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The Sentence 

by Juliusz Kaden-Bandrowski
Page 4
So there he sat, among these armed bandits. They were dressed in sheepskins and warm materials, had sheepskin caps on their heads; there was he with his bare arms, in well-worn grey trousers, his shirt
fastened together at the neck with a piece of wood. Sitting among them, defenceless as a centipede, without anyone belonging to him, puffing clouds of smoke, he inwardly blessed this adventure, in which everything had turned out so well. The Cossacks looked at the fire, and they too said: 'This is very nice, very nice.'

To whom would not a blazing fire on a cold winter's night appeal?

They got more and more talkative and asked: 'Where are your wife and children?' They probably too had wives and children!

'My wife,' he said, 'has gone down to the village, she was afraid.' They laughed and tapped their chests: 'War is a bad thing, who would not be afraid?' Yakób assented all the more readily as he felt that for him the worst was over.

'Do you know the way to the village?' suddenly asked the captain. He was almost hidden in clouds of tobacco-smoke, but in his eyes there was a gleam, hard and sinister, like a bullet in a puff of smoke.

Yakób did not answer. How should he not know the way?

They started getting up, buckled on their belts and swords.

Yakób jumped up to give them the rest of the sausages and food which had been left on the plates. But they would only take the brandy, and left the tobacco and the broken meat.

'That will be for you...afterwards,' said the young Cossack, took a red muffler off his neck and put it round Yakob's shoulder.

'That will keep you warm.'

Yakób laughed back at him, and submitted to having the muffler knotted tightly round his throat. The young soldier drew a pair of trousers from his kitbag: 'Those will keep you warm, you are old.' He told him a long story about the trousers; they had belonged to his brother who had been killed.

'You know, it's lucky to wear things like that. Poor old fellow!'

Yakob stood and looked at the breeches. In the fire-light they seemed to be trembling like feeble and stricken legs. He laid his hand on them and smiled, a little defiant and a little touched.

'You may have them, you may have them,' grunted the captain, and insisted on his putting them on at once.

When he had put them on in the chimney-corner and showed himself, they were all doubled up with laughter. He looked appalling in the black trousers which were much too large for him, a grey hood and the red muffler. His head wobbled above the red line as if it had been fixed on a bleeding neck. The rags on his chest showed the thin, hairy body, the stiff folds of the breeches produced an effect as if he were not walking on the ground but floating above it.

The captain gave the command, the soldiers jumped up and looked once more round the cottage; the young Cossack put the sausage and meat in a heap and covered it with a piece of bread. 'For you,' he said once
more, and they turned to leave.

Yakob went out with them to bid them Godspeed. A vague presentiment seized him on the threshold, when he looked out at the frozen world, the stars, like nails fixed into the sky, and the light of the moon on
everything. He was afraid.

The men went up to their horses, and he saw that there were others outside. The wind ruffled the shaggy little ponies' manes and threw snow upon them. The horses, restless, began to bite each other, and the Cossacks, scattered on the snow like juniper-bushes, reined them in.

The cottage-door remained open. The lucky horseshoe, nailed to the threshold, glittered in the light of the hearth, which threw blood-red streaks between the legs of the table, across the door and beyond it on to the snow.

'I wonder whether they will ever return to their families?' he thought, and: 'How queer it is that one should meet people like that.'

He was sorry for them.

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