BY MICHAIL P. ARTZYBASHEV
Gabriel Andersen, the teacher, walked to the edge of the school garden, where he paused, undecided what to do. Off in the distance, two miles away, the woods hung like bluish lace over a field of pure snow. It was a brilliant day. A hundred tints glistened on the white ground and the iron bars of the garden railing. There was a lightness and transparency in the air that only the days of early spring possess. Gabriel Andersen turned his steps toward the fringe of blue lace for a tramp in the woods.
“Another spring in my life,” he said, breathing deep and peering up at the heavens through his spectacles. Andersen was rather given to sentimental poetising. He walked with his hands folded behind him, dangling his cane.
He had gone but a few paces when he noticed a group of soldiers and horses on the road beyond the garden rail. Their drab uniforms stood out dully against the white of the snow, but their swords and horses’ coats tossed back the light. Their bowed cavalry legs moved awkwardly on the snow. Andersen wondered what they were doing there Suddenly the nature of their business flashed upon him. It was an ugly errand they were upon, an instinct rather that his reason told him. Something unusual and terrible was to happen. And the same instinct told him he must conceal himself from the soldiers. He turned to the left quickly, dropped on his knees, and crawled on the soft, thawing, crackling snow to a low haystack, from behind which, by craning his neck, he could watch what the soldiers were doing.
There were twelve of them, one a stocky young officer in a grey cloak caught in prettily at the waist by a silver belt. His face was so red that even at that distance Andersen caught the odd, whitish gleam of his light protruding moustache and eyebrows against the vivid colour of his skin. The broken tones of his raucous voice reached distinctly to where the teacher, listening intently, lay hidden.
“I know what I am about. I don’t need anybody’s advice,” the officer cried. He clapped his arms akimbo and looked down at some one among the group of bustling soldiers. “I’ll show you how to be a rebel, you damned skunk.”
Andersen’s heart beat fast. “Good heavens!” he thought. “Is it possible?” His head grew chill as if struck by a cold wave.
“Officer,” a quiet, restrained, yet distinct voice came from among the soldiers, “you have no right—It’s for the court to decide—you aren’t a judge—it’s plain murder, not—” “Silence!” thundered the officer, his voice choking with rage. “I’ll give you a court. Ivanov, go ahead.”
He put the spurs to his horse and rode away. Gabriel Andersen mechanically observed how carefully the horse picked its way, placing its feet daintily as if for the steps of a minuet. Its ears were pricked to catch every sound. There was momentary bustle and excitement among the soldiers. Then they dispersed in different directions, leaving three persons in black behind, two tall men and one very short and frail. Andersen could see the hair of the short one’s head. It was very light. And he saw his rosy ears sticking out on each side.