Saltana Revista de literatura i traducció A Journal of Literature & Translation Revista de literatura y traducción Introducció
Un incident al pont d'Owl Creek
Traducció col·lectiva dirigida per Joan Sellent
1  A man stood upon a railroad bridge in northern Alabama, looking down into the swift water twenty feet below. The man's hands were behind his back, the wrists bound with a cord. A rope closely encircled his neck. It was attached to a stout cross-timber above his head and the slack fell to the level of his knees. Some loose boards laid upon the sleepers supporting the metals of the railway supplied a footing for him and his executioners—two private soldiers of the Federal army, directed by a sergeant who in civil life may have been a deputy sheriff. At a short remove upon the same temporary platform was an officer in the uniform of his rank, armed. He was a captain. A sentinel at each end of the bridge stood with his rifle in the position known as “support,” that is to say, vertical in front of the left shoulder, the hammer resting on the forearm thrown straight across the chest—a formal and unnatural position, enforcing an erect carriage of the body. It did not appear to be the duty of these two men to know what was occurring at the center of the bridge; they merely blockaded the two ends of the foot planking that traversed it.

2  Beyond one of the sentinels nobody was in sight; the railroad ran straight away into a forest for a hundred yards, then, curving, was lost to view. Doubtless there was an outpost farther along. The other bank of the stream was open ground—a gentle acclivity topped with a stockade of vertical tree trunks, loopholed for rifles, with a single embrasure through which protruded the muzzle of a brass cannon commanding the bridge. Midway of the slope between the bridge and fort were the spectators—a single company of infantry in line, at “parade rest,” the butts of the rifles on the ground, the barrels inclining slightly backward against the right shoulder, the hands crossed upon the stock. A lieutenant stood at the right of the line, the point of his sword upon the ground, his left hand resting upon his right. Excepting the group of four at the center of the bridge, not a man moved. The company faced the bridge, staring stonily, motionless. The sentinels, facing the banks of the stream, might have been statues to adorn the bridge. The captain stood with folded arms, silent, observing the work of his subordinates, but making no sign. Death is a dignitary who when he comes announced is to be received with formal manifestations of respect, even by those most familiar with him. In the code of military etiquette silence and fixity are forms of deference.

3  The man who was engaged in being hanged was apparently about thirty-five years of age. He was a civilian, if one might judge from his habit, which was that of a planter. His features were good—a straight nose, firm mouth, broad forehead, from which his long, dark hair was combed straight back, falling behind his ears to the collar of his well-fitting frock coat. He wore a mustache and pointed beard, but no whiskers; his eyes were large and dark gray, and had a kindly expression which one would hardly have expected in one whose neck was in the hemp. Evidently this was no vulgar assassin. The liberal military code makes provision for hanging many kinds of persons, and gentlemen are not excluded.

4  The preparations being complete, the two private soldiers stepped aside and each drew away the plank upon which he had been standing. The sergeant turned to the captain, saluted and placed himself immediately behind that officer, who in turn moved apart one pace. These movements left the condemned man and the sergeant standing on the two ends of the same plank, which spanned three of the cross-ties of the bridge. The end upon which the civilian stood almost, but not quite, reached a fourth. This plank had been held in place by the weight of the captain; it was now held by that of the sergeant. At a signal from the former the latter would step aside, the plank would tilt and the condemned man go down between two ties. The arrangement commended itself to his judgment as simple and effective. His face had not been covered nor his eyes bandaged. He looked a moment at his “unsteadfast footing,” then let his gaze wander to the swirling water of the stream racing madly beneath his feet. A piece of dancing driftwood caught his attention and his eyes followed it down the current. How slowly it appeared to move! What a sluggish stream!

5  He closed his eyes in order to fix his last thoughts upon his wife and children. The water, touched to gold by the early sun, the brooding mists under the banks at some distance down the stream, the fort, the soldiers, the piece of drift—all had distracted him. And now he became conscious of a new disturbance. Striking through the thought of his dear ones was a sound which he could neither ignore nor understand, a sharp, distinct, metallic percussion like the stroke of a blacksmith's hammer upon the anvil; it had the same ringing quality. He wondered what it was, and whether immeasurably distant or near by—it seemed both. Its recurrence was regular, but as slow as the tolling of a death knell. He awaited each stroke with impatience and—he knew not why—apprehension. The intervals of silence grew progressively longer, the delays became maddening. With their greater infrequency the sounds increased in strength and sharpness. They hurt his ear like the thrust of a knife; he feared he would shriek. What he heard was the ticking of his watch.

6  He unclosed his eyes and saw again the water below him. “If I could free my hands,” he thought, “I might throw off the noose and spring into the stream. By diving I could evade the bullets and, swimming vigorously, reach the bank, take to the woods and get away home. My home, thank God, is as yet outside their lines; my wife and little ones are still beyond the invader's farthest advance.”

