Assol remains alone Crimson sails

Assol remains alone Crimson sails

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 said:

"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 life.

"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 lift."

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 business."

"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.