The Great Deadwood Mystery by Bret Harte
It was growing quite dark in the telegraph-office at Cottonwood, Tuolumne
County, California. The office, a box-like enclosure, was separated from
the public room of the Miners' Hotel by a thin partition; and the
operator, who was also news and express agent at Cottonwood, had closed
his window, and was lounging by his news-stand preparatory to going home.
Without, the first monotonous rain of the season was dripping from the
porches of the hotel in the waning light of a December day. The operator,
accustomed as he was to long intervals of idleness, was fast becoming
The tread of mud-muffled boots on the veranda, and the entrance of two
men, offered a momentary excitement. He recognized in the strangers two
prominent citizens of Cottonwood; and their manner bespoke business. One
of them proceeded to the desk, wrote a despatch, and handed it to the
"That's about the way the thing p'ints," responded his companion
"I reckoned it only squar to use his dientical words?"
The first speaker turned to the operator with the despatch.
"How soon can you shove her through?"
The operator glanced professionally over the address and the length of the
"Now," he answered promptly.
"And she gets there?"
"To-night. But there's no delivery until to-morrow."
"Shove her through to-night, and say there's an extra twenty left here for
The operator, accustomed to all kinds of extravagant outlay for
expedition, replied that he would lay this proposition with the despatch,
before the San Francisco office. He then took it and read it—and
re-read it. He preserved the usual professional apathy,—had
doubtless sent many more enigmatical and mysterious messages,—but
nevertheless, when he finished, he raised his eyes inquiringly to his
customer. That gentleman, who enjoyed a reputation for equal spontaneity
of temper and revolver, met his gaze a little impatiently. The operator
had recourse to a trick. Under the pretence of misunderstanding the
message, he obliged the sender to repeat it aloud for the sake of
accuracy, and even suggested a few verbal alterations, ostensibly to
insure correctness, but really to extract further information.
Nevertheless, the man doggedly persisted in a literal transcript of his
message. The operator went to his instrument hesitatingly.
"I suppose," he added half-questioningly, "there ain't no chance of a
mistake. This address is Rightbody, that rich old Bostonian that everybody
knows. There ain't but one?"
"That's the address," responded the first speaker coolly.
"Didn't know the old chap had investments out here," suggested the
operator, lingering at his instrument.
"No more did I," was the insufficient reply.
For some few moments nothing was heard but the click of the instrument, as
the operator worked the key, with the usual appearance of imparting
confidence to a somewhat reluctant hearer who preferred to talk himself.
The two men stood by, watching his motions with the usual awe of the
unprofessional. When he had finished, they laid before him two
gold-pieces. As the operator took them up, he could not help saying,—
"The old man went off kinder sudden, didn't he? Had no time to write?"
"Not sudden for that kind o' man," was the exasperating reply.
But the speaker was not to be disconcerted. "If there is an answer—"
"There ain't any," replied the first speaker quietly.
"Because the man ez sent the message is dead."
"But it's signed by you two."
"On'y ez witnesses—eh?" appealed the first speaker to his comrade.
"On'y ez witnesses," responded the other.
The operator shrugged his shoulders. The business concluded, the first
speaker slightly relaxed. He nodded to the operator, and turned to the
bar-room with a pleasing social impulse. When their glasses were set down
empty, the first speaker, with a cheerful condemnation of the hard times
and the weather, apparently dismissed all previous proceedings from his
mind, and lounged out with his companion. At the corner of the street they
"Well, that job's done," said the first speaker, by way of relieving the
slight social embarrassment of parting.
"Thet's so," responded his companion, and shook his hand.
They parted. A gust of wind swept through the pines, and struck a faint
Aeolian cry from the wires above their heads; and the rain and the
darkness again slowly settled upon Cottonwood.
The message lagged a little at San Francisco, laid over half an hour at
Chicago, and fought longitude the whole way; so that it was past midnight
when the "all night" operator took it from the wires at Boston. But it was
freighted with a mandate from the San Francisco office; and a messenger
was procured, who sped with it through dark snow-bound streets, between
the high walls of close-shuttered rayless houses, to a certain formal
square ghostly with snow-covered statues. Here he ascended the broad steps
of a reserved and solid-looking mansion, and pulled a bronze bell-knob,
that somewhere within those chaste recesses, after an apparent reflective
pause, coldly communicated the fact that a stranger was waiting without—as
he ought. Despite the lateness of the hour, there was a slight glow from
the windows, clearly not enough to warm the messenger with indications of
a festivity within, but yet bespeaking, as it were, some prolonged though
subdued excitement. The sober servant who took the despatch, and receipted
for it as gravely as if witnessing a last will and testament, respectfully
paused before the entrance of the drawing-room. The sound of measured and
rhetorical speech, through which the occasional catarrhal cough of the
New-England coast struggled, as the only effort of nature not wholly
repressed, came from its heavily-curtained recesses; for the occasion of
the evening had been the reception and entertainment of various
distinguished persons, and, as had been epigrammatically expressed by one
of the guests, "the history of the country" was taking its leave in
phrases more or less memorable and characteristic. Some of these
valedictory axioms were clever, some witty, a few profound, but always
left as a genteel contribution to the entertainer. Some had been already
prepared, and, like a card, had served and identified the guest at other
The last guest departed, the last carriage rolled away, when the servant
ventured to indicate the existence of the despatch to his master, who was
standing on the hearth-rug in an attitude of wearied self-righteousness.
He took it, opened it, read it, re-read it, and said,—
"There must be some mistake! It is not for me. Call the boy, Waters."
