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The Sentence 

by Juliusz Kaden-Bandrowski
Page 12
In the morning he awoke with a start. The sun was shining on the snow, the mountains glittered like glass. The trees on the slopes were covered with millions of shining crystals; freshness floated between heaven and earth. Yakob stepped out of the shed, greeted the sentry and sat down on the boards, blinking his eyes.

The air was fresh and cold, tiny atoms of hoarfrost were flying about. Yakob felt the sun's warmth thawing his limbs, caressing him. He let himself be absorbed into the pure, rosy morning.

Doors creaked, and voices rang out clear and fresh. Opposite to him a squadron of Uhlans were waiting at the farrier's, who came out, black as a charcoal-burner, and chatted with them. They were laughing, their eyes shone. From inside the forge the hammer rang out like a bell. Yakob held his head in his hand and listened. At each stroke he shut his eyes. The soldiers brought him a cup of hot coffee; he drank it and lighted his pipe.

The murmuring of the brook, punctuated by the hammer-strokes, stimulated his thoughts till they became clearer, limpid as the stream.

'It was I...it was I...' he silently confided to all the fresh voices of the morning.

The guard again took him away with fixed bayonets. He knew where he was going. They would go through the village and stop at the wall of the cemetery.

The sky was becoming overcast, the beauty of the morning was waning. They called at the school-house for orders. Yakob remained outside the open window.

'I won't...' he heard a voice.

'Nor I...' another.

Yakob leant against the fence, supported his temples on his fists and watched the snow-clouds and mists.

A feeling of immense, heavy weariness came over him, and made him limp. He could see the ruins of the mill, the tumbled-down granaries, the broken doors. The water trickled down the wheel; smoke and soot were
floating on the water, yet the water flowed on.

Guilty...not guilty.... What did it all matter?

'Do you hear?' he asked of the water. 'Do you hear?' he asked of his wife and children and his little property.

They took him here and they took him there. They made him wait outside houses, and he sat down on the steps as if he had never been used to anything else. He picked up a dry branch and gently tapped the snow
with it and waited. He waited as in a dream, going round and round the wish that it might all be over soon.

While he was waiting, the crowd amused themselves with shaking their fists at him; he was thankful that his wife seemed to have gone away to the town and did not see him.

At last his guard went off in a bad temper. A soldier on horseback remained with him.

'Come on, old man,' he said, 'no one will have anything to do with it.'

Yakob glanced at him; the soldier and his horse seemed to be towering above the cottages, above the trees of the park with their flocks of circling crows. He looked into the far distance.

'It was I.'

'You're going begging, old man.'

Again they began their round, and behind them followed the miller's wife and other women. His legs were giving way, as though they were rushes. He took off his cap and gave a tired look in the direction of his cottage.

At last they joined a detachment which was starting off on the old road. They went as far as Gregor's cottage, then to the cross-roads, and in single file down the path. From time to time isolated gunshots rang out.

They sat down by the side of a ditch.

'We've got to finish this business,' said the sergeant, and scratched his head. 'No one would come forward voluntarily... I have been ordered....'

The soldiers looked embarrassed and drew away, looking at Yakob.

He hid his head between his knees, and his thoughts dwelt on everything, sky, water, mountains, fire.

His heart was breaking; a terrible sweat stood on his brows.

Shots rang out.

A deep groan escaped from Yakob's breast, a groan like a winter-wind. He sprang up, stood on the edge of the ditch, sighed with all the strength of his old breast and fell like a branch.

Puffs of smoke rose from the ditch and from the forests.

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