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its shrouds  and rocks  its light  beams, he  ceases to  be just a boy and
becomes a navigator of the future...
    "Little ships teach  people to be  brave. When sailors  look at models
of  old  frigates,  they  became  mindful  of  the  valour  shown by their
forebears in the past battles...
    "And these models are  a joy and consolation  to old sailors for  they
help them recall their  past voyages and moments  of glory and keep  their
maritime pride alive in their old hearts...
    "That's  how  it  is...  And  then  there's one other thing: models of
ships are supposed to be lucky.
    "You've no doubt heard of the custom of hanging little ships from  the
ceilings in seaport taverns. They're  meant to remind sailors who've  been
ashore  too  long  that  it's  time  to  be  getting back to sea. And they
reassure those who  are far away  from home that  a reliable, strong  ship
will carry them safety back home..."
    Alex listened without interrupting. It  was all very interesting.   He
thought about how  he could spend  a whole year  among these ships  in the
basement without ever getting  bored. But he could  not stay there a  year
because it was Masha's birthday the next day. And the little  three-masted
clipper with a walnut-coloured body  interested Alex more than the  entire
miniature fleet put together.
    The Curator  fell silent,  gazed attentively  at Alex  and then  said,
"I'm sorry, I got carried away. Now, why are you here?"
    Alex  sighed  and  said  hesitantly,  "Well,  you  know,  it's  a long
    The Curator seemed delighted, "Is it? How splendid! Then come on."
    He took  Alex into  a corner  which had  been partitioned  off by some
cupboards and made into a separate small room. It had an  ordinary-looking
lamp  standing  on  an  ordinary-looking  table,  a  chair  and  a  narrow
leatherette sofa  which had  most likely  been taken  from a ship's cabin.
Alex noticed an electric stove and an enamel kettle on the table.
    The Curator plugged the stove in,  put the kettle on, sat down  on the
sofa and invited Alex to join him.
    "Well, go ahead, I'm all ears..."
    But  Alex  did  not  know  how  to  begin.  Even  his  shoulders began
trembling with excitement, and the  Curator asked anxiously, "Do you  fell
cold? It's rather damp in here because the basement's below sea-level  and
the sea sometimes seeps through the  walls here and there. But there's  no
real harm in that. The sea's  moisture only does the ships good.  And I've
got used to it. But mind you don't catch a chill..."
    "Oh no," said Alex.
    And he  began telling  all about  Sofia Alexandrovna  and her hats and
cats and  about the  clipper and,  finally about  Masha. And  when he  had
finished, he found the Curator staring gravely and even sternly at him.
    "You mean, you want to give her the model as a present?" he asked.
    Alex nodded.
    "That's a  good idea...  But, you  know, you  can only  make a gift of
something that's yours. Something you've made yourself or, say, bought  or
earned. But is the clipper really yours?"
    "Well... After all, Sofia Alexandrovna did want to give it to me..."
    "She wanted to but she didn't..."
    "Yes, but  as it  was swept  away by  the rain,  it doesn't  belong to
anyone now. And I've come all this way looking for it."
    "But you haven't found it."
    "Isn't it here?
    "Yes, most likely,"  said the Curator.  "That's the whole  point: it's
here and not with you. It found its own way here."
    Alex kept  silent for  a while  because he  was afraid  he might start
crying in dismay. Then he  said quietly, "You've got thousands  of models.
I only need one. Surely you don't mind giving up one?"
    The Curator  shrugged his  shoulders and  said, "To  tell the truth, I
really do. But that's not the point. Our museum has strict regulations.  I
can't give the  model away if  the person can't  prove it belongs  to him.
Can you prove that it's yours by rights?"
    "Prove  it?  How?  I've  already  told  you  everything... No, wait...
there's one other thing."
    Alex  screwed  up  his  eyes  with  embarrassment and blurted out with
desperate determination, "I've written a poem about the clipper!"
    "A poem?"  repeated the  Curator, drumming  his fingers  on his knees.
"Poems are serious things. Well then, let's hear it."
    "I... right..."
    It was difficult  reciting sitting down  and so Alex  stood up, leaned
against the  cupboard, turned  his head  away and  began reciting huskily,
"Once upon a time  there lived an old  ship-wright... Well, that's how  it
starts. It's called 'Ballad about a Clipper'.

           Once upon a time there lived an old ship-wright,
           Who smoked a pipe and dreamed of the sea.
           And then one day he built a model ship -
           Tiny it was but as real as can be.
           Just like a frigate, a marvellous sight,
           With mizzens and bowsprit, all his labour.
           But the tired old ship-wright died one night,
           And the ship was left with his neighbour.

