by Ambrose Bierce
Having murdered his brother-in-law, Orrin Brower of Kentucky was a
fugitive from justice. From the county jail where he had been
confined to await his trial he had escaped by knocking down his
jailer with an iron bar, robbing him of his keys and, opening the
outer door, walking out into the night. The jailer being unarmed,
Brower got no weapon with which to defend his recovered liberty. As
soon as he was out of the town he had the folly to enter a forest;
this was many years ago, when that region was wilder than it is now.
The night was pretty dark, with neither moon nor stars visible, and
as Brower had never dwelt thereabout, and knew nothing of the lay of
the land, he was, naturally, not long in losing himself. He could
not have said if he were getting farther away from the town or going
back to it—a most important matter to Orrin Brower. He knew that in
either case a posse of citizens with a pack of bloodhounds would soon
be on his track and his chance of escape was very slender; but he did
not wish to assist in his own pursuit. Even an added hour of freedom
was worth having.
Suddenly he emerged from the forest into an old road, and there
before him saw, indistinctly, the figure of a man, motionless in the
gloom. It was too late to retreat: the fugitive felt that at the
first movement back toward the wood he would be, as he afterward
explained, "filled with buckshot." So the two stood there like
trees, Brower nearly suffocated by the activity of his own heart; the
other—the emotions of the other are not recorded.
A moment later—it may have been an hour—the moon sailed into a
patch of unclouded sky and the hunted man saw that visible embodiment
of Law lift an arm and point significantly toward and beyond him. He
understood. Turning his back to his captor, he walked submissively
away in the direction indicated, looking to neither the right nor the
left; hardly daring to breathe, his head and back actually aching with
a prophecy of buckshot.
Brower was as courageous a criminal as ever lived to be hanged;
that was shown by the conditions of awful personal peril in which he
had coolly killed his brother-in-law. It is needless to relate them
here; they came out at his trial, and the revelation of his calmness
in confronting them came near to saving his neck. But what would you
have?—when a brave man is beaten, he submits.
So they pursued their journey jailward along the old road through
the woods. Only once did Brower venture a turn of the head: just
once, when he was in deep shadow and he knew that the other was in
moonlight, he looked backward. His captor was Burton Duff, the
jailer, as white as death and bearing upon his brow the livid mark of
the iron bar. Orrin Brower had no further curiosity.
Eventually they entered the town, which was all alight, but
deserted; only the women and children remained, and they were off the
streets. Straight toward the jail the criminal held his way. Straight
up to the main entrance he walked, laid his hand upon the knob of the
heavy iron door, pushed it open without command, entered and found
himself in the presence of a half-dozen armed men. Then he turned.
Nobody else entered.
On a table in the corridor lay the dead body of Burton Duff.