The Ocean by Leonid N. Andreyev
A strong wind is tossing the fragment of a sail which is hanging over the large, open window. The sail is too small to cover the entire window, and, through the gaping hole, the dark night is breathing inclement weather. There is no rain, but the warm wind, saturated with the sea, is heavy and damp.
Here in the tower live Haggart and his sailor, Khorre. Both are sleeping now a heavy, drunken sleep. On the table and in the corners of the room there are empty bottles, and the remains of food; the only taburet is overturned, lying on one side. Toward evening the sailor got up, lit a large illumination lamp, and was about to do more, but he was overcome by intoxication again and fell asleep upon his thin mattress of straw and seagrass. Tossed by the wind, the flame of the illumination-lamp is quivering in yellow, restless spots over the uneven, mutilated walls, losing itself in the dark opening of the door, which leads to the other rooms of the castle.
Haggart lies on his back, and the same quivering yellow shades run noiselessly over his strong forehead, approach his closed eyes, his straight, sharply outlined nose, and, tossing about in confusion, rush back to the wall. The breathing of the sleeping man is deep and uneven; from time to time his heavy, strange hand lifts itself, makes several weak, unfinished movements, and falls down on his breast helplessly.
Outside the window the breakers are roaring and raging, beating against the rocks--this is the second day a storm is raging in the ocean. The ancient tower is quivering from the violent blows of the waves. It responds to the storm with the rustling of the falling plaster, with the rattling of the little cobblestones as they are torn down, with the whisper and moans of the wind which has lost its way in the passages. It whispers and mutters like an old woman.
The sailor begins to feel cold on the stone floor, on which the wind spreads itself like water; he tosses about, folds his legs under himself, draws his head into his shoulders, gropes for his imaginary clothes, but is unable to wake up--his intoxication produced by a two days' spree is heavy and severe. But now the wind whines more powerfully than before; something heaves a deep groan. Perhaps a part of a destroyed wall has sunk into the sea. The quivering yellow spots commence to toss about upon the crooked wall more desperately, and Khorre awakes.
He sits up on his mattress, looks around, but is unable to understand anything.
The wind is hissing like a robber summoning other robbers, and filling the night with disquieting phantoms. It seems as if the sea were full of sinking vessels, of people who are drowning and desperately struggling with death. Voices are heard. Somewhere near by people are shouting, scolding each other, laughing and singing, like madmen, or talking sensibly and rapidly--it seems that soon one will see a strange human face distorted by horror or laughter, or fingers bent convulsively. But there is a strong smell of the sea, and that, together with the cold, brings Khorre to his senses.
"Noni!" he calls hoarsely, but Haggart does not hear him. After a moment's thought, he calls once more:
"Captain. Noni! Get up."
But Haggart does not answer and the sailor mutters:
"Noni is drunk and he sleeps. Let him sleep. Oh, what a cold night it is. There isn't enough warmth in it even to warm your nose. I am cold. I feel cold and lonesome, Noni. I can't drink like that, although everybody knows I am a drunkard. But it is one thing to drink, and another to drown in gin--that's an entirely different matter. Noni--you are like a drowned man, simply like a corpse. I feel ashamed for your sake, Noni. I shall drink now and--"
He rises, and staggering, finds an unopened bottle and drinks.
"A fine wind. They call this a storm--do you hear, Noni? They call this a storm. What will they call a real storm?"
He drinks again.
"A fine wind!"
He goes over to the window and, pushing aside the corner of the sail, looks out.
"Not a single light on the sea, or in the village. They have hidden themselves and are sleeping--they are waiting for the storm to pass. B-r-r, how cold! I would have driven them all out to sea; it is mean to go to sea only when the weather is calm. That is cheating the sea. I am a pirate, that's true; my name is Khorre, and I should have been hanged long ago on a yard, that's true, too--but I shall never allow myself such meanness as to cheat the sea. Why did you bring me to this hole, Noni?"
He picks up some brushwood, and throws it into the fireplace.
