Their burly guardians paid little attention to them; in short sentences which the wind seemed to rend, they were talking to their only young companion who stood leaning on his gun as in summer shepherds lean upon their staffs.
Quite a boy he was, eighteen or nineteen perhaps. He was staring into the night with a dreamy expression in his large green eyes. The snowflakes whirled about him, settling in layers upon the fur of his cap, catching even on to his eyelashes that were long and extraordinarily strong; this made him pass his hand occasionally over his face.
“Vasile, the fire is going out!” growled one of the elder men. “Before this damned night is over, we shall all die of cold!”
“We ought not to have lost our way,” grumbled one of the others.
“We did not do so on purpose,” said the first again, a certain Andrei Scurtu, leader of the small detachment in charge of the prisoners. His temper was as short as his name and the others treated him with irritated docility.
Beyond a certain distance
“How can one drag even prisoners beyond a certain distance with frozen feet; we were to have reached the village before night—well, we have not—more’s the pity. If we freeze here before morning, we shall probably only be a few of many, and the fault will neither be ours nor God’s.”
“Whose fault is it then?” asked someone.
“That is no business of yours or mine,” snapped Scurtu.
“It is the fault of war,” said another old fellow, one Petre Pasca, who had not yet spoken.
“War, war!” grumbled Scurtu, “war comes as a dry summer, or a flood when the seeds are young.”
“But a war like this!” objected another.
“Those German fiends are the devil’s own!” said another as he vainly tried to stir up the dying embers.
“M&y the devil take them, then,” said Scurtu, and to emphasize his words he spat into the cinders.
Vasile turned his young frost-bitten face towards his elders.
“I am sorry for those prisoners,” he said.
“Sorry!” Several voices were raised in protest. “Sorry for these foreign dogs!”
“They are young and far from their homes,” explained Vasile.
“And we, where are we then?”
“We are still on our Roumanian soil!”
“It is not their fault if we are!”