The crimson Sekret Crimson sails

The crimson Sekret Crimson sails

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 witnessing."

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 falling.

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.