An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge HTML version

The Moonlit Road
I: Statement of Joel Hetman, Jr.
I am the most unfortunate of men. Rich, respected, fairly well educated and of sound
health -- with many other advantages usually valued by those having them and coveted
by those who have them not -- I sometimes think that I should be less unhappy if they had
been denied me, for then the contrast between my outer and my inner life would not be
continually demanding a painful attention. In the stress of privation and the need of effort
I might sometimes forget the sombre secret ever baffling the conjecture that it compels.
I am the only child of Joel and Julia Hetman. The one was a well-to-do country
gentleman, the other a beautiful and accomplished woman to whom he was passionately
attached with what I now know to have been a jealous and exacting devotion. The family
home was a few miles from Nashville, Tennessee, a large, irregularly built dwelling of no
particular order of architecture, a little way off the road, in a park of trees and shrubbery.
At the time of which I write I was nineteen years old, a student at Yale. One day I
received a telegram from my father of such urgency that in compliance with its
unexplained demand I left at once for home. At the railway station in Nashville a distant
relative awaited me to apprise me of the reason for my recall: my mother had been
barbarously murdered -- why and by whom none could conjecture, but the circumstances
were these.
My father had gone to Nashville, intending to return the next afternoon. Something
prevented his accomplishing the business in hand, so he returned on the same night,
arriving just before the dawn. In his testimony before the coroner he explained that
having no latchkey and not caring to disturb the sleeping servants, he had, with no clearly
defined intention, gone round to the rear of the house. As he turned an angle of the
building, he heard a sound as of a door gently closed, and saw in the darkness,
indistinctly, the figure of a man, which instantly disappeared among the trees of the lawn.
A hasty pursuit and brief search of the grounds in the belief that the trespasser was some
one secretly visiting a servant proving fruitless, he entered at the unlocked door and
mounted the stairs to my mother's chamber. Its door was open, and stepping into black
darkness he fell headlong over some heavy object on the floor. I may spare myself the
details; it was my poor mother, dead of strangulation by human hands!
Nothing had been taken from the house, the servants had heard no sound, and excepting
those terrible finger-marks upon the dead woman's throat -- dear God! that I might forget
them! -- no trace of the assassin was ever found.
I gave up my studies and remained with my father, who, naturally, was greatly changed.
Always of a sedate, taciturn disposition, he now fell into so deep a dejection that nothing
could hold his attention, yet anything -- a footfall, the sudden closing of a door -- aroused
in him a fitful interest; one might have called it an apprehension. At any small surprise of