An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge HTML version

John Bartine's Watch
A Story by a Physician
'The exact time? Good God! my friend, why do you insist? One would think -- but what
does it matter; it is easily bedtime -- isn't that near enough? But, here, if you must set
your watch, take mine and see for yourself.'
With that he detached his watch -- a tremendously heavy, old-fashioned one -- from the
chain, and handed it to me; then turned away, and walking across the room to a shelf of
books, began an examination of their backs. His agitation and evident distress surprised
me; they appeared reasonless. Having set my watch by his I stepped over to where he
stood and said, 'Thank you.'
As he took his timepiece and reattached it to the guard I observed that his hands were
unsteady. With a tact upon which I greatly prided myself, I sauntered carelessly to the
sideboard and took some brandy and water; then, begging his pardon for my
thoughtlessness, asked him to have some and went back to my seat by the fire, leaving
him to help himself, as was our custom. He did so and presently joined me at the hearth,
as tranquil as ever.
This odd little incident occurred in my apartment, where John Bartine was passing an
evening. We had dined together at the club, had come home in a cab and -- in short,
everything had been done in the most prosaic way; and why John Bartine should break in
upon the natural and established order of things to make himself spectacular with a
display of emotion, apparently for his own entertainment, I could nowise understand. The
more I thought of it, while his brilliant conversational gifts were commending themselves
to my inattention, the more curious I grew, and of course had no difficulty in persuading
myself that my curiosity was friendly solicitude. That is the disguise that curiosity usually
assumes to evade resentment. So I ruined one of the finest sentences of his disregarded
monologue by cutting it short without ceremony.
'John Bartine,' I said, 'you must try to forgive me if I am wrong, but with the light that I
have at present I cannot concede your right to go all to pieces when asked the time o'
night. I cannot admit that it is proper to experience a mysterious reluctance to look your
own watch in the face and to cherish in my presence, without explanation, painful
emotions which are denied to me, and which are none of my business.'
To this ridiculous speech Bartine made no immediate reply, but sat looking gravely into
the fire. Fearing that I had offended I was about to apologize and beg him to think no
more about the matter, when looking me calmly in the eyes he said:
'My dear fellow, the levity of your manner does not at all disguise the hideous impudence
of your demand; but happily I had already decided to tell you what you wish to know,
and no manifestation of your unworthiness to hear it shall alter my decision. Be good
enough to give me your attention and you shall hear all about the matter.