(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

On a ship sailing from Archangel into the White Sea is an Archbishop and several of his followers. While on deck, the Archbishop overhears a little fisherman telling the other passengers about three old men, “servants of God,” who live on an island barely visible on the distant horizon.

At the Archbishop’s request, the fisherman tells about his encounter with the three old men, who had once helped him when his boat struck on the remote island. The old men, he tells the Archbishop, were most peculiar in appearance. One was very old and hunchbacked, with green hairs mingled in his gray beard. Another, who had a yellowish gray beard and wore a ragged caftan, was also very old, but taller than the first and strong enough to turn the fisherman’s boat over “as if it were a pail.” The third was the tallest of the three, and he had a snowy beard that reached to his knees.

The Archbishop, having heard the fisherman’s story, asks the helmsman about the presence of three “holy men” on the distant island. The helmsman’s response indicates that the fisherman may have been merely “spinning yarns.” Nevertheless, the Archbishop goes to the captain and requests that the ship be brought close enough to the island that he can be rowed to it. This request does not please the captain, who tells the Archbishop that it would not be worth his while to see the old men. They are, he has heard, “imbeciles who understand nothing and are as dumb as the fishes of the sea.”

Neither the helmsman nor the captain, however, is able to dissuade the Archbishop, who offers to pay the captain well for changing the ship’s course so that he can visit the island. Thus, the captain changes the ship’s course and in a short while brings it to anchor near the island. A rowboat is lowered, and several rowers are commissioned to take the Archbishop to the beach, where, by telescope, three old men can already be seen standing near a large rock.

When the Archbishop lands on the shore, he finds the three old men just as the fisherman described them, all ancient in age, with long...

(The entire section is 862 words.)