A FANTASY (translated by Fainna Glagoleva)
     Origin: "Алые паруса"
     Alexander Grin, "The Seeker of Adventure, Selected Stories",
     М., Прогресс, 1978, 484 с.
     OCR: Ivi

     Presented and dedicated to  Nina Nikolayevna Grin
     by the AUTHOR
     November 23,' 1922 Petrograd

     Longren, a  sailor of  the  Orion,  a rugged, three-hundred ton brig on
which he had served for ten years and to which he was attached more strongly
than some sons are to their mothers, was finally forced to give up the sea.
     This is  how it came about. During one of his infrequent visits home he
did  not, as he always  had,  see his wife  Mary from afar,  standing on the
doorstep, throwing up her  hands and then running  breathlessly towards him.
Instead, he found  a distraught neighbour woman by the crib,  a new piece of
furniture in his small house.
     "I  tended her  for three months, neighbour," the  woman  said. "Here's
your daughter."
     Longren's  heart was numb  with  grief  as  he  bent  down  and saw  an
eight-month-old  mite peering  intently at his long beard. Then he sat down,
stared at the floor and began to twirl his moustache. It was wet as from the
     "When did Mary die?" he asked.
     The woman recounted the sad tale, interrupting herself to coo fondly at
the child and assure him that Mary  was now in  Heaven. When Longren learned
the details, Heaven seemed to him not much brighter than the  woodshed,  and
he felt that the light of a plain lamp, were the three of them together now,
would  have  been  a joy unsurpassed to  the woman  who  had gone on to  the
unknown Beyond.
     About three  months previously the young mother's finances  had come to
an abrupt end. At  least half of the money Longren had left her was spent on
doctors  after  her difficult  confinement  and  on  caring for the  newborn
infant; finally, the loss of a small but vital sum had forced Mary to appeal
to Menners  for  a loan. Menners kept a tavern and shop and was considered a
wealthy man. Mary went  to see him at  six  o'clock  in the evening.  It was
close  to seven when the neighbour woman met her  on the road to  Liss. Mary
had been weeping and was very upset. She said she was going to  town to pawn
her wedding ring. Then  she added that Menners had  agreed to  lend her some
money but had demanded her love in return. Mary had rejected him.
     "There's  not  a  crumb in the house," she  had said to the  neighbour.
"I'll go into town. We'll manage somehow until my husband returns."
     It was a cold, windy evening. In vain did the neighbour try to talk the
young  woman  out  of  going to Liss when night was approaching. "You'll get
wet, Mary. It's beginning to rain, and the wind looks as if it will bring on
a storm."
     It was at least a three hours' brisk walk from  the seaside  village to
town,  but  Mary did not heed her neighbour's advice. "I won't be an eyesore
to  you  any more," she said.  "As it is, there's hardly  a family I haven't
borrowed  bread, tea  or  flour from.  I'll pawn my ring, and that will take
care of everything." She went into town, returned and the following day took
to her  bed with a  fever and chills; the rain and  the  evening  frost  had
brought on double pneumonia,  as  the doctor  from town,  called in  by  the
kind-hearted neighbour,  had said. A week later there was an  empty place in
Longren's  double bed, and the neighbour woman moved into his house  to care
for  his daughter. She  was a widow  and all alone in the world, so this was
not a difficult task. "Besides," she added, "the baby fills my days."
     Longren went off to town,  quit  his job, said  goodbye to his comrades
and returned home to raise little Assol. The widow stayed on in the sailor's
house  as a foster mother  to the child until she had learned to  walk well,
but  as  soon as Assol stopped falling when she raised her foot to cross the
threshold,  Longren  declared that from then on he intended to care  for the
child himself and, thanking the woman for her help and kindness, embarked on
a lonely widower's life, focusing all his thoughts, hopes, love and memories
on the little girl.
     Ten years of roaming the seas had not brought him much of a fortune. He
began  to  work.  Soon  the shops in town were offering his toys  for  sale,
finely-crafted  small  model  boats,  launches,  one  and  two-deck  sailing
vessels,  cruisers and steamboats;  in a word,  all that he knew so well and
that,  owing to the nature of the toys, partially made up for the hustle and
bustle of the ports and the adventures of a life at sea. In this way Longren
earned enough to keep them comfortable. He was not a sociable man,  but now,
after his wife's death,  he became  something of a recluse. He was sometimes
seen in a tavern of a holiday, but he would never join anyone and would down
a glass of vodka at the  bar and leave with  a  brief: "yes", "no", "hello",
"goodbye", "getting along",  in reply to all his  neighbours' questions  and
greetings.  He could  not stand visitors  and  would get rid of them without
resorting to force, yet firmly, by hints  and excuses which left  the former
no choice but to invent a reason that prevented them from remaining further.
     He, in turn,  visited no one; thus, a wall of cold estrangement rose up
between him  and  his  fellow-villagers, and if Longren's  work, the toys he
made, had depended  in any way on village affairs, he  would have felt  most
keenly the consequences  of this relationship. He  bought all his wares  and
provisions in town, and Menners could not even boast of a  box of matches he
had sold to Longren. Longren did all his own housework and patiently learned
the difficult art, so unusual for a man, of rearing a girl.
     Assol  was now five, and  her father was beginning to  smile ever  more
gently as he looked upon her sensitive, kind little face when she sat in his
lap and puzzled over the mystery  of his buttoned waistcoat or sang sailors'
chants, those wild,  wind-blown rhymes.  When  sung by a child, with  a lisp
here and there, the chants made one think of a dancing bear with a pale blue
ribbon around its neck.  At about this time something occurred that, casting
its shadow upon the father, shrouded the daughter as well.
     It was spring, an early spring as harsh as winter, but still unlike it.
A biting North off-shore wind whipped across  the cold earth for about three
     The fishing boats, dragged up onto the beach, formed a long row of dark
keels which seemed like the backbones of  some  monstrous fish on  the white
sand. No one dared to venture out to sea in such weather. The single village
street  was  deserted; the cold  whirlwind, racing down from the hills along
the shore and off towards the vacant horizon, made the "open air" a terrible
torture. All the chimneys of Kaperna smoked from dawn till dusk, shaking the
smoke out over the steep roofs.
     However,  the days of the fierce North wind enticed Longren  out of his
cozy little house more often than  did the  sun, which cast its coverlets of
spun gold over the sea and Kaperna  on  a clear day. Longren would go to the
very  end  of the long wooden pier  and there he  would  smoke  his  pipe at
length, the wind carrying off the smoke, and watch  the sandy  bottom, bared
near the shore  when the waves retreated, foam up in grey froth  that barely
caught up with  the waves whose rumbling progress  towards the black, stormy
horizon filled the space between with  flocks of weird, long-maned creatures
galloping off in wild abandon to their distant point of  solace. The moaning
and  the noise, the crashing thunder of the huge, upthrusted masses of water
and  the  seemingly  visible  currents  of  wind  that  whipped  across  the
vicinity--for  so  forceful was  its  unhampered  course  --  produced  that
dulling,  deafening  sensation  in  Longren's tortured soul which,  reducing
grief to undefin-able sadness, is equal in its effect to deep slumber.
     On one  such day  Menners'  twelve-year-old son Hin, noticing  that his
father's boat  was being buffeted against the piles under the pier and  that
its sides were becoming battered, went off  to tell  his father of this. The
storm had but  recently begun; Menners had forgotten to  pull his boat up on
the  sand. He hurried to the beach  where he saw Longren standing at the end
of the pier with his  back  to  him, smoking. There was not another  soul in
sight.  Menners walked halfway along the pier, climbed down  into the wildly
splashing  water and untied his boat; then, standing  upright in it he began
moving towards the shore,  pulling himself along from one pile  to the next.
He had  forgotten  his oars, and as he stumbled  and missed  his hold on the
next pile, a strong gust  of wind pulled the prow of his  boat away from the
pier and  towards the ocean. Now Menners could  not have reached the nearest
pile even  if  he  had  stretched out to his full length.  The  wind and the
waves, rocking the  boat, were carrying it off into  the distance  and doom.
Menners realized  his predicament and wanted to dive into the water and swim
ashore,  but  this  decision was too  late in coming, for  the boat was  now
spinning about  near the  end  of  the pier where the considerable depth and
raging waves promised  imminent death. There  were only about twenty  metres
between  Longren  and  Menners,  who  was being  swept  off  into the stormy
distance, and a rescue was still possible, for a coiled rope with a weighted
end hung on the pier beside Longren. The  rope was there for  any  boat that
might land during a storm and was thrown to the boat from the pier.
     "Longren!" Menners cried in terror. "Don't just  stand there! Can't you
see I'm being carried away? Throw me the line!"
     Longren said nothing  as he gazed calmly upon the frantic man, although
he puffed harder  on his pipe and then, to have a  better  view of what  was
happening, removed it from his mouth.
     "Longren!" Menners pleaded.  "I know you can  hear me. I'll be drowned!
Save me!"
     But Longren said not a word; it seemed as though he had not  heard  the
frantic wail.  He did  not even shift  his weight until  the  boat  had been
carried so far out to sea that Menners' word-cries were barely audible.
     Menners sobbed in terror, he begged the sailor to  run to the fishermen
for help; he promised him a reward, he  threatened and  cursed him,  but all
Longren did  was walk to the very edge of  the pier  so as  not to loose the
leaping, spinning boat from view too soon.
     "Longren, save me!"  The words came  to him  as  they would to  someone
inside a house from someone on the roof.
     Then, filling his lungs with air and taking a deep breath so that not a
single word would be carried away by the wind, Longren  shouted: "That's how
she pleaded with you! Think of  it,  Menners, while you're  still alive, and
don't forget!"
     Then the cries stopped,  and Longren went home.  Assol awakened to  see
her rather sitting lost in thought before the lamp that was now burning low.
Hearing  the  child's voice calling to him, he went over to her,  kissed her
affectionately and fixed the tumbled blanket.
     "Go to sleep, dear. It's still a long way till morning," he said.
     "What are you doing?"
     "I've made a black toy, Assol. Now go to sleep."
     The   next   day  the   village  buzzed   with  the  news  of  Menners'
dissappearance.  Five days  later  he  was brought  back,  dying and full of
malice. His  story  soon reached every village  in the vicinity. Menners had
been in  the open sea  until evening; he had been battered against the sides
and  bottom of the boat during his terrible  battle with the crashing  waves
that  constantly threatened to toss the  raving shopkeeper into  the sea and
was picked  up  by the  Lucretia,  plying  towards Kasset. Exposure and  the
nightmare he had  experienced put an end to Menners' days. He did not live a
full forty-eight hours, calling down upon Longren every calamity possible on
earth and  in  his imagination. Menners'  story of  the sailor  watching his
doom, having refused him help, the more convincing since the dying man could
barely breathe  and kept moaning, astounded the  people of  Kaperna.  To say
nothing of the fact that hardly a one of them would remember  an insult even
greater than the one inflicted upon Longren or to grieve as he was to grieve
for Mary till  the end of his days--they were repulsed,  puzzled and stunned
by Longren's  silence. Longren had stood there  in silence  until those last
words  he had shouted to Menners; he had stood there without moving, sternly
and  silently,  as a judge, expressing  his utter contempt of Menners--there
was something greater than hatred in  his silence and  they all sensed this.
If  he  had  shouted,  expressed  his  gloating through gesture  or bustling
action,  or had in  any other way shown his triumph at the sight of Menners'
despair,  the  fishermen  would  have  understood  him,  but  he  had  acted
differently than they would have --  he had acted impressively and strangely
and had thus placed himself above them -- in a  word, he had done that which
is not forgiven. No longer did anyone salute him in the street or  offer him
his  hand, or cast a  friendly  glance  of recognition and greeting his way.
From  now and to the end he  was  to  remain aloof  from  the affairs of the
village; boys  catching sight of  him  in the  street would shout after him:
"Longren drowned Menners!"  He paid  no attention to this.  Nor  did it seem
that he noticed the  fact that in the tavern or on the beach among the boats
the fishermen would stop talking in his presence and would move away as from
someone who  had the plague.  The Menners' affair had  served  to strengthen
their  formerly  partial  alienation.  Becoming  complete,  it  created   an
unshakeable mutual hatred, the shadow of which fell upon Assol as well.
     The  little  girl  grew  up  without  friends.  The  two or three dozen
children  of her  age in the village, which  was  saturated like a sponge is
with  water  with  the crude law of  family rule, the basis of which is  the
unquestioned  authority of  the parents, imitative like all children  in the
world,  excluded little  Assol once and  for all from  the  circle  of their
protection  and  interest. Naturally, this came about gradually, through the
admonitions and scolding of the adults, and assumed the nature of a terrible
taboo which, increased by idle  talk and rumour, burgeoned in the children's
minds to become a fear of the sailor's house.
     Besides, the secluded life Longren led now gave vent  to the hysterical
tongues  of  gossip; it was implied  that  the sailor had  murdered  someone
somewhere and  that,  they said, was why  he was no  longer signed up on any
ship, and  he was so sullen and  unsociable  because he was "tormented by  a
criminal  conscience". When  playing, the children would chase Assol away if
she came near, they would sling mud at her and taunt her by saying  that her
father ate  human  flesh and was now a counterfeiter. One after another  her
naive  attempts at  making friends ended in bitter tears, bruises, scratches
and  other manifestations  of  public opinion;  she finally stopped  feeling
affronted, but would still sometimes ask her father:
     "Why don't they like us? Tell me."
     "Ah,  Assol,  they don't know how to like  or love. One must be able to
love, and that is something they cannot do."
     "What do you mean by 'be able to'?"
     At which he would swing the child up and fondly kiss her sad eyes which
she would shut tight with sweet pleasure.
     Assol's favourite pastime was to climb up  on her  father's  lap of  an
evening or on  a holiday, when  he had set aside his pots of glue, his tools
and unfinished work and, having  taken off his apron, sat down to rest, pipe
clenched between  his  teeth. Twisting  and  turning within  the  protective
circle  of her father's arm, she would finger the various parts of the tovs,
questioning  him  as  to the  purpose of each. Thus  would begin a peculiar,
fantastic lecture on life and people -- a lecture in which, due to Longren's
former way of life, all sorts  of  chance occurrences and chance in general,
strange, amazing  and  unusual events, were given  a  major role. As Longren
told  his daughter the  names  of the various ropes,  sails  and rigging, he
would gradually become carried away, progressing from simple explanations to
various episodes  in which now a windlass, now  a rudder and now a mast,  or
this or the other  type of craft and such like had played a  part, and  from
these isolated illustrations he  would  go on  to sweeping  descriptions  of
nautical wanderings, interweaving superstition with reality and reality with
images  created by  his  imagination.  Herein appeared  the  tiger cat, that
herald of shipwreck, the talking flying  fish which one had to  obey on pain
of  losing one's course, and the Flying  Dutchman and his wild crew,  signs,
ghosts, mermaids and pirates -- in a word, all the fables that help a sailor
while away the time during a calm spell or in some favourite tavern. Longren
also spoke  of shipwrecked  crews,  of men  who had become  savages  and had
forgotten  how to talk, of mysterious buried treasure, of  convict mutinies,
and  of much else which the  little  girl listened to more raptly  than did,
perhaps, Columbus' first audience to his tale  of a new continent.  "Tell me
more," Assol pleaded when Longren, lost in thought, would  fall  silent, and
she would fall asleep on his breast with a head full of wonderful dreams.
     The  appearance of the clerk from the toy shop in town, which was  glad
to buy whatever  Longren  had  made, was  a  great  and  always a materially
important treat to her. In order to  get  into the father's  good graces and
strike a good bargain, the clerk would bring along a couple of apples, a bun
and  a handfull of nuts  for  the girl. Longren usually  asked for  the true
price of a toy, for he detested  bargaining,  but  the clerk would lower the
price. "Why," Longren  would say, "i1'5 taken me a  week to  make this boat.
(The boat was five inches long.) See how strong and trim it is, and mark the
draught. Why,  it'll hold fifteen men in  a storm." In the end,  the  little
girl's soft murmurings and fussing with  her  apple  would  weaken Longren's
determination and desire to argue;  he would give in,  and the clerk, having
filled  his basket with well-made, excellent  toys, would leave, laughing up
his sleeve.
     Longren did  all  the work about the house  himself: he  chopped  wood,
carried  water, made  the stove,  cooked,  washed  clothes and  ironed  and,
besides, found time  to  earn their keep. When Assol was eight years old her
father taught her to  read  and  write. He  began taking her to town now and
then, and after  a while even sent  her alone if he had to borrow some money
from  the shop  or had  some new toys to deliver. This did not happen often,
although Liss was only four miles from Kaperna, but the road lay through the
forest, and there is  much in a forest that  can frighten a child beside the
actual  physical danger  which,  it  is true,  one would hardly find in such
close  proximity  to a  town, but should  still keep  in mind.  That was why
Longren would let  her go to town alone  only  on fine days, in the morning,
when the woods along the road were filled with  showers of sunshine, flowers
and stillness,  so that Assol's impressionability was not threatened by  any
phantoms conjured up by her imagination.