    Alex paused for breath and then began reciting more calmly:

           Well now, she did not treat it badly.
           And kept it dust-free and behind glass.
           But not once did the old lady dream
           Of a creaking helm or a squall's mighty blast.
           What did she care for seas, anchors and cannons?
           What did she care for the ocean's blue face?..
           A hoarse little cuckoo cried on the hour.
           And cockroaches ran over the glass-case...

    He  recalled  the  peeling  wall-paper,  tiny  windows,  and  chest of
drawers reeking of  mothballs in the  dark corner and  his voice resounded
with pity for the little ship:

           Surrounded by hats, all old and worn,
           Dusty plumes and felt, rotten and faded,
           How could the wonder ship not feel forlorn,
           The clipper once born of the wind and sea?
           What did it see on lonely dark nights,
           With its bowsprit turned to the blind window?
           Stubborn and desperate, was it waiting for the wind?
           Or calling to someone to rescue it?

           And the damp south-westerly roared
And the rainstorm lashed and seethed.
           Floods tore the small house from its roots,
           And at last the little ship was freed.
           It sailed away over golden dawns,
           Towards bright crimson sunsets inclined,
           May the fickle breezes keep it safe
           On its dangerous course to far-off climes...

    "That's all..." said Alex.  "So  far.  I haven't thought of  an ending
    The Curator sat in  silence for a while  and then snapped his  fingers
and got up slowly.
    "Well, Alex...  You still  don't know  how the  clipper's story  ends.
You'll finish the poem off later.  We won't argue any more. The  clipper's
    Confused and delighted, Alex was struck dumb. The Curator strode  over
to the table and touched the kettle.
    "It's warm enough. Let's have supper.  Then you can kip down here  for
the night and go home tomorrow morning."
    "But I may be late!"
    "Hardly. Come on, show me  your ticket... No, friend, you'll  never be
late with a ticket like this. Sit yourself down."
    Alex was very hungry, and ate  two buttered ham rolls and drank  three
cups of sweet tea. Then he felt desperately tired and the only thing  that
worried him now was the whereabouts of the little ship.
    The Curator  brought over  a camp-bed,  set it  up and  handed Alex  a
shaggy brown blanket.
    "Lie down. I'll be back in a jiffy..." he said and went out.
    Alex did  as he  was told.  Through a  tiny window  high above  him he
could see  two white  stars. The  air smelt  of the  sea and damp seashore
pebbles and  not at  all like  basements usually  smell. He  shut his eyes
tightly and at once imagined he was lying on some rocks right by the sea.
    "And the little ships most likely  think they're lying at anchor in  a
harbour," he thought.
    The Curator came back  carrying the model clipper  and put it down  on
the table. Alex smiled gratefully.
    "Look here," said  the Curator, "are  you really sure  it'll be better
off in Masha's  keeping than at  the museum? Here  it's among other  ships
and feels really at  home. Hundreds of boys  and sailors come here  during
the day-time. They'd get a lot  of pleasure from looking at it...  But are
you sure Masha will? Will she love it?"
    "Oh yes."
    "Are you sure you aren't mistaken?"
    "Yes, quite sure."
    "Well then, good night..."

