Kalinin

Whistling from off the sea, the wind was charged with moist, salt
spray, and dashing foaming billows ashore with their white manes
full of snakelike, gleaming black ribands of seaweed, and causing
the rocks to rumble angrily in response, and the trees to rustle
with a dry, agitated sound as their tops swayed to and fro, and
their trunks bent earthwards as though they would fain reeve up
their roots, and betake them whither the mountains stood veiled
in a toga of heavy, dark mist.

Over the sea the clouds were hurrying towards the land as ever
and anon they rent themselves into strips, and revealed
fathomless abysses of blue wherein the autumn sun burned
uneasily, and sent cloud-shadows gliding over the puckered waste
of waters, until, the shore reached, the wind further harried the
masses of vapour towards the sharp flanks of the mountains, and,
after drawing them up and down the slopes, relegated them to
clefts, and left them steaming there.

There was about the whole scene a louring appearance, an
appearance as though everything were contending with everything,
as now all things turned sullenly dark, and now all things
emitted a dull sheen which almost blinded the eyes. Along the
narrow road, a road protected from the sea by a line of wave-
washed dykes, some withered leaves of oak and wild cherry were
scudding in mutual chase of one another; with the general result
that the combined sounds of splashing and rustling and howling
came to merge themselves into a single din which issued as a song
with a rhythm marked by the measured blows of the waves as they
struck the rocks.

“Zmiulan, the King of the Ocean, is abroad!” shouted my fellow
traveller in my ear. He was a tall, round-shouldered man of
childishly chubby features and boyishly bright, transparent eyes.

“WHO do you say is abroad?” I queried.

“King Zmiulan.”

Never having heard of the monarch, I made no reply.

The extent to which the wind buffeted us might have led one to
suppose that its primary objective was to deflect our steps, and
turn them in the direction of the mountains. Indeed, at times its
pressure was so strong that we had no choice but to halt, to turn
our backs to the sea, and, with feet planted apart, to prise
ourselves against our sticks, and so remain, poised on three
legs, until we were past any risk of being overwhelmed with the
soft incubus of the tempest, and having our coats torn from our
shoulders.

At intervals such gasps would come from my companion that he
might well have been standing on the drying-board of a bath. Nor,
as they did so, was his appearance aught but comical, seeing that
his ears, appendages large and shaggy like a dog’s, and
indifferently shielded with a shabby old cap, kept being pushed
forward by the wind until his small head bore an absurd
resemblance to a china bowl. And that, to complete the
resemblance, his long and massive nose, a feature grossly
disproportionate to the rest of his diminutive face, might
equally well have passed for the spout of the receptacle
indicated.

Yet a face out of the common it was, like the whole of his
personality. And this was the fact which had captivated me from
the moment when I had beheld him participating in a vigil service
held in the neighbouring church of the monastery of New Athos.
There, spare, but with his withered form erect, and his head
slightly tilted, he had been gazing at the Crucifix with a
radiant smile, and moving his thin lips in a sort of whispered,
confidential, friendly conversation with the Saviour. Indeed, so
much had the man’s smooth, round features (features as beardless
as those of a Skopetz [A member of the Skoptzi, a non-Orthodox
sect the members of which “do make of themselves eunuchs for the
Lord’s sake.”], save for two bright tufts at the corners of the
mouth) been instinct with intimacy, with a consciousness of
actually being in the presence of the Son of God, that the
spectacle, transcending anything of the kind that my eyes had
before beheld, had led me, with its total absence of the
customary laboured, servile, pusillanimous attitude towards the
Almighty which I had generally found to be the rule, to accord
the man my whole interest, and, as long as the service had
lasted, to keep an eye upon one who could thus converse with God
without rendering Him constant obeisance, or again and again
making the sign of the cross, or invariably making it to the
accompaniment of groans and tears which had always hitherto
obtruded itself upon my notice.

Again had I encountered the man when I had had supper at the
workmen’s barraque, and then proceeded to the monastery’s guest-
chamber. Seated at a table under a circle of light falling from a
lamp suspended from the ceiling, he had gathered around him a
knot of pilgrims and their women, and was holding forth in low,
cheerful tones that yet had in them the telling, incisive note of
the preacher, of the man who frequently converses with his fellow
men.

“One thing it may be best always to disclose,” he was saying,
“and another thing to conceal. If aught in ourselves seems harmful
or senseless, let us put to ourselves the question: ‘Why is this
so?’ Contrariwise ought a prudent man never to thrust himself
forward and say: ‘How discreet am I!’ while he who makes a parade
of his hard lot, and says, ‘Good folk, see ye and hear how bitter
my life is,’ also does wrong.”

Here a pilgrim with a black beard, a brigand’s dark eyes, and the
wasted features of an ascetic rose from the further side of the
table, straightened his virile frame, and said in a dull voice:

“My wife and one of my children were burnt to death through the
falling of an oil lamp. On THAT ought I to keep silence?”

No answer followed. Only someone muttered to himself:

“What? Again?”: until the first speaker, the speaker seated
near the corner of the table, launched into the oppressive lull
the unhesitating reply:

“That of which you speak may be taken to have been a punishment
by God for sin.”