reasons of  professional swashbuckling,
got together to  do some heavy drinking. Estamp was  an  elderly, very pale,
grey-eyed, taciturn  man with reddish eyebrows; Renior, with long black hair
and bulging eyes, looked  like a disguised monk; Chinchar, a one-eyed, agile
old  man with  black teeth  and a mournful  blue  eye,  was notable  for his
scathing tongue.
     The  inn was full; people were singing at one table and arguing noisily
at another; from time to time some merry-maker, who had reached the stage of
complete oblivion,would head for the exit  knocking over  the  chairs in his
path; the plates and dishes were rattling; a1 i amidst this noise Duke twice
caught the  name  "Bitt-Boy". Evidently someone  was recalling this glorious
person.  The  name  came  up apropos,  for a  difficult situation  was under
     "Now with Bitt-Boy," Duke exclaimed, "I wouldn't be afraid of an entire
squadron! But  he's  not around. My  dear  captains, I'm  loaded  with  vile
explosives  -- a terrible thing! That is,  not I, but the 'Marianne. However,
the Marianne is I and  I'm the Marianne, therefore I'm loaded. It's an irony
of fate: I-with  a cargo of grapeshot and powder! Let God be my witness,  my
dear captains,"  Duke continued in  a gloomily  animated  voice, "after that
knock-out dish  they  treated me  to in the commissariat  I would have  even
agreed to carry seltzer and soda water!"
     "A privateer showed up again the day before yesterday," put in Estamp.
     "I don't  know what  he's looking for in  these waters," said Chinchar,
"but one's afraid to weigh anchor."
     "What's burdening you now?" asked Renior.
     "Utter rubbish, captain. I'm transporting tinware and perfume. But I've
been promised a bonus!"
     Chinchar was  lying,  however. He was "burdened" not with tinplate, but
with  an insurance policy, and was seeking a suitable time and place to sink
his Hermit for  a large  sum. Such dirty tricks are no rarity, although they
require  great circumspection.  The  privateer was  bad news;  Chinchar  had
received  information that his  insurance company was  on the brink of ruin,
and so he had to hurry.
     "I know what that  pirate's  looking for," declared  Duke. "Did you see
the brigantine that cast anchor at the very entrance? The Felicity. They say
it's loaded with gold."
     "I don't know that vessel," said Renior. "I saw her, of course.  Who is
her captain?"
     Nobody knew. Nobody had seen him. He had not made a single call and had
not  come  to  the  hotel.  Just  once  three  sailors  from  the  Felicity,
middle-aged  and decorous people  pursued by curious glances,  came from the
ship into Liss, bought some tobacco, and did not appear again.
     "A  pup," grumbled  Estamp.  "A lout.  Stay  in  your  cabin, lout," he
suddenly  flushed  and  turned  towards  the window,  "maybe  you'll grow  a
     The  captains broke  into guffaws.  When the  laughter had  died  down,
Renior said:
     "There's nothing to be done, we're locked in. I'd give up my cargo with
pleasure-after all,  what do I care about someone else's lemons? But to give
up the President...."
     "Or  the Marianne," interrupted Duke.  "What if  she were blown up?" He
grew pale and  drank down  a  double  shot. "Don't  speak to  me  about such
terrible and fateful things, Renior!"
     "I'm so sick  of hearing about  your Marianne," shouted Renior, "that I
would even welcome an explosion!"
     "And may your President sink!"
     "Captains, don't quarrel," said Estamp.
     "I know you!" cried  out Chinchar to  a  very surprised  visitor. "Come
here, treat an old fellow!"
     But the visitor turned his back.  The captains sank  into thought. Each
had his  own reasons  for wishing to  leave Liss as quickly as  possible.  A
distant fortress was expecting Duke. Chinchar was in a hurry to play out his
little  swindle. Renior thirsted  for  a  reunion  with  his family  after a
two-year's absence, while Estamp was afraid that his crew, which was a loose
assemblage, would leave him. Two of them had already run off and were now at
the Prickly Pillow bragging about fantastic adventures in New Guinea.
     These  vessels-the  Marianne,  the  President,  Chinchar's  Hermit, and
Estamp's  Aramea-had  taken refuge  in  Liss  from the  pursuit  of  hostile
privateers. The  high-speed Marianne had been the first to fly in,  the next
day the Hermit  had come crawling, and  two  days later the  Aramea  and the
President dropped anchor, panting. Including the  mysterious Felicity, there
were  in all five  ships in  Liss,  not counting  barges and  small  coastal
     "Therefore I say  that I  want Bitt-Boy," the tipsy Duke began to speak
again. "I'll tell you a little something about  him. Of course, you all know
that  milksop,  Beppo  Malastino.  Well,  there  was  Malastino  staying  in
Zurbagan, drinking 'Good God',* and holding his Butuzka on his lap. In walks
Bitt-Boy. 'Malastino,  weigh anchor, I'll pilot your vessel  through Kasset.
