Page:The Best Continental Short Stories of 1923–1924.djvu/85

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chin on the ledge of stone, and for a moment he stood there motionless; then, with a gesture of disappointment, he turned towards the room. His gaze had fallen on a little, typical Kuresaare yard, one of the many which opened out between the stuccoed, steep-roofed houses skirting the ruined fort like the song birds, full of life and chirruping, cluster round the nest of the eagle-owl. He had looked down upon it all, vegetable-patches, hens picking on a refuse heap, a cock standing on one leg, a horse champing its bit. It had not escaped his notice that one hen mothered three ducklings among her chickens; he had seen at a glance the black and yellow down on their bodies and their waddling walk. How they must long for the water, he had thought, rising on his toes as if to get a glimpse of something on the distant horizon beyond the roofs, where the air quivered in the heat as behind a dim veil of glass. A-thirst for what he could not see, yearning and disappointed, the pupils of his eyes expanded, his whole body called for salt after weeks of flavourless bread and water. The air was suffocating, and what little streamed through the crack in the window-frame seemed insipid, full of whirling atoms of dust. The sea remained invisible—far away behind the entrenchments and sand dunes.

He saw it in his mind—not the smooth sand for summer visitors at Kuresaare, but the wide, lonely sand-flats of the Kilhelkonna shore. So clearly did it arise before him that he seemed to smell the rotting seaweed cast ashore by the sea, and to feel the crunching of little rosy sea-shells beneath his boots. He saw himself wading in the water, which slowly deepened—in calm, translucent water, at the bottom of which he could see the seaweed covering the rocks wave slowly in the current, and a swarm of tiny fish darting away at his approach. The water rose slowly, penetrated the tops of his high boots, saturating his trousers, rising towards his waist. . . . And then he was on board his boat anchored at the edge of the shallows. Did he not hear where he stood the restless creak of the rigging, the ceaseless beat of the waves driven against the stern by a favouring wind? But the boat lay immovable, the anchor clutched the white sand with its curved flukes, the sails drooped