The horseman, though he exists as a threat to the safety of Carter Druse’s fellow soldiers, is used in the story as an existential target to represent the moral cost of doing one’s duty. The horseman, revealed in the last moment to be Druse’s father, never acts aside from a small turn of the head. Even so, he causes Druse great moral anguish and consternation. The decision of whether or not to kill the horseman is ultimately the decision between doing one’s duty to a cause versus the moral imperative to protect one’s family. When Druse makes his decision, he notably shoots the horse rather than the rider. The horseman is removed from his view and dies from the fall. In the same way, Druse has allowed his moral obligation to his family to be removed from his vision for the sake of duty.
The Horseman Quotes in A Horseman in the Sky
“Well, go, sir, and whatever may occur do what you conceive to be your duty.”
The duty of the soldier was plain: the man must be shot dead from ambush—without warning, without a moment’s spiritual preparation, with never so much as an unspoken prayer, he must be sent to his account.
Druse withdrew his eyes from the valley and fixed them again upon the group of man and horse in the sky, and again it was through the sights of his rifle. But this time his aim was at the horse … Duty had conquered; the spirit said to the body: “Peace, be still.” He fired.
Filled with amazement and terror by this apparition of a horseman in the sky—half believing himself the chosen scribe of some new Apocalypse, the officer was overcome by the intensity of emotions; his legs failed him and he fell.
“Did you fire?” the sergeant whispered.
“A horse. It was standing on yonder rock—pretty far out. You see it is no longer there. It went over the cliff.”
The man’s face was white, but he showed no other sign of emotion. Having answered, he turned his eyes away and said no more. The sergeant did not understand.
“See here, Druse,” he said after a moment’s silence, it’s no use making a mystery. I order you to report. Was there anybody on the horse?”
The sergeant rose to his feet and walked away. “Good God!” he said.