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An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge

by Shivansh 2 months ago in Advocacy

Part-4

Suddenly he heard a sharp report and something struck the water smartly

within a few inches of his head, spattering his face with spray. He heard a

second report, and saw one of the sentinels with his rifle at his shoulder,

a light cloud of blue smoke rising from the muzzle. The man in the water

saw the eye of the man on the bridge gazing into his own through the

sights of the rifle. He observed that it was a grey eye and remembered

having read that grey eyes were keenest, and that all famous marksmen

had them. Nevertheless, this one had missed.

A counter-swirl had caught Farquhar and turned him half round; he was

again looking into the forest on the bank opposite the fort. The sound of a

clear, high voice in a monotonous singsong now rang out behind him and

came across the water with a distinctness that pierced and subdued all

other sounds, even the beating of the ripples in his ears. Although no

soldier, he had frequented camps enough to know the dread significance

of that deliberate, drawling, aspirated chant; the lieutenant on shore was

taking a part in the morning's work. How coldly and pitilessly--with what

an even, calm intonation, presaging, and enforcing tranquillity in the

men--with what accurately measured intervals fell those cruel words:

"Attention, company! . . Shoulder arms! . . . Ready! . . . Aim! . . . Fire!"

Farquhar dived--dived as deeply as he could. The water roared in his ears

like the voice of Niagara, yet he heard the dulled thunder of the volley

and, rising again toward the surface, met shining bits of metal, singularly

flattened, oscillating slowly downward. Some of them touched him on the

face and hands, then fell away, continuing their descent. One lodged

between his collar and neck; it was uncomfortably warm and he snatched

it out.

As he rose to the surface, gasping for breath, he saw that he had been a

long time under water; he was perceptibly farther down stream nearer to

safety. The soldiers had almost finished reloading; the metal ramrods

flashed all at once in the sunshine as they were drawn from the barrels,

turned in the air, and thrust into their sockets. The two sentinels fired

again, independently and ineffectually.

The hunted man saw all this over his shoulder; he was now swimming

vigorously with the current. His brain was as energetic as his arms and

legs; he thought with the rapidity of lightning.

The officer," he reasoned, "will not make that martinet's error a second

time. It is as easy to dodge a volley as a single shot. He has probably

already given the command to fire at will. God help me, I cannot dodge

them all!"

An appalling splash within two yards of him was followed by a loud,

rushing sound, diminuendo, which seemed to travel back through the air

to the fort and died in an explosion which stirred the very river to its

deeps!

A rising sheet of water curved over him, fell down upon him, blinded him,

strangled him! The cannon had taken a hand in the game. As he shook

his head free from the commotion of the smitten water he heard the

deflected shot humming through the air ahead, and in an instant it was

cracking and smashing the branches in the forest beyond.

"They will not do that again," he thought; "the next time they will use a

charge of grape. I must keep my eye upon the gun; the smoke will

apprise me--the report arrives too late; it lags behind the missile. That is

a good gun."

Suddenly he felt himself whirled round and round--spinning like a top.

The water, the banks, the forests, the now distant bridge, fort and men--

all were commingled and blurred. Objects were represented by their

colors only; circular horizontal streaks of color--that was all he saw. He

had been caught in a vortex and was being whirled on with a velocity of

advance and gyration that made him giddy and sick. In a few moments

he was flung upon the gravel at the foot of the left bank of the stream--

the southern bank--and behind a projecting point which concealed him

from his enemies. The sudden arrest of his motion, the abrasion of one of

his hands on the gravel, restored him, and he wept with delight. He dug

his fingers into the sand, threw it over himself in handfuls and audibly

blessed it. It looked like diamonds, rubies, emeralds; he could think of

nothing beautiful which it did not resemble. The trees upon the bank were

giant garden plants; he noted a definite order in their arrangement,

inhaled the fragrance of their blooms. A strange, roseate light shone

through the spaces among their trunks and the wind made in their

branches the music of olian harps. He had no wish to perfect his escape--

was content to remain in that enchanting spot until retaken.

A whiz and rattle of grapeshot among the branches high above his head

roused him from his dream. The baffled cannoneer had fired him a

random farewell. He sprang to his feet, rushed up the sloping bank, and

plunged into the forest.

All that day he traveled, laying his course by the rounding sun. The forest

seemed interminable; nowhere did he discover a break in it, not even a

woodman's road. He had not known that he lived in so wild a region.

There was something uncanny in the revelation.

By nightfall he was fatigued, footsore, famishing. The thought of his wife

and children urged him on. At last he found a road which led him in what

he knew to be the right direction. It was as wide and straight as a city

street, yet it seemed untraveled. No fields bordered it, no dwelling

anywhere. Not so much as the barking of a dog suggested human

habitation. The black bodies of the trees formed a straight wall on both

sides, terminating on the horizon in a point, like a diagram in a lesson in

perspective. Overhead, as he looked up through this rift in the wood,

shone great garden stars looking unfamiliar and grouped in strange

constellations. He was sure they were arranged in some order which had

a secret and malign significance. The wood on either side was full of

singular noises, among which--once, twice, and again--he distinctly heard

whispers in an unknown tongue.

His neck was in pain and lifting his hand to it found it horribly swollen. He

knew that it had a circle of black where the rope had bruised it. His eyes

felt congested; he could no longer close them. His tongue was swollen

with thirst; he relieved its fever by thrusting it forward from between his

teeth into the cold air. How softly the turf had carpeted the untraveled

avenue--he could no longer feel the roadway beneath his feet!

Doubtless, despite his suffering, he had fallen asleep while walking, for

now he sees another scene--perhaps he has merely recovered from a

delirium. He stands at the gate of his own home. All is as he left it, and all

bright and beautiful in the morning sunshine. He must have traveled the

entire night. As he pushes open the gate and passes up the wide white

walk, he sees a flutter of female garments; his wife, looking fresh and

cool and sweet, steps down from the veranda to meet him. At the bottom

of the steps she stands waiting, with a smile of ineffable joy, an attitude

of matchless grace and dignity. Ah, how beautiful she is! He springs

forward with extended arms. As he is about to clasp her he feels a

stunning blow upon the back of the neck; a blinding white light blazes all

about him with a sound like the shock of a cannon--then all is darkness

and silence!

Peyton Farquhar was dead; his body, with a broken neck, swung gently

from side to side beneath the timbers of the Owl Creek bridge.

Advocacy

Shivansh

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