Waters, who was perfectly aware that the boy had left, nevertheless
obediently walked towards the hall-door, but was recalled by his master.
"No matter—at present!"
"It's nothing serious, William?" asked Mrs. Rightbody, with languid wifely
"No, nothing. Is there a light in my study?"
"Yes. But, before you go, can you give me a moment or two?"
Mr. Rightbody turned a little impatiently towards his wife. She had thrown
herself languidly on the sofa; her hair was slightly disarranged, and part
of a slippered foot was visible. She might have been a finely-formed
woman; but even her careless deshabille left the general impression that
she was severely flannelled throughout, and that any ostentation of
womanly charm was under vigorous sanitary SURVEILLANCE.
"Mrs. Marvin told me to-night that her son made no secret of his serious
attachment for our Alice, and that, if I was satisfied, Mr. Marvin would
be glad to confer with you at once."
The information did not seem to absorb Mr. Rightbody's wandering
attention, but rather increased his impatience. He said hastily, that he
would speak of that to-morrow; and partly by way of reprisal, and partly
to dismiss the subject, added—
"Positively James must pay some attention to the register and the
thermometer. It was over 70 degrees to-night, and the ventilating draught
was closed in the drawing-room."
"That was because Professor Ammon sat near it, and the old gentleman's
tonsils are so sensitive."
"He ought to know from Dr. Dyer Doit that systematic and regular exposure
to draughts stimulates the mucous membrane; while fixed air over 60
"I am afraid, William," interrupted Mrs. Rightbody, with feminine
adroitness, adopting her husband's topic with a view of thereby directing
him from it,—"I'm afraid that people do not yet appreciate the
substitution of bouillon for punch and ices. I observed that Mr. Spondee
declined it, and, I fancied, looked disappointed. The fibrine and wheat in
liqueur-glasses passed quite unnoticed too."
"And yet each half-drachm contained the half-digested substance of a pound
of beef. I'm surprised at Spondee!" continued Mr. Rightbody aggrievedly.
"Exhausting his brain and nerve force by the highest creative efforts of
the Muse, he prefers perfumed and diluted alcohol flavored with carbonic
acid gas. Even Mrs. Faringway admitted to me that the sudden lowering of
the temperature of the stomach by the introduction of ice—"
"Yes; but she took a lemon ice at the last Dorothea Reception, and asked
me if I had observed that the lower animals refused their food at a
temperature over 60 degrees."
Mr. Rightbody again moved impatiently towards the door. Mrs. Rightbody
eyed him curiously.
"You will not write, I hope? Dr. Keppler told me to-night that your
cerebral symptoms interdicted any prolonged mental strain."
"I must consult a few papers," responded Mr. Rightbody curtly, as he
entered his library.
It was a richly-furnished apartment, morbidly severe in its decorations,
which were symptomatic of a gloomy dyspepsia of art, then quite prevalent.
A few curios, very ugly, but providentially equally rare, were scattered
about. There were various bronzes, marbles, and casts, all requiring
explanation, and so fulfilling their purpose of promoting conversation,
and exhibiting the erudition of their owner. There were souvenirs of
travel with a history, old bric-a-brac with a pedigree, but little or
nothing that challenged attention for itself alone. In all cases the
superiority of the owner to his possessions was admitted. As a natural
result, nobody ever lingered there, the servants avoided the room, and no
child was ever known to play in it.
Mr. Rightbody turned up the gas, and from a cabinet of drawers, precisely
labelled, drew a package of letters. These he carefully examined. All were
discolored, and made dignified by age; but some, in their original
freshness, must have appeared trifling, and inconsistent with any
correspondent of Mr. Rightbody. Nevertheless, that gentleman spent some
moments in carefully perusing them, occasionally referring to the telegram
in his hand. Suddenly there was a knock at the door. Mr. Rightbody
started, made a half-unconscious movement to return the letters to the
drawer, turned the telegram face downwards, and then, somewhat harshly,
"Eh? Who's there? Come in."
"I beg your pardon, papa," said a very pretty girl, entering, without,
however, the slightest trace of apology or awe in her manner, and taking a
chair with the self-possession and familiarity of an habitue of the room;
"but I knew it was not your habit to write late, so I supposed you were
not busy. I am on my way to bed."
She was so very pretty, and withal so utterly unconscious of it, or
perhaps so consciously superior to it, that one was provoked into a more
critical examination of her face. But this only resulted in a reiteration
of her beauty, and perhaps the added facts that her dark eyes were very
womanly, her rich complexion eloquent, and her chiselled lips fell enough
to be passionate or capricious, notwithstanding that their general effect
suggested neither caprice, womanly weakness, nor passion.
With the instinct of an embarrassed man, Mr. Rightbody touched the topic
he would have preferred to avoid.
"I suppose we must talk over to-morrow," he hesitated, "this matter of
yours and Mr. Marvin's? Mrs. Marvin has formally spoken to your mother."
Miss Alice lifted her bright eyes intelligently, but not joyfully; and the
color of action, rather than embarrassment, rose to her round cheeks.
"Yes, HE said she would," she answered simply.
"At present," continued Mr. Rightbody still awkwardly, "I see no objection
to the proposed arrangement."
Miss Alice opened her round eyes at this.
"Why, papa, I thought it had been all settled long ago! Mamma knew it, you
knew it. Last July, mamma and you talked it over."
