An Arrest by Ambrose Bierce
Having murdered his brother-in-law, Orrin Brower of Kentucky was a fugitive
from justice. From the county jail where he had been confined
to await his trial he had escaped by knocking down his jailer with an
iron bar, robbing him of his keys and, opening the outer door, walking
out into the night. The jailer being unarmed, Brower got no weapon
with which to defend his recovered liberty. As soon as he was
out of the town he had the folly to enter a forest; this was many years
ago, when that region was wilder than it is now.
The night was pretty dark, with neither moon nor stars visible, and
as Brower had never dwelt thereabout, and knew nothing of the lay of
the land, he was, naturally, not long in losing himself. He could
not have said if he were getting farther away from the town or going
back to it - a most important matter to Orrin Brower. He knew
that in either case a posse of citizens with a pack of bloodhounds would
soon be on his track and his chance of escape was very slender; but
he did not wish to assist in his own pursuit. Even an added hour
of freedom was worth having.
Suddenly he emerged from the forest into an old road, and there before
him saw, indistinctly, the figure of a man, motionless in the gloom.
It was too late to retreat: the fugitive felt that at the first movement
back toward the wood he would be, as he afterward explained, “filled
with buckshot.” So the two stood there like trees, Brower
nearly suffocated by the activity of his own heart; the other - the
emotions of the other are not recorded.
A moment later - it may have been an hour - the moon sailed into a patch
of unclouded sky and the hunted man saw that visible embodiment of Law
lift an arm and point significantly toward and beyond him. He
understood. Turning his back to his captor, he walked submissively
away in the direction indicated, looking to neither the right nor the
left; hardly daring to breathe, his head and back actually aching with
a prophecy of buckshot.
Brower was as courageous a criminal as ever lived to be hanged; that
was shown by the conditions of awful personal peril in which he had
coolly killed his brother-in-law. It is needless to relate them
here; they came out at his trial, and the revelation of his calmness
in confronting them came near to saving his neck. But what would
you have? - when a brave man is beaten, he submits.
So they pursued their journey jailward along the old road through the
woods. Only once did Brower venture a turn of the head: just once,
when he was in deep shadow and he knew that the other was in moonlight,
he looked backward. His captor was Burton Duff, the jailer, as
white as death and bearing upon his brow the livid mark of the iron
bar. Orrin Brower had no further curiosity.
Eventually they entered the town, which was all alight, but deserted;
only the women and children remained, and they were off the streets.
Straight toward the jail the criminal held his way. Straight up
to the main entrance he walked, laid his hand upon the knob of the heavy
iron door, pushed it open without command, entered and found himself
in the presence of a half-dozen armed men. Then he turned.
Nobody else entered.
On a table in the corridor lay the dead body of Burton Duff.