You'll  be  in Akhuan Skap before everyone else  this season.' What  do  you
think, captains? Many a time  I'd sail through Kasset with a full cargo, and
that idiot  Malastino  would have done  well to  heed Bitt-Boy blindly.  But
Beppo thought it over  for two  days. 'Oh a storm belt... oh, blah blah, the
buoys've been  torn off....' But  the crux of it, lads, wasn't in buoys. Ali
the Turk, Beppo's ex-boatswain, made a hole in his brig directly across from
the  mizzen and  sealed it with pitch. A  wave  would have quickly washed it
away. Finally the  swooning Beppo sailed  through the infernal  strait  with
Bitt-Boy; he was late, of  course,  and the money in Akhuan Skap had come to
like  others  more than that wop,  but ... isn't Bitt-Boy  a  lucky-chap! In
Kasset they  were hurled against the reefs.... Now, several barrels of honey
that stood near the Turk's hole had begun to ferment, most  likely  back  in
Zurbagan. These  barrels burst, and  about four tons of honey  battened down
the hole with such a collision mat that the  planking never  gave way. Beppo
turned cold when he discovered it during the unloading in Akhuan Skap.
     "Bitt-Boy.... I would have  begged him to come to me," remarked Estamp.
"Some  day,  Duke,  they'll hang  you  for  the  powder anyway, but  I  have
     "I'll tell  you  another  story about Bitt-Boy,"  Chinchar began. "This
     A dreadful, jolly racket interrupted the old swindler.  Everyone turned
towards the door, many began  to wave their hats, and some  rushed to  greet
the newcomer. A collective roar raced like the wind through the vast hall,
     *   Deadly  stuff.  Pure  alcohol  infused  with  cayenne  pepper,  and
containing a small amount of honey.-- Author.
     while individual shouts burst through the enthusiastic uproar:
     "Bitt-Boy! Bitt-Boy! Bitt-Boy, bearer of good fortune!"

     The  person  greeted  by such  a meaningful and delightful  appellation
reddened deeply,  stopped at the  entrance,  laughed, waved  a greeting, and
went to  the  captains'  table.  He was a well-built person of no more  than
thirty, not tall,  and with a pleasant, open face  that expressed tenderness
and  strength. There  was a calm  liveliness  in  his eyes, while his facial
features, his figure, and all his movements were notable for their  dignity,
which was  more a reflection of an inner  calm than an habitual assertion of
character.  His  thoughtful  voice  was  extremely  distinct  but  not loud.
Bitt-Boy wore a pilot's cap, a brown  jersey, a blue belt, and heavy-looking
shoes; a raincoat was thrown over his arm.
     Bitt-Boy  shook dozens  and  hundreds of hands.... His  smiling  glance
moved freely about the circle of friendly grins; wreaths of pipe smoke,  the
white  glitter of teeth  in coffee-coloured  faces, and a  multi-hued fog of
eyes  surrounded  him for several minutes -- the  vibrant  cloud of a cordial
meeting. He finally disentangled  himself and fell into Duke's embrace. Even
Chinchar's mournful eye cheered  up, as did  his  caustic jaw.  The  stolid,
ox-like Renior softened, and the tough, egotistical Estamp gave a slight but
childlike smile. Bitt-Boy was everyone's favourite.
     "You, fortune's drummer!" said  Duke. "Haven't  seen  hide  nor hair of
you! You weren't perhaps some modern  Jonah in the belly  of  a nasty whale?
Where did  you disappear to? What d'you know? Take your pick: the whole damn
fleet's on hand.  But we're stuck, like a  wedge driven into some blockhead.
Save the Marianne."
     "You mean the privateer,  do you?" asked Bitt-Boy. "I saw  him. A short
tale, lads, is better than long interrogations. Here's  the story; yesterday
I took a yawl in Zurbagan and sailed to Liss; it was a dark night. I'd heard
about  the privateers; therefore I stole along  the  shore behind the rocks,
where the cliffs are overgrown with moss.  I  was protected by their colour.
Twice the search light of an unfriendly cruiser passed by me; the third time
something  made me lower  the  sail. In  an  instant... the yawl and I  were
illuminated  like a fly on a plate. Because  of  the rocks, the shadows, the
moss, and  the clefts, I couldn't be  distinguished from the emptiness,  but
had  I not  lowered  the sail.... And so  Bitt-Boy got  here safe and sound.