     One day, in the middle of such a journey to town, the child sat down by
the roadside to  have a  bun she  had brought  along  for her  lunch. As she
munched on the bun she picked up each toy in turn; two or  three were new to
her: Longren had  made them during the  night. One of  the  new toys  was  a
miniature racing  yacht; the little white  craft had  crimson  sails made of
scraps of silk which Longren used to cover the cabin  walls in toys intended
for wealthy customers. Here, however, having completed the yacht, he had not
found any suitable cloth for the sails and had used what had come to hand --
some scraps of crimson silk.  Assol  was  delighted.  The  flaming, cheerful
colour burned so  brightly in  her hand she fancied  she was holding fire. A
stream straddled by a little bridge of nailed poles crossed the road; to the
right  and left  the stream flowed off into the  forest. "If I put it in the
water for  just  a little while it won't get  wet," Assol was thinking, "and
then I can wipe it dry." She went off downstream into the forest a ways, and
carefully placed the boat  that had caught her fancy into the  stream at the
water's  edge;  the  clear  water immediately  reflected the crimson  of the
sails; the light streaming  through the cloth  lay as a shimmering pink glow
upon the white stones of the bottom. "Where'd you come from, Captain?" Assol
inquired in a  most serious voice of  an imaginary character  and, answering
her own  question,  replied,  "I've come from.... from ... from China." "And
what have  you brought?" "That's something  I shan't tell you." "Oh, so  you
won't, Captain? Well then, back into the basket you go." Just as the captain
was about to repent and say  he had only been teasing, and would gladly show
her  an elephant,  the  mild  backlash of a wave that had washed against the
bank turned the yacht's bow into the stream and, like a real vessel, it left
the  bank at full  speed and  sailed off with  the current. The scale of her
surroundings changed instantly: the stream now seemed like a great river  to
the  child,  and the  yacht a  large,  distant vessel  towards which, nearly
falling into the water, she  stretched forth her hands in dumb  terror. "The
captain  got  frightened,"  she decided and  ran after the disappearing toy,
hoping that it  would be washed up on the bank farther on.  As  she hastened
along,  dragging  the light but  cumbersome  basket, Assol  kept  repeating,
"Goodness!  How could it have happened? What an accident...."  Trying not to
lose sight of the beautiful triangle  of the sails that was  drifting off so
gracefully, she stumbled, fell, and ran on again.
     Never before had Assol ventured so far into the woods. Being completely
absorbed by an  impatient  desire to  catch up  with the  toy,  she  paid no
attention to  her surroundings; there were more than enough obstacles on the
bank  to claim  her attention as she scurried along.  Mossy trunks of fallen
trees, pits,  tall-standing ferns,  briar roses,  jasmine  and  hazel bushes
blocked  her  every step;  in  overcoming them she gradually tired, stopping
ever more often to catch her breath or brush a wisp  of clinging cobweb from
her face. When, in the wider stretches, there appeared thickets of sedge and
reeds, Assol nearly lost  sight of the crimson-gleaming  sails, but hurrying
round a bend she would catch sight of them again, running with the  wind  so
majestically  and  steadfastly. Once she looked back, and the great  mass of
the  forest with its many hues, changing  from the hazy columns  of light in
the leaves to the  dark slashes of dense gloom,  astounded her. For a moment
she became  frightened, but then recalled the  toy and,  letting out several
deep "phew's", ran on as fast as she could.
     Nearly an hour passed  in this futile and frantic chase, and then Assol
was surprised and relieved to see the trees part widely up ahead, letting in
a  blue expanse of sea,  clouds and  the edge  of  a sandy yellow bluff onto
which she came running, nearly dropping from exhaustion.  This was the mouth
of the little river; spreading here, not broadly, and shallowly, so that the
streaming blue of the rocks on the bottom could be seen, it disappeared into
the oncoming waves of the sea. Standing at the edge of the low, root-gnarled
bluff, Assol saw a man sitting on a large, flat stone by the stream with his
back to her, holding the runaway yacht and turning it in his hands  with the
curiosity of an elephant that had caught a butterfly. Somewhat calmed by the
sight of  the rescued  toy, Assol slid down the slope,  came  up  beside the
stranger and  studied him  closely while waiting for him to raise his  head.
However,  the stranger  was so absorbed  in examining the  forest's surprise
that the  child had a chance to inspect him from head to toe, deciding  that
never before had she ever seen anyone like him.
     The man was in  fact  Egle, the well-known  collector of songs, legends
and  fairy-tales,  who was  on a walking tour. His grey locks  fell in waves
from under his  straw hat; his grey blouse tucked into his blue trousers and
his  high boots  made  him  look  like  a  hunter;  his  white collar,  tie,
silver-studded  belt,  walking stick  and  leather  pouch  with  the  shiny,
nickel-plated buckle showed him  to be a  city-dweller. His face, if one can
call a face a nose, lips and eyes that peep out of a bushy, spiked beard and
luxuriant,   fiercely  twirled  moustache,   would  have   seemed   flabbily
translucent, if not for the eyes that were  as grey as sand and  as shiny as
pure steel, with a gaze that was bold and powerful.
     "Now give it back," the  little girl said timidly.  "You've played with
it long enough. How did you catch it?"
     Egle looked up and  dropped  the yacht,  for Assol's excited voice  had
broken the stillness so unexpectedly. For a moment the old man gazed at her,
smiling and  slowly  running his beard through his  large,  curled hand.  An
oft-washed  little  cotton  dress  just  barely  covered  the girl's skinny,
sunburned  knees.  Her  thick dark hair tied up in  a lace kerchief had  got
undone  and fell  to  her  shoulders.  Every  one of  Assol's  features  was
finely-chiselled and as  delicate  as a swallow's  flight. There was  a sad,
questioning  look  in her dark eyes  which seemed  older than  her face; its
irregular  oval  was touched with the lovely sunburn peculiar to  a  healthy
whiteness  of the  skin. Her small parted  lips were  turned up  in a gentle
     "I swear by the Brothers Grimm, Aesop and Andersen," Egle said, looking
from the  girl  to  the yacht, "that there's  something  very  special here!
Listen, you, flower! This is yours, isn't it?"
     "Yes. I ran all the way down along the stream after  it; I thought  I'd
die. Did it come here?"
     "Right to my feet. The shipwreck has made it possible for me, acting as
an off-shore pirate, to present you with this prize. The yacht, abandoned by
its crew, was tossed up on the beach by a three-inch wave -- landing between
my left heel  and  the tip of my stick."  He thumped his stick. "What's your
name, child?"
     "Assol," the girl replied, tucking the toy Egle had handed her into the
     "That's fine." The old man continued  his obscure  speech, never taking
his eyes, in the depths of  which a kindly,  friendly chuckle glinted,  from
her. "Actually, I shouldn't have asked you your  name. I'm glad it's such an
unusual one, so sibilant  and musical,  like  the whistle of an arrow or the
whispering of a seashell; what  would I have done if your  name had been one
of  those pleasant but terribly common names which are so alien to  Glorious
Uncertainty? Still less do I care to know who you are, who your parents are,
or what sort of life  you lead. Why break the spell? I  was sitting here  on
this stone comparing Finnish and Japanese story plots ... when  suddenly the
stream washed up this  yacht, and then  you appeared. Just as you are. I'm a
poet at heart, my dear, even though I've never  written anything.  What's in
your basket?"
     "Boats," Assol  said, shaking the basket, "and a  steamship,  and three
little houses with flags. Soldiers live in them."
     "Excellent.  You've been sent to sell them.  And on the way you stopped
to  play.  You let the yacht sail about a bit, but it ran off  instead. Am I
     "Were you  watching?"  Assol  asked doubtfully as  she tried  to recall
whether she had not told him  about it  herself. "Did  somebody tell you? Or
did you guess?"
     "I knew it."
     "Because I'm the greatest of all magicians."
     Assol  was embarrassed; the tension she felt at  these  words of Egle's
overstepped fear. The deserted beach, the stillness, the tiring adventure of
the yacht,  the strange speech of the old  man with the glittering eyes, the
magnificence of his beard and hair now seemed  to the child as a brew of the
supernatural  and reality.  If Egle had  grimaced or shouted now,  the child
would  have raced off,  weeping and faint from fear.  However, upon noticing
how wide her eyes had grown, Egle made a sharp turn.
     "You've no reason to be afraid of me," he said in  a serious voice. "On
the contrary, I want to have a heart-to-heart talk with you."
     Now at last did he see what  it was in her face that had struck him so.
"An unwitting expectation of the beautiful, of a blissful fate," he decided.
"Ah, why wasn't I born a writer? What a wonderful theme for a story."
     "Now then," Egle continued, trying to round  off his original thesis (a
penchant for myth-making--the  result of his everyday work--was greater than
the fear  of tossing seeds of great  dreams  upon  unknown soil), "now then,
Assol,  listen carefully.  I've  just  been in  the village you are probably
coming from;  in  a word,  in  Kaperna. I like fairy-tales and  songs, and I
spent  the  whole  day in that village  hoping to hear something no one  had
heard before. But no one in these parts tells fairy-tales. No one here sings
songs. And if they do  tell stories and sing songs, you know, they are tales
about conniving peasants  and soldiers, with the  eternal praise of roguery,
they  are  as filthy  as unwashed feet and  as crude as  a rumbling stomach,
these  short, four-line ditties  sung to a terrible tune....  Wait, I've got
carried away. I'll start again."
     He was silent for a while and then continued thus:
     "I  don't know how many  years will pass, but a fairy-tale will blossom
in Kaperna and will  remain in  the minds of  the people for long. You'll be
grown-up then, Assol. One  morning a crimson sail will  gleam in the  sun on
the far horizon. The shimmering  pile of  crimson sails on a white ship will
head straight  towards  you, cutting through the  waves. This wonderful ship
will sail in silently; there will be  no shouting or  salvoes; a great crowd
will gather on the  beach. Everyone will be amazed and astounded; and you'll
be  there,  too. The ship will sail majestically up to the very shore to the
strains of beautiful  music; a  swift boat decked out  in rugs,  flowers and
gold  will  be lowered from  the  ship.  "Why have you come?  Whom  are  you
searching for?" the  people  on the beach  will say. Then you'll see a brave
and handsome prince; he'll be standing there  and stretching forth his hands
towards  you. "Hello, Assol!" he'll say. "Far, far away  from here I saw you
in a dream and  have come to take you away  to  my kingdom forever. You will
live  with  me there  in a deep rose valley.  You shall have everything your
heart desires; we shall be  so happy  together your soul will never know the
meaning of tears or sadness." He'll take you into his boat, bring you to the
ship, and you'll sail away forever to a glorious land where the sun comes up
and where  the  stars will  descend  from  the sky  to greet  you upon  your
     "And will it all be for me?" the girl asked softly.
     Her  grave  eyes  became  merry  and shone  trustingly.  Obviously,  no
dangerous magician would ever speak thus; she came closer.
     "Maybe it's already come ... that ship?"
     "Not so fast," Egle  objected.  "First, as I've said, you  have to grow
up. Then ... what's the use of talking? It  will be, and that's all there is
to it. What will you do then?"
     "Me?" She  looked into the basket but apparently did  not find anything
there worthy of  being  a suitable reward. "I'd love him,"  she said quickly
and then added rather hesitantly, "if he won't fight."
     "No,  he won't,"  the magician said, winking at  her  mysteriously. "He
won't. I can vouch for  it.  Go, child, and don't forget what  I've told you
between  two  sips  of  flavoured  vodka and my  musings  over the  songs of
convicts. Go. And may there be peace for your fluffy head!"
     Longren was  working  in his small  garden, hilling  the potato plants.
Raising his  head, he  saw Assol, who was running towards him with a joyous,
impatient look on her face.
     "Listen..." she  said,  trying  to  control  her  rapid  breathing  and
clutching her father's apron with  both  hands. "Listen to what I'm going to
tell you.... On the beach there, far away, there's a magician...."
     She began  her tale by telling  him  of the magician and his  wonderful
prophesy. Her  excitement  made  it  hard  for  her  to  recount  the events
coherently.  She  then proceeded  to describe  the magician  and, in reverse
order, her chase after the runaway yacht.
     Longren listened to  her story  without once interrupting and without a
smile, and when she  ended it his imagination  quickly conjured up a picture
of the stranger,  an old man holding a flask of flavoured  vodka in one hand
and  the  toy in the other. He turned away,  but recalling that at momentous
times  of a  child's  life one had to be serious and amazed, nodded solemnly
and uttered:
     "I  see.... It  looks like he really is a magician. I'd like to have  a
look at him.... But when you go again, don't turn off the road: it's easy to
get lost in the woods."
     He laid aside his  hoe, sat down  by  the low wattle fence and took the
child  onto his  lap. She was terribly  tired  and  tried to  add a few more
details, but the heat, excitement  and exhaustion  made her drowsy. Her lids
drooped,  her head leaned against her father's hard shoulder, and in another
instant she would  have been carried off to the Land of  Nod, when abruptly,
perturbed  by sudden doubt, Assol sat up straight with  her eyes still  shut
and, thrusting her little fists at Longren's waistcoat, exclaimed:
     "Do you think the magical ship will really come for me?"
     "It'll come," the sailor replied calmly. "If you've been told  it will,
it means it will."
     "She'll  forget  all about it  by the time  she grows up," he  said  to
himself, "and, meanwhile ... one should not take  such a  toy  from you. You
will see so many  sails in  the  future, and they  will not be crimson,  but
filthy and treacherous: from afar they'll seem gleaming and white, but  from
close-up they'll  be ragged  and brazen. A  traveller  chose to jest with my
girl. So  what? It was a kindly jest! It was a good jest!  My, how tired you
are,-- half a day spent in the woods, in the heart of the forest. As for the
crimson sails, think of them as I do: you will have your crimson sails."
     Assol slept. Longren took out his pipe  with his free hand, lit it, and
the wind carried  the smoke  off  through  the fence  into  a bush that grew
outside  the  garden.  Sitting by the bush with his  back  to  the fence and
chewing  on  a  slice  of  meat  pie  was  a  young  beggar.  The  overheard
conversation between the father and daughter had put him in a cheerful mood,
and the smell of good tobacco had awakened the sponger in him.
     "Give a poor man  a smoke, sir," he said,  speaking  through the fence.
"Compared to yours, my tobacco is pure poison."
     "I'd certainly give you some," Longren replied in an undertone, "but my
pouch is in my other pocket. And I don't want to waken my daughter."
     "What a disaster, indeed! She'll  wake  up and go right  back to  sleep
again, but you'll have given a wayfarer a smoke."
     "It's  not  as if you were all out of tobacco,"  Longren retorted, "and
the child's exhausted. Come by later, if you wish."
     The beggar spat in disgust, hung his sack on his stick and sneered:
     "Naturally, she's  a  princess. Filling her  head  with  all  sorts  of
fairy-tale ships! You really are a queer fish, and you a man of property!"
     "Listen," Longren whispered, "I think I will waken her,  but it'll only
be because I'll be bashing your face in. Now get going!"
     Half an hour later the beggar was seated in a tavern in  the company of
a dozen fishermen.  Sitting behind them, now tugging at a  husband's sleeve,
now stretching  a hand over a shoulder to  reach for  a  glass of vodka--for
themselves, naturally--were some  buxom women with shaggy brows. The muscles
of their  arms  were as  big as  paving stones. The beggar,  fuming from the
affront, was relating his tale:
     "...and  he wouldn't give me a smoke. 'Now when you get to  be of age,'
he  says, 'a  special red ship'll  come for you.  That's on account  of  how
you're fated to marry a prince. And,' he says, 'you mind what that  magician
said.' But I say, 'Go on, wake her up, so's you can reach over  and get your
pouch.' And, you know, he chased me halfway down the road."
     "What?  Who?  What's  he talking about?"  the  women's  curious  voices
     The fishermen turned their heads slightly to tell  them what it was all
about, smiling wryly as they did:
     "Longren  and  his  daughter  have  become  wild as animals, and  maybe
they're even  touched in  the  head,  that's what  the man  here's saying. A
sorcerer came to see them, he says. And now they're waiting--ladies, see you
don't miss your chance! -- for a prince from some foreign land, and he'll be
sailing under crimson sails to boot!"
     Three  days later,  as Assol  was returning  home from the toy shop  in
town, she first heard the taunts:
     "Hey, you gallows-bird! Assol! Look  over here! See  the  crimson sails
coming in!"
     The child started and involuntarily shielded her eyes as  she gazed off
towards  the sea. Then  she turned back to where the shouting had come from;
twenty feet  away she saw  a group of children;  they were making faces  and
sticking their tongues out at her.  The  little girl sighed and  hurried off

     If Caesar considered that it was better to be  the first in  a  village
than the second in Rome, Arthur  Gray did  not have to envy Caesar as far as
his sagacious  wish was concerned. He was born a captain, desired to be one,
and became one.
     The  great  manor  in  which  Gray  was  born  was  sombre  inside  and
magnificent  without.  The manor looked on flower gardens and a part of  the
park.  The  very best  imaginable tulips  -- silver-blue, lavender and black
with  a  brush  of  pink  --  snaked  through  the  garden like  strings  of
carelessly-strewn beads.  The old trees in the park slumbered in the sifting
gloom above the  sedge of  a meandering  stream. The castle fence,  for  the
manor was actually a castle, was made of spiral cast-iron posts connected by
iron  grillwork. Each  post  was  crowned  by  a  cast-iron lily blossom; on
festive occasions the cups were filled with oil and burned brightly into the
night as a far-stretching, fiery line.
     Gray's  parents were arrogant slaves of their  social position,  wealth
and  the laws of that society, referring to  which they could  say "we". The
part  of  their souls that was centred on the gallery of  their ancestors is
not really worth describing, while the other part--an imaginary continuation
of the gallery--began with little Gray,  who was preordained to live out his
life  and die in  such  a manner  as to have his portrait hung  on  the wall
without  detriment  to the  family honour. A  small error had crept into the
plan, however: Arthur Gray was born with a lively spirit, and was in  no way
disposed to continue the line of the family tracing.
     This liveliness,  this  complete  unorthodoxy in  the  boy  became most
evident in his eighth year; a knightly type affected by strange impressions,
a  seeker and miracle worker, that is,  a person who had chosen from amongst
the countless roles in life the most dangerous and touching one--the role of
Providence, became apparent in Gray
     from the time he pushed a chair up against the wall to reach a painting
of the Crucifixion and  removed the nails  from Christ's  bloody hands, that
is, he  simply covered them over with blue paint he had stolen from a  house
painter.  Thus  altered, he found the  painting to be more bearable. Carried
away by this strange occupation, he had begun covering over Christ's feet as
well, but  was surprised by his father.  The old man jerked  the boy off the
chair by his ears and asked:
     "Why have you ruined the painting?"
