A Resume Identity

Ambrose Bierce

25 Mar, 2014 08:38 AM

1: The Review as a Form of Welcome

ONE summer night a man stood on a low hill over- looking a wide expanse
of forest and field. By the full moon hanging low in the west he knew
what he might not have known otherwise: that it was near the hour of
dawn. A light mist lay along the earth, partly veiling the lower
features of the land- scape, but above it the taller trees showed in
well- defined masses against a clear sky. Two or three farmhouses were
visible through the haze, but in none of them, naturally, was a light.
Nowhere, in- deed, was any sign or suggestion of life except the barking
of a distant dog, which, repeated with me- chanical iteration, served
rather to accentuate than dispel the loneliness of the scene.
The man looked curiously about him on all sides, as one who among
familiar surroundings is unable to determine his exact place and part in
the scheme of things. It is so, perhaps, that we shall act when, risen
from the dead, we await the call to judgment.
A hundred yards away was a straight road, show- ing white in the
moonlight. Endeavouring to orient himself, as a surveyor or navigator
might say, the man moved his eyes slowly along its visible length and at
a distance of a quarter-mile to the south of his station saw, dim and
grey in the haze, a group of horsemen riding to the north. Behind them
were men afoot, marching in column, with dimly gleam- ing rifles aslant
above their shoulders. They moved slowly and in silence. Another group
of horsemen, another regiment of infantry, another and another --all in
unceasing motion toward the man's point of view, past it, and beyond. A
battery of artillery followed, the cannoneers riding with folded arms on
limber and caisson. And still the interminable procession came out of
the obscurity to south and passed into the obscurity to north, with
never a sound of voice, nor hoof, nor wheel.
The man could not rightly understand: he thought himself deaf; said
so, and heard his own voice, al- though it had an unfamiliar quality
that almost alarmed him; it disappointed his ear's expectancy in the
matter of timbre and resonance. But he was not deaf, and that for the
moment sufficed.
Then he remembered that there are natural phe- nomena to which some
one has given the name 'acoustic shadows.' If you stand in an acoustic
shadow there is one direction from which you will hear nothing. At the
battle of Gaines's Mill, one of the fiercest conflicts of the Civil War,
with a hundred guns in play, spectators a mile and a half away on the
opposite side of the Chickahominy Val- ley heard nothing of what they
clearly saw. The bombardment of Port Royal, heard and felt at St.
Augustine, a hundred and fifty miles to the south, was inaudible two
miles to the north in a still at- mosphere. A few days before the
surrender at Ap- pomattox a thunderous engagement between the commands
of Sheridan and Pickett was unknown to the latter commander, a mile in
the rear of his own line.
These instances were not known to the man of whom we write, but less
striking ones of the same character had not escaped his observation. He
was profoundly disquieted, but for another reason than the uncanny
silence of that moonlight march.
'Good Lord! ' he said to himself--and again it was as if another had
spoken his thought--'if those people are what I take them to be we have
lost the battle and they are moving on Nashville!'
Then came a thought of self--an apprehension --a strong sense of
personal peril, such as in an- other we call fear. He stepped quickly
into the shadow of a tree. And still the silent battalions moved slowly
forward in the haze.
The chill of a sudden breeze upon the back of his neck drew his
attention to the quarter whence it came, and turning to the east he saw
a faint grey light along the horizon--the first sign of return- ing day.
This increased his apprehension.
'I must get away from here,' he thought, 'or I shall be discovered
and taken.'
He moved out of the shadow, walking rapidly toward the greying east.
From the safer seclusion of a clump of cedars he looked back. The entire
column had passed out of sight: the straight white road lay bare and
desolate in the moonlight!
Puzzled before, he was now inexpressibly aston- ished. So swift a
passing of so slow an army!--he could not comprehend it. Minute after
minute passed unnoted; he had lost his sense of time. He sought with a
terrible earnestness a solution of the mystery, but sought in vain. When
at last he roused himself from his abstraction the sun's rim was visi-
ble above the hills, but in the new conditions he found no other light
than that of day; his under- standing was involved as darkly in doubt as
On every side lay cultivated fields showing no sign of war and war's
ravages. From the chimneys of the farmhouses thin ascensions of blue
smoke signalled preparations for a day's peaceful toil. Hav- ing stilled
its immemorial allocution to the moon, the watch-dog was assisting a
negro who, prefixing a team of mules to the plough, was flatting and
sharp- ing contentedly at his task. The hero of this tale stared
stupidly at the pastoral picture as if he had never seen such a thing in
all his life; then he put his hand to his head, passed it through his
hair and, withdrawing it, attentively considered the palm--a singular
thing to do. Apparently reassured by the act, he walked confidently
toward the road.