Renior,  do you remember  the firm Heaven and Co.? It sells tight shoes with
nails driven right through; I bought a pair  yesterday, and now my heels are
all bloody."
     "Aye-aye,  Bitt-Boy,"  said  Renior, "but  you're a  courageous person.
Bitt-Boy, pilot my President, if you were married...."
     "No, the Hermit,"  declared  Chinchar. "I know you,  Bitt-Boy. I'm rich
     "Why not the Aramea?" asked the stern  Estamp. "I'm prepared  to defend
my right to leave with a knife. With Bitt-Boy it's a sure thing."
     The young pilot was about to say something else when he suddenly became
grimly serious. With  his  chin propped on his small hand  he  looked at the
captains, quietly smiled with  his eyes, and,  out of  consideration for the
mood of  others, got control  over  himself. He took  a drink, tossed up the
empty glass, caught it, lit a cigarette, and said:
     "I thank you; I thank you for  your kind words,  for your confidence in
my  luck.... I do not seek it. I can't give  you my  answer now; that  is, a
definite one. There is a certain circumstance.
     "Although  I've  already spent  all  the money I  earned in the spring,
nonetheless.... Besides, how can  I choose among  you? Duke?... Oh, dear old
fellow! One would  have to be near-sighted not to see your secret  tears for
wide-open space and your desire to tell everyone: 'Watch me do  it!' The sea
agrees with you, old fellow, as it does with  me; I like you, Duke. And you,
Estamp?  Who  hid me from the foolish  Sepoys  in  Bombay when I  saved  the
rajah's pearls?  I also like Estamp; he has a warm spot in his heart. Renior
lived at my place for two months, and when I broke a leg his wife fed me for
half a year. And you, 'I know you', Chinchar, you inveterate sinner, how you
cried in church over a meeting
     with  an  old  woman....  You  had been  separated  by twenty years and
unintentional bloodshed.  I've  had a drink and  I'm jabbering,  captains; I
like all of you. The privateer, to be sure, is no joking matter, but how can
I make a choice? I can't even imagine."
     "Lots," said Estamp.
     "Lots!  Lots!" the table began to shout. Bitt-Boy looked around. People
had   long  since  moved  in  from   the  corners  and  were  following  the
conversation;  many elbows rested on  the table,  and behind those  who were
close  others  stood and listened.  Then  Bitt-Boy's glance  passed  to  the
window, beyond which the  harbour was shining serenely. The evening,  giving
off  vapours, descended  on the water. With  a  glance  Bitt-Boy  asked  the
mysterious Felicity about something comprehensible only to himself and said:
     "That's quite an imposing brigantine, Estamp. Who's commanding it?"
     "Some lout of an ignoramus. Only nobody's seen him."
     "And its cargo?"
     "Gold, gold, gold," Chinchar began to mutter, "sweet gold."
     And several people on the side corroborated this:
     "That's what they say."
     "A  vessel  with  gold was supposed to  pass  by here. That must be the
     "The watch on board is scrupulous."
     "They don't let anyone on board."
     "It's quiet on it...."
     "Captains!"  Bitt-Boy began to speak.  "I'm embarrassed  by  my strange
reputation, and the hopes placed in me throw my heart into confusion, really
and truly. Listen: cast lots provisionally. You don't have to roll scraps of
paper into little tubes. In a lively matter something living will watch over
us.  I'll  go  with whoever wins  out,  if  a  certain  circumstance doesn't
     "Let them  have it, Bitt-Boy!" cried out someone who  had just woken up
in the corner.
     Bitt-Boy  laughed. He  would have liked to  have already been  far from
Liss  by now.  The noise  and  jokes amused  him. He started  up the  "lots"
business in order to  drag out the time so that  he  could imbibe as much as
possible of the strange, bustling influences and diffusions of this crush of
sailors and their affairs. However, he would  have religiously kept his word
should  a "certain  circumstance" have changed. But now, while  he looked at
the Felicity, this circumstance  was still  too  vague  to  himself  and  in
mentioning  it he was guided only by his amazing instinct. Thus  a sensitive
person,  expecting a friend, is reading or working, and then suddenly stands
up, goes to  the door and opens it: the friend is coming, but the person who
opened the door has already shaken off his absentmindedness and is surprised
at the correctness of his action.
     "Blast your circumstance!" said Duke. "All right-we'll | draw lots! But
you didn't finish what you were saying, L-Bitt-Boy."
