A man stood upon a railroad bridge in northern Alabama, looking down into the swift water twenty feet below. The man's hands were behind his back, the wrists bound with a cord. A rope closely encircled his neck.
A lieutenant stood at the right of the line, the point of his sword upon the ground, his left hand resting upon his right. Excepting the group of four at the center of the bridge, not a man moved.
Evidently this was no vulgar assassin. The liberal military code makes provision for hanging many kinds of persons, and gentlemen are not excluded.
A piece of dancing driftwood caught his attention and his eyes followed it down the current. How slowly it appeared to move! What a sluggish stream!
He closed his eyes in order to fix his last thought upon his wife and children.
They hurt his ear like the thrust of a knife; he feared he would shriek. What he heard was the ticking of his watch.
“My home, thank God, is as yet outside their lines; my wife and little ones are still beyond the invader's farthest advance.”
As these thoughts, which have here to be set down in words, were flashed into the doomed man's brain rather than evolved from it, the captain nodded to the sergeant.
Being a slave owner and like other slave owners a politician, he was naturally an original secessionist and ardently devoted to the Southern cause.
Mrs. Farquhar was only too happy to serve him with her own white hands.
He was now in full possession of his physical senses. They were, indeed, preternaturally keen and alert.
He observed that it was a gray eye and remembered having read that gray eyes were keenest, in that all famous marksmen had them. Nevertheless, this one had missed.
Overhead, as he looked up through this rift in the wood, shone great golden stars looking unfamiliar and grouped in strange constellations. He was sure they were arranged in some order which hid 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.
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.
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.