     "I haven't ruined it."
     "It is the work of a famous painter."
     "I don't care. I  can't allow nails  to  be sticking  out of  someone's
hands, making them bleed. I don't want it to be."
     Hiding  his  smile in his moustache, Lionel Gray recognized himself  in
his son's reply and did not punish him.
     Gray diligently went about  studying  the  castle, and  his discoveries
were  amazing. Thus, in the attic he came upon a knight's steel armour-junk,
books bound in iron and  leather, crumbling vestments and flocks of pigeons.
In the cellar, where the  wine was kept,  he gleaned interesting information
about Laffitte,  Madeira and sherry. Here in the  murky light of the  lancet
windows  that  were squeezed in between the slanting  triangles of the stone
vaults there were large and small casks; the largest, in the shape of a flat
circle, took up all of  the shorter wall of the cellar; the hundred-year-old
black oak of the cask gleamed like  highly-polished wood. Paunchy  green and
dark-blue bottles  rested in  wicker baskets among the casks. Grey fungi' on
spindly   stalks  grew   on   the   stones   and  on  the   earthen   floor;
everywhere--there was mould, moss dampness and a sour, stuffy smell. A great
cobweb glittered like gold in a far  corner when, towards evening, the sun's
last ray searched it out. Two casks  of the finest  Alicant  that existed in
the  days  of Cromwell were  sunk into  the  ground  in  one  spot,  and the
cellar-keeper, pointing out a vacant corner to Gray, did not miss the chance
to recount the story of the famous grave in  which lay a dead  man more live
than a pack of fox terriers. As he  began his  tale,  the story-teller would
never forget to  check on the  spigot of the large  cask and would walk away
from it  apparently with an easier heart, since unwonted tears of too-strong
joy glistened in his suddenly merry eyes.
     "Now then," Poldichoque would say  to  Gray, sitting down  on an  empty
crate and putting a pinch of snuff up his sharp nose, "do you see that spot?
The  kind of wine  that's  buried there would  make many a drunkard agree to
having his  tongue cut off if he'd  be given just a little glass of it. Each
cask holds a  hundred litres of a substance that makes your soul explode and
your body turn into a blob of dough. It's darker than a cherry, and it won't
pour  out of a bottle. It's as  thick as heavy cream. It's  locked  away  in
casks of  black  oak that're as  strong as  iron. They  have  double rows of
copper hoops.  And the  lettering on the hoops is in Latin and says, 'A Gray
will drink me when  he'll be  in Heaven.' There  were so many opinions as to
what  it means that your greatgrandfather, Simeon Gray, had a country estate
built and  named it 'Heaven' and thought in  that way he could reconcile the
mysterious inscription and reality by means  of some harmless  wit. And what
do you  know? He  died of a  heart attack as soon as  the first  hoops  were
knocked  off.  That's  how excited  the  old  gourmet  was. Ever since  then
nobody's as much as touched the cask. They say the precious wine will  bring
misfortune. Indeed, not even  the Egyptian  Sphinx asked such riddles. True,
it did ask  a sage: 'Will I devour you  like I devour everyone else? Tell me
the  truth,  and  you'll  live', but  only  after giving  it some  concerted
     "I  think  the  spigot's  leaking  again,"   Poldichoque   would   say,
interrupting  himself,  and would head at  a  slant towards  the corner from
whence, having tightened the spigot, he  would return with a  bland, beaming
face. "Yes.  After giving  it some thought  and, most important, taking  his
time about it,  the sage might have said to the Sphinx: 'Let's go and have a
drink, my  good fellow, and you'll forget all about such nonsense.'  'A Gray
will drink me when he's in Heaven!'  How's one to understand that?  Does  it
mean he'll drink it after he's dead? That's very strange. Which means he's a
saint, which means he doesn't  drink either wine or spirits. Let's say  that
'Heaven' means happiness. But if the question
     is posed  like that, any joy will lose half of  its shiny leathers when
the  happy fellow has to ask  himself  sincerely: is this Heaven? That's the
rub. In  order to drink from this cask with an easy heart and laugh, my boy,
really laugh, one has  to have one foot on the ground  and the other  in the
sky. There's also a  third  theory: that  one day  a Gray will  get heavenly
drunk and will brazenly empty the little cask.  However, this, my boy, would
not be carrying out the prophesy, it would be a tavern row."
     Having checked once again on the working order of the spigot in the big
cask, Poldichoque ended his story looking glum and intent:
     "Your ancestor, John Gray, brought these casks  over from Lisbon on the
Beagle  in 1793;  he paid  two  thousand  gold piasters  for  the wine.  The
gunsmith Benjamin Ellian from Pondisherry did the inscription on the  casks.
The casks are sunk six feet underground and covered with the  ashes of grape
vines. No one ever drank this wine, tasted it, or ever will."
     "I'll drink  it," Gray  said one day, stamping  his foot. "What a brave
young man!" Poldichoque said. "And will you drink it in Heaven?"
     "Of course!  Here's Heaven! It's  here, see?"  Gray  laughed softly and
opened his small  fist. His delicate but well-formed palm was lit up by  the
sun, and  then  the boy curled  his fingers into a fist again.  "Here it is!
It's here, and now it's gone again!"
     As he  spoke  he  kept clenching and  unclenching his  fist.  At  last,
pleased  with his  joke,  he ran out, ahead  of  Poldichoque,  onto the dark
stairway leading to the ground floor corridor. Gray was absolutely forbidden
to  enter the kitchen, but once,  having  discovered this wonderful world of
flaming  hearths  and soot,  this hissing  and bubbling  of boiling liquids,
chopping  of  knives and  mouth-watering smells, the boy became  a  diligent
visitor  to the great chamber. The chefs  moved in  stony silence  like some
high priests; their white hats etched against the  soot-blackened walls lent
an air of  solemn ritual to  their movements; the fat, jovial dishwashers at
their barrels of  water scrubbed the tableware, making the china and  silver
ring; boys  came  in, bent  under the  weight  of baskets  of fish, oysters,
lobsters and fruit.  Laid out on  a long table were rainbow-hued  pheasants,
grey ducks  and brightly-feathered chickens; farther on was the carcass of a
suckling pig with  a tiny tail and eyes  shut like a babe's; then there were
turnips, cabbages, nuts, raisins and sun-burnished peaches.
     Gray  always quailed slightly in the kitchen: he felt that some strange
force was in charge here, and  that its power was the mainspring of life  in
the castle; the shouts sounded like orders and invocations; the movements of
the  kitchen  staff  after  years of  practice  had acquired  that  precise,
measured rhythm that seems like inspiration. Gray was not yet tall enough to
peep into the largest cauldron which bubbled like Mt. Vesuvius, but  he felt
a special respect for it; he watched in awe as two serving women handled it;
at such times steaming froth would splash out onto the top of the stove, and
the  steam that rose  from  the hissing stove lid would billow out  into the
kitchen. On  one occasion so much liquid splashed  out it scalded one of the
kitchen  maid's hands. The  skin  immediately  turned red from  the rush  of
blood,  and  Betsy (for that  was her name) wept as she rubbed oil  into the
burned skin. Tears coursed down her round, frightened face uncontrollably.
     Gray  was  petrified.  As the other  women fussed about  Betsy, he  was
suddenly gripped by the  pain of another person's suffering which  he  could
not himself experience.
     "Does it hurt very much?" he asked.
     "Try it, and you'll see," Betsy replied, covering  her  hand  with  her
     The boy  frowned  and climbed  up onto  a stool,  dipped a long-handled
spoon  into the hot liquid (in this case it was lamb soup) and splashed some
onto his  wrist. The sensation  was not faint,  but the faintness  resulting
from the sharp pain made him sway.  He was as pale  as flour when he went up
to Betsy, hiding his scalded hand in his pants pocket.
     "I think  it hurts you awfully," he murmured, saying nothing of his own
experiment. "Come to the doctor, Betsy. Come on!"
     He tugged at her skirt insistently, though all  the while the believers
in home remedies were giving the girl all sorts of
     advice for treating the burn. However, she was in very great  pain, and
so  she  followed  Gray.  The  doctor relieved  her  pain by  applying  some
medication. Not before Betsy was gone did Gray show him his own hand.
     This insignificant episode made twenty-year-old  Betsy and ten-year-old
Gray bosom  friends. She would fill  his pockets with sweets and apples, and
he would tell  her fairy-tales and other stories he  had read in his  books.
One day he discovered that Betsy  could not marry  Jim,  the groom,  because
they had no money to set themselves up in a home of their own. Gray used his
fireplace tongs to  crack  his china piggy-bank and  shook out the contents,
which  amounted  to nearly a hundred  pounds.  He  rose early,  and when the
dowerless girl went off to the kitchen, sneaked into her room and placed his
gift in her chest, laying a  note on  top:  "This is yours,  Betsy. (Signed)
Robin Hood." The commotion this caused in the kitchen was so great that Gray
had to confess to the deed. He did  not take the money back and did not want
to have another word said about it.
     His mother was one of those people whom  life pours into a ready mould.
She lived  in the dream-world  of prosperity that provided for every wish of
an ordinary soul;  therefore, she  had no  other  occupation  save  to order
around  her  dressmakers,  doctor and butler.  However,  her passionate  and
ail-but  religious attachment for her  strange child was,  one might assume,
the only vent for those of her  inclinations, chloroformed by her upbringing
and fate, which were no longer  fully alive, but simmered  faintly,  leaving
the will idle. The high-born dame resembled a peacock hen that had hatched a
swan's  egg. She was quiveringly aware of the  magnificent uniqueness of her
son; sadness, love and constraint filled  her being when she pressed the boy
to  her breast,  and  her  heart spoke  unlike her  tongue, which habitually
reflected the  conventional types  of  relationships  and ideas. Thus does a
cloud  effect,  concocted  so  weirdly by  the  sun's  rays,  penetrate  the
symmetrical interior of a public building, divesting it of its banal merits;
the eye sees but does not recognize  the chamber;  the mysterious nuances of
light amongst paltriness create a dazzling harmony.
     The high-born dame, whose face and figure, it seemed, could respond but
in  icy  silence to the  fiery  voices  of life  and  whose  delicate beauty
repelled rather than attracted, since one sensed her haughty effort of will,
devoid of feminine attraction -- this same Lillian Gray, when alone with the
boy, was transformed into  an ordinary mother speaking in a  loving,  gentle
voice those endearments which refuse  to be committed  to paper; their power
lies  in  the emotions, not in their meaning. She  was positively  unable to
refuse  her son anything.  She forgave him  everything:  his  visits  to the
kitchen, his  abhorrence  of  his lessons, his  disobedience  and  his  many
     If he did not want the trees to be trimmed they were left untouched; if
he asked that someone be pardoned or rewarded -- the person in question knew
that it would be so; he  could ride any horse  he  wished, bring any dog  he
wished into  the  castle, go  through  the books in the  library, run around
barefoot and eat whatever he pleased.
     His father tried to  put a stop to this and finally yielded --  not  to
the principle,  but  to his wife's wishes. He  merely had  all the servants'
children  moved out of the  castle,  fearing  that by  associating with  low
society the boy's whims would become inclinations that would be difficult to
eradicate.  In  general, he  was  completely  taken up  with endless  family
lawsuits whose origins went back to the era  of  the founding  of the  first
paper mills and whose  end  perhaps  lay in  the death of the last caviller.
Besides,  there  were  affairs of state, the running  of  his  own  estates,
dictating  his  memoirs,  fox-hunts, newspapers  to be read  and an extended
correspondence to keep him at a  certain  distance inwardly from the rest of
the family; he saw his son so infrequently that  he  would sometimes  forget
how old the boy was.
     Thus,  Gray  lived  in  a  world   of   his  own.  He  played   all  by
himself--usually in the back yards of the castle which had once, in times of
yore, been of strategic use. These vast, empty lots with the remains of deep
moats  and moss-covered  stone cellars were  overgrown with weeds,  nettles,
briars, blackthorn and shy bright  wildflowers. Gray would spend hours here,
exploring mole  burrows, battling weeds,  stalking butterflies  and building
fortresses of broken bricks, which he then shelled with sticks and stones.
     He was going on twelve  when all the implications of his  soul, all the
separate traits of his  spirit and shades of secret  impulses  were  brought
together  in a single  powerful  surge  and, having in this way  acquired  a
harmonious expression, became an indomitable desire. Until then he seemed to
have  found  but  disparate parts  of his  garden--a sunny spot,  shadow,  a
flower, a great dark trunk--in the many  other gardens and suddenly saw them
clearly, all -- in magnificent, astonishing accord.
     This happened in the library. The  tall door topped by a murky fanlight
was usually locked, but the latch fit  the mortise loosely and when  pressed
hard, the door  would give, buckle and open.  When  the spirit  of adventure
urged Gray to make  his way into the library  he  was  amazed  at the  dusty
light, whose effect and peculiarity  were  created by the coloured design of
the leaded fanlight. The stillness of desertion lay upon everything  here as
on  water  in  a pond. Here and there dark rows of  bookcases  adjoined  the
windows,  blocking  them halfway;  there  were aisles  between the bookcases
which were piled high with  volumes.  Here was an open album  from which the
centre  pages had slipped out; over  there  were some scrolls tied with gold
cord, stacks of  sombre-looking books,  thick layers of manuscripts, a mound
of miniature  volumes which cracked like bark if they were opened; here were
charts and tables, rows of  new editions, maps; a great variety of bindings,
coarse, fine, black, mottled, blue, grey, thick, thin, rough and smooth. The
bookcases  were  packed  with  books.  They  seemed  like  walls  which  had
encompassed life  itself  within  their  bulk. The  glass  of  the bookcases
reflected  other bookcases covered with colourless, shimmering  spots.  On a
round table  was a huge globe encased by a brass  spherical cross  formed by
the equator and a meridian.
     Turning to the exit,  Gray saw a huge  painting above  the  door  whose
images immediately filled the rigid silence of the library. The painting was
of a clipper  rising upon the crest  of a tremendous wave. Foam coursed down
its side. It was depicted at the very last moment of its upward  flight. The
ship was sailing straight  at  the viewer. The rearing bowsprit obscured the
base  of the masts. The crest of the great wave, rent by the keel, resembled
the wings of  a huge bird. Foam streaked off  into the air. The  sails,  but
vaguely  discernible  behind the  forecastle deck  and above  the  bowsprit,
swollen  by  the  raging  force of  the  storm, were  bearing back in  their
enormity, in order to, having gained the crest, righten themselves and then,
tilting over the void, speed  the vessel on towards new billows. Low, ragged
clouds swirled over the ocean. The  dim light struggled vainly  against  the
approaching darkness of  night.  However,  the  most striking  aspect of the
painting was  the  figure of a man standing on the  forecastle deck with his
back to the  viewer. It fully conveyed  the situation and even the nature of
the moment. The man's pose  (he had spread his legs  far apart and flung out
his arms) did not actually indicate what he was doing, but led one to assume
attention  strained to  the extreme and directed  towards something on  deck
invisible to  the viewer. The hem of his  coat was whipped back by the wind;
his white pigtail and black sword were swept straight out into the  air; the
richness of his dress indicated him to be the captain; his dancing stance --
the sweep  of  the wave; there was no  hat; he was,  apparently,  completely
absorbed by the  dangerous moment  and was shouting--but what? Did  he see a
man falling  overboard, was he issuing  an order to tack  about or, shouting
above  the wind,  was he  calling to  the  boatswain? The shadows  of  these
thoughts,  not the thoughts  themselves, took  shape in Gray's  heart as  he
gazed at the painting. He suddenly felt that someone had approached him from
the left and now stood  beside him, unknown and unseen; he  had only to turn
his head  to make the weird sensation disappear without  a trace.  Gray knew
this.  However, he did not snuff out his imagination,  but harkened to it. A
soundless voice  shouted  several  curt phrases,  as  incomprehensible as if
spoken in Malay; there followed the crash of extended avalanches; echoes and
a grim wind  filled the library.  Gray heard  all  this within  himself.  He
looked around; the stillness that was instantly re-established dispelled the
ringing cobweb of his fantasy; his bond with the storm was broken.
     Gray  returned several  times to look at the painting. It became to him
that  necessary word  in the conversation between the  soul and life without
which it is difficult to understand one's  self. The great sea was gradually
finding a place within the  small boy. He became accustomed to it as he went
through the  books in the library,  seeking out  and  avidly  reading  those
behind whose golden door the blue glitter of the ocean could be seen. There,
sowing spray behind the stern, the ships plied on. Some lost their sails and
masts and, becoming engulfed by the waves,  settled into the  deep, where in
the darkness  gleam the phosphorescent eyes of fishes. Others, seized by the
breakers, were  battered  against the  reefs;  the subsiding swell shook the
hull dangerously; the deserted ship  with its torn rigging was in protracted
agony until  a new storm shattered  it  to bits. Still others  took on cargo
uneventfully in  one port  and unloaded  it in another; the  crew,  gathered
around  a  tavern table,  would sing  the praises of a life at sea  and down
their  drinks  lovingly.  There were  also pirate ships that flew the  Jolly
Roger, manned  by terrible, cutlass-swinging crews; there were phantom ships
radiant  in a deathly glow of blue illumination; there were naval ships with
soldiers,  cannons  and  brass  bands;  there were  the ships of  scientific
expeditions, studying volcanoes, flora and fauna; there were ships enveloped
in  grim  mystery  and mutiny;  there were ships of discovery  and ships  of
     In this world, most naturally, the figure of  the captain towered above
all else. He was the fate, the soul and the brain of the ship. His character
determined the work  and  the  leisure  of  the crew. He selected  his  crew
himself and it met his  inclinations in many  ways. He knew  the  habits and
family  life of each man.  He possessed, in  the  eyes of  his subordinates,
magical knowledge, which enabled him to confidently plot a course from, say,
Lisbon to  Shanghai across  the  vast  expanses. He repelled  a storm by the
counteraction  of a system  of  complex efforts, squelching panic with  curt
orders;  he  sailed  and  stopped where he would; he  was in command  of the
sailing  and loading,  repairs and leisure; it was  difficult to  imagine  a
greater and more sensible  authority in  a vital enterprise full of constant
movement. This  power, in its exclu-siveness, and absoluteness, was equal to
the power of Orpheus.
