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The Sentence 

by Juliusz Kaden-Bandrowski
Page 8
'That is a lie, a lie, a lie!' he cried, beating his chest; his hair stood on end. The soldiers sat down in a row on the stones. They were young, cold, tired.

'But now they'll play the deuce with you.'

'Why?' said Yakob softly, glancing sideways at them.

'You're an old ass,' remarked one of them.

'But,' he began again, 'I was sitting, looking at the snow....'

He had a great longing to talk to them, they looked as if they would understand, although they were so young.

'I was sitting...give me some fire...do you come from these parts yourselves?' They did not answer.

He thought of his cottage, the bread and sausage, the black horse at the cross-roads.

'They beat me,' he sobbed, covering his face with his rags.

The soldiers shrugged their shoulders: 'Why did you let them?'

'O...O...O!' cried the old man. But tears would no longer wash away a conviction which was taking possession of him, searing his soul as the flames seared the pines. 'Why did you let them? Aren't you ashamed of yourself?'

No, he was not ashamed of himself for that. But that he had shown them the way...the way they had come by...what did it all mean? All his tears would not wash away this conviction: that he had shown them the
way...the way they had come by.

Guns were thundering from the hills, the village was burning, the mill was burning...a black mass of people was surrounding him. More and more wounded came in from the fields, covered with grey mud. The flying
sparks from the mill fell at his feet.

A detachment of soldiers was returning.

'Get up, old man,' cried his guard; 'we're off!' Yakób jumped to his feet, hitched up his trousers, and went off perplexed, under cover of four bayonets that seemed to carry a piece of sky between them like a starred canopy.

His fear grew as he approached the village. He did not see the familiar cottages and hedges; he felt as though he were moving onwards without a goal. Moving onwards and yet not getting any farther. Moving onwards
and yet hoping not to get to the end of the journey.

He sucked his pipe and paid no attention to anything; but the village was on his conscience.

The fear which filled his heart was nob like that which he had felt when the Cossacks arrived, but a senseless fear, depriving him of sight and hearing...as though there were no place for him in the world.

'Are we going too fast?' asked the guard hearing Yakób's heavy breathing.

'All right, all right,' he answered cheerfully. The friendly words had taken his fear away.

'Take it easy,' said the soldier. 'We will go more slowly. Here's a dry cigarette, smoke.'

Without turning round, he offered Yakob a cigarette, which he put behind his ear.

They entered the village. It smelt of burning, like a gipsy camp. The road seemed to waver in the flickering of the flames, the wind howled in the timber.

Yakob looked at the sky. Darkness and stars melted into one.

He would not look at the village. He knew there were only women and children in the cottages, the men had all gone. This thought was a relief to him, he hardly knew why.

Meanwhile the detachment of soldiers, instead of going to the manor-house, had turned down a narrow road which led to the mill. They stopped and formed fours. Every stone here was familiar to Yakob, and yet, standing in the snow up to his knees, he was puzzled as to where he was. If he could only sleep off this nightmare...he did not recognize the road...the night was far advanced, and the village not asleep as usual...if they would only let him go home!

He would return to-morrow.

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