May 29, 2015 12:09 UTC

American Stories

A Horseman in the Sky

Announcer:  Now, the Special English program, AMERICAN STORIES.

(MUSIC)

Our story today is called, "A Horseman in the Sky."  It was written by Ambrose Bierce. Here is Roy Depew with the story.

(MUSIC)

Narrator: Carter Druse was born in Virginia. He loved his parents, his home and the south. But he loved his country, too. And in the autumn of eighteen sixty-one, when the United States was divided by a terrible civil war, Carter Druse, a southerner, decided to join the Union Army of the north.

He told his father about his decision one morning at breakfast.

The older man looked at his only son for a moment, too shocked to speak. Then he said, "As of this moment you are a traitor to the south. Please don't tell your mother about your decision. She is sick, and we both know she has only a few weeks to live."

Carter's father paused, again looking deep into his son's eyes. "Carter," he said, "No matter what happens -- be sure you always do what you think is your duty."

Both Carter Druse and his father left the table that morning with broken hearts. And Carter soon left his home, and everyone he loved to wear the blue uniform of the Union soldier.

One sunny afternoon, a few weeks later, Carter Druse lay with his face in the dirt by the side of a road. He was on his stomach, his arms still holding his gun. Carter would not receive a medal for his actions. In fact, if his commanding officer were to see him, he would order Carter shot immediately.

For Carter was not dead or wounded. He was sleeping while on duty. Fortunately, no one could see him. He was hidden by some bushes, growing by the side of the road.

The road Carter Druse had been sent to guard was only a few miles from his father's house.

It began in a forest, down in the valley, and climbed up the side of a huge rock. Anyone standing on the top of this high rock would be able to see down into the valley. And that person would feel very dizzy, looking down. If he dropped a stone from the edge of this cliff, it would fall for six hundred meters before disappearing into the forest in the valley below.

Giant cliffs, like the one Carter lay on, surrounded the valley.

Hidden in the valley's forest were five union regiments -- thousands of Carter's fellow soldiers. They had marched for thirty-six hours. Now they were resting. But at midnight they would climb that road up the rocky cliff.

Their plan was to attack by surprise an army of southerners, camped on the other side of the cliff. But if their enemy learned about the Union Army hiding in the forest, the soldiers would find themselves in a trap with no escape. That was why Carter Druse had been sent to guard the road.

It was his duty to be sure that no enemy soldier, dressed in gray, spied on the valley, where the union army was hiding.

But Carter Druse had fallen asleep. Suddenly, as if a messenger of fate came to touch him on the shoulder, the young man opened his eyes. As he lifted his head, he saw a man on horseback standing on the huge rocky cliff that looked down into the valley.

The rider and his horse stood so still that they seemed made of stone. The man's gray uniform blended with the blue sky and the white clouds behind him. He held a gun in his right hand, and the horse's reins in the other.

Carter could not see the man's face, because the rider was looking down into the valley. But the man and his horse seemed to be of heroic, almost gigantic size, standing there motionless against the sky. Carter discovered he was very much afraid, even though he knew the enemy soldier could not see him hiding in the bushes.

Suddenly the horse moved, pulling back its head from the edge of the cliff. Carter was completely awake now. He raised his gun, pushing its barrel through the bushes. And he aimed for the horseman's heart. A small squeeze of the trigger, and Carter Druse would have done his duty.

At that instant, the horseman turned his head and looked in Carter's direction. He seemed to look at Carter's face, into his eyes, and deep into his brave, generous heart.

Carter's face became very white. His entire body began shaking. His mind began to race, and in his fantasy, the horse and rider became black figures, rising and falling in slow circles against a fiery red sky.

Carter did not pull the trigger. Instead, he let go of his gun and slowly dropped his face until it rested again in the dirt.

Brave and strong as he was, Carter almost fainted from the shock of what he had seen.

Is it so terrible to kill an enemy who might kill you and your friends? Carter knew that this man must be shot from ambush -- without warning. This man must die without a moment to prepare his soul; without even the chance to say a silent prayer.

Slowly, a hope began to form in Carter Druse's mind. Perhaps the southern soldier had not seen the northern troops.

Perhaps he was only admiring the view. Perhaps he would now turn and ride carelessly away.

Then Carter looked down into the valley so far below. He saw a line of men in blue uniforms and their horses, slowly leaving the protection of the forest. A foolish Union officer had permitted his soldiers to bring their horses to drink at a small stream near the forest. And there they were -- in plain sight!

Carter Druse looked back to the man and horse standing there against the sky. Again he took aim. But this time he pointed his gun at the horse. Words rang in his head -- the last words his father ever spoke to him: "No matter what happens, be sure you always do what you think is your duty."

Carter Druse was calm as he pulled the trigger of his gun.

At that moment, a Union officer happened to look up from his hiding place near the edge of the forest. His eyes climbed to the top of the cliff that looked over the valley. Just looking at the top of the gigantic rock, so far above him, made the soldier feel dizzy.