"Yes, yes," returned her father, fumbling his papers; "that is—well,
we will talk of it to-morrow." In fact, Mr. Rightbody HAD intended to give
the affair a proper attitude of seriousness and solemnity by due precision
of speech, and some apposite reflections, when he should impart the news
to his daughter, but felt himself unable to do it now. "I am glad, Alice,"
he said at last, "that you have quite forgotten your previous whims and
fancies. You see WE are right."
"Oh! I dare say, papa, if I'm to be married at all, that Mr. Marvin is in
every way suitable."
Mr. Rightbody looked at his daughter narrowly. There was not the slightest
impatience nor bitterness in her manner: it was as well regulated as the
sentiment she expressed.
"Mr. Marvin is—" he began.
"I know what Mr. Marvin IS," interrupted Miss Alice; "and he has promised
me that I shall be allowed to go on with my studies the same as before. I
shall graduate with my class; and, if I prefer to practise my profession,
I can do so in two years after our marriage."
"In two years?" queried Mr. Rightbody curiously.
"Yes. You see, in case we should have a child, that would give me time
enough to wean it."
Mr. Rightbody looked at this flesh of his flesh, pretty and palpable flesh
as it was; but, being confronted as equally with the brain of his brain,
all he could do was to say meekly,—
"Yes, certainly. We will see about all that to-morrow."
Miss Alice rose. Something in the free, unfettered swing of her arms as
she rested them lightly, after a half yawn, on her lithe hips, suggested
his next speech, although still distrait and impatient.
"You continue your exercise with the health-lift yet, I see."
"Yes, papa; but I had to give up the flannels. I don't see how mamma could
wear them. But my dresses are high-necked, and by bathing I toughen my
skin. See!" she added, as, with a child-like unconsciousness, she
unfastened two or three buttons of her gown, and exposed the white surface
of her throat and neck to her father, "I can defy a chill."
Mr. Rightbody, with something akin to a genuine playful, paternal laugh,
leaned forward and kissed her forehead.
"It's getting late, Ally," he said parentally, but not dictatorially. "Go
"I took a nap of three hours this afternoon," said Miss Alice, with a
dazzling smile, "to anticipate this dissipation. Good-night, papa.
"To-morrow," repeated Mr. Rightbody, with his eyes still fixed upon the
girl vaguely. "Good-night."
Miss Alice tripped from the room, possibly a trifle the more
light-heartedly that she had parted from her father in one of his rare
moments of illogical human weakness. And perhaps it was well for the poor
girl that she kept this single remembrance of him, when, I fear, in
after-years, his methods, his reasoning, and indeed all he had tried to
impress upon her childhood, had faded from her memory.
For, when she had left, Mr. Rightbody fell again to the examination of his
old letters. This was quite absorbing; so much so, that he did not notice
the footsteps of Mrs. Rightbody, on the staircase as she passed to her
chamber, nor that she had paused on the landing to look through the glass
half-door on her husband, as he sat there with the letters beside him, and
the telegram opened before him. Had she waited a moment later, she would
have seen him rise, and walk to the sofa with a disturbed air and a slight
confusion; so that, on reaching it, he seemed to hesitate to lie down,
although pale and evidently faint. Had she still waited, she would have
seen him rise again with an agonized effort, stagger to the table,
fumblingly refold and replace the papers in the cabinet, and lock it, and,
although now but half-conscious, hold the telegram over the gas-flame till
it was consumed.
For, had she waited until this moment, she would have flown unhesitatingly
to his aid, as, this act completed, he staggered again, reached his hand
toward the bell, but vainly, and then fell prone upon the sofa.
But alas! no providential nor accidental hand was raised to save him, or
anticipate the progress of this story. And when, half an hour later, Mrs.
Rightbody, a little alarmed, and more indignant at his violation of the
doctor's rules, appeared upon the threshold, Mr. Rightbody lay upon the
With bustle, with thronging feet, with the irruption of strangers, and a
hurrying to and fro, but, more than all, with an impulse and emotion
unknown to the mansion when its owner was in life, Mrs. Rightbody strove
to call back the vanished life, but in vain. The highest medical
intelligence, called from its bed at this strange hour, saw only the
demonstration of its theories made a year before. Mr. Rightbody was dead—without
doubt, without mystery, even as a correct man should die—logically,
and indorsed by the highest medical authority.
But even in the confusion, Mrs. Rightbody managed to speed a messenger to
the telegraph-office for a copy of the despatch received by Mr. Rightbody,
but now missing.
In the solitude of her own room, and without a confidant, she read these
"To MR. ADAMS RIGHTBODY, BOSTON, MASS.
"Joshua Silsbie died suddenly this morning. His last request was
that you should remember your sacred compact with him of thirty
In the darkened home, and amid the formal condolements of their friends
who had called to gaze upon the scarcely cold features of their late
associate, Mrs. Rightbody managed to send another despatch. It was
addressed to "Seventy-Four and Seventy-Five," Cottonwood. In a few hours
she received the following enigmatical response:—
"A horse-thief named Josh Silsbie was lynched yesterday morning by the
Vigilantes at Deadwood."
The spring of 1874 was retarded in the California sierras; so much so,
that certain Eastern tourists who had early ventured into the Yo Semite
Valley found themselves, one May morning, snow-bound against the
tempestuous shoulders of El Capitan. So furious was the onset of the wind
at the Upper Merced Canyon, that even so respectable a lady as Mrs.
Rightbody was fain to cling to the neck of her guide to keep her seat in
the saddle; while Miss Alice, scorning all masculine assistance, was
hurled, a lovely chaos, against the snowy wall of the chasm. Mrs.
Rightbody screamed; Miss Alice raged under her breath, but scrambled to
her feet again in silence.
