The Ocean by Leonid N. Andreyev
The work is ended. Having lost its gloss, the last neglected fish lies on the ground; even the children are too lazy to pick it up; and an indifferent, satiated foot treads it into the mud. A quiet, fatigued conversation goes on, mingled with gay and peaceful laughter.
"What kind of a prayer is our abbot going to say to-day? It is already time for him to come."
"And do you think it is so easy to compose a good prayer? He is thinking."
"Selly's basket broke and the fish were falling out. We laughed so much! It seems so funny to me even now!"
Laughter. Two fishermen look at the sail in the distance.
"All my life I have seen large ships sailing past us. Where are they going? They disappear beyond the horizon, and I go off to sleep; and I sleep, while they are forever going, going. Where are they going? Do you know?"
"I should like to go with them. When they speak of America my heart begins to ring. Did you say America on purpose, or is that the truth?"
Several old women are whispering:
"Wild Gart is angry again at his sailor. Have you noticed it?"
"The sailor is displeased. Look, how wan his face is."
"Yes, he looks like the evil one when he is compelled to listen to a psalm. But I don't like Wild Gart, either. No. Where did he come from?"
They resume their whispers. Haggart complains softly:
"Why have you the same name, Mariet, for everybody? It should not be so in a truthful land."
Mariet speaks with restrained force, pressing both hands to her breast:
"I love you so dearly, Gart; when you go out to sea, I set my teeth together and do not open them until you come back. When you are away, I eat nothing and drink nothing; when you are away, I am silent, and the women laugh: 'Mute Mariet!' But I would be insane if I spoke when I am alone."
HAGGART--Here you are again compelling me to smile. You must not, Mariet--I am forever smiling.
MARIET--I love you so dearly, Gart. Every hour of the day and the night I am thinking only of what I could still give to you, Gart. Have I not given you everything? But that is so little--everything! There is but one thing I want to do--to keep on giving to you, giving! When the sun sets, I present you the sunset; when the sun rises, I present you the sunrise--take it, Gart! And are not all the storms yours? Ah, Haggart, how I love you!
HAGGART--I am going to toss little Noni so high to-day that I will toss him up to the clouds. Do you want me to do it? Let us laugh, dear little sister Mariet. You are exactly like myself. When you stand that way, it seems to me that I am standing there--I have to rub my eyes. Let us laugh! Some day I may suddenly mix things up --I may wake up and say to you: "Good morning, Haggart!"
MARIET--Good morning, Mariet.
HAGGART--I will call you Haggart. Isn't that a good idea?
MARIET--And I will call you Mariet.
HAGGART--Yes--no. You had better call me Haggart, too.
"You don't want me to call you Mariet?" asks Mariet sadly.
The abbot and old Dan appear. The abbot says in a loud, deep voice:
"Here I am. Here I am bringing you a prayer, children. I have just composed it; it has even made me feel hot. Dan, why doesn't the boy ring the bell? Oh, yes, he is ringing. The fool--he isn't swinging the right rope, but that doesn't matter; that's good enough, too. Isn't it, Mariet?"
Two thin but merry bells are ringing.
Mariet is silent and Haggart answers for her:
"That's good enough. But what are the bells saying, abbot?"
The fishermen who have gathered about them are already prepared to laugh--the same undying jest is always repeated.
"Will you tell no one about it?" says the abbot, in a deep voice, slily winking his eye. "Pope's a rogue! Pope's a rogue!"
The fishermen laugh merrily.
"This man," roars the abbot, pointing at Haggart, "is my favourite man! He has given me a grandson, and I wrote the Pope about it in Latin. But that wasn't so hard; isn't that true, Mariet? But he knows how to look at the water. He foretells a storm as if he himself caused it. Gart, do you produce the storm yourself? Where does the wind come from? You are the wind yourself."
All laugh approval. An old fisherman says:
"That's true, father. Ever since he has been here, we have never been caught in a storm."
"Of course it is true, if I say it. 'Pope's a rogue! Pope's a rogue!'"
Old Dan walks over to Khorre and says something to him. Khorre nods his head negatively. The abbot, singing "Pope's a rogue," goes around the crowd, throws out brief remarks, and claps some people on the shoulder in a friendly manner.