     "Yes. Evening's falling," Bitt-Boy continued, "the person who  wins me,
a paltry pilot, will not have long to wait. At midnight I'll send a lad with
tidings to the boat of the one with  whom it falls  to my lot to travel. The
fact of the matter is that  I might refuse outright. But  all  the same, for
the time being, go ahead."
     Everyone  turned  towards  the window  into  whose variegated  distance
Bitt-Boy  was  peering  intently,  apparently  seeking  some  natural  sign,
indication, or chance portent. All  the ships were clearly visible, as plain
as on the palm of one's hand: the graceful Marianne; the long President with
its tall bowsprit; the bulldog-like gloomy Hermit  with the figure of a monk
on  its  prow; the tall, light Aramea; and that nobly imposing Felicity with
its powerful,  well-proportioned body that had  the neatness of a  yacht, an
elongated stern, and jute rigging, that Felicity about which they had argued
in the tavern as to whether it had a cargo of gold on board.
     How sad are summer evenings!  Their regular  penumbra that has embraced
the  weary sun wanders  over the  hushed  land; their echo is drawn-out  and
sadly  delayed; their distant vistas wane  in silent melancholy. To the  eye
everything around is still brisk  and  full  of life and activity,  but  the
rhythm of an elegy  already  holds sway  over a saddened  heart. Whom do you
pity? Yourself? Do you hear  a previously inaudible  moaning from the earth?
Are the
     dead clustering  around us at that  perspicacious  hour?  Are  memories
subconsciously straining in some lonely soul and seeking an expressive song?
...  But you  are overwhelmed by  pity, as  for  someone who is  lost in the
wilderness.... And many moments of decision fall in the untranquil circle of
these evenings.
     "Look, a cormorant's  flying," said Bitt-Boy, "soon it will land on the
water.  Let's  see which ship  it  lands closest  to.  Is  that  all  right,
captains?  Now," he continued after receiving the  approval of  all, "that's
how we'll decide. This very night I'll  pilot whichever one it lands closest
to, if ... as I've said. Well, well, my thick-winged one!"
     At  this our  four captains exchanged glances, and not  even  the devil
himself, the father of fire and  torment, could have sat at the intersection
of  those  glances  without  being  burned through.  One  has  to  know  how
superstitious  sailors  are in  order  to  understand  them  at that moment.
Meanwhile  the  cormorant,  ignorant  of this, described  several  ponderous
figure-eights among the ships and landed right between the President and the
Marianne, so close to  the middle of the distance that Bitt-Boy and everyone
else grinned.
     "The  bird is taking us  both in tow," said Duke. "So well? We'll weave
floormats together, Renior my friend, eh?"
     "Wait!" Chinchar shouted.  "The cormorant can swim, can'uit? Where will
he swim now? An excellent question!"
     "All right, the one to which it swims," agreed Estamp.
     Duke covered his face with his hand, as though he were dozing; however,
secretly he watched  the cormorant malevolently. The  Aramea was lying ahead
of the others, closer to the Felicity. The cormorant headed that way, diving
now  and  then  and  staying  somewhat  closer  to  the  brigan-tine. Estamp
straightened up and his eyes glittered defiantly.
     "There!" was his concise judgment. "Did everyone see?"
     "Yes, yes, Estamp, everyone!"
     "I'm going,"  said  Bitt-Boy, "goodbye  for  now; I'm expected. My dear
captains! The cormorant is a stupid bird, but I swear to you that if I could
have  torn myself  into four I would have done  so.  And  so, farewell! Well
then,  Estamp,  you'll  hear from  me. We'll sail together or ... we'll part
'once and for all', lads."
     He uttered the last words under his breath-and was not clearly heard or
understood.  Three of the  captains were sunk  morosely  into their chagrin.
Estamp had bent over to pick up his pipe, and thus no one caught the  moment
of parting.  Bitt-Boy stood up,  waved his cap,  and walked  quickly  to the
     "Bitt-Boy!" they began to shout after him.
     The pilot did not turn around and hurriedly ran down the steps.
     Now it is time to explain  why this  person served as a living talisman
for people whose profession was, so to speak, "organised risk".