7  As these thoughts, which have here to be set down in words, were flashed into the doomed man's brain rather than evolved from it, the captain nodded to the sergeant. The sergeant stepped aside.
1  Dret sobre un pont ferroviari al nord d’Alabama, un home mirava les aigües que fluïen ràpides sis metres més avall. L’home tenia les mans darrere l’esquena i els canells lligats amb una corda. Li envoltava estretament el coll una soga, subjectada a un robust travesser de fusta que li quedava sobre el cap, i la part fluixa de la qual li queia fins a l’alçada dels genolls. Uns quants taulons esparsos col•locats sobre les soles que aguantaven els rails de la via els proporcionaven un suport a ell i als seus executors —dos soldats de l’exèrcit federal, a les ordres d’un sergent que a la vida civil podria haver estat l’ajudant d’un xèrif. No gaire més enllà, sobre el mateix entarimat provisional, hi havia un oficial amb l’uniforme del seu rang, armat. Era un capità. Un sentinella feia guàrdia a cada extrem del pont, amb el fusell en la posició anomenada “de suport”, és a dir, col•locat vertical sobre l’espatlla esquerra i amb la culata descansant a l’avantbraç, que al seu torn travessa el pit horitzontalment —una posició formal i poc natural, que obligava el cos a mantenir una posició encarcarada. No semblava que el deure d’aquests dos homes fos saber què passava al bell mig del pont: es limitaven a bloquejar els dos extrems de l’empostissat que el travessava.

2  Més enllà d’un dels sentinelles no es veia ningú; la via continuava en línia recta un centenar de metres a l’interior d’un bosc, i llavors feia un revolt i es perdia de vista. Una mica més lluny, sens dubte, hi havia un post d’avançada. L’altre marge del riu era camp obert: un pendent suau coronat per una palissada de troncs verticals, amb espitlleres per als fusells i una sola tronera per la qual treia el morro un canó que dominava el pont. A mig pendent, entre el pont i el fortí, hi havia els espectadors —una companyia d’infanteria, formada en posició de descans: les culates dels fusells recolzades a terra, el canó lleugerament decantat sobre l’espatlla dreta i les mans encreuades sobre la caixa. A la dreta de la formació hi havia un tinent, amb la punta del sabre tocant a terra i la mà esquerra reposant sobre la dreta. Exceptuant el grup de quatre homes al centre del pont, no es movia ningú. La companyia estava de cara al pont, amb la mirada impassible, immòbil. Els sentinelles, de cara als marges del riu, haurien pogut ser dues estàtues que decoraven el pont. El capità estava amb els braços plegats, en silenci, observant l’activitat dels seus homes però sense fer ni un sol gest. La mort és un dignatari que, quan arriba anunciat, cal que sigui rebut amb manifestacions formals de respecte, fins i tot per part dels que hi tenen més familiaritat. En el codi de l’etiqueta militar, el silenci i la immobilitat són formes de deferència.

3  L’home que anaven a penjar aparentava uns trenta-cinc anys. Era un civil, si havies de jutjar per la seva indumentària de cultivador. Tenia unes faccions agradables: nas recte, boca ferma i un front ample, on naixien uns cabells foscos i llargs que, pentinats cap enrere, li queien per darrere les orelles fins al coll d’una ben tallada levita. Duia bigoti i una barba punxeguda, però sense patilles; els seus ulls, grossos i d’un color gris fosc, desprenien un aire d’afabilitat que no hauries esperat trobar precisament en un home amb la soga al coll. Era evident que no es tractava d’un vulgar assassí. El liberal codi castrense preveu la forca per a molts tipus diversos de persones, i un terratinent no en queda pas exclòs.

4  Enllestits els preparatius, els dos soldats van apartar-se i cadascun va enretirar el tauló sobre el qual s’havia estat. El sergent es va girar cap al capità, féu la salutació i es col•locà just al darrere d’aquell oficial, que al seu torn va desplaçar-se un pas. Aquests moviments van deixar el condemnat i el sergent drets sobre cada un dels extrems del mateix tauló, que abastava tres de les soles encreuades del pont. L’extrem sobre el qual s’aguantava el civil gairebé —però no del tot— arribava a una quarta sola. Aquest tauló s’havia mantingut al seu lloc pel pes del capità, i ara s’aguantava pel pes del sergent. A un senyal del primer, aquest últim s’apartaria, el tauló s’inclinaria i el condemnat cauria avall entre dues soles. Aquella maniobra, al seu parer, resultava tan senzilla com eficaç. No li havien tapat la cara ni li havien embenat els ulls. Va mirar un moment el seu “punt de suport inestable” i després va desplaçar la mirada cap a l’aigua turbulenta del riu, que li corria esbojarrada sota els peus. Li va cridar l’atenció un tros de fusta que flotava a la deriva, i el va seguir amb els ulls corrent avall. Amb quina lentitud semblava moure’s! Quin rierol més mandrós!

