Anchors Away!

Radu TUDORAN's (penname of Nicolae Bogza) Anchors Away!, a very successful novel, later made into a film (aka Full Sail, 1976, directed by Mircea Mureşan - click to see trailer here), competing in nautical erudition, plot and length with Jules Verne's The Children of Captain Grant, was to replace a planned voyage which Tudoran, inspired by Joshua Slocum's travels, never managed to undertake on his own-built schooner Hope in 1948, because of the Soviet occupation.
 Seeing that Mihu was taking his time downstairs and Anton Lupan was not coming, Gherasim shouted again in the direction of the bow: "Ieremia, get over here and call the captain!" Ieremia crossed the deck, went down the stairs and knocked on the door. He heard Mihu's exculpating voice inside: "This is no delusion! Here's the passport: I found it in the sack!" Since he got no answer, Ieremia knocked again, then opened the door and stepped inside. "Sorry, but Gherasim's urging me to tell you that…" He stopped there, because the captain, who was just examining a blue volume under the skylight, turned pale all of a sudden, and his hands started trembling like a kid's. "Yes, it's his passport!" whizzed Anton Lupan, while the cabin walls swirled around him like a vortex he couldn't fight. Pierre Vaillant was clearly written on the first page of the passport and all the other data matched, but someone else's photo had been stuck on the inside of the cover, to the left; it was the photo of man in his 40s: his face was slender and bony, he had an aquiline nose and heavy eyebrows shading a pair of eyes that looked alive and pervasive. Anton Lupan could feel their gaze turn his entire being upside down and he presently recognized the eyes whose stare he had felt coming from behind Agop on the Galatan quay, when the latter was leaving; they had the same look that he had seen light up for a moment when he later met the old tobacco dealer in the bazaar. Suddenly, everything cleared up in his head – and a wave of hopelessness covered his face. The happiness that had suffused his soul in Istanbul when he had thought he had recovered his friend now melted away. This passport was the ultimate proof of Pierre Vaillant's death: the man upstairs, had he not seen him dead, would not have dared to bear his name and use his papers in this way. Faced with his captain's unrest, Mihu asked him with fear in his voice: "Sir, what's wrong? It's all gone hazy in my head now. Is Mr. Pierre Vaillant a friend or a foe?" Anton Lupan let the passport fall on the table and his head hung gloomily for a while. Then all of a sudden he gave a start and looked around him with fiery eyes. "This man is not Pierre Vaillant, it's his murderer!" he answered, opening a drawer and taking a revolver in his hands. Where did you leave him?" "On the deck, at the bow. Ever since yesterday morning I've suspected there's something wrong with this man, but when I found the passport, I thought…" Mihu stopped; things had happened too fast on that morning for him to have time to really consider them; he should have asked himself why this man had dressed as a monk if he was Pierre Vaillant? Was he only making a joke or did he have another plan? "Mihu, go the cabin at the bow and wake up the men!" ordered Anton Lupan, putting the revolver in his pocket. "Steal in carefully, don't let yourself be noticed, act like nothing's wrong." Ieremia was standing in the doorway and watching them in amazement, as if he'd just been hit on the head by something. "What is it, Ieremia?" asked the captain, finally turning his eyes towards him. "Sir, I don't know why, but it's already four a clock and there's no sign of any Skyros island." "What do you mean, what about the lighthouse?" "No lighthouse was seen during the night." "Alright, we'll see about this later. We have something else to do right now. Is the monk still on the deck?" "Yea, I don't know what the devil he's doing there. He came out of his cabin at around three and he's been moping about the bow ever since." "Alright. Stay close to me but first get hold of a thick rope to tie him up with." Ieremia covered his mouth with his hand: "You mean it's true that…?" "Yes, he's not a monk, he's a pirate; a killer that must die by the rope!"… The horizon was turning crimson in the east; the stars had gone out on the misty sky; there was only a bit of moon, sleepy and hazy, rocking lazily on the top of a mast. The captain stepped onto the deck. It was damp with the mist of the night. He looked around him toward the deserted horizon, bade Gherasim to wait and made for the bow. Agop from Bazaar had woken up and was just rubbing his eyes. The thought that he would be in Piraeus in a couple of days' time made him feel merry and disregard the twinges he got between the shoulders, in his knees or in the elbows. The monk was still sitting on the hatch, facing the horizon, as if he had taken over the night watch from Ieremia. Anton Lupan stopped a few steps behind him and watched him for a while, his fists clenched, sparks flowing out of his eyes. He got a grip of himself and said in a calm voice: "Good morning, Pierre Vaillant!" On hearing those