On the eve Crimson sails

On the eve Crimson sails

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 the 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 sew.

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 can.

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.