"I told you so!" said Mrs. Rightbody, in an indignant whisper, as her
daughter again ranged beside her. "I warned you especially, Alice—that—that—"
"What?" interrupted Miss Alice curtly.
"That you would need your chemiloons and high boots," said Mrs. Rightbody,
in a regretful undertone, slightly increasing her distance from the
Miss Alice shrugged her pretty shoulders scornfully, but ignored her
"You were particularly warned against going into the valley at this
season," she only replied grimly.
Mrs. Rightbody raised her eyes impatiently.
"You know how anxious I was to discover your poor father's strange
correspondent, Alice. You have no consideration."
"But when YOU HAVE discovered him—what then?" queried Miss Alice.
"Yes. My belief is, that you will find the telegram only a mere business
cipher, and all this quest mere nonsense."
"Alice! Why, YOU yourself thought your father's conduct that night very
strange. Have you forgotten?"
The young lady had NOT, but, for some far-reaching feminine reason, chose
to ignore it at that moment, when her late tumble in the snow was still
fresh in her mind.
"And this woman, whoever she may be—" continued Mrs. Rightbody.
"How do you know there's a woman in the case?" interrupted Miss Alice,
wickedly I fear.
"How do—I—know—there's a woman?" slowly ejaculated Mrs.
Rightbody, floundering in the snow and the unexpected possibility of such
a ridiculous question. But here her guide flew to her assistance, and
estopped further speech. And, indeed, a grave problem was before them.
The road that led to their single place of refuge—a cabin, half
hotel, half trading-post, scarce a mile away—skirted the base of the
rocky dome, and passed perilously near the precipitous wall of the valley.
There was a rapid descent of a hundred yards or more to this terrace-like
passage; and the guides paused for a moment of consultation, cooly
oblivious, alike to the terrified questioning of Mrs. Rightbody, or the
half-insolent independence of the daughter. The elder guide was
russet-bearded, stout, and humorous: the younger was dark-bearded, slight,
"Ef you kin git young Bunker Hill to let you tote her on your shoulders,
I'll git the Madam to hang on to me," came to Mrs. Rightbody's horrified
ears as the expression of her particular companion.
"Freeze to the old gal, and don't reckon on me if the daughter starts in
to play it alone," was the enigmatical response of the younger guide.
Miss Alice overheard both propositions; and, before the two men returned
to their side, that high-spirited young lady had urged her horse down the
Alas! at this moment a gust of whirling snow swept down upon her. There
was a flounder, a mis-step, a fatal strain on the wrong rein, a fall, a
few plucky but unavailing struggles, and both horse and rider slid
ignominiously down toward the rocky shelf. Mrs. Rightbody screamed. Miss
Alice, from a confused debris of snow and ice, uplifted a vexed and
coloring face to the younger guide, a little the more angrily, perhaps,
that she saw a shade of impatience on his face.
"Don't move, but tie one end of the 'lass' under your arms, and throw me
the other," he said quietly.
"What do you mean by 'lass'—the lasso?" asked Miss Alice
"Then why don't you say so?"
"O Alice!" reproachfully interpolated Mrs. Rightbody, encircled by the
elder guide's stalwart arm.
Miss Alice deigned no reply, but drew the loop of the lasso over her
shoulders, and let it drop to her round waist. Then she essayed to throw
the other end to her guide. Dismal failure! The first fling nearly knocked
her off the ledge; the second went all wild against the rocky wall; the
third caught in a thorn-bush, twenty feet below her companion's feet. Miss
Alice's arm sunk helplessly to her side, at which signal of unqualified
surrender, the younger guide threw himself half way down the slope, worked
his way to the thorn-bush, hung for a moment perilously over the parapet,
secured the lasso, and then began to pull away at his lovely burden. Miss
Alice was no dead weight, however, but steadily half-scrambled on her
hands and knees to within a foot or two of her rescuer. At this too
familiar proximity, she stood up, and leaned a little stiffly against the
line, causing the guide to give an extra pull, which had the lamentable
effect of landing her almost in his arms.
As it was, her intelligent forehead struck his nose sharply, and I regret
to add, treating of a romantic situation, caused that somewhat prominent
sign and token of a hero to bleed freely. Miss Alice instantly clapped a
handful of snow over his nostrils.
"Now elevate your right arm," she said commandingly.
He did as he was bidden, but sulkily.
"That compresses the artery."
No man, with a pretty woman's hand and a handful of snow over his mouth
and nose, could effectively utter a heroic sentence, nor, with his arm
elevated stiffly over his head, assume a heroic attitude. But, when his
mouth was free again, he said half-sulkily, half-apologetically,—
"I might have known a girl couldn't throw worth a cent."
"Why?" demanded Miss Alice sharply.
"Because—why—because—you see—they haven't got the
experience," he stammered feebly.
"Nonsense! they haven't the CLAVICLE—that's all! It's because I'm a
woman, and smaller in the collar-bone, that I haven't the play of the
fore-arm which you have. See!" She squared her shoulders slightly, and
turned the blaze of her dark eyes full on his. "Experience, indeed! A girl
can learn anything a boy can."
Apprehension took the place of ill-humor in her hearer. He turned his eyes
hastily away, and glanced above him. The elder guide had gone forward to
catch Miss Alice's horse, which, relieved of his rider, was floundering
toward the trail. Mrs. Rightbody was nowhere to be seen. And these two
were still twenty feet below the trail!
There was an awkward pause.
