Deadwood Dick's Doom; or, Calamity Jane's Last Adventure

CHAPTER I.
TOO LATE FOR THE STAGE.

DEATH NOTCH!

Did you ever hear of a more uninviting name for a place dear reader? If so, you could not well find a harder role, where dwelt humanity than Death Notch, along the whole golden slope of the West.

It was said that nobody but rascals and rough could exist in that lone mining-camp, which was confirmed by the fact that it was seldom the weekly stage brought any one there who had come to settle. Even the Government officials, cognizant of the lawlessness within the border of death Notch, hesitated to interfere, because of the desperate character of the residents-hardest of the hard.

The town lay in a sort of mountain surrounded basin, on the route from Pioche, Nevada, to Helena, Montana, and had formerly been an Indian camp, until a "well-heeled" but notorious young gamble named Piute Dave had come along and driven the reds away, as he was able t do, having backing of some forty ruffians of his own stamp.

There being but a comparative handful of the reds, they had been scattered, when Piute Dave and his gang went to prospecting, and in a short time discovered paying dirt.

Since that the population had gradually increased to a hundred and fifty people, nearly all of the ruffian type, and all under the order of the man, Piute Dave, who ruled as king over the others.

In the days when the Indians had held possession, the town had been called Sequoy; afterward it had been named Golden Eagle, until a few months past, when, by vote, it had been re-christened Death Notch. Of course there was a reason for this -- a reason both peculiar and striking.

When the Indians had been driven forth, their chief Red Hatchet, had declared vengeance upon the pale-face two intruders, and cursed the town, vowing to kill off every pale-face who should enter it, and to mark each death by a notch upon the council-pole. This pole was tall young pine that grow just as the edge of the town, and around which it had been the custom of the tribe to hold council. Nor had the chief lied.

For several years he and the member of his tribe had waged upon the usurpers, and a score or more had bit the dust, and a notch upon the council-tree had recorded each stroke of vengeance.

But, as Piute Dave constantly added new roughs to his gang, the Indians also gradually diminished, until no more death notches had appeared upon the tree.

This state of affairs had continued until about three weeks before our story opens, when a placard had been found tacked to the council-tree bearing the following message:

"Beware! Red Hatchet is not yet gone the way of his forefather, but lives to wreak vengeance upon the town of Death Notch. In the interval of silence he has only been recruiting his fury.

"Red Hatchet"

With the name, "Death Notch," Piute Dave seemed strangely impressed, and at once ordered that the town of Golden Eagle be henceforth known as Death Notch.

Death Notch gloried in one important fact- it was the midway stage station between Helena and Pioche, and the terminus of two stage lines. All traffic from Pioche to Helena or vise versa had to be transferred at Death Notch from one stage or freight line to another.

As a result, the arrivals and departure of stages being very irregular, it was a thing for passengers or freight to be laid off at Death Notch for a number of days.

It was a delay that very few relished, who knew the bad repute of the place, but there was no help for it, except for passengers to go on afoot through a bowling wilderness.

The Wednesday's stage of the second week of September whirled down into Death Notch about noon, from the mount in trail, and drew up before the "Poker House," with a noisy rumble-for the Poker House was the only hostelry afforded transient patronage at Death Notch.

"Change kees fer Helena!" yelled out Buck Piper, the driver, and then he threw the ribbons to one of the several bleary-eyed-looking pilgrims who were standing in front of the tavern sunning themselves, and made for the "licker" department to moisten his throat, leaving his "fares" to take care of themselves,

There were but two passengers to-day and they at once disembarked from the stage, upon the plank wall in front of the Poker House.

They were widely at contrast, in appearance, though evidently traveling companions, the one being a pretty young lady, while the other was a long-goared, loosely constructed colored man, of the "darkest ray serene."