5  Va tancar els ulls per poder centrar els últims pensaments en la seva dona i els seus fills. L’aigua, daurada per la llum de l’alba, la boirina taciturna dels marges, riu enllà, el fortí, els soldats, el tros de fusta... tot allò l’havia distret. I ara notava un nou destorb. Entre els records dels seus éssers estimats el colpejava un so que no podia ignorar però tampoc no entenia. Era una percussió metàl•lica, nítida i aguda, com els cops del martell d’un ferrer a l’enclusa. Tenia el mateix timbre. Es preguntà què era i si devia ser immesurablement lluny o ben a prop, perquè semblava totes dues coses alhora. El ritme era regular, però lent com el redoble d’un toc de difunts. Esperava cada cop amb impaciència i, no sabia pas per què, amb aprensió. L’interval de silenci es feia progressivament més llarg, i l’espera l’embogia. Amb la seva freqüència cada cop més reduïda, el so augmentava en força i en intensitat. Li feia mal a l’orella com la fulla d’un ganivet; tenia por de xisclar. El que sentia era el tic-tac del seu rellotge.

6  Va obrir els ulls i va tornar a veure l’aigua per sota seu. “Si em pogués alliberar les mans”, va pensar, “podria desfer-me de la soga i saltar al riu. Em submergiria per esquivar les bales i, nedant vigorosament, assoliria la riba, m’endinsaria en el bosc i me n’aniria a casa. Casa meva, gràcies a Déu, encara és fora del seu abast; la meva dona i els meus fills encara queden lluny del post més avançat dels invasors.”

7  Mentre aquests pensaments, els quals han de ser transcrits aquí, semblaven bombardejar el cervell del condemnat més que no pas brollar-ne, el capità va fer un gest amb el cap al sergent, i aquest va enretirar-se cap a un costat.
8  Peyton Farquhar was a well-to-do planter, of an old and highly respected Alabama family. Being a slave owner and like other slave owners a politician he was naturally an original secessionist and ardently devoted to the Southern cause. Circumstances of an imperious nature, which it is unnecessary to relate here, had prevented him from taking service with the gallant army that had fought the disastrous campaigns ending with the fall of Corinth, and he chafed under the inglorious restraint, longing for the release of his energies, the larger life of the soldier, the opportunity for distinction. That opportunity, he felt, would come, as it comes to all in war time. Meanwhile he did what he could. No service was too humble for him to perform in aid of the South, no adventure too perilous for him to undertake if consistent with the character of a civilian who was at heart a soldier, and who in good faith and without too much qualification assented to at least a part of the frankly villainous dictum that all is fair in love and war.

9  One evening while Farquhar and his wife were sitting on a rustic bench near the entrance to his grounds, a gray-clad soldier rode up to the gate and asked for a drink of water. Mrs. Farquhar was only too happy to serve him with her own white hands. While she was fetching the water her husband approached the dusty horseman and inquired eagerly for news from the front.

10  "The Yanks are repairing the railroads,” said the man, “and are getting ready for another advance. They have reached the Owl Creek bridge, put it in order and built a stockade on the north bank. The commandant has issued an order, which is posted everywhere, declaring that any civilian caught interfering with the railroad, its bridges, tunnels or trains will be summarily hanged. I saw the order.”

"How far is it to the Owl Creek bridge?” Farquhar asked.

"About thirty miles.”

"Is there no force on this side the creek?”

"Only a picket post half a mile out, on the railroad, and a single sentinel at this end of the bridge.”

"Suppose a man—a civilian and student of hanging—should elude the picket post and perhaps get the better of the sentinel," said Farquhar, smiling, "what could he accomplish?"

The soldier reflected. “I was there a month ago,” he replied. “I observed that the flood of last winter had lodged a great quantity of driftwood against the wooden pier at this end of the bridge. It is now dry and would burn like tow.”

11  The lady had now brought the water, which the soldier drank. He thanked her ceremoniously, bowed to her husband and rode away. An hour later, after nightfall, he repassed the plantation, going northward in the direction from which he had come. He was a Federal scout.
8  Peyton Farquhar era un terratinent adinerat d’una família d’antic llinatge molt respectada a Alabama. Pel fet de ser propietari d’esclaus i, com altres propietaris d’esclaus, també polític, era òbviament secessionista de tota la vida i devotament entregat a la causa sudista. Circumstàncies d’una naturalesa imperiosa, les quals ara no és necessari descriure, li havien impedit de servir al noble exèrcit que havia pres part en les desastroses campanyes que van culminar amb la caiguda de Corinth, i l’indignava aquest impediment perquè anhelava alliberar el seu potencial, la grandiosa vida del soldat, l’oportunitat de distingir-se. Sentia que aquesta oportunitat li arribaria, com arriba a tothom en temps de guerra. Mentrestant, feia el que podia. Cap tasca no li era massa modesta a l’hora de contribuir a la causa del Sud, ni cap aventura massa arriscada. Tot encaixava amb el caràcter d’un civil amb ànima de soldat que, de bona fe i sense gaires reserves, aprovava, almenys en part, la dita francament infame segons la qual en l’amor i en la guerra s’hi val tot.

9  Un vespre, mentre Farquhar i la seva dona seien en un banc rústic prop de l’entrada a la seva finca, un soldat vestit de gris va acostar-s’hi a cavall i va demanar aigua. La senyora Farquhar hi accedí de bon grat, contenta de poder-lo servir amb les seves blanques mans. Mentre ella anava a buscar l’aigua, el seu marit va acostar-se al genet empolsegat i, ansiós, va demanar-li si hi havia notícies del front.