"Hello, Katerina, you are getting stout. Oho! Are you all ready? And Thomas is missing again--this is the second time he has stayed away from prayer. Anna, you are rather sad--that isn't good. One must live merrily, one must live merrily! I think that it is jolly even in hell, but in a different way. It is two years since you have stopped growing, Philipp. That isn't good."
Philipp answers gruffly:
"Grass also stops growing if a stone falls upon it."
"What is still worse than that--worms begin to breed under the rock."
Mariet says softly, sadly and entreatingly:
"Don't you want me to call you Mariet?"
Haggart answers obstinately and sternly:
"I don't. If my name will be Mariet, I shall never kill that man. He disturbs my life. Make me a present of his life, Mariet. He kissed you."
"How can I present you that which is not mine? His life belongs to God and to himself."
"That is not true. He kissed you; do I not see the burns upon your lips? Let me kill him, and you will feel as joyful and care-free as a seagull. Say 'yes,' Mariet."
"No; you shouldn't do it, Gart. It will be painful to you."
Haggart looks at her and speaks with deep irony.
"Is that it? Well, then, it is not true that you give me anything. You don't know how to give, woman."
"I am your wife."
"No! A man has no wife when another man, and not his wife, grinds his knife. My knife is dull, Mariet!"
Mariet looks at him with horror and sorrow.
"What did you say, Haggart? Wake up; it is a terrible dream, Haggart! It is I--look at me. Open your eyes wider, wider, until you see me well. Do you see me, Gart?"
Haggart slowly rubs his brow.
"I don't know. It is true I love you, Mariet. But how incomprehensible your land is--in your land a man sees dreams even when he is not asleep. Perhaps I am smiling already. Look, Mariet."
The abbot stops in front of Khorre.
"Ah, old friend, how do you do? You are smiling already. Look, Mariet."
"I don't want to work," ejaculates the sailor sternly.
"You want your own way? This man," roars the abbot, pointing at Khorre, "thinks that he is an atheist. But he is simply a fool; he does not understand that he is also praying to God--but he is doing it the wrong way, like a crab. Even a fish prays to God, my children; I have seen it myself. When you will be in hell, old man,give my regards to the Pope. Well, children, come closer, and don't gnash your teeth. I am going to start at once. Eh, you, Mathias--you needn't put out the fire in your pipe; isn't it the same to God what smoke it is, incense or tobacco, if it is only well meant. Why do you shake your head, woman?"
WOMAN--His tobacco is contraband.
YOUNG FISHERMAN--God wouldn't bother with such trifles. The abbot thinks a while:
"No; hold on. I think contraband tobacco is not quite so good. That's an inferior grade. Look here; you better drop your pipe meanwhile, Mathias; I'll think the matter over later. Now, silence, perfect silence. Let God take a look at us first."
All stand silent and serious. Only a few have lowered their heads. Most of the people are looking ahead with wide-open, motionless eyes, as though they really saw God in the blue of the sky, in the boundless, radiant, distant surface of the sea. The sea is approaching with a caressing murmur; high tide has set in.
"My God and the God of all these people! Don't judge us for praying, not in Latin but in our own language, which our mothers have taught us. Our God! Save us from all kinds of terrors, from unknown sea monsters; protect us against storms and hurricanes, against tempests and gales. Give us calm weather and a kind wind, a clear sun and peaceful waves. And another thing, O Lord! we ask You; don't allow the devil, to come close to our bedside when we are asleep. In our sleep we are defenceless, O Lord! and the devil terrifies us, tortures us to convulsions, torments us to the very blood of our heart. And there is another thing, O Lord! Old Rikke, whom You know, is beginning to extinguish Your light in his eyes and he can make nets no longer--"
Rikke frequently shakes his head in assent.
"I can't, I can't!"
"Prolong, then, O Lord! Your bright day and bid the night wait. Am I right, Rikke?"
"And here is still another, the last request, O Lord. I shall not ask any more: The tears do not dry up in the eyes of our old women crying for those who have perished. Take their memory away, O Lord, and give them strong forgetfulness. There are still other trifles, O Lord, but let the others pray whose turn has come before You. Amen."
Silence. Old Dan tugs the abbot by the sleeve, and whispers something in his ear.
ABBOT--Dan is asking me to pray for those who perished at sea.