The young lady evidently was not over seventeen or eighteen years of age, but was the possessor of a fine figure, and prettily chiseled features, set off by starry black eyes, and wavy brown hair. She was attired with a long ulster duster over her dress, a silk scarf about her throat, and a vailed hat upon her head, and was by all odds the trimmest little craft that had anchored in Death Notch in many a day. The darky was a very sable individual, with a genuine negro physique from the thick-lipped mouth of huge dimensions, to the rolling ludicrous eyes, and light curling hair. His feet, too, were of extraordinary size, while the rest of his person seemed hastily constructed and loose-pointed in the extreme.

He was attired in wide-legged plaid pantaloons, too short at the waist and feet by half a foot; a white vest and white shirt, with wide cuffs and collar, a swallow-tailed coat cut tight at the waist and a white silk hat somewhat the worse for bad usage.

In his hand be carried a bag containing an instrument shaped very much like a banjo the young lady earned a small hand sachel.

On leaving the stage-coach, the strangely-contrasted pair paused a moment as if in doubt which way to go, and the young lady turned to one of the low-browed, villainous-looking pilgrims lounging on a bench before the tavern.

"Can you tell me, sir, how long before the stage will leave for Helena?" she asked, in a pleasant voice.

"No, mum, I reckon not," the addressed party said, "'ca'se how I don't kno'. Thar comes Hank Shakespeare, the poet, however-mebbe he ken put ye onter what yer wanter know."

And he indicated a tall, raw-boned individual who was approaching-a man who looked as though he might be the possessor of a great deal of brute strength and dogged courage, especially the latter, for he was swarthy and ugly of countenance, wearing a stubble of beard and long matted hair, while his brows were shaggy and his eyes evil and bloodshot.

He was attired in stogy boots, dirty patched overalls and overshirt a battered, shapeless "plug" hat, minus the rim, while in a belt about his waist he wore four large-sized revolvers and a bowie.

Anything but a poet, looked the big bullwhacker, and the young lady was discussing, no doubt, this when he came up, and paused to take a survey of her the coon.

"Hello! a nigger and a gal, hey! Waal,

"Let's all shout an' rejoice!
We heer a female's voice."

How'dy do, mum? Goin' ter settle here? We're just needin' a woman, in this hyar camp, 'ca'se how, ye see, when ther b'yees wanter go courtin' they've got ter court one another."

"No. I am not going to settle here," the young woman replied, quite promptly." I wish to find out what time the stage leaves for Helena!"

"Hell-ener! Why, Bless ye, mum, ther next stage won't go fer a week, I allow, 'ca'se how she started six hours ago. No stage 'fore next Wednesday, sure."

An exclamation of disappointment escaped the young lady.

"Oh! That is too bad! I wouldn't have missed reaching Helena for a good deal. Is there no way I can overtake the stage, sir?"

"Reckon not, miss, onless ye hoof et, an' I opine ye wouldn't ketch et, then. Ef yer feet war as large as ther nigger's I reckon ye might do it for

E'en Dexter could not compete
Wi' thet fragrant coon's feet '-
and stand any show o' winnin' ther heat.

No, mum, I allow yer best holt is ter stop right hyar in Death Notch, till next stage."

"I cannot afford to-it seems I must reach Helena one way or another. Cannot we hire saddle-horses-or purchase them, even-in order that we may overtake the stage?"

"Nary a boss. Ther only thing wi' four legs, 'cept Piper's team, is a pair o' oxen."

At this juncture the thirsty Piper appeared upon the scene, wiping his mouth from a recent lubrication in the shape of a bootleg.

"Oh! sir, cannot I prevail upon you to take us on until we overtake the Helena stage?" the girl said, turning to him, appealingly. "We have an engagement to fulfill, and must be in Helena by Saturday night, or throw it up!"

"Sorry, mum, but my route don't go no further than heer, an' I can't accommodate ye!" the worthy Piper piped, taking a chew of tobacco.

"But I will pay you for it-I'll give you dollars, if you will put us on board the Helena stage."