     Contrary  to  minds  that  are  logical and miserly  in their  attitude
towards life, to minds that  have  displayed their tiny, grey flag  over the
majestic  mass   of   the  world,  full  of  unresolved   mysteries-in   the
faint-hearted and  absurd  hope  that  everyone  who came,  astounded, would
direct his steps towards this flag-contrary to that, we say, there are lives
that seem to have assumed the task of making others notice the stirrings and
mysterious  whispers of the unexplored. There are people who move in a black
ring of  pernicious coincidences. Their presence is depressing; their speech
is  filled  with  foreboding; their  proximity brings on misfortune.  On the
other hand, there are certain expressions that are in  everyday use among us
to indicate a different, bright type  of soul. We hear "a sunny person",  or
"he brings luck". However, let us not draw hasty conclusions  or discuss the
trustworthiness  of our own conjectures. The fact is that  in the company of
lucky people the mood is lighter and brighter; they alter the course of  our
personal  events through  the slightest remark, a  gesture, or a hint; their
initiative in our affair indeed insures  success. Sometimes these people are
absentminded and carefree, but more often they are  lively and serious. They
bear one sure mark: simple laughter-laughter because something is funny and
     for no other reason; laughter that is not directed at those present.
     The pilot Bitt-Boy, with  his inexplicable and unerring power, was such
a person. Everything that he  undertook for others invariably came out well,
no  matter  how difficult  the circumstances,  and  sometimes even  with  an
unexpected bonus. No  vessel was wrecked on a voyage when he  piloted it out
of the harbour. The incident that Duke related about Beppo was no invention.
A ship  given  his  personal  counsel  at  parting was  never  subjected  to
epidemics,  attacks,  or  other  dangers;  nobody  on it  fell overboard  or
committed any crimes. Bitt-Boy had a wonderful knowledge of  Zurbagan, Liss,
and Kasset, and of the peninsula's entire coastline, but he did not get lost
even  in little-known channels.  He  had  occasion  to  pilot  ships through
dangerous places in far-off countries where  he  had found himself  only  by
chance and under his hand the rudder always turned in the  right  direction,
as if Bitt-Boy could see the entire bottom with his own eyes. People trusted
him  blindly,  and  he  blindly  trusted  himself.  Let  us  call  it   keen
instinct-what's  the  difference? "Bitt-Boy.  bearer of good fortune"-he was
known by this name everywhere that he had been and worked.
     Bitt-Boy walked  across several  ravines,  skirted the  Prickly 'Pillow
Hotel and set out along a  path that wound among mighty  gardens to a short,
stony street. All the  while he walked with his head lowered in deep reverie
and at times would suddenly grow pale under  the impact of his thoughts.  He
stopped beneath  the shade of trees, near a small house with windows looking
out into the yard, he sighed, straightened up, and walked through a  gate in
the low stone fence.
     Apparently he  was  expected. No sooner  had  he, rustling through  the
grass, crossed the garden and begun to approach  the windows, peering at the
light glowing in  their shadowy depths, than a young girl appeared at one of
the windows brushing the  opened curtain with her shoulder. The sight of the
familiar  figure did not deceive her expectations. She was about to  run off
to  the  doorway, but  after impatiently measuring the  two  distances,  she
returned to the window, jumped through it, and ran to meet Bitt-Boy. She was
about eighteen; two dark braids  under a yellow and violet  scarf fell along
her  graceful neck and almost  her entire body, which  was so  lithe that in
moving and  turning it looked like  a  restless ray of light. Her irregular,
childlike face  with shyly proud eyes held the fascinating  charm of budding
feminine life.
     "Regie, the Queen of Eyelashes,"  said Bitt-Boy between kisses. "If you
don't smother me, I'll have something to remember our evening by."
     "Ours, ours, my dear, my own dear!" said the girl. "Tonight I didn't go
to  bed; after  your letter  I  thought you'd come rushing yourself a minute
     "A  girl should eat and sleep a lot," Bitt-Boy absentmindedly objected.
But he shook off his depression at once. "Did I kiss both eyes?"
     "You didn't kiss either of them, you miser!"
     "No,  I think I  kissed the left  one....  So the  right  eye  must  be
offended. Let me have that little eye...."And he was given it along with its
     But  the essence of such conversations is not in our poor words, and we
well know  that. Try to listen in  on  such  a conversation --  you will feel
sorry, envious,  and  sad:  you  will  see two  souls struggling, trying  to
transmit  their aroma  to  each  other through sounds. Regie  and  Bitt-Boy,
however, continued this conversation to their heart's content. Now they were
sitting on a small garden settee. It grew dark.
     As often happens, silence fell: hearts are full and it is a  signal for
decisions, should they be urgent. Bitt-Boy  felt it was convenient to  begin
speaking about the most important thing, without delay.
     The girl unconsciously helped him.
     "Arrange our wedding, Bitt-Boy. I'm going to have a baby."
     Bitt-Boy roared with  laughter. His awareness of the situation poisoned
it, and he shut it off with a short sigh.