"Shall I put you up the same way?" he queried. Miss Alice looked at his
nose, and hesitated. "Or will you take my hand?" he added in surly
impatience. To his surprise, Miss Alice took his hand, and they began the
But the way was difficult and dangerous. Once or twice her feet slipped on
the smoothly-worn rock beneath; and she confessed to an inward
thankfulness when her uncertain feminine hand-grip was exchanged for his
strong arm around her waist. Not that he was ungentle; but Miss Alice
angrily felt that he had once or twice exercised his superior masculine
functions in a rough way; and yet the next moment she would have probably
rejected the idea that she had even noticed it. There was no doubt,
however, that he WAS a little surly.
A fierce scramble finally brought them back in safety to the trail; but in
the action Miss Alice's shoulder, striking a projecting bowlder, wrung
from her a feminine cry of pain, her first sign of womanly weakness. The
guide stopped instantly.
"I am afraid I hurt you?"
She raised her brown lashes, a trifle moist from suffering, looked in his
eyes, and dropped her own. Why, she could not tell. And yet he had
certainly a kind face, despite its seriousness; and a fine face, albeit
unshorn and weather-beaten. Her own eyes had never been so near to any
man's before, save her lover's; and yet she had never seen so much in even
his. She slipped her hand away, not with any reference to him, but rather
to ponder over this singular experience, and somehow felt uncomfortable
Nor was he less so. It was but a few days ago that he had accepted the
charge of this young woman from the elder guide, who was the recognized
escort of the Rightbody party, having been a former correspondent of her
father's. He had been hired like any other guide, but had undertaken the
task with that chivalrous enthusiasm which the average Californian always
extends to the sex so rare to him. But the illusion had passed; and he had
dropped into a sulky, practical sense of his situation, perhaps fraught
with less danger to himself. Only when appealed to by his manhood or her
weakness, he had forgotten his wounded vanity.
He strode moodily ahead, dutifully breaking the path for her in the
direction of the distant canyon, where Mrs. Rightbody and her friend
awaited them. Miss Alice was first to speak. In this trackless, uncharted
terra incognita of the passions, it is always the woman who steps out to
lead the way.
"You know this place very well. I suppose you have lived here long?"
"You were not born here—no?"
A long pause.
"I observe they call you 'Stanislaus Joe.' Of course that is not your real
name?" (Mem.—Miss Alice had never called him ANYTHING, usually
prefacing any request with a languid, "O-er-er, please, mister-er-a!"
explicit enough for his station.)
Miss Alice (trotting after him, and bawling in his ear).—"WHAT name
did you say?"
The Man (doggedly).—"I don't know." Nevertheless, when they reached
the cabin, after an half-hour's buffeting with the storm, Miss Alice
applied herself to her mother's escort, Mr. Ryder.
"What's the name of the man who takes care of my horse?"
"Stanislaus Joe," responded Mr. Ryder.
"Is that all?"
"No. Sometimes he's called Joe Stanislaus."
Miss Alice (satirically).—"I suppose it's the custom here to send
young ladies out with gentlemen who hide their names under an alias?"
Mr. Ryder (greatly perplexed).—"Why, dear me, Miss Alice, you allers
'peared to me as a gal as was able to take keer—"
Miss Alice (interrupting with a wounded, dove-like timidity).—"Oh,
never mind, please!"
The cabin offered but scanty accommodation to the tourists; which fact,
when indignantly presented by Mrs. Rightbody, was explained by the
good-humored Ryder from the circumstance that the usual hotel was only a
slight affair of boards, cloth, and paper, put up during the season, and
partly dismantled in the fall. "You couldn't be kept warm enough there,"
he added. Nevertheless Miss Alice noticed that both Mr. Ryder and
Stanislaus Joe retired there with their pipes, after having prepared the
ladies' supper, with the assistance of an Indian woman, who apparently
emerged from the earth at the coming of the party, and disappeared as
The stars came out brightly before they slept; and the next morning a
clear, unwinking sun beamed with almost summer power through the
shutterless window of their cabin, and ironically disclosed the details of
its rude interior. Two or three mangy, half-eaten buffalo-robes, a
bearskin, some suspicious-looking blankets, rifles and saddles,
deal-tables, and barrels, made up its scant inventory. A strip of faded
calico hung before a recess near the chimney, but so blackened by smoke
and age that even feminine curiosity respected its secret. Mrs. Rightbody
was in high spirits, and informed her daughter that she was at last on the
track of her husband's unknown correspondent. "Seventy-Four and
Seventy-Five represent two members of the Vigilance Committee, my dear,
and Mr. Ryder will assist me to find them."
"Mr. Ryder!" ejaculated Miss Alice, in scornful astonishment.
"Alice," said Mrs. Rightbody, with a suspicious assumption of sudden
defence, "you injure yourself, you injure me, by this exclusive attitude.
Mr. Ryder is a friend of your father's, an exceedingly well-informed
gentleman. I have not, of course, imparted to him the extent of my
suspicions. But he can help me to what I must and will know. You might
treat him a little more civilly—or, at least, a little better than
you do his servant, your guide. Mr. Ryder is a gentleman, and not a paid
Miss Alice was suddenly attentive. When she spoke again, she asked, "Why
do you not find out something about this Silsbie—who died—or
was hung—or something of that kind?"
"Child!" said Mrs. Rightbody, "don't you see there was no Silsbie, or, if
there was, he was simply the confidant of that—woman?"
A knock at the door, announcing the presence of Mr. Ryder and Stanislaus
Joe with the horses, checked Mrs. Rightbody's speech. As the animals were
being packed, Mrs. Rightbody for a moment withdrew in confidential
conversation with Mr. Ryder, and, to the young lady's still greater
annoyance, left her alone with Stanislaus Joe. Miss Alice was not in good
temper, but she felt it necessary to say something.