"Couldn't tech me wi' a hundred dollars, mum, for I ain't in need o' tin. Ye kin git 'comydations Poker Jack's ranch, till next week, an' I allow ef ye kin flip ther boards right purty wi'out hidin' ther ace up yer sleeve, ther boys won't let ye git lonesum."

"I don't thank you for your assurance, sir!" was the haughty reply. "Come, Nic, let's see if we can get a room."

And they entered the office, which also served the purpose of bar and gambling-room.

A score or more of ruffian-looking fellows were lounging about, but one among the lot, more prepossessing than the rest, arose and came forward, as the two travelers entered.

He was dressed in white woolen garments, with white shirt and collar, slippers upon his feet, and a round red smoking-cap upon his head. In form he was of graceful build, while he was not bad-looking in face, except for a habitual wicked glitter of his black eyes, and a faint cynical expression which lurked under his graceful mustache.

"Excuse me, but did you wish to see me?" he said, on approaching.

"If you are the proprietor, yes, sir," the girl replied, a little timidly.

"Yas, if you be de boss, we'se gwine ter ax ye, hab youh proper 'commodations for two fust-class gusts?" the darky put in, with a considerable amount of airiness.

"No! no! not gust-you mean guest, Nic," the girl interrupted.

"Yas, guest-dat's it. Without purpotential precontemplation, I accidentally absented one bowel from de syllable. You sec, boss, as de stage done went off an' left us, we wants to engaged apartments an' superlative substance whereon to subsist for several days henceforeth until de next vehicle de perigrinates dis yar way."

"Ah! yes, I understand. You wish first-class accommodations, which I can furnish. My name is Poker Jack, at your service, and if you will register, I will show you to a couple of rooms."

They accordingly went to a desk and registered their names in a book kept for that purpose-the darky as "Nicodemus Johnsing, Star Comedian;" the young lady as

"Miss Vergie Verner, of New York."

Then Poker Jack escorted them to a suite of rudely-furnished rooms, up-stairs, just over the large bar and gambling-room.

"If you would be so kind, we would prefer our meals sent to our rooms," Miss Verner said.

"As you like, miss. Have you any baggage?"

"My baggage will be along on the freight wagon sir."

Then, Poker Jack bowed himself out.

After he had gone the girl called in the darky from the adjoining room.

"Nic," she said "we shall have trouble in is place, mark my word. All are men here, and the most evil, repulsive-looking lot I ever came across."

"'Spect you'se right, Miss Vergie but youh jes' bet youh life dey doesn't want to come foolin' around dis chile, or I'll carve 'em-cut 'em up, bad! I'se sum an' a half, when I'se mad!"

"But, allowing that we are both brave, what could we do against such overwhelming odds, should they offer to harm us? Oh, why did we venture here? We shall surely be followed by the human bloodhound, my enemy, and God only knows what evil he can do in this place, where the people look capable of any terrible crime. Oh! I am so tired, so weary of this hunted life."

The freight-wagon arrived soon after the stage, and unloaded two trunks in front of the Poker House.

Upon the end of one was pasted part of a theater bill, which read. "Miss Vergie Verner the charming vocalist and musician." On the other trunk was the other part of the proclaiming reading: "Nicodemus Johnsing, banjoist and dancer."

A crowd of bystanders stood, read, and pondered over these little announcements, Hank Shakespeare among the rest.

"Yas, sir-ee, bobtail hoss, b'yees, them's a pair o' show people, goin' ter Hell-ener, an' they reckon they kin slight us cusses hyar at Death Notch, by not hevin' their sarcus heer. But they ken't not fer Jim. I tell ye what! I purpose we trot 'em down inter ther bar-room o' Poker Jack's crib, ter-night, an' make 'em give us a show, as well as ther fellers at Hellener. What d'ye say?"

"Bulldog Ben barks yes," a little, disgusting-looking ruffian cried, and the whole gang chimed in assent.

Therefore, it was as good as settled that something was to occur.

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