     This notion  of a  captain, this image and  this actual  reality of his
position occupied, by right of events of the spirit,  the place of honour in
Gray's  splendid  imagination.  No  other  profession  save  this  could  so
successfully  fuse  into a  single  whole all  the treasures of life,  while
preserving inviolable the most delicate design of each separate joy. Danger,
risk, the  forces  of  nature,  the light of  a distant land,  the  wondrous
unknown,  effervescent  love,  blossoming  in rendezvous  and  parting;  the
fascinating turmoil  of encounters, faces,  events;  the  endless variety of
life, while up above  in the sky  was now the Southern  Cross, now  the  Big
Dipper, and all the continents were  in one's keen eyes, though  your  cabin
was  replete with your  ever-present  homeland,  with its  books,  pictures,
letters and  dried flowers entwined by a silken  strand of  hair in  a suede
locket on your manly chest.
     In the autumn of his  fifteenth year Arthur Gray ran away from home and
passed through the  golden gates of the sea. Soon after the schooner  Anselm
left  Dubelt and set sail for Marseilles, with a  ship's boy  aboard who had
small hands and the face of a girl dressed in boy's clothing. The ship's boy
was Gray,  the owner of an elegant travelling-bag,  patent  leather boots as
fine as kid gloves and batiste linen adorned with a crown crest.
     In the course of a year, while the Anselm sailed from France to America
and Spain, Gray squandered a  part of  his possessions on pastry-cakes, thus
paying tribute to the past, and  the rest,  for the  present and  future, he
lost at cards. He wanted to be a red-blooded sailor. He  choked as he downed
his  liquor,  and when bathing, his heart  would falter  as he dived  from a
height  of twelve feet.  He gradually lost everything except  that which was
most important--his strange, soaring spirit; he  lost his frailty,  becoming
broad of bone and strong of muscle, his paleness gave way to  a deep tan, he
relinquished  his refined carelessness of  movement  for the sure drive of a
working  hand, and  there was  a sparkle in  his  intelligent eyes as  in  a
person's who gazes into
     a fire. And his speech, having lost its uneven, haughtily shy fluidity,
became brief and precise, as the thrust of a seagull at the quivering silver
of a fish.
     The captain of the Anselm was a kind man, but  a stern seafarer who had
taken the boy on out of maliciousness. He saw in Gray's desperate desire but
an eccentric whim and gloated in advance, imagining that in two months' time
Gray  would  say, avoiding his eyes:  "Captain  Hop,  I've skinned my elbows
climbing the rigging; my back and sides ache, my fingers don't bend, my head
is splitting and  my  legs  are shaky- All  these wet  ropes weighing eighty
pounds to balance  in my hands; all these manropes,  guy  ropes, windlasses,
cables,  topmasts and cross-trees are killing my delicate body. I want to go
home  to my mamma." After  listening mentally  to this  speech,  Captain Hop
would deliver, also mentally, the following speech: "You can go wherever you
want to, ducky. If any tar's got stuck on your fine feathers you can wash it
off at home -- with Rose-Mimosa  Cologne." This cologne that Captain Hop had
invented pleased him most of  all  and, concluding  his imaginary rebuke, he
repeated aloud: "Yes. Run along to Rose-Mimosa."
     As time went by this  impressive  dialogue came to  the  captain's mind
less  and less frequently,  since Gray  was  advancing towards his goal with
clenched teeth and a pale face. He bore the strenuous toil with a determined
effort of  will, feeling that it  was becoming ever easier as the stern ship
broke into his body  and  ineptitude was replaced by habit.  On occasion the
loop of the anchor chain would knock him off his feet, slamming  him against
the deck, or a rope that was not wound around the bitts would be torn out of
his  hands, taking the  skin off  his  palms, or the wind would slap the wet
corner of a sail with an iron ring sewn into it against his face; in a word,
all his work was torture which demanded the utmost attention, yet, no matter
how hard he breathed as he  slowly straightened his back,  a scornful  smile
never left his face. In silence did he endure all the scoffing,  taunts  and
inevitable  cursing  until   he  became   "one  of  the  boys"  in  his  new
surroundings, but from then on he always countered an insult with his fists.
     Once, when Captain Hop saw him  skilfully tying  a sail toll a yard, he
said to himself: "Victory is on your side, you scoundrel." When Gray climbed
down to  the deck  Hop  summoned  him to his cabin and, opening  a dog-eared
     "Listen closely. Stop smoking! We'll start fitting the pup
     out to be a captain."
     And he began to read or,  rather, to enunciate  and  shout  the ancient
words  of the sea. This was Gray's first lesson. In the course of a year  he
got to know about navigation, shipbuilding, maritime law, sailing directions
and bookkeeping. Captain Hop  proffered him his hand and referred to the two
of them as "we".
     His  mother's letter, full  of tears and dread, caught  up with Gray in
Vancouver. He  replied: "I know. But if  you could only see as I do: look at
things through  my eyes. If you could only hear  as  I do: put a seashell to
your ear--it carries the sound of an eternal wave; if you could only love as
I  do--everything,  I  would have found in your letter,  besides  love and a
cheque,  a smile." And  he went on  sailing until the Anselm arrived with  a
cargo for Dubelt from whence, while the ship was docked, the twenty-year-old
Gray set off to visit
     the castle.
     Everything was as it had  always been; as inviolable in  detail  and in
general  impression as five years  before, although the crowns of the  young
elms  were larger; the pattern they made  on the facade  of the building had
     and expanded.
     The  servants  who came  running  were overjoyed, startled and froze as
respectfully  as if they  had but yesterday  greeted  this Gray. He was told
where his mother was; he entered the high chamber and, drawing the door shut
softly, stopped  soundlessly, gazing at the woman, now turned  grey, in  the
black  dress. She was standing before a crucifix; her fervent whisper was as
audible as the pounding of a heart. "And bless  those at sea, the wayfarers,
the  sick, the  suffering  and the imprisoned," Gray heard  the  words as he
breathed rapidly. There followed: "And my boy.... " Then he said: "Here...."
But he  could  say no more. His mother turned. She had become thinner; a new
expression lit up the
     haughtiness  of  her  chiselled  face, like the return  of  youth.  She
hurried  towards  her  son;  a  burst  of  throaty  laughter,  a  restrained
exclamation and tears of  her  eyes--this  was all. But in  that  moment she
lived -- more fully and happier than in the whole of her previous life.
     "I recognized you instantly, my darling, my baby!"
     And Gray indeed  ceased being  grown-up. He listened to her tale of his
father's  death and then told her  about himself.  She  heeded  him  without
reproach or protestation, but to herself--in everything he contended was the
essence of  his  life,--  she saw but toys  her boy was playing with.  These
playthings were the continents, oceans and ships.
     Gray spent seven  days  in the castle;  on the eighth day, having taken
along a large sum of money, he returned to Dubelt and said to Captain Hop:
     "I  thank you. You've been a good friend. Farewell now, my mentor."  He
sealed  the word with a handshake as fierce  as an iron  vice.  "From now on
I'll be sailing alone, on a ship of my own."
     The  blood  rushed  to Hop's head, he  spat,  yanked his  hand away and
stalked off, but Gray overtook him and put his arm around his shoulders. And
so they went to  a tavern all  together,  twenty-four of them, counting  the
crew, and drank, and shouted, and sang, and ate, and downed everything there
was in the bar and in the kitchen.
     But  a short while  later the evening star flashed above the black line
of  a   new   mast   in  the  Port   of  Dubelt.   It  was  the  Secret,   a
two-hundred-and-sixty-ton,  three-masted galliot Gray had  purchased. Arthur
Gray sailed  it  for four more  years  as the owner and captain until chance
brought him to Liss.  However, he had remembered for always that short burst
of throaty  laughter that had greeted  him at home, and so  twice  a year he
visited  the  castle,  leaving  the  silver-haired  woman with an  uncertain
conviction that  such  a big boy might perhaps be  able  to handle his  toys
after all.

     The stream of foam  cast off by the stern of Gray's Secret  crossed the
ocean as a white streak and faded in the glow of the evening lights of Liss.
The ship dropped anchor near the lighthouse.
     For the next ten days the Secret unloaded tussore silk, coffee and tea;
the crew spent  the eleventh day ashore, relaxing in alcoholic fumes; on the
twelfth day, for no good reason, Gray was blackly despondent and  could  not
understand this despondency.
     He had barely come awake in the morning when  he felt that this day had
begun  in a  black shroud. He  dressed glumly, ate breakfast half-heartedly,
forgot  to read the newspaper and smoked for a  long while,  plunged into an
inexpressible mood of  futile  tension;  among the  vaguely  emerging  words
unacknowledged desires roamed,  destroying each other through equal  effort.
Then he got down to work.
     Accompanied by the boatswain, Gray inspected the  ship and ordered  the
guy ropes  tightened,  the tiller rope loosened, the hawse cleaned, the tack
changed,  the deck tarred, the compass wiped and the hold opened,  aired and
swept.  However, this did  not dispel his dark mood. Filled with  an  uneasy
awareness of  the gloom of the  day, he spent it irritably and sadly: it was
as if someone had called to him, but he had forgotten who it was and whence.
     Towards evening  he settled  back in his cabin,  picked  up  a book and
argued  with the author at length,  making marginal notes  of a  paradoxical
nature. For a  while he  was  amused by this game, this conversation with  a
dead  man  holding sway from the  grave. Then, lighting his pipe, he  became
immersed  in the blue  smoke,  living  among  the  spectral arabesques  that
appeared in its shifting planes.
     Tobacco is very potent; as oil poured onto the surging rent between the
waves allays their  frenzy,  so does  tobacco soothe irritation and dull the
emotions by several degrees; they become calmer and more musical. Therefore,
     three pipes, Gray's depression finally  lost its aggressive nature  and
was  transformed  into thoughtful distraction. This  state lasted  for about
another hour; when the fog lifted from his soul, Gray came  to with a start,
hungered for  exercise and went up on deck. It was night; alongside,  in the
slumbering black water, there  dozed the stars and  the lights of  the  mast
lanterns. The air, as warm as a cheek, brought in the smell of the sea. Gray
raised his head  and squinted at the gold coal of a star; instantly, through
the  dizzying distance, the fiery needle of a  remote planet penetrated  his
pupils. The muted noise of the town at  evening  reached his ears  from  the
depths of the bay; sometimes a phrase from the  shore  was wafted in  across
the sensitive surface of the water; it would  sound clearly, as if spoken on
deck and then be snuffed out  by the creaking of the rigging; a match flared
on  the forecastle  deck, lighting up a hand,  a pair  of round  eyes and  a
moustache. Gray whistled; the  lighted pipe moved  and floated  towards him;
soon, in the  dark, the captain made  out the hands and face of  the  man on
watch. "Tell Letika he's coming with me," Gray said. "Tell him to take along
the fishing tackle."
     He  went down into the rowboat where he waited for Letika for about ten
minutes; a  nimble, shifty-eyed youth banged the oars against the side as he
handed them down to Gray; then he climbed down himself, fitted them into the
oarlocks  and stuck a bag of provisions into the stern  of the rowboat. Gray
sat at the tiller.
     "Where to, Captain?" Letika  asked, rowing in a  circle with  the right
oar alone.
     The captain was silent. The sailor knew that one could not intrude upon
this  silence  and,  therefore,  falling silent  as  well, he  began  rowing
     Gray  set their course out to sea and then steered them along  the left
bank.  He  did not care where they were going.  The tiller gurgled; the oars
creaked and splashed; all else was sea and silence.
     In the course of a day a person heeds to so many thoughts, impressions,
speeches and words that together they would fill many a heavy tome. The face
of a day takes on a definite  expression, but  today Gray searched this face
in  vain. Its  obscure features  glowed with one of those  emotions of which
there are many, but which have not been  given a  name. No matter  what they
are  called,  they will  forever remain beyond  the scope of words  and even
concepts, so like the  effect of an aroma. Gray was now at the mercy of just
such  an  emotion;  true, he might have said: "I  am waiting. I see. I shall
soon  know,"--but even  these  words were  equal  to no  more  than  are the
separate drawings in relation to an architectural conception. Yet, there was
the power of radiant excitement in these ideas.
     The bank appeared  to the  left like  a  wavy thickening  of  darkness.
Sparks from the chimneys danced above the red glass of the windows; this was
Kaperna.  Gray could hear shouting, wrangling and barking. The lights of the
village resembled a  firebox door that  has burned through in  tiny spots to
let you see the flaming  coal inside. To the right was the ocean, as real as
the  presence  of  a  sleeping  person. Having  passed Kaperna, Gray steered
towards the shore.  The water lapped against  it  softly here; lighting  his
lantern, he saw the pits in the  bluff and its upper, overhanging ledges; he
liked the spot.
     "We'll fish here," Gray said, tapping the oarsman on the shoulder.
     The sailor harrumphed vaguely.
     "This is  the  first  time I've ever  sailed  with  such a captain," he
muttered.  "He's  a sensible  captain, but  no  ordinary kind.  A  difficult
captain. But I like him all the same."
     He stuck the oar into the silt  and  tied  the boat to it and they both
scrambled up the stones that rolled out from under  their knees and  elbows.
There was a thicket at the top of the bluff. The sound of an axe splitting a
dry trunk followed; having  felled the tree, Letika made a  campfire  on the
bluff.  Shadows moved, and  the flames that were reflected in the  water; in
the receding gloom the grass and  branches stood out; the  air, mingled with
smoke, shimmered and glowed above the fire.
     Gray sat by the campfire.
     "Here," he said,  proffering  a bottle, "drink  to all teetotallers, my
friend Letika. And,  by the way, the vodka you brought  along  is  flavoured
with ginger, not quinine."
     "I'm sorry, Captain," the sailor replied, catching his breath.  "If you
don't mind, I'll eat it down with this...." At which he bit off half a roast
chicken  and, extracting a wing from his mouth, continued:  "I know you like
quinine. But it was dark, and I was in a hurry. Ginger, you see, embitters a
man. I always drink ginger vodka when I have to
     g-As the captain ate and drank, the sailor kept stealing
     glances  at him  and, finally, unable to contain himself any longer, he
     "Is it true, Captain, what they say? That you come from a
     noble family?"
     "That's of no  importance, Letika. Take your tackle and fish a while if
you want to." "What about you?"
     "Me?  I  don't  know.  Maybe. But ...  later." Letika unwound his line,
chanting in rhyme, something he was a past master at, to the delight  of the
     "From a string and piece of wood I made a very fine, long whip.  Then I
found a hook to fit it, and I whistled sharp and quick." He poked about in a
tin of worms. "This old  worm lived in  a burrow and was happy  as could be,
but I've got him  hooked real good now,  and the perch will all  thank  me."
Finally, he  walked  off, singing: "Moonlight  shines, the  vodka's perfect,
fishes,  harken, I draw near. Herrings, faint, and sturgeon  skitter, Letika
is fishing here!"
     Gray lay  down by the fire,  gazing at the water and the  reflection of
the flames. He was thinking, but effortlessly; in this condition one's mind,
while observing one's surroundings  absently, comprehends them but dimly; it
rushes on like a  stallion in a jostling herd,  crushing and  shoving aside,
and halting;  emptiness, confusion and  delay  attend it in turn. It wanders
within  the souls  of things; from  bright  agitation  it  hurries to secret
intimations;  passing from earth to  sky, conversing on the subject of  life
with imaginary personages, snuffing out and embellishing one's  memories. In
this cloudy movement all is  live and palpable, and all  is  as loosely hung
together as a hallucination. And one's  relaxing consciousness often smiles,
seeing, for instance,  one's  thoughts on life suddenly accosted  by  a most
inopportune visitor:  perhaps a twig broken two  years before. Thus was Gray
thinking by the fire, but he was "somewhere else"--not there.
     The  elbow he was  leaning on, while supporting  his  head on his hand,
became damp and numb.  The stars shone faintly; the gloom was intensified by
a tenseness preceding dawn. The captain was dozing  off, but did not realize
it.  He felt like having a drink, and he put his hand  out towards the sack,
untying  it in his sleep. Then he stopped dreaming; the  next two hours were
to him no longer than the seconds during which he had laid his head upon his
arms.  Meanwhile, Letika had appeared by the campfire  twice, he had  smoked
and, out of curiosity, had looked into the mouths of the fish he had caught,
wondering what might be there. But, quite naturally, nothing was.
     Upon awakening, Gray forgot for a moment how he happened to be where he
was.  He gazed  in astonishment at the  cheerful shine  of  the morning, the
bluff adorned by bright branches and the blazing blue  distance.  The leaves
of  a hazel bush hung over the horizon and also over his feet. At the bottom
of the bluff--Gray  felt  it was right at  his back--the tide lapped softly.
Falling  from  a  leaf, a dewdrop  spread  over his  sleepy face  in  a cold
splatter. He rose. Light had triumphed everywhere. The cooling brands of the
campfire clutched at life with a tendril of smoke. Its aroma imparted a wild
headiness to the pleasure of breathing the air of the green woods.
     Letika was nowhere in sight; he was  oblivious to all; he sweated as he
fished  with  the zeal  of  a  true  gambler. Gray left  the woods  for  the
bush-dotted slope. The grass smoked and  flamed; the moist flowers resembled
children who had  been  forcibly scrubbed with cold water.  The green  world
breathed  with myriad tiny mouths, blocking  Gray's way through its exultant
cluster. The  captain finally  got to  a  clearing overgrown with grass  and
flowers, and here he saw a sleeping girl.
