Crimson sails The prophesy

Crimson sails The prophesy

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 rain.

"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 weeks.

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 smile.

"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 basket.

"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 arrival."

"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 demanded.

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 home.