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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

'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

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.

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.

The captain touched his arm and asked the way.

'Straight on.'


'No, not far, not at all far.'

'Where is it?'

The little group stood in front of him by the side of their wolf-like
ponies. He drew back into the cottage.

The thought confusedly crossed his mind: 'After all, we did sit
together and ate together, two and two, like friends.'

He began hurriedly, 'Turn to the left at the crossroads, then across
the fields as far as Gregor's cottage...'

The captain made a sign that he did not understand.

He thought: 'Perhaps they will lose their way and make a fuss; then
they will come back to the cottage and eat the meat. I will go with
them as far as the cross-roads.'

They crept down the road, passed the clump of pine-trees which came out
in a point beside the brook, and went along the valley on the slippery
stones. A large block of ice lay across the brook, shaped like a silver
plough; the waves surrounded it as with golden crescents. The snow
creaked under the soldiers' feet. Yakób walked beside them on his
sandals, like a silent ghost.

'Now keep straight on as far as the cross,' he said, pointing to a dark
object with a long shadow. 'I can't see anything,' said the captain. He
accompanied them as far as the cross, by the side of which stood a
little shrine; the wan saint was wearing a crown of icicles.

From that point the village could be seen across the fields. Yakób
discovered that the chain of lights which he had observed earlier in
the evening, had come down from the mountains, for it now seemed to be
close to the village.

Silence reigned in the sleeping world, every step could be heard.

This silence filled Yakób's heart with a wild fear; he turned round
with a feeling of helplessness and looked back at his cottage. Probably
the fire was now going out; a red glow appeared and disappeared on the

Beyond the cross the road lay through low-lying ground, and was crossed
by another road which led abruptly downwards into fields. Yakob

'Come on, old man, come on,' they called to him, and walked on without
waiting for his answer. The Cossacks dug their heels into the rugged
ice of the road, and tumbled about in all directions. They had left
their horses at the cross-roads. Each one kept a close hold on his gun,
so that there should be no noise. They were whispering to each other;
it sounded as if a congregation were murmuring their prayers. Yakób led
them, and mentally he held fast to every bush, every lump of ice,
saying to himself at every step that now he was going to leave them,
they could not miss the road now. But he was afraid.

They no longer whispered, they had become taciturn as they pushed
onwards, stumbling, breathing hard.

'As far as Gregor's cottage, and then no more!'

The effect of the drink was passing off. He rubbed his eyes, drew his
rags across his chest. 'What was he doing, leading these people about
on this night?'

He suddenly stopped where the field-road crossed theirs; the soldiers
in front and behind threw themselves down. It was as if the ground had
swallowed them.

A black horse was standing in the middle of the road, with extended
nostrils. Its black mane, covered with hoar-frost, was tossed about its
head; the saddle-bags, which were fur-lined, swung in the breeze; large
dark drops were falling from its leg to the ground.

'Damn it!' cursed the captain.

The horse looked meekly at them, and stretched its head forward
submissively. Yakób was sorry for the creature; perhaps one could do
something for it. He stood still beside it, and again pointed out the

'I have done enough, I shan't go any further!' He scratched his head
and smiled, thinking that this was a good opportunity for escape.

'Come on,' hissed the captain so venomously in his ear that he marched
forward without delay; they followed.

A dull fear mixed with resentment gripped him with terrible force. He
now ran at the head like a sheep worried by watch-dogs.

They stopped in front of the cottage, silent, breathless, expectant.

Yakob looked at his companions with boundless astonishment. Their faces
under their fur-caps had a tense, cruel look, their brows were
wrinkled, their eyes glittered.

From all sides other Cossacks were advancing.

He noticed only now that there were some lying concealed behind the
fence on the straw in a confused mass.

He shuddered; thick drops of perspiration stood on his forehead. The
beating of his heart filled his head like the noise of a hammer, it
seemed to fill everything. In spite of the feeling that he was being
forced to do this thing, he again heard the voice calling: 'Yakob,

Up the hillock where Gregor's cottage stood, they advanced on all

He clambered upwards, thinking of his wife, and of the cow he had
loosed. Fear veiled his eyes, he saw black spots dancing.

Gregor's cottage was empty as a graveyard. It had been abandoned; the
open doors creaked on their hinges. Under the window stood a cradle,
covered with snow.

Silently the soldiers surrounded the cottage, and Yakob went with them,
as though mesmerized by terror, mute and miserable.

They had hardly got round, when a red glow shot up from the other side
of the village. The soldiers threw themselves down in the snow.

The thundering of guns began on all sides; blood-red lights came flying
overhead. An appalling noise broke out, reinforced by the echo from the
mountains, as though the whole world were going to perish. The Cossacks
advanced, trembling.

Yakob advanced with them, for the captain had hit him across the head.
He saw stars when he received the blow, gesticulated wildly, and
staggered along the road.

He could distinguish the road running out from the forest like a silver
thread. As they advanced, they came under a diabolically heavy rifle
fire; bullets were raining upon them from all sides.

Here and there he heard moans already, when one of the soldiers fell
bleeding on the snow. Close to him fell the young Cossack who had given
him the muffler and breeches. He held out his hand, groaning. Yakob
wanted to stop, but the captain would not let him, but rapped him over
the head again with his knuckles.

The soldiers lay in heaps. The rest wavered, fell back, hid in the
ditch or threw themselves down. The rifle-fire came nearer, the
outlines and faces of the advancing enemy could already be
distinguished. Another blow on the head stretched Yakob to the ground,
and he feigned death. The Cossacks retreated, the others advanced, and
he understood that they belonged to his friends.