     "Now then," he said in  a different tone, "don't interrupt  me, Regie."
He sensed her growing alarm and began to hurry. "I asked and went everywhere
... there  is no doubt...-- I  can't be  your husband, dear. Oh,  don't start
crying right away! Wait, hear me  out! Can't we be friends? Regie ... silly,
you're  the very best! How could I make you unhappy? I'll  tell  you more: I
only  came to say good-bye! I  love  you  so much that even  a giant's heart
would  burst! My heart's been killed,  it's already been  killed, Regie! And
besides, am I the only man on earth? There are lots of good and  honest men!
No,  no, Regie; listen to  me,  try to  understand everything, agree ... how
could it be otherwise?"
     He  continued to speak for a long time in the same vein,  grinding with
clenched teeth the  painful tears  that had been driven far away,  until his
agitation finally wrought complete confusion in his thoughts.
     He  fell  silent,  worn out physically and morally-he  fell silent, and
kissed the little hands that he forcibly pulled away from her eyes.
     "Bitt-Boy...,"  the sobbing girl began to  speak. "Bitt-Boy,  you're  a
fool, a silly chatterer! Why, you don't know me at all. I wouldn't surrender
you to either misfortune or fear.  You  see.," she continued,  becoming more
and more impassioned, "you're upset ... but I'll calm you ... now, now!" She
took his head and pressed it to her breast. "Lie here calmly, my little one.
Listen-if  things are  bad  for you, I  want them to  be bad for  me too. If
things are good for you, let them be good for me. If you hang yourself, I'll
also hang  myself. We'll  go  halves in all that's bitter,  but give me  the
larger  half. To me you will always be like porcelain, pure.... I don't know
how to convince you: perhaps by dying?"
     She  straightened up  and  thrust  her hand behind  her bodice,  where,
according to the local custom, girls carried a stiletto or small dagger.
     Bitt-Boy  restrained  her.  He  was  silent,  overwhelmed  by  his  new
awareness of a  heart close to his own.  Now  his decision,  which was still
inexorable, took another form.
     "Bitt-Boy,"  continued the girl, under the spell  of her own words  and
deceived by the  unhappy man's depression, "it's wise of  you to keep  quiet
and  listen  to  me."  She  nestled  against  his  shoulder  and  continued:
"Everything will be  all right, believe  me. Here's  what I  think sometimes
when  I  daydream or  get angry at  your absences. We'll have a riding horse
named Bitt-Boy; a dog, Wise; and a cat, Regie. You  will have  no  reason to
leave Liss any  more. You will buy  me new copper kitchenware. I'll smile at
you  absolutely everywhere: in the  company of enemies, friends,  of all who
come; let  everyone  see how  you are loved.  We'll play at  being bride and
groom -- how you wanted to slip  away, you bad boy-but  I won't cry any more.
Then, when you have your own brig we'll sail around  the world  thirty-three
     Her voice sounded  sleepy and nervous, while her eyes kept opening  and
closing. For several minutes she drew a picture of  the imaginary journey in
confused images,  then she pulled her legs  underneath  her to  make herself
comfortable and yawned  gently. Now they were  sailing in a  starlit  garden
above bright underwater flowers.
     "And  there are many seals there, Bitt-Boy. People say that these seals
are nice. They have  human eyes. Don't move, please, it's more peaceful that
way. You wouldn't drown me, would you, Bitt-Boy, because of some ... I don't
know ... Turkish girl  perhaps? You said that I'm the Queen of Eyelashes....
Take them for yourself, dear, take them all, all...."
     The  even  breathing of  sleep reached  Bitt-Boy's  ear. The  moon  was
shining.  Bitt-Boy took a sidelong glance; the eyelashes were resting softly
on her  pale cheeks. Bitt-Boy smiled awkwardly, and then,  concentrating all
his movements  in  an effort at imperceptible smoothness,  he freed himself,
stood up, and lowered the girl's head onto the settee's oilcloth cushion. He
felt  neither dead nor  alive.  However, time was slipping by; the moon  had
risen higher.... Bitt-Boy silently kissed Regie's feet and went out into the
street; in his heart was a stifled scream.
     On his  way to the  harbour he  dropped in at the  Prickly  Pillow  for
several minutes.

     It was about 10:00 p. m. when a boat approached the Felicity and gently
bumped against its side. A lone person was rowing it.
     "Hey, on the brigantine!" rang out the restrained hallo.
     The sailor  on  watch  came to the  side. "Whom do you want?"  he asked
sleepily, peering into the darkness.