The women exclaim in plaintive chorus:
"For those who perished at sea! For those who died at sea!"
Some of them kneel. The abbot looks tenderly at their bowed heads, exhausted with waiting and fear, and says:
"No priest should pray for those who died at sea--these women should pray. Make it so, O Lord, that they should not weep so much!"
Silence. The incoming tide roars more loudly--the ocean is carrying to the earth its noise, its secrets, its bitter, briny taste of unexplored depths.
Soft voices say:
"The sea is coming."
"High tide has started."
"The sea is coming."
Mariet kisses her father's hand.
"Woman!" says the priest tenderly. "Listen, Gart, isn't it strange that this--a woman"--he strokes his daughter tenderly with his finger on her pure forehead--"should be born of me, a man?"
"And is it not strange that this should have become a wife to me, a man?" He embraces Mariet, bending her frail shoulders.
"Let us go to eat, Gart, my son. Whoever she may be, I know one thing well. She has prepared for you and me an excellent dinner."
The people disperse quickly. Mariet says confusedly and cheerfully:
"I'll run first."
"Run, run," answers the abbot. "Gart, my son, call the atheist to dinner. I'll hit him with a spoon on the forehead; an atheist understands a sermon best of all if you hit him with a spoon."
He waits and mutters:
"The boy has commenced to ring the bells again. He does it for himself, the rogue. If we did not lock the steeple, they would pray there from morning until night."
Haggart goes over to Khorre, near whom Dan is sitting.
"Khorre! Let us go to eat--the priest called you."
"I don't want to go, Noni."
"So? What are you going to do here on shore?"
"I will think, Noni, think. I have so much to think to be able to understand at least something."
Haggart turns around silently. The abbot calls from the distance:
"He is not coming? Well, then, let him stay there. And Dan--never call Dan, my son"--says the priest in his deep whisper, "he eats at night like a rat. Mariet purposely puts something away for him in the closet for the night; when she looks for it in the morning, it is gone. Just think of it, no one ever hears when he takes it. Does he fly?"
Both go off. Only the two old men, seated in a friendly manner on two neighbouring rocks, remain on the deserted shore. And the old men resemble each other so closely, and whatever they may say to each other, the whiteness of their hair, the deep lines of their wrinkles, make them kin.
The tide is coming.
"They have all gone away," mutters Khorre. "Thus will they cook hot soup on the wrecks of our ship, too. Eh, Dan! Do you know he ordered me to drink no gin for three days. Let the old dog croak! Isn't that so, Noni?"
"Of those who died at sea... Those who died at sea," mutters Dan. "A son taken from his father, a son from his father. The father said go, and the son perished in the sea. Oi, oi, oi!"
"What are you prating there, old man? I say, he ordered me to drink no gin. Soon he will order, like that King of yours, that the sea be lashed with chains."
"Oho! With chains."
"Your king was a fool. Was he married, your king?"
"The sea is coming, coming!" mutters Dan. "It brings along its noise, its secret, its deception. Oh, how the sea deceives man. Those who died at sea--yes, yes, yes. Those who died at sea."
"Yes, the sea is coming. And you don't like it?" asks Khorre, rejoicing maliciously. "Well, don't you like it? I don't like your music. Do you hear, Dan? I hate your music!"
"Oho! And why do you come to hear it? I know that you and Gart stood by the wall and listened."
Khorre says sternly:
"It was he who got me out of bed."
"He will get you out of bed again."
"No!" roars Khorre furiously. "I will get up myself at night. Do you hear, Dan? I will get up at night and break your music."
"And I will spit into your sea."
"Try," says the sailor distrustfully. "How will you spit?"
"This way," and Dan, exasperated, spits in the direction of the sea. The frightened Khorre, in confusion, says hoarsely:
"Oh, what sort of man are you? You spat! Eh, Dan, look out; it will be bad for you--you yourself are talking about those who died at sea."
Dan shouts, frightened:
"Who speaks of those that perished at sea? You, you dog!"
He goes away, grumbling and coughing, swinging his hand and stooping. Khorre is left alone before the entire vastness of the sea and the sky.
"He is gone. Then I am going to look at you, O sea, until my eyes will burst of thirst!"
The ocean, approaching, is roaring.