it all again, and after each phrase he nodded. "Quite so, quite so." When I described the body lying on the sand, he nodded more emphatically, and said, "Good!" I was tired of repeating the same story; I felt as if I'd never talked so much in all my life before.
After another silence he stood up and said he'd like to help me; I interested him, and, with God's help, he would do something for me in my trouble. But, first, he must put a few more questions.
He began by asking bluntly if I'd loved my mother.
"Yes," I replied, "like everybody else." The clerk behind me, who had been typing away at a steady pace, must just then have hit the wrong keys, as I heard him pushing the carrier back and crossing something out.
Next, without any apparent logical connection, the magistrate sprang another question.
"Why did you fire five consecutive shots?"
I thought for a bit; then explained that they weren't quite consecutive. I fired one at first, and the other four after a short interval.
"Why did you pause between the first and second shot?"
I seemed to see it hovering again before my eyes, the red glow of the beach, and to feel that fiery breath on my cheeks—and, this time, I made no answer.
During the silence that followed, the magistrate kept fidgeting, running his fingers through his hair, half rising, then sitting down again. Finally, planting his elbows on the desk, he bent toward me with a queer expression.
"But why, why did you go on firing at a prostrate man?"
Again I found nothing to reply.
The magistrate drew his hand across his forehead and repeated in a slightly different tone:
"I ask you ' Why ?' I insist on your telling me." I still kept silent.
Suddenly he rose, walked to a file cabinet standing against the opposite wall, pulled a drawer open, and took from it a silver crucifix, which he was waving as he came back to the desk.
"Do you know who this is?" His voice had changed completely; it was vibrant with emotion.
"Of course I do," I answered.
That seemed to start him off; he began speaking at a great pace. He told me he believed in God, and that even the worst of sinners could obtain forgiveness of Him. But first he must repent, and become like a little child, with a simple, trustful heart, open to conviction. He was leaning right across the table, brandishing his crucifix before my eyes.
As a matter of fact, I had great difficulty in following his remarks, as, for one thing, the office was so stiflingly hot and big flies were buzzing round and settling on my cheeks; also because he rather alarmed me. Of course, I realized it was absurd to feel like this, considering that, after all, it was I who was the criminal. However, as he continued talking, I did my best to understand, and I gathered that there was only one point in my confession that badly needed clearing up—the fact that I'd waited before firing a second time. All the rest was, so to speak, quite in order; but that completely baffled him.
I started to tell him that he was wrong in insisting on this; the point was of quite minor importance. But, before I could get the words out, he had drawn himself up to his full height and was asking me very earnestly if I believed in God. When I said, "No," he plumped down into his chair indignantly.
That was unthinkable, he said; all men believe in God, even those who reject Him. Of this he was absolutely sure; if ever he came to doubt it, his life would lose all meaning. "Do you wish," he asked indignantly, "my life to have no meaning?" Really I couldn't see how my wishes came into it, and I told him as much.
While I was talking, he thrust the crucifix again just under my nose and shouted: "I, anyhow, am a Christian. And I pray Him to forgive you for your sins. My poor young man, how can you not believe that He suffered for your sake?"
I noticed that his manner seemed genuinely solicitous when he said, "My poor young man"—but I was beginning to have enough of it. The room was growing steadily