     He cautiously moved aside  a  branch and  stopped, feeling  that he had
made a dangerous discovery. But five steps away lay a tired Assol, curled up
with  one leg tucked under  her  and the other stretched out,  and her  head
resting on her
     comfortably crossed arms. Her hair was mussed; a button had come undone
at  her  collar, revealing a  white hollow;  her tumbled skirt had bared her
knees;  her lashes  slept upon  her  cheek in the  shadow  of her delicately
curved  temple, half-covered by a dark lock; the pinky  of her  right  hand,
which was under her head, curled  over the back of  her head. Gray  squatted
and  looked into  the  girl's face  from  below,  never suspecting  that  he
resembled the Faun in Arnold Bocklin's painting.
     Perhaps, under other circumstances, he would have noticed the girl with
his  eyes  alone, but  now  he  saw  her  differently.  Everything  stirred,
everything smiled within him. Naturally,  he  did not know her or her  name,
or, moreover,  why  she  had fallen asleep on the  shore;  but he  was  very
pleased  by  this.  He  liked pictures that  were accompanied neither  by an
explanatory text nor  by a caption.  The impression such a  picture makes is
far  more powerful;  its content, unencumbered by words,  becomes boundless,
affirming all conjectures and thoughts.
     The shadow cast by the  leaves  was approaching  the trunks,  but  Gray
still  squatted there in that uncomfortable position.  Everything  about the
girl was asleep: her dark hair slept, her dress slept,  as did the pleats of
her skirt; even  the grass near  her  body, it seemed,  was  dozing  out  of
sympathy.  When the  impression  became  complete,  Gray  entered its  warm,
engulfing  waves  and sailed off on it. Letika had been  shouting  for  some
time: "Captain! Where are you?", but the captain heard him not.
     When  he  finally  rose,  a predilection  for  the  unusual caught  him
unawares with the determination and inspiration of an  angered woman. Giving
way  to it pensively, he  removed the treasured  old ring from  his  finger,
thinking,  and  not  without  reason,  that perhaps,  in  this way,  he  was
suggesting something essential to life, similar to orthography.  He  slipped
the ring gently onto the pinky that showed white under the back of her head.
The pinky twitched in annoyance and curled up. Glancing once again  at  this
resting  face, Gray turned to  see the sailor's sharply-raised brows. Letika
was  gaping  as  he  watched  the  captain's  movements  with  the  kind  of
astonishment Jonah must have felt as he gazed  down the maw of his furnished
     "Ah,  it's you, Letika! Look at her. Isn't she  beautiful?" "A wondrous
painting!"  the  sailor  shouted  in  a   whisper,  for  he  liked   bookish
expressions. "There's  something prepossessing in the  presentation  of  the
circumstances. I caught four morays and another one, as round as a bladder."
     "Shh,  Letika. Let's get out of here."  They retreated into the bushes.
They should  have  turned back to the rowboat now, but Gray  procrastinated,
looking off into the distance at the low bank,  where the morning smoke from
the  chimneys  of Kaperna  streamed over the  greenery and  the sand. In the
smoke he once again saw the girl-Then  he turned determinedly and went  down
the slope; the  sailor  did not question him  about what had  happened,  but
walked on  behind;  he sensed that once again  a compulsory  silence ensued.
When they reached the first houses Gray suddenly said,
     "Can your practised eye tell us where the tavern is, Letika?"
     "It must be that black roof," Letika mused, "but then,  again, maybe it
     "What's so special about that roof?"
     "I  really  don't  know,  Captain.  Nothing more than the  voice of  my
     They approached the  house; it was indeed Menners'  tavern. Through the
open window they could see a bottle on the table; beside it someone's  dirty
hand was milking a steel-grey moustache.
     Although  it was  still  early in the day there  were three men  in the
common room.  The coalman, the owner of the  drunken  grey moustache already
noted,  was  sitting  by  the  window; two fishermen were lodged around some
scrambled eggs and beer  at a  table set  between the bar and an inner door.
Menners,  a  tall  young man with a dull, freckled  face  and  that peculiar
expression  of bold  cunning in his  near-sighted eyes that is a distinctive
feature of tradesmen in general, was wiping plates behind the counter. The
     window frame was imprinted in the sunshine on the dirty floor.
     No sooner had Gray stepped into the strip of smoky  light than Menners,
bowing respectfully, came out from behind his enclosure. He had  immediately
sensed  a real captain  in Gray--a type  of client  rarely to be seen there.
Gray  ordered  rum. Covering  the table with a cloth become  yellowed in the
bustle  of daily life, Menners brought over  a bottle, but first  licked the
corner of the label  that had come  unstuck.  Then he  went back  behind the
counter to  look intently now at Gray,  now at the plate from  which  he was
picking off a dry particle of food.
     While Letika, having raised his glass between his hands, was whispering
to it  softly and glancing out  the window, Gray  summoned Hin Menners.  Hin
perched  on the  edge of a  chair with a  self-satisfied  air,  flattered at
having been addressed, and  especially flattered because this had  been done
by a simple crook of Gray's finger.
     "I assume you  know all  the local  inhabitants," Gray said in  an even
voice. "I would like to know  the name of a girl in a  kerchief, in a  dress
with  pink flowers, auburn-haired, of  medium height, between  seventeen and
twenty years of age. I came upon her not far from here. What is her name?"
     He spoke with a  firm simplicity of strength that made it impossible to
evade his tone. Hin Menners squirmed inwardly and even smirked slightly, but
outwardly he obeyed the nature of  the address. However, he hesitated before
replying--but only from a futile desire to guess what was up
     "Hm!"  he  said,  raising  his  eyes  to  the  ceiling.  "It  must   be
Sailing-ship Assol. She's a halfwit."
     "Indeed?" Gray  said indifferently, taking a big sip. "Why  is she like
     "If you really want to know, I'll tell you."
     And Hin told  Gray  of  the  time,  seven  years  before,  when, on the
seashore, the girl had spoken to a man who collected folk songs.  Naturally,
this story, in the  years since  the beggar had first affirmed its existence
in  the  tavern,  had taken  the shape  of a crude and  ugly rumour, but the
essence remained unchanged.
     "And  that's what she's been  called ever since,"  Menners said. "She's
called Sailing-ship Assol."
     Gray glanced  automatically  at Letika, who was still  behaving quietly
and modestly, then his eyes turned to the dusty road outside the tavern, and
he  felt as if  he had  been struck--a double  blow to  his heart and  head.
Coming  down the road towards him was the very same  Sailing-ship Assol whom
Menners  had just  described from  a  clinical point of  view. Her  striking
features, which resembled the mystery of unforgettable, stirring, yet simple
words, appeared  to him now in the light of her gaze. The sailor and Menners
both  had  their  backs  to  the  window  and, in order  that they not  turn
accidentally, Gray found the courage to shift his gaze to Hin's ginger eyes.
After he  had  seen Assol's eyes,  all  the prejudice of Menners' story  was
dispelled. Meanwhile, Hin continued unsuspectingly:
     "I can also add that her father  is a real bastard. He drowned my pater
like he was a cat or something, God forgive me. He...."
     He was interrupted  by an unexpected, wild howl coming from behind. The
coalman, rolling his eyes  fiercely and having  cast off his drunken stupor,
suddenly began bawling a song, but  with  such  force  that it made everyone
     Basket-maker, basket-maker, Skin us for your baskets!
     "You're roaring drunk again, you damn whaleboat!" Menners shouted. "Get
     But take care that you don't fall Right into our caskets!
     the coalman bawled and then, as if nothing were amiss, he | dunked  his
moustache into a slopping glass.
     Hin Menners shrugged indignantly.
     "He's the scum  of  the  earth," he said with the sinister | dignity of
the miser. "It happens every time!"
     "Is there anything else you can tell me?" Gray asked.
     "Me? I just told you her father's a bastard. On account of
     him, sir,  I was orphaned, and while still a boy was forced to earn  my
bread by the sweat-of my brow."
     "You're lying!" the  coalman said unexpectedly. "You're lying so foully
and unnaturally that it's sobered me
     Before Hin had a chance to open his mouth, the coalman addressed Gray:
     "He's lying. His father was a liar, too; as was his  mother. It runs in
the family.  Rest assured, she's as sane  as you and me. I've spoken to her.
She rode in my cart eighty-four times  or a  bit less.  If  a girl's walking
home from town and I've sold all my  coal, I'll  always give her a lift. She
might  as  well  ride. I'm saying that she has a sane head on her shoulders.
You can see  that now. Naturally, she'd never talk  to you, Hin Menners. But
me, sir, in my free coal trade, I despise gossip and rumours. She talks like
a  grown-up, but  her way of talking is  strange. If you  listen closely--it
seems like  just the same as you  and me would say, and it is, but  yet,  it
isn't.  For instance,  we  got  to talking  about  her trade. 'I'll tell you
something,' she said, and  her holding  onto my  shoulder like  a  fly to  a
bell-tower,  'my work isn't dull, but  I keep wanting to think  up something
special. I want to find a way  to make a boat that'll  sail by  itself, with
oarsmen that'll really row; then, they'll  dock at the shore, tie up and sit
down on  the beach  to have a bite, just exactly as if  they were  alive.' I
started  laughing, see, 'cause  I found it  funny. So I  said, 'Well, Assol,
it's all because of the kind of work you do, that's why you think like this,
but look around; the way other people work, you'd think they were fighting.'
'No,'  she says, 'I know what  I  know. When  a fisherman's fishing he keeps
thinking he'll  catch a big fish,  bigger  than anyone  ever  caught.' 'What
about me?' 'You?' She  laughed.  Til bet that when you fill your basket with
coal you think it'll burst into bloom.' That's the words she used! That very
moment, I confess, I  don't know what made me do it, I looked into the empty
basket, and I really  thought  I was  seeing buds  coming out of the  basket
twigs; the buds burst and leaves splashed all over the basket and were gone.
I even sobered UP a bit! But Hin Menners will lie in his teeth and never bat
an eye--I know him!"
     Finding the  conversation to  have taken an  obviously insulting  turn,
Menners looked at the coalman scathingly and disappeared behind the counter,
from where he asked bitterly: "Do you want to order anything else?"
     "No," said Gray, pulling out his purse. "We're  getting up and leaving.
Letika, you stay here. Come back this evening  and don't say  a word. Having
discovered all you can, report to me. Understand?"
     "My  dear Captain," Letika said with  a familiarity brought  on  by the
rum, "only a deaf-mute would not have understood this."
     "Fine. And don't forget  that not in a single instance of the many that
may occur can you speak of me, or even mention my name. Goodbye!"
     Gray  left.  From  then  on  he  was  possessed  by  a consciousness of
astonishing  discoveries,  like a spark in Berthold's powder mortar,--one of
those  spiritual avalanches from under which fire  escapes,  blazing. He was
possessed by a desire for immediate  action.  He came to his  senses and was
able to think clearly only when he got into the rowboat. Laughing,  he  held
out his hand, palm up, to the scorching sun, as he had done once as a boy in
the wine cellar;  then he shoved off and  began  rowing swiftly  towards the

     On  the eve of that  day and seven  years after Egle, the  collector of
folk songs, had told the little girl on  the beach a fairy-tale about a ship
with  crimson sails, Assol returned home  from  her weekly visit to  the toy
shop feeling distressed and looking sad. She had brought back the toys  that
she had taken to be sold. She was so upset she could not speak at first, but
after looking  at Longren's  anxious face  and seeing that he expected  news
that was much worse  than  what  had actually happened, she  began to speak,
running her finger over the windowpane by which she stood, gazing out at the
sea absently.
     The owner of the toy shop had begun this time by opening his ledger and
showing her  how  much  they  owed him. She felt  faint  at the sight of the
impressive, three-digit figure.
     "This is how much you've received since December," the shopkeeper said,
"and  now we'll see how much has been  sold." And he  set his finger against
another figure, but this one was a two-digit one.
     "It's a pity and a shame to look."
     "I could see  by  looking at  his face  that he was rude and angry. I'd
have gladly run away, but, honestly, I was so ashamed  I had no strength to.
And he went on to say: 'There's no  profit  in  it for me any more, my  dear
girl. Imported goods are in demand now. All the shops are full of them,  and
nobody  buys these kind.' That's what he said. He went  on talking, but I've
mixed up and  forgotten what he said. He probably felt sorry for me, because
he suggested I try the Children's Bazaar and Alladin's Lamp."
     Having  unburdened herself of that which was most important,  the  girl
turned her head and looked at the old man timidly. Longren sat hunched over,
his fingers locked between his knees on which his elbows rested. Sensing her
eyes on  him, he raised his head and  sighed. Overcoming her depression, she
ran up to him, settled  down beside him and, slipping her  small  hand under
the leather sleeve of his jacket, laughing and looking up into her  father's
face from below, she continued with feigned liveliness:
     "Never mind, it's not important. You listen, now. Anyway, I left. Well,
I  came  to  the  big, awfully frightening store;  it  was terribly crowded.
People  shoved me, but I made my way through and went over to a black-haired
man  in spectacles. I don't remember a word of what I  said to him; finally,
he snickered, poked about in my basket,  looked at some  of  the  toys, then
wrapped them up in the kerchief again and handed them back."
     Longren listened to her angrily. He seemed  to  be seeing  his overawed
daughter  in the richly-dressed  crowd at  the counter piled high  with fine
goods. The neat man in the spectacles was explaining condescendingly that he
would go bankrupt if he decided to offer Longren's  simple toys for sale. He
had  casually and expertly set up folding houses and railroad bridges on the
counter  before  her;  tiny,  perfectly-made   automobiles,  electric  sets,
airplanes and  motors. All of this smelled of paint and school. According to
him, children nowadays only played games that imitated the occupations
     of their elders.
     Then Assol had gone to Alladin's Lamp and to two other
     shops, but all in vain.
     As she finished  her tale she laid out  their supper;  having eaten and
downed a mug of strong coffee, Longren said: "Since we're out of luck, we'll
have  to start  looking  for  something  else.  Perhaps  I'll sign on a ship
again--the  Fitzroy or the Palermo. Of course,  they're right," he continued
thoughtfully, thinking  of  the toys.  "Children don't  play  nowadays, they
study.  They keep on studying and studying,  and will  never begin  to live.
This  is so, but it's a shame, it really  is a  shame.  Will you be  able to
manage without me for one  voyage? I can't imagine  leaving  you  alone." "I
could sign up with you, too. Say, as  a  barmaid." "No!" Longren  sealed the
word with a smack of his palm on the shuddering table. "You won't sign up as
long as I'm alive. However, there's time to think of something."
     He settled into a sullen silence. Assol sat down beside him on the edge
of the stool; out of the corner  of  his eye,  without turning  his head, he
could see that  she was doing her best to console him and nearly smiled. No,
if  he smiled  it would frighten  her off  and  embarrass  her. Mumbling  to
herself,  she  smoothed his  tumbled grey hair, kissed  his  moustache  and,
covering her father's bristly ears with her small, tapering fingers, said,
     "There, now  you  can't  hear  me say that I love you." Longren had sat
still while she had been making  him pretty,  as tense as a person afraid to
inhale smoke, but hearing what she said, he laughed uproariously.
     "You dear," he said simply and, after patting her cheek, went  down  to
the beach to have a look at his rowboat.
     For a while Assol stood pensively in the middle of the room, hesitating
between a desire to give  herself up to wistful melancholy and the necessity
of seeing to  the  chores; then, having washed the dishes, she took store of
     remains of their provisions. She neither weighed nor  measured, but saw
that they would not have enough flour to last out the week,  that the bottom
of the sugar tin was now visible; the packets of coffee and  tea were nearly
empty  and  there  was no butter; the  only thing on which  her  eye  rested
ruefully,  as it was the sole  exception,  was a sack of potatoes. Then  she
scrubbed the floor and sat down to stitch a ruffle on a skirt made over from
something  else, but recalling  instantly that the scraps  of material  were
tucked behind  the  mirror,  she  went  over to it and  took  out the little
bundle; then she glanced at her reflection.
     Beyond the walnut frame in the clear  void of the reflected room was  a
small, slim girl dressed in cheap, white, pink-flowered muslin. A grey  silk
kerchief covered  her shoulders. The still childish, lightly-tanned face was
lively  and expressive; her  beautiful  eyes, somewhat serious for  her age,
looked out  with  the timid  intentness peculiar  to  sensitive  souls.  Her
irregular  face was  endearing in its  delicate purity of line;  each curve,
each elevation might have  been found in many  a woman's face, but taken all
together the style was extremely original -- originally sweet; we shall stop
here.  The  rest  cannot   be   expressed  in  words,  save  for  one  word:
     The reflected girl smiled as impulsively as Assol. The smile turned out
rather sad; noticing this, she became disturbed, as if she were looking at a
stranger.  She pressed her cheek  against the  glass, closed  her  eyes  and
stroked the mirror softly  over  her  reflection.  A swarm of  hazy,  tender
thoughts flashed through her; she straightened  up, laughed  and sat down to
     While she is sewing, let us have a closer look at her--a look into her.
She  was  made  of too  girls,  two  Assols  mixed  up  in  happy, wonderful
confusion.  One was the daughter of  a sailor, a craftsman, a toy-maker, the
other was a living poem,  with all the marvels of its  harmonies and images,
with  a  mysterious  alignment  of words, in the interaction  of  light  and
shadow,  cast by one upon the other. She knew life within the limits  of her
own experience, but besides the generalities, she  saw the reflected meaning
of a different order. Thus, looking into objects, we observe them not with a
linear perception, but through impression--which is definitely  human and --
as is all that is human -- distinct. Something similar to that  which (if we
have succeeded) we have portrayed by this example, she saw  above and beyond
the   visible.  Without  these   modest  victories   all  that   was  simplv
understandable was alien to  her. She loved to  read,  but  in each book she
read  mostly  between  the  lines,  as  she  lived.  Unconsciously,  through
inspiration,  she  mack-  countless ethereally-subtle  discoveries at  every
step,  inexpressible,  but  as   important   as   cleanliness  and   warmth.
