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The Great Deadwood Mystery
by [?]

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 bored.

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 other interrogatively.

“That’s about the way the thing p’ints,” responded his companion assentingly.

“I reckoned it only squar to use his dientical words?”

“That’s so.”

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 despatch.

“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 delivery.”

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–” he began.

“There ain’t any,” replied the first speaker quietly.

“Why?”

“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 stopped.

“Well, that job’s done,” said the first speaker, by way of relieving the slight social embarrassment of parting.