"I love you, Noni. I am now going to start a fire to warm your feet. I used to be your nurse, Noni; but you have lost your reason-- that's true. I am a wise man, but I don't understand your conduct at all. Why did you drop your ship? You will be hanged, Noni, you will be hanged, and I will dangle by your side. You have lost your reason, that's true!"
He starts a fire, then prepares food and drink.
"What will you say when you wake up? 'Fire.' And I will answer, 'Here it is.' Then you will say, 'Something to drink.' And I will answer, 'Here it is.' And then you will drink your fill again, and I will drink with you, and you will prate nonsense. How long is this going to last? We have lived this way two months now, or perhaps two years, or twenty years--I am drowning in gin--I don't understand your conduct at all, Noni."
"Either I have lost my mind from this gin, or a ship is being wrecked near by. How they are crying!"
He looks out of the window.
"No, no one is here. It is the wind. The wind feels weary, and it plays all by itself. It has seen many shipwrecks, and now it is inventing. The wind itself is crying; the wind itself is scolding and sobbing; and the wind itself is laughing--the rogue! But if you think that this rag with which I have covered the window is a sail, and that this ruin of a castle is a three-masted brig, you are a fool! We are not going anywhere! We are standing securely at our moorings, do you hear?"
He pushes the sleeping man cautiously.
"Get up, Noni. I feel lonesome. If we must drink, let's drink together--I feel lonesome. Noni!"
Haggart awakens, stretches himself and says, without opening his eyes:
"Here it is."
"Something to drink."
"Here it is! A fine wind, Noni. I looked out of the window, and the sea splashed into my eyes. It is high tide now and the water-dust flies up to the tower. I feel lonesome, Noni. I want to speak to you. Don't be angry!"
"Soon the fire will burn better. I don't understand your actions. Don't be angry, Noni, but I don't understand your actions! I am afraid that you have lost your mind."
"Did you drink again?"
"Give me some."
He drinks from the mouth of the bottle lying on the floor, his eyes wandering over the crooked mutilated walls, whose every projection and crack is now lighted by the bright flame in the fireplace. He is not quite sure yet whether he is awake, or whether it is all a dream. With each strong gust of wind the flame is hurled from the fireplace, and then the entire tower seems to dance--the last shadows melt and rush off into the open door.
"Don't drink it all at once, Noni! Not all at once!" says the sailor and gently takes the bottle away from him. Haggart seats himself and clasps his head with both hands.
"I have a headache. What is that cry? Was there a shipwreck?"
"No, Noni. It is the wind playing roguishly."
"Give me the bottle."
He drinks a little more and sets the bottle on the table. Then he paces the room, straightening his shoulders and his chest, and looks out of the window. Khorre looks over his shoulder and whispers:
"Not a single light. It is dark and deserted. Those who had to die have died already, and the cautious cowards are sitting on the solid earth."
Haggart turns around and says, wiping his face:
"When I am intoxicated, I hear voices and singing. Does that happen to you, too, Khorre? Who is that singing now?"
"The wind is singing, Noni--only the wind."
"No, but who else? It seems to me a human being is singing, a woman is singing, and others are laughing and shouting something. Is that all nothing but the wind?"
"Only the wind."
"Why does the wind deceive me?" says Haggart haughtily.
"It feels lonesome, Noni, just as I do, and it laughs at the human beings. Have you heard the wind lying like this and mocking in the open sea? There it tells the truth, but here--it frightens the people on shore and mocks them. The wind does not like cowards. You know it."
Haggart says morosely:
"I heard their organist playing not long ago in church. He lies."
"They are all liars."
"No!" exclaims Haggart angrily. "Not all. There are some who tell the truth there, too. I shall cut your ears off if you will slander honest people. Do you hear?"
They are silent; they listen to the wild music of the sea. The wind has evidently grown mad. Having taken into its embrace a multitude of instruments with which human beings produce their music--harps, reed-pipes, priceless violins, heavy drums and brass trumpets--it breaks them all, together with a wave, against the sharp rocks. It dashes them and bursts into laughter--only thus does the wind understand music--each time in the death of an instrument, each time in the breaking of strings, in the snapping of the clanging brass. Thus does the mad musician understand music. Haggart heaves a deep sigh and with some amazement, like a man just awakened from sleep, looks around on all sides. Then he commands shortly:
"Give me my pipe."