10  —Els ianquis reparen les vies —va dir l’home—, i es preparen per tornar a avançar. Han arribat al pont d’Owl Creek, l’han arreglat i han construït un fortí a la riba nord. El comandant ha emès un ban, que està penjat a tot arreu, declarant que qualsevol civil que sigui enxampat sabotejant les vies, els ponts, els túnels o els trens serà penjat sense judici previ. Jo l’he vist.
—A quina distància es troba, el pont d’Owl Creek? —va preguntar Farquhar.
—A uns cinquanta quilòmetres.
—No hi ha tropes, en aquest costat del riu?
—Només un post d’avançada a poc menys d’un quilòmetre, a les vies, i un únic sentinella a cada extrem del pont.
—Si fos el cas que un home, un civil aficionat a la forca, pogués esquivar el post i potser arribés a ensarronar el sentinella —va dir Farquhar, somrient—, què n’obtindria?
El soldat va reflexionar.
—Jo hi vaig ser ara fa un mes —va respondre—. Vaig veure que la riuada de l’hivern passat havia embarrancat molts troncs a l’embarcador de fusta en aquest extrem del pont. Ara estan secs, i cremarien com la palla.

11  La senyora li acabava de portar l’aigua, i el soldat se la va beure. Li va donar les gràcies cerimoniosament, va fer una inclinació de cap al marit i se’n va anar. Una hora més tard, després de fer-se fosc, el soldat tornava a travessar la plantació, en direcció al nord, d’on havia vingut. Era un espia de l’exèrcit federal.
12  As Peyton Farquhar fell straight downward through the bridge he lost consciousness and was as one already dead. From this state he was awakened—ages later, it seemed to him—by the pain of a sharp pressure upon his throat, followed by a sense of suffocation. Keen, poignant agonies seemed to shoot from his neck downward through every fiber of his body and limbs. These pains appeared to flash along well-defined lines of rami¬fication and to beat with an inconceivably rapid periodicity. They seemed like streams of pulsating fire heating him to an intolerable temperature. As to his head, he was conscious of nothing but a feeling of fullness—of congestion.

13  These sensations were unaccompanied by thought. The intellectual part of his nature was already effaced; he had power only to feel, and feeling was torment. He was conscious of motion. Encompassed in a luminous cloud, of which he was now merely the fiery heart, without material substance, he swung through unthinkable arcs of oscillation, like a vast pendulum. Then all at once, with terrible suddenness, the light about him shot upward with the noise of a loud splash; a frightful roaring was in his ears, and all was cold and dark.

14   The power of thought was restored; he knew that the rope had broken and he had fallen into the stream. There was no additional strangulation; the noose about his neck was already suffocating him and kept the water from his lungs. To die of hanging at the bottom of a river!—the idea seemed to him ludicrous. He opened his eyes in the darkness and saw above him a gleam of light, but how distant, how inaccessible! He was still sinking, for the light became fainter and fainter until it was a mere glimmer. Then it began to grow and brighten, and he knew that he was rising toward the surface—knew it with reluctance, for he was now very comfortable. “To be hanged and drowned,” he thought, “that is not so bad; but I do not wish to be shot. No; I will not be shot; that is not fair.”

15  He was not conscious of an effort, but a sharp pain in his wrist apprised him that he was trying to free his hands. He gave the struggle his attention, as an idler might observe the feat of a juggler, without interest in the outcome. What splendid effort!—what magnificent, what superhuman strength! Ah, that was a fine endeavor! Bravo! The cord fell away; his arms parted and floated upward, the hands dimly seen on each side in the growing light. He watched them with a new interest as first one and then the other pounced upon the noose at his neck. They tore it away and thrust it fiercely aside, its undulations resembling those of a water snake. “Put it back, put it back!” He thought he shouted these words to his hands, for the undoing of the noose had been succeeded by the direst pang that he had yet experienced. His neck ached horribly; his brain was on fire; his heart, which had been fluttering faintly, gave a great leap, trying to force itself out at his mouth. His whole body was racked and wrenched with an insupportable anguish! But his disobedient hands gave no heed to the command. They beat the water vigorously with quick, downward strokes, forcing him to the surface. He felt his head emerge; his eyes were blinded by the sunlight; his chest expanded convulsively, and with a supreme and crowning agony his lungs engulfed a great draught of air, which instantly he expelled in a shriek!

16  He was now in full possession of his physical senses. They were, indeed, preternaturally keen and alert. Something in the awful disturbance of his organic system had so exalted and refined them that they made record of things never before perceived. He felt the ripples upon his face and heard their separate sounds as they struck. He looked at the forest on the bank of the stream, saw the individual trees, the leaves and the vein¬ing of each leaf—saw the very insects upon them: the locusts, the brilliant-bodied grey spiders stretching their webs from twig to twig. He noted the prismatic colors in all the dewdrops upon a million blades of grass. The humming of the gnats that danced above the eddies of the stream, the beating of the dragon flies’ wings, the strokes of the water-spiders’ legs, like oars which had lifted their boat—all these made audible music. A fish slid along beneath his eyes and he heard the rush of its body parting the water.

