The Mad King

By Edgar Rice Burroughs

Page 116

standing before the wall of a low brick
building. Barney noticed that there were no windows in the wall. It
suddenly occurred to him that there was something peculiarly grim
and sinister in the appearance of the dead, blank surface of
weather-stained brick. For the first time since he had faced the
military court he awakened to a full realization of what it all
meant to him--he was going to be lined up against that ominous brick
wall with these other men--they were going to shoot them.

A momentary madness seized him. He looked about upon the other
prisoners and guards. A sudden break for liberty might give him
temporary respite. He could seize a rifle from the nearest soldier,
and at least have the satisfaction of selling his life dearly. As he
looked he saw more soldiers entering the factory yard.

A sudden apathy overwhelmed him. What was the use? He could not
escape. Why should he wish to kill these soldiers? It was not they
who were responsible for his plight--they were but obeying orders.
The close presence of death made life seem very desirable. These
men, too, desired life. Why should he take it from them uselessly?
At best he might kill one or two, but in the end he would be killed
as surely as though he took his place before the brick wall with the
others.

He noticed now that these others evinced no inclination to contest
their fates. Why should he, then? Doubtless many of them were as
innocent as he, and all loved life as well. He saw that several were
weeping silently. Others stood with bowed heads gazing at the
hard-packed earth of the factory yard. Ah, what visions were their
eyes beholding for the last time! What memories of happy firesides!
What dear, loved faces were limned upon that sordid clay!

His reveries were interrupted by the hoarse voice of a sergeant,
breaking rudely in upon the silence and the dumb terror. The fellow
was herding the prisoners into position. When he was done Barney
found himself in the front rank of the little, hopeless band.
Opposite them, at a few paces, stood the firing squad, their gun
butts resting upon the ground.

The young lieutenant stood at one side. He issued some instructions
in a low tone, then he raised his voice.

"Ready!" he commanded. Fascinated by the horror of it, Barney
watched the rifles raised smartly to the soldiers' hips--the
movement was as precise as though the men were upon parade. Every
bolt clicked in unison with its fellows.

"Aim!" the pieces leaped to

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