Then came the third, the fourth, and so on, to the end.
And Gabriel Andersen stood on the wet, thawing snow, craning his neck, trembling and stuttering, though he did not say a word. Dank sweat poured from his body. A sense of shame permeated his whole being. It was a humiliating feeling, having to escape being noticed so that they should not catch him and lay him there on the snow and strip him bare—him, Gabriel Andersen.
The soldiers pressed and crowded, the horses tossed their heads, the knout swished in the air, and the bare, shamed human flesh swelled up, tore, ran over with blood, and curled like a snake. Oaths, wild shrieks rained upon the village through the clean white air of that spring day.
Andersen now saw five men’s faces at the steps of the town hall, the faces of those men who had already undergone their shame. He quickly turned his eyes away. After seeing this a man must die, he thought.
There were seventeen of them, fifteen soldiers, a subaltern and a young beardless officer. The officer lay in front of the fire looking intently into the flames. The soldiers were tinkering with the firearms in the wagon.
Their grey figures moved about quietly on the black thawing ground, and occasionally stumbled across the logs sticking out from the blazing fire.
Gabriel Andersen, wearing an overcoat and carrying his cane behind his back, approached them. The subaltern, a stout fellow with a moustache, jumped up, turned from the fire, and looked at him.
“Who are you? What do you want?” he asked excitedly. From his tone it was evident that the soldiers feared everybody in that district, through which they went scattering death, destruction and torture.
“Officer,” he said, “there is a man here I don’t know.”
The officer looked at Andersen without speaking.
“Officer,” said Andersen in a thin, strained voice, “my name is Michelson. I am a business man here, and I am going to the village on business. I was afraid I might be mistaken for some one else—you know.”
“Then what are you nosing about here for?” the officer said angrily, and turned away.
“A business man,” sneered a soldier. “He ought to be searched, this business man ought, so as not to be knocking about at night. A good one in the jaw is what he needs.”
“He’s a suspicious character, officer,” said the subaltern. “Don’t you think we’d better arrest him, what?”
“Don’t,” answered the officer lazily. “I’m sick of them, damn ’em.”
Gabriel Andersen stood there without saying anything. His eyes flashed strangely in the dark by the firelight. And it was strange to see his short, substantial, clean, neat figure in the field at night among the soldiers, with his overcoat and cane and glasses glistening in the firelight.
The soldiers left him and walked away. Gabriel Andersen remained standing for a while. Then he turned and left, rapidly disappearing in the darkness.