Then
he had passed under the portico, and had listened at the top of the stone steps
by the door which was secured with a bar of wood. He shook so that he could
scarcely stand, but he would not rest. The most distressing thing of all was
that he had answered Sura’s persistent questions sharply, and had sent her to
bed, ordering her to put out the light at once. She had protested meanwhile,
but the man had repeated the order curtly enough, and she had had unwillingly
to submit, resigning herself to postponing to a later date any explanation of
his conduct.

Sura
had put out the lamp, had gone to bed, and now slept by the side of Strul.

The
woman was right. Leiba was really ill.

Night
had fallen. For a long time Leiba had been sitting, listening by the doorway
which gave on to the passage.

What
is that?

Indistinct
sounds came from the distance—horses trotting, the noise of heavy blows,
mysterious and agitated conversations. The effort of listening intently in the
solitude of the night sharpens the sense of hearing; when the eye is disarmed
and powerless, the ear seems to struggle to assert its power.

Approaching
horses

But
it was not imagination. From the road leading hither from the main road came
the sound of approaching horses. Leiba rose, and tried to get nearer to the big
door in the passage. The door was firmly shut by a heavy bar of wood across it,
the ends of which ran into holes in the wall. At his first step the sand
scrunching under his slippers made an indiscreet noise. He drew his feet from
his slippers, and waited in the corner. Then, without a sound that could be
heard by an unexpectant ear, he went to the door in the corridor, just as the
riders passed in front of it at walking pace. They were speaking very low to
each other, but not so low but that Leiba could quite well catch these words:

“He
has gone to bed early.”

“Supposing
he has gone away?”

“His
turn will come; but I should have liked”

No
more was intelligible; the men were already some distance away. To whom did
these words refer? Who had gone to bed or gone away?

Whose
turn would come another time? Who would have liked something? And what was it
he wanted? What did they want on that byroad—a road only used by anyone wishing
to find the inn?

An
overwhelming sense of fatigue seemed to overcome Leiba.

Could
it be Gheorghe?

Leiba
felt as if his strength was giving way, and he sat down by the door. Eager
thoughts chased each other through his head, he could not think clearly or come
to any decision.

Terrified,
he reentered the inn, struck a match, and lighted a small petroleum lamp.

It
was an apology for a light; the wick was turned so low as to conceal the flame
in the brass receiver; only by means of the opening round the receiver could
some of the vertical shafts of light penetrate into a gloom that was like the
darkness of death—all the same it was sufficient to enable him to see well into
the familiar corners of the ipn- Ah! How much less is the difference between
the sun and the tiniest spark of light than between the latter and the gloom of
blindness.

The
clock on the wall ticked audibly. The monotonous sound irritated Leiba. He put
his hand over the swinging pendulum, and stayed its movement.

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