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

CHAPTER IX.
THE UNKNOWN WINS-AND LOSES.

IT was the Black Unknown who gave the word 'go,' and the bullwhacker hurled his knife directly toward the mark upon the door.

Hurled it well, too, for it struck within a couple of inches of the hastily-prepared bull's-eye.

A cheer went up from the crowd who had hitherto had no particular amount of faith in the bullwhacker's aim, and it tickled the poet hugely, for he executed a grotesque breakdown in celebrations of his first good throw.

"Ho! ho! who sayeth thet ther great Peruvian Poet ain't on his muscle?" he roared, with a broad grin. "Did ye see how purty thet noble blade went quivering cluss ter the eye of the bull? This time I'll put out the bovine's sight entirely, you bet!"

But he didn't.

The knife went further from the bull-eye than the first one.

"Kerwhoop! I got nervous thet time, an' put on too much elbow," he cried, a little chagrined. "Knife-throwin' is about as uncertain as life, I tell ye. A fellar can't tell when he's goin' ter make a miss -- go!"

The next throw was more successful, for the knife went quivering into the center of the bull's-eye, precisely.

"That! feast yer eyes on that, will ye, an' tremble in yer boots!" the bullwhacker shouted, turning to the Unknown. "Oh, I'm a colt, I'm a snortin', cavortin' war-hoss, right from ther histrionic battle-field o' Waterloo where water was first invented. Here goes' ag'in fer another bull's-eye!"

And, sure enough, he did succeed in putting the blade-point of his fourth knife in the circle close beside its predecessor.

Another round of applause came from the friends of the bullwhacker.

"I guess that surprises our black-bearded friend!" Carrol Carner ejaculated, sarcastically.

"Not nearly so much as an early death will surprise you, sir?" the Unknown retorted. "Indeed, I am pleased to see your man exhibit so much skill in the use of the knife, and presume he will win."

"You may hope so for your own good, you Mormon devil!" Calamity cried, turning her glittering eyes upon the Salt Lake ruffian, "for if I get free, you can bet I'll make mince meat of you."

This, too, elicited quite a cheer, for the Mormon was no favorite among the roughs, despite his effort to establish himself in their confidence.

Altogether, the audience was getting very enthusiastic. "I have no fear of serious consequences!" Carner responded, with provoking composure.

"Nor need you," the Unknown replied grimly, "for even if the girl escapes your vengeance, she is not through with me, I fancy. Ha! ha! no!"

"In what way have I deserved your enmity?" Calamity replied, more surprised than ever, for she had believed she would gain her liberty at the hands of the strange dark individual, whose voice was like the sullen growl of thunder.

"That remains to be told," he replied. "Suffice to say that I hold a mortgagee against your life, which I shall foreclose. If I don't win, you are still the prisoner of these gents you see around you. Go ahead, sir bullwhacker -- you have yet two knives to throw!"

"An' hyar they go. Jest feast yer eyes on ther Shakespearean wind-up o' this exciting dramyer."

Whiz! away sped the fifth knife from the poet's hand, and buried its keen point deep in the door a half a foot from the bull's eye.

"Bah! thet don't look as if you were going to win!" Carrol Carner growled. "You'll lose the girl, you fool, and cheat us out of our vengeance!"

"Ef he loses her, et's his loose, pilgrim!" one of the miners said, "an, ef Black Beard wins her fair, he shall hev her 'ca'se we're square, we aire-eh! ain't that so, boys?"

The men of Death Notch gave a nod of assent.

Carrol Carner rose up. He had hoped to find no mutiny among the men so that Calamity would not be given to the unknown, under any circumstances.

Whiz! Shakespeare's last knife hurtled through the air, and entered the bull's eye-making just half of it's allotted number which had entered the circle.

"Very good, indeed," the Unknown said, "but I think I can put the whole six in the circle. Pull out your knives and I will try, at least."

Shakespeare obeyed, not nearly so well-pleased as he might have been.

"I orter 'a' put 'em all hum, myself," he said. "but every time I'd git jist ready to let fly, some consarned line o' poetry would pop inter my noddle, an' disombobberate my aim. Hyar's one that popped in just as I heaved the last knife:

'Mary had a little lamb;
At her et uster kick
She pulled the wool all off its back
An made a feather tick.' "

"Well, please don't give us any more of the same style, or it may injure my aim also," the Unknown added, satirically, as he equipped himself with his knives preparatory to the test. "Watch me now, to see that I do it fairly."

He then hurled one of the bowies toward the door. Thud! it entered the circle exactly in the center, the blade passing through the door up to the hilt, illustrating, strikingly, with what force the missile had been thrown.

"Pull that knife out; I want to put another in the same place," he said, with a faint smile.

It was done, and he was as good as his word-he hurled another knife into the same spot.

One after another was pulled out, and one after another he buried in the same hole, until he had not only exhausted his own half-dozen, but had also buried the poet's knives there, too, without making at miscalculation in his aim!

When he had finished he turned to the spectators, with a bit of triumph gleaming in his eyes.