17  He had come to the surface facing down the stream; in a moment the visible world seemed to wheel slowly round, himself the pivotal point, and he saw the bridge, the fort, the soldiers upon the bridge, the captain, the sergeant, the two privates, his executioners. They were in silhouette against the blue sky. They shouted and gesticulated, pointing at him. The captain had drawn his pistol, but did not fire; the others were unarmed. Their movements were grotesque and horrible, their forms gigantic.

18  Suddenly he heard a sharp report and something struck the water smartly within a few inches of his head, spattering his face with spray. He heard a second report, and saw one of the sentinels with his rifle at his shoulder, a light cloud of blue smoke rising from the muzzle. The man in the water saw the eye of the man on the bridge gazing into his own through the sights of the rifle. He observed that it was a grey eye and remembered having read that grey eyes were keenest, and that all famous marksmen had them. Nevertheless, this one had missed.

19  A counter-swirl had caught Farquhar and turned him half round; he was again looking into the forest on the bank opposite the fort. The sound of a clear, high voice in a monotonous singsong now rang out behind him and came across the water with a distinctness that pierced and subdued all other sounds, even the beating of the ripples in his ears. Although no soldier, he had frequented camps enough to know the dread significance of that deliberate, drawling, aspirated chant; the lieutenant on shore was taking a part in the morning's work. How coldly and pitilessly—with what an even, calm intonation, presaging, and enforcing tranquillity in the men—with what accurately measured intervals fell those cruel words:

“Attention, company! ... Shoulder arms! ... Ready! ... Aim! ... Fire!”

20  Farquhar dived—dived as deeply as he could. The water roared in his ears like the voice of Niagara, yet he heard the dulled thunder of the volley and, rising again toward the surface, met shining bits of metal, singularly flattened, oscillating slowly downward. Some of them touched him on the face and hands, then fell away, continuing their descent. One lodged between his collar and neck; it was uncomfortably warm and he snatched it out.

21  As he rose to the surface, gasping for breath, he saw that he had been a long time under water; he was perceptibly farther down stream nearer to safety. The soldiers had almost finished reloading; the metal ramrods flashed all at once in the sunshine as they were drawn from the barrels turned in the air, and thrust into their sockets. The two sentinels fired again, independently and ineffectually.

22  The hunted man saw all this over his shoulder; he was now swimming vigorously with the current. His brain was as energetic as his arms and legs; he thought with the rapidity of lightning.

“The officer,” he reasoned, “will not make that martinet's error a second time. It is as easy to dodge a volley as a single shot. He has probably already given the command to fire at will. God help me, I cannot dodge them all!”

23  An appalling plash within two yards of him was followed by a loud, rushing sound, diminuendo, which seemed to travel back through the air to the fort and died in an explosion which stirred the very river to its deeps!

24  A rising sheet of water curved over him, fell down upon him, blinded him, strangled him! The cannon had taken a hand in the game. As he shook his head free from the commotion of the smitten water he heard the deflected shot humming through the air ahead, and in an instant it was cracking and smashing the branches in the forest beyond.

“They will not do that again,” he thought; “the next time they will use a charge of grape. I must keep my eye upon the gun; the smoke will apprise me—the report arrives too late; it lags behind the missile. That is a good gun.”

25  Suddenly he felt himself whirled round and round—spinning like a top. The water, the banks, the forests, the now distant bridge, fort and men—all were commingled and blurred. Objects were represented by their colors only; circular horizontal streaks of color—that was all he saw. He had been caught in a vortex and was being whirled on with a velocity of advance and gyration that made him giddy and sick. In a few moments he was flung upon the gravel at the foot of the left bank of the stream—the southern bank—and behind a projecting point which concealed him from his enemies. The sudden arrest of his motion, the abrasion of one of his hands on the gravel, restored him, and he wept with delight. He dug his fingers into the sand, threw it over himself in handfuls and audibly blessed it. It looked like diamonds, rubies, emeralds; he could think of nothing beautiful which it did not resemble. The trees upon the bank were giant garden plants; he noted a definite order in their arrangement, inhaled the fragrance of their blooms. A strange roseate light shone through the spaces among their trunks and the wind made in their branches the music of Æolian harps. He had no wish to perfect his escape—was content to remain in that enchanting spot until retaken.

26  A whiz and rattle of grapeshot among the branches high above his head roused him from his dream. The baffled cannoneer had fired him a random farewell. He sprang to his feet, rushed up the sloping bank, and plunged into the forest.

27 All that day he traveled, laying his course by the rounding sun. The forest seemed interminable; nowhere did he discover a break in it, not even a woodman's road. He had not known that he lived in so wild a region. There was something uncanny in the revelation.

28  By nightfall he was fatigued, footsore, famishing. The thought of his wife and children urged him on. At last he found a road which led him in what he knew to be the right direction. It was as wide and straight as a city street, yet it seemed untraveled. No fields bordered it, no dwelling anywhere. Not so much as the barking of a dog suggested human habitation.

29  The black bodies of the trees formed a straight wall on both sides, terminating on the horizon in a point, like a diagram in a lesson in perspective. Overhead, as he looked up through this rift in the wood, shone great golden stars looking unfamiliar and grouped in strange constellations. He was sure they were arranged in some order which had a secret and malign significance. The wood on either side was full of singular noises, among which—once, twice, and again—he distinctly heard whispers in an unknown tongue.