And then the officer saw something that filled his heart with horror. A man on a horse was riding down into the valley through the air!

The rider sat straight in his saddle. His hair streamed back, waving in the wind. His left hand held his horse's reins while his right hand was hidden in the cloud of the horse's mane. The horse looked as if it were galloping across the earth. Its body was proud and noble.

As the frightened Union officer watched this horseman in the sky, he almost believed he was witnessing a messenger from heaven. A messenger who had come to announce the end of the world. The officer's legs grew weak, and he fell. At almost the same instant, he heard a crashing sound in the trees. The sound died without an echo. And all was silent.

The officer got to his feet, still shaking. He went back to his camp. But he didn't tell anyone what he had seen. He knew no one would ever believe him.

Soon after firing his gun, Carter Druse was joined by a Union sergeant. Carter did not turn his head as the sergeant kneeled beside him.

"Did you fire?" The sergeant whispered.

"Yes."

"At what?"

"A horse. It was on that rock. It's not there now. It went over the cliff." Carter's face was white. But he showed no other sign of emotion. The sergeant did not understand.

"See here, Druse," he said, after a moment's silence. "Why are you making this into a mystery. I order you to report. Was there anyone on the horse?"

"Yes."

"Who? "

"My father."

(MUSIC)

Announcer: You have heard the story called, "A Horseman in the Sky." It was written by Ambrose Bierce, and adapted for Special English by Dona de Sanctis. Your storyteller was Roy Depew.

For VOA Special English, this is Shirley Griffith.

(MUSIC)

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Learn with The News

  • FIFA President Sepp Blatter delivers his speech during the opening ceremony of the 65th FIFA Congress in Zurich, Switzerland, May 28, 2015.

    Audio FIFA President: Charges Bring Shame to Sport

    FIFA President Sepp Blatter said corruption scandals within the world soccer organization have brought "shame and humiliation" on the sport. Also in the news, Iranian foreign minister expresses hope for nuclear deal; President Barack Obama hosts a Twitter chat on climate change. More

  • Audio Extreme Heat in India Kills Over 1100

    Indian officials say most of the heat-related deaths were reported in the southeastern states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. The unusually hot weather is reaching temperatures above 46 degrees Celsius. People most at risk are those who work outside. Help may come with monsoon rains. More

  • Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis arrives for a meeting of eurozone creditors earlier in May.

    Audio Greece Says No Payment to Lenders Without Deal

    Greece has said it cannot make its debt payment to the International Monetary Fund for June. The country’s Interior Minister Nikos Voutsis spoke on Greek television Sunday. He said the country needs to reach a deal with its creditors or it will not be able to make payments. More

  • A picture taken on March 14, 2014 shows Syrian citizens walking in the ancient oasis city of Palmyra, 215 kilometres northeast of Damascus.

    Audio Islamic State Executes 20 in Palmyra Roman Theater

    A Human Rights group says that the Islamic State militants have executed 20 people in the ancient Roman theater in Palmyra, a UNESCO World heritage site. Also in the news, Heat wave kills 1,100 in India; Former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum announces his campaign for president. More

  • U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announces an indictment against nine FIFA officials and five corporate executives for racketeering, conspiracy and corruption at a news conference, in Brooklyn, New York, May 27, 2015.

    Audio US, Swiss Officials Take Action against FIFA in Corruption Cases

    United States officials have brought charges against current and former leaders of FIFA, the group that governs the sport of football around the world. A U.S. federal indictment accuses them of corruption and other wrongdoing. More

Featured Stories

  • Audio Brain Remembers Language Better If You Sing It

    If you have a long list of vocabulary words to learn, you might want to write them into a familiar song. Researchers at the University of Edinburgh studied the relationship between music and remembering a foreign language. After the tests were over, the singers came out on top. And it's more fun! More

  • Video New Tool Maps Buildings' Energy Efficiency

    Architects, engineers and building supervisors will soon be able to quickly collect information that once took weeks to measure and process. Scientists have developed a device to gather information about building interiors – the design and exact measurements of a building. More

  • Audio Guide to 2016 Campaign: Money and Super PAC

    Raising money is an important part of any election in America. Candidates for the 2016 race for the White House and Congress are busy lining up dollars to fund their elections. VOA Learning English helps explain how the campaign finance systems work in the U.S. More

  • Audio Hold Your Horses!

    Horses are part of the history and romance of the Old American West. These days, they are popular for sport and entertainment. So, it is easy to understand why we Americans use so many horse expressions. Learn some of the most common and try to answer our horse riddle! More

  • Audio Everyday Grammar - Introducing Conditionals

    In everyday conversation, English speakers often talk about things that are not true. Or, they talk about things that only happen if something else happens. Learn how to correctly use these conditional forms in English. If you write to us, we will let you know if it is correct. More

Practice Your Writing

Confessions of an English Learner
Confessions of an English Learner blog

Tell us About Our Programs