                            Chapter Thirteen

    A  sunbeam  pounced  through  the  little  window  like a warm, fluffy
kitten and woke Alex up.
    The Curator was nowhere to be  seen. A ship's clock with a  bronze rim
was ticking away in a corner. Its small hand was pointed to seven.
    Alex jumped up.
    The  Curator  was  standing  on  the  table next to Alex's Green Pass.
"Good luck" had been written in bold red pencil on one of its corners.
    "Thanks," said Alex to himself.
    Half  a  loaf  of  bread  was  also  lying there and a warm kettle was
standing on the  stove. However, as  he did not  feel hungry, he  took the
clipper and  walked down  up the  long sloping  corridor and  out into the
    The street, overcast with shadows, was  old and so narrow that only  a
dark-blue  crooked  slit  of  sky  was  visible above, and through it tiny
yellow clouds were racing past between pointed triangular roofs.
    "That means a wind's up," thought  Alex. "But how come the clouds  are
flying this way and that and heaven knows where?"
    There was also  a small wind  blowing along the  street. The clipper's
sails filled out, and it lunged ahead as if wanting to take wing but  Alex
carefully and firmly held onto it.
    After striding  past some  grey and  pink houses,  winged stone lions,
creaking tin signboards and old lamp-posts, he suddenly remembered he  had
not asked the Curator  the way to the  station. He did not  worry about it
though, so far the road itself had taken him the right way.
    The street wound on  and on and the  houses seemed without end...  And
then all  of a  sudden it  seemed to  Alex that  the blue  slit of sky had
dropped to the ground and split the town in two. It was the sea  sparkling
at the end of the street.
    Alex  started,  stood  still  for  a  moment  and then ran towards the
dazzling  blue  sea.   The  oncoming  wind  turned the little ship's sails
inside out and flattened them  against the masts. Alex thought  the street
was leading  him to  the shore  but when  the houses  ended, a square with
towers on it stretched between him and the sea.
    And Alex stopped again. Just imagine this scene: a vast deep blue  sky
up above, a vast deep blue sea in  front of you, a huge square by the  sea
and towers in the  square which looked as  if they had been  gathered from
fairy-tales and sea-adventure stories. They were all very different;  some
were  made  of  grey  blocks,  others  of  orange bricks and even of white
marble. Some were imposing and grim like fortresses and others  ornamental
like palaces,  with merlons  or pointed  roofs, spires  and weather-vanes,
balconies  and   patterned  windows.    And  others   were  simply   large
lighthouses.   A spiral  staircase with  bronze tubular  railings ran from
the top to the bottom  of one of them and  a ship's mast stood on  its top
    Alex got so  carried away looking  at them that  he even forgot  about
the sea. Then he walked cautiously  across the square, feeling as one  who
had chanced, like Gulliver, upon a land of slumbering giants.  The  square
was totally silent except for the clattering sound of Alex's steps  across
the cockle-shell slabs and the pounding sea.
    The square  was paved  with square  slabs and  growing in the crevices
between them were various plants but mostly stiff shrubs with little  pink
flowers. The  towers stood  far apart  from each  other. Tossing  back his
head, Alex walked round each one in  turn, and it seemed to him that  they
were  swaying  slightly.   The  lenses  of  the  lighthouses' beacons were
shining overhead, the  lacy aerials loomed  black and gay-coloured  signal
flags fluttered  in the  wind. The  clouds raced  in different directions,
only the pounding sound of the surf grew louder and louder.
    Alex saw that he had come very close to the sea.
    Large  waves  were  running  towards  the  shore,  white manes on blue
crests. The shore was  low and the square  was almost level with  the sea.
The  slabs  sloped  very  gently  into  the  water,  and the waves swished
against them and raced along them far into the square. Eddy pools  whirled
by  the  towers'  mighty  foundations  and  the  small  oak doors in stone
niches.  Then  the  water  reluctantly  receded  leaving  long  strips  of
vanishing  foam.  Seaweed  stuck  in  the  crevices between the slabs, and
marooned crabs scampered backwards after the rapidly retreating water.
    Alex walked along  the damp cockle-shell  slabs and a  wave broke over
his sandals, soaking his trousers.
    "I'd better roll them up," he  said to himself but did not  attempt to
because he would have had to put  the clipper down and it might have  been
swept away by the waves.
    Standing closest to the  sea was a grey  lighthouse tower with a  high
porch and railings like those on a captain's bridge. A thin suntanned  boy
in  red  swimming  trunks  came  out  onto  the porch, screwed up his eyes
against the sun and jumped down onto  the slabs from the top step.   A
wave immediately swept over  his legs, up to  his knees and then  ran back
again. The  boy burst  out laughing  and, splashing  barefooted across the
slabs, came towards where Alex was standing.
    He did not notice  Alex at first, but  as soon as he  did, he stopped,
became serious  and came  closer. Glancing  first at  the little  ship and
then into Alex's face, he said slowly, "What a beauty..."
    And he did not say it with  envy but as if asking Alex whether  he was
delighted to own such a wonderful little ship.
    "Yes," replied Alex. "Everyone says that. It's a clipper."
    "I know. Granddad promised to make  me one but he never has  time. But
now I'll ask him to get a move on."
    Although he only came up to  Alex's shoulders, he did not seem  small.
He was obviously a bold and cheerful little lad.
    "And what does your granddad do?" asked Alex. "It he a sailor?"
    "No, he's a scientist. He studies the midnight north-westerly."
    "That's good  work," said  Alex with  respect. "And  do you  both live
here in this tower?"
    "No, only  Granddad does.   I just  come and  visit him  and spend the
night with him whenever I like. We watch the wind together."
    He gazed at Alex  and the sea was  reflected in his eyes  (for you see

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