30  His neck was in pain and lifting his hand to it he found it horribly swollen. He knew that it had a circle of black where the rope had bruised it. His eyes felt congested; he could no longer close them. His tongue was swollen with thirst; he relieved its fever by thrusting it forward from between his teeth into the cold air. How softly the turf had carpeted the untraveled avenue—he could no longer feel the roadway beneath his feet!

31  Doubtless, despite his suffering, he had fallen asleep while walking, for now he sees another scene—perhaps he has merely recovered from a delirium. He stands at the gate of his own home. All is as he left it, and all bright and beautiful in the morning sunshine. He must have traveled the entire night. As he pushes open the gate and passes up the wide white walk, he sees a flutter of female garments; his wife, looking fresh and cool and sweet, steps down from the veranda to meet him. At the bottom of the steps she stands waiting, with a smile of ineffable joy, an attitude of matchless grace and dignity. Ah, how beautiful she is! He springs forward with extended arms. As he is about to clasp her he feels a stunning blow upon the back of the neck; a blinding white light blazes all about him with a sound like the shock of a cannon—then all is darkness and silence!

32  Peyton Farquhar was dead; his body, with a broken neck, swung gently from side to side beneath the timbers of the Owl Creek bridge.
12  Quan Peyton Farquhar va caure daltabaix del pont, va perdre el coneixement i semblava que fos mort. Va despertar-se —després d’una estona que li va semblar una eternitat— a causa del dolor que li causava una pressió intensa a la gola, seguida d’una sensació d’ofec. Semblava que uns dolors aguts, punyents, recorreguessin des del coll cada fibra i cada extremitat del seu cos. Era com si es manifestessin a través de ramificacions ben definides, seguint el ritme amb una periodicitat inconcebiblement ràpida. Semblaven ràfegues de foc palpitant que l’escalfaven fins a una temperatura intolerable. El seu cervell només era conscient d’un efecte de saturació... de congestió.

13  Aquestes sensacions estaven deslligades del pensament. La part intel•lectual del seu ésser ja havia desaparegut: només tenia la capacitat de sentir, i sentir li era un turment. Ell era conscient que es movia. Envoltat per un núvol lluminós, del qual ell era el centre, sense substància material, el seu cos es balancejava entre arcs d’oscil•lació impensables, com si fos un pèndol enorme. Llavors, de cop i volta i amb una gran rapidesa, la llum que l’envoltava es disparà cap amunt amb el soroll d’un fort xipolleig; va sentir un rugit espantós, i tot es va tornar fred i foscor.

14  Va recuperar la capacitat de pensar; sabia que la corda s’havia trencat i que havia caigut al riu. No hi va haver escanyament addicional: el nus al voltant del coll ja l’ofegava prou, i no deixava que l’aigua li arribés als pulmons. Morir penjat al fons d’un riu!... la idea li semblava ridícula. Va obrir els ulls i en la foscor de damunt seu va veure una guspira de llum, però que distant... que inaccessible!... Encara s’enfonsava, perquè la llum s’anava fent cada vegada més vaga fins que només va ser un simple llambreig. Llavors va començar a créixer i a fer-se més brillant, i va saber que s’enlairava cap a la superfície. Però ho va saber a contracor, perquè ara se sentia prou còmode. “Penjat i ofegat?”, pensava. “No està pas malament... però no vull que em matin a trets! No, no em mataran a trets; no és just.”

15  No era conscient de cap esforç, però un dolor agut al canell li deia que intentava alliberar-se. Va posar-hi tota l’atenció, com ho faria un badoc que observa les proeses d’un malabarista, sense cap mena d’interès en el resultat. Quin esforç més esplèndid! Quina força més magnífica, més sobrehumana! D’això se’n diu resolució! Bravo! La corda es va deixar anar; els seus braços es van separar i van flotar cap amunt. Li il•luminava les mans la llum tènue que anava augmentant. Les va observar amb un renovat interès mentre, primer una i després l’altra, es llançaven a la soga que duia al coll. La van trencar i la van llençar amb força. Les seves ondulacions eren com les d’una serp d’aigua. “Torneu-me-la a posar, torneu-me-la a posar”... creia que adreçava aquestes paraules a les seves mans, perquè, quan tot just l’havien deslliurat de la soga, el va envair la rampa més terrible que mai havia experimentat. El coll li feia un mal horrible; el cap li bullia; el cor, que havia estat bategant dèbilment, li va fer un gran salt, com si volgués sortir per la boca. Tot ell es recargolava i es revinclava de dolor, amb una angoixa insuportable... Però aquelles mans desobedients no van fer cas de la seva ordre: colpejaven l’aigua vigorosament, amb ràpides braçades descendents que l’empenyien a la superfície. Va notar com el seu cap emergia; la llum del sol va cegar-lo; el seu pit es va eixamplar convulsivament, i, amb una agonia suprema, els seus pulmons van xuclar tot l’aire que van poder, el qual ell va expulsar a l’instant, deixant anar un crit de dolor.