     "Judging by the voice I'd say it's you, Reksen. Here's
     "Bitt-Boy! Is it really...." The  sailor raised his lantern to see into
the boat. "What an undreamed of surprise! Have you been in Liss long?"
     "We'll talk later, Reksen. Who's the captain?"
     "You would hardly know him, Bitt-Boy. It's Exquiros, from Columbia."
     "No,  I don't  know him." While the  sailor  hastily  unwound a ladder,
Bitt-Boy stood  in the  middle  of  the boat  deep  in reverie.  "So, you're
gadding about with gold?"
     The sailor laughed.
     "Oh,  no-we're  loaded  with edibles, our own provisions,  and a little
incidental freight for the island of Sandy."
     He lowered the ladder.
     "But as I understand it ... you must have some gold," muttered Bitt-Boy
as he came up onto the deck.
     "We decided on something else, pilot."
     "And you're agreeable?"
     "Yes, things will probably be good this way, I think."
     "Excellent. Is the captain sleeping?"
     "Well, take me to him."
     A light was  shining through a  chink in the  captain's cabin. Bitt-Boy
knocked, opened the door, and strode in rapidly and purposefully.
     He  was dead drunk and as pale as though he were facing a firing squad,
but he had complete  control of himself and held himself amazingly steadily.
Esquiros left his chart, walked up to him, and squinted at the stranger. The
captain was a  middle-aged, tired-looking person, with a slight  stoop and a
sickly yet open and pleasant face.
     "Who are  you? What  brought  you  here?" he asked  without raising his
     "I'm Bitt-Boy, Captain," began the pilot. "Perhaps you've heard of  me,
I'm here...."
     Esquiros interrupted him:
     "You? Bitt-Boy,  'bearer of good  fortune'? People turn around at these
words. I know all about you. Sit down, my friend, here's a cigar and a glass
of wine; and here's' my hand and my gratitude."
     Bitt-Boy sat down, having forgotten for a moment what he wanted to say.
He gradually returned to his senses. He took a swallow,  lit up,  and gave a
forced laugh.
     "Where  will the Felicity be  touching shore?" he asked. "What  is  its
goal in life? Tell me that, Captain."
     Esquiros was not particularly surprised by the direct question. Goals --
or  more  precisely,  intentions-like  those  set by  him  sometimes  induce
frankness.  However, before beginning to speak the captain  walked  back and
forth in order to concentrate.
     "Well,  all right  ...  let's  talk,"  he  began.  "The  sea  sometimes
nourishes strange dispositions, my dear pilot. My disposition will, I think,
seem strange  to you. In the  past I  experienced misfortunes. They couldn't
break me, but thanks to them new and unfamiliar desires were revealed to me,
my outlook was broadened, and the world  became nearer and  more accessible.
It  lures me  to go visiting.  I'm a loner.  I've done all kinds of maritime
work, my  dear pilot, and  was an honest labourer. The  past is well  known.
Moreover I have, and always had, a great need for movement. Thus I have  now
conceived my own  journey. We will deliver thirty barrels of someone  else's
corned beef  to  Rock Sandy; after that we'll lovingly  and attentively sail
around land and sea without any specific plan. To  look in on others' lives,
seek  important  and  significant meetings, never  hurry, sometimes  save  a
fugitive or  take  on board  those who've been shipwrecked;  to stop  in the
flowering gardens of huge rivers, perhaps to put down roots temporarily in a
foreign  land, letting the  anchor  become encrusted with  salt,  and  then,
getting bored,  to tear away once again  and set your sails  to  the wind  --
that's quite nice, isn't it, Bitt-Boy?"
     "I'm listening," said the pilot.
     "My crew is completely new. I did not rush in assembling  it.  After  I
paid off the old one,  I sought out congenial  meetings, talked with people,
and  one by  one I collected  the men  who suited  me. A  crew of thoughtful
people! The privateer is keeping us in Liss. I eluded him the other day, but
only because of the port's proximity. Stay with us, Bitt-Boy, and  I'll give
the order to raise anchor at once! You said that you knew Reksen...."
     "I  know him through the Radius," Bitt-Boy said  with  surprise, "but I
haven't yet said so. I ... was thinking about it."
     Esquiros  did  not  insist  and  explained  the little disagreement  to
himself as resulting from his interlocutor's absentmindedness.
     "So you have confidence in Bitt-Boy?"
     "Perhaps I was unconsciously expecting you, my friend."
     Silence fell.
     "On  the  way then,  Captain!"  Bitt-Boy  said  suddenly in a clear and
hearty voice. "Send a boy over to the Arameawith a note for Estamp."
