Excerpt of The Absolutist by John Boyne
(Page 3 of 5)
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"And are you happy to be here, Rich?" asks Sergeant Clayton.
"Oh yes, sir," says Rich. "Happy as a pig in shit."
The entire troop bursts into laughter at this and I join in
The sergeant waits until the laughter has died down, wearing
an expression that suggests a mixture of amusement and contempt,
but he says nothing before looking back through the
rows and nodding in the direction of a second man. "And
you?" he asks. "Who are you?"
"William Tell," comes the reply, and now there's another
snigger, difficult to contain.
"William Tell?" asks the sergeant, raising an eyebrow. "Now
there's a name. Brought your bow and arrow, have you? Where
are you from, Tell?"
"Hounslow," says Tell, and the sergeant nods, satisfied.
"And what about you?" he asks, looking at the next man
"Shields, sir. Eddie Shields."
"All right, then, Shields. And you?"
"Robinson," acknowledges the sergeant with a brief nod.
And so on and so on. A litany of names, some of them
register ing in my mind but none giving me any cause to look
at anyone directly.
"And you?" asks the sergeant, nodding in my direction now.
"Tristan Sadler, sir," I say.
"How old are you, Sadler?"
"Eighteen, sir," I reply, repeating my lie.
"Glad to be here, are you?"
I say nothing. I can't think of the correct answer. Fortunately
he doesn't press me on it because he has already moved on.
"Arthur Wolf, sir," says my neighbour.
"Wolf?" asks the sergeant, looking at him more closely; it's
obvious that he knows something about this man already.
"That's right, sir."
"Well." He looks him up and down. "I expected you to be
"Six foot one, sir."
"Indeed," says Sergeant Clayton, his mouth creasing slowly
into a thin smile. "So you're the chap who doesn't want to be
"That's right, sir."
"Afraid to fight, are you?"
"No, sir, indeed not, sir, what an outrageous charge, sir! I
wonder, can you imagine how many brave men over there
don't want to fight either?" He pauses as his smile starts to
fade. "But there they are. Fighting day in, day out. Putting their
lives on the line."
I can sense a low murmuring in the ranks and some of the
recruits turn their heads to look at Wolf.
"I'm not sending you home, if that's what you're expecting,"
says the sergeant in a casual tone.
"No, sir," says Wolf. "No, I didn't expect you would. Not yet,
"And you won't be put in confinement either. Not till I get
orders to that effect. We'll train you, that's what we'll do."
Sergeant Clayton stares at Wolf, his jaw becoming a little
more clenched. "All right, Wolf," he says quietly. "We'll just see
how this all turns out, shall we?"
"I expect to hear quite soon, sir," announces Wolf, no tremor
audible in his voice, although standing next to him I can sense
a certain tension in his body, an anxiety that he's trying hard to
keep well hidden. "From the tribunal, I mean. I expect they'll
be in touch to let me know their decision, sir."
"Actually, it is I who shall hear, Wolf," snaps the sergeant,
losing his cool a little at last. "They will direct any communication through me."
"Perhaps you'd be good enough to let me know as soon as
you do, sir," replies Wolf, and Sergeant Clayton smiles again.
"Perhaps," he says after a moment. "I'm sure you're all proud
to be here, men," he continues then, looking around and raising
his voice, addressing the pack now. "But you're probably
aware that there are some men of your generation who feel no
obligation to defend their country. Objectors, they call themselves.
Chaps who examine their conscience and find nothing
there to satisfy the call of duty. They look like other men, of
course. They have two eyes and two ears, two arms and two
legs. No balls, though, that's a given. But unless you whip their
pants off and make the necessary enquiries it can be fairly
difficult to distinguish them from real men. But they're out
there. They surround us. And they would bring us down if they
could. They give sustenance to the enemy."
Excerpted from The Absolutist
by John Boyne. Copyright © 2012 by John Boyne.
Excerpted by permission of Other Press. All rights
reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted
without permission in writing from the publisher.