Sometimes--and this  continued  for  a  number  of days  -- she  even became
transformed; the physical opposition  of life fell away, like  the stillness
in the sweep of a  bow across the  strings; and all that she  saw,  that was
vital to her, that surrounded her, became  a lace of mystery in the image of
the  mundane. Many a time, apprehensive and afraid,  did she go to the beach
at night where, waiting  for  dawn to  break, she looked off  most intently,
searching  for the ship with the Crimson Sails. These minutes were pure  joy
to her; it is difficult for us to give ourselves up thus to a fairy-tale; it
would be no less difficult for her to escape from its power and enchantment.
     On  some  other  occasion,  thinking back  over  all  this,  she  would
sincerely  wonder at  herself,  not  being  able  to  believe  that  she had
believed, forgiving the sea with a smile and sadly  coming  back to reality;
as  she now  gathered  the ruffle she thought about her past life. There had
been much that was dull  and simple. The  two  of them being lonely together
had at times weighed heavily on her, but there had formed within her by then
that  fold  of inner shyness, that suffering wrinkle which prevents one from
bringing  or  receiving cheer. Others mocked her, saying:  "She's touched in
the head", "out of her mind" -- she had become accustomed to this pain, too.
The  girl had even suffered insults, after  which  her breast  would ache as
from a  blow. She was not a popular girl in Kaperna, although many suspected
that there was more to  her than to  others--but in a different tongue.  The
men  of Kaperna adored stout, heavy-limbed  women  with  oily skin  on their
large calves arid powerful  arms; they courted them here by slapping them on
the back
     and jostling them as they would in a crowded market place. The style of
such emotion resembled the unsophisticated  simplicity of a  roar. Assol was
as well suited to this determined milieu as the society of a ghost would  be
to extremely high-strung  people, had  it  even  possessed all the charm  of
Assunta or Aspasia; anything resembling love  here was out of  the question.
Thus, meeting the  steady blast of a soldier's bugle, the sweet sadness of a
violin is powerless to bring the stern regiment out from under the influence
of its straight planes.  The girl  stood with her back to all that has  been
said in these lines.
     While  she was humming  a song of  life,  her small hands  were working
swiftly and adroitly; biting off a thread,  she looked off, but this did not
stop her from turning the hem evenly or stitching it  with the accuracy of a
sewing machine. Although Longren did  not return,  she was not worried about
her father. Of late, he had often set out  fishing  in his boat  at night or
simply for  some air. Fear did not gnaw at her: she knew  that no ill  would
befall him. In this respect Assol  was still the little girl that had prayed
in her own way, lisping  fondly, "Good morning, God!"  in the  morning  and:
"Goodbye, God!" in the evening.
     In  her opinion such  a  first-hand  acquaintance  with  God was  quite
sufficient for Him  to  ward off  any disaster. She  imagined herself in His
place: God was  forever occupied with the affairs of millions of people and,
therefore, she believed that  one should regard the ordinary shadows of life
with  the polite patience of a  guest who,  discovering the  house  full  of
people,  waits for the bustling host,  finding  food and shelter as best  he
     Having done with her sewing, Assol folded her work on the corner table,
undressed and went to  bed. The lamp had been  turned  off. She soon noticed
that she was not sleepy; her mind  was  as clear as it was in  the middle of
the  day,  and  even the darkness seemed  artificial; her body, as her mind,
felt  carefree and dayish. Her heart  beat  as rapidly as a pocket watch; it
seemed to be beating  between the pillow and her ear. Assol was annoyed; she
twisted  and turned, now flinging off  the blanket, now  rolling  up  in it,
pulling  it over her head. At  last  she was able to  bring on the  familiar
scene that  helped her to fall asleep: she imagined herself  tossing pebbles
into clear  water and watching the faint circles grow wider and wider. Sleep
seemed to have been awaiting this handout; it came, whispered with Mary, who
stood  at  the  head of the  bed and,  obeying  her  smile,  said "Shhh"  to
everything all around. Assol was asleep instantly. She dreamed her favourite
dream:  of  blossoming trees, a  yearning,  enchantment,  songs and  strange
scenes, of which, upon  awakening, she could recall only the glitter  of the
blue water rising from  her feet to her heart with a chill of delight. After
dreaming of all this, she remained in  that  improbable world  for  a  while
longer and then awakened fully and sat up.
     She was  not at all sleepy, quite as if she  had  not  fallen asleep at
all. A feeling of novelty, of joy and a desire for  action welled up in her.
She  looked around with the eyes of one  examining a  new room. Dawn  seeped
in--not with  the complete  lucidity  of illumination,  but with that  faint
effort through which  one can  comprehend one's surroundings. The  bottom of
the window was black; the top had become light. Without, by the edge  of the
window  frame, the  morning star twinkled. Knowing  that  she would not fall
asleep again, Assol dressed, went over to the window and, raising  the hook,
opened  it. An attentive, clear silence  reigned outside;  it seemed to have
only  now  descended. In  the blue twilight the bushes shimmered; farther on
the trees slept; the air was heavy and smelled of the earth.
     Leaning her  hand on  the top  of the  frame, the girl looked  out  and
smiled. Suddenly, something akin  to a  distant call stirred  her  both from
within and without, and she seemed to awaken once again from obvious reality
to that  which was clearer still and still more  doubtless. From that moment
on she was  caught  up  by  an  exultant richness  of  consciousness.  Thus,
comprehending them, we listen  to words spoken by others, but if one were to
repeat that which was said, we would come to understand them once again with
a different, a new meaning. She, too, now experienced this.
     Picking up  an  old  but, when she  wore  it, ever  fresh  and new silk
kerchief,  she grasped it under her chin with  one hand, locked the door and
darted out onto the road
     barefoot.  Although  all  was  deserted  and  still,  she  imagined she
resounded like an orchestra and could actually be heard. Everything  pleased
her, everything gladdened her eye. The warm dust tickled her bare  feet; the
air was clear and a joy  to breathe. The rooftops and clouds were etched  in
black against the  clearing  twilight of  the sky; the fences, briar  roses,
gardens,  orchards and the faintly seen road all dozed. In  everything there
was noticeable a different order  than during the  day--the same, yet, in  a
conformity that  had formerly  evaded  one. Everything slept with open eyes,
furtively examining the passing girl.
     She quickened her step as she got farther away, in a hurry to leave the
village behind.  There were meadows beyond Kaperna; beyond the meadows hazel
bushes, poplars and chestnut trees dotted  the slopes of the hills along the
shore. At the spot where the road ended and continued as an overgrown  path,
a silky little black dog with a white chest and eyes tensed to speak circled
gently by Assol's feet. The dog, recognizing Assol, walked along beside her,
squealing  from time  to time and wriggling its body coquettishly,  silently
agreeing  with  the girl about  something as clear as "you" and "me". Assol,
glancing into its communicative eyes,  was convinced that the dog could have
spoken  if it had  not had a  secret  reason for not doing so. Glimpsing its
companion's smile, the dog crinkled its nose cheerfully, wagged its tail and
trotted on ahead, but  suddenly  sat down indifferently,  scratched  its ear
which had been bitten by its eternal enemy, and ran off.
     Assol entered the tall meadow grass that splashed dew upon her; holding
her hand out, palm-down, above its spikelets, she walked  on, smiling at the
streaming touch.  Peering into the  very  special  faces of the flowers, the
confusion of stems, she could make out allusions--poses, efforts, movements,
features and expressions that were nearly human; she would not now have been
surprised at a procession of field mice, a gophers' ball or the rough antics
of a  hedgehog,  scaring a sleeping  gnome with  its huffing. Indeed, a grey
ball  of  a  hedgehog  rolled across  her  path.  "Humph-humph,"  it snorted
angrily, like a cabbie at a pedestrian. Assol spoke with those  whom she saw
and  understood. "Hello, poor thing," she said to a purple, worm-eaten iris.
"You'd better stay home for a  while,"--this was said to  a bush stranded in
the  middle  of the  path  and, therefore, lacking  leaves torn  off by  the
clothes of passers-by. A large beetle was clutching a  bluebell, pulling the
flower  down  and slipping, but scrabbling up  it stubbornly. "Shake off the
fat passenger," Assol  advised it. True enough, the beetle lost its grip and
flew  off  noisily.  Thus, with pounding heart, trembling and  flushed,  she
approached the slope  of  a hill and was  concealed from the openness of the
meadow  in the  thicket where she  was surrounded by true friends who -- and
she knew this--spoke in deep bass voices.
     These  were the  large  old trees that grew amongst the honeysuckle and
hazel bushes. Their drooping branches brushed the  top leaves of the bushes.
White flower cones  rose  among the  solemn  gravity  of the  large chestnut
leaves, their aroma blended with the scent of the dew and the sap. The path,
criss-crossed by the slippery bulges of roots, now dipped, now  clambered up
the slope.  Assol  felt at home here; she greeted the trees as if they  were
people, that  is, by pressing  their broad leaves. She walked on, whispering
to herself or aloud:  "Here you are, here's  another  you. How  many of  you
there are,  my friends! I'm in a hurry,  boys, let me pass! I  recognize you
all, I remember you and respect you." Her "boys" patted  her grandly as best
they could -- with their leaves -- and creaked with an air of kindredness in
reply.  Feet  muddied,  she made  her way out to the bluff above the sea and
stood  at  the  very  edge, breathing  hard  after  her  fast  walk. A deep,
unconquerable  faith rejoiced and bubbled exultantly inside of her. Her gaze
cast  it beyond the  horizon, from whence it returned in the faint  surge of
the incoming waves, proud in its clean flight.
     Meanwhile,  the  sea, stitched with a golden thread  along the horizon,
was still asleep; save at the foot of the bluff did the water rise and fall.
The steel grey of the sleeping ocean at the shore became blue and then black
farther off. Beyond the golden thread the sky, flaring up, glowed in a great
fan of light; the white clouds were now touched with pink.
     Delicate,   heavenly   tints   shimmered   within   them.  A  quivering
snow-whiteness spread across the distant  blackness; the foam  sparkled  and
the  blood-red  splash, flaring  up  along  the golden thread, sent  crimson
ripples across the ocean to Assol's feet.
     She sat down and hugged her knees. She leaned towards the sea and gazed
off  at  the  horizon  with  eyes that had grown large  and in which nothing
grown-up  remained at   all--with the eyes of a  child.  Everything she had
awaited so long and  so fervently was taking place there, at the end  of the
world.  In that land  of  distant abysses  she  imagined  an undersea  hill;
streaming thongs of seaweed snaked upward from its slopes; amongst the round
leaves pierced by a stem at the edge strange flowers shone. The upper leaves
glistened on the surface of the ocean; he who knew not what Assol knew would
see only a shimmering and glitter.
     A  ship rose from the  seaweed; it  surfaced  and  stopped in the  very
middle of the sunrise. From this great distance it was as clearly visible as
the  clouds. Radiating joy, it flamed like wine,  a rose,  blood, lips,  red
velvet and scarlet  fire. The ship  was heading straight towards  Assol. Two
wings of spray were cast up by the powerful thrust of its keel; rising,  the
girl  pressed her hands to her breast,  but the magic play  of light  became
ripples: the sun rose, and a bright fullness of morning tore the covers from
everything that still languished and stretched on the sleepy earth.
     The  girl sighed and looked around. The music had ended, but  Assol was
still under  the  spell  of its  ringing  chorus. This  impression gradually
weakened, then became a  memory and, finally, simply weariness. She lay down
in  the grass, yawned  and,  closing her eyes  blissfully,  fell asleep -- a
sleep as deep and sound as a young nut, without cares or dreams.
     She was awakened by a fly  crawling along her bare sole. Assol wriggled
her foot impatiently and awoke; sitting up, she  pinned back her dishevelled
hair and, therefore, Gray's ring  made itself known, but believing it to  be
simply a blade of grass that had become caught between her fingers, she held
them out.  However,  since the hindrance did not disappear,  she raised  her
hand to her eyes impatiently and instantly jumped to her feet with the force
of a shooting fountain.
     Gray's radiant ring sparkled on her finger as on someone else's, for at
this moment she  could  not claim it to be her  own,  she did  not feel  the
finger to belong to her.
     "Whose joke  is  this?  Whose  joke is  this?"  she cried. "Am I  still
sleeping? Maybe I found it and forgot about it?"
     She gripped  her right hand, on  which the  ring was placed,  with  her
left, looked around in wonder, searching out the  sea and the green thickets
with her gaze; but no one moved, no one was hiding in the bushes, and  there
was  no sign in the vastly  illumined blue sea. A flush  consumed Assol, and
the  voices of  her  heart  murmured  the  prophetic  "yes".  There  was  no
explanation  for  what had  happened,  but  she  found it  without  words of
thoughts in her  strange  feeling, and the ring now became dear to her.  She
trembled as she pulled it off her finger and held it in her cupped hand like
water as she examined  it--with her soul, her  heart,  the boundless joy and
clear superstition of youth--then, tucking it  into her bodice, Assol buried
her face in her hands from under which a smile strained to burst forth  and,
lowering her head, she slowly followed the road back home.
     Thus--by chance,  as people say who can read and write,--Gray and Assol
found each other on a summer's morning so full of inevitability.

     After  Gray  returned  to  the  deck  of  the  Secret  he  stood  there
motionlessly for some  minutes, running his hand over his head from back  to
front, which  indicated a state of  utter confusion. Absent-mindedness --  a
veiled movement of the emotions--was reflected in the senseless smile of the
sleep-walker on his  face. His mate, Panten, was at that moment coming along
the quarter-deck, carrying a dish of fried fish; sighting Gray, he noted the
captain's strange state.
     "You're not hurt, are you, sir?" he  inquired cautiously.  "Where  were
you? What did you see?  Actually, though,  that's none of  my  business.  An
agent has offerred us a profitable cargo with a bonus. But what's the matter
with you, sir?"
     "Thank you," Gray said with a sigh, as if he had been untied. "That was
just what I needed, the sound of your simple, intelligent voice. It's like a
dash of cold  water. Tell the crew we're weighing anchor today,  Panten, and
moving  into the mouth of the Liliana, about ten miles from here. The  river
bed is dotted with shoals. Come for the chart. We won't need a pilot. That's
all  for  now....  Oh, yes, I need that profitable  cargo  like I need  last
year's snow. You  can tell  the agent  that's what I said. I'm going to town
now, and I'll be there till evening."
     "But what happened?"
     "Nothing at all, Panten. I want you to bear in mind my  desire to avoid
all questions. When the time comes, I'll tell you what it's all  about. Tell
the  crew  that  we'll put  up  for  repairs  and  that the local drydock is
     "Yes, sir," Panten  replied dazedly to  Gray's  retreating  back. "Aye,
aye, sir."
     Although  the  captain's  orders  were  quite  sensible,  the mate  was
goggled-eyed  and raced off to his own  cabin, carrying the dish of fish and
mumbling:  "You're  puzzled, Panten.  Is he thinking of  trying his  hand at
smuggling?  Will we  be  flying the Jolly  Roger now?" At this Panten became
confused  by  the  wildest guesses. While he nervously wolfed down the fish,
Gray  went  to  his cabin, took out a  sum of money and,  crossing  the bay,
appeared  in  the  shopping  section  of  Liss.   Now,  however,   he  acted
determinedly and calmly, knowing down to the last detail  all  that he would
do on this wondrous journey. Each motion -- thought, movement--warmed him as
with the  refined joy of creative work. His plan  was  formed  instantly and
vividly. His understanding of  life had  undergone that  last  attack of the
chisel after which marble is serene in its magnificent glowing.
     Gray visited  three shops,  placing especial stress on the accuracy  of
his choice, since he was quite sure of the exact shade and colour he wanted.
In the  first two shops he was shown silk  of gaudy hues, intended to please
an  unsophisticated  vanity;  in the third  he found samples of  imaginative
tints. The shopkeeper bustled  about cheerfully, spreading  out fabrics from
his  old  stock, but Gray was  as  serious as  an  anatomist.  He  patiently
unfolded parcels  and bolts, laid them aside, moved them  together, unrolled
and brought up  to the light so many crimson strips that  the counter, piled
high with them, seemed about to burst into  flame. A scarlet  wave fell upon
the tip of Gray's boot; a pink reflection shone on his hands and face. As he
rummaged  among  the  slight  resistance  of the silk he noted  the colours:
cerise,  pink  and old  rose; the richly simmering cherry, orange and gloomy
iron reds; here there were  shades of all density and strength, as different
in  their  imaginary  kinship  as are the  words:  "charming",  "wonderful",
"magnificent", "exquisite"; in the folds there lurked allusions inaccessible
to the language  of the eyesight, but a true crimson tone evaded our captain
for  quite some time. The fabrics the  shopkeeper brought out were good, but
they did  not evoke a clear, firm  "yes". At last, one  colour attracted the
disarmed attention of the buyer;  he sat down in an armchair  by the window,
pulled a long strip  from the rustling  bolt,  dropped it on  his knees and,
sitting   back  with   his   pipe  clenched   between  his   teeth,   became
contemplatively still.
     This colour, as  absolutely pure as a crimson ray of morning,  full  of
noble joy and regality, was just exactly the proud colour Gray was searching
for. It did  not contain the mixed shades of fire, poppy petals, the play of
lilac or purple tints; nor was there any  blueness  or shadow --  nothing to
raise  any  doubt.  It glowed  like  a  smile with  the  charm of  spiritual
reflection.  Gray  became  so  lost  in  thought  that  he  forgot about the
shopkeeper  who  stood at his elbow  with the  alertness  of  a  hunting dog
pointing. Tiring of waiting, the merchant called attention to himself by the
crack of a piece of cloth being ripped.