"Have I won, gentlemen?" he demanded, with a smile.

The cheer that followed spoke better than words of their decision.

"On course you've gone an' won, an' I be dratted ef ye didn't do et fair an' squar', an' ther gal is youn, declareth I, William Henry Shakespeare, mayor o' this hyar town O' Death Notch. Give us yer 'and, you galoot! -- yer 'and, giv'nor, you 'and, ter squeeze jest fer good luck!"

"No, I thank you! I do not care to shake the hand of a greater rogue than myself," the Unknown replied, dryly. Then he turned to Calamity:

"Girl, I have won you fairly, and now you are doubly mine. But I do not want you just yet, and so will give you your liberty for a few days, well knowing that you will not dare to run away. Gents, give her liberty, and see that she is offered no molestation until I get ready to claim my revenge. Ha! ha! it shall be sweet revenge-the revenge of years' maturing!"

Then, with a grim laugh, the dark stranger wrapped his cloak closer about him, and stalked from the tavern. One or two of the miners went to the door after him, and saw him stride swiftly away up one of the gloomy gulches which centered into the basin like the spokes of a wheel to the hub.

Calamity was then released, but Carner had taken the precaution to escape to his room to save trouble.

Just outside of the basin, in the moonlight that streamed into the gulch, the Unknown came unexpectedly upon a woman who was seated upon a fallen tree, and engaged in a good old-fashioned cry.

The new-fashioned cry of to-day is a combination of sighs and snuffles; consequently it occurred to the Unknown that this woman's hearty out-and-out cry might safely be pronounced oldfashioned.

He was considerably surprised at his discovery and hesitated about disturbing her. But, resolved to learn her trouble, he finally stepped forward and touched her upon the shoulder.

"Excuse me, madam, but is your trouble of a nature that needs assistance from a strong and willing hand of one whose whole life has been one of trouble?"

Mrs. Morris -- for it was she--looked up with a start. "Who are you, sir?" she demanded in alarm for his dark and forbidding appearance did favorably impress her.

"One who is a gentleman, and a friend to the oppressed, ma'am, e'en tho' dark my aspect. Coming accidentally upon you, and noting your evident grief, I was prompted to ask if a strong hand could be of assistance in alleviating the trouble. No offense, I trust?"

"Not necessarily, if you are sincere in what you say," Mrs. Morris replied, a little more assured, "I am in deep trouble, and fear I can obtain no relief. I have lost my only daughter, and cannot find her. I tracked her to this bad wicked town of Death Notch, but only to find that she had suddenly disappeared."

"Ah! then you are Mrs. Morris, a California lady?" the Unknown said, his surprise doubling, for at first he could form no idea of her identity.

"Yes, I am Mrs. Morris, but how could you know that?"

"Because the circumstances of your daughter's flight to this country are known to me! Your daughter is a guest in my solitary camp in the mountains, and she told me her story. It was I who abducted her from the tavern, that she might not become the victim of her enemy, the Mormon villain."

"God be praised!" the relieved mother cried, clasping her hands joyfully. "You are sure she is there, safe and well?"

"She was, this morning, when I left her there, in the care of her negro companion. Come with me, and you shall soon see her."

"How can I ever repay you for this kindness? You have taken a great load from my heart. How far is it to the place where I can see my daughter?"

"Not over a mile, and we can soon walk it. Will you take my arm?"

"No, thanks! I am quite strong and love to walk. Lead, and I will follow. Oh! sir, my daughter is of good cheer, is she?"

"Quite brave considering the trials she has passed through, I judge. Her negro companion is lively enough to cheer her up were she gloomily disposed," the Unknown declared, as he led the way up the gulch.

"Did she tell you why she fled from home?"

"Yes. I could well understand her case, for I came near being caught in such a trap once, myself," was the gloomy answer. "This being found standing over dead persons does not always signify that the one so discovered is guilty. The guilty one glides away when the unwary and thoughtless approaches."

The remainder of the journey was finished in silence.

Mrs. Morris was busied with her own thoughts -- congratulating herself on having her child in spite of Carrol Carner, and wondering if they would be lucky enough to escape from the mountain before he could find and offer them further molestation as he had promised.

She felt that he was capable of any villainy no matter how base.

In the course of a half-hour they came to an abrupt termination of the gulch', in the face of mighty, towering wall of rock, at the foot of which was a hut of boughs and poles, and in front of that a crane upon which a kettle hung over a temporary fire-place.

There was no visible stir about the place as they approached, and the Unknown quickened his base.

"They must have gone inside," he said, but his words belied his belief; he scented trouble!

A few steps further, and they came upon an appalling spectacle! Seated upon the ground, with his back leaning against the tree was Nicodemus Johnsing, with his banjo in his hands, as if preparatory to playing. But he was stone dead!

"By Heaven! there's bad work here!" the Unknown cried, bounding forward into the hut.

He came out, an instant later, but unaccompanied. "You daughter is gone madam!" he said. "Some human demon has been here and killed the darky, and carried her off, as she is not in the hut. I believe the cursed crazy Dwarf is the author of this outrage!"

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