"I hope the hotel offers better quarters for travellers than this in
summer," she began.
"Then this does not belong to it?"
"Who lives here, then?"
"I beg your pardon," stammered Miss Alice, "I thought you lived where we
hired—where we met you—in—in—You must excuse me."
"I'm not a regular guide; but as times were hard, and I was out of grub, I
took the job."
"Out of grub!" "job!" And SHE was the "job." What would Henry Marvin say?
It would nearly kill him. She began herself to feel a little frightened,
and walked towards the door.
"One moment, miss!"
The young girl hesitated. The man's tone was surly, and yet indicated a
certain kind of half-pathetic grievance. HER curiosity got the better of
her prudence, and she turned back.
"This morning," he began hastily, "when we were coming down the valley,
you picked me up twice."
"I picked YOU up?" repeated the astonished Alice.
"Yes, CONTRADICTED me: that's what I mean,—once when you said those
rocks were volcanic, once when you said the flower you picked was a poppy.
I didn't let on at the time, for it wasn't my say; but all the while you
were talking I might have laid for you—"
"I don't understand you," said Alice haughtily.
"I might have entrapped you before folks. But I only want you to know that
I'M right, and here are the books to show it."
He drew aside the dingy calico curtain, revealed a small shelf of bulky
books, took down two large volumes,—one of botany, one of geology,—nervously
sought his text, and put them in Alice's outstretched hands.
"I had no intention—" she began, half-proudly, half-embarrassedly.
"Am I right, miss?" he interrupted.
"I presume you are, if you say so."
"That's all, ma'am. Thank you!"
Before the girl had time to reply, he was gone. When he again returned, it
was with her horse, and Mrs. Rightbody and Ryder were awaiting her. But
Miss Alice noticed that his own horse was missing.
"Are you not going with us?" she asked.
Miss Alice felt her speech was a feeble conventionalism; but it was all
she could say. She, however, DID something. Hitherto it had been her habit
to systematically reject his assistance in mounting to her seat. Now she
awaited him. As he approached, she smiled, and put out her little foot. He
instantly stooped; she placed it in his hand, rose with a spring, and for
one supreme moment Stanislaus Joe held her unresistingly in his arms. The
next moment she was in the saddle; but in that brief interval of sixty
seconds she had uttered a volume in a single sentence,—
"I hope you will forgive me!"
He muttered a reply, and turned his face aside quickly as if to hide it.
Miss Alice cantered forward with a smile, but pulled her hat down over her
eyes as she joined her mother. She was blushing.
Mr. Ryder was as good as his word. A day or two later he entered Mrs.
Rightbody's parlor at the Chrysopolis Hotel in Stockton, with the
information that he had seen the mysterious senders of the despatch, and
that they were now in the office of the hotel waiting her pleasure. Mr.
Ryder further informed her that these gentlemen had only stipulated that
they should not reveal their real names, and that they be introduced to
her simply as the respective "Seventy-Four" and "Seventy-Five" who had
signed the despatch sent to the late Mr. Rightbody.
Mrs. Rightbody at first demurred to this; but, on the assurance from Mr.
Ryder that this was the only condition on which an interview would be
granted, finally consented.
"You will find them square men, even if they are a little rough, ma'am.
But, if you'd like me to be present, I'll stop; though I reckon, if ye'd
calkilated on that, you'd have had me take care o' your business by proxy,
and not come yourself three thousand miles to do it."
Mrs. Rightbody believed it better to see them alone.
"All right, ma'am. I'll hang round out here; and ef ye should happen to
have a ticklin' in your throat, and a bad spell o' coughin', I'll drop in,
careless like, to see if you don't want them drops. Sabe?"
And with an exceedingly arch wink, and a slight familiar tap on Mrs.
Rightbody's shoulder, which might have caused the late Mr. Rightbody to
burst his sepulchre, he withdrew.
A very timid, hesitating tap on the door was followed by the entrance of
two men, both of whom, in general size, strength, and uncouthness, were
ludicrously inconsistent with their diffident announcement. They proceeded
in Indian file to the centre of the room, faced Mrs. Rightbody,
acknowledged her deep courtesy by a strong shake of the hand, and, drawing
two chairs opposite to her, sat down side by side.
"I presume I have the pleasure of addressing—" began Mrs. Rightbody.
The man directly opposite Mrs. Rightbody turned to the other inquiringly.
The other man nodded his head, and replied,—
"Seventy-Five," promptly followed the other.
Mrs. Rightbody paused, a little confused.
"I have sent for you," she began again, "to learn something more of the
circumstances under which you gentlemen sent a despatch to my late
"The circumstances," replied Seventy-Four quietly, with a side-glance at
his companion, "panned out about in this yer style. We hung a man named
Josh Silsbie, down at Deadwood, for hoss-stealin'. When I say WE, I speak
for Seventy-Five yer as is present, as well as representin', so to speak,
seventy-two other gents as is scattered. We hung Josh Silsbie on squar,
pretty squar, evidence. Afore he was strung up, Seventy-Five yer axed him,
accordin' to custom, ef ther was enny thing he had to say, or enny request
that he allowed to make of us. He turns to Seventy-Five yer, and—"
Here he paused suddenly, looking at his companion.
