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The Sentence 

by Juliusz Kaden-Bandrowski
Page 3
Yakob put his hands on the table, then put them behind him. Black shadows were gesticulating on the walls. He felt unhappy about sharing a meal with people without knowing what they were, never having seen or known them before. They were Russians, thus much he knew. He had a vision of something that happened long ago, he could not distinctly remember what it was, for it happened so very long ago; his grandfather
had come home from the fair that was held in the town, shivering and groaning. There had been outcries and curses.

'They are going to poison me like a dog,' he thought.

The wind was changing and moaning under the roof. The fire flickered up and went down; the red flame and the darkness were dancing together on the walls. The wan moon was looking in at the window. Yakob was sitting on the bench among the soldiers like his own ghost.

'They are surely going to poison me,' he kept repeating to himself. He was still racking his memory as to what it was that had happened so long ago to his grandfather during the fair, at the inn. God knows what it was... who could know anything?

'They are going to poison me!'

His sides were heaving with his breath, he was trying to breathe carefully, so as not to smell the repast.

The shadows on the walls seemed to jeer at him. The soldiers were beginning to talk thickly; their mouths, their fingers were shining with grease. They took off their belts and laid their swords aside. The one next to Yakob put his arm round his neck and whispered in his ear; his red mouth was quite close; he passed his hand over Yakob's head, and brought his arm right round his throat. He was young and he was talking of his father.

'Daddy,' he said, and put the sausage between his teeth.

Yakob tried to clench his teeth; but he bit the sausage at the same time.

'Daddy,' said the young soldier again, holding out the sausage for another bite; he stroked his head, looked into his eyes, and laughed. Yakob was sorry for himself. Was he to be fed like a half-blind old man? Couldn't he eat by himself?

When the soldiers saw that Yakob was eating, they burst into shouts of laughter, and stamped their feet, rattling their spurs.

He knew they were laughing at him, and it made him easier in his mind to see that he was affording them pleasure. He purposely made himself ridiculous with the vague idea that he must do something for them in
payment of what they were giving him; they struck him on the shoulder-blades to see him gasp with his beanlike mouth, and to see the frightened smile run over his face like a flash of lightning.

He ate as though from bravado, but he ate well. They started drinking again. Yakob looked at them with eagerness, his arms folded over his stomach, his head bent forward; the hairy hand of the captain put the
bottle to his mouth.

Now he could laugh his own natural laugh again, and not only from bravado, for he felt quite happy. His frozen body was getting warmed through.

He felt as if a great danger had irrevocably passed.

Gradually he became garrulous, although they hardly understood what he was talking about: 'Yes, the sausage was good... to be sure!' He nodded his head and clicked his tongue; he also approved of the huge chunks of bread, and whenever the bottle was passed round, he put his head on one side and folded his hands, as if he were listening to a sermon. From his neighbour's encircling black sleeve the old face peeped out with equanimity, looking like a withering poppy.

'Daddy,' the loquacious Cossack would say from time to time, and point in the direction of the mountains; tears were standing in his eyes.

Yakób put his swollen hand on his, and waited for him to say more.

The soldier held his hand, pointed in the direction of the mountains again, and sniffled.

'He respects old age... they are human, there's no denying it,' thought Yakób, and got up to put more wood on the fire.

They seized hold of him, they would not allow him to do it. A young soldier jumped up: 'Sit down, you are old.'

Yakób held out his empty pipe, and the captain himself filled it.

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