by Liam O'Flaherty (1897-1984)
Approximate Word Count: 1619
The long June twilight faded into night. Dublin lay enveloped in
darkness but for the dim light of the moon that shone through
fleecy clouds, casting a pale light as of approaching dawn over
the streets and the dark waters of the Liffey. Around the
beleaguered Four Courts the heavy guns roared. Here and there
through the city, machine guns and rifles broke the silence of
the night, spasmodically, like dogs barking on lone farms.
Republicans and Free Staters were waging civil war.
On a rooftop near O'Connell Bridge, a Republican sniper lay
watching. Beside him lay his rifle and over his shoulders was
slung a pair of field glasses. His face was the face of a
student, thin and ascetic, but his eyes had the cold gleam of the
fanatic. They were deep and thoughtful, the eyes of a man who is
used to looking at death.
He was eating a sandwich hungrily. He had eaten nothing since
morning. He had been too excited to eat. He finished the
sandwich, and, taking a flask of whiskey from his pocket, he took
a short drought. Then he returned the flask to his pocket. He
paused for a moment, considering whether he should risk a smoke.
It was dangerous. The flash might be seen in the darkness, and
there were enemies watching. He decided to take the risk.
Placing a cigarette between his lips, he struck a match, inhaled
the smoke hurriedly and put out the light. Almost immediately, a
bullet flattened itself against the parapet of the roof. The
sniper took another whiff and put out the cigarette. Then he
swore softly and crawled away to the left.
Cautiously he raised himself and peered over the parapet. There
was a flash and a bullet whizzed over his head. He dropped
immediately. He had seen the flash. It came from the opposite
side of the street.
He rolled over the roof to a chimney stack in the rear, and
slowly drew himself up behind it, until his eyes were level with
the top of the parapet. There was nothing to be seen--just the
dim outline of the opposite housetop against the blue sky. His
enemy was under cover.
Just then an armored car came across the bridge and advanced
slowly up the street. It stopped on the opposite side of the
street, fifty yards ahead. The sniper could hear the dull
panting of the motor. His heart beat faster. It was an enemy
car. He wanted to fire, but he knew it was useless. His bullets
would never pierce the steel that covered the gray monster.
Then round the corner of a side street came an old woman, her
head covered by a tattered shawl. She began to talk to the man
in the turret of the car. She was pointing to the roof where the
sniper lay. An informer.
The turret opened. A man's head and shoulders appeared, looking
toward the sniper. The sniper raised his rifle and fired. The
head fell heavily on the turret wall. The woman darted toward
the side street. The sniper fired again. The woman whirled
round and fell with a shriek into the gutter.
Suddenly from the opposite roof a shot rang out and the sniper
dropped his rifle with a curse. The rifle clattered to the roof.
The sniper thought the noise would wake the dead. He stooped to
pick the rifle up. He couldn't lift it. His forearm was dead. "I'm hit," he muttered.
Dropping flat onto the roof, he crawled back to the parapet.
With his left hand he felt the injured right forearm. The blood
was oozing through the sleeve of his coat. There was no pain--just a deadened sensation, as if the arm had been cut off.
Quickly he drew his knife from his pocket, opened it on the
breastwork of the parapet, and ripped open the sleeve. There was
a small hole where the bullet had entered. On the other side
there was no hole. The bullet had lodged in the bone. It must
have fractured it. He bent the arm below the wound. the arm
bent back easily. He ground his teeth to overcome the pain.
Then taking out his field dressing, he ripped open the packet
with his knife. He broke the neck of the iodine bottle and let
the bitter fluid drip into the wound. A paroxysm of pain swept
through him. He placed the cotton wadding over the wound and
wrapped the dressing over it. He tied the ends with his teeth.
Then he lay still against the parapet, and, closing his eyes, he
made an effort of will to overcome the pain.
In the street beneath all was still. The armored car had retired
speedily over the bridge, with the machine gunner's head hanging
lifeless over the turret. The woman's corpse lay still in the gutter.
The sniper lay still for a long time nursing his wounded arm and
planning escape. Morning must not find him wounded on the roof.
The enemy on the opposite roof coverd his escape. He must kill
that enemy and he could not use his rifle. He had only a
revolver to do it. Then he thought of a plan.
Taking off his cap, he placed it over the muzzle of his rifle.
Then he pushed the rifle slowly upward over the parapet, until
the cap was visible from the opposite side of the street. Almost
immediately there was a report, and a bullet pierced the center
of the cap. The sniper slanted the rifle forward. The cap
clipped down into the street. Then catching the rifle in the
middle, the sniper dropped his left hand over the roof and let it
hang, lifelessly. After a few moments he let the rifle drop to
the street. Then he sank to the roof, dragging his hand with
Crawling quickly to his feet, he peered up at the corner of the
roof. His ruse had succeeded. The other sniper, seeing the cap
and rifle fall, thought that he had killed his man. He was now
standing before a row of chimney pots, looking across, with his
head clearly silhouetted against the western sky.
The Republican sniper smiled and lifted his revolver above the
edge of the parapet. The distance was about fifty yards--a hard
shot in the dim light, and his right arm was paining him like a
thousand devils. He took a steady aim. His hand trembled with
eagerness. Pressing his lips together, he took a deep breath
through his nostrils and fired. He was almost deafened with the
report and his arm shook with the recoil.
Then when the smoke cleared, he peered across and uttered a cry
of joy. His enemy had been hit. He was reeling over the parapet
in his death agony. He struggled to keep his feet, but he was
slowly falling forward as if in a dream. The rifle fell from his
grasp, hit the parapet, fell over, bounded off the pole of a
barber's shop beneath and then clattered on the pavement.
Then the dying man on the roof crumpled up and fell forward. The
body turned over and over in space and hit the ground with a dull
thud. Then it lay still.
The sniper looked at his enemy falling and he shuddered. The
lust of battle died in him. He became bitten by remorse. The
sweat stood out in beads on his forehead. Weakened by his wound
and the long summer day of fasting and watching on the roof, he
revolted from the sight of the shattered mass of his dead enemy.
His teeth chattered, he began to gibber to himself, cursing the
war, cursing himself, cursing everybody.
He looked at the smoking revolver in his hand, and with an oath
he hurled it to the roof at his feet. The revolver went off with
a concussion and the bullet whizzed past the sniper's head. He
was frightened back to his senses by the shock. His nerves
steadied. The cloud of fear scattered from his mind and he
Taking the whiskey flask from his pocket, he emptied it a
drought. He felt reckless under the influence of the spirit. He
decided to leave the roof now and look for his company commander,
to report. Everywhere around was quiet. There was not much
danger in going through the streets. He picked up his revolver
and put it in his pocket. Then he crawled down through the
skylight to the house underneath.
When the sniper reached the laneway on the street level, he felt
a sudden curiosity as to the identity of the enemy sniper whom he
had killed. He decided that he was a good shot, whoever he was.
He wondered did he know him. Perhaps he had been in his own
company before the split in the army. He decided to risk going
over to have a look at him. He peered around the corner into
O'Connell Street. In the upper part of the street there was heavy
firing, but around here all was quiet.
The sniper darted across the street. A machine gun tore up the
ground around him with a hail of bullets, but he escaped. He
threw himself face downward beside the corpse. The machine gun
Then the sniper turned over the dead body and looked into his
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