"Here it is."
Both commence to smoke.
"Don't be angry, Noni," says the sailor. "You have become so angry that one can't come near you at all. May I chat with you?"
"There are some who do tell the truth there, too," says Haggart sternly, emitting rings of smoke.
"How shall I say it you, Noni?" answers the sailor cautiously but stubbornly. "There are no truthful people there. It has been so ever since the deluge. At that time all the honest people went out to sea, and only the cowards and liars remained upon the solid earth."
Haggart is silent for a minute; then he takes the pipe from his mouth and laughs gaily.
"Have you invented it yourself?"
"I think so," says Khorre modestly.
"Clever! And it was worth teaching you sacred history for that! Were you taught by a priest?"
"Yes. In prison. At that time I was as innocent as a dove. That's also from sacred scriptures, Noni. That's what they always say there."
"He was a fool! It was not necessary to teach you, but to hang you," says Haggart, adding morosely: "Don't talk nonsense, sailor. Hand me a bottle."
They drink. Khorre stamps his foot against the stone floor and asks:
"Do you like this motionless floor?"
"I should have liked to have the deck of a ship dancing under my feet."
"Noni!" exclaims the sailor enthusiastically. "Noni! Now I hear real words! Let us go away from here. I cannot live like this. I am drowning in gin. I don't understand your actions at all, Noni! You have lost your mind. Reveal yourself to me, my boy. I was your nurse. I nursed you, Noni, when your father brought you on board ship. I remember how the city was burning then and we were putting out to sea, and I didn't know what to do with you; you whined like a little pig in the cook's room. I even wanted to throw you overboard-- you annoyed me so much. Ah, Noni, it is all so touching that I can't bear to recall it. I must have a drink. Take a drink, too, my boy, but not all at once, not all at once!"
They drink. Haggart paces the room heavily and slowly, like a man who is imprisoned in a dungeon but does not want to escape.
"I feel sad," he says, without looking at Khorre. Khorre, as though understanding, shakes his head in assent.
"Sad? I understand. Since then?"
"Ever since then."
"Ever since we drowned those people? They cried so loudly."
"I did not hear their cry. But this I heard--something snapped in my heart, Khorre. Always sadness, everywhere sadness! Let me drink!"
"He who cried--am I perhaps afraid of him, Khorre? That would be fine! Tears were trickling from his eyes; he wept like one who is unfortunate. Why did he do that? Perhaps he came from a land where the people had never heard of death--what do you think, sailor?"
"I don't remember him, Noni. You speak so much about him, while I don't remember him."
"He was a fool," says Haggart. "He spoilt his death for himself, and spoilt me my life. I curse him, Khorre. May he be cursed. But that doesn't matter, Khorre--no!"
"They have good gin on this coast," says Khorre. "He'll pass easily, Noni. If you have cursed him there will be no delay; he'll slip into hell like an oyster."
Haggart shakes his head:
"No, Khorre, no! I am sad. Ah, sailor, why have I stopped here, where I hear the sea? I should go away, far away on land, where the people don't know the sea at all, where the people have never heard about the sea--a thousand miles away, five thousand miles away!"
"There is no such land."
"There is, Khorre. Let us drink and laugh, Khorre. That organist lies. Sing something for me, Khorre--you sing well. In your hoarse voice I hear the creaking of ropes. Your refrain is like a sail that is torn by the storm. Sing, sailor!"
Khorre nods his head gloomily.
"No, I will not sing."
"Then I shall force you to pray as they prayed!"
"You will not force me to pray, either. You are the Captain, and you may kill me, and here is your revolver. It is loaded, Noni. And now I am going to speak the truth, Captain! Khorre, the boatswain, speaks to you in the name of the entire crew."
"Drop this performance, Khorre. There is no crew here. You'd better drink something."
"But the crew is waiting for you, you know it. Captain, is it your intention to return to the ship and assume command again?"
