The day had started out being quite beautiful, and rather warm for that time of year. It was the morning after those damnable occurrences, after the devil-ridden chaos which had gone on to transpire during that most terrible night in Bedlam. Autumn’s weather had been lovely to begin with, and it remained unusually wonderful on up to the end of October, in the year of our Lord 1869, where our story begins.
The mighty oak, famous in these parts for the many hangings that had taken place on its lowest limb over the last 20 years, stood on the outskirts of a small town that had seen its better days. Although the town didn’t officially have a name, the folks from around there called it Bedlam. Lying a few miles off the Oregon Trail, it had been witness to the mass migration of folks who had dropped everything to rush for the gold discovered in California in 1849, and for many years afterwards. The new transcontinental railroad was not a boon for this little settlement. The track had been laid some 10 miles or so to the north. Almost all the residents had packed up their belongings, and made their way towards the mostly unoccupied lands surrounding the recently built train station. They knew there would be a growing city of significant size there someday. The few poorer families remaining behind had plans to do the same, but hadn’t yet procured the means.
Matthew, one of the family men, had returned to Bedlam from his future homestead that morning with supplies, and the latest news. Sufficiently tragic and disturbing were these facts, to say the least. There had been an uncanny mass murder the night before. It involved a young pastor, his wife, and three children. This most innocent of families had lived in a little shack beside the newly built church. The novice preacher had only to put a few more finishing touches on his place of worship before he could begin holding services. He’d constructed the two on the south side of the city, apart from the rest of the homes, and far away from the only saloon that was in business at the time. There had been a witness of sorts, a man who’d stepped out of the saloon a few hours after sunset. His name was Luke. Though he ended up taking heroic measures, his valiant efforts were mostly in vain. He was able to save the two youngest children, bless his heart. He, himself, related the story to Matthew and a couple of other men who’d gathered together outside the grocery store the morning after the crime. These then are the facts as Matt relayed them to my great-grandfather one day, many years later. I was about 10 years old when Gramps finally told me the story of these historically ghastly events.
~ Chapter One ~
Luke told the men that he was in the saloon conducting a business transaction the night before, on the evening of October 30th. He’d therefore only imbibed himself with two glasses of whiskey, and was in no way tipsy when he had taken his leave, and proceeded to venture south, back to his home and family. As Luke neared his house, he could easily see the church which was just a little ways on down at the end of the dirt road. It was a crystal clear, crisp night, with a very nearly full moon’s light. All of a sudden, he eyed a shadowy figure on horseback casually making his way out of town at an easy-going pace, not all that far up ahead at this point. Perhaps, just a city block or so beyond the pastor’s home.
The rider appeared dressed all in black. He was wearing a cape that floated as it flapped in the wind, which was blowing head on and straightaway into his and Luke’s face. This dark and mysterious man rode a shiny, fine black stallion, and wore a wide-brimmed hat. Although, from the shape of it, he could tell it wasn’t a cowboy hat at all, no. It reminded him of the one that stranger had on, the one who’d showed up in town that very morning, by himself no less, to stock up on supplies. Luke presumed it was the same man. The fact that he was leaving town this late at night seemed a bit strange at the time. “Stupid it was, and dangerous, too! No one in their right mind would take that kind of risk. No one that had any common sense, that is. Nothing but miles and miles of rugged terrain in that direction. Nothing but a lawless countryside will the traveler find in front of him once he rides on past Bedlam, as you know,” Luke exclaimed to the men.
About this suspicious character, he knew but a bit. Luke saw him leaving the store that morning and, letting his curiosity get the best of him, he took the time out of his busy schedule to go inside, see the clerk, and inquire after the tall dark, but handsome looking stranger in a tailored suit and cloak. This is what he gathered from the clerk. Apparently, the man spoke no English whatsoever, or if he did, he didn’t let on about it. After the clerk had added up the cost of all he had brought to the counter, this obvious foreigner pulled a leather, string-drawn pouch from his coat pocket, wanting to settle the deal by way of gold, and balance the goods and his debt against the weight of however many nuggets as was necessary. The clerk didn’t have a problem with that. It was fairly customary in this part of the country. He got out the scale and proceeded to give the man a fair transaction. The stranger then smiled, appearing satisfied with the deal, and gave the clerk another smallish nugget as a tip, which made the clerk nervously rejoice, for no one had ever done such a thing in his store before that day. The man was polite and courteous, so much so that one might think him an aristocrat, or a prince even, one from somewhere far, far away in another land across the sea. That he had mesmerized the clerk…well, to Luke there was no doubt about it. Whether or not it really was a fair deal, he could not ascertain.