     "That's enough samples," Gray said, rising. "I'm taking this silk."
     "The  whole bolt?" the  merchant  asked, politely  doubting.  But  Gray
stared at his forehead in silence, which prodded
     the shopkeeper to assume an undue familiarity. "How many metres, then?"
     Gray nodded, as if telling the man to wait, and, with a pencil, figured
the amount he needed on a slip of paper.
     "Two  thousand metres."  He inspected  the shelves dubiously. "Not more
than two thousand metres."
     "Two?"  said the shopkeeper, jumping like a jack-in-the-box. "Thousand?
Metres?  Please sit down, Captain. Would you like to see our latest samples,
Captain? As you wish. May I offer you  a match, and  some excellent tobacco?
Two thousand ... two thousand at...." He named a price  which had as much to
do with  the  real price  as a  vow  does with a simple  "yes", but Gray was
satisfied, because he did not wish to bargain over anything. "A magnificent,
excellent  silk," the  shopkeeper was  saying, "unexcelled  in  quality. You
won't find this anyplace else but here."
     When the man had finally run out of laudation,  Gray arranged  to  have
the silk delivered, paid his bill, including this service,  and left. He was
seen to the door by the shopkeeper with as much pomp as if he were a Chinese
emperor. Meanwhile, somewhere  nearby,  a street musician,  having tuned his
cello,  drew his  bow  gently  across  it,  making it  speak out  sadly  and
wonderfully; his comrade, the flutist, showered the  singing  of the strings
with a trilling of throaty whistling; the simple song with which they filled
the  sun-sleepy yard reached Gray's ears, and he  knew instantly what he had
to do. Actually, all these days he had  existed at that propitious height of
spiritual vision  from  which he could  clearly note  every hint  and prompt
offered  by  reality.  Upon  hearing  the  sounds,  drowned out  by  passing
carriages, he entered  into the very heart of the most important impressions
and thoughts  brought forth, in keeping  with his nature, by this music, and
could foresee why and how that which he had thought  of would turn out well.
Passing the lane,  Gray entered the gate of the  house from  where the music
was coming. By this  time the musicians were getting ready  to move  on; the
tall flutist, with an air of dignity  brought low, waved his hat  gratefully
at  those windows from which coins  were tossed.  The cello was locked under
its owner's  arm again;  he  was mopping his  wet  brow  and waiting for the
     "Why,  it's you, Zimmer!"  Gray  said to him, recognizing the violinist
who entertained the seamen  in  the evenings with his magnificent playing at
the Money on the Barrel Inn. "Why have you forsaken your violin?"
     "Dear  Captain,"  Zimmer objected smugly, "I play  anything  that makes
sounds and rattles. In my youth I was a musical  clown. I have now developed
a passion for art,  and  I realize with a  heavy heart that  I've squandered
away a real  talent. That is why, from a feeling of late-come greed, I  love
two  at  once: the cello and the violin. I play the cello in the daytime and
the violin in the evening, so that I seem to be weeping, to  be sobbing over
a lost talent.  Will you offer me some wine? Hm? The cello is my Carmen, but
the violin...."
     "Is Assol," Gray said.
     Zimmer misunderstood.
     "Yes," he nodded, "a solo played on cymbals or brass pipes is something
else again. However,  what  do I  care? Let  the clowns  of  art grimace and
twitch -- I know that fairies dwell within the violin and the cello."
     "And what dwells in my tur-i-loo?" the flutist asked  as he walked  up.
He was a tall fellow with a sheep's blue eyes and a curly blond beard. "Tell
me that now."
     "It  all  depends  on  how much  you've had  to  drink  since  morning.
Sometimes  it's a bird,  and  sometimes  it's liquor  fumes. Captain,  may I
present my  partner  Diiss? I  told him  about the way  you throw your money
around  when  you're  drinking, and he's  fallen  in love  with  you,  sight
     "Yes," Diiss said, "I love a grand  gesture  and generosity. But I'm  a
sly fellow, so don't trust my vile flattery."
     "Well,  now,"  Gray said and smiled,  "I'm  pressed  for time, and  the
matter  is urgent.  I can offer  you a chance to earn some good  money.  Put
together an orchestra,  but not  one  that's  made up  of  fops with funeral
parlour  faces  who've  forgotten  in  their   musical  pedantry  or,--worse
still--in their gastronomical soundings, all about the soul of music and are
slowly spreading a pall  over the  stage with their intricate noises,--  no.
Get together  your  friends  who  can  make the simple hearts  of  cooks and
butlers weep, get
     together  your  wandering  tribe. The  sea  and love do  not stand  for
pedants. I'd love to  have a  drink  with you and  polish  off more than one
bottle, but I must go.  I've got a lot to attend to. Take this and  drink to
the letter A. If you accept my proposition, come to the Secret this evening.
It's moored near the first dam."
     "Right!" Zimmer cried, knowing that Gray paid like a king. "Bow, Diiss,
say 'yes'  and  twirl your  hat from  joy! Captain Gray  has decided  to get
     "Yes," Gray replied  simply.  "I'll  tell  you the details on board the
Secret. As for you...."
     "Here's to A!"  Diiss nudged  Zimmer and winked at  Gray. "But... there
are so many letters in the alphabet!  Won't  you give  us  something for  Z,
     Gray gave them some more money. The musicians departed. He then went to
a commission agent and placed a secret order for a rush job, to be completed
in six day's time, and costing an impressive amount. As Gray returned to his
ship the  agent was  boarding  a  steamboat. Towards  evening the  silk  was
delivered; Letika had  not yet returned, nor had the musicians arrived; Gray
went off to talk to Panten.
     It should be noted that in  the course  of several years Gray had  been
sailing with the same crew. At first, the captain had puzzled the sailors by
the eccentric nature  of his voyages and  stops--which  sometimes lasted for
months--in the most trade-lacking, unpopulated places, but in time they were
inspired by Gray's "grayism". Often he would sail with ballast alone, having
refused to take on a  profitable cargo for  the sole reason  that he did not
like  the freight offered. No one could ever talk him into taking on  a load
of soap, nails,  machine parts or some such that  would lie  silently in the
hold, evoking lifeless images of dull necessity. But he was always  ready to
take on fruit, china, animals, spices,  tea, tobacco, coffee, silk and  rare
varieties of wood: ebony, sandalwood and teak. All this was in  keeping with
the aristocratism . of  his imagination, creating a  picturesque atmosphere;
small wonder then that the crew of the Secret, having been  nurtured thus in
the spirit of originality,  should look down somewhat upon all other  ships,
engulfed as they were in the smoke of plain, ordinary profit. Still and all,
this time Gray noted their questioning  looks:  even the dumbest sailor knew
that there was no need to put up for repairs in a forest river.
     Panten had naturally passed Gray's orders on to them. When Gray entered
his  mate  was finishing his sixth cigar  and pacing up and down  the cabin,
dizzy from so much smoke and stumbling over chairs. Evening was approaching;
a golden shaft of light  protruded through  the open porthole, and in it the
polished visor of the captain's cap flashed.
     "Everything's  shipshape," Panten said sullenly.  "We can weigh  anchor
now if you wish."
     "You  should  know  me by  now," Gray said kindly. "There's no  mystery
about what I'm doing. As soon as we drop anchor in the Liliana I'll tell you
all about it, and you won't  have to waste so  many matches on cheap cigars.
Go on and weigh anchor."
     Panten smiled uncomfortably and scratched an eyebrow.
     "Yes, I know. Not that I ... all right."
     After he was gone  Gray sat very still for a while, looking out of  the
door that was slightly ajar, and then went  to his own cabin. There he first
sat,  then  lay  down and then, listening  to the  clatter  of  the windlass
pulling up the loud chain, was about  to go up  to the forecastle  deck  but
fell to pondering and returned to the table where his  finger drew a  quick,
straight line across the  oilcloth. A fist struck against  the door  brought
him out of his maniacal trance;  he turned the key,  letting in Letika.  The
sailor, panting loudly, stood there looking like a messenger who has averted
an execution at the very last moment.
     "Let's go, Letika, I said to myself from where I stood on the pier," he
said,  speaking  rapidly,  "when  I  saw  the  boys here  dancing around the
windlass and spitting on their hands. I have an eagle-eye. And I flew. I was
breathing down the  boatman's back so hard he broke out  in a nervous sweat.
Did you want to leave me behind, Captain?"
     "Letika," Gray said,  peering  at his bloodshot  eyes,  "I expected you
back no later than this morning. Did you pour cold water on the back of vour
     "Yes.  Not as much  as  went  down  the hatch,  but  I did.  I've  done
     "Let's have it."
     "There's  no  sense  talking, Captain. It's all written down here. Read
it. I did my best. I'm leaving."
     "Where to?"
     "I can see by the  look on  your face  that I  didn't  pour enough cold
water on my head."
     He turned  and  exited  with the strange movements of a blind man. Gray
unfolded the  slip of paper;  the pencil  must  have  been  surprised  as it
produced the  scrawl that resembled a crooked fence. This is what Letika had
     "Following orders. I went  down the street after 5 p.m.  A house with a
grey roof and two windows on either  side; it has  a  vegetable  garden. The
person in question came out twice:  once for water and once for kindling for
the stove. After  dark was able to look into the window, but saw  nothing on
account of the curtain."
     There followed several  notations of a domestic nature which Letika had
apparently gleaned in conversation over a bottle, since the memorandum ended
rather abruptly with the words: "Had to  add a bit of my  own to square  the
     However, the gist  of the report stated  but that which we know of from
the first  chapter. Gray  put the paper  in his desk, whistled for the watch
and sent the  man for  Panten, but the  boatswain Atwood  showed up instead,
hastily pulling down his rolled-up sleeves.
     "We've tied up  at the dam. Panten sent me down to  see what the orders
are.  He's busy  fighting off  some men with horns, drums and other violins.
Did you tell them to  come aboard? Panten asked you  to come up. He says his
head's spinning."
     "Yes, Atwood.  I  invited the  musicians aboard. Tell them to go to the
crew's quarters meanwhile. We'll see  to them later. Tell them and  the crew
I'll  be up  on  deck in  fifteen minutes, I want everyone in  attendance. I
presume you and Panten will also listen to what I have to say."
     Atwood cocked his left brow. He stood by the door for a few moments and
then sidled out.
     Gray spent  the next ten minutes with his face buried in his hands;  he
was not preparing himself for anything,  nor was he  calculating.  He simply
wished  to be  silent for a  while. In  the  meantime, everyone awaited  him
anxiously and with a curiosity full of surmise. He emerged and  saw in their
faces  an expectation  of  improbable things, but since  he  considered that
which  was  taking place to  be quite natural, the tenseness of  these other
people's souls was reflected in his own as a slight annoyance.
     "It's nothing out  of  the  ordinary," said Gray,  sitting  down on the
bridge ladder. "We'll lie to in the river till we change the rigging. You've
all seen the red silk that's been delivered.  The sailmaker Blent will be in
charge of making new sails  from it for the Secret. We'll then set sail, but
I can't say where to. At any rate, it won't be far from here. I am going for
my wife. She's not my wife yet, but she will be. I must have red sails on my
ship so that, according to the agreement, she can spot us from afar. That is
all. As you see, there's nothing mysterious  in all this.  And we'll say  no
     about it."
     "Indeed," said Atwood, sensing from the crew's  smiling faces that they
were  pleasantly surprised  but did  not  venture to  speak. "So  that's it,
Captain.... It's not for us to  judge. We can only obey. Everything'll be as
you wish. May I offer my congratulations." "Thank you!"
     Gray  gripped the boatswain's hand, but the  latter.through  superhuman
effort, returned the  handshake so firmly the captain yielded. Then the crew
came  up,  mumbling  words of  congratulations  with  one  man's warm  smile
replacing another's. No one  shouted,  no one cheered  -- for  the  men  had
sensed something very special in the captain's short speech. Panten heaved a
sigh of  relief and  brightened  visibly  -- the weight that  had lay on his
heart  melted  away.  The  ship's  carpenter was  the only  one  who  seemed
displeased. He shook Gray's hand listlessly and said
     "How'd you ever think of it, Captain?"
     "It was like a blow of your axe. Zimmer! Let's see your
     The  violinist,  slapping  the  musicians  on  the  back,  pushed seven
sloppily dressed men out of the crowd.
     "Here," Zimmer said. "This is the trombone. He doesn't play, he blasts.
These two beardless  boys are trumpeters; when they start playing, everybody
feels like  going off to war. Then there's  the clarinet, the cornet and the
second fiddle. AH of them are past masters at accompanying the lively prima,
meaning  me.  And  here's the  headmaster of our  merry  band -- Fritz,  the
drummer. You know, drummers usually look  disappointed,  but  this one plays
with dignity and fervour.  There's something open-hearted and as straight as
his  drumsticks about  his playing.  Will  there be anything  else,  Captain
     "Magnificent.  A place has been set aside for you  in  the hold,  which
this  time,  apparently,  will be filled with all sorts of scherzos, adagios
and fortissimos. To your  places,  men. Cast off  and head out, Panten! I'll
relieve you in two hours."
     He did not notice the passing of these two hours, as they slipped by to
the  accompaniment  of  the  same  inner  music  that  never  abandoned  his
consciousness, as  the pulse does not abandon the arteries.  He  had but one
thought, one wish, one goal. Being  a  man  of action, in his mind's eye  he
anticipated the events, regretting  only that they could  not be manipulated
as  quickly  and  easily as  chequers  on a board.  Nothing about  his  calm
exterior bespoke the inner tension  whose booming, like  the  clanging  of a
great  bell overhead, reverberated through his body  as a deafening, nervous
moan. It  finally caused  him to begin  counting to  himself: "One... two...
thirty..."--and so on, until he said:  "One thousand."  This mental exercise
had its effect; he was finally able to take a detached view of  the project.
He was somewhat surprised at not being able  to imagine what Assol  was like
as a person, for he had never even spoken to her. He had once read  that one
could, though incompletely, understand a person if, imaging one's self to be
that  person,  one imitated  the expression of  his  face. Gray's  eyes  had
already begun to assume a strange expression that was alien to them, and his
lips  under his moustache were curling up into a faint, timid smile, when he
suddenly  came  to  his senses,  burst out laughing  and went  up to relieve
     It was dark. Panten had raised the collar of  his jacket and was pacing
back and forth by the compass, saying to the helmsman:
     "Port, one quarter point. Port. Stop. A quarter point
     The Secret was sailing free at half tack.
     "You know," Panten said to Gray, "I'm pleased."
     "What by?"
     "The same  thing you are. Now I know. It came  to me right here on  the
bridge." He winked slyly as the fire of his pipe lighted his smile.
     "You  don't  say?"  Gray  replied,  suddenly  understanding what he was
getting at. "And what do you know?"
     "It's the best way  to smuggle it in. Anybody can have whatever kind of
sails he wants to. You're a genius, Gray!"
     "Poor old Panten!" the captain said, not knowing whether to be angry or
to laugh. "Your guess is a clever one, but it lacks any basis in fact. Go to
bed.  You have  my  word  for it that  you're wrong.  I'm doing exactly as I
     He sent him down to sleep, checked  their course and sat down. We shall
leave him now, for he needs to be by himself.

     Longren spent the night at sea; he neither slept nor fished, but sailed
along without any definite course, listening  to the lapping  of  the water,
gazing into the blackness, holding his  face up to the wind and thinking. At
the most difficult times  of his life nothing so  restored his soul as these
lonely wanderings. Stillness, stillness and solitude were  what he needed in
order to make  the  faintest,  most obscure voices of his  inner world sound
clearly. This  night  his thoughts  were of the future,  of  poverty  and of
Assol. It was unbearably difficult for him to leave her, if only for a short
while;  besides, he  was  afraid of resurrecting  the  abated pain. Perhaps,
after signing up on a ship, he
     would again imagine that waiting for him in Kaperna was his beloved who
had never died--and, returning, he would approach  the house with the  grief
of lifeless expectation. Mary  would never again come through the  door. But
he wanted to  provide  for  Assol  and,  therefore, decided to do  what  his
concern for her demanded he do.
     When Longren returned the girl was not yet at home. Her early walks did
not worry her father; this  time, however, there  was  a trace of anxiety in
his expectation. Pacing up and down, he turned to suddenly see Assol; having
entered  swiftly  and  soundlessly, she came up  to him  without a  word and
nearly frightened him by  the brightness  of  her expression, which mirrored
her excitement. It  seemed  that her second being  had come  to  light--true
being  to  which  a person's eyes alone usually attest.  She was  silent and
looked into Longren's face so strangely that he quickly inquired:
     "Are you ill?"
     She did not immediately reply.  When the  meaning  of his words finally
reached  her inner  ear  Assol started,  as a twig  touched by  a hand,  and
laughed a long, even  peal of  quietly  triumphant laughter. She  had to say
something but, as always, she did not have to think of what it would be. She
     "No.  I'm  well.... Why  are you  looking at me like  that?  I'm happy.
Really, I am, but it's because it's such a lovely day. What have you thought
of? I can see by your look that you've thought of something."
     "Whatever I may have thought of," Longren said, taking her  on his lap,
"I know you'll  understand why I'm  doing it.  We've  nothing to live on.  I
won't  go on  a  long voyage again, but I'll sign on the mailboat that plies
between Kasset and Liss."
     "Yes," she said  from  afar,  making an effort to share his  cares  and
worries, but  aghast at  being unable to stop feeling so gay. "That's awful.
I'll be very lonely. Come back soon." Saying this,  she blossomed out  in an
irrepressible smile. "And hurry, dear. I'll be waiting for you."
     "Assol!" Longren said, cupping her face and turning it towards himself.
"Tell me what's happened."
     She felt she had to  dispel his fears and,  overcoming  her jubilation,
became gravely attentive, all save her eyes, which still sparkled with a new
     "You're funny. Nothing at all. I was gathering nuts."