When he got up, he was immediately surrounded by them, taken by the
scruff of the neck and so violently shaken, that he tumbled on his
knees. Gunfire was roaring from the mountains, shadows of soldiers
flitted past him, the wounded Cossacks groaned in the snow. Young,
well-nourished looking men were bending over him.

Looking up into their faces, he crossed his hands over his chest and
laughed joyfully.

'Ah, those Russians, those Russians...the villains!' he croaked, 'aho,
aho, ho hurlai!' He rolled his tear-filled eyes.

Things were happening thick and fast. From where the chimney stood
close to the water, near the manor-house, the village was burning. He
could feel the heat and soot and hear the shouting of the crowd through
the noise of the gunfire. Now he would see his wife and children again,
the friendly soldiers surely had saved them. The young Cossack was
still struggling on the ground; now he stretched himself out for his
eternal sleep. 'Ah, the villains!' Yakob repeated; the great happiness
which filled his heart rushed to his lips in incoherent babblings. 'The
villains, they have served me nicely!'

He felt his bleeding head, crouched on his heels and got up. The fleshy
red faces were still passing close to him, breathing harder and harder.
Fear rose and fell in him like the flames of the burning village; again
everything was swallowed up in indescribable noise.

Suddenly Yakób began to sob; he threw himself down at the soldiers'
feet and wept bitterly, as though he would weep out his soul and the
marrow of his bones.

They lifted him up, almost unconscious, and took him along the high
road, under escort with fixed bayonets. His tears fell fast upon the
snow, and thus he came into his own village, among his own people, pale
as a corpse, with poison in his heart.

He looked dully at the blazing wooden church-spire where it stood
enveloped in flames as though wrapped in an inflated glittering cloak.
Dully he let his eyes wander over the hedges and fences; everything
seemed unreal, as things seen across a distant wave or a downpour of
rain, out of reach and strange.

He was standing where the field-path joined the high road. The soldiers
sat down on a heap of stones and lighted their cigarettes.

Yakób, trembling all over, looked at his own black shadow; fugitives
arrived from the burning village and swarmed past him; the rifle fire
now sounded from the direction of the mountains.

Suddenly Gregor's cottage burst into flames. A blood-red glow inflated
the clouds of smoke, trembled on the snow and ran over the pine-trees
like gold.

Soldiers were arriving from that direction, streaming with blood,
supported by their comrades.

Yakób stood motionless, looking at his shadow; fear was burning within
him. He looked at the sky above the awful chaos on the earth, and
became calmer. He tried to remember how it had all happened.

They had come, had given him food. His wife and children were probably
safe in the manor-house. Blinking his swollen eyelids, he tried to
deceive himself, crouched down near the guard who was smoking, and
asked him for fire. His fear miraculously disappeared.

He began to talk rapidly to the soldier: 'I was sitting...the wind was
moaning...' he told him circumstantially how he was sitting, what he
had been thinking, how the shots had struck his cottage.

The soldier put his rifle between his knees, crossed his hands over his
sleeves, spat out and sighed.

'But you have had underhand dealings with the Russians.'


'Tell that to another.'

'I shall,' replied Yakob calmly.

'And who showed them the way?'

'Who?' said Yakob.

'Who showed them the way over here? Or did they find it on the map?'

'Yes, on the map,' assented Yakob, as though he were quite convinced.

'Well, who did?' said the soldier, wagging his head.

'Who?' repeated Yakob like an echo.

'I suppose it wasn't I?' said the soldier.

'I?' asked Yakob.

The other three soldiers approached inquisitively to where Yakob was

'A nice mess you've made,' one of them said, pointing to the wounded
who were arriving across the fields. 'Do you understand?'

Yakob fixed his eyes on the soldiers' boots, and would not look in
that, direction. But he could not understand what it all meant...all
this noise, and the firing that ran from hill to hill.

'Nice mess this you've made, old man.'



Yakob looked up at them, and had the sensation of being deep down at
the bottom of a well instead of crouching at their feet.

'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 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

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 though there were no place for him in the world.

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

'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.

The mill was burning out. Cinders were flying across from the
granaries; the smoke bit into the eyes of the people who were standing
about looking upwards, with their arms crossed.

Everything showed up brilliantly in the glare; the water was dripping
from rung to rung of the silent wheel, and mixed its sound with that of
the fire.

The adjoining buildings were fenced round with a small running fire;
smoke whirled round the tumbling roof like a shock of hair shot through
with flames. The faces of the bystanders assumed a metallic glow.

The wails of the miller and his family could be heard through the noise
of battle, of water, and of fire.

It was as if the crumbling walls, the melting joints, the smoke, the
cries were dripping down the wheel, transformed into blood, and were
carried down by the black waves and swallowed up in the infinite abyss
of the night.

'They beat me....' Yakob justified himself to himself, when the tears
rose to his eyes again. No tears could wash away the conviction that it
was he who had shown them the way by which they had come.

The first detachment was waiting for the arrival of the second. It
arrived, bringing in prisoners, Cossacks. A large number of them were
being marched along; they did not walk in order but irregularly, like
tired peasants. They were laughing, smoking cigarettes, and pushing
against each other. Among them were those who had come to his cottage;
he recognized the captain and others.

When they saw Yakob they waved their hands cordially and called out to
him, 'Old man, old man!'

Yakob did not reply; he shrunk into himself. Shame filled his soul. He
looked at them vacantly. His forehead was wrinkled as with a great
effort to remember something, but he could think of nothing but a huge
millwheel turning under red, smooth waves. Suddenly he remembered: it
was the young Cossack who had given him his brother's clothes.

'The other one,' he shouted, pointing to his muffler, 'where did you
leave him?'

Soldiers came between them and pushed the crowd away.

There was a terrific crash in the mill; a thick red cloud rushed
upwards, dotted with sparks. Under this cloud an ever-increasing mass

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