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The Sentence 

by Juliusz Kaden-Bandrowski
Juliusz Kaden-Bandrowski was a very favourite author in Poland. Many of his short stories deal with Polish life during the Great War. In the early part of the War he joined the Polish Legions which formed the nucleus of Pilsudski's army, and shared their varying fortunes. During the greater part of this time he edited a radical newspaper for his soldiers, in whom he took a great interest. 
'Yakob... Yakob... Yakob!'

The old man was repeating his name to himself, or rather he was inwardly listening to the sound of it which he had been accustomed to hear for so many years. He had heard it in the stable, in the fields,
and on the grazing-ground, on the steps of the manor-house and at the Jew's, but never like this. It seemed to issue from unknown depths, summoning sounds never heard before, sights never yet seen, producing a confusion which he had never experienced. He saw it, felt it everywhere; it was itself the cause of a hopeless despair.

This despair crept silently into Yakob's fatalistic and submissive soul. He felt it under his hand, as though he were holding another hand. He was as conscious of it as of his hairy chest, his cold and starved body. This despair, moreover, was blended with a kind of patient expectancy which was expressed by the whispering of his pale, trembling lips, the tepid sweat under his armpits, the saliva running into his throat and making his tongue feel rigid like a piece of wood.

This is what happened: he tried to remember how it had all happened.

They had come swarming in from everywhere; they had taken the men away; it was firearms everywhere... everywhere firearms, noise and hubbub. The whole world was pushing, running, sweating or freezing. They arrived from this side or from that; they asked questions, they hunted people down, they followed up a trail, they fought. Of course, one must not betray one's brothers, but then...who are one's brothers?

They placed watches in the mountains, in the forests, on the fields; they even drove people into the mountain-passes and told them to hold out at any cost.

Yakób had been sitting in the chimney-corner in the straw and dust, covered with his frozen rags. The wind swept over the mountains and penetrated into the cottage, bringing with it a white covering of hoar-frost; it was sighing eerily in the fields; the fields themselves seemed to flee from it, and to be alive, running away into the
distance. The earth in white convulsions besieged the sky, and the sky got entangled in the mountain-forests.

Yakób was looking at the snow which was falling thickly, and tried to penetrate the veil with his eyes. Stronger and faster raged the blizzard. Yakób's stare became vacant under the rumbling of the storm and the driving of the snow; one could not have told whether he was looking with eyes or with lumps of ice.

Shadows were flitting across the snowdrifts. They were the outlines of objects lit up by the fire; they trembled on the window-frames; the fire flickered, and the shadows treacherously caressed the images of saints on the walls. The beam played on the window, threw a red light on the short posts of the railing, and disappeared in pursuit of the wind in the fields.


And he had really had nothing to do with it! It had all gone against him continuously, pertinaciously, and to no purpose. It had attached itself to him, clung to the dry flour that flew about in atoms in the tin where the bit of cheese also was kept. It had bewitched the creaking of the windows on their hinges; it had stared from the empty seats along the walls.

But he kept on beating his breast. His forehead was wrinkled in dried-up folds, his brows bristled fantastically into shaggy, dirty tufts. His heavy, blunt nose, powdered with hairs at the tip, stood out obstinately between two deep folds on either side. These folds overhung the corners of his mouth, and were joined below the chin by a network of pallid veins. A noise, light as a beetle's wing, came in puffs from the half-open lips; they were swollen and purple like an overgrown bean.

Yakób had been sitting in Turkish fashion, his hands crossed over his chest, breathing forth his misery so quietly that it covered him, together with the hoar-frost, stopped his ears and made the tufts of hair on his chest glitter. He was hugging his sorrow to himself, abandoning the last remnant of hope, and longing for deliverance. Behind the wrinkles of his forehead there swarmed a multitude not so much of pictures as of ghosts of the past, yet vividly present.

At last he got up and sat down on the bench in the chimney-corner, drew a pipe from his trouser-pocket and put it between his teeth, forgetting to light it. He laid his heavy hands round the stem. Beyond the blizzard and the shadow-play of the flame, there appeared to him the scene of his wife and daughters' flight. He had given up everything he possessed, had taken off his sheepskin, had himself loosened the cow from the post. For a short moment he had caught sight of his wife and daughters again in the distance, tramping through the snow as they passed the cross-roads, then they had been swallowed up in a mass of people, horses, guns, carts, shouts and curses. Since then he had constantly fancied that he was being called, yet he knew that there was no one to call him. His thoughts were entirely absorbed in what he had seen then. With his wife all his possessions had gone. Now there was nothing but silence, surrounding him with a sharp breath of pain and death.

By day and by night Yakob had listened to the shots that struck his cottage and his pear-trees. He chewed a bit of cheese from time to time, and gulped down with it the bitter fear that his cottage might be set on fire.

For here and there, like large red poppies on the snow, the glare of burning homesteads leapt up into the sky.

'Here I am...watching,' he said to himself, when he looked at these blood-red graves. He smiled at the sticks of firewood on his hearth, which was the dearest thing on earth to him. The walls of his cottage were one with his inmost being, and every moment when he saw them standing, seemed to him like precious savings which he was putting away. So he watched for several days; the vermin were overrunning the place, and he was becoming desperate. Since mid-day the silence had deepened; the day declined, and there was nothing in the world but solitude and snow.

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