An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge HTML version

Beyond the Wall
Many years ago, on my way from Hong-Kong to New York, I passed a week in San
Francisco. A long time had gone by since I had been in that city, during which my
ventures in the Orient had prospered beyond my hope; I was rich and could afford to
revisit my own country to renew my friendship with such of the companions of my youth
as still lived and remembered me with the old affection. Chief of these, I hoped, was
Mohun Dampier, an old school mate with whom I had held a desultory correspondence
which had long ceased, as is the way of correspondence between men. You may have
observed that the indisposition to write a merely social letter is in the ratio of the square
of the distance between you and your correspondent. It is a law.
I remembered Dampier as a handsome, strong young fellow of scholarly tastes, with an
aversion to work and a marked indifference to many of the things that the world cares for,
including wealth, of which, however, he had inherited enough to put him beyond the
reach of want. In his family, one of the oldest and most aristocratic in the country, it was,
I think, a matter of pride that no member of it had ever been in trade nor politics, nor
suffered any kind of distinction. Mohun was a trifle sentimental, and had in him a
singular element of superstition, which led him to the study of all manner of occult
subjects, although his sane mental health safeguarded him against fantastic and perilous
faiths. He made daring incursions into the realm of the unreal without renouncing his
residence in the partly surveyed and uncharted region of what we are pleased to call
The night of my visit to him was stormy. The Californian winter was on, and the
incessant rain plashed in the deserted streets, or, lifted by irregular gusts of wind, was
hurled against the houses with incredible fury. With no small difficulty my cabman found
the right place, away out toward the ocean beach, in a sparsely populated suburb. The
dwelling, a rather ugly one, apparently, stood in the centre of its grounds, which as nearly
as I could make out in the gloom were destitute of either flowers or grass. Three or four
trees, writhing and moaning in the torment of the tempest, appeared to be trying to escape
from their dismal environment and take the chance of finding a better one out at sea. The
house was a two-story brick structure with a tower, a story higher, at one corner. In a
window of that was the only visible light. Something in the appearance of the place made
me shudder, a performance that may have been assisted by a rill of rain-water down my
back as I scuttled to cover in the doorway.
In answer to my note apprising him of my wish to call, Dampier had written, 'Don't ring -
- open the door and come up.' I did so. The staircase was dimly lighted by a single gas-jet
at the top of the second flight. I managed to reach the landing without disaster and
entered by an open door into the lighted square room of the tower. Dampier came
forward in gown and slippers to receive me, giving me the greeting that I wished, and if I
had held a thought that it might more fitly have been accorded me at the front door the
first look at him dispelled any sense of his inhospitality.