But by degrees the murder fell into its proper place among other interests; curiosity and gossip had made it commonplace. It was taken up, turned over, considered, picked at and pulled about, till it became simply “the last new thing.” Soon we knew every detail of the relation between the murdered and the murderer. We knew who it was that Peer’s mother had wanted him to marry; we knew the Hagbo family in and out, and their history for generations past.
When the magistrate came to the parsonage to institute the preliminary inquiry, the murder was merely an inexhaustible theme of conversation. But the next day when the bailiff and some other men appeared with the murderer, a new feeling took possession of me, a feeling of which I could not have imagined myself capable— an overpowering compassion. A young good-looking lad, well grown, slightly built, rather small than otherwise, with dark not very thick hair, with appealing eyes which were now downcast, with a clear voice, and about his whole personality a certain charm, almost refinement; a creature to associate with life, not death, with gladness, with gaiety. I was more sorry for him than I can say. The bailiff and the other people spoke kindly to him too, so they must have felt the same. Only the peppery little clerk came out with some hard words, but the accused stood cap in hand and made no answer.
He paced up and down the yard in his shirt sleeves—the day was very warm—with a flat cloth cap over his close-cut hair, and his hands in his trousers pockets, or toying restlessly with a piece of straw. The parsonage dog had found companions, and the youth followed the dog’s frolic with his eyes, and gazed at the chickens and at us children as though he longed to be one of us. The girl’s words, “But don’t do him any harm,” rang in my ears unceasingly— whether he walked about or stood still or sat down. I knew that he would certainly be beheaded, and, believing that it must be soon, I was filled with horror at the thought of his saying to himself, In a month I shall die—and then in a week—in a day—an hour... it must be utterly unendurable. I slipped behind him to see his neck, and just at that moment he lifted his hand up to it, a little brown hand; and I could not get rid of the thought that perhaps his fingers would come in the way when the axe was falling.