"Captain, is it perhaps your intention to go to the people on the coast and live with them?"
"I can't understand your actions, Noni. What do you intend to do, Captain?"
Haggart drinks silently.
"Not all at once, Noni, not at once. Captain, do you intend to stay in this hole and wait until the police dogs come from the city? Then they will hang us, and not upon a mast, but simply on one of their foolish trees."
"Yes. The wind is getting stronger. Do you hear, Khorre? The wind is getting stronger!"
"And the gold which we have buried here?" He points below, with his finger.
"The gold? Take it and go with it wherever you like."
The sailor says angrily:
"You are a bad man, Noni. You have only set foot on earth a little while ago, and you already have the thoughts of a traitor. That's what the earth is doing!"
"Be silent, Khorre. I am listening. Our sailors are singing. Do you hear? No, that's the wine rushing to my head. I'll be drunk soon. Give me another bottle."
"Perhaps you will go to the priest? He would absolve your sins."
"Silence!" roars Haggart, clutching at his revolver.
Silence. The storm is increasing. Haggart paces the room in agitation, striking against the walls. He mutters something abruptly. Suddenly he seizes the sail and tears it down furiously, admitting the salty wind. The illumination lamp is extinguished and the flame in the fireplace tosses about wildly--like Haggart.
"Why did you lock out the wind? It's better now. Come here."
"You were the terror of the seas!" says the sailor.
"Yes, I was the terror of the seas."
"You were the terror of the coasts! Your famous name resounded like the surf over all the coasts, wherever people live. They saw you in their dreams. When they thought of the ocean, they thought of you. When they heard the storm, they heard you, Noni!"
"I burnt their cities. The deck of my ship is shaking under my feet, Khorre. The deck is shaking under me!"
He laughs wildly, as if losing his senses.
"You sank their ships. You sent to the bottom the Englishman who was chasing you."
"He had ten guns more than I."
"And you burnt and drowned him. Do you remember, Noni, how the wind laughed then? The night was as black as this night, but you made day of it, Noni. We were rocked by a sea of fire."
Haggart stands pale-faced, his eyes closed. Suddenly he shouts commandingly:
"Yes," Khorre jumps up.
"Whistle for everybody to go up on deck."
The boatswain's shrill whistle pierces sharply into the open body of the storm. Everything comes to life, and it looks as though they were upon the deck of a ship. The waves are crying with human voices. In semi-oblivion, Haggart is commanding passionately and angrily:
"To the shrouds!--The studding sails! Be ready, forepart! Aim at the ropes; I don't want to sink them all at once. Starboard the helm, sail by the wind. Be ready now. Ah, fire! Ah, you are already burning! Board it now! Get the hooks ready."
And Khorre tosses about violently, performing the mad instructions.
"Be braver, boys. Don't be afraid of tears! Eh, who is crying there? Don't dare cry when you are dying. I'll dry your mean eyes upon the fire. Fire! Fire everywhere! Khorre--sailor! I am dying. They have poured molten tar into my chest. Oh, how it burns!"
"Don't give way, Noni. Don't give way. Recall your father. Strike them on the head, Noni!"
"I can't, Khorre. My strength is failing. Where is my power?"
"Strike them on the head, Noni. Strike them on the head!"
"Take a knife, Khorre, and cut out my heart. There is no ship, Khorre--there is nothing. Cut out my heart, comrade--throw out the traitor from my breast."
"I want to play some more, Noni. Strike them on the head!"
"There is no ship, Khorre, there is nothing--it is all a lie. I want to drink."
He takes a bottle and laughs:
"Look, sailor--here the wind and the storm and you and I are locked. It is all a deception, Khorre!"
"I want to play."
"Here my sorrow is locked. Look! In the green glass it seems like water, but it isn't water. Let us drink, Khorre--there on the bottom I see my laughter and your song. There is no ship--there is nothing! Who is coming?"
He seizes his revolver. The fire in the fire-place is burning faintly; the shadows are tossing about--but two of these shadows are darker than the others and they are walking. Khorre shouts:
A man's voice, heavy and deep, answers:
"Hush! Put down your weapons. I am the abbot of this place."