"He sez, sez he," began Seventy-Five, taking up the narrative,—"he
sez, 'Kin I write a letter?' sez he. Sez I, 'Not much, ole man: ye've got
no time.' Sez he, 'Kin I send a despatch by telegraph?' I sez, 'Heave
ahead.' He sez,—these is his dientikal words,—'Send to Adam
Rightbody, Boston. Tell him to remember his sacred compack with me thirty
"'His sacred compack with me thirty years ago,'" echoed Seventy-Four,—"his
"What was the compact?" asked Mrs. Rightbody anxiously.
Seventy-Four looked at Seventy-Five, and then both arose, and retired to
the corner of the parlor, where they engaged in a slow but whispered
deliberation. Presently they returned, and sat down again.
"We allow," said Seventy-Four, quietly but decidedly, "that YOU know what
that sacred compact was."
Mrs. Rightbody lost her temper and her truthfulness together. "Of course,"
she said hurriedly, "I know. But do you mean to say that you gave this
poor man no further chance to explain before you murdered him?"
Seventy-Four and Seventy-Five both rose again slowly, and retired. When
they returned again, and sat down, Seventy-Five, who by this time, through
some subtile magnetism, Mrs. Rightbody began to recognize as the superior
power, said gravely,—
"We wish to say, regarding this yer murder, that Seventy-Four and me is
equally responsible; that we reckon also to represent, so to speak,
seventy-two other gentlemen as is scattered; that we are ready,
Seventy-Four and me, to take and holt that responsibility, now and at any
time, afore every man or men as kin be fetched agin us. We wish to say
that this yer say of ours holds good yer in Californy, or in any part of
these United States."
"Or in Canady," suggested Seventy-Four.
"Or in Canady. We wouldn't agree to cross the water, or go to furrin
parts, unless absolutely necessary. We leaves the chise of weppings to
your principal, ma'am, or being a lady, ma'am, and interested, to any one
you may fetch to act for him. An advertisement in any of the Sacramento
papers, or a playcard or handbill stuck unto a tree near Deadwood, saying
that Seventy-Four or Seventy-Five will communicate with this yer principal
or agent of yours, will fetch us—allers."
Mrs. Rightbody, a little alarmed and desperate, saw her blunder. "I mean
nothing of the kind," she said hastily. "I only expected that you might
have some further details of this interview with Silsbie; that perhaps you
could tell me—" a bold, bright thought crossed Mrs. Rightbody's mind—"something
more about HER."
The two men looked at each other.
"I suppose your society have no objection to giving me information about
HER," said Mrs. Rightbody eagerly.
Another quiet conversation in the corner, and the return of both men.
"We want to say that we've no objection."
Mrs. Rightbody's heart beat high. Her boldness had made her penetration
good. Yet she felt she must not alarm the men heedlessly.
"Will you inform me to what extent Mr. Rightbody, my late husband, was
interested in her?"
This time it seemed an age to Mrs. Rightbody before the men returned from
their solemn consultation in the corner. She could both hear and feel that
their discussion was more animated than their previous conferences. She
was a little mortified, however, when they sat down, to hear Seventy-Four
"We wish to say that we don't allow to say HOW much."
"Do you not think that the 'sacred compact' between Mr. Rightbody and Mr.
Silsbie referred to her?"
"We reckon it do."
Mrs. Rightbody, flushed and animated, would have given worlds had her
daughter been present to hear this undoubted confirmation of her theory.
Yet she felt a little nervous and uncomfortable even on this threshold of
"Is she here now?"
"She's in Tuolumne," said Seventy-Four.
"A little better looked arter than formerly," added Seventy-Five.
"I see. Then Mr. Silsbie ENTICED her away?"
"Well, ma'am, it WAS allowed as she runned away. But it wasn't proved, and
it generally wasn't her style."
Mrs. Rightbody trifled with her next question.
"She was pretty, of course?"
The eyes of both men brightened.
"She was THAT!" said Seventy-Four emphatically.
"It would have done you good to see her!" added Seventy-Five.
Mrs. Rightbody inwardly doubted it; but, before she could ask another
question, the two men again retired to the corner for consultation. When
they came back, there was a shade more of kindliness and confidence in
their manner; and Seventy-Four opened his mind more freely.
"We wish to say, ma'am, looking at the thing, by and large, in a
far-minded way, that, ez YOU seem interested, and ez Mr. Rightbody was
interested, and was, according to all accounts, deceived and led away by
Silsbie, that we don't mind listening to any proposition YOU might make,
as a lady—allowin' you was ekally interested."
"I understand," said Mrs. Rightbody quickly. "And you will furnish me with
The two men again consulted.
"We wish to say, ma'am, that we think she's got papers, but—"
"I MUST have them, you understand," interrupted Mrs. Rightbody, "at any
"We was about to say, ma'am," said Seventy-Four slowly, "that, considerin'
all things,—and you being a lady—you kin have HER, papers,
pedigree, and guaranty, for twelve hundred dollars."
It has been alleged that Mrs. Rightbody asked only one question more, and
then fainted. It is known, however, that by the next day it was understood
in Deadwood that Mrs. Rightbody had confessed to the Vigilance Committee
that her husband, a celebrated Boston millionaire, anxious to gain
possession of Abner Springer's well-known sorrel mare, had incited the
unfortunate Josh Silsbie to steal it; and that finally, failing in this,
the widow of the deceased Boston millionaire was now in personal
negotiation with the owners.
Howbeit, Miss Alice, returning home that afternoon, found her mother with
a violent headache.
"We will leave here by the next steamer," said Mrs. Rightbody languidly.
"Mr. Ryder has promised to accompany us."