words, the monk gave a start, turned around and went for his yataghan. The captain met his gaze and recognized that sharp, wry and cruel look he had met before. "If you make a move, I'll shoot!" he went on, quietly taking the revolver out of his pocket. Mihu came up the staircase of the hatch panting, stopped for a moment and gave the monk a strange look, then threw himself on him, grasped his beard, and before the monk could do anything, pulled it away, leaving him smooth-faced. "The beardless guy!" shouted Gherasim, dropping the helm. "The beardless pirate!... By my word, the time has come for me to put the noose around your head!" Agop from Bazaar, who had risen to his feet all trembling, gave out a weak moan and fainted on the hatch. The next moment, the pirate made a quick move, took a hold of Mihu and pulled him towards the bulwark, holding him in front like a shield. "If you shoot, you'll kill him first!" he spat out at Anton Lupan, fire coming out of his eyes. The latter remained motionless, the pallor growing in his cheeks. "You think you'll get away?" he asked calmly, although he felt helpless and realized the revolver wasn't of any use. Haralamb and Cristea Busuioc appeared by the opening of the hatch, each with a gun in his hands. "Put down your guns and get yourselves over to the poop! C'mon!" ordered the beardless guy. "If you don't do what I say, I'll throw him overboard!" Things happened too fast for any consideration. The men stood still looking at each other, unable to understand what was going on. All of a sudden, a black shadow darted from behind the hatch, flew through the air and fell on the pirate's back. "Blacky!" shouted Mihu, trying to wring himself free from the pirate's clutch. "Go, Blacky, don't let him get away, that's my dog!" The beardless guy crumbled down on the deck, his throat rattling, turned over a few times, trying to unclench the fangs that strangled him, then coiled himself right-up on one side and remained still, with only his feet shaking like a dying man's. Blacky stood ferociously on top of the pirate like a beast out of the woods, its eyes red, breathing forcefully out of its nostrils and growling under its breath. The frightening memory of its forefather the wolf had awakened in its blood. Mihu stood up trembling to his feet. "Good boy, Blacky, you've had him now!" Apart from the odd spasm shaking his knees, the pirate was still, yet Blacky's fangs were still clenching his throat. Ieremia came closer with a rope in his hands. "C'mon, boy, calm down your dog, it's gonna kill him!" The beardless guy opened his eyes and looked around him all lost; blood was streaming out of his throat. "Maaaan," Ieremia started, while tying his hands tightly together. "Is that something grown-ups do, trouble a frail and unknowing child? I'll be…" Then he turned towards Anton Lupan: "Sir, while I tie him up good, would you be so kind and fetch me some bandage from downstairs to mend his throat. Otherwise I think he's gonna waste his breath soon." "Take good care of him, Ieremia! shouted Gherasim. Especially his neck. I need to have something to roll that noose around, I've had it ready for too long!" The captain went down in the cabin, fetched some bandage and some iodine tincture and dressed the pirate's wound. Ieremia then dragged him along the deck like a sack and bound him fast at the foot of the small mast. "There you go, brother. Sit here tight now and wait for your judgment!" On his way to the helm, Anton Lupan stumbled on Agop, who had fainted on the deck. "Somebody take care of this Armenian guy! Use a bucket of water…" The sea was deserted all around, nothing indicated that they would be drawing near land; to the south, the heavy smoke from a ship was the only thing that blackened the horizon. "Hey, Gherasim, are you sure you've been keeping the same course all the time?" asked the captain coming near the helm and checking the compass. "Yes, sir! I didn't take up steering yesterday, you know!" "When did the wind change?" "Around eleven hours." Anton Lupan looked around again, watched the trail they were leaving behind and remained puzzled. "This can't be; we should have been in Skyros by now, with this wind!" Right then, the sun was rising out of the waves at Hope's poop. "We're not on the right way! Something happened to the compass!" cried the captain, suddenly realizing that if they had really been sailing south-west, the sun would have risen to their left, about four quarter points behind the beam. "Look where the trouble started!" shouted Gherasim in amazement. As he was checking the compass, he had found a caulking chisel behind the lantern. As soon as he pulled it out, the dial of the compass quietly turned two quarter points to the south. "I don't think we need to ask ourselves who placed it there," said the captain. "What do you think, Gherasim?" "I think you're right. I even suspect when it happened. Last night around eleven, during Ismail's shift. I found it very strange for the wind to change like that, out of the blue." Anton Lupan stood thinking for a while. "What do you think he was after?" he asked. 1954

by Radu Tudoran (1910-1992)