16  Tornava a ser amo dels seus sentits. Van assolir-li una agudesa i un estat d’alerta realment prodigiosos. Alguna cosa en l’enrenou horrible del seu sistema orgànic els havia exaltat i refinat fins al punt que registraven coses mai no concebudes anteriorment. Notava les onades a la cara i en distingia els sons quan xocaven. Va mirar cop al bosc que hi havia a la riba i va veure els arbres, les fulles i les venes de cada fulla. Va veure, també, els insectes que hi reposaven: les llagostes, les mosques brillants, les aranyes grises que teixien les seves teranyines de branca a branca. Va adonar-se dels colors prismàtics de totes les gotes de rosada per sobre d’un milió de brins de gespa. El zumzeig dels mosquits que dansaven per sobre els remolins del riu, l’aleteig de les libèl•lules, les braçades de les aranyes d’aigua, que movien les potes com uns rems que havien aixecat la seva barca... tot això es convertia en una música perceptible. Un peix li va lliscar per sota els ulls, i va sentir la bellugadissa del seu cos separant l’aigua.

17  Havia sortit a la superfície de cara a la direcció del riu. En un moment, el món visible semblava moure’s lentament al seu voltant, i va veure el pont, el fortí, els soldats del pont, el capità, els sergent, els dos soldats... els seus botxins. Eren una silueta sobre el cel blau. Cridaven i gesticulaven tot assenyalant-lo. El capità havia tret l’arma, però no va disparar. Els altres anaven desarmats. Els seus moviments eren grotescos i horribles; les seves formes, gegantines.

18  De cop va percebre clarament una detonació i, a pocs centímetres del seu cap, alguna cosa va colpejar l’aigua i li va esquitxar la cara. Va sentir una segona detonació i va veure un dels sentinelles amb el fusell a l’espatlla i un petit núvol de fum que sobresortia de la boca del canó. Des de l’aigua va veure l’ull de l’home que, del pont estant, mirava fixament els seus ulls a través de la mira del fusell. Es va adonar que era un ull gris i recordà haver llegit que els ulls grisos eren els més afinats, i que tots els tiradors famosos tenien els ulls d’aquest color. Això no obstant, aquest havia errat el tret.

19  Un remolí l’havia atrapat i li havia fet fer mitja volta. Tornava a estar de cara al bosc que hi havia a la riba oposada al fortí. Una veu clara i aguda va sonar darrere seu, amb una cantarella monòtona que travessava l’aigua amb una claredat que perforava i sotmetia tots els altres sons, fins i tot els embats de les onades a les seves orelles. Tot i que no era soldat, havia estat en prou campaments per conèixer i témer el significat d’aquell cant deliberat, aspirat i monòton. El tinent participava en les maniobres matinals. L’home ho digué amb una tranquil•litat premonitòria i ferma, amb una entonació d’allò més plana i calmada. Que n’era, de fred i despietat, i que curosament mesurats els intervals amb què va deixar anar aquelles paraules tan cruels:

—Atenció, companyia!... En posició!... Preparats!... Apuntin... Foc!

20  Farquhar va capbussar-se; va capbussar-se tan endins com va poder. L’aigua li bramava a les orelles com la veu del Niàgara, però tot i això sentia el retruny esmorteït de les descàrregues i, mentre nedava cap a la superfície, va ensopegar amb trossos de metall relluents, singularment aplanats, que oscil•laven lentament cap al fons. Alguns d’aquests fragments li van tocar la cara i les mans i llavors van seguir caient, continuant el seu descens. N’hi va haver un que es va quedar enganxat entre el seu coll i el de la camisa; desprenia una escalfor desagradable, i se’l va apartar d’una revolada.

21  Quan va sortir a la superfície, esbufegant per agafar aire, va veure que havia estat molta estona sota l’aigua. Ara era bastant més lluny, riu avall, cada cop més a prop de la salvació. Els soldats gairebé havien acabat de recarregar els fusells: les baquetes metàl•liques van brillar totes alhora sota el sol en el moment en què els soldats les treien dels canons, les feien girar a l’aire i les tornaven a guardar al seu lloc. Els dos sentinelles van tornar a disparar, d’una manera independent i ineficaç.

22  L’home perseguit va veure tota l’escena per damunt l’espatlla; ara nedava amb totes les seves forces, seguint el corrent. Tenia el cap tan actiu com els braços i les cames: pensava a la velocitat del llamp.

“L’oficial”, va raonar, “no cometrà aquest error disciplinari una segona vegada. Esquivar tota una descàrrega de bales és tan fàcil com esquivar-ne una de sola. Segurament ja deu haver donat l’ordre de disparar a discreció. Que Déu m’ajudi... no les podré pas esquivar totes!”

23  Una esquitxada espantosa a no més de dos metres d’on era va arribar-li seguida d’una fressa intensa, precipitada, en diminuendo. Va semblar com si reculés per l’aire cap al fort i morís en una explosió que va remoure tot el riu fins a les profunditats.

