An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge HTML version

The Boarded Window
In 1830, only a few miles away from what is now the great city of Cincinnati, lay an
immense and almost unbroken forest. The whole region was sparsely settled by people of
the frontier--restless souls who no sooner had hewn fairly habitable homes out of the
wilderness and attained to that degree of prosperity which today we should call
indigence, than, impelled by some mysterious impulse of their nature, they abandoned all
and pushed farther westward, to encounter new perils and privations in the effort to
regain the meager comforts which they had voluntarily renounced. Many of them had
already forsaken that region for the remoter settlements, but among those remaining was
one who had been of those first arriving. He lived alone in a house of logs surrounded on
all sides by the great forest, of whose gloom and silence he seemed a part, for no one had
ever known him to smile nor speak a needless word. His simple wants were supplied by
the sale or barter of skins of wild animals in the river town, for not a thing did he grow
upon the land which, if needful, he might have claimed by right of undisturbed
possession. There were evidences of "improvement"--a few acres of ground immediately
about the house had once been cleared of its trees, the decayed stumps of which were half
concealed by the new growth that had been suffered to repair the ravage wrought by the
ax. Apparently the man's zeal for agriculture had burned with a failing flame, expiring in
penitential ashes.
The little log house, with its chimney of sticks, its roof of warping clapboards weighted
with traversing poles and its "chinking" of clay, had a single door and, directly opposite,
a window. The latter, however, was boarded up--nobody could remember a time when it
was not. And none knew why it was so closed; certainly not because of the occupant's
dislike of light and air, for on those rare occasions when a hunter had passed that lonely
spot the recluse had commonly been seen sunning himself on his doorstep if heaven had
provided sunshine for his need. I fancy there are few persons living today who ever knew
the secret of that window, but I am one, as you shall see.
The man's name was said to be Murlock. He was apparently seventy years old, actually
about fifty. Something besides years had had a hand in his aging. His hair and long, full
beard were white, his gray, lusterless eyes sunken, his face singularly seamed with
wrinkles which appeared to belong to two intersecting systems. In figure he was tall and
spare, with a stoop of the shoulders--a burden bearer. I never saw him; these particulars I
learned from my grandfather, from whom also I got the man's story when I was a lad. He
had known him when living near by in that early day.
One day Murlock was found in his cabin, dead. It was not a time and place for coroners
and newspapers, and I suppose it was agreed that he had died from natural causes or I
should have been told, and should remember. I know only that with what was probably a
sense of the fitness of things the body was buried near the cabin, alongside the grave of
his wife, who had preceded him by so many years that local tradition had retained hardly
a hint of her existence. That closes the final chapter of this true story--excepting, indeed,
the circumstance that many years afterward, in company with an equally intrepid spirit, I