     He got the note ready and gave it to Esquiros.
     It said:
     "I'm as stupid as the cormorant, my dear Estamp. The 'circumstance' has
occurred. Farewell to everyone: you, Duke, Renior, and Chinchar. From now on
this coast will not see me."
     When he had sent the note, Esquiros shook hands with Bitt-Boy.
     "Let's get under way!" he shouted in a ringing voice,  and his presence
had already become businesslike and commanding. They went out onto the deck.
     In each of their hearts a  different wind was blowing and  singing: the
wind  of  the grave in  Bitt-Boy's, the wind of  movement  in Esquiros!  The
captain  whistled to the boatswain. Before ten minutes had passed, the  deck
was  covered  with  trampling  and the  silhouettes  of shadows cast by  the
lanterns on the stays.  The  vessel awoke in the dark and the sails flapped;
fewer and fewer stars glittered among the  yards; the windlass creaked as it
turned in  circles, and the anchor hawser, slowly hauling the ship to, freed
the anchor from the silt.
     Bitt-Boy took the helm and for the last time turned towards  where  the
Queen of Eyelashes had fallen asleep.
     The Felicity departed with its lights out. Silence and quiet reigned on
the ship.  When he  had left the port's rocky entrance,  Bitt-Boy turned the
helm sharply to  the left and steered the vessel that way for  about a mile,
then  he set course  directly for the east by making virtually a right-angle
turn; next he turned to the right, obeying his instincts. At that point, not
seeing the unfriendly vessel nearby, he again headed east.
     Then  something strange  happened:  there seemed to  be a soundless cry
over his shoulder. He glanced back,  as did  the captain,  who was  standing
near the compass. Behind them a huge blue beam from the coal-black towers of
the cruiser fell on the cliffs of Liss.
     "You're looking  in the wrong place," said Bitt-Boy. "Better  add  some
sails, though, Esquiros."
     That and an increase in the wind quickly took the brigantine, which was
sailing at a speed of twenty knots, about five miles off. Soon they  rounded
the cape.
     Bitt-Boy handed the helm over to the sailor on watch  and went below to
the captain. They uncorked a bottle. On deck the sailors, who had also had a
drink to  their "safe dash", were now singing unrestrainedly, and the  sound
carried into the cabin. They were singing the song of "John Dickey".

     Don't growl, sea, or try to make us quail.
     Dry land frightened us long before this.
     We'll set sail
     Without fail,
     To warm climes' sunny bliss.


     Say, old woman, fill the glasses tall!
     Bottoms up it will be with a clink.
     Strange John Dickey, feigning not at all,
     Drinks for those who themselves don't drink!

     You, dry land, are a vacuous place:
     Growing grey.... Wounded heart... Forgive!
     Such the trace
     That you place,
     Now-farewell and let live!


     Say, old woman, fill the glasses tall!
     Bottoms up it will be with a clink.
     Strange John Dickey, feigning not at all,
     Drinks for those who themselves don't drink!

     Far off glitters the Southern Cross.
     The compass wakes at the first wind squall.
     Lord, preserve
     Ships from loss,
     And have mercy on us all!

     When the cabin boy, who  had gone  to Estamp with the note, came in for
some reason, Bitt-Boy asked him:
     "Did he badger you for a long time, lad?"
     "I didn't say where you were. He stamped his feet and shouted that he'd
hang me from the yardarm, and I ran away."
     Esquiros was lively and cheerful.
     "Bitt-Boy!" he  said. "I  thought of how happy you must be  if  someone
else's luck means nothing at all to you."
     Sometimes a  word has a deadly effect. Bitt-Boy slowly turned pale; his
face became pathetically distorted. The shadow of an inner convulsion passed
over it. He put his glass  on the table, rolled  his jersey up to his  chin,
and unbuttoned his shirt.
     Esquiros  shuddered.  An ugly,  ulcerous  tumour protruded against  the
white skin.
     "Cancer..." he said, sobering.
     Bitt-Boy  nodded  and,  turning away,  began  to  put his  bandage  and
clothing in order. His hands shook.
     Above they were still singing  the same song, but  already for the last
time. A gust  of  wind dispersed the  words of the  last part; all that they
could catch below was:
     "Far off glitters the Southern Cross..." and, after a vague echo, there
came through the door that had been slammed shut from the rolling:
     "...have mercy on us all!"
     The pilot Bitt-Boy, "bearer of good fortune", made out these five words
better and more clearly than anyone else.


Популярность: 10, Last-modified: Thu, 28 Mar 2002 08:24:16 GmT