     Longren would not have really believed this had he not been so taken up
by  his  own  thoughts. Their  conversation then became  matter-of-fact  and
detailed. The sailor told his daughter  to pack his bag, enumerated  all  he
would need and had some instructions for her:
     "I'll be  back in about ten days. You  pawn my gun and stay at home. If
anyone annoys  you,  say: 'Longren will be back soon.' Don't think or  worry
about me: nothing will happen to me."
     He then had his dinner,  kissed her  soundly and, slinging the bag over
his shoulder, went out to the  road that led to town. Assol looked after him
until he turned the bend and then  went back  into the  house. She  had many
chores to do, but forgot all about them. She looked around with the interest
of slight surprise, as if she were already astrangerto this house, so much a
part  of her  for as  far back as  she  could recall that it seemed  she had
always  carried its image  within  her, and which  now appeared  like  one's
native parts do when revisited after a  lapse of  time and from  a different
kind of  life. But she felt there was something unbecoming in this rebuff of
hers, something wrong. She  sat  down at the table at which Longren made his
toys and tried  to glue a rudder to a stern; as she looked at these  objects
she unwittingly imagined them in their true sizes, and  real.  All that  had
happened that morning once again rose up within her in trembling excitement,
and a golden ring as large as the sun fell to her feet from across the sea.
     She could not remain indoors, left the house  and set out for Liss, She
had no errand there at all, and did not know  why she was  going,  yet could
not but go. She met a man on the way who asked for directions; she explained
all in detail to him, and the incident was immediately forgotten.
     The long  road slipped by as  if she had been carrying a bird  that had
completely  absorbed her  tender attention. Approaching  the town,  she  was
distracted somewhat by the
     noise given off by its great circle, but  it had  no power  over her as
before, when, frightening and cowing  her,  it had made her a silent coward.
She stood  up to it. She passed along the circle of the boulevard leisurely,
crossing  the blue  shadows  of the  trees, glancing  up  at  the  faces  of
passers-by trustingly and unselfconsciously, walking slowly and confidently.
The observant had occassion during  the  day to note the  stranger  here, an
unusual-looking  girl  who  had passed  through  the  motley  crowd, lost in
thought. In the square she held her  hand out  to the stream of water in the
fountain, fingering the sparkling  spray; then she sat down, rested a  while
and returned to the forest road. She traversed it in refreshed spirits, in a
mood as peaceful and clear as a stream in evening that had finally exchanged
the flashing  mirrors  of  the  day  for  the  calm  glow  of  the  shadows.
Approaching the village, she  saw the  selfsame coalman who had imagined his
basket sprouting blossoms; he was standing beside his cart with two strange,
sullen men who were covered with soot and dirt. Assol was very pleased.
     "Hello, Phillip. What are you doing here?"
     "Nothing, Midge. A wheel got  loose.  I fixed it, and now I'm  having a
smoke and talking to my friends. Where were you?"
     Assol did not reply.
     "You know, Phillip,  I like  you very  much, and that's why  you're the
only one I'm telling this to. I'll be leaving soon.  I'll probably  be going
away for good. Don't tell anyone, though."
     "You mean you want to go away? Where to?" The coalman was  so surprised
he gaped, which made his beard still longer than it was.
     "I don't know." Slowly, she took  in the clearing, the elm under  which
the  cart stood,  the  grass  that was  so green in the  pink twilight,  the
silent, grimy coalmen and added after a pause:  "I don't  know. I don't know
the day  or the hour, or  even where it'll  be. I can't tell  you  any more.
That's why  I  want to say goodbye, just in  case. You've often  given me  a
     She took his huge, soot-blackened hand and more or less managed to give
it a shake. The  worker's face cracked in  a  stiff  smile. The girl nodded,
turned and  walked off. She  disappeared even before Phillip and his friends
had a chance to turn their heads.
     "Ain't  it a wonder?" the  coalman  said.  "How's a body  to understand
that? There's something about her today ... funny, like, I mean."
     "You're right," the second  man agreed. "You can't tell whether she was
just  saying that  or  trying  to  make  us  believe her.  It's none of  our
     "It's none of our business," said the third and sighed.
     Then  the three of them got into the cart and, as the  wheels clattered
over the rocky road, disappeared in a cloud of dust.

     It was  a  white  hour of  morning; a faint  mist crowded with  strange
phantoms filled  the  great forest. An  unnamed hunter, having just left his
campfire, was making his way parallel  to the  river; the light  of its airy
emptiness  glimmered through the trees,  but  the  cautious hunter  did  not
approach  the  river  as he  examined the fresh tracks of a  bear  that  was
heading for the mountains.
     A  sudden sound rushed through the trees with the  unexpectedness of an
alarming chase; it was the clarinet bursting into song. The musician, having
come up on deck, played a passage full of  sad and mournful  repetition. The
sound trembled like a voice concealing grief; it rose, smiled in a sad trill
and ended abruptly. A distant echo hummed the same melody faintly.
     The hunter, marking the  tracks with a broken twig, made his way to the
water. The  fog had not  yet lifted; it  obscured the  silhouette of a large
ship turning slowly out of the river. Its furled sails came to life, hanging
down in festoons, coming unfurled  and covering the masts with the  helpless
shields of their huge folds; he could hear voices and the
     sound  of steps. The off-shore wind, attempting to blow,  picked at the
sails lazily; finally, the sun's warmth had the desired effect; the pressure
of the wind increased, lifted the fog and streamed  along the yards into the
light crimson shapes so full of roses. Rosy  shadows slipped along the white
of  the masts  and rigging, and everything  was  white except  the unfurled,
full-blown sails which were the colour of true
     joy-The  hunter, staring  from the bank, rubbed his eyes hard  until he
was  finally  convinced  that  what  he was  seeing was  indeed  so  and not
otherwise. The  ship  disappeared around a  bend,  but he still stood there,
staring; then, shrugging, he went after his bear.
     While the Secret sailed  along the  river,  Gray stood at the helm, not
trusting it to the helmsman, for  he was afraid of shoals. Panten sat beside
him, freshly-shaven and sulking resignedly, and wearing a  new worsted  suit
and a shiny  new cap.  As before, he saw no connection  between  the crimson
magnificence and Gray's intentions.
     "Now," said  Gray, "when my sails are glowing, the wind is fair and  my
heart is  overflowing  with  joy  that  is greater  than  what  an  elephant
experiences at the  sight of  a small bun, I shall try  to attune  you to my
thoughts  as  I promised  back in Liss.  Please bear  in  mind that  I don't
consider you  dull-witted or stubborn, no;  you are an exemplary seaman  and
this means a lot. But you, as  the great majority of others, hear the voices
of all the simple  truths through the thick  glass of  life; they shout, but
you will not hear them. What I'm doing exists  as an old-fashioned belief in
the beautiful and  unattainable,  and what, actually, is  as attainable  and
possible  as a  picnic.  You  will soon see a girl who  cannot, who must not
marry otherwise  than  in  the manner  I  am  following and  which  you  are
     He related in short that which we know so well, concluding thus:
     "You see how closely entwined here are fate, will and human nature; I'm
going to the one  who is waiting and  can wait for me alone,  while I do not
want any other but her, perhaps just because, thanks  to her, I've  come  to
understand a  simple truth, namely:  you must  make  so-called miracles come
true yourself. When  a  person  places  the  most  importance on  getting  a
treasured copper  it's not hard to  give him that copper, but  when the soul
cherishes  the seed of  an ardent plant--a  miracle, make  this miracle come
true for it if you can.
     "This person's soul will  change and yours will,  too.  When the  chief
warden releases a  prisoner of his own free will,  when a  billionaire gives
his scribe a villa, a chorus girl and  a safe, and when a jockey holds  back
his horse just once to let  an unlucky  horse pass him,-- then everyone will
understand how pleasant this is, how inexpressibly wonderful. But there  are
miracles of no  less magnitude: a smile,  merriment, forgiveness and ... the
right word spoken opportunely. If one  possesses this--one possesses all. As
for me,  our  beginning--Assol's and  mine--will  forever remain to  us in a
crimson glow of sails, created by the depths of a heart that knows what love
is. Have you understood me?"
     "Yes,  Captain." Panten cleared his throat and wiped his moustache with
a  neatly-folded,  clean  handkerchief.  "I  understand  everything.  You've
touched my heart. I'll go below and  tell Nicks  I'm sorry I cursed him  for
sinking  a pail yesterday. And  I'll  give  him some tobacco--he lost his at
cards yesterday."
     Before Gray, who was somewhat  surprised at the quick practical  effect
his words had had, was able  to reply, Panten had  clattered down the ladder
and heaved a  sigh in  the distance.  Gray looked  up over his shoulder; the
crimson sails billowed silently above him; the sun in their seams shone as a
purple mist. The Secret was heading out  to sea, moving away from the shore.
There was no doubt in Gray's ringing soul -- no dull pounding of anxiety, no
bustle of  small worries; as calmly  as  a sail  was he straining towards  a
heavenly goal, his mind full of those thoughts which forestall words.
     The  puffs of  smoke  of a naval cruiser  appeared  on the horizon. The
cruiser changed its course and, from a distance  of half a mile, raised  the
signal that stood for "lie to".
     "They won't shell us, boys," Gray said. "Don't worry! They simply can't
believe their eyes."
     He gave the order  to lie to. Panten, shouting as if there were a fire,
brought the Secret out of the wind; the ship stopped,  while a steam  launch
manned by a crew and lieutenant  in white gloves  sped towards them from the
cruiser;  the  lieutenant,  stepping  aboard  the  ship,  looked  around  in
amazement  and followed Gray to his  cabin, from  which  he emerged an  hour
later,  smiling as if he had just been promoted and, with an awkward wave of
his hand,  headed  back to  his blue cruiser. This time  Gray had apparently
been more successful than he had with  the unsophisticated Panten, since the
cruiser,  pausing shortly,  blasted the  horizon  with a  mighty salvo whose
swift  bursts  of smoke, ripping through the  air  in great, flashing balls,
furled  away  over  the still  waters.  All day  long  there  was  an air of
half-festive bewilderment on board the  cruiser; the mood was definitely not
official, it was one of awe -- under the  sign of love, of which  there  was
talk everywhere,-- from the officers' mess to the engine  room; the watch on
duty in the torpedo section asked a passing sailor:
     "How'd you get married, Tom?"
     "I caught  her  by the  skirt  when  she tried to  escape  through  the
window," Tom said and twirled his moustache proudly.
     For some time after the Secret plied the empty sea, out of sight of the
shore;  towards noon  they  sighted  the  distant  shore.  Gray  lifted  his
telescope and  trained it on Kaperna.  If not  for a row of roofs,  he would
have spotted Assol  sitting over a book by  the window in one of the houses.
She was  reading; a  small  greenish beetle  was  crawling  along  the page,
stopping and rising up on its front legs, looking very independent and tame.
It had already been blown  peevishly onto the window-sill twice, from whence
it  had reappeared as trustingly and unafraid  as if it had had something to
say. This time it managed to get nearly as  far as the girl's hand which was
holding  the corner  of  the page; here it got  stuck  on  the word  "look",
hesitated  as if awaiting a new squall and, indeed, barely  escaped trouble,
since Assol had already exclaimed: "Oh!  That...  silly bug!"--and was about
to blow the visitor right into  the grass when a chance shifting of her eyes
from one rooftop to another revealed to her in  the blue strip of sea at the
end of the street a white ship with crimson sails.
     She  started  visibly,  leaned back and froze; then she  jumped up, her
heart sinking  dizzily,  and  burst into  uncontrollable  tears of  inspired
shock. Meanwhile, the Secret  was rounding  a  small  cape,  its  port  side
towards the shore; soft music wafted over the light-blue hollow, coming from
the  white deck  beneath  the crimson  silk;  the music of a  lilting melody
expressed not too successfully by the well-known words: "Fill,  fill up your
glasses  --  and let  us drink to  love...."  In its  simplicity,  exulting,
excitement unfurled and rumbled.
     Unmindful of how  she had left the  house,  Assol ran towards  the sea,
caught up  by the irresistible wind of events; she stopped at the very first
corner, nearly  bereft  of strength; her knees buckled,  her breath came  in
gasps and consciousness hung by a thread. Beside herself from fear of losing
her determination, she stamped her foot and ran on.  Every now  and  then  a
roof or a fence would  hide the crimson sails from view; then, fearful  lest
they had disappeared like some ordinary  mirage, she would hurry to pass the
tormenting obstacle and, sighting the ship once again, would stop to heave a
sigh of relief.
     Meanwhile, there was such commotion, such an uproar and such excitement
in Kaperna as was comparable to the effect of the  famous earthquakes. Never
before had a  large ship  approached this shore; the ship had the  very same
sails whose colour sounded like a taunt; now  they were blazing brightly and
incontestably with the  innocence  of a fact that  refutes  all  the laws of
being and common sense. Men, women and children  were racing  helter-skelter
towards the shore; the inhabitants shouted to each other over their  fences,
bumped into each other, howled and tumbled; soon a crowd had gathered at the
water's edge, and into the crowd Assol rushed.
     As long as she  was not there her name was tossed around with a nervous
and  sullen tenseness, with hateful fear. The  men did  most of the talking;
the thunderstruck women sobbed  in a choked, snake-like hissing, but  if one
did begin to rattle -- the poison rose to her head. The moment Assol
     appeared everyone became silent, everyone moved away from  her in fear,
and she  remained alone on the empty stretch of hot sand, at a  loss, shamed
and  happy,  with  a face  no  less crimson  than  her  miracle,  helplessly
stretching her hands towards the tall ship.
     A  rowboat manned by  bronzed oarsmen detached  itself  from  the ship;
among  them stood he whom  she  now felt she had known,  had  dimly recalled
since  childhood.  He  was looking at  her with  a  smile which  warmed  and
beckoned.  But thousands  of last-stand, silly fears  gripped Assol; deathly
afraid of  everything--an error, misunderstanding, some  mysterious  or evil
hindrance -- she plunged waist-deep into the warm undulation of  the  waves,
shouting: "I'm here, I'm here! It's me!"
     Then  Zimmer  raised  his  bow -- and the  very same melody struck  the
nerves of the crowd,  but this time it was  a full-voiced, triumphant choir.
From excitement, the  motion  of the clouds and  waves, the  glitter of  the
water and the distance the girl was  hardly able to discern what was moving:
she  herself, the ship or  the rowboat,--everything was moving, spinning and
     But an oar slashed  the water next  to  her;  she raised her head. Gray
bent down, and her hands gripped his belt.
     Assol shut her eyes tight; then she opened them quickly,  smiled boldly
into his beaming face and said breathlessly:
     "Just as I imagined you."
     "And  you, too, my dear!"  Gray said, lifting his wet treasure from the
water. "I've come at last. Do you recognize me?"
     She nodded, holding  onto  his  belt, trembling with a  reborn soul and
eyes shut quiveringly tight. Happiness was as a soft kitten curled up inside
of her. When Assol  decided to open her eyes the rocking of the rowboat, the
sparkle of the waves, the huge, approaching, moving side of  the Secret--all
was  a dream,  where the light and the water bobbed and spun like sun-sports
cavorting  on a  sunshine-streaked wall. She did not  remember  how she  was
carried up the gangplank in Gray's strong arms. The deck, covered and draped
with rugs,  engulfed by  the  crimson splashing  of the sails,  was  like  a
heavenly garden. And soon Assol saw that she was  in a cabin--in a room than
which nothing could be better.
     Then from above, rending and absorbing the heart in its triumphant cry,
once again the  thunderous music crashed.  Once  again  Assol shut her eyes,
fearful lest  all this disappear if she were to  look. Gray  took her  hands
and, knowing now where safety lay, she buried her tear-stained  face  on the
breast of her beloved, who had appeared  so miraculously. Gently, but with a
smile,  for  he,  too,  was  overwhelmed  and amazed by  the  coming  of the
inexpressible, precious minute,  inaccessible to anyone else, Gray tilted up
this face that had haunted him for so long, and the eyes of the girl finally
opened wide. All that was best in a person was in them.
     "Will you take my Longren with us?" she said.
     "Yes."  And he kissed  her so passionately after saying this firm "yes"
that she laughed delightedly.
     We shall leave them  now, knowing that  they should be alone. There are
many words in the many languages and dialects of the world, but none of them
can even faintly convey that which they said to each other that day.
     Meanwhile,  up on deck, by the mainmast  the  entire crew waited at the
worm-eaten cask with the top knocked off to reveal the hundred-year old dark
magnificence.  Atwood stood by; Panten sat as  primly blissful  as a newborn
babe. Gray  came up on  deck, signalled  to the orchestra and,  removing his
cap, was the first to dip a glass, to the accompaniment of the golden horns,
into the sacred wine.
     "There..." he said, when he  had  drunk and then tossed down his glass.
"Now drink. Everybody, drink! Anyone who doesn't drink is my enemy."
     He did not have  to repeat  his words. As the  Secret proceeded at full
speed,  under  full  sail,  away  from  Kaperna,  which had been struck dumb
forever,  the jostling  around the cask  was greater  than  anything in this
manner that occurs at great fetes.
     "How did you like it?" Gray asked Letika.
     "Captain," the sailor said,  searching  for the  right  words, "I don't
know  whether it  liked  me,  but I'll  have to think  over  my impressions.
Beehive and orchard!"
     "I mean it's like having a beehive and an orchard put into my mouth. Be
happy, Captain.  And  may she whom I will call 'the best cargo', the Secrefs
best prize, be happy, too!"
     When dawn broke the following  morning the  ship  was far from Kaperna.
Part of the crew were asleep where they had stretched out on  deck, overcome
by Gray's  wine; only the  helmsman, the  watch  and a thoughtful and  tipsy
Zimmer who sat  near the prow with his  chin resting on the  finger-board of
his cello were up. He sat there, drawing  his bow across the strings softly,
making them speak in a magic, heavenly voice, and was thinking of happiness.


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