2: When You have Lost Your Life Consult a Physician
Dr. Stilling Malson, of Murfreesboro, having vis- ited a patient six
or seven miles away, on the Nash- ville road, had remained with him all
night. At day- break he set out for home on horseback, as was the custom
of doctors of the time and region. He had passed into the neighbourhood
of Stone's River bat- tlefield when a man approached him from the road-
side and saluted in the military fashion, with a movement of the right
hand to the hat-brim. But the hat was not a military hat, the man was
not in uni- form and had not a martial bearing. The doctor nodded
civilly, half thinking that the stranger's un- common greeting was
perhaps in deference to the historic surroundings. As the stranger
evidently de- sired speech with him he courteously reined in his horse
and waited.
'Sir,' said the stranger, 'although a civilian, you are perhaps an
'I am a physician,' was the non-committal reply.
'Thank you,' said the other. 'I am a lieutenant, of the staff of
General Hazen.' He paused a moment and looked sharply at the person whom
he was addressing, then added, 'Of the Federal army.' The physician
merely nodded.
'Kindly tell me,' continued the other, 'what has happened here.
Where are the armies? Which has won the battle?'
The physician regarded his questioner curiously with half-shut eyes.
After a professional scru- tiny, prolonged to the limit of politeness,
'Pardon me,' he said; 'one asking information should be willing to
impart it. Are you wounded?' he added, smiling.
'Not seriously--it seems.'
The man removed the unmilitary hat, put his hand to his head, passed
it through his hair and, withdrawing it, attentively considered the
'I was struck by a bullet and have been uncon- scious. It must have
been a light, glancing blow: I find no blood and feel no pain. I will
not trouble you for treatment, but will you kindly direct me to my
command--to any part of the Federal army--if you know?'
Again the doctor did not immediately reply: he was recalling much
that is recorded in the books of his profession--something about lost
identity and the effect of familiar scenes in restoring it. At length he
looked the man in the face, smiled, and said:
'Lieutenant, you are not wearing the uniform of your rank and
At this the man glanced down at his civilian attire, lifted his
eyes, and said with hesitation:
'That is true. I--I don't quite understand.'
Still regarding him sharply but not unsympatheti- cally, the man of
science bluntly inquired:
'How old are you?'
'Twenty-three--if that has anything to do with it.'
'You don't look it; I should hardly have guessed you to be just
The man was growing impatient. 'We need not discuss that,' he said:
'I want to know about the army. Not two hours ago I saw a column of
troops moving northward on this road. You must have met them. Be good
enough to tell me the colour of their clothing, which I was unable to
make out, and I'll trouble you no more.'
'You are quite sure that you saw them?'
'Sure? My God, sir, I could have counted them!'
'Why, really,' said the physician, with an amusing consciousness of
his own resemblance to the loqua- cious barber of the Arabian Nights,
'this is very in- teresting. I met no troops.'
The man looked at him coldly, as if he had himself observed the
likeness to the barber. 'It is plain,' he said, 'that you do not care to
assist me. Sir, you may go to the devil!'
He turned and strode away, very much at ran- dom, across the dewy
fields, his half-penitent tor- mentor quietly watching him from his
point of van- tage in the saddle till he disappeared beyond an array of

3: The Danger of Looking into a Pool of Water
After leaving the road the man slackened his pace, and now went
forward, rather deviously, with a dis- tinct feeling of fatigue. He
could not account for this, though truly the interminable loquacity of
that country doctor offered itself in explanation. Seating himself upon
a rock, he laid one hand upon his knee, back upward, and casually looked
at it. It was lean and withered. He lifted both hands to his face. It
was seamed and furrowed; he could trace the lines with the tips of his
fingers. How strange!--a mere bullet-stroke and a brief unconsciousness
should not make one a physical wreck.
'I must have been a long time in hospital,' he said aloud. 'Why,
what a fool I am! The battle was in December, and it is now summer!' He
laughed. 'No wonder that fellow thought me an escaped luna- tic. He was
wrong: I am only an escaped patient.'
At a little distance a small plot of ground enclosed by a stone wall
caught his attention. With no very definite intent he rose and went to
it. In the centre was a square, solid monument of hewn stone. It was
brown with age, weather-worn at the angles, spotted with moss and
lichen. Between the massive blocks were strips of grass the leverage of
whose roots had pushed them apart. In answer to the challenge of this
ambitious structure Time had laid his destroy- ing hand upon it, and it
would soon be 'one with Nineveh and Tyre.' In an inscription on one side
his eye caught a familiar name. Shaking with ex- citement, he craned his
body across the wall and read:
The Memory of Its Soldiers
who fell at
Stone River, Dec. 31, 1862.
The man fell back from the wall, faint and sick. Almost within an
arm's length was a little depression in the earth; it had been filled by
a recent rain--a pool of clear water. He crept to it to revive himself,
lifted the upper part of his body on his trembling arms, thrust forward
his head and saw the reflection of his face, as in a mirror. He uttered
a terrible cry. His arms gave way; he fell, face downward, into the pool
and yielded up the life that had spanned another life.

<< Previous Classic Story
Next Classic Story >>


Post a Comment
No comments yet! Be the first
Your Comment

Do not post other site's link, it will be considered as spam