The Ocean by Leonid N. Andreyev
At the very edge of the water, upon a narrow landing on the rocky shore, stands a man--a small, dark, motionless dot. Behind him is the cold, almost vertical slope of granite, and before his eyes the ocean is rocking heavily and dully in the impenetrable darkness. Its mighty approach is felt in the open voice of the waves which are rising from the depths. Even sniffing sounds are heard--it is as though a drove of monsters, playing, were splashing, snorting, lying down on their backs, and panting contentedly, deriving their monstrous pleasures.
The ocean smells of the strong odour of the depths, of decaying seaweeds, of its grass. The sea is calm to-day and, as always, alone.
And there is but one little light in the black space of water and night--the distant lighthouse of the Holy Cross.
The rattle of cobblestones is heard from under a cautious step: Haggart is coming down to the sea along a steep path. He pauses, silent with restraint, breathing deeply after the strain of passing the dangerous slope, and goes forward. He is now at the edge--he straightens himself and looks for a long time at him who had long before taken his strange but customary place at the very edge of the deep. He makes a few steps forward and greets him irresolutely and gently--Haggart greets him even timidly:
"Good evening, stranger. Have you been here long?"
A sad, soft, and grave voice answers:
"Good evening, Haggart. Yes, I have been here long."
"You are watching?"
"I am watching and listening."
"Will you allow me to stand near you and look in the same direction you are looking? I am afraid that I am disturbing you by my uninvited presence--for when I came you were already here--but I am so fond of this spot. This place is isolated, and the sea is near, and the earth behind is silent; and here my eyes open. Like a night-owl, I see better in the dark; the light of day dazzles me. You know, I have grown up on the sea, sir."
"No, you are not disturbing me, Haggart. But am I not disturbing you? Then I shall go away."
"You are so polite, sir," mutters Haggart.
"But I also love this spot," continues the sad, grave voice. "I, too, like to feel that the cold and peaceful granite is behind me. You have grown up on the sea, Haggart--tell me, what is that faint light on the right?"
"That is the lighthouse of the Holy Cross."
"Aha! The lighthouse of the Holy Cross. I didn't know that. But can such a faint light help in time of a storm? I look and it always seems to me that the light is going out. I suppose it isn't so."
Haggart, agitated but restrained, says:
"You frighten me, sir. Why do you ask me what you know better than I do? You want to tempt me--you know everything."
There is not a trace of a smile in the mournful voice--nothing but sadness.
"No, I know little. I know even less than you do, for I know more. Pardon my rather complicated phrase, Haggart, but the tongue responds with so much difficulty not only to our feeling, but also to our thought."
"You are polite," mutters Haggart agitated. "You are polite and always calm. You are always sad and you have a thin hand with rings upon it, and you speak like a very important personage. Who are you, sir?"
"I am he whom you called--the one who is always sad."
"When I come, you are already here; when I go away, you remain. Why do you never want to go with me, sir?"
"There is one way for you, Haggart, and another for me."
"I see you only at night. I know all the people around this settlement, and there is no one who looks like you. Sometimes I think that you are the owner of that old castle where I lived. If that is so I must tell you the castle was destroyed by the storm."
"I don't know of whom you speak."
"I don't understand how you know my name, Haggart. But I don't want to deceive you. Although my wife Mariet calls me so, I invented that name myself. I have another name--my real name--of which no one has ever heard here."
"I know your other name also, Haggart. I know your third name, too, which even you do not know. But it is hardly worth speaking of this. You had better look into this dark sea and tell me about your life. Is it true that it is so joyous? They say that you are forever smiling. They say that you are the bravest and most handsome fisherman on the coast. And they also say that you love your wife Mariet very dearly."
"O sir!" exclaims Haggart with restraint, "my life is so sad that you could not find an image like it in this dark deep. O sir! my sufferings are so deep that you could not find a more terrible place in this dark abyss."
"What is the cause of your sorrow and your sufferings, Haggart?"
"Life, sir. Here your noble and sad eyes look in the same direction my eyes look--into this terrible, dark distance. Tell me, then, what is stirring there? What is resting and waiting there, what is silent there, what is screaming and singing and complaining there in its own voices? What are the voices that agitate me and fill my soul with phantoms of sorrow, and yet say nothing? And whence comes this night? And whence comes my sorrow? Are you sighing, sir, or is it the sigh of the ocean blending with your voice? My hearing is beginning to fail me, my master, my dear master."
The sad voice replies:
"It is my sigh, Haggart. My great sorrow is responding to your sorrow. You see at night like an owl, Haggart; then look at my thin hands and at my rings. Are they not pale? And look at my face--is it not pale? Is it not pale--is it not pale? Oh, Haggart, my dear Haggart."
They grieve silently. The heavy ocean is splashing, tossing about, spitting and snorting and sniffing peacefully. The sea is calm to-night and alone, as always.
"Tell Haggart--" says the sad voice.
"Very well. I will tell Haggart."
"Tell Haggart that I love him."
Silence--and then a faint, plaintive reproach resounds softly:
"If your voice were not so grave, sir, I would have thought that you were laughing at me. Am I not Haggart that I should tell something to Haggart? But no--I sense a different meaning in your words, and you frighten me again. And when Haggart is afraid, it is real terror. Very well, I will tell Haggart everything you have said."
"Adjust my cloak; my shoulder is cold. But it always seems to me that the light over there is going out. You called it the lighthouse of the Holy Cross, if I am not mistaken?"
"Yes, it is called so here."
"Aha! It is called so here."
"Must I go now?" asks Haggart.
"And you will remain here?"
"I will remain here."
Haggart retreats several steps.
Again the cobblestones rattle under his cautious steps; without looking back, Haggart climbs the steep rocks.
Of what great sorrow speaks this night?