"Fire, Noni, fire! They have come for you."
"I have come to help you. Put down your knife, fool, or I will break every bone in your body without a knife. Coward, are you frightened by a woman and a priest?"
Haggart puts down his revolver and says ironically:
"A woman and a priest! Is there anything still more terrible? Pardon my sailor, Mr. abbot, he is drunk, and when he is drunk he is very reckless and he may kill you. Khorre, don't turn your knife."
"He has come after you, Noni."
"I have come to warn you; the tower may fall. Go away from here!" says the abbot.
"Why are you hiding yourself, girl? I remember your name; your name is Mariet," says Haggart.
"I am not hiding. I also remember your name--it is Haggart," replies Mariet.
"Was it you who brought him here?"
"I have told you that they are all traitors, Noni," says Khorre.
"It is very cold here. I will throw some wood into the fireplace. May I do it?" asks Mariet.
"Do it," answers Haggart.
"The tower will fall down before long," says the abbot. "Part of the wall has caved in already; it is all hollow underneath. Do you hear?"
He stamps his foot on the stone floor.
"Where will the tower fall?"
"Into the sea, I suppose! The castle is splitting the rocks."
"Do you hear, Khorre? This place is not as motionless as it seemed to you--while it cannot move, it can fall. How many people have you brought along with you, priest, and where have you hidden them?"
"Only two of us came, my father and I," says Mariet.
"You are rude to a priest. I don't like that," says the abbot.
"You have come here uninvited. I don't like that either," says Haggart.
"Why did you lead me here, Mariet? Come," says the abbot.
Haggart speaks ironically:
"And you leave us here to die? That is unChristian, Christian."
"Although I am a priest, I am a poor Christian, and the Lord knows it," says the abbot angrily. "I have no desire to save such a rude scamp. Let us go, Mariet."
"Captain?" asks Khorre.
"Be silent, Khorre," says Haggart. "So that's the way you speak, abbot; so you are not a liar?"
"Come with me and you shall see."
"Where shall I go with you?"
"To my house."
"To your house? Do you hear, Khorre? To the priest! But do you know whom you are calling to your house?"
"No, I don't know. But I see that you are young and strong. I see that although your face is gloomy, it is handsome, and I think that you could be as good a workman as others."
"A workman? Khorre, do you hear what the priest says?"
Both laugh. The abbot says angrily:
"You are both drunk."
"Yes, a little! But if I were sober I would have laughed still more," answers Haggart.
"Don't laugh, Haggart," says Mariet.
Haggart replies angrily:
"I don't like the tongues of false priests, Mariet--they are coated with truth on top, like a lure for flies. Take him away, and you, girl, go away, too! I have forgotten your name!"
He sits down and stares ahead sternly. His eyebrows move close together, and his hand is pressed down heavily by his lowered head, by his strong chin.
"He does not know you, father! Tell him about yourself. You speak so well. If you wish it, he will believe you, father. Haggart!"
Haggart maintains silence.
Silence. Khorre whispers mysteriously:
"He feels sad. Girl, tell the priest that he feels sad."
"Khorre," begins Mariet. Haggart looks around quickly.
"What about Khorre? Why don't you like him, Mariet? We are so much like each other."
"He is like you?" says the woman with contempt. "No, Haggart! But here is what he did: He gave gin to little Noni again to-day. He moistened his finger and gave it to him. He will kill him, father."
"Is that so bad? He did the same to me."
"And he dipped him in cold water. The boy is very weak," says Mariet morosely.
"I don't like to hear you speak of weakness. Our boy must be strong. Khorre! Three days without gin."
He shows him three fingers.
"Who should be without gin? The boy or I?" asks Khorre gloomily.
"You!" replies Haggart furiously. "Begone!"
The sailor sullenly gathers his belongings--the pouch, the pipe, and the flask--and wabbling, goes off. But he does not go far--he sits down upon a neighbouring rock. Haggart and his wife look at him.