Page:The Best Continental Short Stories of 1923–1924.djvu/84

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PARBU-JAAN, the smuggler, sat on a bench in the cell for prisoners awaiting trial, expecting each moment to be called before the judge. His square-clipped sailor’s beard rested every now and then on the thick shawl wrapped twice around his throat; at each slightest movement his stiff oilskin coat crackled. Weary with waiting, he let his eyes wander over the wall of the cell, but soon desisted, finding that he knew the room as well as his own fisherman’s hut on the shore of Kihelkonna; it was the third time that he sat within these walls. He glanced for a moment at his companions—two youths playing cards at the other end of the room. In reality they were pretending to be occupied by the game, the while they watched him with grinning faces, and open, boyish curiosity in their eyes. Parbu-Jaan weighed them up a moment with keen eyes, accustomed to look far over vast stretches of sea, and to which all objects seemed too close, a frown drawing his brows together as though he weighed the two lads and found them wanting in the balance.

Quickly, however, his face, expressive of cunning and determination, became wreathed in smiles and filled with good humour. He rose and paced across the room a couple of times, saying as he passed the youths:

“Stealing wood from the manor forest, hey?”

Tolerant forgiveness of the crime and contempt for its insignificance were mingled in his tone.

“Hit the nail right on the head,” one of the youths said braggingly, and aping manliness.

Parbu-Jaan did not deign to look at them, but halted and stood tall beneath the barred window set high in the wall, his stalwart frame, over six feet, seeming to fill the room, and cast a giant shadow over all in it. His height enabled him to reach the window and to rest his