"The climate, Alice, is over-rated. My nerves are already suffering from
it. The associations are unfit for you, and Mr. Marvin is naturally
Miss Alice colored slightly.
"But your quest, mother?"
"I've abandoned it."
"But I have not," said Alice quietly. "Do you remember my guide at the Yo
Semite,—Stanislaus Joe? Well, Stanislaus Joe is—who do you
Mrs. Rightbody was languidly indifferent.
"Well, Stanislaus Joe is the son of Joshua Silsbie."
Mrs. Rightbody sat upright in astonishment
"Yes. But mother, he knows nothing of what we know. His father treated him
shamefully, and set him cruelly adrift years ago; and, when he was hung,
the poor fellow, in sheer disgrace, changed his name."
"But, if he knows nothing of his father's compact, of what interest is
"Oh, nothing! Only I thought it might lead to something."
Mrs. Rightbody suspected that "something," and asked sharply, "And pray
how did YOU find it out? You did not speak of it in the valley."
"Oh! I didn't find it out till to-day," said Miss Alice, walking to the
window. "He happened to be here, and—told me."
If Mrs. Rightbody's friends had been astounded by her singular and
unexpected pilgrimage to California so soon after her husband's decease,
they were still more astounded by the information, a year later, that she
was engaged to be married to a Mr. Ryder, of whom only the scant history
was known, that he was a Californian, and former correspondent of her
husband. It was undeniable that the man was wealthy, and evidently no mere
adventurer; it was rumored that he was courageous and manly: but even
those who delighted in his odd humor were shocked at his grammar and
It was said that Mr. Marvin had but one interview with his father-in-law
elect, and returned so supremely disgusted, that the match was broken off.
The horse-stealing story, more or less garbled, found its way through lips
that pretended to decry it, yet eagerly repeated it. Only one member of
the Rightbody family—and a new one—saved them from utter
ostracism. It was young Mr. Ryder, the adopted son of the prospective head
of the household, whose culture, manners, and general elegance, fascinated
and thrilled Boston with a new sensation. It seemed to many that Miss
Alice should, in the vicinity of this rare exotic, forget her former
enthusiasm for a professional life; but the young man was pitied by
society, and various plans for diverting him from any mesalliance with the
Rightbody family were concocted.
It was a wintry night, and the second anniversary of Mr. Rightbody's
death, that a light was burning in his library. But the dead man's chair
was occupied by young Mr. Ryder, adopted son of the new proprietor of the
mansion; and before him stood Alice, with her dark eyes fixed on the
"There must have been something in it, Joe, believe me. Did you never hear
your father speak of mine?"
"But you say he was college-bred, and born a gentleman, and in his youth
he must have had many friends."
"Alice," said the young man gravely, "when I have done something to redeem
my name, and wear it again before these people, before YOU, it would be
well to revive the past. But till then—"
But Alice was not to be put down. "I remember," she went on, scarcely
heeding him, "that, when I came in that night, papa was reading a letter,
and seemed to be disconcerted."
"Yes; but," added Alice, with a sigh, "when we found him here insensible,
there was no letter on his person. He must have destroyed it."
"Did you ever look among his papers? If found, it might be a clew."
The young man glanced toward the cabinet. Alice read his eyes, and
"Oh, dear, no! The cabinet contained only his papers, all perfectly
arranged,—you know how methodical were his habits,—and some
old business and private letters, all carefully put away."
"Let us see them," said the young man, rising.
They opened drawer after drawer; files upon files of letters and business
papers, accurately folded and filed. Suddenly Alice uttered a little cry,
and picked up a quaint ivory paper-knife lying at the bottom of a drawer.
"It was missing the next day, and never could be found: he must have
mislaid it here. This is the drawer," said Alice eagerly.
Here was a clew. But the lower part of the drawer was filled with old
letters, not labelled, yet neatly arranged in files. Suddenly he stopped,
and said, "Put them back, Alice, at once."
"Some of these letters are in my father's handwriting."
"The more reason why I should see them," said the girl imperatively.
"Here, you take part, and I'll take part, and we'll get through quicker."
There was a certain decision and independence in her manner which he had
learned to respect. He took the letters, and in silence read them with
her. They were old college letters, so filled with boyish dreams,
ambitions, aspirations, and utopian theories, that I fear neither of these
young people even recognized their parents in the dead ashes of the past.
They were both grave, until Alice uttered a little hysterical cry, and
dropped her face in her hands. Joe was instantly beside her.
"It's nothing, Joe, nothing. Don't read it, please; please, don't. It's so
funny! it's so very queer!"
But Joe had, after a slight, half-playful struggle, taken the letter from
the girl. Then he read aloud the words written by his father thirty years
"I thank you, dear friend, for all you say about my wife and boy. I thank
you for reminding me of our boyish compact. He will be ready to fulfil it,
I know, if he loves those his father loves, even if you should marry years
later. I am glad for your sake, for both our sakes, that it is a boy.
Heaven send you a good wife, dear Adams, and a daughter, to make my son
Joe Silsbie looked down, took the half-laughing, half-tearful face in his
hands, kissed her forehead, and, with tears in his grave eyes, said,
I am inclined to think that this sentiment was echoed heartily by Mrs.
Rightbody's former acquaintances, when, a year later, Miss Alice was
united to a professional gentleman of honor and renown, yet who was known
to be the son of a convicted horse-thief. A few remembered the previous
Californian story, and found corroboration therefor; but a majority
believed it a just reward to Miss Alice for her conduct to Mr. Marvin,
and, as Miss Alice cheerfully accepted it in that light, I do not see why
I may not end my story with happiness to all concerned.