24  Una cortina d’aigua es va aixecar per damunt seu, el va engolir, el va encegar, el va ofegar. El canó acabava d’entrar en joc. Mentre sacsejava el cap per recuperar-se de la commoció que li havia causat el cop de l’aigua, va sentir com el tret desviat brunzia per l’aire i, en un tancar i obrir d’ulls, trencava i destrossava les branques del bosc de més enllà.

“No ho tornaran a fer, això”, va pensar. “La pròxima vegada carregaran metralla. No puc perdre l’arma de vista: el fum m’avisarà. La detonació arriba massa tard, ve després del projectil. Això sí que és una bona arma.”

25  De sobte va notar que feia voltes i més voltes, rodant com una baldufa. L’aigua, les ribes, els boscos, el pont, el fortí i els homes, ara ja llunyans... tot era confús i borrós. Els objectes eren representats només pels seus colors; traços circulars i horitzontals de colors: això era tot el que veia. Havia quedat atrapat en un remolí, i la velocitat amb què anava riu avall i girava li feia venir mareig i ganes de vomitar. Al cap d’un moment va anar a espetegar a la grava del marge de la riba esquerra del corrent, la riba del sud, darrere d’un sortint que l’amagava dels seus enemics. L’aturada sobtada del moviment i l’abrasió d’una de les mans a la grava el van restituir, i va plorar de joia. Va enfonsar els dits a la sorra, se’n va tirar grapats per damunt i la beneí en veu alta. Era com si fossin diamants, robins, maragdes; no podia pensar en res bonic que no s’hi assemblés. Els arbres de la ribera eren gegantines plantes de jardí; percebia un ordre inequívoc en la seva disposició. Va inspirar-ne la fragància de les flors. Entre els troncs dels arbres es filtrava una estranya llum rosenca i, a les branques, el vent produïa la música d’unes arpes eòliques. No desitjava completar la seva fugida; ja en tenia prou de poder-se estar en aquell indret encisador fins que el tornessin a atrapar.

26  Un brunzit i un retrò de metralla entre les branques de gran alçada el van despertar del seu somni. El canoner, desconcertat, li havia disparat un comiat a l’atzar. Es va aixecar d’un salt, va pujar corrent per la riba inclinada i es va endinsar en el bosc.

27  Va caminar durant tot el dia, amb la llum canviant del sol que li guiava els passos. El bosc semblava interminable; no hi podia descobrir cap clariana, ni tan sols un camí de llenyataires. Mai no havia sabut que vivia en una regió tan salvatge. Hi havia un punt d’insòlit, en aquesta revelació.

28  En arribar el capvespre estava esgotat i famolenc, i tenia els peus adolorits. El record de la seva dona i dels seus fills l’animava a tirar endavant. Finalment, va trobar una carretera que el portà en la direcció que ell sabia que era l’adequada. Era ampla i recta com un carrer de ciutat, però semblava que no hi hagués passat mai ningú. No hi havia ni un sol camp, ni una sola casa. Ni tan sols els lladrucs d’un gos suggerien que hi hagués cap presència humana.

29 A banda i banda, els cossos negres dels arbres formaven dues parets rectes que convergien en un punt de l’horitzó, com un esbós en una classe de perspectiva. Per damunt seu, alçant la vista per mirar més enllà d’aquella fenedura en el bosc, hi brillaven uns magnífics estels daurats, agrupats en constel•lacions insòlites. Tenia el convenciment que estaven disposats en un ordre que amagava significacions secretes i malèfiques. A tots dos costats el bosc era ple de sorolls singulars, entre els quals una vegada, dues, i encara tres, sentí clarament xiuxiuejar en una llengua desconeguda.

30  Tenia el coll adolorit i, en posar-s’hi la mà, se’l va notar terriblement inflamat. Sabia que tenia una marca circular de color negre allà on la soga l’havia escanyat. Es notava els ulls congestionats i no els podia tancar. Tenia la llengua inflada per la set; per calmar-ne la febre, la treia entre les dents per sentir la fredor de l’aire. Que suau que era la catifa amb què l’herba havia cobert l’avinguda intransitada... Ja no sentia la calçada sota els peus.

31  Era evident que, malgrat tot el sofriment, s’havia adormit mentre caminava, perquè ara veu una altra escena; potser només s’ha recuperat d’un deliri. És davant la tanca de casa seva; tot és tal com ho havia deixat, tan bonic i resplendent sota el sol del matí. Deu haver caminat tota la nit. En obrir la tanca i enfilar el camí blanc i ample, veu onejar un vestit de dona; la seva esposa, amb un aire fresc, serè i dolç, baixa del porxo per anar a trobar-lo. Al peu de l’escala, l’espera amb un somriure d’alegria inefable, una postura d’una gràcia i una dignitat incomparables. Ah... que n’és, de bonica!... Corre cap a ella amb els braços oberts. Quan està a punt d’abraçar-la, sent un cop atordidor al clatell; una llum blanca i ardent s’inflama al seu voltant i l’encega amb un so semblant al retrò d’un canó... Després, tot és foscor i silenci.

32  Peyton Farquhar era mort. El seu cos, amb el coll trencat, es gronxava plàcidament d’una banda a l’altra sota l’estructura de fusta del pont d’Owl Creek.
Drets d'autor Introducció